Joss Whedon owns "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and related characters; Warner Bros. owns "Batman" and related characters; I own nothing.Author's Note:
Slight spoilers for "The Dark Knight Rises".~*~*~
The thing about Cleveland was it wasn’t much better than Gotham. Sure, on paper, anything
was better than Gotham, even post-Dent Act and post-Batman, but to Barbara, it was the devil that you didn’t know that screwed you over the most.
For four years post-Harvey Dent, her mom and dad tiptoed on eggshells around each other, her mother in anger and her dad in guilt. Guilt over being responsible for putting them in danger, guilt for putting the job first more and more, guilt for something he never mentioned that happened that night. Finally, the marriage collapsed under the weight of all that tip-toeing, and not only was her mom moving out of state, she was petitioning the court to give her full custody of Barbara and Jimmy.
She’d fought the move to Cleveland tooth and nail. She was a Gothamite, born and bred. Gotham might be a piece of shit, but it was her
piece of shit, her’s and her father's. Barbara was Jim Gordon’s little girl, in more ways than one, and she was halfway sure that her mom insisted on Barbara moving with her just to hurt her dad. Just to twist the knife a little further.
What hurt the most was that her dad didn’t fight it.
So here Barbara was, fourteen and in a new city that she hated on sight, trying to adjust. Trying to learn more about the place she was stuck living in until she either was eighteen or went off to university, whichever came first. Cleveland would never be her home. For better or worse, that was Gotham. Would always be Gotham. Cleveland was just a waystation.
It didn’t take her long to hack into the Cleveland Police Department records, just to get an idea of what wasn’t being published. She’d always been good with computers, and their security system was laughable. Even GCPD’s was better, after she proved her point last year by hacking into the records system. Dad hadn’t been sure whether to give her an unofficial commendation or to ground her. That was fine. She’d take anything to distract him from whatever elephant he was dragging around.
“What the hell?” she muttered, scrolling through the statistics. There wasn’t the level of organized crime that Gotham had (really, what city did?), but there did seem to be a lot of smaller, violent crimes, ones always attributed to gangs on PCP. And while Cleveland didn’t have a Batman to defend it, it did seem to have its own group of vigilantes, young women mentioned in police report after police report, normally when they were taking the victim’s statements. The women never stayed long enough to be interviewed by the police.
And then there were the constant reminders from those people that they met not to venture out after dark.
She kept these thoughts in the back of her mind as they slowly started to settle in. Barbara found a new gym and a new gymnastics coach, one who assured her mother that Barbara could easily make the national team if she tried hard enough. She also found a new martial arts teacher, an older woman who taught a mixture of styles designed to take an opponent out the quickest way possible. Being on the national team for gymnastics was a nice way to make her parents happy, but Barbara had more ambitious dreams. She’d seen the Batman up close and followed his exploits even as a young girl. She was her father’s daughter, and dreamed of the day she’d be able to help people, to protect them from the monsters that tried to prey on them.
One day, gymnastics practice ran later than usual, and Barbara missed the bus that would take her back to their apartment. She could call her mom, could call for a ride, but instead chose to wait, zipping up her windbreaker over her tangerine leotard. She and her mom weren’t talking more than what was necessary at this point, and she wasn’t about to change the pattern.
It happened quickly: in the shadows cast by a nearby streetlamp, Barbara spied a man and a woman stepping into an alley. Both parties seemed to be consenting adults, and she put it out of her mind, huddling into her jacket to try to keep warm. It was her own fault for forgetting to bring a change of clothes, leaving her with only her sweats, leotard, and windbreaker to keep her warm in a chilly fall night.
A scream pierced the air, coming out of the alley the couple had just stepped into. Barbara snapped into action, rushing towards the mouth of the alley and stopped short at the sight. The woman had the man pushed up against the wall, her face buried in his neck. The man was screaming, a terrified look on his face as he tried to push his attacker away without any results.
Barbra didn’t give any warning before slamming into the other woman, going for the element of surprise more than anything else. She managed to shove the woman aside a few feet, giving the man enough time to rush out past her, holding his neck.
“What did you do that for?” the woman asked, getting to her feet. “I was just hungry.”
Barbara suppressed the urge to throw up at the sight. The woman’s face was deformed, her eyes a glowing yellow underneath prominent eyebrows. Fangs protruded from a mouth liberally covered covered in blood and she stared at Barbara with a hungry expression on her face.
“Too bad,” Barbara answered, easily slipping into a fighting stance. She caught the woman’s punch on the outside of her arm, wincing at the impact. Whatever this woman was on, it made her stronger than she had any right to be. Grabbing the arm with her free hand, Barbara used the other woman’s momentum to flip her over in an attempt to dislocate her shoulder.
“Oh, I do like a fighter,” the woman gasped out, wrenching her arm out of Barbara’s grip and rolling to the side and back to her feet, a manic expression in her eyes.
Barbara soon found herself on the defensive, doing her best to dodge a frenzied attack that was all arms and legs. A lucky blow caught her on her ribs, and she fell to the ground, wheezing and watching the woman walk towards her with a triumphant look on her face.
“Hey, pick on somebody your own size,” a voice rang out in the alley, grabbing the woman’s shoulder and spinning her around. From where she was kneeling, Barbara couldn’t see her rescuer, but she could see the pointed end of a piece of wood erupt from her attacker’s chest before the strangest thing happened: the woman stiffened before dissolving into dust.
“What the hell was that?” Barbara gasped out, using the wall as support to get to her feet. “And don’t say gangs on PCP, because that definitely wasn’t it.”
Her rescuer, a petite woman in her twenties with blonde hair tucked under a black ski cap raised an eyebrow but didn’t answer.
“Look, thanks for the rescue, I really appreciate it,” Barbara continued, “but seriously, what the fucking hell was that?”
The woman’s mouth quirked at that before she walked over to Barbara and offered out her arm so that she could lean on it. “What do you know about vampires?” she asked, her smile becoming wider as Barbara’s jaw dropped.
Yep, it really was the devil you didn’t know that screwed you over the most.