"Knowledge, also, and perception, we call the measure of things for the same reason, because we come to know something by them-while as a matter of fact they are measured rather than measure other things."
One Day to Judgment Day
Nothing has ever moved him more than the feeling of Gotham's ground beneath his feet.
It has taken him four months to walk again, days upon end to find civilization after he escaped the Pit, and over a week after Oliver Queen picked him up in Kyrgyzstan. The suit has insulated him from most of the cold of the water, but he knows he needs to get indoors and warm up before he becomes useless.
Still, he can't help but stop and stare, first at the woman waiting for him, then at the city he vowed to protect.
"You are a sight for sore eyes," he says, feeling like his whole heart might break. After all the months without a familiar face, to have her here – to know what she arranged for him to bring him home – there are no words.
Barbara Gordon, dressed all in black save for her locks of shocking red hair spilling across her shoulders, adjusts her woolen cap and breaks into a smile. "Same to you." She takes a deep breath, puts her hands in her pockets. "We have to get you inside."
"The penthouse is closest," he tells her, but catches her eye. "You knew that."
"This is halfway between there and the underground storage facility, but only one has running water. Let's get going."
She tosses him a bag, which contains a pair of combat boots, a black sweatshirt, and a towel. He uses the towel to wipe off the water before it freezes, then slips off the flippers Oliver had given him and puts the boot and sweatshirt on. They start off silently through the streets of Gotham, following a convoluted path - never doubling-back but never going in a straight line either. Barbara checks roofs and corners.
"Looking for something?" he asks.
"I picked up a stray cat a few months ago," Barbara says. "She's barely domesticated, but I feed her sometimes. She's off on her own tonight, it seems."
Somehow, the fact that Barbara and Selina knowing each other – working together, even – makes him want to laugh. "Don't get rid of her just yet – I need her to take me to Bane."
He can almost hear Barbara's eye roll from his position behind her, but to her credit she doesn't try to stop him.
The building that houses his apartment is deserted – a result of Wayne Enterprises' near-bankruptcy all of those years ago. There is no one there, but Barbara still is on the look-out.
"A lot of these corporate buildings and swanky apartments are homes for drug addicts and bums," she tells him. He can see it for himself: drug paraphernalia litters the floor but none of the former users are anywhere to be seen.
They take the stairs to the top since the elevator has clearly been destroyed (Bruce wants to hear every detail of the occupation, but knows now is not the time.) The penthouse door has a thumbprint recognition, and even though the door clicks open, he still stops.
"Give me your hand," he says, pressing a few buttons. Within seconds, the computer has memorized Barbara's thumbprint. She's frowning as she removes her thumb from the scanner.
"I'll explain later," Bruce tells her as they enter the apartment.
He hasn't been here in years, so everything is covered with white sheets and a thin layer of dust. Regardless, it's good to be home.
For the first time since he boarded Queen's jet, he feels bone-tired and exhausted. All the nervous energy that's been lingering is now gone, lost in the feeling of home that seems to permeate his entire system.
"Let's get you in a hot bath," Barbara says. She starts down the hall (of course she knows where everything is, they've spent so much time here) while he takes a moment to simply look at the cityscape. For the first time that he can remember, not a single building is lit up at night (Bane's work, or something with the power?). He can hear the water running, but he doesn't move from where he stands. The sight of Gotham leaves him speechless, and it's not until Barbara pulls his arm does he finally budge.
She helps strip him out of the wetsuit ("Shut up – it's not like I haven't seen you naked before") though she adverts her eyes to afford him some modesty. She helps him into the water and he sinks down with a sigh, grateful to feel the warmth flow through his veins.
"Do you need your privacy, or can we talk?" she asks.
"I'd much prefer company than being alone," he says, and she hops up onto the counter.
"How's Oliver?" Barbara asks, unzipping her coat and laying it on the side. She's thinner than before, but Bruce suspects none of them are much better off. She takes off her hat and runs her fingers through her hair.
"He's good. He sends his regards, and wants you to know that the minute people can get in this city, he'll ship Dinah off to you. Says she's a giant pain in his ass."
Bruce hadn't ever met Oliver Queen before – even though they were of the same social strata, they never were in the same place at the same time. Meeting the man behind the Green Arrow mask was interesting. Queen, like him, was an orphan, and had gotten into the justice routine, but unlike Bruce, he had spent most of his life working for social justice causes instead of partying his nights away. It was obvious from the brief time they spent together that both men believed in similar ideals.
Now only if they could ever put them into action...
"I'm not surprised," Barbara says. She looks at him. "I just want you to know how good it is to see you right now."
"You have no idea how sorry I am –"Bruce starts, but she shakes her head.
"John said that Bane got you," she says. "Is that true?"
"Yeah," Bruce he admits. "How did he find out?"
"Selina. He caught her when she was trying to flee Gotham."
"How is he? How's your uncle?" Bruce sinks deeper into the hot water, letting it seep into his bones. Thank god for the fact that this apartment has its own generator.
"John is good," Barbara tells him. "There's a resistance movement. They're both working with it. And my uncle's my dad, apparently."
Bruce isn't as surprised as he should be, apparently, because Barbara's eyes narrow.
"Did you know and never tell me?" she asks, looking angry and more than a little bit betrayed.
"No, I never knew – he said something in passing when you got taken by the Joker. I swear, Barbara, I never knew."
"He waited eight years to tell me," she says. "Doesn't matter now, I guess." She leans her head back against the mirror, staring up at the ceiling.
"You said there's a resistance movement?" he asks, trying to change the subject.
"Yeah – all the cops that didn't get trapped in the sewers."
"Trapped in the sewers?" There are so many things he doesn't know about Gotham or doesn't remember from being in so much pain those first few days in hell. This must be one of them.
The nervous energy returns, pushing away any weariness. The only thing on Bruce's mind is trying to understand the logistics of everything that's happened since he's been gone.
Barbara slides off the counter and throws him a towel. "Towel yourself off, Batman. I'm going to give you the full briefing."
Barbara runs her fingers along the edge of the map, smoothing a corner. It's a map that she's made on her own, taking bits and pieces of paper and tracing the lines of the map that either John or her uncle (Father, she thinks, but she can't just switch her thinking like that) carry with them at all times. That means that it's been a night, or early in the morning, when everyone else thinks she's off doing something else, she's been quietly tracing the streets of downtown and the neighborhoods of Old Town, adding details to her map that John's doesn't quite have.
The result is impressive, and it's what she needs to show Bruce to make him understand the gravity of the situation they're in.
He watches as she explains where Bane's men are, shows him the route of the trucks and where they speculate the bomb may be. His eyes sometimes meet hers but for the most part they are steady and sure, scanning the streets and asking questions that she does her best to answer. She can answer all of them – troop numbers, potential weaknesses, types of weapons. She's been saving all this information in her head for weeks and sharing it with her uncle and John, but this is different. As she speaks, she knows what she's been preparing for.
She's been preparing for him.
Everything starts to spill out of her mouth like a cascade of words: information about safe houses and the conditions in Gotham, rationing and shortages and murders. Bruce bears the brunt of her verbal avalanche silently, nodding.
"Thank you," he says finally.
"It's not a problem."
"No, I mean – thank you for taking care of Gotham while I was gone," he says firmly. "I'm sorry that I put myself in that position."
"I haven't taken care of Gotham," she says, her voice breaking just a little.
"Just because you haven't challenged Bane outright doesn't mean that you haven't challenged him at all," Bruce tells her. "The fact that more people haven't died and that we have this-" he gestures to the map "- this resistance movement, this knowledge, is more than enough."
"So what's the plan?" Barbara asks. Bruce looks down at the map, then back up at Barbara.
"I take on Bane."
"You and whose army?" She laughs. "There's no one."
"There are cops underground," he says. "How are they doing?"
"As far as I know, they're alive. Bane feeds them, makes sure that they can't just die down there while he fucks up their city. John likes to send notes down to them, tell them what's going on." She picks at the corner of the map with her finger. "They're soft."
"They're angry. And exactly what we need." Bruce scans the map again.
"That's not going to help you against Bane – he's got an army of mercenaries and Wayne Enterprises' three remaining tumblers. You can't bring pop-guns to an anti-aircraft party, Bruce."
"I've got that covered," he says. "Do you trust me?"
"It depends," Barbara admits. "Is it a day that ends in a 'y'?"
"You've gotten much more sarcastic since you went to the West Coast," Bruce tells her with a smirk on his face. "Star City bring that out in you or has that always been there?"
Barbara laughs. It feels good to be around Bruce – it almost feels like the old days. "You tell me – you do remember that when we first met, I constantly came up with creative ways of tell you that you were insane without using the term 'batshit'."
Bruce smiles. "I do remember that." The conversation idles into companionable silence, but the question that's been burning in Barbara's mind for the past few weeks comes bubbling to the surface.
"What exactly happened to you? How did you end up in Central Asia?"
Bruce runs his hands through his hair, and she can see how tired and worn he looks – like he's aged thirty years in six months, and she can't even imagine what he's been through to get like that.
"Bane broke my back, and threw me in the prison he escaped before he took down my city, Barbara." Bruce's voice is calm and level. It scares her more than a little. "I'd say I'm angry too."
"Understood." She watches him yawn, and decides now is the time to fuss. "We need to get you to bed so you can actually do some good instead of zombie-walk around here like the rest of us sleep-deprived would-be rescuers."
Bruce stands up and crosses over to the window. A full moon lights up the city and the apartment, and she stares at the little penciled-in streets on the map.
"We need to talk about John," he says finally.
"Oh god, not that again." In the note that he gave her, underneath all of the speculative information about Bane, all those months ago, was a thought. Just a simple idea, one that she didn't think too much about but one that's stuck in the back of her head ever since.
Bruce wondered if John Blake might be able to put on his cape and cowl.
Bruce looks at her, and Barbara pulls her legs in to her chest.
"He's tough. He watched me, started to learn from my example – I think he could do it, but isn't it asking a lot out of someone?" She shakes her head. "You, me – even everyone in Star City – we did this voluntarily. You can't make someone into something they don't want to be."
"Does he want it?" he asks. "How well do you know him?"
Barbara sighs. "Better than I knew you most days," she says, "and does he want justice? Yes. Does he want to spend his nights patrolling this city and making it better? That was already in his job description." She shakes her head. "If you're really concerned about Gotham going to down with just me, then at least tell me that."
"I don't want him to replace me," he says. "I want you to have a partner – the partner you always deserved, the one I never was."
Barbara stands up. "I never asked for a partner. I understood exactly what I was getting into. I knew that you weren't in the crime-fighting business anymore."
Bruce is so incredibly still that Barbara thinks he's angry. But when he speaks, he sounds resigned. "You left Gotham. You went to Star City, and you found what you needed there."
"I left Gotham because there was nothing for me here. My uncle was constantly working, my aunt moved with my cousin to Cleveland, and you were holed up in Wayne Manor, licking your wounds or grieving or doing something." She crosses her arms in front of her chest. "You never told me why. You stopped talking to me. So I ran as far away from Gotham as I could."
The words are true, so true that they shake her to her core, but she's always had her reasons – just never the opportunity to confront one of the ghosts in her past. Now that the opportunity is there, though, she doesn't want answers, and the power of that knowledge surprises her.
She did run away from Gotham, but she wasn't looking for anything except peace of mind when she left. What she found shaped her just as much as her time in this city, and she wouldn't trade either of those experiences for the world.
"Don't," she says, as Bruce opens his mouth to speak. "I don't need to know why. It doesn't matter. I did find what I needed in Star City, but I also have things that I need here. People that I'm not ready to give up. So whether or not John wants it, Gotham still has me."
She can always tell when she's bested Bruce, and he's wearing the same look of meek apology that he always does. It's endearing, but looking at him and knowing that – regardless of what they were or what they are now – the man means a whole hell of a lot to her is enough to make her soften. She can feel her shoulders relax as she rolls her eyes.
"I swear, I'd almost think you're trying to distract me," she says. "You always were a night owl." She looks at the map. "Should I leave this?"
"You're going?" Bruce looks worried for the first time this night.
"Do you want me to stay?" she asks. "I can watch over you while you sleep – be a real creeper."
"You look about as half-dead as I feel," he says, starting down the hallway. She follows, unsure of what to make of all of this but hesitant to leave him. She's lost him for too long to want to let go now.
Bruce leads her to the large master bedroom with the ginormous bed, and if memories flutter through her head, well, she's brushing them aside. But beyond those brief glimpses of the past, she's innocently shared a bed with him more times than she can count, so she sits down on the bed and unzips her boots.
"So you know Blake better than you know me?" Bruce asks, pulling back the covers. Barbara stops for a minute, then slips off her socks and balls them off in her boots. She climbs into the bed still in her jeans and sweatshirt.
"Yeah. Because unlike some people, he wants to talk about things."
Barbara rolls her eyes. She slides underneath the covers and turns over onto her side. "Selina asked me about dating you."
Bruce raises an eyebrow. "I'm screwed now, aren't I?"
"No, give me some credit, I only told her the truth - that you were a dysfunctional human being when I knew you, but the two of you are both dysfunctional so it'll work out great."
"You didn't answer my question," Bruce points out, yawning.
How he knows about her and John is beyond Barbara's reasoning, but she never asks these things with Bruce. It's the little things – the tell in the way someone looks, the slight raise of a lip or the tilt of a head - that Bruce catches on to, and it's always been like that.
Barbara presses her head into the pillow, which is softer and nicer than she's had to sleep on in months. This whole bed is a dream, as is the person in it. She closes her eyes and takes a breath. Every fiber in her being is happy that Bruce is back, and that things may not be the same but he's here with her. However, every fiber in her being wishes this was a different place and time, and that the person here with her in this fancy penthouse was John.
"Not just talk," she admits when she opens her eyes. "He's a good guy and I really like him."
Bruce shifts in the bed, pulling the blankets closer to him. He's falling asleep as they speak. "Does he treat you well?"
"As best as to be expected in the current economic climate." Barbara smiles, just a little. "Yeah, he treats me well. And he trusts me, which is probably the most I could ask for."
She sinks into the bed more, pulling the covers up to her face. Bruce's breathing is slow and even, and after some time, just before she's about to fall asleep, she feels the brush of his hand against hers.
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
She threads her fingers through his hand and squeezes. There's nothing else she can say, and he doesn't seem to need anything else.
She falls asleep to his steady breathing. She never lets go of his hand.
"Where can I find Selena?" Bruce asks Barbara. The sun's barely up, and they've had maybe six hours of sleep, but he feels rested and alert. They're standing in the bathroom, and he watches as Barbara brushes out her wet hair. She had told him she was going to take the longest shower ever, and the wrinkles on her fingertips prove it.
He thought about all the times Barbara had showered here under a myriad of different circumstances, and some part of him is jealous of John Blake for whatever it is that he and Barbara – something that Bruce could never make work. There's another part of him that knows that whatever he and Barbara had – their friendship – has meant so much to him that he's glad at least something has worked out.
She's always been the rock, steady in the brunt of the storm. Even if she doesn't see if, he's sure she's been the same for the resistance movement.
"At this time of day? She's in Old Town," she says. She pulls it back and up, hides it under her hat. She slips on her jacket and zips it up, then turns to him. "She'll be glad to see you."
Bruce laughs, softly. "If you think so."
Barbara smiles. "I know. Tell her hi for me."
Bruce has leveled with her – the bomb has less than 24 hours before going off, and there are things he needs to do. He hasn't told her the specifics, and hopes that she'll leave him to it.
"You need to get out of the city," he tells her. "If it looks like things are getting too close, use the bridge or the tunnel."
"The tunnel's blocked."
"I'll make sure it's open."
Barbara shrugs. "Whatever. But why do you want me to get out? Why not put me to work?"
Bruce takes a step closer, tucks a strand of hair beneath her hat. "Go back to John. Do what you do every day. And when the time comes – when the opportunity comes to get out – just do it. Go with John. Do it for my sake. Please."
She's close enough to him that he can see the tears form in her eyes before she closes them. He leans forward, presses a kiss against her forehead.
Her response is to grab him, wrap her arms around him and hold on like she's drowning. He can't help it if he does the same. He holds her tightly until she shifts and lets go. The tears are gone now.
"Go easy on your dad." He watches Barbara let out a long sigh, shaking her head.
"I want to, but it's just...it was easier to think that my dad was gone forever instead of...being here. It's a lot to adjust to."
Bruce can't even imagine what she must be going through, so he doesn't say anything else because he doesn't know what to say. It's Barbara that speaks next.
"For the love of all things holy, Bruce Wayne, take care of yourself," she tells him on her way out the door.
They leave at the same time – he heads south, she heads east. He watches as she disappears around a corner, silent and dark as a shadow in the early morning hours.
Bruce knows that, if anything happens, Barbara will be key to helping Gotham rebuild. Her and John are the future of Gotham, and he wants to ensure that their future happens.
During his recovery, he was able to discuss some ideas with Oliver Queen. If he's able to stop the bomb and if Gotham survives, Queen has agreed to see that some plans come to fruition. He can only hope that it's not too little, too late.
As he heads to Old Town, he gets angry at the devastation and rampant destruction that he sees in his city. It's enough to set his blood boiling. It's enough, he knows, to get him through this day, and to make sure that this city is once again safe.
She calls Oliver once she's close enough to home, and confirms with him that Bruce is here and that everyone went well.
"Just so you know," Oliver says, "I've got a jet ready to take me to Gotham just as soon as the occupation ends."
"We could all be dead by then," she tells him. Bruce's warning is settling in her bones and she tries hard not to let the desperation she feels come out. "But if we make it, I expect you want to get rid of Dinah."
"Word travels fast. I didn't know Wayne was such a gossip."
Oliver laughs – a harsh, tight laugh that doesn't really sound like laughter, and she understands what her friends are going through. It's difficult to feel helpless in the face of your friend's impending doom.
Death stopped scaring Barbara eight years ago, when Harvey Dent held the barrel of a gun to her forehead and told her that her life wasn't worth much of anything. She'll dispute that to this day, argue that her life does mean something even if that something isn't widely known or recognized (Gotham doesn't do well with vigilantes). But she's accepted that there might be a moment where she steps into the line of fire, or is at the wrong place at the wrong time, and so she has made her amends. The fact that Gotham may be lost in the span of day is the least of her concerns.
She needs to see John. She wants to see her father.
Needs over wants, first.
Barbara takes Bruce's words into consider and decides, before it's too late, that maybe an attempt at reconciliation isn't the silliest thought in the world. There are many obstacles to overcome before they can be any sort of normal family, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't try. Jim Gordon may be flawed, but they all are, and he did raise her, after all.
Barbara texts John, who directs her to one of their standard look-out points. When she sees him on the roof, she controls herself. She does not run towards him like a movie-script ending, but she does kiss him a little longer than normal.
"Do you know where my dad is?" she asks, stepping back. She doesn't let go of him. She holds his hands in hers, so grateful to have him in front of her.
The look in John's face makes her stomach drop.
"Bane's men picked him and Miranda Tate up a few hours ago." He looks down at their entwined hands.
There is a roar in her head and she shakes it, trying to clear the noise out. "No," she tells him. "It can't be." She lets go and takes a step back.
"There will be an expedited trial – you know there will be, BG." John's voice sounds so far away.
Bruce. Bruce will find Selina. Bruce will be there soon. Bruce can save her father – right?
Her breathing comes in rapid gasps as the gravity of the situation and what Bruce is planning to do crashes into her. What if Selina doesn't help him? What if he doesn't make it?
"We need to get them out," she says. This is not the plan, this is not the plan...
"We can't, B.G.," he tries to reason with her.
"Yes we can – we can do it, John!" she tries to convince him, grabbing his coat collar and shaking. "We can do it, just get me close enough."
"No." John's words are firm, strong, trying to break through to her. "We can't. You know your dad wouldn't go for that."
"Then what are we doing to do?" she asks. The momentary adrenaline rush dissipates, and her body feels so very freaking heavy as if the weight of everything is pressing down on her shoulders.
"I know a place we can go," he says. "Regroup. Figure out what to do."
Of course, it's St. Swithin's.
He deposits her with Fr. Reilly, who makes her tea and fusses over her in his office for so long that when she finally realizes that John has left her there to be distracted by the priest, she's almost resigned to her fate.
"Stephanie," the priest starts, but she shakes her head.
"That's not my real name," she tells him, taking a sip of tea. "My name is Barbara Gordon."
The priest nods, asks her if she wants more tea. She shakes her head.
"You're here because John wants you safe," Fr. Reilly points out, and she laughs, shakily and full of ill-humor.
"He wants to keep me safe," she says, slipping off her hat. She runs her fingers through her hair, which is still damp from this morning's shower. Feeling it makes things click into place as she evaluates her options.
"There are things in motion that might allow us to get out of here," she tells the older man. "If you trust me, we can make sure that, when the time comes, we'll get out. We'll be safe then."
"How do you know?" Fr. Reilly asks.
"You know about faith, Father," she tells him. "Sometimes you just have to believe to know things will be all right."
She helps out around the Boy's Home all afternoon – arranging for backs to be packed, food to be prepared, people to be ready. She washes her mug in the kitchen sink, and stares out at the snow softly falling. She wants nothing more than to run outside, to run and find one of them – Bruce, John, Selina, her father -but she doesn't.
She drinks another mug of tea, and watches her cell phone charge.
She checks her pockets for her keys, but finds a note instead.
Home is at the tip of your thumb it says in Bruce's haphazard scrawl. She laughs at the terrible pun, and puts it back into her pocket. If they survive this, a penthouse apartment isn't half-bad.
She just hopes it doesn't come down to her inheriting anything from Bruce's estate.
When John arrives hours later, he's surprised to find the buses packed up and the neighborhood already notified of a potential escape.
"You knew," he says, stopping in front of her. Barbara offers him a weak smile.
"Bruce is all right?" she asks, feeling relief flood her veins.
"Yeah – going to take on Bane as we speak." John has his hands in his pockets. He looks frustrated. "How did you know?"
"I've been working with a friend in Star City to get him here for over a week," she says. "That's where I was last night – meeting him and debriefing him." She looks down and then back, as John takes the entire situation into account.
John nods. "He told me to make sure that you got out safe."
Barbara smiles. "Funny, he told me the same thing about you."
John laughs, then pulls her to him. He kisses her forehead, brushes his lips against her cheek. "Let's get the hell out of Dodge, then," he says as he lets her go.
Author's Note: Thanks for all the favorites and reviews! I appreciate it. I'm still traveling, so I'll try to update as regularly as I can in the coming weeks! Thank you for your patience :)