FANDOM: Birds of Prey
RATING: PG15 (to be safe)
DISCLAIMERS: I don't own Birds of Prey or any character created by WB used in this story. I'm making no profit on this and wouldn't want to - as it's 'borrowed gods'. This is pure fun - and an entertaining way of passing the time when one is bored out of ones mind.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: English is still not my first language, so despite 'beta-ing' please excuse any strange grammar or wordings...
SECOND AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a stand-alone story - and as yet there are no plans for a sequel.
SPECIAL THANKS: This story is dedicated to Antipodean, my beta-reader who has done a terrific job on my stories. Thank you!!! :)
SUMMARY: an alternate life story...
ARCHIVING: Jinx's Storyland at www.geocities.com/jehandira.
FEEDBACK: as you like it, at...
She slid along the dark and narrow corridor like an evil shadow coming to prey upon the unwary souls of men. She was the Huntress - and her prey... was indeed unwary.
He was sitting at his desk in his office, in front of a mass of windows. The vibrating light from the computer screen was the only light in the room, reflecting itself in the windows behind him.
There was something strained about the man, a desperate look on his face, and when he reached for the phone he did so with shaking fingers.
His fingers never reached the buttons. He looked up and noticed her in the open door. It was the last thing he ever saw - and he died with a look of terror on his face.
Some people were easier to kill than others. She preferred those who resisted; to kill the others almost felt like an insult to her skills.
She made her way to the roof of the Court House. The building was dark; everyone had gone home - except one, who now was dead.
The Court House was not the tallest building in the city, but it was the tallest building at the centre and anyone standing on the roof had a perfect view of the main squares, the main streets and the buildings at the centre. The building was erected on a square base, rising like a phallus towards the sky with a dome, the color of a white pearl, on the top. It was a mixture of a Greek temple, a skyscraper and a mosque. She had often wondered what the architect had been thinking, creating it - although it was her favorite spot to spend nights at. She usually stood at the base of the dome and looked out at the human part of the city; watching, observing the lives of those moving about below, unaware of her presence.
Tonight it was only fitting that she would stand here - looking out at the city like a victorious predator. Her prey had been defeated, lying dead in his office only a few floors below the pearly dome.
She didn't stay long though. There was someplace she needed to be. Someone waited for her, to congratulate her on another successful death.
"When you come back I have another mission for you. Hopefully it will be your last. It's time that we show the humans who this city belongs to..."
The city was divided in two parts: the east and the west. The east belonged to the meta-human community and the west to the ordinary humans.
Huntress moved across the city in fluid motions: scaling the high, dark buildings of the west until she reached the City square, the boarder between the two parts. From there she walked with long, purposeful steps, in between the buildings, towards the east.
Those late night citizens of the east who were out on the streets carefully avoided her. They knew her, if only by name. They feared her - as they should. They never knew when she would come for them in particular, or if she was just in a bad mood and needed someone to beat up to get release from the anger.
Those standing in her way parted as she came nearer and she heard their whispers in the dark: "It's her... It's Huntress..."
The east part of the city was in turn divided into different zones: each zone was ruled by a different faction of meta-humans, who had their own leaders. Those leaders were part of a Council, which was governed by an appointed high commander.
Usually the citizens of the east and the west were in conflict with each other, but there had been a truce for some months now. Huntress, and everyone else, was only waiting for something to happen, to blow up into conflict again. Humans and meta-humans could never co-exist with each other - that was her opinion and she would do anything to prevent the humans getting enough power to rule the whole city.
Humans ruled the west part of the city. Some meta-humans were forced to seek out employment there, due to the lack of organization, education and jobs in the east. They lived in constant fear that someone would discover what they were and expose them. The mayor of the west was outwardly promoting peace between the two races, but the city - the whole city - was corrupted. There was a general anarchy that had been spreading amongst the higher professions for more than five years. It affected the citizens and led them to become mistrusting and violent towards each other. Although there were whispers in the dark of a savior; whispers bringing hope to both humans and meta-humans alike - to Huntress' dismay. They called the savior Oracle, but no one seemed to know who he or she was - only that Oracle fought against corruption and saved the innocent.
Huntress had her own reason to hate Oracle. The unknown vigilante was the one who had been behind the murder of her mother.
"I have a mission for you."
Helena Kyle walked with long, but still languid steps towards the City Hall. It was a bright and sunny day, with blue sky and a warm breeze, but as usual she was dressed all in black; black boots, black trousers, a black top and a long, black leather coat. It suited her mood.
She stopped at the City square, at the foot of the wide stair leading to a large, white building atop a terrace. City Hall it read in golden letters above the massive doors and then the year the building was constructed.
She wasn't much interested in history, but on her way up the stairs she noticed that the building was in dire need of repair. The white stone was cracked and even molding in some places at the base. The glory of the City Hall was long past - like the rest of New Gotham. New in this sense was misleading - the city looked more like it belonged to a long forgotten ruined civilization than to a modern culture of high technology.
There was a war going on - and wars had a tendency to bankrupt empires, if they ran too long.
The war being waged in New Gotham was seven years old, but for Helena it had begun before that. She had only been eleven when she learned about the cruelties of mankind and she had been trained as a warrior since she was thirteen.
And now she was on a mission.
"Excuse me", she said to the young woman in reception, behind the wooden counter. The interior of the City Hall was in an even worse state than the exterior: pale markings on the walls revealed missing paintings, the wallpapers were fading and the ceiling - once white, but now grayish - was cracked. The counter needed a paintjob and the red carpet on the high, winding stair leading to the second floor was stained and in a poor condition.
The young woman behind the counter looked up from the documents she was filing through. "Yes? Can I help you?"
"I've come about the job as..."
"Oh, yes." The woman rose from her seat and leaned forward across the desk, pointing towards a second stair further back in the hall, almost hidden in a recess behind some tall plants. "You can use the elevators at the other end, but if you use that stair it will take you almost directly to the office. I will let the Councilor know you are here, but you are a little early so you might have to wait."
"It's fine", she said and left the counter.
"I have a mission for you... It's the most important mission of your entire career. If you succeed in this there's nothing that can stop us from winning the war."
"Tell me what I must do. I'll kill anyone."
"Oh, my dear - it's not only about the killing. This one... she needs to suffer - and suffer hard!"
She turned to the right entering a corridor when she reached the top of the stairs; to the left there was a door with the sign Restrooms on it.
The corridor was wide and bright, letting in the sunlight from round windows in the ceiling. The office she was looking for was placed further down the hall; there was a nametag on the wall to the right of it, but it was blank.
The door was open and Helena could clearly hear the discussion going on inside the room. She didn't know much about the woman she needed to see or why it was so important that she'd be stopped, but the information she'd been given from her mentor was enough to convince her New Gotham would be better off without her.
Her mentor had never led her astray. She was the only woman - the only person - Helena had ever trusted in her life. Except for her mother.
But her mother had died and the world had turned into a battlefield.
"No, no and no", a woman said on the other side of the wall. "I will not let him compromise on issues like that. If we want to change things for the better we can't..."
"And what would you have us do?" an angry male voice said. "They kill us off, one by one! It has to stop somewhere and I say it's enough!"
A loud thud was heard, as if someone had smashed a wooden surface.
"My third partner was killed the other day", the man went on. "I've had enough. It's not about justice anymore. It's about survival. We are losing this... You are the only one who can influence him enough to make him pass the bill."
"It's always about justice", the woman said firmly. "If we forget that... Reese", she suddenly pleaded. "You were never so vengeful before."
The man sighed. "I told you - my third partner was killed. I almost died. Good people fear to walk the streets. The city is split into war zones... What are we supposed to do? The government doesn't care. Someone needs to do something. "
"Killing won't solve anything", the woman said, sounding weary. "It will only feed more killings. At the moment there's a truce. If we pass a bill making it possible to legalize bounty hunting..." She silenced.
No one said anything for several moments.
"Fine, then", the man - Reese - finally said and there was a scrapping sound as a chair was pushed out. "I'll see you later."
A moment later a black man exited the office. He stopped, a little startled as he noticed Helena, then glanced back into the room and left without another word. Helena followed him with her eyes as he walked away. She knew the man - or at least knew off him. He was a cop, one of the very few who couldn't be bought. She respected him fully for that - but she would kill him without a second thought if he came too close to her territory.
She turned to the office and forgot about the man - he wasn't important at that moment. Instead she stopped in the doorway, watching the woman sitting behind the desk. There was a window behind her, letting in the sunlight; the bright afternoon light shone upon her and seemed to create a halo around her. Red hair was gleaming...
The woman was leaning slightly forward, rubbing the spot between her eyes with a few fingers and holding a pair of glasses in the other hand. She sighed tiredly and then leaned back in her chair, suddenly noticing Helena.
"This woman holds the key to the war. If she is left to live the meta-human community will be destroyed, wiped out... You must find out her weaknesses, what she knows, who she works with - everything about her."
"Fine. Who is she?"
"Her name is Barbara Gordon..."
Her eyes were green. They stared at her with an almost shocked expression, as if the woman behind them was seeing a ghost.
Helena also felt queasy seeing the woman behind the desk. It was a totally unexpected feeling and something that shook her to the core. She had never felt fear before, but what she felt looking at this woman was just that. I know her, she thought. The child within her - the child she had spent twelve years obliterating - wanted to rush forward and throw herself around the neck of this woman.
"Helena...?" the woman in the chair whispered. Her voice wouldn't have been audible to anyone else, but Helena wasn't like other people. She was meta-human, with talents that exceeded most people's comprehension. She had extraordinary strength and speed, enhanced hearing, smell and sight - she was a super human, born with abilities that made ordinary people fear and hate her.
There was a war going on - and whatever this woman said about justice, it was all about survival.
"Yes, my name is Helena." She moved into the room, using all her willpower to control her sudden emotional turmoil. "I've come about the job as assistant..."
The redheaded woman still stared at her, with pale cheeks and with an expression in her green eyes Helena couldn't read; there seemed to be pain and relief and guilt and... a careful joy. It was such a heavy mix of emotions Helena found it difficult to meet her gaze. Her instincts told her to turn around and flee, something she had never done in her entire life, but her ingrained need to complete a mission made her stay.
"Helena, you don't...?" the other woman said, with a question in her eyes. She silenced and seemed to regain her composure. "Yes, of course", she resumed in a different kind of voice, formal and businesslike. "My mistake, I took you for someone else. Please sit down." She gestured towards the empty chair in front of the desk, where Helena guessed detective Reese had been sitting a few minutes before.
"You are Barbara Gordon?" Helena asked, arching an eyebrow as she silently, but at the same time carelessly, moved across the floor to sit down. Close up the other woman's eyes seemed even greener than before and now they held a scrutinizing expression Helena found difficult to meet without twitching. Not even her mentor could look at her like that and make her want to twitch.
"Yes. And you are...?" Barbara Gordon arched an eyebrow at her, putting down the glasses at the desk beside the computer.
"Helena Kyle", she said, wondering if she should extend her hand, but Barbara didn't make an effort to greet her in such a way so she resisted the impulse - again wondering what it was with the other woman that made her feel so young... and vulnerable. She was a trained assassin and one of the best in her profession, if not the best - to lose her composure and her cool hadn't happened to her since... Since her first kill. "I've come about the job as..."
"As personal assistant - yes, yes..." Barbara Gordon waved her hand in a lofty gesture. "It's yours if you want it..."
Helena blinked, again taken by surprise. Her mentor had prepared her, emphasizing to her that Barbara Gordon had a suspicious nature and most likely would want several interviews with her before hiring her. "Just like that?" she asked.
"Not just like that", Barbara said and picked up her glasses; she put them on and turned to look at the computer screen. There was something ironic in her voice. "You're the only applicant we've had. I take whatever I can get..."
"And what about the job description?"
"Your main duties will be to assist me..." Barbara turned from the computer to look at her. There was a sign on her desk in golden letters, saying: Barbara Gordon, Councilor. "It will include making tea - no coffee; organize meetings and some administrative work..." Again she waved her hand. "Don't worry - you'll learn as you go along." She frowned slightly. "I hope you don't have problem with authority? If I give you an order I expect it to be obeyed..."
"No problems", Helena said with an indifferent shrug, inwardly gritting her teeth. She wasn't much for orders - unless they entailed killing.
"Good." Barbara smiled and again Helena was shaken by the revelation that her instinct was to run towards this woman and throw her arms around her - to hold her and to never let go. She rose from the chair.
"I guess that's it. When do I start?"
"Why don't you come for dinner at my place tonight, and we can get more acquainted with each other? It's a very stressful job and we're going to work very closely together. Better if we get to know each other a bit first. Then you can start tomorrow."
Again Helena had been taken unawares. The woman didn't play by the rules. And if I have other plans? she thought wryly, but realized Barbara Gordon wasn't a woman you turned down easily. She nodded, but couldn't help asking: "And if you realize you don't like me?"
Barbara laughed. "Then I'll fire you after two weeks - for some minor fault you never knew you committed. Or probably never committed..." She smiled. "Don't worry. I already like you - you have kind eyes."
Helena blinked, feeling a slight shiver of something unknown creeping up her spine. She didn't know what to say. "See you then", she muttered gruffly and left the room.
I can't work with this, she thought as she paced back and forth in her flat above the Dark Horse bar - which was a bar and a restaurant, but also a front cover for the headquarter of Gotham City's largest meta-human faction. I can't work with this... She knew she must contact her mentor to cancel the mission, however hard it was for her to admit to failure. Her mentor could assign Lady Shiva instead, she could have it; Shiva would be pleased to see Huntress fail in something.
Still... Some part of her detested the idea of giving up. She had never failed a mission and this was the single most important mission in her life. Why would she give that up? Why would she betray everything she had ever striven for, the only thing she lived for, revenge?
Humans had taken her mother; killed her for no good reason except that she was different. Her father... Her father had abandoned her mother for the same reason and then turned away from his only child.
She had seen her mother killed when she was eleven - she didn't remember much from a time before that. She remembered her mother: a lovely woman hoisting her in the air, showing her tricks only a meta-human could do. She remembered warmth and laughter, but she didn't remember how to laugh. She hadn't felt warmth since her mother bled to death in her arms.
They had come and taken her away; they had hurt her and conducted experiments on her, to see if she was like her mother. She hadn't been at that time, but their tests had brought it out in her. Their tests had obliterated the last of her happy memories and created a thing of anger and rage. She had lived like a caged animal, until her mentor took her in and gave her a new purpose, a new life. Her mentor had saved her from hell and showed her the light at the end of the tunnel. "We are all created for a purpose, my dear. Yours... is to kill."
She had never questioned that. She was a killer to the bone, but she only killed those who deserved to die. Those who killed meta-humans and tormented them in places like Arkham Asylum.
Another part of her knew there was another reason she didn't contact her mentor to cut short the mission.
People feared her. Whether it was her eyes when she was Huntress, or the plain knowledge that they were going to die, people trembled when she was near. No one - ever - had told her she had kind eyes.
Her mentor had given her some minor information about Barbara Gordon's private life, but Helena usually played her killings by ear. She wasn't like Lady Shiva, who planned her eliminations in minuscule detail. Huntress preferred the thrill of the unknown - the danger and the possibility of standing face to face with her own death. She was like an animal, but a predator - cornering her prey, playing with it, feeling the power her prey's fear instilled in her in a more conscious way than an animal would.
She preferred the unknown - it always brought a mixture of excitement to the act of killing. That particular evening the unknown also brought something she had never expected to feel: fear. And she would have been calmer had she known what it was she feared so much.
She pressed the door bell to the entrance of Barbara Gordon's residence in the half ruined Clock Tower. The tower had once been a landmark in the city; a symbol for wealth and prosperity - and for peace between metas and ordinary humans she had heard someone say, although she didn't believe in that - but it hadn't lasted long. Only six months after the tower's construction the battle between meta-humans and the rest of the citizens in New Gotham had flared and the Clock Tower had been the first target.
No one knew who had done it - metas or humans - but someone had placed an explosion on the top of the tower and blasted the clock to infinity. The tower still stood - a dark, tall pillar rising like an old, enormous obelisk from an ancient time in the middle of the city. The top had been mended, but the tower was charred and blackened and on moonlit nights one could still see the gleaming, naked steel - like the exposed skeleton of a mechanical giant.
Helena wondered who would want to live in a place like that, but when an old man with a British accent opened the door and let her in she had to reconsider her opinion. The place was well kept, almost cozy. It wasn't big, but the place was clean and orderly; it seemed like any other ordinary flat one could get in the city.
"This way, Miss", the old butler said and led the way through the hall and into a lounge. There was a soft light in the room, coming from two smaller lamps on the wall and from lit candles. There was a fireplace, but it was cold and dark; in front of it two armchairs stood, with a coffee table in between.
Closer to the entrance a round table was set for two. Barbara Gordon was sitting behind it, in conversation with a young, slight man who nodded at something she said when Helena walked in. Helena immediately recognized him: Gibson Kafka, meta-human and owner of a junk shop called No Man's Land - which in actuality was the front cover for the headquarters of another faction of meta-humans.
The young man seemed to notice her presence and nervously glanced over his shoulder. She noticed fear in his eyes as he recognized her. He knew her, not only as Helena Kyle, but also as Huntress. She held his eyes, letting him know that if he whispered the tiniest word to Barbara Gordon about who she was she would kill him instantly. As a matter of fact, she might kill him anyway; he had the annoying habit of sniffing in the air around her every time she was near. It bugged her.
"Yes, I will remember", he said, nodding at Barbara. His words were a mockery, although said without sarcasm: his meta-human talent was to remember everything, in whatever way he experienced it.
"Bye, Gibson", Barbara said with a surprising softness when the nervous meta-human made a slight bow, before he hurriedly passed Helena and disappeared behind her.
"Your second guest is here, Miss Barbara", the old man said and Barbara nodded, seeing Helena.
"Thank you, Alfred. Will you please serve the food in ten minutes?"
"As you wish." The butler bowed beside Helena and left them.
"Welcome - to my humble home", Barbara said, smiling slightly at Helena. Helena held her gaze without returning the smile.
"Gibson is meta-human", she said.
"Yes. He is a friend." Barbara nodded, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for a human to befriend a meta-human. "So are you..."
Helena felt a sudden chill down her spine. "What do you mean?" she said harshly.
"I know a meta when I see one", Barbara said, shrugging.
"And you still hired me?" Helena said. Barbara narrowed her eyes at her.
"Do you say your abilities as an employee have less worth because you are a meta-human?"
"Of course not", Helena said offended.
"No, neither do I", Barbara said, gesturing. "Do you really believe I would discriminate against others... being confined to this?"
At first Helena didn't understand what the woman was talking about, but then Barbara's chair moved away from the table and she realized Barbara Gordon sat in a wheelchair.
Her mentor hadn't said anything about the victim being handicapped. Not that it made a difference.
"Discrimination comes in many shapes", she said, noncommittally. "What happened?" she added, realizing she genuinely wanted to know.
Barbara tilted her head to one side and gazed at her. "You are not from around here, are you?"
Helena hesitated. "I've been abroad for several years", she said, lying. She had never left Gotham City.
"I figured, otherwise you would have known. Or maybe you were too young to remember." Barbara looked at her with a sharp expression, as if she was trying to read her age - or her thoughts. "I was shot", she suddenly said and Helena had to catch herself not to show her surprise. "The bullet lodged in my spine, damaging my nerves. I went into a coma for two months and when I woke up... When I woke up there was an uproar going on and Gotham hasn't been what it was since. That was seven years ago."
Seven years ago Helena had been sixteen. By then she had been three years with her mentor, being trained both mentally and physically to become Huntress. She had made her first kill when she was seventeen.
"I was lucky", Barbara said with an almost indifferent shrug. "I could have died."
You will die, Helena thought absentmindedly. She watched the woman in the strange looking wheelchair and felt uncharacteristically curious about her life and about her as person.
"Yes?" Barbara asked, arching an eyebrow at her.
"Why do you mingle with metas?"
"Why shouldn't I? Metas aren't any less than humans... If we want to get along and create peace in this city we need to learn to trust each other. And to show each other respect."
"Never trust her words. She pretends to be a friend of metas, but secretly she's plotting our doom..."
In her world there was only one way of looking at things: people hated metas, metas hated humans. Metas who spend time with humans were traitors and humans who spend time with metas were not to be trusted. This was how her world was constructed and there was no way beyond that.
She nodded. "Not all people see it that way."
"Not all metas see it that way either", Barbara said dryly. She paused, glancing at Helena, and then smiled. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to start talking about work right away, although there are some things we need to discuss later on. My work is my passion and this conflict, this... war" - she made a face - "is very close to my heart. Please, sit down." She gestured to one of the chairs around the table. Alfred will... Oh, here he is."
Helena turned and noticed the older butler entering the room, pushing a trolley set with food before him. He glanced at her with a wink.
"You'd be her new personal assistant, isn't that so?" he said. When she nodded he went on: "You must see that she remembers to eat. I charge you with it."
"Alfred..." Barbara said, but he straightened and gave her a stern look.
"Not one word, Miss Barbara. You know you have a hospital bill as proof..."
"Well... guilty as charged", she said with a sigh. She glanced at Helena, explaining: "I had a breakdown a year ago and ended up in the hospital... because I had forgotten to eat for three days."
Helena wondered how anyone could ever forget to eat. She didn't have much to live for, but food was one of those things. As a matter of fact, her stomach growled at the aroma from the food on the trays.
Alfred sniffed. "You're worse than a kid; how did you manage to forget to eat?"
"I was busy." Barbara looked at Helena and winked. "Let him grumble, he doesn't know what it's like to work twenty six hours a day..."
"I do take care of you - I believe it's full time work, Miss Barbara", the butler said in a respectful tone of voice.
"Alright, alright - I can't win, arguing with you. Please, set the table before our guest dies of hunger..." Barbara glanced at Helena with an amused look and Helena realized she had heard her growling stomach.
"Well", she said, feeling a strange need to explain herself, "I eat like a horse five times a day, but I'm always hungry."
"It doesn't show a bit on you", Barbara said with a sigh Helena couldn't tell if it was genuine or fake. "I'm jealous - if I eat a bit more than my diet allows I gain several pounds..."
The butler sniffed again, but remained silent.
Helena shook her head and sat down opposite Barbara, noticing the sudden affection in the other woman's eyes. It made her heart flip in sudden alarm.
"I bet you just love licorice covered strawberries", her new boss said.
"I... How did you know?" Helena's surprise was genuine. "I love them."
Barbara grinned. "Me too. I had a friend once who couldn't understand why I would spoil strawberries like that."
Helena found herself grinning. "My mother couldn't understand it either", she heard herself say. "She said it was a crime against the whole berry-nation."
"Yes", Barbara said softly, holding her eyes. Helena felt a shiver along her back, alarming her, but she couldn't look away. Something in the other woman's eyes, in her face, seemed to bind Helena to her. The green light of Barbara's eyes was specked with gold; like a soft, warm current melting the bitter cold of all the lonely nights Helena had experienced.
She's human, she desperately thought, feeling fear and anxiety mingle with excitement. She's human - and she's my mission...
"Chicken in a creamy chili peanut sauce, with slices of bananas", Alfred said, lifting the lid on one of the trays. "It's a recipe I've been dying to try out, served with wild rice... and wine."
"It smells... good", Helena said, breaking eye-contact with Barbara. She poured herself some wine and then realized it was good manners to pour for the other person as well and filled Barbara's glass.
"Thanks", the other woman said in a low voice, still looking at her with that soft, affectionate look that Helena couldn't meet too long.
The butler excused himself and left them. Helena looked at the food on her plate, trying to regain her inner balance and the cool efficiency that was her trademark. She was the one making other people nervous... Trembling each time a beautiful woman looked at her wasn't what she was used to.
"A toast", Barbara said and lifted her glass. "To us and to a successful working relationship."
Helena lifted her glass, let it ring against Barbara's and drank deeply, trying to hide her confusion. She was in a strange situation; she was supposed to be Barbara's assistant, her obedient employee, but neither compliance nor obedience was her thing. She must suppress her immediate responses of anger and pride and silently analyze Barbara's motives and behavior. It wasn't really her thing; Lady Shiva could have done it so much better.
Suddenly she wondered why her mentor had chosen her for this mission.
"So, tell me about yourself."
"What?" Helena reacted without thinking and then swore inwardly. "Oh, sorry, I was lost in thought. Myself?" She shrugged. "There's not much to tell. My mother died when I was young and I was raised by an aunt in Europe..."
"Oh, I'm sorry about your mother", Barbara said, seeming genuinely to mean it.
Helena shrugged. "I don't remember much of her. Sometimes..." She caught herself, realizing it wouldn't be safe for her to discuss her mother with this woman. She didn't know why, but she instinctively felt she needed to be careful in private conversation with Barbara Gordon.
Not even her mentor had managed to make her talk about her mother.
"I don't remember", she said flatly and drank some more wine. "It was a long time ago."
Barbara nodded. "I understand", she said softly. She traced the rim of her glass with her fingers in a slow, unconscious gesture; Helena didn't know why, but watching the other woman she felt it to be an oddly sensual act. "I lost someone too, a long time ago."
Despite her roughness and years of hardening her heart Helena instantly felt compassion for the other woman. There was such pain and sadness in those green eyes - flecked with gold - that it affected even her. She didn't want the other woman to experience such grief; maybe it was because it was similar to her own loss, to her own pain, that she could connect to the woman in front of her.
"I'm... sorry", she said and felt stupid saying it. Those words were so insubstantial, they didn't mean anything. They had meant something when Barbara said it, she realized. She had felt the other woman's warmth and understanding - she had felt Barbara's want to ease her pain.
"As you said", Barbara said with a strained smile, "it was a long time ago." She frowned. "Not that it lessens the pain..."
Helena shook her head. "It doesn't."
"Well... What about Europe, then?" Barbara filled her plate and begun to eat, glancing up at Helena. "Where in Europe did you live?"
She always used the same story if anyone asked where she'd been raised. Her mentor had provided all the information needed to give her a perfectly plausible background. The only thing she had to be careful about was not to give too many details about things she actually hadn't seen, but her stories were based on eyewitness accounts and would hold up on close scrutiny - although maybe not, if someone actually made it their business to check on her every word.
She wasn't like Lady Shiva, who had taken contracts for other clients and traveled the world on her missions.
"Oh - you speak Spanish?"
"Spanish, Italian and French", she said truthfully.
"Interesting", Barbara said musingly. "Tell me more", she asked.
Helena plunged into her fabled stories about her traveling aunt, who tutored her on her own and made her see the great, old cities of Southern Europe.
"She fell in love with Florence", she said. "She even bought a house there and we spent every summer there."
"It sounds so romantic", Barbara said. "So different from here..." She smiled, winking at her. "What about the boys, then? You must've had several following you around. Handsome Italians... romantic nights in Paris..."
"I was never much interested in boys", Helena said with a shrug. "I believe I followed my aunt's example and fell in love with cities."
Barbara laughed. "And now you are here! That's what I call a bad trade..." She grinned. "Or is this a lost-cause-love, perhaps?"
Again Helena felt herself grin, she couldn't help it when Barbara looked at her that way. It pulled at something in her chest - something unfamiliar and almost painful, although it made her smile. "It's without a doubt a lost cause. We women know how to pick them, right?"
"Tell me about it", Barbara sighed and refilled Helena's and then her own glass. Their dinner was long since finished and Alfred had even served dessert: oven baked pears covered in mint chocolate. "I've had my share..."
"Oh, yeah?" Helena wondered curiously, leaning slightly forward across the table. For someone as tongue-tied as herself she had done most of the talking, while Barbara had been a very attentive listener. Usually Helena went through her stories of Europe quickly, but Barbara had picked up on small details in her personal life - things that were true about her as a person and had nothing to do with her fake trips to Europe or her made-up aunt - and had made her talk about them. Now she wanted to know about Barbara. "You have a tall, dark and handsome, mysterious guy lurking in your closet?"
Barbara laughed at that; a sudden, spontaneous laughter that almost filled her eyes with tears. "Oh, God", she said when she was done. "I haven't laughed so much in a long, long time..." She dried her cheeks and met Helena's slightly confused look. "Oh, I'm sorry. It's just... You were so very right. There is a very dark, handsome and mysterious guy hiding in my closet. Two of them, as a matter of fact." She smiled affectionately. "But... as all mysterious guys - they come and go. The first I lost and the second..." She looked down at her legs and patted her thighs a little. "See... Dick was too troubled to stick around."
"Well, then..." Helena lifted her glass. "To tall, dark and handsome - may they stay away from Gotham and save our tender hearts!" She grinned when Barbara laughed and they made their toast. She drank, not letting her eyes off the other woman. She is really beautiful, she thought, distractedly. "Don't you have someone now?" she asked.
"Well, I do... kind of. He's... He's very kind."
"Sounds boring", Helena objected.
"Not at all", Barbara hurriedly said. "I think he's going to ask me to marry him soon..." she added thoughtfully.
That'll have to be real soon, Helena thought. "You don't seem very happy about it", she pointed out.
Barbara sighed. "Men..." she said. "They have an ability to mess things up, just being around." She frowned. "Would you tell the ones you love everything about yourself?"
"I don't love anyone", Helena said dryly before she had time to think.
Barbara narrowed her eyes at her and Helena expected her to say something along the lines of how tragic that was, but she only shook her head.
"Honesty... Do you believe it's always best to tell the truth?"
"Is this a trick question?" Helena asked, frowning. "You won't fire me tomorrow if I say no?"
Barbara smiled a little, but the smile didn't reach her eyes. "Relationships are tricky..." was all she said.
"That's why I stay away from them", Helena said, shrugging.
"Maybe you are right. Maybe that's just the way to do it. Life's too complicated anyway." Barbara was silent for a moment and then she looked up, nodding towards the dark fireplace. "Come, let's move to a more comfortable setting", she said, indicating the armchairs.
Helena rose and grabbed their glasses and the bottle of wine. She glanced at Barbara's wheelchair and noticed that the woman didn't seem to use her hands to wheel it about. And it didn't look like any other wheelchair she had seen.
"What do you know about my profession?" Barbara asked when they had settled before the cold fireplace; Helena in the armchair and Barbara on the other side of the coffee table, still in her wheelchair.
Helena remembered what her mentor had told her. "You work to promote peace in Gotham City, by efforts to reconcile the different factions of meta-humans and ordinary humans..."
"It sounds like you are reciting a newspaper article", Barbara said dryly.
Helena shrugged. "Well, honestly... I needed a job and I noticed your add. The employment didn't seem too difficult, so I thought I'd give it a try. I don't know much about what you do", she added as an afterthought - which was perfectly true. She was never much interested in what went on in the human part of New Gotham.
Barbara nodded thoughtfully. "I'm hired as an independent councilor in matters of conflicts between meta-humans and humans. I've been in the same place for almost six years, advising several mayors on these issues. Sometimes they listen to me, sometimes... they don't." She paused. "I receive constant threats to my life - and so did my previous personal assistant. You have to know this..." Barbara glanced at Helena. "Your predecessor quit because his daughter was kidnapped and almost beaten to death. She survived, though, and is now recovering in the hospital, but... Obviously her father didn't want to risk losing her or someone else he loves. I'm in a risky business and everyone connected to me in some way may be in danger."
"I don't have anyone else but me to consider", Helena said, fully aware of the beaten girl's status. It was one of her mentor's lackeys who had seen to it that she ended up in the hospital. It had been part of the plan to put Helena in her position at the City Hall. "And I know how to take care of myself", she added.
Barbara nodded again, as if she knew this. "I figured", she said. "You have the walk and the look of a fighter..."
Helena lifted her glass to sip on her wine, to hide the fact that she was surprised by how easy the other woman looked through her. "I thought you said I have kind eyes", she pointed out.
Barbara smiled slightly, but didn't comment on her remark. "I'm worried about Gibson", she said instead.
"The young man who was leaving when I arrived?" Helena asked, trying not to sound too interested. "Why?"
"Because he is meta-human and my friend." Barbara glanced at her, again tracing the rim of the glass in her hand with her fingers in an unconscious gesture and again Helena felt a strange pull in her stomach noticing the soft touch of those fingers. "Since you are new in town I'm not sure how much you are aware of what's going on here..."
"I know the city is split in two parts and there's a struggle for survival going on", she said.
"Well, yeah..." Barbara said softly, looking into the flames of a candle standing close by. She was silent for several moments. "Gibson knows almost everything about what's going on in this city... He knows who's who and who did what, but although we discuss how to bring metas and humans closer together on a friendly basis he never betrays other metas. He never talks about details that would compromise the safety of his fellow companions or other metas in his part of the city. And I would never ask him to", she added. She looked at Helena. "Do you understand?" she said, with an almost vulnerable look in her eyes. "I fear he will die because he is my friend and sometimes..." She sighed, gently shaking her head. "I hate this place. I really do. There's so much death and despair..."
"Why do you stay, then?" Helena wondered softly, strangely caught up in the sadness of the other woman. She thought of Gibson and of her previous thoughts of killing him. Maybe, just maybe, she would let him live. He was harmless.
"Because I remember..." Barbara paused. "I remember the beauty of this place. I have a vision of how this city could be an example to the world - where we embrace the differences of each other and respect life, instead of... annihilating things we fear. I know this city could be a great place, where the meta-human community and humans live side by side in peace, making use of each other's knowledge and shaping a great future for New Gotham - a truly New Gotham City. No more war..." She sighed again. "I'm so tired of warring..."
Helena didn't know what to say. She wasn't sure how to react to the other woman's words.
"This woman... she hates us. She hates meta-humans the way the night fears and hates the morning light. She won't stop until we are all obliterated, wiped out from the face of earth... She will torture us, with a plastic smile on her face, while she pretends to cry for our misery. But her tears are tears of hatred. In the end, my dear, she will show her true face... And we will all know the devil."
Helena's abilities usually made it easy for her to see through a person; to make her feel the true intention behind their words. She would know if a person was lying or told the truth, but her senses since meeting Barbara Gordon were all blurred. She couldn't tell her own emotions apart anymore, much less Barbara's.
She wanted to be angry, to rage against the other woman's words and to defend the meta-humans' right to live free of mankind - to stand up and blame the humans for the war and for the atrocities taking place in the City - but somehow she was bound by the passion of Barbara's conviction. Barbara made her almost believe that a peaceful solution was possible and - which was worse - even desirable.
"If you are new to this city you might not know this, but most of the problems in New Gotham are created by a small group of meta-humans who terrorize humans and other metas alike. They are an elite group, calling themselves Black Dawn, wanting to wage war on all of mankind. They are the ones sustaining this battle. In my line of work I've managed to meet with the leaders of most groups of meta-humans and they are reasonable, but they fear Black Dawn too much - they don't dare make deals with humans, least they would be killed by their own kind."
Helena felt a chill down her spine. "And what would your solution be?" she asked in a suddenly crisp voice. This conversation was far too close to home to make her feel comfortable. It wasn't fear she would be exposed, but the old anger against humans welling up inside her that made it difficult to listen to Barbara's accusations.
"I don't know - I'm working on it. I believe if we could just imprison the leader of Black Dawn the rest of the group would be harmless. I believe she calls herself the Mistress. As far as I know the group is only made up of a few metas - not more than a dozen or so, but they are very, very dangerous. And the Mistress is the driving force..."
"Well, maybe they have a point", Helena said carelessly. "What good did human ever do for us?"
"You don't believe there are any good humans out there?" Barbara asked, glancing carefully at her. Carefully and - Helena noticed - with an unexpected affection, almost but not completely hidden behind the cautious look.
"Never met any", Helena went on, still trying to balance her conflicting emotions.
"I was afraid of this", Barbara said quietly.
"What?" Helena asked sharply.
"You..." Barbara met her eyes with a regretful look. "I really appreciate your company, but I believe it would be difficult for you to work with me."
Helena blinked. "Are you firing me?"
"No", Barbara said with a gentle smile and gently shook her head. "But I think you being meta-human conflicts with my work. I want you to think about if you are able to work with someone who wants to bring peace to New Gotham."
"Well, that depends entirely on how you are planning to bring about 'your peace'", Helena almost snapped, losing her temper. "Why did you hire me in the first place? To brag about your open-mindedness?" she spat. "So you can show the world how 'good' you are, giving metas a chance? Yeah - forcing them to slave for you, like your people are some kind of... of master race!"
"And do you truly believe killing humans will make metas more respectable?" Barbara asked sharply. "Black Dawn only make people hate metas even more, while respectable metas like Gibson lives in fear for his life..."
"You don't know shit!" Helena stood up, glaring down at the other woman. "When did you walk down the street hearing people whisper about you? When did you live in fear for your life because you are different? You never lost anyone close to you because of human intolerance... You" - she waved her hand around the room - "living in prosperity, safe in your cocooned space..."
"Why would you apply for a job at my office then?" Barbara snapped. "If you hate humans so much, what are you doing in our part of the city?"
"Because I needed a fucking job!" Helena growled, as pissed at herself for losing her composure as she was at Barbara for making her lose it.
"Well, with that attitude you won't last long as my P.A."
"You can keep your fucking employment!" Helena retorted. "I'm not setting my foot in the same room as you again..."
"Good! I'll just find a proper human to take your place, then."
"Fine", Helena snapped.
"Fine", Barbara echoed and they glared at each other, before Helena swirled around and left the room in a rage. She passed Alfred on her way out of the main entrance, but didn't stop when he tried talking to her.
The night was warm, with a cool breeze that chilled her heated skin as she rushed across the rooftops, trying to get Barbara Gordon's glowing eyes out of her mind. The only thing she could think of was that she was glad she had left the Clock Tower before she strangled the other woman.
She spent some time racing across the rooftops to cool her temper and then halted on the arched dome of New Gotham's Court House, where she viewed the dark city for a moment before closing her eyes. She drew a deep breath, exhaling slowly and doing some breathing exercises as she slowly, but effectively emptied her mind the way she always did before a kill.
When she was done she opened her eyes and looked up at the bright stars ahead. Her mind was blank, her body languid - she was herself again: cool, in control and indifferent to anything other than what was her life's purpose... Revenge.
She returned to the Dark Horse a few hours after her visit to Barbara Gordon. The metas gathered outside the bar dispersed to let her pass when she reached the entrance - there was fear and awe in their eyes as she walked by. The guard at the door greeted her, but she ignored him.
She walked through the crowded bar, ignoring the drunken guests and the noise, towards the back of the bar. In a recess behind a stair leading to the second floor there was a door, almost completely hidden behind some plants. It said private on it, but she opened it and stepped into a small, empty room, no bigger than an average closet. It was dark, but her eyes easily accustomed to darkness. With the door closed behind her she pressed the palm of her hand against one of the walls and it gave way, swinging about to reveal a narrow stair leading downwards. She stepped down, into Black Dawn's headquarter.
Only members were allowed to enter and the small room Helena had passed before, when she entered the narrow stair, was equipped with sensors triggering an alarm if anyone who wasn't a member tried to force their way in. The door to the stair only responded to the identity of a member and wouldn't swing open to let in a stranger.
Most meta-humans knew the location of Black Dawn's headquarters, but as Barbara Gordon had pointed out anyone not a member were too afraid to spill the beans to anyone.
Helena passed a long corridor, neglecting to look into the halls she passed along the way. Not until she reached the end of the corridor did she glance around, but there was no one near her. She knocked at the door at the end of the corridor and opened without waiting for an answer.
The room she entered was more like a big hall, empty and dark except for a row of computers in one area of the room and a large plasma screen covering almost the whole of the opposite wall. A slight, blond woman was sitting in an armchair in front of the screen, which showed a picture of Barbara Gordon's face.
Helena felt weird, seeing the redheaded woman's face looking down at her at such size. She has beautiful eyes, though... she thought, distractedly. Then she remembered their argument and lost all her cool and composure. Anger welled up inside of her as she entered the room, keeping an eye on the magnified face on the screen.
"Huntress, dear", the woman in the chair said, spinning around to face her.
"Why are you looking at that picture?" Helena asked bitterly. "Take her off it..."
"Oh, aggravated..." The blond woman smiled almost triumphantly. "I like that. Come here, pretty..."
Helena tore her eyes off Barbara Gordon's face and looked at her mentor. Reluctantly she walked forward and bent to kiss the other woman. Her mentor's mouth was firm and teasing, her tongue asking for more than Helena was willing to give in that moment.
She had been sixteen when she made love to her mentor the first time. She had felt special at the time - special and filled with lust her mentor had known how to satiate. It had been a nice experience, followed by several other heated nights.
She'd had her share of other women and men, but her coupling with them only served to fill her physical needs every so often. She found killing much more thrilling than sex.
Her intimate relationship with her mentor was an off and on thing. To begin with she had been jealous of the other people - both men and women - who shared the other woman's bed, but her mentor had explained to her that she needed to spend time with others too - not to make them jealous. "But you are my favorite, Huntress. Always... Remember that."
So she had learned to share her mentor's body over the years. She suddenly wondered what Barbara's opinion would be on sharing someone she loved. Although "love" wasn't exactly what she felt for her mentor.
She frowned, wondering what exactly it was she felt for the woman who was known as Dr. Harleen Quinzel to some - and the Mistress, to others.
"You are not in the mood", Quinzel said, looking rather disappointedly at her.
"No", she said, straightening. "It's that woman", she said, nodding at Barbara's face. "Must I play this game? Can't I just kill her tomorrow?"
Quinzel laughed. "Impatient as usual. No", she added amused. "No, I told you. I have other plans for her. You play with her for a while. When we are done... She will go - kaboom!" She threw out her hands, laughing.
Helena frowned anew. "You will blow her up? I won't get to kill her?"
"Well, if you must... You could kill her and then we leave her in that tower of hers. I want it to blow up properly this time. Its... very existence irks me. Just like hers", Quinzel added heatedly, swinging back in the chair to glare at Barbara Gordon with uncharacteristic anger. She kept her silence for a moment, before she asked: "Did it cause any difficulty, getting the employment?"
"Not at all, she said. "I was the only one who applied for the job."
"Really?" Quinzel arched both her eyebrows at her, then narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "I find that difficult to believe. She must be lying."
"Lying? Why would she lie about that?"
"Maybe she suspects something..."
"Her?" Helena shook her head. "Why would she hire me if she believed I work for you?"
"You never know with this woman. She's as sly as a snake..."
Helena looked at Barbara's face, covering the screen. She knew sly people and there hadn't been anything sly about Barbara Gordon. Harleen Quinzel - she had sly eyes and a cunning mind, but Barbara... Barbara was clever.
"No." Helena shook her head. "I don't think she was lying. She told me it was risky to work with her. I think most people would fear to take employment as her P.A. Especially after what happened with the previous one..."
Quinzel grunted. "Right. Maybe you are right, but I don't trust this woman." The blond woman glanced at Helena. "How did you find it, spending time with her?"
Helena shrugged. On her way to her mentor's office she had been all set on telling Quinzel she couldn't complete the mission, but when she walked through the door and noticed Barbara's eyes looking back at her, remembering the affection in those eyes... It had twisted something within her; something hard and tightly coiled in her heart had loosened up and her only thought - mixed with the anger she remembered feeling when she left the Clock Tower - had been that she must see that woman again.
"There's nothing special about her. I'm looking forward to killing her."
"Ah, that's my Huntress. Always thirsty for the kill..." Quinzel reached out to her and touched her hand with a slow caress, but Helena was still too distracted by thoughts of Barbara to respond to her mentor's invitation.
"I'm having a shower", she said. "I feel filthy. Then I'm going to bed."
"To bed?" Her mentor arched an inquisitive eyebrow at her.
"I need to look refreshed for my first day at work", she said with a shrug and Quinzel laughed.
She was dreaming. She was back at the street where her mother bled to death in her arms, hearing the man call: "Freak! Freak - they must all die!" as she saw him standing looking down at her. He grinned, then turned around and ran away. He was soon lost in the crowd. She heard someone call for the police.
Then there was another picture... She was held close to someone, feeling safer and more secure than she had in her entire life. Someone whispered calming words to her, telling her everything would be alright - and she believed it. She believed her... She knew it was a woman. She smelt perfume - something faintly familiar...
Even in her dream she could remember wishing she had Gibson Kafka's memory.
Those arms... She felt loved and safe - it was a warm and soft place and she never, ever wanted to let go. She wanted to stay in the arms of that woman for the rest of her life, but she was torn from her... Violence and harsh words interfered and pulled her brutally from her shelter. "No!" she heard herself scream in her dream and she was crying - a child of eleven, screaming and kicking. "Helena! Helena!" she heard someone call; a young woman's voice - again faintly familiar.
"No...! No-o! Barbara!"
She awoke with a jerk, inhaling with sharp and painful breaths almost wrenching a soft cry from her lips. Barbara...
The dream slowly drifted from her mind and she could only remember bits and pieces from it, but the heart wrenching pain tore at her chest, threatening to tear her apart. She realized she was crying.
It was the first dream she remembered in years. She had heard that everyone dreamed, but she could never remember her dreams. When she woke there was always only darkness and an emptiness staring back at her from the depths of her mind.
She knew she'd had nightmares when she was younger - Quinzel had told her. She guessed she didn't want to remember her dreams, if they were all like the one she had experienced a moment ago.
She remembered her scream and the pain she had felt, losing her mother and the unknown woman. Why would she call Barbara's name in her dream? Maybe it had been the affection Barbara had shown her that made her remember her mother. No one had shown her any affection since her mother died. Sure, there had been Harleen Quinzel - but she had never looked at her with that kind of affection.
Drying her tears with a rough gesture, feeling angry and embarrassed even though she was alone, she rose from bed and made her way to the bathroom. Psychology wasn't her thing - it was her mentor's, but she wasn't sharing that particular dream with Quinzel.
She couldn't remember apologizing for anything in her life. She took what she wanted and there wasn't ever anything to be sorry about. If she wanted it - it was hers. To consider consequences and other people's emotions just wasn't her thing. The way she viewed the world was simple: it was all about survival.
Some people feared consequences and never even dared dream about the things she could accomplish in a day if she wanted to. They were weak and would be weeded out as soon as the new order swept across New Gotham. Fear of consequences was for sniveling losers and pathetic traitors like Gibson Kafka. Consideration of other people's feelings was even worse. In the wild, only the strong survived.
Her world was uncomplicated: kill - or be killed. It was a life long struggle and only the fittest survived.
She had never questioned the way she viewed the world, simply because no one had ever done anything to make her doubt her opinion.
She was of a simpler nature; dark and brooding. A killer.
A killer bearing a peace offering: a cup of tea.
"I've told him no once already", Barbara said sternly on the phone, not looking up from her papers as Helena stopped in the doorway to the office. "Fine. Don't bother me again..."
Barbara almost slammed down the phone on its receiver, swearing softly under her breath.
"Hum", Helena coughed in the door.
Barbara hastily looked up. There wasn't any surprise in her eyes, only sharp concentration. "Oh, it's you", she said a bit cuttingly as she noticed Helena.
"I brought a peace offering", Helena said, holding up the cup. She had asked someone in the coffee room what kind of tea Barbara preferred, but there had only been one sort to choose between so it hadn't been a difficult choice.
Barbara seemed to relax; she leaned back in her chair and took off her glasses. "You need your job that much, huh?" she asked with half a smile.
Helena shrugged and moved into the room, putting the cup on the desk. If anyone asked she couldn't tell what she was doing in the City Hall - except for trying to complete her mission, which she couldn't even ask to be released from. "I'd like it back, if it's not too much of a hassle?"
"Thanks", Barbara said, indicating the tea. She shook her head. "It's yours, if you still want it."
Helena arched an eyebrow at her. "Really? Even after yesterday?"
Barbara smiled a little, shrugging. "What can I say? I enjoy a good row every now and then - it's sometimes the only way to learn something new." She eyed Helena closely. "As long as you don't criticize me in public or when we are in meetings I think we can manage. Although I do have a temper - if you yell at me, I'm sure going to yell back. And we are probably going to have a lot of arguments... I can tell", she added ironically.
"I'm testy about discussions involving metas", Helena said. "And I too have a temper."
"I believe I noticed yesterday", Barbara said with a twinkle in her eyes, winking at Helena.
She couldn't tell what it was that made her do it, but in that moment she felt more relaxed than she had in a long time. In a longer time than she could remember.
So she laughed.
It probably surprised her more than it surprised Barbara. She cut it short as she realized what she was doing, trying to deal with the emotions welling up inside of her as a response to - or as a cause behind - her laughter. Barbara smiled at her, again with that strange affection in her eyes - this time mingled with an appreciation Helena found difficult to comprehend.
"Here", Barbara said, handing her a sheet of paper. "Your schedule... from Alfred."
"Alfred? Your butler?" Helena said with a curious frown and took the paper from Barbara's outstretched hand. Their fingers touched as she did so and she tried catching Barbara's eyes, but the other woman was looking at the screen in front of her. She smiled, though, at Helena's question.
"If you look at it you'll understand", she said.
"'Breakfast at eight'", Helena read, "'tea at ten - preferably with a fruit or a biscuit...'"
"Fruit", Barbara cut in, arching an amused eyebrow at her. Helena smiled, remembering Barbara's remark about her weight from the evening before.
"Biscuit it is, then", she teased, making the other woman make a face at her. "'Lunch at twelve thirty...'" Helena lowered the paper. "And two more breaks in the afternoon. With all this eating and drinking, when do you find time to work?"
"Well, yeah - you should tell him that", Barbara sniffed, faking sarcasm.
"This is all?" Helena asked, looking at the paper in her hand, but before Barbara had time to answer someone almost fell in to the room through the open door behind Helena.
"Oh, this is heavy!" a young, blond girl complained in a strained voice. She was tall, dressed in jeans and a purple top, and carried several yellow files almost bursting at the seams. The pile wavered dangerously as the girl stopped and leaned against the wall, trying to look at Barbara behind the desk. "Barbara - someone at the archive in the basement told me to bring these to you. You'd asked for them to be opened?"
"Dinah?" Barbara said, genuinely surprised. "What on earth are you doing here? Why aren't you in school?"
"Field-study week", the girl behind the pile of files said dryly. "I've been in this building for two days, Barbara. Remember much?"
"Oh, god! I'm so sorry, Dinah!"
"Well, it's a good thing Alfred keeps track of you - otherwise you'll forget where you live one of these days. Anyway - and yes, Alfred has listened to me going on about how boring it is in the basement... It's your turn tonight, I believe."
"Dinner at eight, I won't forget", Barbara said, looking a little chastened to Helena's amusement; she wondered who and what the girl was to Barbara. "I'm so sorry, Dinah", Barbara added.
"Never mind. I know you've got a lot on your mind - what with the recent murder and all. Now, where do you want these - before I topple over and..."
As soon as she said it the girl was moving forward, but the files went in the other direction.
"Oh, my..." the girl gasped.
Helena moved without thinking. Almost before the girl had moved she was at her side, steadying the pile and taking some of the files from her. As she did so she accidentally touched the younger woman and a spark of something flew through her. She gasped softly.
"You are meta!" she said, at the same moment as the girl said:
"You are meta-human!"
They stared at each other, each of them with arms full with yellow files.
"U-hum?" Barbara said after a long, silent moment.
"Who are you?" the girl said, finding her composure first. She took her files and placed them on Barbara's desk, without taking her eyes off Helena. Helena moved and put her pile on the chair by the desk.
"Who are you?" she asked, slightly stunned. She had thought she knew every meta-human in New Gotham. Quinzel kept a tight record of them - who they were, where they lived and what they did for a living.
"I'm Dinah. Hi", the girl said, extending her hand. Helena looked at it as if it was going to bite her. "Um", Dinah said with a shrug and lowered her hand. "Alright, not as friendly. But you have great reflexes..."
"Truly amazing", Barbara said softly and Helena turned to look at her.
"She's your daughter?"
Dinah and Barbara exchanged a glance.
"Well, actually..." Barbara finally said, still looking at Dinah and slowly turning her gaze to Helena. "Dinah is my adoptive daughter."
It took a moment for Helena to process the information - and to figure if she'd heard correctly. "Excuse me? Your... adoptive daughter? And she's meta?" She glanced at Dinah, narrowing her eyes at her and trying to gauge what kind of powers she had.
"Yeah, and so?" the girl said defensively. "You're meta..."
"That's not what Helena meant, Dinah", Barbara said in a gentle voice, looking straight at Helena.
"Oh!" Dinah said, eyeing Helena almost disdainfully. "You're one of those..."
"Those? Who 'those'?" Helena said, offended by the girls suddenly scornful tone.
"Yes - Dinah is my adoptive daughter, and she is meta-human", Barbara interjected. "I told you - I don't see a difference between people."
Helena shook her head, still trying to comprehend what was going on. "How...? I mean... Why?"
"My real mother was killed when I was a child", Dinah explained and Helena felt a sudden thud in her chest, hearing a young girl speak those words. "I don't remember much of her, I was so young - only five or six..."
"What...?" Helena must clear her throat. "What happened?"
"She was in a fight and was killed", Barbara said softly.
"By a human?" Helena immediately asked, still looking at Dinah - who nodded. "Did you get your revenge?" Helena went on in an almost callous voice.
Dinah glanced at Barbara, seeming a little uneasy. "Some years ago the man who did it was killed, yes", she said, looking back at Helena. "I thought I would be glad, but..." She hesitated. "I had come to know the man's son and I grieved more for his loss than was glad."
"But he was human?"
"Yes", Dinah said, meeting Helena's eyes without flinching. "That doesn't mean I hate all humans."
Helena held her gaze, not looking away. "But your mother..."
"My mother was meta. She... got killed in line of duty. She knew what she was doing and she always knew there would be risks with her profession."
"I just don't get it", Helena mumbled, shaking her head. She turned to Barbara. "Why would you...?"
"Dinah's mother was a very dear friend of mine", Barbara said gently. "Granted, I wasn't very old when she died, but to adopt Dinah was the only way for me to be able to keep her."
"Well, I finally figured out who you must be", Dinah said, grinning at Helena. "You're Barbara's new babysitter!"
"Hey!" Barbara said.
"Take good care of her, she's the only mother I've got - although she seems to forget where I'm supposed to be, half of the time", Dinah said sarcastically, looking at Barbara - but the amused look in her blue eyes took the edge of her words.
Again Helena was strangely affected by the girl's words and nodded only, still confused about the new events and her own reactions.
"Nice to have met you", Dinah said, touching Helena's arm. She seemed to hesitate slightly, before she added: "If you are bored you can always bring me some tea in the basement." Again she hesitated, as if she wanted to add something else, but then she turned away and patted one of the files on the desk. "This is the one they told me you'd asked specifically for", she told Barbara. "And..." she added, glancing at Helena with a slightly worried frown.
"I know", Barbara said, strangely gentle. "Don't worry about it, Dinah."
Dinah nodded. "Fine - I'll see you later then."
Helena watched the girl leave, wondering about the last exchange between her and Barbara. "Why?" she asked, turning back to Barbara with a frown. "Why would you adopt her?"
"Why?" Barbara sighed, shrugging a little. "I would like to say I did it out of the goodness of my heart, but... The truth is never that simple. People are neither good nor bad, Helena. There's always a mixture of both in what we do. Dinah..." She smiled a little, thinking of the girl. "There's not a bad bone in Dinah's body, though. I lost someone, once. I fought to keep her, but... I lost. She was lost to me. I swore that would never happen to Dinah. I adopted her because I loved her mother, because I wanted to do what was right, because I loved the girl she was... But I also did it to ease my own bad conscious about... other things. There's always a hidden agenda behind our motives - that's why it's so important that we know ourselves... to know ourselves enough to make our choices because of the right reasons."
"But she's meta! You knew she'd grow up to become meta!"
"I knew there would be a probability, yes. Why do you find it so hard to believe I don't see a difference between metas and ordinary humans?"
Because I know you will kill us all, in the end. Would Barbara Gordon be so cruel as to kill her own adoptive daughter? Was she so cunning? Did she use Dinah to lure meta-humans into believing she was on their side? But no one knows Dinah's meta... Had Quinzel, her all-knowing mentor, been wrong?
To question her mentor was not something easily done; she had trusted the woman for too many years, in so many ways. But on the other hand... As she was looking at Barbara, seeing the searching expression in her eyes - seeing her waiting for an answer - she knew something else. She liked Barbara Gordon.
She had never liked anyone in her life, not even her mentor. Again she doubted her ability to follow through with her mission. Everything about Barbara seemed so genuine. Helena had a hard time believing the other woman was such a good liar, as Quinzel seemed to think. And if she was... Helena didn't want to know. She didn't want to find out that the truth about Barbara Gordon was as filthy and foul as... as most ordinary humans.
She shrugged. "I don't trust people, is all."
"Well, I guess you have a good reason not to", Barbara admitted with a sigh. "We haven't all been very nice to meta-humans. Some of you have suffered unfairly. I'm sorry", she added gently.
Helena blinked. To mask her uneasiness at the other woman's tender look she held on to the subject of Dinah. "If this is the only thing on my schedule today", she said, indicating the sheet of paper Barbara had given her before - it had been a little tussled as she carried the files. "Maybe I should take her up on her offer and visit her in the basement. What are her abilities, anyway?" she added as an afterthought.
"I was thinking of asking you for some help with the files, but feel free to 'snoop' around if you like", Barbara said. She frowned. "And in regards to Dinah's abilities..."
"Sorry", Helena said, throwing up her hands in front of her in an excusing gesture. "Bad habit. It's none of my business..."
"Well, she's actually telepathic, so beware if you have any deep, dark secrets you don't want her to find out."
Helena felt a cold chill eating at her heart. "Um, maybe the basement is too stuffy for me - on second thought. I'll just have a look around the building - to get to know my way around. And I'll come back at..." She glanced at the schedule. "I'll come back at ten, for your tea break."
"You do that", Barbara said with a smile.
"And then I'll help you with the files." Helena frowned. "What are those, anyway? I thought you had all the easy work, just leaning back in your couch and handing out work - not actually doing it yourself."
"Do you see a couch around here?" Barbara said with a grimace. "No, these..." She reached forward and patted at the files in front of her. "These are old. They used to be held at the Court House, but they were moved at the time of the fire three years ago." She glanced at Helena. "You don't know, since you are new here, but there was a big fire three years ago at the Court House. They lost so many files and so much information... These files contain information about meta-humans I believe were convicted on false grounds and sent to Arkham Asylum. I want to go through them and reopen the cases..."
"Reopen? But isn't that up to a lawyer, or a judge?"
"Well, the order is a little different her in New Gotham. Since we never know which judge or lawyer or detective, even mayor, is corrupt... we tend to take the law into our own hands when given the opportunity." Barbara shrugged. "Sure, I could get someone to do this for me - but most likely they would be threatened, then killed, or they would just be too overworked with other just as critical matters that they would 'forget' what I was asking of them. This way - at least I know the work gets done."
"But you must have thousands of other things to do?" Helena said, frowning.
"Don't we all?" Barbara said. "Now, thanks for the tea..."
"It's cold by now - I'll bring you a new cup", Helena said flatly and took the cup from the desk.
"Well, thank you", Barbara said, positively surprised. Helena surprised herself with her offer, but only nodded and left the room.
Helena hadn't been sure what to get Barbara for lunch, but when she brought tea, grapes, crackers and cheese for the ten o'clock break her boss informed her detective Reese from New Gotham's Police Department would bring them lunch.
When the detective arrived at one o'clock - bringing Mexican food in two paper bags - Helena was dismayed when she realized he and Barbara planned to eat in Barbara's office. She didn't know why, but the thought that Alfred and Dinah would be upset at her for allowing Barbara to mould away in her office had a strange effect on her. Ordinarily she wouldn't have cared where either of them ate.
"You've got to be kidding me?" she said. "You've been sitting in here the whole day. Did you even notice that the sun is shining? It's a beautiful day; I won't let you turn into a stuffy librarian."
"There's nothing wrong with librarians", Barbara said, slightly offended.
"Out you go - or I'll carry you myself", Helena persisted, looking straight at Barbara. And don't doubt I could... she wanted to add, but held her tongue in Reese's presence.
"Your new P.A?" the detective asked and glanced at Helena with an amused look. "She's much more assertive than your previous one."
"Much", Barbara said wryly. "Alright, alright", she added when she noticed Helena's look. "We can eat on the terrace; no one's coming out there, anyway. We can talk there", she told Reese.
The terrace, Helena found out, was a built in yard on the first floor. It had some grass, some flowers and bushes, and a table with benches on each side in the middle of the yard. The place looked deserted, as if no one had cared to take care of it and instead let it slip into a secret, forgotten garden.
Helena and Reese sat on the same side of the table, with Barbara opposite them.
"It's now public", the detective said as he was eating. "The last murder three nights ago was committed by Huntress."
Barbara nodded. "I told you so..."
Helena lowered her eyes and concentrated on her food, listening.
"His neck was broken, a floppy disk that had wiped out the whole computer, hard drive... or whatever" - Reese waved fleetingly with one hand - "had been left in the computer. I don't get it, why would she kill a lawyer?"
"He was probably getting too close to something he wasn't supposed to", Barbara said. She looked at Helena. "Remember what I told you before, about people being threatened if they work with me? Three nights ago one of my connections at the Court House was killed. The killing was probably related to a task I asked him to check up on."
Helena nodded, keeping her cool. She wanted to ask what the task had entailed, but supposed it would be less suspicious if she pretended she wasn't interested.
"Damn!" Reese said, angrily attacking his food with a plastic fork. "This... woman, or whatever she is - she is... She doesn't leave a trace, but still she never bothers with cleaning up after herself."
"She doesn't make that much of a mess", Barbara said. "She's not like Lady Shiva, leaving her calling card of the many-armed god behind. She doesn't need to", she added thoughtfully.
"No, she always kills the same way: breaking necks. Shit!" Reese shook his head. "You'd believe she'd scared them to death, with that look of horror on their faces that we find them with. I wonder what's with her that frightens them so."
"They know who she is when they see her and they know they're about to die", Barbara said. "Most assassins kill their victims from a distance, or without warning. Not Huntress, she likes the close contact with her prey... And she's unpredictable, that's what makes her dangerous. Other killer's plan their kills, striking at the most opportune time, but not her. She likes the thrill of the kill."
"Still, she hasn't killed that many that we know of: twelve in six years... But again - those are only the ones we are aware of."
"And I don't believe there's more", Barbara said thoughtfully. "She only kills when it's needed. And only people who are a direct threat to her mistress."
Helena found it strange sitting opposite the woman she was meant to kill and hear the same woman talk about her in that way. Barbara seemed to have a startling insight in to her mind. She didn't know what to think of that. She realized she didn't know what to think of a great many things since she'd met Barbara.
"I'm worried about you", Reese said and gave Barbara a concerned look. Barbara nodded.
"Yes, Huntress will probably come for me next. But if she does you know what you must do with Dinah."
Reese clenched his jaws, but nodded.
"Reese - I've survived three attempted assassinations, I might be lucky and survive a fourth."
Three attempts? Helena almost got her soda in the wrong throat and barely managed to avoid spluttering all over the table. Who the fuck is this woman?
"The one by Lady Shiva was pure luck, Barbara", Reese said with a faintly disapproving frown.
"I know and I don't really expect to survive Huntress. Not because I've survived the other attempts and because the odds are against me, but because she is truly dangerous. I don't believe she really cares if she lives or dies - at least I don't think she knows what she wants herself. And that makes her unpredictable. There's nothing beyond the killing that she actually lives for - although she doesn't revel in it, as I know some do. It proves she's not cruel or evil - she only obeys orders, never questioning what's right or wrong with what she does."
"Because she believes in what she does", Reese said. "She's fanatic."
Barbara shook her head. "No. No, I don't believe she is. There's something else driving her and I believe..." She paused. "I believe it's revenge", she said softly. "At least I'll be able to look her in the eye when I die..."
Helena wasn't aware that she had stopped eating, not until Barbara looked at her and gave her a soft smile.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to spoil your appetite with gruesome stories", her boss said.
Helena shrugged and went back to her food. "I guess I should get used to it."
"You'd rather not", Reese said. "If you get blas about things like this..." He shook his head with a sigh.
"The Commissioner phoned me this morning", Barbara said, changing subject. "He wanted me to press the mayor about the bill..."
"I'm sorry. I told him you wouldn't do it", Reese said. "He yelled at me and said I wasn't man enough to influence you."
Barbara grunted. "Really? If I had known that I would have insulted him a bit before I hung up on him."
"You hung up on him?" Reese grinned triumphantly. "That's why he was in such a grumpy mood this morning. Anyway" - he glanced at his wristwatch and rose from the table - "I need to be going. It was nice to meet you, by the way", he added, looking at Helena with an appreciative expression she recognized from many men before. She nodded politely at him, without engaging in a superficial flirt.
"I'll see you later", Barbara said.
"Yeah. Say hi to Dinah from me... I heard she was working in the basement." Reese grinned.
"You did?" Barbara said surprised. "I'm her mother and I don't even know where she is. I'm a lousy mother", she said with a sigh. Reese laughed at her and waved, before he was gone.
"Nice guy", Helena said noncommittally as she watched him leave.
"Mm, one of the good guys", Barbara said. "At least he's trying", she added with a sigh. "It's tough to be on the right side of the law these days..."
"You really survived three attempts at assassination?" Helena asked curiously. She was surprised Lady Shiva had failed - the other female assassin was one of the best in her line of work. Maybe that was why Huntress was given a chance at it, she realized.
"I had a bodyguard", Barbara said.
"Mm. He saved me twice, but... It got to be too much for him. We were lovers, but then he left."
"Oh, your tall, dark and mysterious?" Helena asked with an arched eyebrow.
"One of them, yes. Dick..."
"Not much good to have around if he bails on you..." Helena pointed out.
"Well, we had an argument and broke up... Neither of us thought it a good idea for him to stick around as my bodyguard after that. He... had problems."
"Don't they all", Helena said dryly. "And this... Huntress? What is she? And Lady Shiva?"
"They are assassins. The best, from what I've been able to gather."
"You're not afraid she'll come for you?"
"Huntress? Oh, I know she will. It's just a question of when. I've always known it would be her and me at the end. Fear... I'm so used to living in fear I don't really feel it anymore. Death comes to us all."
Helena couldn't believe Barbara would accept her end so easily. She almost wanted to snap the other woman's neck in that moment just to instill fear in her. "But you don't know who she is, right? She could be anyone close to you. She could be me. Doesn't that scare you? You can never trust anyone."
Barbara actually laughed at that. "I doubt Huntress would play games like that. It wouldn't be like her."
"How do you know? You don't know her..."
Barbara only shook her head. "If you study human nature long enough there are some things you learn to recognize and to understand. No, spying or infiltrating an organization isn't Huntress' thing. And..." the woman added, looking gently at Helena. "Never to trust anyone is way too lonely a life to live. Then I might as well be dead."
"Then I might as well be dead..." Those words stuck in Helena's mind the following two weeks. She realized she had been dead. Her life had evolved around dark nights, beating up traitorous meta-humans, hard sex in the back of an alley - or rough sex between silk sheets at her mentor's luxurious flat - and waiting for the next order to kill. There had never been any kindness or compassion in her life - it wasn't something that assisted in one's survival when at war, and she had been warring since she was thirteen.
She had been thirteen when the beautiful Dr. Harleen Quinzel had taken her from the secret chambers below New Gotham and turned her fear and hatred into a masterful weapon. Quinzel had become her mentor and given her a purpose: revenge. She would have her vengeance on all humans, because they had known and been part of the atrocities that took place at Arkham Asylum against her - and against all meta-humans.
She had been dead, she realized - because she had not known what it was like to need someone, or the joys and pains and pleasures one's need for another could bring. She had been empty and void of all emotions except hatred and rage. Even when she felt lust and fucked her willing - and sometimes unwilling - bed mates her emotions evolved around hatred and rage. But when she was with Barbara Gordon she learned about other feelings; feelings she had never understood she could experience and which confused her.
Theirs wasn't an uncomplicated relationship. They argued a lot, mostly about issues regarding meta-humans and ordinary humans, but also about matters that to Helena used to be simple and straightforward: her narrow attitude towards other people and how she dealt with problems in her life. "You are so closed-minded", Barbara had accused her once. "There's more ways than one to regard the world..."
To Barbara Gordon everything seemed to be a crusade and she seemed to love to argue just for the sake of arguing. This had confused the hell out of Helena to begin with. They would have a huge row about something and in the next moment, when Helena was about to literally strangle the other woman, Barbara would turn around and shrug and admit that Helena had a point. Helena couldn't figure her out; sometimes she defended humans with a vengeance - and the next day she would want to ship them all off to Arkham.
They never argued in public. Helena would join Barbara in her meetings with important people of the city - both on the human side and on the meta-human: the mayor, the Commissioner, leaders of different factions of meta-humans. She would watch, listen and learn - and afterwards Barbara would ask for her opinion. To begin with Helena only shrugged and said she had no opinion, but then Barbara provoked her enough to make her speak her mind freely. Helena had realized the only way to get her talking was indeed to provoke her enough to make her angry - then the words would tumble out of her mouth. Words she never knew she knew or thoughts she never knew she had.
"You are angry again", Barbara had said once, after a meeting with the mayor. She always seemed to know in what mood Helena was. A disturbing factor, as no one - not even her mentor - had ever been able to read her so well. The other disturbing thing was that not even Quinzel had ever managed to make her talk the way Barbara did.
"You so are!" Barbara objected. "Don't lie."
"I'm not lying! I'm not angry... just upset."
"About the fucking way you suck up to that fat mayor of yours!"
Then they were arguing and Barbara accused her of being judgmental. "You presume because I'm human and because he's my boss and because I don't argue with him I'm agreeing with him."
"Well, don't you?" Helena snarled, pacing across the floor of Barbara's office - with the door closed.
"Sometimes, but that's not the point. The point is that you don't listen! You don't listen to me - you only hear what you want to hear... You've made up your mind already about what I'm talking about..."
"I hear what I hear..."
"You don't hear shit!" Barbara snapped. "If I went to the mayor and put things straight with him he wouldn't listen, as little as you do. Because he too only hears what he is equipped to hear."
"You could let me bang his head against the wall", Helena said. "I bet he'd listen better after that."
"Really?" Barbara said, arching an eyebrow at her. "And would you listen better if I banged your head against the wall?"
"I'd never let you", Helena said flatly.
"Besides that minor detail", Barbara stated, matter-of-factly, "do you honestly think you would listen better if I did?"
Helena stared at her. "No, I'd smash your head in."
"I rest my case", Barbara said, gesturing. "The only way to reach some people is to talk and then talk some more, to make them do what you want them to do even if they never understand. You whisper the same words in their ears day after day and eventually they begin thinking."
Maybe she is sly, after all, Helena had thought at the time, but still listened. The next day Barbara called her stubborn.
"You are the most... obstinate person I've ever met!" she called, almost furious.
She should talk, Helena thought. She had never met anyone as willful and stubborn as Barbara Gordon. When they fought and argued Helena sometimes felt her eyes augment into a cat's eyes. It was her meta-human side that took control of her. When she was angry or aroused her eyes changed to yellow convex-shaped disks with a black, vertical slit: the eyes of a predator. The first time she felt it happen she was sure Barbara would react in some way - all people did; expressing fear or worry, or hate - but the redheaded woman held her gaze and went on as if nothing unusual had happened. She did point it out later on, but only briefly. "I've never seen eyes like yours before. That's new."
They didn't talk about it again, but Helena never saw fear in Barbara's eyes - not even when Helena was so mad she thought she really would harm the other woman. That too confused her, that Barbara didn't fear her. She had been feared her whole life - she had even seen fear once in her mentor's eyes when she was in a full rage. To not be feared by Barbara somehow brought her peace - it made her feel safe with the other woman. Whatever she did or said Barbara was like an impenetrable wall, never crumbling. She stood her ground and Helena feared and sometimes hated her because of it, but she also learned to truly respect her.
"You should talk!" she snapped at Barbara when the other woman called her obstinate. "It's no wonder you're still alive - you're so thick-headed no assassin could ever get to you!"
They weren't always arguing, otherwise Helena wasn't sure she would have lasted those two weeks - and also, in the middle of all the rowing, there was a silent agreement between them, since that first day when Helena brought Barbara her peace-offering: they could argue, but they would end their day with a kind word or a smile before they parted.
To sit in silence with Barbara, or work side by side with her, or share a meal, or make small talk about children playing in the streets... it was - nice. It was nice to spend time with the other woman, whatever they did together - even if it was arguing. And to feel that way was dangerous.
Every day after work - those days when she didn't follow Barbara home to have dinner at her place - she went to the Dark Horse with the intention of letting her mentor know she wasn't suitable for killing Barbara. Or to ask her if maybe she had made a mistake when it came to Barbara Gordon, maybe Barbara Gordon didn't need to die.
But she never said and she never asked. And she went back to work the next day, pretending to herself she would speak to Quinzel that very night.
Sometimes she thought Barbara knew about her secret. Sometimes she thought it was so obvious that the other woman must know, but Barbara never let on that she suspected anything. Although, she did sometimes glance at Helena with an intense, concentrated look that made Helena twitch. She had come to both fear and anticipate that look, because it made her tremble with fear, but also with excitement. When Barbara looked at her like that... she felt alive. She felt a thud in her heart and an odd ache in her stomach, in her chest. It was a yearning she didn't understand and a pleasant tension she couldn't put words to.
And then there was the other look, the other expression in Barbara's eyes that made her tremble: the affection. Barbara would look at her with affection and smile softly at her, in a way that made her all weak inside. It turned her insides to mush and although she loathed herself for her weakness she found she was looking forward to seeing Barbara smile at her in that way, with that tender look in her eyes.
Barbara never touched her. She came to realize it one day, on a Friday, when she found Barbara asleep on her desk in the afternoon. The other woman was lying sprawled across her keyboard, with her head on her folded arms. Helena stood looking at her for a moment, cradling the other woman's cup of tea in her hands.
Barbara seemed weary even in sleep and when Helena thought about it the other woman had been working harder than before, the last three days, pushing herself to the limit and neglecting to take time to eat. It had taken Helena three days in her first week to realize Barbara turned up at her office at seven in the morning - working a full day and sometimes even to nine in the evening. It was no wonder she forgot to keep track of her daughter.
"Barbara..." Helena said, feeling surprisingly affectionate towards the other woman. She put the cup on the desk and moved to the other side. "Barbara", she repeated, touching the other woman's shoulder. It was then she realized she had never touched Barbara before, except for a brief moment when their fingers touched that first day. She let her hand linger on the other woman's shoulder, feeling the firmness of her muscles.
"Huh?" Barbara said, looking up.
"Why don't you go home", Helena said gently, kneading the tense muscles at the base of Barbara's neck. She felt soft skin beneath her fingertips and a slight tingle in her chest as she massaged Barbara's muscles.
"Oh, that's nice", Barbara mumbled, straightening. She sighed a little, leaning backwards with closed eyes. "No, I can't", she added.
"Why not?" Helena asked simply, feeling the tingle in her chest spread through her body, further down, passing her stomach - causing butterflies to flap their wings - and even further...
"Because I have work to do..."
"And what is so important that you have to work yourself to death?" Helena suddenly snapped, moving away from the desk - away from the woman making her skin tingle and her heart tremble with longing. "Don't you do enough, already?"
Barbara only shook her head. "I need to do this..."
"Fuck! You're no holy martyr! You're a woman, for God's sake! Live a little - go home to your boyfriend, have sex, get drunk... Forget about work."
"Forget?" Barbara snapped angrily. "Forget?" She pushed some files out of the way, searching for something on her desk. "Forget about this?" she asked icily and flipped two black and white photographs towards Helena. She caught the one, but missed the other and had to bend down to pick it up. It landed with the face up and as her fingers touched it she caught herself, staring at the picture.
The picture - both of them - showed two children, sprawled on their backs, strapped to a wooden surface with arms and legs widely spread. There was blood, lots and lots of it.
"God..." Helena whispered.
"You want me to forget there's a serial killer in the city, murdering - slaughtering - children?" Barbara went on, still in an icy, hard voice Helena didn't recognize. "Maybe you can shut out the realities of this world, but I can't. I'm not as hardened by my experiences as you seem to be - and I don't, ever, want to be able to look away from something like this. I don't, ever, want to be able to forget about this, to go back to my normal, safe life as long as people like that" - she pointed at the photographs in Helena's hands - "are on the loose."
"God - I didn't... I didn't - know..." It felt so lame, saying it.
"Didn't know? Where have you been? Don't you read the newspapers? Don't you watch the news? Don't you speak to people?"
Helena shook her head, still not able to tear her eyes from the pictures.
"He calls himself Crawler", Barbara said. "He is meta-human, the one that did this. So don't you speak to me about the virtues of meta-humans! They are as bad as people, when it comes down to it."
"No", Helena whispered. "No..."
"You go home, I have work to do."
Helena looked up. "Isn't this..." She had to clear her voice. "Isn't this... Reese's job?"
"He's on to it." Barbara rubbed her forehead. "The whole police department is on to it."
"If the whole of New Gotham's police is on it, you should be able to take a rest", Helena said softly and placed the pictures on the desk, looking at Barbara. Something in her face must have caught Barbara's attention, because she looked confused for a moment.
"Helena", she said, still with a confused expression in her eye. "Do you know what this means? This could be the beginning of a true war. This is what the Commissioner and most of the judges at the Court have been waiting for. This will give the mayor a reason to pass the bill that legalizes arresting a person only because he or she is meta. It will even legalize killing someone on the grounds they are meta. It will start a war."
Helena nodded. She understood. She also understood that was exactly what Crawler wanted. She knew Crawler - they had shared a cell in Arkham Asylum years ago. He had been a child, just like her - and they had turned him into a killer. "I know", she said softly. "But you can't carry the world on your shoulders. You need a break, Barbara. The police will deal with this over the weekend. Trust that they know what they are doing. You need to rest, because if you are not strong enough - who is then going to fight the passing of the bill?"
Barbara gasped softly, her eyes widening.
"You go home", Helena went on, still holding the other woman's gaze. I will deal with this, she thought.
"Will you come for dinner tonight, Helena?" Barbara asked and reached out to touch her. It was a tender, almost shy caress - only briefly touching Helena's arm.
"I will. At seven, as usual?"
"At seven will be fine."
"But I'm only coming if you go home and rest now", Helena gently chided. She was rewarded with Barbara's deep, throaty laughter.
"Alright, alright, Ms Persuasive", the woman said, winking at Helena. "See you then."
Crawler was one of her mentor's pets. He was an assassin; enjoying the killing so much he often killed in his spare time. Helena had never liked him, although she understood parts of him and knew they were probably more alike than she would ever care to admit. She was a killer and she enjoyed her kill, but not the kill in itself - she enjoyed knowing her kills brought her closer to her final vengeance. And - if she thought about it - she also enjoyed the sense of power that came with the killing.
She wanted to discuss Crawler's latest "hobby-act" with her mentor, but wasn't sure she wanted to know if the murders had been sanctioned by her. She refused to believe it, but on the other hand she had heard Quinzel talking about the "final solution", just the other day. "They will know to fear us - and the city of Gotham will echo with the cries of the mothers..."
Quinzel had complained she spent too much time away from the headquarters below the Dark Horse. She had complained Helena, AKA Huntress, didn't want to fuck her anymore. Helena hadn't engaged in any explanations - she only shrugged and said she had work to do and that she needed to concentrate on it. "Infiltration is not my thing", she'd said. "I need time to figure out how to work this. And that woman is indeed tricky..."
She left Barbara's office at four o'clock that day, earlier than usual. It gave her three hours to do what she needed to do. It would be enough.
"Hi", she said, leaning on the counter of the bar at the Dark Horse. It was too early to drink, but there were already a lot of people at the restaurant. The man beside her turned his head and grinned at her. There was an almost mad luster to his eyes.
"Huntressss", he said, licking his lips. "Long time no see..."
"I'm in no mood to talk", she said. "Buy you a beer?"
"Whisky", he said, holding up his glass. She nodded at the bartender, who immediately filled another glass - even though there was a line to the counter. No one objected, though. The bartender reached to put the glass on the counter in front of the man at Huntress's side, but she took it. The man by her side looked inquiringly at her.
"What you want?" he asked.
"Oh", she said, rolling the whisky in the glass with a slow motion. "I only want to congratulate you on your latest kill. From what I've heard it was a masterpiece."
"Funny, I wouldn't take you for one to follow the news..." the man said, slightly suspicious.
"I don't. I heard someone mention it. Why do you think it took me so long to congratulate you?" She smiled at him and handed him the glass. The pill she had dropped in the whisky had melted and would have no taste. It was a tranquilizer strong enough to knock out three bulls. It would just be enough to put the meta-human at her side to sleep.
He grinned and took the glass. "It was a beautiful kill."
"So I've heard. I knew it must be you as soon as I heard about it. No one else could have thought of it - they are too soft."
"Yeah", he agreed and drank; he finished the glass in one gulp.
"But tell me, did you come up with it all on your own? To use children, I mean? Or was it our Mistress' idea?"
"What do you think?" Crawler said and dried his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked at her with gleaming eyes.
She didn't know, that's why she had asked. But she couldn't read anything from the slight madness in his eyes. She wasn't really sure she wanted to.
"Did you rape them?" she asked, curiously.
"The kids? No-o... What fun would that have been? No, they were frightened enough. I could feel their fear, taste it, smell it..." His eyes glazed over for a moment and Huntress realized he was still high from the kill. It would probably last until next week - and then he would need something even more gruesome to top it with.
She was glad he hadn't raped the children; it would save her some time and effort. If he had raped them she would have stuck an iron rod up his ass and asked him if he enjoyed himself.
"It was... brilliant", Crawler said, slurring a bit on his words.
"I bet", she said.
"You should - you should have been... there..."
A moment later he passed out with his cheek on the counter. The bartender glanced worriedly at them, but Helena paid and pulled the murderer at her side with her as she left the bar; he was heavy, but her meta-human abilities made it easier for her to carry him. He would be in for a surprise when he woke up.
Not long after her visit to the bar, around half past five, Huntress was crouching at the dome of the Court House. Crawler was lying naked before her, spread on his back with his arms and legs chained to thick bolts pushed down into the roof. He was slowly waking up, but she didn't really care if he was awake or not for the next act.
"Huntress...?" he mumbled.
"Go back to sleep", she said. "Believe me - it will save you a lot of pain..."
As she pulled the heavy army knife from her belt she remembered the pictures Barbara had shown her: the two children in pools of blood - the terrified expression on their faces. She remembered Dinah's words: "My mother was killed..."
"What... What are you... doing?"
"On second thought, I don't want you to attract attention..."
It was in the middle of the day, late afternoon. Most people had left the Court.- most people would be on their way home at that moment. Home to their families.
She couldn't remember her family. Dinah had lost her mother... Some mother's in New Gotham had lost their children - they wouldn't want to return to their cold, empty homes.
"You..." Crawler begun, but she pushed a rag between his wide jaws and silenced him.
"No noise. Don't want anyone to spoil our fun."
She bent down at his side and when she looked him in the eyes and noticed the terrified expression she remembered the face of Barbara Gordon.
"You made a mistake, Crawler. You upset someone I happen to like..."
She remembered the anger, the fear and the helpless frustration Barbara had expressed that day. The woman had been so weary, trying to carry all the problems of New Gotham on her own.
Huntress wasn't much for community work, or for volunteer work, but this particular problem she could do something about. She considered it her good deed for New Gotham.
"If you know any prayers... I guess it's time to say them now."
She cut off his balls to begin with. He tried to scream, but there wasn't much noise coming from his stuffed mouth. He pulled at his chains, but she had been thorough in her work of tying him.
Then she slit him open, from below the navel all the way to his throat. Entrails and blood gushed out in a heavy stream.
She didn't feel anything when she rose beside him and looked down at his pained, horrified face. He had been a child once - a young kid in the cell with her, below Arkham Asylum. He had been different then: innocent and afraid. But as time went on he changed. When his meta-human abilities were known he changed into someone else. The kid he had been was gone forever - and even his face changed: Crawler had been born and he had never gone by any other name.
If Huntress would grieve it was for that child - the kid who had been lost and died in a dark, cold basement. Not for a killer that had enjoyed tormenting kids. Crawler had made his own choices and now he had paid the price for the wrong ones.
She threw away the knife and left the Court House. She had a date in an hour and she needed to see Quinzel before. And she was in desperate need of a shower.
Crawler was still alive when she left, but he wouldn't live long. And - she realized as she left - when he died that long lost child would finally have found peace.
At seven sharp she was standing outside the Clock Tower, pressing the door bell. She'd had a shower and then talked to her mentor, but her thoughts had been of Barbara. Crawler she had almost forgotten about - he would be dust and gone in a few days and no one would care. A few mothers would sleep easier, knowing a killer had been killed. Knowing the hunter had been hunted down.
Helena Kyle, on the other hand, had a new dilemma and even more confusion to deal with.
"The war is soon coming. It's soon time for the kill. Only days now..."
She nodded, not wanting to think about it. She hadn't told her mentor what she had done to Crawler - Quinzel would find out soon enough, when the rest of them did.
She hadn't told the Mistress much about Barbara's private life either and she knew Quinzel would soon push her to do so.
"Before you go out having a good time this night I want you to know the truth about Barbara Gordon."
"What?" she asked, cautiously. Her mentor never knew she spent time with Barbara after work.
"She is the one that's behind all of this. She's the last threat to us... to the meta-community. She's the one that's been opposing us all these years. She's the puppeteer, pulling the strings in this city... She's Oracle."
"Oracle?" she whispered.
"Yes, yes!" There was a strange gleam in her mentor's eyes. "Yes. She's the one that was behind your mother's murder. She's the one that saw to it that you ended up in Arkham Asylum. She's the one...!"
She didn't react and her mentor was looking at her, tilting her head to one side.
"This is your ultimate test."
"Test?" Something chilling went down her spine. She remembered a child in her dream - a child calling a name...
"Of your abilities, of course."
"Are you not... happy?"
Happy? She considered the word as Alfred let her into the Clock Tower.
"Miss Helena", he said, positively glowing. "You've done wonders for Miss Barbara today. I have a surprise for you."
"A surprise?" she said, giving Alfred her coat. The old butler smiled at her.
"For dessert. You'll see. Tell me", he added in a whisper. "What did you say to Barbara to get her home so early? And to even sleep for a few hours..."
Helena tried to hide a pleased smile. "I believe that's a secret of my trade. Can't tell you", she told him in a whisper, winking at him in a conspiring way. It made him laugh. "I have my ways", she added.
Happy? she thought as she slowly walked towards the living room where Barbara would be waiting. Happy to know that the one person who had finally brought some meaning into her life was the same person who had killed her mother? She wasn't happy - she was numb.
She had told her mentor she had learned something from Barbara. "She has taught me patience", she'd said. "And you have taught me how to extract the most from the sweet fruit called revenge."
She had also learned from Barbara, which she hadn't told her mentor, to not jump to conclusions. During the two weeks that had passed she had come to realize that the world indeed wasn't as black and white as she had viewed it - as those photographs Barbara had showed her.
She had come to doubt her own senses and she had even come to doubt her mentor's intentions. Everyone has a hidden agenda, she thought as she walked into the room and noticed Barbara in her wheelchair. She stopped. She didn't know Barbara Gordon's hidden agenda, but she didn't know her mentor's either. What she did know, though - as sure as she was seeing Barbara in that moment - was that Barbara would tell her the truth if she asked.
"Hi", Barbara said, smiling at her.
"Hi", she said, walking into the room. "Alfred told me you've rested."
Barbara nodded. "I did. Thank you for telling me off."
"I didn't bang your head in, this time."
"You didn't - and I listened, did you notice?"
Helena returned the smile. "I noticed." She sat down at the table, not sure how to ask the thing she needed to ask. "Where's Dinah?" she wondered.
"Oh, she's at a friends place. Don't worry", Barbara winked at her. "You're safe."
Helena shook her head and poured some wine for Barbara to hide her uneasiness. "I like her", she said. "She seems like a nice girl."
She didn't spend much time with Barbara's adoptive daughter. Dinah seemed to avoid her, which suited Helena perfectly - she too, preferred to avoid Dinah.
"Oh, she is. Thanks..." Barbara raised her glass to drink.
"It must be tough, losing her mother like that."
Helena nodded. "She was murdered. I... watched her die."
"I'm so sorry, Helena", Barbara said, almost in a whisper and when Helena looked up she realized there was tears in Barbara's compassionate, green eyes.
"They never caught the killer. He was human, hating metas. That's why... That's why he killed her and I..."
"Helena..." Barbara put down her glass and reached across the table, to put a hand on Helena's. "Not all humans are alike."
Helena instantly pulled away from the warmth of the other woman's touch. "What do you know?" she snapped, promptly rising from the chair. "You've never..."
"I was shot", Barbara interrupted softly, without reproach. Helena silenced, looking down at her. "My life was... ruined. My father was killed a few years ago, by a meta-human. Should I hate you, because of what another did? I've lost more than a handful of friends to this war - they've been both humans and metas, and they've been killed by both humans and metas. I watched my boyfriend go mad because of the choices he had to make. I've lost... I've lost so many people, Helena."
"But how...?" Helena whispered. "How do you do it? Why are you still here? Why do you... do this?"
"Because no one else will", Barbara said. "And because... Because if I don't, my life would have been wasted. It's my calling. It's my duty. And I won't give up until I die, even if the end comes soon."
Helena shook her head. "Did you ever kill someone?" she asked and noticed a pained expression in Barbara's eyes.
"I did", the other woman said, almost in a whisper. There was pain in her voice.
"What... happened? What did you do?" Helena didn't want to know, but she knew she had to ask.
"It was... an accident. It happened before - this..." Barbara patted her legs. "Before I ended up in this chair..." She sighed. "Actually, I ended up in this because of what happened."
Helena frowned, not getting it. "I thought you were shot at home?" She had done some research on her own about Barbara Gordon, reading about the break-in at Barbara's place seven years ago and about the gunshot that had changed her life.
"I was, but... See, this actually begins even further back in time. It began with Bruce Wayne. You know of him?"
Helena stiffened and felt a suffocating darkness almost overwhelm her. She inhaled slowly and nodded, trying to clear her head. "Yes", she said and heard to her surprise that she sounded completely normal. "He's the multimillionaire who almost owned this city several years ago, but he turned his back on it because of the meta-humans."
"That's not... entirely true", Barbara said cautiously. "He..." She paused when Alfred rolled in the food.
They waited in silence as the butler set the table to his liking and when he had left Helena sat down anew.
"What?" she said and tried hard to control her temper. She knew the truth about her father; her mentor had told her the whole story about how he abandoned her mother and left New Gotham, cursing meta-humans. Quinzel had said everything went back to Bruce Wayne - because he had condemned meta-humans the rest of the city's population did too.
"Bruce Wayne was a close friend of mine. He left Gotham City when the love of his life was killed. Until then he had never known he had a daughter - she disappeared at the same time as her mother was murdered. Bruce left Gotham to look for her and when he years later received news that she was dead... He couldn't come back. New Gotham holds too many bad memories for him."
Barbara nodded. "He never knew of his daughter and never met her. He loved the mother, but for reasons too complicated to tell the two of them could never be a couple. It had nothing to do with the fact that she was meta-human", she added, as an afterthought.
"But... What happened? What has this to do with you?"
"Bruce Wayne had many enemies. One of them was named the Joker. When Bruce left Gotham the Joker turned his attention to me. He... tried to kill me. There was a fight and... he lost. I killed him. I didn't mean to, it all happened so fast. I tried to hold on to him, as he was falling into the sea. He pleaded for me to help him and I was trying so hard to..." Barbara sighed and closed her eyes. "I couldn't. He slipped away from me. His body was found a couple of days later, crushed against the cliffs."
"And?" Helena whispered, trying to make sense of what she was hearing.
"And a few days after the Joker's funeral a woman turned up at my doorstep. She pointed a gun at me, saying it was time for me to pay my dues. She shot me..."
"And you ended up in the hospital..."
"And that's... the only one you've killed?"
Barbara nodded. "I regret it every day."
"And that's it? It's the only time you've killed someone?" she asked again, feeling her heart tearing in two different directions.
Barbara nodded. "Yes. It was awful..."
"You've never ordered the death of someone?" Helena almost snapped. Barbara blinked and looked shocked at her.
"Ordered...?" she whispered. "Why would I...?" Suddenly tears welled up in her eyes and Helena noticed such hurt in those green eyes it cut at her. "You believe I... How can you believe I would do such a thing? I thought - I thought you knew me, now..."
Barbara's voice wasn't more than a whisper, but Helena heard her clearly. She didn't know what she knew, anymore.
"What do I know?" Helena said curtly. "Everyone lies, everyone kills, everyone wears a mask in this city. No one dares be who they are."
"Not even you?" Barbara whispered.
Especially not I, Helena thought, holding Barbara's eyes.
"I could never kill, again", Barbara went on after a moment - still with tears on her cheeks; she seemed to be unaware of them. "I'm not a killer."
"And would you tell me, if you were?" Helena asked sharply. "I've heard... rumors, about you."
Barbara looked at her and the hurt expression in her eyes lessened. "I see", she said noncommittally. "No, if I were a killer I would probably not tell you. Would you?" she asked.
"Probably not", Helena said, without flinching.
"But... you've stayed - with me", Barbara said carefully. "Despite the rumors..."
Helena shrugged. "I need a job. I must do what's required of me."
"I see", Barbara said again. She averted her eyes for a moment, looking distractedly out the window at the side. "This place", she said slowly, almost thinking aloud. "This city... It's so dark. It's what it does to us, all of us - it sucks the life out of us. There's no light, even when the sun is shining." She turned her head and looked at Helena. "I don't believe in killing."
"Not even when someone deserves to die? Like Crawler?"
"It's not about if they deserve it or not, it's about what it would do to me - killing. It's about what I would become if I took the law in my own hands..."
"What law?" Helena sniffed.
"The law. Justice based on reason and logic and compassion, its what makes us different from animals. This city... The war going on here is not about survival - it's about humanity. Animals live only for survival - the survival of the fittest. They act on basic instincts, following crude desires - like Crawler. I don't want to become like that. If I kill in cold blood I wouldn't be better than him - I would become the thing I hate." She shook her head. "No - I'm more than that. I'm more than an animal only reacting in fear and hate. I'm a human - and I will not have anyone, not even Crawler, make me less human."
"You are an animal. You are the predator preying on the guilty, on the sinners, on the lawbreakers... You, my pretty - are a killer, born and bred. It is your nature and your desire - why would you deny it? Why deny something that feels so... right? You are the instrument of vengeance. Through you justice will be done, served to those who deserve it. Embrace your destiny and enjoy your kill. Not all people are as free to do as they please as you..."
She was torn. Torn between two different women.
Without Dr. Harleen Quinzel she would have been dead. Quinzel had given her a purpose to live; she had helped her to survive - but she had not given her life. The woman sitting in front of her had: Barbara Gordon, Oracle - the one who supposedly was behind her mother's death.
Barbara had breathed life into the cold, human-like statue that was Helena Kyle. For the first time in her life she understood what it meant to be human.
What am I? she thought. A murderer?
"To answer your question..." Barbara said. "I have never killed in cold blood." She suddenly frowned. "In this life", she added thoughtfully, as if she had come to think of something that was still only half a memory to her - something that was more of a dream than reality.
I have, Helena thought. And I never questioned why...
Something in Barbara's voice pulled her back to reality and she focused upon Barbara's face.
"Yes?" she asked, when Barbara didn't say anything. She couldn't read the other woman's eyes, or the expression on her face. It went too deep for her understanding.
"Will you promise me something?"
Helena frowned. "What?" she asked a little cautiously. She had never given a promise in her life. That she could remember.
"Will you take care of Dinah for me? Will you... protect her?"
"What are you talking about?" Helena asked angrily, although she knew perfectly well what Barbara was hinting at. Only - the other woman wasn't supposed to know that she was going to die. She wasn't supposed to even talk about it.
"I know she will come for me and I know I can't stop her."
"Huntress. Please, Helena - say you will protect Dinah for me. She's... She's my everything. And I know - the end will come soon."
"How do you know?"
Helena felt cold and numb, forgetting the food on her table.
"Because, next week is the anniversary of the Joker's death. I know she means me to die on that day."
"Huntress?" Fuck - I didn't even know about the Joker...
"No, the woman behind it all. The woman who shot me seven years ago and started this war when she blew up the Clock Tower, when she turned humans again meta-humans and meta-humans against humans... Her name is Harley Quinn, but she calls herself..."
"Harleen Quinzel", Helena whispered.
"You know her?"
Helena fought to regain her composure. "Who doesn't? I mean, I live in the meta-human zone... She's the... She's practically the guru of meta-humans. The mayoress of that part of the city."
"Self-appointed mayoress", Barbara said dryly. "She talks about meta-humans equal rights, but she never wanted to meet with me to discuss a peaceful future."
"Maybe she has a reason. No." Helena shook her head. "No", she repeated, shocked and stunned and confused. Who was playing with whom, here? How could Barbara ask her to protect Dinah? "I don't believe it. I've met with Dr. Quinzel and she's... respectable."
"I'm respectable and you accuse me of killing people", Barbara pointed out in a cynical voice. "You said it yourself - everyone's wearing a mask."
No, no. Helena shook her head, trying to regain some semblance of balance, of inner peace - but deep down she wondered who she was trying to fool: she hadn't been balanced since her first meeting with Barbara Gordon. And now...
"She's a doctor... She cares for meta-humans."
"I believe her to be the one they call the Mistress, leader of Black Dawn - the elite force of meta-humans who terrorize the entire meta-human zone. We've tried to outsmart each other for years. She wants to wage war - I want to stop it. People who've worked with me to find proof of who she really is have been killed. The man, the lawyer that was killed two weeks ago - he had found some proof of her real identity. Unfortunately Huntress killed him and destroyed the evidence before he had time to inform me about what he'd found. Once I even had proof that she's the real owner of Arkham Asylum and the one sanctioning the experiments on the meta-humans in the secret cells in the basement..."
"No..." Helena shook her head. "I don't believe it." It was too much for her. She couldn't deal with all the information in that moment. Her immediate response was to get up and leave, but that would mean leaving Barbara and another part of her resented that. So she stayed.
Barbara sighed. "It doesn't really matter. This is my battle, not yours. I don't want you to get caught in the middle, but... Dinah. Please, will you care for her? She has no one else and she's so young and vulnerable... I would feel much better about dying if I knew you'd take care of her."
"I promise", Helena heard herself say. "I won't let them get to her."
She didn't know whom she meant by "them" and it didn't matter. If Barbara died Dinah would have lost two mothers. Helena could imagine the pain that would cause.
She didn't want to think about it.
"Thank you", Barbara said, relieved. "Now, let's eat before it gets spoiled."
The rest of the dinner was spent talking about more pleasant subjects. Still, somewhere in the back of her mind the information Helena had been given that evening kept replaying itself. Did Barbara tell the truth about Harleen Quinzel - Harley Quinn? Or did she set her own trap for Helena? How did she know about the secret chambers below Arkham Asylum? Unless she had been the one constructing them...?
But Helena couldn't think bad thoughts about Barbara without remembering the gentleness of the other woman; the compassion in her eyes and the softness of her. She thought of how hard Barbara worked, how exhausted she often was and how hard she pushed herself for people who didn't even know what she did for them - for meta-humans no one else cared shit about.
"Alfred has a surprise for you", Barbara said when the butler brought the dessert. "Close your eyes."
"What?" Helena said suspiciously.
"Just do it. We won't force anything down your throat."
Grudgingly she did as she was told and waited impatiently as Alfred cleared the table and set it with the desserts.
"Alright - you can look."
"Viola!" Alfred said, revealing the bowl of strawberries, the plate with vanilla ice cream and a small silver bowl with soft, liquid licorice - all set on a silver tray on the table.
"It's Alfred's way of saying thank you for making me come home earlier on a Friday", Barbara said and Helena grinned - feeling like a child again and almost, almost forgetting what they had been discussing previously. In that moment she decided she didn't want to think about Gotham City's dark past and probably just as dark a future - she wanted to exist in the moment, with Barbara Gordon as her only company.
"Marvellous, Alfred. Absolutely marvellous", she said, winking at the older butler as she imitated his British accent. He laughed.
"Where are you going?" Barbara asked when Helena rose from the chair. Helena noticed the slight desperation in the other woman's voice and winked at her.
"I'm not leaving", she said and crossed the room. "I'm going to light a fire."
"A fire?" Barbara said pointedly.
"There are newspapers to light with at the side, Miss Helena", Alfred said, gesturing at the fire place.
Helena waved at the butler as he left the room. "Thanks, Alfred!"
"It's summer outside - it's warm inside", Barbara said.
"I don't care. I want a fire - I'm making a fire", Helena persisted and moved the armchairs and the coffee table out of the way.
"You always get what you want, don't you?" Barbara asked dryly.
Helena glanced back at her, grinning. "So far. And don't you forget it."
"I find it hard to forget", Barbara mumbled and Helena wasn't sure she was supposed to hear that or not. She wasn't sure what it meant, either.
"The ice cream is melting", Barbara pointed out some moments later.
"I don't mind. You eat it... As long as you save me some strawberries."
"Don't worry - we have loads of those", Barbara said, laughing.
Helena managed to get a fire burning and rose from the soft carpet in front of the fire place. When she looked towards the table she could see Barbara had indeed started in on the ice cream.
"Come", she said and moved across the room.
"What? What are you... doing?"
"Come on", Helena said and took Barbara's plate from her and placed it on the tray. She put the rest of the plates and bowls on the tray, together with their glasses, and brought it to the floor in front of the fire place. "Bring the wine", she called over her shoulder to Barbara. "Let's have a picnic."
"A picnic..." Barbara sounded as if she didn't know whether or not to laugh, but she brought the bottle of wine with her from the table as she wheeled across the room towards Helena, who had set the trey on the floor and was arranging the plates to her liking on the thick, soft carpet.
"Whatever you say... Here." Barbara handed her the bottle and then slid off her wheelchair and down on to the floor. With a few movements she moved closer to Helena and the dessert, which was neatly spread on the white carpet. She pulled up her legs and was seated comfortably.
"Alright?" Helena asked. "You don't mind sitting on the floor?"
"It's softer than the seat of my chair", Barbara said, smiling, and patted the fluffy carpet with one hand.
"Some more wine?"
Helena refilled their glasses and they made a toast.
"To Alfred", Helena said and made Barbara laugh.
"He would be delighted", she said. Helena grinned and watched Barbara sip her wine. A thought from a couple of weeks ago came to her mind.
"How's that almost fianc of yours?"
"Oh, thanks for asking. Wade's fine. I'm meeting his parents on Sunday. For the first time."
"Oh, ho!" Helena said, teasingly. "To be a fly on that wall..."
"Be nice. Wade's nice. I bet his parents are too."
"What does he do, actually? Has he asked you to marry him yet?"
"I believe you would have noticed if I wore a ring", Barbara said, holding up her left hand and showed her fingers.
I most certainly would... Helena thought, distracted by the way the light from the fire reflected itself in Barbara's red hair, in her green eyes... making soft shadows dance across her face. She's truly beautiful, she thought, suddenly feeling irrationally jealous of Wade.
"He's an English professor at the University. He teaches Shakespeare, mostly..."
Helena was pretending she was hiding a fake yawn and Barbara swatted at her with one hand.
"He's not boring!"
"If you say so", Helena grinned, avoiding Barbara's weak assault; Barbara glared at her. "Well, in any case I believe he got the better end of the stick and if his parents don't see that..." Helena shrugged. "Screw them. I'll knock them over their heads if they insult you. Although", she added mischievously, "you can be quite a pain in the neck, so maybe I should give them some leeway."
Barbara swallowed a strawberry, looking at her. "I believe there was a compliment somewhere in there, so I refuse to be insulted..."
"Would you ever ask Wade to share you with someone?" Helena wondered. She tilted her head to one side and studied Barbara closely.
"How do you mean?"
"Like... an open relationship. Would you sleep with someone even if you had sex with Wade and said you loved him the most?"
"Why would I have sex with someone else if I loved... love Wade?" Barbara frowned. "No. I don't believe in 'open relationships'. Either you are with someone, or you are not. Fine - if you have a relationship were neither partner mentions the word 'love', but that's different... That's not a relationship in the sense that I think you mean it."
Helena shook her head. "So you wouldn't?"
"If you had asked me a month ago if I ever would sleep with someone else while being with Wade I would have told you flatly no, but..." Barbara looked down in her lap, fiddling with some strands of the carpet. "Things have changed", she mumbled softly.
Helena repressed a soft gasp and her immediate question: In what way? Because of whom?
"I wouldn't cheat on Wade. I wouldn't have an affair, but if I met someone... If I... spend time with someone one night, I would break up with Wade the next day. It would be the right thing to do." Barbara inhaled quietly. "And... as said, if you'd asked me this last month, I would have told you the right thing would be to break up with Wade first - and then spend the night with someone... But my life - is a bit more complicated now."
Barbara was still looking down at her lap, looking unusually nervous; sounding tense.
"We've finished the strawberries", Helena said, looking at the empty bowl and trying to disregard the tense emotions the other woman's words brought up in her. Barbara looked up.
"I have one left. You can have it."
"Let's share..." Helena said and reached for the lonely strawberry on Barbara's plate. She dipped it in the licorice sauce. "Here", she said and leaned forward, closing the space between them. "Take the half..." She held the strawberry to Barbara's mouth. The other woman hesitated, but then opened her mouth just enough so Helena could push the strawberry between her lips. She bit down and divided the berry in two. Helena took the other piece and put in her mouth, slowly chewing.
"You've got licorice on you chin", Barbara said, gesturing - keeping her eyes on Helena's mouth.
"Here..." Barbara leaned forward and used her thumb to dry the tiny speck of licorice from Helena's lower lip. The gesture was spontaneous and gentle, but when Barbara realized what she was doing she caught herself. Helena felt her fingers tremble slightly against her skin. She noticed the suddenly dilating pupils and the deep intake of breath from the other woman. The touch had been - was - soft and tender, caressing in an unconsciously sensuous way. The way Helena remembered Barbara's fingers had caressed the rim of her wine glass that first day...
And she felt her eyes change.
"Your eyes..." Barbara whispered and lowered her hand. She did not let go of Helena's eyes. They looked at each other, breathing deeper than before. Helena suddenly felt the heat from the fire - from her own body. She could smell the scent of Barbara, hear her breathing, feel the heat from her body... Her eyes went to Barbara's lips.
I want, she thought. What she wanted she took. She leaned forward.
She leaned forward at the same moment as Barbara did.
Their lips touched, softly, gently... carefully. Helena trembled with conflicting emotions: want, fear, need and exhilaration... She had never kissed anyone so tenderly before, so... softly and delicately. She felt Barbara sigh and heard her soft moan of pleasure as their kiss deepened and their tongues tentatively sought each other out. To feel Barbara's hesitant, shy probing with her tongue - wet and warm and oh... so soft, so soft - sent a rush of heat through Helena's body, almost making her lose control. She wanted to grab Barbara by the neck and deepen the kiss even further - harder, more passionately - but she was afraid she would frighten the other women. Consequently she kept still, hardly moving - although her body trembled with the need to reach out and touch Barbara.
When Barbara lifted a hand and caressed Helena's cheek with gentle fingers, letting her fingers stroke sensitive skin and encircling her neck to pull Helena closer to her, Helena heard herself making a soft groan of pure desire. In the next moment she grabbed the other woman and pushed her down against the carpet, brusquely kissing her.
"Oh, Barbara", she heard herself mumble between the kisses with a sense of pleasure and need - but also in relief.
"Shhh", Barbara said, gently looking up at her and caressing her cheek.
Helena caught herself, staring down at the other woman. What's happening to me? she thought, distressed. What am I doing? I can't do this! I'm supposed to kill her!
In that moment she knew she would never be able to complete her mission. She could not kill Barbara Gordon. And what if everything is a lie? What if everything she's told me... is a fake? What if this is fake? The cold spread through her heart. She didn't want Barbara to be a fake. She didn't want the gentleness in those beautiful eyes to be all pretence. She'd rather die herself than to realize that everything Barbara had been to her - that the kiss they'd shared - was a lure to trick her and to trap her.
"No..." she whispered. "I can't - I can't... do this!"
"Helena!" Barbara desperately called as Helena practically flew up from the floor, swirled around and was gone. "Helena!"
What was true anymore? She didn't know. She couldn't trust her own feelings - her own instinct, which had never let her down before - or even what she saw and heard. The past, her past, was a tangle of loose ends never really tied together. How did Barbara Gordon fit into her past? Who was Harleen Quinzel, her mentor who had cared for her and educated her - who had trained her to become a killer and never once showed her what it was like to be human?
Why? Who am I? What am I?
She had never cared. The only thing she had cared about was revenge. And it had turned her into a monster.
She didn't know where to go. She didn't know what to do. Her mind told her to return to Quinzel at the Dark Horse - her heart told her to return to Barbara.
Why do I call her Quinzel? she suddenly wondered. Why not Harleen - or Harley?
Rushing through the late evening and the darkness, memories from the past haunted her: torture at the hands of scientists in narrow cells below Arkham Asylum; endless nights spent alone and afraid; pain and terror gripping her in the dark; cruel doctors with pointy instruments and electronic devises bringing more pain... And then - the one person who showed her some sympathy, who talked to her and brought her gifts, who promised she would free her, who told her she was special and strong.
"You are so beautiful and so precious, pretty one. That's why they are hurting you. They are jealous and afraid. They don't understand people who are like you. But I do. I will help you... I will tell you a secret, pretty. I play their game better than they do, so I know how to beat them. Will you love me if I get you out of here?"
"Yes. Yes, please. Please get me out of here, Dr. Quinzel. I will love you. I will love you always..."
"How will you love me, pretty? How will you love me, my dear?"
"I will do anything for you. Always. I promise. Please, please - just get me out of here!"
She had been thirteen.
Was it true, what Barbara had told her? That Harleen Quinzel, her respected mentor, was the true owner of Arkham Asylum? The one conducting experiments on meta-humans and on children, so that she could save them and turn them into... killers?
"No..." she whispered into the night. "No, no, no..."
She had never loved her mentor. She couldn't say why. Barbara probably could tell me, she thought distractedly. She had always wanted to keep her distance from Quinzel, for some reason she could never explain. That's why she never called her by her first name - not even when they fucked each other. She had never called anyone's name in the heat of the moment.
Except whispering Barbara's...
"No!" she screamed, throwing out her arms towards the sky - as if cursing a higher being. A higher power. "No-oo!"
She wanted to be free, but she didn't know what freedom was anymore. Perhaps she wanted the freedom to walk down the street without seeing fear in people's eyes. Perhaps the freedom to be who she was without being hated for it. Or perhaps the freedom to love - and to be loved in return.
Or perhaps freedom was to live without having to kill.
When she killed for the first time, she had suffered for months. Quinzel had rebuked her because of it. She had been called weak and worthless having brought shame to the entire Black Dawn. But she had been so sick, feeling so nauseated at the very thought of what she had done. In the end she just learned to block the emotions from her mind. She built a wall around her heart and never let anyone in - or anything that would cause her to feel weak and worthless. She told her mentor she would only kill when it was absolutely necessary and only those who really deserved it.
She had enjoyed being the instrument of vengeance. It had given her a sense of worth - it had filled her with a sense of power. It was always a thrill to know she had the power to take lives - she was the Huntress, goddess of death. In her world she was revered like a dark queen.
In Barbara's eyes she wouldn't be anything else other than another killer, another beast like Crawler.
She crouched down at the dome of the Court House, too cold at heart to even cry. Behind her black birds picked at the mess that was left of Crawler, suspiciously eyeing her with gleaming, dark eyes. Crows and ravens, birds of carnage.
I'm lost, she thought, looking at the moon. One part of her wondered why she even should bother to fight against her past. Embrace the darkness, it said, in Quinzel's voice. It told her to harden her heart and to follow her calling as a killer. It told her that was all she was and that she could never change to become anything else. It told her Barbara would hate her anyway, so why bother letting the bitch live... Those words, they were hard and strong and loud within her and the only thing speaking against them was Barbara's desperate cry: Helena, when she had left... And a soft, soft whisper in the innermost part of herself, barely audible if she didn't pay it attention, telling her that her life could have been different and that she could have been a different person, not a killer - but a hero.
She didn't return to her apartment above the Dark Horse until Monday morning. She had been fretting the whole weekend about what to do, but she hadn't reached any conclusions. She knew her mentor was probably wondering where she was, but she didn't contact Quinzel. She wanted to see Barbara first.
She had spent the weekend in the swamps, in an abandoned cottage near the harbor. No one ever came there and she had been left alone with her brooding thoughts and conflicting emotions. When she returned to her flat all she did was to take a shower and change clothes, before she headed off to the City Hall.
It was almost noon before she entered Barbara's office without knocking. This time she didn't come bringing a peace offering. She wasn't sure what she expected to happen, but her intentions - if she had any - were cut short when she noticed Barbara behind her desk, in tears.
"Barbara? What's wrong?" she immediately asked and stepped into the room.
Barbara looked up for a second, then lowered her face and dried her tears. "Nothing", she said shortly, replacing her glasses and then turned to the computer screen.
"What - nothing?" Helena said, annoyed. "One doesn't cry for nothing - especially not you."
"So? It's none of your business, is it?" Barbara said dismissively, refusing to look at her.
"Don't give me that crap!" Helena hissed and crossed the room. She leaned forward across the desk. "Don't tell me it's not any of my business, not after..." She caught herself.
"Not after - what?" Barbara said coolly, putting down her glasses. Her eyes were hard and cold. "What do you care, Helena? Do you care that my fianc's parents think I'm a freak, or that I'm going to die? Do you care anything about all the people who've died, or even about all the metas who've died in this... this fucking war?" She threw out her hands.
"You are afraid to die?" Helena whispered.
"Of course I'm afraid!" Barbara snapped. "What do you think I am - a robot, not feeling anything?"
Helena slowly inhaled. Then Barbara's other words hit her. "Wade's parents called you a freak?" She straightened and felt her eyes changing. "You are not a freak. You might be a stubborn ass, but you are not a freak! I'm gonna..."
"You are going to do what, exactly?" Barbara asked sarcastically, but less angry. "Bang their heads in?"
They looked at each other.
"That... would probably not make them change their minds, no", Helena said softly after a moment. She felt her eyes change back to normal and made a slight, apologizing gesture with her hand. "I'm sorry, I just..." She sighed. "I don't know."
"Well, thank you for defending me, in any case", Barbara said with a small smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Why... Why did you...?" She silenced, but tried again. "If you care about me you wouldn't have left", she said and Helena gasped.
In that moment the phone rang and Barbara turned to look at it.
"I'm sorry, I need to take this", she said, lifting the handle. "Yes? Oh, Wade - hi..."
Helena stared at the woman in front of her, not knowing what to say or do. She had known, seeing Barbara in tears, that she'd do anything to make her happy again, but when she heard the other woman speak his name... She clenched her fists at her side.
Barbara hung up and looked at Helena. "I'm having lunch with Wade. I'll see you later." Her voice was formal and a bit clipped to Helena's ears.
"You're leaving? Now?"
"Yes, now. I need to speak to Wade."
"And what about... us?"
"Us?" Barbara wheeled out from behind her desk and forced Helena to back a few steps. "There isn't even an us to talk about. You're just another one of my dark, handsome and mysterious..." Barbara made a face. "We all know what happens to those - they leave. I'm sorry, I have to go."
Barbara wheeled out the door and Helena didn't know how to stop her. What could she say, when Barbara was right? I'm even worse than those abandoning her - I was sent to kill her...
"Did you know?" Barbara stopped in the hallway and looked back at her. "They found Crawler dead. At the roof of the Court House. There had been a mass of black birds hovering, that attracted someone's attention, and that was how they found his body. He had been spread out like the children on the pictures I showed you, on his back... He was gutted - like a pig. From below his navel and to his throat..."
"Gruesome", Helena said, dispassionately.
"Although he had it coming", Helena said. "He deserved it, don't you think?"
Barbara held her eyes for a moment. "Don't we all?" she finally said - softly, barely audible - before she turned away and wheeled down the hall, towards the elevators at the end of the corridor.
Helena had visited the Clock Tower around seven to ask for Barbara, but Alfred had informed her that the other woman hadn't yet returned home yet. So she waited.
She waited in the shadows of the once magnificent tower for a woman she was supposed to hate to return home, just so she could catch a glimpse of her red hair - of her face. Only to hear her voice.
At nine thirty Barbara had not yet returned and Helena couldn't wait any longer. She sneaked into the tower through an open window on the second floor and made her way through the silent flat to Barbara's bedroom.
Barbara had given her the grand tour of her home on one of the first days and she had memorized everything - down to the smallest ornaments on the shelves. The flat had two floors, with two en-suite bedrooms and an office on the second floor. The office was placed in the middle and Dinah's room was on the other end of the corridor, away from Barbara's. Alfred had a room on the first floor, past the kitchen and a room Barbara had preferred to call the library.
Barbara used an elevator to get to the second floor; it was leading to the hallway right to her bedroom, but she'd also had a ramp installed beside the primary stairwell - for her to be able to get down to the first floor in case of power-failure.
Helena sneaked into Barbara's bedroom and looked around. It was as neatly kept as she remembered it from her first and only visit; showing a double bed in front of double windows covered with dark, thin and almost transparent curtains. There was an armchair beside the large cupboard placed exactly to the left of the entrance - the chair was between the en-suite and the cupboard; Helena sat down in it and prepared herself to wait.
Fifteen minutes past ten Barbara wheeled into her bedroom without turning the light on. Helena could see her clearly - partly due to the soft, yellow light from the corridor and partly due to her night vision. She heard Barbara sigh as the other woman wheeled towards her bed and lit a lamp on the nightstand.
Barbara seemed weary and sad. She lifted herself from the wheelchair and moved to the bed without effort. Helena watched her and knew...
She wanted the other woman. She wanted her more than she'd wanted anything in her life.
In that same moment Barbara looked up. She gasped and Helena noticed a moments fear in her eyes, before it faded and Barbara straightened her back.
"Helena", she said. "Have you come to...?" She silenced, seemingly not able to finish the sentence.
Helena rose from the chair with a heavy, crystal-clear realization: she was in heat. She was wet and warm and there was an ache within her she had never felt before; an aching not only of her fevered body, but of her soul.
She wanted Barbara - to drink her in, to lay naked upon her and to kiss her bare shoulders, her neck, her breasts... to suck at her nipples and to feel her heaving body beneath her... To caress her skin, to kiss the nakedness of her, to let her fingers and her tongue enter the secret entrance she could swear no other woman before her had ever touched. She wanted to bring the other woman pleasure, such pleasure Barbara had never felt before... She wanted to tease her, to make her beg for her to touch her, to press her against the pillows and the soft sheets - to take her, to ravage her, to make her hers...
God, how I want to fuck her, she thought, staring into the eyes of Barbara Gordon. And before she knew what she had planned to do she was at Barbara's side.
She roughly pushed the other woman down on the bed and held her there, breathing heavily. Her eyes had augmented - she was a predator in that moment; forgetting everything except her own needs. She bent her head and licked the side of Barbara's throat, the side of her chin...
Barbara wriggled beneath her, pushing at her with her hands, but when Helena sucked at her neck and pressed her hips against hers she stiffened and made a soft, seemingly involuntary sound and clutched hard at Helena's shoulders - pressing Helena closer to her.
Barbara wore a white blouse and slick, black trousers. Helena tore at the blouse and made the bottoms fly in all directions.
"Helena, please..." Barbara pleaded in a strained, thick voice. Helena wasn't sure what the other woman asked of her and she didn't care. Her hands unfastened the light blue bra and exposed Barbara's breasts; she found them beautiful and soft. So soft... She wanted to bury her face in them, to breathe in the scent of the other woman. She didn't, but she let her fingers trace the lines and curves of the soft flesh, without taking her eyes from Barbara's naked, exposed chest. The skin gleamed and shone in the soft light... She wanted to taste it, to know if it was as velvet-soft as it looked. She bent down and slowly kissed the bare skin, feasting on it with long, slow strokes of her tongue. Barbara shivered and again made a low, throaty sound of pleasure.
Helena licked at the base of a breast and then took the nipple in her mouth. She sucked long and hard on it, making Barbara whimper - before she abruptly let go and moved down Barbara's body; kissing, roughly touching as she went... She pressed her hips against Barbara's, pushing the other woman against the bed and feeling her own raw need as a throbbing, almost painful ache between her legs. There was no holding her back, she ripped open the buttons to Barbara's trousers and was just about to rip them off her when Barbara's hands held her back.
"Don't 'please' me", she growled, looking up at the woman with her cat's eyes. "You want this as much as I do... I can feel it, I can smell it..." She put her hands inside Barbara's trousers and felt the wetness, the softness of her. "Feel..." she growled lowly, letting her fingers thrust at Barbara. Barbara clutched at her with stiff fingers. "This is what you want - not him!"
"Yes! Yes, I do!" Barbara managed to control herself and took Helena's face between her hands, looking at her with a gentleness almost completely drowned in desire. "Oh, God - how I want you, Helena", she whispered. "I have since... But not like this. Please, kiss me..."
"No!" Helena spat, pulling away her hand. She bent her head and again drowned Barbara's body in rough kisses, licking and nipping at her.
"Please, Helena... Don't do this to me, to us..."
"There is no us! Remember?"
There was such anger and frustration and hurt and desire within her she didn't know what to do with the emotions tearing at her. And beneath it all, beneath the rage and hurt, there was the one, conflicting origin of it all: the need to be loved - and the fear that she wouldn't be.
"Helena... I broke up with Wade."
Helena came to an abrupt halt with what she was doing. She raised her eyes and looked at Barbara's sincere face.
"I broke up with him", Barbara said gently. "I couldn't... I didn't feel for him the way I..." She silenced, looking at Helena with a searching, vulnerable expression.
Helena didn't know what to say. The only thing she felt at that moment seeing the defenseless look in Barbara's eyes was pure, fierce desire. She couldn't think straight. All she wanted was to feel Barbara's naked skin beneath her fingertips, Barbara's lips and her mouth upon her own... She wanted to hear the other woman breathe heavily in her ear, to hear her whisper her name and to feel Barbara caress her skin, her breasts, the sensitive skin inside her thighs...
With a snarl she again pressed Barbara against the bed, holding down her upper body and spreading her legs with one hand as she gripped her right breast with the other. Her mouth found Barbara's nipple and she sucked hard at it, hearing Barbara's cry - a mixture of pain and pleasure. Her other hand tore at the material of the other woman's trousers, finding its way in between her thighs to again feel the wetness of Barbara, circling her clitoris with a few fingers and then entering her soft, warm flesh...
"Helena..." Barbara called in a thick, unclear voice. Her fingers dug deeply into the flesh in Helena's shoulders and would leave marks even through the leather. "Please..."
Helena's tongue circled around Barbara's nipple and she felt the stiffness of it, the softness of the sensitive flesh...
"Oh, Helena..." Barbara whispered, but then there was something in her voice that made Helena look up. When she noticed the tears on Barbara's cheeks she stiffened.
"Please, kiss me", Barbara whispered.
"No", Helena said coldly. That one kiss had been enough. That one kiss... had altered her and she wouldn't want that again.
Barbara made an effort as if to sit up. "Then I will have to ask you to leave", she said.
Helena blinked. "What?" she snapped. "Now?" she said incredulously. "I won't."
Barbara sat up and leaned against the wall, looking at her with hurt and desire: a strange mix.
"You want this as much as I do", Helena said, leaning forward and grazing her tongue against Barbara's left nipple. She felt the immediate response and also heard the sharp intake of breath from the other woman.
"I do", Barbara whispered with closed eyes. She opened them as Helena looked at her. Again there were tears on her cheeks. "But not like this..." She fumbled with the blouse and managed to fasten a few left-over buttons to cover her exposed breasts.
"Not like what?" Helena said annoyed, making a careless gesture with her hand. "It won't get any better than this..."
"Helena..." Barbara whispered tenderly and caressed her cheek with one hand. "Please..." She bent forward, gently kissing Helena on the cheek. Her mouth was soft, tickling... Helena closed her eyes at the sudden intimacy, feeling a dark pull at her heart: pain and fear - and lust far greater than anything she had ever felt in her life before. She wanted nothing more than to turn her head to kiss the other woman, to meet her lips and to kiss her, again and again... and again.
Barbara's lips reached her mouth and she lost all control; she grabbed the other woman and pressed her towards the wall, kissing her fiercely. Barbara grabbed her by the neck and pulled her closer, willingly returning the wild kiss with a fiery passion of her own.
Helena felt herself drowning in the other woman, in her arms, in her touch, in her kiss... "No!" she cried in desperation and pulled loose, staring at Barbara - at her still moist eyes, so beautiful in their vulnerability, and at her swollen lips - with despair. "No..." she whispered.
"Helena..." Barbara reached out and touched her cheek in a gentle, affectionate caress. "I want you so much, but I..." She shook her head. "I want this to be more than about sex... I don't want to be fucked by you - I want to make love to you."
"No", she whispered again, terrified at the response she felt at Barbara's words. "No", she snarled, letting the fear turn to anger. "You have no choice in this... It's my way or no way", she growled.
There was no fear in Barbara's eyes, only sadness. "Rape me then, if you want to... I will let you, if that's what you need to make you feel better about yourself. Rape me - and kill me then... I know why you have come to me. I know who you are... Huntress. And I still love you. I'd rather die at your hands, than at the hands of another."
Barbara's words made Helena tumble backwards and almost fall of the bed. She regained her balance and stood by the side of the bed, looking down at the woman before her. "You... know me?" she whispered. "All this...?" She made a helpless gesture with one hand. "You've known... from the start? You tricked me..."
"Helena..." Barbara reached for her.
"You tricked me!" Helena snarled and was at Barbara's side, pressing her against the wall with one, strong hand around her throat.
"No..." Barbara said, swallowing. "Please", she said with difficulty as Helena increased the pressure on her throat. "Listen..."
"You tricked me!"
There was nothing that could compete with the rage she felt. Even her mentor had feared her once, seeing her so angry - but there was no fear in Barbara's eyes. The woman looked at her with compassion, understanding and something that went far beyond affection. Helena hated her for it.
"I will kill you now", she whispered in a cold, hard voice.
Barbara couldn't speak, but she made a slight movement with her head. Her eyes... Her eyes seemed to give Helena permission to do what she intended to do.
"You fucking, lying bitch...!" Helena could hardly speak with the emotions welling up inside of her, again tearing her soul apart.
"You bastard - let go of her!"
The voice suddenly interfering with Helena's thoughts - echoing within her - belonged to Dinah; she recognized it, but it was so full of anger and loathing it was difficult to match it with the young, innocent girl. Helena wanted to look around to localize Barbara's adoptive daughter, but she found she couldn't move. She also found, with outmost incredulity, that her fingers were twisted loose from Barbara's neck by an invisible force. Barbara gasped for breath in a shock of air that turned into a cough as soon as Helena's fingers let go of her.
"If you've harmed her in any way I swear I'll kill you!" Dinah's voice said in Helena's head and Helena suddenly felt an incredible, searing pain cut through her mind. She was thrown backwards by the sheer force of it, wordlessly screaming.
"Dinah, let her go!" Barbara's words echoed around her, mixed with the terrible pain. The pain was instantly released and Helena leaned forward on the bed, gasping for breath. She looked up and straightened up, but was instantly trapped by the invisible force again. It held her tight and prevented her from moving and from speaking.
"Dinah", Barbara said softly. "Let her go..."
"No", the girl said in a hard, unrelenting voice.
The second last murder Helena had committed had been against a meta-human. She couldn't remember his name, but Quinzel had told her he had been a traitor to meta-humans and planned the downfall of the whole meta-human zone. Helena had been sent to kill him, but when she arrived at his house he had tricked her. He had used his ability as a meta-human to enter her mind and to turn her own fears against her. From the depths of the shadows in her unconscious mind he had found the terrors of her childhood: the memories of her mother's death and the horrors of the months, even years, spent in Arkham Asylum. He almost killed her while she was busy screaming in fear and pain, but she had, by sheer force of will, twisted loose from his invisible chains and his hold on her mind. She had snapped his neck and killed him.
Helena knew that given time she would manage to break Dinah's hold on her. She even tried to force the girl out of her mind, but Dinah was stronger than the man had been and slipped away. Still Helena was sure she could beat the girl and kill her, if she just had... In the next moment she felt the searing pain again. It only lasted for a few moments.
"Don't move, murderer", Dinah said acidly; her voice came from the right of the room and Helena guessed she was standing in the doorway. "I know what you are thinking and I will kill you before you have the chance to twist free from me."
"Dinah", Barbara said again. "Let her go."
"She was trying to kill you!"
"She won't", Barbara said, looking at Helena. "Will you?"
Helena wanted to tell her she would. She wanted to put her hands around Barbara's slender neck and slowly strangle her, but she knew she wouldn't. She couldn't kill Barbara. If she had wanted the other woman dead, then Barbara would have been dead long before Dinah turned up.
She wasn't sure what Barbara read in her eyes, but the woman turned her head - obviously looking at Dinah.
"Let her go now, Dinah."
"I won't let her kill you..."
"We've talked about this..."
"You've talked about it! I don't want to lose you!"
"You won't. Please, let her go."
Helena could feel the hold on her mind and her body loosened, bit by bit - as if Dinah was reluctant to let go of her, but didn't know how to disobey Barbara.
"Go now", Barbara gently told Dinah when Helena turned her head and looked at the girl in the doorway.
Dinah was dressed in jeans and a long sleeved, tight top in black and pink. Her blond hair was a bit disheveled and Helena wondered if she had been asleep.
"I swear", the girl said again, glaring dangerously at Helena. "If you harm her..." She didn't finish the sentence, but her eyes spoke volumes. Without another word she turned around and left.
"You told me she was a telepath", Helena said. "You lied."
"She is... also", Barbara said. "She's just - more than that. She's been trained by meta-humans and humans alike. I believe you met one of her tutors - the best of them. His name was Larry Ketterly - and he was killed by Huntress."
"He was a traitor", Helena said, almost spitting. "Just like you!"
"If in your world you're a traitor if you work to preserve peace - or to create peace, then... Yes."
"What are you?" Helena asked. "Who are you?"
"Please, Helena..." Barbara reached out to touch her, but Helena shied away.
"Don't touch me!"
"You know me, Helena..."
"You tell me, that everything you've told me was true?"
"You are the one who's been lying, coming to kill me", Barbara said. "Don't I have a right to accuse you? Or to defend myself?"
Helena shook her head. "I trusted you!"
"Did you? You just tried to kill me a moment ago..."
"You lied to me!"
"I have told you the truth about everything!" Barbara snapped. "Yes. I knew who you were when you stepped into my office that first day. I knew the Mistress - AKA Harley Quinn, AKA Dr. Harleen Quinzel - would send someone for me. And I have news for you... My previous P.A. didn't quit because his daughter was beaten up. He wanted to continue to work for me. He even told me he would rather die than let anyone force him to surrender to the evils in this city. I fired him, because I knew it was time. I knew Huntress would come for me, and I knew Harley Quinn would want some information from me first."
"You knew... all this time. You... conniving..."
"Kill me if you have to, but please know this..." Barbara held Helena's eyes. "My feelings for you are real, Helena. You being Huntress doesn't change that. I meant what I said: I'd rather die by your hand than by anyone else's. But please, protect Dinah. She is the future of this city. She's the only hope to bring peace between metas and humans..."
Helena frowned, curious against her will. "What do you mean?"
"It's what I've trained her to be. All those metas, coming to visit me... They've trained her, they've talked to her... Gibson Kafka, Frosty, all the rest - they know her. With her as the leader of the meta-human zone there will be peace."
Barbara nodded. "That's my ultimate plan for New Gotham. Not killing off the entire meta-human community. I don't know what Harley Quinn has told you about me, but... I'm not a killer, Helena. Dinah's not a killer. If I had raised her to be a killer you'd be dead by now."
"But... You want me to protect her?"
"Who else? You are the only one strong enough. The two of you, side by side. Dinah as the mayor of New Gotham's meta-humans and you as her... adviser."
"You'd want me to kill for her?" Helena whispered, but Barbara shook her head.
"No. But I'd ask you to die for her. To protect her, to serve her - in order to serve your people and this city. I have a dream, Helena. I told you. I have a dream about this city... I want it to be glorious. And Dinah is the answer. But she is still too young..."
"I don't... understand. Why didn't I know about her? Why doesn't Quinzel know about her? If everyone else knows about her, how could they not tell us? They fear us - they tell us everything."
"There's one thing more powerful than fear", Barbara said softly.
Helena frowned. "What would that be?"
"Love. The metas love Dinah. Not because she is their hope - well, that too, but mostly because she is who she is. She's a lovely person. She cares about people and they feel that from her. She's been trained for years, Helena. By me, by others. We have a secret headquarter here, in this tower. The Clock Tower only looks ruined from the outside, but in fact we have an elevator reaching a secret headquarter at the top of the building."
"Here? Why are you telling me this?"
"It's what you wanted to know, isn't it? It's what you need to tell your... Quinzel. Just tell me you will honor your promise. Keep Dinah safe for me, from Harley Quinn."
And what about me? Helena thought. Did you care the least about me?
"You told me she was a telepath to keep me away from her", she said, realizing the truth.
"To protect you both", Barbara said. "Dinah knew who you were that first day when you met..."
Helena remembered the strange exchange of words between the girl and Barbara that day. "You tricked me into giving that promise", she snapped. "She's known, and you've known... all this time. You must have laughed at me..."
"You are not listening to me again", Barbara said, almost pleadingly. "Hear what I'm saying, Helena. I love you. I know you... I knew your mother. I knew you as a child. I knew your father..."
"My father hated me!"
"Your father didn't know you existed! Remember? I told you about Bruce Wayne..."
She had. Helena hadn't wanted to think about it.
"Your mother would have been devastated had she known what you've turned into. What you've let yourself turn into."
"My mother would have been proud!" she exclaimed. "She fought humans!"
"Your mother was a thief until she got you", Barbara snapped. "Then she changed her ways and became a legal citizen. She loved you very much. She never told your father about you, but I knew. You don't remember me, but you and I... we were friends when you were a child. I lost you. I swear, I tried to find you. Your father tried to find you, but Dr. Harleen Quinzel took you away from me..."
"That is not true!"
"I still have the papers she signed saying it would be best for you if you were brought to a 'special care centre for children with your problems'. I'll show you if you don't believe me. I've had those papers for years, always carrying them with me. All other records have been destroyed, to wipe out her signature from the orders."
Helena knew that much was true; she had tried finding records of her own childhood, but they were all gone or destroyed. It had been the same with Crawler's records, and with Slick's and the others.
"I have them. They are in my handbag, if you want to see."
"They could be forged", Helena heard herself say, but she knew in her heart they wouldn't be. She also knew she didn't need to see them to know Barbara was telling the truth.
"You know, the funny thing about Dr. Quinzel... Harley Quinn was once a human. I don't believe many people know that. Most people who knew her before she became meta-human are dead by now - assassinated."
"You can't just 'become' meta-human like that!" Helena snapped, suddenly reminded about her desire for Barbara when she caught a glimpse of the other woman's naked skin beneath the white blouse; the material moved softly as Barbara gestured with her hands.
"It took her awhile before she finally succeeded and it cost several meta-humans their lives. She managed to transfer a meta-human's power to her by using a highly advanced electronic machine... I won't get into details about the technique, but her meta-human ability to create flames was 'stolen' from another meta-human, who was then killed.
Helena wondered how Barbara would know about Quinzel's meta-human abilities; only a few people did. "You know a lot", she said.
"It's my business to know many things", Barbara said. "I don't know if you know it, but I also use the name Oracle..."
"I've heard it", Helena admitted. She'd heard the name on many lips, not only in the human part of the city. Most people spoke well about the all-knowing Oracle - except Dr. Harleen Quinzel. "You used me", she said, not able to move beyond that point.
"I didn't know who Huntress was, Helena - you must believe me! And I thought you were dead. Everyone thought you were dead! But when I saw you in my office... I knew you then. And I knew you were Huntress. It would be Harley Quinn's ultimate revenge, to have you kill me. When I die - just please, tell me you will care for Dinah. Not only for her or my sake, but for the sake of New Gotham..."
"I will", Helena heard herself say. "I will care for her. But you..."
"I knew you, Helena. I wish you could remember, all the things we did... The fun we had. I know you, Helena. I know you now... and I love you. Please, remember that. I wish I could show you... I wish I could make you believe..."
I do, Helena thought. I do know. I do believe... Or at least she wanted to.
She looked at Barbara and in the next moment she had leaned forward and kissed the other woman. It was a soft, vulnerable kiss to begin with, but it soon turned in to a heavy, passionate kiss of clashing teeth and fiercely probing tongues. She felt Barbara's immediate and willing response and pulled her closer, crushing their lips against each other. She put all her desire into that kiss; all her will and love and need... And then she let go.
There was someplace she needed to be. There was someone she needed to see. And she was too confused to fuck Barbara in that moment, although all her senses told her to do so. It was the first time she didn't follow her immediate desire.
It would have been easy to let go and move with the flow. Too easy. She had followed her mentor's orders for too many years, listened to too many of her speeches about the traitorous and dangerous Oracle and spent too many dark nights scaling the buildings of New Gotham on her own to so easily turn her back on her past.
She was Huntress - a killer and a predator. She did not easily listen to the quiet voice within whispering to her of love and peace.
Besides - she was confused and she didn't know what to believe. She didn't know who to believe. And her lust for Barbara was dangerous - it might lure her to come to the wrong conclusions, to make the wrong decisions.
She had to leave.
"Helena..." she heard Barbara's voice whispering. There were no demands in it - only an unspoken question.
Although it was late Quinzel was still at her office at her headquarters when Helena arrived. The blond woman spun around in the chair and rose when she noticed Helena.
"Huntress! Where have you been, pretty?" she asked with slight reproach in her voice as she walked towards her charge.
Helena was still confused and angry - and still wet with lust for Barbara. Her eyes were a predator's: all sharp and deadly. She needed answers and she needed to hear the truth, but when she saw her mentor she knew she wouldn't get what she wanted from her.
She was a mess in that moment - torn between her past and her present. The future... She couldn't even begin to think past the moment she was in. The next step in her life would either involve killing Barbara Gordon - or... Or maybe killing the one person who had cared for her most of her life.
Who could live a life like that, she thought - never knowing the truth about the people close to you? She had never cared. Now she did and she blamed Quinzel for it. Her mentor ought to have understood what infiltrating Barbara's life would mean to her. Her mentor ought to have protected her from it. But... What was it Quinzel had said that day? The ultimate test...
Barbara had said the ultimate revenge for Harley Quinn would be to have Helena kill her.
What was true, anymore? Had anything ever been true? She didn't know. And the pain and the rage and the lust welling up inside of her made it impossible for her to think. She needed to get release from it somehow.
"Pretty, pretty", Quinzel said and traced a finger down Helena's cheek, touching her lips. "You are in a foul mood... Is it Barbara Gordon? Did she upset my kitty-cat? You want to kill her?"
I want to fuck her, one part of Helena's mind responded and before she knew what she was doing she grabbed Quinzel by the arms and pushed her against the wall. Her mentor gasped with surprise, but also in immediate lust.
"Oh, pretty - yes, please... Touch me. Fuck me..."
Helena was too caught up in her inner turmoil of overwhelming emotions to stop to consider what she was doing. When she kissed Quinzel it was not her mentor her hands ravaged. She only thought of Barbara as she pulled the shirt of Quinzel and unbuttoned her trousers to tear them off the other woman. She didn't hear Quinzel's constant begging for more, or feel her urging kisses on her neck. It was Barbara's face she saw. It was Barbara's naked skin she felt.
She growled and snarled as her hands roughly caressed the other woman's body - as her mouth kissed and bit the naked skin. She only kissed Quinzel the once - kissing the other woman had for a moment caused her to realize what she was doing: fucking her mentor instead of the woman she wanted to be with. Their kisses... weren't all the same.
Barbara, she thought. Oh, please... Barbara
She took her mentor against the wall, crushing her against it - crushing her own spread thighs against the other woman's hips as her fingers were encircled in a moist, warm softness. She ground her hips and thighs against her mentor's, hearing the other woman's passionate, lusty cries in her ear - thinking only of Barbara as she did so.
"Yes, my dear... Oh, it's so good! More, please... and harder, pretty - harder...!"
She thrust at the other woman, feeling her own rage and need and despair reach a climax. She grunted as she reached her peak, feeling her body shivering and quaking as the worse tension left her - but she was still left unsatisfied. And in that moment she finally realized who it was she held in her arms.
"Yes, yes - oh, please... Oh, yes!" Quinzel breathed in her ear, trembling and then stiffening as she climaxed around Helena's deeply buried fingers.
Helena felt filthy as she, after a moment, pulled out her fingers.
"That was... wonderful", Quinzel whispered, touching her cheek, licking it. "I've missed you so..."
"Yes", Helena said, noncommittally. She wanted a shower, desperately. She thought of Barbara's face; of her gentle eyes and the unspoken question in her voice. And she wanted to scream.
"You are mine again - you have come back to me." Quinzel tilted her head to one side. "But Crawler... What did you do to him?"
"Did you order the death of those children?" she asked in a controlled, dark voice.
Her mentor sniffed. "What do you think?"
I think you did, Helena thought, feeling more and more filthy as she looked at her mentor - as she smelt the other woman's lust on her fingers and realized that she had fucked her. What am I doing here? I should have been with Barbara... But she knew she couldn't have stayed. She couldn't have been with Barbara without raping her, without nearly killing her in her need to satisfy herself. She hadn't wanted Barbara to see that side of her; the side she had just showed Quinzel.
Quinzel was bleeding from a cut on her neck where Helena's teeth had scratched her. The woman didn't seem to notice - or if she had, she didn't mind. It had probably aroused her even more. Dr. Harleen Quinzel was yet another kind of beast like Crawler and Helena had just come to realize it. Looking into the cold, polished stare of her mentor she knew why she had never been able to love Quinzel: the woman was empty of true emotions. There was no warmth - and had never been - in the woman's eyes. They were dark and void of anything except maybe hate, but even that was a cold emotion - not burning like Helena's own hate had been.
She's a murderer and she's turned me into one. Helena saw the truth clearly and she would have to make a choice. Barbara will never love me... I'm a killer. What else do I know?
Helena buried her eyes in to her mentor's gleaming, dark eyes. "Then he got what he deserved", she said coldly. "And about Barbara... She's dying tomorrow", she said in a bitter, hard voice. "I will make her pay for what she did to my mother."
"Oh, yes - yes", Quinzel whispered, almost as ecstatic as a moment before. "You're my Huntress."
"I am", Helena said. "I'm your Huntress. And we will conquer New Gotham."
In the shower later on, as she scrubbed and scrubbed her skin - cleaning herself of the last smell and touch of Dr. Harleen Quinzel - it took awhile for her to realize she was crying. When she did she finally gave up the fanatical cleansing of her body and let the warm water flow over her. Barbara, she thought, feeling pain and regret as she thought of the other woman. Barbara... What have I done?
She looked down at her trembling hands; hands that a few hours before had almost strangled the woman she loved. Love...?
In that moment, as if in a blinding light, she suddenly remembered.
"When can I meet my father? Everyone else in school has a father..."
"Do they tease you about it, kitten?"
"A little..." She made face.
"Never mind them, they don't know the truth."
"But what is the truth? Mom doesn't want to talk about it."
"Your mother loves your father very much and it's difficult for her to talk about him. It's like... Remember when you scratched your leg and you wouldn't let the doctor look at it?"
"Because it hurt..."
"Exactly. That's how your mother feels to talk about your father."
She frowned. "But... why can't I see him?"
"Your father... he is a little different from most men."
"Like my mother?"
"Almost. He is very powerful and he knows people who want to hurt him. If they knew that you were his daughter they would hurt you too."
"He's a hero, isn't he? Just like you..."
The older girl looked at her for a moment. "What do you mean?" she finally asked in a slow voice
"I saw you one day, when you came home in the middle of the night... I saw you in that - suit. You are that Batgirl they all talk about. The one they talked about on TV. And I heard you talk about it with mom..."
The older girl slowly exhaled. "When? Yesterday?"
"Yeah. When you were having a fight. You were hurt and she fixed you up... She was mad at you because you had been hurt." She frowned, feeling worried. "I don't want you to be hurt. I don't want you to die."
"Don't worry, kitten. I won't." The young woman smiled reassuringly. "I won't leave you."
"I'll be a hero too when I grow up. I'll fight the bad guys with you."
"Really? Well then, we better start practicing. Just remember - to be a hero is more than kicking ass, as you said the other day about that kid in your class... A hero always does what's right, even when she wants to do what's wrong. She makes up her mind to protect someone and then she would give her life for that person. She is honest and just with everyone and she doesn't care if other people are mean to her, because she knows they are only afraid."
"You are the best hero ever. I will marry you when I grow up. You are so beautiful..."
"Me?" The young woman laughed softly. "You can't marry me, kitten. Two women can't marry..."
"That's stupid. I'm gonna change that when I grow up. I'll be a lawyer and change the law... Would you marry me then?"
"I think you are a little too young for me to answer that. Ask me again in a few years..."
"Ok. But you won't leave me, right?"
"I won't leave you."
There had been pain. There had been loss. And the girl who wanted to change the law so she could marry the woman she loved was lost.
The girl who wanted to become a hero... became a monster.
I forgot all about her... The trauma of losing Barbara had been so great she had blocked it from her mind. But Barbara hadn't forgotten about her. The other woman had known who she was as soon as she walked in that door to her office. She had also known something else... She had known that Helena Kyle, the child she had once loved, had come to kill her.
Barbara... Her mind was filled with pain. There was so much she didn't know, but in that moment she knew that she had made a choice. She didn't know who held the truth - Barbara or Dr. Harleen Quinzel - and it didn't matter. Maybe none of them held the truth - maybe the truth only depended on which perspective one had. Or on what one wanted to believe.
The truth didn't matter. Barbara was her final truth - her ultimate truth. And she loves me, whatever I have done... She knows the true me - and she believes in me.
The realization hit her with full force and she gasped. What am I doing here? she thought in desperation, almost panicking. She should be with Barbara.
She quickly stepped out of the shower, dried herself and dressed hastily, almost frantically - as if she was afraid Barbara wouldn't be alive when she reached her.
Despite her earlier words to her mentor she had known - as she knew when she raced across the city towards the Clock Tower - that she would not kill Barbara Gordon. She couldn't. I love her, she thought, almost amazed. I have loved her for a long time... Even before she knew the woman existed. Or, rather - even before she remembered the woman existed.
It was late night, but Helena didn't expect Barbara to be asleep.
She was right. The other woman was sitting on her bed, now dressed in a tight, black top with thin straps and pajama trousers in a dark blue, silky material.
This time Barbara wasn't caught unawares. When Helena landed on the ledge outside Barbara's window the woman looked up towards the slightly opened window. There was only one light in the room, coming from a small lamp on the bed table. The door to the corridor was closed.
"I know you are there", Barbara said.
Helena stepped into the room from the window ledge. "You are very attentive."
"I have an alarm and a monitor", Barbara said, indicating a small screen beside her bed no larger than the size of a CD-walkman, which Helena hadn't noticed before. "The alarm was off earlier today, due to some late night road-work on the street outside the Clock Tower", she added. "That's how you could enter before without Alfred knowing it..." She looked at Helena, who stood still in front of the windows. "Have you come to kill me now, Helena?" she asked her softly. "Please, make it quick... And don't forget your promise to care for Dinah. She could have been your sister, you know."
"I know", Helena whispered. "I remember..." She finally realized she was still crying; that she hadn't stopped crying since she entered the shower. A sob escaped her and she stumbled towards Barbara's bed, where she knelt beside it and buried her face in her hands.
"Oh, Helena", Barbara said softly. Her hands stroked Helena's hair. She raised Helena's face towards her, cupping her chin in one hand. "Don't cry, kitten..." she whispered.
"How can you still love me?" Helena's voice was broken. She was only a broken shard of what she had been. She was lost in darkness, torn to shreds.
"Because what you've done... It wasn't you. It was never you."
"How do you know?" she whispered, looking lost and helplessly at Barbara. "I'm a murderer..."
"Hush." Barbara caressed her cheek and dried the tears from her skin with a tender touch. "We are all entitled to make mistakes in life, Helena. Even if it entails killing... You didn't know any better. Now you do and you've made the right choice. That's the Helena I know."
"I don't know what's right anymore", Helena said and shook her head, slightly. "All I know..." she swallowed. "All I know is that if I don't... If I'm not where you are my life has been wasted."
"Shhh", Barbara whispered again and kissed her softly on the lips. Helena trembled, not with the same overwhelming lust as before - brought on by fear and frustration and hate - but with a pure need to be held by the other woman. To feel her heart beat close to her own, to hold her and inhale the scent of her, to softly, gently trace her naked body with trembling fingers. She wanted to kiss her, slowly, softly, forever and ever... She wanted to make love to her.
Barbara kissed her again and Helena rose from the floor, without breaking contact with Barbara's lips, to sit on the bed.
The kiss lasted a long time. It was slow and soft and melted the last of Helena's doubt about what she was doing.
"I never intended to kill you", she whispered as she tenderly pushed Barbara back amongst the pillows.
"I know", Barbara said gently and caressed Helena's cheek. She smiled a little. "I told you. Remember? I told you, you had kind eyes..."
"You tricked me..." Helena nibbled at Barbara's earlobe.
"I little", Barbara admitted, inhaling deeply. "But I really didn't want to die..."
Helena smiled. "I also prefer you living", she conceded.
Barbara caressed Helena's shoulders, making her lose the long coat. Helena rose to undress, but Barbara shook her head and pulled her back to bed.
"I want to undress you", she said. She softly pushed some of Helena's dark hair from her eyes, caressing her cheek and her chin - her lips... "You are so beautiful."
"Tall, dark and handsome", Helena said, a little nervous.
"Mysterious", Barbara said with a smile. "Shhh, don't be afraid."
Helena wanted to object, but everything she said would be a lie unless she admitted the truth.
Barbara's hands found their way beneath her top and caressed her stomach, her back... Helena closed her eyes and exhaled in a slow breath. Barbara pulled her closer, holding her close to caress her. After a moment she pulled the top over Helena's head and released her from it. Her finger's traced Helena's naked body, softly - slowly, as if she wanted to memorize every touch, every stroke of her fingertips.
"Barbara - there's something you need to know." Helena didn't want to tell the truth, but she felt that she had to.
Barbara caught herself and looked at her with gentle eyes. "What is it, Helena?"
"I... When I left you, I... I went to Quinzel. I... I..." I fucked her, she thought. She didn't know how to say it out loud, afraid Barbara would turn away from her. Afraid her last chance at true happiness would be snatched from her - by her own doing. She could have kept her silence, but she hadn't wanted that. That would begin her new life with Barbara with a lie. She wouldn't want that.
"You slept with her", Barbara said, in an as-a-matter-of-fact tone of voice.
Helena blinked, taken by surprise.
"Oh, don't look so stunned. I know you", Barbara said with a smile and touched her cheek. "You were trying to make sense of a very confusing and probably hurtful situation. I would probably have done the same..."
"Would you?" Helena asked, whispering.
"Well, maybe not." Barbara made a face. "I just mean... Sometimes extreme problems demand extreme solutions. As long as you don't make a habit out of sleeping with other's if you..." She paused. "If we are going to be... together. I would want more than just... sex."
"Me too", Helena agreed, leaning forward again. "Me too."
She kissed Barbara and felt the softness of the other woman, a softness she had never found with Quinzel.
"I was so afraid", Barbara whispered. "I was so afraid that I had lost you... again."
"No." Helena caressed Barbara's cheeks, kissing her with soft, light kisses. "I thought of you all the time with Quinzel. I never saw her, only your face. When I realized what I had done... I was sick. I was so afraid you would hate me... I almost didn't come here, but then I remembered..."
"What? What did you remember?"
"I remembered... You once promised to consider if you would marry me."
Barbara cried then; slow, salty tears falling down her cheeks. Helena kissed them away, tasting the salt.
"Make love to me", Barbara whispered.
"Now and forever", Helena said and gently held the other woman against the pillows, to fulfill her words.
They were naked in bed, almost entwined in each other. Barbara was sitting with her back against the wall with her arms around Helena, who leaned against her chest - hearing the heartbeats of the other woman. It was oddly soothing, although Barbara's voice was slightly strained.
Helena looked up at her. "Yes?"
She had made love to Barbara. She still felt soft and warm, all fuzzy inside - and completely and utterly relaxed, as never before after lovemaking. Not that she had ever made love that way before.
"Did you...? Were you ever at Arkham?"
Helena paled a little, feeling the real world catch up with them. "Yes", she said, almost in a whisper.
"Oh, God." Barbara closed her eyes, almost squeezing them tight.
"You... know?" Helena asked, when seeing her reaction. "You know about what's going on?"
"I do", Barbara whispered. "Oh, my God - Helena, I'm so, so sorry..."
Helena only shook her head. "How do you know? I thought it was a secret..."
"No. I've known for years. I've spent so many years trying to get to those secret cells, but... You know what this city is like. Almost everyone is for sale and Arkham... There's corruption everywhere. Every time Reese or some other honest cop managed to get a warrant for the place... They never found anything. I know Harley Quinn owns the place. If I could just get her out of the way, somehow..."
"I'll kill her", Helena said simply. "I'll kill her for what she's done."
"Helena, please - no..." Barbara shook her head. "Please, don't."
Helena didn't want to argue. She lay down with her head in Barbara's lap. "Barbara", she asked after a moment; she needed to know. "Who killed my mother?"
Barbara didn't answer immediately. Her fingers were stroking Helena's neck. "His name was Clayface. He was a meta-human who worked for the Joker. His orders were to kill your mother to get to your father. I believe they had plans to kill me too, but I think Harley Quinn found it more pleasing to see me suffer as I lost you. Then, when the Joker finally did try to kill me..."
Helena knew Clayface. He was a meta-human with the ability to shape-change. She had met him once and he had grinned at her with a crocked, evil smile. She had smashed his teeth in. Now, hearing Barbara tell her the truth, she was glad she had.
"Clayface was killed by a meta-human named Silas Water", Barbara went on.
"I know. His other name is Slick - he works for Quinzel. I never knew why she ordered Slick to kill Clayface, but maybe Clayface had a hold on her. Clayface knew I probably would have wanted to know he'd killed my mother on Quinzel's orders..."
"That's not at all farfetched", Barbara admitted. "Helena", she added after a moment. "I'm so sorry... I tried and tried to find you, but you were just - gone. And then the police found a dead child, a girl. I was never allowed to see her, but they said someone at the centre where you were supposed to have lived had identified her as you. Bruce was... He was just devastated when I told him. He just couldn't stay here anymore."
"Have you...? Have you told him now?"
"No. Not yet. If I told him he would have come to see you, but he wouldn't have been able to stand aside, knowing you are Huntress... He would have fought you and... That would have been a war even worse than the one we are experiencing right now. But now..." Barbara bent down and softly kissed Helena on her lips. "You've made your choice now. I will let him know."
Helena didn't say anything. She wasn't sure how she felt about seeing her father; she had hated him for so long.
"I'm so sorry, Helena. If I had fought harder, kept looking..."
"You did what you could", Helena said, squeezing Barbara's hand a little. "You've done so much for New Gotham, I realize that now."
Barbara sighed. "It's not enough..."
"Will it ever be enough?" Helena asked gently. "You can't carry the world on your shoulders, you know."
"I can try..." Barbara said, only partly cynical. Helena smiled, but then she sat up and looked at Barbara.
"I should have been with you", she said with pain and longing in her heart and in her eyes. "I should have fought by your side to keep order in this city. I should have... You should have been my mentor, not... Not her!" She knew it in her bones. She could see herself, side by side with Barbara; laughing, preparing battle plans... And Dinah...
"Maybe... But we can't change what has been, only make the best of what we have."
"I could have been a hero", she whispered.
Barbara smiled affectionately and touched her cheek. "You still can", she said. "All the days for the rest of your life. But remember, the worst battle for you is already over. You conquered yourself. It's the hardest thing one can do and you... You are already my hero, because of it."
Helena didn't know what to say. Again the look of love in Barbara's eyes overwhelmed her. "I..."
"Hush, don't speak. You don't have to say anything."
Helena swallowed and nodded; Barbara seemed to know her so well.
In that moment the sun rose outside the transparent curtains and Helena was abruptly reminded of the bleak reality. She gasped.
"I must go", she said and rose from the bed.
"I must. Today is the day..." She looked at Barbara, who was still sitting up in bed. "I must kill her, Barbara."
"I don't want you to kill anymore. Only if it's absolutely necessary. In self-defense..."
Helena hesitated. "What do we do, then?"
"Help me to the shower and we'll talk about it afterwards... But we must be quick about it, I reckon."
They had a relatively quick shower - only momentarily distracted by each other's naked bodies - before they got dressed and decided to wake Dinah.
"She won't want to kill me again?" Helena asked ironically as she carried a fully dressed Barbara across the room and put her in the wheelchair by the bed.
"I think I can get used to this", Barbara said, kissing Helena on the cheek. "I like that you are so... powerful."
Helena blushed and Barbara grinned at her, noticing it.
"No", Barbara added, more serious. "She trusts me. If I tell her you are to be trusted she will trust you."
"That's... heavy", Helena said.
"Well, she..." Barbara silenced and looked around with a suddenly worried look on her face.
"What is it?" Helena asked.
"Something's wrong." Barbara's eyes fell on the small monitor beside her bed. "Oh..." she said softly.
"What?" Helena said, alarmed at the somewhat irrevocable utterance.
"The alarm has been disabled... Helena, I believe..."
In the same moment the door to the room was thrown open and Dinah rushed in, fully dressed and with a stern look on her face.
"Barbara..." she begun, but immediately silenced as she noticed Helena. Her face twisted into a sudden grimace.
"She's ok, Dinah", Barbara hurriedly said. "She's on our side now."
Dinah narrowed her eyes at Helena, but then she tilted her head to one side - looking from Helena to Barbara and back again. Helena almost blushed a second time as she noticed the realization dawn on the girl.
"You're..." Dinah begun, a little stunned.
"What are you doing here, Dinah?" Barbara interrupted. "Does it have something to do with the alarm?"
Dinah instantly recovered. She nodded. "There's something wrong..."
"We need to get out of here", Helena said. "You need to wake Alfred..."
"He's already awake", Dinah said. "He's downstairs."
"Fine." Helena turned to Barbara. "If this is Quinzel's doing you need to get out of the tower. There are explosives..."
"Oh", Barbara said a second time. "The road work... They must have used it to be able to plant explosives. Not in the tower, but probably below it... Below the street. Dinah - get down to Alfred and explain to him that we need to leave."
"Right", Dinah said with a nod, leaving the room.
Barbara looked inquiringly at Helena. "Does she know you are here?"
"Quinzel? I don't know. I..."
A sudden sound triggered some internal alarm and Helena spun around towards the windows. In the next moment glass was flying through the room and Helena could hear windows breaking in the hallway. In a few minutes the room was filled with dark-clad figures with grinning faces.
One of the figures entering the door from the hallway was Harleen Quinzel, dressed in red. Her eyes gleamed in a triumphant manner and she held a gun in her hand.
Helena wondered what had happened to Dinah. Had the girl reached the first floor before Black Dawn was upon them? There were at least eight members of Black Dawn in the room, making Barbara's bedroom a bit crowded. The rest of the members had to be downstairs, dealing with Alfred and Dinah. There were thirteen members, in all - minus her. It left four members for Dinah to deal with. Helena didn't know how strong Dinah was, but she hoped the girl knew how to fight - and wasn't afraid to kill if necessary. Their lives would depend on it.
"Quinzel", Helena said, moving forward towards her mentor.
"Oh, dear..." Quinzel said, only eyeing her slightly out of the corner of her eye. "I believe you should stay where you are, my pretty", the woman said, pointing a gun at Barbara in the wheelchair. "Otherwise I might... slip and kill your lover."
Helena didn't show any surprise at Quinzel's words. Instead she stepped back, putting a hand on Barbara's shoulder. Her movement and gesture made Quinzel look at her with surprised hurt.
"You truly did choose her over me", she said. "Oh, my - how sweet. I didn't want to believe Lady Shiva when she brought me the news this morning."
Helena didn't take her eyes of Quinzel to look at the dark-haired, Asian woman in one corner of the room, but she was aware of her presence.
"What can I say?" the blond woman went on. "I felt so betrayed, my pretty."
"Stop the act, Harley Quinn", Barbara said coldly and the woman looked down at her, smirking.
"Ah, Barbara Gordon. And we meet again. How have you been?"
Barbara didn't answer; her eyes were glowing.
"You've made out Ok, I must say." Quinzel nodded to herself. "You killed my Joker and I've waited and waited for this day. This day you will finally die." She tilted her head to one side. "She fucked me last night, you know", she said. "She fucked me, right before she came to you... I can give her things you never can."
Helena felt a cold fear in her heart and was glad she had told Barbara the truth about last night.
"She told me", Barbara said calmly, still holding Quinzel's gaze. "She told me she was thinking of me the whole time she fucked you. What do you think that says about her needs? She scrubbed herself till she almost bled after leaving you, feeling so filthy as if she'd been with some scum... And she came to me. She made love to me and if you kill me now I couldn't be any happier. Because then I will die with that moment still fresh in my mind. It was the happiest moment of my entire existence. She choose me."
Hearing Barbara speak those words Helena understood they weren't meant for Quinzel - they were meant for her. Barbara wanted her to know how much she loved her.
There was sudden rage in Quinzel's eyes that Helena recognized; when her mentor had lost her temper it always ended badly for those who enraged her. Therefore, when the gunshot echoed in the room Helena was already moving.
Quinzel wasn't a woman to act on the spur of the moment, not unless she lost her temper - which happened very seldom. She was a cold, calculating woman - always manipulating others and pressing their buttons. Few made her lose her temper, unless it was in regards to plans that had been thwarted. But Helena had come to realize that Barbara Gordon was a woman her mentor couldn't even look at without feeling enraged and now... Now Barbara had pushed some buttons the respectable Dr. Harleen Quinzel couldn't help but respond to.
She never considered what she intended to do. It was the act that was important. Acting, before it was too late.
It all happened very quickly.
She threw herself in front of Barbara and felt the impact as the bullet hit her in the stomach. The next bullet followed closely on the first and took her in the right shoulder. She moved forward.
She heard Barbara scream her name.
She saw fear in the eyes of her mentor. She felt the other woman's neck beneath her hands.
There was a third shot and the bullet hit her right before she snapped the neck of Dr. Harleen Quinzel - her savior, her mentor and the maker of the monster she had been.
"Helena!" Barbara screamed again and in the next moment Helena was attacked by two of the dark-clad assassins. With three bullets in her body - two of them mortally wounding - she wasn't sure how long she would last.
"I'm with you!"
She suddenly heard Dinah's voice in her head and in the next moment three of the members of Black Dawn were blown through the windows by a bluish ball of energy. Helena quickly turned to observe the girl in the doorway.
"Where's Alfred?" she called.
"Outside - safe!" Dinah called back, dodging an attack.
"Dinah!" Barbara called.
"I've got them!" Dinah said, throwing another one through the window as Helena engaged in battle with a meta-human that spit acid. She cleanly avoided his attack and moved so quickly he never had time to see her. She broke his neck.
In the middle of the fight Helena suddenly noticed the worried expression in Lady Shiva's eyes and she abruptly remembered something. The explosives.
She threw herself at the other female assassin, but Lady Shiva seemed more eager to escape than to engage in battle. Helena managed to pull her back into the room, at the same time realizing the other woman was the only one of the killers who knew about the explosives planted at the base of the Clock Tower. Quinzel hadn't shared this information with the rest of them, which meant they would stay and fight until the end.
It was a chaotic mess of bodies in the confined space of Barbara's bedroom. Members of the Black Dawn seemed to be everywhere. There was no space to fight properly and Helena felt the blood loss affecting her. She knew she was dying.
"Dinah!" she called. "You need to get her out of here!"
"Not without you!" Barbara called back.
Helena turned to look at her for a split second and noticed the determined set of Barbara's jaw.
"I'm not losing you again", Barbara said. "Come with us!"
There was no way. She knew it. If she fled with Barbara the members of Black Dawn would come after them and in a few minutes she wouldn't be strong enough to fight anymore. She needed to detain the assassins to give Barbara and Dinah time to escape.
"Dinah!" she called, ignoring Barbara's pleading eyes.
"I'll stay and fight with you!" the girl said.
"No", she said in her head, hoping Dinah would hear her. "Do you hear me? You need to get her out of here... The Clock Tower will explode any minute."
She didn't hear anything at first, but in a few seconds she heard Dinah's reluctant voice in her head.
"Don't worry. I'm taking her out of here..."
"Thank you, Dinah."
"She won't be happy about it", the girl added ironically.
Helena didn't care. As long as Barbara was alive she knew all would be well. The world would be a darker place without Barbara Gordon in it. "Tell her I love her..." she said.
"She knows... Bye, Helena."
Helena turned one last time and glanced at Barbara before Dinah pushed her out of the room. Barbara's eyes were filled with tears.
It was the last Helena saw of her.
Helena screamed and threw herself into the fight, preventing anyone from leaving the room and following Barbara and Dinah. They came at her from all directions - killers thirsty for blood. Once she had been one of them - and they loathed traitors.
They would never know how betrayed they had been. They would never know who had been the real traitor.
They would never know what monsters they had been raised to become - or how beautiful life could be if one learned to know love. They would die that day - even Lady Shiva, who desperately tried to escape the grasp Huntress had on her.
The sun was shining outside the windows. Helena remembered it had been shining the day she walked up the wide stairs to the City Hall, to meet with Barbara Gordon. She hadn't cared about the bright sun or the blue sky then. She did now and she was glad... She was glad she had been given a second chance to appreciate the beauty of the world.
She didn't know how much time she had left, but she would not give in until the last of the members of Black Dawn were dead - or until all of them, even she, went up in smoke.
Barbara would be safe, she knew that and that was all that mattered. Barbara and Dinah would make New Gotham a truly great city - an example to the world. And she...
She would die a hero.
~ ~ ~