“You have to stop this,” Dinah said, moving so that her body intentionally blocked as much of the screen space as possible. “It’s not healthy, Babs.”
Barbara put her hand on Dinah’s hip, attempting to move her so she could see the screens again. Dinah knew Barbara wasn’t hearing what she was saying. She was too fixated on the woman on the screen. She sighed. If she knew how to kill the feed, she would have done it an hour ago. She glanced over her shoulder, once again watching the woman on the screen.
Who the hell is she? She wondered, and she knew Barbara was asking herself the same question, as they both watched her defeating street level thugs with ease. This woman—and her cape, and her cowl, and the glaring red Bat Symbol on her chest—seemed to have exploded onto the scene overnight.
“Her hair …” Barbara said, still not taking her eyes off the screen.
Dinah couldn’t imagine what kind of thoughts this must be dredging up for her. This woman was, essentially, everything Barbara once had the promise of becoming. Dinah almost never saw Barbara actually miss being Batgirl, but she knew this image would do the trick. How could it not? She chose her next words carefully. “Babs, I don’t think … I mean, if you’re thinking the look is intentional—”
“No, Dinah, look at her hair,” Barbara snapped as she hit a fairly long command of numbers without looking down at the keypad. One of the images of the red-headed bat froze and zoomed in on the long, red curls. “It’s raining tonight but this hair doesn’t quite show the effect of being wet. It’s synthetic.” She looked up at Dinah for the first time since they’d discovered the feed. Her expression was guardedly blank. “Our Bat-impersonator wears a red wig. You wanna tell me again about how it’s not intentional?”
Dinah tried not to take the bite in those words personally. She had to admit to herself, even if she wouldn’t say it out loud; this woman really did look like “Batgirl, the all grown up” edition. She had heard Barbara say a million times that she’s comfortable with who she is now, but this, this could undo everything. Behind the glasses, Dinah could see Barbara’s eyes were glossy. She’s actually fighting back tears. Dinah’s fierce protective instinct kicked in. “So, what are we going to do about this?” she asked, moving in front of the screens again, and leaning in close enough that Barbara had no choice but to look her in the eye.
Whatever emotion Barbara had been allowing to creep to the surface was immediately put in check. “We have to contact her. She could be dangerous. We need to know why she’s doing this, we need to know why—”
“You got her street coordinates? I’ll go right now,” Dinah said, trying to save Barbara from having to explain why this was important to her. But still, she needed to know, “Hey, ah, am I doing this for Oracle … or for Babs?”
They both watched the screen again as the agile woman dealt a heavy blow to the shoulder of the last thug standing, and they both cringed as, even as the man hit his knees, she pulled the his arm behind him and then up, effectively dislocating his shoulder. Even without sound on the feed, Dinah thought she could feel the man’s scream. The hit was excessive, and she knew it.
“Let’s just say, for the time being anyway, that you’re doing it for both of us,” Barbara replied flatly, eyes wide at the screen. “You’d better hurry. Looks like she’s almost done here.”
Dinah squeezed the other woman’s shoulder, then turned to leave when she got no response. Oh, brooding Babs, sometimes you are my least favorite person …
* * *
The alley was dark in a way that was truly unique to Gotham. Even Oracle’s video feed didn’t do justice to the grime or the general feeling of decay that Dinah always felt in this part of town.
“Do you have eyes on her yet?” Barbara’s voice came through her earpiece.
Dinah scanned the alley quickly. Just behind a comically large pile of moaning and squirming thugs, she spotted her target with one of the thugs pressed up against a wall on the far end of the alley. The red-headed bat’s back was to her, and to the rest of the thugs. Rookie mistake, Dinah thought. If they regroup, she wouldn’t see it coming. “Yeah, I’ve got her in sight now, O. What do you think, wait for this party to be over, or should I crash it?”
“You’re in the field, Canary. I trust your judgment.”
Even from a hundred yards back, Dinah could see the terror in the man’s eyes as the redhead kept him pinned against the brick wall. “Looks like she’s pressing him for information. I’m thinking I’m going to let it play ou—” Suddenly the thug on the ground closest to the two was on his feet with what looked like an already splintered baseball bat in his hand. “Scratch that, O, I’m in action now!”
Dinah ran toward the hulking mass ready to deliver a hit from behind, when the redhead spun, leg extended, hitting the hulk squarely in the groin, sending him hurtling backwards and into Dinah. Dinah tossed him aside with ease, then paused as the bat-clad woman considered her.
“What’d I do to draw the attention of the Great Black Canary?” The redhead sneered. Her voice was more gravelly than Dinah had expected.
“Dinah I need her to look up a little more so I can get a facial scan,” Oracle’s voice was in her ear again.
As her attention was pulled away, the man that the redhead had pinned had been able to regroup his sure footing, and Dinah felt his intentions almost before she saw his movements. “Behind you!” She yelled, but the thug brought hit foot down hard on the woman’s knee.
Instinctively, Dinah turned, facing the rest of the group as another charged at her with some unidentifiable found object. She delivered a swift kick squarely to the middle of his chest; she didn’t have to check, she knew it would knock the wind out of him. “You all right?” she called to the woman who had suddenly become her partner in this haphazard fight.
“*Nghh* I’m fine. Can’t say the same for this poor bastard though.” The reply was swiftly followed by a sound that Dinah knew all too well by this point to be cracking bones.
Even Oracle let out a “Yikes.”
“Beginner’s mistake,” Dinah shouted as she kicked the feet out from under another thug that was trying to stand, “You can’t turn your back on the group for the sake of the one.”
“Heh, that made you think I was a beginner?” They were now side by side, fending off the last stragglers that dared to make a final stand. “I knew what I was doing. Only thing that took me off guard was you showing up.”
As the group was finally quieted, the police sirens were only a block away. Dinah followed the redhead’s lead and ducked into a smaller alley.
“I’m not really in the mood to deal with filling out reports.”
“Who are they?” Dinah asked—although it was far from the question she’d been sent there to ask. Old habits die hard, I guess.
“What makes you think I need to share my information with you?” The woman seemed less concerned with Dinah’s presence and more concerned with checking her suit for damages.
“Canary, check in please, you’re off my grid,” Oracle chattered in her ear.
Dinah ignored it. “You know what I mean, you leave a heap of bloody guys in the street for the police to discover, what do they make of it?”
“Most of them are previous offenders. Over half are parolees, and at this time of night, they’re all violating probation. Cops’ll drag them in and sort it out from there,” she said casually, as the fingers of her glove traced the lines of her cape, still inspecting.
Dinah’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”
The redhead dropped the tips of her cape and stared at Dinah, a smirk forming at both corners of her mouth. “You’re so intrigued. I’m flattered, Canary. You can call me Batwoman.”
“Batwoman, huh? Really. In a town with a Batman, a Batgirl, and a Catwoman, you’re what—just a mixture of the three?”
As the Batwoman sauntered closer, Dinah couldn’t help but notice a limp in her gait, one that she was working very hard at trying to hide. He got her knee good. When Batwoman finally spoke, each sentence was punctuated with bitter derision that cut through the cold night air like a slap in the face. “Oh, I see, now. You’re checking me out. You want to know which side I’m on. Nice. Here’s what you need to know, Black Canary. I’m on your side. But I don’t play on a team. I don’t share information. I don’t answer to you,” she moved closer and grabbed Dinah’s wrist, pressing the button that activated her radio to Oracle. “And I definitely don’t answer to you.”
“And then she was gone?”
“Took the grappling hook gun from her utility belt and she took to the skies, like she’d done it a thousand times,” Dinah responded, still not sure what to make of the whole situation.
“Except she hasn’t done it a thousand times, there’s no way, or we—I—would have seen her,” Barbara removed her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose, a move that Dinah knew meant she desperately needed sleep. But she knew better than to suggest it, or Barbara would stay up all night out of spite.
“Did you get enough for a facial scan?”
“A partial. What I really wanted to see was the shape of her nose under that cowl. Right now, all I have is jaw line, estimates at height and weight …”
“And the fact that she’ll be walking with a limp for the next few days, that’s a definite. The one she was pressing got her hard in the knee”
“I know, that I saw. It was a rough hit. Anyway, I have my scan running through facial recognition software. But it’s slow. It might be awhile before it produces results.”
“How do you think she knew about the comm device? Did she see you use it?”
Dinah shook her head. “I don’t think so. She must have just … noticed it.”
“The way she ‘just knew’ that thug was coming up on her from behind?”
“Are you saying you think she’s…” Dinah struggled for the right word, “…gifted?”
“No,” Barbara said thoughtfully, “I’m saying she’s probably pretty tech-savvy. I think she saw the guy. Maybe her suit has a motion sensor, and more than likely she knew about the comm device because—”
“She wears one, too!”
Barbara smiled up at Dinah, her first genuine smile all night. “I love it when we’re reading from the same page.”
Dinah grabbed Barbara’s hand, offering a quick squeeze and a wink. “Anything on the group she was fighting?”
Barbara shrugged. “Small-time gang, from what I can tell. Recognition on them was easy, because they’re all in the GCPD database; various crimes. Looks like they all did time at the same prison for a while, so—”
“Ah, they must’ve formed a bond inside, and they’re trying to make a go of it on the outside.”
“It explains why they were so disorganized. Anyway, that seemed easy. They’ll all be locked up again for parole violation.”
“That’s exactly what she said. But I can’t stop wondering why she was pressing that one guy so hard. I mean, if they’re just small-time thugs, what could they possibly have known that would draw Batwoman’s attention like that?”
Barbara dropped her head back into her hand and resumed rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Like this town needed another freaking Bat …” she muttered.
Dinah stooped in front of Barbara’s chair, hands on her shoulders, trying to shake her out of the grumpy reverie. “Hey, hey. Babs, look at me. I want you to know that you can talk to me about this. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you, but if you talk to me about it, I can try.”
Barbara looked up, shaking her head. “It’s late, let’s get some sleep. All of this will be here tomorrow.”
* * *
When Dinah woke the next morning, Barbara was already working. Ugh, sometimes I don’t know what to do with you, Babs. When she joined Barbara, she decided the best course of action was to stick to business. “Any luck with the scans?”
Barbara tilted her head to the side, not taking her eyes off of the screen in front of her. “Hundred and seventy eight women have features that match our Mystery Bat. And that’s just residents of Gotham City. If I expand that to include the tri-county area, we get 340 potential matches.”
Dinah’s eyes got wide as Barbara hit a command and the collage of women in front of them seemed to triple. She sighed as she rested a hand on Barbara’s shoulder. She wanted to offer something helpful, but she was at a loss. “So, what do we do from here?”
“I still have the software running on the feeds that I’m pulling in from all over the city. It’s possible, catching some of them in motion will give us a better idea.”
“You mean the bum knee?”
Barbara smiled weakly. “Yes, we’re looking for a tall, athletic white woman with a bum knee. Hopefully she goes out in the daytime.”
* * *
“I have something, here!”
“Where?” Dinah asked, with only moderate interest. It had been close to twenty hours since her encounter with the new redheaded crimefighter. If I have to look at these screens any longer I’m going to go crosseyed.
“Here, the software picked up a match at Molly’s Bar. She’s about the height that we’re looking for, her jawline is a perfect match, actually.”
“Can you identify her?”
“I’m having trouble, it’s too dark, the software can’t do a complete scan and now—well, her back is turned,” Barbara said, frustrated.
Both women watched in awkward silence as the subject of their investigation pressed a smaller brunette woman up against the back wall of the bar, one hand on the woman’s hip, the other on the wall above her shoulder, presumably for balance. She had to dip her head down to be able to whisper in the other woman’s ear.
Dinah tried not to focus on the intimate moment they were spying on, but rather considered the woman’s features, posture and body language. She was tall and lean, with red hair cropped in a very modern bob, much shorter in the back than in the front. The color was hard to judge from the darkness of the bar, but Dinah thought the red looked to be a little less intense than the wig she’d seen up close. Looks like a natural color … it looks like Barbara’s. She was sure Barbara was probably thinking the same thing.
“What do you think?” Barbara asked after several minutes of silence.
“Her posture is very similar to what I saw last night, the way she’s leaning against the wall, the height is definitely dead on—wait, look. Does it look like she’s favoring her left leg to you?”
“Hard to tell, this shot cuts off just above her knees. Let me see if I can get a full-body …” Barbara trailed off as she hit a string of commands on the keyboard. Suddenly they were viewing the two women from the side in full profile. “Good call, Dinah, she has almost no weight at all on that right leg, though she’s good at hiding it.” Barbara turned to face Dinah, her expression serious. “I need you in there.”
“Babs … no. Really? How do you suggest I interrupt this without, you know, starting a bar fight?”
“You’re a charming woman, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind the interruption,” Barbara joked, but Dinah’s expression remained firm. Barbara sighed. “Dinah, please. I need to see her face. I can’t really do that when she’s buried in another woman’s neck. If they leave and I don’t get a good shot, I’m back to square one.”
Dinah was quiet for a moment. Both of them knew she was doing to do it, because honestly, what wouldn’t she do for Barbara? “Babs,” she said quietly, “What are you going to do once you know?”
Barbara turned back to the screen. “I … am not sure yet. But I have to know. And you’d better hurry, because I don’t know how much longer we’ve got until they move this party to a private location.”
Dinah watched as the Bat suspect’s free arm snaked around the waist of the other woman. The redhead leaned down with a predatory smirk as she claimed the other woman’s mouth rather aggressively. Yeah, this is definitely our girl, all right, Dinah thought, forcing her eyes off the screen. “All right, I’m out,” she called as she grabbed her jacket. “And Babs! Remind me to ask you later why you have cameras in the sleazy backrooms of Gotham’s most notorious lesbian bar.”
* * *
Like the alley from the night before, cameras hadn’t done justice to the actual seediness of the bar. Dinah walked in and immediately felt out of place, despite her jeans, leather jacket, and the baseball cap she’d been lucky enough to find in the back of her car.
“Good job with the low profile, there, Canary. Everyone’s staring at you.”
“Quite a crowd here tonight, O, and I seem to be popular.” Dinah laughed; even from a mile away, she knew the face Barbara must be making.
“Just don’t forget who you come home to.” Barbara said flatly.
“Ha! I never pegged you for the jealous type,” Dinah teased. She was honestly glad to have Barbara’s mind on something other than Batwoman for a change. Refreshing to hear her sound closer to normal.
“Anyway, your target hasn’t moved far. Can you see her? Let me know when you’re ready to engage.”
“I see her,” Dinah said as she walked up to the bar. The woman behind the bar skipped over the line of women already waiting to ask Dinah what she wanted. “Just a Sprite for now, thanks,” Dinah said with a wink, and then back into her comm device: “Ideally, I’d wait until not so many eyes are on me, but I think I might be waiting all night, in that case.”
Barbara’s tone was flat again. “You’re really hilarious, you know that? And not conceited at all.”
Dinah smiled, trying not to make eye contact with anyone, also trying not to appear as if she were talking to herself. Both proved incredibly difficult. “Hey, I’m just keeping you apprised of the situation.”
“I have cameras in the place, I’m very aware of the ‘situation.’ You ready to make contact yet?” Dinah could tell Barbara’s patience was wearing thin. She found herself hoping that the jealousy wasn’t real.
“I’m ready,” she replied, and took a deep breath before making her way to the back wall of the bar. She stood behind the redhead, who was still pinning the willing brunette against the wall.
She took another deep breath before pulling at her shoulder with a louder-than-necessary “Excuse me!”
The redhead whipped around, hot anger in her cool green eyes. “Can. I. Help. You?” she seethed lowly.
“Oh God,” Oracle exclaimed in Dinah’s ear. Damn, that software works fast, Dinah thought.
“Actually, yes, I think you and I need to speak in private,” Dinah responded, doing her best to return the icy stare. “I’m sorry for the intrusion,” she said to the confused woman still leaning against the wall. “I’ll get her back to you, I promise.”
“Uh, really, don’t bother, I guess!” With that, the woman pushed away, muttering about cheating liars and women who can’t be trusted.
“Canary, I don’t need to run the software. This is Kate Kane, one of the wealthiest socialites in Gotham. Her stepmother is Cathy Hamilton. Dear God, this is our Batwoman?” Dinah didn’t know much about the new generation of the Gotham City trust-fund brigade, but she took her partner’s reaction to mean this revelation made her, well, uneasy at best.
“Was that necessary?” Kate seethed, her anger flaring in her eyes. Dinah took notice that the woman’s hands were balled into fists by her side.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to ruin your evening, but you left me last night before I could ask you your name. You know, your real name.” Dinah leaned in to be sure not to be overheard. “Maybe we should speak outside. Plus, you don’t wanna hit me in here, they’ll never let you back in. It’s no good. Ask my friend Huntress.”
Kate’s eyes narrowed for a second as she considered what Dinah was saying. Finally she stepped back and motioned towards a side door. “After you, Blondie.”
* * *
“How did you find me?” Kate demanded, once they were alone in the alley behind the bar.
Okay, apparently she’s asking the first question. “Your knee gave you away,” Dinah responded, crossing her arms in front of her, not taking her eyes off the other woman.
“Who do you work for?”
“What make you think I work for anyone?”
“Don’t give me that. Who were you talking to last night?”
“Tell her the truth, Canary,” Barbara said. “She won’t be straight with you until she knows you’re doing the same”
Dinah sighed. “I work with Oracle. You’ve heard of Oracle, I presume? We saw you on CCTV security cameras. We were, as you said, checking you out. Okay, your turn. So why the getup?”
Kate didn’t respond, choosing instead to glare in silence.
“Come on, I leveled with you. All I want to know is why you chose to wear a Batsuit. I’m not going to ‘out’ you, so to speak. I hope you’d already know that about me.”
Kate stared quietly for another second before saying, “The Bat is to show people whose side I’m on. I do what you do. But in Gotham, the Bat is more than a man, it’s a brand name. People respect it. That’s why I wear a Bat.”
Dinah nodded. “Makes sense. I hope you understand why we had to look into you. It wouldn’t have been the first time someone picked up a Bat-logo in order to lull Gotham into a false sense of security.”
“Canary, ask her about the hair.”
“Why the wig?” Dinah continued to press.
Kate shrugged. “It helps hide my identity, and it’s less of a liability in a fight. You ever been yanked around by your hair, Canary?”
“Actually, yes. It hurts like hell. Why red?”
“Red and black are the colors of war. It’s an intense image, right?”
Dinah had to admit that watching Batwoman in action definitely was a powerful image. She smiled. “You look like someone I wouldn’t want to cross.”
“Why the personal interest?”
“Uhhh …” Oracle said, verbalizing what Dinah was thinking. This woman is definitely intuitive.
“What do you mean?” Dinah played dumb, trying to buy herself a second to think.
“The hair, the red, that doesn’t really have anything to do with what I do. Those are personal questions. Why?”
Oh, I am never going to live this down, she thought. “Oh, I ah—I don’t know, I guess I like the red.”
“Oh you’re kidding,” Barbara managed before she burst into hysterics on the other end of the line.
Kate laughed too, but her tone was flat. “Right. I’m supposed to believe you’re into me? Nice. Well, if you don’t mind, Canary, I’m going to try and find my date from earlier this evening, do a little damage control. If you need to reach me, I’m sure you know how.”
As Kate walked back into the bar, Dinah radioed to Barbara, who was still laughing. “What’d you make of that, O?”
“Oh, Black Canary, that was a good one. You really just hit on her; my head hurts from all the laughter!”
Dinah didn’t see quite as much humor in the situation. “I meant the overall situation. Were you satisfied with her answers?”
After a minute, Barbara quieted and was able to speak normally. “For now, I am, actually. Of course we’ll continue to watch her. Make sure she knows what she’s getting herself into.” A brief pause over the radio, then, “It’s going to take me a while to get used to another Bat in the sky, but I’ll deal. Thank you for doing this, Canary.”
Dinah smiled as she headed down the alley, having no desire to walk back through the bar. “No problem, O, you know I’d do anything for you.”
“Oh, and Canary,” Barbara said as her laughter returned. “You know I’m going to have to tell the rest of the Birds the story about how you got rejected by the Batwoman, right?”