What it Means to Be a Hero

Prequel - What Has Gone Before


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 (TV)

PAIRING: Barbara/Helena


SUMMARY: The Birds of Prey began as a dynamic duo, and a story of love, tragedy, and friendship precedes New Gotham's best crime fighters taking up the mantle.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading. Any comments or criticism can be directed to adliren@gmail.com.

This story is a continuation of the series What it Means to Be a Hero. If you haven't read the first part, Getting Back On Your Feet, or the second, A Different Way of Thinking, don't worry. This is the prequel. It is not necessary for you to have read the others first, but they were intentionally written/posted in this order, so you might miss some of the more subtle developments that I worked so hard (two and a half *years* later) to write. Use your own judgment . . . hopefully you have some.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thank you, thank you, thank you to Jean. Your kind and thoughtful comments are beyond compare. As for the beta-ing skills for which I hired you, yeah, those are pretty awesome too.

E-MAIL: adliren@gmail.com

Chapter 1

"This place is for dorks."

"Helena!" The slim woman shot a stern look at the dark haired girl at her side.

"Mooommm . . ." the young girl whined. "Why do I have to do this? It's not like I need the practice or anything."

Green eyes cast heavenward before the woman replied. "Kitten, I enrolled you because you need to learn control. I know you don't need the practice at gymnastics, but you certainly need to practice hiding your . . . abilities." Dark brows furrowed in puzzlement. "Look at it this way Helena." A manicured finger pointed at a girl walking back and forth on the balance beam. "Could you do that?"

Blue eyes widened in indignant outrage. "Duh, Mom, of course I could do that. With my eyes closed. With my eyes closed, and one hand tied behind my back. With my eyes closed, one hand tied, and standing on one leg. With my . . ."

"Alright Helena, I get the point," Selena Kyle interrupted with a laugh. "Now what if you actually followed through with all of your boasting?"

Helena's face screwed up in concentration. "I'd make all of these other losers look bad?"

"No, Helena. You would show all of these other people that you are not normal. That you are different. And that is something we can never do, right?"

Noticing that there wasn't even a hint of the mischievous twinkle that was always present in her mother's eyes, twelve year-old Helena nodded. "Yes mother."

Searching her daughter's face, Selena nodded. "Okay, Kitten. Now, I enrolled you so that you could work off some of that energy you never seem to run out of." Helena brightened, noticing the returning glint in green eyes. "But also so that you can practice behaving like the other girls your age." Pausing dramatically she continued, "When you work with your instructor today, I want you to fall."

"You want me to what?!" Outraged, Helena looked at her mother.

"Other girls fall Helena." Looking around Helena noticed this was true. But she wasn't any girl. She was the daughter of Catwoman, and she had never stumbled, let alone fallen, in her entire life. She was as surefooted as . . . well a cat. It just seemed to be part of her nature. Her mom seemed to think that someday she might inherit all of the other woman's unique abilities, but so far Helena only exhibited unnatural balance and agility. But that was more than enough to single her out, and the girl knew it frightened her mother.

"But Mooommmm . . ." unable to help from protesting the brunette continued, "Falling is just so . . . lame."

Trying not to laugh at the look on her daughter's face, Selena put her foot down. "Then you will just have to be a little lame, Kitten. Now go on, there is your instructor," she indicated a blond man with a receding hairline and pronounced gut. "I've got to get to my meeting, but I *will* be talking to your instructor when I pick you up, and I expect him to tell me that you have wonderful potential, but you still need practice."

Pouting, Helena turned away from her mother and walked over to the instructor. The man introduced himself and told her to join the group of eight or nine other girls already lined up at the balance beam.

One by one he had them get up and walk from one end of the beam to the other. At some point, each girl would eventually lose their balance and fall to the soft mats below. Each time Helena couldn't help but roll her eyes.

Finally it was her turn. She easily hopped up onto the slim piece of wood without waiting for the instructor to help. Finding her balance easily, she quickly walked to the other end and turned around without the slightest difficulty. For her, she may as well have been walking on level sidewalk. Halfway back, however, she remembered her mother's words. Selena was always loving towards her daughter, but when Helena disobeyed one of her few commands – well it never ended well for the brunette.

Sighing, Helena prepared to do something she had never even considered. How did one go about falling? The concept completely foreign to the girl, she allowed all her weight to shift to the right. Feeling gravity take over the girl braced herself for the impact, but at the last second her legs shot out. Cats always land on their feet, and Helena was no exception. Crashing awkwardly to the floor, Helena felt something twist and pull in her ankle. Crying out, she hunched over her injured leg.

The instructor immediately came to her side asking if she was okay. Taking a look at Helena's ankle the man pronounced it was sprained and led the girl over to some mats in a corner. Moments later he brought her an ice pack and told her to wait until her mom came back to get her then returned to the rest of the class.

Noticing the other girls were casting glances at her and laughing behind their hands, Helena felt a burning in her eyes. She promised herself that no one would ever ridicule her again. She didn't have to show off her abilities, but never again would she purposefully take a fall.

Feeling sorry for herself, the brunette closed her eyes and leaned back on the mats. Suddenly the smell of baby powder, leather, and – something else - intruded on the girl's brooding.

"That was quite a tumble. I just can't figure out why you fell in the first place." The liquid voice flowed over Helena, blanketing her in warmth. Looking up the girl found herself meeting emerald eyes in a pale face. Long red hair was pulled back in a ponytail that highlighted sharp cheekbones. Helena had often been to the beach with her mother when they lived in Europe and many times had felt the undertow that could pull unwary swimmers out to sea. Meeting those curious green eyes, Helena got the exact same feeling.

"Uh . . . I lost my balance?"

Green eyes crinkled and delighted laughter emerged from the older girl- really, the young woman - causing Helena to shiver. "Are you asking me or answering my question?"

"Well, uh, I . . ."

"Never mind. I guess you're just clumsy." The redhead started to turn around.

For the first time in her life, Helena knew what it meant to see red. "What the hell do you know? I'm not clumsy. The other girls fell too!" Helena couldn't believe the nerve of this girl. You didn't just single someone out and insult them, especially if that someone had been injured. She had no right – no matter how wonderful she smelled, or how amazing her voice was, or the fact that her eyes – Helena shook her head feeling the strange burning in her eyes again. Unable to remember what she had been thinking, she settled for glaring at the other girl.

"I know you're the only girl who fell on purpose," the redhead responded with a quirk of her lips.

Losing some of her anger Helena replied, "Fine, I fell on purpose, happy?"

"No, I was just curious as to why someone with your grace and natural ability would purposefully fall like that . . . and do it so badly."

Helena didn't really feel it was necessary to have included that last bit, but the redhead's other words were making her kind of lightheaded. Helena knew she was blushing, and also knew there was nothing she could do about it. "Well, thanks, I think."

The redhead laughed then turned serious. "Look, I know it can be hard. You want to fit in, be like all of your friends. But you're not. You have real talent which you shouldn't waste by trying to be like everyone else. You're special and you should be proud of that and work as hard as you can to develop you're gifts."

Helena had never really given much thought to what she was capable of. She had always been different and that's just the way it was. But hearing the older girl's words, Helena couldn't help but look at her abilities in an entirely new light, as something she needed to protect and improve, not just live with. Slightly stunned, Helena met the other girl's kind and determined gaze.

"Hi, I'm Barbara Gordon," the redhead offered extending her hand.

Years of manners and etiquette lessons from her mother kicked in and Helena offered her own hand. "Helena Kyle."

Green eyes widened slightly. "Helena . . . Kyle. Any relation to Selena Kyle?"

Surprised that this girl would have heard of her mother- after all, they had just moved to Gotham - Helena responded, "Yes, she's my mother."

Pierced by eyes that seemed to be looking into and through her, she remained transfixed until Barbara spoke, "Helena Kyle." Helena shivered again at the way her name was said. "I think we'll be seeing a lot more of each other." Helena didn't know whether she should jump for joy or run in the opposite direction. "You'll be coming back won't you? Once your injury heals up?"

Before she was even aware of the question Helena found herself responding, "Yes."

"Great, I'll see you soon then. Keep icing that ankle." With that the redhead winked at Helena, turned, and walked out of the gym.

Helena spent the rest of the session trying not to think about Barbara Gordon. But no matter how hard she tried, teasing green eyes and a low smoky voice kept intruding on her thoughts. The odd idea that if she could just listen to that voice for the rest of her life, she would be happy abruptly came to Helena. Shaking her head the brunette wondered if she had sprained her brain along with her ankle.

When Selena came to pick up her daughter, she was appalled to learn about her injury. Blaming herself, she was quick to reassure the girl that she didn't have to attend the class anymore.

However, dark blue eyes rose to meet hers and Selena was sure she had never seen the expression on her daughter's face before. "No Mom, it's okay. I really like gymnastics. I can come back tomorrow right?"

Completely at a loss, Selena replied, "We'll see, Kitten."

Helena just smiled, knowing that soon she would be seeing Barbara Gordon again. Years later she would realize that *falling* really wasn't that bad, and in fact could be very, very good.

* * * * *

Barbara loved the feeling of flying through the air. The way gravity seemed to be comfortably cradling you one moment and then slamming your heart into your throat the next. She loved flying, but she loved landing even more. The knowledge that with her bones and muscles she could catch herself, could stop her fall and once again force gravity into a passive influence. Barbara Gordon lived to push herself to the limits.

Maybe that was why she had first put on a costume and gone out into Gotham's dark nights to fight crime. She had heard the stories of Batman and his protégé Robin, many of them from her own father, Commissioner Gordon. They were crime fighters, vigilantes, some even called them heroes. All Barbara knew was that they lived a life of danger and excitement, fighting the good fight over the rooftops of the city.

So at seventeen, already an Olympic hopeful, Barbara had seen a way to push herself even farther. She had inherited her father's – really her uncle's – need to help people, and she had done it her own way. Then one night Batman caught her in her handmade outfit and forced her to justify her nocturnal hobby. He must have seen something in her because that very night he took Barbara to the Batcave and she officially became Batgirl. Putting on the sleek black, blue, and yellow costume for the first time was the greatest moment of her life.

Now two years later, Barbara was quite content with that life.

Flipping her body over the uneven bars, somersaulting through the air, and sticking her landing, arms outstretched, Barbara had to admit, life couldn't get much better. Walking over to her bag she grabbed a towel, wiping away the sweat of a punishing workout, she considered her varied accomplishments. She was in college getting her degrees in physics, mathematics, and English lit, at night she prowled the rooftops with her mentor and fellow sidekick, and even though her height may have cost her the chance at Olympic gold, she was still one of the greatest gymnasts in the world.

This last qualification was the reason she volunteered at Gotham's premier gymnastics training facility. Even if her own career was coming to a close, she could still help other young girls reach their full potential.

Full potential – the words echoed in her mind, shadows of a conversation she had engaged in some two weeks before. With her eidetic memory, recalling the exact circumstances of the exchange was automatic. The fact that the other participant had never been far from Barbara's thoughts was something she chose to ignore.

Helena Kyle seemed like a good kid. A little combative and easily frustrated, but it wasn't like Barbara had any room to be judgmental in that department. People often made comments concerning the color of her hair and her own fiery temperament. Still, Helena had great potential which Barbara hoped she would exploit.

There was only one problem.

Barbara often used her status as Batgirl to search through Batman's files on the criminals he had encountered throughout his career. One very prominent figure that appeared again and again was Selena Kyle, aka Catwoman. The infamous thief had often butted heads with Batman before almost completely disappearing twelve years ago. There were still the occasional thefts attributed to the mysterious woman, but nothing very high profile and nothing within Gotham itself. It seemed Selena had completely abandoned the city were once she was hailed as the Queen of the Criminal Underworld.

Now Catwoman had a daughter. Helena had admitted as much when she and Barbara had talked. Selena had returned to Gotham, but why? Barbara assumed she had toned down her criminal activities when Helena was born, but why come back now, and dragging her daughter along?

Selena couldn't know that Barbara knew her true identity, and she couldn't know Barbara's own secret. Using this advantage, Batgirl was determined to find out what the notorious criminal was up to, and the best way to get close to her and ferret out the information she wanted was through Helena.

Barbara had often toyed with the idea that thinking of an object was in fact the way such an object came to exist. As the focus of her previous thoughts – in the form of a lithe brunette – walked into the gym, Barbara considered how best to document this evidence. Giving up on the quandary of verifying a personal observation based on internal thoughts, she decided to commence operation "Earn Helena's Trust" instead.

Trying to appear nonchalant, she wandered casually over to where Helena was speaking with her instructor, Mr. Holland. As she approached behind the girl, she overheard the man ask Helena if she was feeling better and whether or not she felt up to practicing today. Helena assured him that she had seen a doctor and she felt fine, however, Barbara noticed that her eyes never rested on the man, but instead continually scanned the room as if she was searching for something.

'Searching for me.' The odd thought flashed through Barbara's mind when Helena turned and she was pinned with the most intense blue eyes she had ever seen. That stare sparked some type of recognition for the redhead – she knew she had seen those eyes before - yet her search for the answer to this unsettling feeling was quickly drowned out by other questions. How had Helena known she was there? Barbara had been trained by the best to move silently and she was still several feet from the girl. Where was Selena? She desperately wanted to meet the woman and judge for herself just who and what Catwoman was. And just what was the look in Helena's eyes as she continued to stare at Barbara, almost as if she were transfixed?

Ignoring her questions for the moment - something the inquisitive young woman had a great deal of practice with – she greeted the younger girl. "Hello again, Helena. Seems like you decided to come back after all. I hope you won't suffer any further . . . accidents today."

Now it was Barbara's turn to be riveted as she watched the dark, intense look fade from Helena's eyes to be replaced by a look of mischievousness delight. "Nah, I won't fall again." And arrogance, mustn't forget that, Barbara added to the list of adjectives she mentally compiling for the small brunette. "Mom was really sorry that . . . I mean I won't fall again on purpose, but I could probably use some pointers?" Even as she wondered what Helena had been about to say, Barbara seized her chance to get closer to her prey.

"Well I would be happy to work with you independently, but I would have to talk to your mother first."

A guarded look entered Helena's eyes even as she spoke. "Um, I don't know. Mom's kind of a private person."

Taking a chance Barbara tried to subtly force the issue. "Well we would probably have to train after everyone else left. I wouldn't want your mother to worry about you. Gotham can be a dangerous place."

"You don't need to worry about me, I can take care of myself." Something in the way the girl spoke and the set of her features convinced Barbara that she was telling the truth. She also found it rather absurd that she should suddenly feel intimidated by this stick thin twelve year old. "But, you're probably right. Mom doesn't like for me to spend too much time away from her. She should probably meet you. Could you maybe talk to her when she comes to pick me up after class?"

Perfect! "Yes that would be fine. Go ahead and join your group and I'll meet you when you're done."

"Okay." The dark figure started away before quickly turning around and flashing a smile. "And thanks Barbara."

Suddenly Barbara found it quite difficult to breathe as she watched the retreating girl. There had been such gratitude and . . . happiness in Helena's smile. For the first time she wondered if she was doing the right thing using Helena like this. Shaking off her thoughts, Barbara reminded herself that Selena was a dangerous criminal. It was Batgirl's responsibility to make sure she didn't hurt anyone.

Preparing to go again on the uneven bars, Barbara wondered if duty could make up for betraying the young girl's smile.

* * * * *

Helena was nervous. She hated being nervous. Thankfully it was a very rare occurrence for the young meta-human. She had been born with a natural assertiveness and self-confidence that was only enhanced by her unusual abilities. Her mother's protectiveness had also sheltered her from situations which could lead to the unpleasant feeling.

None of these factors were helping Helena right now.

What had she been thinking?

Helena realized that Barbara meeting her mother was not a good idea, but when she had first caught the redhead's distinctive smell, she had been surprised. She had hoped Barbara would be at the gym, but she hadn't been counting on it. So when she had turned, meeting those bright green eyes had left her completely dazed. She was pretty sure she would have agreed to anything the other girl asked. Helena didn't know why Barbara affected her the way she did, only that she wasn't completely unhappy about it.

Watching Barbara work on the uneven bars out of the corner of her eye, Helena wasn't sure if she wanted the class to pass quickly or not. Selena was very perceptive, and the brunette was convinced she would notice Helena was acting strangely. Exactly what her mother would make of her actions was something she didn't want to think about.

Thankfully for her rattled nerves, the rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. Helena worked on the various gymnastics techniques they were assigned. She never used her full abilities but she was still praised often for her technique and skill. Several times she thought she could feel a specific pair of eyes watching her, but every time she looked, Barbara was concentrating on her own routine.

When the class came to an end, Helena tried to appear as tired as the other girls, even though she felt like she hadn't really exercised at all. She watched as her mother entered the room, her presence immediately commanding everyone's attention. Suddenly something in Selena's posture shifted and she seemed to become smaller, less noteworthy. Helena was always awed at her mother's ability to be the center of attention one minute and completely blend in with the crowd the next. Glancing at Barbara, Helena indicated that she should follow her over to the blonde woman. She tried not to fidget as she watched Barbara casually approached her mother.

"Hello Miss Kyle," Barbara began, extending her hand. "I'm Barbara Gordon. I wanted to talk to you about Helena. I'm sure you're aware that she has an amazing amount of potential. I was hoping to work with her individually after class, with your approval of course."

Barbara was doing well. Her mother always appreciated it when someone was straightforward in their intentions. She watched Selena take a moment to process Barbara's words.

"Hmm. Well Miss Gordon, I don't think that should be a problem. Helena seems to really enjoy gymnastics and you seem . . . harmless." There was something in her mother's eyes when she said this that made Helena uneasy. She watched in fascination as Barbara's face turned red, almost matching the color of her hair. When the redhead spoke, Helena thought she could actually hear her teeth grinding.

"I'm glad you see it that way. It's wonderful to see a parent who encourages their daughter's dreams instead of trying to . . . steal their childhood." Selena shot a hard look at the young woman, her normally cool green eyes darkening until they appeared black. Helena didn't know what was going on, but she got the feeling she was being left out of half the conversation. What was worse, Barbara was making her mother angry. An angry Selena was not a good thing.

"Listen up little girl." Barbara's face flushed a darker red. "I know exactly how to handle my daughter. You don't know what it's like having to raise a child alone, especially one as unique . . ." Helena stopped listening. At this point the young brunette felt near tears. There was no way she was going to be able to train with Barbara now. Reaching up she grabbed her mother's hand, interrupting her scolding of the other girl. Keeping her head down, she started to tug her toward the exit.

"Let's go Mom."

Selena glanced at her daughter, noticing the glimmer of tears on her dark eyelashes. Unable to fathom what could have so upset her daughter – Helena had never been one for tears – she turned to the object of her earlier frustrations. Barbara was watching Helena intently. Her features had softened from their antagonistic lines and she was regarding the brunette with something like remorse. Before Selena could speak the redhead beat her to it.

"I apologize for my previous behavior, Miss Kyle. I really don't know anything about you, but I would like too for Helena's sake. I probably don't deserve it, but I would like to start over, if you don't mind?"

Seeing the hope clearly reflected in Helena's face, Selena surrendered to the inevitable. "I think that's an excellent idea. If Helena agrees I don't see why you can't work with her twice a week after class."

"Yes!" Helena couldn't believe it. Somehow Barbara had managed to change her mother's mind. Helena couldn't remember that ever happening before. Smiling she hugged her mom before looking at Barbara. When the redhead met her eyes, it was to give her a small smile and a wink which Helena returned.

Chapter 2

This was going above and beyond the call of duty.

Barbara scanned the cards laying face down on the table. Using her eidetic memory she quickly recalled all the cards that had already been played and calculated the odds of the next turn. There was an eighty-two percent chance that the next card either she or Helena turned over would be a one-eyed jack.

Hand already in motion even as she laid down her card, Barbara was once again surprised to feel a much smaller hand resting below her own.

"I win again."

Blue eyes twinkled at Barbara as the owner of the hand quickly scooped the assembled cards to her side of the table. Barbara resisted the impulse to stick her tongue out at the younger girl, believing one of them needed to show some maturity. It was a struggle for the redhead however. She hated losing, and for some reason she hated losing to Helena most of all. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Helena never cut her any slack even when it was the polite thing to do. The girl was always testing her. Somewhat bemusedly, Barbara found that she had come to like and respect this quality in her friend.

And Helena was her friend. What had started off as a simple means to an end, specifically using Helena to get close to her mother, the former Catwoman, had turned into one of her most rewarding friendships.

In the eight months since she had met Helena, they had gone from student and teacher, to friends, to their current standing where Barbara almost regarded the girl as a younger sister. A terribly irritating and smug younger sister.

"Are you even trying Barbara?"

"Shut up Hel." Not liking the implication that she was somehow losing on purpose - and the reminder that she was losing period - Barbara briefly stooped to Helena's level.

"What, it's not my fault you're not fast enough."

Piercing green eyes gave the brunette a look that had been known to freeze criminals in their tracks. "I'll have you know I'm plenty fast enough. This just isn't my game."

They had started off playing poker, but Helena couldn't bluff to save her life. Every emotion was clearly displayed on her face, and after beating the younger girl in several hands with no effort, Barbara had begun to feel bad. She had suggested they play a different game and allowed Helena to pick. A mistake she soon found out, since Helena insisted they play Slap Jack, the brunette's incredible speed allowing her to defeat Barbara time and again.

"I think that's enough for one night." Helena looked like she wanted to argue, so Barbara pulled out her trump card. "Your mom should be home soon and if you're not in bed she might not let me baby-sit anymore."

Eyes flashing sullenly, Helena nevertheless began to pick up the cards, storing them neatly back in their box. "I'm thirteen and a half; I don't need a babysitter anymore."

"You know your mom just wants you to be safe, and with the amount of trouble you get yourself into, she doesn't dare leave you home alone."

Barbara wondered why she was defending her position as Helena's sometimes-keeper. She should be out protecting Gotham with Batman and Robin, or making sure that Selena really was just attending a dinner with old friends instead of stealing some priceless piece of art, instead she was babysitting the cat burglar's daughter.

When did her life become so complicated?

She knew a lot of it had to do with Helena. Something compelled her to protect the younger girl, and if she was honest, she truly enjoyed spending time with her.

Barbara had been forced to grow up quickly, faced with the harsh circumstances of her young life, such as the death of her parents, watching her adopted mother die from cancer, and the nightly horrors she found on the city streets as a vigilante. Somehow she seemed able to forget her responsibilities in the brunette's presence, however, and just be more like the young woman she really was.

Helena made her feel like a regular person and never let Barbara take herself too seriously. Maybe that was why she had initially agreed to baby-sit when Selena had asked, and why she had continued to agree after that first time.

"Goodnight Hel."

Helena turned around on the stairs that led up to her room. "Night Barbara."

She was glad that Helena never asked her to tuck her in or tried to hug her goodbye. Barbara had never been the touchy-feely type and was often uncomfortable with displays of affection. Thankfully that had never been an issue with the brunette, and Barbara wondered if Helena had somehow picked up on her unease or if the girl simply didn't want or need contact with her. The brunette really was too old for a baby-sitter; she would be starting high school in less than a year.

Thinking about Helena's future plans made Barbara once again consider her own. She had almost finished her undergraduate degrees, and she knew she wanted to continue into graduate school, but she needed something to fill her extra time. School had never been that difficult, and now that she was no longer competing in gymnastics, her days seemed strangely empty. Barbara thrived on pressure and challenges, and without them she felt less than satisfied.

She knew Bruce and Dick would have her committed to Arkham if she told them what she was planning, but it was her choice. If she wanted to teach high school while she worked on her PhD then, dammit, that's what she'd do.

She had discovered her love of teaching when she volunteered to help coach at the gymnastics center, and she figured it could only be more rewarding to teach math or English in high school. The fact that she was barely older than most of her potential students only served to increase her anticipation. She would be able to connect with them and share her passion for learning. And it wasn't like she'd be teaching forever; it was only until she figured out what she really wanted to do with her life - besides crime fighting as Batgirl. It seemed like the perfect solution to her dilemma.

The sound of the front door opening broke into Barbara's contemplation.

Selena Kyle entered her house the same way she did everything, with an almost unnatural grace and a sensual presence that immediately screamed for attention.

"Hello Ms. Kyle." Barbara had deliberately kept to the shadows hoping to startle the other woman. When Selena merely looked at her calmly, she realized she should have known better.

"Hello Barbara. I thought I told you to call me Selena. Being greeted as Ms. Kyle by someone your age just makes me feel old."

Stinging from the implied slur, Barbara gritted her teeth. She'd address a known criminal by their first name when pigs defied gravity.

"Well, I hope you had a nice evening . . . Ms. Kyle." Green eyes flared to life and Barbara barely resisted the urge to smile smugly.

Suddenly the lithe woman was inches from Barbara's face. "I've had a rather difficult evening, child, and I really wouldn't test me if I were you."

In all the time Barbara had spent with the Kyle's, she had never been able to prove that Selena had once again taken up her activities as Catwoman. It was a source of continual frustrating for the young crime fighter, but Barbara never considered giving up. No matter how long it took, she would prove to Batman and Robin that Catwoman was once again operating in Gotham.

Of course, she would then have to explain why she hadn't told Bruce or Dick that Selena was back, something she had yet to justify to herself. She supposed it all came back to Helena. The younger girl worshiped her mother, and Barbara didn't want to hurt her unnecessarily. It would be hard enough for the brunette when Barbara finally caught Selena in the act. She didn't need to be hounded by an over-eager Bruce or Dick before then.

Leaning forward, meeting the challenge head on, Barbara responded. "Oh really. I can't imagine what could be so stressful about meeting old friends."

"Well, I'm pretty sure we don't have the same definition of friends." Barbara was unprepared for the flash of fear that entered light green eyes.

Without even thinking, Barbara rested her hand on Selena's sleeve. "Is there anything I can do?" She even meant it. It was her job to protect people in trouble, even if that someone was Catwoman.

Selena was clearly startled. "No dear, I don't think you can, but I appreciate the offer."

"Don't just write me off because I'm young. I can help if you let me."

Selena looked at her for a long moment. "Now why do I believe you?" Shaking her head as if to clear it, an oddly ungraceful movement for the thief, she continued. "If you want to help, promise me you'll look out for Helena. I can't say that I see the appeal myself, but she truly worships you." Light green eyes bored into Barbara's darker ones. "Make sure nothing happens to my daughter. Keep her safe."

Caught up in the moment, Barbara found herself answering before she could think about the potential consequences. "I promise."

Time seemed to freeze for an instant as the two women contemplated each other, one young and unwavering, the other older, less idealistic, but just as determined. Barbara didn't know why, but it felt like something momentous had just occurred, something that would cause echoes throughout the rest of her life. Just what those echoes would mean, she wasn't sure.

Selena broke the moment first, easily disengaging herself from Barbara's touch. "Well I'd better go up and say goodnight before Helena's asleep, and you'd better run home. I'll see you next week." The way the older woman spoke, it was clear it wasn't a question.

"Of course."

Barbara collected her backpack and quickly left the house, wondering about the game they were playing. If it was poker, she had nearly tipped her hand and given the other woman the advantage. It wouldn't take much for someone as smart as Selena to figure out that Barbara Gordon was really Batgirl. If it was Slap Jack, she needed to act faster instead of just waiting for something to happen. Either way, she needed to start playing smarter.

Barbara smiled into the night. She loved a challenge.

* * * * *

Barbara shifted her weight uneasily on the rooftop, feeling her costume move with her like a second skin. Leather and latex weren't exactly the usual choice for a Saturday night on the town - well, at least not for the police commissioner's daughter, yet Barbara loved the contradiction. By day she was the perfect daughter. She wore respectable clothes, attended all the right functions, and was a college graduate with three degrees. But at night, she put on a mask and became Batgirl, the young crime fighter feared throughout Gotham's underworld.

She truly had the best of both worlds.

Sometimes, however, she did question her sanity - and not just because she was dressed like a bat.

Barbara had trailed Selena Kyle to an apartment complex on the outskirts of the city, and now she was crouched on the rooftop of the building across the street at two thirty in the morning. She had been debating the pros and cons of trying to sneak into the run-down edifice for the past ten minutes, but still wasn't any closer to making a decision.

Selena had arrived half an hour before, and joined two men who were known associates of the mob boss Al Hawke. The question was, was Selena working with him as a thief or as a semi-reputable art dealer? The first case was definitely a job for Batgirl, but the second was a matter for the police, or possibly the lawyers.

What was a part-time vigilante to do?

The sudden sound of gun-shots made the decision for her, and before they had even fully registered, Barbara had a grappling hook stretched across the distance between the two buildings. Landing lightly on the other side, she moved quickly for the roof-access door, sparing a moment to thank whoever had left it open, relieved she wouldn't have to waste precious time picking the lock.

Running down the stairs, she only had a moment to gasp before she slammed into another body coming up. Barbara went down painfully in a tangle of limbs, and she was about to start throwing elbows when she recognized the slight figure of Selena Kyle dressed as her alter ego. The black leather was slick under her hands, the white uneven stitching catching on her own costume. The other woman must have identified her at the same time because she stopped struggling - for which Barbara was exceedingly grateful.

"Batgirl." It was obvious from her tone what she thought of running into Barbara in the middle of the night. "What are you doing here?" The sound of a door opening below them forestalled any further questions. "Never mind, we need to get out of here. Even bats aren't bulletproof."

Jumping to her feet, the criminal moved up the stairs, and Barbara quickly followed when a shot pinged off the railing next to her.

"Hey wait!" Barbara burst onto the roof, slamming the door behind her. Selena was poised on the edge, preparing to disappear into the night, leaving Barbara to clean up her mess no doubt.

Selena raised one blonde eyebrow questioningly. "Why?"

Without waiting for a response, she leapt, easily reaching the neighboring building. Barbara growled in frustration. Shaking her head, she quickly shot a grappling line and followed the retreating figure.

The next half-hour passed in a confused jumble of images. Strange snapshots of indistinguishable buildings and blurred streets as Barbara desperately tried to keep up with the experienced criminal. The woman moved like a shadow and seemed to know every corner of Gotham like the back of her hand, forcing Barbara to use all her considerable skills to track her. Finally she stumbled onto a rooftop where the other woman waited, taking a moment to try and stop the trembling in her arms and legs from the exhausting chase. She shot Selena a murderous glare when the criminal merely watched her, not even breathing hard.

"Well I have to hand it to you; even the Bat would've had trouble keeping up with me tonight." Selena's grin was confident and just a little feral.

After the night she'd just spent however, Barbara was in no mood. "Why were you meeting with Al Hawke's goons?"

Selena's smile disappeared. "That's none of your business."

"I think it is, seeing as he's a criminal and you're a criminal. In fact, that pretty much guarantees it's my business."

Selena threw up her hands. "Just drop it. It's a personal matter." Seeing Barbara about to argue, she continued. "And it's not what you're thinking. I'm not working for him. We're not exactly on the best of terms at the moment."

Barbara laughed without humor. "Yeah, I got that. His two goons shooting at us were a dead giveaway. But if you're not working for him, then what's with the after-hours meeting?"

For the first time, Barbara saw something like fear flicker across the older woman's face. Before she could be sure, however, Selena turned to look back over the city. A sigh shook the leather clad shoulders in front of her.

"I was meeting with him to arrange for protection. I've been gone a long time for . . . personal reasons. I'm not the ‘Queen of the Criminal Underworld’ anymore, and it's starting to show." She couldn't tell if Selena's tone was faintly mocking, or just tired. "I need to make sure that certain things are safe and I don't need to be constantly looking over my shoulder now that I'm back in Gotham . . . and I'll use any means necessary to make sure of it."

Part of Barbara wanted to snap at the leather clad criminal, secure in her absolute belief of right and wrong, but another part remembered a young girl with startling blue eyes and an easy smile. When she spoke, she purposefully gentled her voice.

"Okay, but you're going about it the wrong way. You know that Batman would help if you'd ask."

Selena whirled around so quickly that for a moment Barbara was dizzy. She could only stare into the blazing green eyes pinned to her own. "What do you know about Batman?! This has nothing to do with him!"

Barbara was rocked by the vehement response, but she felt her own anger rise. "Well it will if you keep dealing with Al Hawke!"

Abruptly, Selena's shoulders slumped and all the fight seemed to leave her. "I don't want him involved."

For a second, Barbara was in the awkward position of actually feeling sorry for one of Gotham's most notorious criminals. Selena looked somehow . . . diminished.

"Look, I don't know if it helps, but I won't say anything about tonight."

Selena gazed at her in shock, and it was no less than what Barbara was feeling herself. Slowly a crooked grin edged over the older woman's features. "You know what; there might be hope for you yet."

Barbara shook her head. "Don't get any ideas. And stop meeting with Hawke. I'm sure we can find another way."

Selena started, tilting her head to gaze a Barbara, then she laughed. For a second, she reminded Barbara of Helena. "I don't think that's going to be an issue. Remember the whole guns, shooting, running thing - and I don't need your help." Barbara bristled, but before she could speak Selena continued. "But thanks for the offer."

Green eyes watched her almost fondly before she gave Barbara a small salute and jumped over the side of the building. This time when Barbara rushed to look, there was no sign of the criminal. Swearing under her breath, she turned around, trying to remember where she left her bike. It was going to be a long ride back to Wayne manor.

Chapter 3

She could do this.

Helena took a moment to breathe deeply, filling her lungs and trying to force out the butterflies that had taken up residence in her stomach. Unfortunately, the air was filled with unfamiliar and disturbing scents that only seemed to increase her nervousness. The usual disinfectant smells she had learned to ignore, as well as chalk dust and the chemical smell of dry-erase markers, but beyond that, the air of Gotham High School was a riotous mixture that caused her head to spin. Hundreds of different perfumes and colognes blended with the nauseating smell of cafeteria food and the distinctive odor of too many people crammed too close together.

Around her, students streamed past, completely unconcerned by the olfactory assault she was enduring. For some reason, Helena was just more sensitive than other people. At least that's what her Mom always said. In fact, Helena was sensitive to many things that other people seemed unaware of. So far, it hadn't caused too many problems for the small fourteen year-old.

Steeling herself, and very deliberately taking shallow breaths, Helena walked determinedly in search of her locker. Twenty minutes later, she finally stood in front of the dark green metal coffin, glaring at the lock that refused to open no matter how many times she entered the combination.

"Do you need some help?"

Helena jerked back, spilling the books she had been holding with her left arm. It was only her mother's conditioning that kept her from letting loose a string of swear words she wasn't supposed to know. Kneeling down to pick up her fallen belongings, she transferred her glare to the curly-haired boy that had spoken.


"Oh well, okay." He looked disappointed, but then smiled and held out his hand. "I'm Gibson."

Helena couldn't believe it. She was giving him her best curl-up-and-die glare, but he seemed totally unaffected. Of course, it never seemed to bother Selena or Barbara either, but that was different.

When she didn't answer, Gibson retracted his hand, but kept smiling. "It looks like you might be having some trouble with your locker." Increase in power of death look. This time he stumbled. "Uh . . . if you want, I can take a look."

Without a word, Helena finished picking up her belongings and stepped back, gesturing for him to go ahead. Giving her another bright smile, he walked forward and proceeded to open her locker without any trouble.

"How did you do that?" Helena spoke without thinking, forgetting she didn't want anything to do with him.

"It's simple really." A smug look plastered itself on his face, making Helena instantly want to smack it off. "They gave you the wrong combination. It happens sometimes. All the students who go here and stuff."

Helena regarded him quizzically. "Okay, but how did you know what the right combination was?" She figured he had hacked into the computer system. If so, she wasn't concerned. In fact, she was impressed. He might be worth keeping around.

"Oh . . ." Gibson's ears turned bright red, and she had to fight the urge to laugh. "Well I was in the office, getting my homeroom changed . . . they made a mistake on my schedule . . ." He seemed to be waiting for some kind of response, so Helena nodded slightly. "Right, so I was in the office waiting to see my counselor, and one of the secretaries had the locker assignments on her computer screen."

Helena waited for the rest, but Gibson seemed to be finished. "So you printed them off?"

"No. I just remembered them." If it was possible, his ears became redder.

"Right." Not sure what else to say, Helena began to put her books in her opened locker. "Well I've got to get to homeroom. Maybe I'll see you later." If she was very, very unlucky.

"Okay, great. See you later." He looked at her like a slightly lost puppy, then turned around and walked away.

Helena soon forgot about the incident as she tried to figure out which hallway led to her class.

* * * * *

She could do this.

Barbara took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the comforting smells of the classroom. *Her* classroom. She, Barbara Gordon, was Gotham High School's newest English teacher. It felt strange to walk through the doors as a member of the faculty and not as a student, but in a good way. And she was certainly not nervous . . . not at all.

Standing by the window, she watched students stream towards the school, brightly colored backpacks riding between their shoulders. They would have to hurry if they didn't want to be late. The first bell was going to ring any-

Briiiiiinnnngggg . . .

The loud, jarring noise sent Barbara's pulse racing. Walking quickly to her desk, she reached for her attendance list, noticing with disgust that her hands were shaking slightly. Issuing a stern mental command - she was Batgirl for Heaven's sake - she forced her hands to steady and assumed a confident, relaxed pose leaning against the side of her desk.

Just in time, as a lanky boy with brown hair burst into the room causing the door to bang forcefully against the wall. Barbara raised one crimson eyebrow as the boy flushed and turned to look at her. For one moment, Barbara was afraid she was going to be forced to perform CPR on her first student when he continued to gape at her without breathing.

"I'm Miss Gordon; you can have a seat anywhere you like."

Barbara did her best not to laugh as the young man sucked in air and promptly choked. Nodding, and still coughing, he retreated to the back of the room.

This might actually be fun.

Barbara was careful to keep the smirk off her face as more students filed into her classroom - most of the male population, and a few of the female, suffering similar respiratory distress when they caught sight of her.

Finally, when everyone had chosen a seat, Barbara began to take attendance. Her homeroom this year was filled with sophomores, and she marveled at the clothes and attitudes on display. These kids were only a few years younger than she was, but it didn't seem that way to her. She would never have held a conversation during attendance . . . and she certainly wouldn't have considered quite so many piercings.

It was going to be an interesting year.

* * * * *

Lunch couldn't come soon enough for Helena. When the bell finally rang, she marched out with the rest of her freshman biology class, hoping the flood of students would carry her along to the cafeteria.

Selena had packed her a lunch but also given her some money in case she wanted to eat at school. Judging by the smell, Helena wasn't sure the food they were serving was edible, but she was almost certain she couldn't find her locker again. Maybe she would just skip eating altogether.

Trailing behind a group of girls talking and laughing animatedly, Helena suddenly stopped dead in the middle of the corridor. Some of the students gave her odd looks as they forced past her unmoving figure, but she didn't notice. She only had eyes for the person sitting at the desk through the partially open door in front of her.

Not bothering to knock or signal her presence in any way, Helena walked into the classroom and up to the desk. She stood with her arms crossed until startled green eyes looked up to meet her own furious gaze.


"Barbara." Helena tried to put all of her confusion and hurt into the word, and it seemed to work since the redhead flinched slightly. Like all teenagers, Helena was a master of inflicting guilt.

Barbara hastily stood up from her desk. "Uh . . . so how has your first day been going?"

Helena couldn't believe her ears. Barbara was asking her about her day? Well, it was fine if you didn't count broken lockers, un-navigable hallways, and, oh yeah, her best friend failing to mention not only that she had gotten a new job, but that she would be teaching at *her* school.


"That's good."

They stood regarding each other for a moment before Barbara sighed. She motioned Helena to a seat in the front row and sat beside her.

"Look I'm really sorry I didn't tell you, Helena. There were a lot of reasons for my decision."

"What reasons?! I tell you everything!"

Barbara smiled slightly. "I know, and I'm really glad that you trust me so much, but it's different for me."

Helena might be a teenager, but she wasn't stupid. She had known Barbara was keeping secrets for a long time. The way she avoided certain topics and the hasty departures when she used to baby-sit were proof enough.

"Okay, but why couldn't you tell me about this?" She waved her hand in the air, taking in the classroom with its neat rows of desks and minimal decorations.

"I just . . . I just couldn't." Barbara ran a hand through her hair, sighing when she realized she had probably coated the red strands in chalk. "A lot of people weren't very happy with my decision, and I didn't want to go through that again."

Barbara was tempted to laugh at her gross understatement. Bruce and Dick's reactions had been bad enough, but when her father had questioned her resolve to teach, she had been devastated. She knew they didn't understand, hell, half the time she didn't understand it herself. Her education and talents didn't exactly point to a career in teaching, but it was what she wanted, at least for now. Like being Batgirl, it was a chance to help other people, but this time out in the open and not wearing a mask.

Barbara shook off her thoughts and glanced at Helena, noticing the brunette was frowning furiously. She held her breath, waiting for the tirade to come.

"They shouldn't have done that. It's your choice."

For a moment Barbara could only stare at the younger girl. There was such a look of protectiveness and righteous indignation on her face. Not for the first time, Barbara had a sense of déjà vu looking into the deep cerulean eyes of her friend.

"So . . . I guess I messed up, huh?"

Helena tried to keep scowling, but couldn't manage it. "Yeah, but you've done worse."

"Thanks." Barbara didn't try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, and smiled when the brunette shot her a pointed look. Laughing, she held up her hands. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. How about I buy you lunch as a peace offering?"

"What, you think you can just feed me and all is forgiven?" When Barbara raised an eyebrow pointedly, Helena caved. "Yeah, okay, that'll work." Grinning, she got up and walked to the door.

When Barbara joined her however, they both stood standing in the doorway. After a minute, Helena was the first to speak. "You do know the way to the cafeteria, right?"

"No. You?"

"Nope. Didn't you used to go here?"

"Yeah, but I always spent lunch in the library . . . and they've remodeled."



Barbara slowly shook her head. "How about I buy you lunch tomorrow?"

"Works for me."

Turning around, the friends re-entered the classroom, both contemplating the fact that their day was starting to look a lot better.

* * * * *

"Mom! Mom!"

Helena burst into their luxuriously decorated apartment, barely remembering to close the door in her excitement. Looking around, she remembered how she had first hated the place when they moved from Paris. Now, Helena took it all in gratefully. After spending the day surrounded by public education's idea of decor, coming home to Selena's impeccable taste was a welcome relief. Paintings hung on almost every wall, done in radically differing styles, but somehow forming a unified whole. Small statuettes and sculptures were placed strategically around the room, their familiar lines soothing to the teenager.

All of the pieces were real of course. Selena Kyle would never allow any reproductions to grace her home, but all of the really valuable works - of which she owned quite a few - were on loan to various museums and exhibits. One of the first things Selena had taught her daughter was that art should be available to everyone. She had deep seated distaste for people who purchased art solely for their own enjoyment. Helena had often listened to her mother's grief when a piece of art was bought for a private collection. The fact that those same pieces would go missing within a couple of weeks always escaped the notice of the young girl.


"Helena, stop shouting!"

Helena quickly shut her mouth at Selena's tone. She also decided to forego mentioning that her mother was also shouting. She did have some sense of self-preservation.

"Mom, you won't believe it." Helena tried to stay calm, but her voice rose when Selena entered the living room. "You'll never guess what happened today!"

An indulgent smile lifted the corners of Selena's mouth. "Oh really? Let me see." Helena laughed at the exaggerated thinking face her mother adopted. "It was your first day of high school . . ." She waited for Helena's excited nod. "So . . . did some cute boy ask you out?"

"What!? No!"

"Alright, some cute girl?"

"Mom." Helena used her best teenager voice and added an eye-roll for extra effect.

Selena held up her hands, laughing. "Alright, I get the picture, Kitten. So, if it wasn't a boy - or a girl - what had you bursting through the door and almost scaring poor Isis to death?"

Helena looked guiltily over at the couch, where the black cat crouched regarding her balefully. "Sorry, Isis." She quickly turned back to her mother. Isis had never seemed to like her, but lately the intelligent feline had started acting more friendly. Helena wasn't sure that was a good thing, it was a little creepy, but nothing could ruin her mood today. "It's so great. You're not going to believe it."

Selena waved her hand. "Not if you don't tell me," she pointed out wryly.

Helena took a deep breath. "Barbara is teaching at my school!"

Expecting her mother to be as excited as she was, Helena was confused by the look of concern that flashed across Selena's face. It was quickly replaced by a warm smile, but Helena knew she hadn't imagined it. Why would her mother be concerned about Barbara?

"That's wonderful, Kitten. Is she one of your teachers?"

"No." Helena couldn't hide her disappointment. "She's teaching English for the sophomores and juniors."

"I see." The small lines around Selena's mouth smoothed out. "So, I suppose you two won't have much time to spend together?"

Helena frowned. "I'm not sure. I know she's going to be really busy, but we had lunch together today, and she promised we could do it again tomorrow."

Selena sighed, knowing what she had to do, but dreading it just the same. "Kitten, I don't think that's a good idea."

"What do you mean?"

"Helena, you care about Barbara, right?"

The brunette nodded cautiously. Something was going on, but she couldn't figure out what. "Of course, she's my friend."

"And I'm sure Barbara cares about you too . . . as a friend."

Selena waited for Helena to acknowledge her point, but the teenager just looked at her blankly. Maybe she was wrong?


She had seen the way Helena had begun to interact with the redhead, and with her gifts starting to show themselves, things could become very messy, very fast. It was best to address it now.

"It was okay for you two to spend time together when she was watching you for me, and when she was your gymnastics coach, but this is different."


Selena wanted to bang her head against a wall. Why did Helena have to be so stubborn and curious? Thoughts of just who had contributed genetic material to produce her amazing daughter instantly came to mind. Obviously, some things were just meant to be.

"Well, Barbara's a teacher now, and you're a student. Some people might think it's inappropriate for her to be spending so much time with you."

Helena rolled her eyes. "That's stupid. Barbara would never do anything inappropriate. She's like, the opposite of inappropriate."

Secretly, Selena agreed with her daughter, but it wouldn't help things to admit that. "It's not about you or Barbara, but about what other people could think. Even if nothing was going on, Barbara could lose her job. Is that what you want?"


The misery and disappointment in Helena's eyes almost broke her heart. She felt terrible for manipulating her this way, but it was for the best. Helena would recover and two people would be spared future pain.

Selena wasn't naive. Helena had inherited her sensual charm to complement her father's coloring and commanding presence. The former thief had no doubt her daughter would soon be breaking hearts all across Gotham. She liked Barbara enough not to put the young woman in that kind of position - torn between her morals and Helena's innate attraction.

"Can I still see her sometimes?"

Selena wanted to go with her first reaction, but the hopefulness in deep blue eyes crumbled her resolve. Those eyes had always been her weakness. "Sometimes, but you need to be careful. Don't have lunch together every day, don't loiter around her classroom. You have to be smart."

"Okay. I can do that." Helena was practically jumping on her toes at this point. "Still, it is great, isn't it? That she's teaching at Gotham?"

She could see that Helena still didn't truly understand, but she had forced the issue enough for one day. "Yes Kitten, it's wonderful. Now why don't you go get something to eat. You look half starved."

Helena blushed. "Uh yeah, I'm kind of hungry." She turned to enter the kitchen, then turned back. "Oh, thanks Mom."

"What for?" Selena responded distractedly, trying to work out what had happened to her carefully prepared lunch.

"For protecting me and Barbara." With that, she was gone and the sound of cupboards being thrown open soon echoed in her wake.

Selena warily sat down on the couch, stroking an absent hand along Isis's back. "I'll always try Kitten, but sometimes you don't make it easy."

Chapter 4

Barbara glanced at the clock then took another, longer look in surprise. Homeroom would start in fifteen minutes. Biting back a sigh, the redhead closed her laptop and carefully stowed it away in her bag.

Pulling off her glasses, she rubbed tiredly at her eyes. After two months, she could now admit that she had been woefully unprepared for the stresses of being an educator. It wasn't that she was afraid of hard work - far from it - there was just so *much* of it. Between teaching in the classroom, meeting with students and parents, and all the grading, she barely had any time to herself. Add to that the fact that she was still spending her nights protecting the city as Batgirl, and Barbara felt like she could sleep for a week.

At least her partnership - if it could be called that - with Selena Kyle seemed to be working out. Batgirl hadn't caught the former thief at any more late night rendezvous. Of course that didn't really mean anything. She was smart enough to realize that if Selena was determined to hide something, the former thief would find the means to accomplish her goal. But disregarding her personal ambition, at least she wasn't required to haul Selena off to jail. Barbara knew that Helena would never recover from such a blow.

Speaking of Helena.

Looking up at the clock again, Barbara wondered where her young friend was. Helena had mentioned that she often arrived at school early since Selena dropped her off on the way to work, but the teenager almost never stopped by to visit. When she did, there was no pattern that Barbara could discern. It was almost as if Helena was *trying* to be unpredictable.

Sometimes it even felt like Helena was avoiding her, which Barbara knew was ridiculous. The brunette was fearless and straightforward in a way Barbara could only admire - and occasionally find exasperating. There was simply no way, not to mention any reason, for Helena to be avoiding her.

Yet it still bothered her. They hadn't even gotten to eat lunch together, and this after Barbara had gone to the trouble of creating a schematic of the school grounds. Contrary to all logic, she was seeing less of her friend now that they were spending most of their time in the same building.

She knew Helena was a teenager, and was more than likely making friends closer to her own age, but she could have at least bothered to inform her. Barbara didn't make friends easily, and for some reason, she had never considered that Helena wouldn't be part of her life. Now that she was forced to, she found that she didn't like it very much.

The sound of sneakers treading on linoleum flooring roused Barbara from her depressing thoughts. Whatever her own issues, she had a job to do. When all of her students were present, Barbara began reading the announcements, resolutely not wondering if she would see Helena that day.

Lunch seemed to arrive quickly. While it was true that some aspects of teaching were unexpected, Barbara found she did truly enjoy it. She loved nothing more than giving her students a different way to look at the world and helping them reach their full potential. Most days it was even worth dealing with the combined attitudes of over sixty teenagers.

After the last student completed his headlong rush to the cafeteria, Barbara sat down at her desk with a relieved sigh. In just a few moments she would pull her lunch out of her bag. Right after she pried her eyes open.

The sound of her door opening expedited matters considerably. Her eyes actually widened noticeably when she took in her unexpected visitor. Helena stood in the doorway, but made no move to enter.

"Hey, Barbara."

She watched curiously as Helena fiddled with the bag she held clutched in her hands.

"Helena. Would you like to come in?"

It seemed ridiculous to be inviting the teenager into what was essentially public property, but Helena instantly relaxed. Smiling widely, the brunette approached her desk.

"Um, I was wondering if you maybe wanted to have lunch together. If you don't already have plans or anything?"

Helena wasn't exactly nervous. If Barbara were forced to name the emotion that was rolling off of her friend, she would have labeled it caution. Or possibly anticipation. Or some combination of both.

"No, no, Hel. Please join me. Um, you can, uh, pull up a chair, desk. They're really not that bad." Whatever the emotion, it seemed to be catching.

Helena smirked. "It's been awhile since you've been in high school, so I'll let that go. In case you've forgotten, it's like sitting on a piece of plywood attached to some kind of . . . medieval torture device." She dragged one of the identical desks over to Barbara. "I mean seriously, who came up with these things?"

Barbara couldn't help but laugh at the look on the brunette's face. "I'm not sure, Hel. I think efficiency was the primary goal, with comfort running a very distant second. And I'll have you know, it wasn't that long ago. Why do you think I'm sitting on this side of the desk?" Barbara gestured to her own excessively padded chair, sans attached writing table.

"Yeah, whatever."

Leaning down, Barbara pulled out her own lunch. "I'm glad you've finally stopped by. I was beginning to wonder if you were angry with me."

If she could have, Barbara would have smacked her head against the desk. She hadn't meant to say that. What was it about Helena Kyle that occasionally made her behave like an idiot?

Helena blushed. "I wasn't mad or anything, I just didn't want to bother you. I mean, you just started teaching and everything. I figured you were probably hanging out in the teachers lounge or something."

It was a perfectly legitimate excuse, and if Helena wasn't such a terrible liar, Barbara might have believed it. The brunette wouldn't meet her eyes though, and her hands were fidgeting again. Barbara knew she should let it go. Helena must have a good reason for lying to her, but denying her curiosity had never been her strong suite.

"Is that so, Hel?"

"Um, yeah."

Helena was still avoiding her gaze, so Barbara decided to try a different tactic.

"Well, in that case, what have you been up to?"

The teenager started, and then visibly seemed to gather herself. "Oh, you know the usual. Living it up like every other inmate of Gotham High." She smiled, but it seemed forced. "At least I don't have to eat whatever it is they serve in the cafeteria."

"I believe it's called food, Hel."

"Really, coulda fooled me. I'm just glad Mom doesn't mind making my lunch," Helena sighed before taking a bite of her tuna sandwich.

"Yeah, you're pretty lucky."

Barbara wasn't being facetious. Selena may have been a lot of things, criminal, thief, and extortionist, among them, but Barbara had to admit she was a good mother to Helena.

They sat for several minutes, both steadily eating their lunches. Barbara was intensely curious, but she managed to stay quiet. Even though nothing was being said, it was a comfortable silence that seemed to permeate the room, and once again, she realized how much she had missed her younger friend.

"So what's really going on, Hel?"

She had managed to contain her curiosity for the entire lunch, which when she thought about it, may have been a new record. To her credit, Helena didn't try to avoid the question this time.

"I had a talk with Mom." Helena glanced at her quickly through her lashes then lowered her eyes back to the desktop. She began to pick at a line of graffiti with a fingernail. "She said it's not a good idea for us to spend time together anymore."

The instant Helena's words registered, Barbara was buffeted by emotions. Taking a deep breath, she took a moment to try and sort through her conflicted thoughts before she responded.

First and foremost was anger at Selena. How dare she think she knew better than Barbara! The woman was a convicted felon! The day Selena Kyle was considered a better influence on children than her was the day Barbara hung up her costume and possibly her sanity.

Following quickly after however, was a wave of, not fear, but concern. She *had* been using Helena to get closer to Selena, or more accurately, Catwoman. Did Selena know that? Had she somehow discovered Barbara's alternate identity? Would Catwoman now hold a grudge against Batgirl? Could she expect Selena to take out her anger with Barbara on the streets of Gotham?

Lastly, she felt the shame of her actions in regards to Helena. She did genuinely care for the younger girl, but she had been treating her as a means to an end, at least until Helena had stopped coming around. At that point she wasn't missing her source of information; she was simply missing her friend.

"Barbara . . .?"

The hesitantly spoken question brought the redhead out of her musings. Turning back to Helena, she sighed before pushing forward.

"Did she say why, Helena?"

"Um, well, she said people might think it was inappropriate, that you could get in trouble, that you could lose your job." Barbara watched as the girls fingers clenched around the hem of her shirt and the tears in her eyes that she hid by quickly looking at the floor.

Again Barbara felt her emotions spin out of control. This talk was wreaking havoc with her supposed equilibrium. Intellectually, she understood what Helena, and more accurately Selena was implying, but she had never considered the possibility herself. Helena was a child, albeit a beautiful and quickly maturing child, but a child nonetheless. Also, Helena was her friend, nothing more. Helena had never shown an interest in her like *that*, had she? Barbara quickly racked her eidetic memory. No, there was nothing, only friendship and a bit of hero worship. Nothing to be concerned about.

That left Barbara with only one question. What did Selena know that Barbara didn't?

"Did she say anything else, Hel?"

Helena seemed to consider for a moment. "Just that we can hang out, just not so much. That's okay right?" She looked up and Barbara could see the hope and fear in her cerulean eyes.

"Of course." She didn't even take a moment to consider her answer. Even if Selena was worried, she couldn't simply abandon her younger friend. "Maybe we could have lunch once, maybe twice a month." She offered hesitatingly. She felt some of the tension in her shoulders ease when Helena smiled at her.

"Okay, great." She looked down at her desk and then back up into Barbara's eyes. "Can we eat somewhere else next time? This desk is so not ergonomically designed."

"Of course, I've got a schematic around here somewhere." She laughed as Helena merely rolled her eyes before giving her a smile.

"I bet it's got every part of this school mapped out to within a tenth of an inch. You are such a-"

Briiiiiiiinnnnnggggg . . .

Helena was interrupted by the bell signaling the end of lunch period. She quickly got up, after some minor tussling with the desk, and threw away her trash.

"Thanks, Barbara," Helena said shyly. "See you next week?"

"Sounds like a plan, Helena," Barbara replied as the brunette walked out the door and turned down the hall. When she was sure the girl was gone, Barbara dropped her head on her desk with a hard thump. It didn't take a genius to see that a confrontation with Selena Kyle or possibly Catwoman was in her near future. Catwoman had never been known to kill, but Barbara wondered silently if she would be the one that ended up breaking that trend. Her morose thoughts were interrupted when her students began to file into the room, loud and animated after lunch. Figuring out how she wanted to handle this situation would have to wait. As she moved to the chalkboard, she hoped a compromise could be reached that kept Selena happy, but allowed her to still see Helena. Somehow, to her that had become that most important thing in the entire mess.

* * * * *

Barbara's stomach flipped when something wrapped around her arm just as she jumped from the top of one of Gotham's taller apartment complexes. A hard tug strained her shoulder before depositing her on her ass back on the same building she had intended to leave moments before. Shaking her head slightly, she looked at her arm and the black braided whip that wound several times around her bicep. Immediately Barbara rolled to her feet and took a good hold on the whip, ready to pull it out of its owner's hand if necessary.

"Be a nice baby bat and stay on the ground, pretty please."

Barbara's eyes followed the black line of the whip to where is rested comfortably in the hand of a figure covered in stitched black leather.

"S- Catwoman." Barbara cursed her almost slip.

"Now, now, battling, lets not play games. You know my alter ego, and let me assure you that I am most definitely aware of yours." With a casual motion of her hand, Catwoman uncoiled her whip from around Barbara and gathered it back. Barbara tensed for a moment until the blonde placed it back on her hip.

"Alright, no games. What do you want?" Barbara didn't relax her stance one millimeter. Selena was always unpredictable. She wasn't going to be caught flat-footed.

"I want to talk to you about a matter very dear to my heart . . . and yours as well I imagine."

"Helena." Barbara sighed in answer.

"Got it in one. You just might be as smart as my daughter keeps insisting," Selena taunted lightly.

"What about Helena?" Barbara questioned. She ignored the feeling that rose up when she thought about Helena telling her mother she was intelligent often enough for Selena to mention it.

"Helena told me you two had talked. Why did I have to be the one to tell my daughter what needed to be done?" Green eyes narrowed at her menacingly. "Why didn't you do something before this became a problem? I happen agree with my daughter, you're intelligent enough to have seen this coming. You obviously have a strong sense of morality," Selena commented after scanning up and down Barbara's costume. "So what's your excuse?"

Barbara felt the sting as the words hit home. She had been asking herself the same questions since she and Helena had talked and still had no answers.

"I don't know." Barbara looked away as she answered. "She's just a child. I'm her friend. That's all. I never considered anything else. I should have, I see that now, but I just . . ." Barbara trailed off, her voice fading into the wind that hummed along the concrete roof. A large sigh distracted the redhead from her troubled thoughts.

"You know, at first I thought you were just using her to get to me." Selena's face tightened and her eyes turned hard when she saw the masked vigilante flinch. "However, you do seem to care for her." It was a statement, but somehow the woman managed to turn it into a question, or maybe a challenge.

"I do." There was no hesitation.

"Hmm, yes." Selena paced a few steps before turning back. "You understand why I'm concerned." Green eyes seemed to burn into Barbara's darker pair.

"Yes, but you don't need to be. I would *never* harm Helena," she stated solemnly.

Selena gave a small laugh that contained no humor. "I know that. I'm more concerned that you will harm each other."

"You can't be suggesting . . ." Barbara started to protest.

"I'm not suggesting anything. I'm merely stating the fact that my daughter can be a difficult force to resist when she finds something she wants," Selena said with a wry grin.

"And you think she- you suspect that- has she told you that she's . . ." Barbara internally berated herself for her stumbling speech. Still, it was shocking that Helena's mother would hint that Helena had some sort of feelings for her, Barbara Gordon.

"To be honest, Batgirl, I'm not sure. However, as her mother, I worry."

"And so you want us to spend less time together." Barbara didn't miss the thief calling her Batgirl, not some insulting nickname. "I hope you know I would never . . . not with Helena." She felt the blush that crawled up her neck and cheeks, hoping her mask would hide the effect of her discomfort and anger at this situation.

Selena smiled at her sadly, her eyes focused on some memory Barbara couldn't see. "More than one girl has sworn they wouldn't go there and been unable to keep that promise. Sometimes it doesn't end so badly. Sometimes it's the best thing that could ever happen to you." The blonde's voice was quiet, almost reverent before she seemed to reconnect to the moment. "But Helena is much too young to make such a decision for herself, so I'm making it for her."

"I understand." And Barbara did. She'd distance herself from Helena as much as possible without completely removing herself from the younger girl's life. "She's lucky to have you for a mother." Barbara surprised herself with that comment, even more because she meant it.

"Thank you." Selena seemed surprised as well. They stood awkwardly facing each other for a moment. "Well, I guess that's that then."

"I guess. Unless you're planning on stopping for a quick heist on your way home? I could hold the bags for you," Barbara said trying to lighten the mood.

"Mmm, not tonight, but I'll definitely take a rain check." Selena smiled.

As the two masked individuals parted and went their separate ways, neither noticed the golden, slitted eyes that watched from behind an air-conditioning unit 30 feet away. The slim figure seemed to shake itself before gracefully standing and heading in the same direction the thief had taken . . . but not before casting a confused and longing look after the redheaded vigilante.

* * * * *

Two immobile figures sat pressed against the stone of Gotham's Clocktower, indistinguishable in the early morning darkness. The lights of the city shone far below, the only light above streaming from the quarter moon and to the left, the slender outline of Wayne Tower, a beacon in the heart of the city. One figure shifted, revealing dark hair pulled into a tight braid, knees drawn up to the chest, a slender arm stretched out to lay a hand on the head of the stone gargoyle that kept ever-silent vigil on the dark streets.

Tonight was not the first time Helena had followed her mother when she went out as Catwoman. The teenager always got a thrill from watching the thief effortlessly move through the city, sometimes meeting with people Helena didn't recognize, other times seeming to be touring the city, waiting for something or someone. She had never regretted breaking the rules, not until tonight, not until her mother had met with Barbara- or was it Batgirl.

Helena was a smart and inquisitive girl. It had taken only moments after the conversation began for Helena to realize the masked crusader's alter ego. That jaw dropping, gum swallowing, holy shit revelation was only part of the reason the brunette had sought out her favorite thinking spot, however. Selena thought she was staying at a friend's house so she had all night to deal with the repercussions of her spying on her mother's extracurricular activities. Fragments of sentences and emotions swirled through her mind while her eyes stared unseeing, watering in the wind that managed to invade the niche.

"So what's really going on, Hel?"

". . . a matter very dear to my heart . . . and yours as well I imagine."

"And I'm sure Barbara cares about you too . . . as a friend."

"I hope you know I would never . . . not with Helena."

Helena squeezed her eyes shut, leaving a single tear to slide down her cheek. She tried to stop the voices but they kept coming, striking at her mind and heart equally.

". . . you will harm each other."

"Is that what you want?"

". . . so I'm making it for her."

But that wasn't true. No matter what she wanted, Selena couldn't make this decision for Helena, or was it decisions. The teenager let out a long breath in an attempt to relax her cramping muscles then she turned her sights inward and began to order her thoughts.

First, Barbara was Batgirl. Somehow she couldn't feel any real surprise about that revelation. Helena had always seen and been drawn to the passion and intensity that Barbara took pains to hide from most people. It made sense that she would channel that into helping others. So Helena wasn't bothered at all that Barbara was Batgirl except for the fact that her friend had kept that knowledge from her.

Second, her Mom and Barbara had met before. Did they meet as Barbara and Selena first or was it the other way around. That would have made a big difference she was sure. The fact that they talked about her tonight as if she wasn't there (although technically they thought she wasn't) really ticked her off. She was almost fifteen years old! She could make her own decisions, dammit, which led her to the third thing she was desperately trying to wrap her mind around.

Her Mom thought something was going on with Barbara- or did she think something would be going on? Again, Helena wasn't stupid. She was almost through a year of high school. She knew what Selena was intimating. But *did* she feel that way about Barbara Gordon?

For the first time, Helena allowed herself to examine her feelings for the woman beyond just a best friend. She thought about the dark red of her hair, how it fell around her face when she let it down. How the movements of her body were so graceful and efficient whether she was walking down the hall or performing a triple back flip. The jokes that she told rarely, but that always reduced Helena to tears. The way the redhead would look at her and suddenly Helena's entire focus would consist entirely of Barbara Gordon.

Her body slumped in defeat, mimicking the posture of the stone statue that flanked her. Of course she loved Barbara. She had been in love with her from the moment she had looked up into emerald eyes. The feeling of being caught in an undertow she couldn't escape washed over her once again, shivers racing up and down her spine. Yep, she was definitely hot for Barbara Gordon. It wasn't really a surprise, just something she had been trying desperately not to admit to herself.

Helena wanted to laugh in relief and cry in despair at the same time. She loved Barbara, but so what? Barbara had all but stated that she would never be anything but Helena's friend, which made sense, to her Helena was just a kid. But that wouldn't always be the case. Counting quickly, Helena realized by the time she was eighteen, Barbara would be twenty-five. That wasn't so bad. It sounded a lot better than fourteen and twenty-one. Besides wasn't it illegal for her to date Barbara at her age? Anyway, at eighteen it wouldn't be, and maybe by then she could convince Barbara that she was girlfriend material. Selena was always saying she had too much charm for her own good.

A hand slapped suddenly against the rough stone, producing an eerie echo in the dark. Helena jumped to her feet, energized with her plan and the thought of one day accomplishing her goal. A moment later she frowned as one more piece of the nights revelations hit her. Her Mother wasn't about to let Helena anywhere near Barbara in the next few years, or maybe ever. She trusted Selena to take care of her, but Helena wouldn't let her make this decision for her. It was too important. Besides she doubted she could stay away from Barbara if she tried. So, naturally, she would just have to hide her feelings . . . for years.

Helena sighed again, before turning to look at her rapt audience. "Well, it's not going to be easy, but nothing worth having ever is, right? Right. So, all I have to do is try to make Barbara fall in love with me by the time I'm eighteen without being obvious enough to alert Barbara or Mom to my intensions. Yep, piece of cake." With a final weary pat, Helena turned away from the gargoyle and jumped out into the night sky. She might as well run off some of her frustration before heading over to Julie's. After all, high school had just gotten a lot more stressful for one, Helena Kyle.

Chapter 5

Barbara felt the brush of air as the metal pipe swung over her head. Her left foot whipped out connecting and breaking the thug's knee. He howled in pain as he made a desperate grab for Barbara's waist as he fell. The chink of a belt releasing went unheeded among the noise and confusion. She shrugged the man off, but heard others following as she ran deeper into the alley desperately trying to find a tactical advantage or enough time to make an exit; the hiss and scrapes of multiple sneakers and steel-toed boots chasing behind her.

"You've done it this time Barbara," the redhead panted to herself. Unknown to her, a shadow above heard the words clearly, giving a soft growl in reply. "Batman, Robin, I need assistance. I'm in the alley off of Jordan. Please Respond." Barbara felt her heartbeat pick up even further when only silence answered.

"Here chickie, her chickie, chickie."

The taunts of the men followed her on the desperate race atop the hard concrete. Finally she came to end of the alley, hemmed in on all sides by brick and hostile forces. She took a moment to grab for her grappling gun then another to realize her belt was completely gone then one more to wonder about the cost of replacing the leather and assortment of gadgets. Clearing her mind, she got into a defensive stance. The men stopped in a loose semi-circle in front of her. The leader shook his blond hair and flexed muscles that looked like he spent all his free time in the gym crafting. He pulled a switch knife from his pocket and waved it in front of Barbara.

"Well we caught ourselves one of the Bats. To bad it couldn't be the big one or his *friend*. What's that little cock-sucker's name, Robin? What kinda fucking name is that?"

Barbara felt her fury rise at this taunting, but forced it down. If Batman or Robin were on their way, they were going to be too late to help her now. If she wanted to survive this night, she was going to have to keep her head.

"What, don't feel like talking, chickie? I thought that's what all you girls like to do, talk, move your mouth around. Maybe I can give you something to help you it around, huh. Wouldn't you like that?"

And just like that he was at her, slashing low and aiming for her stomach. She moved to the side, catching his arm and breaking it at the elbow. She kicked his right knee, sending him to the street on his knees, before elbowing him in the face.

"One down," she panted, already breathing heavily. There were still six more thugs and three of them had almost reached her. She blocked the first few attacks, finally dropping one assailant with a spinning kick that sent him slamming up against the wall. She quickly and efficiently stripped the baseball bat away from the next and used the end to pummel the last in the face, knocking him out cold before spinning the weapon around and quickly returning it to its owner's stomach.

Whirling around she was surprised to find only one assailant was still on his feet. He looked like he'd seen a ghost, his skin pale and the white of his eyes showing. He took one look at Barbara and his fallen compatriots and ran back the other way as fast as he could. Barbara let him go. They could always pick him up later.

Looking around she tried to find Batman or Robin. Surly one of them was responsible for taking down the other two thugs, but there was no one but her and groaning semi-conscious bodies in the alley. Confused, she didn't pay attention when the blond man stirred. She was still trying to figure out what had happened when the man picked up the knife with the hand he could still use. Turning, she was just in time to find the weapon inches from thrusting into her chest. She only had time to exhale before a strange whistling filled the air and the knife leapt from the man's hand and skittered away across the concrete. At her feet the man lay sprawled, his arm sporting a break through which blood poured around the bone and dripped to the ground, several of his fingers obviously broken as well. Looking down, Barbara was surprised to see a good-sized brick, now broken into several smaller pieces, next to him.

Turning her eyes to the roofline, Barbara tried to spot her savior, but the rooftops showed only shadows, no masked avengers. She leaned down to examine the pieces of the brick, quickly deciding it probably weighed close to six pound originally. Whoever threw this had incredible strength and amazing aim.

Barbara notified the police where they could find the gang members while she tied them up one by one so they wouldn't escape. Feeling confident that she had done her job, Barbara climbed the nearest fire escape to check out the rooftops. She scoured all the nearby buildings coming up with only one possible clue. There were recent boot marks on the roof farthest into the alley. If Barbara had to guess, she would say that a single woman or young adolescent had sat and watched the fight, using the bricks as ammunition to take out some of the thugs and save Barbara's life.

Still, who could it have been? A small shoe size but an arm that could throw six pound bricks with perfect accuracy? That didn't sound like anyone Barbara knew or any of the files Batman kept. At least, not anyone who would *help* Batgirl. So who was her mysterious champion? Maybe she was assuming too much. Maybe another crime fighter was working in Gotham now, but the boys hadn't mentioned anyone. It was unlikely that Bruce wouldn't know about someone working in their territory. Barbara was led to the conclusion that either the mystery person was another vigilante being very discreet, or he or she chose to help Barbara specifically. She tuned her masked face left and right, observing the empty rooftops around her. In order to help her tonight, her defender must have followed her on her sweep. She just didn't get the feeling that this was a random incident.

Pulling out her grappling hook, she quickly made her way back to her motorcycle, aware the entire way of a prickling sensation centered on the back of her neck. Someone was watching, always from the shadows and the corners of her eyes. As she gunned the throttle she realized she should feel more disturbed by this fact. Instead, she felt comforted for some reason. That didn't mean she wouldn't find this person. Barbara Gordon hated mysteries, especially ones that involved her. She would get to the bottom of this.

* * * * *

Helena felt the presence behind her before she turned around. Mark Barrett, captain of the football team, casually walked up and placed his arm around her neck. The heavy weight settled on her shoulders, making her scramble to reposition her books.

"Hey, babe." Mark's deep voice came from somewhere over her head.

"Mark," Helena managed to get out before he was guiding her down the hall. Many of the students stared at them, whispering to each other, but of course she heard every word.

"Aren't they just the cutest?"

"I heard he dumped Alison the moment he saw her."

"It's the perfect match. The meathead and the slu-"

Helena stopped listening, concentrating instead on holding onto her books and keeping one hand around her boyfriend. She stared straight ahead until a flash of deep red caught her eyes. Barbara was just coming out of her classroom as they approached, her eyes widening when she saw the younger girl. Helena felt her face burn and quickly removed her arm from Mark's waist, but he merely pulled her tighter to his side.

"Helena." Barbara's voice sounded surprised, and her emerald green eyes were wide.

"Hey, Miss Gordon." If it was possible, Barbara's eyes seemed to open even wider at Helena's use of her title. She always called her Barbara, no matter what the circumstances. The teenager cursed silently, she was so nervous and unsettled. She once again tried to pull out of Mark's hold, but he just absentmindedly tightened his grip while talking to another jock in Gotham letter jacket.

"I was wondering if you would like to eat lunch today, Hel. It's been awhile."

"Um, sure. That sounds good." Helena had to stop the shiver that started when Barbara smiled widely at her response.

"Great. I'll see you at 11:30."

"'Kay, see you then" Helena couldn't look Barbara in the eye, instead focusing on the floor as Mark walked her to homeroom.

Her classmates were right of course. Helena had joined the pep squad this year and who better for her to hook up with than the junior quarterback. She wished she didn't need him, but he was step-one in getting Selena off her back. It seemed every week her mom would find a way to work Barbara into a conversation and she would have to watch what she said and how she said it. Since she had started dating Mark, those talks/interrogations had stopped almost completely. Unfortunately, so had her visits with Barbara. Helena had done her best to avoid Barbara. She couldn't even look at the woman who took up most of her waking thoughts with some guy attached to her hip.

It was so hard. She wanted to shout how much she cared for Barbara to her mom, to her classmates, to Mark, but she couldn't. Telling anyone would guarantee Barbara never took her seriously. Not now at least. For now she had to pretend that Mark was everything she wanted. But seeing Barbara in the hallway while hanging off of some boy was killing something inside of her. Her stomach felt sick and at that moment she wanted nothing more than to run to the girl's restroom.

"What's wrong, babe?" Mark asked.

"Nothing. I don't feel well," Helena replied desperate for her boyfriend to focus on anything else but her- which was usually his habit anyway.

"You should go to the nurse," was the wisdom he administered.

"I'll do that." She tried to smile up at him, thinking it probably looked like a gross parody of a happy gesture, but it seemed to satisfy him. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and continued down the hall. Helena did her best not to wipe her cheek. Lunch with Barbara today was going to be a nightmare.

* * * * *

Barbara's mind was definitely not on the ungraded essays in front of her. She kept going over her surprise meeting with Helena earlier in the morning. Helena had seemed almost terminally embarrassed running into Barbara while walking down the hall with her- her boyfriend. Of course the high school gossip circuit had guaranteed the redhead had prior knowledge about Helena's choice to date in the past weeks. At first it had felt as if a weight had been lifted off her chest. Helena was obviously more interested in having a sophomoric romance with the quarterback, most girls' high school dream, and that was fine with Barbara. It obviously meant that Selena was wrong and they both had nothing to worry about.

Helena was growing up. Barbara would just have to accept that the younger girl would no longer need her childhood friend. She was a teacher and Helena was a student. She was only fooling herself if she thought Helena would want to spend as much time together as they used to. Still, she didn't want to completely lose Helena from her life. It had hurt that Helena didn't want her boyfriend to see Barbara.

There was a tentative knock on the door and Barbara slowly looked up from her papers, surprised to see Helena in the doorway. Helena, in the redhead's experience, never did anything tentatively. The younger girl made no move to enter the room however, and finally Barbara had to gesture for her to come in.

"Hello, Helena. I haven't seen you for a while."

"Yeah, I know." Helena's eyes flashed for a moment and her tone was sarcastic in a way Barbara had never heard before.

"Well, I'm glad we could meet today," Barbara heard herself say into the suddenly charged silence. Helena's head dipped forward slightly hiding her eyes for a moment. When she looked back up, she was smiling though to Barbara it looked a little forced.

"Me too. Sorry, it's been a rough day."

"Oh, is there anything I can help with." Barbara was keeping the promise she'd made to Selena Kyle over the summer. She'd been careful to run into Helena as little as possible in the last month and a half. In all that time she had only seen her from a distance twice and talked with her once. Considering they spent seventy percent of their days in the same building that was quite an achievement. One her subconscious continued to nag was not statistically possible, well, not unless Helena had also undertaken the same goal. She had simply rejected that hypothesis. Until this morning.

"No, I don't think so." Helena looked at her with sadness, and unless she was greatly mistaken, longing. It was gone in the blink of an eye, but for some reason it disturbed Barbara greatly. Perhaps Helena and Selena were having problems. "Are you sure, Helena? I'll listen without judgment. I promise."

"Yeah, I've heard that before," Helena scoffed, and Barbara felt her heart clench in her chest. Since when did Helena talk to her like this? "Look, Barbara, I know you saw Mark and me this morning. And yeah, we're dating, but it's not that serious. You don't need to save me from `making a mistake that could ruin my life'." Helena used her fingers to indicate quotations and Barbara flinched. She had always hated that particular gesture.

"Yes, I did, but I wasn't going to bring it up, you did. To me that suggests at some level you want to talk about it." Barbara took a deep breath before speaking again. "Are you two sexually active? Do you need someone to talk too? Is he pressuring you?" Barbara had half risen from her chair, but the shocked and repulsed look on the brunette's face had her sitting back down quickly.

"Ewww, Barbara, no. Mark's cute, but we're not sleeping together. Ewww, no." The redhead tried her best not to laugh at the look on Helena's face. "We're just dating, you know `cause he's the football captain."

"Because he's the football captain? Is that the only reason you're with him, Helena?" Barbara questioned, suddenly feeling slightly sick to her stomach.

"Well, he's nice and um, cute. Did I already say that?" Barbara refrained from answering, her eidetic memory easily supplying the answer. Helena dropped her head until she was staring at the desktop, her next words so quite Barbara could barely hear. "I'm just using him to pass the time."

Barbara reigned in her first impulse, instead giving Helena's words the consideration her friend deserved. Helena was obviously bothered by something about her relationship with the quarterback. Whether she recognized it or not, Helena had come to her for advice, and Barbara would do the best she could to help, even if emotional problems were not her forte.

"Does he care for you, Hel?" Blue eyes looked up and for the life of her, Barbara couldn't read the feelings they expressed.

"I think he does, maybe." The words were whispered and Helena continued to stare directly into Barbara's green eyes.

"Well, that's not very fair to him then. He deserves to know you don't feel the same."

"But I need him." Barbara watched with trepidation as Helena's eyes turned glassy, almost dropping the tears that hid behind them before she focused her gaze on the fists in her lap.

"You need him, sweetheart?" Barbara didn't even realize she'd used the endearment until Helena's eyes whipped to hers only to snap away a moment later, a forced laugh rising between them.

"Yeah, you know, gotta keep that high school reputation going. Mark is the quarterback after all."

"Helena . . ." Barbara trailed off, not knowing what to say in the face of the teenager's response.

"Don't worry about it. I'll tell him. He deserves to know I ne-want someone else."

"Someone else, Hel?" Barbara wanted desperately to lay her head against the desk, the rapid changes in conversation making her thoughts spin. Helena finally looked up at her and once again their eyes locked. There was a message held in the deep cerulean orbs that stared at her almost desperately.

"Jack Barrett," Helena blurted, breaking eye contact.

"Jack Barrett?" Barbara repeated stupidly trying to take in the answer she hadn't expected.

"Yeah, Jack Barrett. He's dashing, ripped, hot, and doesn't even know I exist."

"Well I'm sure you can get his attention, Hel," Barbara managed, slowly regaining her equilibrium.

"One day, right Barbara." Helena replied seriously.

"Yes, quite right." She opened her mouth to continue, but the bell interrupted her. Helena shot out of her seat like it was on fire.

"Thanks for lunch, Barbara. We should do this again."

"Of course, Hel." Barbara called to the brunette's quickly exiting back. Sighing with relief, Barbara laid her head down on her desk with a soft thump. This was why Barbara was never going to have children- they eventually turned into teenagers.

All joking aside though, she was worried about her younger friend. She didn't believe for a minute that Helena was suffering from boy troubles. It was just too . . . teenager-y. Barbara mentally smacked herself for daring to even think such a heinous crime against vocabulary and English grammar. Still, it was applicable. Helena wasn't an ordinary teenager. She loved to cause mischief and could wrap herself in an amazing amount of drama, but she had always shown a maturity that Barbara appreciated. This Mark and Jack nonsense just rang false to the English teacher.

If that was true though, what was bothering Helena so much that she would avoid Barbara and then speak so cryptically when they finally talked. Whatever it was, she was determined to find out the cause. Helena was her friend. She would do whatever it took to help the younger Kyle. For some reason, she simply couldn't do anything less.

Chapter 6

"Well that could have gone better." A long sigh followed the pronouncement, blowing dark bangs upward for a moment before they once again settled over deep blue eyes.

"What was I thinking? 'He deserves to know I want someone else.' He deserves to know what two plus two is. 'I need him.' Like I need a hole in the head," Helena mocked Mark and herself. She was in a sharing mood. "Why not just come out and say it's her you want. You know you just made her curious and with Barbara that is never good." The stone statue next to her didn't respond.

"So what do I do now? I can't keep dating Mark. He's so boring I'll end up setting myself on fire for a little variety. I guess I can tell him I'm waiting for someone else, and then make it really obvious that I'm waiting for Jack to notice me which he never will. That should still keep Mom off my back and Barbara will accept it eventually.

"So, awesome. I get to spend three years pretending I'm lusting after Jack, Mr. dashing, ripped, and completely straight edged, while instead, I'm really lusting after the female English teacher who is eight years older than me and who I need to avoid as much as possible."

It was silent as an ambulance passed below them, barely audible even for the young meta-human, and Helena took the opportunity to express her opinion. "High school sucks!" The scream that followed her announcement, however, seemed to resonate in her eardrums and for one confused second, Helena thought she had uttered the sound in her frustration. When it was repeated however, without conscious thought she leapt from the Clocktower balcony, landing on the building closest to where the cry for help had originated. Running fearlessly to the edge she saw a disturbingly familiar image. A woman dressed up for a nice evening on the town was backed against the wall of the alley, and a group of young men in camo and baggy clothes surrounded her. Helena's sharp eyesight caught the glint of lights from multiple weapons, including guns from two of the men.

Looking around for a split second, Helena determined there was no help approaching. Gotham's vigilantes must have been busy tonight. Without wasting another second, Helena leapt for the fire escape to watch and listen.

"Just give us the valuables, lady." The woman looked at him with terrified eyes and clutched her purse tighter to her chest.

'Wrong move,' Helena thought

"Listen, bitch, we just want your money, but we'll gladly take whatever we can get from you if you give us trouble, you understand what I'm saying." The man's voice was a low growl, but the woman didn't react except to begin crying. This seemed to frustrate the man who took a step closer his hand raised, but before he could hit his target a large brick slammed into his arm, easily snapping it and sending him to the ground.

"What the fuck?!"

"Where the hell did that come from?!"

"Was that a fuck'n brick?!"

The men quickly pulled themselves into a tight circle around their fallen leader. They scanned the alley, but only the (still) crying woman and their unconscious leader meet their frantic eyes. Finally one of them stepped forward and raised his voice.

"Who's there?!" His answer was a brick that slammed into his stomach, knocking him to his knees where here retched several times. His gang watched a minute before quickly returning their eyes to the surrounding darkness. Each man could feel something watching them in the dark. Suddenly a pair of burning golden eyes seemed to hang suspended from the dark fire escape. Nothing but the eyes could be seen lending it an eerie disembodied look. Unable to move, the men stared until another brick exploded in the center of the group, sending stone shards painfully into the men's backs.

That was enough. The men broke and ran as one. The shadow smiled slowly reveling cerulean blue eyes in place of searing gold. Helena laughed as the men's final words drifted back to her.

"It's a demon, man. A fucking demon!"

"Fuck that, it's a ghost. Some dead motherfucker's ghost."

"A ghost that throws bricks?!"

"A really pissed off ghost, yeah!"

"Shut up, keep running. We've got to get ba-"

The rest of their words were drowned out by the sound of police sirens, and Helena looked over to see the woman with a cell phone to her ear. The woman didn't bother to look around, and Helena was grateful. She couldn't let this woman she what she had done, not even to accept her thanks.

Even over the sound of the sirens, the teenager gave a start when she heard the racing footsteps and the sound of a grappling hook being fired and recoiled. One of Gotham's vigilantes was on their way which meant she needed to make herself scarce. Taking one more look, she disappeared into the night just like she had been taught, a smile on her lips that remained all the way back to her bedroom and followed her into sleep.

* * * * *

Once again Batgirl was dodging kicks and punches aimed at her from multiple opponents. Only three this time and they were all intoxicated. As she spun and twisted avoiding all of their clumsy strikes easily, her gaze would focus briefly on the rooftops that surrounded them. She tried not to be too obvious; after all, she didn't want to scare her prey off.

The fight began flagging, the men simply too inebriated and out-of-shape to put up much of a challenge. Batgirl was relieved when the small black box on her hip emitted a sharp beeping tone. Backfliping to make space, she dropped into her fighting stance. The men paused for a moment, looks passing between them at the change in the air, but too stupid to realize what it meant for them. Wasting no more time, Batgirl took the fight to them. In less than sixty seconds, all three men were unconscious on the ground. Barbara dusted her hands off as she looked at her handiwork.

"Batman, Robin, just checking in. I handled the situation. I'm notifying the authorities now," Barbara radioed while discretely lifting the box from her hip. A green screen showed lines placed in descending circles from a central point. One red dot shifted marginally on the screen and the redhead resisted the urge to smile.

'Got you now.'

She proceeded to tie up the perps and then casually ascended to the roofs. Checking one last time she moved several blocks before quickly circling around and coming back from a different angle. According to the motion sensors she had placed earlier in the day, before leading the three thugs inside to help bait her trap, the target was crouched behind the industrial air conditioning unit for the apartment building.

Using every stealth technique she knew, she made her way to the other side. Taking a deep breath, she quickly moved around the side swinging a restrained punch low to the ground, hoping to knock the wind out of her stalker. The punch went high since the figure was crouched lower than Barbara had anticipated. A leg shot out and Barbara quickly backpedalled to keep from ending up on her back. The figure was on her in seconds and Barbara raised her hands in a frantic defense only to realize her assailant had hurdled over her and was escaping. Barbara growled and got to her feet. No way was this little punk going to get away from her.

As the figure approached the edge of the building, Barbara watched in amazement as he simply leapt the distance to the next rooftop which happened to be higher than the one she was currently standing and gawking atop. She shook herself and pulled out her grappling hook and began following the figure on a night tour of Gotham. After fifteen minutes Barbara had gained to the point where she could see the figures black cap and sweatshirt clearly. He or she was fast, but they didn't know Gotham like Batgirl did, and finally using a particularly good short-cut Barbara was able to tackle the figure to the ground.

Immediately she was reminded of her Aunt's cat. Every time Barbara had tried to hold Simon, the large black feline had hissed, spit, and batted her around the arms and head. Frustrated, Barbara tried to hold the figure still so she could see his face, but his movements were too wild. It suddenly occurred to the redhead that her suspect was only trying to escape, not harm her; in fact he appeared to be taking care not to injure Barbara in any way. The only sound was the panting of two lungs trying desperately to inhale oxygen in order to continue the struggle.

"Stop! Just stop! I'm not letting you go." Barbara shouted, finally getting a good hold on the figures arms after accidentally kneeing him in the stomach hard enough to force the air out his lungs.

Just like that, the figure went limp. Carefully, the vigilante moved a hand toward the hat that was pulled low over her quarries head. Barbara felt him shudder beneath her but she didn't stop. Pulling up and away in one quick motion, she was met with dark hair topping young, tanned features, but what held her gaze was the two blazing gold, *slitted* eyes that stared at her with equal amounts anger and frustration.

"Helena?" The name was barely a whisper. The dark head turned away breaking her gaze. Moments later she turned back and Barbara was faced with the familiar deep blue eyes. "Helena."

"Um, hey Barbara. Do you think you could maybe get off?" Startled, Barbara looked down at their bodies, hers straddling the smaller girl's at the hips. She quickly pulled herself up and reached a hand down which Helena gratefully accepted with a small smile. Silence settled around them once again. Barbara was unsure what to say, her mind completely unprepared for finding Helena as her unrequested champion. "So . . . I guess you probably want to know what I'm doing here, right."

"That would be one of the questions I have, yes." Barbara couldn't take her eyes off of the younger girl. She was dressed all in black. Her dark hair and coloring making her almost a part of the shadows they stood in. For some reason Barbara had the odd thought that Helena belonged out here, in the night, on the rooftops.

"Well, I've kinda been watching you, and uh, helping out whe- if you need it," except for the small slip, Helena spoke casually as if she were merely describing to Barbara why they might meet on the street after school.

"Indeed, Helena. Does Selena know that you've been involved in these extracurricular activities?"

"No." Helena looked at her defiantly. "And you're not going to tell her."

"Excuse me, Hel?"

"You're not going to tell her because," here she seemed to falter, "Because if you do, I'll never see you again."

"Why is that?" The brunette heaved a large sigh and turned away from Barbara. The vigilante realized she had been intensely focused on Helena's eyes. Had she really seen what she thought she had seen? Did she really just think that sentence?

"She doesn't know I know you're Batgirl. She doesn't know I've been following you."

"Why *have* you been following me?" Barbara watched in frustration as Helena shrugged and refused to answer. "Fine then how about this, what can you tell me about your eyes?" Helena sucked in a breath and wrapped her arms tight around her body in an instinctive defensive posture, almost making Barbara regret asking.

"I'm really not supposed to talk about that."

"I promise I won't say anything, Hel. I just want to understand." The teenager didn't respond simply continued to look away from Barbara. "Please, Hel."

"I- Mom says I'm special, but that I need to act normal. She says it's a sort of gift. She has most of them too." Helena looked up with panic in her eyes after she spoke and Barbara could guess the cause.

"I won't reveal Selena's secrets either, Helena. I promise. But what other gifts?" Barbara was puzzled. Helena wasn't and never would be normal in Barbara's eyes, but she had at least thought she was human..

"Ok. Well, I guess I just have really good balance, quick reflexes, better senses, more strength and speed-"

"Well I guess if that's all you have." Barbara tried to joke and was rewarded with a weak smile.

"And then there's my eyes." The words were whispered and full of some emotion Barbara couldn't pin down. Perhaps a mixture of shame, belligerence, and again fear. For some reason it bothered the redhead deeply.

"They're quite beautiful." She watched in some surprise as Helena's head whipped up, the eyes they had been discussing wide and focused on Barbara.

"Oh." Barbara didn't know what to make of the blush that quickly stained the younger girl's cheeks. "Thanks," she answered quietly. "Mom said never to let anyone else see them. I might get taken away and experimented on or something." Barbara's skin literally crawled at the matter of fact way Helena presented this information. Especially since it was more than likely true.

"She's done a good job of protecting you." Barbara wasn't sure who she was convincing, Helena or herself.


"What am I going to do with you, Hel?"

"You could forget you ever saw me and pretend like none of this ever happened. Or not," she quickly amended taking one look at Barbara's face.

"Helena, it's sweet that you think I need protection, but I don't. I've trained for this and therefore I can take care of myself."

"But what about that night-" Barbara cut her off quickly.

"That was an isolated incident. I would have been alright. I may have been injured, but that's something I accepted when I started being Batgirl. I will not however, allow you to do the same. If I have to get Selena involved I will. Promise me you won't be shadowing me anymore," she added seeing Helena about to argue. The brunette huffed for a moment, causing Barbara to fear she would not agree. If that was the case, Barbara would have to talk with Selena. She *would not* allow Helena to be hurt. Still, a small part of Barbara's mind couldn't help but think that with extensive training, Helena would be an amazing vigilante. Ashamed, she stuffed that thought down into her deepest subconscious.

"Fine. I promise." The words were clipped and angry, but Barbara knew she meant it. Helena didn't give her promise lightly, letting the redhead breath a sigh of relief.

"Good. I think it's time for you to head home."

"What about you?" Helena questioned.

"I still have sweeps. You however have homework."

"Oh great, Barbara, kick me when I'm down. Oh wait, you already did that." Barbara couldn't help but smile at Helena's smart-alecky remark.

"Off, go, learn."

"Yes, Ma'am. Hmm, calling you that when you're in all that latex and leather-"

"Go!" Barbara managed to utter, her face heating.

"I'm going." Helena held her hands up in surrender before turning and jumping off the building almost faster than Barbara could follow. Heart pounding Barbara ran to the edge just in time to catch a flash of black disappear around the corner.

"Show off."

Barbara set off to finish the rest of her sweep, thinking about everything she had learned tonight, and how much she still had to discuss with her young friend. It occurred to her three blocks later that she had never learned how Helena knew she was Batgirl. She doubted that Selena had discussed it with her. Sighing, she added it the list of questions she would ask Helena the next time they met.

Later, heading back to the Batcave, Barbara realized she had spent half the night contemplating Helena's amazing, fascinating - beautiful - golden eyes. It was obviously some form of mutation. If the teenager and Selena could survive with such a genetic abnormality surly there must be others. Her curiosity peaked; Barbara made a mental note to secure some time with the computer system Bruce had cobbled together.

She shoved the knowledge that she had spent a quarter of the night going over Helena's quip about her Batgirl suit. That really wasn't appropriate. She considered speaking to Helena about it, but figured it wouldn't do much good. Like mother, like daughter. She just hoped Helena had gotten it out of her system. She was already well aware that her face could turn the same shade as her hair, thank you very much.

* * * * *

Things were finally back to normal.

Helena smiled contemplating the idea while sitting in Barbara's classroom. They were once again enjoying one of their monthly lunches together. It was a schedule they had adopted freshman year after Selena had insisted they spend less time together. After Barbara discovered Helena on the rooftops, they had started them up again. Barbara had a lot of questions, mostly ones Helena couldn't answer for one reason or another.

It had been a stressful time for Helena. When Barbara had first seen her eyes she was sure that would be the end of their friendship. Instead, she had seemed fascinated. She had even called them beautiful. Helena still couldn't help the smile that spread across her face whenever she thought of that moment.

Many of Barbara's questions had related to her *gifts*. She had asked Helena to demonstrate some of her abilities which the brunette was more than happy to do. Of course Barbara hadn't shared anything she'd learned, just mumbled something that sounded like . . . meta-human, and that was the end of it.

Eventually she had stopped asking Helena the tougher questions, such as why she had been following her and why she knew about Batgirl. Helena was forced to use all of her charm and wits to deflect Barbara's questions. In the process, however, she found that she couldn't seem to help flirting a bit with the gorgeous teacher. She knew it wasn't a good idea, but the words just came out without her control. The staggering blushes that always met her teasing were just too much to resist. Of course Barbara always got even. Always.

Now it was nearing the end of her sophomore year. Everyone around her was thoroughly convinced she was pining away for Jack Barrett. Everyone thought she and Barbara were just good friends. Everyone thought Helena was perfectly sane. Everyone except Helena.

Being so close to Barbara was driving her crazy. She wanted to shout that she was completely head-over-heels in love with her and instead had to settle for lunches once a month. Still it was better than nothing, and things were finally back to normal. Even Selena had relented and next semester she was scheduled to be in Barbara's junior English class. Helena prayed nightly that she could survive being so close to Barbara with her sanity intact. So really, everything was back to normal.

Chapter 7

"Helena, would you care to read that out loud?"

Barbara felt guilty for calling her friend out in class, especially when several girls clad in multiple shades of pink giggled and whispered to each other while casting glances at the quickly reddening brunette. However, she could not always protect Helena. She was her teacher now and Barbara cautioned herself daily to treat Helena like any other student.

"Don't worry about it. Jack isn't looking," she heard the whisper as Gibson tried to comfort Helena, but chose to ignore it.

The tight clenching in her stomach forced Barbara back to the lesson. Whatever, whoever, some vicious part of her mind interjected, Helena chose to do with her time was entirely up to her. Helena Kyle may have been eating lunch with her, but the mind, the spirit, seemed absent. Lately being around Helena had left her feeling lonely.

The loud ringing of the bell was a welcome sound to Barbara, even if it was starting to drive her crazy after three years. Maybe she could suggest another means of signaling the students, perhaps one that didn't offend the auditory senses quite so atrociously.

As Helena walked up the aisle of desks, she was tempted to reach out and place a gentle hand on her shoulder. Vaguely she registered that she would not have to reach far, Helena had grown quite a bit over the summer. Her hand hovered a moment before she allowed it to fall. It wasn't the time. Whatever the problem, Helena should come to her first, not have Barbara interrogate it out of her.


Turning around, Barbara found Helena leaning against the closed door. Not sure if she was prepared for whatever the teenager had to say, Barbara inhaled deeply before replying.

"Yes, Hel. Is there something I can do for you?" Mentally she berated herself for sounding so formal. This was Helena after all.

"No, um, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, just a bit concerned for you, really."

"Oh. Don't be. I'm fine-good. I'm okay."

"Yes, that's very convincing." Barbara let the grin cross her face, smiling when it was returned.

"Shut up."

"Is that any way to speak to your teacher?"

"Not my teacher, maybe my best friend."

"Well as your best friend, I think I need to tell you that you've been . . ." Barbara paused, searching for the word she wanted, "restless lately. I was wondering if there was anything you wanted to talk about."

"Barbara, I'm really okay. I'm just . . ." Helena shrugged her shoulders. What was she supposed to say? She felt tears sting her eyes and turned away before the other woman could see them.

"It's alright, Hel. You'll tell me when you can." Barbara felt terrible for pushing Helena to the point of tears. She always seemed to be saying the wrong thing lately, but really, Helena was as twitchy as a . . . well a cat. She was sure to keep that observation to herself of course. She had recently found out just how much the brunette hated any comparisons to genus Felidae. She wasn't likely to repeat the experience voluntarily.

"Thanks," Helena replied while surreptitiously wiping her tears away. "I'm just going through some stuff, you know."

"Yes, I do. It's called high school. Every child your age hates it. I'm not sure why we don't just abandon the whole enterprise." Barbara tried to get Helena to smile and was rewarded with a small twist of lips.

"But then you'd be out of a job."

"So I would. I guess there must be another solution. Duck tape? Chains perhaps?" Helena's eyes lit up and Barbara knew she had just shot herself in the proverbial foot.

"Chains, Barbara. Sign me up," Helena added with an attractive leer. "What exactly would you-"

"Never mind, Helena. I'm sure our current institution has prevailed this long for a reason. I'm just feeling a bit stressed, of course." Barbara fought the blush rising up her neck, knowing she was failing miserably.

"Yeah, mandatory attendance," Helena scoffed. Without warning, her stance shifted and her tone became concerned. "*Are* you alright?"

"Perfectly fine, Hel. Why do you ask?"

"Dunno. You just seem . . . upset. I thought maybe it was me," Barbara rushed to reassure her, but Helena forged ahead before she could speak. "You know, having me in class this year. I know I can be a pain in the as- butt," she amended quickly.

"You are not a pain, Helena. I'm extremely pleased that you're in my class. In fact, I have a good feeling about this entire year. Despite all the note passing that occurs under my very nose." Barbara tried to lighten the moon, but blue eyes regarded her skeptically. "What?"

"You have a good feeling? You? Feelings? Are you seeing what's wrong with this picture?"

"I'll let that slide for now; however, I expect an apology at the end of the semester, maybe in the form of a written essay." Barbara began to shoo Helena out of the classroom, even while the younger girl continued to argue.

"As if. I bet we barely survive this semester. Then you can write me an essay that praises my amazing precognitive abilities." Helena laughingly added as she walked out the door.

"I wasn't aware that that was one of your, admittedly, amazing gifts, Helena," Barbara laughed as well.

"Yeah, well, I don't tell you everything." Suddenly there was something in the tone of Helena's voice that Barbara didn't like. In fact, it sent shivers up and down her spine, and not in a good way.

"No of course not," Barbara watched the girl - young woman - walk confidently down the hall. "but you used to."

Sighing, Barbara went to sit at her desk to plan for the next day. She had told Helena the truth. She did have a good feeling about this year. Helena was in her class every day. Catwoman hadn't caused any trouble in months. Her Dad and the boys had stopped giving her grief for teaching, and Batgirl was at the top of her game. Yes, this was going to be a good year.

* * * * *

Helena trailed her fork listlessly over the spaghetti on her plate. She was slowly, but surely, separating the pieces of hamburger from the tomato sauce. The sound of her mother calling her name repeatedly brought her head up quickly.

"Sorry, what?"

"Kitten, what's going on?" Selena's bright green eyes regarded her, the gaze filled with compassion and no small amount of frustration.


"Nothing. I've been talking to you for the last ten minutes. Have you heard anything I've said?"

"Um . . ."

"No, of course not. You've been too busy picking apart the dinner I prepared for us." Helena looked down at her plate, unsure what to say. "Alright, Kitten, I've let this go on long enough. Talk to me. What's bothering you?"

"Nothing. I told you." Even if she wanted to, Helena didn't know where to start. Things were falling apart left and right. Recently her Mom had been going out almost every night. When Helena had followed her, Selena's alter ego had been meeting with different groups of men. Men that looked like Batgirl should be hauling them off to jail. Each time Selena appeared frustrated and left in a hurry. Helena didn't understand what was going on, but it scared her. She was almost to the point of asking Barbara for help, but she couldn't betray her Mom like that. Even to Barbara.

Then of course there was the whole school situation. Being voted the most likely to inspire envy was great, except when you envied everyone else around you. They didn't have to pretend to be winded after running *one* mile on the track. They didn't have to pretend that some boy, no matter how cute, was the sole reason for their existence. They didn't have to lie to everyone around them. They didn't have to hide their feelings every single day. They didn't have to sit in Barbara's class and wonder if she could ever love them when the odds seemed impossibly stacked against them.

And worst of all - Dick Grayson. The handsome, charming, stuck-up, pretentious, condescending asshole that Barbara was now dating. The fact that she seemed ridiculously happy only added to the misery. How could Barbara fall in love with her if she was blissfully in love with *Dick*? But what could Helena do; ask Barbara not to fall in love for another year and a half? That would go over well. She should have seen this coming. Of course Barbara wouldn't stay single. She was amazing, and finally someone other than Helena had noticed.

And she couldn't tell any of this to Selena, her own Mother. The knowledge that she couldn't talk to anyone almost made her burst into tears. Pulling herself together, Helena prepared to tell another lie. She was so tired of lies.

"I don't know." She quickly continued when Selena's eyebrow shot to her hairline, a clear warning sign. "I've just had this really bad feeling lately."

"What kind of feeling?" Selena asked in concern.

"Just like something bad is gonna happen. Really bad." Helena shrugged her thin shoulders. It was the best she could do, and it wasn't entirely untrue. She had had a bad feeling all week.

"Well, let me know if you figure out what's causing it," her Mom offered. Helena tried to give her a reassuring smile.

"I will."

There was several minutes of silence while Helena continued to absently deconstruct her dinner and Selena watched her in concern.

"We haven't done anything together in a while. Just the two of us. A girl's night out." Helena lifted her head and cautiously smiled.

"Yeah, it's been a while."

"Do you have any plans for this weekend?" Green eyes sparkled at her and Helena was helpless to stop her grin.

"Hmm, let me think. Well I've got to figure out a way to end world hunger, but I should be free on Sunday."

"Always so cheeky. How could I have raised such a daughter?"

"Easily," Helena replied with a grin.

"Hmm, perhaps. Well, how about Sunday we go see a play? Just the two of us." Helena considered quickly. An entire night where her mother wouldn't be meeting strange men on rooftops and back alleys. An entire night where she could just relax and not think about Barbara and stupid Dick Grayson.

"That sounds awesome."

"Awesome," Selena replied wrinkling her nose in distaste of the word. "I'll call and get us tickets tomorrow. Don't make any plans."

"Okay." They sat quietly and finished their meal. As Helena prepared to take her dishes into the kitchen, she paused not looking at her mother. "Thanks, Mom. I'm really glad we'll get to spend some time together."

"Me too, Kitten. I'll try to make it happen more often. I know I've been neglecting you lately."

"It's cool. I know you've been busy."

"Yes, well, that's no excuse. I promise I'll always be here for you. Anytime you need me."

Helena just smiled and went to wash the dishes.

* * * * *

"Robin, we're heading into the tunnels. Stay alert. Watch the exits."

Barbara sucked in one last breath of salty air as she listened to Batman's communiqué. Flinging her cloak behind her, she prepared to follow the dark shape in front of her into the warehouse tunnels of Gotham's docks.

"Batgirl?" The young man's voice seemed to echo in her earpiece, matching the racing of her heartbeat.

"I'm here, Robin."

"Be careful." She could tell he wanted to say more. After almost six months of dating and several years as his partner in crime fighting, she could hear the unspoken words. I love you. I can't lose you.

"Always." With that, she turned her thoughts away from the man she thought she might marry some day and entered the dark pit that held their prey, the most feared and terrible of Batman's enemies. Jack Napier, aka The Joker.

Later it would seem like a dream to Barbara Gordon. The ambush in the tunnels. The fight with Batman by her side. The glimpse of green and white that seemed to glow in the shadows. The pain as kicks and punches landed or were blocked. The flash of light shot from a pale hand. The flicker of fire that ignited the very air around them. Finally, the sound of Batman's body striking the Joker as the roof beams crashed down from above.

As they ran to escape the spreading blaze, Batman dragging the mad villain behind them none too gently, Barbara felt the smoke grab her lungs, staining the air she desperately sought. Up, up, the air growing thin, death behind them and carried with them. Barbara shuddered when she realized the whole of the warehouse district was going to burn.

Oddly the first thought that entered her mind as they burst from the tunnel, debris falling like hail behind them, was Helena. With the fire raging all around her and the haze of smoke clouding everything, the sky above them remained blue. The same blue as Helena's eyes.

"Batgirl, Batman, where are you?" The voice was thin with static.

"We're at the tunnel entrance. We've apprehended the Joker." No one else would have heard the satisfaction in Bruce's voice, but Barbara did and gave a small nod to her mentor which was returned.

"Great! Is everything alright?"

"We're fine, Robin," Barbara answered, knowing what was really being asked. "I assume the fire department is on their way?"

"I notified them, but I'm pretty sure they already knew. You do know that the entire warehouse district is going up in flames, right?"

"We are. I'll stay and make sure our resident criminal is taken into custody. Robin, head back to the Cave. Barbara, head home." Barbara started to protest, but Bruce cut her off. "Go home. Get cleaned up and head over to the Cave when you're done. Call your Father first."

"Dad? Why would I-"

"Just trust me." Bruce's voice brooked no argument and with a final nod, Barbara moved to her bike and took off heading for her apartment. She could almost feel the hot water from the shower that she would take the instant she walked in the door. She hated the smell of smoke.

* * * * *

Helena felt the tears that stained her cheeks as the actors played out the scene in front of her. She couldn't even remember the name of the play, but now found the tale of love lost and found again to be wreaking havoc with her emotions. She felt Selena move slightly and started at the touch of her warm hand. Her own fingers had grown cold clenched in a fist at her side.

"Alright, Kitten?"

"Yes,." Helena replied, wanting in that moment to just tell her Mother everything. Why this play inspired her to tears, all her fears and troubles and sorrows. Instead, she slowly unclenched her hand and patted Selena's reassuringly.

As the play continued, Helena tried to sit quietly and project an air of enjoyment. It was a well acted play, if only the content were not so hard to bear. When the final line was given, Helena stood and applauded loudly, a second before anyone else in the audience. Selena glanced at her in concern then stood to offer her applause as well. Helena struggled to pull on her coat before heading out into the cold Gotham night. She was grateful when Selena grabbed the hair which hung to the middle of her back, and pulled it from her collar. One of these days she was going to get it cut, but her Mom always made such a fuss.

"Did you enjoy the play?" Helena could hear the real question hiding behind the words.

"Yes, very much. I don't know, it just kind of . . . struck me, you know."

"Hmm, yes." Helena tried to decipher the look her Mother was giving her, but the bright green eyes stayed inscrutable.

"Anyway, I'm glad we could see it together," Helena said sincerely.

"So am I, Kitten. So am I. We should do this again soon, don't you think?"

"Yes," Helena replied grinning happily as they started to walk away from the theater entrance. "We should."

Later, it would all seem like a dream to Helena Kyle. The man wrapped in a dark coat, black gloves on his hands. Watching the knife drip bright red blood onto the street. The screams that wouldn't stop. Her screams. The crowd that gathered to stare at the sight of a blonde woman dressed in a blue suit lying on the ground, blue and gray and red.

"Mom! Mom, can you hear me? It's Helena! Mom, you- you have to! You have to! You have to hear me!"

The pressure on her hands as she shook the body in front of her, almost able to feel the heat dissipating into the air.


"Is she breathing?" Someone speaking, asking a stupid question. Of course she was breathing. Looking up to see the man, the man with the knife. Still standing there, watching.

"Stop him! Somebody stop him! Somebody stop him!"

The slowing of time as the knife fell from his hand into a puddle of water. Watching him run away as no one even looked up from her Mom's-

Shaking, desperately shaking, herself and her Mother.

"Mom! Mom!"

Laying her head down on a chest that no longer rose or fell with breath. Watching the blood on the knife dissolve into a pink tint that stained the puddle as she sobbed into her Mother's . . . the body. The crash of thunder.

* * * * *

Barbara stepped into the shower, letting the hot water run down her body. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and rested her head against the glass door. She listened to the building storm as rain pelted the brick building. She had left the TV in her bedroom on, letting the soft, comforting sound of the news travel into the bathroom.

Barbara's head turned sharply sending the spray across her right cheek bone as three words grabbed her attention; Selena Kyle . . . murdered. Quickly stepping out of the shower she grabbed the robe hanging on her towel rack and wrapped it tightly around her body. Walking to the nightstand, she grabbed the remote and turned up the volume.

"A shocking development here at Gotham Theater tonight, David. The respected arts dealer Selena Kyle was stabbed to death outside the front doors. It appears that she and her daughter, Helena Kyle, were attending tonight's performance. As the two exited, they were accosted by," here the pretty blond woman checked a clipboard in her left hand before looking back up at the camera, "a large man in a dark jacket, wearing black gloves. Witnesses say he stabbed the victim once, fatally, and then ran off before he could be apprehended. Authorities are looking into who might have had a grudge against Miss Kyle, but so far they haven't released any names. Commissioner Gordon is set to speak on the high profile murder later this evening. Back to you David."

"Thank you, Jessica. We're all grieving for the loss of one of Gotham's most vibrant personalities. Of course, our thoughts and prayers go out to Miss Kyle's loved ones at this time." Turning his body slightly, the man's tone of voice changed completely. "Next up here at GCN, Mike Kollwitz with sports."

Barbara quickly turned off the TV before sitting down heavily on her bed. Selena Kyle was dead. Murdered. Suddenly Barbara was standing without any memory of movement.

"Oh my God, Helena!"

Almost running to her closet, Barbara pulled out some jeans and the first t-shirt her hand touched. Throwing them on the bed, she was looking for some underclothes when a knock sounded on her door. Immediately her mind was filled with images of Helena. Of course, where else would the teenager go with Selena - gone?

Tying the robe tightly, she headed quickly for the door. As it opened her shocked mind could only register the differences between what her eyes saw and what her mind had anticipated. Instead of formal attire she was met with a purple suit. Instead of caramel skin, she found pasty white. Instead of dark brunette hair there was only garish green. Instead of the agony of loss, the eyes that stared into her own were clouded with the madness of violence.

The sound of the gun cocking was loud in Barbara's ears. The sound of the shot even more so. She felt no pain, only a pressure on her stomach and then, as if a switch had been thrown, she crumpled to the floor, her legs no longer able to support her. She sensed more than felt the blood that started to pool underneath her. Time slowed again that night as she watched the single shell casing clink to the tile floor.

"Knock, knock ..."

Slowly Barbara was able to turn her head to look at the man who had just shot her in cold blood.

"Who's there?"

The gun was still pointed at her stomach. She tried to take in his words, but her focus shrank to the dark abyss of the gun barrel that she knew would end her life.

"Batgirl ... past tense."

She could sense the blood spreading out through the grooves in the tile. She began to calculate how far the fluid would spread taking into account her body mass and the amount of blood a human being carried at any given moment. She flinched when she remembered dropping her utility belt and mask on the floor as she entered the apartment earlier. The leather would be ruined.

Insane laughter preceded a flash of lightning and crack of thunder. The apartment went dark until two sharp cracks and flashes of light lit up the room once again. Everything was fading, but Barbara could tell the difference between the shots and the storm. Her body jerked and jumped in a parody of life even as the metal entered and stole it from her. The last thought she expected to ever have rushed across her mind as utter darkness chased close on its heels.

She couldn't keep the promise she had made to Selena. Who would keep Helena safe?

Chapter 8

Helena watched the tear fall. It splashed onto the faded off-white linoleum floor, breaking into thousands of smaller droplets as it exploded outward. That's how her heart felt, she mused. Like it had exploded outward from her chest and left her unable to feel.

Shifting uncomfortably in the hard plastic chair, she tried to trace how she had ended up here. First there had been the EMT's loading her Mother's body into the ambulance. They hadn't even tried to resuscitate her, merely shoved her into that black bag and zipped it up. Trying to leave without her, they had reconsidered after one look at her eyes. Helena didn't know if they had turned feral, but whatever they saw, she was allowed to ride to the hospital.

After they arrived, she had tried to follow the bag that contained what was left of Selena Kyle, but Doctor Biely had barred her way. For some reason the woman was imprinted on Helena's mind. She could recall every detail about her, from the dark blonde, almost gold of her hair, to the chocolate brown eyes. The off-white color of her name tag, a perfect match for the linoleum floors. The way her scrub pants were just a little too large and knotted twice at her waist. The small stain, brownish-black and shaped like a badly drawn cross that marred the hem of her top. All this Helena could recall perfectly. What she couldn't remember was how the doctor had managed to get her to sit in the uncomfortable chair.

Shrugging her shoulders, Helena acknowledged it probably didn't matter. This was where she'd ended up. When asked who they should call, the brunette gave the only response she could. Barbara Gordon. Yes, the Commissioners' daughter. Call Barbara.

And now she was waiting. Waiting for Barbara to show up. Waiting to see the eyes that would look at her with sympathy and caring. Waiting for the voice that would tell her it would be alright, even though it couldn't ever be again. Waiting for the arms that would wrap around her and finally break through the cold and numbness.

"Miss Kyle?" Helena looked up slowly, not recognizing the man dressed in green scrubs.

"Yes." God, was that really her voice. The sound grated on Helena's nerves as the one word grated on her throat after all the screams and sobs.

"Um, you did say to contact Barbara Gordon, right?"


"Okay, just one moment."

Helena watched as he quickly retreated to the nurse's station and began a rapid conversation with the on duty nurse, several police officers, and another doctor. They continued to talk animatedly with an occasional glance at Helena. For the first time in hours, she felt something force its way through her deadened emotions . . . fear. Something was very wrong- besides the obvious. She watched as the same doctor walked back to her, his expression unreadable.

"Miss Kyle, I'm afraid I have to give you some bad news." He stopped to pull off his scrub cap and run a hand through his wavy brown hair. "Less than an hour ago, Barbara Gordon was the victim of a shooting at her apartment. She's alive, but in critical condition. She's in surgery now, and will likely be there for several more hours. Is there someone else I can call to come get you? A relative perhaps, or someone your Mother-"

Helena didn't hear the rest. She had stopped listening. There was no one else, only Barbara, and she was in surgery, in critical condition. Helena felt the last of the numbness explode from her body, forced out by the rising flood of emotion.

George Tiller, PH.D, froze as the most frightening sound he had ever heard seemed to burst out of the small teenager in front of him. Growing up in Minnesota, he and had often gone hunting with his father and grandfather. To this day he remembered the time they had come across a lone timber wolf picking at a deer carcass. The growl that had almost made him wet his pants at fifteen was nothing compared to the sound that seemed to short-circuit his body now. He almost cried in relief when the girl pushed up from the chair violently before racing off down the hall. Looking down, he was relieved to see his scrubs were unsoiled.

Helena felt her eyes change, but didn't care. She had one goal, and one goal only. Get to Barbara. She kept her head down and moved fast until she was at the emergency entrance. Stopping she deliberately took a large lungful of the hospital air, almost choking on the smells of infection, blood, and disinfectant. Pushing past that, she was just able to scent the unique combination that equaled Barbara. Baby powder, leather, machine oil, something that was uniquely Barbara, and . . . blood, lots of blood. Shaking she began to follow the trail, not pausing when several people yelled at her for pushing her way through several swinging doors. And then there, right in front of her, was a glass window. On the other side doctors and nurses worked frantically around a still figure on the operating table. The figure was wearing a cap, but a loose tendril of red had found it's way free. It was Barbara. Helena had found her.

Oddly, Helena felt her body begin to shake even harder. She wrapped her arms around her chest and tried to stay still, but it didn't work. The last thing she noticed before her body tilted radically to the side, was the rush as her eyes shifted back. Then there was only darkness.

* * * * *

Pain. So much pain.

The darkness was everywhere. No light, no light anywhere.

Where was she? How did she end up here?

Distantly she felt frantic, disciplined hands on her body.

. . .

Something, a feeling, not felt.

Coming closer, she could feel . . .

She was here...

* * * * *

After passing out, Helena had woken up in some other part of the hospital lying on a cot. She had quickly snuck out of the room and gone prowling down the hallways, finally ending up at Barbara's room. Looking around, she saw several doctors and nurses, and sitting in another of those horribly uncomfortable chairs outside the door was a dark haired man in gray slacks and a white collared shirt. His head was hanging between his knees so she couldn't see his face. Cautiously she walked forward and sat a few seats away. Slowly the dark head rose and turned to meet hers. She took in the cerulean eyes and bronzed skin with interest, but what really caught her attention were the tear tracks down his cheeks and the redness around his eyes. He had obviously been crying. For some reason, the thought hit Helena that this was a man who didn't cry often.

"Hi," she offered tentatively.

"Hello." The reply wasn't unfriendly, just abrupt and said without emotion.

"Um, are you alright?" Helena winced. Of course he wasn't alright. He was obviously very upset. She sounded like one of the dumb hospital workers. Can I get you something to drink? Would you like a magazine? Is everything alright?

"Yes, thank you." He must have seen her regret because his voice was warmer. Helena didn't say anything this time, just allowed the silence to creep back. "I lost someone very important tonight, and I'm terribly afraid that I'm about to lose another."

"Oh." Helena wasn't sure how she should reply; finally settling on misery loves company. "I lost my Mom tonight."

"I'm so sorry." She could hear the genuine sadness and it almost made her start crying again. "What was her name?" Helena had to take a breath before she could answer.

"Selena Kyle."

Helena listened to the intimidating silence that seemed to slam down around them. She quickly lifted her head to look at the man, and found him staring directly into her eyes.

"Is this a joke?" His voice wavered badly and he had gone very pale.

"What?! No! What kind of sick person would joke about their dead mother?" Helena snapped back, her anger still fresh.

"I'm sorry, I just -" He trailed off helplessly. Helena watched guardedly as he continued to stare at her, studying her hair and eyes, the shape of her face. She was starting to get creeped out.

"Look, I'm sorry I asked." Helena held her hands up, not wanting to continue the conversation.

"Selena really was your mother. You have her bone structure."

"You knew my Mom?" Helena's heart rate picked up.

"Yes. Did she - do you know who your father is?" The voice was once again unemotional, but Helena could sense the strain behind it.

"Nah. I asked when I was younger, but she always said we didn't need him. That it might be dangerous to find him." Helena didn't want to talk about this anymore. Her Mom was dead and this jerk was asking about her missing father. What the hell?

It was silent for several moments before the man spoke again, hesitantly. "Miss - God, I don't even know your name." He paused and Helena reluctantly gave it to him. "Helena, what if I could tell you who your father is. Would that be something you would want?"

Helena looked at him in total shock. This guy knew who her father was. How? Why was he going to tell her now? Was he lying? She opened her mouth to ask any of the questions that were racing around her brain.

"Yes." The hushed word hung between them.

"Your father was Bruce Wayne."

Helena looked at him in shock. The Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne the billionaire. Helena was so stunned she didn't see the doctor approach the man sitting next to her.

"Would you please sign here Mr. Wayne?"

Two pairs of identical blue eyes locked and held, leaving the unlucky doctor to back away slowly without the needed signature.

* * * * *

She was my daughter. I would've had to have been blind not to see it. She had Selena's face, her lithe, athletic body, but she had my hair, my skin tone, my eyes -

God, her eyes were burning into me. Is this what I looked like when I faced down Gotham's criminals, all rage and pain and sadness? I couldn't look away even though I desperately wanted to. Why had I told her I was her father? Why now, with Selena just murdered, another person taken from me that I couldn't save; and Barbara, who in all likelihood wouldn't live out the night? Why now, when I could barely breathe past the sorrow and guilt that clogged my throat? Why now, when all I wanted was to crawl into the deepest, darkest pit I could find?

"Bruce Wayne, I presume." The words were biting and I felt the pain as they hit home.

"Yes." What else could I say? How do you tell a teenage girl that you didn't know she was your child until five minutes ago, that you'd even had a child?

"What are you doing here?" That I hadn't expected. What else could I be doing? I was here for Barbara.

"I came to check up on Miss Gordon." Her dark brows lifted over my eyes in suspicion. It was then that it hit me - she didn't know I was Batman, or that Barbara was Batgirl. Of course it would seem suspicious for playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne to be waiting at the bedside of school teacher Barbara Gordon. The World's Greatest Detective - what a load of -

"Why?" She was starting to look hostile. I could almost imagine the girl as some kind of guard dog for the injured woman; or perhaps more appropriately, guard cat considering who her mother was. Had been. Oh God, Selena, how can you be gone?

"I've been friends with the commissioner for years. I've known Barbara for most of her life." Those eyes burned into me again. In my shattered state I couldn't hide anything from this small girl in front of me. My daughter, some part of me screamed. I couldn't hide anything from my daughter.

"Want to try that again?"

"Alright," I sighed. How much could I tell her? How much would she really want to know? How could I tell her it was all my fault? I leaned in slightly and spoke softly. "Barbara Gordon is really Batgirl." I felt a small twinge at reveling Barbara's identity, but the girl just gave a slight nod of acknowledgement. That was odd. "And when I'm not busy spending my parent's money, I'm Batman," I tried a little humor. Her eyes went round at that confession. A small part of me wondered if she would be proud of me, this daughter I never knew I had. I quickly silenced it like all the other voices that had haunted me over the years.

"You're Batman." She barely whispered the words, but I looked around quickly out of habit. No one was anywhere near us. I waited anxiously for her reaction, prepared for anything I thought. I was wrong. "That's great!"

"It is?"

"Yeah! Now you can go kill those bastards. The ones who killed Mom and hurt Barbara."

"Helena, I don't kill!" I was shocked. She spoke so easily about ending another life.

"What?! Not even the asshole that murdered Mom?" I could see she was becoming upset again. I had to make her understand.

"I've already found the Joker, the man who hurt Barbara. He's back in jail for the rest of his natural life. I promise you, I'll find the man who killed Selena. I'll make sure he'll be in jail for the rest of his natural life too."

"That's it." Her tone clearly conveyed her disgust with my answer. "You're just gonna put them in jail. They killed my Mother and they almost killed Barbara, and you're just gonna let them live!" She was yelling by this time, attracting attention from the hospital staff. "Why am I surprised, this is all your fault anyway!" I shouldn't have been so taken aback, after all, I'd been thinking the same thing, but somehow hearing it from this girl who looked so much like my Selena pierced all the armor I had built around my heart. I felt her words carve holes out of my body as she continued. "Why did you even bother coming here? It's not like you can do anything for Mom now. She's dead and it's your fault. You didn't save her and you don't even know who killed her. And it's not like Barbara will want to see you. You let the Joker escape. He shot her because of you. She might die because of you. What kind of superhero are you?!"

She was almost shrieking now, and her voice blended with all the others I'd been fighting so long to ignore. The ones that blamed me for my parent's deaths. The ones that remembered every person I'd failed to save. The ones that said I would never beat the darkness because I was the darkness. The ones that wept and screamed that the only woman I had ever loved was dead. The one that said I had a daughter who hated me.

In all the noise, I heard one voice speak.

"I have to go."

It was my voice. Before I could question it, I had turned away from the only blood relative I had left in the world and walked out into the night. I don't remember if she called after me. I was too busy running from the voices.

* * * * *

Barbara slowly woke to the pain. Pain everywhere. She couldn't move, knowing in some animalistic way that to move would mean even more pain. She couldn't take any more pain. She would die.

Why wasn't she dead?

The odd thought momentarily distracted Barbara from the pain, but not for long. She felt tears squeeze themselves out of her eyes before she could stop them. A beeping sound started to increase in frequency. She realized she had been hearing the sound since she first - woke up, gained consciousness?

Daring to lift her head, she caught the entrance of a nurse into her room. A nurse? Obviously, she was in the hospital, but why? Barbara hated hospitals. They always brought back memories of car accidents and cancer. Two topics she avoided religiously.

"Oh, my!" The startled nurse looked at Barbara. "You're awake. I'll just go get the doctor. I'll only be a second.

Finding even the small movement she'd performed too much for her aching body, Barbara once again slowly lowered her head to the pillow. Hopefully she would still be conscious whenever this doctor arrived. She didn't have long to wait and soon blond hair was hanging down in her face and brown eyes stared at her cautiously.

"Hello Miss Gordon. I'm Doctor Biely. You gave us quite a scare." Seeing the confusion on Barbara's face she continued, "Can you tell me what you remember from before you were brought to the hospital?"

Barbara's head ached fiercely, but she dutifully tried to remember. They had been fighting the Joker in the warehouse tunnels. Not something she was going to be sharing with the kind doctor. Let's see, then she went home and had a shower. Something had happened in the shower. What was it? For some reason it seemed extremely important. Dr. Biely must have seen the frustration in her eyes because she gently laid a hand on her forearm.

"It's not necessary for you to remember right now, Barbara. The memories will come back to you in time."

"You don't understand," Barbara answered distractedly. Her voice was a mess, her throat scrapped raw from smoke and pain. There was something she had to do. Or was it - was it someone she had to find. No, that wasn't right.

"Just don't force it. You could injure yourself even more."

She had to help someone. That sounded better. She had to help someone because . . . Barbara growled in frustration. Who would need her help?

"I'm going to give you some more morphine for the pain. It should help you sleep." Before the doctor could increase the drip however, Barbara's hand shot out grabbing her wrist tightly.

"Where's Helena?" Dark green eyes speared into the other woman's.

"You mean, Helena Kyle." Barbara nodded in the affirmative.

"I left her waiting for someone to come get her." Seeing Barbara didn't understand she tried to clear things up. "She came in with her mother's body. George was going to get her contact information." She sighed in relief when the hand was removed from her wrist, there was obviously going to be a bruise.

"Selena," Barbara whispered the name. "She was murdered"

"Yes, that poor woman. Did you know her?"

"Hel, I've got to get to Hel." Barbara stated before quickly shifting her legs over the side of the bed . . . except she didn't. Nothing below her waist moved. Slowly she tried to wiggle the toes on her left foot and then her right, with the same result. Barbara could feel her breathing become erratic. She knew in a moment she would go into shock if she didn't calm down. Turning to the doctor, she ignored the sadness that looked back at her. "Why can't I move?"

"Oh, dear. You've been seriously injured Miss Gordon. Why don't you lie back and we can talk about this when you feel better."

"I feel fine." Complete bullshit, but Barbara was not waiting for when she felt better. Some part of her knew already that she would never feel better. Something in her voice or eyes must have convinced the doctor.

"You were shot three times in the midsection. There were several major organs damaged, but those were repaired satisfactorily in surgery." Here she paused, obviously reluctant to go on. "It appears that the first bullet hit your spine. The damage was extensive and the surgeons did their best, but they were not able to repair it. I'm so sorry, but you're paralyzed below the third lumbar vertebrae."

Barbara knew some part of her mind was busy recording everything the doctor was telling her, but inside her head she just kept hearing the word paralyzed over and over and over. Eventually she realized the room was silent. Looking up she found brown eyes regarding her sympathetically.

"Why don't I leave you alone for a bit? I'll tell the nurse to come check on you in, say, forty-five minutes."

Barbara nodded her head mutely. The woman was very caring, but the redhead didn't have the capacity to acknowledge it at the moment. She watched as the door was pulled open and she was left alone.

It took her five minutes to absorb all the relevant data she had been given. It took forty minutes for her to cry herself into an exhausted sleep.

* * * * *

Several days later and Helena was still at the hospital. She didn't have anywhere else to go. An old man with an English accent had found her at the hospital and said he worked for Bruce Wayne. That any time she wanted she could move into Wayne Manor. She hadn't said a word to him in return. He had tried to bring her food, or convince her to go get tea (tea?!) with him, but when he was met with continued silence he had eventually given up.

No one had really bothered her. Social services had come by to inform her that her mother had left her in Barbara's care. Somehow she wasn't surprised. She was allowed to stay at the hospital until a definitive verdict was given by the doctors, whether or not Barbara would live or even regain consciousness. So once again, Helena was waiting.

Looking up from the same uncomfortable chair that her fath- that Bruce Wayne had sat in before he disappeared, she watched a nurse enter Barbara's room. It was the same retinue everyday, and Helena had started to tune it out. However, this time the nurse came rushing back out again and took off down the hall. Minutes later the same doctor that had talked to Helena after Selena died was striding confidently into Barbara's room.

Unable to help herself, Helena used her Meta senses to listen in as the nurse started speaking . . . and someone answered! Stunned, Helena remained completely still just absorbing what that meant. Barbara was awake! She bounded from her seat and was almost at the door when she heard the words.

"Why can't I move?"

Barbara's voice was soft. Obviously it was painful for her to speak. Despite that, Helena heard the desperate fear in her voice. Helena felt the same in her heart. She listened while the doctor explained what Barbara would now have to deal with. She felt the first tears start to slide down her face.

She watched silently as Dr. Biely left Barbara's room. She listened to the silence and then the shattering sobs that must have been muffled by a pillow. She hadn't thought she had had any tears left, but somehow she managed to cry along with the woman she loved.

* * * * *

Helena slowly lifted her head. The crying had finally stopped. It had taken more strength than she knew she had not to bust into the room and hold Barbara as she cried. However, that was not what she needed. Barbara needed time alone and Helena wouldn't take that from her, even if what she needed desperately was Barbara.

Realizing that the older woman was asleep, Helena went to lay back in the cot the hospital staff had been kind enough to give her. She threw herself down and looked up at the white corkboard ceiling.

Selena was dead. Barbara would never walk again. Barbara was now her legal guardian until she turned eighteen in a year and a half. Dick would want to take care of Barbara. Barbara wouldn't want to take care of Helena. Helena had no where else to go.

Helena could *not* tell Barbara about her feelings.

If she told her now, it would, without a doubt, destroy their friendship. Right now, Barbara needed a friend not some kid professing their love for her. Barbara would get angry and she would be hurt. Hurt because Helena couldn't see that she loved Dick and that it would be wrong for them to be together. Helena was sure of this.

Helena was also sure that between Selena, Bruce Wayne, and Barbara, her heart had been shattered. The shards kept poking her in the chest, making her squirm, making her want to run as far and as fast as she could.

That wasn't the worst part, however. She could feel her heart already starting to heal, and instead of the love that had filled it before, Helena's heart was filled with rage.

Chapter 9

Her hands were slipping. She could feel the sweat between her hands and the shiny, unblemished steel. The tremor in her arms spread to her shoulders. She had to move forward - and she couldn't remember how. She couldn't remember how to shift her center of gravity or where to place her hands. She could recall with perfect clarity the physical therapist instructing her on just this maneuver, but there was no sound, like the memory was on mute. She knew she was going to fall, and with fatalistic reasoning, acknowledged it wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last.


Barbara's shout from downstairs woke James Gordon from a light doze. He was usually a deep sleeper, but he was terrified that his recently crippled daughter would need his help and he would sleep through her cries of distress. Not this night, however.

"I'm coming!" He called, running downstairs to the office he had converted into a bedroom. Walking into the room he found his only child sprawled on the floor with the chair the hospital had ordered a few feet away. For a moment he could only stand in the doorway, his mind unable to reconcile the woman on the floor with the vibrant, active daughter that had been stolen from him.

"Dad, a little help please?"

"Of course." Quickly, he moved forward to lift her awkwardly into the chair. He glanced away and didn't mention the tears that still lingered on her cheeks. "What were you trying to do? It's the middle of the night." Barbara leaned her head forward, letting the curtain of red hair hide her face. Some sound seemed to penetrate the barrier, but he couldn't make it out. "What was that?"

"I said I was trying to go to the bathroom!" Barbara's shout surprised him and he took an involuntary step back.

"Right, sorry. Do you need . . ." He trailed off, unable to say the words, but knowing she still needed help with the simplest tasks.

"No," Barbara replied, her voice adamant. "I can manage that by myself. I was just tired and forgot how to get out of bed," she finished in a whisper that broke his heart. What must it be like to consciously plan every time you wanted to get out of bed? He had always known that Barbara was a strong girl, but these last weeks had convinced him beyond all doubt. He wanted to tell her how proud he was, but knew she didn't want to hear it, not now.

"Okay, well call if you need me. I'm off to bed; us old men need our sleep." There was no reply, but as he walked out the door he thought he heard a soft thank you. He didn't turn around but continued into the living room. Stopping before the liquor cabinet, he poured himself a fifth of brandy and went to stand by the fireplace. He could hear the sound of Barbara rolling into the bathroom. Quickly he swallowed the whole glass, forcing back the tears that rose to his eyes.

His daughter, his little girl, he was so afraid for her. He remembered the day she had come into his life, so scared, so distrustful of other people. The way her face would tighten whenever he'd have a drink after work. If his bastard of a brother hadn't already killed himself at that point, he might have been tempted to take his service revolver and correct that oversight. How anyone could ever have hurt such a sweet child would forever be a mystery to him.

Slowly the shattered girl had been healed by his angel, Barb. His wife had just seemed to know what to do - but he didn't. How was he supposed to bring his daughter back this time without her? He was the wrong man for the job, but he was all there was. Several people from Gotham High had tried to visit, but Barbara had sent them all away. Bruce Wayne had disappeared and he hadn't seen Richard Grayson in several weeks. He suspected the couple had broken up, but didn't ask, afraid to upset her further. And Helena, he hadn't seen the girl since the hospital. He hadn't even heard one word from Barbara about her, in marked contrast to before the shooting when every other word out of her mouth had been about the small teenager. Barbara had been so proud of Helena Kyle. He prayed fervently that she was coping well with the death of her mother. He had tried to get them to go to the funeral, but Barbara had said she was too tired. He didn't have the heart to force her, and instead sent flowers to the estate in both their names.

Shaking his head at where his exhausted thoughts had led him, Jim considered another drink before putting the glass down and heading upstairs. Getting into the king sized bed he took in the spot beside him, empty now for almost ten years. He slowly closed his eyes, consciously telling himself to sleep lightly, knowing Barbara might need him again in the night.

"I wish you were here, Angel. She's slipping away and I don't know what to do."

There was no answer as exhaustion claimed him.

* * * * *


Barbara bolted upright in the bed, feeling every muscle in her body pulled tight . . . the ones she could still feel. The numbness of her lower extremities immediately made itself known when her entire body, minus the lower half, shuddered in the cold room as her body dripped with terror induced sweat. Barbara took a minute to quickly review the procedure of transferring her crippled body from the bed to her new chair. She managed to lower herself into the custom molded padding without incident before she set her shaking arms the task of wheeling her into the bathroom. Her father had been wonderful with the remodel, her downstairs bathroom especially. Everything was now designed around Barbara's limitations, and even though it brought home how drastically her life had changed, she was grateful.

Splashing cold water on her face, she debated whether or not to just get a shower. However, that might wake her Dad which she tried to avoid. Lately, he had been sleeping much less than he was accustomed to, and Barbara knew it was her fault. She would try to let him sleep a little longer.

Looking up, she found a stranger staring back at her. This woman had dark circles, like bruises, under her eyes. Her face so pale that blue veins stood prominent in the hollow cheeks and forehead. Her red hair was dank and frazzled from thrashing in the night, and the green eyes that stared into her own were dull and lifeless, holding a shattered gaze. This woman was not Barbara Gordon. This woman was a ghost, a half-dead zombie that should have been resting in its grave.

Barbara raised her hands to muffle the sob that tore from her throat. This was the Joker's true victory. He had broken her, completely and utterly. He had not killed Barbara Gordon, or Batgirl really, but by taking her legs, her independence, he might as well have. For the first time since she had woken up in the hospital, Barbara let that knowledge fill her. She let it rise until it stuck in her throat so that she had to gasp and wheeze to get air into her lungs. She let it swirl in her stomach and rush to her brain where it repressed any other emotion or rational thought. She let it out. She let it destroy the last remnants of Barbara Gordon, the prodigy who would be Batgirl.

And then, when there was nothing but ashes and a dull ache, she lifted her head and stared into the mirror again. This woman was not Barbara Gordon. This woman was not a ghost. This woman was someone new. A woman who had lost everything and was now determined to get something back. Green eyes met her own with determination and confidence, and for the first time in over two months, Barbara believed it.

"There are things that need to be taken care of. We don't have time to wallow in self-pity any more. Time to man up, Babs."

While this was generally good advice, a part of this new Barbara had to question the wisdom of talking to oneself . . . and of spending so long in the bathroom. She was too - something - to go back to sleep, so she quietly wheeled herself into the family room. Resting by the fire, she noticed a stack of letters on the coffee table almost three inches thick. Curiosity getting the better of her, for the first time in months when she thought about it, she picked them up and started to sort through them.

Each was addressed to a Miss Barbara Gordon. Each was written in a bold cursive script that was non-the-less quite legible. Each was instantly recognizable. Barbara flopped back in her chair when she realized every single letter had been written by none other than Alfred Pennyworth, butler and friend of Bruce Wayne, aka Batman.

Hands shaking slightly in anticipation (and maybe some apprehension), Barbara opened the first letter according to the postage dates.

Miss Barbara,

I hope this letter finds you well and on your way to recovery. First let me state that if there is anything that I may do to help you in any way, you have but to ask. I have always believed there is no greater strength than being able to call upon your friends and allies in a time of need. That being said, I don't expect to hear from you right away, but it would please this elderly gentleman greatly to be proven wrong.

No doubt you are wondering where Master Bruce has gone. I can only regretfully tell you that I do not know. I fear that the death of Selena, his one love, the knowledge that she hid a daughter from him, and your own misfortunes, have shattered all confidence and rationality he once possessed. I pray that he can find some measure of peace wherever he has gone, but I do not expect him back presently.

I must admit I am writing to you in the hopes of correcting a grievous error. Perhaps I should not be privy to this information, but I wondered if you knew of Miss Helena Kyle's whereabouts. I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of the aforementioned young lady, and was greatly struck by her spirit. I fear that such a unique soul cannot survive unsheltered by those who can best understand and offer aid. If you should find the time and will to look into this matter it would greatly ease my worry.

Yours sincerely, Alfred Pennyworth

Slowly lowering the letter, Barbara took a moment to consider the words. She had not allowed herself to think of Helena in all the time she had been home. She was aware that the brunette had been at the hospital. Her father had even hinted that Helena had to be dragged away from her room, but she had no idea where the girl was now. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. Helena had never inquired about her either that she was aware of, and she preferred to imagine the teen too happy in her new life to care. Besides, how could she face Helena like this? How could she sit (always sit, never stand) in front of the girl who used to watch her in awe on the parallel bars? How could she face the girl who had tracked her as Batgirl, who she had chased and caught one night on the rooftops of Gotham? How could she look *up* at Helena and hope to keep her sanity?

No, she had done the best thing for both of them. The teens silence only added to her certainty. Helena would move on and so would she. That was just the nature of life and must be accepted. So why did it feel like she had been shot again, only this time on the left side of her chest?

Shoving the messy emotions and debates aside, Barbara slowly opened the letters in order. All were variations of the first, with wishes for her continuing recovery, protestations of innocence and ignorance concerning Bruce's disappearance, and always some note about Helena and whether Barbara had spoken to her or planned to in the immediate future.

When she came to the last letter, she almost didn't open it. The letter was dated almost two weeks ago and was twice as thick as any of the others. Inside she was surprised to find photographs and a detailed report compiled by a private detective that Barbara knew her father had employed on past cases, inclining her to take it quite seriously. As Barbara read, she could feel the anger building. The rage was so consuming that she almost missed Alfred's attached note, a single line that had the same effect as dropping a bucket of cold water on the redhead.

"To do with as you must."

And she would. But first a few things needed to be taken care of.

"Dad!" The shout echoed in the family room, drawing an answering thump from upstairs, and Barbara couldn't help the small smile that crossed her face, though it stretched uncomfortably on features grown unaccustomed to happiness of any sort. Moments later, feet could be heard racing down the stairs. Before he could blow past, Barbara called to her Dad and he quickly joined her by the fire.

"What is it, sweetie?"

"How long have you known about these?" Barbara held out the opened letters in her hand.

"Uh, I meant to have those taken care of." Jim tried to explain.

"I can see that. Whether I have any further contact with Alfred Pennyworth *or* Bruce Wayne is none of your business." Jim was shocked. Those men had almost cost Barbara her life, they had cost her the use of her legs. That they believed they could just waltz right back into her life infuriated him. Earlier in the evening he had planned to burn the letters, but became distracted. Now he cursed himself for letting Barbara see them. Nothing good would come from this.

"I'm trying to protect you, Babs. Look what they did to you!" He watched as emerald green eyes locked on his own with an intensity he hadn't seen since the shooting.

"Don't you ever say that again. I take full responsibility for what happened. And now I'm going to be taking even more responsibility."


"Dad, I'm moving out." The stunned silence continued and Barbara recognized the hurt on her father's face. "Oh, don't look at me like that. I just want to start putting my life back together, and I can't do that while staying under your roof.

"How will you afford it?" Jim knew Barbara always appreciated logical arguments. He had used up most of his savings to remodel his home for handicap necessities, something he would never tell her of course, but still, it would take more money than Barbara had earned as a high school teacher to properly live on her own.

"I'll use this," Barbara said holding one of the letters in her hand. She quickly read the sentence she wanted out loud. "Master Bruce has stipulated you be given a total of 300 million dollars, the rest to be divided between Master Richard and Miss Kyle. Miss Kyle has refused to accept the money, and so it was placed in a trust fund account which she may access at any time."

"You have 300 million dollars?" Jim wondered if the beating of his heart indicated he was headed for a heart attack.

"Yes. Of course it's pity money, but still, I'll put it to good use." Barbara smiled at him, and for the first time he noticed her eyes seemed alive again. They flashed with humor and something he couldn't identify.

"Okay, so you're moving out. Where will you go?" He brought them back to the original question.

"I'm going to build my own watch tower; a place where I can monitor the city."

"Monitor the city? Barbara, I don't want you back in that life!" He tried not to shout in his fear. He couldn't go through something like this again. It would kill him.

"I'm not, Dad. But I figure I can set something up that could help Gotham PD get the criminals off the street. I wouldn't be physically," Jim wanted to hug her when her voice cracked on the word, "involved, but I would be an active part of fighting crime. I need that, Dad. I can't just let it slip from my fingers when there's a way for me to help."

"I know." And he did, he had felt that same pull his entire life. It was why he was still Police Commissioner when he could have retired years ago. "Just promise me you'll be careful. I couldn't - if anything happened to - I - please just promise me you'll be safe."

"I will, Dad." The words were sincere and so was the look in her eyes.

"Good, so do you need some help finding a place?"

"Well, I kind of already have something in mind, but I'd like your opinion." She swiftly booted up the laptop that had been left on the coffee table as well, she forgot why. She watched the emotions flow across his face as she showed him the property she was interested in, before they finally settled in a wry grin.

"You never do anything the easy way, do you?" She knew he wasn't just referring to her.

"Nope, do you know any contractors I could trust to be discreet.

"Yes, and I'm sure Mr. Pennyworth could give you a few more," Jim suggested, brown eyes twinkling.

"Right, sure, thanks." Barbara blushed.

"Okay, you're going to have your work cut out for you, but what about when you're done? That's a lot of space. Is it just going to be you up there?"

"Of course not." Barbara watched him struggle with the question he desperately wanted to ask. She gently laid a hand on his arm. "Dick went to Bludhaven, Dad. He's not planning on coming back.

"I'm sorry, honey."

"Me too." And she was. Dick was a great guy, but he just couldn't handle her being in a wheelchair. He could only see what she had lost, and Barbara really didn't need that right now.

"So, who's . . ." "Let's just say I made a promise once, and it's about time I kept my word. Or almost time. I want this place up and running first."

"Okay, if you're sure."

"I am."

They turned the fireplace off after that, and headed to their beds, both with small smiles on their faces. It had been a strange, hectic, and ultimately healing night. As Barbara successfully made it onto her mattress, she couldn't help but run over the plan once more. She would need to contact Alfred soon, get some more information and thank him for his meddling. She would need to make a few calls to certain people at Wayne Industries and a few *colleagues* of Batman's as well. After that, though, she would have to make the most important call of all. The one that could change everything. The one that could possibly send Barbara right back into deep depression.

As she finally started to drift back to sleep, Barbara was comforted by the fact that soon she would make the first step in keeping a promise she had never intended to break. One that couldn't repair the damage to her body, but might heal the smallest part of her soul.

* * * * *

She hated this place. Her foster parents were assholes and the two other kids they had taken in were idiots. It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be her and her Mom until she went off to college, and even then she would come home every other weekend or live at home. She wasn't supposed to be part of this crappy excuse for a family. It had been four and a half months since they had made her leave the hospital, leave Barbara, and she had been quickly shoved off on the Pettersons, foster parents with a good record when it came to troubled teens.

Helena stared at the glowing beacon of Wayne Tower in the distance. Of course Mr. Wayne no longer worked there. The newspapers had been full of headlines such as "Where's Wayne" and "Gotham's Wealthiest Playboy Vanishes." Helena was maybe the only person in the entire city who knew why Bruce Wayne had gone AWOL, but it brought her no pleasure. Nothing did anymore.

Taking another drag on her cigarette she welcomed the burning in her lungs and throat. Her sense of smell rebelled every time she took out her latest stolen pack, but it didn't matter. At least she felt something, even if it was disgust and nausea.

"Helena! Phone!" A shrill, high pitched voice reached her on the roof of the apartment building. Flicking her butt off the roof, unmindful of where it landed, the dark teen slowly descended into the room she shared with Melanie, the other teenaged girl being fostered by the Pettersons.

"Who is it?" Helena barked at the blonde, not that she cared. It was either her social worker or that English guy again, neither of whom she wanted to talk to.

"I don't know, some woman." Melanie said without lifting her eyes from the magazine she was reading on her pink bedspread - pink! Helena took a moment to compare their living spaces. Melanie's side contained pictures of famous actors and boy bands, clothes sorted by color in her half of the closet, and her bed neatly made where she laid on it. Helena's side of the room in contrast was completely bare of any decorations, her clothes were scattered around the floor and desk on her side, and her bed hadn't been made in days. Selena would have killed her, but she just couldn't find the energy to care anymore. Besides, it wasn't like she was allowed to decorate, or leave the house, or use the computer.

"Did you get a name?" She asked as politely as she could, which wasn't very.

"Nope." Helena wanted to smack the smug look off the blonde idiot.

"Right, gimme the phone."

"It's right over there, your legs aren't broken." Helena felt the growl build in her throat but managed to hold it back. She wasn't so far gone that she didn't remember her Mom's stories about what would happen to her if someone discovered her meta abilities. Even the Pettersons weren't as bad as being used as someone's lab rat. Somehow she managed not to reply that it wasn't *her* legs that were in imminent danger of being broken.

"Thanks," Helena replied sarcastically as she put the phone to her ear. "Helena. What do you want?"

"Helena?" The brunette felt the breath leave her. She would know that voice anywhere.

"Barbara," she managed to choke out, vaguely aware of Melanie whipping her head around to stare at her.

"Yes, Hel, it's me." Helena couldn't speak and after a few moments, the voice on the other end tried again. "Hel, I wanted to apologize to you."

"What!" It was all Helena could think to say. What could Barbara possibly have to be sorry about? Helena wasn't the one that had three bullet holes to the stomach and a coma on the side.

"I assumed you were aware that I was to be given guardianship of you in case Selena - well, I wanted to be able to keep that promise, but after . . . everything, I just couldn't. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to contact you."

"It's alright." Helena could hear the physical and mental pain in Barbara's voice, even after all this time away from her. So she said the first thing that came to mind, something to reassure her, make this easier for the woman she loved, even if things were horrible and deep down she blamed Barbara for abandoning her to these people.

"Thank you, Hel. How are you doing?" She could hear the hesitancy. Barbara didn't really want to know. Now Helena knew the truth. Barbara was feeling guilty and she was just checking to make sure Helena wasn't dead before moving on. Dick was surely helping her cope with the changes in her life. This was a pity call. Oh, you remember that girl I used to eat lunch with, the one who's mother died; I wonder how she's doing? I should really give her a call.

"I'm fine, Barbara. You don't need to check up on me. Thanks for calling." She tried to hang up, but couldn't before adding, "It was good to hear your voice again," then pushed the off button breaking the connection.

Dropping the phone on the floor, she flopped onto her bed, burying her face in the pillow trying desperately to stop the tears that leaked from the corners of her eyes. The sound of the phone ringing brought her hands up to clench the pillow over her head and block out the sound. Melanie's, "You gonna get that," completely ignored. It rang several times before going silent. Helena sighed in relief. She zoned out for a while, thinking about good times with her Mom, which she did often. Her musings were interrupted by the voice of Regina Petterson (Helena would rather die than call her Mom like the others) yelling for Helena to come downstairs. At least Bill wasn't home. He would have done more than yell for her.

When she finally managed to force herself out of bed and make her way downstairs, she could hear two people talking quietly. Getting closer she could identify Regina and a male voice that was somewhat familiar. As soon as Helena could make out the British accent she tried to bolt back upstairs, but it was too late, she had been spotted. "Hello Miss Helena."

"What's up, Al?" She felt a small bit of satisfaction when he flinched. This was Bruce's man after all. She had no reason to like him.

"Miss Gordon requested that I escort you to her new residence," he said matter-of-factly.


"I was sent to pick you up and drive you to Miss Barbara Gordon's new place of residence so that the two of you may talk privately."

"You won't be there?"

"No Miss, I'm just the delivery man tonight." If she hadn't known better, Helena might have thought he was making fun of her.

"Um, okay. Let me go get my jacket." Without another word she turned and ran up the stairs. She could hear Regina arguing with Alfred behind her, but didn't stop. Bill wasn't around so she could probably get away with leaving.

She was terrified, elated, infuriated, and just plain desperate to see Barbara. The part of her that was still capable of emotion knew that she still loved the older woman, but it was so tangled with the hate and anger that had been her constant companion since that day in the hospital when she had listened to Barbara cry. She honestly had no idea how she would react to seeing Barbara in the flesh again. Whatever happened, Helena had a bad feeling, and she was paying much more attention to her feelings nowadays. Still, she grabbed her jacket and met Alfred at the black Rolls-Royce as quickly as she could. Barbara had called, and Helena would always come for her, even now.

* * * * *

Barbara held the stapled papers in hands that shook. She quickly wiped her palms on her jeans, trying not to soak the essay she had finished the night before. Her heart raced to her throat when the elevator chimed signaling the entrance of Alfred followed, somewhat reluctantly, by Helena. She watched as the brunette took in the areas of the house she could see, before settling her gaze directly on Barbara's wheelchair.

"So, you're living in a clock now?"

"Sort of."

"I guess you're not up for a quick run on the rooftops though."

Barbara couldn't stop her flinch at the cruel and insensitive words. She looked up in time to catch the severe frown Alfred turned on the teen. Helena seemed remorseful before shrugging to her full height and projecting an air of indifference once again.

"Well, maybe not tonight, Hel. Besides, I'd like to discuss a few things with you."

"And that's my cue, ladies. Please enjoy your evening, and phone if you need anything. Dinner is prepared and warming in the oven."

"I'll need a ride back to the Petterson's," Helena spoke up before he could reach the elevator. He looked at Barbara questioningly.

"We'll call later, Alfred. Thank you so much."

"Of course, Miss." Then he was gone.

"Would you like something to eat or drink," Barbara offered while trying to take in every small change to Helena's appearance. Her hair was short and chopped off in uneven, spiky chunks. It badly needed a trim, or even a basic style, as Barbara could tell it had been done with a pair of scissors and possibly a mirror. She was wearing a Gotham U sweatshirt and a pair of jeans with holes in both knees that extended down past her feet to drag on the floor. Selena had always bought her daughter the latest fashion and Barbara knew for a fact that Helena would never be caught dead in such an outfit. The brunette must have noticed her assessment, and didn't bother to hide her irritation.

"I'm not exactly the poster child for GAP anymore, huh."

"You look fine, Hel," she tried to reassure the girl.

"Don't lie, Barbara, it doesn't suit you. Then again maybe it does, what the hell do I know?" Helena didn't even look at her, instead she spoke with her face toward the kitchen, not bothering to meet her gaze.

"What exactly do you mean by that, Helena?" Barbara could feel her blood pressure increase. She was used to dealing with rude, obnoxious teenagers, but Helena had never been one as far as she was concerned.

"Me? Nothing. I was just commenting. Making small talk, you know?" Helena still wouldn't meet her eyes, so she slowly rolled closer, watching as the girl flinched backwards slightly. In that moment Barbara wanted to scream. She wanted to hit something until it shattered under her fists. Her heart ached so badly that she could barely breathe, but it was enough to smell the smoke that was rolling off of the figure in front of her.

"Are you smoking?!" Helena's head snapped up and finally met her own. Barbara expected them to be the golden, but they were blue and filled with anger.

"Not presently, but yeah, I smoke now." Barbara watched sadly as Helena shrugged off her question like it meant nothing. "You gonna give me the 'smoking is bad for you' lecture, cause if you are I can save you the trouble. I've heard it before and I really don't give a shit."

Barbara tried to hide her own pain at the knowledge that Helena had started smoking and cursing at the drop of a hat. Obviously Helena's life had taken a turn for the worse while Barbara was trying to put her life back together. She needed to stay on topic and not get distracted, however. Somehow she had to reach Helena. It was imperative for both of them that she do.

Rolling forward, Barbara held out the papers in her hand. Helena looked at her quizzically before reaching out and taking them cautiously. She watched as the brunette read through her essay. She had written it in hopes that giving Helena proof that she remembered their past friendship might make this easier. Helena had been right, and both of them had barely survived the last semester. Barbara silently prayed that Helena wasn't developing into a precog to go along with all her other gifts. She didn't know if she could handle a teenager with that ability.

"I owe you that," Helena looked up, her eyes hooded so that Barbara couldn't read the emotion, "for your prediction . . . about last semester."

"Don't be stupid, Barbara." It hurt but she tried not to show it. The young woman before her wasn't the one she had joked with just months ago. This young woman was bitter and angry, and took out her pain on the closest target which unfortunately happened to be Barbara.

"I don't think it's stupid to keep my promises. In fact, I think it's very important."

"Well you wouldn't be the first person who didn't." Helena practically spat, spinning away and easily leaping to the second floor and escaping to the balcony that Barbara didn't even know she knew about, leaving the redhead wanting to scream at her, wanting to ask her how she was supposed to continue their argument when she couldn't even walk up the stairs to follow her. Instead, she took a breath to force the anger and hurt down then calmly wheeled to the elevator. Six minutes and twenty-four seconds later she was sitting next to the teenager again. Helena continued to stare off into the city without looking at Barbara, her arm around one of the stone gargoyles.

"I'm not doing this anymore, Hel."

"What, Barbara, you gonna off yourself?" For a second, the redhead couldn't breathe. It felt like her heart had contracted pulling her entire chest with it. That Helena could say something like that to her-

"I'm sorry. I didn't - I shouldn't have-" Helena trailed off. Slowly, she turned to look at Barbara, flinching when their eyes met. Her gaze finally settled on the wheelchair that Barbara had come to view as her prison. When she spoke, the words were addressed to the chrome and fabric, but Barbara felt every word like a punch to the stomach, well, like how she remembered a punch to the stomach felt. "That week, the week that Mom . . . Anyway, she promised she would always be there for me. Always. And now she's dead." Helena spat the word, pain and fear clear in her tone. "I'm sorry, but I don't want to hear about any more promises right now."

Barbara didn't say anything, simply giving the words the silence they deserved. When she visibly saw Helena take a breath and attempt to calm down, she spoke again.

"Too bad." Helena's head whipped around, golden eyes pinning Barbara to her chair. She met the stare head-on. "Because I'm making you a promise right now. I'm not going to leave you." Seeing Helena about to argue, she reached out and gripped the arm in front of her, feeling the muscles tense and strain under her hand. "I may be stuck in this fucking thing for the rest of my life, but I'm not going to leave you." She had to hide her smirk when Helena's eyes became comically wide at her use of the swear word.

"You can't promise that." The words were a whisper that twisted Barbara's already sore heart.

"Yes I can, because I mean them. Your Mother meant them too." Helena turned away, but she squeezed her arm to get her attention. "She meant to keep her promise, Hel. That's what matters."

"Maybe." The word sounded like it was dragged from the brunette's throat with the utmost difficulty.

"Like I said before, Hel, I'm not doing this anymore. We're going to get our lives back, together. You and me, whatever it takes. I'm going back to work; you're going back to school in the fall. We're going to treat each other with respect. We're going to start living again, Helena, and I'm going to need your help. I promise not to leave you, but can you make the same promise?"

The wind was the only sound for several moments, long enough that Barbara felt her hope fade. She had tried her best. It wasn't as simple as she had made it seem of course, and it would take both of them working together, but they could do it. They had too. Barbara had another promise to keep.

"I'm sorry about before." Barbara sagged into her chair in relief.

"It's alright, Hel, but for future reference those kind of hurtful words need to stop. I've also been guilty of taking out my anger on the people I love, but we're both hurting enough already." She watched curiously as Helena's eyes sparked to gold for the briefest moment, wondering what she could have said to get such a reaction.

"Yeah, ok." Helena leapt gracefully off the railing, and for a moment Barbara almost chastised her for showing off before remembering her words from only moments ago. She had her own issues to work through as well. "I guess I'll go get dinner."

"Thank you. I'll be down in a moment." Six minutes and twenty-four seconds to be exact.

"Promise?" Helena's words floated back to Barbara, seeming to be carried on the wind that howled around the older woman, a mix of sarcasm and soft teasing. It was a start.

"Yes, I promise."

Chapter 10

Helena took a moment to savor the delicious smell of the roast Alfred had left them. She searched until she found plates and utensils then set the table. As she backed up to take a look at the effect, she was surprised to feel tears making their way down her cheeks. It had been so long since she had set a table for two. Tonight however, it would be just her and Barbara.

More tears fell as she thought about the way she had spoken to Barbara. The things she had said! She hated herself for them, but couldn't seem to stop. She had all this . . . rage that just seemed to swirl around her body and lash out at everyone who tried to get near her. She needed it. She needed it to protect what was left of her heart, her emotions, but that didn't mean she had the right to hurt Barbara. Especially not Barbara.

But what had Barbara been thinking?! That she would just invite Helena up to see her gorgeous new house, give her that stupid (but awesome, in a Barbara kinda way) essay, and things would go back to normal. Why was she talking about them helping each other out? You and me . . . what did that mean? She was living with the Petterson's and Barbara now lived in the Gotham Clocktower (which really, how *cool* was that) with Alfred and Dick. They might phone each other once in a while, but so what? Barbara didn't need to drag her here to tell her that. Helena would have eventually cooled off and called her back. Probably.

After Barbara had rolled to the table and Helena had done her best not to stare, they enjoyed their meal and didn't speak. Barbara had a glass of wine and it was almost finished when Helena finally got up the courage to break the silence.

"I'm gonna go grab a smoke before I call Alfred." It wasn't a question, but she tried to speak politely. She could at least try.

"Helena." Barbara's voice stopped her in her tracks. There was something in her voice, hesitancy, determination, that caused Helena to pause. "What do you think of this place?" Barbara asked waving her hand around to indicate the interior of the Clock Tower.

"It's pretty sweet, Red." Helena replied honestly and was shocked to see two tears leak out of Barbara's eyes. "Um, it really is great, Barbara. I swear! I'm not lying! You did really good," she frantically tried to reassure the older woman.

"Well, Helena. I did well, and it's not that. It's just, I missed having you call me that."

"Oh, geez. Please try not to freak me out so much, Barbara. It's not good for my heart."

"I'll do my best, Hel," Barbara replied, Helena heaved a sigh of relief. This entire night was putting her through the ringer. She would almost be happy to head back to the Petterson's, at least there nothing ever changed. "I want you to live here with me."

"Whaaaa . . .?" Helena realized she could have made a more dignified response, but for some reason that was the only thing her throat could seem to vocalize.

"I. Want. You. To. Live. Here." And it wasn't Helena's imagination, Barbara was definitely smirking. "With. Me."

"But, what about the Pettersons?" And that was so stupid because who gave a shit about the Pettersons. She sure as hell didn't.

"Your Mom left you in my custody, Hel. I gave her my word. I would very much like for you to stay here with me."

Helena could tell she meant it. Red really would like for them to live together. It was too much. After everything that had happened, it was just too much. She felt the first tear break free and quickly stood up, intending to flee, but was stopped by the arm that shot out with almost supernatural speed and caught her wrist. She was quickly dragged down until her head was resting in Barbara's lap, her tears soaking through the blue jeans below. Long minutes later the tears slowed and Helena became aware of Barbara's fingers running slowly through her hair, sending a shiver up and down her spine. God dammit, she should be over this!

Barbara began talking, barely a whisper, but of course Helena heard her clearly, and she knew that Barbara knew it too. It was so nice to be around someone who knew what it meant to have enhanced senses, and didn't try to shout every word at her, that for several moments Helena didn't pay attention to the words, only the soothing voice above her.

"I can't promise you much, Hel." The teenager could hear the slight hesitation and tensed immediately. Here was where Barbara told her it was a joke, or maybe that it would only be a couple of weeks and she shouldn't bother packing. "I don't want you ever going back to the Pettersons, but I know living with an older, disabled woman isn't probably what you were expecting either." Helena couldn't speak, she was too shocked, and Barbara took this as a cue to keep going. "I'll make some calls and you can find a foster family that you can live with until you turn eighteen. Would that be acceptable?"

Helena's head was spinning, so she sat up and moved back a bit from the redhead. Being so close to Barbara was doing horrible things to her body and self control, but enough was left to seriously consider what Barbara had just revealed.

"First, don't ever call yourself an older, disabled woman again. It makes you sound like you should share this place with, like, twenty cats or something. Second, there will be no cats. I'm more of a dog person, really. Third, I don't want another foster family. In my experience, they suck. I would really like to live here with you though. Finally, what do you have against the Petterson's, Barbara? You've never even met them, have you?"

She watched in silence as Barbara rolled over to the desk beside the elevator and removed a manila envelope. Slowly wheeling back, she handed them with great reluctance to Helena. The brunette took a moment to study Barbara before looking inside. What she found made her heart ache and burn at the same time.

There, in the photos, was Mr. Petterson way too close to Melanie, a hand on her shoulder and one on her hip. The shots only got worse from there. Near the end there was a photo of Mr. Petterson slapping Helena across the face. The next was Helena's fist hitting Mr. Petterson right in the jaw, and Helena thought it was actually a decent picture and she might keep it. The next showed her getting dragged to a police car in cuffs.

"So who took the pics, Red?"

"A private detective. Alfred hired him and brought the evidence to me. I got this place up and running, not to mention myself, if you'll excuse the pun, when I found out. I realized I needed to get my life in some kind of order so I could get you back in it. If that's what you want."

"I do, but are you sure about this. I'm not the same person I was before . . . everything," Helena replied. "I smoke, I cuss, I have no patience for anything, let alone good manners, and I have this thing, this rage in me that doesn't go away and lashes out at everyone who gets close." She was trying to be honest. Trying to give Barbara a chance to run away before things got really bad.

"I'm in a wheelchair, Helena. I curse. I break down in tears at the most inopportune times. I yell at the people who try to help me because they don't understand the way I'm hurting. I'm not going to be the easiest person to live with either," Barbara laughed her voice hitching before taking both of Helena's hands in her own, "but somehow, I feel that if I'm here for you and you're here for me, then we'll make it. Together."

"You're gonna make me cry again, and I haven't cried since you woke up in-"

Helena instantly realized her mistake. Why couldn't she seem to keep her mouth shut around Barbara anymore? At this point she was lucky she hadn't just blurted out she was in love with the older woman. For some reason she felt it would only take a few more of Barbara's innocent touches to make her a complete rambling mess.

"When I woke up in the hospital you mean, Hel." She could only nod. "I felt you there you know. When they were trying to bring me back." Helena couldn't stop the flinch this time. As far as she was concerned, the fact that Barbara had technically died on the operating table was a vicious rumor started by bored and underpaid health professionals and she for one was not going to support their gossiping. It made it easier to bear somehow. Sorta. "Dad said you passed out next to the operating room when I - so yeah, I'm pretty sure it was you. And I know I don't do the feelings thing very well, so are you sure you haven't been holding out on me with some new meta ability?"

"Nope, you know all my secr- um, abilities." Helena looked around the room trying desperately not to catch Barbara's eye. She felt too raw and she knew Barbara would see something she shouldn't in that moment. She found it funny that when she finally did look back, Barbara was doing the same thing. Obviously time for a subject change. "So alright, I come live with you here, inside a giant clock. Somehow we manage not to kill each other, but what about Melanie, what about Davy?" Davy was the other child the Petterson's had taken from social services. He was only eleven, but Helena knew that didn't make him safe in that house.

"Helena, I've already informed the appropriate people about the situation. Mr. Petterson will likely be spending several months, if not years, in jail and no child will ever live in that household again, I promise you."

"Good. I tried to tell them what happened, but they wouldn't believe me. Said I was under some kind of post traumatic stress, and of course it was my word against his. Stupid fucks."

"Hel." The reminder was stern, but not insulting.


"I understand, but the fact that you rendered him unconscious probably didn't help your argument. However, let's not dwell on unpleasant topics. The room upstairs and to your left is yours. Alfred can go back tomorrow and get the rest of your things."

"Don't bother. I don't want any of that junk. They wouldn't let me keep any of my old stuff. Said it was too fancy for a kid my age." Helena rolled her eyes in frustration.

Finding out in the hospital that Selena's apartment and most of her things would be sold and the money placed in her trust fund was just one more blow to the already reeling teen. She never wanted to see the apartment again, but she had managed to make a list of the few items that she simply wouldn't give up, sentimental things of her Mom's for the most part that would be placed in storage. It just hadn't seemed that important while waiting to see if the last person on Earth she cared about was going to die. After that, having the Peterson's throw out the clothes she'd brought with her hadn't really registered.

"Don't worry, Hel. I'm sure we can go shopping tomorrow and get you anything you want." Helena wanted to question where all the money was coming from. It must have taken a lot to remodel the Tower, and now Barbara was offering to take her shopping when she knew that Helena had expensive taste.

Suddenly fatigue washed through her so quickly she felt her knees start to buckle. She hadn't been sleeping well for months and after the emotionally draining talk with Barbara she was lucky to still be standing. Barbara noticed and gave her a sympathetic smile.

"Why don't you try out your new bed and I'll see you in the morning."

Helena offered a weak wave in return, but managed to climb the stairs and fall mostly onto the green sheets of her mattress. Green always had been her favorite color. Then she was asleep.

* * * * *

The sound of solid wood meeting flesh echoed in the air followed shortly by a soft expletive.


Seconds later the sound was repeated with more force.

"Dammit, Red! That fucking hurts!"

"I'm aware of that, Hel, but if you continue to curse in such a manner, it's only going to get worse."

"Worse! I know you have some *frustration* to get rid of, Barbara, but you don't need to take it out on me. I'm sure Dick wouldn't mind flying in for a quickie."

The minute the words left her mouth, Helena wanted to grab one of Barbara's escrima sticks and smack herself in the head. And she had been doing so well lately. For the last few weeks things had been fairly civil between them, both working toward establishing a comfortable living arrangement. Unfortunately, that morning, Barbara had suggested they spar, selling it as a chance for Helena to learn to defend herself more competently, a means for her to work off some of the anger and aggression that still plagued her, and a chance for Barbara to get a workout that didn't involve physical therapy.

It had been going well until the sight of the redhead in a sweaty white tank-top; her hair sticking to the sides of her face in dark red curls, had nearly driven the teenager out of her mind. The desire to kiss Barbara, or just simply touch her, had become a maddening itch that wouldn't let up. The longer they traded witty banter and light physical attacks, the harder Helena had to force herself not to give in to the urge to simply grab the other woman and throw her up against the closest wall. Finally it became too much and instead of acting physically, she lashed out with a verbal assault, one that not only hurt Barbara but herself as well.

"Dick has a life in Bludhaven now, Helena. He won't be dropping by for *quickies* any time soon. Besides, I doubt he's interested in any kind of relations with a woman who can't even move her legs."

Before Helena could think of a response or offer an apology, Barbara had thrown her sticks to the ground and rolled out of the gym. Knowing she needed to apologize, but unable to make the effort at that moment, Helena chose instead to pick up the escrima sticks and store them in their proper location. Next, she loaded up the brand new push-up bar until it would be a challenge for even her meta-enhanced strength, and forty-five minutes later she felt calm enough to leave the Clocktower's gym. Her first stop was the kitchen for something to eat where she found Barbara nursing a cup of tea at the small wood table.

"I'm sorry." Helena knew there was more that needed to be said, but she also knew that right now, she wasn't ready to talk about it.

"It's alright, Hel. Everyone slips now and then." Barbara's understanding and reassurance simply made the brunette feel worse. "I'd appreciate it, however, if you would stop bringing up Dick." Helena was one of the few people who could appreciate what that request cost Barbara.

"I'll try. I didn't mean to bring it up this time," Helena admitted with some reservation. "I just get so angry, and stuff just comes out of my mouth before I can think, you know?"

"Yes, Helena, I know. However, there's nothing you could say to me that would irreparably damage our relationship, but that won't be the case with everyone." Of course, Helena knew this wasn't really the truth. One word about her romantic feelings for Barbara, and irreparable damage would be the least of her worries. "You don't want to go through life alone because you've thoughtlessly hurt the people in your life once too often."

"I don't care about being alone. I'm already alone." Barbara was quick, but Helena caught the look of hurt that passed over her features. "I just meant with Mom- and then Bruce taking off-"

"I understand why you might feel that way, Hel, but it's not true. I promise you will always have me. No matter how many times you mention my paraplegic state or past boyfriends." Helena knew Barbara was just trying to lighten the mood, but the calm manner in which she spoke of Helena's cruel words still caused the brunette pain. Barbara shouldn't have to deal with her shit right now. She knew Barbara cried herself to sleep every night, and when her own sobs finally stopped, she would listen to Barbara's until she fell asleep. It had become her very own fucked-up lullaby.

"Right, okay." All Helena wanted to do was escape the kitchen, but before she could run away, Barbara held out a hand to stop her.

"I know the Petterson's didn't provide you with an allowance, but I don't want that to be the case here." As the other woman spoke, Helena could feel her heartbeat race with the sudden spark of anger. Who did Barbara think she was trying to give her money, like she was her mom or something?

"Who do think you are?" Helena paused when she saw Barbara flinch slightly away from her, knowing her eyes had gone feral. "You're not my Goddamn mother, Barbara. I don't need your fucking money!"

"Then tell me, Hel, how do expect to purchase anything for yourself?" Barbara's eyes had gone as bright and hard as jade, and Helena thrilled at the blood that shot through her veins as she stared into them. "Well?"

"I don't need anything. You've provided for me quite adequately, Red," she taunted.

"Yes, I hope so. However, I haven't been providing for you. Bruce has." Helena took a moment to remind herself once again that when pushed far enough, Barbara had her own set of claws.


"Yes. Bruce Wayne."

"I'm taking it all back." Helena turned quickly to head up the stairs, intending to carry out her threat that very moment.

"It's eleven on a Sunday. All the stores are closed."

"I'll take it back tomorrow morning then," she replied, not to be deterred.

"Is this really necessary, Helena?" Barbara sighed.

"Yes! I won't take a fucking thing from him. You shouldn't either, Barbara! He abandoned you too!" Helena watched as the words registered with the other woman and her expression grew sad.

"Perhaps, but do you want me to give up our home? Do you want me to fire my physical therapist? Do you want me to give back the money that paid for the medical bills, that continues to pay for them? That was all paid for with Wayne money." She paused before locking eyes with Helena. "Do you want to go back to foster care? Because I can't pay to keep us together."

"Barbara." It was only one word, but Helena couldn't find any more.

"I don't know what you expect me to do, Hel. I'm trying as hard as I can, but it's not enough. It's never enough." Helena watched the tears slide down the other woman's cheeks and felt what was left of her heart spasm in her chest. She knew Barbara wasn't simply talking about their financial situation, but anything she said at this point would only make things worse. "I think I'm going to bed now. Would you please make sure all the lights are off before you turn in?" Helena nodded mutely. "Thank you. Goodnight, Helena." And with that, Barbara rolled into her room and shut the door, leaving Helena alone in the soundless kitchen with an intolerable ache in her chest.

* * * * *

Once again, tears had soaked her pillow. She could feel the moisture at her temples and the salt tracks down her cheeks. Soon she would stop crying for this night, and could turn her pillow over and try to sleep. Soon, but not yet.

Barbara hadn't realized how hard it would be to live with a grieving, angry teenager. She had expected the anger and the acting out. What made it so hard were the inconsistencies. The first day Helena had spent at the Clocktower, she had left an article of clothing on the floor which had subsequently become lodged in Barbara's wheel in an inattentive moment. In the weeks since that time, Barbara had, at no point, seen another hastily discarded article or any item carelessly left on the floor for that matter. It was these conscientious gestures juxtaposed with the painfully biting comments that constantly had Barbara on edge. At any given time Helena could be the sweet young woman she had known, and then for no reason or pattern that Barbara could discern, she would be faced with the enraged, sometimes cruel, stranger that had come forth from that terrible night.

Pulled from her thoughts by an unexpected sound outside her door, Barbara waited to see if it would be repeated. Soon the door opened slightly and a shaggy, dark head peeked through cautiously. She had to stifle a gasp when golden slitted eyes met her own.


There was no answer, and she watched as the brunette slowly approached the bed. For some reason she found she couldn't move, pinned by the feral gaze, even when a slightly shaking hand reached out to trace the faint tracks on her face. It was only when she moved to pull the hand down and into her own that Helena spoke.

"I'm so sorry, Barbara. I can't take his money, I just can't. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't. I want you to have this place. I want you to keep your PT. I want you to have the best medical care. I'm sorry I was such a bitch. I know I'm the worst person for you to be around right now. I've got all these issues, and you don't need to be dealing with them on top of everything else. I was thinking I should just go." Barbara felt her heart start to pound at the thought of Helena leaving her, but before she could speak the younger girl pressed on. "I'm almost eighteen. I can find a job. Rent a place. It's not that hard. I really think that's the best thing."

Barbara allowed herself a few seconds to absorb the thoughts and emotions roiling in her brain, but when the first tear slid from golden eyes and Helena tried to pull away, Barbara acted on instinct. Using her newly sculpted upper-body, she tugged sharply, flinging a shocked Helena across her waist. Before she had a chance to escape, Barbara managed to pull her tight against her side, wrapping an arm firmly around the girl's stomach.

"Barbara?!" Her name came out in a startled squawk which had the redhead fighting valiantly not to laugh.

"Yes, Helena?" Amazed blue eyes stared at her in confusion.

"What the Hell?!" Helena did her best to indicate the situation they were in, but found her right hand trapped underneath her body and her left pinned by the arm Barbara had wrapped around her.

"Helena, as I've become tired of mentioning, I want you here with me. Yes, you being here complicates my life, but," she quickly added when she felt Helena tense, "I wouldn't have it any other way. We'll get through this together, and in that spirit, I think the sleeping arrangements need to be adjusted. I for one am tired of crying myself to sleep alone. How about you?" She watched in amusement as the Helena continued to stare at her in complete shock before nodding silently. "Good, then it's settled. Close your eyes and try to get some sleep."

Feeling comfortable, and if she were shockingly honest, safe for the time since the shooting, Barbara allowed her mind to drift. Minutes or perhaps hours later she felt a soft vibration travel along the bed. A strange rumbling sound began as well, and it took several moments for Barbara's sleepy mind to put the pieces together. Helena was purring. Quickly checking on the girl, she found her sleeping soundly, a small smile on her lips. An answering grin found its way to the redhead's features before she lay back down with a sigh. The sound was very relaxing once she recovered from the alarm, and prompted her last thought as untroubled sleep overwhelmed her for the first night in many months.

She could get used to this.

* * * * *

"It's alive!" Helena used her best mad scientist voice and she couldn't deny that the cobbled together computer system that now sat proudly in the center of the former dining room was impressive. Wires and cables snaked here and there across the floor and monitors rested at precarious angles on several different tables. In the center of the chaos, Barbara sat in her chair looking right at home. "So once again, explain to me why we no longer have a place to sit down and eat dinner" Barbara glanced at her briefly before turning back to the screen directly in front of her.

"One, we hardly ever eat dinner together. Two, you always eat in front of the TV. And three, this was the best location to hook up to the power grid in the Tower. I updated a lot of the wiring, but some things simply can't be replaced without remodeling the entire structure, something I would really rather avoid."

"Uh huh. Okay, so tell me this, why do we need the world's most powerful, and don't forget ugliest, computer system on earth."

"It's not ugly, it's just a prototype, and it has a name-"

"Delphi. I know, I know."

"And once it's functioning properly, I'll start streamlining and make a few cosmetic additions-"

"A few!"

"Which will make it much more attractive," Barbara continued, ignoring Helena's interruptions. "And it's not the most powerful system on Earth. The Justice League's Watchtower is far superior, although considering that it's a satellite in orbit, the argument could be made that it's not really on Earth and therefore disqualified from this particular honorary title. The Batcave computer, however, is more powerful . . . for now."

Helena could almost see the childish glee in Barbara's eyes as she talked about her newest passion. In the nine months that had passed since Helena moved into the Clocktower, the construction of Barbara's technical masterpiece had been a large part of their lives. After the night that Barbara had dragged her into bed, sadly not in the way Helena had always dreamed of, things had gotten better. Each night spent beside the older woman seemed to heal some part of her broken psyche. Of course it was hard to lie so close to the redhead and not do something they would both regret, but for some reason, lying there, knowing she was keeping Barbara from screaming out in the grip of a nightmare or crying in her sleep made it almost - pleasant.

After that night, Helena was finally able to breathe without feeling like Barbara's Delphi was resting on her chest. Red had tried to keep it from her, but Helena had seen the days she would lock herself in her room. She had seen the depression that left the older woman hollow eyed and empty. She had seen her look at the drawer in her dresser that contained Commissioner Gordon's old service revolver. She had seen the self-loathing and hopelessness, and it was part of the reason Helena still cried herself to sleep.

Barbara had promised never to leave her again, and Helena believed her, but she had also seen things she couldn't forget. The construction of Delphi and Barbara's enthusiasm and satisfaction with the project made it easier to believe, to accept. Helena would give up every room in the house if it would make Barbara laugh again, something she had been trying, and failing, to do since the day she first woke up in the Clocktower.

So, time had passed and they came to an understanding. Both went back to school. Barbara started out subbing, but planned on going back to her English class the next semester. Helena went most days and tried to pretend that learning who the twelfth American president had been mattered after you had watched your mother bleed to death. She knew she was only going for Barbara's sake, and she accepted that. She wouldn't be going to college; no matter how many times the older woman brought it up, subtly or otherwise. School would be ending soon, she was almost eighteen, and even if she could never tell Barbara her greatest secret, at least she was close to the other woman. Helena was lost, so very lost, and for now, it was enough to just exist. That would just have to be enough.

Just enough. Like her life, she only had to care just enough not to throw herself into Gotham harbor.

At least the training was going well. Helena doubted she would ever be able to beat Barbara when she used her escrima sticks, but when they sparred hand to hand, she was taking half the bouts now. Barbara had tried to get her to use some of Batman's old equipment, but she had refused. To her mind, it was the same as taking his money. Besides, what did she need any of that junk for anyway?


Barbara's voice snapped the brunette out of her musings. She could tell from her tone that this discussion had Barbara worried, anxious, and a little hopeful - unless she was just totally bullshiting. The redhead had always been hard to read, even more so after the shooting.

"What's up, Red?"

"I was wondering if we could talk on the couch for a moment." This was bad. Anything that dragged Barbara away from her new baby before she was blurry-eyed and dizzy from lack of sleep was serious and deserved at least a defcon three. If she transferred herself out of the chair to the actual couch, bump it up to two. If she shut off the TV and didn't ask for coffee, defcon one, and Helena would seriously consider making a run for the balcony.

Helena tried to casually follow Barbara to the couch while flashing yellow lights seemed to obscure her vision. As Barbara calmly transferred herself onto the cushions, Helena's hands began to shake. When Barbara began to speak, she sighed in relief. The TV was still on, but muted and the first words out of her mouth were very reassuring.

"Oh, I forgot my coffee. Would you mind grabbing it for me, Hel? If you want, go ahead and get something to eat as well."

Helena went into the kitchen for some partarts, soda, and a refill on Barbara's coffee. For the life of her she didn't know what Barbara wanted to talk about. It was obviously somewhat serious. She tried to identify anything she had done at school that could have provoked this level of response, but came up empty. Tired of working herself up, she decided to just get it over with. Walking back into the living room, she handed Barbara her coffee, put her drink and snacks on the end table, and waited for Barbara to spit it out - which she did.

"Helena, I want to use Delphi to fight crime in Gotham, and I was hoping you would be my eyes and ears out there."

Helena considered it, but in the end, didn't run for the balcony.

* * * * *

One year since the Delphi had become operational. One year since Huntress had stopped her first criminal. One year since Oracle had become Gotham's electronic guardian. One year of good times and bad.

Nine months since Dick Grayson had come back into her life. Nine months since she had started to laugh again. Nine months since they spent their one night together. Nine months since Dick Grayson had exited her life for the second time.

Almost three days since Helena had called him something highly inappropriate.

One day since she had officially dubbed their crime fighting duo the Birds of Prey. One day since Helena had stopped pestering her.

Two hours and forty-three minutes since Barbara realized she was content. Not just content, happy. She had accepted that she would never walk again. She had accepted that she and Dick Grayson would never be more than very good friends. She had accepted that Helena would not be going to college and would instead be working (illegally) at a bar. She had accepted that she was now a cyber crime fighter with Helena as her partner. She had accepted that Helena was the arrogant, frustrating, willful, playful, loving adhesive that kept her life together. And two hours and forty-six minutes ago, she had realized that she was content . . . and happy. She took a moment to simply laugh, feeling the sound fill her chest and throat.

"What's so funny, Oracle?" Helena asked over the coms.

"Nothing, Huntress. I just felt like laughing." There was several seconds of silence before Helena's spoke, her voice sounding somewhat choked.

"That's really good to hear."

Barbara knew that Helena was having a difficult time. She was a rebellious teenager and living with a crippled high school teacher was not the easiest of arrangements. Add in Barbara's own depression and anxiety plus Dick's short, but disruptive visit, and frankly, Barbara was surprised she hadn't tried to make her escape.

"Why are you still here, Helena?"

The words were out of her mouth before she could think and she quickly brought a hand to her mouth in alarm. The silence over the coms was frightening. She knew better than anyone that there were some things that you just didn't discuss with Helena - okay, a lot of things.

"Because I promised, Barbara."

"Oh." The redhead wanted to smack her head against the desk. Where had her extensive vocabulary gone?

"And because I can't imagine not being able to talk to you every day." And now she was speechless, even worse. "Oracle, do you read me?" Barbara heard the hesitancy in the younger woman's voice and it impelled her to speak.

"I'm right here, Huntress. I - I'm really - glad that you feel that way." Another moment of wanting to smack her head on the desk. "I, um, feel the same way." Goodness that was pathetic.

"I know, Red."

She could hear the smile in Helena's voice, and suddenly it was alright. More than alright. Two years, one month, and eight days since she had lost the use of her legs, Barbara Gordon was content, happy, and something she couldn't have expected - Barbara Gordon had hope for the future. A future with Helena Kyle in it.

~ ~ ~

End - What Has Gone Before

Part 1: Getting Back On Your Feet