Rating: NC-17 for the series, PG-13 for this part.
A/N: Moving well into the angst territory. And plot, can't forget plot, it's the reason this part took so long :) With thanks to kubis, for demanding I wrote.
The main problem with Jim's filing method of choice - Any Available Surface, pile it up until it threatens to fall over - is that at some point it got really impossible to find the right files. He usually remembers where he put the crime scene photos, or witness statements, but when it comes to quarterly financial reports, it's a great mystery.
He pokes at the papers on his desk, then shifts a few piles absently, slightly hoping he had actually lost the report, and won't be forced to deal with it today. Unfortunately, he finds it, under a thin layer of dust, and the kids' postcards. Well, Jimmy's postcard, and Babs' long, detailed letter of everything happening at the computer camp. He got lost the moment she started explaining what they've been learning, but he supposes it's only the beginning. In the last phonecall Barbara started talking about Babs' college choices, of all things, and wasn't this a bit too early? Or a lot too early? But at least the things had been rather civil, between him and Barbara, and she even asked how he was doing, and it seemed like she really wanted to know. He knows she's seeing someone, Babs spilled this one, but they're not in the place where he can ask, yet. He's not telling her about Bruce either, after all.
Of course, he's not telling anyone about Bruce. Or Batman. Or countless other things, most of them pertaining to Batman, and how exactly Jim gets most of his intel and evidence. He's becoming slightly tired of this, of having to hide things and occasionally even lie and fake paperwork. The faking paperwork part is the most annoying, as filling it with true data is tiresome enough, he doesn't need to think on getting his non-facts straight, thank you.
These days, it seems like half of his work is to conceal the other half of his work. And it's not even that he doesn't trust his people, because after a year of cleaning out the department, of reviewing and checking and rechecking, he is almost certain he ended up with good men and good cops. And that's the whole problem, because none of them would hesitate before doing the right thing, and for them, the right thing is hunting down the vigilante known as Batman.
On bad days, he really doesn't see how this situation can end in anything other than a complete disaster. On good days, he hopes they'll manage to clear Batman's name before that one mistake is made and Batman gets caught, or worse. It would be nice if the good days outnumbered the bad.
His phone rings, and he spends a moment looking for it, just to discover it under a folder he had been looking for about half an hour ago and never found. "Gordon," he says, and listens to a long explanation. It arrives at the important part, the one that has him almost jumping out of his chair, reaching for his coat and attempting to pull it on one-handed. Batman sighting. "I'll be right there."
He might be beating his record on traffic violations, getting to the scene in under ten minutes, but he doesn't take chances. They've been lucky so far, Batman avoided capture, and Jim avoided getting fired, or, well, shot, but all it takes is a one bad day, one moment.
"What do we have?" he asks, ducking under the yellow tape, and trying to keep his voice even. Someone hands him a cup of coffee, a little too full, and scorching hot. Another incentive to keep calm, shaking hands would mean scolding himself with burning liquid. He sighs, and takes a sip, thinking he actually misses the days when all he had to worry about were people trying to kill him. It used to be much more simple, then.
"Drug ring, we had our man on the inside, Marsh?" Gordon nods at that, he's familiar with the case, the last report passing his desk just yesterday. "He's been made, before the bust. He's still inside, alive, last time we heard."
"Batman?" Jim asks, eyes fixed on the warehouse.
"Swooped in about fifteen minutes ago. We hadn't heard anything since. Should we..." he starts, and doesn't get a chance to finish, as Gordon is moving forward, handing him the half-empty coffee cup, and passing him by. "Commissioner?"
He can feel the eyes of all his officers worrying into the back of his head, wondering if he had finally went round the bent. He knows most of the gossip circulating around the office, some pity him for trusting Batman before just to have his family threatened, some think him a fool, some ascribe to the latest conspiracy theory (which might be closest to the truth, actually), and some just wait for him to snap and either get himself killed, shoot himself, or shoot someone else. They've all seen enough cops loosing it at the end of a particularly hard day to half expect it.
Fortunately, they also know enough not to question him. After months of working towards it, he actually ended up with a department he can rely on.
The doors aren't locked, which is greatly convenient. It would look mightily stupid, if he had to knock. Of course, no one probably expected anyone to be insane enough to just enter the warehouse, no backup, just his piece, not even pointed but held ready. Oh, well. He had been building up a fine reputation of acting rashly and doing everything his way, this shouldn't really surprise anyone.
Before he even crosses the doorstep, he has four guns drawn at him; nothing less than what he expected. Marsh is tied to a chair, blood dripping down the side of his face from a head wound that looks all too serious for Gordon's liking. Batman is nowhere in sight, and no sign of him ever being here. He isn't really sure if this is a good thing or not.
One of the men lowers his gun a little, either the leader or the spokesman. "So, we're getting serious, if we get the commissioner in our humble abode. How can we help?" he asks pleasantly, and Gordon shrugs.
"I'd like my officer back," he says plainly.
It draws laughs from pretty much everyone but Marsh and the spokesman. The former is on the verge of unconsciousness as it is, and the latter is watching Jim warily, as if he suspects this to be a trick, or a diversion. And God, Jim really hopes it is. Otherwise, he might be in deeper trouble than usual. And yes, he might be extremely insane, to bet this high, to take risks like that, but so far, he had never been disappointed, not in this.
"That's not an option," the man says, much as Gordon expected. "But I'd like to thank you for dropping by and improving our chances on getting out of here. If you could please drop your weapon now."
His voice is even and poised, destined to intimidate in the most dignified manner, as if he was watching too many Bond movies, but it's not as calm as he wants Jim to think, his eyes shift to the side, looking for any sign of Jim's backup.
He's not looking in the right place.
A sense of calm washes over Jim, and he doesn't need to look to know that the Batman is close. He had enough of experience of turning around to see Batman in the shadows, enough of disappearances mid-sentence, to become tuned in to the man's comings and goings. Idly, he thinks there's a really dirty pun there, but he doesn't have time or mind to make it. He smiles.
"Of course," he says, and turns the gun in his hand, fingers grasping the handle so it hangs from his hand, unthreatening. He leans forward, knees bending lightly, one hand raised in defensive gesture. Everything is fine, he wants to convey, he's putting away his gun, nothing to fear, no surprises.
Well, except for this one.
Batman swoops in, typically, in one smooth jump disarming two thugs. Jim's prepared enough to leap to the side, avoiding the bullet fired in shock and not aimed well enough. He draws his own gun, grasps the handle properly, surely, and pulls the trigger, aiming for the right shoulder. The shot, intended for Batman, goes through the ceiling, the shooter falling down, clutching his arm. Jim turns to the fourth man, but he's already on the floor, unconscious.
Jim's mind races, as he makes his way to Marsh. Shots fired are bound to get his men here in the course of seconds. "Go," he tells Batman, checking Marsh's vitals, pressing tightly at the wound to stop bleeding. He frowns, as there's no tell-tale rustle of material behind him, and the presence at the back of his mind doesn't disappear. He glances over his shoulder to see the Bat still standing there. "Go," he repeats. "I'll take care of the rest."
Batman nods curtly, and is gone, once again becoming just a shadow before disappearing completely, right before the doors open, letting in the unit. "Get Marsh out of here, and into the hospital," he orders, stepping back. "Take this four into custody. Secure the building," he adds.
His men probably know all of this, they've seen enough action in this city, but he feels better for saying this. The looks are different now, no longer watchful and considering, but maybe even bordering on impressed. After all, he just took down four armed men, didn't he?
He sighs, and walks out, doesn't stop until he's well outside the zone secured with police tape, until he can lean against his car and breathe. The press used to call him a hero cop, before he became the commissioner. They still do, sometimes. He never really liked it before, but didn't mind, now, he pretty much hates the very term. Half of the things he gets praised for would be downright stupid if he really was doing them all on his own. Things being as they are, he can't even give credit where credit is due. And the trouble is, to be honest, that he's the only one who seems angry about that.
After a moment, he opens the car's door and sits down, his legs still outside on the pavement, his back hunched. He feels for the radio's control and switches it on, listening to the chatter, making sure everything is going smoothly. He learns that Marsh got to the hospital, and that the criminals are on their way to the county, he listens for a while to the reports from the search, and the countdown of drugs found. He waits for this to die down, for the line to slowly switch back to the normal night's reports of joyriding and some deli robbery. Behind him, the police SUVs slowly vacate the scene, only two remaining now.
He reaches for the car keys, fishes them out of his pocket, and doesn't move further, doesn't start the ignition yet, just lets them dangle from his hand, thumb absently running along the keychain. He should get home and get some sleep, and he's not needed on the scene anymore, but frankly, he doesn't really want to move. The night brought a cooler breeze, his shirt no longer clings to him, and he can actually breathe. He closes his eyes, just for a moment.
When he opens them, he's not surprised to see Batman a few steps away, on the edge of the darkest shadow. Annoyed, yes, but not surprised.
"There's still quite a few officers on the scene," he points out, not even bothering to raise his voice. He's too tired for that. "And the crime scene unit is bound to arrive any moment now."
"They won't see me," Batman states, and Jim is close to rolling his eyes. He would, if it required even a fraction less of effort.
"You know," Jim says, more to himself than to be heard, "just once, you could refrain from taking unnecessary risks." He doesn't really mean this, it's not a risk as such, they're far away enough to not be clearly seen from the warehouse's area, and even if anyone looked their way, the Bat has a way of blending into his surroundings that borders on supernatural. What he means is... well, pretty much everything else, and he knows he doesn't have to explain.
There's no answer for a very long moment, and Jim almost expects Batman to disappear into the darkness as he used to do, leaving him mid-sentence, mid-conversation. But things are different now, and Batman stays, and works out the answer.
"One of your men was in danger."
Well, at least it's an answer, if not the answer. Or something that might pass for an answer in a bad light, or in deep shadows.
But right now Jim's too tired to look for the meaning and be charitable, and he shakes his head. "Which made it our business, Bruce. We can deal with those things without you."
The air shifts, and Batman goes completely still, prompting Jim to think on what he said and grimace. He usually knows better, knows to bite his tongue, knows how to keep things separate, but maybe, just maybe, he's tired of this as well. Not tired enough though, to not have his heartbeat speed up, his pulse race, waiting. Batman takes a step forward, moving into the light of the street lantern.
"Jim," he says, hand moving just a fraction of an inch, as if he was to reach out. The distinction blurs further, as it's not Batman's voice this time. "I'm just trying to help."
He nods slightly, even though he really just wants to shake his head. "Oh, I know. But walking into a hostage situation where not only the perps but also the police officers would shoot first, and never get to the questions part... You don't have to do everything."
The answer is so quiet Jim almost doesn't catch it. "Neither do you."
He wants to say a lot of things, he could say a lot of things to that, but nothing that he wouldn't come to regret later.
Slowly, he shifts in the seat, turning to face the wheel. His knees ache, but it's the welcomed pain, one he can concentrate on while he refuses to deal with the sinking feeling in his stomach. He starts the ignition before he shuts the doors, with a little more force than necessary. The car rolls into the street slowly, and Jim can't tear his gaze from the rearview mirror.
For once, he's the one walking, driving, away from the conversation, and good Lord, he really hates it.
on to Part Three