Disclaimer: Barbara Gordon, Dick Grayson, and the barely-mentioned Bruce Wayne are property of DC Comics and Time Warner. I mean no harm and am making no profit on this unauthorized use of these characters. I'm a poor college student anyway, and suing me won't do much good.
"Scar tissue that I wish you saw
--Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Scar Tissue"
"Stop that ant!" Barbara Gordon paused with a cookie halfway to her mouth, and pointed to the offending insect, still within her reach.
"What? You want me to leave my nice, comfy pillow to chase down a bug that--what'd it do, anyway?" Dick Grayson grumbled, his head resting across her legs.
"He stole my cookie crumb!"
"Just a crumb? You have a whole cookie there. You want me to abandon--"
"But Alfred made these cookies," Babs insisted, pushing Dick's shoulders up, "and I can't feel you there anyway, so get up and save it!"
"Ok, ok," Dick agreed, good-naturedly. He was just happy to see Barbara laughing and being silly, again. "Since it's from one of Alfred's famous oatmeal-raisin cookies." He sat up and located the tiny thief. Scooping it up in his hand, he rescued the morsel and presented it to Barbara with much more flourish than was strictly necessary for such an occasion. His fair lady studied the crumb judiciously.
"Yuck. A bug touched this," she declared, tossing it away. Dick dropped back on the blanket, covering his eyes with his arms and trying to mask his laughs with a groan. He didn't exactly succeed. At any other time, the manipulation of such expression would have been child's play for a protégé of the Bat. Not here, though, not now. Dick never could be anyone but his true self around Barbara, and he had no desire to change that. Least of all on a sunny spring day like today.
He dared a glance over at Barbara, who was making daisy chains. She was stretched out, next to him, feet in front of her, her chair only a few feet away. The sunlight glittered in her hair and he leaned closer to see if her nose, scrunched in concentration, was showing signs of freckles. She caught him looking at her, so he kissed her, a simple kiss that was accompanied by a hand on her back, pulling her closer, as she turned on her side, but demanded nothing more.
"What was that for, Grayson?" she asked, her eyes twinkling as she rested her cheek in her hand.
"Just glad to be here with you," he admitted, twirling a lock of her hair around one finger.
"Mmmm," she agreed, rolling all the way over onto her stomach, her ankles crossing with the natural twist of her body. "It's a perfect day for a picnic, and we have the place all to ourselves." Her eyes suddenly narrowed, suspiciously. "What'd you do, Grayson? Buy the park, so we could be alone?"
"Nooo..." Dick tilted his head thoughtfully. "But now that you mention it, I really should. How'd you like to have a park all to yourself?"
"If you want to spend your millions," Barbara told him, laughing, "I wouldn't pick a park."
Dick chuckled, as an idle breeze ruffled his hair and lifted the back of Barbara's shirt.
"Here you go!" she announced cheerfully, presenting him with a ringlet of daisies.
"I'll treasure it, always," he promised, settling the impromptu crown on his head. Barbara folded her arms in front of her and rested her head on them, enjoying the light-hearted moment.
"You look silly, Grayson," she said, smiling. Dick just smiled back and enjoyed the warm breeze playing over the small clearing where they'd camped out. The sun shone warm on their exposed skin, and the wind picked up, blowing his hair, back from his face. Glancing over at his self-proclaimed Daisy Princess, he noticed the disheveled state of her clothes.
"You're a mess," he teased, reaching over to tug down the back hem of her shirt.
And then, he stopped.
Instead of drawing the shirt down, his fingers crushed the fabric, then smoothed it upward. Oblivious of their surroundings, and forgetting their conversation, he drew his hands down, smoothing them over her back and to her hips, where he pushed gently on the waistband of her jeans.
"Dick? Dick, what are you doing?" Barbara's voice held the faintest edge of alarm.
"Shh…it's ok," he assured her, moving to straddle her legs as he examined her back more closely. The daisy crown fell to the ground. With fingertips as light as air and as gentle as a breath, Dick began to trace the spiderweb of jagged white scars that marred the otherwise flawless pale skin of her back.
"No! Don't!" she said quickly, when she realized where his hands were. Panic at the thought of anyone, especially Dick, seeing the evidence of her ordeal, rose in her throat. Those marks on her body spoke of much deeper marks on her soul-those made by the moments of helplessness that stretched into hours; the unbearable pain; the humiliation of the photographs. Things she kept hidden from the world.
She was NOT weak! She was NOT helpless! And she was NOT about to let Dick Grayson think so.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he murmured, softly, his hands on her waist, holding her down. "I just-"
"Get off," Barbara growled. She pressed herself up and pushed him away with an expert twist of her torso. She tried to give him her best death glare, but found her heart wasn't in it, when she looked into his shocked blue eyes.
Dick looked at her in surprise, and saw the tears she was holding in her eyes.
"Babs, I-oh, God, I'm so sorry." He reached over to her, grateful when she let his fingers graze her cheek. "I'm so sorry, I didn't think. I-I didn't realize…"
The tears spilled over then, more of a post-traumatic release than actual fear.
"Babs, I'm so sorry…" He scooped her into his lap as she leaned toward him, and he held her close, as she got her shaky breathing back under control.
"I didn't want you to see that," Barbara said, her voice small.
"If not me, then who?" Dick asked, knowing he might not want to hear that answer.
"No one," she answered, her voice barely above a whisper. "I didn't want anyone to ever see that."
"But it's part of you…"
"But it's a part of me I don't like. I don't want to see it, and…and I want to be the girl you loved all those years-"
"But you're not…you're the girl I love now. And if that scar is part of what made you who you are today, then I love that scar, then, too," Dick murmured into her hair.
"I…I was so helpless. I hate being helpless, Grayson. I'm not helpless."
"No," Dick agreed. "You're not…"
"…and I hate that I was helpless then. I couldn't stop him from moving me, from taking those pictures…from taking Daddy…It's a part of me I hate."
"It's a part of you that you've conquered. You've fought being helpless, you've fought being dependent, and you've fought being coddled." And now you're fighting being loved, he didn't say.
Barbara allowed herself a small smile. "I'm doing ok, aren't I?" she said, resting her head on Dick's chest.
"You're doing great," he answered honestly. "All Bruce's body parts work, and he still can't make his own peanut butter sandwich."
Barbara giggled, then sobered. "It scares me that you love me," she admitted. "Because I know you love me, no matter what…and that means I have to love me, no matter what. Even the icky parts."
"Even the icky parts," Dick confirmed. "Except the turnips thing. I can't love the fact that you eat turnips."
"You can love the part of me that's weak and can't keep others from hurting her, but you can't forgive the turnips thing?" Barbara returned.
"Can you love the part of me that wasn't there that night to protect you and keep that monster away from your door?" Dick asked, his mind returning to the first moments he found out about the shooting…lying on the floor, sobbing like he hadn't since his parents fell…the overwhelming guilt…the blame he laid on himself the days afterward…
Barbara gaped at him. "Dick…" She didn't know what to say. She reached up and laid her palm against his face. "Dick, there was nothing you could have-oh my-Dick…"
Dick took her hand from his face and kissed her knuckles. "I loved you, Babs. I should have been there to-"
"No! No, Dick, I was on my way to yoga class, there was no way you could have-"
"I could have made sure the Joker stayed locked up, where he belonged."
"Dick, the only way Bruce even knew he got out was because he went to talk to him…You were in New York…I can't believe…"
Dick pulled Barbara close to him and kissed the top of her head.
"Coulda, shoulda, didn't. If you can forgive me that, I suppose I could get over the turnips thing."
"Well, good," Babs replied, just a little tearily. "Because I love you too much to let a silly thing like turnips stand in the way." She tookhis face in her hands. "And of course I forgive you. I'm touched you-"
"Shh." Dick leaned forward and caught her mouth in a firm, reassuring kiss.
"Can you promise me something?"
"Anything for you."
She slowly raised her eyes to look at him. "Can you promise me I'll never be alone again?"
Dick's heart ached. He could promise her the world, tied up in a neat package, with a red bow, delivered to her front door. But he couldn't promise to be around forever. "No," he said, finally. "I can't promise you that. All I can promise you is that I will do everything in my power to come home to you, every night. I can promise that I will spend our time together doing everything in my power to make you happy. And I can promise that I will always watch over you and keep you safe, whether I'm with you, or not."
Tears welled in Barbara's eyes. "I'll hate not knowing if you'll come back, and not being able to go out there and try to make sure you do."
"You're always there, Babs. You're my angel in the night. I never go anywhere without you."
"I don't want to be on the other end and suddenly get nothing but static."
"I know," Dick said quietly, his hand stroking her hair as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"But more than that, I don't want to get that static, and have regrets," she whispered. "I don't want to think, we could have been something really special, but I was too afraid to try."
"We're already something really special, Babs."
"Yeah," she agreed, a smile coming to her face. "We are, aren't we?" He hugged her tighter for a moment, then she spoke again. "So what's the moral of this story, Twenty-Something Wonder?"
"Umm…that I should keep my mitts to myself, and you need to stop eating turnips?"
"I don't know if I can handle that."
"You're really hung up on those turnips, aren't you?"
"Actually, the mitts were my main concern."
Babs smiled and smoothed back a particularly stubborn cowlick.
"Was there talk about you buying this park?"