What it Means to Be a Hero

Part 1: Getting Back On Your Feet


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

PAIRING: Barbara/Helena


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading. Any comments or criticism can be directed to adliren@gmail.com. Sorry about this first chapter. You have to get through all the background first and later chapters will hopefully be more exciting.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: A very sincere thank you to Phryne for beta-ing.

E-MAIL: adliren@gmail.com

Chapter 1

"Oracle, do you copy?"

"I copy Huntress. What do you see?"

A dark shadow lightly shifted its weight on the edge of a ten story apartment building. "Shit Oracle, there's like twenty guys with machine guns and they've got hostages! What's the plan?"

In the newly remodeled clock tower across town, Barbra Gordon, aka Oracle, frantically scanned her monitors as Huntress's panicked voice came over the coms.

This wasn't supposed to happen. She had sent Huntress out to run a sweep of one of New Gotham's residential areas. The most trouble Helena should have run into was a bored housewife catching sight of her as she soared over the rooftops. Now however it seemed that she had sent her protégé into a disastrous situation unprepared.

She had completely miscalculated. Again.

"Uh, Oracle, you there . . .?"

Barbara snapped her head up and focused once again on her screens. She had zoned out while Huntress was in trouble. What was the matter with her? She knew she wasn't fully recovered from Harley Quinn's attack on her home and family, but dammit that was no excuse to leave Huntress in such a vulnerable position.

'Pull it together, Babs,' she snapped to herself.

"I copy Huntress. What's the situation now," she asked, once again in full Oracle mode.

"Yeah, about that," Huntress' laconic voice echoed around the Delphi platform, "actually it's really dead out tonight. Funny how those guys just kinda disappeared."

Only because she had been living with Helena on and off for seven years and known the woman since she was twelve, was Barbara able to detect the note of apology in the other woman's response. Most people would have simply taken the words at their sarcastic face value. For this reason alone was Barbara able to keep from laying into the crime fighter.

"What do you mean it's dead out?! Are you trying to give me a heart attack? What the hell is wrong with you?"

Well she was mostly successful.

On the couch doing her homework as Barbara had commanded earlier in the evening, the tall blond teenager shook her head with a small smile. No matter how much their lives had changed since the Quinn incident, some things would always be the same.

As Huntress's snippy response came back over the coms and Barbara responded in kind, Dinah shook her head again and focused back on her calculus book.

* * * * *

Helena Kyle wandered into her apartment above the Dark Horse bar were she worked, glancing at the clock that announced it was after 3 am. She was pretty sure Barbara had kept her out so late because of her earlier joke. She realized that Barbara had been kinda worried about her which kinda made her feel like an ass, but she really missed the old days. Before her psycho therapist had tried to destroy their lives.

Before Quinn, Barbara used to joke around with her all the time. Yeah, it was still "Stay focused Huntress" and "You need to be alert at all times Huntress", but there had been teasing and innuendo too. Now if she could just get Red to say anything other than "I copy" and "What's the situation", Helena counted it as a huge success.

'Well what do you expect, you tried to kill her, the clock tower and Delphi were destroyed, and her boyfriend was murdered,' Helena thought to herself as she stripped out of her Huntress costume. 'And who's fault is that, oh yeah yours.'

And that was the worst part of the whole thing. It was her fault. She had told Quinn everything. The pass codes to the tower, that Barbara had been Batgirl and was now Oracle, and even about Wade.

Why did she have to tell her about Wade?

Helena was pretty sure Barbara would have forgiven her for everything else, even trying to kill her, but not getting Wade murdered. Just because she hadn't said anything to Helena didn't mean it wasn't true. Helena could see the blame and recrimination the few times she had worked up the nerve to look into Barbara's eyes.

"This sucks major," Helena muttered to herself as she finally managed to wiggle out of her leather pants. She really wanted to fix things, but even she, don't worry about consequences or forgiveness girl that she was, realized that it wasn't that easy, would never be easy.

And that was really the worst part the brunette decided. She could never fix things with Barbara.

With that cheery thought she headed into her small bedroom to stare at the ceiling until she was exhausted enough to sleep.

* * * * *

Sitting at her desk finishing off her second cup of coffee, Barbara waited for the first bell to ring. Until then, the high school English teacher was determined to enjoy some peace and quiet. That was if she could stop thinking about last night for even a minute.

Barbara realized she hadn't really been mad at Helena. The other woman had just been joking around like they used to. Granted, giving her false reports was one of the quickest ways to annoy the redhead, but she hadn't cut Helena any slack last night. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she regretted her response. She wasn't angry with Helena, she was angry with herself. She just couldn't seem to get back to the way she had been before . . . before Wade.

'Before I got Wade killed,' she thought.

Barbara sighed softly and made a mental note to apologize to Helena later when they communicated for sweeps. Knowing the brunette though, she had probably already forgotten about the incident. The dark crime fighter had a lust for life and short enough attention span that holding a grudge was just not in her nature . . . except were her father was concerned.

Realizing that she wasn't scoring any points on that whole relaxing thing, Barbara was perhaps a little too happy when the door to her classroom opened. Consequently the smile that she bestowed on her youngest ward was perhaps a little too bright, causing Dinah to look at her somewhat strangely.

'Sizing me up for a white jacket and padded room,' the redhead thought to herself.

"Hey Barbara. I just wanted to say hi before I head to class," the young blond stated with a sunny smile. "I can't believe that school is almost out for the summer. I mean just two more weeks. It's just crazy. Do you think there will be some kind of like super cheesy assembly in the gym, you know like "go out and have fun this summer but stay safe", cause you know that's what we used to have at my old school. You'd tell me if we were right? So I could be prepared, you know to not show up or something. They try to trick you into going you know? So you'd tell me wouldn't you?

Barbara, by know used to the girl's amazing ability to talk rapidly and cover a multitude of seemingly random subjects, just nodded until the girl paused for breath.

"Of course I wouldn't tell you Dinah," she responded. "Those assemblies build character. Besides if I have to suffer through them, so do you."

"That's just mean. And not fair, really not fair. And did I mention mean. I can't believe Helena ever made it through one of those. I bet you told her when they were having one."

Barbara took a moment to compose herself, not wanting the blond to know that she had in fact told Helena when they were having assemblies, simply so the brunette wouldn't heckle the principle or pull some kind of stunt. Helena had been very troubled after her mother's death and throughout her last year of high school.

And just great, now her thoughts were back on Helena. Barbara took off her glasses and pinched the bride of her nose trying to ease the headache she felt coming.

Putting her glasses back on she focused once again on Dinah who hadn't stopped talking while Barbara's mind had gone off on her tangent. Once again she found herself more pleased than she perhaps should have been when the first bell rang, cutting off her young charge in mid-sentence.

"Oh there's the bell," the blond said reaching for the door. "I'll catch a ride home with Gabby if that's okay. Okay great thanks. See you at home." This last was shouted as the retreating figure hurried down the hall.

Barbara shook her head at the resilience of the teen. Quinn's attack hadn't seemed to affect the girls sunny out-look on life. She found herself absurdly grateful for that fact. She may be falling apart, but at least the two most important people in her life seemed to be coping fine.

Wheeling her chair closer to her desk, Barbara grabbed a stack of papers and prepared to greet the rush of her first class.

Chapter 2

"Hey all, I come bearing movies and pizza on speed dial," Huntress shouted as she breezed into the clock tower two weeks later. As she entered she noticed Barbara was set up at the Delphi platform apparently completely absorbed in whatever was being displayed on the monitors. She didn't see the Kid, but muffled sounds from the training room gave her a pretty good idea of where to find her. 'Unless Alfred has decided to take up Tai Chi.'

Smiling at her own wit, she tossed the movies onto the couch and bounded up to the Delphi.

"Hey Red, come on, did ya hear me? You, me, the Kid and an all night movie marathon to celebrate the close of another school year. Whatcha say?"

Barbara craned her neck to look over at Helena with a small smile. "That sounds absolutely wonderful Hel, but I doubt I would be considered a suitable guardian for Dinah if I allowed her to watch your sort of movies."

Helena had to laugh at this, especially when it was accompanied by the raised eyebrow and quirk of red lips that she was such a sucker for.

"Yeah well, those movies are for later, you know when the Kid's asleep. You don't mind keeping me company later and watching a little "quality entertainment" do you," Helena purred causing the redhead to blush. She really couldn't help herself, she flirted with everyone, it was just her nature, but with the shade Red was turning, she may have to consider toning it down.

Barbara seemed to pull it together pretty quickly however. "Well Hel, I've never minded a little late night viewing. I hope you rented something that can keep my interest. Otherwise I may be forced to take matters into my own hands." At this Helena was pretty sure her heart stopped for a minute then went into overdrive to make up for lost time. "I'm sure I remember there being a documentary on the evolution of the microchip on the History channel," Barbara continued after a moment. The redhead smirked at Helena and turned back to monitors to continue her scans.

Man she loved how Barbara could do that. It didn't matter what she threw at her, Red always just seemed to give it right back. Leaning down and putting her lips next to Barbara's ear she purred, "Well in that case I'll have to make sure I stick around. How could I refuse such a blatant display of self-pleasuring?" Chuckling at the redhead's involuntary shiver, she pulled back. "Until then I guess we'll just have to settle for Free Willy."

The chuckle became a full out laugh as she wandered back toward the couch with Barbara's voice following her. "You did not rent Free Willy, Hel."

"Helena," Barbara whined when the brunette didn't answer immediately. This soon deteriorated into the occasional mutters such as, "physically impossible for a twelve hundred pound whale to jump that high" and "no one actually likes the harmonica."

Helena just continued laughing and went to set up the DVD player.

* * * * *

Huntress was doing her fair share of the muttering later that night. Mostly it included phrases like "this is how I spend my Friday night" and "just stay down fucker," accompanied by the sounds of her fists and feet connecting with flesh.

The alert had come in over the Delphi just as they had all settled in to watch the second movie. Immediately Barbara had raced over and ordered Helena to get her Huntress outfit. Apparently there was a robbery at one of New Gotham's larger banks and a security guard had been killed. The suspects were still at large and the police were having no luck tracking them. With Oracle's technology, however, it would be a simple matter to direct Huntress to their location.

So instead of enjoying a quiet night with her family, Helena was out on the streets handing an ass whooping to the five masked men.

'My life is so fucked up,' the brunette thought to herself, not for the first time. Of course kicking the shit out of scum like this was definitely something she enjoyed. A lot, she added feeling the nose of one of the robbers break under her fist. It was just that she had been really looking forward to spending some time with a relaxed Barbara now that she was no longer at school and constantly reminded of Wade's absence.

"And whose fault is that?" Helena asked the men gathered around her, three already moaning or out cold on the ground. "Mine again," she clarified, punctuating her accusation with a round house kick to the fourth robber's jaw.

'And then there was one,' Helena thought to herself as she closed in on the last man.

Seemingly oblivious to the fact that this small, lithe woman had just decimated his companions, the man pulled a knife and began to taunt her, his eyes dark pits in a sallow face. "Come on baby," he crooned waving the knife. "Gonna make you feel things you never felt before, gonna make do things you never thought about doing, but you know you want to, yeah you do."

And just like that, all Helena could see was red - and then black because she wasn't seeing anything, just feeling the burn in muscles as she pounded her fists into something that occasionally whimpered and made wet, cracking noises.

Eventually a different sound began to pierce through her fog and made her take notice. A voice that sounded calm, but that Huntress knew from long association was starting to hold real fear. "Huntress, come in. Huntress, please respond. Helena!"

This last exclamation fully registered with the crime fighter and she slowed down the motion of her arms and then finally stopped. All she wanted to do was focus on the voice in her ear and let it calm her, but the blackness that had temporarily settled over her vision was fading and she was forced to see what she had done. Forced to look at the . . . body . . that had once been one of the bank robbers.

'Before I turned him into hamburger,' the brunette thought, her stomach immediately rebelling.

And body was definitely the right word. With her enhanced senses, Huntress could immediately see that he wasn't breathing and hear that his heart had stopped beating. She quickly got to her feet and scrambled away.

Somehow she managed to focus in on the voice again, this time able to recognize that Oracle was trying to reach her, calling out again and again, asking if she was okay. At this Helena had to laugh, she was never going to be okay. She had killed a man. Not a super villain, not some kind of huge threat to the safely of all good citizens of New Gotham. No, just some two bit bank robber who had threatened her with a knife and said the wrong thing.

"We don't kill." Isn't that what she had told Barbara when she had her hands wrapped around Quinn's throat? She had been trying to save Barbara, not Quinn when she had said that.

"We don't kill." Well it looked like she did. So who was going to save her?

She quickly turned on her com unit and told Oracle to send the police and an ambulance to her location. Then leaping up onto the rooftops she removed her necklace and earrings and raced as fast as she could away from the robbers, the body, and the knowledge of what she truly was.

* * * * *

Furiously typing on three separate keyboards, Barbara Gordon frantically tried to understand what had just occurred. She had sent Huntress out to apprehend a simple gang of bank robbers and now all hell seemed to have broken loose.

At first things had seemed fine. Huntress had engaged the targets with her usual banter and occasional expletive, but then something had gone very, very wrong.

The communication device she had designed was very sensitive so it was easy to hear the sounds of breaking bone and cartilage as Huntress had attacked the man. Knowing she had to do something Barbara had called to the other woman and eventually resorted to using her real name even over her coms. That had seemed to reach her and suddenly everything went silent.

Then Huntress had asked her to call for the police and an ambulance. This wasn't that uncommon for the crime fighters, and normally Barbara wouldn't have been concerned. But there was something in Helena's voice that had shaken Barbara. Or maybe it was that there was nothing in her voice. The tone was completely dead, without emotion. For the amazingly boisterous Huntress, this was unheard of. Barbara knew the sound of Helena's voice very well. She might be angry, depressed, joyful, or any number of emotions, even at the same time, but Barbara could never remember hearing just . . . nothing.

Suddenly all the signals she was receiving from Helena's coms went dead. She had no way of communicating with or locating the brunette. Barbara had no idea what was going on and she was starting to get scared. Glancing over at one of the screens she saw the EMT's report from the scene. Three letters seemed to bore into her brain. DOA. And suddenly Barbara Gordon wasn't scared anymore, she was just numb.

* * * * *

Barbara knew. Of course she knew. Barbara Gordon was the fucking Oracle. She knew fucking everything. So it didn't matter that she had turned off her coms and hadn't told her what had happened. She would know. She would know that Helena had killed. That Helena had beaten a man to death with her own hands. And now instead of seeing just blame in Barbara's eyes, Helena knew if she looked she would see hatred, disgust, and maybe even fear.

She couldn't take that. Not from Barbara. Everyone else may think she was an asshole and a fuck-up, but Barbara had always believed in her. Since the very first day they had met at the gymnastics training camp Helena's mother had forced her to attend, Barbara had seen something in her. Helena knew it wasn't the same thing she had felt seeing redhead for the first time, but it had been real and it had allowed Barbara to stay with her when she was at her worst after Mom died. And now that was gone. Whatever good Barbara might have once believed was in her, she sure didn't believe it now.

As Helena wandered into her apartment in a daze, she immediately turned toward the bathroom. She had to get a shower. She was covered in blood and . . . other things. She needed to clean up. She needed to change.

And that was the heart of the matter, Helena realized. After Quinn she should have seen what she was capable of, that things couldn't continue the way they were. She should have fucking seen it. Things were going to have to change.

Helena stepped under the spray of hot water and began to make her plans.

* * * * *

Dinah Redmond was trying to be tough. She was trying to adopt what she thought of as her "Huntress face." The one that said she didn't give a shit about anything and nothing could touch her. She was pretty sure she just looked like a scared little kid.

She wasn't sure what had happened. They had just finished watching a movie and having a great time. Barbara had been relaxed and the tenseness she had seemed to be carrying throughout her body since Wade died had seemed to ease somewhat. Helena had been, well, better than normal, talking and joking, making popcorn, and even offering to share some of it with Dinah.

And then the alarm for the Delphi had gone off. Soon Huntress was out taking care of it and Barbara was monitoring her on the super computer, leaving Dinah to watch the movie alone on the couch.

She wished that Barbara would let her go out with Helena. Sometimes if nothing was going on, and she didn't have school the next day, and the planets aligned just right, Oracle would let her go with Huntress on sweeps if she promised to follow orders without question - but so far these opportunities were few and far between.

Dinah was interrupted from her internal ramblings by the loud and gruesome sounds coming over the Delphi speakers. She didn't have much experience, but that sounded like breaking bone, a lot of bone. Then Barbara was frantically calling Helena, and the sounds cut off.

Dinah was a touch telepath, meaning that usually she had to touch someone to pick up on their thoughts or emotions. But sometimes, if the emotions were really strong she could pick them up just by being in the same room as the person. This was one of those times.

The wave of fear that rolled out from the figure at the computer momentarily stunned the teen. She had never felt fear from Barbara before. She was usually so controlled that Dinah didn't pick up much of anything, but this was way different.

And the thing was, Dinah could tell that Barbara wasn't afraid for herself. This overwhelming fear was directed at another, a fear for that person.

Dinah quietly turned off the DVD and sat back on the couch. This was so not good.

As Barbara continued to stare at the data pouring in, Dinah wondered what had happened to Helena this time and how they would all make it through this new disaster.

Chapter 3

Two days after the incident, Helena stepped into the elevator that would take her up to the clock tower. It was late afternoon and Barbara should be in. She had been calling Helena for the past two days on the hour, every hour. Helena hadn't answered once.

She had been busy getting everything together and finishing her preparations. She had considered not even coming by the clock tower, but she knew she owed Barbara, and maybe even the Kid, more than that. So here she was, loitering in the elevator trying to work up the nerve to do the hardest thing she had ever done.

She could do this. She had to do this, not for herself, but for Barbara.

When the elevator doors slowly slid open, the indifferent mask she had perfected after the death of her mother was firmly in place and she was able to step out and walk calmly toward the Delphi and the redhead seated in front of it.

* * * * *

Hearing the elevator, Barbara had immediately turned; desperately hoping it was a certain dark haired crime fighter that she hadn't heard from in over two days. When the visitor indeed turned out to be Helena she nearly shouted for joy. Noticing the familiar set to the delicate features and easy stride, she allowed herself to hope for just a moment that things would be all right; that they could talk about what had happened and just move on.

Barbara Gordon allowed herself to hope, that is until she looked into the eyes of her best friend and crime fighting partner. The dark blue eyes that she knew so well, that were always so full of life and passion were now empty and hollow. It looked as though Helena hadn't slept at all since the other night, and seeing this, Barbara's heart broke a little more. Those eyes were focused just a little above her left shoulder and wouldn't meet hers as the figure approached slowly. 'Almost as if she thinks I would run from her, or you know roll from her,' Barbara thought. 'Okay you know you're nervous when you start making paraplegic jokes, Babs.'

And that was the truth. She, Barbara Gordon was very nervous. Sweaty palms, shortness of breath, wanting to run and hide under the covers nervous. For someone who was always so in control of her emotions, who needed to be in control of every part of her life, this was very discomforting.

The truth was, she had a pretty good idea of how she expected this meeting to go. She was sure it was going to end in tears and probably some shouting by both parties, so of course she was nervous, big emotional scenes were not her thing. But looking into Helena's eyes, Barbara suddenly had the feeling that she actually didn't have the first clue as to what was going to happen in the next few minutes and her nerves got a whole lot worse.

* * * * *

Helena stopped a couple of feet away from Barbara and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Hey," she managed to get out through a throat that felt stuffed with cotton.

'Oh great one, you go off and kill someone and don't speak to her for two days, and the best you can do is, Hey,' she thought to herself.

Helena still couldn't bring herself to meet Barbara eyes, but from the way Barbara was sitting, she looked kinda nervous. For some perverse reason, this made Helena feel a little bit better and a little more determined. So when Barbara responded with a quiet, "Hello Helena," in a voiced filled with love, she was able to keep from breaking into tears and wrapping her arms around the other woman. Barely.

Instead, Helena forced herself to meet the beautiful green eyes that were studying her so intensely, then managed to choke out, "I think we need to talk."

"Yes Helena, I think we do," Barbara responded. "I think you may be under a false impression . . ."

"Barbara I killed someone," Helena interrupted. "Yeah he was a criminal, a first rate asshole, but he didn't deserve to die. And we don't kill." This last was said so softly that Helena scarcely heard herself, but somehow Barbara caught it.

"Your right Helena, we don't kill. You don't kill." Helena's head snapped up at this. "That's right Helena, he didn't die. The paramedics were able to resuscitate him. He'll be in the hospital for a long time, and he may never fully recover, but he's not dead. You didn't kill."

Helena felt the tears start to flow down her face hearing Barbara tell her this in a voice filled with love and understanding. For one wild moment she allowed herself to hope, to believe that everything could go back to the way it was before. Yeah, so she had beaten some guy to a pulp, what else was new, he had probably deserved it. Barbara seemed, well, not okay with it, but she didn't seem like she hated Helena or was going to tell her to take a hike and never come back. So everything was all right then, wasn't it?

But then she remembered the man's blood covered body. The silence that she had heard when she had finally come back to herself. And another image flickered behind her eyes and was gone. An image of a man with a knife stuck in his ribs and Barbara's tears as they fell on his slack face.

Helena knew what she had to do, it was for the best.

"Barbara," Helena started, almost choking on the name, "he did die. It was only luck that they were able to save him. When I left, he was dead," Helena said, tears still slipping down her face. "I didn't kill him, but I might as well have," she continued, no longer even sure what she was referring to. "This, this can't go on."

There, she had said it. Whatever happened now, she had actually done it.

Red seemed to jerk back in her chair a little bit and then stiffened all over. Her face stilled and it almost seemed like she was preparing for a blow.

"Helena, what do you mean," Barbara asked in her most controlled voice.

"I mean, I mean that I can't do this anymore. I can't be Huntress." When Barbara's face immediately went blank, Helena realized she needed to add something. "At least, right now." There was the slightest loosening of the other woman's muscles. "I need some time. I need to figure out what's going on with me and why I get so . . . angry . . . and hurt people and . . . well before it's too late, you know? I've got to well, uh, get away."

Barbara was completely still, but knowing the other woman as well as she did, Helena could see that super brain of hers going a mile a minute. Finally after a long silence she spoke, "Okay Hel, if that's what you think you need." Helena breathed a little easier at this. Barbara understood and was going to be okay with it. "So you take a few days or a week or two and then we'll talk again. Everything will be alright Hel." This last was accompanied by another sweet smile from the redhead.

With a sinking feeling, Helena realized that things were not going to be alright. Barbara didn't understand and now Helena was going to have to make it worse.

"Uh, Barbara, that's not really what I meant. When I said I had to get away, I kinda meant away, away. You know, um, like out of New Gotham away." Helena couldn't look at Barbara as she said this and instead turned her gaze to the floor.

"Out of New Gotham." Barbara repeated in a dazed sounding voice.

Helena, distressed by the tone of Barbara's voice, tried to sound enthusiastic. "Yeah you know, travel for a while. Just get away from everything. Do some soul searching, get a little culture. That kinda thing. It'll be good for me, right?" She was desperately trying to make things better.

"Get some culture." Barbara repeated again. "Helena what are you talking about?" Barbara's eyes began flashing, and her voice just kept getting louder. "What are you thinking? You almost kill someone, so you just decide that you'll go on vacation. You'll go "see the sights" and that will make sure that next time you go up against some criminal you won't beat him to death."

Barbara was angry. She was angry and really, really scared, so she did what she always did when this happened with Helena. She lashed out and expected the brunette to respond with her own verbal assault . . . except she didn't.

Helena felt like she had aged ten years in the last few days, and maybe she had, because instead of yelling at Barbara and telling her to back off, she recognized that the other woman was scared and so she tried her best to explain.

Walking over to kneel down in front of Barbara's chair she reached out and gently lifted one of the redhead's hands in her own. "Barbara it's not like that. If I stay here, nothing will change. I'll mope around my apartment for a couple of days, and then I won't be able to resist calling you or coming over here to see you." She gave Barbara a small smile which the other woman didn't return. Sighing Helena continued, "I've got to change Barbara. I can't keep being this out of control. You did your best with me. You saved me when Mom died. You taught me how to channel my anger and how I could use it to defend this city. But, it's not enough . . . I'm not enough."

Looking up into the green eyes so close to her own, she silently begged for the other woman to understand. After taking a short breath Barbara spoke in a near whisper. "You need to get away from me."

"No, I . . .," Helena automatically began, then paused. She needed to tell the other woman the truth. "Yeah," she said softly and felt Barbara flinch. "Barbara, you've always made everything better. Since the first time I met you. But, I don't think you can this time. I don't think I can let you. It's time for me to fix my own mistakes, to fix myself. I can't do that here with you. I'm too used to leaning on you for everything. We're totally co-dependent as I'm sure you've noticed," Helena said hoping to earn a smile and was once again disappointed. The redhead just continued to sit there.

"I'm sorry Barbara. I've made all the arrangements. You won't have to worry about anything, I've taken care of it. My apartment is all paid up for however long I'm gone. I've called around and found the best physical therapist to help you with your PT. They said they could either meet you at their offices or here at the tower. Dinah is ready to take over sweeps." Seeing Barbara about to argue, Helena rushed ahead, "I know, I know, but we've trained her well, and I also contacted Nightwing."

Nightwing, or Dick Grayson as he was known when he wasn't running around in cape and cowl, was her adopted brother. Bruce Wayne had taken him in and trained him to be his protégé. When Batman disappeared he had taken on a new superhero identity and was now defending Bludhaven, one of New Gotham's neighboring cities.

Barbara looked shocked. "Nightwing! You called Dick? You hate Dick."

"Yeah well it's mutual and I hate him as a human being, not as a crime fighter. He's actually okay at that." Helena felt like she was chewing glass having to get that sentiment out. "He can help finish Dinah's training and run sweeps for you. It will probably be good for her. Learning a new fighting style and everything. I'm not leaving you alone Babs, you can go on just like before. Oracle is still needed, right?"

"Helena," Barbara started and cut herself off. Instead she looked directly into the brunette's eyes. Helena felt like her entire soul was being laid bare and she wondered how much of her inner darkness the other woman would discover. Then Barbara closed her eyes and seemed to try and collect herself for several silent minutes. When green eyes opened again, Helena could only see some kind of determination shinning within them.

"When do you leave?"

Not sure she had heard correctly, Helena nevertheless replied. "Um, my plane leaves in," she quickly glanced at the clock face, "uh, four hours."

"I see," Barbara stated calmly. "When do you think you'll be back?"

"I . . . I'm not sure."

"Well take the time you need," Barbara continued in that eerily calm voice. "I'm sure we'll be fine."

Helena, unsure what the hell had just happened managed to stammer out, "Okay, well great, uh, thanks for you know being so understanding. I'll uh, try and send you, um, postcards or something, to let you know how I'm doing."

"I would appreciate that Helena," was Barbara's response.

Looking up into Barbara's eyes from where she was still kneeling, Helena saw that she had completely closed herself off. Even knowing the other woman as well as she did, she had no idea what the redhead was thinking.

"Well uh, okay then. I should probably be going. You know how long it takes to get through security these days," Helena tried to joke. Barbara just looked at her.

Suddenly it really hit Helena that she was leaving. Leaving Barbara. She wanted to just grab the other woman and take it all back, say it was a mistake, let Barbara make it better, but she couldn't, that wouldn't be fair. Instead she rose up and slowly leaned forward bringing her lip to brush softly against Barbara's cheek. She inhaled the scent that always drove her crazy and she supposed always would, trying desperately to burn it into her memory as it was already burned into her heart.

Keeping her lips resting lightly where they were, she whispered into the soft skin. "I'll come back."

Helena straightened and without another glance walked to the elevator and exited the clock tower, leaving the life that she knew and the woman she loved behind.

Chapter 4

Six months, one week, and five days.

Six months, one week, and five days.

Six months, one we . . .

A really fucking long time!

Barbara Gordon yanked her glasses off and tossed them carelessly onto the keyboard in front of her. Running her hands through fiery red hair, the intellectual woman noted that her outburst was distinctly out of character, but couldn't summon up the desire to care. More and more she had found that her ability to care about, well much of anything, was steadily decreasing. School had resumed three months earlier and even some of her fellow faculty had noticed that the usually collected teacher had been somewhat . . . distracted.

Distracted - that was putting it mildly. It had been exactly six months, one week, and five days since Helena had left. Since Helena had fled from her, the analytical woman corrected. During that time Barbara had felt as if some piece of herself was missing, as if some part of her had been torn away and she was slowly bleeding out.

Her mind automatically associating that visual with another incident that had happened almost eight years ago at the hands of a green- haired madman, the redhead visibly flinched in her chair. No need to go digging up those memories, she was already plenty depressed, thank you very much.

Sighing, Barbara pushed herself back from the Delphi and rolled out through the balcony doors into the chill October air. Time to engage in her nightly ritual.

Stopping when her chair bumped against the stone railing, Barbara shut her eyes. In the blackness, she could image a figure sitting next to her, staring out over their city, New Gotham, which had taken so very much from both of them. She could imagine wind-whipped dark hair and piercing blue eyes, and the soft sound as the figure shifted restlessly, needing to be out soaring over rooftops and hunting through the dark streets.

Barbara opened her eyes, knowing that she would see only the deserted balcony. Actually feeling her heart ache at the now familiar sight, she hoped that wherever the brunette was, she was starting to let go of her pain and guilt.

Barbara was not a stupid woman. She was aware, without being arrogant, that she was in fact quite brilliant, most would even say a genius. So given all the clues and enough time to work through the emotional issues, Barbara had finally seen what was right in front of her face. Helena blamed herself for Wade's death, for putting her family in danger.

When Helena had come to Barbara after almost killing a bank robber, saying that she was leaving, the redhead had at first assumed she was just running away. It wouldn't be the first time and, accordingly, Barbara had been furious. As their *discussion* had continued, she had come to realize her error. Helena wasn't running...well, at least not from what she had done. The other woman had been truly serious in her desire to change and in her absolute need to get away. Away from the life the two of them had built together after the death of Helena's mother and Barbara's shooting and subsequent confinement to a wheelchair. Bowing to the inevitable, she had tried to let Helena go with some amount of decorum. She hadn't broken down and cried, or begged the woman not to leave. Barbara was simply not made that way. No, instead she had raised her internal walls, built a moat, posted archers, and let the other woman walk out of her life.

So here they were, six months, one week, and five days later. True to her word, Helena had sent several postcards from various European countries containing trite platitudes and very little else. Besides a couple of hurried emails, this was the only contact Barbara had shared with her long time friend and crime fighting partner. Before Harley Quinn had so altered their lives, it was unusual for the two women not to communicate or see each other every day. She found the time away from the brunette infinitely wearying.

Sighing, Barbara backed away from the ledge and retreated into the clock tower. Nightwing and Canary would be arriving soon to perform their scheduled sweep of the city. Oracle was needed once again, and Barbara Gordon would just have to force down the constant ache of missing her best friend, at least until tomorrow night.

Six months, one week, and six days.

* * * * *

Dark shadows caressed hunched outlines with gruesome features, highlighting some prominent disfigurement then hiding it away again from prying eyes. One shape stood out from all the rest when it shifted positions, easing the ache in muscles too long restrained. Reaching a slim, tan arm out to snake around the shoulders of one of the gargoyles, Helena Kyle returned to her contemplation of Paris from the tops of Notre-Dame.

Barbara was always questioning her affinity for the stone statues around New Gotham. Helena had never confessed her fascination with the creatures had begun when her mother, Selena, had first taken her to see this very church when she was six. Looking up at the magnificent structure, the young Helena had been delighted with the guardians that seemed to adorn every corner and ledge. She had immediately wanted to climb the building to get a closer look. With her natural abilities she probably could have done it, however her mother would never allow it.

Now, eighteen years later, Helena was sitting in companionable silence with the figures, having scaled the giant edifice several hours before. She had come here hoping to clear her head. For the past six months she had been slowly making her way around Europe, trying to make sense of her life. Eventually, she had ended up in Paris, the city she was born in and where she had spent the first twelve years of her life with her mom. Selena had loved art, and Notre-Dame had been one of her favorite places to visit with her daughter.

"So here I am Mom." Helena whispered her words into the night air. "I was kind of hoping for one of those big revelations, you know the flash of light and suddenly all the answers are clear kinda thing." There was no abrupt illumination or sudden epiphanies, however. "Yeah, didn't really think so." The brunette swatted the stone figure sitting next to her. "How about you big guy, any words of wisdom that you've been dying to share? No? Too bad."

While she hadn't really found any answers, Helena had come to realize what her problems were. Well, some of her problems she admitted ruefully. She probably had too many to ever completely identify.

She didn't blame herself for Wade's death anymore. Yeah, she had told Quinn about him and Barbara, but it had been the psycho bitch who had killed him, not her. They had kicked Quinn's ass and she was never getting out of Arkham. It was time to let it go. Helena hoped she could someday help Barbara do the same.

She hadn't come to terms with her inability to control her animal nature however. She had left New Gotham after killing a bank robber six months before. Yeah, the paramedics had been able to revive him, but it didn't change the facts. When Helena lost her temper, bad things happened. She wasn't worried about the criminals, they got what they deserved, but what if she hurt someone who was innocent, someone she cared about . . . someone like Barbara. Helena couldn't do that, couldn't take that risk.

So she'd left, thinking time away from being a vigilante might help. Maybe it had. In New Gotham, she was always on duty. The Delphi alert could go off at any moment and Huntress would be needed to defend the city. She hadn't realized it, but she was constantly on edge, always waiting for Barbara's voice in her ear and for the next petty criminal or super villain to come along and rip another hole in her life or her body. But six months of just wandering around Europe, having nothing to do but reflect and try and enjoy life had shown her that it didn't have to be that way.

Helena knew that she could never completely give up crime fighting. She loved the thrill and the danger too much, and every once in a while it was nice to think she was making a difference. And she would never, ever leave Barbara to shoulder the burden of protecting their city alone. They had started their team together, Helena intended for them to finish it together, but until then, she had come to the conclusion that something else was needed. She needed for there to be more to her life.

Maybe she was finally growing up.

Now, staring at the most romantic city in the world, Helena came to her biggest problem. She hadn't told Barbara why she liked hanging around gargoyles, but that was hardly the only thing Helena had never told the other woman. Helena's biggest secret, one she hadn't even told Quinn when she was spilling her guts, was that she was in love with Barbara Gordon. She was in love with Batgirl, Oracle, Barbara; whatever name she went by, Helena was head over heels, over the moon, completely crazy about the redhead, and she had been since the day they met.

Of course at first she thought it was just a crush, and then later some kind of twisted hero worship, but she had finally figured it out. She was "in love" with Barbara. And Helena knew... *knew* Barbara didn't feel the same way. In fact, she was pretty sure Barbara had never even considered the idea.

Helena was sure Red loved her as a best friend, and as much as it hurt, probably somewhat as a child she had helped raise, but that was it. After all, Barbara had been nineteen when they first met and Helena had been a hyper twelve year old kid. Not exactly the beginnings of a great romance.

Helena had promised herself long ago that she would never reveal her feelings to Barbara. It would hurt the other woman terribly to know that what she had assumed was affection and a platonic relationship had been warped into the burning passion and . . . need Helena had for her. She couldn't do that to Barbara.

But Helena could never quite give up hope. She had stayed single - well she hadn't entered into a serious relationship, it wasn't like she was going to be celibate - hoping that the other woman might pick up a hint, maybe figure out her feelings. Then it would be up to Barbara what to do about it; but despite how brilliant the other woman was, she remained completely oblivious. And Helena finally realized that she always would.

It wasn't meant to be.

A stupid, melodramatic statement that made Helena feel like a pussy for even thinking it, but that didn't make it any less true. If Helena kept waiting around for Barbara, she would eventually come to resent her. She already did a little bit. Look how things had been even before Quinn. They had been fighting and had been almost at each other's throats. She knew she had been pulling away, and so had Barbara.

Helena couldn't allow that. So they could never be lovers. Yeah, it sucked . . . a lot, but she wouldn't lose the other woman because of it. She needed Barbara. If staying close to the redhead meant only being the best friend and protégé, well she could do that. It was better than nothing, which was what she had now.

"I swear Mom," Helena whispered, letting the wind carry her words out across the streets and rooftops. "I give up. I'll let her go. She deserves to be happy. I know it won't be easy, but I mean it this time. No more longing and regrets. It's time to move on." Helena imagined the wind carrying her next words across Paris, across the ocean, and finally into another dark city where gargoyles defended a different tower. "I promise."

Helena took one last look at her native city; she didn't plan on being back for a long time. Giving the stone she leaned against one final pat, the dark figure flowed to her feet then leapt from the ledge of the great cathedral. It was definitely time to go home.

* * * * *

"Canary, behind you!"

"I see him." Simultaneously shoving the criminal away with her telekinesis and responding to Nightwing, Dinah wondered why she had ever wished she could go out on sweeps more often.

Things had been okay at first. Dinah had tried to hide it, but she had been devastated when Helena had left without saying goodbye. Then Barbara had pretty much become a wreck. Usually, Dinah didn't pick up much of anything from the older woman - she was to in control of her emotions and thoughts - but for that first week Dinah couldn't get near her without being bombarded by feelings of loneliness and frustration. Just when she thought she would have to do something drastic - like get suspended from school - Dick had shown up and seemed to pull Barbara out of her funk.

They had started protecting their city again; only this time there was no sarcastic, leather clad Huntress out on the streets. Instead, Nightwing had taken over the position of New Gotham's most feared vigilante. Within a week, the criminals knew to watch for his masked presence.

Dinah tried not to resent him for taking over Helena's spot in their little family - Dick was actually a really nice guy. He had shown her some great moves and it was kinda nice to go out on sweeps with someone who acted like a real superhero, someone who beat up the criminals because they were criminals, not because they were melodramatic and filled with angst. Dick also trained with her whenever she asked. He didn't kick her ass the way Helena had when they sparred either. Still, she would gladly suffer bruises in embarrassing places if Helena would just come home.

And the fact that Helena hadn't returned to New Gotham - to her family - was beginning to worry Dinah. Every time she tried to talk about it with Barbara, the teacher would simply give her empty reassurances - "Helena needs time, we have to respect that" or "Helena will come back once she's figured things out" - but Dinah knew that even Barbara was beginning to doubt her words, if she'd ever believed them to begin with.

For Dinah it was really a simple matter. Barbara and Helena were her family. With Helena gone, her home was missing half it parts. Dick was nice, but he wasn't family. And things were just less fun when Helena wasn't around. And more painful.

"Oracle, do you have any information?" Nightwing's voice sounded strained, probably because he was desperately fighting the five men that surrounded him - the five identical men.

"Not yet. He's obviously meta. He must be able to somehow replicate or divide himself. You're sure they're not just projections?"

A blow to her ribs answered Barbara's question, as well as bringing Canary's attention back to her own fight. Stumbling backwards, she tried to find the breath to respond. "We're sure Oracle." Looking at the indistinguishable features of the three criminals that she faced, Dinah admitted she was starting to get seriously creeped out. "How do we fight them . . . him . . . these things?"

"Well, if they all derive from one source, I believe that disabling the original will do the trick." Clicking keys were a sharp background to Barbara's next pronouncement, "Although, I have no idea how to determine which one that is."

Using her telekinesis again to force two of the copies against the nearest building while ducking a punch from a third, Dinah noted that it was never good when Barbara admitted she didn't know something. Glancing over her shoulder, she was just in time to see Nightwing go down from a fist to his jaw. The rest of the men closed in and began to savagely kick the fallen crime fighter.

"Nightwing!" Dinah's shocked cry was abruptly cut off when something hard connected with the back of her skull. 'Barbara keeps telling me not to get distracted, guess I should've listened,' Dinah thought before all her senses faded out.

Chapter 5

God dammit, she hated being helpless! When she was Oracle, guiding her operatives through some mission, she was part of the team, an integral part. She supplied the information and the experience, and almost always that was enough. She felt useful, something she had long ago admitted she needed. There was only one problem with her role as a cyber crime fighter - she needed people out in the field. More specifically, she needed to be in contact with her people.

Now Canary and Nightwing were not responding. Frantically she tried to discover more about the meta they had engaged, a man apparently able to clone himself at will. She needed more information. How many copies of himself was he able to produce? How long could he sustain the copies? Did they think individually or share something similar to a hive mind?

Too many questions and no way to discover the answers. She was arguably the greatest hacker in the world, but even she couldn't force the computer to give her data that didn't exist. If she had been with Dick and Dinah she could have assessed the situation for herself, but that was no longer an option. The Joker had stolen that along with the use of her legs almost eight years ago.

'Stop feeling sorry for yourself and do what you can,' Barbara snapped to herself. She couldn't let the two vigilantes down; wallowing in self-pity wouldn't get them back safely. Besides, she and Dick had discussed her tendency for brooding on things she couldn't change when he first arrived in New Gotham.

* * * * *

She was sitting out on the balcony when a strong hand rested on her shoulder. For a second her heart soared, thinking Helena had returned even though the brunette had only been gone for a week. She looked up to meet the familiar blue eyes, but not the blue-violet she had known for the past eight years, instead they were a dark blue that she remembered from soaring over rooftops and intimate moments. These eyes belonged to Batgirl's past.

"Hello, Dick, thanks for coming." She knew her voice sounded less than welcoming, but was unable to do anything about it. Helena's abrupt departure had seemed to take all of her energy, as if the brunette's very presence was the means by which Barbara powered herself, leaving the redhead feeling drained and empty.

"You know I'll always come for you, Babs."

Barbara was a little uncomfortable with the meaning implied by Dick's statement. Yes, they had been lovers at one point, but that was over and done with. They would always be close friends, but that was all - with their history, anything else was just too complicated. Not to mention the fact that Dick now had his life as Nightwing and Barbara was confined to a wheelchair.

Dick seemed to take Barbara's hesitation for anger. "I'm really sorry I didn't come after the Quinn thing. You know I would have, but Killer Moth was trying to take over Bludhaven at the time. You have to know how sorry I am about everything, especially your boyfriend . . ."

"Wade, his name was Wade. I know you would have come if you could have - that's the price of being a superhero right?"

They both stood in silence looking out over New Gotham, remembering what it was like to protect this city as Batgirl and Robin - and considering what it had cost them. Dick had lost his parents, then his adopted father and mentor; and Barbara had lost the use of her legs and the life she had once envisioned for herself. Still, neither would change their decisions, this city was worth it, and they were true heroes.

"It's good to be back. I've missed it here. Bludhaven is nice - for a corrupt major city, but I've always felt Gotham is my home."

"It always will be."

'Thanks." Several minutes passed. "So are you going to tell me why Little Sis took off? I think she about gave me a heart attack when she called asking me to come here and replace her."

"I . . .," Barbara didn't know what to say. The truth was she didn't know why Helena had left. She suspected even the brunette wasn't really sure. Obviously, it had something to do with her anger issues and the man she had almost killed, but that wasn't the whole story. Helena had always been complex and this crisis was no exception. "It's private. If she wanted you to know, she would have told you."

"So she didn't tell you either, huh?" He didn't look at her; instead, he just kept staring at the skyline, giving her some privacy. Sometimes she forgot how smart Dick really was. He hid his detective's mind behind good looks and boyish charm, but not much escaped Batman's former sidekick.

"No she didn't."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

Barbara sighed. "I'm going to give her the time she needs and be here for her when she's ready."

"I hope she knows how lucky she is." Turning to look at Barbara he gave his most charming smile. "So, where's Black Canary's daughter. I can't believe she had a kid. I can't believe you didn't tell me she had a kid! Some friend you are."

Barbara had to laugh at his antics. "I didn't know. Alfred should have dinner ready soon and you can meet her then." Turning to look at the man who had been her friend, partner, and lover she tried to put everything she felt into words. "Thank you, Dick."

He gave her a puzzled smile. "For what?"

"For understanding. For being such a good friend."

"Anytime, Babs, anytime."

* * * * *

Dick had been true to his word. For the past seven months he had done whatever Barbara asked, from training with Dinah to running sweeps most nights. It had taken a little while to come to an understanding between Oracle and Nightwing. Dick was used to working alone now, and didn't always check in with her. Also, he sometimes forgot that she was no longer Batgirl and treated her like he did when they were Batman's protégés. However for the last several months theirs had been a good partnership. When Dick had finally convinced her that Dinah was ready to start her own sweeps, things had just gotten better. Gotham had a dedicated and effective crime fighting trio for which she was truly grateful.

Still, she missed Helena. The brunette might have driven her crazy, but she was family. Barbara was aware how much Dinah missed her, and even Alfred had relaxed his unspoken rules enough to ask when Helena might return. As she anxiously tried to get a response from Nightwing's or Canary's coms, Barbara missed Helena even more.

But Helena wasn't there; it was up to Barbara to save her team. Even though they were not responding, she had their location on the GPS tracking system. Wheeling herself away from the Delphi, she prepared to get her neural transponder. She hadn't used the device since she had fought Harley Quinn. There was a seventy percent chance that any further use would cause irreparable damage to her spine and nervous system, leaving her even more paralyzed than she already was. However, some things were worth the risk, like Dick and Dinah's lives.

Holding the belt like apparatus in her hands, she prepared herself for the pain of attaching it to her lower back. Suddenly a crackling static filled the clock tower originating from the Delphi's speakers.

"Is anyone there? Oracle, you copy?"

Barbara couldn't believe what she was hearing. That was Helena's voice. She waited another moment, convinced the stress had finally caused a mental breakdown.

"Is this thing even on? Maybe I shouldn't have left it in the bottom of my suitcase. Barbara's going to kill me if I broke it." The sound of metal connecting repeatedly with something solid echoed through the tower. "Hello?"

Barbara raced to the microphone. "Helena!"

"Hey, Oracle, good to hear your voice."

"Helena where are you?"

"Um, I just landed at the airport. You know they don't let you turn your cell phones on during the flight? I was going to call earlier." Helena's confusion was plain in her voice. Barbara realized the brunette was probably expecting some kind of welcome from her, but right now there were more important things.

"I need your help. I've lost communication with Canary and Nightwing. They were fighting a meta and . . ."

"Hold that thought Oracle. Just tell me where I can find them. You can update me on the way." Helena's voice was all Huntress. No one messed with her family.

Barbara let out a sigh of relief. Listening to the sound of Huntress running over the rooftops, she set the neural transponder on the desk. It looked like she wouldn't need it after all. Once again she had Helena.

"I don't have a lot of information. So far, we've learned that he can produce copies of himself . . .

* * * * *

Slitted, golden eyes searched the inside of the warehouse from the upper-story windows, marking each piece of broken machinery and pile of abandoned refuse, finally settling on the two figures restrained against the opposite wall. Both Canary and Nightwing had lengths of chain wrapped around their arms and legs pinning them to support beams. Nightwing was conscious, moving his head and taking in his surroundings. Canary however, appeared lifeless, her head hanging down on her chest, blonde hair shielding her face. Seeing the teenager like this, Helena could barely contain her fury. She wanted to burst through the window and run to Dinah's side, and if the meta got in her way... well, she was already planning on kicking his ass...

Somehow, Helena managed to control her anger. She hadn't spent all that time away from New Gotham only to fuck up thirty minutes after she got back. Like Barbara was always telling her, she needed to plan. Right now, her companions weren't in any real danger. She should take this time to assess the situation, find out where the meta was hiding himself.

Helena slowly eased open the window, utilizing skills she learned from her mother. Catwoman had taught her daughter everything she had known about breaking and entering, thinking it a valuable life skill. Her mother had tried to make sure she had a fairly normal childhood, but Selena's definition of normal didn't exactly coincide with popular thought. Helena had lost count of how many times she had employed some bit of her mother's knowledge in her role as a vigilante. Offering up another silent thank you to the former thief, Helena dropped silently to the dusty floor and quickly hid herself in the shadows.

Listening intently, Helena stretched her meta-human abilities to their limits. The only sounds she could hear were Dick's breathing - and Dinah's, thank God - and the sounds of several large rats scurrying throughout the building; nothing to indicate that the criminal was still hanging around. She quickly scanned the floor for signs of recent footprints, the interior of the shadowy warehouse as clear as day to her enhanced vision. There were several tracks leading from the service entrance to where Dick and Dinah were being held. Satisfied that her target was not waiting in ambush, Huntress quickly crossed the distance to her fellow crime fighters.

"Hey Bro, looks like you could use a hand or two, since yours seemed to be tied up."

Even with one eye swelling shut, Dick managed to roll the other. "Check on Canary first. I think she took a pretty good hit to the head."

"I'm on it." Helena carefully lifted Dinah's head and felt the back of her skull. "Oracle, do you copy? I've located Nightwing and Canary. They're being held at the warehouse. Canary's unconscious but I think she'll be fine. Nightwing looks about as good as he always does."

"I copy, Huntress." Barbara's voice was low and focused. "Can you get both of them out of there? Is there any sign of the meta?"

"That's a negative, Oracle." Helena began to gently unwind the chains holding Dinah to the wall. "I'm getting them down now. We'll head back to base and then I'll go look for . . ."

Huntress' communication was abruptly cut off when she felt a stinging line of fire across her upper back. Her natural reflexes caused her to surge forward, allowing her to avoid having the weapon buried in her spine. Spinning, she kicked out at the man behind her, knocking him back and causing him to drop the machete he carried. 'Holy crap, a fucking machete,' Helena noted, before she quickly closed on the retreating criminal.

With the adrenaline humming through her veins, she hardly noticed her wound; she focused instead on beating the other meta-human into submission. Hands flying in controlled strikes and blocks, she forced her opponent back until she landed a right hook to his jaw, knocking him unconscious to the floor. Standing over the fallen man she was slightly disappointed. This ass-hole had kidnapped her friends; she had been hoping to rough him up a little more.

Another cruel slash across her back reminded her that the fight wasn't over yet. Turning, she came face to face with a man identical to the one at her feet. Obviously, this copy had picked up the machete his predecessor had dropped. Huntress circled warily not wanting a third cut to add to her collection.

Trying to watch the man in front of her, she also scanned the rest of the building, alert for further copies. Barbara had mentioned something about taking out the original, but nothing about how Helena was supposed to find and identify him. 'Oh well, guess I'll just have to beat the crap out of all of them.' A feral smile stretched across Huntress' lips. This was her kind of mission.

Two more copies appeared from the shadows and rushed her from opposite directions while the one in front of her slashed at her face, forcing her back. Normally, such a coordinated attack would have been quite effective, but normal wasn't in Helena's vocabulary. Waiting until the last possible second she leapt over the men's' heads letting them crash into each other. A ragged scream echoed in the mostly empty building. Rotating as she landed, Helena saw one of the copies with the machete sticking out of his chest. 'That's gotta hurt.' The other two copies were just standing and looking on in horror. She didn't usually do the empathy thing, but even she wondered what it must be like to watch yourself dying.

From the catwalk against one wall of the building an anguished scream rang out. "You bitch! Look what you've done!" Helena could see one of the identical men leaning over the railing glaring at her. "I'm going to fucking kill you for this!" The man waved his hand and suddenly several more clones appeared around Helena, all looking intent on murder. On the plus side, she was now fairly certain who the original was.

Knowing she had to act fast, before the meta could lose himself among his copies, Helena tensed her muscles. Concentrating, she leapt as far and as fast as she could, aiming for a collision course with the figure on the catwalk.

Huntress had just enough time to see the man's eyes widen in surprise before she crashed into him, both of them falling hard onto the metal surface. Helena heard the ringing crack as the man's skull connected with the railing. Picking herself up, she quickly checked to make sure he was still breathing. Limping to the railing she looked down. All of the copies had vanished without a trace, leaving only the bloodied machete to testify to their existence.

Deciding that the meta-criminal would be out for some time, Helena started down the stairs to finish freeing her colleagues. Just as she reached Dinah, it occurred to her that someone was yelling in her ear and had been for quite some time.

"Huntress? God dammit, Huntress, answer me!"

"Hey, Oracle. Yeah, um, everything's fine. I took out the meta and he's all ready to be picked up by New Gotham's finest. I'll get Canary and Nightwing and we'll head back to base." Helena could feel her sheepish expression, even though Barbara wasn't there to appreciate it. Several seconds of silence came over the coms.

"That'll be fine, Huntress. I'm dispatching the police now. See you in a few." Barbara sounded completely cool, and it was only Helena's meta-hearing that allowed her to pick up on the sound of something moving rapidly through the air and the crash that followed. From experience she was pretty sure it was a batarang.

Turning to look at the still chained Nightwing, Helena smirked. "You are so carrying Canary."

Chapter 6

"Oh my God, you kicked multiplying man's ass" - Barbara raised one crimson eyebrow - "um, butt!"

"Liquid guy, multiplying man - that's it, you've officially lost your villain naming privileges."

As Helena continued to tease the younger blond, Barbara relaxed into the familiar banter. After Huntress rescued Canary and Nightwing from . . . multiplying man, the three crime fighters had swiftly returned to the clock tower where Oracle waited.

They all had injuries to show from their run-in with Gotham's newest meta-criminal. Dinah was sitting in one of the kitchen chairs holding an icepack to the back of her head. Dick had suffered some fractured ribs and various bruises but was otherwise unharmed. Helena had fared the worst. The brunette had several deep cuts to her back as well as her usual bruises and scrapes.

Barbara focused again on the present when she noticed Helena limping into the kitchen. The redhead never thought the sound of all her cabinet drawers being thrown open could sound so wonderful. Even the muttering and subdued cursing were definitely welcome.

"Hey, Babs, you didn't throw away my pop-tarts did you?"

"Um, I think I finished the last one this morning," Dinah said, looking quite nervous. "I'm really sorry, Helena."

A dark head peered over the counter, fixing the younger crime fighter with a scowl. Barbara prepared herself to play peacemaker between the two women, but to her surprise, the scowl was quickly replaced with a neutral expression as Helena shrugged her shoulders, then winced when it opened up the wounds on her back.

"No big, D. Just thought it might hit the spot after a night of kicking ass. Alfred can pick up some more tomorrow."

While everyone stared at her in shock - the brunette's protectiveness of her pop-tarts was legendary - Helena made her way over and leaned against the edge of the desk.

"So, do you think I could maybe get some stitching? Normally I'm all for staying away from needles, but that machete was really sharp." An aggrieved expression crossed tan features. "Who the fuck carries a machete around anyway? I mean seriously, look what he did to my coat." The dark figure turned around displaying several blood-caked rents in the black leather. Turning to look at Barbara with pained eyes she continued, "I don't think dry-cleaning is going to fix this."

"Probably not, Hel," Barbara demurred. "Let's get a look at your back and see what we can do about putting you back together again."

The irony of her words was not lost on Barbara as she wheeled her way over to the first-aid kit. Had the other woman been able to find the answers she was looking for? What did Helena's sudden return mean? Was she even planning on staying?

There hadn't been time to talk when Helena's voice had come over the coms so abruptly. As it was, the vigilante had almost arrived too late to help her fellow crime fighters. Barbara shuddered to think what might have happened if Helena hadn't returned when she had - of course the other woman always did have an excellent sense of timing.

Putting off her questions and contemplations of Helena's innate gifts, Barbara ordered Helena to remove her ruined coat. As the brunette began to slowly peel off the dark leather, Dinah got up from her chair and began to back towards the stairs.

"Um, I think I'll just go lie down. You know, catch up on some sleep. Good thing tomorrow's Saturday, right?"

Fully aware that the blonde was uncomfortable with some of the medical procedures Barbara was forced to perform, especially suturing, Barbara replied, "Of course, Dinah. You don't have a concussion, but don't sleep in too much; it will just make the headache worse."

"Aww man, one of the greatest pleasures of a Saturday, ruined." Turning to Helena, the teenager turned hesitant. "Um, so I'll see you tomorrow right?"

"Sure thing, D. We'll go grab a coffee. If you can't sleep in, you're going to need a large dose of sugar and caffeine."

Dinah's grin seemed to stretch across her face. "Great, um, okay, see you in the morning. Night, Barbara. Night, Dick." With those cheerful farewells, the tall blond disappeared up the stairs and into her room, closing the door softly.

With Dinah's reminder, Barbara recalled that Dick was actually still present. He had yet to speak since he had entered the clock tower. Barbara wondered what was going through his mind, but decided not to push. He would talk when he was ready. He was like Helena in that respect - neither could seem to hold their tongue when there was something they thought needed to be said. She just hoped it wasn't going to be another argument similar to the ones he and the brunette had engaged in almost daily when Dick had visited a year after she was shot.

That had not been a pleasant time for Barbara. She constantly felt pulled between the two, forced to take sides and settle their petty arguments. She was actually glad when Dick had decided to return to Bludhaven. One more week of their bickering might have sent her over the edge - something she tried to avoid doing: it just wasn't seemly.

"So you're back." Dick's eyes were intently focused on Helena. "You gonna stick around this time?"

That didn't take long.

"Yeah thought I'd settle down, protect *my* city." Helena glared right back, not giving an inch. "Need to make sure no one messes with my inheritance."

Barbara winced at the brunette's words. The fact that Helena was actually Bruce's biological offspring was a sore spot for Dick. He had always tried to live up to the expectations he placed on himself as the protégé and adopted son of Batman, but Barbara knew that he sometimes felt inadequate. Bruce's departure from Gotham eight years ago without telling anyone - including Dick - only made it worse. Helena's natural gifts, courtesy of her meta-human genetics, also contributed to his dislike. Many of the skills Helena took for granted, he'd trained for years to develop. Barbara had felt this particular frustration herself.

"Seems like you've done a pretty good job so far. Oh wait, weren't you the one who let Harley Quinn into the clock tower so she could almost kill Barbara and take over Gotham?"

"Dick!" To say Barbara was shocked was a ridiculous understatement. Dick Grayson had always had a temper, but she had never seen him quite so vicious. Barbara had told him how horrible Helena felt for trusting Quinn; for him to use that against the brunette was simply unacceptable. "I think it's time for you to go."

"No, Barbara, it's okay." Barbara looked at Helena, clearly displaying her disbelief. Helena gave a wry twist of her lips. "He's right. I did fuck up with Quinn, but that's over now. I can't take back what happened, even though I would give anything to be able to." Helena looked near tears as she admitted this. "In case I haven't said it, I'm so sorry. The only thing I can do is try to be a better protector for New Gotham now. That's what I intend to do."

No one spoke for several minutes with only the ever present ticking of the clock to fill the silence. Finally Dick sucked in a loud breath. "Well, I guess that's that then." He turned to Barbara. "It was really great working with you again, Babs."

Helena's voice halted his steps to the elevator. "You don't have to go. The Kid really likes you and you and Barbara have history. And it's not like there's a shortage of crime in the city. Maybe you could stick around for awhile."

Barbara was fairly certain she had been transported to an alternate dimension, one where Helena was not only letting Dick live after his comments, but was actually asking him to remain within a 500 mile radius. She wondered if pinching oneself was also an effective means of snapping oneself back to their proper reality.

Dick hesitated, clearly wondering if Helena was serious. Deciding she was, he responded, "Yeah I'd like that. It's been nice being back."


"Okay. Well I'm . . . going to go. I'll talk to you tomorrow, Babs."

"That's fine, Dick." Barbara watched the elevator doors close over the tall form in a daze. Turning to Helena she intended to convey her puzzlement - she knew her mouth was open and she had the words formed in her head, but no sound was emerging.

"Less gaping, more stitching, Red." Deciding the brunette's suggestion had definite advantages, chief among them the fact that she wouldn't be required to form sentences, Barbara began to sew a neat line across Helena's back. As she concentrated on her work, it occurred to the redhead that she hadn't been this close to Helena in almost seven months.

'Not since the night she kissed me.'

Barbara had puzzled over that moment since Helena had left. She would be the first to admit that she was not the best person to ask concerning emotional gestures, but it seemed to her there had been something more than a farewell in Helena's actions. She just wasn't sure what that something was.

"I meant what I said you know. If I could bring him back I would."

The soft, heartfelt words left Barbara breathless. Steadying her hand she continued to close the other woman's wounds as she spoke. "I know, Hel. I also know that it wasn't your fault. Quinn killed Wade, not you. In the end, you helped me stop her and kept me from making a terrible mistake. I hope you know that I never . . ."

Helena cut her off. "I know Barbara. It's one of the things I figured out when I was . . . thinking I guess. I blamed myself, and I was convinced you did too, but I don't believe that anymore. I'm really over it, and if you ever need to talk about it, I'll be there." Barbara felt the muscles under her hands expand as Helena took a deep breath. "I won't run away again. I'll be here if you need me."

Barbara tied off the thread and packed up the first aid kit. Gently tugging on a slim arm she waited until solemn blue eyes met her own. "I'm really glad, Hel."

* * * * *

"So . . . what did you want to ask me?"

"What makes you think I want to ask you anything?" Slender hands released their death grip on a large mocha latte to tuck a blond strand of hair behind the owner's ear. "I mean you're back and that's great. You don't owe me anything. It's not like you just took off one night and left me with an emotionally unstable Barbara and then this Dick guy shows up who I've never heard of before and suddenly he replaces you and I'm going out on sweeps more often and . . ."

Helena held up her hand. "Breathe, D." Watching the teenager actually inhale for the first time in over a minute, she tried to explain. "I know it probably feels like I abandoned you, but I had some things to figure out. It wouldn't have been good if I had stayed. You would have ended up getting hurt."

Light blue eyes dropped to the table, refusing to meet Helena's pleading stare. "That's what she said."

Helena sighed. Of course that was how the Kid would see it. "She" was Dinah's mother, the Black Canary. Caroline Lance had left Dinah with a foster family in some nowhere town when she was just a kid. She had said she was trying to protect Dinah, but Helena had never understood the other woman's thinking. Helena's own mother had been in the same situation being the former thief Catwoman, but her mom would have fought tooth and nail before she gave up her daughter. Now Helena flinched at being compared to the woman she had so strongly disagreed with.

"I'm really sorry, Dinah. I wish I could have handled it better. I ran away, and I know I hurt you and Barbara, but I think I did it for the right reasons. I was trying to figure some things out, and now that I'm back things can go back to the way they were, only better . . . if you can forgive me."

"Well . . . I think I can, but it's going to cost you." Some of the sparkle and irrepressible good humor returned to the teenager's eyes. Helena watched the transformation warily. "Let's say you do the dishes around the clock tower for a month and let me borrow your clothes when I go out with Gabby."

"Hmm, let me think. Yeah, that'd be a no."

"C'mon. I thought you were in Europe 'finding yourself' and becoming a better person."

"Becoming a better person: yes. Losing my mind to the point where I let you go pawing through my wardrobe: no." Helena made a play swipe at Dinah's head causing the teenager to yelp and duck.

"Fine. Jeez." Picking up their drinks, the two crime fighters walked out of the coffee shop.

"So what about the dishes?"

"We'll see."

Chapter 7

"Okay, people; here's how it's gonna go down.

"This is the playing field. Anything outside of this is off limits." A slim hand flashed out to trace a circular path around an area of New Gotham displayed on the computer screen. "If you are tempted to cheat," here a stern look was communicated via cerulean eyes, "the referee will, of course, know immediately and beat you within an inch of your life upon your return."

"As the saying goes, all's fair in love and war, and make no mistake, this is war." Ignoring the eye rolling that followed the statement, the speaker continued. "You have your weapons. You will not be supplied with additional ammo. If you waste it shooting at shadows, you're SOL." This was directed to the blond standing before the figure. "There is a two hour time limit. At the end of the playing time you will return here under truce. No revenge shots, got it?!

"If at any time you are tagged. You will immediately report it to the referee, who will be keeping fair and impartial score.

"Now you also get one "Oracle" for the duration of the exercise, meaning you can call into base and our lovely referee," here the speaker quickly side-stepped a hand aimed at her stomach, "will tell you the general location of one of your opponents.

"Sniping is not only allowed, but encouraged. All out dog fights and charging in with guns blazing are also acceptable.

"Finally, we are following the time honored tradition passed down to us from Survivor. Form alliances whenever possible, and then immediately stab your partner in the back when the chips are down.

"Alright, any questions?"

Dick and Dinah looked at Helena with slightly stunned expressions on their faces, clutching their paintball guns and pouches of ammo. "All right then… Dinah, you go first, followed by Dick five minutes later, then me five minutes after that. When Red gives the signal, game on." When Dinah just continued to stare at her as though she had suddenly sprouted a second head, she gently – really almost gently – shoved the girl towards the elevator.

Five minutes later, Dick was jumping off the balcony attached to a cable. Helena turned to Barbara and lifted her paint ball gun in front of her face. "We who are about to die, salute you."

"Whaaaat?" Helena drawled when the redhead just scowled at her.

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this. What was I thinking? Unleashing you on an unsuspecting Gotham with a paint ball gun. Especially when Dick is out there too. I must be losing my mind."

"Come on, Barbara, it won't be that bad. It's just a little fun. You're the one who wanted us to spend more time together." This last was muffled as the brunette pulled her duster on with a flourish.

"Should you be wearing that? I doubt paint is easy to get out of leather."

"Yeah, well, I would be concerned with that if there was a chance that I was going to get hit with any paint tonight, but seeing how that's not even possibility I refuse to be a fashion victim." The dark figure stepped closer and purred into the other woman's ear. "Besides, if I do get shot I'll need medical attention. You'd be up for playing doctor, right, Red?"

Barbara just rolled her eyes while blushing extravagantly and turned toward the Delphi. "You can head out now, Patton. And Helena, for the love of God, if you make me regret agreeing to this, I *will* beat you to within an inch of your life."

A wide and slightly feral smile was her only response before the other woman ran towards the balcony and soared into the night.

Barbara settled herself comfortably and made sure she was connected to all her operatives. "All her operatives, indeed,' Barbara thought to herself. Here she was, the Oracle, defender of New Gotham, and what was she doing tonight? Monitoring police frequencies? Designing complex algorithms to help predict crime? Directing her team in stopping a super powered villain? No, she was refereeing a paint ball match. 'How the mighty have fallen,' the redhead added with a mental shrug.

Seconds later as Dick's voice came in over the coms however, Barbara couldn't help but smile.

"Son of bitch, that stings! Actually getting shot hurts less than that! I can't believe you shot me Canary!"

* * * * *

And things had been going so well.

Barbara, Dick, and the Kid had shown up at the Dark Horse near the end of Helena's Friday shift. Normally, Red would never let the Kid into a bar, but since Helena had returned, Barbara had been trying to get them to spend time together. This had led to the never to be repeated paintball fiasco. She was still trying to get the paint out of her duster. Who knew the Kid was such a good shot, or that she would hold a grudge for the way Helena had treated her when she first arrived.

Since Helena had been trying to avoid these situations just as adamantly as Barbara had been trying to create them, they had reached a sort of impasse. Hence the surprise visit.

Earlier, Helena had looked up when a flash of red entered her vision, only to see Barbara wheeling in followed by a scowling Dick, with Dinah treading on his heels, almost bouncing in her excitement. They had taken a table near the back and started talking. At her first break, Helena had squared her shoulders and sauntered over.

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, eh Red," Helena asked when she finally worked her way through the crowd.

"Well, Hel, you've been so busy lately that we decided that we would just have to come to you."

Dick gave a small quirk of his lips. "Yeah, you know, check up on you . . . make sure you're doing okay. He quickly pretended to appraise the interior. "Nice place you've got here. Very, biker hangout meets washed-up alcoholic home away from home. I can totally see the appeal."

Before Helena could spit out a suitably scathing reply Dinah chimed in, "Yeah this is so great. I can't believe Barbara let me come. I mean I had to totally beg for like hours and I can't have anything to drink of course, but it's still totally awesome. I never really get to see you away from the clock tower." This last was said somewhat shyly and though she would deny it even under torture, it completely melted whatever ire the brunette felt from seeing them here and Dick's comments.

"Yeah, well, how about I do my job and get you a coke." This earned her a sunny smile and enthusiastic nod. "And for those of legal consumption age?" Barbara ordered bourbon and Dick ordered a shot of Absolut. This of course caused Helena's opinion of Dick to fall even lower, if that were possible. Everyone knew that Grey Goose was the vodka of choice. Telling Leonard, her boss, that she was knocking off a bit early she delivered the drinks, bringing along a full bottle of the good stuff for herself.

Sitting down at the table across from Dick, she studied her companions as they continued talking; not something Helena was used to. She wasn't a share your day kind of girl, but what the hell. Barbara seemed to be having a good time, chatting about her classes and sharing some of the trials of the modern high school teacher. Dinah was her usual talkative self and seemed to be truly enjoying her last year of high school. Dick however was broodingly silent, only responding when asked a direct question. Not unlike Helena herself. Maybe they really were related.

As the night wore on, Helena went back to the bar to fetch refills several times. Mostly for Dick and herself, she noticed sourly. Barbara was still nursing her second bourbon and the kid had downed four cokes, but seemed to be handling it just fine. Dick on the other hand had had more than a few shots and Helena mentally reminder herself to collect his keys. Not that she should be driving anywhere either. Somehow she had managed to work her way through a substantial amount of her favorite liquor and was feeling a little buzzed.

Suddenly, Dick slapped his hand down on the table causing his empty glass to tip over and almost spilling Dinah's soda. "You know what, let's play a game."

Barbara leaned over and laid her hand on his arm. "I don't think that's a very good idea right now, Dick."

"Why not? We're all relaxed, having a nice night out. I think it's the perfect time. What do you say, Dinah?" Looking like a deer caught in the headlights, Dinah turned toward Barbara. "Well, never mind, Helena will play, right? You know how to have some…fun." This was said with a suggestive drawl that left no doubt as to his meaning.

Barbara had not removed her hand and now squeezed his arm in an almost painful grip. "Dick, you're drunk. I think it's time to leave."

Helena could see that Barbara was distressed and this made her immediately furious with her fellow crime fighter. "You know what *Dick* that sounds like a great idea. What did you have in mind?"

"One question, each. You have to answer completely honestly and no taking the time to think about your answer. Think you can handle it?"

Helena figured that Dick wanted to ask her some personal question about her more lusty pursuits and embarrass her in front of the Kid and Barbara. That was fine with her. It wasn't like she had ever tried to keep anything about that part of her life secret, and Dick would come off looking like the ass that he was. So, "Oh yeah, I can handle it."

"Great, I'll go first." Barbara tried to interject, but Dick cut her off, suddenly not seeming so drunk anymore, or actually at all. "Why the fuck did you drive Bruce out of New Gotham and away from everything he ever loved." Dick enunciated each syllable clearly so that it seemed to echo in the mostly empty bar.

For a moment Helena was stunned. This was definitely not what she had anticipated, but admittedly she probably should have. Dick was looking at her expectantly however, and she never backed down from a challenge. "I don't know if I can answer that without breaking the rules. I thought about that a lot when I was . . . gone. I guess the answer is I was angry at myself." Dick's expression darkened at this and he opened his mouth, Helena hurriedly cut him off, "That night ... when Mom died, I just stood there. I felt her sag against me and the blood that started to soak into my clothes where we were connected. I heard her fall to the ground and the sound the knife made when he dropped it on the concrete."

As Helena continued talking, the bar faded around her and all she was aware of were her memories and the emotions she was trying to express. "And I held her as she died and begged someone to stop him. I just held her body and asked someone else to take care of it and . . . I let him get away. I let her murderer just . . . walk away. Later when Bruce came to check on me, I took it out on him. I had missed my chance and I wanted him to fix it. He was my father; I felt the only way he could make it better was to kill him. That way maybe my failure could be, I don't know, erased somehow. If he was dead maybe I wouldn't have completely let her down."

Here Helena paused to take a breath, and her surroundings came rushing back. She could see that all three of her companions were hanging on her every word, eyes focused on her face. She saw tears in Barbara and Dinah's eyes, but Dick was just looking at her. She met his gaze squarely and answered his question. "I didn't mean for him to leave. He was my father. I didn't know him, but I never meant to send him over the edge. I know he left thinking I hated him, but that wasn't the truth. I hated myself and he just happened to be in the way."

After this final pronouncement, there was only silence for several beats. Finally Dick spoke in a choked whisper, "Okay . . . just okay. I get that." Again it was silent and by now the bar was completely empty. "So . . . if you didn't hate Bruce, why do you hate me so much? Cause I thought it was the whole adopted son of Bruce Wayne thing, but if that's not the case, then . . . why?"

Helena didn't think it was really fair for him to be asking; after all it was her turn for a question. But the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes convinced her that this was something that had been bothering Dick for a while, and what the hell, she was trying to be more mature. Wasn't that what the whole taking time off thing had been about? But, shit, this wasn't going to be easy.

Ducking her head down to hide behind her bangs she did her best to answer. "I thought you were going to take Barbara away from me." Out of the corner of her eye she saw Red stiffen in her chair. "I'd been living with her for a year when you came back. I know I was a complete asshole and made her life a lot harder. I mean she had just been paralyzed and all I could focus on was how much I was fucking hurting. I really don't know how she put up with me." She was being totally honest. If Helena could have left herself, just walked away from the completely fucked up mess she'd been back then, she would have. "Then you showed up with your shared history, all smiles and charm. And it was like nothing had happened. You were her . . . friend, you fought with her as Batman's sidekick, and you were already making a name for yourself as Nightwing. How could I compete with that?"

Man, wasn't that the truth? When Dick had shown up just before her eighteenth birthday, she thought she was royally screwed. Not only was Dick Barbara's friend and occasional lover, he was also a great crime fighter. Babs had just been starting to take the whole Oracle thing seriously and training Helena to be her eyes and ears out on the street. Then Dick showed up with all the right credentials. How could Helena keep from thinking that she was going to be replaced?

Of course, that didn't happen. Dick had stuck around for a couple of months, spending time with Barbara, and just generally getting on Helena's nerves, then he'd just left, back to his life in Bludhaven, leaving Barbara alone again.

After a moment Helena continued in a voice she barely recognized as her own. "And you made her laugh. Something I had been trying – and failing – to do for over a year."

"Oh, Hel," Barbara sighed at this admission.

Unwilling for Barbara to feel sorry for her or blame herself in any way Helena quickly raised her head and tried to cover. "Yeah well, I was young and insecure," she tossed out with an attempt at her usual sarcastic, devil-may-care attitude. She was pretty sure she was unsuccessful. She glanced over at Dick and willed her sad attempt to stay on her face. "Sorry I took it out on you."

There, she had done it. She had actually apologized to Dick-fucking- Grayson. Wasn't she supposed to feel as though a great weight had been lifted off of her chest? She was pretty sure she had read that somewhere. Well, whatever, all she was feeling was a little drunk and a lot tired. Make that exhausted. Ran fifteen miles, beat up a super villain, and went grocery shopping, whipped.

Dick looked completely shocked by this admission, his mouth opening and closing several times without any sound escaping. Helena sighed and got up from the table.

"Well if it's all the same to you, I've had just about enough emotional evisceration for one night. I think I'll just head upstairs and try to sleep it off." She couldn't stand to be here one more second. Not with the Kid looking at her all sympathetically like she was going to try and hug her any minute, and Dick still doing his best impression of a large-mouthed bass. Helena couldn't even force herself to look at Barbara.

"I'll see you tomorrow. Just lock up on your way out." With that she turned and quickly retreated up the stairs to her apartment, the sound of the door closing downstairs echoing loudly to her sensitive ears.

Chapter 8

Barbara had always wondered why Helena had moved into the apartment above the Dark Horse. Even for Helena, living above a bar seemed a bit . . . tasteless. But as she reached up to pull the freight elevator door closed, she thought she might just be finally getting a clue. Not her first one of the night either, she admitted ruefully.

Grinding and clanking, the decrepit conveyance eventually opened up to the second story where Helena's apartment was located. Old liquor crates and empty bottles were stacked along the sides of the hallway. Barbara carefully negotiated her chair around these obstacles and rolled to the door.

Reaching her hand out, distantly noting that it was shaking slightly, she knocked forcefully. Not that she needed the announcement. There was no way with Helena's meta-hearing that she could have missed the sound of the elevator. Therefore, Barbara was not surprised when the door swung open almost immediately.

Helena stood outlined by the light shining from the apartment. She didn't say anything, but rather leaned out and around Barbara to scan the hallway.

"It's just me," Barbara said, correctly interpreting the brunette's actions. "I sent Dick and Dinah home with the Hummer."

"I hope you let Dinah drive," Helena tossed over her shoulder as she moved away from the door allowing Barbara to maneuver her chair inside. Closing the door with a quiet click, the dark figure turned to the redhead and waited.

Barbara was aware that she was shifting nervously under the concentrated gaze of her friend. Helena, her friend, her partner, was hurting. Barbara could clearly see the pain written on Helena's face and in her defensive posture. Sucking in a breath Barbara prepared to tell Helena the truth.

"Thank you for what you did with Dick." Green eyes blinked in puzzlement and exasperation. What the hell had just come out of her mouth? Barbara knew she was no good at emotional scenes, but really that was just pathetic.

Before she could begin to repair the damage, Helena turned away. "Hey no problem, Red. He asked a question and I gave him an answer. It's pretty basic etiquette." Helena moved toward the couch against one wall and just seemed to – fold – into the cushions. "You didn't have to come up here to thank me for him."

"I didn't." Barbara considered the truth of that statement. "I mean, I did actually, but that's not the main reason I came. I wanted . . . I wanted to explain. I need to explain . . ."

"You don't need to explain anything Barbara. Whatever issues I had, or have, they're mine. You don't need to worry about it."

"But I do worry about it, about you. I always have."

'That was pretty good,' Barbara thought. She had actually admitted to having feelings. Now if only she could keep it up.

"What you said earlier… Dick could never have replaced you." Seeing the brunette start to speak, she continued, "Yes, he was important to me, but so were you. And you still are." Helena remained silent and turned her face to the wall. "We were both hurting so terribly back then, but things had started to get better. You made me see that they could get better, that I could be more than a woman stuck in a wheelchair. Dick . . . he just cemented that belief." Barbara rolled forward and tugged on Helena's chin until watery blue eyes met determined green. "But Helena, I could have never, ever done that without you. Please don't ever think differently."

Suddenly Barbara's lap was full of shaking brunette. She ran her hands soothingly through dark hair and waited for Helena's tears to end. Eventually the younger woman looked up, wiping her eyes with the back of one hand. "Okay, Barbara."

"Okay, Hel?" Barbara never imagined it would be this easy.

"Yeah, okay. I believe you," the words were accompanied by a shy smile. "We're cool, Red."

"That's a relief, Helena. You know how very much I hate to be un- cool."

This earned her a smile and mischievous twinkling of blue eyes. "Well, uh, you might want to re-think that whole high school teacher thing. Really doesn't do much for your image."

Barbara swatted at the head that was quickly withdrawn from her lap. "My image is just fine, thank you very much. I'm a highly respected member of the community."

"Yeah, if only they knew what I know, eh Babs?"

Contemplating just what Helena did know about her, and just what sort of damage that could do to her reputation, Barbara chose not to respond, settling instead for eye rolling and a pointed look.

Helena's face sobered as she looked directly at the other woman. "Thanks Barbara. For coming over and talking and just . . . everything."

Feeling like her chest was being squeezed, Barbara responded with one of the truest statements she had ever made. "I'm sorry it took me so long, Helena."

"Yeah, well, I guess we're both a little slow on the uptake. No harm done."

Barbara was not sure she completely agreed with this sentiment, but only responded with a restrained, "Indeed Helena."

Abruptly, the dark figure bounded up from her seat. "Jeez, Barbara, it's really late. Way past your bedtime. Let me grab my keys and we'll get you home."

Barbara laid a staying hand on the other woman's arm. "Actually Hel, I was hoping I could stay here tonight."

The brunette looked completely shocked by this request and proceeded to gape at Barbara. 'Not unlike how Dick looked earlier. Maybe they are related.' Seeming to gather herself and realize that some sort of response was expected Helena managed to stammer out, "Sure, no problem. Uh, yeah, the bedroom is through here."

Following Helena to the back of the small apartment, Barbara entered the sparsely furnished sleeping quarters. A bed, small dresser, and standing mirror were the only furniture present.

Noticing Barbara's study of the room, Helena explained, "I, um, don't decorate much. Never really got the whole HGTV thing."

Hoping to reassure and ease some of the brunette's obvious nervousness, Barbara responded. "It's nice, Hel. It's just seems sad that I've never been in your apartment before."

"Yeah, well, there's not really a whole lot to show off. It's just a place to crash after work and sweeps." Helena stopped and seemed to regard the bed.

"Of course." Barbara wasn't sure she really wanted to contemplate that statement, not sure what it said about the other woman and about herself. "In any case, it is rather late. Would you mind turning in," Barbara asked hesitantly, not entirely sure of the other woman's reaction.

Helena seemed to start and looked away from the bed, a touch of red on her cheeks. "Sure, sure. Um well, let me know if you need anything. I'll just be . . ." a hand came up to wave vaguely in the air, "on the couch if you need me."

Barbara once again felt as if something tight was being wrapped around her chest, and before she could think better of it, found herself blurting out, "Actually Hel, I was hoping you could stay here . . . with me. Like old times." Barbara could feel herself blushing and wondered if she would ever get better at this whole . . . expressing herself thing. "I've missed that." Well, that hadn't been so bad.

It seemed like it had been very good in fact because Helena immediately relaxed. Looking up through her bangs she responded, "Yeah, I've missed it too."

Later, finding herself lying next to brunette, listening to the soft purring emanating from the sleeping form, Barbara admitted to herself that she may have missed this terribly, but mostly she had just missed Helena. Wrapping an arm around the sleeping figure to pull her closer, Barbara finally fell into an untroubled sleep.

* * * * *

A new episode of The Hills, score!

Smiling ruefully, Helena settled deeper into the couch cushions. She was such a sucker for good drama. Considering how much drama her own life had contained recently, the dark figure thought this was maybe the slightest bit masochistic.

The clicking of keys and the occasional burst of bright laughter interrupted Helena's rapt focus on yet another vicious girl-on-girl altercation, reminding her that she was not alone in the clock tower. Personally, Helena would have just kicked the shit out of all of these people after day one. Maybe she really did need to work on her anger management.

'Jeez, doesn't the Kid ever give it a rest from the sunny, happy, pink balloons and rainbows thing.' Even as she thought it, Helena realized that in her heart she hoped Dinah never did. And wasn't she just going all soft? Soon she would be wanting a puppy and going around making cooing noises at strangers' babies. With that disturbing mental image, the brunette resolutely turned her attention back to the ridiculously large plasma screen she had nagged Barbara into getting. However, thoughts of what had occurred two weeks ago kept intruding.

Ever since their little "game" at the Dark Horse, things had been better with Dick. He was still an ass, but he had been acting less ass-like to Helena. When they'd been on sweeps he'd been professional and didn't try to constantly aggravate her. They hadn't talked about what had happened, both seeming to independently come to the conclusion that there was nothing really to be said. However, they still attempted to be more civil.

Barbara was on cloud nine, constantly smiling at both of them, and just smiling more in general. Helena figured it was because she and big brother had made up, but she knew her own more frequent smiles were caused by what had happened later that evening.

Man! When Barbara had shown up at the door to her apartment, she had no idea what to expect. The redhead was always logical, but that didn't mean Helena knew what she was thinking. In fact, it pretty much guaranteed that she would be constantly surprised by the other woman. And Red had come through in spades that night. Opening up the way she had, saying she missed Helena, that she worried about her . . . and then asking to spend the night. Helena was sure she'd had a heart attack when she finally registered what Barbara had said. Her heart actually stopping was pretty much the definition, right?

And then somehow they had ended up in bed together, Helena curled up against Barbara's side, listening to her heartbeat and soft breathing. It had almost been too much for Helena. If she hadn't made her promise, she was sure she wouldn't have been able to keep from touching the other woman, tracing her cheeks and lips, letting her tongue trace the shape of crimson eyebrows and licking at the pale skin of her temples . . . but she had managed it. She thought she might even have slept for five or six minutes somewhere around dawn.

Even though it had been hard to be so close to Barbara, it had seemed to heal something inside Helena as well. Things between her and the redhead hadn't been this good since Quinn, honestly, even before the attack on the clock tower. For the past couple of weeks they had been laughing, talking, and just spending more time together. Barbara seemed happy, and that made Helena happy. It wasn't what she had always dreamed of, but at least they were together - as best friends and crime fighting partners, the way it should be.

More laughter and typing from the Delphi. Didn't the Kid have friends to hang out with besides that Gina . . . Gail . . . maybe Gabby? The Kid was a senior, for fucks sake. When Helena was her age she was out every night doing something, usually getting into trouble, but still, Dinah needed to live a little.

And Helena really needed to talk to Barbara. There was something she had been putting off telling the redhead since she'd come back, and Helena was sure she couldn't hide it for much longer. She just knew, however, that Barbara was going to go all superior on her, saying things like, 'I told you Helena, but you were just too stubborn and stupid to listen to me.'

Okay, maybe Barbara wouldn't say that, but there would be looks and teasing – oh yes, Helena knew there would be teasing. She so did not need to be mocked by Dinah on top of that.

The Kid needed to leave, now.

Goaded into action by her thoughts, Helena turned off the TV and headed over to the Delphi where Barbara seemed to be typing and simultaneously listening to Dinah ramble on about something or other. Helena approached casually while trying to think of a good way to tell the Kid she needed to scram.

"So Kid, don't you have something else to do tonight." Okay that had been smooth. Planning just really wasn't her thing.

"Uh…" Dinah seemed to be at a loss for words, looking uncertainly between Barbara and Helena. "Well all my homework is done, and Gabby," Helena gave herself a mental high-five, "is out with her parents, so uh… no, not really. I was just talking to Barbara about my senior project. You know, for physics. I was going to do something with electromagnetic fields and the interference . . ."

"Yeah, yeah okay, never mind, I just needed to talk to Barbara for a sec."

Barbara looked up from her screen and met Helena's eyes. "If you'll give me a minute Hel, I'll finish this up and we can talk. Dinah is well on her way to creating a very interesting and challenging project." The blond beamed at this praise.

Helena wondered what could be so interesting to the redhead that she wouldn't give her full attention to the Kid's latest signs of scientific genius. "So what are you working on?"

"Oh, it's silly, really," Barbara answered with a laugh. "Someone has withdrawn a large sum of money from one of Bruce's accounts. They must have hacked in thinking it wasn't monitored. Bet they didn't count on having to deal with Oracle," she continued with a wink.

Helena was sure she would have found Barbara's enthusiasm for cyber crime-fighting sexy as hell if her stomach hadn't just plummeted to the bottom of her feet. "Uh, Babs, nobody hacked into the account." This wasn't the way Helena had planned on telling Barbara, but now it looked like she had no choice.

"What do you mean, Hel?" Barbara was looking at her with that non- expression that meant she was extremely interested, but trying to hide it. Even the Kid was watching her without her usual fidgeting.

"Um… it's just that, uh, I took the money out of the account."

"You . . ." Barbara tailed off, removing her glasses.

Helena figured she might as well just spit it out; it wasn't going to get any easier. "Well, you see it's like this. When I was away," a lift of a dark eyebrow indicated the time in question, "I got to thinking. I don't want to tend bar forever. I mean I like it and all. The hours are great, and of course the free drinks. I'll probably keep working there, I just want to do something else too . . ." Helena choked off. She quickly finished the rest of her confession in a hurried mumble.

"I'm sorry, Helena, what did you just say?" It looked like Red was getting a little pissed. Helena didn't understand it. Barbara loved a good mystery, but if it had anything to do with her, Red just seemed to have no patience.

'Probably all the hard times I gave her in high school,' Helena thought remembering some of the stunts she had pulled and then tried to hide from Barbara.

Sighing Helena repeated herself. "I said, I'm going back to school. Well not back to school 'cause I never went to college, but I'm going now. I enrolled in the spring semester. I'm gonna major in business and maybe art history. I want to follow in Mom's footsteps, you know, art acquisitions and auctioning, but legally. And I figured if Bruce's money could help me do that, well he owes me, right? So yeah, I was the one who got . . . into . . . the . . ." Helena trailed off looking at Barbara with concern. "Barbara, are you ok?" Red hadn't blinked in like five minutes, and she was just staring over Helena's head with a glazed expression. "Barbara?"

Chapter 9

Words finally began to filter back into Barbara Gordon's stunned brain. Her mind automatically began to process them in an effort to restore her higher mental functions. She distantly noted that two people seemed to be speaking, holding a conversation.

"You broke her."

"I didn't break her. She's just thinking . . . really hard, and that's taking up all of her brain power."

"What are you talking about? She's totally broken. She hasn't moved in like ten minutes. I can't believe you just surprised her like that. You know she doesn't do well with surprises."

"Yeah I know, but what was I supposed to do. She already found out that I removed the money, what was I gonna say? 'Gee, Barbara, I know who took the money, but I can't explain it to you right now. First I've got to come up with a way to tell you that won't completely fry your circuits.' I'm sure that would have gone over really well."

"Okay fine. I just can't believe you broke her."

"For the last time, I didn't break her. Look, I'm gonna go get some water to, you know, splash her with. You keep an eye on her."

During the conversation, Barbara had been steadily gaining more control of her facilities, and hearing Helena's plan to snap her out of her vegetable-like state, the redhead found she was in fact capable of speech.

"I don't think that will be necessary Helena." One dark and one fair head whipped around and two pairs of concerned blue eyes focused on her face. Before she could say anything more, Barbara found herself enveloped in a crushing hug from her youngest ward.

"Oh my God, Barbara, I thought Helena broke you. I'm so glad you're ok. Are you ok?"

Laughing, Barbara returned the embrace. "Yes, Dinah, I'm fine, just a little surprised. And you can't actually break people."

She noticed Helena shoot a pointed look a Dinah before the other woman turned to her. Helena tilted her head down, letting her bangs hide her eyes. "I'm really sorry Barbara. I meant to tell you sooner, and not like I did, but it just kinda happened. I didn't mean to br- . . . surprise you."

Noticing the way the dark figure was shifting her weight nervously, Barbara was quick to reassure the other woman. "It's fine, Hel, really. I must admit though, I'm at a loss for words – in a good way. I . . . when did you come to this decision? Are you sure this is what you want? Why didn't you speak to me before?"

Shoulder's shaking in laughter Helena responded. "Um… when I was in Paris thinking about my future, yes I'm sure, and because I didn't know how you would take the news and I wanted it to be my responsibility, my thing." Laughing harder Helena continued, "And, Red, for someone who's at a loss for words, you sure ask a lot of questions."

"Indeed, Helena. I'm sorry I just don't know what to say." Barbara realized that this wasn't quite the truth. "Actually, Hel, I do. I'm very proud of you." Unable to help herself, the redhead added, "I just hope you know what you're doing. College is a big responsibility and you should take this seriously."

"I know, Barbara, and I'm ready to try." And just like that, it finally hit Barbara how much Helena had changed, how much the brunette had grown while she was away. "And you know I'm really just going for the keggers and hot fraternity guys." Well, she may have done some maturing, but after all she was still Helena.

"Glad to know you have your priorities straight, Hel." Giving the other woman a fond look, Barbara asked, "So you start in the spring. I assume you've registered for classes and know who your instructors are. You should introduce yourself to them as soon as possible and begin building relationships. Also, I'm sure you've already acquired your books. I would suggest reading the first three chapters in each so that you won't be so overwhelmed the first week. Also you should try and find a . . ."

Barbara stopped realizing she was once again getting identical looks from different colored blue eyes. Mentally going over her previous words, she realized she may have been a bit overzealous. Good Lord, if it had still been physically possible Barbara had just stuck her foot in her mouth. Smiling sheepishly Barbara looked at the brunette. "I'm sorry Hel; I got a little carried away. I'll try to stay out of your business."

"Is that even possible for you?" The teasing lilt and gentle smile took the sting out of the words. "I'd like your help, Red, but we've got different ways of doing things." That was an understatement. "Let's just see how things go. I can pretty much guarantee I'll be begging you for help at some point."

"That sounds like an excellent idea." Looking at her computer screen the redhead sighed, it really was a shame. "I guess I don't need to track where the account withdrawal came from. I had a nice computer virus all set up too."

Helena smirked. "Sorry to spoil your fun, Red."

"That's quite all right, Helena. While I shut this down why don't you grab something to eat and let Dinah tell you about her project?"

Seeing the blond perk up, Helena's face contorted. As she was being led away with Dinah already launching into her description of magnetic fields and canceling waves, the brunette twisted to look back at Barbara. "This is punishment for breaking you isn't it?"

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Hel," Barbara managed to say with a straight face, as the other woman disappeared around the corner. Fingers flying over the keyboard, Barbara couldn't remember being this happy in a very long time.

* * * * *

Why had she decided to take anatomy her senior year? Most of her classmates were slacking off, taking film lit. or bowling, but not her. No, she just had to take a class where they cut up innocent little animals everyday. You'd think as a superhero she would have been used to blood, but so far Dinah realized she had been relatively sheltered, and there was something about doing the cutting herself that made her really nauseous.

Looking up from her fetal pig, she automatically accepted the note handed to her by one of her classmates.

*So have you found the liver yet? Is it the greenish thing? Do you want to spend the night at my house? It's Friday.*

Dinah tried really hard not to laugh, especially since she was trying not to breathe, in general - formaldehyde was just gross. She knew most people thought she talked too much and couldn't focus on one topic for more than thirty seconds, but those people had never met Gabby. Her best friend's ability to match and even surpass Dinah's own randomness was one of reasons she loved her so much. That and the fact that Gabby had been one of the only people speaking to her when she was known as "Zipper Girl." Dinah quickly scribbled a response.

*No. It's the pinkish triangular thing. Yeah love to. Got to ask Barbara.*

Dinah watched Gabby get the note and give her a thumbs-up then look down at her partially dissected pig and poked it with her forceps, frowning. Glancing back up at Dinah she shrugged making a comically disgusted face. Dinah just smiled and went back to her own dissection.

Several hours later, both teenagers where bored out of their minds. Dinah had gotten permission from Barbara easily. Ever since Helena came back, Barbara was much cooler to be around. She was laughing, telling jokes, and – most importantly to Dinah - even treating her more like an adult. She thought it was great and hoped Helena didn't do anything to screw it up.

When she said she wanted to spend the night at Gabby's, her mentor had assured her that Huntress and Nightwing could cover sweeps and she should enjoy the time off. Three games of scrabble and one half- finished game of monopoly later, Dinah wasn't sure this was what Barbara had in mind.

"Okay, this is just pathetic." Gabby was up and pacing the floor. "We are two seriously hot, almost legal women, and were playing monopoly . . . monopoly!" Secretly Dinah agreed with her friend, but didn't want to encourage her. Gabby's rants often led to trouble.

"What about your sister?" She continued without waiting for a response. "She works in a bar right? Why don't we go visit her?"

Dinah thought this was maybe the worst idea she had ever heard – except for that time Helena suggested using her as bait to lure out a slime monster from the sewers who happened to have a blond fetish. The first and only time she had visited Helena at work was the night Dick had decided to grill the brunette about Batman's disappearance. That had been seriously awkward, and Dinah now had a definite aversion for The Dark Horse.

"Um, I don't think that's a good idea. Helena's really touchy about her space," and just about everything else, "I don't think she'd appreciate a visit." Seeing her friend's expression fall, Dinah cast about for something to suggest. "I know! There's a new club that opened downtown. They'll let us in, but we'll have to get those stamp things." Dinah rolled her eyes. She hated being a minor.

"Perfect! Come on, I bet I can loan you something to wear. How did you find out about this place?"

It was a good thing Gabby was already heading for her room and didn't really expect an answer. Somehow Dinah didn't think it would be a good idea to tell the other girl that she had used the Delphi without Barbara's permission to research New Gotham's club scene.

Several more hours later, Dinah was regretting opening her big mouth. They had arrived at the club – The Water Garden – and gotten inside almost immediately. Dinah had obediently held out her hand to be stamped, but Gabby had produced a fake id and been ushered inside without one.

For the first few hours things had been going great. Dinah had been invited to dance by several cute guys, and Gabby was almost constantly on the dance floor with one girl or another. Dinah sometimes wondered why Gabby's sexual orientation didn't bother her in the slightest. Maybe it was because the other girl just made it seem so natural. She didn't really advertise it, but she didn't apologize to anyone either.

Sometime after ten Dinah noticed that Gabby was moving just a little slower and stumbling occasionally. After disengaging from her latest partner, the curly haired blond stepped up to the bar and expertly downed a shot. Dinah quickly made her way over to her friend.

"What are you doing, you can't drink!"

Gabby turned to her with a slightly unfocused smile. "Yes I can, it says so right here." She waved her fake id in Dinah's face. "Besides, I need something if I have to watch you dance with all those losers."

Dinah didn't know what to make of this statement. She was hurt, but it was obvious that Gabby was more than a little wasted.

"Okay, you are so drunk. I think it's time to go home." Dinah was slightly surprised when Gabby just looked at her and muttered "fine" before heading for the exit.

Outside, the air was still cold. Winter was almost over, but it seemed to cling to the streets of New Gotham, as if unwilling to retreat from the city it had claimed for three months. Pulling her jacket tighter, Dinah searched for a taxi. They had actually walked to the club – Gabby's parents owned a penthouse in the heart of New Gotham – but she didn't want her friend to walk home in her condition.

Scanning the empty streets, she sighed. Nothing was going according to plan tonight. Taking hold of Gabby's hand, Dinah began to walk past the mouths of deserted alleys, trying to stay in the intermittent illumination of the street lamps.

She was more startled than hurt when a rough hand grabbed her collar and another clamped over her mouth. Dinah felt herself being pulled into an alley and shoved up against the wall alongside Gabby. Two men stood in front of them, both holding guns.

"Okay, ladies, just give us your money and valuables and there won't be any trouble."

Dinah tried to look reassuringly at her friend, but was pretty sure she failed. After several months of crime fighting, she recognized the look of these men. Once they had their money, they wouldn't be letting them go. Dinah knew she had to act, but with Gabby there, she couldn't take any chances.

The sound of a trash can being knocked over at the other end of the alley provided the distraction she needed. Dinah lunged forward and twisted the gun out of one of the surprise robber's hands, knocking him to the ground with an elbow a second later. Turning back to the other man, she was just in time to see him aim at Gabby in a panic.

Not taking the time to consider the consequences of her actions, Dinah used her telekinesis to shove the man back into the alley wall. He groaned once before slumping unconscious to ground. A whimper from behind her caught Dinah's attention.

"You threw him." Gabby's eyes were wide and completely alert. "You threw him, but you didn't even touch him." She wouldn't look at Dinah. "I think I need to get home." The blond quickly began to walk out of the alley.

"Gabby, wait." Dinah started to go after her friend, but realized she had nothing to say. "Would you at least let me explain?"

Gabby stopped, but spoke without turning. "I don't know Dinah. I'm not sure I want to know." Dinah thought that was all she was going to say, but she continued. "Yeah, I'll let you explain. You're my best friend, but I need some time. I'll see you at school on Monday?"

"Yeah, I'll see you then." Dinah watched the figure fade into the shadows. Pulling out her coms, she prepared to tell Oracle there were two men for the police to pick-up. She just didn't know how to tell her mentor that she had also managed to reveal her powers to her best friend.

Walking back to the clock tower, Dinah tried not to imagine what the ramifications of her mistake would be. Maybe it was her precognition, but she got the feeling this night was going to have serious consequences for her family.

Chapter 10

Helena was furious. She was furious, angry, and somewhere deep, deep down inside where she kept all the things she couldn't admit to herself, she was scared. The fact that Barbara had sat through the Kid's little confession so calmly only made her more pissed-off. Red should have been yelling, or scolding, or . . . something. Instead, the other woman was just sitting there, staring off into space while the Kid fidgeted and apologized in front of her.

She liked the Kid, she really did. When they first met, Helena had been nervous. What if Dinah read her feelings for Barbara and felt she had to tell the redhead? It would have been a disaster. So she had stayed away and treated the teen more harshly than she deserved.

Eventually, she realized that Dinah didn't know her secret. As many times as the Kid had probably read her, she didn't seem to be able to pick up on it. Helena figured she had been burying and denying her feelings for so long, not even a touch telepath had a chance of discovering them. That, or her head was so messed up Dinah couldn't recognize the love for what it was, which, when she thought about it, made a lot of sense considering her personality.

"I'll go talk to her." Helena hadn't realized she was going to speak before the words were out of her mouth. "I'll make her understand that she can't tell anyone and she should just forget what she saw . . . by any means necessary." She was a little sickened to realize that she meant it too; she would do whatever it took to protect her family.

"Barbara, no! You can't let her hurt Gabby! It wasn't her fault." Dinah was alternating furious glares at Helena with pleading glances to her mentor.

Barbara sighed and removed her glasses, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

"I don't think that will be necessary, Helena. I hardly think a high school student will be much of a threat."

"You can't know that!" Helena knew shouting was not the best way to go about convincing Barbara, but fuck, couldn't she see how serious this was?

"No, she can't, but she also can't hurt an innocent girl, just because you're scared."

Helena whipped her head around to stare at Dick in surprise. His voice sounded compassionate, but her adopted brother usually had sense enough not to insert himself in an argument between the three women. Helena had accepted his presence in their lives, but that didn't give him the right to express his opinions. And no one got away with calling her scared.

"I'm not scared," Helena growled low in her throat. Before she could rip Dick a new one, Dinah interrupted.

"Yes, you are. You're trying to be all mighty Huntress and protect us, but you're really just scared. Scared that Gabby will betray me, like Quinn did when you trusted her." Dinah had been barreling along at full steam, feeling brave since Dick and Barbara seemed to agree with her. However, she felt her throat catch when she saw the way Helena flinched at her accusation. "Helena, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. It's not your fault that . . ."

Helena raised a slim hand, cutting her off. "Yeah, whatever. I'll be on the balcony if you need me." She knew she had to get out of the clock tower or something drastic was going to happen – whether she was going to strangle the Kid or start crying was anyone's guess.

Feeling the cool air rushing over her flushed cheeks, Helena tried to relax into the familiar sights and sounds of New Gotham, blocking out the muted voices at her back. As much as this city had the power to hurt and enrage her, she also found it oddly comforting.

'Yet another sign that I should probably be occupying my own cozy cell at Arkham.'

Hearing the sound of the motorized wheelchair, Helena didn't turn around. "What if she's wrong? We could all end up getting hurt again."

Barbara could end up getting hurt again.

"What if she's right?" Barbara's voice was low and soothing. "Dinah's so new to this Hel; you know how hard it's been for her to keep this part of herself a secret. If we can give her a way to feel more comfortable with who she is, with minimal risk to ourselves, how can we not?"

Helena couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Aren't you the one always telling me to wear a mask and not reveal my secret identity?"

This was so not fair. Barbara would never have let Helena reveal her powers to any of her friends - not that she'd had any friends after her mom died, but still, it was the principle of the thing.

"Yes, Hel, I still think masks are a good idea, but what do you want me to do? I can't change the fact the Gabby knows about Dinah's abilities. If we at least invite her to see what we do here, it might make her less inclined to share what she knows. I've met Gabby and I don't think she would do anything to hurt Dinah." When Helena didn't respond, Barbara's voice dropped even lower, and there was a hint of uncertainty. "If you can't trust yourself Helena, can you at least trust me to try and make the right decision?"

Oh fuck. Helena felt her resistance vanish. She didn't trust her own judgment anymore - not after Quinn - but Helena would always trust Barbara's. If Red thought letting Gabby in on their secret lives was a good idea, then Helena was on board as well.

"Okay, how do you wanna handle this?"

* * * * *

Helena should be back soon.

Today was the first day of the spring semester. Barbra had already been back in school for a week, but universities took a longer winter break, something she had never considered to be fair.

When her classes ended for the day, Barbara had done something quite unusual for her, and gone straight back to the tower to wait for the other woman. She knew she shouldn't push Helena for details, but she was worried. If her first day had not gone well, the brunette might give up on the idea altogether.

Hearing the elevator doors chime, Barbra pretended to be engrossed at the Delphi. It was an old trick she had learned very early in her relationship with Helena. The best way to get her to talk was to ignore her or feign disinterest. Helena would soon crave attention and initiate conversation on her own.

Right on schedule, the younger woman walked up and leaned against the back of her chair. "Hey, Babs. Watcha doing?"

"Just some routine diagnostics."

"Oh, okay then."

Barbara could feel Helena restlessly moving behind her and kept her attention focused on the monitors in front of her, grateful that Helena didn't recognize the Matrix screensaver she had installed in one of her more capricious moods.

"So, do you want to hear about my day?"

Gotcha! Barbara covered her smile by raising her hand to remove her glasses. "Of course. How did it go?"


Barbara waited with considerable patience for the rest. When nothing was forthcoming, she decided some leading questions might be in order. Unfortunately, she asked the first question that came to mind.

"Did you make any friends, Hel?"

Both women stared at each other for a moment before simultaneously erupting in laughter.

"Oh my God, Barbara, you should have seen your face!" Helena could hardly get the words out, tears streaming down her own cheeks. "No, I didn't make any 'friends'." Helena's fingers supplied the necessary air-quotes. Wiping her eyes and still chuckling, she continued. "The people in my Intro to Art class seem okay, but kinda young." Barbara refrained from commenting, sure anything she said concerning that particular offering would be taken the wrong way. "Business 101 is going to be tough though. Did you know that they use math?" Again, Barbara thought it best to keep silent. "But over all, yeah, I think it's going to be pretty good." A wicked spark flared in blue eyes. "Definitely some hotties. I think I'm going to be busy with late night study sessions."

Barbara tried not to let her imagination run wild. She had always maintained that as long as Helena was safe, what she did in that area was none of her business. "Just as long as they're not jailbait, Hel."

"It's college Barbara, not high school. They're all legal."

"I wasn't when I first attended." In fact, Barbara hadn't been legal for an entire year in college, something she took great pleasure in pointing out to the various fraternity members who had approached her.

Helena seemed to consider this a moment before shrugging. "Yeah, but you're you. Trust me; most of these kids couldn't think their way out of a cardboard box."

"Thank you for restoring my faith in the college set, Hel. It's so gratifying to know that my students have gone on to become smart, capable individuals."

"Uh . . ." Helena awkwardly patted her on the shoulder. "I'm sure you do great Barbara. Look how I turned out." Giving her a bright smile, the brunette headed into the kitchen, most likely in search of pop- tarts.

Turning back to her screen, Barbara couldn't help but mutter, "That's what I'm afraid of."

"I heard that!"

* * * * *

In the end they decided that Dinah should invite Gabby to the clock tower for dinner. Barbara had maintained that a non-threatening situation would be the best course, and if anything did go wrong, well, no one was leaving the tower unless they wanted them to.

Dinah had spoken to Gabby on Monday, their conversation forced and awkward. She had invited the other girl to the tower on Friday night so she could try and explain things. True to her word, Gabby had agreed. Now all she had to do was convince her best friend she wasn't a freak, keep Helena from killing said best friend, help Barbara find a solution to a civilian knowing their identities, and make sure the lamb didn't burn. Dinah found it sadly confusing that the last item was causing her the most anxiety.

"Miss Dinah, please remove yourself from my kitchen." Alfred had the patience of a saint, but even he was getting tired of the young blond checking on his preparations every five minutes. "I have been preparing meals for some time now. I have even served princes and CEO's alike in my time with Master Bruce. I assure you, dinner will be flawless."

Realizing she was hovering, Dinah rushed to apologize. "I'm sorry Alfred. I just really want this to go well. I mean it's the first time Gabby's been to the tower and all. I just really want her to like it."

Alfred shook his head, wondering why he seemed to be surrounded by such extraordinary young women who couldn't find a clue with both hands and a flashlight. "I'm sure she will Miss Dinah, but are you sure it's the tower you want her to like?"

Dinah gave him a puzzled glance, but before she could reply the chime signaling someone had activated the elevator echoed through the kitchen. Barbara, Helena, Dick, and Dinah all converged on the landing before the doors.

Rolling her eyes, she tucked a strand of hair nervously behind her ear. This didn't look intimidating at all. Her fellow crime fighters had their game faces on. Dick and Barbara wore a cool, assessing mask, and Helena had a feral, challenging set to her features. Gabby would be lucky to survive the initial greeting.

When Gabby stepped off the elevator, Dinah was hit with a wave of fear, her telepathic abilities allowing her to feel her friend's uneasiness and discomfort as if it were her own. Looking over at Helena, Dinah saw she had noticed as well, her heightened senses giving her the same advantage. The brunette's features relaxed slightly just before she winked at her. Walking forward Helena extended her hand.

"I don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm Helena Kyle. You know Dinah and Barbara, over there is Dick Grayson, and Alfred, our butler, is in the kitchen." Helena tried out her most charming smile. "Any questions?"

Gabby seemed to relax a little and even managed a wan grin. "Um, only one. You have a butler?"

Laughing, Helena led the girl over to the couches where everyone settled in. Turning to look at Dinah, Helena gave her a small nod. 'Show time,' Dinah thought. Now if only she had some idea of what to say. Gabby was looking at her expectantly so she tried to suck it up and do her best.

"Um, what happened last week, when I threw that guy against the wall, I was using my telekinesis." She paused for a moment waiting for Gabby to interrupt. When she didn't, Dinah continued. "Right, so I can do stuff like that because I'm meta-human; it means I have abilities that most people don't. Barbara thinks it's probably evolution or something, but no one really knows." So far Gabby hadn't moved and appeared to be listening intently. "Helena is also meta- human" – she saw the brunette twitch slightly at this casual admission – "but her powers are different."

Dinah stopped and looked at Barbara for permission to keep going. Barbara nodded and Dinah prepared to explain the most difficult part. "You've lived in Gotham your whole life, so you've probably heard the stories about Batman right?" She waited until Gabby nodded cautiously before resuming. "Well they weren't just stories. There really was a Batman - and Robin and Batgirl. They fought to protect the city from criminals, but something happened almost eight years ago that changed everything."

Dinah found she couldn't continue. Her throat felt constricted, like she was being choked. She had come to care so much about the people in the room that talking about it was almost as hard for her as it was for them, especially since her visions allowed her to experience that night as if she had been there.

Confusion plain on her face, Gabby studied them. "You're trying to tell me that there really was a guy who ran around dressed in a bat suit fighting crime? Dinah, come on, that's just ridiculous. And what does anything that happened eight years ago have to do with what I saw last week? You weren't even in New Gotham eight years . . ."

Gabby was staring intently at Barbara's wheel chair. Dinah watched her friend do the math and come to her conclusions. Gabby could act like a stereotypical blond, but she was actually a very perceptive person. Her best friend raised her head to look at Barbara.

"You were Batgirl." Gabby whispered the statement almost in awe.

Barbara nodded slightly. "I was."

Turning to look at Dick, Gabby raised a questioning eyebrow. "Robin?"

Dick smiled and gave a little half wave. Settling her eyes on Helena, Gabby was clearly at a loss. Helena laughed and held up her hands.

"Don't look at me. I wasn't part of the club, and I'm definitely no bat."

Shaking her head, Gabby tried to take deep even breaths. "Okay, so something really bad happened eight years ago, but then what? How do we get from Batman to Dinah kicking some guys ass without even touching him?"

"I think I can take it from here," Barbara cut in. "After my shooting and the death of her mother, Helena came to live with me. I was aware of her abilities and since I could no longer protect New Gotham as Batgirl, I trained Helena in my place." Barbara's need for accuracy made her clarify her statement. "It's not as simple as that of course. There were several different factors, but essentially, Helena became the vigilante known as Huntress and I became Oracle. When Dinah arrived she sought us out and when she revealed her abilities, it was only a matter of time before she asked to be trained as well. Along with Nightwing – Dick's – help, we've been protecting New Gotham ever since."

Barbara stopped, taking in the dazed expression in Gabby's brown eyes. "Batgirl, Oracle, Huntress, Robin, Nightwing . . . how do you keep it straight?"

Helena laughed. "It takes some practice. Don't worry you'll get used to it if you stick around."

"I hope you realize the amount of trust we're showing you. If our identities ever got out, there are a lot of people who would do their very best to hurt us." Barbara's voice was determined. "There are also a lot of people who could hurt you because of your involvement."

Gabby was quiet, looking fixedly at the floor. When she looked up, she didn't address Barbara, instead she gazed steadily into Dinah's eyes. Dinah felt like she was drowning as she listened to her friend's response.

"I would never do anything to betray your trust, or get any of you hurt. It seems to me like you do a lot for this city and no one ever thanks you for it. The least I can do is keep your secret. As for someone trying to hurt me, that's already happened once and you were there to rescue me. I'm not going anywhere, so I guess I'll just have to trust you to save me if it happens again."

Barbara glanced at Dick who nodded and Helena who shrugged, adding an eye roll for good measure. "Well I guess that's settled then. I'd like to properly welcome you to our home and base of operations."

Dinah knew her grin was splitting her face, but it didn't matter because Gabby's was just as wide. Gabby broke down first and started laughing. "This is soooooo cool. I can't believe you didn't tell me sooner. Okay I can but, this is just . . . wow. What's your superhero name?"

Blushing, Dinah nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Um, Canary. I got it from my mom, she was Black Canary."

"Your mom was a superhero too?!"

Helena abruptly clapped her hands. "Yeah, yeah we can have story time later, right now let's eat."

Gabby turned to Barbara. "Why do you put up with her? She's not that hot."

While Helena spluttered, Barbara just laughed. "She has her redeeming qualities."

"If you say so. All I know is if she were my girlfriend, she'd drive me crazy."

Helena's undignified noises cut off abruptly, and Barbara appeared to have developed her own problems with rational articulation.

"I'm not . . ."

"We're not . . ."

Barbara and Helena cut each other off in their attempts to deny – whatever it was Gabby was implying. Gabby looked a little nonplussed by their vehement rejections.

"Uh, I just assumed." She looked confusedly between Helena and Barbara. "You know since Dinah was so cool with me being gay, and the way you guys always hang out and are so casual about touching each other and stuff . . . and I'm just totally making this worse aren't I . . .?" Gabby trailed off.

Barbara was the first to recover. "Don't worry about it. It was an honest mistake. No harm done." The redhead's voice sounded strangled and she was pointedly not looking at Helena. She didn't need to bother since the brunette was just as pointedly looking at the clock face, not meeting anyone's eyes. Both women were blushing, though Barbara's looked far more severe with her lighter coloring.

Dick was looking at all of them as if he had never seen them before. His gaze was confused, but it soon shifted to a thoughtful expression the longer the silence dragged on.

Head in her hands, Dinah wondered how things could have gone so wrong. She had been so hopeful before when Gabby seemed to be taking the superhero thing in stride. Now suddenly her best friend had accused the two most important people in her life of being involved in some kind of . . . torrid affair.

Why did these things keep happening to her?

Chapter 11

At least it wasn't Arkham.

Barbara quickly scanned the document she had hacked from the Gotham police department. An escape attempt at Blackgate penitentiary had left two guards wounded, but no deaths and all of the inmates were accounted for.

She sighed, wishing there was someway for her team to be everywhere they were needed, but knowing it was impossible. Even though her company had grown from just Helena and herself to include Nightwing and Canary, they still couldn't cover all of the criminal activity that occurred in a major U.S. city, especially not one as crime ridden as New Gotham. So sometimes people ended up hurt or dead and it was her call as Oracle who those people would be. She told her operatives which calls for help to answer, always striving to do the greatest good with her limited resources. And if occasionally she felt like scrapping the whole thing, erasing their existence from every computer file on earth, and taking her family to some remote tropical island to live out the rest of their days in peace…well, she just reminded herself that the Joker, along with the rest of the criminally insane monsters were still safely locked away in Arkham Asylum.

Sadly, she couldn't lock her emotions someplace equally secure.

The meeting with Gabby had gone surprisingly well. Barbara had been impressed with the girl's maturity and her sincere desire to protect their secret. She was fairly certain a good deal stemmed from the feelings the teenager obviously had for Dinah, but that only made her more likely to keep her promise. All things considered, she felt reasonably confident that they could trust her. That didn't mean she wouldn't be monitoring her, after all she was Oracle, but for the time being, observing would be sufficient.

Barbara realized she was once again avoiding the issue her mind so desperately wanted to analyze.

Gabby's assumption of her . . . involvement with Helena had come as a shock, to put it mildly. Barbara's brain had simply seemed to shut down when she comprehended exactly what was being implied, her only thought to deny anything and everything. The fact that Helena had reacted the exact same way did little to make her feel better, however.

It was obvious that the brunette was extremely uncomfortable with the entire situation. The rest of dinner had been a strained and silent affair. Barbara had never realized before how much the other woman carried the conversations when they were together. Helena had not spoken a single word until they had sent Gabby home with an offer to join them the following Friday if she were free. Even then, the other woman had merely wished them goodnight before attempting a tense laugh and saying something about teenagers and their overactive imaginations. Barbara didn't often examine her emotions - it was more than likely to be an unpleasant and confusing experience - but she couldn't escape the fact that Helena's reaction had hurt her . . . which was simply ridiculous.

Removing her glasses, Barbara looked away from her screens. While she may have been able to identify the emotion she was experiencing, she had been unable to determine the cause of her distress.

Part of it had to do with Helena's seemingly cavalier attitude about the whole affair. If Gabby thought that she and Helena were involved in a relationship, how many others had wondered the same thing? The brunette often stopped by the school to bring her lunch or to pick her up after work. She had always considered this to be a sign of their close friendship, but now that she was thought about – hell, even conceived of - a different context for these actions, she could understand Gabby's confusion. All of which made her exceedingly uncomfortable.

It wasn't that she was homophobic or any such nonsense, or even that she was "straight." If things had been different, Barbara could easily see herself falling for her gorgeous and charming friend.

There was just something intrinsically wrong with the very idea.

Barbara had been Helena's guardian for a little over a year. If that didn't put a damper on any romantic tendencies, nothing would, even if Barbara had never been able to bring herself to feel even remotely maternal towards the brunette. Besides, there was the considerable age difference. She had met a twelve year old Helena when she was finishing her undergraduate degree for Heaven's sake!

Besides, it wasn't like Helena was remotely interested. The other woman was the definition of a free spirit and quite content to remain that way. Barbara couldn't count the times she had tried to convince the brunette to settle down into a more stable relationship – any kind of relationship - but Helena always brushed her off.

For a little while, she had thought there might be something with Detective Reese, but that had fallen through after Quinn's assault on New Gotham. Reese had transferred to a different precinct shortly afterwards, something Helena had only told her about two weeks after the fact. Obviously, nothing very serious had been going on or, possibly, Helena just wasn't capable of feeling that depth of emotion for another person. Helena had many wonderful qualities, but Barbara was convinced romantic wasn't one of them.

And even if she were interested, it wasn't like Barbara could give her what she needed. It had been hard, but she had come to accept her limitations. Her damaged spine would always make relationships difficult, especially the physical aspects. In fact, it tended to make the physical almost impossible, at least for her – and Helena was all about the physical. Barbara knew she could never satisfy the other woman the way she was. Helena had always needed to please her – Barbara had recurring nightmares where this was the only reason Helena became a vigilante – but that was not something that was possible anymore. That kind of relationship wouldn't be fair for either of them, and would more than likely end up destroying what they did have.

Shaking her head, Barbara was mildly appalled at where her thoughts had led her. She had started out examining her reaction to a simple misunderstanding and had somehow become engrossed in contemplating a physical relationship with Helena. This was why emotions were bad - they made her think about inappropriate and unsettling things. If Barbara wasn't already going to hell for various activities as Batgirl or her routine invasion of privacy as Oracle, this would surely tip the scales.

The sound of the elevator opening revealing a tousled dark head - the lean body comfortably slouched against the railing - pulled her from her self-flagellation. Why was it she was cursed with people who couldn't grasp the concept of posture if an escrima stick were shoved up their . . .

"Hey, Babs."

Dick's quiet greeting neatly derailed her hostile thoughts and released some of her frustration.

"Hey yourself. I haven't seen much of you lately." After Gabby's visit, Dick had been absent from the clock tower, only calling to coordinate for sweeps before disappearing again.

As they headed out to their customary spot on the balcony overlooking the city, Barbara realized the current arrangement must be hard on her old friend. They worked together to stop crime in New Gotham, but he was an outsider to the family the three women had formed. Still, Dick had made it a point to come by the tower at least every other day to spend time talking with her or training with Dinah. Helena he ignored, and somehow, without speaking, as far as she knew, the two had worked out a schedule that allowed them to interact as little as possible.

She wondered sometimes why he stayed.

Dick had built a life in Bludhaven after Bruce left. He became a detective with the police force and invented a whole new crime fighting persona, but when Helena left after Quinn's attack, he had given it all up without a moment's hesitation to come and help her. She might be slow on the emotional up-take, but she did realize how fortunate she was to have that kind of friendship in her life.

"Sometimes I wish it could have worked out between us. Maybe things would have been easier."

The soft words were like a bucket of ice-water thrown in her face.

She really didn't need this. First her traitorous mind insisted on contemplating – purely as an intellectual exercise – a relationship with Helena, and now she was going to have to redefine her association with Dick.

Barbara sighed. When it rained it poured . . . and then it kept raining until it flooded and left you without a single piece of dry land in sight.

"I don't understand, Dick. I don't think our . . . involvement would have made things simpler, quite the opposite in fact."

Dick gave a rueful bark of laughter. "I didn't say simpler, I said easier. I'm not naïve enough to believe anything could be simple with you."

Unsure whether or not she was being insulted, Barbara began to speak only to be summarily cut off by a gently raised hand.

"You were always looking for romance, the great love of your life. Sometimes I just think it would have been easier if I could have been what you needed."

She really didn't know what to say to that, let alone what to feel. How did someone respond to an accusation like that? She had always considered herself a very analytically focused person, not one to indulge in romantic moods and pointless nonsense.

"I think it probably started with your parents."


The sharp reprimand left her mouth before she could even consider her response. He had no right to bring up her parents. Not Jim Gordon and his deceased wife, the people who she considered to be her parents in every way that mattered, but her biological mother and father who had managed to kill themselves in a car wreck. Her father had been drunk at the time which was no surprise considering it was the man's typical condition. Even with her eidetic memory, the few impressions she retained of him were violent episodes and angry, shouted words.

Her mother hadn't been much better in Barbara's opinion. The woman had barely spoken, and then only to agree with the man who overshadowed her existence. Barbara had decided very young that she would never let anyone control her the way Roger Gordon had dominated his wife.

"You don't talk about them often, but when you do it's not hard to see that there wasn't any love in their relationship." Barbara could hardly argue when she had just been thinking the same thing. "I think that's why you set out to find that passion for yourself, but like always that super brain of yours got in the way and you couldn't let yourself see it. You had to hide behind a mask as you tried to make yourself into someone you thought deserved to be loved."

Dick remained focused on the skyline as he talked, dissecting Barbara's life and decisions. If some part of her hadn't been so absorbed, she would have tried to halt the painful stream of words.

"But even after you became Batgirl and saved the entire city more times than I can count, you still couldn't believe it – or maybe you just hadn't found the right person, that someone who understood and challenged all of you. Maybe you thought that you needed to try something else and that person would find you, so you became a teacher. A profession that made you give even more of yourself, help even more people."

Dear Lord, listening to him, it almost made sense. His mad theory and explanations could be used to explain all the decisions of her life - but it didn't mean it was true. Dick's detective's mind had obviously been working on this problem for some time. He had merely twisted the facts to prove his hypothesis, nothing more. She was not some kind of starry-eyed school girl going about her entire life trying to find her . . . soul mate. The idea was patently ridiculous – and yet she continued to listen.

"After you were shot," the pain in the low voice was impossible to miss, "I think you gave up. You just decided that it wasn't going to happen, that if no one could deserve you before, surely no one would want you now."

That had been a shot right to the solar plexus. All of the air seemed to rush from Barbara's lungs, leaving her lightheaded and gasping. For the first time that evening Dick turned to her.

"Even now, you still can't see how amazing you are. I know I'm not the right person for you. I wanted to be, but I'm not. I may have been a match for Batgirl and even for the Barbara Gordon you let the rest of the world see, but I've never been able to reach the true woman underneath all your masks." Taking her hand he cradled it gently between his palms. "I think you need to consider if you can let anyone in that far – and if the answer's yes, who do you want that person to be?"

Was that an actual question? Dick couldn't possibly expect a response. She didn't even believe his absurd theory. This was not her. She was a calm, rational person who very rarely displayed or even experienced strong emotion. She was *not* the tragically romantic figure Dick had just described. The entire idea was absurd - and terribly, horribly frightening. Because if it was true, where did that leave her?

Dick had just admitted that they weren't right for each other, and if she admitted the truth, she had never loved him that way. And poor Wade, killed by Quinn in some twisted plot for revenge. God help her, but he had been convenient. She had loved his easy manner and friendship, but there had never been any passion between them, no romance. If her entire life had been spent in some kind of veiled search for love, she had obviously failed.

Warm lips on her forehead brought Barbara back from her panicked thoughts. Staring into the kind blue eyes so close to her own, she tried desperately not to show how much his words had affected her. The sheer amount of sympathy directed at her let know her know just how unsuccessful she was.

"Please don't give up, Barbara. It's not a weakness to want someone to love you completely and without reservation. Most people just sit back and hope that love will find them – very few have the courage it takes to go out and hunt it down. I always thought you were the bravest person I'd ever met and that hasn't changed." Giving her hand one last squeeze, Dick turned to go. "Maybe I'm wrong, but either way, just give it some time. Everything'll work out, you'll see. You're both too stubborn for it not to."

Her mind already reeling, Barbara couldn't begin to guess what he meant.

Chapter 12

Calloused fingers trailed lightly up her thigh, leaving delicious tingles where whorled edges seemed to catch on her sensitive skin.

Helena moaned as those same skillful fingers bypassed her need and crossed random patterns over her stomach. Hands continued to tease across her ribs, outlining each curve of bone below the tan skin as she tried desperately to shift forward, needing more contact, more of everything.

Suddenly, she felt the feather soft weight of her tormentor's hair on her upper chest and breasts. A quiet growl escaped her lips as the silky strands caressed her hardened nipples, enflaming her even more. Moist lips were tracing the same path fingertips had just conquered. When the supple mouth reached the tops of her thighs, Helena's hand jerked, wanting so badly to simply grab and force her partner to her aching center.

Usually, Helena preferred her sex to be hard and focused on physical release, but this connection, this act was all about emotion. She could feel it in the quiet breaths against her skin, in the slight shaking of hands curved around her stomach and thigh. Normally, Helena would have climaxed long ago, but something kept her holding back, wanting to share this experience and herself as long as possible.

"Please . . ."

The ragged plea forced its way past her constricted throat. A low chuckle vibrated against her damp curls, causing her to jerk against the hands holding her securely to the bed.

When a gentle finger started to part her folds, sliding easily through the flood of moisture and stroking once, hard against her clit, Helena could no longer hold back. Her eyes shot open as her back arched off the bed. Both hands flew from her sides to tangle tightly in crimson hair, not allowing the other woman to escape, unsure who she was trying to restrain.

Her world shattered in a blast of white sparks and heat.

* * * * *

Helena's eyes flew open, feral senses immediately taking in the details of her bedroom. The sounds of some alternative rock band filtered up from the speakers in the bar below. Sighing, she let her eyes close as she consciously relaxed her muscles and reclined on the bed. Going over the familiar dream, she let out a string of soft curses.

God, she was in so much trouble.

She had been doing so well. Barbara had let her come back, hadn't even really pressured her about why she had left. The other woman seemed to accept that Helena had worked some things out, and had just seemed glad she was home. Helena had been feeling more in control than she ever had before. Hell, she had even managed to work out some kind of relationship with Dick Grayson! So their interaction was based on silence and the occasional cutting insult, it was still a relationship.

And now this.

Damn the Kid for getting Gabby involved in their lives. She knew it wasn't going to end well.

The dreams had started again, so familiar to her after almost ten years. The specifics might change, but never the connection, the feeling of rightness and more than simple sex that she had never been able to reproduce with her waking partners.

And as always, her subconscious would add some detail to force Helena to recognize exactly who it was she fantasized about in the dark. Tonight it had been the hair, sometimes it was emerald eyes watching her, other times it was the unique quirk of full lips signaling some combination of arousal and wicked amusement.

The dreams had stopped for a while after coming back from Europe. She had almost hoped that she might finally move on with her life, but now they were back. Helena really wanted to blame Gabby, but she knew in her heart that it wasn't the teenager's fault.

It was just so hard to wake up to an empty bed and even emptier apartment. Sometimes Helena really hated being alone.

Getting up, she walked in the direction of her bathroom. She needed a shower, a cold shower. She'd done this all before and she could do it again.

A cross between a laugh and a sob shook her shoulders. If nothing else, she now had homework to focus on when she could no longer sleep, afraid to return to cruel dreams that promised her everything and left her with nothing except a soul-deep ache for the one thing she could never have.

* * * * *

"Dad, you in here?"

"Yep, come on in Honey. I just want to finish this last paragraph."

Barbara eyed the mountain of overflowing paper stacked on the polished wood desk. She quickly calculated the odds that the pile would remain standing if she tried to maneuver her chair around the obstacle, and wisely decided to wait by the door for James Gordon to come out.

Eventually, he emerged from his study, giving her a sheepish smile. Wearing comfortable slacks, a navy blue sweater and, she noted with amusement, house slippers, Barbara thought he looked nothing like the tough Police Commissioner she remembered from her youth. This man was obviously more at home writing up his memoirs than chasing down criminals in the middle of the night. The glint of determination was still present in brown eyes, as was the fitness of a man half his age, but retirement seemed the suit the man she called her father.

Jim led her into the kitchen where he quickly set about making coffee, a vice he had passed on to his adopted daughter. "So what's so important that you couldn't wait until Tuesday to talk to me about?"

Retired or not, James Gordon still knew how to get straight to the point. They had a standing appointment every Tuesday to have dinner at the small house Jim owned right outside New Gotham. For her father it was a chance to see his only daughter and relieve some of the loneliness he felt after the death of his wife. For Barbara, it allowed her to spend time with the most important figure in her life when she was growing up - besides Bruce - and to escape, briefly, from her life as Oracle and the demands she placed on herself. It also didn't hurt that her father was a great listener.

"Dad, do you think there's only one person out there for everyone? Kind of like a soul mate?"

Barbara winced as the question left her mouth. It sounded so juvenile, especially when she hadn't meant to say anything at all. Something about her father seemed to make her say what was on her mind, no matter how uncomfortable she was with the topic. It always made Barbara feel like a teenager again, something she was in no hurry to experience. She made a mental note to commiserate with Dinah in the near future.

Jim seemed taken aback by her question. Taking off his glasses he carefully cleaned them with hem of his shirt before speaking. "I'm not sure Honey. I guess based on my own personal experience with your Aunt Barbara, I would have to say yes. I loved her more than I ever thought possible, and after she died I could never consider a relationship with anyone else. If I hadn't had you to look after and my work, I'm not sure what I would have done."

Barbara said nothing about the tears her father quickly tried to wipe away, more than familiar with the discomfort of showing so much emotion. After a moment to collect himself, he continued. "But that doesn't mean that's the case for everyone, and I'm not sure I would use the term soul mate. For me, it was more that I was able to share everything with her. She knew me better than anyone else, even when I tried to push her away. I was trying to protect her from my work and the horrible things I dealt with, but she wouldn't allow it. She used to tell me, I had my work which I never turned my back on, but I also had her and she'd be damned if I'd give her less than I did my job."

Barbara chuckled through the tears that had started falling as Jim spoke about his wife. She felt like she barely had a chance to know the wonderful woman before cancer had taken her away, but all her memories of the time they had spent together were good ones. James Gordon had taught her how to trust again after her parents died, but Barbara Gordon had taught her that she could be loved.

"Why the sudden interest? I know how hard Wade's death was for you, but you can't let that stop you from having someone in your life."

"But what about what you just said? What if he was the one for me?" Barbara tried to point out her father's apparent double standard.

Jim just looked at her. "Well if you really think he was the one, then I would have to agree. He seemed like a nice young man, but we both know you didn't love him. Not the way you just described."

"I know." Barbara's voice was small and she couldn't look her father in the eyes.

A broad hand suddenly entered her field of vision and grasped her own where it lay in her lap. "There's nothing to be ashamed of, Honey. You didn't love him, that's not a crime."

"But he died because of me."

"No, he died because Harley Quinn decided to punish you for being Batgirl and helping to put the Joker in Arkham." Brown eyes bored into her own. "I've always been afraid for you. First when I figured out you were Batgirl, and later when you admitted you'd decided to keep fighting as Oracle, but I've also always been proud of you. You take on so much Barbara; please don't add guilt for something that wasn't even your fault to the list."

Barbara squeezed his hand, letting him know she heard him, but was unable to speak. Hearing her father's words she decided it was finally time to let go of Wade, let go of the guilt for his death and the fact that she couldn't be what he wanted.

"Thanks, Dad."

Jim gripped her hand once more and leaned back in his seat. Getting up, he poured instant coffee into two mugs and set one in front of Barbara. She took a grateful sip before asking the question that had been haunting her since her talk with Dick.

"Dad, do you think someone could spend their whole life looking for the right person to love and not even know it?"

Glasses caught the light and reflected it back in her face, momentarily blinding Barbara so she couldn't see her father's expression. "I'm not sure, Honey, but it seems to me that if someone were lucky enough to find that person, it shouldn't really matter."

Chapter 13

Mind almost completely numbed by the sonorous voice lecturing at the front of the room, Helena tried to focus on recording the highlights in her notebook. Though she would rather die than admit it – literally – Helena had been extremely nervous when she first started attending classes at Gotham University.

In her first two years of high school she had been an excellent student. She had gotten good grades and been a member of the pep squad. Everything had changed during her junior year though when her mother was killed in front of her and her friend Barbara Gordon had been shot by the Joker. After she had finally been able to return to school, she had been too hurt and angry to focus on her studies. She had become withdrawn, lashing out at anyone who got close. Needless to say she did not remain a member of the pep squad. In the end she had barely graduated, and only because Barbara wouldn't let her drop out.

Now, coming back to school, attending university, she wasn't sure she still had the skills to make it in an academic environment. In the clubs, on the streets, she felt completely comfortable, but she wondered if she could somehow reclaim part of the girl who was also comfortable with being smart and hard working.

Helena was interrupted from her musings – and inattention to the lecture – by the sound of the classroom doors being forcefully thrown open to admit several masked figures armed with guns. Seeing the familiar caricatures of animals, Helena snarled softly; just what she needed, someone deciding to reinstate The Animals. Even when she tried to get as far away from her other identity as she could, it just followed her anyway.

Her life was so fucked up.

The figure in the fox mask calmly walked up to the monotonic professor and slammed the butt of his gun into the man's jaw. The professor went down without a sound, slumping unconscious at the base of the chalkboard. Fox-mask then turned his attention to the students scattered throughout the lecture hall, most of whom were visibly shocked by the brutal display.

"Well, I hope that convinces everyone I'm serious and this isn't some event staged by the psychology department." Helena could hear the grin in the man's voice. "Now if everyone would just remain calm, I'll get what I came for and me and my friends will be on our way."

The small eyeholes in the mask seemed to sweep across the chairs, finally settling on Helena. Quickly assessing her options, she decided that she couldn't take out all of the armed gang members before someone got hurt. So far they hadn't shown any inclination to kill, so Helena decided to wait and see how this played out. If they were only after her, she'd be more than happy to go with them, a little privacy was just what she needed to take out these clowns.

Fox-mask stopped just at the edge of her seat, leaning down into her personal space. Staring into the depths of the mask, Helena saw glittering orbs that stole her breath for a moment. There was madness in the eyes that looked back at her, not as bad as Harley Quinn's, that bitch had been in a league all her own, but still something less than sane. When the mask was ripped off leaving her face to face with her kidnapper, Helena couldn't stop her surprised exclamation.

"What the fuck are you doing here?!"

Colin gave her a crooked smile. "Well, I recently got out of the joint for good behavior, and I thought to myself, why don't I go and find my backstabbing former partner, Cat."

"Yeah, well, that seems like a pretty dumb idea, Colin, considering I was the one who kicked your ass and sent you to prison."

Helena didn't see the backhand coming before her head was wrenched violently to the side, blood pooling in her mouth.

That was new.

Helena's reflexes were nothing short of incredible; there was simply no way a normal human could have landed a blow like that. Assessing the man even as she furiously brought her head around, eyes already shifted to cat-like slits, Helena glared at the former gang leader.

"Well Kitty, last time you had your boyfriend to protect you, and things are a little bit different now aren't they? I'm not the same man I was before . . . and it's all thanks to you." Colin leaned even farther into her until their faces were almost touching. "You're like me Cat. I knew that the very first time I met you. You don't live by societies rules, you were meant to be free, living life to the extreme, on the edge. That's what people like us are made for." The spark of madness seemed to increase in brown eyes. "Can you imagine what it was like for me to be locked up in prison, stuck staring at bars day and night, only able to pace in my cell? I felt like a caged animal, Cat . . . and then I found someone who helped me to really understand what that meant . . . and now he wants to meet you."

Helena prepared to ask him to explain his cryptic statement, your standard hero-villain dialogue, when Colin's hand shot out, again taking her by surprise. As she registered the brightness of white cloth and the distinctive odor of chloroform, Helena decided she really needed to start learning from her mistakes – and then she passed out.

* * * * *

Barbara was getting annoyed. Helena should have checked in for sweeps half and hour ago.

She supposed she had become spoiled by the new, more mature Helena. Ever since the brunette had returned, she had made it a point to show up for sweeps on time and be available whenever Barbara tried to contact her. Helena obviously felt she had something to prove or that she had to make up for her earlier behavior in some way even though Barbara had repeatedly told her it wasn't necessary. Whenever she brought up the subject, however, the other woman would merely shrug and remind her how important their mission was. Barbara often wondered who exactly Helena was trying to convince.

Not that she had any room to talk in that particular department.

Since her disturbing talk with Dick and then with her father, her mind had been looping in circles, leaving her more confused and exhausted with each sleepless night spent staring at her ceiling trying to dissect her own motivations. Had she become Batgirl because she needed to feel that she was good enough to be loved? She had always assumed she had done it for the thrill, the challenge, or the need to help other human beings – or maybe just because she was a little bit crazy.

After a lengthy evaluation however, she had come to the conclusion that all of them had contributed in some way to her decision to put on the bat costume. She didn't want to be, but if she were completely honest, Dick's theory was not entirely incorrect. Barbara was certain that all her choices had *not* been motivated by her search for love. It had never been the driving focus of her life. Her thoughts – and emotions – were too complex for such a simple answer, but her parent's emotional neglect had left deep scars, ones she was only now beginning to recognize.

Dealing with them was another matter entirely.

What exactly did she want from a relationship? Did she even want to try again after Wade? His death had almost broken her and she hadn't even been in love with him. What would she do if she let someone in, let someone know all of her, only to lose them? Wasn't it safer to just let things continue as they had been?

Damn Dick for bringing this up. As far as Barbara was concerned, ignorance had been bliss.

Checking her GPS program, Barbara noted that Helena still hadn't left the Gotham University campus. Perhaps her lecture was running late? A reasonable enough conclusion, except that she knew for a fact that Helena's last class had ended forty-five minutes ago. Maybe she was working on a project or just socializing? Again, it just didn't add up. Helena would have contacted her if she was going to be late.

"Huntress, please respond." Barbara tried hailing Helena using her coms.

With the modifications she had made to the transceivers, the coms were actually very sensitive, an achievement Barbara was quite proud of. They weren't like the radios Batman had supplied them with when she was Batgirl. She had often found herself grateful that Bruce had been a man of few words, it had meant less guessing on her part.

Very faintly over the Delphi speakers she could detect the sound of voices. Turning up the volume to maximum she could just make out the words being spoken.

"Dude, I'm telling you that backpack just talked. Something about a buttress."

"Jake, I think you may have been spending too much time with your architecture notes."

Should she, or shouldn't she? It was a risk, but something had obviously happened to Helena and she need answers.

"Hello, Jake?"

"Oh my God, the backpack's talking to me!"

"Shut up, you idiot it's probably just somebody's cell phone."

"Go on, answer it."

The sound of zipper opening was almost deafening. Barbara quickly reached out and lowered the volume.

"Um, hello? Guys, I don't see a cell phone."

"Just talk into the necklace, Jake, I can hear you." She tried to keep her voice low and soothing.

"Wow this thing is totally awesome. Are you like an engineering student?"

"Something like that." It was a reasonable enough explanation for the strange equipment. "I'm looking for my partner, Helena Kyle. We're supposed to be testing it for our final project, but I can't seem to reach her."

"Aww man, you don't know. I'm really sorry about your friend."

Barbara's heart plummeted. Something was obviously not right. What if she lost Helena?

"What happened?!"

"Oh yeah, these guys in animal masks just busted into the room, knocked out Professor McClaine, and then took your friend. We called the police, but they thought we were pulling a prank, and it's not even Thursday."

"Thanks for your help."

Barbara shut down the coms, her mind assimilating all of the new information, working the angles. As she pulled up data on the Delphi related to local gang activity in the past two weeks, she was already opening another channel.

"Nightwing, Canary, we have a situation."

* * * * *

"Ah, you're finally awake my dear."

Keeping her eyes closed, Helena tried to twist her neck towards the voice, only to find herself restrained by a strap crossing her forehead. She tried to lift her arms and feet with the same results. She was completely secured to some sort of metal surface.

Letting her anger go, she used all of her meta-strength to try and break free of the bonds, but only succeeded in bruising her wrists and ankles. Helena felt a tendril of unease squirm through her veins. There were very few materials that could hold her if she really wanted out, and even fewer people who should know what those materials were, let alone that they would be needed with her. Somebody had done their homework.

"Please don't struggle so much. You'll only injure yourself." The voice was male, low and hypnotic. "I'm sorry I've had to restrain you like this, such an improper way to treat a lady." And apparently the guy was older than Alfred. Even Big A didn't have the audacity to refer to Helena as a lady.

Still keeping her eyes shut, Helena focused on her other senses. She could hear the steady drip of falling water in the background. The soft sounds of liquid leaking from pipes and ceilings, and somewhere almost on the edge of hearing, the sound of swiftly rushing water forced through narrow conduits.

The sewers then.

If the sounds hadn't given away her location, the smell definitely would. Surrounding her were the smells of a hospital – something she chose to ignore for the moment since it probably didn't mean anything good for her. She could make out the man's cologne and a hint of pipe tobacco cutting through the sterile odors as well. Beyond that however, curling in on the vagrant breezes shifting throughout the room, were the distinctive scents of the sewers, something she had unfortunately become quite familiar with in her time as a vigilante.

"I would imagine you've already deduced were you are. Your senses are truly something of a marvel young lady. You should be quite grateful for your genetics."

"Oh I am. They let me take out creeps like you."

Finally opening her eyes, Helena looked at her captor – and immediately wished she could rub her eyes in disbelief. The man was dressed like the freaking guy from Jumanji! The figure that met her startled perusal was wearing a rugged kaki vest and trousers along with knee high brown leather boots. All he needed was one of those round hats to complete the look.

"Uh . . ."

The man seemed to understand her unspoken question and moved closer. Helena could now see that he didn't appear that old, perhaps only in his late forties. His black hair was streaked with bits of grey, especially at the temples. Deep set, grey eyes watched her calmly, and a strong jaw was set in definite lines to produce a patrician face. Watching him approach, she noted the way he favored his left leg.

"I realize my apparel may seem somewhat . . . old fashioned to you, but it is what I'm most familiar with, and I find that breeds a certain amount of comfort and inclination on my part to continue wearing it."

"Uh . . ."

Man this guy was worse than Barbara! Why couldn't some people just say what they meant without all the fancy talk and extra words? So the guy liked his outfit, it wasn't like she was going to throw stones. Her entire wardrobe consisted mainly of leather and shirts with holes in one form or another.

"I'd imagine you're wondering what you're doing here. I would like to reassure you that I in no way mean any harm to your womanly assets" - womanly assets! - "but rather, I am interested in your genetic makeup, and how I can use you to further my own research. You see I have been experimenting with combining human and animal DNA for most of my life, but regrettably most of my experiments have been dismal failures." A look of intense anger flashed across strong features, leaving Helena with the feeling that upsetting this man could have dangerous consequences. "However, nature has seen fit to bless you with an amazing gift. You are a perfect amalgam of human and animal DNA – feline if I'm not mistaken. You posses the desirable abilities of a jungle cat - speed, strength, agility, while still remaining your humanity. Nature truly is a miracle worker."

Okay, somebody had really been doing their homework.

Helena had been called a freak, a servant of the devil, and even a radioactive mutant by people who had seen some aspect of her meta- human abilities, but very few actually knew that her genetic make-up was a blending of cat and human DNA. This was not good. Oracle was always telling her that knowledge was power, and if that was true, this guy was definitely holding all the cards.

Thinking of Barbara, Helena wondered if the other woman knew she was missing yet. Her coms had been in her backpack during class - apparently it was just as rude for her communication devices to go off as a cell phone, something she had found out her first day of art history class – so it was entirely possible that she didn't. Without the coms, Barbara also had no way to locate her. It looked like she was on her own.

Helena figured she might as well start participating in the conversation.

"So, do you have a name I could call you, or should I just resort to Colonel Khaki?" Helena wished Canary could have heard her. That was the way to name a super villain.

"No, my dear, I don't think that will be necessary. However, I don't think I shall reveal my given name, I'm sure you understand. Mister Colin and his friends have taken to calling me Dr. Moreau, and while they do so in an attempt to mock me, I find it rather apropos."

"Okay, Dr. M. What exactly is it you want from me?" Information, she needed more information.

A small frown marred the man's face. "I thought I had already explained that. I intend to use you to perfect my experiments. Your unique genetic make-up will become the template that allows me to create stable human-animal hybrids. Rational, reasoning people capable of tapping into their inner beast. Imagine the potential. I will have single-handedly ushered in the next form of human evolution, one capable of coexisting with our failing world on the most basic of levels. My dear, I'm going to save the world."

Dr. Moreau looked directly into her eyes and Helena could see the spark of madness that had also been present in Colin's.

She may have carefully cultivated the bad-ass, don't give a fuck, all brawn, no brains look, but in reality Helena was rather smart. She could definitely put two and two together. Take one weird doctor experimenting with genetic manipulation, add to that the fact that Colin had been able to over-power her not once but twice, and you naturally got four.

"You've been experimenting on The Animals."

Dr. Moreau looked surprised. "That's quite correct. I used my earlier formula to enhance their speed and strength. It's very unstable and unfortunately causes a bit of mental degradation, but highly effective nonetheless."

Mental degradation? So basically he'd made super strong crazies. Why did these things always happen to her?

Looking into the glittering eyes in front of her, an idea struck Helena.

"You've used the formula on yourself." It wasn't a question.

"Yes I have." Dr. Moreau sighed. "Sadly, it has taken me many years to come to this point in my research. Given a normal human life span, I would have died years ago. I could not allow that to happen, my work is too important." He paused. "Did you know that some lizards have the ability to regenerate? They can grow back whole limbs, but the real work is at the cellular level. If one could alter that process so that the cells renewed themselves throughout the body, well, one would be nearly immortal." One hand dropped down to idly caress his left thigh. "Of course the process was not perfect, there were side-effects, but now that I have you, that will no longer be a concern."

Lucky her. Helena was tempted to inform him that he was insane, but figured it probably wouldn't go over well.

"You sure you didn't cross your DNA with a loon, 'cause I've got to tell you that's one of the craziest things I've ever heard."

Okay, she had meant to keep her mouth shut.

She watched as grey eyes hardened and the sparkle of madness increased. "Perhaps, but I will be alive several centuries from now, watching my children reclaim the world. You my dear will not survive the next few hours."

With that the figure turned and disappeared.

Chapter 14

"What do you want Colin?"

Helena had been strapped to the medical table for several hours, and it was starting to get on her nerves. She didn't mind being tied up for certain occasions, but this was definitely not one of them.

"Hey Cat. Just thought I'd stop by. The Doc's about ready to start the injections, so I wanted to say my goodbyes."

Without warning, he leaned down and roughly covered her mouth with his own.

Why was this guy always kissing her without her permission? She felt his tongue sliding wetly against her lips, and had to fight down the rising nausea. Just like last time, her eyes changed to a feral yellow, but this time in anger and frustration. The worst part was she couldn't even use her favorite male attention getting tactic – her knee was still strapped to the table.

Suddenly Colin was spinning away from her, a pained howl on his lips. Crashing up against the wall, he slowly slid down until he was hunched against the floor rocking on his heels.

"I believe I told you to stay away from our guest, Mister Colin. I assured her that she would not have to fear that kind of abuse while in my company, and I don't appreciate my word being broken."

Dr. Moreau's voice was low and calm, but as soon as he heard it, Colin began whimpering. Helena couldn't help staring at the man in shock. Just what the hell had he done to the former gang leader?

Noticing the direction of her gaze, the doctor answered her unspoken question.

"When I was altering Mister Colin and his friends, I implanted a small device capable of stimulating the pain centers in the brain. It has proven to be quite effective in controlling their somewhat baser instincts."

"Whatever, but don't even think about sticking one of those things in me."

"I assure you, my dear, that is not my intention. You will not live long enough for me to go to the trouble."

And they were right back to the death threats. Although maybe it was a little more than a threat, since the doctor was pulling out the biggest freaking needle Helena had ever seen.

This was obviously going to hurt.

"Please try to remain calm."

The needle slid into her arm causing brief flare of pain. When the solution entered her bloodstream however, it felt like her entire body had been set on fire. Helena clamped her jaws shut, only allowing a pained grunt past her lips.

"That is quite impressive. Most of my former subjects were screaming by now. The injection I just gave you is a radioactive tracer that should allow me to isolate your feline DNA. Unfortunately the process places incredible stress on your body, leading to massive organ failure."

She barely heard the words, she was so focused on the sensations cascading through her body.

Helena had no way of knowing whether it was the compound itself, or her body's reaction to the chemical, but suddenly she could feel herself entering her feral mode. Her meta-genetics were obviously trying to deal with the threat the only way they knew how – with interesting results.

Everything had become sharper. Her eyesight was so good she could trace the uneven edges of the cracks in the plaster against the far wall. She could hear the sounds of traffic far above them through the layers of stone. Her sense of smell had also amplified to the point where she was afraid Dr. Moreau's cologne would choke her.

Helena had always tried to keep her feral nature separate from the rest of her personality. She called on it often as Huntress, and sometimes she couldn't stop it from taking over when she experienced strong emotion, but she had a very good reason for keeping it bottled up. Once it was free, there was no way to put it back, and it usually subsided only when the emotion had run its course, which was why she'd always tried so hard not to change around Barbara.

And now it was loose.

She had never felt this powerful, never felt this hungry. She realized it wasn't a physical hunger, she wanted something, and she would have it. Nothing could stop her from taking the one thing she truly wanted.

She could see it in her mind. So many years of fantasies hadn't been wasted. She would go to Barbara, show her how she felt. The other woman would resist. Helena was expecting that. Before she would have tucked her tail between her legs and run, but not now.

Now, she would force Barbara. Helena was actually looking forward to it. She would simply pin the other woman to the ground and take what she wanted, it wasn't as if Barbara could stop her. She would finally posses the one thing that had tempted and teased her for so long.

A fierce growl vibrated through her chest. She could already taste the blood and other fluids. Barbara would learn to accept the inevitable and become her mate. That was simply the way it was meant to be.

But first Helena had to get to her.

Her senses were not the only thing that had been enhanced. Exerting all her strength, Helena easily snapped the restraints holding her to the table. She quickly jumped up and prepared to deal with her captors.

Colin came at her first. Even with the doctor's formula, he was no match for her. His first strike seemed slow and clumsy to Helena even though it was several times faster than an ordinary human could move. She easily blocked his punch and snapped his arm above the elbow. The gang leader fell back, clutching his arm and howling in agony. Helena kicked him in the stomach, sending him crashing into the wall, leaving a deep impression and several thousand tiny fractures in the stone. He wouldn't be returning to the fight anytime soon.

Turning, Helena faced her true adversary.

Dr. Moreau was backed up against the far wall frantically searching though the medical equipment scattered over the counters.

Helena stalked over to him, enjoying the way his eyes widened and the scent of fear that increased as she approached.

"It seems I miscalculated. I did not expect you to be able to harness your animal nature so completely. I suppose it's some small comfort to know that you will perish shortly after you kill me. Your body can not maintain this state and is already beginning to destroy itself."

If she could have understood his words, Helena would have corrected him. Already she could feel her heart rate decreasing, her senses dulling just a bit. It seemed that while all her other abilities had augmented, so had her healing capabilities. Her body was already repairing the damage done by the injection and returning her to normal.

Since Helena couldn't tell him this and she was still filled with a killing rage, she merely backhanded the doctor, sending him flying through the room to crash up against a surgical cart. Bending down over the fallen figure, she picked him up by the throat and began to squeeze. The doctor's eyes protruded as he clawed at her hand. It would only be a few moments before the man was dead. Helena felt a primal joy surge though her.

Suddenly she was the one getting shoved up against the wall, but nothing had touched her. Managing to turn her head, she caught sight of familiar blonde hair. Something about the figure continued to calm the animal inside of her. She knew this person and trusted her.

As the girl slowly approached, calling her name repeatedly, Helena worked to consciously slow her breathing. She needed to get herself under control. She couldn't hurt Dinah. Dinah was family. You didn't hurt family.

"It's okay Canary, you can let me down." Her voice was little more than a growl, but the words could be understood.

Dinah continued to look at her skeptically, unease clearly written on her face.

"I swear. I'm back in control."

The blonde gave her a cautious smile and let go of her TK. "Are you okay? Oracle was so worried when you disappeared and she talked to the people in your class. It took her a while to find The Animal's newest hangout, and Nightwing interrogated one of them so we'd know where to find you."

"Well thanks, Canary. I appreciate the rescue." And she really did. If the Kid hadn't shown up when she did, Helena was sure she would have killed Dr. Moreau.

"No problem, Huntress. Oh here" – the teen reached into one of her pockets and pulled out Helena's coms – "Oracle wants me to give these to you."

Helena wasn't sure she could face Barbara right now, but she slipped on the necklace and earrings anyway. "Oracle, do you copy?"

"I'm here, Huntress. Good to have you back." The relief in Barbara's voice couldn't be missed.

"Well, it takes more than Colin and a crazy geneticist to keep me down." Although not much more, and she wasn't sure she would ever recover from the terrifying knowledge of what her animal nature could and would be willing to do to Barbara.

Turning to look at the doctor, Helena saw he was awake and struggling to sit up. His pants had been torn during the struggle, exposing his left leg. Where normal human skin should have been, was a twisted limb covered in dark brown scales. Following Helena's gaze, Canary gave a soft cry of horror.

Dr. Moreau looked up, more than just a hint of madness showing in his eyes now.

"Please don't be alarmed little one; it is simply the price I paid for immortality. I had hoped to one day rectify my mistake, but you've ruined that. No matter, my experiments have come to an end. Your friend has shown me the error of my ways. Even if I did manage to create the perfect specimens, they would be ungrateful, treacherous companions. I realize I've come to find the idea of extinction much more appealing."

He produced a small, cylindrical tube as he finished speaking.

Helena instantly recognized it as a detonator. There was no time for hesitation, she simply grabbed Dinah and leapt through the door, putting as much distance as could between them and the insane scientist, praying that he man had only wired his lab and not the entire section of sewers.

The explosion threw Helena and Dinah several feet down the tunnel. Picking themselves up, they looked back at the damage. The tunnel was completely collapsed behind them. Large pieces of concrete and rubble stood out at odd angles creating an impenetrable barrier. There was no doubt that Colin and Dr. Moreau were dead.

"Huntress, Canary, do you copy?"

"We copy, Oracle. Dr. Moreau set off some kind of charge, blew his whole lab with him and Colin inside. We couldn't save them."

There was silence on the other end for several moments.

"Alright, Huntress, as long as you and Canary are safe."

"Yeah, we're fine." Liar, liar, liar.

"Okay, Dick's got the rest of The Animals secured about 500 yards ahead of you. Why don't you meet up with him and head back to base for de-briefing."

She couldn't face Barbara now. There was something she had to do first.

"I can't, Oracle. There's an errand I have to run. It won't take me long and then I'll head back."

"I'd really prefer it if you came back immediately, Huntress."

"I'm sorry," She'd never know how sorry. "But it's something I've got to do. I'm fine. I'll see you soon."

Helena reached up and quickly shut off her coms. Looking at Dinah, she gave the girl a small smile before turning down a side tunnel and disappearing into the dark.

* * * * *

Barbara Gordon was scared.

How could six little words frighten her so much? She had been Batgirl for Heaven's sake! She used to soar across rooftops and jump off of skyscrapers with only a cable to keep her from falling to her death. She had not only survived the loss of her legs, she had used the experience to push herself into becoming Oracle, a cybernetic crime fighter who nightly protected the city and saved lives. That kind of courage shouldn't just abandon her with the pronouncement of a few simple words!

It was the way Helena had said she was fine. Barbara had only heard the other woman speak in that dead tone once before, and on that occasion the brunette had disappeared for seven months with almost no contact. Looking back, it had almost destroyed Barbara – she was certain if Helena left again, it would.

Soft sounds cut through her agonized reflection. She could hear the familiar noise of Helena moving over the rooftops, the scuff of her boots on the tarmac and the swish of air as she performed some acrobatic maneuver between buildings. Barbara was infinitely familiar with the almost silent resonance of Helena's breathing, knowing that for the brunette, traveling this way was about as stressful as taking a stroll in the park.

It seemed that, once again, Helena had forgotten to turn off the receiver on her coms; something that happened routinely when they had first started working together. Helena was often impatient and several times Barbara had been forced to overhear the varied activities the younger woman had engaged in after sweeps, unable to contact her and inform her that she was listening.

Barbara had known then, as she did now, that she should turn of the speakers and respect Helena's privacy, but she had never been able to resist this furtive look at the other woman's life. Helena was always so guarded about the time she spent away from the tower. She would often prattle on about meaningless details – where she went shopping, what she purchased, who she flirted with…but nothing that ever told Barbara more about the woman she had become – something Barbara found she wanted to discover with an intensity that almost frightened her.

Hearing the dull metal clanking as Helena hitched a ride on a passing truck made Barbara grit her teeth. Helena's delight in traveling this way had always seemed needlessly dangerous to her, not to mention illegal and somewhat juvenile. If the other woman would only get a car or even a motorcycle to run sweeps through the city – but no, Helena would never give up the freedom of crossing Gotham on her own two feet and the parallels to her father's mode of travel would never be tolerated.

Barbara wasn't sure if she found this personality quirk endearing or just frustrating, a fact which applied to most of her thoughts concerning the brunette.

Barbara listened as Helena disembarked and continued moving for some time. By now she should have reached her apartment, but perhaps she was heading to some bar or club, something Helena often did when she needed to let off some steam. Barbara was aware that whatever had occurred between Helena and her kidnapers had greatly upset the other woman, but it wasn't until moments later that she realized just how much.

"Hey, Mom."

The softly whispered words seemed to caress the air as they left the Delphi's speakers, so full of loss and love that Barbara felt her heart clench. How anyone could feel the depth of emotion that was present in such simple words and stay sane was beyond her understanding.

Helena was at the cemetery, at Selina's grave. Barbara knew Helena rarely went there unless she was extremely upset; visits of any other kind were too painful.

"Sorry I haven't been around in a while. Things have been kinda crazy. But you already know that since you're watching out for me and all." Helena paused. When she continued, Barbara could hear the unshed tears in her voice. "I'm so sorry. I know you always tried to help me control the animal inside me. It wasn't always easy for you either, but you managed it. I don't know why I can't . . . why I keep fucking everything up."

Barbara desperately wanted to tell the other woman that it wasn't her fault, she couldn't help the way she was born, and that Barbara was constantly impressed with the way Helena fought against her baser instincts and tried to preserve her humanity . . . or maybe she just wanted to give her a good shake.

"I almost broke my promise." The words were so soft Barbara found herself leaning forward in her chair trying to catch them. "When I lost control, when my animal side took over, my first thoughts were about her. I knew I was strong enough, and I just wanted to go to her and take her, against her will if necessary. Oh God how much I wanted to . . . how much I still want to."

Analytically, Barbara knew she wasn't breathing, and this should concern her, but for some reason it didn't seem important at all. Her entire concentration, her entire being was focused on the agonized words being torn from Helena.

"What am I gonna do? I've tried so hard for so long. I know you told me to stay away from her, that I shouldn't let my feelings for her get in the way of our friendship, that it would destroy her – and I've tried, but nothing works."

Who was Helena talking about?

Barbara knew, but she couldn't let herself see. Selina had been right, it would destroy them – but if that was the case, why was Barbara's heart beating so fast and her chest feeling like someone was squeezing too tightly, but lifting off a heavy weight at the same time?

"After she got shot and I went to live with her" - well that unequivocally answered that question – "I thought things would be different, and for a while they were. I was hurting so much and so was she. We were both so busy putting ourselves back together that there wasn't room for anything else, but later it just came back stronger." Helena paused. "She's so incredible and she doesn't even see it, doesn't see me, and I know that's the way it should be, but it just hurts so fucking much."

Helena paused so long this time Barbara wondered if she would continue, then wondered if she wanted her to continue.

"Don't worry, I'll keep my promise. I've always tried to do that, no matter how much I've screwed everything else up. It'll be okay, just like before. I'll try to come back sooner next time . . . I love you."

Barbara reached out and turned off the speakers, her hand shaking so badly she missed the switch the first two times. She couldn't take anymore, she had already heard too much. She could barely deal with her own emotions, let alone the apparently earth shattering ones Helena had just broadsided her with.

Barbara's conscience quickly kicked in, forcing her to admit to her own culpability. She was the one who had wanted to know more about Helena's personal life, she had no right to complain if she got what she asked for. Now the only question was what to do about it.

Quickly doing the math, Barbara realized she had approximately forty seven minutes before the other woman returned to the tower, giving her less than an hour to decide if she should play dumb and pretend she didn't know what she knew, or if she could somehow find it in herself to face her best friend with this new knowledge, if she could finally see the real Helena and all that entailed.

Rolling towards the liquor cabinet in search of a drink, Barbara admitted she really didn't know if she possessed that kind of courage . . . Batgirl be damned.

Chapter 15

The clock tower was dark and silent as she slowly opened the balcony doors and allowed them to close with a soft click behind her.

Helena had expected to find Barbara absorbed at the Delphi. Usually after a showdown with some major villain, Barbara spent several days frantically researching the criminals and the circumstances of the confrontation. At first, this behavior had confused Helena, but she had come to realize it was simply Red's way of dealing with her guilt. If she couldn't predict everything that happened, then the other woman seemed determined that it would never happen again.

Helena just found it pointless and exhausting.

Shit happened. There were always going to be new criminals and new people trying to kill her. That was the reality of her life. She wasn't exactly happy about it, but she had already proven she couldn't walk away. So instead of getting all worked up, Helena had adapted the popular sport saying – she tried to leave it all on the battlefield. She could be angry, vicious, violent, and depressed, but when the fight was over, she tried to shove it all back and just be Helena, not Huntress.

Unfortunately, there was no way she could repress the feelings and memories brought out by Dr. Moreau's formula. She had felt so many things so strongly that she couldn't begin to process them all. She was pretty sure she didn't want to. One emotion, one need, had risen above all the others, flooding her mind and body, almost irresistible in its intensity.

Helena had wanted Barbara, needed to claim the other woman with a strength that left her breathless and scared; so scared, in fact, that she had gone to Selena's grave seeking comfort and the determination to keep her promise. Both, the one she had made to herself and the one she had given to her mother so many years before.

Padding silently around the towering computer equipment, Helena wondered where Barbara was. She would never tell the redhead, but she often envisioned the Delphi as some kind of alien spider, crouched above and slowly consuming the other woman. Helena felt a shiver down her spine noting how this image was reinforced with the Delphi on standby, only random points of light glinting through plastic casing showing that the machine was even powered-up.

The sound of rubber wheels on tile brought her thoughts back from their morbid musings. Helena watched as Barbara rolled up to her, the other woman's face completely unreadable. Either Barbara was disappointed in her for getting kidnapped with her coms removed, disappointed with herself for not realizing Colin had escaped and not knowing about Dr Moreau, or she was upset by the deaths that Helena considered unavoidable. The quickly shifting emotions in emerald green eyes hinted that it might be all three.

"Hey, Babs. Tally up another victory for the good guys. We kicked their asses and once again the world is safe."

Helena tried to lighten the mood, playing down her own horrifying experience and trying to focus on the positives. Yeah things sucked, but Barbara still needed to lighten up.

Not getting a response from the other woman she tried a different strategy.

"So where are Nightwing and Canary? I know I heard girlish yells out there, but I haven't seen Dick." Helena offered a teasing smile to let Barbara know she was only kidding . . . mostly. Dick really did shriek like a school girl.

"Dick is making sure the rest of The Animals remain in police custody, and Dinah's staying over at Gabby's tonight."

"Oh, well, that's good then."

Helena didn't know what to make of Barbara's unresponsiveness. Red often seemed . . . distant, but that was just her personality, she didn't wear her emotions on her sleeve the way Helena did, but this seemed different somehow. It was almost as if Barbara was not maintaining her usual tight control, but rather as if she were desperately trying to force her reserve back in place – but that would imply that Barbara was feeling out of control, and really Colin and Dr. Moreau hadn't been that big of a deal, at least not to the redhead.

"Soooo . . ."

Barbara's eyes snapped up to meet hers before quickly shifting away. "Would you like a drink, Helena?" A vague wave accompanied her question.

Now she was worried. Barbara was acting really funny, and she was suddenly using her full name when it was just the two of them. She didn't think Barbara was really mad at her, but then what the hell was going on?

"Sure, I could use one."

"Wonderful, why don't you go make yourself comfortable on the couch. I'll only be a moment."

True to her word, Barbara rolled up moments later carrying two glasses and a bottle of scotch. Helena quickly relieved her of the burden and poured a good portion for each of them, for some reason she got the feeling they were going to need it.

Seconds later Helena chocked violently as the alcohol went down the wrong way.

"You left your coms on again."

Oh fuck.

Barbara never had been one to beat around the bush. Helena quickly tried to remember exactly what she had said at the cemetery. She groaned when she realized there was no way the other woman could have misinterpreted her words. Barbara knew.

"I didn't mean to listen." Red actually rolled her eyes "Okay, I did, but I'm sorry I invaded your privacy like that. I never meant to overhear what I did."

No kidding.

She could still play this cool. Maybe things weren't that bad. Maybe Barbara just thought she was depressed or that she had been in love with someone else for practically her entire life. Right?

"What is it that you know?"

Barbara's voice was the softest whisper, somehow lending more emphasis to her words. "That you want me."

There was no escaping. Barbara obviously knew everything, she might as well confess.


"I see." Barbara sounded like she wanted to do anything but. Looking at Helena, her eyes seemed sad and lost. "But why, Hel?"

Why? What the fuck did Barbara mean, why? Why Helena wanted her, craved her voice and her touch, everything?

"How can you still want me . . . physically?"

Helena couldn't imagine what the question had cost Barbara – then the words themselves registered.

"You think this is about sex!"

She couldn't believe it. Hadn't Red heard her, didn't she understand?

Barbara looked uncertain, and maybe a little pissed as well. "Well, yes? What else are we talking about?"

Okay, looked like she was going to have to explain some things to the other woman. Helena took a deep breath.

"When you're really tired, you always rub that scar on your elbow."

There was a substantial pause. "Excuse me, Helena?"

Oh yeah, definitely pissed now. Too bad. Barbara had started this with her spying; she would just have to suffer through whatever explanation Helena could come up with on the spur of the moment.

"Whenever you read Shakespeare, you read out loud under your breath, like you can't stand for the words not to be spoken. You hate football, but you watch the Giants just so you can talk about them with your Dad the next day. You let your class pick the last reading of the year because you trust them and you want them to know that.

"You decorate – and I use that term loosely – your classroom more than you do here at home."

Barbara was looking at her strangely, but Helena was too absorbed in her thoughts to notice.

"You pinch the bridge of your nose whenever you have a headache, but you never leave your glasses off for long because it bothers you when people can see those little indentations from the plastic thingies, and for some reason you won't even consider getting contacts.

"You can't cook and it bugs you, but you won't take the time to learn. Sometimes when you can't sleep, you'll sit at the Delphi and let all those lines of code relax you.

"You've never let anyone down in your entire life, including me, but you insist on beating yourself up for every little mistake.

"Somehow, you always know when I'm around even though I know I don't make any noise. You know when Dinah's had a bad day and needs to talk to you, and you know when I'm in a bad mood and need my space. Somehow you've managed to get Dick into our lives without me killing him and made us work as a team."

Helena paused, wondering if she should continue.

Fuck it; this may be her only chance.

"You hate that wheelchair." Barbara's eyes flashed with pain, erasing the stunned expression that had begun to creep in during Helena's monologue. "You miss being able to swing across rooftops and fight the bad guys one on one. Sometimes you resent that you have to rely on me to do it for you.

"I'm not sure why you picked it, but sometimes you go down to the garage to cry, but not so much anymore.

"Sometimes you laugh and it's all I can do not to scream because after all that's happened you still can.

"When you're sad your eyes are the color of pine needles, when you're angry they're like jade, and when you're feeling playful they're the most gorgeous emerald I've ever seen.

"And sometimes when you look at me, I can see my entire life in them– past, present, and future."

Barbara was back to looking at her with that dazed expression. That was fine with Helena; she really didn't want to hear what the other woman had to say about her embarrassing confession. Was it even possible for her to babble more? She had better hurry up and get to the point before Barbara thought she was even more of an idiot than she already did.

"But those are all just facts, observations, they're not the reason I want you.

"I want you because I've always wanted you. Since the first time we met it's always been there.

"It's kinda like atoms. You know, elements and chemistry and stuff? It's like the things that I'm made of are the atoms, my mind, my body, maybe my soul, and the bond that holds me together, that keeps me whole, is me wanting you.

"I want you because I'm Helena. It's who and how I am."

Helena let go of the breath she'd been holding. That was it. She had run out of words – finally – and now all she could do was wait for a reaction.

Except there didn't seem to be a reaction. Barbara was just sitting there looking at her like she'd grown a second head, or maybe lost her first one.

* * * * *

This was not Helena. Obviously some type of alien life-form had taken over the brunette. Helena simply wasn't capable of being so . . . romantic.

And those words had definitely been the most romantic declaration Barbara had ever heard.

"You love me." It wasn't a question or even a statement. It was a revelation.

Helena's jaw jutted out determinedly "Yeah, I do."

How could she not have seen it? Now that she knew what to look for it was so obvious.

Of course Helena loved her. The sun was powered by a fusion reaction, gravity was a constant force of 9.8 m/s, the sky was blue, and Helena loved her.

Now the only question was how did she feel?

She wasn't sure how she felt about Helena's admission of loving her since their first meeting. That sounded too much like a crush or some sort of hero worship, not to mention the whole age thing, but just a couple of days ago, she had been thinking that Helena was no longer a child – and contemplating her own possible attraction to the brunette.

Besides, there was only one explanation for the heartfelt avowal Helena had just delivered. Helena loved her, was in love with her, the way most people only dreamed about.

And when considered that way, there was really only one thing to do. Barbara was surprised how little courage it took in the end.

"Let's go to bed, Helena."

* * * * *

Let's go to bed, Helena.

What the Hell. Red couldn't be serious – except the expression on Barbara's face was dead serious, but also open and . . . needing.

Oh shit. This had definitely backfired.

Barbara was supposed to be proud of her for admitting her feelings and then the other woman would let her down gently, saying that she didn't feel the same, and it was best if they just remained friends. She was not supposed to look at Helena like she was really seeing her for the first time and asking her to bed . . . to her bedroom . . . where they would . . .

Oh God, how was she going to get through this?

"We can't!"

That had obviously been the wrong thing to say. Barbara's face immediately shut down, but not before Helena saw the hurt flash in those beautiful green eyes.

"I'm sorry, Hel, did I misunderstand something, or did you want to take things slower?"

Helena almost laughed hysterically at the idea of taking things slower. Twelve years was plenty slow enough in her opinion.

"It's not that Barbara. We just can't . . . do this. Uh, be together. You and me."

Helena decided it just wasn't her day for explanations – or maybe talking in general.

Barbara was looking confused again, and now the pain was showing on her face.

"What do you mean, Hel? I thought this was what you wanted. I assumed when you said you wanted me you meant . . . but maybe you aren't interested in a physical relationship."

God dammit! Now Barbara was getting all insecure over the whole paralyzed thing, and that was so not the issue.

Quickly kneeling down by the other woman, she picked up her hand and started to rub it soothingly. The fact that her position was almost exactly the same as when she had left before didn't escape her.

"That has nothing to do with it. You have nothing to do with it." Helena sighed, running a hand through her hair. "I can't hurt you Barbara."

"You won't."

The words were said with such calm certainty that Helena almost believed her. If she had heard those words even last night, they would already be in the bedroom, but tonight she had been a prisoner of mad geneticist. She had seen what she was capable of, what her animal nature could drive her to do, and she couldn't risk it. Barbara's life wasn't worth it.

"You don't know that. Barbara I'm not human, at least not completely. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I lose control, and people get hurt. I never know what's going to set it off, or how bad it's going to be. I can live with taking my frustration and instinct out on some criminal, but if I hurt you it would kill me. I made a promise that I would never hurt you, not intentionally, and that's what I'd be doing if we let this go farther. You would get hurt."

She tried to communicate just how serious she was with her eyes, letting Barbara see the agony it caused her to turn away from the gift she offered. She also tried to show the other woman that she wouldn't back down, wouldn't change her mind.

Barbara must have gotten the message because she gasped and jerked her hands out of Helena's grip.

"And what about the fact that you're hurting me now?"

Barbara's voice was brittle and cold, barely containing her hurt and anger.

"I'm sorry. I never meant for you to find out. I wasn't going to tell you."

What did Barbara want to hear? Wasn't this hard enough on her?

Helena stood up and put some distance between them. She really needed to get out of here. It had been a really, really long day.

"Well I did find out, so what do we do now?"

"I guess we just go on like before. We stay friends if we can, or just crime fighting partners if we can't. Either way, I won't leave unless you ask me to."

Barbara was looking at her like she didn't even know her. Her face was a mask of barely concealed fury, and the hands in her lap were clasped so tightly the knuckles were turning white. When she spoke, her words were calculated to hurt, sending needles of pain deep into Helena's heart.

"You'll need to start wearing a mask. If you had worn one from the beginning, none of this would be happening."

Helena wondered what Barbara was referring to, and if the other woman even knew.

As she grabbed her coat, Helena couldn't stop the resigned words from escaping.

"That's fine; I've been wearing one for so long I'm not sure I know how to live without it."

Tears leaking from her eyes, she leapt off the balcony, letting the night carry her away.

~ ~ ~

End Part 1: Getting Back on Your Feet

Part 2: A Different Way of Thinking coming soon.