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a light gone out yet burning

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Dinah didn't go to the funeral. Not that she could have: her identities were porous at best, and it was strange enough that Bruce Wayne had canceled a trip to the French Riviera in order to pay his respects to the retired police commissioner's daughter. She didn't even watch from afar; she hadn't been sure she could without screaming.

She spent the next month patrolling Gotham, where she heard but did not listen to Bruce's "my city" speech. The days passed in a haze of benzodiazepines. Ollie kept inviting her to Star City, and if Dinah had been smart, she would have gone, but then Barbara had always been the brains of their operation.

She didn't know what Barbara had told Helena before the surgery, but once a week, the woman broke into her apartment to leave lasagna in the refrigerator. Helena was not a good cook, but Dinah wouldn't have eaten otherwise. She had just stepped into the kitchen for some post-patrol leftovers when Barbara said in her ear, "Canary."

With numb fingers, Dinah undid a transceiver earring and placed it at the center of the kitchen table. She could almost feel the thread of her sanity spooling out.

"Canary, can you hear me?"

The Barbara-like voice, now in distorted stereo, was definitely coming from her earrings. She sank into a chair.

"Dinah, please."

Cautiously, she ducked her head toward the earring. "Babs?"

"Oh, thank God. Dinah, listen to me—"

"No. No way." Dinah pushed away from the table, chair scraping against the linoleum. "This is not happening. I am not talking to you because you are not there to be talked to." After an agony of fiddling, she tossed her other earring at the table. Then she determinedly opened the refrigerator, as if she could restore her lost sanity with sufficient quantities of mediocre lasagna.

"Wait, please, just—" Barbara's voice begged shrilly from the abandoned transceivers. "I should have kissed back. Before you left, you kissed me and you said it was for luck but—"

"How?" Dinah croaked, turning around despite herself. "How do you know about that?"

"Because it's me," Barbara said fiercely. "In every way that matters."

Of course Barbara didn't think it mattered that her body was in a box in the ground. Dinah rubbed her eyes while Barbara said something about digitizing the spin states of subatomic particles. It happened, in their community. It had happened to Ollie. And now Barbara had somehow managed to back up her brain. Carefully, Dinah put her earrings back in. "I'm going to eat this lasagna, and then I'm going to bed, and eight hours after that, you are going to explain this to me again."

Barbara laughed, and Dinah's pleasure extinguished when she wondered how long that had taken to program. "All right," Barbara's voice agreed. "Dinah," she added quietly, seriously, "thank you."

Dinah scarfed down enough lasagna to sink into a carb stupor. For eight hours, she dreamed of searching a strange, amorphous city for Barbara. In every room, she found only the Oracle mask.

*

Barbara, or at least Barbara's voice—always a tenuous distinction but one that Dinah was trying to hang on to—ran Dinah's patrol the next night.

The first surprise of the evening was Helena dropping onto the rooftop. Dinah had known that the woman had been shadowing her, but she hadn't reached out, stubbornly punishing them both. She reached out now, opening her arms and pulling Helena into a hug. After an awkward minute of stiff resistance, Helena returned the embrace, and then they were teammates once again.

The second surprise was how normal the patrol felt. As per usual, Barbara watched via one of Luthor's spy satellites. The resolution was superb: when Barbara's voice yelled, "Canary, behind you!" Dinah automatically threw an elbow that crunched some creep's teeth. For hours, they moved as one, Barbara's voice aiming Dinah's body, just like she always had.

The sky was just beginning to lighten when Dinah found herself near the Clocktower, or what remained of it. That was gone now, too.

In an excellent mimicry of a regretful tone, Barbara's voice said, "Canary, why don't you head home."

"Right," Dinah agreed, feeling dazed.

As she had for many nights, Helena followed Dinah, but this time she followed her inside. Without bothering to ask if Dinah was hungry, she nuked two portions of lasagna.

Once their plates had been scraped clean, Helena urged, "Just think of it like a computer. Barbara is...wherever souls go."

Dinah supposed that the vestiges of Helena's Catholicism made it that simple. But thinking of it—of her—like a computer didn't help Dinah shake the jealous thought that another copy of Barbara had devoted the same care to the Bats' patrols that night, while a third had probably monitored world chatter for the JLA. It was petty, Dinah admonished herself, to begrudge Barbara the capabilities that she had always wanted. Barbara—the digitized spin states of Barbara's subatomic particles—just wanted to keep her people safe.

Dinah touched her earring. She couldn't help thinking that Barbara's spin states had heard their conversation. She wondered if Helena's dismissal had hurt.

*

Barbara—Barbara's voice, Barbara's backup—brought Zinda into the fold next. The time-traveler quickly adjusted to the idea that their skipper would be present but not aboard the Aerie One, and gamely piloted them to Bwunda, the first place that Dinah had partnered with Oracle. She wondered if Barbara had chosen the location for its symbolism, or if some algorithm had simply decided that this was what needed to be done and that these were the tools to do it.

The extraction of an imprisoned dissident went smoothly, much more so than that first op had gone. This time, there was no divide between operative and handler, just that warm and confident voice disengaging locks, silencing alarms, warning of reinforcements. All Dinah had to do was listen and act, not plan, not worry, not even think.

As the Aerie One winged away from Bwunda, Dinah let herself into Barbara's old nest. The space at the center was empty, but the servers were humming; they had run a local version of Barbara's program in case there was interference with the satellites.

Dinah sat down cross-legged where Barbara's chair would have been. "I miss you," she announced.

"I'm right here."

Dinah laughed derisively, flicking one earring. "You're too smart to mean that."

Barbara didn't reply.

"Come on," Dinah wheedled, "how many people get a second chance like this?"

"You and Ollie," Barbara suggested; Dinah snorted. "I'm serious. You should call him. We can still work together."

"Babs," Dinah huffed, exasperated, "I don't miss working with you. I miss takeout and movies, and talking all night. I miss...being with you."

Barbara swallowed, an affectation Dinah wasn't sure she liked. "I know that there are things," Barbara began, still warm but not so confident as she had been in the field, "that you wanted, that I wanted..."

"I still want those things," Dinah said simply, without shame or censure.

"Dinah..."

"What? Like you Bats are paragons of mental health. Besides, it's not like you're really gone. Not the part of you that matters."

"It matters for this!"

"Yeah, well." Dinah chewed her lip. "There are cameras in here, right? You can see me?"

"Dinah, what are you...?"

She was pulling down the zipper on the front of her costume. "You can see me," she repeated, pleased, and shrugged off her tunic.

Barbara's breathing hitched, and it wasn't an unconscious tell, but rather a very deliberate signal.

"I used to have this fantasy," Dinah said conversationally, pulling off her sports bra, "back when you were just a robot voice. It'd be after a mission but I'd still be feeling the adrenaline." She had her hands on both breasts, stroking experimentally. "I'd start doing what I'm doing now, and I wouldn't turn my earrings off." She rolled her nipples and moaned. "And you'd listen to the whole thing."

"Take off your pants," Barbara ordered abruptly, confident once more.

Dinah hurried to comply.

*

Dinah lay with her toes touching the server in front of her while her shoulders rested against the one behind her. "Wow," she said at last.

"Wow," Barbara agreed.

Haphazardly, Dinah collected bits of her costume. "Wish I could do that to you," she confessed without meaning to.

"I am working on a mobile platform with Cyborg."

"Barbara Gordon, you are not building a sexbot with a Teen Titan."

"Then where does that leave you?"

"Where I've always been," Dinah said cheerfully, "in love with the voice in my ear."

Dinah imagined Barbara's face going still. Then:

"The voice loves you, too."