DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything, nor am I writing this for profit. The characters belong to the WB and DC comics. No copyright infringement is intended.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Phryne for all comments, suggestions, corrections, and just plain work that goes into beta reading any story but especially one of mine.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading. Any comments or criticism can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. This story is a continuation of the series What it Means to Be a Hero. If you haven't read the first part, Getting Back on Your Feet, I suggest you do so now (but really, it's up to you).
SERIES: Part two of the 'What it Means to Be a Hero' series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
What it Means to Be a Hero
Part 2: A Different Way of Thinking
"Hey Big A, what's up?"
"I should be asking you the same question, Miss Helena. Your desire to visit was most unexpected."
"Yeah well, I wasn't given much of a choice," Helena responded vaguely as she stood on the steps of Wayne Manor, her eyes scanning the imposing edifice that the Wayne fortune had built. She had to admit, it was pretty awesome. The winding drive skirted the large hill, which she knew housed several of her father's toys, and the grounds themselves were beautiful, with old forest growth and carefully maintained gardens. All in all, it possessed a commanding presence, but if she had to choose a secret headquarters, she'd take the clock tower any day.
"I did not mean to imply that you are unwelcome. After all, this is your home any time that you wish it. I was merely curious as to the circumstances." Alfred looked anxious, and Helena felt like a jerk for being so indifferent. After all, Alfred had agreed to meet her here and make sure she didn't get lost in the mammoth structure.
"It's cool, Alfred. I'm just grouchy. You know how I get when I'm injured and I can't hit the streets." Helena held up her right arm with its cast as proof.
"Indeed I do, Miss. That was a most unfortunate business." Helena knew Barbara would have called the butler and told him what had happened.
"Yeah, it sucks. I can't do anything with my wrist like this. School's gonna be a real pain in the ass. It's just a good thing I'm ambidextrous: with all the notes I have to take." She shot Alfred a wounded expression when he looked at her in surprise. "Uh, I did live with Barbara. I know more than four letter words . . . they just save time."
Helena decided it was time to get back on track. She really didn't like being here. "So anyway, Barbara sent me over to go through Batman's files. She's not having any luck digging up any info on our vampire."
"Vampire?" Alfred's eyes widened almost comically.
"Yeah, glowing red eyes, fangs, and a taste for blood. Barbara thinks he's some kind of meta, but I know what I saw."
It was a sore point for Helena. She had woken up in Barbara's bed almost two days later, not even remembering how she had made it back to the clock tower, with pain shooting through her arm. No matter how much it hurt, being wrapped up in Barbara's embrace had almost been worth it - until she tried to get up. She hadn't been able to stop her hiss of agony, which had awakened Barbara, which had resulted in her being ordered to stay in bed. She had tried to argue, telling Red that she needed to go take care of their blood-sucking problem, but Barbara wasn't buying it. She'd told Helena she wouldn't be able to fight for several weeks and Nightwing and Canary would just have to handle the newest meta-threat. When Helena tried to convince her, Barbara had brushed her off and said she needed to rest. It had almost seemed like the older woman was hiding something, but Helena had put it down to worry over the murders.
After several hours, Helena's complaining had begun to drive Barbara crazy just like she planned - and the redhead had sent her over to the Manor while she worked with Dinah and Dick out on the streets. It wasn't as rewarding as paying back that robe wearing bastard personally, but at least it was something.
"I believe you, Miss." Alfred's eyes had a vague look to them as he stared through her.
Helena looked at the older man questioningly. Alfred believed her? That was weird, not that she wasn't grateful, but it was just . . . weird. You wouldn't think a conservative, English butler would be open to the idea of the undead.
"What aren't you telling me, Alfred?" Something was going on, and Helena had the feeling she wasn't going to like it. In fact, since it probably involved Bruce, she was sure she wasn't.
"Come inside and tell me about this vampire, and I'll reveal everything that I know. I believe this is more complicated than it seems."
Helena just sighed as she allowed the butler to usher her past the massive oak doors. Of course it was, in her life wasn't it always?
Dinah pressed the cell phone tightly against her ear as a city bus roared past. The displaced air from the large vehicle kicked up a small whirlwind which sent old newspapers swirling around the blonde's legs. Not for the first time, she considered the idea that New Gotham's need for "cleaning up the streets" didn't just apply to the city's criminal element.
"Gabby, can you hear me?" Frustrated, the teen pulled the slim phone away from her ear and looked at it with a scowl. "Gabby?"
"I'm here." The tiny voice was barely audible.
Dinah continued walking down the street, hoping the connection would get better. "Hey, sorry I lost you. I hate the reception by the courthouse. I just wanted to know how your week went."
Since it was summer, the two teens didn't get to see each other everyday in school like they used to. They tried to call each other as often as they could, but things had only gotten busier as the fall approached. Dinah was very much looking forward to August, however. Both she and Gabby had been accepted to Gotham University, and Dinah couldn't wait, even though she was a little nervous.
She would never admit it to anyone, but she was kind of glad Helena was taking classes now. Since she was arguably her big sister, Dinah planned to somehow convince the brunette to show her around and invite her to the best parties even if she had to beg. Some things were worth it.
"Dinah . . . Dinah can you hear me?"
"I'm here, Gab."
The tall blonde shook her head, berating herself for getting lost in daydreams. If someone had asked her when she was living in Opal if she would ever go to college, she wouldn't have known what to say. The Redmond's weren't exactly supportive of their adopted daughter, and she had never considered university to be an option. Now, however, thanks to Barbara, and even Helena to some degree, she had found a passion for science, and learning in general. She was experiencing every teenager's joy at the ending of high school and the beginning of "adult" life, but she was always conscious of the luck that had somehow brought her to two extraordinary people who would change her life so drastically.
"Well, not much is happening on my end. My parents are out of town, Dad's on some kind of business trip. I was wondering if you wanted to come over tonight. We could watch movies and make popcorn. I promise not to make you watch Kissing Jessica Stein again."
Dinah laughed at the wheedling tone of Gabby's voice. She was sorely tempted to accept, even though she knew they would end up watching the lesbian cult classic no matter what she promised.
Things had been so tense lately; first with the murders on the cargo ship, and then Helena's injury. Dinah knew that Barbara was extremely worried about the brunette; she hadn't even needed to use her telepathy. It was the way the redhead had been looking at Helena as she stayed in the clock tower to recover. There was a fear and uncertainty in her green eyes that Dinah couldn't remember seeing before, not even when Helena left for Europe or right after their fight. There was obviously something major going on, and she was just trying to step carefully until it was resolved.
"Okay, okay, you've convinced me. I'll have to ask Barbara, we're still on high alert." She knew she didn't need to explain it to her best friend. Gabby was aware that the man responsible for the grisly deaths was still on the loose. Dinah had made sure she was staying home at night and away from any danger and avoided anyone wearing a lot of red. "She's meeting with her Dad today, so I don't know when she'll get back, but I don't think it'll be a problem."
"Great. Head over when you can and I'll order pizza." Gabby's voice sound incredibly happy. Dinah felt a moment of intense guilt, realizing she had been neglecting her friend lately. Not the best way to go about changing their relationship to "more than friends."
"Sounds great. I'll talk to Barbara as soon as. . ." Dinah trailed off as she noticed a woman waving to her emphatically from a nearby alley. She did a quick check to make sure she wasn't in her Canary costume, and reassured that she wasn't wearing any leather, looked behind her for someone else the dark haired woman could be signaling. When she didn't see anyone, she turned back and tilted her head questioningly. The woman's only response was more vigorous flapping of her arms. She seemed really agitated, so Dinah decided to approach cautiously. "Hang on a sec, Gab," she quickly instructed before dropping her hand to her side and entering the alley, all her senses on high alert.
"Can I help you?" Dinah decided to play polite but dumb. Maybe that would help her get to the bottom of this quicker.
"Oh, I'm so glad you're here. I need your help." The woman was practically wringing her hands, and despite her caution, the young crime fighter felt her natural compassion take hold. The woman was painfully thin, and had a pinched look to her face that suggested she had seen some difficult things in her life, making it extremely hard to judge her age. She could have been anywhere from 25 to55.
"I'm not sure how I can help, but I'll do whatever I can."
The woman nodded energetically. "He said to find you." Her eyes suddenly blazed with fear and a certain mad passion. "I've earned it. He said this is my chance. I'll finally be turned after all these years. I've been so faithful. So very faithful."
Dinah controlled her overwhelming desire to run out of the alley with difficulty. The woman was obviously unstable, and flashbacks of Quinn and her take-over of the clock tower kept flickering through her mind.
She wasn't going to get any answers by simply talking to the woman, so steeling herself, she gently reached out a hand and laid it on one thin arm. Immediately she was assaulted with images. She saw herself as the woman looking down at a needle sticking out of her arm with numb recognition. This was followed by an image of a pool of blood leaking over the floor and the sight of two blood-red eyes regarding her hungrily. Other scenes appeared and were gone before she could get a good look. Images of an elegant woman in an evening gown tied up in chains, a large black wolf with fangs bared, a circle of men and women chanting in a ring of candles, but the one impression that caused her to gasp and pull away was the sight of a commanding face with familiar blue eyes staring out of a black cowl.
As she stumbled away from the woman, she distantly recognized that she shouldn't be this disoriented from her vision. She could barely stay on her feet. Looking down in horror, she saw an empty syringe sticking out of her leg before she unceremoniously crashed to her knees. She watched in a fog as the emaciated figure approached.
"You see, my master has lost his bat, and you're just the person to help us find him."
Dinah tried to get her mouth to form words. "Who are you?"
"I'm just a humble servant to my great master, little bird, but you can call me Dala." The woman bent down and viciously ripped off the com around the fallen crime fighter's neck. She dropped it to the ground and crushed it beneath her heel. "Well, that takes care of that. Wouldn't want anyone coming to your rescue too soon. I know my master has taken care of the daughter, but there's still that handsome partner of yours running around. What was his name again? Oh yes, Nightwing. I think I'll insist that Master let me keep him. We could have so much fun together."
If she hadn't been paralyzed, Dinah would have shuddered from the words and the look in the black eyes. As it was, she hoped that she wouldn't be spending too much time with the insane woman.
She watched as someone was signaled behind her, and soon felt herself being lifted into the air. As she was carried deeper into the alley, Dinah caught a quick glimpse of her cell phone lying discarded in the alley where she had dropped it. She prayed that just once the service hadn't cut out and Gabby had heard the entire encounter. If she had, help would soon be on the way, and Dinah only had to hang on until then.
That had been interesting.
As Helena stepped out of the grandfather clock and into the open airiness of the room, she couldn't think of any other way to describe what she had just experienced. She was sure if she thought about it long enough, she could have come up with some other adjectives for her first visit to the bat cave. Maybe incredible, dark, fantastic, intimidating, even awe inspiring, but for right now she was sticking with interesting. It made her head hurt less.
It also made her realize that she was really missing something in the whole crime fighting gig. Her gear consisted of the coms Barbara supplied, leather pants, and a black duster. Definitely minimalist, the way she preferred it.
Now however, she was starting to see why Barbara was always going on about gadgets and special equipment. Not that Helena thought they needed a crime lab, various workshops, a gymnasium, library, parking for several vehicles, or a fucking hangar, but still, maybe they could do a little upgrading.
And she was positively not going to mention that the computer in the Batcave was more impressive looking than the Delphi . . . even if it was. Helena knew Barbara had spent a lot of time and effort slimming down the components for the advanced computer, and there was no doubt in her mind that it was more advanced than Bruce's system. Still, all those flashing lights and mainframes were impressive.
Helena turned to watch as Alfred closed the front case, sealing off the greatest secret in New Gotham. She briefly wondered if hiding things in clocks was somehow a requirement in the superhero business. She would have to remember to ask Barbara when she returned.
Thinking about Barbara led to thinking about everything she had just learned. She now knew all about the man responsible for the murders. Even considering how serious the situation was, she couldn't help but look forward to offering the redhead proof that he was a vampire, she probably wouldn't even rub it in . . . much.
Alfred had been as good as his word. He had taken her down to the Batcave and shown her Batman's files on the man called Niccolai, aka the Monk. Helena thought it was a pretty stupid name for a vampire, but she wasn't going to judge - it was still a better name than Robin.
The computer had contained a treasure trove of information about the robed murderer. Helena was sure Barbara would be concerned with the technical details stored on the small flash drive she had tucked in her pocket, but she was more interested in what had emerged as she looked through the files and what Alfred had told her about Batman's previous history with the Monk. Helena always did love a good story, just like Selina, and even the fact that this one was about her father couldn't lessen its appeal.
Apparently, the Monk had come to Gotham before, something Helena had already figured out since he had been looking for Batman. He had kidnapped Bruce's girlfriend at the time, Julie Madison something Helena tried really hard not to think about and then gone after Batman himself. Somehow he had turned Batman into a vampire as well, and only a formula administered by a mysterious priest had allowed the vigilante to return to normal. Father Green had been tracking the Monk and his followers for years, and when her father had finally defeated the vampire, he had taken the mass murderer and his first lieutenant in the Brotherhood, Dala, back to wherever he had come from.
There was very little concrete evidence in the files. No one knew who the Monk was before he became a vampire, or if he had been born that way. No information was available on Father Green either. They had both seemed to come out of thin air, and vanish just as quickly.
However, there were many emotional undertones contained in the brief synopsis something Helena wouldn't have associated with the controlled Batman. She could read between the lines and find anger at his girlfriend's abduction, mistrust of the nomadic priest who had so conveniently shown up, even fear at what he had become when he was bitten by the Monk.
All in all, it made for some fascinating reading that Helena couldn't wait to share with Barbara . . . and maybe they could talk about some other issues while they were at it.
Helena wouldn't be going on any sweeps for a while, which neatly eliminated her primary reason for interacting with the older woman. She wasn't sure she could stand not having any contact, even if it meant talking about her feelings. Maybe . . . maybe somehow they could work things out.
Feeling strangely hopeful, Helena wandered into the kitchen with Alfred close on her heels. The elderly butler hadn't spoken much except to tell her what he remembered of Batman's encounter with the vampire . . . and to give her a special package that she was supposed to deliver to Barbara.
Rummaging through the cupboards, Helena was surprised to find several packages of poptarts in varying flavors. She turned to look at Alfred questioningly, but the butler merely raised an eyebrow. Snorting, she grabbed a foil wrapped package and tore it open with her teeth as Alfred winced. She guessed he really did hope she'd live at the mansion if he was already stockpiling her favorite snack. She never would though. This was his space, not hers, and she wasn't going to accept anything more from him than she had to.
"Do you ever wish things had turned out differently?" Helena didn't even realize she was going to speak until the question that had been plaguing her for months left her mouth.
"How so, Miss?"
Helena sighed, flicking sprinkles off her snack with a fingernail. "I don't know, just . . . me and Bruce, what happened to Barbara and Mom. Things could have been so different. They could have been so much better, right?"
"I'm not really sure. Of course, I wish that your dear mother were still alive and that Miss Barbara were never injured. But you and she might not have found each other if that were the case."
Helena snorted. "Where have you been? We're not together. I turned her down."
Alfred looked at her expectantly. "That hardly seems like you, Miss Helena, especially with someone you love, but I'm sure you had your reasons."
"I did I do - have really good reasons, but she just won't accept it."
"Rather like you did, I imagine." Alfred nodded his head knowingly.
Now Helena was totally confused. "What?"
"When Miss Barbara was first learning to deal with her condition, you were constantly underfoot, pushing her to regain some of her old spirit."
Helena's eyes grew wide as she thought back to the time when she first started living with Barbara. Things had been really bad. When she left the hospital, Barbara had immediately sunk into a deep depression. The brunette had been scared out of her mind for months, afraid she was going to lose the one good thing left in her life, not to a bullet from the Joker, but to Barbara's inability to find joy in anything.
She had begun to constantly pester the older woman, making her go out to restaurants, to plays, to the park, anything to try and cheer her up and make her interested in life again. It had been a hard struggle for both of them, but eventually they managed, and Barbara had begun to assemble the Delphi and train Helena. She had gone back to teaching at the high school and seemed once again to take an interest in the world around her . . . and Helena had finally been able to breathe again.
Was that what Barbra was doing?
Helena felt like she'd taken a boot right between the eyes. Barbara was waiting. She was waiting for Helena to see that even though there was a chance she might get hurt or that she would hurt Barbara, it was worth it.
"I wouldn't let her give up." The words were said more to herself than the aging butler.
Barbara could have given up so easily when she learned that she would never walk again. She must have been terrified to fail, afraid to hope, but with Helena's help she had kept going, becoming even more incredible in the process. She had risked everything for the chance to be happy. Helena couldn't do less. She didn't want to do less. She wanted what she had always wanted - she wanted Barbara.
"Yes, and now it seems she is unwilling to give up on you. Funny how these things work out."
Helena tried to scowl at him, but couldn't quite pull it off, she was grinning too widely. Throwing her poptart on the counter, she quickly stood, and before he could react, pulled the older man into a one-armed hug.
"Thanks, Alfred. How do you always know the right thing to say?"
Before he could catch his breath, she was gone. Moments later, the sound of the Hummer could be heard fading into the distance.
Alfred looked at the crumbs and half-eaten pastry on the counter. Sighing, he went to get a clean rag. Things must always be kept orderly for Master Bruce's return.
"It's what I do, Miss."
Barbara sat and tried to resist the urge to fidget, not that she had many options concerning that particular activity any longer. Once she might have tapped her feet or re-crossed her legs, but now her movements were limited to activities above her waist, such as drumming her fingers or shredding the cardboard protector on her coffee cup. Glancing down at the small mountain of paper scraps that littered the table, she briefly considered switching to decaf.
Her gaze was drawn to the front of the room as the small bell above the door rang for the twelfth time in the past half hour. This time however, Barbara was not disappointed. She instantly recognized the silver hair and solid build of the former police commissioner as he strode confidently into the confined space. Barbara watched as hooded brown eyes quickly scanned the interior and lingered on the face of each patron for just a moment. It was a cautious habit that he had passed on to his adopted daughter. People in their line of work could never completely relax their guard, even if they were technically retired.
As it often did, Barbara's mind latched onto this seemingly random thought and attempted to analyze it further.
James Gordon had retired as New Gotham's police commissioner several years before, but Barbara knew from conversations with her father and her own sources that he routinely assisted his replacement with administrative duties and offered his experience on particularly difficult cases. Obviously, the former officer was retired in name only.
Then there was her own situation. After the Joker's attack, she was forced to give up being Batgirl, but a year later she was once again fighting crime, this time as Oracle with Helena by her side. She hadn't so much retired as altered the means by which she carried out her self-appointed task.
Apparently, Gordons just weren't meant for retirement.
Satisfied, if not exactly pleased, by her conclusions, Barbara smiled as she accepted the hug offered by her father. Jim sat down in the seat across from her and ordered coffee from the waitress when she made her way to their table.
"So what's this all about, Honey?"
Barbara resisted the urge to roll her eyes, something she detested in her students. "Can't we ever have a regular conversation, Dad? Exchange pleasantries such as 'How was your day?' or 'Have you read any good books lately?' instead of getting right to the interrogation?"
Jim stared at her blankly for a moment before responding. "I suppose we could if that's what you want. I always appreciate getting straight to the point, myself. Especially when my daughter, whom I haven't heard from in months, calls me out of the blue and says she needs to discuss something with me that she can't talk about over the phone."
Barbara winced at the accusation. "Very subtle, Dad." She knew she had been avoiding talking to her father, but with everything that had happened with Helena, she hadn't felt much like talking but obviously he did. Apparently Gordon's weren't cut out for small talk anymore than they were for retirement.
Barbara sighed, giving up her protests. "I wanted to talk to you about a case I'm working on."
She watched as the skin around his eyes tightened with apprehension. "I assume this isn't about a pulled fire alarm or graffiti vandal?"
"No, I wish it were." Though she had rehearsed what she wanted to say several times before he arrived, she wasn't sure how to begin. Her thoughts had been scattered and erratic ever since Helena had been injured.
Barbara had been successful in resetting the bones, but the damage done by the robed meta-human had been extensive. So bad in fact that she had even considered calling Bruce's old doctor, Leslie Thompson, though Heaven knew what kind of fit Helena would have thrown had she contacted the woman. In the end, she decided against it. Leslie didn't need to be dragged back into the vigilante life, and Barbara was convinced there was nothing she could do anyway. Either Helena's healing abilities could take care of the injury, or they couldn't. She tried not to think about the latter possibility.
Feeling a warm hand cover her own, she looked up from the paper strewn table and met Jim's concerned gaze. "Tell me what's going on, Honey. I'll do everything I can to help."
Barbara quickly glanced away as she felt the moisture gather in her eyes. The last few days had been incredibly hard on the redhead. She'd had to deal with Helena's injury while trying to restrain the brunette from going after the meta-human when she could barely make her own breakfast and it was only poptarts for Heaven's sake! Coordinating sweeps with Nightwing and Canary had taken up her nights, and left her constantly wondering how she could allow them to continue when their target had so effectively incapacitated Huntress. Then there was the fact that they hadn't seen any sign of the robed figure, but every night more people turned up dead with horrifying wounds, their blood completely drained. Not to mention that midterms were coming up, and her relationship with Helena was coldly professional at best.
Between everything, Barbara admitted she was feeling a little stressed. Her father's offered support threatened to break down the walls she had carefully constructed to keep herself going, and she was suddenly afraid she would be reduced to tears in the middle of her favorite coffee shop which left her feeling stressed and pathetic. She just wanted to lean on someone else for a change.
The completely uncharacteristic thought goaded Barbara to pull herself together. She was the one that other people relied on. She had always been the anchor in all her professional and personal relationships. For her father when Aunt Barbara died, for Helena when her mother was murdered. She had helped ground Batman's team of vigilantes when she was Batgirl, and Dick would often come to her with problems rather than Bruce. She was the leader of the Birds of Prey which now included Nightwing, her former partner, even though they had never officially voted on the matter, and she knew that Dinah, Dick, and Helena looked to her for advice and guidance. It had never upset her before. She just seemed to naturally gravitate toward the position, but she was finding it hard at the moment to maintain her equilibrium.
Barbara sighed, deciding she would tell him what was necessary for catching the meta. Everything else would only lead to needless distractions.
"Seven days ago, a cargo ship docked in New Gotham. The harbor master reported something suspicious which prompted us to investigate. All of the crew had been murdered and drained of blood." Barbara watched as her father's face tensed in surprise and then settled into a frown. She assumed he would know about the recent killings, but he obviously hadn't been aware of this first massacre. "Huntress went out two days ago to try and apprehend the man responsible. She found him, but he escaped and she was seriously injured."
Jim's voice broke through her clinical recitation of the facts. "Helena's hurt! Why didn't you call me sooner?"
The tone of his voice made Barbara feel six years old again not something she appreciated. "It didn't occur to me. You and she have never really gotten along." Stress and embarrassment made Barbara harsh.
The former commissioner held up his hands. "I'm sorry, Honey. I wasn't accusing you of anything. I'm just concerned. I know how important Helena is to you."
Barbara almost laughed out loud. Somehow she didn't think now was the right time to tell her father how important the brunette had become to her, or how much more important she'd like her to become.
"It's alright. I'm sorry too. I'm just not sure what to do."
"About Helena or about the killer?"
Barbara considered the multitude of meanings contained in the simple question. "Both . . . everything."
"That's . . . not very helpful." Jim gave her a helpless grin.
She managed a weak smile in return. "Tell me about it."
"Actually, that's what I was hoping you would do. You know there's nothing you can't share with me." Brown eyes regarded her seriously while her father waited for her response.
"I know, Dad. It's just; I really need to focus on this right now. I promise we'll talk after this is done." And who knew, she might actually mean it. She obviously needed to do something.
Jim seemed to accept her offering and settled back in his chair. "So what can you tell me about the suspect?" He was instantly in detective mode.
"Not much. He calls himself Niccolai and wears a red robe with a symbol of a skull on the forehead. He's obviously some kind of meta, but Helena is convinced he's some kind of vampire."
Barbara looked up, expecting to share a smile with her father, sure that James Gordon didn't believe in vampires anymore than she did, but what she saw instead caused her heart-rate to skyrocket. Jim was regarding her in shock, his normally tanned features pale and frightened. His next words left her gasping.
"Barbara, where's Helena?"
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