Jim Gordon falls asleep listening to the rain.
He doesn’t listen for the sound of footsteps on the fire escape or mobsters in the grass. He stopped listening for those things a long time ago. Most nights that kind of paranoid alertness would detect nothing and only keep him from sleep he really can’t afford to lose. On nights when unwelcome visitors do call he doesn’t think a few seconds’ extra warning would amount to much anyway.
Jim Gordon has learnt, night by night, not to be afraid. Fear is pointless. (Or, at least, it is when it’s a dull, constant ache. Chronic fear helps no-one. Acute fear saves lives.)
If Jim Gordon were really afraid he would have left years ago but he can’t leave now. He doesn’t know how it happened but, somewhere along the line, Gotham became a part of him or he became a part of it. It was probably around the time he learnt not to lie awake at night. He knows the city, for better or worse. He understands how it works, knows its heart-rate and can sense when worse-than-usual trouble is afoot. He’d like to think that Gotham needs him but that really matters very little either way because he wouldn’t know what to do without it. He has the well-rehearsed line about how Gotham needs good cops more than anywhere and the accompanying spiel about how this is his vocation. People think he’s noble when he says this but, really, Jim just doesn’t know where else he could go. He’s found a kind of meaning here and he’s clinging onto it as hard as he can.
Jim wakes up when Batman lands on the fire escape. This isn’t because he hears it - Batman knows how to keep silent - but someone has left the porch light on and Batman’s shadow falls over the room. Jim can see the shadow on the corner of his bed, even through the closed curtains. It’s nothing like the perfect silhouette of the distress call spotlight: it’s part-man, part-monster, and all too real.
Jim is dimly aware that Batman could have been there for some time already, silently watching, that he may not have been woken by movement at all. He looks up through the window, attempting to discern details of the figure casting the shadow and, though he can see nothing more, he imagines what it might look like.
He knows, as he looks at it, that he isn’t supposed to go out. There are no urgent messages here. He doubts he is even supposed to know about his night-time caller.
Jim Gordon falls asleep listening to the rain, gazing at the shadow cast by Gotham’s most wanted, and he feels safe.
The next morning Jim finds a packet of information on his desk; that it leads to five arrests and three convictions, after a single bust, doesn’t make Jim feel any better about the fact that he’s not spoken to the Batman since Dent’s death. He knows this is how it has to be, he understands why, but he does not accept it.
He works late that night. A shift that was meant to last eight hours stretches to twelve with the extra work generated by Batman’s information. He visits the roof after he’s finally switched off the office lights for the night because, even after the extra hours, he’s still not sure he’s ready to go home.
There’s a harsh wind and he’s in his shirtsleeves but he still stands and gazes down at the shattered glass and the black bat nestled in amongst it. He stands there longer than he needs to, counts the seconds, looks out over just that portion of the sky.
He’s half-disappointed when he turns around and no-one is there. He knows he shouldn’t be. As a consolation, he almost convinces himself he can hear the sound of a cloak in the wind but, deep down, he knows he can’t.
Jim’s tying the laces of his best brown leather shoes when his son asks if he’ll ever see the Batman again. The boy’s shuffling his feet, saying he wants to thank him.
Jim looks up into his son’s face as he says “I’ll tell him that next time I see him.” He doesn’t know if truthfulness dictates there should be an ‘if I see him again’ in that sentence. He knows there’s nothing else he can tell his son though. He’s out of options. All he knows is that, when the kid’s follow-up question is whether Batman really killed those people, he can’t possibly lie to his son. He can’t possibly turn hope into a monster in the eyes of his son - even if that’s precisely what needs to be done.
Not long after this, Jimmy comes home from school saying his classmates told him Batman was a monster. He says he’d told them Batman was a good man, that he wouldn’t kill anyone, that he’d met him, that Batman had saved him. No one had believed him, of course, and Jimmy’s teacher had sent him home with a note recommending they take him to see someone, a psychiatrist maybe.
Jim sits the boy on his knee and tries to make it better without explaining. The look in his son’s eyes reminds him of all the kids he’s seen at the station, kids who’d been through terrible things. He thinks of Bruce Wayne, the day his parents were killed; he’d been around the same age as Jimmy and the look in his eyes had been almost the same: haunted, confused, scared, determined. He’d thought then that Bruce Wayne might go either way and, whenever he sees his picture in the paper, he wonders which way he did go. He still isn’t sure.
He tells Jimmy that Batman is good and they know that and they should remember it but that it’s okay that other people don’t know it the way that they do. He tells Jimmy that Batman will always look out for him. He desperately hopes it’s true.
Sometimes lies are easier than truth: Gotham believing Batman is a monster is a testament to this. Sometimes it’s hard to hope.
Barbara meets him at the door when he arrives home from work one Monday evening and he automatically thinks something terrible has happened. His brain starts clicking through worst case scenarios and doesn’t stop even when he sees that she’s smiling.
“You’ll never guess what arrived in the post today,” she says, pushing an envelope into his hands. He isn’t sure what he’d expected but the paper is thick and he can feel its quality in the texture of it. The address is handwritten, to ‘Jim & Barbara Gordon’, the ampersand beautifully ornate, dark blue fountain pen on cream paper. He allows himself to hope, for a moment that they have a rich relative they’ve never heard of who’s decided to give them money to congratulate him on his promotion or something equally fantastical.
“Go on, open it,” Barbara urges. Jim is sure it must be good news. He hasn’t even taken off his coat yet but he does as she suggests. There’s a single sheet of paper inside; it’s the same heavy, cream paper as the envelope. His and Barbara’s names are written at the top in the same handwriting but the rest is typed. It is an invitation to a gala fundraiser event for the construction of the new Gotham General Hospital, hosted by Bruce Wayne at a hotel where Jim doubts he could afford the hors d’oeuvres, let alone to eat and spend the evening. He imagines this is the sort of event where you pay thousands of dollars for a table and are expected to bid over-the-odds in an auction which is really more about showing off than being generous.
Barbara obviously notices his frown however and does her best to do away with his misgivings. She tells him to turn it over. On the back is written, in the same immaculate handwriting as the address:
‘Mr. Wayne would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Police Commissioner and he would be honoured if you would attend this fundraising event. All expenses will be paid and a car will be provided.
(on behalf of Bruce Wayne)’
“I suppose,” Jim says, finally, on reading it, handing the letter back to Barbara and shrugging off his coat, “that we will have to go if Mr. Wayne is so desirous of our presence.” Barbara smiles at him.
They agree that, really, it will probably be terrible and Barbara says she’s only curious because it must be ‘like a whole other life’ but they both look forward to it in their own ways.
Jim doesn’t tell the story of how he’d seen Wayne at the police station, after his parents’ murder. Wayne had been a frightened boy then and would surely never remember him and he’s told Barbara the story before. He’s even told her how he wonders what really became of Bruce Wayne. There’s all sorts of speculation in the gossip columns: is his decadence really as carefree as it looks or is it all a front to cover up his misery, his deep scars, an inability to feel? Barbara scoffs at it and Jim tries to do the same but finds it a little more difficult to dismiss. With Bruce Wayne, Jim almost feels as though he’s seen the crime scene but not yet wrapped up the case.
On Wednesday, Jim finds a criminal bound, gagged, and waiting for him. It’s a typical Batman move except for the fact that this one has found its way into the reception area. The change seems audacious, on account of the manhunt for Batman, and Jim isn’t sure whether Batman did it to ensure that the guy fell into the right hands or just for show. The guy Batman’s caught for them had evaded capture the previous week: on raiding his apartment they’d found enough evidence of his criminal activities to get a conviction but there had been no-one there to convict.
There’s no message, unless major bruising counts, and no evidence which points specifically to Batman’s involvement.
Some rookie cop, an idealist who believes Batman’s a symbol of all that’s wrong with Gotham, insists they review the security tapes in hopes of finding something to tie him to the crime. Jim’s heart catches in his throat when she suggests this and he isn’t sure whether he’s afraid they’ll find something or whether it’s just the way she says ‘the crime’, voice ferocious with disdain, that provokes this reaction in him. If Batman’s actions are a crime, then it’s one he’s complicit in and which he benefits from.
Needless to say, Jim takes charge of the operation. Other officers attempt to say that it’s really below him and they’ll report any findings. An awkward few moments ensue as Jim attempts to explain his taking the lead and they only stop raising their eyebrows when he starts talking about how “the hunt for Batman is their top priority”.
In spite of all his attempts to spirit the tapes off to his office, he ends up reviewing them in the main office with the help of two officers who spend the whole time babbling about how Batman is a public menace. Jim just sits there, chest tight, saying little and hoping there’s nothing to see even as he longs for a glimpse of Batman.
They check the external tapes first. They play each one twice, once unreasonably fast and then again a bit slower. There are more angles on the internals though and they end up dividing the tapes from cameras which cover the lobby between them, each at a different console. Jim takes the one which offers a view of the place the body was dropped.
Batman is conspicuously absent from the footage. Played slow, Jim can see the guy being lowered on a cord through the skylight. Of course, the officers watching with him insist they dust the window for prints, check for signs of how it was done. One of them says he doesn’t understand why Batman hadn’t just killed the guy.
It’s all Jim can do to try and feel relieved. There is no evidence, of course, and that’s a good thing because the list of crimes to Batman’s name doesn’t need to get any longer. Jim hates himself for it but he can’t help the slight bitter sensation, the tinge of regret, at the fact that Batman had failed to materialise, yet again. Not a word and not a look between them since that night and Jim was beginning to feel it. It had always been dangerous and they’d always officially been on different sides of the law but only now had the distance begun to seem as though it couldn’t be bridged.
Batman has to run. He has to hide. This much is easily understood. But he never had to hide from Jim.
Friday is the fundraiser and Barbara fusses because Jim’s best suit probably isn’t good enough. She doesn’t seem concerned for herself even though she’s had the simple evening dress she’s wearing since before they were married. She is right not to be concerned. She’s beautiful. Jim doesn’t much care for himself, figures he’s going in a professional capacity, really, and that no-one would want to see the police commissioner in an expensive suit because it would only reek of corruption.
The event would be enough to turn most people’s heads - even sensible people’s - but, instead of being blinded by the flash bulbs and the diamonds, it just makes them see more clearly. It is really a dull event, full of vapid people who have accepted a few too many glasses of complimentary champagne. Jim and Barbara will tell their friends that it was interesting but that they’d never go to an event like it again.
Still, there is one moment of interest for Jim at the event and that is being greeted in person by Bruce Wayne.
Their eyes meet, when Jim is still feet away, walking through the doors, but Wayne doesn’t meet his eye when he smiles and says “Ah, you’re Jim Gordon, the new police commissioner.” Honestly, Jim is surprised that Wayne knows his name.
For a minute, Wayne seems smart, alert and oddly familiar, then he ruins the effect by saying: “Don’t worry, the drinks here aren’t poisoned so you won’t go the same way as the old one!” A tactless, tasteless comment - not even a good joke. Jim forces a smile and notices that Wayne is already looking at some other new arrival over his shoulder and he and Barbara move on, exchanging looks.
“To be honest,” Barbara says afterwards, “I’m sort of surprised he even knew what happened to Loeb. He seems so vacuous.” Jim assents but wonders why, if Wayne was as ignorant and foolhardy as he seemed, he would bother to throw a fundraiser like this in the first place.
Jim tells everyone he won’t be on call that Sunday. It’s his son’s baseball game and he’s determined to go - though the tension in his shoulders as he pulls on his coat and buttons it over his ever-present service issue handgun tells him he’s only half going as a proud father.
Jim isn’t supposed to be on call at all hours anymore. He never was but, as everyone insists on telling him, commissioner is a ceremonial role. He doesn’t have to get down and dirty with the mob anymore. Interrogations, drugs busts and all paperwork (other than signing his name) aren’t his business anymore. He’s a figurehead and this shit is for the cops working the beat, the people who’ve inherited every breadline-wage job Jim ever had to do working his way up. He’s never not on call though, now more than ever, because more people are calling him. His colleagues try to avoid it but every so often they let slip about some important development and Jim makes them tell him where he needs to be and goes.
Sitting in the stands, next to his wife and daughter, he watches, smiling proudly like any other parent with one arm over his little girl’s shoulder as her head droops against his coat, falling asleep. His phone rings once, about an hour into the game, little Jimmy sat waiting to step up to the plate, and there’s no reason for Jim not to take it and at least advise. His hand is reaching into his pocket on reflex when he tells himself not to pick up. He can’t hear it, just feel it against his thigh. It seems to ring for longer than it ought to and Jim’s throat feels dry as he attempts to swallow the guilt, trying to keep his eyes fixed on the game. He sees, nevertheless, his little girl gazing up at him, suddenly wakeful, with curiosity gleaming in her eyes. She can’t have felt the phone, it’s on his other side, and yet she seems to know. He reaches up with the hand that had been resting halfway inside his pocket, about to answer the call, and then riffles his daughter’s hair, smiling at her. It could be a patronising, ‘everything’s okay’ smile but it isn’t. It’s the kind of smile that says ‘you’re one smart kid’.
Jimmy’s team lose but the boy puts in a good effort. He is neither the worst nor the best of the team but Jim memorialises every good moment - and some of the bad ones - and replays them over and over in rapt conversation with his son on the drive home. They continue to talk about it over dinner, eating Jimmy’s favourite food, all smiling and acting like families in commercials, picture perfect.
It isn’t until he’s tucking Jimmy into bed that Jim notices the grazes on his knees and forearms. His son’s explanation, when asked, is that Kyle Summers and Bill McGinn told him Batman was a monster, that his mom said they couldn’t play after dark because Batman would get them. Jimmy doesn’t say what he’d said in Batman’s defence or who’d hit first so Jim just kneels down by the edge of the bed and hugs his son. He says that it’s okay that not everyone knows Batman is good. He says that as long as Jimmy knows Batman is good, he doesn’t have to defend him. He tells his son that the best thing about Batman is that he always does the right thing even if it means people don’t like him. He tells his son that that’s why Batman wears a mask, so he can be good, and so it doesn’t matter. He finds, again, that he is unable to explain it fully and he catches himself wondering whether one of the reasons is that, as well as not wanting to ruin Batman for his son, he doesn’t want to admit that Batman may be at fault sometimes. He feels he’s told his son too much, gone too far, but he can’t start lying now and Jimmy would never really believe that Batman hadn’t saved his life.
Leaving the boy in bed and switching off the light as he leaves with soft whispers of sweet dreams, Jim finally checks his messages. Ten minutes later, he’s in his car again and halfway to the station.
If Jim invoiced the police department for his overtime, he might actually be a rich man. It’s a conversation he’s had with a lot of people, a lot of times, but it’s always a joke.
Some nights, he walks home. This sometimes coaxes jokes out of his colleagues, too. They wonder if he’s got a death wish, if the desk job doesn’t have enough thrill for him but, really, he’s just as much of a target in a cop car as he is on his feet.
The thing about Gotham, something he’d learnt long ago when he was still a rookie, is that you walk past all sorts of crime scenes in progress - and a few freshly coined - that you simply cannot deal with. It’s someone else’s jurisdiction or there’s no evidence or it’s suicide. You just have to pass on by. It isn’t even a choice. So he passes by. Every so often a hard-faced mobster will sneer up at you, having pegged you’re a cop and knowing you wouldn’t dare. More rarely, an inexperienced hand will glance nervously, sure (but not sure) that you’re a cop, and nudge his neighbour inciting a silent reprimand. Never show your fear. It goes both ways.
This one night, he walks past what looks like a deal about to go bad. Each party is about eight-strong and one half of them are rolling their shoulders menacingly. They’re in the open outside a brothel which insists it’s a massage parlour and is probably a front for something worse than either of those things. Jim keeps walking. He doesn’t look and he tries not even to listen but he can’t help but hear when the Batman arrives.
He lands on the roof of a car, crushing it and shattering the windows, both parties turn to face him and those nearest the door of the brothel attempt to back inside. Jim stops at the corner of the street and watches, waiting. A few of the mobsters disappear into the alley between the brothel and the laundrette next-door to it. Batman disappears after them. Jim waits. There’s the sound of the collision of bodies into tin trashcans, a sound which means broken bones, but it dies down soon enough. No one emerges from the mouth of the alley. Jim turns and walks away, dialling the number for the station to call it in as he does so, wondering suddenly if this was something he was supposed to see.
That night the unmistakable shadow is cast once more over his bed. He watches it for just seconds before reaching for his glasses. He’s about to swing out of bed when he hears the creaking of Batman’s armour and sees the shadow stand, turn, put a foot on the railing and launch itself over the edge.
Jim follows it as far as the window, brushes the curtain aside and looks out. He gets halfway to forming the question about how on earth his intention to go out there and break the silence had been detected so soon when he thinks ‘of course, he’s a bat’. He had heard or maybe seen in the dark or something. Jim sometimes forgets that Batman really is more than a man - though he also sometimes feels he’s forgotten that he is just that, simply human.
He imagines he catches a glimpse of a dark figure, abseiling up a neighbouring building, but he knows he’s imagining it. He gets back into bed and closes his eyes before he realises he can feel his glasses digging into the side of his face. When he almost drops them on returning them to the nightstand, he wonders if Batman was merely a figment of a half-dreamed hope. He dreams of Batman a lot. Always eluding him, just as when Jim is awake - except for the few times he doesn’t but, then, they’re really just dreams.
One night Jim dreams he takes Batman’s mask off. He doesn’t ask to do it; Batman just lets him. They’re on the roof of the MCU and it isn’t even dark outside. The cowl feels soft, like fabric, nothing like Jim imagines it really would - has he really imagined what he would feel like? - and it comes off easily in his hands as if the revelation is nothing.
When he’s removed the cowl, he can’t see the face. In the dream, this seems perfectly natural. It is as though this is just as it should be.
When he awakes, Jim fumbles for the image of the face. He tries every face he can think of in its place. For a while, he imagines it was his own face staring back at him. He knows it wasn’t.
His morning coffee tastes different than usual and his hands don’t seem to want to obey the order to knot his tie. Barbara asks him if he’s had a hard time sleeping and, without asking, ties the knot for him. It looks different from how he normally does it and he tells himself that that’s the reason why he has to look back curiously at himself every time he passes a mirror that day.
The evidences of Batman’s continued involvement in keeping the streets of Gotham safe are like glimpses of something similarly uncanny and impossible to pinpoint in a mirror. He leaves a trail of criminals gagged and bound, a slight dip in the crime rate, escaped inmates showing up sedated and taped-up outside Arkham. These are all things that could be attributed to anyone but Jim knows they’re Batman’s work.
There are a few phone messages, traceable to public payphones, left around midnight on Jim’s office phone. They’re curt, as few words as possible to deliver the necessary tip-off, but Jim would know that voice anywhere. There’s a certain weight to them, the concreteness of the words. They aren’t the words Jim’s been hungry for, not a conversation, nothing beyond a time or a place, but they are something approaching it.
He only listens to each message once before deleting it. This isn’t the kind of evidence he needs to leave in plain view. Sure, someone could dig up his phone records, there might even be some schmuck in another department who’s paid to tap the thing, but Jim doubts anyone else would recognise the voice. Then there’s the other reason, the temptation to play it over in search of a hidden message, a clue to how his old ally is faring, a trace of warmth in his voice.
Jim thinks, the second time he gets one of these messages, that hearing the message just once makes it more like the days when Batman would show up in his office and give him similar information. Those times, Batman was stood inches from him, behind him in the shadows, and Jim thinks of it now as Batman whispering in his ear or some other small intimacy. He still checks behind him when the voice rings, tinny from the machine, but he can’t really convince himself of Batman’s presence.
When they do meet, it’s on Jim’s fire escape. Jim is coming home late, later than usual, and Batman appears to have been keeping watch from atop a neighbouring building. Jim doesn’t notice his descent, doesn’t even hear him land, but he looks up - as if by chance - as he turns his key in the lock, and he sees him. He’d chalk it down to his imagination, to a trick of the light, and almost does except that the mirage doesn’t fade and, instead, he hears Batman say, “Hello commissioner,” voice as even and severe as ever.
“Good evening,” is all Jim can think to say in reply. He’s a little wrong-footed, a little taken aback.
“You’ve been working hard.” Jim sees that one of Batman’s hands is gripping the railing, holding tight. He has the eerie stillness about him that Jim’s long seen as a distinguishing feature.
He counters Batman’s comment with the words “So have you,” and almost thinks he sees the old enigmatic smile curve Batman’s lips just slightly. “Been keeping quiet about it though, I notice.”
“I can’t be seen.”
Later, Jim will savour the ambiguity of this statement. Now, he just ploughs on with a question that’s been plaguing him. “Are you afraid?” He can see Batman leaning back on his right arm, bracing himself against the railing.
“Not for myself.”
Almost as he speaks, Batman vaults the railing, and the night and the city itself seems to swallow the silhouette of his wings as he’s borne away on the wind.
Jim feels regret and emptiness but he is not afraid.