Disclaimer: The characters and concepts in this story are the property of DC Comics, Christopher Nolan, and their related affiliates. This is an amateur writing effort meant for entertainment purposes only.
Summary: Barbara Gordon's mother leaves Gotham, and she tries to pick up the pieces. Several years pre-TDKR. AU-ish.
Author's Notes: There was no time in The Dark Knight Rises to examine the fallout of Mrs. Gordon's departure from the city. I thought it would be interesting to see how her family is left reeling in the midst. Some Blake/Barbara at the end for those inclined. Enjoy!
Falling: A Triptych
Barbara pretends she doesn't notice the suitcases at the door to her parents' bedroom. Pretends it's any other Monday, because it is any other Monday. She's got eight hours at the library with an hour for a nice lunch downtown; maybe Dinah'll play hookie from the dojo and join her. After that it's two hours of dance, half an hour on the subway, and home in time for dinner and primetime.
She stumbles on her way down the steps and nearly takes a header onto the sidewalk, but Barbara recovers so smoothly it's almost like it never happened. This is just another Monday after all.
The library is a safe haven. She buries herself behind a monitor for a few hours, pouring through research for her classes in the fall, planning events, doing tech support. Barbara reshelves books for a little while after that, but the sight of a ginger haired woman with her young daughter makes her legs shake again, and she decides that climbing ladders might not be the best idea. Her office is cool, dark, and quiet, kind of like the house will be when she returns home.
Her fingers start to shake now too.
For all the movement that's involved, dance is a stabilizing force for Barbara. She revels in the order and technique of ballet, in the perfection it demands as a craft, and the second she marches into the studio, she forgets about her falls and fumbles earlier in the day. She puts herself through the usual positions but pushes herself a further and further each time. The pull in her thighs, through her shoulders, along her back and up her calves...it's like any other Monday, any other stupid Monday, only this one hurts a little more.
It's the plies, of all things, that knock her off balance. The shake starts in her femur and knocks her foot out of place. Barbara corrects, stabilizes, repeats, but there it is again, like an electric shock, only through both legs now. Her turn out, perfect since she was preteen, is ruined, and there's no stopping it: every time she tries again, her legs refuse to hold.
The tremors have moved to her hands.
"Wanna grab a latte?" Allison Steels asks after class.
"No thanks," Barbara moves into the centre of the room. "I'm going to stick around for a bit actually, work on my fouettes a bit. They feel a little wobbly."
"They look great, Babs. Don't work yourself too hard."
Barbara waits until the door closes behind the rest of the class and her only company is the reflection in the mirror. She doesn't recognize herself, or maybe she doesn't want to, because the young woman she sees has her mother's hair, mouth, chin, and shoulders, and they will always be a lasting reminder of what she's losing today.
She looks to her foot, props the heavy weight of her toe on the floor, relaxes her foot and bends her knee, lifting her opposite leg until it's perpendicular to her waist. Her muscles hold her weight steadily this time, the way they've always done. This is every other Monday, Barbara reminds herself, so that makes this every other fouette she's ever done. She takes a deep breath, levels a hard stare at the woman in the mirror, and makes the turn.
Fouettes are her favourite; they always have been. They are a feat of strength and agility, two things Barbara favours in equal measure, and she's been the master of them since they were first introduced in her dance classes. She spins away three, four, five times...each time her gaze slides a little further past the woman in the mirror, away from that hair, that mouth, that chin, those shoulders.
A door slams several floors beneath her; ballerinas haul their bags off into the night. The sound thunders through Barbara, who thinks of every other door slam in the city, the one at her house included. Empty, she stumbles upon the word, the house will be empty.
Her leg shakes underneath her suddenly, causing her knee to buckle. She snaps her head around to the mirror on her next fouette, fighting to stay upright, but she loses track of herself. The woman in the mirror spins on in her vision while Barbara crumples to the floor like a paper doll.
When she gets home, the suitcases are gone.
"Ow – damn it."
Dad always curses so matter-of-factly. Even with the 'ow' it takes Barbara a second to realize that he's actually in pain. She kicks off her boots and, still removing her hat, mitts, and scarf, marches to the kitchen at the back of the house. Dad's at the sink, open can of soup in one hand, blood dripping down the other onto the floor.
Barbara has her father's finger wrapped in paper towel and the offending soup can out of his hand before another drop of blood hit the linoleum. "You should have picked tomato," she jokes, eyeing the cloud of red working its way through the neon yellow broth in the can, "nobody would have known the difference."
He responds with a soft, breathless, humourless chuckle. "I just can't seem to get a grip on anything these days."
Can opener, wife – both are implied by the silence that follows, and Barbara doesn't ask for clarification. She does try to assuage her father's guilt though. "It's just soup, Dad."
"It's not just the soup, Babs," he flashes a sad smile but doesn't elaborate further. He doesn't need to elaborate further; Barbara gets it. They're on a collision course with the first Christmas post-separation, so pretty soon they're going to need to talk about what's happened. With everyone involved. That means Barbara will have to respond to the – not one – but four messages on her voice mail from the number in Cleveland she refuses to answer. Dad will have to get in touch with James, who's been largely MIA since moving to Bludhaven last fall, and then get yelled at over the phone or, worse, ignored completely by Barbara Sr. or her parents. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. God bless us, everyone.
Babs drops the can rather unceremoniously into the sink and stands next to her father, silent for as long a while as she can manage before offering, "It's going to be okay, Dad." Because it is going to be okay, damn it: the Dent Act is clearing out of the city's mobsters by the denizens, the Batman is still eluding capture by the police, and Dad's actually home in the evenings sometimes. The sun does not rise and set on her mother, and it isn't going to start with December the first.
Dad folds his arms, nods. This is a stance he has memorized. "I know, Babs, I know."
Only because she's told him a hundred times before. Barbara feels a little hurt by his rehearsed stance and response at first, but one look at her father and she knows that he's just tired, like she is, of being broken all the time.
When Dad's finger wound has knitted and been covered with a plaster, he and Babs head for the living room, tomato soup and grilled cheese served on the coffee table. Barbara's specialty: for lack of interest, not for lack of trying. She turns on the television while Dad grabs spoons. For a city built on denial, Gotham certainly knows how to never let its citizens forget where and what they came from. Old footage of Batman is being recycled by every news station from Gotham to Metropolis for some new story about the Dark Knight's whereabouts, and even though it's 1) wrong and 2) been over two years, she still skips to the Weather Network when Dad re-enters the room.
Barbara hands the remote off to her father and slumps down on the couch, head on her hand. Her eyes drift involuntarily to the empty dining room table in her periphery, the one that hasn't been eaten at since that Monday. It's been coffee table meals and take-out mostly, and even then, Dad's lost of his grip and Barbara's lost her balance.
The ancient couch sags beneath her; Barbara lets herself sink.
The GCPD's Christmas party is the most extravagant they've ever had. Bruce Wayne apparently footed a large portion of the bill, which explains why there's a giant Christmas tree in the foyer of City Hall decked out in what looks to be jewellery from Tiffany's. There's also a banquet sized table of hors d'oeuvres, an open bar serving several different kinds of ancient Scotch, and a scheduled visit from the billionaire himself (though no one's expecting he'll actually show.)
Normally, Barbara Sr. would be hugging her husband's side, but it's hard to do that from Cleveland, though her grudge is big enough he feels it jutting into his ribs. Still, Barbara Jr. is her father's date that night, and they do their best to put on happy faces for the occasion. It's not that hard at first, but one of the burdens of being a Gordon is lacking even the hope for self-delusion. They walk into the room, see the prying, sympathetic eyes of every cop in the city, and suddenly, it's the day Mom left all over again.
Barbara feels the tremors in her legs start and hugs her father's side for support. He hugs her right back. "Let me know when you're ready to leave," he tells her. Barbara wants to say, "Right now," but they're whisked into a conversation with several city officials a second later.
It's not long after that when she becomes the belle of the ball. Young, beautiful, and unattached, Barbara's dance card is filled up by every rookie. Her legs don't feel up to it, and her stomach to contorting itself into a cramp, so she holds them at bay by politely reserving her first dance for Dad. The line doesn't work forever though. Dad gets summoned off for private chit-chat with the mayor, and Barbara ends up in the arms of Officer Someone with two left feet and an air of self-importance so thick she can hardly stand to look at him.
Her hands shake when they enter the hands of the next officer, this time a heavier set, baby-faced rookie with kind eyes and a kinder smile. He doesn't say a word, and Barbara appreciates that, though she finds her eyes drifting over all the other faces. She tries to shrink behind her dance partner, but she can't make herself any smaller than the looks are making her feel. Barbara's ears are burning with the small-talk she knows is happening somewhere in the room. They all know, even the man holding her, that she's here as a replacement for a mother that left.
Her foot slips on the next turn and ends up in the rookie's calf.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Barbara says, horrified. These are her favourite shoes; she's never lost her footing in them before.
"It's okay," the officer reassures her, but the way he favours his left leg from then on tells her it's totally not.
The fact that he retreats to the washroom afterwards makes Barbara feel like losing her stomach on the next partner. Fortunately, she doesn't. Unfortunately, it seems like her balance is permanently lost now, and the poor fellow suffers the same fate as the last.
Dad's still talking to the mayor and a congressman now, so Barbara keeps her distance. She hides for a few minutes in the women's restroom until her dance partners have warned their friends about her killer kicks, and then heads to the darkest corner of the ballroom. There are a few other officers here, but no one's talking to one another, or looking at one another, or trying to know one another. Barbara eases herself against the wall and lets her emptiness show. Lets her shoulders slump, lets her head fall back, lets her arms hang loose...she's tired of holding it together, tired of pretending it's okay, when all these Christmas lights and decorations, all this dancing and smarmy small-talk remind her that it's Mom who should be here exchanging pleasantries with the mayor. It's Mom who should be doing the two-step and snuggling up to Dad. Barbara wants to be at home romanticizing the world instead of seeing it for what it really is.
"It's depressing, isn't it?"
He can't be much older than she is, the officer at her right, but there's a darkness in his eyes that ages him significantly. He scores points with Barbara for not inching too close to her and maintaining a kind of dispassion in his gaze that tells her he has no idea who she is or why she's chosen this corner.
"This year," she nods in agreement.
"Every year," he clarifies.
"I used to love Christmas."
...but my mother left because she couldn't live a lie any longer.
...because the hero of this city is being chased around like a common criminal.
...because the District Attorney everyone loves so much is actually a psychopath and a murderer who held my family at gunpoint.
Barbara smiles sadly and replies, "But Gotham happened."
The cop smiles back, just as sadly. "This city has a way of breaking nice things."
"I sometimes wonder if there were any nice things in the city to begin with."
"You look nice tonight."
"That," Barbara says with a small laugh, "is the best line I've heard all night."
"That," the cop nods slowly, "is a damn shame."
He holds out his hand. "John Blake."
Barbara takes it, likes the strength she feels hidden in his wiry frame, and gives it a firm shame. "I'm Barbara."
"So does that line earn me a dance, Barbara?"
"I nearly crippled two of your friends earlier with kicks to the shins," she warns him glumly.
"Well, given where we're both standing, I don't think our evenings could get any worse," Blake releases her hand and takes a step away from the wall. "I like my chances. Do you?"
Barbara casts a glance at her father. He's still locked in conversation looking painfully lost. She empathizes. Lost is something she knows a lot about right now. Still, it's nicer to be lost on the dance floor with someone than in the dark alone, or at least, as Blake said, it can't be worse.
They end up on the edge of the dance floor just as the music slows, like the universe knew they were coming and wanted to play something suitably melancholic. Barbara almost turns back, but Blake has her hand in his, and for the first time since that Monday, she's not the slightest bit scared of falling. She's found something solid, something real in Blake, even if it is just cynicism, and that gives her legs the strength to hold steady underneath her.
She places an arm over Blake's shoulder blades and tests her weight against him, sees how much she can get away with before he pulls away too. He doesn't budge, doesn't buckle. If anything, his gaze softens; his touch softens. Officer Blake is all sharp edges and hard corners, but the arm he puts around her is the nicest security blanket she's ever known. Gordons don't make needing people a habit, and Babs knows she certainly doesn't need this, but God, has she craved being held by someone. She has been desperately seeking a dance partner, and now she's found one twice as broken but twice as reforged too.
"Hey, you okay?"
There are tears in her eyes. Barbara holds her head back, drinking the tears back in with several frantic blinks. The lights swirl above her, white and blue, and she loses herself in the artificial beauty of the moment. "No," she replies softly, "No, but I will be."