DISCLAIMER: Characters all property of DC Comics. Special mention to Gail Simone, who makes all of these characters so memorable.
SPOILERS: Mentions No Man's Land, Cry for Justice, and takes place after the first encounter with Savant and Creote. Some minor spoilers for those things.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Helena had stopped shaking. She struggled out of her bed, legs still weak from the misplaced adrenaline. She walked to the shower, turned it on full hot and got in. It hurt after the water warmed up. But the pain was good. It let her know she wasn't dead. After she knew she was alive she got out and undressed, hanging the soaking wet clothes over the edge of the tub to dry. She grabbed her robe and plodded out to the kitchen.
In the tiny walk-in Helena made a quick skillet dinner. Veggies, burger, eggs. Lots of protein. Slathered on sourdough bread it made good fuel for her shaking body. A couple mugs of hot chocolate later and she was okay. She missed her old kitchen. Her old apartment. She'd lost it when she lost her last teaching job. Three months in a cabin with Richard Dragon did that. No showing up, no job; no job, no money; no money, no apartment. It didn't matter that much, Helena mused. It wasn't like she was having family over for the holidays.
She washed up the dishes, cleaned the kitchen. Walked back to her bedroom. It stank of sweat and fear. She stripped the sheets and threw them into the wash. To tired to make it up now. Helena grabbed a blanket and a clean pillow and headed for the couch.
She couldn't sleep. Didn't that just figure. The city was full of sleeping children and adults up too late with last-minute present assembling, gift wrapping, and tree decorating. Helena eyed her living room. A guest looking in would have no idea what day it was. A guest. Hah. Since Vic stopped coming around, Helena had no guests. She hadn't seen Nightwing in months, not really, since just after she got out of the hospital, after . . . Well, after all that. There was no one else to call or care.
God. Helena got up. Enough of this crap. She eyed her costume. If she couldn't sleep she might as well do some good? What the fuck ever. Tonight she didn't want to be Huntress. Didn't want to be not quite good enough. Throwing on sweats and a windbreaker, Helena went out for a walk. Time to clear her head.
Helena woke up. She had some faint idea that this wasn't the first time recently, that she'd been asleep and awake but hadn't noticed exactly what was going on. Something.
Where was she?
Helena tried to look around. Her eyes were sticky. The light was dim, and everything was blurry. Indoors. Climate controlled. Some distant noises, voices, things being wheeled around, some doors opening and shutting. Helena blinked and moved her head.
Oh god. The pain was incredible. Helena gagged, pain causing instant nausea. The motion of her body made the pain in her head spike again, and this time she did throw up. To the side, over the edge of, huh, of what she now saw was a bed. Helena lay on the railing on the bed, trying to breathe without moving.
Ah. Hospital. She could see that now. And it must be nighttime. All the lights were low and the hallway outside her door fairly quiet. Helena spent a few minutes sitting up. Without moving her head at all, if possible. It wasn't -- possible, that is -- and she felt tears start sliding down her cheeks. She couldn't help it. Her head just hurt that much. Sitting, she gingerly wiped at her eyes and looked at herself. Left wrist, cast. Bandage, left leg. Bandage, stomach. Head? Hair half shaved, bandage. I.V., yes, pulse monitor, yes.
Chart. It took Helena twenty minutes to inch herself around and find the doctor's notes on the end of her bed. It would've been ten minutes, but she grayed out halfway and lay on the covers shuddering. What in the hell had happened to her?
Helena lay across her bed, panting and shaking with the exertion and pain. The words on the chart were blurry no matter what she did. She could not read it. All that effort, and no results. If that wasn't just like her life. Helena almost laughed but stopped in time. Exhausted, she lay her head down on the foot of the bed and fell back asleep.
Helena sat in the hospital bed eating her jello. Her roommate was asleep, finally, the morphine giving some peace to the young man with the missing legs. Helena was playing a bit of the amnesiac. Conversations with the doctors had filled in everything except the actual events surrounding her injuries. She remembered leaving her apartment for a midnight jog. The cops who interviewed her said she had been found by the morning sanitation worker. Lying against a dumpster bleeding to death. Shot in the head, twice in the side, once in the leg, once in the wrist. Shot five times. The cops seemed to think someone had emptied a revolver into her and missed just the once.
The head injury was her biggest problem. The bullet had grazed her, but had cracked the bone. Helena found that her balance was off, and any sudden movement was giving her hideous headaches. If she could stand without puking, she might be able to convince the doctors to let her leave. There was also the problem of the amnesia, which she was playing up as more than it was. She didn't want anyone connecting the Jane Doe with the gunshots to Helena Bertinelli, schoolteacher. Or, god forbid, with Huntress.
Helena finished her lunch and lay back gingerly. The room was quiet. No cards, no flowers. No one had visited. She put her head back. It was good. The quiet. No one bothering her. Besides, talking made her head ache. This really was for the best.
Helena turned her head slowly as the door opened. Her mouth went dry with fear and adrenaline. In walked two large men, one merely large, the other enormous.
In a small panic Helena wondered why it had taken them this long to find her, and whether they were going to kill her outright for her part in Black Canary's escape or just shoot her in the bed. No. She wasn't going to die here without a fight. Bracing herself for the pain Helena rolled off the far side of the bed, pulling the pillow after her for a shield and grabbing the drip stand for a weapon.
That was the plan. She hit the floor already dry heaving, she couldn't see around the black and white flashes in her vision. She fell sideways and felt warmth on her side, probably from where she'd torn her stitches and was bleeding all over everything. Something darker filled her vision. Someone?
At least I tried, she thought. No matter what they think of me. I tried.
"Miss Bertinelli?" Helena heard Savant's voice dimly, filtered through the roaring in her ears. She couldn't answer, couldn't nod. Someone picked her up. He smelled of onions and Drakkar Noir and she dry heaved again. Some other things happened. Helena couldn't keep track. She wasn't unconscious, not really, but she wasn't entirely present. When she opened her eyes again she was back in the hospital bed. Creote was examining her bleeding side with a professional care. Savant, standing nearby, spoke.
"Miss Bertinelli, a mutual acquaintance of ours has sent us with her regards. She assured me you would not believe me, and sent these as proof." Savant held out his hand. On it sat a pair of Oracle's communication devices. "She instructed me to tell you to put them on and all would be made clear."
Helena reached for the communicators. Her hands shook enough she couldn't get them on. To her embarrassment, Creote carefully put the communicators on her. Helena cleared her throat. "Um. Hi?"
"Huntress?" It sounded like Oracle. But Savant had addressed her as Miss Bertinelli. If this was trouble, if Oracle was being coerced, maybe they didn't really know yet. Better safe.
"I'm not sure to whom I am speaking," Helena said.
"Huntress, this is Oracle. Are Savant and Creote there?"
"Good. I've hired them to give you whatever assistance you need. They should have arranged for your release from the hospital. And they will bring you to a safe place where you can recuperate. Do you understand?"
God. That surely was Oracle. Insufferably controlling and with no regard for other people's wishes, as per usual. Helena wasn't sure why Savant was working for Oracle in this, but she was reasonably certain it was on the level. "Thank you for you offer, ma'am," Helena replied insincerely, "but I decline."
"Huntress, wait! Helena! Listen, please."
Helena paused in the act of taking off the comms. " . . . all right."
"I've been looking for you for two days. Everyone's been worried. You disappeared without a word. Please. Let me help you? Savant should bring you here, we can talk about what happens next once you're feeling a little better."
Helena didn't answer. Everyone had been worried? She didn't have an "everyone." The only person who might've noticed she was gone was her building super.
"Fine." Helena took off the communicator before Oracle could answer. She handed them back to Savant. He raised an eyebrow. "Take me to her," Helena said, laying back on the pillows with her eyes closed. God. They made her head even worse. She hated them. The whole night-flying-mammalian lot of them.
They found that the wheelchair made her pass out. Sitting, and the slight bumping, and most of all, not being in control of her motion. Creote carried her from the van. Up the stairs. She'd been here before. Broke in that one time. But never in the bedroom. Someone was talking. Very possibly to her. Helena couldn't be bothered to respond. The morphine was wearing off and she couldn't see around the dark spots in her vision. She was in a bed. It smelled of lemon and eucalyptus. Like the Sicilian islands of her childhood. Like her mother's perfume.
She felt better. Helena woke, shifted on the soft bed. What in the hell? She felt better. She sat up. Examined her side. Still sore, not healed, but better. Wrist? Light splint, good circulation. Leg -- healed, small scar. Head? Helena turned her head from side to side. Coughed experimentally. Taking a deep breath, she shook her head like a terrier. Nothing. Not a twinge.
Oh thank god. Now, how long had she been out of things?
Helena got up. She was wearing soft cotton pajamas, she noticed. Not hers. With, what? Cartoon characters on them? A computer with little waddley feet and a black kid with thick glasses. And a penguin wearing a large flowered sunhat. Helena thought she recognized the penguin, maybe. Helena stretched a bit. She felt okay. Weak, and oh my god did she need a bath, but okay. She padded out of the bedroom.
Oracle was in the main room. Or Barbara. Helena walked up.
"Huntress," Barbara said without looking.
Barbara turned her chair to face Helena. "Good. You look good. I had a friend come in and help you out. Your head was pretty bad."
" . . . Thank you."
The two women looked at each other uncomfortably for a moment.
"If you have questions," Barbara began, " I thought we could talk over breakfast?"
Helena found herself to be ravenously hungry. "Um, yeah. That'd be good."
The awkward silence broke over the cooking. A little small talk about how to scramble eggs. Helena was pleased to find that Barbara had terrible opinions about cooking. But someone, probably Dinah, had hidden away a little feta and olive mix, and there was a complete, though underused, set of spices on a dusty rack.
"So." Helena sipped her coffee. "Where do I start? How about, what day is it? How long have I been here? Who fixed my head? Why are you helping me at all?"
"December 28th. Twenty hours. I have connections I'd rather not name, from the JLA. And, why do you think I wouldn't?" Barbara pushed her glasses up her nose and raised an eyebrow at Helena.
Helena could play this. No problem. "I slept with your boyfriend. I broke into your home. 'Daddy' thinks I'm a sociopath. You only call me when your real agents, your actual friends, are in trouble and there's no one left. So. Why, again, are you helping me." Helena raised an eyebrow back. Huh. Barbara looked . . . shocked. Surely nothing Helena had said was a surprise?<
"Huntress . . . Helena, I didn't know you felt that way," Barbara said quietly.
Helena quickly reviewed what she'd said. "I don't think I mentioned feelings at all, Barbara," Helena replied, grabbing the last olives off her plate and popping them in her mouth. "You have no fucking clue how I feel." She pushed her chair back and propped her feet up on the edge of the table.
Um. Okay, that was what she meant to do. Her side flashed a warning of pain and then it was too late, she pushed too hard and pain stabbed through her side, right where she'd been shot a year ago. She remembered that pain, too, how the cold wind had cut into her side where the blood ran down, the taste of blood in her mouth while her arm hung limp and useless at her side the steel of the gun barrel frozen against her forehead and the stink of the newly dead, the stink of shit and blood and the unmistakable stench of entrails in the open air and the whimpering cries of the children behind her and all she could see was his glove, white and stained with a fine mist of fresh blood and he smelled of sour milk and gardenia perfume-
" . . . -re, okay? Helena? Do you hear me?"
Helena noticed she was holding her side, noticed she was panting, that she was sweating. Dammitalltohell. In front of Barbara. Who was right next to her, hand out like she didn't know how to help. Goddammit. Helena straightened in her chair. "Leave me alone, Barbara. I'm fine."
Barbara didn't move away. "Uh-huh. And I'm going to learn to salsa. Here." She handed a cloth to Helena, a towel. Helena took it wordlessly and wiped her face. "I don't quite know what to say, Helena," Barbara continued. "You disappeared. After eight hours I put out the word to keep an eye out for you, let me know if you showed up. By Christmas morning I had operatives searching actively. We missed you the first time around, you were still in surgery. Or, as I found out later, you were in surgery again. On the morning of the 27th I had your location and sent agents to get you out."
"Eight hours?" Helena blinked a bit. She hadn't known the team worked like that. But, then, why would she know? Daddy-bat had told her over and over again that she was no part of his team, his plan, and ideally no part of his city. He could fuck off in Helena's opinion. Once, just once, she'd seen him happy with her. But maybe it had been the loss of blood. Maybe she'd hallucinated it all. Helena snorted. "Did anyone tell Daddy that I got shot? He'd probably be thrilled. Make his Christmas."
Barbara opened her mouth, then shut it. Clearly reconsidering her words. "He knows. He said to keep him advised. Especially if you can remember what happened."
Oh. Yeah. Helena stalled by getting more coffee. That was a problem. Since now she did remember. "I was out walking. I saw some vandals, I stepped in. They got the drop on me."
"Vandals? Got the drop on you?" Barbara looked extremely dubious. "Were they . . . super powered vandals? With, perhaps, super spray-paint powers? Tell me the rest, Helena."
"Huntress," Barbara said, "tell me the rest! We have to know if there's a threat --"
Helena turned as fast as her side allowed. "If there was a threat, I'd have told you about it. That's one," she said furiously, " and two, I am not a subordinate for you to order about, not a lackey to report to you! I am not on your damn team, not in your smug little family, and not one of your fucking birds, okay? So lay the hell off!"
Oracle's jaw clenched. Good. Let her be pissed, too. When she spoke her voice was level. "So the fact you were found outside the church was coincidence?"
Helena's gaze dropped. "Of course not. Don't be stupid."
"I went to look at it. See where it happened. Say a few goodbyes."
"And that's where you met the vandals?"
Helena put her mug down too fast, sloshing coffee on the counter. Whatever. "I saw a gang of kids. Tagging the memorial out front. Wearing white face paint and." Helena stopped, swallowed. "And green wigs."
" . . . so, yeah, I charged them. Forgot I wasn't wearing my costume. And one of them had a gun." Helena laughed, a painful noise with no humor in it. "I think he would've only shot me once if I'd gone down like he thought I should."
"But you didn't go down." Helena stared at the floor. Barbara came up next to her. Helena felt fingers at hers, felt Barbara hold her hand. "You didn't go down a year ago either. I know."
Helena blinked. "I couldn't," she replied, her voice low and tight. "Not in front of Foley's marker." She made another noise that couldn't really be called a laugh. "I remember, stupid the stuff you remember, right? I remember I had to throw out the boots from that night because I couldn't get his brains out of the leather. Foley. He was a nice guy."
Barbara gave a little tug on Helena's hand. Helena knelt next to the chair as though folded. She couldn't see. Probably because she was crying. Which would also explain why she couldn't talk anymore. Why her throat hurt. And where the noises were coming from. Those noises. That was her. It didn't sound like anything, not like crying or laughing. More like choking. Barbara was talking.
"It occurs to me," Barbara said in a somewhat distant voice, " that you don't know why I'm in this chair. Well, maybe you do. But I know I haven't told you. It was him. The Joker. Years ago." Barbara put her hand on Helena's head and gently pulled her towards Barbara's knees. "He was kidnapping my father. To get at Batman. And I was just . . . Standing there. I answered the door. And I woke up in the hospital with my whole life torn away. It --" She paused, cleared her throat. "I used to imagine what I would have done if I had the chance to fight. If I had been in costume. If I'd seen it coming."
Helena was crying harder now. She put her head on Barbara's legs, not caring anymore what the other woman thought of her.
"When Robin told me about what you did, I -- I was jealous." Barbara laughed, a bitter sound. "Because what he said, it sounded like what I had always imagined. I'd have stood against terrible odds, see, and made a difference in the nick of time. Just like you did. Huntress. Helena." Barbara's hand moved on Helena's hair, smoothing and comforting. "I told him, after you came back this summer, that you deserved a chance. And after you helped Canary I argued with him for you. But he -- I think his problem is that he thinks you are too much like him. Too angry. I think that's crap and I told him so. But, Helena, I don't know how to say this." Barbara laughed again, a small chuckle. "Dinah usually says these things. She's better at this. But I am trying to say that you are welcome here. At least here. No matter what he thinks. I trust you. And hope that you will be a part of what I am doing here. Part of the team."
Helena calmed down some. Began to wish for a tissue and a glass of water. She shifted a bit and leaned more comfortably against Barbara's legs. As if reading her mind Barbara handed her a tissue.
"I'm not . . . " Helena began, "not much of a team person. But. Thank you."
"Just think about it, it's all I'm saying," Barbara said softly, smoothing back the other woman's darker hair. They sat that way for minutes, not speaking. Barbara cleared her throat. "So, about these vandals? Think you could identify them if you had some grainy security photos from bad angles?"
Helena took her cue and moved away. "Grainy security photos? Better or worse than faxed third-hand FBI surveillance footage?"
Barbara rolled towards the main room, motioning for Helena to follow. "Oh, much better than faxes. Probably about the same as a second-hand copy."
Helena followed. This wasn't exactly what she thought she wanted. But it was something worth looking into. This whole teamwork thing. She walked up next to Barbara, who was calling up images on the computer, images obviously stolen off of city traffic cameras.
"Check out this feed," Barbara said, pointing.
Helena looked obediently. "Thank you," she said.
"No problem." Barbara said without looking at her.
"Not for this. For telling me. All of it."
"No problem, I said," Barbara replied. "Now. You look at this. It's time -- let's kick some ass."
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