FANDOM: Birds of Prey
DISCLAIMERS: I don’t own Birds of Prey or any character created by WB or DC Comics used in this story. I’m making no profit on this and wouldn’t want to – as it is ‘borrowed gods’. All credit goes to the creators of Birds of Prey.
MORE DISCLAIMERS: I don’t own the Angel-verse or any character created by Joss Whedon and Company. I’m making no profit on this…
AUTHOR'S NOTES: English is still not my first language, so despite ‘beta-ing’ please excuse any strange grammar or spelling mistakes…
SECOND AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is another stand-alone story – and there are no plans for a sequel.
SPECIAL THANKS: Again thank you to my beta-reader for time and energy put down into my stories!!! :)
SUMMARY: a short, alternate tale of Batgirl and company. To all Huntress fans: there’s no Helena Kyle in this story, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.
ARCHIVING: Jinx's Storyland at www.geocities.com/jehandira.
FEEDBACK: as you like it, at...
She arrived at New Gotham one evening after twilight, stepping off the bus at the main central. The air was cool and somewhat chilling; the night was dark and gloomy and it fitted her mood. She was glad she couldn't see the stars or the almost full moon; it always filled her with an unexplained melancholy looking at the bright lights of the endless night and in that moment she was filled with too many conflicting emotions to want to deal with the sense of longing that always overwhelmed her when she watched the full moon. To her the moon seemed to taunt her from its high resting place; an orb of bright light, beautiful, but out of reach - like most beautiful things in her life. All things of beauty that passed through her life - following the thread all the way back to when her mother died - seemed to be out of reach for her.
She gave a small, unconscious sigh and took a moment too look around at the high skyscrapers filling the sky: dimly lit steel constructions and high windows, glistening with a darkened light. Los Angeles had been home to her, despite its nightly terrors - mostly undetected by the innocents, unless they were unlucky enough to be caught up in the middle of a battle between the ultimate good and the ultimate evil - and its filthy streets. It had had its glamour: the City of Angels - of the rich and glamorous.
New Gotham seemed to have another kind of glamour; dark and ghostly in the gloomy evening. She could imagine the strange pull of the heart that must be awakened when seeing the city bathing in moonlight; an oddly thrilling and at the same time ghoulish sensation.
New Gotham: a city of highly advanced technology and bizarre criminals. She'd read about it, and heard it told to her by the man who had called her up and asked her to join Gotham City's Police Department.
Jesse Reese, an old friend of hers whom she hadn't heard from in years, had phoned her up and told her he'd heard about her leaving the LAPD. He wanted to know if she was interested in a position as his partner in New Gotham; apparently there was a vacant spot after Reese's partner had been killed in an explosion. The phone call had come at a time when she was pondering her life, wondering what she was meant to do with it. She still didn't know.
She sighed and shouldered her bag, ignoring a dark haired, thin man following her with his eyes from the shadows - probably a potential thief, finding his next prey. Had she worn a badge and a gun she would have picked him up and taken him in for questioning, but she wasn't officially a cop yet. So she walked off, knowing he wouldn't bother her - or the other two stepping off the bus at the same time; two men looking like they knew how to take care of themselves.
It had been a strange sensation the first month, not wearing a badge - not feeling the gun at her hip; she had felt naked. She had been a cop for most part of her life; it had been what she dreamt about as a young girl and she had believed it was her calling. It was who she was, not only what she had been... And when she was fired - together with the guilt for getting her father killed... It had thrown her. She was suddenly without a name, without a calling and her life... Her life had seemed empty and worthless. All those months, fighting to find the truth - to uncover the evil, the rotten mess at the core of what she believed was one of the greatest cities in the country - and to save the innocents, had been for nothing. It turned out it was she who had been wrong, fighting the wrong evil. Her life had crumbled and almost ended, but she had been given a second chance.
She had left L.A. trying to find something, a new meaning to her life. She had traveled and read, mostly philosophy, psychology and old religious texts in an effort to find a probable explanation to what had happened to her, to the events throwing her life off course. She had learned a lot, but except for declaring herself as insane as her former colleagues had believed her to be... She couldn't find any scientific answers to what went on in L.A. after dark.
Vampires, living dead, demons - and humans working to promote them to gain more power and wealth... No sane person would believe her. She had been ridiculed for speaking the truth, about the things she knew to be true. Being ridiculed had meant nothing to her - she didn't care what other people thought of her. But when they took away the last thing - the only thing - that meant something to her... Her very life. It had been the end.
And here she was; a stranger in a strange place - picking up on the last, desperate hope: a weak reed thrown out as a lifesaver. She wondered if it would last, if it would hold.
Reese had said that he'd heard rumors about her interest in the "other-worldly" and that he thought it admirable. She'd wondered about that until he sent her some information about New Gotham and about the strange crimes that had occurred. "Something strange is going on here and no one believes me - I need someone who is not afraid to be open-minded about things..." he'd written on the top of one of the newspaper articles he'd sent her.
It had thrilled her, going over the articles, and she had felt the familiar excitement of opening a new case. She had been given a second chance - twice. She knew she had to make it work this time, or she would end up bitter and lonely.
"A cab, ma'm?"
She glanced over her shoulder at an older, black man standing by a yellow car with a folded newspaper in his hand. She nodded.
"Yes, thank you. The Dark Horse bar", she added as she dumped her bag in the backseat and sat down beside it. "You know it?"
"Yes, ma'm", he said.
She'd been given directions from Reese. He'd told her: "If you arrive late, I've booked a room for you at the Dark Horse." Apparently it was a pub, but it had a few rooms for rent.
The drive didn't take more than ten minutes. During it she watched the skyscraper's glistening windows passing outside the car, filling the sky. One building had caught her attention already when she arrived with the bus - it seemed to be the tallest building in town, placed almost at the centre: a tower of magnificent height. It loomed above the city with a dark, but not threatening presence. Somehow it filled her with an odd sense of safety, watching the building - a sensation she hadn't felt in years; not since she was a child, as a matter of fact.
"That tower?" she asked, pointing towards it. "What is it?"
"The Clock Tower?" The driver smiled at her through the rear-view mirror. "It's only for show. See - the time isn't right, it always shows the same... Ten thirty - the time when Batman and the Joker clashed seven years ago and Batman won. Not many know it, but the Clock Tower was built as a tribute to Batman, by multimillionaire Bruce Wayne. It's meant as thanks for Batman saving Gotham City."
The driver glanced at her. "A crime-fighter. A vigilante some called him... You know, like those superheroes - Spiderman and stuff..." He shrugged. "Although Batman was only human, as far as we know. He is a legend amongst the older populace here, but the younger ones don't know him."
"And the Joker was his enemy?"
"Yes. The Joker almost destroyed Gotham. Batman prevented total destruction, although a large part of the city was ruined. Bruce Wayne spent a fortune rebuilding our city. He built the Clock Tower as a reminder to us all that when times are dark there are still heroes amongst us and that we all need to strive to make this city a better place."
"And this Batman, is he still around?" she wondered, glancing at the Clock Tower.
"Oh, no - he left years ago. But we have Batgirl now..."
She blinked. "Batgirl?"
The driver grinned at her; a somewhat toothless grin in the rear-view mirror. "Oh, yeah. This city... We don't talk about it, but most of us don't dare walk the streets too late at night for fear of the criminals running this place. Still, the only thing preventing this city from being overrun by villains is Batgirl and Darkstrike."
"Yes. They used to be teamed up with Batman. When Batman disappeared, no one knows where to, they stayed behind to care for us." The driver nodded. "We are lucky, being protected by them. It makes the innocent sleep better at night."
"Hmm", she said, glancing at the Clock Tower.
"Barbara Gordon lives there", he added, nodding in the direction of the tower as they drove past it; it was even grander close up.
"Huh?" she said, not familiar with the name.
"She was one of Bruce Wayne's closest friends. When his daughter died he left town and went to Europe. He sold off most of his businesses and left a large amount of money to Barbara Gordon."
"She lives in the Clock Tower?" she asked, still confused.
"Yes. Right at the bottom. I've driven her once, so I've talked to her about it. She says it's just like any other place to live... except when she wants to watch the view, she has the grandest view in the city."
"She is a millionaire and travels in a plain cab?" she said incredulously. "No offence", she added when she noticed him glancing at her.
"Non taken", he said easily and turned around a corner, away from the Clock Tower. He took another left turn on an empty street and pulled over at the sideway. A few people stood gathered outside a lit area, below a sign showing a rearing, dark horse. "Barbara Gordon is no snob", the driver said, almost offended on the absent woman's part. "She might be one of the wealthiest in this city, but she works harder than any other to make New Gotham a better place to live. She sponsors youth groups and rehabilitation for young criminals... She gave my grandson a chance at a better life and made him a better person."
She nodded. She didn't know what to say, so she paid the amount he asked for and thanked him for the drive.
"She works at the City Library", he added, before she had time to close the door. He looked insistently at her. "If you're planning to stay you should go meet her and you'd see she's not a snob like the rest of them..."
With that he pulled the door closed and drove off. She watched him drive away with a slightly startled expression, before shaking her head. Ups, she thought. She'd remember to ask Reese about the bat-persons and this Barbara Gordon.
She turned around to face the entrance of the Dark Horse and found that some of the people gathered outside watched her warily. She recognized their expressions; she'd been a cop for so many years - eating, sleeping, breathing it in - it was bound to show in the way she moved, in her stern face and in the steely look she had learned could cause people to avert their eyes and tell the truth.
"Don't worry", she said wryly, but not unfriendly, to one young man backing away from her. "I'm off duty. Just looking for a place to crash."
The young man nodded and she wondered what kind of place the Dark Horse was. Reese had only said it was a pub, but it looked more like a club. The people hanging outside were smoking, talking; they seemed to be younger than her - and happier, she reflected.
"You're not from here?" another young man dared ask.
"Nope", she said. "L.A."
"Cool", a younger woman said. She held a beer bottle loosely in one hand. "But you are a cop, right?" she added.
She nodded. I used to be, she thought. She didn't know if she was anymore. Reese had asked her to come to New Gotham and promised her a place in the team as his partner; she didn't know if he had pulled it off with his boss. If she was lucky she would have a job on Monday, or else...
"Well, welcome to Gotham City", the girl said, raising her beer. "As a cop you'll be busy. Always work to be done around here, right guys?"
"Yes", one of the guys said, nodding. "But this place is cool", he added, looking up at the sign above them. "Good reputation."
"But if you're looking for a permanent living you should visit Galloway & Galloway", another young woman said. "My father and uncle run it. Give them my name, Liza, and let them know I sent you. Tell them you're a cop - then they'll give you special assistance."
"Really?" she asked, almost involuntary. In her opinion the wealthier people were, the less friendly they were towards cops.
The young woman shrugged. "We need to take care of the few honest cops we've got in this city. There are not many of them."
"Oh, thanks then."
She entered the bar, positively surprised by the friendly welcome at the door. The inside was dark, but not gloomy - rather it was almost cozy with its fading lights and the set of couches and armchairs in the corners of the room. She found the place to be more of a lounge were people met to mingle and talk, than a pub were people met to get drunk and find someone to have sex with.
Behind the bar a young girl stood serving liquor. She was tall and blond, dressed in jeans and a blue shirt - and seemed too young to work in a place like that. At the same moment she was thinking that, the girl looked up and noticed her. When the girl smiled and winked at her she frowned, but tightened the grip around the bag and went to the bar.
"You must be Kate", the girl said and with easy fingers produced a glass and a beer, pouring it for her. "For you", she said. "On the house."
She wanted to refuse, but realized she was thirsty. She put down the bag on the floor and pulled up a chair to the bar. "Thanks. How did you know my name?"
The girl shrugged. "You look like a traveler." She grinned. "Besides, you look like a cop. Reese said you might come today..."
"You know Reese?" She arched an eyebrow at the girl.
"Sure. He and his partner used to come here, they didn't like the other place where the rest of the cops go to get their beer after work." The girl frowned. "But Reese doesn't come as often now, since McNally's gone."
"Yes." The girl nodded with a sad expression. "It was tragic, but that's the way - being a cop, I guess. Hang on", she added and turned to serve another customer.
While the girl was busy with the customer Kate looked around the room; she noticed mirrors behind the bar, soft light and candles, people talking and laughing - drinking, but not overly drunk - and soft music playing in the background.
"My name is Dinah, by the way", the young bartender said and turned back towards her. Then she tilted her head to one side and looked at Kate quizzically. "You seem so sad", she suddenly said and Kate stiffened.
"Excuse me?" she said curtly, tightening the grasp around the glass and hardening her heart. Dinah blushed and shook her head.
"I'm sorry, it just slipped out. It's none of my business", she said. She cleaned up some glasses and put them away, while Kate took the time to regain her composure.
"Aren't you a bit too young to work her?" she asked later on, not to get even with the girl, but because she had wondered about her age since she first noticed her behind the bar. But Reese wouldn't have let the girl work there if she was underage, would he?
"I'm old enough", the girl - Dinah - said with a shrug, taking no offence. "Besides, my mother owns this place. Although, I must admit - she's not around much. Most of the time it's ran by Leonard. He's so gay, but he's very sweet." Dinah grinned. "You'll meet him, he'll be around in..." She glanced at her wristwatch and paled slightly. "Oh! Oops..."
In the same moment someone entered the bar that at first sight seemed a very unlikely guest. Kate noticed her in the mirror behind Dinah and she had to turn around to make sure she was seeing correctly. When she turned around she was caught by the beauty of the woman that had just entered and forgot all about the wheelchair she sat in.
"And where have you been? I've been waiting for you for twenty minutes... and been trying to reach you for longer than that", the redheaded woman in the wheelchair said to the blond girl in a scolding manner, even though there was an affectionate look deep in her eyes.
"Um, sorry...?" Dinah said and blushed when she noticed Kate glancing at her.
"Sorry won't cover it", the woman said and wheeled up to the bar. Her chair was almost as high as Kate's and as she came nearer it rose even higher. Kate watched in amazement as the woman shook her head at the younger girl, seemingly unaware of the looks that she inspired from the rest of the guests in the room.
"I swear, you're getting worse than Helena."
"I meant to contact you, but then there were so many people and then..."
The woman in the wheelchair sighed and waved off Dinah's excuses as if she'd heard them all before. She probably had, Kate realized.
"Leonard is late", Dinah added. "I can't leave until he gets back."
"Fine. Give me some ice water, then. With lemon, please."
Dinah grinned. "Coming up! Oh", she added, glancing at Kate. "Barbara, this is Kate. Kate, meet Barbara."
The redheaded woman in the wheelchair turned her attention to Kate, who was caught by the sharp, amused look from deep-set, green eyes. She couldn't remember meeting anyone who'd looked at her that way before - as if she saw right through her, into the very core of her being and accepted her the way she was. There was curiosity, humor and after a few heartbeats even tenderness in the deep gaze.
"Hi", the woman named Barbara said and in a deep, slightly hoarse voice and reached out her hand.
Kate was confused by the direct stare and didn't react immediately. She wondered what a woman in a wheelchair was doing in a bar, but then reconsidered her thought: it was unworthy and discriminating. Then she realized she didn't wonder as much what a woman in a wheelchair was doing in a bar, as what was this particular woman doing in a bar. The redheaded woman - Barbara; she wondered if this was the Barbara Gordon the cabdriver had talked about, but found it to be too much of a coincidence - she seemed to be too beautiful to visit ordinary bars, drinking ordinary beer. She ought to sit at a dimly lit restaurant with live music playing softly in the background, with candle lights on the table, drinking wine and gazing deeply into a lovers devoted eyes. Lucky lover, she caught herself thinking and wondered fleetingly what kind of thought that was. Then she found her composure and took the other woman's hand in hers.
"Hi, nice to meet you", she said, holding on to Barbara's hand longer than necessary. Barbara's hand felt warm and soft in her own - and the other woman didn't seem to be in a hurry to let go either. She held on to Kate's hand, not averting her eyes from her face.
"You are Reese's Kate", she said. It wasn't a question.
"What did he do?" Kate asked wryly. "Post a sign across the Town Hall, saying I was coming?"
She didn't mean it as a joke and Barbara didn't laugh. She shook her head, still holding Kate's hand. Kate realized she ought to let go of the other woman's hand, but it felt comfortable and completely natural to hold it. Somehow it made her feel... safe. Welcome. Appreciated.
"We are friends", Barbara said, looking up at her with an almost gentle look. That piercing kind-heartedness went straight to her heart and for a second she found she could hardly breathe.
"Right", she said, reluctantly letting go of Barbara's hand. She could feel the other woman's soft fingers graze against the palm of her hand, missing the warmth of her hand as soon as they had let go of each other.
"One ice-water coming up", Dinah said, cutting in and through the somewhat heavy moment between them.
Barbara's eyes held hers and she found herself searching for clues to what the other woman was thinking about her.
"Thank you, Dinah", Barbara finally said and turned away to get her water.
For a second Kate didn't know where to look, so she finished her beer. She realized her fingers were shaking and she put down the glass before anyone noticed.
"You've traveled far", Barbara said, glancing at her. "You must be tired."
"A bit", she admitted, although the tiredness seemed to have left her. All thoughts concerning her previous life and the fears about her work with Reese had disappeared when she saw the face of this woman only a few minutes ago. She didn't know what to think about that.
She was not far from being a control-freak by nature and everything in her carefully constructed world must have a place and a meaning - if it didn't she found a place and a meaning for it, to make it fit into her world. Into her life.
She realized, when Barbara looked at her, that what she felt for the other woman - was fear. She feared the tenderness in Barbara's eyes, and the warmth of her hand. Because she longed for it and no one had ever looked at her that way before.
"Oh, here comes Leonard", Barbara said, glancing over her shoulder at a short, slightly stout man. "Time to go home, Dinah."
Dinah sighed. "Yes, mom", she said and Kate blinked.
Mom? Was Barbara really her mother, or did she mean it sarcastically? When Barbara arched an eyebrow at the girl Kate still couldn't tell if it was meant in response to the girls sigh or to her words.
Barbara looked too young to be Dinah's mother. But on the other hand... She could have been a young mother. And if this was the Barbara Gordon the cabdriver had talked about, and if she did own a club...
"We'll see you around", Dinah said and winked at Kate, leaving the bar.
"Bye", she said and then glanced at Barbara, who was looking at her with an intent expression. When Barbara noticed her looking back she smiled a little.
"It was nice meeting you, Kate. I'm sure we'll meet again."
Kate nodded and watched as the other woman wheeled off towards the entrance. The other guests still followed her with their eyes and when she'd left they begun whispering amongst themselves. They whispered and nodded with almost contented looks, as if they had seen a celebrity. Maybe they had.
"You must be the young woman detective Reese phoned about", the short, stout man said as he came nearer to the bar. Kate pulled her eyes from the empty entrance and turned to the man with a nod. "I trust you've been well taken care of?" Leonard - if that was his name - asked.
"Perfectly", she said. "I'd like to see my room now."
She lifted her bag and threw it without effort over one shoulder. The man nodded and waved at her to follow. They went behind the bar. On the other side of a high, dark cupboard there was a small stair. Leonard went up ahead, almost not fitting in between the staircase and the wall. She followed silently, wondering if she should ask Leonard about Dinah and Barbara, but couldn't think of a plausible reason to do so.
The stairs ended in a short, darkened hallway leading to five closed doors.
"There's a two room apartment for rent above these rooms", Leonard said as he turned a key in the closed door furthest away and pushed it open. The open door revealed a room containing only a bed, a cupboard and an armchair. And a window beside the bed, reflecting the lights from the city outside. "The apartment has its own entrance on the back, leading to a yard. It's a good flat, if you're interested."
"Maybe", Kate said. "I'll know more in a few days."
Leonard nodded. "There's no toilet in the rooms down here. You share shower and toilet with the other guests, but at the moment there's only you. Shower's down the hall", he added, pointing at another closed door, almost hidden behind a deep red curtain.
She entered the room as Leonard gave her the key and left. She put her bag at the bed and went to the window. She had full view of the Clock Tower from her room.
Standing there she thought of the woman she had met - the woman who might live in the tower she was standing looking at.
It still puzzled her that she had held on to Barbara's hand so long, and that it hadn't felt strange to do so. It was a long time since anyone touched her, even briefly. And never with such a look in their eyes, as if there had been some kind of kinship between them. She hadn't known many women in her life; she always felt more comfortable around men. Sure, there were women in the force too, but the competition between them had made it difficult to form a bond with any of them. Women in male-dominated professions usually had to work twice as hard as a man to prove their worth - it left little time and small opportunities to explore what were considered the signs belonging to that which many men believed was the weaker sex: gentleness, humbleness, and even compassion. In her department at LAPD she hadn't been very well liked by the other female cops; she had never figured out why, but she thought it had something to do with jealousy.
Standing there, pondering her life, she came to realize what it was the redheaded woman had awakened within her. The need for something she had never had and never been aware she was missing; something Angel could have been had things turned out differently: a close friend.
She was, comparatively, a very analytical person. Everyone who knew her - if knowing her indeed was something anyone did - told her so. Too analytical, too controlling and far too reserved for her own good...
This was probably the reason she couldn't get Kate Lockley out of her head. Not even working in the library with her books, which she loved and which always could get her mind off the difficulties of her personal life, seemed to distract her enough to make her think of something else. Those light blue eyes seemed to follow her. And the way she had held on to Kate's hand. She had never felt such... comfort, in holding anyone's hand before. She hadn't wanted to let go. So she hadn't. And when Kate let go of her hand she missed the firmness of the other woman's fingers.
Kate Lockley. She mused over the name, Reese had given her weeks ago, when he first mentioned the female cop he had asked to join him as his new partner. An L.A. detective who'd been fired for... whatever reason. Reese hadn't been able to tell her - or hadn't wanted to, more likely. "Internal affairs", he'd said, shrugging and putting on an indifferent attitude. "Nothing for the uninitiated."
She smiled at the memory. He didn't know she had hacked into the computer system of the Los Angeles Police Department and found some very intriguing information about Kate Lockley. Nothing had prepared her for the real woman behind the facts, though.
She sighed and put aside one of the books she'd been holding on to much longer than necessary. She had been staring at the cover, trying to figure out in which section of which shelf to put it, but her mind was too preoccupied.
Kate Lockley wasn't the only thing on her mind. There was something else pulling at her heart, something deeper, darker and more painful. For an analytical person like herself it was difficult not to dwell on the thoughts wanting to intrude on her mind. This was probably the reason she let Kate Lockley take up so much space; to prevent her from thinking about the one thing she would never forget. That day was a special day and she wouldn't even need a calendar to pin it down. She would have felt it in her bones, in her soul - pulling like a troubled spirit.
She didn't want to think about it.
It was Saturday at the library. There weren't many people: some parents with their kids, looking for proper kids' books to read; some elderly coming to return their books and trying to find something new to read. Some students sat in one of the isolated sections behind glass windows, heavily discussing some or another Shakespeare play. She knew, she had helped them get the books and even helped them with forming questions for the debate. It was their third day this week in the same location.
She knew most people who came to the library, even those who didn't come to read, but who came to hold conferences in one of the large conference rooms at the building. She was head-librarian at New Gotham City Library, where she managed not only the library, but also arranged for seminars, conventions and open discussions. There was always one major seminar a month, mostly something intended to affect the social structure or the political arena in the city - like current issues of criminality, of poverty or even about day-care for parents working shifts. She invited professional speakers or leaders from the whole country and so far it was appreciated amongst the citizens of New Gotham.
It kept her busy, arranging for seminars and groups at the library. She needed to be kept busy.
Wade said she was a workaholic and nagged at her to take a break, but he didn't know. He didn't know the duty that lay on her shoulders, or the burden's of which she never spoke. Maybe she ought to tell him, but somehow when she thought she was going to he said or did something that made her change her mind. It was strange, she wasn't usually so indecisive about things, but this was... It would change their whole relationship and she wasn't even sure he would forgive her for lying to him. Even though "lying" wasn't exactly a word she would use; more like... hiding the whole truth.
She sighed. She sucked at relationships; that was the whole dilemma. She was too analytical to fall properly in love and too caught up in work to realize she was falling in love even if or when she finally did.
Such were the facts of life, she thought and finally found the right place for the book in her lap. It was the last in the pile she had brought with her to the long row of shelves splitting the midsection of the library on the ground floor.
She wheeled through the row of shelves, towards her office in the back of the library. It, like most of the rooms at the library, was made up of wood and high glass windows. She went to her desk, bending forward behind it and looking for a wrapped sandwich in her bag, which she had left between the desk and a bookshelf.
As she was busy with her bag she felt someone's presence and heard soft footsteps behind her, entering her office. She straightened her back and turned her wheelchair.
"Oh, my - you startled me", she said, pretending to be taken by surprise when she greeted her newly arrived guest; it would never do to let anyone suspect there was more to the handicapped librarian than what met the eye. Although, she did hide the surprise she felt seeing Kate Lockley in her office. She also hid the unexpected jolt of pure pleasure she felt seeing the other woman again and so soon.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you", the blond woman said.
Barbara smiled. "It's so quiet around here. I didn't expect anyone to find me in here today."
"Oh, you wanted some privacy? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." Kate made an excusing gesture with her hand and was on her way to leave.
"Oh, no! That's not what I meant. Please, stay..." Barbara gestured at the chair in front of her desk and put her wrapped sandwich on the table. "Sit down, if you like."
Kate still hesitated in the doorway. She was dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, with a dark leather jacket on top.
"How did you find me, by the way?" Barbara had to ask with a slight frown. "Or it wasn't me you wanted to see? You wanted me as in my librarian-me?"
"I..." Kate seemed to hesitate anew. "Leonard told me you would be here. I wanted to see the library. I was thinking of picking up a new hobby."
Barbara arched an eyebrow. "Reading?"
"Well, yeah..." Kate shrugged. She didn't seem nervous, but there was something about her Barbara just couldn't pin down, something hard and resisting - a sense in the way water or oil would slide off a rock hard, smooth and glass polished surface.
A tough woman, she thought. A cop, she added with an inward smile.
"So, you own a pub and work at a library", Kate said, looking around at the office.
"Own a pub? Oh, you mean the Dark Horse? That's not mine." Barbara frowned again. "Why would you think that?"
"Oh, it was just something Dinah said last night."
Barbara nodded thoughtfully, suddenly realizing she was being manipulated into answering questions she didn't even know she was answering. She decided it was time to change the subject. "So, how do you find New Gotham?"
Kate turned around to face her, still standing. "I believe it's too early to say", she said, but then shrugged. "I like the Clock Tower."
"Huh, yes - it's a... landmark, alright."
"Indeed", Kate said, holding her gaze. Barbara refused to give in; she realized Kate wanted to hear her admit she was living in the Clock Tower, but she wasn't going to make it too easy for the other woman. Instead she smiled.
"It's not L.A. I give you that, but I believe we can make you feel at home soon enough."
Kate shrugged again and averted her face. Barbara watched her profile, suddenly feeling the same familiar tingling she had felt the night before when they first met: an unexpected tenderness for the other woman she hadn't felt for anyone since... Since a long time.
There was an air of indifference about Kate, which probably made most people think she was aloof and independent to a fault, but Barbara sensed something else behind the mask of remoteness: a deep loneliness. And sadness so profound, or even innate, it moved her.
"It's a nice library", Kate said noncommittally.
"It is", Barbara said, glancing through the high windows at the area outside her office. "I believe in encouraging reading through promotion of the library's services. The children and the youth are our future, however cliché that sounds. We need to educate them, not only in advanced technology, but in compassion, respect, equality and... I guess, about the values of life."
"Problems arise when a person's opinion of what the values of life are collide with another person's opinions", Kate said, glancing at her.
"True, but we can't give up. If we do the bad guys have won. There's more to life than survival."
"And how can we show our children love, if we can't show love between ourselves?"
Barbara nodded. "Granted, we need to be examples for what we teach..."
"And are you?" Kate asked, inquiringly.
Barbara blinked. "Am I what?"
"An example of what you teach...?"
She took her time answering. "I'm probably not the right person to answer that question", she finally admitted. "Some would say I'm too serious - all work and no play, you know" - she made a face - "to actually be a good example. Although, I think the most important point is to never give up. If we fight for what is right we need to keep that fight alive, however difficult it is."
"It's always easy to say", Kate said with another shrug and turned away. Barbara got the feeling she didn't want to continue the conversation and guessed the reason lay in Kate's own past with the LAPD. There hadn't been any details on the computer system regarding Kate's dismissal from the force, but it seemed to have involved getting too obsessed with specific cases. Specific cases that the police force in general left unresolved for one or another reason.
"Sure, it's easy to talk - more difficult to actually keep up the good fight when good times turn bad." Barbara shrugged. "But it doesn't disregard the fact that it's those who know the truth that must keep up the fight. It's their duty and responsibility..."
Kate swirled back to face her with an angry look. The anger was controlled and only showed in the narrowing of her eyes. "As a cop in L.A. I've seen a lot of evil things done... And I mean evil, pure evil. It's not all that easy to keep up the fight when you keep losing day after day, never making a difference. I doubt you have ever faced evil like that. I would like to point that out to you - that reality is different from books. There ain't always a hero capable enough to save the day. Or the innocent..." She caught herself at that, as if she thought of something - maybe someone, indicated by the sudden flash of reminiscence in her eyes.
"You do have a point", Barbara said, choosing her words carefully. She hesitated with a slight frown. "But... Do you know how I came to end up in this chair?" she asked, indicating her wheelchair.
Kate raised her gaze towards her, suddenly with something wary in her look. She shook her head. "No", she said softly, the tone of voice belying her expression. "No, I don't."
"I was shot", Barbara said matter-of-factly.
Kate inhaled slowly. "I'm so sorry", she said, with genuine care.
Barbara shrugged easily. She had told the story so many times before, but she always had to do it as if it was the first - never forgetting to put real emotions behind her words; never to risk being flippant or too careless about it. Or else someone might begin to wonder, to suspect that there was more to Barbara Gordon, wheelchair bound, than met the eye.
"It's a long time now, I've learned to live with it." She made a face again. "I've been forced to live with it. Some things we just have to accept, or else we would truly shrivel up and die inside. And this chair" - she patted the wheelchair - "... it's given me a lot more freedom than expected."
Kate nodded, moving so she could study the wheelchair properly. Her movement brought her closer to Barbara, who looked up at her and noticed dark specks of blue in the light blue of Kate's eyes. Like dark stars, she thought with a sense of wonder, feeling an unexpected tightness pulling in her chest.
"This chair... I noticed it yesterday. How does it move around? And that... elevator-thing you have going on..."
"Bruce Wayne had it specially made for me", Barbara said. "You are familiar with him? He spent a fortune on technical gadgets that would make my new existance easier to deal with", she added when Kate nodded in regards to her question. "This chair is actually controlled by a spinal transponder attached to the small of my back. It's no larger than a computer chip. In simple terms, not to bore you with the technical terms... Dinah's always scowling at me as soon as I begin my 'techno-babble', as she calls it." Barbara smiled and Kate nodded in concentration; Barbara wondered if the other woman ever smiled. She seemed so serious all the time, hiding the sadness that could be sensed just below the surface. She must have a lovely smile, Barbara thought, watching Kate's face. Then she caught herself, remembering what she was talking about. "Simply put the transponder connects my neural system with the chair, instead of my legs. If I think 'walk forward', the chair moves in that direction. It took awhile to master, but now I don't have to think about it. Or, I mean - I don't have to think about thinking..."
"And if you want to rise higher, the chair lifts upwards if you want it..." Kate shook her head in wonder. "That's truly amazing."
"Yeah. It puts a whole new perspective to Descartes' statement: 'I think, therefore I am...'" She shrugged. "I wheel - therefore I am."
"I've never seen anything like it."
"Oh, we have a few of them here in New Gotham. This was a prototype and the original drawings were destroyed in a fire almost seven years ago, but the scientists working at what's left of Bruce Wayne's Technology Centre managed to produce something similar. Those are not as advanced as this one, though. And they are really expensive. I'm working on making them cheaper, trying to get larger firms to sponsor wheelchair bound individuals."
"Good luck", Kate said dryly.
"You're an optimist", Barbara said teasingly, but Kate shrugged.
"Well, maybe you are right. I haven't had that much luck yet." She paused, glancing at Kate. "And you? You mentioned seeing evil things? Is that part of why you are so... sad?"
She couldn't help asking. Maybe she shouldn't have, but she couldn't be anything less than what she was.
Kate stiffened and squared her shoulders, turning away and walking towards the windows.
"I'm sorry", Barbara said after a moment. "I didn't mean to... Well, actually I did mean to, but if you don't want to talk about it..."
"It's fine", Kate said. "Your... Dinah said the same thing. I just never knew I was so easy to read", she added sarcastically.
"You're not", Barbara said lowly, almost not audible; she wasn't even sure Kate heard her. So, Dinah had used her talents... Or maybe used was not the right word, since Dinah could hardly control her telepathic abilities. More likely something had just "popped up" within her as she looked at Kate. "Actually", she went on. "I was just about to have lunch, but I lost my appetite seeing this..." She indicated the sandwich on her desk and Kate had to glance over her shoulder to look at her. Barbara met her gaze. "Would you like to join me for lunch? I know a nice Italian restaurant. Unless you'd rather stay here and find a book..." she added, feeling a little nervous at the prospect that Kate would prefer staying at the library to having lunch with her.
Kate frowned a little, but then nodded. "Food sounds good. I guess it's time to eat. I usually forget."
"Tell me about it", Barbara agreed. "Me too. Luckily I have people reminding me about it." She picked up her bag and hung it on the side of her wheelchair. "Although there's something I need to do first", she added, remembering again what day it was. "I hope you don't mind tagging along."
"I must say, when you invited me for lunch I didn't expect ending up in a graveyard", Kate said, not unfriendly - but she still didn't smile.
Barbara shook her head and bent at the grave to place the flowers there; red roses. A candle was lit at the base of the stone and she wondered if it was Alfred who'd been there before her. Or if Bruce had been back, as he always was this day of the year. But there were no other flowers and he always left a single, black rose for his daughter's grave.
"'Helena Kyle - loving daughter, dear friend and a Huntress by nature'. She died five years ago to the day", Kate said softly, reading the inscription on the stone. "She meant a lot to you?" she added gently.
Barbara nodded. "She was a friend." And maybe something more... she thought, but now she would never know. She still wasn't sure what she had felt for Helena, Bruce Wayne's daughter, after all these years, but she would always remember Helena's last words and the look in her eyes as she spoke them. "I love you, Barbara..."
Helena had died saving her life and hearing her speak those words, seeing her bleed to death in her arms... She remembered Helena's touch; soft fingers caressing her cheek, her lips... And the emotions that touch had brought: a sudden, surprised understanding of something she hadn't even known was there. And then the feeling - the loss, of someone more than a friend. A potential lover... She had never uttered those words aloud, and only to herself in moments like that: when she knelt at Helena's grave, missing her and that which had never happened between them.
"She was only eighteen", Kate said. "What happened?"
"She was murdered", Barbara said, straightening and noticing the quick glance Kate directed at her. "They never caught the murderer."
Neither Batman nor his protégés had been able to pin down the villain behind Huntress' death. Barbara remembered the night well; the dark, the slippery streets after a days pouring rain, the mist creeping up the narrow alleys. The bullet had been meant for Batgirl, but Huntress had hurled herself between it and its original target - thus saving Batgirl's life. Batman had been witness to the whole event and his pained scream had echoed through the alley, mingled with the echoes of running steps from a fleeing murderer.
Bruce hadn't been able to stay in New Gotham after Helena's death. Barbara didn't blame him; he had been on the verge of leaving already when she was shot two years earlier, at the same time as Helena's mother was killed. The only thing that prevented him from leaving then had been the knowledge that he had a child, a daughter.
"And she was Bruce Wayne's daughter? I never knew he had a daughter..."
Barbara shook her head. "He didn't know either, until a few years ago - when her mother was killed..."
Kate blinked, genuinely surprised for the first time. "Another murder? What is this?" She frowned, suddenly studying Barbara more intently. "Why were you shot?" she asked, with sudden intuition.
"Yes, it probably had something to do with Bruce Wayne", Barbara said. "He left after He... her... his daughter's death. He has too many enemies here."
"I'll say", Kate mumbled, looking at the gravestone. "Let me guess, they never found who killed her mother either?"
"Sort of. It could never be proven he killed Selena Kyle, but he is in jail for another crime. He won't get out for two hundred years or so."
Kate nodded again, thoughtfully. Barbara could almost see her getting into cop-mood and hid a smile. Maybe Reese had been right in asking Kate to New Gotham, it seemed she could be an asset to the most corrupt police force in the country.
A beeping sound suddenly cut through her thoughts and she glanced down at the small beeper fastened to her belt. Delphi-alert, she thought, reading the coded message on the display. The highly advanced computer system at the headquarters was alerting her to a code red - which meant either a missing person or a murder.
"I must go, there's an emergency..." She looked up at the blond woman. "I'm so sorry, Kate", she said. "I've pulled you out here, promising lunch and now I'm bailing..."
"It's fine", Kate said, turning away. "I'll just take a tour around the city..."
It took a moment for Barbara to realize that what she had seen in the other woman's eyes before she turned away had been disappointment. She felt it too; she wanted to get to know Kate better.
"But wait, you know... You're new in town and everything. How about coming for dinner at my place tonight? I'll invite Reese too. It'd be nice with some company. Dinah is great, but she's a teenager - I need some adult company every now and then..."
Kate glanced at her with a sharp look, seemingly trying to gauge Barbara's intention behind the invitation. Barbara held her gaze and hoped she didn't seem too eager, or too indifferent. Finally Kate seemed to relax and nodded.
"That would be nice", she said. "Although, I don't know how stimulating it will be in the company of cops - we will probably bore you to death with talk about work."
"Oh, don't worry - I'm used to it. My father was a cop, I know the drill..." Barbara frowned. "Well my real father wasn't, only my stepfather." She paused, glancing at Kate. She hadn't meant to reveal that and didn't know why she had. When she noticed Kate's expression she was glad she had; she had given something personally of herself and it seemed Kate had needed to be given that, to confirm that she hadn't been invited because Barbara felt pity for her. "Never mind", she added with a shrug. "It's a long story, I might tell you sometime..."
"I'd like that", Kate said softly.
Barbara smiled at her. "And I'll try my best not to be boring tonight."
Kate gave her a long look, before she suddenly and unexpectedly smiled. "Somehow I doubt you could ever be boring, even if you tried..."
I was right, Barbara thought, distractedly. Kate's smile made her eyes sparkle and those dark specks of blue seemed to dance, like shooting stars. The smile changed her serious demeanor and made her look younger, less hard. There was a softness in her that she seemed to try so hard to curb, but it shone through as she smiled. She does have a lovely smile...
When Kate arrived at the entrance to Barbara Gordon's residence at the foot of the magnificent Clock Tower, with a bottle of wine for Barbara and a box of chocolate for Dinah, she didn't know what to expect. The whole thing with Barbara confused her. She still didn't know what relationship Barbara and Dinah had with each other, but it was clear they lived together. And Barbara hadn't even given Kate her address when they parted earlier in the day, only assuming, it seemed, that Kate would find her way. She had, but that wasn't the point.
Reese had been held up at work, otherwise she would have caught a ride with him. Instead she had walked over to the Clock Tower from the Dark Horse; it hadn't taken her a little more than fifteen minutes.
The entrance was as magnificent as the rest of the tower: a dark, polished arched door in some unknown, mirror-like metal, greeted her. There was an ornament that seemed to be pure silver, on the door, in the shape of a bird of prey. There was also a doorbell at the side and she pressed it.
It didn't take long until a tall, older man in dark clothes opened the arched door.
"Miss Kate Lockley, I presume", he said with a British accent and stepped aside as she nodded. "I'm Alfred, Miss Barbara's butler. Please, come in."
She stepped inside a large, circular hall; looking around she felt very small. The ceiling was high and arched and gigantic statues of stern warriors stood posted all round the hall. There where no statues posted at the three vaults leading to adjacent rooms. Large pots containing trees and enormous flowers flanked the statues. Straight ahead and opposite the entrance, there was a wide stair leading to the first floor.
"Your jacket", Alfred the butler said, reaching out his hands. Kate managed to take off her jacket without dropping her gifts and handed it to the butler. "I'll take these too", he added and simply took the wine bottle and the box of chocolate from her hands.
"That's for Dinah", she hurriedly said, pointing at the box. The butler arched an eyebrow.
"Miss Barbara will be jealous", he said with a wink and in a conspiratorial tone that almost made her smile, but she only nodded politely. "Come, this way."
He led her through one of the vaults to the left, which was obviously the library - though Barbara would probably call it a study. Rows of bookshelves dressed the walls. In one corner of the room there was a fireplace, in front of which two deep-set armchairs sat with a coffee table close by; a chessboard was placed on top of the table, but there were no pieces. In another corner of the room there was a desk with a flat screen monitor and computer.
There were no windows, but the high ceiling, the beautiful paintings of landscapes on the large walls and the many lights prevented it from feeling stuffy and gloomy.
Another vault led to an adjacent room - probably another of the rooms she had seen from the hall. This room was even larger, with a set table in the middle. In one corner, closer to a second fireplace, there was a set of couches and two coffee tables. This room also had many lights and beautiful paintings, but it had high, arching windows letting in the lights from two lampposts in the adjoining garden. The lampposts were beautifully wrought in black iron. She couldn't see much of the garden, just tall trees, bushes and the soft glistening of a pond.
"Miss Barbara will soon be with you", the butler said, still with her jacket on his arm. He had placed the wine and the chocolate on one of the coffee tables in the corners. "Please, help yourself to some of the canapés in the meantime." He indicated another coffee table behind her, which she had overlooked. It was set with a small tray of canapés. Some cocktail glasses with red liquid were also set on the tray. She took one of them and sipped at it.
When she turned around the next time, swallowing a canapé, the butler had left without her noticing it. And Barbara Gordon wheeled in through the vault leading to the large hallway.
"Kate", she said smiling. Kate, as she had several times before that same day, found that she had to catch herself seeing that smile and the tenderness that always seemed to accompany it. She wondered if Barbara smiled like that for anyone. The redheaded woman probably did and the realization brought an unfounded disappointment to Kate. She had no right to monopolize the other woman's friendship.
"Barbara", she said and nodded guardedly, putting down her glass on the coffee table behind her.
"I'm so glad you could come."
Barbara wheeled up to her and took her hand in hers, squeezing it a little. Kate immediately relaxed, feeling genuinely welcomed. It wasn't easy for her with her past, being a stranger and suddenly having to deal with emotions that she hadn't dealt with for ages - if she ever had. Just seeing Barbara made her feel confused; she felt an unexplained kinship with the other woman that she had never felt with anyone before and she lacked the words to explain it, even to herself. The feeling reminded her of what she had experienced with Angel in the beginning of their acquaintance, before she realized what he... was. But that had been an attraction and she couldn't be attracted to a woman... could she? No, Barbara was kind to her - that was all. No one had been kind to her in a long, long time and she couldn't remember how to deal with people like her: people who were kind because that was in their nature and not because they wanted to manipulate her.
Kate couldn't remember when she had lost her trust in human beings, but she obviously had if she had forgotten how to behave sociably. She knew she was too guarded, too reserved, but who could blame her? She had given the world everything and in the end... received nothing, from no one. Except the one she had least expected it from; the one she least deserved it from. She wondered what he was doing now...
She pushed the thoughts of Angel from her mind. She knew she became restless and terse when remembering the past and that was not how she wanted to begin a friendship with Barbara.
"I'm glad I came", she said, letting go of Barbara's hand - although, like the evening before, she wanted nothing more than to hold on to it.
"Reese is on his way. He phoned me a minute ago."
"Yeah, there's been trouble at work today", Kate said. "Apparently I'll have a murder case on my hands when I start on Monday."
"So, they'll take you on?"
"I believe so. Reese said they need new people and no one wants to work with him..." Kate glanced down at Barbara. "Do you know why that is?"
"Me?" Barbara turned her wheelchair and rolled off towards the other end of the table, correcting a silver fork lying the wrong way; Kate wondered why she did that, it seemed an odd behavior for the woman. Maybe it was just the librarian in her, wanting things to be orderly. "Why would I know anything about it?"
"I don't know." Kate shrugged. "It just seems to me you know Reese very well."
Barbara laughed softly, a little self-ironic it seemed. "I do know him well. My father took him in..."
Kate suddenly remembered something about Reese's past, which he had seldom talked about at the Academy. Her father had been a cop and she ended up in trouble because of it and Reese's father... His father had been a criminal and Reese had ended up in trouble because of it. She remembered he told her about it once, and about the only man that had believed in him enough to give him a chance: Commissioner Jim Gordon. "You are that Gordon?" she asked incredulously. "James Gordon's daughter? Commissioner Gordon's daughter?"
"The one and only", Barbara said and nodded. "Although, I'm not sure Jim Gordon is my father... No one else seems to be, either. I grew up raised by another man, believing him to be my father..." She shrugged. "As I said before, it's a long story. Anyway, Jim Gordon took me in when my parents died. I sure was a handful by then, but he never complained. And then Reese came to live with us."
"You grew up together?" Kate tried to remember what Reese had told her about his past in Gotham, but there wasn't much.
"Well, by then I had actually moved out. I went to private school and when I returned to Gotham I lived with Bruce Wayne."
"As...? You were a couple?" Kate asked, trying to fit the pieces together, but Barbara suddenly laughed. She had a clear sounding, but still soft laughter, which filled Kate with a warmth that almost embarrassed her. Barbara's laughter made her chest tingle in an unfamiliar, straining way. Like a muscle that was untrained and now felt the pains and joys of exercise for the first time.
"I wish!" Barbara said, still laughing. "I had the deepest crush on him. But I grew up; it was just a childish infatuation." She smiled softly, remembering. "No, we were good friends. He taught me everything I... needed to know. He was my mentor, I guess."
Kate nodded. She suddenly wished she had known Barbara back then. Maybe her life would have been different had she had a girlfriend to share her troubles with.
Barbara seemed to notice her mind drifting, because there was a question forming in her eyes. To forestall it Kate made a gesture towards the wine and the chocolate.
"I brought chocolate for Dinah", she said. "Your butler said you'd be jealous..." She caught Barbara's look and smiled a little. "I'll remember that for my next visit."
"So there'll be a next visit?" Barbara asked, arching an eyebrow. "I haven't bored you yet?"
Kate didn't know why, but she suddenly laughed. There was something in the way Barbara looked at her, something in the dry tone of her voice, that made her feel relaxed and comfortable. Barbara too was a guarded woman in her own way, but she was also very open and friendly; being with her made Kate feel good about herself. She laughed, seeing the surprised pleasure in Barbara's eyes and almost blushed because of it.
"No, not yet", she said, fighting the color rising in her cheeks, wondering why she felt the need to blush like a schoolgirl. "We'll see after dinner."
Barbara didn't say anything. She only held Kate's eyes and looked at her, not moving. When Kate silenced Barbara smiled softly, gesturing towards the coffee table in the corner of the room.
"Thanks for the wine, then", she said. She tilted her head to one side, looking quizzically at Kate. "Unless that too is for Dinah?"
"No." Kate shook her head, feeling strangely light headed. "That's definitely for you."
They looked at each other and Kate noticed the warmth of Barbara's eyes increasing, making her feel nervous and elated at the same time.
"You have a lovely smile", Barbara suddenly said in a low voice. "You ought to smile more often."
This time Kate did blush. "Thank you", she said self-consciously and then added, not knowing why: "I haven't had much to smile about lately."
Barbara nodded, as if she had figured that out. "We'll change that, then", she said simply.
Kate inhaled slowly, feeling the pain and the loneliness fighting its way to the surface. She swallowed, not wanting to give in to the grief that threatened to overwhelm her. "So, what's your relationship with Dinah?" she asked, quickly changing subject.
"That's another long story", Barbara said wryly. "I'm full of them", she added, glancing at Kate. "Long stories."
I don't mind listening, Kate thought, but only nodded. She wasn't sure her voice would carry.
"She's my charge. Her mother... is a good friend. For private reasons I can't tell you her name, but she thought it was best for Dinah to grow up out of her care. Dinah was placed in foster care, but she could never settle. She ran away a lot, traveling across the country to find her mother when she was only fourteen. This had been going on for years, but this time Dinah ended up in some trouble and her mother finally saw fit to take her from foster care. We came to an agreement that Dinah would live with me. She's been with me for two years now."
"She's only sixteen?"
"Almost seventeen", Barbara said. "Remember, she's a teenager - she wants to be older than she is."
"But you let her work at the bar?"
"It makes her feel close to her mother. She's sensible and much older than her age."
Kate nodded, not wanting to start a discussion about something that wasn't really any of her business.
"Thank you", Barbara said softly.
"For what?" Kate said, confused - not only by Barbara's sudden gratefulness, but also by the way the other woman's voice affected her.
"For not arguing against me. For not pointing out it's actually against the law..."
Kate shrugged, trying to hide the sudden nervousness she felt. "None of my business..."
"It's a wise woman, who admits when something is not her business", someone suddenly said behind her and she had to restrain herself not to swirl around in sudden shock. She hadn't heard a man approach. Looking at him her first thoughts were of Angel; seeing this dark haired, good looking guy all dressed in black made her remember the vampire.
"Oh, John - meet our guest. This is Kate. Kate, this is John - a good friend of mine."
Kate nodded politely, shaking his hand. Of course, she thought, feeling oddly disappointed realizing Barbara had a boyfriend. A beautiful woman like her must have a good-looking partner.
"Hi Kate", John said, winking at her in a way that immediately made her reconsider her last thought.
"Hi", she said, almost curtly. He only grinned at her and went to Barbara to kiss her on the cheek.
"You're coming alone?" Barbara asked.
"Yes, she's working", John said. "Closing a big deal. All work and no play", he added with a sigh, straightening and glancing at Kate. "And you must be the cop..."
"Dinah will be disappointed", Barbara interrupted before Kate had time to answer. John made a face and nodded.
"She promised she'd make it up to her", he said.
"Make what up to whom?" Dinah suddenly said, entering the room followed by another tall man, who was dressed in jeans and a denim shirt. Kate backed up a few steps, suddenly feeling crowded in the large space.
"Dinah..." Barbara began, somewhat hesitantly.
"Your mother", John said solemnly, looking straight at the girl.
"She's not coming, I know", Dinah said and nodded. "I know, I've talked to her."
"You did?" John said, looking surprised.
"Good", Barbara said.
"Kate", Dinah said, turning directly to Kate by the coffee table. "So nice to see you again. Did you enjoy New Gotham in daylight?"
Kate nodded. "Thank you. They have very good coffee at the Dark Horse", she added.
"I know, that's what my mother always says." Dinah grinned. "In here, we only drink tea... so prepare yourself."
"I believe Alfred could make her some coffee if she'd like", Barbara said, winking at Kate.
"He will grumble, though", John said, sitting down at the end of the table, behind Barbara's wheelchair. "He's so... British", he added with a grimace.
"Be nice to the old man", the unknown man at Dinah's side said with a laugh. "Barbara", he added and went to Barbara's side, where he bent down and kissed her on the mouth.
Kate averted her eyes and forced herself to keep a straight face at the sight. Dark HorseAnother one...Dark Horse
"Wade", she heard Barbara mumble as she kissed him back. Then the redhead pulled away from the man and turned to Kate, gesturing towards her. "Wade - here's someone you must meet..."
"Reese's cop", Wade said with a smile and took two long strides towards her, reaching out his hand.
"I believe she is her own cop", John said in the background.
"Kate", Kate said, shaking the tall man's hand.
"Wade Brixton", he said, the only one she'd met so far who actually introduced himself with his full name.
"Lockley", she added and he smiled.
"Come, sit down with me", Dinah excitedly said and pulled out two chairs next to each other. "You have to tell me all about L.A."
"Dinah", Barbara warned softly.
"It's fine, Barbara", Kate said, moving around the table to sit down by Dinah's side. She noticed the look Barbara gave her and smiled reassuringly. Barbara smiled back and Kate felt a strangely childish pleasure in sharing something private with the other woman. Then Wade put a hand on Barbara's shoulder and again bent down to kiss her. Kate averted her eyes and spent most of the evening talking to Dinah and John, and later with Reese.
"So, you don't believe an individual can be born evil?" Barbara asked in a voice Kate in the last few hours had come to know was her debating-voice: sharp and to the point. Barbara seemed to love to argue.
Wade shook his head. "No, I don't."
"What about psychopaths, then?" Dinah wondered. "They're deemed..." - she grimaced - "psychopaths for a reason."
"Yeah, but is it 'evil' if innate and not a choice?" Barbara interjected. "And... or, did we label them psychopaths because we don't have the courage to admit true evil exists? I mean, if ultimate good exists, then ultimate evil must exist as well..."
"And does 'ultimate' good exist?" Wade asked, giving Barbara an affectionate look. "What is 'good' and what is 'evil'?"
"And if we follow that reasoning then the evil snake lured Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life", John said, surprising Kate. She looked at him and he glanced at her with a genuine smile; she realized there was more to his macho-behaving appearance than she had first suspected. He seemed to be a very good friend of Barbara and Dinah's, less so to Reese and mostly an acquaintance to Wade - who seemed to be wary of him. She would be too, had Barbara been her partner and had such a good-looking close friend as John.
"That's just it", Wade said, looking at John. "Such a discussion assumes that we come from the same background, believing in the same religion. It assumes that one actually believes in a God."
"Don't you?" Dinah asked, almost startled. Wade smiled at her, gently shaking his head.
Kate had learned that Wade Brixton was one of Dinah's teachers - the new history teacher, as a matter of fact. He had moved to New Gotham only last year and first met Barbara a few months ago. They had begun dating only recently.
"You don't?" Barbara said, also surprised, but not as startled as Dinah. "Imagine that", she said to herself. "We've never talked about religion before", she added, to no one in particular.
"You believe in God?" Wade said, looking surprised at Barbara. "With your faith in technology I'd think you'd be an atheist."
"I believe even Einstein believed in something", Alfred said as he passed by with the tray, collecting everybody's plates. It was obviously Alfred who had done the cooking. Barbara had laughed when Kate had asked her if it was Barbara who she needed to pay her compliments to, and said Alfred wouldn't even let her near the kitchen. "I burn boiling water", she had said. "I put it on the stove and forget all about it. We had a pot exploded - Alfred hasn't let me in the kitchen since."
"I believe you're right", John said in answer to Alfred's words.
"I believe in reincarnation", Barbara said and Wade laughed.
"Really? Like... Hinduism? Be born into the form of a worm if you're not doing good deeds?"
"Being a worm you can learn a lot about the soil and the ways of Mother Earth", John said again and Kate wasn't sure if he was deliberately trying to provoke Wade or if he was always like that - throwing out statements into thin air. "Some people I know should benefit from being reincarnated as worms", he added.
"True", Wade admitted with a laugh. "Some people I know too."
"Mr. Ripple, for one", Dinah said with a grimace and exchanged a look with Wade.
"No names", Wade said, smiling.
"I don't believe I believe in that, exactly..." Barbara said. She glanced at Kate and then looked at John with a smile. "But sometimes I meet people I'm sure I've known in a different life." She turned to Wade. "Don't you ever feel that way?"
Wade shrugged. "It's psychology - parts of yourself that you see in another and recognize. The same reason why we fall in love. There's always an unknown, psychological reason to why we fall in love with someone."
"Wade!" Dinah protested and Reese laughed; he had arrived just in time for dinner to be served and sat next to Dinah on her other side. "Don't be such a pragmatic. You ruin everything for me!"
Wade laughed and threw up his hands. "Sorry, Dinah. I'll shut up." He turned to Kate. "How about you?" he asked. "Do you believe in good and evil?"
The question took her by surprise and she felt a moments panic when she didn't know what to say. Then she caught Barbara's look. The gentle, almost soothing expression in the other woman's eyes calmed her and she regained her inner balance.
The evening had been pleasant and Kate had felt secure in her role as Barbara's guest, especially after Reese arrived. She hadn't seen him for such a long time and only spoken to him on the phone a few times; they had a lot of catching up to do. She had been able to converse naturally, and been more sociable than she had in months. They had asked her about L.A. but not about her profession, for which she was grateful, and she had been able to dress herself in a shroud of indifference and confidence, even making people laugh. But her confidence had only lasted as long as she didn't look at Barbara. Every time she looked at the redheaded woman she felt confused and nervous again, so she hardly spoke to her during dinner. It was strange that in the moments when she needed strength and safety she found it with the one who had been the cause of her insecurity the whole evening.
The question still hung unanswered and she sipped some wine before she spoke, making it look as if she was taking her time considering the question. Finally she spoke, not sure what she was going to say. "I've seen too much", she heard herself say, "not to believe in good or evil. Some say people are not evil, they only do evil." She shook her head. "There are things you wouldn't do unless you are evil. Born evil or not, I believe it's a choice you make. And we make it every day, dealing with our own problems, dealing with other people." She hesitated, thinking of Angel saving her life. He had entered her home even though she had never invited him in. Had she died for a brief second and been brought back to life? She would never know, but the fact remained: Angel had saved her, and he couldn't have done that without some interference from higher powers. "And in regards to God... If I believe in evil, I must believe in good. The one thing can't exist without the other."
She would never have spoken like that had she not seen the face of true evil. There existed between heaven and earth much more than mankind would ever know and she had only seen a part of it: vampires, demons, humans selling their souls to evil forces... True evil existed, but she would never be able to make people like Wade understand that. She had been like him once, but her innocence had been wrought from her and she had learned the truth about what went bump in the deep night of Los Angeles. In some ways she envied Wade his innocence - in other ways she hated him for it. He was safe from nightmares and from the burden Barbara had spoken of the same day. He could sleep soundly at night, not twisting in his bed wondering what innocent victim would fall prey to the beasts moving in the shadows of his city.
"Well spoken", John said and raised his glass. "I think we should make a toast to that."
Dinah raised her glass, followed by the rest.
"May ultimate good always be victorious", John said. "May we always make the right choices, to protect the innocent - no matter the cost to ourselves."
Kate felt a chill down her spine, hearing his words; it could have been Angel speaking. Or herself, only a year ago. She wondered what line of work John was in. Maybe he was a cop, like Reese.
"To ultimate good", Barbara echoed.
"For the innocent", Wade said.
"And the lost", Kate added softly, noticing that both John and Barbara stole quick glances at her.
"And the lost", Reese agreed, before drinking.
They drank in silence and when they were done Reese made a gesture as if to rise. "Sorry to eat and run", he said. "I have to get back to work." He turned to Barbara. "Thank you for the invitation, it's been a pleasure."
"Really", Dinah agreed. "We have to do this again soon."
"Before you all leave", Barbara said, looking at Reese who was halfway out of his chair. "Will you please join me for a moment of silence?"
Kate noticed the exchanged look between Dinah and Reese, before Reese nodded and sat down again.
"Barbara..." Wade said, putting a hand over hers on the table.
She has nice hands, Kate caught herself thinking.
"You shouldn't do this..."
"Wade, please..." Barbara said, pulling away her hand. Kate studied his face and noticed the hurt in his eyes.
Barbara took a deep breath and folded her hands in front of her on the table. "I would like to have a silent minute for Helena Kyle, who was killed five years ago - to honor her memory."
Reese nodded. "Let's do that", he said. "I'll time it for you", he added.
Barbara nodded and closed her eyes. Beside her Wade leaned back in his chair and did the same. John stared into the candle in front of him and Reese stared out the windows. At Kate's side Dinah also closed her eyes with a brief sigh.
Kate kept her eyes on Barbara. The other woman's face was completely blank, revealing nothing. Except, Kate soon noticed, there were glistening tears in the corners of her eyes. She wondered at the bond there must have been between her and the dead girl, if after five years she could mourn like that.
She is so beautiful, Kate thought. She shouldn't grieve like that... She wanted to take Barbara's hands in hers and hold them, in an effort to bring comfort - in an effort to soothe her pain. She wanted to hold the other woman close to her, to dry the almost invisible tears off her cheeks and caress her hair. Such thoughts were new and unfamiliar to her and when the minute had passed she averted her eyes, seeing out of the corner of her eyes how Barbara dried the tears with the back of her hand in a discreet gesture.
"Thank you all", the redhead said. "It means a lot to me."
Reese nodded. "It means a lot to us all", he said. "We still remember, too..." He glanced at John and rose. "Kate", he added in a formal voice. "Will you walk with me?"
"Yes, of course", she said and rose, following his example. She needed some fresh air and to talk about something that would distract her from the strange thoughts of Barbara.
"I will see you to the door", Barbara said and her wheelchair moved backwards, away from the table.
Kate said her goodbye's to every one at the table and when she was done the butler waited for her and Reese in the hall, with their jackets in his arms. Kate didn't know what to think of Alfred; he seemed to be at all places at the same time.
"So, did I bore you?" Barbara asked softly as Reese collected his jacket from Alfred and exchanged a few words with the older man.
"I told you", Kate said, holding Barbara's gaze. "I doubt you could ever be boring, even if you tried."
They looked at each other.
"Does this mean you will bring me chocolate the next time?" Barbara said with a twinkle in her eyes. Kate smiled at her.
"I most definitely will", she assured the other woman and Barbara laughed softly.
"I would invite you for lunch tomorrow, but I'm afraid I have a date with Wade's parents." She made a face. "It's my first meeting with them, actually. I haven't met them before. Besides, judging by Reese's expression he probably will ask you to begin working tomorrow."
"Oh", Kate said, ignoring Barbara's remark about Reese; she was probably right about that, anyway. Reese had been hinting at it during dinner. "Are you nervous about meeting them?" she asked with a frown.
"Oh, yes", Barbara said immediately. "I've been fretting the whole week about what clothes to wear. But don't tell anyone I told you", she added with a secretive smile.
"I won't", Kate said, softly laughing. "But don't worry. You're beautiful and smart, you'll charm them alright. You know how to behave. I on the other hand would have made a fool of myself, falling over on my feet and talking about all the wrong things..."
Barbara looked at her with an expression she couldn't read and when the other woman didn't say anything Kate finally wondered if she had said something wrong.
"Well, then... I must be going", she said, shifting her feet. "Reese is waiting..."
Barbara wheeled up to her and took her hand in hers. "Thank you for coming", she said and tugged a little at Kate's sleeve. Kate bent forward, understanding that was what Barbara wanted. As she did so the other woman pressed a soft kiss on her cheek, lingering a little longer than necessary at her side.
"I've enjoyed your company..." Barbara said lowly in her ear. "I hope we'll get more time to talk, just the two of us, later on."
Kate didn't know what to say, so she just straightened her back and nodded. She collected her jacket from Alfred and said her goodbye's, before following Reese out the door.
The moon was almost full outside; it rose bright in a clear sky. Stars sprinkled around it.
Seeing the moon she remembered her mother and her father; she remembered Angel and her past before and then after meeting him. She remembered - but for the first time in years she didn't feel sad watching the night sky. She thought of Barbara and she felt something that took awhile for her to recognize as hope.
Barbara had been right: Reese did ask her to come to work the next day. Early Sunday morning was spent listening to the details of and deciphering the few clues to the murder that had been committed Saturday afternoon. The briefing was held in a cramped room with a few other cops that looked askance at her and she was glad when it was over.
The rest of the day she spent with Reese, looking over the crime scene and going through witness statements, trying to figure out why an account assistant at the City Hall would be shot in broad daylight.
"The mayor is furious", Reese told her at the end of the day, when they were leaving a Thai restaurant where they'd picked up some food. "She wants the guilty to hang - or the Commissioner's head on a plate."
"Tough mayor", Kate said and he agreed.
"But well liked. She's tough on the criminals in this town. She used to be a psychologist, you know - specialized in criminology. Guess she got fed up with the work the last mayor did and went to office herself."
"Successfully, as it seems", Kate said, seating herself on the passenger seat of Reese's civil car. "What's her name again?"
"Harleen Quinzel. She's very clever; I made good use of her before she was elected mayor - dealing with some of the weirdest criminals in this town."
Kate nodded, wondering if she should bring up what she'd been thinking about the whole day.
"In any case, apparently the victim was the son of a friend of a friend of hers, or something. She's quite upset and even called the Commissioner incompetent to his face."
"At least it wasn't in public", Kate said wryly.
Reese snorted, starting the car. "It wouldn't have made a difference. The Commissioner is as corrupt as the rest of them." He glanced at her. "That's why I want to work with you. They wouldn't have fired you if you had been corrupt."
Kate almost laughed at that; it was so ironic. "And why did the good Commissioner take me in? Because I'm a model child?" She knew the answer to that, of course. That was the ironic part.
"Hardly", Reese said sarcastically. "Probably the opposite. If I had wanted to team up with a goody-two-shoes he would have said no. You..." He looked at her and grinned. "You are perfect."
"It was as frosty as Siberia around me before I left the office", she told him and he nodded thoughtfully. "Not much different from today", she added, looking straight at him. He didn't twitch a muscle in his face, but concentrated on his driving.
"No", he said, completely void of emotions.
"Look, Reese", she said. "I don't mind being here. Actually, I'm thrilled to be back in the force. This is my life and I love it, but... You have to understand one thing about me. I've seen things you've probably never heard of in your life - things you would never believe. Searching for the truth on my own... almost broke me. I can't go through that again. If you are too narrow minded, too closed in your thinking and too afraid to explore possibilities others would never dream of, then I can't work with you. I need to know I can trust you fully... I need to know you won't turn your back on me because I do things others won't understand. Do you understand?"
Reese didn't answer to begin with, but she noticed the lines creasing at the corners of his eyes and the set jaw. Finally he nodded.
"I hear you", he said and stopped the car. She noticed with mixed feelings that they had stopped outside the Clock Tower.
"Why are we here?" she asked, slightly bewildered.
"I need to talk to Barbara. I thought we could eat here. She won't mind."
The only thing Kate could think of was that she hadn't brought any chocolate.
"Look..." Reese said, turning to face her. "My problem isn't that I don't know what's going on in this town. My problem is that I, in fact, do know what's going on in this town. Sure, I didn't want to believe it at first and every time I try to talk to my partners about it they refuse to listen. I've earned a reputation for being too stubborn and egocentric - no one, in fact, wants to work with me anymore. Most people in the force even blame me for McNally's death, even though it could have been prevented had he just listened to me."
Kate nodded, listening. "What is going on with this town, then?" she asked tensely, wondering if she would hear a similar story to the one Angel had told her.
"Right." Reese looked at her and held her eyes. "They are called meta-humans. Ever heard of them?"
She blinked. "No. No, can't say I have", she said, once she'd found her composure. She'd been so set to hear about vampires she hadn't expected something entirely different. "What - who - are they?"
Reese too seemed to relax. "They are people, just like us. Only... they have abilities. Some would call it gifts, or talents, but apparently it's just something genetic."
"What kind of... gifts?"
"Superpowers..." Reese said, waiting for her reaction. She thought it through.
"Well, maybe not as advanced." Reese glanced at her and appeared to relax even further when she took him seriously. "I've known of people who have enhanced hearing, speed and strength. Other's are telepathic, or have the ability to..." He hesitated.
"I won't laugh", she said.
"I know of one who has the ability to change shape - he can look like anyone he wants. Another turns to liquid. One is like a chameleon - merging into the background and becoming almost invisible."
Kate nodded, thinking of the consequences such talents would bring if found in someone with a criminal mind. "They are born this way?" she asked.
Reese nodded. "Not all meta-humans are criminals. Usually they hide their abilities, blending into society and living a normal life. Some of them, unfortunately, use their talents for... darker purposes."
Kate nodded. "We've all heard of the bizarre crimes and criminals of New Gotham", she said. "So - you never know what to expect, facing a criminal in this town? Is he or she a... meta-human, or an ordinary human? Is there a way to fight them if they have superpowers?" She frowned.
"See this?" Reese showed her his ring. She had noticed it before; it was a silver ring, with a carving in the shape of a bird. "If triggered it responds to a transceiver and when I'm in need I'll get the help I require."
"From whom?" Kate said, still with a frown on her face.
"Batgirl... or company."
"Oh, I see." She remembered what the cab-driver had told her. "Are those vigilantes meta-humans too?"
"Some of them." Reese shrugged. "There's mixed feelings about them at the office, but Batgirl is always righteous. Some of the other's are a little more... rough."
"Tell me about it", Kate said wryly, remembering Angel and his side-kicks. She nodded. "I understand. These vigilantes have contacts and info you don't. They help you out."
Reese nodded. "They will help us out." He held her eyes. "If you don't mind?"
She hid a smile and shook her head. "I don't mind", she said. "I don't mind at all." Maybe it will be different, she thought, working with a female vigilante, for once.
Reese grinned at her. "Good, then that's settled. Let's eat before the food gets too cold."
They stepped out the car and moved to the entrance of the Clock Tower. Kate expected Reese to ring the bell, but he pushed down the handle and stepped right in. She followed, still occupied with what he had told her. She had suddenly realized something.
"You believe the murder yesterday was committed by one of those... metas?"
Reese glanced at her as he stepped into the large hall. "Yes", he said and continued to the right. "There were just too few witnesses and those witnesses mentioned a strange occurrence, although it seems they couldn't explain what. I mean, the cause of death was drowning... but he was on dry land. That's weird. I believe it has something to do with that meta-human turning into liquid. We'll talk more about it later", he added, as they reached the door vault to the right and entered the kitchen.
"Damn!" Barbara Gordon said, genuinely upset. "How can I tell him the truth now? Can I ever trust him enough to..."
Kate stopped in the doorway, taking in the scene. Dinah stood before Barbara, giving the woman a compassionate look; Barbara sat in her wheelchair almost at the entrance, with her back to the vault. John leaned on the kitchen counter, cradling a cop of coffee in one hand. He arched an eyebrow at Kate when she entered.
"Guests", John said and straightened.
"What?" Barbara said and turned her head.
The kitchen was as large as the rest of the rooms, with an oval shaped kitchen table and six chairs further to the left. Behind the table the walls were glass paneled, showing a terrace and the garden in the back. To the right there was a kitchen counter, a stove with an oven, fridge and freezer. Another kitchen counter was placed in the middle, behind Dinah.
"Hi", Kate said, pushing her hands deep in her pockets. She felt as if she was intruding on something very private. The look in Barbara's eyes before the woman noticed her was pained and vulnerable, but then an impenetrable mask slid over her face to hide every emotion behind it. Kate recognized that mask - she used it herself, far too often.
"We brought Thai food", Reese said and put the bag with their ordered food on the counter behind Dinah.
"Bullocks", John said. "I'd prefer Mexican."
"It's not for you, anyway", Reese said dryly. "Bring us some plates."
John huffed. "With your manners you ought to take your food someplace else. Kate may stay", he added, winking at Kate. She had come to realize he didn't mean any harm with his fake male chauvinism and almost smiled back at him, but caught herself as she noticed Barbara wheeling towards her.
"I'm sorry", the other woman said, passing her without looking at her. "Give me a minute."
Reese looked up at Dinah. "Problems?" he asked softly when Barbara had left the kitchen.
Kate didn't hear if Dinah answered; without thinking she followed Barbara through the hall and into the library.
"Barbara?" she said softly, standing in the doorway. Barbara had stopped in front of the desk in the study. Kate hesitated, but then moved towards the other woman. "How did it go today?" she asked gently. She remembered Barbara had said she was visiting Wade's parents and after the brief remark in the kitchen she figured something had happened in connection to Wade. Something that had Barbara drying her cheeks at that moment, half turned away from her.
Kate was accustomed to other people's tears. In her line of work she had been forced to bring her share of bad news. Being a woman had also made some police officers believe she would be better equipped with telling a family that one of their members had died, so in the beginning of her career she had visited a lot of grieving families. It had never bothered her; it was part of her job and she had learned to deal with it in an honest and respectful manner.
She had never felt this awkward before She wanted to reach out and touch the woman in front of her, but something in her held her back.
Barbara shook her head. "They thought I was a freak", she said. Kate inhaled sharply.
"What? Did they say so directly to you?"
"I overheard them talking to Wade."
There was so much bitterness in Barbara's voice Kate didn't know what to say. She remembered; she had dated a lawyer once. His parents hadn't approved of her because she was a simple cop, as they put it. She had been young then and deeply affronted. It wasn't the same hearing yourself called a freak, but it gave her some idea of what Barbara must feel.
"I'm sorry", she said, putting a hand on Barbara's shoulder. Barbara immediately turned and took her hand in hers.
"Thank you", she said, her eyes a little red at the corners. Kate looked down at her, wanting to push some of the red hair from her face - from those deep, green eyes regarding her with thankfulness and tenderness. "It's nice to see you again", Barbara added, holding her hand.
You too, she thought, but didn't dare voice her feelings. It seemed so natural for Barbara to be open with her, to reach out and touch her, to smile affectionately at her... It scared her, the intimacy she felt with the other woman. They hardly knew each other. She didn't know what kind of friendship their contact would lead to, but she didn't want to push it too hard to begin with. She'd rather take it slow - but not too slow, so that she wouldn't lose Barbara as a friend, as she had with so many other people coming in to her life; people who couldn't take her attitude or her constant need for control.
"What about Wade?" she asked softly. "What did he say?"
Barbara lowered her face, a little embarrassed. "I don't know. I didn't stay to hear him... As a matter of fact, I left and I haven't answered his calls."
"You know", Kate said carefully. "You're dating him, not his parents..."
Barbara smiled wryly. "I know. I guess I panicked." She looked up at Kate. "Not that I'm not glad to see you again so soon, but why are you here?"
"I don't know. Reese wanted to speak to you."
"Oh, he brought food. You better eat, before it goes cold..."
Kate smiled. "I will. I just wanted to check on you..."
"Thank you", Barbara said, smiling gently. There was that tender look again in her eyes and Kate felt a slow flowing heat coursing through her body. She lowered her eyes and nodded, reluctantly letting go of Barbara's hand. Fleetingly she wondered if there would be a day when she dared hold on to Barbara, giving in completely to the warmth of the other woman's touch.
Later that night - when she and Reese stood freezing beneath a tall building not far from the Clock Tower, waiting for Reese's contacts from the meta-human world - Kate found herself thinking of Barbara and of the people surrounding her.
"What does John do?" she asked, glancing at the lights of the Clock Tower. She wondered if Barbara had talked to Wade yet.
"Not much. He used to work with the bureau, but he got the sack."
"Yeah - he was chasing a serial killer and killed him. There were some questions in regards to the killing and instead of starting an investigation John had to go. I think it was his choice. He had a girlfriend at the time, but she left him when he was fired."
"Women are fickle", she said in a tone of voice that made him laugh.
"That's exactly what he said! He's a good man, but he hides it beneath this show-off attitude." Reese grimaced. "I have problems with men like that."
"Me too", Kate admitted. "Barbara doesn't seem to mind", she added.
"She knows him well."
"And Dinah's mother? What does she do?"
Reese seemed to hesitate. "She's a business woman. She owns a chain of flower shops across the country."
"And a bar..." Kate added dryly, making Reese arch an eyebrow at her.
"Dinah told you?" he asked and then nodded. "Yes." He frowned. "There are some rumors", he said.
"About Dinah's mother. That she was a spy once..." Reese looked at her and shrugged. "I don't know if they are true, but I never figured why she couldn't take care of her daughter."
Kate shook her head, not knowing what to say. New Gotham seemed to be the place for strange people, much like L.A. She glanced at her wristwatch. "And who are we waiting for?"
"That would be me", a voice said behind her and she swirled around, reaching for her gun.
"Easy", Reese said, putting a hand on her arm and lowering the hand holding a gun.
Kate didn't like being taken by surprise. Angel had always done that to her; stealing up on her without her noticing. It must be some kind of vigilante trick they had going.
She reluctantly holstered her gun and watched the woman in front of her. Batgirl, she thought when she noticed the outfit. This was a real superhero type - not like Angel in his dark trench coat, showing his face for everyone to see. The woman in front of her was half hidden in shadows, but she wore a tight dress in black, or maybe dark blue, and yellow. She wore a mask to cover her face, but when she silently moved forward Kate got the distinct feeling she knew the woman. If someone had asked her she wouldn't be able to say what she found familiar with the stranger in front of her, except for something in her movements and in the shape of her body. Maybe someone at the force, she thought distractedly. She had met some women at the police station that day, maybe this was one of them in disguise.
"This is Kate", Reese said, indicating her with a small gesture of his hand. "She's my new partner."
"So I've heard", the dark voice said. Eyes hidden behind a dark mask studied Kate's face. A strong chin showing, with a determined set to the jaw, and full lips.
"So - how does this work?" Kate asked, narrowing her eyes. "We inform you about our difficulties in solving a crime due to some... unexplained clues. You do some research and solve the case by beating up some bad guys?"
The masked woman in front of her didn't answer at first. Her silence again reminded Kate of someone; it nagged her that she couldn't remember who.
"Usually that's the way it works", Batgirl finally said, completely straight-faced.
I should've seen that one coming, Kate thought dryly. "Fine. Let's get on with it then", she said.
"Except", Batgirl went on, "most of the time I already have all the facts. And most of the time I'm already on the case. The only reason I need you - is to nail the bad guys."
"What you got on this one?" Reese asked in a formal tone of voice. Kate glanced at him.
"It might interest you that the victim was a mathematical genius..."
"Why would he need a temporary job as an assistant accountant in that case?" Kate asked with a frown. "He was young enough to still be studying at the university..."
"He didn't", Batgirl said. "Need a temporary job, I mean. Listen - the victim you found, his real name is Kevin Schaeffer. He used his room mates name to get the job at the City Hall. This guy, Kevin, has no connection at all to the mayor's friend."
"How do you...? And why didn't we...?" Kate looked from Batgirl to Reese.
"The wonders of corruption", Reese said with a sigh. "Someone wants to cover something up. My guess is that by tomorrow afternoon we will get a full report on Kevin Schaeffer. But by then the trace will be cold..."
"But why? What is there to cover up?" Kate frowned. "And who is Kevin Schaeffer and why would he... infiltrate the City Hall?"
"I know that name..." Reese said.
"You should. Kevin's father, Chris Schaeffer, was caught for the murder of mayor Pullman four years ago", Batgirl said.
"The previous mayor?" Kate glanced at Reese. "You didn't mention this earlier today..."
"Not the previous mayor - the one before him", Batgirl corrected in her deep voice. "He was shot", she added. "Chris Schaeffer was caught and sentenced to twenty years behind bars..."
"He died after two month", Reese said grimly. "He was killed by a fellow convict in what was deemed an 'accidental fight'." He shrugged. "No one thought much of it - deaths like that happens all the time."
"Except Chris Schaeffer pleaded innocent right to the end. He had got himself a new lawyer who probably dug a little too deep in the mud..." Batgirl exchanged a glance with Reese. "There wasn't anything anyone could do. Schaeffer died and that was that."
"But we always felt the real killer probably went free", Reese added, looking at Kate. Something in his expression made her take a guess.
"You believe there's a conspiracy behind the mayor's death?"
"Pullman was hard on several issues in this city", Batgirl said. "Including corruption in the police force. And he wanted to close down Arkham Asylum", she added, looking pointedly at Reese, who shook his head.
"I don't believe those rumors."
"Whatever", Batgirl said. "But remember - mayor Quinzel is dangerously involved in this murder. It wouldn't surprise me if she has something to do with it."
"She is not a criminal", Reese objected strongly and Kate again narrowed her eyes at Batgirl.
"You believe the mayor is corrupt?" she asked.
Batgirl nodded, still holding Reese's look. "We've suspected her for years. Huntress was Quinzel's client when the woman was still working as a psychologist and she was worse off because of it..."
"It wasn't Dr. Quinzel's fault. Troubled minds are troubled minds", Reese said, almost gritting his teeth. "This idea of yours, that Harleen Quinzel is the mastermind behind all criminal activity in New Gotham, is... is simply ridicules!"
"This seems to be an old argument", Kate said, interfering smoothly. "Could we concentrate on our dead guy? There's obviously a link to the past here." She looked at Batgirl. "Anything else you'd like to volunteer? Maybe you could tell us how the cause of death could be drowning, when he was on dry land?"
"Slick", Batgirl said.
"His name is Slick. He's a meta-human with the ability to turn to liquid. We've been chasing him for awhile, but he's as slippery as..." - Batgirl shrugged - "water - slipping through our fingers."
"Told you", Reese said, glancing at Kate.
"Fine", she said. "If there's a connection to the mayor I'll find it. I've come across highly esteemed individuals and organizations before whose front is only a cover to hide their true evil." The prestigious law firm Wolfram&Hart came to mind; she still shivered, thinking of them. "Our victim, Kevin, probably was on to something connected to his father's imprisonment and... death." She looked back at Reese. "We need immediate access to his computers and to his office..."
"Dream on", Reese said with a sigh. "By the time we've got a warrant everything would have been covered up. There's no chance we could get to his apartment and his office before everything is gone..."
"Yes, there is", Batgirl said. "My friends and I are not bound by police rules. I've had people working on it since I found out his real identity. Don't worry. If we find anything we'll let you know."
Reese's beeper suddenly went off and both he and Kate turned to look at it. When Kate looked up again Batgirl was gone, just as silently as she had arrived.
Two weeks had past since Kate Lockley arrived in New Gotham. Barbara had spent time with her almost every day since then - either as Barbara Gordon, the wheelchair bound librarian, or as Batgirl, the night-crusading vigilante.
She realized she must be careful when dealing with Kate as Batgirl. The female cop usually stared at her with a sharp, penetrating look as if trying to figure out who was hiding behind the mask and Barbara felt that if given time and opportunity Kate would indeed guess her secret identity. It unnerved her a little. Reese hadn't figured it out and she had to tell him the truth in the end. And Wade...
Wade had met Batgirl on several occasions. She had saved his life once on a dark, cold night when he was being robbed at gunpoint. After meeting Kate and since the fiasco at Wade's parent's house Barbara had made a point to check in on Wade dressed as Batgirl, just to see if he would recognize her. Apparently he hadn't.
Barbara stepped out of the secret elevator - leading from behind a large mirror beneath the stair to Batgirl's headquarters at the top of the Clock Tower - and walked towards the enormous computer system in the middle of the room: Delphi, her watchdog, keeping an eye on Gotham City when she wasn't around to do it herself. She pressed some buttons and the large screens above her head zoomed in on Dinah, dressed in white and light blue clothes, covering her face behind a white mask.
Barbara was dressed in Batgirl's outfit, holding the mask in her hand. It was dark outside the Clock Tower and somewhere in town a trap had been set for Slick. She had found out his real name and his address - Silas Waters; a fitting name for a guy who could turn himself into liquid, drowning people on dry land.
Reese and Kate had been sent to check out his address, not knowing that Dinah and Darkstrike - AKA John - was tailing them.
There was a beeping sound coming from the microphone on the desk before her; she bent forward and pressed a button. "Yes, Alfred?" she said.
"Mr. Brixton is here", the older man said through the speaker. "Do you want to speak with him?"
"Not now, Alfred", she said, hiding a sigh. "Tell him to come back another time."
"Miss Barbara", Alfred said and she could hear he wanted to object.
"Alfred", she warned. "Not now."
"Very well, Miss Barbara", he said, almost huffing. She turned off the speaker and glanced at the screen above her.
Wade. She had hardly seen him the last two weeks. They had talked about his parent's opinion of her and he had apologized for them, saying that he didn't care what they thought. "If I have to choose, I definitely choose you", he had said, but she wasn't reassured. What would he think when he found out she actually wasn't crippled at all, but could walk? What would he say when he found out she had a secret identity and had been hiding it from him? He had once said he wanted to take care of her and some part of her still wondered what he had meant by that; if he wanted to care for her because he actually loved her, or because he thought her incapable of caring for herself?
She had asked Wade to put a hold on their relationship until she had thought things through. He had been devastated, trying to change her mind, but she hadn't budged. The reason was she knew that if she went ahead with their relationship she must make a decision to tell him the truth - and she just didn't want to do that. Not because she was afraid of his reaction, but because she didn't feel the need to tell him. She had no urge to share her secret life with him, which was odd considering she was in an intimate relationship with him - she was supposed to want to share her most private and personal life with him.
What was even stranger was that every time she saw Kate she wanted to tell her the truth.
Her friendship with Kate had evolved in an unusually quick time during the last two weeks. Despite her friendly demeanor Barbara wasn't someone who easily trusted other people or readily let them into her life, but there was something about Kate that shattered her defenses. Maybe it was the vulnerability she felt below the surface of the other woman; the tenderness Kate's sadness kindled within her.
Kate would visit her almost every day and they would talk about many things, or sit in silence and watch the stars from the garden. Kate had told her she always felt strangely sad watching the stars. Barbara had told her she felt quite the opposite. "They are the lights in the dark - the sparkling hope that gives me the strength to keep going when everything else... is dark as night."
She hadn't pressed Kate about her past, but instead talked about her own difficulties: her complex relationship with her father, James Gordon; her grief when she lost Helena and her struggle to find a way back to life when she had been shot and doomed to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
Or at least, that was what the doctors had told her: that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, but she had beaten the odds. Hard, physical work and an iron will had rewarded her, giving her a second chance. It had taken her almost two years to get back on her feet - literally, but she had done it. And then Helena had died.
When she talked to Kate there were some things she had to leave out, but it didn't mar the truth of her stories. Kate was such a careful woman; she didn't open up easily and Barbara had been prepared to be patient and to wait for Kate to talk to her, but the other woman had surprised her one night, opening up and telling her about her past.
Kate had told her about the death of her father. She had talked for hours, sharing painful and sad memories about her attempt to win her father's affection and approval - his respect; about his death and about her own guilt. She had talked about the strange things happening in Los Angeles, without giving any details about what she had encountered - only mentioning that it had involved mysterious individuals - and about her being fired. She talked in an even, measured voice, while silent tears streamed down her cheeks as she looked out the windows of the living room.
When Kate had told her about the night when she almost died - or did die, she was fuzzy about the details - Barbara had wanted to rise from the chair and walk over to her, to dry her tears and whisper soothing words in her ear. She hadn't moved, but the wheelchair had rolled slightly towards Kate in response to her thoughts, before she caught herself and stopped it.
"I'm sorry", Kate had said when she was finished. "I didn't mean to ruin your evening. I'm sure you had other things planned..."
Barbara had thought of Wade then, softly shaking her head. "Actually I didn't", she had said and then insisted Kate should spend the night at her place. The other woman had found an apartment not far from the Clock Tower, but the place was being renovated and wasn't really fit to live in. Kate had refused to stay to begin with, but Barbara insisted and won the ensuing discussion. Kate stayed the night and slept in the guestroom on the second floor - next to Barbara's own bedroom.
Kate had seemed more relaxed and less sad since then; she smiled more often and even laughed aloud more than once in an evening.
Barbara had come to look forward to their daily encounters since the first day. She hadn't realized how much she missed a female friend since the loss of Helena five years ago. Dinah's mother came to visit every now and then and it was always pleasant spending time with Carolyn Lance, but it wasn't the same. Kate... was different.
She had also begun to understand something else... A frightening realization she couldn't deny - even if she wanted to - had begun to dawn on her. She had been blind when it came to Helena, realizing the truth about her own feelings far too late. Too late to change anything or do anything about it. With Kate...
She feared she was falling in love with the other woman. She feared she had fallen in love with her already.
"Barbara..." Dinah suddenly said in her ear, through the almost microscopic transceiver in her earrings, interrupting her thoughts.
Something was happening on the screen and in the same moment Barbara realized that the beeper connected to the ring Batgirl had given Kate began to beep.
"I'm on my way", Barbara said, putting on her mask and turning from Delphi. On her way she picked up a weapon that looked a lot like a machine gun. "You have your flame-thrower?"
"I do", Dinah stated.
"Fine. Be careful."
Barbara left the Clock Tower and raced through the night with the weapon in her hand, swinging herself from building to building using her special made wires that allowed her to practically fly through the air.
She reached her destination less than ten minutes after her dialogue with Dinah and saw that the girl was engaged in a close battle with a shimmering wave of water trying to reach her. Darkstrike, in his black clothes and with the dark mask covering his face, was engaged in another fight with an unknown, nondescript foe; it looked to be a woman. Close by Reese and Kate tried to get close enough to Darkstrike's opponent to take a shot at her, but Darkstrike was in the way.
Barbara watched Kate's lithe shape move around in the shadows. The blonde cop had made quite a reputation since she joined New Gotham's police force only two weeks ago. She had already won the hearts of the common citizen's of the city through several television appearances, where she stated that she worked closely with Batgirl and that she would do anything to stop the corruption in Gotham City. Doing this she had also made a lot of enemies.
To begin with Barbara had thought Kate reckless and maybe desperate, but then she had come to realize Kate Lockley knew exactly what she was doing: she was using herself as bait. It was a dangerous game she was playing and Barbara didn't know what to think of it or how to react. Helena... hadn't been very different. Except Helena had been angry and hurt and reckless. She had also been meta-human and had been able to take care of herself in a fight with other meta-humans. Kate was an ordinary human and as such much more vulnerable to criminals like Slick, and maybe the figure Darkstrike was fighting.
But Helena had died, despite her abilities. Barbara wasn't going to see another woman she cared for die before her eyes. She threw one of her batarangs with exceptional skill; it flew through the air and hit Darkstrike's opponent in the arm. The fighter reacted immediately with surprising speed; she swirled around and ran off, disappearing in the shadows.
"Darkstrike!" Barbara called and hurled the weapon she had brought from the Clock Tower through the air. "Help her!"
Darkstrike caught the flame-thrower and directed it at Slick. Attacked from two sources the meta-human's resistance began crumbling. Water turned to steam, turning to solid shape.
"Batgirl!" Dinah called in the intercom. "The woman Darkstrike was fighting - she's the one who killed Huntress! I saw it! In a vision..."
Barbara remembered the night. She remembered the face of the woman who had killed Batman's daughter. She even knew her name: Lady Shiva. The woman had been gone from New Gotham for five years, disappeared without a trace. She was an assassin, one of the best. That she was in Gotham must mean something...
"Kate!" Barbara suddenly called, noticing a movement out of the corner of her eye. She hurled herself from the top of the building, seeing the movement becoming clearer as she fell.
Kate turned around and raised her gun.
Two gunshots echoed at the same time. Barbara didn't know what happened to the first, but the other took her in the shoulder as she fell against Kate Lockley and saved her life.
Kate had worked intensely for two weeks with the investigation into the murder of Kevin Schaeffer. The leads, based on information she and Reese had received from Batgirl - information extracted from Kevin's hand-written notes and from files on his computer - had to Reese's dismay pointed in mayor Quinzel's direction. He wasn't happy about it and initially refused to accept the direction in which the investigation was going. It wasn't until Kate reminded him of their conversation in the car, on her first day of the investigation, that he grudgingly accepted that Dr. Harleen Quinzel might have something to do with Kevin's murder.
"My gut tells me she is involved", Kate had told him and he huffed, but gave in and reluctantly admitted he had to trust her instinct.
Except for their disagreement in regards to the mayor they worked well together. They had their clashes, but they were mostly on the same wave length and their arguments brought them closer to unexpected solutions and answers than causing a rift between them as partners. She enjoyed working with Reese.
Then there was Batgirl.
The female vigilante often turned up out of nowhere, much like Angel had - but she didn't lurk around as much in the shadows. She was graceful and powerful in her movements; her mind was sharp and there was a no-nonsense attitude about her that Kate appreciated. Batgirl was more open than Angel had been - easier to talk to and to discuss clues and questions about the case with. Kate found her knowledgeable and had come to realize she trusted the unknown woman; it was a surprise, as she had been wary about Angel to begin with. Maybe it was the familiarity she felt with the other woman that made it easier to rely on her - wherever that sense of familiarity had its origin.
Kate constantly tried to pin down exactly what characteristics in Batgirl she recognized. She was sure she had met the other woman in another setting, but she couldn't figure out when or where, or in what situation. It vexed her.
When her mind wasn't occupied with the case or Batgirl, Kate found herself thinking more and more of Barbara. The redhead librarian was a constant source of surprise and pleasure for her and she wasn't sure what to think of that. All she knew was that she was immensely grateful for meeting the other woman. Barbara had brought a new meaning into her life, even if she maybe wasn't aware of it. Kate had been a loner most of her life, not always by choice, and to befriend someone like Barbara was a frightening experience for her. But also, on some deep, inner level, a relief. She wasn't alone anymore and it was as scary as it was exhilarating.
She had made some new friends at the department, to her own surprise. Some of them, and even other people in the force - or people she met when she occasionally went out to take a drink with Reese - pointed out to her how hard she was. "You need to loosen up, to relax... You're so cold..." they said. She'd heard it all her life. To begin with it had hurt her, but in the end she had just given up trying to show them another side of herself. If they didn't see her true self, why would she bother to befriend them? Besides, maybe that was who she was: cold and hard, isolated and bossy.
But Barbara didn't see her that way. Barbara... had seen the real her. She noticed the fear Kate tried to hide, the loneliness she hadn't known was there and the sadness she couldn't shake. And she didn't push Kate; she didn't demand anything in return that Kate wasn't ready to give, at the same time she also showed she would be there and listen if and when Kate needed a friend.
It had been difficult: coming to terms with, that she actually needed Barbara in her life and to slowly open up to the other woman. It had felt as if she flexed that untrained muscle again; straining it, but also strengthening it. It had hurt like hell, but she had done it. And now she felt more self-assured in Barbara's company. She could hold the other woman's hand without feeling awkward about it. Sometimes they could sit like that, holding hands - as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And lately it had been Barbara who pulled away, lowering her face and averting her eyes almost shyly. Kate hadn't figured what that was about yet, but she always felt an unexpected thud in her chest - her heart beating irregularly for a moment - when it happened; a thud bringing an almost painful pleasure, filling her with excitement, fear and the same longing she felt when watching the full moon and the stars at night. It made her feel strangely vulnerable and confident at the same time, a mixture of emotions that confused her.
That night when she and Reese went to check out the meta-human Slick's address she had a bad feeling about the whole thing. She told Reese so and he agreed.
"Only a quick look around", he said and she nodded, loosening her gun.
They had just stepped out of the car in a dark alley when they were attacked by some liquid force, pushing them against the car. Don't breathe! she thought, almost panicking. Don't open your fucking mouth! her mind screamed at her and she tried desperately to avoid the powerful force pushing against her face.
In the next moment she could breathe again. She inhaled sharply and painfully, hearing Reese doing the same by her side. The liquid force had turned to another target, cornering a slight woman in white clothes.
"Take this, you bastard!" the slender woman yelled and directed a pipe-like weapon at the shimmering mass of liquid. In the next moment a burning flame shot out from the weapon in her hands and caused the liquid to fall apart in a splash. It soon rose again, a different shape and color, and threw itself against the young woman in white.
Kate lifted her gun, but realized it wouldn't be of any use and lowered it again. In the next moment a shadow fell behind her and when she turned around a woman in black pointed a gun at her. She reacted on pure instinct and threw herself to one side. A bullet passed her and missed her by a fraction.
"She's mine!" a voice called out from above and in the next instant a dark-clad man she'd only heard of before fell down on the woman in black.
"Darkstrike!" Reese called out.
"I've got her!" the vigilante called and in the next moment he was engaged in a heavy martial-art's battle with the woman.
Kate backed off a few steps, trying to gauge the situation. Powergirl, the young woman in white - Kate had never met her either, but she had heard of her - was still busy with Slick's slippery figure, but the flames seemed to be affecting him and slowing him down.
Kate raised her gun, trying to get to the woman Darkstrike was fighting, but she couldn't get a clear shot and she didn't dare risk hitting the vigilante. She would have to wait and be prepared for any eventualities.
"Look!" Reese pointed to the rooftops.
Kate turned to look and in the same moment something flew past her, hitting the woman in black on the arm. The woman made a small sound, bent down to pick up her previously discarded gun and then sprinted away from Darkstrike. She soon disappeared in the shadows of a tall building in the background.
Kate noticed Batgirl on the opposite rooftop and felt a by then familiar thud in her chest, similar to the one she felt seeing Barbara. The thought pulled at something within her and she almost, almost reached the answer for which she had been searching when the woman on the roof threw another long gun to Darkstrike. Darkstrike's move as he went to catch the gun shattered Kate's thoughts and she lost concentration for a moment, feeling a little disorientated.
Then everything happened so quickly she didn't have time to think.
When she turned to look at Darkstrike helping Powergirl blast the last liquid out of Slick, she noticed a sudden movement in the shadows behind them.
"Look out!" she heard someone call in from behind as she pulled her gun and took aim. She knew she was going to die. She knew it as sure as if some higher being had come down from heaven to tell her.
She could see the fire blazing from the gun pointed at her and only waited to feel the impact. She made sure to shoot before the bullet hit her.
Although - the bullet never did.
Batgirl threw herself in the line of fire and in the next moment Kate was lying on the ground with the female vigilante on top of her. She could see Batgirl's eyes looking into hers, seeing fear, relief and affection in deep, surprisingly green eyes.
I know those eyes, she thought in wonder. I know those eyes... She inhaled slowly, realizing the truth about so many things in that moment.
She didn't have any time to reflect upon them.
"Batgirl!" Powergirl cried in the background, with fear in her voice.
"I'm fine", Batgirl said, rolling over and away from Kate; her left arm hanging limp at her side. "The bullet hit my shoulder."
"Thank God", Powergirl said.
"Where's...?" Batgirl looked around.
"Darkstrike went after the other villain", Reese said, coming up to her. There was a worried look in his eyes. "Are you sure you are alright?"
Kate slowly rose to her feet. "You saved my life", she said, not taking her eyes from Batgirl; she could see the hole in the woman's outfit where the bullet had gone through. The hole and the blood. Batgirl turned around to look at her, but didn't answer - instead she turned back to Reese.
"My shoulder needs taking care of", she said, "but I'll live."
Kate noticed the unconscious, dark haired man behind Dinah and took a closer look at him.
"He won't be any more trouble", Powergirl said, glancing at her. "I've given him an injection that'll prevent his meta-human DNA from... doing what he was doing. Batgirl's invention", she added.
Kate nodded. "I know him", she said. "I mean... I recognize him. He was waiting by central station that day when the bus arrived." She frowned. "I wonder if he was waiting for me."
"Not entirely implausible", Batgirl said. "Look", she added, nodding in the direction of Darkstrike in the shadows. The male vigilante brought a limp body with him and dumped it in front of them.
"You struck gold", he said, looking at Kate and indicating the dead body. "She's as dead as a smashed mosquito."
"It's her", Batgirl suddenly said in a grim voice Kate didn't recognize.
Darkstrike looked at her with a sudden movement. "What do you mean?"
"It's Lady Shiva. She's the one who..."
"She killed Huntress", Powergirl said in a low voice when Batgirl silenced.
Huntress... Kate had heard the name before. She also remembered something from her second day in New Gotham; a lunch hour spent at the graveyard and an inscription...
Batgirl turned away, grabbing her left shoulder. "I need to get this taken care of", she said, still in that grim voice Kate found difficult connecting to her.
"We'll clean up the mess", Reese said, nodding at Kate. She nodded back, hearing the police sirens in the background.
"She's an assassin", Batgirl added, glancing back at Kate. "If she's here it's because someone hired her to get rid of someone." She paused. "I guess we all know who, by now."
Kate held her eyes. "You saved my life", she said again. I know those eyes...
Batgirl shrugged a little. "It's my job", she said, before she disappeared in the shadows, followed by her two fellow vigilantes.
"It's my job." The words stung and she couldn't say why. What had she expected? It was Batgirl's calling - saving people's life.
She looked up at the Clock Tower, still not moving towards the entrance to press the doorbell. It was late, but she could still see lights on in Barbara's home.
I know those eyes...
She and Reese had caught the bad guys and given a statement; Lady Shiva had been brought to the morgue and Slick had been taken to Arkham Asylum. Apparently Arkham was the only place equipped to deal with meta-human criminals. It also turned out Silas Waters once had been a patient of Dr. Harleen Quinzel - another connection to the prominent mayoress Reese wasn't so happy about.
The murder of Kevin Schaeffer had been solved, but in Kate's mind it had only awakened more questions. The Commissioner would make up a plausible story about Slick and Lady Shiva and the reason why Kevin was murdered - and then he would close the case. Reese had fretted about it, but she had learned her lessons: if she wanted to catch the truly bad guys she needed to be patient. As patient and sneaky as the one planning the whole thing. And she would, but right now she had other things on her mind.
Kate had been home to her newly acquired apartment atop of the Dark Horse bar, where she had taken a shower and changed clothes. She had considered waiting to the morning to talk to Barbara, but when looking out the window and seeing the Clock Tower rising against the night sky she knew she wouldn't get much sleep.
That was why she found herself at the front of the Clock Tower, trying to find some courage to ring the bell.
While she stood there, indecisively trying to find the words to start the conversation she knew she must have with Barbara, the front door opened.
Kate held her breath, but it was only Alfred standing in the doorway.
"Miss Kate", he said in his British accent. "I've noticed you standing staring at us for quite awhile now. Would you care to come in?"
Kate hesitated. "Is she awake, Alfred?"
The butler sniffed a little. "She's awake", he said. "Miss Dinah's gone to bed, but Miss Barbara is awake. She's her stubborn self, as usual."
Kate hid a smile.
"Come in", Alfred said and stepped aside.
"You've had an argument again?" Kate asked amused.
"She doesn't take care of herself properly", he said as he closed the door and locked it.
"And you know best, of course..."
"Of course", he said, straightening and sounding humble and proud at the same time. Kate smiled and shook her head.
"She's lucky, having you", she said thoughtfully.
"I'm lucky, having her", he said softly and she glanced up at him, surprised. He winked at her. "Of course, she's not much more than a big teenager."
It made her laugh.
Alfred showed her to the kitchen, where Barbara was sitting in her wheelchair with her back towards the doorway. It was dark in the kitchen; only one small lamp illumined the room, throwing its soft, warm light about the walls. Barbara sat by the closed terrace door, looking out at the garden. A glass of white wine stood on a low table close to her.
"Miss Barbara", Alfred said.
"Alfred, I'm not discussing it anymore. Leave me alone..."
Alfred cleared his throat. "You have a visitor..."
Barbara turned her head suddenly alert. When she noticed Kate she seemed to relax.
"Oh, it's you", she said. Kate didn't know what to make of her remark.
"I'll leave you to it", Alfred said with a slight bow. "I'm going to bed now, Miss Barbara. We'll talk more tomorrow..."
Barbara sighed, probably realizing she couldn't escape the discussion she'd obviously been having with her old friend. "Good night, Alfred", she said, turning the wheelchair around.
"I can leave, if I've come at an inconvenient time..." Kate said.
"Oh, no - not at all! I thought you were Wade. Please, stay. Would you like some wine? There's some in the bottle over there..."
Kate glanced at the bottle on the counter in the middle of the room, but then realized Barbara was trying to distract her. The other woman fumbled with the upper buttons in her green silk shirt. Kate moved towards her, noticing the bandage beneath the shirt - covering Barbara's left shoulder.
"Wait", Kate said in a soft, low spoken voice and reached forward. I know those eyes... She took Barbara's hands in hers and removed them from the shirt. Without taking her eyes off the almost covered up bandage she began unbuttoning the shirt. Barbara didn't move and she seemed to hold her breath.
Kate gently removed the shirt from Barbara's shoulders, letting the soft, silky material slide off her bare skin.
Barbara didn't wear a bra; probably due to the bandage around her left shoulder. Kate didn't expose her breasts, though. She held the shirt together in front of Barbara's chest, noticing bare skin gleaming in the soft light. Shadows danced across naked shoulders looking smooth and soft to the touch.
"It is you", she whispered. "You saved my life..."
"It wasn't only a job..." Barbara said, a little hoarsely. Maybe it was because her voice trembled a little, or because of the soft intake of breath Kate had heard when her fingers accidentally brushed Barbara's naked skin before - or maybe because Barbara's lips parted and glistened in the vague light from behind Kate, tempting her... Kate didn't know, but she bent forward on more than instinct to kiss Barbara. She let go of the shirt to touch Barbara's soft skin with hesitant, trembling fingers. Her mouth seemed to have a life of its own; caressing Barbara's yielding lips and craving more with each, timid touch.
She wasn't sure what to expect; she hadn't planned to kiss Barbara - although the thought, the wish to do it, had been with her since she recognized Barbara's eyes behind Batgirl's mask - and the act was as much a surprise to her as it must be to Barbara. But Barbara's hands reached for her and seized her by the neck, pulling her even closer - making their lips press against each other harder and more urgently than before.
Kate parted her lips and felt the warmth and the wetness of the other woman's tongue in her mouth, gently touching - asking for permission to enter. Kate had no second thoughts as she let her tongue slid in between Barbara's lips to catch Barbara's, feeling only warmth and tenderness.
Suddenly, to Kate's surprise - although she should have expected it - Barbara rose from her wheelchair. Something in Kate's manner must have alerted Barbara, because she pulled slightly away, looking at Kate.
"Do you mind?" she asked.
Kate wasn't sure what she should mind, but she shook her head. "Not at all", she said. Her hands encircled Barbara's waist and pulled them closer to each other again. Barbara's mouth found hers as willingly as before and Kate was lost in the overwhelming softness of the other woman's lips.
She had never kissed a woman before. She knew she maybe ought to feel some queasiness or doubt about it, wondering what the hell she was doing, but she didn't. It felt as natural kissing Barbara as it had holding her hands. Everything with Barbara felt good and natural, as if meeting her was meant to be. All thoughts of Angel, of her father and of her suicidal attempt were gone - the only thing that mattered was the woman in her arms.
Barbara's hands caressed her neck, her jaw line, touched her cheeks as they kissed and then slid down her back, her thighs, pulling her closer.
Coming to the Clock Tower that night Kate had had a thousand questions, but when kissing Barbara none of that mattered. The other woman had the softest lips, the most tender touch... Her body was firm, but soft and yielding at the same time - Kate wanted to feel all of it; wanting to caress Barbara's naked skin with craving fingers.
"You make me all dizzy", Barbara mumbled and leaned her forehead against the side of Kate's neck.
"I believe that's what you do to me", Kate said in a low voice.
"You are a good kisser", Barbara said sincerely, looking at her.
Kate felt a slight blush on her cheeks. She was going to return the compliment when they heard the doorbell.
"Oh, I believe I should get that", Barbara said with a disappointed look in her eyes. Then she remembered her open shirt and blushed, looking down at her exposed chest.
"I'll get it", Kate said. "It's the least I can do for..." She gestured towards Barbara's bare skin.
"Thank you", Barbara said with a gentle smile, buttoning up her shirt.
Kate left the kitchen, feeling eerily out of place - as if she was dreaming or sleepwalking, aware that she was sleepwalking without the ability to control her own body.
I kissed Barbara... The thought stuck with her and she repeated it like a mantra when she went to open the door.
"Oh, hi Kate", Wade said, standing outside the door with his arms full of red roses and looking slightly surprised at seeing her.
"Wade", she said evenly. "Come in."
She suddenly felt numb and strangely disconnected, in a more negative way than before - as if the dark abyss always lurking behind her finally had risen to engulf her.
She walked Wade to the kitchen, seeing Barbara in her wheelchair before the high windows.
"Wade", the redhead woman said and Kate couldn't read anything in her face, or in her eyes.
"We need to talk", Wade said, putting the flowers on the counter beside the wine bottle. He seemed to have forgotten all about Kate.
Barbara frowned a little, but she nodded. "We do", she said, glancing at Kate. The green shirt was buttoned up to the throat, hiding every trace of a bandage. "Call me tomorrow, Kate", she said neutrally. "I want to talk to you, too."
Kate nodded. Some part of her wanted to make a scene, but she wouldn't know what to do - so she left. When she closed the door behind her, looking up at the stars in the bright night, she realized she should have told Barbara what that kiss had meant to her. Now she feared that, if Barbara made up with Wade again, it would be too late.
Barbara didn't hear anything from Kate for two days, so Saturday morning - almost exactly three weeks after their first meeting - she made her way to the Dark Horse. She didn't enter the bar, which was closed so early in the morning, and entered Kate's apartment from the back of the bar
The entrance was placed behind high, wooden fences in a private backyard belonging to the apartment. Once the backyard had consisted of concrete and moulding wood, but someone had turned it into a garden. There was grass and blossoming flowers along the wooden fence, and a few taller bushes, but also a stone path leading from the entrance to the door of the building. Barbara had no trouble using her wheelchair on the path, wheeling up to the locked door. She still had a key, after five years - and the lock hadn't been changed since...
The door swung open, revealing a hallway, an elevator and a stone stair leading to the second floor, where the actual apartment was.
It was ironic, Barbara thought, how life twisted and turned itself in circles. It had been five years since she last visited this place. It had been Helena who made it handicap-friendly, removing the two steps leading to the front door, removing the high doorstep and installing the elevator - then she billed her father for the changes.
Bruce had arranged for Helena to live in the flat in the Clock Tower, but she had refused to let him pay for anything that concerned her private life. The two of them had been in constant battles, from the day they realized they were father and daughter until the day Helena was killed. Barbara knew it had pained them both, but both of them had been too willful, too proud and too hurt by other people and life to trust anyone. They had been too alike too ever reconcile and Barbara had stood between them, smoothing out the blows they'd directed at each other. It had been tough, but she knew - at the end, before Helena died - that they had seemed to come to some understanding.
Then there had been Helena's recklessness, which Barbara hadn't fully understood until the night Huntress died in her arms.
She opened the elevator door and wheeled in, pressing one of the only two buttons on the display. The elevator moved upwards.
Helena had lived in the flat Kate now occupied. Life knew how to turn full circle, Barbara thought as she wheeled out of the elevator and rose from the wheelchair. She left the wheelchair behind her and walked towards the front door to Kate's apartment. She pressed the door bell, but there was no sound. Then she knocked, but there was no answer. Finally she pressed down the handle and the door opened without a noise.
She wasn't sure what to expect. Some parts of her feared Kate had packed and left New Gotham in a hurry. If that was so she would never forgive herself. Sure, Wade had turned up at an inopportune time the other night, but she could have told Kate something, anything... She could have let her know... Let her know - what?
Barbara knew the apartment Kate rented very well. She entered the hall; to the left was the kitchen, straight ahead the bedroom and beneath a vault further to the right, past another almost circular hall, was the living room.
The place smelled of paint, of fresh wood and of fresh leather. In the kitchen there was a glass table and four chairs; the door to the bedroom was closed, but Barbara walked past the second hall and halted in the arched door to the living room. Kate was busy with stripping an armchair from its plastic wrapping, standing to her knees in carton and plastic bags. The living room contained a dark blue sofa, a low coffee table, empty bookshelves and a television still in its box was standing on a low wooden bench.
"Kate", Barbara said after a few moments, when she realized the blonde woman was so absorbed she didn't notice her presence.
Kate looked up. She didn't seem startled, but when she saw Barbara she straightened, staring at her.
Barbara smiled a little. "Yeah. I thought you figured I could, so why make a fuss..."
"Yes, of course. I mean..." Kate made a slight gesture with her hand. "I just didn't expect..." She looked around her with a small frown. "I'm trying to get some order in here. See? The Commissioner gave me a few days off. I thought I'd try to make this place livable."
Barbara nodded. "It surprised me to hear you found a place to live so quickly... and here." She looked around too, noticing - and remembering - the view from the apartment. "This is an attractive flat."
"I was lucky", Kate said. "I had some connections", she added and Barbara wondered what kind of connections she could have managed to form in such a short time in New Gotham, but she didn't ask. "I would offer you something to drink", Kate went on, "but I'm sorry to say I haven't got as far as filling the fridge yet. Or even the cupboard."
Barbara smiled. "It's fine", she said and moved into the room. Kate bent to collect the plastic and then pushed and shoved it out of the way, until the armchair was cleared.
"You're welcome to sit", she said, brushing off a few loose strands from the armchair.
"Thank you", Barbara said, but remained standing.
Kate sat down on the sofa. She seemed self assured, but there was a vulnerable look in her eyes. "So", she said, gesturing towards Barbara. "Where you ever... disabled?"
"Oh, God - yes!" Barbara said heartfelt. "It took me two years to regain my full strength", she explained, and finally sat down in the armchair. It stood facing the sofa and Kate's knees almost touched hers as she sat down. Kate didn't move. "I never told anyone I had regained feeling in my legs", Barbara went on. "I couldn't deal with sharing the disappointment if I would fail..."
"But you didn't fail..."
"No, I didn't. I live my life..." Barbara hesitated. "I never walk unless I'm sure to be completely alone... or unless I'm..."
"Batgirl", Kate said softly. "It's the perfect disguise, isn't it?"
Barbara nodded, feeling a soft pressure on her chest seeing the look in Kate's eyes. "I'm sorry", she said lowly. "I wanted to tell you the truth..."
"Me?" Kate blinked. "Why would you tell me? You hardly know me."
Barbara held her gaze. "Do you have to ask that?" she said softly. "After what happened the other night?"
Kate blushed and looked away. Barbara inhaled softly and rose from the armchair. She moved to the sofa, where she sat down beside Kate and took the other woman's hand in hers.
"What about Wade?" Kate asked, looking directly at her - almost challenging her. But she didn't pull her hand away.
"Wade's not... here. Wade never saw me behind the mask, not the way you did. Reese never suspected - I had to tell him. But you..." Barbara shook her head, still amazed at how easily Kate seemed to have looked past her secret identity. "How could you know?"
"It wasn't difficult", Kate said, with a slight tremor to her voice. "I knew... I know your eyes. I know everything about you..."
"I'm not with Wade anymore", Barbara said, knowing she had to clear the air. "It will take some time before he accepts my decision, but he will have to. I'm not changing my mind. It's not him I want. I want..." She hesitated. "It's you I want."
Helena had always been angry with her for analyzing too much. "You don't see the forest for the trees... missing what's right in front of you! You analyze everything to death - and still miss the point!"
Helena had been right. But not now, Barbara thought. Not this time... I'm not missing this. She wasn't going to let her second chance at happiness slip away.
Barbara lifted a hand and placed it on Kate's cheek. "Kate..." she said, softly.
Kate closed her eyes with a quiet sigh. "There are so many questions", she said.
"And there will be answers..."
Kate opened her eyes and looked searchingly into Barbara's. "And John and Dinah - what would they think?"
"Do you care what anyone thinks?" Barbara asked, still cupping Kate's cheek in her hand.
"No - no, I don't really..."
Barbara leaned forward.
"But what about work? I'm sure the mayor was behind Kevin's murder and Lady Shiva's attempt at killing me..."
"And we'll deal with her - together", Barbara said, touching her cheek softly to Kate's. She turned her head to caress the corner of Kate's mouth with her lips.
"Are you... sure about this?" Kate asked in a whisper, sliding her hand up to cradle Barbara's neck.
Barbara nodded. "More than anything else in my life", she said, and added: "Shut up now, woman - and kiss me..."
Kate blinked, before she laughed - a joyous, lovely laughter Barbara knew she would love to hear for the rest of her life - and then did just that.
~ ~ ~