The Fear of Falling


DISCLAIMER: Birds of Prey is owned by DC Comics and Warner Bros. No infringement intended!

FANDOM: Birds of Prey (TV Series)

PAIRING: Barbara/Helena

SUMMARY: After a mission goes wrong, Helena sees Barbara in a whole new light.

ARCHIVE: Only with permission of the author.

AUTHOR'S NOTE #1: Thank you to ladyvictory and fallon_ash for the beta!

AUTHOR'S NOTE #2: This takes place after the series ended. This one is for ralst. She worried there would be no Birds of Prey represented today so I dusted this fic off my hard drive and spruced it up a bit!


Part 1

Music throbbed from the club across the street, so thick and heavy Kincaid could feel it in the soles of her boots.  The shop window behind her vibrated a half beat behind, and she spared it a quick glance, wondering if she’d chosen the wisest place to stand and watch the entrance to wait for her prey.

The smell of rain hung heavy in the air, but the drops had yet to fall.  Lightning flashed overhead, arcing across the night sky and striking one of the skyscrapers that rose from the streets of downtown New Gotham.  The ensuing crash of thunder was drowned out by the deafening music.

Kincaid watched the lightning fade before her gaze tracked back to the entrance of the club, fixing on the door with angry intensity.  The air felt charged, and she breathed it in, waiting for the moment, waiting for her chance.

“Hey, baby,” a young man called to her as he passed by with his friends.  They were all twenty or less in age, clearly with nothing better to do on their Thursday night than troll the streets.  She didn’t even turn her head as she felt their eyes crawling all over her.

“I’m talking to you, sugar,” he tried again, running an impetuous finger down the sleeve of her black leather jacket.

She looked at him then, seething that her focus had to shift from her target.  His dark blue eyes were decidedly glassy, and Kincaid muttered a few choice epithets in her head.  Just what she needed.  Four horny and high frat boys.

“Go away,” she said simply, but there was an edge of warning to her voice they didn’t heed.

“What’s a fine looking thing like you doing out on the street?  You turning tricks, hon?  I’d like some of that action,” he said with a drunken, lewd laugh.

Her jaw bunched.  “You couldn’t afford or handle me,” she replied.

Frat boy’s friends all shoved him and snickered.  She didn’t have time for this.  Her eyes went back to the front door, assessing.

“Wanna bet?”  He looked her over, liking what he saw.  She was definitely older, maybe in her early thirties.  Her blonde hair framed her face in gentle shoulder-length waves.  He reached out to see if the strands felt as silky as they looked.

The next thing he knew he was on his knees.

He screamed as his wrist was bent backward with negligent ease.  He pawed with his free hand at her grip, but it didn’t move or lessen.

His friends started forward to help only to freeze when Kincaid lifted her pale blue eyes to their faces.  There was something in her gaze that rooted them in place.

“I’m going to say this one more time,” she leaned over and breathed next to his ear to be heard over the pulse of the music.  “Go away.”  Giving his wrist a final squeeze to emphasize her point, Kincaid then watched with little interest as tears sprang to his eyes.

He staggered back when she released him, cradling his injured wrist against his chest.  His eyes were wide as he regarded her with both rage and fear.

“Don’t be stupid,” she muttered, reading which of the emotions was close to winning his internal debate.  “Walk away while I’m in the mood to let you.”

“Come on, Joey,” one of his companions said.  He gave her a quick, jerky nod before dragging his buddy to his feet.

The other two boys nodded in rapid agreement.  Kincaid almost had the urge to smile.

Joey stuck his good hand out at her and pointed with attempted bravado.  “Watch your step, bitch.  I catch you down here again I’ll…”

“Right,” Kincaid drawled impatiently.  Her gaze went back to the door, dismissing him.

The four boys stared at her, sensing they were playing with something they shouldn’t.  Grumbling, they wandered off in search of safer entertainment.

Kincaid sighed as she felt her heart beginning to slow.  A flash of relief swept through her at the knowledge that she wasn’t going to have to put four frat boys in traction for picking the wrong girl to tangle with.  Hopefully now, however, they’d think twice before messing with any other member of the female persuasion tonight.

The door to the club suddenly opened, and Kincaid tensed.  A man emerged and nodded at the two bouncers.  He exchanged words with them before pointing at three young women waiting in line.  They all squealed with delight and were ushered inside.

Kincaid scowled at their sheer shallow stupidity before her gaze focused with laser intensity on the man walking away down the street.


Her eyes tracked him before her feet finally followed.  He had to be the one.  Near six four, sandy blonde hair, a cut and hard physique clear through the tight fit of his clothes.  His suit probably cost more than most people made in a month.  But he wasn’t most people.

Neither was she.

Arrogant bastard.  Kincaid followed him around the corner, out of the line of sight of his goons working the door to the club.  The fool was making it too easy.  He was walking toward his black Mercedes.  No guards.  No protection.  Like nothing could touch him.

“We’ll see about that,” she whispered as her steps took her into the street, angling toward him at a leisurely pace.  A few drops of rain splattered her knee-length black leather jacket, but she paid them no heed.

“Mr. Draco?”

Kincaid paused at the low, feminine voice that unexpectedly came from the shadows.  The man turned and looked into the alleyway near his car.

“Yes?” he asked slowly.  His hand went none to casually to the gun hidden on his hip by his jacket.

A woman emerged from the darkness, and Kincaid was as stunned as Draco to see she was in a motorized wheelchair.  Kincaid forced herself to keep walking, hopping the curb and continuing on down the street until she could hide in the shadows and listen.

Draco relaxed when he saw the woman who had addressed him.  Obviously no danger there, he assumed.  His cold gaze swept over her, noting her beauty.  He wondered if her legs were the only things that weren’t working below her waist.  A smile carved across his features.  “Who do we have here?”

“Barbara Gordon,” she answered evenly as she brushed a stray lock of red hair away from intense green eyes.

“The Commissioner’s daughter.”  Draco’s smile broadened in bemusement.

Barbara said nothing.

“So what can I do for you, Ms. Gordon?” Draco asked with just a hint of suggestiveness.  He planted one foot on the curb and gazed at her with open curiosity.

Watching from the shadows, Kincaid wondered if the redhead had any idea who she was talking to… what he was capable of doing to a woman.  Determined not to let Draco hurt anyone else, she slipped a small throwing knife from a scabbard at the back of her belt.

“You’ve been dealing at my school.  You’re going to stop,” Barbara explained.

Kincaid took a sharp breath.  Whatever had happened to the woman’s legs must have messed with her mind as well.  You didn’t just go ordering the biggest drug lord in New Gotham around unless you had a death wish.

Draco laughed, a grating sound.  “Oh am I now?” he asked, not bothering to refute her comment.  “And what school is that?”

Barbara’s eyes narrowed.  “We had three students overdose this past week.  Two of them are dead.  One is a vegetable.  You come near my school again with that garbage, and you’re going to wind up like they did.”

“Dead or a vegetable?” he teased.

“Depends on my mood,” Barbara answered.

Draco came closer, enjoying the evening’s little diversion.  “You don’t look like you’re in a position to harm anyone.”  His eyes drifted lazily over her legs, noting for the first time that her chair was more technologically advanced than he had ever seen.  “Nice wheels.”

Barbara stared at him blandly.

“Look,” he said with a little more force.  “No one tells me what to do.  And no one goes around threatening me.  People who do wind up like your precious students.”

Kincaid took a step toward the edge of the shadows.

Barbara glanced in her direction.  “Don’t do anything stupid,” she said with a little more volume before her gaze lazily drifted back to Draco as if the words had been meant for him alone.

Kincaid blinked, realizing that the redhead knew she was there.

“I can do anything I want, Ms. Gordon,” Draco laughed.  “And not you… or your precious father… can stop me.”

With a quick lunge, he went for her.  Draco wondered what it would be like to fuck a woman who couldn’t run away.  He’d take her in the alley.  Right in her damn chair.

Kincaid bolted from the shadows as he moved only to draw up short when Draco unexpectedly howled in pain.  The drug lord dropped to his knees, reminding her of the frat boy she’d so easily dispatched earlier.  Barbara had some kind of stick against his throat and wore a very bored expression.  Those green eyes lifted and met Kincaid’s for a string of heartbeats.

When Barbara finally looked away, Kincaid was painfully aware of how hard her heart was pounding.  It seemed to be slamming in time to the distant music, making her almost cough with the force of it.

Barbara leaned closer to Draco, upping the voltage on the eskrima stick in her hand.  Adding an electrical charge to the weapon had seemed like overkill, but Helena had insisted.  Now she had to admit the upgrade was coming in handy.  Draco whimpered, his body twitching as the current lapped through him.  His gaze met the hard emerald of her eyes, and his soul told him something his brain had been unable to see.  Chair or no chair… this was not a woman he wanted to cross.  He could feel it in his blood, an instinct he never ignored that had managed to keep him both in business and alive.

Still jerking, Draco lifted his hands in surrender, and Barbara lowered the stick.  He sank back against the dampening concrete.  “I’ll stay away.”

“This is temporary,” Barbara vowed.  “I’m going to stop you permanently.  Just not tonight.”

Draco looked at Barbara with disbelief.  “I know who you are.  After tonight, I’ll know where you teach.  I can get to you at anytime.”

“You can try.  Could be fun,” Barbara practically purred.  “Now I suggest you move on.  If I find out you’ve dealt at my school again, I won’t be quite so polite next time.”

His eyes darted over the chair and the woman, confused by the contradictions.  Nodding once, he got unsteadily to his feet.  Draco looked around, glad that no one had witnessed his humiliation at the hands of a cripple.

Staggering to his car on shaky legs, Draco slipped inside.  His eyes went to Barbara’s face one last time, seeing the cold, calculating look on her pretty features.  He shivered.

Some cripple.

His perceptions now completely altered, Draco started the car and roared away.

The sky chose that moment to open up with force.  A loud crack of thunder sounded overhead, and a deluge of rain sheeted down soaking everything almost instantly.  Barbara barked out a harsh laugh as she collapsed her weapon and tucked it into the side of her chair.  “Great, I take down a drug dealer with negligent ease, but my wheelchair will probably short circuit on the way home.”

Kincaid wasn’t sure, but she suspected she was the one being addressed.  Her anger at Draco had tumbled to the back of her mind, her curiosity with the redhead taking precedence.  Carefully, she stepped into the glow of the street lamp.

Barbara looked at her then, having only caught a glimpse of the woman as she had crossed the street earlier.  She was about five six with very pale blue eyes.  The stranger looked dark and feral in her leather jacket, boots, and jeans.  Her wet hair only added to her air of danger.  “What did he do to piss you off?” she asked just loud enough to be heard over the rain and music.

The tempo in the club changed into something darker, more seductive.  The pulses of bass drawn out and heavy.

“He killed my sister with his poison,” Kincaid finally replied after an intense moment of studying the other woman.

Barbara took a breath.  She had assumed it had been something like that, but it made her feel no better to have her suspicions confirmed.  “I’m sorry,” she said sincerely.

Kincaid came closer, only aware she was doing so when she stopped in front of Barbara.  “I’m sorry about your students.”

Barbara closed her eyes for a brief moment before opening them again.  She looked up through the rain at the other woman.  “You were going to kill him.”

“Yes.”  Kincaid didn’t bother to deny it.  “You wanted to.  Why didn’t you?”

“We don’t kill.”


Barbara took another deep breath.  “I don’t kill,” she clarified.  “Makes me no better than him.”

“You would have felt better.”

“For a fraction of a second there would have been satisfaction,” Barbara agreed.  “But it wouldn’t be worth the price on my soul.”

Kincaid blinked and looked away feeling both chastised and chagrined.  “It’s just…”

“I know,” Barbara answered solemnly.  “You want justice.  Trust me.  In the end you’ll get it.  But not that way.  That isn’t justice.”

“What would you call it?”


Kincaid’s stomach rolled.  From the truth or being denied what her heart begged for she wasn’t sure.

Coming to a decision, Barbara moved forward.  “Come on.  Let’s get out of the rain.  I kept you from becoming a killer tonight.  Least you can do is buy me a cup of coffee.”

* * * * *

Kincaid glanced around the all night diner.  The place was mostly empty save for a young couple completely lost in each other in the back corner booth and a couple of cops sitting at the counter.  A waitress was setting their coffee cups right side up and filling them with something that smelled strong enough to peel paint.  Kincaid cupped her hands around the warming ceramic but didn’t drink.

“Thanks,” Barbara told the waitress and received a tired smile in response before the older woman shuffled away.  Her gaze shifted back to Draco’s would-be killer.  In the dim lighting, she could make out the other woman’s features more distinctly.  Classic lips, a defined jaw, prominent cheekbones… She wondered if she was as beautiful dry as she was wet.

For some reason, the thought brought a blush to Barbara’s cheeks.  She covered by taking a sip of her coffee.  “So,” she said when she’d swallowed.

“So,” Kincaid echoed neutrally.  She suddenly wished she was back in Chicago sitting in clean, dry clothes as she watched a Cubs game on television.  Her finger traced the rim of her cup.  “You do that often?”

“Do what?” Barbara asked as she watched her.

“Confront powerful drug dealers in nothing more than your wheelchair and a smile?”

The question struck her funny, and Barbara laughed.  “Did it seem like I needed anything else?”

Kincaid lifted her gaze from her study of the chipped Formica of the tabletop to the intense green of Barbara Gordon’s eyes.  A smile twitched at her own lips.  “I guess not.  What was that you hit him with?  A cattle prod?”

The laughter wound down, but the smile remained.  “Just a custom made toy.”

“Some toy,” Kincaid muttered but she let the subject drop.  Questions about her late night coffee companion crowded her tongue but went unspoken.  “That’s quite a chair you’ve got there.”  She reached out and fingered the console closest to her.  Barbara had parked it next to the table before sliding easily into the booth.

Barbara watched the stranger but made no move to stop her.  “Thanks.  It suits my needs.”  She regarded her, seeing the questions in her companion’s eyes.  “Go ahead and ask.”

“Ask what?”

“What everyone always wants to know,” Barbara murmured as the blonde continued to study the chair with naked curiosity.  “How I got to be in a wheelchair in the first place.”

“I imagine you’re tired of answering that question,” Kincaid said with more understanding than Barbara was prepared for.

“I…”  For the first time that night, Kincaid watched Barbara Gordon at a loss for words.

Barbara took another sip from her coffee.  “I was shot.  Joker had a vendetta against someone I knew.  I was a convenient target.”

“Joker?” Kincaid tasted the name.  She suspected she’d heard it on the news on one of the rare occasions she turned it on.

“You don’t know who the Joker is?” Barbara asked with some disbelief.

“I’m not from around here.”

“I gathered.”

“You ladies ready to order?” the waitress inquired as she returned.

“I’ll have the pancakes,” Barbara replied and handed the menu over without ever having opened it.

“Sure thing, Ms. Gordon.  And for you miss?”

“Sure, pancakes are fine.”  Kincaid waited until the waitress was gone and then leaned forward.  “I heard Draco say you were the Commissioner’s daughter.”

Barbara folded her hands on the table.  “I am.”

“You work for the police?”

“Not hardly,” the redhead answered archly.  “I’m just a teacher.”

“Just a teacher,” Kincaid drawled.  “Right.”

Barbara smiled.  “What about you?  I’m guessing skulking in the shadows for drug lords isn’t your usual occupation.”  She had yet to ask the stranger for her name, hoping the blonde would supply it when she was ready.

Kincaid leaned back.  “First time for everything,” she muttered.  “How did you know I was there?”

Her question neatly evaded, Barbara shrugged.  “I heard your jacket creak.”

“You’re kidding.”

Barbara merely gave her an enigmatic smile and took another sip of her coffee.

Kincaid thought about that, deciding there was no way Barbara could have heard her over the music.  The woman had to be jerking her chain.  “So is that something like your other senses became more enhanced when you lost your legs?”

“Did I lose my legs?” Barbara asked.  She glanced down.  “Huh, they still look like they’re there to me.”

Fortunately the waitress chose that moment to return with their food, giving Kincaid a chance to extract the foot she’d shoved tonsil deep into her mouth.  “Sorry.  I didn’t mean…”

Barbara held up a hand.  “It’s okay.  I’m just messing with you.”

“Doing a right fine job of it,” Kincaid confessed in a grumble as she poured syrup on her pancakes and began to methodically slice them up, noting that Barbara was doing the same.

Suddenly, Barbara tilted her head as if she were listening to something.

“What?” Kincaid asked.

Barbara didn’t answer for several tense seconds.  “I’m sorry.  I just remembered something,” she lied easily, having had plenty of practice.  “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take a rain check.”

Kincaid realized she wasn’t ready for the conversation to end.  She reached out and covered Barbara’s hand with her own as the other woman started to lay money down on the table.  “My treat, remember?”

They both stilled at the contact.

Barbara pulled her hand away, a confused expression on her features.  “Thanks.  I’m really sorry…”  She moved gracefully into her chair.

Kincaid opened her mouth to say something only to close it with a click when Barbara’s chair moved back without any apparent command from the woman sitting in it.  “Barbara, wait,” she said when she found her voice.

The redhead looked up, impatience in her eyes but polite interest on her features.

“You said you were going to stop Draco.  Let me help.”

Barbara hesitated, torn between finishing this conversation and getting to where her friends were in sudden and dire need of her assistance.  Even now Dinah was yelling into the communication device nestled in her ear.

Kincaid reached into her pocket and withdrew a slim wallet.  She pulled out a card then wrote something on the back of it before handing it to Barbara.  “Call me when things… calm down.”

Barbara took the card and glanced down at the name.  Nicole Kincaid.  Surgeon.  “Things never calm down,” Barbara admitted.  “But I’ll call anyway.”

“She ditch you, honey?” the waitress asked a few minutes after Barbara had left the diner.

“Apparently,” Kincaid drawled, but without rancor.  She pulled over Barbara’s pancakes and dumped them onto her own plate.  “More for me, I guess.”

“Don’t fret none,” the waitress said gently.  “Ms. Gordon is a right busy woman.  We see her in here all the time.  She’s rarely gotten to finish a meal.”

“That’s too bad.  The pancakes are great.”

The waitress beamed before walking away, leaving Kincaid in silent contemplation.  What in the hell would keep a wheelchair bound teacher out so late so often?

She vowed to find out.

* * * * *

“You are such a piece of work.”

“If you hadn’t gone all Gorillas in the Mist on his ass…”

“Is that a crack about my animal side?  Because if it is…”

“Ladies!” Barbara yelled impatiently and was rewarded with sudden, blessed silence.  “Thank you.”  She turned away from the other Birds, both as damp as she was, and wheeled herself over to the Delphi terminal as the elevator door closed behind the other two women.

“Smartass,” Helena added to her younger companion.

“Better than a dumbass,” Dinah shot back before stomping up the steps to her room and slamming the door.

Barbara bit her lip on that one.  The young blonde was coming along in the comeback department much to Helena’s frustration.

“I know you’re smirking, Barbara,” Helena muttered.  She ran a hand through her short, choppy black hair.  Her eyes followed Barbara’s movements with affection that she’d managed to keep out of her voice.

Barbara’s smirk turned into a full-fledged grin.  She felt Helena’s warm presence against the back of her chair as the younger woman looked over her shoulder.

“So have you found the one who got away, yet?”  Helena leaned closer, soaking up Barbara’s heat and taking a deep, appreciative breath of her perfume.

“Give me a second to at least check,” Barbara drawled as her fingers worked the keyboard.  As the system began running, she glanced to her left at Helena’s profile and frowned at the nasty bruise staining her friend’s cheek.  Barbara reached out and lightly touched the injury.  “You okay?”

Helena met Barbara’s gaze at close range before her own fingers brushed her friend’s as she touched the purpling injury herself.  “Fine.  It’ll be gone by tomorrow.”

“Probably,” Barbara admitted.  “But it looks painful right now.”


The redhead sighed and let her hand drop reluctantly, knowing that was all she was likely to get from the younger woman.  They’d been friends, practically family, for eight years.  Sometimes she wondered why she still asked.

Data started to stream across the computer screen, and Barbara turned her attention to it, barely aware when Helena put her hands on either side of her chair and leaned in over her left shoulder.

“What are you wearing?” Helena asked unexpectedly.

“What?” Barbara asked, distracted.

Helena smiled and moved closer, almost nuzzling the older woman’s neck.  Her gaze drifted up over the slope of Barbara’s cheek, and she watched as her friend’s intense green eyes scanned the incoming information for clues.  Barbara was so beautiful, Helena thought wistfully.  Beautiful and blissfully ignorant of the effects that beauty had on the people around her.

Helena especially.

“I said,” Helena pitched her voice low and watched with interest as goose bumps rose on Barbara’s skin in response.  “What are you wearing?”

The typing stopped and Barbara leaned back.  Helena shifted to give her some space, but kept her hands on either side of the chair.  Barbara felt fenced in but oddly it wasn’t unpleasant.  “What do you mean ‘what am I wearing?’”

Helena gave her a crooked smile.  “Your perfume.”

Barbara cleared her throat and looked away as she felt an unexpected blush heating her cheeks.  “I don’t know.  Something Dinah gave me for my birthday.”

“The kid has good taste,” Helena murmured before releasing her grip on the armrests and standing upright again.

Barbara shot a quick peek at the younger woman as she scratched the side of her nose, wondering what to say or how to react to the compliment.  “Uh…”

“Look.  There’s your guy.”  Helena nodded at the image that had popped up and was now filling the monitor.

Grateful for the distraction, Barbara returned her attention to the computer.  “Robert Vargas.  Age 26.  Single.  Arrests for assaults, B and Es, attempted murder.  Nice.”

“Just the kind of guy you bring home to mom,” Helena muttered.  “Well, actually that would be true in my case,” she joked.

Barbara shook her head.  “Catwoman had more taste than to run with scum like this guy.”  She gave Helena a backward glance.  “And your mother sure as hell would never have had someone like this around after you were born.”

“It’s funny.”

“What?” Barbara continued to skim the arrest record.

“How you defend my mom sometimes considering everything she did.”

The hands on the computer went still.  Barbara took a breath before turning her chair partway around so she could face the woman behind her.  “Your mom became a very different person after you were born.”

Helena held up her hand.  “I didn’t mean to invoke some serious chat about my mom here.  It was just a random observation.”

Chase or retreat?  Barbara tilted her head as she regarded her friend, weighing which option was best for their moods and mindsets.  “Okay,” she said easily.  “But you know if you ever do want to talk about your mom…”

Helena shrugged, only to wince as the motion caused other injuries to make themselves known.

“What’s wrong?”  Barbara’s voice sharpened with concern.

Helena waved a hand as if the pain were nothing.  There had been a lot of bad guys tonight, and they’d been pounding on her something fierce when Barbara and Dinah had gratefully shown up.  Then her anger had nearly gotten the best of her and she’d gone… well, ape, apparently, if Dinah’s Gorillas in the Mist crack had been accurate.

The wheelchair rotated again, and Helena took a step back.  “Where are you hurt?” Barbara demanded, wondering if this would be one of the rare times when the younger woman let her help.

“I’m fine.”

“Helena, those guys got in some good hits before we got there.”

“They sure did,” Helena replied drolly, trying to play off the pain.  Then she felt warm fingers grasp her right hand, and her well of words ran dry.  Barbara always had that effect on her.

“This is going to take a few minutes,” Barbara said with a nod at the terminal.  “Why don’t we get you fixed up?”

Helena started to protest only to give in and sigh.  With a truth she didn’t dare study too closely, she liked having Barbara tend to her.  “Fine,” she muttered as if she were being put out.

Barbara didn’t buy it for a second, but she didn’t let on either.  She tried to tamp down the flicker of pleasure that flared at Helena’s acceptance.

Dinah’s door opened at that moment, and the blonde teenager stomped down the stairs and into the kitchen, a towel around her neck, without sparing either of them a glance or a word.

Helena and Barbara watched her progress only to burst into laughter once the teen was out of earshot.  Helena shrugged.  “So it was a good comeback.  She’s entitled to one every now and then.”

Barbara squeezed the hand still safely ensconced in her own.  “Which one?  The Gorillas in the Mist thing or the dumbass comment?  Personally I liked…”

“No comments from the peanut gallery,” Helena smoothly interrupted.  “I’m going to go get a shower.”  She held up her hand to forestall Barbara’s protest.  “Then you can patch me up.  I’ve got motor oil, ash, and God only knows what all over me.  You need to get out of your wet clothes, too.”

With a sigh, Barbara relented.  “Fine.  Hopefully I’ll have some good news by the time you get out.  And I’ll change in a few minutes.”  Helena looked at her dubiously.  “I promise.”

With another wink, Helena departed.  Barbara watched her friend bound up the steps with feline grace.  Even when her legs had still worked, she never had been able to move like Helena.  Then again, no else could either.

Shaking off her thoughts, Barbara turned back to the terminal, watching the various scans run.  A thought niggled at the base of her brain, and she fished in her pant pocket, pulling out the slightly creased business card.

Nicole Kincaid.

Barbara frowned as she fingered the corner of the card.  Several quiet minutes passed as she drifted in her thoughts, the Delphi computer running its scans.

“What’s that?” Dinah asked as she emerged from the kitchen.  Her gaze flickered over the room, looking for signs of her tormentor.

“She’s taking a shower,” Barbara replied to the unspoken question.  With only a twinge of guilt, she handed the card to the blonde.  “Do you get anything off this?”

Dinah set down a grilled cheese sandwich next to Barbara’s elbow.  The redhead realized the food was for her and she grinned, thinking about the pancakes she’d given up earlier.  Barbara slipped off her glasses as Dinah took the card out of her hands, her face going momentarily blank.

“Thanks,” Barbara said as she took a healthy bite of the sandwich.  “You getting…” her voice trailed off when she saw the tears on Dinah’s face.  She snatched the card out of the girl’s hands and watched in horror as Dinah slumped to the floor, unconscious.

“Helena!” Barbara screamed.  With a curse, she let herself slide down her chair and crawled to the blonde’s position.  Her fingers went to Dinah’s throat, finding a steady but fast pulse.

“What?”  Helena was suddenly there, dripping wet with a short blue robe wrapped around her.  She knelt next to Barbara.  “What happened?”

“I gave her a business card.  I wanted to see if she could get anything on the woman who gave it to me.”  Barbara pulled Dinah’s head into her lap and began to stroke the girl’s forehead.

“Apparently she did,” Helena muttered.

“Dinah?  Dinah, can you hear me?”  Barbara mentally kicked herself for not running a check on Nicole Kincaid first.

“She hurts…”  Dinah whispered as she drifted toward awareness.  “God, she hurts…”

“Who does she hurt?”  Barbara demanded.

Dinah’s eyes blinked open, staring at the ceiling.  “No… she’s… she’s in pain.  Her sister…”

Helena blew out a breath that stirred her damp bangs.  She reached under the girl and hefted her into her arms, feeling the tension slide into Dinah’s muscles as they stood.  “Easy.  I’m just moving you to the couch.”

Dinah released a shaky sigh as reality returned.  She felt the cushions on the couch give under her weight, and she sank into the softness gratefully.  Her head came up as she heard Barbara utter a curse.  Helena was now trying to get the redhead back into her chair, but Barbara was resisting, insisting on doing it herself.  Barbara didn’t see the ghost of hurt that crossed Helena’s face.  It was gone by the time the redhead was back in her chair.

Helena turned and for a second her eyes met Dinah’s, a sad understanding passing between them.

“I’ll get you some water,” Helena choked out to Dinah before heading toward the kitchen.

Barbara ran a hand through her hair, waves or irritation radiating off her.

“She just wants to help,” Dinah complained.

Green eyes snapped up to the blonde, and Dinah worried she was in for a full Barbara Gordon blow out.  Instead, the redhead cursed and looked away.

“I’m not mad at Helena.  I’m mad at myself.  I should have checked her out before giving you the card.”

“Nicole?” Dinah asked for clarification.  She heard water running in the kitchen.

Barbara didn’t answer.

“She isn’t evil or anything,” Dinah murmured, trying to be reassuring.  “It’s okay to be attracted to her.”

Barbara’s head whipped around just as they heard a glass hit the floor and shatter.   They both turned to see Helena standing in the doorway, her eyes wide.

“Shit,” Barbara hissed under her breath, not knowing why she didn’t want Helena to have that particular piece of information.  “Dinah…”

The teenager realized she’d just made things worse, not better.

* * * * *

Helena retreated into the kitchen without a word.  Her stomach was now in knots and she felt the burn of tears.  Barbara was attracted to a woman?  When had Babs switched teams?  Or did she always bat for both, and Helena had never realized it?  Her instincts prickled with awareness, and she turned to see Barbara in the doorway.


“I was just getting another glass of water for the kid.”  Helena sprung into motion, retrieving a glass from the cupboard.

“Helena, look at me,” Barbara pleaded.

“Everything’s cool,” Helena could hear the lie and knew Barbara wouldn’t buy it.  “The glass… it just slipped…”  She swallowed around an odd, crushing sense of betrayal.  With more force than necessary, Helena turned on the water and thrust the glass into the cold stream.

“Hel…” Barbara tried again.  She rolled into the kitchen, doing her best to block Helena’s most likely choice of escape.

“You’re probably tracking glass,” Helena said as she shut the water off.  “You don’t want to puncture a tire.”  She leaned against the counter, still unable to meet those green eyes.

Barbara took a breath, wondering why she felt like such an ass even when she’d done nothing wrong.  “They can’t puncture,” she muttered.  She stared at Helena’s back, wanting more than anything to see the blue of her eyes.  “Look at me.”

Knowing that she was only delaying the inevitable, Helena finally turned and lifted her gaze to Barbara’s.

“I…”  Now that she had Helena’s attention, Barbara wasn’t sure what to do with it.  “Dinah just…”

“She picked up this woman’s emotions as well as yours.  You both touched the card.  Stands to reason,” Helena said a little hoarsely.

“What she picked up on,” Barbara continued, wondering why Helena seemed so bothered by Dinah’s declaration.  It wasn’t as if the notion of being attracted to another woman was something new to Helena.  She was pretty sure the younger woman had sampled the other side of the fence more than once.  “She picked up on…. a moment.  Nothing more.”

Helena took a breath, wanting the reassurance.  “You’re attracted to her?” she asked unsteadily.

Barbara moved closer.  “I… there was just a moment where… I don’t know.”  She shook her head and sighed.  She heard the Delphi alarm beep and grimaced.

“We should check that.”  Helena started past her, forgetting the water entirely, when she was suddenly brought up short by Barbara’s warm touch around her wrist.  Her breath hitched at the contact, and she prayed Barbara didn’t notice.

The redhead tilted her head back to look up at Helena’s familiar features.  “Nothing is going to happen with her,” Barbara felt the need to say.  “It was just… an instant.  An instant where…”

“You found her attractive,” Helena breathed, but she made no effort to pull free.

“Yeah,” Barbara said softly.  She tried to lighten the mood.  “I guess I’ve been out of the dating pool too long since Wade…”

Helena sunk down to her knees so she could look up at Barbara.  “I’m sorry,” she almost whispered.  “I don’t know why.  That just threw me for a loop.”  She ducked her head only to raise it again when she felt Barbara’s fingers on her chin.

“Something tells me you think I’m utterly bland and boring when it comes to sex,” Barbara teased with a glint in her eyes.

Helena’s brain was screaming at her to say something, but the words wouldn’t come.  “Uh… you were my teacher,” she croaked as if that explained everything.  Her breath came out in a barely controlled shudder as Barbara’s hand went from her chin to cupping her cheek.

Something thick and heavy seemed to settle between them at the contact.  Barbara watched, fascinated, as Helena’s pupils contracted and then narrowed into feline slits.  “I see,” Barbara replied slowly, her voice descending an octave.  “You probably think I only know the missionary position.”

“Barbara!” Helena spluttered in mortification, doing her best not to let her mind imagine Barbara in that very pose.

Barbara responded with a wicked chuckle as her thumb unconsciously began to stroke Helena’s cheek.  “I was once a daredevil like you, Helena,” she murmured.  “Remember?  I used to run the rooftops of New Gotham at night.  I took my fair share of risks and loved the rush of the adrenaline as a reward.”

Barbara’s playful little game was one Helena knew well but had never dabbled in with her friend.  It was a line she occasionally stared at but never crossed.  With growing courage, she stepped up to the edge of it.  “Well, if you ever want some tips on getting a… rush… with a woman, you know where to find me,” Helena managed, letting a little of her sensuality shine through and knew that Barbara had noticed when the older woman’s eyes widened fractionally.  Playing with fire, Helena ducked her head and leaned closer.

For a dizzying moment, Barbara thought Helena was going to kiss her.  A breath before their lips met, Helena detoured, threading her hand through Barbara’s hair and pulling her forward before placing a swift kiss on Barbara’s forehead.  Then the younger woman stood, snatched the glass of water, and disappeared through the doorway.

Breathe, Gordon, Barbara had to tell herself.  She sucked down an aching breath as a shiver slid through her.  “What the hell was that?” she asked the empty kitchen.

Part 2

Helena shivered and burrowed further into her knee-length leather jacket.  It provided scant protection against the bitter wind blowing through New Gotham, bringing with it the first hints of fall.  Around her, the balcony glistened from the recent rain, the dampness only adding to the pervasive chill.  The city lights shone weakly through a gathering fog, beacons of color seeming to float in billowing gray.  The smells, sounds, and sights were all a perfect fit for Helena’s darkening mood.

Barbara was attracted to a woman, so strongly that Dinah had picked up on it instantly.  Even through the pain and anguish Dinah had detected off the business card, Barbara’s interest in this woman had punched through. The kid didn’t hit on anything that didn’t at least rate a six or higher on the emotional impact scale.  There must have been some serious heat.

Kind of like what she’d felt between herself and Barbara in the kitchen.  Helena wondered what Dinah would have thought about that.

Her thoughts scattered and frenetic, Helena could only close her eyes and beg her mind for silence.  She breathed in the damp air, feeling a fine mist lightly bathing her features.  Sighing, Helena walked to the balcony rail and leaned against it.  The prudent thing would be to go back inside to the dry warmth of the clock tower, but somehow the mid-September night appealed more to her spirit at the moment.  She put her elbows on the rail and looked over, watching patches of traffic crawl by below.

“You going to stay out here all night?”

The voice made her jump.  Helena turned to see Dinah watching her from the doorway.  It was disconcerting that she’d been so lost in her thoughts she hadn’t even heard the kid.  So much for super powers.  “Shouldn’t you be in bed?  It’s a school night,” Helena muttered derisively.

Dinah rolled her eyes as she stepped out onto the balcony.  “I’m still a little juiced from what happened earlier,” the teenager admitted.  “I have to let the emotions fade.”

Helena turned and hitched a hip on the rail.  She played it casual and managed not to ask which of the emotions it was that was keeping the teen awake.  “You okay?”

Dinah shrugged.  “Other than still tasting shoe leather from where I stuck my foot in my mouth?  I’m fine.”

A slow, begrudging smile wormed its way onto Helena’s features.  She dipped her head before looking up at Dinah through her wet bangs.  “You just said what you felt.”

“Maybe.  But there is a reason God graced us with internal edit buttons.  Apparently mine was malfunctioning.”

The smiled widened a bit.  “I doubt Barbara is mad.”  It was true, Helena acknowledged.  Despite the fact Barbara clearly wished Dinah hadn’t shared such a juicy morsel of information, there was no way the older woman was angry about it.

Dinah sighed.  “I know she isn’t.  Honestly, though, I’m more worried about how you feel.”

Helena’s head came up.  “Me?”

“I said what I said without regard for your feelings.  That was insensitive of me.”

Helena wasn’t sure what part of the whole conversation she should start addressing first.  “You didn’t even know I was in the room,” she muttered when she could think of nothing else to say.

“But I knew you were in the tower.  And I know how you feel about…”  The teenager bit her lip and cast a look over her shoulder.  Barbara was inside, just beyond the glass, sitting at the Delphi terminal, oblivious to the serious conversation about her taking place a few yards away.

“Dinah…” Helena’s voice came out rough and tired.

The blonde looked back at her older companion.  “You can lie to yourself if you want to, Helena.  But you can’t lie to me.”  Dinah noted the caught expression on the other woman’s features and felt a twinge of sympathy.  They’d never talked about what was so clearly between Helena and Barbara before, but Dinah figured if they were ever going to address it, now was the time.  Her relationship with the other meta was an antagonistic one, but Dinah loved Helena Kyle like a sister, and she hated knowing Helena was in pain.  “I would never tell her.”

Helena looked away, feigning casual interest in the surrounding buildings.  Inside, her heart was pumping so hard she could feel the beats in her throat.  “Look, kid…”  She glanced back at the teenager when she thought she had enough control reflected in her features.  “I do care about Babs… but whatever you’re thinking…”

“I know you care about her,” Dinah interrupted, sounding more like the parent than the child at the moment.  “But your feelings for Barbara are even more than you realize, Hel.  I just… I don’t want you to run from the way they make you feel.”

Blue eyes studied her with such intensity Dinah almost looked away.

“I don’t run from anything,” Helena finally rasped.

“Then don’t start now.  You’ve been neatly evading the whole thing, but you gave a part of yourself away tonight.  Barbara is going to wonder why her being attracted to a woman bothered you so much.”

“Maybe I’m a prude,” Helena retorted flippantly.

“Maybe the Penguin will sprout real wings and fly,” Dinah smacked back.

A black eyebrow arched neatly.  “That was pretty good.”

“I’ve been practicing.”

Helena sighed and crossed her arms.  The cold was starting to make her bones ache.  She thought about Barbara’s offer to tend to her injuries.  How nice it would feel to have Barbara’s warm hands on her, soothing her pains.  As usual, she didn’t examine too closely why she wanted the redhead’s touch, but Dinah’s words made her aware of her denials.  “On a scale of one to ten.”

“Huh?”  Dinah blinked.

“On a scale of one to ten… how attracted was Barbara to this chick?”  Helena decided a diversion was in order.  This way she got to satisfy some of her curiosity as well.

“I’m not telling you that.”

“Come on.  You’re acting like my ally here.  Give me a little intel.”  Helena’s features relaxed into a seductive grin.

“Are you admitting you’re attracted to her?” Dinah asked warily.

“I’m admitting nothing.  Now spill.”

“That’s personal.”

“So personal you blurted it out to the room?”

“I didn’t know you were there,” Dinah almost whined.  “What difference does it make?”

“None at all,” Helena lied smoothly.  “I’m just thinking this woman had to be hot to stir up Barbara’s blood.”



“Nicole Kincaid.  That’s the woman’s name.  She’s some sort of doctor.”

Smart and gorgeous, Helena thought bitterly.  Great.  “Lucky her.”

“What I felt off her business card… the last word I’d use to describe her is lucky.”  Dinah swallowed at the remembered emotional agony.  “She’s… really hurting right now.”

Feeling a little chastised, Helena sighed again.  They both heard the door open and looked back in time to see Barbara roll out onto the balcony.

“What are you two doing out here?  It’s freezing.”

“Just chatting,” Dinah said easily.  “Helena’s finally promised to show me how to rappel.”

“I have?” Helena muttered, confused only to suddenly realize the teen was covering for her and raced to agree.  “I have.  Right.  Rappelling.  Absolutely.”

Barbara narrowed her eyes at both of them.  She had a sliver of suspicion about the topic of conversation before she’d interrupted.  “Are you talking about Nicole?”

“Who?” Helena managed in an impressively bland voice.

“Nicole Kincaid.  The woman I met tonight.”

“Is that her name?”  Helena asked innocently.  “The topic never came up.”

Green eyes fixed on Dinah, and it was all the teen could do not to squirm.  Barbara might not be a meta, but she sure seemed to have powers like one.  Sometimes the teenager was sure the redheaded woman was psychic.  “What?” she asked, hoping she sounded breezy and not busted.

Quietly proud of the younger woman, Helena ducked her head to hide a smile.

Barbara shook her head.  “Fine.  You two metas may be able to stand the cold, but I’m going back inside.  Especially since I’m heating some milk for hot chocolate.”

“Hot chocolate?”  Both of the younger women chimed in eager unison.

Still shaking her head, Barbara went back inside.  Helena bounded after her, holding the door for Dinah.

“Eight,” Dinah murmured as she passed.

“What?” Helena asked blankly.

“The attraction. It was an eight.”

Helena stood there, the door still open, as she processed that bit of news.  Something inside her went colder than the night air.  Barbara had claimed that nothing would come of what she had felt, but how did you turn your back on an eight?

She hoped Barbara would find a way.

* * * * *

“That’s it.  I’m packing it in.”  Dinah yawned half an hour later before setting her empty cup down.  “I’ll get the dishes in the morning.”

“Damn right you will,” Helena teased with a smirk.  She easily caught the pillow the blonde tossed at her and then offered a jaunty wave as Dinah headed up the steps toward her room.

“I should probably hit the road, too,” Helena admitted after a moment of charged silence.  She put the pillow down and got to her feet, momentarily losing her concentration when she glanced down into Barbara’s upturned features.  Helena felt the familiar wave of emotions rolling toward her at the sight.  With a sigh, her mental levee repelled them.  Best not to go there.  Not to let those waves pull her in and under.  Helena knew if she ever gave them free reign she would drown.

“You okay?”  Barbara asked softly.  There was something terribly endearing about Helena when she got that little lost, confused look in her eyes.  She’d see it every now and then when she’d catch the younger woman looking at her.  Barbara always wondered what Helena was thinking in those moments but had never found the courage to ask.  This time was no different.

“Fine.”  Helena offered her a smile to prove it.  “I’m just going to go get my things.”

“You never let me take care of those cuts,” Barbara pointed out with just a hint of hurt to her voice.

Helena stopped as she made her way toward her jacket.  “Uh…” She hated it when Barbara used that tone with her.  It did things to her insides.  “I just thought… you know… it’s late…”

Barbara sat aside her mug and motioned Helena to sit next to her on the couch.  The brunette hesitated before slowly yielding to what her body craved and came closer.  Helena noted the first aid kit on the table for the first time and wondered how she’d missed it.  “Babs, it really is late.  You don’t need to…”

“I know.  I think I can manage to keep my eyes open for a few more minutes,” Barbara teased faintly.  “Where is it the worst?”

Helena sank down onto the couch.  “My back,” she admitted after a moment.  “I must have gotten cut or something.”

Frowning, Barbara waited for Helena to turn before gently lifting the younger woman’s thin sweater.  She hissed at what she found.  “Christ, Helena.”

“Bad?”  The younger woman asked.  She tried to turn her head to see but that only tugged on the injury.  “Stung like a mother in the shower.”

“I’ll bet.  Someone stabbed you.”

“Ah.  Explains a lot.”

Barbara snorted at the other woman’s casual attitude.  The bleeding had fortunately stopped long ago, but the wound was an angry red and the skin had yet to knit back together.  Had this been anyone else, Barbara knew they would be in the hospital in serious condition.  She gently brushed her fingers along the sides of the injury feeling the skin ripple in response.

“Tickles,” Helena lied, her voice sounding breathless.

Barbara reached for the iodine and some cotton balls.  “Let me just clean this up a little.”

Helena closed her eyes at the gentle touch that followed.  What would it be like, she wondered, to feel that touch all over?

Do.  Not.  Go.  There.

Bitterly Helena closed the lid on those thoughts.  Then she felt the ghost of Barbara’s breath on her bare skin, and she felt that lid crack open a notch.  “So.”

“So,” Barbara mimicked as she finished with the iodine and applied some ointment for the pain.

“You going to see her again?”

“Who?” the redhead asked distractedly.  She applied the ointment liberally, hating to see her younger friend in pain.  Barbara patted a bandage in place then let the sweater slip down over the smooth expanse of skin.


“Nicole?”  Barbara wiped her hands on her jeans then decided to make the most of Helena’s cooperative mood.  She put her hands on the younger woman’s shoulders and began a gentle massage.

“Kin…”  Helena’s voice caught and faltered at the touch.  Her eyes fluttered closed.  “Kincaid,” she croaked, trying not to moan.

“Oh.”  Barbara’s brain worked out what Helena was talking about.  “I said I’d help her with Draco, so I guess so.”

“You don’t sound excited by the idea,” Helena pointed out.  A soft groan escaped her as Barbara found a tense knot in her right shoulder and began to work on it.  She was damn good at this, Helena noted.  Barbara’s touch made her want to stretch out like a cat in the sun.

“Does that hurt?”

“Feels good,” Helena admitted before she thought better of it.

A flicker of a smile crossed Barbara’s features.  “You’re nothing but knots.  You should see a massage therapist.”

“You’re cheaper,” Helena teased.  She frowned when she felt Barbara’s hands move away.  She glanced over her shoulder, worried she’d offended her friend.  Barbara’s touch abruptly returned, but this time it slipped under Helena’s sweater to massage bare skin.

Breathing became something Helena had to consciously concern herself with.  “Um…”

Barbara felt the younger woman tense.  “Relax.  I’m just putting on some liniment.”

The scent of wintergreen reached Helena, followed by the slow spread of heat through her abused muscles.  She sighed it felt so good.  Surrendering to the care, Helena leaned forward, granting Barbara all the access she wanted to her aching back.  “Thanks,” she murmured softly.

“What are friends for?”  Barbara asked, enjoying the chance to take care of the younger woman for a change.  Not that she ever wanted Helena to hurt, but she took pleasure in making her friend feel better when she did.  Helena’s skin was warm and soft beneath her fingertips, pliant under her ministrations.  “See what you’ve been missing out on by turning me down every time you’re hurt?”

Helena could hear the smile in Barbara’s voice.  “As often as that is, you’d tire of this pretty quickly.”

The redhead frowned when she realized her friend was right.  About the hurting part anyway.  “I hate it when you get hurt,” Barbara said softly.  “I just wish…”  She sighed, knowing there was no point letting her mind walk down that tired, bitter path.

Helena pulled away from Barbara’s touch so she could look at the older woman.  “I can take care of myself,” she replied gently.

Barbara laid her now idle hands in her lap.  “I know that,” she answered as she studied her fingernails intently.  “It just feels sometimes… like… you have to fill the role I had to leave behind.  A role you don’t want.”  She looked up then, straight into a pair of stricken blue eyes.  She shrugged and glanced away, uncomfortable with the turn in conversation.

“I do this because it needs to be done,” Helena murmured.

“But not because you want to do it.  Not like I did.”  Barbara risked looking at her again.  Helena was so damn beautiful, a wild animal barely tamed.  There was always an air of danger around Helena, an air of primal sensuality.  Barbara sighed.  “Helena, I don’t want you to feel that this has to be your life’s work.  I don’t want you to feel that you have to do this out of some obligation.”

“To you?” the younger woman asked hoarsely.  They’d had similar discussions in the past, but she’d always seen them coming, had always had her flip answers ready.  But Barbara had caught her with her defenses down tonight.  To her surprise, she was in no mood to put them up.  “You think I do this because you took me in when no one else would?  Or worse, do you think I feel sorry for you because you’re in a wheelchair?”

Barbara blinked, startled faintly by Helena’s frank questions.  She bit her lip.  “Do you?” she whispered, finally asking a question she’d always wanted to ask but had never spoken for fear of the answer.

Helena closed her eyes, unable to bear the uncertainty in her friend’s features.  “Babs,” she choked out.  “When have I ever done something I didn’t want to do?”  She slid to her feet and put some distance between them, walking away a few paces before finally turning and facing the redhead again.  “I do this because I can, because I need to make a difference.”  Her gaze swept over Barbara’s legs.  “I do it in part because of you.  But it’s not because I feel sorry for you.  I do it because I want to protect you.  I want to keep you from getting hurt again.”

“There is no guarantee that won’t happen, Helena,” Barbara answered honestly.

“But if I wasn’t there to stop it I would never forgive myself.”

“I don’t want you to live your life in fear of that.  I don’t want you living this kind of life if there is something else you want.  My fate is still my own, and I accept whatever will come.  And if someone gets to me someday…”  Barbara broke off when Helena turned her back and walked toward the windows overlooking the balcony.  “It won’t be your fault,” Barbara finished in a hushed voice.  “But I know how you feel.”

“I doubt that,” Helena murmured as her breath fogged the glass.  She felt the familiar ache in the center of her chest when she thought of Barbara, that nameless emotion that could sneak up on her and nearly squeeze her heart into arrest. 

“Do you know what it would do to me if something happened to you, and I couldn’t stop it because I’m in this damn chair?”

Helena turned to look at her.  “I don’t give a damn that you’re in that chair.”  Her voice was rougher than she intended.  “You take care of something far more important than my life, Barbara.  Even if I died tomorrow, you’d still have that one thing safe.”

The older woman frowned in confusion.

“You have my soul.  And I know you would die yourself to save it.”  Helena swallowed hard when she met the wide, stunned green eyes with her own.  The situation was too intense, brought too many frightening emotions to the surface.  Jerking into motion, Helena grabbed her jacket off a nearby chair and slipped it on.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Helena, wait…” Barbara managed, but her friend walked out onto the balcony and leapt out into the darkness.

Barbara took an unsteady breath.  Twice tonight her younger friend had stunned her into stupefied silence.  Her eyes dipped to her hands.

You have my soul…

She closed her hands into fists.  A sweet ache filled her chest and for just a moment she surrendered to it, letting it consume her completely.  It was a feeling she never gave a name to, never looked at too closely.

Reluctantly, Barbara tamped the feeling back into the lonely little hole it lived in inside her as she put away the medical supplies and closed the kit.  When everything was in its proper place, she glanced around the empty room once more before turning off the light and heading for bed…

…never seeing Helena crouched on the ledge across the street, watching her through her tears.

Part 3

“So you really are a teacher.”

The mid-afternoon sun poured through the windows lining one wall of Barbara’s English class. Dust motes floated lazily in the warmth, caught and held by musty air thick with chalk dust. The redhead looked up from the papers she’d been grading. Nicole Kincaid stood in her doorway, her long tapered hands tucked into the pockets of her faded jeans. She wore a figure-hugging brown sweater and brown leather jacket, her blonde hair now dry and hanging in loose curls.

Barbara felt the same twitch of attraction deep in her belly that she had last night. She tried to brush it off by tunneling her hands through her hair. “Dr. Kincaid. This is a nice surprise.”

“Just Kincaid. Or Nick,” the surgeon offered before pushing off the wall and wandering into the classroom. Her blue eyes skimmed over the literary posters and a smile tugged at her lips. “I never did get into Shakespeare.” She brushed a smudge of chalk dust off the nearest portrait.

Barbara licked her lips and smiled. “Obviously. That’s Hemingway.”

“Right.” Nick swung to look at her then shrugged. “Told ya.”

Barbara snorted. “I guess you’re more a math and science kind of girl.”

“Bet you hate both,” Nick guessed.

“Actually, I love both. I dabble in them from time to time. You know, balancing the checkbook. Identifying some evolved object in a Tupperware container in the fridge…”

Nick’s smile widened and Barbara felt her heart trip in reaction.

“Why do I get the feeling that’s not entirely true?”

The redhead shrugged. “I can’t imagine.” She set her pen down and leaned back, welcoming the distraction. Her thoughts had been scattered and as much as the papers had needed grading, Barbara was finding it impossible to focus on them instead of her worried thoughts of Helena. “So what can I do for you?”

Nick crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “Draco bothered you today?”

“No. I don’t expect he will, either.” Barbara watched her. “I was going to call you tonight. To see if you wanted to finish our conversation.”

“Is dinner involved?”

Barbara hesitated. “Sure. If you want it to be,” she said slowly, wondering if she should reschedule in the event Helena might want to talk about the heavy conversation they’d shared last night. Barbara discarded the idea as soon as she thought of it. As brave as Helena was at taking on people twice her size in a fight, her friend was a complete coward when it came to handling her own feelings. Chances were excellent Helena wouldn’t show for anything but her sweep, and she would do that by checking in via comm-link.

“Why not? Girl has to eat.” Nick glanced around the room again before letting her eyes rest on Barbara. “I have to admit, I’m curious about you.”

Barbara tried to pretend like her ego didn’t inflate slightly at the comment. “Why?”

“You threaten bad guys by night, teach high school English by day.” Nick came closer and crouched next to Barbara’s wheelchair, running her fingers over some of the components. “And I’ve never seen a chair like this. You moved away from the table last night just by thinking about it. Didn’t you?”

Green eyes gazed down into blue. “You think I’m psychic or something?” Barbara teased playfully, ignoring the curiosity she could see in Kincaid’s expressive eyes.

“Or something,” Nick answered with a crooked smile.

“Hey, Barbara. Let’s bolt. I’ve had enough of… Oh, sorry.” Dinah pulled up short as she rounded the corner to find the woman in her visions from the night before kneeling on the floor next to Barbara. “I uh…”

Nick stood. “Is this your daughter?”

Barbara’s eyebrows elevated at the question. Sometimes she felt like she played mother hen to Dinah and Helena but she was rarely accused of the genetic equivalent. “I’m her legal guardian.”

“Dinah,” the blonde supplied but made no move toward the other woman. The last thing she wanted was a repeat performance of last night. She gave the newcomer the once over, admitting to herself that Kincaid was attractive. She even picked up on a subtle vibe that the doctor might feel the same way about Barbara.

“Hi, Dinah, I’m Nick.” She didn’t make a move to approach the girl, sensing Dinah didn’t want to be touched.

“Nice to meet you,” Dinah said weakly. An odd feeling of betrayal manifested in the middle of her chest along with a fierce urge to protect the one woman missing from this moment. “You talk to Helena today?” she blurted at Barbara.

Barbara blinked. “No. Why?”

“No reason. Just asking.” Dinah looked from one woman to the other. She didn’t think she could hang around and watch them flirt. “Actually, do you mind if I head to the library for a few hours? I need to get some study time in.”

“I thought you wanted to bolt,” Barbara replied. She sensed something going on with her young charge but damned if she knew what it was.

“Nah. I’ll just catch up on my trig. I’ll ride the subway home.”

“Are you sure?” Barbara asked, not really liking the idea.

“Yeah.” Dinah’s gaze darted to Kincaid and away again. “See you guys around.” Spinning on her heel, she rounded the corner and all but fled.

Barbara suspected the reason for Dinah’s departure and her face heated slightly. She scratched the bridge of her nose, hoping to hide her blush.

“High strung little thing,” Nick drawled with a hint of a smile.

“Teenagers,” Barbara muttered as if that explained everything with a shake of her head. “Well, it looks like I’m free now if you’d like to get a head start on the dinner rush.”


* * * * *

“Barbara?” Helena cleared her throat as her voice nearly cracked under the weight of her nerves. She frowned as she stepped off the elevator and looked around. The clock tower was eerily silent save for the low level hum of the computer equipment. There was none of Dinah’s music pumping out of her room. No familiar whirl of servos as Barbara moved about in her chair. No patter of keystrokes as her friend tracked down the latest criminal she set her sights on.

“Ms. Helena.”

The brunette nearly leapt out of her skin. Glancing to her right, she spied Alfred emerging from the kitchen. She wondered if he’d ever been a superhero before becoming a butler. He sure has hell had the stealth skills for it. “Alfred.”

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he stated calmly but there was a little smirk on his lips that did not go unnoticed.

“No big deal,” she muttered as she came down the steps. “Where is everybody?” Glancing at her watch, Helena frowned again. It was almost seven. The sun was now nothing more than a sliver of red on the horizon, no longer bright enough to bathe the tower in even the faintest glow.

“Miss Dinah will be home momentarily. She is picking up pizza.”

“Oh. Sweet.” The idea of pizza sounded pretty appealing actually. “Where’s Barbara?” Helena asked as she laced her fingers together to keep them from fidgeting. It had taken damn near everything she had to make herself come to the clock tower tonight, but something felt like it had shifted between her and Barbara the night before, something fundamental. Helena had been compelled to return, if only to see the green eyes she couldn’t seem to get out of her head lately.

“Ms. Barbara is having dinner with someone. She said she’d be in by eight.”

Helena’s full attention diverted from the setting sun onto Alfred. “Who is she having dinner with?”

“I did not ask and she did not say.”

“I thought she wanted to do a sweep tonight,” Helena muttered, feeling jilted. Not that Barbara had any reason to suspect she’d show in person tonight. Her track record was a little weak in that regard. Helena suspected whom Barbara was having dinner with and she was just as suspicious that Alfred was lying about it.

“Ms. Barbara didn’t expect you tonight,” Alfred told her without preamble.

“Course not. I pour my heart out once in a blue moon then avoid people until the next one,” Helena groused, more frustrated with herself than Barbara.

“You poured your heart out to Ms. Barbara?” Alfred inquired innocently.

Helena narrowed her eyes at him. “Once in a blue moon, Alfred,” she reminded him. “And you missed the event last night.”

“Shame,” he said blithely.

Helena sighed, her gaze drawn to the empty Delphi terminal. “So Barbara gets to have a social life while I sit on my tail around here?” She tried to come off like she was joking but she felt her effort fall flat.

“Ms. Barbara so rarely goes out, Ms. Helena. I would think you would be pleased.” The butler’s voice easily carried a stern note of disapproval, but there was an underlying tone of understanding.

Helena winced. So he was right. It still didn’t mean she had to like it. “Whatever,” she answered lamely then rolled her eyes at how pathetically childish she sounded as she turned away from him.

The elevator doors opened and Dinah stepped out, balancing two pizza boxes, her book bag, and a six-pack of soda. Fearing for the life of her dinner, Helena bounded up the steps and intercepted the boxes and cans before they hit the floor.

Dinah glanced up, startled to see Helena seemingly materializing in front of her. “Oh. Hey.”

“Hey, yourself.” Helena sniffed the boxes. “These have olives on them?”

“One of them does. I learned my lesson the last time.”

Helena grinned, feeling her mood lightening a little.

Dinah glanced around. Noting Alfred, she gave him a wide grin. “Hi, Alfred.”

“Miss Dinah.” He bowed his head in her direction.

“You staying for pizza?”

“I would be delighted.”

“Cool.” The teenager followed Helena back down the steps and they all wandered into the kitchen. “So Barbara isn’t home, yet?”

“She plans to be home by eight.” Alfred went to a cupboard and pulled down three plates.

“Eight? Jeez, they’ve been together since four.”

Helena had decided to start without waiting on something as trivial as plates or napkins. Her first slice paused halfway between her mouth and the table. “Who is she with?” The busted expression on Dinah’s face told the brunette all she needed to know. Her appetite fading, she still forced herself to take a bite, burning the roof of her mouth in the process.

“Dr. Kincaid stopped by,” Dinah answered in a subdued voice. “They went to get a bite to eat.”

“Three hours ago,” Helena muttered as she chewed mechanically.

“How did she seem?” Alfred asked as he methodically cut up his cheese and pepperoni.

“Who, Barbara?” Dinah asked, confused.

“Dr. Kincaid. Ms. Barbara seems to like her but she did not elaborate.”

Helena cocked her head at the butler. “I thought you didn’t know who she was with?” she accused.

Alfred inserted a perfect square of pizza into his mouth and chewed silently.

“She seemed nice,” Dinah answered simply.

“Nice?” Both Helena and Alfred intoned in nearly the same inflection. They exchanged looks.

“Nice,” Dinah replied before stuffing another bite of pizza in her mouth, determined not to add anything more on the subject.

The elevator doors opened and they all turned their attention toward the sound. Barbara wheeled out. Alone, Helena gratefully noticed. The redhead gave them all a wide smile.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Barbara said as she pulled up next to the table.

Helena tried not to frown. She hadn’t seen Barbara wearing a smile like that since Wade asked her out the first time. Her stomach soured and she swallowed before setting her slice of pizza down.

“Actually I just got here with dinner,” Dinah chimed in before sipping from her soda.

“Great. I’m going to go change. I’ll be back in a few minutes. You up for a sweep tonight?” Green eyes cut to Helena and studied her intently.

The brunette paused, caught in that green regard. “Sure,” Helena said when she remembered how to speak. Her eyes tracked Barbara’s progress until her friend disappeared around the corner. She itched to follow. To ask the bevy of questions crowding onto her tongue…

“Looks like Ms. Barbara has found a new friend,” Alfred commented casually before forking a piece of pepperoni into his mouth.

Jealousy, cold and tight, settled in the center of Helena’s belly. She knew what she was feeling and she was mad at herself for feeling it. With a disgusted sigh, she shoved her plate away. Her gaze met Dinah’s and she gave her a wry, lopsided smile. “I’ll be out on the balcony.”

Dinah watched her go. When the doors had closed behind her she glanced at the doorway to Barbara’s room.

“Don’t get involved,” Alfred advised.

Dinah gave him a sharp look. “Don’t get involved in what?”

“Between what’s going on between Ms. Helena and Ms. Barbara.”

Dinah’s eyes widened in surprise. “You know?”

The butler gave her a coy smile. “They have to figure things out for themselves.”

“Is there something to figure out?” Dinah asked. “I mean… Helena telegraphs her feelings like an air raid siren. I don’t have to be psychic to hear them…”

“But Ms. Barbara reveals nothing.”

“Exactly,” Dinah agreed, impressed with his observation skills and pleased to have an ally in all this. “Sometimes I think… that maybe…”

“She reciprocates Ms. Helena’s feelings?”

“Alfred,” Dinah lowered her voice. “Something is happening with this Kincaid person. I’m worried Helena is going to get hurt.”

“Or maybe this will be the final push she needs to face her feelings.”

“Maybe,” Dinah allowed, but she still had a very bad feeling about the way things seemed to be developing between Barbara and Kincaid.

“Have you seen something to tell you otherwise?” Alfred asked before sipping primly from the straw in his soda.

Dinah shook her head. “No. Something has been gnawing at me the past week, though. I can’t put my finger on it.” She nibbled a piece of mozzarella off her thumb.


The teenager shrugged. “Have you ever had a funny feeling that something bad was going to happen?”

Alfred watched her with a worried frown. When Dinah got one of her “feelings” there was usually something to be concerned about. “Have you spoken with Ms. Barbara?”

“No,” Dinah said again. “I’m not sure what to tell her.”

“Do you believe this bad feeling you are having pertains to Dr. Kincaid?”

Dinah looked up at him, their dinner momentarily forgotten. She could hear Barbara moving around in her room and knew her mentor would be joining them soon. Her eyes cut to Helena who was sitting on the edge of the balcony. “I don’t know,” she finally replied. “I keep having these dreams. I had them before Barbara even met Kincaid. They don’t make sense. They’re mostly just shadows and emotions.”

“But they frighten you,” Alfred observed when she met his gaze again.

“Yeah,” she said softly. “I feel like I’m going to lose something. Something important.”

“Did you save me a piece?” Barbara rolled into the room. She’d changed into jeans and a navy blue hoodie.

“I thought you were having dinner with Dr. Kincaid?” Dinah asked, grateful for the distraction.

“That was hours ago. Then we went for a walk down by the park. Chatted a little.” Barbara picked up a piece of Helena’s favorite pizza and took a healthy bite. “It’s cold out there. I worked up an appetite, I guess.” She looked around, wondering where Helena had wandered off. She’d changed quickly, afraid Helena would leave before she had the chance to talk to her. Barbara had been pleasantly surprised to see her when she’d arrived, feeling some tension in her body unwind at the sight of her familiar features. She caught sight of the woman in question out on the balcony. “What is she doing out there?”

“Brooding, I suspect,” Alfred murmured with a hint of playfulness to his voice. “This is Ms. Helena we’re talking about.”

Barbara gave Alfred an amused look but then her gaze returned to Helena’s lonely figure. Something about the sight clutched her heart and squeezed.

“So what did you talk about?”

“Hmm?” Barbara glanced back at Dinah before taking another bite of her pizza, her gaze drawn back to Helena automatically.

“You and the doctor. What did you talk about?” Dinah asked.

Barbara felt a slight blush rise to her cheeks when she realized why Dinah was asking. The girl had picked up on her attraction and now assumed that Barbara was interested in pursuing the doctor. “Just stuff. Nothing major.”

“She married?”

“Dinah.” There was no mistaking the hint of warning in Barbara’s tone.

“Just asking. She’s really pretty.”

“I don’t know if she’s married or not. It didn’t come up.” Barbara grabbed a soda then moved away from the table no longer comfortable with the direction the conversation was taking. She wheeled over to the Delphi terminal, set her soda down, and booted up the system.

“So what’s on tap tonight?”

The sudden husky voice next to Barbara’s right ear made her jump. She turned her head and came face to face with a smirking Helena. The brunette winked before sauntering back toward the kitchen table and finishing her slice of pizza. Barbara shook her head, amazed as always how stealthy the younger woman could be.

Dinah noted that Helena had regained some of her composure as Helena sipped her soda. The teenager gave Alfred a look, which he answered with a dignified shrug.

Helena finally returned to Barbara before leaning over her, resting both her hands on the armrests of the redhead’s chair. “So,” she drawled. “Where do you want me?”

Barbara tipped her head back. She was picking up on something odd with Helena’s mood but couldn’t puzzle out what it was. “Looks like there’s a lot of activity tonight.” Her gaze skimmed the angles of Helena’s face at close range. “Where do you want to be?”

Helena ducked her head and looked down into her friend’s upturned features. She couldn’t help it. She smiled at that beautiful face looking up at her with such open trust. With a sigh, she tore her gaze away and focused it on the screen. “Looks like a robbery in progress three blocks from here. Might as well start with that.” Reaching up, Helena activated the communications link on her necklace.

“Be careful,” Barbara told her as the brunette moved toward the balcony.

“Aren’t I always?” Helena called back playfully over her shoulder before diving off the balcony and into the shadows below.

“No,” Barbara murmured. “I wish you were, though.”

“I’ve got studying to do,” Dinah said as she gathered a few pieces of pizza on her plate. She hefted her backpack and gave Alfred a smile. “See you, Alfred.”

He nodded once, his gaze promising her they would speak more later.

“Call me if you need anything,” Dinah shouted down to Barbara as she took the steps up to her room two at a time.

Alfred came around the table and walked over to Barbara. He stared at the tracking dot that represented Helena’s moving figure. “She certainly travels quickly,” he commented.

Barbara smiled. “Practically flies,” she agreed with an edge of pride in her voice.

“So is she?”

Barbara frowned, not sure of the question. “What?”

“Dr. Kincaid. Is she as pretty as Dinah says?”

The blush was back. Barbara looked away and put the communications signal on mute so Helena wouldn’t hear the conversation. “Why are you asking?”

“Merely curious.”

Barbara narrowed her eyes at him. “Alfred…”


“I like men.”

He smiled knowingly. “If you say so, Ms. Barbara.” He walked away and began to pick up after their meal. He could feel Barbara Gordon’s eyes on his back, though. Almost as much as he could sense her confusion.

Part 4

The shadows stretched out like long, demonic fingers across the warehouse floor.  Shot through with the reflection of blinking neon lights, there was something hellish about the empty, cavernous space. Draco liked it that way.

His oak desk and chair were the only pieces of furniture in the room. They were back in the far right corner, giving him a view of everything and the possibility of nothing but bare walls at his back.  Long since gone, the smell of packing crates and fish still hung thick in the air even after more than five years of only cold wind and dust inhabiting the space.  Outside, his guards patrolled the perimeter, keeping their eyes open for his enemies and allies alike.

Draco leaned back in his chair as he raked a well-manicured hand through his highlighted hair.  He was model pretty and he knew it, using his looks to lure young, unsuspecting women into his bed.  He seemed like the all American boy.  It always took them by surprise in those final moments when they realized the devil had the face of an angel.

The computer continued to run its search and he watched dispassionately as images and information scrolled across his screens.  His blue eyes were filled with visions of Barbara Gordon, from high school yearbook photos, to images of her years as a gymnast, to the articles expounding on the tragedy of her shooting.  Her life played out before him in print and pictures, but he knew he was only seeing what he was allowed to see.

No matter how deep he hacked, Draco knew there was so much more to Barbara Gordon than he would ever find. She’d scared him. And no one… no one had ever had that pleasure.

He wasn’t sure if he was aroused by the notion or infuriated by it.  Barbara Gordon made him feel.  Feel in a way nothing had for a long time.  Killing had lost its thrill.  It was no longer enough to buy the adrenaline rushes he craved. He’d been feeling empty, hollow. But Gordon… Gordon fascinated him.  She’d awoken his competitive spirit and he wanted to thank her for it.  To shower her in money.  To bed her till she begged for mercy.  Then he would choke the life from her pretty throat.

Draco rubbed his bottom lip with his thumb as he considered the possibilities.  He’d have Barbara Gordon, but he’d eliminate the people she cared about first.  In the end, he would be all she had left.

* * * * *

The roof was wet beneath Helena’s boots. She could smell more rain in the air as she stared down at the damp streets of New Gotham from her perch amongst the skyscrapers. The evening had started busy, but it had gotten quieter with each passing hour until criminal activity had all but ceased. Only a few muggings and a lame attempt at a carjacking interrupted what was on its way to being a dull night. She and Barbara barely spoke, neither sure what to say to one another.

The rain and silence suited Helena’s mood. Even though she craved the sound of Barbara’s voice purring in her ear, she wasn’t ready to share any more than she had last night. That had been too much already. So rather than speak and risk wading into the thorny territory of her feelings, Helena watched the city below and listened to the water drip around her. It was strangely peaceful, and for once, Helena hoped an uncomplicated night would stay that way.

“You’re quiet,” Barbara’s voice murmured, sliding down Helena’s hearing and warming her unexpectedly. Barbara had one of those voices that could make Helena’s body hot all over with a simple hello.

Helena’s lips quirked as she sighed. Barbara always seemed to be able to read her mind, and then force her to do the opposite of what she wanted to do. “Something wrong with that?” Helena drawled in return.

“Not wrong.” Barbara kept her voice low. “Just… unusual.”

“Am I boring you?”

There was a pause and Helena could hear a smile in Barbara’s voice when she replied. “I should be so lucky.”

They were quiet a moment.

“So tell me about this Kincaid person,” Helena finally said, biting the proverbial bullet.

“What do you want to know?” Barbara asked guardedly.

“What’s she look like?” Helena tried to keep her voice light, disinterested. She wondered if Barbara thought she’d failed as miserably as she did.


“I’m standing on a wet roof, waiting for some idiot to do something idiotic on a rainy and windy Thursday night. Humor me.” Helena put her hands on her hips, tossing her head to the side to twitch a wet lock of black hair away from her eyes.

“She’s… about five foot six. Blonde hair. Sky blue eyes,” Barbara said slowly.

“Sky blue eyes?” Helena almost choked on the description. “Jesus, Barbara.”

“That’s what color they are,” Barbara replied defensively.

“You sound like a romance novel.” Helena knew she was being harsh, but jealousy was swimming thick and heavy through her veins, clawing at the inside of her chest. “Fucking green-eyed monster,” she whispered.


“Nothing,” Helena answered quickly, rolling her eyes at herself.

“I think you’d like her, actually,” Barbara said after a moment. “You two remind me of each other a bit.”

“Smart? Beautiful? Badass?” Helena rattled off the list with a hint of humor, hoping to make up for her earlier tone.

“Modest,” Barbara added sarcastically for good measure.

Helena smiled. “What are you saying?”

“You…” Barbara sighed but Helena knew she wasn’t mad. “I swear… you live to push my buttons.”

Helen bit her lip to stifle the fierce grin that wanted to stretch across her features. “You have buttons? The stoic and staid Oracle has buttons other than those on her trusty keyboard and little teacher-inspired cardigans?”

“You are so going to get it when you get back here.”

“Promises, promises,” Helena teased, but she let herself imagine some delicious possibilities.

“Damn.” Barbara’s voice lost its humor in an instant.

“What’s wrong?”

“At my school. Someone tripped my silent alarm.”

“You think it’s Draco?” Helena asked, already moving, her long legs helping her jump from building to building with ease.

“I thought I warned the bastard off. Guess he changed his mind.”

“Then I’ll just have to change it back,” Helena announced before leaping off a ledge and into the darkness below.?

* * * * *

The wind pushed against the glass of the hotel window, whistling a little like a bad Halloween record as it tried to creep in around the edges.  Nick glared at the image of the city beyond, irritated that the sound was managing to give her the creeps.

With a sigh, she tossed the covers off and got to her feet.  It was nearing three in the morning and obviously if sleep were going to grace her with its embrace it would have done so already.  Quickly changing into a pair of faded jeans and a red, ribbed sweater, she decided she would satisfy a little of her curiosity about Draco and Barbara Gordon in one fell swoop.  She stuffed her feet into a pair of black boots and slipped on her leather jacket before heading off into the night.

The wind whipped harder once she was out in it. Nick kept her head down as she walked the streets, winding her way toward Barbara Gordon’s school.  It took fifteen minutes, five of which were spent retracing her steps when she had gotten lost. New Gotham was all beautiful architecture and warm sunlight during the day, but at night it was a maze of shadows, concrete and alleys.

Finally, Nick was on the roof, frowning at the low rent security system standing between her and what she wanted to know. Getting past it took far less time than her walk.  Nick dropped from the skylight and landed with a soft bang on a cafeteria table.  She crouched and waited, wondering if some bumbling security guard would manifest at the sound.

No one did.

With a hop, Nick dropped to the floor and gave her surroundings the once over.  The building was old but well-maintained.  An inner city school built probably sometime in the fifties with most of the décor appearing to have originated in the same era.  Why did Gordon work here?  She had money.  If teaching meant that much to her she could pursue it in a nice private school somewhere.  Yet she chose this place… this life. Gordon was either very admirable or very suspicious.

Nick quietly made her way down a carpeted hall past rows and rows of lockers. She had hated high school. Much smarter than the other kids, she had always been an outcast, ridiculed for having a brain. She was always picked last at dodge ball.  At basketball. At everything.

She’d kept to herself and had been mostly content to do so, only rearing her head when an underdog worse off than her needed defending. That was one thing she and Gordon seemed to have in common. That and a hatred for Draco.

They had talked for hours about the man.  About the pall his “business” had cast over the city.  About what he had done to her sister.

Nick swallowed at the sudden tightness in her throat.  Barbara had understood her feelings of impotent rage in a way that told Nick the redhead had been in her shoes, and proverbially walked far more than a mile in them.

When she reached the main office, a small set of lock picks easily managed the door.  She gripped the knob and turned, expecting musty air and the scent of old wood.

She wasn’t disappointed, but she got a healthy lungful of both as she sucked in a surprised breath as some grabbed her before flinging her with negligent ease into a wall. Nick hit hard enough to make her teeth rattle.  Her hands came up as she saw a figure lunging at her. They closed on leather, and she smelled sweat a second before a solid fist struck her face, nearly taking her down.

Her attacker was no frat boy this time.

Nick felt power in the blow the likes of which she’d never encountered.  She kicked out, catching her attacker in the stomach and sending them crashing into the receptionist’s desk.  A phone and files went flying, clattering onto the floor.  The steady hum of a dial tone joined jerky breaths as Nick launched over the desk and tried to gain the upper hand.

They tangled.  As they struggled, she realized she was fighting with another woman when her hand inadvertently closed over a sensitive part of anatomy.  Irrationally, she felt the urge to apologize.

Before she could say a word, she was thrown toward the principal’s office, hitting the window and shattering it into hundreds of shards.  The glass crunched under her back as hands clutched her lapels, jerking her off the floor and slamming her back into the door. Nick tasted blood as her hands searched frantically for a weapon.  Finding a phone, she grabbed it and swung hard, hearing a yelp for her effort. The grip on her loosened and Nick shoved her attacker away.

Moonlight filtering in through the windows revealed a beautiful face with a pair of inhuman eyes glittering back at her. Nick went still in shock, trying to process what she was seeing.  “Wait!” she shouted when the woman started for her again. “I’m not looking for trouble.”

“Found it anyway,” the woman purred.  “You part of Draco’s gang?  Did you think you could come in and hide some more drugs in here?”

Nick edged back, wincing as her palms were sliced on the shards of glass.  She reached up and grabbed a corner of the desk, easing herself up into a standing position.  “I don’t work for Draco,” she answered, her voice as cold and dark as the night outside.  “I thought you did.”

Those cat-like eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Then why are you breaking into this school at three in the morning?”

“Why are you protecting it?” Nick wiped at the trickle of blood she could feel at the corner of her mouth.

Her attacker cocked her head. “Who are you?”

“You first,” Nick answered.

Again those eyes studied her but no longer with predatory intent.  Suddenly they widened and black morphed into blue. “You’re Kincaid.”

Nick blinked, hearing relief and something like disgust in the other woman’s voice.

The dark haired woman tilted her head again as if she were listening to a voice only she could hear.  “Barbara is telling me not to kill you.” She sounded disappointed.

Nick sat down on a desk as she warily regarded the other woman.  “Barbara Gordon?”  She noticed the interesting necklace around the brunette’s neck, the matching earrings.  A comlink?  “You’re talking to Barbara?”

“She’s talking.  I’m listening.”  Helena strode toward the other woman, taking in her pale blue eyes and fair skin.  She was pretty, damn it.  And one scrappy as hell fighter, she admitted. Helena suspected the other woman was meta, and wondered if Kincaid had any clue about her own powers.  “What are you doing here?”

“Having a look around.  I wanted to know how Draco was getting his drugs in.  What are you doing here?”

Helena smiled.  “Making sure you weren’t one of Draco’s men. You tripped a hidden alarm.”

Nick swallowed. “You know my name…” She let the suggestion fade off into the darkness, watching the stranger curiously.

“You can call me Huntress,” Helena answered, smirking a little as she heard Barbara sigh in her ear.

“Huntress?” Nick got unsteadily to her feet. “What is it with this town? All these people running around with capes, gadgets, and silly little nicknames.”

“Silly little nicknames?” Helena growled. She ignored Barbara’s quiet ‘Oh boy’ murmured in her ear. “Let me tell you something, Doc,” Helena continued. “Our code names protect our real identities… protect the people we love from being hunted down by the people we try to stop.” She didn’t believe what she was saying for a second and had argued with Barbara countless times about it, but she wasn’t about to let this woman with the sky blue eyes come along and trash talk her chosen profession.

“People like the Riddler? The Penguin? I’ve been reading up on New Gotham. Your city is like a freaking circus.”

“Would that make me one of the freaks?” Helena asked, her voice low and lethal.

Nick hesitated. “I don’t know,” she said evenly. “What’s with the eyes?”

“The same thing that’s with your strength,” Helena replied. She was aware of Barbara’s sudden silence on the other end of their connection. “I’m super strong,” Helena admitted with no trace of vanity. “A lot of metas are. And you went toe to toe with me for at least a few seconds there.”

“You think I’m like you?” Nick blurted. She shook her head. “Not even close.”

“Hmm.” Helena started to say more, but a noise in the hallway made them both turn.

“Cops?” Nick mouthed.

Helena’s eyes turned to slits again.  She took a breath, smelling the stench of drugs on the new intruder.  She shook her head once before moving with purpose toward the hallway, feeling Kincaid fall in step behind her.

She found him planting a stash in a freshman locker and made a note of the number, determined to come back for the drugs later.  Helena continued to stay back, watching to see what he would do next.  He moved surely about the building, like a man who knew where he was going. Like he’d walked these halls a hundred times before.  A student?  A teacher? Or just a pusher dropping off his latest batch of poison?

He planted bundles in four more lockers. Helena mentally filed away their locations. She’d have Barbara run a search on the students. Clearly they were dealing, and Helena wanted to wring their stupid, young little necks.

Cold anger twisted in Helena’s guts as she followed, barely aware of Kincaid’s presence behind her.  She tracked him at a safe distance, making sure he left nothing else for the students.  When he detoured toward the English department, however, her cold anger went white hot.

“Wait here,” she warned Kincaid with a harsh whisper.  Without waiting for a reply, Helena went after him.

Nick warred with herself.  Stay or go?  She started to backtrack toward the drugs, determined to keep them out of the hands of unsuspecting and foolish students.  She’d made it down three rows of lockers, recovering one stash along the way, when unease wound through her guts and she stopped. Pure instinct had her spinning and bolting the way she’d come, a nameless fear racing up from her feet and clutching like a drowning man at her heart.

* * * * *

The intruder was in Barbara’s classroom.  Helena waited, her whole body twitching, for him to emerge. It was so hard to stay still when she wanted to do nothing but attack, but she was gaining vital intel about Draco’s operation inside the school. Instead of shutting down one bastard, maybe she could get them all.

“He’s in your room, Babs,” Helena spoke directly to the redhead on the other end of the link for the first time since entering the building.

A muffled curse was her response.

“Don’t go in.  Let’s call the police, have them do a sweep.”  Barbara began to type out a message to send off to the authorities.  An email from Oracle usually sent them running.

“I’m just going to take a quick look,” Helena replied.

“Where is Kincaid?”

“I told her to stay put.”

“That’s great advice, why don’t you listen to it?”  Barbara drawled as she hit send.

Despite the circumstances, Helena smiled.  She flattened against the nearest wall, blending with the shadows. “She’s pretty. I see why she’s got you hot and bothered.”

Back at the clock tower, Barbara’s head came up and she sighed. “Helena…”

“Just making an observation,” Helena answered easily, even though she was using her flippant remarks to hide the pain she was in. Aside from having a hell of a right hook, seeing her competition for Barbara’s affections in the flesh had been a blow to her ego as well.

Helena went silent as the intruder emerged, closing the door to the classroom quietly before he sprinted away.

“He’s gone.  I’m going to go have a look.”


“I’m going to stick my head in the door. That’s all.  I promise,” she said with a hint of exasperation. “I want to make sure the police don’t find a stash of drugs in there. Draco could be setting you up.”

“Why don’t we let Reese handle this? The first patrol car is pulling up at the front door now.”

“Reese is as pretty as a picture but as a dumb as rock.  Just give me a second.”  Helena moved to the door.  With a quick glance down the hall, she made sure she was alone before turning the knob.

Then all she knew was chaos and pain. Followed by nothing at all.