First of all, my deepest apologies once again for the continual delays in being able to write and post more of this in a timely fashion. All I can say is that I hope things will be settle down long enough for me in the coming weeks that I can continue to work on this story more. I want to thank everyone who has emailed me and posted requests for me to please post more. Your loyalty and encouragement means a lot more to me than words can even begin to describe. I am deeply humbled and sincerely hope you enjoy this chapter. Rebekah Bachnick
Barbara looked up at the blackened hole that exposed what had once been her home, and haven. She couldn't help the shudder that took hold of her as unwanted memories suddenly sprang to mind with vivid clarity. Helena reached across the small space separating them in the vehicle and rested her hand on her friend's shoulder.
The haunted look, and utter terror that flashed across Barbara's face scared the younger woman. "Barbara we don't have to do this today," she said quietly.
"No…I have to Hel. I have to do this now, or it'll be too hard," she repeated.
The hand tightened slightly. "You'll never give up Barbara…your too strong," Helena told her confidently. "The elevator is out, so we'll have to hike it. Let me get your chair up there first and then I'll come back and get you."
Her older companion nodded distractedly, so the brunette slipped out of the car and was dashing up the stairs from one landing platform to the next with Barbara's motorized wheelchair clasped easily in her arms, despite it's great weight. Within seconds she was back down on the street, opening the door to the Hummer, and patiently waiting for Barbara to acknowledge that she was ready for a lift.
There was a long hesitation, and Helena knew it had a lot to do with the fact that Barbara's insecurities had been coming back full force in the last few days. Since her arm had been broken and was now unable to take any weight, she had once again found herself extremely limited in what she could do by herself. With her spirit nearly crushed, her independence all but stripped away, and her life's work destroyed, Helena couldn't blame Barbara for her recent bouts of depression.
Finally, there was a sigh of resignation, an unbuckling of her seatbelt, and Helena gently extracted Barbara from the car and carried her smoothly up the stairs. After settling Barbara in her chair Helena flashed her a tender smile.
"Thank you sweetie."
"Anytime Red….just don't get all grouchy with me the next time I wanna take a spin in your ride," Helena teased with a nod to the chair.
That finally broke the ice as a wry smile quirked her lips up. "Don't think I haven't forgotten the last time you…commandeered my wheelchair. I mean really Hel, the roof of New Gotham's Cathedral?"
"Hey," the younger woman protested with an innocent expression. "You said all terrain, and I was just testing that for you. I mean the stairs in front of the NG Library didn't phase it, so I had to see just how far I could push it."
"Well I guess we found out that a combination of old stone tiles, and an eighty degree angled roof, definitely pushed it well beyond it's limits."
Helena giggled. "So no dice huh?"
"Not only is that a no, but a hell no. If I catch you even thinking of doing something in my fifty thousand dollar modified wheelchair, I'm going to sic Dick and Alfred on you."
"Party pooper," Helena sighed dramatically.
Barbara chuckled, then paused for a minute as she felt the tenseness begin to evaporate with the familiar banter and teasing Helena had initiated. A soft smile suddenly touched her lips and she looked up at her partner. "Thanks Hel," she said quietly, as her hand reached out to intertwine with Helena's.
"You've always been there for me, Barbara- even when I didn't want you to be. I hope you know that I will always be here for you too."
"I do sweetie…..never doubt that."
"As ready as I'll ever be."
"Let's check out the bedrooms then. Reese said he and a few friends came by earlier today since they heard we we're gonna be here and left boxes in each of the rooms. Gibson, told me there was quite a bit that wasn't damaged….my old room seemed to have taken the biggest hit, but no real loss there right?"
"Did I just hear you admit that a loss of clothing wasn't a heinous crime?" Barbara teased as she guided her chair around a pile of rubble and began to follow her best friend across what had once been the living room.
"Oh, it's still a capitol offense, but for once I'm gonna give the kid a break for stealing my clothes since most of them were in her closet at the time- which I heard was unscathed," Helena said brightly.
Barbara rolled her eyes, but was silently relieved to hear that at least some of their personal affects had been spared. Her spirits lifted a great deal more when she reached her room and found that it was only moderately affected by Quinn's assault and break-in. Clothes and other various items were spread around the room from where drawers had been opened and gone through. All the pictures had been knocked off the walls and dresser, but nothing a new frame or two wouldn't fix.
Rolling further into the room, she moved a few boxes out of the way as she made her way towards the ransacked closet. Clothing and boxes had been strewn across the floor and Barbara reached just inside the doorframe and pushed a hidden small white button. The entire back wall of the closet slid back and then to the side revealing one of Barbara's many secret compartments. Glancing over the equipment with a sigh of relief, she sealed it back up and backed out of the closet.
She guided herself around the apartment level, Helena appearing at just the right moment to help move a large piece of debris out of the way. Once the beam had been shoved to one side, the younger woman wordlessly headed into the kitchen, leaving Barbara to her explorations. The brunette's tender thoughtfulness touched Barbara's heart, and tears welled up in her eyes. Helena was silently keeping an eye on her, but giving her enough space and distance to respect her fierce streak of independence. Even when she had first moved in with Barbara, Hel had just seemed to instinctively know when Barbara needed and would willingly accept a hand.
The training room and Helena's old room turned out to be the two largest disasters on the apartment level. Thankfully, nothing of importance had been discovered- by either Harley or the police. Once the redhead had comforted herself over the fact that at least a part of their lives had been left intact, she finally rolled out to the living room and glanced upwards.
"There's really not much left up there," Helena said quietly, appearing out of thin air and startling Barbara. "What Harley didn't take out with her rocket launcher, was either destroyed by her goon squad or when you self destructed the Delphi."
"I'd still like to see it," Barbara whispered.
Helena nodded, and then wordlessly picked her companion up, ever mindful of her injuries and carried her up the mangled staircase that led to the upper floor that had been her second home and the focal point of her life. Setting Barbara on a battered couch, Helena bounded over the railing, and was back over in under five seconds with the wheelchair.
"I'll probably have to stay with you….there's too much debris for you to move around easily," the younger woman said hesitantly.
"It's ok Hel….I could really use your company right now anyway," Barbara told her with a tight smile.
Another wordless nod from the brunette and the two women silently made their way through the burnt, twisted, and crumbling remains of their base of operations. Barbara paused while Helena bent to clear a path for her, and caught sight of the chair that Quinn had tied her to for nearly an hour. She felt her breath slip away as her mind flashed back to those long agonizing minutes, not knowing if she would live or die…not knowing if the ones she loved were still alive or dead…
"I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner," Helena whispered, her blue eyes fixed on the lone chair left standing in the large upper room. She could see the bloodstains coating the surface, and could scent that it was Barbara's even from several feet away. Barbara's wrists were still raw from where the ropes had dug into her flesh, and the cuts and bruises she'd suffered as a result of her torture were only just beginning to heal.
"Helena, there was nothing you could have done. Had you left the yards, you could have jeopardized the whole mission, and you would have never forgiven yourself if all those people had died in a failed mission. Your father got here as quick as any one of you could have and all of this had still happened anyway."
"Thank god he got here before she could have…" Helena's throat tightened around the words. Tears sprung to her eyes and it felt like all the air had suddenly been sucked out of the room or someone had sucker punched her in the gut- hard. For the first time, it really hit her how close she had been to losing Barbara. Her vision swam, and her world began to spin, and all she was aware of was the concerned voice asking what was wrong and then coaxing her to sit down before she passed out.
"…breath Hel….put your head between your knees and just breath….."
Helena obediently listened to that voice, and several long minutes later she lifted her head to look into concerned emerald eyes. "I'm okay now," Helena said hoarsely as she tried to shake off her emotional response and stand.
A firm hand on her shoulder stopped that. "Are you sure your ok? Maybe I should have Alfred come over-,"
"No," Helena said a little sharply, cutting Barbara off. She was silent for another minute, but those piercing green eyes wouldn't let her go anywhere until she told Barbara what was going on.
"Jesus Barbara," Helena hissed upset. "I nearly lost you. I nearly lost you and the kid." Watery blue eyes finally looked up to meet her steady gaze. "I can't go through that again. You're all I've got."
Barbara gave her a tender and sad smile. "I don't plan on going anywhere for a long time Hel. But I'm not all you have now...there's a lot more people willing to share your life if you'll continue to let them."
"They'll never replace you though Barbara. You're…you've been…." The brunette stumbled over her words, ducked her head and scrubbed her eyes against her shoulder, and swallowed thickly. When she finally looked back up, there was so much open love in her features that Barbara could only gasp in wonder at the young woman's next open admission.
"I always felt like I'd be betraying her by saying it…but I know the reason she picked you. I've known for a long time really. My mom picked you, because she knew that only you could be a mom to me. You knew when I needed to be held, you knew when I needed my space. You would let me get away with the stupid crap, but you never let me slack when it came to the important things in my life. You put up with my temper, and my mood swings, and everything else even though I wasn't your kid.
"She picked you because in a lot of ways, you are just like her. That's why it was so easy for me to think of you as my mom. I know I never told you that, but that's how I feel Barbara. I love you, and I almost lost the chance to tell you that."
Barbara stared at Helena, tears in her eyes, as she slowly digested the enormity of the moment. She glanced past the brunette, to the steel wall that still separated the Delphi Command Center from the rest of the upper tower, and then back at Helena. Finally, the older woman reached out and drew Helena to her in a fierce hug, ignoring the throbbing in her arm as the joy in her heart overwhelmed it.
"It's okay sweetheart….I knew and I love you too Hel," she whispered into dark hair. "Let's go home."
Hel sat back on her haunches after a minute, and looked behind her. "What about-."
"I've done what I needed to do here…it's time to move on," she said in a much steadier voice.
Helena cocked her head to one side as she thought about that. "This is gonna be a whole new ballgame now isn't it Red?"
Barbara gave a genuine grin. "I think so Hel. Question is, can you play nice with the other players now?"
"Daddy just gave me the keys to the kingdom," Helena reminded, with a smirk. "It's about time I get to call some shots around this place."
Barbara rolled her eyes dramatically, causing the younger woman to snicker. "Heaven help us all now."
Dick, Tim, and Bruce came out of the training room toweling the sweat off their bodies and faces as they swapped comments about their sparring session when all three drew up short at the sight that greeted them.
"Shouldn't you be in bed?" Bruce asked the blonde teenager that was busily typing away at his expensive computer.
"I'm tired of laying around all day and there was nothing on TV," she commented absently.
"I have satellite, how can you say there was nothing on TV when we get nearly five hundred channels," he asked in disbelief.
Dinah giggled. "Barbara says the same thing. Guess nothing really held my interest. Besides, I wanted to surprise Barbara and get the Delphi's files unscrambled from yours and ready to download."
She turned to see the billionaire looking at his computer equipment with some concern in his blue eyes and grinned. "Don't worry, I'm not going to break it. I was a loner back home and had already learned more than a few basic computer skills before Barbara started to show me how to do the really cool stuff on Delphi. I may never be as fast as she is, and there's no way I can program like she does, but I can navigate this system without any trouble."
"Wow. She let you play with her baby?" Dick chuckled as he came over and gave her a hug.
"Yes," the teen stated proudly before she grimaced. "And you SO need to go hit the showers."
"You want any help?" Tim asked as he dropped into a chair next to Dinah.
"Only if you shower too. You all reek," she told Tim as she scooted away from him, grimacing dramatically.
The three men chuckled. "Just remember," Bruce warned, humor crinkling the aging flesh around his eyes. "You break it you buy it."
"Nah…Barbara buys it," Dinah grinned back. "But since I don't want to invoke the infamous redheaded wrath, I will guard both systems with my life."
"You better," Dick laughed as he headed off towards the showers. "Because she'll have it if you loose that data!"
"Yeah, yeah," Dinah muttered as she turned back to the computer and continued typing in commands. The men left and five minutes later Alfred appeared wearing a slightly reproving look.
"Miss Dinah, you should be in bed resting. Not down here in this drafty cave working."
"I wore warm clothes Alfred and I'm not doing anything more than I was upstairs. See? I'm just sitting here punching buttons," she reasoned.
"Miss Dinah, you have only just begun to recover-,"
"Come on Alfred, I'm going nuts up there!" Dinah whined. "My meta-healing may not be as fast as Helena's, but even you said I'm recovering quicker than expected."
"True, but we wouldn't want to jeopardize your recovery by letting you tire yourself out too soon. We do have an important event to attend in a few days and I'm sure you wouldn't want to miss that," he reminded her somberly.
That seemed to do the trick. She looked the computer over and sighed. "It's just….I know Barbara's going to be down here soon enough trying to get this all sorted out and I really wanted to do this for her."
"How about I make you a deal miss?" Alfred said with a warm smile as he leaned down and held out his hand towards her. She accepted it reluctantly, but got to her feet at least looking somewhat intrigued by his statement.
"I'll give you my word that I will make sure that Miss Barbara doesn't come anywhere near the computer for the next week, which will give you plenty of time to rest up for the funeral and still have a couple of days afterwards to tinker with it."
Dinah's brilliant smile was all the answer he needed. Slipping her arm through his, he escorted her back upstairs to her room, and helped her get settled back into her bed. After arming her with the remote and several healthy snacks and water, he left her to surf through the channels once more.
Dinah sighed in resignation as she began flipping through countless channels at a speed that would have made Helena proud. A few minutes later, there was a knock at her door and she looked up to see Tim poking his head inside the half open doorway.
"Hey, I thought you were gonna be sorting things out on the computer?"
"Alfred didn't want me down there yet and he kind of guilted me into coming back up here."
Tim moved over to the couch near the bed and sprawled out on it as he chuckled. "Yeah, old Al has a way of doing that. So what did he use on you this time? The hero's responsibility speech or the think of your family talk?"
"Actually, he reminded me that Elisa's funeral is in a few days and there is no WAY I'm going to miss that. Not after everything she did for me," Dinah added quietly.
Tim's brow furrowed a bit. "Wish I could have been down here with you guys and gotten to know her a little bit. Sounds like she was quite a cop."
"She's one of the most incredible people I have ever met Tim. If it weren't for her…I might not have even survived long enough for Puck and Alex to help me," Dinah admitted.
Tim looked at her surprised. He had been told the unbelievable account of how Dinah had been healed- and by whom- but no one had really talked to Dinah yet about what she had been through. They didn't want to push her into talking until she was ready.
"When…when I was younger, and lived with my foster parents, they would lock me in this tiny closet for hours- sometimes even days- on end trying to teach me that what I saw and felt was all the Devil's work. They were trying to scare the evil out of me," she told him softly. "To this day, I'm still afraid of being in complete darkness," she admitted, her voice wavering as tears formed in her eyes.
"God Di, that's horrible!" he breathed, sickened by the fact that people would do that to a child.
She nodded, a couple of tears shaking free of her eyes as she tried to wipe them away. "Being locked in that coma, was worse than all those years of being punished in that closet though. As a kid, I always knew that at some point they would let me out- I just needed to tell them the right things enough times and they would finally release me. But in the coma, I was the only one could save myself, and I realized that I didn't have the strength to do that. And being trapped in that darkness, knowing there was no way out, scared me more than anything I have ever faced in my life. I almost gave up."
Tim had moved from the couch to sit on the edge of her bed. "So….what made you keep on going?" he asked taking one of her hands into his.
"Elisa," she answered, looking up at him with a sad smile on her lips. "Just when I had finally gotten up the courage to let go, she showed up in my mind. At first, I thought that I had definitely lost it," she chuckled. But then she got a distant look in her eyes, and a warm expression filled her beautiful features. "But she was really there Tim. As crazy as it sounds, somehow, she managed to still be there for me, and she stayed with me until Puck and Alex could give me enough strength to help me start my recovery."
"After everything all of us have seen and been through in this life Di, it doesn't sound all that crazy to me."
"She even possibly sacrificed her time to see Goliath to stay with me," Dinah told him, still astounded by Elisa's selflessness. The emotions Elisa shared with her to pass onto Goliath should she never see him again, still burned brightly in Dinah's mind and heart. It was a gift she would never forget for as long as she lived.
"Dick told me how her presence seemed to help breath life back into you guys after last year's trauma."
Dinah nodded and then chuckled ruefully. "Well, when you show up unexpectedly with two gargoyles in tow to tell a person that someone in their town is behind a plot that could kill thousands, possibly millions, you're kinda forced to push your personal issues aside so you can focus on the problem. And then when you find out the people behind it are the worst enemies for both of you- well there was a definite quick bonding with all of us."
Dinah shrugged and leaned back into her stack of pillows. "Guess we all had a lot of stuff in common, and we understood each other a lot better because of it. I don't think we could have become such close friends in such a short period of time otherwise."
"Dick seems to think it was good for you guys to have Elisa, Goliath and Hudson around. Said it helped Helena and Barbara to realize that it was time to get back on the horse and take their jobs seriously again."
"Barbara's going to be kicking herself for this past year for a long time to come, but yeah they did. I was kind of relieved when they showed up actually," Dinah said with a tiny grin as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
"I mean, the whole reason why they came up here sucked. But first off, I actually got to hang with a couple of gargoyles! How cool was that?" she giggled. Tim chuckled and nodded along with her.
"Yeah it was pretty amazing seeing them in action. Personally, if I were a bad guy and saw one of them coming after me, I'd rethink my career real quick."
"Oh! Remind me to show you the fight between Goliath and Helena once we get Delphi's files fixed."
"They got into a fight?"
"Well it started off as a spar, but as soon as one of them drew blood, the gloves came off. I had to step in and use my TK to separate them before someone lost a limb," she giggled. "They literally dropped in on us and ten minutes later Goliath and Hel are trying to kill each other. I think it was the jump-start we needed to get our lives back on track. Which is the main reason I'm glad they came."
"I'm sorry you ladies went through so much this past year Dinah. Alfred was keeping Dick and I posted from time to time, and I know Dick really wanted to come down here, but he knew it would probably only make the situation worse," Tim told her sincerely.
"Yeah," Dinah sighed as she toyed with the remote. "Hel would have probably thrown him off the balcony the second he set foot inside the Clocktower."
"Looks like she's come a long way in a short time though," he observed.
"I'm so proud of her," the blonde said, her eyes sparkling slightly.
"And I know she's very proud of you. We all are Dinah. What you did the other night was remarkable. And I know it helped to save a lot more lives that would have been lost if that battle had been allowed to continue."
Dinah ducked her head, blushing behind a curtain of blonde hair. "It was an accident Tim. If I hadn't already been worn down from that fight, I could have killed everyone there that night when I lost my control."
"Hey," he said gently as he reached out to rest a finger under her chin and lift it up so her eyes met his. "You know just as well as any of us that nothing ever goes as planned in this life. Every time we go out there, it's another roll of the dice. Some nights we win, some nights we lose- but luck is always a factor that we have no control of. And she was shining down on you big time that night. There was an entire precinct of cops waiting outside those docks that night that did nothing to help you guys. New Gotham is safe tonight because of you Dinah. You were the hero that night and don't let anything take that away from you okay?"
She smiled shyly at him and nodded. Her mind was still mostly numb to receiving any thoughts or emotions from people, but with his hand still in contact with her chin, Dinah was able to feel the genuine warmth and pride behind those words. She felt herself blush even further.
"So um, since I'm stuck in bed again, would you like to play some cards or something?" she asked, wanting to change the subject before she could be used as a stoplight.
His charming grin made her insides melt just a little bit more and her stomach flip-flopped when he happily agreed. He hopped off her bed to go dig up a deck of cards, and the teen found herself eyeing his strong form as he walked out of her room with a great deal of interest.
"He's even cuter than the pictures Barbara showed me," she mumbled to herself before she realized what she had said. She blushed again, realizing she was starting to develop a crush on Tim. "Wonder if it's a Robin thing?" she giggled to herself before she crawled out of bed and escaped into her bathroom to make sure she was presentable when he returned.
The Clan looked down at the massive throngs of humans that as was the custom, braved the frigid temperatures on this night of each year to celebrate the coming of a new year. On this particular year, everyone gathered along the courtyard walls, fervently hoping for a year better than this past. For as strife ridden as some of their years had been this past decade, this was the first year they had actually lost a loved one in death.
"They look so much happier this year," Angela remarked quietly.
"Because they know that if we had not stopped Canmore and his men, this entire city would be a war zone right now," Brooklyn answered. He and Hudson had just come up from watching television, and had seen the overwhelming positive response of the public's gratitude for their efforts in the Dock Wars. The touching displays and thoughtful words of the various citizens that had been interviewed had made even Brooklyn choke up slightly with emotion. This was all more than any of them had ever hoped for.
No one said much else until after the famous ball in Times Square made its journey, and the last of the fireworks faded from the night sky. When it was all over with the Clan turned to look up at where Goliath stood alone on his tower. Demona, who had joined them earlier that evening, rested a hand on her daughter's arm.
"Go be with your father Angela," she encouraged quietly as the rest of the Clan began to move inside.
"What about you?"
"Aye, dinnae worry about yuir mother lass," Hudson answered as he moved up next to them. "She owes me more than a few drinks, an' I think tis time she paid up," he said with a grin as he winked at the immortal.
Demona smirked slightly. "Of all the Clan, only you were able to share my appreciation of a fine grain," she responded.
"And it's high time I drank with some one who had some stamina! Now let's go raid Xanatos' private stock."
Angela grinned as she watched Hudson lead her mother off to enjoy the rest of the evening and then spread her wings and leapt upwards. The strong currents that swirled around the castle, easily caught her and carried her up to where her father stood.
He turned and managed a small smile at her as she landed next to him. He opened his arms and wings and she stepped into his embrace and held him just as tightly as he held her for many long minutes. "I love you father," she told him fervently.
"And I love you my child," he whispered hoarsely as his arms flexed around her. "I am sorry I haven't been there for you these past few days."
"Shhhhhh," she said immediately. "Don't do this to yourself father. I miss Elisa dearly, and I know that what I feel can only be a fraction of the pain and loss you are going through right now. This is the time for you to let us be there for you father. Let us be strong for you," she asked of him as she looked up into his onyx eyes.
"I…it's…it's not easy for me to deal with feeling this lost," he admitted. "The Clan has always looked to me for guidance, and with the winds of change in the air, I know I must pull myself together soon. I have finally begun to come to terms with Elisa's death, but there are still many times throughout each night that I wonder if I can really go on alone without her."
"You'll never be alone father. That is what Clan is for, remember? We look out for each other…even for our Leader," she added with a fond smile.
He looked down at his daughter, his heart swelling with love for her, and felt just a little bit of the ache begin to fade. Elisa may not have been Angela's mother, but the girl had spent enough time under the human's guidance to portray more than a little of Elisa's strong personality. When he looked at his daughter, he saw not just the miracle of life he and Demona had created all those centuries ago, but he saw the spirit of the woman that he had loved for a few brief years.
Goliath leaned down and rubbed his brow against Angela's. "Thank you my daughter," he told her gratefully.
"We'll get through this father. And by this time next year, I think we will have a lot to be celebrating," she told him optimistically.
"I certainly hope so Angela."
"Alfred quit fussing over everyone and watch with us," Helena told the butler as he went around the room, refilling drinks and setting out fresh snacks.
When the older man raised an eyebrow at her, Helena turned to her father. "Dad, order your butler to take a break already. Seems he's stopped listening to me now that your around- which is another bone I have to pick with you by the way."
"I have not stopped listening to you Miss Helena. It's just that many of your requests go against my code of propriety."
"And that has stopped you when?" Helena retorted.
"Hel's right Alfred," Bruce spoke up to spare his friend from further teasing. "Relax and join us for a little while."
"Very well, Master Bruce," Alfred responded as he set down his tray and moved towards one of the open chairs.
The whole family had gathered in the media room that night to watch the various New Year's festivities on television. Dick and Barbara were spread out on a couch, while Helena, Reese, Dinah, and Tim were sprawled across the various large pillows and blankets on the plush carpet. Bruce had been relaxing off to one side of the room with Jim, quietly talking with his old friend as they sipped on brandy. Alfred joined them, and even allowed Bruce to pour him a drink, which he slowly savored over the next hour.
The small group divided their attention between the tv and various conversations, but as the countdown finally began they all quieted and watched as the big ball in New York slowly descended. As it hit the bottom and the crowd on the screen began cheering and singing, Helena summed up the mood in the room succinctly.
"Good riddance," she muttered in relief.
"Amen to that sis," Dick said in whole-hearted agreement. Then he raised his glass and everyone else followed suit. "To a new year, that can only be better than this past," he toasted.
"To the return of old friends," Barbara said next, her eyes falling on Dick, Tim, and finally Bruce.
"To Lady Luck," Tim said with a wink at Dinah who giggled.
"To Elisa Maza," the teen said gratefully.
"To crazy people who dress up in costumes and fight crime in this city for free," Jim laughed, earning chuckles from the rest in the room.
"To picking up where things were left off," Reese grinned as he focused on Helena.
"To living long enough to share this toast with my family," the brunette said wryly.
"To forgiveness and second chances," Bruce followed quietly, his piercing eyes conveying the emotion behind his words.
A silence fell on the room and everyone turned to look at Alfred who seemed a bit surprised that they were expecting something from him as well. "You are as much a part of this family too Alfred," Barbara told him lovingly.
The elderly man cleared his throat and then stood, slowly looking around at the group before him. Then he too raised his glass. "To courageous daughters, prodigal sons, and the brave officers that do and have served to protect this city. To the trials in this life that remind us that we are only human, and the triumphs that give us the strength to carry on. To the three things that will help pick us up no matter how badly we've fallen: Love, Friendship and Family. Cheers."
A chorus of cheers went around the room, and everyone drank in companionable silence after that fitting toast. Nothing more was said for the rest of the night, and nothing more needed to be said as they all looked around the room and read the same thing on each other's faces.
They were truly a family now and nothing would ever break that apart again.
"Lass, can I ask ye a question?" Hudson asked as he poured out the last of the third bottle of scotch they had just shared, into her glass.
Demona nodded as she swirled the amber liquid around. "More than any of the others, I think I can understand what drove ye into the madness of what ye did. I know what it is like tae lose someone ye love- tae be willing tae sell yuir soul to the devil himself if it means seein' the ones ye love be safe," he began quietly as he sipped on his own drink and watched her shift uncomfortably.
"What changed yuir heart after all this time?" he asked pointedly.
Demona drained the contents of her glass, let the fire race down her throat, and savored the growing lightheadedness the high caliber scotch was giving her. "Elisa Maza," Demona whispered finally.
Hudson chuckled quietly and Demona glared at him. "Go to hell," she muttered, which made him nearly spill his drink as his chuckle progressed into a full guffaw.
"Aye, the lass did have that affect on people didn't she?" he agreed in amusement.
"At first, I viewed her as a cockroach. No matter how hard I tried to kill her, she just…kept…on…living," the immortal told him, frustration tainting her words. "But then time and again, she would risk her life for the Clan and for my daughter. By that point Angela was the only thing left in this world that I cared about, and after that whole mess with Thailog…" Demona looked away, her eyes glowing crimson for a moment in anger and regret. "I thought I had lost her forever," she told him quietly.
"And then Elisa started coverin' for the lass so she could visit ye." Demona nodded and he chuckled quietly. "Did Elisa ever tell ye that I was on to them after a couple of months?"
Demona's eyes went wide as she looked over at him in surprise. "You knew?"
"Aye. 'Twas not too long after 9/11 and Goliath didn't want any of us to be out without our transmitters with us. I was keepin' watch o'er the castle tha' evening when I found hers left on the table by accident. As ye can imagine, both Elisa an' I were caught off guard when I showed up at her apartment unannounced."
"Angela never mentioned anything to me about you finding out."
"When Elisa explained what was going on, I told th' lass tha' I thought what she was doing was very noble. And I felt 'twas the right thing tae do. I knew Elisa was monitoring th' situation closely, and I said I would keep an eye on Angela as well tae make sure ye weren't trying to corrupt her," he told Demona with a smirk to take the sting out of his words.
"So Angela never knew," Demona deduced.
"Goliath never even found out tha' I was in on their little secret. Which was fine by me once he did find out about it," he laughed. "I asked Elisa if she wanted me tae talk to him after their fight, but she said it was her battle tae fight. She felt it wouldn't be good for the Clan if I questioned Goliath's authority as well, and I have tae agree with the lass."
Demona chuckled. "I heard she did enough questioning of his decisions to make up for everyone else."
"Aye! Tha' she did. Elisa kept the lad on his toes."
They lapsed into a quiet silence for a few minutes before Demona spoke up again. "She called me her friend right before she died," she whispered, staring at her empty glass.
There was a soft creak of leather, and then Hudson was crouching in front of her, removing the empty glass from her talons so he could take them in his own. "Lass, ye will always be Clan, and Elisa knew that. She and I both knew that ye had just lost yuir way- tha' someday, you could come back tae the ones tha' still loved ye, if ye could just be given a little hope in yuir own life."
"I…it's…how can someone that I tried to kill, call me a friend?" Demona asked him, desperate to understand the confusing emotions that had been causing her turmoil over the past few days.
"Because ye were there for her when it counted. Who we were in th' past is something we cannae change. What counts is what we make o' our future, and all o' us saw the changes ye have been making these past few years. In the end, it was ye that held her hand when she died. It was ye that gave her peace of mind tha' the Clan would be safe."
Demona stared down at the floor, her mind lost in a whirlwind of thoughts, feelings and emotions. "Can I….do you think they'll let me attend the funeral?" she asked finally.
Hudson smiled warmly at her, trying not to show his amazement at the request. "Aye lass. I believe her parents will be open to that. But I will make sure tae ask them for everyone's peace of mind if that's what ye would like?"
Demona nodded. "They've lost their daughter. I can't even begin to imagine what they are going through right now and I have no wish to dishonor Elisa by causing turmoil at her funeral. Please tell them that if they think my presence will cause too much of a disruption however, that I understand," the immortal told him, a look of regret filling her face as she looked down at the floor again.
"I will convey your request, an' your sympathy. Now how about we crack open tha' last bottle?"
"I'm going to regret this in the morning as soon as I transform into my human half," Demona chuckled as she picked up her glass and held it out to him. "But what the hell? I haven't gotten drunk with an old friend in a very long time, and it's at the expense of my most formidable business competitor."
"That's the spirit lass! Cheers," Hudson laughed as he finished filling their glasses and tapped his against hers.