Harvey had known loss before - the personal, and the professional. Had seemed to spend half his career being seconds too late to play the hero.
He had been to so many funerals they all merged together, and attended more wakes than any man should need to. He had sobbed, broken and beaten, at too many deathbeds, and stood stoic and silent as better men, more worthy men, were committed to the crematorium.
Sometimes, when they weren’t quick enough, when they weren’t clever enough, he had played pallbearer to little white coffins. Had drank himself into oblivion afterwards, mind too full of what those bodies had suffered, before death could claim them.
None of it prepared him for the crushing agony of watching the old West Gallery be blown to smithereens, knowing Jim was still trapped inside.
Time seemed to slow for a moment, the noise muted and his vision blurring, and then the details of the situation were overwhelming. The smell of fire and explosives, and the sound of screaming, the sight of blood - flesh wounds from the fractured glass - and the horrendous burns sustained by the officers stationed at the entrance.
Somebody held him back, pinned him in place though he kicked and struggled, and then a voice was registering, worn and frayed around the edges,
"He’s gone, Bullock. He’s gone. There’s only one thing you can do for him.”
Harvey looked at him, lost and wide eyed, and Alvarez looked like he wanted to break down himself.
“Keep going. Take charge. It’s what he would have wanted.”
Afterwards he suspected Alvarez would have said anything in that moment, would have done anything to stop him from losing it completely. To get a grip on himself and to stop howling, desperate like a trapped animal.
There, as it was happening, it made more sense than anything else could have.
He had to keep it together. People were relying on him. He swiped at his face, bewildered at the wetness, and fell back on his training. On years of experience of concentrating on nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other.
He co-ordinated the emergency services and saw that the first responders were where they were most needed. Organised the cordoning off of the area and briefed forensics on their arrival. Spoke to the press and delivered bad news to the families and loved ones.
Refused to think further than the next thing which needed to be done until exhaustion overtook him, and he slept fitfully on a plastic chair at the hospital, waiting on news of Detective Third Grade Marten’s surgery and whether or not they were going to have to add Officer Sanderson to the death toll.
The next day proceeded in much the same fashion, constant action, resolute distraction, until finally what remained of Jim’s badge was handed to him in a plastic evidence bag and the reality hit him.
Had him him staggering to the men’s room, retching up black coffee and bile, because Jim was dead.
Jim was gone and he had no idea how he was supposed to go on living without him.
He splashed cold water on his face and stared at his haggard reflection in the bathroom mirror. Jim had died a hero, had ignored his direct order to attempt to save a bunch scumbag criminals who had deserved everything they had coming to them, and now it was up to Harvey to ensure his sacrifice was recognized.
To secure his legacy and serve him justice, and once that was done he would either be ready to face the future, or it wouldn’t matter if he took a running jump from the roof of his apartment building.
Out in the bullpen everybody was watching, waiting to see if he was going to throw the towel in and request a transfer to take over as Captain.
“Listen up!” He called for the last few pretending to be doing something, “We all lost someone yesterday. We’re all hurting. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up and quit fighting. We’re going to find who did this, and we’re going to put them behind bars. That I promise you.” He looked around at his officers, at the pale faces and strained, pinched expressions, and nodded.
“Now get some goddamn work done!”
That over he went to his office, poured out a generous measure of whiskey with trembling fingers, and tipped it back in a single swallow. Let the burn down his gullet ground him and went back to the preliminaries they had had back from forensics.
The CCTV prints and the witness statements.
It wasn’t going to destroy them. That was what he told the press, and that was what he parroted to Internal Affairs, when they came sticking their noses in. It was true, for the most part, because it wasn’t as though the department was going anywhere.
On a personal level, he couldn’t make quite the same promises, and his voice cracked when he spoke at the funeral of a 22-year-old rookie because she had had her whole life ahead of her. Marten had made it through the first round of surgery but then faded fast, and his parents spoke to the papers about how glad they were to at least have his remains and the closure of being able to bury him.
Jim’s brother, Roger, flew out from Chicago and seemed to consider it an equal imposition either way. Raised an eyebrow when it became obvious he had been sleeping in Jim’s bed and said, as clipped and distant as Jim had always tried and failed to be,
“You’re welcome to keep something to remember him by.” The man looked over the physical remnants of Jim’s life with a dismissive shrug and added, “It’s only going to Goodwill.”
He took Jim’s keepsake tin, the one Roger designated trash with no more than a cursory glance at its contents, and some of his clothing. Roger pursed his lips but said nothing for which Harvey was thankful. He didn’t want to wear it.
That night he went back to his own dingy apartment for the first time in over a week, and it felt so final he put his gun in the lock box, out of reach of temptation. Drank shot after shot before giving up and swigging it straight from the bottle.
Thought about the first night he had spent in Jim’s bed - the night before the explosion - and what he would have done differently if he had known it would be the last time Jim ever shared it with him.
He would have spent hours unraveling him. Would have mapped every square inch of skin, and committed every scar, every freckle to memory. He would have told him a thousand times how beautiful he was, how very much he loved him, and not cared a damn about being thought overly sentimental.
He’d have clung close and turned the alarm off when it sounded, then told Jim the GCPD could surely make it through a single day without them.
It was that thought which haunted him when he delivered Jim’s eulogy, his dress uniform over starched and stifling, and his voice continually threatening to give out on him as he spoke of Jim’s dedication to the job and his commitment to the people of Gotham.
Barely kept it together when he got to how Jim was a good man, a good friend, and how very much he was going to miss him. Looked up to see Nygma smirking from the back of the room and was overwhelmed, just for a moment, with the white hot urge to punch every last one of his teeth out.
Then it was gone, and he was stumbling into a seat, sick of it all. He had thought, once, that justice would have kept him going in this situation. The need for revenge, at least, and the satisfaction of seeing the filth responsible rotting in a jail cell.
The reality was that none of it mattered - not the investigation, not closure, not any of it.
None of it was going to bring Jim back to him.
He stared at the head shot of Jim the funeral directors’ had gone with, at Jim’s beautiful blue eyes and the barest hint of a smile on his lips, all rookie optimism and naive idealism. It was the same picture they added to the memorial gallery, just another face of a cop who had given their all and still been found wanting.
Once that was done, the press soundbites given and the last of the paperwork filed, there was no reason left to look presentable. No reason not to get through each and every day on more than drink and cigarettes, and eventually the higher-ups stepped in to tell him thanks for his service, but he was being relieved of his duties.
He slammed his fist into the door of his locker, over and over, and tried to put a foot through it. Slid to the floor, finally, and pressed his face into his hands, like it could stop the way he was trembling.
Simmons drew the short straw and came and sat beside him, silent and non-judging.
“You know what I hate about cops?” She asked just when he thought she wasn’t going to say anything. “All the bullshit macho posturing. You don’t stop caring about life just because you see a lot of death. You only get better at hiding it.”
Harvey couldn’t look at her, could scarcely even breathe. Didn’t trust himself to talk without breaking down. Simmons just carried on without him,
“That’s why they hated, Gordon. Didn’t want to play by the rules, did he? Couldn’t stop caring about the kiddies and the girls down at the needle exchange. The little old grannies and all the nutjobs who never got the treatment they needed. Couldn’t stop showing it, either.”
“He was a good guy,” Harvey managed, voice choked.
“No, he wasn’t,” he looked at her sharply but she kept going, “he worked hard, tried hard, but he wasn’t the saint you keep trying to portray him as. He was just a guy doing his best to keep his head above water, just like the rest of us. He couldn’t have managed that, even, not without someone who had his back every time he jumped without looking. I know how you felt about him.”
It broke him, the simple recognition, and Simmons finished quietly, tone confessional,
“And I know he felt it back. You only had to see the way he looked at you.”
That was it. That was the limit, and he was sobbing in her arms, bawling like a baby.
Went home afterwards and curled up with one of Jim’s shirts, along with the entire contents of his medicine cabinet. Woke up at Gotham General, feeling like he’d been trampled by an elephant.
Lay there numb and stared at the ceiling, on and endlessly on, until McKenna and Alvarez hovered nervously at his bedside, warning over and over that he shouldn’t get his hopes up, but that they had something he ought to take a look at.
The reports made little sense, the words all blurring together, and McKenna pointed out discrepancies and talked incomprehensible nonsense until Alvarez took pity on him and said,
“We got a guy in the cells willing to swear on oath he saw Gordon alive and well a week after the explosion.”
The shock jolted through him, knocked the breath from his lungs, and it was impossible. Complete crazy talk. But it wasn’t as though he had anything left to lose by believing in it and, besides, stranger things had happened in Gotham.
One time he had witnessed Jim literally punch the face off a resurrected dead guy.
“I gotta speak to him,” he said simply, and discharged himself in favor of glaring at some low level drug dealer across an interrogation table.
His replacement, the new Captain, dismissed it entirely. The rest of the precinct gave him pitying looks to his face and called him nuts behind his back, except for the ones who saw no point in pussyfooting around the issue.
“You’ve lost it,” Anderson told him, one of the few guys left who had been there even longer than he had. “Kid had plenty of enemies, it’s true, but this ain’t healthy. At some point you’re going to have to accept it.”
Perhaps, but while he still had hope he wasn’t going to stop pushing. Chased up anyone and everyone who had ever professed to want Jim dead, and spent every waking moment tracking potential leads, no matter how spurious.
Finally he went grovelling to the Penguin, because he had exhausted every other option, and because the man had always had a soft spot when it came to Jim - it was something they had in common.
“What’s in it for me?” Penguin asked, just as oily as ever, and Harvey laid it on the line,
“I haven’t got a whole lot left to offer you.”
The other man narrowed his eyes, studied his face for something, and whatever it was he saw was convincing, because the next thing he was being shown the door, with a cool ‘you can owe me a favor’ ringing in his ears.
If it got results, he’d happily owe him a thousand favors, that was what he was thinking that first night, and it was what he was thinking as he staked out some grotty little dive in the warehouse district, based on rumors that had reached the ears of one of Penguin’s henchmen.
It was a long shot, he knew that. It had been almost four months now, and he wasn’t an idiot.
It was just that this was all he had, and when the two guys he had been trailing disappeared off into the night he made the most of the opportunity. Pried the door open and pushed down the basement steps, flashlight streaking arcs across the dank walls.
There was something shady taking place on the premises, he wouldn’t have needed to be a detective to work that out. The weapons were a dead giveaway, as were the blood stains on the floor, some so fresh the scurrying footprints of rodents were still visible.
He was afraid, in a distant, apathetic kind of way. It wouldn’t be a glorious ending, getting his throat slit down in some weirdo’s murder cellar.
Then he heard a noise, something too big to be a rat, and too clumsy to be the trained goons he had seen leaving earlier. It could be anything, he knew. Wasn’t going to be what he wanted it to be, that was obvious. His heart pounded all the same, his hands not quite steady as he followed in the sound’s direction.
“Jesus,” he breathed at the sight which met him. At the tangled mess of dirty blonde hair, and the frightened blue eyes which met his own.
“Harv-,” the figure tried to say, and he had to keep it together. Hadn’t come this far to fall at the last hurdle.
“Come on, partner. We’re getting out of here.”
“I’m not made of glass,” Jim groused, “you’re not going to break me.”
Harvey wasn’t at all inclined to believe him. Had sat at his hospital bedside for hour after hour, and listened to doctors catalog his injuries. Had forced himself to stay calm while Jim recounted what had happened, and what had been done to him.
Had been half afraid to touch him even when he sobbed and cried out in his sleep, lost in his nightmares, lest it makes things worse for him, somehow.
“I’m never letting you out of my sight again,” was the response Harvey went with, and helped Jim to sink down onto the sofa, his ribs still bound and his leg in plaster. Fussed and fidgeted until Jim simply took hold of his hand and tugged, so that he had no choice but to sit beside him.
“Sorry it’s not much,” Harvey said, gesturing at his hurried attempt at making the place look presentable. Thought of Jim’s clean and orderly apartment, and apologized again, “I shouldn’t have let him give all your stuff away.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jim said, soft and quiet. “None of it does.”
Harvey finally looked up at Jim, struck all over again by how beautiful he was. By how unspeakably incredible it was that Jim was actually here, alive and with him.
“You never gave up on me. Not even when it looked hopeless.”
“I got your back, always,” Harvey managed, trying for levity but the scratch in his voice giving it all away. Lifted Jim’s hand to kiss his knuckles, chaste in case he wasn’t ready. In case it wasn’t what Jim wanted. “You know that.”
Because just this would be enough. Just to know that Jim was okay; that he was moving towards healthy, that he was working on happy.
“I love you,” Jim blurted, color fanning along his pale sunken cheeks, and that was good too. That was the best thing he had ever heard, rivaled only by the sound Jim made when he leaned in to kiss him, the fingers of his free hand gentle in his hair.
“Life wasn't worth living without you,” Harvey told Jim in turn, too honest, and Jim only clung closer. Curled into his chest, and Harvey wrapped his arms around him, breathing in the scent of him.
Nothing lasted forever, he had learned that the hard way. The only way to deal with it was to savor every moment.