The Best at What She Does
She shouldn't've called herself Batgirl. The moniker predisposed her to picking up strays much like the one in her living room right now. Enveloped in a fleece blanket with only the crown of her blue-black hair showing, the young woman hadn't spoken since Babs brought her in.
"I have lots of tea and coffee if you want anything warm," she told her guest.
The mop of blue-black hair twisted from side to side. "I'm fine," she said, her voice muffled.
"Are you planning on coming out of there any time soon?"
"Nope. Already went to the bathroom. Got a lot of time before I need to again, 'specially if I don't drink."
"Far be it for me to rescue you from the damp when you're perfectly willing to expire of dehydration on my couch." Babs manoeuvred out of the living/dining room. "Do me a favour and tuck the blanket nice and tight around you to minimise the stench of your rotting body. You wouldn't believe how much they charge to clean up decomp."
The girl peeped over a fold "Are you for real? Is this gonna turn into like a cross-gendered Saw 'cause, dude, I'm so not Carey Elwes. I can kick your ass into next Tuesday."
"You'll have to eat a couple more steaks, 'dude'. I lug myself and a twenty-pound bag everywhere on this chair. I'm willing to bet right now, with your skin sticking that tightly around your bones, all it would take is a push to the back of your knees. Do you like Vietnamese or Italian?"
"Did you threaten me?"
Babs grinned. "I had no idea noodles were dangerous."
The girl wanted to be called Jubilee; she didn't give a last name. She obviously had extensive training in some sort of hybrid martial arts; when Dinah surprised her, she threw a damn decent kick then flipped backwards off the chair and settled into a ready position. She held her hands strangely though, in no kata form Babs had ever seen: thumb holding the ring and middle finger folded down, pinky and index pointed at her attacker.
"What is that? Hawai'ian mantis?" Dinah asked.
"L.A. mallrat striking," Jubilee replied. "If you stay longer, I'll show you my pretty moon princess wand and my cute sailor outfit."
Much later when Dinah was actually in the field, she asked, "Where did you find the kid?"
"Back-alley trade, just like you," said Babs.
"Come on, be serious. She's seriously trained the way Nightwing, Batgirl and Arrowette are, the bone-deep stuff that only happens when you've been thrown into this business as a kid."
"It's not like she's an adult."
"The way she kicks says different." Shuffling and pained grunts filled the airways. Babs took that moment to transfer a compressed file to Bruce, CC-ing a set to the Watchtower for Diana and Kal-el to review. When she logged back into Dinah's line, ass was still being kicked so she scanned the readouts from the southeast police radios. Her radio-transcription program seemed to be holding up nicely.
Dinah's voice popped back online. "So what's the plan for her?"
"Yeah. You always have a-- hang on." Someone on the other end yowled. "You always have a plan," Dinah repeated.
"I've got a crawler looking through missing children reports so when that comes up, I'll let you know about my so-called plan."
"As long as you don't hand this one over to the Bat."
Babs stopped in mid-key-stroke. "Strangely, that never occurred to me. Can you just imagine him with another girl on the roster?"
"He might be forced to communicate like a human being."
"That's just crazy-talk. Okay, you want the second door on your right."
"I just saw someone suspicious go down the left hall. I'm in pursuit."
Pinching the bridge of her nose under her glasses, Babs asked herself, "Why do I even bother?"
The question's answer lay on her lap. Literally. For the hell of it, Babs poked a pressure point on her thigh. The last time she used that, the other person went down screaming out his leg being on fire. She didn't feel a thing.
Jubilee really liked her cereal. Babs collected them-- one for each Bird and Bat who happened into Metropolis Tower overnight. Jubilee had Cornflakes for breakfast, Lucky Charms for lunch, Cornpops for a snack, and Grapenuts with banana slices for dinner. The next morning, she helped herself to a muesli mix then munched on Fruit Loops until noon.
"Whatever it is you're doing, I can help," she said. She pushed a bowl of cereal at Babs' place on the table.
"I was going to make myself a cobb salad actually."
Jubilee made a face. "I ate healthy for, like, a whole year. I was almost a vegetarian except for seafood."
"I don't know a lot of seventeen year-olds who have the discipline to be vegetarian," Babs said.
"Actually, I was sixteen and it was only almost vegetarianism 'cause Angelo kept brining meat-lovers everything over."
"Totally! It didn't help that our street had every kind of take-out available within walking distance. That was a reason we chose the place but, it kind of backfired on us. Chihuahua's across the street was the best though 'cause you could tell they made sauces fresh instead of using that jarred crap."
Lightly, without extra emphasis, Babs asked, "Chihuahuas, huh? Where's that?"
"At the corner of Kern and---" Jubilee's eyes narrowed. "You're good."
On Day 4 of Jubilee's stay, Babs discovered her guest had a fascination with explosives. Dick dropped in, throwing a box on the couch before limping to the medicine cabinet. As he pulled out antiseptics, gauze and tape, he said, "The arsons in Brooklyn aren't random. That's my only clue. The components don't make any sense though. I mean, it's a pipebomb but it's only got flash powder in amounts about as dangerous as your average firecracker. Then it's got ball buckshot beside it which makes no sense."
"If your arsonist wanted damage, he'd've put the buckshot in the pipebomb," said Babs.
"Yeah. Instead, he stuffs them full of paper soaked in lighter fluid. I mean, what the fuck?"
Babs tore herself away from his injuries to "Let me cross-reference it against known-- hey! Don't touch that!"
Jubilee held the pipe-bomb business-end down but with one finger digging into the guts of the pipe. Dick leapt over the couch to rescue her from her own recklessness but she rolled off the couch, dodging his grab. "It's not armed," she said.
"How the hell do you know?" Babs demanded.
The teenager shrugged. She held up her blackened index finger. "This isn't just normal. They added phosphorus or something."
"All the more reason you shouldn't touch it." Babs tossed her a very, very dry paper towel. Jubilee rubbed the mixture off, frowning at the sight of her peeling skin. "I'll get you some topical cream for that," said Babs.
"Thanks." She continued to study her injury, superficial as it was. She was subdued the rest of the day.
A computerized analysis of the flashpowder revealed a minute amount of red phosphorus. Babs leaned back on her chair, eyes narrowed, hands steepled under her chin.
She gave Jubilee a laptop and links to explosives. Jubilee returned it with more links and a request to enter the Metropolis Police Department's bomb squad training site. Dick dropped off a box of old fireworks, Dinah dug up some explosives Arsenal no longer used, Tim offered some of his smoke pellets and Superman brought an amateur chemistry set.
"I hope this will be put to good use," said the kryptonian.
Jubilee gave him three rockets. He lit them on top of the Daily Planet the following night and the sky exploded into red, blue and yellow crests. The smouldering particles shone but didn't burn, turning every alley in New Troy bright as day. Criminals fell into jail like ripe fruits off the vine.
Tim's pellets now also flashed, darkened, choked, or pepper-sprayed. Jubilee colour-coded them yellow, black, green and red respectively. Dick became the proud owner of a handful of wire-thin picks which helped short digital security alarm pad. Not even Babs' tower escaped unscathed.
"You can like put them anywhere," Jubilee said, showing off her box of goodies. "These ones fire off right away. This ones you can wait maybe thirty seconds. These ones are kind of fun 'cause they make enough noise to stop, like, an elephant but it doesn't do anything else in case you want to be non-lethal. And this one--"
"Jubilee, this has C-4!"
"Where did you get plastic explosives?"
"He said you should have the best."
"The best--" Babs threw her hands up. "What is someone gets hurt from your experiments?"
Jubilee looked offended. "That's why I only make them in the lab upstairs. Besides, nothing I make is sensitive to anything less than seventy pounds of force. You gotta throw it or light it up to make it blow."
She had a point. Babs tried another tactic. "Aren't you afraid of hurting yourself?"
It had to happen because things like this always happened. Bruce was gone, missing, along with Cass and Dick. If Cass couldn't find her way out, then they had to be in deep trouble. Dinah couldn't be contacted, nor could the rest of the Birds. The JLA on duty were busy with their own missions on- and off-world. Bruce had her, Tim and... and Jubilee.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked Jubilee one more time.
She nodded. "Dude, I've been waiting to do this since... since so long."
"But can you do it?" Tim asked, sceptical.
"I've been trained by a guy who's the best at what he does."
"Right. And this mysterious, nameless guy is?"
"No one you'd know in your circles," said Jubilee, dismissively waving a hand. "You just better keep up, Batboy."
With Babs at the info-wheel, they found the abandoned Southside subway station where Bruce, Dick and Cass were kept, plugged with so much morphine they barely breathed. She shouted instructions-- "Five more coming from above," "Prop them up so they can breathe better," "I think that lock is sensitive to microwave frequency"-- Tim and Jubilee took turns kicking ass and taking names. She heard the bad guys' coughing, unable to shout.
"What did you use?" Babs as Jubilee.
"Pyrotechnics," she said. "You put enough flash in the flashpowder, you can do a lot of damage. If you can, like, control it good."
"You're controlling it good," Tim intruded. "You know, for someone without powers, you handled yourself pretty well."
"Like you can talk. You don't have powers." There was something wistful in her tone. It struck a eureka moment in Babs. Best at what he did. Pyrotechnics. Childhood training. Former mutants faded well into mainstream society after M-Day but former X-Men didn't integrate as well. Babs knew why. The business changed you, in good ways and bad. Sometimes all you saw was bad. But, like a junkie on a down, you missed the fix. You needed a mission.
She'd fit well with the Birds of Prey.
"Have you always done this?"
Jubilee waved to the wall of computers. "This. Info-dealer to the spandexclad. Did you, like, wake up one day and figure your comp-sci degree was totally wasted on IT Services so you whipped out a patriotic mouse pad and, like... this?"
Taking a deep breath to steady her suddenly flaring temper, Babs said, "No." Her glasses reflected glare from the monitors, hiding her eyes from the younger woman so Babs allowed her eyes to close. She felt the night air tangle her hair, heard the crack of her jumpline as it pulled taut, felt the burn of concrete against her shins as she rolled out of a jump then did it all over again. Gotham's was so thick with history and pollution, she tasted the air. In her first costume, the homemade one, she froze in the winter and sweltered in the summer. Kevlar, Nomex and poly-weave were no better but she lived with it. She loved in it.
"No," said Babs, "I didn't always do this."
"What did you do?"