Newton’s Third Law: When two bodies interact by exerting force on each other, these forces (termed the action and the reaction) are equal in magnitude, but opposite in direction.
Blake’s Corollary: Anything in between is fucked.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake--!”
These days, almost all of John’s conversations begin this way. “For Christ’s sake,” or “Goddammit,” or sometimes just a plain old, “Shit.” There’s nothing like the classics to get the ball rolling, although usually the conversations are halfway over before he’s even gotten his first word in. Not that you could call them conversations, when half the time his mouth is full of someone else’s skin and things are being bent in ways that the pope definitely wouldn’t approve of.
It’s doing a number on his social skills, damn it all. For the sake of variety, John occasionally drops in on Gordon, just so he can have the chance to start a conversation with something simple and sane, like, “Hello, insert name here,” or “Hi,” or even, hey, crazy days are here to stay: “How’re you doing?” All the other ones start out halfway between exasperation and plain old irritation.
John swears a lot these days. A lot. He thinks God should give him a special dispensation on this one though, because he figures he’s owed this one.
His day usually starts out with Bruce when he drops in at 5 fucking a.m. Normal people are asleep at that hour. John, ignoring for a second the disaster of his sex life and what Dr. Phil would have to say about it -- most of the country would probably pay to find out -- considers himself a fairly normal guy. (Shut up.) The point is, he’s asleep, or would be, if there wasn’t a guy stripping off a bat costume in his kitchenette. And it isn’t like John’s making a shitload of money doing what he’s doing right now, which is mostly -- well, never mind what it is. Freelancing, he prefers to think of it, and there’s the weird pension thing that Gordon managed to set up for him with the city for his work during the occupation, but whatever, he can’t spring for more than a studio apartment, and it’s distracting and noisy, having Batman stripping down by his bed.
The guy was trained by ninjas, and yet he sounds like a herd of elephants when he takes off his kevlar. What kind of ninjas were they? John would really like to know. Did they come from Walmart? Were they discount ninjas? It’s the goddamn velcro that’s the trouble. Rip. Rip. Thunk. Thud. Nobody could sleep through that.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake--!”
And even if they could, nobody could then sleep through 210 pounds of sweaty, rubber-and-leather-and-sometimes-blood-but-definitely-hot smelling man sliding into bed with him with way too much ambition for that hour of the morning.
Not that he’s complaining about the sex, mind you. It’s unbelievable sex. It’s mind-blowing sex. He’s straight (shut the fuck up, because he’s not taking this to confession) and it still blows his mind. It’s just, you know, 5 a.m.
And then Bruce goes, and John is left to pick up the pieces he’s left unbruised, unlicked or untouched, not that there’s much of those, glue them back onto the rest of him, and yawn his way through the rest of the day.
Right up until Bane shows up at at night. John walks in through the door of his studio, still yawning, makes it two steps, then gets picked up and tossed onto the bed.
Seriously. Even the pope couldn’t blame him for this one. “Goddammit!”
How Bane gets into his apartment, John doesn’t know. He’s asked a few times, but he never gets a straight answer. Bane just looks at him like he’s a baby rabbit that’s done something so cute, the guy doesn’t know how to deal. Which just pisses John off, because okay, he’s a little bit smaller than Bane maybe, but he’s not wee. Fuck it, he’s manly, okay? He’s not a goddamn kitten or whatever it is that Bane’s thinking of whenever he gets that look.
Sex with Bane is mind-bending. Spectacular. He's incredible in a different way than Bruce is. If John had to compare the two he might say sex with Bruce is like being in bed with a forest fire, while sex with Bane is like being caught in some riptide that’s sweeping him out to sea. If he was going to compare them, that is. Not that he can, because when he's with one or the other of them, there's no way he can think about anything at all, and when he's apart from them both, just thinking about them separately -- or even together -- makes him rock-hard, which pretty much puts an end to coherent thought. It baffles him that he's even capable of getting an erection during the hours he's not with them, because between the two they've wrung him so dry, it’s a miracle he can even produce saliva. He spends most of his off hours drinking bottles of water.
"Off" hours. Hah. He goes to work to rest.
They don't do a lot of talking, between the three of them. Mostly it's John that does the communication, half the time in four-letter words strung together in pleasing combinations, while Bruce and Bane devour him alive, like they're fresh from the desert and he's the first food they've seen in months.
It's kind of flattering. It's definitely weird. It's absolutely killing him.
In fact, if it wasn't for Gordon, he probably would have died of exhaustion two months in.
No, it isn’t like that. Not with Gordon. Christ.
We’ll get to that later.
So, it starts with Bruce.
Actually, backtrack. It starts with Gordon.
In fact, no, go back even further, it starts with Bruce again. Bruce and his goddamn cave, which he gave directions to and nothing in the way of actual instructions about what to do with the stuff inside. It’s millions of dollars in equipment that entire governments would give their right arms to have, and none of it fits John.
The idea, though. The idea fits him. The problem is, in some ways he’s a rotary phone guy in a cell phone world.
Bruce is right about the mask. Alone as John is in the world, the more he thinks about it, the more people he can think of who could get hurt if push came to shove and retaliation started to happen. A lot of them, he figures, can take care of themselves: Gordon, for instance. The mob couldn’t get him. Joker and Harvey Dent and Bane couldn’t get him. Some two-bit mugger in a back alley probably wouldn’t stand a chance. The same deal goes for his friends still in the GPD.
It’s when he starts thinking about the kids at St. Swithin and Father Reilly that he gets worried. It’s not like he hasn’t made himself vulnerable where they’re concerned, and anybody who asked around would find out pretty quick that he’s got ties there. Strong ones.
He feels like a dick doing it, but he goes to the sporting goods store anyway and buys few ski masks. Six of them, because for some reason it’s impossible to get black ones, and he refuses to run around Gotham looking like a cylon pumpkin just because the trendsetters have decided orange is in this year. He’ll have to experiment.
He picks up a few bottles of black fabric dye from the local craft shop and gets hit on by a few women while he’s doing it. Apparently, crafty men are sexy, so long as they don’t explain they’re dying ski masks black so they won’t be recognized when they’re beating the crap out of folks. (Except for one woman, who apparently finds that an incredible turn-on. John thought her a little scary. Ironic, considering how things eventually work out.)
It takes a few tries, but eventually he gets a black ski mask that doesn’t transfer dye to his face whenever he sweats. Some of the stuff he was left in the cave actually works for him, so one night he finishes putting together an outfit of sorts that in no way resembles the Bat, and hits the streets.
The streets hit back.
Pretty hard, actually.
The problem is, in the huge vacuum left by the repeal of the Dent Act, the destruction of civil government, mob rule followed by military rule, and the general extermination of a lot of the upper classes, the streets went feral. New muscle started moving in. The mafia is back, and it’s a free-for-all out there. Gordon’s got his hands full for a reason. It’s not for nothing the guy only sleeps three to four hours a night.
In fact, it’s Gordon who finds him on the fifth night, lying flat on his back by the new Bat signal that Bruce left the Commissioner.
He comes up with two mugs and a first aid kit. Who knows how he knew. The first John realizes is the crunch of gravel and the smell of bad coffee. When he opens his eyes, Gordon is crouched down beside him, regarding him with a mixture of exasperation and concern.
“Son,” he says kindly, “you look like crap.”
Even with the ski mask on, there’s no point in trying to pretend to Gordon that he’s someone else. John thinks about it for a second, and decides he’ll feel like a bigger putz than he already does if he makes the attempt. Anyway, Gordon is already snapping on latex gloves and peeling the sliced up, bloody rags of John’s sweater away from the knife cut some mid-level enforcer left across his ribs.
“Thanks,” John says. “How can you tell? I have a mask on. Ow.”
“The bleeding is sort of a giveaway,” Gordon says. “Why weren’t you wearing a vest?”
“I don’t have one.”
Gordon’s eyebrow rises, and then he does something horrible to John that makes him swear. Strong and silent, that’s him. “Language,” the Commissioner reproves mildly. “Sorry. It needed to be cleaned. If you need a vest, you can borrow one from the GPD inventory.”
“I take it back. I have one. It just doesn’t fit.” John strips the mask from his face. The night air is a relief, a kiss of ice on his sweaty face. “Most of the armor he left me doesn’t fit. The stuff that does is heavy. He was a big guy. If I’m going to make this work, I have to play to my strengths.”
“Bleeding out isn’t going to be a strength.”
Everyone’s a comedian.
“Speed,” John says, enunciating the word because Gordon is old, and sometimes old people need to have things spelled out for them. “Agility. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
“Leak like a hemophiliac,” Gordon says, peeling off strips of surgical tape. “The guy who said that got Parkinson’s from repeated head trauma. Maybe you should invest in a helmet.”
“You’re not helping.”
“I’m patching you up and giving you coffee. What kind of help are you looking for?”
“Supportive, then. You’re not being supportive.”
“I’m supportive of you not getting yourself killed following in Batman’s footsteps,” Gordon says tiredly, sitting back on his heels. He snaps off a latex glove, its fingertips smudged red with John’s blood, and passes him one of the mugs. John pushes himself up to sit, feeling as old as Gordon looks, and takes a sip before inspecting Gordon’s first aid skills.
They are excellent. There’s no reason to be surprised by this. The Commissioner got enough practice during the five months of Bane’s rule, not to mention the Batman years.
“Thanks,” he says.
Gordon gives him a look, which John interprets as, Don’t make me do this again, or maybe it's Stop being such an idiot. John has gotten pretty good at reading Gordon’s facial expressions over the last few months of close proximity, occasionally bunking together when Bane’s patrols were sweeping the streets, not to mention more than a few spots of mayhem, havoc, and heart-scorching terror, but he’s never been able to figure out which of the two that particular look means.
He’s gotten it a lot. You’d think he’d have figured it out by now.
“You’re not ready for this yet,” Gordon says.
“You see what I mean about being supportive?”
“I’m stating a fact, son.” He tosses the rest of the supplies back into the first aid kit and latches it closed before picking up his own mug. “Unless something’s changed in the last few months, you’re still only going in with the skills you learned in the Academy. You’re not wearing any protective gear. Right now you’re just a guy in a ski mask. There’s a-- a psychological aspect you haven’t gotten figured out yet, and you’ve obviously got some work to do on the physical.”
“I’m plenty fine on the physical,” John protests. “This was just a fluke.”
Gordon’s forehead corrugates. “Plenty fine on the physical,” he echoes.
“I just need to do some tailoring on Batman’s kevlar, or padding or something. Maybe I can take something out of the--”
Gordon punches him in the face.
“Shit!” John swears, while Gordon -- Gordon -- looks personally affronted. Where the hell does Gordon get off looking offended? “Why did you do that?”
“You didn’t stop me.”
“This is a reason for you to punch people? You hit me! I’m sitting here bleeding on your roof--”
“Son, you are in trouble.”
“--right in the face. Like it’s not bad enough--”
“I wasn’t expecting you to let me.”
“Let you? What, people not expecting you to hit them is a reason to throw fists? Do you deck babies, too? They’ve got stubby little arms, I bet they couldn’t stop you. They’d probably just bounce right off. How about kittens? You punch kittens?” John is overwhelmed by a sense of personal injury. Emotional personal injury, to be exact. And his face hurts, too. It's been a stressful week, and then he gets punched in the face by the Commissioner of the Police. It's just not right.
“You didn’t even see it coming, did you?” Gordon asks accusingly.
John is inclined to think this particularly unfair, so he takes a swing at Gordon with the fist that isn’t holding the coffee.
Gordon flattens him like week-old road kill. John doesn't manage to lay a finger on him.
“...ow,” John says, staring up at the light-polluted night sky.
“You need help,” Gordon says sadly.
“You need therapy.”
“You spilled your coffee.”
John sighs, what’s left of his irritation dissipating at this mild reproach. Gordon’s right. His coffee is toast. It’s possible -- dimly possible -- he has a point about the needing help, too. “I hate you,” he says. It's childish, but it's heartfelt.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Gordon asks, helping John sit back up again. “This vigilante business is serious. Batman got injured a lot, and he didn’t need medical insurance. He practically owned a hospital. I can get you on the GPD insurance as a contractor, but you can’t do this alone.”
“Who's alone? I got you to bring me bad coffee and first aid kits."
Gordon looks exasperated again. Then he just looks old. "You're not as funny as you think you are, son," he says, which John thinks is just uncalled for.
“I'm plenty funny. And yes, I'm going to do this.” John shifts to lean against the base of the spotlight. “You need help. Admit it. You need help that isn’t constrained by the system.”
“I don’t want help if it means you’ll end up dead because of it.”
“You want Batman, I know,” John says crankily. “Christ. So do I. You think I don't know how screwed up this is? Who leaves a guy a cave in a will? Is that the behavior of a normal person?”
Gordon's mouth twitches, maybe into a smile. Actually, it looks a little pained, so maybe not. “He did dress up like a bat on a regular basis,” he points out dryly. “I don't think normal is a reasonable standard to hold him to."
John huffs, relaxing. Sags, a bit. “He must have thought I could handle it. I don't know. I'm trying. I’m not him, but I’m all you’ve got.”
The Commissioner studies him for a long time, not speaking, then hands him the other mug. “There’s someone I can talk to,” he says finally. “Someone who can help you. Let me see if--” He shakes his head, looking unsure of himself. It’s a little worrying. Definitely not an expression John’s seen him wear very often.
Gordon doesn’t answer, exactly. “Let me see if he’s available, first,” he says instead, and squeezes John’s shoulder. “Stay off the streets for a couple of nights. At least until that cut starts to heal up.”
Cut. Like it’s something he did by accident peeling fruit, instead of a massive wound taken on the field of battle from a gorilla with a goddamn machete. Fuck. Why does he even bother.
John stays off the street for two days, not because Gordon tells him to, but because he feels like it, okay? And it’s true that his massive wound needs to be taken care of. He spends most of his time in Bruce’s cave, trying to figure out what equipment can be revamped for his own uses. He finds a few things he thinks he can repurpose, most of them weapons, and is just holding a piece of armor and wondering why Bruce felt the need to have a fully articulated codpiece, when he hears machinery humming.
Which is a problem, because nobody’s supposed to be coming down here but Alfred, who’s on vacation somewhere. Italy, or something. So that leaves Fox, who John hasn’t met yet, or one of the kids who’re now living in the Wayne House Orphanage. One is ... awkward, but okay. The other is bad.
He thinks about hiding. Then he thinks about confronting whoever it is. He’s still trying to figure out what the best course of action is when the elevator opens and Bruce Wayne steps out.
Dead Bruce Wayne, for those who don’t have the program. Good-looking, well-dressed, completely not a zombie and perfectly healthy Bruce fucking dead man Wayne.
John just stands there, holding Bruce’s codpiece, feeling like the kid who’s got his hand stuck in the cookie jar.
“Hi,” says Bruce, looking relaxed and amused. See? This is how you’re supposed to start a conversation.
John, on the other hand, just blurts out the first thing that comes to mind.
That there’s prophetic irony, that is.
The codpiece, it turns out, isn’t a codpiece. It’s something to do with knees and thighs, which is a relief because John remembered Bruce as being big, but not, you know, big. Not that he was paying attention at the time. And dammit, it doesn’t matter anyway, because he’s too busy being pissed off about other things.
Like: “You’re the guy Gordon was going to call? You mean to tell me he could’ve gotten Batman back at any time, and I’ve been running around Gotham getting my ass handed to me on a silver platter?”
“I retired,” Bruce says, like that’s supposed to mean something.
“You retired? Didn’t you do that already? You had your big Elvis comeback, got a silver watch, died again -- how many times is that, by the way? Because by my count, you should be married to Amy Pond by now.”
Bruce looks blank. Does he not watch TV? Fuck it.
“You ass monkey,” John snarls, because it just has to be said.
“I’m sorry,” Bruce says, looking surprised and good-looking and, you know, generally speaking, like a complete shithead. “I hadn’t realized you’d cared.”
John has to just stand and breathe for a few minutes, because otherwise he’ll do something he might regret. Correction. Something that Bruce-the-Batman might make him regret. John wouldn’t regret it at all, right up until the point it resulted in personal injury.
Bruce says without even a semblance of sincerity, “Sorry?”
“You left me a cave full of high-tech weaponry and armor,” John says through clenched jaws. “You left Gordon a new Bat signal. You implanted me with a tracking device, like I was a fucking poodle--”
“It’s a lot more high-tech than the ones they put in poodles,” Bruce says, looking injured.
“--and you thought I wouldn’t care? What did you think I was supposed to do with this?”
“I thought you’d make a good Batman.”
The very fact that Bruce says this, like he thinks this is a perfectly reasonable response, is enough to give John an aneurysm. He’s too young to be killed by Bruce Wayne’s asshole tendencies. He closes his eyes. “This is not Bewitched,” he says in as even a tone as he can manage. “Gordon is not Elizabeth Montgomery. And you may be a dick, but I am not a Sargent.”
Bruce looks blank again. Right. Doesn’t watch TV. Probably didn’t catch old ‘60s reruns late at night, because he was out saving Gotham from bad guys. "They replaced the actor playing the husband," John explains, feeling the need to drive home the brilliance of his play on words. "It was supposed to be the same guy, but Dick York and Dick Sargent didn't look anything alike, and it's not like it wasn't obvious to viewers, why the fuck am I even explaining this to you--"
“Jim wouldn’t like it if he knew you were calling him a girl,” Bruce says reproachfully.
“Would ‘Jim’ happen to like finding out he has a tracking device implanted in his skull?”
Bruce promptly looks stuffed. Hah. Point for John.
“So tell me,” John says grimly, tossing the codpiece -- knee-piece, whatever -- onto the workbench where he’s been dismantling a radio? maybe? that he found on one of Batman’s utility belts. It knocks some kind of circuit board thing into the water. (Bruce winces. Another point for John.) “How many people know you’re alive?”
“Two,” Bruce says, relaxing a little now that the subject has changed. He strolls over to the workbench and picks a few things up, inspecting them with caressing fingers -- John would swear he’s subvocalizing, there there, it’s okay, Daddy’s back -- before putting them back down again. “Alfred knows. And Selina Kyle.”
“And Gordon,” John reminds grittily, because Selina Kyle. And Gordon thinks he has poor judgment.
“Gordon was a bit of a surprise,” Bruce admits. “I hadn’t realized he knew.”
“Then how did he get in touch with you?”
“He cabled me.”
“You didn’t know he knew you were alive, and he managed to cable you? Where were you?”
John pauses to process the unlikelihood of that.
Bruce says thoughtfully after a moment, “I’ve been sending Jim neckties for Father’s Day. I sent him one from Florence a few months ago. Maybe that’s how he figured it out.”
Neckties. For Father’s Day. To the top detective in Gotham. And he’s surprised Gordon figured out that he was alive.
John realizes with awe, “You’re an idiot.”
“You’re not taking this very well.”
“I got stabbed.” Because you decided to retire, is what he means.
Bruce doesn’t seem to take it that way. His face clears. “Oh,” he says. “That always made me tetchy, too.”
Tetchy. Tetchy? Seriously?
“Look,” John says, because he can be reasonable, too. “You left me with all this ... stuff. This burden. I don’t mind that, exactly. I want to help. I really do. Being a cop isn’t enough for me. Gordon’s right about the rules being shackles. I can help him protect people who need protecting. But this stuff--” He waves his arms at the cave around him while Bruce looks puzzled.
“It all works,” Bruce says.
“It doesn’t fit,” John snaps. “I’m sorry, but have you actually looked at me? Have you noticed that I’m a few inches shorter than you, not to mention about fifty pounds lighter?”
Bruce blinks, then runs his gaze up and down John’s body in a considering way. In a, well, suddenly interested and very considering way. Not the kind of look you want to get from a priest, say. Or a guy whose codpiece-but-not-really you were just holding.
John clears his throat. “And then there’s the fighting thing.”
“I assumed that you could,” Bruce murmurs, his gaze still lingering on certain things. “You were a cop, after all.”
John snaps his fingers imperatively at Bruce. Up here, man. His face is up here. Bruce refocuses. “I was a rookie cop. I got the same training as every other cop. Academy training. So yeah, I can arrest someone, if he doesn’t have too many friends, or I can shoot someone--”
“--or I can shoot someone,” John says a little louder, “if I had a gun. What I can’t do is single-handedly take on the mafia, or take down twelve guys at once with my bare hands. I’m not the fucking Batman with a black belt in Batman-fu.”
“I don’t have a black belt,” Bruce says mildly.
“Whatever. That is not the point.”
“I was trained by ninjas. They didn’t do belts. Swords,” Bruce says with nostalgia. “They did swords.”
John narrows his eyes at Bruce. “Exactly how many times did Bane hit you on the head?” he asks suspiciously. “I checked out that cowl, and you didn’t have much padding up there. Six times, maybe? Seven? Because in what messed-up reality do you think the Gotham Police Academy hires ninjas to train its recruits? With swords?”
“I suppose that’s why Gordon cabled me. He seemed to think you needed some training.”
There’s a telegram John would love to see. Dear Bruce. Stop. You’re going to get Blake killed. Stop. I give him three weeks tops before he gets decapitated. Stop. Quit messing around and do something about it. Stop. Maybe import some ninjas to teach him. Stop. That would be good. Stop. P.S. they put up a statue to you and it’s hideous.
“Huh,” says John.
“Lucius can resize some of the stuff,” Bruce adds. “Although if you don’t like the bat motif, we can come up with some kind of alternative that works for you.”
“No capes,” John says darkly. “I’ve seen the Incredibles. Edna Mode makes some good points about capes.”
By the look of Bruce’s face, he doesn’t catch many movies, either. Christ. “As long as there’s a mask,” Bruce says.
“Huh,” says John again.
Bruce says cheerfully, “We’ll start tomorrow. You can call me sensei.”
“I hate you,” John says.