Good girls don't run away to join the circus, so everyone assumes that's why Barbara does it.
Life as a showgirl turns out to be spectacularly boring, and not glamorous at all, and it's a good thing she doesn't need the money, because it doesn't pay beans, either. She isn't making any headway with the Graustarks, who are insular and territorial about their craft, and if it weren't for Dick, she would probably just give up and go home.
Dick's beautiful. He has beautiful eyes and a beautiful body and a beautiful mouth. Even his bones are beautiful. The slope of his cheekbones, the spare strength of his hands, even the knob of bone at the corner of his wrist. All of it perfect and graceful and made to be admired.
Everyone looks at him, watches him--the agile, bright, laughing boy. Melinda, who swallows fire while riding her unicycle, sometimes sits in the bleachers while he practices. She's tiny, and her voice is sweet and high, but up close there are lines around her eyes, her mouth, and only her costume keeps her breasts that high. She looks at Dick and she sighs, and Barbara knows exactly what she's thinking.
Barbara wonders how old he is, and decides not too young. Or maybe young, but not too innocent. Innocence doesn't last long in circus life, even under Papa Graustark's watchful eye.
Just like your mother, a voice she thinks of as her father's says. She always liked them young and pretty.
Her father would never say anything like that to her, though. He would never be that crude, that honest, and he's more a presence in her head than her life anyway.
He was never around much, even before her parents divorced, intent on clawing his way to the top of a stinking pile of cops, intent on the straight and narrow, intent on doing right everywhere but home. His family left to fend for themselves at Christmas, on Barbara's birthday, on the day her mother's brother died in a car accident.
"Your father is an important man," her mother would say.
He didn't seem to notice he was important to them, too. Her mother probably knew it long before she accepted it, and just before Barbara started kindergarten, she packed up all their things and moved them to a different house.
It took Barbara two weeks to realize her father hadn't moved with them, that's how seldom she saw him.
No one, not even Dick, knows why she's really here--to learn. Having Dick for a teacher not only makes the learning possible, it gives the lessons an added pleasure.
Seducing him is ridiculously easy. He turns out to be more innocent than she thought, and it's sort of sweet, how earnest he is. How easy--and eager--to please.
They spend every spare moment together, lessons at every turn. On the unpredictable trampoline, on the cramped couch in her trailer, on the trembling high wire. In the pile of hay next to the elephant wagon, on the sweeping trapeze, in her rumpled bed. They show each other how to move and twist and touch and bend, where to kiss, how to balance, when to be aggressive, when to wait. They show each other ways to use a body that are new and thrilling for both of them.
She doesn't want to be obvious about the things they're doing when they're alone, but Dick wants to spend the night in her trailer, sleep huddled together in the narrow bed. Her roommate spends her nights with a man named Turk, who has a trained dog act and shares his trailer with only his animals, so they have the whole tiny space to themselves. They make good use of it every night after the crowd goes home.
Dick's mother doesn't approve. His father seems torn between disapproval and manly pride. His brothers and cousins grin and give them good-natured leers. Dick doesn't seem to notice any of it. His eyes are on Barbara, always on Barbara.
She can't remember the last time a man thought only about her. Maybe none ever has.
In the new house, she spent a lot of time kneeling in the shadows at the top of the staircase, watching people come and go. Her mother had always entertained Gotham society, and that didn't change when her parents split. The parties and dinners went on, populated with beautiful women in long dresses and sparkling necklaces on the arms of men in black tuxedos. They arrived in pairs, sometimes sneaking off in different pairs, around the corner where there were empty rooms and doors with locks. Then leaving again, back in the original pairs.
At the end of the evening, sometimes just her mother, standing in the foyer, and one man left. Coming up behind her, touching her neck as she locked the front door. And Barbara scooting back to bed before they came up the stairs.
Dick keeps talking about Boston, which is after Gotham, and he's smart, so he sees right away she doesn't like to talk about Boston.
"You're leaving," he says, and his mouth droops in an unhappy line.
She hasn't made up her mind, actually, but she's been thinking about it. About her plans, and about this thing she's wanted to do for so long it feels like it's the only thing that matters anymore.
He keeps asking, and she lets him draw it out of her, a little bit at a time. She tells him what she's going to do with the things he's taught her. It's almost too much to hope that he'll want to do it, too, and it's incredibly reckless of her to tell anyone, but she can't help it. She wants it, but now she wants him as well, and the more she talks about it, the more she believes she can have both.
He thinks it's romantic and exciting, and she's starting to think that, too.
Her father mostly talked about work, when he remembered to come and see her. About how it was a constant fight, but he could feel the progress. Like that was supposed to make her feel better, make her feel okay about him walking out on his family, because it was worth it. She couldn't really understand how anything could be worth more than the people who loved you, but she never told him that.
She never told him about the man who kept coming to see her mother, either. The one who was never at the parties, who only came to visit when her mother was home alone.
He was young. No glasses or premature gray hair like her father. Handsome, and he smiled all the time, and once she saw her mother brush the snow out of his hair when he came through the door, laughing.
Barbara knew he was a cop. She always recognized them, even out of uniform, even when she was too young to understand how. They all reminded her of her father, even if they didn't look anything like him, because they all carried themselves the same way. Carried themselves like they were The Law.
Barbara never actually met the young cop. He always came at night, after she was supposed to be in bed, and sometimes he would ask her mother if she was asleep. Mostly they didn't talk, though, and once they left the door wide open in their rush to get upstairs.
It was supposed to be a secret, though Barbara didn't know why. She thought somehow it had to do with her father, that her father would be angry if he knew.
After a while the young cop didn't come around as often, and when he did they would fight more often than not. Sometimes the fights spilled out into the foyer, into the drive, and he'd race off into the dark, the sounds of squealing tires and her mother's sobs filling the house.
And then one night he left, and the house was quiet, and her mother was dead.
He's still a cop. She sees him in the paper, on the news, at the station when she goes to visit her father.
He responded to the call that night, looking smooth and handsome as ever, unruffled by what he'd done. He watched her over her father's shoulder, suspicious and speculative, and she couldn't bring herself to do anything but lie. She told her father she didn't remember anything about what happened. All these years later it's almost true, but she still remembers the way the young cop smiled at his buddies as he stood over her mother's body.
He'll never be caught, never be punished, because he's one of them, and they won't let him fall. Even if he knew the truth, her father would never be able to get him, because he's too soft and too concerned with doing things the right way.
Sometimes things need to be done right, and sometimes they just need to be done.
Dick is overflowing with enthusiasm and ideas. He shows up at her door waving a ratty comic book, talking about code names and costumes, and he asks her again and again about the house.
He's never lived in a real house, and is excited by the prospect. He'll probably be disappointed when he sees it, despite her warnings. When she tells him, again, that it's old and decrepit and not at all what he envisions, he kisses her and tells her he doesn't care, as long as he's with her.
She wonders what it will be like, to have a man around the house all the time, one who doesn't always have something better to do, somewhere else he'd rather be.
Dick smiles at her, guileless and pretty, and she thinks she can barely wait to find out.
Her father never made any secret of the fact that he wanted Bruce Wayne for a son-in-law.
They saw each other often as children, at the City Founders picnic, at the opening ceremony for the county fair, anything their parents were required to attend. They sat next to each other on the lawn while the hired clown made balloon animals, waited patiently in the dusty line for pony rides. He was a happy, laughing boy, with good manners. Even at seven years old, he would get two cupcakes, one for him and one for her, and give her his napkin when she knocked over her punch.
He lost his parents two years before she lost her mother, and after that she didn't see him anymore, until he joined the department. Her father started inviting him to their infrequent lunches, obvious in his matchmaking.
He still has good manners, and still gives her his napkin, and he still remembers she likes chocolate frosting, not vanilla--which is more than she can say for her father--but he doesn't laugh anymore.
She can't deny that she's attracted to him, maybe even more now that they're both a little beat up, but she'll never marry a cop. She'll never end up like her mother, who was always lonely, a single mother long before the actual divorce. And she *would* end up lonely if she married him, because Bruce Wayne is too much like her father.
He's the same kind of fool, sacrificing everything to the cause, and he'll slowly kill anyone who is crazy enough to love him, slowly leech all the life out of them, because the city comes first, their beloved city. A hellhole of crime and despair, but they'll give up anything for it, even the people they love.
Barbara's seen the young police brides, with their pretty dresses and hopeful faces, each one believing her marriage will be different, believing her husband won't end up a stranger. They don't really understand the job, and they don't understand the brotherhood. They don't understand that the Gotham P.D. feeds on the souls of her men, on the souls of their families. Even the good ones.
Especially the good ones.
Dick's grounded--which means something completely different in his family--so they pack up and leave in the middle of the show, while the Graustarks are still soaring free under the big top. He barely looks back, and Barbara wonders if he'll regret that later, but there's no time bring it up.
The cabbie grouses about their luggage, writing them off at first glance as the kind that don't tip, and asks her to repeat the address twice, disbelieving. Barbara smiles in a way that doesn't invite further comment. The cabbie takes the hint.
As they wind their way out of the city, Dick's hand is warm and strong over hers, and she finally believes they're going to do it. What started out as a plan to get the man who killed her mother has grown into something bigger and more compelling. She'd wondered, sometimes, what she would do with her life afterwards, but there was little time for planning for the future.
But now she knows. They're going to fix what's wrong with Gotham. Not just one cop, but all of them, and they're going to show Bruce and her father that it can be done without destroying everyone around you. That you can fight evil without feeding off the ones you love. Without bleeding them dry, one broken promise at a time.
They're going to do what her mother and father never could.
They're going to live happily ever after.