Finding Her Destiny
Title: Parallel Lives
Fandom: Birds of Prey
Disclaimers: I don't own Birds of Prey or any character created by WB or DC Comics used in this story. I don't own the Angel-verse or any character created by Joss Whedon and company. I'm making no profit on this...
Summary: Another fic set in an alternate universe.
Author's note: This is a stand alone story, loosely based on the world in Alternate/Past Lives. Some of the same characters from AL and PL will be found here. I believe it can be read without reading the other fics first, but some background info from the previous fics might be lacking. The karmic relationships between the characters and information about Nidae are given in Forgotten Lives.
Author's note II: A few people pointed out to me that Rogue Gordon was too short and too rushed in some places. I agree. The same goes for this fic., for which I apologize. I wrote this fic. and Rogue Gordon at the same time. I just didn't have much time to finish them in, and so they are a bit rushed, unfortunately.
Special Thanks: To everyone who have given me feedback and asked me to write some more. And no - there won't be a sequel :).
Feedback: as you like it, at...
He came up behind her, where she was sitting at a small table before a mirror in their bedroom, and put his arms around her. She leaned back, into his gentle embrace. It was dark outside and she was sitting before her Laptop going through e-mails as he was preparing to go to bed. Two small lamps were lit by the double bed behind them.
"You don't regret coming here?" he asked worriedly.
"To Gotham?" She smiled. "No, not at all."
He'd been so excited when he told her the news seven months ago: that he'd gotten a job as an English teacher at a high school in Gotham City. How could she refuse him the opportunity to get away from employment as a study counselor, as he'd grown so weary of it after almost ten years? He'd leapt at the chance of getting a different job, although he wasn't strictly fully qualified. She hadn't been able to refuse him the opportunity, although it meant that she'd have to leave everything behind. Not that there had been much to leave: her parents were dead, she had no real friends to speak of, no other family and even though her job as a librarian meant the world to her she would have no difficulties finding a new job. So she agreed to move. They'd arrived at Gotham City only two months earlier.
"I like the library", she said. "Although neglected, it has potential."
He grinned and held her tight, resting his chin on the top of her head. "You'll turn it into a world-class library in no time. Your previous employers were fools to let you go. But you shouldn't be working late so often - I miss you."
She lifted a hand and gently touched his cheek; it was rough to her touch. He needed a shave. "I'm sorry," she said regretfully, "I always seem to forget the time."
It was an old argument between them; that she spent more time at work, buried in her books and old documents, than with him.
"And this place is not as safe after dark as where we come from. You shouldn't stay so late after dark."
She smiled. "You could come and pick me up once in awhile."
He grinned boyishly. "To lead you into temptation, Mrs. Brixton, like the big bad wolf?"
"You already did that, didn't you, Mr. Brixton?" she said softly, touching his face with another gentle caress.
He buried his face in her red hair, inhaling her scent. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Barbara," she heard him whisper.
She looked into the mirror before her and saw the two of them so close together. Detachedly, not for the first time, she wondered if there was something wrong with her for not feeling that same overwhelming love for her husband that he so often expressed towards her. It wasn't that she didn't love him, because she did. But her love was gentle and steady, like a steadily glowing candle - never wavering. Always staying the same. She was devoted and loyal to her husband and eternally grateful to him for having been there for her in the past when she had no one else.
Wade Brixton had, with kind sympathy and quiet patience, managed to find his way behind the rigid walls that hid the reserved person that had been Barbara Gordon. She had been a quiet child, separated from her peers due to her sharp intellect. They'd put her in a class with older kids, but it had only made her more shy and reserved as the children teased her for her way of speaking and shut her out of their groups and cliques. It created a vicious circle, as she didn't know how to behave in a relaxed and natural way with others and never adapted since they never gave her a chance to learn. As she grew older she became used to the scornful voices calling her names, learning to shy away from human touch and relationships - learning to find solace in solitude, in books and history and science.
Her father had been weak and crippled all his life, cared for by her constantly exhausted mother. When she was sixteen her mother too fell ill and Barbara quit school to care for both her parents. There was no other way. She had home-schooling for six months and then took her exam in advance, sacrificing a higher education to care for her parents and, in so doing, isolating herself even more from other people.
Wade Brixton came into her life about a year before her parents died. He was volunteering at the hospital as a care-taker who came to help her manage the physical care of her father. He always told her he'd fallen in love with her immediately. To her, it had taken six months before she felt comfortable speaking with him without wanting to hide behind the curtains.
When she was eighteen her parents died. A year later Wade asked her to marry him, which she did.
"I'm not going anywhere", she told him gently.
His need for her sometimes scared her, as she felt that though she loved him there was still this part within her that refused to let go completely. That refused to accept that someone could love her that much and that she deserved to be loved like that.
Her father had always reminded her of the fact that she probably wasn't his biological daughter, naming her after the first man her mother had fallen in love with: Gordon. He'd refused her his own surname, punishing her for being born into his family. And her mother had been too busy caring for her bitter, mean husband to give any care to her only child. So Barbara Gordon had grown up a lonely, unwelcomed child, never feeling that she belonged anywhere or that she deserved any happiness.
"There's this girl", she said, suddenly thinking of a girl she had met at the library. "I've seen her coming to the library every day the past three weeks. I've talked to her. She seems... quite lonely. I think..." She frowned somewhat. "I believe her name is Dinah."
"Dinah?" Wade straightened and met her eyes in the mirror.
"You know her?"
"She's in my class. She's... in foster care."
She turned her head to look at him. "Are you supposed to tell me that?"
"Sorry, I wasn't thinking. Yes, she's... lonely. She's really bright, though."
"Hm," Barbara mused. "What?" she asked as she noticed the small smile at the corners of his mouth.
"You. You're so... sweet. I can see you thinking - wanting to take her under your wing."
"So, what's so wrong about that?" she asked, slightly hurt.
"Nothing, Barbara," he immediately said. "Nothing at all."
"Wade..." she slowly said after a moment.
He was undressing in the background and through the mirror she noticed the note of alarm on his face.
"Oh, no. No, you don't," he said, straightening.
"What?" She turned around in the chair, looking at him.
"That. I know what you're thinking. We agreed we shouldn't talk about it anymore."
She shook her head. "You said we shouldn't talk about it, I never agreed. I want to register us as foster parents with this city."
"Barbara - I can't..."
"It wasn't your fault, darling," she said, with soft compassion.
"He died!" Wade cried out in pain.
"But it wasn't our fault. We did everything we could've done. He even told us he loved us. Remember? That same evening..."
Wade closed his eyes. "You were so upset and hurt..."
"Of course I was! He died! But I never blamed myself the way you still blame yourself. We had nothing to do with it. It was a terrible set of circumstances, that's all."
"It's only been a year," Wade said, looking at her. "I don't... feel comfortable with it yet."
"Will you ever?" she asked quietly and he flinched a little.
"I need something meaningful in my life, Wade. The books aren't enough - they fill my mind, not my... heart, or whatever. You help people - you do something meaningful. I want to do that too, otherwise it feels as if I'm throwing away my life. It feels as if I'm supposed to do something more meaningful with my life than just being a librarian."
"You do good stuff. The children's group, the youth group, the charity events, the speakers you invite, the group for young, single mothers... You do a lot."
She shook her head. "I'm behind the scenes. I draw up the plans but I never, ever work with the people involved. Other people do the actual work - volunteers, hired professionals, parents, paid handymen. And I don't even know if I'll find enough people here who're willing to help out. I want this, Wade. I want to be a foster parent again."
"I don't know if I can, Barbara. I'm sorry. Patch's death just... it was just too much, after everything we'd been through with him."
He'd been almost fourteen when he came to live with them: a scrawny boy with one blue and one green eye; foul-mouthed and violent, but oh, so brilliant. He hadn't been their first foster kid, but the one they (or rather, Barbara) had decided they wanted to keep long-term. Barbara was much of a recluse, although she worked at a public place; she wasn't good with adults and mostly tried to avoid them, hiding behind an indifferent air that was created to protect her from others. Social workers that worked with them usually talked to Wade, but it was Barbara who formed a bond with the foster kids. With kids she had no problems - she could talk to them, laugh with them and tease them as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And kids trusted her. Even Patch learned to trust her, although it took a long time.
He was shot to death when he was seventeen. A meaningless, needless death. He had been on a date with his boyfriend in a local café when someone came in, singled them out and shot them - shouting hateful words. Wade had blamed himself because he thought they ought to have warned Patch not to be so open about his sexuality. But since the day Patch himself had realized where his sexuality lay, when he was nearing sixteen, he had refused to hide who he was. He had found a security in his identity, finally understanding many things about himself. Barbara had been so proud of him and she had sensed a change in him when he met his boyfriend. He had grown: matured, taken responsibilities and had seemed calmer and more confident. People at the café had said that he had died trying to shield his boyfriend from the bullets. In the end both of them had died.
"Fine. But please, just think about it," she asked. "Promise me."
"We've only just arrived here. Give us some time to get adjusted."
"Promise me", she persisted.
"I don't know how anyone so sweet as you can be so stubborn. Fine, fine!" He threw up his hands, seeing the look on her face. "I promise to think about it. I promise."
New Gotham City Library wasn't the most exciting place. The building was quite spacious, with three floors of glass-paneled walls, but most of the space was used for storage and the actual area that was left for bookshelves was a square, compressed spot in the middle of the room on the first floor. There was an open, oval area in front of the entrance, followed by a counter where one would register borrowed books the old fashioned way by handing them to a librarian instead of using a computer. To the right there was a set of couches with a low table in the middle. To the left there was a double row of tables and chairs in a long line.
The old head of the library had neglected the care of the place. He had been opposed to any change and expansion the staff wanted to make and even though the mayor himself had ordered the old man to make a change nothing had happened. When Barbara arrived in town, applying for a job as a personal assistant to the mayor - since there were no vacancies at the library - the mayor swiftly let the old head of the library go and made Barbara the new manager. In the two months Barbara had been working at the library she had increased the number of citizens visiting by thirty percent. Unfortunately the mayor hadn't been able to get the library more funds, as the old manager had spent the money the library had received for restoration and modernization on various kinds of old, obscure books that still lay in a mass of boxes without order around the whole building. There were no accounting and no records of what the different boxes contained or from whom they had been ordered. Barbara knew she was in for a challenge when it came to organizing the place, but she really didn't mind.
There were only two other employees; two women that seemed happy with having Barbara as their boss.
The day after her discussion with Wade, in the afternoon after school had finished, she noticed the blonde girl by one of the tables at the library. She looked to be about sixteen, seventeen years old; tall and slender, with pale cheeks and troubled eyes. Barbara had exchanged a few words with her before; nothing important, just a few words about the weather or the news. The girl had asked her help with a school assignment the week before. That afternoon she was sitting by herself at the end of the long line of tables to the left of the counter, close to the area where the bookshelves were standing. There was an open book before her, but she really wasn't focusing on its pages; she was staring out the window to her left - chin in palm, lost in thought. Barbara wondered fleetingly what she was seeing.
Beside Barbara two middle aged women chatted with one of Barbara's colleagues about one or another Jackie Collins book. Barbara kept her eyes down-cast, pretending she was deep in thought, cataloguing a pile of books at her side on the counter. The down-side of drawing more people to the library was that it would be increasingly difficult for her to hide from them. Already people wanted to shake her hand and talk to her face to face, to thank her for the children's reading group that she had started on Fridays and for the bright idea to arrange for two computers on the first floor. (Barbara really couldn't understand why people hadn't asked the previous manager to arrange for at least one public computer. She was planning to arrange for an entire room, but at the moment she had to start small.)
To deal with people was mostly difficult for her. Especially if they were too many, too loud, too physical with her... She preferred the peace and the quiet after closing-hours, when everybody had gone home and she was alone with the books. She didn't even miss Wade at such moments, when she was allowed to walk alone amongst the bookshelves, sensing the familiar scent of old and used books. After beginning her employment at the city library she had looked forward to opening the mass of boxes that were strewn across the entire building. It seemed the old manager had been one of those collectors who bought and bought and never made use of what they'd bought. He had bought books, but never even opened the boxes to get the books he'd ordered.
Barbara hadn't really had the time yet to go through the boxes, but she was making a conscious effort to take the time.
"Isn't it awful?" she heard one of the women across the counter say, with a shudder. "It's like a bad movie."
Barbara figured they had left the subject of Jackie Collins.
"It is! It must be all those awful horror movies the kids are watching", the other woman said.
The two women were close in height; one was a bit shorter and rounder, the other was very thin. Both of them looked older than they probably were, dressed in black.
"A murder! Horrible! Horrible!" the thin one said. "So close to the police station as well, as if he had been trying to crawl his way to safety."
Barbara stifled a sound, thinking it was a bit macabre to say something like that.
"What do you think, Barbara? You think it's a serial killer? It's the third in a month."
"Huh", Barbara said, faking a cough so that she didn't have to answer. She quickly glanced at the three women and then shook her head, returning to her books.
"No, you're right", her colleague said, freely interpreting her small movement, "it's no good use in speculating. There are a lot of curious crimes going on in Gotham City."
"You can say that again!" the rounder of the two women exclaimed. "New Gotham really needs to shape up. The increasing crimes are a shame to our city. The mayor is in for a reelection, he should put more effort in decreasing the crime rate."
"It's difficult when half of the police force is paid by the bad guys", the thin woman said dryly.
"Oh! How can you say something like that?" her friend exclaimed in horror.
"You know it's the truth! There isn't an honest cop left in the whole force..."
There was silence and Barbara quickly glanced at the three other women; they seemed lost in thought. A moment later they once again were back to the subject of Jackie Collins.
When they wanted to bring her into the conversation, trying so by interrupting her at least three times, she soon excused herself and left the counter with a book in her hand, pretending she needed to look something up. She couldn't help it: talking to people just made her feel uncomfortable. She browsed the bookshelves and the area on the first floor, pretending to be too busy to stop and help if anyone needed to ask her anything. There weren't many people at the moment; a few elderly, some teenagers...
In the room that she had created to be the children's reading room there were a group of parents sitting with their small children, going through picture books. Barbara quickly took a peek inside, through the glass wall. All rooms had glass walls, with curtains that could be pulled to cover the windows. When one of the mothers looked up and noticed her, greeting her with a smile, Barbara returned it with a swift, nervous smile of her own - and then hurried away. She had no problems with children; it was adults she couldn't face. Her whole life she had been nervous and uncomfortable with others and she couldn't understand why people just couldn't leave her alone. She knew that she sometimes came off as arrogant and cold to others and it usually hurt her when she heard people make those remarks about her. She was neither; it was just self protection. Thank God Wade had realized that and befriended her despite her best efforts to avoid him! He was her only real friend. Except for a woman whom she'd met some years ago - Carolyn Lance. Carolyn had run a flower shop next door to the library where Barbara used to work. They had - however improbable, Barbara could think afterwards, since Carolyn had been such a determined, outgoing person and Barbara wasn't - become friends. But one morning the flower shop had been closed and abandoned and Carolyn Lance had left without a word. Barbara hadn't heard from her since. It had been three or four years ago.
She hadn't really made another friend since then.
When Barbara came nearer the part with the row of tables and noticed the blonde girl still sitting there, staring out the window, she made up her mind. She moved to the table and pulled out a chair.
The girl turned her head, looking at her with suspicion. When she noticed it was Barbara she relaxed a little. "Hi."
"I didn't mean to frighten you", Barbara said gently. "I was just thinking of asking... How did that assignment go?"
"Oh." The girl blushed before she nodded. "It went, um, well. Thanks for asking."
Barbara removed her glasses with one hand and studied the girl with a gentle expression. The girl wasn't a very accomplished liar. "You didn't really hold the presentation, did you?"
"How did you...?" The girl blushed deeper than before and shook her head, averting her face. Long, blonde tresses covered her eyes. "No, I didn't go to school that day. It was just..." She silenced.
"I understand", Barbara said, still very gentle. "I know it's difficult sometimes..."
The girl looked up with a slightly annoyed look. "Did your husband tell you about me? You are Wade's wife, aren't you?"
Barbara nodded. "I am. My name's Barbara. Actually, I told him about you. He believed he knew who you were."
Barbara held the girl's eyes until the frustration in her face lessened. "You told him about me? Why?"
"Don't know", Barbara said after a moment. "I've seen you sitting her... I believe I just wanted to share my impressions with someone."
"Huh", the girl said.
"I understand it can be difficult, being forced to go to school. But I promise you, it'll only last for a few more years and then you'll be free to live your own life. However, you can't really be free to choose your own life unless your grades are good enough... My husband told me you are a very bright student."
The girl looked at her with careful curiosity. "He did?"
"He did", Barbara confirmed, nodding. "Would you mind telling me...?"
The girl was suddenly looking at something behind her back and the look in her eyes shifted to reveal - fear? Barbara turned in her chair to look. A woman was standing at the entrance, surveying the area with a careful, self assured glance. She was tall and slim, with short cropped, blonde hair, dressed in what looked to be an expensive dress: red trousers and a red jacket with a white blouse beneath. When she noticed the blonde girl opposite Barbara she set her mouth with a firm gesture and stepped towards them. Barbara felt her usual apprehension stir within her as the woman confidently strode towards them across the floor. Her first instinct was to flee, not to have to deal with this evidently poised, determined woman. But then she glanced at the girl and noticed a mix of anxiety, aversion and something that could be panic in her eyes.
I can't abandon her like this, Barbara thought, wondering who the blonde woman was. Barbara was sitting with her back against the entrance, but she noticed in the mirror-reflection of the windows that the stranger had come up behind her and stood by the table, looking at the girl. Barbara didn't dare to turn, for fear she was going to blush and stutter, looking into the cool, collected gaze of the blonde woman.
"Dinah", a quiet, but still clear and sharp voice said behind her back. "Your family is worried about you. Why aren't you at home?"
"I..." Dinah began, but was cut short.
"You were supposed to come see me today at lunch time. Why didn't you? And your mother told me you refuse to take your medication..."
"She's not my mother!" Dinah exclaimed, looking up with a hurtful glance.
"Lower your voice, child. It's a library, after all. Come now, let's go home."
"No, I'm staying here..."
"Child", the sharp voice said with a hint of sarcasm. "You need to begin to make an effort. Your grades are failing, you're depressed, you don't..."
"I don't want to see you anymore. And I don't want to take the medication, it makes me... sick. And I'm not a child; I can stay here if I want."
"Don't interrupt me." There was a note of warning in the woman's voice and the girl blushed, swallowing nervously. "You come with me, right this minute - or else..."
Dinah paled, apparently hearing a threat in the unfinished sentence, and began to rise. Before Dinah had time to straighten Barbara stood up, facing the blonde woman.
"Dinah's helping me", she said, looking the woman straight in the eyes, in an open, straight-forward way that she never looked at anyone except Wade. "As a matter of fact she's been helping me the whole week, cataloging books. In return I've promised her I'll tutor her on the subject she's behind in in school. We're having our first session tomorrow evening."
The blonde woman looked at her with slight contempt, eyeing her critically; taking in the plain outfit of washed out, baggy jeans, a faded old and saggy denim shirt and Barbara's hair, tightly held back in a bun. Ten minutes before Barbara would have blushed and withered beneath that stare, but in that moment it made her furious. Who did the woman think she was?
She didn't recognize herself in her intense and righteous anger, facing off with a woman of this caliber.
"And who are you?" the blonde woman asked, with obvious disgust.
"I could ask you the same question", Barbara said, with a chill to her voice she didn't recognize. "Coming here and threatening a teenager that way, obviously without a clue to what's going on."
The other woman paled slightly in anger. "You're obviously new to this city, so I'll forgive you the incivility. This child is my patient. She's an extremely volatile girl, with a history of self-inflictions, violence and mental health problems."
"That's not true!" Dinah exclaimed, rising from the table; none of the two women seemed to notice her outburst.
"If you're a doctor, didn't you just violate your oath of secrecy?" Barbara asked quietly, with a cutting smile. "Are you allowed to discuss all of your patients like that, doctor?"
There was a dangerous gleam in the other woman's eyes. "I tell you this to inform you what you're dealing with. Are you ready to take the responsibility if something happens to this child? I doubt you're aware of the horrible consequences you'd have to face if something goes wrong."
Barbara didn't say anything and the other woman smirked, holding out a hand to Dinah as she misinterpreted Barbara's silence.
"Dinah stays with me", Barbara said, feeling an ice-cold anger that she'd never felt before. "I'd like to know your name", she added, looking the blonde woman straight in the eyes. "I'd like to know your name", she repeated, as the other woman was staring at her with an uncomprehending look on her face.
"Her name is Doctor Harleen Quinzel. She's my psychologist", Dinah said in the background.
"Well", Barbara said formally. "My name is Barbara Brixton. And now, if you'll excuse us - Dinah and I are busy. There are a lot of books that need to be catalogued."
Doctor Harleen Quinzel gave her a long, hard and positively vicious look before she smirked anew and turned away. Barbara watched her go, waiting until the woman had left the library until she sank down on her chair. Her knees literally gave way beneath her and she sat down, noticing that her hands were trembling terribly. What have I done? she thought in amazement, too stunned to be anxious. Christ, what did I do?
"That was awesome!" Dinah said breathlessly, sitting down opposite her across the table.
Barbara glanced at the girl and noticed the awed expression in her eyes. She shook her head, not knowing what to say. She'd never done anything remotely close to it in her entire life. Her life was meant to be safe and secure, predictable. There were no conflicts, no upheavals, no swirling of emotions that upset her and made her feel uncomfortable or threatened. She was shy and reserved, never bothered anyone, never questioned anyone and most of all - never confronted anyone.
At least not adults. Teenagers and children were a different matter. She'd been a foster parent for almost seven years; to avoid confrontations in those circumstances was impossible. But it had never been like this. She'd had no difficulties dealing with confrontational teenagers; making them listen to her and setting the proper boundaries without disrespecting them or their needs and wishes. Children and teenagers seemed to know they could trust her and that she did what was best for them.
"I can't believe I just did that", she mumbled to herself.
"Not even Helena has managed to face off like that with Dr. Quinzel", Dinah said, still awed.
"Who's Helena?" Barbara asked, diverted.
"Oh, a friend. My only friend", Dinah added with a soft sigh.
"It's good. We need friends", Barbara said ponderingly, still distracted by thoughts of her own unpredictable behavior.
Suddenly she noticed a movement out of the corner of her eye and turned her face. At a previously empty chair a few feet away an old woman was now sitting. Her hair was black as raven's wings, with touch of silver; her face wrinkled and her eyes deep-set and black as night. Barbara recognized her as the old woman who came every day to sit a few hours in one of the couches to read from some or another magazine by the light of the windows. They'd exchanged a few words every now and again and Barbara had brought her coffee a few times. She hadn't seen her arrive this afternoon and would've sworn the seat beside hers by the table had been empty just before.
"You've made an enemy, Badra", the old woman said, in her deep voice. Her eyes gleamed. "Be wary."
Barbara stared at her, uncomprehending, for a moment. The woman always called her Badra, probably as a misinterpretation of her name. Then she realized something and quickly turned to Dinah.
"Dinah... do you have a cell phone?"
The girl nodded. "Yes?"
"You need to call your parents."
Barbara shook her head. "You need to call them. It's important. I'll talk to them if needed, but you need to call them and tell them you're here - before..." She silenced, clamping her mouth shut; the girl didn't need to know the rest. "It's important that you do this, sweetie."
Dinah acquiesced with a grumble and pulled out her cell phone. She dialed a number and then waited.
Barbara watched the teenager greet someone on the other line, call a woman by her name and then explain that she was at the library. When she glanced towards the chair were the old, wrinkled woman had been sitting she noticed it was empty again. She glanced around the area, but the woman had vanished. Barbara frowned, wondering at the old woman's ability to move so silently and quickly out of sight.
"I've been here the whole week", Dinah said then. "The new librarian, she..."
Barbara signed to Dinah to hand her the cell phone, forgetting about the old woman. "Hello?" she said into it as Dinah gave it to her. "This is Barbara Brixton. I'm Wade Brixton's wife - Dinah's English teacher... I'm the new librarian at the city library. I just wanted to tell you that Dinah has been helping me out at the library the whole week", she went on, still not sure why she was telling such a lie. "I obviously should've talked to you sooner, but I wasn't aware that Dinah hadn't told you that she was here with me. Teenagers", she added with a deliberate sigh.
"You're a mother?" the woman on the other end asked with some strain.
"Oh, no", Barbara said, jumping at the opportunity to get her point across, before the doubtless prestigious Doctor Harleen Quinzel had the time to discredit her in front of Dinah's foster parents. "My husband and I have been foster parents for more than seven years. I know it's difficult sometimes", she added sympathetically.
Across the table Dinah made a small sound, staring at her; Barbara ignored her, concentrating on the conversation.
"As I said Dinah has been helping me out and as a favor I've promised to tutor her in certain subjects. Also", she added, remembering what Wade had told her a few days ago about some of the classes at school. "I understand that Dinah's class is up for a two week field-study. I've promised her a spot here at the library if you agree." She glanced at Dinah, who enthusiastically nodded.
"Well..." Dinah's foster mother said, "I can't see a reason not to let her attend her field study with you if that's what she wants. It seems she has taken a liking to you, if she's stayed the whole week."
"She's been at the library the whole week", Barbara said, telling the perfect truth. "I'll take care that she calls you with regular intervals, letting you know where she is. And I'll give you a proper schedule of what subjects I'm tutoring her in and at what days."
Barbara ended the phone call and returned the cell phone to Dinah, letting go of her breath; finally relaxing. She'd never really had a problem with talking to people on the phone, and even if she'd had she was so fueled with anger at the blonde woman that she wouldn't have cared. Somehow she knew she had entered a war and her first move had to be to secure her right to Dinah by winning over the foster parents to her side. There was no doubt in her mind that Quinzel was on her way over to Dinah's foster family, trying to convince them that Dinah had ended up in bad company and somehow forcing them to prevent Dinah from seeing Barbara. By letting Dinah's foster parents know that Barbara and Wade, too, had been foster parents she had used her strongest weapon: foster parents usually stuck together, feeling few others understood the hardships they were going through. Quinzel would now have a hard time convincing Dinah's foster parents that Barbara was bad company for their rebellious daughter.
It was strange to be thinking that she was at war with that blonde psychologist. It was an odd thought and she really didn't know where it came from, but she knew it to be true. She also had the distinct feeling that, although it had just begun, it was an ongoing war that had been waged for ages and ages. Funny, she thought, shaking her head. I'll have to stop reading those strange books about reincarnation I found the other day...
"You'll tutor me?" Dinah asked hopefully.
"I will", Barbara said, eyeing her closely with a serious face. "But I won't have you running away or lying or cheating. And you must go to school. No mistakes, Dinah."
Dinah shook her head. "I promise. I'll behave." She gave Barbara a curious look. "You're a foster parent?"
Barbara's look softened. "Yes. We don't have any children at the moment, since the move, but I've been thinking at registering us here in Gotham." She gave Dinah a small, sad smile. "Our first foster kid was a teenage girl, like you. She was a bit younger, fourteen, fifteen. She stayed with us for four months and she was really... wonderful. But she was troubled. We had just managed to make her trust us when her parents wanted her back. She didn't want to but it was decided that she should return home. The Family Court decided it would be for the best. So... she returned to her parents. Within three days she had killed herself."
"Oh, I'm so sorry", Dinah said earnestly.
"I blamed myself. I knew it was a mistake to send her home, but I didn't fight for her. I ought to have done something, but I didn't. And she was lost." Barbara looked at Dinah. "I'm telling you this for a special reason."
Dinah looked at her, not understanding.
"No!" the girl immediately shook her head. "No, you can't make me..."
"Dinah, if the medication keeps you alive..."
"No, it's nothing like that." Dinah bent to get something from her backpack that lay on the floor beside the chair. When she straightened she held a small plastic etui in her hand. "I have these... visions. I see things that are true about other people, like... Like reading their minds."
Barbara frowned, thinking that maybe she'd misjudged Doctor Quinzel and been completely fooled by Dinah.
"You don't believe me", Dinah said, seeing the look on her face. Dinah made a wry face. "Why should you? You're just like the rest of them!"
"Wait now", Barbara said sternly. "I don't know what's going on. But Dinah, telling someone that you... that you have the ability to mind-read is a little... shocking. Give me some time to adjust, alright? Start from the beginning."
Dinah seemed to relax. "Okay, fine. It began when I was about ten. When I touched people I was suddenly getting images from them. I could see that my teacher had an affair with the principal. It turned out to be true, as his wife left him when she found out. I saw that the biological kid of the foster family that I was with at the time, was a thief, and I saw that he was planning to steal from his parents. When I told them they called me a liar and didn't want me anymore. I saw that one of my social workers was gay and that he was trying to hide it from everyone. I saw the combination to the lock on the safe and where the safe was held when I lived with my next foster family. I wanted to know if the vision was true, so I tried out the combination and it worked... It was just that they foster father caught me, accused me of thievery and so I was moved to another foster home. Once I kicked my head in the wall because I didn't want to have more visions. I earned a reputation to be violent, to be a liar and a thief and even to be prone to self inflictions." Dinah sighed and shook her head. "Then I was moved here a few years ago. I went to see Dr. Quinzel and she gave me this medication."
Barbara took the etui from the girl and eyed the prescription. "These are heavy dosages. This is heavy medication", she said with a frown.
"It makes me drowsy. It makes me forget things and I lose my appetite. I don't have any more visions, but I feel dead inside. Like... like driftwood. There are no feelings at all. No anger, no joy..." Dinah shrugged. "So I stopped taking them."
"And your visions, they never tell you to - do things?"
"No! Of course not!" Dinah said indignantly. "I've never harmed anyone. And the visions... they are really not harmful to me either, it's just... It's just that to live with the knowledge of other people's emotions and secrets..." She shook her head. "I was too young to deal with that. I didn't know how."
"You believe you'll manage it better now?" Barbara asked, eyeing her closely.
"Yes. I'm positive."
"But your school work is lacking? You have no friends... Does that have anything to do with - these visions?"
Dinah lowered her gaze. "You think I'm crazy", she mumbled. "Just like Quinzel."
Barbara looked at the etui and noted the name on the prescription. "She got you these?"
"Did you ever have a neurologist looking at you?"
"No. I had one session with Quinzel and then she gave my foster parents the prescription for these pills."
"That's not right", Barbara mumbled to herself. "That's not the way it should be done. She's a psychologist, not a psychiatrist... She shouldn't..." She shook her head and handed the pills back to Dinah. "I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what to think about all of this..."
"You lost a son a few years ago", Dinah suddenly said, looking down at the surface of the table.
Barbara froze. "What?"
"I saw it, one time when Wade touched me. I saw this boy, with mismatched eyes, walking out the door with a smile... then I saw him lying dead on the ground."
Barbara considered this for a moment. "You could've read that somewhere..."
Dinah looked up with tears in her eyes. "Why don't you believe me? I'm not sick!"
Barbara didn't know what to say. "Dinah..." she said, gently, and reached for the girl.
As soon as she touched the blonde girl Dinah gave a small gasp, stiffening. Her eyes grew vacant for a moment, as if she was lost someplace where no one would be able to reach her. Then the moment was gone and Dinah pulled away, gasping for air.
"He hurt you", she whispered. "That boy... when you were a kid. There was this boy in your class, and he bullied you. One time he... he" - she lowered her voice - "peed on you. After class he pulled you into the girls' dressing room, into the shower, where he peed on you."
Barbara sat frozen, rooted to the chair, unmoving, as she felt the color drain from her face. She had never, ever, told anyone about that event. It had been too hurtful, too shameful, too humiliating... Not even Wade knew. It was a memory half forgotten in her own mind, as she refused to think about that boy and what he had done. Michael Boyd, her ever present tormentor in sixth grade. Then one day he'd been gone. Someone had said he'd been moved to a school for kids with adjustment difficulties. Barbara hadn't wanted to think about him for years and years. It had been in the past, it was long forgotten.
Apparently not forgotten enough.
"Oh, my God", she whispered. "Oh, my God!"
Helena Kyle, aka Huntress, was dreaming. She had the same nightmare that she'd been having several times in the last two months. Someone was dying. Someone she loved more than life, and she couldn't save them. The dream always began at the same moment: there was a dark cave, people fighting, a gigantic snake and a blonde girl that she knew to be Dinah in real life, although the girl didn't quite look the same... Dick was there and another blonde woman she didn't know. And then there she was: this redhead with eyes like green fire. Helena took one look at her in her dream and knew...
She didn't know what she knew, exactly, in her waking hours. But in her dream that woman was everything to her. And the woman died in a violent fire storm, with bright red flames engulfing her as Helena - the woman Helena apparently was in her dream - screamed her name.
As usual after waking from the dream she had tears on her cheeks and she dried them away with an impatient gesture as she rolled off her bed. She never cried. She had when her mother died when she was sixteen, but that had been the last time. Tears were of no use whatsoever. But that dream... It tore her heart open every time. In real life she didn't know the woman she cried so heartbrokenly for in her dream and she doubted she ever would. The dream must be a remnant of some kind of subconscious, unresolved grief she had for her mother.
"Fuck", she mumbled, rubbing her forehead with her thumb before raising her eyes to look outside the window.
She had a small apartment above a bar called the Dark Horse, where she worked. There was a small room, a bathroom and a kitchen; it wasn't spacious, but it was enough for her. She didn't spend that much time there, in any case. Most of the time she worked at the bar, spent time with her brother Dick, aka Nightwing, at the Wayne manor or chased criminals as the mysterious vigilante known as Huntress. She lived a simple life and if she sometimes thought or felt that she lacked something in it she put it down to missing her mother. Her boyfriend, detective Jesse Reese, had recently asked her to marry him and she had told him that she was going to consider the offer. He knew about her secret identity and they worked well together when it came to putting the unusual criminals of Gotham City behind bars. Once she had been a girl dreaming about the perfect marriage, but these days... Since her mother died and she turned out to be meta-human she had put such dreams on hold.
He ought to have known better than to ask her to marry him, she thought as she looked out the window. It was midday, she had slept late, and the world outside her small place was bustling with its usual activities. She felt somewhat detached, watching ordinary people move about in the ordinary world, as if she wasn't a part of the world they were living in.
Huntress couldn't be tamed. Reese knew that. Or he should know it by now. Maybe it had been different if her mother hadn't been killed, but there it was: the anger and the resentment kept her from forming ordinary, healthy attachments to others. She could fuck him, and she liked him enough to consider him to be her boyfriend. He had a good heart, was nice, good-looking, exciting enough to attract her and troubled enough for her to have retained her interest in him. But for her to marry him? For her to give up her life as a vigilante for him?
Maybe. Maybe if her mother hadn't been murdered and the murderer hadn't still been unknown. Besides, she wasn't sure Reese would want to marry her when she finally did find her mother's murderer. It wasn't sure he'd want to know her then.
She was a vigilante. She captured the bad guys of New and Old Gotham and brought them to justice, but there was this part within her... This part that went through the motions and bided her time. She knew what the killer looked like, and when she found him - which was the entire purpose of her nightly crusades against the criminals of the city - she was going to beat him to death.
Huntress wasn't a killer. Not in reality. There were criminals of Gotham that probably deserved to die, according to some, but the consequences of killing them would be too severe. It would prevent her from attaining her true purpose: finding Selena Kyle's murderer. If she began killing others she would become the hunted. Reese or her own brother would come for her. So she bided her time and kept looking, kept searching for that face which she remembered. And she meant to keep her promise to herself - the one she'd given herself when she realized that she wasn't like other people and that she, in fact, was meta-human: to avenge her mother and to kill the man that had stabbed her to death.
Neither her brother nor Reese knew anything about those thoughts. She kept them well hidden, pretending she'd overcome the terrible pain and loneliness she'd felt when her mother died. Pretending she was another vigilante who did what was right because it was the right thing to do. But she had sworn that nothing or no one would stand in the way of her killing her mother's murderer. And if it meant that she'd leave the righteous path behind her, entering the darkness where the criminal meta-humans dwelt - so be it. There wasn't that much light left in the world to live for, in any case.
Her cell phone rang and she bent to pick it up from the back pocket of her jeans that lay discarded on the floor, where she'd thrown them early that morning. When she noticed it was Reese's name on the display she hesitated, then flicked the phone open with a sigh.
"You awake? I need to meet with you right away."
"Well, good-morning to you too, honey", she said, a tad sarcastically.
There was a short pause, then: "Oh, sorry, Helena. Hope you're fine after last night's fight. You were amazing, by the way."
"Aren't I always", she said with a soft grin as she went to her cupboard to get a clean bath towel and clothes. "So? What's so important?"
"It's... difficult to talk about on the phone. Could we meet at the bar? I have someone with me."
"Not if you have someone with you." Helena quickly went through the options. "Laura's Diner", she said. "It's after lunch hour, there won't be many people."
She hung up and went to the shower, wondering who Reese was going to introduce her to.
Gotham City was divided in two parts: the New and the Old. Helena preferred Old Gotham with its older, more gothic looking architecture and narrower, less illumined lanes with irregular cobblestones, to New Gotham's tall and gleaming steel constructions, flashy office buildings, expensive and luxurious looking residences surrounded by green gardens and high iron fences, and wide, well-lit, noisy avenues. She spent most of her nights in Old Gotham, were the Dark Horse was situated. Nightwing looked after New Gotham. They weren't really working as a team, although they helped each other out sometimes. Huntress didn't have a proper headquarters, but Nightwing used their father's old secret headquarters at the manor. Every now and again, when she needed to gear up or search for information in the database, she would come around and help herself. Dick usually didn't mind.
Helena had hardly met her father. She didn't even know who he was until her mother died. He hadn't known about her either, apparently. He had taken her in, but he'd been too troubled to give her the emotional attention that she needed and the two of them had never gotten along. He left the city after a few years, when both of them had come to the realization that they would never truly be father and daughter. He'd opened a bank account for her and she received a monthly sum of money - huge amounts. It had grown over the years since she never touched it. She didn't need his money or his connections to make a living. She left the manor and found her own place to live when she turned eighteen. For all everyone in Gotham City knew Bruce Wayne's daughter had left to live in Europe, squandering his fortune.
Dick and she had come to a silent agreement never to talk about Bruce or their relationship with each other. She'd accepted him enough to call him brother, and he regarded her as his sister. That was as close as they came to having a family bond.
Laura's Diner was a small place close to the Clock Tower, the tallest building in the city, which was a landmark that divided the old and the new part of Gotham. Reese was waiting for her outside the café when she arrived, sitting at a table on the shady side of the terrace with a blonde woman that she'd never seen before. She had the look and the eyes of a cop, though, Helena thought as she halted by the table.
The blonde woman turned her head to look at her and there was a curious look in her sharp, blue eyes, as if she recognized Helena and at the same time did not. She regarded Helena in silence, waiting for Helena to either avert her eyes or speak.
"Helena!" Reese said, rising from the table to kiss Helena on the mouth.
"Reese", she said cautiously; she wasn't sure she ought to trust the woman who regarded her with such an odd look.
There was an odd scent about the stranger that Helena couldn't place; it made her think of ancient pine woods, of soil and... wolves, hunting, running in packs. The nearness of the woman caused a strange prickling shiver down her spine.
"Please, sit down", Reese asked, pulling out a chair beside him.
They were the only people sitting on the terrace; it was a cloudy and somewhat chilly day, even though summer was on its way. Helena guessed Reese wanted as few listeners as possible. She sat down by his side.
"This is private investigator Kate Lockley. Kate - this is the woman I told you about. She might help."
Helena eyed Reese closely and somewhat suspiciously. What had he told the other woman? She looked at Kate Lockley with narrowed eyes. "Private eye?"
The woman nodded. "From L.A. I'm hunting a serial killer. The detective here said you might have connections, working in a bar."
Straight to business, Helena thought wryly. "I don't know why he would think I have any more connections than others", she said carefully. "What did this... killer do?"
"I have a sketch of him... Here." Kate Lockley pulled a sheet from the slim, black folder she had brought with her and which lay on the table before her. She showed Helena a drawing of a man: short hair, narrow face, long nose...
Helena shook her head. "No one I've seen around."
"Keep it", the woman said, passing the drawing along across the table. "Ask people where you work."
Helena reluctantly did as was told and folded the sheet of paper to put in the pocket of her black leather jacket. "What did he do?" she repeated.
"He's killed a lot of people", Lockley said offhandedly. "Now" - she leaned across the table - "I've heard about those people called meta-humans..."
Helena stiffened and cast an angry glance in Reese's direction. He mouthed an apology to her, shrugging with a look of embarrassment on his face. She clenched her jaws.
"When I came here, asking the Commissioner for help, he directed me to detective Reese", Lockley went on. "His exact words were that detective Reese was known as the X-file detective. Coming from L.A. I've seen a few things..."
Nothing like this, you have, Helena thought, still glaring at her boyfriend.
"I was working with the force in Los Angeles. When I got to be too obsessed with... what you would call the otherworldly, I was left in the cold. No one wanted to have anything to do with me."
Helena glanced at Reese, knowing he'd experienced the same problem. "So?" she asked reluctantly.
"In short: I was fired. I now make my living by working those cases that the police won't admit exist. I suspect that what I'm chasing is a meta-human."
"She knew about meta-humans", Reese said, looking at Helena. "I didn't tell her nothing she didn't already know."
"I know you're meta", Lockley said, looking straight at Helena.
"What?" she exclaimed. "What the... fuck?"
"What?" Reese said, almost at the same time. "No! That's ridiculous." He looked at Helena and shook his head with a helpless look. "I didn't..."
Lockley didn't avert her eyes from Helena's. "I know you're Huntress and I need your help. We don't have much time. It's only six weeks until the second full moon from now"
Helena frowned. "And this is important - how?"
"The killer commits his murder by full moon. He's known as the Moonblood killer here."
"Here?" Helena asked. "He's killed in Gotham City?"
The woman looked at her with an odd expression, as if she didn't understand what Helena was saying. "Here?"
"You said he's known as the Moonblood killer in Gotham City?"
"Oh, no - he hasn't come here yet, but he's making his way here."
"The fact is that I was sent here by someone who told me to ask you for help."
Helena shook her head. "I'm sorry. I've no idea what you're talking about. Neither about meta-humans or... or Huntress."
Lockley irritably shook her head. "Helena, try not to be your usual pig-headed self. I need your help. We need to save Barbara before..." The blonde woman came to an abrupt silence.
Helena blinked. Who the hell is this woman? "Who the hell are you? Why are you talking to me as if you know me? I'm not pig-headed", she added. "You have no right to call me that. You don't know me, okay?"
"Look..." Lockley looked her in the eye with a suddenly weary expression. "I've been here longer than I want to, okay? I've already done this once and I really never expected to go through it again, but fine... Mystical forces at work, so - I do what I'm being told. You, on the other hand, need to get your act together and help me out."
Helena set her jaw. "I don't need to do anything. I don't want to get involved in whatever you're involved in. Leave it to the real cops to deal with. I'm out of here..."
"Please, listen. Before you go, just listen."
Lockley looked at her with that still weary expression and Helena hesitated.
"The killer kills at full moon", the private investigator said. "The first three months he killed three girls by hanging them upside down and completely drained them of blood. Then suddenly, for no reason any one could see, he changed his pattern. He appears to have been killing by random since then - men, women, elderly people, young kids... whoever he can get his hands on."
"Still in the same manner, though?" Reese asked.
"Yes. He hangs them upside down, slits their throats and empties them of blood. Never leaves a trace. Always at full moon. And he's coming here", Lockley added. "I think he's looking for a woman - Barbara Gordon."
Helena frowned. "Never heard her name."
Lockley looked at her, studying her with a scrutinizing glance. "Well", she finally said. "If you happen to come across her... I believe her life is in danger. Just let me know... Here - my card."
Helena took the card from the blonde woman's outstretched hand and looked at it. It read: Angel Investigations - we help the helpless. There was Kate Lockley's name and number. Helena nodded and put the card away as she rose from the table. "Reese - a word with you later?"
He nodded. "I'll... come around the bar tonight?"
She nodded. He was in for trouble and she could see in his eyes that he knew it. "Good luck with the hunting, Ms Lockley", she said, looking at Kate Lockley. "I hope you catch him."
"Oh, call me Kate", the other woman said with a smile. "After all, we're more than superficial acquaintances..."
Helena frowned, not getting this woman's strange references. "Fine, Kate it is."
"Let me know if you hear or see anything about Barbara Gordon and this man in the sketch."
"I will", Helena promised, before she left the diner, feeling oddly puzzled.
It was when she was about to cross the street, by the traffic lights, that an elderly woman suddenly came up to her and took her by the arm. Helena turned to look into dark, dark eyes in a wrinkled face. Black hair, streaked with white, framed the old face.
"You must find her", the old woman said in a deep, resonant voice.
"What?" Helena said, confused.
"You must find her. The woman of your dreams. Before she dies and her destiny is still unfulfilled."
Helena gasped and tried to grab the other woman's arm when the old lady suddenly let go of her. "My dream? How do you know about...? The woman of my dreams - who is she?"
"Find her", the old woman said, stepping away before Helena could hold on to her. "Find her, Ciarda. You'll find her with the books..."
Helena took a step forward, but in the same moment a truck drove pass, separating her from the woman. When the truck had passed the old woman was gone. Completely gone. The street was empty.
The woman seemed to have vanished in thin air.
It was Thursday. She worked the early shift, so after finishing her hours at the Dark Horse she went out patrolling. Reese hadn't come by, but she had talked to him on the phone, letting him know that she wasn't in the least pleased with what he had done. He tried explaining himself, but she hadn't been in the mood to listen.
The night was quiet and quite boring. She kept thinking about the blonde private investigator who'd revealed that she knew Huntress' identity. How? she wondered. How did the woman know so much? And who was the old woman who'd told her to find that woman in her dreams? Is she real? she thought, distracted by feelings of sadness. How can she be real?
A soft sound from the alley below the rooftop, where she was sitting contemplating her thoughts, distracted her. She rose to look down and was abruptly brought back to reality as she noticed two men dressed in black trying to rob a loving couple taking a short-cut through the narrow alley. Without hesitation she took a step forward and jumped.
She had time to notice that the woman was hiding her face against her partner's shoulder and that he was holding an arm around her, trying to shield her from the two robbers before them. My luck - a cute couple. The heroic male and the fragile woman who faints before the ugly criminals...
"Hey - can I play?" she asked.
The two robbers swiftly turned around, facing her. The alley was dark; some light cut in from the left, from the lamplights off the larger street. There was a faint glint of steel in the robbers' hands as they turned towards her. She smiled, feeling the anticipation of the impending fight stir within her.
"No? Now I'm hurt."
They were quick and strong, but she was Huntress and they weren't meta-humans. The fight was short and unimpressive. In the end the two men swallowed their pride, left their weapons gleaming on the ground in the shadows and fled. Huntress watched them run away with a disappointed grunt. "Cowards. There are no fun playmates in this city anymore."
She shook her head and turned back to the couple that huddled close to a wall.
"Thank you", the man said, still holding the woman close to him. "Thank you. If they had harmed her I don't know what I would've done..."
Huntress looked at the woman, shrugged and backed away into the shadows. "You should be more careful. The streets of Old Gotham aren't as safe as in New Gotham."
The couple had moved forward and was standing in the lamplight from the street. Red hair was suddenly gleaming and when seeing it Huntress stopped with a sudden catch in her chest. At the same time the woman lifted her head and half turned to look at her.
It was her - the woman in her dreams!
Huntress stared at the slim woman before her. It wasn't the same face, but those eyes... Involuntarily she took a step forward, towards the strangers. The woman with the red hair did the same.
"Thank you", the woman said, solemnly; her voice was quiet and shy.
"It was... It was nothing", Huntress said, staring; she couldn't believe her eyes. "Just... Just be more careful", she added, before she quickly swirled around and swiftly vanished amongst the shadows, fleeing from the woman she'd been dreaming about for two months.
Huntress was no stranger to bizarre events, living in Gotham City as she did, but usually they didn't affect her this way. Standing on the same rooftop where she'd been standing when she first became aware of the couple in the alley she looked down at the man and the woman at his side as they walked along the lit street, disappearing out of view. Her hands trembled. She'd never known anything like this feeling, except... Except for waking up from her dream, when she was hit with the realization that she had lost the redheaded woman. Who are you? she thought, seeing the last of the woman's red hair disappear out of sight in the dark.
Who were that woman and what was it about her that affected Helena/Huntress so much? The woman was a mouse, a nobody: she was dressed in plain clothes, in nondescript colors of grey and brown; her hair was tightly held back in a knot at the nape of her neck and she wore a dress with a high collar that was buttoned to her chin, hiding the tiniest inch of skin. She looked like a schoolteacher, like one of those who'd lived at the end of the nineteenth century; widows, ministers' wives or forever spinsters. She was thin and pale and cowered by her husband's side. At least Huntress presumed the man was her husband.
A frightened, fragile woman with a husband who wanted to feel like a hero for her; the kindhearted man who needed to feel he was the man and could take care of his woman. And the woman... Helena couldn't shake the feeling of confusion she had felt seeing that woman, looking her in the eyes. It wasn't so much the confusion that bothered her as the suddenly flaring feelings of hope and joy. Again she'd never felt anything like it.
It doesn't make sense, she thought before she went to bed very late that night. It just doesn't make sense... And she wasn't just only thinking about the woman with the red hair, but of her discussion with Reese and the sudden appearance of the blonde private investigator. None of it made sense, she thought before she fell asleep.
When she slept she didn't dream of fire or the death of an unknown woman. But she dreamt about the redheaded woman she'd saved that evening. The woman was standing in the middle of an empty room. There was light. All around her was light. And she was laughing into that light, with her arms stretched out by her sides. Then darkness fell and she was sitting in a room packed with books; shadows fell across her face as she was intently focused on one book in particular that she held in her lap. As Helena watched her she tilted the book to one side, to reveal the cover. The title of the book was: mythology of werewolves. Right beside her, to her left, another book lay - with the title: the science of meta-humans. The title of a third book read real life past lives experiences.
Helena awoke with a start, blinking into the sunlight. She'd forgotten to pull the curtains to cover the window and the late morning light blinded her for a moment. With a grunt she rolled over, almost falling out of bed. Who the fuck is this woman?
The thought remained with her as she showered and had her breakfast. Reese phoned twice, but she didn't answer; she didn't know how to talk to him without yelling at him. Better she calmed down before they discussed what she saw as his betrayal of her community. He shouldn't have talked to that P.I. about meta-humans and he sure as hell shouldn't have involved her in the whole business. Although she would need to talk to Gibson about the Moonblood killer and keep an eye out for the murderer, if that Lockley woman was right and the killer was on his way to Gotham City. And who's Barbara Gordon? And why would I need to protect her? And who was that old woman, who...?
She suddenly remembered something. The old woman at the zebra-crossing had said something... Something about books. "Dinah!" she exclaimed, abruptly remembering that the girl had told her that there was a new librarian at the public library... She did look like a librarian, she distractedly thought, remembering the mouse-like woman she'd seen. Either that or a teacher... At which she remembered that Dinah's new English-teacher was married to that same librarian. Had it been them she'd saved the night before? It was worth a closer look.
She decided to pay a visit to the library, which was a funny thing since she hadn't been to the library in like - ever.
The building seemed to be made of glass. It had the shape of a cube, with sliding doors at the entrance. Helena entered a small square vestibule: to the left there was a large painting of a handsome, dark-skinned man with wings, flying into the rising sun with a mixed expression of pain and exhilaration on his face; to the right there was an information board with notes and leaflets. The painting caught her eyes with its sharp contrast of dark colors of the man and shadows against the white of the wings and the vivid red and golden hue of the sunrise. She stared at it for a moment, feeling some kind of recognition of the anguish in the man's eyes: the elation of the perfect freedom and the knowledge of the prize you had to pay to feel so free. She shook her head, turning her head away from Ikaros as he fell from the sky.
At the information board to the left she read about a violin concert that was being held the coming weekend and that the library needed volunteers to the youth group that was to begin in a month. There were loads of notes about missing puppies and kittens and a few people looking for a job. One note caught her attention as she read the headlines: Children's fair: volunteers and sponsors needed!
Apparently the library wanted to hold a charity fair for kids placed in orphanage and was looking for people who wanted to sponsor it. The new head librarian seemed to have lots of new and bold projects, Helena thought, wondering if the mayor was behind this little scheme.
Ahead of her there were another set of double doors and as she entered them she scanned the area ahead of her. There was a large empty space before the doors and she stopped, looking around. Further to the left, beyond a set of long tables and chairs, there was a row of bookshelves by which she immediately noticed someone she knew. Ignoring the older, blonde woman behind the reception desk ahead of her she strode towards the bookshelves and the blonde girl arranging books before them.
"So, Marge and Homer let you out of your birdcage", Helena said to the girl, as always referring to Dinah's foster parents as the married couple in the Simpson's - mostly because Dinah always used to say that it felt as if she was the only real person in a badly drawn cartoon.
Dinah spun around, grinning when she noticed Helena. "Helena! What are you doing here?"
"Me?" Helena smiled, genuinely happy to see the smile on the girl's face. "What are you doing here? And smiling? What happened?"
Dinah kept on smiling. "I'd give you a hug, but..." She shrugged, indicating that she was balancing a pile of books in her arms.
Helena leaned forward and touched her cheek to Dinah's. "It's really good to see you smiling", she said softly, seriously, with a gentle smile. "What's happened?"
"I've got a job... kind of." Dinah grinned. "The new librarian arranged for me to help her out after school. And she's tutoring me as well. And she's arranged for me to do my field-work here."
Helena looked around. The place looked... just plain boring. There were hardly any people. For a a library there were curiously few bookshelves, arranged at a curiously small space between the reception and the large windows. There were stairs leading towards a second and a third floor, but the floors above them seemed to be closed off with yellow ribbons strapped across the stairs. There were several boxes standing at the landings on the floors above.
"Yeah, it's great! The new librarian is really cool."
It can't be the same woman I met yesterday, then, Helena thought with unexpected and unexplained disappointment as she remembered the shy, mouse like woman she'd saved the night before.
"Barbara has plans for this place and she wants me to help her."
"Barbara?" Helena said sharply, brought back to reality. She looked at Dinah. "Her name's Barbara?"
That couldn't be a coincidence.
"Barbara Brixton, yeah. She's married to my English teacher..."
Brixton... That wasn't the name. Gordon, Helena thought. Here name was supposed to be Gordon... Still - it was strange that the name Barbara would turn up like that. Everything is strange these days...
"Really?" she said, only listening to half of what Dinah told her, as the girl explained that Barbara Brixton wanted to arrange for a music room, a computer room and a study room at the library, as well as conduct regular discussion groups for young people.
"To do what, exactly?" Helena asked.
"You know - to have discussions, talk about school, parents, the future, society, war, bullying..." Dinah shrugged. "To talk about life, I guess. She's looking for volunteers, but she wants people with some experience of working with youths."
"I still can't believe your parents let you out that easily."
Helena knew Dinah since a few years back and the girl's foster family refused to let her out by her self on grounds that she run off with regular intervals. Helena knew it to be true. In fact this was how they had come to meet, as Huntress saved the girl from a criminally inclined meta-human in a dark alley one night.
"Um, Barbara talked them into it."
"Against Dr. Quinzel's orders?" Helena asked, incredulously.
"U-hum", Dinah said, nodding, with an odd look on her face that Helena couldn't interpret. "She's in the children's room, by the way", the girl added. "If you want to see her. It's reading time."
"Yeah - every Monday, Wednesday and Friday there's reading time for children who're between two and five years old. Have a look, it's over there."
Dinah, who'd put the books on the floor as she was talking with Helena, pointed between the bookshelves to the right. Helena couldn't see anything, but she was curious and walked off towards the bookshelves. Beyond the area where the shelves were arranged there was a room, walled in by glass-walls. Helene could see right through the walls. The room was filled with soft pillows and cushions on the floor. There was no furniture except several bookshelves that was placed along one wall; they were no higher than Helena's thigh and were filled with children's books. In the background there were high windows, covered by curtains in a soft purple and light blue hue. In the middle of the room, in a tangle of cushions, pillows and soft mattresses in bright colors a woman sat reading to a group of small children. She had red hair, tightly held back by a green ribbon at the nape of her neck; she was dressed in plain clothes of brown that were too big for her and made her look thin and shapeless, and she wore glasses.
Helena stared at the woman through the glass wall. Although it was the same woman as the night before she looked different. It took awhile for Helena to figure out what it was: the woman seemed more confident in the mass of children, as if it was there she belonged - surrounded by small, intently listening faces. The red haired woman - Barbara, Helena thought; reflecting upon the name Dinah hade given her - was quite engaged in the story she was reading, making sounds and different kinds of faces as the storyline unfolded. The children loved it; laughed, made scared noises or just smiled happily and adoringly at the woman who read to them.
"You have kids here?" someone suddenly asked Helena and she turned, realizing that there all of a sudden were a lot of people waiting outside the glass room; most of them were women, but there were a few men too.
She shook her head, answering the dark haired woman behind her. "No, I just..." Helena glanced at the red haired woman behind the glass. "I just need to see her."
"My kid's been coming here the past two weeks; she loves it. Mrs. Brixton is really fabulous when it comes to kids."
"Oh, yes! Too bad she's not as good with the parents."
Helena frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, I don't mean to speak ill of anyone, but... You know. If she wants to make friends in this town she needs to speak to us..."
Helena's frowned deepened. "I don't quite follow."
"Never mind. I don't want to speak ill of anybody. My kid loves her, that's enough for me. But... Mind you, it might not be enough for everyone. If you're her friend you ought to tell her... Oh, they're finished!"
Before Helena had time to ask what the woman meant the woman left her, hurrying through the open vault and into the glass room to fetch her dark haired little girl. Helena watched as the other parents collected their kids. Some of them tried to talk to the librarian, but - Helena noticed with some interest - the redhead seemed to refuse to look them in the eye. It seemed she tried to avoid looking at anyone and just cowed before the crowd, hiding behind her glasses and behind the books she piled in her arms. Again she seemed like the timid mouse Helena had taken her to be the night before. She hurried towards the bookshelves in the back and arranged the books in her arms on the shelves, as the parents gave up trying to catch her attention. Helena, watching through the glass, noticed the distressed look on the woman's face as she hid behind her books. She's really afraid, she thought, abruptly feeling very sympathetic and protective towards the stranger.
Suddenly she looked at the parents with very different eyes; seeing them not as caring parents coming for their kids, but as an incoherent, insensitive and nearly violent crowd bearing down upon a single defenseless woman. She slowly inhaled, calming herself down - talking herself out of rushing into the room and scattering the crowd before they could harm the red haired woman in the corner. Instead she waited patiently till the last parent and child had left the room. Then she stepped forward towards the vault.
The red haired woman wasn't looking as she stepped out of the room. She had put the lights out before she left and the room was left in darkness, lit only by the lights from the larger area outside the smaller space. She was carrying a few books in her arms, keeping her eyes on the floor as she stepped across the threshold.
"Hi", Helena said, taking a step forward.
The woman gave a small startled cry and threw out her arms, dropping the books. She tumbled backwards, stumbling over the low doorsill, and lost her balance. Helena reacted instantly and reached for her, gently seizing her in her arms.
"I've got you", she said, at the same time softly and amused. She held the woman against her for a few heartbeats, feeling a strange sense of... tranquility as the woman rested in her arms. As if she belonged there. And that's a truly odd thought, Helena thought as she reluctantly let go of the other woman.
The red haired woman looked at her... and then stared. Softly she said, after a few heartbeats: "Oh, it's you..." And then she blushed.
Helena smiled. "Yeah, it's me." Suddenly she didn't know what to say. She usually didn't show her face to the people she'd saved during her hours as Huntress, but this woman had figured in her dreams for the last couple of months - how could she not come looking for her? She extended her hand. "I'm Helena."
"Oh, um... hi, I'm - uh, Barbara." The red haired woman blushed slightly and extended her hand to shake Helena's.
Helena hadn't expected the firm handshake that greeted her. The woman's hand was neither too cold nor to warm. Her fingers were soft against Helena's wrist and tickled her slightly, and her grasp was surprisingly steady. Helena felt a soft jolt of something inexplicable as she held the other woman's hand, just as she had when she held the woman close to her. The first thought that came to her was that, I've been looking for you. She didn't know what that meant, but she held on to the woman's hand, looking her in the face.
Barbara didn't pull back and she met Helena's look for the slightest of moments, before she averted her eyes and looked down at something only she could see between them. A slight blush was creeping up alongside her neck and her cheeks. The she suddenly pulled away, saying:
"Oh, my books, I must..." And she ducked down to collect the books she'd dropped.
"Let me help", Helena offered, squatting before the woman.
Their hands touched as they reached for the same book at the same time. Helena felt her own fingers softly brush against Barbara's for an instant. That instant was enough for her to feel that curious jolt again, followed by an immediate burning sensation in her chest that was new to her. She heard the other woman's soft intake of breath, before Barbara pulled away and quickly rose with most of the books in her arms. She'd let the book that Helena had reached for lay, so Helena picked it up and rose, glancing at the librarian. Still Barbara refused to look directly at her. After an awkward moment, spent in awkward silence, Barbara moved. She swiftly walked ahead, towards the bookshelves further away. Helena didn't want her to leave, so she followed her.
"I came to see Dinah. She seems happy here."
"Oh. Helena...? You're Dinah's friend." Barbara quickly glanced at her, before ducking down her head again as they moved towards the reception area.
Barbara nodded, as if to herself, and mumbled, almost inaudible but for Huntress enhanced hearing: "That's good."
Helena, realizing that the woman wasn't going to stop to talk to her, was trying to find some ways to distract the woman enough to capture her attention when the thought abruptly hit her. "I was thinking of sponsoring your fair", she blurted out before having time to think. "The one for the orphaned children", she added.
At least I got her attention, Helena thought with a wry, inward grin. The redheaded librarian had stopped in her tracks and was looking directly at her, genuinely startled.
Helena nodded. She was still holding the book she'd picked up; it was something about fishing and had nothing to do with children's books. "I'm Helena Kyle. You know Bruce Wayne?"
"I... uh, know of him..."
"Of course. Well, I'm his daughter. I have this huge trust fund that I really don't use and I was thinking..." She faltered, as the woman was staring at her, and wondered if she'd said something wrong. Wow, she heard herself thinking, she has really beautiful eyes...
"You would... you would do that?" Barbara Brixton asked softly, suddenly looking very young and shy, standing there with her glasses, her baggy clothes and her arms full of books.
Helena, who felt the shyness of the other woman pull at something that had been sleeping within her - tenderness, compassion - nodded. "I'm a very rich woman", she said in a soft, quiet voice, with a gentle smile.
The red haired librarian held her eyes for a moment, then suddenly blushed again and averted her face.
"Look", Helena said, taking a step towards the other woman to touch her arm. "Dinah is my friend. This is the first time I've seen her smile in a long, long while. If you're the cause of that I'm... I'm in your debt."
Barbara shook her head. "Dinah is a wonderful girl. She's helping me out and she's doing a great job. I haven't done anything. Nobody owes me anything."
"Still", Helena said, hoping that the woman would look at her again. "Let me be your sponsor."
Barbara lifted her face, but she didn't look at Helena. "I... I don't know what to..."
Barbara didn't finish the sentence and suddenly there was something different in her eyes. Her gaze became focused, hard; her face lost the shyness and the vulnerable expression and was replaced by one of concentration and austerity.
"Will you excuse me?" she said, and there was this steely note to her voice that made Helena blink in surprise.
Barbara put the books she was carrying on a trolley nearby, were there already lay piles of other books, before she swiftly strode towards the reception area with purposeful strides. Helena looked about her to see what had caused the sudden change in demeanor in the other woman and to her surprise noticed Dr. Harleen Quinzel entering the library. What the... fuck?
The blonde psychologist hadn't noticed the librarian; she was set on Dinah, who was standing by one of the tables before the windows to the left of the reception. With another inward fuck Helena placed her book on the trolley and quickly followed Barbara. If the timid librarian thought she could face off with the razor-sharp Quinzel she would need to think again. The psychologist would cut her to pieces and leave her to bleed on the carpeted floor of the library.
"Dinah", Barbara said, reaching the blonde girl before the psychologist did. "I need you to get something for me on the third floor. In one of the bookcases that we put there last night. I believe I left my notebook there. You know the black one in which I write down which boxes we've unloaded?"
Dinah opened her mouth to say something, and then abruptly noticed Quinzel in the background. She nodded, quickly turned around and disappeared amongst the bookshelves before she even noticed Helena in the background. Helena understood her; she knew what hell Quinzel had given the girl. It was the psychologist that set the strict rules around Dinah that she and her foster family was living by. Once in awhile Helena had tried to influence the blonde woman, but Quinzel usually just looked at her with that superior smile and asked how long she'd studied to become a therapist. Helena, who'd never gone to University at all, always felt extremely self-conscious and inferior before Quinzel and never knew how to handle the woman. Especially not since Quinzel was her therapist as well: courtesy of the Court, that had decided she needed to be punished for an incident some months back.
"Mrs. Brixton", Quinzel said; sounding slightly more formal and curt than usual to Helena's ears.
"Ms Quinzel", Barbara said, no less acerbically.
Helena glanced at Barbara in surprise. The librarian had taken off her glasses and was staring at Quinzel with an intense focus. She had straightened her back, pulled back her shoulders and looked hard and unyielding. Her eyes looked like jewels, sharp and cutting with a glint of green steel.
"I need to talk to Dinah."
"Dinah's busy at the moment. I know she has a session with you next week. You'll be able to talk to her then. I'm happy to take a message for her."
"I'm sure you are. Just let her know that I want to see her on Monday instead of on Friday next week."
"Dinah's busy the whole week. We have a packed schedule now. If you wanted to rearrange your calendar you should've let us know sooner. She has a free spot on Monday the week after next. I'll let her know that she'll see you then instead. Her foster parents are very satisfied with the progress Dinah has made, by the way."
Quinzel set her mouth; her pale blue eyes blazed with mute rage. "Indeed", she said, which sounded very much like a snarl. "I believe Friday will do. I'll see her after school, the usual time."
"Of course", Barbara said smoothly. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"I trust you make her take her medicine?"
Barbara smiled thinly. "Dinah's old enough to know what's good for her. I'm sure she's following your good advice and instructions as told."
"It's imperative that she takes her medication."
"And I'm sure you have consulted with a neurologist on the matter", Barbara said sharply, still holding the woman's gaze. "How long has she been taking the medication, any way? Will she begin the de-escalation of the pills soon?"
Again Quinzel set her jaws. "I've had this discussion with Dinah's parents. They're fully aware of any details when it comes to their daughter's medication."
"She's not their daughter", Helena mumbled.
Quinzel's sharp gaze immediately found her. "Hello, Helena. I didn't ever think to find you in a place like this. I mean, they have books here. I thought you were allergic to such things."
There was amusement in the woman's eyes and in the tone of her voice, but also a slight sardonic edge to the comment and Helena felt a slight blush on her cheeks.
"I came to visit Dinah", she mumbled.
Usually when she felt cornered or embarrassed she just became angry and hurt people or scared them off, but with Quinzel that wasn't possible. The woman only looked at her with that superior way she had and called her childish. The woman had a certain way of making her feel like a child, and not in a good way. She felt small and insignificant in Quinzel's company as soon as they were out of her office. As a psychologist she was brilliant, everyone agreed on that - she was a very prominent figure in the city, especially in New Gotham. She was probably a very nice woman too, as long as she wasn't crossed - and Helena had made the mistake of trying to interfere between Quinzel and Dinah, which hadn't turned out that well.
Quinzel frowned. "You know, I believe I've told you that you're not good company for Dinah. Her parents don't agree with you seeing her."
"I've never even met them", Helena objected. "You..."
"Don't you want what's best for Dinah, Helena?" Quinzel asked in that deceptively mild voice that Helena recognized.
She felt herself blush in anger and frustration. She never had the words to argue with this woman, never knew what to say to convince her of anything. "I..."
"On what grounds did you advice Dinah's foster parents not to let her see Helena?" Barbara asked.
Quinzel looked at her with that superior way she sometimes had. "I can't really discuss my patients with strangers."
"It didn't seem to stop you the other day", Barbara observed. "Are you aware that Dinah has no friends in school? The only one she calls a friend is Helena. She even told me that it has been Helena who convinced her not to run away the last two times when she was considering it, the last time only a month ago. She told me it was her friendship with Helena that has made her endure this long." Barbara set her jaws, tightening her voice. "In what way, I ask you, do you believe it's improper for Helena to see Dinah, when it's Helena who seems to be the only person in her life that stands for some happiness to her?"
Not anymore, Helena thought, regarding Barbara with an open, appreciative look. The woman was her new hero. She knew, somehow, that it was the same for Dinah. Barbara - not helping out at the library - was what had made Dinah smile again.
Quinzel didn't say anything at first. She looked at Helena - who schooled her expressions and tried to meet the steely gaze with what she hoped was indifference - before she sniffed in scorn. She glanced at Barbara. "I'm warning you - you don't know what you're dealing with here. That girl could turn on you in an instant, to beat your head in."
"I'm taking my chances", Barbara said firmly. "Dinah's a nice girl."
Quinzel sneered. "I wasn't really talking about Dinah", she said. Without glancing at Helena she turned and walked away, straight as a pole.
Barbara followed the blonde woman with her gaze. "Friend of yours?" she asked solemnly as Quinzel stepped past the first set of sliding doors and disappeared out of view.
Helena frowned. "She's my therapist. I was... there was this incident..." She shrugged. "The Court ordered me to follow through with anger-management. I have an anger-management problem."
"Would it have something to do with why you walk the streets late at night, scaring off muggers?"
There was an unexpected amusement to Barbara's voice and when she turned her head to look at Helena, Helena noticed the teasing glint in her green eyes. Helena grinned.
"That might have something to do with it", she said, abruptly feeling very elated at the prospect of this woman teasing her in that way.
Barbara suddenly seemed aware of what she was doing, blushed and averted her face. "I must... I should..."
She mumbled something incoherently and Helena watched, with amusement and some amazement, as Barbara seemed to revert back to her former shy, mouse-like state, as if the woman that so confidently and easily had faced Quinzel was gone.
"You were amazing", Helena said, genuinely awed, before she knew what she was saying.
Barbara stiffened. "What?" she asked, quietly, still looking down at the carpeted floor.
"You were amazing", Helena repeated, softly. "I've never seen anything like it. You were just... wonderful."
Barbara lifted her face to look at her. The expression in the green eyes was shy, vulnerable and confused. It stirred a slumbering longing in Helena, one that she was unfamiliar with but which urged her to take this redheaded woman in her arms to comfort her.
"I'm, uh, sorry, I must... um..." Barbara looked away, gesturing towards the reception and the bookshelves in the background. "I have to... um, return to work... I... eh, Dinah..."
"Please..." Helena took Barbara in the arm with a gentle grasp; the other woman stiffened as before, still refusing to look at her. "Please, don't walk away. Barbara, I..."
She didn't know what she wanted to say. Should she tell the woman that she'd dreamt about her? No, that would just be too strange. What's happening to me? she wondered, confused. What is she doing to me?
"Please - can I see you again? Someplace that's... When you're not working?"
"I'm always working", Barbara said, subdued. "I... It's what I do. It's my life."
Helena was thinking quickly. "Fine. Then I'll stay and help you and Dinah. You're trying to get this place back on its feet, right? I'll help. Books are really not my thing, but if you tell me what to do I will. I'm good at heavy lifting", she added with a soft grin.
Barbara looked at her with a soft question in her eyes, searching Helena's face. "Why?" she asked.
"Because... Because you've made Dinah smile again. Because you stood up to Quinzel for her sake. And for my sake. No one has really ever done that before."
It wasn't that people probably hadn't tried; it was just that people just hadn't succeeded in enraging Quinzel that way before.
Barbara shook her head. "I haven't done anything. That woman, she just... irks me. She has no right treating Dinah that way and..." - she blushed, seeming to remember that she was supposed to be timid - "and... um... I don't get why you..." She faltered, glanced at Helena for the briefest of moments and then shrugged, looking out across the reception area.
"I'll help. I have a lot of spare time in the days. I work at a bar usually. This should be a nice distraction from the noise of the Dark Horse. But you eat, don't you? Everybody needs to eat. Why won't you let me take you out for dinner tonight and we'll discuss the children's fair?"
"Oh, thank you, but... I, um, promised Dinah dinner at our place tonight. I'm... uh, sorry." Barbara glanced at her with a slight blush on her cheeks.
Helena felt irrationally disappointed at hearing this. "Oh", she said. "Another day, then." She began to turn away, feeling foolish and absurdly hurt.
"You could come", Barbara abruptly said. "I mean... if you - if you want to. I'm not really a good cook, or so my husband tells me, but I'm sure I can make something that's edible and Dinah hasn't had any complaints. She was over for dinner last Friday as well, and..."
Helena looked at the redhead, finding the uncontrolled prattle unbelievably cute. "I'd love to", she said, smiling, looking at Barbara with all the warmth she felt for her in that moment.
The other woman blushed beet red. She seemed to have a hard time looking directly at Helena, but in the end her eyes returned to Helena's and she seemed to grow quiet - completely still. Helena wanted to reach out and touch her, to loosen some of the tightly held back hair from the ribbon, to let it frame the thin face and the green eyes. She's a little too thin and pale, but... She's really quite beautiful. And those eyes... Helena's smile deepened. She wasn't aware of the emotions stirring within her or what they indicated; all she knew was that she had found the woman in her dreams and that, somehow, it had changed her lonely life.
"I need to, um, help Dinah", Barbara said, quietly, with another slight blush, as she turned away from Helena.
"I'll get her", Helena said. "I'll let her know Quinzel's gone. She can probably fill me in on what needs to be done."
She went to the stairs, feeling really happy for the first time in a long while. She'd almost forgotten what it felt like to feel that way. Helena wasn't a very self-analytical person, so she didn't stop to consider why she was happy or what it actually meant that she was. It wasn't relevant to her current state of mind.
There had been something off with her eyes. Barbara was sure of it, when she kept remembering the night before. The woman who'd saved her and Wade - there had been something... not right, with her eyes. Though it had been too dark for her to make it out in the alley. And then there had been that dream... She'd dreamt of a face she hadn't been able to see clearly, except for the eyes. And the eyes had been yellow, with vertical slits to them like a cat's.
After the event with the muggers late the night before she'd been unusually quiet and subdued, even for her. Wade had thought it had something to do with the attempted robbery and tried to console her, promising her that he would never let anything happen to her, but in reality she had been more thoughtful. She hadn't been able to forget that young woman who'd saved them. She kept repeating that image in her mind; not where the woman fought off the robbers, but when she stopped and noticed Barbara. There had been something in her face just then... Something deep and true and - and almost primeval, if the thought wasn't too bizarre. The sight had awakened a response in Barbara that troubled her since she didn't recognize her own feelings.
To see the same young woman at the library that day... Thinking of it she felt an explicit trepidation, although if someone would ask her what she feared she wouldn't be able to answer. She feared the young woman - there was no question about it. Still... What she feared even more was that that same young woman would disappear out of her life even before she had fully entered it. It doesn't make sense, she thought as she arranged the plates and glasses on the table in the dining room. She noticed that her hands were trembling and she knew she was becoming increasingly nervous at the prospect of having Helena in her home. They rarely ever had guests, unless it was some young people. Patch had had his friends over for dinner sometimes, and he and his boyfriend had had dinner with them the same night they were... killed.
"You're sure she'll find her way?" she asked Dinah, who was in the kitchen.
"I'm positive", Dinah said, coming from the kitchen to the dining room. "Helena knows every nook and corner of this city. She..." Dinah silenced as she watched Barbara.
"What?" Barbara asked worriedly.
"Wow! You look really..." Dinah shook her head, lacking words. "You look really nice."
Barbara blushed and the hand that was holding the last fork trembled a little; she put the fork down on the table with a soft, small clattering noise as it touched the plate. "You really think so?"
"Yeah." Dinah smiled. "You should dress up more often."
"I agree", Wade said, entering through the vault that was leading to the hallway. He smiled at his wife and bent to kiss her on the cheek.
"Thanks", Barbara mumbled self-consciously.
She really didn't know why she had dressed up that evening. Wade had bought her a very expensive, beautiful dress in green and gold before they moved to Gotham City, but she'd never worn it. Every now and again she had looked at it where it hung in her wardrobe, but she never put it on. Those kinds of dresses, she had figured, were nothing for her. She wasn't the glamorous type or pretty enough to wear anything remotely that beautiful. On her they would only look awkward and wasted. Still, that night she had looked at the dress in her wardrobe and wondered what it would feel like to wear something that beautiful. It wasn't really the right occasion to wear a dress like that, but she didn't care.
She had let her hair down and dressed up in the green, gold silk dress and when she had looked herself in the mirror she had - for the first time in her life - felt beautiful. The voices nagging at her in the back of her mind (her father's voice, her mother's voice and the voices of those kids bullying her in school) tried to discourage her and make her take it off before someone noticed her and laughed their heads off seeing her dressed up like a clown. She repressed them, refused to listen to their wicked comments and made a promise to herself that she would wear the dress the entire evening, even if she felt awkward and overdressed.
"What's the occasion?" Wade asked in her ear, when Dinah was back in the kitchen.
"Nothing special", she said, still feeling more and more nervous at the thought of Helena coming. "Just... you know." She shrugged, looking at him with a small smile, hoping that he didn't notice how tense she was. "Wanting to be nice for you, for a change."
As soon as she said it, though, she knew it wasn't strictly true. There was this nagging, ridiculous thought telling her that she had chosen to dress up for Helena, not him. Which would be absurd, she thought as she pushed the thought out of her mind.
He smiled and touched her cheek. "You're always beautiful to me", he said gently. "So", he added. "Tell me about this... Helena?"
"She's just... She's a friend of Dinah's. I just thought... She came to the library today and..."
"Sshh", he said, amusedly, and she realized that she just had failed in hiding her nervousness from him. He took her hands in his and kissed her fingertips. "I'll be here for you. As always."
She nodded. "I know. I know, it's just that..."
"It's not like you, being nervous for a teenager."
"She's not really a teenager", Barbara explained. "You know, the woman that helped us last night...?"
"Yeah? What - it's her?"
Barbara nodded. "She came to see Dinah at the library and we began to talk. Then one thing led to another and I invited her."
"Isn't that a bit of a... coincidence?"
"How so? She came to see Dinah..."
"I don't know. It's just... I find it odd."
At the same moment the doorbell rang.
"I´ll get it!" Dinah called from the kitchen.
Wade smiled. "That girl is really beginning to feel at home."
"Mmhm", Barbara said, really not listening.
She turned away from Wade and went to the kitchen. Get a hold of yourself, woman, she berated herself. Helena had been nice to her at the library, helping her out with the books and with the heavy lifting - she was really strong, indeed. They hadn't talked that much after Quinzel had left, but Helena hadn't seemed to be bothered with Barbara's silence nor with the fact that Barbara mostly lost herself in one or another book that she was unpacking. She had been good company. What am I so afraid of? she asked herself in vain. She had asked herself the same question for years, never getting a real answer. Her upbringing and her experience with the bullies in school had just made her a recluse; there was nothing else to it.
She heard voices from the hallway and knew she needed to collect herself before...
At the same moment Helena entered the kitchen from the hallway, led by Dinah. Barbara straightened before the small table in the kitchen at the same time as Helena stopped in her tracks at the threshold, staring at her.
"Look - she brought chocolate", Dinah said with a smile. "And flowers", she added, putting a bunch of flowers on the bench by the table.
"And, um, wine..." Helena said, lifting a bottle she held in one hand.
She was dressed all in black; black trousers, a black blouse with silver decorations on the sleeves and the collar. She looked very... smart, Barbara thought.
"Your hair is down", Helena stated.
"Um", Barbara said, unable to utter any words in that moment. Somehow the sight of Helena made her loose her senses, making her feel dizzy and disorientated.
"Doesn't she look nice?" Dinah said with a grin.
"Nice doesn't cover it, kid", Helena said. She still hadn't taken her eyes off Barbara and Barbara realized that it was her piercing blue gaze that held her in her place, made her unable to move. "Beautiful is the word."
"Indeed", Wade said, entering from the dining room as he heard their voices.
Helena turned to face Wade and Barbara realized that she could breathe and move again. Softly she inhaled, fighting to find her composure.
"Hi", Helena said, taking the wine bottle in her other hand to be able to shake hands with Wade. "Helena."
"Wade Brixton", Wade said and added, somewhat unnecessary: "Barbara's husband."
Helena nodded. "I brought... some wine", she said, handing him the bottle.
"Oh, and good wine, too", he said, after a quick look at the label.
"Really? I'm glad. My brother recommended it. I don't know the first thing about wine." Helena made a face and shrugged. "Glad you like it, though."
"Give our regards to your brother, then", Wade said with an easy smile. "Barbara and I enjoy a good wine now and again." He glanced at her and smiled and Barbara returned the smile, stepping up to his side. "She's made veal casserole. There's some wine in it, I believe?"
"Yes." Barbara nodded as he looked at her. "It's my first... um, it's the first time I..." She blushed, unable to go on.
"It smells delicious", Helena said easily, looking around the kitchen. "Dinah - wanna show me around? I better get out of the kitchen before I knock something down." She made a face at Barbara. "I'm a disaster in the kitchen. Cooking I know how to do, but I always end up breaking something."
Barbara, who sensed that Helena was exaggerating a bit to give her space, gave her a thankful smile. Helena winked at her and left the kitchen arm in arm with Dinah.
"She won't bite you", Wade whispered to her and Barbara relaxed.
"I know. I know."
Barbara and Wade set the table with the casserole and poured the wine Helena had brought while Dinah showed their guest around. The place wasn't huge, but larger than enough for two people. They had a dining room, a living room, two bedrooms and a balcony with view across a nearby park. Their apartment lay on the top of a building facing the old, out-of-use Clock Tower nearby. Close to the Clock Tower, on the New Gotham side of the city, there was a large skyscraper crowned with the sign, in bold, black letters: Wayne Technologies. Their apartment lay in New Gotham, but close enough to the borders of Old Gotham. Barbara was fascinated by the Clock Tower and could stand staring at it for an eternity before she went to bed at night. It seemed it was calling to her, somehow.
"Really?" Dinah said as Wade disclosed this kind of private fact by the dinner table, as they were discussing how the couple Brixton found their stay in Gotham City. "Me too."
"I suppose it has that effect on a lot of people of this city", Barbara said, feeling the blush on her cheeks recede.
"I don't know", Helena said. "There are some people who wants to tear it down - says it's a disgrace to the city." The young woman glanced at Barbara. "Quinzel is amongst them."
"Who is Quinzel?" Wade asked.
"Oh, um..." Barbara said. "Just a woman I met at the library. She's a psychologist."
"You talked to her?" Wade asked, somewhat baffled.
She hadn't really told Wade about her encounters with Dr. Quinzel; she didn't know why, but probably it had something to do with the fact that he wouldn't believe that she had managed to hold her own against a strong woman like that. He would in all probability just make her promise not to go near the woman again to prevent her from getting hurt.
"What's the deal with the Clock Tower, anyhow?" she asked, without answering the question. She looked at Helena, who made a face.
"Yeah, that..." Helena sighed. "My father, the venerable Mr. Bruce Wayne..."
"Bruce Wayne's your father?" Wade asked, even more baffled than before. He glanced at Barbara. "Did you know?"
"Actually, Helena has promised to sponsor the children's fair. I was meaning to tell you about it, but..."
"Really? That's amazing!" Wade smiled at Helena. "My wife will be eternally grateful to you for this. That fair is her baby. Where we used to live the community paid for the costs, but here the mayor wasn't really interested in charity work."
"Not that kind, any way", Barbara said. "The Clock Tower?" she added, bringing them back to the subject.
Again Helena made a face and Barbara realized she wasn't happy talking about her father.
"The Clock Tower was Bruce Wayne's most outstanding building project. After the great fire that had destroyed large parts of the city he wanted it to be a symbol for the new Gotham City. A symbol for prosperity and safer streets. But then, well... Bruce Wayne left Gotham City and Wayne Technology, which is his company, didn't want to spend money on the not quite finished building, so they cut the costs and used the money on other projects. They deserted the project, just the same way as Bruce Wayne - according to some - have deserted this city." Helena shrugged. "A lot of people think my father has failed them and this city."
"What happened?" Barbara wondered, sensing the hurt in the other woman although Helena probably wasn't aware of it herself. "Why did he leave?"
"He had... issues. And," she added, "we didn't really get along."
"He left because he couldn't get along with his daughter?" Wade scoffed. "That's not..."
"Wade", Barbara said softly, lightly placing a hand on his arm; he glanced at her and silenced.
"Ah, I guess..." Helena shrugged. "He was a troubled man, especially since my mother was killed. He..."
"Your mother was killed?" Barbara asked quietly.
Helena caught her eyes and Barbara held her gaze, trying to convey some comfort through her look. Helena seemed to be taken aback for a moment, before she nodded.
"Yes. She was... murdered."
"That's awful", Wade said. "Gotham City seems to be a nest of criminals, each one worse than the other. And the cops? Why aren't they doing anything?"
"I'm sorry," Barbara said softly, holding Helena's eyes. She wanted to reach for the other woman, to mend the hurt she saw in the soft blue eyes, but she didn't dare in front of Dinah and Wade.
Helena shook her head. "It's... It was a long time ago."
"It's never long enough", Barbara said gently. "What was she like?"
"My mum?" Helena smiled. "She was fun and daring and wild. She taught me to live my life the way I want to and not be restricted by other people's opinions of what is right and wrong."
Wade, who sometimes had issues with what he considered to be reckless, immature people, blessedly held his tongue at this. He was of the opinion that people had the right to do what they wanted in life, as long as they conformed to the constructed order of things. Barbara usually didn't argue with him, although he and Patch had come to blows several times in the past. And Wade had had a hard time coming to terms with Patch's homosexuality. Not that Wade was narrow-minded - he was sweet and caring and mostly let people be who they were, but sometimes he was very much a product of his parents' conventional belief system. His parents, who never really had accepted that he married Barbara, a quiet librarian, rather than a successful businesswoman, a doctor or a lawyer. They would probably have preferred the revered Dr. Quinzel as his wife, she thought sardonically to herself.
"But," Helena shrugged, "I really don't like talking about it." She looked at Wade. "In regards to the police-force in this city the sad reality is that most of the cops are corrupt to the bone."
"So instead you get these vigilantes..." Wade looked at Dinah. "What was that guy called again? Nighthawk?"
"Nightwing", Dinah said with a smile. "You've been listening to the gossip."
"It's hard not to", Wade said dryly.
"What do you mean?" Barbara asked.
"The girls in school," Dinah explained, "they fall all over themselves at the mention of this nightly vigilante that saves the pretty ladies in the New Gotham."
"Really?" Helena said, amused.
I have my own vigilante, Barbara thought, carefully glancing at Helena out of the corner of her eye. The thought made her blush and she busied herself with the food. "Anyone want seconds?"
"Please", Helena immediately said, holding forth her plate. She smiled at Barbara. "I love food," she added.
"That's an understatement", Dinah said dryly.
"Hey!" Helena objected, making a face at her.
Dinah stuck out her tongue at the young woman and Barbara couldn't help but laugh; they were both like cute kids, teasing each other.
Wade and Helena looked at her in surprise, but Dinah smiled triumphantly.
"Um", Barbara said, blushing at the intense scrutiny from both her husband and their guest. "I'll put the pie in the oven."
"There's pie?" Dinah asked, jumping up from her chair. "I'll help."
Barbara smiled at the girl's eagerness. "You still have to write that essay you promised to finish. Helping me won't get you out of it."
Dinah laughed. "I know, I know", she grinned. "But it doesn't hurt collecting points for future bribes..."
The girl had truly brightened up since she began spending time with her and Wade, Barbara thought as she watched the girl in the kitchen. Dinah had helped her out at the library for little more than a week now, she had been diligent about her studies and went to school every day. She spent more time with Barbara and Wade than with her foster parents, but her foster parents reported to Barbara that Dinah was more helpful at home as well as being both nicer to them and happier. They were satisfied that Dinah continued to help Barbara and spent time with her. When it came to the girl's medication Barbara repeatedly told herself it wasn't her responsibility to see to it that Dinah took her medicine; it fell to the foster parents to care for Dinah's medical needs. And then, if Dinah didn't take her medication - Barbara couldn't really be blamed. Besides, the girl seemed perfectly healthy to her. In regards to her strange ability to mind-read (if that in truth was what was going on) Barbara had begun to make some research on the matter. She'd found a few interesting facts that needed more investigating.
In any case Barbara had really grown fond of Dinah and she was becoming aware that it soon would be difficult for her to be separated from the young girl. It wasn't right, she knew that. Dinah was supposed to bond with her foster family, not with her. But seeing the girl so happy and vibrant, so full of life - how could she deny Dinah her home?
Wade had already tried talking to her about Dinah's presence, but she refused to speak about it. She didn't want to hear him say that they couldn't continue to have Dinah over in the evenings. Barbara enjoyed tutoring the girl after dinner every day; Dinah was clever and funny and she filled a hole that Barbara hadn't really wanted to admit to that she lived with after Patch's death. And that's not entirely true, she reflected as she watched Dinah put the apple-pie in the oven. There had been a hole and she'd been aware of it, she just hadn't known how to fill it. Now Dinah had come along and done it for her.
What, on the other hand, she hadn't wanted to admit was that there had been another hole in her life. Another something that had been waiting to be filled.
Barbara glanced through the vault into the dining-room, to where Helena was sitting in conversation with Wade. Helena's presence stirred emotions within her that she had never felt before and never known she had wanted to feel. It frightened her, because she didn't understand what it was about. She just knew that since meeting Helena that day she would be a very, very lonely woman if Helena didn't want to stay in her life after tonight. I must've missed Carolyn more than I thought I did, she thought, attributing her emotions for Helena to the fact that she'd missed a closer friendship with another woman in her life.
Not even the pure sense of perfect joy she felt when Helena in that moment glanced in her direction, noticed her and smiled at her with that grin she had Barbara wanted to acknowledge that there was more to what was going on than her lack of a woman friend in her life. Because if she began questioning her emotions and analyzing her thoughts she might reach a conclusion that would crash into her world and shatter her safely constructed illusion of reality. And she wouldn't be able to deal with that.
She preferred her world to be safe and orderly.
The Monday when Dinah began her two week field studies at the library, a little more than a week after Helena's appearance, Barbara was standing by the reception desk when another coincidence walked straight into her life.
It was still early, a few hours before noon. She was concentrating on some books Helena had found the other day, rummaging through some boxes in a room on the third floor. They were Sumerian documents and manuscripts that she found increasingly interesting the more she managed to decrypt the ancient language.
Helena had been with them the whole week. She had come even when Dinah hadn't been there, bringing lunch and snacks to Barbara and even homemade pies: apple for deserts and vegetables for food. Barbara hadn't eaten as much in ages. When she told Helena this the young woman grinned and said it was her purpose to make "the skinny librarian gain weight", as she put it. Barbara smiled every time she thought about it. Wade would be grateful; he'd tried for ages to make her eat more. Though he had never made such an effort as Helena did. She cut the thought as it was unfair to Wade, who worked full time and who also wanted to give her her own space.
Helena was fun to be with and Barbara had come to realize that she looked forward to her presence a little more than what was prudent; though she wasn't sure of in what way it wasn't prudent. Helena's presence was oddly comforting: she never told Barbara not to work so much or nagged her about that she wasn't eating - she simply put the food by her side and let her eat, or not; she was quiet when Barbara needed time to think and work; she was joking when Barbara needed cheering up; she put herself between Barbara and the many people crowding her at work, saving her several times a day from some or another persistent customer that just wouldn't leave her alone although they clearly must see that she was uncomfortable in their presence; she never asked Barbara to face others, but she gave her enough space to do it if she wanted to. That last part was different from Wade's way of handling things. He usually plainly took command as soon as he noticed that she felt pushed or crowded.
It was strange, she had noticed, that she lately had begun to compare Helena and Wade. What's that about? she fleetingly wondered, as she studied the ancient text in her hands. Her mind had drifted from the book to Helena. It wasn't the first time that happened, either...
Barbara looked up, recognizing the voice but sure that she must have heard... wrong. "Carolyn?" she said, startled.
They stared at each other, before they exclaimed in chorus: "What are you doing here?"
"I'm looking for my daughter. They told me she's at the library."
"Me? I work here."
"You're the new librarian?"
Barbara turned her head to look at Dinah, who'd come down from the second floor. She noticed the stricken look on the girl's face and the dazed look in Carolyn Lance's eyes. Lance! she thought. My God - why didn't I realize...!
She had known Carolyn had a daughter somewhere, but the woman had never wanted to talk about her. Had never mentioned her name. Barbara just hadn't connected the last name... or if she had she really hadn't thought much of it, thinking it to be too much of a coincidence.
At the same time Helena turned up, to make matters even more confusing.
"Helena? What are you...? You know my daughter?"
"Your daughter?" Helena glanced in surprise at Dinah.
"You know Carolyn?" Barbara asked Helena, even more startled.
"Of course", Helena said. "She's..." She abruptly caught herself, staring at Carolyn with a lost expression.
"I know her father", Carolyn said. "Dinah", she added, taking a step towards her daughter.
"Don't!" Dinah snarled, suddenly full of hurt and anger. "Don't touch me!"
"Please, Dinah, don't... You don't understand, I..."
"I don't want to hear about it!" Dinah rushed past Helena towards the sliding doors.
"Dinah!" Barbara called. "Stop!"
Several of the customers at the library had stopped to watch them, but Barbara couldn't be bothered with their curiosity at the moment; she blocked them from her mind. Dinah actually stopped when Barbara asked her to and Barbara felt a catch in her throat, realizing what this meant.
"Dinah, please - don't run away. Go with Helena. I'll talk to your mother." Barbara gave Helena a pleading look and the young woman nodded, stepping forward.
Dinah turned from the entrance, but she didn't look at either of the two women at the reception desk as Helena led her away, up the stairs to some of the rooms on the second floor, where they would be left alone.
"Come to my office", Barbara said quietly, to Carolyn.
Carolyn watched her daughter walk away from her with a pained expression on her face. "She's so grown", she whispered.
"That's what usually happens", Barbara said, slightly curt.
Her tone of voice made Carolyn turn her face to look at her with a sober expression. She nodded. "Yes, you should know. How's Patch?"
"Patch is dead", Barbara said. "Killed by hate. Come, my office is over here."
Faces turned as they walked away; eyes stared and tongues would whisper as soon as the door closed behind them in Barbara's office.
The office was a square room with glass walls; it contained a desk, several bookcases, two leather armchairs, an office chair and a stool. Barbara pulled the curtains as they entered, to prevent snooping eyes from following them.
"She listened to you", Carolyn said when she had closed the door behind them.
"I know", Barbara said, quietly, as she sat down in the chair behind her desk; Carolyn remained standing by the door. "I'm... sorry."
Carolyn shook her head. "I'm not. Better that she listens to you than not at all. Better you than anyone else. I'm not..." She faltered, hesitated and began anew: "I dreamt she would fall into my arms, telling me she had missed me and that she loves me, but I knew... I knew it wouldn't happen. I abandoned her years ago and she... she never knew me, really. She was too young to know me properly."
"Why did you leave her?" Barbara asked. "I don't understand. You had a perfectly normal life when I knew you..."
Carolyn shook her head. "No, I hadn't. No, I didn't", she said softly. "Did you ever find it odd", she asked, "that I just... was gone one morning?"
"Of course I did", Barbara said, a little more than hurt. "I was getting to that. I thought we'd deal with Dinah first."
"Well, it's all connected." Carolyn looked at her. "You might not believe what I'm going to tell you, but... But it's the truth."
"What?" Barbara asked after a moment's silence.
"I'm a spy. I work for a secret organization that fights criminals with... certain abilities. My life is in constant danger. When I had Dinah I thought I could quit - live a normal life, but... She was threatened. They came for her to get to me and I had to... I had to give her up. I gave her away, to save her life."
Barbara watched the woman she had known for almost four years and knew that she hadn't known her at all. "You were right", she said softly. "I'm not sure I believe you."
"What we were, you and I..." Carolyn suddenly looked very vulnerable, standing before the door - not very different from the way her daughter had looked that first day at the library. "What I was when I was with you was not an act. You became a true friend, Barbara. I never lied to you, except about my work. Everything else was who I am. I've... often thought about you since our roads divided... wondered how you've been. I'm sorry to hear about Patch."
Barbara nodded, not really thinking about the past. "What certain abilities? Do you have any of these... abilities?"
Carolyn suddenly seemed to revert back into herself. She became hard and remote, staring at Barbara with a cold, piercing stare. Barbara didn't recognize her and in that moment she knew the truth: there was more to the friendly Carolyn Lance that she once had known. Those eyes didn't belong to a pleasant housewife who amiably chatted with her neighbors across the hedge and never knew the harsh reality outside their perfectly ordered lives. That meant one of two things: that Carolyn Lance was a manipulative psychopath who'd abandoned her own daughter because she quite simply wasn't emotionally equipped to care for her, or that she was telling the truth and she was a trained spy. With special abilities.
"Why do you ask?" Carolyn asked crisply. "Who have you been talking to? Why do you want to know?"
Barbara shook her head. "I..."
And just like that, the truth seemed to dawn on the other woman. "Dinah!" she gasped. "My God - of course!" Carolyn moved quickly across the room, towards the desk where Barbara was sitting. "Tell me, Barbara - is it Dinah? I was afraid she'd inherited something from me..."
"What?" Barbara asked, sitting absolutely still in her chair. "What would she inherit?"
Carolyn shook her head. "You don't know? Of course not... You're not from around here."
"Carolyn..." Barbara didn't know what to do or how to say what she was going to say. "Your daughter claims that she can read people's mind..."
"What do you think they're talking about so long?" Dinah asked, watching Barbara's covered office from the stairs with Helena.
Helena shook her head. "Beats me. I can't believe you're Black Canary's daughter. The woman is a living legend."
"I can't believe you know my mother." Dinah glanced at her. "And that you know her alias. You know she's meta?"
"You're meta?" Dinah asked after a moment, when the coin had scrambled its way down.
Helena nodded again. "You?"
"Me too", Dinah said solemnly.
They smiled at each other - and then resumed the watch over the office.
It was almost three hours before Barbara and Carolyn came out of Barbara's office. Both of them looked serious and focused. Carolyn nodded at something Barbara said, before they shook hands and Carolyn left the library. Barbara lifted her chin to look in the direction of the stairs and when she noticed the two of them she made a gesture of her hand, letting them know she wanted to speak to them.
Helena and Dinah left the stairs and went to Barbara's office, where Barbara waited for them behind the desk.
"Please close the door", the red haired woman said.
Helena did as Barbara asked and remained standing by the door. Dinah sat down in one of the armchairs before the desk.
"I'm glad you didn't run off, Dinah", Barbara gently said, looking at the girl with tenderness and understanding.
It always surprised Helena how Barbara seemed to be able to be so understanding of Dinah. There were a lot of things that surprised her with Barbara, she knew. The more she got to know the other woman the more she wanted to know her. It was as if... as if Barbara was this deep, mysterious lake, or river, in which Helena dived and kept finding more and more treasures. The past week had been one of the best in Helena's life since her mother died. It felt odd, being so happy. She'd even caught herself whistling one night as she was bartending; it had Leonard, her boss, arching an amused eyebrow at her.
"Your mother would like to meet with you this afternoon, after school-hours. She has talked to your foster parents and the social services, so they know she's here and asks for you. Since she placed you willingly in care there's no court order against her. She asked me to talk to you and ask you what you want."
Dinah shook her head. "I don't know what I want. Why is she here? Did she come for me?"
"These are questions you'll have to ask her, Dinah", Barbara said softly. "I can't answer that for you."
"But you know", Dinah said in a whisper, and Helena noticed tears in her eyes.
"Dinah..." Barbara reached for the girl across the table. "Talk to her. Just don't... run away again." She placed her hand gently on Dinah's hand that lay on the table. "Do you understand?"
Dinah sat unmoving for a moment. "If it... If it came to that", Helena heard her whisper after a few heartbeats, "would you... care for me?"
"I would", Barbara said softly. "You know I would."
Dinah rose. "I will... I'll catalogue the books on the second floor. When I'm done I'll see her... Will you...?" She looked at Barbara. "Will you let her know that I'll see her, after work?"
Barbara nodded. "Of course, sweetie."
When Dinah had left Helena looked at Barbara. "What was that about?"
Barbara raised her eyes from the desk to look at her. "Dinah's mother wants me to become Dinah's legal guardian."
"What? But... is that possible? And..." Helena frowned. "Is that why she came back to Gotham? You know her?"
"I used to know her. We lived in the same town for awhile. No, that's not why she came back, but when she saw me here..." Barbara shrugged, looking out the open door.
The other woman wasn't so afraid of looking Helena in the eyes anymore. Most of the time she reverted back to her shy, timid self, but more and more she was learning to trust Helena and to look her in the eyes the way she was looking Wade in the eyes. Helena, for some inane reason she couldn't comprehend, was becoming more and more jealous of the guy for this privilege of his to look Barbara in the eye.
"Carolyn said it was possible. She said she has powerful friends in this city and that it doesn't even have to take that long." Barbara shook her head. "I find that hard to believe. I know how difficult these things are to arrange."
"No. Not in this city", Helena objected. "As long as you know the right people. Carolyn could have it fixed in a week. What would Wade think?" she asked, hesitantly.
Barbara looked at her, but not really at her - more through her, as if she wasn't there. "That's the question, isn't it?" she said to herself. "What would Wade think?"
The librarian shook her head. "It doesn't matter. I want this. That's all that matters."
Helena believed her. She had learned that although Barbara might be this timid person she usually got what she wanted. Helena couldn't explain it, but she saw it happen all the time: how Barbara's endurance and silent objections made people bend to her will, as if nothing else was an option.
Suddenly, and for no apparent reason Helena could see, Barbara completely changed subject.
"I haven't really met your boyfriend yet. Why don't you bring him around one of these days? The two of you could come to dinner with us. We could go out somewhere..."
Helena blinked. Barbara and Reese at the same time? Reese had been a somewhat blurry chapter of her life the past week, since she began spending time with Barbara. She had blamed it on him that she hadn't wanted to see him, but she knew the reason had more to do with Barbara than what she wanted to admit. Actually she rather spent time with Barbara than with him. And that thought was decidedly odd.
"Um, why not?"
Barbara asking to see another grown up? She usually couldn't get out fast enough when people came her way. Why did she want to see Reese?
"You've... um... said a lot of nice things about him. I just, er, would like to meet him. I think Wade might miss some male company", Barbara added as an afterthought.
Wade, of course, Helena thought crossly. "Of course", she said. "I'll ask him."
"And could we discuss the children's fair tomorrow? I have enough volunteers now. I think we could arrange for the charity fair at the beginning of next month."
"That's no more than three weeks."
"There's enough time."
Helena was thinking of the full moon. It was three weeks to the next full moon, when Lockley had said that the killer would arrive. Helena would need to remember that; although she had spent more time with Barbara, it didn't mean she could be lax in her other responsibilities. She would need to pay that Lockley a visit soon, or at least talk to Reese about the Moonblood killer, to hear if there had been any news.
"I'll have my lawyer draw up a contract", Helena said, thinking of her brother.
"Good." Barbara nodded. She rose and pulled out a drawer by her side in the desk. "I have a spare key to our apartment here... I'm, um, thinking of giving it to Dinah. You don't think that's too presumptuous, do you?" Barbara glanced worriedly at her. "It's just... er, Wade has this school-thing tonight and... uh, won't be home until late and I was thinking of working over... and if Dinah and her mother comes to blows I want her to have someplace to go if... you know, so she won't run away."
"I think it's a good thing", Helena said, calming the other woman; she found it cute how the redhead librarian could switch from being assertive to revert back to the timid, shy woman she had met that first day. She smiled. "Dinah will appreciate it. And I think Carolyn will too."
Barbara looked down at the key in her hands. "You know Carolyn well?"
"Uh, oh - not really", Helena said evasively.
She couldn't very well tell Barbara that Carolyn Lance was a well known vigilante with meta-human abilities. If she did, Barbara would want to know what meta-humans were and how Helena could know anything about them and about Carolyn and then... she would want to know exactly what Helena had been doing saving her and Wade that night. Helena found it odd that Barbara hadn't asked anything about that night, except from mentioning it in passing that first day at the library. She had found Barbara to be a very inquisitive woman in other areas - especially when it came to science, philosophy, ancient scriptures... and every other subject under God's blue sky. Barbara sometimes held long monologues with herself in Dinah's and Helena's presence when the two of them didn't understand one word, but Helena listened and learned and she had come to appreciate Barbara Brixton as a very, very intelligent woman. This was probably what set her apart from ordinary people even more.
"Your father knew her?"
"U-hum... I've met her a few times."
Barbara nodded to herself. "I'll talk to Dinah about the key." She suddenly looked at Helena with a soft smile that suddenly had Helena's inside make somersaults. "Thank you for taking her away earlier."
"Yes, um-hu, of course..." Helena suddenly felt very young and shy for reasons she couldn't explain and inched her way to the door behind her. "Uh, I have... er, a few errands I have to... Okay, I have to go. I'll call you."
With that she swiftly opened the door behind her and fled.
What the fuck was going on with her?
Helena paced restlessly back and forth in the park before the Clock Tower, trying to make sense of her jumbled emotions. She had fled from Barbara like some kind of... of schoolgirl, afraid of her own shadow. For what? Why, for fuck's sake? She couldn't answer that and it made her edgy. All she knew was that the soft smile and the affectionate expression in Barbara's eyes had left her with a feeling that she was drowning; that she was beyond every control of her own body. She had felt that her eyes was about to augment to reveal the nature of Huntress and that wasn't something she was about to do before Barbara Brixton.
"Fuck", she muttered.
Would she ever be able to feel safe with Barbara again, without being afraid that she would loose control over her meta-human side? And why - why! - would she loose control over Huntress? What was happening to her? What was Barbara doing to her that made Huntress awake within her? Was Barbara evil and Helena just didn't know it?
"Ridiculous!" She mocked her own idea. How could Barbara - sweet, caring, timid librarian Barbara Brixton - be evil? She was the least evil person Helena could ever - ever! - think of.
At the same time as she wondered how she ever would be able to face Barbara again, what occupied her mind was something Barbara had said: Wade wasn't going to be home that evening. Dinah was off with her mother and Barbara would be at the library... all alone.
"Okay, fine!" Helena gave up fighting herself, pulled out her cell phone and called Leonard to take the night off.
Her boss wouldn't be happy, but she knew someone who could fill in for her. Leonard would grumble, but it wouldn't be a problem.
When she had arranged for the night off she snapped shut her cell phone, put it in her pocket with a contented smile and left the park to go shopping.
She returned to the library just before they closed that evening and sneaked past the staff, even Barbara, to get to the third floor. There was a room there that had a small section of the ceiling made of glass; it would create a perfect view of the earliest summer stars...
She took her time arranging stuff to her liking, before she went down to the first floor in search of Barbara.
The library had closed and the rest of the staff had gone home, so as not to give Barbara the fright of her life Helena called her name a few times to localize her.
Helena found her in one of the closed off rooms in the back on the first floor, surrounded by boxes and books. She was sitting on the floor with at least three open books in her lap and a pile of other books by her side. Before her on the floor there was a portable computer.
"Helena... What... um..." - Barbara blushed a little - "are you doing here?"
The librarian wore her usual outfit of baggy brown and grey clothes, with her hair firmly pulled back from her face. Helena hadn't seen her with her hair down since that first evening at Barbara's place, when she had dressed up in a dress. Barbara had been absolutely stunning in that dress, with her thick hair let down and her shy demeanor. She's such a beautiful woman, Helena thought. Even now... like this... so cute with her glasses... But she shouldn't keep her hair so tightly held back...
"I have something for you", Helena said. "Will you come with me?"
"Yeah. It's not far. I want to show you something. It's on the third floor."
Barbara eyed her carefully. "What have you done?"
"I just want to show you something."
Finally Barbara relented. She saved what she was doing on her computer, put down the lid and rose. Without a word she followed Helena to the third floor, to the room that Helena had prepared.
She halted at the threshold. "Oh, my!" she whispered softly.
"It's a picnic", Helena said, slightly nervous; she wasn't sure what Barbara would think of her idea. She had arranged the books from the boxes in the room in piles of various heights in a circle around the centre, with a small path leading to the middle. In the middle she had set trays with food: chicken, spare ribs, salad, fruit, vegetables, bread, sauces, wine... And lit candles. There were pillows and cushions to sit on.
"When did you...? Why have you...? Christ, Helena - it's beautiful!"
Barbara nodded, clearly at lack for words. "It's the most... the most fantastic thing anyone has ever done for me."
Helena was delighted hearing it. She smiled. "I wanted to take you out for dinner, but I know you don't want to leave the library and..." She shrugged. "So I did this."
"It's perfect. Thank you."
Barbara turned to her and spontaneously bent forward to kiss her on the cheek. When she realized what she had done she blushed, but Helena was secretly pleased with the impulsive act and hid a smile.
"May I escort milady to her seat?" she asked, with a mock obeisance.
Barbara's blush deepened, but she held out her hand. "You may, my valiant knight", she said shyly.
Helena, taken aback for a moment by the words, hesitated before she gently took Barbara's hand in hers. Abruptly, and foolishly enough, she sensed her pulse increase and a slight flush on her cheeks. She averted her face from Barbara to hide her blushing cheeks, instead leading Barbara along the path between the books and helped her sit down in the centre. To hide her sudden discomfort she busied herself with uncorking the wine bottle and pouring wine into the plastic goblets she had bought.
"Go ahead. Eat", she told Barbara, when she realized the other woman didn't move.
"I don't know where to start", Barbara said, surveying the food before her. "There's so much."
Helena shrugged. "That's never been one of my problems. Where to start, I mean", she added with a smile. "I go with what's nearest to me." She proved it by reaching for a grape in front of her. Chewing on it she winked at Barbara, who rewarded her with her throaty laughter. Helena grinned, hearing it. Barbara seldom laughed aloud and Helena was always pleased to hear her laughter when she did.
"Fine", Barbara said. Following Helena's example she reached for the French bread in front of her and proceeded with green salad, some grilled chicken, cheery tomatoes, spareribs...
Helena grinned and filled her own plate.
At first they ate in silence, filling the worst hunger. Gradually they started to small talk; first about the weather, then about work... Helena asked Barbara about her plans for the library and Barbara talked for almost half an hour, sharing her plans about the future. Helena enjoyed listening to her, seeing Barbara so animated and engaged in the subject; the redhead usually didn't talk so much or with such enthusiasm. When Barbara realized she was the only one talking she blushed and reverted back to her usual shy self, hardly looking at Helena for the next twenty minutes.
Helena talked about her work, about her mother's death and her complex relationship with her father. Barbara was a good listener and Helena felt that she wanted to share these things about herself with the other woman. Barbara was much easier to talk to than Quinzel and this was in reality the first time the two of them was completely alone with each other. Before either Dinah or Wade had always been with them. Now, alone with Barbara, she felt she could be more herself.
"And Reese?" Barbara asked, glancing at her.
"Yeah... Reese", Helena sighed; he seemed to become more and more of an unfinished chapter of her life.
"You're not... happy with him?"
"Oh, I am! He's... kind of perfect for me, I think. It's just..." Helena frowned, remembering the question she'd been dodging. "He has asked me to marry him."
There was a moment's peculiar silence and then Barbara said: "Oh, but Helena - isn't that... wonderful?" Barbara's voice faltered when she noticed the look on Helena's face. "No?"
Helena shrugged. "Me? Married?" She sighed anew. "Can you see me..." - she waved her hand - "doing wifely stuff? I'm not... I can't..." She shook her head. "I don't want to marry him", she mumbled, realizing the truth.
"You don't want to marry... or you don't want to marry - him?" Barbara asked carefully.
And that was the question, wasn't it?
"I seem to have a bit of a... commitment problem", Helena said, sighing. "And I used to accuse my father of the same thing", she added, making a face. "I kind of love Reese, but to marry him?"
"Kind of?" Barbara asked softly.
Helena looked up and noticed the tender look in the other woman's eyes. She swallowed, suddenly forgetting what they were discussing. "Huh?"
"You said you kind of love him... Don't you know?"
"I don't... I..." Helena found it extremely difficult thinking, and talking, when Barbara was looking at her like that.
"Helena, do you even know what it's like to be in love? To love someone that way... that you can think of nothing else?" Barbara's voice was soft and husky, her eyes affectionate.
Helena felt a burning sensation in her chest, spreading downwards, making it difficult for her to breathe. "I... um, am not sure."
Barbara looked down at her hands. "I'm not sure either", she mumbled; Helena wouldn't have heard it if it hadn't been for her meta-human abilities.
"And you?" Helena asked, fighting to find her composure. "You love Wade that way?"
Barbara didn't look up, but there was a gentle smile on her lips. "I love Wade. He... He has been there for me, you know?" She looked at Helena and blushed. "But once, there was this man..." Her blush grew more intense and Helena felt a tightening of her heart.
"Tell me", she teased, although she felt a sudden jab of piercing fear, for no clear reason at all. "Barbara Brixton - are you telling me you had an affair?"
Barbara blushed beet-red. She shook her head, unable to speak for a moment. "Uh, no... not really... I was... um, we were... He..." Again she shook her head. "There was this... uh... man, who... er... I..."
Helena, finding Barbara's stuttering extremely cute at the same time as she felt sorry for the other woman, leaned forward and touched Barbara's hand. "Relax, I'm teasing you. Tell me", she said earnestly. "Who was he?"
Barbara's fingers closed around Helena's hand. She nodded, still not looking at Helena. "He was... Mike. He was married and had kids. I was married... It never... Nothing ever happened... He was a lawyer. He... he made me laugh and... He didn't want to leave his kids and I couldn't leave Wade." Barbara shook her head. "I think I... that I could've loved him in a different way than I love Wade."
Helena thought about that, wondering what it meant. She gently squeezed Barbara's hand before letting go. She didn't want to let go; she wanted to hold the other woman's hand for the rest of the night, for some unexplained reason. But because she felt that so strongly she couldn't make herself do it. She feared Barbara would pull away first and then she would feel hurt and foolish. Better she pulled away first, to save her those bizarre emotions she didn't know how to handle.
"Wade has always been there for me. He's my... lifeline to this world. He was the first person who ever showed me some kindness and..."
"What?" Helena abruptly said. "What do you mean? The first person who ever showed you some kindness?"
Barbara blushed. "Um... well..." She began to fidget, and picked up the plastic fork to pick at the leftovers on her plastic plate. Then she sighed and looked out into the dark beyond the windows. "It's like this..."
So Helena listened as Barbara talked about her past and she had this sudden, explicit understanding of the woman before her as she did. She could see the child Barbara had been: shunned by her father, ignored by her mother, trying to dodge the bullies in school, being isolated because she was smarter than the rest and then bound to her home where she cared for the two people that had never cared for her at all. Meeting Wade, who was the first person who showed her some affection...
Helena's heart ached for this woman, and still... Goddamn, she's a fighter! she thought. Despite having the odds against her Barbara had made something of her life. She had opened her heart to the troubled teenager that she had cared for in her own home, she had arranged all these charity events for children and disabled where she used to live - Dinah and Wade had told Helena all about it; Barbara never mentioned it at all - and she kept on trying to make changes in society by writing articles, organizing demonstrations (that she never participated in, but found volunteers to do it for her) and arranging lectures on various topics to educate and influence others to make a change in society. Barbara did those things, never getting any credit for it because no one knew she was behind the scene, pulling the strings. Other people got the credit, taking the credit because they did the actual physical work, but without Barbara those things would never have happened at all.
Like the children's fair, the charity event that Helena was now sponsoring. Barbara had found someone - a sociable, extrovert woman - who was executing Barbara's ideas. She would get the credit, but it was Barbara who'd laid out the whole plan, thought of every detail and contacted every single person by phone or email that was involved in the entire event.
Helena shook her head. "You're amazing."
"What?" Barbara said, bewildered.
Helena felt a slight blush on her cheeks. "I mean, you are."
Barbara shook her head. "Me? No, I'm... no one. I don't... I'm not that interesting."
"But you are. You do important stuff."
Barbara smiled. "No, I don't. But you..." She looked at Helena and her smile softened. "You save people. You make the streets safer at night."
"What...? No, that was just... that one time..."
Barbara kept looking at her and Helena tried to keep her face blank, innocent. "Well..." Barbara shrugged. "If you say so."
She didn't seem convinced, but Helena was happy to get off the hook. She changed the subject and asked Barbara about those books she had found the other day.
"The Sumerian texts? They're quite interesting. It seemed the Sumerian gods conformed to a strictly hierarchical system..."
Helena listened to Barbara explaining about the Sumerian society and their myths and legends, comparing them to other ancient civilizations, without really understanding that much. It wasn't what Barbara said that caught her attention, but everything else about her. The way she moved her hands, her head, her mouth as she spoke; the way she frowned when she was pondering a question, the way she answered her own questions...
"You should let your hair down more often", she suddenly heard herself say.
Barbara caught herself in the middle of a sentence to look at her.
"Your hair... You... You make yourself look older that way." Helena shook her head. "And your clothes... Why are you hiding beneath an image of someone you're not?"
Barbara stared at her. "What...?" she whispered after a moment.
"You're not sixty years old! And you don't live in a sect where you can't dress a little more... frivolous."
Barbara looked down at her clothes and blushed. "I don't..." she mumbled. "I'm..." She silenced and kept her eyes downcast.
It took a moment for Helena to realize that she was hurt. She slowly inhaled. "I'm sorry", she said, softly. "I didn't mean to... I have no right..."
"No, you don't..." Barbara said, hardly audible. She shook her head. "You have no right..."
"I'm sorry. Really. I shouldn't have..."
"No, you're not... really. You mean it." Barbara looked up, finding Helena's eyes.
"Yes, I mean it", Helena said softly after a moment. "It doesn't mean that I have the right to..."
"Why? Why can't I be what I am? Why can't I just... be allowed to be who I am?"
The red haired woman looked away, with tears filling her eyes. Helena's first impulse was to take back everything she had said, but she reconsidered.
"Because... because you limit yourself", she said, trying to find the right words, for once. She wasn't really good with words, never had been. She usually made a big show, vented her emotions in a flashing display of angry outbursts that prevented any deeper analytical conversation about her behavior and wellbeing. "You don't... you don't allow yourself to express this other side of... of what's you."
"But it's not me!" Barbara cried, looking at Helena with hurt and loneliness. "It's not... me."
"Isn't it?" Helena asked quietly, softly. The vulnerable look in Barbara's eyes pulled at her, tore at her. She took a chance and asked: "What did you feel wearing that dress last weekend? Don't tell me you didn't feel different."
Barbara lowered her eyes. "I did," she whispered. "I felt... beautiful."
"And you were", Helena whispered. "You were... so very beautiful."
There was something hidden in that statement that Helena instinctively knew she should be aware of, and yet what it was completely escaped her. She kept looking at Barbara, wanting to take her in her arms and hold her tight.
There was a moment's silence.
"You think?" Barbara finally asked, without looking at Helena.
"Well," Barbara said, looking up; her practical side getting the better of her. "I can't very well wear a dress like that to work. These clothes are practical and comfortable."
Helena sighed. What would she do with this woman?
"You could wear tighter jeans, your size - not... five size bigger."
Barbara blushed. "I don't...um... like... to go shopping. I..." - the blush deepened - "get all, er, my clothes at..."
"Don't tell me." Helena sighed. "You go through those containers that you arrange for, where people can give in their clothes to homeless?"
"There's nothing wrong with..."
"No, there's not", Helena said, forestalling a lecture on the benefits of recycling. "But once in awhile you should get yourself some new clothes. Something that's just for you. When was the last time you bought something for yourself?"
Barbara looked blankly at her. "Clothes?"
"Um... I can't really remember... I never had money as a kid and my mother never gave me any - I learned to get clothes from... or I made my own... I... um... Wade buys me clothes sometimes."
"Let me guess - that you never wear?"
Barbara blushed, which was an answer in itself. "Well... that dress..."
"Yeah, that dress. Tell me about it. Why did you decide to wear it at all?"
Again Barbara looked uncomprehendingly at her. "I don't... uh... know," she said after a moment, suddenly flushing an interesting shade of dark red. She lowered her eyes, looking down at her lap.
"So you never, ever, bought clothes for yourself?"
Barbara shook her head, not answering. "Uh, well... underwear..." she added after a moment.
Helena, who couldn't imagine a life without buying some clothes at least once a week - preferably every day - couldn't fathom how it was even possible to live a whole life without buying anything.
"I don't... uh... like shopping," Barbara said quietly.
"How can you not like shopping?" Helena asked incredulously, before the thought suddenly hit her and she swore inwardly.
Barbara looked at her in silent despair, not saying anything. Of course, she didn't have to: Helena suddenly understood very well.
"Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't think..." As usual, she thought, blaming herself for being so insensitive.
Of course Barbara didn't like shopping for clothes. That meant she had to face people. Lots of people.
Barbara shrugged. "I do limit myself", she conceded, somewhat subdued. "It's not... I can't really help it..."
"It doesn't matter", Helena said, suddenly having an idea. She had always wondered what she would do with all that money Bruce stubbornly kept bestowing upon her. Now she had found two good causes, both of them tied to Barbara. She smiled. "You're perfect the way you are. Don't worry about it. Although" - she leaned forward and pulled softly at some of Barbara's dark red hair at her temples - "your hair..."
She loosened some of the red curls and with soft hands arranged them to fall freely to frame Barbara's face. A slight, soft blush was creeping up on Barbara's cheeks as Helena's fingers arranged the curls about her face.
"That's better", Helena said. "Not so... strict and stern. I think people will be a lot less frightened of you."
"People are frightened of me?"
Helena shrugged. "Just some. They say you're a vampire that lurks outside this building only at night to scare little children..."
"You're making fun of me!"
Helena grinned. "Just a little."
"Hey!" Barbara swatted at her, blushing anew, but she was laughing too, which Helena found perfectly adorable.
There was a comfortable silence between them for some minutes. Barbara leaned back and watched the stars that had come out above them in the dark, through the glass-ceiling. Helena watched Barbara watching the stars, feeling a weird sense of contentment seeing the relaxed and unguarded expression on the other woman's face in the soft light of the candles between them.
"Thank you, Helena", Barbara finally said, leaning forward again, finding Helena's gaze. "I'm... This has been truly wonderful. I... I lack words to describe how grateful I am."
Helena smiled. "That must be a first", she gently teased. "You, lacking words..."
Barbara blushed. "Yeah," she agreed shyly, "I guess it is."
"I think... I won't be around for a couple of days", Helena said after a heartbeat. "I must talk to Reese, try to... don't know - talk to him, I guess. And I have some other stuff to take care of. But you have my number. If you need anything... Please, just call me. Promise?"
"Promise", Barbara said with a soft smile that had Helena's heart skip a beat.
"And I'll have my brother draw up a contract for you, for the charity event. I want the donation to be made anonymously. I don't want anyone to know that I'm the one paying for it."
"I know, you told me." Barbara kept looking at her with a soft gaze that made Helena feel queasy.
"Um... so... if there are any problems with the contract just let me know. You have my number."
"Yeah." Barbara gave her a reassuring smile. "Don't fret, Helena. I've done this plenty of times. There won't be a problem that can't be taken care of."
Helena wasn't really worried about the charity event; she was more worried about the way she felt when Barbara was looking at her like that. What the hell is this woman doing to me? I'm completely loosing my wits... She nodded. "U-hum," she agreed. "I'll keep that in mind."
"I guess we better start cleaning up." Barbara looked at the plates and the leftovers before her.
Helena nodded; she had been thinking the same, although she didn't want the evening to end. "I'll do it. You go on home."
"I'll help you."
"Dinah might be waiting for you."
Barbara hesitated. "I'll stay and help you. Dinah has my number - I asked her to call me if she needed me."
Helena, who wanted Barbara to stay a little longer, didn't object.
Dinah had actually been waiting for her when she came home the other night, but she hadn't been alone; Carolyn had been with her. The three of them had talked for several hours before Wade came home, around midnight. Carolyn then took Dinah back to her foster family and Barbara filled Wade in on what was going on. He hadn't really liked the idea of Barbara taking responsibility for Dinah and, just as Barbara had done, had questioned how Carolyn - who hadn't seen her daughter for several years - would be able to convince a family court of law that Dinah was better off with Barbara Brixton than with her current foster parents. Barbara, who knew what difficulties Dinah had had in her foster home and what progress she had made, doubted that particular part would be as much a problem as he might think. Although she did wonder at the legal guardian part.
Carolyn had explained that she wanted Dinah to feel safe; to know that she wouldn't need to move again as soon as something went wrong. If Barbara became her legal guardian social services wouldn't be in the picture anymore and Dinah would have a proper home. Barbara had tried explaining that it was a legal process that could take... ages, while Carolyn maintained that it could happen in a week, if Barbara only agreed. Dinah had already agreed, without hesitation, when she had understood that her mother hadn't come to take her home.
Barbara had a hard time understanding how this had been sprung upon her - and an even harder time understanding why all this felt so damn right. When Carolyn came with the impulsive and unexpected suggestion in her office Barbara hadn't hesitated. She had told Carolyn she was willing to take Dinah in - just like that - as long as Dinah was okay with it. She hadn't even considered Wade's response.
Besides, it would only be for a year or two, until Dinah turned eighteen.
Wade had fiercely objected. He wanted them to have kids of their own, not taking anymore foster kids. She hadn't really been surprised at his reaction; she had known for awhile that he wanted to have kids, although he had never said anything about it. She told him that there was nothing that prevented them from having kids even with Dinah living with them. Dinah wasn't Patch, who had needed full time care even at the age of seventeen. When she had told him that he gave in a little, but still wanted to think about it. She knew it was his way of saying that he did what she wanted him to do although he didn't want to make her think he was so easily persuaded.
Two mornings after their conversation he had agreed to let Dinah stay with them. Barbara phoned Carolyn right away and let her know the verdict. Dinah's mother informed her that she would contact some people and have a written agreement ready in a few days. Barbara didn't bother with trying to convince her that it didn't work that way. She knew how things worked; these things would take time. She would need to talk to Dinah about that, though, to let the girl know it was a process that could drag out for months.
The day after her conversation with Carolyn was a Thursday. Dinah followed Barbara home after work for her tutorial in math, chatting about this and that on the way. She was a welcome distraction to Barbara's previous lonely walks home. After a light meal that Wade had prepared for them they sat down by the table in the dining room: Dinah with her books in math and Barbara to do some research on molecular biology.
Barbara found that she had a hard time concentrating on the topic at hand. It wasn't the first time that week. She kept thinking about Helena. They hadn't talked since Monday, when the young woman so unexpectedly had arranged for the picnic. She missed her. And she kept thinking about that evening, beneath the stars of the glass-ceiling. Words and gestures kept repeating itself in her mind. Helena's face, her smile, the way she grinned... In particular her mouth when she grinned.
The thought made Barbara blush, for no good reason. She wasn't really shy in Helena's presence, although she knew both Wade and Helena thought so - and for good reason. The young woman made her feel respected, safe and appreciated and if she'd felt that way with anyone else she wouldn't have had a problem spending time with them without stuttering and blushing. But Helena... something with her just made Barbara more and more nervous every time they saw each other. Nervous in a way she had never felt before. Certainly never with Wade. It did remind her of the way she had felt with Mike when she first met him, before she had realized what those feelings meant... Oh, no, she suddenly thought, sitting up straight in her chair across the table from Dinah. Oh, no, no way I'm thinking that... That's just impossible.
"Barbara?" Dinah asked, eyeing her with curiosity.
"Huh? Oh, nothing. I was just thinking... Did you know that the length of DNA contained in the human body is about 125 billion miles? Or that about 97 percent of the DNA in our bodies is perceived as 'junk', because no one really knows what it's for? I wonder if that DNA isn't really useful, or if scientists just don't know what to make of it? Or, maybe, it lays dormant within us, waiting for a... wake-up call."
Dinah arched an eyebrow at her, shrugging. The girl went back to her math and Barbara relaxed, feeling her heartbeat return to normal. It's just not possible. I won't think about it again, she told herself sternly. I won't, she repeated, when the image of Helena's grin returned to her; she pushed the image away and concentrated on her research.
A moment later the doorbell rang and Barbara jumped in her chair.
"I'll get it!" Wade called from the living room, where he was watching television.
"Who on earth could that be?" Barbara said with a frown.
"Helena?" Dinah suggested.
"Maybe." Barbara felt a slight blush on her cheeks. "She hasn't been around for awhile..."
"She called me yesterday. I forgot, I was meant to say hello from her. She's busy with work. Apparently her boss wanted her to take a few dayshifts at another bar."
"Oh," Barbara said, feeling slightly hurt that the young woman hadn't bothered to call her. And why would she? She...
Her thoughts were cut short by a voice she recognized, floating in from the hallway. Across the table Dinah gasped in sudden panic.
Barbara didn't waste any time; before Wade had time to invite the unwelcome guest she rushed to the hallway, almost shoving him out of the way.
"Oh, my - Barbara Brixton", Dr. Harleen Quinzel said with a somewhat provocative smile. "I was just introducing myself to your... oh, so very handsome husband." The smile she directed at Wade over Barbara's shoulder was intimate with a touch of seduction. "He was about to invite me in", she added, looking triumphantly at Barbara.
"He was not", Barbara said curtly, hearing Wade's sharp intake of breath behind her.
Quinzel curled her lips. "Really? I have a very private matter to discuss and I wouldn't prefer to do it in..."
"We have nothing to discuss", Barbara said, cutting her short. "I know why you have come."
"Barbara", Wade tried, but she didn't look at him.
Quinzel smiled contemptuously. "You think you can keep her? You think you will ever get custody of her? She's not setting her foot inside this door unless I give my consent..."
"You have no say whatsoever in this case," Barbara said coldly.
"You don't think I do? You don't think I will use my every connection in this city, call in every favor owed me, use my professional career and whatever I have on Dinah to prevent you from getting her?"
"What?" Wade said, dumbfounded. "What is this about? Dinah? Why would you...?"
"You prescribed heavy narcoleptics to her." Barbara didn't let Wade get a word in edgewise. "Did you even consult with a neurologist before you prescribed those medicines for her? Are you even permitted to prescribe such medicine? And did you or did you not in your latest session with Dinah imply that I was unfit as a parent because one of my foster kids killed herself in my care? Where did you get that information? It's classified and, besides, it's untrue."
"Are you questioning my professionalism?" Quinzel asked in an unpleasantly cold voice.
"I do," Barbara answered, in almost exactly the same tone. "The same way you obviously are questioning mine. I will not let you destroy Dinah's life, the same way some other expert destroyed that girl's life by maintaining she would be safe in returning home."
Quinzel straightened her back. "Dinah is not in your care yet. She will be escorted by me to her family. Now."
"She will not. Her foster family and I have an understanding. She stays until her birthmother picks her up and returns her to the foster family. You have no say in Dinah's life anymore. Deal with it." Barbara narrowed her eyes at the psychologist. "Why are you so keen on ruining her life, anyway? What do you get out of it?"
"You're the one destroying her life. She needs that medication or..." Quinzel set her jaw. "Be careful, Mrs. Brixton. You don't know what forces you deal with. Don't come running to me when her life crashes." She raised her eyes and looked at Wade. "You should keep a better leash on your wife, Mr. Brixton. It doesn't suit her to be so... aggressive. I wouldn't peg you as a man that finds that to be an attractive trait in a woman. Good evening."
Barbara bridled with anger. How dare she? She tightened her fists at her side until the knuckles turned white. "Did you hear her? The... audacity of the bitch!"
"Barbara!" Wade said, shocked, as he closed the door.
"What?" she objected, still angry. "How could you let her say a thing like that without responding? Do you mean she's right?"
"What?" He looked confused. "What...? No! I mean, no... But you're not... yourself."
He watched her with a careful expression, as if he'd never seen her before. She realized he hadn't. He had never seen her like that; never experienced quite that side of her. Yes, she had been angry with Patch in the past and yelled at him, sometimes even at Wade, but never like that. Never expressing that cold, controlled rage that the blonde psychologist seemed to rouse within her.
"And what do you mean with that?" she snapped.
"This..." He made a gesture with one hand, indicating her fuming expression. "This is not you. You're not so... aggressive."
"Stop calling me aggressive", she retorted. "Don't I have a right to be annoyed?"
"You're beyond annoyed."
"So if I am? I feel like smashing that woman's head in. Doesn't mean I'm going to."
"I could ask Helena to do it for you", Dinah volunteered from the door leading to the dining room.
"Yes, thank you! Or better not - she's in trouble as it is with her lack of anger management..."
"What do you mean? Barbara?" Wade persisted. "What is this about Helena? She's in trouble? What kind of trouble?"
"No. No never mind. You've been... different since you met her. Like this..." He gestured again towards her. "Different. You're not... present."
Barbara thought that funny, since she had felt more present the last past two, three weeks than she had since Patch died.
"I haven't wanted to bring it up, since you seemed so happy to have a new friend, but I don't think she's good for you. Don't you find it strange that she... just happened to save us that night and then turned up at the library the next day? What do we really know about her?"
"And what do you mean by that? That she would be stalking me? Me, of all people? Let it go, Wade. She's a sweet girl, that's all."
"And if she's such a sweet girl, why are you still so jumpy around her? You weren't nervous around Carolyn after the first few days when you got to know her. But Helena still makes you nervous."
Christ, I don't want to think about that!
"I'm telling you, there's something not right with her." Wade looked at her, ignoring Dinah's cry of protest in the background.
"It's probably not what you think", Barbara objected. "Helena is... Helena. She's not having a bad influence on me. I was behaving this way even before I met Helena. It was that woman..."
"Yes. She's the one arousing the hulk woman within me." She tried to make it a joke and she knew that Helena would've laughed at the analogy, but Wade just frowned.
"It's not funny. I don't know you this way..."
Then there's something seriously wrong with this picture, Barbara suddenly reflected, not knowing where that thought came from. Maybe it isn't that you don't know me this way as much as you don't want to know this part of me.
The thought scared her and she let it go.
"Wade, please - let's not argue about this. It's what she wants."
She suppressed a sigh. "Quinzel. She wants us to argue."
"You can't know that. And" - Wade glanced at Dinah, still standing in the doorway - "what is this about Dinah's medication? You need medication?"
Dinah looked lost for a moment. She opened her mouth to answer, but Barbara forestalled her.
"No, she doesn't. It was believed she had epileptic seizures, but it turned out it wasn't."
Dinah gave her an odd look, but Barbara couldn't be bothered to deal with Wade's questioning of hers and Dinah's sanity in that moment. And she knew he would make a great deal about Dinah not taking her medication. He would never, ever, believe in the girl's presumed ability to read minds. If he found out that she had lied to him she would have to deal with him then.
"Could we just go back to what we were doing before that woman disturbed us?"
"Honestly?" Dinah said, making a face. "I would rather argue - math is sooo boring."
Barbara made a face right back at her, wanting to hug the girl for making it easier for her. "Really?" she said dryly, moving towards the dining room.
Dinah grinned. "Really. And", she added, whispering conspiratorially when Wade didn't see them behind the wall, "I think you did well. I can't wait to tell Helena about it."
Me too, Barbara thought with an inward, pleased smile. I can't wait to see her either.
It turned out Wade had to go on an unexpected school trip over the coming weekend as one of the other teachers, who were supposed to go, had taken ill. He fretted about it on Friday morning over breakfast, since he apparently had planned a getaway weekend for him and her, which she had known nothing about.
"I wanted us to go away, just the two of us. Before... you know. Before Dinah comes to live with us."
"That will take ages yet", Barbara said. "You know that. There will be plenty of time for us to go away."
He shook his head. "You know how adamant Carolyn seems to be is about this. She might want Dinah to move in yesterday already."
He had a point, but she didn't object to Dinah coming to live with them as soon as possible. "I have to work, anyway. There's this subject I'm into..."
"There's more to life than research and writing articles and other people's wellbeing", he softly said as he rose from the table and kissed her on the cheek. "Think of us, for once. Next weekend?"
"Oh, Wade - I have to plan for the charity event. You know, it's nearing and..."
"Yeah, I know", he said with a sigh. "I know."
Sometimes she wondered if she was selfish, living so much for other people's wellbeing, as he put it, instead of for him and her relationship with him. Or am I so busy with the rest of the world because I don't want to be busy with him? She pushed the thought out of her mind, not wanting to answer that question.
She realized she was filing away a lot of unanswered questions lately. They were piling up.
On Sunday, when the library was closed, she had a date with Dinah. The girl was coming to see her early in the morning and they had decided that they were going to eat good food, listen to good music, eat a lot of candy and pie and watch a lot of movies. Barbara had wanted to invite Helena, but she hadn't been able to get hold of her on the phone and Dinah said she couldn't reach her either.
At nine thirty in the morning Dinah phoned and said she would be a little late. An hour later she turned up together with Helena and Carolyn Lance - and about half of the clothes of New Gotham.
"Christ!" Barbara said as she opened the door and drowned in boxes, racks on wheels, coat hangers - and masses, masses of clothes and shoes.
There were three men delivering the clothes, but they left without looking at Barbara even once. She hardly noticed their presence, as she watched Helena's grinning face before her.
"Christ, Helena - what have you... done?"
Speechless she watched the flood of clothes swarming over her furniture. One of the men delivering the clothes brought a large mirror and on Dinah's instructions placed it in the dining room, where there was the most free space. Then the men left and closed the door behind them. Barbara, still speechless, sat down in one of the chairs to the table in the dining room, utterly stunned.
"If you can't come to the clothes, the clothes will come to you." Helena waved at her across the room. "Hi."
"Uhu, hi," Barbara said, staring at the young woman. "You did... this... for me?"
"Yup." Helena looked unreservedly pleased with herself. "Took me the whole week to arrange."
Barbara frowned. "Did you know Wade was going away?"
"Nope. Not until yesterday. Dinah told me."
"Dinah..." Barbara looked at the girl. "You knew about this?"
"Oh, yes!" the girl said with a laugh. "We've planned for it the whole week, just as she said. My mother was in on it, too", she added, smiling at the blonde woman at her side, who had followed behind the men carrying the clothes. "It's just for you to dive in."
"Oh, my", Barbara said, breathlessly. "I don't" - she looked bewildered at the mass of clothes lying around - "know where to begin."
Helena grinned at that. "Didn't I teach you anything?"
Barbara felt a sudden lurching of her heart, seeing that grin and hearing Helena's teasing voice. She blushed. "I remember", she mumbled. "Begin with what's at hand."
She rose, walking up to a nearby rack where there hang at least fifteen dresses in a row. She began with the nearest: a simple blue dress, nothing fancy, but perfect for a warm summer's day. She knew that none of the clothes would be extremely glamorous or extravagant. They would be ordinary clothes that ordinary women of her age would wear: nothing fancy, nothing too alluring or seductive. Still they would be tasteful and expensive and some formal enough to wear at work.
Without thinking she pulled the ribbon from her hair and shook her head, shaking loose her red hair to let it fall around her face. If she was doing this, she was doing it right.
She couldn't look at Helena. She wanted to, but she knew that if she did she would cry. Instead she focused on what was at hand: the dress. With a small intake of breath she began to undress in front of the large mirror.
Helena had been right: it didn't take long for Barbara to become legal guardian for Dinah. Within two weeks the girl had moved in with Barbara and Wade. Helena tried to explain it to the couple, that in Gotham City, especially in New Gotham, anything could be bought - even a child.
"What a horrible thought!" Barbara said when she heard it.
"Of course it is. That's why Gotham City needs people like you", Helena said.
"What?" Wade objected. "Who breaks the law when they see fit?"
"Who fights for what's good and just", Helena said, ignoring Wade's remark; he had been somewhat snide towards her since he returned from his school trip, for no good reason at all as Helena saw it. "Like the children's fair - making people aware of what's going on in their own neighborhood."
Dinah's mother was still around. Helena was probably the only one who knew that she was in the city for reasons that had to do with framing a highly respected citizen, who also happened to be one of the worst criminals in Old Gotham. Huntress wasn't going into that - it was Black Canary's business and she hadn't asked for help. Though she did know that it was difficult for Carolyn to work in the same area as where her daughter lived. It tore at the two sides of her personality: the vigilante and the mother.
On the day of the children's fair, the charity event that in the end drew a full house - and jackpot, with every highly esteemed citizen of Gotham City attending - Helena attended with her brother. Dick had met Barbara Brixton on a few occasions, both with and without Helena, discussing the contract that he had drawn for Helena's transactions. Helena walked with him through the fair and smiled when she saw the children from the orphanage going on the merry-go-rounds and played at the activities that had been arranged for them and other kids. She kept an eye open for Barbara and Wade, who Dinah had said might come.
In the last two weeks, from the Sunday when Helena had surprised Barbara with the gallery of clothes in her home, something had changed between them. Helena couldn't put her finger on what, but something was different. Barbara seemed more relaxed in her company and sought her eyes more often; she even smiled more at Helena than before, in an open, unguarded way. And yet... Yet there seemed to be some distance between them, some imperceptible and unexplained rift that Helena didn't know how to mend.
And what did she want from the other woman anyway?
"There they are", she said, relived, when she noticed Barbara's red hair gleaming in the sun further away, by a merry-go-round for kids the age of three or four.
"Who?" Dick asked.
"Brixton's. Come - let's say hello."
Dick made a humphing sound. "Didn't think that woman would show her face on a day like this."
"Just saying." He shrugged. "You know what they say about her - that she's a recluse."
Helena didn't want to argue with him in that moment. "Shut up", she said. "You coming or not?"
He followed her as she greeted Barbara with an enthusiastic hug from behind. Barbara was taken by surprise, but when she noticed it was Helena she relaxed into the hug and gently squeezed Helena's shoulders.
"Good to see you out and about", Helena declared, greeting Wade with a short: "Hello."
Barbara looked good in tight black jeans and a top in emerald green, matching her eyes. She smiled shyly and nodded towards Dick. Her hair was bound up, but not as tightly as before; some red curls coiled around her face, framing it.
"Um, yes", she said quietly, unsure in Dick's presence.
Helena grinned, wanting to take Barbara's arm, but Wade interfered and grabbed his wife's hand before Helena was able to get close to her again.
"It was good to see you", Wade said. "We're meeting up with some friends in a short while. I'm sure we'll catch up with you again. If you'll excuse us..."
And just like that they were gone; disappearing in the crowd.
"What did just happen?" Helena asked aloud; a woman with a child glanced worriedly at her nearby, but she ignored them.
"Seemed he wanted to be alone with his wife", Dick said amused.
Helena glanced at him. "So it wasn't just me thinking that? I was beginning to think I was paranoid."
"It's happened before?"
Helena frowned. "Lately he seems to be annoyed with me for some reason."
"That's interesting", Dick mused. Then he shrugged. "I don't get what he sees in that woman anyway. Granted, she's not completely unattractive when she's not looking like the woman time forgot... Getting out of the library might do her some good. Did she gain a couple of pounds since I last saw her?"
Helena glanced angrily at him. "I find her cute. And beautiful."
And yes, Barbara definitely had gained weight since Helena first saw her; she looked healthy now, not thin and pale anymore.
"Really? So, date her."
She blinked. "Why would I want to do that? She's a woman."
"So?" He shrugged. "What has that got to do with anything? I didn't know you were a bigot."
"I'm not a...!" She clenched her jaws. "But... What the hell are you talking about?"
He sighed. "Helena, sometimes you're so... thickheaded. It's quite noticeable that we're not really related."
He sometimes had this way about him that made her want to smash his head in. She took a deep breath and counted to ten - slowly, trying to block his presence from her mind. The thought of Barbara distracted her. Dating Barbara? Like... a real date? With kissing and...? U-huh, not going there...
In the same moment she caught sight of Barbara again and forgot about Dick by her side. Barbara was alone by a lottery booth. Wade was nowhere to be seen. Helena stopped in her tracks, seeing only Barbara by that booth; she wasn't aware that she was smiling to herself.
"Thick as cement", Dick mumbled by her side. "Blind as a mole."
She didn't know what he was talking about. "Moles aren't blind - they're nearsighted", she said, diverted.
"Same, same", he said evasively. "She is quite beautiful", he added. "And she probably likes clever men. I should try..."
"She's married!" Helena hissed. "For fuck's sake!"
Dick had this thing about women: date them, fuck them, leave them... And not even Barbara would probably be immune to his dark, rugged charms. She glanced angrily at him, but he just grinned and she knew he was deliberately provoking her.
"Prick", she mumbled, once more turning her attention to Barbara.
Barbara wasn't alone anymore, and she didn't seem to be comfortable. When Helena noticed who the librarian was talking to she could understand why.
"That's Michael Boyd", she said.
"Yeah, that bastard. I'm sure he's up to something, but I still can't prove a thing. And the worst part is that he's using Bruce's company for his sordid businesses."
"I don't get why Bruce would put a man like him in command", Helena said, watching as the large man struck up a conversation with Barbara.
Michael Boyd was head of the science department at Wayne Technologies, a brilliant but dubious man.
"He didn't. Boyd sneaked his way in when Bruce was looking in another direction - now he can't get rid of him. Boyd is making a lot of money and the board wants to keep him. Unless Bruce himself comes back to kick the man out we can't do anything about it. Except be patient and wait," Dick added quietly, somewhat ominously. "Sooner or later he'll make a mistake and then Nightwing will get him."
Helena, only listening with half an ear, realized that something wasn't quite right with Barbara. The redhead looked even more anxious than usual. In fact, she seemed to be downright horrified.
"I'll see you later, okay?" she hastily said to Dick, before hurrying to Barbara's side. If that brute had hurt her...
Completely forgetting about Dick and the strange comment he had made about Barbara Helena rushed to the lottery booth, pushing some people out of the way to get to Barbara's side. Michael Boyd was smiling at Barbara, not in a friendly manner, when Helena arrived. Barbara looked composed, but pale. The only thing that revealed that she wasn't doing well, except for the paleness, was the look in her eyes: she seemed lost and frightened. Abandoned.
"Mr. Boyd", Helena said, curtly, as she came to stand by Barbara's side.
The large man with the shaved head was dressed in a very expensive dark blue costume. At a first glance he looked very smart. To Helena he looked like a Hollywood gangster. He also looked a little surprised at seeing her, as was evident by the expression on his face when he noticed her. He didn't look pleased to have been disturbed in whatever he was doing.
"Ah, Miss Kyle. What a pleasure..."
Helena glanced at Barbara, who looked at her with a helpless expression in her eyes.
"Will you please take me from here?" the red haired woman asked in a quiet, hardly audible voice. "Somewhere away from here?"
"Of course", Helena immediately said. Without another glance at Boyd she took Barbara by the hand and pulled her from the crowd that was forming around them.
With Helena in the lead they quickly moved through the fair. Barbara tagged along, hand in hand with Helena. They left the park where the fair was held and Helena expertly navigated across the street and behind a narrow alleyway close to the Clock Tower. She knew exactly where she was going.
"Where's Wade?" she asked as they entered another narrow lane, right behind the Clock Tower. There were no people there and it was dark, shady, even in the afternoon light and with a blue sky above them.
"He was meeting with some people from school. Teachers, colleagues... I told him I wasn't up for it. That I wanted to spend some time alone..."
"Alone?" Helena glanced at the woman beside her. "At the fair?"
Barbara nodded. "I thought... I... I thought I was ready", she said, quietly. "I was doing really well... I talked to some people, even shared a joke with someone..."
Helena's heart ached for the courage of the woman whose hand she was holding. Could anyone understand what it must cost Barbara to do such a thing? To let go of the hand that had been her lifeline to safety for so long, to walk alone in a place that for her must be the scariest place ever? Her heart ached due to the fact that, for Barbara, sharing a joke could ever mean so much.
"Where are we going?" Barbara suddenly asked when Helena stopped in front of a steel shaped door behind some debris. They were now at the foot of the Clock Tower.
Helena pushed the debris aside and put her shoulder to the steel door. After a moment's hard pressure it gave way; it hadn't been locked. "Come", she said to Barbara, reaching out for her hand. "Trust me."
"I do", Barbara said softly, taking Helena's hand.
Helena led her into a dark corridor. She closed the door behind them and pulled a switch to one side. After a few seconds in the dark there was a soft, humming sound and then suddenly there was electricity. The corridor was narrow and short, more like a shaft. There was an elevator close by and Helena pushed the down-bottom. The doors opened with a short bell-like sound.
"Is it safe?"
"I think so", Helena said. "If not at least we'll die together", she added with a soft grin.
Barbara actually managed a slight smile at that and stepped in. "Where does it go to?" she asked as the door closed behind them and the elevator began its ascent. "Where are we?"
Helena watched Barbara in the soft, pale light of the small cubicle. The walls inside the elevator were bare and gleaming with gray steel. Barbara was looking down, at her feet.
"I was feeling... good, about myself. You know?"
Helena nodded. "I know", she said softly. "That man, did he threaten you? Never mind him - he's a total bastard, as straight from hell as they come. You shouldn't listen to him..."
"No, you don't understand..." Barbara shook her head.
"I tell you - he's a bastard. A bully. Whatever he said you shouldn't..." She silenced as Barbara raised her face and looked at her. "Oh", she said when she noticed the tears on the other woman's cheeks.
"Hel - you don't understand. That man - I know him from my childhood. He... he used to... harass me..."
"Barbara, please..." Helena took a step towards the other woman and, without thinking, took her in her arms. "You're safe now", she whispered, with her mouth to Barbara's hair. "He won't get to you. I swear."
Helena couldn't breathe, suddenly. Her heart raced, her pulse was beating erratically and her eyes... Her eyes were about to augment, to transform into her meta-human nature.
In the same moment the elevator stopped with a soft pling and Barbara slowly pulled away as the doors opened. Helena fought against her meta-human nature and regained control over her eyes.
They entered a large, shady area. Some light shone through a broken window high above them. One or two light bulbs hanging on the walls from thin chains lit the place. There was a wide stair leading to a second floor reaching halfway across the first floor. The place was completely deserted. There were work-benches and tools all over the area; furniture covered with dusty sheets, stools that lay discarded, working-clothes that had been cast aside, turned off computers and various technical gadgets were abandoned. High above them was the outline of the enormous clock that crowned the Clock Tower.
"What is this place?" Barbara whispered reverently.
"Inside the Clock Tower. The project was abandoned several years ago. They never finished. There's a kitchen up there..." She pointed towards the second floor. "There are even rooms and bathrooms here. The crew lived here while they worked on the clock."
"Yeah. Come, we're not there yet."
Helena smiled and extended her hand. Barbara took it without hesitation and Helena felt her heart contract by the utter trust the other woman showed her. She led Barbara up the stairs towards a ladder beneath the great clockwork. They climbed the ladder and reached a door and a ledge on the other side. Helena stepped out, reaching for Barbara who followed her through the door.
"Oh, Helena - it's beautiful!"
Barbara put one hand to her mouth, looking out across the world. The view was spectacular from the ledge. The people in the park below, where the charity event was held, looked to be nothing more than tiny ants milling about.
"You said you wanted to get away", Helena said quietly.
"It's perfect," Barbara whispered. She turned to Helena with tears in her eyes. "Thank you. You've done so much for me... and now this..."
"It's nothing", Helena said, shrugging.
"It's a lot", Barbara said, turning to face the view again.
"It's cold, though. I should've thought of bringing something..."
The wind was chilly so high up and Barbara was only wearing a thin vest with no sleeves. Helena berated herself for not thinking about bringing something from the floor below; there were plenty of blankets that lay discarded. She was wearing a thin denim jacket and she took it off as she said:
"I'll go get some blankets. Here, take this."
"Don't go. Please. Not yet."
Barbara looked at her with such vulnerability that Helena could only nod.
"But take this", she persisted, holding out the jacket.
Barbara took the jacket and turned back to the view. "It's so beautiful", Helena heard her mumble.
When she noticed that Barbara shivered she pulled the other woman close to her and sat down with her at the ledge, with their backs against the wall. Helena held Barbara in her arms, warming her with her body. Barbara leaned into her touch, relaxing in her arms as if she belonged there. Helena held her tightly to her, never wanting to let go.
They sat in comfortable silence; watching the world together, listening to the whispering wind.
"You come here often?" Barbara asked after what felt to be like an eternity.
"I do. Mostly at night. It's beautiful then - when you see the stars and the full moon. It's like... like the rest of the world doesn't exist. It's breathtaking. You should see it", Helena added quietly.
"I'd love to", Barbara said softly, after a moment. "Will you take me?" she asked after a heartbeat, with a husky voice that sent unexplained shivers down Helena's spine.
"Yes. Yes, anytime", Helena promised in a whisper, fighting to keep her voice even and steady. Holy crap - what are you doing to me, woman? Christ - you feel so good! And you smell... Oh, bloody hell - what am I thinking?
There was another, shorter silence, before Barbara again broke the stillness.
"I never thanked you for what you did." Her voice was quiet and soft, almost tender.
"Taking you from the fair? Honestly, I wanted to smack that man's head in as soon as I saw him ogling you..."
Which was God's honest truth, Helena thought as she remembered seeing Michael Boyd by Barbara's side. I wanted to smack Dick's head in too, for speaking like that about you...
There was a moment's silence, before: "Really?" Barbara asked huskily.
Again Helena felt an odd constriction in her chest, as if her heart was forgetting how to work properly. Her skin seemed to be on fire, bizarrely enough. She wondered how she could be so warm, sitting so far up with the cool wind about them. "Uhuh", she mumbled, inhaling the scent from Barbara through her nostrils as she rested her face against her hair.
"That wasn't really what I meant, though", Barbara said. "About thanking you... I meant that I never thanked you for bringing me new clothes."
"You did something amazing for me, Helena", Barbara said softly. "I just didn't know how... how to thank you. I still don't... I... I still can't believe that you did that for me. It makes me cry, thinking about it."
"Hey!" Helena said softly, gently squeezing the woman in her arms. "It was supposed to be a happy thing."
"It is a happy thing, Hel", Barbara said, leaning further into Helena's touch. She rested her head on Helena's shoulder. "It made me very happy."
"I'm glad", Helena said simply. "I want to make you happy."
They watched the sunset together, seeing the sun color the edges of the horizon bright red and purple.
"That man", Barbara said, quietly, as she watched the sun go down. "When he was a child he used to make my life a living hell. Seeing him now... it terrified me. And he felt it. He threatened me and said... He said he would come and get me. That I had upset the natural order of this city and that it was time someone restored the balance. He said... he said he was going to string me up like a worm and watch me wriggle."
"Never", Helena hissed, feeling her eyes shift to reveal Huntress' nature. "I won't let him touch you. I won't let him lay a finger on you."
Barbara sat up. "I don't get why people like him and Quinzel dislike me so much. What did I ever do to them? I want to live a quiet life. I do lead a quiet life - I'm no threat to anyone."
"Apparently they perceive you as such."
Barbara shook her head. "I don't get it... And you..."
The librarian turned to Helena, who had managed to control Huntress' wilder nature and looked at Barbara with blue eyes again.
"You", Barbara said softly, somewhat amazed; her eyes were filled with wonder and tenderness. "You..." she whispered.
Helena's voice caught in her throat and she couldn't utter a single sound. She stared at Barbara, feeling as if her heart and her head was full of light. Sensing that her senses, that her brain, was trying to tell her something but she didn't get it because of the astounding silence ringing in her ears. There was this signal, she was sure of it... There was this signal, and when it had been released she would know and understand what was happening to her, but right then, in that moment, all she could think of was that Barbara was looking at her with the softest, the most beautiful eyes in all the worlds.
"You are the greatest gift of my life and I can't even thank you properly for it. You..."
Helena couldn't stand it anymore. Her eyes augmented and she felt her meta-human side take control. God, woman - look what you've made me do! Bloody hell - what are you doing to me? What are you...?
"Your eyes," Barbara whispered. "Oh, Helena - your eyes... I knew it."
And your mouth, Huntress thought, looking at Barbara's mouth. Bloody hell - your mouth, woman! Those lips... Why are you married? Why are you a woman? And then, with piercing clarity: I don't care. I don't give a damn about either of it. I want to kiss you... Christ! Did I just think that?
Helena fought to regain control. She saw no fear in Barbara's eyes, just plain wonder and still that unreserved tenderness that put her skin on fire. "Barbara..." she whispered thickly, in a voice that was hardly recognizable. "Oh, God - Barbara..."
Without second thought she pulled Barbara towards her and kissed her, feverishly, on the mouth.
She wasn't really thinking clearly. Her sense flew away with the soft clouds above them, with the gulls into the sunset. Barbara made a soft, surprised sound. Helena's mouth lightly moved across Barbara's lips, sensing them - caressing them with the barest featherlike touch. Barbara didn't move at all. Helena had cupped her face with one hand and encircled her neck with the other; her hold was gentle and if Barbara had wanted to move, to pull back from the touch, she wouldn't have had any difficulties doing it. But she didn't. She didn't back off.
Helena slowly, carefully let her tongue softly prod at Barbara's lips, gently teasing them with supple warmth and wetness. When Barbara parted her lips and relaxed into Helena's touch, tentatively greeting Helena's carefully searching tongue with her own, Helena made a small, thick sound deep in her throat, feeling engulfed by softness and weakened by the timid touch. She wanted more. She wanted so much more, it hurt.
She pulled Barbara closer to her; carefully, so as not to frighten the other woman. So as not to seem too eager. But she wanted more of Barbara's mouth, of her lips - of her oh, so soft and gently prodding tongue. She wanted to whisper her name; wanted to feel the other woman close, so close to her; wanted to whisper soft, loving sentences by candlelight in her ear; wanted to lay with her between silken sheets - naked and warm. She made another small, indistinct sound and closed her eyes. Barbara... Oh, my God, Barbara - how I want you. How could I not know it?
Her dream shattered when Barbara pulled away. The woman gasped for breath and leaned towards Helena to rest her forehead on Helena's shoulder and her hands on Helena's chest. Helena opened her eyes and carefully encircled her waist with her arms.
"Helena..." Barbara said after a moment, quietly. "I must... I need to phone Wade."
Helena closed her eyes and let her arms fall. Of course, she couldn't let me dream a little longer. Just a little longer... She opened her eyes as Barbara rose and stepped backwards a few steps.
"I... I'm sorry... He'll be worried about me. I must... let him know I'm all right."
"Of course", Helena said, surprisingly steady. She nodded. She sounded irrationally normal, she thought. Normal and formal.
Barbara stepped away a few feet and pulled out a cell phone from her small handbag by her side. She turned her back towards Helena as she dialed the number and put the phone to her ear.
"Wade? Hi, it's me... No, I'm fine - I'm with Helena. Yeah. I'll be home in a few hours, okay? Of course. I love you too."
Helena, feeling it as a punch in her chest, could hear the smile in Barbara's voice at the last few words. When Barbara turned to Helena, though, she wasn't smiling. She stood with the red and golden sunset behind her, watching Helena with a completely inscrutable face. "I don't know what to say", she finally said, slowly and silently, but neither in a subdued nor shy manner.
"Me neither", Helena mumbled; she stood up, leaning against the wall behind her.
"I wish..." Barbara made a small gesture with her hand, as if apologizing. "I'm married, Helena", she said, after another heartbeat's silence.
Helena lowered her face. There wasn't really anything to say to that. Except... Except she couldn't give up so easily without a fight. She knew she should apologize, but she couldn't find it within herself to be sorry for what she had done. "You're..." She looked up, trying to find something in Barbara's face to hold on to, but Barbara's eyes, her face, didn't reveal anything.
"What, Helena?" the redhead librarian softly asked when Helena silenced.
Helena shook her head, trying to find the words. "You're..." she tried again, with difficulty. "You've come into my life and... altered it. Before you I was... there was a hole within me. I never knew I missed you until I found you. Please, Barbara", she pleaded, stepping forward.
"What do you want me to say, Helena?" Barbara met her eyes. "I can't... I can't be what you want me to be. I'm... married. And I'm... I'm..." She silenced, looking blankly at Helena.
Helena realized what she wanted to say. "You're a woman", she whispered.
"I'm a married woman. I've been married for a long, long time."
Helena realized that Barbara hadn't stuttered or blushed or averted her eyes since they left the fair, when Helena picked her up and rescued her from Boyd. She fleetingly wondered what that meant. "You said it yourself: you've stayed with him because his safe. Barbara - there's another life beyond Wade. You could..."
"Don't use my own words against me", Barbara said, with suddenly blazing eyes. "You have no right to speak to me like that. Or say such a thing about Wade. You don't know me."
Helena blinked. "So that's it, isn't it? You need to be angry to forget to by shy." She took another step towards Barbara and noticed the blush on the other woman's cheeks; although Barbara was blushing in anger, not because she was nervous.
Barbara set her jaw in a way Helena realized that she had come to recognize as the woman's way to prepare for an argument. The awareness made her stop and stare at Barbara. How could I not know that I had fallen in love with you? she thought, amazed. The answer, of course, was plain: Barbara was a woman. Helena had never imagined that she would love a woman.
"You're so... You're just wonderful", she whispered, before thinking.
This time Barbara blushed from confusion and she lowered her eyes with a soft shake of her head. "I'm not. I'm a nobody", she mumbled shyly. "I don't... How can you...?" She shook her head. "I'm nothing. And I don't understand what you..." She bit her lower lip, silencing.
"Barbara? You don't understand - what? Please, look at me. What is it that you don't understand?"
"Never mind." Barbara sighed and shook her head. When she looked up there was regret in her eyes. "You've done so much for me. I wish I could... I wish I could give you something in return. Something more" - she blushed a little, but didn't falter at her next words - "of what you seem to want. I wish I could return what you feel..."
Helena felt her heart sink. So, this was it. This was how it felt to know the unbearable pain of a love that was not, ever, meant to be. To know the intolerable cruelty of a love that was not received nor reciprocated. She wanted to howl and weep, the way she had done in her dream when this woman (despite the fact that she had looked and acted differently in those dreams) had died.
"You are not nothing", Helena said gruffly. "You're not..." She shook her head. "You're the bravest woman I know. The things you do... You go to that job everyday, even though it scares you to death facing all those people. Still, you do it. Still, you don't give up. Today... You went out, to the fair. And alone. How many people would face their fears like that? No, you're not nobody. I just..." Helena clenched her jaws. "I just want you to know that. You're not a nobody."
When she silenced Barbara watched her with an odd expression that Helena didn't know how to read. The silence dragged out and it was finally Helena that turned away; she couldn't stand looking at the other woman, knowing that she belonged to another.
"Will you take me home?" Barbara asked softly behind her.
Neither of them spoke much on the way to Barbara's and Wade's place. Helena was torn and bitter; she felt the unmistakable need to bash someone's head in. How could I not know? she kept thinking. How could I not understand?
And would it have made a difference, had she known? Had she understood? She didn't think so. She wouldn't have acted any differently towards Barbara.
"Helena..." Barbara halted with her hand on the door handle outside her and Wade's apartment. The corridor where they stood was bright and tidy and empty on other people; there was a stair in the background and Helena's sensitive ears picked up someone entering on the ground floor. She didn't pay them any attention. She was holding her own jacket awkwardly in one hand. Barbara had given it back to her before they entered the elevator that took them to the right floor.
"I'm not... sure I can see you again."
"What?" Helena whispered, awkwardly.
Barbara glanced at her over her shoulder. "Please - understand... You've..." She faltered. Her eyes expressed concern. "You've done so much for me. You mean so much to me... but to know that you... I can't..."
"I don't understand." Helena's voice still wasn't more than a whisper. "I made a mistake - fine..."
"You didn't make a mistake", Barbara said softly. "It's just - you. You take what you want and you begin with what's closest to you. I admire that. But... Wade... and you... Every time I'd look you in the eyes I would see the hurt you're trying to hide. And to know that I'm the cause of your hurt - I can't live with that."
"No. No, no, no, no..." Helena vehemently shook her head. "Don't do this. Please, don't do this, Barbara. I can deal with it. I won't... I don't want to give you up. Please..."
"You would hate me, in the end. Because I can't give you what you want..."
"No, I wouldn't. I would never."
"Please, Helena. Please..."
There were tears in her eyes and Helena didn't know what to say. Barbara gently touched her cheek with two fingers, before she opened the door to her home and disappeared behind it.
Shutting the door. Shutting Helena out. Leaving her abandoned and lost.
Helena wanted to scream.
Barbara closed the door behind her and leaned against it with closed eyes. The sensation of Helena's mouth covering hers was still with her - would be with her a long time yet. The softness, the sweetness, the burning current in her chest and stomach... Needs and wants such as she had never felt before.
Coward, she told herself. Coward...
She knew she was a coward. And she knew the real reason why she didn't want to see Helena again wasn't because she was trying to protect Helena's feelings. She knew that to see the need in Helena's eyes and to know that she would be the one who was able to assuage it would in the end prove to be too much for her to endure. Given enough time, given enough opportunities - moments alone with Helena (and oh, it might be a sin, but she knew she would create and jump at those opportunities) - she would falter; she would surrender to Helena's hurt look and longing gaze and to her own wishes. And she knew what those wishes were, although she preferred to pretend that she didn't.
She was a coward, because she refused to acknowledge her own emotions. She buried them, repressed them, pretended they weren't there. She put her logical mind before her feelings and let fear and traditions rule her. Because it was safe. Because it was easier and hurt less and wouldn't cost so much if... if she lost. I'm not, she told herself. I'm not. I can't be. I'm happily married to Wade. I'm a woman... I'm not - not feeling this. It's just some trick of my mind. Because I've been alone for so long. I never had a real friend, really. And she's so sweet and caring and strong and... oh, God - her eyes!
She had completely forgotten about Helena's eyes: the way they had changed back and forth. She had been right about her eyes; there had been something strange about them that night when they first met. Barbara thought she knew what that was about, now. She'd done her research.
Oh, Helena... How could you kiss me like that?
There was an assertive knock on the door behind her and she jumped, startled. Opening her eyes she turned around, watching the door with an anxious feeling. After a moment there was the loud ring of the doorbell. From the living room she heard someone move.
"I'll get it!" she called.
"Barbara?" she heard Wade's voice from the living room. "You're back?"
Without answering her husband she opened the door.
She had expected to see Helena, but not the other two.
"Hi, Barbara", a blonde woman that she didn't know said, as if she expected Barbara to recognize her.
Helena stood a few steps behind the stranger, looking at Barbara with a lost and at the same time suspicious expression in her eyes. Beside the blonde woman a man with short-cropped dark hair stood. Both he and the blonde stranger held themselves as cops.
"Barbara Gordon?" the man asked.
Barbara shook her head. Helena gasped in surprise and her eyes went wide in shock as she stared at Barbara.
"Gordon?" Helena said, obviously with difficulty. "But you... Oh, my God! I'm so stupid!"
"I'm married now", Barbara said, puzzled. "What...?"
"But it used to be Gordon, right?" the man persisted.
She nodded. "I..."
"Could we come in?" the blonde woman said.
"Barbara?" Wade asked in the background. "Who is it?"
"We're cops", the darkish man said, showing id. "I'm detective Reese."
Barbara immediately glanced at Helena in the background. The young woman still looked at her with a shocked and now also frightened expression that really didn't calm Barbara at all. She moved aside and lowered her eyes with a small nod.
"What's happened?" Wade asked, instantly stepping in to take control.
"Oh, right - Mr. Brixton", the blonde stranger said. "Yeah, right." She looked Barbara's husband up and down with a critical eye, before she gave an indifferent shrug and stepped into the hallway.
Barbara slowly pulled back, feeling crowded. Dinah was standing in the doorway to the kitchen.
"What's up?" the girl asked. "Hi, Reese", she added.
"You know him?" Wade asked, glancing at her.
"Well, yeah. He's fetched me a few times when I was running away. Who are you?" Dinah added, looking at the blonde woman beside the detective.
"This is Kate Lockley", Reese said, gesturing.
Helena was last to step into the hallway; she closed the door behind her. Barbara eyed her carefully out of the corner of her eye, the way she had learned to watch people over the years without actually letting them know that she was watching them.
"Private Investigator", Kate Lockley added. "I need to talk to all of you."
"And she?" Wade asked, indicating Helena with a nod.
Reese glanced at the young, dark-haired woman with an impenetrable gaze. "She happened to be outside. We need her to hear this too."
"We better sit down", Lockley said.
"Fine", Wade said, a tad crisply. "The dining room, then. Dinah, will you get the extra chairs?"
"Of course", the girl said, eager to help.
"Never knew you'd marry that guy", Kate Lockley said to Barbara when Wade and Reese went before them into the dining room.
"What?" Barbara said, slightly nervous and at the same time taken aback by the woman's remark. "Why wouldn't I? Do I know you?"
For some reason she found the woman slightly familiar, but she didn't think she had ever met her before.
"I take it you've met Helena?" the P.I. went on. "Imagine that. We've been trying to locate you for weeks, and Helena has kept you all to herself. Not surprising, considering, I guess", the woman added.
"I didn't know who she was!" Helena said, interfering; it surprised Barbara that she had even heard what was being said as Lockley was keeping her voice quite quiet.
"Anyone with half a brain would've figured it out..." Lockley arched an ironical eyebrow at the dark-haired woman. "But I guess you were distracted by a pair of pretty green eyes."
Helena actually blushed at that and so, not so surprisingly, did Barbara.
"Let's just sit down", Reese said, when Dinah a moment later brought two extra chairs. "We have some things to discuss and I'm sure you aren't going to like it."
"What is it?" Wade asked, sitting down by Barbara's side by the table. He took her hand in his to give her comfort.
Barbara didn't look at Helena; she kept her eyes at the blonde woman who sat opposite her across the table. Helena sat between Kate Lockley and Reese - her boyfriend. The man was quite handsome, Barbara reflected. In that rugged way Helena probably would like, she thought with a sinking feeling of dejection in her chest. She looked down at her hand on the table and at her fingers that were interlinked with Wade's. This is where I belong, she thought. Wade has always taken care of me. He will always take care of me. With him I'm... safe. I love him.
"Kate here is hunting for a serial killer", Reese said, disturbing her thoughts. "She's reason to believe he's come to Gotham. We... she, has reason to believe that..." He hesitated, glancing at Wade. "She has reason to believe that this serial killer will be coming for Barbara."
Barbara blinked in surprise.
"What?" Wade cried out in shock. "Why on earth for?"
"We don't know what compels this man", Lockley smoothly interfered. "I have reason to believe that he is quite insane and that he looks for people in a specific order. He's been driven to Gotham City for some reason and I think he'll be coming for your wife. He kills at the full moon and..."
"The Moonblood killer", Dinah suddenly said. She glanced at Barbara. "I've read about him." She shuddered. "It's gruesome reading", she added.
"It's not pretty", Lockley conceded. She looked at Barbara. "I know this comes as a shock to you, but however irrelevant and illogical this seems to you, you must trust that I know how to do my job. This killer - he's a little... different."
"What do you mean?" Wade instantaneously asked, annoyed. His hand was squeezing too hard around Barbara's, but she didn't alert him to this fact. "I mean, you come here with these... these..."
"Wade", Barbara softly said, placing her free hand on his arm. She held Lockley's eyes, seeing something in them that she didn't understand but felt that she should recognize. In fact, she did recognize this woman - the same way she on some levels had recognized and immediately disliked Dr. Harleen Quinzel. But she trusted this woman before her, with her earnest blue eyes and cynical set of the mouth. "Tell me", she said.
Lockley nodded. "I can't tell you, except that the police won't be able to track him down or catch him. The only one you will be safe with is... in truth, either me or Helena."
Barbara hadn't expected that. Hastily she looked at the young woman beside detective Reese; Helena looked as perplexed as she felt.
"Excuse me?" Wade said, irritated.
Dinah made a soft sound.
"This may sound strange to you", detective Reese said, looking at Wade. "But Helena is... she belongs to a special forces' division. She's received special training for situations like this. Most of the time she works undercover and the Commissioner only bring her on under certain circumstances. Like in this case."
The man was a very accomplished liar, Barbara thought, watching him. She was usually a good judge of character, but the only reason she knew he was lying was that she noticed the way Helena was looking at him. The dark-haired woman obviously hadn't heard that explanation before. Barbara was sure, though, that she was the only one who noticed Helena's reaction and knew what it meant. Except for that Kate Lockley most certainly already had figured that Helena was no cop. Maybe this charade was her idea entirely.
"I want Helena to watch Barbara until after the full moon. I'll watch Dinah."
"Why Dinah?" Barbara instantly asked, although she was disturbed and distracted by the thought of what Kate Lockley meant that Helena should watch her.
"The killer's first three victims were young, blonde girls", Reese explained. "There are some theories that he will fall back to his former MO and go for her."
"You don't believe so?" Barbara asked Lockley.
Lockley shrugged. "There are some things that make it likely. There are some other things that... tell me he won't. I believe he will be coming for you this time around."
"This time around? You mean... this full moon?"
"This time around - this life, this world, this dimension. Yeah, I mean this full moon."
"There are things you are not telling me", Barbara said softly, slowly.
She held Lockley's eyes, aware that Wade was finding it difficult to see this unexplained, unexpected change of demeanor in her; she was taking command in a way he had never seen her do before. But she couldn't behave any differently. Something was stirring within her: an awareness that her life was meant to be different, that she was meant to be someone else.
"There are things you might find difficult to understand or believe in", the blonde private investigator said, looking directly at her - and Barbara knew that she meant exactly that: difficult to believe in.
"Like meta-humans?" she asked.
She had the satisfaction to see Kate Lockley blink in surprise. She even had the satisfaction to hear Reese, Helena and Dinah make different sounds of disbelief and shock. Kate Lockley composed herself first: she grinned.
"Splendid, as Alfred would say", she said.
"Alfred?" Helena said, sounding bewildered. "How do you know...?"
"How do you know about meta-humans, Barbara?" Dinah asked.
Barbara glanced at the girl. "Your mother told me", she said softly. "Remember? That first day when she came. And I've been doing some research..."
"Molecular biology", Dinah whispered.
"Amongst other things. I also found this interesting site were bounty hunters of New Gotham puts up their ads. Did you know they have a Bounty Hunter's Message Board?" she asked Reese. "Apparently they hunt for meta-humans." She shrugged. "It's not a big business, though, and it's all hush hush. I found a lot of other interesting things on the net, too."
"Barbara", Wade asked, looking intently at her. "Honey... what are you talking about?"
She had tried to pretend that her life was quiet and ordinary. Or at least that it had remained quiet and ordinary since the move to Gotham City. She couldn't really pretend that anymore. Although she didn't know what not pretending meant. She shook her head.
"Never mind, Wade", she said, patting his hand to comfort him. "It was just something I read about." She looked at Lockley. "Why can't you watch over me and Helena watch over Dinah?"
She didn't like this at all - life ambushing her that way. She was trying to avoid Helena, not inviting her in for a close dance that would... Would what? Nothing. I don't... feel - that, it's just all in my head.
"Dinah has moved around enough", Lockley explained, "and I don't want to make things more awkward than necessary for her. If Helena should guard her Helena would need to stay here and you would need to come with me. I have only this small, filthy hotel room with a tiny single bed hardly large enough to fit me. Helena has a large double bed... Reese told me", the woman added as she noticed Helena's questioning look.
To her secret delight and interest Barbara noticed that Helena blushed; the young woman didn't do that very often.
"I'll stay here and keep an eye on Dinah and you" - Lockley looked at Barbara - "go with Helena and stay at her place. It will only be for a few days, until the first day of full moon probably. I'm positive the killer will come out of hiding then."
"That's tomorrow! This is unbelievable", Wade objected. He looked at Reese. "And you are fine with this? Why separate Dinah and Barbara like that? And why not give us full protection with a dozen cops instead of..." Barbara's husband glanced at Helena and Kate Lockley.
"To begin with I'm not backed by the Commissioner in this", Reese said. "The Commissioner might believe that Kate here is right and that the Moonblood killer is hiding somewhere in Gotham City, but he made it clear that I'm the only back-up Kate will get. We're on our own in this. Why?" he added as he noticed Wade's face and the question forming in his eyes. "Because he's busy with the mysterious disappearance and murder of three young women from New Gotham. At first they disappear and then they turn up as victims of heavy abuse - sexually and physically. One of the women had a boyfriend who was shot to death right outside the police station. The Commissioner is not happy about that."
"A month and a half ago, about?" Barbara asked, when she remembered the conversation she had overheard between two middle aged women at the library the same day that she met Harleen Quinzel for the first time.
Reese nodded. "Something like that. I'm probably only on this case with Kate because the Commissioner wants me out of the way and he thinks this won't lead anywhere."
"The cases aren't related?" Wade asked.
"Not in the least", Lockley answered, shaking her head.
"In any case Helena and Kate are the best insurance we have at the moment. Kate wants to keep Dinah and Barbara separated to protect them. If the killer comes for one of them the other will be safe."
"But one of them will be in danger!" Wade protested.
"Protected by Kate or Helena", Reese maintained. "They've dealt with these kinds of criminals before."
Wade looked at Helena in disbelief. "Really?" he mumbled quietly.
"You want me to go home with Helena?" Barbara asked Kate Lockley.
The blonde woman nodded. "That's correct."
Helena made a small sound, as if she really hadn't understood the implication before.
"I can't imagine there would be a problem for the two of you to share a bed", Lockley said.
Barbara lowered her gaze, refusing to look at Helena. I'm not so sure about that...
"I don't agree to this", Wade said, shaking his head. "I..."
"Honey, we don't have a choice", Barbara said, placing her hand on his. She looked at him. "I don't want it either, but... I'm sure detective Reese and Lockley have considered all the options."
She couldn't believe she was doing this. She would be alone with Helena...
"And if something were to happen to you?" Wade asked with difficulty. "What would I do?"
"I'm sure Helena will take good care of me", Barbara said, believing every word; she had the utmost trust in the young woman - that wasn't even a problem for her. "I'll be safe with her."
"But not with me?" Wade asked bitterly.
"You're not trained to deal with these things", Lockley again intervened smoothly. "I'll be here to watch yours and Dinah's back. Reese will act as back-up to us both."
"I can't believe this is happening. Why...? Why would this killer come for Barbara?"
"There's no logic to this killer", Lockley said. "He will select a victim and kill for no good reason except a reason that's known only to him. Why Barbara?" she shrugged. "Why not?"
Barbara sensed there was something this woman wasn't telling her, but she didn't push - she wasn't sure she wanted to hear the explanation in front of Wade; she was sure he would freak.
"It's the first night of the full moon tomorrow", Kate Lockley said, looking at Barbara. "You'll need to stay close to Helena for the remaining three nights, until the killer is caught."
"You're sure he'll show?" Helena asked.
"I'm positive. It'll be either Dinah or Barbara he's coming for."
"Um, it's not much", Helena said, introducing her apartment to Barbara.
There hadn't been much more talk once it had been decided that Barbara would come with her. Helena had gone home to have a shower, to eat and to tidy up her place, Barbara had packed some things to bring with her and had eaten before Kate Lockley and Reese brought her to the apartment above the Dark Horse. They had just left as Barbara stepped inside Helena's home.
Barbara shook her head without saying anything. She stood awkwardly inside the door with a large sports bag at her feet, looking anywhere but at Helena. Helena couldn't really blame her; the last time they had been alone Helena had kissed her and Barbara had later told her that she didn't want to see her again. Helena wasn't really certain what would happen now, but she knew that sharing a bed with Barbara wasn't an option.
"Uh, come in", Helena said awkwardly and moved out of Barbara's way, into the large space behind her.
"You have an internet connection?" Barbara asked. "I want to... do some research on the web."
"I brought my laptop", the red haired woman added. She stepped into the room and unpacked some things on the bed; she let down the black case she wore across her shoulder and took out her portable computer.
"You can sit in the kitchen", Helena said quietly.
She followed Barbara to the kitchen, were the librarian set up her computer. Helena watched her careful movements as she busied herself with the equipment.
"So", Helena said cautiously, "you're Barbara Gordon?"
Barbara glanced at her from the kitchen table. "I was. I'm Brixton now, for some years now."
Helena didn't want to be reminded of that. "I'm sorry, I... I should've known. I should've... somehow I should've realized who you were."
"What difference does it make?"
Helena wondered that too. But would she have become so attached to the other woman if she had known she was supposed to protect her? Yeah, she thought, knowing the answer right away as she looked at the red haired woman before her. I can't believe I fell in love with a woman, she thought, still amazed and dazed at the sequence of events that had brought her to this realization. Still stunned by the awareness itself.
"I don't... Maybe I could've done something. You would've been more prepared... anything..."
Barbara shook her head. She still wasn't looking at Helena; she had hardly looked at her at all since they parted outside Barbara's door. "It doesn't make a difference", she said quietly.
There was a moment's silence during which Helena wondered if she should go to the other room and watch some television. In the end she decided against it, because even if it was difficult to bear to be in the same room as Barbara and not be able to... And not be able to kiss her or to look her in the eye, at least she was in the same room as her. I hate Wade, she reflected noncommittally.
"Jim Gordon is your father? The former Commissioner of New Gotham?" Helena asked. "Kate said something..."
"I never knew my real father", Barbara said. "He... I..." She hesitated. "My father, the one I grew up with, never acknowledged me as his child. He was the one who called me Gordon, refusing me his own last name. My mother hardly ever talked about Jim Gordon. Before she died she mentioned him and told me a little about him. I never went looking for him. I didn't..." She shrugged. "I don't know why not. I guess I thought he didn't want me, since he never came asking for me when my parents lived."
"You were afraid", Helena said softly.
"Yes", Barbara admitted after a moment. "Yes, I was. Too afraid to approach him."
"My father knew... knows him. I could ask..."
Barbara shook her head. "Maybe. I don't know. I can't think about it right now."
"Of course", Helena hastily said.
"It's strange... that I would be back here, where my father used to work and live... Wade knew nothing of it when he accepted the job offer given him."
"He still lives here", Helena said after a moment.
Barbara looked up. "What did you say?"
"He still lives here", Helena said, holding the other woman's eyes; she noticed surprise in the green depths. "Your father."
"Oh, my... I didn't - I didn't know that."
"Does it make a difference?"
Barbara didn't answer at first, but then she thoughtfully nodded. "Yes", she said quietly. "Yes, I believe it does." She looked outside the window for a moment, before she looked back at Helena with a soft, inquiring gaze. "And you're meta-human?"
Helena had been surprised when Barbara revealed that she knew of meta-humans, but hearing the question she wasn't surprised that Barbara had figured out the truth about her. She wasn't sure how she felt about that, though. She nodded. "I am. Does it...? Does it scare you?"
"Scare me?" Barbara said, genuinely surprised. She shook her head. "Not at all. Hel, I told you - you've done so much for me. You could never scare me."
Helena stared at her. How the hell can she tell me something like that, when she can hardly look me in the eye?
"You've... You've given me hope, of some sorts, in humanity."
"And I'm not even human", Helena said, silently.
"That's not true!" Barbara fiercely objected.
Helena looked away. No? she thought bitterly. Barbara would know the truth once Helena found her mother's killer. Reese would know the truth. There was a beast living inside her and it longed for to be set free from the boundaries Helena leashed it with. Then they would know how human, or not, she was. Then Barbara would see enough to be scared of her. And who I'm a kidding? She won't be in my life by then. She'll be with Wade... out of my reach.
"Does... Reese know?" Barbara asked.
Helena nodded. "Yeah. We... we kind of work together. You know, help each other out."
"But you're not working for the police?"
"Not at all." Helena sniffed. "I know he just said that to give Wade a plausible explanation, but..." She shook her head. "Honestly. Who would believe I could be a cop?"
Barbara actually smiled at that, but she turned her face to the side so Helena only just caught the soft smile on her lips. The sight set something on fire in her chest and she felt a burning sensation, which just as instantly went away again.
"What are your abilities? Can you fly?"
"Fly?" Helena shook her head. "I've enhanced speed and strength, hearing, sight and smell." She shrugged. "Things like that. No exciting abilities like making myself invincible or being able to throw fire."
"People can do that?"
"Amazing. I'd like to do more research on the subject..." Barbara frowned. "Dinah is a meta-human too, I suppose."
"Carolyn told you?"
"Dinah did. Or... she told me about her abilities and when Carolyn explained about meta-humans... metas... I kind of got the picture. It's a whole hidden world out there and an entire science of its own."
"Science never interested me", Helena said with a shrug.
Barbara glanced at her. "Do you have one of those enigmatic names? Like Shadow, or something?"
"Eh, um..." Helena twitched a little. "I'm Huntress", she said.
"Ah", Barbara softly said. "Because of your eyes..."
Helena opened her mouth, but didn't really know what to say, so instead she shrugged.
"Has it been difficult for you?" Barbara went on, with that soft note to her voice that made Helena want to sit down by her side and take her by the hand and softly press her lips to...
Helena averted her face and shrugged. "A bit", she said roughly.
"Being different. It's never easy. It's been difficult on Dinah."
"Yeah, I know", Helena said with a sigh. "She never told me the truth. I mean... what it was all about. I wish she had - I could've shared my experiences with her."
"I don't think Dr. Quinzel has been good for her. Those medications..."
"They blocked her abilities, right?"
"Yes. You think Quinzel did that on purpose?" Barbara frowned.
Helena blinked. "How could she? She doesn't know about meta-humans."
"I don't' know. It's just this feeling I have..." The librarian shook her head. "I don't know. I found out about meta-humans after Carolyn told me, but I've found quite a lot on the web too. There are those articles written by a Dr. Melfin on the matter. Apparently he's been laughed out at the more exclusive science conventions, but he has maintained his beliefs about his thesis, which clearly states that the notion of a meta-human is a biological possibility. Dr. Quinzel seems to be a bright woman - she could put two and two together."
Helena shook her head. "I'm not sure about that. Yeah, she's weird when it comes to Dinah, but I think she's just... you know, worried. She's actually a good psychologist, whatever she's like as a woman."
"You've finished your sessions with her?" Barbara asked.
Helena shook her head. "I have two more sessions to go."
Barbara nodded silently. "What is it like?" she asked after a moment.
"What is what like?"
"To be... meta-human." Barbara looked at Helena and met her gaze. "To be so... confident, so strong. You're never afraid, are you?"
There was that vulnerable look in Barbara's eyes that made Helena move towards her. "I won't let anyone harm you", she said gently.
Barbara lowered her gaze. "I know", she whispered, suddenly shy. "I know you won't..."
"You don't have to be afraid anymore."
"I'm not. I haven't been... not since..." Barbara looked up. "I really haven't been afraid since you came into my life. I feel... I feel safe with you."
There was this tenderness, the confusion and the vulnerability in the other woman's eyes and Helena felt her heart catch in her chest. "Barbara, I..." I really want to kiss you right now, like I did before, she thought fervently. Instead she stepped back, away from the woman that she wanted to take in her arms. "I know you don't want me to speak like this", she said thickly, with difficulty, "but I need to say it. I need to... no, please - let me finish", she added when she noticed Barbara's hesitant look. "I... I told you there was this emptiness within me before you came into my life. It's true. I had no life before you came - I only existed. You've breathed life into me, gave me a reason to live..."
Barbara shook her head, as if she didn't want to hear Helena's words. She rose from the chair and slowly walked to the window, where she looked out with her back towards the younger woman. She held her arms around herself, in a tight embrace. "I don't understand how you can speak like that", she said quietly after a heartbeat.
Helena could see her face in profile. "Why not?" she said, slightly sardonic.
Barbara turned to look at her. "Like that", she said, with difficulty. "You... speak as if it's the most natural thing in the world for you."
"Barbara..." Helena urgently took a step towards the other woman. "I'm terrified of my own feelings for you. But... they're stronger than me - I must speak about them, they're far too... too powerful to stay buried. I... I don't know how to carry them without sharing them with you. You're so beautiful to me and..."
"Don't..." Barbara shook her head, closing her eyes. "Don't say that", she whispered. "Please, don't..."
"How can I not?" Helena said heatedly. "You're beautiful, smart, gentle... funny..."
"I'm not funny." Barbara opened her eyes; she looked at Helena almost indignantly. "And I'm not beautiful. I don't know why you say that. I don't know what you want from me..."
Helena stared at her. "You don't think you're beautiful?" she asked after a brief silence, quiet and disbelieving.
"I'm not. And you..." Barbara blushed. She lowered her gaze and turned half away from Helena. She looked out across the city outside. Slowly and hardly audible she said: "I don't understand what you want with me. Why someone... someone like you would want to... be with me."
Helena gasped softly. "Barbara..." she whispered.
"No - don't... Just - don't." Barbara glanced at her and then closed her eyes for a brief moment. "You... you might think you want me, but... then what?" She looked up, straight at Helena. "One night's pleasure?" She clenched her jaws and shook her head. "Do you even know what you want yourself?"
"Don't do that", Helena said angrily. "Don't turn this into... something about me." She took another step closer to Barbara, holding the woman's eyes. "I've never felt what I'm feeling for you, for a woman before. Never. I haven't even felt it with a man. This is about you. It's all about you. You've... brought something with you. You've touched me and I've... I've stirred from a long sleep..." She was searching for words, trying to describe what she had felt - what she did feel - when she was with Barbara. "Don't you understand? I'm in love - "
" - with you."
Barbara shook her head. "No. You can't be. You can't... I don't - I'm not worthy..."
"Why?" Helena asked regretfully. "Why do you say that? Don't you trust me?"
Barbara closed her eyes. "I trust you", Helena heard her whisper. "I just... I just don't trust myself."
Helena watched her in disbelief. "I don't get it", she finally said, and Barbara looked at her with that vulnerable look that seemed to tear at Helena's heart.
"I don't trust that anyone would look at me and... and see what you see", Barbara said quietly, with obvious difficulty.
Helena swallowed. She wanted so much to take Barbara in her arms and tell her - show her! - just how beautiful she thought she was. She wanted to kiss Barbara until that lost look on her face vanished; until Barbara finally knew what it meant to be loved. "You let Wade love you", she reminded her quietly.
"Wade." There was a fond smile on Barbara's lips as she looked out the window, thinking of her husband. Then she shook her head with a sad look on her face. "Wade fell in love with me because I was the woman he needed to be able to fall in love, period. I'm still that woman. He fell in love with me, and has kept on loving me, because I... I need him. I've always needed him. And he needs to know that to be able to... to love me", she finished subdued.
"That's not... right", Helena said, hesitantly. She wanted to object and question if Wade's love was pure if he couldn't love everything about Barbara, but she was afraid that the librarian would be upset that she criticized her husband.
"People love for different reasons", Barbara said with a shrug. "Who is to say that his or her kind of love is the most right or the most pure?" She shook her head. "Most people fall in love because of one or another unfulfilled need they believe the other person is able to fill."
"Is there no true love then?" Helena asked silently.
Barbara glanced at her. "What do I know?" she sighed. "I'm only a simple librarian. I have not even..." She bit her lip and gently shook her head. "I think... I don't want to talk about this anymore. I..." She hesitantly looked at Helena. "I appreciate your honesty. I do. I appreciate your courage to tell me and... and that you trust me so much that you feel that you're able to share something so precious with me. But..."
"But you're married", Helena said quietly after a moment's awkward silence.
"I am", Barbara said softly.
And if I was about to kiss you now, Helena thought, what would you do? She wanted to act upon that thought, just to find out, but it wouldn't be right. Barbara might rebuke her for it and refuse to talk to her again. She couldn't risk that. "I understand", she said, and she did. Barbara was married. She had lived a whole life with Wade; it wasn't something to be changed in a month. And not by another woman. Although some part of her wanted to ravage the other woman - to take her and kiss her and force her to respond to her touch and tongue... it wasn't something she could do without losing the other woman's trust. And to lose Barbara's trust was to lose Barbara.
"You are a wonderful woman, Helena, and I wish... I wish there was something I could say or do to... to make it easier for you, but... I can only say that I'm a very lucky woman to have you taking care of me."
Helena nodded. She didn't know what to say. What could she say? "I'll... I'll just... I'll be in the other room, watching TV."
Barbara nodded. She didn't say anything and Helena left the kitchen, feeling extremely subdued and frustrated at the same time. I never knew it could be like this, she kept thinking. I just never realized...
She didn't sleep in the bed that night. Barbara did. Helena slept in the soft, wide armchair before the television. No way was she sleeping beside Barbara, who - besides - happened to sleep only in a t-shirt and underwear. Instead Helena grabbed a blanket and without explaining herself she settled in the armchair, which was quite comfortable.
She hadn't thought she would be able to fall asleep, but she did. And for the first time in a little more than a month she had that nightmare again. This time the fear was more real, more intense than anytime before; the pain in her chest was scorching.
She screamed in terrible anguish, seeing the woman she loved being burned alive - swallowed by horrifying, thirsting flames. The name she screamed wasn't familiar, but those eyes - those green eyes - she recognized, and they told her that they loved her... Before the woman they belonged to was gone.
Barbara slipped out of bed and hurried towards the armchair where the younger woman was sleeping. Or sleeping wasn't exactly how Barbara would describe it: Helena had a terrible nightmare. The young woman was in horrible pain; she screamed and cried in her sleep and Barbara's calming words weren't helping. Finally she grabbed the other woman by the shoulders (although she was sure that wasn't exactly the right way to handle that kind of situation) and shook her. Helena woke up with a ragged sob. When she noticed Barbara her face contorted and she began to cry, helplessly.
Barbara didn't hesitate; she took Helena by the hand and led her to the bed. She was sure nothing less than body-contact would calm the other woman. Laying Helena down on the bed she lay down beside her and took her in her arms. Helena instantly turned to her to find comfort from her, hiding her face against her neck and wetting her skin with her tears. Barbara felt an immediate tug at her heart, sensing this vulnerability in the other, younger woman, whom she had come to know as a strong, confident individual. She had never felt that feeling with another adult before. With the foster kids she had often felt a purpose in what she was doing; that she was needed and that she brought meaning into their lives. She had never really felt that with Wade. She knew he needed her, but he never needed her to be strong.
With Helena in her arms she was amazed at how wonderful it felt to be needed that way by someone who trusted her enough to seek comfort from her. Someone who usually was so self-assured and poised.
Someone, really, who was Helena.
"Don't leave me..." the younger woman whispered, tickling her neck with her breath. "Please... don't leave me."
"Sshh, I'm not going anywhere", Barbara said softly, caressing Helena's temple with gentle fingers.
"I dreamt that you were dying", Helena resumed after a brief pause. "I couldn't... I... I didn't know how to... Please", she sobbed. "Don't leave me..."
Barbara held Helena tighter to her, feeling an odd stretch in her heart. Earlier she had harbored a fear that Helena was only interested in her in a purely physical way, due to excitement and the thrill of a new adventure, but seeing the woman like this she realized that Helena's emotions were strong and genuine. She really needs me in her life. She's really... The thought was difficult for her, but she chased it and pinned it down. She's really... in love with me.
Barbara couldn't understand it. How someone like Helena, who was young and beautiful and attractive and... sexy, Barbara thought with a shy blush on her cheeks, could fall in love with her of all people; she who was boring, mouse like and plain. What does she see in me? And how...? How did this happen?
Helena fell asleep after a few minutes, but Barbara lay awake. She was thinking of everything that had happened since she and Wade moved to Gotham City. She thought of Dinah and Harleen Quinzel, of Carolyn Lance and Kate Lockley. And mostly she was thinking of Helena and the way she made her feel. There's no turning back, she was thinking. And: how can I fight this? Do I want to? Oh, Christ...
"Wade", she mumbled and closed her eyes when she felt them fill with tears. Oh, Christ - what am I to do?
When she woke up in the morning, later than what was usual for her, Helena had left the bed. The younger woman was in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. Barbara rose, washed up in the bathroom and got dressed before she entered the kitchen. It was Sunday and she wouldn't need to go to work, since the library was closed. She was kind of grateful for that, given recent events. It would give her time to think about certain things. Although, at the same time she wasn't sure how much time to think she would get with Helena around.
Helena had made a real breakfast with eggs, toast, bacon, fried mushrooms, tomatoes and slices of melon. "Um, good morning", the dark haired woman said somewhat shyly as she noticed Barbara. "Tea?"
"You have any coffee?"
Helena regretfully shook her head. "Alfred always served tea at the manor. I never learned to drink coffee. Sorry."
"Never mind." Barbara shrugged. "Tea will be fine."
"I'm... um..." Helena fidgeted a little before Barbara, looking shy and awkward. "I'm sorry 'bout tonight", she finally managed to say, blushing. "I was really... um..." She silenced, unable to continue.
Barbara found the blush adorable and had to struggle to hide a tender smile. She shook her head. "Don't think about it", she said softly. "Although... what were you dreaming? It seemed you had a terrible nightmare."
Helena nodded. She lowered her eyes. "I had", she whispered. "I dreamt... I dreamt that you were dying. I dreamt that you died horribly and I couldn't save you in time. I... I lost you."
Barbara softly gasped for breath. Helena's words had suddenly reminded her of why she was alone with the younger woman in the first place. "Helena," she said gently. "It'll be fine. I'm not dying. It was only a dream."
Helena nodded, but she didn't look convinced.
Helena's words had also reminded her of something that had nagged at her mind since the evening before. She frowned. "Where's my computer? I want to do some research on... on something."
"Oh, it's here. I just put it away for..." Helena indicated the laptop with her hand; it rested in the wide windowsill.
"Good." Barbara went up to the laptop, plugged it in and turned it on.
"And breakfast?" Helena asked, with something amused in her voice.
"Huh?" Barbara turned to look at her. "Oh!" she said with a blush. "Mmhm, yes - of course..." she mumbled. "I'm sorry, I..."
Helena softly laughed at her. "Never mind, Barbara. Here..." She made room for the laptop at the table by rearranging a few things. "Put it here. You can eat at the same time."
"But I..." Barbara silenced when she noticed the genuinely amused and caring look in the other woman's eyes.
Wade would've been outraged at me for neglecting his effort to make it nice for me. Helena...
"No." Barbara mildly shook her head. "It can wait. I want to have a proper breakfast with you."
Helena frowned. "Are you sure? I don't mind. I mean - really... I know what you're like when it comes to research and I don't mind."
Barbara blushed slightly. "You do?" she mumbled.
Helena grinned. "I've seen you work, remember? You tend to forget everything and everyone about you. I've never seen anyone become so completely absorbed in what she's doing as you."
Barbara's blush deepened. "Um..." She didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry, I..."
"No. There's no need to apologize." Helena shook her head, looking solemn. "I don't mind. It's who you are and... um... well, I don't mind. It doesn't mean you care less about the people around you."
No, it doesn't, Barbara thought distracted. She shook her head. "I want to have a proper breakfast with you. No work. I have to learn to notice a little more of what's going on around me, I think."
Helena shrugged. "If you're okay with it."
"I am", Barbara said softly. "I really am." And she was. She wanted to spend time with Helena, not hiding behind the screen. "Let's have breakfast," she said with a smile.
Initially they were a bit shy and awkward together, but as soon as they managed to overcome those emotions they had a long and pleasant breakfast. Now when Barbara knew about Helena's secret she wanted to know more about Helena's life as a meta-human. And Helena told her without reserve about her mother, who'd been a famous thief before she Helena was born, and about her father and why he had left Gotham. She talked about the criminally inclined meta-humans of New and Old Gotham and about the vigilantes hunting for them.
"It's a world of its own", Barbara said, hearing all about it.
"It is," Helena agreed. "With its own set of rules and unwritten laws."
They kept on talking, about everything and nothing. Something had changed between them; they were more relaxed in each other's company, and at the same time there was an unexplained, tense charge between them. Barbara observed Helena in a way she hadn't done before when they were together. She watched her from a whole different perspective. In truth, she watched her with different eyes - and what she saw diverted her.
Barbara had really never considered the prospect that another person would view her as attractive. Except Wade, since he had asked her to marry him in the first place. But Wade loved her because she made him feel strong and chivalrous; she had always known that - and she loved him for taking care of her. Besides that she had never entertained the notion of her having a powerfully passionate affair with anyone. Except... Except for when she met Mike. Meeting him had changed something within her, made her aware of that life and love could be different from what she was used to. He wasn't gentle with her the same Wade was, instead he challenged her. He refused to let her avert her eyes from him and he put her intelligence to the test by repeatedly question her actions and opinions. At the same time he was never disrespectful. However unlikely he had found something within her to fall in love with. It had taken her by surprise and shocked her when she realized it, but not as much as it had shocked her when Helena kissed her at the Clock Tower.
Mike had been married and Barbara had been married. She had fleetingly considered the possibility of leaving Wade at that time of her life, but she never did. He never knew about her although chaste but at the same time intense involvement with Mike. Instead there was an unspoken agreement between Mike and her that they should not meet again. It was a choice based on the knowledge that if they did meet again they would, sooner or later, initiate an adulterous affair. Neither wanted that, and neither was prepared to walk out of their marriages.
Facing Helena, who appeared to have the same intense love for her that Mike had expressed, confused Barbara. The knowledge that Helena was in love with her distracted her and when she looked at the younger woman she just didn't see a friend that she had come to care for, but... But a potential lover.
What would it be like, making love to Helena? The thought made her blush and she had to avert her face from Helena for a moment. Kissing Helena had been sweet and intense at the same time. She had felt Helena's need for her in that kiss; felt the other woman holding back her need and longing for her. How could she not have felt it? She had known that Helena had wanted so much more from her than just a kiss; it had been evident in her eyes, in her touch, in the soft and craving movements of her tongue. It had frightened Barbara, because... Because her body had responded in a way it had never responded to Wade's touch. The sensation had thrilled her, had made her want more from Helena in return - but that awareness had scared her to death. So she had done what she always did and tried to cover for her fear by rationalize events with her logical mind, refusing to acknowledge what she knew was the truth.
Could I love this woman? she thought, watching Helena across the table. Could I... could I make love to her? Again the thought made her blush - not so much because of the thought itself, but because of the answer that she received.
Helena smiled at her. "You seemed gone for a moment."
"I just... uh, was thinking about... something else. Sorry."
"And here I am, trying to entertain you. Obviously I'm not that interesting and you find me as boring as a... a zombie movie."
Barbara colored slightly. "I don't find you boring", she said quietly.
Helena grinned. "Good. Because you're stuck with me for another three days."
Helena rose from the table. She had cleared it after breakfast several hours ago and when Barbara looked at the clock on the wall behind her she was surprised to realize that it was almost time for supper. They had talked away almost the entire day. It never happened to me before, she thought, stunned. She had never talked so much with someone, or felt the need to talk to someone for so long, except for with... Again except for Mike.
"Time flies", Helena said easily. "I'm hungry..."
"You're always hungry", Barbara said gently.
Helena grinned at her over her shoulder. "And you never are. It's a good thing I am always hungry, otherwise we wouldn't get any food at all. And I've done my best to feed you the past month, if you've noticed."
I've noticed, Barbara thought. How could I not? "I'm grateful", she said softly. She rose. "You need a hand with dinner?"
They cooked dinner and talked some more while cooking and eating. Barbara couldn't really say what they were talking about: everything and nothing. Time seemed to alter as they did, as if it wasn't real anymore and they were confined to a bubble that was thrust out of time and space while they talked. Time didn't intrude until they once again looked at the clock and realized how the hours had flown by. It had been the same with Mike, she once again reflected. And she knew, when Helena was making the dishes, whistling, that there had been a valid reason for her not to want to see Helena anymore. And here I am, she thought wryly. How did that happen?
Thinking of the reason to why she had ended up alone with Helena she was once more reminded of the events that had brought her into Helena's care. She frowned. "I think I'm going to do that research now", she said.
"Go ahead", Helena said, once more glancing at her over her shoulder. "Let me know if you need anything."
Barbara nodded before she rose and prepared the laptop. It took her awhile to find what she was looking for, and even longer to decrypt what she needed in order to get the information she wanted. When she was done it was dark outside. Helena had been busy tidying and watching television, but had returned to the kitchen a few minutes before to make tea.
"Did you find what you're looking for?"
"I'm not... sure." Barbara glanced at her by the counter. "Did you find something strange about Kate Lockley? Could she be a meta?"
"Lockley?" Helena frowned thoughtfully, considering the question. "I felt... a strange sensation when I first saw her, some kind of... prickling sense. And there's this unusual scent about her. I felt the same seeing her in the corridor outside yours and Wade's apartment, but I... uh... um, was too distracted..." She blushed. "I didn't really think about it then."
Barbara nodded pensively, contemplating this. "You get the feeling she's hiding something from us?"
"If!" Helena moved towards the table when she realized Barbara was up to something. "What are you doing?"
"She said she used to be a cop with the force in L.A., right?"
"I'm hacking into their computer system..."
"You can do that?" Helena asked, impressed.
There was a slight blush on Barbara's cheek. "One of my foster kids taught me. He was brilliant with computers and technical gadgets. He could build anything out of nothing and he was a wizard with machines. He taught me some things I probably shouldn't have let him teach me..." She glanced at Helena with an unexpectedly mischievous look. "Don't tell Wade."
Helena shook her head, slightly reddening.
"Oh," Barbara said, looking at the computer.
"What?" Helena moved to stand beside her.
"According to this Kate Lockley was dismissed due to some unexplained deaths, some missing people and... uh... a beheaded security guard. There wasn't one specific cause of her dismissal, except... There's something strange here... Her father was apparently a cop turned killer - it says he was plagued with some strange decease that caused him to... ugh... suck the blood out of people. Lockley was... Oh, God - she was forced to kill him. A few weeks later she was dismissed due to personal health, or at least it's what it says. She was... This doesn't make sense."
The strange note in Barbara's voice made Helena look closer at the screen. "What?"
"According to this Kate Lockley died a few years ago. Due to an overdose of sleeping pills. They found her in her garden. She was later buried beside her father's gravestone at the cemetery. He had apparently been cremated... but she laid on display with an open casket for the entire ceremony before they buried her in front of several witnesses. At least according to this. There's no way she can't be dead if this is true..."
"And no way she can, since we have met her and talked to her", Helena said. "This is just too weird, even for New Gotham." She frowned. "So, our Kate Lockley is an imposter?"
Barbara shook her head. "Look," she said, showing Helena the pictures on the screen. There was one of Kate Lockley as dead in the casket and another of her smiling, looking healthy and strong. The woman on the screen was the same woman that they had talked to the day before.
"Oh, hell", Helena mumbled. "What the fuck is going on?"
"Beats me." Barbara shook her head.
There was a moment's silence and then Helena asked: "You think she's dangerous?"
"She didn't seem dangerous", Barbara said, frowning. "I kind of... trusted her. But I think I better phone Wade."
Helena nodded without saying anything and Barbara rose to get her cell phone in the other room. When she had dialed Wade's number and waited for him to pick up she glanced at the dark haired woman in the kitchen; Helena seemed focused and concentrated, but when she looked at Barbara there was a sudden, brief look of worry on her face. She turned away before Barbara had time to react to it.
"Wade..." she said as she heard her husband's voice on the other end of the line.
There was a brief silence and then: "Why didn't you call this morning? You promised you would call..."
Damn, Barbara thought; she had completely forgotten she had made that promise. She was stuck with a brief moment's shame, which soon was replaced with unexpected anger. "You could have phoned me if you wanted to talk to me so much."
"It's beside the point. You promised you would call..."
Barbara shook her head; she didn't want to argue with him on the phone. "Are Dinah and Kate Lockley there?"
"Can I please talk to Dinah - it's important."
"Fine... hold on."
A brief silence was followed by Dinah's chirpy, "Hello?"
"Dinah, it's me. I have an important question for you. Have you noticed something strange about Lockley? Have you... seen anything?"
Another short silence followed. Then Dinah said, unnecessarily loud: "Fine, Barbara - I'll have a look. Hang on..."
Barbara frowned, waiting.
"Okay", Dinah finally said, in a more solemn voice. "I'm in my room now - Wade and Kate were looking at me like I had sprouted horns..."
"So? You have noticed something?"
"Maybe it's nothing, but... You know, usually I always get visions of people when I touch them for the first time. There's mostly only that brief moment and then it's like... Then it's mostly only when people have strong emotions to hide. But with Kate... I've touched her several times and - there's this strange thing with her. I don't see anything at all."
"How do you mean?"
"I see, but I don't see anything... It's like with - a faulty television. If you turn on the screen, you know it's on but you don't get a picture - only a black image. It's been like that with Kate when I've touched her. There is this sense of a vision, but I don't get anything from her."
"That's odd, isn't it? It never happened to you before?"
"Do you trust her?"
"I do." Dinah responded instantly. "I trust her the way I trust you and Helena. There's this... familiarity with her. As if I've known her before."
"I know what you mean", Barbara mumbled. She'd felt the same way with Helena... and Harleen Quinzel. "Okay, fine, Dinah. I'm not sure what you should watch out for, but be careful with Lockley, okay? Keep close to Wade and don't be alone with her..."
"I've been alone with her plenty - she's fun. We've played parlor games. Wade seems a bit distracted..."
"Okay, just be careful."
"It just seems a bit odd, is all. That she should turn up in Gotham like that, with this warning about me. There are lots of things that she hasn't told us, I'm sure."
"Will you put Wade back on the phone for me?"
"He went to have a shower", Dinah said after a moment. "Shall I let him know to phone you?"
"Please", Barbara said, suppressing a sigh.
Barbara hung up. She was standing in the single room, beside the bed, and stared at the television screen before her. The television was on, showing the news, but the sound was put on mute; different images unrolled and replaced each other on the screen. Barbara was thinking of Wade and of Kate Lockley and Helena and didn't really concentrate on the news. It wasn't until there were two images beside each other on the news that she reacted. The screen showed a photograph of detective Jesse Reese beside another man that was faintly familiar. She reached for the remote control and put on the sound.
"Helena - have you seen this?"
Helena left the kitchen and came to stand beside her. "Oh", she said, when she noticed the photographs of the two men.
Barbara listened to the newscast that related the stunning report that Al Hawke, who was a highly prestigious citizen with ties both to the mayor and the well-known institution of Arkham Asylum, had been exposed as a criminal overlord in Old Gotham's underworld.
"This is Carolyn's doing", Helena said softly.
"Carolyn... Black Canary - she and Al Hawke are enemies, have been for several years. She returned to bring him to justice."
Barbara stared at the news, trying to comprehend what this meant. The Commissioner made a short public speech in front of the cameras, commenting the unexpected revelations by referring to the situation as "needing further investigation before any proper comments concerning Al Hawke's final sentence are made possible". Dr. Harleen Quinzel, as a representative for Arkham Asylum, spoke eloquently about Al Hawke's generous donations to Old Gotham and especially Arkham, but added that if he indeed was guilty she trusted the legal system to pass the proper sentence on such a "manipulating, two-faced citizen as detective Jesse Reese's father".
"That was uncalled for", Helena mumbled. "Reese had nothing to do with this."
Barbara glanced at the woman at her side and noticed with some unexpected concern the worry in Helena's eyes when she mentioned Reese. She cares for him, she thought, with startling jealousy. And then: of course she cares for him - he even asked her to marry him.
"You should be with him", she said gently. "He will need you."
Helena hastily glanced at her. "What?"
"He's your boyfriend... almost your fiancé. He will need you to stand with him in this. It can't be easy for him."
Helena stared at her. "Haven't you heard one word I've said to you?" she said, suddenly annoyed. "Do you really think I could consider him to be my boyfriend when I'm..." - she colored slightly, but Barbara didn't know if it was due to embarrassment or frustration - "when I'm in love with someone else? It's not his feelings, or even his life, I'm concerned about..."
She was looking so intently at Barbara that Barbara felt the need to put some distance between them; she took a step back with a lost, vulnerable feeling showing in her eyes.
"I haven't had the time to talk properly with him, but I will", Helena went on, without taking her eyes from Barbara. "I can't accept his proposal, for different reasons that haven't really anything to do with you, but... I can't remain with him in a relationship, not after - not after meeting you. Barbara..." She took a determined step forward, holding Barbara's eyes. "It's you I want. It's you... I need. But... but when all this is over I understand if you don't want to see me anymore. If that's the case I'll... I'll disappear out of your life. I would understand if you don't want to see me anymore and I'll respect it."
"I..." Barbara took another step backwards, feeling cornered. She blushed by the sudden jolt of her heart and the suddenly rising body heat. "I can't... I must..." She shook her head, fearing the emotions Helena's words and her look stirred within her. "I need to get out."
In one swift motion she rushed towards the door.
"Barbara!" Helena cried in surprise.
Barbara unlocked the door, grabbed her coat and rushed outside.
"Barbara - no!"
In the corridor outside the apartment Barbara almost collided with a stout, bald man who looked at her with evident surprise as she came tumbling out of Helena's place. She managed to avoid crashing into him by swiftly sidestepping; she mumbled an apology and kept on running. Behind her she heard Helena's anguished voice calling for her, but she didn't stop. She couldn't. If she stopped she would have to face her fears, face her emotions and the deep, deep, shattering longing she felt when she looked Helena in the eyes.
"Barbara!" Helena called after the fleeing woman and hurried out the open door, but suddenly Leonard was standing in her way; her boss blocked her way and prevented her from running after Barbara.
"Look, Helena", he was saying, but she hardly listened to him.
"Move!" she said urgently, as she was trying to twist past him.
He took her in the arm. "You're supposed to be downstairs, working", he said, annoyed. "You didn't call in and you look fit for work to me. You can't just go off the list when you feel like it..."
"Move!" she snarled. "Barbara!" she called down the hall, although the red haired woman was out of sight.
"I don't have time, Leonard", she said, frustrated. "This is important. Find someone to cover for me."
"You can't just..."
"We'll have to discuss this another time", she said, impatiently, and shoved him out of the way, before she ran after Barbara.
When she came downstairs Barbara was gone.
"What do you mean - Barbara is gone?" Wade said as he opened the door and let Helena in to the apartment.
Dinah came to greet her in the hall together with Kate Lockley, who looked sharply at her.
"She... left. We kind of... had a discussion and she just run off."
"Barbara?" Wade asked incredulously. "What did you do?" he accused, stepping towards her in front of the door. "You had an argument? What did you do to her?"
"I didn't do anything!" Helena cried.
She looked at the man who was married to the woman she loved. This man loved Barbara. Barbara loved him. The worry in his eyes was the worry Helena too felt - and he was so much more entitled to that feeling than her. She kind of hated him for that. She kind of hated herself that Barbara had run away from her. She fled from me, she kept thinking, blaming herself for her inability to keep her frustration and her longing for Barbara to herself. Why did she have to keep shoving her feelings into Barbara's face? Why did she have to keep pushing her? If something happened to the other woman Helena would never, ever forgive herself.
"We need to find her", Kate Lockley said, taking command of the situation.
"I tried to... I looked for her on the way over", Helena said. "I thought maybe she would've come back home..."
"This is not were she would be", Dinah said, looking at Helena. "Not if she's distressed."
"I know", Helena said. "I just didn't have Wade's number and Barbara isn't answering her cell phone. I needed to let you know that she's missing. You're phone isn't working", she added, looking at Dinah.
"Uh, no - I turned it off, and didn't..."
"Where would she be?" Lockley asked urgently.
"I don't know!" Wade exclaimed. "She doesn't know this city that well and..."
"You're not thinking straight", Helena told him.
"The library", Dinah said, looking at the private investigator.
Kate Lockley nodded. "I think I need to go with you. Wade - phone Reese and tell him to come to the library. Then lock the door and don't open for anyone. Not anyone - understood?"
"I want to go with you", he stated, moving towards the door. "I need to be with Barbara..."
"You need to watch Dinah."
"Don't you need to...?" Helena began, but then remembered that Kate Lockley was supposed to be dead; she'd forgotten that in her worry about Barbara. She stared suspiciously at the blonde woman.
Kate Lockley said: "Dinah - you remember what we talked about? About what to do?"
Dinah nodded. "I've practiced."
"Good. You'll do well if someone turns up here. Come on", Lockley added, looking at Helena. "We need to get going."
"You're staying!" The blonde woman locked eyes with Wade and he paled, taking a step back. "You won't be of any assistance if anything happens. Stay and watch Dinah."
Helena could see the resentment in the man's eyes and she didn't blame him, but he didn't object. She wondered at Kate Lockley and still wasn't sure if she could trust the other woman or not, but in that moment the question didn't really matter: the only thing that mattered was to find Barbara - safe.
I'm married, she thought. I love Wade.
The thought wouldn't leave her. She stood in the room at the library where Helena had arranged for their picnic almost three weeks ago. The books had all been stored away and the room was empty except for a fire extinguisher on the wall just inside the door. It was dark all around her; the only real light came from the city lights outside the glass walls and from the rising full moon. She knew she wasn't supposed to run off like that or be alone this first night of the full moon, but she hadn't known what to do. It had been one of the few times in her life when she had let emotions control her instead of her rational mind.
And she had forgotten her cell phone in Helena's apartment. If something happened she wouldn't be able to reach anyone. She was completely and utterly alone. Somehow it felt like an immense relief. No Wade. No Helena. No confusing, distracting, cataclysmic emotions that needed to be denied and buried and rationalized. Just the calming presence of books and darkness.
Or so she thought.
As she stood there, watching the city outside, with her back towards the threshold, she suddenly noticed someone else's reflection in the glass behind the image of her own vague picture. With a soft gasp she turned around.
"Hello, Badra", the old, wrinkled woman that she knew as a visitor from the library said, with a humorous note to her voice.
Barbara couldn't remember seeing the old, black haired woman since that day when she had her first meeting with Harleen Quinzel. The old woman had given her an ominous warning about the psychologist and then mysteriously vanished. Barbara hadn't really given her much thought since, except she had fleetingly wondered why she hadn't been in to read the newspapers as she usually did.
"What...? How did you...? Why are you here? How did you get in?" Barbara stared in disbelief at the woman. "The library is closed", she added, inanely.
"I have not come to read", the woman said, chuckling. She moved inside the room, closer to the windows and Barbara. "Things usually happen for a reason, although we don't always see the first cause... Sometimes the first cause is buried so deep within ourselves, in the depth of our subconscious mind, that we never will know its root. Or the first cause has its roots in the most ancient of pasts."
"Blood and fire", the old woman went on. "In blood and fire mankind was lost, to be reborn into tiny fragments, shattered in the dimensions of this universe. Past lives, present lives, alternate lives - they all happen at once. What happens now affects the past, what happens here affects another place at the same time. What happened in the past affects the now. Only love will set us free."
Barbara shook her head. "I don't understand..."
"He's coming for you. The snake is coming. He lost his master and is now lost and bewildered and without a true purpose. He only knows the reason why he was programmed, and when he lost his program he lost his reason. But he remembers you and he hates you and he'll come for you."
The old woman stopped before her and looked her in the eyes. Barbara felt an odd sense, as of drowning in deep, dark space. Blood and fire, she thought, not knowing whence the thought came. I was lost in blood and fire.
"Yes, you were", the old woman said softly, gently. "You gave your life for me. And I have sent someone to return the favor."
Barbara gasped when she realized that the woman had read her mind. "You're... You're meta!"
The old woman shook her head. "No, Badra. Not that. That I am not. And I am not really allowed to interfere in the worlds of mankind, but... I was granted this opportunity. It is he", she added and turned towards the door. "It is he who has come to kill you now."
Barbara lifted her face and went cold as death as she noticed a man in the doorway. He was tall and slim and even in the shady light - in the light of the full moon that shone through the window in the ceiling - she could see the mad glint in his dark, soulless eyes.
They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. "Why?" Barbara finally asked, in a whisper. "Why have you come to kill me?"
"Why?" The man smiled, and when he moved so that the full light of the moon shone down upon him Barbara noted that his eyes gleamed yellow. "Does a man need a reason to breathe? Does a man need reason to eat?" Then his face contorted and he snarled in rage. "Because you killed me! You killed my master! I see your face when I close my eyes and I hear your voice, taunting me. I searched, but I knew you not until the female clown sent me your picture. Thus came I here, to drink your blood."
Barbara shook her head, backing away. She felt a cold, cold fear in her heart, stiffening her limbs and her will. Malice seemed to radiate from the murderer like waves of energy, numbing her. "I don't know you", she whispered, aware that the old, mysterious woman had backed towards a corner to the right. "I've never seen you before. And I haven't killed... I haven't killed anyone."
"You", the man hissed, moving forward in a sliding, snakelike manner. "You killed my master. Seven I was to kill. I killed, and my master came - once, twice... then he didn't come. I thought I did him wrong and tried others, but he came no more. I've lost my purpose. I spill the blood, but he come not to drink it. And then the dream tells me he is gone. He is gone in fire, with you."
Barbara shook her head. "I know nothing of this!" she pleaded. "Please, please..." Her eyes filled with tears. "Just let us go."
He stopped with a surprised look on his face. "Let you go?" He began to laugh, and as he did his whole body began to change. "Let you go!"
Barbara watched in horror as the man's torso and lower body transformed into the shape of a snake as the man writhed and collapsed in spasms that shook his whole body. The transformation didn't take more than a few heartbeats, but it felt like an eternity. When it was done there was a large snake before her - with the head of a human. The human head grinned at her with twisted, yellow eyes.
Barbara felt sick. She was stricken by a spell of dizziness and thought she was about to faint. In front of her the man-snake hurled itself at her and she screamed.
Then, as if from nowhere, there was a growling sound and a large beast launched itself at the snake, grabbing it with fangs and claws. The enormous snake screamed and twisted itself to get loose from the unexpected assailant. It beat with the tail and coiled itself around its foe.
Barbara stared in horror, unable to believe what she witnessed. The beast that had attacked the man-snake seemed to be some kind of wolf... though it was infinitely larger and much, much uglier. It was some kind of monster, hairy and ugly and fierce as a mad dog walking on its hind legs. It growled and fought the snake with wild blood lust. The two of them rolled around on the floor; the beast roaring and the snake thrusting its coils. In the next moment the force of their struggle hurled them out of the room, across the hallway and over the railing to the stairs. Barbara gasped in shock and surprise. It took a moment for her to collect herself, before she remembered the old woman.
"Come, lets..." she said as she turned towards the corner where the other woman stood, only to realize that she was alone in the room. The old woman was nowhere to be seen.
When they reached the library Kate Lockley stopped in the foyer, before the reception. They had managed to get in by the backdoor, to which Helena had been given a key by Barbara. The place was dark and seemed deserted - until four tough looking men with guns suddenly slipped out from the shadows behind some bookcases and moved towards them.
"He's here", Lockley said in a quiet snarl. "You deal with these guys and I'll get the snake..."
Huntress, who had revealed her meta-human side to the blonde woman on the way to the library (and was still surprised at Lockley's lack of reaction), glanced at her. "The snake?"
Lockley nodded and then, to Huntress' infinite astonishment, began to undress. The men moved slowly towards them in the background, but Huntress momentarily forgot about them as she watched the blonde woman with swift, sure movements take off all her clothes except for her briefs. She wondered if the woman had completely lost her mind.
"This way is more cost effective. I don't have to spend a fortune on torn clothes", Kate Lockley said cynically as she noticed Huntress' look. "I'll see you later."
And then, just like that, she rushed towards the main stair at the center of the first floor. As she was running she began to change. There was a transformation taking place and Huntress, watching her, began to think it was she herself that had lost her mind. The woman was turning into a wolf!
As soon as Kate Lockley reached the stair the transformation was completed and instead of the blonde, shapely woman there was now an ugly, deformed beast that jumped straight from the first floor to the second floor and then to the third floor. Huntress, staring in disbelief, suddenly feared for Barbara and was about to chase after the impossible monster when the burly men that had moved out of the shadows suddenly were upon her. She was given no time to think as they attacked her as one.
At least they weren't firing at her, she thought as she responded to the attack by swirling around and knocking one of them out with a high, immediate kick. Three to go.
The fight wasn't very even. Huntress was in a bad temper, thinking only of Barbara, and even though the men were good fighters they weren't meta-human. She moved among them like a whirlwind; kicking, punching and throwing them out of her way. She dodged their blows with swift efficiency and didn't pull her punches when they got to close to her. And then, in the middle of the fight, the monster that Kate Lockley had turned into came crushing down the stairs, tightly bound to a writhing, coiling snake-like creature. The two of them were so close to each other it was difficult to see where one began and the other ended. They snarled and hissed at each other, rolling fiercely across the floor.
The thugs Huntress was fighting suddenly grew pale when they noticed the two beasts and seemed to loose their will to fight. She knocked two of them out and let the third escape. She watched the fight between the ugly woman-wolf and the man-snake and tried to enmesh herself in it, but realized it wasn't possible to get in the way of either. Instead she rushed up the stairs to find Barbara, hoping Kate Lockley hadn't come too late. The thought of Lockley made her shiver. A wolf? she thought, incredulously. A... werewolf? But if Kate Lockley was a werewolf, wouldn't she have changed shape as soon as the sun went down? And wouldn't Huntress and Barbara be in grave danger staying with her? A werewolf! It just isn't possible, she thought. Meta-humans were one thing, but freakish, supernatural beings as werewolves and vampires just weren't real.
She suddenly remembered the dream she had had of Barbara sitting in the library reading books about past-lives, meta-humans and... werewolves.
"Oh, fuck!" she muttered.
In the next moment she came to an abrupt halt in the doorway to the room where she and Barbara had had their picnic. Barbara was in the room, but she wasn't alone. There was a man there, standing in the middle of the room - halfway turned towards the threshold. Huntress saw his profile and found him vaguely familiar, but didn't think much more of it. The man held a knife in one hand and he was clearly intending to use it on Barbara.
"Why?" Huntress heard the woman she loved whisper in a thin and frightened voice. "Why would someone want to kill me?"
"Apparently you've ruffled some feathers in this city", the unknown man said. "To be so much of a nobody you've managed to make large enough ripples on the surface of the waters of Gotham City."
Huntress moved inside the room. The moon shone with full light down through the window in the ceiling and there was enough light to spare. Besides, she had no problems seeing in the dark. "Hi", she said, carefully strolling into the room. "May I be part of the fun?"
Barbara gasped as she noticed Huntress and there was a look of relief on her face that warmed Huntress' heart and made her feel better for driving Barbara away from her in the first place. But when the man turned to her she forgot even Barbara. The man before her was the man that had killed her mother.
She would never forget that face, or the sneer on it. Seeing him again stirred all her long-controlled and buried emotions of rage and vengeance and she became an animal, ruled only by instincts and blood lust. Snarling she crouched before him with gleaming eyes. "You!" she hissed, like a beast born of darkness and blood. She would rip his throat out and leave him torn and bleeding, pleading for his life. She would tear out his intestines while he was pleading, to dance upon them and smear his lifeblood on her face and spill it to the last drop on the ground. She would beat him to death, punch by bloody punch, and she would show no mercy, show no regret.
"Do I know you?" he asked, frowning.
"You should", she growled. "You killed my mother - stabbed her in the gut and left her to bleed to death in my arms. I have sworn revenge - and I will get it tonight. There's no place for you to hide, murderer!"
"Helena, no!" Barbara cried.
But Huntress didn't listen. She leapt at the man before her, whose name she didn't know (she knew only that face; that sneering face that taunted her while her mother died), and easily deflected the blow he thrust at her with the knife. She grabbed him by the collar and hurled him through the air. He hit the only wall in the room that wasn't made of glass, beside the open door, and tore down the fire extinguisher on the side. Huntress rushed forward to grab him again. She lifted him on both arms and thrust him down on the floor before her feet. Holding him down she began to beat him up with passionate, powerful and deliberately slow strikes. His nose burst and showered blood over her; his jaw broke with a cracking sound and one of his eyes turned to a bloody mess.
"Huntress!" someone called at her. "Stop it, Huntress! For God's sake - you're going to kill him!"
That's the idea, she thought, somewhere deep within herself recognizing Reese's voice. Her fists went on hitting the man beneath her as if they had a will and consciousness of their own. I've lived for this. This is the only thing I've lived for: finding him and killing him.
"Hold it, Huntress!"
There was a clicking sound, as of a gun being cocked. Huntress wasn't really aware of what that meant, but she heard a difference in Reese's voice and understood that he now no longer regarded her as someone that was upholding the law. He now regarded her as someone breaking the law. Someone he needed to stop. But she wouldn't stop unless he shot her and even then it would take more than one bullet to kill her. And if he didn't shoot her he would need to put her in jail...
The thought pulled at something within her and she lifted her eyes. A few steps behind Reese Barbara stood, bathed in moonlight. Barbara hadn't uttered another word since Huntress so brutally attacked the man that threatened her. She didn't say anything now, when Huntress looked at her, and the look in her eyes wasn't filled with the same repulsion or anger that could be read on Reese's face. Instead there was a strange mix of sadness, affection, compassion and, most of all, comprehension in the depths of the green eyes.
It was the unexpected understanding in Barbara's eyes that held Huntress back. That, and the abrupt realization that if she died or went to jail Barbara would truly be lost to her. Barbara would truly be out of her life then. If I'm a murderer I can never, ever ask or expect anything of her. If I'm a murderer I can never be her friend.
"I'm sorry", Huntress said, speaking directly to Barbara. She slowly rose from the floor.
"Huntress?" Reese asked warily, holding a gun in two hands - as if he was ready to use it.
She turned to look at him. He seemed on his guard with her and she didn't blame him. "He killed my mother", she said, looking him in the eye. "I wanted to kill him."
Reese looked down at the man that Huntress had almost beaten to death. "He will live", he said. He lowered his gun and returned it to the holster. "I couldn't let you do it", he added, glancing at her.
She nodded, but it wasn't really his presence or action that had prevented her from killing the man on the floor. It had solely been Barbara's merit. To know her had changed Helena's life and her thoughts about the future. Where there had been a dark hole before there was now some hope. Even if Barbara never wanted to see her again, Helena/Huntress wanted to leave the door open for a future friendship. If she had murdered the man on the floor she would've closed that door - permanently.
Barbara moved towards her and gently placed a hand on Huntress' arm. "Are you... hurt?"
Huntress shook her head. She had blood on her hands and on her face, but it wasn't hers.
"I'm sorry I ran off", Barbara said softly, quietly. "I shouldn't have..."
"I'm sorry I drove you to it", Huntress said, equally quiet.
Barbara blinked. "Is that what you think you did?" She shook her head. "You didn't. It was my own doing."
"No", Barbara said softly, and Huntress couldn't argue with her when she looked at her like that because of the tight knot in her throat. "Not you."
"Who is this man?" Reese said interrupting, looking down at the man on the floor.
"I saw him with Dr. Harleen Quinzel yesterday on the charity fair", Barbara suddenly said. "I recognize him. They had some kind of an argument and she told him he wasn't supposed to be seen with her." She shook her head. "But I didn't hear what they were talking about."
"You're sure about this?" Reese asked inquiringly.
Barbara nodded. "I'm positive." She shrugged. "But it doesn't say anything, does it?"
"She could identify him, maybe", Reese mused, glancing at the man. "Anyway - where's Kate? And what were those... whatever, fighting downstairs?"
"Oh, the monster!" Barbara whispered. "It saved me. But I don't know if... And the old woman..."
"The old woman?" Huntress asked, remembering the mysterious old woman that had instructed her to find Barbara in the first place.
"I didn't see an old woman", Reese said. He pulled out a pair of handcuffs and tied the unconscious man's hands with it. "I'll..."
Reese silenced as Kate Lockley strolled into the room, nude as the day she was born with her clothes in her arms.
"The snake is dead", she declared as the rest of them stared at her. "Reese... There are some men downstairs you ought to read their rights to."
"Uh huh", he said, averting her eyes from her. "There was a... a..."
"The wolf is gone", Kate Lockley said.
"Uhum, of course", Reese said, looking confused, but he did as the blonde woman told him and left the room.
"Wolf?" Huntress asked.
Kate Lockley shook her head. "Is a bitch, is what it is", she complained while she dressed. "I was sent here to rescue this version of Barbara Gordon, but I ended up two years previous to the actual events and had to live my way forward to this day. Meanwhile I was bitten by a werewolf and naturally turned into one myself. Thankfully I knew some people who could help me and with practice and self-discipline I've managed to control the beast. Most of the time, at least. I can turn it on and off at will, whenever I want to, and I remain mostly human while in the wolf's body."
Huntress opened her mouth to speak, but didn't know what to say.
"Then I fell in love... Or I think I did, but before we had time to actually explore our feelings for each other she was killed - by a werewolf." Lockley sighed. "Thankfully not by me. I once accused Angel for being a monster - and look at me now."
"Who's Angel?" Barbara carefully asked; she seemed to have the same difficulty comprehending what was happening as Huntress.
"Oh, Nidae", Lockley suddenly said and came to halt with what she was doing; she was almost fully dressed again, only lacking the denim shirt that she was holding in her hands. "You're here..."
Huntress turned to look at who Lockley was speaking to. In the doorway there was an old woman standing, with dark, dark eyes reflecting the moonlight with a strange glow. Huntress immediately recognized her as the same old woman that had stopped her at the traffic lights and told her to rescue the woman of her dreams.
"For now", the old woman said, looking at Kate Lockley as she buttoned the denim shirt. "It'll be time for you to return home soon."
"Thank God", Lockley said in relief. "I like my own world much better. And maybe Nina is still alive there. I'll find her and see if she could fall in love with me again."
The old woman's eyes twinkled. "Dick Grayson didn't work out for you?"
"What?" Huntress said. "What has my brother got to do with...?"
Lockley glanced at her. "I haven't even met your brother, but the other Helena's brother on the other hand... We had a short thing going on. The love of my life and all that - mostly because I wasn't allowed to actually have him in the previous life." The blonde woman shrugged. "Sometimes not getting a thing can make you want it even more for an eternity, although if you had gotten it in the first place you would've noticed right away that it didn't or couldn't or wouldn't work out."
"And some things you want because they are actually meant to be", Barbara said quietly. Huntress glanced at her in surprise.
Kate Lockley turned sharp blue eyes at Barbara. "Yes", she said. "And unless you let fear stand in your way you'll know true happiness. Nidae..." she added and turned to the old woman. "Oh, hell - she's gone again. I hate when she does that."
To Huntress astonishment the old woman was gone; completely disappeared. Instead Reese returned to the room. He looked at the three women standing there.
"So... the Moonblood killer is caught and dead and I have five criminals to take care of. I've called for back-up."
"Oh, Reese", Barbara said. "I'm sorry about your father. I hope... I hope it won't be too difficult for you."
Reese stiffened visibly. He shook his head with a weary motion. "It wasn't really news to me", he admitted tiredly. "He had it long coming. Come now - I'll have one of my men to take you home to Wade."
Wade, Huntress thought bitingly.
But Barbara shook her head. "Tell him... Tell him I'm fine and that I'll come home tomorrow. I'll stay with Helena tonight."
Huntress made a small, surprised sound and looked at the woman by her side in quiet disbelief.
"You're sure?" Reese asked with a slight frown.
Reese looked at Huntress and shrugged. "Fine. The two of you get going. We'll clean up the mess."
"We need to talk", Barbara said, looking at the blonde woman in the background.
Kate Lockely nodded. "We will. Give it a few days and I'll answer any questions, as soon as we've recovered from tonight."
Barbara nodded, silently agreeing. She turned to Huntress and said, with a gentle look which made it difficult for Huntress to breathe: "Come - I'll take you home."
They walked in silence. Helena's eyes were blue again and she had completely let go of the rage that Huntress had felt beating up that man. Instead she was filled with confusion, not so much about Kate Lockley's strange and incoherent tale as about Barbara's presence. Why had Barbara chosen to follow her home instead of returning to Wade? She wanted to ask, but she didn't dare break the fragile silence between them.
When they closed the door behind them to Helena's apartment Barbara was the first to speak. She said: "Go and clean up and we'll talk later."
"About Kate Lockley?"
Barbara nodded. "I guess."
Helena found that an odd answer, but she nodded and went to the shower. She didn't really want Barbara to look at her bloodstained appearance for longer than necessary. Standing in the shower she let the warm water wash over her to wash away the sense of filth and rage. She had seen the look in Reese's eyes when she moved away from the man she had almost beaten to death; he had looked at her as if he had never seen her before. As if he was considering shooting her. She wondered if he would've shot her if she hadn't stopped hitting that man. More likely he would've tried to fight her first. Or maybe not. Maybe he had known that he would lose such a fight and instead he would rather be safe than sorry and shot her. It really didn't matter, since she didn't beat that man to death. But it did mean that hers and Reese's relationship had changed. He wouldn't be sure how to trust her in the future. He had known she was wild and untamed, but he hadn't believed how much. To beat someone up like that one had to live with a considerable amount of rage within one's heart and mind. He had never seen that uncontrolled rage that lay coiled within her. He had never sensed it. Neither had Barbara. But the two of them had reacted in completely different ways.
And it was Barbara's reaction that had made her lose her heart.
When she came out of the shower, dressed in black slacks and a short sleeved, blue top, Barbara was sitting on the bed with her portable computer before her, wearing her glasses. When she noticed Helena she smiled a little. "I'm researching werewolves", she said sheepishly. "Apparently there have been some wolf-attacks in the L.A.-area."
Helena frowned. "You believe in the werewolf myth?"
"I saw that... thing, whatever it was", Barbara said. "Did you see her turn into it?"
Helena nodded and sat down on the bed, opposite to Barbara. "It looked... freakish."
"I can imagine", Barbara said with a shudder. "I saw that snake-man turn into... Hu!" she shook her head.
"I'm sorry you had to see that", Helena said quietly, gently looking at Barbara. "You should... You shouldn't be here with me. You should be with Wade. He can take care of you."
Barbara grew curiously still before her, holding her gaze with that inscrutable look that Helena remembered from the Clock Tower; Barbara had looked at her with the same gaze then, after Helena had kissed her. Helena had no idea what the other woman was thinking, looking like that.
"And who would take care of you?" Barbara asked quietly, with soft compassion in her eyes.
Helena's entire inside turned to a flood of melting lava sensing that softness of the other woman. She wanted to lower her eyes, because she felt that the intensity of Barbara's gentleness was too much for her to bear, but she couldn't look away. She felt her skin crawl with a slow-spreading fever. "Me?" she whispered.
"You almost killed a man. Should I leave you alone with the knowledge that except for Reese's interference you would've killed?"
Helena closed her eyes. "I... It wasn't... Reese."
She sat still, unmoving, for a few minutes; eyes closed. She could hear and sense Barbara turning off and putting away the computer.
"Helena?" Barbara finally asked, gently.
"It wasn't Reese that made me stop", Helena said, with difficulty, and opened her eyes. Without the computer between them Barbara suddenly seemed to sit so much closer to her. It made it difficult for her to concentrate. "I... it was - you."
"Me?" Barbara said, taken aback. "But... I didn't do anything."
Helena shook her head. "You didn't ask anything of me. I saw you looking at me and you didn't ask me to stop and I knew that if I killed that man I would never see you again. And you... you seemed to understand. You didn't blame me."
"Oh, Helena - how could I blame you?" Barbara leaned forward and touched her hand with a soft caress. "How could I blame you? I heard you say he killed your mother. You had all the right to be angry at him..."
"But not to kill", Helena whispered.
"Not to kill", Barbara agreed; she removed her glasses and put them on the table with the computer. "I... The last foster kid Wade and I had living with us was killed about a year ago. He and his boyfriend were killed, because... because they were in love and someone didn't think it was right. Both of them were shot several times in full sight of several witnesses. The police deemed it to be a crime of hate. They caught the killer and he was given a life sentence in prison. The thing was that Wade and I, we... We discussed his sentence and asked ourselves if it was enough. Wade had always been against the death-penalty, but suddenly he was arguing for harsher punishments. When it hits you where you live what's right and wrong is suddenly not so clear anymore. When Patch died I wanted someone to suffer the way I suffered, but then I thought about the killer - he had a mother. If he had been killed due to death penalty, she would have suffered. And the pain and the suffering would never end. Death begets more death. If we want to change the world we have to begin with ourselves and the way we view the world." She looked at Helena. "You wanted to kill that man, but you didn't. Not because he might not deserve it, but because... because it's not who you want to be - it's not the message you want to bring into this world. It's not who you are."
"Not anymore, no. But it is who I was..." Helena looked at Barbara with tears in her eyes. "Don't you understand? It's what I've been trying to tell you. You've made me a better person. You made me change that part within myself that was the killer. Without you... If I hadn't known you I would've killed that man. Reese wouldn't have been able to stop me, because... because I didn't love him enough to care about his opinion of me."
"I... I don't know what to say", Barbara said after a moment, quietly. She lowered her face and looked down at her lap.
"Nothing. You don't have to say anything, I just... I just wanted you to know and..." There were tears on her cheeks; she could feel them falling. "You're alive and that's all that matters now. I'm grateful that you want to be with me tonight - it... it wouldn't have been good for me to be alone, I think."
Barbara shook her head, saying nothing.
"I know that... that you might not want to see me again after tomorrow and I..." Helena silenced. She couldn't bear to speak about it again, not now after tonight. How could she live without Barbara in her life? And how could she live with her in it, knowing that Barbara would never touch her the way she longed for to be touched? Knowing that Barbara lay with Wade every night and that he would hold her, touch her, caress her - kiss her...
"I..." Barbara looked up and silenced when she noticed the tears on Helena's cheeks. "Oh, Helena - don't cry."
Helena dried the tears with the back of her hand and shrugged. "It has been a lot this weekend, that's all."
"It has," Barbara agreed. She moved a little closer to Helena and took one of her hands in hers. "You've made an impact in my life too. You've made me a stronger, more confident person. You're..." She blushed. "You've accepted me as I was and you took care of me. Your... feelings for me have made me believe in myself. I wish there was something I could... I could..." Barbara faltered as she suddenly was looking into Huntress' cat-like eyes.
Huntress felt the soft touch of Barbara's hand and was looking at her with all the longing she couldn't deny or repress. "You just shouldn't be here at all," she whispered, before she closed the small space between them by leaning forward - to cover Barbara's mouth with her own.
Huntress wasn't as gentle this time as she had been when she kissed Barbara the last time. Without conscious thought she moved to firmly press Barbara down on the bed at the same time as her tongue demanded access to slip between Barbara's lips. Barbara parted her lips with a soft sound and when Huntress felt the tip of her tongue tentatively touching her own she pressed Barbara harder against the blankets, pinning her down with her weight, as she deepened the kiss. Barbara didn't struggle and made no moves at all to indicate that she wanted to be set free. Her lips were soft and timid as they melded with Huntress'; her tongue shyly touching and withdrawing as Huntress kissed her.
Barbara's tentative touch aroused Huntress senses and she fought to regain control over her innate passion as her mouth and lips wanted to demand more of Barbara; she wanted to thrust her tongue into her, harder and deeper every time, but she held back with soft moans of frustration and hunger.
Barbara suddenly broke free, but she didn't try to escape - instead she softly whispered into Huntress' ear: "You won't hurt me... just let go."
Huntress wasn't sure that she had heard right, but when Barbara's mouth suddenly captured hers and her tongue sought out hers Huntress gasped in painful pleasure and grabbed Barbara by the shoulders. She held her down and kissed her with a passion and a hunger that was new to her. Again and again she thrust her tongue into Barbara's mouth, thirsting for the other woman's soft, melting touch. Barbara made a surprised sound and clasped her hands behind Huntress' neck, pulling the younger woman closer. Barbara was surprisingly responsive and Huntress felt Barbara's sudden need for her to be an addictive drug that she couldn't get enough from. Her lips teased Barbara's; gently, swift, feather light, or with tearing hunger and in frustrated lust. There was a fever that drove all sense and logic out of her and at the same time she didn't lose control; she was like a spear, to the point and poised, but also surprisingly gentle in her fierce need.
"I need you," she whispered. "Oh, God - I need you so much!"
She couldn't believe she was doing this - with Barbara. She was suddenly afraid that she was dreaming and that she would wake up any minute. The thought made her whimper, until Barbara took her face between her hands and gently kissed her on the mouth, before she whispered:
"We have the whole night. There's no need to rush..."
She had known what would happen as soon as she made up her mind to follow Helena back to the apartment instead of returning home to Wade. Of course she had known; she might be stubborn and afraid of her own emotions, but she wasn't stupid or blind to the truths about herself.
She had struggled so hard with herself with what was right: with what was the right action, the right choice, the right thing to do and think and feel... But when Helena (or her meta-human alias, Huntress) had rushed into the room where that man was about to kill her none of those things had mattered. When she watched Huntress - with that agony on her face, in those beautiful cat's eyes - beat that man half to death, the question of right and wrong hadn't mattered. Helena had been what mattered - and to let that young, brave woman leave on her own after the emotional turmoil she must have experienced facing her mother's killer like that wasn't an option. Barbara couldn't let her spend the night alone.
Yes, of course she had known that there might be a chance of Helena kissing her again (especially after that emotional turmoil she must have experienced) and it didn't really matter either.
When Helena kissed her she wasn't really prepared for it, after all. It took her by surprise, not the act in itself but the clear, intense sense that she had longed for it since the first kiss the day before. Oh, yes, she had heard herself think, clearly as if she had spoken out loud. Oh, yes - this is what I want. Please, don't deny me this beautiful dream... Let me know what it's like to know what it is all about...
Barbara had of course made love to Wade many times over the years. It had been difficult for her the first few years - to trust him and to enjoy it. But he had been careful and patient and never pushed her or hurried her. Finally she had managed to relax enough to actually feel something when she received him and it hadn't been until Mike kissed her that one and only time that she had understood that she had missed out on something extraordinary. And with Helena... When she didn't repress her natural responses by analyzing her emotions she felt this flowing heat from the top down and back up again course through her body. Helena's kiss stirred impulses she had never known and when acting upon them she took herself with surprise as much as Helena, whispering those words into Helena's ears and pulling her closer to her - to taste her again and again and again, with the same feverish heat that seemed to have taken control over the other woman.
And although it might seem uncontrolled it wasn't brutal. Helena was caring and gentle with her and Barbara felt the tenderness as much as the wildness of Helena's meta-human nature. She felt no fear; not now. When Helena began undressing her she didn't protest. Helena unbuttoned her bra and then slowly began kissing her naked skin, from the neck and down. She moved with slow, unhurried kisses, stirring strange and searing desires in Barbara that she felt powerless to contain. Helena's kisses and soft touches drew ragged, deep breaths from her that grew to soft moans whenever Helena returned to her breasts and kissed them and the hardening nipples at the center.
"Please", she heard herself whisper, as if in agony. "Please, Helena..."
"Are you sure?" Helena asked in a hoarse, thick voice that made Barbara close her eyes in intense pleasure.
Unable to answer right then Barbara just nodded. "Yes", she managed after a few irregular heartbeats. "Yes, please... I trust you."
What she felt when Helena touched her - here, there... everywhere - she had never felt before with Wade. Her body was burning, as with a fever - it was uncontrolled and unchecked and she had never let go so completely with her husband. Only the slightest touch of Helena's lips, or tongue, on her skin made her wet with longing and desire - set her on fire, made her gasp for breath and moan in pleasure. And when Helena's tongue reached the sacred core of her body she cried out in painful pleasure, sensing her whole body erupting in flames.
There was fire and blood...
And there were other memories - of a time when she had been a priestess and served a goddess called... Called Nidae.
When she returned to her body she felt spent and relaxed... and she realized she was crying.
"Barbara?" Helena asked worriedly, touching her with hesitant fingertips. "Are you... are you okay?"
"Yes", she whispered. The memories faded, leaving only a vague knowledge of something found and lost again. "Yes, I am. Better than fine."
"You're crying", Helena said, still looking worried. Her eyes were blue again.
Barbara smiled and touched her cheek. "I am fine", she said, softly kissing the other woman on the lips. "I want to touch you too", she whispered, letting her tongue circle Helena's lips with a soft, teasing pressure. "May I?"
Helena closed her eyes with a soft, thick sound. She nodded. "I think... I think - only if you want to."
"Would you... like it?"
Helena nodded again. "Very much", she said with evident difficulty.
"I've never..." Barbara felt herself blushing when she was thinking of how completely open she had been with Helena. "I've never made love to a woman before. I'm not sure... I don't know what to do..."
"Just..." Helena opened her eyes and looked at her. "I haven't either, you know," she said. "Kissing is fine."
"No", Barbara said. "It's not. I want... I want to touch you more than that." She blushed. "I just don't know... um, if you'll like it."
Helena blushed beat red. "I'd like anything you'd do to me right now", she said, mumbling. "I'm..." Her blush deepened. "I'm... um... uh... ready for you..."
It took a moment for Barbara to figure what she meant and when she did she blushed and lowered her eyes. "Oh", she mumbled shyly. "Right."
She drew a deep breathe. Don't think - just do. What do you want to do? I want to kiss her the way she kissed me and touch her and... oh, Christ - I want to make her whisper my name in pleasure... But were to begin?
Kissing seemed a good place to start, so she pulled Helena towards her and kissed her on the mouth, gently teasing and gently probing at the lips. In a few minutes she grew bolder and left Helena's mouth to kiss her neck, softly and tentatively. Helena's response of sharp intakes of breath and soft sounds of pleasure were a good guide on how to continue. She made use of it and teased and tried out new things, using Helena's naked body as her playground as she deliberately and slowly moved downwards.
In the end she used her teeth to gently graze one of Helena's nipples at the same time as her fingers thrust into the wetness and the softness between Helena's thighs. Helena pulled her close to her in a tight, firm embrace as her body convulsed in pleasure. "Barbara", she breathed. "Oh, God - please, Barbara..."
It was Monday. Usually she liked Mondays; to get back to work and the sanctuary of her books. But this Monday was different. When she stepped out of the bed she would need to face the reality of what she had done. She couldn't hide anymore. She would need to face the truth and respond to certain... choices.
When she looked at her watch she realized it was already ten o'clock, which meant that she would be late for work. Helena was peacefully asleep beside her and didn't even stir when Barbara left the bed.
Barbara picked up her cell phone and called the library to phone in sick. She told them she probably would be back sometime Tuesday or Wednesday. After that she had a shower, dressed casually in some of the clothes that Helena had bought her and sat down in the armchair to watch the young woman sleep. She observed the soft curve of her lips; the curls of her unruly hair and the softness of her breasts, that were only half covered by the sheets. What is love? she thought. Was it only the physical attraction - sex? Or neurological impulses shot from the brain? The most powerful emotion in the world - and no one could really explain it, even though people tried and had tried down the ages. It was like the Sacred Cut, the Divine Proportion, which could be found in the most beautiful shapes from art, to science, to poetry, to architecture... The mathematical formula that was sacred and legendary and inexplicable. Just like love.
Does love have a sacred formula, a secret equation that is yet to be found? she mused. Then she sighed and rose from the chair. She needed to get out - to get away for awhile.
Kneeling by the bed she gently touched Helena's hand and softly kissed her on the lips.
"Mmm", Helena said without opening her eyes; there was a small smile on her lips.
"I'm going out for awhile... and then I need to go home to see Wade."
Helena rolled over and put an arm across her face, to hide her expression.
"I'm... I'm still married to him", Barbara said. "I'm bound by my vows to him. I don't take my vows lightly", she added, and went on: "I want you to know that. I wouldn't break them if I didn't..." If I didn't really want to, she thought, but found that difficult to say. "To stay with you last night, that wasn't something I did on a whim either. It was nothing I entered into lightly. I need... I just need some time to... to think about everything that has happened."
She waited for a few moments, but Helena didn't stir and didn't speak. In the end Barbara rose and as she walked to the door Helena made a quiet sound behind her.
Barbara turned around; Helena was sitting upright in bed with the blanket around her body and looked at Barbara.
"Will I...? Will I see you again?"
Choices, Barbara thought. What are choices? And loyalty and respect...? What is love? And how could she speak to the one, before she had spoken to the other? She nodded.
"I think you will."
"I..." Helena hesitated and then nodded. "I'll see you then."
Barbara's heart was tearing in two as she walked out the door. She longed to stay, to walk back in and curl up beside Helena in bed, to kiss her and touch her... But she wasn't free to do that. She lifted her hand and looked at the wedding band on her finger. She had made love to someone who wasn't her husband - still wearing her wedding ring. She hadn't given it any thought at all during the night. She must consider it now.
That ring. So small it looked on her finger, she thought as she walked along the street, away from the Dark Horse. So small and insignificant it looked, and so much it represented in the world - of love, loyalty, respect, security, responsibility...
She looked up. She had walked into an alley near to the Dark Horse; it was a small passageway leading between two larger streets and it wasn't really a dark, empty alley that she ordinarily would have avoided, but seeing the two men stepping out of a dark car behind her she realized that she should have been more careful. Too late she remembered that the man who Helena had beaten up had talked about someone who wanted her dead. And the snake person had said the same: that someone had pointed him in her direction.
"Yes?" she said cautiously, carefully stepping aside.
Before she had time to do anything or to run the two unknown men leapt at her. She tried to scream, but one of them put his arm around her neck and clamped his hand over her mouth. She was dragged into the car and then received a blow to the head that rendered her unconscious.
When she came to she had a splitting headache, not helped by the sharp, bright light that was shining in her eyes. She carefully squinted against the bright light and finally managed to make out that she was in a rectangular room, sitting tightly tied to a chair. The bright light was a light bulb over her head. In the background there were two entrances, one located below a stairway that led to a short ledge and the second door right below the ceiling at the top of the stairs. The room seemed to belong to some kind of depot; there were no windows and the ceiling was mostly made out of steel wires and steel beams. The floor was cemented, but was covered by a thin sheet of translucent plastic.
"Ah, you're awake..."
Barbara knew that voice. She felt a cold shiver of fear down her spine and her first impulse was to close her eyes and pretend that she wasn't there at all. Pretend that she had never come to Gotham City and... No, pretend that she was back in Helena's arms and that she would stay there forever. Is that what I want? she asked herself, trying to block the voice from her mind.
"Come now", Michael Boyd said and lifted her chin with his thumb. "Look at me..."
Barbara opened her eyes. She could not escape. There was no escape. She might as well be a little kid again, at the hands and mercy of this man. He had been her tormentor and he had laughed as silent tears streamed down her cheeks. He laughed now, seeing her face. She wasn't crying, though. Not now.
"I couldn't believe my luck when I saw you, my dear", he said, as if they were old friends that had lost touch with each other. "I didn't know you were in town, until I ran into you at the fair the day before yesterday. And a beautiful fair it was, no?" He grinned at her. "You don't look happy to see me."
She clenched her jaws, staring at him. She was trying to master her fear. She had seen more dangerous and disgusting things than this man the past weekend; he was not going to intimidate her.
"Such a pretty face, really. I never would've thought so."
"Neither would I", someone said behind Barbara and she whipped her head around when she recognized the second voice.
"You!" she cried in shock and astonishment when she saw Dr. Harleen Quinzel.
"Well, yes", the blonde woman said with a smirk. "You didn't see that one coming, did you?"
"I don't understand..." Barbara shook her head. "You were behind all of... it? The meta-human coming to kill me? Why?"
Quinzel sniffed. "No, the meta-human was coming for you for different reasons - don't ask me why. But when you meddled in my affairs I contacted him and asked him to come here to kill you, to make it look like another of the Moonblood killer's victims. Turned out it was you he was looking for. What are the odds?" The psychologist rested her palms on the arm supports to the chair Barbara was sitting in and leaned forward, so that their noses almost touched. "But when you suddenly gained a few bodyguards I had to take precautions. Pity I didn't count on that private investigator being some kind of... freak meta-human. My whole plan failed miserably."
"But... why?" Barbara whispered, still not understanding what she had done to merit such hate from the other woman that she would make such an effort to kill her.
"Why?" Quinzel made a face. "Because you are in my way. Mr. Boyd here - who has... pleasures of his own and certain ways to entertain them, suddenly was helpful enough to offer his services."
Barbara glanced at Michael Boyd in the background. She now noticed a small table, on which several objects were laid out that made her stomach churn: knives, scalpels, scissors, an iron rod... She remembered what Reese had told her about the killer that the mayor of the city was so busy chasing. And she knew Michael Boyd enough to know that he would fit the description of someone who enjoyed inflicting pain and humiliation.
"Ah, I see you're getting my point. Yes, Mr. Boyd has a spare time occupation that the police would be happy to put an end to. You will be just another of the serial killers victims. What a tragic ending for Mrs. Barbara Brixton." Quinzel smiled at her. "Oh, and yes - of course: the reason why..."
"Why are you talking to her?" Boyd asked and came up to them. He looked annoyed. "I want you to leave."
"Come now", Quinzel said in a sulking voice. "Leave? And I thought I could watch." She touched the man's arm with a sensual touch. "No?"
He made an annoyed face at her. "I don't perform with... audience."
"Pity", the blonde woman said disdainfully. "I would've loved to watch. Do you grow impotent with an audience?"
The man's eyes grew dark. "Watch your words, lady."
"You're both insane", Barbara said. "Do you think you can get away with this?"
They both looked at her. "We already did, Mrs. Brixton", Quinzel said wryly. "He has done this several times already and the police don't have a clue as to where to begin the search. And I... I'm a respected citizen who never intentionally would harm anyone. No one will find you here", she added.
"But why?" Barbara asked again.
"Because you meddled in my business!" the blonde woman repeated, again leaning forward. "If it hadn't been for you I would've had Dinah in my hands, to shape the way I wanted to. She was ripe for the picking when you came and ruined it all. And Helena... not to mention Helena, who was to be my best weapon as soon as I had sent her her mother's murderer to kill."
Barbara stared at her. "You're truly insane", she whispered. "What do you...? You think you could've used Dinah and Helena as... as murderers?"
"Given time." Quinzel shrugged. "They are not the first I've worked with. There are plenty of young minds in this city that can be manipulated into..."
Barbara was suddenly not listening anymore. She was staring at Harleen Quinzel's necklace. The medallion she was wearing had fallen out from behind her blouse as she leaned forward the second time and what it depicted tugged at Barbara's never failing memory. It was a figure of the harlequin. The female clown, the man-snake had called the person who led him to Barbara. It wasn't that which Barbara was thinking about, though. She was thinking about the necklace Patch had worn for years and years - the only thing his biological parents had left him: a medallion of a harlequin.
Barbara gasped. She knew the note Patch, her foster son, had carried in his wallet - torn and shredded after years in his pockets. He had been left at the doorsteps of a hospital, with the note and the medallion. The note had said: "My son. Take good care of him until I return to claim him. H.Q." There had been the signature with a tiny image of a harlequin.
"Oh, my God!" she whispered, almost shocked into a stupor. "Oh... my... God!"
Quinzel silenced and looked at her. "What?"
I can't believe this, Barbara thought. It seemed so... so impossible. So utterly and ridiculously absurd to even entertain the notion. And yet. Yet, there it was... Her eyes, the way her lips curled when she smirked, the necklace. The necklace and... Oh, the initials. H.Q.
"Do you have a son?" The words were out of her mouth before she had time to think. "Do you have a son?" she repeated when the blonde woman looked uncomprehending at her.
"Can we just stop this business right now and...?" Boyd said, but was interrupted by the psychologist.
"Why?" Quinzel's voice was hard and sharp.
"Look", Barbara said, making a movement with her head. "In my wallet, in the purse..."
Quinzel narrowed her eyes at her, but found Barbara's wallet in the small purse she had brought with her from Helena's place.
"There's a picture... Look. Look at that boy and what he's wearing around his neck. Do you...? Do you know it?"
Patch had worn that medallion for years. He had only taken it off four months before he died. She had been the only one who never asked him not to wear it or who told him it was useless to hope that his parents would come for him. When she noticed that he didn't wear the pendant anymore she didn't ask him about it, but it had been the sign she had waited for: the sign telling her that he had finally, after almost four years, accepted her and Wade as his family. It had been long years of turmoil for all of them. Patch had been wild, in the brutal and unruly sense of the word. And yet, beneath the tough, hard surface of the unpolished youth offender there had been a longing for acceptance. A longing to belong. And he had been brilliant, that boy - so brilliant. He had been the only one that had ever managed to best her in an argument and the day he did without resorting to rude words and angry shouts she had taken him out for ice cream.
Harleen Quinzel stared at the picture of the boy that had lived with Barbara and who had, finally, accepted her as his family. "Who is this?" the woman asked, quietly, suddenly subdued.
"He was... my son. My foster son. His name was Patch. He was left at a hospital, wearing that pendant. Did you...? Did you ever have a son, whom you gave away?"
Quinzel turned sharp and cold eyes at her. "Where is he now?"
"He was... he was shot almost a year ago. He and his boyfriend were killed, murdered."
The blonde woman looked at the picture again.
"Boyfriend", Boyd snickered and looked at the picture over Quinzel's shoulder. "What a...?"
"Shut up!" Quinzel snapped, and the cold venom in her voice made him snap his jaws shut with a sudden movement that Barbara would have found comical if she hadn't been tied to a chair and feared for her life. "You're lying!" Quinzel spun around to look at Barbara. "You're lying!"
Barbara, not sure what part she was suspected to be lying about, shook her head. "He was a brilliant boy. So sweet and caring. He was smarter than anyone his age and most people older than him. He could've become anything he wanted, had he not been killed."
"What hospital?" Quinzel asked, staring intently at her. "What hospital was he left at?"
Barbara told her, searching her memory for anything that could help both of them piece the puzzle together.
Quinzel shook her head, but obviously not in denial because she said: "I meant to come for him, I did... I just..."
Barbara, keeping quiet, silently thanked the gods that Quinzel hadn't come for her son. With Patch so volatile he could've turned out seven hells worse than his mother. She fleetingly wondered who the father was and what he was like.
"This is all very touching and all", Boyd again interrupted, "but I'm on a schedule..."
Quinzel snapped her head around and the dangerous glint in her eyes silenced him a second time. He straightened his tie with a rough cough. He was oddly well dressed for someone who was about to beat a woman to death.
God, I'm going to die! Barbara suddenly realized. She closed her eyes shut and thought of Dinah. She didn't know how the girl's powers worked, but maybe... Maybe.
Shutting out the other two she concentrated on Dinah's name and on the sense of the girl's presence. If she could somehow manage to contact the girl, maybe she could sense her fear and find her and...
A blow to her cheek made her open her eyes. Her eyes stung with unshed tears from the blow.
"You did this!" Quinzel spat at her. "It's your fault that he's dead!"
"No!" Barbara cried. She vehemently shook her head, the only part of her that she could actually move. "He was murdered in full sight..."
"You should've kept a closer watch. You should've..."
"There was nothing I could do!" Barbara called out. She had been through this once with Wade: the anger, the fear, the guilt... the accusations.
"Kill her." Quinzel pointed at Barbara with bitter rage, frozen solid.
"With pleasure", Boyd said wryly. "It's what I've been trying to get busy with the past thirty minutes..."
"Don't stretch my patience," Quinzel told him with calm, controlled fury. She looked at the picture of the boy who most certainly was her son - and flipped it into the air. The picture fluttered to the floor beside Barbara's chair. "You are gone now. And I will stay to hear you scream."
"I told you, I don't..."
"Do!" Quinzel commanded the man without looking at him. She made an impatient move with her head and moved away towards the stairs in the background. "I'll stay up here - out of reach. Pretend I'm not even here. But I want to hear her scream."
Boyd nodded. "I can guarantee it - they almost always do. Unless they're unconscious when I begin... or later."
Barbara closed her eyes and thought of Dinah again, fervently praying to any higher power she could think of.
The first blow hit her hard on the cheek and she felt her eyes water with pain. Interestingly enough she wasn't afraid of him anymore, so when the blow had landed and the worst pain had subsided she opened her eyes and looked at him. I'm not afraid of you, she thought, feeling an immense relief wash over her.
"I'm not afraid of you", she told him.
He stood before her in his probably very expensive suit in black, with the matching tie in black with silver lines. He wore no rings and he would use his hands to begin with, to beat her so that he could feel her break beneath him. On the table behind him there were other instruments that he probably would use when he no longer felt the immediate need to soil his hands. Yet she didn't fear him. She had feared this man for so many years - he had made her life a hell as a child. But seeing him like this she realized it had never been her fault. It had been him. She wasn't afraid anymore and the realization set her free. Not from pain. Pain would conquer her, she was sure of that, in the end. And there was no way she wouldn't be able not to scream. In the end she would. But it didn't really matter. Because she was free. Free from him.
"You may beat me and you may bleed me and I will scream, but I'm not afraid of you. I will never give you anything freely and all that you get is what you take. That way I will be free from you, unsoiled."
He hit her again, harder this time. She felt a sudden darkness that threatened to overcome her and she hoped that it would, so that she would be free from him for few moments, but he waited her out. He knew what he was doing and his blows were precise and measured, causing immense pain. At least he didn't taunt her, the way he had when they were kids. It seemed that his need to humiliate his victims with words had grown out of him.
Barbara, lost in a dizzy haze of shadows, wondered if she had heard Dinah's voice or if it had been a trick of her mind. She tried to open her eyes. The world spun on her as she turned her head. Below the stairs the door had opened and Dinah stood between Helena and Kate Lockley and... Carolyn Lance. Above them Harleen Quinzel just managed to escape before any of them had seen her. Barbara tried to open her mouth to speak, but no words came - only a croaking sound.
Boyd moved a few steps a side, to stand behind Barbara. He pulled a gun and held it to her temple. "Move and she'll die. Now..."
Before he had finished the sentence Michael Boyd was thrown through the air by invisible hands. His gun went the other way and landed before Carolyn Lance's feet. Barbara tried to find some semblance of order in what was happening. Beside her Boyd was once more lifted into the air and hurled across the room. He hit the wall with his head first and was rendered unconscious before he slid down on the floor.
"My dear Badra," someone said close to her - and suddenly a beautiful dark-skinned young woman was standing beside her, touching her face. "Sshh, let me help you now..."
Barbara closed her eyes, feeling a sense of incredible lightness and relief sweep through her body. When she opened her eyes again she could see clearly and her head wasn't filled with darkness. None of the others seemed to have moved from their place, but when they noticed that she lifted her head they rushed towards her. Kate Lockley untied her from the chair.
"Your face looks fine", the blonde woman hastily told her, silently. "Nidae healed you with her touch."
"What...?" Barbara asked, confused.
"Barbara!" Helena cried and sank to her knees before Barbara's chair. Her face was a study in relief and worry and fear. "Oh - I thought I had lost you. I..."
Barbara was about to slide down from the chair and into Helena's waiting arms as Wade suddenly entered the room. He rushed straight towards her across the floor without breaking his stride, ignoring the other women in the room. Barbara looked at Helena and noticed the hurt and disappointment the young woman tried to hide, but before she had time to say anything or give Helena some kind of sign, Wade was upon her and hugged her.
"My God! Oh, my God! You are alright."
Barbara closed her eyes and leaned into his embrace. "I'm alright", she said.
He pulled back and took her face in her hands. "Thank God he didn't have time to lay his hands on you. There are some small cuts, but you're safe and unharmed."
"Unharmed? But he..." Barbara silenced as Kate Lockley's words now made more sense. Healing?
She would never know how extensive the beating Boyd had put her through had been and in retrospective it didn't really matter. Nidae, whoever she was, had healed her. But Nidae was an old woman last I saw her, she thought. Did I dream...? What was going on?
"How did you...? Why are you here?"
"Well - I phoned your work to talk to you and they told me you weren't there. And Helena told me you had gone to work. So I was worried", Wade said.
"But I didn't..." Barbara glanced at Helena. She hadn't really told Helena where she was going and she guessed Helena had just assumed she had gone to work. "I phoned in to tell them I wasn't coming."
"You did?" Wade said surprised. "Well, the one I was speaking to didn't seem to know anything about that. Then Dinah was behaving oddly, saying you were in danger and..." Wade looked at the girl with a suspicious glance. "I still haven't got a fully satisfying explanation for that, but she and Miss Lockley phoned Reese..."
"How did you find me here?" Barbara asked, looking at Dinah.
It was Kate Lockley that answered. "This is where he held you the last time. I figured he would use the same location in this dimension. Although I wasn't strictly involved the other time, I only heard about it from..." She silenced, noticing Wade's look. "The other girls. I had a clue the other girls that disappeared had been taken here. This is an abandoned warehouse", she added, looking at Barbara. "Dinah helped", she said and glanced at the girl. "She did really well."
Dinah blushed. "Reese is outside, by the way."
"We better get you to a hospital, honey", Wade said, putting his arms possessively around Barbara's waist. "Maybe we should get away on a vacation, you and me? What do you think?"
"I need to talk to Reese", Barbara said. "There are things he needs to know." She rose to stand on her own, but felt that her knees were weak and was grateful for the support Wade gave her. That she'd rather lean on Helena wasn't a thought she wanted to dwell on in that moment. One thing at a time. One step at a time...
Helena watched them walk away. Seeing them together was like a bullet in her chest.
"Difficult, isn't it?" Kate Lockley suddenly said beside her.
"What is?" Helena turned her head to look at the blonde woman.
"I thought I helped by putting her in your charge..."
Lockley shrugged. "Don't know if it did any good."
Helena stared at her. "You... you tried to help me get together with... with Barbara?"
"Yes." Lockley eyed her curiously. "Did it help?"
Helena blushed and the blonde woman laughed softly. "It did", Helena said quietly, "but... But they are married and they have been for a long time."
"Times changes", the other woman said easily, with another shrug.
Helena looked behind her, at Carolyn and Dinah who were watching the man that Dinah had thrown across the room into the wall. She hadn't known that Dinah had such powers. Neither had Dinah, apparently. It had been Kate Lockley that had instructed her about it and Dinah had practiced since Saturday. Which, granted, wasn't that long, but obviously she had made some progress in such a short time. According to Lockley the girl was very strong, with potential to be a great vigilante. Helena didn't know how Lockley knew these things about them and she wasn't ready to ask just yet, sure she would get some inane explanation she wouldn't be able to make either heads or tails out of. Still - there was one question she needed to ask.
"Who was that woman with Barbara? When we just entered? And what did she do with her?"
"Oh, that was Nidae. She healed Barbara's injuries."
Helena recognized the name. "Nidae? The same woman as the... the old woman? That's not possible."
"When you've lived my life you'll stop thinking in terms of possible and impossible. Things are as they are, according to their nature. Some people I've met said it would be impossible for me to control the beast within me, but I prove it is possible by doing it every full moon. Once I myself was a person who didn't believe in the things I saw. I needed a rational explanation and refused to trust the people I should've trusted. It almost cost me my life."
Helena wondered at the pictures Barbara had found on the net; maybe they had been fake, to cover up for Kate Lockley and let her leave her old life behind. It could be a plausible explanation. And werewolves are plausible? she thought wryly.
"And Nidae?" she asked. "Who is she?"
Lockley smiled. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. We'll talk about it when things have calmed down. You'll get your answers. However impossible they may seem," she added, audible only to Helena's meta-human hearing.
It was late afternoon when they returned from the police station. Reese had questioned her for over an hour and she had answered as truthfully as she could. Wade had refused to leave her side.
A quick survey by the cops of the warehouse that Michael Boyd had brought her had revealed that it indeed was most likely he that was the serial killer who had murdered three young women in the last couple of months. Apparently he had murdered others too, but not from Gotham City. He had been put under arrest, pending trial. The whole of Gotham would be in uproar at this news. Michael Boyd was the second, most highly esteemed citizen in a few days that had been exposed as a criminal. A third would follow, Barbara thought as she walked home with Wade, if they could just find some shred of evidence against Harleen Quinzel. Reese wasn't so sure about that, but he would try.
Reese was apparently in from the cold again and back in the favor of the Commissioner. Barbara was happy for him; he seemed to be a good man.
"Wade", she said and stopped outside their building complex. She turned to him. "There's something... I need to talk to Helena."
She nodded. "It can't wait", she said. "I just... I must talk to her. I'll be back tonight, okay?"
"This is something I need to do", she said, and didn't stay to give him an explanation. Hurriedly she kissed him on the cheek. "I left my stuff at her place", she added, giving him a plausible explanation if he really needed one. "My laptop..." She waved at him. "See you later!"
Before he had time to object she was going, hurrying towards the street where the Dark Horse lay. This time she avoided the narrow lanes.
She pulled out her cell phone from her purse and phoned Helena. She had been to the hospital to be patched up, but they hadn't found anything more than a few blisters and scratches on her, which they considered very weird since her shirt had been stained with blood. While at the hospital she had had a shower while Wade had sent Dinah to fetch a pair of jeans and a new shirt for Barbara from home. Barbara hadn't have time to talk to the girl alone yet, but she hoped she would get time soon. At the moment Carolyn Lance and her daughter needed the bonding time.
"Hello?" Helena's voice said on the other line.
"Helena - are you home?"
There was a brief silence. "No... Are you...? Where are you?"
"I'm on my way to see you. Could you come home?"
"Yes. I'll be there in a few minutes. Don't go if I'm not there..."
Barbara heard the unspoken plea in Helena's voice and smiled, sensing the other woman's genuine need for her. "I won't", she said softly. "See you soon."
She caught a cab and got in, directing it to the Dark Horse. It would be quicker.
When she arrived at Helena's apartment Helena almost immediately opened the door when Barbara knocked, making Barbara believe that the young woman either had just arrived or that she had been waiting by the door.
"God, Barbara - are you okay?" Helena asked as she closed the door behind her guest. "When I saw you in that chair I was sure..."
Barbara let her purse fall to the floor. She took a quick step towards Helena, caught her face between her hands and kissed her with a desperate urgency. Helena made a surprised sound, but quickly caught on and returned the kiss with equal fervor. Barbara couldn't get enough of her mouth and her lips. Since she was rescued and left that warehouse with Wade she had hardly been able to think of anything else than her night with Helena; the burning sensation, the melting softness, the tenderness and the urgency of the other woman. As soon as Reese had let her go she had only had one thought in her mind and that had been to get to Helena as quickly as possible.
Tearing at the younger woman's clothes she felt the desire, the burning need, of her body. Helena needed only to look at her and she would burst into flames, the same as during the night. It was a hunger, a thirst, a need that only Helena could satiate. And she sought the dark-haired woman's mouth, touch, naked skin...
Barbara had been prepared to die that day. She had been sure she would die screaming, in the worst imaginable pain. But she had been rescued and she needed to know that life, what was left of life, was worth living.
When she came home that evening Wade was upset that it had taken her so long. She had brought her clothes and her laptop from Helena's place. Helena had followed her home, to prevent - as the young woman had said - her from being kidnapped again. But they had said goodnight and goodbye at the elevator downstairs. Barbara hadn't kissed her, although she had wanted to, and now she regretted that she hadn't.
"Is Dinah at home?" she asked as she put down her bag and the computer in the hall.
"She stays with her mother tonight," Wade said shortly. "And Kate Lockley is back at her hotel room."
Barbara nodded. "Wade", she said, straightening. "I need to talk to you."
He grew silent, completely still in an odd way that told her that he noticed something within her that he didn't recognized and didn't like. Or like might not be the right word. Maybe it was more that he wasn't prepared for what he saw and wouldn't know how to handle the change within her. She looked down at her hands. Specifically at her left hand. Without a word she pulled off her wedding-ring and held it out to him.
"I'm sorry", she said.
She knew how much she hurt him, and she didn't know how to lessen the blow. He looked lost and bewildered.
"What are you...?" He stared at the ring and slowly reached out to take it, as if against his will on someone else's command.
"I'm leaving you", she heard herself say.
He stared at the ring in the palm of his hand and didn't seem to have heard her. When he raised her eyes and looked at her she knew that he had heard her and that it was breaking his world apart. "No," he whispered. He shook his head and clenched his fist around the ring. "No," he repeated, more assertive.
"One of us will have to move out," she said; she knew that if she didn't push the question right in that moment Wade would pretend she hadn't said anything at all and try to pretend the world was still okay to live in. He would ignore her and brush off her words as if they were specks of dust, refusing to take her seriously.
He stared unblinking at her. "Move out? Are you insane?" Something seemed to have gotten through to him. "Move out? Why, Barbara?"
"You or I", she said. "Dinah will stay with me. Carolyn wanted me to take care of her - I'm the only one that signed the document."
He kept on staring at her as if she'd gone mad.
"Wade," she said quietly, "I'm leaving you."
His head was thrown back, as if he'd received a blow to his face. "Just like that?" he snarled in anger and pain.
The weight of the world, she thought, seeing his pain and knowing it was she who caused it. "Just like that", she mumbled softly. There was no escape, no turning back.
"No!" He grabbed her hand and tried to give back the ring to her. "Take it. Take it!"
"No..." She pulled loose. Shaking her head she took a step backwards. "Wade, it's over. I'm..."
"It can't be over! I love you! You love me! We're married - for Christ's sake!"
"I've fallen in love with someone else."
There, she'd said it. I'm in love with someone else. I'm in love with Helena. I want to spend every waking moment with her for the rest of my life.
He reeled as if hit and grew very pale. She was afraid he would have a stroke. "Someone else...? Who would you...? Where would you...?" He clenched his jaws. "No. I love you. We can work this through. You're just... just delusional because of everything that has happened to you."
She blinked. "Delusional? Wade, listen to me... I've changed since I moved here. I'm not... I'm not the same person anymore. You have to realize that. We haven't even... we haven't even had sex for... a long time."
"I didn't want to push you!"
"I'm not the same!" she said, angered. "We hardly talk anymore, you and I..."
"It's only been for a month or two. We can change that. We can go... to therapy."
She shook her head. "It's too late. I told you - I've met someone. I can't... I can't go on pretending that never happened. One of us has to move out."
"Who?" he asked, staring intently at her. "Who is it? Do I know him? And where the hell did you meet him - you never go out!"
"It's Helena", she said quietly, holding his gaze. "I'm in love with Helena. She... We have... We've made love."
He stumbled backwards and hit the doorpost to the dining room, on which he leaned his back. He was so pale. "Helena?" he whispered. "The... A woman? You've... with a woman?" He closed his eyes. "You were always so tolerant of Patch", he suddenly said, whispering.
She wondered what that had to do with anything. "I've changed. Everything that has happened. Meeting Helena, Dinah, Quinzel..."
"Quinzel... The psychologist? What has she got to do with anything?" Wade sharply looked up.
Actually she has a lot to do with it, Barbara thought, remembering that second time when she faced Quinzel and Helena had been there.
"I can't have both of you in my life", she said, knowing that she would hurt him with her words. She hated him a little because he forced her to say these things that would hurt him. "If I stay with you I can't... I can't keep my friendship with Helena. If I see her I know I'll... I'll want to make love to her. I don't want to go behind your back."
"It's a little late for that, isn't it?" he snapped, resentfully.
"That's what I'm trying to tell you", she said quietly. "I can't stay with you anymore."
"We can work through it!" he cried out.
"We can't", she said, shaking her head. "It won't make a difference to try counseling."
"We can't - or you won't?" he asked bitterly.
She looked at him. "I'm not arguing about this", she said after a brief silence.
She had made up her mind. She had stepped through an open door and closed it behind her. Wade hated when she did that when they argued; he used to say that she was prosecutor, judge and executioner all at once and that he never got a say in the matter. In principle he was right. But this was her life and to discuss this matter as if there was another solution to it was to pretend that she was going to compromise about something that she had no intention to compromise about. It would only prolong his - and her - pain. And yeah, he would think that she sold him out; that he would have to carry the greater burden of the suffering and that she would get out easily. Maybe he was right. That wasn't really the point, though. The point was that she wanted to be with Helena and to pretend any different was to fool Wade to believe that there was a chance that she was coming back to him. He would never let her go if he believed that there was the slightest possibility that he could win her back. Right here, right now she needed him to understand that that wasn't an option. She would have to deal with her own grief later and mourn the years they had been together when he wasn't there. If he saw her weak he wouldn't let her go.
"You're choosing her above more then ten years marriage? Above me?"
"I'm choosing me", she said. "This is about me and the life... the person I want to be." She hesitated. "Wade - you've given me... everything. You've given me life and love and security when I had none."
"But?" he asked angrily. "But - it's not enough? That's what you're trying to tell me? You've betrayed me! You..." He shook his head. "I love you", he pleaded helplessly in a broken voice. "Why can't that be enough?"
I don't know, she thought, at loss for words. What could she say? That she had wished it was enough? In some ways maybe she did, but Helena made her feel alive. Helena made her feel... pulsating, as a bright star in the sky deep at night. Alive.
The hurting silence between them was broken by a sudden knock on the door, which was followed by a ring on the bell. Barbara looked at the door in surprise.
"That your lover?" Wade asked cynically. "She's come to gloat?"
Barbara shook her head. "Don't be... Don't say that. Helena is not like that."
And she's not supposed to come here... she thought, although her heart raced at the possibility that it was her dark-haired lover that waited for her on the other side of the door. She opened it.
It wasn't Helena.
It was Harleen Quinzel - and she held a gun with a silencer in her hands. The last thing Barbara remembered before the world went dark was the soft pop of the gunshot in her ears.
Helena wanted to die. She hadn't experienced such pain and anguish since her mother died. The worry would kill her, she was sure of it.
Sitting by Barbara's bed in the hospital she counted the minutes and the drops from the infusion that held the red haired woman alive. For ten days she'd been sitting like that - since they brought the woman to the hospital. No one knew if she would live or die. Only Kate Lockley seemed sure that Barbara hadn't survived Snake (as she called the meta-human that she had fought and killed in her wolf-form) and Boyd to die by a bullet. Helena wished she could trust the other woman's prognosis.
Dinah, too, was devastated. She came regularly to sit with Helena by the sickbed. Her mother came as well, but not as often. Carolyn Lance took care of the practical details around Wade's funeral; contacted his family and friends, pulled the right strings, had the body transported to his hometown for his parents to arrange for the funeral. Kate Lockley tried to help Reese hunt down the killer, but Harleen Quinzel seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. If she ever saw her face in Gotham City again Helena/Huntress would kill her - no matter what.
On the twelfth day Kate came to the hospital when Helena and Dinah were there, together with a dark-skinned, dark-eyed woman who seemed to be about Barbara's age. Helena recognized her as the woman who had touched Barbara's face and healed her from the very substantial injuries Boyd had inflicted upon her after they rescued her from him.
Helena had for once made use of her influence as Bruce Wayne's daughter and had gotten a separate room for Barbara at the hospital, with an extra bed where Helena could sleep when she needed to. When Kate arrived she closed the door behind her and the woman she had brought.
"This is Nidae", the blonde woman explained, introducing the dark, very beautiful woman by her side.
Dinah and Helena looked at the stranger and Helena felt that she should recognize the woman from somewhere before Boyd's warehouse. "You healed Barbara", she said. "Can you do it again?"
"I'm sorry, Ciarda", the woman said with regret; she had a strange accent. "I am only allowed to do so much and nothing that changes the true course of events. Have faith in love, though."
"Who are you?" Dinah asked. "You... Have I seen you before?"
"I come from an old world, an ancient time. You knew me then. I knew you. You were different people, with different destinies. Badra was my priestess, Ciarda my warrior and you, bright one, were my princess." Nidae watched Kate. "This woman comes from another time; an alternate universe, if you like. Or rather, a parallel universe - side by side with yours. You are there, all of you, but you are slightly... different. You have other lives and it has made you slightly different as people, though the heart of all of you is the same. In this world Katanya died. When I realized that Badra's life was in danger, due to some unexpected event that has to do with some metaphysical laws that Badra could explain much better than I, I pulled Katanya from her dimension to bring her here."
"The Helena and Barbara I know were on their honeymoon", Kate said, looking at Helena.
"Honeymoon?" Dinah asked, surprised. "They're married?"
"We're married?" Helena asked in a whisper. "She loves me?"
Kate chuckled. "You're very pig-headed in my dimension. A little less so in this one." She smiled. "Same-sex marriage is strictly speaking not really practiced where I come from, but Barbara Gordon wanted to marry Helena Kyle so she arranged for a ceremony - and since Barbara in my world is not much different from a rock-star the whole city was in turmoil. But it turned out well and they went on their honeymoon." Kate looked at Nidae. "Then came the goddess", she muttered cynically.
"Katanya was my Captain", the dark woman said with a humorous smile at the blonde woman at her side. "With the warrior and the oracle on their journey I asked her to help me. She agreed."
"I needed to get away from your brother", Kate said, looking at Helena. "We kind of... um, had fallen out with each other and I felt that I needed to get away." She arched an ironical eyebrow at Nidae. "I wasn't expecting this kind of trip, though."
"You needed the wolf's powers to make a difference", Nidae said softly. "Only you could stop Snake."
"Yes, Snake", Helena said. "Tell us about him..."
She had a hard time believing what she was hearing, but she needed to concentrate on something other than the searing pain she felt every time she looked at Barbara beneath the sheets.
"In ancient times he was a priest with devastating powers. In the parallel world where Katanya comes from his memories were restored and he wanted to resurrect his master - the Cobra god."
"I know this", Helena said, frowning. "It's my dream."
The cave, the fight, the dark, the fire - Barbara (who didn't look exactly like Barbara but who was her) dying. There had been a gigantic snake in the background.
"Barbara died", Dinah whispered and Helena looked at her in surprise. "I saw it in your mind", the girl added when she noticed Helena's look.
"In my world... dimension, we fought Snake and the Cobra god", Kate explained. "We killed the snake - Nidae killed the god."
"In this world, when the god was vanquished, Snake lost his purpose. He, like Ciarda, had dreams about what he needed to do and the first time the god - his master - came to him to collect the blood, as he did in Katanya's world. But then... he came no more. Snake had memories of Badra and he saw images from his master's death, seeing her face when the master died. He knew she somehow was responsible, the same way she had been responsible in the ancient time - when he was a priest and fought her. In this world he thought that if he killed her his master would come back." Nidae looked at Barbara in the bed with a soft look on her face. "I am not allowed to interfere with the worlds of men, but I owed my priestess for serving me so diligently. In this time and world... she had lost her true purpose. Without her purpose she was losing herself. I needed her to find her destiny."
Helena touched Barbara's lifeless hand, sensing her eyes fill with tears. "Destiny?" she whispered. "This?"
"There was something she needed to do, before she could set out on the path to her true destiny. And when that something was done she was about to die before she had found out who she really is. I needed to buy her time."
"What did she need to do?" Dinah asked. "And what is her destiny?"
"Ah, yes. We live our lives with endless opportunities, but with each choice there's always another path not taken... What happens with those paths never trod upon? Badra needed to care for the son of the woman she killed."
Dinah gasped. "Barbara killed someone?"
"In my world", Kate said softly. "In my life... it was different. This whole thing, with Barbara and Harleen Quinzel and Patch, was played out differently."
"Patch was Harleen's son?" Helena asked, disbelieving.
"She had to care for him. That she cared for him in this life made him care enough for her in another life - preventing him from fully hating her and from killing her when he had the chance. If she had died in the parallel world where Katanya comes from everything would have been lost."
Helena shook her head. "I don't understand..." she said helplessly.
"Life begets life", Nidae said softly. "Love will save us all in the end." She looked at Helena. "I have played my part. I will take my Captain and return her to her life. You will not find me again."
"Fear not, my brave one", Nidae said with a soft smile. "This is not the end. It is just... another beginning."
With that the two women, one dark and one fair, walked out of the room - out of their lives; and Helena would never know if what they had told her had been some insane fable or the utter truth.
She wasn't sure if she was dreaming or awake. She walked different worlds, different times: alternate lives, past lives, parallel lives, universes never known... She was there, in all of them - sometimes looking the same, other times looking completely different. But it was her, in different shapes - one soul, shared by many.
Beside her at all times was a beautiful dark-skinned woman with raven-black hair and deep, dark eyes; she was her guide to the strange and beautiful things she was seeing. And through it all there were some things that were constant: Dinah, Helena - and sometimes the Clock Tower, in one or another shape.
"I know this place", she said as they made a brief stop at the upper floor in the Clock Tower. She looked around. The place was different from when Helena had taken her there; it seemed as if someone was living there - and there were computer screens taking up a large part of the area. She saw herself sitting in a wheelchair before the screens, watching them with intense interest. In the background Helena suddenly appeared. Neither Helena nor the Barbara in the wheelchair noticed her. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but they talked - and then kissed.
"She will love me?" she quietly asked the woman by her side. "Even if... even if this is my future?"
She meant the wheelchair and the stranger beside her nodded, understanding her fear.
"She will love you always, Badra."
Barbara nodded, as if she had known this and just waited to hear it spoken. "Then it doesn't really matter," she said, to herself.
"You will forget what you have seen here when you return to your body, but your soul will remember. In time you will know what you need to do."
"Nidae", Barbara said, suddenly remembering the name. "You're a goddess."
She wasn't sure how she knew that, but the woman smiled.
"I am. I was. Now I'm just... dust in the wind. Blowing where the wind blows."
"Passing, like the wind." Barbara nodded when she understood. "I won't see you again then. But I thank you, for everything."
"It was paid for long ago, my priestess", the goddess said softly and kissed her on the temple. "Live in light, my friend."
Barbara was sitting in her wheelchair on the balcony, looking out across the park and the Clock Tower to the right. Dinah was in school. Apparently she had found some friends and she seemed much happier than before the summer; her grades had improved too and she was regularly practicing her meta-human abilities with Helena or her mother. Carolyn Lance had decided to stay for a few months in the city, to help Barbara bring some order to her life after Wade's death and the gunshot that had changed her life so drastically. She had been clear about that it only was for a few months, until Barbara had recovered. Dinah seemed fine with it; she was happy to have two mothers all of a sudden and shone like a ray of light in their lives.
Kate Lockley was gone. Barbara had been told the whole story from Helena and Dinah and wasn't sure what to think. In either case, wherever the woman had come from she had returned to her life. Barbara doubted they would ever see her again. Reese and Helena had broken up; the detective had taken it pretty bad, according to Dinah who had first hand account of it since she accidentally happened to touch him once after his talk with Helena. Harleen Quinzel was still missing, but she was by now wanted in Gotham City as an accomplice to Boyd, since the police had found evidence that she had been at the crime scene. They also had Barbara's account of the encounter with the woman who shot her more than three months ago.
Barbara turned her head to look at Helena in the door to the balcony; the young woman had her own key to the apartment and she came everyday to visit her. Barbara would've liked her to move in, or at least stay for a few nights a week, but she hadn't dared broach the subject yet. She'd only been home from the hospital a month and she and Helena hadn't really talked about what had happened between them the last time they saw each other, before Barbara was shot and Wade was killed. It seemed it had happened a lifetime ago, to some other woman.
Every time Barbara looked at Helena these days the young woman seemed so guilt ridden that it tore at Barbara's heart, but when she tried to talk to Helena she just... changed the subject or grew nervous and excused herself to go to carry out some simple task that wasn't really that urgent.
"Hi," Barbara said with a smile. She reached for Helena's hand, took it in hers and held it. "I'm happy to see you."
"Yeah. Sit with me."
Helena seemed to hesitate, but pulled up a chair from the other end of the balcony and sat down a few feet from Barbara. "Can I get you anything?" she asked after a moment. "Anything at all?"
"There's something I'd like to have", Barbara said, looking out across the park; her eyes sought and found the gleaming tower in the background.
"Yeah? I'll get it for you."
Barbara was thinking hard; she had been thinking hard the past few weeks, sitting in her chair in the afternoon sun and studying the tower. "Helena..."
"Yeah?" Helena shifted in her chair, obviously sensing that Barbara wanted to talk to her about something she didn't want to talk about.
"When I woke up at the hospital you said you'd give me anything I wanted. Anything at all, whatever the price... Did you mean that?"
Helena nodded solemnly. "I did. I do. I'd give you anything, you only have to ask."
"I want that", Barbara said softly, looking at the Clock Tower. "I want the Clock Tower."
Helena frowned, clearly not understanding. "What...? Why?"
"Don't you... don't you and Nightwing need a proper headquarters here in the city?" Barbara asked quietly. She was looking down at her lap, fidgeting a little with the thin blanket that covered her legs.
"Headquarters?" Helena said uncomprehending.
Barbara shook her head. "Never mind - it's a stupid idea, anyway." She left the balcony, rolling in towards the bedroom.
Helena caught her before she had time to wheel further towards the hallway and the dining room. Barbara looked at the younger, dark-haired woman.
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing", Barbara said, sighing. "It was just... a stupid dream I had. I could never..." She shrugged.
"If you want the Clock Tower I'll get it for you", Helena said.
Barbara looked at her. "Why are you here, Helena?" she asked softly. "Why do you come here?"
Helena paled and backed away. "What... do you mean?"
"You come to visit me, but you never..." Barbara hesitated. "You never... touch me anymore. You don't... When you sit beside me you sit... away from me. Do you find me so... repulsive?"
"Oh, God - no!" Helena gasped. She shook her head, but she didn't move. "Not that. Never that. I'm just... I'm..." She silenced, looking helplessly at Barbara.
"I miss you", Barbara whispered. "I... dream about you at night. Your kisses, your touch... your mouth upon mine... Why...?" She swallowed, finding it difficult to speak. "Why won't you... touch me? And if you don't want to touch me - why do you come here and mock me with your presence?"
"Mock you?" Helena's voice was barely a whisper.
"Yes. I can see you, but not - not touch you. Do you know how much it hurts me?"
"Christ, no..." Helena sank down on her knees before Barbara's wheelchair. There were tears in her eyes. "I want you so much", she whispered. "I just never... You lost Wade. Wade's dead and I... I thought you wanted... I didn't want to... I didn't know what to do."
"You want me?" Barbara whispered, with tears in her eyes. "You want me, despite this...? Despite the way I... look?"
Helena nodded. "I do. I do. I never stopped wanting you. And you look beautiful. So beautiful... I couldn't - I just couldn't touch you, because if I did I wasn't sure I would be able to stop myself and I wasn't sure what you wanted..."
Barbara felt tears wet her cheeks. "I was leaving Wade", she said quietly. "I was leaving him. I told him about you and that I wanted to leave him, to live with you..."
"Really?" Helena asked, hardly audible.
"Really. I wanted you. I want you. Please, Helena - could you just... could you just please kiss me?"
Helena made a broken sound and rushed up from the floor. Before Barbara had time to react Helena had lifted her in her arms and held her close to her. Barbara clasped her hands behind her neck, gently pulled her face towards her and softly kissed her on the mouth. To feel Helena's lips brush her own again - finally, after weeks of desperate longing - was wonderful. The tenderness and the urgency stirred suppressed desires within her and she moaned quietly, feeling Helena's tongue searching for hers. Helena gently put her on the bed, still kissing her, and Barbara pulled her down with her.
"Christ, Barbara", the other woman whispered and buried her face by her neck; her voice broken and lost. "I've missed you so much. I never thought... I thought you never wanted me to touch you again."
"It's you I want", Barbara whispered. "I've been yours since I first saw you."
Helena nodded, unable to speak. They kissed for a long time, whispering gentle, soft words to each other; confessing their love for each other in a way they hadn't been able - not allowed - to do before.
"If you want the Clock Tower I'll see to it that you'll get it", Helena said after a long time.
"I want to turn it into a headquarters for you and Nightwing, and maybe Dinah, if she is to be a vigilante like the two of you. It'll be the perfect cover. Patch taught me everything there is to know about computers - I'll be like... I'll be your command control, keeping an eye on you and directing you were you need to go. I'll help you fight the crimes of this city."
Helena looked at her. "That does sound intriguing", she mumbled, but her eyes were locked on Barbara's mouth with another kind of expression in them.
"I think... I believe that's what I'm meant to do. I think it's my destiny."
Helena caught herself and stared at her. "That's what that woman said..."
"What woman?" Barbara asked. "Never mind", she added. "Don't stop..." She smiled teasingly at the younger woman. "There are things I'd like to do with you before Dinah gets home."
She blushed when Helena's eyes twinkled with delight and desire, but eagerly greeted Helena when she lowered her mouth upon hers.
~ END ~