DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters or settings; that honor belongs to DC Comics, Tollin/Robbins, the WB, and a whole bunch of others who aren't me. I've made no money from this flight of fancy.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The first line of this just hit me at work yesterday, and somehow turned into a rambling little introspective piece. It's still fairly rough (meaning I've given it the once over, but nothing more serious), so both nice words and constructive criticism are welcomed. As with much of what I write, it's somewhat serious, so if you're just looking for some light reading, you might want to give it a pass.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By ocean gazer


I used to believe in justice. A long time ago … in a galaxy far, far away … in another life. Ok, so I'm kidding. I'm not that old, even though I feel like it some days. Still, it's been a long time since I really, honestly, truly believed in justice.

The day my mother died, I still believed. I was still young enough, still naïve enough, to think her killer would be caught and punished for what he did. I even marched down to the police station, ready to tell the cops everything I could remember about the clothes the murderer was wearing and what his knife looked like.

I can still see the look on the officer's face when he had to tell me that there was very little chance of them ever finding the killer in a city the size of New Gotham, when they had no physical description and no evidence to work with. He didn't want to tell me – I didn't understand the pity in his eyes then, but I know now what it meant. He was one of those kind but honest people … the ones who just can't help but tell the naked truth, no matter how much they know it will hurt someone.

Sometimes, I think it would have been better if he had lied – to let me believe a little longer that things would turn out okay and that there would be justice for my mother. But I know that eventually I would have figured it out, and it wouldn't have been any easier to take with the passage of time. And I would have been royally pissed about being kept in the dark on top of it all.

Yeah, I know; it's a catch 22 or a paradox or whatever. So sue me.

Anyway – the moment I realized, really realized that the world was a cold, unfair, and unjust place, it killed the last remnants of my childhood. It felt like the beginning of the end … like the light at the end of the tunnel was coming from an oncoming train about to cream me. And it wasn't just because I'd lost the mother I dearly loved and no one was going to pay for it.

It was more like the weight of the world landed on my shoulders. Or like a blindfold had been taken off my eyes and I could suddenly see the reality of the things and the people around me. It was a big revelation and it truly changed my life. Only … not for the better.

At the same time that I suddenly realized just how crappy life could be, I also realized just how much my upbringing had kept me sheltered from certain things. Not sheltered in the way indulgent parents try to keep their kids away from the hardships that come in life. But I was living in one world, while people around me were living in another. Like, I learned who my father was and why he'd never considered sticking around even after he knew he had a daughter. And I learned what – exactly – my mom really did for a living. And I learned just why it was that The Joker had gone after my new guardian, Barbara – and it wasn't just because she was the police commissioner's daughter. All sorts of whispered conversations and mysterious occurrences suddenly made a whole lot more sense. But the world that this knowledge showed me was anything but reassuring.

No wonder I had anger management issues up the yin-yang. My entire life I'd believed a pack of lies. And the one person I'd always been able to go to when I was confused and trying to make sense of things was dead. My world had come crashing down around my ears and I fought back the only way I knew how. I got pissed.

I was even pissed at Barbara. It wasn't because of her being my guardian or anything obvious like that. My shrink … well, former shrink, now … would have called it transference or misplaced anger or something. As my guardian, Barbara probably gave me way too much free reign and treated me way too much like an equal. Not that it would have helped matters if she'd tried to be strict and parental. I just would have acted out in ever more extreme ways.

It's just … she was there. She was a part of the night life: the life that had been hidden from me throughout my childhood and early teens, the life that had stolen my mother from me and kept my father from ever trying to be around me. She was the only one still around who was part of that life; she was the only one I could be mad at. It wasn't fair, I know, since she bore her own set of scars from it all. Still, she'd chosen to be part of that world. I hadn't; it had been thrust upon me because of my parentage.

I grew out of most of my anger, of course. Hell, if I hadn't, I'd probably have ended up in jail or something. Oh, don't get me wrong. I've still got anger issues up the wazoo. I've just learned to channel the ones I haven't yet tamed. And no, it's not because my former shrink helped me out or anything. She was probably the biggest whack job out of all of us, including those of us who run around in neophrene and have secret identities and leap off buildings under the cover of night.

It's because of Barbara. And because of that same secret life that stole my mother and my innocence.

I didn't beg to join Barbara and become Huntress out of any noble sense of wanting to help people or to right the wrongs of the world. I did it because it gave me license to kick the shit out of the lowlifes who deserved it. It gave me a way to focus my anger on people who were certifiable bad guys … to purge my demons without guilt of hurting innocents. I still didn't believe in justice. I'd decided vengeance was all the justice the world allowed.

I know, I know. It's incredibly ironic. A crime fighter who doesn't believe in justice.

Barbara always knew that about me – I'm sure of it. She's seen me in all my moods and at all my worst moments … and I made no bones about just how fucked up I thought the world was. Still, she didn't lecture me or say anything to me about how backwards my priorities were. She believed in her cause, believed in trying to do good so strongly that she found a way to fight from her wheelchair when she couldn't fight on the streets. But all she did with me was drill the mantra of "we don't kill" into my head and insist that I follow the superhero code … or whatever it is.

She's an idealist, I know, and I'm sure there's a part of her that honestly thinks I'm a better person than I know I am. And for her, I try to be. I try to be the person she sees in me. I love her, and want to justify her faith in me. And she loves me – loves me enough to accept that I am who I am, not just who she thinks I can be. I know … it's a bit of a tongue twister. What can I say? Human beings are just way too complex to be neatly summed up in a few choice words.

Anyhow, for all Barbara's idealism, she's as much a pragmatist as anything. I know she'd rather see me channel my aggression into doing good works than let it run rampant and uncontrolled.

I know it was a good choice and I know I'm happier fighting on the side of the angels than on the side of the devils. But it's just that sometimes I'd stop and think about it all, and want to just dive off the top of the nearest tall building. I've spent a lot of my adult life feeling like a fraud … pretending to be an obedient little protégée to someone who was fighting for justice, while knowing that I didn't believe in such a thing.

Yes, I know. We do good out there and we do catch criminals who would otherwise walk around free. Still, we turn them over the police who throw them in Arkham … and then what? Sure, they pay a price for the crimes they committed. But there's nothing that can compensate their victims – nothing that can bring a murdered woman back to life or heal a shattered spine. What is justice when people's lives are still in pieces?

I know what Barbara would say. I've heard it enough times. She honestly believes that keeping the criminals off the streets and making them forfeit their freedom is punishment enough, is justice enough. I tend to only listen with one ear when she gets all philosophical like that. The only reason I hear any of it at all is that, well, she's been a victim as much as I have. She's had her life drastically altered by a psychopath. And she still believes in the system, still believes that there is justice. Then again, she's not quite like us ordinary Joes. She's a certifiable genius, was an Olympic level gymnast, had a secret life as a crime fighter while going to school, and is one of the most self-contained people you'll ever meet. So I guess I always figured that her noble ideals were just that … ideals that most of us could never quite believe in … ideals that only resonate with the Barbaras of the world.

Then, I met the kid. I didn't know what to make of her when she first showed up in our lives. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't because she was a stray or because I had any fear of her stealing Barbara's affection or any of that kind of psycho-babble bullshit. Hell, with all that Barbara and I have been through together, there's nothing short of death that will ever come between us.

But Dinah was such … such …a puppy dog … like some tenacious little Chihuahua or something. She just followed us around like we would disappear on her if we weren't in sight or something. Hell, given the kid's background, she probably did think just that. It was a little unnerving, but once she settled in and realized she wasn't going to get kicked out any time soon, she backed off and life went back to a mostly normal routine.

Still, I didn't quite know what to do with her because I thought she was naïve. It probably didn't help that her big blue eyes and blonde hair made her look like sweetness and light. Or that she was prone to sobbing about the usual teen traumas and feeling sympathy for baby kittens and the like.

And I so didn't want to be the one who brought her childhood and her innocence to the same kind of screeching halt that mine had come to. So I tried to keep her at arms length a bit. I mean, it was one thing to let Barbara see my darker nature; she already knew it was there. But I didn't want Dinah to come crashing into that side of me.

I don't even remember how it happened … so much of what's gone on in our night life over the past few years is a blur. But I remember her snarling in anger at some scumbag, and looking over to see murder written plain as day in those big eyes. There was no mistaking it. Whoever we were fighting, whatever he had done, she was ready to kill him for it. The only thing that stayed her hand was Barbara's voice over comms, preternaturally calm, and me jumping in between her and her target. Yeah, I know, the kid's a telepath and my mere presence couldn't have stopped her from using her mind to kill. But it helped ground her, helped remind her who she was and what she was doing.

We didn't talk about it, about that moment. But I started watching her more closely, especially in the aftermath of the whole mess with my former psycho shrink taking over the Clocktower. And I realized, much to my surprise, that the kid has a dark side too. She's got a lot of anger under that sunny exterior. She's had a lot of rotten stuff in her life too, and she struggles to make sense out of it all, the same way that I do. We have talked about that kind of stuff. The whole "losing a mother" thing gives us some common ground.

But she's not quite like me. Despite her anger, despite everything … Dinah still believes in justice. She doesn't struggle with whether or not the death penalty is fair like Barbara does, and I know she could easily kill in self-defense and not be kept awake nights for it the way that Barbara is. But she also believes that catching criminals and putting them in jail is justice. I've argued the point with her, going round and round about how nothing can make up for the wrong that's been done. And she concedes the point, God love her, but also reminds me that nothing can change what's already been done. The past is the past, and nothing can undo it. Her point is that at least the guilty have to deal with consequences for what they've done, and while it won't help the victims put their lives back together, it's still better than nothing. It's still a way of providing closure.

I swear, if I didn't know better, I'd think she was channeling Barbara.

It was one thing when it was just Barbara saying these kinds of things. I could write it off to the fact that Barbara's just a whole lot better, nobler, something than the rest of us. But hearing Dinah come up with the thoughts as well makes that a harder sell. The kid is special, no doubt about it, but she's just an ordinary kid with meta-human powers and a lot of anger at the unfairness of the world. Just like me. So maybe it's just that my own anger, my own demons, are still holding me back, are still keeping me stuck in the past. Not a pleasant thought. It's stuff like this that explains why I tend to be all about sarcasm and surface conversations. It's not a lot of fun to go deeper most of the time.

I used to believe in justice; I wish I could say I still did. And maybe one of these days I'll learn just what it is that my two teammates know, and be able to trust in it. But I do believe in truth, in principles, and in redemption. Given that a few short years ago, I didn't believe in anything except the law of the jungle, I suppose that's progress of a sort.

And maybe, just maybe, it's enough.

The End

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