Disclaimer: "Birds of Prey" and characters are copywritten by Miller/Tobin Productions, Warner Brothers, DC comics et al. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author.
Notes: This idea has been floating about in my head for awhile. Basically, I wanted to replace the show Dinah with the comics version and this is my idea. So, if you're still thinking the Dinah in this story is the one portrayed by Rachel Skarsden, well, it's NOT. And if I had a billion dollars and could make this an actual show, the Black Canary in this story would look an awful lot like Peta Wilson. Why? Because I can and 'cuz Peta makes my cold, cynical heart go pitter-pat!!
I'd also like to give a shout out to the wonderful people who're beta'ing
this: Michelle, SH and cheekster. Yeah, I know, that's an awful lotta beta's
for one damn story but I'm trying something different this time and wanted
to make sure it's somewhat coherent. They tried their best but any and
all mistakes are mine!!
Birds of Prey
I hated mornings. I really did. Which was sad because I used to love them. The birth of a new day. Hints and promises of possibility. Now, I hated mornings because it reminded me of the one thing I didn’t have. My legs. I stretched languidly, trying to remove the kinks in my back, my body anticipating the moment where my muscles shivered, extending all the way down to my toes. Except, it never does. Not anymore. That wonderful sensation ends somewhere below my belly. And reality comes crashing down.
A sigh of resignation passed across my lips. I’d like to think I’d accepted my fate. Accepted the cold hard reality of my paralysis. Only I couldn’t. Rather than accept it, I’d reached an emotional and intellectual quagmire. Reality on one side, possibility on the other and me stuck in the middle, reaching towards one while held back by the other. All because it was morning. When my mind was still foggy with sleep and the first thought was of hopping out of bed only to realize that I never would. I hated mornings.
The smell hit me before I saw it. Tea. A cup of it sat waiting for me at the Delphi. I moved onto the platform. My hands wrapped around the mug instinctively, letting the warmth seep into my bones. My favorite, vanilla and orange. I inhaled the fragrance.
“Thank you Alfred.” I stated aloud.
“When Alfred looks *this* cute in leather pants, you can thank him.”
I turned my head towards Helena’s voice. She padded out of the kitchen carrying a plate of bagels and cream cheese. Her feet were bare, still wearing her leather pants and that damn wife beater tee she loves so much. The one with ‘pornstar’ printed across her chest.
“What are you still doing up?”
“Bored. Couldn’t sleep.” Helena plopped onto the desk next to me, crossing her legs. Looking all the world like a kitten come to snuggle next to its human. It would have been easy to write her behavior off as one of her moods, but I’d known Helena way too long. There’d been the subtle showing of her overprotective streak lately.
Her hair jutted out of her head in shaggy clumps. Yet, somehow, Helena made it look stylish. Some days I think I hated her. She handed me a bagel, cinnamon-raisin, the cream cheese already spread excessively on the top. “Did you even go to your apartment?”
“Naw, crashed on the couch. The tv’s better here anyway.”
“You could always buy yourself a new one.” I bit into the bagel, immediately regretted it as I felt the cream cheese smushing onto the corners of my mouth.
“What and miss seeing your pretty face in the morning?” She leaned in close on that last one. Face stretched into a Cheshire cat smile. Her hand reached out, a finger grazing across the corner of my mouth, cleaning the cream cheese off my face.
“Thanks.” I grumbled. Unable to look away as she sucked the digit into her mouth.
“Just be glad I didn’t use my tongue.” She said in a tone that danced on the edge between playfulness and flirtation.
“There’s still the other cheek.” Fell from my lips before I’d realized what I’d said. We sat this way for what seemed like an eternity, faces inches from each other. Me staring into Helena’s eyes, Helena staring at my lips. The tension increased with every passing second. I could see each and every thought play across her eyes: bemusement, temptation, trepidation, and, finally, acceptance. My heart thudded heavily in my chest as I realized what I’d done, what she was about to do and I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say to make it all stop.
“Oracle, can you hear me?” Black Canary’s voice cut through the air, through the tension like a razor. I pulled away from Helena, head twisting towards the Delphi.
“I’m here.” Wind whipped through the speakers along with the sound of jet engines roaring to life. “Where are you?”
“Far away, hopefully.” Helena muttered.
“Ah, Huntress, just as chipper as ever. I’m in Djakarta. You want the good news or the bad news?”
“I’ll take the good news first.” My fingers danced across the keyboard. Images popped up onto the screen, a map of Djakarta along with a tiny blip pinpointing Dinah’s location.
“We’ll finally be able to have that cup of coffee. I’m coming to New Gotham.”
Helena wiggled her fingers. “Ooh, Black Canary’s coming to New Gotham. Give me your number so I can call you when I care.”
“Huntress,” I hissed at her. “What’s the bad news?”
Canary paused before she spoke. Not so much dramatic as foreboding. Like I could hear the tension winding in her body through the speakers.
“Well?” Helena snapped.
“Someone’s put a hit out on you.”
“Huntress?” I gawked at the speaker.
“No, you. Someone’s put a 10 million dollar bounty on Oracle’s head. And in a couple hours New Gotham’s going to be crawling with every low life looking to cash out. I’m leaving in a minute but it’ll still take half a day before you get to see my pretty face.” There was a momentary pause as voices called to her in the background. “Hey, Huntress.”
“Take care of our girl.”
“I always do.”
“Canary out.” The speaker hissed. I continued staring at it, still processing the information.
“You know,” Helena stiffened, folding her arms across her chest. “I think she got it backwards. A buncha hitmen coming to New Gotham sounds good compared to Canary coming here.”
“Helena, be quiet. I need to think.” My fingers danced across the keyboard intuitively. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. Gasoline set ablaze. This should have been old hat. It wasn’t the first time someone had threatened my life. But never as Oracle. Never with me like this, in a wheelchair. Bruce used to always tell us fear was a good thing. Kept you alert. You knew you were alive when you were afraid. What I was feeling wasn’t fear. It was terror.
“Barbara?” I felt Helena’s hand on my shoulder. I’d forgotten she was there. It took everything I had to turn towards her, to stare into her eyes knowing there was fear in mine.
“I’ll die before I let anything happen to you.” She said with a seriousness that chilled my soul.
“No,” My jaw clenched. “You won’t.”
After all she’d given me, I could never ask her to make that sacrifice. Should have never put her in the position where that was an option. I had chosen this life willingly and with my eyes wide open. Helena chose this life because of me. Now, there were people coming after me. Me. Helena didn’ t have to say it, I could see it in her face. She would protect me. With her life if necessary. I’d seen too much pain, lost too many people I cared about, that I loved. I don’t think I could take it if I lost her. I don’t think I could take it if Helena sacrificed her life for mine.
Before I knew it, her arms were wrapping around my shoulders drawing me towards her. I hated feeling like this, weak, vulnerable. Like I was using Helena as a crutch. I tried not to think about that fateful day that brought our lives together. But, it’s always there. An intangible shroud hovering over the both of us. The one that created the delicate balance between us. Made me her teacher, guardian, and mentor. She was my pupil, and my best friend. But, it had always been more than that. She was also my touchstone. My strength. Truth of the matter was I’d be dead without her. I returned her embrace. Could feel her tremble slightly at my touch, the fear emanating from her. With all her strength, all her bravado, Canary’s words touched a cord within us both.
“I won’t lose you.” She muttered into my shoulder. “I won’t lose you.”
People sometimes ask me what it’s like to have an eidetic memory. Which, to me, is a strange question since I don’t know what it’s like NOT to have an eidetic memory. I try to think of it this way: using the brain as a computer, each memory is a piece of data, stored, compartmentalized, accessed whenever necessary. Except, it’s more than that.
When I get asked about my memory, I often return with the question – ‘Do you remember your sixth birthday? Do you remember the cake? The decorations? How it tasted? How many presents you opened?’
Me, I remember the headlines on the morning paper. The scuffs on my mother’s slippers. What I had for breakfast, hot cakes with Canadian bacon and orange juice. I received a book, Pippi Longstocking, which I can recite chapter and verse even though it’s been years since I’ve read it.
That’s eidetic memory. It’s not the big memories. Dad removing my training wheels. My first medal in gymnastics. The first time my mother stood up to my father, coincidentally, the last. Or my first kiss from a boy. Jeffery Kellar behind the gymnasium. My first kiss from a woman. Something I won’t share because it brings up other memories I’d rather not get into.
It’s not just the big moments. It’s the little details most people forget over time. I don’t forget. They’re just as crystal clear today as they were when I first put them into my memory.
Like the first moment I met Helena Kyle. I was sixteen. Brought to New Gotham by my uncle, now adopted father. It was a hot August night, the fourteenth to be exact. I had taken on the guise of Batgirl for several months. Still wet behind the ears and eager to prove myself to the world, and to Bruce. I responded to a break-in at one of the local museums. There she was. This little wisp of a girl beating the stuffing out of a man almost twice her size. She pounded on him mercilessly. In that way which revealed a child not quite cognitive towards the limits of her own strength, or the consequences.
I placed my hand firmly on her should. Jerked her backwards, spinning her around. Her face a mask of emotions – surprise, fear, confusion, unadulterated rage. I remember it perfectly. Thirteen years later, her face wore the exact same expression.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?” Helena gawked at me.
“If I was kidding, I’d be wearing a fez and funny pants.” My attempt at levity went over like a lead balloon.
“You can’t meet her in person?”
“Helena, I don’t have time to debate the options.” Which was true. Canary was right about one thing, two actually. Someone had put a price on Oracle’ s, my, head. And, right now, every thug, criminal, low life scum with a record and desire to prove something was headed to New Gotham looking to put my head on their mantle.
“What if she’s setting you up?”
I didn’t bother to mask my disgust. Yes, Helena was being overprotective, again. But, when it came to Dinah, it went way beyond professional jealousy. It had been this way ever since I brought Dinah into my ‘employ’ six months ago. I’d wanted to break it to Helena gently. It made perfect sense. Not all crime happened in New Gotham and Helena couldn’t be in two places at once. The surface reasons for Dinah were simple - she’s strong, smart, experienced. My other reasons, the ones that went below the surface were a little more complex. And Helena saw through me like water in a glass. Telling her about Dinah should have been a slow process. It was about as subtle and slow as ripping a Band-Aid off an open wound. To say Helena didn’t take it well was an understatement. Her open hostility towards Dinah was a constant sore spot between us. One I didn’t want to examine too thoroughly for fear of seeing something in our relationship I’m just not ready to face.
“Dinah would never betray me.” Was all I could manage to say.
“You don’t know that.” She exaggerated her point with her hands, waving them about in the air dramatically. “What if she’s been compromised? Hypnosis? Mind control. I don’t know. What if it’s not Dinah?”
I chewed my lip surreptitiously. Helena was right. We both knew it. “Okay.”
“I won’t meet Canary in person.”
I glanced at her sideways. A smile crept across my lips. “You will.”
There are always limits to being a genius. At that moment, I had no IDEA what I was thinking. Sending Helena alone to meet Dinah sounded like a good idea, in theory. In reality, with three miles and several speakers between us, the tension between the two women was so palpable it chilled the Clock Tower by several degrees.
“Huntress.” Dinah’s voice was flat, low. Carried with the slightest tinge of irritation.
“Canary.” Helena’s wasn’t much better. Amazing what vocal cords could do with one word.
“You’re shorter than I imagined.”
“Yeah, well you’re older. A little cold cream under the eyes does wonders.”
Christ. At that moment, I really expected them to start whipping them out. I thought a death threat against me would be enough to temper the animosity between them. I was wrong. See, there are limits to being a genius.
“Where’s Oracle?” Dinah asked.
“I’m here. There’s been a slight change of plans.”
“You don’t trust me?”
“No.” Helena hissed before I could answer.
“Yes." I fired into the mic. "It’s just a precautionary measure. Just
Dinah cut me off. “So you sent Mighty Mouse to do it?”
“I can kick your ass.”
“Try it sister.”
“Enough! Unless either of you is named Oracle and someone’s put a 10 million dollar bounty on YOUR head, you can quit with your pissing match.” I could feel the blood pressure building in my veins. I paused to collect my thoughts, and emotions, before continuing. “Like I said, it’s a precautionary measure. You of all people should know the risks.”
“And,” Helena added, “I won’t let you near Oracle until we’re both certain.”
I’m not sure who convinced Dinah, Helena or myself. Maybe it was a combination of both. Lord knows, I didn’t need to see Helena to know she meant it. The depths of her protective streak should have been flattering. But, in all honesty, it had a tendency to frighten me sometimes. She’d die for me and I’d die for her. But, deep down, I also knew she’d kill for me. Without pause. Without concern. Saw morality and ethics in shades of gray rather than a strict black or white.
“Okay.” Dinah sighed, “Let’s get this over with.”
The tests were simple enough. Scans of Dinah’s fingertips, retina’s and blood that I ran through the Delphi. Cursory, but thorough enough to convince me the woman standing next to Helena was Dinah Lance.
“It’s her.” The statement was more for Helena though Dinah could hear my words.
Dinah’s voice was still icy, so I knew she her words were for Helena rather than me. “Was it good for you?”
“I’ve had better.”
“What now?” Dinah asked. That I knew was for me. No way would Dinah ask for guidance from Helena.
“I need a lead. Who ever’s behind this is smart. I need someone to interview.”
“You mean interrogate?” Dinah drawled.
“If you wanna call it that, then yeah.”
“Oracle.” Helena’s voice cut through the air. Her tone flat. Set the hairs on my neck to stand on edge. “You just might get your wish.”
Gunfire erupted through the speakers. Reverberated across the walls, crashing against my eardrums. Fingers on keyboards, I immediately called up schematics of the building, searching for an exit route. At the same time, commandeered a spy satellite. Focused the camera on their location.
“Damn.” I muttered aloud. Dinah and Helena were surrounded on three sides. They were nothing more than green blips on the center of my screen. Two surrounded green blips. A dozen, maybe more flanked them from the north and south. On the building across the street, east, two snipers held positions on the rooftop. The building in the back was a highrise. The lower level windows had been boarded up years ago. City planners and politicians had been swearing for years to restore the building. It was just another obstacle offering no chance of escape.
“You bitch.” Helena hissed at Canary.
“Hello? Does it LOOK like they’re trying to miss me?” In the middle of a gunfight and they still could find the time to bicker. Yeah, this really wasn’t a good idea.
“Huntress.” I barked into my mic.
“There’s a skylight at your eleven. About 10 meters away. Can you make it?”
“Yeah.” A bullet ricocheted close to Helena. Real close. “Don’t know about Big Bird.”
“Don’t you worry about me.” Dinah hissed.
“Well then,” I could hear the smile in Helena’s voice. “Let’s see what you got. Three, two, one.”
The bullets seemed to get louder. No longer hidden behind the barrier, the gunfire was direct. I could actually hear bullets cutting through the air. Glass shattering came next. Along with the soft thud of feet landing on floor.
“Where to now?” Helena asked.
“There’s a hallway to your left. At the end it splits, the left leads to a stairway.”
“They’ll be expecting that.” Dinah added.
“Exactly, which is why I want you to go right. Take the door at the other end. There’s a two story drop from the window.”
“Got it.” Both women were off and running before I completed my sentence. I could see them on the sat screen. A mass of blips amassed around the skylight, dropping into the room after them. Another mass of blips at the bottom of the stairs. It was hard to tell who was in front, Dinah or Helena, not that it mattered as long as they were running. I could see and hear the gunmen behind them, closing in, and fast. I needed to know how they found them. Needed to be four steps ahead for Helena and Dinah, and ten steps ahead of them.
Helena and Dinah turned down the corridor, dashed into the adjoining room. The gunmen charged down the corridor. Since they were blind, I expected them to split up. One group one way, one group the other. Except, that didn’t happen. They ran down the hallway –
And turned right. They were headed straight for Dinah and Helena. How could they know?
“They’re coming!” The sat screen flickered. Something twisted in my gut. They were watching, using the same exact satellite. I had commandeered the controls from them, now they were taking them back. I listened to the fight on the ground. The sounds of a door bursting open. Fists connecting with bodies. It wouldn’t seem like a good thing. But, as long as they were fighting, I knew they were alive.
Glass shattered again as Dinah and Helena sailed through the window. I re-took control of the sat. Could see green blip Dinah and Helena running down an alley. Along with chasing blips of bad guys. The blips at the bottom of the staircase were headed out the building, right towards Dinah and Helena. An ambush.
“Take the door!” I yelled. There was no question, or pause. Just two blips stopping and the sound of a door bursting open. More gunfire. There was the faint sound of a yell, female. The sat screen flickered, then went completely black. I’d been locked out of the system and now sat completely blind. I still had the schematics but without knowing where Dinah and Helena were, and where the bad guys were, I couldn’t risk sending them into another ambush.
I began searching for another satellite. It made no sense how they knew where Dinah and Helena were going. They were obviously following them on the sat, but how? It hit me like a punch to the gut.
“I’m here.” Dinah answered. Her voice winded. Sporadic bursts of gunfire in the background.
“I need you to destroy your comm’s.”
“That’s how they’re tracking you. That’s how they found you. If you don’t destroy them, they’ll keep finding you.”
“How will I contact you?”
“Then we have a problem.”
“What is it?”
“Huntress has been shot.”
Something twisted my guy. Squeezed my lungs until I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t remember to breathe.
“Destroy your comm’s. It’s the only way.”
Dinah paused, accepting what she had to do. “Canary out.”
There was a crackle in the speakers, one by one, the comm’s squashed under Dinah’s boot. Then the connection went dead. I sat staring at the screen, feeling completely useless. Someone wanted me dead. Helena had been shot. I wasn’t sure how things could get worse.
Of course, that’s exactly when they did.
Delphi alarms pierced the air. I should be used to this by now. But, I'd programmed the alarms to give different sounds for different threats. This was the worst in my mind. The Delphi was being hacked. I typed furiously. Attempted to track down the threat. I should have known better than to assume things could get worse. This wasn't some guy hacking into my system. These were guys. An army of hackers like soldiers storming the shores of Normandy. And the Delphi was Normandy.
I sometimes likened cyberspace to that of a giant city. One with giant monoliths of streaming data standing for buildings, a city with roads, highways, access ramps. Thought of myself as driving along in a car. To go where I needed to, I needed more than just one car. I needed lots of them. Cars in the FBI database, the CIA, New Gotham PD. That's how they found me. I hadn't been careless as much as sloppy. Left little fading tire tracks. Even the surveillance sat I'd previously commandeered. Dozens of tiny cyber trails all leading back to me.
Sweat began to bead on my brow. I glanced at the clock. Twenty minutes had passed since I'd lost contact with Helena and Dinah. I continued my charge through the system. Back tracking where I'd been erasing any and all signs of my existence. The ultimate car chase taking place on a track composed entirely of ones and zeroes. They were gaining ground. I couldn't withstand this much longer. There were more of them than there was of me. A couple hackers I could take. Twenty? I lost some. Trapped others with a barrage of useless information. Left them choking on my cyber dust. Just not all of them. Continued to close ports, separating the Delphi from the city segment by segment.
It wasn't enough. My heart thudded faster. Someone had connected. They hadn't pinpointed my location. But they were close enough that I could feel their breath down my neck. Along with what seemed like a platoon of mercenaries. As long as I stayed connected on the Delphi the link to me would remain open. It was a decision I didn't want to make. I was already separated from Helena and Dinah. Cutting myself off from the one place I felt comfortable was a decision I did not want to make. But, I had to. My life was on the line.
My hands wouldn't stop shaking. I'd never shut down the Delphi before. Not like this. Totally and completely. One by one, the screens flickered off. The familiar hum that had somehow become akin to a second heartbeat was silent. A huge weight pressed down upon me. To make matters, without the Delphi, I had no idea if my would-be attackers were on the way.
I hurriedly made my way to the garage, quickly pouring myself into the Hummer. Barreled through the garage like my life depended on it, must keep up the humor. The streets were dark and, thankfully, empty. I hadn't exactly decided on a destination by the time I hit the streets. Just wanted to keep moving. Needed to find Helena and Dinah. Where ever they were. If I had severed my connection to the Delphi, how would they find me? How could I find them? Especially if Helena was injured.
It seemed as good a place as any. I doubted Helena would go there. She’d rather chew broken glass than go anyplace having to do with her father. But, I also needed a hide out. Some place where I could collect my thoughts. Where I would feel safe. Even if it was only temporary.
I turned a corner. Felt the G forces as the Hummer yawed hard to the left. Headlights filled my rearview mirror. Four black sedans, probably unmarked, were behind me and getting closer. It was easier to assume they were after me. How they found me, I didn't know. A black Hummer going 80 in a residential area was probably their first clue.
The rear window exploded. The rat-tat-tat of automatic gunfire pierced the air. I jerked the steering wheel hard for a tight left turn. The Hummer precariously balanced on two wheels, rubber screeching on the pavement. Gripping the accelerator tighter, the vehicle shot forward. The Hummer was fast. But it wasn’t built for street racing. They closed in behind me. My body jerked forward as a car rammed me from behind.
I wasn’t worried about a trace on the license plate. They were fake. Along with the vehicle registration and my ID. Two cars flanked me on either side from the rear. They were preparing to box me in. I yanked the steering wheel hard to the right. The side rear end slammed against the car on my right. It careened onto the sidewalk, crashing into a telephone pole. One down, three to go. I zig zagged heavily while driving forward. Anything to keep them from gaining ground. It lowered my speed but kept them behind me. Bullets continued to whiz through the air. I could see a gunmen in my rearview mirror. He was seated on the passenger windowsill. Dressed in all black, his face obscured by a mask. Professionals. My front windshield disappeared in a rain of broken glass, bullets whipped through the inside of the Hummer.
My heart momentarily clenched as more cars joined the chase. Except, this time, the familiar sight of blue and red lights filled my peripheral. The police. I felt relieved and terrified at the same time. These guys were playing for keeps and the thought of losing some of New Gotham’s finest squeezed my heart. I didn’t want anyone dying, especially over me. I flicked on the police scanner. The airwaves crackled with excitement. Something was going down, me, and the cavalry was on the way. Great. So not what I needed.
I hit the bridge going about 130 miles an hour. My entourage in tow. It seemed like the entire New Gotham PD had joined the chase. There must have been about 15 cars behind me, and growing. My main thought wasn’t about getting to the Manor as it was getting out of the city. Too many innocents. Too many bullets sprayed wantonly. I wove through the cars dotting the bridge. Watched in my rear view mirror as they became flotsam in a tide of chaos.
Exiting the bridge, I headed east towards the Hills. The roads were narrow, but they were lined with tall trees and thick forest with tight S curves where I could hopefully gain some ground from my attackers. Like New Gotham, I knew the surrounding area like the back of my hand. One hand on the steering wheel, with the other I reached into my bag pulling out a pair of night vision goggles. As the edge of the forest passed by I turned off my lights.
The trick seemed to work. Their progression slowed. They were still behind me. Could see their headlights filtered through the trees. I turned into a tight S curve. Tires screeching as the vehicle gripped the road. Headlights filled my eyes. Not necessarily a bad thing but with night vision goggles it was like two ice picks jammed into my corneas. I instinctively jerked the steering wheel hard. The Hummer tilted on its axis, careened onto the shoulder and off the road. The slope was steep covered in dense deep foliage. With the speed I was going at, the Hummer didn’t as much slide down the hill as bounced, twirling as it flipped. Metal creaked and groaned, banged against the hillside with ferocity. Ended when the passenger side collided with a tree.
The smell of gas filled my nostrils. Could feel the first sticky tendrils of blood dripping down my forehead. Everything hurt. Dazed, I reached for my seat belt. What could I do? Where could I go? If I had my legs, I could make a run for the forest. Paralyzed, I wouldn’t get very far crawling on my hands. I could hear voices at the edge of the road, beams from headlights cut through the dense forest overhead. Someone was coming.
I searched frantically in my bag for a weapon. Gripped a can of mace. A figure raced towards the car, silhouetted by the headlights from above. I was still partially blind. The door groaned open. I whipped my hand up ready to spray a faceful of mace.
“Barbara?” I recognized the voice immediately. Jim Gordon, my adopted step-father, stared at me as he pushed himself between the door and the Hummer.
“What the Hell’s going on?” That’s my Dad, cutting through the bs to get to the heart of the matter. I draped an arm around his shoulder as he pulled me into his arms. “I’m calling an ambulance.”
“No.” I stated firmly. “Take me to the Manor.”
By now, the smell of gasoline choked the air. Random sparks fluttered from somewhere inside the engine. We could hear more cars approaching and I knew those weren’t my rescuers.
“How many?” Jim asked, his tone all business.
“Three cars last time I knew. About five in each car. All heavily armed.”
Jim hurriedly carried me up the hill. Used a speed that belied both his age and his looks. The Gordon gene, Helena liked to call it. Another car screeched to a halt beside my father’s. Two men stepped out. Yay, my vision was returning. One was an older portly looking man, the other a younger fit African American. They were cops. Despite the casual clothes, I could always tell a cop. Something in the way they carry themselves.
“Commissioner Gordon?” Everyone knew my father it seemed.
Jim spoke to the younger man. “What’s your name, son?”
“Detective Reese. This is my partner, Detective Mackey.”
“Detectives, in about 30 seconds Hell’s gonna be coming around that bend. DO NOT let them get by you.”
They nodded in compliance, immediately falling into action. Det. Mackey ran towards his car, veered it directly across the road. Relayed over the radio what he and Det. Reese were doing. It would probably alert whoever was coming around that bend, but at least it might save a few lives.
Jim placed me in the passenger’s seat of his car. Hopped behind the wheel. Suddenly, my Hummer exploded. Orange and yellow flames shot into the air followed by thick acrid smoke. We stared back at the carnage.
“Don’t worry,” I smiled. “It’s a loner.”
After I was paralyzed, I spent six months in the hospital recovering. Months of painful surgery, healing, physical therapy. Of being poked and prodded. Lifted, shifted, rolled, moved about like a sack of potatoes despite the best carefully learned methods of my caretakers. To make a long story short, I hated being ‘handled’. Part of physical therapy is relearning everything. Sitting, bathing, moving from one position to the other. The simple things I’d always taken for granted became monumental tasks. Because, really, who thinks that maybe one day they’ll no longer have a part of who they are. It’s amazing how something as simple and practically subconscious as going to the bathroom is when you no longer have the use of your legs. All learned with the assistance of someone who became your shadow. And I hated it, being coddled and placated like a child when all I wanted to do was do it myself. But, I couldn’t. I swore to myself, more than anything, I would no longer be handled. If I couldn’t go to the damn bathroom by myself, I’d rather piss my pants than let someone do it for me. The Gordon gene, I suppose.
The hardest part after all that was learning, in the grand scheme of things, there would always be some things I needed help with. The one thing I prided myself on the most, my independence, would never fully return. Just like my legs. And I hated being handled. It all came to a matter of trust. Nurses, doctors, physical therapists, they became people I knew, not people I trusted. Their hands on me, without permission, without pause was like nails on a chalkboard. All those months in the hospital, I felt trapped. Unable to escape the many hands always grasping for me.
But, I couldn’t do it alone. I had to trust someone. There are only three people I allow to touch me. Helena, Alfred Pennyworth and my father. He cradled me in his arms. Strong and gentle. It felt like being a child again. Safe. Secure. My arms wrapped around his shoulders, head resting against his neck. I wasn’t sure if he would be able to protect me but for one tiny moment in time I allowed myself to think he could.
We entered the Manor. Alfred gasped loudly upon our entrance.
“Miss Gordon.” He was immediately at my side. The two men in my life set me down on the couch. Alfred opened a small black bag. Gently cleaned the wound on my forehead. Jim sat next to me. I could feel his eyes boring into the side of my head.
“You gonna tell me what’s going on?”
“I’ll go get something for the pain.” Alfred politely excused himself. I leaned back in the couch. Closed my eyes.
“Barbara?” I could feel the back of his knuckles caressing my cheek.
“I’m Oracle.” I didn’t open my eyes. Like I already knew what the expression on his face would be. Part of keeping a secret identity was maintaining secrecy. Some people called it lying.
“Dammit Barbara.” Whispered across his lips. I’m not sure why I kept the truth from him. Maybe it’s because I knew he’d blame himself. He’d see what I was doing as compensation for my paralysis. Which it was. Compensation because I was no longer Batgirl. But, I wasn’t paralyzed because I was Batgirl. No, Joker shot me because I was Jim Gordon’s daughter.
“Dad.” I opened my eyes. Jim had leaned forward. His elbows rested on his knees, head placed into his hands, Atlas Gordon carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Don’t.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you would have told me to stop.” Jim never completely approved of me being Batgirl. I think it was Bruce’s hold had over me. Their relationship was complex. I know my father loved Bruce, respected him. But there was also resentment. Of the line between law and vigilantism Bruce often tread across. A line my father couldn’t, would never cross, yet allowed Bruce to do so. Even with my strict black and white sense of morality, I chose a life of gray. I chose Bruce over my father. It’s a father’s job to protect their children. Jim had to acquiesce his role to someone else. And, somewhere along the way, they had both failed.
Jim leaned up. Cupped my jaw with his hand. I kissed the inside of his hand, leaned in as I wrapped my arms around him.
“We’ll stop them.” He whispered, holding me tight in his arms.
Alfred entered the room, a tray carrying a glass of water and a bottle of pills in one hand while he pushed one of my many wheelchairs with the other.
“Here’s something for the pain.” He waited patiently while I swallowed the two tablets, chasing them with water. “Miss Helena is here.”
I’m glad he waited until I had finished the water because I would have surely been choking at that moment. “Helena!?! She’s here?”
“Yes. Upstairs in the Master Bedroom.” It was like any other thought, the death threat, my father, memories of the past, just disappeared. I hurriedly moved into my chair.
The Master Bedroom was huge. Like all things Wayne, larger than life. Helena lay sleeping on the four poster bed. I wheeled close to her. Her face looked incredibly pale. A thick bandage wrapped around her shoulder. A large bruise on the side of her face. The skin already fading. It hurt to look at her.
“It looks worse than it actually is.” Alfred explained. “With Miss Helena’s healing capabilities, give her a couple days and she’ll be as ornery as ever.”
“Thank you Alfred.”
He patted me on the shoulder before excusing himself from the room. When choosing this life a person quickly becomes familiar with all manners of First Aid. I was no different. Sure, I could sew stitches, clean wounds, wrap limbs. But, I was never good at the complicated procedures. That was Alfred. As Butler to Doctor Wayne, Alfred found himself often in the position of surgeon’s aid.
I carefully slid under the covers, laid on my side as I snuggled next to her. My fingers reached for her face, brushing the stray strands off her forehead. Helena moaned slightly. Her eyes fluttered open.
“Barbara, I..” She licked her lips.
“Shhh, it’s okay.” I leaned forward. Pressed my lips gently onto her forehead. “I’m here now. Go to sleep.”
Her eyes fluttered again before lazily closing shut. Immediately, Helena was asleep. I propped my head up on my hand, staring down at her. My right hand made its way to her face. Gently caressed her soft, delicate features. Traced the edge of her lips with the back of a fingernail. Helena’s lips. They were both her mother’s and her father’s. The stern scowl of Bruce. The playfully seductive grin of Selina. And a smile that was all Helena. Helena rarely smiled. But when she did, it lit up her entire face. A smile where her eyes twinkled and dimples recessed adorably into her cheeks.
I stared at her face until I could no longer deny the weariness in my body demanding sleep.
The water was hot. Scalding. It rained over my aching body. Pounded my flesh with the hot spray. I leaned against the wall, feeling every bruise, every ache and sore. The pain seemed endless. Like every cell in my body screamed in agony.
It was an odd sound. It came from no where and everywhere at once.
Like the shudder of a camera clicking away.
My eyes lazily slid closed. The sounds around me became white noise. A tv was on in the background. The news. A reporter’s voice filled the background. A word caught my ear. A name. My head whipped towards the television, heart pounding in my chest. Not her. Please, not her.
I tore out of the shower. Threw myself into a bathrobe. Had to go. Had to make sure she was okay. My feet slapped wetly on the bare floor.
Running into the living room, I skidded to a stop. Helena and Dinah were in my living room. Helena sat cross legged on the floor facing Dinah. Dinah sat on the couch. The two were playing chess. The tiny pieces on the board shaped like figures, Batman, Catwoman, Joker, Robin, me. Superheroes and Villains. The two women stared at the board intently, as if life and death were on the line.
"Such a funny game." Dinah spoke, her hand rubbing her chin. "War on an intellectual scale. Death, destruction."
"Don't forget domination.” Helena smiled, picking up one of her pieces and placing it on the board. “Rook to Queen, check."
"Barbara!" I turned at the sound of my father's voice. Jim exited the kitchen wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, a stack of leis around his neck. He carried a tray filled with fruity drinks. "Glad you could make it."
"The tv." I managed to mutter.
"Don't you worry about that. It's not whether you win or lose," He pulled a drink off the tray and handed it to me, a fruity concoction in a coconut shell with umbrellas. "It's how you play the game."
"Yes," Dinah turned to look at me. "How do you play the game, Batgirl?"
I stared down at my body. At the tight black suit snuggled around my skin.
"Don't you know," Helena added. "Barbara doesn't play the game anymore. She gets other people to do it for her."
"Yes. We're just pawns in a game. We fight, kill, die, all while Barbara sits on her throne calling the shots."
"No!" I yelled. "That's not true."
A pounding from the front door interrupted the conversation. I could feel my heart clenching in my chest. My legs collapsed under me. Paralyzed.
Jim set down his tray. "I'll get it."
"NO!!" Erupted from my throat. But, they didn't hear. Jim opened the door. Joker stood on the other side wearing a matching shirt, a camera slung around his neck and a gun in his hand.
"Are you hear to play the game?" My father asked him. Completely ignoring the gun pointed at his chest.
"Why yes," Joker's face stretched into a mimic of a smile. "I am."
My father's body jerked hard. Bent from the middle, he flew backwards from the impact. Thudded onto the floor. His head flopped to the side. Dead eyes frozen open stared at me. Joker turned his gun towards Helena and Dinah. They rose from their seats. He fired. Once. Twice. They fell onto the floor, eyes staring at me.
I crawled across the floor. Anything to get away. Joker calmly stepped towards me. I flopped onto my back. My suit was gone. Nothing on me but a robe. I could feel the wetness on my back. The blood seeping from my body. The pain. My body screaming in agony. He stood over me, feet planted on either side of my hips. Joker raised the camera, pointing it at me, began taking pictures. The white of the flash filled my eyes.
Ka-chick. Ka-chick. Ka-chick.
He kneeled down. I could feel his hands on my robe, untying the rope. My arms were lead weights. I could do nothing but watch.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Why?” He leered at me. “Because I can."
The scream froze at the back of my throat. I jerked awake. Body covered in a cold sweat. My heart still thudded heavily in my chest. I always dreamed of that night. It was always a replay of that night. Me, alone, running towards the door thinking it was Helena. The Joker standing there waiting for me. But, lately, the dream had changed. It was no longer about me, but of those I loved, and me powerless to do anything about it.
Disoriented, I gazed about the room. Scenes from the night before replayed in my mind. I was in the Manor. The Master Bedroom to be exact. I reached out my arm across the mattress, feeling nothing but empty space next to me. Helena was probably in the kitchen, raiding the refrigerator. Helena was a quick healer. But, she had a tendency to push beyond her means.
I made my way to the bathroom. Spent a forever in the shower. Still unable to remove the cold chill in my bones that began sometime the night before. Still unable to shake the visceral images of my dreams. It didn’t take a psychoanalyst to know what they meant. I just didn’t like what my mind had to say about me. I could wrap myself in guilt fueled self-absorption without my subconscious doing a number on me, thank you very much.
Showered, dressed and passable, I made my way to the balcony. I could smell breakfast wafting upstairs. My stomach grumbled at the smell. But, it would have to wait. It had been awhile since I’d been to the Manor. And there was one place I loved the most.
Wayne Manor sat on the south side of the Hills north of the city. The bay stretched out before me, leading to New Gotham City. The morning sun had begun its slow creep over the horizon, illuminating the city in a wash of soft oranges. The light reflected off the tall buildings, looking like cool metal slowly heated.
I turned to see Dinah standing in the entranceway. She’d changed into casual clothes. Faded blue jeans and an old worn t-shirt with a faded green arrow stenciled across the front. Her long blonde hair spilled over her shoulders. A shiver ran down my spine. I’d been anticipating and dreading this moment. There’s something intimate about knowing a person just through their voice. I had been inside Dinah’s head, and she, in turn, had been in mine. In a way, I knew everything there was to know about Dinah Lance, and nothing at all. I assumed she felt the same way about me. I’d visualized our first meeting thousands of times. Practiced what I’d say, what I’d do. Every time, it wasn’t enough. Now, Dinah was here. And I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and the sweat begin to pop onto my brow. Not now, I wasn’t ready. I guess, if I’d waited for the right time, I never would have been.
“Yeah.” I muttered, returned my gaze to the view. Dinah padded up behind me, taking a stance next to my chair. I turned my head up to stare at her. She kept her focus forward. Her ice blue eyes sparkled with the morning sun.
“So you’re Oracle, huh?”
“I thought you’d be taller.”
I snickered. “Great, paralysis humor. Just don’t let Huntress hear you say that. Where is she?”
“Helena,” Dinah stated the word as if she’d tasted something bad. “Is in the kitchen eating anything and everything not nailed down.”
I bristled at the mention of Helena’s name. “And Detective Gordon?”
“Your father,” She emphasized the word, “left about an hour ago to do some following up on last night. He is soo not happy with you right now.”
I sighed heavily, rubbed my hand across my face. “What else do you know?”
“Just the basics. You’re the Commissioner’s daughter. You were shot and paralyzed by the Joker. Helena’s mother was murdered after which you became her caretaker. And somewhere along the way, you two decided to become partners in crime. There are less hazardous ways to make a difference in the world.”
“I could say the same to you.”
“But, then again,” She turned towards me, her pale blue eyes sparkling in the morning light. “YOU know everything there is about ME.”
“You think I don’t trust you.”
“I know you don’t.”
“Dinah.” I sighed.
“Wait.” She held up her hand cutting me off. “It’s okay. You did the right thing last night. I was just being pissy because of Wonder Bread.”
“You two could try and get along.”
“Yeah, and someone could make a pair of pantyhose that don’t run and money could fall from trees.” Dinah huffed with a slight smile.
“Stranger things have been known to happen.”
“Stranger things have happened.”
“Like, how you and Helena escaped an entire platoon of gun-toting commandos?”
“The sewers.” I wrinkled my nose at the admission. Dinah paused slightly. “And Solomon Grundy.”
A shiver ran down my spine. Solomon Grundy was one of those tales told around campfires. Or stories parents told their children to get them to behave. Except, Solomon Grundy was real.
“I don’t know how she did it.” Dinah continued. “He came tearing around a corner. Fists the size of my head, mumbling in that way of his ‘Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday’ and Helena started talking and he just.. he just stopped.” She stated incredulously, as if she still couldn’t believe it. “Like she entranced him or something. She told him there were bad people in his sewers and he tore after those commandos like God had issued the order. Bet that’s the last time any of THEM think about entering a sewer. I guess trust in a New Gotham is a tricky thing.”
“No, don’t. I know I have to earn your trust. The thing is, I want to earn your trust.” Dinah knelt before me. She clasped my hands into her own. I could feel the pad of her thumb grazing across my knuckles. She stared up at me. “I meant to tell you this. Have been meaning to tell you. You saved me. I’d lost everything. Ollie. My home. My business. Everything. Nothing mattered. And then you came into my life. You gave me hope. Maybe I’ll never earn your trust. I don’t care. You’ve given me something I’m not sure I can ever repay. But know this, I will spend the rest of my life trying.”
Dinah reached up with her hand, cupping my chin. I could feel her thumb lightly grazing my lips. There was a steely determination in her eyes and I knew she meant every word she’d said. But, there was something else. I guess it was more on my part because the years melted away and I was someone else. All those thoughts, all those feelings came surging back.
“Dinah.” I whispered huskily. Could feel myself leaning towards her, towards her lips.
“What’s going on?” Helena’s voice was like a bucket of ice water dumped down my back. With that. The moment was gone. Hurriedly leaned back in my chair, my head turning towards the brunette standing in the entrance. Dinah kept her hand on my cheek, kept her eyes glued to my face.
“We were just talking.” I mumbled nervously like a teen caught sneaking into the house.
“Is that right?”
“Yeah,” Dinah removed her hands, moved to a standing position. Turned to Helena. “That’s right.”
“Why aren’t you in bed?”
“I was hungry.” Helena winced slightly as she crossed her arms across her chest. Her eyes, two horizontal slits on her face, glared at Dinah. “Besides, we have to go?”
“Your Dad just called. They caught one of the guys from last night.”
“Well,” Dinah turned towards me. “Looks like you and I are going to the police station.”
“Oh no,” Helena hissed. “It looks like WE are going to the police station.”