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
Driving with one hand wasn't so hard. Of course, Helena was grateful that the Hummer was automatic; otherwise she might have been in trouble.
She had briefly called Barbara before she left Wayne Manor, letting the other woman know that she had been successful and that she was heading back. She hadn't given Barbara any details, preferring to wait until they could meet face to face. Then she could give the redhead the two items safely tucked away in concealed pockets of her duster. Hopefully, it wouldn't take long to review the information on the flash drive, and then maybe they could talk about other things.
"I'm really sorry, Barbara. I know I didn't handle this well, but I'd like to give us a shot if you still want to."
No, that was terrible. Helena smacked the steering wheel with her left hand, remembering at the last minute the cast on her other wrist. It sounded like something she might have said as a teenager if she had been in the habit of apologizing.
"I know things have been hard lately, but I think we can make this work. I don't know if it's still something you want, but I'm ready to talk about it."
Better, but it still didn't sound like her.
"Barbara, I've been an ass. I've been in love with you since the first moment I saw you, and when I thought I might actually have a chance, I freaked out and ran."
Well, that had at least sounded like something she might say . . . maybe. Red already knew how screwed up she was, so it wasn't like she was admitting to some big secret.
Helena sighed. She just wanted to find the perfect thing to say. Barbara's beautiful words when she found out Helena was in love with her still sent chills down the brunette's spine.
"Let's go to bed, Helena."
Such simple words that conveyed all the love and need Barbara had been trying to express. They were so perfectly . . . Barbara. Helena simply wanted to prove that she could offer the same thing but so far she wasn't having any luck.
"Maybe I should just grab her and kiss her." Helena looked at her reflection in the rearview mirror and made a face, the image copying her expression. "Yeah, if I want to get a stick up-side my head."
She sighed again, ruffling a hand through her bangs, not at all concerned that she didn't have a hand on the steering wheel. After all, her reflexes would give her plenty of time to react to anything unexpected.
Helena found out just how untrue this was when she suddenly felt and heard both front tires blow. The Hummer skidded wildly, the back end swinging around to the front as she desperately grabbed for the wheel. Her right arm smashed into the dashboard, causing a pain so intense that she actually blacked out for a second. When her vision cleared, she had just enough time to watch as the car swerved off the road and into the grass.
The loss of traction sent the Hummer into a roll and onto its side, shaking Helena around in the driver's seat until she thought her teeth would fall out. She thanked whatever gods were listening that for once she had put on her seat belt, since there was no doubt in her mind she would already be dead if she hadn't.
Finally, the car came to rest in a field, lying at an angle on its hood and front bumper. Through the agonizing pain, Helena tried to asses her injuries. She started with the most obvious. Her wrist was a bright spot of agony, and when she managed to raise it to her face she could see that the cast was cracked. Gauging the pain, she determined that she had probably re-broken it. Barbara was going to be pissed.
She wiped a smear of blood off her forehead with her good hand. She hated head injuries; they always bled so damn much. Also, her left leg felt funny. From the position she was in, she couldn't see it to tell if it was broken, pinned by the car, or simply numb from the beating she had taken. Groaning, she fumbled for the seat belt with her left hand, trying to keep her right as still as possible.
Just as she finally managed to release the catch, a pair of boots stopped outside the window. She angled her head to see who it was, hoping they had already called an ambulance. Instead of a Good Samaritan, however, she locked eyes with a muscular man holding a strip of road spikes.
At least it wasn't her driving that had caused the accident.
Helena knew she should be trying to get free so she could put up a fight, but for some reason everything was going black around the edges. The last thing she saw before the darkness rushed in was the man's grinning face as he reached in through the shattered window for her throat.
This is not happening.
Barbara repeated her new mantra over and over as she tried every trick she knew to locate her two missing operatives. Between searches, she called up her GPS program, only to be disappointed once again when Nightwing's transceiver was the only signal displayed in New Gotham. She was arguably the greatest information broker in the world, but she couldn't find the answer to the one question that truly mattered.
How could she have lost both Helena and Dinah?
Taking a moment to pull off her glasses and rub her tired eyes, Barbara decided that when she got them back she was going to insist they get tracers implanted. Since both of them were always losing their coms through accidents or more sinister means, it was simply the most practical solution even if Helena complained that it made her feel like a pet getting chipped.
Remembering the brunette's adamant response when she first suggested the idea and the resulting sarcastic, but ultimately good-natured fight, left Barbara feeling sick. She wasn't in the habit of thinking about what-ifs, but tonight she couldn't seem to stop herself.
What if she didn't get them back?
What if, even now, Dinah was undergoing some traumatic experience that Barbara should have protected her from?
What if Helena died and she never got to tell her . . .
Slamming her palms down on her desk, Barbara forced her jaw to unclench. That was not going to happen, she wouldn't let it. She would track down the Monk before anything happened and then Nightwing would rescue the two missing women. She had faced worse situations than this before, and she undoubtedly would again with Helena and Dinah by her side.
The chime of the elevator caused her to quickly rotate her chair, almost tipping herself over in the process, something she hadn't done since those first awful months.
Heart hammering, she waited for the doors to open, praying it would reveal Helena or Dinah, or better yet, both of them safe and unharmed.
What she saw instead was Dick, standing squarely in the middle of the small area, a look of determination on his face, and Gabby standing off to one side looking nervous and frightened, clutching a bundle wrapped in canvas.
"What are you doing here?!" Before she could censor herself, the words had left her mouth. It didn't matter that she was talking more to the blond teenager. Dick's scowl became even fiercer. In fact, it reminded her of a certain other brooding vigilante.
"Barbara, we need to talk."
Dick strode purposefully toward her chair, not stopping until he was looming over her slightly. At times like these, Barbara wished she was able to stand up-right once again and go toe to toe with her fellow crime fighter. Instead, she forced herself to be calm and focus on what was really important.
"I know. I've found out who our murderer is."
Dick's tone clearly showed his surprise, and Barbara once again had to shrug off her irritation. Of course she had found out who he was. She was the fucking Oracle. She could find out anything, except of course where the hell Helena and Dinah were.
"Yes, but there's something you need to know."
Dick quickly raised his hand cutting her off. "We already know. Dinah's been taken."
Barbara blinked at him from behind her glasses. "You . . . know. How could you know? I just found out myself when I couldn't raise her on coms or locate her with the GPS."
"They left a note." His voice was strangely dead, and Barbara realized he was trying to mask his anger and fear.
Dick reached into a pocket of his belt and pulled out a scrap of paper and a shattered com unit. She held out her hand, silently requesting the message, but almost dropped it when she noticed the dark brown stains marring the white page. Trying not to let her hands shake, especially in front of Gabby who had been watching them from the elevator, she brought the paper up to her face and began to read the scrawled message.
We are aware that you have connections with the Batman. We have taken your friend as an incentive for you to contact him. If you do not deliver him in 24 hours, we will be forced to clip the wings of your little bird. We suggest that you hurry.
When she finished reading, Barbara became aware of a creeping numbness throughout her body. For a moment it felt like her entire body had been paralyzed, instead of just her legs.
Looking up at Dick, she quickly shot her eyes toward Gabby, knowing he would realize she was asking if the teen had read the note. The crime fighter shook his head slightly, and Barbara breathed a sigh of relief. She could barely deal with the implications of the message, and she had been trained for these kinds of situations. She couldn't imagine what it would do to Gabby.
"You can stop looking at me like that. I know what you're thinking." Barbara was startled to see Gabby had moved away from the elevator and was now standing by the edge of the Delphi platform. "I know something's happened to Dinah, and from the look of that note, it's something bad."
The blonde's face was pinched with worry, and Barbara could see the tears that Gabby was desperately trying to hold back. She felt her heart swell with sympathy for the young woman. Hadn't she been in exactly the same condition moments before when thinking of Helena?
With that thought, Barbara realized that Gabby was truly in love with her youngest ward, and resolved to have a talk with Dinah when they got her back. She didn't want Dinah to follow in her footsteps figuratively speaking - painfully unaware of the possibilities.
Looking at the teen, she softened her voice. "You're right Gabby. Dinah's been taken by some of the criminals we've been looking for."
"You mean the ones that killed all those people on the ship."
Barbara tried to hide her disapproval. Gabby was aware of their identities. If Dinah chose to reveal information about the murders, then she must have had a good reason, and Barbara wasn't going to second guess her now.
"Yes, but I don't believe they've hurt her yet." Hazel eyes looked at her imploringly, desperate to believe what she was saying. Barbara sat a little straighter in her chair. "We will get her back, I promise."
Gabby looked at her, taking in the determination in the striking green eyes.
Barbara nodded once and turned back to Dick who looked at her questioningly.
"So, what are we up against, Babs?"
Barbara took a deep breath and began to tell them everything she had learned from her father about events that had occurred before Dick had even met Batman.
Half an hour later, she finished her summary. She had tried to be as concise as possible, painfully aware of every second that Dinah and Helena were being held captive, but she knew that Nightwing would need the information when he went up against the Monk and his Brotherhood.
"So this . . . Monk is the one responsible. Sounds straight forward enough. Do we know where to find him?"
"Uh . . ." Barbara looked at Dick questioningly. Was she the only one having problems with the fact that their newest foe was a vampire? An actual, honest to God, vampire?
When her father had told her about the Monk and how Batman had rescued Julie Madison, the actress with whom Bruce had once had a fairly serious relationship, she had been shocked. Apparently Commissioner Gordon had helped Batman to track the Brotherhood to an abandoned manor on the outskirts of Gotham. Jim had told Barbara many stories about his time as head of the police department over the years, but he had never mentioned the fact that he had once helped to apprehend a vampire. When she asked him why, he had responded simply that he didn't want to shake her faith in a scientific explanation, and sometimes he still didn't believe it himself.
"Barbara, where can we find Dinah?" Dick was definitely agitated.
"She's most likely being held at the Brotherhood's old headquarters, Ralston Castle. I've checked," she waved a hand in the direction of the Delphi, "and it was never torn down. You should be able to get there on your bike in twenty minutes." Barbara took a deep breath preparing to tell him the rest. "Dick, I can't locate Helena either."
"What! I thought you sent her to the manor to go through Bruce's files."
Barbara knew he was concerned when he mentioned Batman's true identity in front of Gabby. That was one thing they had decided to leave out of their explanation to the teen, neither of them particularly comfortable with breaking their mentor's trust.
"I did. She contacted me as she was leaving, and said she had something she needed to discuss with me. That was over four hours ago." Barbara held up her hands helplessly.
Dick brought a hand to his chin. "So, it wasn't another fight between you two." He was oblivious to the pain his words caused, but Gabby shot a sympathetic look to the redhead. "Do you think they're keeping her with Dinah?"
"That's what I'm hoping." Otherwise, she wasn't sure how to find the brunette. "You should get going. I'll direct you from here."
Dick tried out a charming smile, spoiled a little by the tension around his eyes and mouth. "Don't suppose you have any holy water or stakes lying around?"
"Uh, no . . . can't say that I do."
Dick made a show of cracking his knuckles. "Oh well, guess I'll just have to improvise."
Barbara was startled when Gabby spoke from right beside her. The teen had been quietly listening to their conversation without interruption, and the redhead had almost forgotten she was there.
"I might be able to help with that."
Gabby slowly held out the bundle in her arms as Barbara looked at her questioningly. When she pulled away the string allowing the object underneath to be revealed, the cyber crime fighter actually felt a real smile curve her lips.
"So let me get this straight. You have a crossbow because your cousin does medieval reenactments?"
Gabby nodded her head when she heard the blatant disbelief over the spare com Barbara had given her. Remembering that he couldn't see her from his position driving the bike, she wrapped her arms tighter around his waist and replied.
"Yeah. Daniel got really into that whole knights and ancient combat thing. He used to take me with him when we were younger. I still know how to use it, and it should be just the thing to discourage some vampires."
"Amen to that." She heard his slight chuckle in her ear as the bike roared out of the city. Moments later he continued. "I still can't believe Barbara let you come."
"Well, I figure she knew she couldn't stop me."
The moment Gabby had heard Dinah cry out over the cell phone, there was no question. She knew she should just stay out of the way and let the experienced crime fighters handle it, but she couldn't. Minutes after she had heard the exchange between Dala and her best friend, she had called Dick and told him what had happened. He had promised to try and locate Dinah immediately, but it wasn't enough. She found herself going through the closet, looking for the antique, but fully functional, crossbow her cousin had given her as a birthday present.
A quick ride on the bus - with the occasional passenger looking at her nervously as she clutched the canvas wrapped weapon - and she was at the clock tower. She had arrived just in time to meet Dick on his way up to speak with Barbara, and now they were both preparing to confront a cult of vampires.
When had her life gotten so strange?
Of course the answer was very simple - when she had met a girl in History who had stood up and told the entire class that her hometown was known for inventing the zipper. From then on, nothing had been the same. And even though Gabby knew there was a definite chance she could die tonight, she wouldn't have it any other way.
Several silent miles later, Dick pulled the bike onto the side of the road. He helped Gabby down, and they both pulled off their helmets. Curly blonde hair and shorter dark stands blew around their heads in the stiff breeze.
Dick pointed with an outstretched finger to a hill off in the distance. "That's where Oracle said they should be. I don't want to alert them with the bike, so we'll walk from here."
Without waiting for a reply, he started off in the direction he had indicated. Gabby quickly pulled her crossbow off the back of the bike where she had secured it and started to follow.
As they drew closer, she noticed a faint square of light shinning through the darkness. Soon, she could tell it was coming from a window in the upstairs of a large, decaying . . . castle. She had thought Ralston Castle was just a name thought up by an old man with too much money and not enough common sense, but the structure in front of them definitely deserved the name. At least it made carrying a crossbow seem a little less ridiculous.
She wondered why only one light was on in the entire building, and then quickly decided she didn't really want to know.
Dick ran the short distance between the tree cover and the wall, pressing himself up against the crumbling stone on one side of the thick doors. He held out his hand, motioning for Gabby to do the same. It was an awkward dash across the dying grass with the crossbow in her arms, but she managed it, stopping at Dick's left side as she tried to control her breathing.
"Oracle, do you copy?"
"I'm here, Nightwing. What do you see?"
Barbara's voice sounded tiny and caused Gabby to jump when it suddenly echoed in her ear. How did Dinah do this?
Dick took a quick look around. "So far, nothing. There's a light on, so someone has obviously been here recently, but no sign of any guards."
"Alright, Nightwing, what do you think?"
"I think Huntress and Canary are in there, and we're going to go and get them."
Dick's voice was hard and determined, and Gabby looked at him with new eyes. Usually the handsome crime fighter gave the impression of a carefree young man, so this was a side of Dick she had never seen before. Suddenly she could see why a legendary figure such as the Batman might choose to trust him with his life.
"Be careful, Nightwing."
Feeling a surge of confidence, Gabby grabbed an arrow from the quiver at her hip and loaded it. When Dick nodded to her, she was ready, and rose smoothly to follow him around the side of the castle.
Their luck held. Nightwing was able to shoot a grappling hook onto the roof and climb to one of the upper windows. Gabby held her breath as Dick forced it open with only the faintest protest from the neglected hinges. Motioning that he would go first, he maneuvered his muscled body smoothly through the small opening. Moments later, his gloved hand reappeared, motioning her up. Gabby swung the crossbow onto her back and started climbing, wishing she had been better at the rope climb in gym. Reaching the top, Gabby handed him the crossbow and shimmied through the window, much less gracefully, she was sure.
Automatically accepting the weapon that was handed back to her, she stared in trepidation. White sheets covered the furniture and dust was layered thickly on every surface. Gabby fought off the urge to sneeze just from the sight alone. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans as she followed behind Dick as he crept farther inside.
Holding out a hand to stop her, Dick cautiously peered into the next room.
"Oracle, we're inside. What can you tell us about the layout of this place?"
They both held their breath waiting for the reply. Several seconds passed with no answer.
"Oracle, do you copy?"
When the voice did not respond a second time, Dick and Gabby turned to look at each other with worried expressions.
"Oracle, are you . . ."
"You don't need to bother. Your Oracle can't hear you. In fact, she's not hearing much of anything right about now."
The voice was high pitched and grating . . . also terribly familiar. Gabby immediately recognized it as the woman Dinah had been talking to just before she was kidnapped. Feeling her heart speed up, she watched as a tall, thin woman emerged from the shadows, flanked by three other men who seemed to slip in and out of the darkness at will.
Glancing at Dick she raised her crossbow, pointing it at the nearest vampire. She guessed it was time to find out if she had what it took to be a hero.
"Come on, Helena, don't do this to me."
The computer monitors cast a sickly glow on her skin, the only illumination in the tower except for the faint moonlight creeping in through the balcony windows and the face of the clock.
Barbara made sure her mike was off after Nightwing's last transmission. He and Gabby were now in position to enter Ralston Castle where hopefully they could retrieve Dinah and Helena without too much trouble. Especially since the Monk wouldn't be there to try and stop them.
No, if Barbara had anticipated correctly, and she knew she had, the vampire would be showing up right about . . .
There was no answer, but Barbara thought she could detect a slight shifting of the shadows throughout the room. It was nothing obvious. She couldn't point to a particular patch of dimness and say, yes, that one had moved. It was more like the entire mass of darkness had suddenly altered in some indefinable way.
"I know you're there. You might as well come out."
Barbara lowered her hand casually - or so she hoped - finding the folded batons tucked under her chair. She desperately missed the days when she could have faced this threat on her feet, merely so she would be able to turn and scan the entire room. Now, however, she was forced to settle for facing the balcony doors and trusting her trained senses to alert her to any possible attack from the rear.
"Why don't we stop playing games? You obviously came here for a reason, so let's get it over with." Barbara tried to inject a hint of condescension into her command, hoping to draw her assailant out.
It seemed to work because moments later her eyes were drawn to a red robed figure standing casually by the ramp. If there had been anyone around to tell, she would have sworn nothing had been there seconds before. Barbara was now perversely grateful she wasn't on her feet, since she would have given an embarrassing jump.
"All right, Oracle, no more games. I'm looking for Batman, and I think you know where to find him."
The vampire continued to lean casually on the railing, somehow managing to seem even more horrific in this relaxed pose. Looking at him, Barbara could almost forget what he was, but some instinct kept shouting that this being was like nothing she had ever encountered before. He wasn't a meta or genetically altered experiment. He was an enemy out of humanity's darkest nightmares. A creature who had in all probability existed for centuries, and if she didn't find a way to defeat him, he would gladly drain her blood and leave the corpse rotting on her hardwood floors.
Finding her voice, she looked directly into his boiling crimson eyes. "What makes you think I know where he is?"
Before she could blink, the robed figure was at the edge of Delphi platform. He didn't make any threatening moves; instead he merely ran a hand over one of the Delphi's hard drives.
"Such fascinating equipment. Humanity has come so far, so quickly. When it first began, I was afraid. Afraid that this . . . what was it called . . . ah yes, brave new world, would grant you the power to hunt down and exterminate my kind once and for all, but in fact it was just the opposite. You humans became complacent with your technology. You no longer looked at the night as something to fear. You even forgot that it once held anything to be afraid of." If she hadn't been focusing so closely on those bone white hands softly caressing her beloved computer, Barbara might have noticed the sadness coating the terrible voice.
"So it became easy to prey on the fringes. Feedings that would have roused the authorities and sent mobs gathering in the street before, were now regarded as simply another death added to the uncounted millions. I should have been content, but I found that it wasn't enough. I missed the thrill, the challenge, so I found a new way. I formed the Brotherhood to help me adapt to this new existence.
"I found humans willing to serve me. Imagine it, the prey walking up to the predator and asking for employment, all in the hopes that I would someday make them over in my image. It never ceases to amuse me." The Monk laughed, and it was a terrible sound to hear. Barbara flinched and shrank back in her chair. "So I began to gather my followers and we traveled the world. Feeding where we wished without fear or consequence. Then we came to Gotham.
"It seemed like such a promising city. We made ourselves comfortable in a castle just outside the city, which provided a welcome sense of familiarity. We began to feed on the unwanted rabble on the streets, but we didn't realize someone was protecting them." Barbara wavered at the loathing that was suddenly present in the vampire's tone. "It was only a matter of time before I crossed paths with the Batman and he began to make my life miserable. But I got my revenge. Kidnapping his girlfriend and turning him into the very monster he was trying to fight."
"That's all very interesting, but you still haven't answered my question."
The Monk's eyes widened in surprise. She belatedly realized he hadn't expected her to be able to respond. He had been trying to lull her with his voice, his story simply a means to gain control over her mind.
He clearly didn't know who he was dealing with.
The vampire shrugged with careful nonchalance, a strangely appalling movement considering the source. "You are the Oracle. You've made it your mission to know everything that goes on in this city. I simply made it mine to know everything about you."
"How?" Barbara was getting a very bad feeling about all of this.
The figure smiled, revealing sharp canines. "Some people say not to trust the advice of madmen, but I found it quite helpful or rather advice from a particular madwoman."
"Quinn." She said the name without inflection, and watched as the vampire inclined his head briefly.
"Yes. She was most helpful. She truly hates you with a passion that is quite astounding. From her I was able to learn all about the powerful Oracle and her team of vigilantes. Of course, she didn't know of events that happened after you sent her to Arkham, but it was easy enough to track the girl and Nightwing." The vampire spread his arms wide, as if trying to embrace the entire room. "You see, we share the same passion. We both know that the best way to victory is through knowledge of your enemy. So tell me, Barbara Gordon, if Batman didn't inform the former Batgirl where he was going, who would he tell?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm really tired of all the dramatics." Barbara raised her hands and snapped her batons into a guard position. "Batman may be gone, but Gotham still has protectors. You won't be feeding on any more of its citizens in the future."
Barbara wasn't at all sure she could handle this threat; the memory of Helena's wrist when she had stumbled into the clock tower was still fresh in her mind. Shaking it off, she realized it didn't matter. She had done her job. Hopefully she had given Nightwing and Gabby the time they needed to rescue Helena and Dinah. That was all that was important.
The Monk took one look at her and laughed. It was cruel and mocking and set the redhead's teeth on edge. "Oh, I have no intention of fighting you. I'm not such a monster that I would attack a cripple in her wheelchair." Barbara felt fury shoot through her, but only steadied her hands and firmed her jaw. "No, I won't be the one to kill you, Oracle. I've saved that pleasure for someone very special."
The vampire gestured, and suddenly her reflexes alerted her to a presence behind her. With a practiced move she dropped one hand to the wheel of her chair and rotated until she was facing sideways to the Monk. From this position she was able to keep an eye on the robed figure, and at the same time face the newest threat. What she saw caused her to cry out in shock.
Helena stood on her other side, the tan skin pale in the moonlight. She was abnormally still, something Barbara would never associate with the normally chaotic meta-human. When the brunette's mouth opened slightly, Barbara was able to glimpse sharp fangs.
"Like father, like daughter, Oracle."
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