Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Love and Other Headaches :: Reading Scarlet Letters [Chapter Eleven; Part One]

Wow, this one ended up HUGE, but then again, we're wanted to get this chapter out there for months, so it shouldn't be a surprise. And with all the planning and plotting for the future of the series, the muse just wanted to get it all out there. I'm crossing my fingers that my characterization for Batclan isn't too far off with my consultant on them being out for the next little while. *takes a deep breath*

This is likely going to be three parts here on LJ. The word count it will allow is a lot less than it used to be. *pouts* I'm only being able to fit about 3,000 words per post IF I'm lucky.

[Also, Helena's entry will be coming up in the index later today. I'm still looking for the perfect face-claim.]

Gotham City was in a state of shock, but that wasn’t the primary objective tonight. Helena Bertinelli—better known as Huntress—kept scanning her surroundings for any sign of Red Hood. Unlike the rest, she had no personal history with him. Not so for Dick, whose taut focus was fairly scary, given how much it resembled Bruce’s. That wasn’t his normal method of operating; Dick was the lightest-hearted of all the Bats.

Then again, the last hour or so had set the tone pretty clearly. And that tone left every Bat breathless. With the entire clan of them still reeling from the shock of what happened in that dirty little apartment, Helena knew nothing was or would be normal tonight. “Northeast quadrant’s clear. No sign of Hood,” she said into her comm.

“Northwest is clear, too,” Dick said gruffly.

“Nothing on the cams, either.” That wasn’t Oracle’s voice; Helena could tell even through the digitizer. The phrasing and cadence were different but familiar.

She watched Dick’s brow furrow, the change clearly throwing him out of his thoughts. “Canary?”

“You guessed it. I’ll be running the comm the rest of the night. I hate to say this, kids, but it looks like Hood got away clean.”

Helena bit her lip. If Dinah was running the comm, then Babs was worse off than she was letting on. Then again, Babs had known Jay when he was Robin. So had Dick. It looked like Hood had scored the direct hit he was looking for, even if it hadn’t been with a bullet. It was beginning to feel as though Dinah and Helena herself were the only fully functioning capes in Gotham tonight.

“I’ll find him.” That was Bruce, his voice even harsher than usual. Helena almost flinched from it grating against her ear. He had just dropped the Joker into police custody, and returned to the scene in Crime Alley.

Dinah didn’t quite stifle her sigh. “Probably not a good idea, B. A building just blew up around you. Maybe a trip to medical?”

“I’m fine. We have work to do,” was the gruff response.

A pause, and Dinah said, “Have it your way. Wing, Huntress, I need you both. We’ve got a turf war between whatever’s left of Mask’s people and some of Hood’s over at 54th and Kane. And a riot about to start outside the Geraldi Arms complex three blocks from the blast.”

Helena tapped her comm. “I’ll take the riot.”

“I’ll take the gangs.” Dick’s voice was somewhere between angry and disgusted; Helena could guess why. All this was breaking out, and Bruce was going to ignore it and hunt for someone they hadn’t been able to track at all so far. But then, Bruce had reason to be obsessed. Shaking her head, Helena headed toward the apartments.

The riot wasn’t much—a large group of residents from several apartment buildings had come outside after the explosion, maybe fearing their buildings were next—or maybe just wanting to watch the show. The reason didn’t matter; large groups of people were basically riots waiting to happen, and something had touched off a spark there. Luckily it hadn’t progressed much when Helena arrived to break it up, just a few smaller squabbles here and there, mostly fists and a few knives. No one had broken out guns yet, and the majority of people were still bystanders. All Helena had to do was knock down a couple of brawlers, pitch a few smoke bombs, and the crowd lost its taste for trouble fairly quickly.

With that handled, she headed back up to the rooftops and dropped in on Dick. The gangsters didn’t seem all that committed to their fight, either, and were quickly dispatched. Helena and Dick regrouped and surveyed the scene below. “Gonna be one helluva night,” Dick murmured.

“You all right?” Helena asked.

He turned to her, and even through the domino’s lenses she felt the weight of his stare. What he said next took her by surprise, despite the current situation. “No, Hel, I’m not all right. That’s my little brother out there somewhere, maybe buried in rubble, maybe bleeding to death—or maybe he did get away, and he’ll come back again for revenge. That was my little brother who put my other little brother in the hospital a few weeks ago, and he tried to kill B tonight. Tried to kill ‘Dad’. And this is the brother I thought was dead, the one I mourned. The one I cried my eyes out over because I couldn’t save him. So no, I’m not even in the same zip code as all right.”

Helena blinked. Dick wasn’t a locked door like the others, but he generally wasn’t that forthcoming with what he was thinking; she’d touched a nerve, and she’d meant to. He was being a little too Bruce, a little too locked down, and someone had to let off some of the pressure before he exploded. She didn’t mind being vented on. She just hadn’t expected him to be this off-kilter. He’d just used her real name while they were in costume, and that spoke volumes.

“I’m gonna be all right, though,” he said, his voice low and determined. “Because he isn’t. And tonight it looks like it’s just you and me and Canary who have our heads screwed on right in this town. I just hope Robin doesn’t decide to come home early.”

Dinah piped up in their comms. “He won’t. Robin’s under protective custody, and it’s the super-powered kind. Spoiler’s with him too. And Oracle called in some backup for you guys tonight.”

“What kind of backup?” Helena asked.

“Look up,” came a new voice, and they both did, Helena’s hand dropping to her crossbow, and Dick’s grip on his escrima sticks tightening.

Helena relaxed immediately at the sight of the rippling red cape. “Superman,” she said, and he landed gently beside them.

“Huntress,” he replied with a nod. “Nightwing, if Red Hood is still in the city, we’ll find him. And get him some help.”

“I think it’s going to be more complicated than that,” Dick muttered. “And Batman needs a little help, too.”

Clark smiled. “Don’t worry there. We already have that under control. When Canary made the call, Wonder Woman immediately insisted on dealing with him herself.”

The comm crackled, and Helena grinned. “I’ve got this,” she said, before Dinah even started speaking. If anyone could set Dick back on an even keel, it was Big Blue himself.


Batman was virtually impossible to sneak up on … unless you owned an invisible jet. He was also very difficult to find when he didn’t want to be found, but as in all things, there were ways around that. “What do you have for me, Chairwoman?” Diana said into her comm.

Oracle oversaw the JLA’s communications network as well as Batclan’s, so it was very easy for Black Canary to patch into Diana’s comm unit from her seat at Oracle’s computer hub. Lucky, that, and even luckier that Dinah was motivated to help. “Give me just a moment, I’m trying to find the tracking signals for the comms… Hold on, Wondy.”

The nickname, which only Dinah dared say to her directly even though she was well aware most of them used it behind her back, gave Wonder Woman a fleeting and badly-needed smile. And then Dinah came back on the line a moment later. “Thanks, Oracle—yeah, that’ll be faster. Okay, the tracking information should be uploading to your jet’s computer right now.”

Ah, the perks of having an exceedingly tech-savvy individual on the team. “Thank you both. How is Oracle faring?”

A sigh. “Better than expected, considering. Worrying about me destroying her system is a fairly effective distraction. If I notice her getting too caught up, I’ll just ask what ‘reformat C’ means.”

Even Diana heard the growled, “Not funny,” from somewhere near Dinah’s microphone. She left them to sort it out; everyone affected by this had someone to keep watch over them, regardless of their possible reluctance. Barbara had Dinah with her in Clock Tower, Clark had gone to check on Dick, Tim and Stephanie were being watched over by Jason and Cassie in their exile at Titans Tower, and Bruce had her.

Whether he liked it or not.

With the feed from his comm pinpointing his location, Diana was able to park the jet right over him. She simply stepped out, her enhanced senses picking out movement no human would ever hear.

And yet, even though she didn’t touch the ground or make any other sound, he still turned around before she reached him. “I don’t recall asking for your help,” he growled. “Or authorizing anyone else in my city.”

Diana sighed, taking a moment to restrain her temper before responding. Why had she come to Man’s World, again? And why, by all the gods, did she get herself involved with one of the most frustrating men alive? It couldn’t just be the challenge.

Of course, she knew why. She’d strongly disliked Bruce when they first met: he was autocratic, abrasive, and arrogant. It didn’t help that he’d kissed her when she wasn’t expecting it; Diana wasn’t particularly fond of being manhandled at the best of times, and at that moment she had still been somewhat out-of-sorts.

And yet, he was one of Clark’s best friends. The only reason she’d given Bruce a second look was curiosity, wondering what someone like Clark saw in him. Eventually she’d seen where that terrible resolve came from. Everything Bruce did, everything he was, came from that one awful moment in his life, and his determination not to let it happen to anyone else. Of course he couldn’t stop every crime in the city, but he could damned well try. That unwavering purpose was what his rogues’ gallery feared most about him.

“Nor would you, truth be told. And you don’t have to ask for my help,” she told him, deliberately pitching her voice low and calm. “This is what partners do.”

His eyes behind the cowl were unreadable, cold and hard. “I thought I was clear. My Robin, my failure, my problem, my fault. No one else’s.”

Diana bit her tongue to keep from saying, Do you ever wonder if maybe that’s why you’re always alone in the end? Because you won’t let anyone else in? Instead she responded, “We share our burdens. That’s what the League is for. Didn’t you tell Superman the same thing in Nevada?”

“Nevada was different,” Bruce said, and turned to walk away.

Diana followed. “Not so different. Both times a lost child went astray. We both helped him, even though he didn’t want us to. You were the one who went behind his back and organized the search. You were the one who had League members on the ground in Nevada ten minutes after he and the kids got out of that lab.”

He turned on her again, a threatening shadow-shape looming out of the dark. “You don’t know Jason. I do. I can find him.”

“I can help you,” Diana said, some of her frustration showing in her tone.

“No, you can’t. You’ve got that fancy jet and you don’t even know he was taken out of here in a helicopter,” Bruce growled.

“So you do have a lead,” Diana replied. “Fine, get in the jet and we’ll track the copter.”

“I’ve got the Batwing.”

“The jet’s invisible.”

“This helicopter isn’t traceable by any ordinary means. I’ve lost visual, and we’re wasting time arguing that could be used to try picking it up again.”

“So stop arguing and get in the jet already.” She crossed her arms and stared at him, and he stared back at her, momentarily stymied. Her jet was the most logical use of resources at the moment. The fact that he coveted it, and didn’t want to accept help, didn’t change that.

While Bruce paused in a rare moment of indecision, Diana decided to break out the heavy artillery. “And if we do find him, if we do capture him, what are you going to do? Ground him? Take away his allowance?”

He sneered viciously. “Bring him to Arkham for evaluation. Just like any other criminal whose motives suggest psychological issues.”

“His motives suggest revenge,” Diana said, her temper fraying.

Something happened to him. He’s alive and relatively unscarred when all the evidence we saw at the site of the explosion suggested that there weren’t enough of his remains left intact to even attempt an autopsy. Either his death was faked—by whom, and for what purpose, we still need to find out—or something happened afterward. Either way, I need to know.” Bruce’s voice was even more grating than usual, his grief coming out as wrath.

“Bruce, listen,” Diana began, and he cut her off.

“No real names in the field, Princess,” he snarled.

That was the moment when she lost her temper, and her own voice had an edge he rarely heard. “Stop all of this deflecting; there’s no one to hear us, anyway. Listen to me. Your son has come back from the dead, apparently wanting to kill you, or at least force you to kill your nemesis. You shouldn’t be on the street right now. You can’t possibly be functioning at peak condition.”

He smiled, more a baring of teeth than anything else. “Oracle is being awfully free with information, I see.”

One more moment, and she was going to just grab him and shake him until his teeth rattled. Amazingly, his tenacity was one of the things she liked about him. Most of the time. “Let it go, Bruce. You need to deal with this. Let me help you.”

Bruce scoffed, his voice scornful and full of pain he probably didn’t realize showed so well. “Don’t tell me what I need to do, Princess of Themyscira.”

“Stop it. Just stop it, Bruce. No amount of self-recrimination will change things. Neither will attacking your friends.” As furious as he was making her—which had to be at least half intentional—her heart still broke for him. Clark had biological children, Bruce had adopted children whom he tended to treat more like soldiers than kids, and Diana herself had sisters. She’d longed for a child of her own, sometimes, but her life was too full at the moment. Diana could imagine how much pain Bruce was in at the moment, but knew her projection had to fall short. There was no grief like the loss of a child, and Bruce had never properly allowed himself to deal with that. Now Jason was back, full of savage hatred, and then gone again, leaving all in ashes a second time.

“I’ve had enough of this. We’re wasting time. And you’re not my therapist.” Bruce turned to leave again.

He’d slept with his therapist, too, as Diana recalled. Even more tactics of avoidance. “No, you’re not going to walk away from this and bury it with all the other things you refuse to deal with,” she warned, one hand dropping to the lasso on her hip.

Bruce looked over his shoulder, his stance changing. He’d been defensive before; now he was furious. “Use that, Amazon, and it’s over,” he promised.

Her retort was swift and final. “So be it, Batman. I care more for you than I do for this relationship.”

They didn’t actually talk about their relationship all that often. She had known he was attracted to her almost from the moment they met, but then, Bruce was attracted to many women. The actual relationship had been an on-again, off-again thing for the past three years. He frustrated her to no end, but something about him kept drawing her back. Maybe compassion of the man she saw before her. Maybe it was his fractured soul, that Diana couldn’t help wanting to heal.

Bruce didn’t want healing, though. His scars, physical and otherwise, made him who he was, and he could never stop being the Bat. Now he glared at her, and she could picture his eyes narrowing behind the lenses of his cowl. “You’re not the only one whose resolve is legendary, Bruce. Come with me. Let Jason go, for now. This is his city, too—he’ll be back, and you can deal with him when your mind and heart are better suited to the task. Spend this time with your family. They need you. And let your friends help you. You won’t admit it, but you need us. Especially when you’ve been practically blown up in addition to everything else.”

Still he hesitated, and then a bitter smile hardened his mouth. “Or else you’ll hogtie me and drag me in, is that right?”

“Exactly. And don’t bother dropping a smoke pellet, I’ll just track you down again. I didn’t come here to play hide and seek all night.”

He moved toward her then, and caught the lasso that was already in her hand. “Then why did you come?” Bruce growled.

The weight of the question traveled up the golden rope. Using her own weapon against her; so very Bruce of him. But she wouldn’t have tried to lie anyway. “Because I care about you, you foolish, stubborn man,” Diana snapped, making the last word an epithet. “We’re all worried about you. Clark and I know you’re acting like this because you love your son and it’s killing you to see him so. Now come in, or one of us will drag you in.”

With that she neatly flipped the coils of the lasso around his wrist. Not quite enough to bind him, not yet, but the threat was there. His shoulders tensed; at that moment, with the lasso around his arm, Bruce couldn’t lie or dodge the truth. He could have kept silent, but chose not to. “He was my son. I loved him, and I failed him. I failed him from the beginning. He should never have been Robin. I should never have let my needs outweigh his. All of this, everyone who died, is my fault.”

Diana didn’t know the whole story, but from what she’d picked up from Clark and Babs via Dinah, it wasn’t that Jay should never have been Robin. It was that he should’ve had a year’s worth of therapy first, actually doing something about his anger instead of just channeling it into making him a replacement for Dick.

She sighed, and touched his cheek gently. “We all make choices, Bruce. You did, and he did. Some of those were mistakes. You can’t change the past, you can’t always predict the future, and scourging yourself with guilt accomplishes nothing.”

He knew she was right, but even then, Bruce couldn’t say it. All he could say, in the most hollow of voices, was, “Let’s go home.”

Diana smiled sadly. “Let’s.”

Tags: love and other headaches

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