AUTHOR'S NOTE; While this fic is written from an outsider's POV, I do believe it is actually one of my better fics, and I really enjoyed writing it. I hope you enjoy it too. I almost teared up writing the end, and since I have the emotional range of a mud puddle, that's really saying something.

I'm copying my fics here slowly but surely. For the most up to date news on my writing, check out alexfics on tumblr. If you're a Batman/Joker fan, have a look at the website , which is a slash archive/community I created!

James Gordon never realizes how much the rest of the world shines, until he moves to Gotham City.

In Chicago, the bullpen and crowed offices had been off-white and scuffed chrome. Keyboards were a bit worn down in places and the chairs creaked when they leaned back. He'd thought it shabby - ill-fitted for civil servants - but then he understands.

It had shone beneath the worthy feel of hands touching lightly, had been cared for and loved in some strange way. This is something he remembers from buses and store fronts and it feels like good wine on his tongue - not strong enough, but there all the same, a memory he keeps folded up in his wallet, for the sake of it.

He tells no one in Gotham of this. Not because it's his or it's a strange thought. He doesn't tell them because nobody would understand.

Nothing shines in Gotham City.

. . .

There is a feral beast here, that stalks the streets and the strong, that surely laps blood from broken skin and runs black claws on muscle quivering over shattered bone, though Gordon has never met a person to have known the touch of a tongue or paw in this manner.

This beast flies, and feathers itself in black. Gordon knows this because he sees it, see muscle move under black armour and a black heart beat heated blood through blacked veins. Like a leech, the beast takes it all, takes in darkness like it feeds on it, sucking from rough wounds and unblemished skin alike.

They call this beast a man, but the word feels wrong in his mouth, like it's too big or too strange. Surely it cannot be a man. Surely, beneath the bullet freckled skin, a man can't breathe with silent lungs. It does not feel like a man, so he doesn't call it one, it's that easy.

And when he has to say something aloud, give an order, relay a command, he won't say man. He'll just call it the bat and that'll be all.

. . .

The first time he sees it, the bat is laid atop a building ledge, looking down on flashing lights, blue and red smacking fleeting bruises across a still form.

Gordon's at the edge of the crowd, little book in his hand, but the pen shakes in his hand of its own account, and he can barely stop some strangled noise from working itself from his mouth.

The beast is lazy, not battle ready or waiting to pounce. He can see the ease of which it leans a shoulder against cold stone, half-crouched, half laying, watchful gaze turned towards the crime scene. There is a crook to its head that suggests listening. When Gordon had previously closed his eyes, all he had seen were flashing fangs and quick, sharp movements.

But this creature knows what it's doing. Gotham had not yet learnt to look up, no monster stalked the rooftops but it. It must wait for the data to rumble between tired throats and before that happens, it rests, quiet and still.

And then it turns its black-clad head, revealing a chin dusted with dirt and dried blood, the only flicker of skin beneath all that all-enclosing darkness. Its eyes are black and covered in a glossy sheen, not glowing, but not flat either. It lifts itself from a laying position, uncurls like an animal ready to eat. It looks upon Gordon, sees right into him and all the little nooks and crannies are suddenly exposed, though Gordon has not even seen the colour of its eyes.

He knows, suddenly but sure, that if the beast had slithered down, he would have let it walk right over, touch him and dig inside his pockets without resistance, for there is this feeling that the beast knows all there is to know about Gordon, and it knows all there ever will be - even so far into the future that the beast might even see the first steps of his great-grandchildren.

It is so powerful he almost feels weak in the knees. Before his teeth can even stop rattling in his mouth, the beast gets up entirely. It stalks along the ledge, drops down from tiny windowsill to invisible handholds and balances on a gate's frame without a sound. It crawls forward, so low that its hands dust the steel as it moves, drifting so close that the cape - not wings, not shadow, but genuine cape - touches Gordon's shoulder for the briefest of seconds.

Then the beast melts into the darkness and he becomes so overwhelmed that he falls to his knees in the snow and has to babble something about a head cold with a weighted tongue to go home early.

And that's only the first time.

. . .

When Gordon left Chicago, his friends, his partners, had looked heartbroken and they had hidden it between desperate last touches and sad eyes. One had asked what sort of flowers he'd like at his funerals and when her voice had cracked, he realized they all thought he was going to die.

They weren't sad because they'd miss him. It wasn't because he was leaving, it wasn't because they wouldn't maybe lay eyes on him for years, because Illinois was too far from New Jersey or that conflicting shifts would make phone conversations impossible.

It was Gotham City. They were already mentally booking their flights to his funeral. They thought he was going to die.

This sticks with him.

It sticks with him early in the morning, when he falls down next to his wife but he can't sleep and it sticks with him while he's brushing his teeth in front of the cracked bathroom mirror in the men's restroom early in the night.

Sometimes the thought attacks him so surely he feels its claws deep inside his chest. Sometimes, it almost kills him.

He tells the bat this only once, the second time they meet. Gordon lays upon the ground, one cold hand pressing against the hot blood trying to escape him like his children with too much sugar and not enough time before bed. The beast sits beside him, its eyes training through those lenses to something happening far away.

One massive hand, not clawed, not a paw, presses down on his, to still the flow. This is the closest Gordon will get quite some time, but he doesn't know that. He's too busy trying not to die to foresee the future.

The beast does not speak, its chest does not rise and fall. The glove, heavy fabric with armoured everything is cold. The only thing remotely human about the bat is the puff of bright smoke that escapes its nose with every exhale, same as it does for Gordon's in the winter air.

It sits there for so long that Gordon has a hundred conversations in his head that all end with him getting punched in the throat and seven ones from slurring lips that are completely one-sided but real, and then an invisible signal goes off and the beast is gone.

Hands pick him up and carry him off and by the time he's in the ambulance, the fact that the beast is gone has hit him. He can't decide if it just took him that long, or if it was truly just gone that fast.

. . .

Gordon will become Commissioner one day, but he doesn't know this yet. One day, he will be respected, but perhaps, he'll never take the time to think about it.

He'd been trained in facilities that were built for police in sharp uniforms and sharp wits. He'd worked in buildings made for justice, worked with tools that knew what they were for.

In Gotham, he has none of this.

The GCPD is one massive building that sits like a bloated hen atop a cluster of tiny, ugly chicks. It is rusted brick, dented steel, cracked windows dusted with grime. It stalks the clouds in a desperate attempt to reach the sky, so tall but so crooked and wrong that it doesn't really feel like that. It rumbles and groans of its own account, shifts on its foundations too often. Around it, low buildings filled with tired cashiers and shitty coffee, worn machines and a dozen other things make their living off the tired parents that come to bail out their children and the tired police officers that put them there in the first place.

Before Gotham, Gordon could spot a corrupt anything from fifty feet, blindfolded and half asleep. Now, he can't barely tell a businessman from a dog.

There is naught here but tiredness. It seeps into stone and muscle, into fingers and feet. There is tiredness, and there is death.

There is no middle ground, no exhaustion that threatens to kill. He almost wishes there was, just so he could sleep, but this is a tiredness that sits just out of reach, too dull to do much about, too sharp to ignore. It travels through the air, exchanges hosts in mingled breath. Everywhere it goes, it breeds more and more and more still.

One day he cracks open an eye and sees the bat completely covered in blood, rolling a shoulder that clicks angrily. It's the only sound he's ever heard from the beast, just a quiet tick, tick, like a bomb.

This is the fifth time. The third and the fourth are more the same of the first and the sixth through ninth, though he doesn't yet know it, will be much like this one.

"I don't know if you want it, but I've got case files." He holds it the folder up with hands that shake, and the beast rolls through the air like water over polished stone, so smooth it's almost impossible, takes it with one hand and grabs his wrist with the other. Gordon can feel the stick of borrowed sweat and body fluids half dried pressing against his skin.

The bat offers not a single word in exchange, but it puts the folder down, and holds his wrist, until Gordon closes his eyes again, until he stops shaking. It's not unlike some form of comfort, but he hasn't the faintest idea why.

Then the bat goes. The folder goes with him. A day later, he comes to work to find a word on the top layer of his sticky note pad.

Rest, it says. Not sleep, not thanks. This beast, it is too close to Gordon, and it will not tell him to do something it won't do either.

There is one horrifying moment where Gordon suddenly thinks of the moments he's seen the bat lazy on buildings, just watching, and wonders if perhaps, that's all the rest the bat gets.

Perhaps that's all the bat stops for. A moment, caught on a ledge, sitting down instead of couching, and that's all there is to that.

Gordon makes an effort to sit down more, but it makes only the barest difference. But then again, it is like that for most everything in Gotham.

. . .

Gordon learns the building he works in like he never bothered to learn the apartment he lives in. He touches like one lover to another, until his fingers are calloused from rough stone and wood threatening to rot.

The department is ugly. The whole place is ugly, ugly to match Gotham for Gotham knows nothing of beauty.

The place is too old, too worn, too broken and too much of everything else that is simply wrong. He touches the little things and wonders at them all. The old mouldings on the corners, the rusted steel, the unenforced doors with their skeleton key locks and cheap plastic electronic replacements.

Water drips from the ceiling in the winter, in the rain and under the ground regardless of season. The cell block bars are too thick, the ground uneven like it was cut from stone and left there. The beds for the infirmary were always stained with blood.

In retrospect, everything is stained with blood. He can see it on the cheap tile, smeared in brown streaks on the window panes. There are spoons that have sat for months in the cafeteria that are dusted with blood flakes, but nobody's bothered to clean them up.

The elevator buttons are crusted with suspicious grime around the edges, the stair bannisters still sometimes wet with it.

Anywhere else, this would be unsanitary, a health code violation. Here, nobody cares. Gordon's even stopped thinking that in Gotham nobody cares.

It's just here. There is nowhere else, outside the walls he can't see. This city - he sees nought beyond the streets and the people clustered like insects with some sad plan.
Anywhere else, this would be insanity.

Only one thing here is insane and it's either the people or the bat. Flavour of the night is up to the pedestrian.

. . .

Gordon knows the roof better than the floors below because he spends all his spare time up there.

It's high enough that the air is mucked with clean wind, the faintest breezes messing his stress-greyed hair. There are corners he can lean his back into, close his eyes and not worry someone's going to sneak up behind him.

The bat is too powerful to go at him from behind. If it stalks him at all, it goes for the throat, crawls over the building's sides and comes forwards, right at him, where he can see it.

It's terrifying, because Gordon can see every muscle move, every silent tread, that shallow breathing and void glance and he knows there is not a single thing he knows that can stop this advance. He'll let the bat go where it pleases, because anything else is suicide.

They pick favourites. Gordon favours the curve of several shacks or buildings, walls or something pressed together, where the wind won't really touch him, and the bat enjoys laying atop the roofs, staring down as he flips through files and comments without response. The beast however, prefers the anchor for a steel cable that disappears off into the distance. The line is thick enough for it to hunker down on, the anchor itself large enough for all that bulk to curl amongst supports and wires, content to tangle and wait in something akin to a nest. Gordon just stands beneath whatever perch is chosen, doesn't bring a flashlight and learns to memorize the files, because the beast can see, but he can't.

This is where the beast speaks for the first time.

"I need you to give me your passcodes." The voice is thick and tired, so tired, like speaking alone is difficult, but surely it is not, because nothing the bat does at all looks difficult.

This is the twelfth meeting, or maybe the eighteenth. Gordon's got a terrible memory for these sorts of things.

"Alright." He says simply, and does not think about it anymore.

. . .

Gordon knows Gotham like Gotham knows pain and in general, that's considered to be worthy of a doctoral degree.

He can feel crime shifting beneath the city's skin, so desperate to break lose, but so unsure of what will happen after. He thinks the bat knows this too.

The more and more he sees it, the less and less he thinks of the bat as a beast, a creature. He knows those movements like he knows no other, even his wife. They aren't human, but they aren't animal either.

So one night, he's leaning against the window of his squad car, looking listless but still sharp, and static bursts over the radio with clean intent, hissing about a chemical factory and possible scene interference - which means the bat was certainly there, but they won't say things like that for a long time still.

Gordon has a partner, who drives because he's a bit more perky. This man has known nothing but Gotham and Gordon can't tell whether or not he's a bad person.

He's pretty sure, if his first guess is yes, that his second is no, he's a terrible one, but he doesn't know what to do about it.

He doesn't know at this point, that everything is about to change.

The floor of the factory is messy with blood and the criminals are strung up like prey, none of them still awake. Times like these that Gordon wonders if the bat's responses are not all just some contained animal rage, territory markings in symbols, hunting in the form of a pursuit, all feeding just some confused but alive 'victims'. It's a strange idea, but it explains things.

He doesn't want to think about the alternatives.

They set up markers and try to figure out the scruff marks on the floors and the railings and the walls. It'll be years yet, before the Gotham Forensic teams are taught to identity that marks left behind by Bat activity, for now they are just confused.

"Gordon." It is a low whisper, worn at the edges. He makes no move to answer, not with everyone watching. "There was a man here, he wore a red cape and a metal canister-style hood. He served as a distraction, and fell into the one of the vats."

"We'll drain them." Murmurs Gordon, out of the corner of his mouth, as he takes notes on a particularly interesting placement of cloth fibres.

"Don't bother, I found his hood outside, and his cape draped over a pipe four feet in the air. He's alive." Worry colours the bat's voice.

"Should we be looking for him?" He asks, and there isn't a reply for so long, he almost forgets the question.

"I don't know." And the bat's voice sounds so deep and confused, unsure of what action to take, to do what its instincts says, or what training and experience has taught.

It is at that moment, that Gordon realizes maybe he's even starting to think of the bat as a man, because only men get that concerned about anything at all.

. . .

For a long time, there is nothing.

Gordon doesn't forget about the man that made the bat worry.

. . .

The night the bat goes from it to he is the night Gordon almost dies.

He's got a bulletproof vest and nothing else, his torn brown jacket, not standard issue, is stained with his own blood. He's propped up against a wall in a condemned building, wondering how many times he's going to find himself in this position before it kills him. It's not even the third time this has happened.

The bat pants, in the dark, not far away but out of line of sight. Gordon can hear the laboured breath, wonders if a bullet wormed its way into the cracks between defences, or if it's something else he can't bear to think about.

He gestures with one bloody hand, croaks "come here" and surprisingly, the bat crawls forward. Armour is missing from a patch over the stomach, dark crimson fluid pooling in curves and crannies. In the dark, blood almost looks black and it's so difficult to tell apart from everything else.

The bat falls beside him, against the wall, all air being forced out between clenched teeth. Gordon can see the pale flesh quiver at the unwelcome intrusion.

Gordon presses shaking fingers above the wound, and feels the bat let go, begin to dig through pockets. Gordon covers the hole a bit better, as the bat pulls out tweezers and sterilized needles and then nudges Gordon's fingers away to get to work.

"You're a man." Gordon realizes, at the muted noises of pain, and then repeats it again when the bat pulls the bullet out of Gordon's leg.

"Unfortunately." Says he, not it, but he.

. . .

"Some days, I think you fell from somewhere better." This slips out one night between one file and the next.

The bat gives him a look, or at least Gordon is assuming he did. It's a little hard to tell beneath the lenses.

"I'm not an angel." And his voice cracks, male and whole, but so strange inside this beast that stalks the night like he was made for it.

"No." Says Gordon. "You're human. And this is hell."

. . .

If this is hell, then the devil rises with a glorious shout one night when the moon's only just beginning to disappear beneath the eternal cloud cover.

He calls himself the Joker. And he wants the bat.

. . .

That is a night filled with sirens and cold coffee and Gordon's fingers shake because suddenly he feels like he was born in Gotham. There is storming of buildings, screeches in the dark. They all scatter across the city, good and bad cops alike all working together for once.

They can sense it, like animals sensing a storm. This is something nobody's going to ever come back from and they want to stop it so desperately but they can't. Gordon takes it all one step at a time. There are hostages - he deals with that and notices the bat leap across the rooftops, already moving on as Gordon hustles bodies still breathing and not into the arms of paramedics. Then there are bombs and Gordon has to close his eyes against the panic and the frustration.

There are reporters, some still in their pyjamas, but most have realized the real stories happen at night by now, and they are prepared.

Gordon's not there at the beginning, as is custom for dealing with the bat, but he's there towards the end, so late it's early. He's been running all night, everyone has.

He can hear the roars before he sees him, the bat, leaping above and trying to evade and get close all the same. The Joker is a man with plain white skin, splattered with bright red. His hair is a hundred shades of green, matted like he doesn't care. The clothes he wears are a variety of colours, but mostly it's some version of purple. The criminal's whole body is shaking, and once he spins, trying to keep the leaping bat in his sights and Gordon gets a look at his eyes - hopelessly bright and full of power.

There is not a speck of insanity inside of them and it terrifies him.

This is the first fight he's ever witnessed involving the bat. There are goons that fill the room and Gordon and the cops can't get in. But the bat handles it fine, swooping down and dragging them to ruin so quickly and so sure.

The Joker screams, manic laughter without the crazy and the bat is on him, raw fury powering his attacks and what goes down is nothing short of brutal.

Then as quickly as it starts, it is over. The Joker is fluttering between awake and asleep and the SWAT goes in, guns raised. The bat is gone.

They drag his half-lucid body by Gordon.

"That," gasps the man, with a voice edged in bright, clear pain and gravelled by some past injury, "was amazing."

Gordon closes his eyes and doesn't want to open them for a very long time.

. . .

They call him a clown. It's terribly funny and one hundred present awful all at once.

This is Gotham's sense of humour.

. . .

For three days, the Joker sits in a cell inside the belly of the GCPD. The cellblocks are Gordon's least favourite part of the building, all dripping water and cracked stone and graffiti. Nothing is ever clean, and all of it's a bit too dark.

They isolate the clown, try to cut off his hyena laugh and infectious words. That's what gets Gordon the most. Everyone who talks to him seems to go half-mad with something, getting riled up or driven to tears, even the strongest men can't stand it. There are reports by a young constable that earlier the night he was caught, the bat himself had gone berserk at something the clown had said. Gordon doesn't know whether or not he should believe it.

Up close, the Joker is just a skinny, bruised and battered man. His breath is always laboured and there isn't much beyond a hint of muscle on him. Whenever he thinks someone is looking, he fills with an energy Gordon has never seen before, making him look bigger, more frightening. But if he's alone, it deflates and he'll look at the ground, pick at threads with hands cuffed.

He is simultaneously the saddest and happiest person Gordon has ever seen.

When he spots Gordon, he bares his teeth in something akin to a grin, but too animalistic for it to really mean anything. A pale tongue swipes dried blood off a cracked tooth as the cop watches.

"Why the bat." There is no question in Gordon's tone, but he asks all the same.

"I don't know." And it's deep and confused, same tone, same words as the phrase uttered some months before, when the bat had not known whether to chase a man maybe dead, maybe alive.

It's not an imitation, it's not even a question. It's just the same.

. . .

The clown goes to Arkham, insanity plead. They consider that the end.

The bat whispers "they won't hold him" and sounds so weary - like he alone can see the future and all the fights to come.

Maybe he can. Because he's right.

. . .

And the clown breaks out and the bat fights him and it goes on and on. There are nights that Gordon goes and checks on him while he's still in the asylum. The whole hospital is as ugly as the GCPD, all cracks and mould, and everyone looks ashamed.

They give him an isolated room, like the GCPD had back in town. Gordon doesn't know it, but one day, the empty ward will be filled with people even crazier then the Joker, even if they all crown him king.

They never treat him well, and Gordon's desire to fix that slips away like rain water as the body count grows. There are always bruises, always just below the sleeve line, the pant hem.

It's not the bat - he goes for marks everyone can see, a warning for everyone else. But the bat gets angry all the same.

The Joker laughs when he shows up, teases him and constantly vibrates with noise. Sometimes, because he's a cop, they'll let him right into his cell, so he can stand over that small body and demand answers he won't give.

Up close, there is more then he can ever see on camera. That pale skin is edged with chemical burns, those eyes so tired, the bones a bit too close to the air.

The clown moves like he's constantly in pain, constantly sore. Once, Gordon goes twice in a week and finds both visits, he's bound in a straightjacket. The feeling's in the clown eyes by the second time, that it hurts but they won't let him go. There is no accident or incident marked on his chart, they just did it anyway.

Gordon tells himself that the man is crazy, when he undoes the bounds, lets the clown slide boneless back, arms still a little crooked where they'd been held too long. A quiet, pain-filled moan escapes him and the Joker closes his eyes.

"I guess I own you one." And his tone is - normal, fine, a bit tired, flat but kind. No master criminal should sound like that.

Gordon wonders what types of favours a clown keeps, but stays long enough to let the patient sink into a deep sleep.

It occurs to him, on the way out, that the reports had said the Joker never slept when someone was watching. It occurs to him, that the reports said the bat never let anyone touch him.

He's trusted.

It's awful.

. . .

Gotham City is two steps from ruin and everyone's dancing too hard to keep track. What starts with the Joker spreads. Gordon hasn't the faintest clue if it was just the sight, or something that fell from the clown's yellowed teeth that set it off.

But he isn't the last and it's terrifying in a way that nothing can match.

Some of them - they don't come back. That step down, something that the city calls villains, is one you don't get back up from. Or at least, it'll be too long before someone tries at all.

He deals with more than he'd ever wanted to. Somewhere, it earns him a promotion - more from public pressure then anything, but he doesn't mind the increased pay - and he's at the front-lines more then before.

Some of them, they never get back up. It's one time, one desperate time when the allure of bright pictures and flashing words on television drives them to it. They'll have homemade costumes and weak motives and they'll weep, when the bat drags them down.

He leaves Gordon to deal with the broken bones and broken spirits. Those ones - they'll go into therapy, maybe come out of it alright, maybe they won't and then they'll move on and everyone will forget.

At first, Gordon thought nobody would ever forget, but he doesn't count on the power that some of those men and women hold. The ones like Joker, the ones that keep coming back.

Because some of them, they don't know how to stop. It doesn't matter what the motive was - if they wanted to kill the bat, take control, be rich and powerful or just be recognized. It didn't matter, because they didn't know how to stop and the bat -

Well, the bat doesn't really know how to stop them either.

. . .

It is always clouded in Gotham.

The bat explains this once to him, something about chemical mixtures from factories and how at night, the machines on standby do something to pull the air together.

It's always a bit wet, always a bit damp, always dark. He doesn't know anywhere else that is like this and that's sort of sad.

The first time the signal lights the sky - because Gordon refuses to prefix anything with bat, even the word man - the first person to laugh at it is the Joker, getting comfortable in a GCPD cell, waiting for a trial in the morning. The clown has his face turned to the tiny little window off near the ceiling, neck twisted to get a good view of the symbol broadcasted for all to see.

The second one to laugh is the bat himself, who only lets one small chuckle echo out, before he disappears, ready to tackle his latest assignment.

That spooks him. He doesn't know why.

. . .

Gordon has no thoughts on the matter of who lives beneath the bat's skin. Which is difficult to explain, because after a while, they figure out who the bat talks to. At this point, the city's come to accept the bat's place during their nights - there's still an investigation ongoing, but there isn't much heart in it. Sometimes people will shoot at the cape, but they never hit him.

Everyone wants to know Gordon's theories, and nobody seems to understand that he doesn't have one at all.

The only one who understands this, is the Joker.

Gordon still visits him from time to time - doesn't trust him not to be entertained for long. Sometimes they talk, sometimes one asks questions the other won't answer. It's a routine, he just gets used to it.

"I don't think there's anything under that cowl at all." Joker says, one day. The orderly watching them rolls his eyes and leaves.

Gordon crooks his head - a gesture he knows he's mimicking from the bat.

"He'll convince himself that it's just a mask, but he's lying." The clown continues. "His real face is the bat. It's always been the bat, even before he put on the cape."

The clown pauses, shifts on his bed, flips down a worn, cheap playing card for his game of solitaire. "He'll just keep lying to himself, he doesn't want to admit that this is his life. He wants to be normal."

"Don't we all." Says Gordon, so wearily and so tired.

The Joker nods, so small and so tiny a gesture that the cameras will never pick it up. Nobody will ever know he agrees.

Neither of them give any thought to who he pretends to be during the day - it doesn't matter to them. And if they do have to think about it, it's only to wonder if he's happy when the sun's up.

. . .

That doesn't mean Gordon doesn't find out.

The bat will say one day that the first time he showed his face to Joker, the clown closed his eyes. That says more than any of them can ever say.

. . .

One summer, some time that was impossibly small and massively large since he'd come to this city, he is appointed Commissioner.

He doesn't think about what happened to the last one - Loeb had died quickly, painfully and corrupt - and he's really good at this point with not thinking about things he doesn't want to.

He gets an office - two of them, in fact, one at the GCPD and one in town hall. He only visits the town hall one long enough to pick up the bottle of cheap wine someone leaves him as a welcome present, and then he sets up shop in the building that has become his home.

It's a high room, large, mostly empty because Loeb had preferred the other office. There's an elevator that goes right from the bullpen all the way up to the hall outside.

At first, he's barely there, still on the roof, still on the streets. Until one day, his leg goes out with the floor he's standing on, in the less then repaired part of a building and he's laid up for a few weeks.

When he comes back, some of the people who call themselves allies, but are maybe friends, stand in front of his door. There are a couple of other people there too, heads of departments and so forth.

They watch when he inspects their little modifications, the things they'd changed when he'd been gone.

"We built you a window box." Says Renee Montoya. "Well, we built the ledge, we haven't got the box yet."

"I'm terrible with flowers." Says Gordon, after inspecting the large, steel ledge they'd drilled outside a window. Everyone laughs, and leaves.

He waits until he's alone, then pulls open the window, and puts all his weight on the shelf.

It doesn't even budge. Doesn't even quiver. The bolts go all the way through the walls and out through his wallpaper. There's a number lock that opens on both the inside and the outside.

"Clever." He muses, aloud to himself, and leaves the window open.

The bat's grapple hook hits the ledge an hour or two later, and a moment later, that impossibly large man is crawling inside.

"Clever." The bat says.

. . .

One morning, the phone rings and the voice on the other end says "James?". There's a horrible moment where the voice is familiar, but nobody calls him James except his wife, and he's got horrible visions of her hurt, then he realizes that the voice is just cautious, not worse.

"This is Commissioner Gordon, how can I help you?" He replies back, still trying to place it, and the other side of the line laughs. He ignores the hairs that raise on the back of his neck at the sound - that's a response he'll never be able to get past.

"Man, it's me, Jules, remember? Chicago?" And it rushes back, uncomfortable and close.

"Oh! It's been a long time." Gordon tries to laugh, but it sticks in his throat. He'd gotten birthday emails and Christmas cards and some of them had called in the beginning - but he hasn't heard anything in almost a year. He's fine with it, everything before Gotham was useless for survival here.

"So you're really the Commissioner of Gotham City." The voice sounds awed, Gordon has a hard time putting the face to the name. "That certain says something - you get transferred as a dectective, nobody thinks you'll survive... and suddenly you're in charge of everything! How'd that happen?"

Gordon laughs again, it sounds a bit more natural this time. "I have no idea."

"Caught that bat man yet?"

"He's difficult to pin down."

"You'll get him eventually. Damn vigilantes." Then 'Jules' launches into a long winding conversations about everything Gordon left behind.

It hurts.

A lot.

He never fills his promise to call back.

. . .

The bat has a habit that is so subtle that it would take years to notice it at all. It's a flick of his wrist, not a restless move, but a practiced one, like someone taught him to do it. There's probably a purpose to it, but Gordon doesn't know it. And the bat does it so subtle, that it looks like it has long since past from memory or active thought.

Plenty of people do something like it, but only the bat does it just like that.

Well, that's not entirely truthful.

The Joker does it too, with the opposite hand.

And Gordon thinks nothing of this habit - because seeing it doesn't mean anything and won't tell him anything - but it comes in handy for something like this.

Yearly police charity ball, hosted by the city, filled to the brim with the best and brightest of Gotham City - only in the sense that everyone was covered in diamonds and drove expensive cars and God, the whole thing was insufferable, every year.

His wife begs off to hang with other police wives, leaving him to shake hands and fake smiles and one of these days, he thinks these things will kill him more certainly then any idiot with a gun.

Except he shouldn't have thought that, because at some point in the evening, he's too close to some very, very rich people and a gunshot goes off. He leaps to the ready, but almost immediately gets shoved back by bodyguards.

Someone screams for everyone to hand over their jewellery, and something in him eases a little. He doesn't regonize the voice, and a new villain had failed only a couple of weeks before. It's probably just a robbery.

It says something about him and Gotham City that there is such a thing as "just a robbery".

There is a businessman couching next to him, something about his stance keeps drawing Gordon's eye. It's too balanced, too even, the man too still.

This is Bruce Wayne. They'd been talking before - an actual, legitimate conversation about police equipment that had eased the evening just a little.

Wayne moves and beneath the well-tailored suit, muscle moves in a barely-there pattern that Gordon knows better then he knows the roof of the GCPD.

His heart almost stops. The billionaire's wrist flicks restlessly. It looks like a mask has slipped, still half on, warring between leaping to help and pretending to be helpless.

Gordon is finding it very difficult to breath.

Then Wayne slides back, decides its not worth it, but Gordon can see that look in his eyes, in the set of his sharp chin, that he wants to help, but he can't. This mask is too restricting for him, but he doesn't have any other choice available to him.

The whole thing is over before it even began - crashing a police charity event is all kinds of stupid. Everyone is allowed to get back up and dust themselves off and the music starts up again.

The angry set is still in Wayne's chin.

"You alright, Commissioner?" And if Gordon really strains his ears, it even sounds like the bat.

"Yeah, I do this fairly often." He says back, and Wayne fakes a laugh that sounds terrible even to Gordon's ears.

(It sounds a bit like Joker's - the same sort of rhythm to it, just a different pitch and tone. Maybe that's where he learned it.)

"You look like you could use with getting out of here, though." Gordon says, careful and low. Wayne's giving him a bit of strange, hidden look. "You could even say that... you look like you fell, from somewhere better."

Wayne stops breathing. Gordon can't even see his throat move, nothing moves at all. Gordon focuses his eyes somewhere just above the billionaire's eyes - as he does when he gazes at the bat.

Wayne starts breathing again - so completely even that it has to be forced.

"I'm not an angel." He croaks, and it sounds as terrible as the first time he said it.

"No." Gordon agrees, voice low.

"But if this is hell..." And Wayne goes on, Gordon wasn't expecting that. "Then I guess we're both human."

Gordon's wife collects him, they leave. That's it. They don't talk about it.

But he can't sleep that night, and it's not even because he knows what lives beneath that skin of the bat, it's because...

All things considering, the bat thinks them both equal.

And that scares the hell out of Gordon.

. . .

One night, there's a woman with a whole lot of poison and Gordon gets a little confused about what happens after that. But he comes to a little bit once the bat shows up - there's probably a battle that he completely missed, but he's sort of hallucinating his dead mother so he doesn't care that much.

But he remembers being lifted, and getting all confused because the bat's staring down at him with a frown and some flashing eye lenses action that's only just begun to creep him out. Then there is a jerk - like something's caught them and then the ground sort of flies away - or maybe they do, it's a little fuzzy.

He blinks enough to see the belly of some plane open up and swallow them both, and he passes back out again.

When he wakes, it's to blinding lights and a sore everything. Everything is black and grey, but its bright and there are benches everywhere. He's lying on a padded table, a clear bag flooding his veins with something.

A little ways away is the bat, hunched over a table filled with flasks and glasses and numerous other things. There's the drip, drip of fluid and not much else.

The room isn't very large, but it's crowed. Not far from him, Gordon can see a wall decorated with cork and whiteboards. Newspaper clippings and photos are all over it - a stack of Gordon's files are sitting nearby too. Most of the wall is dedicated to cases, random patterns and notes, but a large part of it - is completely for the Joker.

There is endless photos, folders of newspaper articles, clear bags full of evidence, stacks of tapes and DVDs of surveillance footage, and many, many rescued and stolen artifacts. The centrepiece itself, is an overcoat jacket of royal purple, unwrinkled and cleaned, the only signs of damaged some very faint bloodspots along the collar.

There are a couple coats like this one in evidence lockers, in storage boxes at Arkham - they've been cross-checked so much it's stupid.

Gordon had never realized that the bat had kept one - let alone, that he'd taken care of it. A closer inspection shows several boxes full of the Joker's things, hidden around the floor.

The bat blocks his view before he can inspect anything closer. For a split second, there is something on this man's face - like Gordon's seeing something he shouldn't. But why on earth would the bat be hiding anything considering the Joker?

"The poison is gone. This'll help you sleep." Says the bat, and Gordon's mind has enough time to pin the word Wayne to his voice before he blacks out again.

. . .

Gordon has a daughter, who is smarter then him, smarter then her teachers. He can't afford to send her anywhere better, but he thinks she doesn't mind all that much. By the time he's been appointed Commissioner, she's long since stopped paying attention in school - but she's had perfect marks for years, so he doesn't mind much.

She's a young woman by now - or getting there quickly. His throat seizes up too much when he sees her do ordinary things - and he doesn't know why.

His wife worries. His son ignores her, but Gordon -

He lets her do what she wants.

When he wakes up, after being poisoned and taken to the bat's hideout, Babs, his little girl who isn't, sits beside him, looking at the window with a curious expression.

"He is most strange." She says, and there is no argument of who she speaks of. "He took one look at me, and it was as if he saw everything about me. The schools I'd go to, the clothes I'll wear the day before my wedding... everything I was thinking that exact moment and everything after that."

She turns to him, and the look on her face is like someone who has seen the morning after a night of eternal darkness. Gordon remembers the first time he'd ever seen the bat. He'd been terrorized before such a beast, so utterly exposed and small.

His daughter had seen the bat for the first time - and she had been awakened.

He thought about being scared, but he can't bring himself to. His daughter has made a choice and he can see it in her eyes.

"Don't do anything stupid." He says, grasping her hand and she smiles at him.

They both note that he doesn't say don't do anything dangerous.

. . .

Shortly after this, the bat gets a sidekick - someone who he calls Robin and is probably mid-teens. He's young - but younger have killed before, and Robin does good work, so he doesn't complain exactly.

He just works up the nerve to give the bat something akin to a glare. Thinking about the fact that underneath the mask, there is a man of flesh and blood makes it a bit easier until Gordon remembers that the man under there is Bruce Wayne, the richest man in Gotham City, and then it just gets worse.

The Joker hiccups a laugh when Gordon visits him. " I saw the batbrat on TV." The clown frowns a little. "He likes kids more then he likes me."

The clown is still muttering about this when Gordon leaves, and it makes the older man all sorts of uncomfortable.

He thinks about the coat he saw in the bat's hideout. Cleaned, taken care of. The boxes with his things and for the first time, he wonders if the bat doesn't keep those as evidence.

. . .

One day he walks into his office to see Babs there, casually looking through the window at the ledge that had been a running joke for a little while - but has long since been forgotten.

"He comes through here, doesn't he." She looks so deep in thought he almost doesn't want to reply. "You just let him come and go, don't you?"

"Gets a bit wet on the roof sometimes." He says, because by this point everyone knows.

She's silent for a minute. "I know who he is."

And that kind of makes his heart stop, just a little.

She looks at him for a long moment, as if debating whether or not it's a good idea to let him in on this. "It's Bruce Wayne. I had to do a lot of digging, but..."

"I know." And it comes out sort of strangled and small. Babs looks surprised.


"Accident." And it's easier to think of it like that - like he wasn't meant to know and it's okay as long as he doesn't voice anything blasphemy out loud.

She looks on the verge of saying something else. Her mouth opens - and closes.

"You wouldn't want me on the police force, would you." She says, not a question but a statement and he's shaking his head before she's done. Anything but that.

"Anything but that." He says, and almost regrets saying that once he thinks it.

She smiles, a wolfish, dangerous smile.

"Don't worry, dad." She says, and he knows somehow, he's lost before he even began.

. . .

Several months after this, the bat is on the roof before he's gotten up there. When Gordon looks closer at the shadow sitting on the ledge - actually sitting, no crouching, he can see the parts where the black gets blacker. In the hints of light, the liquid tints red.

"If I didn't turn in Joker right away, would this be okay?" The bat asks, after a long moment while Gordon tries not to freak out about the break in routine.

"Why?" And this is mildly frightening, because the Joker's been out less then a day, and normally it takes a bit longer then this for the bat to even begin to catch up. It seems they simultaneously learn from and pull one over the other constantly.

The bat lifts up his hands, and in the roof's lights, Gordon can see the blood that's only beginning to dry. A horrible feeling is settling in his stomach.

"He won't do anything, I promise." The bat manages, and why is it, that sometimes he speaks and it sounds so hard for him? "He... can't do much of anything at the moment."

"I trust you." Says Gordon.

(Which is part yes and part just horrible thinking.)

The bat turns to leave.

"Wait." And the bat stops, looks to Gordon like he hasn't ever asked for anything before. "Who did that?"

"Arkham." And there's anger in that tone, but not much else, and then the shadow is gone in a flicker.

Nobody sees the bat out that night, though the Robin shows up in a couple of cases. Gordon takes the time to look deeper into the events surrounding the Joker's latest leap from the asylum.

There's a half-scrawled note in someone's file about an employee's attack on the drugged clown, and someone tears up a little when he calls and asks questions.

"I didn't think someone would go that far." She mumbles and hangs up, police investigation or not.

Nobody sees the Joker for a long time after that.

. . .

There is a brief incident after that with a man named Lyle Bolton and Arkham gets a bit of a makeover - on Wayne Enterprise's paycheque, none less.

A few weeks later, the bat calls him - of all things - and asks Gordon to meet him near the outer rings of the city. They do a sort of weird trade-off, where the bat hands over Joker like he doesn't necessarily want to.

Gordon wonders why he doesn't just take him right back to Arkham. But he doesn't ask, and neither of them say, so he just forgets it.

The two of them don't say anything, but they look at each other for a long moment before they part and ignore even Gordon as he handcuffs the clown.

"Fly safe." Says Joker and it's layered with fake glee, but so badly done even Gordon can tell he's upset. The last look they give each other is something a bit kinder, softer around the edge - the corner of the bat's mouth almost smiles.

Then Gordon's packing the Joker into the squad car and the bat's gone when he looks back.

The clown's silent for a long time, before he asks a question in a strange voice. "You're married right?"

The first instinct is to slam hard on the brakes and hope the clown hits his head on the divider. Instead he just growls out "yes" with an edge he hopes conveys the level of pain he'll give the clown if he tries anything on his family.

There's a slightly shorter pause before; "People marry because they love each other, right?"

Gordon has a flashback to 'the talk' with Babs and Junior. This feels a lot like that - except a bit more awkward because the Joker's a full-grown man, even if he doesn't act like it.

"Mostly." He says. "Sometimes it's for... money and stuff."

The Joker's silence feels miserable, even to Gordon. "I don't know what love is."

This is explaining how to use birth control and the finer points of baby making all over again. Or Babs asking how sex with girls works. Or all that and his mother walking in on him and his first girlfriend back in high school combined.

"I'm probably not the person to ask." Gordon says as little awkwardness as he can manage.

"But you love someone." The Joker almost pleads. "How do you know?"

Gordon thinks about this for a moment. "I guess I would do anything for my wife - I couldn't easily live without her, or my kids." He thinks harder, even as he's talking. "When I first met her, it felt God had came down, pointed to her and said that was the person made exactly for me."

"My doctor says that's just obsession." Joker sounds depressed at this.

"It can be." Gordon replies. "But there's more then that. It's mutual for starters."

The Joker thinks on this for a moment.

"Maybe..." He says, "love is nothing but obsession and co-dependency. But you can't have just one."

Gordon wants to say maybe not, but has a feeling this is the sort of Moment that the clown's doctors pray to God for.

The Joker leans back in his seat with a shuffle of clothing. They don't speak again all the way back to the GCPD.

And Gordon decidedly doesn't think about it at all.

. . .

The night 'Batgirl' takes to the skies, Gordon has a heart attack.

Not a literal one, but there's this moment where he sort of falls over, his chest hurting all funny like and starts yelling that he's going to kill the asshole, and his officers give him this look of oh crap, the boss has finally cracked, but he gets better and generally looks pissed when the bat finally shows up.

"Sorry." Said the caped crusader sort of awkwardly. It's mutually agreed that nobody's capable of saying no to Barbara Gordon and it's dangerous to even think about it. He feels unsafe thinking about it now and she's not even around.

"She gets hurt, and I'll shoot you." Gordon says, with as little fear and as much bravo as he can manage.

"You won't." The bat looks awfully certain about that.

"I'll shoot your clown." And God, that sure slipped out.

There's this brief moment, when the bat looks like he's about to have a panic attack on Gordon's roof. It's difficult to tell with the lenses and the cowl but he's pretty sure it's happening. The bat gets it under control though, and goes back to his normal neutral broodiness.

"You won't." He says, and this time, it's got the hint of a threat to it.

Apparently now nobody but the bat is allowed to beat the clown up.

They part with the silent but sure agreement that they're both doing things they're not comfortable with and they don't really talk about it. Because they're both men, or maybe because they're both crazy.

. . .

He wakes up at around noon, like usual after the night shift, and Babs is snoring away like she's trying for a competition. He waits until three to wake her up.

"Early supper?" He asks, and is trying hard not to see the bruises peeking out from under her pyjamas.

Then she looks up at him - so exhausted and probably in a bit of pain but she's glowing, like the whole damn world's made itself perfect just for her. It stops his breath, stops his heart all over again because she's practically vibrating with it.

"Yeah!" And she hasn't sounded this happy since she was a kid. A kid on christmas day probably, going by the sounds of it. "I'm starving, what've we got?"

And he knows at that moment, that he could never stop her. Because she's found her purpose and he hasn't the strength to deny her that.

But privately, as she shovels down three times her normal serving, he hopes that the bat started doing it for even a fraction of the feeling Babs has.

Anything else is too painful to think about.

. . .

Sometimes, he meets with Robin or Babs instead of the bat. The boy seems to be permanently in some state of hero worship and adds "sir" too much and Babs pretends not to know him as her father, even when he informs her to eat all her vegetables and listen to her old man, because he's probably pretty smart. She laughs at him, but maintains more professionalism then he could hope for.

That's my baby girl. He thinks, whenever he watches her leaping about. I did all that. He's made a hero, that'll be saving Gotham City and the world long after he stops.

She'll probably die saving people, and that hurts to think about, but he knows the numbers, knows how much they do, and it's worth it, all the property damage and broken laws. They're doing something here the rest of the world can't manage.

One night, Robin's there instead of anyone else. He does the usual thing of file trades, crime gossip and a long list of tips, before he pauses for an awkward moment.

"Do you know if..." The boy sort of trails off. "Man... this is awkward."

If the boy asks if Babs has a boyfriend, he's going to start waving his gun.

"Batman." The boy starts again. "Acts really weird around... you know, the Joker."

Oh dear God, it's even worse.

"Um." Gordon tries to voice all the things that he knows about the bat and the clown. That the clown made the bat doubt, makes him hesitate, didn't run away when the bat kept him safe. That the bat makes the clown not kill as many people, ask about love, doesn't let anyone else beat him up. That he thinks the clown taught the bat how to laugh and the bat taught the clown how to flick his wrist whatever the fuck that means. That he sees them exchange the most desperate of looks, that Joker's file is 50% bullshit and 50% bat or that he honestly thinks there isn't lengths the bat won't go for the clown.

"Forget I asked." Says the boy quickly, and Gordon nods desperately.

"Just... leave them be." Gordon says, with some fluttering, awkward hand gestures he hopes convey all the I don't know that he's got going on at the moment.

Babs snorts later that next day, when she's almost falling asleep in her second bowl of Corn Flakes.

"Men," she groans. "Are so stupid when they're in love." Apparently Robin had more then one awkward conversation that night.

Gordon voices some form of agreement and she gives him a look - like she suddenly knows that Robin asked him as well and now everyone's on this weird sideline thing of watching the two of them dance around each other.

He spends the rest of the day wondering if they should make a club, and how much of Gotham would join up.

. . .

Gordon's not really willing to admit that he's spent a lot of his career bleeding on some asshole's floor, but he's there again, so what are you going to do about it?

The building's locked down, and his men and women are going up against the men trying to go up against the Joker of all people.

Speaking of which - clown at two o'clock, looking sheepish and a little frazzled from being shot at. It's barely even past dusk and the bat's probably not even suited up yet.

The minute the floorboards creek and the clown creeps closer, Gordon tightens his grip on the gun, but they both know he's out of ammo. The room's boarded down for the moment, and the fighting's two levels down. If the Joker kills him now, he can be out and away before anyone even gets up to the level below them, let alone one more and then figures out which of the closed apartment doors is holding the two of them.

Joker rises his knife, and Gordon's already forming a death prayer, but instead, the clown pulls off his jacket, then the coat under that. He unbuttons the vest he's wearing, and cuts the fabric into strips, before handing it to Gordon.

Gordon's always been crap at finding anything in that white face or those acid green eyes, so he says simply "why" as he takes the makeshift bandages, and presses them to his side. Pocket first aid kit - on his list for christmas. Babs'll know where to get a cool one.

Joker squirms awkwardly. "I've got an agreement."

"With anyone I know?" Gordon asks sarcastically, and the clown snorts quietly.

"Tall, dark, handsome." The clown hums, like he's talking about an ideal date. "Dresses up like a flying rodent sometimes - think it's a kink, to be honest."

Gordon does a good impression of not laughing, but only because he'll probably move the bullet and die if he does.

The clown hesitates for a moment, then holds out a hand. "You bandage, I'll hold."

Feeling Joker press down with surprising strength brings back memories of the one time the bat did this. There's a look of something akin to surprise on the clown's face. Like he wasn't ever expending to save the Commissioner's life and he's shocked he'd do something like that.

It's not that bad until there's nothing to do but wait, then it just gets awkward. Gordon's never been in a space with the Joker without a purpose, and he can see the clown feels it too. They haven't got rules for this sort of thing.

Then the bat crawls into an open window with a look akin to the I hate mondays faces his officers get. Crisis averted, Gordon probably doesn't have to talk to the clown after all.

The bat crawls over, and Gordon can imagine his eyes flickering everywhere under those lenses, except then he doesn't have to imagine, because the bat's fingers reach up and with a small click, he removes the cowl.

Joker looks away for a moment - then back again, like he can't stand to not acknowledge the bat. The clown doesn't look at all surprised, this is a face he knows.

The bat - Bruce, because this is a man that Gordon knows from parties and TV and even billboards for crying out loud - looks over Gordon and the Joker's work with a practiced eye. In this suit, there is barely a trace of the playboy or even the businessman though. It's all bat and it's scary as fuck.

"I'll need to take the bullet out now." Bat- Bruce says after a moment. "There's news of Black Mask planning something, I'll need you around tonight."

Oh God. Gordon thinks. It's going to be one of those nights.

Bruce lies him down on the floor, takes a whole bunch of equipment off his belt, including a packaged sterilized blanket for Gordon to bleed all over.

(Makes him wonder how often the bat's preformed emergency field surgery on someone.)

Then its Joker prying off the blood soaked bandages and Bruce giving him something for the pain that doesn't make him nearly as tired as he wants to feel, and then there is the odd sensation of someone sticking things instead of him, even if it doesn't hurt.

He dazes, dozes for a moment as everything goes down around him. He hears the bat tell Joker to hold this and hand me that.

He suddenly realizes, as the clink of the extracted bullet hits the floor, that the bat trusts the Joker completely.

It feels like a weight's been lifted on his shoulders, and he doesn't know why.

"I'll go hang out somewhere." The Joker says, easily like it's nothing at all, really. "Postpone until tomorrow?"

"Friday would be nice." Says Bruce- or the bat. "I don't know what Black Mask's planning yet. Might take a day or two to clean up."

Then Gordon's been stitched up and having weird instruments pointed at him and the blood's wiped off his skin. Joker gives him the last injection and as he feels his body kick back into some sort of work mode, he realized he wasn't even worried about a mass murderer waving a needle in his direction.

The bat trusts the clown. That's enough for him.

The Joker stares miserably at his ruined clothes as everyone stands up. "I'll never wash this out now."

"I'll buy you more." Says Bruce, like it's nothing, except it probably isn't because he's a billionaire and he can afford to buy his clown new suits. The man hesitates for just a moment, then touches the clown's cheek with a sweet tenderness, like he's saying thank you and something more all at once.

His clown. Gordon thinks. Didn't see this coming.

Then again, nobody saw the dark knight coming. That was sort of the point.

Everything's packed away and Gordon can hear someone approaching. The bat puts the cowl back on, and the person Gordon saw below vanishes entirely, except not really. Then the Joker is sort of picked up, and Batman lifts up his grappling hook to send them both out the window.

"Don't forget to wear protection on Friday." Gordon says before he can entirely stop himself, and he guesses they heard him, because the roar of the clown's laughter is almost as funny as the bat near face-planting into a brick wall five stores up mid-grapple-swing.

He almost feels bad for them.


. . .

Time pasts. Robin grows into his cape. Babs moves out and Gordon brings her food or coffee or Tylenol at least once a week. Bruce Wayne donates to a lot of charities. Gordon fires half of his police force slowly but surely and Gotham City becomes the only one where the recruits are hand-checked for iffy stuff before they even have the option to drop out of the academy. More villains pop up every month or old ones come back and more vigilantes show up to combat that. Like the villains, sometimes they flunk out, but some stay. And he likes that, even if Batwoman keeps checking out Renee Montoya's boobs when she doesn't think anyone else is looking.

The bat develops this look that Gordon knows so well he can sense it in the air - he doesn't even need to see it. And if he has to describe it as anything, he'll say 'long-suffering'.

(He'd think the bat hates his job, but he really doesn't. Sometimes the man gives his charges such a look of approval, or he stares at the clown for just a second to long, or he'll nod at police work and Gordon will know. It's not Babs' glow, but it's something.)

. . .

Once, just once, Gordon witnesses the Bat kiss the clown in person. It's cold and dark and nobody sees them but him. Joker's bleeding, in pain, gasping for breath, then the bat ducks down, and presses into the clown's mouth, gloved fingers around his head, his face, his neck.

It's desperately passionate and terrified all at once, like the bat's worried or scared or some sort of emotion Gordon isn't even sure the bat knows the name of.

The clown's hands grip the bat's cape, on either side and pulls it in, around himself, until nobody could barely see anything besides the black and a hint of green.
It is days like this, that Gordon wonders why Gotham is like this.

He has the horrible feeling that if they were anywhere else in the world, this wouldn't happen.

But maybe it should.

. . .

Time pasts.

Gordon's wife dies. Robin gets angry and for a long time, there isn't anyone but Babs. A new Robin - same name, different person, different outfit - takes his place and then almost dies in the Middle east. The bat disappears for a week one May and he never moves like he did before after that - Gordon can see the pain in his face on the long nights, and the Joker never kicks his right leg ever again. Babs gets shot by a member of the Joker's gang one night, and the doctor whispers she'll never walk again.

The Joker is brought to them both in the hospital room, looking miserable and a little bruised. The bat's holding him like a warning, and he looks pissed.

"I'm sorry." Whispers the clown. "I wish I could stop."

Because that's the problem. The clown doesn't remember anything beyond this. Violence and terror brings him the bat and Joker can not live without the bat.

Babs nods, serious and in pain, but she'll know more then either of them ever will. She reaches a hand for the clown and Gordon has to think the bat trusts the clown before he shoots the Joker just on principle.

It wasn't the Joker's gun, but it was all the same.

Babs grips his hand with a strength that makes the Joker wince. "We've all learned things for him." She looks him in the eye, so strong and so unlike the little girl he drove to school because the bus smelled. "We've all sacrificed things for him."

She pauses, for just a moment, and Gordon realizes the heart-rate machine hasn't even begun to fluctuate. She's keeping her calm better then he can.

"Maybe its time you learned." She says. "Sacrificed something for him." And lets the Joker go with a pat on his arm.

The bat doesn't say anything at all.

. . .

One day, Gordon's over at Babs' apartment, which is considerably nicer then his and a hundred times more wheelchair accessible. The place is full of computers, and even during the day she's dipped into the heartbeat of the city, like it's water and she can't live without it.

There's a man there that Gordon's never seen, except he looks closer and realizes he has.

"Dad," Babs says, "this is Richard - Bruce's old apprentice." The man smiles sheepishly. Apparently apprentice is codeword for cape-wearing bat-worshipping teenager.

They chat - mostly about Bab's physical therapy and how, against all odds, the doctors are saying she might recover at least a little.

An hour in, someone barges in without knocking, the boy Gordon recognizes as being introduced as Jason during Babs' hospital stay. There's a girl that trails behind him, looking a bit lost and confused.

"You have no idea what I just walked in on." The boy moans, stealing cookies off the plate Richard put down. "You'd think Bruce would lock the door if the clown's over."

And boy, does that bring up images Gordon doesn't want to have.

"Hah!" Richard says. "You think you've got it bad? I remember when those two were still all broken up over each other. Always moping about having moral crises. And when they did do anything... man, Bruce would brood for days."

Jason and the girl whose introduced as Cassandra join them around the table.

"You think you've got anything to complain about?" Gordon says, for the hell of it. "I've known them since forever." The table looks at him in a perfect mixture of sympathy and horror, Gordon doesn't have to say anything more.

Jason shudders. "Yeah, well, anyway. Alfred's in town doing a shopping run and wanted me to bring over Cass. She's get something to tell Babs." There's a look passed around the table that Gordon sort of misses.

The girl blushes slightly, then speaks. Her voice is a bit weird - dried and cracked, and her words are mumbled and awkward. Speech Impairment of some type, Gordon supposes.

"I..." Cassandra starts. "Want to ask..." She freezes for a moment, unsure.

"M'going to be batgirl." She says after a moment, not really looking Babs in the eye, but Gordon's daughter lights up, pleased and happy. She grabs Cassandra's hands with delight, and laughs.

"That's wonderful news!" Babs says. "I think you'll do great." And the girl smiles at her, the worry vanishing from her face.

"While we're on the subject actually..." Babs continues, smoothing her shirt with a calm ease - because Babs is never worried about anything. "I've got an idea I'm going to run past Bruce tonight. I want to become the city's information centre. I'm thinking of a full gig - name, headquaters, secret number, the works." The bat apprentices - past and present - nod and ooh their agreement. Gordon smiles and thinks yes.

"Any ideas for names?" Jason says through a mouth full of sweets and Babs nods.

"I was thinking Oracle." There's a delighted gleam in her eye - no amount of pain and suffering could break his daughter's spirit.

"And while we're on the subject..." Says Richard with a grin. "I'm thinking of coming back too, new suit and stuff. Any thoughts on the name Nightwing?"

Babs sighs with the pain of a fact-checker surrounded by idiots. "Dick, you're not even going to be wearing a cape."

"You can totally have wings without a cape." The man scowls. "Only so many variations on the 'bat' thing, you know."

The table laughs. Gordon smiles into his coffee. Damn kids.

. . .

Gordon keeps memories in all sorts of places, and he doesn't really tell anyone because this is Gotham City and nobody will understand.

He'd once said that Gotham City never shone and he is entirely correct. Nothing is ever new, nothing ever lights up the dark. The clouds keep out the moon, the stars. Even the sun doesn't seem all that bright.

And this city - it is dangerous and hurtful. Nobody's safe and it's difficult to get anything done.

But there is a payoff.

For you see - if you pay, in blood, in sweat and in tears, handing in your nightmares and your pain-filled memories, the sluggish heartbeat of this cruel city will beat once for you and you alone.

And it will give you exactly what you need.

Babs gives up her legs and gets the job that's made just for her - the knowledge of the whole wide world flowing through her like the sun shines on dirt waiting to sprout flowers. She will save the whole damn world on her own because of this, and she won't even get to say it was saved once.

Richard loses his job and gains his whole identity. This is all he ever wants, and it'll make him happy, give him back the family he almost lost. One day, he'll be an excellent mentor to a small child who will say Greyson with love filled anger. He'll know he never needs to try to be anyone beyond himself.

Jason will know pain, but it will teach him to teach himself. In the future, he takes up not his adopted father's mantle, but the one of the man who stands beside him. In any other world, this would have destroyed him, but it does not here.

Cassandra will learn to talk, the bat family will extend to endlessly fill its ranks, his officers will become satisfied in their jobs and not dirty money. Renee and the woman beneath the Batwoman's mask will get married and Gordon will have to say a really awkward speech about how he realized this day was coming when he opened a supply closet and found them making out with their hands down each pants instead of staples like he'd intended.

Gordon himself will sit in his chair every day, and realize that he's changed a whole world. Not a planet, not even a country. But the small universe that encompasses the whole of this hateful city. And they will hate and hate until the end of days, but they will not hate him.

(And this is something that has never happened before. It is complicated and another story entirely, but it is fact.)

And most importantly, there will be two men, who will never know how to exist without the other. They will blow down the fires of the other anger, keep each other warm on cold nights. Stand beside each other in even the thickest of storms. They will take the endless pain, hurt and attacks the other gives into themselves and it will never truly hurt them, like it hurts other.

They will do inexcusable things, that will make their allies hate them. But they will never hate each other. There will be days when everyone gives up on one or the both of them but they will still come back for each other. There will be days when one has to dig a still body out of wreckages and breath in new life when everyone else has closed their eyes.

They will live in eternal darkness, and nothing either of them will ever do is going to make the darkness let them go. They will die fighting, fighting every single person who stands in the way of their happiness.

The city did not give them peace, for it knew they did not want peace. It did not give them a second chance, because the city knew they'd just keep fucking it up. But the city listened to their suffering and their pain and it gave them something better then what they thought they wanted.

It did not give them someone who would understand. It did not give them someone who would help.

It gave someone who would fit inside all those cracks the other had. It gave them all their missing pieces, all those equally stupid, equally hurt parts that they'd lost along the way.

The bat and the clown became whole, in a way nobody else could be. Until the day Gordon dies, he will look upon the two of them, side by side, and now they do not even think as two anymore.

They look with two sets of eyes, they speak with two mouths. But they are one, whole and the same. They will never desire anything more. They will always keep coming back.

Gordon does not know this yet, but one day he will. There will be a day when the Joker walks out of Arkham for the last time, clutching a clean bill of health and Bruce will stand in his handsome suit, by his expensive car and kiss his man in front of a hundred cameras. This will change how the whole city views itself. There will be a day when the Joker puts his hand on Damian Wayne's shoulder, sits the boy down and tells him every horrible thing he's ever done, and that despite all odds, Bruce still loves him. This will change Damian's life and it will save it too, when the day comes.

Gotham City does not need to shine. It does not even need to be loved. And if you tried, it would not understand this.

Because everything her people will ever need, is already waiting for the right moment.