Disclaimer: Martian Manhunter (John Jones) and Barbara Gordon belong
to DC Comics/Time Warner. I'm borrowing them for entertainment
purposes and not for profit. The impetus for this story was a challenge
posted by Darklady elsewhere. It sort of spun out of control from there.
Part 1: The MeetingBabs sighed as she watched the lobby traffic of the downtown Denver hotel. 'Some vacation,' she muttered to herself, then immediately felt guilty. Her father had just wanted company for the annual Inter-City Law Enforcement meetings - it was Batman who had talked her out of her objections by claiming Oracle needed a vacation.
It wasn't that there was anything wrong with Denver, it just - wasn't Gotham. And although she'd done some sight-seeing and sat in on some of the talks, the days were dragging. All two of them so far.
She sighed again.
She looked up, startled, to find a man standing before her with an uncertain smile on his face. She resisted the urge to be curt. "Yes?"
His smile solidified, not into a broad grin, but more of a hint of an upturn at the corners of his mouth. "Your father asked me to let you know that he's been detained."
Babs stiffened. "Detained?"
"By Corrigan - ranting about vigilantes." One corner of the mouth quirked a little higher, and Babs noticed a touch of humor in his warm brown eyes.
"Poor Dad. Thank you for letting me know, Mr. -"
He held out a hand. "Jones. Detective Jones."
"Jones." Babs eyes brightened as she accepted his handshake and inspected his rugged face with new interest. 'Not bad,' she thought to herself, taking in the football player build and the buzzcut brown hair.
Again the quirk of the mouth. "I was thinking the same."
Babs started, then laughed. "He set us up."
"And it appears the date is less blind than he believed."
Babs eyed him suspiciously. "You planted the idea?"
"No," he denied, and his eyes had a hard edge that made it clear he was not teasing. "But I would be lying if I said it would not be my pleasure to take you to dinner, Barbara."
She smiled, warmed by the candor of his true self seeping out beneath his mask as hard-boiled detective. "Lead the way, J'onn."
Part 2: The DinnerBabs looked out through the passenger window at the Denver dusk.
"It seems so flat," she commented.
John Jones chuckled, a surprising sound. "She says in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains."
Color rose in Babs' face. "Well, I guess -" She stopped, unable to explain what she meant.
"You miss your canyons - buildings blocking your horizon to all sides. When I first explored Earth, I found the idea of skyscrapers so very alien." There was a wryness in his tone. "And so I came here - a city, but with horizons, and those mountains like home..."
"Home," Babs echoed. "It must get terribly lonely for you here."
"Sometimes. Less so now than earlier. What I've lost can't be replaced, but what I've gained - I'm coming to understand that home is less a place than a feeling."
Babs glanced sharply at her companion, feeling a powerful sense of recognition in what he said. His eyes were on the road as he downshifted to stop at a red light. His flat, Midwestern features wore a calm expression, simultaneously at ease and at ready. He braked, and when the car stopped, he turned to her. That quirk of his lips appeared again as he met her eyes, an understated smile that she was finding increasingly endearing.
"How long -?" she faltered, breaking eye contact.
The light turned green, and his eyes returned to the road as he turned left.
"Longer than I thought it could," he replied, understanding implicitly what she was asking, "but not so long that I thought it would never end."
She nodded, appreciating his honesty. It was as if he understood the nights when she wanted nothing more than to have her legs - her old life - back, and the guilt she felt for wanting it, for not being "over" it.
"It is a different sort of thing, to taste an adult life, to have your dreams, and then have them ripped from you." He signaled and turned right. "You know enough then to know you don't want that loss to define you, and yet it is hard to see how it cannot."
"Yeah," Babs agreed, unable to avoid looking at her still legs.
"We're here," he announced, pulling the car up to the curb in front of a storefront diner. Flaking gold paint outlined in red traced out the word "Nora's" in script.
John hopped out of the car and was at Babs door with her chair almost as quickly as she had her door open. "Hope you like diner food," he said conversationally as she began the process of transferring herself to the chair. He hung on the open car door as he spoke, once again radiating the air of city-edged detective now that they were more in public.
She glanced at him briefly. "They got -" she paused as she pulled her body from car to chair "-open-face meatloaf sandwiches?"
"With mouth-watering gravy," he confirmed. "Ready to roll?" His faint smile didn't waver as he spoke the casual phrase that usually left people blustering over their faux pas. He just waited for her to nod and back away from the car so he could shut the door. Then he darted past her up the shallow ramp to the front door of the diner and opened it for her, bowing her through with a flourish. "After you, m'dear."
Babs laughed. "A girl could get used to this."
"Hey, they teach us manners out here - not like those big East Coast cities," John teased as she rolled past him.
She hesitated as she confronted the inner door of the foyer, but before she could worry about how John would ease by her chair in the narrow space, the door opened. "-bring pictures!" a laughing man was calling to the waitress. He turned to step through the door and his eyes fell on Babs. "Oh! I'm sorry - too busy yakkin' to watch where I'm going. Please-"
He stepped back, allowing Barbara to pass, then looked past her.
"Jones! This dish with you?"
Barbara felt herself blushing.
"As long as she'll put up with me," John answered. "How ya doin', Otis?"
"Oh, you know. Same old, same old." His eyes returned to Babs. "If you get tired of this old stick in the mud-"
"Otis Johson, Barbara Gordon," John interrupted, making introductions.
Otis shook Babs' hand. "Well, Barbara Gordon, as I was saying -"
"Otis, leave the lady alone!" the waitress scolded. "Get out of here."
She swatted at him with a menu, and he ducked out of the way.
"Fine, Irene. I'm gone. Later, John. Nice meeting you, Barbara Gordon."
Irene was shaking her head. "That Otis hits on every girl that comes through that door, I swear. Pay him no mind. How ya doin', John? Ya want the romantic booth?" she asked with a wink in Babs' direction.
"Yep," John agreed. "Candlelit dinner for two, a bottle of your finest, and keep the photographers at bay."
Irene laughed. "Anything for you, John." Her warm smile returned to Babs. "What about you, hon? Ya wanna stretch out in a booth, or pull up and set the parking brakes - 'n case you need to make a hasty exit?"
Babs looked around the homey cafe with its dozen or so booths and scattered tables, then looked up at John. He wore an expression that said the decision was entirely up to her. "Booth, please," she decided.
"Oh, John, she trusts you!" Irene joked. "Then we'll go for romantic. Follow me."
They did so, ending up at a booth near to the kitchen, tucked enough away from the others to ensure some privacy from other diners.
Babs transferred herself into the booth and slid across the seat until her back rested against the wall. She lifted her legs up onto the seat, imagining she had flopped herself there with the same insouciance of her teenage years. John, with an approving smile, mimicked her pose, and Irene wheeled Babs' chair under the end of the table. "Handle free," she remarked. "Woman after my own heart. Ya never get anywhere in life by lettin' folks push you around."
"Irene's motto," John added.
"Don't give me any lip, Detective," Irene warned. "And don't give her any lip, either." She again turned to Babs, handing her a menu. "He plays the silent type so well, but I know better. Don't let him fool ya."
Babs smiled and accepted the menu. "Oh, I won't," she assured the waitress. "I'm wise to the chameleon act."
Irene gave her an appraising look. "I like this one, John. She can stay. Coffee?"
"Yes, please," Babs answered as John turned over both their coffee cups.
"Great. Back in a jif."
And Irene was gone, swinging by other tables on her way to the coffee pot.
"Eat here often?" Babs teased.
"My partner introduced me to this place. They make our lunches when we go on stake outs."
Babs nodded and opened her menu. "I like it."
John watched her for a second before opening his own menu, appreciating the surprised contentment she radiated. It felt like - home.
Interlude - Breakfast with DadJim Gordon smiled as he saw he daughter wheeling into the hotel restaurant barely in time for breakfast. She was dressed casually, her hair threaded through the back of a Gotham Knights baseball cap which kept him from seeing her grin until she was almost at the table. He stood to greet her and bent down to kiss her cheek. "You're looking mighty happy this morning," he commented. "Good night?"
She laughed, coloring prettily. "Yeah. I should chew you out for setting me up, but - yeah, it was a good night."
Jim flagged the waitress and settled back into his seat. "I didn't really set you up. I just had Corrigan talking my ear off and -"
"It's okay, Dad. Really." She looked up to the waitress. "I'll have a Denver omelette and coffee, please."
"White or wheat?"
Jim raised an eyebrow. "What happened to a dry English muffin and jelly?"
She laughed lightly, a sound that warmed his heart. "When in Rome... or Denver, as the case may be. B'sides, it's going to be a long day."
She nodded, watching as the waitress returned to fill her coffee cup. "I'm going to a ballgame."
He stared at her, incredulous. There had been a time, before... Barbara had been quite the sports fan. They'd gone to a lot of games, basketball, baseball, even hockey. But after the shooting?
"I haven't cheered the Knights on in person in ages," she continued blithely. "Who knows? Maybe that explains the last 4 lousy seasons."
Jim shook his head. "It's either that or their lousy pitching. How on earth did you get a ticket? Isn't Coors Field always sold out?"
"Denver PD has a couple field boxes. Seemed like more fun than hanging around the hotel all day - no offense, Dad."
He chuckled. "None taken. Heck, wish I could join you. I take it Detective Jones set this up for you?"
Babs took a sip of coffee, but the dancing light in her eyes as she glanced at her father over the rim of the mug spoke volumes. She set the cup down. "A girl's gotta have an escort, right?"
Jim made his features stern, although his heart was singing to see his little girl so happy. "Am I going to have to have a talk with Detective Jones?"
"Daddy!" she objected, laughing in just the way she used to laugh when he'd said the same thing about her college boyfriends. "John's a perfect gentleman. And it's not like that at all. It's just - nice, y'know?"
"Well," he began gruffly, "just so long as he isn't getting any ideas."
"Dad." Babs reached across the table and took his hand. "You're the best father ever, you know that?"
Jim ducked his head, "Well, I don't -" he blustered, falling silent when he finally met his daughter's eyes. Not that he could have spoken anyway past the lump rising in his throat.
She gave his hand a squeeze, and for a silent moment, Jim Gordon saw no farther than the smile that for the first time in a long time actually reached her eyes.
"Denver omelette?" the waitress asked.
Babs glanced up, releasing her father's hand. "Right here. Thanks. And we'll take more coffee."
"Got it," the waitress replied as she set down Babs plate and moved off.
Babs cut into the omelette, then lifted a dainty forkful toward her father in mock toast. "To Denver," she joked before popping the egg and cheese into her mouth.
"To Denver," Jim agreed, knowing the faint smile under his mustache would be there all day.
Part 3: The GameIt was - different. There was still the smell of the grass and of hot dogs and of beer and the solid thwacking of leather on leather as ball met glove. A small crowd still gathered early to watch batting practice.
But in the rows behind home plate - it felt like a parking lot as people pulled their chairs into designated spots behind the final row of the field boxes. There were a few regular seats mixed in between the wheelchair slots, allowing the disabled patrons of Coors Field to sit beside their game day buddies rather than behind them, but mostly it was the chairs.
And then there were the regulars.
"John Jones. You brought a Knights fan here?" the nun in the row in front of them asked.
"Now, Sister Frances Xavier, you know God says we should forgive others their faults," John replied, resting a reassuring hand on Babs' shoulder.
The man in the electric wheelchair snorted. "Or pity them their teams. Ain't the Knights on their way to losin' 100?"
Babs smiled. "They'll turn it around."
A strange bark came in answer, and a palsied teen grinned widely at her. A young man turned around to look from the teen to her and shook his head. "Damn! Sparky agrees with her."
"Sparky is just a sucker for a pretty lady," an older man commented, leering at Barbara around his unlit cigar.
"Now, gents, hands off. The lady is with me. Barbara, this is the gang. Cap and his son Chris, Dom, Sparky, Sister Frances Xavier, and beyond her is Tigs and Lawrence and the Doc and this peg leg pulling up right now is Charlie. Hiya Charlie."
"John Jones." He managed to make it sound like a curse. "Forget about your friends here?"
"I've been working, Charlie. We can't all be like you bums or nothing would get done."
Charlie's face broke into a grin. "Good t'see you, y'old hound dog." He reached out a hand and clasped John's wrist, pulling himself up onto his leg to give John a quick man-style embrace. The chair that flew out behind him was casually halted by a nearby usher, who wheeled it back behind Charlie and set the brakes.
"He always forgets to set the brakes on the days he's too lazy to wear his peg," the usher remarked to Barbara.
Barbara smiled in what she hoped was an appropriately sympathetic way.
"Hey, who you callin' lazy, McDougall? When's the last time you did any work around here?"
"Shut your trap, Charlie. Your making a bad impression on the lady."
Charlie glanced at Babs. "She looks okay. Think she could hold her own in our gimp squad?"
"Don't ask me, Charlie."
"Leave the girl alone, Charles," Sister Frances Xavier chastised.
"Don't mind the boys, dear. Their bark is worse than their bite."
"Shut up, Dom."
John gave Babs shoulder a squeeze. "C'mon, Barbara, let's go find some hot dogs," he suggested, leading her away.
"You doing okay?" he asked.
"It's a little - overwhelming," she conceded.
John smiled reassuringly. "They're good people - not very politically correct, I grant you. But they are honest with themselves and with each other in a way I once thought was impossible for humans."
John's face had taken on a pensive expression, and Babs reached for his hand. "Does it bother you - to hide behind John Jones with them?"
"Heh. Sparky's on to me," he remarked wrily. "As for the others - John Jones is not so different here from J'onn J'onzz - although maybe a tad saltier. How many hot dogs can you eat?"
Babs breathed deep the smells wafting from the concession booth.
"Y'know, I normally never eat them, but today? I could eat two."
"Two it is, then. I'll be right back."
They'd returned to their seats and polished off their hot dogs and two large drinks before the first pitch. By the second inning, cracking open peanuts and spying on Chris' scorecard ("I keep 'em for Dad now that he can't write for himself"), Babs was settling in. The rude banter of the regulars embraced her, and John periodic moments of play by play were opening whole new dimensions of the game. In the top of the third he leaned over to say, "The catcher wants a curve. The pitcher wants to throw heat, but that's what the batter wants."
Babs watched as the pitcher shook off the catcher.
"The catcher still wants the curve and the second baseman is getting nervous. He's thinking about how bullheaded the pitcher gets." Now the second baseman shift back and toward first base, rocking onto his toes. The pitcher shook his head again.
"The catcher is going to give in, but he plans to rip the pitcher a new one at the end of the inning. The second baseman might help." The pitch came in, and as soon as the ball was released, the second baseman was in motion. A resounding crack sounded, and the ball screamed in a low line toward the space between the first and second baseman. The second baseman left his feet, stretching his body out to its full length, landing belly first on the ground just as the ball nestled perfectly in the pocket of his glove. With an ease that bordered on nonchalance, the player rose to his knees and lobbed the ball to the first baseman as the crowd roared its excitement.
Babs applauded with them, although the play had cost the Knights a baserunner.
"Now that's good baseball," Charlie remarked, glancing over at Babs with approval.
John was chuckling. "I've been watching this game for years, and the catcher is almost always right. And the pitchers are always bulldog stubborn. Makes for some exciting plays."
"You read their minds?"
"Their thoughts are pretty audible, especially when they're annoyed. Makes the game more exciting, too, to watch them perform amazing feats when you know they've guessed wrong on what the other guy's thinking."
Babs nodded, returning her eyes to the field as the next batter rapped a sharp single to left. "Way to go, Sanchez!" she cried, and a few rows behind her, another voice cried, "Go Knights!" She glanced back to earn a salute from a man in a Knights cap.
She had missed this. The easy camraderie of a crowd, the momentary connection with some stranger over the exploits of some 24 year old athlete from Tuscaloosa.
The catcher had run out to the mound, and she leaned toward John.
"What're they saying?" she asked.
"The pitcher and the catcher," she said, motioning toward the mound.
John smiled. "I'm sorry; I was paying more attention to the guys at first."
"Oh?" Babs looked at Sanchez and the Colorado first baseman, who stood in a clump with the Knights' first base coach. "So what're they talking about?"
John's smile widened a touch, reaching his eyes. "They're talking about the hot red head in the stands behind home plate."
Babs blushed and glanced down, but when she looked back up, his eyes were still smiling at her. With a contented sigh, she allowed herself to lean into him, and he hooked his arm over her shoulders and gave her a squeeze.
"You're too good to me, John Jones."
"Never," he replied, placing a chaste kiss on her forehead.
"Hey, get a room!" Dom objected, causing Babs and John to laugh and disentangle themselves. But she still held his hand.
Part 4: The Friends"Garh shna enmf!" Sparky complained, gesticulating to make his point.
Babs grinned, beginning to understand Sparky's garbled speech.
"Hey, it worked out for my team."
"She's got you there, Sparky. But Miss Barbara," the Doc continued, "you must admit that we gave you that victory."
"Hey, I didn't say you didn't," Babs defended, holding her hands up, "but beggars can't be choosers."
"Ah, spoken like a true Knights fan," Chris put in. "What'd'ya think would happen if the Knights actually made it to the Series?"
A hearty laugh sounded around the table, and John reached forward to snatch a french fry from Babs' plate. "I bet they'd win it if they played the Cubs," he remarked, a gleam in his eye.
"I don' know about that," Cap disagreed, and Tigs and the Doc nodded.
"Denver used to be Cub territory before the Rockies," John murmured to Babs by way of explanation, brushing his lips near her ear.
"Someone talkin' about my Cubs?" Dom asked from over by the bar.
"They'll win it some day. You'll see."
"Shut up, Dom," Chris yelled amicably. "Sparky, can you believe these old farts? We need to run with a younger crowd."
Sparky smiled broadly. "Ep. Cuz nh nahts, wuhl go - " He made a sound convincingly like an explosion, his arms flying akimbo and raising another raucous laugh from the group gathered around the tavern tables.
"You got that right, Sparky," the Doc agreed, raising his beer in toast to the teen.
"Havin' too much fun over here?" a new voice asked, and Babs turned to see a woman bearing a tray of food and drinks.
"Lisa, yer takin' perfect care of us as always, m'dear," Cap grinned as Chris traded the empty glass from the cup holder around Cap's neck for a full one. Cap took a quick slurp from the straw Chris dropped into the drink and smacked his lips in satisfaction. "Now this is livin'," he remarked, only the faintest touch of irony in his tone.
Lisa set down a couple more pint glasses and parked a burger in front of the Doc. Then she leaned over to Babs, her hand reaching for her plate. "You want me to get this out of your way?" she asked.
Babs smiled. "Depends on if John is done stealing fries," she replied.
Lisa shot a look at John and grinned. "Honey, one of these days we'll get that man to order his own damned fries."
"You wound me," John cried melodramatically, clutching at his chest.
"Heh. Th' day John ordersh 'isz own friesh iszz th' day th' Cubz an' Knightsh play th' World Sheriesz," Lawrence slurred from his corner near the wall.
In the razzing that followed, Babs nodded to Lisa that she could take the plate, and the waitress continued gathering empty glasses. "Hey, Sparky," she suddenly interrupted, "your ride's here."
Sparky groaned and the crowd of regulars shifted around casually to give the teen room to manipulate his chair back from the jammed together tables. The electric chair jerked and spun under the teen's unsteady guidance, eventually pointing toward the door. He paused for a moment.
"Bahba," he said, holding out his hand. "Guh ttt mee oo."
Babs took the proffered hand and shook it. "Nice to meet you, too, Sparky. Maybe if I get back to Denver you can explain that rotation play."
Sparky beamed. "Ka. Buh!"
A chorus of "Bye, Sparky"s filled the tavern as a wide path to the front door opened for him. Babs watched him go with admiration. "What a great kid," she remarked.
"I give a lot of credit to his family for trusting him to know what he likes and letting him do his thing," John answered mildly, rising to his feet. "I'll be back in a minute - call of nature. You'll be okay?"
Babs nodded, flashing him a quick smile before he moved off. No sooner was his seat vacated than Tigs moved in. She dropped her heavy body into John's chair and spoke without preamble. "We never got to talk during the game. I'm Tigs."
"Barbara," Babs answered, holding out her hand. Tigs accepted the handshake but did not return the smile. Her eyes were flint hard.
"You did okay out there today - the Sister seems to like you all right. Can't judge from the boys - they like any pretty young thing." Tigs studied her appraisingly. "I'm thinking you might just be all right. But we've had our share of little chippies think they can just move into our crew."
Babs felt suddenly trapped and confused. "I'm not - I mean -"
"Look, honey, I'm sure you don't mean no harm. But these is my family, y'know? We're out there together all the time. We been there to pick up the pieces for each other more than once."
"How long you know John, anyway?"
Finally it seemed as if Tigs was going to wait for an answer.
"We've known each other through work for years," Babs replied honestly.
Tigs nodded. "And you live out in Gotham?"
"Don't get me wrong, but I known John for a long time. Back from when he was still on the force, and then after, and all that mess with his partner and everything. He's a good guy. And I won't stand to see him hurt again, you get me?"
Babs blinked. Someone was protecting someone else from her?
"Tigs, you givin' Barbara a hard time?" Cap intervened, shooting her a pointed look.
Babs laughed, but she kept her eyes on Tigs. "Nah, just girl talk," she called in answer. She redirected her tone to Tigs. "I get you," she acknowledged. "And believe me, there have been people I've wanted to hurt in my day. But John Jones isn't one of them, and I don't see how he ever could be."
Tigs held her eyes for a moment longer, then nodded. "I believe you. Get you another drink?"
"I was just going to suggest it was time for Barbara and I to head on out," John's voice came from behind them. "Unless you want one more before we go?"
Babs shook her head. "This one's going to my head already. But thanks, Tigs."
"Hey, anytime you're back in Denver, Barbara," Tigs replied, relinquishing John's seat and moving back to her previous chair.
"You don't mind leaving now?" John asked, slipping back beside Babs. His eyes held only gentle consideration, but their gaze gave her a little thrill.
"Do we have to go home?" she asked.
His lips turned up in that gentle smile. "Not if you don't want to. Something in mind?"
"No. I just don't know if I want today to end just yet."
His eyes lit up. "Me neither. Up for a walk?"
"Yeah." Her smile answered his.
"Well, folks," John began, standing again. "We're going to go paint some more of the town."
"So that's what they're calling it these days, eh?" Dom called from the bar.
"Heh. Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Cap added.
"Whass that leave outs, Cap?" Lawrence threw in.
A further set of ribbing and good-byes accompanied them out to the street, darkening into late evening. Babs took a deep breath, enjoying the cooling night air. "Where to, John?"
"Moonlight stroll?" he suggested, pointing toward the nearly full moon rising between buildings down the street.
"Sounds good. And then?"
The smile that had never wholly left John's face again brightened.
"You like jazz?" he asked.
Part 5: The Club"Just there at the end of this block," John nodded, indicating their destination as they reached the curb.
Babs glanced up at him, mischief in her eyes. "Race ya!" she called, already propelling herself forward with strong strokes of her arms.
"Hey!" John cried, stumbling into a run. He caught up with her a few doors from the storefront club as she slowed, laughing.
"You're slow!" she taunted, knowing full well he had let her win.
"Another time, another place," he growled, but his smile belied his gruffness.
"J.J., she's making you work!" the amused bouncer called from his bar stool beside the entrance.
"Hey, Joe! She surprised me," John defended.
"Gotta watch out for those wily ones," Joe acknowledged, his eyes sparkling. "Hold on just a second there, Miss. Got ID?"
Babs spluttered for a moment, caught between indignation and a sense of flattery. Then she realized Joe was grinning at her.
"Gotcha!" he teased, standing and stepping into the open doorway. "But I do need you to hang on just a sec."
Babs watched curiously, puzzled as Joe pulled a tool out of his pocket, did something to the door hinges and then lifted the door from it's place.
"These old buildings just didn't account for the wheels," he explained as he shifted the door out to the sidewalk and leaned it next to his stool. "But you should have enough clearance now. Watch the knuckles."
Babs shot a look at John, then smiled at Joe. "Thanks."
"Hey, we wouldn't want to keep a looker like you out of our place. You bring her to hear Alia?"
"She's singing tonight?" John asked.
"Like you don't know," Joe snorted. "Nothin' more romantic than a night of slow jazz." He winked at Babs.
"So this is where you take all the girls?" Babs asked.
John shook his head hopelessly. "You're gettin' me in trouble here, Joe."
"Someone's gotta. You kids have a good night."
Babs pushed herself up the little wood ramp that eased the ridge of the threshold, maneuvering carefully through the door. It was a tight squeeze, but once she navigated the entrance way, the club opened up invitingly. It was crowded, and a jazz quartet played fast and furious, finishing their set. They were accompanied by hand clapping and footstomping and shouts from the audience, encouraging solos. She hesitated until John pressed a hand to her shoulder and indicated she should follow him with a tilt of his head.
He led them unerringly to a free table, unobtrusively opening a path for her as he moved toward the stage. Once she was settled at the table, her unease with the crowd faded as she got caught up in the music and emotion around her. She scarcely noticed John slip away and return with two glasses and a couple bottles of mineral water.
The drummer was finishing his solo, his sticks flying with impossible speed, altering rhythms and syncopating the beats he'd already laid down. At some cue Babs did not catch, his fellow musicians seamlessly rejoined his joyous noise, weaving a magnificent tangle of song. The crowd cheered their appreciation of the drummer, caught up in the energy of the moment. There was no sheet music, just flying fingers and beads of sweat on the performers faces and the mix of bass and piano and sax and drum.
When the men on the stage finally ended their music, Babs joined the raucous applause and looked over at John with shining eyes. "Wow!" she breathed.
John nodded, his own half-smile firmly in place. "Yeah. You've never seen live jazz before?" He seemed almost surprised.
"No," she acknowledged. "I've listened to recordings, but..."
"Not the same, I know. There's something magical about it."
"Yeah. It's just - wow. How - when did you - I mean, you didn't have jazz at home...?"
John chuckled. "No. Our music is - different. But this - the way it can reach you, bring you into an energy that is bigger than you are, all the feelings around you magnified through you - that's like home. The way it is - it was - always."
Babs looked into his face, expecting a sadness there that she did not find. Instead she could see warm memory in his eyes. "It sounds - beautiful," she remarked.
"So you came and you heard this and -"
"No. No, I didn't find jazz on my own." His eyes were dancing again, hinting at some private joke. "I owe this pleasure to a mutual friend."
"A mutual - someone in -"
Babs spluttered. "BRUCE? Bruce took you to a jazz club."
"Not Bruce," John denied, leaning in closer. "Batman."
Now Babs gaped at him. "No."
John leaned back, smiling smugly. "Yes."
"It was years ago, before he took Dick in. Before the JLA, shortly after he had begun his crusade. We had - connected - earlier."
John's expression took on a distant look, and Babs leaned her elbows onto the table, listening attentively.
"He had been on a case - one that really got to him, I think. He'd ended up at this jazz club in Old Gotham on the invitation of an old musician. Mind you - not Bruce Wayne."
She nodded, understanding. This was a Batman story.
"And they let him in and let him be and sit and listen once they realized he wasn't there to shake things down. And it - touched - him. And I think it touched a lonely place, because when I next saw him-" John shook his head at the memory. "This sounds strange, I know, but he was almost eager to take me there. Like he had to share this with someone, like he'd been searching for someone who could go to this place that Bruce Wayne and his circle really couldn't. Someone who would understand."
They were silent for a moment.
"I don't really see that side of him," Babs confessed.
"It keeps getting more and more buried. He's let the hurt take away so much..." John seemed to shake himself. "More mineral water?"
Babs started, then laughed, looking at her untouched glass.
John offered an abashed smile. "Sorry, I didn't mean to -"
"Not at all," she reassured. "It's nice to listen to you."
"You're easy to talk to," he replied, his eyes steady on hers.
Before she could answer, a tall, black woman appeared at their table. "J.J.!" she exclaimed, holding her arms out.
"Alia!" John stood and embraced her warmly. "Barbara, this is Alia. Alia, Barbara."
Alia smiled brightly, holding a hand out to Barbara. "Nice to meet you. I was beginning to worry about J.J. here - comes alone too much. Shame if such a good man doesn't find a good partner."
John ducked his head, shooting Babs a shyly embarrassed smile.
"I'd have to agree," Babs answered, meeting John's smile fleetingly and exchanging a significant smile with Alia.
"Girlfriend, you got taste. I gotta go sing, now, J.J., but you be good, y'hear? No messin' around over here during my set."
Now John laughed. "Yes, ma'am," he replied sharply, returning to his seat. "I - um - I come here a lot," he confessed.
"I gathered. So tell me, John Jones, how does a man with your busy life come to be a regular at so many Denver haunts?"
"Hey, you gotta keep your identity credible."
"Yeah, but -"
"Didn't you used to be a Congresswoman?"
Babs colored. "Well, but -" She took a swallow of mineral water.
"You don't have to see people every single day or really all that terribly often to connect, Barbara. You just have to be willing to risk a little of yourself."
His tone was not preachy, and although Babs knew she had bristled at such comments before, she found herself listening to him. The whirl- wind of bonhomie which he had drawn her into - it spoke louder than his quiet words.
Her thoughts were interrupted as Alia stepped to the microphone.
"Good evening," she said. "I've just discovered we've got some lovers in our audience tonight -" She looked in the direction of Babs and John, drawing cheers and a couple cat calls from the audience. She waited until they settled before continuing- "so we'll definitely be hearing a love song or two. But I don't want to slow it down too fast after that marvelous set by The Arctic Cool -" The crowd erupted again. " - so Alfie -" She nodded toward a man with a standing bass " - let's start with 'How High the Moon.'"
Alfie launched into the opening bars, filling the time as the audience again settled down to listen. Then Alia opened her mouth and began to sing.
Babs looked at John. "Wow," she said for what felt like the tenth time that night.
"Alfie's her brother. The two of them have been doing this since they were in high school. Only here. And only because they love it. She's a social worker during the day, and he teaches high school now. And this is their other life."
Babs nodded, returning her gaze to the stage, awed at the music. True to her word, Alia worked through several more upbeat standards before kicking down into more sultry torchsongs. The crowd mellowed with her, relaxing easily into the smooth vocals and the soothing bass.
"Okay," Alia finally spoke again as the final bars of 'As Time Goes By' faded into silence. "One more before the break."
At a protest from the crowd, she smiled.
"Now, I'll be back, but you gotta let me rest the pipes," she chided. "But it's gettin' near the witching hour here, folks, and you know what that means."
Clearly they did, for a cheer erupted from the audience, drowning out the opening measures from Alfie's bass. Then Alia's voice slid out among them:
It begins to tell 'round midnight, 'round midnight I do pretty well 'til after sundown Suppertime I'm feeling sad But it really gets bad 'round midnight...
Babs felt her breath catch. She reached almost involuntarily for John's hand and was startled at how tightly he gripped her. She looked at him as the next stanza washed over them:
Memories always start 'round midnight, 'round midnight Haven't got the heart to stand those mem'ries When my heart is still with you And ole midnight knows it, too.
He was crying. He had leaned back, so his face was in the shadows, but she could tell. She tightened her grip on his hand, suddenly conscious of how much he had given her in the past two days, and how little she had done in return. His voice spoke in her mind. "Don't. It is enough, having you here..."
She shifted her chair nearer him awkwardly, unwilling to relinquish his hand. He sensed her intent and pulled closer to her, letting her rest her cheek on his shoulder. Their fingers twined as their forearms rested together on the armrest of her chair and Alia began the final verse.
Let our love take wing some midnight, 'round midnight Let the angels sing for your returning Let our love be safe and sound When old midnight comes around
The bass walked to its final notes, and a collective sigh seemed to escape the audience. Alia and Alfie left the stage in silence, faint smiles haunting both their faces, and a low hum of conversation gradually returned.
Babs watched as John brought his other hand - the one she was not holding - to his eyes. "Your family?" she asked gently.
He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry - it is not a time -"
"No. Stop." She lifted her head and used her free hand to turn his face to look at hers. His cheek was still tear damp beneath her fingers. "You loved them so deeply."
"M'yria'h - it is hard to explain how it is to love in Martian. We were - one. She completed me. And when our child - when K'hym fell victim to the plague... she cried for her mother, and M'yria'h could not keep her mind closed to her. How could she? How did I? I -"
Babs brought her other hand, loosened from John's, to cradle John's face, bring his forehead down to rest against hers. She closed her eyes, and they sat for a moment. She wanted to reach out to him, to ease his pain, but there were no words...
She felt his hand on her cheek, and she raised her face, gently brushing at one of his tears with one of her thumbs, meeting his gaze with a weak smile. She leaned forward to brush her lips across his eyelids - soft, comforting kisses. His face lifted, bringing his lips to hers- At the electricity of the kiss, she started back, causing him to do the same. "I-"
She shook her head, her lips curved into a sad smile. "It's not bad. It's just -" She took his hand and kissed his palm before bringing it up to her cheek. "J'onn - I think if I start kissing you now, I might never stop."
He blinked, and she did her best to open her thoughts to him, to show him what she could not articulate, knowing he would not pry without invitation but not certain how to make that invitation. And somehow he understood, for she felt the gentle touch in her mind, then watched the confusion on his features soften.
He wrapped an arm around her and she settled into him with a sigh.
"Stay a while longer?" he asked.
She nodded. "A little. Then I should be getting back." She glanced up toward his face. "My dad will start to think I got a life," she joked.
John let out a little snort of amusement and tightened his embrace for a moment. "You do have a life, Barbara," he murmured, "a very beautiful life."
From the bar, Alia glimpsed the couple at the table and smiled. She offered a toast to the bartender, who refilled her glass. She took another look at where Babs and John sat leaning into one another. "Never let it be said I can't work magic."
Interlude 2: Calling the OfficeA low alarm sounded in the Batcave, drawing Batman's attention to the computer. He glanced at the timer which had frozen when the alarm went off and let his face assume a grimly satisfied smile for a split second.
Twenty-seven hours, 13 minutes and 56 seconds between log-ins.
The computer had automatically begun the rerouting sequence that brought the Oracle icon onto the giant screen, diverting her efforts to do any work. Batman sobered his expression as Barbara's smiling face replaced the Oracle mask.
"I might have figured you'd still be up," she remarked, sounding less peeved than she had last night when he'd kicked her off line.
"You're on vacation," he said pointedly.
"C'mon, Batman. Can't a girl call her best friend?"
Batman cocked his head slightly, a subtle gesture which brought gales of laughter from Barbara.
"I meant Dinah, but I guess you could be my friend, too," she teased.
Beneath his mask, Bruce Wayne's heart was smiling at the lightness of her tone. Outwardly, the Batman remained a picture of stoic reserve.
"Dinah is on a mission," he reported, prepared for her outraged complaint.
"Oh, really, now?" Barbara asked. "You send her?" Her tone was suggestive.
Batman pretended not to notice. "Yes."
There was a moment's pause.
"You always were a great conversationalist," Barbara finally commented.
He remained silent, and she studied him speculatively over their video link.
"Thanks, by the way."
"For what?" Batman asked.
"This vacation idea. You were right."
Batman inclined his head slightly in acknowledgment.
"Did you send him?"
The question was unexpected. "I beg your pardon?"
"J'onn. Did you send him?"
"Barbara," he rumbled, "I don't have the authority to send J'onn anywhere."
"Fine. Did you set us up?"
"Barbara, if you are doing JLA business-"
"Never mind," she said, her tone simultaneously annoyed and amused. "He's been good company anyway. So you're really not going to let me call anyone, are you?"
"You're on vacation," Batman repeated.
Barbara sighed and shook her head, but it seemed nothing would erase her faint smile. "Fine. I'm on vacation. But I'll be back in Gotham tomorrow night, and I'm wresting all my controls back, thank you."
Batman again nodded, and at a gesture, Barbara's face winked off the screen. Batman leaned back in his chair and stared at the blank screen. "No," he said, "I didn't send him. But I knew he'd be in Denver. And I knew he'd find you."
He sat for another speculative moment, then straightened up decisively and tapped a few commands into the computer. As the music of Miles Davis filled the Cave, a faint smile graced his face, and Bruce Wayne returned to his work.
Part 6: The FarewellBabs was just cinching the final strap on her luggage when the phone rang.
"Miss Gordon?" the desk attendant asked.
"Yes, this is Barbara Gordon," she replied.
"Miss Gordon, Mr. Jones is here."
Babs smiled. Ever the gentleman. Even last night, he had said his good-byes at the elevator in the lobby, brushing a kiss across her cheek and waiting until he saw her safely closed into the elevator before leaving.
"Let him know I'm on my way down," she answered the desk attendant. "And can you send someone for my luggage?"
"Of course," the voice on the phone agreed, and she cradled the handset. She gave herself a hasty inspection in the mirror, chuckling for a moment at her own vanity. She'd chosen to wear a crisply tailored long- sleeved silk blouse in a deep green - a color which highlighted both her eyes and her hair. She paired this with a smart pair of black slacks and the stylishly chunk heeled black shoes that Cassandra of all people had mysteriously insisted that she buy. She'd brought this outfit on the off chance that her presence would be requested at one of the more formal dinners of her father's conference, but she never thought that she'd wear it.
She ran her hairbrush one more time through her hair and tucked it into the pocket of her carry on. Then she wheeled from her room and across the hall, where she rapped lightly on the door to her father's room.
"Just a minute," she heard, and then the door swung open.
"So! You did make it home last night," Jim Gordon teased, although Babs sensed a hint of relief beneath his joking tone.
"Yep. We went to a jazz club after the ball game and kinda lost track of time."
"A jazz club, eh? You kids have a good time?"
Babs nodded. "It was great. In fact, John's downstairs now-"
"Don't tell me you've decided you're going to abandon me and stay in Denver."
She chuckled. "You should only be so lucky, Dad. I'm afraid you're stuck with me. But I wanted to let you know I'm all packed and every- thing, so we can just meet up downstairs when you're done."
"You got it, kiddo. See you in a bit."
"Yep. See ya."
Babs turned and began to wheel toward the elevator, pausing when Jim suddenly said, "Barbara."
She turned half back. "Yeah, Dad?"
He was standing in the door of his room, his eyes fondly on her.
"I just wanted to tell you you look great today," he said.
Babs felt a broad smile blossom on her face. "Thanks, Dad!" She was still smiling when she emerged from the elevator on the ground floor. John was standing at the lobby desk, chatting easily with the desk attendant. A tan trench coat hung from his broad shoulders, and a hat sat in front of him on the desk. His eyes lit up when he saw Babs wheeling toward him. "There she is," he commented, picking up his hat from the desk.
"Hey, John," she greeted. "What's with the hat?"
"It's raining," he answered, gesturing out to the grey weather out- side the lobby glass. "Besides, shouldn't every private detective have a fedora?" He settled the hat on his head with a lopsided smirk.
She studied him for a moment. "It makes you look Bogart-esque," she decided.
His lips quirked into a fuller smile, and he pushed the hat back on his head as he leaned down to kiss her cheek. "And you, my dear, could give Bergman a run for her money," he said softly, bringing a pleasured flush to her face.
He straightened. "Do you like walks in the rain?" he asked.
"Oh! I forgot my coat, but -"
"You have an umbrella?" he interrupted, shrugging off his trench coat.
"You're wearing a suit!" she exclaimed, appreciating the way the tailored jacket fit his assumed form.
Did she imagine it, or did a faint blush color his cheeks as he laid his coat across the desk and he began unbuttoning the suit coat. "I'm going to work this afternoon," he explained, removing the jacket and draping it around Babs' shoulders. "If you don't have an umbrella, I'm sure Jody here can -"
"I've got one," she assured him, reaching into a pocket of her chair and producing the requested object. "Even clips onto my chair." His jacket carried his scent, she noticed in a corner of her mind, snuggling into the body heat it retained.
"Smart thinking, that," he acknowledged, pulling his trench coat back on and settling his hat more properly on his head. "Shall we, then?"
"Lead on," she encouraged, dropping the umbrella into her lap to follow him out the hotel doors. On the sidewalk, under the hotel awning, they paused as Babs opened the umbrella and fixed into its place on her chair.
Seeing that Babs was ready, John started down the block. "There's a nice park just down the street; it's got a nice path through it. I figure a day like this we won't have to worry too much about bladers and bikers."
Babs nodded. "Sounds good to me." She breathed deeply. "I love the smell of rain," she commented.
"Me, too," John agreed. "Especially this kind of summer rain. The earth is hungry for it."
They continued in silence for a moment until Babs spied a promising puddle. With a sudden burst of speed, she splashed through it, laughing as the water arced from her wheels. Her umbrella threatened to turn itself inside out for a moment, then settled back into its sheltering shape as John jogged to catch up with her.
"Been a while?" he asked, his eyes laughing.
"Too long. Or rather, too often it's been a story of aggravation, dealing with a wet chair, slippery hand holds, focusing on the crumminess of it."
John nodded in understanding, and she was relieved that he didn't start apologizing for dragging her out in the weather. But then, he could hear what the others' couldn't - that she was happy to be out, remembering why she used to love the rain.
They crossed the street to a block of inviting green. "Here we are," John announced unnecessarily, and they slowed their pace as they entered the park.
It was nice, Babs reflected. The silence between them as they ambled along, listening to the patter of rain on the leaves of the trees arching over their heads and onto Babs umbrella, smelling the warmth of the wet earth and the scent of early summer blossoms - it was a contented silence. A silence in which she could think.
"Hard to believe we're in the middle of the city," Babs finally said.
"Yeah, I know. It's busy here when it's drier, but I like it like this."
A little overlook opened off the path, and Babs pulled into it and up to the low wall at it's edge, gazing down into a shallow ravine through which a small brook babbled. John followed her unquestioningly, hitching his hip onto the wall to look down on the water.
"John," she began uncertainly.
"Go ahead," he encouraged, his tone neither demanding nor reluctant.
She hesitated for a moment. "This week - you took me lots of places."
He nodded, leaving open the quiet for her to continue.
She glanced up at him. "You took me to places where people stomped their feet and danced and stood and cheered."
His eyes met hers, their expression warmly supportive.
"I thought you would enjoy them," he answered simply.
She nodded. "I did. I truly did. But -"
"You could've - I know your powers. You could've let me dance, given me a chance to stand again - and you didn't. You had to know I miss it, that I wanted to ..." She trailed off, her eyes again focused on the watering cheerfully traveling to wherever it was going.
His voice demanded that she meet his eyes, and when she did she found herself arrested by the intensity she saw there.
"You're right. I could've done those things for you. But what then? You would've had those things for that moment or two, but then you would be back in your chair, and that's a bitter gift. And you would've doubted what I'm going to tell you now."
Now he looked away, out toward the horizon of trees across the ravine. "I know you live your life among your friends and family, and there is always that fear that they are loving you for what you were - the girl who danced 'til dawn or took down the bad guys with grace. You see this body as a broken version of what you had.
"I thought you'd like to meet some people who would love you for what you are."
His eyes returned to her, their gaze penetrating. "You see, Barbara, you are an incredibly beautiful and gifted woman. You have a strong spirit and power in your hands to brighten the lives of millions - which you do, in a million small ways every day. It's not just that you can save the world -" a faint smile crossed his face - "it's that you have one of the most lyrical laughs I have ever heard. It's that you really listen to people - as long as they aren't trying to give you advice. It's that you know the infield fly rule AND the square root of two, but you never make people who don't know those things feel bad for not knowing. It's that you've held together two families in the face of adversities they would not have survived without you."
He reached out a hand to cup her cheek. "I know about the woman you were, Barbara Gordon, but I love the woman you are."
Closing her eyes, Babs leaned into his hand. In her mind's eye, she imagined the picture they painted, only somehow they seemed not to be in a rain-washed Denver park, but rather in red sands teased by the wind.
And it was not John Jones, Denver P.I., who touched her face, lending and drawing strength from the same contact, but J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, his eyes lit with an admiring compassion that felt simultaneously alien and nostalgically familiar to her. One single slow tear fell into his hand.
They stayed there a moment longer, until John finally said, "Your father is going to worry I made off with you."
Babs looked up with a crooked smile, her eyes shining. "Thank you, J'onn."
"No," he chuckled. "Thank you. It's been a while since I had a few uninterrupted days of such pleasant company." He stood. "Let's get back to the hotel."
She nodded, and they made the trip back in companionable silence. When the hotel came into view, though, John paused, and Babs stopped with him. He gave her a sidewise glance and a tight smile. "Well, Barbara, I guess this is good-bye."
Her face echoed his expression. "Yeah." She swallowed past an unexpected lump in her throat. "Back to the grind."
He reached out his hand to hers and gave a comforting squeeze.
"You know how to reach me if you ever want to talk or anything," he reminded her, tapping his temple significantly.
Remembering the previous evening, Babs responded by stretching out tentatively with her thoughts. There was the brief electricity of contact, then she felt a comforting swell of contentment radiating out to her from J'onn's mind. His lips brushed down to hers in the briefest of contacts, a sweet kiss of farewell.
A heavy sigh escaped her, and he released her hand. A final stray thought passed between them, and with simultaneous grins, they bolted forward in a last race to the hotel.
"No fair - the umbrella slowed me down!" Babs protested as John held the door for her. Their faces were flushed with laughter and exertion.
"Excuses, excuses," he teased.
"Ahem," a third voice added.
"Dad!" Babs cried cheerfully. "We were just racing."
Jim Gordon looked at his daughter with undisguised affection and pleasure, but when he turned to John, Babs watched his face assume a sterner expression. "You'd better watch out, Jones. My daughter doesn't like to lose."
"So I've learned," John replied, holding out his hand to Jim. "She's quite a woman."
Jim accepted John's handshake. "And don't you forget it."
"I couldn't. Give my regards to our mutual friend?"
"Certainly. Ready to go, Barbara?"
Babs nodded, slipping out of John's suit coat and handing it to him.
"Thanks, John. If ever you're in Gotham, give me a call."
"You got it. Looks like your cab is waiting."
Babs glanced out to the taxi at the curb. "Looks like it. Good-bye, John."
"Good-bye, Barbara, Jim."
Babs followed her father to the car, relieved to discover he had secured one with a lift for her chair. The driver got her in with minimal fuss and smiling good cheer, and she enjoyed his casual flirtation. Soon both she and her father were settled, and the driver pulled away from the curb.
"So it was a good vacation, then?" Jim asked.
"Yes," Babs agreed, her eyes tracking the man in the trench coat and the fedora as he disappeared into the midday traffic of downtown Denver. As he faded from view, she turned to her father with a smile. "Yes it was."
EPILOGUE: some months later"Jim! So good to see you! And you brought Barbara!" Bruce gushed as the commissioner and his daughter entered the Vista Room at the top of the Imperial Building.
"Hey Bruce," Jim returned the greeting, accepting his friend's welcoming handshake. "You know how I feel about these monkey suit affairs, but it is a good cause."
"Any excuse to get Brucie in a tux is a good cause," the woman on Bruce's arm giggled.
"You flatter me, Aurora. Aurora D'Allain, this is Police Commissioner Jim Gordon and his daughter, Barbara. Jim, Barbara, this is Aurora."
"Ooh, the real live police commissioner!" Aurora reacted as she took Jim's hand. "And Barbara. I swear, Brucie must know just EVERYBODY."
"Only the people who count, Aurora," Bruce replied, beaming at her. "You know, Barbara is quite a student of the history of Gotham. Maybe she could answer some of your questions about the skyline while I catch up with Jim, here."
Aurora gave a little pout. "Are you brushing me off, Brucie?"
Bruce gave her a peck on the cheek. "Never, darling, but I don't want you to get bored. I'll come find you too in a bit."
Bruce and Jim moved off, but not before Barbara shot Bruce a look that could kill.
"So is it true you know all about all these new buildings in Gotham?" Aurora asked. "I mean, the city is so pretty, I just have to know what all these skyscrapers are called."
Barbara pasted an artificial smile on her features as the two women moved toward the observation deck of the Vista Room. "Well, I lived here during No Man's Land, so I got to see them all get put up."
"You lived through that? Wasn't it terribly dangerous?"
Barbara shrugged. "I got by. Somedays I even kind of miss it."
Instead of the vacuous giggle that Barbara expected, Aurora's face took on a sympathetic smile. "Well, I've heard home is less a place than a feeling," she said lightly, but not without meaning.
Barbara froze and turned from the view to her companion. Aurora's smile had softened, taken on a hint of irony. Her eyes were lit with a familiar humor. "J'onn?" Babs whispered incredulously.
Aurora turned back to the view. "I guess even Gotham has horizons if you climb high enough," she remarked.