They come up onto the rooftop in a tight pack, full of sharp edges and nervous curiosity, snapping jokes and crowding one another like rambunctious puppies. Armed, rambunctious puppies.

It's an odd metaphor, to put it mildly, for the city's finest.

Montoya, first forward and managing (almost: behind her Gordon wears a faint irritated smile) to make that seem like a happy accident, scours the half-inch layer of snow as though convinced assassins are hiding under it. Her smirk could cut glass from twenty paces. Bullock looms out around her, scowling preemptively, wrapped in a trench coat that makes him look like a comic book mob boss. Stephens pats his sidearm and hangs back next to Gordon, wary as soon as he hits the open air.

Batman shifts against the feverish heat of the flue he's hidden beside (kevlar might stop bullets but apparently it does nothing for wind), and wishes that Jim Gordon wasn't so irritatingly persistent.

Somebody else has to know, if something happens to me. I won't have all my people shooting you on sight, the man had said last night, standing shivering on his porch in what looked absurdly like a barn coat. Then, a little lamely, This city needs you. Finally just Please, a word with too much ache in it for either of them, too much echo of the newly empty house beyond the Commissioner's hunched shoulders, and somehow that sound has brought him here, standing sore and tired in the shadows on the MCU roof and trying to ignore the fact that snowflakes are blowing under his cowl. That shouldn't be possible, but it's happening, and it itches. He wonders if Montoya is going to shoot him when he appears. She looks like she'd like to shoot something. The stitches in his side pull and burn under the armor.

Some nights being an airheaded billionaire with an endless supply of shiny toys and not a single halfassed damn to give about the world seems almost like a nice retirement.

Ask Lucius about thermals, he thinks (that conversation should be mortifying), and drops down a calculated fifteen feet from them, far enough from the open door that he isn't blocking it, close enough to the yawning edge of the building to be in the air in a few seconds. If it comes to that. Gordon was sure it wouldn't, and Gordon is rarely wrong about his people these days.

It's Bullock who draws. Stephens shoves himself in front of Gordon, a gesture that ties a warm knot of approval in Batman's chest- and Montoya, after jerking sideways like a startled cat, just watches him, head tilted, eyes wise and amused. The glass-cutting smirk does wilt a little bit.

"Motherfucker!" Bullock snarls. His Glock looks too big to be regulation from this angle. "Murdering fuck! Son of a bitching fuck!"

The expletives get longer and, if possible, less creative while Gordon calmly talks him down. Montoya's smirk slowly widens into a grin and Stephens' shoulders drop as his eyebrows disappear into his hairline, and a minute later when Bullock lets his gun slide into Gordon's careful grip with a growled "Goddamn asshole motherfucking fuck," even Batman has to make a bit of an effort to keep the scowl steady.

"Now that we've cleared the air," Gordon says dryly, pocketing Bullock's gun in that ridiculous barn coat-thing.

Montoya and Stephens snort like kids whispering dirty jokes to each other in class. It's at least half nerves: Stephens' left hand is still hovering over his sidearm. Batman doesn't move. If the wind wasn't kicking his cape around that would be better, because Montoya's eyes are darting to that movement -but Gotham's getting a rare white Christmas, which after the terror of autumn is probably a little more important than convenient weather for brooding wanted vigilante ambiance. Things do look slightly less bleak under the blanket of snow.

"Shit fuck," Bullock concludes morosely.

"Well said, Harvey," Stephens says.

Montoya starts to snicker, high and helpless, one hand rising to cover her face. Batman has to scowl a little harder. It's been a month and more since he had the impulse to laugh at anything, and he can't quite remember what to do with it.

Bullock edges backward one unwilling step. Too much scowl, apparently.

It's not fooling Gordon, who sends him a look lit with wry humor and relief and gratitude, and suddenly it's clear: it was too heavy a secret, too much to ask. It's easy to forget this man can turn his honesty into a mask as effective as the cowl, but he's revisiting the fact now, seeing the burden behind it, only visible now that it's lifted. Somehow he never imagined that gentle poker face could be used on him. Which is stupidly arrogant, since Gordon faked his own death barely a month ago.

He thinks of the empty house behind Gordon's coat-bundled form, remembers a tow-headed boy with the same steady eyes, hero worship instead of seasoned, reasoning trust in them (which was actually heavier, in some indefinable way). He'd saddled that kid with the same lie, the same responsibility to prop it up and make it real, and he'd never counted the cost, too bent on meting out his own skewed justice for his own compounded failures.

He has to draw a breath against a rush of nausea. He looks at the detectives instead of at Gordon. They are all watching the Bat, waiting.

"He didn't kill Dent," Stephens says. It's not really a question.

"He didn't," Gordon agrees. "And he didn't threaten my family."

Bullock sighs heavily. Montoya has gotten serious. Her eyes travel over the cowl. "Who did?" she says.

Gordon doesn't have an easy answer for that. "The Joker," he says, after a frowning look at the snow cover, like there are simpler answers under there. "In a way. In all the ways that matter."

"In a way, Boss? What's that supposed to mean?"

Gordon was probably hoping to avoid this but he tells it unflinchingly, listing Dent's madness-driven crimes in the dry, factual voice of trial testimony. There's an ache under these words too, buried a little deeper but as plain as Please to someone who has heard his voice break against the brutal imperative of his children's lives. Batman hears kevlar creaking: he's balled his hands into fists. He lets them fall open. Stephens flicks a considering glance at him.

Gordon's not meeting anyone's eyes when he finishes. There's silence, as the snow starts to stick to their hair and the kevlar becomes ever more useless against the cold. The detectives think it over. Montoya rubs her arms.

"Somebody's going to shoot him, Boss," she says finally.

"Let me worry about that."

The rasp is a little raspier tonight. Alfred has taken to leaving cough drops in convenient places around the penthouse, which is probably sly British commentary on -something. He has yet to figure out what. He doesn't think Alfred has ever heard the Bat speak, but you can't put anything past the man.

Montoya makes a face. Batman is already regretting the fact that she no longer believes he's a murderer. He sees a long line of smartass comments he'll be obliged to ignore stretching ahead of them. "Sure. And if you get clipped? Or taken in? You want your file baked in coffee cake, or are you more of a brownie guy?"

"Montoya," Gordon says quietly.

"Boss, you know I'll do whatever you need me to, but this is too big, we got the whole force looking for him-"

"You bake him something and we won't need to worry about keeping him alive anyway," Bullock rumbles.

-How did this get to be about them keeping him alive? He glowers, feeling like he missed an important piece of this discussion. Then he sees Gordon's look, half-exasperated and half-guilty, and knows that's what it was always about, for at least one of them. He's just the last to pick up on it.

Damn the man.

"The peanut gallery speaks," Montoya says, dry as vermouth. "S'cuse me if I don't take your opinion of my domestic skills too seriously, Bullock."

"Oh, domestic skills, is that what they call 'em these days..."

"Please. Your idea of a meal is Spaghetti-O's."

"Nothing wrong with that."

"Of course not, Bullock. My five year old nephew eats them every day. You get down with your bad toddler self."

"Enough," Gordon says, raising his voice a little, reining them in. "The Joker's gone, but somebody will try to take his place soon, and in the meantime the whole city thinks Batman's too busy running from us to keep an eye on things, and we're too busy trying to catch him. We're already seeing a rise in petty theft. It's going to get worse. If anybody's got a better idea, speak up."

Nobody does. Batman's still trying to process the notion that Gordon wanted these three in on it not for his own sake but for the Bat's, like a vigilante in a costume needs… what? Moral support?

It's infuriating and entirely predictable, in hindsight, and it puts a weird warm twist of irritation right behind his sternum, which is distracting enough that he only notices Gordon has dismissed his people when they start to move toward the door. They look like they want him to say something else. He offers up a short nod, wondering if the confusion has made it to his face. Stephens would probably be worrying, Bullock scowling, and Montoya smirking either way.

They're good cops. They'll be a good resource. But it risks them; risks Gordon. Risks the city, and the lie they created for the city's sake. That feels like a betrayal. He folds his arms, pushing down the urge to rub some heat back into his biceps, and glowers a little harder.

That doesn't fool Gordon any more than the scowl. He doesn't know when that started to happen. Gordon's eyes are sad and too clear behind the glasses.

"Gerry suspected," Gordon says. "Harvey would have gotten there in time. Renee-" he breaks off, pushes his glasses up to rub his forehead tiredly. "I never know what's going on in that girl's head. Probably knew all along. She's too quick for her own good."

Like Rachel.

It isn't a thought the Bat would have. It throws him off, pushes his ribs out in a too-deep breath that's close to a gasp. The stitches howl into his skin. Gordon's gaze narrows, reading that. The cowl feels too tight. "It's all right," Gordon says, a phrase which in his voice has an agonizing, almost perfect echo in his worst memories. For a split second, caught between panic and pain, he thinks, He knows.

Then Gordon makes a face, and rational thought reasserts itself: it's not a hint, it's just Jim Gordon, applying the same generous, protective impulse he once offered a shattered little boy to a stranger dressed up in a bat costume. "It will be all right," Gordon amends wearily.

He can't take any more of that gentle look, it's worse than the wind through the kevlar suit.

"I'll leave word when I have something on the Rugetti family operation," Bruce says in Batman's rasp, scrabbling mentally for Batman's cold logic, and turns on the roof's edge to catch the freezing wind in his cape.


It's a bad night to be a criminal in Gotham.