Thanks to Debbie and Kathy for the beta!
"Between Here and Gone" written by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter on her Between Here and Gone CD (Sony, 2004).
Note: Contains spoiler for GA/BC #3.
…As if there was a way to outrun the grief.
Now I'm just wonderin' how we know where we belong.
In a song that's left behind in the dream I couldn't wake from.
Could I have felt the brush of a soul that's passing on,
Somewhere in between here and gone?
…I thought a light went out, but now the candle shines.
I thought my tears wouldn't stop, then I dried my eyes.
And after all of this, the truth that holds me here,
Is that this emptiness is something not to fear…
--Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Between Here and Gone."
A Candle in the Emptiness
The first phone call came to the commissioner's office on the evening of December sixteenth, at about half-past eight.
"Isn't this taking you away from your other work?" He asked with a chuckle that softened the implication.
Barbara sounded stricken. "Have I really been that busy lately? I'm so—"
Gordon laughed again. "No, no. I was just teasing you, Sweetheart. I'm always glad to hear from you."
"Well, it's not like we see each other as much as we used to since you got your old job back." She warmed to the purpose of her call. "I was wondering if maybe you could get away at all next week and come out to Metropolis."
He smiled sadly. He'd been expecting the invitation. "That's… kind of you to offer, Barbara, but I think I'd rather be in Gotham."
There was a pause on the other end. Then, "I understand about the twenty-fourth. I thought maybe we could spend Christmas Day together, though."
Like they used to. Just the two of them at first, and then later it had been the three of them. Not anymore, though. He sighed. "I'll have to play it by ear. If something big hits during the next few days, I need to be on top of it." And, knowing Gotham, it probably would. Besides, he had to be here to set an example for the unattached officers who had volunteered to work Christmas so that the family men could have the day off with their kids. His daughter was grown, he thought, ignoring the small voice in his head that demanded to know what that had to do with it.
"I understand," she said. "Hope you can make it, though."
He was glad that she knew better than to suggest sending down some of the contacts she had in her Rolodex—or whatever hi-tech program she was using now. He imagined hearing her amused "it's an address book, Daddy!" and smiled. Address book, Rolodex, contact list—they all sounded like something tangible, not like some ephemeral collection of nanobytes or electrolytes, or whatever the heck those components were called. He'd never lost his Rolodex, although he had managed to lock himself out of LookOut Express at least a dozen times. Not everything new was an improvement. MacroSoft was a case in point.
He looked up with relief to see an officer standing in the doorway, clutching a stack of reports. "Got to go, honey. Duty calls."
He turned his attention to the evening's paperwork and tried to push thoughts of the anniversary out of his mind.
The second phone call came to Wayne Enterprises some fourteen hours later. "I didn't know if this was a good time to reach you, but you're usually preoccupied at night."
Bruce checked the video display on his monitor, and grimaced. The budget director had been trying to get onto his appointment calendar for weeks. Now, the woman appeared to be camping out in his waiting room. "You're not interrupting anything important, Barbara," he answered. "What's wrong?"
There was a sigh on the other end. "It's that time of year again," she said. "It's going to hit him hard, you know."
The polite affability that colored most of Bruce Wayne's office conversations vanished abruptly. "Yes."
She waited. He wasn't asking what she expected him to do about it, but neither was he offering. The dilemma seemed to hang between them, suspended by silence. Finally, she changed the subject.
"What do you hear from Dick? Is he coming in?"
Bruce paused. "He was."
"Oh?" She would have heard if anything were seriously wrong. She was sure of it. Don't tell me they had another falling out. Not this close to Christmas. "What happened?"
This time there was no hesitation. "Hawke. Harper's taking the loss hard. Queen's in worse shape. Under the circumstances, Dick decided to spend the holidays in Star City. "
"Oh." Barbara waited. There really wasn't a need to point out the obvious parallels. Bruce had to see them for himself.
"Let me think on it, Barbara." He frowned. The budget director didn't look like she was going anywhere. Probably best to get this over with. "Thanks for calling," he added. "Take care."
Bruce put down the receiver with a sigh, and buzzed Fiona to let the other woman in. His mind, however, was occupied with something other than the facts and figures that she was about to present.
The third phone call came to Wayne Manor, at seven fifteen a few evenings later. "Good. I was worried you'd already gone out. I'm just calling to let you know that the bus made it to Stratton Mountain okay. We've just checked in and gotten our room assignments."
Bruce glanced over to the grandfather clock. He'd been on his way down into the cave when the phone had rung. "That's good. Make sure you get enough sleep, tonight. You'll need your concentration for the slopes."
"I know." Bruce could here the grin in the teen's voice. "Thanks again for letting me take this trip. I thought after Dick called—"
"You earned it," Bruce cut him off smoothly. "And it's not terrible for you to take few days off to enjoy yourself once in awhile… What? No, Tetch did not 'hat' me… No. Think. Starro would never attack in sub-zero weather!" He sighed. "Have a good time, Tim." Because if you continue to question me like this, it's probably going to be the last time I agree to this sort of an excursion.
"Did Master Timothy arrive safely, sir?"
Bruce turned, startled. He hadn't heard Alfred come in. "He did."
Alfred watched as Bruce sat back down at his desk, his hands steepled before him, fingertips pointed up.
"If I may, sir," he ventured, "you present the impression of a man with a difficulty."
He watched. Bruce's nod was almost imperceptible, but it was a nod.
"Is there a way in which I might assist?"
Bruce hesitated. "Not really. I know what to do—I just don't know how." His voice lowered as he added, "or if I can."
"Ah. Then, I would be correct in assuming that this pertains to a matter concerning Bruce Wayne, and not Batman?"
Bruce started to nod again, but stopped. "It does and it doesn't. It… pertains to a matter… with which Bruce Wayne can empathize… but it… it requires an offer that only Batman can make." Alfred cleared his throat, but Bruce continued.
"I wish I could know for sure. It would make this easier."
"If Jim knows!" Bruce's exasperation was plain. He lowered his eyes, embarrassed. "About me." He winced. "I'm sorry, old friend. I didn't mean to snap at you."
"That's quite alright, sir." Alfred seemed as unruffled as ever. "I believe that I begin to understand. It has been nearly three years since the death of Sarah Essen-Gordon, correct?"
"Since her murder, Alfred, yes." Bruce picked a paperweight up from his desk and weighed it experimentally in his hand. "If the holidays have been… difficult for me since the night I lost my—" His voice trailed off, then returned with renewed strength. "I can only imagine what it must be like for Jim to have lost his wife on Christmas Eve itself."
"Ah." Alfred waited for Bruce to continue.
"Yes," he said finally. "I realize that if I'm this disturbed at the idea of Jim being alone at this time of year, it might be indicative of my own circumstances. And although Barbara hasn't asked me, I know that she was hoping that I'd take the initiative. And I would…"
"But?" Alfred asked, when Bruce showed no sign of going on.
"Bruce Wayne doesn't usually invite Commissioner Gordon to spend the holidays with him. And Batman… doesn't celebrate them."
Alfred reached out and plucked the paperweight gently from the younger man's hand. "Perhaps, sir," he said, "it is high time that he did."
"I still miss you." Jim set the potted poinsettia down before the monument. "I know they say it's supposed to get easier with time, and maybe it does for some things. I can walk by Bertoli's now without thinking about how you loved their bracioline ripiene. I can hear Lost in Your Eyes without breaking down. But tonight, all I can think about is that it's Christmas Eve and… and we should be spending it together." He bit his lip. "I suppose we are." For a moment, he was quiet. Then, abruptly, his hand flew to the holster at his belt. Nearly four decades on the force had given him the ability to sense when he was being observed.
"Show yourself," he demanded, as he fumbled for his cane. Slow. Too slow. If it was a hostile, he was a sitting duck. He tried to get the gun out anyway.
"It does," Batman said. "Get easier. But it doesn't stop." He looked away. "I didn't want to intrude."
Jim relaxed. "It's alright." His eyes narrowed. "What are you doing out here, anyway? Did Barbara…?"
"She's concerned." He hesitated. "I am too."
Jim snorted. "I'll survive. That's what folks do, isn't it? Go on? Live with our losses?"
He really wished he knew whether Jim had guessed his secret. It would make things so much simpler. "Yes. But this is a… hard time to be alone."
Jim eyed him searchingly. Then abruptly, he laughed. "You too, eh?"
"Your boys aren't around this time?"
He could have lied, he supposed. But Jim deserved better. For that matter, Batman admitted silently, so did he. "No."
Jim sighed. "I suppose I could join you," he allowed. "That's assuming that butler of yours made more of those gingerbread cookies Barbara gave me a few years back."
He waited for his words to sink in. "You're the damnedest person to shop for. You know that, right? Now seems as good a time as any for me to let you know you don't have to put on an act around me. Not anymore." His lips twitched. "Not unless you want to, anyway. Think of it as my gift to you. Merry Christmas."
Bruce absorbed that. Then, slowly, he smiled. "And to you, Jim." It looked like Alfred could set things up in the dining room, rather than the cave, after all.
Jim clapped him on the back. "Give me about an hour to get things in order down at Central, and I'll be on my way over." He hesitated. "Thanks."
"Any time." His voice turned serious. "I mean that."
Bruce watched him walk away. He suddenly felt a lot warmer than he should have on a snowy December night. Abruptly, he turned and strode back toward the Batmobile. He didn't believe that Alfred had packed all of the cookies off with Tim, but he'd radio ahead to make sure.
Before he left, he cast a final glance over his shoulder at the gravesite. "Rest easy, Sarah," he whispered. "I'm watching out for him."