Title: Never Walk Away
THANKS TO Warriora, my wonderful beta-reader. You rule!
Is there a hero somewhere, someone who appears and saves the day
Someone who holds out a hand and turns back time?
Is there a hero somewhere, someone who will never walk away,
Who doesn't turn a blind eye to a crime?
-- Poets of the Fall, "Locking Up the Sun"
Another night, another anonymous meeting on another rooftop.
It was no longer safe for them to use a floodlight as a signal or meet at a permanent location, not with the hunt for the Batman as furious as it was. Gordon had just started wondering what they would do about that, when the Batman had materialized on his porch in the dead of night and handed him a slip of paper with an untraceable phone number and a list of code words. Gordon had committed it to memory and burned it, for both their sakes. If anyone found out he was regularly meeting with a wanted felon...
He had hoped that with the Joker behind bars he would not need to use it very often, but with Harvey Dent dead and the Batman the new villain, crime was starting to make its presence felt once again. He strode across the rooftop. The Batman was perched on top of a railing with his back to him, the slump of his shoulders visible in spite of the cape and cowl. And no wonder, Gordon thought, for it had been a bad week. The headlines had been particularly vindictive; the cops particularly vicious in their denunciations of one they believed responsible for killing their own. And every time the Batman had tried to catch a criminal, the cops had been more intent on catching him, leading to far too many near misses for comfort. It was so easy to forget that there was indeed a man behind that mask; a man with limits and vulnerabilities just like everyone else. A man who was fast reaching the limits of his endurance if that defeated demeanour was anything to go by. Gordon felt guilt churning in his gut, and he swallowed. He had been the one who had called it in. He had been the one who had started all this.
He cleared his throat.
"I know you're there," the Batman said without turning around. "What have you got for me?"
"You're not going to like it."
A soft, breathy snort. "Do I ever?" The words were spoken with less of a growl than usual.
Gordon winced inwardly. The more he met Batman, the more he always felt like a harbinger of bad news. "There was an armed robbery," he said. "A guy posing as you broke into someone's house. Again. The cops...think it really was you."
"And I don't suppose it took them very long to come to that conclusion," the Batman said dryly, turning to face Gordon.
All of two seconds.
Gordon dropped his eyes. The goddamn police force just kept giving him more reasons to be ashamed. They all owed this man so much, if only they knew...
"I'm sorry," he said, not knowing exactly what, or whom he was apologizing for- just that it needed to be said.
The Batman shook his head masked head. "You don't have to apologize to me," he said, but the words were weary, and Gordon was struck by the amount of desolation in his eyes. The first time he had seen those eyes they had been full of fervour and determination and righteousness. What the hell had happened since then?
But he knew. And the guilt churned in his stomach again.
"Yes, I do," he said. "I do have to apologize, and thank you for all that you've done for this city, and the sacrifices you've made. Even if no one else says it-"
"Don't, Gordon," the Batman said, pain and something akin to self-loathing flashing through his eyes. "Please." His voice was completely bare, with not even a hint of that menacing growl, and Gordon's eyes widened.
Was this the voice of the man behind the mask? He had not expected it to sound so young.
"Why not? You have made sacrifices, haven't you?"
"So have you," the Batman said stonily. "So did Dent, and Rachel Dawes."
"Don't compare yourself to Dent," Gordon said sharply. "The guy went off the deep end and almost murdered my family; so I'd say that pretty much cancels out any sacrifices he made. And I would never have had the strength to do what you did...what you do."
For a long moment, the Batman said nothing, and Gordon wondered if he was even going to bother replying, if he would just fly off into the night mid-conversation. But for some reason, he didn't.
"And what is it you think I do, exactly?" he asked. "Inspire people? Set an example?" He snorted derisively. "You're the one who talked about escalation. The Joker, all these guys who are posing as me, all these criminals in masks- I've created chaos and anarchy, not goodness. So don't make me out to be a hero, Gordon. I'm not."
Gordon stared at him, aghast. "You can't honestly believe that."
The Batman looked away.
"You are a hero,'" Gordon said emphatically. " You gave us hope when this city had none. You saved us from insanity- you helped put five hundred criminals behind bars. And then when Dent messed up, you made the ultimate sacrifice- you took the fall for murders you didn't commit so that this city could have its damn White Knight. And you think you don't inspire people?"
"Every day...wherever I go...I hear myself cried down," the Batman said with difficulty. Gordon wondered what had happened to make the masked man confide in him at all. He was reminded again how vulnerable this man was; how alone. How many people even knew who he was? How heavily did his secrets weigh on him?
"It's not like I wouldn't do it again," the Batman said, and Gordon felt awe stirring at the words.
And you seriously can't see that you're a hero?
"It's just...sometimes I start believing what people say. You know some of them even compare me to the Joker?" The Batman laughed mirthlessly, quoting the day's headlines. "'Down With The Masked Psychopaths.'"
"You're nothing like him," Gordon said roughly.
This man could not lose hope. This man was hope!
"Not everyone believes you killed those cops," he told him.
The Batman's head jerked up at this. "What?"
Gordon smiled slightly. "Don't sound so surprised. You've saved a lot of people. Is it so surprising that they just can't think you capable of murder? Some of them even come up to me and ask me why the hell I'm lying about you, and I don't know what to say to them, because I hate doing it as much as they do." His voice dropped a little. "You saved my family, too. Do you know my son punched a guy yesterday for calling you a cop-killer? You're not nearly as hated as you think you are."
For a long moment, the Batman just stood there, frozen. But Gordon watched his eyes, and saw the myriad of emotions flash through them in rapid succession, and saw the exact moment when the man believed him.
"Thank you." The words were shaky and heartfelt and so young.
Gordon's throat tightened. It's me who should be thanking you.
But he'd made his point, so he didn't say what he knew the Batman would never accept. Some things didn't need to be voiced.
Batman cleared his throat. When he spoke again, his voice was once again a nondescript growl, and Gordon found it hard to believe that it had ever been anything else in the first place. "You'll have to do something about your son. I'm supposed to be his kidnapper. He can't be starting fist- fights every time someone calls me a murderer."
"I know, I've already spoken to him-"
But the Batman was already gone. Gordon had been looking right at him, too, and still been caught off guard.
How does he do that?
He sighed softly, and leaned against the railing, staring into the night. A vision flashed before his eyes-a vision of a silent shadow flying silently over rooftops and alleyways, watching over Gotham city in the darkness. He gripped the railing slightly tighter, and smiled.