DISCLAIMER: Birds of Prey and its characters are the property of Miller/Tobin Productions, Warner Brothers and DC comics. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Alternate universe. I'm a big fan of the DC comic universe but I was never too keen on the Birds of Prey comic characters, so I ended up planting the TV show versions of Barbara, Helena, Dinah & co. inside the comicverse. So the alpha/beta metahumans thing, the underground, etc. are all from the Batman comics, and not my original thoughts. The story is still completely readable without having read the comics though. Also, this story almost never saw the light of day because I spent so long trying to find a beta willing to do BOP. Right when I was about to give up out of nowhere Debbie swooped in and (despite being insanely busy) patched things up. Thank you Debbie! Warnings: AU, angst, femslash, inappropriately named pets and uncomfortably intense desires for ice cream. This is for my fifty percent lesbian, fifty percent gay love of my life and best friend in the world. You are 100% ridiculous.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To wastedon[at]yahoo.co.uk
To Be in Motion
Do you hear the baby stars? These newborns will grow up to become galaxies someday. When stars die, they turn to stardust and scatter across the cosmos. Eventually, that stardust reforms to create a new star... And so the cycle of life continues. But the cycle never repeats itself in quite the same way.... So...you'll see.
Her hips undulate like a python moving in the grass. I watch, entranced, wondering if the feeling is similar to a snake being charmed from a jar.
The sounds of rumbling engines, impatient honks and other noises from the vibrant city three stories below us fade from the world as I stare and stare
The hypnotic movement stills.
The words seem as still and quiet as her body is in this moment. Engrossed in observing the innate placidity of her narrow form, I take too long to answer and she leaps.
Like the snake which rises from the jar bewitched by the oscillation of the flute, the graceful movements of her body embracing flight leave me no choice; I must follow.
Am I bewitched? I can't help but wonder as I fire a grappling hook, leaping as she did although perhaps not as gracefully, tethered to the rope as I am.
No sooner have my booted toes scraped the ground than she is lunging from the shadows, colliding with my thighs, negating my center of gravity. We roll to the ground -- she hooks her hands onto the front of my suit, battling me for the dominant position.
"Steve! Gotchya!" she cries joyfully, exuberant in her victory as I raise my hands in surrender. She seems so pleased with herself that I can't be bothered to inform her I was never fighting her in the first place.
She becomes still again as she suddenly analyzes me, taking in everything from the sharp points of my mask, the red hair pooling around my shoulders, gazing down to my steel-toed feet, eyes finally settling on the vibrant yellow symbol I wear proudly on my chest.
"Batgirl," she breathes, all sense of playfulness vanishing.
I know we have never met, yet I am displeased when she recognizes me and I see the spark of fear in her eyes.
It is the spark every criminal has upon seeing the bat symbol so spectacularly stylized, whether on a Batsuit or on the giant spotlight in the sky.
She releases the front of my costume and rises, backing away into the shadows.
"I have a message for you," I say as I stand, finally finding my voice, "from Batman."
"If he wants to tell me anything, he can tell me himself," she mutters darkly, and an indignant anger sweeps over me.
I'm still working out if it's because I was foolish enough to be enamored -- however briefly -- with someone who now seems to be a 'bad guy' or merely disgruntled on my mentor's behalf at the woman's insolence when my mouth opens to speak for me.
"Don't flatter yourself. Batman is a busy man; he doesn't have time to deal with the likes of you."
Something like pain flashes in her eyes and my mouth twitches in satisfaction.
I toss the thick envelope to her feet. She is still staring at it when I trigger the retraction release of my grappling gun and fly upwards, and she becomes another tiny speck in the city below.
To my surprise Bruce is sitting at the computer -- anxiously? -- waiting for me when I make my return to the Batcave.
"Bruce? I thought you were on sweeps."
"Did you find her?" he asks, sidestepping my question. "Did she take it?"
"She was exactly where you said she would be, sitting on that roof, staring out towards the harbor."
"Did she take it?" he asks again and I can't decide whether he's antsy or just in a mood.
"Well she was looking at it like it could grow fangs and bite her head off at any second when I left her with it, but yes Bruce, she took it."
His gloved fingers are drumming beside the keyboard seemingly without his knowledge. The sight unnerves me -- in eight years of working together I've never seen him so restless; on edge.
"The way she moved it was strange. And she jumped from a three story building like she was stepping off a curb. I think she might be meta."
He rubs his chin. "Yes. She's meta. And according to Kafka, she's Underground."
I remember the spark in her eyes. That makes sense to me and I nod.
"She did have that look in her eye. You know."
He nods back. He's more familiar than I am with "the spark," after all.
"So Kafka's talking now?" I raise an eyebrow. Gibson Kafka, a gamma-level metahuman who had been on our radar for some time, had steadfastly refused to talk about anything meta -- even so far as to vehemently deny their very existence, all logical arguments to the contrary.
"Robin sweet talked him, apparently," says Bruce, disgruntled.
I have to laugh.
'No straight man wears those kind of pants and gets away with it,' Dick had commented the first night we'd questioned Kafka.
"Dick told you a little soft talk would go a long way with him," I remind him.
"If we want to send a message to the Underground, according to him, she's the meta to give it to. But it's what Kafka mentioned afterward that caught my attention." He pauses and gestures to the whiteboard on the wall meaningfully. "She might be one of our three alphas."
My eyes widen involuntarily and my gaze turns to the chart depicting the hierarchy of the Gotham metahuman Underground -- more specifically, the three empty boxes at the top of it. The three alphas, as the Justice League classifies them.
Despite my deep-rooted trust in Bruce's instincts, skepticism rears its ugly head and the dyed-in-the-wool scientist in me bows to it.
"What makes you say that, Bruce?"
Bruce doesn't answer verbally, turning in his chair and flipping a switch on the Batcomputer. High-def speakers emit the familiar smooth voice of Dick Grayson.
"She can send messages straight to the top? How?"
"C'mon, you can trust me. What's her name?"
"No name, no way," comes the breathy answer. Kafka. "All I know is that she's going to be on the roof of the old art gallery sometime tonight. La Beaute -- the one by the factory district. You might be able to catch her there."
"How do you know for sure she'll be there? What time?"
"Because I do -- and I don't know what time," Kafka replies sounding nasal. "That's why I said 'sometime', at an indefinite or indeterminate point in time; sometime."
"Well, is she dangerous? Can you tell me that, at least?" Dick asks exasperatedly. "What's her power?"
"Dangerous? Everyone is dangerous in their own --"
"Gibson, c'mon, I don't want to go in there blind "
"Her abilities are none of your business, just like they're none of mine. Isn't that what all this is about?"
Dick sighs aggrievedly.
Gibson continues worriedly: "I need to go, before someone sees me down here with you. Thanks for the heads up on --"
Bruce ends the playing of the recording with a flick, gray eyes boring into me. Waiting.
"I'm not following, Bruce."
"Abilities," he prompts.
"Yes," I agree slowly. A light bulb flickers on somewhere in the back of my brain. "Abilities, as in not 'ability.' Plural."
"Kafka doesn't seem like the type to misuse words idly. With a mind like his "
"It would be highly improbable that he would use incorrect grammar," I finish for him. "It might be unusual, but it's not impossible for a beta-level to have more than one power. Look at Kafka -- he's only a gamma, and he has enhanced olfactory senses and enhanced memory, on top of high level computational abilities."
"The metahuman levels aren't just based on number of powers," Batman answers gruffly. "They're also based on the level of their destructive capabilities."
I feel the tendrils of our long-standing argument begin to take root.
"Three alphas -- metahuman alphas -- in one city? Our city? The Justice League --"
" -- Is a valuable intelligence source which I value highly."
"There's never been a naturally occurring alpha-level metahuman, Bruce. Ever -- at least not from the meta gene. All the alphas there are now have occurred through either freak accidents, or they're otherworldly."
I don't have to explain further. Everyone knows that the Underground ostracizes anyone with powers who wasn't born with the gene.
"Even the Undergrounders call them the alphas," Bruce insists, and annoyance flares inside me as I recognize the conviction in his eyes and know that no amount of logical argument will detract from it. He calls it instinct.
"According to the Justice League."
Her hips shift left, right, left, as she walks.
Right, left, right, left
She turns to examine a window display, revealing her profile for the first time in the four blocks since I had been following her. The streetlamps highlight the outline of her curves and the high arcs of her cheeks. She peers intensely, leaning closer to the window, engrossed.
I shift to the side and with a snort of annoyance realize that she is all-consumed in not the contents of the window display, but her own reflection.
I tap my foot impatiently as she adjusts her artistically messy dark hair, somehow making it even more messy and elegant at the same time.
Digital camera pressed to my eye, I record the moment for posterity. Batman's posterity, of course.
He wants her picture for one of the three empty boxes at the top of the meta hierarchy chart, although I have only seen one ability -- the falling. The woman had fallen three stories and landed perfectly and silently, without injury. Enhanced bone structure.
Eventually (thankfully) she seems to consider herself presentable and abandons her mirror image after an almost indecently long final look, slipping into a nearby alley.
I glance at the watch embedded inside my Kevlar gauntlet.
00:59 AM. Almost time.
I cross the rooftops quickly, avoiding the busy street she had been traveling on and instead circling around to the opposite side of the alley. I approach slowly, cautiously, attempting to project the calm friendliness Bruce had demanded I extend.
Like a child she is scuffing her shoe on a dumpster, hands casually pocketed when I catch sight of her. The irony of such a risqué figure performing these actions stirs something poetic inside me -- something lonely and poetic.
I want to hate her for it.
Her movement stills as I draw near -- the unnatural immobilization disturbing me on a deep, almost molecular level.
I force a smile onto my face -- which cracks at the unaccustomed expression.
"Hello," I venture.
Her head turns towards me and I repress a shiver at the brightness of the blue eyes focusing narrowly on me. That can't be natural either, I decide.
"I thought I was supposed to be meeting Batman here," she says suspiciously, eying me with a dubious glint. "That's what the message said."
"He wanted to be here --"
"Whatever," she cuts me off snidely. "The answer is no."
I breathe a grateful sigh. I don't want to try to explain to a meta -- any meta -- that Batman got nervous and backed out at the last minute for fear of of something of which I personally had no idea what to think.
*Don't let her walk away,* Bruce advises me through my cowl's communication unit.
"Well, let's talk about it," I say hesitantly, unsure whether the laser beam gaze that lights on me is curious or just plain spiteful. "Why not?"
Her feet and hips shift, breaking the stillness, and my eyes are involuntarily dragged down her leather-clad body.
"I don't mean we're not grateful," she backtracks abruptly. "For the information, but we don't have what you're looking for. If we did I would give it to you."
She refers to the large packet of files I had given her before -- upcoming targets of D.O.M.A. raids. With it was a request from Batman for the names of two fire-wielding metas responsible for a fatal bank robbery -- nothing Batman couldn't find on his own in time, but the information exchange would have been more for symbolic purposes than anything else.
I step closer, going against my inner instinct to get as much distance between me and the immobile woman as possible.
"That's okay. Consider it a gift, then."
"No gifts. I'll owe you one," she offers.
Not exactly what Batman is fishing for I know, but I recognize the offer as invaluable.
"How can we get a hold of you if we need to call it in?"
She pauses. I imagine she's trying to figure out what information is safe to give me.
"Gibson will arrange any meetings between us."
No information, apparently.
I step back, unspeakably relieved for the encounter to be over, physically relaxing as I slip out of her intense aura. She observes me closely as I take aim with my grappling gun at a nearby rooftop precipice and jet upwards.
*Well handled,* Batman's thick baritone compliments.
"Are you kidding? She didn't give us anything."
*It's the diplomacy game, Batgirl. Baby steps are usually considered too big in this game. What you just did, I would have told you a month ago could never have happened. We have a workable line of communications with the Underground.*
"More communication with Miss Leather and Lace. Yes, that's exactly what we need," I grouse.
*You don't like her?*
"She creeps me out."
Bruce is silent in response, but I can tell that he's amused.
An angry roar assaults my ears like an approaching waterfall. Like the fool that I am, I seek to edge closer to the danger, fascinated with the passionate throb of the crowd.
I shiver, gripping my jacket collar up around my cheeks as a shield against the wind, which is deceptively chilly despite the crisp sunlight filtering through the skyscrapers down to the city square below.
*How do things look down there?* Bruce's voice permeates the noise through the wireless earbud disguised as a press headset on my left ear.
"Like a pack of hyenas in a feeding frenzy."
*Nothing suspicious. Yet.*
The crowd pitches to a level of volume I hadn't thought achievable as a smarmy blonde man clad in an Armani suit ascends the stage, hands raised in jubilant greeting.
"No fear!" he exclaims exuberantly.
"No fear!" the crowd parrots back.
I hear Robin's snort of disgust over comms. Batman, as usual, remains silent and contemplative.
"Wow. Thank you so much for that wonderful welcome," he beams, revealing perfect rows of shiny white teeth. The crowd hoots in response.
"Two weeks from now, this great city will be opening its doors for your votes."
Robin whispers over the static: *Movement on the rooftop across from me, above the top window on the southwest corner.*
I resist the urge to look up, keeping my eyes trained on the crowd. I pause to pay for a newspaper from a woman hocking them by the base of the old square clock tower. She flashes me a grin as our fingers brush while money exchanges hands.
*I see it,* Batman finally confirms.
"Why am I asking you to vote for me, Ron Johnston, for Mayor of Gotham City?" He pauses, allowing the crowd to cheer. "I'll tell you why in one word: safety. The safety of our children, our businesses, our "
The uncharacteristic words escape my mouth before I can stop them, but on second thought I consider that they may bear repeating.
The cause of my vulgarity obliviously licks a chocolate ice cream cone, observing the verbose politician with narrow, smoldering blue eyes -- smoldering seething animosity, that is.
*What is it, Batgirl?*
I keep my voice low, pushing my way through the crowd in an attempt to catch more than a fleeting glimpse of messy brown hair and steely fury through the shifting masses.
"Miss Leather and Lace herself, lurking next to the Bruster's stand. Trying to get a closer look now."
Robin utters what we're all thinking. *Tell me they're not planning something crazy.*
Her perverse stillness is disconcertingly absent -- instead of leather her hips are hugged in denim while her upper body huddles in a thick swathe jacket and scarf.
I roll my eyes. "Definitely her -- I'd recognize that righteous anger anywhere."
Robin whistles. *I'm wishing I had the privilege of staring at her hot body right now, but I'm too busy keeping my eyes on our little rooftop sightseer *
"Right," I mutter grouchily.
* so you'll have to do all the appreciating for me Batgirl, and fill me in on the details later.*
No one notices my blush in the chill.
*Damn it where'd he go?*
*He might've gone down the fire escape. Stay up there, keep searching. I'll circle around.*
A younger female's heightened whisper penetrates the wall of sound emitting from the human conflux.
"Is that woman staring at us?"
I wince as the brunette rolls her eyes at the loud insinuation. A slender blonde whom I hadn't noticed before shoots me a darting, speculative glance.
Grasping between thoughts of the stomach-dropping panic that I would be recognized and the familiar run-of-the-mill social terror that has accompanied me through life since childhood, I fumble for my press pass and gesture with it apologetically. "I'm sorry. I just, you two don't seem like you like what you're hearing. Would you mind giving me a quote?"
"Uh " The brunette raises a thin eyebrow, exchanging a lengthy look with her long-legged counterpart -- then blue eyes dart upwards and behind me to the left. " I'm sorry, I'll have to get back to you."
The blonde's attention is drawn in the same direction. I twist my heel to turn
I love ice cream. My eyes hover to the Bruster's cart and the colorful stickers adorning the cooler detailing in blazing technicolor the flavors and prices of the delicious treats concealed within.
I remember when I was four years old and my mother brought home a tub of generic-brand Neapolitan. I'd thought only a genius could have thought up the idea of combining the three best flavors into one.
Now I hate it. The chocolate runs into the strawberry and makes it taste like pomegranate, and by the time you're done with those two the vanilla's already melted into the cesspool never to be seen again.
Not really hate. I would tolerate Neapolitan if I had to. Because I love ice cream.
Now Rocky Road -- there's something I can hate.
Ice cream ice cream ice cream ice cream --
A crimson splash of blood hemorrhages around the soles of my sneakers, seeping over the rubber and moistening the tips of my toes.
She is unnaturally still on the ground -- but this stillness I recognize. She is sprawled like a deer on the side of the road, eyes wide open and bright, graceful limbs askew -- immotile. Her artfully messy hair seems for once actually disheveled.
My head snaps to the stage where the imposing silhouette of Batman is looming over the scattered crowd, which is far too permeated with terror and the compulsion to flee to take notice of his presence.
He jerks forward, then back, as though hesitant to come and see for himself the body congealing blood around my feet. Too much blood for anyone to survive, my analytical brain informs me.
"She's dead," I say, turning to him and shaking my head sadly.
Robin swings down hurriedly on a rope gun, a perplexed expression tugging at his face and at first I think he is just as perturbed as I am at Bruce's behavior.
"Where the hell did she go?"
A lone angry red stain mars the courtyard sidewalk where the brunette had lain inanimate.
"She hopped right up and jumped straight onto the roof!" The Bruster's man waves his chubby arms emphatically at Robin. "And that blonde chick, she flew right after her -- outta sight, man! I mean -- Mr. Robin -- sir -- they had to have been metas, and I mean I've never even met one before but "
"Which roof?" Robin demands impatiently, raising a hand to his forehead already scanning the skies.
"This one sir, right behind me. I told you -- straight up, man!"
A grainy digital print photo of the enigmatic brunette codename Leather and Lace -- my idea after Batman nixed Dick's selection, which had been 'alpha hottie' -- occupies the centermost of the three top squares on the meta tracker.
A sample of her blood taken from the sidewalk and a deep DNA analysis from one of Batman's old contacts at the Justice League of America and in the space of a week, one of our three abstruse -- not to mention elusive -- alphas is revealed to us. A long list of Bruce's meticulous handwriting stretches ominously below her keen-eyed face.
Enhanced bone structure
Enhanced immune system
A black and white security camera photo of the blonde takes up the space beside the brunette. The list beneath her picture is ominously short:
The third box remains sinisterly devoid of a face or information.
Regardless, we need them -- a situation made obvious by the shivering bundle in my arms.
"Kafka says she'll be there in ten," Robin reports snapping his cell phone shut.
Batman nods in my direction. "Go."
Gotham Park is as neutral a meeting spot as we could think of, not to mention dark and empty at three o'clock in the morning. The only ones up this time of night are us and Leather and Lace, apparently.
It's only been seven days since the shooting. Bruce tells me the entire thing happened while I was staring at the ice cream man in a trance -- the blonde's doing, we presume. One shot from a high powered sniper rifle from an unknown location. One second she was on the ground holding her stomach, the next, she was hopping to her feet and leaping six stories into the air, the blonde flying -- literally -- after her.
Perhaps to catch the shooter.
Bruce and Dick were too concerned about my trip to lala land to give chase and find out.
I'm far away from the park center's incandescent lights -- heading due north as Kafka had instructed. I grouchily swat at a branch, for once regretting my unusual height. The large bundle shifts in the crook of my arm.
A soft voice floats to me in the darkness.
"What is that?"
I face the source of the noise, waiting for my eyes to adjust. It's pitch black out -- she has me at a disadvantage if she can see clearly enough to make out the ungainly forty pounds of weight in my arms.
"A problem we need your help with. You owe us a favor, remember?"
The air shifts closer to me and I manage to make out her silhouette. I hear her sniff.
"You were at the rally on Sunday."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah," she says, sounding more certain, "the journalist. Steve sold you a newspaper. You're Barbara Gordon."
"I -- what?"
"Barbara Gordon -- it was on your press pass."
God damn it. When Bruce finds out about this And who the hell had put my actual name on a fake press pass? Hadn't it been Robin who had made them? Or was it Alfred?
"I don't know who --"
The direction of the voice flutters around me. Circling me.
"Don't fuck with me Barbara Gordon. You smell exactly the same as she did. My nose doesn't lie Barbara."
Enhanced senses. Right.
"Please stop calling me that," I request in as reasonable a tone as I can manage.
"Stop calling you what Barbara Gordon?"
"Stop calling me that out in the open."
"What, you don't like the name Barbara Gordon, Barbara Gordon?"
The voice is behind me now.
My normally firmly-in-check control begins to slip -- something I haven't lost since childhood, but I can't help it something about her just irks me. I grit my teeth with the knowledge that the vein in my neck must be bulging beneath the black Kevlar throat protector.
"What are you, five? You're endangering the lives of everyone I know by chanting my god damn name in the middle of the --"
"The middle of the woods at three o'clock in the morning, Barbara Gordon? I know I'm a little immature, Barbara Gordon, but you really need to quit with taking the lord's name in vain "
A million logical arguments coalesce fully formed in my mind only to fall to the side.
"Stop it," I say jerkily, "if you don't shut up --"
A large part of me is intensely aware that I am channeling a third grader on the playground but unfortunately that large part is not in control at this point.
"You'll what, Barbara Gor -- oomph!"
My armored elbow plants firmly -- satisfyingly -- into her stomach.
She reels backward clutching her middle and I am abruptly reminded of the same position she held seven days ago, falling back onto the sidewalk, blood spilling everywhere from between her fingers, so red, so still
The heavy bundle falls out of my other arm, rolling to the ground.
"Oh god," I whisper, horrified and simultaneously furious with myself. "Your wound -- I'm so sorry --"
The brunette isn't paying the slightest bit of attention to me however. Her keen blue eyes are focused on the tiny person whose trench coat -- Bruce's, actually -- has slipped undone revealing a small, chubby face and mess of jet black hair.
"You're the problem?" the woman asks testily. "A child?"
The boy scowls back. "I'm not a problem. I'm special."
Her eyes rove over the boy's covered back which is large and hunched, deformed.
A tiny sad sort of half-smile works its way onto the brunette's face -- I believe quite unconsciously since I had never seen one appear voluntarily, although I suspect she had been grinning while dancing around me taunting my name. That doesn't count.
"It's okay," she says to him, gently scooping him up, careful not to touch his back. His legs fall out as she effortlessly seats him on her forearm -- they're thin and twisted inwards, his sneakers pointing perpendicular to each other.
"I'm special too," she whispers secretively, and it's too dark for me to see what she does, but I hear the boy's awed gasp.
"He needs somewhere to go. Somewhere he can be safe," I interject cautiously.
Her eyes briefly meet with mine.
"We have a place."
I nod gratefully.
"So I guess that's it then."
I step back -- once again, a meeting with the mercurial meta is drawing to a close and I, for one, am relieved.
A small hand completely engulfed in the sleeve of a trench coat waves at me.
"Bye, Barbara Gordon."
God damn it.
"You know, you have my name. Wouldn't it be fair for me to have yours?"
She frowns at me.
"Why the hell not?"
"What am I going to do with 'Barbara Gordon,' huh? Google it? You bats can do way more with my name than I could ever do with yours."
"True," I admit. "I guess I was sort of hoping we could, ah, trust each other at this point "
She throws a pointed look at my spiked elbow and I wince.
"I really am sorry about that. I wasn't thinking "
"The Bat's never coming to see me, is he?" she interrupts softly.
"I, ah " I sigh forlornly. "I don't think so."
"Whatever. Tell him he can go fuck himself."
A miniature gasp escapes from her arms.
"Er, go fly a kite," she amends quickly. "Or whatever. And don't worry about the stomach. I'm fine."
She lifts up her leather vest to reveal healthy pink skin, if not slightly reddened around the belly button.
"Already healed, huh?" I can't help but sigh wistfully.
Her eyes drift over everywhere but me.
"Listen, if you ever want to come visit this guy tell Gibson the Huntress wanted you to come see him. Dropping that name will get you a lot more places than the real one."
My eyebrows shoot up at the unexpected information, although I know they are concealed by the cowl.
The Batcave is expectedly empty upon my return. I strip my cowl and body armor, breathing a sigh of relief as the heavy weight is removed from my body. I rotate my shoulders tenderly, easing the soreness from the muscles as I wander to the whiteboard intending to erase the words 'Leather and Lace' and replace them with 'the Huntress.'
When I get there I see it's already been done.
A sixth sense alerts me to his presence behind me.
"Bruce I thought you were supposed to be at the charity ball tonight. But you were listening to everything, weren't you?"
He's stiff in his custom tailored tuxedo, but he meets my eyes anyway.
"Yes," he says.
"You knew who she was the whole time. There was no Justice League intel, was there? Somehow you knew Kafka would lead us to her."
"There was intelligence that metas were gathering here in Gotham, gathering to three alphas. I didn't lie," he snaps, offended, "I only had a feeling one of them would be her, based on rumors mostly."
"You know who she is. You know her name."
I say the words as a statement, not a question, but Bruce shakes his head anyway.
"No. I've never met her. Someone told me her name once but I " He grits his teeth, scowling and looking away. " Forgot it."
"You forgot?" I parrot disbelievingly.
"And now he's shut up like a clam and won't say a word," I complain while jostling through the hustle and bustle of downtown daytime foot traffic.
"Maybe it has something to do with the contact he's getting his intel from," Dick suggests sagely.
I came to a pause outside the colorful entrance to No Man's Land Gift Shop.
"You'd better wait outside Dick. It would be too much of a coincidence for Kafka to see me and you walking in here together and not put two and two together."
"What are you talking about? He's never seen me without my mask on."
I smirk and slip through the glass door, leaving him to ponder. The checkout counter is devoid of human life. I spot a bell and boredly tap it.
"Hello, Barbara Gordon," a familiar voice purrs in my ear.
I shiver involuntarily.
"Huntress," I say, glowering. "I'm here to see how he's doing."
She grins sneeringly annoyingly.
"Funny, I'm here doing the same thing."
She holds aloft a manila folder and waves it in front of my face. I snatch it.
"What is this? A birth certificate? Social security card? Immunization records ? Where did you get all this?"
She whisks the folder out of my hands before I can study the documents in detail.
"The kid's staying with me until I can get these watermarked. He's sleeping right now, but you can come over if you want if you're willing to be blindfolded?"
She smiles slyly, quirking a thin dark eyebrow.
"Alright," I say haltingly, "as long as its private; I'd like to ask you about the shooting."
Huntress shoots me a long, speculative look.
"We can talk on the way."
As if she were fully expecting to have use of a blindfold today of all days, she pulls a black cloth out of her pocket. I raise my eyebrow accordingly.
"Put it on. I won't let you trip over anything. At least anything that isn't insanely comical."
She takes me out what I assume to be the back door and guides me down into the passenger seat of a low-sitting vehicle that smells like French fries. Huntress takes the time to buckle my seatbelt for me before getting in on the other side.
"Your concerns for my safety are touching."
"Click it or ticket, although a cop might be a little more concerned with the blindfold."
Sighing, I decide to follow along with Bruce's incessant diplomacy coaching of the previous month and start the conversation with something basic.
"So, ah how are you?"
She snorts at me. I can't make out what she's doing but the plastic clicking suggests it might be texting.
"This, ah feels . like a very, erm nice car."
"Ask me what you want to ask me, Gordon."
"Call me Barbara," I propose attempting to mimic the amiable tone Batman had made me practice all last night on sweeps. "I'd like you to tell me what happened the other week, if you don't mind."
The smelly automobile stutters to life, thoroughly vibrating my ass.
"I was shot, Barbara," she says drolly as we're thrown into reverse, "what else is there to know?"
"Do you know who shot you?"
"No. Only that he was male and that he was being paid to do it. He wasn't personally involved in some sort of grudge or whatever."
"How do you know that?"
"Sources, Red, sources, I'm only embarrassed I got shot. We were so concerned with protecting that giant penis Ron Johnston we let our guard down."
I frown at the thought. "Why would you want --?"
"Think about it Barbara. If that shit-smiling turd of a human being were taken out by a meta we'd all be fucked ten ways to --"
"I know what the logical reasoning would be for the Underground to protect him, I just didn't expect to hear it coming from you."
It may sound snarky, but it's the truth.
"Yeah, well, I didn't expect to be shot either, so I guess we're both lacking in that department. But hopefully pulling guard duty on Johnston is a temporary thing the election will come and pass, the good people of Gotham City will prove themselves capable of independent thought and he'll go back home empty-handed."
Her tone darkens towards the end of her sentence and I can't help but wonder if that's what she really wants -- for it all to end. For Ron Johnston to go home unscathed and all the angry people in that courtyard to go back to their jobs, still hateful, still ignorant, still unharmed and safe in their boxed-in worlds.
"And what if Johnston's behind the sniper?"
A sigh escapes from my left.
"It does seem the most obvious answer, doesn't it?" She answers thoughtfully. "A well-publicized conflict with metas is exactly what he would need to win the election. He has the money. I don't know. I guess we'll see."
"It would have started a lot more than a conflict if everyone in the square hadn't been suddenly overcome with an intense desire for ice cream," I note. "No one there seems to remember a thing."
"Ha! Yeah, funny that. But hey, who doesn't like ice cream?"
We ride in silence for a while. I notice the stop and go of inner metro traffic ebbing to long, winding stretches of road.
"Are we there yet?" I deadpan.
"Ha fucking ha. No. Oh -- shit!"
Brakes scream. Metal crunches. I grab frantically for a handhold -- my head lurches as the car screeches to a halt.
I whip the blindfold off -- she can go fly a kite herself if she thinks I'm keeping it on -- and gasp at the carnage strewn in front of us.
What's left of a mangled Kia is almost torn in half, t-boned through the side by an old F-350.
I'm out of the car in milliseconds, sprinting towards the accident. Huntress is running behind me -- calling 911 at the same time, it sounds like.
I pull at the little Kia's passenger door -- it miraculously opens without resistance. A small girl is leaning on the front dash without a seatbelt, tiny eyelids closed. A trickle of blood runs down her temple. I can already tell the elderly woman in the driver's seat is dead from the horrific angle of her crooked neck.
I fumble for a pulse -- it's weak but it's there.
A dark form skids to a stop in my peripheral vision. "Ambulance is on its way. Is she -- ?"
"She's still alive," I breathe. "We shouldn't move her. Her neck -- no seatbelt I don't know if it's safe. How's the truck?"
Her breath hitches. "Older guy, both legs broken. Whiskey all over the floor, broken bottle jammed in the side of his hip, bleeding all over the place --"
I gasp. "The femoral artery."
"Is that why there was so much of it? Good, maybe he'll bleed out before the paramedics get here and do us all a favor "
"You didn't do anything to stop the bleeding?" I exclaim.
I push her to the side ignoring her loud protestations, my ears suddenly open and alert to the man's panicked wailing. How did I not hear him before?
The sight of his mangled lower half makes my feet trip. I force myself to rush forward.
"Oh god, please, please help me --!"
"Give me your belt," I order Huntress.
I fully expect to have to repeat myself but to my surprise, a leather belt is placed in my hands immediately.
"You're going to be fine," I reassure him as I wrap the tourniquet around his thigh, belatedly realizing that the man's head has slumped forward, probably unconscious from the loss of blood.
I tighten the belt forcefully. Huntress hovers uncertainly beside me, seeming honestly confused by my actions.
"Hold his head back like this," I command, and without questioning me she does as I tell her.
Loud sirens roar up to the scene as I am hurrying to the girl's side to recheck her pulse.
Noises and shouts and people swirl around me. The girl is removed gently from the Kia, the man even more gently. They're most gentle with the dead woman -- the grandmother, I would guess. Useless, I want to say.
I can't stop myself from staring. From looking at how still she is. The girl is looking at her too from afar, willing her to move with her eyes, as I am.
A soft touch graces my lower back.
"Let's go," she says quietly. Huntress. Helena. I know now because she gave her statement to the police. It's a lovely name. "You were right. You did good. C'mon. They're both going to be okay."
I kiss her cheek. She stiffens slightly then takes my hand. I trail behind as she leads me like a child back to the car.
"This native rodent believes her babies to be safe, and she's right. But she's forgotten the most crucial step in the digging process "
I watch silently as the water moccasin coaxes its body gently forward, barely rippling the water.
"I can't believe anyone watches this stuff," Helena comments to the right of me.
My eyes refuse to budge from the screen. "I find it fascinating."
Helena lolls her head on her hand, observing me casually. "I find it fascinating that you find watching this fascinating."
"Mm," I contribute noncommittally as the moccasin raises its head threateningly behind the unsuspecting mother mouse.
This is my third visit to Helena's house. To meet with Mikey the four-year-old, of course, and make sure he's okay.
Always, however, Mikey ends up going home with his mysterious guardians, whose identities Helena refuses to reveal for their protection, and we -- she and I -- would be together. Alone. Alone together, that is. Helena would invite me to stay the night rather than face a long dark drive home, and I, inevitably, would agree.
And then this would happen.
I sit somewhere and do something, anything, and Helena sits next to wherever I am and observes me doing said something; such as watching the nature channel.
"Is there a show that you would like to watch?" I ask pointedly.
"Nope," she says.
I watch for a few more minutes, until her stare drives me to distraction once more.
"Was there something you wanted to do, Helena?"
"Nope," she says. "Was there something you wanted to do?"
She wilts under my glare.
Her cat, Steve, hisses at me.
She waves him away grumpily. "Go outside, Steve."
My eyes drift to her abdomen, trailing from where her breasts jut prominently down to where gentle, curved hips flare from her waist.
"-- Harley Quinn."
"Harley Quinn's who paid that man to shoot me," Helena repeats.
"But she's in Arkham," I reply automatically.
Helena rolls her blue eyes. "Well she gets phone calls, doesn't she?"
"I don't know," I answer honestly. "We have contacts at Arkham. We'll take care of it."
She smiles softly at me, looking at me sideways. "That would be helpful. Thanks."
Now my eyes focus on her smile. The pull of her lips. The smoothness of her jaw. The slight crinkles around her eyes.
I blink and receive a vision of myself covering her body with my own. Me touching her face. Me kissing her skin. Me smelling her neck.
What's happening to me?
My eyes widen as my brain seamlessly provides a mental scan of the whiteboard in Bruce's bat cave.
"You " I whisper.
She glances at me inquiringly. "What?"
"You you're doing this on purpose," I accuse thickly.
"I don't believe this."
"What are you talking about?"
"You know what -- what you're doing."
And I had fallen for it.
"What?" Helena asks desperately.
I wave my arms to indicate the space between us on the couch. "This. This is why you keep inviting me? To take advantage of -- of your powers?"
Of me, I somehow avoid saying. Or have I been under her influence from the beginning, from that first night on the roof of La Beaute?
"What -- no. Well, maybe a little, but it doesn't work like -- Barbara," Helena huffs as I jerk to my feet. She places a hand on my shoulder and I shove it away.
Or I try to shove it away, but she shifts to get closer and I end up backhanding her cheek.
Helena freezes. She becomes so still.
I leave without saying goodbye. Without looking to see if she moves.
I don't know why I'm here. I figure it's about time for a visit, I guess. As any proper daughter would do.
Proper daughters would probably feel some sort of sadness standing at their parents' graves.
They were useless people, really.
My father operated heavy machinery at a scrap yard. He had entertained dreams once of going to school and becoming a doctor, but of course my arrival put a halt to that -- as my bitter mother often liked to remind me.
"You should have used a god damn condom," I say to her now.
The little angel on top of her stone smiles blankly at me.
My mother stayed at home and complained to me about the lack of food, lack of furniture, lack of TV and the housework that she never seemed to get around to: until my father had finally put them both out of their own miseries and drunkenly tumbled our old Ford down a riverbank.
I crawled out of the back seat easily as the front end of the car dipped into the water.
My mother's shrill voice was screaming at my father to wake up, at the car to stop sinking, at me to get help, so I shut the door.
I saw the car slip further into the water and soft sand beneath.
I didn't move.
"Barbara Gordon, hi," says an excited voice beside me.
"Good morning, Barbara Gordon," says a softer, older voice.
I look up, startled. "Mikey? And -- you."
The tall blonde is holding Mikey's tiny hand firmly.
I roll my eyes. "Does the entire Underground know my name now?"
"I'm Seer, if that makes you feel any better off," the blonde offers hesitantly, although with a twisted little smile.
"Only we know," Mikey reports to me. "Me, her, and Hel'na. Oh and Steve. And your name's Dinah, Dinah."
Seer cringes. "Right."
I smirk at her. "Now we're even." Then something makes a fluttering sound and my eyebrows involuntarily shoot up.
I glance around jerkily. There's a small funeral taking place a couple hundred feet away. A few families with children are orbiting around it, not quite close to us, but definitely within eyesight.
"Don't worry," Dinah reassures me, squeezing Mikey's hand. "Their eyes seem to mysteriously slide off us anytime they look this way," she adds, not a little smugly.
"We're here to show my Dad my new clothes," Mikey adds. He flutters again, heels softly lifting and falling. Dinah's firm handgrip makes more sense now. "They don't hurt or anything. Dinah made them, oh and my shoes too. I can walk like normal kids. Aren't they cool?"
He spins around for me, then lifts up his foot to display his new sneakers.
"You have wings, Mikey," I remind him unnecessarily. "I'm pretty sure you're cool no matter what."
His shy look of surprise for some reason makes my heart feel a little bit... something.
"Sorry Hel'na's not here," he adds suddenly. "She wanted to come, but she couldn't, so she sent Steve instead. Said there was some jerk guy she had to beat up. Or something."
"Ron Johnston," Dinah answers my silent question. "Things aren't looking too good. He's leading twenty points, you know."
"So she's going to beat him up?"
My mind is already formulating contingency plans on how to stop her, stop the press, stop everything, when Dinah responds.
"Helena said she wants to beat him up, Mikey, not that she's going to. There's a difference."
Dinah releases her grip on his hand. "Put on your coat, go find Steve and get back to the car. I'll be there in five minutes."
Mikey shoots me a long-suffering look, but complies. Dinah and I watch as he trundles off towards the parking lot and is soon joined by a panting Labrador retriever.
I frown disapprovingly. Does Helena name all of her pets Steve? Ridiculous.
"I'm glad I caught you here," says Dinah. "Listen, Ron Johnston is going to win tonight."
"Polls don't mean anything. It's votes that matter. There's no way you can tell --" I stutter to a halt as a familiar light gleams in her eye.
"You know," I say. "Just like you knew something would happen at the rally two weeks ago?"
Her blue eyes crinkle abashedly. "Something like that."
A piece of the puzzle clicks together satisfyingly in my mind.
"Just like you knew that if Batman and Helena were ever to meet, something bad would happen?" I guess.
Her mouth drops open in surprise.
Dinah is the only metahuman I know of that could possibly have the power to instill that sort of complex thought in a mind as iron-willed as Batman's. It makes perfect sense -- it's the only thing that does make sense.
"Something like that," she repeats.
I beg, "Please just tell me Helena's not going to do anything stupid."
Her eyes flash reminding me briefly of Huntress. "We have to do something."
"No, you don't have to do anything. Just leave it be. Please -- don't you see what could happen? You, of all people?"
Dinah looks away. "I don't see anything in Ron Johnston's future, after tonight," she says quietly. "Everything is uncertain."
"Tell me you realize how crazy this is. Tell me you care how this is going to affect the city, affect Mikey. Do you not give a damn about his future?"
Her head shoots up, eyes flashing. "Of course I do. Kids like him are why we're doing this. You don't understand anything. You don't know what it's like to be afraid of people like Ron Johnston. You don't know what it's like to be helpless, to not be able to do anything to help yourself, or protect your friends. We can't just stand by and watch our lives be ruined. We have to do something."
I breathe in noisily. "Then we have to stop you."
She shakes her head sadly at me.
I reach up to activate my comms as my eyelids blink heavily. Sleepily.
I step back. "Don't. Batman -- Johnston, he needs to "
Dinah steps closer. I back away woozily, struggling to remember what I was trying to say.
*Batgirl, what is it? Is Johnston hurt?*
"The Underground they ah "
I shake my head, struggling to clear it, but the action only makes me more dizzy.
*Batgirl, are you alright? What's your status?*
I realize I am sitting. When did that happen?
Dinah -- Seer -- is backing away uncertainly, but there is a grim set to the line of her mouth. A dog barks somewhere.
The grass is so soft. Now I'm lying down. I don't remember doing that.
A ladybug crawls on my finger.
My parents' graves are so ugly to look at. I close my eyes.
"Hm?" I answer.
"Barbara? Are you awake?"
I frown, cracking open one eyelid. Robin frowns back. I hear the Bat computer beeping away in the background.
"Now I am. Gee, thanks a bunch." I slowly allow my other eye to open when my memories fully resurface.
"Dick -- Ron Johnston, is he --?"
"He's in protective custody," Robin answers quickly. "Received some crazy death threat from the Underground. They tried to blow up his car or something. Batman's with the JLA now. They're giving him a new name, new life, the works."
"No, they'll find him," I insist. "We have to go after the Underground -- you and me, we have to throw them off. They won't let him get away. We have to call Bruce, get the Justice League back here."
"Whoa, whoa, Babs, slow down." He throws his hands into the air as I struggle to sit up. "The Martian Manhunter's doing his psychic fingerprint thing. No one in the world is going to know where this guy is, and no one is going to ever be able to find him, psychic or not."
'I don't see anything in Ron Johnston's future, after tonight '
"Good. That's good." I struggle to breathe properly, hands on my hips as I pace the bat cave. "Why would they try to blow up his car, though? It doesn't make any sense. They could kill him a million different ways, better ways. Ways that would make people know that it was a meta who killed him. That's what the Underground would want."
Robin shakes his head, unperturbed. "What, it's a trick?"
"It's got to be a trap. Of course."
"If it's a trap, let them spring it, Barbara. The Justice League is here. What could the Underground possibly do?"
"You don't understand how much they want this, Dick. You don't understand how desperate people can get -- how cunning they can get when they need to be. We have to do --"
I stop myself before I can finish the sentence.
We have to do something.
I don't have time to argue with Dick. I have to move.
"Where are you going?" He hollers after me.
"Stay here. In case something happens," I call over my shoulder.
I straddle my Ninja and take off.
The southbound highway is all but deserted as I jet towards No Man's Land. Everyone is heading to the north side of town to the swearing-in. Won't they be surprised, I think, when it's announced Ron Johnston has suddenly taken ill health, or whatever lame excuse they would give.
I bounce the wheels onto the sidewalk and have the kickstand out before the bike has even stopped rolling.
"Kafka! Gibson, where are you?" I shout as I tumble through the doors. The front desk and souvenir shop is completely empty. I stride to pull the book that activates the secret passage into the bar.
I have to find him. Have to make him tell me where they are. What they're doing. What they're planning.
The bar is smoky and smells like food, the TVs are turned on but the chairs are all empty. There's no one behind the bar.
"He's not here."
Helena is sitting at a dusty little back table, absently twisting a paper straw wrapper around her finger. "He's at the swearing-in ceremony like everybody else."
My chest is heaving from the exhaustive cross-city sprint. "It's too late to stop whatever it is you're doing, isn't it?"
She allows the paper wrapper to drop into a puddle of condensation and frowns at it.
Ignoring me, how very grown-up of her. I slip a batarang from my pocket and manipulate my fingers to tuck it carefully in my palm. I have no idea what I could possibly accomplish with it, but it makes me feel a tad more in control. I approach cautiously.
"Dinah was right, you know," I say. "I've never known what it was like -- to not be able to do anything --because I've always had a choice. I've always chosen what not to do, instead of do."
"Hm," Helena comments neutrally. A TV reporter is commenting in the background about the unusually late start of the ceremony.
"It's always worked out pretty well for me before though," I continue thoughtfully. "It's never bothered me before, or held me back." I spare a glance at Helena's hands, which are making a face out of French fries. "Until now."
"Hm," Helena contributes. Her eyes flash at me slyly.
Her fingers rise to fumble my palm, and before I know it, my batarang is being used to make patterns in her ketchup.
"Are you going to arrest me now?" she finally asks.
"I I don't know if I should or not. Would you come willingly?"
She stares at the portrait she's been creating. I realize that it's a French fry, ketchup and mustard rendition of me. Two black olives make up a pair of absurdly gigantic breasts for my bat suit. "Probably, every time I see you you either hit me or kiss me. I think I'm starting to develop a complex."
The TV reporter begins to interview a member of city council, discussing the looming possibility that the ceremony will be canceled.
"Mr. Councilman, can you discuss at all the rumors that have been circulating of Ron Johnston's disappearance?"
"At this time I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say "
"You you make me want to do so many things." I breathe desperate for oxygen to clear my head; then look away, blushing furiously. "I hate it. It would be so much easier not to "
It would be easier not to make a decision; to decide not to do. Just leave, and let the Justice League handle her. I don't have to be involved in the slightest. No one would blame me for it.
It would be easier if I had never wanted her in the first place.
I'm standing right beside her, leaning slightly down, hand resting on the table. She warily looks up at me, lips slightly parted.
I tilt my head
Her breathe mingles with mine. The smell of her perfume intoxicates me. I have to taste her.
I meet her lips gently, savoring their soft resistance, taking pleasure from the essence of all that is her. Long fingers creep into my hair, tugging me further down as I grow more confident, increasing the pressure of the kiss.
I moan. She parts her lips
Oh god yes
"Good evening great people of Gotham City!"
A crowd roars over the television.
Ron Johnston sweeps up to the stage, shaking the hands of several judges on his way to the podium.
I gasp. "I don't believe it."
"Me neither," Huntress mumbles into her water glass.
"I I thought you were going to kill him." I shake my head.
"I was. But then at that car crash. You showed me something nice." Her eyes flicker. Her expression makes me recall her look of genuine befuddlement as I'd demanded her belt to help stop the bleeding. As I told the man everything was going to be alright. "It changed the way I think a little bit."
"Showed you what?" I question, nonplussed.
"I don't know." She smiles shyly, shrugging softly. "Just nice. You're nice."
"So now he's back?" I ask disbelievingly.
A tall, blonde form appears in my peripheral vision. "Nope."
Helena and Dinah exchange grins.
"Oh that's not Ronnie boy." Helena smirks at me. "By now he's probably off in some suburb living his new life as a used car salesman or something, we hope."
Dinah clarifies, "That's Steve."
"Steve?" I repeat, skeptical.
Then I realize that a part of this picture has always been incomplete.
I pause to pay for a newspaper from a woman hocking them by the base of the old square clock tower.
"Barbara Gordon. I remember you " Helena says, frowning at me in the dark. "Steve sold you a newspaper."
Her cat, Steve, hisses at me. "Go outside, Steve."
Mikey is joined by a panting Labrador retriever. I frown. Does Helena name all of her pets Steve?
"The third alpha," I say.
I take a minute to stare at the screen as Ron Johnston finishes the oath with a flourish, approaches the podium and without fanfare proceeds to outline a peaceful plan for metahuman rights and integration. The crowd doesn't seem to mind the change in rhetoric just as long as he's shouting, apparently.
"No fear!" he chants.
As always, the crowd chants back, "no fear!"
I turn to look at Helena, but she is gone.
Helena's hips sway towards the stairs.
As always, I follow.
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