Jim Gordon always woke up at the sound of sirens.
It was silly, he knew. He'd been a cop for years and he'd lived in cities longer and even when he'd been police commissioner he'd known that if something required his attention then the bedside phone would ring. But he woke up for the sirens, just the same.
He told himself what he always told himself: if they need you, they'll call.
Then he remembered that they wouldn't.
That they didn't.
He couldn't get back to sleep as easily as he'd used to. That was part of getting old, he supposed, but that didn't mean he liked it. On weekdays, it was worst: he'd try to go to sleep, and fail, and finally fall asleep at four o'clock, and then be late to get up in the morning.
Not that he had anywhere important to be in the morning, but it was the principle of the thing.
A walk might do the trick, he thought.
It was a warm evening, so Jim didn't bother with the sweatpants -- just a robe over his pajamas, and his slippers, and the damn cane. He was halfway down his front walk when he realized how he must look, and wondered if it was a step in letting go. Then he remembered his own father, retired and shuffling about the garden in robe and slippers, and laughed. He made his way down the sidewalk, with easy steps and gentle taps of the cane.
So maybe the neighbors would think he was crazy, going around the streets in his bathrobe. Some mob guy in New York had tried that. Hadn't fooled the feds, though.
It wasn't as if anybody was going to see him.
The sirens were getting louder. Unusual for Jim's neighborhood; normally he heard them fleetingly, if at all.
Wait a minute, Jim thought. They sounded really close.
Then the car screeched around the corner.
Its tires squealed against the pavement as the driver pulled out of the turn and accelerated. Jim took a quick step back, keeping the parked cars between himself and the street. He dropped a hand automatically to his hip, and found nothing. Jim didn't carry if he could help it, but now he missed his gun.
The driver swerved from side to side, and Jim realized the still-approaching police weren't the only ones he was trying to get away from. There was a figure on the car's roof. A figure in cape and cowl.
Too small to be his old friend.
Not the one he always thought of. But Batgirl, anyway.
She was clinging to the roof -- no, Jim realized, to a Batarang sticking out of it. As Jim watched, muzzle flashes lit up the inside of the car. Batgirl, still clutching the batarang, threw her body to one side as bullets tore through the roof.
The car swerved again, wildly. Stupid, Jim thought, using a gun in a closed space like that. Probably deafened the driver. Thank God crooks are their own worst enemies. He looked around for something -- anything -- he could use to help. Maybe he could pry off somebody's hubcap and throw it --
Batgirl reached into her utility belt and pulled out another batarang. She jammed it into the car roof and pulled on both batarangs until they met, making a small hole in the metal. She reached into her belt again and pushed something into the hole.
The flash-bang detonated with a roar that cracked the windshield. The driver lost control -- probably consciousness, Jim thought -- and the car plowed full-tilt into a lamppost.
Batgirl was flung off the roof onto the back of a parked car.
The rear windshield shattered. Batgirl hit the ground and rolled.
Her fall took her onto the sidewalk behind a parked car, out of view.
Jim took a step toward her and came down too hard on his bad leg. As he gritted his teeth against the pain, the police cars made the corner. Their sirens drowned out the alarm of the car Batgirl had hit.
The police cars screeched to a halt around the totaled vehicle. The patrolmen sprang out, weapons drawn. "Sir," said one of them -- Christ, thought Jim, he's a kid! when did they get to be kids? -- "get back off the street -- " he caught a good look at Jim, and did a double-take " -- Commissioner?!"
"Keep your eye on that car, dammit!" Jim bellowed. The kid jumped to obey. His partner moved up to the driver's side and peeked in. "They're out," he said. "Better call the paramedics."
The kid holstered his gun and raced for the radio unit. Jim kept his distance and made his painful way across the street as the kid finished the dispatch and came out to help him. "Jeez, Commish," he said. "You're retired. What're you doing here?"
"That's my house," said Jim, pointing. "Couldn't sleep. I was out for a walk." He still couldn't see where Batgirl lay. "What about her? Is she okay?"
The kid looked puzzled. "Who?" he said.
Jim hobbled to a position where he could get a good angle on the sidewalk.
Batgirl was gone.
Jim shook his head. "Bad enough when it was just him doing it," he muttered.
Jim noticed the drops on the pavement. A trail entering the narrow alley.
Blood. Not much. But a little.
"Nothing," he said.
He let the uniforms get about their work. Jim's neighbors were starting to come out of their houses, or at least to their windows. Lights were on up and down the block. The reporters would be here before long. He'd better act before that.
He waited for the uniforms to turn their attention elsewhere, then stepped carefully into the shadows. He didn't try to move invisibly, just calmly, as if nothing too important was going on. That was the secret to being invisible in plain sight. It got easier the older he got.
He walked into the alley and paused by the dumpsters, where the shadows were thickest.
"Are you all right?" he said.
After a pause, Batgirl turned to face him. She held her arm high on the shoulder. Jim could see that her costume was torn. There was a cut there. It looked deep.
She didn't say no.
She didn't say yes, either.
"There are paramedics out there," he said. "I know you can't go to the hospital, but they'd be more than happy to -- "
Batgirl shook her head. She looked annoyed more than hurt, Jim thought. Then she touched her arm, and made a small sound deep in her throat.
"Can I take a look?" said Jim. "Please."
Batgirl hesitated, then stepped forward. Jim hooked his cane over his elbow and bent toward her arm. His back complained a little. Her arm didn't seem to be broken. The cut was long, and had to be painful, but it wasn't as deep as Jim had feared. He could see dark reflections. Glass still in it. Easy to get out, though.
"It's not bad," he said. "But I don't think you should go anywhere until it's treated."
Batgirl grumbled in disapproval, then put her hand over the wound again.
"I'm just across the street," Jim said.
They took the long way around to avoid gawkers, but there was no avoiding a few moments in the open. It was surprisingly easy to pretend that walking down the street next to a bleeding, bat-garbed vigilante was something that he did every day. Batgirl followed him without the slightest trace of self-consciousness. They were sneaking, technically, but they weren't being terribly sneaky about it.
Jim opened the back gate and ushered her into the courtyard. He fumbled for his keys, and heard a strange sound. He turned to see his next-door neighbor Filby -- retired, an engineer of some sort -- peering over the fence like an old Kilroy cartoon. Filby was shorter than Jim. The fence was a high one. Filby's feet couldn't be touching the ground.
Filby stared at Batgirl.
Jim shot Filby a cop's glare.
Filby rolled his eyes and dropped back behind the fence.
"Come on in," Jim said, flicking on a light. Batgirl glanced about curiously. "I'll get the first-aid kit. Make yourself comfortable."
When he got back, Batgirl was tugging, one-armed, at the fastenings of her cape. Jim set the first-aid kit down and helped her get the cape loose. He folded it over his arm, looked for a place to hang it, and draped it over the arm of the couch. He turned back to see her pulling off her mask.
Jim whipped his head around immediately and stared at the far wall. He heard a soft sound from the couch, and risked a quick glance there. She'd thrown the mask on top of the cape.
Jim cleared his throat. "Okay," he said with absolutely no conviction. "Right this way."
The bathroom was just off the den. Jim perched on the toilet and stared at his feet. Batgirl sat on the little shower stool Jim had used when he was first back from the hospital after the shooting. He still used it, some mornings, when his leg was very bad. "Just relax," said Jim. He busied himself rummaging in the first-aid kit. "It's been a while since I've done this kind of thing, but I think I -- "
Batgirl's hand caught him under the chin. Jim froze. She cupped her fingers around his jaw. Gently, she drew his face up. Jim closed his eyes. Batgirl didn't let go.
"Look," she said.
She was younger than he'd thought. Less than twenty. Her hair was dark and her skin a golden brown; she looked Asian, but not Japanese or Korean. Thai, maybe. Jim had been to Thailand once when he was in the service, but he'd been so drunk he'd never been able to remember a thing about the trip. Even what the women looked like. Batgirl looked deep into his eyes, and Jim had the unsettling feeling that she was listening to him, even though he hadn't said a word.
Then she smiled.
Jim laughed. "Sorry," he said. "This -- " he gestured at her face " -- is new."
"Batman doesn't," she said.
"No," said Jim. "He has." Once. Twice, really, but Jim's glasses had been off so that time didn't count. "I didn't look."
"Why?" she said.
There were a thousand answers for that. Jim picked one that almost made sense. "Because I feel like I've seen his face already," he said. He shrugged. "Maybe that's silly."
Batgirl shook her head. "There's no difference," she said.
Jim had to help her with the shirt. He felt less discomfort about that than he had on seeing her face. When he had the shirt off, he hesitated, then put it on top of the laundry hamper. He turned back to find Batgirl, tweezers in hand, digging the glass out of her own wound. Jim put his hand on hers. "Here," he said. "Why don't you let me do that?"
She shrugged, and let him.
"You know," said Jim as he pulled the first shard out, "I think my daughter has that same sports bra."
She'd put her shirt back on, but left off the mask and cape. The bandage seemed to be holding, and Batgirl wasn't favoring her arm unduly. Jim had painkillers for his leg, and Tylenol for lesser aches. She'd refused them all, but took him up eagerly on hot cocoa, into which she'd crammed an ungodly number of marshmallows.
She still hadn't said more than ten words.
Jim came back from trying to call Batman -- the cell phone he'd been given seemed to be working, but nobody was picking up -- to find Batgirl apparently enraptured by the photographs on his bookshelves. Jim and Barbara, on his last birthday. Barbara had tied balloons to her wheelchair. "That's my daughter," Jim said from the doorway. "Barbara. Babs."
Batgirl smiled. She glanced over the next few pictures and moved over to the next shelf. Then she froze. After a long moment, she put the mug of cocoa onto a table and picked up a photograph.
It was an old picture. Jim's ex-wife had taken it. They'd gone onto the roof to watch the fireworks that year, and Barbara had fallen asleep with Jim's arm around her. She hadn't been living with Jim for long. She was fourteen. It seemed very young, now.
Batgirl held the picture close to her face. She looked at the faces in the picture: at Jim, at Barbara. Slowly, she traced a finger across the glass.
"Does your father know?" said Jim gently.
Batgirl glanced at him, then turned her gaze back to the picture. She nodded slowly. Jim shuddered, deep inside. He didn't know how the man could go about knowing, really knowing -- "It must be hard for him," he said.
Batgirl blinked in surprise. She frowned, as if she were thinking about it. Then she nodded. "Good," she said quietly.
"You don't see him much," Jim said. He felt stupid the moment the words left his mouth, and wished he could take them back.
Batgirl didn't seem offended. "Better that way," she said. There was bitterness in her voice, but a sadness, too.
"Is it?" said Jim.
"We have scars," she said, as if it explained everything.
"My daughter has scars," Jim said. He'd seen Babs's often, when she was getting used to the chair. He'd helped her bathe, get to the toilet. "So do I."
"On you," Batgirl said. "Not between."
"No," said Jim quietly. "Thank God."
Batgirl had scars on her body. Jim had seen them, in the bathroom. Bullet wounds, old ones; newer cuts and scrapes and dimpled circles. He didn't want to think about how she'd gotten them, or any of the scars he couldn't see. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have asked."
Batgirl didn't say anything for a long minute. Then, slowly, she reached out and touched the old picture again. She held it close to her face, and looked deep into it, as if she were trying to see something there. Jim looked, and saw her reflection in the glass.
"One night we watched the stars," Batgirl said.
"Like that?" said Jim, nodding at the picture.
Batgirl nodded. She held the picture a moment longer, then put it back on the shelf. "Long ago," she said. The corners of her mouth turned up in a sad, fleeting smile before she picked up her mug of cocoa and turned away.
For a moment, Jim saw her as she must have been -- young and small, in her father's arms, on a roof somewhere under a starry sky. The thought of it broke his heart. Her father might have no place in her life now, but she'd clearly loved him once. And if her life as Batgirl was hard for her father to bear now, then he must have loved her too.
The rustle of a cape caught Jim's attention, and Jim turned to see Batgirl throwing it over her shoulders. Her mask was already in place. The mug of cocoa sat empty on the coffee table.
Jim didn't bother to turn around.
"Hello, old friend," he said.
"Hello, Jim," said Batman from behind him.
"I tried to call you," said Jim. "I guess you have a tracking unit on her."
Batgirl turned back from the couch. She was fastening her cape. She stepped over to Jim and Batman, and looked up at Jim. "Thank you," she said.
"My pleasure," said Jim. He paused. "You can come by any time, you know," he said.
Batgirl looked up at him, hesitating. Then she threw her arms around him in a fierce hug. Jim was startled, but managed to hug her back. He heard a rustle, then realized it was her mask when he felt her stretch up and press her lips against his cheek.
Batman cleared his throat. Batgirl stepped back and put her mask back on. "See you," she said. "Soon." Then she went out the front door and down the walk to the car.
Jim cleared his throat and turned his face so Batman could see his eyes were screwed tightly shut. He opened them, and blinked. They'd never been good at fooling each other, but sometimes it was important to give your friends leeway to pretend. Batman nodded, once, so maybe he understood.
"Thank you, Jim," Batman said.
"She's a good kid," said Jim. "Take care of her."
"I'll try to."
Batman turned to follow Batgirl out the door.
"You're always welcome, too," Jim said.
Batman paused for just an instant, and then was gone.
Jim followed to the door. He opened it and looked out.
Batgirl was sitting in the passenger seat of the Batmobile. She looked up at Batman as he approached. Batman dropped a hand to her shoulder and let it rest there for a moment before he climbed into the car. The cockpit closed, and the engine powered up.
Jim smiled. Then a flicker of movement caught his peripheral vision. Filby was leaning out his own front door, staring at the Batmobile. Then he turned and stared at Jim.
Filby shot back into his house and closed the door.
The Batmobile tore away at a speed entirely unsuited to a residential street. Jim's friends, off to home and to bed.
Jim went to bed too.
Jim woke up late, which was a pleasant surprise. He'd been waking up earlier and earlier as he got older, and it felt indecently good to wake up and see the clock glowing ten o'clock. A bird was chirping outside his window, and Jim whistled a few notes himself as he made his way through a leisurely shower and shave. He thought about getting the paper, then decided against it. Too nice a morning to spoil with the news. He picked up the telephone and dialed.
"Morning," Jim said.
"Dad!" said Barbara. "Hi!"
He heard voices in the background. He'd never been good with voices -- hope I'm not going deaf, too, he thought -- but they sounded almost familiar. "Sorry, hon," he said. "Didn't realize you had company."
"No problem, Dad," she said. "Just having a couple of friends over for breakfast -- Cass, there is no way you're going to eat all that -- oh, my God!"
"Sounds dangerous," said Jim.
"Only if you get between Cass and the waffles. What's up?"
"Nothing," said Jim. "I just... just wanted to call this morning and say I love you. Just in case I don't say it enough."
Barbara's voice softened. "I love you, too," she said. "What brought this on?" She sounded concerned. "Did you have a rough night?"
"No," said Jim. It was true -- he hadn't. "I made a new friend. Sweet kid, really." Dangerous. But sweet.
"She has problems with her dad. She never sees him, doesn't want to. I think she wishes things were different." Jim traced the picture of himself and Barbara, and imagined Batgirl, small and alone. "Maybe he does, too."
"Ah," said Barbara. "You're not just feeling bad for her, are you?"
"Stupid," said Jim. "I know."
"Estrangements aren't always wrong," Barbara said. "Just because you'd like to be with somebody doesn't make it a good idea. And sometimes people bring it on themselves."
"I know," said Jim. "Maybe she's not missing out on much with him. I just wonder if he knows what he's missing out on with her."
"What if he does?"
"Then he's doing the right thing in staying away from her," said Jim. "And when he's not busy being a bastard, he must be the saddest son of a bitch in the whole world."
Barbara didn't say anything for a long time. When she did, her voice was light, but there was the tiniest break in it. "Are you getting maudlin in your old age?" she said.
"Maybe," said Jim. He chuckled. "Don't tell anybody."
"Oh, no," Barbara said. "I reserve all mocking privileges for myself."
"And I appreciate it, believe me."
Barbara laughed. Then Jim heard something, muffled, in the background. "What?" Barbara said. "Oh." She shifted the phone again. "Odd. For some reason, my friend Cass says hi."
"Well, go on back to her. Tell her I said hi back. And not to eat all your waffles."
"I'll do that. Take care, Dad."
Jim hung up the phone.
Batgirl's cocoa mug was still on his coffee table, and Jim found himself smiling. He hoped she was having a good morning; he liked the thought of her eating waffles on Sunday morning, with a friend like Barbara. The image came easily to mind for some reason, and he had the fleeting thought that he should drop by Barbara's, because if he did he'd see a familiar face across the breakfast table, grinning as she munched her way through Barbara's kitchen...
He let himself grin over the idea for a while, then forgot about it.
He gave his family leeway to pretend, too.
It was a beautiful morning when Jim poked his head out to see Filby sweeping up his front stoop with a broom. "Morning," Jim said as he pulled the door closed behind him.
"Morning," said Filby.
"Nice one for a walk," said Jim. "Want to come along?"
Filby stared at him. "Why?" he said.
"Why not?" said Jim.
Filby looked puzzled. Then shrugged. "Why not?" he said, dropping the broom. "Why not indeed?"
They walked off down the sidewalk, setting an easy pace. Halfway down the block, a taxi stopped in front of them. The passenger paid the driver, got out, suitcase in hand -- and stopped dead at the sight of the mangled lamppost and the smashed rear windshield of the car Batgirl had fallen through. "Jesus!" he said. "What the hell happened to my car?"
Filby shrugged. He looked at Jim.
"Well," said Jim, "I guess that's life in the big city."
The walk was a nice one, and they talked about nothing much. Filby let Jim pretend, which was right neighborly of him. As they made the corner of the expressway, a police car passed, its siren howling. Jim watched it go.
They didn't need him, not right now.
But other people did.
Jim could live with that.