Justice League: Generations #02 - "Fight the Good Fight"
"It's impossible to live life without regret.
All you can do is make the choices that lead to the least regret."
A good twenty years hence...
It wasn't quite a pleasant dream, but a dream nonetheless.
One that'd haunted her for more than half her life in various forms and at innumerable times. Blood, death, her mother's hands clenched on her shoulders and her father's voice full of so much emotion.
"Get her out of here!"
"I don't want her to see this, Selina! Now take her! Just...just take her away..."
She was being forcibly turned away from the examination table where her father and an elderly Alfred were hovering over under the acrid glow of an extending lamp, and all she saw was the gleam of something dripping from the edges and a limp, pale hand hung over the side.
"Mommy? What's wrong!"
Her mother had picked her up, heading for that winding staircase carved out of solid rock far at the other end. "Shhh, kitten." Selina whispered.
"She's hurt, but she's in good hands."
She was struggling in the slender arms that had so much imperceptible strength, but couldn't get a good view from where she was nestled into her mother's shoulder. "I wanna see."
"No. Remember," Selina's voice was stern, "the fight. Helena knows the risks she takes, to fight the good fight. So did your daddy, and Barbara, and uncle Dick and uncle Tim." Through the hidden door and the grandfather clock, her mother didn't stop until reaching the west wing, heavy on the mahogany and looming shadows.
Helena was seeing her dreamworld through a blur and remembered how the tears had stung her eyes, and how her mother's pace remained eerily constant until she'd gotten as far away as possible.
Helena was only a child but conscious to the fact one of her exemplars was dying a certain horrible death on that cold, metal table.
And then, Helena woke to the alarm by her bed.
She didn't leap from the bedlam of images in a cold sweat, just brushed them off as she always did and sat up into the slatted sunbeams reclining across her bedspread.
Helena Bertinelli had died that night, less than an hour after her mother had stole her from the batcave and sequestered her in the mansion, in her arms, a warm blanket and a song hummed to lull her to sleep. It was her father who'd slowly entered the room and told them both through dead eyes and a blank expression (more so than normal), and though he'd done his best to wash off the blood, the stench was still there.
It was that smell that always got to her.
She turned; there were eyes on her. Rare this time of morning, but her mother had always been something of a night person.
"You'll be late." she reminded coolly.
She pulled back the curtain of hair, the only reflection in the dark, liquid surface a halo of light near the crown. "I know."
"You never leave enough time to spare. How long were you out last night?"
Helena only imagined her appearance, and how gruesome a night in Gotham's alleys and on its roofs and four hours worth of sleep would leave an otherwise svelte and perfectly symmetrical profile. Her arms ached at every joint, from her shoulders to her knuckles; Firefly had nearly burned her from the outside in and gotten a few good shots in before Helena disabled her flamethrowers by slashing at her tank (and nearly setting the entire rooftop aflame as the fuel was a hell of a lot more fluid than she'd initially thought). She only hoped the sunlight that was bathing the vast suite also obscured the fact she looked about ten years older. "Too long."
Selina hovered at the doorway, presumably until her daughter would drag herself from the massive, four-poster bed. "Well, you have less than a half hour to get to Avalon."
"I'll fly fast."
"I hope you do. I don't like having to explain why my daughter is always late for her morning classes. Though I'm sure the administrators suspect a lot of their students moonlight in spandex, secret identities only work if one doesn't suffer by the other."
Helena mumbled something, but it wasn't quite audible to make out.
Lissome and grace, her mother slinked from view with all the fluidity of a feline and Helena was envious at how she didn't make a single sound.
"Right," she breathed, "school."
A shudder went through the plane as its axis was turned, tipped on its end and readied for launch. Flipping a few switches, Helena watched as the hangar doors opened at the end of the tunnel and a shaft of light shot downwards with all the force of a cannon.
She shielded her eyes, "Ugh..." and leaned into the stick.
The jet lurched forward, and she was thrown back into her seat as the catapult mechanism fired her through the rock-walled tunnel and into the sky.
If she hadn't been so focused on the tunneled view through the cockpit, she would've missed the ribbon of cotton and denim that shot past her and barely registered on the navigational radar.
Helena felt the surge through the joystick controls, got a handle on the jet and sighed, "Kent."
The half-Kryptonian had rocketed past her and was coming around for another pass. She was buzzing her, like UFOs and airliners and Helena wasn't quite in the mood to be shown up by someone who was nearly giddy in the fact she'd aced her entrance exam with ninety-seven percent.
Seeing Lara slow to presumably hitch a ride or escort her the rest of the way towards campus, Helena suddenly pulled left, revved the dual engines and plunged into the thicket of skyscrapers. Windows rattled as the sleek aircraft flew through downtown Metropolis, skimming surfaces by a couple of feet and pulling gees that would crush anyone else but the daughter of the Batman.
Lara followed behind, impressed at Helena's piloting skills, though she could detect an increased heartbeat when she wasn't caught in the wake of Wayne Industries' most powerful ramjet.
The small craft weaved through a few more towers and, if Lara hadn't noticed the sharp drop in power, would've lost her friend when Helena suddenly cut the thrust and plunged towards Main Street.
Early morning traffic had the boulevard clogged and with the snail's pace, before anyone noticed a sharply curved wing dropping down between the vehicles and nearly carving the road along the yellow line at a little over three hundred miles per hour, it was already gone before they had the chance to look.
Helena was almost perfectly vertical, white-knuckled and teeth grit as she held her plane steady enough to allow only an inch of travel either way, until an oncoming traffic light threatened her starboard wing. The alloy would've sheered it from the pole but the better part of conscientiousness forced her to pull up, level out and inadvertently aim for the Daily Planet.
Lara was still right behind, choking on exhaust fumes. "The Planet...time to go a little higher, Helena."
The black, stylized craft started gaining altitude in a smooth but very languid curve and just as Lara thought it was about to plow into the nineteenth floor, it started skimming the glass and rocketed straight up towards the holographic Planet symbol. The last window at the top, the one that looked out towards the skyline and sea and the iridescent horizon, nearly shook off and out from its frame as Helena flew past and into open air.
Clark Kent and his wife had just arrived for work when he'd picked the low rumble from the rest of the background noise. It was familiar and growing. Only his superhuman reflexes allowed him to turn in time to have a dark shape (that looked, not so surprisingly in retrospection, like the bat symbol) dart past the window. The vibration followed, rippling through their office. "Helena?"
With a cup of coffee in her hand, Lois affirmed without even looking, "Helena."
And a moment later, a smaller, slimmer shape followed. "And Lara." Clark whispered, adjusting his glasses.
"Wherever Helena goes, Lara's sure to be there too."
"We'll have to have a little talk about them playing chicken in the middle of town."
With Helena pulling impressive but time-consuming spirals in mid-air, Lara took the chance to pull ahead in the race towards Avalon school grounds. The city center bled away from underneath them to the rolling pastures of what little rural country there was left along the Eastern seaboard.
Helena looped around and followed, pushing the jet to its limits and crushing her body against the seat.
That familiar high whine was screaming now, reaching a crescendo right behind her and to Lara it felt as if an animal was nipping at her heels. She looked back and zoomed in through the cockpit's windscreen, hoping to see that smoldering Wayne resentment in the fact she was winning and beating the best of her gadgets.
But Helena's only reaction was a smirk and a pointed finger.
Lara turned to see just what her friend was smiling at and hit a brick wall.
At least, something incredibly similar and something that easily brought a hundred and fifteen pounds and the three times the momentum behind her to a painful stop. Whatever she had collided with in mid-air was knocked away and they both went into freefall. Lara's vision was swimming, and she could barely form a cohesive thought let alone generate the capability to defy gravity.
Though it may have felt like forever, the plunge was over in less than a few seconds.
They hit, or, more appropriately, plowed into the meadows just outside the school's property. Lara had nearly taken out a tree and her brick wall had rolled several ways away, leaving a trail of feathers as he went.
Lara thought she saw something flutter past her vision. Maybe it was the mild concussion settling into the tissues of her brain, and all the symptoms that came with.
"...Think she's dead?..."
Voices. Something had mumbled its way into semi-coherency, on the edge of her near-consciousness and Lara tried to turn her head without sending off a trumpet of pain darting from one synapse to another.
A hand shot into view, waving. "Hello in there..."
Lara focused in on a riot of color. Iris. And something blond. Conner. They were standing over her, one genuinely concerned and the other content with the view of Supergirl sprawled on the ground. "Iris...?" she managed.
"A three point landing." Connor smirked.
"What did I hit?"
Iris flicked her eyes towards a very large shape shaking the impact from his head and wings. "Not what...who."
Lara shot up, eating the price of such a sudden move, and found Rex Stewart getting to his feet. "Oh," she choked, "god."
"Of all the students you could've nearly punched a hole through." Iris needled.
He growled, fixed the strands thrown out of place by the blow, growled again and whirled on the small girl who seemed to become even smaller under his unintended murderous glare (instinct he supposed). Rex relaxed slightly, discovering that the flash of light that hit like a truck had been Lara.
"Oh...Rex." she managed, staring into eyes so intense it was a like a ten ton weight. "I'm so sorry!"
The Thanagarian didn't seem annoyed, or overly enthused about the bruise he knew was going to later erupt on his chest. He didn't actually seem to emote in any way. He stayed ice, tone and all. "It's all right."
Lara dropped her eyes to his torso, and considering the difference in height between them her gaze had pretty much leveled back out. Trying not to reveal her veneration of the slabs of muscle left open between lapels flapping in the wind like something off the cover of a romance novel, she could already see how the skin had reddened at the point of impact. Her skull against his breastbone. "It's not..."
"No harm done." he said.
"There was, but not so much physically as it was to my ego."
Something was sparked, interest perhaps. "You have an ego?"
"Well, I suppose if you can fly, you can have an ego."
She looked up, the fear of this imposing man fading some. "Why does that surprise you?"
Rex's expression was unusual. "If there's anyone who doesn't seem egotistical, it's you."
Lara tittered, wrapped a few locks around her finger. "Well..."
"If you'll excuse me, Lara." he said, ruffling the wingspan. "I have a class starting soon."
With a little bit of hesitation, Rex at last went to leave. Turning to collect his books and papers he was forced to squint through a small cyclone that'd suddenly whipped up and, when the dust cleared, found Iris had done it for him. She barely stood to his chest, smirking with an offered hand bearing gifts that came with the price of her brazen, unremitting glare.
He shrugged it off, took the books and started off.
And about the time he was out of earshot Lara whirled on the couple having watched everything from the ground.
She made a corkscrew motion with her finger. "You could've caught us."
"We didn't see." Iris answered, trying to smother the bouts of laughter in between getting something intelligible into the air. "All we heard was something like a crack of thunder and the second we turned around, the two of you were chewing dirt. That was too fast for even me to react."
"Oh god..." Lara groaned.
"Hey," Connor thought to help, in his own particular style, "think of it this way, every time he looks in the mirror and sees that giant bruise, he'll think of you."
Lara snatched his collar and yanked him towards her, but before the stew of embarrassment, rage and a wealth of inherited abilities were able to inflict any kind of damage the bell rung, and calculating the time it would take to collect her own books and scattered papers and get to class, she decided against lobotomizing him.
As Connor ran to catch up with his girlfriend, Lara went about collecting the debris that'd rained from the sky. But between the flotsam and jetsam of study notes and textbooks, something piqued her interest. A feather. One of Rex's (she knew the color well). Snatching it from the ground before anyone noticed, she ran her fingers along the bristled edge and smiled.
"Another for your collection?"
Her shoulders curled in. How she never heard her approach, her breath or sensed her footsteps were questions she'd stopped asking herself a long time ago. "Helena." Lara breathed. The Wayne heiress was right behind her. And she didn't need to swivel on her block-heel to know what particular expression was currently crawling down her spine.
"If I were you," Helena said as she passed, "I'd just simply ask him out instead of collecting things that fall from his body."
"Easy for you to say..."
"Yes it is."
"Then what's wrong with–"
"Your hobby?" she finished. "It's creepy."
Her first thought was her homework.
Despite having jumped between four neighborhoods over rooftops, billboards, fire escapes and whatever tiny piece of metal, mortis or brick would hold her, thoughts would always intrude. Biology, chapter seven, complex hydrocarbon chains, test on Thursday, it was amazing just how many distractions were running through her head despite her father's frequent warnings.
The two shapes she was after were bounding from roof to roof just in front of her, matching her speed and even though she wasn't losing any considerable ground, she wasn't gaining either.
Having left the vault door cleaved in two perfect slices and a trail of small, smoking craters behind, Helena had arrived just in time to see a burst of green gas precede a couple of slender figures sauntering from the bank, their gasmasks fashioned after a familiar and toothy visage.
And within ten minutes she'd chased them across half of Gotham's business district until, somewhere over 4th and Mysteria, close to the exit to Blüdhaven, they vanished. And it wasn't until she'd hit a larger rooftop lit up under a few billboards that she realized they must have doubled back on such a perfect spot to set a trap.
"Damnit..." Helena breathed self-deprecatingly. Her father would've had a field day if he'd known she just opened herself to anyone in a three-hundred sixty degree radius.
A voice, its source disguised by the echo that probably reached down to the street below.
"But they clash." another answered the first. "Black and purple and gray."
"We prefer red."
"Always bet on red."
Helena almost had them sourced. They were moving; one behind her, the second slightly to her left.
The HarleTwins. Having taken their obsession with the Joker's right hand woman one step beyond the limits of sanity, they were opposite sides of the fifty-third card in the deck but deadly similar in fighting ability and often psychotically inventive in intent.
There was even a rumor these two were the illicit offspring of Harley and the Joker. Underneath all the make-up and costumes, they looked like they were wearing familiar genes.
"It's Batgirl." one chirped.
"Batgirl." and the other cooed.
Helena was flanked. "Well, if it isn't the twins."
With every breath or vibration no matter how minute, a perfectly concentric ring would spread through her coffee.
It was mesmerizing to the point where all outside stimuli had been completely shut out. Until at least, the ice-cold baritone of her lover somehow broke through, dancing along the raven curls on her neck.
Selina didn't move. She just moved her eyes up and underneath an impeccably kept pair of brows, seeing Bruce at the kitchen's doorway. "I suppose I am."
He moved a few feet inside, coming to a stop at the table's edge. "It'll get cold."
"She'll be home soon."
His assurance didn't quite move her into any sort of action, let alone taking a mouthful of the quickly-cooling drink. He'd promised that exact same thing many times, and despite she worst scenario her imagination could concoct, Helena had always dragged herself home, nursing bruises and cuts and that same determined grimace as her father. But of all the children that could fly and split the atom, hers was oh so frailly human. A single bullet or a jump misread, she'd end up the same as her namesake, buried in Gotham cemetery. "I'm getting tired of this." she whispered. "I thought my days of waiting at home for stubborn Waynes were over."
Bruce had slinked up behind her. "You were there with me," he said, "every night."
"Not every night."
"Close enough for a former thief."
"Until I got good and knocked up. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise...I wasn't very effective at the whole hero thing." She sighed, a heavy breath that went through her lungs like cement. "But now the cycle is repeating itself."
"It's in her blood."
"So is black hair and a stare that could melt ice." Selina chortled into her cup, rubbing her thumb against the glaze. "But she has no reason to be out there when the world is full of metagene children that could crack a mountain in half."
A hand soothed her shoulder and she nearly had the impulse to shrug it off. "She's out there because she can."
"She's out there, Bruce, because of you."
"Out for a stroll?"
"Out for some air?"
"Heard you escaped Arkham." Helena bantered, eyes swinging left and right to look for an out. "All that freedom and all you do is rob the first bank in sight."
Footsteps. A whisper of movement before whatever was there was already gone. "Really?"
"We like to think of it as an early withdrawal."
She was pretty sure they were on either side of her by what she could hear, and all it would take would be a well-placed bullet screaming from the darkness and one she couldn't dodge in time. Depressing a section on her staff, the last two inches from the top unlatched.
More movement, this time quick, a little sloppy, rushed; they saw it. They were coming.
Helena went for broke and flipped her staff down, making contact with the rooftop.
A flash grenade. It went off, lit up the sky and for a moment, there were no shadows to hide in. The twins were exposed, and when the light died down and their vision returned, Huntress was gone.
One of the twins looked around her. "Tricky."
"Sneaky." her partner amended.
"Ladies." a voice interrupted. "I am seriously unimpressed."
Almost fully bathed in the light, the HarleTwins backed against each other and scanned the ledges, the shadows, the backdrop of old-world architecture and anywhere else a hero could hide. One had a comically sized revolver, the other a massive steel hammer crackling with electricity and even the pale makeup couldn't disguise the irritation.
"But I suspect the bank was just to get my attention. Well, here I am."
"No," one of the twins sneered, "there you hide."
Her sister decided on the more direct approach, aimed her gun into a particularly dark section and fired. It was like a bazooka; the projectile was out of the barrel and gone and an explosion tore across the rooftop.
And in the rain of debris, flaming and otherwise, Helena was flushed from her hiding place and into plain sight, exactly where she wanted to be. Now she was on equal footing with the twins, with enough small burning fires to dispel every potential hiding place within a hundred feet.
She attacked like someone possessed, channeling her father in every step and measured breath; she only allowed a clever quip or two when she wasn't working every angle of attack through her mind at once. She whirled around, looking to catch one of the twins with a right boot and keeping the sister a fair distance with her left hand until she could finish and bring both of her feet to the ground. Two easy blocks and Helena dropped, jabbing her staff into a stomach, turning, and spearing the other end into the other twin's thigh.
They were fast, as always, and limber, like contortionists, able to flex and bend and dodge everything in wildly innovative and eccentric movements.
Helena was barely able to guess what they'd do next, as nothing in their style conformed to any technique she'd been taught (by a man who'd apparently mastered everything). And considering they were two that moved and thought like one, Helena had to contend with four fists coming in at every angle.
They were thwarting every shot, thrust, parry and punch
"No talkies?" the one with the red-painted teardrop said.
"She gets quiet when she fights." he sister retorted. Her particular make-up had been done in black, half her face painted like a demon.
"Just like the bat."
"Yes, just like the bat."
"Sometimes," Helena grunted, dodging a particularly nasty left hook, "I wish you two would just shut up."
"Me?" he echoed, feigning ignorance. Bruce was playing dumb, but, especially to his lover who'd seen him in every possible emotional state he was capable of, it was too much of a stretch to believe.
"Don't." Selina quickly warned him, cat-eyes aglow against soft kitchen light. "Don't deny the influence you have on her."
"But I'm not the sole reason she goes out there."
She hated how he could be so calm in the face of an oncoming storm. The impending reality of fatherhood and Alfred's death stood out in her memory as really the only events that seemed to dishevel him. "Your encouragement didn't quite help either." she said low, and controlled.
He grimaced, a good, startlingly expressive grimace that drew faint lines into his face from the edges of his eyes and mouth back. "It wasn't encouragement," he amended, "it was protection."
Selina arched her brows. "Protection?"
"I could have denied her the cave, the weaponry, the means to wage her war, and she still would have taken to the streets. Unprepared, and a target for any thug trying to make a name."
"You gave her the means to kill herself. Willingly."
"Yes." he answered calmly.
"Damnit, I'm sick of you using her as your personal weapon, Bruce!" she fired at him, lifting out of the chair. "Just because your body doesn't respond as quickly or heal as well anymore, you still fight your war through her."
"I never forced her into this."
"But you never did anything to stop her, either."
"You can't stop the wind from blowing, Selina–"
"Oh spare me." she hissed, cutting Bruce off at the rhetoric.
But he continued, undaunted, "Nor can you stop someone who's dead-set on following in her father's footsteps. Kent, Queen, West, the list goes on of all the children that wear their parents' symbols."
"They have superpowers..."
Two strong, weathered hands came down gently on her shoulders; hands that had single-handedly kept Gotham from collapsing in on itself and, at one time, had even been used against her. "If I hadn't trained her, molded her, she might have been killed. And I'm not in the slightest apologetic."
Selina pursed her lips, biting back the caustic wit with sharp canines. Bruce would often win their arguments only by default, considering she didn't have the patience to do anything but either lash out or leave the room.
"I hate to use such a tired cliché, but it's in the blood." Bruce said. "I think Helena only had a few choices in her life, playing the socialite or the vigilante."
"Never a word I'd appreciated but–"
"I think Gordon got to you. But no," Selina shook off his hands, "you're wrong. With the fortune behind her, she could have done anything she damned well please, but she chose to follow daddy into the streets."
"Or followed mommy's illustrious career, digging into wall safes."
Selina got defensive. "It was for a good cause."
"Most of it..."
Bruce was positively glowing, as much as someone with his dark complexion could. He didn't wear a smile often but seeing, and feeling, his partner squirm was one of the small pleasures he'd come to enjoy. She was a brick wall sometimes. "After a while, I suppose it became a thrill."
"Or a very odd version of foreplay." she quipped. "And how did this conversation suddenly turn around to me!"
"Because our daughter may be in this for one very simple reason. The thrill."
The twins got off on blood and pain, licking the former from their lips and using the latter as an extra bit of fuel to feed off of. If the rumors were indeed true, they had the All-American girl looks of their mother and the mental (in)stability of their father.
Teardrop (Helena had never actually learned their names; they just showed up one night baring a striking resemblance to two of her father's oldest foes) wiped the red smear from her chin, smearing a bit of make-up while her sister, Demon, moved in where her twin had left an opening.
She pulled a pair of knives from her belt and started hacking at any body part close enough to get hit, and Helena barely had time to pull her hands away from a potential amputation. Her staff was one of Wayne Enterprises' strongest alloys, and these uniquely-shaped fighting knives easily put deep scores into the metal. Sparks flickered between every point of contact, like little explosions in rapid succession and it wasn't so much the skill of Demon that made her nervous, it was her unpredictability.
She didn't know where the next swipe would land and could barely keep up. And through it all, Demon had on a maniacal grin, one that would make her supposed father proud.
She swiped hard enough to sink her knives into Helena's staff, and the two women struggled for a moment to separate and hopefully take the other's weapon away. But as they danced around each other, Helena was getting the feeling she was being held there like bait, and it wasn't until she heard the lightest of footsteps behind her that she noticed Teardrop had disappeared.
Helena ducked, her costume's ears nearly shortened by an inch as two more knives went for her head. Teardrop emerged with her own set of blades just behind, pinning Huntress between them.
It was now Helena wished Lara was here to watch her back with X-ray eyes.
But the 24th generational heir to the House of El was too busy, worrying whether or not her hobby was turning into an obsession. Lara ran her fingers over the edges of the feather's quill, the one she'd scooped from the ground after her and Rex's mid-air collision and then added it to the small wooden box she kept under her bed.
But collecting the object of her crush's body parts wasn't the best way to gather the courage to express to him how she felt, and as Helena put it, it did seem to be getting a little creepy. Her small box had more than twenty she'd accumulated over the years. It'd turned from a simple childhood pastime to something with a little more meaning behind it.
She snapped the box shut and twisted around, shoving it under a pillow with a bit of super-speed.
Lois had felt the light breeze just as she peered through the doorway, seeing a few posters and open book pages flutter in the whirlwind, but was used to the odd-doings of her daughter ever since she'd soaked up enough solar energy to lift a truck. But Lara did seem flushed. "Problem?"
"N-No. No problem here." she answered.
"Uh-huh..." Lois thinned her gaze at her daughter but she decided to let it slide, dismissing it as normal, super-powered teenage eccentricity. "Anyways, it's past eleven, you going to bed soon?"
"Good. School tomorrow."
"You know," Lara regained her composure, "I bet Helena's mother doesn't harp on her about her bedtime."
"The Waynes are night-owls. You on the other hand function best when the sun's out." She stepped out into the hall and just before closing the door completely, arched an eyebrow and said, "Don't stay up too late."
The door clicked closed, and Lara immediately went for the box. Holding it in her hand, the sheer weight of it was sobering; only a lot of feathers could weigh so much. "Maybe it is creepy."
"Oh," the door suddenly swung open, Lois' violet eyes gleaming, "collecting Rex's feathers? It's creepy."
"Yes. I don't think your father would've been so interested in me if he knew I was collecting his toenail clippings."
Selina's lips were so puckered one would've thought half a lemon had been slipped into her mug. But it was her own defense against what wanted to leap from her tongue; the Catwoman had always excelled at the glib remark and always got herself into more trouble with her smart mouth than anything else.
Bruce's statement had to be digested for a moment before saying anything, but it only gave him the chance to get close with a few fingers under her hair and along the nape of her neck.
"You can't tell me for that split second as the tether-line went slack between the tallest buildings in Gotham, you didn't feel as if you were flying." Bruce's lips were right by her ear, hot breaths sending shudders down her spine and invoking memories that had only slightly faded after twenty years worth of domestication. "Muscles screaming, heartbeat like a drum against both ears, wind tearing at your cape."
The images faded as abruptly as a needle run off the record. "Cape?"
"How many nights did I chase you across Gotham's rooftops?"
Nails against her mouth, she ran the groomed edges along her bottom lip. "Too many to count." she whispered.
"Helena's a teenager, different than most, yes, but typical."
"I can't believe she'd want to risk her life for the simple buzz."
Bruce shrugged, helpless for any other gesture that could fit. "Like I said, typical teenager."
With an indignant huff, Selina polished off the rest of her coffee and spun the mug across the table, letting it glide up just against the opposite edge. She got up, stretched and maneuvered smartly around Bruce towards the doorway.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
Claws caught carpet and she turned with a swirl of shoulder-length hair. "To have a bath, and wait for my daughter to limp home, bruised and bloody."
Helena was baring her teeth, unintentionally, canines gnashed and lips curled back to nearly reveal her gums. Demon was just as strong as she was, but she didn't show the exertion as much as a smug, black-lipped grin. And it didn't help that her sister was taking potshots at her from behind.
Teardrop landed a lucky kick to her spine (lightly armored by the weapons satchel), and Demon took the opening to draw blood from her cheek with a flash of steel. Helena felt it pass through her flesh with no resistance whatsoever, but took it with a grunt. It was a nick compared to the damage the devil-decked twin could've done, but it bled out with a steady rivulet reaching to just underneath Helena's jaw.
Momentarily stunned, she braced her staff against locked elbows just as Demon thrust towards her and embedded her knives into the weapon, sinking the blades deep into the alloy. They were locked together, and Helena couldn't pull away, instead haphazardly circling to keep the sister off of her back (and away from her spinal cord).
It was a stand off, until Demon leaned in and licked the blood from Helena's face.
She pulled away in disgust.
"Yummy." Demon teased, drinking in the tang.
Teardrop joined in, "Is it warm, sister?"
"Spicy. Like Picante."
"You degenerate little bitch!" Helena growled, wrenching her staff from Demon's knives and breaking away at the cost of nearly pulling a muscle somewhere deep in her shoulder and side.
"Oh," Teardrop picked up on it, "anger."
"Frustration." her twin echoed. "She's rife with it."
"–at the seams."
But for all their teasing to better make the Huntress sloppy, the twins didn't know they were stoking the fires inherited more from her mother. "All right, fuck the silent vigilante crap!" She spun around and nearly fractured Teardrop's skull; the twin didn't see it coming as she never expected such viciousness from a heroine.
She dropped and Helena heard boots scuff the rooftop behind her. The cadence was familiar; Demon was getting ready to attack.
Their lack of any kind of formal fighting style apart from a sort of maniacal flailing and circus freak contortion meant Helena couldn't quite tell what was coming, but she knew it was coming in low. Her opponent was favoring her right heel more than the left, getting her good leg into position. She waited for the light fingers of wind to touch her neck, exposed just below the hairline where the collar of her costume opened up, and leapt over the sweep-kick that would've put her down hard.
Helena ended up behind Demon, struck the twin square across the back before she could turn and whirled around, jabbing the other end of her staff into Teardrop's throat.
She nearly swallowed her tongue, and coughed a bit of blood through a closed esophagus, stumbling away.
"Careless..." Helena crowed. "Very careless. You make too much noise."
"Noise is our specialty." Demon argued, taking a swipe at the heroine with one of her knives. "Chaos. Anarchy. Screams."
"Noise is also your weakness." Helena had again heard the telltale scrape of Demon's left boot, and dodged the consequent right hand by twisting around it and the knife gunning for her jugular. She wound up, tensed, coiled every muscle in her upper body and cracked the elbow with her staff, feeling something break along the length of Demon's arm.
She screamed, the knife clattered harmlessly to the ground and both women rolled away from each other.
Helena's eyes were set in azure stone beneath her lowered brow, channeling her father's chilled glare. "See what I mean?"
Clutching her broken arm, Demon spit air between her clenched teeth. "Naughty." Her sister was a ways away, the other half of the HarleTwins struggling to get air through her damaged windpipe and rendered useless as a fighting partner. "It's late. Mother will be worried."
"So, I won?"
Eyes thinned, blood boiled. "Don't gloat."
Helena approached expecting something in Demon's collection of toys to snap at her from a hidden compartment (acid maybe, or a set of false teeth with a taste for human flesh), but only got halfway before the twin reached into her belt. Helena grabbed for a batarang in response and grasped the handle, waiting for something sharp and lethal to come flying towards her.
But Demon enjoyed the anticipation she found behind the mask, seeing the supple physique tense up behind the Kevlar suit and thought to draw it out a little longer to see if the hero would blink first.
She was being played with, Helena knew, but didn't want to waste the effort going on the offensive. The trap would spring with her caught right where Demon wanted her and here, several meters away, was the safest point.
Demon cocked her head, almost going completely sideways. "Frightened?"
Helena refused to banter in kind.
"So stolid. Like the bat." She twitched, along the arm that'd reached behind her, and the Huntress mirrored her sudden tic. But no one yet drew first. "So predictable. Like the bat."
"You didn't know him."
"Oh yes, we do." she sneered. "We know everything about him, everything that he is and was and passed down to his helpers. And we know that you now have three fingers and a thumb on the left blade of a batarang, ready to knock whatever I have out of the air."
Helena's fingers rubbed against the blade; it could've been a familiarity with every tactic she'd learned from her father or something as simple as a good guess, but it did what it was supposed to. It unnerved her. Her heart rate increased, her breathing, and she licked her lips.
There. The moment of indecision Demon was waiting for. She threw the flash grenade towards the Huntress and with that momentary dull in her reflexes, Helena got her batarang out a second too late.
The weapons collided far closer to Helena, and the entire world went white and hot in the discharge.
She shielded her eyes with her good arm and twisted away from the blinding light, but had looked straight into the heart of the explosion and her vision was swimming.
The light eventually died like the last firework of the night, and a few indistinct shapes returned as the Gotham skyline was restored to its black, jagged line. Helena blinked the spots from her eyes, and noticed the twins had vanished without even a cackle receding somewhere in the dark.
"Damnit..." she growled, and rubbed her shoulder.
One would have expected sparks off the tail fins the way she exploded between the hangar doors just wide enough to allow the jet to squeeze through. Helena rode the thrust control like a hot-rodder would the gas, following the rock-walled tunnel with inches to spare on either wingtip towards the cave and she could feel her pulled muscles protesting with every bump in the air.
The tunnel eventually widened out into familiar rock formations and she slowly reduced power to the engines, as ancient bedrock ceded to the modern trappings of technology.
A signal had gone off in the cockpit, warning of a presence in the cave, but with her eyesight she'd already picked out the lone figure standing near the central basin.
She expected her father, waiting with a reprimand wearing the cloak of a good-hearted sermon of how to better dodge every blow. But the silhouette was far too slim for her broad-shouldered progenitor.
Her mother, she discovered, as she neared and the low-hanging shadows of the batcave dwindled and dissolved against the landing pad's lights. She'd rarely met her here, if at all, choosing rather to wait in the manor above. It was a silent testament to her loathing of the path her daughter had chosen.
Helena had the jet at quarter thrust all the way towards the circular landing pad, cut out of a particularly wide stalagmite. She would've taken her mother's head clean off if at the last moment hadn't throttled down and used the vectored thrust to land perfectly inside the painted lines.
The cockpit hatch slid away and she wasn't more mindful of the pain shooting up her side when she actually tried to move. Knowing how good her mother's hearing was, Helena gritted against any audible symptom and slowly climbed out from the batwing.
But as she landed, that attempt to conceal her injuries went out the window with the groan of pain at whatever muscle or muscles she'd pulled.
Selina knew the body language of someone holding back a scream behind their teeth, the superhero predisposition for stubbornness, and started towards the landing pad to meet Helena halfway. Wordlessly, and dispensing with the lecture she and her daughter had thrown back and forth between them for years now, she reached out, offering her hand.
Helena stopped, read her mother's expression and found it all but indecipherable.
The hand remained where it was, and considering she was blocking the only path between the landing area and where the Huntress wanted to go, Selina expected either reciprocation or the girl pulling a one-eighty over her head.
But, eventually, after a stare that lowered the temperature in the cave a few degrees, Helena grasped her mother's hand and allowed her to lead her from the platform, towards the artillery racks and a proper first aid kit.
"Thank you." Helena managed, breaking away and reaching around her back with her good arm.
As she stripped down, unloading the weapons satchel and utility belt and peeling the mask from her face, Selina saw more than just the weight sloughing off from the deceptively lean teenager.
"Why do you do this?" she asked.
"You know why." Helena said, grabbing for a heat-pack and a proper bandage for her face. She'd rubbed a bit of salve across the gash to stop the bleeding, but imagined it looked a little messy.
Selina leaned against the table's edge, watching as her daughter unloaded an inordinate amount of weaponry from seemingly nowhere. "I understood your father's vow; it took two people to die to create the Batman, but what drives you?"
"I do it because I can."
"Is it because of Helena?"
Catching herself in the reflection of a batarang's chrome surface, she noticed the effect the question had on her. In the cruelest of ironies, she even looked like her namesake; black hair, diamond-shaped jaw and that same dark resolve. "No."
"You sure?" Selina needled. It was a rare treat to drill through that layer of ice Helena wore.
"Very." she said. "This isn't vengeance, or a rich girl's latest leisure pursuit, it's what I feel I have to do."
"Why do you need to know?"
"Cats are curious, and I need to understand this drive you have."
"So you can better understand me, or dad?"
Selina casually waved off the accusation like someone would a refill of coffee, "Oh, you'd be surprised at how easy your father is to understand." and somewhere in the revelation, a confident laugh bubbled through. "He's a wonderfully simple person masquerading as someone infinitely more complex, only because it shrouds his true self and boosts the ego. But you, Helena, you're the mystery."
And playing up the ambiguity, Helena didn't answer.
"You have a rare gift of normalcy among all these superpowered demigods clogging the sky and curing cancer, no powers to smother you under some archaic sense of responsibility..."
"Says the former burglar."
She threw a finger out, brandishing a talon that just happened to be manicured at a hundred bucks a session, and Helena flinched. "I warned you about the sharp tongue, kitten." she cautioned.
Instinctively fearful of that tone ever since she was a child, Helena backed down and returned her gaze to her equipment. "Sorry."
"It's all right, you did inherit it from me after all. But you still haven't answered my question."
"Haven't I?" Helena skirted. Apparently, she'd inherited her mother's penchant for cynicism and evasion as well.
"Your father thinks it's for the thrill." Selina continued, and brushed a lock of hair from her brow. "Please don't let him be right."
"But he is..." she hated to break it to her, but added on the fact her mother's expression tightened, "mostly. I may not have Lara or Iris' powers, but I have the same legacy."
"That doesn't mean you have to spend the rest of your life living up to it."
"Yes," she asserted, "I do. If I'm ever going to be able to live with myself, I do."
"You could die out there."
"I know." Helena said softly. "Trust me, I'm well aware of the danger–"
"Oh, my dear," Selina stopped her cold and held her face with a single hand, forcing their eyes to meet, "you have absolutely no idea what lies out there in the shadows. And the only thing that scares me more than the monsters you'll find is your own ignorance."
She didn't enjoy being coddled when a child and she especially didn't appreciate it now. Helena pulled her head away and returned to fiddling with all of her shiny, pointed playthings if just to appear busy. "I suppose I'll have to find out the hard way then."
"In true Wayne fashion." Selina chuckled, and leaned towards the direction of the stairway. "Come on, you can put your toys away later. By the way you're clenching your teeth with every move of your right arm, you need an Epsom bath."
She'd heard that phrase in that exact same maddening tone hundreds of times over, when Bruce was bleeding, broken and on a case that wouldn't end until he either saved the victim or fished the body from Gotham harbor. Selina turned back and, with a simple jab of two fingers to just underneath Helena's ribcage, set off a bolt of pain through her daughter's nerve endings.
Helena's eyes shot open; her mother had gored her nails into the flesh and twisted it, somehow grabbing at just the right strand of muscle.
"Ouch. That must be painful."
The fire died to a few low-burning embers down her side and her higher brain functions appeared from under the blanket of pain. She took a few breaths and glared at her mother, who returned said glare with a smirk.
"Bath?" Selina offered.
"Bath..." she yielded, and took her mother's hand, leaving a spread of weapons and tools uncharacteristically abandoned on the table for someone of such innate meticulousness.
They slowly climbed that rock-carved staircase, Helena favoring her right side on each step but Selina was patient enough to give her time.