Sometimes a man shouldn't get what he wants.
He never knows he shouldn't until it's too late. Until he's lost something else forever, something more precious. Something he never even knew he wanted.
Jim Gordon wanted his brother's wife, once.
It was years ago and he moved away and she's dead now but he remembers the way her hair shone red against her bridal white that day when he was fresh back from the service in his uniform. She smiled at him, and kissed his cheek, and he was lost.
He lost more, later: his brother, a friend, a hometown he can't visit or even think of without feeling sadness and a deeper shame. He gained something else when Roger and Thelma died, the night Roger drove drunk into the path of an oncoming semi.
He's wanted his daughter in his life for fourteen years.
She calls him "Uncle Jim."
Jim's thankful for what he has.
"Lacey's number is on the fridge!" said Barbara. "We'll be there after school and for dinner, but we'll be at the auditorium early because the --"
"-- curtain's up at eight," said Jim with her. He smiled. "Relax, I know." The school play. Cyrano. Barbara as Roxanne. Jim as the proud uncle. He swallowed the last drops of coffee and put his mug on the counter. He shrugged on his jacket and plucked the paper with Lacey's number from the fridge. The slip went into a pocket. He might even find it again. He kissed Barbara quickly and went for the door.
"Uncle Jim, you forgot something!"
He heard the drawer scrape open as he turned around. That warned him. Not enough.
"Barbara," said Jim very carefully, "put the gun down."
The kitchen was very quiet. He could hear the traffic outside, and the bird in the tree by the window. He wanted to look at Barbara, but his eyes were on the gun. It looked ugly in her hand.
"It's not loaded," said Barbara. A worried pause. "Right?"
Jim didn't say anything.
Barbara put the gun down on the counter and stepped away from it. "Uncle Jim," she said, "I'm so sorry."
"It's okay," he said. "No harm done."
"Aunt Barb used to get it for you all the time. I just -- "
Jim stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. "Hey," he said, "it's all right." Barbara was shaking a little, and Jim thought he felt her tearing up against the front of his shirt. "I know it's hard with just the two of us," he said. "We'll work it out."
He could see the treehouse through the window. He'd built it in a fit of wild optimism that spring. For little James. He'd grow into it. Somewhere else.
Jim's ex-wife's name was Barbara, too.
"I'm sorry," his daughter -- niece -- said again. "I really thought it wasn't loaded."
Jim smoothed her hair. "All guns are loaded," he said. "Always." He frowned. "I guess I should teach you this stuff, huh?"
"You don't have to," she said. "I won't touch your gun again. I promise."
"You're old enough," he said. "You should know."
That she didn't was his fault, Jim knew. He should have taught her the basics when she'd first arrived, but he'd put it off. For all his time in the military and as a cop, he'd never developed the love of guns that so many of his fellow uniforms -- both uniforms -- had. He kept up his target shooting; sometimes he enjoyed the precision of the exercise. Then he looked at the ragged silhouettes and thought of dead men.
Harvey Bullock reduced target after target to shreds -- holes in heart, in head, in crotch -- and then, whistling, drove home in a beat-up Dodge sporting a bumper sticker that read, "Good gun control is a two-inch group."
Jim didn't want to take Barbara to the police range.
He didn't know what else to do.
"Don't worry about it," said Jim, more to himself than to her. "I'll figure something out."
He held her close again and glared at the Colt Python on the counter. Blued finish. Walnut grips. Six rounds of .357 Magnum in the cylinder. It was a good gun. Served him well.
Jim hated it.
The gun lay on the counter next to his coffee mug. The one his ex-wife had given him when she learned she was pregnant. Before the affair with Essen. Before the corruption case. Before the Batman.
The mug read, "World's Greatest Dad."
The telephone rang when Jim was in the middle of reorganizing his desk, which meant that he was sorting stacks of incident reports by type of crime, status of investigation, and geography. In theory, this should give him a good overview of his precinct's and his city's vulnerabilities, and Jim had liked the idea when it was suggested at a policing seminar he'd attended. In practice, the East End had become an increasingly unstable tower that threatened to topple, leaving the rest of the city awash in rapes, robberies, and murders.
Jim suspected a metaphor, somewhere.
Leaving one hand to balance the East End, he groped blindly for the telephone. He found the receiver and tucked it between shoulder and ear. "Gordon," he said.
"Jim, hi!" said the voice on the other end. "It's Bruce. Bruce Wayne."
"Oh," said Jim. "Hi. Um, Bruce." He still wasn't used to being on a first-name basis with the richest man in Gotham.
"Listen," said Bruce, "I'm going to have to cancel on you for this weekend. Something's come up. I'll be out of town. I know the charity golf tournament's only getting closer, and we need to practice, but --"
The telephone slipped from Jim's shoulder and fell onto the floor. "Damn!" said Jim. Cautiously, he withdrew his hand from the East End. It stood. With a sigh of relief, he backed away from the desk and picked up the phone. Bless Bruce Wayne; he was in full airhead mode and hadn't even noticed.
" -- that all right, Jim?"
"Yes," said Jim. "Fine." There was a strange echo on the line. "Where are you, Bruce? In a cave?"
"You'd be surprised," Bruce Wayne said darkly. Then he laughed. "I'm in a spa. Just got out of the sauna. There's a gorgeous woman getting ready to walk on my back." He paused. "At least, that's what I think she's going to do. You guys wouldn't be planning any vice busts today, would you?"
He sounded nervous. Jim laughed. "Only stings today," he said. "No raids. But if you're in my precinct, she could be a police officer."
"Ooh," said Bruce. "I like women in uniform." He paused. "Seriously, Jim," he said, "I'm sorry you drew me as your golf partner. If it's any consolation, I do this to everybody. Think the only person who doesn't mind is Alfred. He may actually take some time off while I'm out of town. Spend the weekend shooting skeet, or something."
Jim blinked. "Your butler shoots?"
"Good at it, too. Always the quiet ones."
"Bruce," said Jim, "could I ask you a favor?"
"Could I borrow your back forty Sunday afternoon? Need to teach my... my niece safe gun handling. I don't want to take her to the range. You know what cops can be like." Then realized that maybe Wayne didn't. "Do you?"
"Not really," said Bruce. "But that'd be fine. Is it all right if Dick sits in? Be good for him to get a safety review. Alfred'll give you a hand."
"Sure," said Jim. He paused. "How is the boy?" he said seriously.
"He's doing well," said Bruce. Quiet, but sincere.
"I'm glad," said Jim. There were times he'd worried.
"I really appreciate that, Jim," Bruce said. There was a pause, and then the cheerful airhead kicked in again. "I'll have Alfred call you and set everything up. I have to run."
"Your back-walker awaits?"
"Here she comes. Oh, my."
"She's definitely not a police officer. Gotta go."
A click, and a hum as the line disconnected. Jim smiled and shook his head. He placed the receiver back on the cradle. As he did, his sleeve brushed one of the stacks. Jim grabbed for it, but a thick sheaf of homicide follow-ups slipped. As he watched in horror, it hit the most precarious of the stacks.
The East End toppled and fell.
The domino effect hadn't held in Asia, but it sure as hell worked in Eastern Europe and on Jim Gordon's desk. His paper city looked like an earthquake had hit it. God, thought Jim. That was the last thing Gotham needed.
The age of hero cops was over, Jim knew, so why on earth did the newspapermen insist on putting his picture in the papers?
He didn't mind too much, usually; his minor celebrity made some things easier, and it gave him some political clout he was still figuring out how to use. It made for awkward situations sometimes, too.
"Your daughter was wonderful, Captain Gordon."
"My niece," he said.
Jim was getting tired of correcting people.
He didn't have to correct all of them, just the people who recognized him and didn't know Barbara's situation. That was more than enough.
He took a quick glance in Barbara's direction. She was laughing, happy, surrounded by her friends. It did Jim good to see that. The boy who'd played Christian was there. She'd kissed him, of course, in the play. Jim hoped they weren't rehearsing. The kid lived just down the street.
Would an uncle watch so carefully? He didn't know. He'd never been allowed to be one, before.
Jim opened a side door and stepped into the night air. After a quick glance up and down the street, he turned his gaze to the rooftops. He'd found himself doing so more and more often. He'd even caught a glimpse of Batman once this way. And the boy. Robin seemed to like jumping off the edge of buildings before firing his jumpline. Jim didn't know how Batman didn't have a heart attack.
He and Batman had something in common. Batman said he wasn't Robin's father, either.
The night was quiet. Jim watched the rooftops and got his pipe going.
The door opened again. A woman, cigarette in hand, stepped out. She blinked when she saw him. He knew that look. She'd seen him in her morning paper.
Jim lit her cigarette before she could say anything.
"Thank you," she said. She blew smoke, and Jim had been happily on his pipe for a while but the smell of the cigarette still tugged at him. "Your daughter was wonderful," she said.
Jim opened his mouth to correct her. Then he changed his mind. "Thank you," he said.
He liked saying it.
He heard a small sound behind him, and turned to see the door open and Barbara poking her head out. Looking at him.
Jim cleared his throat awkwardly. "Got everything?" he said. "Let's go."
Barbara had gone to bed an hour ago, but when Jim came down from the attic her light was still on.
Jim hesitated outside her door, passing the box he held from hand to hand. Then he took a deep breath, knocked, and pushed the door the rest of the way open.
He'd caught her by surprise, and she quickly tucked away the piece of paper she'd been looking at. It looked like an old letter. Jim only glimpsed a few words, but he thought he recognized her mother's handwriting.
Jim cleared his throat. "Sorry," he said.
"It's okay," said Barbara quietly. She looked up at him. "You're all dusty," she said. "What've you been doing?"
"Attic," said Jim. His fingers tapped against the side of the box.
Barbara looked at it. "Found what you were looking for?" she said.
Jim nodded. He paused, then handed the box to her.
Puzzled, Barbara took it. She rested it in her lap and opened the lid.
The old Colt Woodsman was still in fine condition. The opened box smelled lightly of gun oil and Jim's father's cigars, and seeing it in the good light of Barbara's bedroom brought back memories of a scene like this one, years and years ago.
Barbara uncomfortably looked down at the .22 semi-automatic pistol.
"What's this for?" she said.
"That's a bit of history," said Jim. "Your grandfather taught me to shoot on that thing. We used to go down by the railroad tracks and bust old bottles." Jim paused. "Roger, too."
"Dad used this?" said Barbara.
Jim nodded. "Yes," he said. "Your dad sure did."
Barbara didn't take the gun out of the box. She reached in and traced the outline of the grip with a finger.
"I thought we'd go out to the country Sunday afternoon," said Jim. "Teach you your way around a gun. I know you don't want anything to do with them, and that's okay. But you still need to know what you're doing. And what not to do."
Barbara didn't say anything for a moment. She didn't take her eyes off the old gun.
"Was he a good shot?" she said.
Jim knew she didn't mean her grandfather. "He wasn't bad."
Barbara's finger rested a moment longer on the grip. Then she looked up at Jim.
"Okay," she said.
"Okay," said Jim.
She closed the box and handed back to him.
"Good night, Uncle Jim," she said as he closed the door.
"'night, honey," he said.
Her light went off. Jim made his way downstairs.
He took the Woodsman to his study. He'd field-strip and clean it in the morning, make sure everything was in working order. Before he set it down, he held it close and smelled the box, and for a moment he was eight years old again. The man who'd bought this gun had died small and shriveled in an old vets' home, but once Jim's father had been the biggest man in the whole world.
Jim slid the Woodsman into the center of his desk. He tapped the lid once with his fingertips and smiled, then made his way to the kitchen for a drink of water.
The small flourescent over the sink was lit, so Jim didn't bother turning on the main lights. He pulled a mug from the dishrack and filled it at the faucet. He smiled again as he raised the mug to drink. He'd be taking his daughter out to learn to shoot, the same way Jim's father had taken him --
He saw the lettering on the mug reversed in the window. World's Greatest Dad, it read.
Jim lowered the mug. He took a long look at his own reflection.
He had to stop this.
He'd made his peace with the worst thing he'd ever done, because that's what men do; or they kill themselves, or they go crazy, but Jim was never the type for that. He wasn't the type for lying, either, but he didn't have a choice. He wasn't the World's Greatest Dad. Not for her.
Barbara had two performances left. Jim had a lifetime's worth.
He'd better quit pretending otherwise.
He poured the water into the sink, then wrapped the mug in a dishtowel. The hammer was in the tool drawer. The mug shattered with two hard raps.
Jim carefully unfolded the dishtowel and shook the pieces of the mug into the trash.
He went to bed and slept without dreams.
"Let me hear the rules again," said Jim.
Barbara adjusted her seat belt and grinned at him. "Rule One," she said. "All guns are always loaded. Rule Two: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. Rule Three: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. Rule Four: Always be sure of your target. Know what it is, what is in line with it, and what is behind it. Never shoot anything you have not positively identified."
That was word-for-word from the tattered range handbook Jim had found in the back of his closet. He couldn't remember where he'd picked it up, or when. Barbara had skimmed it over breakfast. The day before.
Fabulous memory on the kid. Lord knew where she got it from.
"What happened to your mug?" Barbara said.
Jim concentrated on steering the car around a bend in the road. He tried to hide his surprise at the question. "Hmm?" he said, as if he'd not heard her.
"Your mug," she said. "I put away the dishes this morning. I didn't see it anywhere."
"I dropped it the other night," said Jim. "Clumsy."
"We could glue it," she said. "You love that mug."
"I have other mugs," Jim said.
He didn't look away from the road, but he could feel Barbara's eyes still on him. Jim kept his face as blank as he could. Barbara opened her mouth again as he finished the turn. Before she could say anything, Jim pointed to the horizon. "There," he said, pointing. "That's it."
"He lives there all alone?" said Barbara. She rested her palms on the dashboard and stared at the huge old house.
"There's the butler," said Jim. "He was there after the parents died, when Wayne was growing up. And the boy, now."
The manor passed out of sight behind the crest of a hill. Barbara leaned back in her seat. One hand rummaged in her pocket for a hair scrunchie, while the other pulled her hair back. "I couldn't do it," she said. "I'd go mad." She put the scrunchie between her teeth for a moment, then plucked it loose and fixed her ponytail. "He's not mad, is he?"
That was a more complicated question than Jim was willing to think about. "He's rich," Jim said. "They call it 'eccentric.'" He glanced at her and added, "But no. Not so's you'd notice."
Barbara frowned. She leaned forward as the manor came into view again, and watched it uneasily, as if it were some giant beast that might stir from its slumber, and move. "Half the girls at school have crushes on him, you know," she said.
Jim carefully didn't say anything.
Jim hid his smile.
Barbara took to shooting better than Jim had expected. She listened carefully to the instructions, practiced loading and unloading, the proper grip, aligning the sights, the stance, controlling her breathing. She flinched only a little at the first pop, and then the target the butler had tacked to the backstop of old railroad ties had a neat hole in it, about as big as the end of a pushpin.
Barbara held the gun in place for a moment, looking at her target, then glanced up at Jim. "That's it?" she said.
"That's it," said Jim. "Nothing to it."
She laughed. "It's not bad," she said. She removed the magazine and racked the slide to make sure the pistol was empty. "You think grandpa would have approved?"
"He'd love it," said Jim.
Barbara grinned at him. "All right," she said, picking up a fresh magazine. "Let's see what I can do."
They took a break several targets later. The butler had brought water and sandwiches in a basket, and Jim ate his on the grass under a tree. The salami was better than he'd had since leaving Chicago, and he thought about asking the butler where Wayne got his meats, but held off for fear of hearing they were flown in direct from O'Hare.
He looked over at the kids and realized that while Dick had paid close attention to the safety instruction -- though Jim had the feeling he was watching out for Babs, more than learning from Jim -- he hadn't fired the Woodsman yet. "Did you want to shoot, son?" Jim said.
Dick, who was juggling three oranges, glanced over, surprised, then shook his head. "That's okay, thanks," said Dick. He grinned. "But you should see Alfred."
Jim turned to look at the butler. He realized for the first time that the man had seemed to disappear while they'd been eating. He'd been there the whole time, of course, but he was so still that the eye glided right past him. Jim didn't know if that was a servant's skill or not, but it was a good skill for a hunter. Bruce said he shot clay pigeons; maybe he went for the occasional duck.
"Well," said Jim, "how about it?" Standing up, he removed the Woodsman's magazine, verified that the chamber was empty, and held the pistol out. "Barbara, load a magazine for Mr. -- I'm sorry. I don't know your last name."
"Pennyworth, sir. Thank you for the kindness, but -- "
"Alfred," said Dick. His tone was different now. Jim looked at the boy, and saw a strangely intense look. It looked familiar, and he couldn't remember where he'd seen it; then he did, and wished he hadn't. "C'mon. Show them."
"Show them what?" Barbara said.
Alfred hesitated a moment, then took the Woodsman from Jim's hand. He removed the empty magazine, pulled the slide back to be sure the gun was empty, then took the loaded magazine Barbara held out.
Dick, grinning like a magician about to produce a flock of doves from his hat, scampered up to a position behind Alfred and slightly to his right. He was still juggling the oranges. "Ready?" he said.
Alfred seated the magazine and chambered the first round. "Ready, sir," he said.
As soon as he said it, Dick sent one of the oranges flying up and forward in an underhanded lob. For an instant, at its peak, the orange hung suspended. By the time Jim had finished blinking, Alfred's arm had whipped up and he'd fired three fast shots.
The orange fell, leaking juice from three bullet wounds.
"Jesus!" said Jim. He looked at the butler with a new respect. He knew how hard it was to shoot moving targets, but in the air, and more than once -- Jim shook his head, and realized his jaw was hanging open. Behind him, Barbara was clapping; Jim wasn't sure if she realized just how good a stunt it really was. "Where the hell did you learn to do that?"
"A misspent youth, sir," said Alfred. He held the gun carefully, still pointing it downrange. "In which there was a surfeit of free time and an excess of available ammunition."
Dick, grinning, handed Barbara one of his two remaining oranges, and they set to peeling them. Jim turned away from them, and stepped closer to Alfred. The butler had ejected the magazine and was working the slide. An intact cartridge fell free, and for the first time Jim realized the Woodsman had jammed. Alfred replaced the magazine, but left the slide alone. He kept the gun at his side, pointed down, finger well clear of the trigger.
Jim picked up the orange Alfred had ventilated and looked at it. The shots hadn't just hit the orange; they were reasonably close to center, inside a circle Jim could have covered with the breadth of with three fingers.
"One of my detectives has a bumper sticker," said Jim. "'Good gun control is a two-inch group.'"
Alfred looked faintly horrified. "Perhaps at two hundred yards," he said. "Real gun control is minute-of-angle."
A rifleman, then. Jim grinned. "About an inch of deviation for every hundred yards of range?" he said. "That's precision for you."
"Mm," said Alfred. "Something suitable for a short range may prove far less so over a greater distance, after all." He glanced back, quickly, at Dick and Barbara. Jim looked, too. "One would prefer the best beginning, in such a circumstance."
"Yes," said Jim. "If that's the shot you have to take, you wouldn't want it any other way. If you have a choice."
For a moment longer, he watched the kids eating their oranges. Then he glanced at the holes in the one in his hand, and thought of the days and weeks and years ahead of being Uncle Jim.
Jim looked at the butler with a new appraisal. He and Alfred were about the same age. Jim had spent most of his war in Japan and South Korea, but he knew the look of the men who hadn't. He wasn't sure why he hadn't spotted it before.
Jim said quietly, "Enlisted, or officer?"
"Both," said Alfred. "Lieutenant, by the end." He pronounced it with an f, Jim noticed. "Lef-tenant," like that.
"One takes such duties as circumstances require."
"I didn't think the British were in Vietnam," said Jim.
"The Australians were," said Alfred. "A British citizen could enlist with them, then."
Jim realized that Alfred hadn't said "yes" or "no," and that just because the Brits hadn't had troops in the Nam didn't mean they hadn't been present in other capacities. "Just another soldier," Jim said. Meaning anything but.
"I have always held the belief that a man should never be 'just another' anything," said Alfred.
Jim tossed the orange back into the air. Alfred reacted instantly. His arm swung up, the gun in hand, the other hand flashing forward to rack the slide. Jim heard the click-clack of the slide going back and then home, chambering the first round, and he'd barely processed the sound when Alfred's arm was fully extended and the gun was firing, the Woodsman barking again and again, one round after another, and the orange shredded bits of itself into the air, spitting clouds of peel and pulp, until it fell and the gun was empty.
The remains of the orange hit the ground with a soft thump.
"So it seems," said Jim.
In the moment of silence that followed, he heard the sound of a car's engine.
"Bruce!" Dick said. "Alfred, it's Bruce!"
The car pulled to a stop and Bruce Wayne climbed out of the driver's seat. He was barely on his feet when Dick plowed into him with a fierce hug. Even from where he stood, Jim could see Bruce wince.
The butler saw it, too. "Are you all right, sir?" he said.
"Fine," said Bruce. "Just pulled those muscles again. Nothing serious." Dick was looking up at him now, and Bruce ruffled his hair.
"Bruce," said Dick worriedly, "are you -- "
"Just the old racquetball injury. It's fine. Really."
Dick nodded, then hugged him again.
"I'm glad we're back together," he said.
"So am I, chum."
There was a strain in Bruce's voice, and Jim realized he must be hurting more than he let on. "Bruce? Are you okay?"
"Fine, Jim," said Bruce. He walked over easily enough. "You must be Barbara. It's nice to meet you. I'm Bruce Wayne." He held out a hand. Barbara shook it nervously.
"Hi," she said.
"You two should come for lunch some time," said Bruce. He smiled at Barbara. "I think you may be a bit young for the society galas we have, but if you're looking to earn money occasionally I might have some jobs for a sitter."
"Aw, come on, Bruce," said Dick. "If you need Alfred for something, I'll be fine on my own. I don't need a girl to -- " he paused. "Well, um, I guess she wouldn't be so bad..."
"In your dreams, kid," Jim said. He ruffled Dick's hair. Then he shook Bruce's hand. "Good to see you, Bruce."
"And you, Jim. Sorry I can't spend some time out here, but my doctor tells me I need to go lie down. Please, take all the time you need."
"That's all right, Bruce," said Jim. "We're done here." He turned to Alfred. "Lieutenant," he said. With the f. "Thanks."
"My pleasure, sir," said Alfred. "Please come again."
Jim put the Woodsman back in the box and trudged after Barbara to the car. He glanced back over his shoulder. He shouldn't have. Bruce stood there, Dick standing next to him, the two silhouetted against the horizon, and the ground beyond where they stood on the crest of the hill dropped away like the rooftops of Gotham. Jim blinked, then looked away.
"Stop the car," said Barbara quietly.
They hadn't been driving long. The left side of the road was a deeply wooded hillside, and the right was rolling fields. If Wayne didn't own the land, one of his slightly less rich neighbors did.
Jim eased the car to a stop and pulled over to the shoulder. Before he'd set the parking brake, Barbara had loosed her seat belt and bolted from the car.
She took long fast steps, out over the shoulder and into the grass. There wasn't any fence, and she left the road behind her, ten yards, twenty, more. Jim gave her a few seconds, and then carefully stepped out of and around the car. He didn't move towards her any farther than the shoulder. There was a little rise between the car and the field, and Jim stepped onto that. He waited there, not pressing. Let her have her head.
Barbara's steps slowed, but she kept walking. Farther away, almost a hundred yards. She turned away from the road, her arms folded and her face turned down. She glanced up at him once, but that was all.
Jim stood on the rise and let her walk. Waited.
When she looked up at him the second time, he stepped away from the car and walked carefully toward her. He walked toward her slowly, but straight; he didn't deviate an inch. He stopped about ten feet away, giving Barbara her space. He didn't say anything, not yet. That was for her to do, if she wanted to.
"I don't want to be like that," Barbara said after a little while.
"Like what?" said Jim.
"Like that," she said. "Like them."
She sounded cold, and angry, and Jim hesitated to approach her. "Honey," he said gently, "Mr. Wayne cares about that boy. And Dick obviously cares about him."
"I know," she said. "That's not the point."
"What is it, then?" he said.
Barbara was silent for a moment. She gazed off into the distance, over the rolling fields that were worth more than Jim would ever make in his lifetime. There was a glint of water far beyond, and past that, Jim knew, was Gotham City.
"Are they a family?" she said at last.
"Yes," said Jim carefully. "I think so."
"Then why do they pretend they're not?" she said.
Jim didn't have an answer for her.
"You said Mr. Pennyworth raised Mr. Wayne. But Mr. Wayne calls him 'Alfred,' like Dick calls Mr. Wayne 'Bruce' and Mr. Wayne calls Dick 'chum' -- it's like they're just hanging out. Like Dick doesn't belong there at all." She looked at Jim. "You can't tell me when he grows up that isn't going to hurt."
"Dick lost his parents not too long ago," Jim said carefully. "I think Mr. Wayne doesn't want Dick to feel he's trying to take their place."
"He wouldn't be," she said.
"I know," said Jim. "But it might not feel like that."
"It wouldn't," Barbara said. "It wouldn't be replacing them. Uncle Jim -- it -- I -- "
Jim's heart broke for her. "Barbara," he said gently, "is there something I can do?"
She looked lost and hopeful and afraid, and his heart stopped when she lifted her head to meet his eyes.
"Could I call you 'Dad?'" she said.
Jim would never remember taking the steps to reach her, or the moment when he took her in his arms. He just blinked and found himself holding her, as if they'd been that way all along.
"I'll talk to my lawyer," he said. "Have him draw up the adoption papers tomorrow morning. I'd love -- if you're sure that's what you want -- "
She didn't say anything, but he felt her nod into his chest. Jim held his daughter tightly, and pressed a kiss into her hair. He wrapped his arms around her and rocked her back and forth, gently, the way he never could when she was a baby.
In a neighborhood he could never hope to live in, near mansions he could never buy, Jim Gordon held his little girl, and felt richer than Bruce Wayne.
"It's good to have you back, son," said Jim. He looked up at the red-and-green clad boy who stood on the edge of the parapet, and tried not to think about just how far the drop was.
"Thanks, Captain Gordon," said Robin. "It's good to be back."
Batman didn't say anything. He seemed nervous, Jim thought. More protective than he'd been in the past. Well, what father wouldn't be?
Jim felt a smile coming on his face. He shouldn't let it; he should be professional and stern, look every inch the dedicated police official, but he couldn't help it. It was the same grin that crossed his face every time he saw the new photo of himself and Barbara on his desk, every time he came home to find her schoolbooks on the dining room table, every time he heard her say --
The stairwell door burst open.
"Dad!" said Barbara. "Are you ready to go -- " she saw Batman and Robin, and gulped, and ended faintly, " -- yet?"
"Barbara," said Jim, "why don't you go wait in my office while I finish some police business?"
Barbara didn't move. She stared.
"Hi!" said Robin brightly.
"Um, hi," said Barbara. "I guess."
Jim swept in between them and wrapped an arm around Barbara. He drew her away, back to the stairwell door, pausing just long enough to glare at Robin over his shoulder. "Not on your life, Boy Wonder," he said.
He thought, for just a second, that he saw the Batman smile. Then the caped figures were gone. Barbara craned her neck to watch as they fired their jumplines and swung away from the station house. Jim put his arm more securely around his daughter and led her inside.
"Dad?" she said on the stairwell.
"I don't want to be like them, either."
"Thank God," said Jim. "Can you imagine me in spandex?"
Her horror was so clearly heartfelt that Jim burst out laughing. It felt good. Better than he'd felt since -- well, not so long. Since they'd signed the papers. Since Two-Face had finally been captured. Since the boy had turned up safe and sound.
As they passed the corridor to his office, Jim realized that he was still holding the file of the new case he'd meant to talk to Batman about. Well, the detectives were still working, and it was a puzzling matter, but not urgent; maybe he'd have more information to share tomorrow night. He suspected Robin would be good with riddles.
"Wait here a minute, honey," Jim said.
"Where are you going?" she said. She sounded worried.
"It's okay," said Jim. "I'll be right back."
He slipped into his office quickly to put the file back in place. Jim had been trying to get things more organized lately, and told himself it wasn't just because the papers blocked Barbara's picture when they piled up. He slid the file into his drawer and locked it, and only then looked at the center of his desk and realized that something was there.
There was a box on his desk that hadn't been there before. It was wrapped in paper that he recognized. It hadn't been quite used up on last year's Christmas presents. Barbara must have put the box there to surprise him. She must not have wanted him to open it until tomorrow morning.
Jim hesitated. Then he carefully picked the box up and pulled the tape free with a thumbnail. He opened the box and removed the paper surrounding --
It was a new mug, just like his old one.
It read, "World's Greatest Dad."
Jim cradled the mug in his hands for a moment. He knew just the place he'd put it on the station pegboard --
No, he thought. She doesn't want you to open it. Not yet.
He'd do it first thing in the morning.
He carefully put the mug back in the box and re-wrapped it as best he could. He'd just finished when the office door opened and Barbara peeked in at him.
"Somebody left this for me," Jim said. He turned around and showed her the wrapped box. "I think I'll open it tomorrow. Do me good to have a nice surprise waiting."
Barbara grinned. "I hope you like it," she said.
"I'm sure I will," said Jim.
Barbara smiled at him, then took his hand. Jim curled his fingers around hers and let his daughter drag him out of his office, out of his precinct, to the car and to their home.
He had dinner to cook and bills to pay and a precinct to look after and a friend whose kid wore shorts and a cape and liked to jump off tall buildings, and Jim Gordon felt like whistling.
Sometimes a man shouldn't get what he wants, Jim thought.
But sometimes he does anyway.