September 27, 2006, 00:08 EST
Landing solidly on the other side of the apartment block, Robin's gaze shifted to his mentor, unable to stamp down a twinge of nervousness, "how was that?"
Batman gave him a solid nod, "you're getting better with a grappling hook."
His nervousness subsided easily and a self-satisfied smirk graced his face again, falling away quickly as a gunshot rang out in the dark, followed by a scream and a second shot. Pivoting towards where the sound had come from, he turned back to Batman, "that sounded like a girl."
Bruce nodded grimly, "you take the rooftops, I'll take the streets. Use the comms if you find anything and don't go running into something if I'm not there."
Firing off his grappling hook again, he rolled his eyes, "yeah yeah, I'll be careful."
The wind whistled past his ears as the grappling hook pulled him up into the air, rolling into a crouch on top of the roof. Surveying the roof to make sure he was alone, he started running towards where the scream had come from. He was so focused on what could have happened, he almost missed the giant blood spatter just barely visible through an apartment window.
Stopping dead, he backtracked a few steps. Giant was admittedly a bit of an exaggeration, the actual spatter couldn't have been bigger than six inches in diameter. Running and leaping forward towards the fire escape the window was attached to, he hauled himself up with ease, immediately recoiling when he saw that there was more blood on the railing. Peeking his head in through the window, he saw a large, middle-aged man with a beer belly slumped on the floor, lifeless eyes staring at nothing. He still had a gun clutched in his right hand, and he was still bleeding from a sizeable hole in his head.
Choking down the urge to vomit, Robin shifted his eyes to the rest of the room, taking note of a small pool of blood on the other side of the room. Little droplets lead to the window he was perched on and slowly all the pieces clicked into place. Pressing down on the comm in his ear he started tracking the blood trail, "Batman, there's a dead man in the third apartment block down from the corner of 56th and Radforth, it looks like he was trying to kill someone else, I'm tracking the other person now."
Bruce's voice crackled in his ear, "don't approach the situation until I get there."
"And if it's that girl who screamed? And she needs help?" Dick shot back, picking up his pace as he rounded an alley corner.
"If it's just her, fine, but if there are other people wait for me, do I make myself understood?"
He elected not to answer, curling into the shadows as the sound of ragged breathing came from the next alley over. Nearing the noise cautiously, he saw a small girl who looked to be about his age bent over, one hand pressed to her lower stomach and the other braced against the alley wall as she dragged herself somewhere. There was a large bloodstain blooming across her midsection, but the worn white tank-top she was wearing could be making it look worse than it was. Stepping forward slowly in an attempt not to frighten her, he announced his presence with a quiet, "are you okay?"
She jumped, flipping so her back was facing the alley wall. As she took in his appearance her fear seemed to settle into an uncomfortable tension keeping her muscles drawn tight. Her eyes narrowed "does it look like I'm okay?"
He came closer, "okay, I walked into that one, what happened to you?"
"I got shot," she said flatly, regarding his movements like someone who was used to being in danger.
He had no idea how to make himself seem non-threatening, and instead he opted to examine the cut on her temple, bleeding down her face and nearly blending into the dark red of her hair, a tangled curly mess around her shoulders. "What happened here?"
"Cracked over the head with a beer bottle, are you done with the third degree now or what?"
He backed off a little, "I'm Robin, I'm-"
"Batman's brand new partner, I know." She said, "Rick and his buddies never shut up about the two of you, apparently you're a real inconvenience for the gangs of Gotham."
He frowned a little, "is Rick the one who shot you? The dead guy?"
She nodded, looking down at her stomach, "he's my foster father." Hissing softly as she pulled her hand away to examine the wound, she immediately went back to applying pressure, "now if you'll excuse me, I have to get this taken care of."
She started walking again and he grabbed her by the arms to hold her in place as softly as he could, "whoa, hold on for minute. That's a spinal cord injury just waiting to happen."
"I think I'll take the spinal cord injury over bleeding out. Or being here when Andrei arrives."
"You don't have an exit wound," he said, trying to use the same calm, commanding tone Bruce used on people in shock, "the more you move the more likely it is that the bullet it going to move around inside your body and make your injury worse, or pierce something fatal."
She raised an eyebrow, "is gunshot first aid something they teach you in vigilante school?"
He narrowed his eyes, "we need to take you to the hospital."
So today was a pretty bad day. Maybe not the worst day, but not a lot of things topped getting shot by your foster father, watching him shoot himself, and then dragging yourself down a couple flights of a fire escape and into a dirty alley. Now I had a wannabe superhero not letting me leave and talking about taking me to a hospital. I shook my head, "thanks for the offer Little Boy Blue, but I think I'll be just fine on my own. Now run off and go punch a mugger in the face or something."
His eyes narrowed, "do you want to bleed out? You need surgery and a blood transfusion."
"I know a guy, he was a medic in the Vietnam War. He'll patch me up, I'll be on my merry way."
"What do you have against hospitals?" He shot back, coming to stand in front of me.
I rolled my eyes, "shot by my foster father remember? Hospitals mean the government and the government means foster care. I don't exactly have the best track record with homes, given what this guy was like the next one'll be into virgin sacrifice."
I tried to keep walking and a wave of dizziness and the worst pain I'd ever felt in my life hit me like a transport truck. Stumbling, I hissed when Robin reached to hold me up. He opened his mouth to say something, but before he could speak there was the softest of thumps and Batman himself landed in the alley next to us. I nodded towards him, "can you get this idiot off of me?"
Previously mentioned idiot scoffed, "did you want to land face-first in a dirty alley?"
Batman just narrowed his eyes, "what happened here?"
Robin started explaining for me, something that usually would have pissed me off but all I could really manage right now was a weak glare. My eyelids had never felt so heavy and all I wanted was a nap. Carla's voice rang in my head, 'if you get shot, don't close your eyes. Ever. Keep going until you get somewhere safe.' So I forced myself awake, and when I did both the caped crusaders were staring at me in concern.
Before I could really say anything Batman had scooped me up, carrying me bridal-style down the alley. I didn't know where we were going, and the sound of the two of them talking had faded to a quiet hum. My ear was pressed against Batman's chest, and I found the rhythmic sound of his heartbeat comforting. We stayed like that for a while, and eventually I felt smooth leather underneath me instead of arms. Rolling my head to the side, I noted that I was lying in the back of a strange car. The gentle hum of the practically silent engine filled my ears and I suppressed the urge to fall asleep.
A hand tapped my cheek, and when I turned towards it Robin was sitting in the back with me. "You gotta stay awake, let's play a game."
"Like what? Twenty questions?" I snarked.
"That could actually work," he said, pressing his hand over my stomach to apply pressure, making me hiss in pain, "sorry. Anyway, I can't say anything identity-wise but normal questions are a go."
"Seems fair," I said, "you start."
"What's your name?"
I frowned, wondering how he'd answer it, "Arabella, but most people give me a nickname. Never Bella though. You?"
"Robin, or the Boy Wonder if you prefer," he said cheekily, "why not Bella?"
"I'm counting that as one of your questions, because I hate Twilight for one, and because someone I knew once called me that. Why's your name Robin?"
I seemed to have struck a nerve, "someone I knew once called me that too. Favourite colour?"
I opened my mouth to say green, but as the car hit a bump his mask shifted ever so slightly, revealing bright blue eyes like I had never seen and I found that I was saying that instead, "blue, you?"
"Black, favourite season?"
"One, black's a shade not a colour, and fall, what's yours?"
"Winter, black is totally a colour and no one can tell me otherwise. What's your favourite song?"
I blinked, "I don't really have one."
He looked scandalized, "you don't have a favourite song?"
"I don't really listen to music," I deadpanned.
"You've never heard a song, ever, that you liked?"
I paused, the faintest memory of soft piano running through my mind, "I don't know the name of it."
"Hum it," he encouraged, and I huffed but hummed the first few seconds of it.
Batman cut in, "it's called Clair de Lune, it's by Claude Debussy. He was a French composer in the late eighteen-hundreds, early nineteen-hundreds."
I almost wanted to snap at him for telling me a piece of totally useless information, but it didn't feel useless. It felt like he had given me something. I turned to Robin, "what's your favourite song then, Little Boy Blue?"
"Paint it Black, by The Rolling Stones. Why do you call me that?"
"What," I said with a frown, "Little Boy Blue? Robin, robin's egg blue, and you're a little boy."
"I'm not a little boy!" he said, clearly offended.
I narrowed my eyes, "most people would consider me a little girl, and you couldn't be much older than I am."
He looked ridiculously sullen, and the car suddenly slowed to a stop. He had kept me awake the whole ride here, and while I doubted this car was slow, from the clean, modern look of the hospital as Batman lifted me back out of the car we couldn't have been anywhere near the Park Row area where they'd found me. The tiredness seeped back into my bones as soon as he started carrying me again, and as we approached the double doors of the ER I felt my eyes drift closed. There was a lot of yelling and someone was rapidly questioning Batman, eventually turning a much more calm voice to me, "do you know your blood type sweetie?"
I cracked an eye open to see a middle-aged nurse with a clipboard looking back at me. I had no sweet clue. I had never needed a blood transfusion before, and it wasn't like I had a parent to remember that sort of information. As I shook my head she offered me a small smile, "that's alright sweetheart, we can just give you O-neg until you get a blood test done."
"B-positive," Robin said out of the blue, and twisting my neck to peer over Batman's shoulder I saw him staring at some kind of computer on his wrist. He looked up at the three of us, "I hacked her file with Social Work."
"Thank you young man," the nurse said, scribbling down something on her clipboard before turning back to me, "we're gonna take care of you right away." She turned towards a hallway on her right, "where is my gurney? We have a child bleeding to death over here!"
I let my eyes close again, deeming this a safe enough place to finally fall apart. In what could have been a few moments or a few minutes I was being lowered onto something soft and plastic-y. Then I was flying, and a mask was being fitted to my face and a man was instructing me to count down from ten. "Ten, nine, eight… seven… si-"
When I woke up I didn't open my eyes right away. There was a soft beeping to my left that I slowly realized was a heart monitor, and it felt like I had five million things connected to me. The room felt wrong, and I slowly cracked an eye open to see three figures in the shadows. The heart monitor started beeping faster and a singular question flew through my head, howdidhefindmehowdidhefindmehowdidhefindme.
The figures walked into the light and the first one my eyes latched onto was Robin, a panicked look on his face, arms held out to calm me, "stop freaking out!"
Behind him was Batman and a woman I hadn't seen before, dressed head to toe in a tight leather bodysuit, wearing a pair of orange tinted goggles. Her hands, I noted, had claws extending from each fingertip. I decided to address Robin, "you don't just randomly hide in the shadows watching someone sleep! I thought you were here to kill me!"
Batman spoke this time, "why would you think that?"
I narrowed my eyes, "no reason." There was no way I was breathing a word of any of this to them. If I wanted to survive for longer than five minutes on the streets it was in my best interest to shut up about Andrei and pray he'd just let me go.
He crossed his arms, "you're safe now, Arabella. You can speak to us."
I snorted, the plastic thingy in my nose shifting a little, "safe isn't an option when you live like I do, so sorry about it."
"And how do you live?" the woman asked, crossing the room to my bed.
I regarded her cautiously, "on the streets, like any helpless orphan. When you live in the seedy underworld you try not to make anyone in said seedy underworld angry."
She looked strange, sad almost, or disappointed? But it didn't look like it was directed at me so I was confused. She sat on the edge of my bed, "what's your birthday?"
I looked at her like she was a crazy person, "October twenty-fifth, why?"
"And how old are you?" she asked, ignoring my question.
"Like, nine and three quarters? Why do you care?"
"You said you were an orphan, where are your parents?"
I frowned, "my mom died giving birth to me and my dad was killed when I was five. I stayed in an orphanage for like a month, bounced around the foster system, stayed out on the streets for a while and then I got caught and put back in the foster system. Rick was my fourth home since then."
"And your full name?"
"Arabella Selene Williams. Satisfied?"
She paused, "Selene?"
I rolled my eyes, "my dad was into greek mythology. She's the titaness of the moon."
She swallowed, "did he ever talk about your mom?"
"Sometimes, I don't remember much," I said, shrugging, "I think he told me she was beautiful, and smart, and that she had wanted to stay with us but she couldn't."
She took one of my hands in between her own, carefully avoiding me with her claws. She let her eyes drop to the floor, speaking very quietly, "Arabella, your mother isn't dead."
I blinked, "yes she is, very dead. Almost ten years dead."
She pulled off the goggles, lifting the top part of her suit that wrapped around her head, curly red hair spilling out. I stopped breathing. She turned her eyes on me, the same goldish amber as mine, "I'm your mother."
My voice was a breathless whisper, "is this some kind of elaborate prank?"
She shook her head, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes. Her voice wavered when she spoke, "I am so, so sorry. I never knew your father died."
She had to be lying. There was no way this was my mother. Even as I denied it, I was picking out similarities between us. I had her hair, her eyes, the beginnings of her high cheekbones. I narrowed my eyes, "what was my father's name?"
"Michael. Michael Williams," she said softly. "His birthday was April twenty-fourth, he loved Johnny Cash for some ungodly reason and he played you Clair de Lune every night when you were a baby because he read in a parenting book that classical music makes children smarter."
I was floored. This was my mother. She had just smashed any lingering doubt to pieces. I didn't really get it, I just knew it and I realized I had been staring at her like I was crazy for at least a minute by now. I breathed out, voice wobbly, "well that's cool." She started laughing, silent, head-tossed-back, entire-body-shaking laughing. I found myself laughing with her and we were both in hysterics, the two boys staring at us in disbelief. Eventually our laughter petered out into little giggles and the woman wiped her eyes. I coughed a little, "so who are you? Besides my mother I mean."
That sent her into another fit of giggles and she sighed softly, "my actual name is Selina Kyle, but when I run around at night I call myself Catwoman."
I nodded, and then a thought hit me, "wait, Selina? Did Dad name me after you?"
"I don't know," she said with a shrug.
Batman coughed from the corner, "as much as I hate to break up this little reunion, we're running out of time until the nurse's next rounds so we have to get questioning done."
I froze up, "didn't you hear me earlier? I'd practically be spray painting my name and 'Andrei please come kill me!' in The Bowery."
"You're coming to stay with me," Selina cut in, "you don't have to worry about that."
I blinked, pausing to consider that. I'd have an honest to god home. I'd be safe. The concept didn't really click in my head but I found myself resigning to Batman's questioning anyway, "what do you need to know?"
"Who's this Andrei you keep talking about?"
I shook my head, "I don't really know, except the fact that he's psychotic. His gang shot off from the Bratva like twenty years ago. They're the ones who killed my dad, and they killed-" I cut myself off, "someone else I know. But that was her fault, she got cocky. They have a system set up, they knock on your door with guns and ask if you'd be interested in having their protection. If you say no, they kill you, and if you say yes you have to pay them every month. If you don't come through on a payment, they kill you."
"Is that what happened to your father?" he asked quietly.
"I don't know," I said, "I don't remember much about it. He woke me up in the middle of the night and told me to hide in my closet until he came to get me. Then there was yelling and a really loud bang and I stayed there for a really long time, I think I fell asleep again. He never came, so I crawled out and he was lying face down in our living room. I rolled him over, and he wasn't breathing so I kept shaking him. When he wouldn't wake up I went across the hall to this old lady who'd babysit me sometimes. She freaked out and called the police." I talked about it in a detached way. I had the story down by now and it was better not to think about it too much and just recite it.
"I'm sorry," he said, and I had the feeling he genuinely meant it, "so why were you scared of Andrei coming after you now?"
"Rick, my foster father, he was in his gang. He wasn't high up or anything but Andrei's pretty involved, so when he hears about something he checks it out personally. After what I did, he would have killed me slowly and painfully, made it even worse if he recognized me."
"Why would he have recognized you?"
I cursed myself, "I had a run-in with them when I was living on the streets. It wasn't pretty."
"Is that when the girl you knew died?"
I frowned, "she was a friend of mine. When I first ran away and started living by myself she pretty much adopted me. Showed me the ropes, let me live in her squat with her, taught me how to pickpocket, who the best fences were, who and where to stay away from, things like that. I think she felt bad for me. She would run cons sometimes, play the fiddle game with this guy she knew using a pair of fake diamond earrings." I shifted in the bed, a little uncomfortable, "Andrei has a treasure room, where basically he keeps stacks of cash, drugs and weapons in the back of his club. The idea was for her to get dressed up, us to go there, her to distract the guys guarding the room and while they were gone I'd slip in, grab some money and go. It would've worked out, but they caught on. They shot her and she ran out the back door. I met up with her a block away and we were running, but she was bleeding to death and collapsed. Tried to get me to leave her there. The cops found us, and took me in. That's how I wound up back in the system."
Batman was nodding, recording what I was saying on his own strange arm-computer. He looked up, "I think I know what you're talking about. The gang's been a thorn in the GCPDs side because they haven't been able to nail any of the higher ups for criminal activity. Why were you shot?"
"I stole from them," I admitted, "Rick wasn't exactly the nicest, I wanted out, so I waited for him and his buddies to get drunk and fall asleep. They had been counting money, so I went in and stole a couple hundred dollars but I kicked a beer can on my way out and Rick woke up. I didn't make it out in time, and he grabbed me by the hair and cracked a bottle over my head. Andrei's not exactly forgiving, and Rick was pretty replaceable so Rick started freaking out about how Andrei was going to kill him for letting a little girl steal from him and then he shot me, and then he shot himself. I think he was aiming for my chest but he was shaking all over the place, caught me in the stomach instead. If I stuck around Andrei was going to kill me, so I got up and crawled out the window and down the fire escape, got maybe twenty feet and then Boy Wonder over here found me."
"Why did he shoot you though?" said Boy Wonder asked, "why didn't he just leave you for this Andrei guy?"
"I don't really know, like I said, he wasn't exactly nice. Maybe he didn't want to cause me more suffering, or he thought if he did this one nice thing he'd lower his chances of going to Hell or something."
"So if he was so terrible, why did he foster?"
I frowned, "the same reason other terrible people foster kids. The government gives you money to, it's supposed to be spent on the kids but he used it to buy drinks and coke."
There was beeping from Batman's arm computer and he looked towards the door, "we have sixty seconds until a nurse walks in, we have to leave."
Selina paused, pressing a quick kiss to my forehead, "I'll come back for you, I promise."
She opened the window, crawling through it and in seconds they were gone, Robin waving goodbye as he lowered the windowpane. The room felt strangely empty without them and I barely had time to close my eyes feign awakening as a nurse strode in. She was younger than the other one, maybe in her early twenties, short brown hair pulled up with a clear plastic clip. Her blue eyes were warm, "hey there chickie, feeling better?"
I nodded, "I don't hurt as much anymore, what's going on?"
"That would be the painkillers, do you want me to explain what's happened to you?"
"Yes please," I said, making my eyes go wide and scared. The terrified child act was one I had down pat by now.
She smiled reassuringly, "you were brought in by Batman and Robin with a gunshot wound to the abdomen- that's your stomach," she said, pointing at the gauzed-over area with her pen, "you were brought directly into surgery. The bullet was lodged in your intestines but it missed any other major organs. You're very lucky you know, it's a miracle you didn't die from hydrostatic shock. You were given a blood transfusion and some stomach acid leaked out of your intestines so you're on antibiotics for peritonitis, alongside some fluids. Any questions?"
"What are these sticky thingies?" I asked, gesturing to the little pads with wires coming out that were stuck under my hospital gown.
"They're electrodes, they monitor your heartbeat. The thing in your nose is called a cannula and it's providing you with extra oxygen but since you seem to be breathing fine I can remove it." She went about her business, writing things down on a clipboard at the foot of my bed. After she was finished she paused, "oh, some officers from the GCPD might come in to do some questioning tomorrow while everything is still fresh in your mind. You'll be here for a minimum of four weeks to recover, but they might downgrade you from PICU to the pediatrics floor."
I nodded, "thank you for all your help."
She shook her head fondly, "that's my job chickie," suddenly she frowned, "what's that on your forehead?"
I rubbed my forehead, my fingers coming away stained red and I realized Selina's lipstick had come off on my forehead. I opted to play dumb, "I don't know."
She looked suspicious for a second but then shrugged, "try and get some rest."
As she left, humming something underneath her breath, I loosed a nervous breath. She had given me more of those painkillers and as I laid back down a wave of tiredness washed over me. Letting my eyes drift closed, I faded back into sleep.
The next day the same nurse brought me breakfast, of which I only ate the toast. In daylight I could see that the room was painted a cheerful shade of yellow, covered in murals of balloons, teddy bears and other kinds of things I guessed would be reassuring for normal kids. The police came and went, questioning me as nicely as humanly possible. I told them less than I had Batman and the bunch, leaving out any parts that had to do with me committing any kind of crime. They thanked me for my time, I fell asleep again, and when I woke up Selina was sitting in the chair next to my bed dressed like a normal person.
"Good morning minou," she said by way of greeting, "how are you feeling?"
"Better than I was yesterday," I said, "what are you doing here?"
"I came to see you, and bring you this," she laid a newspaper in my lap, and I took a minute to take in her appearance. Her hair was pulled back in a low bun, and she was wearing expensive clothing complete with heels that matched her purse. She had long fake nails with french tips and simple makeup, wearing the same dark red lipstick from last night. She looked well-off, and if I had seen her on the street I would have tried to go for the fancy silver watch on her wrist.
The newspaper was copy of this morning's Gotham Gazette. A picture of Batman and Robin inside Andrei's treasure room with Selina exiting to the side was blown up on the front page, captioned in big black letters, 'CATWOMAN HELPS BATMAN & ROBIN TAKE DOWN NOTORIOUS LOCAL GANG'. I looked up at her, "you're not a vigilante are you?"
She shook her head, "not exactly. I started out as a thief, but let's just say I'm more so on the straight and narrow these days. I work for various government agencies, and I'm largely considered not to be a criminal anymore by the masses."
"Okay," I said slowly, "so what's going to happen to me now?"
She looked nervous all of the sudden, "if you're okay with it, I'll be adopting you."
The concept threw me for a loop. Every kid in the system's dream was to be adopted. I had never wanted it, preferring to live on my own, but I would be lying if I said I hadn't wondered what it would be like once or twice. A thought popped into my head, "how are we going to explain how much we look alike?"
"The best lies have a bit of truth mixed in," she said, almost like she was teasing or teaching me, "the general story for anyone who asks is that I had you when I was young and left your father. I wasn't allowed to keep in contact with you, so I didn't know when your father died. I saw you on the news last night, immediately recognized you and decided this was my second chance to be your mother."
I frowned, "how did you find me last night?"
"Br- Batman contacted me. He knows me personally, so when he saw you? They don't call him the world's greatest detective for no good reason."
I was suddenly nervous, dropping her gaze to fidget with my blanket, "do you- is adopting me what you want? Because if not, I was doing fine before."
She looked horrified, "of course I want to adopt you!" Leaning halfway out of her chair, she grabbed my hands, "I have never stopped regretting not being a part of your life. At first I was convinced that it was for your safety, and after that I was convinced you and your father would hate me. I didn't stop crying for months after I left. I spent every single one of your birthdays wondering what you were like, what your first word was, if you drew pictures in crayon to put on the fridge. I am so grateful that Batman called me, because this is all I've ever wanted."
I felt my lower lip wobble, and I bit down fiercely on it to stop from crying, my nose burning. When I spoke my voice was shaky, "do I need to sign anything?"
"No, you're fine. I just wanted your consent before I put the paperwork through. I should be your legal guardian before you're discharged," she said, smiling softly.
"Yeah, that nurse said I'd be out in like a month? She kind of explained what happened, says I'm taking medicine for something that ends in -itis."
Selina frowned, "apparently you were very lucky. You underwent a very involved surgery and according to the anesthetist you had to be resuscitated halfway through."
"Sheer dumb luck is how I've survived a lot of things," I said with a shrug, "am I going to live with you?"
"Mmhm," she hummed, "I live in an apartment in the Upper East Side. Do you know how much school you've completed?"
I had gone to school in month-long stretches, missing time every time I settled into a new home and I had skipped two years of school altogether on the street. I shook my head, "I couldn't tell you. I can read and write and do some math but I wouldn't be able to tell you what grade I should be in."
She nodded, "that's fine, we'll figure it out. You'll probably be home schooled for a while until we can get you up to the grade level you should be. Do you like learning?"
"Yeah," I said shyly, "I used to kick around the library in The Bowery, especially in the winter. They let you read whatever you want if you stay out of the way and it's heated."
Her face grew serious and she grabbed my hand, "I really am so sorry for what you had to live through. I know that kind of life isn't easy, and I never wanted it for you."
I spoke slowly, "how come you left Dad? Did you stop loving him?"
"God no," she said, sounding taken aback, "I loved you and your father so, so much. That's why I didn't stay. I have a lot of enemies, and I had a lot more back then. I was still a wanted criminal, if I had stayed I would've painted a target on both of your backs and involved you in things you didn't need to be involved in." She dropped her gaze to the floor, "I always intended to live my life alone. I didn't ever imagine that I would fall in love with someone, or have a daughter. The only thing I knew when you were born was that you were absolutely perfect, so small, so innocent. I never wanted you to see the way I lived."
I nodded, deciding to go for a quick change of subject, "so did you bring me a muffin or something? Hospital food sucks."
Selina's apartment was incredible.
I was finally released from the hospital, the sweet nurse with the hair clip had cried and made me promise to be good, and I had been allowed into Selina's waiting arms. She had brought me out to a limo, a freaking limo, and the driver had brought us to this amazing apartment in the Upper East Side.
It was extremely fancy looking, and when you walked in you hit the kitchen first, sleek and modern, covered in marble and stainless steel. Selina had brought me to what had to be the best room in the apartment though, ushering me into the nicest living room I had ever seen. The walls were pure white with panel molding, dark, shiny wood everywhere you looked. It formed huge bookcases crammed full of books of all shapes and sizes along the walls, and there was a white marble fireplace with a eighty inch TV over top it. The room itself was full of French-style furniture that was still comfortable looking but were probably a couple grand a piece, a beautiful crystal chandelier dripping from the high ceiling. The floor was dark hardwood, and a set of giant french doors bordered by gauzy white curtains was opposite the fireplace, leading out to a balcony that probably had a really nice view of the skyline.
Stepping forward to take it all in, my feet sank into the dark, cushy rug that covered the entire center of the room. I stood at the edge of the semicircle of couches and armchairs arranged around a glass coffee table, facing the TV setup. I heard Selina come in from the kitchen and turned to face her, "this is the most beautiful place I've ever seen."
She grinned, "you like it?"
I nodded, suddenly transfixed by the expensive-looking vase on the coffee table, brimming with strange little purple flowers. I trailed a finger along the vase, "this must be worth a fortune."
"Probably, I'd ballpark it around ten thousand dollars. It's from the Ming dynasty."
I choked, immediately retracting my hand, "ten thousand dollars?"
"That's what I'd ask a fence for, I wouldn't know the real value, I stole it."
That had me curious, "you stole it? When?"
She hummed under her breath, "ten or so months ago? I still get the itch sometimes. Don't worry, I took it from a cranky old man who didn't deserve it."
"I can't judge" I said, giving her a little shrug before turning my attention back to the flowers, "what are these?"
"Milkvetch," she said, coming to stand next to me, "it's in your honor, they mean 'your presence softens my pain' in Victorian flower language."
I felt strangely touched, leaning up to press a kiss to her cheek, "thank you."
She smiled down at me, tucking a strand of my hair behind my ear, "do you want to see your room?"
I nodded, the niceness of the room was throwing me off, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I didn't belong here alongside all this expensive furniture. Selina led me through a separate set of french doors that opened out into a hallway, bringing me to a wooden door on the left. Following her inside, I stepped into a surprisingly bare room.
There was a queen-sized bed facing me, and a wooden dresser off to the side, night tables made of the same dark wood on either side of the bed and a closet with a few clothing items hanging in it already, but otherwise the room was empty. The sheets and blanket were both white, there were no rugs or accent pillows and the giant window that backlit the bed was free of curtains. Selina spoke quietly from behind me, "you have the necessities already, but I figured I could take you shopping today or tomorrow so that you could decorate it yourself, maybe we can get you some clothes while we're at it."
I was floored. She had left it bare on purpose, not because she didn't want to waste the time or money on me but because she had wanted to give me a sense of control. I couldn't put how I was feeling into words, so instead I started to cry, whipping back around to curl my arms around Selina's stomach, "th-thank you."
She doubled over a little to hug me back, wrapping me in her comforting rose smell, "I love you, you know." I just started crying harder, my tears probably ruining her silk shirt as she held me to her and let me sob, and despitemyself this was starting to feel like home.
October 29, 2006, 18:21 EST
Sitting in the back of the limo once again with Selina, I couldn't help but feel a little strange. We had gone shopping the day she brought me home, and she had let me buy whatever clothes I felt comfortable with, but that hadn't stopped her from picking me up a few things that were less 'plain'. I was currently in one of those outfits, a dark blue dress made out of something soft and smooth, either satin or silk, my hair pulled back out of my face with crystal hair pins, and black leather flats that probably cost two pennies and a skittle to make but had been over a hundred dollars. In all, the outfit was probably worth more than this car, and despite it being comfortable, it didn't pinch or itch or make it hard to breathe, I had never been so uneasy in my life.
"Where are we going again?" I asked, rubbing a piece of my skirt between my fingers.
Selina gave me a Mona Lisa smile, "we're visiting some family friends, that's all."
"So why am I dressed like this?" I gestured to the expensive clothing with a raised eyebrow.
"There's value in looking put together minou, it'll be fine, stop fidgeting."
I grumbled, folding my hands in my lap, "so who are these family friends?"
"You'll see," she said, flicking open a compact to check her lipstick, "they've been asking after you."
"Does the whole of Gotham know I got shot?"
She laughed, "just the ones who religiously watch the nine o'clock news."
The limo suddenly started to pull into a driveway, great big iron gates creaking open like magic. Driving past them, a huge lawn came into view, complete with hedges and a fountain. I swallowed, whoever we were visiting had to be rich, as in 'I make seven figures in a quarter' rich.
The limo pulled into the roundabout that curled around the fountain, the driver unbuckling to come help Selina out. I turned to open my own door only to watch it swing open on it's own. An older man with gray hair and a kind face was holding the handle, peering down at me with a professional smile, "hello Miss Williams, welcome to Wayne Manor."
I blinked. Wayne?
He extended a weathered hand and I took it, eyebrows knit together, "I can get out of a car by myself you know."
He laughed warmly, "that may be so Miss Williams, but it's courtesy to help a lady out of her vehicle." He had a British accent sharp as cut glass, but it was full and comforting, not intimidating in the slightest, but there was still something about him that told me he could probably be terrifying when he needed to.
"Do you mind calling me Arabella? Miss Williams makes me sound snooty."
"I may, if that pleases you Miss Arabella." He pronounced my name strangely, arr-ah-bella instead of air-ah-bella.
"I would like it, you say it nicely."
"Would you rather we said it that way?" Selina called from across the car, "I've always liked the British pronounciation better."
I nodded shyly, letting the man loop my arm through his, "so when you said Wayne Manor earlier did you mean Bruce Wayne or?..."
"Bruce Wayne is who I was referring to yes."
I stopped dead, the family friend was Bruce freaking Wayne? Bruce 'you can't throw a rock in Gotham without hitting something I own' Wayne? Bruce 'I have more money than the rulers of several small European countries combined' Wayne?
"Is there a problem Miss?" he asked, turning his kind gaze back on me.
I swallowed thickly, "no, no problem." He was walking me up to the door now, the tall, thick, imposing wooden door. That went into Bruce Wayne's house. Scratch that, Bruce Wayne's manor. As we approached the entrance I turned to the man, "so do you have a name or do you guys just get serial numbers here?"
He laughed again, "I was warned about your mouth, my name is Alfred Pennyworth. I can assure you that Master Wayne is much kinder than your preconceptions."
The driver left Selina on the porch with a bow, taking off back to the car and I desperately wanted to join him. Instead I watched, dread filling my chest as Selina rapped on the door. Why she was knocking when Alfred could have just let us in, I don't know, but maybe it was another rich person rule. The door swung open to reveal a boy about my age, black hair slicked back from his forehead, "Selina! So good to see you, is this your daughter?"
He turned to me, strikingly blue eyes grabbing mine and I felt both very uncomfortable and like I had met him somewhere before, which was ridiculous because there was no way I had been within a five-mile radius of anyone rich or important enough to live in this house. I raised my chin, "I am. My name is Arabella Williams."
He grinned, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I had passed some sort of test. Opening the door even wider, he gestured towards the inside, "come on in."
I walked inside, albeit warily. I let my gaze flick around the entrance, two huge staircases were leading up to a second floor at the sides, first-floor hallways tucked underneath them. There was a huge fireplace off to the side, a large couch surrounded by armchairs propped in front of it. The room was full of antique-looking decor, the walls made of dark brown paneled wood, spotted with fancy-looking paintings.
The boy breezed past all of it, leading me to the hallway off to the left. Falling into step with me, he turned to flash a charming smile, "I'm Richard Grayson, Bruce's ward, but you can call me Dick."
I blinked at him in surprise, "at least you're honest." He laughed, but my brain was catching up with my mouth and a fierce blush started to burn in my cheeks, "sorry, you must get that all the time."
"I'm used to it," he said with an almost fond shake of his head, "it's an antiquated name."
"I don't have a set nickname," I said, desperately trying to move past my rudeness, "most people call me Ara, but call me anything you like so long as it's not Bella."
"Not a fan of Twilight?" he asked with a smirk, smug in a way that made it seem like he was recalling information he had heard before. I wondered if Selina had been talking about me.
"No, not particularly. A friend of mine was though, she wanted Jacob Black to jump off the page and profess his undying love for her."
"Are you more Team Edward?"
"Neither," I said, screwing up my nose, "I think she should be locked up somewhere far away from all men until she can make sound decisions about her love life."
"I think that idea has some merit," he said, knocking soundly on the set of doors in front of us. I jumped a little, I hadn't realized we had gotten wherever we had been headed.
A deep voice answered from inside, "come in!"
Dick pushed the door open, leading me into a room with the same wooden walls from earlier, but the majority of them were covered in floor to ceiling bookshelves, leather-bound volumes neatly arranged in picture-perfect rows along them. A man sat at the back on the right side, scribbling away at something from behind an old oak desk. He looked up as the four of us piled into the room, "ah, is it that time already?"
Selina stepped forward, face changing as she addressed him, "working yourself to death again today Bruce?"
I didn't really make the connection that this was Bruce Wayne until she spoke. I stared down the man who could easily buy my weight in gold a million times over and I wasn't brave, clenching my fists to hide my shaking fingers. He looked up at her, face softening, "nice to see you too, Selina. Come in and sit down, all of you."
We followed his direction, Selina, Dick and I sitting on the worn leather couches midway through the room. Bruce stood, coming to sit next to Selina, the two of them sitting opposite Dick and I while Alfred moved off to the side, pouring whiskey from the crystal decanter for the adults. I sat awkwardly, trying my ungodly best not to fidget while everyone in the room stared at me. Selina accepted a glass of the whiskey from Alfred with a smile, "well, this is my daughter Arabella."
Bruce took his own glass, "a pleasure to meet you Arabella, how are you feeling?"
He was looking me in the eyes, his own dark and glittering, and I couldn't help but feel like I was being X-rayed, Like he could see what I was thinking. I swallowed, "much better than when I had a gaping hole in my stomach, thank you."
He didn't laugh, but he did smile, the smallest of rumblings seeming to come from his chest, "that's nice to hear, I see you've inherited your mother's penchant for sarcasm."
Selina shook her head, "it's been a month and I still can't tell who of us is worse for it."
I laughed nervously, every single one of my instincts telling me to get the hell out of here and maybe snatch one of the centerpieces from the entrance hall while I was at it. Bruce turned his attention back to me, "it'll be Halloween soon, are you excited?"
"Not really," I said with a shrug, "it was one of the better holidays when I lived on my own, what with all the free food. There's not much point to it now though."
He looked surprised, "don't you want to go trick-or-treating, have a little fun?"
"I'm not much of a kid anymore Mr. Wayne," I said quietly, "when you're an orphan in this town? You don't stay that way for long."
His face shifted, and I realized slowly that I had definitely struck a nerve because one of the facts everyone in Gotham knew about Bruce Wayne was that his parents were dead. And had died right in front of him when he was a child. In fact, everyone in the room looked a little uncomfortable and it sort of clicked for me that at least four out of the five people in this room were orphans. "Please," he said, taking a swig of his whiskey, "call me Bruce. And yes, I suppose you're right."
I nodded awkwardly, pressing my lips into a straight line and cursing my mouth. Alfred, the sweet blessed angel, cleared his throat, "supper is ready, if you should like to begin eating."
Bruce stood, draining the rest of his glass and clapped Alfred on the shoulder, "sounds like a plan."
We followed him up, and Alfred led us through the maze of hallways to a long dining room, four places set up at the end so that Bruce could sit at the head of the table. I took my spot next to Selina meekly, half-expecting her to chastise me, but instead she offered me a smile and a thumbs-up and I remembered that she understood. Alfred came out with plates for us all, a delicious smelling pasta heaped on each. There was bread set out too, wine for Selina and Bruce sitting up towards them and a pitcher of water with lemon slices floating in it for Dick and I.
Restraining myself from eating the plate in under a minute, I held to the basic rules of etiquette Selina had taught me, waiting for Bruce and Dick to start before picking up my own fork. I ate slowly, vividly remembering how sick I was after racing through the Italian Selina had ordered in on my first day out of the hospital. It was eerily quiet before Dick turned to me, "so, how old are you?"
I looked up at him, making sure to swallow before I answered, "I turned ten five days ago, you?"
He grinned, "I'll be the same age on the first of December."
"Cool," I said with a nod, taking a drink of my water.
Bruce turned to face me, "you said you were an orphan, has that been hard for you?"
"I don't really know," I admitted, "I haven't known anything else. This is harder for me than being on my own."
"Yes, I imagine it's all rather jarring," he mused, turning back to his food.
Dick was practically bouncing in his seat, "I heard you were saved by Batman and Robin."
I raised an eyebrow, "yeah, I was. Why, do you want to hear about Batman?"
"Nah," he said with a twinkle in his eyes, "he's boring-" Bruce choked momentarily and Selina patted him on the back, trying to hold in a smile, "what's Robin like? Is he the coolest?"
I took a moment to consider, "he's alright I guess."
Now Dick choked mid-bite, and Bruce started to cough. I flicked my gaze around the room, "are the two of you alright?"
"We're fine," Dick said, gasping a little for breath, "what did he do to earn such a lackluster review?"
"I didn't say he was awful," I said with some indignation, "he was nice, played twenty questions to keep me awake in the back of Batman's car."
"The Batmobile," Dick supplied helpfully.
I snorted, "okay that's ridiculous. But anyway, he struck me as optimistic. I don't think that'll last long though."
"Why not?" Bruce asked, taking a drink of his wine.
"He's fighting crime in Gotham, it'll wear him down eventually" I deadpanned, "you've seen Batman, he's practically brooding personified-" Selina coughed now, hand flying to her throat. I sat back in my chair, realizing she knew the both of them personally so she probably found this entire situation hilarious.
The rest of the meal carried on uneventfully, we chatted about mundane things and then Alfred announced he was bringing out dessert. He came in with plates of chocolate cake, and I felt something in my chest warm when he brought mine out last, a birthday candle stuck solidly in the center of it, "happy late birthday Miss Williams, make a wish."
"Arabella," I said automatically, not really sure what to do.
Dick leaned across the table, whispering, "close your eyes, think of something and blow it out."
I nodded, screwing my eyes shut. Then I reached another problem, what did I wish for? I had food, a warm bed, clothes, what else did I need? A thought popped into my head, and I blew outwards, holding onto it, I wish this would all feel normal.
I opened my eyes, the put-out candle drifting smoke into the air, and pulled it out, sucking off the cake that attached itself to the bottom of it. The flavor hit my tongue all at once, and my eyes widened, "okay, this is the best thing I've ever eaten in my life."
"That's Alfred's cooking for you," Dick said, happily digging into his own piece.
I grinned, picking up my fork, the wish seeming to work already.
"And then," I said, shoulders shaking with laughter, "he turns around and Carla just kicks him in the balls! And I mean nails him, I've never seen a grown man hit the ground so fast."
"And you just ran off with the money?" Dick said incredulously, leaning forward in his armchair.
"What were we supposed to do?" I asked, "it lasted for a solid two weeks too, all we did was sit around the squat, eat, sleep and read."
We were all back in the study, and as Alfred approached me with a bowl of mints the light shifted ever so slightly, casting Dick's face half in shadow. It looked so familiar, and ever so slowly something clicked in my head. I jumped to my feet, crossing the rug to get in his face. He leaned back, "what are you-"
I shushed him, pulling his hair forward from where it was slicked back and lifted my hand flat in the air so a bar of shadow covered his face from his eyebrows to the bridge of his nose. My jaw practically hit the ground, "I knew you looked familiar!"
"Minou, what are you doing?" Selina asked, nervousness tinging her voice.
I glared at the boy in front of me, "you're Robin."
He stared up at me, wide-eyed, "and you're crazy."
I shook my head, pointing at Selina, utterly sure of myself, "she's Catwoman," I stepped back to look at the three of them, "and you're a short-" he made an offended noise and I stared him dead in the eye, "short, black-haired, ridiculously blue-eyed almost ten-year-old," I turned to face Bruce, "and you're way too built for a CEO, I don't care how much free time and money you have, plus you have the whole stoic, infallible thing going on. Not to mention, you two are very cool with concept of me being a criminal whereas most rich people would be utterly scandalized at this point, and," I took a pause for breath, "what kind of kid skips over hearing about Batman, calls him boring, and wants to hear about his kid partner? And then the two of you took my description of them way too personally to be unrelated third parties." I whipped to point at them one by one, "so if you're Robin, and if she's definitely Catwoman, well," I stared down Bruce Wayne, "you're Batman."
He leaned back in his seat, taking another drink of his whiskey, "well that didn't take you long."
I put my hands on my hips, "blame your partner, if he hadn't leaned over me when we were playing twenty questions I never would have seen what colour his eyes are." A sudden thought popped into my head, "wait, were you guys ever going to tell me or were you just praying I'd never connect the dots."
"To be fair," Dick said, swiping his hair back into place, "if you didn't have that one piece of information you probably wouldn't have."
I huffed, "so that's a yes on the 'we never planned on telling you' thing?"
"I didn't want you to get any more tangled up in our alter egos that you already have been," Selina said, swirling the ice in her glass, "I wanted you to have a normal life."
"Well," I said, "the solution to all this is pretty obvious."
"And what's that?" Bruce asked.
"Teach me. To do the superhero stuff I mean."
"Absolutely not," Selina said immediately.
I turned to face her, "listen, one, I can't rat on any of you if I'm in the middle of all of it too, that's the best insurance you're going to get. Two, you're Catwoman, so, I'm the daughter of Catwoman. You're telling me you don't have a single enemy who'd stoop as low to use me as leverage? Three, I already have basic fighting skills from living on the streets and I know Gotham like the back of my hand, including it's criminal underworld, which you," I pointed at Selina, "have been disconnected from for years. Ten bucks I know things you guys don't."
Bruce looked intrigued, "what's going on with the Maronis, they've been quiet as of late."
I crossed my arms, "they've made a temporary truce with the Falcones after the drug bust by the GCPD in September. Rumor has it they're planning on receiving a big shipment of drugs and weapons down at the Dixon Docks."
"And how do we know you're not making this up?" Bruce asked.
I raised an eyebrow, "you seen any fighting between the Falcones and Maronis since the beginning of September? Usually they're at each other's throats every second week."
He turned his gaze away from mine, "a truce is a possibility I've been considering, but admittedly it didn't have much weight in my eyes."
"So we've got a deal?" I questioned, unfolding my arms.
He stood, towering over me, and I remembered that this was the man that struck fear into the hearts of countless criminals. He looked down, "you're just coming down from a gunshot wound, somewhat malnourished, and ridiculously untrained. I could probably blow in your general direction and you'd fall over. You're not doing any sort of superheroism until you've gotten up to a better weight and have been trained to at least the extent Dick has."
His voice was terrifyingly commanding in tone, and I decided not to press the issue. Nodding somewhat meekly, a sudden thought popped into my head and I raised my eyes to his quickly, "wait, is that a yes?"
December 1, 2006, 15:36 EST
The hallway floors of Wayne Manor were freezing to the touch as I crept along them, a carefully wrapped box in my hands. It was Dick's birthday and he had no idea Selina and I were coming over.
I moved silently across the creaky wood the way Selina had taught me, reciting her instructions; walk close to the walls, press the edge of your foot down and then roll the rest onto the floor. I approached Dick's bedroom door with a stupid grin on my face, the only sound in the hall being wind smacking snowflakes against the windows. I enjoyed every minute of my training, even the meditating, and the practical uses were endless. Coming to a stop outside the door, I cautiously placed the box on the floor, taking a little bottle of olive oil I had swiped from the kitchen out of my back pocket. I poured some over the bottom hinge first, careful not to get any oil on my fingers. Stepping back to look at the top hinge, I noticed it was at least two feet above my head. Grasping the vial in between my teeth, I slid my feet into first position before doing a perfect sauté. Grabbing the top of the door sash, I oiled the second hinge as quickly as humanly possible, dropping back to the floor noiselessly.
Tucking the vial back in my pocket, I picked up the box and swung the door open in perfect silence, revealing the interior of Dick's room. His back was facing me as he sat at the desk, typing away at something on his computer. Continuing with the silent tread, I came right up behind him to speak in his ear, "happy birthday!"
I leaned back as he jumped six feet in the air, whipping around in a mess of flailing limbs to face me, "what the-"
I grinned at him, "you hit double digits!"
He just stared at me, shellshocked, "how did you do that?"
"I'm just that good," I said with a shrug, glossing over the fact that I had been planning this for a week. I held out the box, "I got you a present!"
"Is it going to explode in my face?" he asked, eyeing the box warily.
I sighed, "just open it."
He took it from my hands, doubling over a little at the unexpected weight, "what's in here, bricks?"
He was a clean present opener, untying the ribbon and carefully separating the paper where it was taped instead of ripping into it like I would have. Opening the box with some hesitance, his eyebrows drew together as he peered down into it, "is this a record player?"
I nodded, pulling it up and out of the box before placing it on his bed, "you can play vinyls on it, obviously, and then you can play CDs here and use a cord to play music from an iPod here," I pointed at the various features as I explained, trying not to come off too excited. This was the first time I had ever actually bought a gift for someone.
He frowned, "it's cool but I don't have records to play on it."
I turned to him with a smile, "check under the tissue paper."
Lifting the paper out, I watched as his face slowly bloomed into a full-blown grin. He had a nice smile, even though he didn't do it a lot. I wondered if that was because of his parents. Lifting his eyes up to mine, he seemed to smile even wider, "are these-"
"Every Rolling Stones album ever, up to and including A Bigger Bang? Why yes, yes they are."
He pulled the stack of them up and out of the box, "okay, you're officially the best."
I shrugged, "I think Selina bought you cufflinks or something, so I figured I'd get something you'd actually like."
"You remembered I like the Rolling Stones?"
"Hey, you remember a ridiculous amount of mundane information about me for no real reason."
"Bruce says to memorize every person you come in contact with."
"And that's dangerous where I come from," I said quietly, "that's how you get attached, and then you're really screwed."
We sat in heavy silence for a minute before Alfred's voice floated through the open door, "Miss Williams, Master Richard!"
Jumping a little, we shared a small smile before running off to wherever Alfred was beckoning from.
Lying facing away from each other on the greenhouse floor, Dick and I watched the snow start to pile up on the roof of it. After dinner where Alfred had brought out his killer chocolate cake, Dick had received the rest of his presents and Selina and Bruce went off somewhere to 'talk about adult things'. I could only assume they were either going at it or having a weird parental discussion.
We had helped Alfred with the dishes and then came here, a comfortable silence wrapped around us. Listing my head to the side, I broke it, "are you okay today?"
He seemed surprised, "why are you asking?"
I rolled my eyes, "because I'm careful, not heartless. It's your first birthday on your own."
"I'm not on my own."
"It's not the same though, is it?"
He paused for a minute before shaking his head, "no, it's really not."
We were quiet for another moment before I sat up, pulling myself off the floor, "wanna go snoop on Selina and Bruce?"
I wanted to distract him. Dick's sob story was worse than mine in some ways, and I knew that it still hurt him. Over the past month and some change we had spent nearly every waking moment with each other, being homeschooled by Alfred, training in the Batcave, he had even taught me to swim. We had become fast friends despite myself, and the closer we got the more I saw how sad he was. He looked up at me as I extended a hand, a small smile gracing his mouth, "sounds like a plan."
Creeping through the Manor with careful feet, even our breathing was silent. Rounding the corner that lead to Bruce's study, I frantically grabbed his wrist as he almost stepped on a particularly creaky floorboard. I pointed at it, waving my hand back in forth in front of my neck in the universal sign for 'no good'. He nodded, pressing closer to the wall to avoid it, and we glided across the hallway to the Study door.
Lowering ourselves ever so slowly to the ground, we placed our ears on the door softly, making sure not to move it.
Selina's voice echoed through the wood, "I'm just worried about her."
'Is she talking about you?' Dick mouthed, eyes flicking to the door like he could see through it.
I shrugged carefully, heart going a mile a minute. Bruce spoke this time, "she's been doing well Selina."
"That's not what I'm worried about," she said, voice tinged with nervousness and worry, "she still acts like she's where she was before. I've never seen a kid sleep so lightly, and when she sleeps she has nightmares she won't tell me about. I wish you could see— whenever I scold her she shrinks down into herself like she's expecting me to hit her or something, and it's not like that's often, she does everything I say no questions asked. Like she wants to appease me. I don't know what to do, how to make her more comfortable."
I winced, squeezing my eyes shut as Dick's curious gaze landed on my face. I hadn't meant to do any of it, and I didn't want to make Selina feel bad. Bruce's voice was soothing as he tried to calm her, "it's nothing you're doing Selina. She hasn't been in a safe place since she was a little girl. It'll take a while for her to acclimate. Dick still has nightmares, and it's almost been a year since I adopted him."
My eyes flew open, and this time it was my turn to stare at Dick with curiosity. He looked displeased, so I stood up from the door and extended a hand to him, gesturing for us to go. He took my hand, letting me lead him through the hall back to the greenhouse. We finally relaxed, the fear of getting caught evaporating. He turned to me, "how do you know where all the creaky floorboards are?"
"Selina got me to canvas the manor as soon as we started my training," I said, grabbing a blanket from the armchair in the corner and wrapping it around myself, "said it would be good practice."
His voice was quiet, "you still don't feel safe? Here?"
I lowered my eyes, curling in on myself, "that's not it."
"What is it then?" he asked, "you can talk to me."
Sitting on the floor with him, I bit my lip, "I don't know how to explain it. It's like— like all of this is some kind of fever dream. Like I'm going to wake up tomorrow and be alone and barely making it. And of course I know I'm safe here, and I'd never be hurt, but when I feel like Selina or Bruce or Alfred is mad at me I can't help feeling scared. I know it doesn't make sense, but it's just how I am now."
I was surprised when he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me into a crushing hug, "I'm sorry."
My voice was thick when I spoke, "you didn't do anything."
"I'm sorry you're hurting."
The thought of it hit me like a ton of bricks. It almost didn't make sense, that he'd be upset because I was upset. I wiggled out of my cocoon of blankets to hug him back, resting a chin on his shoulder, speaking softly, "you still have nightmares?"
He stiffened a little, but softened again a moment later, voice strained, "yeah."
"I'm sorry," I answered, genuinely meaning it. Dick was too bright to be unhappy, he didn't deserve to be haunted.
"I see their faces," he admitted, "terrified and dying. Sometimes I just relive it, watch them fall, the way they hit the ground-"
He cut himself off, and I tightened my grip, "I dream about that night, I get shot over and over, sometimes it's like a memory but instead of you finding me I crawl down the alley and die alone. Sometimes it's one of Rick's punishments, or the night Carla died."
We kept going like that, trading nightmares and fears back and forth as the air grew freezing around us. The snow kept falling, and we murmured quietly, our voices echoing around the greenhouse, and I felt safe.
January 12, 2006, 13:08 EST
I backflipped off the riser, the wind whistling around my ears as I fell, paintballs being shot from automatics above my head. Tugging the practice whip from where it rested at my side, I looped it around the railing of a second riser off to the left, yanking myself over to it, my hands met the cool metal with no resistance, and I easily flipped myself over the railing and into a crouch.
The sound of the guns stopped, and I peered over the railing, grinning down at Selina, "how was that?"
She smiled back up at me, "less than a second, good job!"
I flipped back over the railing, landing on the ground with her, Bruce, and Dick easily. I was unbelievably happy, partially because I had finally hit the under-a-second mark, and partially because I vividly remembered the bruises those paintballs left. Dick leaned on my shoulder, "you're officially unlikely to die if you get shot at it in this one particular situation."
I rolled my eyes, sidestepping to get him off me. He didn't even wobble, righting himself immediately. Turning to Bruce, I offered him a grin, "does that mean I can patrol with you tonight?"
"I fail to see how you can do that without a suit Miss Arabella," Alfred said from the Batcomputer, a tray of scones steaming slightly next to him.
I opened my mouth to retort, but Selina spoke from my side, "who said she didn't have a suit?"
I whipped to face her, "wait what."
She just gave me her Mona Lisa smile, disappearing off to the left. I turned to Bruce, "what did she mean?"
He shook his head, "I don't know, she didn't mention anything about getting you a suit."
Selina reappeared a few seconds later with a tall rectangular box on wheels, a white cloth draped over it for dramatic effect. I couldn't even muster an eye roll as she wheeled it towards us, breath caught in my chest. She grinned at me, "I was talking to Maxime after we threw around ideas for your suit and he apparently had a sudden fit of inspiration because next time I went back this was waiting for me."
She tugged off the cloth, and felt all the air I had been holding leave my body. "It's beautiful," I murmured, approaching the glass with religious reverence. The suit itself was all woven black kevlar. It had a tight turtleneck, and it would run all the way down to my ankles, an invisible zipper at the side, the long sleeves of it coming down to form gloves that tapered off into claws, extending about an inch past where my fingers would be. A pair of knee-high boots were on the bottom of the case, made of a soft, black leather that wouldn't reflect light in the dark. A bullwhip hung off to the side, coiled up and brand new. The best part was set on a stick up top, a carefully crafted domino mask made of the same black leather as the boots.
Bruce spoke from behind me, "why don't you make sure it fits?"
I had lost the ability to form words, nodding softly instead. I approached the keypad, surprised when it asked me for my thumbprint instead of a password. A random light shone in my eyes, and I blinked rapidly as the case beeped, the keypad glowing green. The glass door swung open, and I scooped up the pieces of the suit carefully, leaving a small metal box that had been resting beside the boots.
Locking myself in the Batcave's washroom, I slipped the suit on as a gently as humanly possible. Maxime, Selina's favourite tailor-slash-designer-slash-superhero suit maker, had taken every single measurement humanly possible when she had brought me to him the first time a few weeks ago, insisting on a handmade dress for me to wear to the Wayne charity gala Bruce apparently threw every New Years. I had hated every second of it, snooty rich people offering me pitying smiles and gentle,'how are you my dear?'s.
The hour long measuring session had apparently paid off, the suit fit perfectly. I adjusted the mask over my face last, pulling my hair back in a ponytail first. I watched my face disappear behind it, eyes gleaming. Staring at myself in the full-length mirror, I had to shake a sudden feeling of power that surged over me. I felt unbelievably safe, wrapped in the warm, ridiculously light-weight kevlar.
Walking back into the main room of the Batcave felt like coming home, or dying or being born. I couldn't find a metaphor that fully captured the feeling. When I walked into everyone else's line of sight, I watched them all grin, Selina rushing forward to hug me, "oh minou, it's perfect."
I smiled into her shoulder, "I love it."
She pulled back, grabbing the box from the bottom of the case and cracking it open. A stack of pill packs lined the bottom of it, a few contact cases and a set of sleek black earpieces laid over top them, "these are for you."
"What are they?" I asked, peering down at the box's contents.
"The pills are sensory enhancers," she said, "they'll improve your sense of smell, make you feel things more sharply, you'll see. The contacts are cybernetics, they'll improve your sight, and they shift into night-vision with thermal signatures when it picks up darkness. The earpieces work as communicators, but they're primarily to enhance your hearing."
"Oh that is so cool," I breathed.
"All you need now is a name," Bruce said with a rare grin.
I frowned, "I haven't been able to come up with one."
Selina hummed under her breath, "Black Cat?"
"Eh," I said, wrinkling my nose.
"That's even worse."
"I'm not even going to dignify that with a response."
Dick spoke off to my right, "why not just Catgirl?"
Selina sniffed, "uninspired, but nice."
A smile was blooming across my face, the name echoing in my head like a heartbeat, "it's simple, I love it."
The four of them, Dick, Bruce, Selina and Alfred, had formed a semicircle facing me. Bruce smiled, "well, welcome to the team Catgirl."
So that's the new prologue folks! What did you think? Let me know. There's a few details (one really big one) that'll be making an appearance later in the story (wayyy later, like post-season one later), so fire off some reviews, I want to see if anyone guesses it.
I honestly like this a lot better, I think it showcases a lot more of Arabella's character and hopefully makes her seem less Mary-Sueish. My twin actually pushed me to rewrite, saying, and I quote, "this shit's just unbelievable." He's my voice of reason in a lot of situations, so you have him to thank for the rewrite. I actually really enjoyed (not so much reading my older writing, ugh) and I might go back and do a little renovation with the older chapters. So, if you get a notification letting you know there's been a chapter update and there isn't a new one, that's what's on the go. Though if I do clean anything up I'll probably time it with chapter releases so you're not entirely disappointed.
Anyway, given that this is the new official first chapter, I figured I'd leave a little message here. This is a story that I hold near and dear to my heart, it all started way back when I was in grade seven with a terrible OC named Alexia Everlark and has since undergone a radical shift to become the story it is today. I never wrote this story to be read by other people, I wrote it because it was a constantly reappearing daydream, I'd write chapters in my head on the bus, before I slept at night. Eventually, to keep from going insane, I finally put it down on paper (or rather a series of Google Docs), and now it's what it is, and I have no doubt it'll grow to become different in my head again before all this is over. So, yes, this is an OC story. A Robin x OC story, cue the clutching of pearls. Why? Because that's how it was born in my head four or five years ago when honestly Robin x OC was less of a trope, and tbh, no offense to Chalant shippers, Robin and Zatanna's relationship is weak. If you asked me who I ship him with I wouldn't say, "oh this OC I have," it'd be Barbara, obviously. Not to mention, Robin x OC is a veritable genre in this fandom nowadays, known for usually being awful, and never let it be said I back away from a challenge.
So, whether you've been here from the beginning or are a brand new reader, or something between those. Whether you come here after a hard day, or you find it funny, or it's kind of mindless entertainment, whatever. If you're here reading this fic, I hope it speaks to you the way it does me, and I love you. Thank you for reading. See you next time!