mithen: (Batman Loves You)
[personal profile] mithen
Title: The Haunts Where Jackals Once Lay
Pairing/Characters: Helena Bertinelli, Dick Grayson
Rating: G
Warnings/Spoilers: None
Fandom: DC Comics; Grayson
Summary: A wounded Helena Bertinelli waits in the desert to see if Dick Grayson will return, or if she will die. A missing scene from Grayson #5.
Word Count: 1100
Notes: For the Dick Grayson Diamond Anniversary Challenge!

”As tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.”

Her grandfather had been fond of reading aloud from the Bible with Helena at his knee, soaking in the sound of his deep voice. He had especially loved Isaiah and the Psalms, with all their rejoicing at the destruction of foes and the glorious triumph of the righteous. “Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” He would rest his hand on her head and she would bask in his approval as the sonorous, formal verses were read into the heat of the Sicilian afternoon: “I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.”

Helena’s mother had said once, when Helena had mentioned how beautiful Grandfather’s voice was, “Well, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” She had smiled, a thin and joyless smile, and had changed the topic. For a long time, Helena had thought her mother was just jealous, that Helena had a special bond with Grandfather.

When she was much older and certain things--why so many men came to see her grandfather and kiss his ring, how they managed to afford their beautiful villa--had become much clearer to her, she felt she understood her mother better. But by then it was far too late to talk to her.

Far too late for anything, Helena thinks now as the blistering sun blazes off the sand all around her. She huddles into the sliver of shadow provided by the bit of cloth stretched above her: Grayson’s shirt. He had taken it off, used it and his escrima sticks to build this meagre shelter against the desert sun, the baby still cradled in the crook of one arm. He had tried to leave her water, and she had refused it. “The baby is all that matters,” she had said. “You have to get her to Spyral.” The baby had wrapped one tiny hand around her thumb and squeezed, as if in reassurance. A reflex, nothing more. All babies are born with it.

Grayson had looked down at her. “We’re coming back,” he had said. She had listened as he and Midnighter had walked away, the sand grating under their feet, leaving her alone in the burning sands, the wilderness, the wasteland.

Her clothes stink of sweat and blood, baked in the heat of the sun. Her tongue is a strip of leather, grating on her lips. She tries not to think about the baby, whose heart Spyral’s surgeons will cut out and use. It will be painless. There will be no suffering. She doesn’t want to think about the baby.

“You are dying, little Helena,” says the voice of her grandfather. “Why are you dying here, in the haunts where jackals once lay? Are you not a righteous child, can you not mount up on wings like eagles? Or do those thirty pieces of silver weigh you down too much?”

Go to hell, Grandfather, she thinks, and hears his knowing chuckle all around her.

Sometimes the mighty have to be brought low, she thinks, unsure if she’s addressing her grandfather’s accusing shade or the image of Grayson, standing with the sloe-eyed baby in his arms, his eyes neither judging nor accepting. The baby’s heart is needed to keep the metahumans in check. Surely you understand this.

“He will not return for you.” Her grandfather’s voice is part of the heat haze now, shimmering in dizzy waves around her. Her feet are cold, which makes no sense. “You will die alone here, and he will not return for you.”

He’s right, of course. Grayson will not survive the walk ahead of him. The baby will die in the heat with his arms around her and the sand will cover their bodies (a more merciful death than Spyral will give the child, she does not think, she cannot think it). Intellectually, she knows this.

“He will come back,” she whispers, a tiny thread of sound in the great silence of the desert, and realizes she believes it. As if from a great distance, she hears herself laugh, a dry rasping bark: such faith, unlooked-for and unwelcome! So senseless. Do you see me, grandfather, as I lie here in the desert like a jackal, dying, like dry grass sinking down in the flames? They will take out the heart of the child, grandfather, and the world will hurt her no more.

The world will hurt her no more.

The world slips sideways for a while, a long agonizing space of blazing heat in which she struggles to breathe. And then--impossibly--there is an arm under her head, lifting her up. “Matron,” says a voice, and she struggles to remember who that is. Something cold and wet touches her cracked lips. She sighs into the touch. “Slowly,” said Dick Grayson, and his wet finger traces the curve of her lips, disappears and comes back dripping and cool once more.

There is a babble of voices, something about a stretcher, about fluids. Helena looks up into Grayson’s clear blue eyes.

“I came back,” he said.

“Never doubted you,” she whispers, and he smiles a little wryly. Perhaps it’s best to let him think she was being sarcastic. Yes, it certainly is.

He starts to lift her, and she remembers with a gasp. “I’m okay,” she says as he stops, his face worried. “But...the baby.”

He looks down at her, his expression gone distant and sad. “She didn’t make it to Spyral,” he says gently. “I’m...sorry.” He pauses, then adds, “She’s in a better place now.”

The euphemism sounds awkward and false on his lips, and yet he says it as if he means it. She doesn’t want to think about what that means, she does not let herself look closely at the wave of relief that washes over her, cool and quiet. Suddenly she feels like she could sleep. “I’m sure you did everything you could,” she manages as he lifts her. Peace fills her like a spring of fresh water, welling up in barren sand. Her eyes drift closed. “Thank you.”

“Thank you.” Grayson’s voice is very close to her ear. Something soft and cool touches her forehead, briefly. “Thank you for trusting me, Helena.”

Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. (Isaiah 35:6-7)
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