Helena sat behind the wheel of the black sedan that her father had drove. Her car now. She’d pulled into a space a few down from the front doors of the restaurant she had a meeting in. It was just after ten pm. Far to late for normal people to be meeting with anyone, but these weren’t’ average people she was about to talk to. They were the people that her father had known for to many years, that he’d done business with. The people that could give her the answers she was looking for. Or for their sake, she hoped they could.
Closing her eyes she took a deep breath in through her nose, letting it out past her lips. She breathed deep again, in, out. When she exhaled this time though a smile slowly pulled across her lips, pretty and charming, everything that was expected of her. This was the mask she put on, the face that she put forward as she pushed open the car door and stepped out in the artificial lite night that clung to the streets. She put warmth in her eyes and pep in her steps as she closed in on the front door of the restaurant. The darkness in her head snarled at the show she was putting on, wanting to be set free on the objects of her anger. But that would come in due time. Till then, she had a role to play and this mask was what was required of her.
Pulling open the door, a little bell tinkled over her head, annoying and bright sounding. Her eyes cut over the mostly empty restaurant. Ten men scattered among tables in the back, one sitting at a both behind them, one she was here to talk to. She kicked her smile up a few watts as she started weaving her way through the tables to the oldest man in the bunch who was standing up from the booth, large arms opening wide.
“Helena Bertinelli, as I live and breath. Beautiful as your mother.” Michael ‘Mickey’ Agnello bellowed as he pulled her into a huge, giving her a squeeze before drawing her away to look her over, his smile faded to one of sadness. “I’m sorry about your old man, God rest his soul.”
“Thank you, Uncle Mickey. I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to the city. Work kept me away. You know how it is.” Her bright smile had turned to one of demure sadness. The dark thing in the back of her head smile though, pleased with the game they were playing. Cat and mouse? Or something bigger than that.
“What brings you down to my neck of the woods? I gotta say I was surprised when one of the boys told me you’d called to meet with me. You never were big on your dad’s business. Never figured you for a military brat either. What have you been up to, Helena?” He chuckled as he turned and sat back down in the booth where he had been before, waving a meaty hand for her to sit with him.
“The military isn’t that different from the Family. Just different assholes in charge.” She smirked as he chuckled. “But I’m not here to talk about me. What I’ve been doing these last years isn’t of importance. What is important is that you answer my questions honestly. Who killed my father?”
Mickey blatched at her question and sighed, folding his hands in front of him on the table. “Your pop was a good man, Helena. That he died is a tragedy, I know you two had problems but don’t turn it into something it wasn’t. Just let it go. Better for you in the long run. Makes it easier to move on.”
She closed her eyes for a moment, letting her head fall ever so slightly as she sighed and shook her head, resisting the urge to smile. The smile wouldn’t have been Helena’s smile, it would have been Huntress’s and she wasn’t ready to scare him that badly just yet. One more chance. He’d have one more chance to tell her what she wanted to know.
“Please don’t make this hard, Mickey. Trust me when I say you won’t like what happens if you do. Just tell me what I want to know. Who ordered the hit on my father? Who killed him? No one will know you told me.” She asked, her tone quiet, even, calm, dangerously so.
Now he was getting mad, and it showed as he pressed his hands on the table and leaned in slightly. “Your pops might have had standing in this city but you’ve been gone a long time. You don’t get to walk in her and make demands of me. Threaten me. Remember your place, kid. Be glad I’m gonna let you get up and walk out of here instead of smacking some since back into you. Go home, Helena. Forget you asked.”
“Hard way it is.” Her almond brown eyes shifted up to look at him and he stilled. Cold eyes looked back at him, Eyes that he’d seen before on the faces of killers, not on the face of someone he’d watched grow from a baby to a woman. She moved so fast, her hand brushing her other arm then lifting to drive the blade of a knife through his hand, biting into the table under it, holding fast.
The pretty mask that she’d put on before walking through the door was one, replaced by another one, a darker one as she slid out of the booth just as Mickey started to scream. The closest man turned and started to stand, only to sit back in his chair as Helena’s fist smashed into his face and he tumbled backwards. Grabbing the edge of the table she flipped it into the man opposite him, shoving it hard enough to send them both tumbling over. The third guy never cleared his seat before her hand grabbed the back of his head and introduced it to her knee.
The chaotic sounds of chairs scraping tile filled her ears. The sharp scent of gunpowder assaulted her nose. Grabbing and empty chair she threw it at the furthest man, hitting true and sending him to the ground gun skittering across the floor. She flinched at the loud pop ring of gunfire going wide around her as she jumped the table in front of her, knocking it over as she did, hitting the ground in a crouch as she kicked feet out from under two men. Ripping the gun out of one guys hand she clocked him with it. Her foot caught the side of the other man’s head, leaving his head ringing, followed by another kick that dropped him out cold. Five down. Five to go.
She flinched again as a gun went off and exploded wood next to her head. Her eyes flicked to the one that had fired, picking up the shitty stainless steel knife that had fallen in the scuffle of tables being knocked over. With a flick of her wrist she threw it, lodging it in the muzzle of the gun as he fired again causing it to backfire and explode, removing all but one of the fingers on his right hand. His screams made the other four falter which was all the time she needed to push up and jump the tables between them.
Grabbing the first guys arm she pulled him forward, punching her hand into his elbow, feeling bone crack under the impact. He was screaming as she shoved him into the next guy in line as she bulled into both of them. Sending them crashing to the floor. A flurry of punches and kicks and she was left standing alone in the middle of the restaurant, the only sound the grunting cries of Mickey as he was still trying to wrench the knife out of his hand.
“What the fuck! Who the fuck! Get the fuck away from me!” He screamed as she slowly made he way back to him, leveling those dark eyes at him as her hand reached over and rested on top of the knife.
“Who killed my father?” She asked again, in that cold even tone.
“Get the fuck away from me!” He screamed at he again, kicking his foot out, trying to lean as far away from her as he could get without turning his hand into a claw.
“Answer the damn question Mickey!” She yelled in his face as she grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up half up out of his seat. “Who killed my father?”
“I don’t know! Don’t none of us know! They said it was a mob hit but none of us did it.” She jerked his colar as he cried. “I swear to God I don’t know!” He blubbered.
She narrowed her eyes at him and dropped him back in his seat as she pulled the blade out of the table and his hand. He sobbed as he jerked his hand back, holding it to him as she wiped the blade on the sleeve of his suit. “You find out who did it, you call me. And if I find out that you know something, we’re going to have this conversation again.”
She didn’t wait for his answer as she slid the blade back into the hidden sheath under the sleeve of her shirt and turned stepping over the men he’d had with him, now mostly broken and bleeding on the floor. It could have been much worse. She’d restrained herself. Next time she wouldn’t be so kind.
The haunting wailing of sirens sounded in the distance. She was particularly worried as she got in her car and let out a deep breath. That was the benefit of talking to crooks sometimes, they never wanted to involve the police in their own matters. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a few deep breaths, reigning it all back in before starting the car and pulling out onto the street. At least she had gotten what she was looking for. Fear was a hell of a motivator. She believed him. Or at least believed that he didn’t know who had killed her father. That didn’t mean that someone else wouldn’t know. There were plenty of other names to check off her list. It wouldn’t be so easy next time though. Not if he talked about what had happened. But that would require him to admit that he’d been beaten by a woman. She wondered how big the story would get before she talked to the next one.
The box wasn’t nearly as heavy as she’d thought it would be. It was surreal as she sat in the back of the car, staring down at the wooden top and the small metal plate bolted onto the top of it. It didn’t look nearly big enough to hold the contents of a human body, even burned and reduced to ash. Her father had been a tall man. There should have been… more. It hurt that there wasn’t more.
She smoothed her hands over the polished wood as the car rolled to a stop, dark tinted windows making the bright sunny day outside seem fitting for the sobering mood. But that didn’t last long as the driver stepped around the car and pulled the door open, letting in all that light and sound of happy chirping birds. The man offered his hand to her and she waved it off, instead clutching the box to her chest as she stepped out of the car of her own accord.
The funeral director that had arranged everything was talking in her ear but she didn’t or wasn’t listening to him. The day felt wrong. She felt like it should have been raining and dark, like the world might stop just for a few seconds to let her mourn in silence. She suddenly regretted not calling Dick and asking him to come with her. But after the way their last meeting had gone she wasn’t sure she could have handled him saying no. It was easier just not to ask. Not that she needed anyone else. She could do this herself. She just didn’t want to have to.
She ignored the man standing next to her and started walking across the grass, pausing after a few steps to step out of her heel, leaving them where they sat as she continued on her path through the marble and granite stones. She didn’t need anyone to tell her where she was going. She’d walked this path to many times to count. She stopped in front of a white granite stone, and closed her eyes, tilting her head back to let the sun beat down on her face as she dug up some inner strength inside herself. Taking a deep breath she turned her head down to stare at the stone, they’d already engraved it, her father’s name, birthday date, death date. Alongside her mothers name, birth, and death. She didn’t have to look to the side to know that the same death date as her mothers was on her brothers stone. She knew exactly how rough the stone was on the top of the markers. She knew how every letter of the etched in names felt under her finger tips. And now she had one more name to memorize the feel off.
Taking a deep breath she finally looked down at the small hole that had been dug. She didn’t have to bury him, she could have left him at the house, could have stuck him on a mantel somewhere. The dead didn’t care anymore. But she cared and it felt right to put them all together again. So that was what she did as she knelt in the grass, bracing herself as she lowered the to light box into the ground. She pursed her lips to fight back the well of emotion that was boiling up inside her but it was a losing battle. No matter how strong of a person she prided herself on being, there were some things that no amount of strength could hold back. She thought that she’d cried all the tears that she was going to cry but that was a lie, just like she knew these tears that ran hot and heavy down her cheeks wouldn’t be the last to fall either. There would always be something small and innocent that would remind her of him that would make the tears spring to life again. Just like it had when her mother and brother had been murdered. There were even days, even twenty years later that would make her cry.
She sat in silent staring at the stones in front of her as small wrens chirped in the tree over head. In a strange way the birds made her feel less alone. It was a silly thought yet comforting. She turned her head up to watch them for a moment, jumping from branch to branch. It gave her something to focus on and long enough for her to get herself back together. Slowly she pushed herself back to her feet, kissing her fingers before touching each of the stones in turn then walked away before she let herself start crying again.
Walking back to her shoes she paused long enough to step back into them, forcing herself not to look back at the standing stones before she slid into the back of the car once again. Her hand slid over to the side, picking up the purse that she’d left behind when she’d gotten out. Moving it to her lap she squeezed it, feeling the bumps of keys, her wallet, and the bottle of pills. She didn’t need them at the moment, but it didn’t stop her from sliding her hand inside and pulling out the bottle. She focused on it, staring at the pills behind tinted plastic. The urge, the need, the want rose to the surface of her mind, overriding the pain. She hadn’t even realized she’d opened the bottle until the pills tapped out into her hand and she was staring at the white capsules. And then she was tossing them back, dry swallowing them and closing her eyes. It didn’t work that fast, but the thought that she’d soon feel that rush through her head was enough to appease the monster in her brain.
The drive home was lost in a blur of everything else as the drugs kicked in and suddenly the blur became hyper focus. The car pulled up in front of her, no, her father’s house and let herself inside. She dropped her things by the door, locking it behind her, kicking her shoes off without a care, so unlike her to leave them in the middle of the floor. She made her way to his office, opening the door she hadn’t had the nerve since that first night back in the city. The police report of his death was waiting there in the middle of the desk as she picked it up and slid down to the floor, crossed her legs and started spreading out the papers one by one, letting the gory details sink into her head, page by page.
She’d read the words over and over again until they stopped making since and she gave up, leaving the reports scattered across the floor. She went back to the entryway, pulling out her bottle of pills from her purse and tossed back a few more, thoughts of rationing them out as had been her original plan tossed out the window along with what she felt like most of her sanity. Which just put more silly and stupid thoughts in her head as she walked back to her room.
An hour later she sat on the edge of the Gotham Opera house. Whatever show had been playing that night was still underway, the voices and music muted through the building. Even muted it helped smooth out the hurricane of different feelings floating around in her head. There were to many things to focus on. Her father. Being home again. Being in Gotham again. Dick. Batman. Whatever that was that had gone down in the harbor. At least the latter things gave her something to think about that didn’t dissolve her into tears again.
The military part of her brain told her to just find some company to look after the house, lock it all up and go back to work. The idea was appealing in so many ways right now. She could focus on work and shove all of this behind her, ignore it until it didn’t hurt so bad. She’d left Gotham once to get away from her family, would this by any different? The only difference now was that there wasn’t anyone to leave behind. And the Huntress wanted to hunt. She wanted to throw herself into a hunt and let that side of her brain that had been twisted and tweaked into what it was have control.
Helena wanted something different though. She wanted to stay. She wanted to find out what had happened to her father and track down whatever trash had killed him. She wanted to see justice done. She wanted someone to pay for it. But after looking through all the police reports, all she had were dead in and questions. She’d always heard of death by a thousand cuts but she’d never actually seen it done to a living being. And that was exactly how her father had died. Cut over and over, by some kind of razor sharp blade, and poisoned by every one of them. The poison wasn’t anything that they could identify either, at least not at a local level. If there were any samples of it left she needed to get them and send them back to NOWHERE and have someone there look at it. It was her only real lead. And that was frustrating.
That wasn’t all Helena wanted either, but Dick had his own life that she didn’t fit into. Nor should she. It wasn’t like she had plans to move back permanently. Did she? Did she even want too? Could she give up everything she had to come back to this city? How much would she lose? Just part of her skills? All of them? Because leaving NOWHERE meant no more of the drugs that kept that enhanced half of her brain working properly.
She made a frustrated sound in her throat as she reached up and pulled her goggles down over her eyes, flicking through the spectrums as she scanned over the city. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting to find. Nothing mostly, but on the off chance that one of the cities vigilanties showed up again she wanted to watch them again. They were a fascination to her, people that bucked the system that she worked for. And right now, they were a perfect distraction. But mostly, she was watching for the Batman. He’d facinated her as a teenager and the fact that he was still out there doing what he did now so many years later just made him that much more interesting. And meeting him at the docks the other night had just made her want to hunt him down again too.