Jim Gordon was going to be home for Christmas. He'd been thinking about it since last Christmas, after he had to leave not even before ten in the morning to answer a call to a gruesome murder by the Holiday Killer. Last year, he'd only been home for a part of Christmas dinner, trying to smile at his children and avoiding his wife's occasional sharp gazes. He'd explained his absence, but it only took them so far before frustration quelled and abandonment manifested. And anger. Then, it'd felt that it'd been better to leave and he went back out in the field; it'd been a mistake. But there'd been so much resentment and it was difficult to own up to something that felt so paramount.
He didn't mean it, and he prayed to God that Barbara didn't either. But it was there.
He was going home for Christmas. He'd see his little boy, and his little girl. Christmas Eve. He'd come in for the morning, and was working something furious to get everything done that needed to be done. He was only halfway through, but it wasn't the reports and correspondence that he was concerned with. There was still ample time for things to go wrong, for the city to swell and burst by entropy by another madman of the theatre, or the common murderer, rapist, thief, mobster. It was meant to be a day of peace. But he felt the city hum with anticipation. It'd been a quiet morning, and he didn't trust that silence or the way it persisted like a malicious measure against something that was not meant to be quantified. He wanted to leave now. Leave, and then whatever happened, the men and women who'd taken the holiday graveyard shifts could deal with it. They were a sparse few as they'd accommodated as many as possible for the requested time off.
In a city like Gotham, the holidays were the most dangerous as they had to measure risk against security. Another thing that should not be measured. It worked against them. Set them at unrest, even as they went home to their families and dinners and gifts, pressing down on them like a dark nightmare in the back of their minds. Gordon sighed, laying his hand over his mouth as he looked upwards to the dim light hanging from the ceiling, as though keeping mum to time and promising silence if time promised back. Pinkie swear. Cross your fingers behind your back. Just let it be long enough, long enough to repair the breaks and mend the tears, he thought. Just enough to have a good Christmas. A proper Christmas. Enough so that he could go home and let his wife know how much he loved her, enough time so that his children would always know the same. He thought of Barbara's lips pressed into a thin line, how she greeted him when he came home, as though afraid to speak to discover which way or the other the evening would go. Sometimes, it was like nothing was ever wrong; other times, everything was wrong. Forgotten sports practices, games, forgotten classes, broken promises for the simple things like being home in time to watch a film together with the kids. And how many times had he not been home in time for dinner?
They were splitting apart, stitch by stitch.
He'd never thought that he'd see his family fall apart like this. History had made him swear against it; but it was pressure. He'd never imagined the pressure. Every problem had to pass through him. Commissioner, indeed. Atop that, they couldn't get the beat cop out of him; he brought much of it upon himself, he knew; He had to be there, be among the ranks and work like a proper cop. He wasn't made for the desk job. The position fell upon him without his hearts consent, too befuddled by the honour and modesty he was predisposed to. And it was slowly shredding him. But he wouldn't step down; he was finally in a position to good, to do what was right and to have it matter; stepping down was out of the question, for better or worse.
It started in terse remarks after long days. It built to derisively snapped rhetoric's, at first in private, away from the children. And then it was in front of them. And then it was with them. A mishap at school, a misunderstanding of directions or missed chores. Things that children do, and deserve reprimand, but not the heavy handed punishment he was required to dole out for his work. Things blurred. The lines shook, never stayed pinned in one place and compartmentalizing became more and more of a challenge. He loved his children more than anything; justice, life, duty. Even his wife, but she'd forgive him for that. It was a mutual feeling they still shared, the love of their children. But lately, and more and more, he was slipping. He'd made his children cry, more than once. They'd made their children cry, more than once, and the way the apologies had sounded to him as child, they felt empty and weak.
He became dissociative by the pursuit to separate work and family. There was no switch. There was no way to leave the baggage at work, the images, the arguments, the constant battles with red tape, the distrust and dishonesty from the force. Dirty cops, crime scene, photographs, dead children, dead women, dead boys. Rape victims, abused children; a carousel attesting to the sickness in the city. And that was all without the grandiose crimes of the others; the Jokers libertine chaos, the Riddler's puzzles that came with mass fear and mass media. The Scarecrow, at first a seemingly minor character in Gotham's cast using alias, hiding his research, sadistically testing the extremes of his studies of fear on unsuspecting subjects with clinical coldness. Of course, too, there was still the Mob, weakened, but desperate to regain their thrones upon the black cities skylines. How could anyone simply forget those things and behave the way they used to?
The weights upon his shoulders did not lift so easily.
But he'd go home for Christmas. He'd prepared himself for it for weeks. It had to take that time, he'd learned from the previous year. All his energies had been focused on having that one day, that one evening off, so that he could spend it with his family. Mental preparedness. He'd be the perfect husband, the perfect father. Tonight, they'd decorate the tree, having allowed the anticipation (having been at work) build through the month. They'd hang glossy tinsels and garlands, bulbs and lights. Bab's wanted to decorate cookies with her brother, Jimmy wanted to go sledding. They'd do these things. One day, one day, that was all he asked for. One day for them to do those things, to behave as a family should behave on Christmas. The way he'd always wanted them to and had, before the city began to tear itself up and he was caught in the thick of it. He missed the old days, almost, where he could take the night off and know that simply, someone else would fill the position. He missed knowing that what he did was only the smallest part of Gotham's police force. He missed knowing that what he did had such little consequence in the grander scheme, that he couldn't take down the Mob. Naturally, he was resentful of the city, but naturally too, he stood by the ideal that things could get better. Things would get better. They had to, or else all his dreaming and all his alliances had been worth nothing. Achieved nothing.
Passion, came differently to each. Jim Gordon did not overestimate himself, or vocalize his love of justice. Lead through example, allow action to speak and speak with eloquence. Simple sensibilities that built his character in the eyes of his peers. He could not step down. One of the few. He smiled, morose, and leaned back in the chair, thinking of his early start in the morning, the quiet movements he'd made as not to disturb Barbara or the kids. It'd still been dark when he left, the streets quiet in the winter-death. The snow hadn't been ploughed, and his moved slowly through it with the car, careful of the black ice just beneath it. He could only imagine the drama of a car crash he day before Christmas. But he also thought that, if he'd at least get injured in the process, it'd guaranteed the day with his family. Perhaps even several days. But with his luck, he'd be thrown into a coma, or simply out of danger and walk away, uninjured. Mentally, instead, he pictured the evening, but found some discrepancies in what he knew and what he didn't. What did Barbara say she was making to go along with dinner? When were they taking the kids sledding? Where?
Christ, he didn't even know what they'd gotten for the kids. Barbara had done all the shopping. She hadn't had a chance to tell him what they'd gotten for them, before words became sparse and scathing. What did Santa get them? Was that supposed to be his job? Given the way things were, he assumed that it had been, but that Barbara had known that he'd forget. She'd always looked out of him, like that. If that wouldn't sound like a rationalization, he'd have muttered something aloud, saying that Barbara was better at choosing gifts anyways, that he hadn't the foggiest of what to get his children. But that wasn't true. If he'd just taken the time, he'd have found something. He'd have known when he'd seen it. But he hadn't been able to give it a single thought. For Barbara, he'd known immediately. Jewels. But it wasn't any old jewel; it was his mothers. The one he'd always wanted to give Barbara, but had never known the appropriate time to part with it. It was an antique, and heirloom. This year, this year he'd give it to her. And roses, he'd gotten her roses. While out of the season's festivities, he still felt that roses were particularly suiting. Roses and cardinals; these were things that Barbara liked, and this year she'd get roses.
The snow drifted lazily outside, a lull to a blizzard, he was sure. Soon the wind would pick up and tear through the city with a biting cold. He hoped that it would hold off until he could get home, and then perhaps it could do him a favour and snow him in. Maybe the wind would get strong enough to cut through even the will of the bad men and monsters that inhabited their choked city.
Grimly, he did not count on it.
If there was a storm, he relished the idea of explaining to Bab's that Santa would still make it through by some magic. There was something in the fantasy that he missed. He suspected that Jimmy already knew the truth, but thought of how he'd play along in convincing his sister otherwise. He was a good boy. Gordon felt that he had nothing to do with it, but knew that the only hero with the ability to chalk up to the Bat Man was him. It's what made the sharp words all the more biting. Things Barbara explained away for him later, things he hadn't been able to apologize for. He'd never thought of himself as a man with a temper, but it became apparent that even in his most notoriously level-headed mind, it came through and came through in all the wrong places. Walking through the house with wet shoes, leaving toys in the middle of the hall, shouting at play, playing rough, watching the television too loudly, asking too many questions. Things that children do, and that he used to enjoy. What happened to make all those things turn so sour?
It tightened in his chest. Diligently, he worked past it, filling reports, ever wary of the telephone at his side. Ever wary of the space behind him and who would fill it without a sound until he needed to be heard. He begged the city to remain silent. Be begged the trails to crime to fall as cold as the ground outside. Just one day. Just one day, Christmas, with his family. That's all he wanted. What he needed, more than anything.
An incoming call, a click at the window. Assumption betrayed him on both counts.
The call was for something clerical. He breathed a sigh of relief and directed the caller to the location of the forms. The click at the window was nothing. No black cape. No slits of eyes through a mask, no growl of a man on mission. It was daylight. He'd forgotten. The trouble from that man would come in the dark, subversive, hidden, encroaching on him like a felled messenger from a loath correspondence. And there was no mad man painted into a caricature of his injury, no emerald men perched quizzical outside the window.
In all likelihood, it was merely a bird.
The city had made him a paranoid. Of course it had. It was a dangerous city.
Time crawled, he pulled on a sweater. Several calls came in, but nothing dire. Nothing to drag his weary feet to a scene, nothing to pull authority to his voice to keep things together for everyone else.
No call from home.
No man at the window.
No execution of justice for him to curate.
He finished his work, he closed the books and cleared the desk. He stepped out into the bull pen and turned to lock the heavy door, heard the crackled transmission of a Christmas song from a radio. It was one of those old songs, the real ones, not the new covers by young pop idol contestants. It clouded him with inexplicable sadness, a space where his heart was. It's threat hastened him and he gave his departure to the few officers with the seasons phrases and quickly left the building, driven out like a fox from it's hole by the structure's imposition. Lights twinkled in reception, he navigated several trees upon his exit to the parking lot, saw that he again, was of the last to leave.
His movements felt covert. As though a holiday with the family were something of shame, something to be hidden like a second lover or an imperfect history, the sort you didn't want your employer to see. It seemed that eyes watched from all spaces, friend and foe to pass a judgement on his plans for a quaint celebration with his family. He never liked the imagined appraisals he heard in the halls of his mind. He walked past each door, speedily making his way through to only catch snippets of words from each thing imagined.
There was not a clean officer on the force who thought that he was undeserving of a holiday with the family.
This was not the feeling he had, still, even knowing this from the volunteered time to cover for him. It seemed that the only place he felt that he belonged was in his office filling papers, reports; on the streets, doing the legwork, gathering what he needed first-hand. Conversing in private with the Bat Man, plans, information, interception, tips, leads; the arrests, the evidence, the cases. The conclusions.
He'd be lying if he said that he didn't know the rush of a conclusion, a final arrest, the judges last ruling. As with men of best suited for his position, his faults lay in his virtues. Moderation in all things left him with no vice, but exaggerated virtue to levels beyond his control. He knew that things were beyond him. The big picture; he saw it. He saw his space in it. He saw the villains, the heroes, the civilians. How could it not be humbling? The interconnectivity they all shared; each played a part. Perhaps not always in equal measure, but no one person could take the full attention of that image. He was honoured simply to be a part of it.
But his family, they were not beyond him.
He felt the hold on his chest build up to his throat and coughed in an attempt to clear it away. It did nothing to help. He carefully took a left turn, keeping in mind he conditions of the road, keeping in mind the unpredictability of the other drivers. The day made no difference to the traffic, it seemed now that the day light shone through. Families going across the city, converging with relatives, with friends. Picking up last minute arrivals from the airport, the train, the bus depots. In his pocket, he expected the phone to ring. Out the windshield, past the wipers sluggishly moving to clear the thick flakes, he waited to spy a crime, a chase, a body flung into his path under the power of itself or the force of others. A million things threatened to go wrong, and he felt it all in slow reverberations ebbing off the streets and over bridges, passing from person to person like a parasite searching for it's perfect host.
The tightening continued it's slow move upwards and he bit down hard, stopping the noise threatening to escape from his lips. It only seemed to add to the pressure. Diligently, he drove on, thinking instead of the boxes of Christmas decorations being brought out from storage, of pulling aside Barbara to ask her what they'd gotten the kids so that he wasn't in on the surprise with them the next morning. He thought about the cookies they said they were going to make after breakfast, and leaving them out for Santa with a glass of milk as they sent the kids off to bed later in the evening, tucked them in, and then ghosted back downstairs to eat the cookies together after they'd set out the gifts, before they followed suit in what promised to be an early morning. With a cautious optimism, he imagined a tender evening with his wife, picking at the gumdrops on the cookies, dusting off the coconut crumbles that fell on their clothing, tender kisses, sitting together is an amiable silence, talking casually, no addressing the problems for a while. Taking a step back, somewhere to where they could see what everything was; the big picture and then moving in closer to fix the parts they'd smeared. There were still nights like those, he assured himself. And he didn't have to search far to find them. Not everything had been polluted by his work yet. They was still hope. Tonight, tonight they'd have a chance to talk, the chance they hadn't had in ages. Or to not talk. To simply enjoy one another's company. Even as they had spent frequent nights shouting, Gordon was certain that they still spent frequent nights in love, the way they used to. He loved her, he knew it; he resolved again, as he had been for months, to make more of an effort, to put in less time so that the could spend it with his family. That was the right thing, too, just as much as it was right to clean up the city. It was more difficult to remember, that was all. He had to make the effort.
It was not so easily done, as said, as the anecdote goes.
He drove down the alley to the parking space behind their home. Though he'd been made Commissioner, and had obtained a pay raise well enough to move them into a bigger space, Barbara had resisted. They owned this, she'd said, and they'd grown together there, and James had too, and so will Babs. She wanted a family home. Somewhere the kids could always come back to, no matter what. She was happy with less. Happier, she insisted. She made sure that they never felt crowded, minimizing and evaluating decisions to conserve space. The money went into Jimmy and Bab's future instead.
He was happier with less, too.
He pulled the car into it's space, where he swore to only enter it again with the kids sleds and winter gear the next day. He would not be going back to work. Unless something came up and demanded his attention more urgently than himself. He swallowed, that feeling stuck though, and he turned off the ignition. He waited a moment longer, sitting tense, waiting for the telephone in his pocket to ring again, giving it one last chance to set his plans askew before he got out of the car. Nothing happened. Quickly, he vacated the vehicle, locked it, and stepped out into the snow. The steps on the stairs needed to shovelled, he noted, before they accumulated into ice hard slopes that curved the surface dangerously. He held the railing with a gloved hand and carefully pulled himself up to their doorstep. He hesitated again at the door and saw his breath in front of him slide lazily along it's frosted front. He searched for his keys, avoided the pocket with the phone and found the chain in his pant pocket.
He slid the key in, and heard a tumble of footsteps running across the floor and smiled.
The smile had opened his mouth enough and for long enough to let the mounting feeling that'd been accumulated to exhale outwards. It wasn't paranoia; it welled hotly in his eyes and came out in a sheepish laugh as he descended down into the embrace of his children and their excited voices. It was time to decorate the tree. Mom made lunch, hurry up and eat, Bab's insisted. And then they tore off again, pulling out long lengths of tangled garland, green, red, silver, gold, from a worn cardboard box he'd been meaning to replace with a plastic bin. Barbara called him from the kitchen, and he wiped away the outpouring in his eyes before either the children or his wife could ask about it. And he smiled, sincerely, as he greeted his wife, and closed his arms around her from behind, kissing her shoulder and telling her that he loved her and that he'd be home for Christmas.
Her hand rested overtop his and she whispered that it was good to have him home for Christmas.
No calls from work.
No man outside the window.
A lull in the city's sinister workings.
White-out, snow storm, snowmen in the morning.