Title: Past Lives
Fandom: Birds of Prey
Ratings: PG15 (to be safe – some violence, some bad language… not much 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.
More disclaimers: I don’t own the Angel-verse or any character created by Joss Whedon and Company. I’m making no profit on this…
Author's Notes: English is still not my first language, so despite ‘beta-ing’ please excuse any strange grammar or wordings…
Second Author’s Notes: I had some requests for a sequel to Alternate Lives. At first I was against the idea – I don’t like sequels. I’m a sucker for happy endings and in sequels the happiness is bound to be messed with… Although, when watching The Mummy, on a gray winter’s day here in the cold north, I suddenly had a story coming to me in a flash. It demanded to be written, so I had to give it my attention. I do hope you enjoy it :)
Special Thanks: Thanks to my beta-reader Erin, for putting down time and effort into this story. Thank you! :)
Summary: The story is a direct sequel to Alternate Lives.
“You can’t have her! She is not yours! Be gone – ere the gods will condemn you both!”
She refused. “You are just jealous! You want her all to yourself…”
“Ignorant child!” he shouted and the walls trembled with his power. He raised his staff and the storm that blew against the altar forced her to her knees. She didn’t know what he was doing there, this wasn’t his place. He wasn’t supposed to be here. “How dare you speak of things of which you know nothing? The Goddess is her destiny! This cannot change – she was born to be who she is and no man nor god has the power to oppose those ancient laws. And especially not some lovesick youngster…”
She loves me too, she thought. You should know that, you ambitious… She caught herself – to blaspheme against a priest even in thought could cost one dearly. She struggled to her feet and leaned against the altar; her sword made a ringing sound in the hard wind, as it hit the stone.
“LEAVE!” he shouted through the storm, but she shook her head. “You fool!” he called. “How dare you oppose the gods and the ancient code? She cannot be yours. She belongs to the Goddess!
It was the last thing she remembered, before the world went dark.
Or maybe it wasn’t the very last thing, after all…
Later came death… and she was to blame. She had lost them both – and it was all her fault.
”It looked like a Mayan pyramid”, Dinah said. She leaned slightly on the railing, looking down at the training-ground and at the woman practicing her martial-arts technique in the arena below the indoor balcony. The padded floor and walls of the almost completely circular room made the arena a perfect place to practice flinging weapons and opponents without causing damage either to the interior or to people.
The arched windows high above the balcony let in some of the early morning light and caressed the sweat-streaked body of the red-haired woman in the arena. She expertly swirled a staff between her hands, her face creased in concentration.
“I think it’s called a ziggurat”, Dinah added with a frown.
“Huh?” I said, completely lost in Barbara’s motions in the arena below; I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“My dream. The one I told you about. It looked like a Mayan pyramid. I think there was some kind of temple too. It was such a strange drea… Are you even listening to me, Helena?” Dinah added somewhat indignantly.
“Sure, sparrow”, I said, at the same time appreciating Barbara’s well-muscled shoulders. I just love her shoulders, I thought, thinking about how I longed to kiss them the way I had the night before. And the night before that, and the night…
“Sparrow?” Dinah grunted. “Whatever happened to Ladyhawk?”
“Great!” The blonde teenager threw out her arms. “You two! You’re like teenagers with raging hormones…!”
“You’re the teenager”, I said without turning my head to look at the girl. Barbara spun around, kicked high in the air and then in a flash went over to handstand. Slowly she lifted one hand and stood straight as a pole on the other, breathing evenly. Wow! I thought breathlessly. That’s new. I never knew she could do that.
“So, that registered”, Dinah said gloomily.
“Besides, sparrows are cool.” I had to say something. “Aren’t those the ones that went ballistic in that movie – The Birds, or something? You know – the Hitchcock…”
“I believe those were starlings”, Dinah said affronted. “Or gulls… There’s a slight difference between a sparrow and a gull, you know. And I so don’t wanna be a gull!”
“Chill, will you.”
“Chill? Great. You know, it wouldn’t kill you to pay some attention to other people around here.”
“I do. I pay attention to Barbara. See?” I pointed down at the woman in the arena. Barbara still held her pose on one hand, but when Dinah turned to look at her she balanced herself on two hands and then rolled on to her feet, grabbing her staff as she did so.
“Someone other than her.”
“She’s like a goddess”, I sighed and leaned my arms on the railing. I was only half registering Dinah’s presence beside me, as the sight of Barbara triggered sensations I enjoyed contemplating while I watched the slightly older woman exercise. A month had past since we became lovers and I still couldn’t believe my luck. I could wake up in the middle of the night wondering if everything had been a dream, but then I would hear Barbara breathing softly beside me and knew that I had truly been blessed. I would feel the warmth of her body and then I would smile, almost laugh out loud. Some nights Barbara woke up and found me watching. Then we would make love.
“I’m not arguing with you, but if I agree…” Dinah frowned. “If I agreed the way you mean it, I don’t know what that would mean. Either way…” She caught herself as I glanced at her. “She is beautiful”, she hurriedly said. “Why don’t you go down to her?”
I shook my head. “I like watching”, I said and turned my attention back to the arena: Barbara was strikingly beautiful when she practised with her staff. The metal glistened in the sun as the staff swirled like an almost invisible spear of sunlight between her hands, around her supple body and above her head. “Besides”, I added distractedly. “Sparrow is only for when you’re out of the mask.”
Dinah sniffed beside me, but didn’t answer. I glanced at her and noticed a slight blush on her cheeks.
“What is it?”
“It’s not me”, Dinah said and blushed even harder. I arched an eyebrow at her. “It’s you”, the teenager said. It took a moment for me to register, but then I blushed as hard as Dinah and averted my face from the girl with a slight growl.
“Dinah!” I swore under my breath.
“I’m sorry!” the girl exclaimed. “You know I can’t help it! My telepathic powers are growing and they’re not completely under control yet…”
“It shouldn’t be lawful for you to be around people until you’ve learned to control your empathic abilities.”
“Is it my fault you can’t control your hormones every time you look at Barbara?” Dinah objected, still blushing. “It’s not as if I even have to make use of my telepathic abilities… I mean”, she hurriedly added, “even if I knew how to make use of them, and not just let them run rampant on me every time someone lets their emotions get out of control. And – as I was saying, it’s not as if I need telepathy to see what’s on your mind. It’s plainly written on your face, any way.” She almost glared at me, as if it was my fault entirely that both of us were embarrassed and not hers for intruding on my thoughts and emotions.
“Great”, I grumbled. “You know…”
“I said I was sorry! Do you think this is fun for me?”
We glared at each other until I gave in with a sigh and turned away. Dinah was right: I shouldn’t let my… affection for Barbara be so obvious around other people. Barbara didn’t seem to have such a problem. The thought worried me a little.
“What?” Dinah said immediately and I turned my gaze towards the girl. “You’re frowning at her”, Dinah added, by way of explaining. “I didn’t ‘read’ you, or anything.”
I sighed. “Why are you here, sparrow?”
Dinah made a face at me, but then shrugged. “I thought I was talking to you, but obviously your mind is someplace else.” She smiled cheekily to take the sting off the words. “And it’s obvious your mind is in the gutter…”
“Dinah!” I blushed again and resented myself for it. I never used to blush like that, but as soon as Barbara looked at me, or even at the mention of her name, my face turned as red as that of a teenager caught in the act of doing something naughty.
Dinah laughed at me. “I’ll leave you two to…”
Dinah silenced and I turned my attention to the arena when I caught a slight movement out of the corner of my eye. Below the balcony a tall, handsome man stepped out into the arena.
“Dick”, I mumbled and only vaguely noticed the strange glance Dinah gave me.
It was Barbara who had told Dick and Dinah about our intimate relationship. She had done so two days after we first made love and I hadn’t been present; we both had thought it wise for me not to be there. The three of them were such a tight-knit group and even though I had felt welcome since Blackbird and the death of the Joker’s son I knew they would want some privacy discussing the new, surprising events. Later both Dick and Dinah had welcomed me with open arms; especially the girl, she had embraced me and told me how happy she was for us. And Dick was glad to see Barbara so happy again, he’d said.
And all had been well for about two weeks. Then something changed.
“Babs”, Dick called out and Barbara caught herself. The staff stopped in one movement and she dried sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand.
“Dick”, she said with a smile. “Have you come to challenge me?”
“As a matter of fact… Yes.”
Dick smiled and I watched as the two of them exchanged teasing remarks and began to fight each other.
I leaned slightly forward over the railing, my hands gripping the steel bar as Barbara and Dick engaged in a wrestling match. “Don’t you think he is a little too close-encountered with her?” I said with a dark frown.
“Helena”, Dinah said mildly. “They’ve known each other for years. There’s no need for you to be all jealous…”
“Who said I was jealous?” I immediately straightened my back. “I’m not jealous.”
“Helena…” Dinah looked at the railing and my eyes followed hers.
“Oh”, I said with a slight blush as I noticed the crooked way the iron-bars had bent beneath my hands. I shrugged apologetically. “Well, maybe I am – a little… jealous, that is. It’s stupid”, I added in a low mumble. When Dinah didn’t say anything I looked up at her. “Right?”
“Don’t worry. I know you don’t have anything to fear. Barbara loves you…”
“Sure”, I muttered and looked away, giving in to the fear that had haunted me the past two weeks. I wasn’t used to happiness and I didn’t like to admit what was brewing inside of me, but sometimes… Sometimes I feared I didn’t deserve Barbara. I feared the other woman would either tire of me, or that death would snatch her away from me – just as it had my mother.
My eyes went to the windows above us as I fought with the fear welling up inside of me. On some levels I knew it was irrational, but it didn’t change the startling intensity of it. “You said it – they’ve known each other for years. They have so much more that tie them together. And I…”
“You, what?” Dinah said softly and put a hand on my arm. “What, Helena?”
“And I’m just… a nobody.”
“You’re stupid”, Dinah stated and leaned back against the wall behind her, close to the open steel-door that led to the winding stair in the hallway. She crossed her arms and looked at me.
“What?” I snarled, startled by her frank statement when I had opened myself to her and made myself vulnerable.
“Well, you called me a gull – I get to call you stupid.”
“I didn’t call you…” I sighed. “Right – whatever.” I turned and looked down at the arena. I really liked Dinah, but this wasn’t a conversation I was supposed to have with the younger girl.
Everything in my life had changed over the last few months and I felt vulnerable and lost. At the same time I was happier than I could ever remember being. It’s tough to change… To let life change you, I thought. Barbara had changed too; she laughed so much more and was so much more relaxed with everyone. She also worked less hours at her company, to everyone’s relief. Our relationship seemed perfect and I… My need for Barbara sometimes frightened me and when I thought about it I feared Barbara just didn’t need me the same way. Then again – the other woman seemed to know me so well; some nights, after we’d made love, she took my hands in hers and looked me in the eyes. “Don’t be afraid”, she said. “We are going to last.” And then I was happy. And then I believed.
And then came moments like this, when jealousy overwhelmed me and made me doubt everything I believed.
All had been well those first two weeks, but then something had happened and I still couldn’t pin down what. It had been something in Dick’s way of looking at Barbara and I: something dark in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. A gleam I hadn’t recognised or understood, but it had chilled my bones. Slowly since that first time I had come to fear it when he looked at us – or at Barbara or me as individuals. It seemed to seethe with… anger, rage almost. And beneath it there was this warning telling me to stay away, to leave Barbara alone. Telling me that she belonged to him, not to me.
I looked down at the floor below. What I saw pushed all air out of my lungs and I couldn’t breath: Dick held Barbara down and pinned her with his hands and knees to the floor, as he sat on her. The red-haired woman laughed so much she seemed unable to catch her breath to keep up the fight.
“That is cheating!” she said.
“You were always ticklish”, the man said with a mischievous grin.
I turned away with clenched jaws.
“Helena”, Dinah tried again and stepped forward. A glance in the direction of the redhead and her opponent caught her for a second. Then she turned back to me. “Um, you know I sometimes pick up on things I’m not supposed to and I know for a fact that Barbara loves you.”
“Oh, really?” I said icily and turned away from the arena. I went to the door and Dinah followed me down the stairs.
“Yeah, really”, the girl said. “Don’t be a fool and throw away what you two have because you’re afraid to lose it.”
I stopped and turned around. I felt darkness and anger claim me and my fists clenched at my side. “What do you know? They were lovers one time…”
Dinah blushed. “Eh, actually, I didn’t know that… I’m not sure I wanted to know that.” She shook her head as if to clear it from distracting thoughts. “Where does this come from, suddenly?” she asked worriedly. “Why are you afraid? Barbara chose you. Of all people since Mike died, you are the one she… I’ve seen you two together. You’re so happy. If I ever have a relationship, that’s the way I want it.”
“It’s not suddenly”, I said as I turned away. I couldn’t explain it – it felt as if I was losing Barbara and it was stupid, I knew it. I had no reason at all to doubt Barbara’s love for me. Dinah was right: we were happy together and when Barbara looked at me sometimes… I could see that love right there, in Barbara’s intense, green eyes. I could hear it in Barbara’s voice and I knew it whenever we made love. And then… Then Dick would glance at me – at both of us – and there would be a cold, cold chill running down my back and I would think: I’m losing her. She’s leaving me. And the fear I felt in those moments… It chilled my heart, my bones – my soul.
I halted at the open door to the arena at the foot of the stairs and looked inside. The stairs continued down, to the floors below, and a corridor stretched out behind me. Dinah stopped by my side and touched my shoulder.
“You need to talk to her”, the girl said lowly.
I nodded. Barbara and Dick were on their feet again, facing each other; Barbara held her staff, smiling. Dick held a mace.
“I know, princess”, I whispered. “I know.”
“Let’s see what you got, pretty boy”, Barbara said, gesturing for Dick to move forward.
“You know what I got, Babs.”
Barbara laughed at him and I lost myself in the sound. That laugh… It always soothed all my worries, but not now. I watched as Dick threw himself forward and then I watched as Barbara, without visible cause, moaned and fell over.
“What…?” Dinah whispered.
Dick caught himself with an effort and almost hit himself in the head with the mace in his attempt to stop himself from hurting Barbara.
“Barbara!” I was at Barbara’s side even before Dick. I threw myself to the floor and took Barbara’s head in my lap, glaring up at Dick. “What did you do to her?”
“What? I didn’t…” He looked lost, bewildered. “I swear, I didn’t even… touch her.”
“I’m here. I’m right here.” I caressed Barbara’s forehead, holding the other woman as close to me as was possible without suffocating her.
“Oh!” Barbara closed her eyes. A slight shiver went through her and I felt the same cold chill of fear as before.
“Barbara! Barbara – don’t…” Don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t leave me… I would surely die.
“I’m fine.” Barbara made an effort to sit up and I had to let her go.
“Barbara?” Dinah came closer and looked down at us with a worried frown. “Are you…?”
“I’m just fine, Dinah. Honest.” Barbara smiled at the girl and then looked at my probably worried face. “Look at you. I just fell over, it won’t kill me…”
“He nearly did”, I snarled and fixed my gaze at Dick with convex-shaped eyes that had changed in pure anger and worry.
“I didn’t do anything”, Dick snarled and threw away the mace with an annoyed gesture. “Goddess – what’s eating you, anyway?” He turned away and left the arena before even Barbara had time to call him back.
“Dick, what…” Barbara silenced and frowned, looking at me by her side. “What on earth was that about?” she demanded to know. “Have you two had an argument, or something?”
“Or something”, I mumbled, now ashamed of my reaction. I had no right to blame Dick – I had seen the whole thing myself and he hadn’t even been close to Barbara. Besides, I knew this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. “What…? What happened?” I asked, raising my gaze and noticing that Barbara was turning her x-ray look on me. I held my lovers gaze for a moment, unwilling to reveal anything, before Barbara relaxed and touched her forehead with a small sigh.
“Don’t know, actually. I must have strained myself. Too much physical exercise before breakfast, perhaps.”
“But… that hasn’t happened before. Has it?” Dinah asked concerned.
Barbara shook her head as she rose. Then she seemed to lose her balance again and I was at her side, supporting her.
“Oh, this is strange… Maybe I’m coming down with something.”
“I think you should go straight to bed”, I said, lifting up Barbara in one fluid motion and holding her close to me.
“Is that your recommendation, Dr Kyle?” Barbara asked in a low, throaty voice and slid a finger down my cheek, to the corner of my mouth. I closed my eyes for a brief second.
“To… rest”, I said with difficulty.
“Uh… I’m going to see what’s up with Dick”, Dinah said awkwardly and – or so I figured – more than a little embarrassed.
When Dinah was gone we looked at each other and Barbara’s expression suddenly turned serious, seeing something in my face.
“This is what happened the other night, isn’t it?” I asked, thinking of an event neither Dick nor Dinah knew anything of.
Batgirl and I had been having fun with some criminals, tailing them in the shadows and driving them closer to the police-station without them even noticing it, when Batgirl suddenly fell over. Luckily she had been safe on the top of a building and not hanging on a wire several feet above ground. She had said she’d been fine, that she had only lost her breath for a second, and I hadn’t thought much about it. Until now.
“Yes, it is. Hel, it’s not…” Barbara hesitated. “That was not the first time. And it has happened since.”
I blinked. “But you said…“
“I know. I’m sorry. I lied.”
I blinked again. “You – what…? God damn it, Barbara! Why…?” I almost dropped the other woman in my anger – or threw her, more accurately – but before I had time to do any of it the look on Barbara’s face caught me.
“I’m afraid, Helena.”
It threw me completely. I didn’t know what to say and could only stare down at the woman in my arms. The woman I now knew I loved more than life itself. The woman whom I knew – or at least suspected – had never feared anything in her life.
“I… I have never felt this way before. What happens is… When it comes over me… It’s…” Barbara closed her eyes and begun crying, leaning against my chest.
Oh, God – what am I suppose to do?
“It’s like… I’m dying, Helena. Every time it hits me it’s like I’m dying. All life is just… sucked right out of me. And then… I’m back. I don’t… I don’t know…”
“Hush.” I finally collected myself and kissed Barbara on the forehead. “Hush, baby blue – it’s gonna be all right. We’ve been through worse, right? We’ll figure this one out too.” God – what if I lose her? Don’t, please – oh, God, don’t make me lose her! “I’ll take you to bed and you’re staying there until we’ve gotten a proper medical opinion.”
Barbara raised her head and looked at me. “You are afraid too.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yeah, I am.” There was no way of denying it – no use, either.
I carried Barbara all the way through the Clock Tower, to Barbara’s house adjacent to the headquarters. If we needed a doctor he or she would need to make a house-call.
“But I feel perfectly fine now”, Barbara objected as I put her to bed.
“Don’t argue with me on this one. This one you won’t win.”
Then Barbara smiled and leaned back in bed. “I like it when you get all bossy on me.” She grinned. “So, what about joining me, then?”
I swallowed, seeing her spread out like that on the bed. “You ought to take it slow”, I said. “We don’t know…”
“Oh, we will take it slow…” she said in a voice that made me blush to the roots of my hair.
“Uh, hum”, I said.
Barbara smiled softly, with something teasingly sexy in her look that made me swallow again, as she reached up for me. Her hands went about my neck and as she pulled me closer to kiss me I felt all my resistant leave my body.
Oh, oh god… I shouldn’t… Then all thoughts left my mind and I reached for the woman in my arms. I kissed her and felt her hands work at my clothes. I helped her. It always surprised me how instantly aroused she could make me by only kissing me. Her lips and her mouth were just… heaven.
“Oh, please Helena”, she moaned close to my ear. I tore off her blouse and kissed her naked skin above the bra. “Yes…” she whispered, leaning back against the bed.
Making love to the different bed-mates I’d had after my mother’s death had always been with a sense of desperation, anger and frustration – a need that left a hollow feeling after being satisfied. Sometimes my lust had also been borne of hatred and when those men filled me and I climaxed there had been nothing more than a sense of emptiness, of darkness. With Barbara, already the first time and every time since then, it was different.
With Barbara it was true passion – a need that engulfed me in a fire only her touch and her kisses could satiate. Not even before my mother’s death had I felt anything like it. Never. And I knew I would never have that same feeling again with anyone else. Barbara fulfilled not only the needs of my body, but she filled my soul and my heart. Every touch was like a caress that brought us closer, made us almost one person. Every time we made love it was like the first time and still I remembered everything about her body from the previous time I touched and kissed her. I knew every line and curve of her body, just as she knew mine. She had so much passion and gentleness in her, and so much playfulness it was almost an adventure making love to her.
I loved her. I loved her fully. And when she touched me I knew she loved me back.
“I need you, Helena. Please…” Her mouth was close to my ear and she was naked now. My fingers traced the lines of her breasts, softly touching her nipples… Her kisses made me dizzy. I felt my body burning, I was wet between my thighs; I wouldn’t be able to hold on much longer.
“Barbara…” I whispered in a strained voice, feeling her mouth move further down my body. My legs spread on their own when her tongue softly caressed the tender skin on the insides of my thighs. I felt my eyes changing from normal to vertical slits – a predator’s eyes.
Her mouth was wet and warm and I made a low, growling sound in my throat.
“Only one night”, I heard her whisper. I didn’t get that and in the next instant I had forgotten all about it. Her tongue prodded at my most sensitive part with a warmth, a tenderness and an urgency that made me arc my back in bed, calling her name. Oh, my goddess – how I love this woman! Please, let her be mine…
“I’ve been to the doctor”, Barbara said afterwards, when we lay naked in her bed. She snuggled close to me and I held her tight, feeling relaxed, but also worried as she reminded me about her strange condition. I hadn’t wanted to make love to her, but how could I resist when she looked at me and pleaded with me and pouted in such a sexy way? I simply had to give in.
“And?” I asked, almost holding my breath, even though I knew she would have told me already if it had been something serious. She caressed my chest and I felt a tightening between my legs as her fingertips gently grazed my breast and almost, almost touched my nipple. Not now, for God’s sake! I berated myself and tried to concentrate on what she was telling me.
“Guess what they told me?” She sniffed a little, mostly indignantly. “Panic-attacks.”
“Panic-attacks?” I said dumbly, not getting it.
“Yeah, that’s what they said I had. Panic-attacks my ass! Wouldn’t you say I’m the least likely person to suffer from panic-attacks?” She sat up, almost glaring at me, as if this whole thing was my fault. I frowned at her and tilted my head to one side.
“Well…” I couldn’t help making fun of her – she was so cute when she was indignant. Her glare deepened and I grinned at her, to make her know I was pulling her leg. “Next to Alfred”, I said and she relaxed with a smile.
“Well, of course… Silly me.”
She leaned back into my embrace and kissed my neck. I suppressed a shiver and cursed inwardly.
“So, panic-attacks?” I said and tried to sound almost indifferent. She didn’t show it now, but she had seemed almost terrified when I carried her to her room before and the memory of that still brought fear to my heart. Not that I wanted her to know it. Most likely she already did. Most likely she wouldn’t show me her fear so openly again because she knew it frightened me. I cursed both myself and her for that.
“Dr Harvey said it sounded like panic-attacks, the way I described it. But I explained to him I have never been more relaxed or happy in my life. I don’t get it.” Barbara shrugged. “Dr. Harvey said that sometimes, after a long period of stressful living, when we relax… attacks can happen. And…” She frowned. “Also, he wondered if I had some added responsibilities lately.”
She rolled over to her stomach and looked at me.
“What? Am I an added responsibility?”
“Sometimes you’re like a second child”, she said with a teasing smile.
“Oh, yeah?” I asked, grinning, and leaned forward to caress her buttocks. “Would a child do… this?” My hand slid along her back in a not at all innocent way that made her shiver. I even noticed a slight blush on her cheeks.
“Maybe not a child, then”, I heard her mumble, then she was serious again and sat up. “But I do… worry”, she added. There was something vulnerable about her that I recognized from before, when we had discussed our relationship. It was seldom she showed it, being who she was – a woman of many roles – but when she did her heart was in her eyes and I loved her more than ever.
“You don’t have to. I would never leave you”, I said, taking her hands in mine.
“Not… that.” She lowered her head and looked away for a second.
“Barbara?” I asked worriedly. I hesitantly reached for her, but she looked up before I had time to touch her.
“I’m frightened that you will die. I know it’s silly and I know it’s not rational and I know…”
“Hush.” I put a finger across her lips, silencing her. I wasn’t used to being the sensible one, but I needed to do something to stop my own fears from showing. “I won’t die, Barbara. Promise. Cross my heart.” I did just that, as her eyes were fixed on me. The green, intense look unnerved me as it had so many times even before I knew her the way I knew her in that moment.
“You can’t promise that”, she finally said, slowly and with a quiet calm I recognized. She shook her head. “None of us can promise that. The gods do what they willst with us.”
“Barbara…” Willst? I thought, bewildered. She looked strange and she was using a funny dialect. Did she do a crash-course in Shakespeare?
“No. I’m sorry. I just…” She put her hand to my cheek. “I’m sorry I worried you. I will consult Dr. Harvey again – there must be something he can do.” She grimaced. “Except filling me with pills and sending me off to a shrink. That would be the last thing I need. Can you imagine Batgirl on a couch, telling her life’s story to a nutty psychologist?”
The thought made me smile. “Not really. No more so than I can imagine Huntress on that couch.”
“That’d be the day”, she agreed and pushed some of my dark, unruly curls from my forehead. “I love you so, Helena”, she said intensely. “I think that the thought of losing you… Maybe that’s what causes these panic-attacks. I lost Mike so brutally and I do have enemies… we both do, now.”
I nodded, not sure of what to say. Didn’t I fear losing her just as much? That jealous-streak within me, making me lash out at Dick like that… I took her hand in mine and squeezed gently. “If that’s what this is… We’ll deal with it together.”
“Thank you, Helena”, she said softly and kissed me gently on my lips. It was a mere brush of her lips against mine, but it instantly aroused me. She noticed and smiled mischievously – that teasing smile Batgirl used to give me in the beginning of our acquaintance, which made me blush. “No, no – I really need to get going”, she said, rising.
“I thought I was sending the doctor to you?” I objected, instantly worried that she was getting out of bed.
“Well, I was thinking I want them to do some tests.” She pulled some clothes from her cupboard and went towards the bathroom.
When did she do the thinking? I thought, whishing I was as multi-skilled as she in processing my thoughts. I only had to look at her naked body and all thoughts except the one about what I wanted to do with that naked body went out my head – like soap-bubbles through an open window.
“They test better at the hospital”, she added with a grin, looking over her shoulder. “By the way…” Something else had caught her mind and she frowned at me, halting in the doorway to the bathroom. “What was that with you and Dick? You said you’ve had an argument.”
“Or something”, I muttered. I looked up and noticed the inquiring look on her face. With a sigh I gave in and shrugged. “Nothing. It’s just…” I didn’t know what to say. How could I explain the looks Dick had given us individually or both together? It seemed silly, now that I was with her and he wasn’t present, but… There was this nagging feeling in the back of my head that Dick either didn’t approve of me being Barbara Gordon’s lover, for whatever reason – mainly the one that I was a woman. Or – the second conclusion, which I wasn’t far from reaching after the morning’s display of affection in the arena – he wanted her for himself.
“You are not jealous, are you?” Barbara suddenly asked and I gasped for air, a surprised reaction I couldn’t hide.
“No! No, of course not – that would be… silly. No, I’m not jealous, I just… I had…” I stopped, as she was laughing at me.
“No?” she asked with an arched eyebrow, coming closer. “Because…” She leaned a knee against the mattress and slid a finger down my cheekbone. Her voice was low and hoarse and I hated her for the way she could see straight through me and for the way she made me feel. But it was hate in a very loving way. “Because…” she went on and leaned in to kiss me, although she didn’t. “I would find it very, very… arousing.”
I closed my eyes. Goddess, what is she doing to me?
When I looked up Barbara had left the bed and stood leaning against the doorframe to the bathroom. She smiled at me – Batgirls devilish grin. “Are you coming? Or do I have to shower all by my lonesome?”
“I thought you were in a hurry”, I grumbled. Clever, Huntress. Real clever comeback, I thought, mentally kicking myself. Barbara laughed at me, but her eyes were tender and gentle when I moved closer.
“Don’t leave me”, she said and I didn’t know what to say. I almost chocked on the emotions her look stirred within me and nodded only, before I followed her to the shower.
When I arrived at my office at Gordon Technologies detective Reese and an unknown woman waited for me in reception. Since I was late for work I had phoned Glynis, my excellent secretary, earlier to have her cancel one of my meetings that morning. This made it possible for me to attend to my somewhat unexpected visitors.
My appointment at the hospital hadn’t left me much the wiser – except that I had forced them to schedule a date for some tests. Maybe it was panic-attacks I suffered from, but I wasn’t buying that notion until I had ruled out any other possibilities. I do not suffer from panic-attacks! I thought wryly. I do not. I didn’t care that even in my own mind I sounded like a three year old child having a tantrum. Panic-attacks just didn’t happen to Barbara Gordon slash Batgirl, slash Oracle. I had not carried the weight of Gotham City since I was a teenager – well, part of the weight – by being a person having panic-attacks.
Maybe there was some unknown, hidden heart-disease I suffered from without being aware of it. Whatever it was it truly frightened me: for once in my life I wasn’t in control – it was a strange, upsetting experience.
“Ms Gordon.” Detective Reese was on his feet as soon as I stepped out of the elevator; he and the woman with him had been sitting on one of the couches in reception. Behind the front desk Glynis raised an eyebrow in a silent question to me and I nodded; she went back to her papers behind the desk.
“Detective”, I said shortly, with that tone of voice I always used when entering Gordon Technologies, and then almost caught my breath as I turned my eyes to Reese’s companion. I had never seen the woman before and still I was sure I knew her, but that wasn’t what almost made me bite my tongue. She was… And she seemed as caught by surprise seeing me as I was by seeing her.
I found my composure first and smiled. I didn’t know what she saw in my face or in my eyes, but something brought a slight blush to her cheeks and she averted her eyes from mine for a brief moment. I was glad – it took all my self-control not to let detective Reese notice something was out of the ordinary.
Before meeting Helena I had never caught myself glancing in another woman’s direction; I had never even considered it. As far as I knew no woman had ever been interested in me either – or at least, not to my knowledge. Since I begun sleeping with Helena – sleeping being not entirely correct – I had caught myself lingering over the shape of other women. Not too openly – Helena was very perceptive, indeed. The thought always made me smile.
The fact was that other women – some women; particular women – seemed to turn their heads toward me, as if something had changed in my appearances. As if they suddenly knew something that most men never would even consider of me. It was as if these women knew the change that had been wrought within me by Helena and that they appreciated it.
The blonde woman before me didn’t seem to me to be one of these women, but the way she had averted her eyes… the way she had caught my look – it was there, either she knew it or not. That was not what startled me. What startled me was that I – as a woman – appreciated her, the way a man would appreciate her. My goddess, I thought – too wrapped up in my own inner, sudden revelations to reflect upon why I would call to a goddess. This is… unexpected. And somewhat thrilling, I realized as Batgirl grinned within me with sudden amusement.
“Ms Gordon, allow me to introduce Ms Lockley. She has come from Los Angeles to see you.”
“You have?” I was intrigued. I had never either seen her or heard of her. Bummer, one part of me complained, but I pushed away that particular thought. The thought of Helena made me sober – I loved Huntress and there was no way anyone could come between us. Despite that I found I had to catch myself before I glanced down at the woman’s legs. Apparently Batgirl within me had already noticed them. Shapely legs…
Ms Lockley was dressed in a dark blue suit: a dress that cut right below her knees and a jacket covering a white blouse which was a little too open at the throat. Her skin seemed smooth and there was a necklace around her neck: a silver cross with a dark, purple stone at the centre. Her hair was blonde and shoulder length, her eyes a light blue, almost grey.
“Actually…” Ms Lockley hesitated and glanced over her shoulder at my secretary. For some reason I suspected this blond, guarded woman of my own age to be a cop. Something about her movements and the way she looked about her, even something in the way she regarded me, alerted me. Besides the appreciation I had seen in her eyes when she first held my gaze she seemed to be evaluating my worth as a person. “Could we talk in private?”
I nodded. “Of course”, I said, gesturing towards my office behind the high glass windows. “After you.”
I glanced inquiringly at Reese, but he only shrugged and shook his head with a slight movement, letting me know it was best I spoke to Ms Lockley. I followed the woman, closed the door when Reese had passed me and then made my way to my desk, where I put down my briefcase and sat down, waiting for them to speak.
Reese sat down while Lockley took her time looking around; I noticed she admired the view. Again my eyes travelled the length of her body, but I made sure Reese wasn’t aware of it – or that my thoughts weren’t reflected in my face or in my eyes. The woman didn’t seem to me to be the type to wear a suit – not if she was a cop; her movements indicated she would prefer jeans and maybe a looser jacket.
She turned around, glancing down at her dress with a slight smile as if she’d been reading my mind. “This is not my own choice of apparel, Ms Gordon”, she said, almost wryly, and I wondered if she had noticed me glancing at her in the reflection off the windows. If she had she sure was one perceptive woman. She gestured towards Reese. “Detective Reese here thought it would be best if I dressed… suitably to make sure you would admit me.”
I arched an eyebrow towards Reese.
“Also to avoid gossip, Ms Gordon”, he hurriedly said, twisting uncomfortably in his seat. He knew better than to call me by name when he was in my office, even though we had known each other for years.
“You are a cop”, I said, looking directly at Lockley. She stood with her back towards the high windows; the midday lights shone around her and hid her face in the shadows, but she shrugged.
“I used to be”, she said, moving towards the desk and sat down, not directly beside Reese – she left an empty seat between them. She didn’t take her perceptive eyes from me and I held her gaze, as if this was a competition neither would want to lose.
“Ms Lockley is a private investigator”, Reese finally said, when the silence between us grew too heavy. I arched another eyebrow and leaned back in my chair. I crossed my legs and absently swirled a pen between my fingers.
“I’m investigating a series of murders”, the woman said, leaning slightly forward. If I lowered my eyes I would see her cleavage. Again I thought of Helena and refrained from the temptation. “Real gruesome murders – the killer picks young teenagers with nothing in common other than they are about the same age, same height and are blonde.”
My fingers stopped and I caught the pen in my hand. I frowned at this stranger, thinking of Dinah. There was something I ought to remember about Dinah, but the thought slipped my mind. He is coming for her, finally… It was a fleeting thought and gone before I could catch it. Who? I asked myself, but there was no answer – only this sense of dread, suddenly sweeping through me. I leaned forward against the desk.
“Tell me”, I said coldly, feeling the bitch I became when I entered Barbara Gordon’s office snapping into place. I noticed the quick exchange of looks between Reese and the PI and almost punched down the pen against the table. “Tell me!” I snapped, glaring at the woman. “Why are you here, Ms Lockley? What do you want with me?”
“Actually”, Lockley said, more cautious than before. “A friend sent me here. You see, there are no clues to who committed these murders and both the police and the FBI are left rather… clueless.” She smiled bitterly at her own words. “Someone I know told me I needed to see Barbara Gordon in Gotham City.” She shrugged. “I had never heard of this place, although I am familiar with your name... now.”
You are? I thought, but focused on her story. “Is there anything linking me with the murders? Is that why you have come?”
“You tell me.” Lockley leaned back in her seat, regarding me levelly. “I had nothing to lose, coming here. My friend… is not a cop, nor has he anything to do with upholding the laws in any way. He is more… a friend of a friend.” She made a slight, almost apologetic and surely unconscious gesture with her hand.
“I am not sure what you are getting at, Ms Lockley”, I said and Reese’s chair squeaked when he moved in it, leaning forward towards the desk with a pleading look in his eyes.
“She has led him straight to Dinah, detective”, I said coldly, looking at Reese and having no clue what so ever what I was talking about. “I am not having her wrecking Dinah’s life like that.”
“What…?” Reese said, as confused as I would have felt had I stopped to consider what I was doing. Lockley gasped softly, looking at me with wide eyes.
I rose. “This meeting is over. I’m sorry, but I can be of no help to…”
I felt it coming. I had learned to recognize the signs, as people with epilepsy would. That was one thing I wanted to be tested for: epilepsy. What would happen if I was Batgirl fighting criminals and having an epilepsy-attack in the middle of a show-down?
I felt it coming. It was a creeping feeling, a tingling in my skull and in my hands and in my legs… I reached out to steady myself, to sit down. I felt darkness sneak upon me, as dusk on a still sunny day. With the darkness came a voice I didn’t recognize – not my own, for once. “She is your lover, in an alternate world – in a different life…” I saw Lockley’s face before me, the worry in her eyes, and I knew I could trust her.
“Miss Gordon?” She rose from her chair, reaching for me.
Imagine that, I thought, before my world exploded in a pain I had never known before. And there was fire and blood…
* * *
“What?” he said with his back towards me. He leaned over the kitchen-table and was studying some papers, probably related to his work.
I had discussed my jealousy towards Dick with Barbara and her only advice – besides that I shouldn’t let my fear control me – was to talk to him. So there I was, trying to break a pattern of years of avoidance to actually talk about something that pained me. I had never been good at that, not even when my mother was alive.
“I want to… apologize”, I said. Actually, when he turned towards me almost leering all I wanted to do was kick his teeth in. I suppressed that emotion and breathed deeply. When did all this happen? Since when did I feel this… this suppressed rage towards Dick? I liked Dick. He was my brother – sort of. I hadn’t had a problem with him until… Well, he did warn Barbara not to bring me when Patch went down. Although – to be fair to him – he did have a point.
No, it begun when Barbara told him she was in love with me. That’s when it changed. That’s when he changed. Maybe not immediately, but that’s when the foundations were laid. This… this leering – that wasn’t Dick. Neither Dick nor Nightwing were so… disrespectful, so plainly unlikeable. The thing was, he wasn’t like this when Barbara or Dinah were around – or at least not as openly.
“Do you?” he said, still leering. “For fucking her, or for letting me know how much you enjoy it? You know – you aren’t the first to have her. She will tire of you. When the flames die out, there will be nothing left. She is just another whore and the fire will…”
I punched him. I knocked him flat out and looked at his body as it lay sprawled across the table. The first thought that came to mind was that I was glad Alfred wasn’t about – not to see me strike Dick, but for him not to have overheard what Dick called Barbara.
I can’t believe he just said that, I thought, the anger within me receding and leaving a tiny speck of fear and even larger confusion. What the hell is going on with us?
I didn’t know what to do with Dick, so I left him on the table. It wouldn’t be a good idea for me to stick around and have another go at him if the first thing he said when he woke up wasn’t an apology. First I needed to do some thinking. About what I wasn’t sure – that was what I needed to think about.
I left the Clock Tower to take a stroll in the park, but when I passed Gordon Technologies I stopped just outside the headquarters. Something strange was going on – a bunch of people stood in front of the gates, looking bewildered and lost.
“What has happened?” I asked someone, an older man.
“Haven’t you heard?” he said, grabbing me. “It was on the radio, just a minute ago.”
“What?” I felt a cold hand squeezing my heart. Barbara…
“Barbara Gordon has been brought to the hospital. They don’t…”
I didn’t stay to listen. I swirled around, making my way to a nearby alley. From there I could scale the buildings and make my way to the hospital in a shorter time than it would take by using taxi.
I didn’t get that far. In a dark alley, just before I was about to climb a tall building, someone stopped me.
“You have to wake up.”
I turned around, facing an older, dark-skinned woman with a million wrinkles in her face. Dark eyes penetrated me, nailed me to the spot. Not even the thought of losing Barbara could make me move. Barbara… But I was lost in the eyes of something much older. The woman raised a hand and grazed my forehead, sketching an invisible mark of some kind on my skin.
“You’ve got to wake up, child – before he comes. Before history twists and turns and burns you all again… Remember your dreams.”
My dreams? Dinah had been talking about dreams that same morning. I’ve got to go! Barbara…
“Let go!” I twisted loose and scrambled up the nearest fire escape.
“Wake up! Don’t let him find you sleeping!”
I’m awake! I wanted to shout, but kept climbing. I turned on my intercom and tried to reach Barbara, but there was no sound on the other end. I usually turned off my intercom when she went to her office – I still wasn’t very fond of business-Barbara, as Dinah once had called her. Although she was very sexy.
The thought made me sniffle and I realized I was crying as I flew above the rooftops towards New Gotham City Hospital.
Dinah! I suddenly remembered the girl in college and wondered if she had heard the news. I tried reaching her as well on the intercom, but there wasn’t any answer either. Oh, Goddess of the dark and of the moon – don’t let her die! I’ll do anything!
When I reached the hospital I asked for Barbara Gordon at the front desk and then used the stairs to reach the third floor, where I had been told she was being held. I used the stairs more out of fear that I would crash the elevator if it went too slow than because I wanted to avoid people.
On the third floor I looked around for the right corridor and then made my way to Barbara’s room. I was about to crash through the closed doors when a stranger – a blond woman I had never seen before – stepped out in front of me. I reached for her to throw her out of my way, but it seemed she had anticipated my move because she stepped back a pace and avoided my grasp. Her move made me lose my balance for a second and I growled at her; my eyes changed and became dangerous.
“Get out of my way or I’ll kill you”, I said in a voice that had scared many criminals, but the woman didn’t even flinch. She looked me straight in the eye and said, with absolute authority:
“You are not helping, fighter. Stand down.”
Something about her determination and the way she held her ground in front of me made me cool down a little, but I still glared at her.
“You can’t do anything for her”, she added more gently. “Let them do what they are trained to do.”
I frowned at her, feeling my eyes changing back to normal. “You’re a cop?” I asked. I had thought she must be a nurse, but her appearance didn’t fit. For one thing she was dressed like a lawyer.
I turned and found Reese by my side. The sight made me relax a little; the woman must be with him. I had no clue to what they were doing with Barbara at the hospital, but it made me feel better that she hadn’t been completely alone when she was brought in. Unless…
“She wasn’t shot or anything?” I asked him worriedly. He shook his head and gestured to the blond woman.
“This is Kate, she is a private investigator. We were with Barbara when…” He silenced and frowned. “We don’t know what happened.”
“She seemed to have an attack of some sorts”, the blond woman said. “Like a hell of a migraine-attack. She kept screaming…”
I didn’t want to know that. “Migraine? She never had migraines.” She never had panic-attacks either. I frowned.
“They’ve been running some tests. CAT-scans and…”
Shit! I felt the color drain from my face and there was a ringing sound in my ears, preventing me from hearing the rest of Kate’s words. A fucking tumor! Not this – oh, fuck… Not this!
“We’ve just managed to get the reporters away”, Reese added. “You know what they are like when it comes to Barbara. And with what happened only two months ago…”
I nodded, but Kate looked confused.
“What happened?” she asked. I turned away and looked in direction of Barbara’s room, not answering.
“She… was kidnapped”, Reese said.
Kate gasped softly. “Oh, yes – I remember”, I heard her whisper softly under her breath. “She seems to be well liked in this town”, she added, looking at me.
“She is”, I said curtly.
“Everyone loves Barbara”, Reese said smoothly, glancing at me. I didn’t pay him any attention. Maybe I should have asked what a private investigator and a detective were doing with Barbara, but all I could think of was that the woman I loved was going to die.
“She’ll be fine, I’m sure of it”, Kate suddenly said and touched my arm with a gentle gesture. I looked at her and found the same inner strength with her as I had found in Barbara when we first met. Although, with Kate there was an almost hidden sorrow in the depths of her eyes – something near melancholy, as if she had seen and lived through darkest hell and fought her way back out of it, but had never been able to forget what she had seen.
I shook my head, not able to find my voice. I glanced towards Barbara’s room. And then I heard it, a soft sound almost not noticeable. It wouldn’t have been, except for my enhanced hearing. “Something is wrong”, I said and stepped past Kate before she had the time to catch me. She and Reese followed close behind me as I rushed towards Barbara’s room and threw the doors open. A nurse coming from the helpdesk in the corridor prevented Reese from entering, but Kate and I hurried through the doors.
The room was an ordinary Hospital room, spacious and with a grand view through large windows. There was a restroom to the right of the doors, there was only one bed amongst a lot of technical equipments closer to the windows.
Barbara stood by the bed in a long, white gown, with tubes and wires to her wrists and her nostrils. Two doctors in white coats stood in front of her, flanked by two female nurses and one male nurse. They all tried to talk to Barbara, who tore the wires from her face and arms without listening to them. She yanked so hard on the wires she almost toppled the monitors on the other side of the bed. The screen measuring her heartbeat made a beeping sound and then went dead.
“Miss Gordon…” one doctor tried, as the other subtly gestured to the male nurse to move closer.
“I’m leaving”, Barbara said and moved forward. There was something strange about her, but I couldn’t tell what as I looked at her. Something was different about her face, about her eyes, in the same way something had been different about Dick the last time I saw him.
The male nurse and one of the doctors moved in and grabbed Barbara’s arms.
“We can’t let you leave yet, Ms Gordon”, the other doctor said.
“Let me go!”
I stared at Barbara, hearing the strength in her voice. Her face wrinkled and we all felt a gust of wind charging through the room. Kate grabbed hold of me as we stumbled against the wall, pushed by an invisible force. The two men holding Barbara were thrown through the room, against the wall beside me and Kate. They fell to the floor and remained unmoving.
“You mere mortals will not dictate my movements! I walk amongst the gods…” Barbara pointed at the remaining doctor and the nurses; one held on to the bed and the other to an armchair by the window. The wind subsided and died away.
Barbara held the gaze of the doctor for a moment longer, then she paled and toppled over.
“Barbara!” I yelled and rushed forward, but the doctor was in my way and already at Barbara’s side.
“Get her out!” he ordered the nurses and gestured towards me, as he checked on my unconscious lover.
“No!” I growled. “She needs me here…”
Kate was suddenly by my side and pulled gently at my arm.
“No…” I whispered, seeing Barbara’s white face on the floor. In the next moment the room was filled with nurses and people and Kate and I were ushered towards the doors before I had time to do anything about it. “No!” I yelled again and was about to make an effort to reach Barbara, who was being laid on the bed, when Reese reached us.
“Helena”, he said urgently. “Helena – listen!”
“What?” I snapped at him, growling. It took him aback for a second, but then he caught himself and held my gaze.
“There’s been an explosion at Dinah’s school…”
I blinked. My mind was so set on Barbara I couldn’t process anything else at the moment. What the hell did just happen? Barbara had thrown those two men across the room as if it had been nothing. And that voice… And her face… And now she was lying as if dead again.
“I just heard it on the radio, out here…” Reese gestured towards the hallway behind us. We were still standing in the doorway to Barbara’s room. “Not more than a minute ago… There’s been an explosion at Dinah’s school”, he repeated slowly, holding my gaze.
Dinah! What was going on? This whole thing was a mess: Barbara, Dick and now Dinah. I felt as overwhelmed as I had at the time when I just met Barbara Gordon and Batgirl. Things happened in a speed I couldn’t keep up with.
I glanced at the room and the doctors working with Barbara.
“Barbara mentioned Dinah”, Kate said. “She was worried about her.”
I nodded and made my decision. Fuck! Dinah… “Take care of her”, I asked Kate, almost pleading. I didn’t know if the other woman understood just how much Barbara meant to me, but she nodded.
“I will”, she said softly.
“Reese…” I turned towards the detective.
“I need to be there”, he said. “Want to catch a ride with me?”
I shook my head. “I don’t use cars…” I said somewhat distractedly. This statement caused Kate to frown and to take a closer look at me. She was about to ask me something when a team of nurses and another doctor moved in through the doors.
“Move – move, out of the way!” one woman said, clearing the way.
“Please, people – move out of the room and let us work”, the new doctor, a woman this time, said.
We followed orders and moved out in the hallway. Reese made his way to the elevator and I was about to disappear towards the stairs when Kate caught me.
“You are not using the sewers, are you?” she asked, eyeing me almost suspiciously.
The sewers? What does she think I am? A goddamn rat? “The sewers?” I said disgustedly.
“Dark and brooding, wearing a long coat in the middle of the day, on a sunny day… Shying away from daylight, growling with eyes like an animal. Seems strange to me. Enough to make me wonder…”
“Fuck! I don’t have time for this…” Suddenly I knew I needed to be with Dinah. If Barbara woke up and heard the news… Dinah. Goddess, keep her safe. Goddess? This was the first time I reflected upon my choice of deity. Goddess… I had called upon the goddess the whole day. Which fucking goddess is that? What was it Barbara had said? She walks with gods? Where the hell did that come from?
“Do you fear crosses?”
Before I knew it Kate held a silver cross to my face.
“What the…? Get out of my face”, I growled, batting at her hand. “Fuck – you people!” I glared at her. “What’s your fucking problem?”
Kate shrugged. “Just checking. Needed to be sure I wasn’t dealing with another undead with a soul. I’m not particularly fond of surprises.”
Who the fuck is? I thought, growling in my mind. I almost spat at the woman. “Undead? You think I’m a vampire? God, woman – you have serious problems.”
“Yeah, and you are the least of it”, she said, as coolly as if she discussed the breed of a neighbor’s dog. I held her gaze, trying to read her thoughts, but she held her ground and I didn’t have time to make a scene to frighten her to show her true self – besides, with Barbara in mind I figured it wouldn’t work anyway. I growled one more time and then left by way of the stairs.
It wouldn’t take long to get to the high school. When I reached the roof of the hospital I could see the smoke rising from that direction and I felt my heart grow cold. Princess, I thought, regretting I had called her sparrow that morning; regretting I had not listened to her telling me about her dreams…
Dreams? That woman… she told me to remember my dreams. There was no time to remember my dreams as I once again rushed across the rooftops, fighting a cold fear in my stomach. Barbara… And now Dinah. Would I lose them both?
It was only a small part of the New Gotham High School that had been exposed to the explosion, but that part was completely destroyed. Black smoke curled itself towards the blue sky, bringing ashes and the smell of destruction with it in the wind. Crumbled walls, glistening steel and burnt debris greeted me as I reached the building. The fire department was there and I noticed Reese arriving at the same time. People, mostly firemen and anonymous individuals in white suits, walked across the rubble looking for whatever they are looking for after a fire. Dead bodies… I pushed the thought aside.
I slid to the ground behind a hidden alley and walked up to the front of the school, were students stood gathered with their respective classes and their teachers.
I turned around, feeling a rush of relief as I heard Dinah’s voice behind me. She broke free from her class and from a female teacher trying to hold her back and ran towards me. I could see tears on her soot-smeared face. She threw herself in my arms and the teacher who was coming after her stopped hesitantly when I gestured towards her.
“Oh, thank God you are here!” Dinah sobbed.
“Thank God you are all right”, I said with feeling. “What happened?”
Dinah pulled away from me, drying her tears and smearing the black on her face across her cheeks. “It was a gas-leak, or so they said. I think it was. I could…” She shivered. “I saw it. It was that woman who showed me. She said I needed to get the people out of the room.”
“The woman? What woman?”
But Dinah didn’t hear me, she was too wrapped up in her own emotions and in her need to tell the story.
“It was the editorial room. There were hardly any people, but I got them out and…” She glanced about her and leaned forward, adding in a whispering voice: “I put a force field around us. I didn’t know I could use my energy-spheres to do that…”
“And no one noticed?” I asked lowly, trying not to berate her for her action – it had probably saved her life.
Dinah shook her head. “They thought it was the blast from the explosion that went all bluish around us. A few people got hurt, but no one died.” She shuddered. “It could have been so bad. If that woman hadn’t found me…”
“What woman?” I asked again.
“Old”, Dinah said. “She looked… parched. You know, like old parchment – all dark and wrinkled and shriveled… But her eyes, they were like burning coal. I was on my way to the editorial…”
For some reason this caught my attention. “You are writing for the school-paper?”
Dinah blushed. “Well, no… Let’s just say I have an… um, interest in the school-paper.”
“Well, Dinah – my, my, what will Barbara say? A love-interest… And you who were going all snappish on my hormones this morning.” Despite the serious situation we were in I couldn’t help but grin at the girl; the relief I felt as I found her alive fuelled me. Her blush deepened.
“Um, well… Anyway”, she rushed on, “I was on my way there when this woman turned up out of nowhere, looking like a bag lady or something. She caught me and I thought she wanted to do some begging, so I handed her my apple, which was all I had at the time, but she looked at me and said there was going to be an accident and that I must get all the people out of the room. First I didn’t listen, I mean – why should I?” She shrugged. “You hear all crazy things all the time and I wasn’t going to make a fool out of myself in front of…” Dinah stopped and glanced at me. “In front of everyone. But then she took my hand and I saw… this broken pipe, the janitor smoking and the building going… Boom!” She silenced and closed her eyes for a moment. “I saw all these people die…” she whispered.
“You did well, Dinah”, I said and squeezed her shoulder. “You did very well.”
Dinah took a deep breath and looked up at me. “Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” she said with a weak smile. “I wonder who that woman was”, she added with a frown.
“Me too”, I murmured. “Me too.”
When I woke up I felt dizzy and nauseous, much like that time not long ago when I woke up after the beating Boyd had put me through. I felt someone’s presence close to me and turned my head, expecting to find Helena. It wasn’t.
“Ms Lockley”, I said with a weak smile. The blond woman sat in a chair by the hospital bed and leaned forward when I spoke. She took my hand in hers.
“You’ll be fine”, she said. “You’ve given them a hard time, but you’ll be fine.”
I closed my eyes. “Do they know what’s wrong with me?” I asked.
“No, not yet…”
I sighed and opened my eyes again, feeling better by the minute. Her hands were soft and warm.
“How… How are you feeling?” Lockley asked me.
“Disregarding the fact that I feel as if I’ve survived having an elephant dumped on my head?” I said wryly and maybe a little too sarcastically.
“And I hear that you are feeling better…” Lockley said sardonically, pulling her hands from mine. Her tone of voice made me remember the way I had treated her in my office.
“Look”, I said, gesturing with one hand. “Ms Lockley, I’m…” I caught myself as someone entered the room and we both turned our heads towards the newcomer.
“My god, Barbara!” Dick said, hurrying towards my bed. He bent over and kissed my cheek, but I could only stare at him. He had the largest bruise I’d ever seen, right between his eyes. His nose was swollen to almost double its size.
“My god, Dick”, I said. “What on earth has happened to you?”
Dick made a face and waved away my concern with a flippant gesture. “Never mind. I fell into a…”
“A fist, maybe?” the blonde private investigator said ironically by my side. He turned his gaze towards her and I noticed the way his eyes narrowed, as if he knew her – or recognized her from somewhere. I also noticed – with more than a little amusement – the way he was eyeing her shoulders and legs. My, my, Batgirl was teasing inside my head and I had to hide a smile.
“Dick”, I said. “Do you know where Helena is? Does she know I’m here?”
Dick hesitated for a moment. “Barbara…” he said, somewhat tentatively. “There’s been…”
I felt a cold, cold chill creeping up my neck. “Who? Which one is it? Dinah or Helena? Dick – tell me!”
“It’s fine. They are both fine.” Lockley put a hand on my shoulder and gently, but quite firmly, pushed me back against the pillows. I noticed Dick glancing at her. “Your friend has been here. She was worried about you, but there was some disturbance at the high school. She went to get this Dinah you were worried about.”
“They are fine?” I asked suspiciously.
“Yes. Reese is with them. He phoned me. They are on their way over here.”
I relaxed and looked at Dick. “What happened?”
“I… don’t know.” Dick shrugged and looked at the blond woman. “Alfred phoned me to let me know you were in the hospital. He’s at the manor today. Then I heard the news about the school in my car on the way over here. No one has been killed, but there has been some people injured.”
“There was one victim”, Lockley said. “The janitor.” She glanced at Dick. “Reese told me”, she added. She rose and extended her hand towards him across my bed. “Hi, by the way. I’m private investigator Lockley. And you are?”
I arched an amused eyebrow at the two of them. Dick was eyeing the woman’s hand as if it was a snake intending to bite him. Finally he gave in and extended his hand.
“Dick Grayson”, he mumbled as they shook hands and I noticed with interest the sudden, appreciative look in Dick’s eyes as he held the P.I:s hand.
“You ought to get that bruise taken care of”, Lockley said, indicating the swelling. “After all, we are at a hospital.”
“She’s right, Dick”, I said gently, looking at him. I noticed the strain leaving his face and he nodded.
The bruise really disfigured his features. I wondered what had happened to him, but something in his way of avoiding my eyes when I had asked him about it had awakened a suspicion in me. In the shower with Helena earlier in the morning we had discussed her problem with Dick and I had suggested she talk to him. What I hadn’t told her was that Dick had come to me some time before, voicing a quite incomprehensible and irrational fear that Helena wasn’t to be trusted. He had seemed almost fretful, accusing her of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing and saying she would abandon us all when we needed her the most. I had told him I trusted her and that I loved her and if he had a problem with her he would need to discuss it with her himself, because I wouldn’t turn my back on her. I had been so busy worrying about my own condition the last two weeks that I hadn’t really followed up on his and Helena’s relationship until that morning. I wondered if they finally had come to blows. If they had I would see if it changed anything between them, otherwise I would have to have a talk with them.
“I will. I was just so worried”, he said, more relaxed now. “What happened to you?” he added with a slight frown.
“I don’t know. And I don’t expect the doctors will be able to tell me. Will you see to it that I can leave the hospital when I want to?”
“I’ll see what I can do”, he agreed with a determined set of his jaw. “I’ll do my best.”
I knew Dick; his best was usually enough to move mountains.
Lockley sat down by my side as Dick left the room and I looked inquiringly at her. “What happened at the school?” I wondered.
“A gas-leak. Some parts of the building exploded and went up in smoke. The explosion was probably triggered by the janitor, who was having a break and was smoking were he wasn’t suppose to smoke. No students were seriously injured, although some have been effected by the smoke. I guess they were lucky.”
“They must have been”, I agreed. I held Lockley’s gaze and tried to read her. She seemed to be a tough woman – I supposed you had to be to have been a cop in Los Angeles. She was hard to read and there was something guarded about her that made it difficult to tell what she was thinking, but I had four different people living inside my head and in the resent month I had come to know another very difficult person to read. “Thank you for staying”, I said gently, reaching for her. “There was no need for you to do so.”
She took my hand and squeezed it a little, giving me a small smile. “I had nothing better to do.”
“You’ll do anything to catch a killer, won’t you?” I asked, half humorously and half seriously. Apparently my words must have struck a chord, because she averted her eyes.
“No matter the cost”, I heard her whisper and I realized there were some truths in this woman’s past that had been dearly paid for. She looked up, catching me looking at her and pulled a face. “Sometimes… Sometimes what we find would have been better left buried.”
“Except even rotting corpses find their way to the surface”, I said softly and she nodded.
“Yeah, they do. They surely do.”
I took a deep breath and, to break the mood, said: “So, why don’t you tell me what you need me for and I’ll see what I can do.”
“That’s just it, Ms Gordon…” Lockley hesitated. “I’m not sure. The only thing my friend… my friends friend said was to find you and here I am…”
“And here you are. Do you always go on wild goose chases?” I asked good-naturedly, arching an eyebrow at her. It made her laugh. Hearing it I realized I liked her laughter.
“Oh, yes – yes, I do! Everyone who knows me will tell you that.”
It made me smile. “Well, I have found myself engaged in one or two wild goose chases in my day. Perhaps we will…” I silenced, interrupted by the noise of doors opening. I turned my head to find a nurse trying to prevent some people from entering my room. After a few heartbeats I noticed Helena almost pushing the nurse before her to get to my bed. The sight made me smile and I reached out a hand to my dark, beautiful lover.
“You can’t…” the nurse was saying, but then Helena twirled her about and dropped her in the armchair by the windows, before hurrying back to me.
“Barbara…” she said, almost choking.
“ Sshhh”, I said, grabbing her by the collar and pulling her towards me. “Don’t speak.”
And then I kissed her. She put her arms around me and almost pulled me out of bed and I held her around her neck, feeling her soft lips pressed against mine.
It was not until later I remembered that we weren’t alone. This is just the perfect way to out myself, I thought wryly as I let go of Helena and sunk back to bed. I smiled at her and reached to caress her cheek.
“I’m glad to see you”, I said.
“Ma’m”, the nurse said demandingly behind Helena’s back.
“Please, give me some time with my friends”, I said. I looked at the nurse and she relented.
“Fifteen minutes”, she said and I nodded.
“Where’s…?” I began when the nurse left the room and in the next instant Dinah was at my side, embracing me.
“Princess, are you all right?”
“Yeah, I am. Are you?” Dinah pulled back, eyeing me closely. “You look fine. You feel… queasy.”
“I feel a bit nauseous”, I admitted with a grimace. I noticed Lockley eyeing Dinah with a sharp look and realized she was thinking about the murders that had been committed in L.A; Dinah fitted the descriptions of the dead girls perfectly.
“Do you remember anything?” Helena suddenly asked, with a strange look on her face.
“Remember? What should I remember? I know who is president and what year it is. I had a migraine attack, not amnesia.”
Helena twitched when I looked at her and I knew she was hiding something. The glance she directed at Lockley made it obvious that they shared something.
“Dinah, Helena”, I said turning to the private investigator on my other side. “This is…”
“Kate”, Helena said immediately. “We’ve met.”
Kate? I glanced at the two of them and then nodded. There was a strange gleam in Helena’s eyes as she watched Lockley. Kate… And there was something else, something almost contented in the blond woman’s face as she watched Helena. As if she had been searching for something for a long time and finally found it.
“Right. Fine… Ms Lockley is a private investigator”, I told Dinah. “She has come to Gotham following a lead.”
“Which ended… with you?” Dinah said strangely cautiously, glancing at Lockley. Kate…
“It’s difficult to explain”, the blond woman said, almost apologetically, and rose from her chair. “I would like to talk to… all of you when the circumstances are better. Ms Gordon…” she looked down at me and smiled almost shyly. “Please, call me Kate.”
I held her gaze and nodded, struggling to sit up. Helena instantly leaned forward and helped me. “Fine, Kate. Please, call me Barbara.” I smiled wryly. “Any woman who has seen me in bed should call me Barbara”, I added, not knowing why. The remark made Kate clear her throat and by my side Helena scowled at me. The sight made me laugh and I kissed her quickly on the lips. “Don’t you worry, you are the only one for me”, I whispered, only for her ears.
“Hum”, she muttered, but I noticed the slight smile at the corner of her lips.
“So, how come you are here with Barbara, any way?” Dinah asked, still eyeing Kate with this strange, hesitant look.
“Oh, I was with her at her office when she had… the attack.” Kate frowned slightly at me. “I do apologize for getting on your wrong side at the time”, she added. “It was not my intention to upset you.”
“So, you’ve met Business-Barbara, have you? Huh”, Helena said, with a pointed glance at me.
“Don’t let her rub you the wrong way, Kate”, Dinah said, suddenly smiling at me. “Business-Barbara would get upset with a saint.”
“Hey!” I said, feeling it was time I defended myself, but when both Helena and Dinah laughed I had to give in with a shrug. “They’re right”, I said to Kate. “Come to my place tonight and we’ll have a much more relaxed conversation.”
“Don’t bring Reese”, Dinah instantly said and I gave her a surprised look. “Well, she shouldn’t…” the teenager said and blushed a little. “You know, because… because…”
Because if we end up discussing Batgirl and company it wouldn’t be such a good idea to have Reese around, I thought, realizing what Dinah was getting at.
“Because he has that meeting with the mayor tonight and he shouldn’t need to feel that he have to cancel that”, Helena lied smoothly, picking up on the lead. “Right?”
“Right”, Dinah said relieved. “That’s it.”
“Fine. I’ll just…”
“Where is Reese, anyway?” I interrupted Kate, looking around the room. “I thought he was coming with you?”
“Oh, he was. He stopped to talk to someone in the hallway”, Dinah said.
“Will you even be home tonight?” Kate asked me. “The hospital might not let you go.”
“They’ll let her go”, Helena said in her drawling voice and I smiled at her. If Dick couldn’t handle the doctors Helena would carry me out of there. Well, I did prefer to walk, but…
At that moment the strangest thing happened: Dick entered the room. No one noticed him at first, except me – everyone else’s attention was on me and their backs were towards the doors. He came closer and stopped a few steps behind Dinah. Someone had taken care of his bruise; it was wrapped in a white pad, with some white plaster covering the ridge of his nose. Looking at him, seeing him standing there between Dinah and Helena, I felt the darkness sneaking up on me again. Only this time there was no pain and no blackness. I simply felt myself almost floating out of my body… and in the next instant I found myself hovering above the room and the people in it. I saw them standing there and myself lying on the bed below. It was an uncanny experience, but I felt no fear. Instead I felt… almost at peace. This had not happened to me before – all the other times I had only lost consciousness. Except at the office, when the incredible pain had hit me.
“Dick”, I heard Helena say, with ice in her voice.
“Helena”, Dick said and I knew, just by watching them from above, that she indeed was the one who had given him that bruise. I also knew, by the look in his eyes, that he knew he had deserved it. What on earth did he do? I wondered. In the same moment the monitor registering my heartbeats beeped and the rhythmical motion on the screen reduced to a level green line. It signaled the end of my existence.
Then I heard a voice, not my own. It was neither female nor male. I recognized it from before in the office, from before the pain and the fire had claimed me.
“Listen now, my child. You are all gathered again and the time is set.”
I looked around, but I only felt the roof pressing against my back – it was an intriguingly strange sensation, in addition to seeing myself and everything from above. There was no other person in that room except for my friends. And they stared at me and at the monitor with terrified expressions on their faces.
“Who…what are you?” I asked inwardly, blocking the look on Helena’s face from my mind.
“Remember this. Time has gone by, but not until now has the board been set with this particular pattern. This pattern has been the key to his prison. He has awakened and he will come for you all. Remember this. Only you and the priest together can prevent him from taking control. You must join your powers and destroy him once and for all. Only you and the priest. Let the others care for the girl. Let the warriors protect the princess, as is their job. Remember this.”
“Wait!” I screamed within me, fearing the strange voice would go away. “What is this?”
“You will know. Remember… your dreams.”
“But… do you know why this is happening to me? Do you know… why I am dying all the time?”
“Because that is what you did… then. You died in fire and blood covered the land. You must not fail, this time…”
I jerked bolt upright in bed, gasping for air. The impact of returning to my body hit me like a hammer and it took a moment for me to recognize where I was. I looked up at the worried faces about me, sinking back into my body. That was an experience I never had before, I thought wryly, when I had come to my senses.
“Are you… are you all right?” It was Dick, leaning forward beside Helena.
“I’m fine. We need to get out of here.” I pulled away the blanket and rose from the bed.
“Barbara…” Dinah looked at me with pale cheeks. “You… you died.”
“I know”, I said, looking around for my clothes.
“The doctors will be here any minute”, Kate said.
“They will believe the monitor went off because I pulled the wires”, I said, finding my clothes neatly folded in the closet beside the restroom.
“What if it happens again?” Helena asked worriedly. There was something stiff in her eyes I knew I must deal with later. I could imagine what she had gone through seeing me die. If it had been me standing by her bed, seeing her… The thought made me repress a cold shiver.
“It won’t”, I said shortly, certain that my days of panic-attacks and dying were over. Without consideration I turned my back towards them, pulled off the gown and put on my clothes. In the next moment the doors flew open and another team of paramedics rushed in.
“You have no right to hold me here against my will”, I stated before anyone had time to interfere with me. “I do not have a contagious disease, nor am I incapable of making my own decisions. Now, please let me pass.”
* * *
Whatever reasons the hospital might have had to let Barbara stay we wouldn’t know. She and Dick soon had the doctors apologizing for keeping her so long – even if it had been a necessity! Then we were on our way. We all traveled in the elevator like some happy family, but it wasn’t until then my heart finally started beating with some regularity again. She had died for goodness sake!
“Would either of you care to tell me what Dick did to get you to hit him so hard, Helena?” Barbara suddenly said as soon as the doors closed.
“What? I didn’t…” I started to object.
“What? How did you…?” Dick said.
And Reese looked at me and smiled. “Did you really…?”
“Oh, boy”, I heard Dinah sigh behind me. “Told you, you should have talked to her… or him”, she added grumbling, glancing at me.
“Could we just drop this, Barbara?” Dick asked. “Believe me, you don’t want to know.”
“Surely not”, I growled behind his back and he glanced at me with pale cheeks.
“I did deserve it”, he admitted. “I deserved a knife twisting in my heart for what I… said.”
“You bloody well do”, I grumbled. Beside me Kate arched an eyebrow in my direction.
“Are you always this friendly?”
“I’m confused”, I said. “I get testy when I’m confused.”
“Which she always is”, Dinah said with a grin. “But she has her good moments.”
“I was an ass”, Dick went on, ignoring us in the background. “I don’t know what happened. It was as if I suddenly became someone else… It was strange.”
“Freaky”, I said, remembering Barbara’s face when she threw those two men through the room before. “It was fucking freaky.”
“I tell you what is freaky”, Reese said. “Those murders Kate is investigating. I’m not so sure you should leave the hospital, Barbara, but it’s your call. Will you take your time to talk to Kate about her lead?”
“I will”, Barbara said after a moment.
“She’s known to be a little of a Mulder”, Reese added with a smile, watching Kate. “So don’t think she’s nuts because she asks weird questions.”
“Funny, detective”, Kate said dryly.
“Mulder?” I asked.
“X-Files”, Dinah said immediately. “You know.”
“Hum”, I said. That would explain the vampires, I thought, noticing the way Barbara glanced at Kate. There was something appreciative in her eyes as she watched the blond woman and I felt my jaws tightening, but then Barbara looked at me and winked. I love you, she mouthed to me and I grinned at her.
“Fine, Reese”, Barbara said and turned away from me when the elevator stopped. “I’ll give Kate all the help I can.” She stepped out of the elevator, followed by the rest of us, and turned to the blond private investigator. “Where are you staying, Kate?”
“At some shabby hotel in the older part of Gotham”, Kate said, gesturing briefly with one hand. “It wouldn’t do to meet there, but…”
“You’ll stay with me. Dick, will you please phone Alfred and let him know to have dinner for… five. Reese?”
“No, thanks. I’m busy tonight.”
“Meeting the mayor, I heard”, Kate said, looking at him. Dinah almost choked and turned away, hiding her blushing face behind a fake cough. Barbara looked at me with an amused expression and I was trying hard to keep a straight face.
“The mayor? No, I’m…”
“Dick, did you bring the car?” Barbara interrupted smoothly. “I didn’t bring mine, unfortunately.” She smiled quickly and caught us all by the radiance of that smile. Dinah grinned back and I noticed Kate relax a little for the first time since I’d met her.
“I did”, Dick said hastily, with the cell phone to his ear. “Hold on… Alfred, it’s Dick…” He turned away.
“Good”, Barbara resumed. “Kate – get your stuff at the hotel and come to my place. You know where it is?”
“I do, but this isn’t necessary. I’ll do fine…”
Barbara waved away her protests with one hand, moving towards the exit. I followed her, grinning at Kate’s almost lost expression. When Barbara got something in her head it was difficult persuading her to change her mind. I knew – I had tried and failed many times the last two months. The most difficult part was when Barbara kept moving, running away from any discussion that would have ensued. It was a perfect persuasion-technique: she just didn’t take no for an answer.
I waved at Kate. “See you later!” I said and then added, as I stepped out of the doors and into the sunlight: “Look – I don’t sizzle!”
It made her laugh.
“Why on earth would you sizzle?” Barbara asked with an amused look, but I only shook my head and she didn’t push. Dinah came out to the pavement and joined us as we waited for Dick. I noticed Kate and detective Reese walk out and disappear together along the street.
“Dinah”, Barbara said slowly and I noticed she too watched the blond woman and the cop as they walked away. “What was that with you and Kate?”
Huh? I thought and wondered what I had been missing out on. Dinah hesitated.
“I… I don’t know, Barbara. I can’t feel her.”
“How do you mean?” Barbara turned her sharp eyes towards the girl.
“You know, the way I feel other people. With my telepathy and the emotions. It’s like… she’s not there. I picked up on it almost immediately. That’s what made me so… wary about her. But I trust her.”
Barbara frowned. “Isn’t that strange?” I heard her mumble. I silently agreed. I wondered about the woman myself – she seemed a bit strange to be a private investigator. And Mulder of all people?
“And Barbara…?” Dinah said.
“I can’t…” The girl swallowed. “I can’t feel you anymore, either.”
Barbara’s head snapped around. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes spoke volumes. Dinah paled beneath the scrutiny.
“Are you sure?” Barbara finally asked.
“Yes. I don’t… I don’t feel you. I can feel that man…” Dinah gestured towards a man pushing an empty wheelchair nearby. “And Helena, she’s as messed up as usual…” She grinned at me and I made a face at her. “But you… You’re like thin air.”
“When did this happen?”
“Now. Almost now, I mean. Before, when you… You died, Barbara.”
“You think Kate has died too?” was my first question. Dinah gasped, but Barbara frowned in concentration.
“Maybe. But that’s a little farfetched, don’t you think?”
“You did die, Barbara”, I said. “We all saw it on the screen. Your heartbeats went blank… not even for a minute, but it did happen.”
“I know”, she said, looking away.
“You know? You know what, then? Who says you won’t die again? Why are you not in there” – I pointed at the building beside me, losing my composure for a minute – “and see that you don’t die for real the next time?” I was frightened and confused and it made me angry. “And now you want to have a complete stranger as a house-guest… It’s mad, Barbara! That’s what it is!”
“If you don’t calm down people will think you are the mad one”, Barbara said, looking around.
“I don’t fucking care!” I almost shouted and Dinah winced. “I could have lost you both today”, I added, somewhat calmer, holding Barbara’s gaze. “You do not know what that was like…”
“I’ve lost someone once, Helena”, Barbara said gently, taking my hand and calming me with a look. “I do know what it’s like, being left alive.”
I gasped, not wanting to be reminded of her first love. She must have seen it in my face, because she touched my cheek and smiled softly at me.
“What happened in there won’t happen again, Helena. I know this for a fact.”
“How?” I asked, wondering how she could be so sure. “How can you be sure? We don’t even know what it was, what happened.”
“I have an inkling”, she said hesitantly. “You probably won’t believe it, but it’s a theory.”
“It’s not… It’s not all”, I said, needing to tell her about what happened in the hospital when I first got there.
“Something happened, right?” she asked. “Something I did and don’t remember?”
I nodded; for once glad she could read people so well.
“Tell me in the car”, she said softly.
“I have something to tell you too”, Dinah said and I was reminded about the strange woman both of us had met that day. I wondered if we would meet her again.
“Why do you want Kate to stay with you?” Dick asked on our way to Barbara’s house beside the Clock Tower. He was calm and the question carried neither accusations nor objections. He simply wanted to know what Barbara had seen in the other woman worth trusting in such a way.
“I honestly don’t know, Dick”, Barbara said. “But with all these strange things going on… I think she is a part of it.”
“A part of what, exactly?” I asked, from the backseat beside Dinah in Dick’s car. I could have scaled the buildings on my way back to the Clock Tower, but I wanted to be close to Barbara – even if it meant going in a car.
“This all seems very strange to me”, Dick said. “But with what happened to me today…” He shook his head. “I felt so filthy when I woke up. Almost… violated. As if I had been… used and then discarded.” He shuddered.
Neither of us had repeated the words Dick had used when he accused Barbara earlier that day, but we had tried to describe what had taken place between us. I had also tried to describe what had happened when Barbara threw the doctor and the nurse across the room. Then it had not only been the way Barbara looked and acted, but also the storm sweeping through the room – like the beginnings of a hurricane.
“Obsessed”, I said.
“Obsessed?” Dinah said.
“Yeah. No, I mean… what’s that word again? Possessed…”
“Like in that movie? The Exorcist?” Dinah asked.
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
Barbara didn’t say anything. She was looking out the side window and I knew her well enough now to know she was calculating our options and soon would reach a conclusion.
“Barbara?” I asked.
“It’s a jigsaw”, she said, as if she had been waiting for my question. “And as yet we don’t have all the pieces. We need more pieces”, she added. She turned and looked at me. “We need Kate. I don’t know how, but she is an important part of this… pattern, which we don’t see clearly yet.”
Dick sighed. “And I thought we were in for a vacation, after Patch and all.”
“What are you complaining about?” I grumbled, faking annoyance. “We’ve had a vacation. A whole month, in fact. Isn’t that swell?”
It made him laugh and I grinned. It felt good to hear him laugh again; we had been too serious around each other lately. I noticed Barbara’s grateful look in the mirror and winked at her. Bring it on, I thought. Whatever is coming we’re gonna deal with it.
If I had known what was coming I wouldn’t have been so confident.
“Some strange things have happened today”, Barbara said. She was pacing back and forth in front of us in her living room; behind her the curtains covered the high windows, preventing anyone from looking in. She had changed clothes and was dressed in plain, dark blue trousers and a tight, green blouse. Her manner was that of Oracle and I had to bite my tongue each time I was asking her something, not to use the wrong name in front of Kate.
I sat on the arm of the couch, with Dinah beside me on the couch. Dick leaned on the doorframe to the hallway and Kate sat in the armchair.
Kate too had changed clothes and was dressed in jeans and a dark t-shirt. The armchair she was sitting in was the same one Barbara had been sitting in that night almost two months ago when she returned from the hospital. I remembered the way she had held me that night, when I was crying and mourning my mother. It felt like a lifetime ago.
There had been some house-calls from reporters asking about Barbara’s health. Dick had dealt with them. “Allergy shock”, he had told them. “Ms Gordon had an allergic reaction, but is fine now. She will be resting a few days and needs peace and quiet.” A news team had turned up at the door-step and Barbara had given a short interview, which had been airing at the evening news. Other than that she had been left alone by the media.
Alfred had served tea and raw vegetables with two different sauces as appetizers for the main course, which he was busy preparing in the kitchen.
Barbara halted and turned to Kate. “You witnessed some of it today, at the hospital.”
Kate only nodded and waited for Barbara to continue.
“You seem unruffled.”
Kate shrugged. “I’ve seen a lot of strange things.”
“All right, then. I reckon that before we deal with what happened today we need an update on your story.”
Kate seemed to hesitate, but then agreed with a nod. “Fine, but I warn you – some things may be hard to believe.”
“Agent Mulder to the rescue!” Dinah said with a high-pitched voice, grinning. “Um, sorry”, she added, blushing slightly when Kate glanced at her. “I wasn’t making fun of you. I like the X-Files. Mulder’s cute…”
“Stop talking, sparrow”, I said softly and she clamped a hand over her mouth. Kate had a surprised look on her face, but the corners of her mouth twitched, as if she were fighting back a smile. I wondered if she was used to teenager’s sometimes flimsy remarks.
“Well…” she finally said and turned back to Barbara. “A year ago… I died.”
I blinked. Dick straightened up by the door and Dinah gasped softly, but Barbara held Kate’s eyes and didn’t even blink.
“After that… my life changed. I felt I had been given a second chance and for awhile…” Kate frowned. “For awhile I knew… peace. But the things I had seen and known before my death still haunted me and I realized I couldn’t go on as if nothing had happened. As if I… didn’t know what was happening in the world. Or more precisely – in the shadows of the world. I have a friend who is a private investigator, investing something I would categorize as ‘strange occurrences’.”
“Ghosts and possessions?” Dick asked with a frown. Kate shrugged again.
“Amongst other things. I took his example and began investigating things that others won’t deal with. I’ve seen… strange things. Creatures moving in the dark, in the shadows…”
“She wanted me to use the sewers”, I said. She turned her sharp eyes at me.
“That was not what I said”, she objected.
“The sewers?” Dinah made a face. “Helena would never enter the sewers. She won’t even wear a mask because she says it makes her look shabby. Oh!” she added and blushed when she realized what she had said. “I mean, if she ever would need to wear a mask. As if to a costume party. We had a costume party and she said…”
Kate watched her with a curious expression.
“Dinah”, Barbara said gently. “I don’t think Kate is interested in our parties.”
“Um, no, Barbara”, Dinah mumbled. “Sorry…”
“She asked if I was a vampire”, I said, shrugging – drawing the attention from Dinah’s slip of the tongue.
“Interesting”, Barbara said in a low voice.
“I do not expect you to believe the things I’ve seen”, Kate said. She didn’t apologize, it was said in a matter-of-fact kind of tone and there was nothing crazed or upset in her expressions. “Any way, one friend of this friend of mine has a special… talent. When someone sings, he can see their future.”
“Sings? Like… what?” I frowned. “Musicals?”
“Any kind of music. I’ve heard even the humming of a tune is enough for him to see what he sees.”
“And you went singing for him?” Barbara asked intently.
Kate nodded, looking at her. “I did. The whole of L.A. is in turmoil after these killings and one of the victims parents asked me to look into it. Two weeks ago I went to this guy and sang to him. He told me some… things. He said I needed to go look for Barbara Gordon in Gotham City and that I should follow the bat to find her…” Kate made a face. “I haven’t really seen a bat since I got here.”
I held my breath, but Barbara nodded.
“Go on”, she said.
“I know detective Reese from when I was a cop and I remembered he lived here. I phoned him and wondered if he could set up a meeting.”
“Is that everything this seer said?” Barbara asked.
Kate didn’t answer immediately and I got the feeling she was hiding something.
“No, he did say some other things, but most of it is private.” She glanced in my direction. “Although, he did say I would run with the Black Panther again and that I must protect the small bird.”
“What… kind of bird?” I asked. “Did he know? I mean, did he know more than he was telling you?
“No, not really. He always says it’s tricky, reading people’s futures like that. Sometimes he sees what’s going to happen, and other times he only gets these messages he doesn’t understand. He thought it might be a hawk, but he said it was too small to be a bird of prey. It was more like a…” She frowned. “Actually, I think the word he used would have been… sparrow.” She looked from me to Dinah.
“Bats and birds and black panthers”, Dick said and moved across the room. He passed Barbara and sat down on the other end of the couch.
“And you don’t know at all why he would send you to me?” Barbara began pacing again.
“No. He didn’t know either. All he said was, that if I wanted answers I needed to find you. I was supposed to come last week, but then there was another killing and I had to stay to follow up a possible lead. That turned out to have nothing to do with this case.”
“When did you arrive here?” Barbara asked.
“That’s logical”, Barbara said softly, mostly to herself, but I failed to understand what Kate’s arrival had to do with anything.
“Yeah, well…” Kate hesitated.
“There’s more?” Barbara asked.
“Sort of… Last year, after my… death, I had this dream. It was so vivid and so real; I can still remember every detail of it. It stayed with me and it haunted me until I met you this morning.”
Barbara didn’t say anything. She waited patiently for Kate to tell the story at her own pace.
“When I was told two weeks ago that I needed to find someone named Barbara Gordon, I did my research. I think I’ve read everything about you that I need to know.” Kate glanced at Dinah and Dick. “I knew about you two…” She looked at me. “You were a surprise.”
“To me too”, Barbara said, so softly that only I could hear her. I looked straight at her and saw only love and caring in her green eyes when she looked back at me.
“I’m a surprise to most people”, I said and Kate smiled wryly.
“I recall telling you I don’t like surprises”, she said. I let her have it and only shrugged. “What I didn’t expect”, she resumed, again looking at Barbara, “was that you would be the woman in my dream.” Kate made a small gesture with her hand. “I had seen pictures of you, of course, but somehow that wasn’t the same. When I saw you today I recognized you as that woman…”
“Which woman?” Barbara asked almost in a whisper. The look on her face worried me; she seemed to pale suddenly and I feared she would faint on us again.
“You stood in front of an altar, plainly dressed. And you challenged someone in the dark. I know it was a man, I think he was a priest. I couldn’t see his face, it was hidden by a cloak and shadows. There was power there, almost like… an electrical charge – like thunder. Then you turned to me. You held a staff in your hands and you pointed it at me. I remember, I carried a sword. You ordered me to leave. I remember the smell in the room… something burnt, like incense. You ordered me to protect…”
“The princess”, Barbara whispered.
Kate nodded. “Yes.” Her voice was hoarse and she didn’t take her eyes off Barbara. No one moved in what seemed like ages, before both Barbara and Kate at the same time turned away from each other.
Princess… I watched Dinah beside me. The girl seemed intent on Kate and I wondered if she was trying to read her, although she had said she couldn’t. Protect the princess… Protect the bird… Dinah. Protect from what? A serial killer? I looked up at Kate.
“How many girls has this killer murdered?”
“Six”, Kate said. “With a month between each. Always at full moon.”
“There’s a cliché”, Dick mumbled and Kate quickly glanced at him.
“Maybe”, she said. “But right now it gives us two weeks before he strikes again.”
“You think what happened to us and Kate’s dream are connected somehow with the serial killer?” Dick asked Barbara with a slight frown on his face.
“I think there is a possibility, yes. What is it?” she added when Dick hesitated.
“Um, what happened today with me…” Dick explained, glancing in my direction. “It wasn’t the first time it happened. I’ve felt it before. Today was just… Today was just the first time this thing spoke through me.”
“The way it did through Barbara”, Kate said.
“You believe it was the same… thing?” Barbara frowned. “So, when was the first time, Dick?” she added, looking at Dick.
“I can’t say specifically, but… almost two weeks ago I noticed something strange for the first time. It was then the dreams began.”
“The dreams?” It was Kate this time, but I sat bolt upright beside Dinah.
What the fuck is it with everyone’s dreams? I thought distractedly.
“I’ve been dreaming about a temple”, Dinah said.
“I thought it was a pyramid?” I said.
“Both. I remember both. It was a strange dream – in the temple there was this huge snake…” She shuddered. “It wanted to eat me. But I remember an altar, too”, she added, gesturing towards Kate. “And Huntress was there, dressed like a warrior…” She smiled at me. “Like Xena. And there was this…”
“Huntress?” Kate asked.
“She calls Helena that on occasion”, Barbara said easily. “They have these pet names for each other. It’s rather cute”, she added with an almost lofty comment that made me hide a smile. “Go on, Dinah.”
“I’ve had these dreams for awhile now”, Dinah said. “Remember?” She was looking almost expectantly at Barbara. “I told you about the first one… two weeks ago”, she finished lamely, looking disconcertedly at Dick.
“I have a vague recollection”, Barbara said with a frown. “Remind me, pigeon.”
Dinah took a deep breath, for once ignoring Barbara and Dick’s favorite pet name for her. “Right. In my first dream I was only a small child, walking down long, narrow corridors – I remember the dust and a faint smell of… incense, too.”
Kate nodded softly as Dinah glanced at her; I could see the blond woman was intently focused on every word that was spoken, not only by Dinah. Kate seemed to be a large predator, watching, waiting for the right moment to attack, coiled up like a… snake? No, like a lioness preparing herself for the deadly leap. The thought made me shiver, for some reason I couldn’t comprehend.
In the next moment Dinah said: “Then, in the next moment, I stood in a great, magnificent hall. I was dressed in silk and ribbons and jewellery and I was surrounded by several guards. I believe they belonged to some kind of unit – they all wore the same uniforms and all were women.” She turned to look at me. “You were there – you were the youngest of them, looking all proud.” She smiled. “In my dream I knew you had just been chosen to run with the… pack.” She frowned, thinking – remembering her dream. “In other dreams you’ve been there, too. Dressed like these women, always guarding me. You were there…”
“Me?” Kate said when Dinah turned to her.
“Yes. You led them. You were…” Dinah smiled. “You were bossy, but you were the best. You trained Helena. And these women, they had tattoos on their cheeks… Large cats on each cheek, like a… Like a black panther…” Dinah finished in almost a whisper.
“Ah, I see.” Kate nodded, almost satisfied. I wondered what she saw. I didn’t see anything – in fact, all this talk about dreams made me… edgy.
“That’s all?” Barbara asked, still with a slight frown on her face.
“Most of it. There’s more stuff, things I’ve only seen – like grand scenes from a nature movie: pyramids, jungles, temples, magnificent sunrises making me feel happy, lakes and an ocean almost crystal.” She made a face. “There is one thing… The temple. I don’t like it. There’s a woman in there scaring the living daylights out of me. But there’s another temple, too, and I like that much better. There’s a man in there, a priest… He is always kind to me.”
“Fine”, Barbara said when Dinah silenced. “Dick, what about your dreams?”
“They… make me feel filthy.” Dick shuddered. “There’s so much anger in me when I’m in those dreams. Anger and bitterness and… I think, jealousy. I only dream the same sequence over and over again.” He scowled. “Actually, I do believe I’m supposed to be a priest. It would explain why I’m so angry at this woman…”
“Another woman…” I said. “It would explain… you know.” I made a face and touched my forehead. “It would explain the reason why you now look like half a mummy.”
“You think?” he said sarcastically and Barbara let her gaze fly between us.
“You still don’t want to tell me what it was about?” she asked.
“No!” Dick and I said at the same time.
“He was very rude”, I added. “Just leave it at that.”
“Yes”, Dick agreed hastily. “Anyway, the woman in my dream… It’s two women, actually. It’s the same scenario, but the woman is different from time to time. One of them I blame for her actions, the other… The other I envy and almost hate.”
“Barbara and me”, I said, surprising myself – for once feeling I got the hang of things. Dick met my gaze and nodded.
“Yes, you and Barbara. I’ve been…” He paused and rubbed his forehead, above the white padding on his face. “I’ve been fighting these feelings in my real life, too. It’s as if the dreams have been invading more than my nights, almost… slipping into my waking hours, trying to take control. I’ve managed to keep the emotions at bay, but… I tried to talk to you about it”, he added, looking at Barbara. “You know…”
Barbara nodded, but remained silent. Again I wondered what that was about – she hadn’t told me about any serious discussions with Dick.
“I thought maybe if I talked about it, it would go away.” Dick shrugged. “It didn’t, really. And today, today something just… shifted and I felt this person I was in my dreams take control and lash out at Helena.”
“That sure was a priestly act if ever I saw one”, I mumbled. “Like Hitler in a holy man’s robe.”
“There is one… strange thing about it”, Dick added with a confused expression. “Not strange, but more… odd.” He looked at Barbara. “You wore tattoos too. Not on your face, but on your arms. Bats… Several of them, in different sizes.”
“’Goddess of the dark moon’”, I whispered, suddenly remembering who I had called upon on the rooftops, as I was racing towards the hospital.
“What did you just say?” Dinah said, looking up at me. I shook my head.
“Nothing. I was only thinking…”
“What about you, Helena?” Barbara suddenly said, turning towards me. “You had any strange dreams or experiences lately?”
“As if it’s not enough having both you and Dick going all… schizophrenic on me?” I shook my head again. “No, thank you very much. I’m freaked enough as it is – if anything like that happened to me… I would run and not look back until I reached the bloody moon.”
“No dreams either?”
“None I can remember”, I said honestly. I really had tried to remember my dreams since my meeting with that bloody woman, but it was all a blank.
“So, we have the black cats, we have the bats…” Kate glanced at Dinah. “We probably have the little bird… It seems as if I was right coming here, even if nothing is explained and there have only been more questions than answers today.” She nodded at Barbara. “You think you are exposed to some kind of… possession?”
“I don’t know, I…” Barbara silenced and resumed her pacing back and forth, fingering her glasses. “I don’t know much about possessions. Would that concern – demon possession? Or possessions of a human soul? Or even by… animals?”
“I’ve seen, and heard of, all of the above”, Kate said levelly. Dick glanced at her and Dinah looked impressed. I frowned at Kate.
“Vampires”, I sniffed sarcastically.
Kate turned to me with a wry smile. “You really have an attitude problem, don’t you, fighter?” she said.
“Bite me”, I said, which made her laugh – a short, cynical laugh, before she eyed me closely.
“I think that would be your… occupation”, she said, before she turned away from me.
What the…? Fuck!
“You know what?” I said and rose from the couch. I went over to Kate’s chair. “All these strange things begun when you turned up here today. Maybe it’s you we ought to investigate.”
“You have a problem, Ms Kyle?” Kate said coolly, looking up at me.
“Yeah”, I drawled. “I do. So you stand up, and I’ll tell you what my problem is.”
She held my gaze, then did as I asked her and rose from the chair.
“Helena”, Barbara warned behind me. I ignored her. This woman – this private investigator – rubbed me the wrong way somehow and I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t let go of her eyes and she didn’t back down.
“You are my problem”, I said heatedly, pocking Kate with a finger on her chest bone. “You coming here, claiming to be some kind of… ghost hunter…” I was glad I didn’t use the term ghost buster, which would probably have Dinah in fits of laughter. “You are my problem. You come here, meet with Barbara and in the next instant she’s in the hospital…”
“Helena, you can’t think that she had something to…”
I ignored Dick, holding Kate’s eyes.
“You…” I growled, again pocking at her.
“Stand down, fighter”, Kate said with authority, just like she had at the hospital. And in that moment I recognized why I didn’t like her. Some part of me wanted to obey; it was an instant, instinctive reaction to her words, her attitude, her look… Another part of me – the part that was me, Huntress – wanted to spit in her face. I growled, fighting an inward battle as Kate held my gaze, forcing me – commanding me, without a word – to stand down before her.
“I will not stand down”, I hissed, still not moving.
“Will you fight me?” she asked and now there was something else in her eyes, something – or someone – other than Kate Lockley, private investigator. Again some part of me wanted to back away, feeling that if I did fight her I would not win – and again, the part that was Huntress, and even Helena Kyle, wanted to wipe the floor with her.
Before I had time to come to a decision someone interfered.
I heard Dick’s voice above the sudden howling wind sweeping through the room and in the next instant both Kate and I were thrown across the room. I landed on the couch beside Dinah and Kate ended up hitting her back against the wall beside the door to the hallway. It must have hurt, I remembered thinking as I noticed her hit the back of her head on the doorpost. In the next moment I stared at Dick, standing in front of the curtains with his arms apart and with a stricken look on his face.
“What the… fuck?” I said.
The sudden gust of wind that had swept Kate and me apart died out.
“Oh, my…” Dick said, slightly pale.
“Dinah…” Barbara said, berating the girl.
“It wasn’t me! I didn’t do that!” Dinah said, defending herself. “I swear, cross my heart and hope to…”
“Don’t say!” Barbara said instantly and the sharp tone of her voice made Dinah shut her mouth. “Don’t say… things like that”, Barbara added, gently.
“This is… what happened at the hospital”, Kate said, struggling to her legs and rubbing the back of her head.
Barbara turned to her with a surprised look on her face. “But I didn’t do this.”
“Um, I think…” Dick scratched the back of his head. I hadn’t taken my eyes off him.
“He did it”, I said, pointing at him. I felt as if I was accusing him of some crime he would be burnt at the stake for. He looked at me with a lost expression and I suddenly felt sorry for him. Not only had I knocked him unconscious the same day, now I was blaming him for something that was my fault. I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that, lashing out at Kate.
“How… did you do that?” Kate asked just then, stretching her back. “What did you do?”
Dick blushed. “You were bickering like children”, he said. “I had this urge to… teach you a lesson.” He looked about himself. “I don’t know what happened. All I wanted was for you two to stop arguing, and in the next moment…” He shrugged, again looking like a lost child. I didn’t blame him. After what I had just been through with Kate I felt a little queasy myself.
“Right, so what ever is affecting us it also gives us the power to… it gives us powers”, Barbara said. She eyed Kate closely. “Something just happened to you, too, didn’t it? You asked Helena to step down, like she was a soldier and you her superior.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Kate looked embarrassed. “I’m really sorry… I didn’t… This has never happened to me before.”
“What? You ordering people around?” I grinned at her. “You seemed pretty good at it.” I shrugged. “For what it’s worth… I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have charged at you like that.”
Kate relaxed and nodded and then we both turned to Barbara, as if we expected her to have all the answers to our strange behavior.
“Kate…” Barbara paused. “You say you are used to strange things?”
When Kate nodded Barbara looked first at me and then Dinah, before she glanced at Dick.
“You wanna tell her?” Dick murmured at her side.
“Before you tell me anything”, Kate said, interrupting and looking at Barbara. “There are some things that I do know…”
Barbara narrowed her eyes at her. “What do you mean?”
“I might not have seen a bat since I arrived here, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t heard plenty about one… or two.” Kate looked at Dinah and me before she went to sit down in the armchair again. “I have seen strange people, but her…” She gestured towards me. “What are you? Some X-man, or X-woman?”
“Please”, I said. “That’s an insult.”
Kate smiled. “I was always fascinated by the X-men. Humans, but not. Struggling to survive in a world that feared them. Cyclops was my favorite – a leader, wanting do what was right.”
I had always preferred Wolverine, myself. “I’m meta”, I heard myself say. What was the use of hiding, anyway? This woman talked about vampires and strange guys seeing the future when someone sings; she had seen my eyes change shape and color and then Barbara and Dick command the winds to throw people about and that part was the freakiest thing.
“They are called meta-humans”, Barbara said. “It is a genetic thing. Some people say it’s the next step in evolution, but for now they are forced to stay hidden and keep their abilities a secret.”
“They?” Kate said, still eyeing me.
“We are a secret community”, I said, shrugging. “My mother was one of them.”
“Dinah is too”, Barbara explained. “She is a telepath and has telekinetic abilities.”
“You can move objects with your mind?” Kate said, impressed.
Dinah grinned. “Anything not heavier than five elephants.”
“Three”, Barbara said dryly. “She likes to exaggerate.”
“Hey – I’ve been practicing!”
“And you?” Kate turned to me. “What do you do?”
“I don’t do anything.” I stretched out on the couch, much like a lazy cat, and gave her a slow smile.
“Helena has extra-ordinary strength and speed and enhanced hearing and sight”, Barbara explained in her Oracle-voice. “Her mother was a cat.”
Kate blinked. “Not literally, I hope.”
Dick laughed and I glared at him. “What?” he said. “It was funny.”
“Not literally”, Barbara assured.
“It would explain your eyes, I suppose”, Kate said, gesturing towards me. “And you two?”
Dick and Barbara exchanged a quick look.
“Not us. We are humans”, Dick said.
“I haven’t heard of… meta-humans before”, Kate went on. “There are enough strange things happening in L.A. to keep me busy. But when I talked to Reese on the phone he explained a few things about Old and New Gotham to me.”
“Like what?” Dick asked cautiously and Kate turned to him.
“Like about the bizarre criminals you have here – and about the vigilantes that seem to keep this town ‘clean’. He did mention a few bats”, she added, glancing in Barbara’s direction. “Batman, Batgirl, someone named… Darkwing, or something…”
“Nightwing”, Dick grumbled beneath his breath and I fought to keep my face blank when Kate glanced at me.
“Huh?” I said and shrugged.
“And something about a blizzard on rollerblades…”
Dinah beamed and I considered renaming her Blizzard. She’d love that, I thought with an inward grin.
“She’s named Ladyhawk”, Barbara said, leaning on the windowsill. “Actually, Huntress named her. She thought Pigeon wouldn’t do for such a courageous creature…”
“Well, it wouldn’t”, Dinah said, faking offence. “I mean, it’s like naming Batman… Insect, or something.”
“Bats are not insects, sparrow”, I said with a grin.
“Well, how about… The Black Fly.”
“Is that the best you can do?” I teased.
“Hey – you are supposed to be on my side!”
I laughed. “I am, I named you – right?” I looked at Dick. “Darkwing is quite cool, you know.”
“Humph”, he said, crossing his arms and looking insulted.
Kate looked from one to the other with a small smile. “It is you, then?” she asked.
“I’m Huntress”, I said and rose to take a bow. I let the coat swirl about me to give more effect to my words.
“’The thing that criminals fear…’”, Dinah said in a spooky voice with a grin and made my coat flutter behind my back with some of her abilities. Kate looked away, but I saw she was struggling to hide a grin. Dinah had that effect on most people.
“Nightwing, at your service”, Dick said darkly and stepped forward. Then he blushed. “That would probably have sounded much more impressive if I didn’t have a large bandage on my face.”
“And if he was in his suit, wearing his mask”, I added. “He really is quite handsome – any woman’s dream.”
“And a lot of men’s too, to his dismay”, Dinah filled in with another grin. This time Kate laughed out loud and Dick rubbed his chin with an embarrassed smile.
“I see”, Kate said, still smiling and looking at Dick. “So, you are Gotham’s vigilante team. Let me guess” – she turned to Barbara by the windows. “You must be Batgirl.”
It wasn’t a question and Barbara shrugged easily.
“But you are human?”
“Then why…? Why are you doing this?”
There was a slight frown on Barbara’s face before she answered. “Don’t we all have our reasons?” she asked.
Kate glanced at Dick’s now serious face and nodded. “I guess we do”, she agreed softly. “But about these meta-humans… What can I expect?”
“Even if you could meet anyone that willingly told you, or showed you, what they are…” I said.
“Different things”, Barbara said. “A little like X-men, I reckon. But metas only control themselves, not so much their environment – unless you have telekinesis like Dinah.”
“There’s one guy”, I volunteered, “who has an incredible memory. He remembers everything in his life – sound, smell” – I made a face at that memory, for private reasons; Gibson Kafka always had to refer to the way I smelled – “touch… anything you can think of. In some ways it makes him incredibly smart… but also slightly insane.”
“There’s one guy that melts into shadows”, Dinah explained.
“And one that turns himself into water”, I said, somewhat dismayed at the memory. Barbara noticed and smiled at me.
“Huntress had a close encounter with him. He tried to drown her. I saved her life.”
“You did not save my life!” I strongly objected, but Dick grinned and the look in Barbara’s eyes suddenly made me remember those first days almost two months ago, when we met for the first time. It stirred my desire and I twitched on the couch. “You may have saved my dignity…” I conceded and leaned back, holding Barbara’s gaze.
“Jeez, Helena!” Dinah was up and about in two seconds blank, angrily staring down at me, and I blushed, averting my face.
“Not my bloody fault”, I mumbled.
Kate eyed us curiously, before Barbara pulled us back to what was important.
“I trust I don’t have to tell you to guard this secret with your life?” she said, looking at Kate. “People have died… We have all lost people close to us, because of what we do.”
“I understand”, Kate said solemnly. ”I promise, I will not betray your trust.”
“Hrm, pardon me, Miss Barbara…”
Alfred stood in the doorway, looking at us.
“Uhum, there has been a delivery, Miss Barbara”, he said.
“A delivery?” Barbara said wonderingly.
“These.” Alfred reached down for something beside the door and pulled out a large bouquet of red roses. “From Mr. Brixton.”
I felt a strange cold stab against my heart and quickly looked at Barbara. She looked surprised.
“Oh, my”, she said.
“There’s a card”, Alfred went on, fingering the card fastened to the flowers.
“Oh, I’ll read it later, Alfred. Please put them in water. I guess he was worried hearing the news today. I’ll phone him later.”
“Yes, Miss Barbara.” Alfred nodded with his usual stoicism. He had handled my relationship with Barbara with surprising calm for a man his age; I guessed he had seen a lot in his years as butler to Bruce Wayne and Batman. Although he hadn’t shouted for joy when Barbara told him how things were he didn’t seem to disapprove of our relationship either. He probably wanted to see if it was something long lasting before he took anything for granted.
I glanced at Barbara and felt a stab of doubt in my heart. Maybe he was right, I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t take anything for granted either. Barbara did love me, I was sure of it, but sometimes it was as if she wasn’t present in the moment when we discussed something. As if I wasn’t right there beside her.
As if my presence didn’t mean anything. The thought made me swallow and I averted my eyes from the bunch of red roses in Alfred’s arms.
“Dinner will be served in five minutes. I suggest you be on time – or the food will go cold.”
“Thank you, Alfred”, Barbara said. “We won’t be late.”
“Humph”, Alfred said, glancing at all of us. “I’ll believe it when I see it”, he said, before he left.
“Who’s Wade?” Kate asked when Alfred was out of earshot.
“Oh”, Barbara waved away her question with a carefree gesture. “No one important.”
I wonder if I will be ‘no one important’ in a few months, I thought fleetingly and then instantly berated myself for the thought when Barbara looked at me with such warmth my heart seemed to melt.
“And he is in on this?” Kate added, meaning Alfred.
“Oh, yeah!” Dick said. “We couldn’t do what we do without Alfred’s support.”
Kate nodded thoughtfully.
“I’ve never seen any vampires around here”, I said, to no one in particular. Kate raised her head and looked at me with an amused smile.
“I believe they would find this city far too crowded.”
“So, do we have a plan?” Dick asked Barbara. “Do we even know what we are dealing with?”
Barbara straightened and resumed her previous pacing across the floor; she was in full Oracle mood at that moment. “I rely on technology”, she said. “My life is basically centered around advanced technology.” She frowned in concentration as she talked, but kept pacing. “Tell me that you have developed a technical gadget to make it possible to read peoples minds, or to transfer pictures from a mind to a television screen… Tell me that you have found a way to make blind people see in color and in dimensions and allow deaf people to hear Beethoven… And I will believe you.” She stopped and looked at us. “But magic” – she waved her hands in the air – “and fairies and aliens… I don’t know.” She frowned. “Well, maybe aliens.” She sighed and resumed her pacing, with her hands on her back. “Still, the facts are… One wise man once suggested that when all facts has been considered and if they point in one direction and all other options have been proven wrong, the one truth left, how ever improbable it is, must be correct.”
“Shakespeare?” I asked, confused.
“Sherlock Holmes”, Kate said with a small smile, glancing at me.
“Huh”, I said and shrugged. “So, what?” I asked Oracle. “Do we believe in fairies now?”
“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio…’” Kate mumbled.
“Horatio?” Dinah asked.
“It’s only a saying”, Kate said with an apologetic shrug.
“That’s Shakespeare”, I said and she nodded at me.
“We need to tie this up”, Dick said. “What is it, exactly, that we are working on?”
“Ah, well, if I knew that… this wouldn’t be so…”
“Frustrating”, I said.
“Puzzling”, Barbara said. “There is definitely something strange going on. And unless we all are going insane… or are the star-cast of a slightly altered Truman Show, it is connected somehow.”
“Right”, Kate said, leaning forward in her chair with a look of concentration. “But if it is possession we are all possessed by the same thing. Wouldn’t that be strange, considering I don’t know you and…? Well.”
“Possession by a group of people? Or souls, I mean?” Dinah said. “I’ve seen something like it on television. We are all possessed by different souls that have a past together and now want to clear the air…”
“Sounds like a bad episode of Oprah”, I said.
“Maybe it’s not possession at all…” I heard Barbara say, and in that moment, for a brief second in time, I noticed it again: she was hiding something from us. I straightened, remembering when I first had learned that Barbara kept secrets from Dick and Dinah: she had known who it was coming after her in that building with the kidnapping. She had known who it was who wanted to kill her. Patchy... It wasn’t him now – Patch was dead, as dead could be. I suddenly realized that Barbara hadn’t told us about her dreams.
Barbara must have noticed something different in my posture; she looked at me and shook her head slightly. I knew what she was saying: Wait. She wanted me to trust her. So I did.
I leaned back in the couch, watching Dinah glance at Dick with barely concealed exhilaration. I wondered what that was about. Maybe she had read some of his thoughts… I glanced at Dick, but he was looking at Kate with a concentrated look on his face. It didn’t make me any the wiser.
“What are you thinking?” Kate asked Barbara.
“I think, what we are facing is old…”
“An old enemy, trying to manipulate our brains?” Dinah said. “Oh, like that man… what was his name again? The one that trespassed in our minds? Doing some hypnotism?”
“Ketterly? No.” Barbara shook her head. “I mean old, as in ancient… Some ancient force we don’t know anything about.”
“Um, I don’t want to go all Scully on you”, Dick said, glancing at Kate, “but… Ancient force? Like what? Demons?”
“Demons?” Barbara shrugged. “What are demons? If ancient people met a person from the future with a car they might consider her a demon… It’s all in the interpretation.”
“Right. But ‘force’?”
“Reincarnation”, I said, surprising them all. They looked at me and I snapped my fingers. “That’s it. That’s what you mean, right?” I looked at Barbara with a feeling of delight. “You know, the shark thing – and all.” I grinned at her. “I probably did bite you.”
“I would be sorely disappointed if you didn’t, kitten”, Barbara said with a grin and I beamed at her.
“I’m right, am I not? Yeah, I’m clever.”
Dick shook his head at me with an amused smile while Kate looked confused.
“Private joke”, Barbara said, waving away her question. “The point is, I believe Helena is right. The dreams are not possessions from other souls, they are memories from our own past lives.”
“God!” Dick explained and we looked at him.
“What is it?” Barbara asked with a worried frown.
“I was a priest! No wonder I can’t get a woman! I probably turned them all down and now they don’t think I’m interested.”
Dinah laughed at him. “You are worse than Huntress. You two – you are so vain.”
I grinned. “Serves you right – maybe you did have a boyfriend then.”
“God help me…”
“Serious, people – please”, Barbara said with an exasperated sigh. “Children”, she added with a grin that took the edge of her annoyance.
“It would make more sense”, Kate said thoughtfully. “And coming in contact with each other brought back these memories.” She looked at Barbara with sudden gravity. “You did order me to protect the princess”, she said almost in a whisper.
“I did”, Barbara said and we all looked at Dinah.
“Oh, o no…” Dinah said, turning pale.
* * *
When I went on patrol that night I had more unanswered questions and speculations in my head than I had had when Dinah told me about the strange, older woman that had warned her about the explosions. Reincarnation and past lives wreaking havoc on this life? Dick – a bloody priest? And Kate? What was her story? And that old woman again – she played a large part in my questions.
The dinner had been surprisingly comfortable. In an unspoken agreement we didn’t discuss anything that had to do with Kate’s reason for visiting Gotham. We touched safe subjects: Barbara’s engagement to Wade, Dinah’s achievements in school, Dick’s work as an attorney at Barbara’s company. Ordinary stuff. Or almost ordinary; we soon turned to meta-humans. Kate was fascinated by the subject and wanted to know how Dinah managed to be a normal teenager while also being a respected crime-fighter. Dinah didn’t disappoint – I always thought she could talk the ears of an elephant and she didn’t prove me wrong. Although Kate was a very good listener.
When I went out to patrol Dinah wanted to come, but this time Barbara and I were in agreement, for once. Neither of us thought it safe to have her patrolling without back-up.
The look on Dinah’s face as both Barbara and I turned to her and said no when she eagerly wanted to join me had reminded me of that night when Barbara and I made love for the first time. Barbara had been so overprotective of Dinah at the time and I had defended the teenager’s right to go on patrol. Tonight I wondered if Barbara’s objections then had been part of what was happening to us now; some kind of premonition of the future and of the danger that was awaiting Dinah. The thought was strange and a little scary. Barbara had been a little too overprotective of Dinah since Patchy’s death and maybe she hadn’t been wrong.
Nightwing had to stay at the Clock Tower – due to his mishap: his colliding with my fist. Not even a mask would cover that bruise. And I wouldn’t let Batgirl patrol until I was sure she wouldn’t have another panic-attack – or whatever it was. That left Dinah and me and since we weren’t sure what to expect from Kate’s unknown killer we didn’t want to take any chances. Dinah sulked, of course – I would have too – but when Barbara told her she could give Kate the grand tour of the Clock Tower she lit up like a candle.
Thinking of the girl made me smile in the dark. It still fascinated me how Dinah could be such a mature crime-fighter, blazing across the city on her rollerblades and catching the most fearsome criminals without even flinching, and at the same time be such a child. I had been a child like that: I still remembered the agony of my first crush, the prom and my first kiss… Even though my mother trained me I had known nothing of the Joker, or of the darkness that lurked within me, waiting to be awakened by a twist of fate. Considering it I realized that, despite my mother’s nocturnal adventures, I had had a much more normal upbringing than Dinah, who at such a young age had lost her mother and even been forced to testify against her mother’s killer. And then, being brought up by Barbara, in the company of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson – all three famous vigilantes. Maybe it wasn’t so strange she wanted to be a child when she was allowed. And Barbara did an excellent job with her.
I crouched low in the shadows above a jeweler store and looked down at two dark figures moving about below me. I whistled slowly, a tune without melody. It had been a slow night, but maybe it was picking up…
“Hello, guys!” I called and let myself fall from the ledge where I had been hiding, landing behind one dark-clad burglar.
“Fuck!” I heard him swear and as he swirled around towards me he dropped the bag he was holding to pull a gun.
“Not nice”, I said in a sulky voice and kicked the gun out of his hands. “I’ve been waiting for some fun, and all you wanna do is… shoot me.”
I ducked, turned around and punched the second burglar in the face. He staggered backwards.
All things considered, I thought as I was entertaining myself, it had been a pleasant dinner. Even Alfred had enjoyed himself; Kate was really sweet to him.
Kate… The blond woman was… interesting. She held herself aloof, even though she talked and laughed with us. It seemed she had difficulty trusting people. All she really had told us about herself was that her father had been a cop – and that he had died on duty. I had seen the look in her eyes as she told us this and figured she probably blamed herself for his death. It was probably not her fault that he died, but that had nothing to do with it. I knew what it was like – surviving a parent. I knew what it was like having to deal with the grief and the guilt and the numb rage.
“Hey!” I called, as the first guy ran off. “I’m not done with you!”
I picked up the lid from a dustbin that had toppled over and threw it at him. It hit him in the back of the head and he fell over. He lay unmoving on the ground and I gave myself a high five in my mind. “Why to go, Huntress”, I mumbled as I gathered the two burglars and tied them with their own rope. Both of them were unconscious. I left them by the door together with the bags of jewellery and money they had been stealing and made my way back up the roof. I could hear sirens and noticed the flashing light of a police car. Someone would soon pick up the bad-boys.
“Huntress – you there?” I heard Oracle’s smooth, efficient voice in my ear.
I grinned when I remembered Kate’s confused look as Dinah introduced her to Oracle: “The one that constructs all the high-tech gadgets around here.”
“All fine”, I said. The burglars had been ordinary humans, not metas, and it had been an effortless fight. Effortless and boring. Give me some killer robots, I thought. That’d do. “Some thugs, nothing to worry about. Too easy, as a matter of fact.”
“You know, you really ought to get yourself a mask.”
“And spoil my good looks? I don’t think so.”
Barbara chuckled. “Right. I forgot. What on earth was I thinking?”
“Beats me”, I said with a grin.
“Dinah’s gone to bed… finally. And Kate too. She had a rough day.”
“She’s a private investigator. She’s probably used to it.”
There was a short silence on the other end.
“You really trust her, don’t you?” I said into the silence.
“Yeah, I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t have invited her home.”
“Yeah. I wondered about that.”
“You don’t trust her? I know you don’t like her…”
I grinned. “I do like her. She’s bossy, but she is ok. She reminds me a bit of you when we first met.”
“Not too much, I hope.”
“Hey! I’ve seen the way you flirt with her.”
“You know where my heart lies”, Barbara said and I felt the now familiar tightening in my chest when I thought of her loving me.
“I do”, I said hoarsely. I really did.
“Helena… I don’t want you to be out there right now.”
I swallowed and turned around on the roof. I knew she was serious when I heard her call me by my real name instead of Huntress. “I don’t want to be out here right now either.”
“Will you come home?”
“I’m on my way.”
We didn’t make love that night. We held each other close, whispering soft words, declaring our love to each other, gently touching naked skin… I heard her heartbeat, I held her tight. We spoke softly about love and the future, about dreams and hopes and fears. I felt it as if I could have lost her that day and she understood my fears and soothed them. I couldn’t remember a lover I had felt so close to, so safe with and so loved by. To lose her… would be my death.
“You held out on us today”, I finally said, when we were almost drifting off to sleep. I didn’t want to sleep; I wanted to stay like that forever – holding her, feeling her heartbeat so close to mine, caressing her hair, sliding my fingers across naked skin…
“I did. I didn’t want to upset Dinah. It’s better we talk alone tomorrow, when she is at school.”
“You’re sending her to school despite today’s events?”
“It was only a gas-leak; Reese assured me about that – it wasn’t a criminal act aimed at Dinah. And no – I don’t feel comfortable sending her off to school, but what can we do? We can’t stop living each time our lives are threatened, can we? Then we would never have a life at all. Besides, Kate said the killer doesn’t strike until the full moon. It gives us time to plan.”
“What is it that you know?” I wondered. “And, you never told us about your dreams.”
“So, you noticed?” she said softly. “I was wondering if you were going to bring that up.”
I smiled. She played with some of the dark curls around my forehead and kissed my cheek, softly, tenderly.
“I have dreams… Mostly with you in them.”
My smile widened. “Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah.” She rose half way, leaning on an elbow with her chin in the palm of her hand. She watched me with green, intense eyes. There was a small smile in the corners of her full lips, playing softly, but not showing itself completely. “You’re always in my dreams.”
“Lucky you”, I said, pushing away some of her red hair from her eyes.
“Mm, lucky me”, she agreed, smiling fully this time. Then she became serious and returned to my arms. She moved closer and I held her tight. “When I... died, today, someone spoke to me. I heard this voice… I don’t know where it came from, or who, or what, it was. It told me some things – warned me. It said only the priest and I could stop what was coming. It said only our powers could stop him.”
“Him?” My voice had a catch in it and I swallowed.
“It didn’t say more than that. Only him. I didn’t understand. I mean – what priest? And I don’t have any powers.”
“That was before you knew what had happened at the hospital”, I mumbled.
“Yes. And before Dick’s explanation regarding his dreams. That wind today, which parted you and Kate… Did I do that too, at the hospital?”
“So there is some power, we just don’t know how to use it. I wonder where it comes from.”
I could hear she was puzzled; she probably frowned in concentration in that moment.
“The voice said I should let the warriors care for the princess, that that was their job. Dinah’s dreams confirmed you and Kate are the warriors. You and I have been calling Dinah princess the whole day today, I suddenly noticed. Must be our memories playing tricks on us, or trying to alert us to what’s going on.”
“To whatever is going on”, I said, sighing.
“Well, yeah. There is that slightly annoying factor. But we made some progress today, I think.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Good.” Barbara yawned. “I think I need to sleep now. I had a tough day…”
I smiled. “You’re a vigilante. You’re used to it.”
It made her chuckle; I could feel her body move against mine.
“You sleep”, I said softly. “I’ll keep you safe.”
“Thank you, kitten”, she mumbled, before she drifted off to sleep.
We were awakened quite abruptly by the telephone. Since we were at Barbara’s house I let her answer. I checked the alarm clock and grumbled; it wasn’t even seven o’clock.
“Hello?” Barbara said sleepily. “Yes, this is she…”
This better be important, I thought grumpily and moved closer to Barbara’s warm body, pulling the blankets with me. At the same time Barbara stiffened.
“When?” she said, grabbing the telephone until her knuckles whitened. It was the only sign that she was in some way affected by what she heard on the other end of the line. I sat up and studied her worriedly. “Yes…” she went on. “Yes… How? Yes… Could you tell me if he had any visitors and when? Yes, I understand. Yes, thank you. I do appreciate it. Thanks.” Barbara hung up and stared at the phone lost in thoughts. Finally she took a deep breath and turned to me. “We have a problem”, she said, stone faced. “The Joker has escaped.”
“Thank you, Reese. I’m glad you managed to arrange something so quickly”, Barbara said, waving good-bye to Dinah at the main entrance to her home. The teenager walked rather gloomily down to the police car waiting for her by the sidewalk, while detective Reese stood in the doorway. He nodded at Barbara’s words.
“Any time, Barbara. The Commissioner didn’t even think twice about it. Everyone knows this is a serious matter for you. We’ll have a man guard her every minute of the day, even in the classroom.”
Barbara made a face. “She won’t like it, but I won’t take any chances.”
“You better not”, Reese agreed. “Everything I’ve heard about this man… We’ll guard her with our lives.” He nodded. “I’ll talk to you later.”
Barbara was just about to close the door when Dick came running along the sidewalk. He waved at Dinah and said a brief hello to Reese, before he stood in the doorway. Barbara stepped aside to let him in.
“Barbara – I just heard”, he said breathlessly as the door closed behind him. “Are you all right?” he added with a worried expression.
“Oh, Dick”, Barbara said and embraced him. He held her close for a moment, closing his eyes with a pained expression that went straight to my heart.
I stood by the stairs in the hallway, watching them. The strange thing was, that the jealousy that had been such a problem for me the last two weeks had died away. I didn’t feel a thing when Dick embraced Barbara, only sadness for the situation and a deep compassion for Dick. He cared so much about Barbara and I just had to love him for it.
When he let her go he looked at me.
“Are you all right?” he asked and I nodded. I hadn’t really been a part of the whole Joker-hysteria. The fact that he was my father’s biggest nemesis didn’t really affect my life. Maybe it should, but the last time I met the man he had been a dribbling fool. I couldn’t comprehend how he could be sane enough now to arrange his escape.
“Thank you for coming, Dick. We need to talk.”
“What’s happened?” Kate asked, coming down the stairs. We looked up at her. I for my part had forgotten all about her and it seemed Dick had as well; he stared at her as if he hadn’t seen her in his entire life. As if any man that had caught a glance at her would ever forget her. Must be that priest part of him, I thought dryly. She was dressed as she was the night before in plain jeans and a tight t-shirt.
“Oh, good”, Barbara said. “We need to talk, Kate.”
“You’ve arranged police escort for Dinah?” the blond woman said as she came to a halt beside me, at the foot of the stairs. “That went quick. How did you manage that?”
“Oh, no, that’s not related to your killer. We have our own private serial manic on the loose.” Barbara sighed. “It’s a long story, but I doubt it has anything to do with why you are here or why our lives suddenly seem to be copying The Mummy, part two.”
I blinked at the remark. I didn’t even know Barbara had watched the first movie.
“So?” Kate asked and I turned my attention back to her. “Dinah really needs a police escort?”
“Yes. We’ve had an escape from Arkam Asylum this night”, Dick said. “The Joker is a highly dangerous criminal and his first priority will be to…”
“Kill me”, Barbara said matter-of-factly. “Or wait, no that will be his second priority”, she added cynically. “His first will be to eliminate any one and everyone I love or care for, or even so much as smile at.”
“Oh”, Kate said. She frowned. “The Joker? I read about him when I did my research about you and Gotham. He is one of those super-villains, isn’t he?”
“He is no meta”, I said. “He’s human, but he’s…” I tried to find the right words.
“Quite nuts, psychotic, depressive, with no mercy, a stranger to words like ‘love, peace, beauty’ and happy to kill anything that gets in his way – be it a puppy, a newborn or… us.” Dick glanced at Barbara and added: “Batman used to be his favorite sport to hunt, but we are sure he has changed target.”
Kate looked at Barbara and something in Barbara’s face must have given her away. “He has a reason to hate you?” Kate asked.
“Oh, yeah”, Barbara said icily and I felt a cold, cold chill running down my back. “I only caused the death of the two people in life he actually did love.”
Kate stood unmoved as she watched Barbara. Then she nodded slowly; it was difficult to tell what she was thinking, but I wasn’t trying hard – my focus was on Barbara.
“Barbara…” I said softly and moved towards her. Dick stepped aside without a word and I put a hand on Barbara’s shoulder. She leaned in towards me – only briefly, but I felt her relax as I touched her and heard her sigh, before she pulled away. She gave me a brief, grateful look and I nodded.
“The police will be guarding Dinah”, Barbara went on. “I would rather send her away until we recapture the Joker, but…”
“But then my killer might get to her”, Kate said softly. “This is really bad timing.”
Barbara nodded. She glanced at Dick and I. “The Joker wasn’t the only one to escape. They believe Shadow helped him.”
“Shadow!” I exclaimed. “But they promised he was chained for life in his cell?”
“Well”, Barbara said wryly. “Can you blame them? It is difficult to keep someone behind bars who can use the slightest shadow to escape. Be glad it wasn’t Slick, your Mr. Waterpool-guy.” She turned to Kate. “We will update you on our bad guy – I think it is wise if you do the same with yours. I’ll have Alfred make some breakfast and we can discuss while eating.”
“I suggest we eat first”, Kate said. “At least when it concerns my killer – I won’t be particularly hungry when I’m talking about him.”
Barbara nodded. “Fine. I need to make some phone calls first, to take care of business. Helena, will you talk to Alfred?”
“If I know Alfred he’s cooking an English breakfast right about – now…”
“Ah, isn’t it the lovely Huntress, coming for a social call?” Gibson Kafka said when I later that day strolled into his bar, the No Man’s Land. The place was gloomy and quite deserted; it was still early in the day and the bar didn’t open to the public until nightfall.
The young meta-human stood behind the counter, cleaning glass’s and rearranging bottles on the glass-shelves behind his back. I didn’t know why I had come to see him, except maybe to ask for a favor. Gibson Kafka could be difficult with people, but he adored Dinah.
“To what do I owe this honor?” he said with a mock bow.
I pulled out a high barstool and sat down with a sigh. “I’m not really in the mood, Gibson.”
Kate had been right: after hearing about the killer she was looking for, even I felt a little queasy and was glad we had already eaten. It hadn’t been a pretty picture she made – and the photographs she showed us of the victims didn’t help.
“Ah, trouble in paradise – perhaps?” He sniffed in the air around me. “Ah, lavender – not your bar of soap. How is Ms Gordon doing, pretty Huntress?”
I only shook my head and he gave me a hasty smile, then frowned and ducked behind the counter. When he turned up again he held a beer-bottle in his hand.
“It’s too early in the day, Gibson.”
“Big cat on the prowl”, he grinned. “Didn’t used to stop you. Drinking early, smashing and bashing someone’s head at noon… like a cowboy movie, or a lioness on the plain.”
“I’m on the straight path now, Gibson. Remember?”
He sighed and put away the bottle. “Less for Gibson, then. No big cat for Gibson. The bat caught the cat.” He grinned again, almost wickedly this time.
“She did”, I agreed. “She sure did.”
He pulled the towel from his shoulder and rubbed it against an already clean beer-glass as he studied me with a close look.
“You have worry-wrinkles on your forehead”, he said. “Doesn’t go well with your complexion.”
“Thanks”, I said sarcastically. That’s all I need – to grow old before my time.
Gibson shrugged. “Always a pleasure.” He frowned. “Remember – this guy is looking for you.”
“Thin, nervous, kind of clumsy… meta.”
“Yeah? What did he want?”
“He wanted Huntress’ protection.”
I held his gaze. “Tell me again, Gibson. From the beginning. You know I’m no body-guard.”
“He’d heard of you. Said his name was Cam Anderson and these… What, you know him?” Gibson asked curiously when he noticed my reaction.
I nodded slowly. “I think we went to school together. Same year, different class. I remember him because he was such a… klutz. Everyone picked on him.” I frowned. “I wonder what happened to him.”
“He says the bounty-hunters are after him for something he didn’t do. He wants you to protect him.”
“I didn’t even know he was meta”, I went on, unfocused. “Do you know what his abilities are?”
Gibson waved his hand. “He didn’t tell, I didn’t ask. It’s not polite, you know.”
“Right”, I said dryly. “What about those bounty-hunters? What do they say he did?”
“Don’t know. He didn’t tell, but he was scared for his life. Listen…” Gibson leaned forward across the counter, whispering in confidence to me. “Beware the bounty-hunters. No good to play with.”
“I know”, I said. I had heard of them before, but never met them. They were reputed to consist of a group of ordinary humans, hunting down criminal meta-humans. Much like Batgirl and company, the difference being that the bounty-hunters killed relentlessly and not always the guilty parties. They were assassins rather than upholders of the law and the rumors spread suggested that anyone could pay them to kill a meta. They weren’t a pleasant bunch of guys and nothing a lonely, innocent meta-human wanted on his or her tail.
“Right. And Cam Anderson has heard about Huntress, the wild one – he figured you are the only one able to protect him.”
“It’s all I need”, I grumbled. “Did he leave an address or a number?”
“Nope. He said he would call again.”
“I don’t know what I can do about this. You think he is innocent?”
“He seemed anxious enough for an innocent man.” Gibson nodded and polished the counter with his towel. “I believe.”
“Fuck!” I rubbed my forehead with two fingers. “Will you call me if he comes again? You know the number to work.”
Gibson nodded again, eyeing me closely. “You really are worried about something”, he said.
“Look, Gibson.” I met his gaze. “Will you do me a favor? It’s about Dinah. She’s in danger.”
“Lady Ladyhawk?” Gibson twisted the towel between his hands.
“The Joker has escaped…”
“I know. I’ve heard… The Trickster will come for Ms Gordon.” Gibson paled. “He will come for Ms Kyle and the little one…”
“He will”, I confirmed. “But that’s not all. There’s a serial killer on the loose and we believe he has his eyes set on Dinah. If you hear or see anything, however small it is…”
“I’ll guard”, Gibson said and straightened his back. “I will guard your secrets with my life – and keep all my senses alert.”
“Thank you, Gibson”, I said with a small sigh of relief.
“Ms Gordon has friends here, you know”, Gibson added, almost shyly. “We’ve seen the news. Metas at the bar – they like her. They’ll keep an eye out for the Joker.”
“Thank them too. And the news teams – they’ve been a pest around the house today.”
He nodded. “Anything else I can do for you, big cat?”
“You don’t happen to know where I can find a good seer, do you?” I frowned. “You know, a psychic?”
Barbara had sent me on this stupid mission. What did I know about psychics? What did anyone know about psychics? Were they even listed in the yellow pages? Maybe other people were interested in the other-worldly, but I was too busy living in the present to know anything about psychics.
Barbara had to deal with some stuff concerning Gordon Technologies, Dick was busy with his job and Kate… I wasn’t sure what Kate was doing. Maybe I should have asked her to come along. Maybe she knew more about psychics – considering her talk about vampires.
Gibson frowned. “I’ve heard of some. They are no good, though. Money-makers, profiteers… They know nothing. No…” He shook his head and then focused on me. “If you want the real deal you have to visit the swamps. You’ll have to find Nan Rover – she’ll give you what you need, dealing with the spiritual world. Always talking to some one or other not of this world, knowing things we don’t.”
“Fine.” In the bloody swamps? “I have to go to the swamps... Please”, I almost pleaded. “Tell me there’s someone else, someone not hiding in the back of the beyond?”
“Go there, near the harbor. Leave now – I have work to do.”
Fine, I thought, slightly offended. First he wants me, then he wants me gone. “Thanks, Gibson”, I said and waved at him.
I left No Man’s Land and made my way to the harbor, still thinking about the mission Barbara had sent me on. A psychic? I remembered my reaction when she told me we needed someone clairvoyant. “A what?” I had asked. “A psychic”, Kate had explained.
Barbara had explained that to figure out what was going on with our previous lives – if that was what we were dealing with – we needed someone that actually knew something about it. “Everyone has their area of expertise”, she had said. “We need to find someone who knows everything there is to know about past lives.”
I would rather have gone looking for that strange, old woman Dinah and I had encountered, but Barbara wondered what prevented me from doing both. And so here I was, on my way to the swamps.
It took me awhile to get to the harbor and it wasn’t until halfway there I wondered why I hadn’t taken my bike. It was still new to me and most of the time I forgot I even had it – it had been a gift from Barbara. “So you can actually keep up with me in the dark”, she had said, winking. It had made me laugh.
The pictures Kate had shown us a few hours before came unbidden to my mind as I descended a tall building close to the harbor; there were no other buildings after that point in the direction I was heading, so I would have to walk the streets like an ordinary human the rest of the way.
The snap shots of the victims Kate had laid before us had been in black and white, but it had been enough for Barbara to go pale. I guessed it had more to do with the fact that the victims were young girls Dinah’s age than the sight of the slashed throats. Kate had told us the police – picking up on the newspaper’s nickname for the killer – had named the perpetrator Moonkiller. They weren’t even sure it was a man, but it was considered probable by the method the killer had used. All the girls had been stripped naked, but there were no trace of sexual molestation of any kind. All of them were found hanged upside down, tied with black leather stripes around their ankles and with their arms tied on their backs. Their throats had been slit and their bodies drained of blood.
According to the forensics the bodies had hanged upside down for at least three days and the last drop of blood had been squeezed out of them. Somehow they had been kept alive during the whole procedure for three days. The mass of blood at the crime scenes had been horrific.
The strangest thing, Kate said, was that the killer left no trace. “It’s as if he came and went out of nowhere”, she had said. “No one has seen the girls talk to a stranger and the places where they were found hadn’t been clinically cleaned, so he didn’t bother with cleaning up after himself. There were traces of the girls at the scenes: they found their clothes, some personal belongings… but nothing that indicated there had been a second person. All that blood and still no trace whatsoever of a second individual at the scenes, except the girls. And, there was no physical evidence of violence on the girls’ bodies. How the heck did he manage to hang them upside down without sedating them or knocking them unconscious? There’s no evidence of either. And how did he keep them alive for three days?”
The crime scenes were secluded areas around Los Angeles; emptied and abandoned buildings, or on two occasions in a park. And the police had precisely nothing on the killer. That didn’t bode well for Dinah, according to my prognosis. On the other hand – Dinah had me, Nightwing and a pissed of Batgirl to deal with. I had seen Barbara Gordon in a rage on one of her business meetings just two weeks ago – it had not been a pleasant sight. She was worried about Dinah right now, but when that worry subsided… Hell, not even I wanted to be in this killer’s shoes if he even as much as thought about the girl.
In the meantime – I was on a psychic hunt.
Oh, why didn’t I object to this mission? I thought with a sigh as I left the city behind me. Gotham’s swamp interconnected with parts of the harbour. It consisted of some islands open for official use: tourists that could walk along a marked track or pay to get a guided tour in a motorboat through the overgrown channels.
The swamp wasn’t very deep, but it did on occasions hide one or two villains plotting the downfall of Gotham City.
As I entered the realm of the swamps there wasn’t much of a road to stick to. I kept to the official track, pretending to spy for birds when I on a few occasions passed city-people having a stroll in the wild.
I remembered the last time I had been to the swamp – the day Patchy died. It was strange; the boy had been on my mind the whole day. Or maybe not that strange at all, considering whom had escaped from Arkham.
And where the hell am I going to find a psychic out here? There’s only birds and… well, not bees, but… What are those? I hoped the insects I had seen weren’t overgrown meta-mosquitoes… I so did not want to end up with an allergic reaction causing red blotches on my face. They should put up signs: ‘Psychics this way…’ Fuck, this will take ages!
Then it hit me. Close to the warehouse where Patchy had been hiding there was an old cottage – almost ruined really. I’d heard rumors there was someone living there, but hadn’t paid it much attention. Why would I? I didn’t really care about someone insane enough to live in the swamp. Besides, the last year I had been busy with other things. Revenging my mother’s death. Almost getting killed.
Falling in love.
The thought of Barbara immediately brought a smile to my face. It was strange how the thought of her always cheered me up. My own multi-personal vigilante, I thought compassionately.
It turned out my hunch had been right. When I arrived at the cottage – which was placed on something like a peninsula in miniature, wedged between the ocean and the swamp – there actually was a sign. It said: Nan Rover. It wasn’t much, but it was all I needed to know.
Before I had time to knock on the door it opened. I didn’t know what I had expected, but the woman looking at me wasn’t quite it. Or looking might have been the wrong choice of words.
“Nan Rover?” I asked.
Later I would realize that I had expected Nan Rover to turn out to be that old woman who had warned Dinah about the gas leak – the same woman instructing me to pay attention to my dreams. It wasn’t.
Nan Rover was a young woman my own age, Native American, with long, dark hair and smooth skin; I envied her complexion on first sight. She was slender, dressed in jeans and a red, long-sleeved shirt, wearing sandals. She was also – quite unquestionably – blind.
White-eyes stared unblinking at me in the doorway.
“Yes. I’m Nan Rover.”
“Um…” I didn’t know how to proceed from there. “Um, hi. I’m… glad I found you. Do you… see?”
Fuck! That was the dumbest question in a lifetime!
“Sorry!” I hastily added. “Not like… I mean… Are you a psychic? Because if you are we might need a little help…”
The woman hadn’t moved a muscle, but this time she nodded.
“Yes, I see…” she said slowly.
She sees? Sees what? She actually sees, or she sees I need help, or even what help we need? Hell! I didn’t know the first thing about psychics. How was one supposed to act around them? Did they read your mind? If they do, I wonder if Dinah is psychic…?
“So, you scan people – or what?”
This time Nan Rover smiled. She had a lovely smile – I had to ask her what skin-cream she used.
“You are not used to this, are you?”
“Um, no. Is it that obvious?”
She chuckled. “I call it a reading. Some call it a séance, but I prefer reading. It’s like that, you know – reading from the Book of Life.”
“Huh”, I said and twisted uncomfortably before her. She smiled again.
“I’ll do a reading for you and your friends. Will tonight be fine? I sense it’s urgent.”
“Oh, yes – perfect! Um, do we come here, or…?”
“Yes, at half past seven.”
“Great! Fine, I’ll see you… I mean, we’ll meet again, then.”
I heard her chuckle again as I left.
“Wait!” she suddenly called out after me and there was slight desperation in her voice that made me come to an immediate halt. I turned around. She waved at me to come closer and I returned to the cottage.
“He tells you it is too late for him.”
I felt a cold chill down my spine. “Who does?” To my embarrassment my voice cracked a little and I cleared it with blushing cheeks.
“No name… He says to thank you for being kind to him in high school. He says… you would know him as the klutz.”
“What…? What… happened?”
“You must beware, he says… Beware, the Trickster is changing shape.”
The Joker! The Joker killed Cam? Why, in heaven’s name?
Nan Rover took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “He’s gone”, she said.
“He’s dead”, I whispered. “My god! He asked for my help and now he’s…”
The young Indian reached for me and touched my arm. “We can’t help them all”, she said softly. “Go now, and help those you can. Self blame will only slow you down.”
“Hush”, she said. “Go now – we’ll meet again.” She smiled. “I’ll see you again.”
I nodded, sure now that she actually could see – but maybe not the way ordinary people did. “Thank you”, I added. “Thank you for the message.”
I left the cottage and was planning to return to the city when I was struck by an odd urge to see the place where Patchy had killed himself. I didn’t really know why I wanted to stop by the building, but I remembered the anger that had burned within me that day; the rage that had turned me against Barbara, until Dick told me her tragic story. Maybe I needed some closure – they say it’s human nature to need closure and that it’s important for our capacity to psychologically move on in life. I didn’t know, all I knew was that when I reached the building were Patchy had met his end I forgot everything about psychological terms, for there – below the low windows of the abandoned warehouse – was Reeves, AKA Shadow.
I immediately stepped back amongst the trees. It was late afternoon and the low sun cast long shadows across the open area, and amongst the trees the shadows grew thick. I was well concealed.
Shadow walked by as if he was on a Sunday-stroll, not even looking around. I guessed he figured he was quite alone and safe out there. He’s as short and ugly as I remember him, I thought, crouching low amongst the thick branches of the vegetation. Ordinarily I would have put up a chase, trying to hunt the bastard down, but as it was I reckoned it was better to wait until I got back to the Clock Tower to report to Barbara. It would benefit us more if Shadow and the Joker thought we didn’t know about their hideout. It was quite clever, actually, to pick this place as a headquarters. We would probably have overlooked it, thinking no one would use it again since the last raid. Well, on the other hand – maybe Barbara would have wanted to check it out anyway and maybe the Joker counted on that. Maybe he was setting a trap for us. And maybe Shadow only visited the building for the same reason I did: to get closure.
I suppressed a sigh. It had been easier for me when I was only catching bad guys in the older part of the city – less thinking and more head bashing, as Gibson had put it. I silently slid into the shadows and left the place.
* * *
“Crap. Crap, crap and crap…” Dinah complained. She paced back and forth in the headquarters at the Clock Tower, in front of Delphi. Barbara looked up from her analysis and glanced at the girl with a bemused expression, while I leaned on the desk beside her. I had just returned and informed Oracle about the visit to Gibson, to Nan Rover and about the unexpected sighting of Shadow when Dinah came rushing out of the elevator.
“That bad, huh?” Barbara asked.
“Bad?” Dinah looked up. “Bad is…” She threw out her arms. “Bad is not even close… Fuck!”
“Dinah”, Barbara berated.
Dinah blushed. “Helena swears all the time”, she said, looking at me. I blinked.
“Yeah, well – she doesn’t know any better”, Barbara said calmly and I blinked again, staring at her.
Dinah sighed and came to a halt by the stairs. She sat down on the steps with her chin in the palm of her hands, leaning her elbows on her thighs. “Sorry”, she mumbled.
“You’d rather be dead?” Barbara asked her, removing her glasses.
“Barbara – it’s high school! Of course I’d rather be dead!”
“It’s just…” Again Dinah threw out her arms with an exasperated sigh. “It’s the worst possible timing right now to have two police officers following me around in school.”
“Oh?” Barbara was arching an eyebrow at her. “Who are you trying to impress?”
Dinah flushed and stood up in one fluid motion. “Um, no one?” she said, which sounded more like a question. She glanced at me and noticed me grinning. I tried hiding it, but it was too late. She glared at me. “No one in particular”, she added, more assured the second time. “I’m going to do my homework.”
Dinah turned around to ascend the stairs at the same moment the elevator opened and Kate stepped out.
“Kate!” Dinah exclaimed, leaning over the railing. “How nice to see you! Will you watch me practice? We can do some kicks and punches in the arena…”
“Oh, hi”, Kate said, a bit overwhelmed by the openhearted welcome.
“Dinah – I thought you were going to do homework?”
Dinah turned her head to Barbara with a grimace. “I can be dead tomorrow. This is the perfect time and excuse to skip homework for awhile.”
“You could actually also survive”, Barbara said dryly. “Imagine how embarrassing it would be if you failed your exams because you didn’t open your books.”
“You are always spoiling my fun”, Dinah said, sighing.
“Yeah, that’s probably part of my karma”, Barbara said flatly, making Kate hide a smile.
“I really do like this place”, the blond woman said as she moved towards us. “A fighting arena and a gym with a boxing-ring.”
“It’s handy”, I said with a shrug, as if it was all my doing. I grinned at Barbara when she glanced pointedly at me.
“Alfred let me in, by the way”, Kate added, looking over her shoulder at the elevator. The doors had closed and it made a low, humming sound as it went down again. “He said you were here. Hope you don’t mind?”
“Oh, not at all.” Barbara shook her head and gestured towards the documents spread out before her on the desk. “I’ve been going through some leads for what the Joker might be up to. It’s not very reassuring. Dinah”, she added and caught the girls eyes. “Do your homework and come down later. We have some things to discuss and then we are visiting a psychic.”
“Cool!” Dinah grinned excitedly and hurried up the stairs. She disappeared behind the door to the narrower stair leading to the other floors.
“She seems to handle this whole thing pretty well”, Kate observed.
“She’s a teenager”, I said. “Tell them the world is going to end tomorrow and they worry about a zit – or see it as the perfect excuse not to do homework.”
“She’s worried”, Barbara said, surprisingly enough. “But she deals with it.”
“You’ve talked to her?” I asked, looking down at her.
“Yeah, I did – this morning. She’s aware of the dangers. I just… I just need to let her behave as normal as possible.”
“That’s probably a good thing”, Kate agreed.
“I sure hope so. Dick is on his way”, Barbara added. “There’re some more things we need to go over…”
“More talking”, I sighed.
“I know it’s boring, but it’s all we can do at the moment. I did some research on psychic readings. It seems you have to be specific about what you’re asking; otherwise it can result in pretty vague answers. We can’t afford ‘vague’ at the moment.”
“I’m more of a doer”, I said. “Can’t I just go scouting Shadow’s hang-out?”
Oracle hesitated. “It could be a good idea, but on the other hand…”
“I know, too risky. Besides, it’s not as if I could grab him or anything. He would just slide through my fingers again.”
“Shadow?” Kate asked. “The meta-human that escaped?”
“The one and only.” I turned to Barbara. “Do you still have that light-ray thingy you constructed for him the last time?”
“I left it with the police, but I think I have a spare one somewhere. The point is – we could phone the police, but the Joker is too clever to be caught by them at the moment. I’m not even sure he is in that building. But maybe you are right. You should go check it out.”
“Thank you”, I beamed at her.
“But wait until Dick is back. We need…”
At that moment we heard the elevator arriving at our floor and a second later Dick stepped out.
“Oh, good – here he…” Barbara silenced when she saw Dick’s face as he walked towards us. “What is it?” she said and rose to stand between Kate and I.
Dick looked grim. “There’s been a murder”, he said. “Reese just phoned me. There was a greeting from the Joker to Barbara Gordon.”
“What is it?” Barbara said with an icy tone. I glanced at her – I would have expected her to ask who.
“It said: ‘Secret places, secret people – I know you, do you see… me? Concealed, concealed in plain sight – what am I?’” Dick held Barbara’s gaze. “It came with a playing card – the Joker.”
“And the victim?”
Dick shook his head. “Unknown to us. Reese’s people have identified him as a Cam Anderson, but…”
I gasped. “My goddess!”
Kate looked strangely at me and I realized I had called upon the unknown deity again.
“What is it, Huntress?” Barbara asked sharply.
“That’s him. The guy I told you about – who was looking for me.” I hadn’t told her his name before – it hadn’t seemed necessary. I looked at Dick. “He was meta.”
“This is what I was afraid of”, Barbara said and glanced at the papers on her desk.
“What is it?” Kate asked in a low voice.
Barbara shook her head. “God damn”, she mumbled softly. “Dick”, she went on, suddenly with a frown on her face. “Did Reese tell you where they found the body?”
“They got an anonymous phone call. The body was left at…” He hesitated. “The body was left at almost the exact spot Patch Parker killed himself.”
“Fuck!” I said heatedly and Kate blinked, looking at me.
“I second that”, Barbara said.