“I’ll get her to the MCU,” was the first thing Bruce said, and Jim glanced up in some surprise.
“You know, one day we’re going to talk about your creepily good hearing,” he muttered and bent down to find his shoes, the left of which got kicked under the bed. “Guess that Joker’s interrogation is happening today, after all.”
“You think it’s him?”
“You don’t? Rachel said he was taken, the mob would probably go for the kill, not bother with a kidnapping.”
Bruce sighed. “This day is getting better and better.”
Jim glanced at the clock on the bedside table and couldn’t help sighing himself. More like an awful start to a brand new day. Bruce nodded at him.
“I’ll see you later.”
Well, at least the fires on the lower fifth were completely out, Jim mused as he drove through the mostly silent city back to the MCU. It was an eerie kind of quiet, not like something after the storm, and not even a deceitful silence of the moment before all hell breaks loose, no, it was a little bit like standing in the dead centre of a tornado, while chaos reigned all around.
To sum up: it was depressing, Jim needed coffee, and possibly painkillers and it was still inadvisable to take any for the next three hours. At this point, he rather hated the world.
“Shouldn’t you be at home?” Stephens welcomed him with a grim expression. At Jim’s look he shrugged. “I know. We’ve sent a patrol to their apartment, but apparently the Bat picked Miss Dawes up and they’re on their way here. Sergeant Lewis is not happy with that.”
Jim didn’t care that much. “I trust Batman to get her here safe.”
“With the implication being, you don’t trust your own men. I’m impressed, Jimbo, not even 24 hours in the office and you’re already rivaling Loeb in cynicism.”
Normally, Jim would come up with a retort, but he really couldn’t be bothered right now. As if agreeing, his phone perked up. “Rachel needs to talk to you,” Bruce muttered and there was a moment of muffled noises, and then Rachel took the phone.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Can you talk?” Jim asked with some concern, wishing she would be. They didn’t have much time, whoever had Harvey.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Well, not fine…” she laughed humorlessly, a tinge of hysteria in it. “It was the Joker. Well, his men. Said they didn’t need me, just Harvey, but that I had to give you a message.”
“What’s the message, Rachel?” he asked gently.
“That it’s your decision. Who lives and who dies. Jim, do you know what they were talking about?”
“No. But I’m going to find out,” he told her grimly and snapped the phone shut. Stephens gave him a look filled with concern.
“No, you don’t,” he said firmly.
“I outrank you, Gerry,” Jim pointed out dryly, running his hand down his face, rubbing at his left eye. “And I really wish I didn’t, because not having to deal with it all sounds like a damn fine idea.”
“At least wait for the Bat,” Stephens tried, and Jim could tell things were dire if that was the suggestion Gerry went with.
“No time. Have Bullock and Montoya go through the list of Joker’s known associates again, see if anything comes up as a place where one could hold a hostage.”
“I’ll tell Bullock. Montoya hadn’t gotten here yet. I called her cell, but she must have taken your advice and called it a night.”
The nagging feeling in his brain that he had been only vaguely aware of suddenly kicked into an overdrive. “Send the nearest patrol to her house,” Jim said grimly.
“You don’t think…”
“I don’t know,” Jim shook his head. “It’s just a feeling and I really hope I’m wrong and that she’s going to be there to yell at me for having people wake her up.”
“She will yell at you,” Stephens confirmed, but it sounded like a wish or a prayer sent skywards, in the way he glanced up for the briefest of seconds before reaching for his cellphone to call dispatch.
It took three minutes for the patrol to get to Montoya’s house in the night’s lack of traffic, and they found it empty and the doors kicked open.
“Jimbo, don’t,” Stephens said, but Jim ignored him, already on his way to the Joker’s cell. He couldn’t run exactly, not with his leg still dully hurting, but he could walk fast. Still, Stephens caught up with him. “At least wait for the Bat.”
It was, in theory, a sensible idea. But Jim wasn’t always reasonable, and right now, with Harvey’s and Renee’s time possibly running out, he couldn’t let himself waste it on being reasonable. “It’s me he wants.”
Joker’s smile was almost pleasant, and that was the most disconcerting thing. “Finally. I’ve waited for hours,” he complained.
“Where are they?”
“Misplaced something? Or someone? On your first day in the new job, as it was. So careless, commissioner. By the way, did I congratulate you yet?”
“Harvey Dent. Renee Montoya,” Jim said, concentrating on not gritting his teeth. “Your men have them, and you wanted to talk to me. So, you’re going to tell me where they are.”
“Or what?” Joker asked, his head tilted with an almost childlike curiosity, as if he was genuinely interested in what Jim could come up with.
Jim wanted to punch him then, more than he ever wanted to punch anyone in his life. For wasting his time, for withholding the information on Renee and Harvey, for Loeb and Surillo and others and for the two bullets and Bruce’s bruised ribs and all the guilt put on Batman. But Joker was in the police custody and his hands were handcuffed and, well, it made all the difference.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll tell you,” Joker assured him, amused as if he could read Jim’s thoughts. Possibly he could; Jim never had any poker face to speak of. “But in a moment, because when I do, you’re going to rush out of here, and we’re having such a pleasant conversation.”
“What do you want?” Jim asked, and didn’t quite care that his voice sounded so tired and resigned.
“I want to see what you’re made of, commissioner,” Joker said, leaning forward, his mouth stretching around the words with exaggerated care. “The city loves an honest cop, there’s so few of them. You even got my friend the Bat’s attention. Said to myself, that must be an interesting guy. Let’s see what makes him… tick.”
“Where are they?” Jim asked, and it felt like banging his head against the wall, only less productive.
“What time is it?”
“What does it matter?”
“Depending on the time, they could be in one place… or in many,” he said matter-of-factly.
“If you want to play games…” Jim started and didn’t get to finish as Joker’s laugh interrupted him. And hell, the man’s lawyers will have a cake walk of a case if they go for the insanity plea.
“Oh, games. Games don’t matter, commissioner, choice does. And who will you choose; the man who helped to rid Gotham of most of its criminals and still can do great things… or a lowly police officer who doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but matters to you?” Joker tilted his head, going from seemingly enamored with his spiel to mildly puzzled. “You know, it was hard to find someone close to you. Most people have families that can be killed or threatened,” he added in a tone of reproach.
Jim waited; obviously he wasn’t going to learn anything until Joker decided to tell him. The man was right, Jim had nothing to offer him and nothing to threaten him with. It was a frightening thought, how much someone’s complete and utter disregard of consequences could throw the balance of the system off.
Joker nodded, smiling gleefully. “You are so full of righteous indignation, it’s very entertaining. But I can’t be the one having all the fun, we should let the others see. How far does the righteousness go?” he nodded again, his eyes darting around, as if he was trying to recall something. “If you hurry, you may get to one of them in time,” he added and rattled of the addresses, laughing as Jim darted out through the door.
“Jim,” Bruce’s voice, in its low Batman tone, stopped him, and Jim felt grateful for not only Bruce being here, but also not being there in the cell moments ago. There were some lines he still wasn’t sure he wanted to cross, some rules he couldn’t yet break because where would that put him, if not closer to Joker? And if Bruce arrived a few minutes before Jim went in, he would have asked him to assist in the interrogation, for the chance it could go faster.
Of course, there was a chance it could have gone faster then, and that he lost precious seconds on principle.
“Most of it. The important part,” Bruce nodded quickly. “Where do you want me to go?”
And just as Joker wanted, it came down to Jim’s decision. His eyes darted to the side, catching Rachel’s eye for a split second and he nodded. “Go get Harvey. We’ll get Montoya.” Bruce probably had better chances of getting there faster, but Montoya was also his responsibility, he recruited her into the unit, and it was because of him she was where she was.
Bruce nodded once again and was on his way, an almost blurred motion out of the door, and Jim could only follow close behind, gathering men on his way. The streets should still be empty, the day was soon to break but it was still hours before the morning rush.
He got to the squad car closest to the entrance at roughly the same time Bullock had. “Stephens said you’re not driving, boss.”
Jim was already starting to protest but he snapped his mouth shut and nodded sharply. No time, none at all. “Just step on it,” he muttered and Bullock smiled grimly.
“Hadn’t driven so much in years as I have today,” he muttered, as the car started with a screech of the tires. Well, Jim thought, today was just special.
He reached out to fiddle with the radio, listening for the reports coming in. At least a few of the cars followed Bruce, but they’ve been left behind. Tumbler or bike, there was no way to keep up with the Bat. But most of the patrols were on their way to Jim’s destination, to where Montoya was.
“Montoya’s gonna be pissed,” Bullock said, his voice distant as the car sped up, the sirens almost drowning out his words but not quite. “Joker’s gonna need protective custody once she gets back.”
Once she gets back. Jim nodded. “Yes.”
Finally, the car pulled over in front of the building and Jim was out before it properly stopped, the sharp pain in his leg as he stepped onto the pavement interrupting for the moment the dull pain that had been his companion for a while now.
“Boss, don’t,” Bullock shouted, getting out of the car from his side. He must have seen something Jim didn’t notice, because in the next second the building was blown up, in a thunder of noise and light so bright that Jim had to shield his eyes. And then duck the incoming bits and pieces, glass and dust.
He must have moved and lunged forward, because the next thing he knew, Bullock was holding him back, muttering something about being too late.
And then, surreally, from the cacophony of noise on the radio he could make out the report claiming that Batman had Montoya, and that she was alive. “How…” Jim started, looking back at the building, shaking his head in disbelief. “Harvey.”
So much for a choice.
Bullock gave him a look, dialing his cellphone. “Detective Harvey Bullock, MCU, badge number 41319, requesting the fire brigade to 250 52nd Boulevard,” he muttered and disconnected, turning to Jim. “Joker gave us the wrong addresses,” he said finally and Jim nodded.
“Looks like,” he said. Joker must have known there was no way they could get to even one of them in time, he chose locations on the opposite sides of the city and as far as possible from the scene of the events from earlier in the night, where most of the squad cars still were. They wouldn’t have made it, and wouldn’t have saved even one of them, if not for Batman’s uncanny vehicles.
Why even make Jim choose, then? Joker went to great lengths just to set this up, he could have simply killed Harvey and Montoya, but… He reached out for his own cellphone. It rang for a while and went to Stephen’s voice mail.
“Check what’s going on back at the MCU,” he told Bullock and waited, the sinking feeling in his stomach telling him he knew the answer.
“Joker’s gone,” Bullock reported, his fist smacking the car’s doors.
“With Lau?” Jim prompted.
“Yeah. Fuck,” Bullock muttered, echoing Jim’s general sentiment. He should have seen this coming, Joker seemed to have an ace in the hole every damn time, they should have known apprehending him wouldn’t be that easy.
And now Harvey was dead and Jim was going to go see Rachel and give her the news, knowing full well it was his fault he didn’t see this one coming, didn’t insist on protective detail for both of them. They might have expected this, the Joker hadn’t managed to kill Harvey before, it was a given he would try again.
Jim’s cellphone rang in his hand, startling him. “Gordon.”
“I’m taking Montoya to the hospital,” Bruce told him. “She has a concussion, and a few rather nasty bruises, she must have put quite a fight.”
“Yes, she would,” Jim said, and he couldn’t help the slightest feeling of pride. “I’m going back to the MCU, I need to tell Rachel…”
“Harvey,” Bruce agreed. “I’ve picked up on the reports.”
“Joker’s in the wind, too, with Lau,” Jim added, running his hand through his hair, trying to breathe calmly again. It wasn’t working. He guessed it was another reminder that he wasn’t twenty anymore, and that getting shot twice in as many days was apparently having an effect. And maybe it was because the knot in his stomach kept on tightening, as if it was slowly sinking in that Harvey Dent was dead.
“We’ll get him,” Bruce said, and Jim didn’t really believe that. He didn’t think Bruce believed it either.
“Yes, well,” he said. “Let me know how Renee’s doing. I’ll come by the hospital later.” Unless there was some other tragedy, or another emergency. He wasn’t counting it out yet.
“Jim,” Bruce said quietly, his voice lower than the Batman rasp, but not quite the voice of Bruce Wayne yet. “It’s Joker. All of this.”
‘Not your fault’ was implied, but Bruce apparently knew better than to try that one. Guilt was a curious thing; it didn’t get any easier even if you knew there probably wasn’t much you could have done. The ‘probably’ was enough, the possibility of there being some other way was enough to weigh you down.
“There’s that,” Jim said noncommittally. “I’ll see you later,” he said, half promise half hope, and disconnected.
“How’s Renee?” Bullock asked immediately, having watched Jim like a hawk during the conversation.
“Alive,” Jim muttered, taking his glasses off, closing his eyes and breathing out slowly. After a moment, he could look at Bullock again and nod at him. “You can go to the hospital after you drop me off at the MCU.”
“Thanks, boss,” Bullock said with relief. For all the teasing, he and Montoya bonded quickly, and Jim wasn’t going to deny him the few moments at the hospital, and they could probably get by at the MCU without Bullock for some time.
He almost changed his mind when they actually got there.
“Hell,” Bullock swore under his breath, his hands tightening on the steering wheel. Yes, quite, Jim thought. The smoke hadn’t cleared yet, and the windows on the first floor had been shattered by the strength of the explosive.
“I’m going to hate presenting Garcia with the bill for this,” he muttered, then opened the car’s door. “Go see Montoya. Tell her she doesn’t get many sick days, we’re going to need everyone if we’re to catch the Joker again.”
“I’ll tell her you said we can’t do it without her,” Bullock said with a small smile.
Jim nodded sharply. “Yeah, do that.”
He bounded the stairs a bit too fast for his leg, but he didn’t mind the pain so much now; it focused his senses and served as a reminder that he was actually the lucky one, he survived Joker’s attempt at his life, at least for now. He could feel the anger boiling inside, anger and desperation and guilt. It was not the best of feelings but now it could be useful.
“Stephens?” he asked once inside, looking Gerry over for signs of injuries. Save for a bandage on his neck, dirty with blood on the side, he seemed fine.
“Just a scratch,” Gerry confirmed, his voice grave. “We have two dead, a prisoner and one of our people. Three seriously injured, they should be in the hospital by now. Others with minor injuries we’ve dealt with here…”
“Rachel?” Jim asked quietly.
“She’s fine. Well, mostly. Told her to wait in your office.”
Jim nodded. “I’ll be right back,” he said and went into his office, closing the doors on the noise and the chaos.
Rachel was sitting behind his desk, shifting through some of Jim’s papers. There was a dark bruise on her brow, obviously unattended to, and her face was stained with dirt, hair in a complete disarray. She didn’t seem to mind or notice.
“Rachel,” he said and she nodded, not looking up.
“We need to find Lau. I’m pretty sure the mob has him, Joker wouldn’t be interested otherwise. He must be working for them, in some way.”
She shook her head. “I can’t, Jim. Not now. I can’t…” her voice broke, and she bit her lip hard, keeping the words in and holding back the tears.
“I know,” he nodded, stepping around the desk to kneel in front of her chair, reaching out to brush her hair away from her face. “It’s okay to cry, you know? It’s okay,” he muttered and her shoulders shook with an unvoiced sob. “I’m sorry,” he added, quieter, and she leaned down to look at him.
“Yeah,” she said. “I am too. But I know who’s to blame, and that’s Joker, okay? You sent Bruce to get Harvey, and if Joker hadn’t played you, you would have lost Renee. Or we could have lost both of them. Or…” her voice broke again and she rested her forehead against Jim’s for a few moments.
“You amaze me sometimes,” he told her.
“I amaze myself sometimes,” she agreed, swallowing and breathing out slowly. “And now, I’m going to go through Lau’s files again, so I’m ready for when you arrest him again. And the Joker too.”
“Keep working, eh?”
“That’s the general idea,” she said, her voice distant. “It’s that or…” she shook her head. “You know, I don’t know. And that scares me.”
Jim nodded slowly. He stood up, taking a moment to kiss her forehead. “You are going to be okay.”
“Yes, maybe. I don’t want to be okay now, though.”
There was that; grief and anger kept you going, he should know.