DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Inspired by my own little Krypto who wouldn't get his paws off my arm long enough for me to work on anything else. A sideways issue that takes place in my Detective Comics universe. And if you want to know how Helena and Renee got "matching" scars read the DC mini-series "Final Crisis: Revelations." Really, even if you don't read comics often. It's that good. Just don't blame me if you get sucked into the goodness that is Greg Rucka's writing. Damn him for leaving DC. Sex/Violence Warnings: Yes to the violence, no to the sex because that would be, as Renee would say, kinda gross. (With Krypto, not Helena. Cause that would kinda yummy. But I digress.)
SPOILERS: References to Revelations and Infinite Crisis but knowledge is not essential to (hopefully) enjoying the text.
FEEDBACK: Welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Of Canines and Krypto
By Sharon Bowers
Men morphing into werewolves-- that she could handle. It was even cool in a Buffy-or-was-it-Twilight-now? sort of way what with all the snarling, the fangs, the slashing claws. Kicking their asses-- that she could handle too. In fact, she had been enjoying herself so much that she had been humming "Leader of Pack" to herself as she finished off the last of them.
That was when she had noticed the one man who hadn't morphed. "Second thoughts?" she asked, retrieving the fedora that had been the first thing lost in the fight. Damn hat takes more abuse... she thought, but wasn't about to give up the most visible reminder of Charlie's legacy. "Don't blame you," she continued amiably, looking over at the pile of limp bodies that were in various stages of returning to human form.
Okay... that's kinda gross.
The lone man stared at her for a moment longer and then began a transformation of his own into the likes of which Renee had never seen before. His face flattened and his skull rounded, arms became tentacles multiplying threefold while his legs took on similar shapes while still retaining enough of their human form to enable him to rush at her faster than the wolves had.
The sickening smell of brine and decaying sea life flooded her nostrils as the creature trapped her in a death embrace. Instinctively she head-butted what she thought might be where the man's nose had been, but all she received for her trouble was the squelch of her head meeting rubbery flesh and a blast of rancid breath. The obscene embrace tightened around her, oxygen squeezing from her lungs until she began seeing dark spots instead of her opponent's... face? She knew she was going to pass out soon and hoped that the little transmitter-thingy that Huntress had forced upon her was as whiz-bang as she had promised because really...
Getting one's ass kicked by a giant walking octopus-- sucked.
Ow ow ow ow ow ow...
Her first thought.
More bad breath?
Renee's mind slowly flickered to awareness, thankful that the process was more like the stutter-stop of a sluggish engine catching than a slow wade through the sludge of a bended-out hangover. Keeping her eyes closed, she surreptitiously ran through a mental inventory-- hands and feet were untethered, her ribs hurt like hell... cracked most likely... her neck and throat were sore, her breathing was labored, and her head rang like a bell. Just another day at the non-office.
She slowly blinked her eyes open. Once, twice, widening the third time when she noticed the dog... hovering?.... over her. The bad-- make that dog-- breath was delivered in even pants and the animal's eyes seemed inquisitive and not exactly friendly. She noted the red collar encircling the white dog's neck and the unmistakable insignia dangling from it. A rabies tag it wasn't.
She blinked a few more times and switched her gaze to the woman sitting in a wheelchair beside the animal. "Um... Oracle... Is that dog floating?"
Barbara Gordon folded her arms and smirked at the injured woman. Even concussed, beaten black and blue and the proud bearer of five cracked ribs-- three on one side and two on the other-- Renee Montoya still had to ask questions. Charlie had chosen well, she thought. "Yes," she answered wryly. "And before you ask, yes he can fly but he's not crazy about it. He tends to get a little distracted by the birds-- and by birds I mean 747s-- and crash lands a lot." She stroked the animal, who tolerated it well enough but displayed none of the usual happy exuberance of his species. "However, he seems quite fond of floating."
"Yeah, well, it's creeping me out," Renee replied acidly and was instantly rewarded by a low growl from the dog's throat. She looked warily at him. "He doesn't talk, does he?"
"He may be from another planet," Barbara replied, laughing and implicitly acknowledging the dog's owner. "But he is still a dog." She patted the animal once more, "Come on, Krypto, give our patient here some room so I can check her wrappings."
Krypto glanced at the woman in the wheelchair and then back to the woman resting in the bed below. To Renee, he seemed inclined to disagree with Oracle's suggestion-- and she had a brief fear of becoming a twelve-pack of Question Nuggets-- before he decided to relent. She watched with astonished eyes as he executed a perfect 180 and floated over to the corner of the room, turning around in mid-air three times before settling onto a bed that looked like-- if she were not mistaken-- one of Superman's old capes.
"So..." she started hesitantly. "Superman lets you dogsit?"
Barbara shrugged, rolling her chair so that she was parallel to the ad hoc hospital bed. She had been surprised when Huntress had appeared on her balcony with the unconscious woman slung over one shoulder in a fireman's carry, but had nonetheless ushered Helena into the area of the loft they used as a triage space. "There was a pack of de-morphing lycans and I couldn't take a woman with no face to the hospital. Now I gotta go back out to find the Octoguy..." had been the hasty explanation, and Barbara just rolled-- literally-- with it. Wasn't exactly out-of-line with how some of her other operatives had sustained their in-the-line-of-duty injuries. Only The Question, nee former GCPD detective Renee Montoya, wasn't one of her operatives. And had told Oracle so on more than one occasion.
Still, the woman was here courtesy of Huntress, and though there was definitely a conversation to be had with Helena on that subject, more pressing matters were at hand.
It was bad enough that Montoya had already known Oracle and Barbara Gordon were one in the same-- another little treat she'd had Helena to thank for-- but now she knew where Oracle resided. And while Barbara didn't think she was exactly going to go running to spill the beans to the Secret Society, she did know that during the Crisis the ex-cop had been recruited by Checkmate, for what purpose she didn't know. What she also didn't know was whether or not those ties still existed. Although Checkmate was now under UN auspices, the memory of Max Lord's corruption of it was still too fresh in Barbara's mind for her to relish the idea of having one of its agents as a houseguest. "Can you use the pull bar to lever yourself upright?" she asked instead of answering Renee's question about the still-watchful dog in the corner.
In reply, Renee did as she was bade, swallowing back a gasp at the pain and managing to pull herself up in a reasonably smooth motion. She ignored the beads of sweat that popped out on her forehead at the effort and exhaled gratefully when her arms were at her sides once more. A stiff wind might knock her over, but still, she thought to herself, she looked and felt reasonably alert.
Until Barbara matter-of-factly started unwrapping her ribs.
"OW!!!" she nearly shouted, pushing at the other woman who only frowned at her flailing efforts. "Do you even have any idea of what you're doing?"
"I daresay more than you do," Barbara replied tartly. Montoya might know about Oracle, but she hadn't a clue about Batgirl. When Renee had been a teenager staring out her bedroom window at the Batsignal, Barbara had been answering it. Another life... Barbara shook the memory away, returning to the matter at hand. "You ever see Huntress running around on crutches?"
"Not recently," Renee admitted, and allowed Barbara to resume her task. "But damn, that woman gets banged up a lot. I think I went through a half-dozen mini-kits when we were on the road." The bandages fell in a puddle around Renee's waist, and both women winced at the mass of ugly, discolored and bruised flesh reveled. "Fuck..." Renee exhaled softly, surveying her damaged body. "Guess that's why it hurts so much."
"Guess so," Barbara agreed dryly, rolling over to the supply cart and retrieving some liniment that Dinah swore by. Barbara had her doubts, but she really wasn't one to discount the home remedies of someone who had trained with the best assassins in the world. "Do you want some help with this?" she asked, proffering the jar to the other woman.
Renee started to reach towards the open container but drew back with a short exclamation of pain. "Since my range of motion seems to be non-existent at the moment..." She exhaled on unsteady breath. "Please."
"I can give you something for the pain," Barbara offered and smiled inwardly at Montoya's immediate refusal. In her position she would done the same. She nodded briskly and scooped some of the paste onto her fingers. "Can you lift your arms again? I promise to be as quick as I can." As Montoya slowly complied, Barbara surveyed the other woman's bared torso swiftly and then began applying the salve. She had known Renee as one of Gotham's best cops, and the two had formed the tentative beginnings of a friendship when her father-- and Renee's mentor-- had been shot. Nothing had come of it, however, because Montoya's life had quickly started unraveling thanks to Two-Face, and, well, Barbara had had her own irons in the fire.
Behind them, Krypto's paws twitched and he snuffled as if in a light dream behind closed eyes.
"Must've decided I wasn't much of a threat laid up like this," Renee observed in the silence.
"Or else he knows I can take care of myself."
"I don't doubt that," she agreed, eyes drifting to the tops of the escrima sticks visible in the side compartment of Barbara's wheelchair. She remembered when the other woman had been shot and Commissioner Gordon kidnapped. She had only been a uni then, but she had-- they all had-- torn the city apart looking for the Joker. Wasn't the first time she had pursued that particular fool's errand. Hadn't been the last either. But judging from the woman beside her, knowing now what Barbara Gordon had turned to in the wake of her violation, she felt a faint satisfaction. The Joker may have escaped retribution but he hadn't defeated Barbara Gordon-- not by a long shot.
"Should we go the penny thought route?" Barbara was asking. "You're good, but believe me, Hel-- Huntress does the brooding stoic pain thing much better than you do."
Renee's laugh was cut short by a short sucking breath of agony. "I know she does. Believe me, I've seen it." She waited until Barbara had wheeled herself around and begun work on her other side. "And I know her name is Helena. And that she used to be an English teacher before this whole crime gig."
"Figured as much." She deftly applied the paste, noting that some of the scars on the other woman's body weren't normally the kind acquired in the line of a policeman's duty. Particularly the large scar across her abdomen that looked eerily similar to one that Helena had recently acquired. "Since she introduced us I figured you put together a few other identities as well."
"Not as many as you might think. And I'm not in the market." When Barbara glanced up at her, clearly surprised, Renee continued. "I'm not a Super-anything. All I do is ask questions and sometimes get a few answers." She shrugged as much as her position would allow her. "And sometimes that pisses the wrong kind of people off. So if and when they ever get ahold of me..." A wry smile. "I figure the less I know about some things the better."
"Some questions you don't want answered?"
"Charlie would say the question is always worth asking. Me, I'd add that sometimes you have to ask yourself about what happens when you get that answer.
The next time Renee woke up her ears were ringing a little less, but the sight of a still-hovering Krypto was as disconcerting as it was the first time. He was panting lightly, his tongue hanging slack and she watched in a strange sort of fascination as a splot of Kryptonian dog drool landed on her sheets. "Err... hi, puppy." The dog stopped panting and she could have sworn it scowled at her. "Krypto." Almost added "Sir" to the greeting but stopped herself just in time.
He seemed mollified because the panting resumed.
So did the drool.
Canine and woman stared at each other seemingly at an impasse until a familiar figure loomed behind the dog. "Scram, Fido," Helena Bertinelli said, slapping the animal familiarly on the rump. Instantly Krypto shot ceiling-ward, angling slightly and then launching himself at the woman before Renee could even think of shouting warning. Helena stood defenseless as the dog swooped down upon, sideswiping her cheek with a long flash of tongue. Then he was gone, flying out the door to parts of the clocktower unknown. Faint crashing sounds followed by the rapid scramble of toenails on hardwood signaled the dog's unsteady landing.
"Argh," Helena complained, wiping drool from her face. "Kissed by a dog." Seeing the damp spots on Renee's bedside, she wiped her hand on the sheet and grinned at her friend. "You look a lot better than you did when I brought you in here."
Renee shook her head in wonder. "You just smacked Superman's dog in the ass, Helena."
The other woman laughed easily and shrugged. "He may be able to fly, but at the end of the day, I've still got the thumbs."
Squeak squeak squeak grrrrrr... squeak squeak squeaack... WOOF!
The two women exchanged glances as the bark's echo shuddered through the floorboards..
"Helena..." Renee began slowly. "How's Krypto at pulling off a secret identity?"
"I cannot believe you put a Bat on him," Helena said an hour later as the unlikely trio strolled through the outskirts of Robinson Park.
"And a leash," Renee remarked. The dog had seemed skeptical when she approached him back at the loft but the lure of a Krypto Cookie had proven his undoing. Now he padded sedately alongside the two women on the leash with a little Bat insignia dangling from his collar. "How else would it be a secret identity?"
"Just don't call him 'Ace' in public. I don't think even Babs could get me out of that."
Renee merely laughed as they strolled deeper into the park.
They walked a bit longer before Helena broke the silence. "You gonna let me know what you're looking for? Cause Octoguy was long gone when I got back." She had noticed when they left that Renee had picked up the shirt she had been wearing when she was assaulted and figured that her friend was planning to put Krypto's super scents to use. It wasn't a bad plan, per say, but she wasn't sure it was going to pan out. Still, it was nice to be about in the daytime for once, and Renee wasn't exactly bad company. They had known mostly "of" each other when Montoya was a cop-- including something during NML that Renee didn't know she had witnessed-- but it was only after they had been thrown together years later in literally a life-or-death (as in the whole human race) circumstance that they had become friends. Of a sort.
That whole "Bat-Might" crack still kind of rankled her.
Women and dog trod deeper into the park.
For all its usual perversity, Gotham had provided a remarkably beautiful day, and Helena noted that they were not the only ones taking advantage of its beneficence. Families of all shapes and sizes were taking advantage of the Mayor's latest initiative-- and the Underground's latest windfall-- by playing on the new jungle gyms and swing sets. Gotham U students were playing flag football in the open fields, laughing and working off last night's hangover. And she and Renee certainly weren't the only couple out walking their dogs.
Nobody mentioned Ivy. But then again, nobody went near the deepest part of the park. The part that belonged to her.
The part they were getting closer and closer to.
"You think that's where he went?" Helena queried.
"You're asking an awful lot of questions."
"Funny. Coming from the Question."
Renee scowled. "I hate that joke."
"And I bet every cape you meet makes it."
The other woman didn't disagree, but merely knelt down. Krypto was immediately at her side, eyes warily glancing around, as if he knew they were on the down low. She offered him the shirt. He sniffed, then recoiled, hackles rising, a low burr rumbling that threatened to become something louder.
"Secret identity," Renee warned, staring at the dog.
He blinked, the hackles easing, and started wagging his tail. Then began trotting purposefully towards heart of Robinson Park.
The two women exchanged glances and began trotting with him.
"You don't think..." Helena began.
"That Ivy's harboring these genetically altered mutants? No. But I do think he got as far as he could so he could demorph."
"And then Krypto's going to lose the scent."
"Maybe, maybe not."
Helena blinked. "You don't actually...."
"Think that Ivy's going to talk to us in the broad daylight? No. But she'll know we were here."
"Do you ever let anyone else ask a question?"
"No," Renee responded acerbically. "Because I'm the Question."
Helena shook her head, following behind the dog and the woman. "In so many ways."
"I'm pretty sure I don't want to know," Barbara asked them pointedly, holding Krypto's collar in her hand. "But I'm going to ask."
"Her." Helena pointed to Renee, who was still holding a leashed super-dog. "She's the Question after all," she added in an undertone.
Renee merely glared at her and unhooked the dog's leash. As Helena had thought, he had lost the scent at the place that Octoguy had most likely demorphed. A place she planned to return to tonight, providing her ribs and the very formidable presence of Barbara Gordon didn't kill her first. Krypto seemed happy to shed his secret identity and immediately floated over to Barbara with a nudge that rocked her wheelchair, asking for his collar back.
"Long story short," Barbara prompted.
"Bad guys at Robinson Park. Ivy can probably give me a where-to-next," Renee supplied succinctly, uncannily reminded of NML and Barbara's father, Commissioner Gordon. She always thought of him that way, despite his repeated reminders to call him "Jim" after his retirement. In her mind he could no more be "Jim" than Captain Sawyer could be "Maggie," no matter how much distance between her and the shield existed.
"You two going?"
Renee glanced at Helena. Team-ups were neither's strong suite. Although they had done so and come up on the right side of the pushing daisies.
Helena was the first to crack a grin. "Couldn't stop me, boss." She tossed a look to Renee. "Gotta have that question answered."
Hours later they were back in Robinson Park, Krypto in the lead, floating slowly ahead of them and returning them to the exact spot where they had left. He turned around, a bit impatiently it seemed, as the two women lagged behind him.
"I'd tell you your ribs are for shit and we should bag this for another day but you won't listen to me," Helena remarked. "I'm Kevlared up the ass, and you're running around like that." Both women were in full cape-mode, and while in Helena's circumstance that meant heavy combat-grade boots, a long body-suit reinforced with the aforementioned Kevlar, steel plated knee-pads, and similar gauntlets. Not even mentioning the sidearms that were discreetly (and not so) among her person. A deep purple mask with elongated ears completed the costume.
Renee wore a pair of jeans and a tank top, fresh from the local mall (courtesy of Helena's credit card), and Charlie's hat. Another thing they had never talked about. The belt that held her factory distressed pants up was designed to conceal the pseuoderm mask she now wore. The thing that marked her as a cape, no matter how much she didn't consider herself one.
Together, they entered the darkest part of Robinson Park
"Saddle up." Renee said as Krypto's hackles rose, this time not bothering to conceal a growl that rumbled the park.
Helena's crossbow was at the ready, both wanting to see Ivy and fearing the same. She only had faint memories of their encounter, but she did remember the thrall vividly. Ivy's poison didn't just affect only boys.
Catwoman could attest to that.
"We don't want anything," Renee said out loud to the trees.
A long silence followed.
The women exchanged glances, and Krypto nearly bristled himself into oblivion, clearly wanting to dive into the park's depths but somehow knowing to wait.
"You want answers."
She appeared then. Long, elegant body whose perfection only seemed enhanced by her green skin and the leaves that clung and scattered across her skin. Red hair streaming down her back. Her eyes-- greener than Barbara's one woman thought greener than Kate's the other did-- enveloped them both, then focused on Renee.
"I know you, Detective. Your kind does no favors here."
Helena watched Renee blanch lightly and then rally. "I'm not that kind of detective anymore." She stepped forward, and Helena fought the urge to draw her back. So many things could go so wrong right now. "But you're right," she continued. Spreading her arms, clearly unarmed, to show she meant no harm. To support Renee's play, both Huntress and Krypto dropped back. Neither was happy about it. "I do want answers."
"What you are seeking isn't here."
Renee thought about the statement for a moment. "Any ideas?"
"I believe the species is now extinct."
Involuntarily, Renee glanced over her shoulder. Helena edged closer, while Krypto began to hover.
"And now this conversation is at a close." Ivy hadn't missed a thing and began to withdraw, almost as quickly as she had arrived. "Keep your abominations out of my park."
It was the last thing they heard.
"So Octoguy's toast," Helena remarked over a plate of scotch fillets topped with a cream that included proscuitto, mushrooms, garlic and a healthy dose of white wine. She also steamed some baby potatoes and served them in a butter of rosemary and garlic just because, in her opinion, Renee could use some fattening up. Mentally, she shook her head as Renee surveyed the dinner. Why everyone was stunned that she could-- and liked to-- cook was beyond her. She might have been raised by assassins but that didn't mean she didn't learn a thing or two in the kitchen in the meantime. "Anyway...." she prodded, kind of pleased at the way Renee was inhaling the impromptu middle-of-the-night-dinner. Barbara was nowhere to be found, but to be honest, neither of them went looking. No doubt, she was keeping her own counsel about the night's activities, and Helena would get an earful about it later. Krypto expressed his displeasure at the way the evening had ended by eating a bunch of grass on the way home and then promptly expunging it from his system the minute they got into the clocktower elevator.
Helena was saving his fillet for later.
"Octoguy is toast," Renee agreed between bites. "And so is my lead. Which means I have to start all over again. All the covens had cleared out of Gotham but now one's back." She swallowed a bit of steak. "Damn, this is good."
"You couldn't ask..."
"Don't even," Renee warned before she could even finish the thought. Her eyes went flat and hostile, her body immediately shifting.
Helena fought her own instincts to respond to the aggressive challenge. Heard Krypto rumble low from three rooms over. Thought about Dinah, the fighter, Barbara, the thinker. Placed her knife and fork on either side of her plate. "Okay, I won't."
Something seemed to settle inside Renee at her response, and not for the first time Helena wondered about the fight-or-flight syndrome that even the idea of Batwoman seemed to trigger in the other woman. She shook her head in resignation. Undoubtedly the woman had a Bat-history of her own. Maybe one day they could compare notes.
"So what are you going to do now?" she asked.
Renee agreed to the detente and resumed eating. "Can I have some more potatoes?" she asked. Helena obliged and waited for her to continue. "I'm not sure," she admitted, wincing lightly. Manning up in front of Ivy hadn't done her ribs any favors. "Probably go home and lick my wounds. The lighthouse is looking pretty good right now. Tot'll give me hell. He always hates it when I come to Gotham." She smiled at Helena, dark eyes meeting light ones. "He's too polite to say that I'm a bitch afterwards, but we both know it's true."
"Gotham's not that bad."
"It is for me."
Helena thought for a moment. It was bad for them both, yet neither could keep away from it. She didn't know how to say it so she shrugged. Chewed another bite. Wanted to ask her if they could hit the road again but... Gotham and the Birds. That's where she belonged. As much as she might not like it sometimes, that was family.
She watched Renee rise from the kitchen chair, the empty plate in her hand. A former beat cop, used to eating quickly on the run. Renee rinsed the dish off in the sink and smiled awkwardly at Helena. Her hair was tousled, and she still kept reaching behind her to resettle the ponytail that wasn't there and then changing it into a run through her hair. Her hands came to rest on her hips. "I should be going now."
They eyed each other. There was a question that that neither one was sure she knew the answer.
Helena was the first to blink. "You can always come back."
Renee raised her head and shook it. "Yeah, I know."
Helena followed her gaze out the window. Saw the Batsignal blazing in the night sky. Ignored the pang that it wasn't for her. Looked back at Renee.
Who smiled at her. "I probably will."
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