Partners

By

Stargazer Nataku

Jim Gordon studies the gourmet hors d'oeuvres from the tray the waiter is offering him, choosing one that looks semi-edible to a meat and potatoes sort of man. Wishing that the glass of champagne in his hand was a cold beer and the rented tuxedo he was wearing was the GCPD sweats he keeps around the apartment to wear off-duty, he discreetly checks his watch. Another half an hour at least before it'll be polite to leave, and he's counting the seconds. At least he's managed to remove himself from most of the conversations. He hates small talk. Always has.

"Enjoying yourself, Commissioner Gordon?" He turns to see Bruce Wayne with his champagne glass in one hand, the other in his pocket, smiling like this is the best party he's ever attended and he's completely at ease. But to Gordon there's always something fake about the billionaire, and he can't help but wonder if Wayne is really that shallow or if it's all an elaborate sham. He's only seen the man in person a few times, but he'd seen the boy Bruce Wayne once, on a night that mattered. He wonders if Wayne even remembers Gordon was in the precinct that night. Gordon knows it's something that he, personally, will never forget. He'd had nightmares about the trapped, terrified look on the kid's face for months.

He knows Wayne is expecting an answer, and talking about childhood trauma isn't exactly the best conversation for any time, much less a soirée peopled by the Who's Who lists of Gotham. But Gordon doesn't like lying, even for small talk. He wonders what the Prince of Gotham would do if he said no. He isn't sure if Wayne would understand why.

"It's good to have a night off," Gordon settles on, which is the truth. He simply doesn't need to inform Wayne that this isn't, in fact, what he considers a night off. Wayne smiles brilliantly.

"I can imagine," the man says. "But you're all alone. No date tonight?"

"No," Gordon answers. That's the last thing he needs.

"There's plenty of unattached women here, if you'd like. Just say the word, Commissioner, I can find you one."

"No thanks," Gordon answers. He's not going to bring up the divorce, not to Wayne, but it's entirely too soon to date, and Gordon's sure dating isn't what Wayne's referring to anyway. Bruce Wayne doesn't date.

"More for me, I suppose, then," Bruce says, scanning the room, probably for prospects. Wayne doesn't have to worry about getting one either, if he put his mind to it, with the way most of the women in the room are watching him. Not like a divorced, almost-fifty police commissioner with a few extra pounds and a target painted on his chest.

"I suppose so, Mr. Wayne."

"Bruce, Commissioner," Wayne tells him with that same million-watt smile.

"Then it's Jim or Gordon, Mr. Wayne." Bruce Wayne laughs.

"Of course, Jim," he says easily, while giving a second glance to one of the young women who's trying to meet his gaze. "What do you think?"

"Besides that I'm old enough to be her father?" Gordon asks. Wayne laughs again.

"Besides that."

"I think she really wants to talk to you. Don't let me keep you." Wayne smiles at him and offers a hand.

"It was good to see you."

"Mr. Wayne." He shakes the man's hand and inclines his head, and Wayne lets go and moves towards the pretty young brunette. Gordon figures then that he's already out of Wayne's thoughts, and if the host doesn't remember if you're there or not, then as far as he's concerned it's a free pass for the door.

**************************************

Police Commissioner James Gordon dislikes politicking. The party last night was definitely bad, but listening to Mayor Garcia give speeches is, quite possibly, worse. He's talking about the implementation of some of his campaign promises, his push on the mob for sure, but also the goal to capture and try the vigilante Batman for five murders and the kidnapping of Jim's own family. Gordon hates the lie, has since it left his lips nearly two years ago, but at the time he was reeling from the narrow escape and couldn't think of any better options. He was still seeing Dent gripping his son tightly, gun to the boy's temple, hearing his own voice promising Jimmy everything would be all right, terrified it wouldn't, before watching Dent, the Batman, and his Jimmy fly over the edge into the darkness.

Barbara had screamed, piercing and terrified, but Jim's fear hadn't allowed that. A lifetime on Gotham's streets silenced his voice, making him move without thinking, a desperate hope forming in his mind without conscious thought or recognition. He was acting, without realizing it, on the belief that Batman would never allow his son to fall, would save him where Gordon couldn't. Never in his life had Jim Gordon been more relieved than when he reached the edge to see Batman holding on, Jimmy's wrist clasped tightly in a gauntleted fist, Gordon's hope and trust rewarded. He'd repaid the man not only by allowing him to fall three stories to the ground, painful no matter the body armor, but also with the great lie Batman himself forced onto Gordon. He's been hunting the man since. Jim knew then and knows now that Batman can take it, but it doesn't make him like it.

Garcia's talking about him now, and the task force the Gotham PD put together to hunt the Bat, but Jim ignores the words and scans the rooftops surrounding the park. For some reason he can't explain, he's nervous; tension seems to radiate from the quiet buildings standing silent around them; there's no noise beyond the crowd that should make him worry. It's probably just the fact that he's a Gotham City cop and knows that it never stays quiet for long.

His gut instinct is justified when his gaze is drawn to the large black shape swinging towards the platform, watches as the Mayor's eyes widen in shock as Batman, wearing only the cowl and the belt over black clothing, releases the line just in time to knock the mayor to the ground as several gunshots ring out across the square. Gordon's startled and a little slow in his reaction, or else the shot is well fired. One of the bullets hits his shoulder and there's a flare of agony before it's destroyed by the adrenaline, the thrill of being alive still, and at least now he knows what compelled Batman to appear in broad daylight, in an area where at least half of his men are standing watchful of trouble. Wounded or not, he'll be damned if he lets anyone else take point on this one. Jim Gordon owes the Batman something, and whatever else he accomplishes today, Gordon's going to repay that debt.

People are screaming, the crowd dispersing to flee to safety as Gordon half rises from the crouch he's in and topples the podium to shield the mayor before he starts yelling orders. His people, well practiced in assassination attempts, move smoothly, setting up a search grid, getting innocents out of the line of fire.

When he feels the gunfire has stopped, he draws his own weapon, raising it carefully in deference to the searing pain in his shoulder. "Don't move, Batman," he orders, his voice steady despite the adrenaline coursing through him and the loathing of the lie that makes this necessary. He has no idea how they are going to get out of this mess. He's banking on the fact Batman does. Like Batman always does.

Batman looks up into his face, and Jim sees the pain in the eyes, hidden to someone not familiar with the caped crusader, and he realizes he's not the only person wounded. He notices Batman's hand resting on his side, and his eyes widen when his gaze falls upon the black shirt, damp with blood. Batman hasn't said anything yet, nor has he risen, and that has Jim worried. He takes an involuntary step forward, which causes Batman to rise, striking his gun from his hand and knocking him off balance.

Gordon doesn't have to respond; he's mostly surprised by the action, but also irritated, for it causes ten cops to surround them, guns drawn from points too far back for Batman to attack, even if he hadn't already been shot. Jim has moments before something stupid happens, and he forces himself to take a step forward, ignoring the pain and the dampness seeping into his shirt and jacket. "We've been planning for something like this," he tells Batman. "Stephens, cuffs." The man steps forward and puts them in his hand with a quiet "Jim?" and it's a question combined with a motion to Jim's shoulder. Gordon shakes his head, and Stephens accepts that, knows that this is important, something Jim needs to do. Jim takes a step forward. "Turn around slowly," he orders, and Batman does so, his hands in the air.

"Good," Gordon says, reaching up to grab Batman's wrist, snapping the cuff on.

Over the Batman's shoulder, he sees the rookie officer's hand trembling before Batman shifts slightly and Gordon hears the terrible sound of gunfire. He doesn't have time to think, he just pushes Batman out of the way, throwing him down. Gordon himself is a moment too slow to follow, and the bullet strikes his abdomen with such force it knocks him hard to the ground, driving the air from him as he falls like dead weight, his glasses flying off his face to shatter on the pavement.

He's having trouble breathing and the pain is now unbearable. Christ, it hurts, but the important thing is that Batman is rising away from the commotion, indistinct blackness startlingly odd against the brilliant sunlight that's burning Gordon's eyes. Then Batman's gone and someone's yelling for paramedics, he thinks it's Stephens because his face is above his and he can feel agonizing pressure on the wounds as the hardened cop tries to keep him from bleeding out before they arrive. He's thankful Stephens is here, again; he's known the man for two decades and trusts him implicitly. After his first "death" he and Stephens had discussed this possibility, of what Stephens would have to do. Because of that conversation, he's one of two others who know the truth about Batman. He's the one who will call Barbara in Chicago before the kids see this on the news. Gordon hopes that it will be easier on her, now they're divorced. He knows it won't be on the kids, and that makes his heart ache. She's been right, all along. Gotham will be…was?...the death of him.

"Stephens," he manages, and the man looks down at him. There are sirens, now, and Jim sure as hell hopes it's an ambulance, because the world is starting to get fuzzy and unclear, and he doesn't want to die so stupidly, and he knows he's losing blood at a pace too fast for his body to keep up.

"They're coming, Commish," the man says, keeping up the pressure.

"No," he says. That wasn't what he meant. Not the medics.

"I know what to do," is all Stephens says in response to that, and that's satisfying and reassuring. Stephens will handle Barbara and the children and the Batman. As for Gordon, he can feel his breath coming faster, his heart pounding hard in his chest as it attempts to compensate for the blood loss, sweat breaking out on his forehead. It hurts beyond anything he's experienced before, the edges of his vision are slowly going black, and he knows without a doubt he's dying. He wants to ask about his family, but he's fighting hard to stay awake and to slow his breathing, and can't find the words anyway. From far away, he hears Stephens' voice, harsh and with an edge of fear. "Where the hell are the God-damn medics?" he's yelling, and maybe Jim doesn't hurt so much anymore.

He doesn't see the paramedics pushing Stephens out of the way so they can get to him, barely feels the oxygen mask they thrust over his face, he's just thinking of his son and his daughter and focusing on the vague, fuzzy shadow he can see a few stories above, watching. That makes him smile, just a little, before the shadow fades into nothingness and his mind knows no more.

**************************************

Despite his own wound, Batman waits until they've loaded Gordon hurriedly into the ambulance and it's rushing toward Gotham General, thankful Bruce Wayne made a large enough donation to get the hospital rebuilt in record time. He ponders following, but a slight wave of dizziness changes his mind. He can tell his wound isn't that serious, it's a simple flesh wound to his side, but the blood loss will affect him soon, and he can only depend on the confusion of the moment for so long. Instead, he calls Alfred, tells him to get the medkit ready, and uses the rooftops to get back to the motorcycle he hid in an alley without being seen by passerby below. Then he's removing the cowl and pulling khaki pants, leather jacket, and a helmet on over the black clothes underneath.

It takes some time to get back as he's fighting pain, blood loss, and distraction. Alfred is ready as ever, but the sarcastic comment he's probably going to make dies on his lips when he sees the look on Bruce's face. "What happened, sir?" he asks as he helps Bruce out of the jacket and the bloody black shirt.

"I was right. Someone tried to kill the mayor," he says as he sits.

"Tried implies a good outcome, sir," Alfred responds. "Beyond this, of course."

"Alfred…" Bruce says, his jaw clenching in anger.

"Yes, sir?"

"Gordon got himself shot."

"Not serious, I hope?"

"Very serious, Alfred." There's silence as Alfred starts to stitch and Bruce tries to tamp down on the anger that's rising inside him, threatening to spill over into a rage he wants to direct at any number of people. To the damn cop that fired the shots—was it purposeful? Batman will have to find out—to the Mayor for making a speech in such a stupid location—Bruce knows Gordon talked to him about that—and to Gordon himself for getting shot.

"It's his job, sir," Alfred says before the silence becomes too uncomfortable.

"It is not his job to get shot for me, Alfred," Bruce snaps back.

"Commissioner Gordon knows the risks," he says. "Even in protecting masked vigilantes."

"Damn it, Alfred, he's got a family!"

"And so do you, Master Bruce," Alfred says firmly. "I told you once already. Don't make the mistake of thinking there's no one interested in your future." He looks at Alfred, the anger still raging on the surface, but beneath, apology. He knows Alfred can see it, knows Alfred will understand what he says next.

"He's got kids, Alfred. They shouldn't know what that's like."

"And they might have to, Master Bruce. And even if they do, they'll get through it."

"You sound so sure, Alfred."

"You turned out all right." At that Bruce can't help but bark out a laugh, one that's mostly sarcastic but has a note of humor.

"Some people might wonder about your definition of "all right"," he informs the man who has been a father to him in many ways since the night the man with the gun made him an orphan.

"My definition's fine," Alfred replies, beginning to bandage the wound. There's another long silence as he works before Bruce shatters it, and the anger is hidden, his tone now much more fragile and hurting.

"Gordon was there that night, Alfred. Before you came to get me." Alfred doesn't need to ask what Bruce is referring to, he knows by Bruce's tone of voice, the distance in his eyes. "And I repaid that kindness with this." There's a long silence, then Alfred puts his hand on Bruce's shoulder.

"Commissioner Gordon's a good man, and does right by anyone he can. This wasn't your fault, Master Bruce. You know that if you weren't there, he'd have done what you did for the Mayor." Bruce remains motionless for a moment before he nods, knowing that Alfred speaks the truth. Gordon's done it before, even if it wasn't real. He takes his job seriously, like Batman does. Jim Gordon and Batman are similar, willing to die for Gotham without thinking of those left behind. It's the height of selfishness and selflessness at the same time.

"I'll get you a light supper," Alfred says and Bruce doesn't protest, knowing he'll need it with the blood he's lost.

"A quick one, Alfred," Bruce says, standing and striding over to the television hung on the wall.

"Going somewhere, are we sir?"

"Yes, Alfred."

"Might I remind you that…"

"No," Bruce said, and his voice is firm. "There are things I have to do tonight. But," he adds, raising a hand to ward off the butler's protests. "I won't overdo it."

"Very good, sir," Alfred says, knowing it's useless to argue, before disappearing from the living room. Bruce takes up the remote and sits down carefully, mindful of the wound. He turns on GCN, knowing they'll have at least some details. They'll have to do for now, until dark, when he can put on the suit and go out himself.

**************************************

Detective Stephens sighs as he hangs up on what seems to be his five hundredth phone call of the night, with only a moment's peace before it rings again. He checks his cell phone's front screen. It's a 312 area code, and that can only mean that Barbara is calling again, probably with hers and the children's travel arrangements. He answers the phone with a steady "Stephens," wondering if anything is more awkward than the fact that this isn't Barbara Gordon, Jim's wife, but Barbara Kean, Jim's ex, and this is the very reason she left him in the first place. He never asked, but his wife and Barbara were close and he knows why the divorce happened. So does Jim.

"Yes, Barbara," he says. "Okay, I will be there to pick you and the kids up personally." He pauses, listens to her question. "Yes, I was just going back to the hospital." Another pause. "No, there's been no change." More words, and Stephens can tell she's trying not to cry. "I promise," he tells her. "I'll let you get the kids packed, Barbara. I'll be waiting at the airport when you get here." He doesn't say he's coming personally because he doesn't want to trust anyone else with the job. "All right. I'll see you in a few hours." The other line goes dead and Stephens rubs his temples, turning on the porch to enter his house to kiss his own children and hug his wife before going back to work.

"How is he?" comes an unexpected rasp from the shadows, and Stephens can't help but jerk in surprise. He's not used to it, not like Gordon is.

"Not good," Stephens responds, turning to face the cowled figure in the darkness. "He lost a lot of blood."

"What's the prognosis?"

"Not something I like to think about," he states honestly, rubbing his face in frustration. "Critical. He survived surgery, damned if I know how. Hell, I can't even figure how he made it to the hospital. If he makes it through the night, they go from there."

"Who pulled the trigger?"

"A damned rookie. David Bradley, he's been with the force a few months. Think it's more than an accident?" he asks, looking up at where Batman had been, but he's gone. With a sigh, Stephens goes into the house. He has to give Jim credit, he's personally too old for this.

**************************************

"The hospital has been told not to comment, but today Gotham Police spokesperson Greta Devine updated reporters, stating that there has been no change in the Commissioner's condition. Gunned down five days ago, Commissioner Gordon has been in intensive care since with wounds to the shoulder and abdomen. When asked about the commissioner's prognosis, Devine stated that doctors are taking every possible measure to be sure Gordon will make a full recovery.

"Mayor Garcia made a brief statement earlier today relating to last Thursday's incident." The screen switches to the major's face, instead of the pretty young news anchor.

"I don't know why Batman chose to save my life," he says on the screen. "And I cannot be sure why Commissioner Gordon stepped in between the Batman and the bullets. What I do know is that the Commissioner is a great cop and has my complete faith, and I hope he makes a speedy and full recovery."

The shot changes back to the anchor. "The mayor later said that in the Commissioner's absence the police department will continue running at full efficiency and that Gordon will be permanently replaced only if it becomes absolutely necessary. In other news…"

Bruce turns off the television, forcing his anger into determination. "Still no good news, sir?" Alfred asks as he comes into the room with a tray.

"No, there isn't," Bruce says. "They're keeping a lot close to the chest, which is a good call at this point." He flips through the evidence he's been gathering. "I've checked the kid out that shot Gordon, and he's got no connections of any sort to anything questionable. I'll have to go talk to Stephens, see if we can share information."

"Do you trust him?"

"Gordon trusts him," Bruce answers, leaving no room for argument.

"Does he trust you?"

"Gordon trusts me too."

"Is that enough, sir?" Alfred asks.

"It's going to have to be," Bruce answers.

**************************************

Batman knows Stephens will be home soon, knows that Montoya's taking her turn at the hospital tonight so he can come home to his family and his guests. He's been watching through the open kitchen windows as Jessica Stephens makes chicken for dinner, Barbara helping as she can, while the younger of the two Stephens boys and Gordon's children watch television in the room behind. He's waiting for the slam of a car door, which he eventually hears in the driveway, then footsteps on the steps. "Stephens," he rasps, and the man jumps only slightly this time, as if he had been expecting it. He glances through the windows, and when he speaks his voice is low. "Not here," he says.

Batman nods curtly and follows Stephens back down into the alley where they can't be heard in the kitchen. "Bradley's clean," he tells the cop when they get to the bottom.

"Yeah," Stephens answers. "No links to anything except Mama's apron strings. Kid's on suicide watch in holding. I think he's looking forward to being charged so he can plead guilty, which'd be a nice change if it weren't so stupid. Makes me wish the other guys who did this would confess nice and easy." Stephens looks to the dark space in the alley to find Batman gone. With a slight shake of his head, he heads to his house.

**************************************

The hospital room is a symphony of subtle noises, the hum of the ventilator and the other machines whispering along as the heart monitor keeps time. It's lit only dimly, for it's later at night, a mockery of darkness for sleep. Jim Gordon is lying motionless in the bed, unaware of the machines and the wires and the tubes keeping him alive or the Batman coming through the window.

It isn't the easiest place he's ever broken into because the face of the building is smooth, but it's not difficult, he just has to make sure to stay outside the window until the nurse has gone on to the rest of her rounds. He keeps his eyes on the door, knowing there are probably guards outside, but he's watched and he knows they won't come in for a good ten minutes to check on the patient. Moving silently to read the monitors, he picks up the chart on the way and scans through it before hanging it back on the end of the bed. There are good indicators on both, and Batman is pleased.

He moves to the side of the bed just as silently, taking a moment to study the man lying there, tubes and wires covering Gordon's lean frame, looking for signs of life in the face. When there are none, Batman reaches into the folds of his cape and removes something, studying the face a moment more before placing what's in his hand on the small table beside the bed. With a glance to the door, he presses a gauntleted hand onto Gordon's and speaks in a raspy whisper. "Keep fighting, Jim," he says before disappearing back out the window.

When the cop comes in to check on the commissioner, the first thing he sees are the items on the table beyond the man in the bed. Jim Gordon's glasses, shattered lenses replaced, sitting hopefully, waiting for their owner, Stephens' handcuffs beside them.

**************************************

Bruce is reading the newspaper when the news starts. He's only half paying attention, but he quickly looks up when he hears the anchor mention Gotham General. The screen has switched to another anchor, standing out front of the hospital.

"Thank you, Christine. This morning, GCN learned from police spokeswoman Greta Devine that Police Commissioner James Gordon, in a coma since being shot during the assassination attempt on the mayor two weeks ago, regained consciousness overnight. When asked to elaborate, Devine merely said that he was resting comfortably and that his condition has been downgraded from critical to serious. She concluded that more information would be released as available, but that all indicators at this time are that, barring further setbacks, Commissioner Gordon should make a full recovery."

Bruce turns the television off, leaning his head onto the back of the chair, letting out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Relief floods through him as he rises, walking down the hall to Wayne Manor's spacious kitchen. When he opens the door, Alfred turns to him with a nod. "Lunch isn't quite ready, sir," he says conversationally.

"That's fine, Alfred," Bruce tells the older man. "Have you seen the news?"

"No, sir, I haven't."

"Gordon came out of it last night."

"Well that's very good news indeed, sir," he says, and he does sound relieved. "No need for any more of your guilt."

"Alfred…"

"I know full well you've taken responsibility on yourself," Alfred says as he stirs the soup he is making.

"Alfred…"

"I'm turning into a bloody broken record," the butler mutters over the stock pot. "Just once, Master Bruce, I wish you'd take what I say to heart."

"I do, Alfred. But I should have been able to do more."

"Everyone thinks that, Master Wayne, and it is high time you stop letting it weigh so heavy on you. If you feel like you could do more, do it."

"What am I supposed to do?"

"What you think is right, sir." Alfred takes up a spoon and tastes his work. "Very nice. Would you like it now, or would you like to wait?"

**************************************

Gordon rests his head back on the pillows as Stephens leaves the room to head back to the MCU. He's probably overdone it, but the conversation was necessary, not only to cover what was happing with his department, but to have a few minutes to talk, to feel a little human again. Stephens has always been good company since they walked the beat together in Jim's early days in Gotham and Gordon's pleased the man said he would come again the next day, particularly now that the kids and Barbara are back in Chicago. Despite how much better they made him feel, they had already missed too much school, and when Barbara had suggested they go back Jim had not argued, much as he'd wanted to. He hugged them carefully instead and promised to see them as soon as he could. They in turn promised to call every day, and so far they have. It helps. Not as much as their presence had, but it's enough.

He looks up as one of the nurses enters the room, blushing furiously, which piques Jim's interest. "Commissioner," she says, "Bruce Wayne is here, he wants to see you."

"Bruce Wayne?" Gordon asks, looking at the woman like she's insane.

"Yes," the girl answers. "But he wanted me to make sure it was okay."

"Yes…fine…" he tells her, and she disappears, leaving him to wonder just want the hell Wayne wants with him. He's in the hospital, for Christ's sake. He's exhausted, and it still hurts like hell, despite the morphine. Nevertheless, when Wayne enters, Gordon manages a tired smile.

"Mr. Wayne," he says, and the other man smiles that playboy grin and sits down by the bed.

"I hear you're a bit under the weather, Commissioner," he says cheerfully.

"That's one way to put it," Jim comments dryly.

"Isn't it?" The smile widens. "I was here last week visiting a friend who had to get some…work done, if you catch my meaning. Let me tell you, she should have researched her surgeons better! I haven't ever seen a…"

"Mr. Wayne," Gordon interrupts, and the man stops talking mid sentence. "I'm sure you didn't come all the way here to tell me about your friend's botched plastic surgery."

"Well, no, not specifically," Wayne answers, and Gordon waits for the request to be made, whatever it is. But no explanation is forthcoming, and Gordon frowns.

"So why are you here?" he asks.

"To visit," Wayne says, as though Gordon has asked the stupidest question imaginable.

"To visit. We've met twice, Mr. Wayne."

"Bruce."

"Bruce, then. Why would you drive all the way in to the city to visit a man you've met twice?"

"Three times."

"What?" Gordon asks.

"We've met three times. Two fundraisers and…" His voice trails off and Gordon curses to himself for forgetting one of those damned fundraisers.

"Okay, three times," he says, and does not repeat his question.

"I guess I just felt it was time to try to repay old debts," Wayne says. "See how you were. If everything is…" He hesitates a moment and gives a half smile, and for a moment Gordon sees the mask slip, and he doesn't see the playboy, he sees the terrified eight-year-old grown into a man underneath. "Okay. I would have come sooner, but…" he pauses, then the billionaire's smile is back. "Well, you know how it is. A little here, a little there…time goes crazy, and you don't want to be in the way." Gordon looks at the man seriously for perhaps the first time, and then nods. Wayne opens his mouth so speak again, then shuts it and Gordon can't think of anything to say either. The moment is awkward; they're two very, very different men and it's hard to find common ground. "You are feeling all right?" Wayne finally asks, somewhat lamely, and Gordon has to laugh, even though it hurts. Wayne looks up with a confused but pleased smile. Gordon wants to comment on the awkward nature of the conversation, but doesn't.

"I was shot twice, Wayne," he says instead. "Feeling all right is rather distant at this point." A look crosses over Wayne's face then, suddenly, and Gordon feels a swell of discomfort. "I'm sorry, that probably…"

"No, it's all right," Bruce says. They're silent for another long minute before Gordon, despite the fact that it hurts, starts to chuckle again. "What?" Bruce asks, confused.

"Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?" he asks, but his tone is amused, friendly even.

"We could always talk about…" Wayne is searching for something, anything.

"Sports?" Gordon asks hopefully. "They say you play polo..." The other man smiles as though it's a private joke.

"I do," he answers easily and launches into an anecdote that's supposed to be hilarious but Gordon just finds vaguely amusing. It's mostly about Wayne ending up in a Jacuzzi with the majority of the female French national equestrian team after a match, the women were so sympathetic over a spectacular fall off his horse.

"I used to play football," Gordon says when he's laughed politely at the convoluted story. "But none of our games ever ended like that."

"More's the pity," Wayne says with a laugh. "There was this one girl,--Giselle was it? No, Gabrielle. No, that's not it either—anyway, she was fan-tastic. She could do this thing…"

"Enough, Wayne," Gordon comments, but it's relaxed. "I don't think I need to know."

"Probably not. That should have been illegal, but I don't want to give you any ideas, because it was well worth any man's time."

"I don't make the laws, I just enforce them."

"Touché." The silence is more comfortable this time as they sit together. "Did they say when you'll be released?" Wayne finally asks.

"They're not sure," Gordon says. "Have to figure out where the hell I'm going to go first."

"Not home?"

"Not yet," Gordon answers. "I live on the eighth floor of a building with no elevator. Assuming I could get all the way up the stairs, I sure as hell wouldn't want to come down them again. And I don't intend to be trapped in my apartment. They don't want me alone anyway."

"Alone? Aren't you married?"

"The divorce went through over a year ago, Wayne."

"Oh." There's a silence. "What happened?"

"You sure don't have qualms about asking loaded questions."

"Sorry." The million-watt smile comes back out. "I just think it would take a foolish woman to walk out."

"On me?" Gordon laughs, but there's no bitterness in it. "No, Wayne, she had plenty of reasons to go, all of them good. I make a much better cop than I did a husband. Barbara got tired of having a third person…thing…in our marriage. And she worried a lot about me never coming home, what effect that would have on the kids. Then…when it was the children in danger…" He stops, sees the cold steel of the gun pointing at his son's temple, Dent pulling him out of Barbara's arms, his son's pleading face, begging his father to do something, to make him safe…

"You must miss them."

"All the time," Gordon manages, forcing away the memories. "But they're safer there."

"Why didn't you give it up, go with them?"

"There are days, especially lately, I feel like I should have."

"Then why didn't you?" Gordon is quiet for a long time. He's thought about that a lot in the year since he came home to an empty house, and his nightmares are the answer. Nightmares of this man as a child, clutching his father's coat in his grief, a harsh reminder of what he's lost to a mugger with a gun. Of the first murder case Gordon worked as a detective, two eleven year old girls who'd been kidnapped, raped and asphyxiated on their way home from school. They'd never found who was responsible. All the killings, rapes, assaults…murdered cops, children who'd lost parents and parents who'd lost children. He knows as well as Barbara does that these things have had a deep impact, that he thinks the better he does his job the more he can spare the innocents.

"The belief…the hope…that if I can stop a murder here, or a drug deal there, I'll save lives. I'll make the world a better place, somehow, and people won't have to deal with the aftermath of hell on earth. That maybe, Gotham can be saved." Gordon's looking down at the bed, not at Wayne, and tries to hide his surprise when Wayne actually speaks seriously. He shouldn't be; some things strike close to home even in the most seemingly carefree billionaire playboys. Gordon has personal experience, knows Wayne is all too familiar with the dark sides of Gotham City.

"That's an honorable goal, Commissioner," he says. "I think it will pay off in the end."

"Yeah?" Gordon asks. "There are days I'm not so sure." Wayne gives him a slight smile.

"It already has, Jim," Gordon knows that, knows things are better now than before, but there is still the frustration of not being able to solve all the problems at once, to not have to be in a position where his children could lose their father. "Your children should be damned proud of you, if they're not already." He gets to his feet. "I should let you rest, you look absolutely exhausted."

He is. "I appreciate that, Mr. Wayne." The man's playboy grin is back and he inclines his head to Gordon before slipping out of the room. Gordon closes his eyes, so surprised at the glimpse under the man's mask he has to wonder if the whole thing had been the painkillers talking and that Bruce Wayne hadn't just been there, understanding. When the nurse comes in a moment later, however, blushing beet red and giggling, Gordon knows what that means. He puzzles that over for a few minutes before fatigue overtakes him and he slips into sleep.

**************************************

It's been nearly four months, and it's earlier than some of his doctors would have liked, considering the bout of pneumonia towards the end of his hospital stay, but Jim Gordon is tired of sitting at home. He's feeling a lot better, though he's too thin even for him and tires easily, but he's well enough to at least work partial days for awhile. He comes in the first day in the afternoon and spends most of it talking to his people and catching up on major goings on in the department. Stephens has kept him in the loop, but Gordon likes hearing the details from the cops actually working the cases. He meets with the mayor, tells him how things are going, and then comes back to the office to work on some paperwork. It's so good to be back, Jim doesn't realize night has fallen until Stephens comes to the door and knocks. "You're overdoing it, Commish," he says. "Go home."

Jim is tired, but he's not quite ready to leave yet. "I'm just going to finish this, then I'll go," he tells the other man, who looks at him like he doesn't quite believe it. "I promise, Stephens. I won't stay long."

"I'm going to check the security tapes tomorrow," Stephens informs him, and he's only half teasing.

"Go ahead," Jim tells him, and they share a smile.

"It's good to see you back behind that desk, Jim."

"It's good to be back behind the desk," Gordon answers. "Seriously though, Gerry, go home."

"Yes, sir," he says, shooting Jim a mock salute before turning to leave. Still smiling, Gordon looks down at the paper, then glances out the window and gets to his feet. Securing a cup of coffee from the pot the night shift's put on, Gordon finds himself slowly climbing the stairs to the roof. He's there for a few minutes, sipping his coffee, staring out at the brightly lit skyscrapers and hearing the dull roar of traffic below, before he hears the rasping voice he's half-expecting.

"Gordon." He smiles without turning to face the shadow in the darkness.

"It's been awhile," he says.

"Should you be back?" comes the next question, and Gordon actually chuckles at that.

"Doctors say no, and Stephens and I are splitting the job for awhile yet, but I couldn't sit at home anymore." There's a noise which Gordon interprets as understanding and then a long silence.

"You shouldn't have done it," Batman says finally. "You have a family."

"And how do I know you don't?" Gordon asks him wryly. The silence falls heavily around them and Gordon glances over almost as if he's expecting Batman to be gone. When he sees him still there, Gordon sighs. "I don't regret it, Batman," he says. "And I never will. But when I was lying there on the pavement, I honestly thought that was it, Gotham had finally got me. And all I can think about now is the look on my kids' faces, on all the kids' faces…Christ, it's been twenty years since…" He doesn't know why he's talking, knows that the very idea of having a conversation with Batman is ludicrous, but he can't stop himself.

"Since?" Batman asks, and the tone is slightly different. Jim's surprised he even asked for Jim to continue. He does, obliging.

"Since I first saw it. Kid got brought in, just seen his parents murdered right before his eyes. I only saw it for a few minutes, but that night I went home and prayed to God that I'd never see that look on any child's face ever again." He pauses, takes a sip of his coffee which is rapidly going cold. "I've seen it a thousand times, now. On Jimmy and Babs more than once. Like they can't understand why this is all happening, and they're terrified of that great unknown." He takes a deep breath. "That kid's parents were a surprise, a tragedy. If it happens to me it might be a tragedy but it sure as hell wouldn't be a surprise." He listens to a siren blaring on the street down below, calculates in his mind where the ambulance is going. Gotham General. "And I wonder what the hell kind of parent would choose to put their kids through that. Then I think of that kid, that first kid, and I realize I can't escape it. That night, in my…idealism…I promised myself I'd do anything at all to keep that from happening again, no matter the cost. Stupid, really, because twenty years shows anyone what happens to idealists in this town. Look what happened to Dent." He takes another sip of coffee. "But I didn't know that then. And that promise is still more important than anything else. Cost me my family, very nearly my life. And there's still Gotham, ready and waiting to chew me up and spit me out, but it doesn't matter. I won't leave. I…" He pauses, amends his statement. "No. We still have too much to accomplish." The Bat doesn't respond, but Jim wasn't expecting an answer. Again he's almost convinced Batman's gone, not bothering to turn around to check, but he hears the rasp forming a question behind.

"What happened to him?"

"Who?"

"That kid." Gordon pauses a moment before he speaks, as if carefully choosing his words.

"His public face shows he's all right, but there's more to it than that. I know now I've only seen glimpses of the real man, mostly I see the mask he wears. Probably to protect himself." There's dead silence and Batman has to wonder, but as Jim would never say, Bruce would never ask. The silence stretches on when Jim doesn't see the need to break it, and they wait in the darkness for a long time, as friends do, as partners, in comfortable silence, the city restless in its slumber around them.

"I never said thank you," Batman finally rasps at Gordon, and he means so much more than the commissioner taking the bullets that could have killed either one of them. The Commissioner, despite the continuing discomfort from the wounds, chuckles.

"And you'll never have to," he tells Batman. Batman allows himself to give Gordon an answering smirk, then disappears into the night.

**************************************

Author's note: This was supposed to have a lot more of a plot than it ended up having. It sort of turned into a study of the duality between Gordon/Bruce and Gordon/Batman, which are two very different relationships. I hesitated posting this because there's something that feels off about it. Comments or criticisms are greatly appreciated because I feel like there is something missing, but after weeks of pondering I can't quite figure it out. Thanks for reading! Nat