Before the Fall of Gotham, Bruce Wayne
Blake stopped being scared a long time ago, the anger never faded. Sitting across from Bruce Wayne, a man wearing a suit that cost more than Blake’s salary, he saw it in the older man’s eyes; the blank, cold rage of being wounded by the world too young and in a way you could never recover from.
Or at least, heal properly, something Bruce Wayne was clearly having problems with. Wayne was covering it well, even with the years as a recluse, but he was hurting in a dozen different ways. Blake counted a knee injury, a spinal problem, evidence of multiple fractures to his fingers and facial bones. The sort of injuries a beat cop, or a criminal, or a fighter, got. Not a billionaire.
Blake put everything on the table. His past, the orphanage, the fact that when he met Wayne, years previously, he recognised the anger. The same anger that powered every one of Batman’s movements, the anger that gave him motive, added to the fortune which gave him means added to the lifestyle which gave him opportunity. The holy trinity of good policework. Hallowed be thy name.
Wayne didn’t answer. Wayne didn’t need to. Blake had got very used to reading tells and he’d nailed the older man the moment he started talking. When the conversation finally broke up, he walked back to his squad car and sat and let the adrenalin drain from him. He’d found Batman. He’d been right. It wasn’t a feeling John Blake was used to.
The Fall of Gotham, Commissioner James Gordon
On his watch.
This was happening on his watch because he’d been too stupid, too young, to realize what was really going on. He’d killed me. He hated that, hated the untidy nature of murder, even in self-defence. John Blake had no problem with violence, although he didn’t enjoy it, he accepted it as the price of admission for his job. But those two men had had guns, had tried to kill him.
They were part of something much larger. The city burning in a perfect circle around him, the panicked drivers and pedestrians of Gotham milling around like ants fleeing boiling water. Blake loses the car, keeps the shotgun, keeps moving. He knows who they’re going for. Knows who he’d go for.
Knows he’s too far away.
Flash photography images of horror, of the ground bucking beneath him, TV screens showing the gaping hole where the stadium used to be and he keeps going, legs pounding, until he’s up the stairs into Gotham Hospital and looking for the room. He’s at war now, he realizes. He’s a soldier not a police officer and everyone is a potential victim or a potential enemy. His world shrinks to the end of the shotgun, to fields of fire. To the thread dragging him closer to the room where he’s all but sure he’s going to find the Commissioner’s body.
Blake stops, checks, kicks the door in, dives inside and his world is punctuated by the cold metal of a gun barrel against his neck. He lowers the shotgun, closes his eyes. Then he hears the voice. Paper thin, but still there, still strong;
‘Check your corners, rookie.’
Blake flushes, laughs. The Commissioner’s still upright. God may not be in his heaven, but this is a good start.
During the Fall of Gotham, Lucius Fox
Almost a year at war, the Tumblers on every corner, Bane’s men stalking the streets, taking what they want. The first couple of months they’d been able to get limited information in and out, but that had died off to the occasional platitudes. Gotham had been excised, cut out from America like dead tissue and even on a morning where he’d had to barter for food, the day after he’d almost been caught slipping a message to his imprisoned brothers and sisters in blue, Blake could see how that could be a good thing. In twelve years the city had suffered one full scale riot, the Joker attacks and now this. Gotham was bad ground. The further away from it, the better you were.
Mr Fox didn’t seem to agree. Blake had got used to helping move the WayneTech Board of directors around, after all, as rich citizens they were prime targets. He’s got used to the whining, the procrastinating and the occasional outbursts. He’d also got used to the looks of sideways, desperate gratitude when they’d been moved just in time.
Two of them didn’t do that. Miranda Tate, the new arrival, carried herself with glacial calm and poise and Fox? Fox was unflappable. The old engineer was always first up, always sat in on briefings, made suggestions, jollied the others along. One morning he even handed Blake a chocolate bar when he checked in on them. ‘Thought you could use it, son.’ He’d said and smiled.
That night, before Blake had been relieved, they’d got talking. He hadn’t mentioned Batman, or Wayne, and neither had they for months. Blake was sure someone at WayneTech knew and, judging by the toys Batman had been playing with, Fox was a safe bet. But he was gone, dead or absent. All they had were the shell of the city and the shells of their lives. It was wearing everyone down, and Blake was finding it harder and harder to sleep.
‘You’re doing great, son.’ Fox raised his flask of coffee and Blake let himself smile, let himself chink his mug against it. ‘Keep at it.’ Then Fox had told him a long winded and hugely entertaining story about the time he and Mr Wayne had taken a business trip to Hong Kong and what had happened on the way. Neither of them acknowledged what Fox was really talking about, but, later, both of them would know.
After the Fall of Gotham, Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner James Gordon
He’s still feeling his way around the cave. Blind as a bat, he thinks and chuckles and it catches in his throat. This is so big, so huge. There’s so much to learn. He’s just an orphan beat cop, just a man.
‘Master Robin.’ The definition of British class, Alfred Pennyworth steps out of the elevator like he’s done this thousands of times. On the platter he’s carrying is a French press of coffee and a grilled Panini. He can smell the pesto from here. Blake opens his mouth and Alfred looks at the younger man and smiles.
‘I was asked to be the Headmaster of the Bruce Wayne School for Boys. Master Bruce said, in his will, that I’m rather good with wayward young men.’ He chuckles and there’s something behind it. Something sad and desperately proud.
‘Now, I’m taking a couple of days holiday. Just to go and get some sun, before taking over.’ His smile widens. ‘There’s a beautiful little café in Provence, I intend to spend a great deal of time in. Mr Fox knows where you are, sir, knows what you may require, call him on this.’ Alfred passes him a small, compact satellite phone. ‘Will there be anything else, Master Robin?’
Blake closes his eyes just for a second. ‘Where do I live now?’
Alfred smiles. ‘I took the liberty of preparing a room upstairs. After all, where else would the Deputy Headmaster live?’
The cowl isn’t ready yet, they have them on back order. He has a smaller head than Wayne, and that amuses him far more than he thought. For now, he’s wearing a modified Delta Force helmet and a hotch-potch of bits of abandoned armour. That’s on back order too.
So it’s a light duty night and Blake lets that bother him as he fires the grapple and slides silently into place on top of the GCPD central precinct. Wayne had had the box delivered in the confusion after Bane had fallen, and all he has to do is open it, place it. The light’s heavy, bulky, it’s noisy work. He wants it to be.
Blake feels the door close beneath him, hears the footsteps coming up. He’s not got the gymnastic ability, won’t for a while, but he’s getting there and he drops onto the roof of the stairwell, and from there to the Fire Escape across the alley in ten seconds. Almost makes no noise doing it too.
He watches Gordon come out onto the roof, see the Bat signal and visibly relax. He walks to the edge of the building, looks down, scans both sides and finally heads back to the stairs. Blake can see the smile from here, but it’s Gordon’s words he carries with him on the run home, that keep him warm the rest of the night.
‘Good work, rookie. Don’t forget, check your corners.’
Never a criminal, not a cop, certainly not a billionaire. But a vigilante? He could live with that…