A Return to Hell
by Melissa Minners
Disclaimer and Other Information: It should be noted that all of the characters and many of the locales in this fan fiction are not mine. They are owned by The WB. This fan fiction is somewhat of an homage to the series, though I have used a little liberty here with events. The story takes place some time after No Kill Policy, so if you haven't read that particular fanfic, I suggest you do before reading this one. Warning: Parts of this fanfic may be graphic at times. Reader's discretion is advised. I hope you enjoy.
“You okay?” Helena asked Dinah as the two prepared for the night’s rescue mission. She’d been keeping an eye on the teen ever since Bruce had asked her to tell him details of the dream / vision she’d had. Dinah had done amazingly well, considering the amount of detail Bruce was asking for and the difficult subject matter. After all, trying to focus on details of a vision in which your mentor is brutalized before your very eyes would be a daunting task for anyone, much less a fragile teenager.
Dinah glanced upward from where she knelt beside her equipment and cocked an eyebrow.
“Me? Funny, I was going to ask you the same question a few minutes ago. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”
A look of confusion crossed Helena’s features. Of course she was worried about Barbara, but something told her that wasn’t what Dinah meant.
Dinah stood and folded her arms across her chest, fixing Helena with the no-nonsense stare she’d seen Barbara use numerous times in the past.
“Oh please! Every time you reach for something you wince a little. And if you have to actually bend, you look like you’re about to throw up.”
Helena sighed. She had thought she was hiding the pain fairly well, but she should have realized that Dinah knew her well enough by now to be able to pick up that something was wrong.
“I’ll be fine. I’m a little sore, but I can do what has to be done. Don’t worry about me.”
Dinah held the no-nonsense pose for a moment longer before she gave it up entirely, walking over and sinking into the chair beside Helena. She peered up into the older woman’s eyes.
“The plan calls for a lot of fighting. You’re sure you’re up for that?”
Instinct caused Helena to shoot Dinah a look of extreme annoyance, but experience caused her features to soften.
The kid’s just worried about me, that’s all. As much as I am about her probably. As much as we both are for Barbara.
“I’ll be fine,” Helena repeated, placing a comforting hand on Dinah’s shoulder. “Really. We just have to stick to the plan...” Helena paused in mid-sentence, giving Dinah a look of mock-horror. “Did those words just come out of my mouth? Stick to the plan? Yikes.” She shuddered.
The two girls laughed, a laughter born of necessity. What they were about to embark upon – the plan Helena referred to – was fraught with uncertainty. No one was certain as to the strength of the Joker’s reformed army. No one was certain as to what condition Barbara was going to be in when they arrived. No one was certain that Barbara would in fact still be there when Batman, Black Canary, Huntress, and Dinah finally arrived at the warehouse.
Helena turned to focus her attention back on the equipment she was packing. She was uneasy about this rescue mission. There were too many gaps…too many “what ifs”. When Oracle discussed having a plan, it meant planning for every contingency, even the least likely. Oracle had always been a stickler for detail. Helena knew that Batman had basically taught much of this to his protégée years before she’d ever imagined being Oracle. But Helena knew that much of Oracle’s meticulous nature was inherent. She also knew that her father had been out of the game for quite some time. Helena hoped with every fiber of her being that her fears were unjustified.
* * *
Carolyn paused in the library entrance to the Bat Cave. Seated before a bank of computers was a sight she hadn’t witnessed in many years…thought she may never see again. Unaware of her presence, the dark, cowled figure tapped away at a computer keyboard, querying the computer for information regarding the warehouse as well as pulling up old files on his nemesis. He stopped typing as he took in the information displayed on the central monitor. Seemingly mesmerized by the screen, he didn’t notice Carolyn approach, curious to know just what had captured Batman’s interest so completely.
She stopped three feet away as she recognized the article displayed on the monitor and the picture that accompanied it. Barbara Gordon’s smiling features rest beside black and white print detailing the tragedy that had befallen her at the hands of the Joker several years ago. The tragedy that, along with the murder of Selina Kyle, had driven Batman far away from New Gotham, presumably never to return.
Batman stared intently at the screen, his attention unwaveringly drawn to the smiling face of Barbara Gordon under the headline that fairly screamed of his failure. He had failed Barbara that night…failed Selina as well. His foolish pride had led him to believe that he had destroyed his enemy. But he had failed…at the expense of people he loved.
Sighing deeply, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes to the painful reminder on the screen. Behind those closed eyelids lay a sea of agonizingly vivid memories of suffering felt by himself and his loved ones at the hands of the Joker. He’d thought he could handle this – facing the Joker again in battle. Now that the plans were laid and about to be executed, he wasn’t quite so certain.
Carolyn moved silently forward, studying the man that she had fought beside on countless occasions. Once so full of confidence and poise, the former Champion of Gotham now looked broken and down-trodden; as if the weight of the world had been placed on his shoulders and he was buckling beneath its burden. Carolyn felt emotion well up inside her; compassion for the man who had dedicated his life to ridding Gotham of pain and anguish, but in doing so had brought so much of it upon himself.
“You’re worried about tonight.”
It was more of a statement than a question. Bruce slowly opened his eyes and nodded. Straightening up in his chair, he reached out and keyed up the warehouse floor plans.
“I’ve memorized these backwards and forwards. Gone over every possible strategy…every possible mishap. I’ve gone over the plans with the girls so many times, I’m certain that they want to kill me…well…in Helena’s case…she just probably has more reason to do so.” Carolyn couldn’t help but chuckle over Bruce’s small attempt at levity.
“I just don’t know, Carolyn. I’ve faced the Joker so many times before. Just when I thought I’d finally defeated him, the bastard ended up coming out on top after all and people I cared about…people I loved suffered. What if I’m wrong about all of this and he wins again. Who else will suffer for my lack of vision?”
Carolyn struggled for an answer that would soothe the pain and take away the doubt she saw in Bruce’s eyes. She’d never thought she’d see the day when the heroic Batman would lose confidence in himself. She turned to face the wall of monitors and silently prayed for the old Bruce Wayne to return. They couldn’t afford to have Bruce lose his edge right now. It would prove disastrous for them all.
* * *
Barbara Gordon was oblivious to her surroundings…to the laughter echoing off the warehouse walls…to the chains that held her suspended from the warehouse roof…to the blood seeping from various open wounds. All she could sense was pain…pain radiating down her arms…pain roaring through her skull…pain ebbing from every pore. But the worst pain of all was the pain flooding her heart, threatening to overflow – the pain of losing Dinah and Helena was proving too much for her to bear. She had mustered the last bit of defiance she had left during the filming of the Joker’s proposal to Batman. Now, all her strength was gone and she was just waiting for death to come. Barbara finally understood why Bruce had left New Gotham. She finally understood what it was like to have everything you love torn away from you and rend to pieces. She was dying inside. She secretly hoped that Batman wouldn’t arrive in time.