Title: Alternate Lives
Fandom: Birds of Prey
Ratings: PG17 (to be safe – some violence, some bad language… no sex…)
Disclaimers: I don’t own Birds of Prey or any character created by WB used in this story. I’m making no profit on this and wouldn’t want to – as it’s ‘borrowed gods’. This is pure fun – and an entertaining way of passing the time when one is bored out of ones mind. (Although, most of the story-line is my own – together with some characters; I leave it to you to figure what and who J).
Author's Notes: English is NOT my first language, so please excuse any strange grammar or wordings… And – the story is “un-beta’d”, so please overlook my spelling-mistakes (if anyone feels compelled to ‘correct’ the story for me, feel free to e-mail me with suggestions at below address…)
Special Thanks: This is a Thank You-story for Aeryn Sun!!!
Summary: The story is set in an alternate time. What would happen if Barbara never got shot, and if she and Helena would meet later in life? (Um, sorry to say, though, there’s not much sex… What can I say? I’m a shy girl… J) The story is set in either (mostly) Helena’s or Barbara’s POV.
I was a night-stalker. They called me Huntress and whispered my name as they would a terrible nightmare with no end to it.
My mother taught me everything about Gotham’s shady streets and dark alleys – I could walk them in my sleep if I had to – but it was not until she died I begun ravaging them like a hurt animal mad with rage and pain.
She was shot in her home and died bleeding in my arms. The murderer was never caught, but I dreamt about that night and heard someone chuckle in my sleep – in the darkness of the shadows outside the windows of my mother’s bedroom.
I didn’t know who was to blame so I took my revenge on them all – all the time looking for, searching for the one responsible. I was truly mad at one time, giving up the life I had been leading and left all things bright and merry behind me. I became as a blood-thirsting vampire roaming the streets at night for easy preys.
I blamed my father for my mother’s death, but he was nowhere to be seen. He left town when my mother was killed. He fled like a coward – an old man, not fit to fight anymore.
I never met my father, not once in all those years. I never missed him either; my mother took well care of me, teaching me everything I needed to know. “These things I can teach you”, I remembered her saying. “But the greatest lesson in life you’ll have to learn on your own.”
“What’s that, mom?” I asked and she looked at me with gentle yet mysterious eyes – hiding secrets I knew nothing of.
“Love, my kit-cat. Nothing but Life itself can teach you about love.”
I didn’t want love and I didn’t think I needed it.
Until I met her…
I didn’t know who my father was until my mother died. His name was the last thing she told me before dying in my arms. Before that night she always told me he was dead and that he had powerful enemies when he was alive – it was better, she said, that no one knew he had a child. I took my mother’s word for it, trusted her to know best as only a loving child can do. When she was shot, bleeding to death in my arms, she looked at me with this lost, vulnerable look. “Your father”, she said while I was trying to make her save her strength. “His name is Bruce Wayne… Batman… He is still alive. Forgive me… If you can…”
The only thing I could think of at that time was that she was going to die and that I couldn’t save her. It was not until afterwards that I realized what she had said and what she had done. For whatever reason she had lied to me during all these years and I was left – devastated, alone – with all these questions I couldn’t find an answer to. I was angry at her for lying, but that anger was nowhere near the rage I felt for her dying and leaving me alone. She had been my mother, my sister, my best friend… This beautiful, wonderful, wild and somewhat crazy woman. And then – she was gone. In the blink of an eye.
She was murdered and as I kept searching for a reason why the clues led me to my father: Bruce Wayne – Gotham’s and one of this country’s wealthiest men.
My mother once told me my father had been one of the best men she had ever known. “He was righteous and strong, never shrinking from standing up to what he believed in. He fought the good fight, Helena – never giving up. But he had many enemies who wanted him dead.”
Bruce Wayne was my father. He was also Batman – this creature of the night waging an endless war against Gotham’s bad guys. No one knew who he was. That is – until someone found out the secrets he lived with and killed my mother to cause him pain.
Word got to me right after my mother’s death that Bruce Wayne had left town – no one knew where he had gotten to, but the rumors had it he’d left to Europe to start some business there. I probably would have believed it if it hadn’t been for my mother’s last words. Bruce Wayne… Batman…
I loathed him for leaving. Not for leaving me – I doubted he even knew I existed – but for leaving without finding my mothers killer. To do so became my duty and I wouldn’t have managed if it hadn’t been for the changes seeing my mother bleed to death had wrought within me. I was twenty-two at the time – young and naive in some ways, but not as innocent and vulnerable people often took me to be. My mother had raised me well. When I was old enough she confessed to me she once had been a thief, raiding the wealthiest homes in Gotham until she found out she was pregnant with me. She didn’t want to raise me living like that so she gave up her old ways, but I knew there was a part of her always missing that life. I could see it in her eyes sometimes when she watched the full moon at night. She was a creature of the night and she taught me to love everything about the dark. She taught me how to move in the shadows – how to hide and stalk people without them ever noticing.
There was something different about my mother and she told me there were more people like her in town. She called them meta-humans – people with abilities that ordinary humans lacked. “We are feared”, she told me. “Some of us are nice – like ordinary people. We keep to our business and disturb no one, but others… Shisss…” She frowned, hissing in the shadows. “They are bad, kit-cat. Bad!”
She told me she had been worried I would show some signs of being a meta-human, being her daughter, but the only thing about me at that time that was out of the ordinary were my incredible reflexes. She taught me to use them in fights – teaching me kung fu and other martial art techniques. “It’s always good protection for a woman”, she stated matter-of-factly. “And you never know when it comes in handy.”
I was an ordinary young woman at that time. Well, almost – except the night-raiding part, maybe. I had been to Europe twice and even traveled in Asia. My mother thought it a good idea for me to see some of the world before I settled with my studies. I had recently returned from my last journey and was studying art and interior design at the University of New Gotham when my mother was murdered. Before that I never thought I’d make a break with that kind of an ordinary life. I always enjoyed school and then to study at the University. I had friends and a boyfriend and I lived the life of a quite ordinary young woman… Although it turned out I wasn’t that ordinary after all. One can’t hide the stripes of a tiger – they’ll always shine through in the end.
My mother didn’t really use any weapons, but she taught me some fighting techniques with sticks and batons. “I know a girl”, she said once when we practiced in the private arena of our basement, “who’s the master of the staff. I never learned quite fully how to master that weapon, but she’s a champion. She saved my life once”, she added, somewhat distractedly. Then she smiled at me and punched me in the chest. “Always be prepared, kit-cat, even while on a break… Your enemies won’t take time-out.”
When looking back at it I realized she trained me to be a fighter. For what purpose I didn’t know. Maybe she only wanted me to be able to protect myself, as she said. Given what happened I didn’t doubt it – and I owe her my life for that training.
Six months after my mother’s death I had managed to form a somewhat proper picture of my mother’s past and my father’s identity. Apparently my mother had been this clever thief known as Catwoman (I even found a couple of her masks in a secret compartment in our home after her death) and my father… I knew of Bruce Wayne, of course. Everyone in Gotham knew of Bruce Wayne. I had even seen him in real life once, on my graduation day at college – he had made a public appearance and held a speech. Some of my classmates had real crushes on him (I was glad I never did, considering…).
I had heard of Batman in equal measures. Both of them figured in the newspapers regularly – but for different reasons, obviously. Some years ago Batman captured the most famous of Gotham’s criminals – the Joker. There was this massive fight causing an explosion that divided Gotham in two parts. Where the explosion took place new houses and offices were built and with its tall skyscrapers it seemed to be a completely different town. It became known as New Gotham.
I never liked New Gotham; I preferred the shadier streets of Gotham and the beautiful buildings with its older architecture. The old Clocktower was one of my favorite buildings. I always used to watch it with my mother at night, seeing the light from the gigantic clock above the city lights – much closer to the stars.
I had left town just a few days after the capture of the Joker – to study French in France for five months. It was my mother who had wanted to get rid of me. She had booked the trip for me only a few days before the showdown between the Joker and Batman and after her death all those years later I kept wondering if she somehow had known what was going on back then and been worried for my sake. She had been happy to see me when I returned and by then the Joker was safe behind bars. I never asked about him or showed any interest in him – why would I? Life went on.
A year after my mother’s death I wasn’t any closer to her killer, but I never doubted her death was somehow related with my father – either as Batman or as Bruce Wayne. Both men had their share of enemies and one of those had used my mother to get to him. Although – the word on the streets had it the Joker somehow was behind the murder. He was still at Arkam Asylum, locked up with the other insane criminals of this town, and I went to see him once. He didn’t look as if he was capable of anything in his state – a gibbering mad man, inaudibly reciting texts from God-knew-where. Maybe it was an act – I couldn’t tell – but the visit didn’t give me anything useful. I left Arkam as frustrated and angry as I came, feeling the darkness in my soul as a creature feeding on my heart.
I dropped out of University, took a job as a bartender at the Dark Horse bar and begun moving in the nights like my father had done before he run away from the responsibility. I didn’t catch criminals out of any goodness of my heart, or because it was the right thing to do – I did it out of vengeance, as I understood my father once had. His parents had been killed in a robbery – an event that created a legend several years later. I kept wondering if my mother’s death would make a legend out of me – or a nightmare.
I felt the change in me already the first few months. I became something I didn’t think I was meant to be. It was the rage and the pain that filled me and – I guess; I didn’t know of these things – altered parts within me. I became… not human anymore.
When I understood what happened to me I begun searching for others like me and I found this place: No Man’s Land – a bar for meta-humans only. When they asked for my name I gave them the first name that came to mind: Huntress.
I found the name fitting, both in relation to my mother’s past, secret name and for my mission: I was hunting down my mother’s killer.
After a year I was nowhere closer to finding the guilty part than I had in the beginning, but I kept on in my pursuit – I had nothing left to live for. I had a small apartment above the Dark Horse, but I was rarely there. I spend most of my time at the bar or scaling the buildings, chasing criminals in the dark. It was on one of those nights that I came in contact with the people that were about to change my life.
I was having a fight with three local thugs in a dark alley, minding my own business when a pool of water suddenly attacked me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It rose by my feet when I kicked the last one of the three to the ground and was about to tie them up. Before I knew it the water took shape in a shimmer wave and flushed right over me. It pinned me to the wall behind me and seemed out to suffocate me with its mass. I struggled to get free, but the water kept pouring at my face. I was momentarily stunned and felt a slight tinge of panic as I realized I was in danger of drowning on dry land.
I was blinded and needed to breathe when suddenly a dark figure stepped out from nowhere, aiming something at the flooding waters and me. In the next instant flames bursts out all around me and the water took shape of a man – screaming. Before I knew what was going on the dark figure behind the man threw something through the air. Blue light exploded in what seemed to be a cloud of shining dust.
“No!” the man in front of me screamed. “No!” He looked at me with a disconcerted look before he toppled backwards – unconscious.
I looked at the slight, dark-haired man with the fox-like face and then raised my eyes to the stranger in front of me. It was a woman.
“Who the hell are you?” I asked, taking her in. She was dressed in dark-blue and black leather, with some yellow color to it, and she wore a mask covering her face. All I could see was red hair, her nose, strong jaws and full lips. In the background I heard one of the thugs I’d beaten up whisper something in awe, before the three of them took the opportunity to flee from the alley.
“Well, you’re welcome”, the woman said amused and lowered her weapon. She tilted her head to one side, eyeing me. Her voice was low, but clear – slightly hoarse. Something about her triggered my memory, but I couldn’t place her. I was sure I had met her some other place, but she didn’t seem that familiar I would know her name.
“Welcome? I didn’t need any help.”
“No?” She shrugged. “My mistake.”
She stepped closer and grabbed the unconscious guy at my feet by the collar. When she looked up at me she smiled and I could see that her eyes were green. My eyes were still convexo-convex shaped disks – like the eyes of a cat – but she didn’t seem to react to them.
“We’ve been tracking this fellow for weeks now. Thanks for the help.”
I looked at her dragging the guy of whom she was speaking along the alley. “Fuck!” I said as I understood something about this situation. “You were using me as bait!”
The unknown woman checked her efforts and looked at me, again tilting her head to one side. “Using you? And here I was thinking you volunteered.” She flashed me a quick grin and I didn’t know what to say.
“Volunteered? What the hell…? Who the hell do you think you are? What the fuck are you doing in my alley, anyway?”
“Your alley?” She looked around, inspecting the damp walls, the overturned steel-bins and the rotting food. “I think you ought to take better care of you property, my friend… Otherwise there’s nothing left of it soon enough.”
Fuck! Did she mean to piss me off or was she just an idiot in general? “I’m not your friend. And who the hell are you?” I demanded.
“I could ask you the same, you know”, she said, still with this bemused note in her voice. “I’ve seen you around, catching bad guys – bringing them to the police station.” She paused, before adding: “Haven’t found what you’re looking for yet, have you, Huntress?” in a completely different voice. I got the feeling she was taunting me, but more as in a challenge than in contempt. “Maybe it’s time for you to consider your options. There’s more to life than shadows.”
I didn’t know what to say and she gave the alley a last look.
“There’s more to life than this alley, for sure”, I heard her mutter, not sure if it was her intention to let me hear those words. “See you around, kitten.”
In the next instant she was gone and I hadn’t done a thing to stop her. I wasn’t sure why, but I suspected it had something to do with the fact that she knew who I was. She knows me, I thought. That gave her an unfair advantage. I didn’t know a thing about her. She’d said she’d seen me around. She knows my mission, I thought, still standing rooted to the ground, like a tree. Maybe she even knew who I was looking for.
The thought finally got me moving. I jumped several stories up on the closest building behind me and rushed along the rooftops until I found what I was looking for.
She was alone now – without both the fire-weapon and the man she’d caught – and striding a motorbike not far from the alley. A police-van stood parked not far from her and I noticed two police officers locking up the slim water-pool bad-guy that had tried to drown me. A meta-human, no doubt.
My attention shifted to the woman on the bike. She left the streets and drove at full speed through the city. I tried keeping up with her, but she was too fast even for me. I might have been quick and agile as a cat, but a motorbike was a motorbike and driven by a master… I caught myself thinking that.
“Kafka”, I mumbled, standing at a rooftop looking down at the vanishing motorbike. Gibson Kafka will know who she is.
I returned to No Man’s Land late that night, finding the owner of the bar behind the counter. The bar was closed, but the young meta-human with the ability to remember everything he had seen, heard or even smelled in life since before birth usually allowed me some trespasses.
“Mmm, isn’t it my lovely smelling friend showing up”, he said when he noticed me and smiled that crocked smile – a mix between insanity and shyness.
“Don’t say that, Gibson. It always gives me bad associations and creates complexes about my smell.”
He laughed. “Always the lady. What can I do for you this late at night, Huntress mine?” He winked at me and I repressed a sigh; his crush on my begun to annoy me, even though he was a sweet man.
“I met someone tonight…”
“Ah, thou thorn of sorrow, piercing my heart…” He placed his hands above his heart, giving the ceiling a lost look.
“Gibson…” I said sternly and he grinned at me. “Not like that…”
“Ah, sweet music to my ears…”
“Seriously… I need your help with something.”
“Right.” He leaned in on the counter, looking expectantly at me. I told him about the woman, leaving out some details about her saving if not my life at least my dignity. If I hadn’t been able to defeat Mr. Pool (which would be as difficult as catching my shadow…) I would have had to run away. Not an option that would have made me happy.
“So… leather and a mask. Who is she?”
Gibson looked at me as if I was the insane one. “You’re not actually saying… are you?” He looked inquiringly at me.
“What?” I said annoyed.
“You don’t know?”
“Who she is?”
I sighed. “No”, I said slowly, looking him in the eye. “I don’t know who she is. Why would I ask you if I did?”
He shrugged. “Maybe you missed my company…”
“If I ever meet you in my next life I’m going to turn around and flee in the other direction as soon as I see your shadow…”
“You’ll love me in our next life and marry me.”
“Come on, Gibson”, I said, realizing he could go on all night. “You might have the whole night, but I have work to do.”
I blinked. “Bat-what?”
“It sure surprises me that you haven’t heard of her. You who ask everything about the big Bat.”
“Yeah, but…” I frowned. Batgirl? It did sound familiar. Maybe I’d heard the name but brushed it off. The only thing I was really interested in was my mother’s killer – not much else.
“His protege. She fights with him to keep Gotham clean from… garbage…” He made a face. “Not meta, though. Never been here and is not welcome…”
I nodded, distractedly. Meta-humans could be picky about people sometimes. “What can you tell me about her?”
“Her?” He shrugged. “Don’t know. She fights in a team with Nightwing and what’s assumed to be Black Canary’s daughter.”
“Black Canary?” I blinked again. Her I had heard of.
“Yeah. The great legend. She died a few years back and Batgirl took in her daughter and trained her. She’s a great meta – she’s often here, although she’s quite young. But what a fighter for her age – and strong…” He sighed. “Some get all the lucky powers.”
“What do you mean?” I asked him sharply.
“You know – telekinesis, mind-reading…”
“Great”, I muttered, softly under my breath.
“You know I love your ways, Miss Huntress”, Gibson said looking at me with a slight excuse in his eyes. “But…”
“But what, Gibson?”
“You scare the living hell out of the criminals of this town, but it’s the Bat-gang they respect. You’re just another angry kid in the city, kicking ass…”
That hurt, especially hearing it from Gibson, but I didn’t show it. What was his word worth, after all? What was anyone’s word worth? I went my own way, created my own life on my conditions and no one else had any say in the matter.
“Right”, I said.
“No, no ‘right’.” Gibson shook his head, almost sadly. “Listen, my Miss Huntress. The real bad guys are not to toy with. You’ve been lucky this long, to have avoided them and their businesses… But when the time come you need a safety net, otherwise… Swish… Kaboom!” He let his hand fall to the counter and smashed his palm with full force in the desk with a smack. “Down you go… The end of the short story of Miss Huntress.”
“I don’t have time to listen to this.” I turned and walked away, leaving Gibson to his dark philosophy. Me – needing a safety net? Who did he think I was? I didn’t need anyone.
The next day I left my quarters to take a stroll down town in the middle of the day. I went to New Gotham – which was in the direction Batgirl had headed on her motor-bike the night before. I couldn’t get the meeting out of my head – it both infuriated and intrigued me.
I never really had any closer girlfriends than my mother and wasn’t used to women challenging me like the woman yesterday. My best friend in High School later turned out to be an assassin, a fact that somewhat made me doubt other people. Just goes to show you really don’t know anyone. And in Gotham every other person seems to have a secret identity.
It was Sunday in the beginning of spring. The weather was lovely: blue sky, birds chirping below the warming sun; happy people everywhere. I didn’t feel very happy, but I wasn’t really my usual broody self either. It was difficult to be broody on such a lovely day.
I passed the Clocktower; the landmark dividing Gotham from New Gotham. One noticed the changes instantly: the dark buildings of Gotham faded into high, glass-paneled skyscrapers. The lower part of the Clocktower had been exposed to the fire seven years ago and had been reinforced and rebuilt. The building was a landmark for everyone – connecting the two parts of this town and being both a reminder of the past and an inspiration for the future.
I headed towards Gotham Central Park, almost by the foot of the Clocktower. I didn’t know why I was drawn in that direction, except I had no business in this part of town and I remembered hearing about a fair when I was working at the bar the other night. It was a charity fair held for the town’s orphanages, arranged by Bruce Wayne’s trust fund. There would be merry-go-rounds and other kinds of attractions for children; lottery, games, radio cars… And everything would be for free.
When Bruce Wayne left Gotham he left amongst other people Barbara Gordon in charge of his great wealth. She was the one arranging this fair on behalf of the children. I didn’t know what to think of it. I had met Miss Gordon once – even though I wasn’t aware of whom she was at that time.
I had been the only person attending my mother’s funeral. It was a cloudy day with occasional drizzling rain – not that I minded. I didn’t care much for the weather or other people that day. I stayed by the grave till twilight, when a woman I recognized but couldn’t remember meeting suddenly was standing by my side. She didn’t say anything. She only laid a red rose at my mother’s newly dug grave and then stood there with me, in silence. Somehow – even though I didn’t know her – I was grateful for her presence and her consideration. Her presence seemed to calm me without her having to say a word. She stood by me in the rain until night fell, the rain stopped and the stars shone through dark clouds. Then she said, in a low voice: “I’m sorry for you loss”, and placed a card on the stone. “If you ever need anything… To talk…” She didn’t say much more, but turned around and was gone.
I had seen her picture in the newspapers and her face on the television since then. She was a close friend of my father and daughter of Gotham’s former Chief of Police. Mr. Gordon was still involved in a few cases and turned up at a lot of social events – he had a close bond to the mayor, as had his daughter.
Barbara Gordon moved in the highest circles of society in the town, being just as envied for her beauty by the younger girls as desired by the boys. I never knew what to think of her. My mother seemed fond of the younger woman and always watched her appearances, but I couldn’t make up my mind about her: if she was a shallow party girl as some magazines pictured her or a clever businesswoman. I never thought I would have liked either of her personalities, until I met her on my mother’s grave. The card she left for me noted her name, address and phone-number in print on front, with a handwritten number on the back. I used to wonder what interest Barbara Gordon had in my mother and me, but that day – when I walked through the park, noticing laughing children and smiling adults among the attractions and booths – I felt a slight, tingling shiver down my spine. Barbara Gordon had been a close friend of my father; he trusted her with all his wealth – a man like Bruce Wayne (or a man like Batman) would not trust just anybody with such a responsibility.
She has red hair, I thought, remembering the young woman at my mother’s grave; she had been some years older than me. I suddenly regretted not paying more attention to her when I had the chance, but I had been too overcome by guilt and grief at the time.
I looked around at the fair, remembering that I’d heard that Barbara Gordon would attend the fair in person. I had a vague recollection that was what she used to do when she arranged charity events like this.
And then – as on cue – I found her. She was standing at a booth not far from me, side by side with a tall, dark and handsome man in her own years. He laughed at something she said and she playfully slapped his arm.
“Give me now”, I heard her say while she reached for something in his grasp. He gave her three colorful balls and she placed them on a line on the counter in front of her. I watched as she chose one of them and aimed at the pyramid of steel cans further in behind the counter. A young man stepped aside, smiling at her while she frowned in concentration. Above his head a shelf with soft, fussy animals of all sizes were lined up.
“If you hit one I’m going to do the dishes for the next two weeks”, the tall man by her side said. She grumbled.
“Alfred wouldn’t let you”, she said and the man laughed. I suddenly knew who he was: Dick Grayson – Bruce Wayne’s adoptive son. That would make him my brother. The thought felt strange and yet… intriguing.
He’s too handsome to be anyone’s brother, I thought, appreciating his shape.
My eyes fell on the good-natured face of Barbara Gordon. Her exclamation maybe expressed annoyance, but her eyes sparkled with delight despite the fact that she had missed the pyramid by several feet.
“No, no”, Dick Grayson said soothingly. “That’s no word for a lady. What would Alfred say?”
“He’d agree”, she said with a smile creating a dimple in her cheek. She looked so young in her pale yellow dress and her hair braided that I found it difficult to believe she actually run one of the most important businesses in town. Except managing Bruce Wayne’s millions she also run a computer company in her own name.
The next throw missed as thoroughly as the first and she made a face.
“It’s not my day today.”
“Is it ever?” Dick said dryly and the young man behind the counter struggled to hide a grin. I didn’t blame him – the intimacy between the two people at his booth was obvious. The bond between them created comfort in other people, which – I realized with a start – was probably their intention. My eyes narrowed, watching the woman.
Party girl or cleverness?
“My last one…”
Barbara Gordon took aim and threw… The blue and green ball hit the rack below the pyramid and bounced back straight at her. With a yelp she threw up her arms before her face as she lowered her head and the ball hit her squarely on the scalp, while Dick Grayson laughed beside her. What a girly, I thought with an amused smile.
“My turn”, Dick Grayson said and collected the balls from the man behind the counter.
“Right”, Barbara Gordon said, brushing herself off. “I did promise Dinah a bear. If I can’t get it…” She glared at him. “You better will.”
Dick winked at her. “Watch me.”
I did watch him, but he was no better than the woman was. Well, maybe a little – he did manage to knock one of the cans off the pyramid and got to chose between a couple of small animals not larger than tennis balls. The disappointed look on his face almost made me snort.
“This is it?”
“Dinah’s going to kill us both”, Barbara said matter-of-factly.
“Not me – at least I got her a gift.” Dick grinned and held up the small panda bear he’d chosen.
“Great”, the woman said feigning exasperation and turned away from the booth.
The booth was by now surrounded by people pressing against Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson. I hadn’t noticed the crowd growing behind and around the two of them, so preoccupied I had been watching her. She smiled at the people surrounding them and they grinned back at her; children talking to her, wanting to touch her.
I followed Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson on safe distance for almost an hour, watching them exchange pleasantries with adults, playing some with the children and then holding a speech in the middle of the fair. Barbara Gordon seemed so much like a young, innocent girl enjoying herself at a fair that I wasn’t sure I was right in my sneaking suspicion that she was the woman I had met last night, dressed fully in leather with a weapon in her hands. Her voice was different – lighter somehow; her movements were not less graceful, but less powerful and more like a girl in her late teens – somewhat clumsy at times. But her mouth, her chin and her jaws… Her nose…
I didn’t know I had memorized Batgirl’s face so clearly, but imaging Barbara Gordon in leather, with a mask covering half her face… For some reason the thought made my heart race and I felt a slight blush on my cheeks.
In the next moment I lost sight of her. Damn! I thought, looking around for her. Dick Grayson was in conversation with a tall, blond girl that had joined him and Barbara a few minutes before. She seemed to be in her late teens – sixteen, seventeen. I noticed he handed her the panda bear he’d won and wondered if this was Dinah. For some reason I had pictured her to be younger when Barbara talked about her earlier, maybe even a child.
“Are you enjoying yourself?”
The sudden voice almost right at my left ear made me want to jump, but I repressed the impulse and slowly turned my head. She has the most brilliant eyes… like jewelry… I thought, distractedly.
“Yes, thank you”, I said politely, not wanting to admit how it disturbed me that she so easily had managed to sneak up on me. I was leaning on the railing to a terrace in front of and slightly higher than the attractions below. Behind me was Gotham Park’s Restaurant, crowded with people. Barbara Gordon stood beside me, half leaning on the railing, looking at me with pale, green eyes – almost like jade.
“Have you tried the attractions?” She made a gesture towards the area in front of us.
I shook my head with a bemused smile. “I think I’m too old for merry-go-rounds…”
She laughed. “No one is ever too old for them. Besides…” Her smile faded. “Here are children that hasn’t anybody to go around with – they would love someone to take them.”
I felt a pang in my chest; some kind of pressure that made it hard to breathe. “I’m no ones babysitter”, I said, more bitterly than I intended. Her gaze was inquiringly when she looked at me, but she didn’t say anything. She watched the children move around the fair in the different uniforms representing their particular homes.
“Money can give them something, but not everything of what they need”, she said sadly, leaning more fully on the railing – resting her hands beside me. I was surprised to see she had strong hands – a fighters hands. I even noticed a small scar on her wrist. “What they need is attention and love. To know… to learn that they have some value in this world. If we can give them that – even for a brief period of their lives… maybe it will be enough.”
I didn’t know what to say. She made me feel ashamed of myself, but how could I forget my past? How could I give up my mother’s memory? How could I forget the sight of her bleeding to death in my arms? I couldn’t leave the anger and the pain behind me – and if I did… I was afraid I would forget her if I did.
“Better they learn how to trust themselves”, I said. “There’s no one in this world that will care for them better than themselves…”
She didn’t say anything at first, but then looked at me with gentle eyes, not hiding the sadness in her voice. “That’s a harsh point of view… and a lonely way of living your life.”
Again I felt this pang in my heart, seeing her watching me like this – talking to me like this. No one talked to me like this since my mother died. No one dared.
Barbara suddenly smiled and raised her hand. She waved at someone further away and I noticed the blond, younger girl in the crowd, waving back.
“I have to go.” Barbara turned away, but hesitated and glanced at me over her shoulder with a small smile. “It was nice to have met you, Helena Kyle. Come and visit me.” Then she winked at me and I felt my mouth go dry when she gave me a wry, amused smile that I instantly recognized and added, in a low, hoarse voice: “If you dare.”
I moved towards her – I didn’t know why; to stop her, to demand her to tell me who she was and what she knew about me – but she laughed and was gone before even I had time to react.
Damn! I thought annoyed. Not again! That woman… Who the hell is she, actually?
I watched her as she moved through the fair and met up with the blond girl. They linked arms and then were gone, swallowed by the crowd.
That night when I went on patrol I kept my eyes open for more than petty thieves and criminals. With Batgirl’s words in mind – that she had seen me around town at night – I knew someone had been watching me without me noticing. The thought disturbed me, but I had the feeling that Batgirl – AKA Barbara Gordon, I was sure of it; even though it occasionally did seem somewhat farfetched, if I thought about it – wouldn’t make contact just to leave me to it. She had asked me something… Barbara Gordon also asked me something, I realized and when the thought hit me I stopped dead in my tracks. She wants me to join them… The thought would have been absurd, but for the fact that both Batgirl and Barbara had hinted at the thought that there was a larger meaning in life beyond revenge and pain – and dark alleys.
My father fought for the greater good. If I knew anything about him that was it – he fought to make this place a better world; a better town to live in.
“You’re just another angry kid…” Gibson’s words. Maybe he was right. Maybe… Maybe there was something else out there, some other reason to do what I did.
“They need attention and love…”
She had made me ashamed of myself. What do I care? I thought angrily and went on my way. Why would I care what she thinks?
Except she had been right. I had been so wrapped up in my own anger I didn’t even considered the lives of those kids I had seen the same day. I could have given them a helping hand, a smile… I hadn’t. Despite the blue sky and the sun I had brought my brooding cloud of anger and hurt to that fair. I’m such an idiot, I thought. I used to care about children. I used to care about people. Now I didn’t give a fuck. Was that the kind of person I wanted to be – or become: hollow, but for the pain?
What would my mother think of me? I thought dejectedly. A noise behind me made me turn around to face a short, broad-shouldered man.
“Hey, you…” he said, waving at me with a gun.
You got to be kidding me? I thought. “You know, I’m not really in the mood for this”, I said indifferently, but with a hint of steel in my voice.
“I have a proposition for you…” He lowered the gun and tilted his head to one side.
I frowned. “Excuse me?”
“Huntress, right? We’ve heard of you.”
Another one? What was this – some kind of recruitment going on? “Sure, what ever.” I turned around, making myself ready to leave by jumping off the building. I fleetingly wondered how the man had made his way up here.
“My boss would like to have a word with you. He offers you to team up with his… group.”
“Group?” I said with my back towards the guy.
“Yeah – it’s your choice. He said to let you know he gives you a fair deal.”
I turned around, looking at the man with changed eyes. I saw him retreat a few cautious steps. “And exactly who is your ‘boss’?”
“If you come with me you’ll know.”
I tilted my head to one side. “He’s not one of the good guys, is he?” I asked and the man grinned.
“He’s very good to my friends and me.”
Pervert… “Right. I’m not interested…”
“You’re meta… You don’t belong anyplace else than with us…” The man said, looking me straight in the eyes. “The world out there will never tolerate you…”
“It doesn’t give me a reason to become a criminal”, I said and he smirked.
“You already are, aren’t you? What do you think you are – a vigilante?” He laughed hoarsely, condescending. “You’d be a thief if you didn’t have a job and a murderer given the right cause…”
I took a quick step towards him and grabbed his collar regardless of the lowered gun. “You listen to me, your little prick…” I could smell his fear, but he still smiled.
“Don’t you think we know you, Huntress? Don’t you think my boss knows what’s your hearts greatest wish? What if I told you he could give it to you? Wouldn’t it be worth it? Wouldn’t it be worth crossing the line for it – only once? Just do us a little, tiny favor… and you hearts wish will be yours.”
I was tempted. I looked into this ugly mans face and knew he was telling me the truth. I didn’t know what answer I would have given him, because in that instant someone else joined us on the rooftop.
“Would it be worth to defile your mother’s memory in such a way?” Batgirl said.
“What memory?” the man smirked, glancing in her direction and then looking back at me. “The memory of her bleeding to death in your arms? We will give you what you need to know… We will make your dreams come true. Revenge…” – he smiled – “is best served cold, don’t you think? Think of what you can do…”
I knew I would have taken him on the offer had it been the other night, or any other night before that. My soul had been dark and craving dark since my mother died – empty and shallow – and I wouldn’t have thought twice about crossing that shady line between right and wrong, good or evil. I wouldn’t have cared. But this day… This day I had looked into the eyes of Barbara Gordon.
I knew it was her standing next to me now, in silence – as she had stood beside me by my mother’s grave, asking nothing.
“Scum”, I said and twisted the gun from the man as I lifted him from the ground. He still smiled.
“Look out!” Batgirl moved, but it was too late. The man spit me in the face and in the next instant he literally slipped through my fingers as he faded into the shadows and disappeared.
“What the hell…?” I dried the spit from my face with a disgusted grunt, but was more confused about how the man had disappeared like that. This meta-human world was still quite new to me.
“He’s called Shadow”, Batgirl said, looking around. “Remember the water-guy from yesterday? This one turns into shadows. They’ll take him anywhere…”
“Hmm”, I grunted and stepped hard on a shadow just to make sure he wasn’t there. I noticed the amused look on Batgirl’s face and arched an eyebrow at her. She smiled.
“No need to save you tonight”, she said teasingly and turned her back to me. With one leap she jumped from the top of the building, falling gracefully through the dark. I rushed after her, but while I leaped from the building – falling equally gracefully through the night – she suddenly changed direction and continued upwards towards another building. I heard a soft, swirling sound and noticed a thin wire through the air.
Damn! I thought, still falling and not able to change direction. I wouldn’t be able to follow her until I had reached the ground and could begin ascending the next building. Even before I landed I knew that it would be too late by then.
I stood in the dark alley watching the skyline and the rooftops above my head. She turned around from the top of the building – a dark shadow against the stars – looking down at me before disappearing. Maybe she hadn’t saved my life today, but I knew – someplace deep within me – that she had saved me from making a terrible mistake.
The next morning I left my apartment and made my way to the address on the card Barbara Gordon had given me almost a year ago.
Gordon Technologies was located in a building right next to the Clocktower, in the newer part of Gotham. It wasn’t a skyscraper and didn’t even reach half way up the Clocktower, but it was paneled with dark glass. I realized, standing in front of the Clocktower, that the address written on the back of the visitors card was Barbara Gordon’s home-address and it was located on the other side of the Clocktower – an older, beautiful building with large windows. This information seemed important to me somehow, but I wasn’t sure why.
I went to the reception at the first floor of Gordon Technologies and asked for Barbara Gordon.
“Is she expecting you?” the friendly receptionist asked.
“We didn’t set a time, but she asked me to come see her”, I said. It wasn’t a lie.
“Miss Gordon is in a meeting at the moment. They should be finished soon. If you don’t mind waiting you could take the elevator to the top floor. Her office is straight ahead from the elevator. You can’t miss it.”
“Thank you.” I nodded and did as instructed.
When the elevator doors opened I was greeted by a spacious room with large windows along the right side, another reception in front of me and a row of glass walls to the left along the corridor. Behind the glass I could see an oval-shaped table by which a number of twelve men and women were sitting. Their attention was directed at a woman in front of the room, dressed in dark blue trousers and a white shirt. Barbara Gordon.
The reception was empty and the door to the room was open as I walked into the large hallway. I didn’t know what alerted her – maybe my shadow moving across the hall, or the soft sound from the elevator – but she turned her head and noticed me. She had a concentrated look on her face, but she waved me towards the room with one hand without silencing. I walked closer and she directed her gaze at the people in the room.
“Greg – I can’t let you go through with this closure…”
I hesitated in the door, but Barbara Gordon glanced at me – waving at me to sit down beside her desk, where an empty chair was seen. She leaned on the desk, with her red hair bound in the neck by a green silk strap. I moved silently into the room, glancing at the people sitting at the table. Some of them gave me a wondering look, but no one questioned Barbara’s decision. I sat down in the chair, watching the woman slightly to the right in front of me.
“We’ve already made a deal”, a blond man in a dark suit protested.
Barbara rose from the table, swirling a pen expertly between her fingers. This was yet again another woman, different from the ones I had met before. Her face was hard when she focused, her eyes sharp and somewhat distant.
“And who, may I ask, gave you permission to even approach Blackbird Cooperation?” she asked bitingly, giving the man a piercing look he couldn’t face. Seeing the chill in her eyes I couldn’t really blame him.
“With all due respect, Miss Gordon…” A slightly older man in a gray suit leaned somewhat over the table as he spoke in a fatherly voice. “Blackbird Cooperation is a respectable…”
“Greg – we do not deal with Blackbird as long as they are involved with buying and selling of weapons. I thought I had made myself clear.” Barbara didn’t even look at the other man trying to interfere and I could see it affronted him. Tough luck, I thought wryly.
“You did, Barbara”, the man called Greg said. He nodded. “It will cost extra breaking the contract, though…”
“I’ll pull it from your wages”, she said and turned around.
“Miss Gordon”, the other man tried again, as a younger dark-haired woman glanced at him with dry amusement. “Blackbird Cooperation is…”
“Mr. Dale”, Barbara said as she paced the floor and stopped in front of the large windows with her back towards the room, looking out over New Gotham. “You are new to this firm and so also new to how things work around here. I suggest you take the time to learn our policy before making any suggestions about my choice of partners. We do not deal with any company or private person who has any connections to any kind of illegal or immoral businesses. This includes corruption and bribes amongst their board members.” She turned around, leaning on the steel-frame between two windows and held Mr. Dale’s gaze with a piercing look. She was strikingly beautiful as the early morning light reflected itself in her hair. “Has I made myself clear, Mr. Dale?”
“Miss Gordon…” he objected. She raised a hand and he silenced.
“Mr. Dale – I suggest you confer with Miss Stetson to your left what are considered immoral business and make up your mind if you agree or not. Or I will find myself forced to reconsider my decision to employ you.”
The man swallowed and nodded.
“Good. This concludes the meeting.”
I should expect her staff to glance at her in an almost evil way after that performance, but they only collected their stuff, shared smiles with her and went on their ways.
“You did a good job with the Caleb-closure, Greg”, Barbara said as the man in the dark blue suit passed her. He grinned.
“I know. It was great smacking Boyd on the fingers for once.”
Barbara laughed. “I wish I had seen it. You’ll notice I’ve given you a raise”, she added. “Well, you will notice… once you’ve paid me for the Blackbird-affair.”
Greg made a face. “I made a mistake, I admit, but their offer…”
Barbara slowly shook her head and the man silenced. “We’ll talk about it later”, she said friendly and he nodded, glancing at me. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, right”, he said and left.
When Barbara and I were left alone I rose from the chair to face her. She looked at me with green eyes impossible to read. I wondered with an eerie feeling if this really was the same woman I had spoken to only yesterday.
“So, why have you come to see me, Miss Helena Kyle?” she asked in this business-like voice that was nothing of neither Batgirl nor the Barbara Gordon I had seen in the park. I held her gaze wondering if I had made a mistake coming here.
“You asked me to”, I said stiffly. She didn’t move, but a slight smile twitched at the corners of her mouth.
“I did, didn’t I.” Her eyes grew even sharper as she pulled her eyebrows together. “Maybe it would be more accurate to ask why you’ve chosen to take my invitation seriously this time. Do you think I have something you want?”
I felt anger stirring and fought an impulse to let my eyes change color and shape. I was about to speak when a thin, older woman showed up in the doorway behind me, glancing at me before speaking to Barbara.
“Miss Barbara, I’m sorry – I was…”
“Nothing to mention, Glynis. I was expecting her.” Barbara motioned towards me as she again leaned her hip against her desk.
“Oh, right…” the woman said.
“Do you want anything?” Barbara asked me politely. “Coffee, tea… soft drinks?”
“Beer”, I said quite rudely without taking my eyes off her. She didn’t even raise an eyebrow, only nodded to Glynis behind my back.
“An ice tea and a beer for Miss Kyle.”
“Coming up, Miss Barbara.”
The woman left and we were left to stare at each other.
“Well”, she said after a few minutes. “Why did you choose to follow up on my invitation?”
“Did you invite me to insult me?” I asked, feeling the anger tickling my skin. I didn’t know what I had expected, but it wasn’t this… cold and indifferent welcome.
“Again – it depends on the reason to why you have come to see me.”
“Why did you invite me in the first place if you question my intentions?” I asked insulted. Who the hell does she think she is? And what is she, anyway – psychotic? Suffering from schizophrenia? It wouldn’t surprise me, the way she seemed to shift between personalities.
“Your beer, Miss Kyle”, Glynis said and put a tray with two glasses on the table between Barbara and me. Barbara still held my gaze and I sure as hell wasn’t going to avert my eyes.
“Thank you, Glynis”, she said softly and looked at the woman. I felt a fleeting sense of triumph when she had to give in before me. “Will you please close the door?”
The look Glynis gave me indicated that she wasn’t used to Barbara’s door ever being closed. I wondered what that said of the woman in front of me.
“Is everything fine, Miss Barbara?” Glynis said and gave her a worried frown. Barbara nodded and smiled softly.
“Everything is fine, Glynis. We only need to talk, that’s all. Oh – and could you let Dick know I might run a little late? Tell him I’m having problems with our cat – he’ll know what I mean.”
“Yes, Miss Barbara.”
Glynis frowned at me before leaving, but she closed the door behind her.
“Cat?” I said scornfully.
“Yes – it’s a lovely cat.” She reached for a photograph on the desk and showed it to me. “See?”
The picture showed three people close together, laughing. It was Barbara Gordon, Dick Grayson and the girl Dinah I had seen yesterday, but a couple of years younger. The girl held a white cat in her arms.
“It’s sick, poor thing.”
She put down the picture and gave me the glass containing beer, before drinking of her own. Serves me right, I thought. Not everything is about me…
“I run a business”, she suddenly said, making a swift gesture with her arm around the room. “We deal with everything from Nano-technique and space-programs to basic educational programs for children or games for teenagers. To me it’s important to know my clients – what they want, who they are and most importantly… To know what they want from me and what they are willing to give in return.”
She held my gaze and I felt a slight shiver of fear down my back. This woman was not some sleazy scumbag easily defeated in a dark alley. She fought another battle – one that my mother had never prepared me for.
I was never much for psychology or the philosophy of things – I preferred it the straight way: if you had a problem with someone – beat the crap out of them. I never liked the way some girls at high school and college went behind each other’s backs to create intrigues and shaped lies. I loathed that game.
“I want the truth”, I said and finally noted some reaction in her eyes. Something shifted and I was sure she looked pleased with me, as if I had passed some unspoken test – or something. The thought filled me with at strange sense of almost delight – I had done something right in her eyes. Then I was angry at my reaction – what the hell did it matter to me what she thought?
“I don’t have the whole truth”, she said. “I will give you what I can.”
“And me?” I asked, leaving my beer untouched. “What do you want in return?”
“The information I give you comes free of charges”, she said with a dry smile. She rolled the last of her ice tea in the glass and finished it before placing the glass on the table. I put my glass beside hers.
“You want nothing of me?” I asked suspiciously.
“I didn’t say that.” She held my gaze. “You will get the information you want regardless…”
“Regardless what?” I snapped.
She glanced behind me and then rose. “This is not the right place to discuss these things”, she said and moved away from me, towards the door. I lost my temper with her and grabbed her wrist, twisting her around to face me. My eyes changed as I looked at her.
“You listen to me”, I said. “I’m not your little toy… You tell me now what you want from me or I…”
“What?” she said coldly. “You’ll kill me?”
“Miss Barbara!” Glynis opened the door and hurried into the room. Barbara’s gaze left mine, but I didn’t let go of her and she didn’t try to break free.
“It’s fine, Glynis. Leave us.”
I expected the woman to object, but something in Barbara’s eyes or maybe in her voice made her obey without another word. When the door closed Barbara looked at me again.
“I suggest you let go of me, before my secretary call the police. We’ll talk later.”
I held her wrist a moment longer, before letting her go. “Fine.”
“Thank you”, she said, rubbing her wrist. I smirked at her.
“I didn’t hold you that hard”, I said.
“Maybe you don’t know your own strength”, she retorted and this time there was a hint of Batgirl in her voice and in her amused smile, but it was gone just as quickly again. “Do you want to leave a contact number for me to reach you?”
“I’ll find you”, I said and turned to leave. The last thing I heard, so softly spoken under her breath I wasn’t sure I really heard it or if I was meant to hear it, was her saying:
“I’m sure you do.”
The rest of the day I spent tracking down this Dinah girl and Dick Grayson. Dinah proved to be the easiest – she went to New Gotham high school not far from the Clocktower. According to some information I picked up from a quick conversation with the schools guidance counselor – Wade Brixton – I found out that Barbara Gordon had been Dinah Lance’s legal guardian since the girl was nine. It surprised me. Barbara must have been quite young herself at that time and I wondered what would have made her take a decision like that… Unless…
Gibson had informed me about Black Canary’s daughter. Could this be her? That young, innocent looking girl from the fair?
In that case I had no problems guessing who Dick Grayson’s alter ego must be: Nightwing – Batman’s other protege. The pieces in this gigantic jigsaw were finally coming into place.
Later that night I watched the Clocktower closely from the shadows at the foot of the high building. I remembered the rumors of Batman’s Batcave and knew it was too convenient that Barbara Gordon’s office was placed on one side of the Clocktower and her home on the other side. It seemed a logical decision from Barbara Gordon’s point of view – close to home; close to the office – but even more logical if you knew her alter ego.
All organized criminals and all organized vigilantes needed a base. I didn’t have one and never felt I needed one – but on the other hand I didn’t consider myself to be particular organized. What better place for Batgirl to hide a secret lair than in the Clocktower, with connections to both her home and her work? It shaped a perfect net.
The question was: how would I find a way in?
I didn’t. Finally I had to give it up. It seemed the Clocktower was a fortress and in the end I just decided to scale the building. It was one of the highest buildings in town, but I often climbed the highest one – reaching for the stars late at night, finding peace in the shadows from the anger craving me.
That night I climbed the Clocktower for the first time in my life, wondering why I hadn’t done it before. When I was almost at the top I reached an open aired ledge where a man stood leaning at the brick-wall behind him, apparently waiting for someone. It turned out he seemed to be waiting for me.
“Hi”, he said when he noticed me. I recognized him as Dick Grayson – AKA Nightwing. “You must be Huntress, I presume.”
I felt like kicking someone, but nodded. “I know who you are”, I added.
He smiled. “Of course you do. Nice to finally have met you… sister.” He gave me his hand and I took it, after some consideration.
“Hmm”, I said.
“Not very talkative? That’s fine… Bruce wasn’t either, really. Follow me.”
Dick went before me through an open door with windows on each side, leading to an open space far above a large room below us. I didn’t know what to think about his remark, but seeing the interior of the Clocktower I forgot everything else.
Where Dick and I stood there was a kitchen in front of us, with a railing to the left from above which we looked down at the space below. The railing continued across the room, below the high ceiling – creating a living room further away, broken only by the large stairs leading down to the room. An elevator was to be seen opposite the stairs on the floor were we stood.
The room below contained a massive desk with computers, screens and technical gadgets I had never seen and wouldn’t know how to use. A woman was sitting at the desk, looking up at the massive screens above her head. She wore glasses, which I found quite cute on her.
I recognized her, of course.
Suddenly an old man stepped out of the elevator, pulling a small wagon with glasses, cups and plates behind him.
“Oh, dear – visitors.” He eyed me frankly, then smiled softly. “Would you care for a cup of tea, my dear?”
“No more tea, Alfred!” Barbara Gordon called from below the railing. “Go home, old man! Go to bed!”
“Miss Barbara”, Alfred said, looking injured. “Is that the way to speak to an old friend? Especially when he only does his duty – to tend to guests of the house?”
“Oracles always speaks as they wish, Alfred, don’t you know?” Dick said with a grin. “They always speak the truth.”
I looked about the railing, noting the blond girl – Dinah – appear from somewhere beneath the kitchen on the floor below. She stopped and looked up at us with a smile. She waved when she saw me and I instinctively waved back before I caught myself. Barbara Gordon was still watching the screens above her head and I followed her gaze, noticing they showed different camera shows of various places in Gotham. It was like watching the news.
“Satellite pictures”, Dick said in my ear. “She’s a wizard at the computer – hacks in everywhere you can imagine.”
“Right”, I said, not knowing what to add. I knew nothing of or cared about the first things about computers – more than how to arrange a room in a 3D-hologram, being part of my former education.
“Come… I’ll introduce you properly.”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Helena”, Alfred said and I gave him a surprised look. Did everyone know my fucking name? “I’ll get you some tea”, he added.
Dick showed me the way to the stairs and when we descended Barbara Gordon finally turned to look at me. She tilted her head to one side as I had seen her do before and watched me curiously as I walked closer.
“This is Dinah”, Dick said, halting me by the blond girl.
“Hi”, the girl said with a broad smile. She didn’t extend her hand and I didn’t either. “You’re the famous Huntress.”
I blinked and Dick laughed.
“Trust the child to get straight to the point.”
“I’m not a child”, Dinah said somewhat affronted, but Dick winked at her and she pulled a face at him. She looked a child to me.
“I hope your cat is feeling better?” I said politely. Dinah gave me a strange look.
“Yeah – a white one… Soft and furry…”
“Oh, Gadget? He died last year. He was old.”
“Did he, really?” I said sarcastically, turning to Barbara Gordon still watching me. She shrugged innocently. The impertinence of this woman…! “And you are Batgirl…” I said pointedly.
“Actually, I’m Oracle… at the moment. How do you do?” She rose and extended her hand to me. I didn’t hesitate, but took it in a firm grasp. This was the first time I touched her, save the violent grasp of earlier today. Thinking about it I noticed a slight bruise at her wrist. Either she bruised easily or she was right: I didn’t know my own strength. Startled I caught her gaze, wanting to apologize, but she winked at me and pulled away.
“It’s confusing, you know”, Dinah said beside me, as I was locked in eye contact with Barbara. “I never know what to call her. Can’t call her Barbara when in suit and not Batgirl when in a dress, in front of whole Gotham’s…”
“Dinah”, Dick said softly and the girl stopped. I glanced at her and noticed her blushing.
“Sorry”, she mumbled. “Speech-diarrhea – wish there was a cure…” She looked at me and shrugged apologetically.
I felt confused and didn’t know how to react. I looked around the room. “Great place you’ve got here”, I said, sounding non-impressed.
“It’ll do”, Barbara said.
It confused the hell out of me that none of them seemed surprised to see me. I wanted to ask, but didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing I felt confused.
Suddenly some lights on the screens in front of us begun flashing and an annoying beeping sound was heard. Barbara – Oracle; I was confused about this change of names – turned towards the screens and begun pressing some buttons.
“It’s the Townhall… Nightwing…”
“We’re on our way”, Dinah said, suddenly not sounding like a young girl anymore. Dick pulled out a dark mask and tied it across his face and Dinah hid her face behind a similar mask, but white.
Barbara looked at me. “Go with them”, she said and held my gaze. Her eyes were not as cold as the businesswoman’s I had seen the same day, but neither were they as soft as that woman’s eyes as I had seen yesterday in the park. I looked at her for a moment and then nodded, knowing this was the reason she had asked me here: to join them. And I knew – deep in my heart, where the secrets of my own self were waiting for me – this was the reason to why I had come.
I was about to learn that to fight in New Gotham was different from fighting in the older parts of town. It was not as damp and dark – even thought the shadows where thick enough – but the main difference was the crooks. The ones I had spent my time catching had been lower thugs – second or third grade fools and often the failing part in some bad-ass gang. Every now and then I had been lucky enough to get involved with someone who actually managed to make me break a sweat (water-pool guy included), but more often than not they were only full of muscles, no brains and probably not especially high-ranking on the hierarchy of Gotham’s Underworld. These were the kind of guys I kept myself busy with and self-satisfactory beat the crap out of. I guess I should have reckoned there would be smarter criminals around town, but I was too wrapped up in my own need for revenge to lift my eyes to the horizon. The only thing I needed was someone to beat in to a bloody pulp.
That night I discovered an almost whole new world: the fabulously organized crime syndicate of New Gotham. And that was only a small part of it.
Nightwing rode his motorbike to the Townhall only ten minutes walk away. Dinah – maybe not surprisingly for a teenager – used her rollerblades. I had never seen anyone roll like her and I doubted I would again. She used them in fight, confusing the hell out of our adversaries – being in all places at almost the same time. It was truly amazing to watch: hell on small wheels.
When I arrived to the crime-scene the sight that met me made me come to a halt on the roof of the Townhall. At the square below, in front of the great building, almost twenty-five black-clad warriors in ninja-suits greeted us. They carried shining swords that they directed at Nightwing and Dinah when the two of them walked up to meet them.
You’ve got to be kidding me? I thought, my first thought was that this was a stage, set for a film-production we didn’t know about. Then all hell broke loose.
“Shit!” I said, sliding down the side of the building when three ninja-warriors attacked Dinah with raised swords, looking infinitely deadly in the pale moonlight. “Hey, you cowards – take on someone your own size…” I shouted, but then stopped dead in my tracks, seeing a great, bluish ball of fire sweep towards the warriors from Dinah’s outstretched hands. The men were thrown through the air across the whole damn square and I stood beside the young girl, looking like a fool with my mouth open. Further away Nightwing was involved in a fight with another four of those black dustbin-bag guys.
“What?” Dinah said, glancing at me with an amused smile, waving her hand in another direction – this time no blue fire shot from her fingers, but two ninjas were lifted straight into the air and were held there by some invisible force. Dinah didn’t even glance at them. “Never seen someone with telekinesis at work before?” The two guys in the air kicked wildly, before they were thrown the same way as the others.
“A hand!” Nightwing called and Dinah turned her head in his direction. One fling of her finger and two of the six men struggling to get through Nightwing’s persistent defense flew through the air and collided with another pair of three on the middle of the square.
“Thank you, pigeon!” Nightwing grinned, flashing white teeth in the dark.
“Don’t call me that!” Dinah objected. “What if it sticks? I’m definitely not going to be known as Pigeon!”
I laughed out loud, not able to prevent myself – the whole situation was just so absurd. In the next instant both Dinah and I were overrun by ninjas and needed all our concentration on protecting ourselves. I noticed that Dinah was an almost as capable fighter as Nightwing and recognized some of his martial art techniques in her. I had yet to see Batgirl fight, but it wouldn’t surprise me both she and Nightwing had spent their time training Dinah the way my mother had trained me.
“Huntress!” Dinah called and came up to me, managing to close the space between us. The ninjas didn’t seem to tire by the beatings, but kept coming at us at with the same strength.
“What?” I kicked a guy in the face and he – or she; it was really hard to tell the true sex of these things – fell backwards against another.
“Oracle says this is useless.”
Oracle? I turned around, but couldn’t see her anywhere. “What?”
“She says there’s no reason for them to attack the Townhall. She thinks it’s a decoy.”
That would make sense. None of the ninjas had been the slightest bit interested in anything else than fighting us. I nodded. “So – what’s the real deal?”
“I don’t know. She’s checking into it.”
Checking in? I finally realized Dinah must have some kind of radio connection to the Clocktower. I glanced at her, but couldn’t figure out what would work as an intercom.
“Shit!” Dinah said and instantly turned around on her rollerblades, abandoning the fight. In the background I noticed Nightwing doing the same. “Huntress!” the girl called. “Get a ride with Nightwing. It’s Arkam!”
Arkam? Shit! I knocked out two ninjas and headed for Nightwings bike. Dinah had already disappeared in the shadows amongst the buildings – a lightning on her wheels.
“Hold on!” Nightwing shouted as I mounted the motorbike; it was already rolling as I sat down and we sped through the night towards Arkam.
Arkam Asylum – the institution for anything Gothams ordinary health-care could neither deal with nor explain and the place for a whole bunch of insane criminals – was placed in the older part of town. It was an old, Gothic-looking building surrounded by steel, brick walls, electrical wires and guards. It was said it was a fort where nothing could either break in or out. Well – that proved to be wrong.
That night someone had definitely made up their mind about Arkam. The high iron gates were wide open when we arrived – one of them was even torn from its hinges – and a chaotic war between at least thirty black ninjas and the guards was weighed on the courtyard. All lights were out and I realized there was a war going on inside of the building as well. Windows were smashed and guards were thrown out from the top of the building.
The thing with Arkam was that it was placed in a quite desolate part of Gotham. No one wanted to live close to the institution and the buildings close by were only warehouses seldom visited and mostly empty or abandoned. If the lights were out and the communication broken it would have been possible for the ninjas to break in, kill the guards and let lose the most dangerous criminals of this town without anyone noticing until the morning. As it were the police were already on their way – I could hear the sirens in the background: courtesy of Oracle, no doubt.
“Let’s pick a fight…” Nightwing said, hurling himself off the motorbike. “Ladies first”, he added with at grin, glancing at me over his shoulder.
“That means you first”, I said, feeling the thrill of the fight. He laughed, but didn’t object and rushed headlong into the fight. Dinah turned up beside me.
“Batgirl’s on her way”, she said and in the next instant I heard another motorbike driving up behind us. Only – this one didn’t stop. I noticed Batgirl’s red hair flying in the wind behind her as she went through the gates, pulled her bike into a slide on the ground and crashed headlong into a group of ninjas. She kept the speed up, turning the handles and created a perfect spin. Her bike went in circles and cut at the legs of the warriors.
Dinah grinned at the sight and I felt a stretch in my chest, seeing this display of perfect control and power. She’d be a challenge to fight, I thought. In the next moment I rushed in beside Dinah and hurled myself into the fight.
It was total chaos. The police arrived not long after Batgirl, which – together with those inmates who’d managed to break loose – made the confusion even greater. I tried not knocking some police officer on the head, but in the mess of bodies, firearms and blazing swords I probably kicked some of them in the wrong places. Once a black policeman turned his gun at me, holding it steady.
“Freeze!” he commanded and even though I usually preferred men with an attitude this was absolutely not the right time.
“I’m on your fucking side!” I said and hurled a policeman’s helmet at an ugly looking man behind the police, who was just going to split him in half with an axe. Where the hell did he get an axe in here? I thought. The policeman turned around and shot the ugly guy in the leg.
The cop looked down at the guy sprawled on the ground before him and then back at me. “Sorry”, he said. “Could you blame me? The way you look?”
The way I look? “Take an advice, Judge Dredd”, I said. “Do not – and I mean it… Do not insult a woman about the way she looks – especially not at work.”
He blinked and then grinned. “Point taken. See you around.” He winked at me before returning to his mission.
Great – I got a fan.
“No time to be lazy, kitten. Admiring a man’s ass you got to do on your spare time.”
I swirled around, finding myself face to face with Batgirl. She smiled amusedly at me. When I didn’t say anything she winked at me.
“What? Cat got your tongue? Come on – let me see some of those famous reflexes.”
I felt like kicking her someplace. Hard. To take that arrogant grin of her face. Somehow I always seemed to loose my senses around her – or at least my tongue. I frowned at her, but she only laughed and returned to the fight. She fought with two short sticks made by some kind of metal. When she turned away from me she somehow pressed them together and with a clicking noise they unfolded themselves to become a stick in her size. She expertly swirled it around, breaking bones and disarming ninjas as she went forward. I kept on fighting, but held an eye on her. I could see she was an expert with that staff and seeing her I remembered my mother’s words, once long ago. “I knew a girl once, an expert with the staff… She saved my life…”
I had never been in a fight like that. It was exhilaratingly… amazingly… dangerously – fun. When it was over I felt as if I could have done another round; my heart pounded, my blood rushed – adrenaline surging through my system.
“What ya think, kitten? Not bad for a first date?” Batgirl said when it was all over, with bodies laying all around the yard.
I grinned. “Not bad at all. I must let you take me out more often.”
She laughed, but then turned and walked away towards a tall, blond policeman whom I knew on sight: Donald Drake – Gotham’s Chief of Police; the one chosen some years ago to fill the shoes of Barbara Gordon’s father. Tough job. I watched Batgirl talk to him, but was interrupted by Dinah coming up at my side.
“What’s the damage?” I asked the girl, looking around to see if I could locate Nightwing.
“Well, the good news is we saved Gotham from an invasion of insane, psychotic bad guys. I talked to a detective right now and he informed me the criminals are behind bars again. The power’s back on…”
I nodded. The lights had been turned on right before the fight ended. “But…?”
“But we don’t know if anyone escaped and in that case how many. It will take some time to count them all. And we don’t know who’s behind all this. Will they try again?”
“This dustbin-bag guys might talk.” I kicked one of the unconscious ninjas in front of me with my foot. He – or she – felt oddly stiff.
“They won’t”, Dinah said flatly. “They’re dead.”
I looked again and then bent over to uncover the facial sock. The face meeting mine was deathly pale, with some kind of white drool at one side of the mouth.
“They all look the same”, Dinah went on. “And they’re all dead.”
“What do you mean – they’re all dead?” I grabbed the guys’ wrist; it felt cold and lifeless. When I let it go it fell to the ground with a fleshy sound.
“Well, that part isn’t hard to understand. They might have taken poison…”
I looked up at her. “So?”
“You should ask about the looking alike part. They all look exactly the same.”
I frowned. “You serious?”
“Yeah. Batgirl says it’s cloning.”
“Wow!” I whistled impressed. “That’s…”
“Macabre, if you ask me”, Dinah said dryly. “Considering they’re all dead, as well… It’s like – the one hundred and one Dalmatian in a rabies epidemic.”
I only looked at her. “You do have a strange way of putting things”, I said finally. She shrugged and then suddenly yawned and I was abruptly reminded of her true age. “You know, you ought to be in bed by now.”
“Don’t…” – she yawned – “remind me…”
I shook my head in amazement, finding this secret identity versus real life collision a little hard to catch up on. Then I noticed Batgirl coming our way again.
“Come on, kitten. You’re with me. Pigeon – Nightwing waits on the yard for you.”
“Oh, please…” Dinah sighed exasperated and I couldn’t help but grin.
Batgirl went ahead of us to collect her bike and I followed with Dinah by my side.
“See you at the headquarter”, Dinah said as we parted by Batgirl; I nodded and saw her roll away towards were Nightwing waited closer to the gates. Batgirl sat on her motorbike, looking at me with a helmet in her hand.
“I can make it on my own, thank you”, I said roughly. She held my gaze for a second and then shrugged.
“Sure, Miss I-can-do-it-on-my-own. I was more thinking in the lines of you not having to use the window-entrance again. But if you want to exert yourself scaling the walls – go ahead. Or return to your own home, if that was your intention. I won’t stop you.” She turned away from me and kicked the motor running. I watched her, not moving, as she put the helmet on her head. I could return home – to my dark, damp apartment; alone and broody – or I could speak up now and follow her, to where they would gather and discuss the nights events. But in order to follow her I would have to humble myself and to do that in that moment was not an option.
Right then she turned her head looking at me through her dark blue helmet.
“Are you still here, kitten? Want a ride someplace?” She held out the spare helmet to me and without a word I went to the bike, took it from her and put it on my head.
“Anyone told you you’re a real nuisance?” I asked dryly when I sat behind her.
“Oh, I hear it all the time from the ones I put behind bars.”
“Go figure”, I muttered, but too lowly for her to hear above the din of the bike.
We left Arkam in the hands of the police and its guards, passing news teams, photographers and curious citizens drawn to the place, and went through Gotham’s dark streets to an abandoned area some blocks from the Clocktower, consisting of ruins and shadows. Here an old subway used to run, but its only remains were the mouth of a dark, hollow tunnel. Signs warning for danger and telling people to keep out protected the opening. Several large signs above the place said the area belonged to Bruce Wayne Limited – what ever that was.
Batgirl didn’t slow down when driving towards the tunnel entrance and seeing what happened I realized why. As soon as we drove into the tunnel soft blue lights on the ground lit up the way, directing us towards heavy iron gates. The gates swung open as soon as we got closer, revealing a stone wall. Batgirl continued towards the wall and just before we hit it, it slid aside, giving us free way through a tunnel lit by pale yellow lights.
I couldn’t tell how far we went, but I knew we were heading in the direction of the Clocktower. Right before arriving at our destination we went through massive, thick steel walls – two doors slowly swinging open as we approached. Behind the doors a large garage was hidden.
I counted three massive Batmobiles (the ones Batman was so famous for), several other dark cars of various sizes and designs (looking very fast all of them) and several motorbikes. Batgirl chose a spot and parked her bike between the one Nightwing had used tonight and another, red one. I stepped off the bike before she had time to turn off the motor and held the helmet in my hands as she shook out her long hair from hers, turning around to look at me. She hung the helmet on the bars of the bike.
“Nice place”, I said, looking around. I noticed a railing above our heads, a small stair leading up to it. Not far from us there was an elevator. I also noticed two steel doors of ordinary size at each end of the room. The garage was heavily protected with massive steel, concrete and some other metal that was unfamiliar to me.
“Behind that door is one of our weapon-chambers. We have another one upstairs, closer in reach.” Batgirl pointed at one of the smaller doors.
“We’re beneath the Clocktower?”
She nodded. “The other room is a training-room. We have another one upstairs as well. I’ll show you if you hang around. It has everything one would need.”
“The tunnel”, I said, glancing over my shoulders. “What if anyone else enters it?”
“Our vehicles are equipped with tiny devices triggering the lights”, she explained. “We need to press the buttons when driving into the tunnel to make everything work. Otherwise it will only be a dark dead end.”
I had more questions, but I was sure she had some logical answers to them as well and gave it up for the moment. If I stayed with them I’d figure how everything worked.
“Come on”, she said and lead the way to the elevator. She called it down by removing one of her gloves and pressing her palm against a flat, square mirror. When the doors slid open I noticed there were no buttons in it. The elevator was dressed with mirrors.
“First floor”, Batgirl said and the doors closed. “It’s voice triggered”, she added with a glance at me.
“Huh”, I said, feeling strange being surrounded by images of myself and Batgirl.
The elevator stopped after only a short ride and a buzzing sound was heard as one of the mirrors turned around its axis and changed to a wooden panel with a metallic number display.
“Safety procedure”, Batgirl said and typed a code on the display before pressing her thumb at a tiny glass-disk. The elevator begun moving again.
“What for?” I frowned.
“The mirrors are equipped with sensory devices scanning our bodies. When a strange body enters an alarm is triggered in the Clocktower. When coming from the garage or the basement for any reason, the elevator always stops at the first floor. It won’t move again until the right code with the right fingerprint has been given.”
“Where do you get these things?” I asked somewhat dazed.
“Oracle loves gadgets”, she said and I narrowed my eyes at her. She grinned.
“Alright, alright – I love gadgets. Happy now?” She tilted her head to one side and watched me with green eyes.
“What about me?” I asked, looking around in the elevator. “I’m a strange body…”
“You would have triggered the alarm, but Dick and Dinah are back already and will have checked it out. With your body scanned in Delphi Oracle can adjust the system and make the changes that are needed.”
My body scanned? The thought made me uncomfortable. “Delphi?” I asked.
“The computer system. It guards the town – it reports all events reported to the police or hospital, or any strange discrepancies in town occurring after nightfall.”
Dis-what…? I thought, but didn’t ask. “Your private guard hound”, I said.
“Exactly”, she said amused as the elevator stopped. “I’m starving”, she added as we left the elevator and I smelt the scent of scrambled eggs and toast, mingled with the scent of fried meat. “Alfred has made night-food.”
“I thought you told him to go home?” I said, seeing Dinah and Dick already at the table in the kitchen, placing food at their plates from the tray beside the table. Alfred stood a couple of steps to the right, looking down at the other two with a satisfied smile.
“Oh”, Batgirl said and removed her mask, looking at me with green, intense eyes. “He never does as I ask him to, anyway.” She smiled softly. “Want some tea, Helena?”
And just like that she was Barbara Gordon again.
“You were awesome!” Dinah said with sparkling eyes, looking directly at me. Barbara sat across me at the table, with Dick on her right and Dinah between her and me on her left. “The way you swung those two by the collar and dropped them – straight in the lap of those three attacking the cops. You saved some lives there.”
“Mmhm…” I said quite embarrassed, noticing Barbara’s slightly amused smile while she listened in on the conversation. She hadn’t said much since we sat down, leaving the talking to Dinah and Nightwing, but the look in her eyes indicated she didn’t miss a thing. Alfred wasn’t around anymore; he had left and finally gone to bed. “You weren’t that bad yourself, kid-o. That telekinesis thing is quite handy.”
“Tell me about it, but I haven’t got the mind-reading under control yet. It just started a few weeks ago and I don’t know when or by what it’s triggered.” Dinah gave me an apologetic look. “That’s why I try avoiding touching people.”
“Right”, I said, remembering she hadn’t extended her hand when we were introduced.
“Did you pick up anything from the ninjas?” Barbara asked, looking at Dinah.
“A little, but mostly shadows. I got the sense they were controlled… like they were the puppets on a string and the marionette-master was hidden someplace in the shadows. I don’t think they knew who created them.”
I glanced at Barbara as she nodded.
“That would make sense”, she said.
Dinah frowned. “There was this one thing, though… I kept seeing some kind of… emblem. A dark shadow, in the shape of a… bird, I think.”
I noticed Barbara stiffen and then she exchanged a quick glance with Dick.
“Oracle…” he said with a worried tone.
“I know”, Barbara said softly.
“What?” Dinah said, but Barbara shook her head.
“I’m not… sure. Not yet. It might be nothing.”
“Oracle”, Dinah pleaded. “You never tell me anything of importance.”
“No?” Barbara arched an eyebrow at the girl. “I just let you stay up way past your bedtime. How many kids your age are allowed running the streets fighting criminals the way you do? You tell me.”
Dinah blushed and glanced at me. “It’s only when we get into a serious fight like this one she lets me stay up past midnight on a school-night”, she said. She made a face. “Sometimes I consider thanking the bad guys for their perfect timing and even ask them to spread the word around town: ‘wait until after midnight for your misdeeds’. It would fully benefit me.”
I grinned at her playful show at indignation.
“Girl – you’re done”, Barbara said and pointed at Dinah’s empty plate. The girl sighed and rose.
“Not fair”, she muttered.
“Oracle?” I asked with an arched eyebrow at Barbara, but she looked at me and shrugged.
“In Batgirl-suit but without mask – Oracle”, Dinah said.
“Or when in glasses”, Dick said, glancing at the woman by his side. “She’s so cute in them.”
“But how do you keep up?” I asked, confused.
“Confu-usi-ing”, Dinah said with a pointed look at Barbara, who waved a hand, brushing off the conversation; I realized I had learned to recognize the gesture as one of her own.
“Never mind, you’ll learn”, she said, looking at me.
“But you?” I said, looking at her. “When are you ever yourself?”
“Me?” She laughed. “I’m always myself.” She winked at me and then gave Dinah a stern look. “Are you still here, pigeon?”
“I’m going, I’m going – I’m gone!” Dinah turned around and disappeared up some stairs in the background I hadn’t noticed before.
“Kids”, Dick said. “Can’t remember we were ever that young. Can you?” He looked at Barbara, who shook her head.
“We weren’t”, she said, suddenly somewhat distracted. “Do you think I sheltered her too much?” she added, looking at Dick. The man shook his head.
“Better that than the alternative”, he said and she nodded.
“She really Black Canary’s daughter?” I asked and Dick nodded.
“Yeah. She was orphaned at the age of nine. Black Canary asked Barbara to raise her if ever anything happened to her.”
“Why?” I asked, looking at Barbara.
“Someone had to, I guess”, Barbara said. “And with Dinah’s telekinesis… Black Canary couldn’t leave her daughter to just anyone. She found out my identity and trusted me to know how to care for her, I guess.”
I looked at Barbara, wondering what a legend like Black Canary had seen in the young woman Barbara must have been at that time to trust her so. “You don’t seem surprised I know who she is?”
“Oh, no. Dinah said Gibson told her he’d talked to you about it.”
“What?” I exclaimed, feeling extremely betrayed.
“Oh, don’t take it personally”, Barbara hurriedly said. “Gibson and Dinah are… close. Real close. He’s like… a brother to her. He wouldn’t keep any secrets from her.” She winked at me. “Even if he has a slight crush on Huntress.”
“Right”, I mumbled, slightly embarrassed by the look she gave me. “Still…” I shook my head in disbelief.
“And then Wade told me someone had asked about Dinah in school, so I figured you were on your way…” Barbara added. I looked questioningly at her.
“Wade Brixton – the guidance counselor at Dinah’s school”, Dick said. “Barbara’s fiancé”, he added with a grin at Barbara.
“What?” I said, completely dumbfounded. “What…?” I repeated, looking at Barbara. “That’s…”
“Amazing? I know.” She smiled sweetly at me. “He’s a real doll.”
I couldn’t believe this. Barbara Gordon – Batgirl – with a man as lame as a guidance counselor? Wade Brixton – I could hardly remember the way he looked, even though I had talked to him almost the same day. He hadn’t made an impression at all with me.
“I was going to say incredulous”, I said dryly.
“I agree”, Dick said. “Wade’s a good man, but he’s just so… ordinary.”
“I would please advice you not to insult my boyfriend, Dicky boy”, Barbara said. “Or – you want to discuss your latest conquests?” she added with a dangerously arched eyebrow. Dick amazingly enough blushed and shook his head.
“Um – I think I’m going to bed as well”, he said as he rose. He grinned at me and winked before leaving the table. “Don’t challenge her – you won’t win”, he added before he was gone.
Barbara shook her head, seeing him disappear in the elevator. “You’ve got a boyfriend?” she asked when the doors closed without moving. I shook my head.
“Not really. I had one, but I’ve been too busy with other things lately.”
“That’s a shame. I know a good guy. Remind me I’ll introduce you to him. I think you’d fit each other perfectly.”
“Save me”, I said, shaking my head. “There’s no time or place for boyfriends in my life. What about you and Dick?” I added. “You ever been a couple?” I asked, studying her. She smiled slightly, but shook her head.
“Actually no – but we’ve slept with each other once.”
I arched an inquiring eyebrow. “You don’t call that being a couple?”
“Well – no.” She finally looked at me, eyeing me closely. “You call yourself a couple with all men you’ve slept with?”
“How’d you know I’ve slept with anyone?” I challenged. “I could be a virgin.”
The thought made her laugh. “You could be. My mistake for being presumptuous.”
I grinned, feeling so relaxed with this woman it was almost scary. She held my gaze and her smile faded slowly.
“I don’t know who killed your mother, Helena”, she suddenly said and I abruptly leaned back in my chair, as if hit. She held on to my gaze. “They never caught him, I know, but there is one suspect…”
“Who?” I instantly leaned forward again, my eyes changing in excitement and anger.
“I can’t tell you at this moment”, she said and I hissed at her, rising from the table. She remained seated, still holding my eyes. There was no fear, no anger, no blame in her look – only gentle understanding. “I will tell you when I know for sure”, she went on. “I’ve been trying to get a lead on this case for years, but it’s complicated…” She hesitated. “I know what I’m going to ask of you is difficult, but… Will you trust me to help find your mother’s killer? Will you trust me when I tell you I won’t hide anything from you when it comes to his or her identity?”
She held my gaze and I saw sadness and pain beneath the tenderness of her deep eyes. I swallowed, not knowing what to say. I sat down.
“I don’t trust easily”, I said. My mother had taught me to trust only her, for the love that bound us together, and when she was gone… “There’s no one in my life I trust, except myself.”
“I know”, she said softly with a slight nod. “I’m only telling you I’ll let you know when I know more about your mother’s killer. I don’t ask anything of you in return.”
I nodded. “I can live with that.” I didn’t want to think about my mother no more – it hurt too much. I averted my eyes from hers – it seemed to me she saw too deeply in my soul; discovering things about me that none seen before. “How come you live here, anyway?” I asked, looking around the place.
Barbara – or Oracle, I was still confounded by that thing – followed my gaze.
“Seven years ago, after the Joker was captured and part of Gotham went down in the big explosion, I asked your father for funds to build a headquarter closer to the city. I chose this spot – from here we have complete control over the whole of Gotham, both the older and the newer parts of town. Bruce always preferred his own Batcave, but occasionally he stayed here as well. We’ve upgraded it through the years, as the technology advanced.”
I nodded. “And no one ever connects you to Batgirl?”
“No. None except Gibson knows who Dinah really is and for the rest of the world she’s a long lost relative to Alfred that I was kind enough to take care of when her parents died. When we move around town at night we try not to move in threesome, but sometimes it’s necessary – as today.”
“So Oracle are you behind the computer, right?”
She smiled. “Right. Batgirl is kind of me when I was Dinah’s age. I was a terrible nuisance”, she added, sharing a smile with me. “Impertinent and arrogant, I was. I’ve got some trouble letting her go”, she added, almost fondly. “I’m actually becoming too old to keep up scaling skyscrapers at night or fighting bad guys…”
“Too old?” I asked doubtfully. What I had seen of her this night ‘old’ wasn’t a word I would use to describe her. I wondered how old she actually was.
“Could you see Barbara Gordon the director of Gordon Technology in a fist fight?” she asked me with an arched eyebrow. I remembered the woman I had met the day before at Gordon Technologies and made a face.
“I wasn’t particularly fond of her”, I said frankly.
She grinned at me. “You’re not particularly fond of Batgirl either”, she said and for some reason that remark made me blush. She shook her head. “Dick and Dinah doesn’t like me either when I run my business, but it’s the way I have to be. It’s another kind of fight going on there and if you’re the least lenient or weak everything you’ve built will crash upon you.”
I nodded, realizing she was right. It didn’t mean I had to like the woman she became when running her business.
“I try spend as little time as possible in my office and more with the real people…”
“You’re more like Oracle then, right?” I asked, beginning to understand something about her, and she gave me a somewhat surprised and appreciating look.
“Right”, she said and before I had time to say another thing she rose. “We have a spare room, if you’d like to stay. It’s next to mine. I’ll show it to you.” She held my gaze, waiting for an answer and before I knew what I was doing I nodded.
“You live here?”
“Yeah, I really do. This place is connected to both my house and my office, so I can come and go as I please. I prefer it here – it’s closer to my real work.”
I watched her as she showed me to the stairs where Dinah had ascended and I realized this was what she lived for. Beneath the glamour of the young woman she once had been and the sharpness of the businesswoman she was there was something that kept Barbara Gordon and all her alias’ going: the good fight. She fights for justice, I thought, following her up the stairs. Just like my father did.
But somehow I felt there was a difference between the way Barbara fought and the way my father had done it. Barbara did what she did because it was the right thing to do – and my father… Even though I didn’t know the first thing about him I got the feeling my father wasn’t a very happy man. I think he fought the good fight and was the good guy because something within him craved him to be. I think that as he fought the criminals of this town he actually fought himself at some levels. Maybe that was why he left when my mother died. He knew he had been to blame and couldn’t face the consequences of his own dark self.
I shivered, thinking that.
We left the stairs and walked through a dark corridor.
“Dinah’s room is on the level below us. Only mine and the guestroom is at this floor”, Barbara said as we halted outside a closed door. She pressed the handle and the door swung open. “This is it. Not much, but at least you’ve got your own bathroom.”
I stepped into the room. It was neither large nor small. Big windows lit the chamber. There was a desk, an empty bookshelf, a wardrobe and a bed and further in there was another door – probably leading to the bathroom.
“My room is further down the hall”, Barbara said and pointed along the corridor. I nodded and noticed a set of clothes and clean towels on the bed.
“Presuming much again?” I said as I realized the clothes were my size; dark jeans and a bluish T-shirt with a red rose on it, and some underwear.
“Just Alfred being the ever practical”, Barbara said lightly. She smiled when I turned around to look at her. “Sleep tight. See you… later today.”
I nodded and she left, leaving the door open.
I looked around the room. It was smaller than my own place, but despite its lack of personal things it somehow felt more like a home to me than the flat above the Dark Horse. I knew why: I was close to her here.
I didn’t know what it was about her that made me feel… at peace, almost. As if my quest to find my mother’s killer wasn’t as important anymore when she was around. When looking into her eyes I felt as if there could be – almost as if there was – another life for me. A life without this emptiness, the mad rage and the hurt.
Remembering my mother reminded me of the one thing I wanted an answer to before I went to sleep and I turned around and left the room.
Barbara’s door was slightly open and I went in without knocking. Her room was larger – she had a lounge with a set of couches, a television and bookshelves. It was dark, but further to the right a door was left ajar and in the soft lights from the room behind the door I watched her pass, completely naked – drying her hair with a large towel. She disappeared behind the door.
My intention was to knock. Later I couldn’t tell why I didn’t. The lights went out the same moment as I pushed the door open and then I heard a clicking sound as I felt the blade of a knife pressed against my throat.
“Don’t move”, I heard a cold voice say and inhaled slowly.
“It’s me”, I said and heard Barbara gasp before she lowered the knife. The lights went back on and I saw her bend to pick up her towel from the floor. Her skin was soft, seeming to be smooth like cream in the pale lights.
We stood in her bedroom.
“Jesus, Helena!” she said when she straightened her back. “You scared the living hell out of me.”
“Me? I scared you?” I snapped. “Fuck – you were the one almost cutting my throat!”
She looked quizzically at me. “I don’t get why you got to be angry. I’m not the one intruding”, she said and I wondered again if she deliberately tried to provoke me.
“I knocked”, I lied flatly. She looked at me and shrugged as she put away the knife on a cupboard close by. To the left a door stood open, showing the interior of a bathroom.
“My apologies then”, she said, draping the towel around her body, but not before I had time to notice the deep, jagged scar in her left side. “I ought to listen better.”
I knew I hadn’t fooled her for a second.
She threw herself on the bed – arms spread wide at either side of her body as she closed her eyes. “What a day”, she sighed. “I’m exhausted and I’ve got to get up in a few hours.”
“Skip work”, I said, still standing in the doorway, looking at her.
“No can do. It’s too important.”
“What’s so important about computer hardware” – or software, what the heck…? – “that you can’t take a day off? You deserve it, if anyone.”
She opened her eyes and sat up, leaning at her elbows and looking at me. “Did you want something in particular, or you just thought you’d drop by to scare me to death?”
“You look very much alive to me”, I said, again flatly. “You really enjoy provoking me, don’t you?” I added as an afterthought.
She tilted her head to one side. “I thought you enjoyed a challenge.”
“Is that what I am to you?” I asked curiously. I just didn’t get this woman.
She smiled and rose. “Why would you be anything to me? I don’t know you.”
She stood in front of the wardrobe along the left side of her bed and let the towel fall to the floor. The gesture – or the sight of her body, more like it – distracted me enough not to rise to her bait. She’s got muscles, I caught myself thinking, letting my eyes linger at her back and her shoulders. Then the sight of her scar shook me out of my reverie.
“Did you save my mother’s life once?” I asked frankly. I remembered Dick’s words: Don’t challenge her – you won’t win. Playing games with this woman wouldn’t get me anywhere. She glanced at me over her shoulder and then pulled a red pair of silk pajama-trousers out of the wardrobe, together with a white sports-bra.
“I did”, she admitted as she dressed. The Barbara Gordon I had met that morning had also responded in earnest when I was straightforward with her. I liked that, I realized. She knew how and when to be serious about things. “You may sit down”, she added, gesturing towards an empty chair close to the bed. She picked a hairbrush from the bathroom as I sat down and then returned to the bed, sitting down cross-legged and brushing her hair before she went on: “It was seven years ago.” She lowered the brush and touched the scar in her side, half hidden by her clothes. “I got this.”
“I’m… sorry”, I said, but she smiled softly at me.
“Don’t be. It was a mild prize to pay, considering.”
“Why – why didn’t I know of this?”
“You were in Europe at the time.”
I nodded, remembering.
“The Joker had been caught, but he still had his… followers on the outside.” Barbara looked down and I realized this was difficult for her to talk about. I was suddenly sorry I had chosen this moment to ask this question – she was obviously tired and she was no meta-human that would heal quickly.
“He ordered one of them to assassinate your mother, to get to your father. The thing was…” She hesitated. “I was chasing this guy for a totally different reason, but knowing he somehow was connected to the Joker… I was lucky that night and caught a trail on him. I got to your mother’s aid just in time. She was making one of her rounds around town late at night when he caught her. I was stupid and careless and he slit my side, but I saved her life.”
“And the assassin? Could it have been him killing my mother?”
“No – he was caught that night. I knocked him senseless and tied him up. Your father brought him to the police – he was wanted for other killings. He did swear he would break free to kill both your mother and me, but he’s been at Arkam Asylum ever since. They call him Clayface and he’s… well, he’s meta, I guess. He’s what you’d call a shapeshifter.”
“He can turn into other people?”
“Something like that.” Barbara nodded. “They have a specialized cage for him at Arkam. It couldn’t have been him.”
“Right.” My mind drifted. “Thank you”, I added, looking at her. She smiled softly at me and I rose to leave.
“Helena”, she said as I moved towards the door. I liked the way she said my real name – when she wasn’t taunting me or calling me kitten.
I turned around. “Yes?”
“I knew of you then”, she said. “Your mother brought me to her home, to tend to my wound. I saw pictures of you.”
It didn’t register at first. “What do you mean?”
“I mean your mother told me about you. When I saw those pictures of you… I knew who you were. Bruce’s daughter.”
“What?” I whispered, making my way back to the bed. “Why…?” I was at loss for words.
“Your mother made me promise not to tell anyone.”
“Shit.” I sat down beside her on the bed. “Why?” I shook my head in disbelief. “Why would she do that? Why would you?” I looked at her, demanding an answer. She hesitated.
“She did what she thought was best for you – as any mother would. She wanted to protect you – and your father, too. His life was just too dangerous to involve a girl… a child.”
“My mother gave up her past life…” I objected. “If she’d told him. If you’d told him… They could have…”
“No. No, it’s not the same.”
“What? Why? Because he fought ‘the good fight’?”
“Bullshit”, I snapped.
“You don’t understand”, she said softly. “You don’t know what it’s like… Why we do this… What we fight for...”
“No. No, I don’t”, I said angrily. “And I don’t care.”
“That may be as it is, but… Black Canary didn’t give up her way of life and she lived in constant fear of her child – Dinah. She once told me she considered giving Dinah away to foster-parents. I don’t know what made her change her mind about that. She kept Dinah, but she never felt safe, knowing she had a girl to care for. A child that could be orphaned any day… Dinah saw her mother be killed, Helena. She was a child, never understanding what happened.”
I swallowed, thinking of the cheerful, young girl I had seen and what pain she must have gone through. “I…”
“Bruce wouldn’t have given up being Batman for you. Not because he wouldn’t love you enough, but because fighting crime is more than something we do – it’s something we are. Every time he’d end up in a fight he’d think about you – fearing for you. He’d hate himself for the choice he would be forced to make, but he wouldn’t be able to act any differently. That’s why I chose to keep my promise to your mother and not tell him about you. The knowledge of you would be his death in the end, as it would distract him from what he was doing.”
“Now it was my mother’s death”, I said bitterly.
“I am truly sorry”, she said, leaning over and placing a hand on mine. Her touch was gentle, soft. She smelt of lavender soap and… Barbara.
“That’s what you told me back then”, I mumbled, not used to body contact in this way. Whatever man I’d taken to my bed since my mother died hadn’t treated me very gently. I hadn’t let them.
I suddenly remembered Jack. It was ages since I thought about him, I realized distractedly.
“And I meant it.” She watched me until I finally felt compelled to meet her gaze. Her eyes were as gentle as her touch. “There’s more.”
“What?” I said hoarsely, feeling myself drowning in the gentleness of her – in her.
“When your mother died… The same night your father decided to leave… I told him about you.”
“He knows?” I whispered. “He knows – and he left anyway.”
“He had to…”
I pulled away from her and she didn’t prevent me from getting up.
“You are defending him.”
“He was… is, my friend. He couldn’t stay.”
“Not even for me?” I asked coldly.
“He wanted to. Believe me, Helena. He wanted to so badly, but he wasn’t up for it. He was raw, bleeding – like you were last year. Like you are still.”
I held her gaze, looking down at her, not knowing what to think about her speaking of my pain in such a way. As if… As if she knew – me.
“He wouldn’t have been much of a father in his state and you… wouldn’t have been much of a daughter. You would have ended up killing each other.”
I shook my head. I wasn’t sure she wasn’t wrong, but I was still angry. “It’s not right.”
“Not everything in life is right”, she said quietly. “But that doesn’t mean we can give up trying to do what’s right…”
I turned away from her, not wanting to listen.
“Helena”, she said and I felt a shiver down my spine. “This – our lives, our relationships… they are a mess sometimes, but it doesn’t help closing our hearts to what’s around us…”
And what do you know? I wanted to ask, hurt and angry, but I didn’t. “I… need to think about this”, I said with difficulty. It was too much in too short a time. She didn’t say anything and I moved towards the doorway, where I turned my head and glanced at her worried face. I didn’t like seeing her like that – sad, in pain. I wanted her to smile, so I said: “Those pictures… You didn’t happen to see the one…”
She grinned, as I hoped she would. “Oh, yes. You looked adorable.”
I sighed, remembering my mother’s favorite picture of me: me at the age of six with ice cream smeared in my whole face.
“Your father used to look exactly the same eating ice-cream”, she said.
“Right”, I said doubtfully. The thought of multimillionaire Bruce Wayne with ice cream smeared over the face wasn’t something easily pictured.
“Honestly!” She made a scout sign over her chest. “Swear to God”, she said with this innocent face making me want to laugh.
What a strange woman she is, I caught myself thinking, studying her. She’d thrown me through a whole spectrum of human emotions in the space of an evening. Whatever happened in the next days I doubted I would ever meet anyone like her again. The though of not having her in my life suddenly made me sad.
“Good night, kitten”, she said with a wink. “Close the door behind you, will you? I want to be able to hear if anyone knocks…”
I blushed, but nodded and left, thinking the strangest thought ever: If I were a man she would be the woman I would want to spend the rest of my life with.
I slept late the next day – or the same day, depending on how one was counting. It was already noon when I strolled into the kitchen in the jeans and the blue and red T-shirt Alfred had left for me in the guestroom. The older man greeted me in the kitchen, but except for him no one else was around. I still wasn’t sure of what Dick Grayson did for a living, but he seemed to have an ordinary life as well.
“Good morning, Miss Helena”, Alfred said. “Should I get you something? Coffee, tea, orange juice?”
“Just point me in the right direction and I’ll see to it myself, Alfred”, I said, greeting him with a smile.
“Oh, the shock of it!” he said, pretending to be insulted. “It’s out of the question, Miss Helena. Sit down and I’ll make you breakfast.”
I realized there was no use arguing the point. “Milk, please”, I said.
“Ah, must be your mother’s genes making themselves known”, he said.
“Ha, ha – funny”, I said dryly.
“I apologize for any insulting remarks an old fool like me could make”, he said. “I was very fond of your mother, mind you.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Somehow I would think it a mistake to take you for an old fool, Alfred”, I said as I sat down. He only smiled friendly towards me.
“You don’t say?” he added, in a very British accent that made me smile.
“You met my mother?”
“Yes, yes I did – indeed. A very lovely woman.”
“Yes”, I agreed with a slight, sad nod. “She was.” I watched him as he poured me milk and orange juice, made me scrambled eggs with mushrooms, toast and porridge. “You knew my father quite well, didn’t you?”
“I was… like a father figure”, Alfred said with a slight melancholy note. “Poor Bruce, losing his parents so young.”
I only nodded. I had done my homework quite well in regards to Bruce Wayne and Batman. I had no doubt I knew everything about them that there was to know unless you were as privately involved with them as Alfred, Barbara and Dick. And maybe Dinah, but I doubted she’d had much intimate contact with my father. She seemed closer to Barbara and Dick.
“He is a good man, your father. Few as they come.” Alfred placed the food on different plates on the table and an empty plate before me. “Not all people understood him – he was lonely behind his mask. Both of his masks.”
“You mean he wore one as Bruce Wayne as well?”
“Oh, yes.” Alfred nodded knowingly. “That’s what it’s like, being a living legend. His two faces could never meet, you see. He always had to choose between the one and the other. It takes its toll on a man, living like that. Luckily he had Miss Barbara and Master Dick to balance him. They were quite good for him together.”
Remembering the two of them at the fair, playing at hitting the pyramid, I understood what he meant and nodded. I could believe that.
“He was a man of mysteries, your father.” Alfred smiled at me. “Much like yourself, Miss Helena.”
I blinked. “What – me? No.” I shook my head. “No mysteries there. Only me.” Only anger and rage. Alfred made a tssking sound.
“I beg to differ, Miss Helena. Just beware not to lose yourself amongst the shadows. It’s a dangerous game, the one you and your father are playing.”
“I’m not playing anything. If he wants to hide in the shadows that’s his business. I’m only trying to find someone…”
“Scaring the living daylight out of the lower thugs, so I’ve heard”, Alfred said with a nod. “Even heard the greater fishes are out to get you now.”
“You hear too much to be a butler, Alfred”, I said and he laughed softly.
“Maybe, maybe so.”
We heard the elevator at the same time and turned our heads towards it. It took a couple of seconds before it stopped at the floor below us.
“Miss Barbara usually comes home for lunch”, Alfred said right before the elevator doors opened. “But never on a Tuesday.” He stepped towards the railing, looking down with a slight frown. I remained seated at the table, finishing my breakfast. Alfred had made way too much food – even for me.
“Alfred!” Barbara called from the floor below us as she stepped out of the elevator. I couldn’t see her, but when hearing her voice something in my chest thudded harder. I heard on her steps she was in a rush. “Good to see you, Alfred.”
“You too, Miss Barbara. Is everything…?”
“The dinner, Alfred. I forgot about the damn dinner tonight.”
“Ah”, Alfred said with a smile. I finished my orange juice, listening intently and with interest. “The gala for the mayor’s birthday. Did I forget to remind you, Miss Barbara?”
“I’m sure you didn’t”, I heard her say and grinned when I noted the slight aggravated tone, “so stop sounding so apologetic.”
Alfred grinned too, winking at me. Apparently Barbara was looking in another direction.
“Is Helena still here?”
“Oh, yes – she is.”
I rose and went to the railing as Alfred stepped back.
“Hi”, I said, looking down at her. She was dressed in a black suit and looked amazing with her red hair pulled back in a loose tail. She looked up somewhat startled, standing by the computer system (Delphi – or whatever).
“Oh, hey”, she said. She stood watching me for a second and I became uncomfortable with the scrutiny, not sure what to make of it. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking.
“Alfred made me some breakfast, but it’s enough for that ninja-company we run into yesterday. There’s more. Want some?”
She smiled and my heart lifted immediately. “Yes, please.” She ascended the stairs, still talking. “I only came home to snatch a couple of hours sleep.” She tilted her head to one side as she reached the top of the stairs, watching me again. “Slept well?” she asked gently and I nodded.
“No nightmares about identical multiple twins in black ninja suits”, I said.
“None about killing me in my sleep either, I hope?” she asked in a low voice with a swift glance at Alfred in the kitchen. I shook my head.
“I…” I didn’t know what to say. Last nights conversation was still fresh in my mind, but I didn’t know what to make of it yet. Things seemed to happen too much too quickly and I had decided I was going along with it so far – to see where it took me. I figured I could always make a break at it later on and run if it seemed too… unhealthy. “No.”
“Good”, she said with a smile and moved to the kitchen table.
“Busy day?” Alfred asked, pouring some tea for Barbara and placing it on the table opposite my seat. I sat down with her.
“God – yes!” She glanced at the table and snatched my plate from beneath me. “Don’t mind, do you?” she asked as she filled it with scrambled eggs and mushrooms. I shook my head and watched her with an amused smile as she ate.
“This Mr. Boyd making trouble again?” Alfred asked, making conversation.
“Loads”, she said with her mouth full. She chewed, drank and continued: “He lured Greg Taylor into a deal he was in no authority to make and now wants to sue me for breach of contract.”
“Shouldn’t Mr. Taylor get the blame for this?” Alfred asked.
“Greg is a good man – I won’t throw him to the fishes for one mistake. Dick’s on to it. He found some old cases with similar dilemmas and thinks he can work around the problem. But he said it will cost us a lot.”
“Always does”, Alfred said sadly, but Barbara shrugged.
“It’s only money. I prefer this battle – no cost of actual lives.”
Dick? I thought. A lawyer? Go figure.
Barbara finished her tea in a rush, her plate already empty, and stood up. She flashed me a quick smile. “Sorry I didn’t get time to speak to you, but need to get some hours sleep before next meeting. You can watch the gala with Dick and Dinah from Delphi tonight.” She made a face. “It’s bound to be boring, but you never know. See you later.”
And then she was gone again.
“Always on the run somewhere, that one”, Alfred said lowly at my side as we watched Barbara disappear up the stairs. I didn’t argue with him on that one.
Later that day the old man showed me the entrance to the Clocktower. It was lodged to Barbara Gordon’s house and from the outside it seemed to be a backyard entrance to her place. The thing was – the outer door leading in to the hallway ended quite abruptly. Then you had two options: to get through the massive oak- and steel reinforced door in front of you – leading to the rest of Barbara Gordon’s house – or to find the secret entrance to the Clocktower. To find the secret entrance you needed three things: a code, an entrance clearing and to know where and how to use your code and the clearing.
When in the hallway you needed to find a certain panel in the wall, press it softly and it would slide aside, revealing a small, embedded disk with numbers and a mirror. You had to press the right code and to press your hand on the mirror. Doing so the wall behind you would slide away, giving entrance to a short tunnel protected by steel walls. The tunnel ended in another wall – steel enforced. You had to repeat the procedure from before to get the wall to slide to one side and reveal the elevator.
“It’s a fucking fortress, this place!” I said as I’d gone through the procedure.
“That’s the whole point, Miss Helena”, Alfred said, slightly affronted. It took awhile before I realized he reacted to me swearing.
“Um, sorry”, I said, belatedly.
“Miss Barbara told me this morning she had programmed the mirror to acknowledge your handprint”, Alfred added. “She picked up your handprint from the elevator-ride you did with her yesterday. Apparently you leaned on something.” He blinked innocently at me. “The code I just gave you is the one assuring your entrance. Remember it and never tell anyone about it. It’s a great responsibility.”
I shook my head. “I won’t tell”, I said, sure I would carry Barbara’s secret with me to the grave.
“Good.” He smiled at me. “Then you’re welcome at any time, Miss Helena. You don’t have to call before… and you most certainly don’t have to use the window entrance.”
“I might anyway”, I said with a wink. “It’s more fun that way.”
I went back to my apartment above the Dark Horse and looked around in the gloomy room. Nothing in there felt like mine. The wallpaper was torn, the sink was leaking, the fridge smelled and cockroaches seemed more attached to the place than I. The previous inhabitant had been a drunkard and died suffocating in his own bed. I had gotten the room cheap. There was another apartment right next to mine that was larger and in much better shape. If I had been the least interested in my life the last eight months I would have chosen that one, but as it was… When I traded my spacious, almost luxurious two-room apartment at the outskirts of the University Campus for this one I would have accepted a newly dug grave as my lodge.
“Shit”, I mumbled as I realized I would never want Barbara Gordon to walk in through that door seeing my place like this. Maybe she was right in what she said that night, when she was Batgirl. There were better places to spend your life than in shadows and dark alleys.
Maybe I ought to fix it up? I thought and looked around. Some new wallpapers or paint, new floor instead of the seemingly always damp carpet… some cleaning up and food in the fridge. Even if it was small it had potential. I decided I was going to do it. It was time for a change in my life – it didn’t mean I would forget about my mother or the way she had died.
I spend the day cleaning up as far as it was possible and that in itself seemed to make the place a less dark space; the windows really needed a cleaning.
At twilit I returned to the Clocktower, where I found Dick and Dinah watching the screens above Oracle’s desk. Dinah turned and waved at me as I stepped out of the elevator.
“Come, look”, she said excitedly, giving me a brilliant smile. I smiled back. Somehow it felt impossible being down in the girls company; she made me feel welcome.
“Look at her”, Dick said with awe, not taking his eyes of the screen. I moved closer, raising my eyes to the screens to see what they were watching.
“Barbara…” Dinah said with a smile. “Isn’t she beautiful?” She bent forward and pressed some buttons at Delphi and the screens zoomed in at two people from the large crowd. They seemed to be entering a large hall, with vaults leading to two spacious areas and a large stair in front of them. I recognized the man leading Barbara by the hand: it was Wade Brixton, the guidance counselor from Dinah’s school.
“She sure is”, I said as I watched Barbara moving forward in a long, sparkling pale yellow evening gown. She moved gracefully and seemed to be the perfect lady – yet another side of her I hadn’t seen, although there were traces of the woman I had met in the park and the woman she called Oracle. As I watched she extended her hand to an elderly man with gray hair and he kissed it, lingering a little longer than necessary above it.
“The mayor’s husband”, Dick said, amused. “He always had a secret crush on Barbara.”
“Not that secret as it would seem”, I said dryly and he laughed. I glanced at him and noticed the fond look in his eyes as he watched his friend. I wondered if he felt anything more for her than only friendship. If he did he hid it carefully. He seemed to sense my eyes on him and turned his head.
“Nice to see you again, Huntress.”
“You too”, I said with a small smile. “You think we’ll have as fun tonight as we did yesterday?”
He made a face. “Doubtfully – that was a once-a-month thing. You probably have to wait until next full moon to get that kind of a kick again. Hope that won’t put you off?”
I blinked. “You aren’t serious, are you? You do these kind of things often? Full power – fully armed warriors?”
Dick laughed at my astonished look. “Oh yes. That’s New Gotham’s arsenal, my friend. Never a dull moment. Yesterday was just another bad-ass kicking exercise on full scale – it happens quite regularly.”
“Wow – I’ve been sheltered”, I said dryly and he grinned.
“He’s exaggerating”, Dinah added, feigning a reproachful glance at Dick. “It’s just the past twelve or thirteen months it’s been like this. We’ve come to be aware of a very powerful, organized crime syndicate…”
“Really?” I said interested.
“Yes, but we don’t know who runs it or what they want.”
“What they want?”
Dick nodded seriously. “Organized criminals always want something more than smashing windows and robbing old folks. These ones have tried stealing weapons from the government, blowing up the Court House, killing the mayor… Amongst other things.”
“It was always different people doing the operations”, Dinah filled in. “We caught them, but Oracle begun suspecting they were somehow connected.”
I nodded, again looking at the screen and the gala held for the mayor’s birthday at the Town Hall. “Weren’t you invited?”
“School night”, Dinah said, as if it explained everything.
“Boring”, Dick said, hiding a mock yawn.
“Why is she with that dork anyway?” I said as I watched Barbara lean on Wade Brixton’s arm and kiss him on the cheek.
“Beats me”, Dick said with a shrug. “She ought to date someone like…” He frowned. “I don’t know who would fit, actually. Darkstrike would fit, but… He’s out.”
“Darkstrike?” I asked, glancing at him.
“Yeah, an old friend. A good man, but he turned… twisted when his girlfriend died.” Dick shrugged. “A tragic story.”
“Wade’s nice”, Dinah said. “But you’re right. He’s a little dull…” She looked at me, but I didn’t take my eyes off Barbara as she moved across the hall, exchanging pleasantries with people. It was only the crème the la crème that was invited, but watching them I realized I found Barbara by far the most beautiful of them all. There was something real about her – something that seemed to resist turning into this plastic doll as the others had become. When she smiled it was a genuine smile and her eyes were lively, intense and sometimes gentle as she greeted people. She was like some shining beam in a room full of shadows – or as a sparkling star on the night-vault.
“His parents adore her”, Dick said dryly. “But I gather it has to do with her money and nothing else. If she’d been poor and cripple they wouldn’t want anything to do with her.”
“He is quite smart, but nowhere near Barbara’s IQ”, Dinah added.
“You think he’s too dumb for her?” I said dryly.
“Um… well, yes.”
“He doesn’t make her… sparkle, if you know what I mean.” Dick glanced at me.
“She seems sparkling enough to me”, I said as I watched the woman of whom we were speaking talk to Wade by her side. I felt a slight pang of unexpected jealousy seeing them so close together and was tempted to agree with Dick just for spite.
“If she marries him she’ll die of boredom within a fortnight”, Dinah said with a dramatic sigh.
“Or his parents will drive her mad”, Dick added. “I can’t imagine what he must be like in bed. Bo-oring…”
I snorted and noticed Barbara on her own for a second. Wade had apparently left to get them something to drink. She raised her hand to her mouth as if to cough and in the same second we all heard her voice from Delphi through the speakers on the desk in front of us.
“If you are going to discuss my love life behind my back, at least do it with your intercoms off”, she said.
“Oh, God!” Dinah clasped her hands to her mouth. “Barbara – we’re so sorry!” she said, somewhat muffled behind her hands.
“I bet you are! Dick – you ought to be ashamed!”
I bent forward, talking into the microphone on the desk. “He’s blushing”, I said helpfully.
“And you shouldn’t encourage them!” she banned.
“Don’t worry – I won’t spread the secrets of Barbara Gordon and Wade Brixton to any other.”
She snorted and someone in the background said:
“Thank you, dear”, she said and was lost in a conversation with an elderly lady. I grinned, watching her.
“Shit!” Dick said, still slightly colored and I laughed out loud.
“Serves you both right!” I said. I glanced one last time at the screen, noting the slight, amused smile in the corner of Barbara’s mouth and knew she had heard me. I suddenly longed to meet her again – either she was Batgirl or Oracle or just plain herself.
“When is she back?” I asked when I was sure the microphone was off.
“Don’t know”, Dick said. “She probably stays with Wade tonight.” He grinned. “She has to give him something every now and then to keep him happy.”
“Dick – that was gross”, Dinah said with a grimace. I agreed, not knowing why – talk about other people’s sex-life never bothered me before.
“Right”, I said.
Dick shook his head with a rueful gesture. “She’s just so worked up, you know. She never seems to enjoy herself… I mean – she plays so many roles I’m not even sure she knows whom she is anymore.”
“She’s always been like this?” I asked, trying to form a picture of the woman that was Barbara Gordon. Dick suddenly hesitated and I got the feeling he wanted to hide something.
“Um… The years have changed her, I guess. And the responsibilities.” He avoided looking at me and I nodded and turned away.
“I’ve got to get to work”, I said. “See you both later.”
“Wait!” Dinah halted me and gave me her necklace, a small silver-moon in some strange metal and one of her earrings.
“What…?” I said.
“Use these… This is how we communicate. Barbara will get you some of your own later, but for now…” Dinah showed me how to trigger the connection.
“Awesome”, I said, impressed, fingering the jewelry.
“Sure is”, Dick said grumpily and I grinned when I figured what he was getting at; it wasn’t particularly handy when someone could listen in on a private conversation.
“Barbara wears a ring sometimes”, Dinah said. “You noticed, right?”
“Usually she wears both a ring and a necklace, just to be on the safe side”, Dick said and I eyed him closely.
“And you? Where’s your jewelry?”
“No earrings at least”, he said and showed me the golden chain he wore around his neck. “I have an implant in my ear”, he added. “I tried the earring-thing, but too many men made a pass on me. I considered it safer to make a small surgical cut.”
“But… how do you turn it on an off?”
“It’s connected to my neck-chain”, he explained and showed me the chain had two clasps.
I fastened the necklace around my neck and the earring in my left earlobe. “Great. I’m working at the bar until midnight. After that I’ll do some patrolling.”
“We’ll let Barbara know”, Dinah said with a nod. “Be careful.”
I grinned at her. “Don’t know the meaning of that word, kid-o!”
After work that night I roamed the streets, feeling the cool night-wind in my face. I scaled the buildings of Gotham – keeping to my old parts of town – keeping an eye out for any shady businesses on the streets. I needed time to think. Time to collect my thoughts to make some conclusion about what had been going on the last few days.
The word on the streets had been that my mother’s death had everything to do with Batman. It was said the Joker had hired an assassin to get the work done, but the Joker wasn’t capable of uttering a single word that made sense. I knew that if he had been behind the murder he wouldn’t have passed an opportunity to gloat at me when I visited him – pretending to be insane or not. That’s why I figured two things: first – he had truly lost his mind. Second: he wasn’t behind my mother’s murder.
I wondered if this Shadow-guy that tried making contact with me the other night worked for the organization Barbara was chasing. If he did maybe I should have taken him up on his offer – to infiltrate the organization. By now it would be too late – he had already seen me with Batgirl and his boss would figure I had made my choice between them.
I stopped and remained unmoving at the top of a tall, dark building. Making a choice… Was that what I had done? Did I choose side – to fight for the good guys? Why? Because of an inane need to be close to Barbara Gordon? What was that need about, anyway? Where did it come from and what did it mean? I couldn’t answer that. The only thing I knew, was that I felt it as if I had known Barbara Gordon my whole life and as if she was suppose to have been in my life long before now – as if some unforeseen event years and years ago had changed the course of our lives and prevented us from ever meeting.
I knew it sounded silly, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Barbara and I somehow were connected. We belong together, I thought with a sudden chill. I didn’t know what the thought meant, but it affected me strongly.
I hated being confused. It messed up my life. I preferred things to be straight and clean –pure emotions as anger, hurt, want… it was clean and uncomplicated. Barbara’s presence muddled my perceptions. I didn’t know what was what anymore – no anger without guilt, no hurt without wanting to be soothed, no want without… shame… I wasn’t myself anymore – if I ever had been the past year.
I don’t know myself, I thought. So much had happened that year it had completely thrown me off course in life. I was far from being the Helena Kyle I had been before my mother bled to death in my arms and what ever happened I knew I would never be her again.
Standing on the rooftops I realized it was an hour ago since I got off work and I hadn’t seen a criminal activity since. That was odd. Usually there was always something going on in that part of town. I decided to take another sweep around the rooftops and as I did I noticed something curious at an abandoned area close to Arkam Asylum. A soft light flickered in one of the deserted storehouses and then went out. When I came closer I realized the windows were blocked with dark fabric. Something was going on inside.
Fences and steel wires blocked off the area around the warehouse. Large signs displayed read: Keep off! Private property! Trespasses are charged or reported to the police! Warning – dangerous ground!
I was just about to trespass as I heard a strange, clicking sound behind me and swirled around. A metal robot the height of my chest stood watching me a few steps away. It reminded me of that small, white robot in Star Wars, with one blinking eye on a head that kept swirling about. This one had two legs, though, and it pointed some kind of gadget at me with arms and hands quite functional to beat in the head on anyone.
I threw myself to one side as the gadget begun blinking and in the next moment a light-beam flashed above my head.
Two more robots popped out from the shadows as if from nowhere and begun shooting at me. I dodged the fire and tried getting closer to them, but they were quick as weasels and only became more by the minute. I jumped about and managed to kick one of them, but the impact threw me harder out of the way than the robot was affected. When I came to my feet and looked about there was about sixteen of those creeps.
“Shit!” I muttered. “Alright – what about…?”
“Need a hand?”
One of the robots toppled over while Batgirl clubbed it with an axe straight in its flat head.
“Not really”, I said nonchalantly.
“Oh, right. Well, then I should be on my way again.” She leaned the axe on her shoulder, grinning at me. “Um…” she added, less happily, and glanced at something behind my back. I instinctively ducked and she followed my example. We remained crouching as laser-beams flashed above our heads. Luckily the robots didn’t seem able to aim very thoroughly.
“What are you doing carrying around an axe?” I asked, looking at the blade between us.
“I noticed your quite brave but failed attempt at kicking one of these sardine-cans and looked around for a better weapon. Lo and behold – I found a fire axe in one of the other buildings.”
“Lo and behold? You’ve definitely spent too much time with that teacher.”
She gave me a feigned injured look as we parted and then spend some time trying to make the robots fall over by kicking at their legs.
“He’d be insulted if you called him a teacher – he’s a guidance counselor. Blame Alfred for my old English if you like.”
“The thought would never occur to me to blame that sweet old man for your shortcomings.”
I caught her as she was hit squarely in her stomach by a punch from one of the robots and flew through the air towards me. I straightened her, looking into her green eyes with an arched eyebrow.
“Um, thanks, I guess”, she said and I snorted.
“It really kills you being nice to me, doesn’t it? What did I do to you in a past life?”
“You probably were a shark and ate me as I so innocently swum by the shore.”
“Sure”, I said sarcastically. “There’s nothing innocent about… Shit”, I exclaimed as I looked around and became aware that we were surrounded.
“This doesn’t look good”, she admitted.
“Actually, yes…” She dropped the axe and pulled her two batons, putting them together and created the long staff by the clicking sound. “Right. I count on your strength now”, she said and gave me her arm. “Swing me.”
I blinked, but grabbed her arm. “Are you sure?”
“We’ll be dead in exactly ten seconds if you don’t do…”
I pulled and swung her hard in the air. As I swung her around in a circle she kicked at and used her staff to topple the robots over by aiming at their weak point: their legs. Some of them fell backwards and created an opening for us. I grabbed her by her arm and pulled her close to me, held on to her for a second to steady her and then we run. I glanced at one of the fallen robots as we passed and noticed a strange logo at the base of its neck. It looked like a black cobra.
“I don’t like abandoning a fight”, I said as I jumped pass the robot and followed Batgirl into the shadows.
“Retreat is not defeat”, she said. “We’ll fight more evenly the next time.”
I looked over my shoulder and noticed the robots following us. They were surprisingly agile. “They are coming after us.”
“Here.” Batgirl stopped and uncovered her motorbike from a dark tarpaulin. She handed me one of her helmets as she put the other on her head. “Come on.”
I wasn’t slow to follow and sat behind her with my arms encircling her waist. She kicked the bike running as the robots drew closer.
“Um, I don’t want to stress you, but…” I said, glancing over my shoulder. “They’re aiming at us again.
She glanced in her mirror and noticed the robots lining up, aiming their laser beams at us.
“Count for me”, she said.
“One…” I said, feeling my heart beat close to her body. “Two… three… four…”
She speeded as I counted and we went through the alleyway in the shortest imaginable time.
On ten she turned around the corner and in the next instant a bluish hell broke out in the alley behind us. I noticed her grinning at me in the side-mirror of her bike.
“If I’d known you were this fun to hang out with I’d contacted you long ago”, she said. I didn’t know what to respond to that, so I didn’t.
“What the hell were they?”
“I don’t know”, she admitted with a frown, keeping her eyes at the road again.
“How did you find me?” I asked, belatedly.
“The transmitter Dinah gave you. It has a receiver I can track on a very wide range. I was already looking for you when I suddenly heard you in my intercom. You must have triggered the microphone by chance. I tried calling you, but your phone was off. You could have used the intercom to contact us.”
“Um, I forgot…” I admitted. I wasn’t used to having people on the other end of a wire. People that were suppose to help me fight, even.
“I figured”, she said dryly.
“Um, thanks…” I said almost shyly, not used to having to thank people either. She grinned at me.
“That wasn’t that hard, was it?”
“You’re incorrigible”, I stated and she chuckled. I felt the ripples of her laughter through her body and blushed. I realized I held on harder than I needed to and loosened the grasp around her waist.
“We’re fine, Dinah”, I heard her say through the helmet and realized Dinah was on the other end. “Call back Nightwing, will you? We need to talk.”
“She’s up late”, I remarked as Batgirl silenced.
“Yeah. She has some field-study tomorrow and begins later in the day.”
The thought of Dinah still followed me as we drove in the tunnel and as Batgirl parked the bike.
“Dinah…” I said somewhat hesitantly as we moved towards the elevator.
She still wore her mask and I wasn’t sure what kind of behavior to expect from her.
“What happened to her mother’s killer? Did she ever want to get revenge for what happened?”
Batgirl was quiet as we entered the elevator and rode upstairs through the Clocktower. “He was a local gangster”, she finally said. “Black Canary fought his syndicate and pulled down every last one of them. Finally there were only the two of them left and what he did… He followed her and found out where she lived. He then broke into her home and threatened Dinah, but Dinah’s powers had begun to make themselves known at that time and she wasn’t as defenseless as he believed. Anyhow…” She hesitated. “Black Canary and the man fought, but he had hid a bomb in the building. Black Canary had to let him go to save the rest of the people in the building. She died in the flames saving a young mother and her newly born. Dinah was witness.”
“God”, I mumbled, closing my eyes. Batgirl’s voice was void of emotions, but I realized she was struggling with the pain the memory brought to her.
“The gangster was later caught and arrested – by his own son, actually. A good man, his son, one of the most honest cops I know of. It’s strange how family can be so different. Anyhow, the guy was convicted. Dinah’s testimony was the one putting him behind bars. He died in prison in some internal conflict between criminals.”
I nodded. “And Dinah?”
“She fully blamed the man, but she also got a chance to make justice. She saw justice be done and I think it was important to her to be a part of that procedure. Some thought she was too young to testify, but…”
“You allowed it”, I said quietly.
“I did. She has a very strong belief in the juridical system of this town and I think it has to do with what happened. She want’s to become either a lawyer as Dick or a police, like the man who caught her mother’s murderer.”
“He caught his own father to make justice. I wonder what that cost him?” I mumbled. She heard me and glanced at me, but I couldn’t make out what she was thinking.
“Remember the guy I was talking about setting you up with? This is him.”
“I cop?” I asked, arching an eyebrow at her. She grinned.
“Oh – you’d love him. A real man, he is. And he’s a detective.”
“Save yourself the trouble”, I said and noticed her smirking.
“I think someone has relationships issues”, she teased.
“Don’t you start”, I warned her. She was about to say something when the doors opened and we noticed Dinah’s worried face.
“Thank God you’re both alright.”
“We’re fine, girl”, Batgirl said and removed her mask.
“Well, you wouldn’t have been if you hadn’t managed to get out of that alley in time. Those R2:s made a fine mess of it.” Dinah looked inquiringly at us.
“We’re fine”, I said, smiling at her. “Your earring suits me – I think I’ll keep it.”
“Hey – don’t you dare”, she said, smiling back. “I’m very attached to those. It’s only a loan.”
“Do you know anything about those robots, Oracle?” Dick asked from the desk, turning around to face Barbara as she approached Delphi.
She shook her head. “Haven’t seen anything like them before. I wonder what they were doing over there, anyway.” She leaned closer beside Dick and watched one of the smaller screens further down. Dick leaned in beside her, shoulder to shoulder with her.
“They’re gone now”, he said. “There was some disturbance at the screen and when the picture was clear again they were gone. Just as when they turned up.”
“I think they came from the warehouse”, I said, stepping closer to the desk. Dinah followed me. Dick turned his head to look at me.
“Did you see anything?”
“I noticed a light in one of the windows – that’s why I wanted to take a closer look. The windows were painted black, or covered by something.”
“The robots must guard something in there”, Dinah remarked and Barbara nodded thoughtfully.
“Maybe we should call the police?” I suggested. “Robots just can’t go around shooting people down like that.”
“This is Gotham, remember?” Dick said with a grimace. “And especially Old Gotham. Not many are interested in what’s going on in the older parts of town.”
“Beside – it’s better we know what’s going on first.” Barbara frowned, straightening her back, but still looking at the screen. “If we have the police storm the building without us knowing what to expect a lot of lives might be lost. I wonder if those guys wore cameras?” she added lowly, mostly to her self.
“I noticed a logo on them”, I said, remembering. “It was a black cobra…”
“Are you sure?” Dick asked sharply and Barbara turned to look at me.
I nodded. “Definitely.”
“Cobra Enterprise”, Dick said, exchanging a glance with Barbara.
Barbara nodded. “Boyd”, she said as she begun pacing the floor with a pensive frown. “He reported some material to be stolen from his company some time ago. He was very secretive about it and refused to share what it was about. He referred to the risk of espionage and didn’t want to disclose more than it concerned his space project.”
“Who is this Boyd?” I asked as Dick said:
“You don’t believe it was stolen?”
“I never did.” Barbara glanced at me. “This is a bit complicated”, she said.
“It always is”, I said with a shrug and Dinah nodded.
“Yeah”, she said, “but this really is. It has to do with Business-Barbara and you so-o don’t want to go there.”
“In short…” Barbara frowned again, finding the words. “Cobra Enterprise is run by Michael Boyd, a ruthless, coldhearted business man. Without his knowledge I bought a large amount of shares in his company…”
“Why?” I asked with a frown. “If you don’t like him, why support him?”
“It’s not for support”, Dick said. “It’s the opposite.”
“It’s possible to buy shares in a company and be anonymous”, Barbara explained. “That’s what I did. I got enough shares to vote against suggestions that are immoral…”
“Like arms export and import”, Dick added, looking at me. I nodded, remembering the exchange at Barbara’s office. Business-Barbara, as Dinah had put it.
“Officially I’m still unknown to Boyd – my wishes and objections are presented by a representative, keeping my name off the board. Unofficially I’ve begun to suspect Boyd knows I’m trying to control his company.”
“Um…” I said. “So he wants to get even with you by creating happily shooting robots?”
“No”, Barbara said with a slight smile. “He wants to get even by suing me for breach of contract.”
“Ouch!” I said – I had forgotten about that. “Right. But where does the robots fit in?”
“Depending…” Barbara turned around pointing at the screen and the dark warehouse we just managed to escape from. The picture was blurry and not very clear. “See this area? It’s owned by B&B Industries…”
“The B&B representing ‘Blackbird’”, Dick added in a dry voice. I recognized the name, but I failed to see the connection. I remembered Dinah had talked about a black bird in relation to the ninjas.
“I told you it’s complicated”, Dinah pointed out with a sigh. I looked questioningly at her.
“B&B Industries is a subsidiary company to Blackbird Cooperation”, Barbara explained.
“And?” I still failed to see the connection to the white steel-robots attacking me for no good reason. Well, if functioning as guard-dogs they probably thought they had good reason – but it didn’t excuse the fact that they wanted to shoot my head off. Or blast me into oblivion, more like it.
“Blackbird Cooperation was started as a small company three years ago. By that time it was called Patchwork Consultation.”
“Patchwork? That’s a strange name for a computer firm, isn’t it?”
“Well, it’s not technically a computer firm today”, Barbara explained. “They deal with a whole lot of technology. But what kind of business they ran at that time was quite obscure. They were trademarked as a small, local company in east of Gotham – Old Gotham. It’s difficult to tell what they actually did to keep the company together, but I’ve begun to suspect they spend their time bribing people and extorting blackmail. Your father came across the name a few times, but he couldn’t pin anything to them. Anyway, it wasn’t until the company changed name and moved to New Gotham that we begun suspecting there was more to it. Suddenly it had become this wealthy organization with tendrils to a lot of companies in town. Lesser companies were bought by Blackbird Cooperation and the company grew larger. It’s one of the wealthiest companies in this town today.”
I nodded, still waiting for her to get to the point.
“Patchwork Consultation changed name almost twelve months ago, at the same time the rate of high-technology crimes increased in New Gotham.”
I frowned, remembering Dick and Dinah mentioning an organized crime syndicate. “You think the owner of Blackbird is the new Big Boss of the bad-asses in Gotham?” I asked. “Who is he?”
She nodded. “That’s exactly what I think – and… I would be a much happier woman if I knew who owns Blackbirds.”
“You mean you don’t know?”
“No. He uses representatives at all meetings and invitations. I’ve grown to suspect he’s a meta-human.”
“Any proofs?” I asked with a frown. “Can you pin anything to Blackbird?”
“No, it’s all hunches.”
“Exactly”, Dick agreed with a grimace.
“But… How’s this connected to the robots?”
Barbara arched an eyebrow. “Didn’t I mention? Cobra Enterprise has a close connection to Blackbird. They are business-partners on the way to merge.”
“So… You think this Cobra-guy sold his robots to Blackbird and then reported them stolen?”
“That’s exactly my thought. Maybe it’s not the robots in themselves, but spare-parts... Which still brings us to the question – what’s so valuable in that warehouse it needs protection so badly?”
“Right”, I said. “Any suggestions? I’ve run out of technology-based ideas.”
Dick grinned. “Did you ever have any?”
“Don’t insult my intellect”, I stated. “I went to University…”
“Learning how to place a painting on the right wall hardly qualifies”, he objected.
“How did you…?” I glanced at Barbara. “Did you write a book about my fucking life and shared it with the world, or what?”
“Don’t blame it on me – I’m a control freak.” She shrugged. “What can I say?”
“Right”, I grumbled.
“Dinah – bedtime.”
The girl sighed. “Right when it was becoming interesting.”
“Interesting? Company-merging and no clues to the most organized syndicate in Gotham?” I said. “It won’t get more interesting than this tonight.”
“Great – I got two mothers, suddenly”, Dinah sighed and I blinked. Mothers? What the…?
“She’s right, though, pigeon”, Dick said. “We’re stuck. It’s all about research now.”
“We’ll check out the place tomorrow”, Barbara added. “Don’t worry. You’ll be in on it.”
Dinah still grumbled as she went to the elevator.
“Go on, Ladyhawk”, I said. “We’ll have some fun tomorrow.”
She turned to look at me with a surprised glance. Then she smiled broadly, lightening the whole room. “Thank you”, she said happily. “That’s way cooler than ‘pigeon.’” She grinned at me and skipped the last steps to the elevator, waving at me before the doors closed between us. I grinned, seeing her happy face and knowing I’d done something to make her delighted.
“She’ll adore you for life”, Barbara told me, standing by my side. I felt her presence: calm, but intense.
“I can live with that”, I said. I paused and then added: “Any news from Arkam?” The news hadn’t said much about the outcome of the fight last night. Neither the police nor the guards at Arkam Asylum had wanted to comment on the event.
Barbara nodded. “Twelve convicts are dead and two escaped. It will be on the news tomorrow.”
“Who escaped?” I asked, wondering if it would be anyone that I knew of.
“Remember the water-guy? That one… and Clayface.”
I instantly turned towards her, hearing and remembering the name. “Clayface?”
“The one and the same”, she said, nodding. I studied her, but couldn’t see any reaction indicating she felt anything about the news. Maybe she had had time to get use to the thought that a man who almost killed her seven years ago and had sworn revenge now was on the loose. Or maybe she just was so used to the idea of chasing bad guys and being threatened by them that she really didn’t bother.
“We were lucky, though”, Dick interfered. “If Oracle hadn’t noticed something strange going on in the area around Arkam the loss would have been greater. Who knows how many would have managed to escape in that case?”
“You don’t think they will try again?” I asked Barbara, but she shook her head.
“Not yet, in any case. Surveillance is even higher than before now and I’ve got trustworthy technicians to work at their electronic. Next time a power-failure won’t be as easy to arrange.” She frowned. “I’m going to do some work at the computer. There’re some things I need to sort out about…” The rest of her words were lost in a soft mumble as her eyes turned focused on the screens. She went to the desk and sat down, seemingly forgetting about Dick and me. I exchanged an amused glance with him.
“Come on”, he said, waving at me. “Let’s do another sweep of the town. I’ll show you my favorite spots in the dark.”
I grinned, following him.
Around noon the next day I found Barbara in the kitchen as I came down for a late breakfast. She was sitting at the table, going through some papers. She didn’t notice me and I stood watching her as she worked. She was dressed in a cool-looking skirt in a soft yellow color and a white blouse flecked with flowers. She seemed relaxed and looked so sweet and innocent this way, like that girl I had seen throwing colored balls in the park the other day. I would remember that thought later the same day, when we would find her – hating the ones that bruised her and stained her innocence with blood.
“I know you’re there”, she said with an amused smile, without raising her eyes towards me.
Damn, I thought, good-humored, and went to the table.
“There’s food in the fridge.” She pointed in the direction of the fridge with her pen without turning her head. “Alfred made breakfast for you before he left.”
“Did he? He’s sweet. Left where?” I added as I opened the fridge-door and found a tray with food. I pulled it out and sat down at the table. Barbara finally looked up, but seemed more interested in my food than anything else. “Want some?” I offered.
She shook her head, but her eyes told a different story. She glanced at me and noticed me grinning.
“Wade’s taking me for lunch”, she said, smiling back. “I left him quite rudely yesterday and have some making up to do. Don’t say it!” she added with a warning as she saw me opening my mouth. I closed it and grinned triumphantly. “Alfred’s at the manor, by the way. He looks after it and shows the tourists around sometimes.”
“Tourists?” I asked.
“Mmhm.” Barbara quickly stole a piece of peeled apple from the tray and put it in her mouth, chewing. “Since no one is really living there anymore we thought it a waste to have it just standing there like some kind of gigantic dinosaur. Every now and then we let tourists take a… tour. For only a symbolic sum, of course.”
“Of course”, I said.
“I think he enjoys playing the proper British butler. There’s a drama-streak in him you wouldn’t notice if you don’t know him.” She made a face and I laughed. “You know”, she added more seriously. “Bruce’s money are your money. Anytime you want…”
“No”, I said immediately. I had made up my mind about that already. “I don’t want anything from him.”
She watched me closely, but then shrugged. “It’s your choice. Just let me know if you change your mind.”
I shook my head. I won’t, I thought.
I ate some while she worked, reading through her papers.
“What’s that?” I finally asked and nodded towards her briefcase.
“Boring”, she said with a sigh and stretched, rolling her neck and shoulders. She gathered her papers and put them in the briefcase. “Stuff for the Bruce Wayne concern. Nothing fun to talk about.” She put the briefcase away and looked at me, almost expectantly. “So – what you think about this place?”
“This place?” I hated direct questions and always tried to avoid them. I looked around, chewing. “Nice”, I said. “Cool.”
“Never figured you for a woman of few words”, she said sarcastically. I made a face at her.
“I like it. What else is there to say?” I looked her in the eye, challenging her. That was a mistake, I realized as she smiled.
“So – what about what this place symbolizes? You like that? You like Nightwing and Dinah?” She tilted her head to one side, never letting go of my eyes. “Me?”
I swallowed. “I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t”, I said, holding her gaze. We looked at each other and I felt this tingle along my back as her eyes scanned my face, my eyes – searching deep in my soul for secrets I didn’t know I carried. “I…” I cleared my thought. “I still don’t get it that Gibson would betray me”, I said, not able to comprehend that he had revealed to Dinah what we had talked about. “What did he say I’d said?”
“Oh, Gibson is a gentleman”, Barbara said, smiling and leaning back in her chair. I relaxed as her gaze shifted slightly and let go of its hold on me. “He only told her what he told you about her, nothing about what you asked him.”
I remembered what Gibson had said about Batgirl. Not a meta-human and not welcome… “You never met him?”
“Only once. He knows who I am. He figured it out – it has something to do with his incredible memory. He’s not fond of… my nightly businesses, but I trust him fully when it comes to Dinah. He’s a bit weird, I give you that, but he is a good man and he’d give all his limbs for that girl.”
“Don’t say things like that”, I said, immediately picturing an arm-less and leg-less Gibson serving drinks at the bar. “You’re not accepted at the bar, are you?” I added, looking at her.
She shook her head. “It’s the one thing I can’t share with Dinah”, she said, sounding remorseful. “It might be good for her, though – I don’t know.”
“You’re not meta. You can never know what it’s like”, I said, realizing something when I noticed the sadness in her eyes. “But you’re not fully human either.” I held her gaze, but she only shrugged and looked away, shielding herself. “You don’t belong in any world”, I continued, not able to stop. “Just like my father.” The thought pulled at something in me, making me sad. “It must be… difficult.”
She looked almost surprised at me, but didn’t deny it. She nodded slightly, admitting I was right.
“That’s why you’ve chosen Wade”, I said abruptly. Her head snapped back and she looked at me with a warning glance.
“Don’t go there”, she said. “It’s enough I have Dick and Dinah at me…”
“Ever considered the idea that they are right?” I challenged, finally finding something that broke through the slippery wall she surrounded herself with. She snorted.
“It’s none others business than mine”, she said.
“They care about you. Doesn’t it make it their business?” I persisted. “Why are you with him?” I asked her frankly. She looked me straight in the eyes.
“I love him”, she said simply and it caught me for a second.
“I’ve no doubt you do”, I said, surprising myself. “But what’s the reason behind the love? Could you love someone else more? Could you love someone else in another way – more passionate? Why do you stick with Wade? You could have anyone.”
“I don’t want anyone”, she said conclusively and rose. “Wade’s what I want.”
“I don’t believe you”, I said, shaking my head. “You said it yourself – you need control. What are you afraid of anyway?”
She disdainfully looked down at me with a snort.
“And what do you know? Who made you an expert at me all of a sudden? You can’t even have a relationship, so wrapped up in your own anger. You don’t trust anyone… You don’t even know how to.”
“Right.” I rose, feeling inferior while sitting down. “You know – you might know my father, but you don’t know shit about me…”
“And you don’t give me a chance to”, she countered and I blinked. “You’re so damn closed off…”
“I’m the one closed off? You’re the fucking schizophrenic! Do you even know who the hell you are in there? Trying to save the fucking world – as if it deserves it! As if the fucking world even cares! Try to live a normal, happy life for once – if you know what that is like.”
“And what do you think I’m trying to do with Wade?” she said bitingly.
“He’s safe…” I realized. “You’re fucking hiding – playing another fucking role!” I didn’t know why the thought of her having to compromise with her life made me so mad, but to think that she would marry that man… I knew it in my bones that she wasn’t meant to spend the rest of her life with him.
“And what do you care?” she snapped, loosing her temper for the first time. Her eyes flashed. “Maybe Dinah and Dick has a point, but you do not know me and you don’t care. The only reason to why you are here is because you think I can give you what you want. Well, think again – Huntress” – she spit it out, like it was some kind of bitter fruit – “I’ll give you what you want regardless if you stay or not. You can leave, if that’s what you want.”
“Are you kicking me out?” I asked incredulous.
“No”, she looked at me and shouldered her bag. “I’m giving you what you want – a way out.”
“Is that what you think I fucking want?” I almost shouted at her as she walked towards the elevator.
“You haven’t given me a reason to think differently”, she said coolly.
“Are you walking away from me?” I snapped at her back, following her. “Don’t you fucking walk away from me when I’m talking to you. You do it all the time!”
The elevator doors opened.
“I’m not walking away from you, but from this argument”, she said and stepped into the elevator. “I don’t have the time or the energy for this.”
“Don’t you fucking psycho-analyze this!”
She turned to look at me. “Grow up, Helena”, she said as the doors begun to close.
“Fuck you!” I shouted at her as the doors closed.
Damn! I thought as I made my way to the café were I was meeting Wade. Damn her! Who does she think she is? She had no right questioning my life like that – attacking my choices.
“Hi”, Wade said as I found him by our regular table at the outer terrace of Laura’s Diner, close to the sidewalk. He kissed me on the cheek and I let him. He looked strangely at me. “You alright?”
“No”, I said and surprised us both. I sat down, waving at Laura behind the counter beyond the open doors to the diner with a forced smile. “Damn! That woman…”
“What woman?” Wade said as he slowly sat down by my side. He’d been thoughtful enough to order a coffee for me and I drank, swallowing despite the fact that I burned my tongue. Shit! I thought and put down the cup.
“This woman… that I met. No, she’s working for me… kind of… Anyway – she…” I took a deep breath, realizing Wade’s strange look stemmed from the fact that he’d never seen me this agitated before. Damn her – making me lose my composure like this. It hadn’t happened since… I couldn’t remember it ever happening. Helena Kyle definitely had an affect on me. I didn’t think she was very fond of me to begin with – she was always so silent in my company. Even though she didn’t seem to like Batgirl much either at least she interacted with her.
“Sorry”, I said to Wade as I reach over and took his hand in mine. “I didn’t mean to unload my burdens on you.”
“That’s part of what I’m here for”, he said and let me kiss his cheek. “In a relationship you share burdens.”
This was an old conversation about my habit of keeping secrets from him and I didn’t want to go there. The thought of Helena interrupted.
“She just… does something to me.” I just couldn’t keep from taunting her when I was Batgirl and she Huntress – it was like this… electrifying charge between us. Beside – she’s so damn sexy when she grins… Sexy? God, did I just think that?
“Some people does that. We can’t get along with everyone”, Wade said soothingly.
“But that’s it – I thought we were getting along just fine. And then… bang! She attacked me for no reason.”
He looked at me and smiled in a way that revealed he found my outburst arousing. Not surprisingly he leaned in and kissed me.
“Mmm, too bad you have that meeting right now”, he whispered. “There’s something else I could think of doing…”
“Bad boy”, I muttered amused. “Don’t you have students to consider?”
“Oh, heavy duty”, he sighed.
“Hey, Barbara”, Laura greeted me with her pad and pen in hand. I looked up at her with a more genuine smile this time.
“Hi. Mmm, the usual, please.”
“Coming up”, the short, dark woman said and put the pen behind her ear. “A Caesar salad, dark bread on the side and carrot juice.”
“Add an carrot-cake this time”, I added. “I feel I deserve to be spoiled today.”
“Sure. At least you can afford it.” Laura smiled and patted her belly. “Three kids later and this is what you get.”
“You look just fine to me, Laura”, Wade said and winked at her. She laughed, swathing at him with her pad.
“You’re a teaser, Mr. Brixton.”
When Laura left I put away my cup of coffee, not bothering with finishing it. I rarely drank coffee, but somehow this always slipped Wade’s mind when we went to Laura’s. I preferred tea – courtesy of Alfred.
“So – what was the big emergency yesterday?” Wade asked. “I… missed you.”
“I know”, I said distractedly and tried to sound apologetic. He looked at me with this shy and almost timid look I’d found quite cute in the beginning of our acquaintance, but which I found a bit annoying at that moment. He was a gentle man and before that day I’d never found a fault with him. I loved him for his gentleness and the way he treated me with care. I reminded myself that he wasn’t weak or meek in any way, but had spirit when it was needed and that was the combination I liked about him. Safe? I thought with an inward snort. She doesn’t not what she’s talking about. Damn – I was thinking about her again. “Um, there was this… break in… Yeah, that’s it. There was this break in at my company.”
“Oh! I hope it wasn’t serious?”
“Oh, no. It turned out to be false alarm, but with what happened at Arkam the other day…”
“Yes”, he said with a worried frown. “That was scary.”
Tell me about it, I thought and then repressed a smile at the recollection of my fight side by side with Huntress. Jeez – she knows how to fight, that woman! What reflexes – and strength… I almost laughed out loud as I remembered her grin when she retorted to my remark: “Sure – I should let you take me out more often!”
I wouldn’t know that feeling again, I realized with sudden regret as I remembered our quarrel.
“Why couldn’t she just let it go?” I complained and Wade looked at me as if I’d sprouted a double set of ears.
“Oh, sorry – I just can’t seem to let it go.”
“What did you fight about?” he said, realizing I needed to talk about this if not even the event at Arkam could prevent me from obsessing about it.
“Um…” You, I thought, but that wasn’t the whole truth. “I… don’t really know”, I said, frowning. “Suddenly we were just involved in this huge argument. But that’s not the point”, I said, shaking my head. “The point is she’s obnoxious and arrogant and…”
“You’re the perfect woman?” he asked amused. I caught myself with a sigh.
“I guess not. I know I have my… problems…”
“Mmhm”, he said looking pointedly at me. I frowned.
“Do you think I have a relationship-problem?” I asked and when I saw the guarded look in his eyes I realized that I’d hit too close to the mark for him to be comfortable with this conversation.
“Um, you know I find you perfectly… perfect”, he said.
“Wade”, I persisted and he sighed.
“You do seem to have some… uh, issues…”
“Great!” I threw out my arms. “Just take her side, will you!”
“That’s not…” he begun and then noticed I wasn’t angry, only ironical, and smiled. “I don’t even know the woman”, he added with an amused smile.
“No – and you better not get a chance to. I won’t have the two of you discussing my ‘bonding issues’.” I frowned, being serious again. “Do you think me cold, Wade?”
“No! Absolutely not!” he said. “You’re warm and passionate and…” He blushed. ”Well, you know… everything. It’s just… sometimes there seems to be this… wall around you I can’t breach. You become distant and… lost, somehow. I’m afraid sometimes that I don’t really know you.”
Secrets, I thought. That’s what keeping secrets do to you. I nodded. Right – so she might not have been that wrong after all. I might be a difficult person to get to know, but she… “She’s just so damn…” I caught myself, looking at Wade. “Sorry – you are right.” I nodded. “I… You know, it’s the responsibilities. Don’t take it personally, Wade. It’s just who I am and who I need to be in order to keep things together.”
He nodded. “I know. I didn’t mean to mention it, but since you brought it up…”
I leaned in to kiss him. He was so sweet. Right – maybe he wasn’t as straightforward as I would prefer or as confident as I would like, but he was a good man. I smiled at the thought and leaned backwards in my chair as Laura brought our food.
At the same time Laura placed the plates at the table and leaned back with a smile to say something a black van suddenly speeded up at the sidewalk, toppling cones and fences along the way. Pedestrians were forced to hurl themselves to the sides to avoid being crushed by the large wheels. Even before the van stopped the doors were thrown open and four men in black clothes and masks with guns in their hands jumped out, aiming the guns at innocent bystanders and at guests at the café.
“Barbara Gordon!” one of them yelled as he pulled a young girl Dinah’s age to him and aimed the gun at her head. “Come with us and none will be harmed.”
I rose immediately.
“Barbara…” Wade gasped and rose, trying to catch my wrist. I quickly stepped aside to avoid Wade and moved towards the van. I halted out of reach from the men, looking the man who held the girl captured straight in the eye.
“Let her go. I give you my word I will follow you”, I said. “But if you harm anyone I won’t come.”
He looked at me and nodded, releasing the girl. She disappeared behind the van with a sob.
“Barbara!” Wade shouted with fear in his voice as I stepped towards the van. Two of the men caught me and brought me to the car. I turned my head to look at him.
“Call Dick”, I said calmly, before I was pushed inside the van and the doors closed behind me. Someone hit me in the head and everything went dark.
When I woke up I was tied to a chair so thoroughly I couldn’t move a finger, with a gag in my mouth. It seemed to be dark around me – only a faint light lit the area where I was placed.
“Time to wakie, wakie”, someone – a man – said in an annoyingly light voice. I tried to lift my head, but it hurt too much. I made a soft, involuntary sound. Someone grabbed my hair and pulled my head backwards and I closed my eyes as the pain surged through me.
“She’s back”, another man said and I heard someone move close to me.
I grunted as a blow landed in my face and split my lip.
“Boyd”, I mumbled and slowly opened my eyes. Michael Boyd – a tall, dark figure with eyes like amber looked at me with an amused smile.
“Good guess, Miss Gordon – I’m impressed.”
“No guess”, I mumbled beneath the gag, hardly audible. Boyd reached forward and removed the gag. “No guess”, I repeated bitingly, looking him in the eye. “Recognized your stench. You stink like skunk.”
He hit me again, harder this time, and my head rung.
“You are in no position to insult me”, he said angrily.
I tried to look around for the second person, but couldn’t tell one shadow from another.
“I’m here”, someone hissed in the same light, impersonal voice as before. “You can not see me”, the voice added in a singsong tone, as if a child was going: nah, nah, nah-nah-nah…
Boyd looked annoyingly at someone behind my back.
“What do you want with me?” I asked calmly, looking at Boyd. I knew he wouldn’t let me live – not after letting me see his face. He smiled down at me – it was a cold, ruthless smile.
“Oh – not much. Only trying to convince you to sell me your company.”
“That will never happen”, I told him and he grinned.
“I didn’t think so, but the fun part will be to convince you.” He hit me again, even harder and my head snapped back. Someone fingered my hair, whispering something in my ear.
“I know you”, the singsong voice said. “I know you, know you, know you…”
“Stop that”, Boyd said irritably. I couldn’t see his face from my position, having my head bent back. The man whispering in my ear pulled in my hair.
“I know who you are…” he whispered before letting go of my hair and I raised my head again, looking at Boyd.
“Where did you find this guy?” I asked scornfully. “At Arkam, maybe?”
“Arkam?” Boyd raised an eyebrow. “You think I had something to do with that?” He laughed hollowly. “Hardly. I’m not… that defiled.” He grimaced and looked at the man behind my back, a glance telling me what I needed to know. The man behind my back was the real threat, although Boyd didn’t seem to think so.
“I know her, I know her – I know who she is… You don’t, you don’t…”
“Shut up or get the hell out of here”, Boyd snapped. “I’m tired of listening to your insanity.”
Something with the mans singsong voice triggered a memory within me; I found it slightly familiar, but couldn’t place it. At the same time Boyd hit me again and the pain prevented further proper thoughts for a couple of heartbeats.
Damn, that hurt! I thought, fighting the dizziness threatening to claim me.
“They’ll find me”, I said, hearing my voice ring like a far away echo within me.
“Oh, yes – they will. I’ll see to that”, Boyd said victoriously. “But there will be no leads to me. You bitch!” He hit me twice more in the face. “You convinced them to sell to you. That meeting tomorrow morning… You’ll buy me out!”
“That was the idea”, I said, thinking of the last thing I had done before leaving work the day before. I had contacted the two most powerful shareholders of Cobra Enterprise and let them know I was the one interested in buying Boyd’s business. I made them each an offer they couldn’t refuse and we set a date two days ahead to go ahead with the transaction. With their shares I would have had complete control of the company and Boyd would have been forced to sell if he didn’t want me as boss. “Who was it?” I asked through the pain, trying to focus on him. “Who told you?”
“They didn’t”, he sneered. “I was listening in on the conversation.”
That was good. At least I hadn’t been betrayed.
“Now… I’m… going… to… enjoy… this.”
By every word he uttered he beat me one more time: in my face, in my stomach or other places at my body. I tried breaking free, but the chains that tied me held me too tight. I tightened my muscles and received the blows as I had learned over the years, being Batgirl.
“He doesn’t know what I know”, the other man sang in the background. “He’s gonna kill you, kill you, kill you…”
“Someone… My shares, my money… It will go to my friends”, I said. “They’ll fight you.”
“Oh, they’ll try, but you, my dear…” Boyd grinned. “You are the real threat. Without you… you’re group of friends will be like – a snake without a head.”
“Fun pun”, I said, considering his logo of a cobra.
“I thought so.” He laughed at his own joke. “Except – with you gone… The head of the Cobra will rise!” His eyes gleamed. “Gordon Technologies will be mine!” He paused and looked down at me, before leaning forward and resting his palms at the arms of my chair – looking me straight in the eyes. “Why are you not afraid?” he asked after a moment. “You know I’ve done this before?”
“I figured as much”, I said. “Someone like you must have a real psychopathic spare time occupation.”
He spit in my face and I smiled.
“That hurt”, I said, never breaking eye contact with him. He straightened his back.
“I’m gonna beat you to death”, he said. “I’m gonna feel your blood on my hands. I’m gone own you…”
“You’re sick”, I spat, but he laughed.
“Ever killed someone?” he asked smoothly, with a glossy sheen in his amber eyes. I stiffened and the voice behind me chuckled.
“A girl like her? A lady – a hummingbird? Killed someone? Did you, girlie, girlie? Did you ever kill someone?”
And suddenly I knew who he was. He was the one I had been waiting for, for seven years. The chill creeping up my back was mingled with excitement and fear – and guilt.
“Hardly likely”, Boyd said, again annoyed at the interruption. He seemed to lose his focus.
“Hardly likely”, the voice echoed. “Hardly likely…”
“Shut up!” Boyd snapped and the voice did, but I heard it chuckle in the background. Boyd looked at me with hard eyes. “I’m gonna beat you to death and I’m gonna enjoy every minute of it.”
I didn’t doubt him. I closed my eyes for a brief second, hoping Dinah and Dick had been sensible enough to check in with Delphi. They would be able to track the signal from the ring I was wearing. I had triggered the alarm as soon as I stepped towards the van, before the men knocked me unconscious. Helena, I thought, but I doubted she would be around. She was probably far away by now and I would never see her again. The thought made me sad.
“Yeah, that’s right”, Boyd snickered. “Say a prayer, Miss Gordon.”
I opened my eyes and looked at him. “You are a pathetic scum, Boyd – did you know that? Killing me won’t change the fact that your intellect is the size of a walnut and you have as much guts as a pool of jelly. You’re weak and deranged and any sense of power you feel you have is an illusion created by your own warped self. You…”
“Shut up! Shut up!”
The blows landed with strikingly accuracy and rhythm and I was soon lost in the black fog drifting over my mind.
When I woke up I was laying with my head in someone’s lap and I felt a soft, damp tissue being pressed to my forehead. I opened my eyes – or more correctly: mine eye, as the other was swollen shut – and looked into Helena’s blue eyes.
“You came back”, I whispered with sore throat, feeling extremely relieved and happy in a way I couldn’t explain when seeing her. She swallowed and nodded, her eyes expressing worry and a tenderness I hadn’t seen with her before, nor expected of her. She seemed to have difficulty speaking. I hoped she wasn’t injured.
“I’m sorry”, she whispered.
“Me too”, I said, with difficulty. I didn’t know if she heard me, but I thought she did – her hearing was better than most peoples. I moved my hand, but was too tired to lift it. She seemed to know what I wanted and took it in hers. I squeezed her hand and she held me tight, but gently. I closed my eyes and begun slipping away again, into the dark.
“You’re safe with me”, I heard her whisper.
I know, I thought, wanting to tell her, but I was too tired and in the next moment I was lost again.
I spent two days at the hospital, healing from the damage Boyd had caused me. That was just as long as it took before I found out what had happened that day. When Wade contacted him Dick immediately collected Dinah from school and the two of them returned to the Clocktower. At the Clocktower Dinah found her necklace and the earring Helena had left behind and with no spare time they didn’t know how to contact her or where to find her. Luckily Dick was able to track me down using Delphi to locate the signal from my ring. He left the Clocktower as Dinah stayed behind to direct him from Delphi. He had hardly left when Helena showed up – according to Dinah as grim as anything, scaring Dinah half to death. “She had murder on her mind”, the girl later told me.
Helena had caught the news by chance on the radio and hurried back to the Clocktower to get in contact with Dinah or Dick. When she noticed the signal on the map at Delphi she immediately realized I was held captive at the warehouse where she and I had been attacked by the robots. She reached it at the same time as Dick, which meant she must have made full use of her meta-abilities. Dinah arrived with the police later on.
There was no fight or anything. The warehouse was completely empty except from Boyd and me. There were no signs of a second man. Huntress and Dick made the matter short with Boyd and Dick told me he thought she was going to kill Boyd in pure anger. I was glad she didn’t.
Since her mother died Helena had been on the way of becoming something other than what her mother meant her to be. There was so much anger within her. I knew I couldn’t contact her right after her mother’s death. She wasn’t ready to listen then. I watched her, though. I kept an eye on her, as I had promised Selena I would if something ever happened to her. When I heard the rumors that the wrong crowd begun showing interest in her I made a move. At first I thought I’d been too late. She didn’t seem to respond at all, just being this hard, skillful warrior – trusting no one, needing no one. I thought I had failed and would lose her to the wrong side, but that night when she held Shadow in her grasp… She made a choice and I could only hope and pray that choice would still be valid when she one day would face her mother’s killer.
I didn’t want Helena to know what it was like: living with the knowledge of what it was like to take someone’s life. It would be a burden and for some it was a burden that was too heavy to bear. It became the extra weight in the scales – that defining moment when everything changed and the road that was sprinkled with starlight would lead only to shadows and darkness.
Boyd had asked me if I knew what it was like – killing someone. He doubted it was likely, but he didn’t know me very well. I did, once – killed.
Bruce never killed and I think that was part of the reason why he had to leave after Selena’s death: he wanted to, too much. He probably knew that if he did kill he would cross the line forever – not only once – and in the end become… what he fought. Like Darkstrike.
Darkstrike killed the man killing his girlfriend and even though his outer self was the same hero striving to do what was right something twisted within him, turning him… Guilt and hatred turned him into a killer and there was no saving him. When he realized what he’d become he took his own life.
Death only begot more death. I ought to know.
Helena visited me only once at the hospital and seeing her so uncomfortable in the surroundings I forgave her for it. She promised me she would wait at home for me when I was released.
“I don’t like hospitals”, she told me, which was plain to see. “It reminds me of… death.”
Her mother’s death, probably.
Wade hardly left my side, but for some strange reason he missed Helena those minutes she was there. I wasn’t sure what I should feel about that – one part of me was relieved, as another part of me (Batgirl, most likely) was disappointed. I had wanted to compare them. Which was a ridiculous idea in the first place, but as Wade held my hand and anxiously cared for me I found myself thinking more and more of Helena; the way I had rested my head in her lap, the unexpected gentleness in her eyes and in her touch… Her raw voice as she whispered my name before I drifted off towards darkness. I didn’t even know I had picked up on that – only remembering it when I looked into her eyes again at the hospital. She had been standing in the door watching me. I had pretended I didn’t notice her, until Dinah showed up behind her and went straight to my bed. Then I looked up and held her gaze. She was plainly uncomfortable, but also looked very young and vulnerable. Despite that she smiled at me and tried to hide her own discomfiture. It was then I remembered my head in her lap and her words.
You’re safe with me. Barbara… The last word – my name – had hardly been audible, but the gentleness, the pain, the need in her voice… It had all affected me and stayed with me and that was what I was thinking about when Wade fussed about me: her eyes and her voice whispering my name.
They let her home after two days. Amazingly enough she didn’t have any broken ribs or fractured bones, although the injuries were quite extensive as they were. Or maybe it looked worse than it was.
When I arrived with Dick at the warehouse and found her, tied to that chair and bleeding… I almost lost it. All I could think about was my last words to her and I knew that if she’d been dead I would never have forgiven myself. My need to beat this guy Boyd into a bloody pulp was overwhelming, but Dick managed to get through to me, telling me Barbara needed me. As he kept an eye on Boyd I released Barbara from the chair, at the same time as the police arrived.
What happened then was still fuzzy those days after Barbara’s return home. The police stormed the building, pointing their guns at everyone as was their habit. Dick wasn’t Nightwing at the time and being only Dick Grayson – lawyer – he had to put his hands in the air. This gave Boyd and opportunity to escape. He wouldn’t have gotten far, unarmed as he was, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I saw an arm from a ledge far up near the ceiling pointing a gun at him. I shouted a warning – to Boyd? I didn’t know; to anyone – but it was too late. Boyd was shot right between the eyes and died instantly.
I had forgotten all about him as Barbara in that same moment opened her eyes, looking at me. Don’t leave me, I wanted to say, but couldn’t find my voice.
“You came back”, she said and I wanted to cry.
“I’m sorry”, I said. I needed to say it – nothing else in the whole world mattered more in that split second.
“Me too”, she said and I knew I was forgiven.
She returned home on a Friday. We had arranged a small party for her in her house beside the Clocktower – there were loads of people wanting to greet her. Dick and Dinah had asked if she felt up to it and even though we all suspected she was quite tired of the media by now and of strangers she agreed to it. Her house was filled with flowers and gifts from everywhere: from companies and private persons wanting to wish her luck and show their sympathy.
Barbara patiently answered the questions from the press. She took time opening gifts and expressing genuine gratitude at them in live television. She just amazed me, how she was up for it while it was still plainly visible to everyone what she’d been through. Her face was bruised and she wore a patch covering her left eye. She’d been forced to take a few stitches at her lip – it would turn into a tiny scar. And the way her face looked like I didn’t want to imagine what her body must look like. That smooth skin, soft and shiny – covering muscles no one could imagine she had just by looking at her… The thought caught me and I blushed. Was I actually imagining another woman’s body?
“People just love her, don’t they?” Dinah said as a tiny, older woman carefully stepped up to Barbara with tears in her eyes and kissed her on the cheek. I could see Barbara was moved by the gesture; she embraced the old woman and smiled warmly at her when she left.
I nodded. There were no words to describe what I felt. Yes – she annoyed the hell out of me sometimes; she was in constant control and she had as many personalities as any psychotic I knew of, but there was this thing about her... She loved life and she loved people – and somehow she managed to make people believe in what she believed in and to make them fight to make their dreams come through.
“Enough, good people – enough”, Dick said, raising his arms in the middle of the large room. “Our heroine needs her rest.”
No one grunted or objected, not even the press – they all went their way on his firm, but friendly command. Only Wade stayed at Barbara’s side where she was sitting in an armchair in the middle of the saloon – crowded with flowers and gift-wrappings. This was the first time I met Wade in Barbara’s company. He seemed nice enough towards her, but I still had a hard time seeing her married to him.
Barbara kept watching Wade and me as we interacted and her steady, sharp look made me so uncomfortable I finally begun avoiding him. I couldn’t blame her for keeping an eye at us; after our last, harsh conversation I could have told Wade anything. Not that I would, but I didn’t blame her for maybe thinking it.
“You go ahead”, I heard Barbara say to Wade. “Dinah and Dick will take good care of me now.”
“Are you sure? You know I’ll stay…”
“I know.” She kissed him softly and I averted my eyes from them. “I know you would”, she said. “But not tonight. You’ve been great support, Wade, but tonight I need… to rest.”
I suddenly felt sorry for the guy and glanced at his disappointed expression. Fight, then, I thought almost annoyed as he nodded. Tell her you’ll stay, you moron. That’s what she really needs you to do if you were just… My thoughts died away in a grumble.
“See you tomorrow then. I love you, Barbara.”
“Me too.” She kissed him again, lighter this time and I let my eyes linger at them. Her lips touched his in a soft way that fascinated me. I felt a momentarily pang of astonishment as I briefly wondered what it would be like to be kissed by her.
Odd thought, I reflected and let my eyes linger as the kiss ended. Then Dick stepped forward and I averted my eyes, looking around the room.
Dick followed Wade out as Dinah pulled the curtains and tried to make some order amongst the mess in the room. Barbara leaned back in the chair, closing her eyes. I thought she rested, so when Dick returned and I heard her words and the tone of her voice it startled me.
“Any news of the second guy?”
Dinah sat down at her feet, in the middle of a pile of wrappings.
Dick shook his head, staying in the doorway. I knew Alfred was about somewhere, probably in the kitchen cleaning up. “Not a thing. You have any idea who he was?”
“No, nothing. He reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t place him.”
Dick leaned on the vault and I stepped closer, needing to be part of the conversation. Neither Dick nor Dinah had asked why I had left the intercom behind nor blamed me for not being in reach, but I felt partly responsible for what had happened to Barbara, even though the thought was absurd. The official version of Boyd’s death was that he died while being captured, trying to escape. There was no official version of a second helper at the kidnapping.
“We know he is a good shot”, I said. “The shot that killed Boyd came from a great distance and still it hit him straight in the forehead. A master blow.” I frowned. “And why was that place empty? What’s the use of guarding an empty ground with killer-robots?”
“And where are the robots?” Dinah added.
“It isn’t.” Barbara looked at me, answering my question. “I suspect it was emptied after our little rendezvous the other night.” She glanced at Dinah. “The robots included.”
“What do you think went on there?” Dinah asked with a frown.
“Nothing… everything”, Barbara said vaguely. “It could have been a lab. It was big enough for it. Remember – what was stolen at Cobra Enterprise might not have been robots, but only parts needing to be put together.”
“You know anything?” Dick asked with narrowed eyes as he looked at her. She hesitated.
“I talked to someone who gave me some inside information – I will know more in a few days. I would guess the parts were brought to the warehouse and put together there, and that’s why the robots turned up when Helena wanted to take a closer look.”
Dick nodded, but I wasn’t satisfied.
“And the ninjas?” I asked. “They could have been… created – born” – what was the right term for someone cloned? – “there?”
“Possibly”, she said, but she didn’t seem convinced.
“But Boyd had nothing to do with the attack at Arkam?”
“No – he told me he didn’t and he had no reason to lie. This other guy, though…” Barbara shook her head. “Cobra Enterprise is practically mine now, which will give me an extensive influence in B&B Industrial. This, in turn, gives me an insight to Blackbird Cooperation.”
“So? What difference does it make?” I asked, frowning, again confused about her business-talk.
“These companies are extremely careful”, Dick explained. “They create policies and laws preventing anyone with no authority from ‘digging into’ information about them. Any information. People like Boyd would kill anyone spying on his company. Extensive influence, through shares mostly, opens doors previously closed to us. We’ll get more information through different sources than before, added to the information we already have…” He made a slight gesture with one of his hands. “More pieces to the jigsaw…”
“Right”, I said. “What can I do?”
“If we can’t get to the core one way, we’ll try another”, Barbara said and looked at me. “Ask around town. You got connections and know how to get information. Remember – I have a hunch this guy is meta. He probably won’t hang around No Man’s Land, but maybe someone knows something about him.”
“You think this second guy who… attended your kidnapping is the one that runs Blackbird what-ever?”
“Cooperation.” Barbara nodded. “I’m sure of it.”
“Right – so, hypothetically, what can we expect from him?”
Barbara seemed to hesitate. She averted her eyes for a brief moment and then looked up, thoughtfully saying: “He would let Boyd do all the hard work. I would expect him to control Boyd somehow without Boyd knowing it. Boyd would be the one in the spotlight – the front-figure everyone would assume was the leader. This would indicate our mystery-guy has an ulterior motive.”
“How do you mean?” Dinah asked. I was glad she did – I felt stupid having to ask all the questions.
“Boyd was the archetype of an ordinary bad-guy. He wanted power, fame, wealth… In the end he would have wanted to control the whole of Gotham. That was his ultimate goal. Our mystery guy also wants to control Gotham, but if it was his main goal he would have begun his advances already, maybe by running in the election to become mayor. And – most importantly – he would never have left a man like Boyd in such a central position. Boyd was the one with the power over Gothams Underworld. That was the way Boyd would have ruled – by controlling the criminals of this town. If our mystery man wanted to rule Gotham that way he would have been the one taking control over the criminals.”
“It doesn’t make sense”, Dick said.
“Oh, yes it does”, Barbara sighed. “See? His main goal – what drives him and makes him do all of this – is not to control the Underworld, or Gotham’s business-world. There’re two things here. The first is that what drives him is revenge… He’s planned this for years. First he will have his revenge, before he does anything else… Second…” She hesitated. “Maybe it’s part of his plan for revenge, I don’t know, but I suspect the second part is he either means to destroy the whole of Gotham, or part of Gotham’s population.”
I blinked. “Part of? Which part?”
“I don’t know. Either the meta-human part or the human part…” Barbara sighed and then shrugged. “Whatever part – it won’t make us very happy.”
“Granted”, I grumbled. I eyed her closely. “You seem to know a whole lot about this guy for not knowing who he is?”
She shrugged again. “Not really. Dick and me have just been around a long time. We’ve met more of these psychotic creeps than you and Dinah have years together. No offense”, she added, looking at us. Dinah shook her head and I shrugged non-committally.
“There’s this strange thing about it, though”, I said, thoughtfully frowning. “With this guy, I mean. He could have shot you, couldn’t he? Why didn’t he?”
It was then, only for the briefest, briefest moment, I noticed something in her eyes. Something shifted and for this tiniest second I saw that she was hiding something. The revelation hit me like a blow. She knows him. She knows who he is!
Then it was gone and her face and her eyes hid the truth as thoroughly as before. I would never have guessed the truth if I hadn’t seen that hint of something in her eyes – a reflection of something unknown to me. She was truly an amazing actress. I studied her closer, immediately wanting to confront her about it, but then I thought better of it. Maybe she had a good reason not to tell the truth. Besides, it was only that split second giving me any indication that she was lying. I could be wrong. Thinking it I knew I wasn’t, but I realized I trusted Barbara to know what she was doing. It was an odd experience for me.
“I don’t know”, she said, frowning and looking as bewildered as Dick. I was sure her confused expression was genuine. “Maybe he got distracted by the police.”
“Who knows what psychotics are up to?” Dinah said, and then added, with a grimace: “Who would want to, by the way?”
“Well, it would be handy knowing”, I pointed out. “To know how to stop them.”
“Sure.” Dinah looked at me and came to think about something. “Gibson will help you. Find info, I mean. I’ve talked to him. He’s enraged at the kidnapping…”
“He is?” Barbara said surprised.
Dinah grinned at her. “A lot of the guests at the bar were really upset. Apparently you’re more well-liked than you know amongst meta-humans. Barbara Gordon has fans.”
“Odd thought”, she said with a still surprised expression that made me smile.
“Good night, Barbara”, Dinah said gently and moved to kiss her cheek. I noticed the loving caress Barbara gave her across her hair and felt a momentarily stab of jealousy in my heart. The two of them shared so much – they held such a love between them that nothing would come between them. The trust, the intimacy, the care. I wasn’t part of it.
The three of them, I thought, correcting myself when Dick held Barbara close for a second and pressed his lips against her hair. He whispered something to her I couldn’t hear and she nodded before giving him a soft smile.
“Good night”, she said as they left.
We sat in comfortable silence for awhile, before she extended a hand towards me. I hesitated, not sure what was expected of me, but then I rose and went to her. I took her hand in mine and sat down beside her chair. Her fingers squeezed mine with a gentle touch.
“I haven’t thanked you enough for what you did”, she said, looking at me.
“I run”, I said, feeling ashamed. “That’s what I did.”
“It was just as much my fault as yours”, she said, blaming us both and at the same time putting the blame on no one. I didn’t know what to say. Her hand was soft in mine; I liked the feeling. “You came back – that’s what matters.”
“I… It was the right thing to do”, I said. She gave me a wry smile.
“And here I was thinking you cared about me”, she teased bemusedly. I blushed and she laughed. She squeezed my hand once more before letting go. I found I wished she hadn’t let go.
“How can you know so much about this guy?” I asked cautiously. “You know – the one that shot Boyd?”
She averted her eyes, looking out the windows at the lights from the walls and the ceiling reflecting itself in the glass not covered by the curtains. She didn’t answer immediately and for once I didn’t want to push things; I gave her time. “I might know him”, she finally said and I felt a tiny shiver down my spine.
“How?” I asked carefully. She looked down in her lap, fidgeting with a pale pink strap from one of her last gifts.
“It’s someone from my past. I… find it difficult to talk about.”
She looked up and caught my gaze. “If… When I know more I promise I will tell you.”
“Sure”, I said. “Thanks”, I added belatedly. “Um, for sharing… I mean.”
She smiled amused at me and her look was a strange mix of tenderness and amusement, which made me feel oddly shy in her presence. “You’re welcome.”
“Um… I should get going”, I mumbled and rose.
“Are you okay?” she asked softly and with my back towards her I closed my eyes. There was so much kindness and understanding in her voice it made my heart break. No one had asked me that, even after my mother’s death. I had pushed away everyone I knew to be my friends and no one had dared making an effort to break down the steel walls I surrounded myself with. There were few people who could face me when I was lost in full wrath and my moody behavior hadn’t made anything easier.
I hadn’t been okay since my mother died. I hadn’t cried once – even at her funeral. My tears had frozen to something else within me – a hard, sharp pain in my chest, ever constant. But now, hearing the tenderness in Barbara’s voice, knowing there would be the same softness in her eyes if I looked at her, I felt something melt away. I had almost lost her too. I hardly knew her and I couldn’t understand this sense of… kinship with this woman, and yet I would be willing to give my life for her on the spot. Feeling this way scared the hell out of me, not because of the strangeness of it – somehow it all felt very natural to me – but because I had sworn not to let anyone in to my life after my mother’s death. I had sworn not to live through that pain again of losing the ones I love. And here comes this… puzzling woman and just swings open the doors to my guarded self.
“Helena?” she said gently as I didn’t answer and I heard her rise behind me. I couldn’t move. It wasn’t until she put a careful hand at my shoulder I realized I was shaking. “Hush”, she said softly and turned me towards her. She held me close and I felt her tender touch caressing me. “Hush now, just let it out. It’s about time, I reckon.”
I put my arms around her and finally gave in, sobbing like a child in her arms.
“You haven’t cried since she died, have you?” she asked gently in my ear and I shook my head even though she didn’t really expect an answer. She knew already. “I know”, she mumbled, holding me tight. “I know what that’s like. But you must cry – otherwise something will die inside you every time you don’t…”
I should be comforting her, I thought. She was the one almost dying, but she held me firmly and the softness of her – the tenderness she showed me, and the kindness – was too much for me. I was like a child again, missing my mother.
I cried for a long time and she held me through it all, sitting with me on the floor in front of the armchair in a mess of gift-wrappings. She stroked my hair and caressed my cheeks, drying tears from my fevered skin with cool and gentle fingers. And then finally, sometime in the middle of the night, I fell asleep with my head in her lap, feeling safe – knowing I finally had found a place to call home, again.
Two weeks went by and Barbara’s bruises and injuries healed. The media lost interest in the kidnapping-history as everything went back to normal (although Laura’s Diner got a substantial increase in curious customers and earned as much in those two weeks as she previously had in two months – she was ashamed of taking profit of someone else’s pain, though, and donated everything to charity). Cobra Enterprise was bought by Gordon Technologies and assimilated in Barbara’s concern. She tried explaining things to me about the business, but I wasn’t remotely interested and she lost me at industrial democracy and the advantages of being an enterprising spirit when dealing with business economics if you’re an executive in a large firm.
“Huh – what?” I said with a yawn and she laughed, not the least insulted. That was part of what I liked about hanging around her – she seldom took things personally and was able to laugh at her own shortcomings. She taught me how to laugh at myself as well, when she teased me about my moody look or my bad morning temper – or any other thing she could come up with. I enjoyed her company and I enjoyed getting to know her. She could seem to be a happy person, but beneath the laughter I learned there was a solemn side to her. She seemed to enjoy life as only those do who know what it’s like to lose it. Laughter that was never shallow, but always mixed with a certain depth; calm that was neither dull nor passive, but vibrant and always alert; looks and smiles that hid more than the first impression suggested.
I felt like a child being around her, but she treated me like a woman – like an equal. As Batgirl and Huntress we had fun together, but we might as well stay up a whole night caught in a serious discussion when being ourselves.
The night when I cried in her arms had changed me. When I woke up in the morning I was a different person – less angry, less hurt and with a different purpose in life. I didn’t think about my mother’s death or her killer in two weeks. Being with Barbara was enough for me.
Gotham – both the older town and the newer parts – was almost unnatural quite after Barbara’s rescue and Boyd’s death. The more high-ranking criminals seemed to keep a low profile and the lower thugs seemed to be more careful than usual. We all suspected it had something to do with the mysterious guy shooting Boyd, but there were no signs of him anywhere.
At least – that was what I thought until I late one night returned to the Clocktower by way of the window-ledge that I had used at my first visit to the place. The kitchen was dark as I stepped in, but a soft light lit the lower parts of the open area where Nightwing and Barbara stood talking in front of Delphi. I leaned on the railing and was about to greet them when I heard his upset voice.
“You can’t tell her!” Nightwing said and I stepped back, hiding in the shadows. My first reaction was to leave again, but something made me linger and I heard Barbara calmly say:
“I must. I’m going to.”
“There’s no telling what she’ll do! Oracle…”
“I trust her”, Barbara stated, still in a low, precise voice. As usual she wasn’t raising to the bait.
“You can’t trust her. She’s unpredictable. She doesn’t care about what we do. You know the only reason she’s here is because she can get what you can give her…”
“No”, Barbara shook her head. “Maybe that was true before, but not now…”
Nightwing threw out his arms. “You trust her too much in this!”
“If I lie to her I will lose her, Dick”, Barbara said, with a slight note of pain I didn’t understand. “Don’t you see?”
Nightwing shook his head. “You might lose her anyway. She’s not like Dinah – there’s darkness in her.”
Barbara didn’t say anything at first and when she spoke it was so soft I barely heard her.
“There’s darkness within us all, Dick.”
I noticed Nightwing flinch and wondered about it. He stiffened and stared at Barbara. “I’m sorry, Barbara”, he finally said, with deep pain. “I… didn’t mean it that way.”
“I know”, she said, gently, but then sighed and shook her head. “I have to do this, Dick. She is not a child, after all.”
“No”, she said in a voice I recognized that would forestall any objections. I’d never doubted who was the leader of this pack, even if they seemed equals. I fleetingly wondered what had made it so. “I’ve made up my mind. I’ll…”
Barbara abruptly silenced and I got this eerie feeling she suddenly knew I was hiding in the shadows, listening. I quickly moved away and went out the window. Whatever their disagreement was about she would tell me later. I had a feeling I knew what it involved.
I made an extra sweep around town before returning to the Clocktower. This time Barbara was alone in the kitchen, no doubt waiting for me.
“Hi”, I said as I walked in and leaned against the counter. She was sitting at the table with some kind of map in front of her. When she noticed me she folded it and put it aside.
“Hi”, she said, looking at me.
“What?” I said, glancing down at my clothes. “Something wrong with my outfit? A bird shit on me, or something?”
She shook her head with a quiet smile. “I’m just glad you’re with us”, she said, surprising me. I looked up and shrugged.
“Well, yeah – me too.” I nodded at the map. “What’s that?”
She glanced at the map. “Nothing much”, she said absent-minded. She was silent for a moment, but then seemed to make up her mind. “I’ve found him”, she said and I stiffened, straightening my back.
“The Blackbird-guy”, she said, looking at me, and I felt my heart contract in disappointment.
“He is a meta-human… kind of.”
I frowned. “Kind of?”
“Mmm. Remember the warehouse I figured he used as a lab? It turns out he was experimenting with transferring meta-human abilities to normal people. So – not only did he somehow manage to create a whole army of clones, or killer-robots by parts he bought from Boyd’s company, he also stole a certain meta-human’s power.”
“His name is not important – his ability is. This particular meta-human had the ability to absorb another meta-humans ability when close to them. The disadvantage for him was that he got a splitting headache as a secondary effect. He became psychotic as a teenager and was institutionalized at Arkam Asylum years ago, where they held him completely isolated from people. He never committed any crime, he just didn’t have a family and they didn’t know what to do with him and… You know – Arkam’s the place where they put everything they don’t understand. So… the interesting thing is that almost a year ago he had a visitor, claiming to be his brother. This alleged brother was allowed to take him from Arkam to care for him.”
“And let me guess? No one ever seen him again?”
“Oh – he was seen. Dead, more like it – by suicide. The grieving brother apparently blamed himself for taking him from Arkam, which he stated in a lengthy, apologetic letter to the head of Arkam Asylum. The meta-human was buried and that was the end of the story.”
“Who was the brother?” I asked.
“A fascinating Mr. Michael Boyd, according to the head of Arkam”, Barbara stated flatly and I blinked. She nodded at my look. “Right. A dead end – you might think.”
“Apparently not”, I said dryly. “I don’t follow”, I added with a frown. “How do you know all of this?”
“Research”, she said.
I shook my head. “But… All of a sudden?”
“No, it’s been building up… Some pieces here, some pieces there…”
I thought about it. “You knew about this even before I met you, didn’t you? You’ve kept it all a secret, not even from me, but from…” I suddenly understood Nightwings agitation – he wasn’t only upset about what ever he thought she was going to tell me, but about the fact that she had kept secrets from him. And lied about it.
“I did. I’m not proud of it, but I deemed it necessary.” She sighed, pulling a hand through her hair. “Dick’s upset with me, as would be expected.”
“Why?” I asked. “Why did you keep it a secret?”
She shook her head, suddenly looking weary. “I suspected it was him already from the beginning. His name is Patch Parker – or Patchy.”
“Patchwork Consultation”, I mumbled and she arched an eyebrow at me.
“You remember? Yes” – she nodded – “that’s him. He’s like the spider in a web – you never see him, but he pulls the strings, controlling everything. Years ago he hired a man – professor Romanek – to create a way to transfer meta-human abilities to ordinary people. It seems they finally succeeded.”
“So, this Patchy now has the ability to absorb the powers of meta-humans in his surroundings? But wouldn’t he get the headaches as well?”
“To begin with he did, but they managed to work around that. Patchy is an extremely dangerous man in himself, but with this ability… He’s deadly to anyone, Helena. Even to you.”
I nodded, realizing that.
“He is, also, quite insane.”
“Go figure”, I muttered. “Are there never any perfectly healthy serial-killers around?” I met Barbara’s gaze. “You’ve known about this meta-human transfer thing for quite awhile, haven’t you? That’s why you’ve been so adamant he was a meta-human?”
“Yes. Two months ago professor Romanek was found dead. Only three days before he had sent me an e-mail telling me what was going on…”
“You – as in…? Who?” I asked.
“Barbara Gordon, head of Gordon Technologies. Professor Romanek wanted to share his invention, but he didn’t want it to get in the wrong hands, as he realized it obviously already had. He didn’t give me any details and didn’t mention any location about where he was based. I e-mailed him back, but he never replied. When they found him dead I suspected Patchy caught him at contacting me, held him captive a few days to refine the experiment – or just for the fun of it – and then got rid of him.”
“So – we have a full-blown psychotic on the loose. With ninja-people and killer robots… And I thought we were in for a holiday.” I grinned at her, but she didn’t even smile back.
“I don’t think we have to worry about the ninjas. Another source has informed me they all died that night at the break in at Arkam…”
Another source? What the heck…? “…” Before I had time to say anything she went on:
“The cloning was successful for a short period, but the archetypes collapsed after a specific period…”
“The clones – the ones we met. Apparently Patchy created them only for this one purpose. If he really thought he could release whole of Arkam’s criminals is questionable. I think he thought it worth a shot, but…”
“But, what?” I didn’t like the sound of her but.
“But I think he was quite specific about which prisoner to escape.”
“Clayface”, I said immediately and she nodded.
“Yes – he had a purpose with that. You’ve got to be careful, Helena. I think Clayface is meant to kill you, and with his ability…”
“Shapeshifter, I know.” I nodded. “But why do you think he’d come for me?”
“He’s tried to take your mother down once and besides… You’re making a name for yourself. I don’t doubt Patchy has his own plans for you.”
“Let him come. I’ll kick his sorry ass.”
“Be careful, that’s all”, she said with a worried frown and I nodded, giving her my serious look.
“Don’t worry, I will. So”, I added, looking at her. “Do we know where this Patchy-thing hangs around?”
“I do”, she said, holding my gaze and I blinked, not quite expecting that answer.
“You do? How…? Never mind. What are we doing here, then?”
She hesitated. “Helena – there’s something you need to know.”
I felt a chill along my back, hearing her speak my name like that – seeing that look in her eyes. And I knew before she said anything what she was going to say.
“Patch Parker is the one that killed your mother.”
Time seemed to shift slightly as I held her gaze. I saw my mother’s bleeding body, heard the soft laughter behind me but couldn’t see anything outside the windows. Darkness – and the red of my mother’s blood. Her blood was everywhere – on my hands, on my clothes – and I couldn’t stop it. Pain and fear.
Pain turned to anger and fear to hatred.
“Where?” I snarled, moving towards the woman at the table. “Where is he?”
“I won’t tell you, Helena”, she said, holding my gaze even though my eyes had changed in anger.
“Tell me!” I demanded bitingly.
“Not like this. We’ll do it like a team. I’m not having you go crusading like a lone ranger…”
I stopped, staring at her with hatred. She seemed unruffled and I grind my teeth, knowing she wouldn’t give in. Without another word I turned around and left her.
I watched her leave. What else could I do? I knew what rage claimed her – recognized it when I saw it plainly in her eyes and in her face – and I knew she wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say.
Sighing I reclaimed the map and studied it, planning for the next night. I had discussed the plan with Nightwing right before Helena returned. He would prefer to leave her out of it and maybe I should, but we needed her. I just had to trust that the good in her was enough to keep her from committing a crime and turning to the wrong side of the law.
I suppressed the thoughts of Helena, focusing on the map. I had managed to find Patchy’s headquarter by painstakingly tailing Boyd’s previous right hand: an ugly, short guy called Reeves – also known as Shadow. Patchy had placed Shadow with Boyd to keep an eye on him. Boyd never suspected anything. It was Boyd – not Patchy – who had tried to make contact with Helena, but it had been following Patchy’s suggestion, as put to Boyd by Reeves. Boyd had imagined himself New Gotham’s super-villain, without realizing his every step had been directed by Patchy – even the abduction of me. Although I imagined even Patchy had hoped to see Boyd beat me to death. He – at least – had a valid reason to want me dead. I didn’t think it had been his intention to let me go.
I sighed, leaning back in the chair and stared blindly ahead of me. Life – what it does to us… I thought and wondered if my actions seven years ago would have made any difference to what had taken place these last months. I knew it was no use speculating in what could have happened, but sometimes I wondered what my life would have been like if that bullet that was meant for me actually had hit me. Would I have died – or would I have survived? And if I survived – would it have changed me? What kind of person would I have become? What life would I be living?
Helena, I thought, closing my eyes. I quietly wondered what would have happened with Helena if her mother had died at Clayface’s hands that time.
“Stop it”, I told my self, annoyed. Focus. Still, Helena’s eyes came before me. Her smile and the way she moved… For some reason I still compared her with Wade. I frowned. My relationship with Wade had been lacking since Helena came into my life. The quality time I used to spend with Wade I was spending with Helena instead and I found her company more… appealing. There was something about her that made my heart race and made me feel more alive than I had in such a long time. She reminded me about…
I cut the thought and leaned forward to study the map. Dinah was essential to our plan. She would carry the largest burden in this and I wasn’t happy about it, but her abilities were crucial to the scheme. I knew from the report of the missing parts at Cobra Enterprise there was only those sixteen robots. Patchy could have gotten spare-parts from other places, but I doubted it. Sixteen robots, Shadow, a handful other meta-humans and ten or twenty other thugs – those were our odds. As he worked in the shadows Patchy hadn’t really formed a large communion of criminals. The organized crime-syndicate had in reality belonged to Boyd and as Boyd was dead the criminals were busy with internal struggles to find a competent leader. Patchy wouldn’t step up – he was too insanely set on getting his revenge. That was our advantage. The past two weeks he had done a couple of mistakes that led me to believe he was growing impatient and that was the sign I had been waiting for. I had suspected where his headquarter was based for several months, but I hadn’t been sure he was the one I was looking for. I hadn’t been sure he was the one killing Helena’s mother – or that he was the one I had been waiting for the past seven years. One mistake and I would have blown it – so I had to wait. I had to be absolutely certain – and then strike, with full force.
Barbara’s plan worked perfectly.
Batgirl had given the police information about a crime-syndicate having their headquarter in an empty building at Gotham’s harbor, close to the swamps. The police arrived in boats along the river and in jeeps from the uneven and overgrown roads leading to the place. I had expected a long, low warehouse, but the building was almost four stories high – made of steel and concrete, looking quite rough and abandoned. The area was well hidden behind thickets and trees, but the police had it surrounded before anyone managed to escape and flashed their lights at the building. Broken windows gaped like toothless mouths at them.
This was Patchy’s headquarter, according to Barbara. I hadn’t asked her how she knew – she had her ways and the only thing that mattered to me was that I would be present when Patchy went down. I wanted my hands around his neck, strangling him slowly.
“Do you see him?” I asked Dinah over the intercom. Barbara had given me my own set of communications – earrings and a black necklace.
“Not yet”, the girl answered and I looked impatiently around the dark, secluded area where we were waiting.
The night before, when Barbara had told me about Patchy, I left and went to my own apartment. I had renovated it; painted the walls, laid new floor. It looked like a new, fresh place, and the few times when I was there I really enjoyed it, but that night I was caught in the mad pain of a year ago – seeing my mother killed. I spend the rest of the night cursing Barbara and when I fell asleep I slept fitfully, dreaming about murders.
In midday I returned to the Clocktower, where the three of them were gathered – even though it was a weekday. Barbara seemed to be waiting for me, but she didn’t say anything about our last conversation. It had turned out her plans were to be executed that same day already.
Nightwing and I hid in the shadows close to the building, expecting a fight as soon as the police flashed their lights, but at first nothing happened. Dinah was placed on the other side of the building, together with Batgirl.
Then – just like that day at Arkam more than two weeks ago – all hell broke lose.
The killer-robots had been our greatest threat, but Dinah and Batgirl was on to them. I noticed Dinah lifting two of them straight in the air and throw them in the river. Another two followed suit, before she directed her mental energy at lifting them and throwing them at each other. The impact caused explosions that made the ground tremble and the building to shake. Oracle had also constructed some kind of gadgets that when stuck to the robots they would neutralize their electronic systems and discharge their batteries, which would cause power failure in their neural circuits. Or – as Barbara put it when I asked what her techno-babble meant: “Your killer-robots will cease to function.”
Afterwards I couldn’t remember even one of the robots having a chance to fire their lasers.
While Dinah and Batgirl kept busy with the robots Nightwing and I engaged in fights with the law-breakers. They were surprisingly few, but Barbara had almost insured us they would be. She had devised some more powerful gadgets that would work with the different kind of meta-humans we might run into: some kind of light-ray to be used at Shadow, a greenish powder to use at the water-guy and so on. For the ordinary men she asked us to use a small baton, no larger than the palm of a man’s hand.
“It will sedate them”, she had explained while still at the Clocktower, showing us the electrical impulse used to somehow effect the brain and put the victim to sleep. “It will save time and effort. It might work at meta-humans as well”, she added. “But probably not with someone turning into something other than flesh.”
When the robots and the thugs were put out Nightwing and I entered the building to look for Patchy, while the police cleaned up on the outside. Some of them followed us in, unaware we were even there. Dinah stood guard on the outside, keeping an eye and all her senses on the surroundings. I didn’t know where Batgirl was.
Suddenly the police radio buzzed and the police pulled back. “Cleared”, the inspector in charge said and waved towards his men. I doubted his words as neither of them had even caught a glimpse of Nightwing or me.
“There’s someone here!” a policeman suddenly yelled from the outside and the group moved away.
“Dinah!” I hissed in the darkness.
“It’s not him…” I heard Dinah’s voice in my ear. “I noticed something on the roof.”
Nightwing and I hurried through the dark, damp building. If this was a headquarter it must have some secret chambers somewhere. All I could see was rotten wood and decaying concrete.
“Listen.” Nightwing stopped me and we listened together in the dark, three floors above ground.
“Someone’s in a fight…” I said and felt a cold hand squeeze my heart.
“Barbara…” Nightwing whispered, with all the pain of someone who knows what it’s like to love and lose it all.
“Damn her!” I swore and sprinted ahead of him. If she fought my fight I’d… I’d fucking kill her!
“Huntress!” Nightwing called after me, hurrying behind me.
“She has no right!” I yelled at him. “She has no right to take this from me!”
I reached the roof and found the two of them locked in combat. She seemed to have the advantage, leaning above a slight, young man with long, blond hair. He seemed even younger than me, I had time to notice with a start before I hurled myself towards them.
“Huntress – no!” Nightwing called behind me and too late I realized what I had done. It was dark, but the lights from the police’s spotlights still shone around the building, casting a ghostlike fog around the rooftop. The young man – I presumed it was Patchy – laughed and straightened his back as I rushed forward.
“Kit-cat to the rescue!” he said with this inanely, cackling laughter that I recognized from the shadows the night my mother died, and grabbed Batgirl at the collar. With a thin smile he lifted her straight in the air. He was absorbing my powers – my pure presence gave him the strength to do what he did. “Bye, bye – batie. Fly high, fly low…” He grinned and threw Barbara over the edge.
“No!” I screamed and stopped, but I was as surprised as Patchy as Batgirl used one of her gadgets to prevent the fall – a long wire with a hook kept her to the wall. Patchy tilted his head to one side and looked down at her with shining eyes.
“Eye for an eye for an eye”, he said and stepped forward.
“You bastard!” I screamed and threw myself at him.
“Huntress!” Nightwing yelled and hurled himself at me, but he was too late. I collided with Patchy and we fell to the floor. As he had my powers we came to our feet at the same time, crouching low to regard each other with changed eyes. It felt strange seeing my own cat-eyes staring back at me. He smiled.
“Kit-cat… Poor, poor kit-cat… Lost without big mama-cat.”
“Murderer”, I hissed, again hurling myself at him. He didn’t dodge my blow, but met me and the collision made us roll around on the damp concrete. We separated and exchanged blows. Even after a few minutes fight with him I realized I wouldn’t be able to defeat him like this – he was too strong. He fed on my power.
Dinah, I thought, suddenly afraid, but then I realized Dinah wouldn’t come near Patchy. Barbara would have warned her about that. So – why did she not remind me about his powers? Did she think I would remember and take responsibility? Or did she realize I wouldn’t listen to her?
“Huntress!” Batgirl called, hurling something towards me. “Use this.”
I caught the black cloth she threw me and unwrapped it. It contained one of her batons. I quickly glanced at her and she nodded. At the same time Patchy pulled a gun at me.
“No cheating, kitty-kitty cat… Give me, give me…” He held the gun pointed at me, but reached slightly forward to get the mini-baton.
“You killed my mother”, I said heatedly. He grinned insanely at me.
“I did. Killed her, killed her, killed… Bang! Dead...” He shook his gun. “This gun… saved as memory. This gun… killed my mother.”
I didn’t fucking care about his mother. With one blow I hit him in the face when he averted his eyes from me for a second, looking at something by my side. I grabbed the gun and pointed it to his head, cocking it as I dropped the baton to the floor behind me. “You are dead!” I snarled. I was just about to press the trigger when Batgirl stepped up at my side. She didn’t touch me, but her voice was too sharp and authoritative to be ignored.
“I’m going to kill him, Batgirl”, I hissed. “You can’t stop me.”
“I will try. Will you fight me over this?”
“You will lose”, I said angrily, never taking my eyes off Patchy, who looked at us with crazed amusement and shiny cat-eyes.
“Maybe”, she said calmly. “Maybe not, but that’s not the point.”
“Fuck! Do you think he deserves to live?”
“That’s not the point either”, she said with a gentleness I couldn’t grasp in that moment. “The point is what it makes you, killing him. We don’t kill, Huntress. No matter what.”
“You mean – you don’t kill?” I snarled. “You… goody-goody. You don’t fucking know what it’s like! You can never understand!”
I pulled Patchy closer to me, looking him in the eye and pressing the steel of the gun hard into his skin. He smiled and his eyes shone. I hated him. I wanted to see fear, but there was nothing there – only a dark void.
“Shut up!” I yelled at her. “Shut the fuck up!”
“You can hate me if you want, but I’m not going to let you do this. This isn’t you…”
“You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am.”
“Yes”, she said softly and I closed my eyes. “I do know.”
“Kit-cat, Kit-cat, kitty-kitty cat…” Patchy sang and rolled his eyes. “Mummy dead and gone…”
“Fuck!” I mumbled, wanting to press the trigger. I opened my eyes.
“You are fun and gentle”, Batgirl said, never taking her eyes off me. “You love cherries and chocolate ice-cream… and strawberries with melted fudge, for some reason… Your morning temper is awful, but you look adorable in your Snoopy pajama…”
Fuck her! I thought. “Shut up”, I mumbled.
“Let him go, Huntress. There’s no need to kill him…”
“No need? No fucking need!” I screamed. “He fucking killed my mother! You don’t know”, I said, looking at her. “You don’t know what it’s like.”
“Don’t know”, Patchy chuckled. He could have made a break for it, but he probably knew I would have shot him then. My hold on him was too tight for him to escape. “Barbara Gordon doesn’t know… Good girl, always good girl.” He grinned at her and I noticed a strange, compassionate look in Batgirl’s eyes as she met his gaze. Somehow it didn’t surprise me he knew who she was. “Aren’t you, Barbara Gordon?” he said and tilted his head to one side. “The good one? As Patchy was?”
“Yes”, she said softly. “Batgirl’s the bad one.”
I didn’t get that, but Patchy nodded as if it made sense.
“Couldn’t kill Barbara Gordon”, he said. “Couldn’t shoot her.”
Batgirl stood unmoving for awhile, before she nodded. “Thank you, Patchy”, she said quietly, so quietly he wouldn’t have heard her if it hadn’t been for my powers. Then she looked at me. “Let him go – or fight me for his life.”
I sneered and pushed Patchy aside. Nightwing was instantly at his side and pressed Barbara’s baton in his flesh. I had been so preoccupied with Patchy and Batgirl I hadn’t even noticed Nightwing approaching or him grabbing the baton from the floor. I expected Patchy to fall unconscious to the ground, but he only gasped for air and crumbled his face together. When he looked around again his eyes were normal and I noticed they were mismatched: one blue and one brown.
“Lost it”, he said with a sigh. “Lost it all…” He held out his hands and spread his fingers, watching them as if he could see sand or water sift through them. Nightwing held him by the collar.
“Are you alright?” he asked Batgirl and she nodded, looking at me.
“I would have won”, I snarled, still with the gun in my hand.
She nodded. “Maybe”, she said and opened her hand. She held a mini-baton hidden there. She threw it at the floor before my feet. “Maybe not.” Then she walked away.
I looked at the baton, not sure what kind of damage it would have caused me, but probably enough to make me lose the fight. Damn her, I thought as I realized she had foreseen even this event. “I will never forgive you for this”, I called after her, distracted for a moment.
“You fool!” Nightwing hissed at me. “You have no idea what…”
We should have been more careful, both of us. We were lucky that his intentions weren’t to hurt anyone otherwise neither of us would have forgiven ourselves.
Patchy twisted loose from Nightwing’s grasp and reached for the gun in my hand. He pulled it from me before I had time to react and put it in his mouth. His eyes went to the sky above us as he pulled the trigger.
“Shit!” I heard Nightwing mumble as Patchy’s body went down. I only stared at the younger man on the floor and felt nothing as I watched his brain spill out in front of my feet.
By my side Nightwing looked down at the dead body. “Poetic justice”, he said. “Almost”, he added softly.
“What do you mean?” I asked with a frown, watching the blood coloring the concrete. I thought I should be happy, seeing the man who killed my mother dead, but I only felt as hollow as before. I hadn’t killed him. I thought that was the difference. How could I forgive Barbara for taking that moment from me?
Nightwing glanced at me. “You don’t know who he is – do you?”
“He is the man who killed my mother”, I said and was scared of my own voice. He probably killed her with that same gun. Poetic justice, indeed. It stilled my hatred somewhat. Nightwing only looked at me and then glanced at something behind my back. I turned around, seeing Batgirl and Dinah together. Batgirl shook her head and left the rooftop as Dinah made her way towards us.
“Is he…?” she asked when she halted by my side.
“Yes”, Nightwing said softly and put an arm around her shoulders.
“Did you…?” she asked, glancing at me. I shook my head.
“No.” My voice was like ice.
Dinah glanced around, at the empty stairs. “She’s not well, Dick”, she said quietly, painfully.
“I know”, he said. “Come – we must leave before the police turns up.” He bent and collected the mini-batons from the floor.
“Who is he?” I asked, looking at Nightwing and demanding an answer. He straightened and met my eyes.
“He’s the Joker’s son”, he said, holding my gaze. I wondered about the sudden pain in his eyes and why he seemed to want to cry at any moment, but my heart was cold.
“Fine – then he got what he deserved”, I said and moved away from them. I looked around at them over my shoulder. “I won’t see you again”, I said. “I won’t forgive her for robbing me of my highest wish…”
“She knows what you’re going through”, Dinah said. “Please, Huntress… Don’t leave us. We need you.”
I shook my head. “How could she possibly understand? To her this is all a fucking game – sport. Or she want’s to be the big heroine for everyone – doing what’s right, fight the good fight… Whatever hell that is. But for me – it’s about my mother’s life. She can’t know. She can’t understand.”
Dinah looked at me with large, pale eyes in the dark, but she didn’t say anything. I heard people moving in the stairs, getting closer to the rooftops.
“She killed his mother, Huntress”, Nightwing said, looking me straight in the eyes. “She was the one killing his mother.”
“It happened seven years ago”, Dick explained as he poured himself a cup of tea back at the Clocktower. Dinah had gone to bed and Alfred had excused himself. His only reaction when hearing about Patchy was to say: “Oh, dear. Oh, dear”, but the anxious look in this usually pragmatic old man’s eyes worried me more than I wanted to admit.
We had managed to avoid the police and made it safely back to the Clocktower, but Batgirl had turned off her intercom and blocked the signal. We didn’t know where she was and we couldn’t track her. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to forgive her for preventing me from killing Patchy, but I had decided I wanted to hear the story behind their obviously shared past. That was the only reason I had returned to the Clocktower that night.
“When your father captured the Joker and put him behind bars the Joker still had his connections on the outside. While waiting for the trial the Joker decided to take his revenge on Batman. He arranged for two murders to take place on the people Bruce Wayne and Batman cared most about…”
“My mother”, I said instantly. Dick nodded, leaning back on the kitchen-counter with his cup in hand.
“Batgirl was tracking Clayface for another crime when she was lucky enough to catch him attacking your mother, saving her life. So Clayface was put behind bars and one of the attempted murders was thwarted.”
“And the other? Who was it?” I asked, even though I should have known. Dick drank in silence and I waited impatiently.
“Barbara”, he said.
“Of course”, I breathed. “What happened?”
“Well… Barbara was engaged at the time, to be married.”
“She was?” I blinked. Why didn’t I know that?
“Yes. His name was Mike Drake – Donald Drake’s younger brother.”
“Chief of Police-Donald Drake?”
“The one and the same. His brother was a genius in the Court House – one of the youngest, most brilliant minds in criminal law… He knew about Barbara being Batgirl and supported her in every way. They worked brilliantly together. She loved him like…” Dick shrugged. “He was the love of her life. Sometimes I think that’s why she’s settling with Wade – she’s known true love and knows she won’t ever get the same again.”
I swallowed, sensing a tragedy coming up. “What… What happened?” I whispered. God – I’m such an idiot!
“The Joker sent a special messenger to Barbara’s flat. Somehow he’d found out about her being Batgirl.”
“A special messenger?”
“Yes. Since he couldn’t execute the deed himself he send the one he trusted the most – his consort.”
“Female partner. Some say they were married, but I don’t know… I guess it doesn’t matter. She called herself Harley Quinn. She simply knocked on the door to Barbara’s place and shot the one opening the door. It happened to be Mike.”
“God”, I whispered.
“Well, I doubt God had anything to do with it. It saved Barbara’s life, though. She reacted instantly and was caught up in a fight with Harley Quinn.”
“She shot her by accident”, I said, not able to think anything else of the Barbara I knew.
“That’s what the Court said. She didn’t even have to testify herself. They freed her of all charges, claiming she acted in self-defense and that the shot killing the assassin was ‘unfortunate’.” He made a face and finished his coffee. “It was all over the newspapers at the time”, he added.
“I was in Europe”, I said. “I didn’t know. I’ve never known.”
“I know”, Dick said. “Mike didn’t die immediately. He laid in a coma for six months and then… there were some complications.” He grimaced. “They always say that, don’t they, when they don’t know what actually happens. They had some hope he would survive. He would be a… incapable of using his legs, but he would at least live.”
“And he didn’t”, I said. “Fuck – she must have been devastated.”
“She didn’t cry after his death. She didn’t cry at all during his time at the hospital. She sat by him in the days and went chasing bad guys as Batgirl at night, but we never saw her cry. Your father tried talking to her, but she closed herself completely.”
I closed my eyes, remembering what she had said to me that night. “I know what that’s like. But you must cry – otherwise you’ll die a little more each day.”
Dick placed his cup on the table and I opened my eyes. He had a strange look on his face.
“The thing is – we all thought it had been an accident.” He raised his eyes and met mine.
“What?” I said with dry mouth.
“The shot killing Harley Quinn. The gun later disappeared from the police station. Guess we know where that ended up.”
“What?” I said again. “What do you mean? What about the shot?”
He averted his eyes and stared ahead, lost in memories. “She killed her in cold blood, Huntress. She told us later…” His voice was strange.
“No.” I shook my head in disbelief, in denial. “No, she couldn’t.”
He looked at me and smiled wryly – it was a hollow smile, void of everything but pain. “Two days after Mike’s funeral she told us she had the upper hand on Harley Quinn in that fight. Harley Quinn was beaten and pleaded for her life, but Barbara took one look at Mike, thinking he was dead… and shot the woman in pure anger.”
Dick turned away from me and I didn’t know what to say. This shook my whole world, everything I believed in.
“No – I won’t believe it.”
“Neither did I”, Dick said, leaning on the railing and looking out above the dark space below us. Delphi was dark and quiet and I realized with a tremble that I missed the woman usually sitting there. “I made excuses for her – told her she was wrong and she shouldn’t blame herself… I refused to believe it, but your father knew. I think he suspected it all the time… You see, the Joker had planned to drive your father mad with grief and guilt, but it turned out differently.”
“He was the one that lost his mind.” My voice was barely a whisper.
“Yeah, well… I thought we would lose Barbara too, but somehow she pulled herself together. I think Black Canary had something to do with it, trusting her enough to leave her daughter’s life in her hands. Once she begun crying I knew she would be fine…” Dick turned around and looked at me. “Bruce blamed himself for Barbara’s loss. She never told him about the failed assassination on your mother. I think he would have left town at that time if she had. She didn’t tell me either, until your mother died and she revealed you existed.”
I shook my head, again speechless.
“Dinah came to live with her and she was forced to focus on someone else’s need. It changed her, you see. Killing. She used to be carefree and kind of… arrogant, I guess. After losing Mike and after her own… choice to kill, she became something else. She was more driven, but also more considerate towards others. I kind of lost touch with whom she was at that time, mostly due to my inability to admit she had killed in cold blood, but we worked through it.”
“You are good friends”, I said, mostly because I felt the need to say something. I noticed the slightly guilty look in his eyes when he looked away. “What?”
“I failed her”, he said with a sigh. “I failed her all those years ago when I couldn’t handle the truth about what she had done and I failed her again last year.” He rubbed his temples. “When your mother died and Bruce left… I lost it. I feared we wouldn’t manage without him so I… bolted.”
“You did what? You left her?” I didn’t know why the thought of him abandoning her made me so mad, but I rose, with changed eyes. “How long were you gone?”
“I returned recently – only two months ago. When your father left and then I… the whole responsibility of defending Gotham fell on her. I…”
“And you call me a fool”, I spat. At least he had the decency to be ashamed, I realized and felt the heat burning my cheeks. Again my last words to her had been not very friendly and now she would be out there someplace in the dark, on her own. Fuck!
“I know”, he said, catching my eyes. “But the point is – she knows what it’s like killing someone in cold blood and to be forced to live with that. Even though she knew you would hate her – maybe for the rest of your life – she didn’t want you to live with the knowledge of what you had done.”
“I know”, I whispered and felt my eyes changing back to normal. It’s not fair, I concluded. Life isn’t fair. I knew what Barbara Gordon would say: So what? Life’s not fair – get on with it. Then she would laugh and wink at me the way Batgirl always did. “Where can we find her? Do you know?”
He hesitated and when he shook his head I knew he lied. He wasn’t as good at keeping secrets as Barbara. “She will take a few days off on her own. That’s what she did when Mike died. She’ll be back when she’s ready.”
Something in his face told me he wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to know even if I tried to pursue him, so I gave it up.
I realized that thinking about the way Barbara must feel had effectively put me out of my own brooding mood and self-pity. Damn her, I thought affectionately. She can’t even let me sulk in peace.
I noticed Dick looking at me as if he was waiting for something and I sighed. “I’m not going anywhere”, I said and he smiled.
“Good – then I’ll see you at breakfast.”
I didn’t see Barbara in three days and they seemed to be the longest days of my life. She was all I could think about – when I woke up, when I went to sleep, when I fought, when I ate. I was captivated by the memory of her face – her mouth, her lips, her eyes, the way she tilted her head to one side. Already the first day I realized it wasn’t the reason to why she was gone that affected me, but the plain fact that she was gone – period. I missed her presence; her laughter, her teasing ways and her calm and it irked me that I had no one to talk to about this obsession. Dinah was in school and Dick was busy working.
Clayface was apparently still missing. The water-guy had been caught again at Patchy’s headquarter, but Clayface had been the one escaping that night – the one the cops had been busy chasing outside the building as we were engaged with Patchy on the rooftop. The police had found a whole arena below the ground beneath the rugged building, filled with various technologies I didn’t know the first thing about. Hearing about it I knew Oracle would be excited at the prospect of examining Patchy’s treasures and the thought thrilled me until I remembered she was gone.
The second day I was struck by the thought that I might know a place she would visit, so I went to Gotham’s burial ground. I took the time to visit my mother’s grave as I was there, talking softly to her about my life the past year. It was the first time I came there since her funeral and I felt slightly guilty about that fact. Barbara didn’t turn up that day, but somehow I knew she would come – sooner or later – and all I needed was to have some patience. The next day I went back and stayed until twilight and then, suddenly, she was there.
Two days after the mock trial acquitting me of murder seven years ago I was visited by a scrawny boy the age of maybe fourteen or fifteen; it was hard to tell – his appearance made him look younger than he probably was. He was blond, with one eye the color of burnt grass in summer and the other blue as the sky.
“I only wanted to see what you looked like in real life”, he said with harsh, even voice as his eyes were cold and filled with hatred. “You killed my mother. Don’t think I ever will forget. I will get you one day. Just you wait and see. One day you will regret killing her.”
“I will wait for you”, I told him, as I understood far too well what he was going through. “But before anything, visit Gotham’s hospital and take a look at Mike Drake, will you.” I was young and angry myself at that time. “Your parents were murderers, boy. It’s time you face the truth and grow up.”
I was too cold that year – too heartless. I couldn’t care less about that boy’s pain. It wasn’t until Mike finally died and I watched him be put in the ground I could let it go – finally coming to terms with what I had done and how wrong it had been. The guilt almost suffocated me then. To live with the knowledge that I was a killer, the very thing I fought every night to put behind bars... I would live with the shame until the day I die. To begin with it made me doubt my ability to continue to be Batgirl, but also what right I had to roam the streets like some kind of hero when I was more of a lucky murderer who had gotten away with her killings. I almost quite then, but Bruce told me something I couldn’t forget, even years later. “Now you know. You will never forget and unless you succumb to the darkness within you right now, you will never again let that darkness claim you. It’s not the differences between the criminals and us that keep us on the right side of the law – it’s the knowledge of our similarities and what path the wrong choices would lead us to. Will you let that darkness win?”
Now I knew. I knew the darkness of my own self – and I would make a conscious thought every day for the rest of my life not to let that darkness overcome me a second time.
That boy… I learned his name was Patchy and that he had been waiting in a car down the street a few blocks away for his mother, that night when Mike died; they were apparently on their way to a school-event. What mother brought her son when on a killing-mission? Anyway – he did visit Mike in the hospital. One day I found a paper-made rose in all different colors on Mike’s bed with a note. Wait for me – Patchy.
So I waited. I knew he would come. I think it was the knowledge of what his parents had been that pushed him over the edge and made him maybe not as insane as they, but nearly enough. When I fought him on the rooftop, before Helena turned up, he told me his plan was to see all criminals of the whole of Gotham burn. He had a plan, he told me, to exterminate all meta-humans in Gotham and all involved in criminal activity one way or the other. He somehow imagined Gotham’s population would celebrate him as hero if he cleaned the city – as he put it. All meta-humans were criminals, according to him. He proved it by becoming one himself. “I will purge myself with the rest of this town”, he told me. “When the time is right I will rise as the bird Phoenix from the ashes and be the patron of Gotham.”
He wished to redeem himself from the harm his parents had done and by transforming himself back to an ordinary human after being a meta-human would assure his own redemption. He looked upon himself as both a destroyer and a savior.
He was a complex man – stuck between childhood and manhood; not a child, but neither fully grown. He was a genius in his ways, but lost in emotions of revenge and shame – creating a madman bent on destruction. And it was all my fault. I would have to live with that for the rest of my life.
I bent at the grave and touched the inscriptions engraved in the dark, cool stone. Mike Drake. I had loved him so much and seeing him there, bleeding to death on my floor, because of me…
I had shielded my heart since then – wowing someplace within me never to love that way again. I hadn’t. Helena had been right about Wade: he was safe to love. I would grieve if I lost him, but not as I had grieved when Mike died.
“It’s time to let you go, my love”, I mumbled. “My heart must go on.”
Helena’s face came before my eyes. She would hate me until she died and I would probably never know her as a friend again. That hurt.
“She’s a nice person, you know”, I told Mike. “You would have liked her.”
Helena – hard and tough; she never let anything show of herself that she didn’t want others to see. She had been a mystery to me to begin with and as always mysteries intrigued me. I knew there were more layers to her than Dick figured – I had seen it in her eyes sometimes, when she didn’t think I was watching. The unguarded look, the softness in her eyes as she watched Dinah sometimes – the vulnerability sometimes showing beneath the rock solid layers she surrounded herself with. I so much wanted to see more of that woman. I had seen her – the one she was beneath the invisible mask of Huntress – and I had missed her the past days. I would miss her for the rest of my life.
“She’s a pain”, I mumbled, pulling at some weeds at the grave. “But she’s nice.”
My need for Helena confused me. Sometimes I thought… She could look at me in a certain way sometimes, with an expression reminding me about the way Wade looked at me. Occasionally I thought I felt about her the way I had about Mike when he was alive, but that was absurd. She was a woman. I wouldn’t be attracted to a woman. Would I?
The thought made me frown and I rose. When I looked down at the grave I suddenly realized I wasn’t alone. I felt someone’s presence behind me and it caused a shiver to surge through my body. I steeled myself and breathed deeply, ignoring the way my heart raced and the slight flush of my cheeks: signs that belied my previous thought.
“I know you are there”, I said calmly, not turning around.
I stepped forward amongst the stones. We were alone in the dark. A soft light from a nearby lamppost outside the graveyard left some spare light for us, but my eyes were used to the dark and I could see her without difficulty. I didn’t say anything and we stood in silence, watching the grave.
I should have brought something for him, I realized.
“Thank you for coming”, she said quietly.
“It was the least I could do”, I mumbled. I wasn’t any good at such things.
“Helena, I…” She turned to look at me, but I shook my head.
“Don’t”, I said with difficulty. “We have both been hurt, right. Let’s just… move on.”
“There’s something you need to understand.”
“Dick told me everything”, I said. “I understand. I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t have said those things…”
“Not that”, she said and embraced herself as she looked at the grave. She held herself tightly. “I have blood on my hands”, she said slowly. “I know what… you’ve been through. What you’re going through. If your father had been there to stop me at that time… I would have hated him for a long time, but today… Today I so wish he had.”
I swallowed, not knowing what to say. Her pain was visible on her face and I didn’t know what to do. She was not a person who easily divulged such things about her self.
“Not only because I must live with the deed on my conscience, but… His deeds as well. Patchy’s. All those he killed – I have their blood on my hands.”
“You don’t know that, Barbara. He grew up with his mother, he might have followed her…”
“He might also have turned away from her. I took that choice away from him. You heard him – he couldn’t shoot Barbara Gordon. It was Batgirl he wanted – somewhere he blamed her, not me, for the deed even though I was the one… There was some good in him. I know I’m not responsible for everything he has done, but in part I live with that choice I made every day. I’ve lived with it for seven years, knowing he would turn up one day seeking revenge. We were lucky. I was lucky – what happened could have been so much worse.”
She turned to look at me. “Do you understand?” she said with visible agony. “I’m partly responsible for your mother’s death.”
Her words caught me. I hadn’t even considered that. “No”, I said, not feeling the immediate pain anymore when hearing about my mother. I shook my head. “I’m not blaming you for that. If you hadn’t been there seven years ago my mother would have died then. My mother’s death now had nothing to do with you – Patchy only continued on his parent’s trail.”
She shook her head. “You don’t know that.”
“I know you didn’t put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger”, I said firmly, holding her gaze. Something seemed to give way within her and she turned back to the grave.
“Self-blame is the worse blame ever”, I heard her mumble. “It’s the prize we pay for all of our wrong choices.”
I looked at her, thinking of the calm and collected woman I had come to know and wondered how she kept things together. I knew I couldn’t have lived with killing someone, knowing their child was seeking revenge on me for the deed. And then I realized that was what being a super-hero was about – you made your choices… And sometimes they were wrong and then you must face the consequences – but you never gave up. You kept fighting – not for yourself, but for the world and the people in it.
And in that moment I knew. I loved her.
I always thought the realization of falling in love with the one person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with would be like – firework; like a triumphant shout from the rooftops or like the canons in a war, but it was neither. It was soft and quiet, as a calm whisper in my soul.
I love her, I thought amazed. I’m in love with her. What an odd world we were living in. What an odd life I was living. How could I love another woman – and one I hardly knew? But I didn’t question the thought. It felt genuine – strong. I knew it was. I had loved her since I looked her in the eyes at that fair, when she was speaking about children needing love. I had seen her true face and fallen completely and utterly in love.
“You know what you need?” I said lightly. She suspiciously narrowed her eyes at me. “You need some proper time off. You need to have some fun. No – no objections”, I added and raised a hand to forestall any possible protest. “Come on.”
“What?” She frowned.
“Just do what I tell you, for once. It won’t kill you.”
She looked at me and when I winked at her she laughed.
“Alright – alright.”
“Where have you been these days”, I asked as she followed me out of the cemetery.
“At the manor. Alfred has taken care of me.”
Should have known, I thought. I hadn’t seen Alfred in three days.
I took her to what used to be my favorite nightclub – Black Rose – not far from the Dark Horse bar.
“I remember this place”, she said, stepping in through the doors and looking around in the crowd. “I’m not really dressed for it”, she added, looking down at her jeans and plain, black top.
“Never mind”, I said and grabbed her hand. “Come on.” I pulled her through the crowd towards the dance floor and she followed closely.
She was a fabulous dancer. I remembered the gossip-magazines from when I was in high school, telling about Barbara Gordon’s extravagant life and her tours at Gotham’s nightclubs.
“Old talents die hard, right?” I told her with a wink as she stood at the bar draining a beer straight on. She put down the glass with a thud and dried her mouth with the back of her hand, laughing.
“Bartender – another one!” she called, banging the glass on the counter.
I watched her drinking and I watched her dancing. She was beautiful and I felt her close to me so many times that night – the softness of her, the firmness of her muscles. My sudden need for her overwhelmed me and I was stunned that the realization about my feelings for her had changed so much within me. My body trembled when she was near and I felt this burning sensation in the pit of my stomach; signs of desire I recognized from previous relationships. The difference was that she was a woman – the first woman I had ever been attracted to – and that I knew this was more than a casual infatuation. My desire ran deeper than ever – it touched the roots of my soul, of my closed self. Without her... Without her I would feel crippled, like half a person.
I watched her flirt with several guys and one woman even tried to kiss her. She only laughed at that and stepped aside, shaking her head. Later I left her to get us some more drinks and when I returned I found her dancing at some tables with a stranger, a man who held his hands on her hips as she moved to the music. I felt a sharp pang of jealousy seeing them together and remained almost frozen at the dance floor. She seemed completely focused in her dance, but as I watched her I noticed how she raised her head as if listening and then, without hesitation or doubt, she turned to look at me in the crowd.
She seemed to have this eerie sense of direction – much like a bat, actually; she always knew where to find me. She stopped dancing and held my eyes in the dark, an unmoving figure in the flashing spotlights, and then she held out her hand. Then man fell back and pulled another woman from the crowd to join him at the tables beside Barbara. I hardly noticed as I put aside the drinks and jumped through the air, spun around and landed in front of her, agile as a cat.
“Show-off”, she said smiling and pulled me close to her. I suppressed a gasp as I felt her body pressed against mine. Her scent enveloped me and I lost my orientation, seeing – feeling – only her.
“Dance with me”, she mumbled and lifted her arms to my neck. I let my arms encircle her waist and swayed with her to the music, feeling her close to me. I wanted to touch her, to let my hands explore the shape of her body, but I controlled myself. It was difficult, but I didn’t want her to turn away from me as she had with that other woman earlier. I knew I probably never would get another opportunity to be this close to her again, so I decided to just enjoy what I could get. She leaned her cheek at my shoulder and I felt her soft hair against my lips, closing my eyes for a brief moment.
Why? I thought saddly. Why must she be a woman? Or I? She will never love me like that...
Then she stirred in my arms and I opened my eyes with an inward sigh. She leaned back only slightly and caught my gaze. She didn’t say anything, she only watched me with this odd expression. She stopped dancing and I stopped too, not sure what she wanted, and so we stood unmoving on the table in the crowd of noisy, dancing people – regarding each other. Her eyes held me and I couldn’t look away, drowning in them. I remembered the first time I had really looked into those eyes – in a dark alley where a crazy woman in a leather suit had turned up, taunting me. I had seen her eyes in the dark and felt a strange sensation, knowing I had to see that woman again.
Finally, when I thought my chest would burst with the air I held, she moved. She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. I let out an involuntary gasp and felt a cold and warm thrill surge from the pit of my stomach, first to my chest and then to my cheeks.
“Thank you”, she mumbled with her mouth to my cheek. She lingered and I felt her caressing my neck with a tender touch, before she let go and moved away from me. “I think I want to go home now.”
I couldn’t speak, so I followed her silently through the crowd. It was a few hours before dawn; the Black Rose was one of the few nightclubs that were open until early morning. She took my hand as we walked along the quiet streets and I didn’t object. It felt nice – safe.
“My place is nearer”, I said. “If you want to stay…”
“That sounds much like an indecent proposal, Huntress mine”, she said amused.
“You think far too highly of yourself, my dear”, I countered. “Who’d ever heard of a cat dating a bat?”
“Mmm, everything has a first”, she said, linking arm with me and leaning her head on my shoulder. “But I’m too tired to do anything but sleep.”
I blushed in the dark, glad she wouldn’t notice. “It’s soon dawn”, I said, feeling my heart skip a beat. “All bats return home at dawn.”
She smiled sleepily. “I like that…”
“Home. It was a long time since I felt at home any place…”
“Me too”, I mumbled, wondering at her words.
I took her to my place and she curiously looked around.
“Nice”, she said with a satisfied smile, seeing the changes I had done to the place. Not that she had known what it looked like before – thankfully. “Very… you.”
She sat down on the bed and pulled off her boots.
“Want anything?” I asked with a gesture to the kitchen.
“No, thank you.” She rolled on to the bed and pulled the bedspreads to cover her while she rested her head on one of my pillows. “I want to sleep”, she added, drowsily. She made a gesture towards me. “Your bed is large enough. Please, come…”
I didn’t know how to refuse, so I moved towards my bed and carefully laid down beside her, facing her. I had two pillows left; I threw one of them on the floor and used the other to rest my head on.
“Tell me about yourself”, she mumbled sleepily, with her eyes closed.
“Me? I don’t know what to say. I…” I hesitated. “I used to be another woman before…”
“I know”, she said quietly. She opened her eyes and searched my face. “I bet you were a real girl”, she added amused. “A handful, for sure – but real sweet and innocent. A girlie girl…”
“You should talk”, I retorted. “I watched you at the fair – talk about girlie… You couldn’t even hit that pyramid.”
“Hey! You were spying on my! That’s not fair.”
“Life’s not fair”, I said with a nonchalant shrug and she snorted.
“I bet you were Cheerleader and all…”
“Oh, yeah? How so?”
She only watched me and smiled, closing her eyes.
“What? What?” I said, nudging her in the side. She opened one eye and squinted at me.
“You got the looks for it, is all.”
She grinned when I blushed.
“See – a girlie”, she teased.
“That… wasn’t…” I mumbled.
“What? Fair?” She smiled triumphantly and snuggled into my pillow with a yawn. She looked so sweet I didn’t have the heart to rise to the bait, realizing she needed her sleep. With closed eyes her breathing soon calmed and became deeper. I watched as she drifted away, wondering what it would be like touching her face. If I would dare. Then she suddenly said: “You think they are right?” and startled me.
She opened her eyes and watched me with a searching expression. Her eyes seemed troubled.
“That I play so many roles I don’t know who I am anymore?”
I swallowed. “I know you”, I said hoarsely. She held my gaze and I could see my own reflection in her clear eyes.
“You do?” she said softly, quietly.
“Remember that day at the fair? When you talked to me at the terrace… That was you, Barbara Gordon. I see you in your eyes no matter which mask you are wearing.”
She didn’t say anything and I thought that maybe I had crossed some boundaries I wasn’t aware of, but then she raised a hand and touched my face. “Thank you”, she whispered with moist eyes. “You are a true friend.”
Then, just like that, she closed her eyes and finally fell asleep.
When I woke up the next morning she was laying on her side watching me.
“Good morning”, she said with a still sleepy smile.
“Um, good morning”, I said shyly, not used to having someone in my bed when I woke up. Especially not someone I actually wanted in my bed when I woke up.
She smiled and reached over to push some of my dark curls away from my eyes. I closed my eyes with an inward sigh, flinching a little.
“I won’t harm you”, she said amused and touched my temple.
“Um, I know. Sorry…” I looked at her again, confused. Her eyes were surprisingly somber when I met her gaze.
“Thank you”, she said softly.
“For what?” My voice sounded rough in my own ears and I cleared it with an embarrassed blush.
“For making it easier for me letting him go”, she said simply and I gasped softly. “I’ve held on to him for so long, being afraid of… loving. I’ve been in control for so long, afraid of what I would do if I would lose control and…”
“You wouldn’t”, I said quickly. “You wouldn’t kill again like that. It’s not you.”
“There’s darkness in us all, Helena”, she said regretfully and I remembered Nightwing’s words that other night.
“Maybe”, I said carefully. “But the one who knows his own darkness won’t be as easily tempted by it.” I didn’t know where those words came from, but I knew them to be true. “I… I didn’t think I would be able to forgive you, but… These past days… I’ve had time to think. Some part of me still wish I had shot him, believing it would make me feel better, but I know now it would have changed me. I don’t think I would have been able to handle it the way you have. You live for your calling – you believe in it. I know you don’t do it because you feel guilty about killing Patchy’s mother or because you want to prevent… Mike’s death every time some bad guys threatens this town. I know you do it because… because it’s the right thing to do. That’s the belief that keeps you going and I wish…” I swallowed. “I wish I’ll feel that way some day.”
She watched me with an odd expression. “I don’t think I ever heard you speak that much at one single time before”, she said, with a mix between amusement and gentleness.
“I’ve got hidden depths”, I remarked, suppressing my embarrassment.
“Thank you for believing in me.”
“No – thank you for trusting me enough to bring me to that fight. I know Nightwing didn’t think you did the right thing.”
She arched an eyebrow at me. “Lurking in the shadows, listening, were you?” Then she sighed and closed her eyes. “I haven’t held in a gun for seven years, you know – but I still remember the way it felt in my hand: cold, powerful. A thing made to kill with.”
“Don’t…” I said and impulsively touched her hand. She took it in hers and brought it to her cheek, still with her eyes closed. I heard her sigh.
“I don’t think I can ever take a life again, under any circumstances. I think I will freeze completely, if it comes to that. I never want to take another life”, she whispered and I felt the warmth of her breath on my hand. It tingled. She opened her eyes and looked at me with tears in them. “You know?” she said in another whisper. I nodded only, feeling her pain and her touch and fighting the way her nearness affected me.
Then suddenly her eyes widened in alarm and she sat up. “Damn! What time is it?”
I looked around at my alarm clock. The sun was shining through the windows. “Past noon”, I said.
She cursed again and swung her legs across the edge of my bed to stand up, but came to a halt – leaning forward with her head between her hands. “Ugh – too much alcohol.”
I grinned and rose. She glared at me with a vengeance.
“Meta-genes”, I said, feigning an indifferent shrug. “I need to drink loads before I get a hang-over.”
“Lucky you”, she mumbled and rose. She went to the bathroom and I listened as she freshened herself up. “Need to go”, she said as soon as she returned.
“What’s the hurry?” I asked with a frown.
“It’s Saturday – gala night.”
“Again?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yeah. Some or another fashion-show. I’m supposed to attend with Wade. They offer snacks and drinks and dancing…” She stopped at the door and glanced at me. “You should come. Dick and Dinah are going. I have some spare invitations.” She paused, then added, with a sly grin, looking me over with an expression making me suppress a blush that would have turned my face beet-red: “I bet you would look fabulous in a dress, kitten. I’d love to see it.” She winked.
“Are you flirting with me, Miss Gordon?” I teased, hiding the fact that her wink made me extremely self-conscious. “’Cause it sure seems like it.”
She laughed. “Me? I’m practically a married woman, kitten. Flirting around wouldn’t be proper behavior, now – would it?” She opened the door. “Entrance at six – we’re leaving my house in a limousine five to.”
“I don’t have a dress”, I stated flatly.
“Won’t be a problem. Alfred will bring some for you. Come to my place anytime you like. See you! And oh…” She paused, adding with a soft smile: “Thank you.”
You are welcome, I thought as the door closed behind her. She always seemed to be leaving me – sometimes I wished I could tie her to a chair and force her to stay.
I opened my jewelry-case and looked at the gold ring with two emeralds and a diamond Wade had given me two months ago. I had accepted it, but I had hardly worn it since – only on a few special occasions. I explained to him I didn’t want to make a great deal about our engagement as I already was put in the spotlight far too often. He accepted that. It seemed to me he accepted far too much in our relationship to keep me happy.
I needed to make a decision that night. Wearing the ring might help. I put it on my finger and studied it. Nothing. I didn’t feel a thing. An engaged woman should feel something when seeing a ring like that on her finger. With an inward sigh I closed the case and left my bedroom.
I went down the hall on the second floor in my house and up a small stair at the end of it. The stair led to a slightly open door that I peeked through. The sight of Helena in front of the mirror in the guestroom made me lose my breath for a second. Goodness – she’s beautiful! I thought momentarily stunned when I saw her in the dark-red silk dress, sprinkled with tiny, tiny shining beads. Not that I hadn’t noticed before, but this… She was gorgeously beautiful and I knew that the thought that had come to me the previous night – when I watched her on the dance-floor – had been true. I had known for awhile that what I felt for her wasn’t an ordinary friendship, but something more. Thinking about her as sexy had just been one indication of my feelings towards her. The night before when I stood dancing at the table and she brought us drinks, when I knew she was watching me in the dark and I turned to look at her… I had thought her beautiful then. I had felt her to be mine in that moment and when I reached for her I knew she would come. Then I danced with her, felt her arms encircling me – and I felt safe. I finally felt what I hadn’t allowed myself to feel in seven years. I had looked her in the eyes and known the truth. She had done what countless of men before her – including Wade – had not managed to do. She made me forget Mike. When I was with her she was all that mattered. She was everything on my mind. When she wasn’t there her face was still before my eyes and I counted the minutes until I was with her again. Before her I had compared everyone I dated with Mike – not even Wade could measure up to him. But Helena… I loved her as completely and as deeply as I ever had loved Mike. To lose her would be my death.
I sighed. She didn’t even belong to me. She was a woman – and a particular headstrong woman at that. If I told her what I felt I would never hear the end of it.
I knocked and stepped in. She raised her eyes in the mirror and caught my gaze with a guarded expression. Then she turned to face me, making a grimace at her dress.
“What ya think?” she asked gruffly and smoothed the silk in her dress. I suppressed a grin, knowing she would be insulted if I made fun of her discomfiture.
“You look fine”, I said standing right beside her.
“Fine?” She made another face and turned back to the mirror, glaring at me. “I get myself all dressed up for you and all I get is ‘fine’. Hardly worth the effort.”
This time I grinned. “Careful with what you say. I might think you’re trying to make a pass on an almost married woman.”
She arched an eyebrow at me, tugging at the thin strap on her shoulder. “You think this is too loose? I’m afraid it will slide down. Don’t fancy to stand naked in the ballroom…”
I wouldn’t mind, I thought and opened my mouth to tell her, but thought better of it. It was one thing to be casually flirting between friends, another to cross the line. I wanted to tell her she took my breath away, but that probably would be too much. “You look great”, I said, stepping back a bit. “Really”, I added, holding her gaze a little longer than necessary, before I looked down at myself. I had chosen an emerald-green silk frock, not much different from Helena’s. “How do I look?”
She eyed me critically. Then she grinned and my heart skipped a beat. “Like a lady.”
“Courtesy of Alfred”, I said. “Something must have rubbed off during the years.”
A knock on the door made us turn our heads.
“Wow!” Dick exclaimed, wide-eyed, seeing Helena. He whistled. “If you weren’t my…”
“Don’t you say it!” Helena pointed at him. “It’s… It’s not proper”, she added lamely, glancing at me. I chuckled, realizing she was trying to behave like a lady – to honor Alfred.
Dick grinned. He was dressed in a black tuxedo and looked very handsome. “Don’t you worry, little sis. You’re safe with me.”
“You look amazing yourself, by the way”, Helena added. “Very… smart.”
“Thank you.” Dick straightened his tuxedo, grinning. “We’ll look smashing together.”
“Cut it now”, I interfered. “All this British-ness…”
“’Smashing’?” Helena made a face. Dick opened his mouth to make a retort, but at the same moment Dinah put her head through the door.
“Barbara – you here? Oh!” The rest of her followed as she noticed Helena. “Wow!”
Helena glanced at me, arching an eyebrow. “At least they like my outfit. Judging by your reaction I thought I would fit best in the kitchen with the rest of the staff.”
I shrugged. “I didn’t want to infuse your vanity.”
“Right”, she said ironically.
“Wade’s here”, Dinah said, glancing at me; she looked wonderful in blue and white silk, her hair bound up with silver-ribbons. She eyed me and smiled. “You look great. He’s such a lucky man, you know.”
We’ll see after tonight, I thought with some bitterness. By my side Helena turned away, mumbling something beneath her breath. I glanced at her, wondering what she was grumping about.
“Barbara?” Dinah asked questioningly.
I hurried downstairs before the others. Wade was waiting for me in the library, where Alfred entertained him. He sat in Bruce’s old favorite armchair and rose as I entered the room.
“Barbara – you look…” He seemed unable to express himself.
“Like a lady”, Alfred helpfully said and Wade nodded.
“Yes”, he said, not taking his eyes off me. When he noticed I was wearing the ring his face lit up with a strange, intense joy. “You’re wearing it”, he said delightedly.
“I am.” I suddenly felt a strange sadness seeing his profound happiness and in that moment I knew: I loved him, but I wasn’t in love with him. I never had been, but he had been a great support for me the last year. I would never be able to repay him for that, or even make him understand how much he meant to me. In another life – if my life had been different – I could have loved him and wanted to stay with him, shared my secrets with him. As it were… Our lives were too different. I had too many secrets and one day either of my occupations would cost him his life. It was safer for him if I wasn’t in his life.
I took his hand. “Wade…”
“Miss Barbara – the car is waiting. The others are waiting for you”, Alfred said.
“We shouldn’t keep them waiting”, Wade said, kissing my hand. I hesitated, but gave in and nodded.
The car-ride didn’t take long, but I sat too close to Helena. I felt her thigh pressed against mine during the whole ride and found it difficult to concentrate on much else. Wade held an easy conversation with Dick and Dinah, while Helena too seemed absent-minded. I wondered if she might be tired since yesterday, or if she regretted coming along already. I hoped not.
I remembered the moment the night before, when I had looked into her eyes on the dance-floor – or on the table, to be more correct – and finally put words to my thoughts and emotions. I’m in love with her. God – how I had wanted to kiss her right there! I felt for her as I was supposed to feel about Wade (another reason for me to break the engagement, I added as a mental note to myself). This is great, I thought wryly. Just plain great. I sighed inwardly. I couldn’t think a straight thought sitting next to her. How on earth was I suppose to be able to keep working together with her, when all I could think about was her soft lips and eyes and the way her skin had felt to touch… her arms around me and her heart beating next to mine? Great. Just great…
It was disastrous.
She wore her engagement ring that night. I had never seen her wear it before. I wondered what that meant, as I watched her dance with Wade. She was beautiful – stunning.
“Huh?” I said to the man beside me as I realized he was talking to me. What was his name again? Detective Reese – that was it. Barbara had introduced me to him when we arrived at the Town Hall. This was the guy who caught Black Canary’s killer (although he knew nothing of Black Canary; only of Carolyn Lance, as had been her name); the criminal who happened to be his own father. Tough guy. I recognized him from that night at Arkam. He was the cop that had pointed a gun at me. He did say he found me familiar looking, but he didn’t seem to remember me.
“You don’t find me remotely interesting, do you?” he said dryly and I felt myself blushing. Shit.
“Um, yes?” Not my finest comeback. He was quite cute, but he couldn’t compare to Barbara Gordon. Who could, anyway?
“No, I didn’t think so. Well, my usual luck.” He shrugged, noncommittally. He was dressed in dark trousers and a dark jacket and looked quite handsome – or I would have found him handsome, if it hadn’t been for that woman dancing with her fiancé in the middle of the room.
“I’m sorry”, I said, fleetingly wondering why an ordinary police officer had been invited to such a party. Not that I was discriminating him or anything – I mean, I had even less right to be there – he just seemed out of place among the rest of the fancy people. He also seemed a little stiff and I wondered if he actually carried his gun with him. I wondered if he would have been allowed to bring it through the doors. “I just have other things on my mind.”
“That’s obvious”, he said and nodded towards Barbara and Wade on the dance-floor. “You haven’t taken your eyes off them the whole evening. What’s up? She stole your boyfriend or something?”
“What? Barbara? No.” I shook my head. “You know her, right?”
“I don’t think anyone know her”, Reese said surprisingly honest. “But I’m honored to say I have some connection to her as a friend.”
“Me too.” I nodded. “Although I’m new to her life and I’m still trying to figure her out.”
“Good luck with that”, he said smiling. “She’s as mysterious as Bruce Wayne. For years I thought they had a secret love-affair.”
The thought made me laugh. “That would be the day!”
He grinned. “Yeah.”
“Excuse me”, someone said close by and we turned our heads. A tall, dark-haired, handsome man was standing beside us and I blinked as I recognized him. “Helena?” he said. “God – Helena, it is you! I didn’t recognize you.”
“Jack”, I said.
Jack turned suspicious and glaring eyes at Reese. “And who are you?”
“This is detective Reese”, I said calmly. “A friend.”
Jack Barrett was my ex boyfriend. I had adored him in high-school and when I returned from my second tour around Europe two years ago – right before I started at the University – he finally noticed me. We became a couple, but when my mother died… I pushed him so far away he didn’t even show up at her funeral. I didn’t know what he was doing at the banquet and it felt strange seeing him again. It was as if he belonged to a completely different life from the one I was living now.
“Helena…” Jack looked at me and surprised me by stepping up and kissing my cheek. “I’ve missed you. Can we talk?”
“Um…” I glanced at Reese, who nodded and lifted his almost empty plastic cup.
“Go ahead. I’ll find someone on whom my charms will actually work.”
I smiled at him. “Wrong time, wrong place”, I said.
“Another life, then?” he asked with a wink and grinned. I returned the grin, much to Jake’s obvious annoyance. I realized I would like to have Reese as a friend. He seemed to be a nice guy.
I turned my head, glancing once more at Barbara Gordon. It startled me that she was looking directly at me with an odd expression. I recognized the look on her face – she had looked at me like that the night before, seeing me on the dance floor below the table where she was dancing. I held her gaze through the crowded room, wanting her to reach out for me again as she had the night before, but then Jack took my arm and lead me away.
Apparently Jack wanted privacy and I followed him without thinking about it. I had practically lived with him for fourteen months and I knew him well.
“Down here”, he said and opened a door with a sign that said: Basement.
“Jack – isn’t this a bit… overdone? There must be someplace outside…”
“Too much trouble”, he said. “Humor me?” he added with a grin and I smiled, remembering the way he had used to make me feel.
“Alright. I just don’t want to soil my dress. It’s a loan.”
“Ladies first…” He stepped aside, holding the door for me. I remembered Nightwing had said the same at one time and smiled as I stepped down the stairs. That was the last thing I remembered as I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head and everything went black.
When I came to my senses I was tied with my back against a cold pipeline on a concrete floor in a damp place, presumably still in the basement of the Town Hall. A pale, yellow light lit the room from a bulb in the high ceiling and a broad-shouldered man I didn’t know pointed a gun at me.
You’ve got to be kidding me? I thought annoyed, for which time in the last month I didn’t know. Would Gotham never run out of psychotic abductors? “Who are you?” I demanded to know, trying to move my hands. My legs were tied together in front of me. The rope tying my hands cut into my wrists and my hands felt numb. “Where’s Jack?”
The man grinned and I noticed something changing about him. A slight blur took place and suddenly he turned into someone else. Jack, more precisely.
“Prefer it this way?” Jack Barrett’s face grinned at me.
“Clayface”, I snarled, spitting. I thrust at the pipe, but it held tight, as did my ropes. I was tied as tightly as a lamb to the slaughter.
“Oh, yes, baby – I so like it when you say my name like that.” Clayface grinned and changed his appearances back to himself. “I was aiming for Barbara Gordon tonight. But you will do fine as an appetizer. Patch might be dead, but I did promise him to get rid of you.”
“You sick bastard! Get me out of this and fight like a fucking man!”
“No, no – what a language for a lady.”
“I ain’t no lady.”
“What a pity.” Clayface raised his gun. “I failed to take down your mother once, but there’s no Batgirl to save you now.”
He pointed his gun at me, cocked it and grinned. In that moment I knew I was going to die and my only regret was that I hadn’t told Barbara that I loved her. A cold chill went through my body as I heard the gunshot, but there was no impact. I blinked.
Clayface instantaneously spun around, aiming into the shadows and a second shot echoed in the basement. Clayface fired, but then went down as a third shot took him clean in the chest. He fell with his face at me feet, mumbling something. Blood stained the concrete-floor around him. He’d been shot three times – all bullets had hit him: one in the left shoulder, one in his thigh and the last in his chest.
I raised my eyes. Barbara Gordon stepped out of the shadows, closely followed by detective Reese. I noticed Reese’s jacket was opened, revealing an empty holster – but it was Barbara holding the gun. She moved gracefully towards me and knelt by my side, safe from the blood around Clayface.
“You all right?” she asked as she put the gun on the floor beside us. Reese immediately retrieved it and quickly checked on Clayface. When he didn’t bother with Clayface’s gun I knew the man was dead. Reese looked up and then disappeared somewhere in the shadows, on his guard with his own gun raised.
I nodded, saying nothing. I searched Barbara’s face for any indication of distress, but she seemed unaffected. She had killed another man. She had killed for me. Would she hate me now?
“I think we’re even now”, she said with a slight smile, untying my hands.
“How so?” I still felt a cold pressure on my chest. One breath too late and I would have been dead. Why was she here? How come…? She killed for me.
“Me saving you from a dark place – not the other way around.”
I shook my head and rubbed my wrists as she moved on to free my legs. “You have dangerous friends”, I said, looking at Clayface.
“Occupational hazard”, she responded, looking up at me. “You’ll learn to know what it’s like when you’ve been in the game as long as I.” She held my gaze. “If you stay.”
I didn’t know what to say and in the same moment Reese returned, returning the gun to the holster.
“Cleared”, he said.
Barbara helped me to my feet and I leaned slightly on her. My meta-human genes assured I would be fit for fight in another moment, but I enjoyed feeling her body close to mine.
“You go”, Reese said, looking at Barbara. “I’ll take care of this.”
“You sure?” Barbara asked with a frown.
“If I had taken you seriously from the beginning instead of indicating you were paranoid I would have…” He silenced, glancing at me before looking at Barbara again. “You did my job. Never knew you had reflexes like that, or was such a good shot. Ever considered joining the force?”
“Thanks – my life is dangerously active as it is”, Barbara said dryly.
“I’d say”, Reese mumbled, looking down at Clayface. “I’ll work something out. Go now. I figure you’ve been the center of attention as much as you want the last month.”
“Thanks, Reese”, she said sincerely and he nodded, waving us off.
“Go now – guards and cops are on their way.”
Barbara nodded. “You must look around for a bomb”, she said. “And clear the building.”
He stared at her. “Now you’re saying!”
“I had other things on my mind before”, she said quietly and I felt her squeeze me a little harder. I felt a strange, melting warmth in my chest. “Don’t think it’s activated yet, though. Or if it is it won’t go off until the mayor holds her toast in… exactly forty-five minutes.”
He narrowed his eyes at her and I pulled her along.
“Come on”, I mumbled. “We don’t want to be here when the cops arrive.” I glanced at Reese. “Thanks. I owe you one.”
He shook his head and picked up his phone, turning away from us.
“You know what I think he’s thinking?” I said as we hurried towards the stairs. I went for the main stair, but Barbara directed me in another way and showed me a tiny door hidden behind a large drum, leading to a dark hallway and then some stairs.
“What?” she asked curiously as we ascended the stairs and opened a steel-door at the top. I looked around as we exited at the back of the Town Hall, in a dark, narrow alley.
“Probably the same as I’m thinking”, I mumbled. “That I’m sure as hell glad you’re on the right side of the law.”
She shuddered. “Don’t say things like that.”
I turned around to face her and tilted my head to one side as she usually did. I grinned. “Just imagine – what a team we would have made.”
“We’ll make a team yet”, she said, but added with a grin: “Unless you want to fly solo? You being cat and all.”
“Only part cat”, I said, feigning to be insulted. “Besides, you’re the flying one.”
“But bats fly in hoards.”
“Right”, I said, looking down at my dress with a sigh. “In any case – this is not a thing to wear when a crime-fighter.”
“Tell me about it”, she said, looking down at her stained dress. “I wonder how I’m going to explain this to Wade?” she added, mumbling.
“How did you know, by the way? Reese said you were suspicious about something? How did you know?”
“Just a hunch”, she said with a shrug.
“Yeah, right. Soon you’ll tell me the moon really is a cheese.”
“Clayface had some plans in the past to eliminate Gotham’s high-society. I figured he would be here tonight.”
“And you didn’t say anything?”
“What did you think Reese was doing there, armed and all? He wasn’t the only cop present tonight. I alerted the police to the fact Clayface might try something. Reese was just reluctant to believe your boyfriend had something to do with it, is all.”
“My boyfriend? You know about Jack?”
“Well, yeah. Kind of…” She made a face. “Remember? When I do research I do it thoroughly.”
“But Jack? How did you figure…?”
“Just leave it, will you?” she asked softly and I swallowed, hearing the pleading edge to her voice. I nodded.
“Want to go home?” I asked quietly. The police would take care of the rest. I heard sirens in the background, knowing an ambulance was on its way. It would be too late for Clayface. The police-force with a bomb-squad would arrive as well. We need to find Dick and Dinah, I thought, touching my earring. I hadn’t been able to activate my intercom while my hands were tied.
“I need to be with Wade tonight”, she said. “We have things to talk about.” She sighed. “I keep too many secrets from him”, I heard her mumble, more to herself than to me. I felt a cold shiver down my spine, guessing she was going to tell Wade about herself. That could only mean one thing – she was finally ready to commit to him.
“Barbara”, I said as she walked away. She stopped and looked at me. “Are you… Are you all right?”
She smiled softly, making a gesture I knew. “Yes”, she said. “Yes – I am.” She moved towards me and touched my cheek. “I really need to talk to Wade first. We’ll talk later. Alright?”
I nodded and watched her leave.
When Barbara returned the morning after the incident at the Town Hall she didn’t mention Wade at all. The cops had taken care of Clayface’s body and the news the next day mentioned him and a bomb that hadn’t yet been activated in the basement. Barbara had been right, but it was detective Reese that became the hero. Not that I thought she minded.
I had informed Dick and Dinah about what really had happened and the rest of the week Dick seemed to wait for some sort of explosion coming from Barbara, but nothing happened. Dinah – with her mind-reading abilities – said Barbara was fine, but Dick didn’t seem to believe her. I wasn’t really sure myself. Barbara seemed fine, but she was behaving oddly. She seemed to distance herself from Batgirl. Not once during that week did she dress as Batgirl and go sweeping the town with me. She preferred the role of Oracle, watching Delphi and directing us on the intercom. It pained me, hearing her voice in my ear and not being able to tease her or to laugh with her as when we had roamed the rooftops together. She seemed absent-minded when I was around and I didn’t know how to handle her reservation, so I became cool and aloof in return, but also edgy. I snapped at her a few times, but she didn’t even seem to notice. She didn’t tease me anymore and I didn’t hear her laugh when I was around. I thought that maybe she blamed me for having to kill Clayface after all, but one evening right after dinnertime I came down to the kitchen and heard her and Dick being involved in an argument. I remained in the kitchen as they stood staring at each other in front of Delphi, as I had seen them once before.
Dick was really upset and I realized Barbara’s calm only infuriated him further.
“You killed him!” he accused. “You’re bound to have felt something!”
“Of course I did. Regret, Dick. I didn’t want to kill him, but he left me no choice. But you know what? That was his choice – not mine. He fired at Reese and me and I couldn’t take a risk he would hit any of us. I learned something in that basement, Dick. I’ve been so damn afraid these years – of the darkness within me. Clayface taught me that doing what we do, being who we are… Sooner or later we’ll have to face that choice. To let live – or to kill to save ourselves or those we love. There is that difference, though – to kill in cold blood or to kill in defense. It is not right to kill and I would not ever again do it the way I once did, but I won’t have that fear making me freeze in a moment when I need to act. I would never have forgiven myself if I had let him kill Helena because I couldn’t make a choice and face the consequences. I don’t regret what I did, Dick. I only regret that he had to force me make that choice, but that was his choice and I had to act on it. I am fine, Dick. Really, I am.”
And I knew, seeing her face him like that, that she was. It made something hard within me dissolve, hearing her speak of me in such a way. At the floor below Dick reluctantly nodded as the elevator made a buzzing sound and opened its doors.
I moved from the shadows of the kitchen as Dinah and Alfred walked out of the elevator on the other floor.
“Mr. Brixton has left flowers for you, Miss Barbara”, Alfred said. “I left them in your lounge. Want me to phone him up for you?”
“No, thank you, Alfred”, Barbara said and nodded at me as I approached from the stairs.
“Miss Barbara. Being engaged and not sharing part of your life with him…”
“Great – a third of you want me to dump him and you want to invite him to the batcave.” Barbara shook her head.”
“No, Alfred”, she said with sudden sharpness and looked at him. “It is enough.”
He nodded meekly. “May I only ask – why not?” he added.
“Because I’ve broken the engagement”, she said simply, turning to Delphi. I blinked and Dinah gaped at her.
“You did – what…?” Dick looked as dumbfounded as I felt. “Why haven’t you told… us?”
She shrugged. “No big deal.”
We looked disapprovingly at her.
“What?” she said, noticing our silence and glancing over her shoulder.
Dick shook his head. “You’ve grown into Bruce. Keeping secrets from you friends.”
“I’m not… It just didn’t… come up. It’s not as if you’ve asked about or would miss him”, she added. “You all couldn’t just wait for me to get rid of him and when I have you blame me for it.”
“That’s not the point”, I said bitingly and she turned to me.
“No? And will you now tell me what’s the point?” she asked disapprovingly. She held my gaze and I clenched my jaws.
“Stop it.” Dinah stepped between us. “Don’t start again. Fine – Wade’s out. Let’s move on in our lives. No big deal.”
Barbara and I still stood staring at each other like two cowboys in a duel in some old movie.
“Dinah’s right”, Dick said with a shrug. “No big deal. Let’s take a sweep on town, Huntress.”
I ignored him, holding Barbara’s gaze and she wasn’t giving in.
“Quit it”, Dinah said and boxed me on the arm.
“Ouch!” I said, rubbing my arm and looking annoyed at her. “What the hell…?”
Barbara turned her back on me and sat down in front of the desk. At the same time the Delphi-alarm went off and we all looked at the system.
“The harbor”, Barbara said after a few seconds, locating the spot on the maps.
“Right, we’re on to it”, Dick said. “Dinah…”
“Dinah stays”, Barbara said without taking her eyes off the screens above her head.
“What?” the girl objected. “It’s only ten thirty…”
“By the time you’re there and back again it’s past twelve. You’ve got a test tomorrow, remember? Beside, it might be dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” Dinah squared her shoulders. “You’ve got to be kidding me? After all we’ve been through the last month…?”
“We don’t know what it is yet, it might be…”
“For fucks sake!” I intervened, taking a step forward. “Give the girl a break. She’s bored out of her mind here. There’s been nothing fun around here for a whole week. What harm could it do?”
“You stay out of this.”
Barbara didn’t even look at me and that was probably what pissed me off the most.
“No – I won’t. You are not the only one capable of making decisions around here. Killing people doesn’t automatically make you a leader.”
I heard both Dick and Dinah gasp and wondered if I had crossed the line, but I was too angry and frustrated to care. Barbara stiffened in her chair, not moving. Dinah looked from me to her and back again.
“You’re worse than a bickering old couple, the two of you”, she said. “What?” she added, seeing the stern look Barbara gave her. “Just an observation.”
Barbara turned in the chair, looking at me. “A word with you?” she said, arching an eyebrow. I shrugged.
“Right – I’m on my way”, Dick said. “Dinah…”
The girl sighed. “I’ll be in my room. Studying…” she added, glancing pointedly at Barbara.
“And I’m returning to Miss Barbara’s house”, Alfred said humbly excusing himself. It wasn’t long before we were left alone.
Barbara rose from the chair, angrily pacing the floor in front of me.
“How dare you criticize me in front of Dinah?” she said, coming to a halt and looking at me.
“Someone has to”, I retorted. “Dick hasn’t got the balls and you won’t listen to Dinah. You’ve kept her close all week… Give her some slack.”
“She’s got school. She’s just a kid…”
“She’s not a kid! And she’s certainly not just a kid. You know what she can do…” I threw out my arm.
“Yes – I do. I know her and you don’t. It’s easy for you to advice me about her, but you don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know her – her weaknesses. We all have weaknesses and she is not ready.”
“Because you say so?” I challenged.
“Because I say so”, she confirmed and I smirked at her.
“And that’s the end of the conversation, right? Barbara Gordon knows best…”
“Come again when you’ve raised a child”, she snapped. “Then you can tell me all about what it’s like.”
“Don’t you go there”, I snarled. “I don’t have to live through things to see what’s right in front of me.”
“And what’s that, Helena?” Her eyes burnt a hole in me, but I set my jaw and narrowed my eyes at her.
“You’re just afraid to lose her. You’re so afraid to lose her you’ll keep her in chains and tied to a pole for the rest of her life.”
“You know – you have no idea what you are talking about…”
“That’s right… You’re the fucking oracle, aren’t you? You have all the right answers, taking all the responsibility, making all the tough choices… If you just let someone else carry the fucking burden sometime you’d be a happier woman, I’ll tell you that! And that’s for free”, I added.
“And who would I leave the burden to?” she asked me icily. “You?”
I blinked – not seeing that one coming.
“He left me!” she suddenly exclaimed. “God damn him – he left me, Helena! Both of them did. Not a word. I was lucky enough to realize what your father was up to and I confronted him. Yeah – he made me realize it wasn’t good for him to stick around, but that didn’t make me any happier. If I hadn’t caught him he would just have been…gone. And Dick…” She turned away, throwing out her arms. “He was just gone one day. Who the hell do you want me to trust?” she snarled as she turned back to me, eyeing me disdainfully. “You? I don’t even know why you’re still here… You’ve got what you wanted, you are free to go. There’s nothing holding you here anymore.”
You are, I thought, looking at her – seeing this pain and anger within her. I wanted to respond somehow, but didn’t know in what way. I remembered the first time we had an argument and I wasn’t going to say something I might regret.
We looked at each other and finally she sighed, shaking her head, and moved to lean on the desk beside me.
“You are not that wrong, Helena”, she said and I blinked in surprise. She sure knew how to throw me. “I do love her and I am afraid of losing her, but I don’t want her to grow up too quickly either – as I had too. I wasn’t that much older than her, you know, when Mike died.”
“I know”, I mumbled, but I didn’t know if she heard me.
“You are not wrong, it’s just the way you say it. I thought… I considered us to be friends, but lately it seems to me I’ve done something to hurt you. You cut at me and are defensive. If I’ve done something wrong let’s talk about it.”
I chose not to listen to that; I wasn’t ready to go there. “About Dinah…” I said instead and noticed the disappointed expression in her eyes. “This is what we do, Barbara. She needs to know you trust her. Take some risks, it’s part of what we do. Who we are.”
“Risks?” she snapped, standing up. She was suddenly very close to me and I was distracted by her scent, by her heaving chest as she gasped for air. “What do you know about risks? You’ve…”
She lost me. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, her mouth too near not to be kissed. I couldn’t stop myself – I had longed too long for this. I quickly caught her face between my hands and leaned forward. She instantly caught herself and silenced, but before she had time to do anything I pressed my lips against hers and kissed her.
At first I had no thought of what to do next. I hadn’t exactly planned to kiss her and when I did it was just this quick, hard pressure against her lips. But oh – her lips were lovely! So soft I didn’t want to let her go, but I realized I had to.
I let go of her face and stepped back. It was all over in few heartbeats. She stared at me with this strange look. She seemed neither angry nor confused, just… I couldn’t tell. And I wasn’t hanging around to find out what she had to tell me about my action.
“Helena…!” she called as I jumped to the second floor and was heading for the window-ledge. It surprised me to hear a slight note of fear in her voice.
“Nightwing might need a hand”, I called and hesitated for a brief moment, looking down at her. I still couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Damn her and her always-in-control behavior! I thought fleetingly. She nodded slightly, as if giving me leave to go. Maybe she did – I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything anymore.
I left the Clocktower and raced through the night towards the harbor. Somewhat belatedly I realized it would take me quite awhile to reach my destination. If Dick was in any real trouble I would be too late to give a hand and if it was only a minor problem and he wouldn’t need my help he would be home by the time I reached the port. Damn! I thought, but knew I hadn’t been able to remain at the Clocktower. I had panicked and run from a situation, for the first time in my life.
While speeding through the dark I still couldn’t help myself from smiling. I had kissed Barbara Gordon. It wasn’t the most exciting kiss, but I had felt her soft lips touching mine, her face between my hands… I blushed in the dark when I thought about it. God – what must she think of me? Hopefully she would just put it behind her and forget all about it – or at least pretend it never happened. I licked my lips, tasting her. The thought of what I would want to do with her if I had a chance aroused me and made my eyes change into vertical slits, like a cats.
“Huntress – you there?”
Her voice was in my ear – I hadn’t turned off the intercom. No, I thought ironically. I’ve flown to the moon – out of radio contact. Shit! I wished flying to the moon was an option.
I expected her to say something about me running off – or kissing her – but she was using her Oracle-voice, cool and efficient.
“I’ve just heard from Nightwing. It was only a regular break-in. Two guys are caught. Nightwing will stay with them until the cops arrive.”
“Fine”, I said. She seemed to hesitate. Shit! I thought again, feeling a slight shiver of fear along my back.
“I’ve told him we need some private time to talk. He won’t bother us. Will you meet me at my room at the Clocktower?”
Alone? With her? In her room? Fuck… So much for her forgetting… I could run, but I knew that wasn’t an option.
“We need to talk.”
“Right”, I said and changed direction. “I’ll be right there.”
She had left the door wide-open for me and the memory of that first night in the Clocktower made me smile as I entered. I knocked politely just for the sake of it.
She stood at the windows in her lounge with her back to the door, looking out at the sleeping world below as I entered. I halted in the middle of the room, waiting for her to turn. When she did she held herself as I had seen her do on the cemetery by Mike’s grave and there was this vulnerable expression in her eyes I hadn’t seen with her before. She watched me and seemed to be waiting for me to say something. I knew she probably wanted me to explain my actions, but I had no words. What would I say? I had no words to explain how I felt. There were no words that could even begin to describe my feelings for her.
When I remained silent she moved a few steps into the room until we stood face to face on an arms length. She still held herself, as if to shield herself from some unknown pain.
“You have anything to say?” she asked, watching me closely. The vulnerable expression had left her eyes and I couldn’t tell what she was thinking.
“Um, sorry…” I said sheepishly; I didn’t know what else to say. She shook her head.
“I’m not”, she said as she suddenly closed the space between us. Her arms went around my neck, pulling me closer and instantly arousing me with their strength and gentleness. I responded immediately by encircling her waist with my arms and pressed her even closer as her lips found mine. I didn’t have the slightest clue to what went on, but if she was kissing me I wasn’t going to object.
Damn – she’s good at this! I thought as her lips traced the shape of my mouth, making my senses tingle. She was all softness, but there was an urgency within her that surprised me and aroused me both. I wanted more of her lips, her mouth, her touch…
The kiss deepened and I felt her tongue claiming me, needing me. She was passionate and sweet at the same time and it was the strangest, most exciting thing I’d ever felt in a situation like that. I needed her and for once in my life I wasn’t afraid to show it. I held her as close to me as I could without breaking any bones and let my mouth and my tongue reveal how much I wanted her, needed her. Not only like that – two bodies locked in sexual activity – but in my life, in my soul. She was some kind of miracle to me and in any life, in any situation, I would have loved her or perished when she didn’t love me back…
I gasped as her hands tugged at my shirt and exposed bare skin. Her hands traveled the length of my body and I felt my eyes changing with my need for her and with the soft touch of her hands. I lost control for a brief second and lifted her through the room without breaking contact with her lips until she was pressed with her back against the wall beside her bedroom door. I wanted her so badly and as it seemed she wanted what I wanted I didn’t hold back, ravaging her body with my hands, feeling her naked skin beneath the top she was wearing, hearing her gasp in my ear. But suddenly I was afraid. I didn’t know what this meant to her. I didn’t know… anything. I hesitated and she felt it.
“Helena”, she whispered with her cheek to mine. I closed my eyes, leaning in and burrowing my face at her neck. I wanted to cry – for happiness and love. For fear.
“There’s a first for everything, right?” I mumbled incoherently at her neck, remembering her words the other week. I felt her chuckle and knew she’d heard me and understood.
“Yeah”, she said. “I guess there is.”
I sighed, not wanting to break contact with her, but knowing I had to. I leaned back and found her looking directly at me.
“You’re a hard woman to know”, she said, but I shook my head.
“You know me”, I said without a doubt and she tilted her head to one side.
“Yeah, I think I do.”
She touched my cheek; traced the outlines of my cheekbone with her fingers, down to my chin.
“Are you for real?” I asked in a whisper and she smiled at me.
“Remember that night – when you stepped on a shadow to see if it was Shadow, on the top of that building were he wanted to recruit you? It was the playfulness of you that drew me. If you ask I can’t give a specific moment to when I fell in love with you…” She smiled seeing my reaction. “What? Do you think I kiss just anyone like that?”
I grinned and felt extremely satisfied seeing her eyeing my mouth with a longing gaze, but she collected herself and went on.
“Still, I think I knew right from the beginning. I just couldn’t seem to get you out of my mind.”
“Me neither”, I admitted. “Although you annoyed the hell out of me to begin with…”
“It’s one of my best qualities”, she said smiling and I felt myself drowning in her eyes. There wasn’t a thing more beautiful in the world than her eyes when she smiled. “I do love you, you know”, she said with sudden sincerity and I caught myself, feeling a strange tightness in my chest. “I don’t know what you feel, or if you even feel anything other than maybe some… attraction towards me, but I…” She held my gaze. “I love you. I haven’t loved anyone like this since Mike. You’ve pulled me from a world that was dead and gave me new life.”
I didn’t know what to say, but her words moved me.
“I… I’m no good at this”, I said and shook my head. “I’m sorry, but…”
“Helena…” She took my hand in hers and looked me in the eye. There was this gentleness and trust – the warmth – of the Barbara Gordon I had fallen in love with and I swallowed. “I don’t ask anything of you. You are free to go…”
“No”, I said with difficulty. “No – I’m not. I’m bound to you. I won’t… there’s no home were you aren’t”, I said and I saw that she remembered. She smiled, almost shyly.
“You mean that?”
“I do. You are everything I need, for the rest of my life.”
“You too”, she said, almost in a whisper. “You too, to me.”
I couldn’t stop myself from kissing her then, softly – deeply, claiming her as mine, giving my heart to her. After a moment, when I let her go, she caressed my cheek with an intense look that made my body burn for her.
“I wanted to tell you… that you looked so beautiful in that dress last week, but I couldn’t. And then I was so very jealous seeing you with Jack that night”, she said. “I meant to look for you to tell you about Clayface, just to interfere with whatever was going on between the two of you, but when I realized he’d taken you to the basement I was suspicious…”
“You were jealous?” I asked incredulously. “You – Barbara Gordon, the-one-and-always-in-control?”
She smiled wryly, only slightly embarrassed. “Rub it in, will you.”
I grinned and again noticed her looking at my mouth.
“I wouldn’t mind making love to you right here”, she said in a hoarse whisper that made me want to take her right then and there as she suggested.
“What’s stopping us?” I mumbled, tracing the shape of her body with my hand. She leaned back against the wall, biting her lower lip when my hand gently caressed her breast.
“Will you please close the door?” she asked hoarsely and I glanced at the still open door towards the hallway.
“Damn”, I mumbled, realizing Dick or Dinah might come to check on Barbara. If the door was closed they wouldn’t disturb her, though.
“You wanted a safe exit, didn’t you?” she asked lowly, but with an amusedly arched eyebrow.
“And now I’m regretting my cautiousness”, I mumbled as I reluctantly let go of her. Even the few seconds it would take me to close the door felt as an eternity away from her. Before I let go entirely of her I paused and looked her in the eye. “You won’t go and die on me or something?” I asked reproachfully. “You know – I’d come straight after you to the kingdom of death, like in that Greek myth. Except the music and singing… I’d just snatch you straight back… fighting gods to keep you.”
She smiled and took my hand. “I wouldn’t expect any less of you, kitten.” Then she grew serious, watching me cautiously. “You won’t leave me, will you? I wouldn’t… My heart wouldn’t be able to take it.”
I was moved seeing her need for me in her eyes, marveling at how I could have missed it before. “Don’t worry.” I kissed her quickly. “I wouldn’t leave you for all the melted fudge sprinkled strawberries in the world.”
She frowned and I was going to tell her I was serious about it when she said: “I wonder how I’m going to tell Dinah and Dick about this. Are you still here?” she added, making a shooing motion towards the door. “Get the damn door closed and get back to me.”
I laughed as I hurried to do as she said, knowing I wasn’t alone anymore. I had found that special love my mother had talked about and with it in my heart I would learn Life’s true lesson. My mother would be pleased.
I closed the door and turned to Barbara. She smiled at me as she went through the open door to her bedroom with one arm reaching out for me. I wasn’t slow to follow.