Some days, the conspiracy theorists actually kept Gordon sane. Sure, they were mostly wrong, and they were always irritating, but Gordon still appreciated their efforts. Commissioner Loeb had hated them, muttering angrily about "delusional, disrespectful morons who derailed rock-solid cases by throwing out the most idiotic thing they can think of and getting the public to buy it." Or words to that effect. And yes, it was deeply frustrating to have to keep explaining over and over again to credulous citizens and reporters that there had been no police conspiracy to kill the mayor and blame it on the Joker. But there was something amusing about the theories nonetheless.
Maybe it came from being one of the few people still surviving who really understood the whole of what had happened the day Batman caught the Joker and Harvey Dent went completely insane. Gordon had been there for all of it, and watching bystanders try to interpret it was like watching a particularly disastrous game of Telephone. The more times people told the story, the less true it was. Gordon wasn't sure if it was normal to find something like that funny, but his appreciation for irony and gallows humor had kept him sane before Batman, and he wasn't willing to let go of it now.
In the past month, he'd heard the following theories, either pitched directly to him or put forth in newspapers and Internet message boards across Gotham:
-The Joker was a disgruntled ex-policeman. (The GPD had checked out that idea long before the public got a hold of it. It would've provided a nice explanation for the cop killing. But the Joker's fingerprints didn't match up to any they had on file, and even without the makeup, no one could recognize him. Also, 'disgruntled' wasn't really the word he'd use to describe the Joker.)
-It was all a plan of the Mayor's, something to do with re-election. (Considering the angry mutterings he'd been hearing since Rachel Dawes, Harvey Dent, and Judge Surillo's deaths about failures to protect law enforcement adequately, it was a plan that had gone very, very awry. Mayor Garcia had smiled when he heard it. The Mayor had never been much for laughter, but he had the same sense of humor as Gordon. Laugh to keep from going crazy.)
-There were multiple Jokers. (It would explain a lot. And there had been copycats since he'd been arrested, but they were nothing like the original. Nothing was like the Joker. Whatever was wrong with the Joker, whatever had happened to turn him into the monster that he was, it couldn't be replicated or imitated. That thought gave Gordon hope, and he prayed it was true.)
-There were multiple Batmans. (Gordon glanced up at the roof, where the wreckage of the shattered Batsignal lay.
"You're just one man?"
"Now we're two."
He didn't really laugh when he heard that one.)
-Batman was an actual mutant bat creature. (He had a weirdly human chin, if that was the case. Gordon had Googled a picture of an actual bat, just to make sure.)
-Batman could actually fly. (Gordon had wondered about this one, but according to Batman, it was all technology. Still, Gordon couldn't blame them for wondering. In Metropolis, supposedly, there was a guy who really could fly. Or at least that's what the tabloids and the people who had supposedly been saved by him said. Gordon would believe it when he saw it.)
-Jim Gordon really had died, shot by the Joker, and the current "Gordon" was an imposter. (When his wife had heard this one, she laughed long and hard. It was the first time she had laughed that way since Dent had taken their family hostage.)
-Harvey Dent really was the Batman, and had faked his death to continue fighting evil uninterrupted. (Gordon felt something tighten in his chest whenever he heard this. He'd had the same feeling during Dent's funeral. He usually went to the shooting range whenever he got that feeling, and unloaded round after round into the target.
"Jesus Christ, Gordon," Lieutenant Galiston commented once, "why the hell are you aiming for the face?")
But what never failed to amaze him was the one that the conspiracy theorists got exactly right: Harvey Dent had actually killed the all of the people Batman was accused of murdering. There was a government cover-up to hide this fact, because no one wanted to think that their savior, their bright, shining protector, could become a monster.
("Gordon," Ramirez said, her voice soft and choked with regret. She'd come to him two days afterwards, confessed everything. Working for the mob, helping to kidnap Dent and Rachel Dawes. She'd cried while she told him, and Gordon didn't even feel anger. He was numb and tired, and had spent all day chasing Batman sightings. "Gordon, it was Dent. His face was burned and he-he had a gun. He made me call your wife, he-"
"I know," Gordon said. His new office still smelled like Commissioner Loeb's cologne and there was a plant wilting on the windowsill. "He took my family hostage and tried to kill us." His voice was flat. He was so tired, and the kids weren't sleeping. He didn't have it in him for vengeance. Not with Harvey and Rachel and God knew how many other moldering in the ground while the Joker cooled his heels in Arkham.
"Oh God, oh God, I'm so sorry!" Ramirez cried out, shoulders shaking. She looked like hell.
"Batman took the blame for the people Harvey Dent killed," Gordon said, not sure why he was telling her this. Besides that the secret was crushing him, and every time he turned on the news to see Batman being slammed as a murderer, it felt like he was choking.
"Why?" Ramirez asked. "He's innocent, he saved us all-"
"Because it was for the best," Gordon said, trying to believe it. Desperate to believe it. "Because Batman wants to protect us from the worst of humanity, even if that means protecting us from ourselves."
He'd sworn Ramirez to secrecy. And then he'd fired her.)
That theory was probably the most popular of them all. Batman had saved a lot of people, and most of those people refused to believe that he was a murderer. Hell, some of the cops on his force didn't believe it.
"He wouldn't kill the Joker, man," one of the rookies had been muttering over the coffeepot when Gordon passed by. "He wouldn't kill the fucking Joker and we're s'posed to believe he went and killed Dent? Or the guys guarding him?"
"He doesn't even use guns," his friend had replied. "Something's not right with this."
Gordon hadn't said a word. He couldn't. Even though Batman would tell him it was stupid and against the plan, Gordon couldn't encourage people to think of Gotham's protector as a murderer. He'd told his lie once, and he did his best to avoid telling it again. Let them wonder and ponder and poke holes in the story. That was what good detectives did, after all.
Gordon looked up to see one of the rookies (Officer Davis, his mind supplied) poking his head into the office, looking flustered.
"What is it?"
"He's on the roof again, sir."
"What?!" Gordon sat bolt upright, feeling every muscle in his body tensing. It was three o'clock in the afternoon, what the hell was Batman doing on the roof of the police station? Something huge must be going on, for him to risk-
"It's that weirdo from The Investigator," said Davis, sneering a little at the mention. "Patrickson or whatever his name is."
Gordon felt the tension drain out of him. Not Batman, then. Thank God. He rolled his neck, feelings the small pops as he worked out the kinks.
"Who?" Gordon asked, once he felt sufficiently loose again. His was drawing a blank on the name, though of course he recognized The Investigator, Gotham's finest tabloid and near-religious chronicler of Bruce Wayne's activities. They also had a Bigfoot Sightings column that never failed to be ridiculous. Not that Gordon read it.
"You know, that guy who charged in here a week ago ranting about a conspiracy against the Batman?" Davis said, rolling his eyes. "He had that stupid purple ball cap."
"Oh yeah," Gordon said, sighing at the memory. Last Tuesday, Arnold Patrickson had scheduled an appointment with Gordon, only to spend a good ten minutes screaming about police conspiracies and Harvey Dent sightings. It had given Gordon a headache that lasted the rest of the day, and he'd had Mr. Patrickson forcibly removed from the premises.
It appeared the tabloid reporter was back for Round Two.
Gordon sighed as he got up from the desk. It would probably be best to just go talk to the man. That was the rational thing to do, and Gordon was trying his damndest to be rational, no matter how irrational everyone else was.
"You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time."
Gordon shivered a little. He heard Harvey's voice a lot lately, echoing in the back of his mind. Flashbacks, the shrinks would say. Maybe PTSD. Gordon was doing his best to ignore the memories, and ignore the dreams where all he saw, over and over, was the barrel of a gun pressed against his son's head or leveled straight at his wife and daughter. That was all he could do, really.
"How'd he get in?" Gordon asked Davis as they made their way through the bullpen, headed to the rooftop access. "This building is supposed to be secure."
"According to Cantelino, he flashed a press badge and said he was here for an interview. He gave them the slip, a couple of guys went looking for him, and they noticed the door to the roof was open."
"Is he asking for me?" The stairs up to the roof were as familiar to him as the stoop in his backyard. The paint was flaking off the rails and some of the stairs had indentations where years of foot traffic had slowly dented the metal. The stairwell smelled like cigarette smoke and old coffee. It had been hard to convince Commissioner Loeb to install the Batsignal, and it had been even harder to lug the parts for it up the stairs by himself. The spotlights on the roof hadn't worked in years, and finding something suitably bat-shaped had been a huge pain in the ass. But he'd done it, put it together himself, and when the signal had lit up the Gotham skyline, it had seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
Gordon hadn't taken away any of the broken pieces. The officers who went to the roof for a cigarette break were using the shell of the signal as an ashtray. One night, somebody had carved the names of all the GPD officers that had been killed because of the Joker into the base of the signal. Gordon wasn't sure if that was in support of Batman or not, and he hoped the annoying "reporter" wasn't messing around with it any further.
"Yeah, he said he wanted to talk to you and he wouldn't cause any trouble," said Davis. "I pointed out that we could arrest him and make his stay real unpleasant, but we figured you might wanna know. He seems pretty harmless, and if you can get the little creep to go away for good…" Davis trailed off as they reached the door to the roof.
"Thanks, Davis," Gordon said. "I'll yell if I need anything."
"Good luck, Commissioner."
It was brutally hot outside, the sun beating down on the tar of the roof like a hammer. Gordon felt the sweat begin to form on his forehead the minute he stepped outside. He could see Patrickson crouched over the Batsignal, the flashbulb of his camera going off rapidly. The commissioner rolled his eyes.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Patrickson?" Gordon asked, smiling a little as the reporter jumped in surprise.
"Gordon!" Patrickson said, trying and failing to sound authoritative. He was a portly, middle-aged man, wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt that was already stained with sweat at the armpits. The ugly, purple baseball cap that Davis had noticed earlier was embossed with The Investigator's logo, and press credentials hung on a lanyard around his neck. Patrickson was not a very intimidating man, all things considered.
"You do know that the police really frown on people sneaking into the station, right?" Gordon asked, joining Patrickson by the Batsignal.
"I didn't sneak in, I was let in," Patrickson protested. He straightened and looked Gordon in the eye. "And I've come here to finish our interview."
"I thought interviews were supposed to consist of me answering question, not being yelled at about crazy Internet theories. I could be wrong, though. I am new at this."
"They're not crazy Internet theories!" Patrickson said, a whine creeping into his voice. "They're perfectly legitimate holes in the official story that you've refused to comment on!"
"Fine," Gordon sighed. "But I'm still refusing to comment on Harvey Dent the Supervillain, so I guess you made the trip for nothing. You can grab some coffee on your way out, if you want."
"Commissioner, you know as well as I do that the bullets found in the bodies of the men guarding Harvey Dent don't match up to any of the other victims," Patrickson said.
Gordon cursed himself for releasing that piece of information. He'd left it up to the public to decide what to make of it, and look where that had gotten him.
"And as I've said many times over Mr. Patrickson, we don't have an explanation for that," Gordon said. "The bodies were very badly damaged after the explosion, and that makes it hard for us to piece together a complete picture of what happened. The work would go a lot faster if we didn't have people accusing us of everything under the sun every step of the way." Good God, he even sounded a little like Loeb used to. Maybe all police commissioners ended up this way, like it was a job requirement.
"I have multiple witnesses who all say they saw Dent get out of Salvatore Maroni's car after it wrecked," Patrickson said. "According to all of them, you wouldn't even listen to their story."
Gordon had to hand it to the man, he'd done some impressive journalistic work. If he worked for a real newspaper, Gordon might have even been worried. As it was, he was just tired and didn't feel like dealing with this right now. Batman sometimes showed up on his stoop at night, and Gordon tried to be there when he arrived, no matter how late. It made him cranky during the day, though.
"Mr. Patrickson, I was nice enough to try and give you an interview, and considering you work for a cheap tabloid-"
"It runs legitimate stories!"
"-it was practically an act of charity. But I'm very busy, and I don't have time for this. So you need to get off the roof and leave, or I'll have you escorted out. Again. If you refuse, I will arrest you, and then you'll get a much closer look at the inner workings of the GPD than you ever wanted. So do yourself and me a favor, and go." Gordon turned to leave, hoping he would hear the sounds of Patrickson following him.
Instead, all he heard was silence. He got all the way to the door before he heard Patrickson call out, "Wait!"
Gordon turned around, curious as to what it was that Patrickson wanted. His voice had a note of desperation that was unusual for a reporter who could just make up a story.
"Commissioner, please," Patrickson said. He even looked desperate, his eyes wide and pleading. This went beyond getting a story, Gordon realized. For whatever reason, Patrickson was taking this personally.
"What is it that you want to know, exactly?" Gordon asked.
"Look, I know I work for a joke of a newspaper, okay?" Patrickson said. "And most of the time, I don't care. But I have people who honestly did see Harvey Dent walking around Gotham. He had half his damn face burned off, but he was up and walking. They're telling the truth."
Gordon remained silent, even though the part of him that had kept him honest and unbribed all these years was screaming to tell the truth as well.
"Please," Patrickson said, approaching Gordon cautiously, like he was worried the Commissioner might bolt. "Please, just tell me…just tell me that it isn't true. That Batman didn't kill anybody. Please."
His glasses were slipping down his nose, the heat making his skin slick. Gordon pushed them back up with a weary sigh and walked to the edge of the roof. Batman had been standing a few feet away when he, Harvey, and Gordon had made their pact to bring down the mob. Gordon wondered if there was some other path they could have taken and still been good men, men of the law. It wasn't as if they could ignore a chance to strike back at the people wringing Gotham dry, but was there some other choice he could have made, one that wouldn't have ended with Rachel dead and Harvey destroyed? It was a weight he didn't want and didn't need, and Gordon suddenly wished Batman was here. Batman would listen to his guilt and offer to shoulder the weight of it. That was what Batman did.
Gordon wondered, not for the first time, if there was room for a man underneath the mask and the responsibility that came with it, or if Batman had completely consumed whoever he once had been. Would that happen to him? Would Gordon wake up one morning and find he was more a commissioner than a husband or a father?
"Why do you care so much?" Gordon asked, looking out over Gotham. The glass and steel shone blindingly in the afternoon sun.
"Batman saved me once," Patrickson said, from somewhere behind Gordon. "I was walking home late one night, and before I even knew what was happening, some guy dragged me into an alley. He was strung out on something and he was waving this gun in my face, screaming at me to give him my money. I was too freaked out to move or do anything but just lie there, and I could tell he was going to shoot me. I just…I mean, I really and honestly believed that I was about to die, y'know?"
Gordon did know. Patrickson walked forward to stand by Gordon and rested his hands on the ledge. For the first time, Gordon noticed that the reporter had a wedding band on the appropriate finger.
"So I was just lying there, more terrified than I'd ever been, and I was sure I was gonna die, when out of the sky drops this black shape," Patrickson continued. "It's on the guy trying to rob me like that, and it's like watching a whirlwind. This whatever-it-was was some kind of ninja and the guy mugging me went down and stayed down. Out like a light. The shape turns around and I realize, holy shit, this is Batman that just saved my life. He asks if I'm hurt, and I tell him that he just saved me and thank you, thank you, thank you. He just kind of shrugs and says he's doing his job and he's glad I'm all right. And then he was gone."
Patrickson looked at Gordon, and the expression on his face is one of stubborn, star-struck, absolute belief. "Batman saved my life, Commissioner. He went up against a stranger with a gun to protect another stranger, for no other reason than that it was the right thing to do. So you tell me if that man is a murderer."
Could Gordon do this for the rest of his life? Would it get easier to lie the longer he did it, the longer Harvey was dead? Would there be a point, sometime in the future, where Batman would do so much for Gotham that its citizens wouldn't care what he was accused of, where they would view the deaths attributed to him as casualties in a war and nothing more? Did Gordon want to live in a city where the death of that their White Knight would one day be considered an acceptable loss?
"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to become a villain."
God damn you, Dent, Gordon thought suddenly, viciously. Damn you for dying, damn you for losing your mind. Damn you because I can't sleep at night and my wife wakes up crying. Because my son gets quiet whenever people talk about Batman, because my daughter got called into the principal's office because she punched some kid that called Batman a murderer. Damn you for making me lie, for making me hunt my friend so Gotham can heal itself. Damn you for failing, for falling.
Patrickson just stood there while Gordon's mind raced a mile a minute. He knew he needed to get a grip, but Gordon just wanted to stand on the roof of the police station and scream. How could he lie to someone who had seen the same goodness, the same endless, unselfish heroism in Batman that Gordon had? How could he take someone's faith in that goodness?
"It's Arnold Patrickson, isn't it?" Gordon asked, trying hard not to think about what he was doing.
"I'm going to tell you something, Arnold, and you're not going to publish it. You try, and I'll flat out deny that we ever had this conversation and call you a liar. But if there are other people like you, other people hurting because they believe that their savior might have been a murderer, you tell them this story. Reward their faith."
Patrickson nodded rapidly, his eyes wide.
"Harvey Dent lost his mind, the day the Batman caught the Joker. I saw him in his hospital bed, and it was like something out of a horror story. Half his face was just gone, skin burned away. But he was alive, and he was lucid enough to hate. So later, and I figure the Joker had something to do with this, he decided to get revenge on the people he blamed for Rachel Dawes' death and his injuries. He went after the dirty cops on the force, and he went after Sal Maroni. And he went after me and my family."
Gordon heard Patrickson gasp, but he did not look at him. He stared out at Gotham instead, and wondered how something so beautiful could be so ugly, so twisted sometimes.
"He kidnapped my family and I went after them, along with Batman. Dent shot Batman, and he was about to shoot my son when Batman knocked him off the edge of some scaffolding. He fell to his death. Batman knew-" Gordon looked down, surprised to find that his hands were clenched on the ledge in front of him. "Batman knew what Harvey represented to Gotham. He was hope, and faith, and a chance at redemption and rebuilding. And in the end, he was just as flawed as the rest of us. Batman believed, and I agreed, that the Joker would've won if the city knew just how low Dent had fallen. The people Harvey had prosecuted would be released, the people who had believed in Harvey would be disgraced, and the people who loved Harvey would be crushed."
"So Batman took the blame for it?" Patrickson asked, his voice choked. "But why are you telling me this? Why are you…" he trailed off. Gordon figured he wasn't used to having his conspiracy theories actually be confirmed
He's asking a good question, Jim. Can you answer it?
"There's a lot of different sides to Gotham, and Harvey represented everything hopeful, everything good," Gordon said after a moment of thinking. "He was our White Knight. But Gotham's darkness goes deep, and a lot of people have been touched by it. And those people need to know that someone uncompromised is still out there in the dark, protecting them. I'm trusting you with this. So tell the story to the people that need to hear it." Gordon straightened and turned back towards Patrickson. "Now leave, before I change my mind about having you thrown out."
Patrickson nodded, looking gobsmacked, and headed for the door.
"Oh, and Mr. Patrickson?" Gordon said.
The reporter turned back. "Yes?"
"If I see a single bit of what I just told you printed in that newspaper of yours, I will arrest you."
"I understand, Commissioner," Patrickson said. He studied the ground for a moment, fiddling with his baseball cap. "Thank you for telling me this. I...Thank you." And then he was gone.
With a sigh, Gordon turned back to view of Gotham. He hoped he had done the right thing. Please let him have done the right thing. After years of serving on a corrupt force, Gordon had hoped he was done with grey moral areas and making compromises with himself so he could sleep at night. Some part of him ached to simply quit, to be done with Gotham and its madness. To go someplace where the D.A. would never try to kill his family, where lunatics in makeup would never blow up his fellow officers and friends. Someplace where the Batsignal had never lit up the sky.
But Gordon didn't believe in leaving before the job was done, and he didn't believe in abandoning his duties, or his friends. Batman would not face the underworld of Gotham alone, and the police force would not be led by someone who had not seen the best and worst of it. Gotham needed Jim Gordon to be steady. Batman needed him to be steady.
So he would be.
"Now we're two," Gordon whispered, staring again at Gotham in the daylight.
At night, Batman would be out there, protecting those that needed protecting. And Gordon would look out for him.