Title: In Spite of All Terror
Fandom: The Dark Knight
Characters: Babs Gordon, Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon
Word Count: 2,029
Written for: suncat
Most of the details of the worst night of Barbara Gordon's life faded into a surreal blur of darkness and noise, given time. Three things, however, stayed absolutely clear:
1. She was terrified, and helpless. She remembers the feeling in a way she doesn't remember images or words.
Jimmy thought Batman was the most important part of the whole night. It's why he always wanted to tell the truth, and why he and Dad have fought ever since.
Babs cared about Batman, but far more than that she wanted to never, ever feel that helpless again.
"I don't think it's healthy, this obsession with martial arts," her mother told the counselor about a year after that night. "She was never this focused on anything before, and she's only eight. She should be playing with Barbie, not spending all her spare time at the dojo!" (You couldn't hear this out in the waiting room, of course, where Barbara was supposed to be; but the waiting room was always unattended, so Barbara snuck down the hall to her counselor's door whenever Mom wanted to talk to the counselor alone.)
"Martial arts can provide a better understanding of her body and a disciplined focus that many trauma survivors need," the counselor said. "She's doing well in school, and frankly I'm more concerned about her social isolation. She needs more friends her own age. If she's got any friends at all in those classes, by all means keep her in them."
"She's too disciplined, that's the problem," Mom replied. "She's only eight!"
"She's an eight year old who's had a traumatic experience and few people she can share the truth of that experience with," the counselor said. "If you're worried, set a limit: one martial arts course at a time. Then get her involved in some other physical activity, a sport, or maybe dance or gymnastics. Something to get her playing with other girls her age."
So Babs started taking gymnastics lessons. She had a purple leotard that was really pretty, with sparkles. And as she learned each tumble, each leap, each flip, she imagined how she could use that move to escape from Harvey Dent. Or make him as scared as she had been.
When she put on the cape for the first time, nine years later, it wasn't to prove her strength, and it wasn't to scare anyone. It was to stop other little girls from being as frightened as she had been.
2. Batman saved them.
No matter what the TV announcers said with grave faces, no matter what her friends whispered, Batman saved them.
"I need to tell you something," Dad said, after the medics had checked them all over, but before they talked with any policemen. They were sitting in his car, with it turned on and the heat blasting. Babs still felt cold, but she didn't scoot over next to Jimmy.
"If people find out Dent went nuts, the Joker wins," Dad said. "It's gonna take a long time to pull Gotham together again, and we can't do it if the public doesn't have something to believe in. Dent can be a martyr, but he can't be a villain."
"I don't care about the Joker!" Mom said. "I don't care about heroes and martyrs and villains. I care that Dent was a nutcase who tried to kill our kids." Babs couldn't see her mom's face from behind, but she was scared by her voice.
"I know," Dad said. "I know. But I'm the one who's gonna have to deal with the fallout from this nightmare."
"You'd have to lie about what happened. We'd have to lie about what happened. I'm not teaching my children to lie. Not about this. Not to protect him."
"It's not to protect him, it's to protect Gotham. And it's not my idea, it's Batman's idea. Besides, until and unless everything comes to trial, we don't need to make sworn statements. I'll type something up, say it's what you told me, you and the kids don't have to do anything except not contradict it."
Mom was quiet for a while, and Babs tucked her legs up under her chin and tried to understand what was going on. Nothing made any sense. Dad was supposed to put bad guys in jail, not protect them. Jimmy wasn't paying any attention, just staring out the window. How could he not be listening to this?
"What would the story be?" Mom asked.
"Ramirez and Wuertz were still working under the Joker's orders when they kidnapped you. Dent tracked them down because they were the ones who picked up him and Rachel, and he wanted to arrest them. He found out they'd kidnapped you. Batman used him as a stalking horse, killed Ramirez and Wuertz and then followed him here. They started fighting about something—you don't know what. Batman had a gun. I arrived, and untied you guys. While we were getting out, they went over the edge. Batman walked away, Dent didn't. The news will spin it without any help from us, and if they do catch Batman—God forbid—it'll be easy enough to change the story then."
Babs bit her lip. She didn't understand what was going on. Why would Dad want them to lie? Mom was right—this was stupid. She held her breath, waiting for Mom's response.
"Please, Barbara," Dad said. "It's what Batman wants. It's what Gotham needs. At least until we can get things on an even keel, again."
Mom held her head in her hands. "If I agree—if!—you're the one who gets to explain it to the kids. And we will all be going to therapy, and the therapist gets the truth."
"Of course," Dad said, and Babs swallowed past the lump in her throat. She tried not to cry; she didn't want them to know she'd been listening. It didn't matter, because they didn't talk any more. Dad got out and went over to his police, and Mom drove them home. The next day, Jimmy and Babs stayed home from school.
The day after that, Dad sat down with them before school and told them that they were going to hear people saying bad things about Batman, and they shouldn't stick up for him. He said that they should say they didn't see what happened. Jimmy yelled, and said things to Dad that normally they wouldn't be allowed, but Dad didn't say anything and Mom just pressed her lips together very tightly. Babs didn't say anything at all; she'd known this was coming.
When she got to school, everyone stared at her. Kids came up to her to ask her about it, and some of her teachers looked like they wanted to. Her friends were the worst. Babs didn't say anything at all.
At lunch time, she slipped away when they thought she was in the bathroom and went to the library. She read the newspapers for the two days since Harvey Dent almost killed them. She wouldn't have thought to, except that Mom and Dad had been so careful to make sure she and Jimmy didn't see them.
They were awful. Filled with lies and hate and fear. There were all kinds of rumors about what Batman might be doing, most of them unrealistic and several of them contradictory. The opinion pieces were the worst. They were filled with praise for Dent, and what he stood for, and urges for Gotham to follow Dent's plan. Babs went back to class with a sick feeling in her stomach. But she came back the next day, and the next, and learned to use a computer to pull up news sites and blogs. She knew it was all lies, but Dad had stopped talking about work at home—he'd stopped talking about anything, really, and so had Jimmy, and Mom talked but not about anything important, and Babs thought maybe she was trying to pretend everything was normal. The newspapers and blogs weren't true, at least not about Batman and definitely not about Dent, but it was all she had. Babs watched the city put itself back together, and learned to piece together the truth hidden in masses of disinformation.
When the Joker shot her, after she'd hung up her cape, it didn't take her long to figure out what she was going to do with the rest of her life. She'd been a hacker longer than she'd been a hero, after all. And she knew just how hard—and how important—finding the right information could be.
3. Her brother was the target. Dent kidnapped all three of them, her and her mother and brother, but she and Mom were mostly window dressing. Jimmy was the one Dent threatened, the one he thought Dad loved most.
For a long time, she thought he might be right. Dad hadn't said anything about her or Mom, just begged for Jimmy's life. Maybe Dad did love Jimmy more. Maybe she wasn't as important as her brother.
When Dad tucked them in at night, she timed out how much time he spent in her room and how much time he spent in Jimmy's. It varied; some times he spent more time with her, other times, more with her brother. But he always tucked them in unless he was out on business now, unlike before when he'd mostly left that to Mom. At first she was comforted, that he was spending the same amount of time with both of them. Then she realized that Dad thought everything should be fair, and would probably spend the same amount of time with both of them no matter which of them he loved best. After that, she tried not to pay attention because there was no point, but sometimes she couldn't help it.
"You okay, Babs?" Dad asked as he pulled the covers up around her. "You've been awful quiet, lately."
"I'm fine," Babs said.
"If you ever want to talk, you know you can always talk to me about anything, right?"
"Okay." Babs closed her eyes.
"Good night," Dad said. She felt him kiss her forehead, then heard him walk out of the room, closing the door gently behind him. Babs turned over so that she could see the clock on the nightstand, red digital readout glowing evilly at her. The colon between the hours and minutes flashed every second as she listened to the dim murmur of voices next door.
When she was twelve, though, she realized that she was being stupid. What was Dad supposed to do, protest that he loved them all so that Dent would threaten all of them instead of only Jimmy? Would she have been happier if Dent had shoved a gun in her face, too? Dad loved her, and he loved Jimmy too, and Dent was a maniac and what did he know about love, or her or Dad or Mom or Jimmy, anyway? But deep down, she still wondered if Jimmy was more important. Lately, their family did seem to revolve around him and how much he resented Dad for having to lie about Batman. It seemed they fought every day, with Mom and Babs watching from the sidelines.
When she was seventeen, she realized she was still being stupid. Dent was wrong that Dad loved her brother more, but Dent was also wrong that her brother was more important. Babs was just as special in her own way. Babs was worth just as much as Jimmy, worth as much as anyone. She had taught herself to be strong and smart and capable. If Dent could only see the son as the most valuable—if some people could only see men as more important, stronger—Babs knew they were wrong. Strength came in a lot of different forms, and worth wasn't tied to gender
Before she was Batgirl, after she was Batgirl, before and after Oracle, too, that was something Babs knew deeper than anything. It was one of the reasons she often sought out her fellow superheroines. Knowing it was important. But sometimes, it was easier to remember if you weren't alone in knowing it.