TITLE: The View From In Here

AUTHOR: Shawn Carter

EMAIL: gfshawn@earthlink.net

DISCLAIMER: DC owns the comic rights. I didn't create the characters. However they deserve a better fate than the one the WB has deemed worthy. Let's hope for some foresight and a great pick-up by another net.

RATING: PG-13. Language. Violence. Adult situations.

SUMMARY: This is the sequel to SURVIVOR. Some nightmares don't go away like they're supposed to. And some have a bad habit of growing. Helena's in bad shape and really, the Joker's just begun.

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Technically this is the third story in the series if you include the brief prequel. This is one more to come.

MUSIC: The title hails from a band called Louie Says. The lyrics are Pink Floyd.

*****

"So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell?

Blue skies from pain?

Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rain?

A smile from a veil; do you think you can tell?

And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?

Hot ashes for trees?

Hot air for a cool breeze?

Cold comfort for change?

And did you exchange a walk-on part in the war

For a lead role in a cage?"

*****

The snow was beginning to fall in wet clumps. The temperature had already dropped to unthinkable lows and coats thicker than a stack of panda furs were beginning to be broken out. New Yorkers certainly knew how to bundle up. People in New Gotham tended to take that concept to new highs.

It was the first real storm of the season and it was going to be a good one. The weather guys were expecting several inches if not a foot or so of snow. They were also going out of their way to warn everyone to stay in doors if they could manage.

She moved around her lab with a grace that was unexpected considering her predicament. The wheelchair that she sat in whenever she was awake was practically molded to her body; a constant reminder of a seven year old attack. An attack that would haunt her for the rest of her life even if she did eventually learn to walk again.

Once she had been the crime fighter known as Batgirl. Protégé to Batman and daughter of Commissioner James Gordon of the GCPD. Now she taught English at New Gotham High School during the day and spent her nights fighting crime as the hero known as Oracle.

Computer freak and trainer to stubborn and belligerent heroes. Her job day in and day out was to guide the good guys against the bad ones. To help them turn the tide just a little bit in favor of truth, justice and all that other nonsense.

And to constantly put her family directly in the path of evil.

She spun her wheelchair towards the bed that was lying directly in the middle of the lab. The woman lying there had been sleeping for almost three days straight. She had woken each day for small patches of time but had then promptly fallen back into a troubled sleep. If you could call it sleep. She seemed to toss and turn quite a bit and she cried out a lot, as if still trapped in some horrific on-going nightmare.

Like that would be a great shock.

Less than a week ago she had spent almost fifteen hours in captivity. First a two-bit henchman had grabbed her and beat the hell out of her. He had been brutal indeed. She had been forced to kill him when he had tried to sexually assault her. Helena was unlikely to ever be anyone's victim

The Joker had had other plans.

What that twisted monster had done to her had been grotesque. He had tormented her for hours, a bit physically but mostly mentally. And true to his form, he had left scars up and down her. Both external and internal.

Helena Kyle was a very strong woman. She had been turned from a young mischievous teenager who liked to play harmless pranks on unsuspecting peers into a tortured and angry but determined crime fighter in the space of one night. Really five minutes. Her mother had been butchered in the streets of Gotham on one very cold January evening. It hadn't been snowing that night but it sure had been threatening.

The death of her mother had shaken her to the core. The anger that now resided within her seemed to propel the impetuous crime fighter but it had also helped her to construct walls around her heart and soul. Getting in was no easy feat.

Luckily for the red-haired woman who called herself Oracle, she had gotten in long ago. After Selena Kyle had been murdered and with Bruce Wayne also missing and actually even unaware of the existence of his daughter, she had taken Helena in. She had adopted the scared and angry girl at the age of sixteen and the two of them had become each others' lifelines.

So much for watching her back.

Rationally Barbara Gordon knew that it wasn't her fault what had happened to Helena. The Joker was quite insane and he had a killer agenda against Batman and anything that the Caped Crusader might hold dear and near to him.

The question remained however, how the hell had the Joker found out about who Helena was when even Bruce had never been able to crack that mystery? And of course the follow-up to that was, was Helena still in danger from the Clown Prince of Crime?

Barbara heard the girl moan in pain. She coughed a couple of times and then settled back. "Helena?" she asked, noticing that her protégé's eyes were open. Slightly but all the same. Her blue eyes were blood shot and droopy but she was awake nonetheless.

"Mmm," Helena murmured. "More painkillers, please?" She lifted her head slightly and then let it drop back against the pillow. She smiled slightly. "But I don't think they're working."

Barbara chuckled. 'You're physiology is punching right through them."

"Remind me again why I like being a meta?"

"You like to be able to jump tall buildings in a single leap?" Barbara quipped.

"Funny," Helena commented. "I think I'm hungry."

"I've been keeping you."

"No, no, no.not through a tube, Gordon. I want real food."

"You think you can handle it?"

Helena lifted an eyebrow. The effect wasn't much in her condition but it got its point across. "Getting awfully daring aren't we, Babs?"

Barbara snorted. "I could still take you."

"Dreams are good," Helena said with a slight smile. "Seriously though, I am hungry."

Barbara nodded. "Well, Reese should be here shortly. He."

"Reese?" Helena queried. She narrowed her eyes. "So it wasn't a dream then?"

Barbara shook her head. "Not a dream. I didn't have a choice. Dinah's not ready for field work and I needed someone with a working knowledge of the city." She paused. "And I needed someone who would try to get to you no matter what obstacles."

"And you thought that would be Reese?" Helena queried. There was more than a hint of curiosity in her voice. She was trying to pass it off as general interest but she wasn't being very successful at it.

Barbara wanted to laugh. The complex relationship between Helena and Detective Reese was so confused and convoluted that even the two of them seemed to be in the dark about their own feelings. But Reese had run to Helena's aide without even a moment of protest. He had questioned being brought to the Clock Tower against his will and he had challenged their methods but when it had come to needing immediate action to save Helena's life, he had never hesitated.

"I knew it would be Reese," Oracle replied. "We showed him how to get here two nights ago."

"That doesn't sound like you," Helena observed, exhaustion starting to weigh her down again. She fought furiously against it but could feel it actively pulling on her.

"Well, he started bringing Hawaiian pizza every night.and you know I'm a sucker for that," Barbara grinned, gliding over towards the bed Helena was lying on. She did a quick check-up and then frowned.

"What?" Huntress drawled. "I feel better."

"Physically at least. I'm still worried about your head injury."

"You worry too much. Have I ever told you that?"

Oracle snorted. "For breakfast every single morning."

"I'm smart.like.that." Helena murmured as she dropped off. Her eyes slid down and then closed. They reopened for half a moment and then she was dead out.

The door to the lab opened with a swish. "Did I miss her again?" Detective Jesse Reese asked, a hint of dismay in his tone. So far he had been spectacularly unlucky in his visits. After the initial one on the day Helena had first woken up, she had been sleeping during each of his subsequent visits.

"Sorry. By just about a minute," Barbara said apologetically. "Did you."

"Bring pizza?" Jesse asked with amusement. He nodded. "Sure, Dinah's knocking it down in the other room. I don't think she's eaten in the last year or so."

"The hell she hasn't," Barbara snorted. "Okay, your turn."

Reese smiled and nodded. He dropped down into a chair next to the bed Helena was sleeping in.

It had been a terribly long couple of weeks. After the night they had rescued Helena from the abandoned warehouse, he had spent a lot of his free time trying to understand her world just a little bit better. What he had found out had been anything but comforting.

He could remember the Joker from his youth. Not so much in real time images but rather in brief flashes. With a little bit of research, he had been able to figure out a bit more of the story on the insane psychopath who had nearly shattered Helena's legs. And who had apparently murdered her mother.

And crippled Barbara.

The fellow had been in a maximum security asylum in Virginia for almost seven years. That was until he had apparently escaped with the help of a few crooked and underpaid guards and a couple of rather dangerous serial killers. That had been three months ago. The Feds of course hadn't said a damn word. They'd been too damn frightened that if the public found out just how badly they had botched up the Joker situation, well then they'd all have been up a creek without a proverbial paddle. Bad news indeed.

And she of course had been hurt for their incompetence.

But the Joker hadn't been the only one he'd done research on. He'd decided that it was high time he got to know and understand the enigma that was the Huntress.

Her name was Helena Kyle and seven years ago, the worst type of trouble she had ever gotten into was for several after party hijinks. Getting caught making out in a parked car in front of the police station. Kidnapping the school mascot and leaving him in a condition that wasn't exactly favorable for the poor kid. Painting the principles office bright pink. And then making out in it. Just basic wild child stuff but nothing that would lead to becoming the provocative and insanely dangerous woman known as Huntress.

Fast forward seven years and her police record had a few more entries. An arrest for assaulting a security guard and destruction of city property. More parking and speeding tickets than anyone should ever have. In a life- time. Another arrest that was shrouded in mystery but seemed to boil down wanting to cut loose and doing it in completely the wrong place. Oh and a trip to the wonderful world of court-ordered therapy.

In short, in the space of seven years, she had seemed to go from being a normal typical thoughtless teenager to being a tormented and angry young woman looking to strike out.

And yet she had kept her honour.

That was an amazing accomplishment in these times.

Especially with New Gotham caught in the amazingly strong grip of organized crime. And not so normal crime.

He pulled a magazine out of the backpack he had brought with him. He knew from experience that she probably wasn't going to be coming around anytime soon.

That was okay.

He just wanted to ensure that for right now at least, she was safe.

****

By morning all of New Gotham was covered in a thick white blanket of powdery white snow. Children with little understanding of the world in which they lived in played in the cool ice. They tossed snowballs at each other and laughed with wild abandon. Nearby their parents watched and smiled, no doubt wondering how they could stop their children from growing up. And knowing full well that they never could.

Life was cruel like that.

Helena watched them from her perch on the Observation Deck of the Clock Tower. She was seated in an oversized leather recliner and bundled up in enough garments to suffocate her. Her legs lay uselessly in front of her, both wrapped in a generous amount of gauze and plaster. Her accelerated meta healing would shave months off of the recovery time but she would still have something of a long and grueling process ahead of her.

Besides, Barbara was still more concerned about her head than her legs. She said that her legs were just bones. As long as they were set properly and left to heal, they would do just fine. Then she had started her rift about how the brain was an amazingly complex entity and so on and so forth. Helena had pretty much blocked Oracle out the moment she had started babbling about CAT scans and other such bothersome things.

"Miss Helena," Alfred said as he crossed over to her. He placed a tray on her lap and then put a plate on it. The plate was full of breakfast foods. Well cooked of course. "Eat up."

"No problem," Helena replied. She was happy just to be having more than five minutes of consciousness. She had tried to assure Barbara that that meant she was doing much better but Babs hadn't looked so convinced. She could really use a poker face.

Memo to self, she thought, teach Barbara how to bluff.

"Are your dreams getting any better?" Alfred asked, offering her a fork.

"What dreams?" Helena asked. There. That's a bluff.

Apparently not a good one from the look Alfred gave her. He turned away from her so that he could pour orange juice. "Master Bruce used to say the same thing. I would hear him screaming from nightfall to daybreak. Then he would tell me that he had slept like a baby." He handed her the juice and smiled gravely but warmly at her. "I didn't buy it then and I certainly don't buy it now."

"Thanks," she said, taking the glass. "Really though, I'm okay. And next time I'll be ready for him."

"Pray Miss Helena that that next time never comes," Alfred said. He smiled at her and then beat a hasty backwards retreat.

"Well that was certainly uplifting," Helena said to Barbara as she slid out onto the balcony. "Aren't you about out of sick days?"

"Don't worry about me. Family leave and all that," Barbara replied.

"Perks of having adopted me, I see."

"Eat," Barbara said, rather dryly. She came around to the front and placed a flat palm against Helena's forehead. "Mmm."

"Mmm, what? I mean, gotta say, not terribly fond of that sound. I feel fine."

"You're running a bit of a temp but it's not too bad. Just, take it easy today."

"I'd like to get back to my apartment. My fish are probably dead."

Barbara twitched. "Your fish died a long time ago."

Helena stopped for a moment. "They did?" Then she chuckled nervously. "Of course they did. I just want to get home. You know, to my own bed."

"Got it. Look, if you have a good night, you can go back to your own place tomorrow, okay?"

"Deal," Huntress replied, leaning back against the chair. There was a long few minutes of silence and then suddenly, quietly she asked, "You think he'll come for me again?"

Barbara didn't reply for a few seconds. She wanted to lie so desperately. Needed to. Problem was, she knew that Helena would see right through her but she simply didn't have the heart to tell her that once the Joker started a vendetta, he rarely abandoned it. "Probably not," she lied.

Helena nodded and seemed to accept it. "When do you think I'll be able to go back on patrol?"

Oracle laughed. It was her first full real chuckle in weeks. "Not for a bit now. And certainly not until you're actually able to stand. I think you might have some trouble with your brand of fighting if you can't kick."

"Bleh," Huntress said with a grin. "I can do it Oracle style." Then she scowled. "I just don't think it would get me off." She grinned wildly. Oracle just shook her head. It wasn't like she'd actually needed Helena to confirm for her that fighting was a sexual turn-on for the young hero.

"Barbara!" Dinah called out from inside the Clock Tower. "Delphi Alert."

Barbara scowled. "I got this. Don't you move an inch."

Helena lifted her hand and twirled it in the air. Then she grinned. Oracle slapped her shoulder lightly and then turned her wheelchair towards the doors to the control room.

She pulled herself in front of one of the blinking monitors and began to type rapidly. A display pulled itself up and then several others appeared on top of it.

"There's been a murder down at the Blue Beetle." She frowned. "Interesting." She started typing again. Then she looked at Dinah. She sighed. "You're up. Find out what's going on and get out."

Dinah nodded quickly. She didn't harbor any illusions as to her strengths in regards to fighting. She was learning the basics of physical combat but she wasn't even remotely the type of fighter that Helena Kyle was.

"Hurry back," Oracle said breathlessly. She tried to ignore the gnawing worry in her gut but she was starting to feel like things were about to go very very wrong again.

*****

The man had been butchered. He had several blades sticking out of his torso and ropes around his throat. His hands were covered in white face powder. There were spots of it on his face and stomach. A crude letter J had been carved into the soft flesh of his overly large gut.

"He was dumped here," the Medical Examiner informed Reese. "Wherever he died, he did so about five or six hours ago."

"Do I need to ask about cause of death?" Reese queried, gazing down at the body.

"Pick one," the ME replied, motioning to the various blades. "I can tell you that he didn't die of suffocation. I think the ropes were put there after the fact. There are marks on his hands and feet. I think the ropes were there."

Reese sighed. "Sometimes I hate this town." He looked over at one of uniformed cops. "Was there ID on him?"

The cop shook his head. "Nothing. No wallet. Nothing."

"Did I already say that I hate this town?"

"Yes," Dinah said from behind him. She wrinkled her noise as she looked down at the body. "Um, I'm supposed to get details."

Reese turned towards her. "Dead body. No details yet. Killed creatively."

"Creatively?"

"More like bizarrely," Reese said. He sighed. "I'll send Oracle the report as soon as I complete it. How's."

"Helena. And thanks I'm doing great," Dinah said with a grin. Reese opened his mouth to protest but she waved him off. "She's actually been awake all day."

"Which means she'll be sleeping by the time I get there," Reese said dryly. He shook his head. "If I didn't know better, I'd think she was avoiding me."

"She's not," Dinah protested.

"Good enough," Reese replied, grinning. "I'll try to stop by later. As soon as I get this all filed and have made some sense of it."

Dinah nodded. "Okay. I'll pass the message along."

*****

"Jack Barnett. He served five years for the first degree murder of a senator. Three senators actually."

"Swell feller," Helena commented, watching Oracle from the leather recliner. Part of her was beginning to resist getting out of the super- comfortable chair. Of course she rather imagined that that had something to do with the fact that she would and could eventually get out of the chair. She figured that she if was Barbara, well then the comfort of the chair would just be a horribly bitter pill.

"He escaped from prison three months ago. He had been sentences to three consecutive life terms."

Helena swallowed hard. "What.um.what prison?"

Barbara turned towards her young protégé. "Yes, that one."

"So.let me see if I got this right, okay?" Helena asked, a slight tremble in her voice. She placed the glass she was holding down on the counter, acting almost as if she were afraid that if she held on to it, she would shatter it. There was fear in her slate blue eyes. "This guy escapes with the Joker and then he ends up dead? Tied up and tore up? And with the Joker's calling card cut into him?"

Barbara nodded. "Doesn't exactly make sense does it?"

"Because he's just a model of logic," Helena said with bitterness. "So basically I'm well fucked, is that it?"

"No," Oracle said forcefully. "You're not going to be hurt again."

"You couldn't stop yourself from being hurt by him," Helena reminded her. She didn't mean to be so cruel but the fear racing through her was turning off her internal filters.

Barbara swallowed. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I know.I was caught off-guard that night. We know he's here. We know."

"You said he wasn't going to come after me," Helena snapped. Intellectually, she knew that when Babs has assured her that the Joker wouldn't be making a return visit, it had just been a lie meant to help her sleep through the night. But fear was neither intellectual nor rational and terror was beginning to choke her throat.

Barbara looked down. There was shame in her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice ripped with anguish and guilt. She might as well have added what she really meant: "It should have been me."

That was all it took for all of the anger to melt out of Helena. She dropped back against the chair and moaned, a bit of pain racing through her. She closed her eyes for a beat and then said in a soft voice, "Okay.okay.we're okay."

Barbara placed a soft hand on her young charges' shoulder. "We will find our way through this. We always do. You're safe now. We will stop him."

Her words were strong and full of resolve but an overpowering sense of fear lurked beneath them. Just below the surface. Pushing to get out. Barbara Gordon was scared.

Helena nodded. She leaned her head back against the leather headrest. "I'm not used to this. I'm not used to not being able to fight."

"But you will again," Barbara promised her. She offered Helena a bittersweet smile. "Before you know it, your legs will be healed and you'll be out there flattening the bad guys again."

Helena held her tongue. She didn't know what to say that wouldn't end up accidentally hurting Barbara. She figured that she'd already done more than enough of that for one day.

"Look, you're angry; I get that. He brings that out in you. You already live close enough to the line and right now, you're really thinking about crossing it."

Helena snorted, anger in the sound. Her eyes flashed for a moment, taking on a feline look. "Barbara, if I can, I will. Make no doubt of that, if I can kill the Joker.I will."

"Helena."

"Save it. Please.for God's sake, save it. This isn't one of those times, Barbara. I'm not anyone's toy and I won't be anyone's victim. Never again."

Barbara nodded slowly. "It'll take something out of you."

Helena looked at her, exhaustion and pain haunting the blues of her eyes. "You say that imagining that I care. I'm not sure what I have left in there but if I have to give it up to stop that monster once and for all, then I will gladly do it."

Barbara wanted to say more, wanted to fight Helena just a little more. She needed to convince her but instinct alone told her that arguing the position that good guys don't kill wasn't going to gain her any ground. The girl was in pain and she was scared.

Seven years ago after her mother had been killed, Helena Kyle had spun out. She had ended up getting herself suspended from school. Not once but three times. Only creative talking and convincing the principle that Helena was just acting out her anger from losing her mother had kept the teenager from getting expelled. Helena had raged against the world, her childish innocence turning quickly into unfocused fury. She had wanted so badly to strike out against anything and everything in her path. Friend or foe.

The day Barbara had finally managed to get Helena to break down in her arms had been monumental. The girl had shattered into what had seemed like a thousand small shards of glass, her wracked sobs filling the bedroom. She had hit her fists violently against Barbara's chest, screaming against those who had taken her innocence. Denouncing the world as a work of pure evil.

And then she had coolly collected herself and turned herself into the hunter known as Huntress.

It had really been that abrupt.

One day she had been a child desperately trying to understand why she had lost her mother and who would hurt her so badly. The next she was an angry woman promising herself that she would never again suffer in that manner.

Unfortunately life doesn't always announce its intentions so that you can plan ahead for them.

Helena hadn't anticipated the Joker. She had heard the stories and known that it had been he who had murdered her mother but it wasn't like she had ever really accepted it. It was easier to believe that he was still out there, still waiting for justice rather than sitting in a comfortable cell in a federal prison in Virginia.

But he had been. And the Feds had let him and three serial killers escape.

One of them was dead.

And that brought up a whole new mystery.

Barbara shook her head, trying to clear away the cobwebs. She needed to focus on one thing at a time. And that one thing was the growing rage inside of Helena.

If Helena were to spin again, if she were allowed to lose her focus and to unleash her anger, then everything could go very wrong indeed.

And the Joker would win once again.

The bastard.

Barbara excused herself quickly and then escaped towards her bedroom. She just needed a few minutes. Quiet. Solitude.

Time to hurt all by herself.

Where no one could see the pain that was tearing apart her soul.

Where no one could see that a part of her didn't want to stop Helena from trying to kill the Joker. In fact, that part wanted to help her young charge. Help stop the nightmare once and for all.

But really, those were thoughts better left unsaid.

*****

He rested his black boots on the desk and stared at the computer monitor. It had the police record for the other two goons who had escaped custody.

Apparently the Feds had issued a very quiet call for the two killers to be found but they hadn't really wanted to alarm anyone.

More like announce their incompetence.

"Reese," a strong male voice said from the doorway.

He looked up. "McNally," he said, greeting his partner. The larger and older cop had just been released from the hospital a week ago and already he was back on duty. Of course that probably had something to do with McNally being single and a virtual hermit who was married to his job.

"I hear we have a mountain," McNally said, entering the office. He put down a mug of coffee on the table.

"Something like that. How do you feel, Big Man?"

McNally sighed. "Better." He moved the mug towards Reese. "You look tired."

"I think I've been staring at this same screen for the last two hours. And you know what? I still can't figure out how they hell they let these assholes through their fingers. Four killers. One of them one of the biggest whacks in criminal history. And the Feds? How do they ensure his captivity?"

"I have a bad feeling about where this is going," McNally muttered. He lifted the mug he had been shoving towards Reese and took a healthy swig out of it.

"They don't. That's how. They don't and the Joker and three other serial killers escape. And they hurt a whole lot of people."

"Already?" McNally queried, looking over the file that was up on his partners' screen.

Reese ignored the question, not terribly interested in filling his partner in on why he was so personally involved. "I don't know what to do here."

McNally touched Reese's shoulder. "It's okay. You'll figure this out.we will. No one is going to get hurt."

Reese looked up at McNally. "Too late."

"I'm not following you."

"McNally, you remember that source of mine?"

"The one that nearly got me killed?"

Reese flinched a bit. "Right. That one. You know she's awfully sorry for that."

McNally snorted. "You know, Jesse, the moment you said it was a 'her', I knew you were in trouble. I didn't think I was in trouble mind you but I knew you were. I get that she wasn't responsible for what happened to me.not directly anyways but.I think she's dangerous."

Reese smiled, almost whimsically. "You have no idea."

"I think you're in way over your head."

"I won't deny that."

"You're really gone on her, aren't you?"

"Don't really have an answer for that yet, McNally." He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Look, she's the one that got hurt. The Joker."

"I can't believe we're hunting a guy called the Joker."

Reese waved him off with his hand. "Face it, this town is fucked, McNally."

"I hear that. I've been hearing that a lot more ever since you got all obsessed with this whole after the sun goes down bit."

"Old argument, man," Reese grinned. "So far I've been right."

"Okay, fine, whatever. Back to the skirt."

Reese chuckled. "If you ever meet her, I wouldn't call her that to her face. She's likely to pummel you." He stopped for a moment, deep in thought. "Unless she's flattered by it." He shook his head to clear it. "Anyways, the Joker grabbed her and he hurt her pretty bad."

"I'm sorry," McNally offered. "But I'm not too keen on you being in the line of fire because of this chick."

"I'm there because I choose to be. Look, I can't explain this.I don't know that I quite get it myself but I do know that this woman protects these people in this city. People who have no idea how much danger they're in. Seems to me someone should protect her when she can't do it for herself."

"I worry about you."

Reese smiled. "Thank you."

*****

She woke up screaming, tears racing down her cheeks and pooling at the collar of her black tee-shirt. She jerked up in the bed and instinctively tried to leap out of the bed. The agony in her legs stopped her rise. She cried out again and collapsed. "Barbara!"

Oracle was in the room snapping on the light even before the word had left Helena's mouth. Dinah followed close behind, looking sleepy but alert.

"Helena?"

Helena looked up at her, shock in her eyes. "I.he.he's in here."

Barbara moved to her side and wrapped her arms around her shaken protégé.

"No. No, he's not. You're safe here."

"No.no.no."

Barbara reached around and placed a flat palm on either side of Helena's face. She jerked her around so that their eyes were meeting. "He is not here. There are only three people here right now. You. Me. Dinah. Only two other people know the current codes. Alfred and Reese. You are safe here."

Helena nodded. Tentatively at first and then finally with a bit of comprehension. "Okay, I'm sorry. Just a dream." She looked across the room at Dinah. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."

Dinah waved her off. "You were the first one at my bedside when I had nightmares about my mom dying."

Helena offered her a smile and then she looked at Barbara. "I guess everything is still going around in there." She pointed to her head.

"It will be okay," Barbara assured her. She pointed over towards the closet. "Dinah, there's a couple of videotapes in there. Grab the one on top."

Dinah crossed over to the closet and pulled it open. It was full of clothing, presumably Helena's. Huntress had her own apartment and it was also full of clothes but she had no problem with leaving her mark on the Clock Tower as well.

On the floor of the closet was a stack of plain VHS tapes. Each of them had a white label on it with black scribbled print. Dinah picked up the first one and turned it over in her hands. "The Lion King?"

"Hey," Helena protested, sounding almost like a child. "I like that movie." She was leaning back against Barbara who had lifted herself onto the bed. The wheelchair sat a few inches away.

Dinah shrugged. "Me too." She went over to the hastily assembled entertainment center that stood against the far wall of the room. It was in perfect view of the bed, another obvious sign that Helena spent a lot more time at the Clock Tower than she'd like to admit. She popped the tape in, hit the play button and then went to join Barbara and Helena on the bed.

Barbara grinned. She leaned over and brushed the hair out of Helena's eyes. "It will be okay." Then she looked up towards the ceiling. "Lights."

Nothing happened. Barbara sighed.

Dinah just grinned. "I'll get it."

And for the first time in days, Helena laughed for real.

*****

The rain washed the blood down the drain. It swirled for a moment in the gutter and then went through the grate. The man however remained lying dead on the cold broken cement. His head was missing and his hands had knives in them. He was wearing a blue pullover, faded jeans and cream colored ropes around his torso. Carved into his chest was a half-circle. Facing upwards. Like a maniacal happy face.

Detective Jesse Reese dropped down beside the body, fighting heaven and hell not to loose his lunch. What little he'd had. Crackers and two bites of vegetable beef soup.

He looked at a folder that he was holding in his left hand. Opening it, he glanced at one of the pictures inside of it. A man, about thirty, with tattoos all over his body. Most of them resembling tigers. They called him Jimmy Sabre but his actual name was James Baldwin. He had murdered seven teenagers on their way to a basketball game one afternoon. And then gone for Taco Bell.

The corpse lying in the street had a tattoo on his chest that looked like a tiger with his mouth wide open. Like he was getting ready to consume his prey. "Guess you were the prey tonight, Jimmy Boy." He stood up and looked at McNally. "Number two." He offered the picture to his partner.

"I told you were in way over your head."

"Okay, this no longer involves Helena."

"Helena. Nice name. Very sexy."

"I'm glad you approve," Reese drawled. "But I'm telling you that this is beyond her now."

"Okay, I feel that. This Joker fellow is killing all of the guys who helped him escape. And not with niceness. Why?"

Reese shook his head. "I don't know, McNally. Nothing about this guy makes sense. When he had Helena.he was never going to kill her. He was just torturing her."

"So we have a psychopath."

"Definitely that. He plays games."

"So you think this is just another game then? Like a calling card."

Reese nodded slowly. "I do."

He stared down at the body, realizing with irrational bitterness that he had been wrong. It still was all about Helena.

The monster was trying to make sure that she knew that he was still in town. Still waiting. Biding his time until he could take her back into his possession. And break her for good this time. He was trying to draw her out. He was trying to make her come fight him. Even in her wrecked condition.

Reese jammed his hands into his pockets and listened to the whistling of the cold air. Rain hit his jacket and slopped off it. There was likely to be another dusting of snow before dawn. He figured that it was probably high-time that he went to see just how Helena was doing.

He gazed back over at the corpse as the coroner zipped a leather bag over it. The man had died horribly. Probably as heinously as the seven kids he had butchered on his way for a chalupa.

It was awfully hard to work up any sympathy for the butcher. The man had been on his way to a couple hundred volts as he well deserved. That he had been torn apart seemed almost like poetic justice.

But all Jesse Reese could feel was ice in his gut.

And foreboding in his soul.



*****

"Grayson," he said, his voice soft. Softer than she remembered. Her hands trembled as she sat in her chair, listening to the rain hit the windows.

"Hi.hi, Dick."

There was a long pause and then he spoke. "Babs," he said. "It's been forever." Then he stopped. "Is everyone there okay?"

"Have you heard?" Barbara asked, trying to swallow past the lump in her throat. She was insanely glad that she couldn't see his face; she might not have been able to deal with that. His voice was cutting through her enough.

"Just a few hours ago. A bulletin from the JLA. There aren't many details though. Do you have a clue why he's back in Gotham?"

"Unfortunately, I do."

There was a long pause between then. So much stood between them. It was like they both knew where this conversation was headed. They both knew that old scabs were about to be ripped off half-healed wounds.

"Helena," she croaked out.

"Helena?" he demanded, a sudden sense of urgency. "What about her?"

Barbara smiled to herself. When Dick had found out that Helena was Bruce's flesh and blood, he had taken quickly to the girl. He had started thinking of her as his little sister.

This unfortunately had only made his eventual departure from Gotham all that much more painful. But he had had no choice. He hadn't had a choice though; he had been dying inside.

They all had.

"Is she hurt?"

"Yes," Barbara replied, measuring her words carefully. She didn't want to alarm Dick un-necessarily. Of course considering the circumstances, that wasn't exactly possible; any alarm he might have had was well warranted.

"What happened, Babs?"

"He got her, Dick. He hurt her pretty badly. She's not up and around yet." She shook her head. "I couldn't protect her."

There was a long pause and then very softly he said, "What that monster does to us.how he continues hurting our family.that's not your fault."

"It's not yours either, Dick."

He chuckled. "And rationally we both know that."

"Rationally," she admitted. "Look, if you have time."

"I'll be there, Babs. Give me about a day or so to get everything cleared up around here and get some time off and I'll be there."

"Thank you," she said, fear growing in her gut.

"Okay," he replied. "I'll see you then." There was a pause and then the line went dead.

Barbara dropped her head to the table. "He's really coming home, Alfred."

The butler moved behind her, almost in the shadows. She had known without seeing that he would be there. He was always there when needed. She felt his hand rest on her shoulder.

"Indeed," he said. "Perhaps now you'll work some of the things out between you?"

"Alfred," she cautioned, not unkindly.

He smiled. "Miss Barbara, I know you kids better than you think I do. I understand your hesitation probably better than you do. And I still think that you can't just choose not to love because it's safer. Master Bruce tried that." He looked towards the bedroom and smiled. "Good night."

"Good night, Alfred."

She looked up at the clock. It was just after four in the morning. Helena had woken up screaming at just after midnight. She had been out within an hour. Dinah was sleeping in a chair next to her.

Delphi had gone off at just before three. Another one of the escapees had been murdered. After reviewing the preliminary file on it, she had known that major reinforcements were called for.

And that meant closing down her heart so that it couldn't break the moment she thought about Dick Grayson.

And then she had heard his voice and the concept of not hurting had gone flying out the window.

He did that to her.

He always would.

And she would just have to accept that.

Besides, there were more important matters at hand.

Namely saving Helena.

Body and soul.

*****

She smiled when he came in the room. "Reese."

"About damn time," he exclaimed, sitting down on her bed. "I was beginning to think that you were avoiding me."

"Mmm, no. If I was avoiding you, I'd just disappear." She winked at him and then grinned. Even in the obvious pain she was in, she was still the most seductive and alluring woman that he had ever met.

And she was driving him crazy.

"You still owe me coffee," he reminded her. "Remember.the rain check?"

"How could I forget?" she grinned. "You looked like such a puppy."

"I vehemently deny that," Reese protested, smiling as well. It had been almost two weeks earlier when they had met each other on the street one night. He had had the day off and she had been returning from patrol. She had been sporting some very choices bruises. He had asked her out for dinner but she had declined and they had settled on a coffee date. It had never come to pass. She had called the next afternoon to ask to reschedule. Something gooey had come up she had claimed. So they had finally settled on meeting Thursday morning at two PM.

Unfortunately fate had stepped in; the night before their coffee date, Helena had been kidnapped by one of the Joker's goons.

It seemed like a lifetime ago but it was really only two weeks.

She snorted. "Whatever you say, Detective."

"So how ya feeling?" he asked, dropping his backpack down to the ground. "You look better."

"I feel better," she assured him. "Don't ask Barbara though, she thinks I'm two seconds from killing over."

"I do not," Barbara scolded from the doorway. She steered her wheelchair into the room and came to Helena's side. "Reese."

He nodded at her. "So, what's the actual report?"

"She is doing better," Barbara assured him.

"I sense a 'but' here," Reese noted.

Helena shook her head. "No, no buts. There are no buts here. I mean there are butts here but not that kind of but."

Reese snorted, "Say that five times fast." He looked back up at Barbara. "Go ahead."

"She has residual injuries and I'm still concerned about her head."

"Why?" Reese asked, reaching across to touch Helena's forehead. Her throat caught as his fingers grazed across her skin. A tiny moan escaped her lips but no one seemed to have heard it.

"Yeah," she stammered. "Tell him why, Barbara."

Barbara rolled her eyes. "She suffered a very very serious concussion. And I'm still not comfortable with the results of the CAT scans."

"Is there damage?" Reese queried, concern in both his eyes and his voice. Helena noted that his hand was still on her cheek and God if the heat he was putting off wasn't amazing.

"Right now there's still too much swelling to be certain."

"So she could still be in trouble?" Reese asked, taking his hand away. She wanted to protest but managed to stop herself. Just barely. Reese would never know how close he had come to witnessing her making a complete ass of herself. All for him of course.

"No," Helena said quickly. "She's just over-mothering. If I scrape my knee, she starts wondering if she'll have to amputate it."

Barbara shook her head, "That's a tad bit dramatic don't you think?"

"Just a tad, I suppose," Helena offered, her lip lifted into a smirk. Then she looked at Reese. "Okay, so talk. Tell me about these dead guys."

Reese looked up at Barbara, as if checking to make sure that it was okay for him to talk about the case. Oracle nodded slowly. "They're two of the three guys that escaped with the Joker."

She shivered violently, involuntarily. She tried to pass it off as it being just cold by yanking the blanket up and around her. "Hey look," she said weakly, "Here you are in my bed and we haven't even had a real first date."

He shook his head. He wanted to rage against what he was seeing. While it softened his heart to see her so hurt, it also angered him to no end. She was a strong and powerful woman but still a scared and vulnerable child. He wanted to cradle her and never let her go but he also wanted to strap on his gun and go hunt the bastard down who had hurt her.

"It's okay," he said, not indicating whether or not he was talking about her revulsion or her come-on. He reached up and stroked her hair. He looked up at Barbara. "Maybe we should continue this later.or in the other room."

Helena snorted, "I'm fine and I'm here and I want to know what the hell is going on."

Barbara grinned. "First thing you should understand about Helena, Detective, is that she is very obstinate."

"I'm getting that," Reese laughed. "Okay, look, short story, okay? Two bodies found. Both serial killers. Both escapees. Both tore up pretty well." He took a deep breath. "The last one had a happy face carved into his chest."

Helena stuck out her tongue. "Rude."

"That's his sign," Barbara confirmed. "Reese, I called in some help."

He lifted an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"There's a cop in Bludhaven that we know."

"Know how?" Reese asked, a hint of jealousy in his voice. He swallowed hard, irritated by his own behavior. They were in deep, even he knew that. Any help at all would be most welcomed.

"He's Helena's adopted brother."

"So.sibling."

Helena grinned, "Why Reese is that jealousy?"

He narrowed his eyes and looked away from her. "Can he help?"

"He's.well acquainted with our world."

"Good," Reese said, nodding slowly. "Well then I guess."

Helena reached out and placed her hand over his. "We still need you, Reese. Don't get all insecurity boy."

"I have no idea what that means," he replied. "But..but I'm sure I'm not it." He looked over at Barbara. "Does she ever make sense to you?"

Barbara shook her head. "No.not ever.but I'm so used to it by."

Her words were cut off by the flying pillow hitting her on the side of the head and then the icy glare from her young protégé.

"Sorry," Barbara laughed. Under her breath she muttered, "Truth hurts."

"So okay, we have backup coming in from Bludhaven.great.but would someone please tell me what's this guy's defect is?"

Barbara smiled sadly. "You know, we spent a long time trying to figure out the whys and the hows of the Joker. We figured that no man could just naturally be that twisted and evil."

"But some people really are that fucked up through and through," Helena said, almost cheerfully. "And I can't say that I care why his therapy didn't take." She looked back at Barbara. "And I meant what I said."

"I know," Barbara said quietly, not wanting to get into an argument with Helena about her methods.

"What did she say?" Reese asked. He turned to Helena. "What did you say?"

"I said I'd kill him if I could. If I get close enough to him, I will kill him." Her voice had suddenly gone cold and her eyes seemed almost feline in nature. Her body was trembling and her breathing had quickened. She seemed so angry and distant now.

He tried to touch her but she jerked away. "Sorry, sorry."

She blinked and exhaled, vaguely aware that Barbara was once again checking her temperature. "I got angry, Barbara."

"I know," Oracle replied. "And that's what worries me. Any time you have a major emotional shift, your temp sky-rockets."

"Meaning?" Reese asked.

"I'm not sure," Barbara admitted. She started to take Helena's pulse.

"It means nothing," Helena droned, dropping her head back. Her eyes began to roll and seconds later, she was dead out.

"That.that was odd," Reese noted. "That wasn't normal."

"Uh, no."

Barbara moved so that she was practically sitting on top of Helena. She ran a strange long metal device over the girls' torso. She shook her head and frowned. "Nothing. My scans are coming up with nothing. Something is wrong." She turned towards the door. "Dinah?"

A few seconds passed and then Dinah poked her head into the room. "Barbara?"

"Would you go power on the med-bed?"

Dinah narrowed her eyes, "Is something wrong?"

"I'm not sure yet. Please?"

"Of course," Dinah said and then beat a hasty retreat.

"You really think something is wrong," Reese noted, concern ripe in his voice. He was looking down at Helena, taking in the curves of her jaw and the slight movements of skin as she breathed. In. Out. Repeat.

"I do," she admitted, "Would you pick her up please, Detective?"

He nodded. He stood up first and then bent over and slid his arms underneath her. She practically fell into his arms. She was lighter than he remembered from the first time he had carried her somewhere.

That was when he had carried her out of the abandoned warehouse. Bloody and inches from death. Frightened and whimpering.

He would often wonder if at that moment in time, he had been more scared than she had. She had lit something up inside of him. Something he didn't quite understand yet but he knew enough to know that whatever it was, it was real and it was powerful.

And when he had seen her lying on the ground, covered in her own blood and with tears running down her cheeks, he had felt a fury unlike any other he had ever felt before. Even to a degree worse than what he had felt the day he had finally realized just what kind of man his father really was.

Now she lay in his arms again. Once again unconscious. She definitely felt lighter this time. He imagined that despite Barbara's best efforts to keep her well nourished, she had probably lost a few pounds. But she'd been so light before and this was too much.

He pulled her closer to his well-muscled chest, leaning down to drop a soft kiss on her now feverish head. Barbara was right; her temp had jack-knifed up out of left field. Almost as if in response to her emotional tirade.

He followed Barbara into another room that was covered from wall to wall in beeping machines. It was the room that Helena had first been brought into on the night they had recovered her. Oracle had spent nearly sixteen hours working on Helena that night.

Honestly he had been hoping to never see the room again.

Dinah was already inside, flipping switches and watching while various coloured lights blinked to life. A few machines began to buzz and one in particular began to spin and hum.

"There," Oracle said, pointing to the table that Dinah was standing over. It was really a metal bed with a cushion on it. It had metal cuffs at the top and bottom and leather straps hanging down from the middle. He didn't really want to dwell on why there seemed to be an abundance of restraints.

He placed her down on the table, making sure that her landing was soft. "She's going to be okay, right?"

Barbara offered him a smile but didn't say anything. He was about to push the point but was interrupted by a loud beeping noise.

He looked down at his belt and then lifted his pager off of it. "Duty calls."

Just as he was saying it, the alarms in the Clock Tower went off, screaming out a Delphi Alert.

"Dinah," Barbara said. She motioned the blonde towards the control center. "Find out if that's calling us to the same problem that Reese just got beeped for."

"Sure," Dinah said.

Reese started out of the room with Dinah and then stopped. "She will."

"Everything in my power, Reese."

He nodded. "God willing then."

*****

The third man was twenty-two year old Michael Scott Dylan. He had been on his way to a concert one evening when he'd suddenly been hit by an urge to cause pain. Or something like that. He had smoked enough crack cocaine to kill seven large bulls and then he had located himself a large butcher knife. By the end of his spree, twelve people had been cut to pieces.

His lawyer had tried to argue that he had been caught in the middle of a drugged out hallucination and thus should not be held responsible. And that might have even worked had it not been for the fact that while then twenty year old Dylan had been out on bail, he had murdered his pregnant girlfriend because she had broken up with him. And then he had very calmly driven to her parents' house and killed them as well.

And the really bizarre fucked up part was, then he had traveled twenty miles out of his way to get a seven layer burrito at Taco Bell.

The fact that Taco Bell was beginning to become a recurring theme was of little comfort. Mostly it was just really freaky.

Dylan had been sentenced to life in prison. Somehow or another, he had managed to escape the needle. Instead he was to get a nicely decorated and roomy cell in a federal prison. All because one of the people he had butchered was an FBI agent. Oh and because the Feds didn't think it'd be safe to have him in the general prison population. So he had been held in the special wing.

The one meant for killers that they couldn't even begin to understand.

Men like the Joker.

And now Michael Scott Dylan was dead as well.

He had his head but was missing his hands. He had marks up and down him, mostly made from knives cutting into his skin. And on his torso was a crooked happy face.

There were ropes around his throat but his wrists and ankles showed signs of binds having been there. His eyes were open, frozen in an expression of horror which seemed to indicate that although he had likely been tortured for hours, his death had come suddenly and without warning.

He was the last of the three escapees.

Now, the game was finally in play.

Whatever the hell game that might be.

"Detective!" a voice called out.

Reese turned and looked inquiringly at his partner. McNally shrugged. The two of them crossed over to where the patrolman was standing. He was leaning over something. "What do you have, Jake?"

"Just this, Reese," the cop replied, lifting up a piece of paper. He was holding it carefully, being certain to protect it as evidence.

Reese strapped on gloves and then took it from him. The moment he read the words printed in block letters with a black sharpie on the white cardboard, his insides went cold.

"Hello kitty," it read. "Would you like some catnap?"

He lifted his eyes up to McNally's and growled. Then he dropped the cardboard and stood up. He turned in a circle, staring at the velvet sky. The snow and rain had stopped for a few hours.

"I am sick of this shit," he hissed, to no one in particular. He continued to stare upwards, almost as if he was expecting Huntress to just drop from the sky. Like she always did.

"So?" McNally prompted, touching his partners' shoulder.

Reese nodded slowly. "I'm going to kill him, McNally. I swear to God.I will kill the son of a bitch if it's the very last thing I do."

McNally opened his mouth to protest. He had known Reese a long time. And for a man from his background, it was astonishing day in and day out that Reese had turned out to be the good-hearted, gentle and honest individual that he was. Jesse lived his life by a code of ethics that his father could never have understood. He was the quintessential good guy; the man who always tried to do the right thing.

But eventually in your life, you always come to a crossroad that was roughly built on the concept of throwing away your ideals. Whether because you yourself had been pushed beyond your personal limit or because something that resonated so deeply in your soul had been compromised. Whatever it was, it was always the one thing that could make or break you.

Jesse Reese had finally been brought to that place.

******

Dick Grayson entered the Clock Tower with a soul full of apprehension. There was panic within him. Every step brought him closer to something that he had run away from. Full speed.

He reached into his pocket and fingered his service pistol. There had been a time not too long ago when he hadn't needed to fight with bullets and gun- powder. No, that had been a much simpler time.

He had spent his nights scaling rooftops and beating the hell out of colorfully costumed goons with names like the Riddler, Scarecrow and Penguin. He had returned to the manor just before dawn and fallen into an exhausted slumber. And as he had gotten older, some of the nightcaps had been a little more.well.erotic in nature.

Thanks to Babs of course.

The two of them had been teens when they had realized their feelings for each other but they hadn't acted on those emotions until they had reached adulthood. And then damn had they ever.

But that had all been interrupted by the Jokers' spree. When Selena had been killed, that had been heinous. When Babs had been shot, that bullet had meant the end of them.

He would have accepted her in a chair. It had never mattered to him. He loved her body; that much was true. But that hadn't been what had drawn him to her. No, that had been her mind. And her smile. And a hell of a lot of other things.

She was easily the most loving and selfless person he had ever met. He had been drawn into the fight because his parents had been murdered. He had been taught to fight because Bruce had adopted him. In a way, he had never had a choice of who he was to be.

Babs had been different. She was the daughter of a police commissioner. She could have easily chosen to live her life by the book, by the way of the day-walkers. She could have lived a normal life and escaped the hell they were all doomed to.

But that wasn't the path she had chosen. Perhaps of all of them, Barbara was the most implicit in her destruction. She had actively decided to become Batgirl. She had been drawn to the fight for justice; the fight that understood that what locks and chains could not hold down, the heroes could. And sometimes justice had to be blind and violent in order to accomplish that which needed to be accomplished.

And maybe that was why she had shoved him away from her with a passion that seemed deafening. She had screamed at him from her bedside, begged him to leave her. When that had failed, she had tried to hurt him.

She needn't have bothered.

Despite all of her anger, she never could have made him leave.

But when Bruce had fled, his eyes dark and shadowed well that had been the end. Something had snapped inside of him and he hadn't been able to stop his feet.

He had gone to visit her in her hospital room late one night almost six months after Bruce had left town. She would stay in that same bed for several more weeks as the doctors fought to ensure that she wouldn't suddenly clot and die. There had been complications on top of complications. The close calls had been numerous. But Babs was a survivor. Always would be.

"I have to go," he had said.

"I know," had been her reply.

She had tried so hard to be strong. She hadn't cried that day. At least not when he had been in the room. He had tried to explain to her but she hadn't wanted to hear it. He had touched her and she had pulled away. At moments, he wondered if he himself had cried while he had stood there.

By the time he had left her room, everything had been different. A block of stone had settled in his gut, weighing down heavily on his heart. He had wanted so desperately to reach out to her, to take her in his arms and promise that it would all just be temporary and that everything would make sense again soon.

But that was a lie.

He just didn't know.

When he had left the room that day, he had stopped by the manor one last time. As if to say a final goodbye to his youth. He knew Bruce too well. If Batman was suffering, dying in his own guilt and anguish, well then nothing in the world could heal that.

Helena had been sleeping on the couch of the study. He had touched her face. Her eyes had opened for just a moment and then fallen closed again. He had known the girl for a very long time but he had never known who she truly was.

And now that he did, it just hurt that much more.

And she too had helped to drive him out and away. It wasn't her fault but he simply couldn't deal. There were too many emotions warring in him.

"Dick," Barbara said from the doorway, bringing him out of his thoughts. She swallowed and gazed at him through wet eyes. "I've missed you."



*****

Dinah Redmond walked quietly through the Clock Tower, almost afraid of making noise. She knew that Helena was passed out on the med-bed, sleeping off the last of the drugs that Barbara had injected into her.

Halfway through her exam, Helena had come awake violently. She had started thrashing around, hitting anything within distance. She had even bounced to her feet, seemingly unaware of the fractures within each of her legs. She had swung at Barbara and almost come close to connecting. But even in a wheelchair, Babs was fast as hell. She had evaded the blow and then grabbed Helena's arms and injected a needle full of a pale greenish liquid into the girls' veins.

Helena had fallen down almost instantly, crying out as she had collapsed. One of her hands had gone down to touch her injured legs, almost as if she had realized with her fading consciousness that she wasn't supposed to be standing.

At the time, Barbara had told her that it had just been a primal reaction. She had felt threatened and had reacted accordingly. But now, walking around the Clock Tower and listening to the silence amplified only by the sounds of gears turning, Dinah wondered if maybe it was something more. She wondered if maybe Helena had been seized by another one of her nightmares.

And she was beginning to wonder if the dreams were any more normal than the strange thing her body was doing anytime it had an emotional reaction.

But really, that was Barbara's domain. Science was a thing of mystery to her.

Dinah slipped into the chair that was positioned in front of the Delphi system. The screen was blank. She looked back towards the door that led to Barbara's room. An hour ago Oracle had led a tall, dark and handsome man into that room. Her curiosity was beginning to get the best of her.

It hadn't looked exactly romantic but it had been obvious that the two of them shared history. Now, sitting alone in the cold of the Clock Tower, all Dinah could do was wonder if her world was changing around her.

And hope and pray then when all the changes were done, she'd still have her family.

*****

"Is the kid okay?" Dick asked, sitting down on Barbara's bed. He ran a hand over the quilt. "You still have this thing?"

"I'm not sure and yes, I still have it," Barbara replied, her lip lifted just a bit in defiance.

"You think this is about Bruce?"

Barbara shook her head, "I don't know. I mean I think so but I don't quite understand what he's up to now. Terrorizing serial killers?"

"You think it's just about announcing himself?"

"You're the cop."

"You're the Big Sister."

Barbara laughed and slapped him gently on the arm. "Some things don't change."

It was a nice moment between the two of them. Something calm and quiet existing in the violent debris of their once passionate relationship.

They had once been so dear to each other. So close. They had been literally able to finish each others' thoughts. And not in the overly sappy way. When they had been young, mostly they had been all about what they could get away with right under Bruce's nose. Hadn't been much but what there had been had been insanely exciting.

The moment lasted for almost five minutes before Dick finally broke the silence. "So the Joker is back. I guess the question is, is he finishing his vendetta against Bruce or starting a new one against Helena?"

"I understand Bruce.they were enemies.but two weeks ago is the first time Helena ever met the Joker.why would he be so intent on destroying her?"

"There you go again, Babs, trying to put logic where it doesn't belong. As long as you and I live, I don't think we'll ever understand what the hell goes on in that mans' mind. I don't really want to."

"You and me," she said softly. She looked away from him then, afraid of meeting his eyes. They had so much to talk about but neither of them was exactly eager to start.

Finally Dick stood, "I'm going to get some coffee. You want some?"

Barbara bobbed her head forward and smiled, temporarily relieved for the shift away from the growing tension between them. "That would be great," she told him. He nodded quickly and then hastily retreated from the room.

She dropped her head so that he didn't have to watch him go. She just couldn't deal with it. Not then and not now.

******

Detective Reese got into his office late that night. He was worn down and weary. He had finally accepted that there were things beyond normal human comprehension going on in New Gotham. He had even allowed that the city was half-crazed but that didn't mean he had any intention of doing his job any differently. Which meant that he had a mountain of paperwork sitting in his in-box. All of it screaming out his name.

He took his leather jacket off and slung it into the chair opposite his desk. He stretched his body, the joints cracking in protest. It had been too long since he had had time to visit the pool to unwind. He made a mental note to plan a trip there once everything had been settled. One way or the other.

"You've got a message on your machine, Reese," McNally said from behind him. The older cop yawned. "I'm calling it a night."

"Night. Say hello to your dog for me," Reese said with a grin. Everyone in the department knew that McNally's only companion was a twelve year old shepherd with arthritis and three thousand dollar kneecaps named Dottie.

"Funny. Real funny," McNally grunted as he slipped out the door.

Reese shook his head. He picked up the phone and dialed in his voicemail codes. As he was waiting for all the prompts to clear, he looked around for his baseball. It was an old tattered piece of leather that he'd had since he was a kid but he still loved it. It made him think of the baseball dreams that he had almost pursued. But that was another life really. He was about to bend down to check under the desk for the ball when he heard the voicemail click over.

The first three messages were standard police bullshit. Invites to a silly ball. Demands to complete reams of illogical and repetitive paperwork. Pleas for consults on moronic cases involving transvestites dressed up as circus freaks.

All regular shit.

The final message clicked on and for a moment there was silence.

The next thing Reese heard stopped him cold.

"Hello, Detective." a voice sang out over the line. "I just wanted to introduce myself. We'll be meeting face to face soon." There was a pause and then he said. "Do you like kitties, Detective? I do.in fact.I think you like to play with them too much."

The line clicked. Reese furled his lip and growled. He slammed the phone down, causing it to ring out in protest. "Son of a bitch."

"Speaking," he heard a voice said.

He turned quickly and blanched. "Fuck me." He reached for his gun, his fingers sliding across the metal handle of his glock.

The Joker grinned, his red smile consuming his face. "Nice to meet you as well, Detective." The monster was already holding a pistol in his gloved palm.

The gun barrel flashed and Reese heard a popping noise. He cried out as he felt the metal slug slam against him. He dropped to the ground, hand over his chest. He could feel the wetness against his fingers. He could suddenly hear his heart beating. Very loudly. His breathing also seemed to amplify itself in his ears.

The man dressed as a maniacal clown dropped down beside him and began to sing. It sounded like a bedtime lullaby. "Goodnight sweetheart, well it's time to go. I hate to leave you but I really must say, goodnight sweetheart, goodnight." He had actually giggled out most of the lines and then botched the others. Memo to self, Reese thought, this guy is one truly heinous singer.

He felt a sharp stab in his side. It didn't quite feel like a knife but it still hurt like hell. Maybe something like a ballpoint pen. Really it was more uncomfortable than actually painful. Like that mattered now that he was lying in a pool of his own blood. Just the same, he couldn't help but wonder why the psycho was stabbing him with things after he had already shot him.

The Joker stood abruptly and brushed imaginary lint off of his clothes. Then he lifted his pistol once more. He squeezed the trigger of it a few more times, each blast echoing loudly in the room. A dozen cops had to have heard it.

At first Reese was certain that he had been hit again but it didn't take long to realize that the psycho had just aerated the ceiling. The Joker giggled once more and then he left the room. And suddenly all he could hear was his heart again. Beating so desperately. His chest felt like it was empty and his side ached dully. The pain of both was near to unbearable.

It had all been so quick. Maybe three minutes total had passed since Reese had first picked up the phone. The handset now lay on its side, cracked at the base. A dial tone sang out through the open line.

"Help, "he called out, swallowing hard and trying to keep his stomach put together. He could feel the wetness of his own blood sliding down his fingers. He wasn't being very successful at stopping the gaping wound from spilling out all of his insides. "Help.me.."

His head hit against the ground. Dread filled him.

And a bit of sadness.

Because as his life flashed before his eyes, he realized that he had never gotten the girl.

Not really anyways.

And then there was darkness. Like a God damn velvet cloak.

*****



Across town and up high in the sky, Helena Kyle came awake violently. She began to thrash, even going so far as to jump to her feet. It wasn't until Barbara placed a needle in her arm that the sudden rampage finally ended. She fell back against the bed, her legs in agony but her mind whirling as the images filled her brain.

Bam. Bam. Bam.

"Goodnight sweetheart.goodnight."

Reese was dying.



*****

"Jesse? Jesse?" the voice sounded a thousand miles away. Almost like it was lost inside of a tunnel. He fought to open his eyes and finally managed a few centimeters. He caught the sight of his partner above him, looking more scared than he'd ever seen him.

"McNally," he managed, between violent hacking coughs. He thought he could feel rain on his cheeks but that was impossible unless he was outside. It doesn't rain inside, he thought to himself.

"Hang on, kid," the older cop said, holding his hand tightly. He could feel himself being lifted into something. Probably the ambulance. Which meant that the softness beneath him was likely a stretcher. Well that would certainly account for the metal pole he could feel jabbing into his back. And it meant that he actually was outside. Well okay, that solved that mystery anyways.

He heard a door slam and then the ambulance spun to life, its engine sounding like it would gladly welcome a tune-up. He could hear all the EMTs talking, their words slurring together. The only voice he could make out however was his partners. Over and over telling him to stay tough. Hang on. And you can do it, kid.

He had been shot at many times in his career. He had even been nicked a time or two. The meta-killer Morton had nailed him right in the shoulder with a .22 and that had hurt like hell.

He could safely say that this was worse.

He felt like his insides were caving inwards.

Luckily for him the ache in his side had turned into a soft dull throbbing. Easily forgotten.

The medics worked above him, speaking to each other in hushed tones. One of them jammed a needle into his forearm and said something about pumping blood in. He gave some measurement but it was all Greek to Reese. It was probably something vague about how much was needed to keep his heart working.

He wanted to tell them that he could still hear his heart and it sounded fine. Still playing hard. Ready to strap on the old jock and race out to the diamond. Raring to go really.

He heard the one in front calling it in to the hospital and announcing that their arrival time would be roughly three minutes. The lady on the other side ten-foured him.

And McNally again urged him to hang on.

He wondered idly how McNally had gotten to the scene of the shooting so fast. And then he remembered that the old cop probably hadn't made it out of the station before the shooting had begun. After all, there were doughnuts in the lounge.

Thank God for that. Thank God for jellies everywhere.

"McNally," he muttered again. "Message."

"Easy there, Reese."

Reese used all the energy he had to squeeze McNally's hand. "On my machine."

"Your voicemail?"

"Yes. He left.he left." Reese began to cough, blood splattering on his lips. One of the medics pushed McNally away.

"Lock and load," one of the younger medics said as the ambulance came to an abrupt stop. He kicked the doors open and jumped to the ground so that could help with lifting the stretcher down.

There were a couple doctors in red scrubs waiting for him. The moment the stretcher hit the ground and the legs had been extended, they were wheeling him towards the OR.

"It's okay, Reese," McNally called after him. "It's okay. I got your back."

Reese just coughed. He wanted to say something profound to his partner but the doors slapped shut behind him before he could form the words.

The next thing he could feel was his chest being cut into as the doctors tried to extract the bullet.

He wondered if they were going to bother with his side.

He could feel the knives cutting into him, spilling more blood.

And all he could remember thinking was: I bet that hurts. I should sleep.

And then he dropped off.

*****

"Barbara!" Dinah called out. There was panic in her voice. She waited maybe five seconds and then called out for her mentor again.

Barbara slid her wheelchair out of her bedroom. She looked tired and half frazzled. "What?" she asked, trying not to sound impatient. She wasn't doing a very good job of it. She looked like four hours of sleep would mean the world to her.

"Reese has been shot," Dinah blurted out, motioning wildly towards the monitors. They were going crazy with activity.

"What?" Barbara demanded, her voice a bit too sharp.

"Reese.he was shot about fifteen minutes ago. It just came over the radio."

And indeed, Barbara could hear the police bands going nuts with the reports of a downed cop. They were asking each other if anyone had seen a suspicious perp leaving the station. So damn much confusion.

Inwardly Oracle scolded herself. Being emotionally and physically exhausted was simply no excuse for letting her guard down. She moved towards the keyboard and began to type. "Are you sure it's Reese?" A report jumped onto the screen. "You're sure," she said quietly.

"It doesn't have a condition report," Dinah noted. "That's bad, right?"

"Not necessarily. If he was just brought in, then I doubt even they really know what's going on just yet."

Barbara leaned forward to study the screen closer. She even put her glasses on so that she could focus without straining her eyes. "It says here that his partner found him in his office. Nothing else."

"He shot Reese," a voice said over the comm. Dinah and Barbara exchanged a look and then both of them broke towards the lab.

The doors slid open to reveal Helena sitting up in her bed. Her cheeks looked ashen and her blue eyes were bloodshot but she seemed alert. "I had a dream," she said. "I saw it." She exhaled sharply. "He shot Reese."

"Who?" Barbara pushed gently, afraid of the answer.

"Him," Helena replied, her voice firm but troubled. "Him. I saw him. He shot Reese." She was making it very clear that she had no intention of calling the Joker by name.

"I thought seeing things was my domain," Dinah said softly, looking at Barbara. There was concern and not jealousy in her tone. She was definitely more worried about the implications of what Helena had seen as opposed to the concept of Huntress poaching her powers.

"Me, too," Babs admitted, moving next to Helena's bedside. "How are you feeling?"

"What did you drug with me?" Helena demanded. "I feel like I'm swimming."

"Something I've been working on."

"Oh, how nice of you to make me your guinea pig," Helena drawled. She shifted a bit in the bed, trying to find some comfort.

Barbara shrugged, "It seems to have been successful. You went out like a light and."

"And I still can't put up much of a fight. By any chance, was this drug made specifically for me?"

"That I'm not telling," Barbara replied. Under normal circumstances, they would have shared a smile there. These weren't so normal. Oracle reached out and touched her charge lightly. "What did you see?"

"I saw it earlier tonight."

"Before you." Dinah started.

"Threw my fit?" Helena finished. "Yeah, I guess so. Right before. I don't know what came over me. I guess I just flipped out." She glared up at Barbara. "I would apologize for hurting anyone but I think someone here may have deserved it."

"Oh shut up," Barbara replied, allowing herself a small smile. "Anyways, go on."

"I saw him go into Reese's office. I think he said something but I couldn't make it out. Reese tried to draw his gun." She shook her head. "But it didn't matter." her voice trailed off as she drifted into her own thoughts. After a moment she looked up at Barbara. Very quietly she asked, "Is he.you know?" There was a strange wetness in her eyes. And fear. God damn, so much fear.

Barbara shook her head quickly, almost urgently. "We don't know anything yet. Probably not for another hour. But he's tough. I'm sure he's got more than enough fight in him to get through this."

"Okay," Helena said, almost like a child. "So we just wait. I hate that." She looked down at her hands. "This is my fault. He shot Reese as a sign to me, didn't he?"

"Let's not jump to conclusions," Barbara cautioned, even though she rather believed that Helena was probably correct. The Joker had no idea who Reese was which probably meant that he had been hurt just to further his agenda. Whatever the hell that might be.

"God," Helena exclaimed, hitting the bed with one of her fists. "I hate waiting."

"Me too," she heard from the doorway. She looked up and into the strong features of Dick Grayson. He offered her a weak smile. "Hey kid."

*****

"Who is he?" Dinah asked as she poured herself orange juice. She had slipped away into the kitchen when it had occurred to her that she was more than a little out of place. It had just felt awkward. Like she was intruding on history.

"Master Dick?"

Dinah narrowed her eyes. "Say what now?"

Alfred chuckled dryly. "Master Richard Grayson. Formally known as Robin. Now Nightwing."

"They had pretty cool names back then," Dinah said thoughtfully. Then she frowned. "Well not Robin."

Alfred offered the girl a smile. "He was Master Bruce's adopted son. Technically Miss Helena's brother."

"Oh," Dinah said. "So, where's he been then?"

Alfred took the empty glass from her and moved towards the doorway. After a beat, he turned around and gazed thoughtfully at her. Finally he replied, "Surviving."

****

"Dick," she said cautiously, after almost two minutes of silence. Maybe it was longer. It certainly seemed longer. "I heard you were coming in."

"Right," he said, nodding. He moved towards her and then stopped. It had been such a long time.

The last time he had seen her she had been sleeping on one of Bruce's couches at the manor. He had just found out that this young scared girl was indeed the daughter of Batman. It had all been so very intense.

"Good," she said. "Then I guess this means we'll actually catch him."

"Right," Dick agreed, suddenly wishing he was anywhere else.

He had known that it would be awkward but he hadn't been expecting icy. He knew he should have been however.

After all, much like Bruce, when the going had gotten tough, he had bailed.

"Right," she repeated.

"Are you feeling okay?" he asked, trying to break things up.

She nodded quickly. "Great. Once my legs are fully healed, I'll be back breaking my nails for kicks."

Dick looked over at Barbara. "So everything is healing up good?"

"Not exactly," Barbara replied, not caring to elaborate. She hated being so cold to this man but really she was more afraid of letting him in then shutting him out. One saved her. The other could destroy her.

"There's a report on TV," Dinah said, entering the room. She went over to the far side of the lab and clicked on a little eight inch black and white television that was sitting on one of the messy desks.

".at this time police are saying very little. A spokesperson for the department is confirming that it was one of their own. He was taken to Gotham University Hospital. His condition is currently listed as critical. "

"Damn," Helena swore, a strange look coming into her eyes. "Another one bites the dust because of me." Her voice was rising in pitch as her anger grew. She hit her fist against the table next to the bed. It cracked under the monstrous impact.

And then just like that, she swayed a bit. Her eyes suddenly drooped and she looked like she was about to pass out.

"Helena?" Dick asked urgently, moving towards her. He took one of his arms in his hand and tried to steady her. To Barbara he asked, "What's wrong with her?"

"That's the million dollar question," Babs murmured, moving closer. "Every time she has an extreme emotional reaction, she loses consciousness. I don't get it."

Dick finally backed away. "She seems like she's sleeping now."

"Now," Barbara agreed. "But if she's now having fits anytime she gets pissed off, we have a very serious problem on our hands. She's always pissed off."

Dinah snorted but wisely held her tongue.

"So, be doctorly," Dick said, staring down at Helena. He had known her all his life. She had been the girl that had always hung around Barbara. He hadn't known then who exactly she was but he had always taken to her.

Of course back then she had been a grinning and mischievous kid looking to play a practical joke on someone. She had loved doing that. Her sense of humour had been unparalleled. And certainly not from Bruce. So obviously Selena's.

"I'm trying," Barbara said desperately. "I've run every scan I know.she has swelling in her brain.I think that could be it but I can't be sure."

Dick placed a hand on her shoulder, his flesh a point of heat against her skin. "You'll figure it out, Babs. It's why I love you. You always figure it out."

She locked eyes with him for a moment, lost in his eyes. Lost in the memories. Then she nodded.

"God, I hope you're right."

"Me too," he admitted. "Me too."

*****

She hated dreaming.

It always brought her to a place that she didn't want to be.

Sometimes it started nice. Walking with her mother. Laughing. Enjoying life.

It always ended badly.

Some people could lose themselves in their dreams; find a getaway. Some could even use their dreams. Dinah certainly did.

She however found them to be a continual source of pain.

Like a God damn VCR playing the same tape. Over and over. Play. Rewind. Play again.

And it always ended badly.

This time was different. Not because she expected a different outcome; hell she could have been dreaming about the Easter bunny and it wouldn't have mattered. By the end of it, Bunny would be at the very least getting the shit beat out of him.

No this was just as dark and scary but it was different.

He was there.

Grinning at her like a well made-up clown. Powder face and all.

He smiled at her and then reached behind him. She saw him pull up a metal mallet. Like the one he had nailed her with in the abandoned warehouse. This one had blood on it. So much for stainless steel.

He swung it around wildly, all the while whistling and grinning at her.

Then his eyes seemed to turn cold. "Here kitty."

He swung the mallet at her but she managed to move beyond it. That didn't really seem to faze him in the least bit. He just kept on twirling it around like it was a bloody baton.

He looked at her again, "Detective go boom. He's not really much for punch lines."

She tried to speak but the words caught. She tried to move but her feet were suddenly glued to the ground she was standing on.

The Joker moved towards her. He reached out and stroked her face. Even in her dreams it horrified her. Even in her dreams it felt like death walking. The letters he had carved into her face suddenly reappeared as did the burning.

He licked her then.

Even in her dream.

She cried out and tried to pull away but the ropes from her previous captivity had returned. So, apparently, had the chair.

"Your mother was beautiful," he said. "You however look like him."

It seemed to her that the Clown Prince of Crime was almost sulking. He backed away from her.

Then he turned back and began to dance towards her. Like a damn nightmare on wheels. Prancing and waving and seeming to open up hell to her.

She just screamed.

*****

Barbara began shaking her violently but it seemed to have no effect; the girl continued to scream and thrash. Oracle slapped her face hard. Once. Twice. A third time just for effect.

Finally and with great effort, Helena sagged forward. Her eyes opened just a bit. She looked up at Babs, desperate for help. She had survived the physical torture in the warehouse but it certainly seemed like she was incapable of getting beyond the mental trauma.

And whatever the hell the madman had done to her mind.

The scans were all inconclusive and yet some of them seemed to be showing odd signs. Brainwaves moving in the wrong directions. Chemicals off balance. Things were certainly not right in Helena's head. More than usual anyways.

And they were getting worse.

When it had started, the fainting spells had only come on near the end of the emotional tirades. However she had passed clean out in the lab after only one strong emotional outburst. Nothing more than usual for her but it had clearly floored her.

"Barbara," she said softly, her blue eyes staring almost vacantly beyond the woman known as Oracle.

"Yeah?" Barbara prompted, touching her young wounded protégé's face. She bent down close so that Helena wouldn't have to strain.

"He's coming," she said. "And he'll tear us all to pieces."

And then she began to sing.

"Goodnight sweetheart.goodnight."

*****

Detective Jesse Reese knew that he was going to survive long before the doctors working on him did. Somehow, he just knew.

He had been through too much and fought too damned hard to just give in. So far Lady Luck had been playing him a solid hand and he could tell that she wasn't about to low card him out just yet.

Six hours after he was first wheeled in the ER of Gotham University Hospital, they upgraded his condition to fair. He would have told them to kick it all the way up to peachy if he actually thought they would listen. And if he actually thought he could convince his chest to stop burning.

The drugs were nice of course.

And boy was there a lot of them. Enough painkillers to make a quadruple amputee think he was flying. Everything just felt good. Physically anyways.

His mind however had already begun to spin again. Why had the Joker come after him? Had the monster seen him rescuing Helena? Or was it something far more obvious.such as a blatant sign to the beautiful crime fighter.

The smart money was on his shooting being a sign. After all, the pain Reese had felt in his side had been the Joker carving his initials into the young detective's side.

Son of a bitch.

He had been hunting bad guys a long time. He was even the son of one of the worst of them. Just the same, getting in the head of a monster was no easy task.

Especially doped up on morphine.

"Reese," McNally said from the doorway, almost smirking. "I told you she was going to be the death of you."

"Now what makes you think she had anything to do with this?" Reese asked quietly, almost laughing. In a sick way, McNally was right.

"Because since she came into your life."

"Don't go there man," Reese warned.

"Sure," McNally nodded. He almost sat on the bed but finally thought better of it. He stood awkwardly next to it and shifted from foot to foot. "I hear you might actually pull through."

"Yep," Reese agreed, his voice still little more than a pained whisper. "You're stuck with me."

"Lucky bastard that I am," McNally teased. He sighed. "I just wanted to check on you. You want.you want me to stick around a bit more."

Reese smiled affectionately. McNally was definitely a man's man. "No, it's okay Big Man. Head home and get some sleep. I'll be here in the morning."

"You okay?" McNally asked, noticing that Reese had begun to blink.

"I.I think...think they pu.put sleeping."

"Good drugs for good rest," McNally grinned. "I'll see you in the morning." And with that he exited the room. It had already been a terribly long day. McNally didn't actually believe that he would sleep a wink that night but he did at least want to lie down.

And get away from the city lights.

Some nights he hated New Gotham.

Reese watched him go, his mind already fogging up. He tried to concentrate, knowing that he needed to focus. Somehow he knew that things were just beginning to unwind. The simplicity he needed just wasn't there. His brain felt like it was full of cotton.

He fought as hard he could but the drugs finally began to overtake him.

He swore to himself and then said a quick prayer.

Serenity and all that.

*****

"She's gone?" Dick demanded. "What do you mean she's gone? I didn't think she could walk."

Barbara shook her head, her demeanor almost unnaturally cool. Like she had slipped into battle mode. Dick knew her well enough to know that this was just a well constructed shield protecting her from her own emotions. "She shouldn't be able to. Her bones shouldn't be supporting her."

"But?"

"Somehow or another, she just walked out of here," Barbara said dully, her fingers already flying over the keyboard. "She's not wearing her necklace but I might be able to trace her through her transceiver."

"Sure," Dick said. He had spent entirely too much time listening to Bruce babble out techno crap. After awhile, he had just learned to block it out. He knew enough to survive and sometimes even enough to sound like he knew more. But he wasn't Barbara Gordon. She was a goddamn genius.

"Dinah?" Barbara called out. There was a loud silence in the room. She frowned. "Dinah?"

"She was here when we left, right?" Dick asked, pacing a bit. He backtracked and looked into the kitchen as if he was expecting to see the blonde standing in front of the refrigerator.

"Right," Barbara said softly.

"Then maybe she helped Helena leave? That would certainly make more sense," Dick offered.

"Possibly," Barbara admitted. She spun in her chair. "But why would she do that? She knows that Helena is in no condition to be out and around right now. Especially with the Joker out there leaving door prizes."

"If I remember Helena the way I think I do.she's very persuasive when she wants to be," Dick said thoughtfully. His mind was full of images of a young and strong willed girl.

"That hasn't changed," Barbara grunted. She started typing again. There was a soft humming noise and then a comm line clicked on. "Dinah? It's Barbara?"

Silence.

"Fuck," she cursed. Dick allowed himself a moment of mirth. She was fairly beautiful when she got hot. "We never should have left."

"Oh hey, whoa back. You needed air," he argued.

They had left for less than half an hour. He had insisted that they take a walk down to the bakery on the corner. She had protested at first but finally relented. They hadn't talked about much but to not be arguing had been nice enough.

"And now Helena's gone," Barbara retorted.

"Hey," Dick said, choosing not to continue that specific argument. "What's that red light for?"

"That's one of the external lines," Barbara murmured. She slid her chair over to the switchboard and punched in a few keys. "Dinah? Is that you?"

"Alas no," a soft voice replied. "But I think I might know where she is."

"Gibson?" Barbara asked. Then she shook her head. She knew the owner of No Man's Land fairly well. "Have you seen her?"

"Not directly, no. But I'm getting reports of a beautiful brunette tearing up downtown New Gotham.they sound very much like the exquisite and dangerous Huntress."

"Where specifically?"

"Near the hospital I hear."

"Shit," Barbara cursed. "She's going towards Reese."

"Reese? Who's Reese?" the barkeep prompted. "No best to know.I didn't think she was in any condition to be up and around."

"She's not. Dinah must be helping her out." Barbara sighed. "Keep us updated, Gibson. We're heading that way."

"You and Nightwing?"

Barbara stopped and looked over at Dick. He looked puzzled. She just smiled. "I take it you heard?"

"I hear everything," he replied. "I'll be in touch."

The comm line clicked off with a ticking finality.

"Well at least we know where she is," Barbara said, reaching for her keys.

Dick rolled his eyes. "Wait. Wait. You're telling me that this girl who has two badly broken legs is moving around against an astonishing amount of pain to get to a guy? Helena?"

Barbara shrugged. She looked up at Dick and smiled weakly. "I've heard stranger things. Helena is obviously not in her right mind nor is she thinking clearly." She paused. "What was our excuse?"

He just let the silence hang in the air between them. Finally he said softly. "We should find her. If the Joker shot this detective as a sign to her.he knows she cares."

"And he might be expecting her to do exactly what she's doing." Barbara finished.

"That would be my guess," Dick said, pulling on his jacket.

"I hate that man," Barbara said softly. "He never stops. How do we know he ever will?"

Dick paused for a moment. It was a question that he himself had wondered about for so long. Why do the bad guys always get away? Why do the heroes always have to suffer so much? Hurt so deeply? Finally, quietly he said, "Because eventually.someone will stop him for good."

And really, there was nothing else to say.

*****

"This is a mistake," Dinah muttered, not for the first time. She was almost completely supporting the light weight of Helena Kyle's broken body.

"Stop bitching and move faster," Huntress snapped, her bloodshot blue eyes looking straight forward. The mammoth building lay less than a half mile ahead. A lifetime really.

They had been forced to walk to the hospital because Barbara had taken the keys to the hummer with her when she had gone with Dick down to the bakery.

And of course, along the way, Helena had managed to start a new riot when she had tried to steal a car so that they could move quicker. Oddly enough the guy had been pretty pissed when he had come out of the bank to find his car in the process of being lifted. And then a minor fight had ensued. Minor because Helena couldn't fight which meant that Dinah had been forced to use her fairly new telekinetic powers to fling the deeply ticked off man into an open garbage can. Then there had been a lot of screaming and cursing which of course Helena could do. Thankfully without getting really worked up. Apparently bantering was assholes was something she found to be vaguely amusing instead of dangerously frustrating.

How they had made it out of that scrum was something she still wasn't terribly clear on but they had. And now with each footstep, Dinah was beginning to wonder what the hell she had done just a little bit more.

Helena had been so persuasive and so passionate. She had looked near to collapse, her body shaking. She had practically begged for assistance. "He's going to die," Helena had said. "Please, help me."

Dinah had been scared. She knew that Helena's mental state was fragile but the girl was fighting as hard as she could to stay conscious and focused. The strain showed in the paleness of her cheeks.

And of course, she had given in.

"We're here," Dinah told her, looking across at the twenty-three year old woman who had for all intensive purposes become her older sister.

"Okay," Helena murmured, her words practically slurred. "We got to get to him."

"We will," Dinah promised. She repositioned herself so as to shift Helena's weight. "We will."

*****

He had never been much a fan of soap operas. That wasn't to say that he had never been forced to watch one or two of them. One of his past girlfriends, hell the one he might have married had he not come to his senses, had been an obsessive fan of Young and the Restless.

That said, he wasn't exactly in the mood to give a shit why two characters couldn't figure out how to get each other in bed and why another one hadn't quite realized that talking out loud right outside of the room of another character probably wasn't the smartest of ideas.

Jesse Reese wanted up. And the hell out of the hospital bed. He regarded the tubes that were attached to him with a disdain that he usually saved for his father. He fingered one of the clear ones and sighed. The damn nurses were watching him like a hawk. Probably on the orders of McNally.

He heard a soft knock on the door and looked up. "Come in," he said, still glancing around the room. He still hadn't quite figured out how he had gotten a private room but he rather guessed that Al Hawke was somehow involved which meant that he really didn't want to dwell on the generosity. And he really wanted out of the room.

"Hey partner," McNally said, entering.

"McNally," Reese greeted. "You on your way in?"

The heavy cop nodded. "Just stopping by to check in on you. Your mom stop by?"

Reese nodded. "Yeah. And fussed."

"That's your mom," McNally said with a laugh. It always amazed him how different Reese's parents were. His mother was sweet and good-hearted. His father was a virtual monster.

"Did you see the rooks they have out in the hall running security?"

"No," Reese replied warily. "New kids?"

"Yeah, complete with snot," McNally laughed. "You well fed?"

"Stop," Reese urged. "I'm fine. Go on. I think I'm just going to sleep again. Nothing better to do."

"When do they think they'll let you go home?"

"Probably Friday," Reese replied. "I guess they want to watch the wound until then. I've been trying to tell them that I heal better in my own bed but I don't think they listen so well."

"Funny how doctors and cops are so much alike. Not listening and all."

"McNally," Reese warned, not really in the mood to hear McNally start up again about Helena.

"Fine. Fine. But when I'm right, you're going to have to tell me so," McNally informed him. Then he sighed. "Well then, I'm off. I'll stop back by tomorrow morning after I finish my shift."

Reese nodded. "Sure. Have a good evening Big Man."

McNally's only reply was to snort.

*****

"Park there," Barbara instructed, pointing to a curb.

Dick nodded and pulled the hummer over. He resisted the urge he had to go around and help Barbara. He knew she was tough but there was a part of him that would always want to hold and protect her.

She slid out of the hummer, her wheels hitting the ground with a wet thud.

"Maybe she's not here yet?" Dick offered, looking around.

Barbara started to speak but was quickly cut off by the echoing sound of two gunshots breaking the near silence of the cold New Gotham evening.

"Or maybe she is," Dick quickly amended, just second before he broke into a sprint on his way to the hospital.

*****

Dinah pulled Helena down under her. She was well aware of the fact that her body was hardly a shield. She could feel Huntress tensing beneath her. Hopefully that battle energy would be enough to kick off any urge her body had to collapse because of the emotional upheaval her system was going through.

The man was standing there, dressed in a loud suit complete with white gloves, firing two large pistols. Bullets were bouncing against walls and people were screaming. And the man was giggling. His face was painted white and his lips were bright red. "Here kitty.kitty."

"Son of a bitch," Helena muttered, palms flat on the cold tiled ground. She lifted herself for a moment like she was about to jump to her feet. When her legs refused, she sagged back. Then she sighed. "I don't like weapons," she said.

Dinah blinked. "Weapons?" she looked down at Helena and her eyes bugged. She saw the dark haired crime fighter remove one of Barbara's throwing disks from under her jacket. She swallowed when she saw that it was the one with the sharpened edges. Meant to kill

Barbara never used it.

The man turned, almost like he had heard Helena. He started walking towards where Dinah had hidden them behind an overturned stretcher. "Kitty?"

Helena growled. She narrowed her eyes. Dinah saw them flash red.

"Freeze. Freeze now," a voice cried out.

The Joker turned and sneered. "You?" he exclaimed. "They sent you to stop me? How about Gordon? Are there no cops to replace him? Are they all as wimpy as you?"

He was talking to a thin kid wearing a uniform. The kid was holding a gun but his hands were trembling. He was probably a rookie. The Joker looked crushed.

"Put down your weapons, sir."

The Joker laughed. "He called me sir."

Then he turned away from the kid and started walking back towards Helena and Dinah. "I knew you'd come," he said. "You're as bright as your momma."

"Fuck you," Helena hissed, gripping the disk tightly in her hand. She wanted him to come just a few inches closer.

Dinah sighed. So much for staying hidden. She felt Helena use her arms to push herself up. "Helena..." she cautioned, knowing full well that Huntress wasn't listening.

Love. True love." he goaded, almost dancing forward. "It's a bitch."

"And so am I," Helena growled, moving into a crouch. She paused for a fraction of a second to gain her balance and then she hurled the sharp disk.

His reflexes were quicker. The moment the disk started spinning towards him, he started firing his guns. Bullets sprayed the air and the nurses and doctors who were hidden behind anything they could find began to scream in tandem. A few seconds later the disk fell harmlessly to the ground with a sharp click.

He bent over and picked it up. "Batgirl," he hissed, seeing the symbol on it. "She was a worthy opponent. Then she went bye-bye. Bang."

"Sir, please put down the gun." the kid said, still shaking. "Or I will be forced to open fire."

The Joker never turned. He continued looking down at the disk. "So much blood," he mused. "You didn't bleed as much as I wanted you too."

Helena rolled her eyes. "Okay, well that was my plan."

"Great," Dinah muttered. "I'll see if maybe I can.lift him?"

"Be careful," Helena said, eyes still on the white-faced monster. Her aim had been nearly perfect but she had still missed.

Dinah closed her eyes and focused. And kept on.

When she opened her eyes, he was standing above them, pointing both guns down at them.

"Sir!" the kid yelled. "I will shoot."

The Joker lifted his arm and then swung one of the guns down towards Dinah's face. Helena reached out and grabbed at her friend, yanking the blonde towards her chest. Because of that and that alone, the heel of the pistol slapped against Dinah's face instead of her skull. Just the same, Dinah blacked out, blood streaming down her face.

"Shoot, kid," Reese hissed as he pulled up next to the young cop.

All he could see was the back of the madman as he stood above the two women. He could make out half of Helena's face. Enough to be able to tell that she had no business being out and about.

"Sir." the kid called out again, his face as white as the Jokers'.

The Joker bent down and lightly touched Helena's cheek. She flinched away and balled her fist as if to punch him. He just smiled. Their eyes locked and she felt bile move up in her throat. She could feel her head start to spin. Hold on, she told herself. Please hold on. She tightened her hold on Dinah's body, feeling the girls' blood run across her fingers.

He turned suddenly and looked directly at one of the doctors who had risen to his feet. The young man had started to move towards him as if he meant to stop the Joker. That was when Reese noticed the bodies lying on the floor. Probably six in all. All likely hit by the Joker's original shooting spree. All dead now. So many lives crushed.

Unfortunately they weren't the only corpses. There were two bodies lying three feet from him and they had been killed in a different manner. Probably at point blank range. Each had a single red hole in the front of their heads. And of course they were both cops; likely the other two rookies that had been assigned security detail with the shaking cop holding the gun. Damn if they weren't all kids.

The Joker tilted his head. "You weren't invited to the party."

"Shoot." Reese hissed, wishing that he had his own service pistol on him.

The Joker lifted the pistol in his left hand and fired.

Helena moved quicker. Legs or no.

She leapt into the air and slammed herself into the Joker, forcing his shot to go into the ceiling. They dropped together to the ground with loud thud. She could swear that she heard him giggling as she rolled over, pulling herself into the fetal position as her body raged with pain.

He stood up quickly and put both of the guns to either side of her head. He slapped her hard across the face and screamed at her, "Bad.bad...bad kitty."

She looked up at him, tears in her eyes. "I win." she said.

He cocked his head, obviously confused.

"I'll never beg."

His eyes grew large and he moved a finger to each of the triggers. He actually meant to end it. Finally.

"Helena!" Oracle screamed from the entrance of the ER. Dick Grayson stood next to her, his body tensed and ready for battle. He was no longer Officer Richard Grayson of Bludhaven; he was Nightwing.

The Joker looked up, stunned. "Bat and bird?"

Reese took that moment to act. He reached across and punched the kid in the face. Luckily the young cop had a glass jaw and went out like a light. Reese grabbed at the gun and fired.

The madman spun. His eyes were wide and horrified. He reached down and touched his own chest. He put his hand on his stomach and then pulled it back so that he could look at the blood on his fingers.

Then he began to laugh.

He took the guns away from Helena's head and began to turn in circles firing them.

Reese crossed the room quickly and placed his body over Helena and Dinah's. They were both unconscious now. He draped himself over them, palms flat against the ground.

Dick reached out and pulled Barbara out of the wheelchair. She was a sitting duck there and she had already been brutalized once by one of the Jokers' bullets. Never again. He yanked them behind the admittance desk.

His hand slid to the back of his jeans where his gun was holstered. He glanced over the desk to where the Joker was standing. Blood gushed down the madman, dripping onto the floor but he seemed unconcerned as he emptied clip after clip.

"End this, Joker." Dick cried out, popping off a shot. It hit off the wall breaking off some of the plaster. He cursed under her breath drawing a sharp look from Barbara who was readying her own weapon.

The Joker laughed. He reached across and yanked a woman off the floor. She was nearly hysterical but ultimately not putting up much of a fight. He placed one of the guns against her skull.

"Sit down, Bird," he said. He reached into his pocket and threw a smoke bomb against the ground.

"Not this time," Dick said, leaping over the desk. He reached through the black smoke and grabbed the Joker by the collar. He yanked him down to the ground and straddled him. The Joker howled and thrashed but the hero known as Nightwing held him fast.

Reese rose from he was crouched. He stopped for just a moment so that he could look down at Helena. She was so pale. Both of the women lying there were tore up pretty good. He allowed himself a moment to run a hand across her soft cheek. So smooth. It was selfish really but he wasn't trying to enjoy her softness so much as her heat. It meant she was still alive.

Then he stood. He approached Dick and the Joker quickly.

"I'll take this from here," Reese told Dick. Nightwing pulled the Joker to his feet.

Dick lifted an eyebrow. "I don't think so." He reached behind him, searching for cuffs. The Joker meanwhile continued to howl.

"I'm a cop," Reese informed him. "I'm a detective from the homicide department of the New Gotham PD."

"Interesting," Dick said. "Officer Dick Grayson. Bludhaven." He extended the hand that wasn't holding the squirming Joker.

Reese took it. Then he said shortly, "I think I outrank you. I'll take this from here."

"Reese," Barbara said with a small smile. "It's okay." She found it both amusing and annoying to watch the two men try to find out who had the bigger pair.

Reese turned to regard the woman he had come to consider a friend. He was about to protest when he felt a sharp whistling pain in his stomach. He cringed a bit and then faltered.

For some reason that stopped the Joker from wailing. He looked directly at Reese and grinned. "Love is fun, isn't it Detective? It just kills in the end."

Reese snapped.

He reached across and punched the Joker in the face, anger contorting his handsome face. "Give me one reason I shouldn't kill you? Come on you sick son of a bitch!"

Barbara touched his arm. "Because then he'll win."

Reese turned and looked at her. "Men like him deserve death."

"And eventually he'll get it.but not on his terms," Barbara promised him.

Reese nodded slowly. "Fine. Whatever." He looked at Dick. "All yours, Grayson. Merry fucking Christmas."

Dick lifted an eyebrow and muttered; "Well now I see why Helena likes him. Spirited isn't he?"

Barbara shrugged and began to look around the room for her two young charges. There were bodies everywhere. Others, still alive, remained huddled close to the ground as if they refused to believe that it was over. A few of the doctors had begun to fan out, checking for survivors.

She watched as Reese moved over towards one of the overturned stretchers. His hand was on his chest and she could see blood on his fingers. He had split the stitches. He threw the bed aside and crouched down.

"God," Barbara muttered as she saw him lean down to check on the two young women. Neither seemed to be moving.

"Dick.my chair."

He turned and saw it a few feet away from them. Still holding the Joker who had gone strangely silent, he reached across and grabbed it. He pulled it towards him and then over towards Barbara. "Can you."

"Of course," she snapped. Then she sighed. "Sorry.I'm just."

"Go," he urged. "Go check on them. I got him."

The Joker giggled. "That's what you think," he said, almost singing the words.

Dick turned the monster so that they were facing each other. "This is the last time you hurt my family."

"The bird is tough," he sulked. "I don't like tough meat."

Dick rolled his eyes and looked away. How Bruce had been able to play chess with this man for as long as he had was beyond him. They had understood each other on a level that he could never comprehend. Nor, considering Bruce's fate, did he really want to.

Barbara moved quickly over towards where Reese was crouched. He was leaning over Helena, cradling her to him, rocking her softly.

"Is she..." Barbara couldn't finish the sentence.

"I can't bring her around," Reese said softly, still swaying. He indicated towards Dinah. "Her pulse seems steady. She probably has a nasty concussion.I think."

"We need to get her back to the lab," Barbara told him. She placed a hand on his shoulder and used him for leverage so that she could slide herself onto the floor. She moved her body so that she was next to Dinah's. Placing her fingers' against the girls' neck; she felt for a pulse and was rewarded with a fairly strong one. Her face however was a bloody mess and a huge discolored welt had already formed on her cheekbone.

Reese looked up as the doors to the ER burst open. Cops flooded the room, guns drawn. He saw McNally at the head. "McNally," he called out.

His partner turned and moved quickly towards him. He bent down. "You're bleeding."

"I think I pulled some stitches," he replied. He pointed over towards the Joker. "Him."

McNally nodded slowly. "Yeah. Him. We got him now." He looked down at the girl his injured partner was cradling. "Is this her?"

There was a pause and then Reese finally replied. "Yeah, this is her."

"God, you're in over your head." He shook his head, almost laughing. "I'll get a doctor."

Barbara looked up at Reese as soon as McNally had slipped away. "You are," she told him, still inspecting Dinah. "Over your head I mean."

"I know," he admitted. He leaned down and gently slapped her face again. "Huntress? Huntress?" He took a deep breath and then lowered his head towards her so that he was speaking into her ear. "Helena?"

Barbara offered him a soft smile.

"Barb?" Dick said, coming over.

"We need to get Helena and Dinah back to the lab. I don't want to deal with blood tests and all that."

"Sure," Dick said, looking over towards Reese. "I'll take her."

Reese studied the other cop for a long second. He hadn't been pleased when they had told him that they were bringing in reinforcements. He had been annoyed when said reinforcements had tried to take his collar. He had been downright irked when the guy had returned attitude. Now all he cared about was whether or not he could trust Officer Dick Grayson of Bludhaven.

"It's okay," Barbara urged, lifting herself back into her chair. Dinah was starting to move, groaning loudly as she came around. Barbara held her hand and helped her to her feet.

"Ouch," Dinah muttered, her hand going to her face. She hissed when her fingers grazed the welt.

"I wouldn't touch that," Barbara said with a grin.

"Thanks," Dinah said dryly. Then she made a face. "Looks like everything worked out."

"Oh we're gonna talk," Barbara promised. "And there will be grounding."

"Right. Grounding. Can it wait until my head isn't ringing?"

"Yes," Barbara reassured her. "Can you walk?"

"Well that all depends."

"On what?"

"How far?"

"The car is right outside."

"Yeah," Dinah said. "I think I can do that."

"Good," Barbara said nodding. She looked back over at the two men who were locked in a staring contest. She sighed. "Can we continue the Macho Man competition later? I need to get Helena home."

Reese watched Dick for another long moment. He started to say something but was choked off by the pain in his stomach. He narrowed his eyes in agony, his legs almost crumpling beneath him. Reluctantly, he placed Helena into Dick's arms.

"She's okay," Barbara said again. "I'll keep you updated."

"No, I'll be in touch," he said quickly.

Then he fell, his head down. Dick reached out with one arm and steadied Reese enough that he was able to brace himself first.

It was right then that McNally reappeared with a doctor in tow. Dick nodded to Barbara and mouthed to her, "Now."

She looked over towards where three cops were standing with the Joker. He had already been cuffed but that alone offered her no comfort. One look around the Admitting Room and she could see all the lives that the madman had shattered. Again.

"Come on, Babs," Dick urged, touching her arm. "They've got him?"

"Do they, Dick?"

He offered her a sad smile and said the only thing he could. "For now anyways."

Sometimes, the truth sucked.

*****

"Do you really have to go so soon?" Barbara asked, looking up and into his eyes. She could see her reflection in them and she recognized the heartbroken look on her face. It had been there once before.

"I don't want to, Barb," he insisted. "But I'm due back on duty. And I'm not ready.not yet.I'm not ready to come back here full."

"I know," she told him, reaching out to touch his hand. "I miss you though."

He nodded slowly. "Maybe we can do things differently then?"

She smiled. "I'd like that."

He watched her for a moment, seeing the sadness he himself was feeling. Their whole lives had been torn apart that night seven years ago. Shattered really. Maybe it was high time to start putting things back in order. But it wouldn't be easy. Not even close. There was simply too much water under the bridge for it to be a snap.

"Barb." he said softly. And then he did what he so desperately wanted to do. He reached across and kissed her. Long and hard. And she sure as hell didn't pull away.

He had no idea how long it lasted but it was enough to make his body overheat and the old feelings flare up. He stroked her cheek. "I gotta."

She nodded quickly, urgently. "Go," she insisted.

He smiled sadly. "I'll be in touch."

"I know," she said.

And she did.

But that didn't make letting him walk away any easier.

*****

She paced the room, her agitation obvious. She put her hands on her side and then lifted them. Finally she stopped and turned to look at her mentor. "I didn't have a choice," she insisted. "She was frantic."

"I know," Barbara said. "But she can't defend herself."

"Yes, I can," Helena said from where she was lying bundled up in blankets on the couch. Her legs had been re-taped to such a degree that any movement would be virtually impossible.

Barbara ignored her. "You need to use your head."

"I was," Dinah replied. "I was helping. The two of you brought me into your family. I was trying to return the favor."

Barbara stopped. There was simply nothing more that she could say there. Dinah had acted off of her emotions. It hadn't been the smartest thing to do but it would hardly be helped by a stern talking to. Even now Dinah stood behind her decision.

And to be honest, Barbara knew full well, that if she had been in Dinah's place, she might have done the same thing. Or at least considered it.

"We won, Barbara," Helena said with a wide grin. "He's back behind bars and everyone is okay. And you got a goodbye kiss."

Barbara rolled her eyes. "I thought I told you not to mention that again."

"You did," Helena admitted. She chuckled and then she yawned. "Hey, any news on Reese?"

"Besides the fact that he's been calling here every five minutes to check up on you?"

Helena wrinkled her nose. She didn't exactly know what to do with that. It was an understatement to say that her feelings for Reese were mutual. Hell, she'd probably fallen for him long before he'd even thought of her in that manner. Hardly mattered though. "Yeah. Besides that?"

"He should be released tomorrow. That's if he doesn't pull his stitches again. I hear he's not exactly the most ideal patient."

"That fits," Dinah teased.

"What does that mean?" Helena asked, eyes wide in mock shock.

Dinah laughed and held up her hands as if to signal her surrender. "Nothing. Nothing. Just that you both seem to have an aversion to medical treatment."

"I don't have an aversion," Helena protested. "I just think Barbara enjoys poking me a bit too much."

"Mmm hmm, that's it," Barbara snorted. "Okay. Everyone to sleep. Dinah, both you and I have to return to school tomorrow."

"We do?" Dinah asked, hoping desperately for an out.

"We do," Barbara confirmed, shutting her down. She looked over at Helena. "And believe it or not, you're still not even close to one hundred percent. More like fifty. Out like a light go you."

Helena saluted her. "Yes ma'am." She clapped her hands. "Alfred?"

The butler appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. "To bed?"

She nodded and reached up for him. He bent and picked her up, scooping into his seemingly frail arms. Of course he was nothing of the sort. He nodded to Barbara and Dinah. "Goodnight," he said.

"Goodnight, Alfred," Barbara said affectionately.

"Goodnight, Alfred," Dinah said, smiling.

"To bed Jeeves," Helena said playfully. She wrapped her arms around his neck.

"Jeeves. Wonderful," he deadpanned. He shook his head and then turned towards the back bedroom.

Helena was still in no condition to be by herself back at her apartment despite her frequent insistences that she was just fine. Barbara had no intention of letting her out of the Clock Tower until she could at the very least cross a street by herself.

"Alfred," Helena said, dropping her head against the butler's shoulder. Almost like a small child.

"Yes, Miss Helena?"

"Is he gone this time?"

Alfred paused a moment. He had never lied to Bruce. "If he's not," the butler replied softly, "then we shall aspire to deal with him at that time. For now, he's not here and he can't hurt you anymore."

"Okay," she said.

He dropped her into the bed and pulled the blankets up over her. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Sleep well, Miss Helena."

"You too," she murmured. Her eyes fluttered and then closed. A moment later her breathing relaxed and she slipped into dream world.

*****

The guard turned and looked into the room. All of the walls of the cell were made of glass so that the inmate could be watched around the clock. No one wanted a repeat of the prison breakout. Not on their watch.

"He still just grinning like that?" Bobby Harris asked as he sipped his coffee. He groaned when he realized that his wife had once again made it too strong.

"Hasn't moved an inch in the last hour," Scott Ryder replied, following Harris's gaze. "He laughed about twenty minutes ago but that's it. This guy is seriously torqued man."

No shit," Harris agreed, putting down the thermos. "Crazy son of a bitch, huh?" You think they'll finally put a needle in his arm?"

Ryder shrugged. "Who knows? The governor's funny 'bout that. Doesn't much like the death penalty. Sides, I don't care.just wish he'd stop grinning like that. Still looks like he's having a blast."

Harris looked back into the room. As he was watching, he saw the smile on the Joker's face change into a broad grin. The monster snickered and then threw back his head and laughed.

"Here kitty.kitty."

"Fucking creepy, man."

"You're telling me," Harris said with a nervous laugh. "Hey, you want some coffee?"

"Your wife make it?"

Harris nodded.

"Hell no, brother. I am smarter than you."

Harris laughed. "Indeed. You're not married to her."

The two men chuckled and walked back over to the card table they had been sitting at. "Gin?"

Harris nodded. "Sure. Anything to pass the time."

And inside his cell, the Joker laughed again.

Dick Grayson couldn't have been more wrong.

It was so very far from over.

*****

He continued to dance in front of her, laughing as he stood over her broken body. She tried so hard to move but every inch cost her dearly. She could hear her bones cracking and then splitting.

He moved closer to her and tapped her temple with his fingers. She tried to pull away be he held her steady. "I'm here," he said to her. "I'm still right here."

She tried to scream but nothing came out.

He laughed. And smiled.

"Here kitty.kitty."

He reached into a bag that had suddenly appeared and pulled a rope out. He began to tie it into a noose. Moving closer he whispered into her ear, "You will beg."

It was a promise.

She awoke with a start, tears streaking down her cheeks. She shook beneath the weight of the dream. Finally, realizing that he wasn't in the room and that she was back in the waking world, she reached out towards the nightstand.

Her hand connected with the remote and she snapped it up. She turned the TV on and immediately pushed the PLAY button for the VCR.

The Lion King buzzed to life on the screen.

But all she heard was his vow.

You will beg.

And for the second time since the Joker had come into her life, she wondered if maybe her mom hadn't gotten off easy.

She could feel the fear welling up in her, tearing at her soul. Luckily for her, that was all it took for her mind to go dark and for her to black out.

But even as she faded, his words still echoed.

And she still refused to succumb to them. "Never," she insisted. "Never."

-FIN