"I love beginnings."
Barbara Gordon turned her upper body around to look at him. "Philosophical at midnight? You still are a wonder sometimes, Grayson."
"I'm serious, Babs. And it's not midnight. Not for another --" Dick cocked his head and squinted at the giant clock face that formed the eastern wall of the computer room -- "four minutes. Or it's four minutes past; I'm not sure. It's hard to read a clock inside out."
Barbara sighed and continued typing, the glow of multiple computer screens frosting her glasses. "Is there a point to this diatribe, Dick?"
"My point is --" He grabbed the back of Barbara's wheelchair and swivelled it so she faced him -- "my point is, it's four minutes to the new year, and you're still glued to the computer."
Barbara's green eyes clouded with anger; she hated people touching her chair. She knocked his hands off. "Decrypting that hacker virus can't wait, Nightwing," she pronounced crisply. "Or do you want the Internal Revenue Service to suffer a complete network meltdown?"
Dick considered this, a black-gloved finger tapping his lips. "Well --"
"It's a rhetorical question. Now scoot."
"I -- Hey!" Dick leapt back to prevent Barbara's wheelchair from running over his foot. His face, only slightly obscured by his mask, lost any trace of humour. Barbara knew she'd gone too far. "I thought you wanted to spend New Year's Eve with me," he said quietly.
Barbara stopped her chair and looked up at him. Back when she could stand, she'd looked him eye to eye, nose to nose, more than a few times. And when she wore heels she used to be taller than him, to his great irritation. Now that she was confined to a wheelchair, he towered over her like a black, leanly-muscled statue -- a spandex-clad David. Only his chest moved with the rhythm of his breathing, slightly faster than normal because he was angry.
"I'm sorry," she said. She took his hand. "I know that's what I said. And I want to. But this virus --"
"Can wait a couple of minutes, Barbara." Dick crouched down so they were eye to eye. He grasped her other hand. "Just a couple of minutes. Beginnings are important. You have to respect them."
"Beginning of what?" Barbara murmured.
"Oh -- lots of things. Beginning of a new year --" his fingers slipped slowly through her copper hair and down her cheek -- "and other things."
He'd switched up the lenses in his mask, so she could look into his pale blue eyes. She fought off the sudden, panicked urge to look away.
"Sometimes -- sometimes beginnings are scary," she said.
Then the phone rang. They both stared at each other, then at the phone, as if it were the first time they'd ever heard the sound. Barbara moved first, reaching for the headset. "Receiver on. Hello?"
"Hello, honey. Hope I'm not interrupting anything."
She gave a nervous chitter of laughter. "Oh, no, Daddy. Of course not."
"How come you're not out celebrating?" James Gordon asked over the phone.
"I decided to stay in tonight," she said, sneaking a glance at Dick, who grinned wickedly. "What about you?"
"Me, too." For a moment Barbara heard nothing but her father's breathing, raspier than usual. "Well, I just called to wish you a happy new year, sweetheart."
"Are you okay, dad?"
"Of course I am."
She didn't believe him for a second, but she relented. "All right then. Happy new year to you, too."
After she pulled off the headset Dick asked, "What's your dad doing tonight?"
"Staying home. He wants to be alone, I think."
"Sarah," she said quietly.
Dick nodded. Silence drooped between them. Barbara studied her hands; Dick absentmindedly ran his fingers through his hair. "Hey," Barbara said finally.
She held up her watch so he could read the LCD display. "Ten seconds to midnight."
"Damn -- where'd I put the champagne?" Dick spun around wildly, hunting.
"Forget it, Boy Wonder." Suddenly she felt her nerves dance like an electrical storm and her stomach lurch into her throat. She grabbed Dick by the forearms and yanked him down towards her. Their lips met just as the fireworks exploded outside, cascading Gotham's night with hundreds of glistening jewels of light.
"To beginnings," she whispered.
"I'll say," Dick gasped. They both laughed, their eyes filled with each other's faces.
Eyes closed, she held her arms up to the sky. The white wind whipped against her body so hard, she felt it would fling her up into the air. And she'd fly. Like an angel.
Her mother used to call her that. Don't think about her. She bit her lip but barely felt the impression of her teeth. She was numb. And if the wind ripped her open, would she bleed -- or was her blood frozen in her veins, too?
Helena had never imagined how cold it would be here in the winter, in the Alberta wilderness. God, she didn't know why she'd come anymore, not after so many sleepless, freezing hours. Maybe to find that peace Richard Dragon had found up here. That she'd found, too, among the pine trees and under the translucent blue sky, once upon a time. It seemed so long ago, those months she spent up here, in that warm cabin with Richard and Vic Sage. Vic. Another face she didn't want to think about. Not just yet. Tiny fires flared in her cheeks at the thought of him. Damn you. The last words he'd spoken to her. At least her shame would keep her warm.
Maybe, after all, she came here not for peace, but for obliteration. Scrub her mind and body bare with snow, scrub all her failures and shattered beliefs away. She smiled bitterly. How hopeful she'd been, how foolish, to think that achieving her vengeance would scour those feelings away. She knew, now, the answers to her questions -- Why was my family killed? Why was I spared? -- but the knowledge didn't bring her peace. After all, now she knew her whole life was a mistake, God's little joke.
She could die here. Very easily. Even now she could feel her heart pounding harder to drive the blood through her chilled body. And how the frozen wind clawed her lungs raw with every breath. It would be so easy to just lie down in the snow and fall asleep. Finally rest, and maybe then, she'd find that peace.
Her face turned upwards, she opened her eyes. Above her the northern lights pulsed in the sky. She blinked away tears she hadn't known were there and squinted. A field of stars blanketed the night, stars more numerous and brilliant than in any sky she'd ever seen. But they faded the closer they came to that band of lights, emerald and rose and gold mingling together, rippling as slowly as a lazy summer stream. Her eyes squinted harder: she wanted to hold the picture in her memory of the hard, white glow of the stars and the colours smudged across the sky. She did not want to forget this.
When Helena was a child, she used to believe that angels' wings were made of sunrises and sunsets, feathers woven from a million hues of spiralling lights. Just like these. She let a faint smile come to her lips. She didn't know if she could believe in angels anymore, but there was something about this sky that made her want to try.
Maybe it wasn't peace, but it was something to work with. It was a start, anyway.
The sack of jade- and ruby-encrusted statuettes lay on the floor where she'd dropped it. One of the new kittens was crawling into the sack for a closer inspection, tiny claws digging into delicately-set and priceless jewels. She didn't care. She'd probably just throw them out tomorrow, anyway.
Selina Kyle stood at the window of her penthouse, watching the last night of the year fade in Gotham's murky red sky. The skyscrapers formed a jagged horizon, like a row of teeth glittering in moonlight.
Sephie, another one of the new kittens, lay contentedly across Selina's crooked forearm, licking herself clean. Selina's fingers smoothed the kitten's fur -- an automatic gesture. Her attention was fixed on the night sky, searching for movement, perhaps the flutter of a serrated wing.
Or perhaps he was the last person she should wish for now, the way she was feeling.
She should be out there. Flinging herself through the air with nothing but a whip and the contingency of architecture to save her. She should be a streak of darkness against the moon, a hiss of air between the buildings. Or maybe she should deck herself out in the spoils of her work, go to some posh night club and curl up against a handsome young dot-com executive for the rest of the night. Anything to get out of her head.
She didn't know what she wanted. But the desire for it, the urgency of it, was building. If she held herself so still, it was because she dared not move an inch. For if she did, she'd tear the paintings off the walls, dash all the furniture and statues out the window, and claw the curtains into shreds. And she'd never stop screaming.
The sound of a mass of voices chanting in unison drifted to her ears, carried up dozens of storeys by the wind. Her eyes, as green as the stolen jade statuettes tossed on the carpet, flickered down. No, not chanting -- counting down. A new year was coming.
And suddenly, she heard a sound like guns firing as fireworks burst apart the gloomy sky with a shower of light. Sephie, started by the explosions, scrambled down Selina's arm and leapt onto the floor. Pain stung her hand; Selina looked down.
A scarlet wound slashed across her palm. She stared at it. A tiny bubble of blood swelled where the kitten's claws had dug in.
"First blood," Selina said. And smiled.