Chapter 1: prologue
“…for we think we know, only when we have ascertained the causes, that but that which is infinite by addition cannot be gone through in a finite time.”
- Aristotle, Metaphysics
The winter wind seems harsher here on the bridge. At the edge of Gotham, separated from the rest of the world, it is so very cold.
The engine of the bus is no longer running. There is a yawning gap between them and freedom, courtesy of the U.S. military.
From behind her, Barbara thinks she can hear the prayers of the priest, muffled as he sits with his head in his hands in the driver’s seat. She can hear the boys shift inside, but they do not speak. They barely say anything when there is an explosion in the distance, when John yells “Here it comes!”
It is too late for all of them.
The clouds shift, the scene shifts, and out of the flames bursts an aircraft – dragging the bomb. Seeing the one thing they all feared soaring through the air feels surreal. It occurs to her, slowly, that Bruce is the one flying, and he is taking the bomb far away from them.
It doesn’t hit her until she sees the mushroom cloud that he may die for them.
She feels the way she felt over eight years ago, standing in the basement with Harvey Dent’s body at her feet and the only thing keeping her from breaking down was him, with his conviction and his impending martyrdom, and she feels weak in her knees. She thinks about him afterwards, something she tries not to think about but does, sometimes, in the darkest hour of the night. She thinks about everything she’s never said to him and everything he never was and could have been and everything that he was, that he did. She thinks about everything she’s become because of him.
Like a floodgate, the emotions that she’s buried deep down inside her for years come out in a strangled yelp, a sudden surge of feeling threatening to carry her away.
She doesn’t remember when John slipped his hand into hers, or when his arms became a source of solace, but she’s too lost to remember these things.
“May I please speak to Barbara Gordon?”
“Speaking.” Barbara shifts the phone onto her shoulder as she logs in to her email account.
“Barbara, this is Detective John Blake with the GCPD – I’m calling about your uncle, Jim Gordon.”
She almost drops the phone as she moves, suddenly, in surprise. She’s always expected some sort of call to come, though she’s always expected it from her aunt.
“Have you spoken with my aunt already?” She asks without preamble.
“Yeah, someone called her…but I wasn’t sure if they were going to call you. He’s been shot and he’s in the critical condition at Gotham General Hospital.”
“Okay.” What is she supposed to say? When she left Gotham 3 years ago, she cut ties. Phone calls to her uncle became few and far between, especially after her aunt moved to Cleveland. He’d forgotten her birthday this year, the first time he’d ever done that.
“What happened – how did he get shot?” she asks.
“There was a situation in the sewer system.” The answer, though vague, sets her on edge. Maybe because people don’t get shot in sewers. Maybe because Jim Gordon doesn’t get shot in sewers.
“I’m in Star City now,” she tells the detective. “I should be able to get into Gotham by tomorrow evening.”
“You don’t – “
“I highly doubt my aunt will. Just – if he’s alert, tell him I’m coming.”
“Will do, ma’am.”
She thanks the detective and puts her phone down. She thinks about asking someone to water her plants, and about her mail, and then she realizes the truth: if she returns to Gotham, she won’t just be visiting. Any return she makes to Gotham will likely be permanent. One can only keep running for so long.
Chapter 2: T-minus nine days until occupation
"But evidently there is a first principle, and the causes of things are neither an infinite series nor infinitely various in kind. For neither can one thing proceed from another, as from matter, ad infinitum … nor can the sources of movement form an endless series.”
- Aristotle, Metaphysics
T-minus nine days until occupation
She doesn’t sleep that night: she gets the first flight she can from Star City to Gotham. She crosses the New Trigate Bridge just as the sun rises over the river, and she feels something she hasn’t felt in a long time: a sense of belonging. Despite her time elsewhere, she is Gotham born and bred and there’s something about this city that never leaves her bones.
There’s no cops stationed outside her uncle’s room – a relief, she realizes. Gotham is no longer the city where the police commissioner is under constant threat.
The shock of seeing her uncle hooked up to machines, with tubes and an oxygen mask, eyes shut in pain, about breaks her. The last time she had been in a hospital room, she had been staring down at a very different face in a very different situation.
She looks up to see a young officer standing in the doorway
“You must be Detective Blake,” she asks. She does a quick survey, just like Bruce taught her: brown hair, brown eyes, compact build, not much taller than her, not much younger, hard face but kind (albeit worried) eyes.
“John, ma’am, John Blake,” he corrects her, extending a hand. She shakes it, noting the firm grip.
“Barbara. It’s very nice to meet you.”
Blake – John – pulls a chair over to her uncle’s bedside so that she can sit down, but she shakes her head.
“I’ve been sitting down all night. You can have it.”
John laughs. “Same here.” But he eases into the chair nonetheless. She perches on the edge of her uncle’s hospital bed.
“You got here quick,” he points out, and Barbara shrugs.
“I grew up in a time where being a cop in Gotham wasn’t exactly safe. I wasn’t about to take a chance.”
Barbara looks over at her uncle, sleeping peacefully and no doubt doped up on a lot of drugs.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on,” she says. “From the beginning. Spare no details and don’t worry – I’ll follow along.”
He does. He tells her about the missing congressman, the flight into the sewer, what Gordon thinks he saw, and he doesn’t hesitate to add how Foley, her uncle’s second-in-command, does not seem to believe his superior officer.
Just when he’s done explaining, someone radios John, and he excuses himself with many apologies for leaving her. She just shakes her head and tells him to go. He promises to stop by as soon as he can, and she’s grateful for the support he’s offering, even though he doesn’t know her. Her uncle must mean a lot to him.
Tucking her feet under her, she moves to sit in the rickety chair. The information that she’s learned – suspected criminal activity in the sewers, armed thugs, a masked man – should seem surreal and unlikely to her, the results of a pain-induced hallucination. But she knows it’s not.
Her cell phone vibrates – a text from Dinah, checking in on her. She quickly responds that she’ll be here for a while, hopes that everything is going well in Star City. She buries her phone back in her purse before curling into herself more, trying to get comfortable in the chair.
She dozes for a while before her uncle wakes .
“I didn’t think I’d see you again,” her uncle says, reaching out a hand to brush her hair back. It is longer than when she left Gotham, and the change does not go unnoticed by him. “I like your hair like this.”
“Just because I left Gotham doesn’t mean I left you,” Barbara tells him. The sight of the IVs in his hand is disconcerting, so she stares at his face. He looks older – as if the weight of the world is pressing down on him. Dent Act or not, this city – and this man – still need Batman.
She’d consider telling Bruce that, but she doesn’t think he’ll listen.
“Detective Blake told me what you saw.” She threads her fingers through his. “I believe you – but then again, I’ve seen a lot more crazy shit than that.”
“Language, Babs,” her uncle points out, but he laughs. “I know you’ve seen worse. I don’t think the force is taking me seriously, but Blake is.”
“He seems like a good cop.”
Her uncle is tired, and so she lets him rest. She still has the key to his apartment, and she debates heading there. Before he had left earlier, John had stopped her.
“If you need a place to crash, I have a couch – that I can sleep on. It’s not much, but it’s something.”
She thinks, for a moment, of telling him no, that she’ll just stay at her uncle’s. She has some friends in Gotham still that would let her couch-surf, and there’s always that big mansion north of town, where a friendly butler will fix up a room for her.
She tells him thanks but she’s got it covered, yet when she arrives at her uncle’s and stares at the rooms which haven’t changed, even little Jimmy’s room, she digs out her phone. There are too many ghosts in this town for her to deal with in one day, and the lingering feelings that haunt her in this apartment are almost too much for her to bear. She looks up his number on her phone.
“Hey, John – does that couch offer still stand?”
Her decision to go to Star City is not one that she takes lightly, but one that she’s thought of, off and on, for the past five years.
There are days when everything is fine: she arrives at the mansion on time, and Alfred is waiting to take her coat and offer her a cup of tea or one of Bruce’s ridiculous green drinks. Training goes smoothly, her body building strength with each day, and it always ends with some amazing meal she could totally not afford on her part-time job as a school librarian.
There are days when everything is off: when the ghosts of past failures loom large between her and Bruce, when his focus is lost and he stares into the middle distance, when his temper is short and hers even shorter.
She’s surprised he even agreed to train her to begin with. She never pestered him about it, instead choosing to double her time at the gym and add weight training. She contemplated finding a dojo – she had been pretty decent when she was a kid at karate – but time and money make that an issue. She’ll never ask Bruce for anything, even though he offers.
He texts her one night – definitely one of the darker ones – and she heads over after leaving the gym. She’s still in her workout clothes, and her shoulders ache from weight lifting. She turns the wrong way when handing Alfred her bag, and she finds her muscles contracting, pain shooting up her neck.
She’s soon got some muscle relaxers, a bag of peas from the freezer, and a worried Bruce to deal with.
“If you want training,” he says, quietly, taking a sip from his Scotch, “all you have to do is ask.”
They never discuss why she’d possibly want to train like he did, probably because they both have come to their own, independent explanations.
Hers is fairly straightforward – she does not want to feel vulnerable again.
There are days when everything is fine: when they’re friends and colleagues, people who understand each other without words, people who can exist within each other’s orbits with complete and perfect harmony.
And then Miranda Tate’s clean energy project is shelved, and Bruce locks himself away in the East Wing of his mansion, and the single most important connection of her life is broken.
There are days when Star City, so far away, looks downright good.
And then there’s one day when it’s the only option she’s got left, and so she takes it. She gets onto her bike without a second glance a Wayne Manor, and it doesn’t matter anyway since when she tried to say goodbye, Bruce didn’t even look at her.
John’s apartment is a modest one-bedroom furnished with second-hand furniture and a surprisingly comfortable couch. She insists that she’ll sleep on it, and he doesn’t have to give up his bed.
“You’re the one with a job, after all,” Barbara points out.
She offers to make dinner in exchange for having a place to crash, and she starts by making the easiest, best meal she knows: spaghetti.
“Thank you for this,” she says, twisting her fork on her plate, twirling the pasta. “I honestly don’t think I could stay in that apartment alone right now.”
John doesn’t press her for more answers, and the silences between them don’t bother her as much as they should. She’s used to communicating in pauses and looks, especially with Bruce back in the early days, and it doesn’t bother her.
She ends up crashing during an episode of the news, and wakes up early in the morning to find that John has put a blanket over her.
She rewards his care by starting a pot of coffee.
Barbara spends her day at the hospital, talking with her uncle or watching daytime television. She does not know when she drifts off to sleep, but she wakes up to a sound from the window. She is alert within seconds, limbs tensed, ready for future action. Her mace is in her bag, but she’s sure that any of the carts or stands nearby make a perfectly adequate weapon.
“I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Her heart speeds up at the familiar voice, and she slowly exhales.
Bruce stands in the window, dressed in a suit, with a ski-mask over his face.
“Kicking it old school?” she asks. He smiles.
There is a moment that passes between them where they both are unsure what to do. She hasn’t seen him in three years, and he hasn’t exactly reached out to her. She still keeps in touch with Alfred, which means if he knows anything about her it’s through him, but it’s not exactly the same thing as actually trying.
“Why are you here?” she asks.
“I wanted to see your uncle,” he says. “Detective Blake told me.” Bruce pauses. “He knows who I am.”
For some reason, Barbara’s not surprised.
Inside of her, it feels like a storm is brewing. She is glad to see him but so very angry with him too. Maybe she’s the childish one, holding on to something way longer than she needed to, but he threw their friendship away with the world became too inconvenient for him.
“I can leave,” she says, though she doesn’t really want to.
“You don’t have to,” he tells her.
The space between them is heavy with unsaid things, and her body is full of a tension she barely knows how to control. She wants to punch a wall, she wants to run away, she wants to stop shaking, she wants to sit down and cry.
“You came to talk to him, not to me,” she finally says. “I’ll go.”
As she brushes by him, he grabs her wrist. She stops.
“I don’t think anything I say can make up for what a giant ass I’ve been,” he says, “but I want you to know that I’m trying. To make up for it. To be what you always thought I could be.”
Barbara doesn’t turn around to face him. “I’ll be outside. I’ll keep the nurses away.” She shakes herself free from his grip.
“Where are you staying?” he asks.
“With Blake. He offered me his couch.”
“Good. You’ll be safe there with him.”
She doesn’t say anything else as she heads out the door. He doesn’t try to stop her. Whatever apology she needs is bigger than anything he can offer her in a hospital room.
She closes the door behind her and tells the nurses that her uncle’s sleeping. She chats with them at the duty station for twenty minutes, just enough time to keep them distracted and let the two men talk. When Barbara returns to the room, she finds it empty and a note, with her name, at the foot of the bed.
I’ll send a car at nine. Be ready.
They both have outgrown rooftops, it seems.
Author’s Note: The locations of Gotham, Metropolis, and Star City are all disputable in DC Comic canon – and, certainly, in Christopher Nolan’s ‘verse. When I wrote “That Which is Infinite” I saw Gotham as Chicago – because it was filmed there, mostly – with Metropolis being south, in the Midwest. Because of the fact that there are major bridges across a river that freezes in winter, I’m shifting Gotham back to the real-life “Gotham” – New York City. Metropolis will be just south, as comic canon tends to state, in Delaware. Popular belief about the location of Star City is the San Francisco Bay area, so I’m going to stick to that.
As for the timing of Bane’s occupation – time moved really fast and without many markers in the movie, so I’m trying to do the best I can with that.
Chapter 3: T-minus seven days until occupation
"The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy.”
- Aristotle, Metaphysics
T-minus seven days until occupation
Having Barbara Gordon stay with him is forcing John to be a better housekeeper than normal. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, or any family, and most of his socializing is done after work at the bar. He doesn’t invite people to his house, but somehow, looking at how lost she looked, he knows he wants to help her.
It doesn’t help that his boss’s niece is kind of cute too, but that’s none of his business.
Still, he does vacuum the place, sweep the kitchen, run the dishwasher, clean the toilet and the shower before she arrives (if the apartment smells too much like bleach, she doesn’t say anything).
She spends her second day in Gotham at the hospital, and he picks her up in his new unmarked car at the end of the day. They swing by the grocery store to pick up “detective fuel” as Barbara calls it. That means non-generic stuff because his promotion means he doesn’t have to live on Stouffer’s lasagna and Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.
It’s easy being around her, which is weird for John because he doesn’t find himself easy to be around, and she’s certainly not protesting. She just asks him if he usually buys skim or 1% milk, and when she suggests making pizza for dinner, he just nods and lets her pick out the type of sauce.
They make dinner together, accidently bumping into each other in his too-small kitchen, and he feels all thumbs and no swagger when she leans over him to get a spoon. But if he’s awkward, she doesn’t notice, but it’s when she reaches over to stop the sauce from spilling, all without looking up from setting the oven, that he realizes it might be an act; Barbara Gordon might be noticing a whole lot more than she’s letting on, and it’s equal parts politeness and something else that is keeping her from acknowledging that she knows.
John asks about her uncle, and she tells him that he seems to be doing better each day, though he’s agitated at not being out on the streets – or in this case, the sewers. He apologizes for not being able to stop by today, and tells her that he’ll try to visit tomorrow.
“I’ll be visiting a friend tomorrow, and they’ll just drop me back at the hospital,” she says between bites.
“You still have a lot of friends in town?” he asks, and she shakes her head.
“Not many. Most of my high school friends moved on, and I didn’t really like anyone I used to work with. I just have a few good ones, but that’s all that matters, right?”
John can count the number of good friends he has on one hand, maybe just a few fingers, but they’re worth their weight in gold so he smiles in agreement. “This pizza’s really good.”
“That’s because it’s not frozen,” she points out, stealing a pepperoni off his piece, but when she smiles he finds that he doesn’t mind at all.
Barbara’s up before him the next morning. He finds her sitting on the couch, stealing his neighbor’s wireless and catching up on emails.
“It’s okay. It’s like Gotham, because it’s on the coast, but it’s different. It’s more like what Gotham used to be, maybe ten years ago, but it’s also not. It’s hard to explain.” She sighs, and gets up, putting her laptop in her bag. Conversation over.
He leaves for work but ends up looping back around on patrol in sheer coincidence. He doesn’t know why it comes as such a shock to him when Bruce Wayne’s butler picks her up in a town car, but it does.
Hugging Alfred brings back a rush of memories, so she buries her head against his shoulder for a moment so he doesn’t see her tears.
“Never thought I’d lay eyes on you again, Miss Gordon,” he says, and there’s a catch in his voice that tells her that he’s about as moved as she is.
“I wish it was under better circumstances,” she responds.
The drive out to Wayne Manor passes in easy conversation. Alfred tells her about some of the improvements he’s done around the place, and makes more than a few remarks about Bruce and the past three years. She knows a lot of this - Alfred was very good about sending her letters and, sometimes, care packages, but it’s good to hear it from him too.
“So what pulled him out of his stupor?” Barbara asks.
“Your uncle being shot,” Alfred tells her. “And maybe a woman.”
Barbara raises an eyebrow. “Oh?” She’d be lying if she didn’t admit her stomach flipped just a bit on hearing this. When she was younger, it would have been possible to convince her that Bruce hung the stars - but infatuation never ends well and in this case, it didn’t last very long.
“Maybe. Mostly about your uncle.”
“Mostly. And the woman?”
“Well, she stole from him so I think that was more about intrigue than anything else.”
“Sounds like he was bored.”
“Wallowing in self-pity is only entertaining for so long, Miss Gordon.
She lets Alfred tell the story about the cat burglar and stares out the window at the landscape of the Palisades. She could find her way here blindfolded, that’s how many times she’s driven it.
So many things have changed in the past eight years, but so many things stay the same - including Wayne Manor.
Bruce meets them at the door. He’s still as handsome as he was the day he showed up at the library, and time and distance make her stomach do flip-flops when she sees him. Except, of course, there’s the crutch – an injury sustained that night, so long ago, and which she gathers gets worse every year (at least, that’s what Alfred tells her) and the look of disillusion in his eyes. Suddenly the span of years weighs her down.
“You wanted to see me?” she asks, hesitating before walking up the steps. Bruce stares at her, unmoving, and when she finally stops right in front of him he exhales.
“There are no words for how I feel right now,” he says. “At least, none of the ones Alfred could volunteer would be good enough.” He doesn’t smile, and he looks lost with her standing there.
Barbara takes a deep breath. This is the moment where she can just ask Alfred to take her back, or she can go on. Whatever happened back then was the culmination of successive failures, and the last was their friendship. He’s putting forward the first good-faith effort in years, and she doesn’t want to let this go.
“So you want me here?” Her voice is barely above a whisper, and even though she’s unsure if she should look at him, she doesn’t waiver. She looks straight into his eyes.
She doesn’t know what to do, so she steps forward and places a kiss against his cheek. His hand rests on her waist, the other sliding to her back. She drops her head to his shoulder, overcome for a moment. The moment stretches onward and outward and when she finally pulls away, when he finally lets go, it’s like the years have come together and it’ll be all right, in the end.
She may no longer be in love with him like she was six, seven years ago, but she still loves him, in some small way.
“Breakfast? Or did Blake make it for you?”
“Is that jealousy I hear?” she asks, smacking his shoulder. “I’m only staying there because I have nowhere else to stay.” Barbara holds up a hand to stop him before he can speak. “Don’t offer. Please. I know there’s always a standing invitation, but I’m fine where I am.”
She threads her arm around his as they start to walk towards the library. “Besides,” she adds, “you said he knows who you are. Is he an ally?”
"With your uncle in the hospital, he’s the only one I’ve got. He’ll keep you safe, which is a lot more than I can promise.” Bruce gestures to the piano, and she plays with three notes. The bookcase opens, and it’s on to the Batcave.
“So it’s business too?”
Bruce purses his lips. “Barbara…”
“For old times sake, then?” she suggests.
“Lead the way,” Bruce says.
The cave is unchanged, as always, but Bruce steers her through all of the equipment, asking her if she remembers how they work. She turns on and off the wall of CCTV feeds. She shows him she knows how to operate the latent fingerprint processing machines, the microscopes, the various machines that calculate trajectory. She shows him she understands how to operate all the lights and levers in the cave, how to raise the floor and so on and so forth. She knows this isn’t nostalgia, but some sort of review of prior training.
Barbara tries not to think about why.
He shows her the information he has on Bane, who is allegedly behind the sewer shooting, and presses a thumb drive into her hand.
“Just some light reading Alfred dug up.”
They have lunch on the terrace, and Bruce asks her to go with him to Miranda Tate’s benefit tonight.
“I’m trying to hone in on the cat burger in her native element,” he says. “Couldn’t hurt to have a second set of eyes.”
“Too bad I have a dinner date already,” she says with a wink. “I promised my uncle we’d eat something not from the hospital cafeteria.”
“Buddy’s hot dogs?”
“And fries.” Barbara laughs. “You know us so well.”
There’s a moment where they both look at each other and Barbara wishes she knew what was going through his brain. Part of her wants to spend an evening with him, but the other part of her, the one with more common sense, knows they’re past those days of champagne and roses.
He kisses her cheek before she gets back into the town car, and his hand lingers on her wrist. He makes a promise to see her later in the week, and she agrees, though she’s not sure it’ll actually be fulfilled.
Later that night, after the party, with Alfred safely tucked away in bed, Bruce pours himself a Scotch and heads down to the Cave to think, and to work.
Selina Kyle is the opposite of Barbara Gordon in so many ways: dark eyes and hair where Barbara is so very bright, jaded where Barbara is so very hopeful. Both haven’t exactly been given fair treatment in this world, but where Selina adapts, Barbara stands strong, daring the oncoming storm to knock her down.
The only time he’s known Barbara to give up on something was when she finally gave up on him (but not after considerable effort). He thinks its best, in a way – Barbara’s almost too good to have to suffer all the demons that possess him.
Bruce always needed Barbara to make him into a better person, but Batman needs Selina to make him more than just the broken man that he’s become. Right now, he needs to be Batman so he can reclaim being Bruce Wayne.
He’s not unaware of what Barbara’s been up to in Star City – contrary to Alfred’s believe, he’s read the Star City Tribune and can’t help but think that that this rag-tag Justice League, comprised of people who use arrows and a least one female member (reports about two are conflicting) has something to do with her. He trained her as best he could and after today, she could run the Batcave if it came down to it.
He hopes it won’t come down to it, but it just might.
He’s not unaware of what Barbara’s been through since before she left Gotham – what he’s done to her simply by being absent. Their friendship had been built on a farce, and it would have probably crumbled the minute that Batman had been indicted for Dent’s murder, but Barbara persisted. She wouldn’t let him fall apart, and she was always there for him in ways that, he realizes, he was never there for her.
He’s missed her, though he knows they’ll never go back to the way it was.
He sets up a trace on the Lamborghini that Selina stole, knowing he probably won’t get it back even if he tried. He’s disappointed with the answers he’s received tonight, specifically in regards to what his fingerprints are being used for. To be honest, he’s not really optimistic about that outcome, but maybe he can learn to be adaptable too.
Expect regular updates on Wednesdays. Thanks so much for the kudos and the feedback!
Chapter 4: T-minus five days until occupation
“Now we do not know a truth without its cause...”
- Aristotle, Metaphysics
T-minus five days until occupation
Barbara knows she can’t stay with John forever because that’s rude and it’s only postponing the inevitable: her move back to Gotham City. After an early dinner of hot dogs and fries with her uncle, she heads back to John’s apartment to start scouting out some apartments. Knowing that Bruce thinks of the young cop as an ally makes her feel infinitely better about her spontaneous decision to crash here, since there are not many people in Gotham who earn that distinction which makes it all the more important.
John invites her out to the bar with other cops for happy hour, and since she knows a lot of them from her time in Gotham, she agrees to go. She talks to Dinah on Skype while John showers.
She met Dinah Drake when she first arrived in Star City. Purely by accident, they learned that each of them had a taste for justice mixed with just enough vigilantism to keep things in Star City under control. The city’s police force, nowhere near as efficient or corrupt as the GCPD, was still a joke. As it soon turned out, the two of them weren’t the only inhabitants of Star City that felt like things needed changing.
“I’ll be staying in Gotham for a while,” she tells her friend, who winks.
“Is it Bruce?” Dinah asks, and Barbara shakes her head. “Have you seen him? The Star City papers are all over the reappearance of an elusive Gotham billionaire.”
“We had lunch today,” Barbara says, “but that’s not why I’m staying. I’ll let you know when I’m coming back – can you keep an eye on things for me?”
Dinah frowns. “Is something wrong?”
Barbara finds it telling that her friend doesn’t ask if she wants her to water her plants or get the mail – that’s a given – but rather wants to know why she’s staying in Gotham. Of course Dinah can pick up that something’s off.
Barbara shakes her head. “Not yet? I don’t know. Just...a feeling. Gotham is never this good.”
“We miss you in Star City.”
“I know. And I miss you guys too. But they need me here now.”
John decides to exit the bathroom just as she signs off, but he’s in the background long enough for Dinah to see him. As they leave his apartment to head to the neighborhood bar, Barbara gets a text with a lot of exclamation points and insinuations, which causes her to roll her eyes.
Forget Bruce – obviously your ‘feelings’ about something being ‘too good’ is meant about the hottie.
Barbara texts back You’re a married woman, Drake which she knows will earn her a reply of about being able to look without touching. She laughs to herself.
“What’s up?” the young cop asks, and Barbara just shakes her head.
“Nothing. Thank you for inviting me out to this – I need this distraction,” she says, shoving her hands into the pockets of her coat. Unlike Star City’s temperate climate, Gotham has all four seasons and they are currently speeding into autumn.
The bar is surprisingly fun – she needed that distraction more than she thought, and it was good to see some familiar faces. She doesn’t drink much, and she may school John’s old partner, Ross, in a game of darts, but she’s laughed more tonight than she has in a really long time, which is the saddest part.
Barbara stays up late and reads the documents on Bane, feeling fear creep down her spine. Even though Star City can be rough at times, she’s never been as afraid as she’s been in Gotham, and with good reason. If what Bruce speculates is true, then Gotham is continually being targeted by an international organization of...terrorists? Mercenaries? Visionaries? She’s not even sure what to call them. Definitely not ‘sane’.
She doesn't know if she wants to be here when shit hits the fan, but she doesn't want to leave her uncle.
There’s a note at the end of the file – a basic reiteration of what will happen to Gotham if things go pear-shaped, and a request. None of the information is new to her; Bruce told her about the League of Shadows years ago.But it’s important to be prepared.
There’s also surprising information that she files away in the back of her head as something that will be useful later on.
She’s infinitely thankful that John’s in no hurry to kick her out – she’s fairly certain he would have died of scurvy come winter, what with his living on frozen dinners and questionable lunchmeat - and she allows herself to wonder how much Bruce trusts him, and just what that trust might mean.
It’s enough to have her stay in limbo in a near-strangers apartment rather than attempt to put down roots that she’ll want to rip up as soon as they’re planted.
She decides to take her bike out of storage. It’s not a lot of use to her in the moving process, but it means she doesn’t have to rely on others for rides anymore, and that is worth its weight in gold.
When she walks into the door of her uncle’s hospital room, she notices that there are now two armed guards outside of it. But it’s when she steps inside that all hell breaks lose.
Foley, deputy commissioner, is heading out the door. He quickly says hello to Barbara, leaving her uncle to explain that he’s been called out for something going on at the Stock Market.
“Turn on the news, Babs,” her uncle says. She can practically see his impatience at being confined to a bed radiate off of him like a scary, workaholic aura.
They watch everything happen in silence: the police arrive, the assailants leave with hostages, the chase through the streets of Gotham. Barbara’s muscles tense, wishing she could be out there stopping them – a thought, she can clearly tell, is echoed by her uncle. He sits up in his bed and leans toward the TV set, clearly ready to take it all in.
And then it happens.
Darkness, and then the shape of a cape flapping in the wind.
Barbara’s heart skips a beat.
This is a necessary risk, he’d probably tell her, and she’d agree – Bane is not someone be trifled with. But the entire city of Gotham blames Batman for Harvey Dent’s murder, and the police will take him down before they let him escape.
Only it’s Bruce, so when he propels his bike up a car carrier and onto a different ramp, she wants to cheer. Her uncle does, and she just smiles. When it seems like he’s cornered, he’s not – there’s just another insane invention waiting for him in the alley.
Her uncle talks to her, expresses hope and happiness at the return of Batman, and what it could do to this city with creepy armed men in the sewers. Barbara sits and listens, a smile on her face. Her adrenaline is rushing through her veins. She also considers hoping on her bike now and taking off towards Wayne Manor, but she doesn’t.
She stays with her uncle until he calms down and falls asleep, then heads back to John’s apartment. But she detours on the way, stopping by police headquarters. The Batsignal on the roof is as cracked and broken as always. She makes a note to get some cheap metal and see if they can repair it in the future.
Inviting Barbara to the bar is a gesture of good will, and it turns out she knows nearly all of the older officers and some of the younger ones too. They buy her a drink and she asks them about their families and their vacations, and John watches her out of the corner of his eye.
“You’re so screwed,” Ross, his former partner, says. Ross walks to the dartboard to retrieve his darts.
“And why is that?” John asks.
“You have got it bad for the commissioner’s niece,” Ross points out.
“Nah,” John says. “Barbara’s just a nice girl.”
“Nice girl who used to date Bruce Wayne. I heard she’s the reason he locked himself up in his house all Howard Hughes-style.” Ross gri ns. “You know what they say about red-heads.”
“That’s just wrong, man – she’s Gordon’s relative. That’s all sorts of wrong.” John takes the darts and steps up to the line, ready for his turn. He does his best not to think about what they say about red-heads about as much as he tries not to think about what Ross says about Barbara to begin with. She’s cute, and it’s been a long time since he was on a date, but he’s helping her out for god’s sake – he’s not about to hit on her, not know with her uncle in the hospital and weird stuff going on in the sewer.
It’s not until two days later that he can actually confirm whether or not Barbara knows Wayne, and it’s not under the happiest of circumstances.
After finding Wayne Manor vacant, and spotting Selina Kyle attempting to leave the country, he can only suspect two things: Bruce Wayne is quite possibly dead at the hands of Bane, and Bane is one scary bastard.
Telling Barbara is a chore he’s not exactly relishing – he doesn’t know the exact status of her relationship with Wayne, and thinking about her as another man’s girlfriend pushes him into a weird territory where he realizes that he really doesn’t know her that well, even if she’s pretty much living in his apartment, and where he realizes he’s completely fine with having her here.
He finds her on the couch, looking at something on her laptop. He decides he’s going to keep standing for this, because he doesn’t feel comfortable being so close to her right now.
“There’s something you should know,” he says, trying his best to remain calm even though he’s freaking out a little inside. “I think Bruce Wayne is dead.”
“What?” Barbara’s reaction could barely be called that – a blink, a slight crinkle of her forehead.
“I know – on good authority – Bane got to him.”
“How do you know this?”
“Selina Kyle – we intercepted her today, and she told me. She took him to Bane at his request, and Bane...” his voice breaks “...Bane got him pretty good. She seemed scared and that girl, she’s never scared.”
Barbara looks away for a second, and then back at him. “And you’re telling me this for a reason?”
“I heard you used to date him.”
Barbara takes a deep breath. “Bruce and I were a lot of things, but a couple definitely wasn’t one of them.” She stands up. “Thank you for letting me know.
She grabs her bike helmet on her way out the door, and he hears her feet on the stairs followed by her engine roaring down the street. He opens up a beer, because he doesn’t quite know what to do right now.John feels really shitty for telling her the way that he did, but her reaction is not the same as he thought it would be. He's almost grateful she's not crying and clinging to him for support because it's one thing to comfort a crying woman in uniform, another completely on your living room sofa.
“Sorry to wake you,” she says, closing and locking the door behind her. “I just needed to clear my head for a bit.”
“I’m sorry if – “ he starts, uncertain what to say.
“Like I said, we were never a couple,” she tells him, putting her helmet down before sitting on the far side of the couch. “But he did mean a lot to me. He was my closest friend for a very long period of time.”
Barbara reaches over to cover John with the blanket. “Get some rest – you need it more than me.”
John doesn’t say much else – he is bone-tired these days and the alcohol didn’t help – but he does see her open the window and step out onto the fire escape.
There is coffee, but no Barbara, when he wakes up the next morning. The window to the fire escape is still ajar, giving the room a slight chill. He leaves it like that, and goes to write her a note apologizing for any perceived insult that he may have made.
Barbara shuts the window very quietly. He didn’t even hear her come down the fire escape. She smiles meekly, and if her eyes look a little red and puffy, he doesn’t comment on it. Without saying anything, he gets out another mug and pours her coffee.
She accepts it with a small smile.
One day, some ambitious photographer catches her bike speeding down towards the Palisades, and parked in front of Wayne Manor. With help from someone at the DMV, he’s able to identify Barbara by name. Soon, insinuations about her relationship with Bruce are splashed across the front page of every paper, legitimate and otherwise, in Gotham.
Her reaction is to panic, apologize for the inconvenience and back away. Her cheeks burn and she doesn’t see him for two days because she is just so embarrassed. There are countless text messages from former co-workers, and she can’t leave her apartment without someone trying to take a picture.
Pretty soon, some cops start to patrol the area, and the photographers scatter like the vermin they are.
Bruce shows up at the end of the second day.
“You’re not answering my calls,” he points out, stepping into her apartment.
“Yeah, well, I’m not,” she stammers out. “I am so completely sorry for all of this.”
“All of this?” he asks. “You know this is maybe the third time that we’ve been linked through the media, right?” There’s a weird smirk on his face, like this is highly amusing to him, but bringing that up just makes her cringe more. She had forgotten about their accidental run-in on Valentine’s Day, and she just conveniently likes to pretend that he wasn’t called in as a witness to her abduction.
“I am a complete and utter fuck-up,” she says.
That’s when he kisses her. It takes her by surprise and she finds herself responding before pulling away in horror.
“Look,” Bruce says, “Maybe they were on to something before we were?”
“I guess it’ll make it easier for me to drive to the manor,” she responds.
Nevertheless, he begins the process of buying out the surrounding mansions so the number of prying eyes will decrease.
Despite John’s insistence to the contrary, she doesn’t think that Bruce is dead. At least, it doesn’t feel like it – there’s a small, nagging portion at the back of her brain that makes her think there’s no way that he’s dead, that he can’t die, that he’s Bruce Wayne and things like death and taxes are above him.
But as she sits on the roof of John’s building, she wonders if maybe he is gone. She definitely feels his absence in Gotham.
Like she told John, she and Bruce were a lot of things, but they were never a couple. Charity events and fundraisers and even the occasional Rogues game were always things they did as friends. Often enough, Bruce approached them as training exercises, teaching her how to learn a room and navigate crowds.
Whatever they had together burned brightly then faded, but their friendship remained. And that, in spite of everything, is what she clings to.
She looks out over the city that he sought to protect, that her uncle and John and even she wants to protect, and wonders what awaits it in the coming days.
There’s a note from Bruce on her harddrive, full of requests and speculation. There is no more time for tears – she’s got a lot of work ahead of her, and she really hopes that it will all be for nothing in the end.
When Gotham goes to hell, it goes big.
John races through the hospital, his thoughts drifting from the cops stranded under the city to the commissioner in his hospital room. There are people panicking in the hallways and, somewhere off in the distance, the distinct sound of gunshots being fired.
Thankfully, it’s just Gordon. He and Barbara stand in the hospital room’s doorway, neither looking shocked or surprised at the turn of events. Barbara holds her uncle up, and glances at John quickly.
Can you hold him?” she asks, shifting Gordon’s weight onto John’s shoulder without waiting for his response. He waits while she heads back into the room, but she pauses in the doorway.
“Get him to the car. I can meet up with you later.”
“The city’s in chaos – we’re not leaving without you,” Gordon protests.
“And you need painkillers. Wait for me in the car, then,” she says before heading back into the room.
It’s hard to maneuver Gordon out to his car without hurting the man much, but he does it and straps in into the back seat just as Barbara heads out of the building with the assault rifles and several bags over her shoulder She runs to the car, putting her bags in the back, before climbing into the front seat.
“This isn’t your car,” is all she says.
“What’s in those bags?” he asks.
“Supplies,” is her only response.
As they exit the parking lot, he says “I hope everyone in there will be all right.”
It’s Barbara who says, “They’ll be dead by morning. Bane has no use for the sick and the dying.” She pauses, roots around in her purse for something. Her cell phone. It’s buzzing like crazy, and she quickly types a message back to whoever is trying to reach her.
John tries to drive slowly around the potholes the explosions have made.
“We need to get me in front of a camera,” Gordon says from the backseat but Barbara turns around.
“We need to evaluate the situation before we make any rash decisions. You are up against a lot right now and the last thing you need to do is make yourself vulnerable. Bane sent men to kill you – it’s better that he thinks you’re dead.”
Barbara is full of fierce energy. This is a completely different girl than the one who made him coffee just a few mornings ago. He’s not entirely sure what to make of this one, but he’s glad she’s on their side.
They hole up in John’s apartment and watch the news. Barbara instructs them not to answer their phones – “don’t forget, everyone thinks you’re underground or dead” – but she answers hers, disappearing into the kitchen to have conversations in hushed tones.
He evaluates the supplies that Barbara has scoured for them beyond the assault rifles and cartridges – IV drips of morphine, saline, antibiotics and sedatives, even some medical creams and bandages.
John corners her in the kitchen when she finishes a phone call.
“Did you mean what you said in the car? About Bane massacring all the people in the hospital?” he asks in a low voice.
“You don’t think he will?” she responds, barely looking up. “You saw what happened today. This is a large-scale operation to cause as much chaos and destruction as possible. This isn’t the Joker taking hold of the ferries – we’re cut off from the outside world, and no one can get in to help us. Trust me – I checked.”
“What do you have, friends in high places?” he asks, and she looks up at him, one eyebrow raised. “Oh.”
“If we keep our heads down and stay calm,” she says, “it’ll be all right.”
“Like those posters? ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’?”
Barbara laughs – a strained laugh, but still a laugh. “Just like those posters.” Her phone rings again, and she answers it. John leaves her and goes to make sure her uncle is comfortable.
At nightfall, he finds her perched on his fire escape, staring out into the Gotham night.
“Thanks for getting all those medical supplies,” he says quietly.
“Of course.” She pauses. “I’ve got more stores in places around the city. More than just medical. I’ve been stocking up since you told me Bane got to Bruce."
“So, two days?” he says, stepping out onto the fire escape with her. Inside her uncle sleeps, and he doesn’t want to wake him.
Barbara laughs. “I know, right? I’m highly efficient but then again, I learned from the best.” She pauses, looking down at her hands.
John looks over at Barbara. “By learned, do you mean...”
“Do I know about Bruce’s secret identity?” She takes a deep breath. “Yeah. Since the night Harvey Dent died.”
“Huh.” John looks out over the city. “I wonder what happens next.”
“Honestly?” Barbara says, standing up. “Bane takes over the city. He’s already declared martial law. He’s already taken out the mayor and the police. He’s dealt a significant blow to commerce in the city with what he did to the stock market exchange. I’m guessing he’ll keep working that angle but your guess is really as good as mine.”
Barbara stands up and heads back into the apartment. He follows her and watches as she checks on her uncle who is sleeping on a cot they found in an abandoned apartment upstairs. When she’s satisfied that he’s sleeping peacefully, she walks over to her bag and heads into the bathroom.
He watches as she pulls off her sweater and stands in a black tank-top. She looks at him in the mirror.
“I could use company,” she says, opening a box of hair dye. “And a ratty towel.”
“All my towels are ratty,” he says without thinking. She smiles, and he goes to find her the worst towel he has.
Within half of an hour, her brilliant red hair is gone, replaced with a mousy brown. She then takes scissors to it, cutting at least two inches off its length before reaching into her pocket. She pulls out a plastic ID card and compares herself to the picture, and then cuts off another inch.
“It’ll grow out and fade back into red,” she tells him, ruffling the top of her hair, “but it should help me pass, right?”
He picks the ID off the sink. “Stephanie Brown?”
“Complete with a Gotham address.” Barbara smiles, then turns to him. Her hair is shorter than shoulder length. The dark hair makes her skin paler, and her eyes brighter, and he thinks, for a second, that Bruce Wayne was a lucky son of a bitch, before realizing where Bruce ended up.
“Who is this? Why are you doing this?”
“For about a year or so, Bruce dragged me to charity events – when he went to them. They are hundreds of pictures of me on Bruce’s arm, “ she tells him, using air-quotes. She leans against the sink. “Bruce told me about the people that Bane is affiliated with – they’re the type of people who will take out the rich and set the poor against each other. If they even think I’m the girl that’s connected to Bruce, I’m worried they’ll take me out. I’m a symbol of everything they thinks is wrong with this city.”
“And you’re the police commissioner’s niece,” John adds, putting more pieces together.
“I’ve been used as leverage before. I’m not about to be used again.” Barbara turns around and cleans up the sink, dumping the dye down the drain.
“I’ll have to toss this a couple blocks over, just in case someone raids here, but – no offense – we’re not exactly high society on the south side of town. And I’m not knocking it, I grew up here – hell, I lived in the Narrows for a while,” she says.
“Believe me, I am not offended at being a Southsider,” he tells her, taking the towel from her. “We should keep this, when you need to dye the roots.”
“Good call.” Barbara smiles at him and he wonders about her strange transformation into...this.
“What did you mean when you said that you learned from Bruce?” he asks.
“That’s a story for another time,” Barbara tells him. “But I think there’s a way to save Gotham. The same people that trained Bane are the ones that trained Bruce, and Bruce taught me everything he knew. There are things that I know that can help us survive – and help us help Gotham.” She looks him level in the eye. “Do you trust me?”
At that very moment, John trusts her with his life. But he’s not sure about the people of Gotham. However...
John shrugs. “What else do we have to lose?”
Chapter 5: Occupation + 1 day
“...while individually we contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed.”
- Aristotle, Metaphysics
Occupation + 1 Day
Barbara watches the sun rise over Gotham and wonders how many more sunrises they have left.
It’s evident in the pauses in conversation that they are all thinking about the nuclear weapon that Bane has set loose in the city. One common citizen holding the controls to something so powerful is terrifying, but no one will say it out loud, as if speaking the words of their destruction makes it suddenly much more immediate.
What surprises her the most, though, is that her uncle barely looked at her hair. It’s a dark, drastic brown compared to her normal, vibrant red, and other than a glance and a nod, she’s not sure what he makes of it. Maybe he understands that she doesn’t want to stand out, or maybe he’s too doped up on pain medication to notice.
She snuck out last night – a fact which, she’s sure, would aggravate both her uncle and John. It’s fairly easy for her to get down the fire escape without a sound, and with her new hair and some dark clothes, she was able to survey the damage that Bane was already causing on the city without drawing any unwanted attention to herself.
She also ended up stopping one mugging, so she considers it a mild success. That gangbanger was pretty pissed he got his ass handed to him by a girl but a few carefully chosen words should prevent him from actually attempting that kind of act again.
Dinah keeps blowing up her phone with texts messages, which she sometimes responds to (unlimited data for the win, though she wonders how long the cell towers will stay up) and the other members of the Justice League check in on her, too, to see if she’s okay. She tells them that she’ll be fine, she’s with her uncle, she’ll let them know if she needs them.
Her words, both to her friends in Star City and to John last night, make her seem cool and collected. She is anything but that.
Inside she’s so wired she can’t sleep. She doesn’t want to think about what John told her, so she keeps doing things, keeps pushing herself forward to the brink of exhaustion and then crashing hard when it comes. Her brain is too active cataloguing things that she needs to do that she can’t focus for long on the bad things, and she’s always internalized everything so none of them can probably tell how stressed she really is.
It could be worse. Having a two day head start probably helped.
She knows all of Bruce’s secret caches around the city so she fills them with food, water, medical supplies, clothing, rope – the list goes on. She’s not sure if she’ll be able to access all of them during this occupation, but she likes to think she’s resourceful.
She heads back to the apartment at daybreak, scanning the street before silently scaling the fire escape. She’s glad that she was able to run those few days before all this happened. She’ll need to make sure she stays in fighting shape some other way.
The sunrise is red, and she remembers the old adage about red skies and sailors taking warning.
She wonders about John Blake. She knows only a limited number of things about him: he’s genuinely well-liked by his fellow cops; he care enough about others not only to let her stay at his place though he doesn’t even know her but to also make sure that her uncle is safe; he figured out Bruce’s identity, which is pretty impressive; he works too hard; he’s usually very awkward when in close proximity to her. He’s also younger than her, and so very idealistic for that age (she remembers herself at 24 – that’s when she met Batman) and she can hardly fault him for that.
With a sigh, she swings back down the fire escape. There’s still coffee somewhere in this world, and it needs to be in her veins right now.
The admission that Gordon hid the truth about Dent form the world comes on the heels of all the inmates of Blackgate being set free in Gotham. The one-two punch in the gut disgusts him, but there’s not much he can do now. He wasn’t there that night, but that doesn’t mean that he agrees with everything.
Barbara is perched on the back of the couch like a bird of prey, watching the TV as inmates start to roam the streets. She looks very intensely at the screen and didn’t say anything at all during her uncle’s disagreement with John earlier.
Soon, the apartment becomes too stifling, and John grabs his coat. Barbara looks up.
“You shouldn’t go alone,” she says, and he’s not going to disagreeShe grabs her coat, brushes a kiss against her uncle’s forehead, and tells him to get some rest.
“You sure picked a good time to wander Gotham,” she says. “The entire population of Blackgate is now at large and in charge.”
“Yeah, but this is the South Side,” he points out. “They’re not going to piss where they eat.”
Barbara nods. They walk slowly and cautiously, taking alleys and side-streets instead of any of the main drags. Not surprisingly, there are few people outside. He starts to walk towards St. Swithin’s, because that makes sense right now. She matches his pace to her own. They’re just two people walking in a city gone crazy. Two people constantly scanning buildings and checking sight-lines, tense and scared.
“I was there that night,” Barbara says quietly. “The night that Dent died.”
“I didn’t know that,” John says.
“I didn’t agree with the decision they came to – in fact, I spent the better part of years trying to talk Bruce out of it. But he wouldn’t listen. He’s always been a bit drawn to martyrdom.” They stop in the middle of an alley. Barbara adds, “I always thought there had to be a better way, but you can’t hold it against them. Not now.”
“I think the good criminals of Gotham who’ve been denied parole would think otherwise,” he says.
“He’s never been safe and all of us, we’ve only been pretending. And now none of us get to pretend we’re safe anymore.”
When Barbara first showed up in Gotham, John thought she was cute, but ordinary. She was polite and always had a smile for him, the nurses who came into her uncle’s room, or the other cops she ran into. She didn’t say or do anything particularly shocking, though she was fairly observant. It’s becoming obvious that Barbara wears ordinariness a mask to cover steely determinationWhatever he first thought, Barbara Gordon is tougher than nails.
They come to the backstreet in front of St. Swithin’s soon, and he pauses.
“Did you live here?” she asks. Before, he would have been surprised that she notices. Now, he wonders what she hasn’t noticed about him.
In that instant, John has this feeling that he can trust her with this secret – after all, she’s trusted him with some pretty important information. He nods.
“I was taken out of foster care and put here. I liked it – I mean, it was better than foster care.” He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks up.
“I didn’t choose to live with my uncle voluntarily,” Barbara says. “My parents both died in a car accident when I was in junior high.”
The knowledge that they’re both orphans makes it easier to take her in the back way.
They head up the stairs to find Fr. Reilly. John talks to the priest just to make sure everything is okay. He does remember to introduce Barbara as “Stephanie” and she plays along very well. She doesn’t do a lot of talking but she listens as Fr. Reilly tells him that the boys are safe for now.
When they leave, she doesn’t say anything until they are a few blocks past St. Swithin’s. Then, she stops. When he turns towards her, about to ask her what’s wrong, she looks at him like she’s making sure he won’t break. Then she takes a step forward and wraps her arms around him in a loose hug.
He’s taken aback at first – he’s never been the touchy-feely type, which is why he’s never had girlfriends for very long (money issues notwithstanding) but he lets her do it. In fact, he puts his hands on her back, returning the hug. He doesn’t realize how comforting it is until now.
Man, he really failed as a boyfriend.
“How touching,” someone calls in the distance, and they break apart suddenly. John knows he looks guilty, but when he glances over at Barbara, there’s a different look on her face. She’s watching intently as two men dressed in brown and black walk towards them down the narrow alley. They are not mercenaries, because they don’t carry the impressive weapons. Instead, they’ve got a baseball bat and a crowbar. Just some neighborhood thugs taking advantage of the chaos.
They start advancing closer“Hate to break up your date, but I think we’d all like to get hugged by your little lady."
“Sure thing, honey,” Barbara calls back, taking a step forward. John’s embarrassed that he’s letting this happen, that he’s in shock for a moment too long to not stop Barbara. But, she glances back at him and he doesn’t move. He watches as she slowly moves forward. The fingers of her left hand twitch. She walks with a measured gait, and he can almost see the tension between her shoulder blades.
He suddenly feels very sorry for those thugs. He takes a step over to the left.
Barbara continues, moving closer to the one on the right before opening her arms.
The thug, thinking that he has a chance, drops his crowbar arm down but doesn’t let go. He leans in to reach for her lecherously just as John takes another sideways step towards his partner, who is clearly more interested in Barbara than in him.
Within a single fluid movement, Barbara comes around in roundhouse kick that sends the man against back against the wall- hard. While he is dazed and confused, she quickly reacts to the one with the bat, blocking a blow and grabbing the bat. She twists it over and out of his hands effortlessly before swinging it around to catch Crowbar Thug in the gut. When the crowbar rattles to the ground, John runs for it. He barely misses Barbara whacking the now bat-less man in the groin with the edge of the bat.
“Thanks for the workout, boys,” she says. She looks at John, then back at the groaning thugs. “We’re keeping these.”
They walk home in silence, Barbara swinging the bat every so often. He spends the time thinking about how nonchalant Barbara was as she walked towards the men, how she took them out fairly easily but mostly about how she was completely unafraid. It’s taken him years of being on the street to be not nearly as collected in the face of danger.
He’s still got a lot to learn about Barbara Gordon.
She revises her opinion about John Blake in the days after visiting St. Swithin’s.
It’s not a large revision, more like a minor addendum: someone who grew up in those circumstances cannot be as idealistic as she figured John was. What she mistook for idealism is conviction about how things can be made better if people just tried.
The problem is, no one in Gotham save her uncle and, for a brief shining period Bruce, actually tried. Sure, you could argue Harvey Dent tried, but she remembers the shell of that man and she hardly counts him in the sum total.
But, if she and John go to the roof to talk about her perspective, that’s a different story. Especially when John starts to incorporate her ideas into discussion.
They all agree on one thing – that the families of the cops should be looked after, and so Barbara is drafted into that under the concession that she only goes to cops who she doesn’t know. John takes her around to a few townhouses and apartments, and she introduces herself as Stephanie and makes mental notes about families with small children, proximity to sketchiness, and the general condition of people living in Gotham outside these four walls.
It’s not too pretty, and it hasn’t even begun to get as worse as it could get.
She’s finally worked up the courage to tell her uncle she’s operating under a false name just so no one tries to find her (she’s not even supposed to be in Gotham) and he doesn’t really ask too many questions why. He understands what a tough position he’s in, and she only guesses that her connection to him makes it easier to accept the new identity.
There are some potatoes in a bag that look older and more wrinkled, so she starts to peel them. Since the brainstorming session is just rehashing a conversation John had with some other cops (which hs already filled her in on earlier), it’s not much interest to her. She lets her mind wander as she tries to map out which neighborhoods she’ll visit tonight.
“Hey.” John is in the kitchen, at her side. “Something up?”
“Just thinking,” she says, putting the knife down. “Have you talked to Ross’s family lately?”
“I’m going there tonight.”
“We should talk later.” Before I go out goes unsaid.
“Of course,” John replies.
Barbara takes a battered skillet out from under the counter and puts it on the stove.
“Need any help?”
“Can you scramble eggs?” she asks. He smiles.
“I am the scrambled eggs master.”
“I’m going to cook up these,” she gestures to the potatoes, “then you can do eggs?”
Things are different between them since both St. Swithin’s and the alley fight. John is definitely less awkward around her and they can talk more freely. It feels good not to have to hide everything about herself and to be open with at least one other person.
After they eat, her uncle volunteers to do the dishes while John packs up some food to take to Ross’s family. She doesn’t want John to go out on the streets alone but it’s not night yet so he’ll be relatively safe. All John needs to do is be home by nightfall: its one thing to go out alone at day, but the batshit insane come out at night when the mercenaries stop patrolling the streets.
Bane’s new order for Gotham has come down like this: let out the prisoners from Blackgate, and set the poor onto the rich, just as Bruce had predicted. Both she and John have heard reports of a court in the stock market exchange, where the rich are brought in and charged with egregious crimes against Gotham. She hasn’t heard much about the penalties for said crimes, but she can’t imagine they’re very good.
The night before, she snuck out and went to the posh-est neighborhoods to get an idea of what was going on there. Sex, drugs, and raves, apparently, were occurring in townhomes and penthouses vacated by their owners. It’s a stark comparison to the quiet, fearful yet occupied houses in the poor districts like the Narrows, Old Town, or the South Side.
“I’ll see you later,” John tells them as he heads out the door. Barbara nods, and goes into the kitchen to dry dishes.
Her uncle waits until John’s gone to start into her. “That boy’s got a crush on you,” he says.
“I highly doubt that.” Barbara has always hated loaded conversations of this nature, and it’s gotten more unpleasant the older she’s gotten. It doesn’t bother her if John’s got a crush on her – she’s just bothered at her uncle’s presumptuous nature at assuming that any man that looks at her twice obviously wants her.
“I see it in his eyes when he looks at you – he really respects you, and you don’t always find a lot of men who feel that way about women.”
She doesn’t have the heart to tell him that any respect Blake has for her comes from her ability to kick ass and take names, so she changes the conversation.
John returns by sunset, and he’s lucky too because she would have been out there looking for him. They watch the news – Bane has got the news networks under his thumb, and so all the rhetoric is skewed towards the empowerment of Gotham while the actual footage displays its destruction.
Eventually they turn the news off, and her uncle asks John questions about the families of his officers. Barbara takes the opportunity to head to the roof.
It is just after sunset. In the distance, car alarms go off. There are cheers and loud music, the bass thumping so loud it even rattles the metal of the fire escape. She pulls her jacket closer around her. The sun doesn’t set in Star City for another few hours. She wonders how her friends back there are doing.
When she first got into that town, she stumbled into a bar across the street from her shady hotel to calm her nerves. What she had really stumbled upon was a couple of jerks looking for an easy mark, and an immediate confrontation that ended up with her and the bartender, a young blond girl named Dinah in a leather bustier, sweeping the floor with the jerks. That and another glass of whiskey. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
She can hear John come up the fire escape, so she calls out “We need to work on your stealth.”
“Hey,” he says, sitting beside her, “not everyone is a ninja like you.”
Barbara rolls her eyes.
“So any idea why your uncle pretty much gave me a whole talk about how you’re a good girl and that I better respect you? All he was missing was a rocking chair and a gun.”
“I’m sorry,” she says, burying her head in her hands. “My uncle confuses fear with attraction. He thinks you’re into me. I didn’t want to tell him that you’re afraid of me.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
“Bullshit. You know I could kick your ass right here without even breaking a sweat.” She looks over at John, who does his best to look innocent.
“It’s been five days since Bane took over, and I don’t see any evidence that this city is the better for it,” Barbara points out. “How long do you think it’s going to stay like this?”
“As long as Bane can stretch it out.” John lowers his voice. “We were talking about trying to get the cops together – form some sort of resistance movement.”
“With what purpose?”
“Stopping Bane. Geez, Barbara, I thought you were supposed to be smart,” John teases her, and she smacks his arm. It’s getting colder, so she tucks her knees into her chest, wrapping her arms around them.
“I’m not sure how possible that is,” she says.
“Not without your help.” John turns to face her, and she looks up. “Look, I didn’t tell your uncle this, but we’re cops – some of us have instincts, the rest of us don’t. We’re good at getting all the facts and putting things together to find patterns. We’re not necessarily good at stealth.”
“So you want me for that?” she asks. It’s not exactly what she was planning on doing to help the people of Gotham...but drawing attention to herself by constantly beating up thugs is not exactly going to keep Gotham safe.
“What do you want to do?” John counters.
“I could do reconnaissance,” she says. “I have some experience with that.”
“There’s no one else I know that can spy on Bane’s mercenaries without getting caught.” He looks down. “You were right - I used to be much better at being sneaky.”
Barbara rests her chin on her knees. “I think you’re putting too much stock in me. There’s no evidence that I won’t get caught.”
“I followed you last night, when you headed uptown.”
Barbara shifts. “Why would you do that?”
“I wanted to see what you could do. I don’t know why, I just knew I had to follow you.”
“I think you’re mistaking me for a cat burglar.”
“Maybe you’re part-cat and part-ninja, I don’t know, but you decided the best route to take was over the rooftops and I tried to follow you across those roofs and I failed – miserably. I take a tumble, I look up, and then I spot you three blocks up on another rooftop.” John shakes his head. “Where were you going?"
"I wanted to see how the other half live."
“And how do they live?”
“The rich, not so well. The crackheads and prostitutes? It’s like Carnival and Mardi Gras all at once.”
“Shame we’re missing the party,” John says.
“Oh, yeah, totally.” There’s silence, and more cheers and car alarms in the distance.
“Well, anyway, I’m not speaking as the leader or anything here, but you and I both know that keeping a tab on Bane and his lackeys should be a priority.”
“You’re right,” Barbara agrees. “And I don’t mind. It’ll keep me busy.”
There’s a long pause before John asks, “How are you holding up?” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what exactly he’s talking about.
“I don’t think he’s gone, John,” she says softly. “You don’t know him as well as I do, but I don’t think someone like Bane could break him.”
“Selina Kyle said he got roughed up pretty bad. All off the record, of course.”
“I know what Selina Kyle said, but something inside tells me he’s still there.” There’s a tear at the corner of her eye which she brushes away. “My uncle likes to say that some people are made of piss and vinegar and there are days that I think Bruce is one of them.”
“I hope for your sake that you’re right,” John concedes, looking out into the oncoming night. “Gotham needs people like him.”
“Gotham needs him, but they’re stuck with us for now.”
“They’re getting the short end of the stick, it seems like,” John says, and she laughs. John joins in, and it feels so good to laugh, even if it’s quiet and muffled so as to not draw attention to themselves.
“Who knows,” Barbara says, trying to sound positive. “Maybe we’ll be good for Gotham after all.”
Chapter 6: Occupation + 25 Days
"All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight... we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things."
Occupation + 25 days
After a few days, waking up at 6am becomes habit. It's a good thing too, because Gotham's power is becoming spotty. John's not sure why but it means he has to charge his cell phone during the day and hope that it'll still be charged to wake him up in the morning.
It's October now, and the sun isn't rising as early anymore, so the sky is dark as he waits by the window. He's only had a few hours of sleep and he is so tired, but coffee is a precious commodity and he's not the one that needs to be the most alert.
He doesn't like sleeping while Barbara is out there, but they've talked about this and she insists that a night shift is necessary to supplement all the other shifts that she pulls during the day. She's just lucky as hell that she's so stubborn and that he gives in every single time.
He opens the window to his bedroom and Barbara slips in quietly from the ledge (how she can balance on such a thin surface he doesn't want to know). She looks cold, so he quickly closes the window and hands her a blanket. She wraps it around herself before settling down on his bed.
"Anything new?" he asks. She shakes her head, slowly reaching up to pull her black hat from her head. She was right – within just a few weeks, bright red streaks are showing near the roots of her hair. He guesses she'll have to dye her hair again within the month.
"There was a night session of the court," Barbara says. John grabs a pad and writes the information down. "I didn't get close enough to see what was going on, but some of the onlookers told me it was another case of a fat cat getting what he deserved." She sighs. "I should add that those were their words, not mine."
"No increased mercenary presence in the city at night but I'm starting to wonder if they aren't paying off some hoodlums to make sure people fall in line," Barbara adds. "I've seen the same three kids –teenagers, I think, maybe a little older – out on the same block a few nights in a row. People are scared of them, but not in the way you'd be scared of a thug out on the corner. It's like there's power behind them and the people in that neighborhood know it. So we need to keep an eye out for that."
"That's good – we can definitely do that," John says. "Do you want any coffee?"
"I just want to sleep," she says, yawning. "I'll make sure I'm up by ten."
"You know you that I can do that shift," John says. "Rest. You haven't gotten a full night's sleep in weeks."
"Look who's talking," she says, but she's already leaning back into the bed. "What are your plans for the day?"
"New food shipment today," he says. Barbara sits up, alert.
"Do you need me?"
"Not sure when it's getting in."
"It's been in at ten in the past."
"And you need to rest."
"You better wake me up by ten," she says, slipping back down onto the bed and pulling the comforter over her head.
John doesn't say anything else. Barbara's taken to falling asleep the minute her head hits the pillow, so he doesn't want to keep her up.
He heads into the bathroom instead. He's grateful since the city-wide power outages haven't affected gas yet - which means they can all take warm showers on these cold mornings.
He feels guilty for Barbara's lack of sleep, but she's a force to be reckoned with and he doesn't particularly feel like fighting her this morning (or ever).
On the bright side, if that stubbornness is for the better – like convincing her uncle to stop asking questions about why she sleeps in John's room – then more power to her. It's not like they're involved, but it makes it easier for her to sneak in and out at night. They take turns using the bed, and Gordon uses the cot. He keeps talking about going back to his apartment, but all of them know it's the first place that Bane's people would look. Barbara's even been there, and reported that the place has been ransacked.
If he has to deal with increased scrutiny and the occasional comment about respecting Barbara, well, he considers it a trade-off for the information she gathers for them. Her newest and most useful information has been about the kangaroo court established in the stock market exchange.
And if he happens to find some sort of happiness in seeing her sleeping in his bed, he'll never tell anyone that. Mostly because it's creepy, but also because it makes him feel like a teenage boy again. It's just that it's been a while since a girl voluntarily slept in his bed, and it's really sad that he's excited about it being under circumstances such as these.
He turns off the shower and dries off, feeling cold already. He distracts himself with the affairs of the day. There's a food shipment at 10. Her address – Stephanie's address - is in a different neighborhood which means she can claim food at a different pickup station which means they can get twice as much food. It's still nowhere near enough, but Bane's seized control of the supermarkets and wholesale clubs and neighborhood bodegas and started rationing out food to the people in a little over a week, as a half-assed protection against looting. The guy running the pick-up in his neighborhood never checks his I.D., never gives him away for being a cop, and John's grateful for that.
They'll take all the food to an apartment three blocks away, divvy out what they can save and take the rest to the families of the cops who have young kids. Barbara usually takes her extra food up to St. Swithin's, and John never ceases to be thankful for it. She doesn't think that he knows, but Fr. Reilly always makes an innocent comment that gives Barbara away.
He grabs the pad of paper and looks over his notes again. In the living room, Gordon stirs on the cot. Another day under Bane's thumb, but at least it's getting bright outside.
Barbara's had her fair share of friends, but it's not until she's older that she can actually say she has true friends. First Bruce, then Dinah and the rest of the League, and now she's moving John firmly into that category.
Most of the time, she misses everyone she knows from Star City – Dinah, Lance, Carter, even Oliver – to the point of distraction and tries not to think about them, and doing that is almost as hard as not thinking about Bruce.
But whatever she felt for Bruce has melted away to the point where it's left nothing but a residue. Bruce is the reason she knows how to help the resistance. Bruce is the reason she knows how to scale a building, or how to hack into public networks. He's made her into what she is now, so she can help the people of Gotham. And she'll always thank him for that.
All of her friends, John included, care about people. They want to protect the citizens of their cities just as much as they want to protect each other. But whereas people like Bruce and Oliver and to a lesser degree Dinah are cynical, she wants to believe in the best in others.
Which is why it's so easy to become close to John; she lets him know things about her that she hasn't told her uncle. And he rewards her trust with his own stories, slowly told and stored away by her like they're precious (and they are, because she can tell he doesn't talk about this). She learns about his time at St. Swithin's and about his parents and other things.
Most of these stories are told at night, prior to her night shift, seated on his bed. It's the only place in the apartment that they can talk privately. And after a few nights of doing that, her uncle started to ask questions, and so she lied. She told him that she and John were involved. She said it was just the beginning of something, but her uncle just smiled and told her to be careful with her heart.
Besides, most days it feels like the only relationship she has with anyone, romantic or otherwise, is with John. Her uncle is becoming angry at being ineffective (the leg is taking longer to heal and with rationed antibiotics, they don't risk anything) and angry at Bane and what's he's done to Gotham. There's despair there, too, but hope seems to cover all that up a nice veneer she sometimes wonder if she's inherited too. Push it down, keep it up, don't let anyone stop you.
She's fairly sure it would drive John crazy if he wasn't the exact same way.
She tells him about Star City, how she worked with the Justice League, and what exactly they stood for. She can tell he finds it difficult to understand just why they do what they do when she talks about Oliver or Dinah, but she can hardly blame him. Until a few weeks ago, he had only assumed to know that Bruce was Batman, and he probably never thought about any of this until Bane took over the city. But he holds up to it better than she expected, and he laughs when she tells him about taking BatGirl as her name out west.
"BatGirl? My god, woman, you're ridiculous," he tells her with a laugh. "Barbara Gordon. Bat Girl. BG."
"I used to go by that, when I had my Batman fansite," she tells him. He grins.
"Why am I not surprised you were a total fangirl?"
"Stop!" she says, gently hitting his knee. "You suck. And this was before I met Bruce."
"Whatever, BG," John says.
"Like you're any better. What did they call you on your basketball team again? 'Boy Wonder'? Why not 'Wonderboy' if we're talking lame point values." The statement earns her a pillow aimed at her head but John's still smiling.
"I told you – I was short for my age."
"Regardless, I better get going, Boy Wonder," she says, standing up. John's expression changes.
"Stay safe, BG," he says softly.
"I'll do my best," she says. The smile he gives in return doesn't quite reach his eyes.
She doesn't tell John about the near-misses.
Some days Barbara's simply in the wrong place at the wrong time: those are the days she runs faster than the men with their guns and prays that she can disappear into a doorway or window before they can find her. She's usually better when she's on rooftop, but there have been a couple times when she's had to jump or repel from one rooftop to another or even straight down in order to stay safe. She always hides for an hour or two before heading home, disguising lumps and limps and wearing long sleeves to hide the scratches.
It's not her fault – well, it's mostly not. The mercenaries are everywhere and where they're not, their hired guns are (can hired guns have hired guns? Best not to think about it).
When Barbara comes home with a split lip – the result of rain-slicked pavement and a particularly dark alley - then John notices. Hell, he's probably noticed all long, but now he actually does something about it.
She's only grateful it's him and not her uncle fussing over her.
John makes her sit on the counter and hold an old bag of peas to her lip and she remembers being in similar situation in a different place. Instead of Bruce offering to train her, she's got John worrying about her. The line between his eyebrows is too deep for someone not yet thirty (she should know) and he scans her body quickly.
"Are you hurt anywhere else?" he asks. Barbara sighs and hands him the bag. Better now than later.
She peels off her wet shirt and puts it in the sink. In her tank-top, she knows he can see the bruises that are fading from earlier, but she holds up her skinned elbow.
Of course he ignores that. Fingers ghost over the bruises on her upper arms from when she's ran into objects on her way out of tight situations or twisted herself out of someone's grasp. She feels uncomfortable under John's gaze, even more so as he inspects her body. When her breath hitches, she's not sure if it's because of his fingers pressing against a bruise or his fingers themselves.
They've become more comfortable with being in each other's personal space – something that comes from sharing space and a secret, she thinks. But she notices that John touches her now, a hand on her hip to move her out of the way or what he's doing as he inspects her injuries, and she's not sure that the John of one month ago would have done the same.
It's not entirely something that she minds.
"Bleeding here?" she asks, wiggling her arm, and he turns to face her with a frustrated look on his face.
"It's too dangerous for you," he says. He grabs a paper towel, running it under water before raising her arm and carefully washing the wound.
"You haven't seen Bruce," she tells him. "He's covered in scars. Alfred told me horror stories about the bruises that Bruce got when he was out there as Batman. I think he was trying to stop me from training."
"Didn't seem to be too effective." John reaches for the antibacterial gel and hands it to her. She rubs it on and he bandages the cut.
"You know me," Barbara concedes. "Besides, in Star City, I dislocated my shoulder and got a concussion. I've been through worse than a bruised elbow and split lip."
That doesn't stop John from giving her this look of reproach.
"Just take care of yourself, BG," he says.
"No promises," she says with a wink. He shakes his head and rests his hands against the counter. They are ridiculously close – so close that she can see how his hair is growing out. These days, things that used to come easily are suddenly luxuries – like haircuts, or shopping for clothes, or travel. All the shops have shut down, and Bane rations nearly everything in existence. It's getting colder, and she needs John to find out which families need more clothing or blankets. It's not just the families of cops anymore, but the neighborhood and St. Swithin's and anyone that they can trust gets looked after too.
"Your hair's getting longer," she says, reaching out. She runs her fingers through it, watching as it flops against his forehead. "We should cut it."
"Yeah." The expression on his face is unreadable, and she doesn't know what to make of it, so she changes the conversation.
"I'll need to dye my hair eventually," she adds, dropping her hand.
The door opens and her uncle walks in.
The awkwardness of their position – her on the counter, John standing with his arms on either side of her hips – barely gets a second glance.
"Keep these against your mouth," he says, giving her back her bag of peas. She rolls her eyes and if John's hand lingers a little too long on hers, she tries very hard not to notice the feeling in the pit of her stomach.
His days goes like this:
He wakes up to make sure that Barbara gets in okay from the night before – she's taken to coming home earlier, feeling defeated these days – and then he heads to the first debriefing. The cops who help are the ones on desk duty or administrative leave or retired or young and they are surprisingly passionate about this.
Some days, he monitors streets looking watching for mercenaries. Some days he's on high, in places Barbara showed him have good lines of sight, watching for the convoys. They've figured out that Bane has three trucks that carry the bomb, but that is it. They've started to watch for patterns, but thus far there are none.
He stops by St. Swithin's every day, sends notes to Ross and the others in the sewer, and makes sure to visit the families of his friends. But that only takes up so much time. The rest is equally divided between sleeping, worrying about Barbara getting caught, and doing nothing instead of worrying.
Ross was so right: he's got it bad. He even tells his former partner such when he lowers down a note. He only wishes he knew what Ross's response was.
It's not like the crushes he had when he was in high school or even the fluttery feeling of seeing a really cute girl across a bar. This is different, and more complicated - more complicated than he can describe, more complicated than he even wants to imagine. This is about working with someone who you really enjoy being around and then going home and having to sleep in the same bed that smells like the stupid fruity shampoo that she uses that smells really really good. This is about having lots of feelings and not being able to act on any of them because this trivial crush is just that – trivial, especially in times like these.
But that doesn't mean that he doesn't enjoy every single second of time he spends with her, or take every opportunity to be close to her (except when he's bandaging her up – that's just work ) or that he wishes things were different.
But they're not. And so it's no use wishing.
He's out monitoring truck routes today with Gordon. They take some side streets and then sit and watch. There are far fewer people out on the streets these days, and those that are don't stay out for long. They'll need to move in a bit so they don't become suspicious.
"You're good for her, you know?" Gordon says without preamble. It takes John a moment to realize exactly what Gordon's talking about.
"I guess so, sir," John responds, feeling awkward.
"No, you really are." Gordon looks down, then scans the street. "You don't know what she was like after Dent died. She didn't talk to us much. She started hanging out with Bruce Wayne and going to parties and she just...she wasn't herself. And then she went to Star City." Gordon sighs. "I'm sad that she had to come back here for me, but I can finally see something of the girl she used to be when she's around you. I'm glad that she met you"
John doesn't know what to do with all this information. "Me too," he finally says quietly. "She's good for me too."
Her day goes like this:
Wake up in the morning for either a food shipment or a supply run. She'll usually see John for a moment and he'll fill her in on what her uncle and the others are doing, and then he's back out on the street looking for answers.
She sticks to the ground during the day, moving through different neighborhoods in different clothes that she acquires from abandoned apartments and stores (she tells herself not to feel bad about it because she's doing them all a favor but it's a piss-poor justification). She picks up information easily because people don't think she's up to anything and she delivers it just as easily back to the apartment.
Sometimes she's brave: she'll go to the hearings, wearing glasses or a hat, eyes down, just to see Crane dispense justice as easily as he would anti-psychotics. She catches a glimpse or two of Bane, but she stays away. She's already got enough nightmares.
She goes above at night, blending into the darkness just like Bruce taught her. She watches and listens.
She doesn't cross paths with many people, but she keeps running into one woman, near her age, with dark eyes and an even darker disposition. She's seen her at raves and abandoned hotels and in the streets, ducking behind corners to avoid Bane's mercenaries.
Barbara recognizes Selina Kyle from the file on John's table, the one she's not supposed to look at, the one with the photocopied pictures and information he's not supposed to have. She knows that the woman's only in it for herself, but one day she can't help it. Selina Kyle has connections that Barbara lacks, and she needs the information. And she's so very curious at the woman who drew Bruce out of his self-inflicted house arrest, but there's no jealousy in her motives. There's just curiosity.
She seeks Kyle out. She deliberately makes sure that the other woman knows she's tailing her, and allows the cat burglar to set her up for an ambush.
The ambush is more evenly-matched that Kyle expected, apparently (she tries to pin Barbara to the wall with her hand but Barbara deftly twists and pins her) and there's honest intrigue in the other woman's eyes when they separate.
"I'm impressed," Kyle says. "I've seen you around but I always thought you were more of a tourist."
"In some ways," Barbara admits, not letting the barb sting like it's supposed to. Words as much as fists can disarm an enemy. "In others, not so much."
She eyes up possible escape routes for the other woman. Selina Kyle is a flight risk, and Barbara has too much to say to her to let her get out easy.
"Yeah, well, you learn something new every day."
"And I'm sure you're always learning."
"When it's necessary." Kyle rubs her wrist.
"I know who you are," Barbara tells her.
"Unfair advantage, since I have no idea who you are." Kyle is sharp, eyes hardened after years of what she's done.
"Probably for the best, though we do share a mutual friend," Barbara says. Kyle's eyes widen just slightly.
"I thought you looked familiar."
"Look, I know you're not in the business of helping others, so I'll make this worth your while. If you hear anything that is particularly interesting to you, I need you to get it to me."
"And how is this worth my while?"
"I have means to make your life better," Barbara says, only half-bluffing. Kyle rolls her eyes.
"I doubt that."
"I can make sure you get to the French Rivera. Shame you got held up last time."
Kyle simply smiles. "I'll think on it."
"I'm sure you will."
Barbara leaves the alley and waits until she's back at the apartment to consider what she just offered. When John gets back, she tells him.
"But she's a criminal, BG," John says.
"Yeah, and we need criminals right now," she protests. "She has access to sources of information that we just don't."
John doesn't look too happy, but he's always willing to attempt whatever Barbara suggests.
Whatever Selina Kyle thinks about Barbara's offer, she starts appearing in the neighborhood with information (Barbara is only slightly surprised that she didn't use a proxy). Whatever information comes is incredibly valuable, and Barbara makes sure to come up with a zillion ways to pay Oliver Queen back when she asks him for this favor. At least, once they're finally able to get out of here.
She heads to the rooftop one day to call Dinah. Before she left Star City, Oliver had given them all satellite phones in case they were ever out of reach of a cell tower. Though the cell towers are up in Gotham, she feels better using the Queen Industries satellite to talk to her friend.
"Jesus, Babs, what's going on there?" Dinah asks, picking up after the first ring.
"I'm all right," she says, laying down on the roof so no one can see her. The roof is warm from the October sun, and she likes feeling warm. It's been so cold most of these days and it's worse at night.
"Of course you are – you're a damn trooper." Dinah pauses, and her voice is small when she resumes speaking. "There's really no way that we can get to you, is there?"
"No," Barbara says. "But I'll be fine. Will you let the others know?"
"Tell me about what's going on in Star City. I need a distraction."
One month into the occupation, Bane starts to act on rumors about cops still in the city, and starts to systematically raid homes. Selina Kyle tips them off before hand, so they're long gone with Bane descends on John's house looking for Gordon.
He watches with Barbara from a rooftop, using long-range binoculars. Watching his apartment get ransacked makes him feel nothing, oddly enough.
"We'll pick up the pieces later," she says behind him. Until they can do that, they'll go to the address on Barbara's fake ID, which is already a safe house for other cops. It's closer to Old Town, and more likely to be surrounded by criminals than he'd like, but Barbara thinks it's a good move. She's also said she'll find more safe houses in the coming weeks.
"We just keep running," she tells him, taking the binoculars back. "Our belongings are stashed around the city. We'll be fine." The look of hope on her face seems so solid that he really, truly wants to believe.
"Yeah," he says. "We will."
When they see the man who allegedly ratted on the police huddled on the corner with a black eye, clutching his ribs like they're broken, John becomes suspicious.
"Don't look at me," Barbara says. "Maybe you've got a guardian angel."
"In the form of a thief?" John asks.
"I am certainly not responsible for Selina's decisions," she says, "but sometimes that girl has the right idea."
Thank you for all the reviews and kudos - I really appreciate your comments and thank you for reading :)
Chapter 7: Occupation + 50 Days
"But again it is not the case that all things are at rest or in motion sometimes, and nothing for ever; for there is something which always moves the things that are in motion, and the first mover is itself unmoved."
Occupation + 50 days
"Over there, three o'clock."
Barbara's voice in his ear directs him to look up and over, where a group of people are being herded away from whatever temporary shelter they huddled in for the past month and a half.
Bane's policy of reform had started with deposing the rich of their property, and there had been an initial period of citizens arrests but in the chaos, people obviously slipped away. There had been a lull while Bane reorganized the city's structure, setting up his court and monitoring rationing. His mercenaries were still out in full force, searching for people that met the description of being non-compliant with the new regime, or being saturated with the failure of the old, but for the most part, things calmed down.
"Look – third window from the bottom, on the left." Barbara directs him to a window on the building Bane's crew has just raided. "All the rest are boarded up, but there's a gap in that one. They wanted to let light in but they didn't want to be seen. It's little things like that. You can't be too careful about being consistent."
"You sure you're not grasping at straws, BG?" John responds, speaking low into the transmitter. How Barbara found these com systems is beyond him – she might have had them the whole time, but they've come in useful over the past few weeks.
"Nope. Seen it before."
Barbara's on a rooftop on the other side of the building. He can't see her but he knows she's there. She showed him this vantage point earlier in the week, when Selina Kyle told them about the new surge in arrests.
He doesn't want to trust Selina Kyle, but Barbara was right: the thief had access to information that they didn't have.
"Look at your seven," Barbara of the present tells him, directing his eyes down the street. Truck movement, with a Tumbler ahead of it. Like clockwork, they're starting to follow a pattern. Granted, it's a twice-a-week schedule, but it's consistent nonetheless.
"Do you think Bane's deliberately making this routine?" Barbara asks.
"If he is," John replies, "is it for the sake of his drivers or for us?"
There's a moment of silence, before Barbara replies. "I'm starving. Lunch?"
He stands up slowly, his body aching from being prone for so long – that, or the push-ups that he's been doing. Barbara believes that maintaining upper-body strength is crucial if they want to stay safe, and cardio isn't really an option right now ("Believe what you want, Boy Wonder, we don't need to worry about cardio when there are no zombies. The combined weight of their uniforms and their guns means that they'll have to be a world-class sprinter to chase us down.") She's usually up before the rest of them in the safe house, and he can find her in the hallway doing push-ups or pull-ups or some form of particularly-complicated yoga move that makes his back hurt.
Besides, he's starving. Rations don't go far, even with the little bit extra that Barbara managed to squirrel away, and he hasn't eaten anything since last night.
Only problem is that his door doesn't seem to want to open.
"Race you home," Barbara chirps cheerfully in his ear, and he jiggles the door handle again.
"That might be a problem - my door won't open."
"Yeah, that's my bad – no lunch until you pick that lock. Your skills are a bit rusty and we need to work on that. I'll see you at the office when you finish. If you're not done in an hour, I guess you'll just have to find another way down."
"You sure know how to treat a guy, BG."
"Quit flattering me." And then her voice goes dark.
John stares at the door, frustrated. If he didn't like her so damn much, he'd probably be way more pissed than he actually is. But Barbara's right – his skills are rusty. And if he can't get through this door, then she wants him to scale the building. But, scaling the building in daylight is way more risky than at night, so it's the lock or nothing.
Barbara's started making him carry a few essential tools with him all times for any emergency – lock picking and carjacking specifically (not that there's anywhere for them to go). She's taught him how to hot-wire a vehicle and he's taught her how to siphon gas. He's not entirely sure that his contribution is that helpful, but you never know.
It takes him fifteen minutes to jimmy the lock open, and he makes it back to the safe house half an hour after she left her roof. There are just a few people there besides Barbara today – most of the people in this safe house are cops and they're out on the streets trying to look inconspicuous. It's just the wife of one guy and the teenage daughter of another who are both watching TV, and Barbara is making ramen on the stove.
He comes up behind her, hands on her hips. In this position of fake intimacy, he takes the opportunity to whisper, "You can be a real tease sometimes." If his lips linger too close to her ear (and maybe if her breath hitches just a bit) well, its part of this illusion they've created.
As always, Barbara is excellent at playing along. She leans back against him, distracting him with the press of her body against his, and turns her head just enough so that they're inches, maybe even centimeters apart.
"I try," she says. She turns back to the stove top.
"It's a good thing I like you so much," he says. He does like her, but too much – to the point where it's a serious problem.
Barbara says nothing in response, but she does reach for his left hand with hers and links their fingers together. She gives their joined hands a squeeze. Having her reach for his hand, or brush her fingers across his face, is becoming common. Touch, in general, it becoming more common: she leans in him when they watch the news, and he always takes the opportunity to wrap his arm around her shoulders just to have her closer. He knows his actions are just part of the act, but he's not really sure what hers are exactly.
"Get me some bowls, okay?" Barbara asks. He lets go of her hand, and the remainder of her touch lingers.
"Remind me to thank you for shortening my lifespan with this stuff," he says, holding out the bowls so she can fill them with sodium-rich carbs.
"It's the least I can do, Boy Wonder," she says with a smile.
John really used to hate that nickname – as much as he hated his first name. Now he finds he doesn't hate it as much when it's Barbara who's the one teasing him.
They take their bowls to the couch in time to catch the 12 o'clock news. They squeeze in on the couch, hips pressed together, and the ramen tastes like gourmet food. Or maybe it's just the company. It's certainly not Bane's propaganda spewing from the news anchor's mouth.
It's the same story every day: rationing will continue, destruction of property is not encouraged because it is their city after all, those who corrupted Gotham will pay for their crimes, and it is up to YOU to make things right, people of Gotham, as you reclaim your city.
John spends a lot of days wondering if, when all the dust settles, there will even be a Gotham to reclaim.
Barbara doesn't know the point when Selina Kyle shifted from becoming a contact to a confidante, but she's not going to ask questions. Nothing the other woman does is for anyone other than herself, but Barbara considers it a small victory when Selina starts to show up on her nightly patrols, more than willing to lend a helping fist.
She knows that Selina was following her for a while, watching without interfering as Barbara scaled buildings, infiltrated Bane's court, went from the South Side to the Uptown to Old Town, even the area formerly known as the Narrows (now home to a fairly large crater and a lot of wasted taxpayer money that was the Rogue's stadium). It's not until she's clearly outnumbered seven to one that Selina steps in to help her mop the floor with some of Gotham's finest hooligans.
Without saying much, they seem to meet up at the same place every night: 177th and U, right at the end of Old Town and at least 12 blocks from the safe house. People in Old Town recognize and leave Selina alone, and now Barbara gets some of that street cred purely by association.
"I think I finally cracked it," Selina says one night as they finish chasing off a group of high school boys clearly intent on vandalizing their former school.
"Really?" Barbara asks, knowing what she means.
"You're the ex-girlfriend of our mutual friend."
Barbara rolls her eyes. "Why does everyone think we dated?"
"Could've fooled me."
"Friends with benefits? Yes. But I did not date him."
There's a pause before Selina asks, "Why not?" The pause itself is telling – Selina is usually quick with the quips and a fast thinker, so Barbara's learned to read the pauses as hesitation. The comments that follow usually reveal something about Selina that she doesn't want to show.
"You've met him," Barbara says, shoving her hands down into her pockets. It's getting really cold in Gotham, and soon the river will freeze.
"I know. All that money – seems like a girl could have a good time."
"But like I said – you've met him. How much of a good time do you think a girl could really have with Mopey McMoperson?" Barbara stops at the end of the alley, scanning the street.
"I guess you're right," Selina admits. "So you're with that cop now?"
"Oh my god, I knew you were following me more than just at night," Barbara says, spinning around to face the other woman. "Don't you have friends?"
A look crosses Selina's face, and Barbara realizes that her joking comment has gone a step too far. But she doesn't apologize – apologizing is weakness to people like Selina, so she just raises an eyebrow and waits for a response.
"Cats are solitary creatures," Selina says, stepping past her onto the street. Barbara shakes her head and follows.
"I'm not dating him." Barbara feels colder suddenly, if that's even possible. "It's complicated."
"Really? He's a puppy dog when he looks at you – I don't see how it's complicated to hit it and quit it," Selina spits out.
Barbara shakes her head. "It just is, all right?" She hopes the tone of her voice will stop any further discussion about John.
It's not that she doesn't like John – she does, too much. Her feelings crisscross constantly: one minute he's a good friend and nothing more, the next she finds herself staring at him and thinking how incredibly hot is it when men (in this case, John) roll up their shirtsleeves. She enjoys his company when he's around, feels a loss when he's not, confides in him and listens in return. She thinks he's good looking, and spends half of her time around him trying hard not to blush or lose control of her breathing.
So yeah. It's complicated.
Selina's quiet, contemplating, before she asks her next question.
"How you fight –you fight like he did. When I took him to Bane."
There's no need to clarify who they're talking about.
"That's because he trained me."
"Bane knew his moves," Selina points out. "He wasn't even broadcasting them."
"They were trained by the same man."
Selina draws in a breath. "We're screwed, aren't we?"
"If you really want to be that pessimistic," Barbara concedes. "Come on, let's head north."
Selina is quiet for the rest of their patrol, and disappears halfway to the safe house, but Barbara doesn't want to take it personally. After all, this was the most they talked about anything, and Selina probably needs to process it.
She heads back home. The safe house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms – a downright luxury in Gotham – and people move in and out constantly, searching for family or something better. By some random stroke of fate, she and John get the small back bedroom tonight, so when she scales the rickety fire escape (two creaks, a sad record) and steps carefully along the ledge, she's grateful to find the window opened just a crack.
She slips in quietly, but John always hears her. He shifts in the bed as she lifts the covers and slides in. It's just a twin, barely big enough for the two of them, so they're pressed tightly together.
By some impulse she's not really sure she understands, Barbara slips her arms around his chest, pressing herself to his back. She rests her head between his shoulder blades and takes a deep, shaky breath. She likes the smell of him – Old Spice deodorant and a cologne she doesn't recognize but is distinctly John. It makes her feel safe, and content, and maybe even a bit like this is home.
John moves in his sleep, resting his arms on hers and pulling her closer. Her palm rests over his heart, and she can feel its steady beat lulling her to sleep.
"I hate you so much right now," Barbara says. She blows onto her hands to warm them but even that doesn't do much.
Bruce laughs. "You wanted this."
He was right. She's the one that pestered him to take her out onto a rooftop so she could learn how to do what he did – scale rooftops, run from the police, drop down and out of sight.
A lot of Bruce's tricks came with the suit – body armor to absorb shock, grappling guns and lines and all sorts of gadgets she's still learning how to use. Tonight is not about tricks, however; tonight is about stealth.
Barbara's always been light on her feet – gymnastics and ballet and whatever else her mother signed her up for were things that her aunt and uncle continued to insist she take after the car accident. She dropped ballet, stuck with gymnastics, dropped that when she broke her ankle. So being quiet isn't hard. It's the other tricks she needs to master.
Bruce teaches her how to use dark to her advantage. It was more than just dark clothes and quiet feet – it is about smoke screens and disguises and personas as well. He takes her to fancy parties and teachers how to play the part of a society member (being the police commissioner's niece is an instant society "In", apparently). He makes snide comments under his breath while they dance. She is the beautiful girl, the people's princess on the arm of the most infamous playboy to grace Gotham City's elite parties.
They play their roles well: she is easily impressed, sweet, and charming while he is rakish and extravagant. It is very different from the other roles they play of teacher and student, and Barbara and Bruce.
He takes her into alleyways and gang territory as he teachers her how to blend in with the people in Old Town and the Narrows (or what's left of it). By the time they're finished, she'll be able to navigate her way through all of Gotham's social strata just like he can.
But tonight – stealth.
Barbara takes a deep breath. Bruce looks at her, raises an eyebrow.
"To the farthest roof and back. No stumbling. No noises. They – "he points to some alarms he's rigged up to detect the smallest sound, the skitter of too much gravel – "will rat you out." The alarms will sound like smoke detectors, which will bring the neighbors out if not the fire department. Making a clean getaway will be harder with civilians.
She nods her head. "Got it."
He counts backwards from five and then they're off. The roofs that they're on belong to a group of row houses on the South Side of town. There is a police station two blocks north, and a patrol car that does rounds every night. It will be here in fifteen minutes.
Her heart races as she surges forward, feet light as possible as she vaults over walls and twists around satellite dishes. She can see Bruce out of the corner of her eye behind her but giving his all. His knee is causing him problems again.
She considers risking a smoke bomb to get a bigger lead but doesn't want to cause any problems with civilians thinking there's a fire. So she presses on, aware of every movement of her feet, the wind across her face, the way that she has to step over exhaust pipes and sunroofs.
She makes it there first, ten seconds ahead of Bruce.
"I only won because I didn't jack up my knee," she tells him. He shakes his head.
"You won because you're faster. You're doing better," he says. She appreciates the encouragement and the praises, and feels better about her abilities after tonight.
Bane does nothing to stop Thanksgiving celebrations. Instead, he turns it into a celebration of the occupation, giving speeches on how Gotham should be thankful for what they're doing, and while not every family gets a turkey, there's enough so that people can gather and be thankful.
Barbara goes with her uncle and John to the house of another cop who wasn't underground, where a bunch of them are gathering. Dinner is sparse – cornbread, a turkey, mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce. Barbara makes a pumpkin pie, but everyone has the decency not to ask how she obtained the ingredients. It takes a lot to stay alive these days, and resorting to illegal measures is becoming more common and easier to bear.
They all do shots of whiskey and Bane allows the power to stay on the whole day (so she thinks) so they all watch a football game. Barbara helps with the dishes. She makes a small platter to take to Selina later, as a gesture of thanks that she already expects the other woman will scoff at (but which she feels compelled to make, because it's just one of those deep-down gut feelings).
She glances into the living room, grateful for the smiles on the faces of everyone there. Bane's small kindness is calculated, and she knows it: Bane wants the people of Gotham to be grateful to him and to praise him as a liberator, which they aren't exactly doing. Allowing them a day to be thankful for small things makes them thankful for him as well, and that might turn the tide. She sincerely hopes not.
Her eyes linger on John's face as he talks with his colleagues and watches the game. He's so completely relaxed that she can see how young he is. There's something about his contentment in this moment that makes her smile, but when his eyes meet hers, the warm feeling of happiness changes to something else completely. Heat spreads through her body and flushes her face, and she looks away like she's embarrassed.
All of the people present think that she's with John, that they're an item, and she' starting to wonder what that would be like. The moments with John leave her unsatisfied, and she has to actually cling to him in her sleep to feel any sort of relief. There are moments when she wakes up, and his face is so close to hers that closing the distance between them seems like the only viable option. But she doesn't.
Stolen glances are starting to become her standard operating procedure, which makes it so much more complicated when she realizes she's not the only one sneaking glances. He holds her as tightly as she holds him, and sometimes his gaze lingers on her lips. She's hardly the only one who's affected by this, whatever this is exactly.
It's completely clear to her that John Blake is a good man who she enjoys spending time with and who she's attracted to. At any other point in her life, she'd already have pounced. But in these times, with almost zero privacy and a lot of threats looming overhead, she doesn't do much of anything.
Barbara makes a case that she's going out patrolling tonight, and John – well, he doesn't put up a fight anymore. He makes sure that she's got her radio on, and that she can get in touch with him if she needs him. She's got Selina's plate in her hand as she's about to head out.
"Today was a good day," she tells him.
"It was nice seeing everybody," John agrees.
"And giving thanks," she says. "So what are you thankful for, Boy Wonder?" If there's a flirtatious tone in her voice, she can't help it.
"That pumpkin pie was amazing, BG, so I'm going to be thankful for that. You?"
"I'm thankful for you," she says, ducking out the window. She glances back quickly to see the look on John's face before heading out and is surprised by the look of shock.
What she shouldn't be surprised of, though, is that he's waiting for her when she comes in. She barely can take a step forward before he's there, pulling her towards him.
He kisses her and she eagerly responds, wrapping her arms around his neck, fingers threading in his hair. His hands rest on her back, pressing her closer. She feels dizzy with this kiss, but it's a good thing. Something she's ultimately really thankful for.
"Check out your ten," he tells her, watching a group of mercenaries pass in front of him.
"Got them. I'll follow them and let you know where they're headed."
He glances up at the rooftop, looking for some glimpse of Barbara but he knows she won't be found. She's too good at hiding to be caught, and he lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding.
"Keep yourself safe, BG," he says.
"I'll do my best," she tells him in return.
He can still feel the brush of her lips against his, and while the teenage boy wants break dance, the slightly-more responsible incarnation of John standing here just hopes she comes back okay.
Nothing has dramatically changed in the hours since he kissed her (except an increase in kisses), and he hopes it stays that way. He thinks they make a really good team.
Thanks for reading :)
Chapter 8: Occupation + 90 Days
"...some have inferred from observation of the sensible world the truth of appearances. For they think that the truth should not be determined by the large or small number of those who hold a belief, and that the same thing is thought sweet by some when they taste it, and bitter by others, so that if all were ill or all were mad, and only two or three were well or sane, these would be thought ill and mad, and not the others..."
Occupation + 90 days
Living in the safe house means there's zero privacy. There are barely any moments for the two of them to talk unless they go somewhere else – the stairwell, the roof, or some other location. It's so very cold outside, and even the feel of John's hands inside her coat, warm against the small of her back as they slide up her sweater, is not enough to make her want to spend time out there.
The small moments they steal are not enough to make up for the hours if not days between them, and it's making her reckless.
She starts to look for other abandoned apartments and finds them. She rigs the locks so that she can sneak in and out and monitors for occupants. When it's reasonably safe, it becomes a haven. They can only sneak away for small amounts of time, but it makes it easier to go on from there.
She feels like she's drunk on the feel of him, the press of skin against skin and the knowledge that it's the same for him. This is something new and scary, something she hasn't felt before and which can quickly become overpowering if they don't pull back.
It's more than just physical, she knows. There are days when she wants nothing more than to cuddle on a couch with him and listen to him tell her stories about the police academy, her head in his lap and his arm across her waist . She wants to learn everything about him which is so very hard to do when you are constantly surrounded by people.
She wonders what if this would have happened without Bane, and what form it would take. Would it be as heady and exciting and fervent, or would it be more of a slow burn? If it wasn't for Bane, would she even have stayed in Gotham at all?
Fate has always thrown her around and never made her life easy; she's not going to question what's happening now any more than she should.
It's a Friday afternoon, and the sun is coming through the blinds in slants, casting odd shadows on the wooden floor. Barbara wants nothing more than to just rest, but their safety is never certain and they can't stay long.
"We've got to be focused," she says, picking up her shirt from the ground and pulling it over her head. She moves to help John button his own shirt up. Her fingers tremble and she wants nothing more to unbutton it, slide it off his shoulders, lose herself with him again. She's always been a bit reckless but this is a new personal best.
"I can be incredibly focused," he points out, reaching down to pick up her jacket. "I'm sure you've noticed."
The coat bunches in her hands as he traces her jaw line with his fingers. He threads them in the hair at the nape of her neck and pulls her forward for a kiss.
"No fair," she whispers against his mouth. "We can't."
He rests his forehead against hers. His hair is still wet from the shower (one definite advantage of this apartment was the shower, with water so hot it almost burns) and she worries that he'll catch cold.
"Wear a hat," she tells him, and he laughs.
"Yes, ma'am," he responds, and she rolls her eyes.
"I knew you had a thing for older women but authority figures – why does that not surprise me?" she asks, slipping her coat on. She tucks her own wet hair underneath her hat. She will not be out in the cold long, but she knows John has to go meet up with her uncle and the other cops.
They do a quick survey of the apartment, making sure that there's nothing out of place, and that they leave with everything they brought. A scarf or stray glove left behind is never good. They won't return here – the running shower alone is a tip-off to the neighbors below that someone's been in the apartment, but the lure of decent water pressure and a hot shower is almost too good to resist.
John kisses her before they leave the apartment, just one more time, like he always does before they're going to separate. She squeezes his hands and smiles. He will go out the front door, and she will exit through the back. They will meet at the safe house later on.
Barbara lingers after John leaves, giving the apartment one more scan. Without John, it is once again the abandoned home of some Gotham citizen, one who she may not have protected. She feels helpless, because for all her grandiose dreams of being able to do something and help, she can only collect evidence and, on occasion, physically prevent someone from hurting someone else. She feels so completely ineffective but Bane is powerful, his mercenaries moreso, and the police seem to think they have a plan (watch the bomb, try to find the detonator, how is this really helpful?).
She wishes Bruce were here. He would know what to do, and she could help him.
She doesn't think he's dead, but there's nothing to say that he's alive, either, and she really needs him right now to tell her that she's on the right path, and that she's doing the right thing.
Barbara sniffles, and wipes away the tears from her eyes. Gotham City won't be saved if she's a crying wreck on the floor of an abandoned apartment.
John realizes one day that he's not as angry as he used to be. The anger is still there, bubbling beneath the surface, teeming with every new injustice that Bane heaps upon them. It just seems that he's controlling it, channeling it into productive uses like spending his free time walking the streets and taking his frustration out by delivering punches into the gut of someone trying to steal from a kid or a family. It's in the energy he throws into push-ups, pull-ups, and climbing buildings. It's there, but it's managed – for the most part – tempered by physical activity and the feeling of purpose, and the presence of Barbara Gordon.
"Here," she points out on the map, "we haven't checked out this one in a while."
The map is spread on the table of the unofficial police headquarters, but there's not another cop in sight. She traces her finger up Grand, over to Wacker, and down Main. The building in question is in the financial district, which means that Bane has probably been there and gone, but she's right – they haven't doubled-back and double-checked. The more things change, well...the more they change.
She dyed her roots over a month ago but the strands that escape her hat still shines red in the harsh basement light. She grabs a pen and marks down things she's observed on her nightly patrols with Selina – turned over cars here, drug dealers there, gang territory to the south.
He watches her with awe now, which he really shouldn't but he can't believe that she's real. He can still taste vanilla lip balm from when she kissed him upon arriving. Whatever nagging doubts he has about everything, he's going to be grateful at least the gods are looking down on him this time.
"How does that look?" she asks, and he leans over her to get a better look. "Anything I missed?"
"I think that's about it," he tells her. He turns and goes to find a flashlight.
As they head uptown, they talk about meaningless things. Today's topic of conversation is past Christmas gift disasters. As much as Bane allowed them to have a Thanksgiving, Christmas is out of the question. ("Opiate of the masses," Barbara snickered under her breath when she heard the news) and anyone with Christmas cheer is promptly quashed. As a result, the snowy route they travel is devoid of any of its usual holiday finery at 4pm on a weekday.
"I made my uncle a scarf," Barbara says. "Jimmy unraveled it two hours later."
"Way to fail, BG." John laughs. "When I was eighteen, I had my first job and my first serious girlfriend. I thought she'd like something practical. She was complaining about her iPod speakers going, so I – "
"- bought her some awesome headphones and she wanted something fancier." Barbara finishes his story with a smile. "You should have just blinged-out the headphones. Make them really sparkly."
"See, this is why I need you in my life," he says. "You know things." He needs her in his life for a lot more than that, but he hopes she understands what he doesn't explicitly say when he takes her hand and squeezes it.
She says nothing, just smiles at him and squeezes it back before they let go. In front of them is their target: a corporate office building on a block full of them.
The city block is deserted – not even thug or mercenary in site. Gutted remains of torched BMWs, hauled out from parking garages to be burned, stand like eerie sentries.
"Let's go," he says, pulling his gun. Why Barbara goes without one is beyond him, but she does have a Tazer and her fists, which he finds to be just as effective a weapon as any other. Slowly, they approach the building, circling to check out all angles. There is no one there, and no sound.
It will be dark soon, but the lingering afternoon light is just enough to let them see inside the building. The art-deco architecture means tons of windows in the foyer. Their feet are silent as the cross the marble floor, past destroyed couches and shredded newspaper.
"Do you think this place has roof access?" he asks, wondering what sort of vantage point they could get but Barbara freezes. She leans down and looks at the floor.
"It snowed some more this morning, right?" she asks. John nods.
"The floor's still wet. Someone's been here."
They take the stairs, following the trail of wet footprints a few flights.
John slowly opens the door and remembers to check his corners as he steps out onto the dimmed floor. This floor has a balcony which looks down on the foyer below, and he can see the streaky-shine of wet marble.
"Someone's up there," he says. He does not lower his gun.
"Let's go see who," Barbara decides. They move forward, careful to not make a sound. They come to the place where the hallway dims, the only light coming from the windows of offices. John reaches for his flashlight, but Barbara shakes her head.
"Let me go," she says. John shakes his head back.
"What if they're armed?"
"So?" Barbara's nonchalance about the situation makes him uneasy, and the protective streak in him wants to keep her safe. But Barbara is also his partner in all this – the best partner he's ever had, one who reads him and understands immediately – and he has to trust her. He's trusted her before, and he can trust her now.
John nods, just barely, and Barbara smiles. She walks close to the wall, silent as a ghost. John follows.
The first room is empty. They find people in the third.
Several older men and a young woman back away from the door when they enter, obviously terrified. Except for one man, who stands there with his bow tie and stern eyes, staring them down.
Barbara meets the stare, and the man's mouth turns upwards at the corner.
"I was wondering when you'd show up," he says with a faint drawl.
"Been here all along," Barbara responds. The man bows his head in concession as Barbara grabs John by the elbow and drags him out the door.
"Who is that?" he whispers, confused by what just occurred.
"That's the board of Wayne Enterprises," Barbara says, not meeting his eyes. Her face, which had looked so composed in the office, looks anything but right now. "I know – well, I know that man. He's Lucius Fox. He was head of Applied Sciences – he made the Tumblers."
"Oh." Barbara doesn't talk much about her history with Bruce Wayne, and John never presses – mostly because he doesn't want to think of Wayne as anything other than the Batman. Thinking about the billionaire as Barbara's ex makes things far more complicated and makes him feel less worthy to even look at her, let alone touch her.
"They're not going to cause any trouble," she tells him. "We should just go."
"Shouldn't we check to make sure they're all right?" John asks. Barbara takes a shaky breath and nods.
"If you want."
She follows John in, sticking to the doorway, as John talks to them and makes sure everyone is okay for the time being. Miranda Tate, the woman (she introduces herself as head of the board) assures them that they're fine. Lucius Fox never takes his eyes away from Barbara.
It suddenly occurs to John that Barbara's not sticking to the sidelines because she doesn't know what to do – he's seen her take charge in plenty of situations. The fact that Fox recognizes who she is scares her. She's so tense that he can practically see it coming off of her in waves. He hopes Fox doesn't say anything, doesn't slip up.
As they leave, Fox offers to see them out. John goes ahead as he and Barbara talk, out of earshot of the other executives including Tate. When Barbara finally meets up with John at the stairs, her face is unreadable.
They make it back to the safe house, and Barbara makes the decision that they will move on to another one (this is their third) that night. So they grab their crap and head to a smaller apartment in Old Town. The advantage of this one is that it's a studio, and there's one bed, and they don't have to share because it's so small.
"You need to tell my uncle what you saw," Barbara says. "Immediately."
"Why don't you come?" he asks. She shakes her head. Her jaw is still tight, and she seems distracted.
"I have to do something," she tells him.
Apparently that something is beating the shit out of some criminals, because she comes back with bloody knuckles. He tends to her wounds just like she tends to his and he worries. Something's bothering her more than she's willing to admit, and he doesn't know what it is.
She falls asleep with her arms wrapped around him, clutching him desperately as if he'll leave in the night. He watches her sleep because he can't, and even in her sleep her jaw is tense, her movements restless.
To say it bothers him is an understatement.
Seeing Lucius again after so long is the beginning of a vicious thought cycle: she can't think of him without thinking of Bruce, she can't think of Bruce without thinking of Bane, she can't think of Bane without thinking of Gotham, she can't think of Gotham without wondering how she's actually helping any of them at all.
She knows she's disappearing more often for hours of just wandering. The frown line between John's eyebrows just keeps growing bigger and deeper the more she lets the thought pattern continue. She hasn't seen her uncle in over a week. Even Selina has pointed out that her punches land with more force, and that she's less restrained than she once was.
The safe house that she finds for her and John is safe enough that they can stay there for a while without being followed or intercepted. Other than Selina, who she knows follows and intercepts at random, Barbara doesn't expect anyone to find them. Needless to say, it's a surprise to see her uncle inside the apartment one afternoon when she arrives home.
"We need to talk," he says. He looks older these days, and there's a part of her that breaks seeing more grey streaks in his hair.
"Were you followed?" she asks. Her uncle shakes his head.
"What the hell's going on with you, Barbara?" he asks as she sheds her wet coat (it's snowing again) and puts it on the back of a chair. "John's not saying much but you can tell the poor kid is worried about you."
Barbara tries not to scoff at her uncle – she knows his concern is well-meaning, but considering how little attention he's paid to her for the last three years and how much effort in their relationship has been dumped solely on her, she doesn't want to hear it.
"I'm fine," she tells him. She is anything but fine, but telling him that would mean telling him about so many other things she doesn't think she has the strength to talk about right now. Bruce's face swims in her mind and she grips the top of the chair. She doesn't want to think about this right now.
"Bullshit." Barbara can tell that her answers are frustrating him, and he's already so on-edge these days she almost feels guilty for winding him up more.
"If John's really worried about me, he can ask me himself," she says.
"Maybe I'm worried about you too," he tells her.
"For what, the first time in three years? Five years?" Barbara is angry for all the wrong reasons. She knows she's too harsh, hitting all the wrong buttons but she's bone-tired and just wants to sleep so she can forget all the ghosts that haunt her.
"Goddamn it, Barbara," her uncle curses, and the anger comes tumbling out of her in words she knows she'll regret.
"You can't ignore me and my problems for years and then act like you're my fucking father," she snaps. "You're not."
"Like hell I'm not!" is not the response she expected to get.
It's like a slap to the face, and she seethes with anger because her father is dead and buried and Jim Gordon may have been the man who raised her but he's the man who looked the other way three years ago when her life went pear-shaped. This is the man who let his wife go to Cleveland with his son and who forgets birthdays and holidays and who may be great for Gotham but who can't keep his personal life in check to save them all.
Her cheeks red with anger, she grabs her coat. She's down the stairs before she hears the door slam behind her.
She doesn't come home for three days.
She hops from safe-house to safe house and doesn't talk to anyone. She knows that she's hurting John, she knows that Selina probably thinks she's dead, but there's so much anger and frustrated rage inside her that she can't think. If she takes it out on every petty criminal and freed convict she can find, and gets a few bruises in the process, she's not ashamed.
When she does come home, it's three in the morning and she's not at all surprised that John's awake.
"I'm sorry," is out of her mouth the moment she sees him and he's there, arms wrapped tightly around her. She mumbles apologies into his shoulder because she means every word of them knowing how worried he must have been.
John doesn't say anything. He holds her tighter and lets her cry on his shoulder until there's nothing left inside that needs to come tumbling out.
They fall asleep in each others arms. John holds her tight enough that she feels even guiltier for leaving him, so she wakes him up with a kiss that he doesn't seem mind. He definitely does not seem to mind if she pushes him back against the bed, since his fingers trail up her sides in response. They take their time getting reacquainted, and for a very long time nothing exists to Barbara except her and him in this space.
"You can't always make everything better that way," he says afterwards, kissing her below her ear and smiling when she shivers.
"No," she says, kissing him, "but I can certainly try."
"What's going on, BG?" he asks, pulling her close. The feel of his skin against hers is distracting so she slips away, propping herself up on her elbows to look at him.
"My uncle came here," she says. He nods.
"It was just bad timing," she tells John. "I've been feeling lost. Like I'm all talk and no game – I'm not doing much good. It's almost January, Bane is still here, and what does the resistance movement have to show for itself but some shoddy intelligence work?"
"Hey," he says, "we're all doing the best we can – you more than anyone. There's not a lot we can do but if we give up now, then he wins. "
"Lucius said something to me when we found the board a few weeks back," Barbara says. "He asked me where Bruce was. Like, if Bruce was here everything would have been handled already." She brushes away unbidden tears. "Oh my god, I am such a class act crying about this three months later."
"He meant a lot to you," John says, though his voice is strained. "And grief takes time."
"Maybe," she concedes, "but I just feel like...if he were here, we'd be okay."
"He's not, though."
"I know." Barbara rests her head back on the pillow. "Gotham continues to be screwed by having just us."
"We're not as bad as you make it out to be," John says as he pulls her close.
"Hey," she says, rolling over to lean her head against his chest. "Did I ever tell you how awesome you are for putting up with all the bullshit I heap on you on a daily basis?"
He laughs, rolling them both over so he's on top. "No, but I'm sure you can make it up to me." He smiles at her and she brushes his hair away from his forehead. When he doesn't have it gelled back it falls forward, and he looks so freaking young that she'd feel guilty about bringing him into all of it but he had already gotten himself involved long before she got here.
"I thought you said that I can't solve all my problems like that," she points out.
"You can't," he says, "but sometimes it doesn't hurt to try." His lips go lower, and it takes all of her willpower to push him up.
"Hey," she says. "I'm being serious. I've never dated someone who puts up with me like you do. I think I like it."
"So is this dating?" he asks, kissing beneath her ear again. She arches and laughs.
"I don't know – I haven't gotten any flowers and you certainly haven't taken me out to dinner or a movie," she teases.
He leans forwards to kiss her.
"When this is over, I definitely promise dinner and a movie."
Christmas passes without much fanfare, though Barbara manages to find a crate of champagne right before New Years. They spend it on the roof drinking way too much and if Selina Kyle shows up and enjoys a celebratory toast at midnight with them, John doesn't think much of it. Barbara is pressed against his side, there's alcohol in his bloodstream, and Gotham is warm for a change but there's something freeing in the moment that he knows he wants to remember.
Things settle down. Barbara distracts herself with work, trying hard to feel useful and he can totally understand what she's going through. He does it his own way: by going to find the Wayne Enterprises board and see what they know.
It's definitely not ideal and the conversation he has with Lucius Fox leaves him unsettled.
The bomb will go off in over a month if they don't do something.
This gets Gordon and the other cops into a tizzy, and John's days are spent trying to determine which truck in the shell game is the real truck. It is time consuming and worrying and the edges of his anger shows. Foley calls him a hot-head more than once during meetings, and he understands exactly the feeling of inadequacy that Barbara felt earlier. Even with Barbara out there trying to figure out which civilian seems closest to Bane, which means they get the trigger, there's nothing they can do but sit and wait.
The sense of impending doom threatens to suffocate him some days.
They don't have to move around anymore. The apartment that Barbara staked out weeks ago has not been reclaimed, nor have Bane's troops been on any apartment-raiding sprees. They tend to carry out their justice systematically, with a trial followed by death by bullet or exile on the river. No one ever makes it to exile.
One day, he comes home to find Barbara sitting on the bed, staring off into the middle distance.
Since they talked, things have been better – for the most part. She's taken to avoiding her uncle if at all possible and spends a lot of her time slipping into the court or going other places she shouldn't, more often than not with Selina (though the other woman refuses to go to Bane's court, which makes her even smarter in John's book).
"Hey," he calls out, locking the door behind him before crossing the few feet to the bed. Barbara looks up to acknowledge this presence and then sighs.
"He's my dad." The words sound flat and empty in this dumpy apartment, and John stares at her.
"My uncle is really my dad." Barbara runs her hands through her hair. "He's known for a long time and he just decided to tell me now that everything is fucked up."
John lowers himself into one of the two kitchen chairs. He's not sure what to make of this, but neither, it seems, does Barbara.
"When did he find out?" John asks.
Barbara stands up, starts pacing. Her arms are folded across her chest, as if she's physically holding herself together. He wants to reach out and touch her, but he doesn't. He's learning to trust his instincts where it comes to her, but this is different and new and he's not sure he knows how to help.
"I was in the hospital eight years ago after Batman saved me from the Joker," she says. "He had them draw blood then." She laughs. "They were doing so many tests on me I barely noticed."
"So he's known all this time?"
"Eight years. He says he just didn't know how to tell me." Barbara looks down, then out the window. "You have to understand – after everything happened with Harvey Dent, the only person I could talk to was Bruce. He had been there through all of it. I couldn't go back to my day job. So I did the next best thing. I trained."
"No one can blame you for what you did, BG," he remarks quietly, watching her. She looks up and gives him a weak smile, recognizing that he's right. But it doesn't alleviate the tension in her shoulders, though it does make her stop pacing.
"So he never tried?" John asks.
"The Dent Act was passed and he was so busy. My aunt left, I spent all my time with Bruce, and I eventually just moved away because he was becoming so focused on work and not on the rest of us."
"Maybe he felt guilty?" John offers, trying to speculate as to Gordon's motives. "Cheating with his brother's wife - "
"Yeah." Barbara's voice is soft. "It's just...I've lived so long thinking that my parents were dead and he's been there right in front of me and..."
"I know," John says, because he does. He can imagine all too clearly the feeling of wanting his mom to see him graduate from the Police Academy or get his badge. He can imagine how Barbara feels to know that her dad did watch her accomplish everything but never let her know it.
John stands up, and Barbara takes it as an unspoken message to step closer. He wraps his arms around her.
"I guess I should be grateful," Barbara says, "but I don't know what I am."
"That's okay," he tells her, pulling her closer. "I don't think you're supposed to know what you are right now anyway."
"Thanks," she says, resting her head in the crook of his neck. Her breath is warm against his throat. "For everything."
"Anything for you," he responds, and he means it.
Chapter 9: Occupation + 120 Days
"If, then, it is impossible to affirm and deny truly at the same time, it is also impossible that contraries should belong to a subject at the same time, unless both belong to it in particular relations, or one in a particular relation and one without qualification."
Occupation + 120 Days
That the first legitimate hope for salvation dies in a blaze of gunfire does not faze Barbara. While John is angry about the servicemen's deaths and frantic about hiding the members of the board who are not taken prisoner, Barbara does not deviate from the norm. She avoids her uncle (her father), patrols with Selina, and keeps an eye out for any trouble.
She's given up on all hope these days. Better to man up and deal with things. She'll hope when she's dead.
Winter in Gotham is a nightmare when the heat goes out.
They have to leave the apartment in favor of a safe house with a wood heater and more blankets than their dingy artist's studio can provide. Barbara's unhappy about it, and John admits it's not exactly his ideal situation either since he really liked the few weeks where it was just the two of them. Whatever their relationship is, that domesticity made it seem normal, and now it's not. But at least they're with Ross's family now, and Barbara helps Yolanda out with the kids when she's around.
The downside is that some nights, the other cops like to hide the Commissioner here, and there's always tension when Barbara's in the same room as her father.
They barely talk, and when they do it's polite to the point of being strangers. He can't even begin to understand what Barbara's going through, and he's just a bit angry at Jim Gordon for holding this from her for so long, but at the same time he's jealous. He'd give anything for one of his parents to care as much about him as Gordon clearly does for Barbara.
She's in the kitchen surveying the minimal food supplies. John comes up behind her, wraps his hands around her waist.
"So what do we have?" he asks, looking over her shoulder into the pantry full of mediocre canned foods.
"Spaghetti? Maybe?" she says, finding a can of sauce that's too small to feed ten people. "I'm sure we can figure something out."
"We'll be back in a few hours," he says.
"Be careful," she tells him. She doesn't turn around, just keeps looking in the pantry for more food - as if it'll magically appear. In the early days of the occupation, it used to – she and Selina would find food in abandoned bodegas and apartments, but all of that is gone now.
There is another tedious afternoon of talking and not enough action, of watching street corners. Sometimes he marks walls with the "V" shape of the Batman, even though he doesn't have Barbara's faith in Bruce's resurrection powers. He wants the city to have some hope, even if he doesn't feel it at times.
Dinner is spaghetti, and there's a surprise at the end – a cookie, with a candle in it.
"Happy birthday," Barbara says, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. They sing 'Happy Birthday' to him and he shares the cookie with the Ross's girls. It's the best thing he's eaten in weeks.
"How did you know?" he asks later on, something warm and fuzzy welling up in his chest. It's been a long time since someone thought about his birthday. They sit at the table with a candle between them. Barbara runs her fingers over the flames.
"Snuck a peek at your driver's license months ago," she tells him. "Besides, the older you get, the less I feel like a cougar."
"Seven years isn't that much, BG," he says, leaning back in his chair.
"Six, now. See? Infinitely better." Her hair glows red in the dim light. She's stopped dying it now. He wonders what exactly that decision means.
"Yeah?" He raises his eyebrows, watching as she picks up the lighter now and flicks it. Tiny sparks and then a small flame peak out from her fingers, lighting up the room.
"Most definitely," Barbara says. She puts the lighter down and stares at him from across the table. "Also saw your legal name."
"Don't even start with that," he tells her, and she puts her hands up in surrender. "I think it's a family name."
Barbara laughs, low and quiet because others are sleeping, and reaches her hand across the table. He threads his fingers through hers. It's a small comfort. He's fairly sure the smile on her face is a mirror-image of his own, but he doesn't care if he's a goofball. He's just happy to be here, right now, with her.
When Barbara leaves, like she always does, he finds himself staring at the candle. He wonders if they'll stop the bomb. He wonders if he'll still have Barbara after all of this. He wonders what exactly is in store for him in this twenty-fifth year of living.
"Where does she go?"
He looks up, surprised, to see Jim Gordon standing in the doorway. Knowing Gordon is Barbara's dad makes him scared of the man in a way he wasn't before – scared that he'll hurt her and Gordon can definitely handle a firearm.
"Where does she go at night?" Gordon repeats his question, more forcefully this time.
"With all due respect, sir," John says, "I'm not the one you should be asking that."
"I know you're not going to betray her trust but you can't just let her go out there at night." Gordon sighs. The occupation has made them all thinner, but there's a haggard look to Gordon's face that's new.
"I think she can handle herself," John says.
There is a long silence before Gordon finally speaks.
"I know she can. That's not what I'm worried about." He levels his gaze at John, who feels like he's being reprimanded by his elementary school principal.
"I know that most of the information we get doesn't come from just you. I've long suspected you've got agents or someone helping you, but drafting Barbara – "
"Sir," he says, standing up. "I think you have the wrong idea about the situation."
"She's my daughter, Blake," Gordon says, sounding frustrated.
"And you raised her to make her own decisions, just like you made yours." John walks out of the kitchen. He's grateful the older man doesn't follow him.
When Barbara slips back in that night ("general chaos, Selina says hi") he tells her about the conversation. She presses her cold hands against his face in response.
"Get to sleep, birthday boy," she says, "before I steal all the blankets."
"You do realize that you're going to have to deal with this at some point in the future, right?" he asks, deliberately pulling blankets from her grip.
"I know," she says. "In the future. Not yet." She wraps her arms around him and he pulls her closer. He doesn't like her stubbornness, but he's too tired and cold to fight her these days. Like he told Gordon, Barbara makes her own decisions - decisions like training with Bruce – and there's no way that anyone can talk her down from them.
Weeks become days as everyone grows more frantic to find the person with the trigger for the bomb. She does her part watching and waiting, but Barbara doesn't feel very hopeful that they'll every really know. She tries to remember what she learned about nuclear bombs when they studied Hiroshima and Nagasaki: blast radius, radiation poisoning, cancer. Pictures of completely leveled cities fill her mind, and it only pushes her to run faster, climb higher, and try to think of some other way to save her city.
She's still talking to Dinah, and sometimes the others, though she's told them about the bomb so their conversations are more stilted and filled with pauses that say things like I'm so sorry and I want to help you. But they can't.
No one can.
Her salvation comes at 9 AM in the morning on a Thursday when her phone rings. She steps out into the hallway to answer it, since the number is blocked.
"Is it you?"
Her blood runs cold and her heart speeds up. "Bruce?" She whispers, because that voice is so familiar, the voice in the back of her head telling her what to do and how to do it. She bolts up the stairs two and a time and out to the roof.
She hears him exhale. "It's good to hear your voice, Barbara."
"Where are you?" she asks. She's not deliberately trying to keep quiet – she just can't control anything anymore, which is why her knees buckle as she pictures his face.
"Central Asia. Barbara, I need a favor. Is this line secure?"
"As secure as it can be," she says. "Satellite phone, unlisted number, I haven't let it out of my sight since I landed in Gotham."
"Good. I need your help."
"A ride home?" she asks. "Medical care?"
"That, and more. Think your boy Oliver Queen can do that?"
"What – how do you know about Oliver?"
"I wasn't exactly idle those three years. I knew what you were doing. I know what's going on now."
"I'll see what I can do. Can I reach you at this number?"
"For the time being."
"Keep yourself safe, Barbara."
"I'll let you know when I hear something."
He hangs up the phone and she continues to hold it up to her ear before slowly lowering it. Her heart is still racing her and her legs feel weak, so she moves herself into a seated position before hitting the number "5" and speed-dialing her second billionaire playboy of the day.
Much like Bruce, Oliver Queen has his demons but he hides them better. During the time that she lived in Star City and worked with the Justice League, Oliver was just starting to distinguish himself from his peers as a social crusader. Oliver supported the League with his funds and his dedication, and unlike Bruce, he seemed to enjoy working as part of a team.
The relationship she has with Oliver could be considered friendly – he's got a horrible crush on Dinah and has been known to hit on Barbara on occasion, though she usually ignores it. They're not BFFs, but she's called him when she was in a pinch and he's relied on her on more than one occasion. That's why she hopes – really hopes, for the first time in weeks – that things can work out.
She's ready to beg him for a plane to wherever Bruce is. When Oliver picks up the phone, however, he is more relieved to hear from her that she barely registers his agreement until he stops her verbal barrage and asks where Bruce is.
"Central Asia? The number that just called my phone – "
"I will do whatever I can do bring him back ," Oliver says. "You have my word."
Within the hour, he calls to tell her that a flight plan is being filed to the location of the phone calls, and asks her if it's okay if he contacts Bruce directly.
"Why not? I can't help him from here," she tells him.
"Yes, but you're his Gal Friday," Oliver points out. "I don't want to overstep any bounds."
"He's in a former Soviet republic in the middle of winter, Oliver – I don't think there are any bounds. Just call me when you get him to Star City. And thanks."
"Anything for you, Babs."
She does not tell John, or Selina, or anyone else about the phone call. She keeps her phone on her at all times and waits, patiently, for the next call to come even though she knows it will be a while.
In the mean time, there is gas to siphon and mercenaries to stalk. Keeping busy is the only way she knows how to keep her mind off of things, but if her fingers brush against her phone as she walks down the street, it's only to remind her that it's there, and that Bruce is alive.
That thought is enough to carry her through anything.
It's almost three A.M., and the streets around Pier 4 are empty save for three people in black. In the corner, safely unconscious, are five members of a vicious Hong Kong crew and two bought security guards. In the bay, a small ship sinks slowly. The ship had been carrying heroin, and after three weeks of surveillance, they were finally able to strike. It seemed silly at first – targeting a ship smuggling drugs – but Oliver strongly believed that it was the right thing to do, and Barbara could see his position. After all, the poorer parts around Pier 4 were rife with drug addicts, and the number of murders, rapes, and robberies had gone up since the Hong Kong cartel had come to Star City.
She glances over her shoulder one more time before following Oliver and Dinah through the back alleys, escaping just in time. Red and blue lights flash down the alley as the police arrive at the Pier. They will go to the warehouse, discuss their mission, and then she'll finally go home to sleep a few hours before work tomorrow.
When she first met Dinah, she didn't think that she'd end up joining some vigilante brigade. She didn't think much of what she was doing in Star City to begin with, but Dinah seemed to know best. Within a week, she had her at a warehouse north of town. That's where she met the others: Oliver Queen and Carter Hall. A billionaire and a misanthrope were Dinah's colleagues in fighting crime, and they were suitably impressed with Barbara's training. She took the name Batgirl, bought a silly little mask and some black clothes, and joined Black Canary, Green Arrow, and Hawkman on their patrols.
The mask was silly, the purpose wasn't; Bruce has drilled into her the importance of theatricality, of creating a persona and using things like darkness, smoke, and shadow. None of the others had much in the way of training, but they watched Barbara and finally asked her to teach them.
One day, her past catches up with her and Oliver asks her about Bruce Wayne. Not surprisingly, he's the only one to put two and two together – her appearance, her training, the stories coming out of Gotham, her name. If the others know, they say nothing. Oliver asks some questions – who trained Bruce? What does he use for his uniform? She tells him what she knows, mostly because he's already guessed the truth and she's bitter and angry about Bruce. Soon, better uniforms and equipment start to arrive – a better arrow, better body armor, better gadgets.
She makes sure to say thank you.
"Don't mention it, Barbara," he says. "Your being here has really upped our game, and it's not like I'm hurting for the cash."
She should know – he offers her a job within two weeks of meeting her. It's boring – creating and conducting training for Queen Industries employees on various industrial standards – but she soon realizes it gives her access to a wealth of information and databases. She starts to request technology, and starts to build a small but efficient network that can help expand their operation – a better version of the one that Bruce had built.
Oliver is very appreciative.
"This needs to be done, Babs," he says one night as they watch surveillance footage of the Pier. "We can't just let our city go to waste."
"Your city, not mine," she points out. "You sound like Bruce."
"He had the right idea." Oliver takes a sip of his coffee. "I spent the better part of a week reading all of the old Gotham newspaper articles on Bruce Wayne, and then another week reading everything about Batman. Why did he give it up?"
"I think he thought it was the right decision at the time," she tells him. "I know he regretted it at first. Now, I'm not so sure."
Oliver says nothing, stares at the screen. "Well, you sure did clean up nice in some of those photos, Gordon. I never took you for a burgeoning socialite."
"We all have our roles to play," she says.
"Want to come to some dinners with me? You're infinitely more interesting than the majority of the socialites I bring."
She laughs. "I'm done being a billionarie's girlfriend, Queen. But thanks for asking."
"No, really, I don't think it is." She tucks her hair behind her ear. Something moves on the screen. "Look there."
As they continue to stare at the footage, finding just what they need, she tries not to think about Bruce. She hopes that he knows it's her out here helping, and she wants him to be proud of her. Other than that, she tries not to think of Bruce at all.
Oliver texts her on the progress of the "rescue operation" and even tells her when they have Bruce, broken and dehydrated, aboard. He calls her at that point, his voice tense.
"He's in pretty bad shape, Babs," he says, and she sighs.
"Would you mind terribly – "
"I have the best doctors with me now," he tells her. "I'll make sure we get him home safe."
"If only we could get him back to Gotham safe," she comments. "Any thoughts?"
"You're the genius," Oliver remarks. "I'll leave that up to you. I'll have him call you when he wakes up."
"Don't mention it."
Barbara wants Bruce back in Gotham badly, but no plan of hers is good enough – he can't sky-dive in to a no-fly zone, the tunnels are blocked, the one bridge left standing is patrolled by the Army.
One day, she decides to watch some prisoners attempt exile. She finds a building high enough that they won't be seen by Bane's mercenaries within a good distance of the river so that they can see the action. It's perverse and wrong watching people drown, but Barbara knows that these people need someone to bear witness to the crimes against them and it just might as well be her. With the knowledge that Bruce is back in the U.S. and healing, she feels like justice will finally be served and she makes a note of every face of every executioner (but it's not very hard to forget the faces of evil).
"I knew you were fucked up but this takes the cake," Selina calls from behind her.
"You found me here – what does that say about you?" Barbara counters. Selina shrugs, comes to stand beside her and watch.
The two women stand in silence and Barbara wants to tell her, badly, that Bruce is alive. Wants nothing more than to just tell someone but she hasn't even told John and he's the person she's closet to except for maybe Selina and that's only on good days.
She gets along with Selina just fine – they keep it professional, though sometimes Selina digs just so, trying to get Barbara to talk about Bruce. She'll throw her kernels of information here and there – something snarky he said at a society gala, for example – but she keeps most of it to herself.
Barbara watches the first exile go under, and her minds kicks into overdrive. It takes Selina pushing her to break her concentration; she didn't know she'd been staring out into space that long.
She calls Oliver as soon as she can.
"I have an idea," she tells him. "But it might not be cheap."
Oliver laughs on the other end. "When has that ever stopped me?"
Barbara smiles. "What do you know about scuba diving in Antarctica?"
Barbara's not telling him something.
John feels like he knows her well enough to be able to discern when her mind is elsewhere, but it's more than nudging her with his shoulder to bring her thoughts back down to earth. She gives him reasons and excuses – exhaustion, stress, thinking about Bruce, trying to deal with her uncle and her father being one in the same – but sometimes they sound hollow. She's a good liar (he's seen her breeze over subjects with Gordon enough to know that she's capable of keeping a straight face and sounding so very convincing) but this is different. It's like her heart isn't in it.
"Hey," he says, helping her with the dishes one night. "Is everything all right?"
"As right as rain," she responds, turning off the sink. "Why?"
"Are we all right?" he asks. He doesn't look her in the eye as he puts away the silverware.
"Why woudn't we be?" she says.
Other than a few passing allusions to dating, they haven't labeled what they are. Sometimes, when they stake out on a rooftop and chat with each other over their radios, they say things they'll do once they're free from the confines of Gotham. She mentions she wants him to meet Dinah, her best friend. He daydreams about taking a vacation to a private island. They talk about restaurants they like in Gotham reopening, and about movies they saw advertised months ago finally making it to theaters.
Barbara never mentions going back to Star City, but John wonders if she will. She talks about her friends there with feelings he can only half-muster for Ross, who he still sends notes to in the sewers.
Mostly, he wonders if instead of staying for him, she'll run from her father and memories of Bruce.
"You're just quiet these days," he says. "I'm sorry, I know it's probably nothing."
"It's okay," she says, slipping her arms around his waist and kissing him. "You're observant. I know I'm quiet. I've just been trying to process all the things on my mind."
He takes that answer as the truth. He thinks about seeking out Selina, but while she and Barbara are allies, they're not exactly BFFs. Instead, he watches as she texts more often, and slips out to take or make phone calls.
The lingering thought that he cares about her more than she does him comes back over and over as the days drag on. He tries to push it away and focus on the good, but it's always there at the edge of his consciousness, making him second-guess himself and wonder about things he really shouldn't.
So he takes their moments together for what they are, with the acknowledgement that there is no tomorrow and that the bomb can go at any minute. It makes it easier in some ways to deal.
One day, he comes home to find the apartment empty, and the water running in the bathroom. It shuts off, and Barbara walks out, towel-drying hair. The brown had long since faded, though her natural color hadn't fully returned. He smells the sharp chemical smell of the dye, and understands. She smiles at him before returning to the bathroom. He hears a blow-dryer, which he hasn't heard since before the occupation, so he goes to the bathroom and lingers in the doorway.
Barbara's hair glints brilliant red in the light from the window.
"Why?" he asks when she finishes. It's a shade brighter than her natural color but it seems to make her glow, and to make the bathroom look dingier and smaller than before.
"I was scared, when I dyed it," she says. "I'm not scared anymore." There is a faint smile on her face, and the set of her shoulders, the angle of her chin, the glint of her green eyes – all seem to say communicate that fact even more. She's rarely seemed scared – more frustrated than anything else – and now she looks like the hero they all want to be.
John's never seen anyone look more beautiful.
Tonight, she is full of excuses.
She tells John she may not be home until morning, soothing his worried brow with a kiss and telling him not to worry, she'll be with Selina. She tells Selina she's staying home tonight, and keeps checking for a tail all the way to the river.
She's picked a location that's not crawling with Bane's men. Most of them are by the bridge, and she's far from that right now. She's right where she needs to be, and so she settles down to wait.
Oliver texted her an arrival time, but when it comes and goes she's not surprised. Bruce will have to wait if it seems like he's acting suspiciously on the other side. She can't even fathom how long it would take to get across, but she holds her breath and prays like she's never prayed before.
It's just after midnight when she hears something – ice cracking to her left. She stands, looking around to make sure that there's no one nearby. She doesn't dare shine her flashlight but she doesn't need it to see; her eyes have adjusted to the night. She watches as a crack grows bigger and then, with barely a sound, someone slips through and pulls themselves up onto the ice.
She doesn't get too close, instead letting him maneuver himself towards her. His wetsuit glistens from the water, and when he removes his facemask, his breath mists in the cold night air. He undoes the straps that hold the tank and lets it slip down his shoulders before depositing it and the mask back into the depths of the river.
And then he looks at her and smiles, and for the first time in weeks Barbara has real, actual, tangible hope.
"Welcome home, Bruce," she says. Her voice waivers, and she wants to break into hysterical giggles or maybe sob, but she doesn't. She stands tall, like she always does for the sake of Gotham. She tries to be everything he trained her to be.
Thank you for the kudos and reviews! My posting schedule might change for the rest of the month - I'll be traveling for a bit which decreases my time to write, so I'll do my best to update weekly but if I don't, I'll try to update later on. Thanks again for reading!
Chapter 10: One Day to Judgment Day
"Knowledge, also, and perception, we call the measure of things for the same reason, because we come to know something by them-while as a matter of fact they are measured rather than measure other things."
One Day to Judgment Day
Nothing has ever moved him more than the feeling of Gotham's ground beneath his feet.
It has taken him four months to walk again, days upon end to find civilization after he escaped the Pit, and over a week after Oliver Queen picked him up in Kyrgyzstan. The suit has insulated him from most of the cold of the water, but he knows he needs to get indoors and warm up before he becomes useless.
Still, he can't help but stop and stare, first at the woman waiting for him, then at the city he vowed to protect.
"You are a sight for sore eyes," he says, feeling like his whole heart might break. After all the months without a familiar face, to have her here – to know what she arranged for him to bring him home – there are no words.
Barbara Gordon, dressed all in black save for her locks of shocking red hair spilling across her shoulders, adjusts her woolen cap and breaks into a smile. "Same to you." She takes a deep breath, puts her hands in her pockets. "We have to get you inside."
"The penthouse is closest," he tells her, but catches her eye. "You knew that."
"This is halfway between there and the underground storage facility, but only one has running water. Let's get going."
She tosses him a bag, which contains a pair of combat boots, a black sweatshirt, and a towel. He uses the towel to wipe off the water before it freezes, then slips off the flippers Oliver had given him and puts the boot and sweatshirt on. They start off silently through the streets of Gotham, following a convoluted path - never doubling-back but never going in a straight line either. Barbara checks roofs and corners.
"Looking for something?" he asks.
"I picked up a stray cat a few months ago," Barbara says. "She's barely domesticated, but I feed her sometimes. She's off on her own tonight, it seems."
Somehow, the fact that Barbara and Selina knowing each other – working together, even – makes him want to laugh. "Don't get rid of her just yet – I need her to take me to Bane."
He can almost hear Barbara's eye roll from his position behind her, but to her credit she doesn't try to stop him.
The building that houses his apartment is deserted – a result of Wayne Enterprises' near-bankruptcy all of those years ago. There is no one there, but Barbara still is on the look-out.
"A lot of these corporate buildings and swanky apartments are homes for drug addicts and bums," she tells him. He can see it for himself: drug paraphernalia litters the floor but none of the former users are anywhere to be seen.
They take the stairs to the top since the elevator has clearly been destroyed (Bruce wants to hear every detail of the occupation, but knows now is not the time.) The penthouse door has a thumbprint recognition, and even though the door clicks open, he still stops.
"Give me your hand," he says, pressing a few buttons. Within seconds, the computer has memorized Barbara's thumbprint. She's frowning as she removes her thumb from the scanner.
"I'll explain later," Bruce tells her as they enter the apartment.
He hasn't been here in years, so everything is covered with white sheets and a thin layer of dust. Regardless, it's good to be home.
For the first time since he boarded Queen's jet, he feels bone-tired and exhausted. All the nervous energy that's been lingering is now gone, lost in the feeling of home that seems to permeate his entire system.
"Let's get you in a hot bath," Barbara says. She starts down the hall (of course she knows where everything is, they've spent so much time here) while he takes a moment to simply look at the cityscape. For the first time that he can remember, not a single building is lit up at night (Bane's work, or something with the power?). He can hear the water running, but he doesn't move from where he stands. The sight of Gotham leaves him speechless, and it's not until Barbara pulls his arm does he finally budge.
She helps strip him out of the wetsuit ("Shut up – it's not like I haven't seen you naked before") though she adverts her eyes to afford him some modesty. She helps him into the water and he sinks down with a sigh, grateful to feel the warmth flow through his veins.
"Do you need your privacy, or can we talk?" she asks.
"I'd much prefer company than being alone," he says, and she hops up onto the counter.
"How's Oliver?" Barbara asks, unzipping her coat and laying it on the side. She's thinner than before, but Bruce suspects none of them are much better off. She takes off her hat and runs her fingers through her hair.
"He's good. He sends his regards, and wants you to know that the minute people can get in this city, he'll ship Dinah off to you. Says she's a giant pain in his ass."
Bruce hadn't ever met Oliver Queen before – even though they were of the same social strata, they never were in the same place at the same time. Meeting the man behind the Green Arrow mask was interesting. Queen, like him, was an orphan, and had gotten into the justice routine, but unlike Bruce, he had spent most of his life working for social justice causes instead of partying his nights away. It was obvious from the brief time they spent together that both men believed in similar ideals.
Now only if they could ever put them into action...
"I'm not surprised," Barbara says. She looks at him. "I just want you to know how good it is to see you right now."
"You have no idea how sorry I am –"Bruce starts, but she shakes her head.
"John said that Bane got you," she says. "Is that true?"
"Yeah," Bruce he admits. "How did he find out?"
"Selina. He caught her when she was trying to flee Gotham."
"How is he? How's your uncle?" Bruce sinks deeper into the hot water, letting it seep into his bones. Thank god for the fact that this apartment has its own generator.
"John is good," Barbara tells him. "There's a resistance movement. They're both working with it. And my uncle's my dad, apparently."
Bruce isn't as surprised as he should be, apparently, because Barbara's eyes narrow.
"Did you know and never tell me?" she asks, looking angry and more than a little bit betrayed.
"No, I never knew – he said something in passing when you got taken by the Joker. I swear, Barbara, I never knew."
"He waited eight years to tell me," she says. "Doesn't matter now, I guess." She leans her head back against the mirror, staring up at the ceiling.
"You said there's a resistance movement?" he asks, trying to change the subject.
"Yeah – all the cops that didn't get trapped in the sewers."
"Trapped in the sewers?" There are so many things he doesn't know about Gotham or doesn't remember from being in so much pain those first few days in hell. This must be one of them.
The nervous energy returns, pushing away any weariness. The only thing on Bruce's mind is trying to understand the logistics of everything that's happened since he's been gone.
Barbara slides off the counter and throws him a towel. "Towel yourself off, Batman. I'm going to give you the full briefing."
Barbara runs her fingers along the edge of the map, smoothing a corner. It's a map that she's made on her own, taking bits and pieces of paper and tracing the lines of the map that either John or her uncle (Father, she thinks, but she can't just switch her thinking like that) carry with them at all times. That means that it's been a night, or early in the morning, when everyone else thinks she's off doing something else, she's been quietly tracing the streets of downtown and the neighborhoods of Old Town, adding details to her map that John's doesn't quite have.
The result is impressive, and it's what she needs to show Bruce to make him understand the gravity of the situation they're in.
He watches as she explains where Bane's men are, shows him the route of the trucks and where they speculate the bomb may be. His eyes sometimes meet hers but for the most part they are steady and sure, scanning the streets and asking questions that she does her best to answer. She can answer all of them – troop numbers, potential weaknesses, types of weapons. She's been saving all this information in her head for weeks and sharing it with her uncle and John, but this is different. As she speaks, she knows what she's been preparing for.
She's been preparing for him.
Everything starts to spill out of her mouth like a cascade of words: information about safe houses and the conditions in Gotham, rationing and shortages and murders. Bruce bears the brunt of her verbal avalanche silently, nodding.
"Thank you," he says finally.
"It's not a problem."
"No, I mean – thank you for taking care of Gotham while I was gone," he says firmly. "I'm sorry that I put myself in that position."
"I haven't taken care of Gotham," she says, her voice breaking just a little.
"Just because you haven't challenged Bane outright doesn't mean that you haven't challenged him at all," Bruce tells her. "The fact that more people haven't died and that we have this-" he gestures to the map "- this resistance movement, this knowledge, is more than enough."
"So what's the plan?" Barbara asks. Bruce looks down at the map, then back up at Barbara.
"I take on Bane."
"You and whose army?" She laughs. "There's no one."
"There are cops underground," he says. "How are they doing?"
"As far as I know, they're alive. Bane feeds them, makes sure that they can't just die down there while he fucks up their city. John likes to send notes down to them, tell them what's going on." She picks at the corner of the map with her finger. "They're soft."
"They're angry. And exactly what we need." Bruce scans the map again.
"That's not going to help you against Bane – he's got an army of mercenaries and Wayne Enterprises' three remaining tumblers. You can't bring pop-guns to an anti-aircraft party, Bruce."
"I've got that covered," he says. "Do you trust me?"
"It depends," Barbara admits. "Is it a day that ends in a 'y'?"
"You've gotten much more sarcastic since you went to the West Coast," Bruce tells her with a smirk on his face. "Star City bring that out in you or has that always been there?"
Barbara laughs. It feels good to be around Bruce – it almost feels like the old days. "You tell me – you do remember that when we first met, I constantly came up with creative ways of tell you that you were insane without using the term 'batshit'."
Bruce smiles. "I do remember that." The conversation idles into companionable silence, but the question that's been burning in Barbara's mind for the past few weeks comes bubbling to the surface.
"What exactly happened to you? How did you end up in Central Asia?"
Bruce runs his hands through his hair, and she can see how tired and worn he looks – like he's aged thirty years in six months, and she can't even imagine what he's been through to get like that.
"Bane broke my back, and threw me in the prison he escaped before he took down my city, Barbara." Bruce's voice is calm and level. It scares her more than a little. "I'd say I'm angry too."
"Understood." She watches him yawn, and decides now is the time to fuss. "We need to get you to bed so you can actually do some good instead of zombie-walk around here like the rest of us sleep-deprived would-be rescuers."
Bruce stands up and crosses over to the window. A full moon lights up the city and the apartment, and she stares at the little penciled-in streets on the map.
"We need to talk about John," he says finally.
"Oh god, not that again." In the note that he gave her, underneath all of the speculative information about Bane, all those months ago, was a thought. Just a simple idea, one that she didn't think too much about but one that's stuck in the back of her head ever since.
Bruce wondered if John Blake might be able to put on his cape and cowl.
Bruce looks at her, and Barbara pulls her legs in to her chest.
"He's tough. He watched me, started to learn from my example – I think he could do it, but isn't it asking a lot out of someone?" She shakes her head. "You, me – even everyone in Star City – we did this voluntarily. You can't make someone into something they don't want to be."
"Does he want it?" he asks. "How well do you know him?"
Barbara sighs. "Better than I knew you most days," she says, "and does he want justice? Yes. Does he want to spend his nights patrolling this city and making it better? That was already in his job description." She shakes her head. "If you're really concerned about Gotham going to down with just me, then at least tell me that."
"I don't want him to replace me," he says. "I want you to have a partner – the partner you always deserved, the one I never was."
Barbara stands up. "I never asked for a partner. I understood exactly what I was getting into. I knew that you weren't in the crime-fighting business anymore."
Bruce is so incredibly still that Barbara thinks he's angry. But when he speaks, he sounds resigned. "You left Gotham. You went to Star City, and you found what you needed there."
"I left Gotham because there was nothing for me here. My uncle was constantly working, my aunt moved with my cousin to Cleveland, and you were holed up in Wayne Manor, licking your wounds or grieving or doing something." She crosses her arms in front of her chest. "You never told me why. You stopped talking to me. So I ran as far away from Gotham as I could."
The words are true, so true that they shake her to her core, but she's always had her reasons – just never the opportunity to confront one of the ghosts in her past. Now that the opportunity is there, though, she doesn't want answers, and the power of that knowledge surprises her.
She did run away from Gotham, but she wasn't looking for anything except peace of mind when she left. What she found shaped her just as much as her time in this city, and she wouldn't trade either of those experiences for the world.
"Don't," she says, as Bruce opens his mouth to speak. "I don't need to know why. It doesn't matter. I did find what I needed in Star City, but I also have things that I need here. People that I'm not ready to give up. So whether or not John wants it, Gotham still has me."
She can always tell when she's bested Bruce, and he's wearing the same look of meek apology that he always does. It's endearing, but looking at him and knowing that – regardless of what they were or what they are now – the man means a whole hell of a lot to her is enough to make her soften. She can feel her shoulders relax as she rolls her eyes.
"I swear, I'd almost think you're trying to distract me," she says. "You always were a night owl." She looks at the map. "Should I leave this?"
"You're going?" Bruce looks worried for the first time this night.
"Do you want me to stay?" she asks. "I can watch over you while you sleep – be a real creeper."
"You look about as half-dead as I feel," he says, starting down the hallway. She follows, unsure of what to make of all of this but hesitant to leave him. She's lost him for too long to want to let go now.
Bruce leads her to the large master bedroom with the ginormous bed, and if memories flutter through her head, well, she's brushing them aside. But beyond those brief glimpses of the past, she's innocently shared a bed with him more times than she can count, so she sits down on the bed and unzips her boots.
"So you know Blake better than you know me?" Bruce asks, pulling back the covers. Barbara stops for a minute, then slips off her socks and balls them off in her boots. She climbs into the bed still in her jeans and sweatshirt.
"Yeah. Because unlike some people, he wants to talk about things."
Barbara rolls her eyes. She slides underneath the covers and turns over onto her side. "Selina asked me about dating you."
Bruce raises an eyebrow. "I'm screwed now, aren't I?"
"No, give me some credit, I only told her the truth - that you were a dysfunctional human being when I knew you, but the two of you are both dysfunctional so it'll work out great."
"You didn't answer my question," Bruce points out, yawning.
How he knows about her and John is beyond Barbara's reasoning, but she never asks these things with Bruce. It's the little things – the tell in the way someone looks, the slight raise of a lip or the tilt of a head - that Bruce catches on to, and it's always been like that.
Barbara presses her head into the pillow, which is softer and nicer than she's had to sleep on in months. This whole bed is a dream, as is the person in it. She closes her eyes and takes a breath. Every fiber in her being is happy that Bruce is back, and that things may not be the same but he's here with her. However, every fiber in her being wishes this was a different place and time, and that the person here with her in this fancy penthouse was John.
"Not just talk," she admits when she opens her eyes. "He's a good guy and I really like him."
Bruce shifts in the bed, pulling the blankets closer to him. He's falling asleep as they speak. "Does he treat you well?"
"As best as to be expected in the current economic climate." Barbara smiles, just a little. "Yeah, he treats me well. And he trusts me, which is probably the most I could ask for."
She sinks into the bed more, pulling the covers up to her face. Bruce's breathing is slow and even, and after some time, just before she's about to fall asleep, she feels the brush of his hand against hers.
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
She threads her fingers through his hand and squeezes. There's nothing else she can say, and he doesn't seem to need anything else.
She falls asleep to his steady breathing. She never lets go of his hand.
"Where can I find Selena?" Bruce asks Barbara. The sun's barely up, and they've had maybe six hours of sleep, but he feels rested and alert. They're standing in the bathroom, and he watches as Barbara brushes out her wet hair. She had told him she was going to take the longest shower ever, and the wrinkles on her fingertips prove it.
He thought about all the times Barbara had showered here under a myriad of different circumstances, and some part of him is jealous of John Blake for whatever it is that he and Barbara – something that Bruce could never make work. There's another part of him that knows that whatever he and Barbara had – their friendship – has meant so much to him that he's glad at least something has worked out.
She's always been the rock, steady in the brunt of the storm. Even if she doesn't see if, he's sure she's been the same for the resistance movement.
"At this time of day? She's in Old Town," she says. She pulls it back and up, hides it under her hat. She slips on her jacket and zips it up, then turns to him. "She'll be glad to see you."
Bruce laughs, softly. "If you think so."
Barbara smiles. "I know. Tell her hi for me."
Bruce has leveled with her – the bomb has less than 24 hours before going off, and there are things he needs to do. He hasn't told her the specifics, and hopes that she'll leave him to it.
"You need to get out of the city," he tells her. "If it looks like things are getting too close, use the bridge or the tunnel."
"The tunnel's blocked."
"I'll make sure it's open."
Barbara shrugs. "Whatever. But why do you want me to get out? Why not put me to work?"
Bruce takes a step closer, tucks a strand of hair beneath her hat. "Go back to John. Do what you do every day. And when the time comes – when the opportunity comes to get out – just do it. Go with John. Do it for my sake. Please."
She's close enough to him that he can see the tears form in her eyes before she closes them. He leans forward, presses a kiss against her forehead.
Her response is to grab him, wrap her arms around him and hold on like she's drowning. He can't help it if he does the same. He holds her tightly until she shifts and lets go. The tears are gone now.
"Go easy on your dad." He watches Barbara let out a long sigh, shaking her head.
"I want to, but it's just...it was easier to think that my dad was gone forever instead of...being here. It's a lot to adjust to."
Bruce can't even imagine what she must be going through, so he doesn't say anything else because he doesn't know what to say. It's Barbara that speaks next.
"For the love of all things holy, Bruce Wayne, take care of yourself," she tells him on her way out the door.
They leave at the same time – he heads south, she heads east. He watches as she disappears around a corner, silent and dark as a shadow in the early morning hours.
Bruce knows that, if anything happens, Barbara will be key to helping Gotham rebuild. Her and John are the future of Gotham, and he wants to ensure that their future happens.
During his recovery, he was able to discuss some ideas with Oliver Queen. If he's able to stop the bomb and if Gotham survives, Queen has agreed to see that some plans come to fruition. He can only hope that it's not too little, too late.
As he heads to Old Town, he gets angry at the devastation and rampant destruction that he sees in his city. It's enough to set his blood boiling. It's enough, he knows, to get him through this day, and to make sure that this city is once again safe.
She calls Oliver once she's close enough to home, and confirms with him that Bruce is here and that everyone went well.
"Just so you know," Oliver says, "I've got a jet ready to take me to Gotham just as soon as the occupation ends."
"We could all be dead by then," she tells him. Bruce's warning is settling in her bones and she tries hard not to let the desperation she feels come out. "But if we make it, I expect you want to get rid of Dinah."
"Word travels fast. I didn't know Wayne was such a gossip."
Oliver laughs – a harsh, tight laugh that doesn't really sound like laughter, and she understands what her friends are going through. It's difficult to feel helpless in the face of your friend's impending doom.
Death stopped scaring Barbara eight years ago, when Harvey Dent held the barrel of a gun to her forehead and told her that her life wasn't worth much of anything. She'll dispute that to this day, argue that her life does mean something even if that something isn't widely known or recognized (Gotham doesn't do well with vigilantes). But she's accepted that there might be a moment where she steps into the line of fire, or is at the wrong place at the wrong time, and so she has made her amends. The fact that Gotham may be lost in the span of day is the least of her concerns.
She needs to see John. She wants to see her father.
Needs over wants, first.
Barbara takes Bruce's words into consider and decides, before it's too late, that maybe an attempt at reconciliation isn't the silliest thought in the world. There are many obstacles to overcome before they can be any sort of normal family, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't try. Jim Gordon may be flawed, but they all are, and he did raise her, after all.
Barbara texts John, who directs her to one of their standard look-out points. When she sees him on the roof, she controls herself. She does not run towards him like a movie-script ending, but she does kiss him a little longer than normal.
"Do you know where my dad is?" she asks, stepping back. She doesn't let go of him. She holds his hands in hers, so grateful to have him in front of her.
The look in John's face makes her stomach drop.
"Bane's men picked him and Miranda Tate up a few hours ago." He looks down at their entwined hands.
There is a roar in her head and she shakes it, trying to clear the noise out. "No," she tells him. "It can't be." She lets go and takes a step back.
"There will be an expedited trial – you know there will be, BG." John's voice sounds so far away.
Bruce. Bruce will find Selina. Bruce will be there soon. Bruce can save her father – right?
Her breathing comes in rapid gasps as the gravity of the situation and what Bruce is planning to do crashes into her. What if Selina doesn't help him? What if he doesn't make it?
"We need to get them out," she says. This is not the plan, this is not the plan...
"We can't, B.G.," he tries to reason with her.
"Yes we can – we can do it, John!" she tries to convince him, grabbing his coat collar and shaking. "We can do it, just get me close enough."
"No." John's words are firm, strong, trying to break through to her. "We can't. You know your dad wouldn't go for that."
"Then what are we doing to do?" she asks. The momentary adrenaline rush dissipates, and her body feels so very freaking heavy as if the weight of everything is pressing down on her shoulders.
"I know a place we can go," he says. "Regroup. Figure out what to do."
Of course, it's St. Swithin's.
He deposits her with Fr. Reilly, who makes her tea and fusses over her in his office for so long that when she finally realizes that John has left her there to be distracted by the priest, she's almost resigned to her fate.
"Stephanie," the priest starts, but she shakes her head.
"That's not my real name," she tells him, taking a sip of tea. "My name is Barbara Gordon."
The priest nods, asks her if she wants more tea. She shakes her head.
"You're here because John wants you safe," Fr. Reilly points out, and she laughs, shakily and full of ill-humor.
"He wants to keep me safe," she says, slipping off her hat. She runs her fingers through her hair, which is still damp from this morning's shower. Feeling it makes things click into place as she evaluates her options.
"There are things in motion that might allow us to get out of here," she tells the older man. "If you trust me, we can make sure that, when the time comes, we'll get out. We'll be safe then."
"How do you know?" Fr. Reilly asks.
"You know about faith, Father," she tells him. "Sometimes you just have to believe to know things will be all right."
She helps out around the Boy's Home all afternoon – arranging for backs to be packed, food to be prepared, people to be ready. She washes her mug in the kitchen sink, and stares out at the snow softly falling. She wants nothing more than to run outside, to run and find one of them – Bruce, John, Selina, her father -but she doesn't.
She drinks another mug of tea, and watches her cell phone charge.
She checks her pockets for her keys, but finds a note instead.
Home is at the tip of your thumb it says in Bruce's haphazard scrawl. She laughs at the terrible pun, and puts it back into her pocket. If they survive this, a penthouse apartment isn't half-bad.
She just hopes it doesn't come down to her inheriting anything from Bruce's estate.
When John arrives hours later, he's surprised to find the buses packed up and the neighborhood already notified of a potential escape.
"You knew," he says, stopping in front of her. Barbara offers him a weak smile.
"Bruce is all right?" she asks, feeling relief flood her veins.
"Yeah – going to take on Bane as we speak." John has his hands in his pockets. He looks frustrated. "How did you know?"
"I've been working with a friend in Star City to get him here for over a week," she says. "That's where I was last night – meeting him and debriefing him." She looks down and then back, as John takes the entire situation into account.
John nods. "He told me to make sure that you got out safe."
Barbara smiles. "Funny, he told me the same thing about you."
John laughs, then pulls her to him. He kisses her forehead, brushes his lips against her cheek. "Let's get the hell out of Dodge, then," he says as he lets her go.
Thank you for the kudos and reviews. I really appreciate them. I will do my best to update regularly over the coming weeks but will be traveling. Thank you for your patience :)
Chapter 11: The First Day
Long overdue -sorry! I hope this makes amends. Thank you to all the reviews. I actually did not know that I could respond to them until recently. Fail, JD, fail.
" Since, then, even if a thing exists for ever, out of that of which it consists it would necessarily also, if it had come into being, have come into being, and since everything comes to be what it comes to be out of that which is it potentially ...since the potential can be either actual or not,-this being so, however everlasting number or anything else that has matter is, it must be capable of not existing...”
- Aristotle, Metaphysics
See I was dead when I woke up this morning
And I’ll be dead before the day is done
- Florence + the Machine, ‘Seven Devils’
The First Day
Barbara takes five minutes to cry.
Five minutes, spent at the back of the bus, curled in on herself. Five minutes where the phone buzzes violently in her jacket pocket and her lungs hurt from the force of her sobs and her breathing becomes rapid. She swears her tears drip onto the bus floor.
Five minutes to mourn Bruce is not nearly enough, but it is all that she can muster while John takes the boys outside to calm them down from the excitement. That’s his excuse, but she knows he’s doing it for her.
From the window, she sees them pacing the bridge under the watchful eyes of Fr. Reilly and John. John, who looks equally shaken. John, who has no idea what he may have just inherited.
She finally gets pissed off and answers her damn phone.
“Are you okay?” Dinah’s voice is loud – too loud – in her ears.
“I’m fine,” Barbara says. Her voice is not as loud – barely a whisper. It sounds broken.
“Barbara, was it – “
“Dinah, I’m safe. No wounds, no injuries, nothing. I have to go clean up my city.” She hangs up on her best friend without another word, shoves the phone into her jacket pocket, and stands up.
She’s shaky as she leaves the bus but John’s there so quickly, arm around her waist.
“You okay?” he asks.
Barbara takes a deep breath to keep from snapping at him.
“I will be.”
John nods. “Of course. Let’s get the boys back in the bus.”
The warmth of John’s body is the reassurance that she needs to put one foot in front of the other and get things done. They get the boys back on the bus, turn around and head back into Gotham and get the boys back to St. Swithin’s.
She calls her dad but his phone goes to voicemail. She tries not to think too much about that.
It’s the look on the faces of the citizens of Gotham that propels them into action.
He’s worked with Barbara for so long (five months is forever at this moment) that he can read her expression and know what she’s thinking within a few seconds. When an intent look crosses her face, he knows immediately what it means.
Of course, it’s not like the situation isn’t obvious. The streets of Gotham are full of people for the first time in months – people who look tired and humbled and dirty and gaunt. They are waiting for relief that won’t freaking come because the stupid assholes just blew out the bridge.
“There’s always the tunnel,” he says to himself, noticing the crowd to people seem to be turning north, like they’re trying to escape this hell-hole.
Barbara wraps her arms around herself. The effort makes her look smaller, but he can see the light is gone from her eyes. She’s battered and bruised, a broken shell of a girl who’s just lost someone she loved.
“I don’t know what to do,” she says. Even her voice is quiet and weak in the cacophony of voices in the street. “There’s too much.”
It’s the first time since he’s met her that she’s admitted she has no plan.
He steps forward and brushes a lock of hair out of her eyes. “Hey,” he says softly, and she looks up. She offers him a weak smile, but he presses a kiss against her forehead and pulls her close.
They stand like that, in the cold February morning, until she takes a step back.
“Bruce saved Gotham,” she tells him. “We can take the day off, right?”
From the moment he met Barbara in her uncle – father’s – hospital room, he’s always thought of her as steady. She’s been the anchor holding him calm in the storm, keeping him from getting washed away in his anger and frustration and stubbornness. Everything has been approached with such grace and dedication that this fragile girl in front of him is farthest from the woman that he’s known.
“You’re completely right. We can take the day off,” he tells her, even though every bone in his body is urging him in the opposite direction of the crowd. He wants to know what they’re fleeing from, where it is that the sirens and helicopters seem to be flocking. He wants so badly to be part of the action and to help that it takes him a moment, and a glance down at a shivering Barbara, to realize that his priorities are changing and he needs to focus on her, too, now.
Barbara’s eyes also follow the helicopters.
“You don’t have to be brave today,” he tells her.
Barbara nods. “Just so we’re clear,” she points out, “I’m going to be brave tomorrow.”
“I’m counting on it,” John responds.
Her phone rings, just then. Her eyes light up.
“It’s my dad,” she says, and he nods while she answers the call. She walks away, trying to get a better signal, and so John sits on a stoop and lets everything about today come crashing down over him.
Bruce Wayne is dead. Bruce Wayne is dead.
He can’t quite imagine the death toll that the government will realize – how many people lost during the occupation at Bane’s hands, through execution or exile or sickness or starvation? The full impact of the past five months settles on John within the span of a few breaths, and he wants to throw up.
He does. Someone notices, and gives him a bottle of water, which he uses to rinse out his mouth. He spits on the ground.
The adrenaline that is powering John’s body is slowly fading away.
He leans back against the stoop more.
Bruce is dead.
Who can save this city now?
Barbara stands at his feet, putting her phone away in her pocket. She carefully avoids the vomit.
“You look like hell.”
“Been through it, sweetheart,” he says, standing up. His legs feel like Jell-O. He just wants to rest.
“We need sleep,” Barbara tells him.
“Okay,” John says, wondering if his apartment is in any condition for visitors. He hasn’t been there since Bane’s men trashed the place but without hesitation, Barbara turns up a street and heads further uptown.
They walk parallel to the sirens, and John does his best not to look over. Barbara gives him the short story of what her father told her– the valiant last stand of the Gotham P.D., the betrayal of Miranda Tate (she was behind it all along) and the desperate move of Bruce Wayne.
“My dad knows,” she says. “Bruce really must have been on a suicide mission because there’s no way he would have told him otherwise.”
John doesn’t know what to say, so he listens. Barbara continues to steer him uptown until they reach an abandoned highrise.
“The elevator still works,” she says as they cross the lobby. They take it to the penthouse, where a large door greets them. Without pausing to consider it, Barbara presses her thumb into a device next to it, and the door clicks open.
“You been holding out on me, B.G.?” John asks, watching as she walks into the apartment.
“More like something I’ve recently inherited,” she tells him. She slips off her coat – the apartment is surprisingly warm – and instructs him to close and lock the door behind them.
“Was this...” John starts, unable to finish.
“He coded the entry to my thumb last night,” Barbara says, walking through the apartment.
John takes a moment to size up the apartment – huge, sparsely decorated, barely used. In the corner of the living room is the map that he drew (did she steal it?).
He should feel something about his girlfriend staying with Bruce Wayne for a night, but he’s not really sure if she’s his girlfriend and he’s not about to speak ill of the dead.
He follows Barbara into a bedroom, where she is already taking off her jacket.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m about to sleep for a week,” she tells him, stripping down to bra and panties before collapsing into the pillows.
He follows her lead, crawls onto the soft mattress and draws her to him. Barbara is a comfortable weight in his arms, and even though his head is spinning and his body weary, she is still the anchor that keeps him in this place.
He wakes after dark and takes a moment to walk around the space, looking out all the windows. His soul is weary, but for the first time in months, there are lights in every single building in Gotham, reflecting on the river and making the city glow.
The knocking –no, pounding – at the front door wakes her up and makes her want to stab people.
Or, more specifically, one billionaire playboy from Star City.
Barbara slips out of bed and pulls on her jeans. She pulls her messy hair back into a pony tail. John stirs on the bed.
“What the fuck is that?” he asks, barely awake.
“Oliver Queen,” she tells him. “He better have food.”
It is night in Gotham, and it’s hard to believe that just a day before she had been here, with Bruce, talking strategy. Her stomach drops when she thinks of his name and his absence in her life, and wonders if she should really mourn someone who gave up on life three years ago. The broken man, gaunt and lost, is not how she can and will remember him.
She will make his memory count.
Barbara opens the front door.
“Idle threat,” she tells him. “I don’t see Dinah out there.”
Oliver raises his eyebrows.
“I was in the air the moment I heard,” he tells her. “Had to circle around Logan before getting here, but I brought sustenance like you requested. Lead me to the kitchen.”
In the moments after talking to her father, Barbara had texted Oliver to tell him that if did show up (which she always knew he would) that he should bring bagels or some sort of food. As he deposits two bags on the counter, she realizes how hungry she actually is.
Food must wait, though, because Oliver is looking at her like she’s wearing a ‘handle-with-care’ sticker.
“Jesus, Barbara,” he says. “You’ve lost some weight.”
“Some?” she laughs. It threatens to become a sob before she can choke out a witty reply. This isn’t me, she thinks, struggling to regain some sort of control. She rests her knuckles on the counter, pushing against the granite countertop. She’ll settle for a shaky smile, swallowing back the sadness.
She will push through. She always does.
He takes a step forward, and extends his arms. He is asking if she wants a hug, and she does. She really, really does.
“You smell like burning,” he tells her as she wraps her arms around him, nose pressed into his shoulder.
“All of Gotham does.” Oliver is a steady, reassuring warmth against her body, so cold she’s fucking shaking. He smells like that obnoxiously lush cologne he wears and she wants nothing more to open her eyes again to find herself in Star City, Bruce still alive and Gotham never broken.
Barbara lets go and turns to the food. Bagels, salads, cookies – more food than she’s seen in months. “Where did you get all this food?”
“I stopped by a Panera near Logan,” Oliver says, looking around. “Swank digs, by the way.”
“Yeah,” Barbara says, digging in the bag for plastic utensils. “It’s mine now. I inherited it.”
The words fall out of her mouth before she can stop them. She told John the same thing early. Her mouth tastes like ash and her throat burns.
“Hmm.” Oliver takes out his phone. “Dinah’s angry at me for leaving her in Star City.”
Barbara doesn’t reply. She is too busy taking slow, small bites from a bagel that she has covered with cream cheese. She closes her eyes and is not at all surprised to find that there are tears when she opens them.
“Jesus, Barbara,” Oliver exhales.
“What did you think was going on?” Barbara asks softly, taking another bite and chewing slowly. She’s not mad, just hungry, and Oliver keeps watching her with wide eyes
“At least the worst is over,” he tells her, and she shakes her head bitterly.
“No – now the government comes in, and they take a measure of everyone who lived and everyone who died. There will be funerals and investigations and good Samaritans and rebuilding and then, at the end of it all, everyone will leave and we will be left alone again, to pick up the pieces of our lives.” Barbara can see if in her head, the convoys and the inquisitions and the television shows with blonde anchors talking about the plight of the people of Gotham and it makes her angry.
“You sure are happy first thing in the morning, BG.”
John is standing in the doorway, eyeing the food like it’s going to run away. She exhales. Seeing him makes things better, for some reason.
“John, this is my friend Oliver,” Barbara says, and Oliver steps forward, hand extended.
“Nice to meet you, John,” all business, Oliver Queen, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Barbara takes a deep breath. She can only imagine what Oliver and Bruce talked about – the plans that Bruce told her about so many months ago, backed by Queen Industries capital since Wayne Industries went belly-up. But this is a conversation for another day – once they wait things out and see how Gotham recovers.
“Same,” John says. He’s still staring at the food.
“Eat something,” Barbara says. John nods. The phone in Oliver’s hand vibrates again, and Barbara extends her arm. “Let me talk to that hussy.”
As she talks to Dinah, who is frantic and angry and relieved and threatens to head to Gotham City that night before Barbara can talk her down from it, John and Oliver make small talk. Barbara watches it out of the corner of her eye, and when Dinah finally agrees to talk to Oliver, she passes the phone back to the man.
She levels her gaze on John, who chews on a bagel sandwich.
“Seems nice,” he tells her. “A little hellbent on saving the world. If it’s all right with you guys, I’m going to sit out this round,” John says. He smiles, but still leaves the room, sandwich in hand. There’s a tension in his shoulders that doesn’t seem to have let up, and it worries her.
“Do you really think he’ll get out of it that easily?” Oliver asks her, returning to the conversation. Barbara shakes her head. So Bruce has already spoken to him...
“No,” she tells him, “I don’t.”
Oliver lets out a breath. “You think Wayne left any booze here?”
Oliver spends the next day on the phone, arranging for Dinah’s entry into Gotham City, and John spends it on the streets. Barbara spends it on the couch, or the balcony, high above everything, just watching the traffic. It’s weird to see traffic , after all these months, but trucks carrying soldiers and aid and people just leaving the city give her pause.
It’s the ones that are coming back in that make her heart ache.
She breaks down in the shower, sobbing and clutching her hand over her mouth so no one can hear her. She isn’t proud of it, but it’s necessary, just to get all of these feelings out of her body. She puts on extra eye cream to hide her puffy eyes and tries to pretend that nothing is wrong.
“You don’t’ have to be the strong one, BG,” John says when he gets home. She sighs, and hugs him.
“Yes,” she tells him, “I do.”
Her father stops by to check in on her. He tells them about the recovery efforts, the government officials coming into Gotham in droves, the food being distributed to the starving populace. He also tells them about the dead cops, the final showdown, and the death of Batman.
Barbara can feel John’s eyes on her when she hears this, and she keeps her face calm, her emotions buried somewhere deep inside of her. She will mourn Bruce another day. She will mourn Bruce another way.
Her father reaches his hand for her. “I know you were a fan of him,” he says, squeezing her fingers. “I’m sorry, hon.”
“That’s okay, dad,” she says, the words coming out of her mouth so easily. “Heroes never die. They just get reborn in some other way.”
The conversation ends when a tall blonde runs through the door and straight into Barbara’s arms. Dinah pulls her best friend closer while yelling at her pseudo-boyfriend, and Barbara can’t blame her dad for sitting silently in shock on the couch.
Bruce’s funeral is a small affair: her father, John, Alfred, and the CEO of Wayne Industries, Mr. Fox. She watches the empty coffin be lowered into the hole, and she feels nothing. There is nothing inside of her to feel anything, not even the warmth of John’s hand in hers, nor the rain that threatens them with a slow drizzle. She feels nothing at all, and she remembers everything.
...he presses her against the door of his study, fingers trailing up her spine as she laughs into his mouth...
...”FASTER” he yells in her earpiece as she jumps over a rooftop, police hot on her heels...
...the way that he always looks at her like he was proud of her...
...the way that he always looks at her after he kisses her...
Everyone leaves the gravesite but her. Instead, Barbara draws close to the shallow grave, a small space carved out between two older tombstones. It doesn’t seem right, or fair, but she won’t deny that he went out in a blaze of glory.
“This is what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it?” she asks the emptiness, the facsimile of Bruce she’s supposed to believe is resting in this grave. There is no body, and this brings her no comfort. “You saved Gotham when Gotham needed saving.”
She pauses, and the skies open up. “Thank you,” she tells no one. “I’m proud of you.”
She stays by the graveside for some time until she notices another person standing next to her. She doesn’t have to look up to know its Lucius Fox.
“I need to ask a favor,” she says quietly. “I want a job in Applied Sciences.”
Mr. Fox smiles. “I thought you’d never ask, Miss Gordon.”
John gets the letter a few weeks after Bruce’s funeral, when he’s spending his time on Barbara’s couch filling out job applications. He doesn’t go back to his apartment, because he doesn’t want to and it doesn’t matter – she’s here. Except when she’s not, like now. He assumes that she’s out in the streets, watching the recovery efforts, but she doesn’t talk much about it. He doesn’t think he would either.
The letter somehow finds its way to him regardless. He’s been named in Bruce Wayne’s will.
He tells Barbara when she gets home, and she smiles. “I wonder what you’re getting.”
“Did you get one?” he asks, knowing Dinah is now checking her mail in Star City. Barbara shakes her head.
“I’ve got this, and it’s already in my name,” she says, looking at the apartment. “I don’t want anything else. I don’t need any other way to remember Bruce.”
John shrugs. “So I shouldn’t worry that you two probably made out in this kitchen – “
Barbara wraps her arms around his neck. “Hasn’t cooled your libido before,” she tells him before pulling him down for a kiss.
They’ve fallen into a relationship – at least, she introduced him to her best friend as ‘my boyfriend John’ and he doesn’t mind that he’s included in family dinner with her aunt and cousin when they come to town to check on her dad. Their routine is comfortable, and easy, and he finds that it makes him feel better to roll over and see her face first thing every morning.
John Blake doesn’t have a lot going for him, never has and never will, but at least he’s got Barbara.
What Bruce has left him is a duffle bag, some climbing rope, and coordinates programed into a massive GPS. Whatever Bruce wants him to find intrigues John, so he goes about turning the machine on and following where it leads him. He doesn’t it to lead him to an underground cavern full of bats with a rising floor and one very cute and very eager person staring at him from a massive station full of crazy equipment he doesn’t know how to use.
“Hi honey,” Barbara calls out with a smile. Oliver Queen waves from a nearby chair, eyes fixated on a computer screen.
“What is this?” John asks, even though he knows what it is. And the thought thrills him deep inside in a way that he finds completely unexpected.
“It’s the Bat Cave,” Barbara tells him. “Where Bruce used to keep all of his stuff. The technology is up to date - I’ve been working on it.”
“Is this where you’ve been every day?” John asks. “Getting this stuff ready for my grand entrance?” John pauses. “You knew.”
Barbara sighs. “For a while. I didn’t know know until I saw you here.” She smiles weakly. “It was Bruce’s plan.”
John takes a deep breath, spinning to look at the space that is now his, thanks to Bruce Wayne’s will.
“His plan?” he says quietly.
“Hey.” Barbara takes his face and turns it towards her. “You can do this, if you want. You can be the next Batman. You can be the savior of Gotham.” She kisses his cheek. “You already are.”
John takes another deep breath, his mind spinning. He’s never thought about this, never wanted it, but now that it’s in his grasp, now that it’s his, he thinks he wants this. He’s always wanted to save people – now he’s been given the opportunity.
“We’re going to need a new suit,” he tells her. “I am not as tall as Bruce was.”
Oliver is sitting at a computer nearby, watching something on the news. “Hey, you guys – get a load of this shit happening in Metropolis right now!” he calls out.
Jim Gordon is surprised when someone tells him the Bat signal is back on.
They all watch silently as he approaches the stairs that lead to the roof, and he wonders what amount of respect and awe that the young ones seem to hold for this moment – as if it’s sacred. For his sake, he really wonders what she’s going to find up there.
Things have been quiet these past few months, after the death of Batman and the end of Bane’s occupation. The National Guard has left, and there are still the few petty criminals who pickpocket grandmother’s and rob bodegas, but Gotham has seen worse. Gotham will see worse, he knows.
The Bat signal is brand new and shining, gleaming in the light. It’s brighter, too, so bright he has to shade his eyes.
“You like it?” a familiar voice says from the shadows. “LED. It’ll last forever now – unless you bash it in with an axe.”
She steps out from behind the wall, a small smile on her face.
“Barbara,” he exhales. Suddenly he remembers a fascination she had over eight years ago, a website that seemed to exist only to decode the Batman…
“You knew,” he says. “How long?”
“The night that Harvey Dent died,” Barbara tells him.
Gordon remembers his daughter’s arms around Batman, the savior of Gotham whispering in her ear –
“But I was working for him long before that,” she says. “That’s part of the reason the Joker took me.”
Gordon runs his hands through his hair. “Were you ever really dating Bruce Wayne?”
She shrugs. “For a time.” She takes a step forward, coming into the light of the bat beacon. “He trained me. He taught me how to be like him.” She looks at him with a steadiness that surprises him, but then again Barbara has always been steady, even in the midst of everything.
If he was a superhero, he’d want someone like her by his side too.
“The intelligence we received during occupation,” he says, slowly putting pieces together, “that was you, wasn’t it? All the intelligence that Blake fed us came from you.”
Barbara continues to look at him with a small smile on her face. She nods, and suddenly he is filled with a mixture of emotions, the least of which is concern for her safety.
“Are you…?” he asks, glancing at the signal. She shakes her head.
“I’m only the messenger,” she tells him. “I’m only here to let you know that Gotham won’t be alone. If you need help, just turn on the signal. Someone will assist you momentarily.”
“Will there be another Batman?” he asks.
“There will be, but give him time – he’s inherited some mighty big shoulders with that Batsuit.”
“You seem to have an answer for everything,” he tells her. “What should I call you?”
“Call me Oracle,” Barbara says with a small smile. “I’ll see you later, Dad.”
She takes a few steps backward and disappears over the ledge of the roof. Panicked, Gordon races for the air where his daughter once was.
He finds nothing.
He laughs to himself. Like teacher, like student.
Chapter 12: Epilogue
The first letter arrives nearly half a year since Bruce’s death. It’s addressed to her, at the penthouse. She doesn’t find it until she gets home from work, and she stops in her tracks when she sees the familiar writing.
John is at the Cave, working on stuff. Oliver is home in Star City with Dinah. She is utterly alone. A small chill creeps up the back of her neck.
I know what you’re doing. I’m so proud of you.
I miss you.
Barbara puts the letter down on the kitchen table and stares at it. She wants to scream, she wants to cry, she wants to set it on fire and watch it disappear into ash on these beautiful countertops. She wants to rage and she wants to shout but she does nothing.
There is an envelope, with a PO box, inside the letter. She finds some ridiculously expensive linen paper that Bruce has left lying around, and writes him back.
I miss you. I had a feeling you weren’t dead.
You’re such a punk.
The letters come every month, and she responds. He starts to ask about John, and Oliver, and Gotham. He tells her about Selina.
She tells him everything is okay. She tells him that she misses him. She tells him about the Batsignal, and her father, and John.
She signs each letter, “XOXO Barbara” and keeps hoping that Selina is righteously angry.
It’s the little things, after all, that keep us human.