What it Means to Be a Hero
Part 2: A Different Way of Thinking
DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything, nor am I writing this for profit. The characters belong to the WB and DC comics. No copyright infringement is intended.
FANDOM: Birds of Prey
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading. Any comments or criticism can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. This story is a continuation of the series What it Means to Be a Hero. If you haven't read the first part, Getting Back on Your Feet, I suggest you do so now (but really, it's up to you).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Phryne (who shall only be named once) for all comments, suggestions, corrections, and just plain *work* that goes into beta reading any story – but especially one of mine.
Rocking slightly with the waves that lapped against the New Gotham docks, the Fallen Star seemed to eerily echo the city in the distance - both formed from shadowy lines, hunched over and painted on the dark canvas of the night. The cargo ship was scheduled to unload at its twilight arrival but, after a routine docking, no one had disembarked. The harbor master, having gone aboard to see what was wrong, had immediately run back out, his face white, and called the police.
Huntress reached up to rub her eyebrow, a habit that often displayed her frustration, and sighed when her fingers encountered stiff neoprene. Sliding a finger under the offending obstruction, she allowed the sea breeze to cool her overheated skin. She hated wearing a mask. Even if it barely covered any of her face, it was too much in her opinion. She continued to poke and prod the material, trying in vain to make it fit more comfortably.
Helena forcefully brought her hands down and clutched the edge of the building that offered a clear view of the Fallen Star. Golden eyes scanned the dock dockyards searching for anything unusual, but the night was quiet and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Except for the occasional flutter of wind-tossed paper, there was no movement at all.
Looking to her left she identified the shape of Nightwing, also scouting from the rooftops. Canary would be down below, probably still in the Hummer, waiting for Barbara's signal to move in, just as Nightwing and Huntress were.
Helena's com crackled to life. "Everything seems clear. There's no evidence of movement on the security cameras. Anything on your end?" They both responded in the negative. "Okay then. Huntress, Nightwing, approach slowly, we don't know what we're dealing with. Canary stay behind them and act as backup."
Huntress didn't bother to respond, instead, she casually stepped off the seven-story building to land gracefully on her feet a moment later. She waited patiently as Nightwing descended on a wire, and together they headed toward the cargo ship. When they got within a hundred yards, Nightwing indicated that she should head up the ramp and he would take the direct route onto the deck using a cable. Helena nodded in confirmation, and without another word she flowed up the metal incline.
Reaching the deck at the same time, the two crime fighters quickly took defensive positions, fully expecting to be attacked by an assailant. It paid to be paranoid in their line of work. In this case however, it didn't appear to be necessary; the upper level of the ship was as deserted as the rest of the docks.
"Oracle, we're on deck. No sign of anything strange. Certainly nothing to make the harbor master call the police." Nightwing's voice was low, the sound only carrying a few feet from his body.
Dick had been handling most of the communications with the woman on the other end of the coms for several months now. Huntress' contributions were generally confined to one word acknowledgments, or terse descriptions. Helena knew the strain was starting to wear on all of them, but it couldn't be helped. It seemed that she and Barbara were able to maintain a working relationship, but their friendship had suffered a crippling blow.
Helena winced at her own choice of words. That's what it felt like, however - as if her heart had somehow been paralyzed by Barbara's discovery of her feelings and her subsequent rejection of all that the older woman had offered. It didn't matter that she'd had good reasons for turning Barbara down; nothing seemed to matter when she was faced with the loss of her best friend.
She'd hoped that time would start to heal the painful wounds, but that dream had faded and eventually died as the months wore on and they continued to interact only as Huntress and Oracle, rarely even meeting in person. If Helena thought not being able to touch the other woman had been agony, she would now admit that this was an insignificant pain when compared to the torture of not being able to even see Barbara.
Somehow they had managed to limp through the summer in their current condition. Barbara had taught summer school and Helena had thrown herself into work at the Dark Horse and summer classes at the university. She had been shocked at how well she had done in her spring semester, the classes giving her something to focus on besides the gaping hole in her life that Barbara used to fill. It looked as if she would do just as well this summer if things kept going the way they were, and Helena saw no reason for them to suddenly change. She might even graduate with honors. Wouldn't that just make Barbara proud?
Except Barbara didn't know anything about Helena's life anymore. She had purposefully cut off all contact that wasn't strictly related to defending New Gotham. Helena was well aware that Dinah sometimes let Barbara know that she was alright and what she was doing, just as Helena pumped the blond for information on the older woman every chance she got. But other than that and the fact that Helena showed up for sweeps, she figured Barbara wouldn't even know if she dropped dead.
Sometimes Helena wondered if *she* would know; she already felt dead inside.
"Go ahead and check the lower decks, but be careful. Something doesn't feel right."
'Ya think? Seems like another day on the Royal Caribbean to me.'
Helena desperately wanted to voice her flippant response, but it wasn't her place anymore. Oracle had made it clear that she wanted it to be strictly business between them unless Helena wanted to discuss their failed attempt at being more than just friends. Since Helena didn't, she just kept quiet.
"We copy, Oracle. Moving in."
Nightwing signaled for Helena to lead the way. She would never admit it, but Dick had actually been really great about all this. He hadn't once tried to bring up the situation with her which was fortunate - she didn't think she could have kept from smashing his face in - instead, he had just continued to go on sweeps and avoid her whenever possible. It was one less irritation that might potentially send her over the edge, and she was grateful.
Helena considered taking the steps one at a time, but didn't like leaving her legs exposed, so instead she took a small leap, landing gracefully at the bottom of the steep staircase – or she would have if something wet and glistening hadn't coated the floor, causing her to slip and fall on her side.
Instantly recognizing the smell . . . and feel . . . of blood, Huntress scrambled to her feet. The congealing liquid was everywhere, splashed on the walls, drenching the hallway floor, even dripping from the ceiling, and now a good portion of it coated Helena as well.
Helena's exclamation had been nothing more than a shocked whisper, but Oracle immediately heard the distress behind the words.
"Huntress what do you see?"
"Blood, lots of blood."
Helena sounded like she was trying not to breathe, her voice a thready murmur. If the situation was as bad as Huntress' voice intimated, Barbara couldn't imagine the assault on the other woman's meta-senses. She tried to speak soothingly, not wanting to disturb her even more.
"Are there any bodies, Huntress?"
"No, there's nothing. Just the blood." Barbara heard a series of thuds over the speakers. "Hang on a sec, Nightwing's coming down."
"Yeah that was my reaction too. At least you didn't take a bath in it."
Barbara let out a sigh. If she was making jokes, even ones in poor taste, Helena was probably fine.
"Nightwing, Huntress, see if you can locate the missing crew members."
"Uh, Oracle, they're not going to be in one piece. I'd really rather not go on a scavenger hunt for body parts."
Did Helena think she liked ordering her to? If she could Barbara would be out there herself, instead of being stuck in the clock tower waiting for them to report.
"Just find them, Huntress."
Barbara winced when the sharp retort left her mouth. She didn't mean it, but Helena just made her so frustrated.
There was silence over the coms, until Nightwing spoke. "We're going now, Oracle. I'll check the crew quarters and Huntress will take the hold."
"Fine, make sure you keep checking in."
Barbara hated putting Dick in the middle of this, but from the very beginning he had been there for her.
When Helena made her pronouncement that they couldn't become romantically involved, something had died inside of Barbara. That was the only way she could think of it. Some hope that she hadn't even known she possessed simply folded over and expired, leaving her feeling as empty as the day she realized she would never walk again.
The anger - no, the fury - that had overcome her in the last moments of their conversation met a quick end, leaving her feeling drained and horribly depressed. She didn't know what to do. Everything had happened too quickly, too fast. As Batgirl, she had been used to thinking on her feet, taking whatever life threw at her, but since the shooting that was no longer an option. Now after almost eight years of very little change in her personal life – barring the Quinn incident – suddenly *everything* had changed in the space of a few hours.
Of course, looking back, something she couldn't seem to avoid doing, it had been building steadily, just waiting for the right time to explode in a burst of fiery destruction, intent on taking her with it. Life as she had knew it was in shambles, and she truly didn't know if she could put herself back together this time. This time there was no Helena to help her.
Rolling out onto the balcony, she wrapped her arms around herself and simply tried to breathe.
That was how Dick found her shortly after returning to the clock tower, some sixth sense alerting him to Barbara's need. She was hunched over in her chair, shoulders shaking as she tried desperately to keep the tears from falling. Without a word, without asking what had happened, he simply wrapped her tightly in his arms and rocked with her, whispering apologies into her hair.
Managing to get herself somewhat under control she pushed him back. "What are you apologizing for?"
Dick looked so sad and lost Barbara found herself wanting to comfort him. "I'm so sorry for pushing you. If I hadn't said anything, this wouldn't have happened."
"Do you really believe that? Obviously you saw the way Helena felt about me . . . and the way I felt about her."
Barbara wasn't sure Dick could hear her final admission over the sound of the wind. It was so new, admitting her feelings for Helena – hell, even admitting to feelings in general. She hadn't even known about them until a couple of hours ago.
Idly, she wondered how many other people knew or suspected. Alfred's name ghosted across her consciousness. That was a given, Alfred knew everything. Sometimes she wondered why she didn't just retire and have him become Oracle. He'd probably do a better job.
Recognizing the self-pity and hating it, Barbara tried to push down her feelings. "Why didn't anyone tell me sooner?!" She wasn't really sure she was taking to Dick, but he answered anyway.
"Well, I didn't know. Of course, I sensed something after she came to live with you, but I never put two and two together."
"I'm glad you didn't! I couldn't have handled knowing she was in love with me then. It would have been wrong!"
Dick made gentle shushing movements. "I know, Babs, but things change. You both changed and grew up. I never thought I'd admit it, but Helena's not so bad anymore. She's still surly, sarcastic, cocky, violent, insensitive, and just plain rude, but she's also become a great crime fighter. I don't understand it, but I know she loves you. I don't know why she won't admit it."
"Oh Dick, I know she does. She admitted it, and then went on to tell me that nothing could come of it. She gave me some nonsense about her nature making her too unpredictable and she couldn't risk it."
Barbara was helpless to keep the bitterness out of her voice. She hated when people tried to control her life, and as far as she was concerned that's just what Helena had done. She'd made a decision that should have been resolved between them. Barbara should have had some input in the relationship since - even if she knew nothing else - she believed Helena would never willingly hurt her.
"Maybe she was right."
"She wasn't." Barbara was adamant.
Dick gave a rueful laugh and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. "You know… if this were a trashy romance novel, I'd sweep you off your feet and you'd seek comfort in my arms after being scorned by your one true love."
Barbara scowled at him. "First of all, there would be no sweeping of feet; maybe sweeping me off my chair…" Her lips turned down as she became serious. "Second, Helena is not my "true love." I was ready to try a romantic relationship but, dammit Dick, I haven't had time to figure out how *much* I love her."
"I hate to point this out, mostly because I know you could still beat me up, but you two have been together a long time. Maybe it's not so much about analyzing how much you love her, and more about recognizing what the love you've always had for her has become."
Barbara took a moment to sort through this tangle of words. When she was done, she gave a small sigh. "When did you get so smart?"
Recognizing that Barbara needed some space and time to think, he replied simply. "I've always been this smart; everyone just focused on the green tights and made assumptions."
Before she could contain it, a burst of laughter escaped her throat. Pretty soon, Dick was joining in, and they laughed until tears were pooling in Barbara's eyes.
"Thank you Dick. I needed that."
"My pleasure Babs."
Several minutes passed in comfortable silence.
"So what are you going to do?"
Barbara gazed out at the city. Helena was out there. She wanted to hate the brunette for putting her through this, except she knew the other woman was hurting just as much as she was, maybe more. Helena's emotions had always controlled her, and Barbara was worried. She was even more worried, however, about the consequences if she tried to push the brunette. When Helena admitted that she could hurt the older woman, Barbara could not have imagined the horror in those pleading blue eyes.
For now, it seemed best to let Helena set the pace. Barbara would wait for her to decide that she was wrong – which she was – and then do something about it. Now that she knew what she wanted, she was going to get it, but she wouldn't be the one to go begging. Helena couldn't hold out long anyway, she'd never been able to. Eventually, when Helena was ready, she would approach Barbara again, and they could start working through their mutual attraction.
Keeping her eyes on the twinkling lights of the city, she purposefully answered Dick with words from the past. "I'm going to give her the time she needs and be here for her when she's ready."
"I'm here Huntress."
Barbara's thoughts returned to the present when Helena's voice came in over the speakers.
"I'm in the cargo hold. I've found the crew."
"Are there any survivors Huntress?"
". . . No."
She waited a moment. "Huntress?"
When Helena finally responded, Barbara quickly began opening search windows on the Delphi, scanning her database of known villains. Something very bad had come to New Gotham.
"There's no blood Oracle, but they've all been . . . chewed on."
"You gonna come in?"
Dick was looking at her impassively, making it clear he didn't care what she did. Helena was pretty sure it was a front, but she couldn't call him on it. He was just asking a simple question, it just happened to be one she didn't have an answer for. And neither one of them wanted to discuss what they had seen on the Fallen Star. That had just been . . . bad.
They were both standing on a building across from the clock tower. From their position, they could see Barbara working diligently at the Delphi, her fingers flying over the keyboards and the lines of concentration on her face. Helena was positive she had never seen anything more beautiful – or more out of reach.
"Nah. No need."
Dick rolled his eyes. "You know you're going to have to talk to her eventually."
"You can handle the debriefing and Dinah can catch me up on the plan tomorrow," Helena responded, deliberately misunderstanding.
"Fine, do whatever you want. I know this is hard for you, but you're not the only one hurting. You'd know that if you bothered to talk with her."
"I've tried talking to her. She always shuts down on me unless it's Birds of Prey business." Helena got up and paced, venting some of her frustration.
"Maybe you should try talking with her about the one thing you both need to discuss."
"I . . . can't." Helena hated admitting her weakness, especially to Dick. "I don't know what she's told you, but I did what I had to. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I *can't* keep talking about it. It's over." With that pronouncement, all the energy seemed to flee her body, leaving her exhausted. Exhausted, covered in blood, and without the one thing that had consistently made those conditions bearable in the past. Sighing, she let her body drop onto the ledge and hung her feet over the side.
She felt Dick sit down beside her but kept her eyes on the ground far below. An old woman with a red scarf covering her hair was walking slowly past, leaning heavily on her cane. On the opposite side of the street several teens were gathered around a doorway, sharing a pack of cigarettes. Broken streetlamps that the city couldn't seem to maintain left the whole scene in shadows that only her augmented eyes allowed her to pierce. She wondered what drove the people underneath her to venture outside in the night when they couldn't see what stalked them.
"You should probably go on in."
"Yeah I probably should." Dick continued to sit on the ledge next to her, idly swinging his feet. It made him look much younger, and suddenly Helena could see the boy Bruce Wayne had taken in and raised as his son. It was a distressing observation for the brunette. She didn't want to like Dick.
"How come you guys are called the Birds of Prey?"
Talk about a question from left field. Helena looked over at her fellow crime fighter and raised one eyebrow slowly to indicate her uncertainty.
"I mean, Barbara was a bat before, I always figured if she started a team it would be some kind of bat . . . team." Dick rolled his eyes at his own words, saving her the trouble.
Helena chose not to answer, and instead asked a question of her own; even though she wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer. "Did you and Barbara ever talk about it, starting your own team?"
"Sometimes. We both knew we wouldn't be Batman's sidekicks forever. I mean, can you imagine a thirty year old man being called Robin?" Helena was helpless to stop the snicker that escaped her tightly clenched lips. "But, yeah, we used to talk about it. Sometimes we thought we'd both go solo, take on new identities, new lives, but we always thought Batman would be around if we needed help." Dick sighed and ruffled his hair. "It's funny how things work out. I ended up going alone and Barbara formed a team with Batman's daughter."
"Yeah, funny." She hated being reminded that Batman was her father. At least Dick hadn't tried to compare her to the legendary vigilante; otherwise she would have had to hurt him.
There was an uncomfortable pause before Dick spoke up. "So why are you called the Birds of Prey?"
"You're not going to let this go are you?"
"I wasn't planning on it. It just doesn't make any sense. You're Huntress, she's Oracle, why the birds? You chose the name even before Canary showed up."
Helena sighed, giving in. "Fine. Freaking detectives." Dick smiled charmingly at her, or she supposed it was meant to be charming, she just found it annoying.
"Okay, let's see. Well after I had been going on missions for about a year, I realized that Barbara was feeling kind of left out . . . not that she would ever say anything. I would go out and kick ass, and she would monitor me using the Delphi; we were always separate. I was Huntress and she was Oracle, but that wasn't really the truth. We were a team, so I decided we should have a team name.
"When I first brought it up, she just kind of brushed me off, saying it wasn't necessary and would just cause unnecessary confusion, but I wouldn't let it go. I thought if we had a team name, it would make her feel more involved. I was still so worried about her, afraid she would sink back into the depression."
Helena stopped for a moment, remembering the times when she was certain she would come home from school to find Barbara had finally given up and done something unforgivable. She had tried desperately to get Barbara interested in living again, even if it was from a wheelchair, but she was never able to tell if she was succeeding. It didn't help that she had her own share of rage and agony to deal with.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there."
Helena wasn't. While Dick did sound truly sorry, the fact was, he had abandoned Barbara when she needed him most, but Helena couldn't regret his absence. It had given her a chance to be the one Barbara turned to.
"It was a long time ago." Could she do tact, or what? "Anyway, she must have been giving it some thought, because one day when I was bugging her about it she threw up her hands and said "Fine, we're the Birds of Prey", and just like that, we had a team name."
Dick was looking at her quizzically, obviously expecting more. When she didn't say anything, he rolled his eyes. "Okay, but *why* are you called the Birds of Prey?"
Helena rocked her head back to look at the sky. You couldn't see many stars in the city, but a few spots of scattered light pierced the darkness. She sighed, thinking back to the conversation so many years ago.
"When I asked her, she gave me this big long explanation which I won't repeat because it would take forever and I don't remember anyway, but I do know it had to do with Greek mythology. She said it fit with our code names. Oracle is obvious and Huntress had something to do with the goddess Artemis. So, a bunch of Greek shit. Anyway, she said that we were rebuilding our lives out of the ashes like the Phoenix, another Greek myth, and so we'd be the Birds of Prey."
Helena didn't bother to tell him that she could remember the conversation almost word for word. Barbara had seemed so animated and truly alive when she had explained her choice to Helena that she wouldn't have argued with the other woman if she had chosen to call them the Pink Butterflies, or whatever.
"Mostly I just think it gave her a chance to redesign all of our equipment, like my necklace and those modified batarangs that Dinah loves so much."
"Yeah those are pretty cool."
"Just wait until she demolishes some of your personal property with them." Helena scowled, remembering some of Dinah's first attempts with the weapon.
Suddenly Dick's com crackled to life. With her meta-abilities Helena was easily able to listen in.
"Nightwing, do you copy? What's taking so long? We need to debrief and figure out what came in on that ship." Barbara's voice sounded strained, and Dick and Helena could see her typing furiously on the Delphi.
"I'm here Oracle. I just stopped to have a little heart-to-heart with Huntress."
There was a noticeable pause, and when Barbara responded, her voice was hesitant. "Is she coming back with you?"
Dick looked at her and raised one eyebrow in silent question. Helena considered her options. She hated just running back to her empty apartment, but the thought of enduring the awkward conversation and silent looks that currently defined her relationship with the other woman made up her mind. Glancing at Dick she shook her head slowly.
Levering herself off the ledge with none of her usual grace, fingers scraping against the rough brick, she took a final look at Barbara through the clock tower windows before turning around. As she started running in preparation for making the leap to the next building, she heard Dick telling the older woman that she wouldn't be coming and Barbra's quiet acceptance.
"They're just being so stupid!"
Dinah let her head bang against Gabby's bed frame as she vented her frustration with her mentors.
"I mean, would it kill them to act like adults? Okay, it might actually be fatal for Helena, but Barbara should know better. They're not even talking about it. It's always, work this, evil villains that. I can't take it!"
Gabby eased herself onto the bed next to her best friend where she was sprawled on her back with her head hanging off the side. Her blond hair brushed the carpet with each agitated movement, and the question of what it would feel like running through her hands kept distracting Gabby from the topic of conversation.
"Seems like they're putting you in the middle an awful lot."
Dinah quickly shook her head. "No . . . well yeah, but they don't mean too. It's just hard sometimes. Helena asks me all these questions about Barbara and Barbara doesn't ask, but she gets this really depressed look when I don't have anything to tell her about Helena. I just wish I could make it better."
She looked so miserable that Gabby wanted to wrap her arms around her . . . which was a bad idea. Gabby was pretty sure if she did, she would never let go, and she wasn't ready for Dinah to figure out her feelings quite yet. For now, she would just have to be the supportive friend.
"You're doing everything you can. You can't force them together, love doesn't work like that."
Suddenly sky blue eyes were looking directly into her hazel ones. "Have you ever been in love?"
Gabby hesitated. Normally she would have laughed off the question, but she couldn't, not with Dinah looking at her the way she was, both curious and shy.
"Yeah, I've been in love."
"Do you like it? Being in love?"
Gabby thought about all the sleepless nights spent thinking about the girl sitting next to her, knowing that she couldn't possibly feel the same way. She remembered having to watch Dinah dance with all those guys at the club, and how relentlessly her friend had pursued Matt at school while Gabby had been forced to offer encouragement.
"Sometimes I don't. It's easy to get hurt."
"It's just…I look at Barbara and Helena, and it's so obvious that they're made for each other, but they won't do anything about it. They're both so miserable, and I was wondering if love is always like that."
Dinah dropped her head and let her hair cover her face. Gabby felt her heart break, hearing this confession from the other girl.
"Oh Sweetie, it's not that bad. Helena and Barbara are a special case, and I really think it'll work out for them in the end. Love can be wonderful, can make you feel alive and like every day is worth living." She gently reached out and pulled an unresisting Dinah into her arms, unable to stop herself. "If you find someone to love, you shouldn't let anything stop you. No matter what happens, it's worth it to be with someone you care about."
They held each other silently for long moments before Dinah gently pulled away. When she turned her face towards Gabby, there was a determination there that hadn't been present before.
"Okay, but I think I'll take it slow. We've got plenty of time."
Gabby wondered when she had missed the shift in conversation. "Um . . . okay. You're right. We're only eighteen . . . plenty of time."
Suddenly Dinah turned serious again. "I need to ask you for a favor."
Oh God, I hope she asks me to kiss her.
Gabby quickly gagged her inner voice and reminded herself that she did not, in fact, live in one of those stupid teen dramas. She tried to pay attention to what Dinah was saying, but her eyes kept straying to the other girl's mouth.
"I need you to stay home at night for awhile. Something really bad is hanging around Gotham and I don't want you to get hurt."
That caught her attention. "When you say something bad, you mean bad as is in guys wearing too much leather and nicknames with "Big" in them, or bad as in, um, meta-human bad?"
Gabby was still getting used to the idea of people with special abilities. If Dinah hadn't repeatedly demonstrated her own powers, she was sure she still wouldn't believe it. She loved that Dinah could move things with just her mind, it was so handy, but she wasn't sure how she felt about the other girl's touch telepathy. However, Dinah was so nervous talking about it, and from what she had been able to piece together about the Redmond's, she had good reason. Gabby tried her best to be supportive.
While she was slowly coming to accept the superpowers, she was having real trouble accepting that Dinah routinely went out and battled the forces of evil; it was too much like a comic book or bad Hollywood movie. Plus, she worried about her friend constantly. Gabby knew that Nightwing or Huntress always went with her, and over the months she had slowly begun to learn about the team of vigilantes based in New Gotham, and had come to trust both of them, but that didn't lessen her anxiety. All it would take would be one mistake, and Dinah would be gone. She wasn't sure she could deal with that.
Dinah seemed to hesitate before she answered. "Um, bad as in . . . eating people, bad."
Gabby suddenly felt lightheaded. "Oh." Several seconds passed while they avoided each other's eyes. "So . . . I'll just stay home then."
Dinah gave her a small smile. "Thanks, I appreciate it."
"Shouldn't I be saying that to you? You're going to be the one out there trying to catch this thing."
"Well, I doubt that I'll really have much to do. Usually Helena or Dick catches the bad guy and I just act as backup, but that doesn't matter. Knowing you'll be safe makes it easier for me to stay focused." Dinah blushed as she made her admission.
Gabby couldn't help teasing her friend, even though she was dead serious. "Well knowing you'll be focused makes it easier for me to feel safe."
Dinah gave her a bright smile. "Well, knowing you know that I know I'll be focused makes me feel safer."
"Dinah, what are we talking about?"
"I have no idea."
Dinah knocked her with a shoulder and Gabby responded in kind. Soon, an all out pillow fight was in progress and they were once again simply regular teenagers spending time with their best friend.
"Let's go to bed Helena."
Blue eyes lit up with what could only be joy as Barbara lost herself in the sweet smile she hadn't seen for eight years. Leaning up, she tangled her hands in dark hair and pulled gently, loving the small resistance that was quickly surrendered, allowing full lips to come into contact with her own.
Barbara moaned deep in her throat at the first taste of the younger woman. Her entire focus was concentrated on the soft pressure and heat radiating from her mouth to the rest of her upper body.
Suddenly she felt rough sheets scratch along her back. When did they get into her bedroom . . . and how had she managed to lose all her clothes?
Barbara lost interest in the question as she noticed that Helena had also managed to shed her clothes and was standing gloriously naked by the side of the bed. Her eyes had shifted and were now gazing hungrily at Barbara with golden intensity. Giving a wicked smile – really more of a leer – Barbara beckoned to the dark figure and was rewarded with a soft growl. Before she could blink, she found herself straddled while her lips were deliciously attacked.
Not to be outdone, the former Batgirl was determined to give as good as she got. A sharp nip to the bottom of a full lip opened Helena's mouth, allowing Barbara to force her tongue inside the wet heat. Normally she wasn't very vocal, but in this case, she seemed helpless to stop the steady stream of moans and whimpers that escaped her mouth and were swallowed gladly by the brunette. She arched her back as much as possible to allow Helena more access to her throat, feeling the soft bites along the column of her neck and down to her collarbone.
Although thoroughly enjoying the attention, Barbara was almost equally focused on what her hands were discovering as they ranged over the other woman's form. Though she had often been forced to patch Helena up after a night on the streets, she had never noticed the irregularities that her fingers were encountering. Small scars and imperfections that were almost invisible against the tan skin were instantly imprinted on her fingertips and palms, and Barbara knew with her eidetic memory, she would never forget even one - not that she planned to.
The single word purred directly into her ear caused a shudder from the top of her head down to her waist, and if she didn't know it was impossible, to the tips of her toes. She felt Helena smile against her cheek as a slim hand skimmed across her stomach, causing her to jump. This time the brunette laughed before moving her mouth to Barbara's neck.
"Do you know how long I've waited for this? How long I've wanted to make love to you?"
Barbara was sure if she could just catch her breath, she could respond to the questions. The best she could manage, however, was a slightly breathy, "Hel?" More of a question than a reply.
"So long." The words were mumbled against her pulse, and Barbara jumped again as teeth grazed her skin hard enough to be painful. "I've done everything you've asked me. I've been your ward, your substitute crime fighter, and your friend. I've even watched you give yourself to Wade, when you should have given everything to me."
Abruptly, Barbara wasn't in the mood anymore. The delicious tingles she had been enjoying turned to shivers of dread flowing up and down her damaged spine.
"Helena?" Barbara tried to put force behind the name. Something wasn't right.
She pulled away so she could meet eyes that had been an erotic gold and were now a merciless cloudy yellow.
"I told you I couldn't control it, but you didn't listen." She struggled as the dark head bent once again and she felt teeth hover over her pulse. "How could you ever think love would be enough to save you?"
Barbara cried out when she felt those same sharp teeth tear into her skin, leaving a trail of agony that slowly faded into a consuming numbness. Analytically, she knew that she was dying, that Helena had torn her artery and she was going into shock from blood loss, but she couldn't seem to focus. Her attention was entirely consumed by the beloved face that hovered over her, the features showing equal parts horror and a fierce primal joy.
As everything began to grow dark, Barbara felt a hand sticky with her blood softly stroking her cheek.
"It's okay now Barbara. Everything's okay. Go to sleep."
The first thing Barbara became aware of, after her eyes violently snapped open, was the cold. Some time during the night she had managed to throw the covers off her upper body, leaving her exposed from the waist up. Her oversized button-down shirt was soaked with sweat and the cool air of her bedroom was causing her to shiver violently.
Dismissing the temperature, she noticed two things simultaneously - her heart was beating erratically in her chest and her hands were wrapped in the sheets, gripping with a painful intensity. She tried to focus on her breathing and slow the blood rushing through her body as she individually pried her fingers from the covers.
Having dealt with the physical signs, she was left her with no choice but to face the mental and emotional aspects of her dream.
Barbara was used to having nightmares. After the shooting, it had been rare for her to go two nights in a row without waking up in a cold sweat or crying out in fear. Helena had often snuck into her room in the middle of the night to keep her company, haunted by her own dreams of her mother's murder. This had led to them sharing a bed in a completely innocent way, on and off, when Helena still lived in the clock tower.
Thinking of sharing a bed with the brunette forced Barbara's mind back to the dream.
She couldn't remember ever feeling so aroused. She knew it was a dream, but still, it had felt so real. She had felt Helena's hands on her skin. She had tasted the brunette's mouth and tongue, and it had been wonderful . . . right up until the part where Helena had ripped her throat out.
Barbara brought a hand to her neck, reassured when she felt only chilled skin instead of the gaping wound she unconsciously expected.
Those whispered words, so full of desire and hatred . . .
She knew she was projecting her own insecurities onto the brunette in her unconscious state, but that didn't make it any easier to deal with. The thought that Helena might still resent, or even hate, her if they did manage to work out the difficulties between them, left Barbara with a sick feeling, and was no doubt the cause of her most recent nightmare.
Trying to shake off the last vestiges of the dream, Barbara slowly maneuvered herself into the chair that waited by the bed. The careful choreography required for such a simple task had severely decreased her late night wanderings over the years. When she was younger, she used to think nothing of getting up to get a glass of water, or just to stand by the window, looking out at the sleeping city. Now, when she went to bed, Barbara went with the knowledge that she would most likely remain there until morning – anything else being too difficult and time consuming.
It was funny, but it never ceased to cause a flare of resentment and anger when she transferred herself over the gap from her bed to the waiting seat of her chair. A small moment when her arms trembled, not from the stain of lifting her weight, but from the knowledge of what had been taken from her and all that she had lost in the blink of an eye.
Wheeling herself into the bathroom, Barbara began to unbutton her shirt with fingers that still trembled slightly. Once it was removed, she felt the cold begin to seep into her bones and quickly reached for the handle on the specially designed shower. She began to relax as steam filled the tiled room, fogging up the mirror and hiding her haunted appearance, for which she was grateful. Barbara often considered her eyes to be her best feature, but not when they were surrounded by bruised skin from lack of sleep and worry.
Forty-five minutes later found her sitting in front of the Delphi, going over the data from the cargo ship again, hoping she had missed something the first six times. Whoever their murderer was, he hadn't left any evidence for them to use. Helena and Dick were trained to pick up on any clues left behind at a crime scene, a necessary skill in their occupation, but neither had found anything - just blood, bodies, and a deserted ship.
Barbara reflected briefly that the description read like a line for a low-budget horror movie, likely starring anorexic young women in bikinis, on a cruise ship, stalked by a murderous psychopath with an axe. In fact, now that she thought about it, she was fairly certain Helena had forced her to watch just such a movie. The younger woman had a fondness for bad horror films that Barbara found slightly disturbing – especially when the brunette explained that she rented them for the dialog.
Wearily lowering her head into her hands, Barbara admitted that she really missed the occasional movie night with Helena. It was a tradition they had shared even before Helena came to live with her, started when Barbara began to baby-sit under the watchful eye of Selina. Of course, the content of the movies had changed as the brunette had grown older, but never the sense of comfort and closeness that had gone along with a night spent together - Barbara criticizing her choices and Helena laughingly defending her selection.
Now everything had gone so wrong, Barbara wasn't sure it could be fixed.
She was still angry about the way Helena had handled the revelation of her feelings. How many times had she told the brunette that running didn't solve anything? But at the same time, she was also disappointed in herself. In her rush to confront the younger woman, she hadn't taken the time to consider what Helena might be experiencing. Feelings she had hidden and repressed for *years* were suddenly dragged out into the open, and Barbara hadn't made it easier by suddenly declaring she was ready to enter into a physical relationship.
The more she had thought about it, the more Barbara had begun to realize that Helena must have considered her . . . offer as some kind of pity. That was certainly not how she had meant it, but she did admit it was out of character. It was just . . .her own desire and need for the other woman had surprised Barbara with its intensity, causing her to make her rash proposal. Based on Helena's previous relationships, it had seemed like a safe assumption.
Now she wished she could take it back. Obviously, Helena wasn't impressed with her response, and Barbara couldn't blame her. She had basically taken a heartfelt declaration of love and responded with the equivalent of "let's fuck."
Even as her mind flinched from the crude wording, Barbara had to admit it was accurate. She knew she wasn't good at expressing her emotions, but this was an all-time low - and now Helena wasn't even speaking to her. How was she supposed to fix things if she couldn't even talk to the other woman?
Sighing, Barbara resolved not to think about the brunette anymore. It was late and she was exhausted. Any thoughts she had were only going to depress her further, something she really didn't need.
Turning back to the screens, she continued her scans, searching for any information regarding suspicious activity on large ocean-going vessels in the last six months, desperately searching for a connection. In the back of her mind however, was the knowledge that she would pass on whatever she found to Dinah to give to the brunette. Helena had made it very clear she didn't want to hear anything else from her.
"So basically, we don't know anything."
Dinah nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Pretty much, yeah."
"Great," Helena huffed, clearly in a bad mood.
Not for the first time, Dinah wished she wasn't the one who had to keep the brunette updated on Birds of Prey business. Helena never took it well. Dinah knew the anger and frustration weren't directed at her, but it managed to hurt her feelings just the same. After all the months she had been living at the clock tower, she still felt insecure at times.
What if Barbara decided that she was too much trouble to have around now that Helena was gone? Or that Dick was capable of handling the crime fighting and she wasn't needed?
The feeling of a warm hand coming to rest comfortably on her shoulder snapped Dinah out of her panicked thoughts. Smiling sheepishly, she glanced at the other member of their impromptu meeting. Gabby smiled back at her and instantly Dinah felt better. She really needed to stop getting herself so worked up about things that were never going to happen. Barbara would never get rid of her; they were family – even if their family was a little broken at the moment.
"So what exactly are you doing here again, Blondie?" Helena said regarding Gabby with an antagonistic gleam in her eye.
"What? I was just asking." Helena honestly looked confused.
Dinah couldn't believe it. "Hello? Rude much?"
"Um, no. Simple question, much."
"God, you're impossible!"
Dinah became aware that Gabby had been watching the entire exchange, her head moving back and forth between them as if she was watching a verbal tennis match. A wide grin stretched her face, causing Dinah to blush.
"Sorry about that," she apologized to her best friend. "We haven't been able to train her yet."
Dinah sported her own grin as Helena spluttered. She knew she would pay for it latter, but it was worth it to hear Gabby laugh.
"It's cool. I know you guys are still getting used to having me around." Taking a sip from her coffee, the blond regarded Helena steadily. "I wish I could help out more."
Dinah decided Helena must be having a good day when she didn't immediately come back with a sarcastic remark. Instead, cerulean eyes wandered around the coffee shop lazily before tracking back to their small group. "You do fine. You're there for Dinah. That's what counts." Helena seemed to sink farther into her depression as she finished speaking, and Dinah knew she was thinking about Barbara.
Obviously it wasn't her meta abilities kicking in because Gabby gave the brunette a sympathetic look as well, but was smart enough not to let her see it. Helena hated it when anyone thought she was weak.
"I was thinking . . ." Gabby stopped, clearly hesitant to say anything. Finally she seemed to make of her mind and continued, ". . . Maybe Barbara could teach me some computer skills. I know I could never take her place," Gabby spoke quickly, already anticipating Helena's response, "but I might be able to give her a break sometimes."
Helena seemed to withdraw into herself, clearly thinking it over. For her part, Dinah was regarding her best friend in disbelief.
"When did you decide this?" She spoke in a hushed whisper even though she knew Helena's meta-hearing would pick up every word. "You never talked to me about this."
Gabby blushed slightly. "Yeah, I know. It's just . . . I really want to do more. I kinda feel like I'm just in the way, something else you guys have to worry about, without contributing anything." Gabby's blush deepened. "Also, I thought it might let us spend more time together. You're always on sweeps, and there's nothing for me to do."
Dinah hadn't known she felt that way. Some telepath she was. She promised herself she would pay more attention to her friend from now on.
Helena coughed to focus their attention away from each other. "It's not my decision. You'll have to talk to Barbara, but I don't have a problem with it."
"Thanks." Gabby gave the brunette a smile which was barely returned.
"No problem. Just don't come crying to me when you're bored out of your mind. Barbara tried to teach me once and I almost slipped into a coma."
Gabby smiled crookedly. "Did you ever think the problem was that you only tried once?"
"No. Can't say that occurred to me."
Dinah tried to get between them. Helena's eyes were narrowing, indicating she was starting to get annoyed. The brunette could only take so much teasing.
"Well at least you didn't crash her computer. That would have really pissed Barbara off."
Dinah winced as Helena's face flushed. This was not good. Gabby had unwittingly brought up one of the things about-which-they-did-not- speak. The teen quickly tried to come up with a way to protect Gabby, and herself, from the coming tantrum. For some reason her mind kept insisting that cowering under the table was her best option.
As she waited for the explosion, Dinah almost fell off her chair when she heard laughter instead.
"You've definitely got some nerves, Blondie, I'll give you that. Hasn't anyone told you I can be violent when provoked?" Helena seemed genuinely amused by it all, which was better than the moping and brooding Dinah supposed, and the violent rages, couldn't forget that. However, it left her nervously waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"I'm not worried." Gabby waved her hand negligently. "I'll just give you a ball of string to play with. That should keep you occupied."
Helena and Dinah watched her walk off with vaguely stunned expressions, both thinking the blond was obviously suicidal.
"Care to explain that?"
Dinah turned in her chair to regard her glowering partner. "Uh . . . she asked me what your power was. What was I supposed to say?" Dinah tried in her best put-upon voice. "We didn't tell her about your abilities when she came to the tower, and then you and Barbara had your big fight and she didn't get to come over again, and how was I supposed to know she . . ."
Dinah cut herself off, realizing too late what she had done. She knew she was the only one that Helena allowed herself to talk to about her problems with Barbara . . . but only when the brunette brought it up. Dinah starting the conversation was the quickest way to piss her off, or even worse in the teen's opinion, get her to pull away.
Sneaking a glance, Dinah was relieved to see that Helena looked . . . pensive instead of enraged or lost. Dinah had seen more than enough of those expressions on the faces of the two most important people in her life.
"I'm sorry . . ." Dinah began to apologize.
"Don't be." Helena shrugged her slim shoulders and looked at her with something approaching gentleness. "I know you didn't mean anything. I know it's hard for you, and I just wanted to say I'm sorry. You didn't ask to be thrown into the middle of this, and after everything that's happened with your mom and Harley, well . . . I wish I could make it better."
Dinah quickly glanced out the window so she could get herself under control. That was the nicest thing Helena had ever said to her. Of course before, the nicest thing had been "Move before I hurt you" – mostly since Helena *had* actually warned her - but this was way better.
"I, um . . .sure no problem." She decided it was definitely time to lighten the mood. "And just for the record, I'm pretty sure I did ask for this – even after you punched me in the face." She was happy to see a smirk appear on the tan features. "I wanted to live with you and Barbara and train to be a super hero. I love you guys; I just want both of you to be happy."
"Thanks." Dinah could tell that Helena meant it, but there was something else. With the flash of insight that sometimes hit her at unexpected times, she realized Helena truly didn't expect to be happy again.
It always stunned Dinah to realize that Helena wasn't the badass she pretended to be around almost everyone else. Sometimes, Helena needed someone to hold her and tell her everything would be all right just like Dinah did, even if she would never admit it.
She was forced to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from wrapping her arms around the woman she considered to be her older sister. She knew it would be completely unwelcome and probably earn her some bruises, but it would almost be worth it if she could help Helena in some small way.
Dinah still didn't know exactly what happened between the two women, but it must have been horrible. She had come home from Gabby's the morning after they had rescued Helena from the sewers to find everything had changed.
She had expected to be scolded by Barbara because of the deaths. It had bothered Dinah, but there was nothing she or Helena could have done. However, she'd known Barbara would feel it was her responsibility to lecture her about being more careful before her mentor offered to talk about how she was feeling. In its own way, it had become a comforting ritual between them.
So, prepared for the scolding, Dinah had walked blindly into the clock tower, only to stop dead when she'd seen what awaited her. Dishes and various computer components had littered the floor, gleaming dully in the light from the Delphi monitors, the only illumination in the building. For a moment, she'd had a horrible thought that somehow Harley had escaped from Arkham and attacked the tower again. She'd taken several stumbling steps towards the com speakers, before she'd noticed the figure through the balcony doors.
Slowly, she'd made her way outside, the click of the doors closing behind her causing her wince in the complete silence. She had wanted to lay her hand on Barbara's shoulder, to ask if she was all right, but something made her hesitate. When the older woman had finally turned to her, she was glad she had. Whatever had caused Barbara to cry so hard and leave that kind of devastation on her features, was not something Dinah wanted to experience first hand.
"I'm sorry about the mess."
Dinah had actually jumped at the cracked and broken voice. She hadn't known what to say, or how to ask what the hell was going on, but Barbara had seemed to understand.
"It's complicated. Helena and I had a . . . falling out." Barbara had chuckled a little, but the sound contained no humor.
Without thinking, Dinah had blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Oh God, she's not leaving again is she?"
Barbara had visibly flinched. "No, she promised she wouldn't." The redhead had sounded like she was trying to convince herself. Looking at Dinah with determined green eyes she'd continued. "We will work this out Dinah. It's just going to take time. Try to be patient."
And Dinah had tried. She had given them space, run messages back and forth, and generally tried to help wherever she could, but things were getting out of hand. She knew that Barbara had confronted Helena about her feelings – which made Dinah feel like an idiot.
How could she not have known that Helena was in love with Barbara? It was so obvious when she took the time to think about it. Looking back, Helena had done an amazing job of hiding it for so long.
Somehow Barbara had figured it out though, and this had led to their fight, but what Dinah couldn't understand was why. If they were both in love, why didn't they just put it behind them and be together?
The sound of footsteps drew Dinah out of her thoughts, and she couldn't hide her relief when Gabby sat back down clutching a croissant, neatly ending the awkward conversation between the two crime fighters. Helena gave her a sardonic, but strangely sympathetic smile before pushing herself away from the table.
"Well, I've got to go. Things to do, people to beat up. Never a dull moment," the brunette said airily as she edged her way toward the door.
Gabby gave a half wave, her mouth full of the pastry.
"Bye, Helena." Dinah knew she sounded as lost as she felt when Gabby placed her hand gently on her knee. Meeting the concerned hazel eyes, she tried to look reassuring.
She hoped Barbara and Helena worked everything out soon. She really needed to talk to Helena about a few things, namely, how exactly did you ask another girl on a date?
Helena was aware that most people assumed she wore black as a statement of her dark and brooding nature, and that was definitely part of it, but the truth was, in Gotham's dim and seedy alleys, black provided the best camouflage. Now, red on the other hand didn't blend in quite as well, and that's how she finally tracked down her prey.
A tall figure stood between a brown dumpster and discarded trash bags, the blood-red of his robe blatant against the bleak colors of the alley. As she prepared to perform her patented drop from the rooftops, Helena noticed that the man was unnaturally still. She couldn't even hear him breathe. Looking more closely at his robes, she could see darker patches marring the fabric in irregular splashes. This was definitely their guy.
"Oracle, I've found our guy. I'm going in."
Not bothering to wait for a response, Helena let herself fall over the edge, adding a perfect somersault, before her boots lightly touched down on the asphalt. She had deliberately made more noise than normal, hoping to startle a reaction out of the figure, but he continued to stand calmly with his back to her.
Helena decided she was being too subtle.
"So, are you an extra for the new Harry Potter movie? Because I've got to tell you, I've always wanted to get into acting. Can you give me the number for your agent?"
At the sound of her voice, the figure finally displayed some life, a slight ripple moving throughout the rich fabric. Helena watched, alert for any threat, as he slowly turned to face her, revealing what had been concealed by his frame.
Helena gasped at the protruding eyes in the white face. She was suddenly back in the cargo hold of the Fallen Star, vainly trying to escape the same accusing stares of the crew – those that still had faces to stare with. Focusing back on the present, her eyes were drawn to the gaping wound in the woman's neck. Her entire throat had been ripped out, leaving pale ribbons of flesh to hang down her chest, while straight chestnut hair stuck to the bloody edges.
Turning away from the horrifying scene, Helena looked at the figure as he casually allowed the body to fall at his feet with a sickening smack. Blood formed a sinister waterfall down his chin and joined the old stains on the front of his costume. A white skull embroidered on his hood caught the weak light and glowed feebly. Red eyes the color of his robes peered out of the hood. Helena felt like she was drowning in the crimson glare.
"Huntress, do you copy? What's the situation?"
Oracle's voice snapped her out of her trance, and caused Helena to take several steps away from the figure which had yet to move or speak, but merely continued to stare at her with his hypnotic eyes.
Not quite as bad as Harley, but she definitely needed to be more careful.
"I copy, Oracle. I've got him cornered, but he's already killed the victim." Helena spoke softly into her necklace and watched as the man tilted his head slightly in curiosity.
"Don't engage until we're sure what we're dealing with, Huntress. What can you tell me about him?"
Still keeping a wary eye on her prey, Helena responded. "Well, he's wearing red robes with a skull symbol on the hood, and he's got glowing red eyes. Oh, and he likes to drink blood. So I'm pretty sure this guy's a freaking vampire."
"Forgive my manners, but I don't usually take the opportunity for conversation."
Helena jumped when a third voice entered their exchange. The tones were low and rasping, but somehow liquid, as if they were spoken through a viscous fluid. The entire effect was incredibly unnerving and set Helena's teeth on edge.
Ignoring Oracle's voice in her ear, Helena addressed the figure. "Well, at least you can talk. It'll make beating the answers out of you a lot easier."
The man – vampire – made a casual signal of dismissal. "I'm waiting for a different defender of the night. You are inconsequential. If you leave now, I might spare your life."
"Funny, I was just about to make you the same offer, and if you're waiting for another super hero, you're going to be disappointed. New Gotham is my city." Who did this guy think he was, calling her inconsequential? She'd go inconsequential all over his ass.
The figure gave a gurgling chuckle, and if Helena had been disturbed by his voice before, this sound was enough to get her a room at Arkham. She forced her hands to remain at her sides and not cover her ears. She watched as the vampire studied her and then seemed to dismiss her with a glance.
"So you're his replacement. An interesting choice. He always did have a soft spot for his women. Perhaps you will tell me about it before you die."
For a second, Helena was stunned. If they were talking about what she thought they were talking about, then just . . . eww.
She held up both hands palm out. "Whoa, you so have the wrong idea. It's not like that; it's more of an inheritance thing."
The vampire's eyes flashed with interest, and Helena considered the possibility that she should have kept her mouth shut.
"Well, if I can't have the Bat, I'll just have to settle for the next best thing."
Helena felt the adrenaline surge through her body, she was tired of talking. "Come and get it Dracula."
The figure chuckled again. "You may call me Niccolai."
"I don't know, Dracula has better ring to it."
"Perhaps, but Mr. Stoker's monster was purely fiction. I, on the other hand, am the genuine artifact."
"Artifact is right. Does the nursing home know you're missing?"
The thin lips pulled back in a smile exposing the sharp fangs to the weak illumination. "You're actually quite amusing. Something you inherited from you mother I take it."
"Leave my mother out of this!"
Helena charged at the vampire, swinging her right fist in an arc to his jaw. Her eyes widened as she watched the man remain still, letting the punch connect. His entire head snapped to the left, but without any visible signs of discomfort. He merely turned back to face her, still smiling. Before she could blink, one pale hand flashed out and caught her wrist, squeezing tightly. The pressure was enough to cause her to grunt in pain as the bones ground together.
"What the hell?"
Helena cried out as his arm flexed and a sharp snap echoed in the alley. Looking dazedly at her hand, she could see that the back was now touching her arm. She had never paid much attention in biology, but she was pretty sure the bones didn't go that way – and they weren't supposed to be outside her skin.
She couldn't stop the soft whimpers that escaped her throat as she was shoved up against the alley wall, and the man's lips softly brushed her ear. His breath smelled like old blood and Helena did her best not to gag, her shattered wrist already making her nauseous.
"Don't cry little bat, I'll take away the pain." She felt his lips move down to her throat and shivered as sharp teeth rested against her pulse.
Suddenly, words that Barbara had drilled into her head when she first started training flashed into her mind. When in doubt, hit them where it hurts.
"Nobody calls me a bat!"
Helena brought her knee up sharply and was rewarded with a bellow of pain from the figure in red. Not stopping for her usual retreating banter, she simply fled, scaling the fire escape in two leaps and taking off across the rooftops, her injured wrist cradled against her body.
She stretched her senses desperately, trying to detect any pursuit, but there was nothing. Helena pushed herself to greater speed when she realized why. The man was a hunter like her. He would be willing to wait for his prey to come to him - and Barbara was playing right into his hands.
Anyone unfamiliar with Barbara Gordon would think that the woman was completely calm as her hands moved confidently over the multiple keyboards of the Delphi system. The composed set to her features lent credence to this observation. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Not having heard from Huntress in over twenty minutes, Barbara Gordon was, in fact, more than anxious.
Huntress' last communication had been unusual, even considering what her team normally dealt with. Helena had identified the suspect as a vampire, but Barbara didn't believe in vampires or the so called supernatural in general. She would always be a scientist at heart. The man was most likely suffering from a particularly aggressive mutation, coupled with a psychotic personality.
Her criminal database hadn't turned up any matches given Helena's description, which she found very disturbing. Barbara had designed the program herself, and it was capable of searching any police record or case file in the world. If their suspect had killed before, and it only seemed logical that he had, the Delphi should have picked up on it. Instead, she was left twiddling her thumbs and waiting anxiously for Helena to return.
There was however, one place she hadn't looked yet.
Barbara had never linked the Batcave computer to the Delphi in all the years Batman had been absent from New Gotham. It would have been a simple matter, but respect for the privacy Bruce Wayne valued so highly and the very real danger that an enemy would gain access to the Delphi – as Quinn had almost done – had kept her from attempting the procedure. Now she was left cursing her reluctance, since it would mean an actual physical trip to Wayne Manor.
A welcome thump from the balcony pulled Barbara away from her musings on how best to get her chair into the Batcave, a fortress designed to make entry difficult for anyone, let alone someone in a wheelchair. Rolling herself away from the Delphi, she quickly ascended the ramp leading to the balcony and pushed open the doors, surprised Helena hadn't beaten her to it. Whatever scolding she had intended to deliver died on her lips when she saw the pallor of the younger woman, and the way she held her right arm against her chest.
"Helena, are you injured?"
Huntress didn't respond, but continued to watch her with slitted, golden eyes. It was still jarring to meet that familiar gaze, now surrounded by a simple black mask. Sometimes Barbara wished she had never suggested the idea. She missed the carefree confidence that Helena had displayed with her casual disregard for her secret identity. It seemed that lately everything about the brunette had become guarded.
Barbara was careful to move slowly and not offer any threat. It wasn't something they ever talked about, but the few times Helena had been seriously injured, her feral side seemed to take over and she became a danger to herself and everyone around her.
The first time it happened, Helena had just started running missions for her a Huntress and a would-be rapist had gotten lucky with a switch blade. After the teenager managed to drag herself home, Barbara had been too caught up in her own guilt to recognize the danger. When she tried to get a look at the wound, Helena had lashed out violently, injuring herself further in the process. Only Barbara's highly trained reflexes had saved her from a severe concussion, and she had still had to come up with an excuse for her black eye at school the next day. She had eventually calmed Helena down by speaking soothingly and giving her space, but she had learned her lesson.
It suddenly occurred to Barbara that this incident may have been the beginning of her current troubles with Helena. She knew it had seriously bothered her friend at the time, caused her to doubt herself, but somehow she had to find a way to convince the brunette what she already knew to be true – Helena would never intentionally hurt her.
"Helena, can you hear me? I was so worried about you. I really think you should let me take a look at your arm. Can you let me do that, Hel?"
It seemed like her babbling was having the desired effect. Helena's muscles were slowly unclenching, and when her eyes returned to their normal blue, Barbara knew it was safe to approach.
Without a word, Helena held out her arm and Barbara almost cried out in shock. The scaphoid, capitate, and radius were obviously broken, maybe even shattered. The skin was punctured in several places where bone had pushed through and ligaments had been torn away. She couldn't imagine the force necessary to injure Helena so severely.
Barbara quickly did a mental inventory of the supplies she would need to set Helena's wrist. It would be an extensive procedure. She would probably have to sedate her even though the young woman had a high pain threshold and hated any kind of medication.
As she gently led Helena inside, she considered that might be the easy part. Helena's healing abilities were simply incredible, but an injury of this magnitude would be a challenge for even the meta- human. She might never regain full use of the hand no matter what Barbara did.
Filling a syringe with the strongest tranquilizer on the market, Barbara considered how to break the news to Helena. However, one look into haunted eyes convinced her she had more important things to focus on at the moment.
The lines of pain began to relax on Helena's face and blue eyes began to droop as the medicine took effect. Reaching out with her good hand, the brunette covered Barbara's hands with her own.
"I couldn't save her . . . hunter . . . looking for Batman. Don't give him a reason to . . . find you." Helena's speech was slow and halting.
Barbara didn't respond as she soothed the unruly bangs back from her forehead and gently pulled the mask from slackened features. Helena was obviously not thinking clearly.
When she was sure that her friend was asleep, Barbara began preparing to realign the bones in the slender wrist before starting the more complicated surgery. She couldn't resist running her fingertips up the tan arm, the friction of the small hairs causing a shiver to travel down her spine until the sensation ended at her waist.
With renewed determination, she began to work. First she would make sure Helena was alright, and then she would find out who this "vampire" was, and then Barbara would make him pay for hurting the woman she cared for.
"Hey Big A, what's up?"
"I should be asking you the same question, Miss Helena. Your desire to visit was most unexpected."
"Yeah well, I wasn't given much of a choice," Helena responded vaguely as she stood on the steps of Wayne Manor, her eyes scanning the imposing edifice that the Wayne fortune had built. She had to admit, it was pretty awesome. The winding drive skirted the large hill, which she knew housed several of her father's toys, and the grounds themselves were beautiful, with old forest growth and carefully maintained gardens. All in all, it possessed a commanding presence, but if she had to choose a secret headquarters, she'd take the clock tower any day.
"I did not mean to imply that you are unwelcome. After all, this is your home any time that you wish it. I was merely curious as to the circumstances." Alfred looked anxious, and Helena felt like a jerk for being so indifferent. After all, Alfred had agreed to meet her here and make sure she didn't get lost in the mammoth structure.
"It's cool, Alfred. I'm just grouchy. You know how I get when I'm injured and I can't hit the streets." Helena held up her right arm with its cast as proof.
"Indeed I do, Miss. That was a most unfortunate business." Helena knew Barbara would have called the butler and told him what had happened.
"Yeah, it sucks. I can't do anything with my wrist like this. School's gonna be a real pain in the ass. It's just a good thing I'm ambidextrous: with all the notes I have to take." She shot Alfred a wounded expression when he looked at her in surprise. "Uh, I did live with Barbara. I know more than four letter words . . . they just save time."
Helena decided it was time to get back on track. She really didn't like being here. "So anyway, Barbara sent me over to go through Batman's files. She's not having any luck digging up any info on our vampire."
"Vampire?" Alfred's eyes widened almost comically.
"Yeah, glowing red eyes, fangs, and a taste for blood. Barbara thinks he's some kind of meta, but I know what I saw."
It was a sore point for Helena. She had woken up in Barbara's bed almost two days later, not even remembering how she had made it back to the clock tower, with pain shooting through her arm. No matter how much it hurt, being wrapped up in Barbara's embrace had almost been worth it - until she tried to get up. She hadn't been able to stop her hiss of agony, which had awakened Barbara, which had resulted in her being ordered to stay in bed. She had tried to argue, telling Red that she needed to go take care of their blood-sucking problem, but Barbara wasn't buying it. She'd told Helena she wouldn't be able to fight for several weeks and Nightwing and Canary would just have to handle the newest meta-threat. When Helena tried to convince her, Barbara had brushed her off and said she needed to rest. It had almost seemed like the older woman was hiding something, but Helena had put it down to worry over the murders.
After several hours, Helena's complaining had begun to drive Barbara crazy – just like she planned - and the redhead had sent her over to the Manor while she worked with Dinah and Dick out on the streets. It wasn't as rewarding as paying back that robe wearing bastard personally, but at least it was something.
"I believe you, Miss." Alfred's eyes had a vague look to them as he stared through her.
Helena looked at the older man questioningly. Alfred believed her? That was weird, not that she wasn't grateful, but it was just . . . weird. You wouldn't think a conservative, English butler would be open to the idea of the undead.
"What aren't you telling me, Alfred?" Something was going on, and Helena had the feeling she wasn't going to like it. In fact, since it probably involved Bruce, she was sure she wasn't.
"Come inside and tell me about this vampire, and I'll reveal everything that I know. I believe this is more complicated than it seems."
Helena just sighed as she allowed the butler to usher her past the massive oak doors. Of course it was, in her life wasn't it always?
Dinah pressed the cell phone tightly against her ear as a city bus roared past. The displaced air from the large vehicle kicked up a small whirlwind which sent old newspapers swirling around the blonde's legs. Not for the first time, she considered the idea that New Gotham's need for "cleaning up the streets" didn't just apply to the city's criminal element.
"Gabby, can you hear me?" Frustrated, the teen pulled the slim phone away from her ear and looked at it with a scowl. "Gabby?"
"I'm here." The tiny voice was barely audible.
Dinah continued walking down the street, hoping the connection would get better. "Hey, sorry I lost you. I hate the reception by the courthouse. I just wanted to know how your week went."
Since it was summer, the two teens didn't get to see each other everyday in school like they used to. They tried to call each other as often as they could, but things had only gotten busier as the fall approached. Dinah was very much looking forward to August, however. Both she and Gabby had been accepted to Gotham University, and Dinah couldn't wait, even though she was a little nervous.
She would never admit it to anyone, but she was kind of glad Helena was taking classes now. Since she was arguably her big sister, Dinah planned to somehow convince the brunette to show her around – and invite her to the best parties – even if she had to beg. Some things were worth it.
"Dinah . . . Dinah can you hear me?"
"I'm here, Gab."
The tall blonde shook her head, berating herself for getting lost in daydreams. If someone had asked her when she was living in Opal if she would ever go to college, she wouldn't have known what to say. The Redmond's weren't exactly supportive of their adopted daughter, and she had never considered university to be an option. Now, however, thanks to Barbara, and even Helena to some degree, she had found a passion for science, and learning in general. She was experiencing every teenager's joy at the ending of high school and the beginning of "adult" life, but she was always conscious of the luck that had somehow brought her to two extraordinary people who would change her life so drastically.
"Well, not much is happening on my end. My parents are out of town, Dad's on some kind of business trip. I was wondering if you wanted to come over tonight. We could watch movies and make popcorn. I promise not to make you watch Kissing Jessica Stein again."
Dinah laughed at the wheedling tone of Gabby's voice. She was sorely tempted to accept, even though she knew they would end up watching the lesbian cult classic no matter what she promised.
Things had been so tense lately; first with the murders on the cargo ship, and then Helena's injury. Dinah knew that Barbara was extremely worried about the brunette; she hadn't even needed to use her telepathy. It was the way the redhead had been looking at Helena as she stayed in the clock tower to recover. There was a fear and uncertainty in her green eyes that Dinah couldn't remember seeing before, not even when Helena left for Europe or right after their fight. There was obviously something major going on, and she was just trying to step carefully until it was resolved.
"Okay, okay, you've convinced me. I'll have to ask Barbara, we're still on high alert." She knew she didn't need to explain it to her best friend. Gabby was aware that the man responsible for the grisly deaths was still on the loose. Dinah had made sure she was staying home at night and away from any danger – and avoided anyone wearing a lot of red. "She's meeting with her Dad today, so I don't know when she'll get back, but I don't think it'll be a problem."
"Great. Head over when you can and I'll order pizza." Gabby's voice sound incredibly happy. Dinah felt a moment of intense guilt, realizing she had been neglecting her friend lately. Not the best way to go about changing their relationship to "more than friends."
"Sounds great. I'll talk to Barbara as soon as. . ." Dinah trailed off as she noticed a woman waving to her emphatically from a nearby alley. She did a quick check to make sure she wasn't in her Canary costume, and reassured that she wasn't wearing any leather, looked behind her for someone else the dark haired woman could be signaling. When she didn't see anyone, she turned back and tilted her head questioningly. The woman's only response was more vigorous flapping of her arms. She seemed really agitated, so Dinah decided to approach cautiously. "Hang on a sec, Gab," she quickly instructed before dropping her hand to her side and entering the alley, all her senses on high alert.
"Can I help you?" Dinah decided to play polite but dumb. Maybe that would help her get to the bottom of this quicker.
"Oh, I'm so glad you're here. I need your help." The woman was practically wringing her hands, and despite her caution, the young crime fighter felt her natural compassion take hold. The woman was painfully thin, and had a pinched look to her face that suggested she had seen some difficult things in her life, making it extremely hard to judge her age. She could have been anywhere from 25 to55.
"I'm not sure how I can help, but I'll do whatever I can."
The woman nodded energetically. "He said to find you." Her eyes suddenly blazed with fear and a certain mad passion. "I've earned it. He said this is my chance. I'll finally be turned after all these years. I've been so faithful. So very faithful."
Dinah controlled her overwhelming desire to run out of the alley with difficulty. The woman was obviously unstable, and flashbacks of Quinn and her take-over of the clock tower kept flickering through her mind.
She wasn't going to get any answers by simply talking to the woman, so steeling herself, she gently reached out a hand and laid it on one thin arm. Immediately she was assaulted with images. She saw herself as the woman looking down at a needle sticking out of her arm with numb recognition. This was followed by an image of a pool of blood leaking over the floor and the sight of two blood-red eyes regarding her hungrily. Other scenes appeared and were gone before she could get a good look. Images of an elegant woman in an evening gown tied up in chains, a large black wolf with fangs bared, a circle of men and women chanting in a ring of candles, but the one impression that caused her to gasp and pull away was the sight of a commanding face with familiar blue eyes staring out of a black cowl.
As she stumbled away from the woman, she distantly recognized that she shouldn't be this disoriented from her vision. She could barely stay on her feet. Looking down in horror, she saw an empty syringe sticking out of her leg before she unceremoniously crashed to her knees. She watched in a fog as the emaciated figure approached.
"You see, my master has lost his bat, and you're just the person to help us find him."
Dinah tried to get her mouth to form words. "Who are you?"
"I'm just a humble servant to my great master, little bird, but you can call me Dala." The woman bent down and viciously ripped off the com around the fallen crime fighter's neck. She dropped it to the ground and crushed it beneath her heel. "Well, that takes care of that. Wouldn't want anyone coming to your rescue too soon. I know my master has taken care of the daughter, but there's still that handsome partner of yours running around. What was his name again? Oh yes, Nightwing. I think I'll insist that Master let me keep him. We could have so much fun together."
If she hadn't been paralyzed, Dinah would have shuddered from the words and the look in the black eyes. As it was, she hoped that she wouldn't be spending too much time with the insane woman.
She watched as someone was signaled behind her, and soon felt herself being lifted into the air. As she was carried deeper into the alley, Dinah caught a quick glimpse of her cell phone lying discarded in the alley where she had dropped it. She prayed that just once the service hadn't cut out and Gabby had heard the entire encounter. If she had, help would soon be on the way, and Dinah only had to hang on until then.
That had been interesting.
As Helena stepped out of the grandfather clock and into the open airiness of the room, she couldn't think of any other way to describe what she had just experienced. She was sure if she thought about it long enough, she could have come up with some other adjectives for her first visit to the bat cave. Maybe incredible, dark, fantastic, intimidating, even awe inspiring, but for right now she was sticking with interesting. It made her head hurt less.
It also made her realize that she was really missing something in the whole crime fighting gig. Her gear consisted of the coms Barbara supplied, leather pants, and a black duster. Definitely minimalist, the way she preferred it.
Now however, she was starting to see why Barbara was always going on about gadgets and special equipment. Not that Helena thought they needed a crime lab, various workshops, a gymnasium, library, parking for several vehicles, or a fucking hangar, but still, maybe they could do a little upgrading.
And she was positively *not* going to mention that the computer in the Batcave was more impressive looking than the Delphi . . . even if it was. Helena knew Barbara had spent a lot of time and effort slimming down the components for the advanced computer, and there was no doubt in her mind that it was more advanced than Bruce's system. Still, all those flashing lights and mainframes were impressive.
Helena turned to watch as Alfred closed the front case, sealing off the greatest secret in New Gotham. She briefly wondered if hiding things in clocks was somehow a requirement in the superhero business. She would have to remember to ask Barbara when she returned.
Thinking about Barbara led to thinking about everything she had just learned. She now knew all about the man responsible for the murders. Even considering how serious the situation was, she couldn't help but look forward to offering the redhead proof that he was a vampire, she probably wouldn't even rub it in . . . much.
Alfred had been as good as his word. He had taken her down to the Batcave and shown her Batman's files on the man called Niccolai, aka the Monk. Helena thought it was a pretty stupid name for a vampire, but she wasn't going to judge - it was still a better name than Robin.
The computer had contained a treasure trove of information about the robed murderer. Helena was sure Barbara would be concerned with the technical details stored on the small flash drive she had tucked in her pocket, but she was more interested in what had emerged as she looked through the files and what Alfred had told her about Batman's previous history with the Monk. Helena always did love a good story, just like Selina, and even the fact that this one was about her father couldn't lessen its appeal.
Apparently, the Monk had come to Gotham before, something Helena had already figured out since he had been looking for Batman. He had kidnapped Bruce's girlfriend at the time, Julie Madison – something Helena tried really hard not to think about – and then gone after Batman himself. Somehow he had turned Batman into a vampire as well, and only a formula administered by a mysterious priest had allowed the vigilante to return to normal. Father Green had been tracking the Monk and his followers for years, and when her father had finally defeated the vampire, he had taken the mass murderer and his first lieutenant in the Brotherhood, Dala, back to wherever he had come from.
There was very little concrete evidence in the files. No one knew who the Monk was before he became a vampire, or if he had been born that way. No information was available on Father Green either. They had both seemed to come out of thin air, and vanish just as quickly.
However, there were many emotional undertones contained in the brief synopsis – something Helena wouldn't have associated with the controlled Batman. She could read between the lines and find anger at his girlfriend's abduction, mistrust of the nomadic priest who had so conveniently shown up, even fear at what he had become when he was bitten by the Monk.
All in all, it made for some fascinating reading that Helena couldn't wait to share with Barbara . . . and maybe they could talk about some other issues while they were at it.
Helena wouldn't be going on any sweeps for a while, which neatly eliminated her primary reason for interacting with the older woman. She wasn't sure she could stand not having any contact, even if it meant talking about her feelings. Maybe . . . maybe somehow they could work things out.
Feeling strangely hopeful, Helena wandered into the kitchen with Alfred close on her heels. The elderly butler hadn't spoken much except to tell her what he remembered of Batman's encounter with the vampire . . . and to give her a special package that she was supposed to deliver to Barbara.
Rummaging through the cupboards, Helena was surprised to find several packages of poptarts in varying flavors. She turned to look at Alfred questioningly, but the butler merely raised an eyebrow. Snorting, she grabbed a foil wrapped package and tore it open with her teeth as Alfred winced. She guessed he really did hope she'd live at the mansion if he was already stockpiling her favorite snack. She never would though. This was *his* space, not hers, and she wasn't going to accept anything more from him than she had to.
"Do you ever wish things had turned out differently?" Helena didn't even realize she was going to speak until the question that had been plaguing her for months left her mouth.
"How so, Miss?"
Helena sighed, flicking sprinkles off her snack with a fingernail. "I don't know, just . . . me and Bruce, what happened to Barbara and Mom. Things could have been so different. They could have been so much better, right?"
"I'm not really sure. Of course, I wish that your dear mother were still alive and that Miss Barbara were never injured. But you and she might not have found each other if that were the case."
Helena snorted. "Where have you been? We're not together. I turned her down."
Alfred looked at her expectantly. "That hardly seems like you, Miss Helena, especially with someone you love, but I'm sure you had your reasons."
"I did – I do - have really good reasons, but she just won't accept it."
"Rather like you did, I imagine." Alfred nodded his head knowingly.
Now Helena was totally confused. "What?"
"When Miss Barbara was first learning to deal with her condition, you were constantly underfoot, pushing her to regain some of her old spirit."
Helena's eyes grew wide as she thought back to the time when she first started living with Barbara. Things had been really bad. When she left the hospital, Barbara had immediately sunk into a deep depression. The brunette had been scared out of her mind for months, afraid she was going to lose the one good thing left in her life, not to a bullet from the Joker, but to Barbara's inability to find joy in anything.
She had begun to constantly pester the older woman, making her go out to restaurants, to plays, to the park, anything to try and cheer her up and make her interested in life again. It had been a hard struggle for both of them, but eventually they managed, and Barbara had begun to assemble the Delphi and train Helena. She had gone back to teaching at the high school and seemed once again to take an interest in the world around her . . . and Helena had finally been able to breathe again.
Was that what Barbra was doing?
Helena felt like she'd taken a boot right between the eyes. Barbara was waiting. She was waiting for Helena to see that even though there was a chance she might get hurt or that she would hurt Barbara, it was worth it.
"I wouldn't let her give up." The words were said more to herself than the aging butler.
Barbara could have given up so easily when she learned that she would never walk again. She must have been terrified to fail, afraid to hope, but with Helena's help she had kept going, becoming even more incredible in the process. She had risked everything for the chance to be happy. Helena couldn't do less. She didn't want to do less. She wanted what she had always wanted - she wanted Barbara.
"Yes, and now it seems she is unwilling to give up on you. Funny how these things work out."
Helena tried to scowl at him, but couldn't quite pull it off, she was grinning too widely. Throwing her poptart on the counter, she quickly stood, and before he could react, pulled the older man into a one- armed hug.
"Thanks, Alfred. How do you always know the right thing to say?"
Before he could catch his breath, she was gone. Moments later, the sound of the Hummer could be heard fading into the distance.
Alfred looked at the crumbs and half-eaten pastry on the counter. Sighing, he went to get a clean rag. Things must always be kept orderly for Master Bruce's return.
"It's what I do, Miss."
Barbara sat and tried to resist the urge to fidget, not that she had many options concerning that particular activity any longer. Once she might have tapped her feet or re-crossed her legs, but now her movements were limited to activities above her waist, such as drumming her fingers or shredding the cardboard protector on her coffee cup. Glancing down at the small mountain of paper scraps that littered the table, she briefly considered switching to decaf.
Her gaze was drawn to the front of the room as the small bell above the door rang for the twelfth time in the past half hour. This time however, Barbara was not disappointed. She instantly recognized the silver hair and solid build of the former police commissioner as he strode confidently into the confined space. Barbara watched as hooded brown eyes quickly scanned the interior and lingered on the face of each patron for just a moment. It was a cautious habit that he had passed on to his adopted daughter. People in their line of work could never completely relax their guard, even if they were technically retired.
As it often did, Barbara's mind latched onto this seemingly random thought and attempted to analyze it further.
James Gordon had retired as New Gotham's police commissioner several years before, but Barbara knew from conversations with her father and her own sources that he routinely assisted his replacement with administrative duties and offered his experience on particularly difficult cases. Obviously, the former officer was retired in name only.
Then there was her own situation. After the Joker's attack, she was forced to give up being Batgirl, but a year later she was once again fighting crime, this time as Oracle with Helena by her side. She hadn't so much retired as altered the means by which she carried out her self-appointed task.
Apparently, Gordons just weren't meant for retirement.
Satisfied, if not exactly pleased, by her conclusions, Barbara smiled as she accepted the hug offered by her father. Jim sat down in the seat across from her and ordered coffee from the waitress when she made her way to their table.
"So what's this all about, Honey?"
Barbara resisted the urge to roll her eyes, something she detested in her students. "Can't we ever have a regular conversation, Dad? Exchange pleasantries such as 'How was your day?' or 'Have you read any good books lately?' instead of getting right to the interrogation?"
Jim stared at her blankly for a moment before responding. "I suppose we could if that's what you want. I always appreciate getting straight to the point, myself. Especially when my daughter, whom I haven't heard from in months, calls me out of the blue and says she needs to discuss something with me that she can't talk about over the phone."
Barbara winced at the accusation. "Very subtle, Dad." She knew she had been avoiding talking to her father, but with everything that had happened with Helena, she hadn't felt much like talking – but obviously he did. Apparently Gordon's weren't cut out for small talk anymore than they were for retirement.
Barbara sighed, giving up her protests. "I wanted to talk to you about a case I'm working on."
She watched as the skin around his eyes tightened with apprehension. "I assume this isn't about a pulled fire alarm or graffiti vandal?"
"No, I wish it were." Though she had rehearsed what she wanted to say several times before he arrived, she wasn't sure how to begin. Her thoughts had been scattered and erratic ever since Helena had been injured.
Barbara had been successful in resetting the bones, but the damage done by the robed meta-human had been extensive. So bad in fact that she had even considered calling Bruce's old doctor, Leslie Thompson, though Heaven knew what kind of fit Helena would have thrown had she contacted the woman. In the end, she decided against it. Leslie didn't need to be dragged back into the vigilante life, and Barbara was convinced there was nothing she could do anyway. Either Helena's healing abilities could take care of the injury, or they couldn't. She tried not to think about the latter possibility.
Feeling a warm hand cover her own, she looked up from the paper strewn table and met Jim's concerned gaze. "Tell me what's going on, Honey. I'll do everything I can to help."
Barbara quickly glanced away as she felt the moisture gather in her eyes. The last few days had been incredibly hard on the redhead. She'd had to deal with Helena's injury while trying to restrain the brunette from going after the meta-human when she could barely make her own breakfast – and it was only poptarts for Heaven's sake! Coordinating sweeps with Nightwing and Canary had taken up her nights, and left her constantly wondering how she could allow them to continue when their target had so effectively incapacitated Huntress. Then there was the fact that they hadn't seen any sign of the robed figure, but every night more people turned up dead with horrifying wounds, their blood completely drained. Not to mention that midterms were coming up, and her relationship with Helena was coldly professional at best.
Between everything, Barbara admitted she was feeling a little stressed. Her father's offered support threatened to break down the walls she had carefully constructed to keep herself going, and she was suddenly afraid she would be reduced to tears in the middle of her favorite coffee shop – which left her feeling stressed *and* pathetic. She just wanted to lean on someone else for a change.
The completely uncharacteristic thought goaded Barbara to pull herself together. She was the one that other people relied on. She had always been the anchor in all her professional and personal relationships. For her father when Aunt Barbara died, for Helena when her mother was murdered. She had helped ground Batman's team of vigilantes when she was Batgirl, and Dick would often come to her with problems rather than Bruce. She was the leader of the Birds of Prey which now included Nightwing, her former partner, even though they had never officially voted on the matter, and she knew that Dinah, Dick, and Helena looked to her for advice and guidance. It had never upset her before. She just seemed to naturally gravitate toward the position, but she was finding it hard at the moment to maintain her equilibrium.
Barbara sighed, deciding she would tell him what was necessary for catching the meta. Everything else would only lead to needless distractions.
"Seven days ago, a cargo ship docked in New Gotham. The harbor master reported something suspicious which prompted us to investigate. All of the crew had been murdered and drained of blood." Barbara watched as her father's face tensed in surprise and then settled into a frown. She assumed he would know about the recent killings, but he obviously hadn't been aware of this first massacre. "Huntress went out two days ago to try and apprehend the man responsible. She found him, but he escaped and she was seriously injured."
Jim's voice broke through her clinical recitation of the facts. "Helena's hurt! Why didn't you call me sooner?"
The tone of his voice made Barbara feel six years old again – not something she appreciated. "It didn't occur to me. You and she have never really gotten along." Stress and embarrassment made Barbara harsh.
The former commissioner held up his hands. "I'm sorry, Honey. I wasn't accusing you of anything. I'm just concerned. I know how important Helena is to you."
Barbara almost laughed out loud. Somehow she didn't think now was the right time to tell her father how important the brunette had become to her, or how much more important she'd like her to become.
"It's alright. I'm sorry too. I'm just not sure what to do."
"About Helena or about the killer?"
Barbara considered the multitude of meanings contained in the simple question. "Both . . . everything."
"That's . . . not very helpful." Jim gave her a helpless grin.
She managed a weak smile in return. "Tell me about it."
"Actually, that's what I was hoping you would do. You know there's nothing you can't share with me." Brown eyes regarded her seriously while her father waited for her response.
"I know, Dad. It's just; I really need to focus on this right now. I promise we'll talk after this is done." And who knew, she might actually mean it. She obviously needed to do something.
Jim seemed to accept her offering and settled back in his chair. "So what can you tell me about the suspect?" He was instantly in detective mode.
"Not much. He calls himself Niccolai and wears a red robe with a symbol of a skull on the forehead. He's obviously some kind of meta, but Helena is convinced he's some kind of vampire."
Barbara looked up, expecting to share a smile with her father, sure that James Gordon didn't believe in vampires anymore than she did, but what she saw instead caused her heart-rate to skyrocket. Jim was regarding her in shock, his normally tanned features pale and frightened. His next words left her gasping.
"Barbara, where's Helena?"
Driving with one hand wasn't so hard. Of course, Helena was grateful that the Hummer was automatic; otherwise she might have been in trouble.
She had briefly called Barbara before she left Wayne Manor, letting the other woman know that she had been successful and that she was heading back. She hadn't given Barbara any details, preferring to wait until they could meet face to face. Then she could give the redhead the two items safely tucked away in concealed pockets of her duster. Hopefully, it wouldn't take long to review the information on the flash drive, and then maybe they could talk about other things.
"I'm really sorry, Barbara. I know I didn't handle this well, but I'd like to give us a shot if you still want to."
No, that was terrible. Helena smacked the steering wheel with her left hand, remembering at the last minute the cast on her other wrist. It sounded like something she might have said as a teenager – if she had been in the habit of apologizing.
"I know things have been hard lately, but I think we can make this work. I don't know if it's still something you want, but I'm ready to talk about it."
Better, but it still didn't sound like her.
"Barbara, I've been an ass. I've been in love with you since the first moment I saw you, and when I thought I might actually have a chance, I freaked out and ran."
Well, that had at least sounded like something she might say . . . maybe. Red already knew how screwed up she was, so it wasn't like she was admitting to some big secret.
Helena sighed. She just wanted to find the perfect thing to say. Barbara's beautiful words when she found out Helena was in love with her still sent chills down the brunette's spine.
"Let's go to bed, Helena."
Such simple words that conveyed all the love and need Barbara had been trying to express. They were so perfectly . . . Barbara. Helena simply wanted to prove that she could offer the same thing – but so far she wasn't having any luck.
"Maybe I should just grab her and kiss her." Helena looked at her reflection in the rearview mirror and made a face, the image copying her expression. "Yeah, if I want to get a stick up-side my head."
She sighed again, ruffling a hand through her bangs, not at all concerned that she didn't have a hand on the steering wheel. After all, her reflexes would give her plenty of time to react to anything unexpected.
Helena found out just how untrue this was when she suddenly felt and heard both front tires blow. The Hummer skidded wildly, the back end swinging around to the front as she desperately grabbed for the wheel. Her right arm smashed into the dashboard, causing a pain so intense that she actually blacked out for a second. When her vision cleared, she had just enough time to watch as the car swerved off the road and into the grass.
The loss of traction sent the Hummer into a roll and onto its side, shaking Helena around in the driver's seat until she thought her teeth would fall out. She thanked whatever gods were listening that for once she had put on her seat belt, since there was no doubt in her mind she would already be dead if she hadn't.
Finally, the car came to rest in a field, lying at an angle on its hood and front bumper. Through the agonizing pain, Helena tried to asses her injuries. She started with the most obvious. Her wrist was a bright spot of agony, and when she managed to raise it to her face she could see that the cast was cracked. Gauging the pain, she determined that she had probably re-broken it. Barbara was going to be pissed.
She wiped a smear of blood off her forehead with her good hand. She hated head injuries; they always bled so damn much. Also, her left leg felt funny. From the position she was in, she couldn't see it to tell if it was broken, pinned by the car, or simply numb from the beating she had taken. Groaning, she fumbled for the seat belt with her left hand, trying to keep her right as still as possible.
Just as she finally managed to release the catch, a pair of boots stopped outside the window. She angled her head to see who it was, hoping they had already called an ambulance. Instead of a Good Samaritan, however, she locked eyes with a muscular man holding a strip of road spikes.
At least it wasn't her driving that had caused the accident.
Helena knew she should be trying to get free so she could put up a fight, but for some reason everything was going black around the edges. The last thing she saw before the darkness rushed in was the man's grinning face as he reached in through the shattered window for her throat.
This is not happening.
Barbara repeated her new mantra over and over as she tried every trick she knew to locate her two missing operatives. Between searches, she called up her GPS program, only to be disappointed once again when Nightwing's transceiver was the only signal displayed in New Gotham. She was arguably the greatest information broker in the world, but she couldn't find the answer to the one question that truly mattered.
How could she have lost both Helena and Dinah?
Taking a moment to pull off her glasses and rub her tired eyes, Barbara decided that when she got them back she was going to insist they get tracers implanted. Since both of them were always losing their coms through accidents or more sinister means, it was simply the most practical solution – even if Helena complained that it made her feel like a pet getting chipped.
Remembering the brunette's adamant response when she first suggested the idea and the resulting sarcastic, but ultimately good-natured fight, left Barbara feeling sick. She wasn't in the habit of thinking about what-ifs, but tonight she couldn't seem to stop herself.
What if she didn't get them back?
What if, even now, Dinah was undergoing some traumatic experience that Barbara should have protected her from?
What if Helena died and she never got to tell her . . .
Slamming her palms down on her desk, Barbara forced her jaw to unclench. That was not going to happen, she wouldn't let it. She would track down the Monk before anything happened and then Nightwing would rescue the two missing women. She had faced worse situations than this before, and she undoubtedly would again – with Helena and Dinah by her side.
The chime of the elevator caused her to quickly rotate her chair, almost tipping herself over in the process, something she hadn't done since those first awful months.
Heart hammering, she waited for the doors to open, praying it would reveal Helena or Dinah, or better yet, both of them safe and unharmed.
What she saw instead was Dick, standing squarely in the middle of the small area, a look of determination on his face, and Gabby standing off to one side looking nervous and frightened, clutching a bundle wrapped in canvas.
"What are you doing here?!" Before she could censor herself, the words had left her mouth. It didn't matter that she was talking more to the blond teenager. Dick's scowl became even fiercer. In fact, it reminded her of a certain other brooding vigilante.
"Barbara, we need to talk."
Dick strode purposefully toward her chair, not stopping until he was looming over her slightly. At times like these, Barbara wished she was able to stand up-right once again and go toe to toe with her fellow crime fighter. Instead, she forced herself to be calm and focus on what was really important.
"I know. I've found out who our murderer is."
Dick's tone clearly showed his surprise, and Barbara once again had to shrug off her irritation. Of course she had found out who he was. She was the fucking Oracle. She could find out anything, except of course where the hell Helena and Dinah were.
"Yes, but there's something you need to know."
Dick quickly raised his hand cutting her off. "We already know. Dinah's been taken."
Barbara blinked at him from behind her glasses. "You . . . know. How could you know? I just found out myself when I couldn't raise her on coms or locate her with the GPS."
"They left a note." His voice was strangely dead, and Barbara realized he was trying to mask his anger and fear.
Dick reached into a pocket of his belt and pulled out a scrap of paper and a shattered com unit. She held out her hand, silently requesting the message, but almost dropped it when she noticed the dark brown stains marring the white page. Trying not to let her hands shake, especially in front of Gabby who had been watching them from the elevator, she brought the paper up to her face and began to read the scrawled message.
*We are aware that you have connections with the Batman. We have taken your friend as an incentive for you to contact him. If you do not deliver him in 24 hours, we will be forced to clip the wings of your little bird. We suggest that you hurry.
Sincerely, The Brotherhood*
When she finished reading, Barbara became aware of a creeping numbness throughout her body. For a moment it felt like her entire body had been paralyzed, instead of just her legs.
Looking up at Dick, she quickly shot her eyes toward Gabby, knowing he would realize she was asking if the teen had read the note. The crime fighter shook his head slightly, and Barbara breathed a sigh of relief. She could barely deal with the implications of the message, and she had been trained for these kinds of situations. She couldn't imagine what it would do to Gabby.
"You can stop looking at me like that. I know what you're thinking." Barbara was startled to see Gabby had moved away from the elevator and was now standing by the edge of the Delphi platform. "I know something's happened to Dinah, and from the look of that note, it's something bad."
The blonde's face was pinched with worry, and Barbara could see the tears that Gabby was desperately trying to hold back. She felt her heart swell with sympathy for the young woman. Hadn't she been in exactly the same condition moments before when thinking of Helena?
With that thought, Barbara realized that Gabby was truly in love with her youngest ward, and resolved to have a talk with Dinah when they got her back. She didn't want Dinah to follow in her footsteps – figuratively speaking - painfully unaware of the possibilities.
Looking at the teen, she softened her voice. "You're right Gabby. Dinah's been taken by some of the criminals we've been looking for."
"You mean the ones that killed all those people on the ship."
Barbara tried to hide her disapproval. Gabby was aware of their identities. If Dinah chose to reveal information about the murders, then she must have had a good reason, and Barbara wasn't going to second guess her now.
"Yes, but I don't believe they've hurt her yet." Hazel eyes looked at her imploringly, desperate to believe what she was saying. Barbara sat a little straighter in her chair. "We will get her back, I promise."
Gabby looked at her, taking in the determination in the striking green eyes.
Barbara nodded once and turned back to Dick who looked at her questioningly.
"So, what are we up against, Babs?"
Barbara took a deep breath and began to tell them everything she had learned from her father about events that had occurred before Dick had even met Batman.
Half an hour later, she finished her summary. She had tried to be as concise as possible, painfully aware of every second that Dinah and Helena were being held captive, but she knew that Nightwing would need the information when he went up against the Monk and his Brotherhood.
"So this . . . Monk is the one responsible. Sounds straight forward enough. Do we know where to find him?"
"Uh . . ." Barbara looked at Dick questioningly. Was she the only one having problems with the fact that their newest foe was a vampire? An actual, honest to God, vampire?
When her father had told her about the Monk and how Batman had rescued Julie Madison, the actress with whom Bruce had once had a fairly serious relationship, she had been shocked. Apparently Commissioner Gordon had helped Batman to track the Brotherhood to an abandoned manor on the outskirts of Gotham. Jim had told Barbara many stories about his time as head of the police department over the years, but he had never mentioned the fact that he had once helped to apprehend a vampire. When she asked him why, he had responded simply that he didn't want to shake her faith in a scientific explanation, and sometimes he still didn't believe it himself.
"Barbara, where can we find Dinah?" Dick was definitely agitated.
"She's most likely being held at the Brotherhood's old headquarters, Ralston Castle. I've checked," she waved a hand in the direction of the Delphi, "and it was never torn down. You should be able to get there on your bike in twenty minutes." Barbara took a deep breath preparing to tell him the rest. "Dick, I can't locate Helena either."
"What! I thought you sent her to the manor to go through Bruce's files."
Barbara knew he was concerned when he mentioned Batman's true identity in front of Gabby. That was one thing they had decided to leave out of their explanation to the teen, neither of them particularly comfortable with breaking their mentor's trust.
"I did. She contacted me as she was leaving, and said she had something she needed to discuss with me. That was over four hours ago." Barbara held up her hands helplessly.
Dick brought a hand to his chin. "So, it wasn't another fight between you two." He was oblivious to the pain his words caused, but Gabby shot a sympathetic look to the redhead. "Do you think they're keeping her with Dinah?"
"That's what I'm hoping." Otherwise, she wasn't sure how to find the brunette. "You should get going. I'll direct you from here."
Dick tried out a charming smile, spoiled a little by the tension around his eyes and mouth. "Don't suppose you have any holy water or stakes lying around?"
"Uh, no . . . can't say that I do."
Dick made a show of cracking his knuckles. "Oh well, guess I'll just have to improvise."
Barbara was startled when Gabby spoke from right beside her. The teen had been quietly listening to their conversation without interruption, and the redhead had almost forgotten she was there.
"I might be able to help with that."
Gabby slowly held out the bundle in her arms as Barbara looked at her questioningly. When she pulled away the string allowing the object underneath to be revealed, the cyber crime fighter actually felt a real smile curve her lips.
"So let me get this straight. You have a crossbow because your cousin does medieval reenactments?"
Gabby nodded her head when she heard the blatant disbelief over the spare com Barbara had given her. Remembering that he couldn't see her from his position driving the bike, she wrapped her arms tighter around his waist and replied.
"Yeah. Daniel got really into that whole knights and ancient combat thing. He used to take me with him when we were younger. I still know how to use it, and it should be just the thing to discourage some vampires."
"Amen to that." She heard his slight chuckle in her ear as the bike roared out of the city. Moments later he continued. "I still can't believe Barbara let you come."
"Well, I figure she knew she couldn't stop me."
The moment Gabby had heard Dinah cry out over the cell phone, there was no question. She knew she should just stay out of the way and let the experienced crime fighters handle it, but she couldn't. Minutes after she had heard the exchange between Dala and her best friend, she had called Dick and told him what had happened. He had promised to try and locate Dinah immediately, but it wasn't enough. She found herself going through the closet, looking for the antique, but fully functional, crossbow her cousin had given her as a birthday present.
A quick ride on the bus - with the occasional passenger looking at her nervously as she clutched the canvas wrapped weapon - and she was at the clock tower. She had arrived just in time to meet Dick on his way up to speak with Barbara, and now they were both preparing to confront a cult of vampires.
When had her life gotten so strange?
Of course the answer was very simple - when she had met a girl in History who had stood up and told the entire class that her hometown was known for inventing the zipper. From then on, nothing had been the same. And even though Gabby knew there was a definite chance she could die tonight, she wouldn't have it any other way.
Several silent miles later, Dick pulled the bike onto the side of the road. He helped Gabby down, and they both pulled off their helmets. Curly blonde hair and shorter dark stands blew around their heads in the stiff breeze.
Dick pointed with an outstretched finger to a hill off in the distance. "That's where Oracle said they should be. I don't want to alert them with the bike, so we'll walk from here."
Without waiting for a reply, he started off in the direction he had indicated. Gabby quickly pulled her crossbow off the back of the bike where she had secured it and started to follow.
As they drew closer, she noticed a faint square of light shinning through the darkness. Soon, she could tell it was coming from a window in the upstairs of a large, decaying . . . castle. She had thought Ralston Castle was just a name thought up by an old man with too much money and not enough common sense, but the structure in front of them definitely deserved the name. At least it made carrying a crossbow seem a little less ridiculous.
She wondered why only one light was on in the entire building, and then quickly decided she didn't really want to know.
Dick ran the short distance between the tree cover and the wall, pressing himself up against the crumbling stone on one side of the thick doors. He held out his hand, motioning for Gabby to do the same. It was an awkward dash across the dying grass with the crossbow in her arms, but she managed it, stopping at Dick's left side as she tried to control her breathing.
"Oracle, do you copy?"
"I'm here, Nightwing. What do you see?"
Barbara's voice sounded tiny and caused Gabby to jump when it suddenly echoed in her ear. How did Dinah do this?
Dick took a quick look around. "So far, nothing. There's a light on, so someone has obviously been here recently, but no sign of any guards."
"Alright, Nightwing, what do you think?"
"I think Huntress and Canary are in there, and we're going to go and get them."
Dick's voice was hard and determined, and Gabby looked at him with new eyes. Usually the handsome crime fighter gave the impression of a carefree young man, so this was a side of Dick she had never seen before. Suddenly she could see why a legendary figure such as the Batman might choose to trust him with his life.
"Be careful, Nightwing."
Feeling a surge of confidence, Gabby grabbed an arrow from the quiver at her hip and loaded it. When Dick nodded to her, she was ready, and rose smoothly to follow him around the side of the castle.
Their luck held. Nightwing was able to shoot a grappling hook onto the roof and climb to one of the upper windows. Gabby held her breath as Dick forced it open with only the faintest protest from the neglected hinges. Motioning that he would go first, he maneuvered his muscled body smoothly through the small opening. Moments later, his gloved hand reappeared, motioning her up. Gabby swung the crossbow onto her back and started climbing, wishing she had been better at the rope climb in gym. Reaching the top, Gabby handed him the crossbow and shimmied through the window, much less gracefully, she was sure.
Automatically accepting the weapon that was handed back to her, she stared in trepidation. White sheets covered the furniture and dust was layered thickly on every surface. Gabby fought off the urge to sneeze just from the sight alone. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans as she followed behind Dick as he crept farther inside.
Holding out a hand to stop her, Dick cautiously peered into the next room.
"Oracle, we're inside. What can you tell us about the layout of this place?"
They both held their breath waiting for the reply. Several seconds passed with no answer.
"Oracle, do you copy?"
When the voice did not respond a second time, Dick and Gabby turned to look at each other with worried expressions.
"Oracle, are you . . ."
"You don't need to bother. Your Oracle can't hear you. In fact, she's not hearing much of anything right about now."
The voice was high pitched and grating . . . also terribly familiar. Gabby immediately recognized it as the woman Dinah had been talking to just before she was kidnapped. Feeling her heart speed up, she watched as a tall, thin woman emerged from the shadows, flanked by three other men who seemed to slip in and out of the darkness at will.
Glancing at Dick she raised her crossbow, pointing it at the nearest vampire. She guessed it was time to find out if she had what it took to be a hero.
"Come on, Helena, don't do this to me."
The computer monitors cast a sickly glow on her skin, the only illumination in the tower except for the faint moonlight creeping in through the balcony windows and the face of the clock.
Barbara made sure her mike was off after Nightwing's last transmission. He and Gabby were now in position to enter Ralston Castle where hopefully they could retrieve Dinah and Helena without too much trouble. Especially since the Monk wouldn't be there to try and stop them.
No, if Barbara had anticipated correctly, and she knew she had, the vampire would be showing up right about . . .
There was no answer, but Barbara thought she could detect a slight shifting of the shadows throughout the room. It was nothing obvious. She couldn't point to a particular patch of dimness and say, yes, that one had moved. It was more like the entire mass of darkness had suddenly altered in some indefinable way.
"I know you're there. You might as well come out."
Barbara lowered her hand casually - or so she hoped - finding the folded batons tucked under her chair. She desperately missed the days when she could have faced this threat on her feet, merely so she would be able to turn and scan the entire room. Now, however, she was forced to settle for facing the balcony doors and trusting her trained senses to alert her to any possible attack from the rear.
"Why don't we stop playing games? You obviously came here for a reason, so let's get it over with." Barbara tried to inject a hint of condescension into her command, hoping to draw her assailant out.
It seemed to work because moments later her eyes were drawn to a red robed figure standing casually by the ramp. If there had been anyone around to tell, she would have sworn nothing had been there seconds before. Barbara was now perversely grateful she wasn't on her feet, since she would have given an embarrassing jump.
"All right, Oracle, no more games. I'm looking for Batman, and I think you know where to find him."
The vampire continued to lean casually on the railing, somehow managing to seem even more horrific in this relaxed pose. Looking at him, Barbara could almost forget what he was, but some instinct kept shouting that this being was like nothing she had ever encountered before. He wasn't a meta or genetically altered experiment. He was an enemy out of humanity's darkest nightmares. A creature who had in all probability existed for centuries, and if she didn't find a way to defeat him, he would gladly drain her blood and leave the corpse rotting on her hardwood floors.
Finding her voice, she looked directly into his boiling crimson eyes. "What makes you think I know where he is?"
Before she could blink, the robed figure was at the edge of Delphi platform. He didn't make any threatening moves; instead he merely ran a hand over one of the Delphi's hard drives.
"Such fascinating equipment. Humanity has come so far, so quickly. When it first began, I was afraid. Afraid that this . . . what was it called . . . ah yes, brave new world, would grant you the power to hunt down and exterminate my kind once and for all, but in fact it was just the opposite. You humans became complacent with your technology. You no longer looked at the night as something to fear. You even forgot that it once held anything to be afraid of." If she hadn't been focusing so closely on those bone white hands softly caressing her beloved computer, Barbara might have noticed the sadness coating the terrible voice.
"So it became easy to prey on the fringes. Feedings that would have roused the authorities and sent mobs gathering in the street before, were now regarded as simply another death added to the uncounted millions. I should have been content, but I found that it wasn't enough. I missed the thrill, the challenge, so I found a new way. I formed the Brotherhood to help me adapt to this new existence.
"I found humans willing to serve me. Imagine it, the prey walking up to the predator and asking for employment, all in the hopes that I would someday make them over in my image. It never ceases to amuse me." The Monk laughed, and it was a terrible sound to hear. Barbara flinched and shrank back in her chair. "So I began to gather my followers and we traveled the world. Feeding where we wished without fear or consequence. Then we came to Gotham.
"It seemed like such a promising city. We made ourselves comfortable in a castle just outside the city, which provided a welcome sense of familiarity. We began to feed on the unwanted rabble on the streets, but we didn't realize someone was protecting them." Barbara wavered at the loathing that was suddenly present in the vampire's tone. "It was only a matter of time before I crossed paths with the Batman and he began to make my life miserable. But I got my revenge. Kidnapping his girlfriend and turning him into the very monster he was trying to fight."
"That's all very interesting, but you still haven't answered my question."
The Monk's eyes widened in surprise. She belatedly realized he hadn't expected her to be able to respond. He had been trying to lull her with his voice, his story simply a means to gain control over her mind.
He clearly didn't know who he was dealing with.
The vampire shrugged with careful nonchalance, a strangely appalling movement considering the source. "You are the Oracle. You've made it your mission to know everything that goes on in this city. I simply made it mine to know everything about you."
"How?" Barbara was getting a very bad feeling about all of this.
The figure smiled, revealing sharp canines. "Some people say not to trust the advice of madmen, but I found it quite helpful – or rather advice from a particular madwoman."
"Quinn." She said the name without inflection, and watched as the vampire inclined his head briefly.
"Yes. She was most helpful. She truly hates you with a passion that is quite astounding. From her I was able to learn all about the powerful Oracle and her team of vigilantes. Of course, she didn't know of events that happened after you sent her to Arkham, but it was easy enough to track the girl and Nightwing." The vampire spread his arms wide, as if trying to embrace the entire room. "You see, we share the same passion. We both know that the best way to victory is through knowledge of your enemy. So tell me, Barbara Gordon, if Batman didn't inform the former Batgirl where he was going, who would he tell?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm really tired of all the dramatics." Barbara raised her hands and snapped her batons into a guard position. "Batman may be gone, but Gotham still has protectors. You won't be feeding on any more of its citizens in the future."
Barbara wasn't at all sure she could handle this threat; the memory of Helena's wrist when she had stumbled into the clock tower was still fresh in her mind. Shaking it off, she realized it didn't matter. She had done her job. Hopefully she had given Nightwing and Gabby the time they needed to rescue Helena and Dinah. That was all that was important.
The Monk took one look at her and laughed. It was cruel and mocking and set the redhead's teeth on edge. "Oh, I have no intention of fighting you. I'm not such a monster that I would attack a cripple in her wheelchair." Barbara felt fury shoot through her, but only steadied her hands and firmed her jaw. "No, I won't be the one to kill you, Oracle. I've saved that pleasure for someone very special."
The vampire gestured, and suddenly her reflexes alerted her to a presence behind her. With a practiced move she dropped one hand to the wheel of her chair and rotated until she was facing sideways to the Monk. From this position she was able to keep an eye on the robed figure, and at the same time face the newest threat. What she saw caused her to cry out in shock.
Helena stood on her other side, the tan skin pale in the moonlight. She was abnormally still, something Barbara would never associate with the normally chaotic meta-human. When the brunette's mouth opened slightly, Barbara was able to glimpse sharp fangs.
"Like father, like daughter, Oracle."
Dick turned, putting his back against Gabby's. He could feel the teen shaking, her fear and anxiety conveyed through the minute shivers.
"It's okay, try to relax," he spared a moment to murmur even as he eyed the approaching vampires. "Just pick your shots and be ready to move when I say. We'll get through this, I promise."
Gabby didn't respond, but he felt her trembling ease somewhat. Seconds later, he didn't have time to reassure her anymore, he was too busy trying to dodge the lightning fast strikes one of the vampires was throwing at his head. Distantly he recognized that if even one punch landed, it would all be over. At some point he thought he heard the snap of a bow string, but he couldn't be sure.
He spun and snapped a side-kick into one monster's stomach, sending it crashing into the wall. Without pausing he reached back and grabbed Gabby by the collar.
Half running, half dragging the teen, he raced for the stairs. He had a vague thought of getting outside where they could regroup and give Gabby more room to fire her weapon, but mostly he just wanted to get out of the constraining rooms of the castle. He sent a quick thank you to his mentor for teaching him how to navigate in stressful situations when he turned unerringly for the front door at the bottom of the steps.
He could hear Gabby's harsh breathing as they ran for the exit. Ten steps . . . nine . . . eight . . .
Suddenly, two vampires seemed to materialize out of the shadows on either side of the doorway. They made no move to attack the would-be rescuers, but took up positions guarding the door. It was obvious they had no intention of letting them through.
They were being herded, but to where and for what purpose?
He gently pushed the unresisting Gabby behind him. "I think we'll find another exit."
Backing up, never taking his eyes off the two grinning monsters, he led them into what looked like a sitting room. A large crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. Cobwebs bridged the distance between the small prisms, giving it a ghostly, though strangely beautiful appearance.
The entire setting would have been more appealing, in Dick's opinion, if they hadn't been surrounded on all sides. The spacious room contained three doorways and in each at least one vampire watched them with glittering eyes. As they slowly backed away, Dick's foot caught on a rug that had been shoved up against one of the draped chairs. Taking a quick look, he could see that the rug had been covering a trap door set into the wood floorboards.
Without taking time to re-consider, he grabbed the iron ring attached to the door and lifted, uncovering the first few stairs in the weak illumination. He couldn't see or hear anything down the gaping hole, but he knew without a doubt that this was where the vampires wanted them to go.
He quickly weighed their options. They could stay here and fight. Between Gabby's crossbow and his skills, they might even be able to take out two or three of the vampires before they were overwhelmed and torn to pieces. Or, they could go down the stairs where they might be able to create a bottleneck and pick off the vampires one by one. Of course, there was no telling what was in the cellar - it might be worse than what they were dealing with at the moment, though he couldn't really imagine how.
Faced with certain death on one hand, and only very likely death on the other, Dick made his decision.
"Give me the crossbow, and then head down slowly."
He watched out of the corner of his eye as Gabby turned to look at him in disbelief. "Are you serious? There is no way I'm going down into some creepy basement in a castle filled with vampires!"
"Gabby, you agreed to do what I said. Now I'm telling you to get down there." He tried to soften his voice, though he never took his eyes off the vampires around them. "Please, trust me."
Gabby hesitated, then reluctantly handed him the crossbow. Dick immediately aimed at the nearest vampire and resisted the urge to send a bolt into its heart. He couldn't afford to give them a reason to attack, no matter how much he wanted to.
He could hear Gabby fumbling down the first steps behind him, but the sound quickly stopped. Her voice floated back up to him. "Nightwing, I can't see anything. I think there are torches on the walls, but they're not lit."
Dick sighed. If the teen was going to be coming on missions, they were going to have to get her a utility belt.
Shaking his head, trying to dislodge the strange thought – why would Gabby be coming on any more missions? – Dick called back to her. "Check in my pouch. Second on the right, there should be a lighter."
Dick felt small hands fumble at his belt, then the sharp snap of the lighter opening and igniting. Seconds later a bright light flared behind him, causing the vampires to shrink back. Not waiting for a better opportunity, he backed up, grabbed the ring and closed the trap door.
Looking at Gabby's pale and frightened face in the flickering torchlight, he tried a reassuring smile. "I think we're safe for a while." When the teen just continued to look at him, he sighed. Turning away from the frankly skeptical look in her eyes, he tried to pierce the darkness below them.
He felt Gabby gently take the crossbow from his hands, and replace it with the torch before she took up a position behind him.
Dick sucked in a breath and started down the stairs.
God, she hated that look.
Barbara was watching her with fear and pity warring in her gaze, like she didn't know whether to run from Helena or wrap her up in her arms and hold on tight.
Helena wanted to tell her to run.
Instead, she looked over at the vampire, her master, waiting for instructions.
Some fundamental part of the brunette raged inside her chest. She had never, ever followed anyone's orders, with the exception of Barbara, and then only when she felt like it. To be reduced to a puppet brought back agonizing memories of Quinn and her hypnosis. Of course, then, Helena hadn't been aware of what she was doing, and she hadn't remembered anything she had done once Barbara had used the de- hypnotizing device. Now, however, she was completely conscious of every action . . . she just couldn't do anything about it.
'Fuck!' Helena tried to wiggle even one finger, but her hand remained still, hanging stiffly at her side.
Her entire body felt rigid and tense like she was standing at attention. She desperately wanted to shift her weight onto one hip and cross her arms in her normal cocky, sexy-as-hell posture, and it was starting to piss her off. She knew the Monk was deliberately forcing her to face Barbara's inspection, but did he have to make her look like Frankenstein's monster.
Well, maybe not Frankenstein's, but she was definitely a monster. Helena Kyle was a vampire, there was no denying it. She could touch the sharp fangs that protruded slightly from her mouth, and just looking at Barbara she could literally *feel* the blood pumping through the other woman's body – and it made her hungry.
It was the same hunger she had woken up to only hours before, right after the Monk had turned her.
Helena slowly swam back into consciousness, resisting with all her might. Somehow she knew that as soon as she opened her eyes, the pain was going to start. A corner of her mind kept telling her that she had been in a car wreck and something about her wrist, insisting she really didn't want to wake up, but Helena had always been stubborn. So it would hurt, that wasn't anything new. She would rather face it with her eyes open.
Feeling her eyelids scrape against her dry eyes as she forced them up, she braced herself for the pain then blinked stupidly when there wasn't a single twinge from her abused body.
Either she was on some serious pain medication, or something strange was going on.
With a kind of detached interest, she realized she was starving. Helena was used to dealing with her urges, however, and she forced it down. She could deal with it once she got the hell out of here.
Looking around, she realized she was in some type of cellar or basement, which kinda ruled out the drugs that nice doctors at hospitals gave out. That only left the "something strange" explanation, and in Helena's experience that was usually not a good thing.
A soft moan from the other corner alerted the brunette to the fact that she wasn't alone. Turning her head quickly, she felt a sting of pain in her neck, but completely forgot about it when her eyes registered Dinah chained to the wall.
"Dinah?" Her voice sounded funny. Scratchy like she hadn't used it in a while, or like she had been screaming for a long period of time. Helena shook off that mental image and slowly got to her knees.
"He . . . Helena?"
Dinah didn't sound so good either. Helena tried to force her body to move faster, but she was having trouble getting everything to function properly. It didn't help that her head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. Her thoughts were fuzzy and unfocused, but eventually she managed to stagger to her feet. Leaning on the wall to keep from falling, she made it to the blonde's side.
"Dinah, you okay?" Helena reached out a shaking hand, intending to check the strength of the cuffs around the girl's wrists, but Dinah shrank away from her with a small cry. "Shh, D. It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you." A muted rage suffused her chest. She didn't know how Dinah had ended up here, but she had obviously been mistreated. Someone was going to pay for that.
She held up her hands and tried to speak soothingly, just like Barbara did when her feral side took over. It seemed to work and after several minutes, Dinah was able to look her in the eye.
"Oh God, Helena. I thought you were dead." Tears steamed down the teen's face, and Helena wanted to wipe them away, but she wasn't sure how Dinah would react. "The things he did to you – and I couldn't do anything." The last part of her sentence ended in a choked sob as she started to cry in earnest.
This time Helena didn't hold back, and she wrapped the teen up in her arms as best she could considering the restraints. "It's okay, D. It'll be okay."
Helena wasn't sure what she was saying, only that she needed to say it . . . for both of them. What was Dinah talking about? Her head felt a little clearer, and the last thing she remembered was that asshole from the car wreck reaching through the window. Even in her present situation, the brunette spared a moment to consider Barbara's reaction to the destruction of the Hummer. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
Eventually Dinah's tears stopped and became only the occasional sniffle. When she looked back at Helena, her eyes were still frightened, but they were also determined.
"Are you okay, Hel?"
Helena shrugged, she felt fine. "Yeah, I feel fine. Why?"
That seemed to have been the wrong thing to say, because Dinah was shrinking away from her again. "You . . . don't remember?"
"Well obviously not!" Helena didn't mean to snap, but the Kid was starting to scare her.
The teen's features shifted, and Helena recognized her expression. It was the same look Dinah got whenever when she was about to tell the brunette that Barbara wasn't sleeping and spending too many hours on the computer. The look that said there was something she had to tell Helena, but she wasn't looking forward to it.
"Helena, um, when they brought you down here you were pretty messed up," she began.
"Yeah, I was in a car wreck. The Hummer's totaled." Helena didn't know why she was interrupting, but for some reason she *really* didn't want to hear what Dinah was going to say next."
"Oh right. That would explain it." The Kids hand jerked against the chains, and Helena knew she had tried to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, one of her nervous gestures. "After a while, that guy came down. The one in the robe."
"Okay, right, the Monk came down and, um, grabbed you and started saying he would get his revenge."
"God dammit, Dinah get to the point!"
She didn't want to shout at the Kid, but all the suspense was killing her.
The words came out in a jumbled rush, and it took Helena a moment to figure out what the teen had said. Then he bit you.
Feeling sick to her stomach, she let her hand wander up to her throat were she had felt the pain earlier. She thought she might actually throw up when her fingers encountered the two swollen puncture marks on her neck.
Sinking to the ground, she looked up at Dinah with dazed eyes. "Why don't I remember?"
"I'm not sure." She hesitated. "I think it's probably a good thing. You . . . you acted like it hurt a lot."
Helena swallowed, feeling the ache in her throat once again. Lifting her hand up, she tried to massage away the pain and the knowledge of exactly why it hurt.
Her fingers stilled suddenly when it occurred to her which hand she had been using. Holding her arm in front of her she stared at it in disbelief.
Her wrist was completely healed. There wasn't even a scar to show that it had ever been broken. Quickly Helena felt her head looking for the cut she remembered from the wreck. Her hair was sticky with blood, but there was no wound.
Terrified of what she would find, she lifted her shirt, exposing her ribs. There should have been a scar high on her rib cage from her first night as Huntress, but instead of the ugly mark she was expecting, there was only smooth pale skin.
Turning to look at Dinah, she pleaded with her eyes. "Dinah?"
"I don't know. It happened right after he . . . All your injuries just seemed to heal instantly. It's a good thing too, you weren't looking so hot."
Leave it to the Kid to look on the bright side and also tease Helena in their present situation.
She didn't think she could deal with this. It was too much.
Helena was almost grateful when she heard a door above them open and the sound of footstep coming down the stairs.
"Ah, you're awake." The robed figure stopped at the foot of the stairs and regarded them. "I see you've had a chance for the family reunion. I hope Dinah has been able to fill you in on your condition."
"What have you done to me, you bastard?" Helena tried to lunge at him, but found she couldn't move.
"Now, now, there's no need for that kind of attitude. You wouldn't want to upset your new master."
"What the hell?"
"Stand up." The command seemed to wrap itself around her brain and squeeze. Before she knew what was happening, Helena found herself on her feet, watching the vampire expectantly.
The Monk smiled and somewhere in a part of herself that was still free, Helena shivered.
"Say goodbye to your friend. It's finally night and I have plans to complete."
And to Helena's horror, she turned and followed him obediently up the stairs.
Now looking at Barbara, Helena could feel the vampire preparing to tell her to attack. It would be like the Quinn incident all over again, although this time, Barbara didn't know how to cure her.
Helena wanted to tell the other woman to run, but she didn't have control of her own vocal cords – and it wouldn't have done any good anyway. Helena was faster and stronger than she had ever been, and she hadn't been a weakling before.
'God Barbara, don't let me do this.'
Helena prayed with everything she was that somehow, someone would intervene. She couldn't kill the woman she loved. It wasn't fair.
Then Helena was moving across the floor towards the redhead. As she screamed in her head, she watched her hands curl into claws.
Dick's boots hit packed earth instead of the stone step he was expecting. He did his best not to stumble at the abrupt change, the adrenaline from moments before racing through his veins, causing him to overcompensate. Reaching behind him, he gently guided Gabby to his side, almost having to peel the teen away from his back where she was huddled.
"We're at the bottom." Dick's voice was a quiet whisper. He could tell from the echoes that they were in an enclosed space. Years of working in the Batcave gave him the confidence to say that it wasn't very large.
"Yeah, but where are we?"
Dick didn't answer. Instead, he held out the torch and started to move forward cautiously.
They needed to find a way out.
As much as he hated to acknowledge it, they had failed. There was no way for them to rescue Helena and Dinah now. They had gone in thinking they would surprise the vampires, but somehow they had been expected. Their only option now was to escape, regroup, and come back with a better plan; one that wouldn't get them killed in a doomed effort to save their friends.
A rattling off to their right caused him to tense, expecting an attack at any moment. When the noise wasn't repeated, he slowly let out a breath . . . and quickly drew it back in when he heard a soft moan from the same direction.
Gabby hesitated only briefly before following him into the dark. She really was a good kid, Dick allowed.
As they drew closer, the torchlight glinted off of something golden. For one wild moment Dick felt like Howard Carter at the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb. The light illuminated Dinah hanging from chains set into the stone wall. The teen looked battered and dazed, but Dick couldn't find any life-threatening injuries.
Before he could stop her, Gabby had shot around his body and was embracing her friend. Dinah seemed to rouse at the physical touch, and her eyes opened wide.
"Gabby?" The voice was soft and rasping, but filled with joy and relief. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh my God, Dinah, what did they do to you?!" Gabby began yanking ineffectually at the chains on crime fighter's wrists. "How could you do this to me?! One minute we're talking on the phone, and the next I have to listen while you get kidnapped! By vampires!"
Dick decided he should step in before things got out of hand. "Dinah, do you know if there's another way out of here?"
Dinah responded without looking away from Gabby. "I don't know. I woke up chained to the wall, and they used the stairs when they brought Helena down."
Dick's heart-rate sped up. If Helena was here, maybe between the four of them they could fight their way out. As much as he hated to admit it, Helena was actually a competent crime fighter, and she had experience, not to mention her meta-abilities.
Dinah shook her head, wincing at the pull of the chains. "No, that red guy, the Monk, took her away. He said something about it being night and having plans."
Barbara! They had left Barbara alone in the clock tower! With a sick feeling, Dick *knew* that was where the Monk was headed, but why take Helena? Was he planning on using her as leverage with Barbara? What did he want?
"Um, Dick? There's something you should know." He tried to brace himself. Dinah's tone said it wasn't going to be good news. "Uh, the Monk bit Helena. I think she's a vampire."
For several seconds no one said anything. Then Gabby looked at Dinah, Dinah looked at Dick, and Dick decided he really couldn't deal with this right now.
"Okay, we'll just have to deal with that later. We need to find a way out of here and get back to the tower." Dick took a look at the chains. "Um, Canary, why haven't you TK blasted these yet?" The chains were sturdy, but Dick had seen how devastating the teen's mental powers were firsthand.
Dinah looked vaguely embarrassed. "I tried. As soon as I woke up, the Monk was here and he did something weird with his eyes, kinda like Quinn. He was talking to me, but I don't remember what he said. After he left, I tried, but I can't seem to use my powers."
Things just kept getting worse. He was trying to get the hang of working with a team again, but he hadn't signed on to deal with two defenseless teenagers.
Without a word he fished in his belt and pulled out a set of lock picks and went to work on the shackles. Minutes later, as the last one fell off and Dinah began rubbing her wrists, trying to restore circulation; Dick was ready with a plan.
"Okay, here's what we're going . . ."
The sound of splintering wood filled the basement, followed by heavy footsteps on the stairs.
That was the problem with plans; they never seemed to go according to plan.
Positioning his body in front of the two teens, he prepared to protect them for as long as he was able.
Barbara watched in alarm as Helena approached her. The brunette's hands were curled into claws and her fangs were exposed in a feral snarl. For one second, Barbara wasn't frightened, she was simply horribly, terribly sad. Sad and furious that this . . . monster had turned Helena into the one thing she hated and feared. He had taken away Helena's ability to be human.
Barbara wasn't about to let him get away with it.
As Helena's hands groped for her, the fingernails hard and pointed, Barbara snapped up her batons, striking the brunette in the ribs. Helena stumbled back several steps – Barbara had worked hard to increase her upper body strength after the shooting – but showed no signs of being injured. She merely turned and came at Barbara again.
The redhead realized she would have to fight dirty if she hoped to escape the encounter. Her neural coupler was in the desk drawer next to the Delphi, but it might as well have been on the moon. By the time she maneuvered the ten feet, Helena would be on her. Besides, there was no guarantee that she could beat the brunette even if she could use her legs. She hadn't been able to last time when Helena had been controlled by Quinn. Only the device she had designed to disrupt Harley's hypnotic suggestion had saved her from slow strangulation.
So, when Helena reached for her a third time, Barbara gritted her teeth and swung hard for the crime fighter's right wrist. The sound of metal hitting flesh and bone was loud in the otherwise quiet tower, and Barbara gasped despite herself.
Seconds later, she gasped again when the same wrist grabbed the front of her shirt and ripped her from her chair, sending her crashing to the floor. Years of training allowed her to keep a grip on her weapons, but the air was forcibly expelled from her lungs as she hit. Fighting for breath, she rolled onto her side and watched as Helena began to stalk towards her, the glowing violet eyes a strange mixture of red and familiar blue.
For the first time, Barbara took a good look at her friend.
Besides the obvious signs of her conversion, such as the fangs, fingernails, and glowing eyes, Helena was obviously different. For one thing, the cast on her arm was gone, and Barbara couldn't see any trace of the horrible injury. Her left pant leg was mangled and covered in blood, but there was no damage to the tan skin through the rips in the leather. Also, the brunette's hair was matted with dried blood, but she wasn't holding her head as if it pained her . . . not that she had shown any awareness of pain earlier.
All this flashed through her mind as, abruptly, Helena was looming over her. The brunette lowered herself, heavily straddling Barbara's unfeeling legs. The redhead tried to raise her batons, whether to strike Helena or simply to keep the brunette from grasping her neck she wasn't sure, but either way she was unsuccessful. Helena took a moment to sweep her arm between their bodies, neatly stripping the weapons from Barbara's hands with her enhanced strength.
As she felt Helena's fingers brush her throat, Barbara had a rather incongruous thought. She was surprised how quiet the entire exchange had been. She was used to hearing banter, expletives, and the occasional growl when Helena fought, even with her, but the brunette had been eerily silent whole time.
In, possibly, her last moments, Barbara realized something needed to be said.
Looking up into the turbulent gaze she finally told the truth, tried to use her gaze to show Helena how much she believed it. "You know who you are, Helena. Right now you're being forced to do something that isn't you, but no matter what, I'll always believe in you. I'll always trust you, Hel."
Then Barbara couldn't speak anymore. Helena's hands were wrapped firmly around her throat, cutting off her air, and everything was starting to go black around the edges. Barbara tried to focus her thoughts on pleasant memories – soaring over rooftops as Batgirl, winning gymnastics competitions, quiet moments with her father, evenings spent with Dinah and Dick – and memories of Helena. Many, many memories of the brunette who made her question everything she believed, and still somehow gave her all the answers.
And then Barbara could breathe again.
She took in great gulps of air, filling her lungs and leaving her lightheaded. When she was able to regain her senses she realized Helena's weight was no longer pinning her to the floor. Managing to struggle up onto her elbows she met the brunette's eyes.
They weren't the cerulean blue she was used to seeing. They weren't even the violet that had been staring down at her moments before. Instead, they were a bright burning orange. The mix of feral gold and vampire red left Barbara speechless, and she could only stare, transfixed, as Helena stood slowly with her usual feline grace.
Helena looked at her, and for a moment there was something soft and apologetic in her gaze, but it was swiftly consumed by a determined fire. "You're right. This isn't me, but kicking the ass of the people who threaten my family - that's what I'm all about."
The brunette spun on her heel and faced the Monk. Without a word, she launched herself at the shocked vampire.
Block, block, punch . . . duck, kick, block.
Helena neatly avoided a strike that would have caved in her skull by turning, dropping to one knee and lashing out with her own kick to her assailant's groin.
Unfortunately, the Monk had learned his lesson because he quickly stepped back before the hit could land. Helena sprang to her feet and went on the attack again.
Punch, block, punch, block, block.
Helena could feel the force behind each of the blows the vampire threw at her, but she more than matched it. In fact, she had never felt this good . . . physically. Of course, mentally was another matter.
She had just tried to strangle Barbara. Again.
Block, punch, flip . . . avoid the Delphi . . . block, block, punch.
Helena knew she should be feeling tired, but she wasn't. In fact, she felt more energized the longer they fought. She didn't know how long she had been trading blows with the vampire, but she wouldn't have been able to keep up this intensity before she had been bitten.
Kick, spin, block . . . pain!
Helena's head snapped back as one of the Monk's strikes finally connected with her chin sending her staggering back. Where, before, it might have broken her jaw or even snapped her neck, now, she merely shook it off and waded right back into the fight.
Block, punch . . .
"Turning me was a mistake, you know?"
Helena was proud that she had managed to keep her tone conversational. There was a rage and bloodlust simmering just beneath the surface, but she was determined to keep it under control. Barbara needed her, and Helena wouldn't let her down again.
The Monk's eyes glared out at her through the hood, his mouth twisted into a snarl. "Really, I think you'll make a fine addition to my followers." The vampire's speech was ragged, and if he had needed to breathe, Helena guessed he would be out of breath.
"News flash, asshole, this is who I am. There's no way you're ever going to control me. And you're definitely not going to use me to hurt Barbara. That's been tried by worse people than you."
"What you don't seem to realize *Huntress*," the came out mocking in his terrible voice, "is that you're mine now. I created you to be like me. You're a just another monster. You'd better get used to it."
Somehow during their talk, their blows had speeded up until Helena could barely see the attacks coming.
"I'm *really* tired of hearing that." She forced a little extra speed into her next kick, managing to connect with the vampire's knee. There was a loud crack, and the Monk collapsed with a muted snarl. "I've been telling myself that for years, but it's not true. And you know what . . ." Here Helena paused looking down at the figure at her feet. "Thanks for helping me figure it out."
Spinning, Helena put all the force she could muster into her next kick, connecting with the side of his head and sending him crashing down to the floor where he bounced once then lay still.
Turning away from the fallen vampire, she immediately looked for Barbara. She had thrown Red out of her chair. How could she have done that? What if she had seriously injured the other woman?
She let out a sigh when she spotted Barbara already back in her wheelchair. She felt shame overwhelm her when she thought of the redhead having to drag herself across the floor while Helena was fighting.
"Barbara, I'm so sor . . ."
"Helena, look out!"
The brunette registered the shock and fear in Barbara's voice at the same time she felt the intense pain in her back. Looking behind her, she was momentarily surprised to see a gigantic black wolf starring at her, saliva dripping from its jaws.
'That's right, the files did say he could transform into a wolf,' Helena thought woozily. She wasn't sure how deep the cuts on her back were, but if the blood beginning to pool at her feet was any indication, she didn't have long to neutralize this new threat.
Helena looked into the glowing yellow eyes of the wolf.
"O-kay, that's different." She carefully lowered herself into a fighting crouch. "I should warn you, I'm really more of a cat person."
The burning gaze focused on her as the powerful animal tensed, ready to spring. As she prepared to meet the rush, Helena was distracted by a random thought. Were her own feral eyes as unnerving as the transformed vampire's?
Then she was simply fighting for her life.
Helena choked and tried to spit fur out of her mouth.
The last thing she remembered, the vampire had leapt at her, and her legs had refused to respond. Helena thought it was probably a combination of fatigue, stress from her own transformation, and blood loss. She figured anyone would have problems fighting off a gigantic wolf with issues like that.
Bringing up her hands, she grabbed desperately for the muzzle, trying to keep the sharp teeth away from her throat. The vampire wasn't just trying to injure her anymore. He had clearly decided she actually *wouldn't* make a good follower, and was determined to end her life . . . permanently this time.
The daughter of Catwoman could *not* be killed by an overgrown dog. That was just too ironic – or something.
Helena felt the heavy weight settle on her chest. Apparently the Monk had decided to crush her to death.
Twisting and turning, she tried to shove him off. Her legs kicked uselessly against the floor, and her shoulders were pinned beneath the thick forelegs, the large paws framing her head. She felt the pointed teeth move closer to her throat, and forced her arms to respond. She was able to stop the slow approach, but couldn't find the strength to push him away. It seemed like only a matter of time until she couldn't hold on anymore.
She couldn't die like this. She still needed to apologize. She needed to tell Barbara how sorry she was for almost killing her again, and for being such a stubborn ass.
She needed to tell the other woman how much she loved her, not just have the redhead hear it over the coms when Helena didn't even know she was listening.
But it didn't seem like she was going to get the chance. She'd used up her nine lives. For a moment she was overcome with bitter regret for all the wasted time and lost opportunities.
As the sharp canines inched closer to neck and drool trickled onto her chest, she spared a moment to hope Barbara had made it out of the clock tower. If she was safe, then at least Helena had done something right.
Arms shaking, she closed her eyes, hoping it would be quick.
Suddenly a high pitched yelp burst from the vampire's throat and filled the tower, making her ears ring. Just as abruptly, the weight settled even more firmly on her chest. For a split second, Helena was grateful that she no longer had to breathe, since it would be impossible at this point. Gathering her remaining strength, she was just able to roll the dead weight off.
Dead was the operative word she discovered moments later. The Monk was well and truly dead, if the batarang sticking out of his back was any indication.
Suddenly the wound began to smoke and hiss, shooting off sparks. As Helena watched with wide eyes, tendrils of fire shot out from the point of entry and quickly consumed the fur covered body. When it was over, there was nothing but ash, and a brightly gleaming weapon sitting in the heart of the pile which Helena tentatively retrieved.
Holding up the silver batarang, Helena turned to gape at Barbara in disbelief.
"What?" Barbara sat heavily in her chair, her hair disheveled and clothes torn from their fight. "Just because I don't believe in the supernatural doesn't mean I'm not prepared."
Helena didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and in the end, settled for simply remaining on the floor and shaking her head.
It was finally over.
There was nothing they could do.
Dinah knew with a calm certainty that she would die in just a matter of moments. She found that she was strangely calm about the entire idea. Somewhere between watching her mom die in the warehouse explosion and dealing with Quinn's attack, she had accepted the fact that she was probably going to die young . . . and not especially pleasantly.
So now, she was able to watch with a certain amount of detached interest and no surprise as one of the vampires squeezed past Nightwing and came straight for her.
She was however, quite surprised when an arrow seemed to sprout from his chest. The vampire also seemed amazed, right before he dropped to the ground and burned up in a blaze of fire like a Fourth of July sparkler – without the pretty lights and much more disgusting.
Dinah looked to her right, noticing for the first time the crossbow Gabby held confidently in her hands.
The other teen glanced at her and offered a crooked smile and a small shrug of her shoulders. "Um . . . I'm totally channeling Buffy."
Dinah continued to stare before she was interrupted by another vampire rushing at her out of the darkness. Even if she didn't have her powers, she had still been trained by three of the best crime fighters that had ever worn a mask, and now she put those skills to good use.
Using the vampire's momentum against him, she side-stepped and helped his face get acquainted with the stone wall behind her. Backing up, she watched as another arrow found its target in the monster's back with the same effect.
Turning to look at Gabby, she offered a small smile of her own. "So does that make me Willow?"
Gabby lined up her shot as Dinah knocked another vampire to the floor with a spinning kick. Aiming carefully, she sent an arrow into his heart, leaving nothing but smoldering embers on the floor.
"Nah, with those moves, I'd definitely have to go with Faith."
Dinah laughed. "I always knew you had a thing for the bad girls."
Gabby winked at her before ducking the clawed hand of a female vampire. "You know it."
Dinah felt a warm glow in the pit of her stomach before she punched the vampire in the face and followed it up with a series of blows that left the monster bleeding and disoriented. Gabby finished her off with a shot, just as if they had practiced this a thousand times.
Some part of Dinah wondered how they could be engaging in vaguely flirtatious banter when they were under attack by vampires in a seriously creepy basement, but somehow it seemed to fit with the rest of her life. As did the fact that seconds later, Dick was backed up with them against the wall, and they were surrounded by snarling monsters.
Dinah took one look at the numbers and realized it was over. The vampires wouldn't come at them one at a time anymore, they were preparing to rush en masse.
She spared a moment to feel guilty for dragging Gabby into this. If not for Dinah, the other girl would be home right now, completely unaware that things like super villains and vampires roamed the streets of New Gotham. However, some part of Dinah was absurdly grateful that Gabby was here with her. It gave her the courage to face the vampires head on, and not curl up on the ground in a fetal position . . . which of course made her feel even guiltier.
"I'm so sorry, Gabby." Dinah kept facing the vampires and didn't look back at her best friend.
A warm hand slipped into her own, squeezing tightly. "Hey, Sweetie, no place else I'd rather be."
Dinah felt tears sting her eyes as she watched Dick put his body in front of them, knowing she was about to watch two of the people she cared about most die. "Now you're just trying to make me feel better."
Feeling a tug on her hand, she looked into sincere hazel eyes. "Yeah, but you're here, so this is where I'm going to be too."
"Gabby . . ." Dinah knew it was now or never. "I know I should have said this sooner, but I . . ."
Suddenly shrieks filled the air as the vampires fell to their knees. As one, their eyes seemed to catch flame and tendrils of fire spread over their skin, blackening and curling the pale flesh. In moments, it was over and they were left alone in the basement with nothing but piles of ash for company.
"What the hell just happened?"
Gabby and Dinah looked at Dick with blank expressions and shrugged their shoulders in unison. They all looked around them in puzzlement before Dick seemed to gather his thoughts.
"Okay, whatever, we're not sticking around to find out. Let's get out of here while we can. We still need to get back to the tower."
Dinah didn't argue, and instead pulled Gabby toward the stairs, never letting go of her hand. In some way she was almost sorry. She had finally been ready to confess her feelings, but she supposed now she would have time to do it right, not just blurt it out when they were about to be ripped to pieces by a group of fanatical vampires. Somehow, that seemed lacking in the whole romance thing.
At the top of the stairs, they quickly shut the trap door and moved past the cloth covered furniture. As they reached the exit, the sound of a gunshot shattered the tomb-like silence.
Facing them in the doorway was the skeletal woman who had captured Dinah in the alley. In her hand, she clutched a large pistol, which she aimed steadily at Dick.
"You, this is all your doing!" Her shriek actually hurt Dinah's ears it was so loud. "The Master is dead because of you! All of his followers, dead! I'm all that's left!"
Dick held up his hands, palms out. "It's all right. We can help you. We can get you someplace safe where no one can hurt you anymore."
The woman seemed to stare through him with unfocused black eyes, the hand holding the gun lowered slightly. Then, without the slightest warning, she fired a shot that missed his head by centimeters. "Stupid boy, do you think I have anything worth going back to. The Master was everything . . . and now he's gone."
Dinah knew this was the truth. When she touched the woman earlier, she had received several visions of her life. Dala was a heroin junky, and she had been living on the streets before the Monk had recruited her.
A single tear slipped over a sunken cheek until it dripped off the woman's chin. "I've got nothing left."
Dinah watched in horror as the gun lifted and aimed at Nightwing's chest. Time seemed to slow as she watched Dala's finger tighten on the trigger. Light flashed off the smooth surface of the gun, and was reflected briefly in the thousands of crystals in the chandelier hanging above them.
Without her conscious control, Dinah's hand shot out, and with a sharp crack, the chain holding the extravagant arrangement snapped, sending it speeding to the floor. Dala was able to scream once before being buried in broken crystal and cobwebs.
Dinah didn't realize her legs had given out until Gabby was holding her shoulders asking if she was alright.
"I didn't mean to. I didn't mean to. She was going to shoot Nightwing," Dinah kept repeating, not even aware she was speaking.
She watched as Dick carefully picked his way to the center of the room. He sifted through the remains, before concentrating on something that Dinah couldn't see. Finally, he came back over and knelt down next to her.
"That was good work, Canary." His blue eyes were warm and kind.
"What?" It was the only thing she was capable of saying.
"You saved my life, and possibly yours and Gabby's as well."
"But . . . I killed her."
Dick shook his head gently. "No, you just clipped her. She probably has a concussion, and maybe a broken arm, but she'll live. Looks like you've got your powers back just in time.
Dinah looked at him in shock, before turning to sit with her back against the wall. Moments later she was joined by her two companions, who seemed to realize they all needed a short break. Eventually, Gabby leaned against her right side, and Dinah took the time to simply breathe.
It was finally over.
Suddenly, Gabby lifted her head off of Dinah's shoulder. "Uh, I hate to mention this, but how are we going to get home? The bike only seats two."
There was nothing but silence.
Then Dinah couldn't help it. After all they had been through, it seemed so silly. She began to laugh. Small giggles at first that built into near hysterical cackles. She was quickly joined by Gabby and then Dick. They all sat on the floor of the vampires' castle and laughed until tears streamed from their eyes.
Barbara slowly straightened in her chair, watching with weary concern as Helena continued to sit on the floor, shaking her head with a vaguely lost look in her eyes. She was holding the silver batarang Barbara had retrieved from the supply closet while the two were fighting.
Occasionally she scared herself with her fanatical need to be prepared for all situations.
"Helena . . ."
Barbara tried to keep the distress out of her voice, but wasn't sure she was successful. It didn't seem to matter, however, since Helena didn't seem capable of acknowledging her presence. The brunette had been mumbling under her breath for the past several minutes, and Barbara was finally able to make out what she was saying.
"It's finally over." Helena's voice was soft and hesitant, almost as if she didn't believe the words even as she spoke them.
"Helena," she injected a little more force into her tone. When the brunette raised her head and looked at her questioningly, she continued. "How are you feeling?"
For a brief moment, she was afraid the other woman wouldn't respond, but then Helena gave a short bark of laughter. "I don't know, Red. Tired, angry, glad that this is finally over. What am I supposed to feel? I was turned into a fucking vampire, and I almost killed you . . . again!" She shook her head. "I think right now, I mostly feel numb."
"Helena, look at me." When the brunette continued to stare at the floor and refused to meet her eyes, Barbara rolled closer until she could rest her hand on the dark hair still matted with blood. "Helena this wasn't your fault. Whatever the Monk may have tried to make you do, you didn't do it. You fought him and stopped yourself in time."
"I know, Barbara. It's just . . . I'm so tired of this. Sometimes . . . sometimes it just doesn't seem worth it." Barbara started to interrupt, but Helena rushed on. "I know what we do is important, it's just, it feels like bad things keep happening while we try to catch up and not get killed, and one of these times our luck is going to run out. Does that make any sense at all?"
Intense orange eyes regarded her pleadingly, and Barbara quickly tired to reassure the other woman. "Of course it does, Hel, that's why we have to make the most of the time we do have together. I've been hoping you would work through this on your own, and I've tried to give you space, but I'm not willing to wait anymore. Helena I . . ."
Barbara's confession trailed off as something that had been bothering her finally registered in her conscious mind.
Helena's eyes were orange. They were not their normal captivating blue or feral gold; her eyes were orange, which could only mean . . .
The younger woman must have seen something in her eyes because she was abruptly scrambling away from Barbara on all fours. Once she was backed up against the wall, Barbara watched as she reached up with a tan hand and felt tentatively at her teeth. She gave a soft hiss that nevertheless echoed in the quiet tower when her fingers encountered sharp fangs.
"I'm still a vampire." Helena's voice was flat and emotionless, but Barbara could hear the fear raging just beneath the surface. "Wasn't I supposed to turn back when he died? That's how it works in the movies."
Forcing down her own fear, Barbara tired for a reassuring tone. "I'm sure we can find a solution to this Helena. We'll figure this out together." Desperately grasping at straws, she said the first thing that came to mind. "Maybe it acts like some kind of virus, and it will clear up on its own. If nothing else, I'm sure I can come up with something to help you with the, uh, side-effects."
Helena's head snapped up with an audible crack, and Barbara felt her own neck spasm in sympathy. She became even more concerned when Helena began pawing frantically at her leather duster.
The other woman didn't look up. "It's got to be here."
"What's got to be where, Hel?"
The brunette didn't respond, but moments later she gave a soft cry of triumph as she pulled something from an interior pocket. Barbara examined the items curiously. One appeared to be a fairly standard flash drive, while the other . . . appeared to be some kind of vial. A small amount of phosphorescent green liquid sloshed inside the clear tube, somehow managing to look vaguely menacing.
Before she had a chance to ask, Helena was speaking. "Alfred gave it to me. He said it was all that was left of the original serum. Some freaky priest guy gave it to Batman when the Monk transformed him into a vampire. Apparently it changed him back. I was supposed to give it to you to see if you could come up with some kind of weapon against him, but if it worked on Batman, it should work on me right?"
Helena looked so hopeful, that Barbara almost couldn't bear it. "Helena, your father," she quickly changed her choice of words at the brunette's scowl, "Bruce was human. I'm not sure how that would react with your meta-genetics. I'm not even sure what's in it."
"But it *could* change me back, right?"
"Yes, it could, but . . ."
Helena cut her off. "Then I need to take it. I'm not going to let the Monk control me, especially not when he's dead. I don't want to be a monster."
Helena's face was determined, and Barbara realized she had already lost. She comforted herself with the thought that Helena had certainly survived much worse than this.
Barbara rolled over to one of the conveniently placed drawers and returned with a syringe, accepting the vial that Helena handed over. Pulling back the plunger carefully, Barbara extracted the minute dose.
She gently reached for Helena's right arm, and stretched it out in her lap. She glanced once at the brunette and received a sharp nod. Sucking in a breath, she moved the needle toward the exposed vein – only to have her hand caught in a vice like grip. Looking at the brunette questioningly, she found the orange gaze focused with burning intensity on her own wrist.
It seemed to Barbara that she was saying Helena's name in that puzzled tone a lot this evening, and it was starting to get old. Consequently, she wasn't quite able to keep the exasperation out of her voice, but Helena didn't seem to notice. Something else that was becoming quite tedious.
"It was broken."
Barbara looked at the brunette's wrist and realized once again that the skin was whole, without even the hint of a scar.
"And my leg, and my head."
Barbara glanced at the body parts in question, but could find no sign of injury. She waited, holding her breath for the rest. Helena was thinking about something. She wasn't in the habit of stating something so obvious, well, at least not in situations like these.
"He healed me . . . even my side from that punk with the knife. When he turned me, he healed me . . . of everything."
Helena was whispering, and there were tears in her eyes when she finally looked at Barbara. For a moment, Barbara regarded her with uncertainty - before it all came crashing down on her.
There was a strange roaring in her ears, and a black cloud descended on her vision. She had never fainted in her life, but she thought this must be what it felt like. When she came back to herself, her chest was heaving and she couldn't manage to catch her breath.
"Hel." This time it wasn't a question, more of a desperate plea – whether to confirm or deny her suspicions, she wasn't sure.
Helena gently pulled the syringe from her unresisting fingers, setting it on the floor beside her as she took Barbara's hand in her own.
"Shhh, it's okay, Barbara, we'll get through this."
"Hel?!" Not a question, not a plea, but a desperate cry of disbelief.
The brunette began running her hands up and down Barbara's arms soothingly. "I think…I think it could heal your spine." Barbara heard a small whimper, and was surprised to realize it had come from her own throat. "I could . . . bite you . . . and then you'd be healed. You could walk again." Helena was still whispering, but each word seemed to ring in Barbara's ears. "Once you're healed, you could take the antidote, and then you'd be human again."
Helena's voice was rising in her excitement, and she was already moving towards Barbara. When the redhead jerked back as far as she could in her chair, the brunette pulled back, looking at her with an exasperated expression.
"Barbara . . ."
"Dammit, Hel, think. What happens after I use the antidote? You'd be stuck as a vampire."
Barbra wanted to walk again. She'd wanted it with a burning passion for nine years, and now that she finally had a real chance, an almost guaranteed cure, she couldn't take it.
Sometimes life just wasn't fair.
"Okay, so you take it anyway." Helena was looking at her with that stubborn expression that Barbara *knew* she got from Bruce.
"Helena, I'm not going to do this. You just said you didn't want to be a monster, and now you're trying to tell me that you're fine with it."
"Well, not fine, but if it means you can walk again, then yeah, I think we should do it." Love shone clearly through the luminescent eyes focused on her, and not for the first time, Barbara wanted to smack herself for never seeing what had been right in front of her face. "Besides, Babs, I've always been more of a night person," Helena continued with a semi-successful attempt at a smile.
When she didn't respond immediately, Helena again moved forward until Barbara could feel her hot breath on her neck. When sharp teeth grazed her skin, Barbara couldn't control her shiver, suddenly recalling her vivid nightmare, which now seemed more like a premonition. Maybe Dinah's powers were rubbing off on her?
As she felt Helena move forward that last little inch, she brought her hands up and gently, but insistently forced the brunette back. Helena went reluctantly, her lips seeming to linger on Barbara's skin, searing her to the bone. When she was gazing into Barbara's face again, her eyes were resigned.
"Don't you want to walk again?"
"I do, Hel, but not like this." Barbara brought her hand up to caress Helena's cheek. "We'll find another way, together - one that doesn't involve sacrificing your happiness."
A single tear slipped down Helena's cheek, and Barbara wiped it away tenderly. "You're my happiness, Barbara."
Before she knew what she was doing, Barbara had pulled the other woman to her and was burying her face in the tan neck, muffling the sobs that shook her upper body. She cried for her fear at almost losing Helena, for the lost chance to be what she once was, for the person she had become, and also for joy at finally ending up exactly where she was meant to be.
Through it all, Helena simply held her and didn't let go, accepting every part of her.
Helena twisted the handle farther to the left, knowing she was risking some potential damage. The water obligingly turned hotter, burning across her shoulders and back, leaving her skin red and stinging. She continued to stand under the stream long after the last of the soap had been washed away.
Eventually, she was able to force herself to leave the confines of Barbara's specially designed shower. Standing in the middle of the bathroom, she ran a towel briskly through her now blood-free hair, marveling at how much better she felt just being clean.
Catching sight of herself in the mirror, Helena was momentarily stunned. She knew she was beautiful, people had been telling her so for most of her life, but she also knew her own body. She knew the scars and imperfections that an active childhood and even more active . . . hobby had left on the canvas of her skin. But now, looking into the mirror, Helena was faced with an unfamiliar sight. Her skin was perfect, and she wasn't sure what to feel.
In some ways, it was nice. She had never been proud of her scars, they were just there. They had simply been a part of her. Now they weren't.
But, while she may not have been proud of them, they were still a part of who she was. Gazing at her un-marked body, Helena wasn't really sure who was looking back. It looked like her, but the woman she was used to carried her scars on the inside *and* the outside. Now all that was left were the scars kept in her heart, the ones visible to everyone else having been erased as if they never existed.
Helena wasn't sure what that meant exactly, but it seemed pretty profound.
Shaking her head, she met the blue eyes that gazed back at her from the reflective surface.
"Time to stop thinking before you sprain something."
Grabbing another towel, she quickly wrapped it tightly around her body and walked out of the bathroom, steam following in her wake. She found a pile of clean clothes waiting on the dresser, obviously set there by Barbara.
Pulling on the t-shirt and sweatpants, she heard a tentative knock on the door. Helena rolled her eyes at the absurdity of Barbara asking to enter her own bedroom, but she called for the other woman to come in anyway.
Helena didn't know what else to say. So much had happened in the last few hours, and she wasn't sure what the proper etiquette was for their situation. Not that she had ever been concerned with such things before, but somehow, right now, it seemed to matter.
"Hey, yourself." Barbara was smiling, that was a good sign. The redhead gestured down at herself, indicating her torn and disheveled clothes. "Is it my turn yet. I don't think I'm fit for company."
Helena stared at her without responding; trying to figure out what was different.
"You didn't use up all the hot water, did you?"
Suddenly it hit Helena. Barbara's eyes were a bright emerald that seemed to glow in the darkness of the bedroom. Somehow the other woman seemed . . . lighter. That was the only way Helena could think to describe it.
"Hello, Earth to Helena. You okay?"
Barbara was looking at her with concern, but she was still smiling, and suddenly the brunette was overcome with emotion. She felt happy, terrified, elated, and so many emotions that she was almost jumping out of her skin – in a good way. She knew her eyes had changed, but the other woman didn't even blink.
Barbara was smiling, and it wasn't the phony, look at me, I'm a harmless school teacher smile, or the I'm smiling so you can't tell how miserable I really am smile that Helena was used to. This was true and genuine, and it made the brunette swallow the lump in her throat and blink back tears.
Walking over to the older woman, she leaned down far enough to place a light kiss on the soft cheek, grateful when Barbara didn't pull away. Backing up, she gave the redhead a wink.
"I think I left some, but no promises. How's Dinah?"
Barbara had contacted Nightwing after Helena had taken the antidote. It had hurt like hell, and was not something she *ever* wanted to experience again, but it had worked. She was back to being human . . . or as close as she got.
"A little shaken up, but I think she's going to be fine. She wanted to spend the night at Gabby's after I called them a cab." Helena didn't even try to hold back her snicker. Dick was never going to live that down. "I think they needed to spend some time together." There was something in Barbara's voice that the brunette couldn't identify. "Anyway, we'll meet up tomorrow for a debriefing. I think we could all use the break tonight."
"Uh, okay, sounds good. I'll just head out and watch some TV."
Barbara looked at her fondly. "And raid my cabinets, no doubt. I'll be out soon."
Helena settled herself on the couch and picked up the remote, looking guiltily at the poptarts clutched in her other hand. She shook it off, realizing that they were probably for her in the first place, since there had been four boxes in the cabinet. Once again, Alfred knew her better than she knew herself – or maybe he was just optimistic. Either way, it worked out well for her.
She was desultorily flipping through channels when she heard the water in the bathroom shut off. Minutes later, Barbara emerged from the bedroom, dressed similarly to Helena. Rolling over to the couch, she easily transferred herself to the cushions, and flashing a grin at the brunette, focused her attention on the screen.
"Uh, Barbara, don't you want to check on the Delphi?"
What was Red doing? After the big confrontation, Barbara always became obsessed with her computer while Helena unwound in front of the TV. It was a ritual, a comfortable routine that meant things were normal.
So why was Barbara sitting with her on the couch?
"No, I'm perfectly comfortable right here." Barbara didn't take her eyes of the colors flashing in front of them.
"Oh, okay." Giving the other woman a puzzled look, Helena started channel surfing again.
Eventually, they found a station playing Gone with the Wind, and settled in. The movie had been one of Selina's favorites – something about Scarlett had always appealed to the woman – and Helena had good memories of watching it with her mom on rainy weekends.
It would have been perfect, except Helena knew Barbara was up to something . . . she just couldn't figure out what.
Helena knew that there were things that needed to be discussed. Barbara would need to talk about everything that had happened and what that meant for them in the future – and Helena had a few things she needed to say as well.
Not that it really mattered. Whatever Barbara had planned, Helena would find out sooner or later. She just hoped this time it wouldn't lead to additional clothing being added to her crime fighting outfit. She just didn't do capes.
Barbara resolutely kept her attention focused on the plasma screen, praying desperately that Helena couldn't hear how fast her heart was beating. The furtive sideways glances the brunette kept throwing at her were not making things easier however.
Barbara was feeling decidedly . . . different. She wasn't sure how else to describe it. Analyzing her feelings had never been one of her talents. Computer algorithms, criminal motivations, complex metaphors of 18th century English literature – yes; her own emotional state – no.
But she did feel different . . . in a good way.
As Rhett and Scarlett raced through a burning Atlanta in front of her, Barbara swore she could feel the heat of Helena's body soaking into her skin. Her breath became shorter, and there were tingles racing over the flesh of her upper body. With surprise, she realized she was amazingly, devastatingly aroused.
When she was Batgirl, she had often been . . . amorous after a night on the streets, and she wanted to assume this latest manifestation was simply a result of their battle with the Monk, but sitting next to Helena, tracing the lines of her neck and the concealed swell of her breasts under her sweatshirt, Barbara was forced to admit that the brunette was definitely having an effect.
An effect that apparently hadn't gone unnoticed.
Helena had turned and was facing her, an unreadable look in her dark blue eyes. Eyes which Barbara suddenly found herself lost in.
Even as she thought it, Barbara knew she was being ridiculous. This wasn't some dreadful romance novel, and they weren't two women meeting for the first time, recognizing a mutual attraction. It was simply Helena looking at her, whom she had known for almost thirteen years. There was simply no reason for her to be acting this way.
Except she couldn't deny that she was, and if she was to be honest, she didn't really want to. It had been so long since she had responded this way to anyone, but now she was afraid to take the next step – figuratively speaking. The potential for disaster was . . . daunting.
"Helena, I think . . ."
"Barbara are you . . ."
Barbara quickly closed her mouth, more than willing to let Helena take the lead this time. She tried to make her features open and curious, and was rewarded with a small smile.
"I was just wondering if you're really okay." Helena was shifting nervously on the cushions and she didn't quite meet Barbara's eyes. "I know how hard it must have been with . . . everything . . . but, I . . . you're acting kinda different. Not in a bad way," the brunette quickly rushed to reassure her. "Just different."
Helena looked unsatisfied with her own explanation, and Barbara gingerly reached out to grasp her hand, relieved when the younger woman seemed to welcome the touch.
"I think I understand, Helena. I can't say that I have an answer, though. I think . . . I think I'm just finally starting to accept some things about myself." Here Barbara paused, trying to work up the courage to reveal the rest. The memory of Helena's own confession forced her to continue. "And about my feelings for you."
She had clearly shocked the brunette. Helena's eyes were wide, her mouth partially open in surprise, and Barbara could see her teeth – no fangs she noted with relief.
"Helena, I almost lost you tonight, but I think I was losing you even before the Monk ever came to New Gotham. That night, when you told me how you felt, I was so shocked and defensive. I didn't know how to react, and in the end I did what I thought I should do. I thought you wanted to . . . be with me, so that's what I offered."
Helena's eyes were suddenly wounded. "So you didn't want to . . ."
"No! I did. I . . . still want to." Barbara took a deep breath. That had been harder than she'd anticipated.
Green eyes blinked behind her glasses. "Why what, Hel?"
"Why do you want to sleep with me? Is it just because you want to make me happy, or because you think you should? Because no matter how much I want you . . . and I really, really do . . . I don't think I could live with that."
Helena was starring fixedly at the floor, and her eyes were so sad, that Barbara wanted to roll over to the nearest wall and beat her head against it. How could she have screwed things up so badly?
"Helena, please look at me." When watery blue eyes rose to meet hers, Barbara continued. "I love you."
Barbara waited patiently as the silence stretched between them.
"Uh, I love you too," Helena added uncertainly after several minutes.
"I know you do, Hel, but perhaps what I meant to say is that I'm in love with you. That's my answer."
Barbara watched with a certain amount of satisfaction as Helena tried to absorb this.
"You love me?" Helena's face was achingly hopeful and Barbara couldn't help but reach over and rest her palm on a smooth cheek.
Moments later, Barbara was unprepared for the laughter that seized the brunette. It left Helena doubled over and gasping for breathe while the older woman regarded her in bemusement.
Eventually, Helena managed to get herself under control. "I'm sorry Barbara. I was just expecting something else."
Barbara felt a momentary panic. "I know it wasn't as lengthy or as elegant as your confession Helena, but I promise you, it's how I really feel."
"I know Barbara, that's why it means so much." Helena was looking at her with love and a mischievous twinkle shining clearly in her eyes. "I was just prepared to get out the dictionary."
Barbara laughed, feeling it echo through her entire body, even the parts she could no longer feel. "Sometimes, Helena, brief and to the point is the best way to go."
Helena's eyes sparked to gold, and Barbara was given a second to wonder what she'd said before satin lips were covering her own, and she was simply lost in sensation.
Helena wasn't exactly sure when they made it to the bedroom. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she realized that she must have picked Barbara up and carried her through the clock tower, but for the life of her she couldn't remember when. Since she had been making an effort to be more responsible lately, she made a mental note to get the redhead's chair at some point.
When Barbara's fingernails raked a line on either side of her spine from the tops of her shoulders down to her hips, Helena figured she may not survive to carry out her good intentions - which left Red in an awkward position, what with having to dispose of her body without access to her wheelchair.
"Helena, are you alright?"
Barbara's voice was loud in her ear, the redhead's lips brushing against the sensitive organ with each syllable.
"Yeah, I'm fine . . . great."
That was such a lie. She was overloading. Every cell in her body was humming and demanding that she simply satisfy her needs in the quickest way possible.
Helena jerked away from the arms loosely surrounding her, and tried to take a moment to think. While her brain spun in furious circles, she realized that not only had they made it to the bedroom, they had also managed to lose their clothes without her noticing.
All thought in the brunette's head came to a screeching halt. She could only gaze at Barbara in the center of the bed, naked, lying half under her, without clothes, red hair spread out on the blue pillowcase, wearing nothing.
Helena started to move forward again, not sure what tempting bit of flesh she was aiming for, just knowing that she needed to start tasting somewhere, when two strong hands griped her biceps, halting her progress. She felt a small growl rumble through her chest and echo ominously through the bedroom.
"Helena, it's alright. We can take our time." Barbara's green eyes were warm and serious.
Helena pushed experimentally against the hands holding her, finding they gave easily. Barbara wasn't really resisting.
"If this is what you need, Hel, we'll do it your way. Just tell me what you want me to do."
Like always, Barbara was offering her anything she needed. Obviously the older woman still hadn't realized that *she* was everything Helena needed. She always had been.
"Talk to me." The words were a broken whisper forced past the arousal and fear clogging her throat.
"Hel?" Barbara's hands were now running up and down her arms in a light caress, making it hard for the brunette to think.
"Just . . . keep talking to me. I . . . your voice."
In her relatively short life, the brunette had had many casual sexual encounters. She'd used them as a way to keep from exploding from all the repressed feelings she had never been able to share with the one person she truly wanted. But all those times were merely physical. Few words were exchanged, and none had contained any tenderness.
Even her dreams were silent, the ones that had haunted her since she had first met and fallen in love with a certain redhead. She might cry out, and beg, and whisper her devotion, but never her dream lover.
"I'm right here, Hel. Stay with me . . . you feel so amazing."
But this wasn't some one night stand, or a dream sent to torture her. This was Barbara, whose voice had always guided her and kept her safe, now loving her with passion and skill.
At some point, the words themselves stopped registering. There was only a murmur threading through Helena's ears and heart, keeping her grounded while Barbara's hands and lips and tongue threatened to send the younger woman flying apart.
When Barbara finally settled between her legs, concentrating on the brunette with all the focus she brought to everything that mattered in her life, this time the beloved voice didn't draw her back from the edge, it sent her plummeting over the side in ecstasy.
"So . . ."
Barbara ran her fingertips lightly over Helena's back, marveling at perfect skin that slid provocatively under her hands.
Helena was lying face-down on the bed, luxuriating under the gentle touches. For Barbara, it worked out perfectly. The brunette obviously enjoyed the attention, and she got to experience all that tan skin that Helena insisted on displaying so casually.
"So, who was right?"
The dark head lifted enough for one cerulean eye to regard her incredulously. "Are you serious?"
Barbara raised one crimson eyebrow. "Of course. I told you your meta- abilities wouldn't be a problem. I just think we should acknowledge that I was right."
"Has anyone ever told you that you have serious control issues?" Helena dropped her head back onto one of Barbara's ergonomic foam pillows with a muffled thump.
The older woman's lips curved in a completely unrepentant smile. "On several occasions."
Helena's response was a muffled snort. Seconds later, blue eyes were once again regarding her, and Barbara noted the mischievous gleam with a certain trepidation.
"So what about what I was right about?"
It took Barbara a moment to work through the sentence, but once she finally grasped the meaning, she was still puzzled – and slightly offended on behalf of English teachers everywhere.
Barbara watched with fascination as Helena's eyes began to shift. "You said that you wouldn't be able to . . . and I said that you would." The younger woman's tone was prompting as she regarded her steadily through eyes that were more gold than blue.
Barbara felt herself blush, knowing it was ridiculous at this point. "Yes, well . . . I guess we were both wrong about certain, uh, fears."
"Yep." Helena was still looking at her with those amazing eyes, and Barbara could feel her blush start to migrate down to her chest. "But you know? We should probably make sure."
"Oh." This sounded promising. One could never do enough research.
"Yeah. I think we should do some more . . . investigating, just to make sure we didn't miss anything." As she finished speaking, Helena's hands began to wander over Barbara's stomach and sides, casually yet tenderly, mapping the scars that were so much a part of the older woman.
Barbara thought it was highly unlikely that Helena had missed any part of her body in the last several hours. Helena had been very . . . thorough, even with areas the redhead could no longer feel. Of course that hadn't kept Barbara from feeling a hell of a lot – twice.
"Hmm." Her hands began to move with a little more purpose over the brunette's back, stroking from the base of her neck, down the column of her spine, over the swells of her butt, and further to the backs of her knees. A smothered purr vibrated under her hands, prevented from escaping by the pillow pressed against Helena's face.
"Thank you Hel, for giving me a second chance."
Helena turned over, bringing them face to face so their lips could meet in a tender kiss that before tonight, Barbara wouldn't have expected from the younger woman. "Thanks for taking it. I know I didn't say it very well last time, but I love you Barbara."
"You said it just fine, Hel."
For several charged moments, they simply looked at each other without moving. Barbara noticed Helena was staring into her eyes quite fixedly, a small furrow appearing between her eyebrows.
"Helena, is everything okay?"
Helena glanced away sheepishly. "Uh, sorry. I was just trying to figure out what that particular color means." Her confusion must have been clear, since Helena quickly tacked on, "Your eyes."
Barbara felt her smile stretch across her face. She pulled the other woman to her, fitting their bodies together easily, cherishing the new connection between them.
"It means I'm in love, Hel."
It seemed strange after the night they'd just spent to be sitting in the tower with the sun streaming in through the clock face.
Dick shook his head at his own musings. He'd thought by now he'd be used to the dichotomies that made up his life, but some days it just hit harder than others.
Of course it might have something to do with the fact that this time the enemy had been a bit . . . different. Still, the threat had been neutralized and they were all safe. In the end, that's what was important.
Looking at the two teenagers sitting together on the couch, he was impressed with how much his family had grown since he had moved back to Gotham. He may have lost his mentor and father figure to this city, but it had given him four amazing women to even out the scales. Not that he would ever admit that, especially to Helena.
Gabby and Dinah were pressed tightly against each other, and Dick forcibly tried to keep from rolling his eyes. It was obvious they would rather be somewhere else, but this was the time Barbara had specified for the meeting. So far, however, neither she nor Helena had arrived.
Dick wasn't concerned exactly; he just wasn't sure what to make of Barbara's uncharacteristic tardiness. He didn't even bother to speculate why Helena hadn't shown.
"Where are they, anyway?"
Dick quashed a tiny thrill of satisfaction that Gabby's patience had run out before his own. He really was too competitive for his own good.
The opening of a door drew their attention, and they all watched, stunned, as Helena exited Barbara's bedroom wearing nothing but bikini briefs and a tank top. The brunette shot a glance in their direction before she continued on her way past them to the kitchen. Seconds later she froze. When she turned back to face them, she looked slightly sick and her smile was obviously forced.
"So, uh . . . hey. Exactly how long have you guys been here?"
Dick found his voice first. "Not long."
Helena waved her hands animatedly. "Good, good."
"Don't forget the water, Hel."
Helena twitched as Barbara's husky voice penetrated from the bedroom.
"Looks like things are 'good' for you too," Dick couldn't help but add, even as he cringed as the words left his mouth.
The shy smile and softly muttered "yeah" went a long way towards erasing any jealously he might have felt though. Barbara had obviously made her choice, and as long they were both happy, he would support them.
Helena looked around for anything to stop the knowing looks from Dick and the shared smiles between Gabby and Dinah. She found the perfect distraction in the form a weapon sitting in the middle of the coffee table.
She raised one eyebrow in confusion. "Is that a crossbow?"
Dinah quickly jumped in. "Yeah, isn't it awesome. Gabby used it to take out the vampires." More to herself she muttered, "I still can't believe they were real vampires."
Helena nodded her head to other blonde. "Nice. I've always wanted to learn how to use one of those."
"Helena what's going on?" Barbara's next question came in a slightly anxious voice. "Who are you talking too?"
Helena raised her voice. "Uh, no one." The brunette turned back to her audience. "So yeah . . . do you think you guys could come back later? Like, say, tomorrow?"
Dick thought about refusing, but the pleading look from blue eyes so similar to his mentor's did him in. Giving a small nod, he quickly ushered the two teenagers to the elevator, leaving his friends to their privacy. Just once, their mission could wait.
Things were obviously going to be more interesting around the clock tower from now on. Strangely, he found he was looking forward to it.
Helena watched the elevator descend, and then headed into the kitchen, grabbing two bottles of water and a package of poptarts. On her way back, she hesitated, her fingers literally itching to try out the archaic weapon.
Shaking her head she continued toward the bedroom. She had something much more exciting to get back to, and a lot of wasted time to make up for.
End Part Two: A Different Way of Thinking