rysler

FIC: The Wolf One Year Ago (Batgirl/Birds of Prey)

Sep. 1st, 2006 | 09:04 pm
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Title: The Wolf One Year Ago
Author: rysler
Date: September 1, 2006
Source: Birds of Prey, Batgirl, Green Arrow
Rating: R for Violence and Gore.
Notes: Major spoilers for Batgirl #73. General spoilers for Identity Crisis and Countdown. Takes place between Batgirl #73 and Birds of Prey #92. Alternate Universe.
Featured Characters: Black Canary (II), Lady Shiva, Cassandra Cain.

Summary: Black Canary and Cassandra Cain go on a quest to save Lady Shiva.

* * *
Author's Note: Selected Images from Batgirl
* * *

Metropolis, One Year Earlier

Helena looked down the barrel of the snub-nosed revolver. "Is that the same size as your penis?"

"Shut the fuck up, bitch."

"I'll take that as a yes."

Helena's crossbow lay inert on the sidewalk 15 meters away. Between her and her weapon were eight members of the Jack-O-Lantern street gang, circling her and closing in. She swallowed. Everyone hit a bad streak eventually.

"Oracle," she hissed under her breath. "Some backup would be nice."

Static greeted her ears.

"Oracle?"

"Hey, boys," a woman's voice came from down the street. "Why do her when you can have two for twice the price?"

Heads swiveled, all but the leader's, who kept his eyes on Helena. Smart, she thought. She'd have gutted him first. She didn't need to look. She knew the voice.

Backup.

"Metropolis is a nice city," the woman said. "Why you gotta muck it up busting someone's head on the sidewalk?"

Helena rolled her eyes.

The leader stared at Helena, and said, "Shark, Tarry, deal with that woman."

"Those aren't very jack-o-lantern names," Helena said.

"Yeah, well, there can only be one Ichabod Crane."

"Ichabod Crane was the victim, you know. Not the headless horseman."

"What are you, an English teacher?"

A thud sounded from down the street. Helena and the leader both looked toward it. Dinah waved.

Helena smiled.

The leader sighed.

"Maybe you should call it a night," Helena said.

"I've still got the gun."

"Yes, but I've got her."

"Yeah, all right. I got class in the morning, anyhow."

Helena shook her head as the remnants of the street gang ran to pick up their fallen comrades. "Go now, and do no harm."

Dinah wandered toward her, grinning. "Nice night."

"You spoiled my fun."

"Too much fun can cause indigestion."

Helena shrugged. Dinah, like herself, was in full costume for the night's escapades. Her hair, dyed its unnatural blonde, hung in limp, straight locks around her shoulders. She used to curl it to match the wig, but now without the Farrah Fawcett styling, the fishnets crisscrossing her bare legs were the sexist part of her ensemble.

"Are you saying we should pack it in early?" Helena asked.

Dinah's grin grew wider. "Nah." She looped her arm around Helena's elbow. "Let's take a stroll. It's such a lovely night."

"All aglow in the light of jack-o-lanterns."

"Technically, on the ground like that, they're luminaries."

They went down the street, in the direction Dinah had come from. Helena had to step over pools of freshly-spilt blood shining black under the streetlights.

* * *

Five Minutes Before

Barbara brought up Helena's grainy image on the ATM camera a block down from where Helena had encountered the gang. "There's a lot of them, Huntress. I'm going to text Canary your locatio--Wait, I'm getting another signal."

The interior of a warehouse flashed on the monitor. The image looked blurry and washed out, like it was being fed from a cell phone. Barbara leaned closer to the screen, trying to make out if it was really a pit of lava she was seeing. And something hanging above it.

Someone.

"Oh, god. Lady Shiva." Barbara touched the screen and the image zoomed in, becoming the large, pixelated outline of a woman. She recognized the costume, and the face, from surveillance videos and criminal databases. Dinah kept a picture of such a woman framed on her gymnasium wall. Lady Shiva, years earlier, smiling wolfishly with her arms around Dinah's shoulders at a dojo in Kyoto. Lady Shiva, now, hanging lifeless from an iron hook over a pool of fire. Barbara closed her eyes.

A breeze from the window touched Barbara's face.

She asked, "Bruce?"

"No."

Barbara closed her eyes. "Batgirl."

"You saw." Cassandra was at her shoulder, peering into the monitor. Barbara didn't ask her how she'd gotten through the window, just was grateful Cassandra had closed it behind herself.

"You did that?" Barbara asked.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"She... I..."

An alarm sounded. Barbara brought up a text box from Gotham.

- Unconfirmed reports of Lady Shiva's death. Can you confirm, Oracle?-

A second image appeared on her screen, in a box next to the first. The same image, duplicated, ported from the Bat Cave in Gotham to her terminal in Metropolis. So there was a live feed out there of Lady Shiva hanging from a hook.

Barbara looked at Cassandra. She was wearing all black and a cape, but her mask was off. Fresh wounds marked her neck and shoulder, bright red marks made by a blade. Or maybe fingernails, Barbara thought. Cassandra's short hair brushed the back of her neck. Her skin was as pale as ever, as pale as moonlight, and her eyes were wide. Barbara placed her hands on the keyboard, and typed the word without seeing.

- Confirmed.-

Barbara then cut the communication to Dinah and Helena's tranceivers. "Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck."

Cassandra stared at the words on the screen. "I'll tell her," she said.

"No you won't."

"I'll tell her." Cassandra reached into her cloak and pulled out a bloodstained envelope. The envelope was labeled, in simple, black scrawl, Dinah.

* * *

Barbara was alone in the computer room when Dinah and Helena came in from patrolling. "Hi!" Dinah crossed the room to Barbara and kissed her forehead. Barbara cringed away from her and laughed.

"Our communicators aren't working," Helena said.

Barbara met her eyes around Dinah's shoulder.

Dinah patted Barbara's head, and said, "I'm going to shower."

"All right."

Barbara kept her gaze with Helena as Dinah disappeared. "Are you going to kiss me, too?"

Helena moved closer. "I thought about it."

"You did not."

Helena smirked.

"Did you get to see Superman?"

"Not tonight. Just idiots who are trying to mix freshman courses at city college with gang-running. I'm beginning to think Superman's a myth."

"As are all creatures of daylight," Barbara said.

"There's daylight?"

* * *

Dinah walked into the bedroom, toweling her hair from the shower. A kimono, loosely tied, covered her torso.

Cassandra stood in front of her bed.

Dinah stopped. "Hi, Batgirl."

"I'm not... hi."

Dinah put down the towel.

"Where did you get your robe?" Cassandra asked.

Dinah looked down at herself. "Oh. Well, you know, Kyoto. Ollie and I were there in '92. It was a gift from a very grateful geisha."

Cassandra raised an eyebrow.

"Or...Sears."

Cassandra looked at her hands. "I need to tell you something, Black Canary."

"It's Dinah."

Cassandra looked up. "Sensei."

"Spit it out, Cass." Dinah's hand shook as she reached for the shirt she'd laid out on the bed.

"I killed her."

"Who?"

"Lady Shiva."

The shirt fluttered silently to the bed. Dinah squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn't hear her own voice over the ringing in her ears but she made her mouth form the word, made her lungs push air into it. "How?"

"Fight."

"I don't believe you."

Cassandra stood, and offered on two outstretched palms, the bloodstained envelope.

Dinah stared at the writing. She snatched the letter from Cassandra, and then stormed through the doorway, into the computer room, half-naked. Cassandra rushed behind her. The room was dark. Pale blue light radiated from the monitor. Shiva's image was still on the live feed, flickering every few seconds as it refreshed. Dinah crept closer. The soft carpet yielded under her damp, bare feet. "She's breathing," Dinah said.

"She's not."

"And that's a Lazarus Pit right under her. Why didn't you throw her in? Why didn't you save her?"

"She's evil. She wanted to--stop."

Dinah spun around and struck Cassandra. She connected solidly with Cassandra's jaw. Her hand throbbed from connecting with bone, and Cassandra recoiled, taking a step backward, but not falling.

"She's not evil. You don't know her like I do."

Cassandra turned her face, the bruised jaw ducked against her shoulder, protected from another blow. "I know her better than you do. She was turning you evil, too. And me. See?"

Dinah looked at the envelope, now crumpled in her fist. She blinked away sudden tears. "So what." She headed for the bedroom. "I'm getting dressed. You're taking me to her."

"Why?"

"To save her. She's not dead."

"It's a trap."

Dinah slammed the bedroom door.

* * *

The tower in Metropolis had picture windows, floor to ceiling, so that Barbara could wheel right up to the glass and look between her knees at the street below. Dinah, in costume again, wheeled her motorcycle from the freight loading dock. Cassandra followed her, all in black, just a darker shadow behind Dinah's head.

"Cassandra looks like Death," Barbara said, when Helena came up behind her.

Helena put her hands on Barbara's shoulders. "At some disputed barricade, when Spring comes back with rustling shade..."

"I taught that poem to Cass. When I taught her how to read. While Dinah was teaching her how to fight. Or, learning from her."

"She's not your daughter."

Barbara shrugged away from Helena's hands. "Dinah's not coming back."

"Where's she going?"

"South."

Dinah kick-started the motorcycle. Cassandra sat behind her. Her arms wrapped around Dinah's waist. Her cheek pressed against Dinah's shoulderblade. Neither of them wore a helmet, and when the motorcycle pulled out into the street, Dinah's hair flowed behind her, mingling with Cassandra's black strands. Barbara shook her head, and looked instead at her own reflection in the glass.

* * *

They'd been on the bike for an hour when Cassandra shouted in Dinah's ear, "I'm a coward."

Dinah nearly swerved off the road. She didn't know Cassandra had the vocal ability to raise her voice, much less in a confessional. She got the wheels under control, and yelled back, through the wind, "Cass, I really don't have time for your melodrama right now."

"If I had killed her. Just snapped her neck all the way, not halfway. Then there wouldn't be a trap. She wouldn't be bait. I couldn't... I couldn't."

Dinah decelerated rapidly and swung off the bike, leaving Cass to lunge forward and grab the handles, and plant her feet in the dirt so the bike wouldn't topple over. She looked over the handlebars to see Dinah in the grass, retching. Dinah pressed her forehead to the ground. Her shoulders heaved.

"I'm sorry," said Cassandra.

Dinah straightened. She pushed her hair back from her face. "Were you afraid to kill her?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I was angry," Cassandra said.

"And now?"

"I'm not." Cassandra winced. "Are you?"

"A little."

"Because I hurt Shiva?"

Dinah wiped her hands on her pants, and said, "Because Shiva is hurt."

"I can help."

"I know. That's why you're here."

Deciding not to ride until Cassandra got all of her outbursts out, Dinah rolled the motorcycle along the road, squinting at the narrow path the headlight illuminated. Beside her, Cassandra sighed and fidgeted, intentionally making noise so that Dinah wouldn't think she had vanished. Dinah had taught her that; To use noise as effectively as silence. Dinah had learned it from Oliver. Something about hunting, she'd remembered. She'd never gone hunting with Oliver in Washington State. She had never wanted to see an animal suffer.

Especially if she were in charge of cooking it for dinner.

Cassandra sighed again. Dinah thought about Oracle. She probably shouldn't have stormed out of the tower like that. But Oracle was there, she realized, in the radio waves and the cellphone signals that saturated the air. The urge to connect with the outside world again was so strong that Dinah's hand was to her earpiece before she heard Cassandra sigh a third time.

Dinah lowered her hand, and asked, "What's on your mind, Cass?"

Cassandra said, "I died, in Bludhaven. It was horrible. But Stephanie was there. And Shiva was there, and she took me to the Lazarus Pit, becuase... I think she loves me. But the Pit was... weird. I think it changed something."

"Yeah."

"How do you know?"

Dinah said, "I went into one. Mr. Ghoul himself was there."

"He pushed you in?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

Cassandra said, "I want to talk about it."

"God, do you have to be 16?"

Cassandra shook her head.

Dinah sighed. She said, "It wasn't so much the Pit, or the ensuing madness, or the violations or the torture or the humiliation of having to be rescued by the Blue Beetle, of all people... It was how it changed the relationship between Oracle and I, when we weren't prepared for it to change. Everything was too fast, and too violent, and we..."

"Didn't know what to do?"

Dinah ran her fingers through her hair. "More like... we didn't know what it meant. To do it. And whatever they tell you about the hero business, baby bat... That shit matters."

"What matters?"

Dinah sighed. "Friendship."

* * *

Gotham City, One Year Ago

Barbara sat at Dinah's kitchen table, a round, worn slab of wood Dinah had gotten at Salvation Army when she'd moved to Gotham City. Dinah made tea, with grape concentrate mixed with the tea leaves to give it sweetness, and she poured it for Barbara. Barbara took the mug in both hands, and stared into it.

Dinah fidgeted.

Barbara sniffed at the tea.

"I have Diet Coke," said Dinah.


Barbara shook her head.

"I have Nintendo," said Dinah.

Barbara chuckled. She set down the mug and said, "Dinah, really. I don't get hives if I'm away from electronics too long."

"Sure you do. That's why you had my house wired for… wireless? Can you do that? Wire for wireless?"


"Broadband," Barbara said. "I didn't want to go to a T3 system because it would raise suspicions. This is not a secondary base of operations. I have those…elsewhere."

"This is just an apartment," said Dinah.

"Precisely."


Dinah knocked on wood.

Barbara picked up the mug again.

"But you still have a computer in your pocket," said Dinah.

"Yes."

"And you're still wearing your earpiece," said Dinah.

Barbara set down the mug and took out her earpiece. She said, "Sue's reading the comics page of the newspaper to everyone, anyway. I've asked her not to do that."

Dinah perked up. "Oh really? What was today's Garfield?"

Barbara narrowed her eyes.

"Was it humiliating Jon or talking about lasagna? Enquiring minds want to know."

"Dinah, you could just turn on your own earpiece."

"It itches when it's on," Dinah said. "You wanted to come have coffee. See how I was doing. But I'm crazy, remember? If you're going to rely on me for conversation, I'm bound to grasp at straws. My mind isn't all there."

Barbara smiled. "Your mind never was."

"Oh? Then what made me such a good agent?"

Barbara said, "Well, there aren't many people who would do what the nameless voice in their head told them to."

"You obviously don't listen close enough when Sue reads the news."

Barbara chuckled. She said, "Okay. But there aren't many with black belts in judo."

"True. But you're wrong. In general. There are a hundred heroes who would die for you," Dinah said.

Barbara nearly dropped the mug. She managed to guide it to a hard landing on the table. The impact clattered and tea poured over the edges. She winced.

Dinah stood up for paper towels. When her back was turned, Barbara asked, "Why'd you want to throw me into the Lazarus Pit?"

Paper towels in hand, Dinah mopped at the table. She didn't say anything.

"So I could walk? Live happily ever after with the Blue Beetle? Was it some sort of gesture?"

Dinah lifted the mug and wiped underneath it. Her hands were steady. She said, "I'm a hero, Barbara. That's what heroes do."

Barbara said, "Is there a code or something?"

"Barbara." Dinah leaned on the table. "Honestly."

Barbara sighed and reached for the mug.

Dinah sat down. She said, "Why did you throw me in?"

"You were going to die."

"And you're not some sort of big hero?" Dinah asked.

"No," Barbara said.

"So maybe I just won the 'Who's the bigger victim' contest?"

Barbara scowled. "No."

Dinah sighed.

Barbara said, "I'm no hero."


"News to me."

"Dinah. You were going to die."

"And that makes you... what?"

Barbara reached across the table and covered Dinah's hand with her own. She said, "I don't feel that way about all of humanity. Just you."

Dinah furrowed her brow. She glanced out the window. "You're still a hero. Probably. I mean, throwing me in the pit instead of yourself was pretty stupid."

"Dinah..."

"And there's a difference between dying for someone and killing for them. A big difference."

"Maybe," said Barbara.

Dinah said, "I bet if I killed someone you'd yank my earpiece out and unwire my apartment faster than the blood would dry."

Barbara said, "Depends on circumstance."

"Or maybe we just make bad decisions in the heat of the moment."

"Would you rather be dead, Dinah?" Barbara let go of her hand.

Dinah looked up, and met her eyes. "I did. The moment before I hit the water."

"And now?"

Dinah gave a sly smile. "There's no accounting for the actions of a crazy person."

* * *

Dinah shook her head. She didn't want to remember anymore. Not Sue's death, or Ted's, or Ollie and Hal coming back to make a mockery of it all. She didn't want to see the fresh marks on Cassandra's body and know that Shiva had made them. "Let's go," she said, and straddled the motorcycle.

Cassandra slipped on behind her, light and ghost-like again. Dinah barely felt the arms around her waist. She said, "What do you weigh, 60 pounds?"

"What do you weigh?"

Dinah narrowed her eyes and started the engine. They rode in silence for nearly 20 minutes, Dinah focused on the roadsigns, and on quelling her rage enough not to drive the bike off a cliff or hit Cassandra. Oh, how she wanted to. Cassandra was probably still processing the ethical fallout of Lazarus Pitting, for she was molded peacefully against Dinah's back. On the right curve of road, she could feel Cassandra's heartbeat against her shoulderblade.

Torn between her own fury and Cassandra's acquiescence, she shouted into the wind, "You do know we're driving to our deaths, right?"

Cassandra replied, more quietly against Dinah's ear, "Do you think Lady Shiva is my mother?"

Dinah yanked her head away from Cassandra. She said, "I don't know, kid. You certainly look like her."

"Chinese?"

Dinah cleared her throat. "No, you have... Your cheekbone... You have that line. But then, so does Audrey Hepburn. I don't know."

"Maybe I just want her to be. Maybe I need someone as mother-figure. Maybe it's too much to feel anonymous, that any one of the whores my father shacked up with--maybe an assassin, maybe his secretary, maybe his girlfriend--gave birth, and it doesn't matter. It does matter. Lady Shiva can define me. Let me... belong."

Dinah said, "That was awfully eloquent, for a girl who doesn't talk much."

"Oracle taught me."

Dinah smirked.

Cassandra said, "Her name is Oracle."

"Right." Dinah gripped the handlebars. She sighed. "It's just... She doesn't talk much either."

"She reads. She listens."

Dinah nodded.

"She's listening now."

Dinah's hand went to her ear. She said, "Not to me."

"To me," Cassandra said.

"What? Why?"

Cassandra frowned. "She... I..."

Dinah shouted, "Cass, a second ago you were spouting Lord Tennyson. Now you're at a loss for words?"

"She helps me protect people. Helps Batman. Coordinates."

Dinah stiffened. "Protect people. Like me?"

Cassandra turned her head, so that her hair brushed the side of Dinah's neck. "Like Batman. Like Robin. Like you."

"Tell her it's none of her goddamn busin--"

Cassandra squeezed Dinah's waist tighter, and said, "Do you think Shiva wants to be my mother?"

"She saved your life. Brought you back from the dead," said Dinah.

"She know the Lazarus Pit would make me crazy. So she could control me, make me her heir. So I would belong to her."

"Is that what you wanted?" Asked Dinah.

Cassandra looked down. She took a breath. "It's so complicated."

Dinah rested one hand on Cassandra's linked fingers on her waist, trying to recall why she had hated Cassandra hours ago, trying to recall why she had hated Barbara minutes ago. "I'm so sorry, kid," she said.

Cassandra was silent.

"Tell Oracle we'll need backup," said Dinah.

Cassandra nodded against her shoulder.

* * *

Helena leaned over the edge of the rooftop and looked at the city street below. No traffic, no late night bars or wanderers, just quiet below. As it should be at three a.m. She inhaled. "Oracle?"

"I'm here."

"Just checking," Helena said.

"Huntress, I explained about earlier tonight."

"Just checking."

Helena heard the radio click off and she was alone on the roof again. The smell of tar and rain met her nose. She crossed the rooftop to the opposite side, and looked down again. In the alleyway below, she saw a trash bin and two figures crouched into its lee. They were probably trying to stay away from the rain.

The soft pad of feet behind her made her turn around, her crossbow raised. A man with a longbow slung over his shoulder waved. "Good hunting tonight, Huntress?"

She turned around again and went back to watching the two homeless men.

He came up beside her. "Quiet night."

"Mm."

"Those guys giving you trouble?"

"Huh? No. I'm just wondering if the torch will show up tonight."

"Someone's been lighting them up?"

"Yeah," said Helena.

"Sick bastards."

"Says the man dressed up as Robin Hood," said Helena.

"Oh, yeah, that never gets old. An' it harm none, do what you will." He smiled.

"Deep."

He grunted.

"So, is it Green Arrow, or The Green Arrow?"

"Ollie." He pushed back his hood, revealing blonde hair.

"Excellent disguise."

"I always thought masks were kind of gay," he said.

"Juvenile."

"I always thought masks were kind of juvenile."

Helena laughed before she could stop herself.

Oliver smiled. "And what shall I call you, huntress of the night?"

"Huntress."

Oliver chuckled. "Right."

Helena watched the men on the street some more.

Oliver strung his bow, unstrung it, and strung it again. "So," he said. "Heard from Dinah?"

"No. If Oracle knows where she is, she's not telling."

Oracle's voice came in her ear. "I know where she is."

Helena rolled her eyes and slapped at her ear.

"Gnats?"

"Giant, crippled ones."

"Hey," said Oracle.

Helena took off the earpiece and manually turned it off.

Oliver looked down at the street, and sighed.

One of the men below lit a cigarette.

Helena asked, "Have you heard from Dinah?"

"No. You'd think a text message or something, but I guess that ceased being my business a long time ago." Oliver folded his arms. "I guess I could track her if it came down to it. I know she headed south. With Batgirl. Maybe they're going to Gotham."

"Not like she needs us there, though, is it?"

"Do I detect some bitterness, Birdie of Prey?"

"I'm standing on a rooftop in the goddamn rain in Metropolis, with my partner's ex-boyfriend as backup, waiting for some thug to set someone on fire so I can join the fun. This is not really what my guidance counselor had in mind."

"What did your guidance counselor have in mind?"

"M.R.S. Degree."

Oliver nodded. He said, "Can I see your crossbow?"

"Can I see your bow?"

He grinned slowly, slung the bow off his shoulder, strung it, and handed it to her. She pushed the crossbow along the rooftop toward him. He picked it up, unseated the arrow, and played with the trigger. "Light."

Helena tried to draw back the bowstring. "Ow."

Oliver nodded.

She hefted it sideways on her palms, letting the string hang down. "If I even tried to unstring it, I'd break my arm."

He lifted the crossbow. "Ever try trick arrows with this thing?"

"Trick arrows? No. Now who's being gay?"

"Juvenile. They're fun. Trade?"

She offered him the bow and took the crossbow from him. He plucked an arrow from his quiver. Below them on the street, a laughing, drunk man holding a torch entered the alley, boxing off the exit. Behind him a car slowly pulled in.

"He brought backup," Helena said.

"Punk." Oliver lifted the arrow, which had a thick, round, metal tip, like a beer can had been attached to the front. He nocked it into the bow and fired. The man grunted when the arrow hit his chest, and stumbled backward. From the impact a net sprang in all directions, following the momentum of the arrow, and covering the man in webbing. He fell to the ground, rolling and flailing.

Oliver unstrung his bow, tucked it into his cloak, and laughed.

"Nice," Helena conceded.

"I've got flare arrows and poison dart arrows...which I guess are a bit redundant... and just about anything you can think of. I could have Connor adapt them for your crossbow. Boy needs something crafty to do."

"Sure. I can entertain at parties."

"You'll find a use for them. I know it makes my arrows less deadly. And with such hilarious results."

Helena felt herself smile. The man trapped in the webbing was screaming, and was getting nowhere in escaping, even though he tore at the entrapments with what Helena guessed was a switchblade. The getaway car backed out of the alley, and drove away with a screech.

"Do you have a problem with your arrows being deadly?"

Oliver looked evenly at her. "Other people think I have a problem."

Helena nodded.

The homeless men edged past the man tangled in the webbing and ran out of the alley.

"I'll drop a dime to the MCPD," Helena said.

"Sure. You know, what sucks is, those guys probably been living there for a long time. Now they're out on the streets again, scared, lost. Just because some kid was bored tonight. Why couldn't he have channeled his boredom into something else? Like juggling?"

"Going to change the world, Ollie?"

They left the ledge and walked toward the roof-access door together. "I've been thinking of running for mayor."

"Right. And I'm going to be a schoolteacher."

"Those kids sure need you."

Helena sighed and closed her eyes. "No kidding."

"Well, thank you for this early morning after school special." Oliver pulled his hood back up. "If you hear from Dinah... Have her call me?" His tone was kind of pathetic, but she could see the shadow of his smile under the hood. And then he stepped back into the stairwell, and was gone.

* * *

Dinah rolled her motorcycle toward the entrance of the warehouse.

"This is where the signal originates," said Cassandra. "It's a trap."

"You know a word like originates?" Dinah raised an eyebrow.

"I'm repeating Oracle's words," said Cassandra.

"Aha."

"I know words like 'asshole.'"

Dinah smirked.

"Can we just go in?" Cassandra asked.

"Hell if I know."

"Do you have a plan?"

"Sure." Dinah put down the kickstand and leaned her bike. She said, "Trade your life for hers."

Cassandra frowned.

Dinah glanced over her shoulder as she headed for the door. "Come on, Cass."

"Don't you think my life is worth more than hers?"

Dinah stopped and turned around. She said, "Yes. Maybe. I don't know. But I'm not going to trade you. That's not how it works. It was a joke."

Cassandra silently moved to the door.

"I do have a plan, you know," said Dinah. "We go in, we kick some ass, we take some names."

Cassandra pushed past her and through the door. "I know the plan."

Dinah made sure the door slammed behind them. The main area of the warehouse was a cavernous room, and it was empty. High windows covered in dust blocked out the streetlights.

Cassandra walked to the edge of the brick-lined pit in the center of the room. "This is where they took me," she said. "I remember."

"Ghastly," said Dinah.

Cassandra began to descend.

"Wait," said Dinah. She grabbed Cassandra's shoulder. Cassandra looked behind her, and furrowed her brow. "I need to tell you something."

Cassandra squinted.

"You were under the influence of the Lazarus Pit when you killed her. And God knows what she was saying to twist your mind. It wasn't your fault."

Cassandra looked away. She said, "Lady Shiva killed 48 people between the time I spared her life and yesterday."

"That's not why you did it," said Dinah.

"She was suffering. Her sister--"

"That's not why you did it," said Dinah.

Cassandra blinked away tears. She covered her eyes with her hands, and asked, "Why did I do it?"

"Because something made you crazy. Look Cass, I've been there."

"That's no excuse," said Cassandra.

"Maybe not. But we can't go in there if you have a death wish. It's not safe."

"I don't want to die," said Cassandra.

"Good." Dinah moved past her and started down the brick staircase that led underground.

Cassandra seized her arm. "What about you?"

"I don't have a death wish," said Dinah, yanking her arm away.

"That's not what I... meant to ask."

Dinah squared her jaw. She said, "I'm not going to kill anyone."

"That's what I meant to ask."

At the bottom of the staircase, torches lined a short corridor that led to an underground storage room.

"Innocuous place for a Lazarus Pit," said Dinah.

Cassandra grabbed a torch off the wall and pushed forward.

"Kind of smells like a sewer," said Dinah.

Cassandra turned around and glared.

Dinah said, "Are you telling me to shut up?"

"Yes. But for some reason, Oracle is laughing in my ear."

"She doesn't have to smell this place," said Dinah.

Cassandra reached up and clicked off her earpiece.

Dinah raised an eyebrow.

"You were just making her laugh harder," Cassandra explained.

Dinah almost smiled, but over Cassandra's shoulder, she saw the yellow glow of fire marred by a black figure swaying a few feet above the ground. She walked forward, and into Cassandra, who held her back.

"It's a trap," Cassandra said.

"Look at her!" Dinah exclaimed.

The fire kept the flies from Shiva. The blood had dried and blackened. Her neck still lolled, but she was conscious, and staring directly at them. Dinah's arm hurt from where Cassandra squeezed it, digging fingernails into her, and she let it be a locus for Shiva's pain. Shiva's agony filling her, as she met those haunted, alert eyes.

"It's unbearable," Dinah whispered.

"She has done the same to 48 other people," said Cassandra. "Multiply."

Dinah tried. The heat from the pit and the torch Cassandra waved made her face burn, and she tried to picture all the people Shiva had killed. Toyed with. Interrogated and beaten and murdered. But she couldn't. "I can't," she said, even as Cassandra's grip tightened. "It's just one."

Cassandra let her go.

Dinah said, "She saved my life."

"When?"

"Once or twice. This is a terrible way to die, Cass."

Cassandra set down the torch.

Shiva spat. Black blood landed on the dirt at the edge of the pit. She mouthed the words, with a gurgling throat, "Get the fuck out, Canary."

Dinah squinted.

Cassandra said, "I guess I can stay."

Shiva closed her eyes.

"She's kind of creepy," said Dinah. "Nothing moving but her mouth and her eyes. Sort of like a robot with a bio-head, or something. Would that be a cyborg? Or a sack of meat."

"What are you doing?" Cassandra hissed.

"Stalling," said Dinah. "We must not patrol together often."

Cassandra rubbed the back of her neck.

Dinah sighed, and said, "Trying not to go crazy. Trying not to throw up. Trying not to lose all sense of myself and become a monster because that thing over there was never meant for human eyes. How do you handle it, Batgirl?"

"Silence," said Cassandra, and though it sounded like an answer, not an order, Dinah heard footsteps. She fell silent.

They waited.

Shiva moaned.

Dinah closed her eyes against the sound, because she couldn't close her ears. Her stomach twisted. The heat on her skin collided with the fear inside her and she felt like retching. She tried to tell herself it was nothing she hadn't seen before, but then she remembered all the times she had seen it before. She remembered dead prostitutes and dead children and Ollie, hanging there, just like Shiva.

David Cain stepped from a side passage. Cassandra's father. Shiva's destroyer. And he was smiling. Dinah relaxed into a fighting stance. She could take him, she knew. All by herself, but having Cassandra as backup ensured it.

"Welcome, Black Canary." He looked past her to Cassandra, but did not greet her by name.

The horrifying visions were replaced by a memory of Shiva and herself at a dojo in Chicago. Shiva laughing as Dinah wrapped up her hands to prepare for sparring. That's why she'd come, Dinah told herself, stepping forward. "If you're just going to offer yourself, then--"

He raised his hand. "The place is boobytrapped, obviously. And if you get past me, what then? Put Shiva in the pit?"

"Let me worry about that," said Dinah.

"Sure, Canary. Put her in the pit. What chance of redemption would you have with her then? Do you think she is good, just because she is a victim?" He took a long look at Shiva's body, and rubbed his cheek. He said, "Does that make Cassandra evil, for having done it?"

Cassandra was silent.

Dinah balled her fists, and asked, "Is that what you want her to be?"

"I want her to be perfect. The perfect heir. The world needs someone like me."

Dinah lowered her fists to her sides. Her gaze roved the pilings and the dirt and the walls, looking for traps. If they were electronically triggered, Oracle would have dismantled them already. She wasn't sure if David knew how powerful her unnamed associate was. She knew Shiva only suspected.

David said, "Cassandra is nearly perfect. But Lady Shiva chose someone else."

Dinah started, and focused on him. His eyes narrowed. His smile grew wider. He said, "She chose you."

"I didn't chose back," said Dinah.

"Why do you think you're here?"

Dinah whirled around and grabbed Cassandra's shoulders. Shock coursed through her. "Did you...?"

Cassandra freed herself, stepping back. She shook her head.

David laughed. "Who else would come? The student always comes for her sensei."

"I'm not her--"

"Aren't you?" David folded his arms. He stopped grinning, and tilted his head to study her. "Don't you want to know everything she knows? Isn't it impossible to rest knowing someone out there can fight better? Can achieve more? Doesn't that send the tiniest twinge of fear down your spine?"

Dinah looked from David to Shiva. Shiva's eyes were still closed. Playing dead, Dinah thought. Ignoring her so that she'd go away. "I'm not leaving without you, Shiva," she called.

Shiva's cheek twitched.

David shook his head. He said, "You've been training with Cassandra, too. And Batman. And Connor Hawke. Do you know Connor Hawke? You must. All you people stick together like family."

Dinah clenched her jaw.

"Have you trained in Asia, Black Canary? Africa?" He glanced over his shoulder. "Detroit?"

David squatted. He picked up a handful of dirt. He said, "I used to think hate was the path to enlightenment. I killed Carolyn to make that spark in Shiva become a flame. To blow into rage and terror and steel. Then I thought it was indifference. Science. Eugenics." He glanced at Cassandra, and let the dirt fall through his fingers. "Machines. They were the future, you know. But now..."

Cassandra hadn't yet said a word, and Dinah wondered if she would at all until the fight was over.

David looked up. He met Dinah's eyes, and asked, "How many people have you murdered for someone you loved?"

Dinah said, "It's about to be one more."

David nodded. "Hero, villain, it doesn't matter. Sometimes people kill for the right reasons. Sometimes people kill for the wrong ones. The only thing that matters is that you lived well. That you were good at what you did." David straightened. "The best."

"You're not convincing," said Dinah.

"You mean you're going to make me fight you on a point of honor? When it's not what either of us want?"

"I don't want what you want," she said.

"Of course you do. You just won't go there." He grinned, and the firelight made his face contorted and manic. "No one's held a match close enough."

More footsteps came, and then Dinah began to see dark figures near the walls, and on the rafters above them. Cassandra, too, looked up, and from side to side, before settling for staring at David.

David said, "How many men can you take before you have to start resorting to efficient means? Ten? One hundred? How many until the killing becomes expediency? How many until you start killing not because you have to, but just because it's so much easier? These men have families, you know. Friends. Loves. They don't want to die. And you're going to kill them. For her." Cain pointed at Shiva, hanging from the hook. "Is she worth it?"

"No." Shiva moaned.

"Is she anything more to you than bait?" Dinah asked.

"She never was," said Cain. He laughed. "Killing to save a life doesn't seem fair, does it? In the cosmic scheme of things? But there is no cosmic scheme. There's not even life or death. There's just... the action. That's what Shiva learned, the first time she came to kill me. She learned it so well."

The figures crept closer, enclosing on the pit. They became men and women, wielding katanas and bows and pistols.

"Are you working for Ra's, Cain?" Dinah shouted.

"Hardly."

"There's 47 of them," Cassandra said.

"As many people as I killed, daughter dearest," Shiva hissed.

"Plus Cain," said Cassandra.

Shiva smiled. The expression was ghastly on her marred face.

Dinah nodded. "Wouldn't it have been more poetic with 49?"

"Did you miss the whole cosmic scheme thing? I didn't count," Cain said.

"You forget who I am, Cain. One scream, and that's all. No booby traps, no troops, no point of principle. Just deus ex machina, five minutes out from the end of the episode, and we're done."

Cain stepped down. "Will you really kill Shiva? To save her? How twisted is that? I don't kill my failed children, after all."

Cassandra stayed silent, but her face was no longer masked. Hatred etched her features as she stared at Cain, only at Cain. Dinah wondered, for the first time that night, what Cassandra had been doing for the last days, weeks, months, in order to reach this point. To kill her own mother, and then seek her mother's student in the middle of the night, to ensure her mother was killed again.

"I wouldn't kill her," said Dinah.

"You can control your voice? Please. I've seen your vocal chords in action. At the last Lazarus Pit. When you nearly killed the Blue Beetle. He's dead, now, isn't he? Someone blew off the back of his head. You'll kill Shiva, you'll kill Batgirl, you'll kill them all. You know why you have a sonic cry, Dinah? Why God or biology or secret medical experiments of the 1950s made you that way? Because He didn't think you'd cut it on your skills alone. You'll never be equal to someone like me. You'll always have to cheat."

"So was Cassandra being a girl an unfortunate accident?"

Cain shrugged. "I'm no feminist, that's just the way things are. It made her easier to control. As it did Shiva."

Dinah lunged forward. Cassandra grabbed her wrist.

Cain said, "You're here because I wanted you here. And you'll leave the way I want you to leave. Or it'll be messy, and you'll all die for nothing."

Dinah reached for her earpiece. She wanted Oracle to tell her backup was on the way, that she'd stalled enough. She wanted to suggest poisoned gas or nuking the whole goddamn place from orbit. But she let her hand fall. She wasn't much for goodbyes. "What do you want, Cain?"

Cain had caught her movement. He said, "Your friends are watching." He pointed to a pinhole camera mounted on a piling, and said, "Or maybe no one's watching. Maybe Shiva is dead and Black Canary is dying and no one cares."

"Maybe," she agreed.

"Become my heir, Black Canary, and I'll let Shiva and the bastard child go."

"No," said Dinah.

"Become my heir, or I'll kill them, and then I'll kill each one of my men, until you agree."

"Do you think that's the best way to convince me?"

David smiled. He said, "I think you want to. I think Batman has been holding you back. And the Green Arrow. All the men in your life have reduced you to being a sidekick. I know Cassandra has held back. And the Oracle keeps you in the dark. They're afraid of what you might become."

"I'm afraid of what I might become," said Dinah.

"Then it's time to stop being a coward. Only Lady Shiva has treated you with respect. Like an equal. I merely offer you the same respect. Nothing more."

"They walk away and I get free training? Seems like an elaborate plot just for that," Dinah said.

"Well, it wasn't all my doing. Lady Shiva went crazy after Cassandra died. The torment of her own soul... Torn between sin and hate... It drove her to this. Drove Cassandra to it. They just couldn't... cope. Should we chalk it up to them being women?" Cain spread his hands and smiled.

Dinah snorted, and said, "I can cope?"

"You've lived through it, haven't you? I can see the scars. I think the training will be cleansing."

Dinah glanced at Cassandra. Her face had become a mask again, but Dinah could sense the hate in her, and the hate in Shiva. She knew if she activated her earpiece she'd hear Barbara there, sighing and hating them all. She nodded to Cain. "Fine. Fine. It doesn't matter, anyway."

"What doesn't matter?" Cain asked.

"None of it matters."

David gestured, and his army disappeared into the shadows. He stepped toward the side passage from where he had emerged. "When you're ready... This way."

Dinah nodded, and watched him go. Cassandra reached out over the pit, and gingerly tugged Shiva forward. Dinah helped her, wrapping her arms around Shiva's waist, feeling the broken ribs protrude against her arms. They pulled Shiva from the hook and laid her in the dirt. Shiva coughed. Dinah brushed matted, bloodied hair out of her face.

Shiva opened one eye. "You stupid bitch," she said, and moaned with the pain of the words. Dinah could see the teeth loose in her mouth.

Dinah stroked her cheek. "Sandy," she said.

Shiva groaned. Dinah rolled her onto her back. She glanced at Cassandra. "You'll take care of this?"

Cassandra nodded.

Dinah's hand left Shiva's cheek as she prepared to stand and follow David. Shiva reached up and found her hand. "Dinah."

"I'm here." Dinah knelt again.

Shiva's face seemed to go slack, and the smile she wore, even while gasping for each breath, seemed sardonic. "I promise... Little bird... I will return this favor."

Dinah lifted the hand in hers, which was unbroken and unblemished. She kissed Shiva's fingers. Shiva went slack. She had passed out.

Cassandra had reactivated her earpiece, and was speaking quietly. Her hands were covered with blood, now, and her cheek was streaked with black where she'd brushed it on the way to her ear.

Dinah stood and pulled the crumpled letter from her coat pocket. "I need a pen," she said. "Oh, hell, I could just write it in blood."

* * *

The camera had offered no audio feed, so Barbara had silently watched a lot of standing around and talking, and then David disappeared, and then Cassandra had come online, to say two would be coming out.

Helena had come and go, bringing tea, handling patrol coordination, grading papers. When Dinah had appeared she'd settled at Barbara's side.

"Cassandra says Dinah's going with him," Barbara said. Her voice sounded flat and futile. Helena slipped an arm around her shoulders.

Barbara stared at the screen as Dinah knelt over Lady Shiva.

Helena said, "Okay." She buried her face in Barbara's hair. On the computer screen, Dinah's image was frozen. Her face and hands and clothes were soaked in blood.

Barbara laughed, shortly. "Maybe I should marry Nightwing."

"It'll never be like it was," Helena said.

Barbara put her hand on the screen. The image yielded at her touch, so that her fingers almost merged with Dinah's image. "I know."

Helena closed her eyes.

Barbara sighed. "I know."

Helena reached past her, and turned off the monitor.

* * *

Dinah caught up with David in the tunnel. He was still proselytizing, and Dinah began to think she was descending into Hell.

"And when you're ready, Black Canary... When I'm sure you'll never do something stupid like save your daughter--Do you have children?"

Dinah thought of Connor. She thought of Roy. She thought of Oliver Queen and the promises she'd made and broken when she answered, "I can't have children."

"I see," said Cain.

"I'm sure you don't."

"If you think I want you to breed the next Cassandra, you're mistaken. It's not like that," he said.

"What's it like, Cain?"

He deliberated for several minutes, walking slowly, before answering, "I had to kill Carolyn, to twist the knife in Shiva. But I didn't have to kill anyone for you."

"Maybe you're getting better," Dinah said bitterly. "Or maybe I am."

"I'd love to know what started the darkness inside you."

Dinah exhaled slowly

Cain sighed, and said, "But it really isn't my job."

"Where are we going?"

David pushed open the door at the end of the passageway. Darkness lay beyond it. He said, "To where Lady Shiva began."

"Detroit?"

"Funny. No. Beyond that. Have you read the Heart of Darkness?"

"In like, seventh grade."

"I'm taking you up the river."

"The horror, the horror," she said dryly.

"You have no idea. I look forward to seeing the day when you take on a hundred men," said David. "And perhaps tanks."

"As long as you're the boss I get to fight at the end."

"To get the princess?"

"For justice."

"Justice isn't found at the end of a bloodied fist, Little Bird," said Cain. "In fact, it's nowhere to be found at all."

"You're probably right."

* * *

Dawn was breaking over Metropolis when Cassandra walked off the plane. She'd changed into blue jeans and a black tee shirt and washed the blood off her face. She looked older than she had when she left.

Barbara waited in her wheelchair at the end of the tarmac. "Where's Dinah?" she asked.

Cassandra said nothing, just offered her hand, which clutched a white envelope, smeared with soot on one corner.

Barbara took it. On the front, in Dinah's scrawled handwriting, was her name. She tore it open and read the message.

I'll come back. I promise. Wait for me.

When Barbara looked up, Cassandra was gone.

Dinah was gone.

Shiva, however, was apparently in the goddamn airplane hold.

Barbara read the note again, and again, until tears blurred the words and they became indistinct. Became nothing.

END

* * *

Author's Note: Selected Images from Birds of Prey

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Comments {9}

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From: anonymous
Date: Sep. 2nd, 2006 - 01:40 am
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From: rysler
Date: Sep. 2nd, 2006 - 01:55 am
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David just got kicked hard by Evil!Slade muse in my head for being more evil than him.

Sorry! I don't even care about David. Slade, on the other hand... Awesome mask, and oh, so slashable. Mmm. Okay, now I have a craving for Teen Titans, which can't be good.

Batgirl...poor Cass...she creeped me out a bit, but she is so...Cass.

I was worried about her. Cass fans are...fanatical. But if I got into the ballpark, yay!

Shiva...Dinah...Babs....what a web you weave.

Mmmmmmm.

Too many to choose from. I think Dinah's lust shorted itself out temporarily. I loved writing Ollie and Huntress. Depending on how 52 goes, some Ollie/Huntress/Question/Renee crackfic wouldn't be out of the question. Eh, eh?

This has to be one of the best Birds fanfics I have read...excellent use of the characters, the setting, the intricate subtexts.

::just blushes::

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From: carrieellen
Date: Sep. 2nd, 2006 - 03:07 am
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Malheureusement, I know nothing about the characters you have written about. I don't know the canon of actual reality, or the canon of the fanfic world. But I know good fic when I read it. Favorite line: "How many people have you murdered for someone you loved?" I don't know why, but it made me sit up and go ugghOOOH.

Very nicely done. I'm impressed. I have no BOP or comic icons, so you will have to do with one of Sho. :)

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From: rysler
Date: Sep. 2nd, 2006 - 03:13 am
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BoP icons are the best!

I do love that picture of Sho. And you know I don't love as many pictures of Sho as you. :) But she's gorgeous there.

I'm honored you read this without knowing anything of the worlds. Thank you for pointing out that line. I'm glad it stood out, even without the history behind it.

I'm really happy. :)

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From: carrieellen
Date: Sep. 2nd, 2006 - 03:18 am
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Do you think I'm obsessed with Sho or something? ;)

As for the reading without knowing, well... I make an effort to read things out of my fandom comfort zone every once in a while. The mark of a good writer is to make someone feel the story without knowing the background or the characters. You've done that.

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From: rysler
Date: Sep. 2nd, 2006 - 03:27 am
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Hmm... a really good writer would get you addicted to comic books so that you're stalking your local store and tearing your hair out at every issue and... Not that I wish that kind of life on you. ;)

Thank you. Thankyouthankyou.

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From: elfcat255
Date: Sep. 2nd, 2006 - 06:46 am
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OMG!...Wow!..this was wonderful!...just the whole dynamics..guh...I really can't describe what I feel right now..just ...dammit...this was great! Lovely work!

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From: rysler
Date: Sep. 2nd, 2006 - 12:54 pm
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Thank you! ::hugs::

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From: anonymous
Date: Jun. 20th, 2010 - 12:53 am
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Does this continue? Somewhere?

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From: rysler
Date: Jun. 20th, 2010 - 01:05 am
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Not as such. The arc picks up in Birds of Prey 92 and later in the Green Arrow/Black Canary offshoots and the Birds of Prey relaunch with Gail Simone. But I haven't written any continuation.

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