I officially disclaim the Batman universe.

Play Along

Jim Gordon knew he probably should not be loitering on the roof of the newly constructed Wayne Manor. The party was, after all, taking place down three levels from where he was currently perched. And it was more than a little invasive of him to sneak up aforementioned three levels of stairs, creep down a hallway and locate the lever that pulled down the ladder to the rooftop.

But Gordon had never been one for crowds and cocktails, and this was a sucker event if he'd ever seen one. He supposed it was a part of his duty as Commissioner to attend this sort of festivity, but in all honestly he'd rather be watching Spongebob with his kids than making small talk with government workers he was struggling to pretend to have heard of and eating unidentifiable meats off of moving trays. Nobody would miss him at this party. If he just disappeared without a word, made it home in time to tuck the kids in bed and watch the nightly news with his wife, it wouldn't even make a shred of difference.

Oh, that wasn't entirely true, or else he would have left by now. Instead he was waiting for the supposed guest of honor, who had yet to grace the mass of guests downstairs with his presence.

It irritated Gordon that he'd come all this way and there was no Bruce Wayne in sight. He had come here tonight with the sole purpose of introducing himself and disappearing as soon as possible, a miniscule but essential task. The mayor was attending this event and insisted that Gotham's commissioner partake in the fun as well. Probably to use as some sort of conversation piece before he whittled the Wayne boy for money.

Gordon had to remind himself, of course, that Bruce was no longer that "Wayne boy." He recognized that their very own Prince of Gotham was very much an adult now, and could place his face just as easily as he could place the president's. It seemed, though, that he could not shake his very first impression of young Bruce . . . what a dark night that had been for Gotham.

Looking back he felt that it was the night of the Waynes' murder that the shadow was cast upon the city of Gotham. A shadow that had its own weight, and silently suffocated the once vibrant hopes of reform and change. The two of them had represented so much. Here was the picture perfect family: a man who had risen from an ordinary family and used his money to better the lives of everyone around him, a man who raised his family humbly, whose wife was the beaming leader of every social group, whose son was dimpled and beautiful. To Gotham they had been like a family living in a dollhouse. Everyone watched their every move with pride and satisfaction—what distinguished the Waynes from anyone else in the limelight was that nobody had ever dreamed of wanting to see them fall.

They hadn't just fallen. They'd been murdered brutally, worst of all in front of their little son. It still made Jim Gordon's throat swell with sorrow when he thought of the boy, so small and pale, clutching to the arms of his chair. His eyes, how wide they had been. He must have been in shock. Gordon remembered how he seemed so perpetually surprised. Not angry, not despairing, just . . . stunned.

It was a tragedy that struck so close that Gordon felt himself grieving for a family he did not know. He shared the pain of the boy, even if it were only a shred of it. He wanted to shut his eyes and wake up again to find that it wasn't true. That Gotham's finest could not have been shot in their prime, just when the city was finally about to stabilize and find the confidence it needed to rise from its past misfortune. It was more than a setback. It was devastating.

That's what Gordon thought of when anyone mentioned Bruce Wayne. How ashen he was, how lost he seemed, less like a little boy and more like a frightened mouse. Not the disappointment he turned out to be, emerging out of nowhere to become nothing more than a party boy and a hopeless cause. So much for the legacy. So much for the naïve idea that Bruce would finish what his parents had started.

The disillusionment of it all was the reason why Gordon forced himself to mentally separate the two people: little and big, innocent and corrupted. A boy everyone looked toward with their last scrape of hope—he'd lived, after all, hadn't he?—became the man women lusted over, became the man who was good for nothing more than entertaining. Became the man who, apparently, would burn down his own home just for kicks.

Then rebuild it brick-by-brick. And, predictably, throw a huge party in its honor. Which he would neglect to show up for, undoubtedly too busy with his bed buddies or whatever it was the young bachelors were calling their own antics.

Gordon sighed, watching the puff of air that was his breath. It was cold, but he'd barely noticed. It was a relief after the sweltering heat of too many bodies swarming around downstairs, each of them determined to outdo each other, to be the more impressive and socially adept. Could anyone blame a man for needing some air?

It was this vague justification of his actions he was dwelling upon when he heard a thud. His first thought was Crap, this looks bad. Standing on the roof alone with a drink in my hands. Without any permission at all.

Then he figured it was just another weary partygoer, who had probably come up here for the same innocent reason he had. So he didn't turn around, just stood staring straight out at the skyline. Whoever it was would talk to him if they felt it necessary. Personally he was in no mood to deal with some sobbing woman who had had too much to drink, heaven forbid.


Gordon frowned.

"Aw, come on, you have to be kidding me. Not tonight. Ugh." The sound was undeniably pained, but hauntingly familiar. There was some gruffness to the voice that seemed to be diffused by whatever the hurt its owner was enduring. For a fleeting moment he thought—Batman? Here? But . . . why?

That, of course, wouldn't make any sense. Still, though, the man was shadowed by a steeple on the roof, making him impossible to distinguish. Gordon took a hesitant step forward.

The man hissed in pain. From what little light was shed on him Gordon recognized him instantly as Gotham's own infamous caped crusader, Batman himself. Now his head truly was reeling. What on earth would he be doing here? Wayne Manor would hardly make a suitable resting spot. It was too far from any of the hot spots of crime, where Batman usually spent his nights lurking. Not to mention that this newly constructed building was anything but a discrete place to land, what with it being crowded with five hundred people tonight. Didn't Batman at least read the paper once in awhile?

Now, in his own defense, Gordon honestly had every intention of doing the decent thing and exposing his presence. After all, it seemed wrong to sit here and spy on the man when he clearly was working so hard to keep his identity a secret. Probably to protect the people he loved, a notion that Gordon shared and respected.

But he saw the blood and shrank back again, out of the Batman's line of sight. There was a straight shot in his upper arm; Gordon winced, watching him meticulously pull out the bullet and try to stop the flow of blood.

"Damn it to hell."

It seemed so candid of him. Gordon felt so out of sorts, listening to a man he had never before caught alone. What had he thought—that Batman was above talking to himself? Of course in real life, the Batman had an identity. He was a person, too. Yet Gordon couldn't seem to shake the concept that Batman was too solidified a figure in his mind, the same way he couldn't believe his teachers had lives outside of school when he was younger.

He almost laughed, but he managed to keep himself together. Then something struck him. Batman's voice was usually so low and hoarse that he'd have to strain to catch his words . . . but now it seemed run-of-the-mill, even, daresay, normal.

"God, Alfred will be pissed," Batman chuckled to himself, as if this bullet wound were a funny little inside joke. "Ah-hahhh, shit!" he sing-songed to himself, finally succeeding in prying the bullet out.

Alfred. Gordon remembered the name, only because he'd just met the man downstairs himself. In actuality he'd met him at the Waynes' funeral years ago, when he had been given custody of Bruce, but he hadn't seen him since. But the Batman might be speaking of a different Alfred entirely. How was he to know? He wasn't even supposed to be here right now.

Then he did the unspeakable. Batman . . . pulled off his mask.

Gordon's immediate impulse was so irrational that he nearly screamed, "Wait, don't." He didn't want to know. Sure, he had always been curious, but he didn't really want to think of Batman as a man. If he did then he would feel responsible for letting that man ruin his own life. He wouldn't be able to let it slide off his uneasy conscience and rationalize it by saying, It's his choice, I have no say in it. He's not a person, he's a vigilante in a mask. With his identity revealed, with his face unmasked, it seemed that all the mystery shrouded around Batman would evaporate and leave Gordon feeling guilty and manipulative for using him as often as he did.

It was too late. He couldn't have stopped him if he'd tried.

His shock was a curious matter. At first it took his every ounce of willpower not to gasp—honestly. How absurd. How positively and utterly deranged, the idea that Bruce Wayne, of all people, was the man behind the mask.

Then slowly some version of acceptance started to settle in.

Oh, God. Really? Bruce Wayne? All those nights he had been waiting on rooftops, signaling for a man with a face nearly anyone on the East Coast could identify within three seconds?

It's okay. It's okay.

His own words seemed to be mocking him. He remembered kneeling down to little Bruce, setting his father's jacket over him. It's okay? No, it wasn't. It hadn't been then and it wasn't now.

Batman—no, Bruce, Bruce Wayne—lay so still for a moment that Gordon felt his heart leap into his throat. He'd never seen a man more exhausted, more spent. His head leaned against the brick wall so willingly that it might have been the world's softest pillow. His eyes looked so bleary, with deep, dark rings of purple framing them underneath. He'd always thought Bruce Wayne had had a tired look about him, but he'd always chalked it up to partying. Now, in his presence, it was so much more. It was utter collapse and hopelessness. It was heartbreaking.

"There you go." As if a jacket could protect him. As if a few heartfelt words from a lonely officer could possibly lift his spirits. "It's okay, it's okay."

Now Gordon couldn't say anything. Instead he watched with bated breath as the young man slowly pulled himself together, releasing his hold on the wound and flexing his fingers as if they ached. It occurred to Gordon that the bullet wound was not the only injury he'd sustained—as he hoisted himself up there was a noticeable cringe that flashed on his features. Groaning, he managed to get himself up to his feet.

Gordon had the common sense to back up and cloak himself in the darkness. It felt dirty of him to be skulking only feet away, but if there were only one certainty he had out of this whole experience, it was this: he didn't want Bruce to know that he knew the truth. He knew that any amount of guilt he felt in knowing the truth would be more than doubled if Bruce knew he'd been revealed.

He heard the slam of a door and finally breathed a sigh of relief.

"God." It seemed that that was all Gordon was capable of uttering.

There never had been a Batman. It was Bruce Wayne, behind a mask. Bruce Wayne, fighting the scum of the Narrows. Bruce Wayne, dodging bullets. Bruce Wayne, who . . . oh, God. Rachel Dawes. Gordon had never understood the reason behind Batman's grief for her, and now it hit him in full force. They were best friends, weren't they?

All this time, Gordon had been putting the lives of the citizens of Gotham into the hands of their own infamous playboy?

He was laughing. Well, it was funny, wasn't it? It was just surreal. He couldn't wrap his head around it. Couldn't let the pieces fit together in his brain.

So he didn't. He could move on and pretend this had never happened. In fact, it would be all too easy.

Downstairs he ducked out of the party as soon as he was able. Forget the mayor, forget the sucking up he had to do. Tonight he would relax. Look over those test score his son had pulled to get into the gifted program, or admire the flowers his daughter had painted. After all, he didn't need to be introduced to Bruce Wayne. He'd known him for years.

On his way out he stumbled into the man. "Excuse me, Mr. Wayne," he said, and the man's eyes flickered into him.

Bruce took a moment, as if trying to place him. Damn, he was good at this act. This rich billionaire careless act. "Ah." Bruce grinned easily, as if he weren't bleeding under that tux, as if he hadn't just spent the night scaling buildings and evading police fire. "Commissioner. Good to see you."

"Likewise," Gordon said amiably.

It was a casual, innocent exchange. Bruce would play it his way, feigning ignorance, and Gordon would secretly play right alongside him. As long as they needed to, Gordon would let Bruce have that security of knowing that his secret was, for the time being, safe. At the very least he deserved that.