“How’s that lunatic you work with?”
Joan’s expression shaded into a smile, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Behaving. Yours?”
Barbara’s answering smile was even more subdued, though amused. “Never.”
A few years ago, Sherlock Holmes had come to Gotham City on the trail of an amateur arsonist who’d departed New York after he burned down his apartment building. It being Gotham, the fugitive stumbled across some of Firefly’s old equipment and immediately started trying to live up to the legacy.
Batman happened, as Batman does. He crossed paths briefly with Sherlock and used his observations on the arsonist’s habits to effect a quick capture. For his part, Sherlock enjoyed a brief sojourn in the underbelly of the city, incidentally deduced Batman’s identity, and returned home. Joan came into his life not long thereafter.
Intrigued by Batman’s unusually favorable description of Sherlock, Barbara created an online hacker’s history under an alias and Sherlock swiftly recruited her as one of his irregulars. She watched his career with interest, occasionally lending an appropriate hand to his investigations. She also watched Joan’s progression from sober companion to assisting detective...recognizing, in some ways, a kindred spirit.
Sherlock, like Batman, was what he was. Barbara found that she enjoyed seeing Joan’s growth, her willingness to reinvent herself multiple times and keep going.
From then on, when she had need of an operative on the ground in New York, Barbara didn’t hesitate to call on Joan Watson. Their working partnership proved such an unexpected pleasure that Dinah, after hearing Barbara’s glowing reports perhaps once too often, rolled her eyes and told Barbara to get her ass out of Gotham and go visit her new friend. In so many words.
Dinah always had a keen sense about these things.
Barbara undertook her first in-person trip with considerable trepidation. She was frankly out of practice on the making-friends front, superheroes notwithstanding. But Joan made it easy. She’d been surprised by Barbara’s sudden request to meet, arriving at the café wearing an aura of cool reserve. But she didn’t ask about the wheelchair and within a short while, both of them had negotiated enough of each other’s natural wariness to find a genuine connection.
Each subsequent get-together—sometimes in New York, sometimes in Jersey—proved even easier. By their second meeting Joan had researched Barbara’s history, at least as far as the public record reflected: Gotham police commissioner’s daughter, former librarian, assaulted and paralyzed by the Joker. Joan also hadn’t revealed Barbara’s true identity to Sherlock.
Barbara reciprocated that trust with the confession that she sometimes also consulted with Gotham’s most famous detective. Entirely true, if not all of the truth. Joan wasn’t particularly a hero chaser, though she appreciated their efforts in a general sense. And Batman was more of an urban legend than a fact outside Gotham anyway.
Joan sat down, putting her coat and purse aside. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too,” Barbara said, and it was true in more ways than one; Joan’s seemingly effortless choice of clothing and accessories always made her look stylish without being fussy. Barbara could appreciate the effect without necessarily wanting to duplicate it for herself. She didn’t have the time.
Speaking of. “Not that catching up isn’t its own reward, but you called about something specific?”
Joan glanced around, but Barbara had chosen a park bench well away from shrieking children or picnicking couples. “Yes. The last month has been difficult.”
That was an understatement worthy of Barbara’s own reserve. Joan’s boyfriend had been murdered, the victim of a poisoning meant for her. Elana March, a crime boss Joan helped to indict, hadn’t taken her incarceration with grace.
Barbara had sent what by definition had to be inadequate condolences. She didn't have anything better now. “I’m sorry for all of it.”
“I know. But there’s more. I seem to have acquired a...nemesis.” Joan flashed a nervous, slightly embarrassed smile. “I figured you might be familiar with dealing with that kind of thing.”
“Tell me,” Barbara said, trying to make it sound like a request rather than a demand.
“Elana March was killed in her cell.” Joan reached into her purse and drew out a piece of paper, handing it over. “I’m absolutely sure Moriarty is responsible.”
Barbara read the letter, wishing for her Oracle’s mask to hide her reaction.
My dearest Watson,
Although it’s been far too long since we laid eyes on each other, I continue to follow your career with great interest.
I was sorry to hear about the murder of Andrew Mittal, and more than a bit unhappy to learn that his death was an attempt on your own most cherished life.
I still believe there’s a game unfolding between Sherlock and I, and you have made yourself a valued and essential contributor. I won’t have you removed from play prematurely.
Uninvited participants are not welcome at the table, and their intrusions will be dealt with accordingly.
There may well be more rounds to be played between the two of us, and until such time as we’re both free to engage, I shall remain in delighted anticipation,
— Jamie Moriarty
Barbara had been keeping her own tabs on Moriarty since her true nature came to light. But she hadn’t heard any inkling of this.
“‘Intrusions will be dealt with,’” Barbara quoted softly. “You’re not wrong. She’s claiming you for her own.”
Joan frowned. “I’m not interested in speculating on what she wants. Her crazy isn’t going to direct my life. But I could use some advice on living with it.”
Barbara nodded, re-folding the letter and handing it back. The words were burned into her memory, no need to refer to the note again. “I’m sure you know you’re not responsible for anything she does.”
Joan sighed as she put the letter away. “A lot of things I’m not responsible for. Andrew’s death, Elana’s death. I’m told I’m not allowed to feel guilty about any of it.”
“Like hell you won’t,” Barbara said, and shrugged to Joan’s startled glance. “That’s the difference between her and you. Your conscience, your sense of justice. That’s what makes you one of the good guys.”
“Yeah, well. Small consolation.”
Joan looked upset, but Barbara had never been the comforting type. She replied in her driest tone, “At least she’s not a meta supervillain.”
Joan blinked, and then she let out a reluctant chuckle. “I guess that is the lesson. Things could always be worse.”
Could be Gotham, Barbara thought but didn’t say. Not a few of Batman’s villains were obsessed with him in one way or another, and their attentions were always particularly disturbing. “Don’t play her games. Don’t feed her obsession.”
“Sherlock writes to her,” Joan said.
Barbara snorted her disgust. “Still? He’s just encouraging her.”
“He says, and I quote, ‘Keeping her attention focused on me is preferable to any other schemes she might devise.’” Joan’s tone was carefully neutral, but the look on her face revealed her doubts.
“That’s the lie they tell themselves,” Barbara snarled. “As if these genius psychopaths aren’t perfectly capable of concentrating on multiple plans at once. As if the collateral damage—” She stopped and breathed out sharply, regathering her focus. “That’s his idiocy. All the more reason for you to protect yourself. I know you’ve been practicing with the singlestick, but you need to step up your technique.”
Joan started to shake her head. “I’m not a vigilante.”
Barbara fixed her with a piercing glare. “You asked me what to do about your nemesis. I’m telling you. It’s not about her, it’s about you.” She subvocalized a message to her earpiece and sent Joan a text. “Wait a day, then call that number.”
Joan glanced at her phone as it chimed. “Who’s this?”
“The man who taught me to fight after I was shot.”
Joan looked at her for a long moment. “You really think this is necessary.”
Barbara took off her glasses, rubbing at her eyes before answering. “I know that Moriarty is a criminal mastermind. March’s death proves that prison hasn’t hindered her reach at all. And I’m absolutely certain that she’s only still incarcerated because it suits her to be. When she decides she’s ready to play the next part of her ‘game’....”
“I...see your point.”
“I don’t want to see you get caught in the crossfire,” Barbara said, and glanced away as Joan’s gaze shaded into comprehension, and compassion.
Her story was a public spectacle, a cautionary tale. Barbara didn’t want Joan’s to end the same way.