Attaccare, Ritirarsi, Arrendersi
FANDOM: Birds of Prey (comic)
PAIRING: Helena Bertinelli, Barbara Gordon, with a dash of Dinah Lance
DISCLAIMERS: Birds of Prey belongs to DC and is currently in the creative hands of Gail Simone.
RATING: R, NC-17 for gratuitous adult situations.
WORD COUNT: ~8600
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Helena Bertinelli doesn't like to back down from a challenge, especially one from Barbara Gordon. Takes place after One Year Later and the most recent issue (98). Also includes allusions to the aftermath of the Huntress mini.
FEEDBACK: at greywing LJ .
“Seriously, though, Huntress. You and Oracle are two of
the smartest people I’ve ever met. I think you’d like
each other if you’d both unclench.”
- Birds of Prey, issue #74
Attaccare, Ritirarsi, Arrendersi
"Uh... I only broke in the one time, but it seemed like a
really nice... um... secret hideout thing."
"You should have broken in more often, Helena."
Birds of Prey, issue #75
She wanted nothing more than to be home, in her own bed, with the familiar sounds of Gotham right outside her window lulling her to sleep. But it had been late when they'd landed in Metropolis and there'd been no choice but to fill their empty stomachs on late night takeout cuisine. Helena had drunk a little more than she should have and, despite her wish to be home, it had probably been a smarter idea to spend the night in Metropolis. Tomorrow was Sunday, anyway; she'd have enough time to grade all her remaining essays and maybe dredge up a lesson plan.
That was, if she could get any sleep tonight.
Helena swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up with a sigh. Sometimes her body did this to her, refusing to rest as if it had become programmed over the years to go into overdrive or burn on some secret fuel source during the night-the time she hunted. She wondered, with a little fleeting smirk, if she'd ever be able to settle down. She thought about what Dinah had said a short while ago about changing her job and glanced at the briefcase in which she kept her costume.
Could she do it, she wondered. Could she just one day pack Huntress away for good?
In answer, her stomach gave a tiny rumble.
She glared down at it. They'd had enough to feed a small village tonight and she was still hungry? If Dinah had suddenly burst into her room declaring a need for food, she wouldn't have been surprised, but this... oh God, she wasn't turning into Dinah, was she?
Amused and a little disturbed by the thought, Helena got out of bed and slipped on a spare robe. Barbara kept her unused compartments clean and furnished and Helena had brought a few of her own personal items to the quarters she sometimes used, mostly extra clothing and toiletries.
Unfortunately, though the apartment had a working fridge, there was nothing in it.
Helena stepped into a pair of slippers and made her way up to the floor Barbara used as her base of operations. Surely, Barbara wouldn't mind if she raided the fridge... not if she just took a little snack....
Stepping out of the elevator, Helena discovered that she could ask Barbara herself.
Barbara glanced at her as the elevator doors slid closed behind Helena. "Ah, Helena, what are you still doing up?"
Helena rested a hand on her hip. "I could ask you the same thing, Babs."
"No rest for the-"
"-wicked?" Helena finished for her.
"Wary," said Barbara, swiveling her wheelchair around.
Helena took that as a sign that it was okay to come in. She flung herself onto one of the loveseats and practically sprawled out across the cushions. "Or the weary."
It still felt a little strange to just make herself at home in Barbara's apartment. The memory of the first time Helena had "visited" Barbara's home always began to nag at the back of her mind-but what was a little breaking and entering between friends?
Not that they had been friends then, and not that she hadn't had a perfectly legitimate reason to do what she did: turnabout was fair play and all that. Besides, Helena told herself, Barbara was always breaking into others' lives without so much of a "if you please." (Which was just as true now as it ever was, Helena realized, only now... only now her job, what she did to try and help the world, depended on that exact kind of invasion of privacy. So where did Helena fit into this moral tableau?)
"If the odd hours are too much," Barbara's voice cut into her thoughts, "you can tell me, Helena."
Their eyes met. Barbara, in a way that Dinah didn't, knew what it was like to lead one life during the day and another at night. Dinah had a flower shop again-and Helena suspected that was another one of Barbara's ploys meant to... keep her operatives in check-but Dinah didn't lead a double life, didn't wear a mask, not like Helena Bertinelli and Huntress. Or Barbara Gordon and Batgirl.
Hell, Helena had worn a bat mask once.
"I can handle it," Helena dismissed Barbara's concern with a wave of her hand. "If I can handle the school system, I can handle anything."
"I wasn't suggesting otherwise," Barbara said mildly, returning to whatever she had been working on. Helena sat up straighter so that she could get a look at the redhead.
"What are you doing up, Babs? Didn't we just save the world-again-no less than twenty-four hours ago?"
"The world won't wait for us," Barbara, or maybe Oracle, replied, but her eyes slid away briefly. Helena followed her line of vision.
That explained it.
Later, in hindsight, Helena knew that she shouldn't have done it. She shouldn't have crossed to the picture. She shouldn't have picked it up. She shouldn't have even looked at it.
But she did.
And she kind of liked the feeling she felt when she did it.
Liked being able to push Barbara's buttons.
And she did.
She could feel Barbara's eyes on her, as if they could glare right through Helena to see the picture the operative held in her hands. Of Barbara and Nightwing. Looking at it, Helena mostly felt nothing. She and Dick had been a... thing. A fling. Like it had been with so many other men.
Alright, maybe sometimes she remembered their night of passion. Maybe sometimes she dreamed of him.
But even then....
She really shouldn't have looked.
Helena set the picture down carefully and turned around to meet Barbara's eyes. They stared at each other, neither saying a word, measuring one another. Barbara's eyes were cool, collected, but somewhere just behind that gaze Helena knew that something smoldered, something that a perfect memory had helped simmer over time.
Meanwhile, Helena's eyes said everything she wouldn't.
Dick wasn't here now, was he?
They were both tired; it had been a long day. Maybe that was why Barbara quietly said, "He did come back to me."
Helena kept her silence for the span of a long breath.
It didn't really hurt. Only the fact that it was true.
"So why isn't he here now?" Helena asked.
There was a flash in Barbara's eyes. Anger, sharp and ready.
It was too late to deal with this. Helena tried to make her way past Barbara, but the redhead's hand shot out and clamped around Helena's arm in a viselike grip that made Helena gasp. God, she was strong-and Helena was being yanked down, thrown off balance, so that she had to brace herself on one of the arms of Barbara's wheelchair before she fell atop the woman and onto-her lips. It was a collision, rough and a little painful with the force of their impact. A sound of protest tried to escape Helena's throat, but then the sensation softened, deepened, and her eyes begin to droop, half-lidded, and Barbara's tongue was sneaking past her lips and teasing hers and-
It was over. Barbara released her and Helena stumbled back with a gasp, unconsciously reaching up to wipe her mouth with the back of her hand. Barbara, calm and composed in her chair, studied her without a sound. She briefly touched her lips and then turned her chair away sharply.
"He had good reasons to come back."
Oh, no, she didn't just....
Helena's arm, still hovering in the air, dropped to her side and her lips thinned into a line.
She was tired. It was late.
And Barbara didn't know who she was messing with.
If Barbara thought she would just roll over, she had another thing coming. You didn't mess with Italian girls-not this Italian girl-and Helena was about to show Barbara why.
She stalked up to Barbara and placed a hand on the redhead's shoulder, pushing hard enough that the chair swiveled around with the force. When Barbara looked up in surprise, Helena descended on her.
She really shouldn't have stayed in Metropolis for the night.
There wasn't much art to what they did. It was a struggle, a battle of wills and hands and tongues and an eerie silence punctuated by choked gasps and moans.
It was war.
Barbara, Helena learned, liked to back down about as much as she did-which was to say, not at all. Helena had caught her off guard with her kiss, but not for long. Barbara had kissed her back with an ardency that had almost left Helena breathless and growling.
They went sprawling on the floor when Helena began to struggle at Barbara's pants or maybe that was Barbara pushing Helena back, landing atop her, trying to slip the robe off the Huntress' shoulders. Even this was a struggle, this disrobing, as they attacked each other's bodies with kisses and licks and touches, hands slipping beneath shirts and arms and legs getting in the way as they worked independently of each other. God, she was strong, Helena thought again when she tried to roll Babs over so that she could get her pants off, only to find herself back underneath Barbara who had managed to use the roll to slip off Helena's robe.
She very nearly growled and then bit her lip as Babs attacked her collarbone, nipped at a shoulder and began to work her shirt up her torso, hands sliding open-palmed over her stomach, across her ribs, and then lingering over her breasts a while longer before working the shirt higher up. And Helena found herself helping, her hands on Barbara's hips to hold her up, and then tumbling her beneath her, straddling her, so that she could raise her arms to let Babs pull the shirt over her head.
And then Babs' hands were on her, exploring and-Helena closed her eyes-it had been so long.
She almost lost herself.
Then Barbara's hands brushed over her bullet scars, slow and wondering, and Helena remembered herself. She grabbed Barbara's wrists and captured the slightly startled green-eyed gaze that snapped up to her face.
"Uh, uh," Helena said softly, leaning down until their faces were nearly touching. "Who's on top?"
Barbara, whose expression had settled into studiously neutral, smirked.
Helena, lips stretching into a wide smile that wasn't exactly kind, intended to wipe the expression off those lips. And she started by removing those glasses.
Which was maybe why Helena was surprised, later, when Barbara had her writhing and gasping beneath her, the smirk still very much in place.
Barbara pulled away and dressed carefully and without a word. She had to sprawl on her stomach to reach her discarded shirt and then sat up, arranging her legs so that she could balance comfortably while she pulled the garment on, hem meeting the top of the panties that Helena had never gotten around to getting off. Her pajama bottoms lay by Helena's left hand and when she glanced at them, Helena reached out lazily and plucked them up. Barbara wouldn't meet her eyes when she held them out to her, but took them with a small nod of thanks.
She didn't put them on.
Instead, she slung the article of clothing around her shoulders and began to make her way towards her wheelchair. Helena stirred, intending to help her or, at the least, bring the chair closer-when had they gotten so far away from it?-but Barbara said, lowly, "No, it's alright."
A part of Helena wanted to defy her. A part of Helena wanted to sit and watch as Barbara stubbornly got back into her chair. A part of Helena wanted to stay.
But while Barbara made her way back into her wheelchair, Helena quietly gathered her clothes and made for the elevator. By the time a ping announced the arrival of the elevator, Barbara had reached her chair and, as the doors closed, Helena caught a glimpse of her settling herself in, calm and composed, running her hands through her disheveled fiery hair.
The sudden descent of the elevator made Helena's stomach rise into her throat.
The spray hit her like a slap, shockingly cold at first and then gradually so hot that it was a degree away from scalding.
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Helena braced her hands against the tiles of the shower and stared down at the water swirling into the drain.
With Dinah back and their team together again-and growing-she had just been beginning to think that she and Barbara had been getting along so much better. And they had been. And now....
It was like someone had reached inside her and opened up the little box inside her where she kept her loneliness locked up, right along with the desperation and the small dark mirror that never seemed to reflect Helena Bertinelli for Huntress or Huntress for Helena Bertinelli.
Stupid, stupid, stupid....
She leaned her forehead against the wall and closed her eyes and suddenly the warmth, the heat, was Barbara's hands and lips and tongue sliding over her body, and she pushed herself back with a gasp.
She yanked the temperature knob sharply and inside her heart did this little twist while her gut did a flop and suddenly she was freezing and shivering.
She had to get out of here. Out of Dalten Tower. Out of Metropolis.
She had to get home.
Dinah walked into Babs' kitchen, stifling a yawn, and sleepily greeted the redhead, who sat at the table reading the Daily Planet Barbara smiled at her over the top of the paper. "Morning, sleepyhead."
The blonde smirked gamely and poured herself a cup of coffee. The smell alone was enough to kick start her brain. She sipped silently for a time and then asked, "Helena up yet?"
The newspaper snapped sharply as Barbara raised it to read an article at the bottom of the page, hiding her from Dinah's view. "She left earlier."
Dinah frowned. "That's a little weird."
"She probably has schoolwork she has to do," Barbara replied. "I probably shouldn't have asked her to come out on this one."
Dinah's frown deepened, but she didn't say anything. It might have been her imagination but she thought the newspaper might have trembled in Babs' hands.
It was kind of sick how easy it was to find a man willing to spend a night with her. She didn't wear the mask-Huntress didn't pick up regular men in bars-but it almost felt like she was wearing one, considering how little she had revealed about herself.
At the moment, she couldn't even remember his name.
But he was hard and solid and his place was actually cleaner than she expected it to be. His touch was rough-familiar-and she let herself relax into it, encourage it. The weight of him on top of her almost made her breathe easier because this was how it was, this was how she knew it, remembered it, and when she straddled him in her turn, she felt closer to normal again.
This was how she knew sex: her hands splayed on his chest, his hands on her hips, guiding and coaxing, and his deep groans reverberating through his chest and into her, filling her, filling her as with each thrust.
There was a moment of falling.
Then, later, much later when she was alone again, emptiness.
Helena knew that part, too.
It was like nothing happened.
There was a casual call that went "Hey, Helena, can you spare a day this weekend? I need you and Dinah to pay a visit to L.A." just like it always was. She even asked her how her classes had been going in the tones of a familiar friend without any of the awkwardness that Helena felt during the entire conversation and was the one to end it with "Take care. I'll see you Saturday."
And that was it.
Helena hung up almost believing nothing had happened.
On Saturday, actually seeing Barbara triggered nothing in the redhead; the air, focus, and intensity she exhibited was nothing short of what she always exuded on a mission-or, hell, on a regular basis. It was enough to drive Helena to her cabin during the flight.
It was she that didn't want to see Barbara. It wasn't that she was afraid or intimidated. She wasn't.
She was annoyed.
If she had hung around, she might've kissed the redhead just to get a rise out of her, just to show her that even if Barbara pretended nothing happened, it didn't make the fact of that night go away. Helena remembered-and she didn't need a perfect memory to do it.
It was somehow worse during the mission. Oracle's voice chattering in her ear, so logical, so directing, so fucking in control, set her teeth on edge. At one point, Dinah glanced over and asked, "Are you okay?"
"Fine," Helena replied. "It's just been a... long week."
"Is everything okay with your job?" Dinah asked, shifting in her crouch to relieve the tension in her legs.
"Oh, yeah, of course. My kids are fine."
Helena didn't see it, but Dinah's lips actually quirked at the statement. She liked the Huntress, edges and all, and she liked it even more when the softer side buried beneath the costume and the bitterness peeked through. Still, Dinah was quiet for a bit. Then she said, "Thanks for coming out tonight, Helena."
Helena blinked and turned to the blonde, about to ask her what she meant or maybe to tell her it wasn't a problem, when Oracle's voice crackled in her ear.
Helena pressed her lips together.
"Huntress! Canary! Status report! Were those gunshots? Are either of you hit?"
Helena grunted as she tossed one of the gunmen and then stepped into a back kick that disarmed another. Dinah was at her back, fists, feet, and palms flowing in strikes and patterns that Helena had to admit scared her a little bit-Dinah was good now.
Oracle buzzed annoyingly in her ear again, demanding some kind of response, but Helena found herself a little busy blocking an incoming punch and answering it with one of her own. She heard Canary snap off an answer-"One second, Oracle!"-and then grunted when a kick slipped past her defenses. Dammit, that shouldn't have-her foot caught her attacker on the chin-connected. She was-
The air went rushing out of her lungs as the Canary plowed into her side and took her down with a flying tackle. There was a flash of pain in her left arm and then the ground rushed up to meet her, introducing a whole new set of bruises that screamed along her nerves for attention. Canary, meanwhile, used the momentum of their fall to roll off of her and burst back onto her feet, taking off in the blink of an eye before Helena had a chance to catch her breath.
In the next moment it was over as Canary took the last goon down, his gun giving a muffled bounce on the carpeted hallway a second before he joined it on the ground. Helena sat up and assessed herself for any damage. A deep cut on her upper arm bled freely. A bullet must have grazed her. It wasn't bad, but it would need stitches.
"Huntress? Canary? Dammit, answer me, one of you!"
"Bad guys are down," Canary answered, one hand going up to her ear as she crossed to Helena's side. She crouched down to get a look, gloved hands reaching out to gently part the frayed edges of Huntress' torn costume. "We're-I think we're okay."
"Fine," Helena said wearily. "It's just a little scratch. Nothing a few stitches won't fix right up."
There was an audible sigh of relief and, for a moment, Helena couldn't even find the energy to be annoyed with Oracle. Then Oracle made a sound of impatience and the sentiment evaporated. "I wish you would keep me updated."
Helena opened her mouth, but Dinah quickly answered, "We were a bit busy, Babs. What next?"
Helena let Dinah deal with Oracle, walked over to one of the unconscious goons and proceeded to help herself to his shirt, ripping off strips to fashion a bandage. By the time she was done, Oracle and Dinah were wrapping up their conversation.
"Now what?" Helena asked as Dinah glanced at her arm.
"Babs said she tracked their vehicle to some location downtown. Looks like we're going to pay them a little visit and stop the deal from going down."
"I'm always up for administering a good lesson," Helena said lightly, adjusting her mask and giving her arm an experimental flex.
"Are you alright?" Dinah asked, worry written all over her face.
"Yeah, no problem." Sensing that Dinah didn't just mean her arm, she added, "I was just caught off guard for a moment."
"Let's just go, okay?"
Dinah hesitated a second longer than she should have but then the spark returned to her eyes, the look that said she trusted Helena and trusted her to know what she was doing even if she was a little worried. It was the same look that had won Helena over what seemed like a short eternity ago. It made Helena feel closer to normal just to see it.
"Yeah, let's go kick some ass."
Barbara frowned as she carefully removed the blood-encrusted bandage and Helena winced as it peeled away from her skin. They were at cruising altitude after a mission accomplished and Helena idly wondered if her increasing bad luck would influence the Aerie One to hit a patch of turbulence just as Babs was stitching her up. Dinah had offered to do it, but Barbara had waved her off. Helena could have done it herself-slowly and with a little difficulty since she'd only have the use of one hand-but she didn't feel up to fighting with their leader.
Under Barbara's unreadable expression, Helena worked the top of her costume off, gingerly pulling the sleeve down over her cut and then letting the material pool around her hips. She sat in her bra as Barbara cleaned the wound, wincing only a little at the sting of the antiseptic.
"Sorry," Barbara murmured as she began to stitch the wound closed with quick, experienced movements. Helena gritted her teeth and said nothing. "This could have been worse." It was a statement, not a question.
"We all make mistakes sometimes," replied Helena.
"Then we were lucky that it wasn't a big one tonight," said Barbara, tersely.
That turned Helena's head. We? Barbara remained intent on her work, then licked her lips.
"Helena, whatever you think, I'm not built to be able to take losing one of you."
"I know," Helena said softly, and she did. Sometimes she didn't want to admit that she had come to know Barbara better, but she had.
"So if you can't-"
"Hey, I make one mistake and suddenly that means I can't cut it? How many times has Dinah done something impulsive or ignored your orders?"
"This doesn't have anything to do with Dinah, Helena."
"You've got to be-"
"Look, you did a good job tonight but you were so... distracted. You can't be distracted in the field like that and expect me not to-"
Helena grabbed Barbara's chin and forced the redhead to look at her. Her pulse hitched up a notch as the green eyes met hers with all the defiance and stubbornness that Helena had clashed with before. She felt her own emotions begin to run high in response.
Fingers brushed over her abdomen, over one of the bullet scars. Helena's free hand clamped around Barbara's wrist even as Barbara said, "You might not be so lucky again."
Helena never broke eye contact. "You know, there was something bothering me tonight. Some unfinished business. You don't play fair, Babs. You want to know everything about everyone else, but no one's allowed to get close to you." She moved Barbara's hand away, feeling the tension running through the other woman's arm. "You want to touch, but you don't want to be touched." She stroked Barbara's chin, then her cheek, with a thumb. "You took your turn, but never let me have mine."
Barbara's breathing had grown a little ragged.
"And I want it now."
They used a bed this time, although the cabins in the Aerie One could be a little tight and the beds were made for one. Helena distracted Barbara with a kiss, almost bruising with the amount of force she pressed herself against the other woman. It was good because Barbara made a little startled sound in her throat and then began to fight back, hands working into Helena's hair, which was really good because then Helena could slip one hand under Barbara's knees and then another down Barbara's back and lift her out of the chair before the kiss had ended.
Barbara tried to break away, tried to make a sound that might've been a "no" but came out as a sort of whine in the back of her throat. Helena had her on the bed before she could reach for an escrima stick and just as quickly Barbara had a firm hand on Helena's chest, pushing her back. Helena gazed down at Barbara breathlessly, saw the anger and the resentment in those eyes, and then brushed the back of her hand down Barbara's cheek.
"Don't you ever get tired of being so wound up?" Helena asked quietly. When Barbara opened her mouth to respond, Helena pressed her lips to hers, swallowing whatever words might have followed. She let her hands explore then, batting away Barbara's hands in turn, knowing that she couldn't let her guard down for a second, couldn't let Barbara get a handhold of control, because she would, because that was how it would be.
Barbara was strong and Helena could feel it beneath her hands, feel the muscles formed from handling a wheelchair and the years spent fighting against it with hours of conditioning. She slipped Barbara's shirt off with the redhead's assistance, the other woman arching her back obligingly as Helena worked the material up. She took a moment to study Barbara in the light, reveling in the moment-in the power. Barbara watched her studying her, maintaining a carefully dignified air. Her eyelids only flickered and drooped as Helena began to run her hands over her, along her collarbone, over her breasts, flicking her fingers over her nipples through her bra, taut and sensitive, causing Barbara to bite her lip. As her fingers slipped beneath and around Barbara to undo her bra clasp, she kissed the pale scars that marked Barbara's fair skin, maybe-legacies of a vigilante life, of nights spent hopping the rooftops and flying through the Gotham twilit air.
She wanted it all. Not just the scars, but all of it, to have Barbara surrender to her. She started at the very top of Barbara's head, brushing kisses across her forehead, her eyes, the apples of her cheeks, and worked her way down slowly, wanting to touch every part of Barbara's exposed skin because she could, because it was the closest she had ever come to being able to strip off all the damnable layers and masks that the redhead wore, wrapped up so carefully in her self control. She smiled against Barbara's skin when she felt first arms wrapping around her shoulders, then hands wandering over her back, pulling her closer, and finally fingers in her hair, felt Barbara trying to arch into her touch, felt the shivers racing beneath Barbara's skin and heard the effort of every breath above her, the sharp inhalation of each suppressed moan or gasp.
She drew off Barbara's pants carefully and put them aside absently, letting them slither from her grasp to pile onto the floor. She ran her hands along the waistline of Barbara's panties and then glanced up at the redhead. Green eyes watched her intensely and Helena hesitated.
She had a moment of doubt.
Her breath whispered over Barbara's skin. "Say the word and I'll stop."
The world stood poised. Helena crouched, poised. Barbara didn't so much as blink.
Helena felt a moment of gut-clenching fear.
Then Barbara swallowed, closed her eyes, and said, "No, keep going."
Helena's lips curled into a smile and then spread into a grin that she pressed into a kiss just beneath Barbara's bellybutton as her fingers slipped beneath the elastic of Barbara's panties.
She'd won this round.
Helena ran her hand up a thigh, noting how soft it was beneath her touch, not like the hardness of Barbara's upper body. She drew small patterns on Barbara's legs, fascinated by the lack of reaction despite herself. She began to slip a finger into Barbara and then stopped.
"Can you...?" she started.
"Yes," Barbara said, so soft that it was barely more than an exhalation. "You'll just have to work harder."
Helena smirked. "As if I've done anything to give you doubts, Oracle."
Barbara smiled up at the ceiling. "I don't know. It remains to be seen."
Helena ran her thumb along her clit and, raising herself up to suckle on a nipple, slipped a finger, then two, inside Barbara, enjoying the way the redhead inhaled sharply.
"I'll make you eat those words, smartass," Helena whispered and claimed Barbara's lips, shaping the mocking words into their kiss.
She wanted to hear Barbara say her name, to moan it, to surrender to it, but Barbara was so damn stubborn. She wouldn't beg. Not yet. Not even when Helena balanced her on the brink of pleasure, teasing, withholding, testing. Barbara made almost no sound when Helena made her come.
But Helena was learning patience. Oracle was proving to be an interesting teacher like that.
Helena brushed her fingers over the scars, drawn to them through Barbara's interest in her own scars, and felt Barbara shiver and tremble underneath her touch, her hands clenching the sheets in white-knuckled fists. She wouldn't say it, Helena knew just by looking at her, at the way she bit her lip and turned her head away-she wouldn't ask her to stop. And Helena, who knew the raw desire, anger, and bitterness in the act of giving pain for pain, found no pleasure in knowing this one weakness of Barbara's.
She relented and gently drew away, tracking her way back up until she could cup Barbara's face in her hands. Upon looking into those eyes swimming with emotion, it amazed Helena to learn that compassion and understanding could be as compelling as cruelty.
The thing about Barbara Gordon, though, was that she didn't like to lose. Whereas Helena thought she would leave Babs sated in loose-limbed bliss, Barbara had bided her time, noting every stroke, caress, and kiss that she would have to make up, so that when Helena was least expecting it, she skillfully wrested back control, pulling the brunette down to her and then underneath her.
To her distant mortification, Helena couldn't find the words to tell her to stop. Worse, she found she didn't really mind.
Unexpected things happened in war.
there's nothing you can do about it. One
lesson no one in my family ever learned,
though... is how to back down. But it's
looking like I might have to learn."
- Birds of Prey, issue #70
Weeks passed. Missions came and went. They flew from one part of the world to another and back again. Dinah managed her flower shop, Helena taught her classes, and Barbara monitored the world. Helena slept in her apartment in Gotham, crashed in her quarters in Dalten Tower, caught light naps on the Aerie One, and occasionally climbed into bed with Barbara.
Business as usual.
Helena didn't really consider what they did to be sex. It wasn't intimate; it was a game. One she happened to like playing more and more, but not a... relationship. They never talked about it. They never talked much at all, really, letting their actions speak where words weren't needed or wanted. They didn't go out on dates, they didn't go out of their way to meet each other outside of the circumstances that normally brought them together, they didn't speak to each other differently, they didn't even spend whole nights with each other.
It wasn't sex.
Except sometimes it was better than sex, like when her mind dropped out of the bottom of her skull from the amazing way Barbara applied her tongue, or when she felt the electric thrill of Barbara helplessly aroused and squirming beneath her touch, or the increasingly familiar phenomenon of holding Barbara in her arms, feeling the sweat cooling on her skin and the tickle of her hair on her shoulder.
And other times it was raw and animal and left bruises on her arms, ribs, or shoulders, temporary scars of their quick-lived passions. Those nights, Helena would leave hastily and filled with an indescribable frustration, almost angry at herself for fleeing like a kicked dog with its tail between her legs. But the truth was that she always came to Barbara and Barbara wasn't going to be running from her own bed.
Helena didn't have a name for whatever this was and she didn't know how it made her feel. Because that was the one thing it did do: made her feel.
Often she thought about stopping, walking away (because she could, whenever she wanted to). She'd almost done it once already, almost made the decision one Sunday while attending morning mass. She even considered speaking to a priest, but she knew how that would go. She knew the Church's stance on... matters between women-and idly realized it wasn't hers. She knew better than most people that it was hard enough to find a modicum of happiness in the world and that if you found it, in whatever form, then you had to seize it.
Not that she was happy.
And not that this was sex.
Because it wasn't.
Helena didn't know.
"Babs could use some flowers around her place," Dinah remarked absently.
Helena made a noncommittal sound of agreement.
"Bright ones, definitely. Dalten Tower isn't as gloomy as the Clocktower-not that the Clocktower wasn't a great place for a hideout but it was a little bit too... I dunno... Bat-Cave-y-but Babs spends way too much time just plunked behind her computers."
Helena glanced over at her... partner. "So why don't you bring her some. You're the florist."
Dinah flashed a smile. "I keep intending to but I guess it just slips my mind." She shrugged. "Besides, I don't get into Metropolis that often anymore."
Helena's stomach turned slightly but Dinah only grinned and added, "The Aerie One could use some flowers, too, I guess."
"Yeah," Helena agreed, releasing a breath she didn't know she had been holding.
Dinah leaned back and sighed. "Babs needs to get out more. She should come out with us once in a while now that she isn't just stuck at headquarters." Suddenly the blonde sat straight up in her seat, her eyes bright. "I know what we need!"
"What?" Helena asked hesitantly.
"A girls' night out! All of us. We'll drink and dance-"
"Dance?" echoed Helena, incredulous. "Barbara dances?"
"Oh yeah," Dinah said with a wave of her hand. She sat back, crossing her legs. "You should see her. Rips the floor up."
Helena's lips curved into an expression that wavered between a smirk and a sneer. Though she had to admit, she was a little curious.
"We'd have to force her to get out, though," Dinah continued, words riding on a soft sigh. "Tell her what to wear-she looks great in black, but then again she was Batgirl-and, oh, make sure she can't get out of it by inventing World War III or something."
A smile tugged at Helena's lips but, truth be told, Dinah's words scared her a little. Barbara-Oracle-could probably do exactly that if she wanted to.
"It'd have to be on the weekend, because you've got school, and some night when Babs isn't sending us out to save the world..." and on and on Dinah went until Helena's gaze sharpened on her.
"Dinah," she said, cutting off the blonde's muttering, "why are you doing this?"
Dinah blinked and refocused on the woman sitting across from her. "What do you mean?"
"Why are you... telling me all this? Making these plans?"
"I thought it might be something you would like to do. Sorry if I was wrong."
Helena frowned. "And all that talk about Babs?"
"Just making conversation?"
The eyes that narrowed on Dinah peered out of the Huntress' face. Dinah's expression sobered. "Alright, so I know you're sleeping with her."
Helena let out a long, slow breath, lips compressed into a thin line. She prayed that they were on radio silence, that Oracle hadn't chosen that moment to listen in, that she was still showering or whatever it was she was doing.
"Oh, come on, give me some credit." Dinah attempted a smile. "I can be dense sometimes, but I'm not that blind."
"It's not what you think it is-and that still doesn't explain why you're telling me this."
"I thought maybe you'd let to get to know her better. Helena, you have to be careful with Babs-"
Helena made a delicate sound that might have been a snort.
Dinah ignored her and continued. "Underneath all that bravado, she hurts easily."
"Oh, I know," Helena said flippantly, "and she holds grudges, too."
Helena turned away with a small wave. "If you know her so well, then maybe you should sleep with her."
Dinah didn't say anything. Helena turned around slowly and met the blonde's eyes, pinched at the corners and too somber for Helena's comfort.
"Dinah, I didn't mean-I mean, I didn't know-"
Dinah cut her off with a raised hand. "It wasn't exactly something I..." she trailed off, shaking her head slightly. Then she smiled. Helena thought it might have trembled at the corners. "Anyway, Babs doesn't even like it when I offer to help her with her chair."
Helena smirked and crossed her arms, trying to lighten the mood. "I don't even bother to offer."
"Maybe that's the difference between you and me," Dinah said softly.
"Dinah, if this-"
"Just be careful with her, Helena."
Helena pressed her lips tightly together.
Dinah smiled again. It was a little sad, but also intent and concerned. "And, Helena... you should be careful, too. I know that Babs has a way of... getting under people's skin."
Helena couldn't meet her eyes. She wanted to say that whatever happened-whatever this nameless thing was-between her and Barbara, it was nothing.
But her lips remained firmly pressed together, as if trapping the words inside her. She could only nod.
She felt a touch on her arm. Dinah smiled down at her and Helena almost hated the... the understanding she saw in those eyes. "Come on. It's probably about time we got back to work."
She twirled a lock of red hair around her finger.
"... How long have you known?"
"More like 'suspected.' You didn't give Dinah enough credit."
"Funny, that's what she said."
"You weren't listening in on that conversation, were you?"
"Helena, I'm fairly certain I have no idea what you mean."
"Uh huh, I just bet you don't, oh all-seeing Oracle."
Exploring fingers traced up and down her collarbone.
"So what does it mean, Dinah knowing?"
"You're feeling rather talkative tonight."
"Must be a blue moon."
"You know, a blue moon actually appears-"
"I know, Babs. And don't think you can change the subject."
"Well, what do you mean by 'what does it mean'?"
"What does that... make this, I guess."
The fingers stopped moving across her skin and then, after a second's pause, carefully withdrew.
One pale arm shifted to cushion a head of red hair.
"We haven't really..."
"... Talked about this?"
Green eyes danced away from blue ones and then returned.
"I was going to... apologize that night. I kept meaning to apologize."
There was a distance growing cold in the scant space between their two bodies.
"I shouldn't have..." A deep breath. "I shouldn't have said what I did. And I shouldn't have... kissed you."
"I... said some things, too. And I kissed you back." A frown. A slight shift. "You knew I would."
"No. Maybe. I don't know."
She could hear herself breathing.
Their eyes would not meet.
Her breath tickled her skin and her silence made her uneasy.
"I... didn't know this would happen, Helena."
"... So, the mighty Oracle finally admits to not knowing everything."
"You can be mad. You'd be right to be mad."
"... I'm not mad."
She wasn't, but there was a hole opening up within her.
She reached out and brushed back an errant lock of red hair. It felt oddly intimate, almost wrong.
"Why not Dinah?"
"Oh, Helena, why you, why Dick, why anybody?"
"But why not Dinah?"
A sigh. "Because she's so... good."
"And I'm not."
"I know. I know." She did. "I have to go."
It felt like it took an eternity to find all her clothes and dress. Stepping out of the room, Helena closed the door behind her with exaggerated gentleness, managing to dare only one glimpse at the figure in the bed sitting up with crossed arms, eyes observant pinpoints in the darkness.
There was a tightness in her chest and her heart was doing a strange skip and beat and her stomach heaved and Helena couldn't breathe.
She couldn't do this.
Something-this-had gone wrong.
It had gone too far.
Yet Helena spent the next ten minutes standing outside Barbara's bedroom door, willing herself to leave.
Things cooled. Life returned to normal-what normal had been before that night. Helena taught her classes, Helena marked papers, Helena went to "work" at night and on the weekends, Helena traveled to exotic places and fought crime, Helena came home, Helena slept alone in her bed, curling up beneath the covers for warmth.
And her body would betray her, refusing to sleep, infused with energy that Helena never knew she had or had never had before-not before that night. She would lay awake during the early hours of the morning, willing herself to sleep and knowing she wouldn't.
Her bed was cold. And empty.
It was a familiar, hard fact or a memory she had briefly forgotten.
It didn't matter. It had never mattered. Helena knew all about fleeting warmth and tinder-spark passions. She would move on. She always had.
Barbara had. In the days, then weeks that followed their argument, Barbara never said a word, never showed a sign of uneasiness.
Some days Helena wanted to just lean down and kiss her, crack that cool composure and see the laser hot indignation flare in those eyes, but then Barbara would give her a look, meet her eye with the slightest arch of an inquisitive eyebrow and the world would tip dizzily beneath Helena's feet. She'd turn away, disgusted, frustrated.
Because she didn't want to kiss her. She'd never wanted to kiss her.
It wasn't as if Helena enjoyed it.
"Did something happen between you and Babs?" Dinah asked one night while they were patrolling Metropolis.
"More like nothing," Helena replied, keeping her tone light.
Dinah caught her arm. "Did she...?"
"No. Barbara didn't do anything, Dinah," Helena said. "Nothing happened. Honest."
Helena's tone suggested the end of that conversation. Not for Dinah. The blonde threw her arms around Helena and hugged her. "Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry."
Shocked, surprised, and confused, Helena stiffened in Dinah's embrace. Then weariness swept through her and she relaxed. It felt good. The human contact, the warmth, felt good.
And maybe a part of her thought that Dinah had been right. She should have been careful. She should have known better. It had been Barbara, after all. Nothing involving Barbara was ever simple.
"You should talk to her," Dinah said.
"There's nothing to talk about. Whatever you thought was going on between me and Barbara, it... wasn't, okay? And it's over now. I've moved on."
Dinah was quiet for a beat, and then said, "This isn't some one night stand you can just brush off, Helena."
Helena's eyes flashed. "You don't know what you're talking about, Dinah."
Dinah's gaze only answered her with compassion. "Do you?" she asked quietly.
The brunette inhaled sharply and then turned away. Damn her.
"Helena..." She felt Dinah's hand on her arm and shrugged it off. "Come on, Helena, I can't... I can't stand seeing the two of you like this."
"Like what?" Huntress snapped.
"Like you're bottling everything up inside, just waiting to explode!" Dinah replied, some heat in her voice.
"And that's different from how we usually are how? Okay, so maybe I've been hitting a little harder than I should, but being repressed is pretty much everyday existence for Barbara. Really, Dinah, if you're so concerned, why don't you just swoop in and comfort her?"
The moment the words left her mouth, Helena knew she'd gone too far. Hurt glimmered in Dinah's eyes, but she never looked away.
"Dinah, I'm so-"
"Will you talk to her?"
Helena closed her eyes. "I don't know."
This time when Dinah hugged her, Helena hugged her back, trying to apologize to her friend, trying to keep from exploding or falling apart.
One by one, the others filtered out of Oracle's control room after a long night. Dinah lingered long enough only to meet Helena's eye. Helena dropped her gaze and crossed her arms.
But she didn't leave with the others.
It was now only her, Barbara, and the tapping of keys.
At first Helena wasn't sure Barbara knew she was there. Ever Oracle, ever vigilant, the redhead was intent on her monitors and holographic displays, bathed in their green glow. A world of information-the world-moved across the screens and Barbara saw it all, watched it all. And Helena watched her.
She said nothing, but let her eyes roam, let herself take her time.
She had been learning patience, after all.
Minutes passed like this. Then Barbara turned her head slightly and said, "Yes, Helena?" and Helena knew it was now or never.
She could walk away. There was still time.
Her pulse quickened.
Helena crossed to Barbara's side. Green eyes peered up at her curiously and Helena gazed back, silent, without words.
"Is there something wr-"
Helena yanked the glove off her right hand and brushed the back of her hand against Barbara's cheek, catching the redhead by surprise. She began to follow the line of Barbara's cheekbone with the back of her knuckles, then let her hand slide down, along her jaw, while Barbara tried to snap, "Helena, what are you-"
"Sh," Helena exhaled, pressing her fingers to Barbara's lips, discovering again their softness. She ran her thumb along Barbara's bottom lip.
"Helena?" Barbara whispered against her fingertips.
"Yes," Helena replied quietly. "Say it again, just like that."
"My name," Helena said, leaning down. "Say it again."
"Helena," Barbara repeated, softly, expectantly, lips brushing against the brunette's. Hearing Barbara say her name was almost as sweet as tasting it on her lips.
They moved slowly and gently, almost shyly. Their kisses explored, danced, no longer dueling but questing, questioning. Hands slid over clothing, under clothing, and Helena inhaled sharply when Barbara's cool fingers pressed against the back of her neck, pulling her closer. Her cape fluttered to the floor and then fingers began to seek the other catches and zippers of her costume, long familiar with them, but patient, methodical, as if learning them again. When Barbara began to draw down the zipper at the back, Helena put a hand on her arm.
"I want to carry you to bed."
Barbara might have stopped breathing, her eyes completely blank. Then, wordlessly, she leaned her forehead against Helena's shoulder and wrapped her arms around her neck.
Helena lifted her carefully from the chair and held her close, as if she could hold onto this moment, as if she could silence the quiet voice at the back of her mind with the intimacy of Barbara's warmth.
Oh God, oh God, she should hate this, should hate this woman, should hate the way she touched her-focused, intent, oh so very gently and slowly-touched every part of her as if claiming every inch of her flesh, setting it ablaze, setting her ablaze, making her feel so damn exposed, so vulnerable, stripping her of her mask, her clothes, her armor, of every sense that told her to run away, and, God, making her want it, making her want to feel this way.
And Barbara touched her scars, touched the deepest places that Helena thought gone, buried, dead, or never knew of at all. Helena let her, guided her, placed her hands atop Barbara's and showed her every mark, every ugly reminder, every hard-won triumph.
Helena bared it all. Wanted Barbara to see, to remember, to understand.
Helena whispered her name when she came.
She reveled in this too, being in control, being given control, having Barbara supine beneath her, waiting, expectant, feeling Barbara beneath her hands and watching Barbara watch her, knowing, anticipating, appreciating...
Barbara wanted her, openly, unabashedly, desire shining in her eyes. The sight made Helena's heart race in a way no one ever had before.
It nearly undid her.
But Helena wanted it all. This, too, this mass of scars, the way Barbara shivered when she touched them, the way Barbara's hands tangled in her hair, as if to pull her away, as if to press her closer, and the single solitary tear that rolled down Barbara's cheek, which Helena stopped with a kiss, tasting the salt on her tongue.
She wanted the pain she saw buried in Barbara's eyes. And she wanted to take it away.
What is this, she whispered between trailing kisses, between us? What do we call it?
I don't know, Helena.
But it's real, isn't it? Right now?
Please, God, yes.
If only she would stop saying her name. If only she would stop saying it like that.
If only Helena didn't want to hear her say her name like that.
And Helena knew she had won and lost.
"Helena? I don't know what you mean."
"You win. You proved your point."
"Helena, I still don't-"
"... I came back. To you. You were right. You win."
Then there was a silence in which Barbara closed her eyes and laid her head on her shoulder, and Helena had to resist the impulse to pull her closer.
"... I want to claim a reward."
"What? Barbara, what could you possibly want from me?"
"I want you to stay. Tonight. I want you to stay the night."
"... No. Not just tonight. Just tonight, for now."
Helena gazed down at Barbara gazing up at her. A slight tug pulled at the corners of her lips and Helena found herself pressing her lips to Barbara's forehead.
She could do that.
She could stay here, with Barbara... and see what the morning might bring.