continued from Doppelganger part 1
Three Months Later...
Barbara groaned as she woke up. Not only because she didn't feel Helena lying beside her but because it was her birthday. And she was fairly certain, from the vague goings-on around school, that something perhaps...atrociously special...was going to be intermingled with the school dance she was scheduled to chaperone this very night...
She toyed with the idea of calling out sick but knew that would be somewhat...ah, hell, entirely suspect given her coworkers' understanding of how much she hated to be made a spectacle of.
As she pulled herself upright, the bedroom door opened, with Helena and Dinah behind it. Helena placed a breakfast tray next to her. Breakfast, and a vase with a dozen roses in it.
First thing's first. Barbara took a sip of coffee before Helena drawled, "Happy birthday, darlin'. We come bearing breakfast."
"Oh yeah? Is Alfred here?"
Dinah interjected, "We cooked it ourselves, thank you very much!"
"Oh my God! You cooked for me!? You shouldn't have-I mean, that's so much more dangerous than your nightly swee-"
They ignored her, "And we come bearing gifts..."
So they had.
The first was from Dinah. As Barbara opened it, she gasped, thinking...Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass...first edition...my...my...my...what this must have co-
"That was D's idea."
"But how in the world-"
"Your second gift..." Helena sat beside her in the bed, nearly fainting from nervousness. Short and sweet, she thought to herself, as she bit her lip uncertainly.
Short and sweet.
Nodding toward Dinah, she said, "Since we already have a family, thought I should give it to you in front of the kid..." she placed a small box in Barbara's hand and knelt by the bedside.
Barbara hesitated only briefly before opening the box. She smiled beatifically in the few moments it took for her to adjust to the...size of the offering.
An astonishingly green princess-cut diamond in what looked to be a platinum setting.
"Helena, how on Earth-"
"Daddy's money has to come in handy for something. I figure I can pay him back over the next 96 years or so." She paused, then added, "Just wanted people to know you're taken, that's all."
"Well, by God, this'll show 'em," Barbara said as she slipped the ring onto her finger.
"The color's...uh...for your eyes." Was that a blush?
As Barbara pulled Helena over to kiss her, she found, that yes, it was. "It's perfect-just like you-and I love it. And you. And you," she added to Dinah.
Barbara was smiling, though she was groaning inside.
It hadn't taken 15 minutes in the teacher's lounge before people were already celebrating her birthday. She tried to keep her ring-hand out of view, hoping against hope she wouldn't have to explain this on top of the festivities.
After opening the numerous sweet and thoughtful presents, she'd come to Wade's. He blushed a bit, then said. "I bought it about four months ago..."
What was lost on the rest of the teachers, since Barbara had insisted on keeping their relationship discreet, was that he was saying it had been purchased a month before their breakup.
He looked a bit nervous-unsure whether it should be opened in front of the others or not and thought he might need to explain away the subject, so he lied. "I know how you...uh, collect...stuff about the history of New Gotham, just thought that you might like this..."
She opened the package and found a breathtakingly framed past edition of the Gotham Gazette. The front-page picture was a remarkable and romantically blurry candid photo of a costumed woman caught unaware, poised against the skyline of their city, with the headline, 'WHO IS BATGIRL?'
It was...amazingly beautiful. And, with a tremendous, almost electric jolt, Barbara felt tears spring into her eyes, realizing all at once the immensity of all she had lost-and gained-since then.
Wade swallowed hard, knelt beside her. "Hope you like it."
Barbara touched the figure in the picture, kissed Wade on the cheek, hugged him and whispered in his ear. "It's perfect. Thank you, honey."
Sara Beckett, their new and never shy math teacher, jumped in. "Good lord, Wade, why Batgirl?"
He smiled as he stood. "I just remembered a discussion Barbara and I had about her one day-wondering, " he chuckled, "wouldn't it be funny if she were teaching right here at New Gotham High?"
Everyone, including Barbara and Wade, laughed at this. How absurd!
As Barbara again traced the figure in the photo, someone squealed, "OhmyGod! Barbara Gordon, are you engaged!?"
Barbara looked momentarily like an aardvark caught in headlights. Wade, the closest person to her, looked at her ring and smiled. "Wow! Sorta like your eyes, isn't it?" He made another guess, "Hel?"
Barbara answered him with a shy smile. "Yeah."
"Hell yeah's what I say too!" Sara, too, was ready with a comment. "Holy Mother of God, look at the size of that thing! Does J-Lo know Ben's still dealin' out the rings? Where can I get one?"
Much chirping ensued:
"Who is he?"
"Yeah! Let's hear it!"
"How long have you known him?"
Barbara was saved, literally, by the bell. And Wade laughed and winked at her as she rolled toward her first class.
Helena was bitter as hell that Barbara had to chaperone, well let's face it, a fucking-high-school dance, on her birthday. She would much rather have had her lover wrapped around her on the first birthday either of them had spent as partners.
Until D. started talking about the dance...
Just because Dinah had a crush on Dick didn't mean that she was immune to the charms of the most popular boys in school. Unfortunately, however, they seemed to be entirely immune to her.
And so she fretted as they ate dinner before the dance-and enough that her family saw it.
"So, spill, D. What the fu-I mean what the heck's wrong with you?"
"I just don't want to go-that's all."
"I understand why I don't want Barbara going-but why not you?"
Dinah frowned at her dinner. "You wouldn't understand...you were always popular."
Both Barbara and Helena laughed at this. "I wasn't popular, D., I was just hot-there's a distinction there."
Dinah frowned more deeply at her dinner, "Yeah, well...I'm neither, thank you."
"Fuck popular. And you are hot."
Dinah looked up to see whether Helena was pulling her leg. Evidently not. She grinned her thanks to the other woman.
Helena thought for a few beats, "I'll dress you tonight and, if you'll pretend that you don't know me for a while, once I get finished, every boy in that goddamned joint will be eating out of your hand."
Dinah snorted, "Oh yeah, how's that going to happen?"
Paul Teasdale and Johnny Gaddis, the gods of New Gotham High, watched from the bleachers as people entered for the dance. As the almost unfairly attractive star quarterback and linebacker of the football team, they had little reason to worry about getting what they wanted out of this social function. Which wasn't dancing-since they shared that malady so typical of astonishingly well-muscled young football players-a terminal lack of rhythm. They might deign to slow-dance with some of the hotties, but they were content to sit on the bleachers and let the hotties come to them.
And they would.
As they waited, they judged everybody's 'look.' Their comments, which they were civilized enough to keep to themselves, broke down into basically four types: 1. Snickers. 2. Who the fuck dressed you-the math teacher? 3.Hot. 4. Next.
As Dinah Redmond entered, dressed somewhat hotter than they were used to, she received a 'next' from both young gentlemen.
They also noticed, with some chagrin that Ms. Gordon and Mr. Brixton were perched (Ms. Gordon almost literally-snicker) next to the punchbowl, which would entirely foil the spiking they'd been planning.
And then...wow. And then... the hottest, Hottest, girl sauntered into the room. She was wearing way below hip-hugging leather pants, the smallest, midriff-baring New Gotham High t-shirt they'd ever seen and a leather jacket.
Who the holy shit was she? She walked over smiling as she kissed Mr. Brixton on the cheek (No WAY! No fucking WAY that chick's with Mr.--) before leaning over and kissing Ms. Gordon on the cheek. (WHEW! Just some teachers' friend.) They shook their heads in wonder, their brains only relatively adjusted to the fact that teachers had friends at all, much less friends like that.
By the time the dance was in full swing, Helena was finishing the second cup of punch that Wade had liberally spiked for her. She chuckled to herself at how differently she could feel about Wade, how she could even be happy to see him-as long as she had her girl.
Dinah couldn't believe what she was about to do would make any difference to the boys at this dance-it would probably just get her laughed at. As she passed the bleachers, she gazed furtively at Johnny and Paul. What must it be like, she mused...to be perfect? She snorted. What the hell was she talking about? She lived with perfect. She gazed at Helena as she approached her. Helena had told her to be blasé, to try to look really super-confident. Okay. She could do this.
Although many of the male, and not a few of the female, students had been watching Helena as she talked and laughed with Wade, Barbara and a few of the other teachers, no one in the room had even remotely the guts to approach her.
Johnny and Paul watched, with a group of their friends, as Redmond passed by them. Her glance was not lost on them and they accepted it as the tribute almost all girls paid them. They only continued to watch her because she was talking to Ms. Gordon-and Ms. Gordon was next to the hottie.
A slow song started. And they watched as...
Redmond was just sorta grabbing the hottie's hand and pulling her out onto the floor. And the hottie...was...letting her. HOLY SHIT, MAN!
As the couples began to sway, they were staggered to see Redmond sorta forcefully take the hottie into her arms.
And the hottie let her!
As the song continued, their collective eyebrow crawled into their hairlines as they watched Redmond slip one hand through the belt-loop of the woman's leather pants, the other hand moving to rest on the skin of her exposed torso, sliding around her back, pulling her closer.
They groaned with envy. Jesus, that was so...smoooooth.
They also groaned because this was sorta like that fucking Russian...tAtu video or something. Except hotter, cause these chicks were hotter-and, after all, they were right there in front of them.
Shit, shit, shit!! Why couldn't this be a hot-Catholic-uniform-wearing-school tonight!?!
No WAY! The hottie was wrapping her arms around Redmond's shoulders-Redmond was looking her right in the eyes.
Barbara watched the entire student body and faculty pretend that they weren't all glued to the spectacle unfolding before them. She was quite sure that the seriousness of the looks Dinah and Helena exchanged were being interpreted as pure, wanton lust, though to her experienced eyes, she could tell they were only a few seconds from collapsing in laughter.
And, she had to admit, this little display did make Dinah seem far older, more experienced, even sexier-Barbara's brain nearly shut down at this word, then she laughed. Why should she be surprised to find that Helena knew what she was talking about?
As Dinah danced, she pushed down the thought that groping Helena was actually sort of fun as she looked into the blue eyes of her dance partner. She also pushed down her flash of knowledge that Helena was sort of enjoying it, too. That was really sweet to know, though.
But all good things had to end-it was getting more and more difficult to dance and not laugh at the saucy little looks Helena was throwing her way. She might have been able to keep it together if Helena hadn't leaned in and play-growled in her ear, "Dinah Redmond, you are one...hot...tamale."
That was it.
Both of them shrieked with laughter, collapsed into each other's arms.
As they walked back toward the punch bowl, Barbara and Wade watched them wiping tears from their eyes.
"Thanks for the dance, babe."
"You have less than two minutes before the first approach-betcha."
As Dinah returned to her friends, Gabby looked at her with a newfound respect. "Geez, Dinah...that was-" Gabby didn't finish this sentence because Paul Teasdale was suddenly right behind Dinah.
Dinah turned, entirely cool, and tried to channel Helena for this interchange. "Hi Paul. What's up?"
"So...I guess you know that girl, huh?"
Dinah corrected him, "That...woman is my foster sister, sort of."
Paul took this in, then asked, "Just wondering if you'd like to dance-the next slow one, I mean"
Dinah shrugged, "Sure. If you want. That'd be great." She smiled as she looked past him at Saint Helena of New Gotham High.
But the slow dance hadn't come quickly enough to save Barbara.
Barbara groaned for the third time that day as Sara Beckett grabbed a microphone and commanded center stage in the gym.
"Although we've all gathered together tonight with the primary objective of enjoying this dance, our faculty members have a surprise in store for someone...we've moved naming the 'Teacher of the Year' ceremony forward just a bit..." she paused with just enough drama to add, "in order to honor our teacher of the year, Barbara Gordon, tonight-on her birthday."
Barbara was more than a little surprised/disconcerted at this news, though she tried to play it off. She smiled as she rolled forward to accept her plaque and her applause.
But Sara Bennett was not content with this.
"The faculty also happens to believe that maybe Barbara has something she'd like to announce to us all tonight...just look at that rock on her hand-an engagement, perhaps?"
She handed Barbara the microphone and smiled archly; Barbara, surrounded by her students and faculty, smiled wanly.
Well, well...let's see...
She had to absolutely-forever-keep Batman's secrets, Bruce's secrets; Nightwing's secrets, Dick's secrets; Catgirl's secrets, Selena's secrets; Huntress' secrets, Helena's secrets; Canary's secrets, Dinah's secrets. Not to mention Oracle's secrets...
No, goddamnit. She'd be damned if she'd keep her heart's secret any longer...
As Barbara took the mike, she smiled at Helena. "Well, not actually an engagement, per se. But the ring IS a gift from my life partner, Helena Kyle."
For a number of the boys who were present that night, as they watched Helena smile at Barbara's announcement, this was just one of the first of many thousands of instances of realizing, with startling clarity, that women were far...far more complex...than they'd ever really dreamed.
Later that evening, Helena was catching her breath as she felt Barbara kiss her way onto her stomach. And she felt, rather than heard, Barbara chuckle.
"Why ya laughing, babe?" She almost dreaded asking, having learned, to her great amusement/dismay that Barbara's sense of humor was active nowhere more than in the bedroom.
"I was just wondering...when you were a student...did you ever imagine that one day the Teacher of the Year at New Gotham would be going down on you?"
Helena paused before answering, "Well, because the choices I had in my years there would have curled my hair...hell no."
She felt Barbara kiss her way upward, until she was kissing her mouth.
Barbara laughed again.
"I've just decided that prepositional describes it."
"Prepositional? Describes what?"
"I want you in me, on me, over me, under me, above me, beneath me, below me, beside me, inside me...etc, etc...get my drift?"
"Oh I get your drift alright and, you know, if you want to get all grammatical on me...I can think of a few verbs I could whip out on ya...and they'd probably make you moan a few encouraging adverbs until I made you scream out a coupla interjections."
"Helena! You DID pay attention in school!"
Helena kissed Barbara again. "Don't tell anyone. I'll deny it."
They lay in the afterglow for another few minutes before Barbara said, "Thanks again for what you did for Dinah tonight."
Helena laughed, "No problem, I enjoyed it."
"I could tell."
Helena pulled away a bit to look into Barbara's eyes.
"I enjoyed putting on a show-not the-"
"Oh please! And I'm telling you...I enjoyed it, too."
They laughed simultaneously.
"Are we going to hell, ya think?" Helena looked slightly worried.
"For thinking Dinah's cute?" Barbara chuckled. "Nah...I mean, after all, she thinks we're cute. Correction: I believe she thinks I'M cute. She thinks you're hot."
"Only because I am."
Barbara smiled and, as she wrapped her arms around Helena, her ring was momentarily illuminated by the soft moonlight filtering into her room.
Green, she smiled as she fell asleep.
Like her eyes.
Like someone else's hair.
Someone who would be successfully breaking out of prison later that very night.
Three Days Later...
Barbara didn't know what to expect when she returned to school the following Monday. Sure, there were other teachers with same-sex partners-but not same-sex partners that used to be students.
And bad-ass students at that.
As she entered the teacher's lounge, everyone smiled and murmured their hellos. So far, so good. Sara Beckett crossed to her and, for the first time since Barbara had known her, lowered her voice. "Sorry, Barb, for putting you on the spot at the dance-I didn't know."
Barbara smiled at her, "It's okay, Sara. I wasn't planning to broadcast it but it's nothing I'm ashamed of."
Ann McGillicuddy, who, despite her age, had ears like a lynx, piped up at this, her voice the very volume and tone of a cranky foghorn.
"Well, you should be ashamed of yourself." Conversations stopped, every person in the room turned their way.
"I remember that Helena Kyle," the woman continued as she approached Barbara, "and honestly, Barbara Gordon, to...shack up with a girl we all know is nothing better than a two-bit hoodlum-I mean-does she even have a job? She can't have amounted to much."
Barbara could remember seeing red a few times during her crime fighting days. But nothing like this. She bit off her words. "What she's amounted to is the person I'm spending the rest of my life with."
The older woman wasn't cowed by this-at all. "So you think. Just wait until she finds somebody making a lot more money that a high school teacher, then you'll see how long love lasts."
As she finished this sentence, Wade thought he might just be seeing what criminals saw when Batgirl swung into their midst. Anger. But a terribly controlled anger. Barbara took one breath.
"You know, Ann, I happen to be certain that you remember Helena-because I happen to remember the way you always looked at her when she was in school. Don't badmouth her now because she wouldn't sleep with you then."
Pow. The verbal equivalent of a rabbit punch to the trachea. That shut her up. She sucked in a furious breath and stalked out of the room. As the door closed behind her, the room erupted in laughter. Sara clapped her on the shoulder, "By God, I've been wanting to say something like that to that old lecher since the day I started here."
The rest of the morning was a slide on ice.
Helena had just finished lunch when she heard the phone ring. As she moved to answer it, she realized that it was one of the Clocktower's secure lines. Nobody should have the number except...
When she answered, she heard a familiar voice. "Helena!?"
"Listen and don't ask questions." The woman was speaking quietly but urgently and very quickly. "The Joker's escaped from jail and-"
"Listen! There's no time. I'm on my way to the high school with about ten of his henchmen. We're supposed to kidnap Barbara and take her back to Mr. J. I'm calling you so you can stop us. We're armed and there should be two men at each entrance. I'll stay in the room with her-we're only about two minutes away. Get there as fast as you can."
Before Helena could reply, the line went dead. She took one minute to send a message to Barbara and Dinah and, then, she was almost literally flying.
Dinah was walking back from the bathroom in an empty hallway when her Delphi pager went off. She read the text "JOKER ESC - PLT KDNP ORCLE - GET 2HER D"
She was running before she even finished reading the message. As she ran, she heard an overhead announcement, "CODE RED, CODE RED, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. THIS IS NOT A-"
The announcement stopped abruptly. Dinah knew Code Red meant all teachers were supposed to lock themselves and their students in their classrooms. She also knew, since Barbara would have gotten the message, too, she wouldn't do this
She'd prefer to give up-go quietly rather than take the chance of having students hurt. Shit, shit, shit. Dinah was flying.
She burst her way into Barbara's classroom one minute ahead of an armed man and an armed woman in a very strange costume. Her eyes widened-Harley Quinn!
The woman locked the door behind her, then turned toward the students, some of who couldn't help making terrified sounds. "QUIET!"
She turned back toward Barbara and was amused to see Dinah step in front of the woman's wheelchair. Barbara wasn't going to have any heroics. "Dinah, sit down. Quinn, I'll go with you if you'll just leave everyone else alone."
Dinah did not sit down, instead she spoke to the woman and man. "You're not taking her anywhere."
Quinn rolled her eyes and told her henchman, "Make her sit down-gently-but give me your gun first."
The man leered as he approached Dinah. What happened next was a surprise to everyone but Dinah, Barbara and Quinn.
Particularly to the man, though his surprised feelings were short-lived because he lost consciousness from having had Dinah so unceremoniously grab him and slam his head into Barbara's desk.
Dinah turned to Quinn and spoke with real ferocity. "You're next, bitch."
Quinn smirked as she looked at her fallen henchman. "My, my, my." She looked past Dinah to Barbara, "I really must commend you. You seem to have no shortage of...riveting female companionship." Her eyes widened as she turned back to Dinah, "Want some candy, little girl?"
Dinah only glared at Quinn. "Guess not, huh? Your loss, believe me." Then she winked. "Three guesses who you could ask about that."
Because Dinah assumed Quinn was talking about her assault upon Helena, she actually took a furious step toward her before Barbara's voice stopped her. "Dinah! This isn't the time."
"Couldn't agree with you more, Babs." Quinn said as she checked the clock on the wall, sighed again. As she turned, she seemed somewhat surprised to see the other students. "Oops. Almost forgot. Captive audience. So to speak. Shoo, chickens. Jump out the window and fly away now."
She was met by stupefied incomprehension.
"Lesson one, children. During your hostage crisis, listen to the person holding the gun. You-boy with muscles!"
Paul Teasdale paled, but answered. "Yes, ma'am?"
"Ma'am. How quaint. Wouldja do me one small favor, boy-with-muscles?
He swallowed hard. "Yes ma'am."
She gestured toward the windows. "Open one of those windows, then climb out. Show these other brain trusts how it's done. Then, the rest of you climb out after him. And-NOW!"
That got action. Paul opened the window, scrambled through, and waited to help some of the smaller girls in the class. The students were running like hell. Paul called into the room.
"Hey Dinah! C'mon."
"No-get out of here. I'm not leaving Barbara."
"NO! Get out of here, Paul!"
Paul hesitated, then turned and followed his running fellow classmates.
The remaining women could hear approaching sirens in the distance.
Quinn touched her ear and said into what must have been some comm. system. "Abort mission! Abort mission! Am-scray, eople-pay."
Not everyone in Quinn's gang was able to take advantage of that pig Latin, Helena having mowed through four of them at a speed that surprised even her.
As she burst into Barbara's classroom, she saw Dinah standing between Barbara and Quinn. Quinn didn't even turn before she said "About time you got here, darling."
Helena didn't answer, just passed Quinn and Dinah to verify for herself absolutely that Barbara was unharmed.
Barbara saw more terror than anger in the other woman's eyes, so she smiled up at her. "It's okay, Hel. I'm alright, love."
"Love!" Quinn shrieked with delight, "Love? Does this mean you two have finally, finally consummated this star-crossed union-" She took in the sight of Barbara's ring. "Oh my God! AND you broke into Daddy's piggy bank. Helena! I'm so proud of you."
The sirens were getting closer.
"Oh dear. How time flies. Really must get going. Appearances to keep up and all."
Helena crossed to Quinn and put one hand on her shoulder. "Thank you, Quinn."
Quinn smiled thinly. "My pleasure, dear. Though I probably need hardly tell you Mr. J's going to make me pay dearly for this little failure."
"If he hurts you, that'll just give me one more reason to kill him."
"Did you tell him about the Clocktower and-"
"Of course not, donkey. And I'm not going to. I'll be in touch when I have a plan."
She turned to Barbara and added, "Babs, do try to stay out of sight until this is over. If you force me to protect a dizzy redhead while trying to undermine a green...head, I think I'll lose what's left of mine."
"Why are you doing this, Quinn?"
Barbara's question stopped Quinn just before she closed the door. "Why?" She tilted her head to the side the slightest bit. "Because I'm in love with Helena, of course. She didn't tell you?"
Quinn winked at Helena, closed the door and they were alone.
Helena turned to face her family. Dinah was dumbfounded. Barbara didn't look pleased.
Commissioner Gordon's Office
Two hours later...
"THREE DAYS! The Joker has been out for three days!?!"
As Barbara watched her father pace back and forth, nearly frothing in anger, she began to worry about his blood pressure.
"Dad, calm down."
"CALM DOWN? I can understand how the leaders of rogue nations might pull this off-but to put a Joker clone in his cell right under our noses. Without our knowing about it?"
"Yeah, well, it's Joker. Send in the Clones...I don't know...Attack of the Clowns?"
None of this was funny, evidently.
"How on Earth could he have-"
"When we catch him, we'll ask him, Dad. And we will catch him." Barbara knew that her father wasn't just angry about the jailbreak; he was worried about her. Terrified, actually.
His sputtering started again-then, as Barbara ran her hand through her hair, it abruptly stopped as he noticed her ring. She almost groaned. Not this conversation-not now.
"Barbara...honey...is there something you need to tell me?"
She chuckled, "Uh...yeah-I've been meaning to call-I, uh, I finally sorta decided to settle down."
Barbara laughed weakly. "You know, I think you might find this funny. Uh-it's Helena."
"Helena? Helena, Helena? Helena Kyle?"
"Yeah-that about covers it."
Her father sat beside her, lost in thought for a long minute.
"Well, Dad-say something-are you okay about it?"
"Honestly, I'm just surprised-though I guess I really shouldn't be. I suppose if I had to choose someone for my daughter, I'd choose someone who loved her, who'd protect her, who'd live with her but die for her, too, and who'd never leave her. Though, actually, I'd prefer the person worship her." He turned and smiled at Barbara, "But then...that would be describing Helena, wouldn't it?"
Barbara hugged her father.
One more conversation to go.
Helena was feeling pressured and was starting to resent it. And she knew she was starting to resent it because it was hitting just a little too close to that-let's face it-huge indiscretion in her recent past.
Yes. She did feel guilty that she hadn't told Barbara she'd slept with Quinn. But did she want to know about every fucked up thing Barbara had ever done? Hell no! So what was the point of telling her, after all? It would confuse things. Maybe even really hurt Barbara's feelings. Maybe even mess up their relationship-when it didn't have to-'cause it didn't mean anything. She groaned...aw shit.
And now she hadn't been paying attention and now Barbara was...
"Hel! Are you even listening to me? At all?"
"Of course I'm listening. Look-here's the drill. She told me she loved me right before she released me the night of the kidnapping. End of story."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Jesus! Let's see...oh I don't know-because it was personal, maybe? Can you grasp that concept, Barbara? I mean, I know you had to listen and all but what happened to me that night was personal. If you can't understand that, then I don't know what else to say."
Barbara took a few deep breaths. She had no idea why this was making Helena so defensive but she knew there were times to pick one's battles. Maybe this was one of them.
"Alright, honey, I'll drop it. I'm sorry. Let's talk about what we need to do right now."
Helena was surprised that Barbara was letting it go, but quite relieved to change subjects. "Well, you can't go back to school until we catch him-and D. should stay home, too."
"I've been thinking we should call Dick."
Helena almost objected before deciding she wanted every bit of protection she could get for Barbara. "Yeah, let's do that."
Barbara hesitated before adding, "And I think you should start getting used to the fact that it's entirely possible Bruce will show up."
"Oh GREAT! Why? 'Cause we're so incompetent? 'Cause he'll think we'd never find him?"
"Because Joker's a truly dangerous man, Hel. You've never fought him. We have. And we can't underestimate him."
"Yeah, but you guys never had a mole in his camp before."
"A mole we can't trust."
"I trust her." Off Barbara's look, she added, "With this-I trust her."
"How can you-after all she's-"
"Because in her fucked-up way, she really does care about me-and she promised me that she wouldn't let anyone hurt you. She came through at the school, didn't she?"
"You don't know she wasn't just setting us up for something bigger."
"I do. I do know. I know her. And you don't. You'll just have to trust me on this-please."
Barbara leaned forward and kissed Helena. "I have an idea. Let's stop talking crime and the other women in your life for a while. What do you want to order for dinner?"
"Actually, I was thinking I might go to the store and whip up a little something for us."
Barbara stared at her for a long beat. "Who are you? What have you done with Helena?"
Naturally, they ordered take out. Alfred was entering just as Helena was leaving.
"I came as soon as I heard, Miss Barbara."
"Never ends, does it, Alfred?"
"Do you think Bruce will come?"
"Oh, I rather think so. I don't imagine he will be able to tolerate the thought of a free Joker and you in the same city."
"How do you think he'll take...well, you know-" She waggled her ring hand at him.
"Your relationship?" He paused for a few beats. "I honestly can't say. But if he expresses an unpleasant opinion, I would suggest that you say what my professional deference demands that I refrain from saying."
"And that is?"
"That's it's none of his business. Not, of course, that you heard that from me."
"Heard what? Barbara squeezed Alfred's arm, then turned back to Delphi.
The Next Day
After it was reported that The Joker had been behind the attempt on Barbara Gordon, the school board decided that, for her safety and the safety of the students, she should take a leave of absence. Dinah, as her ward, and as someone who had helped thwart The Joker's plot, was also deemed in jeopardy-a potential target, and a potential risk. The board agreed to let Barbara teach Dinah at home until The Joker was caught. Dinah stopped by school to pick up her books and some things for Barbara for their forced Joker-holiday.
She was standing at her locker when Paul approached her.
"I hear you have to go undercover or something."
"Yeah, something like that-just until they catch The Joker."
"Yeah, well-I hope they catch him soon."
"Thanks. Me, too."
"Oh and...I just wanted to tell you...it was really cool what you did in that classroom."
"Oh, well-yeah. Martial arts training sure can come in-"
"I didn't mean that-I mean, that was cool, too-but I was talking more about staying-not leaving Ms. Gordon by herself."
Dinah shrugged. "She's family."
"Still cool, though." He casually leaned over and pecked her on the cheek. "See you soon, I hope."
"Yeah," Dinah sighed, "see you soon."
Then he was gone.
And as she finished her errands, Dinah thought this must be what it's like to be Helena. Because she felt pretty damned attractive as she was walking on air.
Bruce Wayne rubbed one hand over his lantern jaw as he drove toward Wayne Manor. One look at his watch told him he'd be there in plenty of time to meet Dick.
He felt entirely out of sorts, digesting the two startling bits of news he'd just received.
Barbara and Helena-together.
The Joker? Well, it just came with the job.
But Barbara? How could she? How could she take advantage of her position of trust and authority in Helena's life? He'd never seen Barbara in a serious relationship though he'd watched Dick and Barbara's casual dalliance. What if it weren't casual for Helena? No. It was reckless. Full of too many personal and professional ramifications-ramifications that could hurt them both. And Barbara should know that. Surely she knew that!
Later that evening, as Bruce and Dick were finishing the dinner Alfred had left for them, Bruce voiced these concerns to Dick-at length. As he spoke, he watched Dick's face register surprise, then consternation, then something like anger.
"Bruce, with all due respect, you don't know what you're talking about. Barbara loves Helena. Adores her. They're good together. It's a-"
Bruce tried to interrupt, but Dick wouldn't let him. "Bruce, listen to me. Even if you never approve of it, it's not going to change. I hope you know that. Besides, you're the one who left them to fend for each other-it's a little late for you to walk in throwing opinions around. Because, believe me, if you walk in there already judging them, you're going to force Barbara to alienate herself from you. And she loves you, too-so you shouldn't do that to her."
One of the problems with crime-fighting super-heroes, Alfred mused as he walked toward the elevator in which Bruce and Dick were arriving, was their deplorable manners. True, it was only 9PM and true, the denizens of the Clocktower might be presumed to be awake. But why not telephone first? Dinah joined him at the elevator and shot him a look of dismay. Barbara and Helena had retired to their bedroom 45 minutes ago.
What was more polite to say, Alfred wondered:
"I apologize but you cannot speak with Miss Barbara and Miss Helena at the present moment because they are having sex."
"Miss Barbara? Miss Helena? Please stop having sex. Masters Bruce and Dick would like a word with you."
The elevator door opened and Dinah made the call. She shot forward, hugged Dick, then extended her hand to Bruce. "You must be Mr. Wayne. I'm Dinah Redmond. It's an honor to meet you."
Bruce shook her hand. "Thank you. A pleasure to meet you, Dinah."
"I'll go get the others-they're-uh-they'll be right here."
One glance from Alfred to Dick as Dinah disappeared confirmed the worst for Dick.
Great. Now Bruce could meet the new couple post-coitus-interruptus. That would do wonders for Helena's charm...
Was it truly...possible, Barbara mused, that Batman could schedule an arrival, after all this time, now-at the precise moment that his daughter's face was so deliciously pressed between her legs?
Oh hell, for that matter, when his daughter had one hand deep inside her and was using the other to caress, then pull at her nipples until she was just about to...
Yes it was.
Dinah's tepid knocking and embarrassed announcement told her it was, indeed, possible.
Barbara would have bolted upright if Helena hadn't held her down with one arm. She looked up from her work, her eyes heavy with desire. "Where ya think you're goin', Red?"
"Fuck Batman. I'm busy."
"But honey, we can't just-"
She gasped as Helena pinched her nipple, then drove into her with her other hand, hard.
"Actually, I'm not under the impression this is going to take much longer at all, Ms. Gordon. Watch and see."
As Barbara watched Helena lower her beautiful mouth onto her once more, she had to agree.
Nope. It hadn't taken long. But it took considerably longer to attempt to make herself presentable. She'd washed her face, re-touched her make-up, but there was really nothing she could do with her swollen mouth, her smoky eyes.
Maybe she was being paranoid, she thought. Maybe they weren't even thinking that, maybe they wouldn't know?
As they waited for the two women, Bruce had chosen to wait outside, watching his city from the top of the Clocktower. As she left Dick boisterously regaling Alfred with his latest adventures, Dinah quietly stepped outside as well.
He looked so lonely, she thought, as she watched him. And he was. Lonely and angry. She had felt it when they touched. Helena would probably have been very surprised that he was lonely for her and for what he'd never had with her. And that he was truly concerned for her.
"Can I help you, Dinah?"
Wow. Didn't even have to look. He was good.
"Uh, yes sir, you can." She crossed to stand, shoulder to shoulder him, and watched the city.
"I was...uh...going to ask you please not to do it."
"Please don't make Barbara and Helena feel bad about the best thing that's ever happened to them." His brooding eyes met hers. "If you'll just-wait-wait and watch, you'll see. You'll see this is how things are supposed to be for them."
She was a pretty child, Bruce thought, and so earnest. Something about her blue eyes was so compassionate, so understanding. And then it suddenly struck him-forced a lump to his throat. The compassion was for him.
He blinked a few times before responding. "Alright, Dinah. I'll do my best-and please-it's Bruce."
"Thank you, Bruce. You won't regret it. I promise."
As Barbara finally joined Bruce, Dick, Dinah and Alfred in the other room, Helena hung back, waiting to find out whether she was going to have to kick Bruce's ass or not. And hoping, for Barbara's sake that she wouldn't-because Barbara's mentor meant the world to her.
One look at them told Barbara everything. Oh hell yeah they knew. They knew exactly what she'd been doing. She blushed, felt terribly rattled...then caught herself. Helena was right! Fuck Batman! She was an adult. She squared her shoulders and smiled. "Hi Dick. Hello, Bruce...it's been a while."
Dick winked at her. "Hiya Babs."
Barbara took a deep breath as she waited for the bomb to drop-but it didn't. Bruce leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "Hello, beautiful. I hear congratulations are in order."
Alfred smiled, chimed in. "Miss Barbara, would you like to join the gentlemen in a drink."
"Yes please, Alfred, I'll take a double of the first bottle you lay your hand on."
Helena chose this moment to join them, moving languidly, looking as sexy and relaxed as a sleek, contented cat.
Bruce was surprised to see Helena hug Dick quite affectionately. Clearly, there'd been a change in that relationship as well.
Then Helena turned to Bruce and astonished him by doing something she had never done since the day she'd discovered he was her father.
She smiled at him.
Helena not only smiled at Bruce, she extended her hand. "Hiya...Bruce."
He shook her hand as he replied, "Hello, Helena...you're looking well."
This sounded perfectly innocuous but Helena was disconcerted enough to feel the blood rush to her cheeks. Which made her bluster a bit.
"Yeah, well...actually I'm feeling really well lately." She glanced at Barbara, "Fantastic, even."
But now she was truly blushing in earnest. It was one thing to be saucy with your long-lost and estranged father but-suddenly-she wanted an out. "I need some ice cream. Anyone else?" Nope. No one else. She turned to Barbara, touched her hair, "Sure you don't want some, babe?"
Barbara smiled at her but demurred.
Bruce's eyes tightened as he watched Helena cross out of the room toward the kitchen, thinking that he could have happily gone the rest of his life without knowing that his daughter liked ice cream after making love just as much as her mother had.
Bruce Wayne was a man of many talents; one of the more formidable was in the area of detection. And although he'd been willing to momentarily suspend his judgment of the relationship between his daughter and his former partner in crime-fighting, he was certainly going to watch to make sure that it was what Dick and Dinah had said it was.
Over the course of that long evening of strategizing, he regarded his daughter and Barbara with a stern scrutiny that they were certainly aware of but which did not seem to bother them. And he watched with something like amazement. Helena had remained close to Barbara for the whole of the evening and Barbara had seemed entirely unconscious of the fact that she continually touched her, stroked her hair, gently patted or rested her hand on the younger woman.
What was astonishing to Bruce was that what could have seemed like an entirely sophomoric inability to keep her hands off of Helena seemed instead a natural part of their relationship. They were really by no means giddy lovers; they remained entirely focused on the matters at hand, and whether agreeing or heatedly disagreeing with each other, Barbara touched his daughter with the same love.
And this made his heart ache to see it.
Because-maybe that's all it would have taken.
In the short time Selena and he had tried to have a real relationship rather than just their passionate couplings, he remembered her sitting next to him that way. And he hadn't known what to do, hadn't known what she wanted. He'd always thought that she was demanding his full attention, which had often irritated him. Because there was no time in his life in which he didn't feel, to some extent, on call. And even when he wasn't, he'd wanted to read the paper, or watch the news or have a serious conversation. And so she'd sit next to him. And maybe all she'd really needed was to feel close to him.
In the many years that he'd had to mull over the past, he'd wondered at length over the strange mixture of independence and neediness that had been Selena Kyle. Catwoman. A cat needing her independence but perhaps needing to know she was loved and esteemed and who needed to be petted over.
He could certainly see the cat in his beautiful, wilful daughter. Not paying attention to Barbara's caresses, not even seeming to notice that she so clearly held the adoration of the woman sitting next to her. But blooming like a tender flower under those touches all the same. And when she did occasionally turn her eyes to Barbara, he saw a melting look of love and gratitude.
Why was it so easy for Barbara to understand this? And so hard for him? What mixture of nature and nurture, what twist of fate, had made simply loving someone so hard for him?
It might have been so easy.
And he hadn't known.
He felt a lump rise in his throat for the second time that night.
Quinn cursed her shaking hand as she finished applying her concealer. By God, Mr. J. was nothing if not a professional. She could conceal the beating she'd taken for her failure to kidnap Barbara with next to no effort at all.
Because Mr. J. was a criminal mind extraordinaire, he felt it a bit beneath him to be seen as one of those run of the mill low-lives who beat his girlfriend. Not that he wouldn't beat her, mind you, he just didn't like the stigma. Consequently-a light beating with far more body than facial bruising. Lovely.
Mascara would be more difficult, she quickly realized.
GODDAMNIT! She'd already smeared it.
She steadied her hands on the sink as she looked into the mirror.
Mr. J. had, genius that he was, quickly discerned that something was wrong between them...that something was different about Quinn. He'd beaten that out of her quickly as well and-swoosh-down the toilet went her medication.
Not only that, but he was forcing injections of a medication that was strictly contraindicated for a person with her particular mental illness. Something she could already feel taking a baseball bat to the slightly tamed hornet's nest of her mind.
She sighed. Because it really wasn't fair.
Because life's genetic lottery had dealt her only about 49 cards on her very best day.
And in her still highly medicated level of near sanity, she could see what was what. What use was anything, anyway? Helena didn't-and would never-love her. And God knew Mr. J. didn't love her-he fucked her and used her and beat her and, as charming as all that was when she was crazy, it lost a hell of a lot of its romance when she was medicated.
And, beside all that, what else did she get with her medication?
Guilt-for the things she'd done.
Awareness-of her depravity.
Horror-at what she'd become.
And yet, once medicated, she was too ashamed to go back to what she'd been. Although of course, now, she was being forced to.
No. It wasn't fair and it wasn't like she could really have helped any of it if she'd wanted to. She wondered what mixture of nature and nurture, what twist of fate, had led her to Mr. J. and to this life that she had begun to despise.
She had truly considered ending it all. Had even, good citizen that she was trying to be, gone and purchased a handgun legally. Although she'd thought as she'd done so, from her personal knowledge of her professional associates, that doctors in the field of mental health should undergo far more rigorous background checks than garden-variety felons. Because, in her measured opinion, most of her associates were far more neurotic, if not crazier, than their patients.
After she'd bought the gun, though, she'd had second thoughts...thoughts that Mr. J. would have cackled over.
Surely...surely...taking care of Helena and Barbara and Dinah would mean something in the grand scheme of things. Might even make a difference to the fate of her soul?
Because she did believe she had a soul-unlike Mr. J., who either had none or was enjoying his very first incarnation as a human being.
She would live. And she could do this. She raised the wand for her mascara and, through sheer force of will, applied it perfectly.
She would do it.
Until the medication Mr. J. was injecting into her made it impossible, she would take care of them.
They'd all decided to split shifts and the first Barbara had arranged had very conveniently kept Bruce and Helena from sweeping together. But, at some point, if they hadn't been partnered, it would have looked odd...and so it was that Bruce was eventually standing next to Barbara, who was perusing Delphi.
Waiting for Helena to emerge from their bedroom.
Bruce was already dressed in his Batman costume, except for his cowl, still filling into it perfectly, Barbara noted with wry amusement. Would the man never age?
When Helena emerged, her below-hip-hugging leather pants left as little to the imagination as her leather halter.
Barbara watched with some amusement as Bruce's jaw clenched. Helena noticed a sea change in the atmosphere of the room and said. "What? What's wrong?"
Bruce pointed vaguely to her outfit, "That's just a little...revealing...don't you think?"
Helena lifted one eyebrow, "I'm sorry? Revealing? It's not exactly like you're wearing clown pants there, is it, Pop? Ready to go?"
It was strange to be doing her first sweep with her father. And she had to admit, despite herself, that he was an impressive...formidable figure. She acknowledged with some amusement that, personally, she would have voided herself if she were some common criminal punk faced with the ominous figure of Batman.
Because to tell the truth he was absolutely as legendary in person as he was...ah, hell...as he was in legend.
She could feel the decades of experience rippling from him as they moved from rooftop to rooftop and she was more than slightly embarrassed to realize that she hoped she'd live up to him-that he'd feel proud of her.
And, then, there was the first call from Oracle. Which was simple enough, really. Two armed bandits at a convenience store.
As they'd moved in, Helena had quickly dispatched the first man with a gun.
The second man had turned and had run-smack-into the firm chest of Batman.
"Not so fast, punk."
The punk in question's eyes had widened amazingly. Holy...shit! It was Batman! 'Nuff said, as far as he was concerned. He dropped his weapon on the ground.
As Batman grabbed the punk by the scruff of his collar, he led him toward where Helena was leaning over, using plastic cuffs to shackle her perpetrator.
The young punk Batman was holding did not let that fact keep him from thinking, as he looked at the hottie cuffing his friend, 'now, that-that's an ass-'
Just before he felt Batman cuff him roughly in the head.
"Eyes to yourself, scum"
And then the scum in question watched the hottie turn toward Batman and laugh.
After a subsequently and relatively boring sweep, as Helena undressed for bed that evening, she felt Barbara's eyes upon her. Not that that was unusual; she knew Barbara loved watching her, looking at her.
"How was it tonight, baby?"
"Interesting," Helena drawled as she decided she wanted skin tonight, smirking as Barbara's eyes widened as she took off what remained of her clothing and slipped into bed next to her lover. Barbara immediately acquiesced as Helena reached for her small t-shirt, lifted it up and off of her body.
"I want to look at my girl," she said as she cushioned herself against Barbara's warm, clean skin.
Barbara had, over the past few months, begun to get used to the fact that Helena liked lying next to her, looking at her, and could do so for an hour, even hours, as if she could barely reconcile the fact she was lying next to her with reality.
At first, it had been incredibly embarrassing to rest naked under such devoted scrutiny. After a few weeks, however, Barbara had embraced it as one of Helena's quirks-one she certainly couldn't complain about, given its results. Helena would look at her, watch her until invariably, inevitably, her eyes would turn their feral yellow. And when Barbara reached for her, she'd find Helena as hot and as wet as she thought it possible the woman could be.
Minutes went by and Helena's gaze turned yellow. "Let's not talk about anything else tonight, okay?"
Helena lay silently watching her with those yellow eyes for another long minute.
Then, Barbara watched as Helena rose up from the bed and moved downward, pulling the covers from her legs. She pulled Barbara's underwear off in one swift movement and gently spread her legs.
Barbara gasped as she watched Helena slowly rub first one, then her other breast between her legs, the wetness of her arousal glistening on her lover's darker skin.
Then Helena moved upward, straddled her and took her hair in both hands, "I need you," she said, and gently pressed her breast into Barbara's willing mouth.
And then, there were no more words until the next morning.
They were drinking coffee in the kitchen. Dinah was still asleep. And Barbara had to admit to herself that this was one of her favorite parts of her relationship with Helena, the dichotomy of being at times white-hot lovers with the easy domesticity they also shared.
"I hate to admit it-but he actually sorta lives up to his reputation."
"Yeah, he's pretty amazing, alright."
"Those punk-asses out on the street damn near wet themselves when he shows up."
Barbara reached forward, stroked Helena's bangs away from her forehead. "If we gave you decades to build your reputation, you'd be exactly the same way, honey."
Helena smirked ruefully. "Actually, I don't know. There's just something about him." She hesitated before adding, "I guess that's what mom and you saw in him, huh?"
"Yeah. Something like that. He's really...the most amazing and...complex man I've ever known."
Helena sat with that a beat before saying, "I just want to get this over with. I wish Quinn would get in touch-let us know what's going on."
Although Barbara felt her stomach drop unexpectedly at the name, she smiled, "Well, hopefully, it'll be soon, honey."
"Yeah, I guess. We'll see."
Two Weeks Later
Because Barbara, homebody that she was, had begun to go stir crazy under her enforced imprisonment in the Clocktower, Bruce, Dick and Helena had decided to take her to lunch.
And that is how Dinah had found herself alone in the Clocktower when Harley Quinn came to call.
She'd let her in-because she was almost afraid not to-though she'd immediately messaged Barbara, Bruce, Dick and Helena.
And the change since Dinah had last seen her was remarkable.
Dinah could see the madness in Quinn literally glittering out of her eyes. Quinn was pulling forcefully on a cigarette as she spoke to Dinah. "Sorry about the smoking, lambie-pie: can't help it. Since I stopped killing people, had to find something to do with my hands."
She smiled, laughed at what seemed like the air, and added, "I suppose you're wondering what's going on, huh?
Dinah watched Quinn with no little horror. It was obvious she was, literally, nearly beside herself.
"Yes, I do."
"Yes, I do? Me too! Didja hear that, dear? That's called echolalia-and a wee bit of clang association-typical of my disorder. Shit! Mother of God, please! Leave me alone!", Quinn said to the air.
Quinn suddenly rushed Dinah, grabbed her and nearly kissed her before she stopped a centimeter from her face, "Sorry, dumplin'. Inappropriate sexual acting-out, right?"
Dinah touched Quinn as she said, "Right."
"Right! Not bright!" Quinn countered.
The barrage of horror, the utter morass of sadness, indignity, wretchedness and insanity that was Quinn's mind melded momentarily with hers.
And Dinah was utterly bereft-forlorn-and knew, for the absolute first time, that life could be far more horrific than she'd ever imagined. She'd moved away from Quinn's hands as if she'd been scalded, which she had, and looked into Quinn's glittering eyes. "I'm...so sorry, " she whispered.
Quinn's eyes widened, her head tilted and she grinned, seeming almost normal for a moment. "Me too, Dinah. Believe me. Me too."
It only took a few minutes for Barbara, Bruce, Dick and Helena to join them and they were all openly shocked at Quinn's ragged appearance.
"Hello, all. I bring you tidings of great joy, boys." Quinn took a vicious pull at her cigarette, looked at it as if it were a stranger, then seemed to realize she had no ash-tray.
And then, without even blinking, she put it out on her own arm.
"Whoa! Hey!" Helena jumped forward and jerked the cigarette from Quinn's hand, then gently pulled her into a hug. "Shh, shhh."
She felt Quinn trembling violently in her arms, "Shh," she whispered, "It's okay...it's okay."
Two minutes later, everyone watched as Helena treated Quinn's burn.
"This'll sting." She said as she cleaned the wound.
Quinn laughed, and her head rolled back languidly upon her neck, "Sting...that reminds me of the other time-right?"
Helena was mortified by any mention of their past, but hoped she could get through it by saying, as she chuckled nervously, "Yep, just like the other time."
She seemed lost in thought for a moment. "But I could tell...you cared. " Quinn said, as she looked at the wall, then looked suddenly as if she would cry. "You did care, didn't you?"
Because she had cared, and because Helena didn't know what else to say, she lay her hands on Quinn's and said, quite gently, "Of course I care. You know I do."
At this exact moment, Barbara knew, without any doubt, Helena and Quinn's relationship was far different than she'd believed. Far different than Helena had led her to believe.
Breathe, Barbara...breathe, she told herself....
After Helena finished treating Quinn's burn, everyone watched as Quinn seemed suddenly to become noticeably sleepier, less alert.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I actually do have some things to discuss with you all. It's just that the effort of just trying to stay...lucid takes it out of me really quickly these days." She grabbed her bag, reached into it, and was amazed and amused to see Batman and Nightwing leap protectively in front of Barbara's chair.
For some reason, Quinn realized, she hadn't even noticed that Barbara had returned with Gotham's premiere crime-fighters of old.
"My, my, my. It's just like old home week around here, isn't it? Stand down, gentlemen. I come in peace."
She removed a small box from her bag and gave it to Helena. "This is what Mr. J's having injected into me because evidently the magic's gone when I'm not crazy as bat-shit." She winked at Batman.
"I was going to ask whether Barbara Brainiac over there could find some drug to counteract it. Believe me, it's a doozey. Makes putting cigarettes out on your arm the most reasonable thing in the world."
Helena opened the box, removed an innocent-enough looking vial and tossed it to Batman, who handed it to Barbara.
Quinn was gripping her head and speaking more and more slowly, because the effort of remembering the words she needed, and their correct sequence, was beginning to seriously drain her. "Now...really...I need to rest for just a while. Is there somewhere I could lay down? I make so much more sense right after I wake up-at least for a few minutes, that is. Please?"
"Of course." Helena stood and offered a hand to help Quinn up. "You can sleep in the guest bedroom for a bit."
Quinn smiled shyly at Helena as she took her hand, then held it a lot longer than was strictly necessary before seeming to remember she should let go. So she did.
Quinn slipped off her shoes as Helena turned down the covers in the bed. After she climbed into the bed and pulled the covers over herself, she looked at Helena for a few long beats.
"What?" Helena asked softly.
"Nothing really, it's just that...my life would be so different if you loved me."
"I know." Helena reached down and touched Quinn's cheek. "And I'm so sorry."
Quinn shrugged. "Luck of the draw, I guess."
"Yeah." She tousled Quinn's spiky hair and smiled. "We'll be waiting for you when you wake up...now get some rest," she said firmly.
"Hmmm, I love it when you're forceful," Quinn murmured.
And, then, she was asleep.
Or so Helena thought, as she left the room. A drowsy but still quite awake Quinn turned over to place her flaming face on the cool side of the pillow.
She felt like there were 144 little girls playing hopscotch on crack inside her head. And what a wonderful time they were having...laughing, screaming...shrieking. But, as usual, she was the little girl who couldn't play. Knowing she wouldn't fit in. Knowing she shouldn't join in. Not into this game.
If only someone could hold her hand inside the storm.
And then there was a lightning flash inside her head. Ahhhh. She exhaled.
That was it! And she fell asleep.
Helena rather dreaded re-entering the next room because she had a feeling it might not be pretty.
And it wasn't. The room was several degrees chillier.
Bruce spoke first, motioning at the guest room. "So THAT-that's what we're counting on to help us catch The Joker. Are you out of your-"
"That" Helena snapped, "How about SHE? She's a person, Bruce, not a thing."
"You have to earn that distinction in my book-and that doesn't qualify."
"Oh, Great! Could you please just tell me who died and left you-"
"HELENA! BRUCE! Stop it! We'll discuss this once we hear what Quinn has to say. No more discussion." She looked pleadingly at him, "Please, Bruce."
Bruce hesitated, and then decided to accede to Barbara, because he'd never felt capable of disappointing his protégé when her voice had that emotional, desperate tone. "FINE. I'll be outside."
As Bruce swept out of the room, Helena felt her hands go cold at the realization that Barbara was studiously avoiding looking at her.
Uh oh. Oh shit.
Barbara wasn't a fool. Obviously, she'd put two and two together and had gotten-well, maybe not four, but something close.
Dick and Dinah weren't fools either. "Hey, D. how about we go sweep some riff-raff off the street."
"Uh...yeah! Sounds great!"
Leaving Barbara and Helena.
Helena felt her stomach turn over as she watched Barbara turn wordlessly to Delphi. She couldn't know that Barbara's stomach was in similar knots because she looked so cool, so unconcerned.
She approached and stood next to her chair.
Barbara ignored her.
Helena cleared her throat. "Uh, Barbara...I think we need to talk."
Barbara's short, barked laughter caught her off guard, as did the calm, flat tone of her voice.
"Talk? Oh, really? Why talk now?"
"Because I think maybe-"
"Oh, please! Like keeping me 'in the loop' has been such a priority for you lately. Why bother now?"
Helena felt a wave of panic sweep over her, the magnitude of which she'd never experienced in her life. Tears stung her eyes. "Oh my God...Barbara, please...I know you might be angry but you wouldn't...I mean, would you? You wouldn't break up with me over-"
Now Barbara did look at her. "Over what? WHAT? Lying? Maybe even cheating-"
"I've NEVER cheated on you. How could you even think I-"
"Okay, Helena, YOU look at it objectively and tell me just what I'm supposed to think."
Barbara watched Helena's mouth open, then close, as tears ran down her cheeks. And then, Barbara realized suddenly that Helena was woefully at a disadvantage in a discussion of this nature. Having never had a long-term romantic relationship, the younger woman had no gauge of what was possible, what might happen if they had a fight. By the devastation and panic she saw in those blue eyes, though, she could tell the poor baby was thinking worst-case scenario.
Barbara cursed herself internally. Poor BABY? Where the fuck had that come from? SHE was the injured party, if anyone was! Fuck!
God, she HATED being such a sucker for the woman. But did that matter? No. She modulated her voice anyway, in order to calm the younger woman.
"I'm confused and very angry with you right now, Helena, but let me explain something. You are, for want of a better term, my spouse. Barring some catastrophe, ending our relationship is just not an option for me. And it never will be. We'll discuss this later when we can be sure we'll have privacy and after I've had time to think."
Before she turned back to Delphi, she saw relief flood her lover's face. Then she felt a tentative hand touch her shoulder. She reached up, gave it the briefest squeeze, and said softly. "Later."
Wow, Helena thought, as she inhaled, then exhaled deeply.
The power of one touch.
She was being dismissed. But, suddenly, she didn't care.
Barbara came up with a drug for Quinn after about an hour of searching. Very promising-very experimental. A drug that, because it had not even remotely approached FDA approval, would take the considerable force of Wayne Corp. to obtain.
Beside that, though, her mind was everywhere else as she felt Helena's anxious, silent presence behind her. Reading magazines, pacing, and generally in every capacity making her presence felt. Barbara kept her eyes on Delphi, though her mind was anywhere but. Because the truth was...she didn't know if she really wanted to know the truth.
Despite her earlier outburst, she was absolutely certain Helena had never cheated on her. She knew her almost as well as she knew herself and it wasn't in the younger woman's makeup.
So what did it matter? If it were in the past-what did it matter?
She cursed herself silently...what was it about human beings that so compelled them to go searching for unhappiness, go digging for pain in their relationships-in the name of some bogus sort of truth?
Because...if Helena had slept with Quinn, even loved her, in the time before their relationship, did that change the truth? Did that change the truth of the love she knew for a fact Helena felt for her now?
Then why? Why this need to know? Was it because she wanted to know why Helena had kept this momentous...thing from her? After a few beats of thought, Barbara had to stifle a laugh.
Because Helena was afraid she'd react in the very way she was reacting....
"Ahhh...that's better," Quinn said as she re-entered the room where a silent Barbara and Helena were sitting. And evidently it was-because, although she still looked tired, she also seemed somehow, even visibly, more normal. She looked around the empty room.
"Boy, I sure know how to clear a place out, don't I?"
Barbara didn't respond, merely said to Helena, "Get Batman."
"Ah yes, please do," Quinn said as they watched Helena cross out of the room, "A man in costume so brightens a room, don't you think, Barbara?"
Barbara ignored this, asked, "Would you like something to drink?"
"Water, if you don't mind. I'm positively frothing for something harder but I can't quite drink in my condition."
Barbara buzzed Alfred and ordered drinks for everyone. She, too, was frothing for something harder, just looking at Quinn.
They waited for Alfred to bring the drinks before getting down to business.
Quinn spoke first. "Here's my proposition...I'm not exactly in Mr. J's good graces right now since I botched the Barbara caper-but I'm sure, as crazy as I'm getting, I could be soon. Naturally, of course, that's sort of walking a tightrope since the less stable I am, the less safe you all become. But if you can find something that will counteract those damned injections-just take the edge off a bit, I can-"
"Well, actually, I have found something. Promising...but very experimental. And God only knows what the long-term side effects would be."
"Do you understand what I'm saying? The side effects could be of any degree of severity-including death."
Helena spoke up, "Listen to her, Quinn-it might not be worth-"
Quinn's laughter rang out through the room.
"Helena, that's sweet, but honestly-who cares? Believe me-it's not like my life's all that worth living."
Batman interjected here. "Why are you doing this?"
"Can't a girl turn over a new leaf?"
His voice was full of disdain. "Not a girl like you."
Quinn eyes widened, "Oh, I see-no, no-not a girl like me-only a girl like...let's say..." she batted her eyelashes at him, "Catwoman, for instance?"
Batman's eyes tightened in an inscrutable glare.
Quinn shrugged. "Suit yourself, Bat-O-Mine. If you want to catch him, my way's quicker. And I only need one thing in return."
Batman sneered. "I knew it. Here it comes."
Quinn smiled smarmily at him. "Oh ye of little faith." She turned to Helena and said, "I'll help you catch Mr. J. if you promise you won't kill him. Lock him up forever-please-but just don't kill him."
Naturally, as her therapist, Quinn knew that this was one of Helena's most fervent wishes. They all watched as Helena ground her teeth before replying. "That's asking a hell of a lot, Quinn."
"So's handing your first love over to his enemies...but-hey-that's all I'm asking. And Barbara will be safe and your lives can get back to normal."
So that was the price she'd have to pay, Helena thought. She almost groaned with fatigue. For God's sake, she just wanted to get back to her real life...her life with Barbara and Dinah. And if that was the price she had to pay, she could pay it.
Quinn smiled at her, then stood. "Good! Now, I'd better get going-I feel my head beginning to spin again."
"Why don't you just tell us where he is right now?"
Quinn turned to Batman. "Because, believe it or not, I don't know. I'm telling you-he doesn't trust me right now." She ogled the room before adding, "And who can blame him, huh? It'll take one hell of a job to get on his good side, but I'm working on it."
She turned to Barbara, "How can I get that drug you were talking about?"
"Come back in two days and I'll inject you myself."
"Oooh," Quinn cooed as she tilted her head, "you can inject me anytime."
"How do we know you're not being followed?"
Quinn rolled her eyes at Batman's question. "My God, but you're thorough, Prince of Darkness. I told Joker's henchmen if they dared follow me anywhere, I'd cut out their hearts and feed them to the lions in the New Gotham Zoo. And because I have an...entirely deserved reputation in that regard..." She disregarded Batman's disgusted look and turned to Helena. "Walk me out, girl-wonder?"
At the elevator, Quinn lowered her voice. "Sorry about earlier. I probably wasn't entirely appropriate. But you can't imagine how hard it is..."
Helena watched as Quinn's eyes began to twitch again and thought maybe, actually, she could. She hesitated for a second, then said 'fuck it' to herself, and pulled Quinn into a hug.
"Thanks for protecting us."
She felt Quinn whisper, "No problem," into her ear before pulling out of the hug with a cackle. "Well, actually-it is sort of a weight of the world problem but, what the hey-you're cute!"
As she entered the elevator, she turned and added, "I sort of accidentally touched Dinah earlier-so you can ask her about what's going on if Bruce-oops-let's call him Batman, shall we? If he needs further verification of my intentions..."
And then the elevator doors closed.
Shit! Helena felt a thrill of horror course through her. She hadn't told her that! Shit!
"MARVELOUS!' Bruce was on a tear. "Just marvelous! I work for decades without having my identity discovered and now-"
"And now WHAT? Your dumb-assed daughter's messed everything up for you?"
"Something like that!"
"Well, excuse the FUCK OUT OF ME! I'M TELLING YOU I DIDN"T TELL HER!"
"She's not an idiot-Helena, though I'm beginning to think-"
Barbara jumped in immediately and her voice was low and ferocious. "BRUCE! Not ONE more word. You will NOT speak to Helena that way in our home."
Bruce stopped speaking. Stopped short.
Barbara had never, ever, in the history of their long relationship, scolded him.
It took only two beats for him to feel deeply chagrined and his voice instantly softened. "I apologize, Helena. That was ridiculous. It's just...very disconcerting, as I'm sure you must understand. But...believe me, I know it's not your fault."
Helena, whose heart was immeasurably lightened by her lover's defending her against the person the older woman most esteemed in the world, softened her tone as well. "Yeah...well...I'm sorry, too. I mean...I do know I'm a fuck-up."
Bruce placed his hand on her shoulder, "No you're not. You're my daughter. And you're not a fuck-up-at all-"and then he smiled at her, "Despite your dubious taste in therapists."
Helena smiled up at him, swallowed hard, and replied, "Thanks...pop."
Although Dinah and Dick had been glad to get out of the fire, they were more than a little bitter that they might have missed fireworks.
Everyone was seated, eating a rather over-the-top meal Alfred had prepared, when Bruce asked, "So, Dinah, Quinn told Helena to ask you about her mental status."
At this question, Dinah nearly lost her appetite.
"I've...uh...never seen or felt anything like it before. The fact that she's even walking and talking at all is sort of a miracle."
Dinah trailed off for a beat, thinking.
"It was the most horrific thing I've ever seen...like trying to keep your sanity nailed down in a hurricane. Images...and...sounds...and...voices...and...smells." She shuddered unconsciously. "It was horrible. "
She paused before adding, "I don't know if I like her but I can't help but respect her."
"Do you think we can trust her?"
She turned to Bruce, "I don't know...I only know she really wants to be trustworthy, if she can."
Later, after Bruce and Dick had retired to the Manor, the family settled in for what they'd decided would be one of their movie nights.
Helena felt herself buoyed by Barbara's request. "Could a girl get a lift?"
She'd never more reverently and lovingly assisted Barbara into a place on their couch. And then, they'd heard the sound of the microwave finishing their popcorn.
"D-could you get that?" Barbara asked.
Helena and Barbara watched the blank TV screen for a few beats before the younger woman spoke, "Barbara, I-"
She was surprised to feel Barbara's fingers on her lips.
"Shhh. Don't get me wrong. I'm still angry-but I don't want to talk about it until I'm ready to. I don't want you to tell me...whatever you have to tell me until I've had more time to think." Barbara hesitated before asking, "But I do want to know. Do you love me?"
Barbara was stunned by the look of abject misery in Helena's eyes. "I'd die for you, Barbara...but what's more important...I...entirely live for you, too." She looked down at the couch cushion. "I hope you know that-I hope you can feel that."
Helena heard Barbara chuckle, then felt her pull her chin up to look into her eyes. "I do-and that's why we can talk about it later."
And then she kissed her, and so tenderly that Helena nearly burst into tears, never having imagined that such love and potential forgiveness existed on Earth.
Two Days Later
Quinn was tapping the floor next to Delphi with her foot, awaiting her first injection. Helena had made a very obvious leave of absence for the woman's visit, though Dinah was there to monitor the effects of the medication.
"I have bats in my belfry waiting for Batgirl's shot so Batman will trust me." Quinn tilted her head to one side. "Which sounds, at least to me, something like a fucking plethora of bats-I'm I right?"
Even Barbara couldn't help smiling at this as she injected Quinn. "Brace yourself. The effect should be nearly instantaneous."
Quinn showed no effect. But Dinah, whose hand had been on Quinn's shoulder, sank to her knees within fifteen seconds, trailing her hand down Quinn's body as she dropped, so that it finally rested on the other woman's calf.
She opened her eyes to assure a frightened Barbara. "No...it's okay. Her mind's...clearing...getting better. It's just that....it's like her body's covered with thousands of fire ants-all of them biting her."
"Yep! Thousands and thousands of ants. And that's no picnic, huh? Wow! Feeling...clear. Good. Thank you, Dinah." Quinn shrugged herself free from Dinah's touch and turned to Barbara.
"When can I have the next shot?"
"Two days. Got it! Same Bat time, same Bat channel."
As they watched Quinn leave, Barbara noted, with no little irritation, the grudging look of respect on Dinah's face.
The second injection was worse. Dinah gasped as she felt the renewed clarity in Quinn's mind vie with the fact that her body felt literally on fire.
If she'd been Joan of Arc, surely...surely...this would have been what it felt like. She could scarcely believe that the horrors of third degree burns weren't rising on Quinn's skin.
Dinah had heard that some drugs-like some chemotherapy-could do this to you-make you feel, mentally, things that weren't happening to you physically, but it was nearly impossible to believe the intensity of ...
Quinn pulled away from her immediately and Dinah was astonished to see her grin. "Hurts, huh? Welcome to my world, Blondie." She smiled again. "No biggie, though, huh?"
Actually, truth be told, Dinah was thinking it was one hell of a biggie. And obviously, Quinn experienced a sort of psychic pain on a daily basis for which she had no basis for comparison.
Quinn turned to Barbara, "Next shot?"
"Five days it is, then. Should have big goings-on planned by then."
As they watched her leave, Dinah chuckled a bit under her breath.
"What?" Barbara asked.
"It's just that-I can see, now, what Helena saw in her."
"What do you mean by that?"
Although Dinah had touched Quinn, Quinn's mind was so exquisitely compartmentalized that she was unable, at all, to reach Helena's relationship with the woman. Or what Barbara might be implying.
"As a therapist...I mean. Beside everything else, she's just sort of astonishing, isn't she? Even sorta-something, huh?" Dinah hoped she'd covered that well.
Maybe not. Because the young woman could plainly see Barbara was feeling more than a bit disgruntled to find she was the only person in the Clocktower who felt no attraction to Harley Quinn.
Although Barbara had remained pleasant, loving and affectionate, Helena could still feel a certain chill between them and they hadn't made love since Quinn's first visit. And after nine days, Helena began to wonder how many ways even someone who was as smart as Barbara could think about a problem. Because after nine days of not talking about it, Helena was positively aching to unburden herself-to tell her the truth at whatever cost. Just to have it over and done with. She wondered after a while whether that was part of her lover's plan. Or maybe it was just a punishment.
The night before Quinn's third injection, a silent Helena lay in bed next to Barbara, watching her as she read a book. And made up her mind. She couldn't take it anymore.
The women didn't look up from her page. "Yes?"
"You know...I've noticed that sometimes, over the years...and even now, you get this look on your face when you're looking at Dick...especially when you touch him."
Barbara still didn't look up. "Oh? What look's that?"
"I don't know...like you still love him or something."
At this, and the seriousness in the woman's voice, Barbara did turn to Helena.
"I do still love him, Hel. You know that. I always will. We've gone through so many things together that nothing will ever-"
Then she stopped. Abruptly. Realizing Helena's comments weren't really about Dick at all; she was talking about Quinn. Helena was not usually known for her subtlety but she'd slipped this little analogy right under Barbara's radar. And she found it rather offensive, though she kept her tone controlled.
"You can't possibly be comparing the love I've built for someone over nearly two decades of learning and fighting together with-"
"Well, who else do I have?" Helena snapped. "Huh? Except you? Who else?"
That brought Barbara up short. Because Helena was right, though Barbara would, somehow, never have thought about it that way. After her mother had died, Helena had never had another adult to talk to, never anyone she'd felt enough connection with to confide in-except her.
Barbara lay there for a full five minutes, just looking into the blue eyes of her partner. In life. In love. She chuckled inwardly as she realized that she was learning, yet again, the true meaning of taking one for the team. She didn't like it. But that didn't matter.
She would just have to accept that her lover's past belonged to her lover-not to her.
And let it go. Because if she held onto her need to delve into the darkness of Helena's past, she'd never be able to enjoy the light Helena was bringing into her life now. And that would be unacceptable.
"Alright." Barbara said finally. "Message received, point taken..." but she couldn't resist adding the dig, "Though, frankly, I can't pretend I understand what the attract-"
Helena decided to risk humor. "Oh please! Like I understood Wade?" And was treated to one of her favorite sights. Barbara threw back her head and laughed. And then reached over, pulled her forcefully by her t-shirt onto her.
Helena smiled as she kissed her and asked. "Does this mean I'm forgiven?"
"Actually, you have a few more hours of penance to do-but I expect you'll enjoy them."
And as Barbara slid her hands under her shirt, Helena couldn't help but agree.
For the third injection, everyone was present because Quinn had announced she'd come up with a plan.
Again, as they watched, Dinah placed her hand on Quinn's shoulder and was instantly relieved to feel a distinct lessening of physical symptoms although the woman's mind was still a barely controlled maelstrom.
Quinn's eye's widened as she watched Barbara fill the syringe, then she looked up at the rest of the company and smiled.
"I suppose you're all wondering why I called this meeting."
"We're in no mood for your jokes, Quinn."
Quinn rolled her head languidly toward Batman to answer him. "Are you sure that costume isn't pinching you somewhere?"
Then looked to Dick. "Honest to Pete, how'd you ever put up with old Ironsides all those years?"
Before he could answer, she turned to Barbara, who was even at that moment injecting her. Then turned her attention toward Dinah and watched the young woman's reaction to the drug surging through her veins.
Dinah tilted her head one way, then the other, and suddenly grinned at Quinn. "Wow. Not so bad this time, was it?"
Quinn grinned right back. "Nope-though nobody really knows it but us, huh?"
As Barbara watched Dinah smiling at Quinn, she wondered whether it were necessarily a good idea to require Dinah's interaction with this psychopath's mind-and on such a regular basis.
"Here's what I'm going to suggest," Quinn began. "We all know I need to get back into Mr. J's good graces so we can eventually put my poor Puddin' right back where he belongs-in a fucking-oops, excuse the language! In a nice padded prison cell. However, we all also know I'm crazy as a bridge mix of nuts and bound to get worse once these meds wear off. And then, who can tell what I'll do, right?"
Quinn paused only briefly to make sure everyone was with her before continuing.
"Well, here's where we'd have to make up the teeniest bit of short fiction. What if we allege the billionaire Bruce Wayne had quite recently discovered that he had a daughter he'd never known about?"
She winked at Batman.
"And, though he was trying to settle up and make good by this daughter, she was entirely too bitter to accept his offer after his long-term neglect of her?"
She winked at Helena.
"And what if said daughter had somehow come into my clinical practice-had fallen under my spell-had even become my lover!?"
She winked at Barbara.
"Wouldn't it be something if that daughter had decided to go on the lam with me and extort Dear Daddy's fortune for Mr. J's benefit?!"
"You can't possibly believe Helena would-"
Quinn interrupted Barbara immediately. "I said fiction, my dear. I'm talking about a person who could go undercover with me and make absolutely sure I was doing the right thing."
Then she pointed.
And Dinah squeaked. "Me!?"
**I'll Be Your Mirror**
The Velvet Underground and Nico
I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home
When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you
I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty that you are
But if you don't,
Let me be your eyes,
A hand in your darkness,
So you won't be afraid
When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you
I'll be your mirror
Two Days Later...
"Holy SHIT!" That was, initially, the only actual comment. Offered by Helena, naturally.
Barbara, Nightwing and even Batman were too stunned to say anything at all. Though-to judge by their eyes, they, too, were thinking 'holy SHIT.'
Because Dinah's transformation was nearly complete. Her clothing was leather-and black. As was her hair-jet-black. And it had been cut nearly as short as Quinn's and was styled in an elaborately messy and spiky coif. Her eye makeup was heavier than even Helena had ever worn hers. And the effect of all of this was startling. Her complexion and the youth and voluptuousness of her features were in sharp contrast to her hair and kohl-rimmed eyes, making her look like a petulant, suddenly grown-up Lolita. And Dinah looked like she could, and probably would, kick your ass up between your shoulder blades if you fucked with her or even looked at her sideways.
But the voice was still Dinah the kid's. "You GUYS! C'mon. Say something. Do I look alright?"
Helena snorted. "Hell, I'd sleep with you."
"Ewww!" Dinah shot back, looking pleased, nevertheless.
Helena laughed as the two men scowled at her, at the same time she felt Barbara swat her on the ass. "It was a joke." She laughed again, "Jokes-tension relievers. Heard of 'em?"
Quinn smiled as surveyed her work. "Dinah, darling, you haven't shown them the piece de resistance."
Dinah took off her leather jacket, pulled up one short sleeve and, there, on the shoulder was a tattoo-of a red and white harlequin's hat.
"You did NOT get a TATTOO!" Barbara barked, somewhat illogically, given the empirical evidence.
"Why not?! Helena has one!"
"Helena is an adult!" Barbara interjected, immediately and conveniently forgetting that A.) Helena had not been an adult when she got her tattoo and that she'd been furious and that now B.) She loved Helena's tattoo.
Quinn interjected. "At ease, Sergeant Gordon, it's merely semi-permanent. It'll eventually fade right off. "
Barbara glared at Quinn. "If you've...pierced her in ANY capacity, I swear to you I'll-"
Quinn's merry laugh rang through the Clocktower. "I have not..." she gave a salacious waggle of her eyebrows, "pierced her-nor do I intend to."
"Let's move on." Batman's voice was firm.
Bruce was distinctly uncomfortable with this, as were they all. Sending Dinah undercover with Quinn was the craziest idea he'd ever heard of-he could scarcely bear the thought of it. But the thought of Joker's freedom and of Barbara's peril was something he really couldn't bear. At all. It actually scared him. In a way he hadn't been frightened since his parents were ripped from him. Because he loved Barbara-for everything she'd ever been to him, for what she'd lost because of him, and for what she was today. And now his daughter loved her, too. Losing her would rip something essential out of him and Dick and Dinah but it would ruin his daughter.
And that could not, would not happen. Not to his daughter. Barbara must be kept safe. And if this was the quickest way to achieve that goal...
Two days earlier, Dick had sighed as Bruce pulled him over. Though he was used to Bruce's sometimes irritating sidebar conversations, he knew they were rooted in the older man's trust and love for him, so he really couldn't be irritated for long.
"Truth. Can she do this? How good is she?" Though Bruce had gone on a few sweeps with the girl, he didn't feel qualified to judge. And Dick's judgment was second only to his as far as he was concerned.
Dick thought about it. God knows, with the powers the girl possessed, what the future held. But Dinah was already a remarkably gifted fighter-and getting better every day.
No-she wasn't Helena, but, then again-who was? Even he [in a small space, in a box, in one really dark corner of his mind] would concede that his little sister could probably kick his ass. And that he could only barely match with sheer length of service and experience what she effortlessly possessed as her birthright.
No, Dinah wasn't Helena.
Dinah was...well...Dinah was a Collie.
He laughed at the analogy but he knew where it came from.
He'd had a friend at school, Tim Garver, who'd been such a dog fanatic that it'd been nearly creepy at times. And one day, at lunch, Tim explained, spraying food in his great enthusiasm, something Dick had never forgotten.
"Look, here's the deal. Dobermans and Collies both make great pets but there's a difference between them. A Doberman, Grayson, is bred to protect. To PROTECT. With force, if necessary. And they have the bodies and minds and spirits to do that work. A Collie, on the other hand, is bred to SHEPHERD-AND to protect. The Collie will watch over its flock and make sure no particular sheep gets into trouble-and that everybody stays together. BUT-at the first sign of trouble, the Collie will move between that trouble and its flock. And HEAVEN HELP the wolf that fucks with that flock. Because a Collie will DIE to protect its flock and it's just as vicious as a Doberman if you threaten its flock."
Dinah to a tee. A Collie.
"She can do this, Bruce. I have absolute confidence in her."
And so it was two days later. Dinah the Collie now looked like Dinah the Doberman. And those who loved her, including Bruce and Dick, were nearly beside themselves with worry.
Helena pulled Quinn aside for their own little sidebar after the unveiling of the new Dinah.
"Take care of her, Quinn."
"Of course I will."
"I know you're not going on any capers but if there's any sign-and I mean ANY sign of trouble-call us and we'll all be there stat."
"And...DON'T sleep with her."
"Aha!" Quinn's eyes widened. "Did I hear a wee bit of jealousy there?"
Helena smirked. "No-but you are supposed to be pretending to be lovers. And it wasn't exactly subtle-the look you were going for."
"Actually, I patterned her after a cross between you and me-because I adore you and I'm half in love with myself sometimes."
Helena winked at her. "As you should be."
And, for that comment, Quinn looked at her with such gratitude that it made Helena catch her breath.
Although Barbara had determined to move past what she called in her mind 'The Quinn Issue,' she still ground her teeth as she watched Helena and Quinn together. She couldn't hear what they were saying but she could see the rapport between them, the easy familiarity.
Batman had been the one who'd immediately, tersely pointed out that Dinah didn't look like she was Quinn's lover-in fact she looked like a kid who was slightly afraid of her.
Quinn had laughed at this. "Give me one week with her-we'll just spend time together and-"
Quinn smiled at Barbara. "Of course not-not until she looks like, " she batted her eyelashes at Dinah, who gulped, "my girlfriend."
"And NO sex."
"BARBARA!?" Even to Dinah's ears, her voice sounded like a embarrassed child's.
Quinn tilted her head to one side and smirked at Barbara. "Well, seeing as how I left my cherry-picker back at the orchard-"
"OHMIGOD! YOU DID NOT JUST SAY THAT! GROSS!!"
Dinah's mortified reaction made Helena convulse with laughter, though Dick was able to stifle his. Barbara and Bruce, however, remained deadly serious and it was to them that Quinn replied.
"No crime. No sex. Promise. We'll spend one week together, we'll return for my next injection and you all can see what you think. If it doesn't look like we can pull it off, we'll try something else."
Which is how Dinah found herself sitting, as nervous as she could ever remember being, in a car with Quinn.
"Ah...alone at last." Quinn said silkily as she pulled the car away from the Clocktower.
Dinah felt her heart racing a mile a minute as Quinn's car moved through the streets of Gotham toward the older woman's apartment.
"Would you like some music?" Quinn gestured toward a CD case.
"Uh, sure." Dinah flipped through Quinn's CD's, shoved one into the player, and flipped through to the song she wanted to hear.
The low bass rumble of Lou Reed's 'Walk on the Wild Side' filled the car and Quinn laughed.
"Darling! That's so sweet. We already have an 'our song'."
Quinn's apartment, Dinah found, was, although fantastically and exquisitely furnished, surprisingly...normal. And after an even more surprisingly normal and pleasant dinner, that Quinn cooked, they'd both retired to the couch in her living room. Quinn put on some light jazz music and dimmed the lights, handed Dinah a glass of wine.
Which made Dinah swallow hard. 'What have I gotten myself into here,' she thought-'and wine! Barbara would never let me have'-she immediately and greedily took a big swig. 'Not bad-not what she'd expected-but not bad...'
Quinn smiled at her as if she knew every single thing she was thinking. The woman was eerie that way-uncannily reading any body language, any verbal nuance or hesitation.
"Dinah, I'm afraid we're going to have to do something now that you might not want to do."
"Oh yeah?" Dinah's voice shot up a half-octave. "What's that?"
"I'm going to have to kiss you."
Dinah's eyebrows shot to the ceiling. "Oh? And...uh...why's that?"
Quinn moved closer to her. "Because...if we're supposed to be playing lovers, I can't exactly have you squeak like you just did if I kiss you in front of Mr. J. "
"Would you...uh...really have to do that?"
"Maybe-just for show. He needs to believe something beside anger at your Dear Daddy has made you decide to help us-and you wouldn't be the first person who fell for sex."
The word 'sex' that seemed-suddenly somehow-to pertain to her, made the blood rush to Dinah's ears.
Sex. And her.
Well, no. Not yet, anyway. And certainly not with...
Quinn moved closer. "But don't worry-nothing's going to happen beyond a kiss-I promise...it's just in the interest of verisimilitude..."
Dinah, tremendous student that she was, knew that word meant 'trueness to life' but her vocabulary was inadequate for what happened next.
She was startled by the softness of Quinn's lips. She'd never kissed a girl-much less a woman. And had limited experiences with boys of her age.
Her mind slipped a gear as she allowed Quinn to deepen the kiss.
'Ah, yes, well, Dinah thought, '...evidently, one truly...needed experience to know how to kiss. Because this woman...evidently had experience and...certainly knew how to...'
After about five minutes. Quinn pulled away and, as normally as if they'd just been playing checkers, asked suddenly, brightly, "Wanna watch a movie?"
"Uh..." Dinah replied. She unconsciously raised her hand to feel her face, since all of the blood in her body had, for some reason, decided to detour there.
"Dinah? Darling, would you like to watch a movie?" Quinn resisted the urge to laugh, which she knew would have mortified the younger woman.
"Uh, yeah. Sure. Yes," she said, as she made a lunge for her wine glass.
After Quinn and Dinah had left, Bruce and Dick had retired rather quickly to the Manor.
And Alfred had put the last touches on dinner.
"Miss Barbara, Miss Helena, I've taken the liberty of scheduling Master Bruce and Master Dick for the next two nights of sweeps...and I won't be here either."
"Oh? Abandoning us, Alfred?"
"No. Actually, it occurred to me that you two had never had complete privacy in your home since..."
"Ah yes, I see." Barbara jumped in at this awkward pause, though Helena was lost.
"I've also stocked two days of meals for you. Happy...honeymoon."
Helena smiled softly at him as Barbara squeezed his arm. "What would we do without you, Alfred?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Miss."
As he disappeared, Barbara turned to Helena with a salacious grin. "For 48 hours, we can be as...loud as we want."
"But I'm not all that lou-"
"You're going to be."
Two hours later, Helena felt sure she was going to lose her mind or scream or both. She was naked and lying spread-eagled on their bed. And for the last hour, a full hour, Barbara had only touched her with a piece of velvet-about the size of a handkerchief. As Helena had watched Barbara pull it out of a drawer and as they'd positioned themselves in bed, Helena had asked. "What's that for?"
"You remember that green velvet blouse I used to wear?"
"Yeah-it was one of your favorites." She leered at the memory, "And mine."
"Exactly. Well, when it got too threadbare to wear-I couldn't bear to part with all of it so I cut out this little patch. Now close your eyes, Hel, and don't open them."
And then, Helena had lain there, feeling the soft, teasing, infinitely feathery touch of the velvet on her shins, her knees, her hands, her arms, her breasts, her shoulders. And again. And again. It was lovely...and infinitely maddening.
With her eyes closed, her senses were beginning to pick up the sweet scent of Barbara's sweat, which had always been an aphrodisiac for her. And of course, Barbara would know this. That, bereft of her sight, her meta-human senses would immediately compensate-and far, far more than a normal human being's would. She could actually hear the silent sound of the velvet on her skin; she could smell their arousal and...she wanted so badly to taste her...
But her sense of touch...Barbara was teasing her sense of touch to the point that...
She shivered violently as felt the velvet move over her breasts again, aching...aching...for contact-any contact. She wanted more-and she wanted it now.
"Please Barbara...please, darlin'."
"Shhhh, honey...soon enough." Helena's back bucked slightly at the feeling of Barbara's warm breath on her skin.
But it wasn't soon enough. It seemed to go on forever and ever and ever.
So long that Helena was astonished to feel tears running down her cheeks. She wanted to be touched by her woman so badly...she wanted it...needed it.
Then, she was more astonished to find she was begging for it. And not faux-sexy begging for it, either.
Begging for it for real. She felt entirely out of control-no-she corrected herself instantly, what she felt was that she was under Barbara's control.
At the sheer pleasure of that thought-of so completely belonging to Barbara-she began to whimper. She clutched the sheets with both hands and begged, moaned for release as Barbara traced her stomach with the velvet...and then...
The first real-warm touch she felt was Barbara's hands gripping her hips-and Helena shouted in surprise.
The second was Barbara's hot mouth pressed between her legs. And, then, Helena was amazed at her own volume.
Later, as Helena lay wrapped up in Barbara's arms, she heard her lover laughing under her breath.
A smile tugged at Helena's lips. God, how Barbara loved to laugh in the bedroom. "Whatcha thinking about-or do I want to know?"
"Nothing, really. Just that my girl loves her velvet."
Helena snorted then answered, "Actually, your girl loves you." Helena pulled slightly away, and then turned to face Barbara, her face very serious as she stroked the outlines of her lover's face. "You know you're the only person who can do that to me, don't you? "
Barbara smiled but her tone was firm, the expression on her face somewhat obstinate. "Yeah? Well, I'd damned well better be."
Helena, realizing this was a carry-over from the Quinn situation, wasn't smiling. "Of course you are. Forever. But that's absolutely a given, isn't it, Ms. Gordon?" Helena watched as the tension in Barbara's body disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
Then she continued, "But you do know what I mean, don't you? You're absolutely the only person I'd let take that sort of-"
Barbara, slightly embarrassed, pressed two fingers briefly against Helena's lips. "I know exactly what you mean, love."
Now, slightly embarrassed herself, Helena smiled. "So...uh...I guess we're pretty lucky, aren't we?
"Yes, we are."
And then Helena kissed her, which to Barbara, was the very definition of good luck.
After their initial evening, Quinn and Dinah had settled into an odd sort of domesticity. They ate all of their meals together, took walks together, and stayed up late into the evening talking. The only time Quinn left her was when she received her daily injection from Joker's Dr. Feel-Good. Or Dr. Be-Crazy, as Quinn called him.
Of course, initially, during their time together, Dinah had been sceptical. Of course the woman was a good listener; of course she knew all the right things to say. That was her profession. But as the days went by, despite herself, she found it intoxicating to be listened to and taken so seriously by someone who was...
Who was what?
Well...certainly disturbed, certainly dangerous.
But also frighteningly smart, incredibly witty.
And, just being around her, Dinah felt herself wanting to meet this adult, who was taking her so seriously, at her own level. With Quinn an eager and entirely non-judgmental listener, she found herself, for the first time in her life, saying whatever the hell she wanted to-and what she actually thought and felt, anyone else be damned.
She also found that not censoring herself for fear of sounding too young or too juvenile was actually pretty damned fun. Under Quinn's influence, she realized that one day soon she really would be an adult-and that, she, as an adult would be smart and witty and interesting and sexy. Just like the other women in her family.
And because she was touching her, Dinah was shocked to find how very truly, strangely compassionate Quinn actually was. Helena had been right, after all. Quinn, when taking her medication, really was...among other things, a person.
And she was always touching her. Through it all, Quinn insisted on maintaining physical contact.
"Dinah, dear, as I'm sure you've noticed from Barbara and Helena, people who have a physical relationship actually look like they do. It's an ease, a familiarity that comes with intimacy."
So they held hands, a lot. They always sat next to each other, body touching body. There were more kisses that always ended within five minutes. Dinah could sense a brick wall of propriety in the woman where this was concerned. Quinn would go so far-but no farther.
Dinah could also sense, as the days went by without Barbara's injections, Quinn's mind begin to spin...and slip. And it was heartbreaking. To feel someone work so hard to have the control almost everyone else had by right of birth.
And on the fifth day, as they'd sat on the couch watching the evening news, they were holding hands and Dinah caught a flash of something-a tsunami of sadness in Quinn, a sadness that was all the more gnawing and immense because she knew there was no end to it.
This-Dinah realized-this was what Quinn wanted. Sure she enjoyed the excitement, the uncertainty of her life of crime. But she also wanted to wake up with someone, and eat breakfast, and read the paper and laugh and walk and watch the fucking evening news together. And just be normal. But, for so many reasons, that was almost certainly, never, ever going to happen for her.
And Quinn knew it. Dinah felt such a surge of compassion for the woman that she leaned in and put her arm around her.
Quinn, knew, of course, what feelings had motivated the movement but she merely shrugged and rested her head on Dinah's shoulder, before asking, "Where's the remote, darling?"
"You left it over there." Dinah reached out, gestured, and the remote flew like a dart to a dartboard, right into her hand.
"Wow! A girl who can fetch my remote with telekinesis. Will you marry me?
Dinah smiled. "I'd almost marry you just to see the look on Barbara and Bruce's faces."
"Hmmm....not to mention Helena's," Quinn added with a smirk, then asked. "Whatcha wanna watch, huh?"
Quinn marvelled at how quickly Dinah was transforming herself. But, after all, the girl did sort of have an advantage. She wasn't just hanging out-absorbing, hearing and watching a certain attitude she needed to assume. Through touch, she could actually enter that attitude. And it was working.
On the sixth evening, they'd been walking down the street hand in hand, when two men approached them on the street. One of them chose to speak.
Dinah had been utterly taken aback. Sure, she knew such prejudice existed. It was just that no one she was close to-Alfred or Dick or Wade, or even Bruce, had ever cared, in the Barbara-Helena pairing, that Helena was a woman.
Just that she was...uh, well...Helena.
"Excuse me, gentlemen?" Quinn's voice was cool and polite. "Are you addressing us?"
"Don't see any other dykes around, do you?" The first man eyed the taller, darker Dinah and sneered, "You must be the man, huh?"
"That's right!" Quinn said brightly, "More of a man than you'll ever be, more of a woman than you'll ever have."
It was rather unfortunate that this man chose to reach for Quinn because, in two blows, Dinah had knocked him cold.
As the second man reached for Dinah, she glared at him so ferociously that he hesitated, hand outstretched. She glanced between that hand and its owner. "Two choices, motherfucker. You wear that hand home tonight on the end of your arm-or I'll be using it for a key-chain."
And he could see, from the glitter in her eyes, that she meant it.
He ignored her, stooped to help his fallen comrade. But he couldn't help but comment. "Bitch, you're crazy."
Quinn looked at Dinah and they both smiled.
That night, Dinah lay in bed mulling over her return to the Clocktower the next afternoon. Bruce and Barbara had said they should come 'in character.' Exactly as they'd present themselves to The Joker. Which, even with the slightly new attitude she had, might prove a little embarrassing. She would never have considered kissing someone--even someone her age, like...Paul Teasdale, maybe...in front of her family, much less a grown--
Her thoughts were interrupted by a groaning, whimpering sound from outside her bedroom. She jumped up, padded out into the hall and heard that the sound was coming from Quinn's bedroom.
As she opened the door, the whimpering grew louder. Clearly, Quinn was having a nightmare. She crossed to the bed and touched the older woman.
Quinn stirred slightly, looked up at Dinah. "I'm empty. I see it-I'm empty-there's nothing there."
The slightest touch told Dinah this was not a dream. It was past time for Quinn's injection and her mind was seriously unravelling in her sleep.
"Shhhh, you're not empty. I'm here." She tried petting Quinn's shoulder-anything-to ground her. And felt, immediately...empty, lost, vacant, unloved, unwanted, alone.
She helped maneuver Quinn away from the side of the bed and climbed in with her.
"But there's no one there...no one...the mirror's empty. I look and I look...and the mirror's empty."
Dinah didn't know how she-much less Quinn-could bear the anguish the woman was feeling.
"Shhh," she whispered as she stroked Quinn's face. "Quinn-look! The mirror is here. Look at me." She smiled at Quinn. "Look-look!"
She watched Quinn try to focus on her face.
"It's hard. I know...I know. But look! I'm the mirror."
Quinn looked into her eyes, focused, then asked plaintively. "Really? Is that me?"
Quinn touched Dinah's face, tentatively. "But...I...I'm so...beautiful."
"Yes, you are."
"I know that." Dinah smiled at her again. "But that's why I'm here-to tell you."
Quinn stared for a few beats, blinking her eyes, then seemed to relax. "Please don't leave me...I'm afraid."
Dinah tightened her grip around the woman. "Shhh...I won't leave you. I promise."
As Quinn fell into a fitful sleep, she murmured. "I never...I didn't want to be this..."
And Dinah lay there, for hours, thinking.
At that same moment, someone else was looking in the mirror, closely. When The Joker looked in the mirror, after a shower, brushing his teeth, he always kept his eyes focused...on his eyes. Not on his ruined face. Not on his supernaturally white skin, or on the red slash of his leering grin.
He knew what all of it looked like-had learned it, feature by feature, over the years, and he was tired of it.
No. Tonight he was looking through his green hair-for...there! A gray hair! And there! Another. He hadn't been sure whether it would be possible-his hair had always seemed so very determinedly green. But there it was-gray. Not that he'd ever thought himself immortal, though sometimes he felt that way. Evidently Fate had a few more jokes in store for him. Gray hair. He cackled into the mirror, wondering vaguely how much he had in his wardrobe that would match gray hair.
Then his mind drifted to Quinn. So...she was sleeping with Bruce Wayne's long-lost daughter. A daughter who wanted to get back at her billionaire daddy. Hmmm. Possibilities. Definite possibilities.
He wondered briefly whether Quinn might not also be trying to make him jealous. Sure-they had history-and no one-no one on Earth could make him laugh like Quinn. But jealous? Him? Over her? He cackled again at the thought. Not likely. Been there, fucked that.
The first clue the people in the Clocktower gathered about the success of the experiment was that Dinah didn't greet them, didn't even really look at them as she strode in, hand in hand, with Quinn, who was pulling, yet again, viciously on a cigarette.
"She needs that injection! Now!" Everyone's eyebrows, everyone's, rose at this new and sharp command tone from Dinah, but Barbara hastily injected Quinn.
Everyone watched as Quinn relaxed, fell naturally against the younger woman's shoulder as Dinah wrapped a protective arm around her.
"Ahh....see? That's getting better, isn't it, sweetheart?" Dinah asked as she felt, through their contact, a wave of clarity breaking over Quinn's mind. And, thank God, no other physical effects.
Quinn blinked her eyes a few times, rolled her head from side to side. Then she smiled up at Dinah, kissed her full on the lips, and answered. "Yes...much better now. Thank you, darling."
Dinah, feeling inspired, smiled and play-nipped the woman on the cheek before taking the cigarette from Quinn's hand and taking a long pull from it. Then she extinguished it on her leather-clad leg.
Her eyes widened and she tilted her head to one side as she blew the smoke out at the utterly staggered denizens of the Clocktower. "Personally, I'm thinking we'll pass."
"Holy SHIT!" That was, initially, the only actual comment. Offered by Helena, naturally.
The second comment came from Barbara. "You are NOT SMOKING!"
Dinah's smile was a smirk and her laugh was a low sound in her throat, "Of course not. Even Quinn doesn't smoke. We just needed something to do with our hands 'til we got that shot." Dinah hadn't let go of the 'she' in question. And Quinn was smirking, too.
Looking out at the group that was staring at her and Quinn, Dinah felt as if four furiously blinking owls had suddenly inhabited the Clocktower. She shrugged and pulled Quinn closer, "Hungry, sweetheart?"
Quinn purred in response and batted her eyelashes at Dinah, "Why, yes. Yes, I am."
The third comment came from Batman. "That's just about enough of that."
"You said to come in character, didn't you?" Quinn blinked right back at a blinking Batman.
"We get the point."
"Hmm, I daresay you do. You know what? I'm sure you're going to want to debrief poor Dinah in private so I'm off to get my crazy shot while you catch up a bit."
She turned to Dinah. "I'll catch some lunch on the way, darling, and be back in a jiff."
"Okay, well..." Dinah surprised everyone by cupping Quinn's cheek, then kissing her gently on the forehead. "Be careful. And hurry back. I'll miss you."
Quinn's head tilted slightly at this, as if to see whether Dinah were teasing her or not.
Which Quinn found so entirely disarming, she skipped a beat before she said with a smile, "Get something to eat and...thanks again for last night." This last sounded as provocative as Quinn could make it.
And Dinah grinned as she returned in kind. "Oh, my pleasure. Entirely."
Helena sounded more than a bit annoyed. "Ya know, there ARE other people in the room here."
Dinah turned to her and said, "Uh, yeah. But we weren't talking to YOU, were we?"
"That's my girl, " Quinn snickered, as she turned to the blinking owls. "I'll walk myself out."
As soon as they were sure Quinn was in the elevator, Helena erupted, "Just what the FUCK-"
Dinah looked at Helena and suddenly squealed with laughter, "OHMIGOD, you thought I was serious! The look on your face-OHMIGOD!"
She squealed again and doubled over. When she caught her breath, she wiped her eyes and smiled at them. "It's so good to see you guys! I've missed you!"
She crossed to kiss Barbara on the cheek, and then pecked a sulky Helena. She hugged Dick and even maneuvered a hug with Bruce, who was clearly unpracticed in the art of hugging.
"I've got to get some chow. We couldn't eat today because Quinn was...well-you saw. Can I get something and bring it back in here so we can talk?"
"Of course you can." Barbara's smile was gentle.
"Anybody need anything?" No, nobody did.
As she crossed to exit the room, Bruce asked her, "Dinah?"
"Quinn. You said you would miss her."
"Why did you say that?"
The young woman frowned, then smiled, evidently considering this a no-brainer.
"Uh...hello? Because I will?" And then she left the room.
Helena scowled. "Personally, I don't know how much Lippy-Dinah I can take-just a little goes a long, long way."
Bruce concurred with his daughter. "I know exactly what you mean."
Dick whistled appreciatively. "What IS it with this Quinn woman? I don't get it. I mean-she's cute and all but she's just like...catnip to some people, isn't she?"
Barbara turned to Helena, a smile shellacked on her face. "Yes, isn't she?"
Helena groaned inwardly. Great. Just great.
Dinah returned with a sandwich and began to wolf it down, then paused between bites.
"Bruce, sorry about my tone a minute ago. That probably sounded disrespectful...it's just that it's hard moving between what I'm supposed be right now-and what I really am."
She caught Dick winking his approval at her and surprised him by winking right back.
Which Bruce ignored. "Apology accepted, Dinah."
Helena ignored all of it. "Tell us about your week, D."
She shrugged and said through bites of sandwich. "We just hung out. Listened to music, took walks, watched movies. Stuff like that."
"Nothing...else?" Barbara prompted, unsure that the change she saw in the young woman could be accounted for by such innocuous-
"Nope. No crime, no drugs, no sex. I mean, sure, we kissed a few times but Quinn said that was," Dinah grinned at the memory, "strictly in the interest of verisimilitude. "
"Oh yeah." Helena snorted. "I'll just bet."
Dinah's eyes widened. "Jealous?" Then winced as she saw the pained look on Helena's-and Barbara's faces. "God, I'm sorry. Ignore me, please."
Helena, for once, kept her silence, realizing that absolutely nothing she could say would improve the situation. And Barbara felt the dull, steady stab of a tremendous headache approaching as she wondered for the five hundredth time in a week just what the hell they thought they were doing.
Dinah sighed, then put her sandwich on hold. "Look, this is the deal. I've been holding Quinn's hand or sitting right next to her-basically touching her for a solid week. So I know her pretty well now. She really wants to do this-but it'll be nearly impossible for her once the medication wears off. If we go in together, she thinks we may be able to smuggle in one injection, tops. And from there, I'll just have to keep a hand on her and keep her steady."
"Can you do that?"
"Yep. Did it last night."
"What does that mean? What did you do?"
Dinah looked at Barbara, opened her mouth to answer, and then clearly changed her mind. "I'd rather not say-it was...personal."
Bruce's eyes' narrowed. "That's where you're wrong, Dinah. You can't afford 'personal' when you're undercover."
Dinah jerked her chin at him, "I get your point, Bruce, but if Quinn's feelings have nothing to do with this operation, then they're personal and private." Her eyes had a mischievous gleam in them as she continued, "I mean, I've touched each of you. Do all of you have any idea what I could tell this room about your feelings-your thoughts? Would you want me to? I don't think so."
That gave everyone a few beats pause.
"So, give us your assessment." Barbara's voice sounded resigned.
"I can do this; she can do this."
Bruce answered Dinah, not ready to give in. "No. We haven't seen enough yet. Dick and I will do the sweep tonight. You and Quinn stay here this evening." He turned to his protégé, "Barbara-you and Helena-spend the evening with them, watch them and see what you think."
Barbara, though entirely used to Bruce's executive decisions, actually had to stifle a groan over this one. An evening with Quinn. And the two women who loved her. Great. Just great.
Bruce and Dick left before Quinn's return. Barbara noticed that Helena seemed just as wary about an evening spent with Quinn as she did. And she didn't know whether that should make her feel better-or worse.
"Sounds like fun. I'll cook."
Barbara, for the thousandth time that day, blinked furiously as she answered Quinn. "You don't have to. Alfred could-"
"I know I don't have to-I'd enjoy it. Dinah sweetie, want to go to the grocery store with me?"
"Sure. Cool. Let's go."
Barbara blinked again. This woman, Joker's girlfriend, actually...cooked. And, more inexplicably from her point of view, shopped. And was even capable of involving others in shopping.
As they drove to the grocery store, Dinah was more quiet than usual.
"What's wrong, darling?"
Dinah paused for a few beats before responding. "Will it be weird-I mean-having to act like you're with me-when it's Helena that you really..."
Dinah's question trailed off into silence and its tone was so odd that Quinn furrowed her brow as she shot a glance at the young woman. Surely not. Surely Dinah couldn't actually be falling in...like with her. She glanced at her again. Or maybe she could. She frowned at the windshield. Because God knows she, too, was becoming increasingly fond of the girl.
Quinn knew she'd have to think about this and the ramifications of this-and soon-but she knew that only a quick answer, however truthful, would dispel the tension the younger woman was feeling. "Of course not. You're my girl tonight."
Which earned her such a grateful smile that Quinn felt butterflies in her stomach.
When the two women returned from the store, Barbara was further disconcerted by the fact that Quinn could actually wrangle her girls into some sort of cooking frenzy. As she watched Helena and Dinah chop and peel, and quite clumsily, she asked, innocently enough, "So what are we having?"
Quinn answered brightly, "Brie and chive toasts with arugula for an appetizer and, umm-roasted salmon with red pepper and corn relish for our entree...tricolor potatoes with pesto and Parmesan...and roasted green bean, red onion and beet salad. Then raspberry cake with marsala, crème fraîche, and raspberries for dessert! How's that sound?
"Well...great, actually." Barbara admitted with a bit of reluctance. She winced nervously as she watched Helena ineptly butcher a red pepper, then asked, "When did you find time to learn to cook?"
"You mean how'd a lunatic fit cooking in between getting her doctorate, starting her practice and becoming the Queen of the New Gotham Underworld?"
Barbara's lips-and eyes-twitched. "Exactly."
"Well, I..." Quinn began to answer but stopped as she jumped to rescue her red peppers. She laid a light hand on Helena's forearm. "Helena darling, heaven knows you're good with your hands in other ways but maybe you should keep go keep your woman company-and leave this up to Dinah and me."
Barbara glared at this but Dinah smirked at the potatoes she was washing as Helena shrugged and relinquished her peppers. "So I'm not Emeril."
"No, thank God." Quinn watched as Helena crossed to sit with Barbara, grabbing the older woman's shirtfront playfully, pulling her forward and kissing her forcefully before taking a seat next to her.
It was Quinn's turn to blink...because she hadn't expected that sight to cause the twinge of emotion that it did.
But it did.
So she laughed as she turned back to her preparations. "To answer your question, Barbara, I can only say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, even a man with green hair."
She turned back toward Barbara and Helena and continued rather too blithely, "My Mr. J. loves good food but, as I'm sure you can imagine, it's not really all that easy to go to a restaurant with him. You wouldn't believe the way it clears a place. One look at that green hair and...we have our choice of seating."
Barbara's smile was brittle. "Oh, I know that. The last time I saw your Mr. J., I got my choice of seating, too. For life."
Quinn's laugh was an immediate short, staccato bark.
She tilted her head to one side and her smile was just as brittle. "You're Batgirl, Barbara-not the Lone Ranger. So wouldja do something for me? Don't lie in bed at night thinking you're the only person whose life's been ruined by The Joker. 'Cause you're not. And-news flash-in case you haven't noticed..." Quinn gestured at the room, at Helena. "Your life's not exactly ruined, is it? You look pretty goddamned lucky to me."
Barbara was too stunned to respond and was even more shocked to see Quinn's eyes suddenly fill with tears. She watched the woman turn back to her food. "We'll catch him and soon I'll be out of everyone's hair." Quinn wielded her knife with an expert's grace and speed as she repeated, "We'll catch him."
Barbara watched as Dinah moved to Quinn's side and laid her hand on the woman's back. Then she saw Quinn smile softly, gently at the young woman. And she watched as Dinah's face hardened, jaw twitching as she turned toward...her.
"Hey, Barbara. Could we talk? In private?
It only took a few seconds to move into the next room.
"Just what the FUCK was that?"
Barbara, who wasn't used to her young charge cursing in her presence, much less at her, didn't answer right away.
"ANSWER me. Huh? What the fuck was that?"
Barbara's voice was cool. "Please excuse me if I'm just a bit...offended by the presence of a woman who's aided and abetted the man who crippled me and who's responsible for killing Helena's mother."
Dinah lowered her voice, and attitude, a notch at this.
"I understand that, Barbara. I do. And I realize I can't even begin to understand what that means to you. But what YOU don't understand is how guilty, how...truly wretched Quinn feels about it. You don't-you can't know what she's gone through. I do. "
Dinah had, by this time, lost a bit of her fighting spirit. She wasn't at all used to arguing with Barbara and it made her feel like hell. "I guess what I want to say is that...there's more to her than you're seeing. All I'm asking is that you TRY to look at her objectively. Just for tonight-just try."
Barbara stared at Dinah for a long beat, realizing the force of emotion it must have taken for this usually entirely pliant young woman to snap at her. "Alright." Barbara said softly, as she turned away from those blue eyes to look at the floor. "I'll try."
Dinah exhaled in relief, then crossed, leaned over and kissed Barbara on the cheek. "I'm sorry I raised my voice."
And Barbara sighed as she pulled her into a hug. "It's okay, honey. You had to become a real teenager at some point, I guess."
As they re-entered the kitchen, Barbara was freshly irritated by the sight of Helena standing next to Quinn, chatting and snatching little bits of chopped pepper and popping them into her mouth.
Helena turned as she heard the two women re-enter the room and then smiled at Barbara with so much honest affection as she crossed to her that it made the older woman's heart ache. 'Alright,' Barbara thought, 'time to make an effort.'
"Quinn, I apologize for snapping at you."
Quinn kept her eyes on her work but her voice was perfectly pleasant as she responded. "Apology accepted. Not that you owe me one. Believe me, I understand I'm beneath having people treat me with respect."
Dinah crossed, put her arms around Quinn and both Barbara and Helena winced as they watched the young woman kiss Quinn lightly on the neck before she spoke. "No you're not. Not my girl."
"Well, oKAY!" Helena countered quickly, brightly, "Anyone want to watch a movie after dinner?"
For this Quinn did turn around, slipping her arm around Dinah as she did so. "Sounds great. But do you mind if we watch something with a low body-count?"
"You're kidding right?" Helena snorted. "You're complaining about a body-count?"
Quinn's eyes widened. "Not exactly-it's just that...watching that stuff makes my fingers sort of itch for the old days. Know what I mean?"
It was Helena's turn to blink. "Gotcha. But that doesn't mean we have to watch some Steel Magnolias crap, do we?"
"Oh hell no." Barbara chuckled. "Actually, Quinn, I believe I get your point...I have to admit Steel Magnolias made me feel like getting all Batgirl on a few of those women."
Quinn looked Barbara over for a long beat before turning to Helena, "I'm beginning to understand what you see in this one."
The dinner was as delicious as it sounded-and, because everyone was on tenterhooks, the table conversation was perfectly and successfully innocuous. As they moved into the next room to watch their movie, Quinn flinched and swallowed, hard, while watching Helena gently lift Barbara onto the couch before taking a seat beside her.
It was one thing to commit violence. It was quite another to see the actual ramifications of that violence. And to know, forever and forever, to the end of her life, that the mere action of getting up and sitting down would be an actual task for Barbara, or for Helena, rather than something that she, Quinn, took for granted. Quinn again felt tears welling in her eyes, then felt the protective arm of Dinah wrap around her. She glanced at the young woman and could see the sadness and pity in her eyes-of course she knew how she felt.
It was so difficult not to wish to be dead to this-to be vacant and empty-without sensation or care. To know these things-and her part in them-was so wracking, so painful-while oblivion, for her, could be so easy.
She felt Dinah's arm tighten around her. The young woman knew. Of course she did.
And then Dinah kissed her gently. And Quinn felt a different kind of oblivion.
The soft oblivion of understanding. And forgiveness.
Barbara watched Dinah's interaction with Quinn as subtly as she could during the course of the movie. The intensity of it worried her-while at the same time she realized there truly must be something worthy about Quinn to engender such a tender and gentle response in Dinah.
Quinn's reciprocation of Dinah's affection was just as much a wonder to her. The woman was so unfailingly...kind with Dinah that it had the effect of jamming her brain's transmission of all of the Joker's girlfriend/bad/crazy/don't trust messages that her brain generally screamed about Quinn.
It was all very confusing.
Helena watched Dinah's interaction with Quinn as subtly as she could during the course of the movie. The intensity of it worried her and made her feel...what? The answer popped up without her bidding. Jealous. She felt jealous. Helena thrust the idea away immediately-only to have it pop back into her mind just as immediately. Yes. No doubt about it. She was jealous. Of Quinn. Not that she wanted Quinn-not that she wasn't unalterably tied to Barbara. It was just that...Quinn was HER friend. Not Dinah's. Except that, somehow, now she was.
It was all very confusing.
Dinah felt, as she watched the movie while holding Quinn, intensely grateful that Quinn didn't share her powers. So that Quinn, as well as no on else in the room, would know that she'd suddenly realized that she wished this charade were real-that they were just two happy couples sharing an evening. Not one happy couple and another couple of people who'd been thrown together by circumstance. And she felt, of course she did, how conflicted Quinn was at the sight of Helena's arm around Barbara. And how she was fighting not to show that to Dinah-though, of course, that was impossible.
And at each fresh realization of this fact, Dinah felt Quinn react to reassure her-to tighten her hold upon her. Which touched her in a way she couldn't wrap words around.
So the four women spent the long evening watching each other, each feeling at different times, the infinite sadness of knowing that hearts that yearned were only rarely awarded their hearts' desires. And, with this fresh understanding, Barbara and Helena realized yet again their good fortune and basked in their gratitude for each other. But not Dinah and Quinn. Dinah and Quinn felt like hungry and penniless children with their faces pressed against the plate-glass front of a restaurant.
Dinah, because she was still too young to know that life still might hold a different love for her.
Quinn, because she was too old to believe in happy endings. At least where she was concerned.
And so all four of them held each other tighter.
continued in Doppelganger part 3