Two, Divided by Zero

by 'rith



Archive: Ask first, please.
Timing: Batman #511, a scene we weren't allowed to witness.
Disclaimer: Characters and situation by DC, words by 'rith.



Zero Hour:

This wasn't her world.

She understood that, intellectually. She'd seen enough to comprehend it. Somehow, between one day and the next, she'd woken in a different place. Everyone seemed shocked to see her, that was one change. Things were...darker in some indefinable way. More grim. Even her closest allies weren't themselves: Robin wasn't Dick Grayson but some younger boy, and Bruce...

Bruce appeared not to remember what they had shared, and as Batman his whole manner was far more severe. She didn't know how to approach him. The point was moot since he didn't seem inclined to talk to her anyway. This Batman was even better at hiding his emotions than the one she knew, but she could sense that she made him...nervous.

Things were getting weird. Some of the other heroes were talking about space-time rifts and chronal anomalies. And every moment that went by she had a stronger *feeling* -- not just the knowledge of it--that this wasn't her world.

But it was still a world with people in it who needed protectors, and Barbara Gordon, Batgirl, wasn't about to abandon her self-assumed responsibilities just because she felt a little out of place.

Neither was she the kind of person to let questions go unanswered. Batman had called her by name even if she wasn't *his* Barbara, so that meant--what? That Barbara Gordon did exist on this world. And if she did, why wasn't she out here, helping in this crisis? Could her other-self be so different?

A mystery. One that, unlike the swiftly unraveling structure of time itself, she might be able to solve.

"Barbara Gordon's" name and number were of course unlisted, as her own were. The daughter of the police commissioner could be a convenient target for those who violated the law her father had stood for. But Batgirl had been trained by the Dark Knight Detective himself, and it was an easy matter to find the information nonetheless.

Here, inside this nondescript apartment building, might be the answers she sought.

***

Through the window from where she perched on the ledge, she could see inside to the woman in a wheelchair, facing away from the window, working at a computer.

Barbara was familiar with computers from her work as a librarian and (briefly) a congresswoman and as Batman's partner. This computer looked...different from those she knew. Smaller, yet somehow more powerful looking. Nor was there only one; a half-dozen others were connected to the "main" terminal by a mad tangle of wires, along with some components she didn't recognize.

The woman at the computer, in the wheelchair, had red hair.

So, and now she knew why this Barbara Gordon wasn't patrolling the streets. She knew it the moment she peered in with a kind of stunned clarity, even without seeing the woman's, her other self's, face. But when-- how--

Batgirl knocked on the glass before she'd even realized she was going to, and the woman turned.

***

She was looking at her own face.

But different. Older, with lines on her skin carved by pain. She wore the glasses Batgirl had begun to fear she would need soon. The look on her face, when she saw the visitor at her window, was indecipherable. Not as much surprise as she expected.

Barbara, this other Barbara, wheeled herself forward to unlock the window, and moved back to allow Batgirl entrance. They looked at each other for a long moment. Batgirl wanted to ask everything. And suddenly, just as ardently, she didn't want to know.

"Well. I DID look as good in that suit as I remembered."

Too many layers in that voice: a dry humor that reminded Barb of Bruce's, underlaid with something bitter. Envy, maybe. "I-- I shouldn't have come."

"Of course you had to. I wouldn't have been able to resist either." An odd compassion, too. Maybe this Barbara understood how it was to be so out of place in your own city. In your own skin.

There was something hard about this woman in the chair, something cold and reserved. Was it just this world that had done that? Or was it...

Her doppelganger sighed. "Ask."

Batgirl got the feeling she was being patronized, and didn't care for it. "Why don't you tell me, instead."

"All right: It's as simple as this." The other woman's eyes held hers and would not let go. "I made a mistake. I opened a door without checking to see who it was...and the Joker blew a hole in my spine with a big, big gun."

Dear God. She'd been imagining some case gone wrong, some daring rescue mission. Throwing herself in front of a bullet to save a civilian. Falling in the line of duty. Not-- "So he knew? That you were Batgirl?"

Barbara snorted. "No. At least, not as far as I know. I was just in the way. He was after my-- OUR father. Kidnapped Jim Gordon and tried to drive him insane." Almost off-handedly she added, "Batman saved him."

It clicked into place: her own memory of that same night. She swallowed hard. "In-- In my world. Dad was killed, and the Joker kidnapped me."

"Destiny," Barbara spat, sounding like she was choking on it. "Fate. Someone was going to open that door...someone was going to lose their life."

"But you didn't--"

"No?" Barbara's eyes caught hers again. "I didn't die. I still lost my life."

"Do you. Blame Batman for that?" Batgirl asked, instantly regretting it.

"I don't have to blame him. He does that all himself." It was too harsh a statement not to be true. But Barbara was saying, "I assume you've been Batgirl all along? You never quit."

Barb shook her head. "I almost did after a case with Cormorant--" the other woman nodded, clearly remembering it too-- "but Bruce needed me."

"Did he now," Barbara murmured, smiling slightly.

She would *not* be baited. Particularly not by herself. "And then dad was killed, and the new commissioner set the police to hunt us down, and we've been running ever since--" She stopped, feeling the surreal nature of the situation crashing in. "What is *happening* here?!"

"'The time is out of joint'," Barbara said, quoting, "'O cursed spite...' -- It has to be set right, Batgirl, you know that."

That was the certainty of a woman far more sure of her place in this world than she was. "And then what? If you belong here, I don't?! I can't accept that!"

Batgirl whirled, running for the window. She would *not* go quietly. If this wasn't her world then she needed to find her way back to her own, and talking with this-- this woman wouldn't help her do that. She fired her grapnel and flew, not seeing the Batman standing in the shadows below.

***

Back in the apartment, Barbara Gordon, the newly rechristened Oracle, put her head in her hands and wept.



{end}




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