Title: Together We'll Face the Turning Side
NOTE: This is Part 6, the final installment of my Rooftop series. It is in two parts, both of which have already been written, so you won't have long to wait. I'll post Part 2 in a few days.
THANKS TO my beta-reader, Warriora, for her incisive editting and advice and the blunders she has saved me from over the course of this series. Love you, girl!
Part 1: Undone
When darkness is no less
Than everything you've built become undone,
There's no fight and no flight,
Disaster leaves your passion overrun...
- Poets of the Fall, "Dawn"
Gordon stared unseeingly at the television screen, his mind a million miles away from his body. He knew he should be paying more attention; it wasn't often that he got a night off to do something as mundane as watching a movie with his wife. But he simply couldn't keep his attention on some cheesy romantic comedy Barbara had insisted was a great date movie; not while knowing the Batman was still out there fighting crime and being hunted by Gordon's own men.
He knew it was ridiculous and irrational to feel guilty for taking an evening off to spend with his family, but he couldn't help himself. His job had always weighed heavily on him, and it was far worse since the Batman had taken on the blame for Dent's crimes. He worried continually about whether the vigilante would be caught; and what he, Gordon, would do if that happened. It wasn't something he liked thinking about, but as it could very well happen any day, without giving him any warning, he didn't have a choice. Would he come forward with the truth? It would destroy his career and probably put him behind bars. And there was no guarantee it would save the Batman anyway, since by that point everyone would know who he was. But it would probably save the Batman from a death sentence.
But there was something else bothering him tonight, something worse. It was what he had learned last week when the caped crusader had told him the reason for his coldness- not because he was angry about Lamburn, and although Gordon had been unspeakably relieved to hear that, it would have been easier to bear than the truth. The Batman had lost the last person he had left. The unspeakable grief in those hazel eyes and the tears he hadn't quite managed to contain had shown him just how hard that loss had hit. It was the most emotion the vigilante had ever displayed before Gordon, and it had filled him with fear, fear that the man was slowly falling apart. With no one left, how could he possibly keep going? Being the Batman had always been an incredibly lonely job, Gordon had realised that in his very first months working with the vigilante. He couldn't even imagine what it was like for him now.
And he knew, too, that the Batman must also be feeling the guilt over Lamburn's death. Gordon winced a little at the thought. His timing with that had been awful. He had known that evening that something was wrong, but he had been so caught up trying to find a way, any way, to keep more innocent women from being raped and killed that he had ignored his instincts. And the Batman had first lost his friend and then been asked to sacrifice the only other thing he had; the one sacred rule he lived by. He wished he had held off on asking him to kill Lamb urn, if only for a few days.
But what they had done had been necessary, and it had worked. Word had spread through the criminal fraternity the moment Lamburn had been killed. The Batman had stopped seven crimes in the past few weeks simply by showing up, and four more by threatening bodily harm. It was the most success they'd seen in months.
He glanced at Barbara and felt his stomach churn. She thought she had married a good man, a protector of the law. Instead, he had violated that law. Had gone further than he'd ever thought he'd have to. He was under no illusions as to how far he'd crossed the line. The greatest, most hideous irony of all was that he had been put on the Lamburn case, by express order from Mayor Garcia, because it was "high profile" and had to be "handled with sensitivity", which was code for "don't you dare let the press find out the D.A.'s brother was responsible for the rapes going around town." As a consequence, he had to go through the motions of investigating a crime he had committed. The dirtiness of the affair made him sick. The lies he was forced to tell every day made him feel like he was living a double life, and he wondered if this was even remotely like what the Batman went through. If it was, he had no idea how the man had stayed sane for this long. His cell phone vibrated on the coffee table, interrupting his thoughts.
He flipped it open, frowning as he saw that it was an unknown caller. "Commissioner Gordon speaking."
"Gordon," rasped a familiar voice on the other end, and he nearly dropped the phone in shock. "I need your help."
"What is it?" he asked, voice taut with worry, his fingers clutching the phone in a white-knuckled grip.
The Batman never called him. Text messages in the code they used was how they usually set up meets. Neither of them wanted to risk phone calls, even if the Batman's cell phone was untraceable. Beside him Barbara paused the movie, giving him a familiar look of mingled annoyance and resignation, but he had no time to acknowledge it. His entire attention was focussed on the Batman's voice.
"I've been shot-"
"What?!" Gordon leapt to his feet, heart pounding. "Are you-?"
"I'm fine," the Batman interrupted with his usual growl, but his heavy breathing betrayed him. "It's not serious, just a flesh wound. It got me in the shoulder, the back. I need...I need help stitching it, I can't reach."
"I'm on my way," Gordon said roughly, suddenly feeling terrible. He knew exactly why the Batman had stumbled over his words, and it was so depressingly sad that it made his chest tighten and his eyes sting. The Batman had lost the person who took care of his injuries, and that was why he'd been forced to call Gordon. "Where are you?" he asked.
The Batman rattled off some coordinates, and Gordon hung up, shrugging on his coat as he hurried towards the front door. He paused, and then doubled back to grab the first aid kit.
"It's him, isn't it?" Barbara asked, or rather stated, following him. Her voice was a mixture of understanding and reproach. Babs didn't like him working with the vigilante, but on the other hand the Batman had also saved her family's life.
"I have to go," he said, evading the question.
She nodded, unsurprised, eyes still worried. "Be safe."
He mumbled a response, already halfway out the door. The Batman was only a few blocks away- apparently, he'd been in the neighbourhood- but the drive seemed interminable. By the time he got to the place- it was a building in its last stages of construction- he had imagined all the worst case scenarios possible. Images of the Batman bleeding out on some cold, godforsaken terrace swam before his eyes as he all but ran the nine stories up the fire escape stairs. When he reached the rooftop, he was panting and covered with sweat.
The Batman was sitting with his back against a wall. He was completely motionless save for the rise and fall of his armour-plated chest, and his eyes were closed. Gordon rushed forward, thinking for one awful moment that the other man was unconscious, but the Batman stirred and opened his eyes.
"That was fast," he growled breathily.
Gordon didn't bother to respond. He slid down on his knees beside the masked man and began to help him lean forward so that he could examine his back. Thankfully it was a full moon, and the light from the nearby street lights was just enough for him to see what he was doing. "What happened?"
"I was trying to stop a mugging," the Batman said, voice tight with pain.
Gordon began to feel along the edges of the armour covering the Batman's back, trying to figure out how to get it off. "Please don't tell me you got this stepping in front of someone else's bullet," he muttered, because that would just be typical, wouldn't it?
The Batman took a second too long to respond. "It was the police. They showed up just as I was taking care of the mugger. I guess the victim managed to call 911 without me realizing it, and there was a car patrolling close by. I don't know. I couldn't get away in time."
Gordon's hands stilled as guilt and horror crashed over him. He had feared this since the day he had made the decision to let the Batman take the fall for Dent's murders. And now it had finally happened, and he was to blame, because he'd been the one to call it in that night.
"It's not your fault," the Batman said with almost no growl in his voice.
The soft words shook him out of his thoughts, and he brutally pushed the guilt away. There would be time enough for that later; right now he had more pressing concerns. He found two sets of clasps on the edges of the Batman's armour and pressed down on them. The armour came undone in hands, and he couldn't hold back a whispered, "Fuck."
The Batman stiffened in surprise at the uncharacteristic profanity, but right now, Gordon could care less about that. The black nylon bodysuit the Batman wore under his armour was completely drenched with what could only be blood.
"It's not as bad as it looks," the Batman said half-heartedly.
"Your whole back is soaked!" Gordon retorted. He pressed down on the wound and the Batman flinched and inhaled sharply. "Look, there's no way I'm going to be able to treat this here. You need to go to a hos-"
"No!" said the Batman with so much force that Gordon started in surprise. "Look," the Batman continued after a short, tense pause. "You haven't even seen the wound yet. I'm sure you have scissors in that first aid kit, to cut the bodysuit..."
It didn't escape Gordon that the Batman had asked him to use scissors; clearly he was in too much pain to get the suit off by himself. That in itself was worrying, since the Batman didn't often admit to weakness, or pain.
But the man was right; Gordon hadn't seen the wound yet. Still using one hand to keep pressure on the wound, he took the scissors from the first aid kit and began to cut the cloth. It was difficult, since it clung to the Batman's skin and he was using only one hand, but the scissors were sharp, so he was able to manage.
"Was it a through and through?" he asked as he worked, to distract himself from the heavily scarred, bloodied skin that was becoming visible with every inch he cut.
"Yeah," the Batman responded, and suddenly shivered. His exposed skin was covered with gooseflesh, and Gordon realized that without his armour, the Batman must be freezing. Wordlessly, he rose, shrugged off his coat and draped it over his front in a lose kind of blanket. Something in the Batman's eyes flickered at the gesture.
"Thanks," he murmured, his voice husky.
Gordon resumed his examination of the Batman's back. He cut away the last few inches of cloth to expose the wound completely and he grimaced at what he saw. He pressed down hard, and the Batman stiffened with pain. "Batman...this is really bad..." Gordon said cautiously. "It could have nicked a bone, which could lead to permanent damage. And you're still losing blood, you need a hospital..."
"No," the Batman said, but his voice had lost its force. "No hospitals."
But his suit was completely soaked...suddenly, a horrible thought occurred to Gordon. There really shouldn't have been this much blood. He hadn't taken that long to get to the Batman...but how long had the Batman taken to get here? How far had he had to travel to the only person in the city who would be able to help him? Suddenly, the fact that the Batman was so cold took on a different meaning all together. Cold was a symptom of blood loss. As if in confirmation of his fears the Batman began to slump forward, and Gordon quickly caught him.
"I'm fine," the Batman said, but he was leaning heavily on Gordon now, and his voice sounded like it was very faint. "No hospitals, Gordon. No matter what. Promise me..."
"You can't be serious! There's no way-"
"Promise me, Gordon." And then he slumped back against him, unconscious.
"Dammit, Batman, I am not going to let you die on me!" Gordon shouted frantically. He fumbled for his cell phone, but made himself stop before he began to dial, knowing he needed to think this through. It would be disastrous if the Batman's identity was revealed, and Gordon realized with a sinking feeling that there was only one way he could protect him.
He had to take off his mask.
He had to take the Batman in as an ordinary man.
An icy chill descended over him. Over the past few months, he'd started to get used to the thought of a real man, with real vulnerabilities under the mask. He had even told the Batman that he could tell him who he was, and he had meant it. But the thought of putting a face and a name to the vigilante after so many years of anonymity was still enough to shake him. And worse than that, the thought of taking off the mask when the Batman was unconscious, of violating his trust like that...
But it was the only way to save him. He remembered what he had told the Batman once, months ago. "You saved me, and you saved my family. Do you really think I wouldn't do anything in my power if you ever needed help?" The time had come for him to make good on that promise.
"I'm sorry, Batman, but I'd rather have you feeling angry and betrayed than dead."
Gently, he manoeuvred the Batman's limp form off himself and onto the cold, bare cement floor, cringing a little as he did so, but there was no way he could avoid it. He needed his hands free. Quickly tying an ace bandage around the Batman's shoulder, he went to work on taking off the rest of the Batman's body armour. All the while his heart pounded in his chest as he wondered if this delay was killing the man before him. He didn't think he could live with himself if that happened. But he forced himself not to call the paramedics because he knew that a medevac helicopter would respond within minutes and he needed more time than that to get rid of all the evidence. The armour came off fairly easily- Gordon supposed it had to, if the Batman often sustained these kinds of injuries on the job. That thought was enough to make him slightly nauseous.
Next were the gloves, and he was alarmed to find that the Batman's hands (and why in God's name does he have manicured nails?!) were freezing cold to the touch, and his pulse was fast and thready. Both were definite symptoms of blood loss.
And then...all that was left was the mask held in place by the cowl. In spite of himself, he hesitated again as it hit him with renewed force what he was about to do. He pushed past it, reached down and untied the cowl with hands that he had to force not to shake, and then, very gently, almost reverently, he took off the mask.
His mind went blank with shock. The mask slipped from his fingers and clattered onto the floor, but he didn't even notice. He stumbled back, eyes riveted, uncomprehending, on Bruce Wayne'sface.
No, he thought numbly. It can't be. There was no fucking way the Batman could be...
But the memories rose, unbidden, before his eyes.
A pale-faced boy, sitting hunched and shivering in a chair inside the police station.
"It's okay," whispered Gordon, placing a coat around his shoulders. "It's okay."
"Mr. Wayne, isn't it? That's a very brave thing you did."
Wayne looked at him blankly. "Trying to catch the light?"
"Wha- you weren't protecting the van?"
"Why? Who's in it?"
"And what about what you're risking? You have a family too, don't you? And still, you-"
"My family's dead," the Batman growled. "I'm not risking a damn thing."
"There's only one person I blame for this, Commissioner," Bruce Wayne said as he stared unseeingly down at the grave of Alfred Pennyworth. "And it's not you."
Gordon shivered a little at the darkness in his voice.
"Mr. Wayne…I know I should probably go," Gordon said hesitantly, "But that day, you thanked me for being there, even though…even though I barely know you."
"I lost someone very close to me, recently," the Batman told Gordon, in a broken, bare voce, "And then right after that, you asked me to break my one rule."
"Oh, my God," he whispered.
For a moment, all he could do was stand there as the full horror of the situation crashed over him. If Bruce Wayne had been the Batman all along...all this time...His mind reeled. He didn't know how he was supposed to react this. He would have stood there, frozen for the rest of the night, but somehow one coherent thought broke through the tumult in his mind.
He had to call in the paramedics, now. Whether this man was the Bruce Wayne or somebody else, it made no difference, because there was no way he could let him die.
His hands fumbled frantically for the phone.
More soon, I promise. Please review!