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.
Carolyn stood just within the doorway of what had become Barbara Gordon’s recovery room in the Wayne Mansion. She watched as her daughter administered to her mentor’s every need, real and imagined. Barbara was still unconscious, but Bruce’s team of doctors were confident that she would make a full recovery.
Dinah had taken turns watching over Barbara and Helena since the warehouse rescue had taken place. They all had actually. Bruce, Alfred, Carolyn, Reese – they had all taken turns sitting beside the injured and nursing them back to health.
Bruce was currently sitting watch over his daughter. She had re-opened the injuries she’d received in the Clocktower the night Barbara was abducted. The doctors seemed upset to discover that all of their hard work had been for naught, but they worked diligently and were certain that Helena would be fine, provided that she could be kept still for longer than a week.
Carolyn smiled thinking about what a daunting task that might be. An active person herself, she had always hated being side-lined by injuries. She knew just how Helena was going to feel once the pain medication began to wear off. Right now, she was too drugged up to care, but once off the meds, Helena was going to be a force to reckon with. She could only imagine how Helena would react once she discovered the outcome of the warehouse rescue.
Carolyn leaned her head back against the wall and thought back to that night. They had all harbored secret misgivings about Batman’s rescue plan, but it was the only plan they’d had to work with and time was running out. Things had mostly gone according to plan and Carolyn had started to think that they’d pull it off without a hitch, when Helena had reported having found Barbara.
There had been something in Helena’s tone as she called on Dinah to help her get Barbara out of the warehouse. Her voice possessed a strained quality that seemed to convey more than just grief at Barbara’s condition. It set off warning bells in the back of Carolyn’s mind – warning bells that she felt she couldn’t ignore.
With Batman’s blessing, she had headed off toward the Hummer, trusting her daughter to provide a clear enough path for Huntress to escape with Barbara. She left behind a dozen unconscious henchmen and a deathly quiet room occupied by Batman and the Joker. She wondered what might be going on in that room, but they had agreed that Batman would take care of the Joker himself. Carolyn was only to make certain that Batman’s time with the Joker was uninterrupted.
Although Carolyn hated leaving Batman like that, she felt that the girls might need her assistance more. She arrived on the scene to find her daughter hovering protectively over an obviously ailing Helena. Carolyn had helped Dinah secure Helena in the Hummer and then sent her off toward Wayne Manor.
It had taken all the strength she had to remain behind and complete her part of the plan. Especially after her daughter had revealed her fears. Her heart nearly broke as she watched the tears cascade down Dinah’s face and heard the pleading in her voice. Carolyn understood her daughter’s fears. After all, it must have felt like déjà vu to Dinah – the warehouse, Carolyn sending Dinah off, promising to follow as soon as she could. It was a repeat performance of the night when she had nearly lost her life in that warehouse explosion. Dinah had believed she had lost her mother that day and ever since that day and she could hardly deny the feeling that she might actually lose her mother again, perhaps this time for good.
Carolyn had once again made Dinah a promise she sincerely hoped she could keep. She reminded Dinah how much Barbara and Helena needed her and that had been all it had took. Carolyn had been so proud of Dinah at that moment. It took amazing strength to do what she’d done then – left her mother behind in order to save the rest of her family. Carolyn knew how difficult that decision had been – as difficult as it had been to leave her only daughter behind in hopes of protecting her from Carolyn’s enemies.
Once the Hummer was out of site, Carolyn had turned around and raced back to the warehouse, determined to finish what they had set out to do and keep her promise to Dinah. She owed her as much.
Returning to the scene of her destructive force, Carolyn had stared at the door separating her from Batman and the Joker. The room before her was as silent as when she had left. Carolyn had stepped toward the door and listened intently. Hearing nothing, she had become worried and decided Batman had had enough alone time with the Joker. She’d kicked the door open with enough force to knock it clear off its hinges.
When the dust had cleared, it revealed a scene that brought dread to Carolyn’s heart. A black clad figure stood in the center of the room, head down, shoulders slumped. Before him lay the inert form of his nemesis. The room itself had resembled a train wreck – broken furniture, cracked plaster, and most importantly, a large quantity of blood.
Carolyn had struggled to find her voice. For someone who had always been decisive and sure, Carolyn had now found herself fraught with uncertainty and indecision. Unable to take her eyes off of the body lying at Batman’s feet, Carolyn had stood frozen, unwilling to believe the scene before her. Better to believe that she had been knocked unconscious during that fight with the Joker’s henchmen than to believe that Batman had violated his own credo.
Batman had sighed then and slowly turned to face Carolyn. He kept his eyes down, seemingly unable to meet Carolyn’s unbelieving gaze. The costume had done nothing to hide the sense of defeat he carried or the fatigue that coursed through his body, the result of both physical and emotional strain. With much effort, he had reached for his utility belt then, preparing to send the signal that would let Reese know it was time to bring in the clean-up crew.
And that was when the Joker had let out the tiniest of moans. Carolyn’s jaw had dropped then – she had honestly believed the Joker was dead. She looked from the Joker to Batman and now was able to recognize the sense of defeat for what it was.
As shocking as it would have been, no one would have condemned Batman had he actually killed the Joker. No sane individual could blame Batman for taking final action against a man who had stopped at nothing in his attempt to destroy all those Batman held dear. But the moral code that Batman had adhered to his entire crime fighting career refused to allow him this one release. And so, the Joker remained alive.
Though he probably wishes he was dead about now.
Carolyn smirked wryly at the thought. She was jerked out of her reverie by Dinah, who was fervently signaling for her mother to join her. Hurrying to Barbara’s bedside, Carolyn now understood why Dinah had become so agitated. Barbara’s eyelids were fluttering, flicking slightly open and then closing, as if keeping them open took great effort.
Dinah was worried. Despite all the reassurance the doctors had offered, there was always the chance that whatever torture the Joker and Harley had inflicted on Barbara Gordon could have caused permanent damage.
As her vision cleared, Barbara found she could not believe her eyes. She had to be dreaming. The vision before her was all too inviting – Dinah and her mother alive and reunited. Impossible. Carolyn had died at the hands of Al Hawke and Dinah… Tears came to her eyes as she thought of the torture Dinah must have suffered at the hands of the Joker.
“Hey…Barbara…hey…it’s okay.” Dinah tried to console Barbara, but the woman tried ineffectually to push her away. Then realization hit her. “Barbara, it’s me, Dinah. I’m okay. It’s over…It’s all over.”
“Dinah?...It’s not…a…a dream?”
To say that Barbara’s voice sounded hopeful would be to understate the emotional turmoil she was experiencing at discovering that Dinah might actually be alive and seated before her. She was more than hopeful – she was actually pleading for it all to be real.
“No…it’s not a dream.” Tears were coursing down Dinah’s face as she spoke, reassuring the woman who had become such an important part of her life. “It’s really me.”
“They told me…” Barbara couldn’t complete the sentence. She looked again at Carolyn, whose presence spoke against everything Dinah was telling her. The woman had been long dead – killed in the very same warehouse fire that had left Al Hawke disfigured. She frowned.
But they had never actually recovered a body, she thought.
Then another thought struck her and she looked to Dinah with eyes that begged affirmation.
“Then Helena…in the warehouse...that was real?”
Dinah nodded affirmation.
Barbara lost what precious little control she had over her emotions. She dissolved in a torrent of tears, wracked by heart-wrenching sobs as the stress and pain of the past few days finally took their toll. Dinah held Barbara close as she cried.
Carolyn felt tears sting her eyes as she watched her daughter comfort the woman who had become Dinah’s surrogate mother in her absence. And although there was a part of her that envied the bond they shared, a part of her was happy that Dinah had found the family she had sought after ever since Carolyn had been forced to leave her. And still another part of her was hopeful that some day, the same bond would once again be forged between mother and daughter.
When her tears were spent, Barbara leaned back against her pillow, fighting against the exhaustion that now threatened to overcome her. The analytical part of her wanted answers and she refused to let herself rest until she had them. Dinah and Carolyn did their best to satiate Barbara’s thirst for knowledge until her lids grew so heavy that she could no longer fight them.
Dinah sat at the edge of Barbara’s bed for several minutes, protectively watching the mentor-turned-family as she slept. Carolyn stood beside her, a comforting hand resting on her daughter’s shoulder. Finally, Carolyn took Dinah’s hand and nodded her head toward the door. Dinah reluctantly stood and the two made their way across the room.
Shutting the door behind her, Carolyn turned to face Dinah. No words were spoken. None were needed. Carolyn reached for Dinah and she came willingly, resting her head on her mother’s shoulder and relieving herself of all the anxiety and pent-up emotions she’d been struggling with since the night of the warehouse rescue.
* * *
Barbara’s recovery was swift. So swift, in fact, that Dinah found it necessary to tease Helena about it. Barbara was up and around in a couple of days. Helena’s doctors’ orders required bed rest for a week or more. Carolyn found it all quite amusing.
Not so amusing was Helena’s reaction to finding out that the Joker was still alive or that Batman had once again left Gotham. Helena was furious. The fact that she herself had spared Harley Quinn’s life was of little concern. Once again her father had failed her, sparing the life of someone who had very nearly destroyed everyone Helena had ever loved. To her, the crime fighter’s credo did not apply where the Joker was concerned and it never would.
Barbara was of the opinion that Helena was more upset over her father’s departure. Although grateful that he had come to Helena’s rescue and had devised a plan for her own, Barbara still couldn’t help feeling disappointed at the man who had once been her mentor. Carolyn, however, thought she understood.
It was the sense of defeat - the weariness that never seemed to leave Bruce even after they had returned to the mansion victorious – that had driven him to leave again. She tried to explain what she had seen in the warehouse prior to calling in Detective Reese and his clean-up crew. But Helena was too stubborn to listen and Barbara was similarly resistant. Carolyn wondered if Barbara and Helena knew just how much alike the two of them were. Dinah refused to discuss the matter, citing that she had never had a high opinion of the man and this had done nothing to improve matters. Carolyn made a mental note to find out just why Dinah harbored so much ill feeling toward her friend.
The note Bruce had left behind sounded more like a business memo than a letter of explanation to family and friends. It had been found by Alfred, slipped under his door the night Barbara regained consciousness. Perhaps he found himself unable to face his protégé after coming so close to violating the credo he had so diligently taught her. The note didn’t explain this, only that he had urgent business to attend to elsewhere – no mention of where…no mention of whether he would return.
* * *
Alfred eased back into the lounge chair and sighed. It had been a trying couple of weeks and he was exhausted. As he dozed in the chair, warmed by the heat of the fireplace, Alfred dreamed of Bruce Wayne’s last night at the manner.
I failed them, Alfred. I couldn’t do it. I wanted to…but…
Killing the Joker would have gone against all you believed in, Master Bruce. You failed no one.
I swore I would never fail them again.
And you didn’t. You saved Miss Barbara and both the Joker and Harley are locked away.
For how long?...Dammit, Alfred. I hate what I’ve become and yet…I don’t know how to be anyone else. I want to get to know my daughter and at the same time I’m terrified at the prospect. I look at Barbara and I just feel guilt…guilt at bringing her into all of this…guilt at what the Joker has done to her. I don’t know how to deal with that.
What are you planning to do?
I have to leave…for now anyway…I have to get things sorted out.
You’re going to disappear again without so much as a word to the others?
I’ll leave a note.
One portion of that conversation stayed with Alfred upon awakening – I have to leave…for now anyway. A grin spread across his features at his discovery. Master Bruce had said he was leaving “for now”. The words implied that he expected to return. Rising from the chair, Alfred doused the flame in the fireplace and headed to his quarters humming slightly to himself.