DISCLAIMER: Birds of Prey is the property of DC Comics. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: for "Identity Crisis: #1"
Grip of the City
News flew across Barbara's screen. Text messages. Pager numbers. Dozens of voices. Every byte conveyed the same meaning: Shock. Were you supposed to feel numb when you were in shock? Nothingness? Not like you'd been punched in the gut, even though you'd been sitting in your chair thirty seconds ago, and you were sitting in your chair now, and nothing had happened? One Day Later One Day Later
Maybe with shock you were supposed to feel cold. On television your companion would cover you with blankets and call an ambulance. Barbara definitely felt cold. Fear had burrowed its way into her belly. Fear was a mostly foreign sensation for heroes, especially heroes that didn't kill. They had relinquished the burden of mortality, freed themselves to play on city streets like children playing video games. Except people died in video games. Superheroes only pretended that no one ever would.
The eerie light from the computer monitors cast a pallor onto Barbara's sweaty face. She was the one who called ambulances. That first cry to the Elongated Man had activated the J.L.A. net, which had monitored the stress in Sue Dibny's voice and had automatically coded emergency and sent it up the food chain. The closest heroes had arrived within minutes, when it was far too late.
Barbara clicked the mouse, facilitating a data transfer between the Green Arrow and Batman. Then she rested her forehead in her hand. The night had been quiet, before this. They'd been distracted by the surprise party planning. They'd been distracted, and look what happened.
Dinah was asleep in the next room. She'd had a hard mission, and though she usually liked to recoup from hard missions by going to sandy beaches, she'd had the party to attend. Besides, she'd told Barbara, bad things seemed to occur on vacations, and she just wanted to get through one night without a random-ass thing happening. She gambled on the clock tower keeping her safe.
Barbara looked again at the monitor. Pictures of the crime scene appeared. She emailed them to the police. The audio messages were becoming less dense. People were talking to each other instead of her. Coordinating. Forming teams.
Nightwing. "I'm here," she said.
She could hear him breathing through the speaker. He said again, "Barbara."
"Dick, I have to go. There's a lot of...work."
"I know." He hung up.
Calls like that were going out all over the country as people verified who was still alive. Just checking. Ollie would be calling soon for Dinah. Barbara got up to go break the news.
Or, tried to.
She'd forgotten she couldn't walk anymore. When she was plugged into the network, when people were relying on her, she always felt whole. When she turned around, to head to the bedroom, she was grounded. Annoyed, she tossed her earpiece on the desk and began wheeling herself.
She shut the bedroom door behind her, blocking out the glow of data streams on the monitor, and the underlying buzz of panic. The bedroom was quiet, and dark, absent of exterior windows. Only the alarm clock and the bluish light from whatever cast bluish light into bedrooms illuminated the room.
Dinah was snoring. She slept on her side, facing the door, having kicked off most of the covers, and wearing a thin silk nightgown. Barbara watched her sleep for a moment, and then leaned over to shake her shoulder. "Dinah."
The snoring changed pitch, becoming an annoyed wheeze, and Dinah shrugged off Barbara's touch.
"Dinah," Barbara said again. "Wake up."
"Unh." Dinah rolled onto her back and grunted. She kept her eyes closed. "Is it time for the party?"
Dinah struggled to sit up. "What? Ollie? Can he not fit into the cake?"
"No, it's..." Barbara looked at Dinah's sleepy face, at the tousled blonde hair, and at the wrinkled bedclothes, and said, "Sue Dibny's dead."
Dinah's eyes widened.
"Murdered," Barbara said.
Dinah pushed back the covers. "I have to go."
"There's a car waiting downstairs."
"Thanks." Dinah swung her legs over the side of the bed, then changed direction and hugged Barbara tightly. Barbara clung back, resting her head against Dinah's. She could feel Dinah's warm, damp face pressed against her neck. "Oh, God," Dinah whispered against her ear. "Poor Ralph." She exhaled. "Poor Sue."
Then Dinah drew back and stood. She let her hand linger on Barbara's shoulder as she passed to the armoire where Black Canary's costume was kept.
Barbara watched her go on the security monitor, watched her arrive several hours later on the GNN news feed, in a sedate car that pulled in front of a building surrounded by the police. Dinah emerged from the car and lifted her badge. "J.L.A."
A policeman stepped forward. "Ms. Lance."
Dinah entered the crime scene.
Barbara was alone in the clock tower. Heroes were swarming in several cities and using Barbara as a phone service. The data--crime scene photos, atomic-level carpet fiber tests, security recordings, blood samples, panicked audio transmissions--were all in front of her, everyone was too busy to listen to her analysis. And what level of analysis could she really provide, she wondered, compared with a fleet of detectives and scientists and whatever equipment Batman kept in that cave. She was ever the librarian, providing raw information and keeping her opinions to herself.
Her father had checked in when he'd heard the news, before going to speak reassuringly to the press to calm the public uproar.
The underworld salivated.
Barbara sighed and wondered if she should make tea. She couldn't remember if she liked tea.
The lair door opened. Barbara started at the noise. Someone had gotten past the proximity alarm. Only four people on a planet of billions could do that. Dick, Bruce, Helena, and--
Dinah smiled sheepishly from the doorway. "Hi."
"What are you doing here?" Barbara wheeled her chair around.
"Couriering. It's all the rage."
"Guess J.L.A. girls are the best at carrying sensitive information," Barbara said.
Dinah walked up to where Barbara was sitting, and knelt in front of her. "Right on. But I don't work for them." She tapped Barbara's knee. "I work for you."
"It's not about who anyone works for, right now..." Barbara watched Dinah open a satchel and pull out a metal case. "How's Ralph?"
Dinah looked up. "He's bad. People keep bringing food. It's weird. He's not eating."
"Focused. Everyone's so focused. All those detectives and masterminds, throwing themselves into their jobs. And I'm just flower shop girl. I don't want to--" She stopped talking. She set the metal case on nearby stand with trembling hands.
Dinah inhaled, blinking back tears.
"I'm glad you're here."
Dinahh leaned forward, lifting herself on her knees, and cupped Barbara's cheek. "I had to see you. I never see you."
"You know, I'm out saving the world... On destroyers or in African jungles, or being thrown into desert tombs. I'm never here. I think I need to be here." Her thumb stroked Barbara's jaw.
"You can't save the world from here."
"With your help." Barbara smiled as she leaned into Dinah's touch. "When you're out there."
Dinah wrinkled her nose.
"We'll do better. I promise."
Dinah nodded. "Last night was supposed to be..."
Last night, Barbara was supposed to leave the mean streets to the caped crusaders on duty, and crawl into bed next to a beautiful, cheerful blonde. She wished she could go back, and block out the agonized cries she'd heard by closing the bedroom door. Dinah rose, and kissed her. Barbara stayed still, lightly returning the pressure of Dinah's lips. Dinah's mouth moved, caressing hers. Barbara closed her eyes when she felt the tip of Dinah's tongue brush her lower lip.
Dinah's touch faded. "I have to go."
Barbara heard her stand. "I know. What did you bring me?"
"A sample of Sue's tissue."
Barbara felt her stomach twist. She opened her eyes to glance at the box.
Dinah looked sad. "Don't lose it."
Dinah headed for the door.
"You're not just flower shop girl. You're martial arts girl. Your time will come."
Dinah looked back at Barbara. "I know. Ollie's got a plan. I'll be there."
Dinah went through the door and closed it behind her.
Barbara turned back to the computers. "I love you," she said to the empty room.
The funeral played on Barbara's central monitor. She'd been invited, but leaving her lair, or the plane, wasn't appealing. Even with the high-tech wheelchair, she would have been an inconvenience. She would have been noticed. The day wasn't about her.
The day was about the man on screen, who was sobbing as Dinah held him. Dinah was trying to keep him from dissolving. The men and women that surrounded them were sorrowful but whole and strong. Heroic even in grief.
"That's all of them, then," the woman standing next to Barbara muttered. "Well, not all of them."
Barbara ignored her in favor of scanning the crowd for villains. Facial-recognition software was running, making the live feed from the church slightly sparkly.
"Not us," the woman said.
"Not us," Barbara echoed.
"I can't believe--" The woman stopped, and inhaled. "I can't believe this happened. To her." She shook her head. "This shitty city."
"It didn't happen here." Barbara glanced away from the screen and at Helena. The woman's face showed every raw emotion she felt. Right now, it was a mask of anguish tinged with bitterness. Which is how Helena usually looked, but this time, Barbara was relating. When Helena answered, "You know what I meant," Barbara had to concede she did.
Helena said, "I hate this. I wish I could do something. Be comforting. But I don't feel..." She leaned forward and squinted at the screen, furrowing her brow at whatever Wonder Woman was saying. "It's not my right. Not as much as it's their right. They were closer to him. I feel out of place."
Barbara nodded. She rotated the camera angle.
Helena took a breath. "I saw Nightwing. I wanted to--But what the fuck do I say? I'm sorry? I'll kill the bastard?" She didn't seem to see Barbara wince. "Nothing feels right, but just because it's inappropriate, doesn't mean I don't feel it. It hurts. I hurt. Not as much as them, but, not...nothing."
"I understand," Barbara said. She watched the screen as Ralph tried to speak. Barbara looked away. In the presence of Huntress, a woman unquestioningly loyal to her, yet whom she barely tolerated, Barbara felt tears sting her eyes and then burn her cheeks.
She heard Helena shift, then say, "What should I do?"
"Protect the city. Someone has to. Everyone is distracted."
Like they'd been distracted two nights ago..
Helena snorted, and said, "Protect the city. Great. Last time I had Gotham all to myself I ended up shot."
Barbara's lips curved into a smile.
Helena adjusted her mask. "I'll be in touch." Then she was gone.
Barbara continued to watch. The funeral ended and groups broke up to pursue their own idea of the demon, and she stayed with Dinah, watching her speak in low tones with Green Arrow and the others. Occasionally Dinah would touch her ear, and Barbara allowed herself to think Dinah was comforted by their link. She watched the core of the J.L.A. make plans, in their cliquish way, and the isolation and sorrow over Sue's loss gnawed at her stomach, reminding her that she wasn't really one of them. Dinah wasn't really hers. Not when she was saving the world.
But Barbara was still the Oracle, they would still need her, and so she was patient. She waited, and made plans of her own.
One Day Later
One Day Later
Return to Bird of Prey Fiction
Return to Main Page