My kind of Wonderful
FANDOM: Birds of Prey
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'.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My first BoP-fiction – take it as it is. Lyrics are from Cue – Crazy; Barry White – You're my first, my last, my everything; Roberta Flack – First time I ever saw your face.
FEEDBACK: as you like it, at...
ARCHIVING: Jinx's Storyland at www.geocities.com/jehandira.
Part One - First Touch
Thursday night - Helena
I watch from the shadows as she removes her glasses and rubs her temples. She's sitting in front of Delphi, looking quite spent. I know it's more than the long hours and the late nights that take their toll on her and my heart bleeds when I see her like this, but as much as I want to ease her pain there's nothing I can do. The only thing I can do is to be there whenever she needs to talk, but it doesn't seem enough. I know for a fact - it isn't enough. Not because I'm not as good a listener as I wish or because I don't know the first thing about psychology (unless you count the encounter I had with my own therapist - the psychopathic Dr. Harleen Quinzel - which isn't an event I care to recall), but because Barbara never talks about what troubles her. She doesn't close herself off to others, she just brushes away her own problems as if they aren't important enough to share and then guards her emotions so well that few realize something's wrong. The only reason I know something is troubling her is that lately she hasn't been able to conceal her true feelings as well as before and that in itself is disturbing.
"I know you're there, Helena", she suddenly says and raises her chin slightly.
I'm not surprised that she feels my presence - she seems to have a sixth sense sometimes. I move from the high windows, step out in thin air and land smoothly on the floor a few steps behind the woman who means so much to me I could spend forever trying to find the right words to describe just how much.
Barbara turns around and watches me as I approach in the somewhat dim light of the Clocktower. It's dark outside and only a few lights illuminate the large room were Barbara sits in front of Delphi.
"Is Dinah back?" I ask.
The blonde girl had arrived too late to the crime-scene to make a difference and I sent her home before the cops showed up. There was no reason for her to stick around. Besides, I didn't really want her to have a friendly chat with Reese.
"She is", Barbara says with a slight nod. "She told me you did well."
I grin. "I always do well."
Barbara doesn't smile. Her eyes scan my face and discover the small cut on my forehead, just below the hairline. "You're hurt", she says with a small gesture. I watch her hands; beautiful hands, with perfectly trimmed nails. Strong hands. I know what it feels like being touched by them; she's tended to a lot of my wounds. Her touch is always gentle and soft, like no one else's.
She turns her wheelchair and finds a First Aid-kit in one of the drawers in her desk.
"It's nothing", I say, watching her. "It's just a scratch."
"Please let me tend to it, Helena", she says when she turns back to me and gestures to a nearby chair.
I don't know how to refuse Barbara anything when she asks with such concern in her green, beautiful eyes and so I sit down without a word. She gives me a suspicious glance and I shrug, again without comment.
"You should be more careful, Huntress", she says after a few moments, while tending to the cut. Her eyes are clinical and indifferent, but her voice reveals some of her concern. I usually detest seeing Barbara's eyes so reserved and cold, but right now I'm glad she keeps her distance. To see tenderness and worry in the depths of her intense gaze, while hearing the softness of her voice, would stir up emotions too strong for me to cope with. I would grow restless and my eyes would turn feral. It's almost too much for me already to feel Barbara's careful touch brushing my forehead, as she tends to the cut. I pretend to be indifferent and bored with the procedure, while I secretly wish to close my eyes and lean in towards her touch.
"I'm always careful", I say.
"I'm serious, Helena", she says.
Her fingers brush some dark curls from my forehead with a careful, almost caress. I fight an impulse to bite my lip and shrug instead. It's been some time since we were this close to each other; I had forgotten how strongly her presence affects me.
"They were five against one. I think I managed well enough. If I was more careful I'd be dead", I add, but regret the words as soon as I see the naked pain in Barbara's eyes. Damn it! I think, but don't know what to say to make the comment less awkward. The pain in her eyes soon gives way to sadness and then is gone as quickly as it was appeared, but she lowers her hands and turns away from me.
"That wasn't funny, Huntress", she says, in a low voice.
"I know. I'm... sorry."
"Did detective Reese pick them up?"
I nod, although Barbara can't see the gesture with her back turned. "Yes", I add. I lift a hand to touch the plaster on my forehead. I miss Barbara's tender touch and wish I hadn't made a stupid joke like that.
"Why did you come back? I thought you were staying with him tonight?"
I don't know what to say. It's been almost a month since I broke up with Reese, but I haven't told either Barbara or Dinah about it. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I feel some kind of freedom in roaming the nights not having to care about Barbara worrying about me. That's one of the reasons why I've stayed away lately,: if I spend too much time with Barbara she'll know I'm hiding something. She always knows when something troubles me and right now - with Wade's death and all - I don't want her to worry about me. She has enough to worry about. Besides, I wouldn't be able to talk to her about this problem, but knowing her she would prod until she found out the truth. I could never hide anything from her.
Barbara always assumes I stay with Reese when I don't return to the Clock Tower. Or at least I think she does - we don't really discuss it. I think she tries to be respectful. I remember the times in the past when she used to berate me for coming home late - or when she disapproved of my choice of boy-friends. Now... She doesn't see me as her protÃ(c)gÃ(c) anymore and wants to give me space to live my own life. However, I miss her questioning me about my life and my decisions - some part of me needs her to do it so I can tell her the truth about my feelings for her. At the same time I'm scared to death about her finding out the truth.
I'm around more during the days instead, but then she's usually at work or Dinah is hanging around. It doesn't give us time or opportunity to talk, although she knows I'm here if she needs me. I haven't really seen her cry since Wade's death three months ago and that worries me.
I went with her to his funeral. Wade's parents didn't seem to want Barbara there; they looked at her as if she was some kind of creepy insect, but she ignored them. She's the only person I know who can overlook people's behavior like that, although I know she was hurt the first time they looked down at her, thinking she wasn't worthy of their son. I hope she still doesn't think she wasn't. She's the most worthy person I know - I'd give my life for her. All nine of them.
"You want me out of here?" I ask, only slightly affronted. Barbara glances at me over her shoulder.
"You know I miss having you around", she says softly and I swallow, not knowing how to react to the tender look in her eyes. She shrugs and adds: "Who were they? What did they want?"
"The gang? Just ordinary thugs. Reese's department will take care of them."
Barbara nods. "I know you're capable of taking care of yourself, Helena. I just want you to be careful."
"I am", I say immediately, soberly. "I am, Barbara. I promise."
"Good. That's good, Helena."
"Barbara..." I say when she wheels off towards the elevator. She halts and again glances over her shoulder.
"Did you say something, Huntress?"
I don't know how to do this, but I know I have to do something. We've been kind of estranged since Wade's death and my relationship with Reese, and I don't want her to think I've abandoned her or that she doesn't mean more to me than some kind of teacher I'll forget as soon as I've finished school. I need her in my life and although she hides it well enough I know Wade's death still hurts her. She misses him the way I would miss her had she left me like that.
I take some steps in her direction and then, acting on impulse, I surprise us both by embracing her.
Barbara's first reaction is to gasp softly, almost inaudibly, but I hear it and I feel it through the quick ripple of air she inhales. At first she stiffens in surprise, but then she relaxes and returns the embrace hesitantly.
"I'm so sorry, Barbara", I whisper. "I wish there was something I could do."
Barbara leans in to my embrace and when I feel the fleeting, accidental touch of lips at my neckline I fight to stifle an involuntary shiver. "But you do", she says softly, holding me tight.
I do? I think. What am I doing? "It doesn't feel enough", I say, still holding Barbara in my arms, wishing I could stay like this forever.
"Be careful, that's all. I... I don't want to lose you too."
The catch in Barbara's voice makes me close my eyes, and I'm hiding my face against her neck.
"You won't", I whisper thickly. "I promise, you won't."
"Don't worry about me, Helena", she says gently and moves slightly to the side to touch my cheek in a brief caress. Her touch is gentle and her fingers are soft. "Enjoy your life and take your time with Reese. That's the most important thing."
"I..." I need to tell Barbara the truth, but somehow I can't find the words to tell her about Reese. If I do I have to explain why I've been lying and I'm not sure this is the right moment to have that conversation. "It's just been... It's been three months now and..."
"I know how long it's been, Helena", Barbara interrupts and pulls away.
"I'm sorry", I say haltingly, awkwardly looking down at the other woman. "I didn't mean it that way. I'm just... worried about you, you know."
Barbara's expression softens and I know she wants to ease my pain. "I know you are and I appreciate it." She hesitates. "That's how I feel about you when you're off fighting. There's nothing I can do about it, other than trust you." Again there is a sudden pain in her eyes, before the veil falls and she hides her emotions behind an impenetrable mask. I so wish she would trust me enough to let me behind that mask. "That day, when we learned of Wade's death and you left... When Reese found you at the bar - he told me you didn't want to fight anymore because you were afraid you would lose the people you love. That you would lose... him."
"He told you that?" I ask incredulously. I can't believe he did that, I think. Why would he do that? He had no right!
Barbara nods. "He did. Wade died because of something I believe in. Yes, I want to blame myself for that, but what ever happened... The fight must go on, Huntress. As long as I believe it's worth it, Wade's death won't have been for nothing. It's tough, but I'll just have to go on living."
"But it was my fault", I say, almost inaudibly.
I didn't know I was going to say that, but I've blamed myself for his death and I'm afraid the barrier I've felt between me and Barbara these last months has something to do with Wade dying. Maybe she blames me too and doesn't know how to tell me. Maybe she feels she can never trust me again. If she ever could, I think dejectedly. "I'd understand if you don't want me around."
"No. No, Helena." She takes my hand in hers without taking her eyes off me. There's only concern and love in her deep gaze. "Never believe that, Helena. Never. It wasn't your fault and I've never blamed you. You had no part in this."
"No." She shakes her head, gently. The expression in her eyes is as soft and caring as her voice - almost like a caress in itself. "I told you already, didn't I, that you made it up to me by preventing me from taking Quinzel's life. No one else could have stopped me, but you."
Barbara smiles and squeezes my hand. "Don't be afraid to love, Helena. Or to show Reese your love. Don't worry about me. Go - find your own life."
But my life is with you! I want to object. "Barbara..." I'm not sure what I'm going to say, but she doesn't give me a chance this time.
"I'll be fine. Go now. I'll see you tomorrow."
I wonder how Barbara always manages to turn the conversation away from herself. We began by discussing her but ended with her comforting me. I'm not sure she's fine, but Oracle always seems to manage somehow. Besides, I don't know what to say or do to ease her pain and I'm afraid I will open a can of worms I won't be able to handle if I do something rash. I nod.
"Sleep tight, Barbara", I say.
"You too, Helena."
When she's gone I don't know what to do. I consider leaving the Clocktower, and drift around town; to either find a willing prey to sedate my need for Barbara with or one or another criminal to pick a fight with to still the restlessness Barbara's presence always stirs within me.
While standing considering my options, slightly more indecisive than usual, Dinah suddenly turns up by the stairs at the top of the landing.
"Helena", she says, descending the stairs with hesitant steps and with a worried frown on her face.
"What's up, kid-o?"
Dinah shakes her head, not bothering with commenting on my remark. She halts by my side and hesitates. She's fully dressed, in the clothes I saw her in earlier the same evening: jeans and a pink top.
"I thought you'd gone to bed", I add, less amused. Dinah's troubled look concerns me. Again the teenager shakes her head.
"It's Barbara", she says. "You need to talk to her."
"About what?" I frown.
"About... I don't know. Helena", Dinah says, obviously distressed and with tears in her eyes. "You know my powers have grown, right?"
I carefully nod. "Yes?"
"Every now and then I still lose control over them and lately... Lately it has always been when Barbara's near. She's hurting so much, Helena. I can't stand it."
"What...? What do you mean?" I instantly grab Dinah by her arms and hold her gaze. "Tell me, Dinah. What are you talking about?"
"I don't know what it is, but it's been going on for some time now. Since Wade's death, I guess. Although it wasn't this bad to begin with."
"Bad? How bad, Dinah?"
Silent tears fall down Dinah's cheeks, but she doesn't seem to be aware of them. "I tried talking to her, but she... Somehow she ended up comforting me..."
"That's what she does", I mumble.
"You must do something. She'll listen to you. Get her to cry, to be angry... Anything to get this... pain out of her system."
"It's bad, you said?" I let go of Dinah and she nods.
"It's so... raw. It's like an open wound and I know... I feel it through everything." New tears trickle down Dinah's face. "She's hurting, Helena. She's hurting so much."
"Damn it!" I turn around, restlessly pacing the floor. "Why must she be so... so God-damn-in-control!" I throw out my arms, looking angrily at Dinah. "I don't know what to do. You know I don't. I can't handle things like this."
Dinah moves towards me, looking slightly reproachful. "This is not a `thing'. It's Barbara! No one knows her the way you do. You're the only one with a chance to reach her. Not even Wade..."
I turn around with a quick gesture, making my coat swirl. "She loved him. He made her happy and it was my fault..."
"Stop that", Dinah says annoyed. "It wasn't you that let him bleed to death, was it? Stop feeling so damn sorry for yourself and see to Barbara's needs. She might have loved him, but he didn't know her the way you do." The girl silences and frowns, before adding: "Why are you afraid? What are you afraid of?"
I stiffen, not wanting to give Dinah any indication about my true feelings for Barbara. Damn her metahuman abilities! I think, not for the first time. "I've been lying to you", I say and decide it's about time I'm honest about at least one thing.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't really know why I've been lying." I turn around to face the puzzled girl. "I'm not seeing detective Reese. I mean, we're not dating anymore."
Dinah arches her eyebrows. "You're not? Why not? And why haven't you told us?"
I sigh, again throwing out my arms but in a more confused gesture this time. "I don't know. I don't know any of it", I add, although that's not completely true. "He just wasn't..." - Barbara, I think - "enough."
"I don't know. Not exciting enough, I guess."
Dinah smiles wryly. "I wonder what would be exciting enough for Huntress. Some death-prince with a whip, maybe?"
"Sure, Snowball", I snort.
Dinah doesn't take the bait. She lifts her face to the ceiling with a sudden anxious look. "You have to talk to her tonight, Helena", she says, fighting to suppress a sob.
I follow Dinah's gaze to the high ceiling, distractedly. "You can't stay her, kid", I say. "Could you stay with that friend of yours?"
"Gabby?" Dinah nods. "It's late, but she won't ask anything. She's cool."
"Go then. I don't..." I hesitate. "I don't know what will happen, but it'll probably involve a lot of emotions. I don't think it will be good for you."
"The two of you shouting?" Dinah makes a face. "I had enough of that before Wade died." But she looks relieved at the thought of escaping the Clocktower for a while and nods. "Thanks, Helena", she adds sincerely and I shrug out of habit, but then smile softly.
"For you, kid-o."
I knock softly at Barbara's door, but when there's no answer I open it and step in. "Barbara?" I ask quietly. Again there's no answer.
Barbara's antechamber is empty. A set of couches stand in a corner around a table, with a television close by; a bookshelf follows and then two armchairs on either side of a smaller table. I feel a jolt seeing the chessboard on top of the table; the two sides facing each other in a silent, unspoken challenge. I remember when Barbara taught me to play chess; the rules I hated, the lessons I grumbled at and then the hint of adventure and the joy of trying to best Barbara at something. I sometimes succeeded, but I'm still not sure she lost by fair play or if she somehow tricked me.
It's been a long time since our last game. Barbara won that one, just a few evenings before she introduced me to Wade. That was the last of our chess-evenings together. I used to blame Wade for taking too much of her time, but I know the fault was mine. I began avoiding Barbara not to have to listen to her mentioning Wade Brixton. My avoidance hurt Barbara and we fought. We fought a lot at that time, just before Dinah turned up. We managed to keep it together then, for the kid, but we were still both hurt and angry at each other and sometimes the false bubble of peace would burst. Why did we fight so much? I think, even though I know the answer to that question: I was jealous. That is the real reason, even though Barbara has always thought differently - thinking I blamed her for not telling me the truth about my mother's killer. Well, I was mad about that too, but not as mad about Wade invading my space with Barbara. She was mine. She's always belonged to me and I don't like to share what's mine.
I don't think Wade was very fond of me either. I don't mean to think ill of the dead, but I'm sure he saw a rival in me even though this thought never would have crossed Barbara's mind. She's the brightest woman I'll ever know, but some things are too close to home to be understood. She taught me that.
I hear a sound from the other room - her bedroom - and approach it, dropping my coat on one of the chairs. The door is slightly open and I catch a glimpse of Barbara's double bed before seeing her: she's sitting on the floor, leaning forward with a thick towel in her grasp. Her wheelchair is out of sight and the door to the bathroom a few feet away from her is closed. Her hair is slightly damp, fastened in a loose tail, and she only wears a thin, ruby red silk pajama, consisting of one set of trousers and a simple top with thin straps, showing Barbara's muscular upper body.
I feel my mouth go dry at the first sight of Barbara's back and exposed neck. The shape of her body draws me, arousing senses I can't control. Her skin is smooth and seems to be alive as soft shadows dance across it. I stand frozen to the spot, remembering the first time I saw her like this. I was young then, but even then I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I felt a slight pang of guilt feeling that way about her but I knew... I still know: she's the most beautiful woman I'm ever going to meet. And I want her badly.
Then I realize that she's crying and in an instant I forget my selfish needs and hurry towards her, to kneel by her side.
"Barbara..." I place my hand on her shoulder, expecting her to pull away, but she lowers the towel that covers her face and looks at me with moist eyes and slightly swollen lips. For an instant I forget my resolution to only comfort her and my eyes linger longer than is appropriate at her mouth, before I gather my wits and meet her eyes.
"I thought you were gone."
I shake my head. I struggle to find the right words, to say something, but then think: Screw it, and take her face between my hands, leaning forward. I kiss her on the forehead, wanting to kiss those red, perfectly shaped lips, but know this is not the time to let my libido take charge of my senses. "I'm not going anywhere tonight", I say quietly and pull her towards me to hold her close; her mouth almost touches the exposed skin at my collarbone and I suppress a shiver. "Barbara", I say, stroking her hair with a soft touch. I feel strange doing this. I've never comforted her before; never thought she needed me like this. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what you need or what I can do to ease your pain. Please, just tell me... I'll do anything."
At first she doesn't say anything, but her arms encircle my waist and hold me tight. "Please", she whispers in a broken voice I've never heard her use before. "Just... Just hold me, Helena."
So I do. I know she's been hurting since Wade died, but I didn't realize just how much. She's so good at hiding her own emotions to deal with others. She's done it as long as I've known her. I always wondered who would care for her. I wanted to care for her and so I hated Wade when he took that away from me. Now... I wish I'd been nicer to him. Not for his sake, but for Barbara's. She deserves someone to make her happy. Someone not me - all I ever do is bring her pain and worry, even though I'm willing to do anything to get her through this pain right now. I love her so much, I think. "I wish I could carry this pain for you", I whisper in her hair, holding her so close I can sense her heartbeat. She makes a small sound against my neck, like a sob. Then her shoulders shake and she cries as she did before I interrupted her. I close my eyes, holding her as tightly and as gently as I can, trying to convey my love for her without using words. I wish you were mine, I think. I'd kiss away the pain... My lips linger dangerously close to Barbara's temple and I fight an impulse to press them to her soft, smooth skin.
"Helena..." Her warm breath tickles my neck and I suppress a sudden gasp. "Don't go."
"I won't, Barbara. I won't leave you."
This sudden vulnerability within her makes me feel needed. I want to care for her, hold her - chase away the dark and the sorrow she's burdening herself with; all those responsibilities she's carrying on her own. She's never trusted me like this before and I wonder if she let Wade see this side of her. Maybe Dinah was right, I think. Maybe I know her better than anyone. I hope it'll be enough.
I shift position and lift her up in my arms. Her hands automatically encircle my neck and our faces are very close to each other. Her eyes are deep and more beautiful than ever due to the sorrow in their depths. I hesitate for a brief second, trying to prevent myself from losing control, before I lower her on to the bed. "I'll stay right here", I say.
Barbara looks at me with an expression which send shivers down my spine. I've seen that expression in a few other women's eyes before - and in a lot of men's. It reminds me of desire, but in her eyes it's deeper, more intense. I swallow, wondering what I've gotten myself into. Is Barbara drunk - or something? She sure doesn't seem to be herself, although her eyes are clear and deep as always. "I'll make you some tea", I say. That's what Alfred always does when Barbara works too hard. "I'll be back in a..."
"I don't want tea. Please, stay... Helena." She reaches for me and grabs my wrist, pulling me towards the bed. Her expression is guarded again and I can't see what she's thinking. I feel confused and aroused at the same time - it's not a good combination. At the same time all I want to do is comfort her and to take away the pain I caused her by letting Wade get mixed up with Harley Quinn.
I don't think this is such a good idea, I think with sudden panic, but before I know it I'm laying beside her in bed, holding her in my arms; her face by my neck. Barbara's smooth skin and the silk from her pajamas rubs against my bare arms, making it difficult for me to concentrate on comforting her. My mind races with images and fantasies about what I could do with her had the circumstances been different. The thin silk fabric in her pajamas neither conceals much nor protects much of her body when touched. My hands move tenderly in a comforting caress along her back, even though I fight myself to keep them at bay. The soft silk and the firm muscles of her back and shoulders create an instant sensation I can't deny. I know my eyes have changed to reveal my meta-human side and pray she won't look at me and notice.
"Are you cold?" I ask in a whisper when I feel her shiver, and slightly embarrassed notice the hoarseness of my voice. I pull some of the blanket we are laying on to cover her and hate myself when my hands still find their way beneath it to touch her. My arms encircle her waist and I hold her close to me, not moving. Barbara seems to relax; her breathing eases and her body doesn't seem so tense anymore.
"Try to sleep now", I say with my lips close to her ear. "I'll protect you", I add, not knowing why.
Barbara nods and moves slightly downwards until her forehead rests against my chin. My hands move upwards, feeling the softness of her body and the heat of her presence beneath the blanket. This is not right, I think with sudden alarm. I enjoy the intimacy with Barbara too much. I'm taking advantage of her. It's not right. If I ever tell Barbara the truth about my feelings for her she would wonder about this night. I don't want her to hate me, I think. I need to do the right thing, however difficult it is. I need to break my hold on Barbara, to sleep on the couch in the other room or in the armchair on the other side of the bed.
I take a deep breath and I'm just about to move and say her name when she moves her hand from my waist and upwards, sliding it alongside my body in a caress. I hold my breath, feeling my pulse speed as if I'm in a fight. God - what's she doing? Involuntary I close my eyes, feeling Barbara's hand settle on my chest with fingertips touching the naked skin above the neckline of my top.
Oh, please... I think, letting out my breath with a silent sigh. I fight the urge to ravage her body with my hands, to feel her warm skin beneath the silk. At the same time Barbara moves slightly and I can't entirely suppress a soft gasp when I feel her lips grazing my cheek. At first I think it's an accident, a chance occurrence following her move, but then she whispers my name in a throaty voice that sends an aching desire like a spear through my body.
Her lips trace the shape of my mouth, gently like the touch of a feather. At first I can't move; I lay still with my eyes closed, barely able to breathe. I feel a burning sensation in the pit of my stomach and an immense ache in my chest, as if I'm bursting into flames. She's kissing me. Barbara is kissing me... I think, remembering my first kiss when I was in my teens; the tension, the nervousness, the burning sensation... This is like being kissed for the first time, only so much more. It's nicer than anything I've felt before. Her mouth is soft and warm, melting in to mine - teasing me. When she increases the pressure I respond immediately without thought, wanting more of this soft, melting sensation. My lips search for hers, find them, taste them... Tasting the sweetness of Barbara's mouth, her lips, her tears...
God - what am I doing? I can't do this! I feel a sudden sense of panic, but in the next instant Barbara's tongue prods at my lips and without hesitation or protest I open them to her. My arms slide along her body, pressing her closer while we deepen the kiss. God - let this not be a dream!
"Barbara..." I mumble incoherently, while my hands loosen the ribbon tying back her hair. Red hair falls like waves around us and I fill my hands with it, pulling Barbara even closer, tightening my hold on her. I want her so much.
"Please... No talking. Not tonight", she whispers, tracing my cheekbone with her fingers. My eyes are those of a cat's, changed to vertical slits, but she doesn't seem to mind when she meets my gaze. "Let us just... be who we are."
What we are, I think, feeling her kissing me again. All my concern and reasoning leaves me with that kiss. I can't think straight any more and I don't care to. I've longed so much, so hard and so long for this - there's no denying me what I want right now. Desire claims me like a tidal wave and I follow in its wake.
There were no words spoken that night and none needed. Not until the sun rose in the world outside.
Barbara holds me close, burying her face against my neck. "Thank you, Helena", she whispers, before falling asleep.
I lay awake, holding her as if I never want to let go. Thoughts of that first kiss and what followed continue to flash before my eyes. What is this? I keep thinking, feeling naked skin against my own naked body. I love her, but what does she feel? She grieved Wade yesterday... And then this - with me? Was I only a distraction?
What the hell happened?
I can't get the thought out of my head. I wish I could sleep as easily as Barbara, but with my secret desire fullfilled, fear claimes me with full force and the more I think about it the more I'm convinced Barbara will regret what happened when she wakes up. She was emotionally vulnerable and I took advantage of her. Granted - Barbara kissed me, but if I'd been the least honorable I ought to have stopped her. God - what have I done?
How will I go on living with the knowledge I now have about the night's pleasures, seeing regret and guilt in Barbara's eyes every time she looks at me from now on? If regret is the first thing I see in her eyes when she wakes up - how will I survive? Looking down at the woman in my arms I know I can't take it; my heart will break.
Barbara looks so peaceful in her sleep, relieved of the burdens of New Gotham. I expect her to look vulnerable in her sleep, I've heard most people do, but she looks like Oracle: her face doesn't reveal anything. If I wanted a clue from her about how she felt about making love to me and falling asleep in my arms I'm disappointed. She guards her secrets well, even in her sleep.
I bend down to kiss her and then she smiles, snuggling closer. Maybe that's a sign. Or maybe she's dreaming about Wade.
I close my eyes and swallow. I'm used to anger and disappointment, but this... This is pain and fear and I'm so utterly confused I don't know what to do. I always talk to Barbara when troubled, but my heart won't survive if she looks at me with pity, saying she only needed a night's comfort. Thank you, Helena... Her words echo within me. What does it mean? What the hell did happen this night...?
I disentangle myself from Barbara without too much effort, immediately missing the warmth and the softness of her, but being determined in my resolution. I dress and leave the room. As the door closes behind me my heart is breaking.
Thursday night - Barbara
I turn from the desk and Delphi to face the blonde teenager, noticing her concerned look. I smile to ease her worries and gesture for her to move closer. She wears jeans and a pink top, with the black leather jacket Helena gave her a few months ago.
"Dinah. You're back early."
"Yeah, there wasn't anything for me to do."
Dinah fidgets with some of my pens on the desk beside me, glancing hesitantly at me over her shoulder - probably thinking I won't notice. I know she's concerned for my wellbeing and even if she's not wrong about my emotions I can't discuss this particular problem with her. I'll just have to do my best to ease her worries.
"Helena took care of it. As always", she adds, somewhat dismayed.
"Taking the fun from you, um?" I tease. "Sounds like Huntress. Do you want me to ask her to save you one or two bandits the next time?"
Dinah smiles and the worried look leaves her face. "I told her so already. It feels like such a waste of energy rushing to her aid and then there's nothing left for me to do. I feel... useless."
"Don't", I tell her determinedly. "Your powers are growing and you've learned a lot since you first came here. You're doing well."
"But Huntress does better", she says with yet another grimace.
"Oh, she'll always do better, Dinah", I laugh. "Don't let it get to you. Huntress is Huntress, after all."
The girl tilts her head to one side to look at me. I see a question taking shape in her eyes, but I don't give it time to reach her lips.
"Go to bed", I say, interfering with her inner processes. "I'll finish up here. I'll talk to Huntress tomorrow." I don't expect Helena to show up to the Clocktower tonight; she's probably with Reese already, but that's not a thought I care to consider.
Dinah nods, but adds: "You look tired, Barbara."
"Thanks, Dinah", I say dryly. "That's just what a woman wants to hear."
She blushes slightly, but then grins - a smile she has picked up from Huntress. "Good night, Oracle."
"Good night, Dinah. I'll see you tomorrow."
I wait until I'm sure she's out of earshot in another part of the building before I sigh and lean backwards in my wheelchair. It takes its toll on me trying to convince Dinah I'm feeling all right. Not only do I need to give her a smile she'll be satisfied with, a smile that would fool anyone else that didn't know me so well, but I need to keep my swirling and lately hurtful emotions in check, otherwise her meta-human abilities will sense something is wrong. She tried talking to me the other day, letting me know she's worried about me, but I managed to hide the truth about my hurt from her. She believes - like the rest of them - that I'm grieving for Wade. I do, in a sense - but not in the way they assume. I miss him, but I miss someone else even more.
"Huntress?" I call on the intercom, but the transceiver is dead. She's turned off her transceiver and I'm positive she's gone home with detective Reese. She's made a habit of staying with him since a couple of months back and one part of me is happy that she's finally found someone she manages to form a proper relationship with, while another part of me aches at the thought of her in his arms at night. I know I shouldn't be this selfish, wanting her all to myself, but I miss her coming home late at night: her strolling in like a cat that only just swallowed the neighbor's canary, our late night conversations and her quick, unexpected smile. I even miss our arguments; seeing her angry, with flashing eyes and the way she clenches her jaw always made me feel more alive. It's peculiar it took me so long before I realized the truth behind those feelings.
The thought makes me sigh. It wasn't as though I lived in complete denial of my not entirely proper feelings for my younger charge, but I never expected them to grow to these proportions. When I finally admitted the strength of my emotions Wade, Dinah and Reese managed to turn up almost at the same time, making it difficult for me to form some kind of conclusion about whatever I was feeling. Besides, my relationship with Helena, at that point wasn't much to rely on. We argued about anything and I feared I would lose her completely if I didn't walk a careful line with her. I did think I was going to lose her when she found out about her mother's killer and I'm only too grateful she's forgiven me in regards to that matter.
I reach for my glasses, remove them and place them at the desk before me. These days thoughts of Helena always fill me with a mess of emotions: guilt, grief, shame and longing. All of it contributes to the hurt and sadness within me that triggered Dinah's abilities and causes the girl to worry about me. I know I haven't felt this bad since the gunshot that changed my life all those years ago. The thing is - I don't know what to do about it. I cry myself to sleep almost every night, waking up wanting to cry again. First I thought it was everything that happened with Wade that affected me this bad, but later I came to realize it had a lot more to do with Helena.
I rub my temples, suppressing another sigh. Maybe it's a good thing Helena isn't around as much at night. It would probably make things worse for me - seeing her, not being able to tell her the truth. Why can't I? I think, considering my feelings for the younger, dark-haired woman. She's not a child anymore. Why don't I just tell her the truth? I don't know. Maybe I'm afraid she'll turn her back on me; maybe I'm afraid she'll hate me. Maybe I'm too proud and can't stand seeing pity in her eyes.
Thinking about it I suddenly wonder what will be so bad about Helena knowing the truth about my feelings for her. Maybe she'll cease to avoid me, realizing I don't blame her for Wade's death.
A slight movement in the corner of my eye suddenly catches my attention and I abruptly realize that I'm not alone. The thought of Huntress watching me sends a shiver down my neck. Sometimes before Wade's death and Reese's appearance I imagined she felt the same about me that I feel about her, but after Wade's death all that has changed. We used to be able to joke around about some things and to flirt in a way that friends sometimes do, but now we hardly talk. Thoughts of Helena returning my feelings are childish and have no substance. I'm a grown woman - I ought to know better than to construct fantasies out of nothing.
I raise my chin.
"I know you're there, Huntress", I say.
She moves from the shadows above me and soon enough she prowls towards me across the floor like a lioness coming for the kill. She's dangerous, smart, funny - sexy... I hold her gaze, not wanting her to know how much her presence affects me. Just seeing her makes me lose my breath for a moment.
"Is Dinah back?" she asks with a slightly worried frown.
"She is", I say and nod. "She told me you did well."
She grins; that broad, confident grin I fell in love with. It's years since I first felt this pang in my heart seeing her grin, but I buried my feelings for her so well it almost was as if they weren't there. Almost.
"I always do well."
I know, I think. "Just be careful", I add, not really in the mood to play games. I'm tired and her presence confuses me. Watching her I notice the dried blood on her forehead, only a few inches below the hairline. "You're hurt." I wish Dinah had told me, but thankfully I'm always prepared for all eventualities. This isn't the first time I need to tend to one of Huntress' cuts; I keep a First Aid-kit in one of the drawers at the desk, close by for an emergency.
"It's just a scratch", she objects. "It's nothing to worry about."
I need something to occupy myself with anyway, to keep my thoughts of her at bay. I didn't expect to see her tonight and haven't prepared myself mentally for this meeting. "Please", I ask, looking at her. "Let me tend to it, Helena."
Her face is blank when she looks at me and I can't tell what she's thinking. I used to believe I knew her so well, but since Wade's death and her time with Reese I can hardly tell what she's thinking anymore. It's as if we are strangers to each other these days and I hate the feeling. She's moved on with her life and I don't deny her the pleasures of being in love, of finding her own life - my only wish is that there was some place left for me in that life. I never thought we would part so suddenly or so completely. It's not as if she's never at the Clocktower anymore, or that we don't see each other at all these days; she still comes by and I see her almost every day. The difference is that we don't really talk as we used to. We're like strangers, politely exchanging comments about our lives. We're awkward around each other and I know Dinah has felt it too. Thankfully she hasn't commented on it yet.
At the same time I know Helena worries about me; I see it sometimes in her eyes, in her face - in the way she looks at me. She sticks around to make sure I'm all right. She's trying to be a friend in the only way she knows how and I'm really grateful. To lose her completely... It's not an option I care to consider, although I know I have to make her let go of me in time. It is truly time for her to find her own way in life. She needs to spread her wings, without being bound to those who can't follow her.
She moves to a nearby chair and sits down without a word of objection. The compliant act makes me suspicious and I arch an inquiring eyebrow at her, but she just shrugs.
I go ahead and clean her wound, thinking of all those times before I've done this. I wonder fleetingly if detective Reese tends to her wounds as well as I do, but reject the thought as soon as it makes itself known; it's unworthy of me. I have no right wondering about Helena's relationship with Reese.
I keep my eyes focused on the small cut on her forehead while keeping all other distracting thoughts at bay. One part of me wants to trace her face with my fingertips, touching her in a way only a lover would - but Oracle within me is in too much control to do such a thing. Instead I pretend to be analytical about the situation; to be cold and efficient. It usually always works, but this time I can't help but feel a shiver of fear thinking of how much it would hurt me to lose her. "You ought to be more careful, Huntress", I tell her worriedly, failing to repress an impulse to brush some of her dark curls from her eyes with a soft touch.
"I'm always careful", she says with a half snort. I look at her, knowing her arrogance will be her downfall one day.
"I'm serious, Helena."
"Me too. There were five against me. I managed well enough, I think." She smiles, adding: "If I was more careful I'd be dead, Barbara."
I know she means well, but sometimes she doesn't think before speaking. I notice the hurt in her eyes when she sees my pain and I turn away from her, not wanting her to carry my burden. I'll have to hide my pain more carefully, especially considering she doesn't know what causes it. I don't want her to know, not yet.
"That was not funny, Helena", I say. Just thinking about losing her frightens me, although she probably thinks I'm remembering Wade.
"I know. I'm sorry..."
"Did detective Reese pick them up?" I ask, changing the subject.
"Yes", Helena says after a moment.
I wonder why she didn't follow him home. This is the first night in a long time that she returned to the Clocktower. I don't know what I should think about that. I've missed her considerably, but having her here right now - alone... I didn't know I would feel so much pain seeing her like this. What is it with her that makes me feel this way? Wade never made me react so strongly to his presence. "What are you doing here, Huntress? I thought you were staying with him tonight?" I have to ask, even though I fear the answer. I fear hearing she only came by to collect some of her stuff and that she'll be leaving again in a minute. I fear hearing he's waiting for her.
"You don't want me here anymore?" she asks, half seriously and half jokingly. I notice the hurt in her voice and glance at her. Maybe she's not that much of a stranger, after all.
"You must know I miss you", I say, holding her gaze, not wanting her to think I don't want her around. She seems somewhat bewildered by my honesty - lost and young, in a way I haven't seen her for a while. I know it hurts her not knowing how to ease my pain and I don't want her to feel guilty about it. I shrug and change the subject again, not willing to discuss anything that could bring us back to Wade or my... condition. I've no doubt Dinah has discussed our conversation with Helena. Maybe that's why she's here, to check on me? "Those guys - who were they? What did they want?"
"Those thugs?" She shrugs. "Just ordinary bandits. Reese's department will take care of them."
"I know you can take care of yourself", I say, reminded of her cut when I see her face. I don't want her to feel bound by me worrying about her. "I just want you to be careful." I just couldn't stand losing you.
"I am", she says, almost urgently - wanting to reassure me, no doubt. "I am, Barbara. I promise."
"That's good then, Helena." I smile at her, turning my wheelchair and heading for the elevator; there's not much more we have to say to each other. Her voice stops me.
"Barbara..." she says and something in her voice catches my attention. I wait for her, but she doesn't say anything more.
"Did you want something, Huntress?" I ask, looking at her. I'm still curious about why she's back at the Clocktower this late at night, but I'm not going to ask her again.
"Barbara..." she says again, suddenly looking so vulnerable my heart aches. I want to reach out and touch her, but if I do I know I can't hide my true intentions anymore.
In the next moment Helena is by my side, hugging me. I gasp and stiffen, not able to hide my reaction. I inhale her scent, feeling her strong arms around me - her cheek touching mine.
"Helena..." I breathe, not sure she hears me. She doesn't let go and finally I must return the embrace, feeling the softness of her body pressing against mine.
"I'm so sorry", I hear her whisper and I close my eyes, wanting to lean towards her - to feel her strength and her slender body holding me. "Barbara, I wish there was something I could do for you."
"You do", I tell her, giving in to the impulse and lean against her. Her grasp tightens around me. Just knowing she cares about me is enough for me. Even though she'll never know the truth about my feelings for her she'll always be my friend. "You're helping me."
"It doesn't feel enough."
"Just be... careful. I..." I falter, not knowing how much to tell her, how much to let her know about how important she is to me. "I don't want to lose you too", I whisper.
"You won't", she says, holding me even closer. Her voice is raw, making me want to comfort her.
"Don't worry about me, Helena", I say, moving slightly to touch her cheek. Her skin is soft and warm to my touch and I repress a need to let my fingertips trace the outline of her lips. "Have your time with Reese. That's the most important thing, that you take care of the time you have together." Even if I can't have her, at least I want her to be happy. Reese will make her happy.
"I..." She falters. She buries her face against my neck and I feel the soft warmth of her breath, it makes me close my eyes. "It's been three months now..."
Wade. She thinks I'm grieving Wade. I ought to be grieving him, I think distractedly. She's too close to me now - I can't think. I move away from her, closing my heart to the intimacy between us.
"I know how long it's been, Helena", I say with an edge to my voice that has nothing to do with the memory of Wade and everything to do with her presence.
"I'm sorry", she says, looking lost again. "I didn't mean... I'm just worried about you."
"I know you are." I relax a little, not wanting her to be hurt by my sudden reaction. I hesitate, again wondering how much I should share with her, but finally give in and add: "I worry about you when you're off fighting, but there's nothing I can do about it. I just have to trust you know what you're doing." I smile. "And most of the time you do."
She blushes slightly, which I find both surprising and endearing. Then I remember something Reese said almost right after Wade's death and I feel a sudden pang thinking of what Helena shares with him. I fight the pain and hold her gaze. "Do you remember - that day when we learned of Wade's death? You left and Reese went to bring you back. He told me you didn't want to fight anymore because you were afraid you would lose people you love. That you would lose... him." I find it difficult using my voice, but I fight the sense of loss I'm feeling when thinking of what I can never share with Helena.
"He told you that?" she asks, almost angrily.
I nod. "He did. Wade died because of something I believe in. Something I fight for. There's a part of me that wants to keep blaming myself for his death, but whatever happened... The fight most go on, Huntress. Just as Reese told you. As long as I believe in what I'm doing Wade's death won't have be for nothing. It's been tough leaving the guilt behind me, but I'll just have to go on living."
"But it was my fault", she says, as I somehow knew she would. It's more of a whisper than anything else and the pain in her eyes hurts me more than anything. "I'd understand if you don't want me here anymore."
Don't want her around? Is that what she thinks? Is that why she stays away? "No, Helena", I say softly, taking her hand in mine. I hold her gaze, trying to ask forgiveness for the pain I've caused her by letting her believe this. "Never believe that, Helena. It wasn't your fault and I've never blamed you. You had no part in this."
I can see she wants to object, again wanting to tell me about that last therapy session with Harleen Quinzel, but I shake my head. "Don't, Helena. I've told you already, that you made it up by preventing me from killing Quinzel. No one could have stopped me at that time."
She looks so young and vulnerable, lost in guilt and grief. I don't want her to hurt so much. I want her to find peace and happiness and I know someone other than me that can give her that. "Don't be afraid to love, Helena. Or to show detective Reese that you love him. And don't worry about me. Go - find your own life."
I want to close my eyes hearing her speak my name like that, but I smile and squeeze her hand. "I'm going to bed. Go now. I'll be fine. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Sleep tight, Barbara", she says with low voice.
"You too, Helena."
I presume Helena returns to Reese for the rest of the night. She never really told me why she came back to the Clocktower, but I guess there were no reasons for her to do so. I take a quick shower, making myself ready for bed. I keep the thoughts of Helena at bay by thinking about work. School starts in two weeks and there're some things I need to prepare for.
I manage to forget about Helena until I return to my bedroom, when my eyes fall on the preserved rose at the small table near my bed. It was a gift from Helena for my last birthday.
Seeing the black rose with tinges of red I feel a sharp twist in my chest. Helena... I think, before suddenly bursting into tears. I slide down my wheelchair to sit on the floor by my bed. I keep the towel in my hands and squeeze it as if it's the most important thing in the world. It becomes my lifeline to reality.
I remember that rose. I remember that day: my birthday - only a couple of months before Wade's death. Helena never liked Wade and usually avoided him. He didn't think much of her either and considering the way she treated him I never blamed him, although I think they would have liked each other if they'd only tried to get along.
On my birthday Helena avoided me the whole day. It hurt me and at the end of the evening I thought she'd forgotten what day it was. I went to dinner with Wade and Dinah. Dinah gave me a paper press in the shape of a cat to keep at my desk. Every time I look at it I think of both her and Helena and I suppose that was her intention. Wade gave me a beautifully wrought gold bracelet.
I spent that night with Wade. It was... nice. The next morning when I returned to the Clocktower I found a card and a small velvet case in my room - and a single black rose with tinges of red. The card red: "For the one who once was a child of the night and now is the eyes of the world... H." It made my skin tingle and I failed to suppress a gasp when I saw the gift in the jewelry case: a chain and a pendant in pure white gold. The pendant was in the shape of a flying bat, with emerald eyes. She must've had it specially made and the consideration brought tears to my eyes.
I never thanked her for the gift or told her how much it meant to me. We had another of our arguments that night and the topic hasn't come up since, but I preserved the rose and I look at it every night before closing my eyes. Tonight it was the sight of the rose's black petals that reminded me of Huntress and all those things still left unspoken between us.
"Helena..." I whisper, hugging the towel trying to find some comfort in its rough material, but there's no comfort to be found. Why must it hurt so much, being in love like this?
I didn't know how much I wanted her until she held me close tonight. I didn't know I could ever feel like this... I've tried not to let her know, but I think I must tell her the truth. I can't live my life like this - hurting her, hurting me. If I tell her I'll know how she will react and then maybe I can move on.
A soft sound behind me makes me realize I'm not alone.
It's Helena. She places a careful hand on my shoulder and I hear the anguish in her voice. I know I ought to move away from her, but I can't. I'm not strong enough right now to deny myself the bittersweet pleasure of her touch.
What is she doing here? I think. "I thought you were gone", I say, holding her gaze. She seems to struggle with the words, but she remains silent and instead she takes my face between her hands and kisses me on the forehead. It surprises me and sends a slight shiver along my neck.
"I'm not going anywhere tonight", she says, pulling me towards her and holding me close. I close my eyes when I feel her soft skin brushing my face. "Barbara", she adds, stroking my hair with a careful gesture. "I don't know how to help you. I don't know what you need or what I can do to ease your pain. Please, tell me... I'll do anything for you."
At least she cares for me, I think, leaning towards her. Maybe it'll be enough for tonight. I'll tell her the truth in the morning. My arms encircle her waist. "Please, just... Just hold me, Helena", I whisper.
"I wish I could carry this pain for you", she whispers in a voice that makes me believe she feels something more than friendship for me. The thought brings more pain to my weary heart and I begin to cry again. I feel her mouth at my temple and her warm breath caressing my skin. Something moves inside me - hope, fear, longing. I want you, I think, fighting my need for her. Fighting the impulse to lift my face towards her.
"Helena. Please, don't go."
"I won't, Barbara. I won't leave you tonight." Helena takes me in her arms and rises from the floor; her face is so close to mine - I think I could kiss her right then and there. But I don't. "I'll stay right here", I hear her say as she gently places me on the bed.
I look up at her and I know I can't hide what I'm feeling any more. She must see the truth in my eyes now, but she turns away.
"I'll make you some tea..."
"I don't feel like tea", I say reaching for her. "Please, stay... Helena." I grab her wrist and pull her towards the bed. I want to feel her arms around me - just for tonight. She looks startled but doesn't object, as I feared she would.
She takes me in her arms and holds me. I can hear her heart beating; it beats too quickly, too strongly - like the beating of a fast drum. I wonder if she's angry with me for asking this of her. I want to say I'm sorry, but I don't want to move away from her. I don't want to break this contact with her. Then I feel her hands moving along my back and I fail to repress a shiver.
"Are you cold?" she asks and manages to cover me with the blanket. I don't want her to move her hands from my body, but in the next moment she holds me close again. Her hands touch me while encircling my waist. "Sleep now", she says. "I'll protect you."
I know you will, I think, sliding down in the bed to rest my cheek on her shoulder. Again I notice her pulse increasing. What if? I think. It would explain some things in the past... But Reese...?
Reese is not here.
I don't know why I do it, except I want to feel her skin against my palms and my fingertips. I want to feel her heartbeat increase and her gasping for air. I want her - and now, right this moment, I want her to know it. This is the truth and I don't want to hide it anymore.
I slide my hand along her body and feel her holding her breath. I feel her pulse beat faster and harder than before and experience butterflies in my stomach. I let my fingers linger at her neckline, feeling her pulse beat at her throat, sensing her soft skin. I'm not new to lovemaking, but this moment is the most erotic moment I've felt in my whole life. God - I shouldn't do this! I think, but I know I've gone too far already to stop it. Unless she stops me I can't prevent myself from touching her. Then I hear her sigh and it's my undoing. I lift my face and touch her cheek with my lips, feeling her gasp softly beneath me. Helena... God - how I want you! She doesn't do anything to stop me and I grow bolder. Her skin is warm and soft and my lips crave more of her.
"Helena...?" I ask in a whisper. When she doesn't react I let my lips trace her mouth, tasting her - asking her for permission to do what I'm doing. I half expect her to move away, to object, but another part of me knows she won't. Instead she holds her breath and then presses her lips to mine. I feel her hesitate for a heartbeat, but when my tongue caresses her lips she parts them without hesitation. Her hands loosen the ribbon tying my hair and it falls around us.
"Barbara..." she whispers and her voice sends shivers through my body. I touch her face, holding her gaze. I see desire there - want, need, longing... She wants this too, I think, happier than I can remember feeling for a long, long time.
"Ssshh, don't speak. No words tonight... Please... Just... Let us just be who we are."
"What we are..." I hear her whisper, before she takes hold of me and I kiss her again, long and deep - trying to convey my hearts desire to her. Love me, I think. Love me the way I love you and my life will be complete... This is my last coherant thought for a long time.
Part Two - Last Night
Friday - Barbara
Helena is gone when I wake up. I immediately miss her presence, knowing she's not in the room. At first I think she's waiting for me downstairs, but I soon realize she's left the Clocktower. The insight brings instant sadness. She left me, I think sighing, but there's still a sliver of hope within me. Maybe she's gone to speak to Reese. Maybe she's with Dinah someplace... Maybe...
Maybe she regrets staying the night.
Even though I haven't slept for many hours I feel refreshed, rested. It's like I've been charged with a gigantic battery. Thinking of the nights activities makes me blush while I'm making myself ready for the day. Helena...
She left me... I swallow, not wanting to have to deal with what Helena leaving me might mean. I'll deal with it when I see her. She might have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why she didn't want to stay in my bed. Other than she considers she's made a mistake?
I push away distracting, negative thoughts, not wanting to paint the world black on a day like this. I've slept with Helena. The thought makes me grin like a fool. I've slept with Helena - and it was wonderful. It was better than anything...
"Dinah!" I call, wheeling in to the kitchen. It's empty. Maybe she's gone somewhere with Helena.
I make some breakfast, feeling more at ease and relaxed than I have in a long time. The pain is gone, replaced by a kind of... peace. I'm not really worried about Helena. When I looked into her eyes last night I saw her, felt her - sensed her - in a way I haven't before. She wanted me as much as I wanted her. That wasn't an act. She's probably just freaked... I think. Helena has a habit of bolting when things get too emotional. Even though we didn't say a word during the night it got pretty emotional. The thought makes me blush again.
'll just talk to her. Explain how I feel about her.
I've just finished my breakfast and sit by Delphi when the phone rings. It's detective Reese.
"Oracle", he says.
"Yes?" I ask carefully, not sure what to expect.
"Is Huntress there? I've some questions regarding last nights... arrests."
"No, as a matter of fact I'm not sure where she is. I thought she was with you."
There's a brief silence.
"She left too quickly last night. There are some technicalities we need to go through. You know what it's like, being in the department."
"You need to prove everything, right", I say, still unclear about this conversation. There's another silence and then:
"How's Helena?" detective Reese asks.
I blink. "She's... fine, I presume. You saw her yesterday, didn't you?"
He seems to hesitate. "We don't really speak any more, it's strictly business. She's good about it, but I... miss her. Does she mention me?"
"Um, well..." I don't know what to say. "How long... is it now?"
"Since she broke up with me? Almost five weeks. Did she tell you? She didn't think I was exciting enough..."
God! I close my eyes. Right - if she hasn't been with Reese during these weeks, where the hell has she been? And last night...?
"Um... I'm sorry, Reese. Her father had a commitment problem. Guess she just inherited it." I don't know what I'm saying.
"Well, yeah - we both knew that. I thought she'd grown out of it."
"Frankly", I sigh, "so did I."
"I've seen her around town with other... men. One time I even saw her with a woman. Did you know about that?"
There's a bitterness in Reese's voice and I don't blame him. This is the Helena I know; picking up one night stands to disgard the next day. I remember how she used to be in her late teens - the arguments we had about some of her choices. A woman? I think sadly. Helena - did last night mean anything to you?
"I'm truly sorry, Reese", I say and mean it, for many reasons. Mostly I'm sorry for Helena. Will she ever be happy?
"Right - just let her know I need to see her about the gang from yesterday, will you?"
After my conversation with Reese I sit quietly in deep thoughts for a long time. I feel quite... numb. Numb and sad.
Alfred serves me some tea, but I don't recall any proper conversation other than asking him about Helena. He doesn't know where she is. Later Dinah finds me, breaking my contemplation. I play some music in the background on the computer when she comes home. Usually I don't fancy popular music, but today I find it quite distracting - and quite fitting that most of the music deals with romantic love in one way or another. Dinah's alone, but by now I hadn't expected anything else.
"Hi", she says, walking up to me.
"Dinah", I say.
She looks inquiringly at me and then states: "You're feeling better."
"I am, thank you", I say, somewhat distracted.
"So, whatever Helena did last night must've helped."
So, I had been right - Dinah had talked to her. It doesn't really matter now, considering everything else that's happened.
"Did you have a good talk?"
"Not really", I say matter-of-factly, thinking of Helena's hands and mouth touching me.
I hear a low, sad voice singing a song in the background I've never heard before.
Let's get serious
What's going on?
Hey! Hey! You make things difficult
You make it hard livin' on
I'm going crazy
Livin' this way
I'm giving all my life to you
Baby I'm crazy
But I'm going insane
I shouldn't love you like I do
I must have been screaming
That was unintentional
I do apologize
For the way I feel
So tell me I'm dreaming
cause I'm a bit conventional
It's no big deal
...Maybe the cure is
Worse than the disease
I shouldn't love you like I do
I shouldn't love you, but I do..."
It's the most fitting song I've ever heard. I wonder who sings it.
"Hmm?" I say, still listening to the song. That was the way Helena used to make me feel. I knew I couldn't love her, so I went other places to find love. I found Wade, but even before his death Helena's presence made me ache for her. Not as much as when Wade wasn't there anymore, but enough to make me realize my feelings for her wouldn't just go away. I hated myself in the beginning for falling in love with her - she was young and I was her guardian, her mentor. I had no right to feel that way about her. "I shouldn't love you the way I do..." But I do... Presumably that's why I thought she'd hate me if she found out the truth. I wonder if she does now?
Before Wade I dated a couple of other men, just to get my mind off Helena. They didn't mean anything to me and I used to share my experiences with her. We would laugh at their shortcomings and she would tease me about my efforts. I didn't share my experiences about Wade with her and I think that fact hurt her. She probably felt I left her out of my life, but the thing was that I needed to move on. I needed Wade in order to forget about her.
"Barbara!" Dinah says sharply and I look at her.
She gestures towards the desk. "Look - you're stirring an empty cup with your pen."
I look down, realizing she's right. My tea was finished long ago - thankfully, otherwise my pen would be quite spoiled by now. I remove it and put it down.
"Sorry - I'm somewhat distracted."
"I can see", Dinah says dryly. "You're feeling better, aren't you?"
I meet her gaze and nod. "I am. I do appreciate your worrying about me and I understand you for interfering, but..." I hold her gaze. "Next time, please give me a heads up before sending Helena charging into my life."
She blushes, as I expect her to.
"Um, sorry `bout that", she mumbles. "But honestly, I didn't know she was coming home yesterday."
"You didn't?" I ask surprised. "You didn't ask her to come home while at the crime scene?"
"No." Dinah shakes her head. "She sent me right off again, before detective Reese turned up. She didn't say anything about coming back to the Clocktower."
I frown. "Right, thanks, Dinah." Helena, I think. Where are you? "Dinah", I add after a moment's hesitation. "Did you know Helena isn't dating detective Reese anymore?"
"Well, she told me yesterday. Did she tell you?"
I shake my head, again slightly distracted. "No, actually Reese did when he called me this morning."
"Yes. You don't happen to know where she is, do you?"
The blonde girl shakes her head without a word and I look closer at her.
"You didn't sleep at home, did you?" I add, noticing for the first time that she is still wearing the same pink top as yesterday. She blushes slightly.
"Helena didn't think it would be good for me being around the two of you... If you ended having an argument, wanting to kill each other - or something. Considering my abilities, that is."
I nod, thinking Helena at least showed some sense of responsibility yesterday. That wasn't fair, I think, defending her. To be honest: I kissed her and she didn't do anything I didn't want her to... Not a thing. I blush thinking about it and notice Dinah giving me a strange look. Well, I think with an inward sigh. There's nothing to blame Helena for. She probably thought she was comforting me. Maybe she thought I didn't need or want anything more from her. It's my own fault for not talking to her last night - not telling her the truth.
"Did you have a fight?" Dinah asks worriedly.
"No, we didn't. She... She was a good friend. I'm fine now, you don't have to worry about me."
Dinah nods and gestures towards the elevator. "If you don't mind I'm going to have a shower and freshen up."
"Go ahead. I've eaten, but Alfred saved some lunch for you", I say, recalling the older man telling me Dinah wasn't home. "I've some work to do for school. We're having a conference before the beginning of the semester. I think I have to go away for a few days next week, so you and Helena will have to manage the city on your own. I've been meaning to talk to you about it, but..."
"No, that will be fine. We'll manage."
I nod, not wanting to doubt Dinah. "I'll talk to Helena about it as well. She needs to be around more if I'm going away."
"Great." Dinah smiles. "See you later." She darts off towards the stairs and leaves me alone with my thoughts of Helena.
It's late at night when she returns. She walks in from the elevator; dressed in the blue top with the red rose I gave her once. The sight of her makes my heart skip a beat, but I keep a straight face. Her presences make me remember the night before: her fingers caressing my naked skin, me craving more of her touch - of her hands and her lips; her mouth sucking, her tongue in places that make me blush remembering... I've never made love to anyone the way I made love to her. She was like a wave, strong but gentle. She was careful, but still passionate. Her mouth... Her mouth tasted me everywhere. Her fingers traced the length of my body, finding scars not even Wade noticed. She kissed them with soft lips. Her lips... Her face when I touched her... Her cats' eyes...
I want her still.
The thought hits me when she walks towards me. I want her still. The sight of her, the scent of her... My heart trembles and there's an ache within me only her touch will ease.
She's been drinking. She's not drunk, but I can smell the beer on her. I can't see what she's thinking, but she looks guarded - defensive. Sometimes she has trouble finding words when she needs to discuss emotional matters. I stay silent, wanting to give her time if there's anything she needs to tell me.
"You're up late", she says and I feel a sudden pang of disappointment, but it passes. I didn't really expect her to proclaim her love for me - not after my conversation with Reese.
"Work", I say, gesturing towards the computer. "School starts in a few weeks. There are some things that need to be done."
"Right", she says, looking bored.
She's closer now and my skin tingles - longing for her touch. Then I notice the dark mark on her neck: a love-bite. She doesn't even bother to hide it and I feel hurt by this display of lovemaking other than mine.
"Who did that to you?" I ask almost vehemently, losing control for a moment. I didn't do that, I think. I couldn't have done that. "Where have you been?" I'm annoyed and slightly angry and I don't bother hiding it. She gives me an injured, affronted look, squaring her shoulders.
"You know", she says bitingly. "That's none of your fucking business. I'm a grown woman and you're not my mother."
I look at her, sensing the rage and the hurt within her. She's right, of course. She's a grown woman, making her own choices. I thought maybe I meant more to her than one nights pleasure, but I was obviously wrong. Not that it matters - I invited her. She gave me what I wanted and she did it well. She comforted me when I needed it and I have no right to ask for more.
"You're right, of course", I say, nodding. "You're right. I won't interfere in your life any more. I'm sorry for prying; it's none of my business."
I turn the wheelchair, thinking I'll have to discuss my school trip with her another day. I wheel towards the elevator, but remember Reese's phone call.
"Reese called, by the way", I say, keeping my eyes on the elevator door. If I look at her she'll see the tears trickling down my cheeks. I don't want her to. I don't want her to feel bad, which I know she will if she knows she's hurt me. She still cares about me, I know that. It was just my mistake thinking she cares more than she should. I shouldn't love you the way I do... "He wants you to go down to the station. There were some difficulties with the gang you captured yesterday."
The elevator doors open and I wheel in. I don't hear if she answers - still hoping, praying, that she'll call my name the way she did last night. But she doesn't and the doors close behind me.
Friday – Helena
I spend the day fleeing from myself. It's useless. Again and again I see Barbara's face before my eyes: her lips parting in pleasure, eyes dim with desire... I'm even hearing the sounds she makes - she whispered my name more than once and I... I remember the softness of her touch, of her kiss... I didn't know she was such a good kisser. She melted me completely with her mouth. No one has ever made me feel that way with just a kiss. And her body - to touch it, to feel it naked against mine... She was all muscle. Muscles covered by silk - it was wonderful to touch. I could never have dreamed about such pleasure, such sensations. I didn't know...
I never knew it could be like this - making love. I never knew what it was like making love to someone you're in love with. Nothing will ever compare to this. Ever. Unless...
Unless - what? It was one night, to comfort her, in her need. Nothing more. She won't want me again. She'll be ashamed when she sees me the next time, trying to thank me and then smooth it all over with words. I don't want to hear it. I hate her. I hate the way she makes me feel. I always did - even from...
Maybe I was seventeen. I told her that if I'd been a man I'd marry her and we'd spend the rest of our lives together. She laughed at me - not insultingly, but fondly. She knew I meant it and she loved me for it. No one ever laughs at me quite like her - I love that laugh, so full of warmth and understanding. She knows me like no one else does. How can I love another, when I know someone like her?
I sit at a bar, drinking. Several men have made their interest known, but one look from me and they retreat to their corners. It's not until a redheaded woman turns up I raise my eyes from the glass to look at her. She smiles at me and moves closer. It's not Barbara's smile. They're not Barbara's eyes.
"Hi, stranger", she says with a wink. I raise my glass to her, saying nothing. I'm not in the mood. My memories of Barbara are still too precious to me. Barry White sings in the background. "You're my first, my last, my everything..."
I listen to the song, forgetting about the woman beside me and remembering another.
She'd been more passionate than I'd expected her to be. I should've known. There's this part of Barbara few people are aware of, even her closest friends. She used to be another woman at one time - a woman hiding in the dark, just like me. Batgirl. Barry sings on: "You're the answer to all my dreams. You're my sun, my moon, my guiding star... My kind of wonderful - that's what you are..." My heart aches hearing it, knowing all of it's true when it comes to Barbara. She's everything I ever wanted and ever would need.
Batgirl within her doesn't show often enough, but she did last night - she's that part of Barbara I enjoy, knowing she belongs to me and none other. Not even Wade knew her.
"I know... I know there's only one like you. There's no way they could've made two..." Barry sings.
I can't get last night out of my head. The way she looked at me, the way she touched me... I should've fled the room, I know - to save myself the pain - but as soon as I felt her tongue urging me to meet hers I was lost. I wanted her so badly nothing and no one could've torn me from her. I kissed her with a passion I'd never felt before and almost ripped the pajamas off her body. She let me. That was just the thing: not once did I question her need for me. Not once did I hesitate in what I was doing. She almost tore my jeans off me in her need to...
I swallow, suppressing a shiver as I remember what she did. The way she had done it... If I hadn't been sitting down already my knees would've buckled at the memory. God - she was beautiful! She'd filled me completely - more thoroughly than any other lover before and I'd been full of love for her, wanting to tell her how she made me feel, how much I needed her. But I couldn't speak. I was glad she'd asked me not to speak, because if she'd wanted words I wouldn't have been able to utter a single one. My heart had been too full and I had tried... I had tried to give her what she needed - everything I wanted to give her and have wanted to give her for such a long time.
Memories. Memories of the past crowding me, making me grow restless. Thinking of the past suddenly makes me make up my mind. I put down my glass and pay, looking at the redhead at my side. "Sorry, there's someplace I need to be. Another time."
"Sure, stranger." She winks at me, not offended at all, and I give her a small smile. This is the kind of woman I would spend a night with if it hadn't been for last night's... whatever, with Barbara.
I leave the bar, not knowing why I feel this strong urge to return to the Clocktower. I just know I need to see her. Maybe to get a chance to explain... If only I could find the right words.
When she met Wade and started dating him I questioned her decision to see him. She'd faced my childish anger then and it was the memory of her words at that time that drove me from the bar tonight. "Sure, Helena. But you're not a man and we can't marry. I just have to grow up and move on." It was a joke, of course. It was a response to what I had told her a few years ago, but she still remembered. She used to tease me about it sometimes just to make me blush, but when I heard those words in connection to Wade it finally made me wonder. I wish I'd questioned her about it then. I wish I'd had the courage to challenge her on it - but then I'd forgotten all about it.
I need to know what last night meant to her - what that remark about our relationship in connection to Wade meant. She'll probably tell me if I ask, but I don't know if I'm ready to hear the answer - to know the truth. I know I'm not ready to see pity or regret in her eyes and I hope she's gentle enough to spare me this. I think she is - she cares about me, after all.
When I reach the Clocktower I feel nervous and tense. I step out of the elevator and see her sitting before Delphi. She turns to look at me and I can't see what she's thinking. I almost never can - except she showed me a great deal about herself last night. Her eyes were moist with need and longing. Was it for me or Wade? I think.
She removes her glasses, looking at me. Her eyes are unreadable, green and intense. I feel it, she reads me like an open book. She waits for me, I know. She wants to give me time to find the words if I want to speak about last night.
I hate her. Why does she have to be so understanding - so loving, so... so wonderful? You're my first, my last, my everything... I think. My kind of wonderful.
"You're up late", I say, cursing myself. I don't want to be superficial about this. I don't want to be afraid to speak the truth. If only I could see what she's thinking. If only I could know what last night meant to her.
"It's work", she says, glancing at the computer behind her. "Next semester starts in a couple of weeks."
"Right", I say, not knowing what else to add. I don't want to talk about such mundane things like work. We've talked enough about everyday life these couple of months. I want to know her again, like I did before. Like I did last night. I need her. I need the Barbara who taught me to play chess, who teased me about my clothes and my inability to talk about feelings, who yelled at me when she was angry... The Barbara I spend so many late nights with, talking about everything in life. I miss her. I've missed her since Wade was introduced to her. I know it was my own fault we grew apart and that I pushed her away, but I want her back.
Looking at her I know I will always love her. My body aches for her even more now, when I know what it's like to be touched by her. To be kissed by her.
She left a mark on me and when I look at her she notices it. Her eyes grow wide, angry and hurt. I wonder why.
"Who did that to you?" she asks.
Her words and the way she attacks me, hurt me. If she doesn't even know... If she doesn't remember... It didn't mean anything to her, I think, hurt and frightened. She's angry and she has no right to be. Does she think I went straight from her bed to sleep with someone else? I'm confused and afraid, hurting. God - I love her so much and she just... She just let me know exactly how highly she thinks of me.
"Fuck!" I exclaim. "You have no right asking me that! I'm a grown woman and you are not my mother."
She grows perfectly still. She doesn't move an inch, looking at me. The anger and the hurt in her eyes dies away and there's only sadness left, before that too gives way to the veil she wears to hide her emotions behind.
"You're right", she says softly. "Of course you're right. I won't pry into your life any more. I'll leave you alone from now on. I'm sorry. It's none of my business what you do."
She turns her wheelchair, moving towards the elevator. I want to stop her. I want to grab her, shake her, make her admit to the night we shared. Make her confess the reason to why she kissed me and now pretends as nothing. But I don't. I can't move. The look in her eyes - as if she said goodbye. I don't want you to stay out of my life, I think, but I know I've just closed the door between us. Only I can open it again and I'm just so fucking scared. Me - scared. Huntress - the most dangerous creature of the night. I'm scared.
She used to be Batgirl, another creature of the night. Maybe I have a right to be scared. Maybe I don't know her as well as Dinah thinks I do - as I ought to do.
"Oh, by the way..." she says. She sounds indifferent, distant. She doesn't turn around. "Reese called... He wants you to come down the office. There're some problems with the thugs you caught yesterday."
Reese called. She's talked to Reese... I close my eyes. No wonder she's angry and hurt. God - I'm such a fool!
"Barbara..." I move towards the elevator, but the doors are already closed and Barbara is gone.
I hear Dinah approach and feel her presence behind me before she says my name. I'm standing on the ledge outside the high window of the Clocktower, looking at the stars. It's not more than a few minutes since Barbara left me. I considered following her, but again my fear got the better of me. By all the gods in the world - I never thought I'd be such a coward!
Dinah makes her way to me and halts by my side, looking out over the city lights.
"Aren't you asleep?" I ask dryly. Doesn't anyone sleep anymore?
"I've been practicing. I bet you'll find my right hook improved."
I can't help but smile at the younger girl's enthusiasm. "Well, we'll try it out soon enough, then."
"I don't know what you did with Barbara, by the way, but it sure helped. You're obviously better at this 'emotional crap'... as you say, than you think." You don't know half of it, I think bitterly. "Oh, yeah?" I say shrugging. "She's alright?"
"She's fine." Dinah hesitates. "You didn't have an argument, did you?"
"No." I don't really want to talk about it, but I don't want to unload my anger at Dinah either.
"No - I didn't think so. She said you'd been a true friend."
Whatever that means, I think. It could mean a thousand things... I comforted her when she needed it - finally doing something right. I just wish it didn't cost me a broken heart. Damn!
"You didn't tell her about Reese, did you? I think she's hurt she had to hear it from him..."
Girl, stop talking... I grind my teeth, but Dinah doesn't seem to notice.
"I think we need to get her out of the Clocktower. She needs to have some fun... I haven't seen her happy in a long time..."
Me neither, I think.
"I wish we could throw her a party..."
"I'm not in the mood for a party", I mumble.
"There's this bar in town. What's it called - White Lily, right? It's a restaurant with a dance floor. I hear they have good food there. What do you think? Should we book a table for tomorrow?"
"I'm not in the mood for a party, I said", I growl, but Dinah just looks at me.
"You know - I don't really care what you're in the mood for. You owe this to Barbara..."
"I owe her?" I spit.
"Yes", the girl says coldly. "I don't care that you've been lying to me about Reese. Maybe I should expect more from you, but I really don't..."
I blink. It hurts hearing Dinah talk like this, but if she notices my reaction she doesn't show it. She goes on: "But Barbara... She's your friend. She didn't say anything against you today, you know. She didn't blame you at all. And if Reese told her what he told me..."
"What?" I inhale sharply, looking at her. She glances at the dark love-mark on my neck with a mix of amusement and disgust.
"At least you get lucky", she says frankly. "Are you so selfish you don't want Barbara to experience some fun? Don't you think she deserves it?"
"What, Dinah? What did Reese tell you?"
"He told me he's seen you with a number of different men of questionable character around town. He said it wasn't any of his business, but he was worried about you." She smirks. "I'd be too, had I not known you the way I do. You prefer them 'dangerous', wasn't that what you said?"
I turn away from Dinah and from the truth she has spoken. "He has no right discussing my love life with either of you", I say calmly; calmer than I'm feeling.
"He phoned to speak to you. He's been trying to get hold of you the whole day. Finally he asked me if I knew anything about the guys you caught yesterday, but I couldn't help him. When I said neither Barbara nor I knew were you where he told me he worried about the company you're keeping. That's it. He has yet to learn that you're able to look after yourself."
"Did you tell Barbara this?" I ask.
"She already knew about you and Reese - she talked to him earlier. When I mentioned his worries she just said you're old enough to make your own choices. She said you were old enough to know what was good for you." Dinah looks somewhat disapprovingly at me. "I told her I didn't agree."
"Maybe you're right", I say and sigh deeply, hearing these news. I sit down on the ledge. "I'm such a fool, Dinah."
"Sometimes you are", she says softly, squatting by my side and placing a hand on my shoulder. "That's what makes us human, Huntress."
I shake my head. "Barbara's never a fool."
Dinah laughs softly. "If you ask her she'll probably disagree with you."
"She'll only disagree because it's me saying it."
"Well, yes - you've got a point."
I glance at her, seeing the amused look in her eyes and smile. "You're growing up nicely, kid-o."
"I'll be fifty and you'll still call me that."
"Of course", I grin and tug her blonde hair. "You'll always be younger."
"And you'll always be faster."
I grin again. "And don't you forget it."
Dinah raises her eyes to the dark above us. "Sometimes to love someone means we have to let them be free. Barbara has let you go and you blame her for it. Do you want to punish her for loving you?"
I grow still, not wanting to listen to this but know I'm hearing the truth. "What do you mean?" I ask carefully.
"She's been your mentor. She's not anymore. She's a friend now, but I think you still want what she gave you when it was just the two of you - before Wade and... and I, showed up. But... Friends don't just demand, they give as well. Don't forget that. You can't just ask things from Barbara anymore, expecting her to give and not having to give her what she needs in return."
"I know", I say quietly. But I did give - and then I was afraid of what I'd given and I couldn't take it back. "She - she's fine today?"
"Yes, she was like - Barbara. You know, the way she used to be. Whatever you did last night helped her through... whatever she's been going through."
Maybe that'll have to do, then. But I want more! I want her so badly - I won't be able to live with her without being allowed to touch her the way I touched her last night.
"Please, Huntress... She needs to get out more. Let's do this for her."
"Sure", I say and shrug, repressing an inward sigh. "Let's party."
Part Three – Hope
Saturday – Helena
"I can't believe we're doing this", Barbara grumbles, tugging at the sleeves of her blouse. She wears black trousers, boots and a soft green blouse matching her eyes.
She's walking. And she moves as if she'd never seen a wheelchair in her life. Apparently she's made some changes to the neural charger connecting the damaged spine to her muscles. I didn't know about that, but I wasn't hurt she hadn't told me about it. Dinah was as surprised as I was when we found Barbara moving like a fighter in the practice room this morning. I've never seen her so agile - it's like she's never been injured. Apparently she has trained her muscles too these last months. "I've had a lot of spare time", she said when Dinah asked her about it. No wonder she felt so muscular to me the other night.
My eyes slide down Barbara's body. I walk a few steps behind her and Dinah, hearing them discussing the White Lily, where we're heading. I watch her back and her shoulders. I've always loved her shoulders. She has a small tattoo I didn't know about before three days ago just between her shoulder blades, in the shape of a bat. I remember kissing that tattoo, feeling her body heave beneath me.
"It'll be good for you", Dinah says. "You're too isolated in the Clocktower, now school is out."
"Yes, mummy", Barbara says teasingly and links arm with Dinah. I watch them walking arm in arm in front of me, staying out of the conversation. That is, until Dinah pulls me in.
"I've hardly seen you smile lately", the girl says to Barbara. "You need to smile more. I miss you smiling. Don't you, Helena?"
I lift my eyes glancing briefly at Barbara before nodding. "Yes - yes, I do. Dinah's right." I manage to hold Barbara's gaze for a brief moment, before she turns her eyes towards the busy street. It's Saturday night and there are a lot of people moving in the shadows of the early evening. I can't read anything from her face, but I didn't expect to.
"Right - I'll keep it in mind to please the two of you, then", Barbara says and I blush, taking her words very personally, but Dinah laughs.
"It's the price we ask for taking you out to dinner and dancing."
"Dance too? I'm lucky I brought my walking legs."
"Funny", Dinah says dryly.
The White Lily is an exclusive place. They have a doorman opening the doors for us when we arrive and a waiter leads us to our table. Dinah has managed to get us a table by the large windows overlooking the garden: green grass, trees and with a fountain in shape of a mermaid holding a trumpet to her mouth. The restaurant is divided by a railing encircling a large dance floor further in the back. The area has plenty of green plants, several aquariums, sculptures and large, wonderful paintings. It's an attractive place and it's usually difficult to get a table, but Dinah was lucky. Unless it had something to do with the fact that the owner is an old friend of Bruce Wayne's - my father. It wouldn't be beneath Dinah to make use of such a connection. Not that I blame her, knowing Barbara loves this place.
"I love this place", she says right then, looking around wide-eyed as a child.
This isn't the first time we've been here, but it was a while ago now. It hasn't changed much from what I can see.
"You don't mind the dance floor?" Dinah asks, but Barbara shakes her head.
"I used to love to dance", she says and I wonder why I never knew that.
"You did?" Dinah says as surprised as I.
"Yeah." Barbara smiles softly at some past memory. "It's one of the things I miss the most - not being able to dance."
"You'll try tonight, won't you?" Dinah asks with a careful glance at the older woman. Barbara nods, looking in the direction of the dance floor.
"Wine?" the waiter asks, placing the menus on the table for us, lifting a wine bottle from a small tray beside him.
"Yes, please", Barbara says, smiling at him. The young man smiles back with a slight blush on his cheeks, making Dinah look away with a grin. Barbara pushes some dark red curls from her face and while doing so I notice the necklace she's wearing. Dinah does too. When the young waiter has left our table the girl leans slightly forward, looking at the chain and the bat in white gold with emerald eyes resting at Barbara's throat.
"It's beautiful", Dinah says breathlessly. "I love it. Where did you get it?"
Barbara's hand goes to the bat, touching it almost like a caress. I see a slight blush on her cheeks. "Me too", she says softly, slightly embarrassed. She doesn't look at me, but I can't take my eyes off her. I've never seen her wear the bat before. Why does she now? What does it mean?
"I've never seen you wear it before." Dinah echoes my thoughts. "Is it new? Did Wade give it to you?"
"Helena did", Barbara says, still softly. "For my birthday."
"You did?" Dinah looks at me. "I thought you'd forgotten her birthday."
I blush angrily, but before I have a chance to say anything Barbara reaches for one of the menus.
"She didn't", she says and opens the menu.
Barbara's act closes the conversation and I reach for another menu. The table is for four; it's round and I sit closer to Barbara than to Dinah, but more by chance than by choice. If I stretch my legs they'll touch Barbara's. I want to, but I don't. I don't dare - I know bodily contact with her will increase the feelings of frustration and awkwardness I'm already struggling with.
"I need the ladies", Dinah says and stands up. "Helena, will you please order for me?"
"What? Me?" I look up.
"You don't trust me, girl?" Barbara says with a wink. Dinah laughs.
I wonder why she can call her girl without her taking offense, I wonder fleetingly, feeling a pang of jealousy seeing Barbara wink at Dinah. I know the jealousy is unfounded, but Barbara used to wink at me that way before Wade turned up.
"No offense, Barbara - but you'd probably order squid, or something."
Barbara laughs and I can't keep from grinning.
"Squid it is, then", I say and Dinah makes a face at me.
"Be nice", she admonishes before leaving us alone.
At first it's all right. We concentrate on the menu, finding what we want to order and then the young waiter is there. Barbara flirts with him a bit and he blushes again, but takes our orders. When he leaves the silence between us grows uncomfortable and I wonder if she feels as awkward as I do. Dinah has been a welcome distraction between us, keeping us from hurting each other - but also from mending our relationship. If there's even something left to mend anymore.
We haven't been alone since last night, when I told her to stay out of my life. I try looking at everything else in the restaurant, but in the end my eyes are drawn to her.
When I look at her I notice her watching me.
"I did that, didn't I?" she asks softly, glancing at and nodding towards the bruise on my neck.
I don't know what to say. I don't know if my voice would carry right now. Why does she always do this to me - sneaks up on me when I least expect it? "Yes", I say in a low voice and nod. She nods too, as if she'd been expecting the answer.
"I'm sorry", she says, looking straight at me. Her eyes are soft, filled with tenderness and affection. Will I ever know the depths of this woman? Will I ever understand her the way she understands me or have the inner strength that she does?
I'm lost in her eyes. They're like green gold - like sunlight on dark leaves. I remember the way she looked at me the other night. Without a word she held me down on my back in bed, letting her eyes travel the length of my body. She didn't speak, but her eyes were filled with need, longing - love. I was lost in them then, as I'm lost now. Then, that night, she touched me. Her hands caressed my skin as if I were a delicate treasure, or a fragile flower. Her hands... I love her hands. Her hands... her shoulders... her eyes...
She holds my gaze. I'm not sure she's sorry about the accusation she made yesterday, or about the bruise in itself. I don't want her to be sorry about the bruise. It's more precious to me than she'll probably ever know.
She tilts her head to one side, listening - waiting. Then her eyes move to something behind my back and I know Dinah is returning.
"We'll talk later", Barbara says softly and touches my arm. I feel her fingers linger on my bare skin and her eyes hold mine slightly longer than necessary.
"Did you know they have a jukebox with only Elvis Presley songs?" Dinah says as she sits down.
"Yes", I say and nod. "Do you remember?" I add lightly, looking at Barbara, trying to ease some of the tension between us.
Barbara smiles. "I do."
"Well, I don't", Dinah says. "Tell me."
I make a face. "It was one of Barbara's blind dates..."
"Barbara had blind dates?" Dinah looks sharply at Barbara, who laughs.
"Don't look so disgusted, girl", she says, leaning forward to touch Dinah's hand. "It was just for fun. One of my colleagues thought I needed to get out more, so she set me up."
"Well, none of them knew..." I say, remembering that night.
"Wait..." Barbara raises one hand, holding me back. "First things first..." She winks at me and I blush, again remembering the other night; there's a glimpse of something in her eyes that reminds me of the way she kissed my neck then. "First you need to know... I refused to go on a blind date on my own, so I asked Helena to accompany me. Which she did..."
"And?" Dinah looks questioningly at us.
"And her date looked like Meatloaf on a really bad hair-day." Barbara frowns at the memory.
"So?" I say. "He was charming."
"As charming as a troll. He burped in every second sentence..."
"Every second sentence", Barbara repeats, holding my gaze, challenging me to disagree with her. She arches an eyebrow and I grin.
"I still maintain he was charming - and cute."
She snorts. "If that was cute Alfred is a newborn."
Dinah laughs. "You never told me this. What about your date, then?"
"Well..." I exchange an amused glance with Barbara. "None of us knew he was an Elvis Presley impersonator."
Dinah laughs with sparkling eyes. "Really?"
"Really", Barbara says and shakes her head. She smiles at me. "We had a great night, though - although not what we expected. We were quite tired of Elvis Presley the following months."
Dinah grins when I make a face in agreement. "I can imagine." She looks expectantly at me. "Did you see that Meatloaf guy again?"
"She dumped him for a Ken-doll", Barbara says dryly. "A beach-boy with a golf-addiction."
"Boring", Dinah says and pretends to yawn.
"Exactly my point. That's why I dumped him for the bulldozer..."
"No, no", Barbara interrupts. "You had that Yoda-guy in between..."
"God - Helena!" Dinah looks at me. "Did you date the whole of New Gotham's underworld?"
"I think there's a few of the lowest thugs left", Barbara says dryly. "Don't be gross, Dinah."
"Excuse me!" I object, but they are both laughing at me now and I can't help but grin. It feels good having the Barbara I know back again. She catches me looking at her and silences. Her eyes linger on me and I feel the warmth from them and from her presence so close to me. What if I tell her all of those guys were just a way of forgetting her - or to make her jealous? What would she think about that?
Her eyes are too intense, too green... I can't tell what she's thinking and the way she's looking at me makes me remember: softness, skin like velvet, rippling muscles and craving lips...
I'm just about to look away when something behind my back catches her attention. I see her following someone with her eyes and there's a look on her face, as if she's seeing someone she hasn't seen for a while and wouldn't expect seeing here. Her eyes move closer and then she's looking at someone standing behind me. I turn in my chair.
There's a tall, blond man with sparkling blue eyes standing two steps behind my chair. A younger girl, about Dinah's age, stands beside him; blonde and slender, but not quite as tall as Dinah. It's she who reacts first, noticing Barbara.
"Barbara!" she exclaims, rushing to Barbara's side of the table and hugging her. Dinah looks curiously at me, but I shrug. I've never seen either of them.
"Julie", Barbara says and returns the embrace. "You've grown."
"Thankfully", the girl says laughing. "I wouldn't care to be a midget."
"There's nothing wrong with little people, Julie", the man says, exchanging an amused and slightly intimate glance with Barbara.
I feel my heart contract in sudden pain. I suddenly know who this man is. I've never met him, but I've heard Nightwing and Barbara talk about him. Alfred mentioned him once, but Barbara refused to discuss the matter with me.
"Barbara", the man says, not taking his eyes off her. I see determination in the sharp blue of his look. He's made up his mind about something.
He wants her, I think, looking directly at Barbara. He never stopped wanting her. I can't blame him - neither would I.
"Mike", Barbara says, with a slight nod and an imperceptible smile, but there's amusement in her eyes and it twitches my heart. Mike grins.
"You've hardly changed. Still as beautiful", he says.
"Thank you. Ever the charmer, aren't you?" Barbara returns his smile while Dinah arches both her eyebrows, looking from one to the other. I can see her thinking, planning.
"Hi", the girl by my side says and extends a hand. I take it. "Julie."
"Helena", I say shortly.
"That's Dinah", Barbara says, indicating in Dinah's direction. The girls regard each other with curiosity.
"I'm Mike", Mike says, shaking my hand. I look at him and say nothing. I feel Barbara's eyes on me.
"We were just about to eat", Julie says, looking back at Barbara. "It's been such a long time - can't we sit by you?"
No! No, no, no! something within me shouts, but I see the look Barbara gives the girl and know I've lost.
"We're waiting for our food. Please join us."
"Are you sure?" Mike asks, looking at Barbara. "We don't want to intrude."
"You're not intruding", Dinah says with a smile. "Friends are friends. Join us."
I feel like throwing up.
"Helena?" Barbara asks carefully, looking cautiously at me.
Thankfully I'm saved by the waiter, who brings us our starters. I know I need to conceal my anger and jealousy, but the pain is too intense at the moment. Mike talks to the waiter as Barbara tries to catch my eye. Finally she gives up and takes me by the hand.
"Huntress", she says softly, hardly audible but for my enhanced hearing. Her tender grasp forces me to look at her. "Don't be mad. It's been a long time since I've seen these people. It would be rude not to talk to them."
"I know who he is", I say, holding her gaze - challenging her to deny the truth. She gives me an odd look.
"What difference does it make?" she asks and I gasp softly, not sure what she's getting at. Does she mean what happened between us - or between them?
"Barbara..." Mike looks down at her and pulls out the chair on the other side of her. She turns towards him. I look at my food, not at all hungry anymore.
"How do you and your father know Barbara?" I hear Dinah ask Julie as the girl sits down by Dinah's side in a chair the waiter brought for her.
Julie flashes Dinah a quick smile. "Don't you know?" she says. "Mike is not my father. He's my uncle - my father's brother. My father was killed in an explosion here in New Gotham.
Julie grins and Dinah smiles politely. I think Dinah likes the girl, but she's not sure were this conversation is heading. I wonder if her meta-human ability picks up on my raging emotions. All I want to do is throw the table across the room, kick the chairs out of the way and hurl Mike through the windows. But I fight the impulse - it wouldn't be civilized behavior.
"Mike adopted me. He and Barbara used to be engaged."
"What?" Dinah says, loud enough to make both Mike and Barbara turn their eyes towards her. "What?" she repeats, looking at me. At first she wants to ask me something, but then she sees me and thinks better of it. She reluctantly turns back to Julie. "I never knew Barbara was engaged."
"They were to get married, but never did..." Julie glances at Barbara and Mike, who once again are engaged in their conversation; I can't hear what they're talking about because of the pounding of my heart. Barbara eats the salad she got for starters while talking. "Mike never forgot about her..." Julie said.
"But you're not from around here?"
"We moved when Mike and Barbara ended their engagement."
"Right", Dinah says thoughtfully. I notice the inquisitive look she gives Barbara and want to kick her. Stay out of this, kid-o! Don't meddle with things you don't know anything about. I want to grab her by the ear and tell her not to interfere in Barbara's love life. It's my business. "Right", she mumbles again, looking at Mike.
I hate Mike. I always did. When I was younger I hated him so much it hurt - because she used to belong to him. I sometimes found her reading letters he sent her, or old letters she'd saved. I asked her about him a couple of times and she told me the background: they were engaged to be married, but broke it off. I thought it was Mike who broke it off after the gunshot that bound Barbara to the chair and so I hated him even more.
It was Nightwing that finally told me the truth. It was Barbara that broke the engagement. He didn't know why - or if he did he never told me. The only thing he did tell me was that Mike was the love of her life.
I look at them now and see how easily it is for both of them to find their way back to each other. If my single night with her ever meant anything to her I doubt it will now.
"I think it had something to do with an accident", I hear Julie say. "And a child she needed to care for. I heard Mike talk about it once - he said she had to make a choice between married life and a life in the shadows, whatever that meant."
I look at Dinah and see her glance in my direction. I wonder if this is true. Did Barbara give up her life for me - for what happened to my mother? If she did - how much do I owe her then? How much must she resent me?
"Excuse me", I say and rise from the table. Barbara immediately turns and grabs my wrist. Her reaction both surprises me and makes me remember the other night - what she asked of me: Don't go. I left. I left her then. If I leave her now it'll be forever. I can see in her eyes that she knows it too and she fears it. "I'm not going anywhere", I say, wanting to ease her worries. "Just to the ladies. I'll be back."
She hesitates, but finally let's me go. She still holds my gaze, though, and I'm so confused by what I see in her eyes. I hate the feeling of being confused. I want to flee, but know I can't. Wherever I go in the world she'll be the one thing I can't leave behind. My heart will always pull me back to her - she's my centre, where I belong. I can never be happy in a place where she's not present.
Barbara nods slightly and turns back to Mike, not looking at me again. I leave them, to visit the ladies-room. I will return - I know I have no other options.
Saturday – Barbara
It feels strange seeing Mike again. It's been... seven years. He's still as handsome as ever - and as charming, with his white teeth and sparkling eyes. I missed him immensely to begin with, but I never regretted the choice I made. I wanted him to stay in New Gotham, but he said he wouldn't be able to live close by with no option to be with me. I knew he was right - I had to focus on Helena at the time and would only have been distracted by his presence. He took Julie and left. We kept in touch for the first few years, but later... I don't know what happened. I thought I would love him forever and that our love would only grow stronger over the years, but we lost touch. I think it was my fault mostly. With Helena in my life I didn't seem to need anyone else. At first, when I realized I seemed to be attracted to her, I put it down to me missing Mike. I assumed that I transferred my feelings to her, because I had no one else to care for and nowhere to direct those unresolved feelings for Mike. I believed it would go away, but it didn't - it only grew stronger.
I've known Helena since she was a child of nine or ten. She was a lovely child, full of mischief and fun, with that grin drawing attention from everyone. Strangely enough she seemed to be quieter in my company than with others. I never knew why. I still don't know why. I used to think she didn't like me, but she kept coming around always asking things, wanting to spend time with me. Selena worried I would be annoyed having her around, but I enjoyed the girl's company. I had no problems with her then - it was later the troubles begun. Later: a few years after she'd come to live with me. She was angry and hurt and I had to keep her close to prevent her from ending up in trouble. She did anyway - with that event that brought her to Dr. Harleen Quinzel.
Mike's filling me in on what's been going on in his life the past years and I listen, but more from courtesy than with any real interest. My mind is filled with too many thoughts of Helena to be engaged in something else at the moment, even though I realize Mike's flirting with me a bit.
"And what about you? Get hooked yet?"
I shake my head with a soft smile. There's only one I would want to marry - but I can't. That's why I chose to fall in love with Wade. I had to move on in my life. I give Mike a quick summary of my life, mentioning Wade and the fact that I'm able to walk at the moment. When I silence he watches me with an intense expression. I hold his gaze, not looking away and finally he smiles. I remember what he used to say, that I was one of the few who could look him in the eyes when he wore his 'tell-me-all-about-it' look. There were few criminals who didn't shrink beneath young Mike's gaze. He must be even better at making people talk today, with the years and his experience in the court-room behind him.
"I've kept the ring", he says, serious again. I remember him being this way: he took what he wanted without apologizing for it. He said he didn't know how to be any different. I used to love him for it. I still would- if it hadn't been for Helena.
"What?" Dinah suddenly says out loud and we turn to look at her. I glance briefly at Helena behind my back, but her face is tight. She's not happy.
I noticed the hostility within Helena when Mike introduced himself to her; the look in her eyes, the way she set her jaw and clenched her teeth. "I know who he is..." Why would it mean anything to her who Mike is, if our night together meant nothing to her?
I'm confused by the messages she's sending me. When I had time to think about it last night I realized the love-bite on her neck must've been made by me. I still blush thinking about it. It's no wonder she got hurt by my remark yesterday.
But the way she looks at me... I'm so confused. Could this young, sexy woman really want me the way I want her? Could I mean more to her than one night's pleasure? I was sure I did, but... Do I dare believe her actions yesterday were based on fear and hurt? Her leaving in the morning light and then telling me to stay out of her life?
I'm flattered by Mike's attention and the expression in his eyes as he regards me, but I'm too aware of Helena's presence behind me. I want to turn to her, to touch her or to squeeze her hand, but if I do... I want her badly. If I touch her I know my eyes will reveal the same need for her as they did two nights ago. I wouldn't be able to hide it and we're not alone now. I wish we were alone - I so want her to make love to me again. I need to feel her mouth craving me, her hands touching those soft parts of my body only lovers ever get to know. She was so good at it, the way she... I cut the thought before it makes me blush, but the thought of the other night still lingers in my memory. She'd been gentler than I expected, showing me a tenderness it's difficult to believe she has in her when looking at her inscrutable face.
She kissed my whole body, exploring it as if she wanted to memorize its every mark and curve. No one would do such a thing if the love-making didn't mean more to them than one nights pleasure.
Or was she just being a friend?
How will I know? I want to turn to her now and ask, but Oracle within me is used to too much control and won't give in. Beside, there are too many people present.
One part of me is engaged in conversation with Mike, as another part listens to the girls in the background. Helena is silent. She's too quiet for it to be a good sign.
I've just finished my starter when I hear Julie's remark about me leaving Mike for a child. Girls that age are not always as tactful as they ought to be and I know Julie still hopes for Mike and me to get back together. She was only a child at the time he and I were engaged, but we were close. If I'd married Mike she'd be like my own. Making the decision to leave them was difficult, but I never regretted making it. Helena has given me so much in life, much more than she's probably aware of.
I instinctively know Helena heard the remark and I know what she thinks: she'll start questioning her place in my life and wonder if I ever regretted taking her in. I don't want her to doubt what she and I have shared over the years. She's too precious to me.
When she rises from the table I'm prepared for it and turn around. I catch her wrist and look at her, silently asking her not to leave me. If she leaves me now I know she'll keep on running and maybe never come back. I need to let her know... something. Will she see the truth in my eyes?
"Don't worry", she says softly. "I'm not going anywhere."
She said the same thing the other night - and then she left. I just have to trust her now. She squeezes my hand before she lets go and I don't know what that means. I'm so confused about her behavior: every now and again she looks at me as if she's remembering how she touched me that other night - how I touched her. Then she's indifferent and aloof again. If I trust my instincts they tell me she's afraid of being hurt and that's why she left that morning. If I listen to my brain it tells me she was only looking for a one night stand - to count me as another of her conquests.
I hurt her by my remark about the bruise on her neck yesterday. I was foolish and insensitive - letting my fear and pride get the better of me. If only I could get a chance to talk to her before we hurt each other even more. I need to tell her the truth. She ought to know already, I think distractedly. She should know I don't sleep around with just anyone. Then again - I was lost and in need of comfort that night, she might think that was all it was for me: a one night stand.
I need to talk to her, I think as I see her make her way to the ladies. I consider following her, but realize it would be awkward trying to talk to her right now. She's upset - I'm not sure about what or what it means that she is, but I know talking to her right now won't be a good idea. I'll just have to be patient.
When the main course arrives Helena has returned. She seems to be in a better mood and even smiled at me as she sat down. She's eating and that's always a good sign. Mike tries to involve her in a conversation as we enjoy our dinner, but she doesn't seem interested and he soon gives it up. Although, as he turns to me she's suddenly very talkative, being awfully curious about his occupation as a lawyer and his various ex girlfriends. He tries to talk his way out of the last question, but Helena is persistent and I watch with amusement as they try to best each other in stubbornness.
Later on, at dessert, Helena is involved in a discussion about some popular figure on television I don't know anything about with Dinah and Julie, who both take the opposite opinion from Helena. It evolves to a witty argument with Helena surprisingly in the lead. She finally wins the argument with a flourish, leaning back in the chair with her arms crossed and looking smug. I can't help smiling at her - she's so charming like this.
"Will you excuse me?" Mike says and rises from the chair. He looks only at me, not bothering with Helena's almost fierce expression as she looks at him. There has been a somewhat tense atmosphere between the two of them since Helena returned from the ladies. "Nature calling..."
I nodded at him and watch him go.
"'Nature calling'..." I hear Helena mumble disdainfully at my side with a grimace. When I look at her she gives me an innocent smile. "Nice man", she says and I arch an ironic eyebrow at her.
"We'll be back in a sec", Dinah says as she rises from the table with Julie. "I'll show Julie the jukebox."
"Go ahead", I say, welcoming the time I'll get alone with Helena. I turn to look at her, but her eyes are focused on something far out the dark windows and her expression is indifferent and aloof. I hesitate for a moment, not sure what I should do. Finally I give it up and eat my dessert.
When I look up again after a moment I find Helena watching me with a question in her eyes. First I don't understand, but then I hear the song playing from the dance floor. Do you remember? her eyes ask me. I do, but I don't know what it means that she does - if anything. I don't know what anything means in our relationship anymore.
The song in the background is Bonnie Tyler's old song: Holding out for a Hero. I remember young Helena telling me that was the kind of man I needed - a real hero. I teased her, saying I didn't need a hero - I had her. She looked at me intently and then grinned. "And don't you forget it", she told me. "Don't you dare trade me for a tin-soldier."
I didn't forget, but I traded her in. I remember her remark about Wade, how angry she was with me for settling for a guidance-counselor. "He's a lame-ass, a puppy - a puppet on a string. He'll follow you - but even kittens do that. You need something more, Barbara - why do you settle for someone like him? He's too safe for you. He won't love you the way..." I waited for her to say it; for her to finish the sentence the way I hoped she would, but she never did. "The way you need to be loved", was all she said before she left. She's always leaving.
If she's afraid to tell me she loves me I need her to find the courage to do so. I know there are many reasons for her to be afraid, but if I tell her the truth I need to know she's strong enough to believe in it. When she held me the other night, before... Before anything... I felt safe then, protected. That's the Helena I need - not the one running away at daybreak.
I look at her now and wonder what she's thinking. Will you be my hero? I think. We're alone at the table; if I speak now - will she stay, or run away?
"Helena..." I say. "About the other night..."
I see it instantaneously: the fear claiming her, before her eyes grow dark and hard.
"Yes - what about it?"
Always so defensive. I reach for her, wanting to take her hand in mine, but at the same time someone's shadow falls across the table and Dinah sits down beside me.
"That Elvis jukebox is cool", Julie says, sitting down at Dinah's former place.
"Sure is", Helena mumbles, lowering her gaze.
"Hi, stranger", someone says right then, surprising us all.
I look up at a tall, red-haired woman beside me. She doesn't seem to notice me, but looks only at Helena.
"So, we meet again. It must be fate."
"Hmm", Helena says looking at the woman. "Don't believe in fate", she adds, holding the stranger's gaze.
Helena's quite rude, but the woman doesn't seem to mind. Dinah looks curiously at her and Julie looks intrigued. I'm not really sure what I think - I'll have to take my cue from Helena and she doesn't look pleased with the woman's appearance.
"We never got properly introduced. I'm Scarlet." The woman extends her hand to Helena, who only arches an eyebrow at her. The woman shrugs.
"I'm Dinah", Dinah says with an amused smile at Helena. "Never mind her, she didn't get much sleep last night."
"No, I know..." the stranger says, looking quite amused at Helena, who interestingly enough blushes. I'm not sure what I should think about this. I guess this is one of the people Wade has seen Helena with. She looks a little like me, I think, watching Scarlet. I wonder if that's her real name...
"Well - I'm not going to stand here looking like a fool. Do you want to dance, stranger?" Scarlet says, holding Helena's gaze. Helena sets her jaw and I can see her wanting to face the challenge in Scarlet's eyes, at the same time hesitating.
"You should, Helena", Dinah says, still amused. "Go - have fun."
"I don't want..." Helena silences. She doesn't look at me, but I get the feeling she wants to. She's struggling with something, but I can't help her this time. Suddenly she looks at me after all, asking me something with her eyes. What? What does she want from me? Leave to go - or me asking her to stay?
Before I have time to make up my mind Mike stands by my side.
"Barbara - they have a great dance floor here. Let's dance, shall we. Do you remember?" He holds my gaze, smiling. "Do you remember the way we used to dance?"
"I do", I say, nodding. I glance at Helena, but she stands without looking at me and takes Scarlet's hand in hers. My heart cramps seeing it and I stand too. "Yes - lets dance", I say, wanting nothing more than to grab Helena and prevent her from leaving with that... that woman.
It should be me, dancing with her, I think, feeling hurt and jealousy mingle with sadness and regret.
"Great!" Dinah says, joining us on the way to the dance floor.
It's been so many years since I last danced. I used to love it and I've missed it over the years. It's a lot like riding a bike, though - even though it was a long time since my last dance my body still remembers how to move to the music. The dance floor is not too crowded and Mike knows how to make use of the space. I laugh at him when he swirls me about, pulling me close. We used to have so much fun together and I see the memories in his eyes as he grabs me and swings me about. I know those memories, but they belong to another woman, not me. I was different then. Still I return his smile and dance with him - sharing the past.
In the background I notice Helena dancing with the redheaded woman and feel a pang of jealousy. It should be me with her. I wonder what it would be like, I think, watching Helena move her arms above her head and sway to the music as Scarlet's hands trace the shape of her body from behind. To my immense relief Helena steps aside and even seems uncomfortable with the intimacy. It makes me feel a little better.
"I've missed you, Barbara", Mike says and holds me close as we dance to a slow song. I tear my eyes from Helena and look into his startling blue eyes. He smiles softly at me. "Have you missed me a little?"
I can't help caressing his cheek. It's good to see him again and I know... I will always be very fond of him. But he's not Helena. "A little", I say. His arms are not Helena's and his grasp is not hers. I want to feel her arms around me the way I did the other night. I want to belong to her as I did then. She craved me and she filled me as no lover before her ever has. How will I be able to explain? There were no words between us and even though I regret not telling her what she means to me - what doing what we did meant to me - the silence was like thunder within me. I felt her through it - it created a space around us where nothing else mattered than the way we touched each other, the way we kissed. The silence was like an ocean surrounding us, keeping us safe and bringing us closer. If I close my eyes I can see her face as it was then - her eyes looking into mine... I wanted her so much and she felt my need... She didn't hold back - I still have marks on my body reminding me of that night - but she was also gentle in a way I know she can be but rarely shows.
She was mine that night and I want her - need her - that way again. I need her to make love to me as she did... Her hands tracing my naked skin, my hips, my breasts... She kissed me softly, driving me to the edge... taking her time about it... I whispered her name more than once, wanting her to touch me... to feel me, to make me feel... And I couldn't get enough of her - wanting to melt into her, like some second skin.
The mere thought makes me tremble and when I look up, feeling Mike's lips touching my cheek, I realize I've forgotten all about him and where we are. I step back, smiling, still holding his hand.
"Let's dance, cowboy", I say and he laughs. Dinah and Julie dance close by and I know Helena is someplace near us, but I don't turn to look at her. I won't be able to bear it if I see her dance so close to that woman again.
Part Four - Hurt
"Awesome!" Dinah says, standing at the edge of the dance floor with the rest of the crowd, watching as Barbara and Mike dance away. This is the second time they claim the floor and the crowd gives way to them. It's no wonder - they're truly amazing to watch. "I never knew Barbara could dance like this", the girl adds, full of excitement.
"I didn't know Mike could dance at all", Julie agrees.
I don't really care what Julie knows or not. I stand with Scarlet beside me seeing the woman I love dance with another. I want to rush in and grab her - to make a scene just to prevent her from being in his arms. Let her hate me, let her be mad at me - as long as she doesn't laugh at him that way. As long as his arms won't hold her so tightly.
They dance to the song Sway, by Rosemary Clooney. I hear the words and see the effect the melody has on Barbara. I've never seen her move quite like this before. It's like watching a professional dancer, swirling past; a dream of your greatest wish - close, but always out of reach. I can watch her, but not touch her. I see her smile at Mike; I see her move close to him and I clench my fists.
I thought I could fight for her. I thought maybe I had a chance if I only...
"She's beautiful", Scarlet says in a low voice at my side, interrupting my thoughts. "Look at the way she moves. Like some... otherworldly creature. Like a thing of shadows and waves, flowing grass... God - I wish she wasn't so straight! It's a perfect waste."
Dinah looks at Scarlet as if the woman is some strange creature and then blushes beet-red. It almost makes me laugh, but the memory of Barbara in my arms prevents me from giving in to such frivolous behavior. I ought to fight for her, I think, but seeing her in Mike's arms I wonder if it's worth it. He'll obviously make her happier than I ever could even hope for. Why spoil something like that? Besides, she doesn't want me that way. Sure, she looks at me as if she does, but then... Look at her now. She's perfect in his arms - everyone seeing them dance thinks so. What could I ever offer that'd compete with what he can give her?
When the next song comes on Scarlet moves close to me, wrap her arms around me and kiss me as our bodies sway to the music. I let her, not seeing any reasons not to anymore. It's not at all like kissing Barbara, but it's the thought of Barbara making me move my hands along Scarlet's body. The memory of her soft skin torments me, as does the memory of her kisses. Scarlet lack the tender touch of Barbara, the softness of her lips and the firm need Barbara showed me. Barbara was gentle as only she can be, but beneath the gentleness there was strength and determination. She didn't give anything she didn't want to give - and she gave everything. Did she make love to Wade the way she made love to me? I wonder, feeling Scarlet's hands caressing my body. Thoughts of Barbara's naked body arouse me and my eyes turn to vertical slits in the dark, expressing my meta-human side. I feel myself slipping away into some darker place of need and desire I can't control.
"Shall we move out of here?" Scarlet asks me. It's too dark at the dance floor for her to see my eyes properly.
Don't speak, I think. Making love I want to hear Barbara's voice whispering my name, or her deep breathing in my ear - nothing else. I nod.
"What about that pretty friend of yours? You wanna say good-night to her?"
"She's too cold", I say, not knowing why. Likely I'm frustrated and hurt - feeling angry at myself and Barbara. Hating Mike. "She can't warm me the way you do."
I'm not myself in this moment, feeling the darkness of my soul call to me. This is the place I fear within myself. This is the place that would beat someone to death if I'm not careful. I always do and say things I regret when visiting this place. This time is no different.
"Um", Scarlet says, looking at something behind my back.
I turn around. The lights from outside the dance floor fall almost right behind me and in that moment they move slightly, lighting my face. A few steps away I see the stricken look on Barbara's face. Dinah stands beside her and I've never seen the girl so angry.
"I'm... sorry", Barbara says, making a slight gesture with her beautiful hands. "I... I... have to leave now."
I see her move away from me, towards our table. I can't see Mike anywhere, but Julie looks at me with disgust.
"That was insensitive even for you", Dinah says reproachfully, glaring at me. She gives Scarlet a cold look and then moves to follow Barbara.
"Well", Scarlet says with a noncommittal voice. "Maybe not so cold after all." She looks at me and notices my eyes. "You..."
"What?" I snap.
"Nothing", she says carefully, backing away from me. She raises her hands and shakes her head. "Nothing at all. I'll see you around."
"Sure", I say bitingly. I feel like kicking someone. Myself, mostly.
Scarlet disappears in the crowd, but I don't notice. I see Barbara grabbing her jacket and her bag before fleeing from the restaurant. Mike is suddenly there again and I see him following her. Dinah and Julie stands by the table, both looking like lost teenagers. I feel like one myself. I move to the exit, needing to see what will happen.
Outside the restaurant I hide in the shadows and watch the exchange between Barbara and Mike. I can't hear them, they're too far away even for me, but I watch them closely. Barbara gestures with her hands, shaking her head. Mike grabs her shoulders, calming her. Finally he takes her hand and she nods, leaning her head on his shoulder. He places an arm around her waist and they walk off together. Away from the direction of the Clocktower.
"At least someone takes care of her", Dinah says by my side. I don't look at her. I see Julie running up towards Mike and Barbara and I see the three of them walking away. Dinah and I stand in the shadows of a nearby alley. We're hiding - like creatures of the night. That's what we are. That's what I am. I can't be any different.
I turn away from the hurtful sight, knowing I don't have anyone to blame but me. It's the worst blame of all.
"Are you happy now?" Dinah calls after me. She's so angry the bins in the alley rattle.
"Happy?" I turn around to face her, tears streaking my cheeks. "Do I look happy?"
Her anger dies in an instant. "God - Helena, why do you do this?"
I shake my head in anger and hurt, in disbelief.
"She heard you, Huntress. Why would you say a thing like that?"
I don't answer. I don't have an answer to give.
"It's fine if you want to go around screw anyone you lay your eyes on, but to involve Barbara..." Dinah hesitates while I stare out into darkness; the sky is black - no faraway lights light this night. "Who was that woman, anyway? Was she the one that gave you that bruise?"
"Fuck!" Something snaps within me, hearing Dinah reproach me like this. She's young and she doesn't know what's going on, but I blame myself enough already. "Barbara gave me this!" I exclaim, throwing out my arms in a swirl of my coat. "She fucked me the other night. It was the god-damn best fuck of my life!" I look at Dinah and see the shock on her face, the stricken look in her eyes, but I can't stop. "Barbara did this to me." I touch the bruise on my neck, trembling at the memory of Barbara's mouth on my skin, the softness of her lips and the moist warmth of her tongue, tasting me; her lips sucking gently at my skin, kissing me - desiring me. She wanted all of me and she took it all. I opened myself completely to her, letting her see everything I am. Thank you, Helena. Her last words to me, before she fell asleep in my arms.
"Barbara did this to me! She fucked me, Dinah. That's what I did the other night - let her fuck me. And I screwed it all up! I'm such a fucking idiot! I'm such a fool, Dinah..."
I close my eyes, breathing deeply to collect my thoughts and emotions.
"You're hurting", Dinah says softly. "I feel it now... I'm sorry. I... I should've known before..."
"You're not to blame, Dinah." I dry my cheeks, turning away from her.
"I wonder when the two of you ever will learn to talk", Dinah says. "You're both as bad..."
"I left. She asked me to stay and I left. And now she's gone with this... this man. She was supposed to marry him, Dinah. But she never did. Because of me. I won't stand in her way again. I'll just screw up her life another time."
"You haven't screwed up her life", Dinah says softly. "If you think that Barbara has been foolish not to let you know how much you mean to her."
I shake my head, moving away from the alley. "Don't follow me, Dinah. I need to be alone tonight."
"Don't", she says, but I'm already gone.
Darkness swallows me. There's a fight calling from somewhere in the night. Maybe more than one. Fights call to me sometimes, when I need to run from myself and from the woman I'm always leaving behind.
There's always a fight someplace in this town. You just need to know where to find it.
Part Five - Second Kiss
Sunday - Barbara
I spent last night with Mike. We talked mostly - about life, about love... About Helena. Julie told him about the remark Helena made and Mike was furious at Helena. To me it seemed his anger was out of proportion, but I was too devastated myself to pay any attention to it. I still defended her when he went on about how ungrateful she was and what a rude young woman she was. I didn't tell him I had feelings for her, but I realized he was jealous of her. I had chosen her over him all those years ago and now... I don't know what he thinks, but he told me it seemed to him it was time for me to let her go.
I would, I think as I'm returning to the Clocktower. I would - if it wasn't for the fact that my heart would break.
Mike slept on the couch while I borrowed his bed. We had breakfast, vowing we would meet again and catch up - but we both knew we probably wouldn't. I know he's still in love with me - I could see it in his eyes, I felt it dancing with him - and even though I enjoyed the attention last night and this morning it's not the same for me. It would be wrong of me to pretend it is. I made that mistake with Wade already. Even though I loved Wade I wasn't honest with any of us - not even Helena. If I'd been honest from the beginning maybe we wouldn't be in this mess right now.
She hurt me last night, not only by words but also by her feral eyes and the way she kissed that woman. I think the kiss hurt me the most, but hearing her call me cold in front of a stranger... She should know me better than to think I'm cold.
I return to the Clocktower early midday, feeling a slight pain in my back. I need to change the neural transmitter, I haven't worn it for so long before and even though it works as it supposed to now I'm not used to it.
Alfred rushes towards me as I step out of the elevator. His face is pale and he looks tired.
"Miss Barbara! Where have you been? Miss Helena is in the hospital!"
"What?" I whisper, feeling the color drain from my face. "Alfred..."
"They needed to get her to surgery..."
I don't stay to listen, but take off to the hospital as fast as I can move, forgetting all about the pain in my back.
Dinah meets me outside Helena's room in the corridor at the hospital, throwing her arms around me.
"Barbara", she sobs. "Where've you been? I thought she was going to die."
Thank goodness, I think, closing my eyes while embracing Dinah. She'll be all right.
"I'm sorry", I mumble. "I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have left you."
Never take a day's leave as a crime-fighter - if the criminals don't mess up your life your partners will.
"How's she doing?" I ask. "What happened?"
"Don't be mad at her." Dinah pulls away, wiping the tears off her cheeks. "Don't be mad at her, Barbara."
I shake my head. "I won't. I'm not... unless she dies - then I'm going to wring her neck myself."
Dinah glances at me to gauge if I'm serious.
"I promise", I say softly and caress her cheek. "I'm not angry - I'm just immensely relieved she's all right. She is, isn't she?" I add worriedly.
Dinah nods. "Yes. She just came back from surgery and she'll be fine."
I nod. I want to see Helena, but I need to calm Dinah first. "Tell me, Dinah."
The girl takes a deep breath. "She left me at the White Lily. I lost her and couldn't find her, so I returned to the Clocktower. I'd just returned when I got a distress-call from her. She needed help. I phoned Reese and then left to find her." Dinah closes her eyes as new tears trickle down her face. "She saved my life, Barbara. When I arrived at the warehouse where she was there was so much blood... I thought she was dead already... The gang - there was so many of them and they'd beaten her badly. I think some of them were metas."
I nod, urging her to go on.
"I think she would've died if I hadn't turned up... I used my abilities and my training and I did... well. I did well, Barbara, but then someone pointed a gun at me and I... I..." She bursts into tears and I hold her close.
"Ssshh, girl", I say soothingly. "Ssshh now..."
"Helena took the bullet for me. I didn't even see her move - she was so fast... Then the police turned up." Dinah leans back to look at me. "It was that gang, Oracle. The gang Helena caught the other day. Reese needed to let them go in lack of evidence." Her eyes turn hard. "Well, now he's got his evidence."
"How's Reese?" I ask.
"Devastated", she says immediately. "The thought of losing Helena really frightened him."
Me too, I think. "I need to see her now", I say and Dinah nods, drying her tears again. She moves away from the door and I open it.
"She's alone now", Dinah says behind me when I enter. "She's sleeping."
I nod, closing the door behind me.
She looks pale beneath the sheets. I stand unmoving by the door, just looking at her. I remember when she was younger - she was never sick, but sometimes she had nightmares and fell asleep exhausted from bad memories and tears. I used to watch her sleep then, seeing the vulnerable child she so desperately tried to hide during the days.
I move to the bed and find the chart describing her injuries. Looking at it I realize she's been lucky. The bullet took her without causing too much damage. It's the beating that's worse: broken ribs, a fracture on the skull, a fracture on the left arm, some damage to one lung and a fracture on the leg. I think it's thanks to her meta-human genes she's healing quickly, otherwise the injuries would be even worse. I wonder what she was thinking, getting herself in this kind of fight. I know she's arrogant sometimes, but I've never known her to be this reckless.
I carefully sit down on the bed beside her, not wanting to wake her but needing to be as close to her as possible. I could've lost her and I didn't even know it. I'd never forgive myself if I'd lost her without telling her the truth.
Watching her, her youthful look makes me remember the first time I met her; a curious child, wide-eyed as she noticed me on my motorbike. She was such a sweet child and it pains me seeing her like this.
"Barbara...?" she whispers, not moving.
"I'm here, Helena", I say softly, taking her hand. She mumbles something inaudible and I lean closer to hear her. It sounds like "... hero..." I smile, brushing some dark curls from her eyes. "Yes, sweetheart, you're still my hero. You're my everything."
She probably won't remember my words when she wakes up, but she smiles hearing them now and then she's asleep again. I wonder how much sedative they had to give her to get her in this state.
I stay with her the rest of the day. Dinah comes and goes, looking worried every time, until I send her to the Clocktower to get some of Helena's clothes and hygiene's.
"You know she'll be furious if she can't look good, even here", I tell her and she smiles, happy to be of use.
Dinah might have been gone almost an hour when Helena finally wakes up. The doctor has just checked in on her, stating that her condition was stable and everything looked fine.
"What...?" Her voice is ragged, low. I rise from the chair I'm sitting in by the windows and move closer. Not too close, I'm not sure she wants to see me right now. "Dinah...?" she asks, looking anxiously at me. It moves me, seeing her so concerned about the younger girl.
"She's fine", I say. "You saved her life, Helena."
"Thank goodness", she whispers, closing her eyes. "She probably saved mine", she adds after a moment.
"That's what she told me", I say. Helena looks up at me with searching eyes.
"Are you mad at me? Are you going to yell at me for being such a dolt?"
"I probably should", I say with a soft smile. "But I'm all too happy both you and Dinah are safe."
"I'm such an idiot", she sighs, closing her eyes again. "Please - just shoot me. Or yell at me - I deserve it ten times for dragging Dinah into this mess."
I can't stop myself from touching her this time and I feel her stiffen when I put my hand on her arm. I squeeze gently and then let go.
"You'd be dead if you didn't", I say. "Besides, Dinah did well. This is the reason why I prefer you to work in teams in the field. You'll watch each other's backs."
Helena nods. She opens her eyes, but doesn't look at me. She looks out the windows behind me, at the radiant sun. "You still want me around?" she asks so softly I almost miss it.
I feel a jolt in my chest. Her eyes are moist, her look broken. All I want to do is to take her in my arms and kiss away the pain.
"Of course I do", I say briskly. "I need you - you're my hero, remember?"
She looks at me then, wondering. "You've got yourself a new hero, don't you? He's the perfect one for you. He knew about your secret, didn't he?"
I lean forward and touch her forehead. "It was a long time ago, Helena", I say softly. "Yes - I did choose between you and him. I knew I couldn't raise you like an ordinary teenager..."
I see the pain in her eyes before she averts them, again looking out the windows.
"Helena..." I need to ease that pain. Need to let her know she's never been a burden to me. "I never regretted that choice. You must understand that."
I see a tear falling down her cheek. "But I always hurt you", she whispers.
"Never intentionally", I say teasingly. "Helena..." I add more seriously when I see her closing her eyes to hide her emotions. "You've brought so much to my life. Without you... my life would be empty - and dull."
I dry the tear from her cheek, wanting to cup her chin in the palm of my hand. She opens her eyes and looks at me.
"You're the most important thing in my life", I say, holding her gaze but lowering my hand. "Never doubt that."
She swallows and looks lost. "But Wade..."
I shake my head. "Wade's gone. I loved him, but..." I hesitate. "I buried him at that funeral, remember?" She'd been there, supporting me. I had let him go then.
"But you grieved him so much. That night..."
I look at her and she silences, maybe seeing something in my eyes that makes her lose her words. "Helena", I say softly. "I didn't grieve for Wade that night. I grieved for you."
She swallows, looking shy. I think she's trying to find the right words again, but I don't let her. I put a finger to her lips and feel the softness of her mouth. The touch triggers memories that almost make me blush.
"Ssshh", I say. "You're still weak..."
"Barbara", she whispers and in her eyes I see that look again - the same look I saw a couple of nights ago. Longing, pain, fear - need.
"I don't regret a thing", I say hoarsely in a whisper and lean towards her. I softly kiss her lips and feel her gasp before I pull away again. She looks at me and opens her mouth to speak, but in the same moment the door opens behind us and Reese enters, followed by Dinah - and Mike.
"Barbara..." Mike says. He's dressed in a black suit and I realize he's here in the line of work.
"Helena!" Reese rushes towards the bed and grabs Helena's hand. She looks quite embarrassed at the touch, glancing towards me.
"I'm the prosecutor", Mike explains, looking at me as I rise from the bed and move towards him.
"Mike Drake", Reese says with a nod, looking at Helena. "He's very good - I've heard. New in town."
"We've met", Helena says, giving Mike a guarded look.
"You have?" The look Reese gives Mike is suspicious and I realize what he thinks. Jealousy, I think, looking at Helena.
"I was engaged to Miss Gordon once", Mike says curtly. The look he gives Helena is cool, distant. He obviously sees her as a rival. The thought make me consider Wade's behavior towards Helena. Did he too see her as a rival?
I turn around, seeing Dinah in the door. The room is too crowded and I notice Helena feels pressed in.
"I think that is enough", I say sternly. "Helena is recovering and still needs her rest. Please leave now." I look at Reese and Mike to show them I'm serious about it and they have the grace to look embarrassed. Dinah drops the bag beside the bed and turns around to leave, but Helena grabs her by the wrist.
"You stay, kid-o", she says and Dinah's smile could compete with the sun. "Barbara..." Helena adds concerned when she sees me follow Reese out the door. I turn and look at her. She looks young and confused and I give her a soft smile.
"We'll talk later", I say tenderly, wanting to ease her worries.
"But..." She looks troubled and before I have time to think about it I move towards the bed and kiss her on the cheek.
"Don't worry", I say softly. "I'm not angry at you. Rest now."
Then I leave, feeling Dinah's wondering gaze at me. I'm afraid that if Helena and I don't talk soon we'll lose each other to fear and hurt. This is the pattern we've made over the years and even though I've seen Helena's desire for me in her eyes I'm still afraid it's just a phase for her - something fun and exciting.
I cut the thought - if I keep thinking like that I'll end up hurting her again.
"Will she be fine?" Reese asks worriedly and I nod, looking at him and Mike.
"You'll arrange for everything with the Court, right?" I ask and Mike nods. "I'll have to go away in a couple of days", I say. The damn school-project. I don't feel comfortable leaving while Helena is recovering, but I'm one of the key characters in the project and can't pull out at this short notice. "I'm leaving on Tuesday. If there's anything you need me to do until then you'll have to let me know."
Both Reese and Mike nod, looking strangely at me.
"What?" I ask, but Reese shakes his head.
"I'll see you around", he says and leaves us.
"I have some questions for her", Mike says.
"Later. She needs her rest now."
"She's not a child, Barbara", he says, narrowing his eyes at me. I hold his gaze.
"I know that, Mike, but she's been through a rough time. Leave her until tomorrow. She won't go anywhere."
He nods, searching my face. "I've lost you, haven't I?" he says suddenly, surprising me.
I catch my breath for a second, still thinking about how I kissed Helena a moment ago. Then I nod briefly. "I'm in love with someone else", I say and speak the truth for the first time. He reads the truth in my eyes.
"You love her."
I nod again. "I do. I can't... I can't fight it, Mike."
He smiles then and softly touches my cheek. "You can't fight love, Bird", he says with affection. "I wish it were differently... I'm not going to fight for you - I can see I would lose. It would've been different, if I hadn't left..."
"Yes", I quietly agree, but I'm not sure he's right.
"I wish you luck then", he says, glancing at the closed door behind me and making a face. "From what I've seen you'll need it."
"Tell me about it", I mumble with a sigh.
Part Six – Endings
Two weeks later – Helena
Barbara kissed me - again. And now she's gone.
I thought we'd get time to talk after I woke up at the hospital - after she kissed me, but suddenly she was on her way on some school-trip I knew nothing about. She left almost without saying goodbye.
She said she'd write.
It's been almost two weeks now and I miss her terribly. Every song on the radio reminds me about her. Like the one playing at the moment:
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the empty skies..."
I wonder if she remembers the first time we met. I doubt it, though. I'd just been shopping with my mother and was waiting for her by the street outside the corner-shop, when a young woman with the most glorious red hair I'd ever seen started her motorbike by the sidewalk. She held her helmet in one hand, running the gas with the other and I couldn't take my eyes off her leather-clad figure. When she turned her head and looked at me she smiled and winked at me with sparkling green eyes. I think I fell in love right then and there.
"Hi, kitten", she said to me and I felt a jolt of something moving in my chest, some kind of pressure I couldn't shake. I wasn't a shy child, but at that moment I couldn't seem to think of anything to say. I only looked at her and she smiled, placing the helmet on her head. I was afraid she'd leave me so I took a step towards her, asking: "Will you take me for a ride?"
She was just about to answer when my mother stepped out behind me, placing a careful and protective hand at my shoulder. The young woman noticed her and her eyes grew veiled - her smile died. She and my mother looked at each other for a long time, before the younger woman met my eyes again. I remember the sadness and the softness of her when she said: "One day, kit-cat." Then she was gone.
A couple of days later my mother brought me around to meet Barbara Gordon. I didn't want to go visit some boring old woman and made a fuss all the way over there, but when Barbara greeted us... I recognized her, of course, as the woman on the motorbike and I was as sweet as a lamb the rest of the day, completely captivated by her grace and her confidence. She was... I don't know what she was, but I think she put a spell on me. I couldn't forget about her and the following week I pestered my mother about seeing Barbara again until she gave in. And that's how it started. I think my mother was quite amused at my adoration of Barbara, but I don't really know what she thought about it. I guess it doesn't matter, except... I fell in love with Barbara seeing her on that bike and I've loved her ever since. What will I do if she goes back to Mike? I've waited so long for her and every time I think of that kiss she gave me when I just woke up here at the hospital I think... I think I belong to her. I think she wants me too, but I can't be sure. She said she grieved for me, but I'm not sure what that means.
I've received five letters from her already. I've read them to Dinah and we laugh at Barbara's way of describing people and situations. She's different when she writes, not as serious all the time.
I miss her. I miss her so much. Her letters are my only comfort here in my sick-bed. I read them and reread them, keeping them close to my heart while I sleep. I'm reading her last letter now, for the third time. This is a private and personal letter - I haven't shared it with Dinah. This letter gives me hope, makes me long for her - ache for her the way my heart has ached for her all these years.
"Helena - this will be my last letter to you before I return home. There's so much I need to tell you... want to tell. I need to tell you about that night... You know which I mean. We never talked about it. It seems to me we never talk about anything anymore.
I'm so scared. Maybe I've lost you already - I don't know.
I miss you. I miss your smile, your laughter... I miss the way you tease Dinah in the mornings, the way you make me laugh... I miss your voice and your beautiful eyes...
I miss that night, wanting to hold you close again. I don't know what you think about that. I hope... I hope I'll find the courage to tell you how much I care about you when I see you the next time - I don't want to do it via letter.
Just know this, Helena: that night - it was the best night, ever. If I could give my life to feel you like that again just one more time... I would."
Dinah brings me some food and I fold away the letter, not wanting Dinah to ask about it. She does anyway.
"No - old one. I just... I just miss her", I admit and see the compassionate expression in Dinah's eyes.
"You love her deeply, don't you?" she says and I nod, with difficulty. She arranges the tray for me on the bed, seeing that everything is within my reach. "You should tell her."
"I'm scared, Dinah", I say. "Loving her scares the hell out of me. What if she..."
"Stop it." She looks intently at me. "Granted, Barbara is a difficult person to make out. I don't understand the first thing about her, but you... The one thing I do know is that she'd never do anything to deliberately hurt you. She's always put you before anything else, no matter the cost to herself."
"But that's the whole point. What if she's so tired of me that she wants me out of her life...?"
"Excuses", the girl says with a snort. "Grow up, Helena. There's no 'what if' in love. You either have the courage to take a chance or you let it rest. It's all about making choices."
I look at her, wondering how and when she became so wise. I tell her so and then she laughs.
"Barbara", she says, as if it explains everything. Knowing Barbara I know it does. "I watched her with Wade. She was afraid and unsure and then hurt when his parents didn't accept her, but she didn't give in. I expect she feels something for you - she's not a woman who easily takes someone to bed... Not like you", she adds, giving me a wry look and I make a face at her. "But if she doesn't know how you feel she might think it's no use and move on... to Mike, this time. He knows about her being Batgirl, doesn't he?"
"I like him", Dinah says, earning a baleful look from me, but she brushes it off as if it's nothing. "I think she'd be happier with him than she'd have been with Wade. Mike's a fighter and he'll challenge her intellect as well. I can understand what she saw in him."
I turn away my face, thinking of Barbara's last letter.
"All I'm saying is you need to fight for her if you want to keep her. This is a fight you can't run from, Huntress. Not if you don't want to be unhappy for the rest of your life."
I frown, knowing she's right. "Thanks, Dinah", I say softly, again with difficulty.
"You're welcome", she says with a wide grin. "Oh, and by the way - she'll be home tonight. She didn't want to tell you, as she wants to surprise you in the morning, but..." Dinah shrugs. "I'll stay with Gabby tonight", she adds with a wink. "And Alfred is at the manor..."
I look at her, and then grin. "Thanks, Dinah..."
"You're welcome." She grins before she leaves me and I lean back in bed, looking out the window and forget about my food. She'll be home tonight.
I watch from the shadows in the room adjacent to her bedroom as she makes herself ready for bed. Her radio is playing on a small table near the bed and the music drifts through the slightly open door where I'm hiding.
I wrote myself out from the hospital an hour ago against the doctor's recommendation. There was no need for me to stay - they just wanted to earn some easy money. My body is practically healed already and the other day I heard one of the doctors saying he'd never seen anyone recovering so quickly.
When Barbara moves to the bathroom I sneak inside her bedroom, keeping in the shadows. There's not much light and I have no difficulties hiding behind the door beside a bookshelf.
When she returns she's completely naked except the thin belt connecting the transmitter to her neural cord and I feel my mouth go dry. My eyes ravage her body, before I act on an impulse and quickly step forward. I encircle her waist, cupping one of her breasts in my hand. I feel her gasp, but then she leans towards me, mumbling my name. Her voice makes me tremble and I forget everything except the feel of her naked skin against my fingertips. I lift her hair and kiss her neck. She turns to me, finding and holding my gaze: asking me. I don't want to talk, but I know we must before something else interferes in our lives, dividing us again.
"I love you", I say in a rush, before my courage fails me. "I love you so much, Barbara. Please, don't ask me to leave", I beg. "I don't know how I'll live without you. It wasn't Reese I was afraid of losing that day when Wade died - it was you. I feared losing you... You'll break my heart if you marry Mike", I added, as an afterthought.
"Why on earth would I marry Mike?" she asks gently, touching my face. "Why would I marry anyone but you? You're the only one I want to spend my life with." I close my eyes, hearing her speak like this. "Forgive me for not letting you know the truth earlier", she adds.
"Me too", I say in a whisper. "Forgive me for being such an ass."
She laughs softly and I look at her. She stands naked before me and I long to touch her. "You're always being an ass. I've learned to live with it. It's you being a coward I can't stand."
She's teasing me, but she's also serious about it and I nod. "Me neither", I say. "I... I'll try not to be anymore."
"I love you", she says quietly and brushes my hair with a gentle touch. "You're my hero and I'll marry you even though you're not a man."
I blush, remembering. "Thank you", I say, not knowing what else to say.
"Will you touch me now?" she asks in a trembling voice and I give in with a soft sound, not able to hide my emotions - my need for her. "Tomorrow", she whispers when I lay her on the bed, releasing her from the awkward belt and carefully dropping it to the floor. "Tomorrow... Will you take me for a drive on the bike? It's been such a long time."
I kiss her; loving her. She knows all my secrets and everything about me. And when I look at her, seeing the depths of her green eyes, seeing her, I know I know her too. There's no fear within me now. She loves me and that's all I need to know.