Disclaimer: All the folks you're gonna read about, ('cept one of 'em) are DC-owned, and aren't mine. (Which may or may not be a good thing…I sometimes do terrible things to my own characters.) I reiterate. These are DC characters, not mine, I just wanted to write a fan-fic story with this blatantly ripped-off premise really, really badly.
Does Batgirl/Babs really feel rotten that she was unable to save Supergirl/Kara in that Crisis on Infinite Earths debacle? Did those feelings 'remain to undermine her confidence even though she couldn't remember the source of those feelings Post-Crisis?' I try to make a case for it in this tale. Don't be too hard on me, it's my first piece of fan-fic EVER, (and it happens to be a bit long…I've got to learn better editing skills) and my familiarity with the characters is less-than-impressive, which will probably show. Some feedback would be great, if that's possible…Ok, enough jabbering. Here it is, a tale I call:
Apokalypsis: An Unremembered Death
By: Tesub Calle
Barbara Gordon frowned. She was staring at her computer screen, reading her private e-mail. Several, happily and predictably, had been from Dick, but one message sitting in her 'inbox' was from an unrecognized sender.
Re: Please Read
Babs contemplated deleting the message outright and blocking the sender to prevent being the target of further unwanted junk mail. Then it occurred to her that precious few people actually knew her private e-mail address, and those few were not inclined to sharing it with others. Who, then, had sent this? There was no virus contained within, of that Babs was certain. Her anti-virus programs would have alerted her to that. Curiosity piqued, Barbara decided to read its contents.
The message was short.
Babs raised an eyebrow.
"Psalm 88:5? What on earth…Cyber-evangelization?" She tried to recall the exact verse the message was referring to, but realised her photographic memory was failing her in this instance. She had to admit she had only ever really skimmed the Bible.
Wheeling over to a bookshelf, she pulled the thick Bible off and opened it to the middle. She flipped a few pages until she found Psalm 88. Verse 5 she read aloud.
"I am abandoned among the dead; I am like the slain lying in their graves, those you have forgotten completely, who are beyond your help."
A look of puzzlement crossed Babs' face.
"Now why would anyone want to send me such a message? Very, very odd," she thought to herself. If it was a prank of some kind from any of her acquaintances, it was certainly a rather unusual one. Not wasting any time, she set in motion a trace to determine the origin of the communication. While it did seem trivial on the surface, Babs was determined to get to the bottom of this, if only to find out how the sender had gotten hold of her private e-mail address.
The near instant result was somewhat unsettling. A map of Gotham flashed up onto the screen, and a red dot indicated the location of the point of transmission of the e-mail. Another look of puzzlement crossed Babs' face.
"This can't be right," she grumbled. For if the location was correct, it indicated a section of Gotham that had been destroyed and abandoned when the city had been declared No Mans Land. Of course, any cyber-punk or techno-anarchist with half a brain could skew and manipulate and mask the actual origins of a transmission if they truly did not want to be found. But Babs felt no deception in this case, and had confidence in her own computer system's ability to produce accurate results.
"So that leaves me with a cryptic e-mail message from an unknown sender who couldn't possibly have sent it, because his or her location is an area of real-estate you couldn't convince a squatter to take. Great." She tried not to feel exasperated. But something was gnawing at her insides; tapping at her consciousness, telling her there was more. Telling her this was important.
She drummed her fingers on the desk and tried to think what her next course of action should be.
"Who is like the abandoned among the dead? Who has been forgotten completely?" she asked herself. She could think of no response to those questions.
A computer voice interrupted her thoughts.
"You've got mail," it intoned.
Babs clicked off the map of Gotham back to her e-mail account. She narrowed her eyes at a second message, again saying 'Re: Please Read.'
"Another piece to a rather twisted puzzle," she thought, and opened it.
Once again, it was short, and not surprisingly, another biblical reference.
Flipping to the latter quarter of the Bible still on her lap, Babs located the Gospel of John, and found the chapter and verse indicated.
"The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them."
Babs slammed the book shut.
"Okay, what is this?" she snapped in annoyance, "All this talk about dead and dying and sacrifice…Why do I need to hear these things?" It conjured thoughts, images and feelings she'd rather have left buried. If someone was trying to upset her, it was working.
Babs knew what it was to face death. She had done so on a number of occasions. There was a time she had felt she was nearly invincible, that her time wouldn't come; that she would never truly die. As Batgirl, soaring through the skies and conquering evil, it had been a high that she relished and had made her feel immortal…
But that had certainly changed, hadn't it… She was mortal. Her abilities were that of a mortal, and that meant they were limited and imperfect, and that she could be defeated. She couldn't ever really come up with a definitive reason for retiring as Batgirl. What was it that caused her confidence to be undermined? Was it feelings of inadequacy and doubts about her worth that caused her to shrink from doing battle? Or could she look deep inside herself, truthfully, and say the time was right to 'hang up the cape' and leave the hero business behind?
Well, it was a little too late for regrets now, if there were any. Sickeningly, the same old bitterness and humiliation threatened to settle over her. Never again would she don the Batgirl costume. The Joker had seen to that. A spine shattered by a madman's bullet makes it difficult to play a physically active role in crime fighting. It was ironic, really, that Babs had sustained her worst injury while not even on the job. It was an irony that was not lost on her.
But through the darkness of that time, the pain, the fears, the recovery process, there was perseverance. There was a strength she could not identify that had helped her through it all. But sill…something was there, still untouched, something that haunted Babs. Something she was sometimes vaguely aware of, yet never fully articulated, like a half-remembered dream.
So what, then, did she have to learn from these unsettling messages? An idea dawned on Babs. She pulled up a map of Gotham prior to its destruction, and cross-referenced the location of the sent messages. A street address corresponded to the red dot from the trace Babs ran the first time on the old map.
"Holy Martyrs parish. Someone from a church is sending me e-mails?!"
She corrected herself. "Okay, someone from a church that by all rights isn't even there, is sending me e-mails."
The notion returned that this could all be an elaborate hoax. Babs brushed that notion aside. Her gut reaction was to investigate this as fully as she possibly could. And that meant seeing for herself the alleged site of the e-mails' egress. Of course, that meant venturing outside - to a deserted and demolished part of the city.
Absurd. Pointless. Ridiculous. Ludicrous. Babs could think of several other synonyms to describe the situation. But none of them seemed good enough to deter her from seriously considering tracking down the sender.
She'd call on Dick to help. Not just because she knew he was ready and willing to help her in any instance, but because she also wanted his take on this happening. She dialled his number.
"Hey, Babs, what's up?" came Dick's cheerful greeting.
"Something a little weird," she replied.
"Oh? How's that?"
"I need you to come over here, Dick. I think I'll need your help on something."
"Sure, Babs," he said. "Nothing's wrong, though, is there?"
"No, I don't think so, just something…odd. I'd like your take on it. Two heads are better than one, and all that sort of thing."
"Ok, love, I'll be right over."
Babs heard the click of the receiver in her ear. She felt a degree of relief knowing that Dick was going to be there shortly. Maybe between the two of them, they could get to the bottom of this.
"So, what is it that you needed me so badly to help you with, Babs?" Dick asked in a teasing manner, upon his arrival.
"Cute," Babs said. His light-hearted tone made her feel decidedly more comfortable, but she wasted no time getting down to business.
"Look here," she said, pointing to her screen. Dick followed her gaze and saw the e-mails.
"Verses from the Bible? Who sent those to you?"
"Good question," she replied. "I'm not entirely sure myself. Whoever it was is a total stranger to me, and has somehow managed to get a hold of my personal e-mail address… But here, read what those verses say, Dick." Babs handed the Bible to him, which had the appropriate pages book marked and the verses highlighted.
"First one sounds a little morbid, Babs," Dick mused. After reading the second one he closed the book and handed it back to her. "I don't know what to think," he said.
"Neither did I," Babs said. "I've been given no indication by the sender as to why this has any bearing on my life."
"What makes you think it's supposed to have any bearing on you? Those verses in no way apply to you. You aren't dead and forgotten. You haven't given up your life for someone, at least not in the sense the Bible quote means. I don't think these verses are meant to be about you at all. I think they are meant to apply to someone else."
"Yeah, but just who is that 'someone else', Dick?"
The young man shrugged. "How do I know? Someone you're supposed to remember but don't? I have no idea."
"Ok, then," Babs said, "that means we need to go somewhere."
"Oh? Where?" Dick asked.
"I found out where these e-mails came from."
"Great. Let's go, then," Dick said enthusiastically.
"Not that simple," Babs said. "Where we're going – it isn't there anymore." She could not mistake the look of bewilderment on Dick's face.
"Huh?" he raised an eyebrow.
"The map of Gotham I pulled up seems to indicate that wherever these e-mails came from, has been destroyed and deserted."
"How do messages get sent from a place that isn't there?"
"That's what we're going to find out! Come on, here's the address."
Darkness was settling on Gotham. They drove silently towards their destination, each pre-occupied with thoughts about the mystery on their hands.
Babs had a sense that something was unravelling deep inside her that had been balled up for some time. It was a feeling she could not explain, and unconsciously, she frowned, furrowing her brow.
Occasional glances out of the corner of his eyes told Dick that the woman next to him was settling into a rather contemplative mood. Clearly something was troubling her, and he felt his heart give a surge of compassion. He wanted to know that there would be a resolution to this so he could see the troubled looks erased forever from her face.
As they were nearing the address Babs had uncovered, the road had become more uneven, bumpy and pothole infested. Nobody was on the street. Dilapidated and crumbling buildings dominated their immediate environment.
"There's some heavy fog rolling in," Dick observed quietly.
Babs looked up and saw thick blankets of ghostly white moisture flooding into the road before them.
"It's moving in pretty quick, isn't' it," she said, more to make conversation than anything else. Dick simply nodded, but both felt that the tone had turned quite sombre.
The landscape began to subtly change, as crumbling buildings gave way to smaller piles of rubble and dirt. Then, there was nothing…the darkness of the night, and the fog.
Dick slowed the vehicle and stopped.
"Well, according to the map, we're here, Babs."
Trying not to hide her disappointment Babs peered into the blackness and the fog.
"There must be something here, unless my computers are totally malfunctioning. Those e-mails didn't just appear in my account. Let's get out and have a look-see, huh?"
Dick looked at her doubtfully. "I'm not sure there's going to be anything at all out there, Babs." Nevertheless, the pair was soon making their way down a broken path, somewhat aimlessly, illuminated by a flashlight in Dick's hand.
"Let's go back, Babs, there's nothing here."
"We've come all this way. Just a little further, I promise, Dick. I'm starting to feel like we're getting closer to something. Don't ask me how I know." It was true. The mists around them were getting less dense, and were more like swirling wisps of threads of cotton candy that blow away on a windy afternoon. It gave Babs the immediate impression that something was about to be revealed to them.
Dick stopped suddenly. No longer hearing his footsteps next to her, Babs stopped propelling herself forward and turned to face him.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"I think I see something ahead," he responded. "Come on…I think there's a building of some sort…as impossible as that may be."
"I knew it," Babs thought to herself triumphantly. "I knew something would be here to find!"
Following Dick, she, too, saw something coming into focus through the fog. It seemed to have a kind of illumination all its own, as there was no moon in the sky to shed light on anything. As they neared, more features of the building began to come into focus. A large ornate door…a tall steeple topped with a cross…
"Dick, I think it's a church…my trace said it was a church. The Church of the Holy Martyrs."
"It certainly does look like a church," Dick admitted. "Are you finding this as incredulous as I am?"
"I know what you mean. What we are looking at just should not be here at all. Yet, here it is."
As they neared, they observed there was a wheelchair ramp leading to the entrance.
"Well this is rather unexpected," Babs said.
"Do you suppose anyone's home?" Dick questioned. "I should think that a place like this would be locked for the night."
"Only one way to find out," Babs responded. She approached the doors and placed a hand on one and pushed. To their surprise, the door gave way noiselessly.
"Open Sesame," Dick whistled.
They entered the church slowly, moving up the center aisle. They found the interior to be dimly lit. Votive candles flickered silently in a small alcove to the left of them. A red light glowed brightly behind the altar at the front and center of the church beside the tabernacle. Dick quietly genuflected and crossed himself. As he stood, Babs knew he must have been thinking of his own deceased mother.
The pair whirled around, startled by the voice of another person.
What they saw coming up the aisle was a priest, slightly older-looking than James Gordon, smiling benevolently.
Babs felt an immediate flash of fellowship with him. The priest, stopping right in front of them, was in a wheelchair.
"I'm very glad you were able to make it here," he said to the two incredulous visitors. "Allow me to introduce myself: I'm Fr. Stephen Patrick, pastor of Holy Martyrs… and you are Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson," he said looking at them in turn. The two were rather dumbfounded and could only nod their heads in affirmation of their identities.
"Please, Mr. Grayson, we're all sitting…have a seat here," Fr. Patrick said, indicating the pew nearest them. Dick obediently sat on the edge, facing the aisle.
"I know you've many questions right now," he said to them.
"The e-mails I received were from you?" Babs asked before he could continue.
"You seem surprised, maybe, that a church is wired for the Internet?" he asked.
"A little," she admitted. "Please tell me why you sent those messages to me."
"Yes, Father," Dick broke in, "we've been pretty baffled. We'd really like to know."
The priest sat back in his chair and looked at them both for a few moments.
"Call me a messenger of sorts," he said. "There is something Miss Gordon needs to discover about herself, and I am being used as the instrument of that discovery."
Babs and Dick eyed each other almost as if to say, 'is this guy for real?'
"Do you know what 'apokalypsis' means?" Fr. Patrick asked them.
"Sounds Greek to me," Dick said dismissively.
"It is," Babs said thoughtfully. "Literally, it means 'unveiling'; a revealing."
"Correct," Fr. Patrick replied. "This meeting here tonight, Miss Gordon, is an apokalypsis of sorts for you. There are things you need to deal with and confront. You need to recall things that by all human logic never happened, and you need to remember someone who, by all human logic never existed."
"How do I remember something that never happened and someone that never existed?" Babs questioned. "Sorry, Father, you're not making a whole lot of sense."
"I know," he said. "It makes no sense in the wisdom of this world. But I promise that all that is hidden will soon be made clear. Please, take my hand."
Babs looked at Dick, and then tentatively extended her hand to hold the one the priest had opened.
"Don't be afraid," he said gently, and placed his other hand on her head.
Babs didn't know what to do. Should she bow her head? Close her eyes? The priest himself had done so. She looked across at Dick one more time, and was then no longer looking at him. She blinked hard, and found her vision had completely changed.
Sounds and images, emotions and sensations flooded her being. Blinking again, she opened her eyes and saw she was no longer in the church. Dick was no longer by her side, and Father Patrick's hands no longer holding her hand and her head. Instead, a giant, cold hand was gripping her. Barbara gasped in surprise. "What's going on?" she whispered through chattering teeth. Her body was freezing, her limbs numb…She found she had mobility in her neck, and swivelled her head and saw that someone else was trapped with her. It was a young woman, perhaps only slightly older than herself with blond hair and wearing…a Superman costume? Supergirl? It couldn't possibly be…this wasn't the Supergirl she knew. The hair length, the facial features, and even the costume were somewhat different.
Suddenly, Babs' vision shifted again. Once again, the blond-haired young woman wearing the red 'S' insignia was by her side. Babs recognized herself in her Batgirl costume, but it seemed to her that it was a smaller version of herself, shorter by some inches.
To Babs, it was as if she were looking at herself and experiencing what she was seeing at the same time, as it is so often in dreams. It also seemed to Babs that she and this 'super-girl' were friends!
"How can this be?" she thought to herself. Babs felt a new presence beside her. She sensed it was Father Patrick.
"The 'veil' has been lifted, Barbara," came his calm voice. "You are seeing and experiencing those things I spoke to you about earlier…those things which by all human logic never happened…remembering a person that by all human logic never existed. Nothing separates knowledge of those events from the ones in this world any longer. It is time to heal some old wounds, Barbara, wounds you almost forgot you had, wounds that continue to hurt and damage you."
"I think I'm beginning to remember," Babs said, "I think I know who that young woman is…Her name is Kara Zor-El, but I also know her as Linda Lee Danvers. We are very good friends. We've fought together many times, too…" She let her voice trail off, as she sensed the presence of the priest retreating. "I think I know what's happened…I think I remember there was a Crisis…"
The skies had turned red. There were rumours of the deaths of worlds, and the deaths of heroes. At night, the constellations seemed to be in turmoil as well, as they no longer adhered to their known patterns, patterns that had been a given for millennia. Everyone was fearful.
Fear. It was an emotion that permeated everything.
Batgirl, too, was afraid. Many superheroes from different Earths were off fighting the effects of a common foe they would all soon come to know as the Anti-Monitor, bringer of death, destruction, and much suffering for those fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have escaped his cold and ceaseless rampage.
Batgirl had remained on her Earth, keeping her vigil, high above the city. A watchful eye, with nothing else to do but wait…
Waiting makes the mind wander. And a crisis such as this makes a person take a serious inventory of themselves, and find what it is they are truly made of.
This crisis brought Batgirl to the full realization that she could die. In fact, it seemed almost inevitable. Her world, and indeed, the whole universe was in imminent danger of being erased forever. She herself was helpless to stop any of it. After all, she was mortal. She had the abilities of a mortal. She felt frightened, inadequate, vulnerable and worthless. She might as well not even have tried to be a hero if she could not do anything now, at this most crucial moment in time, when everything she cared about was in such peril.
Batgirl knew that such depressing thoughts were ultimately destructive. But what did it matter? Surely they were all doomed anyway? Surely it was the end of the world!
She had called Supergirl. It had been a while since they had last seen each other. Speaking to another ought to help work some things out. Kara was a good and caring friend. She would understand. She had lived through the ending of her world, hadn't she?
Batgirl waited for her caped friend to come amidst the fierce electrical storms that people were by now, at least somewhat used to.
Supergirl arrived and landed atop the skyscraper where Batgirl had been waiting. The young blond woman could not mistake the melancholy mood her friend was in. They spoke about the frightened inhabitants of the city; all remaining inside with their loved ones, waiting out the terrible crisis, all the while knowing their complete destruction might be at hand.
Batgirl laid her thoughts and fears on the table. Kara had taken up that burden, and candidly admitted that she was afraid as well. Kara also reminded her friend that even though Batgirl did not possess the super-abilities she herself had, that did not give her permission to shirk her own responsibility as a hero…A real hero carries on even when there seems to be no hope. A real hero does what she can do with the gifts she has. To give up means that defeat is surely at hand, because you have already betrayed yourself.
Batgirl felt her conscience give her a fierce tug. Her friend was right of course…what, then, had become of her pride and confidence in herself? Clearly she needed to re-discover herself. She needed to prove to herself that she was worthy of the mantle of 'hero' once again.
Supergirl had taken off then, flying straight into danger to rescue a total stranger from the clutches of the encroaching anti-matter universe. Batgirl watched the successful rescue through her binoculars, and was once again convinced of Kara's selfless heroism. Batgirl could not have known it was one of the last times she would ever speak to, and see her friend alive.
Dick Grayson sat riveted to the pew. He looked into the face of the woman he loved and noticed small flashes of emotion flicking through her eyes. What was she seeing? What was she thinking? She made no sound, no movement. For the first time in several minutes he looked over at Father Patrick. He had released Babs' hand, and had removed his palm from her head. The priest's eyes were still closed however. He had told Dick not to worry, that Babs was okay, but in the silence he was getting restless. He had to know for himself that Babs was all right.
"Father," he whispered. No response.
"Father?" Dick whispered more insistently. The priest opened his eyes slowly.
"Ah, you're worried about her," he said. "I told you, she's going to be okay. At the end of it all, she'll be okay."
With that, he closed his eyes again. Dick let out a breath of pure exasperation.
"I think she needs you now, Mr. Grayson," said Father Patrick suddenly. Dick looked up in surprise. "You're a part of this, too. Please, take my hand." Dick took hold of his hand, and watched as Father Patrick laid his other hand on his head.
Dick was suddenly no longer aware of his surroundings. He knew he was no longer in the church, of that he was certain. He knew, though, that somehow the priest was nearby. As if to confirm this thought, Dick heard the priest say:
"The 'veil' has been lifted from your eyes as it has been from Barbara's, Mr. Grayson. For her sake, it needed to be done. She needs you to be here."
"Wait!" Dick called out, but already he felt the presence of the priest fading.
He could hear the murmur of voices around him. Dick strained his ears to make out what was being said. He felt confused, anxious, and saddened at the same time. His eyes came into focus, and Dick felt as if he was watching himself yet experiencing what he was seeing at the same time.
He was surrounded by a legion of heroes. Some he recognized, others he did not. Dick realised he was no longer simply Dick Grayson – he was Nightwing, dressed in full body armour and mask.
"How…?" he asked himself…then the full realization that something tragic had happened filtered into his consciousness. The murmurs around him became clearer. They were all saying that Kara, Supergirl, was dead. "Kara?" Dick thought, "That isn't Supergirl's name…" But in his own mind, in this time and place, he knew it was true. He knew and remembered a crisis was taking place.
"Then it is true," Nightwing heard a familiar voice say. He turned to see his old partner in conversation with someone else. It was Batman.
"Damn this crisis," Batman cursed.
"Batman, from what we're seeing, it seems the Earths are safe. Kara's saved us." Nightwing said.
"For now," Batman countered. He heaved a heavy sigh as his face grew grave.
"What is it, Bruce?" Nightwing whispered, taking him aside.
"Batgirl will need to hear of this, and she needs to hear it from me, and not those news vultures."
"Let me come with you," Nightwing pleaded. "I mean - I want to be there, at least for moral support…"
"You can come," Batman agreed gruffly.
Batgirl was sitting atop a tower, still maintaining her watchful vigil. She wondered how long it would be before they knew whether or not the heroes chosen to attack the Anti-Monitor in his anti-matter universe had been successful. She herself had not been asked to fight in that battle. Batgirl tried not to feel slighted by this. Was it because she lacked special abilities that she was not there with the other heroes? It only seemed to confirm her lack of worth, her lack of skill. Batgirl became upset at herself for wallowing in such obvious self-pity.
She knew, however, that if the others failed in their mission, all hope was truly lost, and everything she had ever known would cease to exist. The five Earths would merge, destroying each other as they did so.
Her thoughts went fleetingly to her friends who had been chosen to fight in that all-important battle. Kara was among them…
A morbid feeling came over Batgirl. Had there not been something in her friend's voice as they spoke not so long ago…?
"Stop it!" Batgirl admonished herself sternly. "Both Kara and Kal-El are there. They can take care of themselves and each other. Neither one will let the other fall."
Hours passed. Batgirl preferred to be alone and not gathered with the other heroes who were awaiting news. In her fragile state, she feared hearing unwelcome news. She did not want to be in the same room with the others if something happened to a common ally. Batgirl knew that such collective grieving would further undo her. She almost smirked at how like Batman that response to grief would be. Shun the others and hide out to mourn privately.
A rustling of what sounded to be a cape startled Batgirl from her thoughts. She saw Batman and Nightwing slowly approaching her. She searched the faces of the two men.
While Batman's jaw was rather tightly clenched, his expression was as unrevealing as ever. Always the poker face. On Nightwing's, she was not sure what she read. It seemed to be compassion and grief rolled into one.
Something had happened…otherwise the two of them would not have come, Batgirl reasoned. Instantly she knew someone was dead. There was no mistaking the heaviness of heart the two men brought into her presence.
"Batgirl…" Batman began, "Barbara, I've come because I wanted you to hear it from me…"
A cold hand of dread closed around her heart like a vice.
In her mind, Batgirl visually flipped through the faces and images of those who were allies of both herself and Batman, who had gone on that mission; someone who would mean enough that Bruce himself would find it necessary to tell her in person.
Her mind's eye flipped to, and rested on Kara's face, and Batgirl angrily tried to force the image away. It refused to budge. Oh, no, please, no…
No…no…no… "Not…Kara?" she whispered, dreading the answer she knew must come.
"It is," Batman said in confirmation.
Batgirl felt as if an invisible fist had delivered a paralysing blow to the pit of her stomach. She pressed her hands tightly to her mouth to prevent the hysterical screams she felt rising in her throat from being released. Then she felt herself falling, falling, into a deep, dark abyss.
When Batgirl came to, she felt a bitter taste in her mouth. She opened her eyes slowly, and saw the streets far below her. Strong, but gentle arms were holding her at the waist, preventing her from falling over the edge of the tower.
"Babs?" came a voice that sounded so distant. "Babs, are you okay?" It was Nightwing.
"What happened?" Batgirl asked shakily. Nightwing slowly brought her back up and sat her down, head between her knees.
"You keeled over and threw up," Batman said. "Nightwing caught you just before you went over the edge."
"Thank you," she said dully, her voice still shaky.
"Babs," Nightwing was being insistent. "Are you okay?!"
"No!" she spat, finally looking up, her face streaming with tears. "And I won't be okay!"
More tears coursed down her cheeks, and she suddenly shook convulsively.
Both men knew better than to try to comfort her at this moment, although Nightwing knew he was witnessing a young woman's raw grief over the loss of a true friend. Nightwing knew in this time and place, for him there had been Kory…but he looked at Batgirl, and did not want to think how painful it would be if he ever lost her…without her ever really knowing how much he…
"Barbara," Batman broke in as gently as possible, "Kal-El is going to want to talk to you. He says there's something he wants to discuss with you."
Batgirl wiped her cheeks and swallowed hard. "Okay." She said through a strained voice.
They departed then, silently, except for when Nightwing turned and said softly, "Babs, I'm so sorry."
She had nodded, knowing that he meant well, and then they were off.
Dick opened his eyes slowly. The vision was fading, and he knew he was once again sitting in the pew in the church. He looked straight at Babs right away, and saw the same grief-stricken face he had seen only moments before. Her face was moist and tear-stained.
"Oh, Babs," he thought, his heart aching for her, "I'm sorry it has to hurt so much."
Batgirl knew she had to regain some modicum of composure. Superman had something he wanted to discuss. Good Lord, how could she face him? He must be a total wreck! How on earth would he be dealing with Kara's death?
Probably the same way I am, Batgirl thought. With anger, grief, and guilt.
Presently, another flapping of a cape drew her attention. This time it was the red cape of Superman, Kal-El, the cousin of Kara Zor-El, now lost forever to this world.
As he approached, Batgirl saw that his face was etched in anguish and sorrow. It managed to make him look many years older.
"Superman," she gasped, and felt a new rush of tears as he embraced her tightly. "I'm so sorry," she babbled into his chest. "I'm so, so sorry."
"I know, Batgirl…" came his weary reply. "There's nothing you could have done…"
She stepped back from him, and saw his face twist in pure agony, and his eyes well with tears.
"I'm here," he continued bravely, "to ask a very difficult favor of you."
Batgirl remained silent as the Man of Steel, who seemed rather vulnerable at this point, collected his thoughts.
"Kara thought very highly of you, Batgirl. Whenever she spoke of you, she had the highest admiration for you. She was always impressed by your abilities – that you were willing to put everything on the line, even though you were not invincible like so many other super-heroes. She counted herself very fortunate to have you as a friend."
The words should have cheered her. They should have helped rally her. Instead they stood to convict her. Batgirl felt sick with guilt and remorse and self-doubt. Those qualities Kal-El was describing no longer applied to her, she thought bitterly. They had ceased describing her especially since the beginning of the crisis.
Superman seemed not to notice her cringing inwardly. "There is to be a memorial service in Chicago, Batgirl. Would you…give the eulogy? I think Kara would be very honoured if she knew you were giving it."
How could she refuse? Hating herself for accepting, knowing she was not worthy of such an honour, Batgirl found herself agreeing to speak. He had sighed a sigh of relief, as if a heavy burden had been dropped from his shoulders.
"Thank you," he said heartily. He had turned to leave when Batgirl stopped him.
"Superman…" He turned back to face her. "I - have something difficult to ask you…"
"What is it?"
"Please…I have to know…how did it happen?"
Dick watched as more tears trickled down Babs' cheeks.
"Why is she still there?" he demanded, looking at Father Patrick. "Why is she still in so much pain?"
"It's almost over," the priest calmly replied. "She's finally getting to the end of it. After, she will know all the whys. Everything will be made clear."
Batgirl stared into the pain-filled eyes of Superman.
Babs felt a shift in vision, and was looking now at the anti-matter universe, and a large, ghostly-white structure or building looming before her. Several superheroes were battling pieces of the white building material, which appeared to somehow be alive. They were serving to prevent the heroes from penetrating the main structure. The heroes were not making any headway. Each time one of the living white pieces was destroyed, its crumbled chunks immediately flew back together.
Babs gasped in surprise and joy as she saw Kara utilizing her super-breath to strew pieces of the white material far across the galaxy. It was the kind of delay in the pieces' reassembly they were badly in need of. Kara was helping them win the battle!
Babs watched as Superman made it through to the interior of the structure where the machines the Anti-Monitor was using to cause the merging of the Earths were held. Victory was at hand!
Babs' joy turned to dismay as the Anti-Monitor stepped from the shadows. An ambush! She tried to scream a warning, but found her voice had no power in this place. Batgirl had had no role in this battle, so Babs too, had no role. She was merely observing now, and no longer taking part. The Anti-Monitor let loose a blast that sent Superman flying. His cry of pain travelled through the chambers of the structure, and reached the ears of his cousin.
Babs knew Kara would not let the Anti-Monitor kill her cousin. She knew neither one would let the other fall. As the Anti-Monitor continued his assault on Superman, Supergirl was breaking through walls, intent on reaching her cousin. Like a bullet, she flew straight into the Anti-Monitor, knocking him away from the near-unconscious body of Superman. The Anti-Monitor was clearly surprised at this sudden attack.
The two exchanged blows several times. Kara was charged with love for her cousin, and would not let this vile being have the final victory. She would not let the Anti-Monitor kill Superman.
Babs had never seen her friend fight with such determination and such passion. Could she really kill the Anti-Monitor? Kara had never killed before. But she continued, breaking his armour, crushing his life-shell. The Anti-Monitor was 'bleeding' anti-matter, bubbling and streaming all around him as the two remained locked in battle.
She saw Kara take a moment to advise the Asian woman, the female Dr. Light. She asked her to take the unconscious and badly hurt Kal-El, and leave as quickly as she could when she gave the signal. Kara then turned her attention back to the ailing Anti-Monitor, and shot at him again, this time propelling him towards his machines. She cried out for Dr. Light to move with Superman. The impact of Kara and the Anti-Monitor crashing into the machines effectively destroyed them. The Anti-Monitor howled in frustration and desperation. He could not believe that this mortal was undoing all his plans.
She's done it; Babs thought triumphantly…She's saved us! The Earths aren't going to destroy each other. But then she was hit by the awful realization that something was to go wrong, that something would go wrong. Something would seal Kara's fate, because Babs suddenly remembered that Kara never left the anti-matter battlefield alive. She could only wait in agonizing misery at what must surely come.
As Kara continued her valiant and selfless attack on the Anti-Monitor, her own flesh was torn, her body badly punished by his much-too-powerful counter-attacks.
The female Dr. Light called out to her, saying she should help her. Almost in horror at the notion that Dr. Light had not fled with her cousin when she had asked, that her cousin was still not out of danger, Kara had turned and shouted for her to leave with Superman immediately.
It was the distraction and the opportunity the Anti-Monitor had been waiting for.
In utter terror and dread, Babs helplessly watched as the Anti-Monitor grabbed Kara's head, and mocking her, unleashed a very powerful, very deadly blast. It struck Kara in the midsection and sent her flying backwards, eventually falling like a bird that had been shot from the sky, as if downed by a hunter's bullet. She crashed solidly into the ground and did not move.
Superman had witnessed it. He had cried out Kara's name because he knew with certainty the blast meant her death.
Babs could only cry silent tears of sorrow for her fallen friend. Superman had tried to convince Kara that she had the strength to pull through. Her face was a mask of pain as her bruised and battered body lay in his arms. Her costume was torn and tattered.
Kara told him through gritted teeth she knew what she had to do, and that she had accomplished it. She'd wanted him to be safe. She'd wanted the Earths to be safe.
It must be torture trying to speak, Babs thought, listening to Kara attempt to force the words through her ragged breathing.
Kara seemed surprised to see her cousin crying. She begged him not to. She loved him so much for how good he was.
Babs watched wretchedly as Kara closed her eyes for the last time, and saw her hand slip from the face of Superman, falling lifeless to the ground beside her.
Babs felt her heart would burst as she heard Superman's heart-rending cry echo across the anti-matter universe. She buried her face in her hands and wept.
When she lowered her hands from her face, Babs found she was standing behind a podium, and thousands of people were gathered before her. She was in her Batgirl costume, and clearly she was supposed to be addressing this crowd. Some in the crowd were solemn. Others were weeping openly. Babs stole a glance over her shoulder and saw a large poster or banner with the likeness of Supergirl on it.
"Of course," she whispered to herself…"Kara's memorial service…I was asked to give the eulogy."
As she spoke to the thousands that had gathered, Batgirl related Kara's courage, and told of her sacrifice. She spoke of their friendship and of Kara's noble sense that others were always more important than herself.
"Kara is a hero," Batgirl heard herself saying as she bowed her head, "she will not be forgotten."
Babs raised her head and opened her eyes. She was once again sitting in the silence of the dimly lit church. Dick seemed relived that she was back.
"She didn't have to die," Babs moaned. "Why wasn't I there?! Why wasn't I given the chance to save her? She was my friend, and I never even got the chance to say goodbye, to tell her how much her friendship meant to me."
"Kara did not ask to be saved," Father Patrick's hands were holding hers firmly but gently. "She knew beforehand that was to die in that battle. She knew what it would take to ensure the lives of many of those she loved most. She paid the price for them."
"Too heavy!" Babs cried. "She shouldn't have had to pay with everything. She paid with her life and the memories of her life. It isn't fair that we can't even honor her because we can't remember what she has done."
"It was a mercy that even those closest to her have no memory of her sacrifice," Father Patrick. "She didn't ask to be remembered, and she knew no one would remember. And she accepted that willingly."
"A mercy?!" Babs gasped. "How is this merciful?"
"Kara's death would have destroyed her cousin and others," Father Patrick said simply. "Just as you carry guilt for not being there to save her, Superman, too, carried the same guilt. Only his burden was one that could not be weighed. Kara was his little cousin. In his mind, he was supposed to protect her, not the other way around. When he lost her, his mourning was terrible. It was affecting him negatively. Privately, as much as it pained him to admit, he wished Kara had never been born so he could be relieved of the inescapable grief.
"Kara's Kryptonian parents were inconsolable. To each other, they laid the blame for their daughter's death on the Anti-Monitor. But secretly, they blamed each other, and that would have ultimately poisoned their marriage. Zor-El blamed Allura for choosing the Earth he would ultimately be obliged to send Kara in the rocket he would build. Allura would blame Zor-El for thinking of sending her away in the first place. Had he just waited longer, they might have all been alive, together in the Survival Zone.
"Her Earth parents, the Danvers, would have had to live in the agonizing reality that they would have no body to bury, no grave to visit. They could not ever reveal to the world that their Linda was really Supergirl. It would have jeopardized the identity of Superman, and for that, they blamed him. The only thing they could do was report to authorities that Linda was a 'missing person', knowing she would never be found."
"So what did I gain by forgetting?" Babs asked.
"You forgot Kara and the events surrounding her death," Father Patrick said, "but the feelings you had at that time were buried within you. Those feelings of inadequacy and guilt and worthlessness had to remain for a purpose. Kara knew that, too, and as much as it grieved her to know the suffering you would soon endure mere months after she was forgotten, she saw the purpose those feelings would fulfil."
"I don't understand," Babs said.
"Had you forgotten everything, you would have restored the confidence in yourself as Batgirl, because your negative feelings would have vanished as well. Instead, those feelings remained, and you retired after defeating your final foe. Had you not retired, you would not have been paralysed by the Joker."
"You are now Oracle," Father Patrick continued, "and this world needs Oracle much more than it needs you when you were Batgirl. But now that you have seen everything, now that you know that those feelings you've carried inside have served their purpose, you can let them go."
Babs felt a flood of emotion well up inside her. It was as if a lifetime of self-doubt and negativity was flowing out of her. No more would she be a hostage to old emotions and feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Now that she knew the source of her pain, she could deliver herself from it. Now she could finally forgive herself for not being there for Kara. She finally admitted that even though she had been unable to save Kara, her new identity had been foreseen and that her friend had even known what was to happen. Babs inhaled deeply, and letting her breath escape slowly, a new feeling of security and self-worth gave rest to her soul.
"Babs, are you okay?" Dick asked, although it occurred to him he seemed to have asked that question quite a lot lately.
"Yes," she replied, "I think I can say I am truly at peace, now. I know my purpose, and I don't have to be fearful of anything anymore."
She turned to Father Patrick. "Thank you, Father, for showing me what I needed to see."
"You're welcome," he said. "I am sorry you had to see your friend die in order for these things to be revealed, but trust me: death is not the end."
Dick stood up, knowing that the time had come to depart. "C'mon, Babs," he beckoned, "let's go."
As they reached the door, Father Patrick called out.
"Barbara, do give your father my regards."
Babs and Dick looked at each other in surprise, but Babs responded that she would.
Driving back Dick turned to Babs and asked: "What was it like for you?"
"It was," she responded slowly, "it was like finding a long-lost friend, and then losing her all over again. But I have forgiven myself at last. I'm free of that pain. I can't tell you how it haunted me, even though I had no idea where it was all coming from… I remembered so many little things…our birthdays…did you know that they came one after the other then? Hers was the day before mine…"
"You know you honor Kara by becoming Oracle," Dick said quietly.
"I know," she said. "I know now for certain it had to be."
In the morning, Dick phoned.
"Do you realise we never found out how Father Patrick got hold of your e-mail address?"
"That's true," Babs mused. "I don't even think it crossed my mind the entire time we were in the church after we met Father Patrick."
"That's another thing," Dick said. "We never found out how it was that church got to be there."
"That's true, too," Babs reflected. "It wasn't supposed to be there. Again, the thought never crossed my mind…It was all so surreal, wasn't it?"
"Babs, I drove back, later, after I dropped you home," Dick said in a lowered voice. "It wasn't there anymore. Nothing. Zip. Nada…"
Babs didn't respond.
"You don't seem surprised," he said.
"After you dropped me here, Dad phoned," Babs said. "I asked him if he knew a Stephen Patrick. He thought for a minute, and then remembered that when he was a rookie, Stephen Patrick had once given him a heads-up that possibly saved his life. He then said something like: 'Those Irish Patricks…All they knew how to do was be cops or religious.' Apparently there are a few Patricks on the force, and in the priesthood.
"Dad told me that Stephen Patrick soon left the force and joined the seminary. He remembers that Father Patrick was later stricken with diabetes, lost the use of his legs, and needed to use a wheelchair. His parishioners had done some fundraising to get a wheelchair ramp built for him.
"Dick, Dad told me Father Stephen Patrick died of complications due to diabetes a few years ago. The parish later closed, and as you and I both know, was deserted and destroyed…"END
(Like I said, some reviews either positive or negative would be mightily appreciated!)