FANDOM: Birds of Prey TV
PAIRING: B/H, but not yet.
DISCLAIMER: I own none of these characters. They are the property of DC Comics and WB as well. In any event, they are not mine. Only the plot is. No harm intended and no profit was made in the writing of this fanfic. This is a work of fiction done out of fun and as a fan of the show and the comics.
RATING: NC-17 for stuff likely later on, mature content.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This involves some stuff loosely taken from the TV show and from the comics. A blend if you will. My own twisted take on how 'Devil's Eyes' could have ended. This is just the beginning so there's a lot of questions left to be answered. The answers come, just not soon.
COMMENTS: To SH: Thanks for the beta, but more importantly for your great sense of humour and ongoing encouragement even when I write twisted stuff like this',;)
ARCHIVING: If you actually want this bent piece of my imagination than by all means, ask and let me know where.
The rain fell as hard as bullets and more relentlessly than a Gatling gun. The air held the deep cold that only a November downpour can. The kind that invades your joints and goes deeper, beyond the mere body, to chill your soul. The kind that leaves you aching and burning in pain, with nowhere to go, if you don't get out of the rain. I could step out of it. Buy an umbrella or something else just as ridiculous. It made no sense for me to be standing in the graveyard while the rain pelted me, but it was the only kind of sense I had left.
Water draped over the stone I'd been staring at for so long. I don't know how long. Time wasn't a consideration for me anymore. Like getting out of the rain. It didn't matter. The sheet of running water only blurred the engraved name on the tombstone. It didn't make the name there unreadable. Only shook the lines enough to make them seem shaky. Or maybe that was my vision going. It wouldn't be the first time I could no longer trust what I saw.
"The world is an ugly and beautiful place, isn't it?" A voice as familiar as my heartbeat said to the far side of me. "Funny isn't it? How it can be beautiful and ugly at the same time."
This time I would be stronger. I wouldn't look at her. "You're not really here."
"If you say so, but here I am anyway." The voice was teasing. She always loved teasing me.
My vision blurred, this time it didn't have to do with the rain. "Why do you keep showing up?"
"Barbara," Her tone was tired with concern. "You could have at least worn a rain coat. And would it, maybe, not kill your self-destructive streak to maybe use, I don't know, a wonderful technology known as the umbrella?"
Anger held sway and I gave in. I turned and looked at her. Helena stood leaning against a statue of an angel, as if its stone wings would give her shelter. She was dark against the wet stone, her leather trench coat open, her arms crossed loosely over her chest that sported a dark purple shirt moulded to her skin. She had one leg drawn up, foot against the angel, her back to those heavenly, heavy wings. And the look in the most beautiful eyes I've ever known was all for me. Sweetness. Exasperation. Always, she knew me too well and not well enough.
"You don't understand." I nearly growled at her. Pain laced up my back. It wasn't the first time for the pain or her company. It wouldn't be the last for either. If there was one thing I've learned I could count on, it was suffering.
"Understand that you've been out here for hours in the cold rain? Understand that your neural coupler is hurting you again? It's been three months Barbara. Don't you think you should at least make the old college try to forgive yourself?"
"I don't forgive murder. No one should." My jaw clenched so hard it hurt. But not enough to distract from the ache of the cold and seeing Helena's ghostly shape in front of me. "I thought I was drunk enough so I wouldn't see you anymore."
Anger made her eyes darker. "Did you ever think the drinking and the pills are why you keep seeing me? Stop the drinking. For god's sake stop taking those handfuls of pain pills and come home."
"I don't have a home anymore." The clock tower was a sanctuary and it's where I killed her, and in that one moment killed my safety, my home, and myself as I knew me.
I could never go back.
"You hair's dark now. I miss the red." Helena always changed the subject abruptly during these discussions. Sometimes I had a hard time following. But my hair had grown long enough that I could see the tendrils of dark wet snakes along my shoulders and past them.
"All the better to hide with. Red sticks out too easily." Her hair was untouched by the rain, being only a phantom of my subconscious. It was the familiar wild angles adding to her feral look and come hither smiles. She smiled now, secretive and knowing.
"It's almost the same color as mine."
"I hadn't noticed." I lied.
"Right, because being one of the most intelligent people on the planet with an eidetic memory, you wouldn't notice an obvious detail like that."
I turned away from her and back to the grave. "Leave me alone."
"Funny isn't it?" Her voice floated like the wind, elusive. "How something can be ugly and beautiful at the same time."
"I don't think it's funny." I said.
Silence. I didn't turn around. Helena was gone.
I took one last look at the name on the grave before finally turning to go. Harleen Quinzel laid there stone cold, yet I was the one who died when I murdered her.
The world wasn't beautiful. It was filled only with ugliness.
The entire apartment building emanated a foul smell of a place old before its time, unclean, and filled with misery. I passed a woman on the stairs and didn't want to see her face. I chose this place for its anonymity.
Now that I was outside of the cold rain, my clothes were quickly becoming as stiff as cardboard and felt far heavier from both water log and my own exhaustion. The drenched bag of liqueur bottles that I carried up to my room made my arms ache with their weight. I didn't have much time left. I blundered inside my apartment and immediately put the bottles down on the floor next to where I collapsed on the mattress, mindful of where the broken springs poked through. I studied the room as I always did upon entering. The yellowing walls had plaster cracked and flaking in various places in the bachelor. The ceilings were stained with old water marks and cigarette smoke from years of abuse. It wasn't Hell, just a small rental on the off ramp of life towards it. A minor pit stop before reaching Dante's realm. It was cheap, the room. And there was no background check, no registry, no names, no questions, meaning I was untraceable. After all, Helena and Dinah haven't found me yet.
The room reeked of despair and futility. I debated on opening the window but then I would only hear the curses and loud music and occasional scream that much more clearly from outside. And I want nothing to do with the world.
The face of the woman on the stairs came back to me as I lay there. I hadn't drunk enough yet to inhibit my memory. Not enough yet. The woman would have been pretty except for the tightness in her face, the guarded lines of it. And the tired, worn out look in those dull murky blue eyes. I'd heard her speak to some guys downstairs. She was nineteen. And she had seen too much of the world, had too much done to her by the world all ready. She was only two years older than Dinah. Dinah with sunshine hair and a smile to match. Her eyes a clear, bright blue. Her birthday had been last month.
"You keep missing things. The important ones."
I glanced over at Helena who leaned against the window. The street light shone the reflection of the rain in with streaks of dirty yellows and shadows that didn't touch the figure standing there.
"You couldn't honestly have expected me to go back for her birthday after everything."
"Who says I was talking about her birthday?" Her question was as smug as her look. She had no right to be here, intruding on my suffering.
Pain came sharp and sudden. It curled me up into a tight, contorted ball. I breathed deeply, fighting to wait it out. The pain would pass. I had to make it so. I needed to function. I needed to be stronger than it. I was always stronger than the pain.
Helena hadn't followed me to the bathroom.
Another sharp pain nearly had doubled me over. I winced and breathed through it. The pain would pass. It always did. Stained linoleum greeted me in the bathroom. I turned on the overhead light that slowly fizzled to life. I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. Hair long and dark. Helena had been correct. It was almost the same color as hers. I should have cut my hair though. It would make it that much harder to identify me. I had tried to before, but in the end my hands failed me. Like my will failed me three months ago. My hands were all I had left to do what needed to be done. I no longer had computers or even a cell phone. Not even an alarm clock. Technology could be traced. Just like a person's looks. But I should have cut my hair. I held my hands up having found the scissors. The hands shook. I couldn't do it still. Every time I was in the grips of another pain induced fever, I would run my hands through my hair, pretending they were Helena's. That it was Helena who touched me so forgivingly, so soothingly. Helena was the least forgiving person I knew. Aside from myself.
The harsh light did nothing to improve the room as I stared at the water stained walls, mildew and cracked porcelain surrounding me. Stained beyond all sanitary needs. The entire place was against my standards. Then again, I lost those standards three months ago. I really do need to learn to let go of them. Those old rules. I need new ones now.
After throwing up, the walk back to the bed, the only furniture in my room aside from a lamp, was painful. I sat on it carefully, still mindful of the broken springs that stabbed upward through the mattress. Gingerly, I removed the neural coupler, hissing as the metal detached from ever widening bruised flesh. My skin wore shades of deep purples and painful yellows constantly now. The pain wasn't going away. I curled up on the bed, hugging myself tightly. Blindly, I reached with a shaking hand for the glass of water I kept on the floor and the bottles of pills beside my bed. I took heavily of both. My breath caught as spasms racked my body. Holding my breath I prayed the pain would pass soon and waited for the effects of the drugs to wash over me. While waiting and hopelessly hoping, I ran my hands through my hair, imagining it was Helena soothing me. It was so comforting an image that I couldn't let it go. Like I couldn't cut my hair. It was an illusion I needed. Or maybe it was a delusion I clung to. I bet Dr. Quinzel could have told me. Except that day when the woman had Devil's eyes, I killed her. So I wouldn't be getting her advice anytime soon.
I didn't feel like talking to anyone, least of all myself. I'm the last person I wanted to spend time with. A reflex, my body curled more tightly in on itself. I'd been hiding from the people looking for me for months, but I had yet to find a way to hide from myself.
Lying there, I couldn't stop thinking and I needed to stop. The girl on the stairs who reminded me of everything Dinah wasn't had been talking to some men. She was trying to hustle them for cash. Then there was the woman who lived down the hall with the too thin body and who would have been pretty except for the new bruise on her face every week courtesy of her husband. And then there was the man always outside of the building, his clothes older than him, his eyes hidden under so many wrinkles as he kept watch for new garbage to eat. I hated my memory. I hated that I couldn't forget things. I hated that I couldn't not think. Those people weren't my problem. I wasn't a hero. Not anymore. Barbara Gordon didn't exist. I was Anita Graza since coming here. And they weren't my problem.
All the ruin in their eyes, the same look I see in the mirror.
I hadn't drunk enough. I gulped down some more of the cheap liquor I bought. It goes down my throat like battery acid. Before I knew it, half the bottle was gone, and so was a third of the bottle of pills.
"It's not enough."
Helena was there, more still and calm than any real Helena would ever be. Helena with her famous anger.
"If it was really you, you'd be breaking the furniture and swearing at me." I told her.
Her features were blurred and the numbness inside me was spreading, warm and welcome.
"You can drink and drug yourself into oblivion every night but every night you'll still remember what you did. And why you did it.. How you failed yourself. How you left me."
My vision grew grey and then darker. "I took plenty to forget everything."
"You can never take enough to forget about me." All I could hear was her voice as darkness consumed my consciousness. In the dark that voice changed, turned mocking, older. And I realized Helena had been right again. I hadn't drunk enough to forget and not relive it all over again. The darkness claimed me with it's usual price. The nightmare that was real, that I could never take back. And I knew the voice. It belonged to one person and one person alone. Harley Quinn.
Always. It was the same. The nightmare replayed her day over and over again with the same relentlessness she once had. At first, her conversation earlier with Wade. His sweet, kind face staring down at her bewilderment and hurt mingled.
"I don't understand Barbara, is this because I wanted us to take a trip together? If it's too fast we can slow down. I don't want to lose you."
Barbara stared up into those gentle eyes and felt loss and guilt. He never had her to lose, not the way he thought. Not in the way that really counted. "I'm sorry Wade." Was all she said.
"Please, explain this to me-" He moved towards her to touch her, hands outstretched. He had the trust of a child and his heart was wide open.
"I told you Wade, I care for you but I don't feel the same way about you that you do for me. I'm not in love with you. I'm sorry."
He looked like he wanted to close that distance. It wasn't a physical one that he needed or could bridge. "I'm sorry Wade, I never meant to hurt you."
"Can't we just start over?" Even as he said it, Barbara could read the answer in his eyes. He knew what she would say, knew the answer before he uttered it. But Wade had to ask, just like an animal will worry its own wound to its detriment.
"I think you should go." She told him as gently as she could.
There was no way she could know he would come back to the clock tower later that same day, to try to win her back undoubtedly. But she would never know for sure because that was when Helena's psychiatrist, Harleen Quinzel, the villain known as Harley Quinn, had killed a metahuman and stole his power to hypnotize. And the wretched creature Helena had trusted had used that power to turn Helena against Barbara, steal her secrets, that Barbara was Oracle and that her crime fighting lair was in the clock tower. That Helena would give Quinn all the security protocols so that Quinn could seize the clock tower. Or guess that Wade would show up. And that Quinn would murder him.
Harley Quinn would put a knife in that gentle, open heart of his, but Barbara knew it was herself who first gave the killing blow. And twisted it's sharp edges.
I woke with my heart beating irregular and painfully in my chest, my lungs dragging in air. Bile burned the back of my throat.
"You stopped breathing in your sleep again." Helena said from her vigil, sounding as displeased as she looked, glowering at me in the daylight that gave no warmth to me.
Blearily, I read my watch. It was afternoon. I checked the date, it was the next day. I hadn't slept in longer than fourteen hours. There had been times when I had passed out for a couple of days.
"You said his name in your sleep."
"You couldn't know that. Only I know that and since you're a figment of my mind, you only know what I do." I sat and leaned my head in my hands. My head throbbed. I took a couple more pills.
"You're being deliberately dense. I know you dreamt about him. Again." She sounded peeved. It made me angry.
"Aren't you happy?" I told her sharply. "You were the one complaining and sulking every time he came into the tower, every time you saw him."
"Maybe I'm territorial." She said, smiling unhappily.
"I don't understand you at all sometimes." Real anger edged my words, it was something that had burned in me for all this time and all I had was a phantom to take my frustrations out on. "You were giddy when I had slept with him the first time. You squealed and practically danced in your chair begging for details. Then when he was around you made everything uncomfortable. Either you liked him or you didn't. You were happy for me or you weren't. Which was it Helena?"
Blue violet eyes regarded me sadly. "Don't you know Barbara that the deepest pain always hides behind the brightest smile?"
My mouth opened to demand an explanation, but I blinked and she was gone.
It was useless trying to sleep anymore. I dragged myself up to a sitting position on the bed and looked at my watch. It was past dinner time, an hour until dusk. I'd been passed out since yesterday. The debate to try to drink myself into oblivion was a short one. The pills weren't strong enough anymore. I needed better ones, stronger ones. My ability to develop tolerance to any pills I managed to obtain kept frustrating me. I wanted to no longer remember, no longer feel. If the pills couldn't help then what would?
I thought about going to visit Wade's grave. Yet always the same questions crowded me. And then what? Asking for forgiveness would be ridiculous. Funerals and cemeteries were for the people left behind, not the dead. They were for the victims and the predators that remained. I knew which category I belonged to.
I hesitated only marginally before taking out the small metallic neural coupler to put on my back. It was more round than square. The last modifications I achieved when Quinn had taken over New Gotham with her meta-hypnosis ability, helped it hide better. No more cables running down my legs, just a piece of sophisticated machinery on my back covered by my shirt and motorcycle jacket. The same clothes I wore that day. The day I confronted Quinn. The day I left everyone and everything I knew.
I definitely needed better medication.
Outside were the usual noises. The lobby was split. The upper half, complete with desk and a shabby clerk whose hair lay in unkempt stringy clumps that were more yellow than grey, just like his fingers, yellowed from cigarettes. Mid-way through the lobby a short broad line of stairs lead down to the lower part of the main floor and the double door entrance. All the windows wore mesh and bars. Everywhere in this neighborhood did. Going down the short staircase towards the exit, a scruffy, dirty child who couldn't have been more than a very thin eight passed me by. He wore a faded red shirt with a small lightning emblem on the front. He didn't get far once he brushed by me. I caught his wrist, and twisted it.
"Give my stuff back." It was my teacher voice, the stern one, and still worked.
"I didn't do nuthin'!" The child protested, brown eyes skittering away from my sharp gaze. The guilty always protest the loudest and can rarely meet your eyes.
"The proper word is 'nothing' and the correct phrase is 'I didn't do anything.' to avoid using a double negative. Now give it back or else." I didn't threaten him with the cops. That would be absurd. The cops here, what few there were, weren't the type you called for help. They were dirty and more criminal than the ones they took protection money from, the people here to supposedly protect them from.
"I didn't-" The boy began again but his eyes widened at what they saw in my face, in my eyes. A child shouldn't have been able to recognize that look and understand it. Understand that I didn't care, not about anything. Not anymore. Which meant I could do anything and not care about consequences or if it was right or wrong. It made me wonder what the boy's life was like beyond acts of petty theft.
He didn't continue but simply threw what he took out of my pocket at me and ran. I let my hold on him loose so that he could. I picked up the bottle of pills he had taken. There was nothing else he could have fished from my pockets that quickly without his target noticing. I wasn't just anyone. I was trained how to catch thieves and stop them by the very best of vigilantes. You learn how to do it yourself, break and enter, pick a lock, a pocket, a safe, a computer system. My fingers itched at the merest thought of a computer. My hands spasmed lightly in response. I shoved them in the pockets of my jacket.
As soon as I stepped outside, a friendly voice was there to greet me.
"Man, I wish you would tell me how you do that. That's the seventh pick pocket I've seen you stop since you got here."
The person who spoke looked up at me from where he crouched in ripped jeans, a black motorcycle parked in front of him that had seen better days. He wore a white and blue motorcycle racing jacket over a blue Superman shirt so worn it was nearly white. In the times I'd seen him over the past three months, he almost always wore that shirt. The jacket and bike were new though.
Stephan Valort looked younger than his twenty two years despite his hard won existence. He came here by way of Quebec, Canada. He had the dark burnished, nearly bronze colored skin that came from the mix of both his Mi'kmaq mother and Acadian father. The thick black hair cut short around a face a model would kill for, could have been from either parent. It was the eyes in his young face that stood out and truly made his already handsome face striking. Ringed by thick black lashes that would be the envy of any woman, were two eyes of dark blue with just of hint of violet. They shone from that dark skin and black hair which I would argue were his second best feature. He smiled at me. That rakish grin was, in my opinion, his best feature. It lit his face and everyone around always smiled back. Even me.
It's why I knew so much about him when I didn't want to know anybody. He had a way of getting to me and he liked to talk. What scared me is that I more often than not, I cared to listen. I shouldn't care about anything anymore.
"This is new." I pointed to the bike, smiling in return. I couldn't seem to help it. It was my usual closed lip, tight smile but it was the most I could give, and he was the only recipient.
"You like? So's the jacket." His eyes shone and it was like the sun hitting you full force with happiness. He frowned though, and as if the sunlight were stolen by a passing thundercloud. "I used the last of my money to get them. I drove it here fine but now it won't work and it's leaking. I may have been suckered."
I sighed and shook my head. "You really have to get harder and less trusting Stephan. You get taken in too easily thinking the best of everybody." And he should know better.
He hung his head. "I know, but Lisa said she loved bikes. She told me last week that she'd love to go for a ride on a motorcycle and get out of town for the day. I asked her if I had a bike if she would go for a day trip with me and..." his voice trailed off, discouraged.
"What did she say?" I nearly kicked myself for asking. I did not want to get involved in peoples' lives. Stephan just had a way about him that brought it out in me.
"She uh," he flushed, a dark crimson turning his bronze face into a ruddy color. He still wouldn't look up at me. "She told me she wouldn't go out with a guy who sucked more cock than she did."
Lisa was the girl who made me think of Dinah the other day. The harsh words sounded like her. Stephan hustled to get by. At least he used to. "You told me you were quitting, when was it, a month ago?"
"I did." He looked up at me then, face so earnest. "I even went to the Native Friendship Center but what a joke. You know how it is, they took one look at my blue eyes and kicked my non-status ass out of there. No help for a Métis let alone one that sucked dick to get by."
His comment about my knowing how it is was, referred to my pale skin even though I had a Hispanic name. Stephan believed I was as mixed as he was. I didn't correct him. The whole purpose of choosing the name was to hide better from the people who might still be looking for me. The embarrassment was because he expected people to think less of him because he turned tricks to get by. People always treat you as less, perceive you as less when they don't morally agree with your actions, or don't want to deal with someone different. Whether that difference was truly moral or one based on class, race, gender, age, sex, or body types, like being disabled or overweight. I'd been on the end of that far too often to treat him the way others had treated me.
"I'm sorry to hear that Steph." It surprised me to feel it, I meant it, honestly meant it.
He shrugged. "I'm used to it." As if you ever truly get used to be treated as a sub-human, or like dirt underneath someone's shoes. You learn to take it. Steph trying to sound tough. It made me ache for him a little, but that little was more than I'd felt in a long time.
His voice changed, cheered. "Hey! Don't look so mad. It's no so bad. I managed to get a job. I start Monday. Check this out." He rummaged in the green stained athletic bag next to him until he fished out and handed me a folded uniform. It was a blue pair of overalls with a white name tag, his name beneath the company logo in neat black type. "I got a job at pier 14 doing loading. It's a lot of overtime the guys there told me, but it ends up paying well and they need people so bad they don't care that I have no experience. How cool is that? My own name tag! Did you see it?"
Damn, I couldn't help but smile at his enthusiasm, he was so happy and proud. All for a pitiful laminated plastic name tag and the chance at getting the girl he had a crush on. Then again, considering the lengths he was going to, it was maybe more than a crush.
"I hope it all works out." I wished him the best and could see all the ways it could end up worst.
"None of it will if I can't get his bike working again. I don't have any more money to take it to a repair shop or anything. Not even for parts."
All to please a girl that barely gave him the time of day most weeks. I looked at him, slouched in despair over the bike and all his hopes he had tied into it. But it wasn't his situation that made me hurt. It wasn't his childlike swings from happiness to sadness either. It was that I couldn't see Stephan ever being more than someone else's victim. There was something about him that screamed it. The hunching in on himself despite his build and muscles. Despite his good looks, intelligence and charm. He would always be at the mercy of those stronger than him. People nasty the way he could never be. There was no meanness in him. None. And he always tried to believe in the best of people instead of watching out for the worst. I wished he had some of Helena's anger. It helped her fight, helped her stand up for herself back when she didn't know how to yet. Stephan didn't know how to defend himself. I didn't know his full background but I could guess at things. He wasn't the type to ever raise his hand in anger, or to defend himself. He was the type to take the blows and wait for it to pass. He was anyone's meat really. And I hated it. I hated the people that had hurt him so much and so often to help make him that way. And I hated myself too, for thinking of him that way.
I didn't know why I gave a damn what happened to him, but looking into those vulnerable blue-violet eyes and disarrayed dark hair, I couldn't tell him about all the evils of the world that he was at the mercy of. Instead I crouched down next to him. "Let me take a look," I told him.
I waved off his thanks. It didn't take me long to figure out the problem with his bike. "The carburetor gasket is eroded. It needs to be replaced." I remembered what he said about having no money, not a lick for a spare part. Besides, all the places around were already closed and who knew how long they'd keep his bike. "Look, I can fix this temporarily but you need to bring it in as soon as you can."
He beamed at me. He made a move as if to hug me but instead held himself in. It was like trying to bottle joy, he brimmed with it. "Really? You can fix it? I can pay you back my first pay at my new job. Honest."
I waved that off to. "I don't need your money." Not entirely true as I tried to stay away from bank machines until it became absolutely necessary for me to hack into one and get some cash. It always put me at risk of getting caught, of being found. "This only requires you to get me some cardboard. There's some boxes in the back Bring me one. The cleanest one you can find." My eyes had caught a look at his tools placed neatly in front of the bike while he had tried to figure it all out. There was some oil too. Perfect. "You have the tools I need except for a pair of scissors and a pen."
"I'll be back in flash." He jumped to his feet, practically bouncing in the bright, nearly neon, blue sneakers he always, always wore, and rushed off to do what I asked, no questions. I liked that about him.
True to his word, he returned in a flash with everything I asked. The box wasn't too stained and utterly dry. I began to get to work, draining the oil, dismantling his carburetor, and getting to the problem. What I loved about mechanics or computers was that the problems were concrete, hands on. They were only as convoluted as you made them. Not like real life rife with traps and lies. This held no danger, no risk. Only a mental challenge and some physical exertion.
"Can I help?" Steph asked eagerly.
"I got it." A bike couldn't afford the room a car did. There simply wasn't room for more than one pair of hands.
"What are you doing?"
A quick glance at him revealed eyes as eager as his voice. He really did want to learn. I don't know what possessed me, looking up into those blue-violet eyes of his, but I started to teach him about the engine and the steps to what I was doing. He listened avidly throughout. "So we'll trace the shape of your carburetor and cut out a temporary gasket for you." I finished up the explanation for him. "If it leaks then we just do it again until we get it right. As long as you don't run the bike too hot or too long it should hold for a few days until you can get your part in."
"Fantastic!" He hugged me before I could react, squeezing me tightly with one arm around my shoulders where we crouched and then letting me go the very next instant. The affection hurt in a way that bruises and neural damage did not. Emotional aches were always deeper and far more insidious.
I stood and used a rag he handed me to get most of the grease off my hands. The pain in my shins flared so badly that it felt as if they would split in two. All the physio during my years as a paraplegic simply weren't enough to compensate for the use of my legs now. Atrophy had set in years ago, and with the odd combination of numbness and mixed sensations in my legs, I could feel the damage I was doing to myself. Shin splints from hell were only one of the injuries spreading through my body with each passing day. I rubbed briefly at them, oddly glad that the sensations the neural coupler gave me in my legs were not complete. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to move. The pain was nearly that bad anyway. Full feeling and I would be screaming in a fetal position.
Steph started the bike as per my instructions and satisfied that our quick fix wouldn't leak, I tossed the rag by his tools. "You're good to go it seems. Lucky we've had such a mild winter so that you can drive that thing." The pollution of Gotham helped too, keeping most of the snow at bay from the inner city. It felt more like a cold Spring outside, complete with odors.
He smiled at me, all sunshine and joy. God, how could anyone smile like that anymore? It didn't seem right somehow. Not with the world being what it was.
"Hey," Steph wanted to still talk with me, "did you hear about the latest from the Shakespeare vandal? He struck at Ivy Lane the other night. A new one."
"Stephan, trust me on this, what that person writes in his spray paint along the walls is not Shakespeare." Once I was a teacher. Once I was many things I could take pride in. No more.
He rolled his eyes at me. "You are so cynical. So what if it isn't. That's what everyone calls him. Aren't you going to even ask what it said?"
Was I ever that young, so full of curiosity for life? "How do you even know it's the same person? It could just be a copycat."
"No way," his young face set in stubborn lines as he shook his short mane of dark hair empathically. "It was in that same funky paint. It doesn't glow in the dark but it's like, luminescent or something. You can't tell whether it's blue or violet. Maybe it's both."
When I didn't ask, he continued as if I had. "This one said For all the times you've saved me, let me save you, if only this one time. Isn't that beautiful?"
That rang too familiar a bell. "Where did you say that was again? Ivy Lane?"
"Yeah." He smiled, pleased that I was taking an interest. If only he knew the reason my heart trembled in my weak chest.
That street was only four blocks from here. "Remind me where the other ones were and what they said?" I had been too well lubricated and drugged to remember now. Drink enough and you can forget the present, though not the past. Never the past.
Stephan had to think only a minute, romantic that he was, he assumed they were love messages between some Romeo and Juliet. He should remember how their story ended before he glorified such romantic notions.
"The one on Tenth said I'm lost without you. There were a couple almost side by side in the underpass that went something like I wasn't able to protect you from her. But then, I couldn't protect myself from you either."
I had dismissed the others before. The rambling of the love lorn. It mattered little to me, but this newest one. It was nearly word for word what Helena had said to me just before I killed Quinn. The underpass was a couple of miles away. Each one inched closer to where I lived. She hadn't found me yet, she couldn't have and done nothing. I let out a breath, I would have to be careful after dark and hole in even more than I usually did, in case Helena did a sweep this way.
"I hope he finds her soon. Or her him. Or whoever." Damn, so young, so naive. Despite everything in his life. And here he sat on a bike he bought to impress a young woman I'd rarely seen give him the time of day.
"I hope she doesn't disappoint you Stephan." I said it knowing she would. It was the way of things. No stopping it. Like pain. Or even death. They happen and no matter how you ready yourself, it never truly prepares you for them. Love was like that. It maimed and it killed better than any weapon.
"She could never." He told me. And it made my teeth ache to hear it.
"The job change, spending all your money on this bike." I shook my head at him, at the bike, at it all. "She could very easily say no Steph. It happens. Unrequited love is far too common."
Bright eyes shone at me from that handsome face. "You don't get it Anita. You can't be disappointed by people if you don't expect things from them. I just hope she'll say yes to the bike ride. I hope she'll smile at me, that she'll smile because of me. I just hope, that's all."
Damn, damn, damn. He meant it. I wanted to tell him the worst wasn't when others let you down, it's when you disappointed the ones you love. That kind of self-defeat wounded deeper. And as for hope, it took all I had not to laugh caustically at him. Hope killed as surely as love did.
Did you hope you'd taste those lips of hers someday Barbara Gordon?
No, I didn't want to remember this. I didn't want to remember her voice.
I never thought the great Oracle would be so naive as to think Helena would wait for you.
All I could hear was Quinn's laughter, as caustic as my own now, ringing in my ears.
"Hey Anita, you okay?" Steph looked at me strangely.
I stopped laughing and waved him off. "Sorry. I have a bad sense of humour. Everything's fine. Just a headache. I gotta go Steph. Good luck." You'll need it.
He yelled thanks but I was already hurrying down the street. I had to find Mike and get better pills. I didn't want to remember any of that day, that moment with Quinn. And I would if I didn't get to him soon and get new drugs.
Quinn's laughter followed me all the way to the bar.
Night fell like an axe, cutting the sun from the world, sudden and sharp. Street lights turned on, the gaps could be seen everywhere where lights had been shattered and broken.
My shadow, her presence silently rebuking me, decided to be silent no longer.
"You hurt him, the way you laughed like that and just left." Helena said to my left, only a pace behind me. She had been there since I turned the corner around the building where I stayed.
"He'll live." But I remembered the flash of hurt in on his face, the way his body seemed to grow smaller. He lived with his heart as open as a child. "He needs to grow up, toughen up some." I added.
"He was only trying to be nice. He likes you, and he's worried about you. You're too thin and pale, and he knows you're a junkie. Hell, anyone who looks at you knows you're a junkie." Her voice grew in strength with her anger. It always did.
"Steph, like you, should mind his own business. At least he has the good sense not to say anything to me." I snapped. A young couple across the street walking by looked at me strangely and hurried their steps.
Sadness replaced the anger. "He would tell you if he thought you'd listen. He's too afraid of losing the only friend he has."
I scoffed, "I'm not his friend. He has plenty of those. I've never claimed to be one of them."
The anger and sadness mixed with frustration, turning Helena's eyes into a dark, stormy violet. "Like friends need announcements? A position filled like you're an employee? You're nice to the man Barbara. You helped him with his bike. You never talk down to him much. You don't treat him like shit because he used to hustle. That's what friends are, people who are there for each other. You just don't want to admit he makes you feel. You don't want to admit why he makes you feel."
"Fuck you." Hoping she'd go away. Afraid she would.
Helena shook her head, a sharp gesture. "You can be so dense. You won't even let yourself see it."
Exasperated, hurting, both down my legs and back among other, non-physical areas, I turned on her, my temper breaking. "Let myself see what Helena?"
"That he looks like me."
I resumed my hurried walk to the bar. My need for my pills grew rapidly with each step. "He does not."
"That's why you can't say no to him. That's why you can't be overly cruel or cold to him. That's why it hurt so much when he hugged you. He makes you feel because he reminds you of me."
"You are delusional." I told her.
Helena laughed and it wasn't from humor. "I'm only a figment of your imagination Barbara. Your guilt, your grief, your desires, your love and hate. I'm nothing more than your hallucination. So which of us is delusional again?"
The sounds from the bar, a deep bass pumping vibrating the concrete I walked on filled me with urgency. I could see the door.
"Don't." She said in a different voice, one filled with need, with fear, a plea without hope.
"Don't what Helena?" I crossed the street to where the marred, faded orange door beckoned.
"Don't go in. Don't do this." What she always said every time I went here. Sometimes I would see her along the wall of the bar, arms crossed, watching me and not saying a word. Today wasn't one of those days.
"Too late," I told her, my hand grabbing the door handle and swinging it open. I didn't bother to look to see if she was still there. She always left when I opened the door. Always.
The sound, too loud, hit me like an invisible wall, shaking my clothes with every beat and drowning out all sound except what they DJ blared from too many speakers. Immediately I lost myself in the mass of people and dark lighting. I worked these months to not be seen except when I wanted to be.
As soon as I squeezed my way to the bartender I mouthed, "Give me a beer?"
"Any brand?" He shouted back, but it was just lip reading to be understood. I couldn't hear a word of what he said.
"No, as long as it's in a bottle."
He passed a barely cold bottle in my hand. I paid and moved back into the crowd avoiding elbows and legs. I downed the beer, which was little more than water colored brown. I didn't buy it for the beer anyway. I needed the bottle.
It took no time to find him. Mike always stayed in the back with the pool table, a couch and low table complete with goons, guns, and girls. Not women. Not one of them could have been more than sixteen. I guessed his age between 27 to 32. He stood only two inches taller than me. Mike had short dark hair, constant stubble which he believed to be stylish. And always wore silk shirts at the club. Tonight's seemed to be a dark gold. It was hard to say for sure in this bad coloured lighting. And slacks, never denim, not the proper image for a drug pusher. If I had the Delphi I'd know every detail of his life down to his SSN number, assuming he had one. Just the thought of computer and my hands spasmed again in want. I missed it. I missed a great deal of things though. One more loss in a sea of losses barely scratched me now.
I hid in the shadows just around the corner where the men's room was. Not the public one everybody used, guy or girl. This one only Mike and his people used. And sooner or later he would. If he had been more intelligent, he would have used the public one after our last encounter. This one was too conveniently placed under a stairwell. Nice, dark, and secluded. All the privacy I could want.
He pushed one of the girls off his lap and said something to one of his muscle bound guys playing pool, clapping him on the shoulder with his good arm. I could see from the movement that he finally had one of the casts taken of his arms. The other one still had one along his forearm and wrist, the frayed off-white of it poking through the cuff of his silk shirt and covering the right hand.
I didn't care to waste time. As soon as he rounded the corner and out of eyesight, I grabbed him from behind and twisted his arm behind his back in a simple wrist hold, pressing him up against the wall face first. He guessed who it was when I pushed the mouth of the beer bottle into his kidney, hard.
"Bitch," He said heartfelt. Here away from the music I could make out his voice. Standard Midwestern American with a dirty edge. Not someone to mess with. "I thought you said you didn't like guns."
"No," I muddled my voice, fake, indistinguishable accent that slipped over my tongue like wet eels. "I told you I hate them."
"Then why you pull one on me now? Wasn't it enough you broke both my arms. The right one's shattered, you fucking cunt. I still won't get the cast off for another month and they had to put pins in it. I need another operation in a couple of weeks. Fuck!" He swore into the wall vehemently.
"Quiet Mikey. You know I like privacy when we talk. I hate guns. I never said I didn't know how to use them. You ripped me off last time. The last stuff you gave me was no good. I told you before, no dreams. I had dreams the other night Mikey. If I dream, you know I have to come visit you and straighten our misunderstanding out. Give better stuff Mikey."
He squirmed against my hold but stilled when I twisted his arm more to make my point. He didn't have control over this situation. I did., He needed to understand it. Mike was stubborn though, and he moved again. He tried to turn around to get a look at me and see the face of his assailant. I pushed his arm up higher and he released a high whine. The joint would pop if he didn't settle down.
"You coward." He swore some more. I ignored it. "You never show me your face. You from Russia or somewhere? French?"
"No questions Mikey." It's so easy to disguise yourself. Change your hair and clothes sure. Too many people go for the easy and obvious though, sunglasses, hats. All a person needed was to change their routines and behavior and add a different slant to their voice and it was anybody's guess who you were. "Just give me the good stuff and I leave you alone. Isn't that what we agreed on?" Maybe I would dislocate his shoulder after all. The pain itched now behind my eyes and the voices of my past were getting louder. "Fix me up with something better, now, you worthless pill pimp."
"It's hard to get that stuff, you know. Street shit is easy, but you want prescription stuff. Harder to get. Way more expensive. I don't have any."
He flinched when my lips touched the outside of his ear and I smiled though he couldn't see it. "Liar. I know you keep the best stuff for yourself and your underage girls Mikey. Now where is it. I'm all out of patience and there are worse things than a shattered arm that I could do to you." I put a centimetre more push into his nearly dislocated arm.
"Fuck. FUCK! Fine. Fine my front left pocket okay. Just take the shit and go."
I reached in to his slacks and found a pharmaceutical bottle. It went into my pocket without my looking at the label. It would have been forged anyways. Whatever pills were in there weren't what the bottle said.
One more twist got his attention fast. "You remember what to do Mikey, you walk back to your table and don't say a word or bother to look back. You do and I'll come for you."
"Yes, yes. I get it, let up already!" The last came out high and sharp. I was still leaning his arm up. I stopped, I hadn't realized I still hadn't let up.
Before he wised up I slapped electrical tape over his eyes and shoved him away. I made a dash for the fire door just six strides away. His voice followed me though.
"If I'm a pimp then you must be one of my whores with the way you keep sucking those pills back. Fucking whore!" He'd swear a lot more when he pulled the tape off.
So a drug pusher called me a whore. I didn't care. The pride that had once filled me to overflowing, a pride barely caged by a steel and chrome chair, lay dead as ash on my tongue. There's was nothing left to take pride in. It was a vanity I killed with the rest of me. As for what was left alive, the new stuff from my pimp should do the rest of the job for me. No more dreaming, just oblivion. It was all that was left for someone like me.
That and the acrid smell of urine and vomit when I stepped out into the stench filled night air in the back alley. I had heard the heavy hurried footfalls approaching from behind. I positioned myself behind the closed door. Fire doors are so heavy. They opened it in a rush to chase someone they thought would run from them. It was their second mistake. The first was the pool cue the muscled bronzed man in the red shirt carried. Never, ever bring a weapon to a fight unless you can handle it being taken away from you.
I disabled the two men with little emotion aside from a vague irritation. All I wanted to do was go home and take my pills and lose myself. Their presence delayed that. I shoved at the door when they first came through it and saw the first man tumble to the ground sideways. The red shirt stumbled but regained his feet. He simply didn't regain them fast enough. I kicked out his knee from my side vantage point and took the pool stick he released so that he could clutch at his dislocated knee. The stick broke in half over my raised thigh easily and I finished them both off with strategic hits to joints and organs. They'd live, but not without pain for quite some time. Neither ever had a chance to see my face. I walked away from their bloodied unconscious forms feeling next to nothing. Before, I always felt something when I fought. Cocky, arrogant, adrenalin, doubt, desperation, triumph, giddy, relieved. Nothing now. Nothing hardly at all.
Steph and his bike were gone when I arrived back at the entry to my building. With relief at not having to deal with him, I climbed the stairs and retreated to my room, locking it behind me as if I could hermetically seal it and me inside it. Wishes were foolish things. Like love. You always lost in the end.
I dropped to the bed and peeled the neural coupler off, my muscle spasms everywhere making the task difficult. I managed though. I always did. The pills went down smoothly with the liqueur I had left. Within minutes my head felt heavy, the lights dimmed with my declining consciousness. The room was so dark now, darker than the night sky. I wished I could choke out the sun so that day never came again and brought tomorrow with it.
Careful Barbara. When you fight the monsters, in the process you become one.
"What?" Not Helena's voice. It was hers, Quinn's. Only she would mock me by paraphrasing Nietzsche.
The pills weren't good. That scum Mike. I was beginning to dream and struggled to wake but my eyes wouldn't open. All of me felt too heavy to move and I couldn't even scream while I was dragged down, the memories of that day pulling me like thick chains, smothering me, crushing me to the inevitable pain to follow.
It was happening again. Trapped, reliving that day, a day I would do anything to forget. Have done anything. It wasn't enough. It was never enough because it was happening again all in perfect detail.
Dinah and I crashed through the face of the clock tower, shards of glass crashing to the floor where we dropped hard to the ground. I never paused. I dropped my gear and extended my fighting batons with a quick flick of the wrist and waded into the brainwashed police. Harley's goons. They were between me and her. And I wanted her.
It took forever of striking out, beating down everyone in my path, but then Harley Quinn was fighting Helena. Helena had as much reason to hate her as I did. We hated her after all, for similar reasons. Quinn had hurt Helena, betrayed her. She had also killed Wade, and that was my added cross to dig into my shoulder and weigh me down. A weight I raged to put upon Quinn if only I could get the chance.
The chance came.
Quinn broke away from Helena and jumped up to the upper floor. Before Helena could get to her two or more police took the Huntress on. My chance and I took it, climbing up to the floor and taking Quinn on, just the two of us. Exactly what I wanted.
We fought. She was better at hand to hand than I expected. Faster. More lethal. I liked that. It gave me excuses to go full out, to be less the hero than I though I was. Her words kept ringing in my ears, drowning out all else.
She backhanded me. "Does it hurt you, knowing my lips were the last he kissed?"
Fury, pure and all encompassing had me pin her to the rail, her neck in the vice I had made with my batons. All I had to do was lean and she would be dead. Let her laugh now, I thought.
She surprised me though, and hit me where I never saw it coming. Gasping for breath she still smirked up at me. From the corner of my eye I could see Helena down on the main floor, frantically trying to get rid of the pile of police men on top of her so that she could get to us.
Those dark eyes burning into mine, Harley Quinn said, "I must admit though, his kiss was nothing compared to the touch of Helena's mouth."
My eyes widened. Everything stalled. It was as if she had spoken a language unknown to me, or one I didn't want to know. "What are you talking about?"
"Come now Oracle. You're supposed to know all aren't you? Haven't you ever seen what Helena's really wanted all this time? What you kept denying her? She was so ripe for the taking when she came to me. You kept refusing to understand what she offered, and very much understood."
"What she had...?" Could she have? No, Helena would never, not a woman, and not Harley Quinn. "Liar!" I hissed through a clenched jaw, leaning my grip, forcing my batons into the white skin of Harley's neck.
Damn her, she smiled at me. Even with her breath wheezing between her pinched trachea, she still taunted me, mocked me. "My, my. Did you hope you'd taste those lips of hers someday Barbara Gordon?"
I gasped. I couldn't help it. The very thought of what I always wanted and that this creature could see it so plainly. And that she had taken it, kissed Helena. Done more, perhaps, than steal the taste of Helena's mouth.
Quinn choked out a knowing laugh. "I never thought the great Oracle would be so naive as to think Helena would wait for you."
"She didn't." I breathed, not talking about the waiting but about Helena being with Quinn. It was too monstrous. She couldn't have.
What I meant was understood immediately by the blond in my grip, yet I stood her victim. "Yes, she most certainly did. I told Helena when I first saw her that no one does something for no reason. That we are all selfish creatures. She never guessed what it is that you've wanted from her all these years. Taking that sweet, young woman under your roof, wanting her in your bed..."
"Shut. Up." I leaned into her menacingly. This close, she and I could have kissed. The thought made me nearly wretch.
This close, I could hear Quinn's whisper. "You should see how beautiful she is when she climaxes. She whispered how much she loved me when she came in my arms."
I reared back, teeth clenched. And that's when Helena made it to the top floor, begging me not to kill Quinn. Begging to let me allow her to save me. All I could see in my mind's eye though, was the two of them together, was Quinn taking what should have been mine, what I wanted to be mine. All I could hear was the imagined soft sigh of Helena's voice saying I love you. And she said those words to Quinn. And that's when I learned about myself.
It's not the big things that break you, it's the little things. Wade being murdered, that didn't break me. It should have but it didn't. But the little things..the way Quinn looked at Helena , the way she smiled when she said she kissed the woman I loved, had loved for so long now, the way she said it and watched Helena so possessively even as I choked the blond...that's when I killed her. The big things drop you, but the small things destroy.
Her neck made a sickening crunching sound when I tightened the batons and twisted. Helena was right there, tearing me away. Quinn's body dropped to the ground. Everything seemed to stop then, any noise, the sound of fighting, Quinn's heart beat, my soul. All gone.
"She's not breathing." Helena said, her voice tight with fear and anxiety. "Reese! Dinah! I need you here now! We need an ambulance. Hurry!"
Reese ran up the stairs and pushed Helena aside, commencing CPR while Dinah came up behind him. Alfred was on the main floor dialling a phone. I knew he would arrange it so that the people were trustworthy and this place kept off the records and reports.
Helena turned to me, her violet-blue eyes filled with an anguish I caused. A loss I could never heal. "Why?" She asked me brokenly, "Why wouldn't you let me save you?"
The sticks dropped from my hands only then. The horror of what I had done still barely seeping in, like a slow acting poison. I backed away from the look in Helena's eyes and the body on the ground. "I'm sorry," I think I told her. "I have to go- to the bathroom. I'm going to be sick."
I rushed out of there and Helena hadn't followed, herself still in shock. I didn't go to the bathroom though. I kept going until I was out of the clock tower, out of the building and away. In the chaos I left them in, it would take them a few minutes before someone came to check on me. I had to move quickly.
Just around the corner was a bank. I took money out. Enough to buy me anything I would need to survive. No less but no more. And one last thing before I left entirely, before I disappeared. I went to the payphone and made my call.
It was relief when I got the answering machine. "Hi Dad." And even to my ears my voice sounded strange, higher than usual. Lost. "I need to get away for a while. A complete sabbatical from...everything. Helena might bother you about me but just tell her I'm looking after myself and need some time alone to get myself together." The lies flowed out of me one after the other, easier than breathing. "I'm not sure when I'll be back, it may be several months. Sorry to leave like this but don't worry. I'll be a good girl. I love you Daddy. Good bye."
I almost made the second call but I couldn't. When I tried to dial the number to Helena's phone my throat tightened and my eyes burned. I was going to be sick after all. I ducked out of the phone booth just in time to up heave everything in my stomach. The sound of sirens grew in the distance.
I left the side of the phone booth, left the corner of the street, left my home, left Helena, and left myself all behind there that day. I had killed Oracle and Barbara Gordon as surely as I had killed Harley Quinn. And I didn't do it for revenge against Wade's murderer, but because of my jealousy over Helena having been in Quinn's bed instead of mine.
They say love makes us all beautiful. Not true, it made me uglier than I could ever have imagined.
The sirens of my dreams became reality as consciousness dragged me back to the world. To the present, away from the murder of Quinn and my own death. And yet the results of my actions that day, every detail of that day stayed with me always, the foundation of all that came after. The place was as dark as my thoughts, except for the lights outside. The sirens weren't coming here. They were somewhere a few blocks away.
I pulled myself up, stiff and exhausted and hurting everywhere that sensation still existed in my abused body. A quick glance at my watch tells me I've only been out for less than two hours. Mike's going to pay for that, though by the sound of the sirens, I can guess he might already be facing the tune of my earlier payback.
I could guess where the police were. There was a lot of shouting and excitement in the air. I felt it like static electricity along my skin. People were excited. Their voices drifted in and out of range.
"Did you hear man? Mike got pinched by the cops! They hauled his ass down for drugs and-"
"Can you believe it? One of those chicks was, like, only fifteen! Sick bastard. He got what was coming-"
"-found a bunch of drugs and shit too-"
"Whoever tapped his ass is going to get hit if they haven't skipped town already-"
"-ratting him out like that- who do-"
My sigh held the weight of two worlds, the one I lived in now and the one that kept haunting me. I didn't need to hear all this. But I didn't want to risk going out. I should have bought myself a radio.
Helena perched on the bed beside me in her usual sweeps gear, black from head to toe, and her famous black duster flowing around her like a second shadow. "Your hero tendencies seem to be leaking through." She didn't look at me when she said it.
An indelicate sound escaped me at that. "You wish."
"You don't let yourself see what I wish for." The words weren't angry, but filled with a sorrow long held dear. I didn't understand it.
"You're me, right? So how can I not understand you?" I said, wearied to my aching bones.
"You refuse to understand yourself." She did look at me then and it held the reproach I'd come to expect.
I glared back.
She let out a loud exhalation of pent up air. "Why can't you just admit it turned your gut to see him laying his hands all over those underage girls? Girls younger than Dinah. And so you detoured and called the cops on the way home before you got zonked out on that asshole's bad shit." She ran a hand through her hair roughly. Frustration seized her tone. "You even made sure to call the cops you knew from ex-commissioner police chief Daddy weren't on the take. You called good cops to do a good thing. You can't run from who you really are Barbara."
Helena was right about the actions, however she missed the motive. "I used what I knew from when I was a hero to get back at him for sending his muscle after me. That's it Helena. It was a lesson to him not to mess with me. Call it spite, call it petty payback, but don't insult me by saying it's something noble when it wasn't." There was nothing noble about me anymore. I made sure of that.
Her dark head shook sadly and her eyes held a secret I couldn't decipher. "You're going to have to decide."
"Which you're going to be. The hero or the villain. You're running out of time." Those blue-violet eyes held a sad knowledge that I didn't want to know, didn't want to see.
What could she expect? Even now, despite my horror, a violent satisfaction burned through me at the memory of Quinn's neck snapping. The decision was made by my own actions then. You can't be a hero and a villain. No one can be both.
A sudden assault on my door cut off any possible reply I may have had. Someone banged on it, beat at the thin door, screaming. It was Lisa. My blood ran cold at why she would be coming to me.
Pain had a scream of its own through my back as I put on and used the neural coupler to get up and go to the door. I swung open the door and there Lisa stood, face pale, marred with tears and a horrible, desperate fear that trebled the speed of my heart. I knew that look, I'd seen it a hundred times.
She grabbed on to me right away, a weak grip, her whole body shaking and her voice high and thin with hysteria. "You have to hurry, they have Stephan. They're hurting him. They're hitting him so bad and they won't stop!"
It was the kind of fear that only appeared when things were far worse than the person ever imagined. When your mind can't catch up to the horror that is all too real. "Where."
We hurried down the hall and the stairs. As soon as she turned left at the landing I knew where she was headed, the side alley. Where there were never any witnesses because everyone knew to stay clear. What the Hell was Steph doing there?
"I tried calling the cops." Lisa blathered while stumbling to keep up as I took the lead and hurried, hurried because her fear was contagious. "But they're busy down at the bar arresting Mike. If only Stephan hadn't come over to offer me a ride on his bike. They got so mad at him when he wouldn't listen and go away..."
I didn't ask her who 'they' were. I knew. I knew enough, heard enough to know more about Lisa than I cared to. How she only performed hand jobs and oral sex when the money was too tight. That she was still a virgin and those kind of men, the men hanging around her lately, wanted to be the ones to take that from her along with everything else she sold.
I wanted her to shut up. "Stay here," I told her as we got to the fire door.
I hit the door nearly at a run, exploding through it and onto a scene I never wanted to see. Five men were around a crumpled form that I immediately recognized as Steph. One stood slightly aside, watching with a smirk while the others kicked at the crumpled form. One man with dark blond hair and clean cut had a crow bar which made a sickening wet thud as it hit Steph's head.
My mind took all the evidence in instantly. The blood splatters along the asphalt and walls that told me it wasn't the first blow Steph had suffered. The way his body didn't react at all but lay limp as a rag doll to every kick. The stance of the men. None of them knew martial arts. And only one of them had a weapon visible. They laughed while they beat him. Laughed like the Joker had laughed when he shot me, laughing all the while I bled my life away on the floor and he took pictures of me to torment my father with, all so he, the Joker could laugh some more.
Only a second to encompass all this. Only a second for what was left of the control I had forged over the years to completely erode away and release the bottomless fury buried deep within me. In the next second I rushed towards them. The lookout had begun to turn his head at the sound of the fire door. It wasn't soon enough for him. An elbow to the jaw, and lucky for me his was made of glass. He fell like a stone. That left the four who only now realized they were no longer alone.
They never stood a chance against me, let alone against my wrath.
I tore into them and it was nothing like before. I had neither the righteousness or the thrill of when I fought as Batgirl, nor was their the disquieting emptiness of when I beat Mike's muscled thugs. Batgirl didn't exist and neither did Barbara Gordon. The fury consumed me. The helpless anger I felt as a child with every blow my father gave me, a rage that grew with every fight I lost, one that infinitely expanded at being shot, being crippled, being laughed at and destroyed. A bottomless anger that Quinn had unknowingly touched with her vile words and the implications that they held. And seeing Steph not moving, all that blood and those men laughing, my rage let loose like a wild fire. And I couldn't hit them enough, couldn't hurt them enough even though with every precise hit they yelled and shrieked and fell. And it wasn't enough, could never be enough to fill the anger that encompassed me, fed me, bled me.
It wasn't enough to just hit. I maimed. And when ribs snapped under my hands and breath wheezed from pierced lungs I still pummelled and tore with my nails at them until they were as lifeless on the ground as Steph was.
That one thought made the rage pause, and in that pause I stopped. I stood on shaky legs around a number of bodies. One of them who had tried to be my friend. I fell on my knees hard beside Steph's form. Only then did I realize there were tears on my face. His head bled badly from his crushed face and scalp. Crying, I tired to scoop the loose parts of his head back in and hold him. Hold us both together when it was too late. Always, I realized the danger too late to save the people important to me. To save myself.
"Please Steph, please," I wept holding him against me, trying and failing to hold him together, hold us both together. "Please open those pretty eyes of yours. You're scaring me Steph. And you scared Lisa. She was going to say yes to your bike ride, you know that? She's waiting for you. So come back." I lied and begged but he didn't open his eyes. A heartbeat, so very faint, fluttered against the fingers I pressed to his neck.
The whine of an ambulance siren grew in the background. Lisa must have called and been able to get through, despite no cops coming.
The police...she said they were too busy grabbing Mike to come here. I'd called them to Mike's. I was the reason that all the attention was there instead of anyone being here to help Steph. All because of a petty act of spite and the brutality of a few disgusting men who didn't want a young man in love to be given what they wanted to buy. "Oh god," I breathed, shocked, horrified. I had done it again. Looked left when I should have looked right. I knew these men were bad news, knew how they might react to Lisa's attention being diverted elsewhere, knew how persistent, how gallant Steph would try to be. And I ignored it, every warning sign that led to this scenario. I never even acknowledged the possibility of it. And now Steph lay dying in my arms.
Suddenly we were crowded in the small alley by the EMTs. They pried Steph from me, saying nonsense words that were meant to soothe. I followed them to the ambulance. Heard one of them call in for more to get the others, and the police.
One of the attendants, a man with too many stress lines around his hazel eyes than someone his young age should, have stood in my way.
"I'm his sister." My voice said, dead. If only I were.
"Regulations Miss. I'm sorry." he shook his blonde head at me. "We'll be taking him to Saint Vincent's."
Like that, they were gone. And the police would be coming with another ambulance. I didn't stay.
Dark metal just inside the alley caught my eye. Stephan's bike. My hands were covered in other people's blood and thicker things, Steph's thicker things. I fumbled but managed to hotwire the motorcycle. I raced the ambulance to the hospital and prayed despite myself, despite the fact that my prayers always go unanswered.
I had a hospital to go to, police to evade, and a friend to watch die.
I rushed into the hospital doors, instantly assailed by its oppressive bright lights and sickly pale walls. The smell of antiseptic choked me, at least, I thought it was that and not from the thoughts racing through my head. All those possibilities and none of them ended well.
The nurse at the desk looked up startled by my appearance, my hands covered in blood and other things. My clothes covered with it, my face too. There had been a couple of blows that landed on me, some of the blood on my face could be my own.
"I'm here to see Stephan Valort. He was brought in just a number of minutes ago. Severe head trauma. I'm his sister."
The woman stared at me, then at her records. "Oh, I'm sorry sweetie. But he didn't make it. He died on the way here. You're too late."
You're too late.
Right then I wanted to take her honey sweet gagging words and smash her head against the desk she sat behind, all safe and segregated as if all this misery and grief couldn't touch her. This city swallows so many lives. What was one more?
"His body's in the morgue if you want to see him. You'll have to check with the doctor though. But the police are on their way. They'll want to talk to you so stick around."
She started to give me directions but I turned on my heel and left. I knew the way far too well already from when I thought I was a hero. The morgue lay down in the bowels of the building. We always try to bury our dead, to bury death, one way or another. How dare they take him.
The coroner's office had a voice leaking out, high and friendly, young and female. I opened up the double doors to see a young woman intern in her open white lab coat, leaning over the legs of a body while talking animatedly on the phone. Her body lay across that of my friend's as if he were no more than furniture put there for her convenience.
A quick grab and I had snatched the phone from her and smashed it to the floor. Just as she looked up with frightened eyes at my angry face I hit her dead on. She fell as easily as the man in the alley had.
I stepped over her and looked at what lay on the table slab. Stephan, still so messy. They hadn't yet had time to clean him up, strip him and cut him open. He lay there broken and beautiful and dead, so very still, so very pale. My vision blurred.
You're too late.
If I had a soul worth selling, I would sell it to save him. I leaned so carefully trying to wipe some of him up, tidy his always untidy hair but it was impossible with parts of his scalp loose and his hair matted with the insides of his head out. I cleared a spot as best I could and kissed his head gently.
"Nice guys finish last. Wade could've told you that." I whispered as my throat tightened and my eyes burned.
My words were wasted, like all my efforts throughout my life. Steph couldn't hear me. He was gone. And you don't get back the people who leave you. The dead never come back.
Helena's voice rang softly but insistently in my head, in what was left of my heart. "Why didn't you let me save you?"
Because I'm the one who's supposed to save people. I was the one who was supposed to protect you. And here I stand, all I've given, my legs, my life, my sanity, my love, wasted. Failed. I keep failing the people I care for, the ones who matter the most. Just when I thought I was beyond caring and now I wept over the body of a young man I barely really knew. Remembering his hug and how I kept him at a distance, hurting him. But his hug hurt me, still hurt me, that memory of his affection. Kindness always hurt deeper, more cruelly than any blow ever could. What Helena had said had been true, the Helena I kept imagining. All Steph had wanted was a friend. And what did I do except fix his bike to distract myself. Ignoring everything. All the warnings.
"You blame yourself for everything. But you still have to choose." Helena's voice blew through me like a ghost.
"I already chose." My voice came out so harsh and ragged I didn't recognize it as my own. "I chose three months ago. Doesn't today prove what I am? Everything I'm not?"
"We have to see. You still have choices Barbara. You haven't taken them all away from yourself yet."
I wanted to ask her what she meant but I didn't dare. The answers hovered nearer and I couldn't bear them. I gazed at the remains of Steph one last time and couldn't not weep, hated my tears for escaping. So I turned away and slipped out the way I came.
Voices in the hallway made me pause, radio noises, police. Quickly I hid around a nearby corner. Two of them walked by in their uniforms.
"Don't know what to make of this one Ron." The taller one said as they walked past me and to the room I just left. "This one guy dead and the men who attacked him all in the hospital with no one else around? What do you think? Gang related?"
"Couldn't tell ya. But whoever did it sure made a mess. That one big blond guy up in ICU just barely made it. The doc said he'd pull through despite massive internal bleeding. Whoever went rank on them sure did damage. Must be a gang. One person couldn't do all that to four grown men."
"Yeah, I already ran their names. Their nasty. Except for this guy. He was just some guy who got caught a couple of times turning tricks. He doesn't fit with them-"
Their voices were lost behind the doors they entered. The big blond they mentioned, he was the one with the crowbar. The one who more than any of them had killed Steph and all his dreams. He killed the wrong person. I knew all about murdering dreams. It was fast and painfully becoming a specialty of mine.
I wouldn't even need a gun.
First, I needed to make myself less conspicuous and covered in blood and worse would not accomplish it. I turned a corner, then another and quickly found a washroom. Grabbing a wad of the stiff paper towels I immediately tried to wipe off my jacket. My diligent effort wasn't enough though. Finally I gave up on the rest of it and simply turned it inside out and put it back on. It would pass. Now to make sure I would pass. It took a great deal more soap than I anticipated to clean my hands and arms and face. The pale skin shone an unhealthy pink in patches where the blood and grit had been more stubbornly attached to me. Even then there were still dark red stains under my nails, cuts on my face and gashes over my hands from constantly hitting flesh to break bone. If I kept my hands in my pockets I should be okay.
The water was cold and after the first few splashes on my face, drops slid down the back of my neck, under my shirt, trailing cold shivers in their wake. I made the mistake then of looking up from the sink and seeing my face.
It, I, frightened me.
I rested my hands on the ice cold sink, so much colder than Steph's skin was when I last touched him. So much colder than I remember anything being and stared at myself. The long dark hair now damp in the front hung like black snakes around a face that was far too pale, far too gaunt to be mine. My eyes, dark from dilated pupils could be mistaken for brown and were dull. Pale lips that lay like a straight sickly pink across my face, blood flecks from where a punch had scraped me. I almost reached out to touch the reflection of this stranger in the mirror but my hand stopped. I was afraid of the reflection feeling more real than I did standing there staring at this person. I had known what I looked like, had seen my face in the mirror only days ago and yet in such a short period now it was worse. In a way I was scared of losing even more of myself but a larger part was satisfied at seeing any remnants of who I was eradicated that much more. Yet it posed a problem.
I would never be able to pass looking like this. Immediately as I heard about the blond, I planned to take a lab coat and slip in and out amongst the police and staff to reach him. Then all it would take is a needle, an injection of air. In and out. A quick kill. And he deserved far worse for hurting Steph, for killing him. I had killed for less. Or more. Or- Damn, I don't even know anymore.
"Do you really think you could kill a man in cold blood?"
I whirled and there stood Helena, arms crossed leaning against the wall looking at me as if she could pierce through me.
"It's what I was planning to do." She should know, she comes from my head after all.
"Thinking a thing and doing the thing...different." Great, Helena was in one of her philosophical yet vague modes.
"I've done it before." I reminded her, turning back to the sink and carefully avoiding the mirror.
"But not for this."
"I've killed for revenge. What the hell did you think Quinn was?"
"Jealousy. Frustration, and flat out jealousy. You wanted me for so long and when she said she had me you saw it, pictured it in your mind. Me and her in every position imaginable, me sighing her name, coming just for her, holding her , kissing, touching, swirling my tongue-"
"SHUT UP!" I whirled again but now it was the rage, the core of me come to life. "Enough Helena, not another filthy word or I'll-"
She smirked at me, "You'll what, kill a figment of your imagination? Remember Barbara, I'm just your hallucination. The words coming from me, the ones you think are so ugly, so dirty you can't stand them? They're your thoughts, your words Barbara, all yours. And it's all you'll ever have of me."
"Get out." My jaw clenched so hard I think I cracked a tooth. "Just leave me alone."
The smirk grew and it was cruel, something the real Helena had never been but had my stamp all over it. I watched my expression being worn by Helena's face. "You are alone. That's why you keep bringing me up. Bringing me out. Did you ever think that it might mean you want out too?"
Of course I wanted out, why else would I look like a stranger, be drinking and drugging myself like this?
"No," and now she was back to being more herself, angry and defiant and stubborn, "that's not the out I mean."
I didn't want to know what she meant. I turned again to the freezing cold water to splash my face. I heard the washroom door open and an all too familiar voice rained in my ears like warm water after a long dry spell to fill an aching part inside me I thought had died.
"No Huntress," Dinah's voice came light and clear as dawn. "There was only a couple of reports that said it was a woman who did this. She must have been a meta to do this damage. The cops are still in there so it'll be a few until I can go peek. His sister is supposed to be here but-oh, hold up."
Footfalls came right up behind me. "Excuse me miss, I'm sorry to bother you like this but are you a friend or the sister of Stephan Valort?"
My hands braced on the sink and what was left of my heart leapt up into my throat.
Dinah stood behind me. Dinah whom I missed. One of those who I thought about and drank to forget along with the rest of my life and the parts of my soul that could still feel. And here she was. The link to the other, the other part of me, the part I couldn't save. Helena.
I shivered and it wasn't from the cold water. I've never been immune to fear, only good at pretending. My hair was dyed and dishevelled enough, I looked different. If I kept my face down, don't meet her eyes and don't speak, I might be able to avoid this.
Quickly I made a brief non-committal noise and shook my head, helping the hair drape over my face. I shrugged past her to the door, careful not to walk too quickly.
"Sorry, could you please tell me if you've seen-" her hand touched my shoulder to stop my progress and as soon as she touched me she gasped. "Barbara?"
Helena, the one in my head would laugh at this. Karmageddon she'd call it.
I tried bluster. "Non, senorita." I pulled away from her hand but when I tried to open the door it wouldn't move as if it were jammed. Or being held by telekinetic force.
"Barbara," her voice shook, "why- I know it's you. I felt it when I touched you. You don't know how many times we were scared you were dead. Your father's been at his wits end knowing we're covering for you somehow. Alfred's aged fifty years. And Helena...she's been a wreck, worse than that. Looking for you every night. Why won't you turn around?"
Her hands found me again, her body moved up to mine. She moved to hug me, embrace me, after all I've done. I shoved her away and turned to face her. That was my mistake. The sight of her almost undid me. She stood in dark jeans, black combat boots, a thick cable knit amethyst sweater and a warm brown jacket. Her necklace and earrings with their symbol clear. She looked good. Hair longer than I remembered, a thick wave of honey draping past her shoulders and down her back. She'd lost the last of her adolescent pudginess around her face and now she was as sleek as a stiletto, but with sunshine hair and the blue eyes of a summer sky. The only thing that gave her deeper nature away was the look in those blue eyes. A look as if life had disappointed her one time too many times. A look I put there. It hadn't been there before I left the clock tower.
We stood a moment, both of us in shock, staring at each other. Strangers to each other.
Dinah broke out of it first, shook her head, sadness seeped into her blue like a sky filled with rain. "My god Barbara, what have you done to yourself? We need to get you to a doctor. We need..."
"The only thing you need to do right now is let go of the door." I gave her my best stern mentor voice, hoping it would work. Her comms were on, Huntress would be hearing all of this. She would be on her way here. I had to leave. I couldn't let Helena see me like this. I couldn't stand to see that look in her eyes. I'd already caused so much of her pain.
"Isn't that noble of you. Trying to spare causing me more pain." Helena sneered from where she appeared behind Dinah on the far side of the wall. "You're not noble anymore remember? After all, you hadn't killed Quinn to spare me pain, you killed Quinn to hurt me. And you want to keep hurting me for giving what you thought was yours to her. For giving myself, this sweet body all to her. The woman who killed stupid boring Wade." The last she enunciated slowly, taunting.
I squeezed my eyes shut and carefully kept my fists at my side. Dinah hadn't done anything to me. She didn't deserve to be hurt. She couldn't know what was going on. I couldn't deal with my Helena and with Dinah both at once.
"Go away." I ground out behind clenched teeth.
"What?" Dinah said too close to me. "I don't understand. Why won't you let me help you? You look sick Barbara. Please, try to relax. Helena will be here soon and we'll get through this. Please."
Her heart lay there in every word, open raw and bleeding.
"Yes Barbara. Please?" I opened my eyes to see Helena's image past Dinah's shoulder, her smile had nothing to do with pleading or kindness. "Please Barbara please. God this kid is so desperate. Bet she'd be good at comforting you though. Look at her Barbara, all grown up. And now she's bigger and better than you, standing there in your way. Looks like she wants your place. Wants to be on top. Wonder if she's been good comfort for Helena? You know, the real me who's on her way here?"
"Shut up." I warned Helena but I glared at Dinah. Who was she to stand in my way? "Release the door Dinah. Do it now."
Confused and concerned, Dinah shook her head. "I'm sorry but I can't do that."
"You mean you won't." I didn't have time to debate this. I tried to warn her but we never listen to the warnings we're given do we? I quickly moved to leg sweep her but Dinah surprised me. She jumped back and braced herself to fight. She hadn't been this fast before I left.
My surprise must have been visible because Dinah said, "I've been practicing."
No more time to waste. I let her have it, seeing how good she was. A flurry of hits and jabs and kicks and not one landed. She blocked or evaded all the while being careful not to hit me. She didn't take a single offensive move. She was stalling. Stalling for Helena.
"I bet she does a lot more than that for her." My Helena said, her voice suddenly right in my ear, crooning words evil-sweet. "That long blond hair, those innocent blue eyes, that tight young body. Who else would Helena be able to turn to for comfort? Reese? Please, we found out how much she prefers the gentler, well, maybe not gentle, female gender. We found out how much Helena likes women with blond hair and pretty eyes."
Already I was panting from exertion. Dinah was too good, and I was out of practice, out of health, out of a lot of things except an idea. An idea that came with Helena's sickly-honeyed words. I threw myself at Dinah and as she had been doing, she tried to block the oncoming blow, but the blow never happened. Instead I moved past her block, swept her arm aside with a block of my own and then pressed the length of my body against hers. Wide blue eyes stared at me in shock from a very short distance.
"I still have a few surprises of my own." I husked, purposely turning my voice, the language of my body into something sensual, inviting. "Look at you Dinah, little girl lost all grown up. Did you think I never noticed how you would watch Helena or myself when you didn't think we'd notice? I noticed Dinah. Don't I notice everything?" The words twisted and snaked out of me from that vile place seething inside me. "Aren't I supposed to? Since I've been gone you seem lonelier. Would you like to live out one of your fantasies right now Dinah? With me? I'll touch you, take control for you and do such things for you Dinah...just say the word. Say 'please Barbara' and maybe I'll do it." I ground my body into hers for emphasis, in growing anger. "But then again, you've been alone with Helena all these weeks and months. And she does prefer blondes. Tell me Dinah, what kind of comfort are you offering up these days?"
Disbelief, hurt, embarrassment, it all lay there except for guilt. Stunned past speech, past acting. Dinah was past thought. Good.
I hit her fast and hard but she didn't drop like I expected. She did sag and the door I rushed to opened. It had been enough to loosen her telekinetic hold on the door and I flew out of there as fast as my crippled legs would carry me. I hurried and ran from the one person offering me salvation. Despite my shame, a part of me felt a savage triumph at escaping. At hurting Dinah because for a moment I wondered if my Helena hadn't been right, if I hadn't been right. That maybe Helena had found comfort in Dinah's arms. She always did seem to turn to everyone except me.
The bike was where it was supposed to be and no one around who'd look twice. I rode off and I heard Helena's words taunting me.
"Of course I'll always reject you. I always did before and now? Now look at you. You're revolting. Coming onto Dinah to scare her, to get back at me for being with Quinn. For being with anybody except you. Seems you made your choice after all didn't you...Anita. Cuz you sure as Hell aren't Barbara any more. You aren't anybody."
"Dammit!" I yelled against the wind as I raced home to get my stuff and clear out before they found me. "Why Helena? Why did you have to choose Quinn? Quinn!"
Her fault and mine. But hers too. Mine for choosing to be her sky, to try and lift her up, save her, choosing to throw myself into her so completely. And hers for not, not letting me save her, not throwing herself into me but into that filthy slut's arms. Her body. Making love to her.
I'm not anybody, is what my Helena said. Well nobody was exactly who I wanted to be.
At the hotel I had intended to go straight to my apartment. Who knew how much Dinah saw and if they already knew where to find me. Instead though, I found myself at Steph's door. His place lay on the floor below my apartment, two doors down. The door stood ajar. Bastards had already ransacked his place. Rage warmed me, began to burn in my chest. It never ends.
Weeping, it was coming from the other side. I lightly pushed the door open with my boot and there among the toppled over gear and boxes and furniture from the vultures sat Lisa. She sat amongst the wreckage like a crumpled heap, crying into his uniform, the one Steph had shown me earlier today. The one that wore the name tag he was so proud of. And her spilling her salt tears onto it as if she had the right.
In two strides I was in front of her. In one second I hauled her up and slammed her against the nearest wall ripping his uniform from her arms. "Did you hear from the creeps downstairs with their police scanner Lisa?" I snarled at her. "Steph's dead. Do you hear me? Dead and growing cold in the basement of the hospital and it's all because of you."
"I didn't know he would do that." She stammered clutching at herself since I took away what she held onto.
"That he would do what? Stand up for you? Try to protect you?" I punctuated each question with another slam against the wall with her limp and pliant. All she did was take it and I hated her more for it. "You cynical pathetic idiot. He loved you. Actually bothered to love you. The kind of love that makes you a better person for it. The kind that made him better. That uniform you held onto so tightly? He got a job at the loading docks. He took some crap pier work all because you told him he sucked more dick than you when he asked you out the first time. But he took that and turned it around. He quit for you Lisa, he got a straight up job for you, he went and spent the last of his money on a shit bike to give you a ride just to see you smile. Just for your smile Lisa. And what did you do for him? You let those men get to him. And now he won't ever start that job, or ride his bike, or even see you smile. Because you weren't strong enough. Because you're not smart enough. Because you don't measure up to what it takes to be a human being. You'll always be less than what she deserved."
The words came to a stop, like a valve having no more to pour out. I was suddenly empty. I shoved myself away from her and threw his clothes back at her.
"People like us don't know how to keep a promise. But people like them, they do. We're nothing but garbage." I walked out.
"You said 'she' " Helena said from beside me.
"What?" I asked peevishly, making my way to my apartment, tired suddenly.
"Back there you meant to say 'he' but instead you said 'she'. And what promise did Lisa ever make to Steph?"
"None." What the hell did Helena expect from me? I was coming down from the drugs and exhausted and worn in from all the death and lies in my life. "So I got confused in what I said, it doesn't matter."
"What promise didn't you keep Barbara?"
Persistent Marley's ghost. "Get lost." I snapped. It was bad enough thinking about Quinn, remembering that night, I didn't need the rest of it heaped back on me. None of it changed the fact that Steph lay on a cold metal table, his violet blue eyes vacant, with his head bashed in and brains leaking out dead.
My place, if you could call such a hole anything like that, didn't need much clearing. I grabbed a still half-full bottle of whiskey and a shoulder bag I had picked up when I first ran from the clock tower. I threw in what few clothes I had and went for the bottle when the tip of my boot hit something under the bed. Frowning, I bent down to see. It hadn't sounded like a bottle. I pulled it out and at first my brain refused to make sense of what my eyes were seeing. I held the can, saw the flecks of paint on it and shook my head slowly. It couldn't be and yet...I had to be sure. I stuffed it in my pack along with everything else and left. Jumped on my bike and I remembered where Steph said the most recent one had been, Tenth and Ivy.
Night had fallen hard and cold. The streets were deserted and I found the wall easily. I climbed off the bike and stood looking at he words painted there. I traced one with a shaking hand before I pulled out the paint can I had found in my room. The light on my bike illuminated the colour on the wall and the flecks on the can, both the same violet-blue to match Helena's eyes. The words mocked me on their stone cold wall.
For all the times you've saved me, if only this once, let me save you.
I was the vandal, the Shakespeare vandal. How Steph would be surprised, eyes round, chin hitting the ground. The thought of his expression, the absurdity that it was me doing this on blackouts struck me and a chuckle emerged, followed by another, and then another. Soon it turned into a laugh that burst out of me all sharp edges. From somewhere down the alley and around a corner I made out the sounds of cans and garbage scattering as my laughter startled some homeless person away from the crazy woman laughing at a wall. This woman laughing like she's some psychotic capable of anything. And aren't I? Here I'd been, painting during my blackouts, painting memories and reminders of everything I lost and why.
"It's not funny." I turned and there stood Helena, angry and scared all for me and I didn't deserve it. She sheathed her hands in her pockets as if she were afraid to move, to reach out and hug me or hit me.
"No, I suppose it isn't funny." No matter what, I kept seeing those blue-violet eyes in that cold room looking up and not seeing anything ever again. "It could have been you." I allowed, the laughter gone as if it never existed.
Ignoring the warning signs. Not staying on my guard. Quinn should never have gotten so far. Should never have...I choked back the hysterical sob that threatened to overcome me. It would do no good. This world already got all the tears I'm willing to shed.
I leaned back against my own handiwork and looked Helena over. "Here to tell me I've gone completely crazy?"
She shook her dark head as if she couldn't believe the words coming out of my mouth. "I always thought people like us must be a little crazy to do what we do." She shook her head again and her voice trembled, "But you're on that edge Barbara and I don't know how to reach out to you. I'm afraid of pushing you away. Afraid of making it worse. God, I thought I'd know what to say but seeing you like this, I'm so scared right now."
"Of making me worse."
I laughed again and it wasn't kind but the sharp edges weren't directed outwards. Inside I could still bleed to my heart's satisfaction. "I'm over the edge and jumped clear off, even the real Helena couldn't help me."
My dark fallen angel strode towards me and suddenly very real hands grabbed my arms hard enough that I winced, that I can't doubt that her grip is real. This close I see what I didn't before in the shadows. Helena's pallor, the darkness around her eyes from exhaustion, the tight lines of pain in her face, the thinness of her, the trembling form only a hand span from me. In my hallucinations she's always the same except in different moods, different words for weapons. This Helena was the weapon. Or maybe I've finally lost the last of my sanity and made my desires seem real.
Anguish I had fought so hard not to face glared at me with real tears burning in those beautiful eyes filled with such awful agony. Her voice ragged and harsh matched her expression as the real Helena said to me, " How real do I need to be? What do I have to do, what can I say to convince you I'm here?"
Oh no, no. The hands on me, warm and real.
I swallowed and couldn't. I coughed instead. And I tried to deny what my senses were telling me because if it was true then I failed utterly. "No, I'm just imagining you again like I always do. Imagine you well enough that I think I feel your hands that aren't there."
"God!" Eyes red with anger and grief spilled over in streaks of salt water down pale cheeks "Feel me, smell me, taste me. Do what you have to do but I found you Barbara, I found you finally and I'm never letting go. Not even if it kills us both. I promise you."
There it was, a promise. And suddenly those eyes with their rare colour reminded me of another's, of a woman with a contralto purr for a voice that could seduce the very air. Blonde hair instead of dark. A woman who had demanded a promise from me. One I had broken and broken myself and everyone with it.
Staring at Helena who refused to let go all I could think in that moment was one thought repeating itself over and over like a razor over the same cut.
Selena, I failed her, I failed you both. Never forgive me. I couldn't keep my promise to you.
Pain. It's all I feel and all I cause. And Helena, the real Helena, stood before me, my arms in her hands, her eyes filled with the pain I gave her. I wanted to wince away from it, cringe, but I was the one who hurt Helena, who continued to hurt her. And it was only right that if she held that look in her eyes, that I face it. But it was a near thing when she spoke, her real voice, not that of my hallucinations reverberating through me. My eyes nearly closed, wanting to take the sounds in like a drowning victim. Except she was the only victim here.
"Your beautiful hair Barbara," Tears slipped past Helena's eyes like twin lines of crystal. "What have you done to yourself? No wonder I could never find you, you don't even smell the same."
I did close my eyes then and whispered with what little strength I had left. "Get away from me."
"No." She told me with all the finality of a death knell. She always had to do things the hard way, even when it's for her own good.
"It's what I want." I said, the words hitting her but she's the wall I'm hitting my fists against.
"No, it's not."
I do open my eyes then and look at her at that resolute tone. There's no margin in her face for my attempts to manoeuvre her with words. She's looking at me as if I'm her air and she's the one drowning. But I'm the weight around her soul dragging her down by the neck.
She's so determined to save me. God help us both. "Why aren't you more angry?" The Helena in my hauntings always was so angry, even cruel.
Helena shakes her head, her disarrayed dark hair becoming wilder along with the look on her face, the weary anguish laying there in the weight of her words. "I am, but it won't help me here right now. It won't help you. You want to be punished Barbara. And I don't want to help you do that. I don't want to help you keep hurting your self."
"You're wrong." I try to tell her but she won't listen. Not to the truth underneath, like an open grave with neither of us looking down.
"I'm right." She nearly hisses the words through clenched teeth.
I try to warn her. "I won't go. I'll fight you." Please Helena, please don't make me have to hurt you anymore.
"I'll win." She vows. "I have to. I can't lose you any more than I already have."
So stubborn but I have some years on her regarding that particular trait. "You've already lost me. Let it go. Let me go."
Suddenly I'm slammed back into the wall, the smarting smack of concrete sobering me up a bit from my stupor and the growing grey in my vision. Eyes suddenly feral bright stare into mine as Helena snarls, "Never. I'll stop you with everything I have."
"What you have to give isn't enough." I tell her harshly. There was always more than one way to push someone who doesn't want to be pushed away. Pushed at all.
"You don't know." Intense fury, pain and grief, and more all there in Helena, naked to me, "You never gave me the chance to show you all I have to give."
The grey in my vision grew, the pain in my body from before she had pushed me against the wall taking over my awareness. I press a hand to Helena's shoulder, pushing. And even I recognize the weakness in my shaking arm. "No. Helena, you can't." God helps us both I had to stop her.
"I will, I am. I know this hurts you to be dragged back into the world of the living again but I'll do it Barbara, even if you hate me for it." Resolve, how could I break through hers?
God help me Selena, for the promise you insisted I make. God damn me, too, for what I have to do to keep it.
"Hate you?" I purposely turn my voice into the flavors of cruelty that thrived inside me. "Why would I hate you? Because you gave it up to the woman who killed Wade? Or because you've taken advantage of my young ward?"
Shock and outrage are her responses. "I don't know what the Hell you're talking about with Quinn unless it's that shit she said to you before you killed her. We'll deal later on that. But Dinah..that's not only sick but it won't work. You may have thrown Dinah off by saying dirt, but talking trash to me will only bring out my stubborn streak." Helena grit her teeth, but then when she opened her mouth to speak said something other than what it seemed she was going to say. "I still can't believe you said that trash to her. Dinah's been scared and crying over you since you left. She's been breaking herself to try to look after me and this is how you treat her. How you treat the people you care about? Trying to drive us away won't work. We'll find you."
Fine blunt honesty then. "There's no more me to find."
"Bullshit!" A flash of white, sharp teeth. "You know why I can't recognize your smell? Because you smell like rot Barbara, all those drugs, the drinking. Yeah, that's right. Dinah saw a lot more in your mind than just your identity. After all, how did you think I found you? You've been using that neural coupler almost non-stop, slowly killing yourself. You likely have internal bleeding. You're in a lot of pain. Doesn't any part of you want to come home? Want to be comforted? Don't you want me to hold you and help make that awful feeling go away?"
Help make that awful feeling go away...the thought of her comforting me like she did in my dreams, a warm hand running through my hair, her silky voice reassuring me, the mere thought of it made me hesitate. And that hesitation was all Huntress needed to slip behind my defences, behind my back and suddenly my legs went numb.
"I'm sorry Barbara." Helena whispered after she turned the neural coupler off. My body sagged and she caught me. I couldn't fight. I held onto her, arms wrapped in reflex around her neck to keep myself from falling. We were close enough to kiss.
And yet I'd become literally the albatross around her neck. And in many ways she had herself to blame.
"Sorry for making me paralyzed again?" I viciously told her, triumphant at the raw look for taking advantage of my weaknesses in her eyes, my mind racing for a way to turn the tables. I couldn't find any.
"Stop trying to think so hard. You'll hurt yourself even more." Damn her, she's watching my every facial tick, knowing me too well even when she doesn't know me well enough to stay away.
"Now what? I won't stay in a hospital. Or are you going to drop me off at the police to arrest me for murdering Quinn?"
Tired, Helena looked so tried but I couldn't give in. "Told you, those tactics won't work on me Barbara. That you would ever talk to me this way...This will have to wait. It will all have to wait until you sober up and feel physically stronger. And then we're going to have the mother of all talks."
Fight, I have to. "The first chance I'll get, I'll run. You said it yourself Hel, Dinah isn't you, neither is Alfred. I'll find a way to get around them and then I'll run again. This time I'll run so far you'll never find me."
She smirked at me but there was nothing truly smug or happy in that twist of her lips. "One step ahead of you Barbara." Something cold pressed on the back of my neck The world began to dim at an alarming rate. My body went limp and Helena held me close. I would have sobbed at the feeling of safety in her arms, of the joy of having her hold me pressed so tightly to her. A feeling I didn't deserve. A joy I had failed to earn.
"Shhh." She soothed in my ear, the softness of her cheek against mine burning my senses. "It will be okay. I've got you now. And we're going to get through this. I'll take care of you, my way."
The grey turned to black and there was no more joy, or pain, or terror at what was to come, only sudden, mind stopping oblivion.
A vile acidic stench stung my senses as the black turned to grey. The grey lay on me, around me, like a heavy blanket cocooning me from the worst of the pain that hovered in my struggling rise to consciousness. A grey that also prevented me from being able to think as clearly, or move. The grey however, had help with that last one.
"She got sick again Helena. God, I need more to clean this up." Dinah's young voice strained with exhaustion.
I had been sick. That was the smell. And it explained the sour taste burning the back of my throat. But if that's Dinah's voice then the weight on me must be her. Dinah touching me. Dinah who was a touch telepath.
Oh God no. Don't let Dinah be reading all the illness inside me. Don't let me poison her too, hurt her more.
Full consciousness remained out of reach as I fought against it and Dinah's weight on me.
"Hel! Hurry! She's fighting me!"
More weight held me down and the grey fought me, dragging me down lower, where I felt less, could do less, only hear dwindling voices.
"Shit Dinah, are you okay? The smell get to you?"
Dinah's voice further away, thick with something. "Sorry about that. I'll clean it up with hers. It's just...touching her. She hates herself so much. And all those bruises on her, she's so thin...I could feel her trying to wake up. She doesn't want us to see her like this. She's disgusted by herself. Ashamed. And so desperate. I don't understand why she's so desperate. We're here for her. The doctor Alfred brought in said-"
Fading out, I was losing and the blackness was sweeping in to take me.
"I know, But we have to hang in there Dinah. If it's too hard I'll do it all. Don't worry about it. She has to dry out and it will be messy. Ugly. And recover from her injuries internally. You don't have to be here."
Dinah, her tone feather soft, "There is no other place I'm going to be, want to be, than right here with you two. Pass me the wet towel? I have to-"
Darkness won and their voices were lost completely.
After that, things only got worse. I kept going in and out of consciousness. The more fully conscious I became at times, the worse it was. More than once I screamed, screamed from the pain, screamed for anything to take me away from all of this. I even screamed at Dinah once when I think we were alone. Hateful things. The ugliest of things. Tears streaming down her face as she held me down, cleaned me up and more gently than I deserved, tried to ease my pain. Then she held me until the tremors passed and the spasms lessened enough for unconsciousness to claim me again.
That's how it was for I don't know how long. Me fighting to get awake, to get away. Fighting the pain and the two people struggling to save me.
If only they'd listen. They lost the battle before they ever began. A battle set in motion before Dinah ever came to New Gotham, before she even ever dreamed of Helena and me in her precognitive visions. Before I became Oracle and before there was a Huntress. There was that moment, the moment I made a promise and set myself on the path I would kill myself rather than be on, rather than make it worse. I would kill myself to keep it. To keep that promise.
Too late. Always too late.
I should have known then, lying in what my jagged thoughts told me was Helena's apartment, that the worst was yet to come.
When oblivion came in streaks of yellow and red, I welcomed it. But that too proved to be a lie. As unconsciousness brought a different Hell. The kind that a person with an eidetic memory and guilt ridden soul brings.
I recognize the hospital room right away in my nightmare. A frequent one of how things were after the Joker shot and paralyzed me. The panic always grips me paralyzing me far more than his bullets lodged in my spine. The inability to breathe, my heart in my throat and being unable to runaway. The room is dark, night, thunder shaking the building that smells too strongly of antiseptic and bleach..
"Too late. You're always too late to be the hero aren't you?"
I crane my neck up. A form in the dark leaning against the wall in a familiar pose. Helena, except the voice-
"But then again, you're not really much of a hero now are you? Killer." A passing car from the street below gives me the briefest glimpse of blonde hair rather than Helena's dark disarray. And yet the voice seemed lower than Quinn's, but so familiar...
A flash of lightning and I see her. Blonde hair, longer than Quinn's, the pose identical to Helena's but more curves, a stronger jaw, and a face grim with accusation all for me.
"Well now Barbara," Selena Kyle purred low and menacing as she pushed off the wall to walk towards my prone form, "It seems I couldn't trust you after all."
No this. Anything but this. I don't want to remember anymore. "I did what I could."
"Then you should have done more." Selena never did give an inch, unless it was to toy with the mouse a little longer before she chose to rend it apart.
Strapped into a bed, panicked from being here, in the hospital, it was so hard to think. I change my mind. I want to wake up. I have to wake up. I'll take the pain just not this. I don't want to be here. I don't want to remember it. To think about it. I need to wake up. Please.
Selena is suddenly over me from one lightning flash to the next wearing the most unpleasant smile. "You can beg all you want little mouse. But I want to see you hurt some more for your failure. So keep begging. But you're going to remember everything you keep trying so desperately to avoid."
Her smile loomed closer as the disjointed nightmare shattered into true memory.
God, if only I had killed myself when I had the chance.
Barbara looked down at the enthused young woman and tried not to smile, tried to look stern, but it was so hard with Helena Kyle nearly bouncing on the heels of her shoes, jiggling the books in her hand as they spoke a few steps outside of Helena's home. Still, Barbara tried, for Helena's sake.
"Look," She told that smiling face and adorable dimples, Barbara fought for her mature voice but without the Batgirl cowl, and not really being angry at all, she couldn't hold it worth a damn, "just promise me you'll try to get the essay done before Monday? I know you have the trillionth party with Sandy to go to but honestly Hel, if you don't do this extra paper, Smits will flunk you out of English lit for sure." She yanked on that braid that kept flouncing off Helena's right shoulder. "You promise me?"
Helena squealed and impulsively hugged her tutor, something Barbara was quickly becoming accustomed to with the exuberant young woman. Heck, Barbara liked the kid, she couldn't help it. She even returned the hug.
"Thank you Barbara. Thank you thank you thank you thank you!" Still bouncing on her heels Helena was utterly charming. "Thanks for cutting the studying short so that I can get ready early to go to the party. This will be so cool! And I promise absolutely I will get that paper done and to Smuts before the end of Monday."
"Smits." Barbara corrected her but the older woman's own grin took the sting and reprimand right out of the words. After all, Smits had been a thorn in Barbara's own side when she attended Gotham High. The man could be unbearably obnoxious.
"Yeah," Helena gave her a sly smile, "but you think Smuts just like I do. I can read you like a book Gordon."
"Barbara. And didn't your mother teach you respect for your elders?" But Barbara only laughed as she said it. After all, it was a beautiful April day. And it felt like June with the Sun out and not a cloud in the sky. She couldn't grudge Helena the urge on a Friday to have some fun.
"Elder? Puh-lease! Like, you're only 23. Hardly that old." And then Helena's eyes shyly caressed Barbara, something that had happened before. In a way that left Barbara a little confused and a lot befuddled. "You're not that much older than me."
"Older enough." And this time Barbara sounded every inch the one in charge. The adult. "Now go on. I'm sure Sandy's waiting with baited breath for you call."
She turned to go but a tentative touch on her hand stopped her. And she was faced with a very sad, scared looking teenager. "Uhm, Barbara? Did I do something wrong? I didn't mean it. I'm sorry."
At those eyes filled with such sudden sorrow and regret, Barbara immediately knew a regret of her own. This time it was she who pulled Helena into a quick hug. "I'm sorry Hel," she said, deliberately choosing her shortened pet name, one she noticed only she got to use. "I'm cranky when I don't get my fix of coffee. We oldsters are funny that way. You haven't done a thing wrong. And I'm not mad, not at all."
"Honest?" Blue-violet eyes searched hers.
"Honest." She smiled down at a face that returned that smile like the Sun shining on the moon. Barbara felt pale in comparison to Helena's brighter disposition. And she was relieved to see that smile right back in place.
She never understood her immediate sense of protective tenderness towards the younger Kyle. Ever since they first met at the library where Barbara had agreed to be a volunteer tutor, that streak lay there, wide and deep within her. So of course she'd agreed to tutor the younger woman. Of course after their sessions she insisted every time on walking Helena home. As long as she could avoid Helena's mother. Retired or not, former thief Catwoman, Selena, always unnerved Barbara.
"You have a great time at the party." She told the younger woman who gave Barbara a hard, fast squeeze and a kiss on the cheek. The next second, before Barbara could even react, Helena was running off to her house waving as she ran. And laughing.
The laugh was warmer than the Spring breeze, and the kiss on Barbara's cheek lay there like a gentle touch of sunlight. Barbara frowned in confusion, then she too laughed and shrugged it off.
She turned to go and made it as far as the curb when she heard a cracking noise and a small, petrified mewling sound.
Barbara turned and the sight before her made her heart lunge in her throat. Helena up on the maple tree two stories high just outside the Kyle residence, trying to reach a kitten stuck up there. What Barbara saw with trained eyes from having to leap from buildings and trust her life to cables and branches and brick, was that the slim branch Helena had straddled to get to the kitten could not bear even Helena's slender weight. The crack had been the base. It would snap any second and both the kitten the oblivious young woman almost had in her hand, and Helena herself, would fall any moment.
"Helena." The name hadn't even fully breathed past Barbara's lips before she was at a dead run for the girl and the tree. Barbara had a split second to wonder how on Earth Helena had got up there with no lower branches in reach. Then Barbara saw the fire hydrant so close to the wide trunk. At her run, she used her powerful legs to leap and use the top side of the hydrant to kick herself up and grab the nearest branch. Using it, she found the center of her body automatically from years of gymnastics and life as Batgirl to swing her body over the trunk and up higher. She heard Helena say "I got her." and that's when Helena's branch broke.
Helena's scream pierced more than Barbara's ears. The red head reacted from her gut. With one arm she grabbed the falling woman who had an arm hugging the terrified kitten tightly to her chest. And Barbara caught her. Frightened violet blue eyes met equally frightened green. Then the branch Barbara held onto snapped and they both fell. In that short second of time, young Barbara hadn't been sure but she thought she saw Helena's eyes change somehow. Barbara tried to manoeuvre her body to take the brunt of the fall before they hit pavement, hard. But Helena had grabbed Barbara's taller form with her free arm, had twisted and landed on her feet, kitten in one hand, Barbara in the other.
All the red head could do for a moment is stare, breathing as ragged as Helena's, up into the younger woman's flushed face. They were close enough that Barbara could see every nuance of expression flowing over Helena. Surprise, fear, adrenalin, excitement, and a feral joy, and Barbara could see the pupils that had changed into feline vertical slits. They were the most remarkable eyes Barbara had ever seen.
"Nice catch." Barbara gasped, finally getting her hammering heart under control. "You okay?"
"I'm great." Helena smiled and stood up fully, helping Barbara up with her. As their bodies separated, Helena held up the kitten in her arms but looked only at Barbara. "It helps to have something worth catching." The smile and the depth in her eyes didn't resemble a teenager's at all.
Barbara knew she should say something. She opened her mouth to speak, but a little boy ran up, his face streaked with tears and he smelled strongly of bubblegum.
"Thank you Ellena." The boy said, the thank you sounding more like 'dank yew', his small arms outstretched for his kitten.
Helena looked down at him and said in a soft voice, "I think little Dusty is okay Scott but you have to make sure she doesn't get out of the apartment okay?"
The boy who Barbara estimated couldn't be older than five, nodded vigorously before running over to his house across the street.
"And you," said a low contralto from behind both women, "should not go up trees that high. Especially on branches that can't bear your weight.
Barbara stiffened and saw Helena wince before changing her expression into a sheepish smile and turning around. "Mom! Hey, didn't see you come home. How was the shopping?"
Selena Kyle, Barbara cursed mentally at her bad luck. She preferred to avoid the reformed thief. And she hated to see Helena get into trouble.
Turning to meet eyes very like her daughter's, Barbara felt every inch a teenager who got her friend into trouble. "I'm sorry Miss Kyle. Helena had only been trying to help save a kitten for the neighbours young boy."
"Yes, I saw you dash to my daughter's rescue. Barbara isn't it?"
Every time Selena did that. Pretending not to remember Barbara's name when she knew it well enough. And pinning Barbara with that inscrutable look, as if Barbara were being measured and Selena found her lacking. Yet this time, the gaze was far more speculative and less disapproving, but no less exacting. And Barbara didn't know why. And she didn't like the not knowing.
"Mom," Helena chastised, apparently destined to be Barbara's rescuer today. "You have to work harder at remembering names. Barbara's been helping me. She does volunteer work for the school library and even subs a couple of classes."
"Indeed." Selena turned her gaze to her daughter. And this was what kept making Barbara think she never knew Selena Kyle. Because as quickly as the fierce woman could become lethal in a fight on roof tops, when she looked at her daughter, Selena became someone Barbara could never have guessed existed. Selena Kyle loved her daughter, loved her completely. And it changed everything about her whenever she looked at the center of her universe, Helena. "I hope you've been paying attention to Barbara and not wasting her time?"
"Of course not," Helena protested as if it was the most ridiculous thing ever that. "I even have an essay I'll be doing this weekend. But first," and the girl's eyes gleamed mischievously, all exuberant teen once again, "I have to call Sandy back and find out what to wear to the party tonight! Remember Tom Peller's party? You said I could go."
Selena tugged on her daughter's braid. "Yes, I remember. You go on ahead and call your friend. I'll be up in a minute, I want to speak with Barbara for a moment and find out how your studies are going."
Barbara mentally cursed again, that glance she just caught from Selena had nothing to do with asking about her daughter's schoolwork.
"Sure mom, I'm doing fine in my school work right Babs?" And with a saucy wink and irrepressible grin, Helena bounded up the stairs and into the house.
Barbara waved good bye to one Kyle and changed her stance to fully face the other. What was it about Selena Kyle that made Barbara feel they were both on a roof top, wearing latex and danger lay everywhere?
Still, Barbara was never the type to be cowed by anyone. Not even her friend's mother. "What is it you'd like to speak to me about Miss Kyle?"
"First, are you okay after that not so little fall?" Eyes raked over Barbara and if she hadn't so much pride, Barbara would have squirmed but there was no way she'd let Selena see how much the older woman unnerved her. Instead Barbara squared her jaw.
"I'm perfectly fine thanks to your daughter." Then, it occurred to her that Selena hadn't asked Helena if she had been hurt. Of course she wouldn't, Barbara reprimanded herself, Selena knows very well what her daughter is.
"Yes, I saw." And this time the words held an entirely different meaning when directed at Barbara rather than Helena. A threat lay there. "My daughter is a remarkable young woman."
Barbara chose to ignore the threat cautiously. Instead she answered Selena honestly. "Yes, she's extraordinary. Bright and a joy to be with. You must be very proud."
"I am. And you know very well that wasn't what I was referring to. After all, you both fell two stories without so much as a scratch. A bone or two should be broken at least."
Barbara thought of a number of reactions, discarded most of then and settled on shrugging. "She's meta like you. It's not really that big a surprise." Though Barbara hadn't known, she had wondered but until now had never had those speculations confirmed. "I hope it's not too hard for her to adjust." Her concern for Helena always lay there, an undercurrent of caring for the younger Kyle.
"Yes, I suppose you might know a thing or two about metas." Barbara looked sharply at Selena at that remark but Selena narrowed her eyes and to Barbara's further surprise, Selena reached out and took a stand of Barbara's long red hair in between slender fingers.
"Remarkable colour of hair you have Barbara. Such a unique shade of dark red. And the length suits the strong line of your jaw." Selena suddenly laughed ruefully. "I should have known." Before Barbara could ask what the woman was talking about Selena asked, "And how exactly did you first meet my daughter Barbara?"
She didn't know what to make of Selena's twisting turn of thoughts. She wanted very much to take a step back but didn't want to appear afraid to the woman who once referred to her as a winged mouse when Barbara was Batgirl.
Again Barbara could only shrug. "I was doing volunteer work at the library. I subbed at the high school for a couple of classes when one of the teachers had the flu. Helena must have recognized me and she asked if I could help her with her twelfth grade English literature class. She actually has a firm enough grasp of the material I think, she only needs to be guided here and there on the nuances."
"My daughter seems to have more nuances than I realized." Again, before Barbara could ask what the older woman meant, Selena asked another question, like she was looking for something. Barbara couldn't imagine what that was. "So do you intend to become a teacher?"
"Oh, no. It's enjoyable enough but I need something with a bit more...action. A police officer perhaps. I was thinking of applying at Blüdhaven."
"Why not here in Gotham?" Blue eyes narrowed, measuring. Barbara's mind raced as she kept up her own end of the seemingly polite conversation and interest from Selena, trying to figure out what Selena wanted from her.
"You try applying at a department where your father is the commissioner and see how far you get." Barbara couldn't keep the frustration from her voice. It was a sore subject with her still. She didn't take to being coddled and she definitely didn't need to be protected.
"No, I suppose after seeing how well you went up that tree to catch my daughter, that you're not the type to want to be behind any kind of desk."
Barbara gave a short nod of acquiescence. "Probably, if that's all Miss Kyle? I do need to be going." A lie but a small one.
"Certainly Barbara," Selena gave her a judicious nod, "one thing though, my daughter was wrong you know."
The red head scowled, sure she was being toyed with, poked and prodded. And she had a temper to match her hair, luckily she had strong will power to help control it. She managed to ask evenly, "What do you mean?"
"My daughter thinks everyone is worth saving. That if you fall, someone should catch you. But not everyone deserves to be caught if they fall. Don't you agree?"
Barbara was only certain that she felt deeply at sea talking to this enigmatic woman. "I don't know, everyone deserves a second chance don't they? You got one." All right, so her control over her temper wasn't perfect. Hell, she was only twenty-three after all.
"I did. But then again, I'm no killer." Blue eyes pierced Barbara along with Selena's words. "Do you honestly think the Joker can be reformed Barbara? Does that...man...deserve a second chance?"
Weighed and measured. What was Selena trying to get from her? She hated it but she had to agree on that last point. He was truly psychotic. "No, Joker doesn't deserve any more chances. Killers like him don't."
"And yet if my daughter saw him stuck on a precipice, she'd try to save him. Like that kitten. Like she saved you. Because all she'd see is someone in danger in need of rescuing." Selena opened herself to Barbara and the younger woman saw into Selena for the first time, beyond Selena's extreme love for her daughter lay an almost equal fear. "My daughter's heart has no middle ground Barbara. When she believes something, or in someone, she'll stop at nothing to save them. A heart like that needs to be protected."
Barbara didn't respond to the words so much as the fear that lay there stark and deep. "I'll look after her Miss Kyle. If it's within my power, I'll protect her." She meant it, every word. She'd do anything to protect Helena and that great, pure heart of hers.
Selena however shook her head, "I need more than that. I need you to promise me that if you become someone who deserves to fall, that you won't let my daughter with her heart too large for the world, break it trying to catch you. Saving someone like that is the worst thing that you could do. It destroys the rescuer and you lose both people. The one playing the hero and the one who should die. Promise me," Selena demanded, her face and words fierce as she grabbed Barbara's shoulders in a strong grip, "promise me Barbara that when you fall, you'll deserve to be caught. That you'll die rather than destroy her. My daughter deserves that."
Not expecting the intensity of Selena's demand, no understanding it, Barbara instead grasped onto what she did understand. That she would rather die than let Helena be hurt, let alone be hurt trying to help or save her. She would protect Helena. No matter what. "I promise." She met Selena's eyes without wavering, with the absolute conviction only the truly young have. "I promise you Miss Kyle I'll do whatever it takes to protect your Helena."
The older woman's shoulders slumped in relief, her head lowered. Her whole body relaxed as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. "Thank you." Barbara's eyes widened, never had she heard Selena honestly thank anyone for anything.
"Miss Kyle, may I ask if something's wrong?" If there was, maybe Batgirl could do something to help. "I mean it you know. I'd protect Helena with my life if need be. With everything. Nothing less."
The blonde head lifted and Barbara was graced with a gentle smile that hinted at knowing far more than would be told. It differed from any smile Barbara had ever seen, relieved, sad and amused all at once. "Perhaps my daughter isn't the only one with no middle ground. You don't need to be concerned. There's only two things you need to know. First, please, call me Selena. Secondly, my daughter always had an excellent grasp for literature, especially the nuances."
With those words, she released Barbara and made her way up the front steps into her home. Leaving Barbara dumbstruck and surrendering to the one question that crowded out the rest. "Why?" She wondered at the why of many things that happened today.
Selena looked over her shoulder at the befuddled red head. "You won't let yourself see it yet. And nor should you. She's not old enough. And you're not ready. But I saw it today when I saw her catch you while you fell for her."
Stranger and stranger, Barbara didn't understand at all. "What did you see?"
Again, that hint of that sadly amused, gentle and understanding smile. "The future." Selena replied saying nothing more as she entered her house leaving Barbara deeply mystified.
The memory pulled at itself as Barbara struggled to pull herself away from it, from the deep knowledge of the promise she broke, of how much she had failed Helena, destroyed the young woman Selena had been so desperate to protect. Awareness of the here and now came, as always, with pain. Pain in Barbara's body, but far worse, the aguish that ate at her heart.
She promised she would protect Helena with everything, with her very life. Nothing less. And Barbara had failed far more tremendously, awfully, than she could ever have guessed. Barbara didn't deserve to be caught, and she was falling. Had fallen. Yet Helena had caught her anyway.
Warm rain fell on her cheek and the soothing sensation of a hand running through her hair brought Barbara more into the immediate present. She thought maybe Helena finding her had been another hallucination but as she cracked her eyes open she saw the walls of Helena's apartment. She was lying curled on her side on Helena's dark couch, in a dark apartment except for the light from outside. A cloudy day that left the room awash in greys. Her pillow was someone's lap. She tentatively touched her cheek to feel the rain that could only be tears and then tensed up the last of her courage to look up. There she met eyes so cloudy a blue that they nearly matched the grey outside the window. Barbara's breath caught as she stared up at Dinah who continued to stroke Barbara's hair while the young woman silently wept. Her eyes held a mix of tenderness, sorrow and understanding that Barbara had seen only twice before. And one of them in her most recently relived memories. Memories she relived while Dinah touched her. And then Barbara understood Dinah's expression and why the young blonde wept so quietly. Dinah knew. Dinah knew how much and how deeply Barbara's failure went. Dinah knew everything.
I stare into eyes less blue than usual. They're now the color of wet cement, almost the exact shade of the walls surrounding us. Dinah still strokes my hair with a gentleness that stings me, like the tears that continue to fall from her pale cheeks to land on my cold face.
I swallow uneasily and test my voice. "Is it a good idea for you to touch me?" The words creak and croak but loosen slightly by the end.
Dinah understands what I mean. With her being a touch telepath and me being less than stable, reading all the things in my twisted heart can't be good for her.
"Do you want me stop?" If anything, her tone is even gentler than the hand that continues running through the length of my hair, comforting me.
That she could bear to comfort me still, after everything, tightens my throat. Tears that I refuse to shed burn my eyes. It takes me three deep breaths before I can respond. "It's not good for you." I'm the reason she's crying, the reason she looks like she hasn't slept in days, the reason those shadows lurk in an otherwise youthful face.
Dark blonde hair swings with the shake of her head. "It's not that bad for me." She looks steadily at me. "Do you want me stop?"
How can she ask me that? I don't deserve her comfort, her soft hand or softer words. I deserve to fall.
"I won't stop unless you tell me too." Those eyes hold far too much understanding as they watch me knowingly.
She knows it would be a lie if I said 'no, stop.' The way she knows it's not only fear that's now a tight band around my chest squeezing me. The way she knows how much kindness can hurt and how much the hidden me, the one I tried to bury, to kill, aches for it even as it cuts me.
I don't tell her to stop, but I have to ask her, "Why?"
If anything, those eyes turn more grey with increased sorrow. "Because you're hurting." Then even softer, so soft I almost don't hear her,"Because I love you."
I'd run right now, throw myself away from her but I'm paralyzed. And it's not just my legs, my whole body feels trapped by incomprehension and fear.
I don't dare ask how she could. I'm not that brave or that strong. I'm not strong about anything anymore.
She rubs at her face with the sleeve of her faded blue long sleeve shirt, like a little kid. Her words have nothing in common with a child, "Love isn't like that Barbara. I love you, all of you. If a person loves only the good parts, they're not seeing the whole person. And that's only loving half way. If that." Her other arm, the one not moving to caress my hair, moves under my shoulders squeezing me. I don't know if it's to reassure me or her. "I'm not the kind of person Barbara. I don't want only half of anything, to feel only half of anything. It's not right. Not for me or the people I care for. It's the only way you can really appreciate love. Like if you were cheated out of seeing only half a painting, or a story. Even if there are parts that make you sad, or if the story doesn't end well, I can still be grateful I read it, you know?" A sigh far heavier than her years escapes her. "I wish you could have my powers, if only for a few minutes, and then you'd know I'm telling you the truth. And so is Helena. And that you didn't fail her by...what you did. It was your leaving that hurt her, Barbara. Seeing you hurt yourself like this that's scared her."
What I did. "You can't even say it. I killed Quinn. Trust me Dinah, that hurt Hel, it hurt you all. I murdered a person. Now why aren't I in jail, instead of being coddled?"
Suddenly for the first time, Dinah looks away. "We took care of it. She fell from the top of her warehouse hideout. We kept the tower, us, you, all out of the police reports and papers. No one knows it all went down at the clock tower. We're safe."
Safe. I suppose she's young enough to believe in that still. The rage inside me stirs at the mention of it all. As if what I did never happened. "So you had Reese clean it all up for you, did you? Or, I should say, for Helena. And what did the good, strapping young detective want in return Dinah? Was it more than what Quinn already took?"
That she could have fucked Quinn, been with Quinn. And Reese, how could I have forgotten about boring, do-gooder, model of the force? I couldn't be here. I can't be in Helena's place, on her couch, in Dinah's lap for god's sake. I push myself up and immediately my muscles tremble and give out while my stomach threatens to lose what little might be in it. Gentle but insistent hands push me back down.
"Don't Barbara, please. You're too weak still. And I just...seeing you hurt yourself this way..." Dinah's voice thins, stressed.
I can barely move, what I feel of my body is shaking. "Get me a drink."
"What?" Eyes wide, hands stilled on me.
"A drink Dinah, I need a drink! What the hell do I have to do? Fuck you for it?"
Hurt flashes, but she doesn't dump me on the floor like I hoped. Anger all her own turns her eyes nearly arctic clear. "I don't care for that word. I don't like hearing you say it, and the way you use it. None of it is going to get me up to get you a drink or help you punish yourself for a promise you feel you made Helena's mom. Which, by the way? Is just the most disturbingly whacked out definition you can make out of a promise like that. Protect her by destroying yourself? Do you really think that's what Ms. Kyle had in mind? It sure isn't helping to save Helena in any way, any shape, any form. I may be young, but I'm not stupid."
"No, just too good. Too good by half." I sigh, flinging an arm over my eyes blocking out her, this room, all of it.
"And I wouldn't change her for the world." I stiffen as I hear Helena's voice. Her boots clunk over the floor coming closer. The rustle of her long coat is right by my head, she must be kneeling. "You can keep your eyes covered Barbara, but it won't make me gone, or you either. In fact, after overhearing your little chat. I'm not going anywhere until I hear all about this promise. And then you and I are going to have a chat about your fucked up ideas on Reese and Quinn."
I refuse to move my arm and look at Helena, even though the woman is close enough that I can feel her body heat along my arm.
"Hey D," Helena's voice sounded conversational and dangerous at the same time, "would you mind preparing some of the beef broth soup for Barbara? I'll feed it to her. You know, the one with barley and soft veggies that she seems to keep down."
"Uhm, sure, you won't.." Dinah's words, though unsure, are steady and low, a sense of insistence. What is she concerned about Helena doing to me? What could Helena possibly do that I haven't done to myself?
"I promise." So, they've managed to develop their own rapport and secret cryptic language of understanding. Secrets. They have secrets from me. It only serves to feed my hate all the more, and through that, my rage.
I feel Dinah's intake of breath, she must be reading my feelings. Good, they can both fuck off. I'm tired of all of it and, dammit, I hurt. I just want it all to go away.
"I can hear your teeth grinding Barbara," Helena's too amused, amused in the way one is when they're angry. She has no right to be angry about this.
"I'm not a child." I almost hiss the words.
"Says the woman with her eyes covered so that she doesn't have to face the world. Sure." Suddenly I'm being moved carefully by Dinah and Helena's helping hands on my shoulders as they lift me to allow Dinah to extricate herself. When I'm lowered back down it's not onto Helena's lap. A brief relief until I feel her arm slide behind my neck, pillowing my head, her breath warm on my cheek.
Her free hand comes over the one I have thrown with my arm over my eyes. She lays her hand over mine, holding it. What is she...? Her breath moves closer and then a soft touch, a press of velvet on my mouth stills me utterly.
Helena's kissing me.
Perhaps 'kiss' is not the right term. The light press of her lips on mine doesn't seek out more, barely even brushing me, as if she only wants to feel my mouth against hers. But why? I don't...This isn't what I expected from her. She's angry with me. She should be. She should be pushing me away. I try to move my hand and arm under hers, to push her away but she holds me down, using my own arm as the brace to restrain my head as we breathe the same air and feel the touch of each other's lips for the first time.
The pressure on my arm and hand eases, as does her mouth. I pull my arm away. Everything seems to be in slow motion. I blink my eyes open against the light I already need to readjust to. And I see her, looking at me with eyes more violet than blue, more sad than angry, holding far more resolve than I have ever seen from her.
A faint ghost of a smile turns up her lips, a flicker of dim light in her eyes and then they vanish. "All these years all it took to get you to shut up was for me to kiss you. If only I'd known my incredible non-meta ability to render you speechless and stunned."
I shut my mouth when I realize I'm gaping. I'm trying to think what to say but my mind is a jumble. For a moment I think I should call out for Dinah and make sure this is really Helena and not me hallucinating still.
"How do you feel?" Those steady eyes never leave mine. "Are you in a lot of pain anywhere?"
My heart. God, my soul. I don't seem to be able to understand quite what she's saying. So I opt for the only thing I can say, "I don't understand."
"I know. You're not ready to see it yet." It's like an echo of her mother's words to me.
"See what?" My throat is so dry with sudden fear that I can only whisper it.
Helena's eyes turn sadder still, and kinder, far kinder than I've seen her face in years. It softens her, changes the lines and gives me a glimpse of the woman she might have been if her mother hadn't been murdered in front of her. Or if I hadn't been in her life.
She shakes her head at me, voice soft as she answers, "Our future."
"I don't-" a finger on the lips she just kissed silences me altogether.
"I know. But I hope you will. But first we need to talk bout other things. About you, my mom, and Quinn."
Quinn's name is almost enough to bring me back to my earlier focus but I still can't get past this. "You kissed me?"
Helena smiles again, a small but real curve of her mouth. It warms her eyes. "More like an introduction. When I kiss you, really kiss you, you won't have to ask afterwards."
"I don't understand." It's all I can seem to say.
This close, I can see the new lines she's gained under her eyes. Long term exhaustion, all on my account. What a waste.
"You don't get it do you?" She sounds every bit as tired as her face looks. "I've been lost, so incredibly pissed, depressed, homicidal, suicidal. I've been crazed looking for you since you left. All the nightmares I had, still have, waking or sleeping. About finding you gone again, finding you dead. God Barbara, slowly trashing yourself like this...I've been trying to think what to say or do to convince you, change things so that you come back. I can't be if you're not with me. You destroy yourself, you destroy us both. So yeah, I guess I went a bit off the deep end myself. And no matter how much I try to think it out I still don't know what the right thing to say is, or the thing I can do that will make you stay. I'm still so angry with you. But I needed to kiss you like that, just a reassurance that you're here. Real." Tears shimmer in her eyes and spill over her high pale cheeks to drip, unheeded, onto her clothes. Helena always cares about her clothes. She takes her free hand and covers mine, gripping tightly enough to hurt. "I'm so relieved that you're alive. Grateful, god, I'm just so thankful you're here with me. I've been so desperate and afraid that I prayed for you to be okay. For me to find you. And here you are. I just need to feel you near. Make it concrete. Do you understand now?"
There's so much anguish in her, the same pain eating at my heart. It's why I had to leave. One of the many reasons. I have no real defense from her. To need to feel the one you care for close. Did I understand? All too well. "My understanding changes nothing." I tell her, fighting to keep the regret out of my voice. My regret will help nothing here.
The anger I kept expecting roars up in Helena, colouring her cheeks and tightening her jaw, sparking her eyes. She's beautiful to me, sometimes especially when she's like this. She's so alive in a way I never dared to be. Not ever. I think about her lips on mine. My desires will help nothing here.
"How can you dare say that to me?" She doesn't move away in her anger but leans in, gets more into my space. "Months of thinking the worst. The last two weeks watching over you, frantic about what the doctor would say. You were so close to dying, do you know that? And even closer to paralyzing yourself more. More Barbara! Like we don't have enough shit raining down on us daily in our lives. Like there isn't enough we have to deal with...live with...and you try to ruin yourself? Over some psycho bitch like Quinn?"
"I murdered someone." I have no right to be angry because in part she's right. And yet the mere mention of Quinn fills me with that rage I've held so close and dear. My hate will help nothing though. Not here in this moment. Not in dealing with Helena at this moment in the face of her own anger.
"How the hell could you ever have thought I'd have fucked her?" Hel asks me, fury heavy in her voice, her tone low the way it gets when she's trying not to snarl.
I stare at her. I do not want to have this conversation. Not ever. "Either get me a drink, or pump me with drugs or let me leave. But don't have me belabour the obvious."
"Treat me like I'm stupid Barbara- you're good at that- and explain it to me anyways. Explain to me how you could have believed a single word out of Quinn's mouth. If I thought for a second that you would have believed her I would have stepped in and clocked her, then and there. I wish I had." Those last words scraped out of her throat, past her mouth. Regrets, we both seem to have added a few heavy ones to an already great toll.
I frowned. I had missed something. I went over what she said again and realized to my horror what it was. "You heard what she said to me?"
Hel tilts her head, frowning despite her anger. "I'm meta remember? Specifically enhanced strength, agility and senses? Of course I heard her. But why did you believe it?"
Her face...I'd swear she was telling me the truth and yet..."The way you spoke about her, the rapport you had with her. Her lipstick on your face. The way she said it, like she knew." Quinn had definitely known about me, what I longed for and never reached out to grasp. So why wouldn't I believe that Quinn, who feared nothing, would do exactly that? "She was intelligent, dangerous, good looking. If you went for women she could be your type. She seemed so certain." So believable.
Helena grabs my face, looks me dead in the eye. "She came onto me a couple of times and I turned her down flat. The lipstick was from her being a twisted psycho bitch licking my face after roughing me up a little. It was just before you guys came charging to the rescue." She smiles wanly at that. "My own private cavalry." Helena shakes her dark head, the frown coming back. "But true or not Barbara, why would you kill her for it?" Her eyes pin mine and I feel the trap spring.
Terrified, I stare back at her, unable to run. Terror so fast and surprising that it dries my throat and robs me of thought. And I need to think, desperately. I have to calculate a way out of this conversation, away from Helena. My fear isn't helping me here. It isn't helping me at all.
From too close, Helena repeats the question. "Why did you kill Quinn? Why do it when it goes against everything you are, and I begged you not to?" Aching eyes search mine as if they would give her the answer.
I can't deal with this. Selena, why didn't you kill me then? If only Helena hadn't found me. "I can't do this." It's the most honest thing I've told Helena since waking up.
"You have to."
I stiffen where I lay on the couch. "I've never been good with ultimatums Helena." It's a warning.
"Too fucking bad." Unfortunately, Helena's never been good with backing down.
"Is this what you want?" I ask her. "For us to tear each other apart?" Because that's the only way this will end.
"Like that isn't exactly what you've been doing by leaving me-us."
"Uhm, the soup is ready." We both look up and over to Dinah who's standing in the doorway with a steaming navy blue mug and spoon peaking out of it. It's the item being pushed in with her other hand that catches my attention.
It steals any retort I was about to spit at Helena. I study it, the worn black leather, the steel rims. I haven't used a chair in three months. Even though I've been in one for years, those three months hang heavy on me. I don't want back in that chair, but my heart skipped a beat when I saw it because I can no longer feel my legs at all again and that object is the only transportation I have. And Dinah brought it right to me. My mind wakes up and the fear inside recedes. I'm thinking again.
"Thank you Dinah. If Helena can help me up then I can get into my chair and try some of your soup."
Dinah doesn't answer but looks to Helena. Bad sign. I glance at Hel. She seems displeased.
"It's okay D," she stands with a big sigh while I make sure to look as though I'm not paying acute attention to every detail between them. "But put the chair over there. I'll sit Barbara up and you can hand me the mug."
I hold up a hand. "I don't understand. Why is my chair being put 'over there'? Just help me sit up and I'll eat my soup on my own."
Helena crouches over me and this close I can see her resolve has come back. Dammit, I need her out of control, not in it. She ignores me and lifts me slowly; that distracts me too much. She doesn't simply lift me up and settle me back against the couch. Instead, Helena lifts me carefully and then slides in behind me, her back to the arm of the couch and me against her chest. Her arms go around me and she holds me gently to her. Speaking calmly, as if I can't feel her heart drumming beneath my back, she says to me, "I don't want you running away again. The chair is over there. Besides, you're too weak to be trying to use it yet. You can't even sit up on your own."
Dinah has the grace to look apologetic as she wheels the chair over to the far side of the room, away from me. But knowing it's close strengthens me. All the nuances haven't been worked out yet but my mind's clearing, and the possibilities are there. A person just has to be open to them.
If only having Helena's body wrapped around me wasn't distracting me like crazy.
"I don't need to be held." I tell her over my shoulder.
"I'm not letting you go." She says in a voice as low as mine.
Dinah hands the mug over to me. "Careful. It's a bit hot."
I raise my hands to reach it but they shake too badly and I have to put them down almost instantly.
"Here," Helena takes my hands between hers and holds them up for the mug, "I'll help." More quietly, enough so that I don't think Dinah heard it, Helena says into my ear, "Please, let me?"
Helena rarely uses that word, and never in that tone, or with her breath against my ear. I consider possibilities, ones that have nothing to do with the warmth of her against me.
I relax, leaning back into her. That's when, for the first time, I notice the length of my hair over my shoulder curling at the ends down my chest. It isn't dark brown. It's red.
I rigidly and feebly try to shake her hands away from mine. "What have you done?" My anger's instantaneous.
I feel her shrug behind me. "I hated the dye job. Besides, your roots were showing. So during the many times I had to bathe your pathetic junkie self I took care of your hair." She's completely unapologetic. In fact she has the nerve to sound angry at me.
"Dinah, give me a mirror. Now." Dinah responds to the tone in my voice and fetches me one.
I take the tacky red plastic mirror in my hands, fighting to keep them still. There's my face. I look...rested. My face is fuller, no more bags under my eyes. I'm still thinner than I was three months ago but I see my hair. It's been washed, cut and dyed. Helena came very close to my real color. I look at my face with my hair and see Barbara Gordon. The last person I ever want to look at. If I had the strength I would throw the mirror.
"How dare you," I snarl at them.
"How dare we? How dare I?" Helena's voice is suddenly too loud in my ears as she twists her flexible body and turns me in her arms to face her. Damn her metahuman strength.
Violet blue eyes blaze into mine. "You left us thinking the worst might happen to you. God knows with the way you just up and left me. Left all of us. You haven't even asked about your dad. I've had to lie to him for all these months saying you needed time away and weren't speaking to me because we had a fight. He knows I've been lying to him and he's worried to death about you. I've done my best to protect you. You being so big on your privacy." She sneers the last at me. "It's only been these past two weeks that I called him and told him you're back in town but resting and will call him when you can. It's been two weeks. Two fucking long weeks." She mutters that bit. Her rant subsides, if only a little, as if she's too tired to keep her anger up for long periods. "You need to call him as soon as you can. Tell him whatever. I'll go along with whatever story you give him."
Two weeks? Of course, the weight gain, the hair, the lack of pain. A chill fills my veins. "How have two weeks gone by with my not remembering them? Two weeks have gone by since you kidnapped me?"
Helena snorts at the word kidnap. It's Dinah who confirms my guess as to what happened. "The doctor Alfred gave us, who would keep our secrets. He gave us some pills that are a kind of pain killer and sedative mixed together. He did say they were pretty strong and would cause memory impairment while you were on them."
"Be glad you missed it." Helena says dryly from behind me.
I turn on her, furious, ignoring the trembling weakness causing my whole body to shake from the movement. "You had no right!"
"No right?" Furious again, Helena grabs me by the shoulders, hard this time. All her gentleness has suddenly burned away in the light of her regained fury. "Not another word Barbara. I mean it. Don't you dare talk this shit to me. Not after I've spent the last three months unable to sleep, wondering if you were still alive. Afraid you weren't." Her voice shakes with the strength of all she feels. "Then the past two weeks Dinah and I have done nothing but clean up your blood and puke. Take care of you and watch over you day and night. We've done nothing else Barbara. You don't have the right to play indignant with me. So I don't want to hear a word about what 'rights' you think you have. I don't give a fuck about your rights!"
She means it. Every word. I pale. "So I'm your prisoner then?"
"Don't talk to me about your crap Barbara. I don't want to hear it. I want you to eat your soup and get better. I don't want to have to keep you drugged. I hate the shit you talk when you're high, fevered or just plain out of it. I hate it Barbara. I learned a lot. Just how fucked up you've made yourself in the head. So I'm not going to listen to your crap. You want to think you're heartlessly being kept alive and safe against your will? Maybe you are. Too fucking bad. We love you." I see tears shimmer in her eyes, the pain coming through the anger. "I love you. You damned idiot for all your genius shit. Hell, it's probably because you have so much in that head of yours that you were able to mind fuck yourself so well. But if I have to medicate you myself, I'll do it Red. I'll do anything, everything to make you stay. I don't care if that makes me wrong. I just flat out don't care. I only care about you being alive and in my life."
Dinah takes a step closer, dragging my gaze to her. For someone so young, her eyes are infinitely deep with sorrow and understanding. "I'm going to just ditto what she said. It's been killing us to have you away. And worse, to find you like we did. I know you still care about us Barbara. I do. But trying to protect us by hurting us and pushing us away doesn't work. It only hurts us both more. Especially Helena."
Double damn me to Hell. Dinah knows exactly how I feel since she's a touch telepath. I have to consider carefully how to handle this. Of course I know they love me. Loved me. But I also know what that means.
"I want to see the pills for myself. I want to know exactly what you've been giving me," I add dryly, "If you don't mind."
"Okay." This time Dinah doesn't look at Helena before answering or leaving to retrieve the medication. Seems she doesn't always look for Helena's permission; first the wheelchair, now the pills.
I half turn my head to Helena and say with a thread of iron back in my tone, "I'm starving. Do you think you can hold the soup while I take a sip?"
"Of course." She's eager for me to regain my strength so she doesn't hesitate to bring the soup of to my lips, warning me that it's hot. She even blows on it over my shoulder gracefully, as if she could ever truly be awkward.
The first two sips are tentative but it is actually tasty. As soon as I swallow a bit more, Dinah comes in and hands me the bottle of medication.
"Helena, could you put the soup aside for a moment? Actually Dinah, it's good but a tad salty. Would you mind getting me some water please?"
They both do as I ask.
I regard the bottle as Helena watches me acutely. The name isn't something I'm familiar with but the name of the doctor tells me all I need to know. "Doctor Midnite? I didn't realize I rated so high on the Justice League's list of medical priorities."
"For some reason they though they owed Oracle. For, I don't know, saving their asses on individual occasions and helping save cities, countries and, oh yea, the whole freakin' world a few times maybe?" Helena's sarcasm apparently has no bounds.
As soon as I move to open the bottle Helena straightens behind me. "Relax." I chide her just like old times. Almost. "I only want to check the composition of the medication. I'm unfamiliar with it. It's not like you aren't watching me."
She doesn't so much relax as unbend slightly. That's when I hit her with it. "So how are things with your handsome detective Reese?"
Rigid again. "I suppose he's fine." Suddenly Helena is vague and truncated in her speech. Perfect.
"I heard about how he helped you clean up my mess. The clock tower, the police reports. Handy guy to have around."
"He's not around. But yeah, he helped out." Defensive, interesting.
I choose my next words that much more carefully. "He must be relieved it wasn't you who murdered her. He must love you, breaking the law to help his lover's friend."
"Lover?" her voice raises an octave. "Who the hell ever said he was, and I use your Victorian word, 'Lover'?"
I put the frown into my voice as I slide some of the pills I was looking at back into their bottle, cap it and toss it onto the nearby coffee table. "Well, it's a natural assumption Hel. You seemed to be getting rather intense those last few weeks before Quinn's attack. Surely you've been...intimate."
Helena actually sits up at that and slides from behind me to stand up and look at my face. She was careful though to put a cushion for me even in her state of shock. I love her a little more for it. And hate her too.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Could you please crouch or sit Hel? You're hurting my neck. Overall I still seem to be quite weak physically." I look at her expectantly and she acts like it's old times, doing as I asked. The old times are dead. She'll learn.
"You haven't answered me." She looks honestly perplexed crouching in front of me.
I blink at her, mirroring her expression. "Was that really an actual question? It seems fairly obvious to me." I call over her. "You can bring the water in Dinah. It's okay."
Sheepishly Dinah comes from around the corner, tucking a strand of hair behind an ear. "Sorry, I didn't want to interrupt."
I could almost laugh at Helena's look of surprise. She hadn't heard Dinah and I had. Helena always did let her emotions ride her and lose focus too easily.
"That's fine Dinah. If you could please put it on the table? I'd like to finish my conversation with Hel."
They respond to my tone, the red hair, their exhaustion and relief dulling them.
Helena's on me verbally as soon as Dinah leaves. "Reese was a good time for a while. A distraction. Why are you so keen on this guy? I never did the nasty grind with him. Too boring. Too nice."
I smile and I know it isn't pleasant. "Yet you spent time with him. Kissed him. Touched him. Let him do the same. But too boring. Too nice. I guess you didn't have that problem with Quinn?"
Her perfectly arched brows clench at my words. Her delicate jaw tightens and those violet-blue eyes gain their earlier ire. "I already told you that Quinn lied. Are you honestly going to tell me you'd believe that psycho wench who killed Wade over me? Me, Barbara?"
I see how her hands are clenched white knuckled over her knees to keep from doing something. I wonder what that is. I remember those hands saving me as I fell down a tree. I remember a young woman holding me with a look too mature for someone her age. I remember my own response years later training Helena, straining hand to hand to bend the other and win. I remember her face when she pleaded with me to not make us less. My head's far clearer than I want it and yet...and yet.
All this time I thought I killed Quinn out of jealousy. If what Helena is saying is true then why did I kill the woman? Because I believed Quinn. Because it meant that all these years Helena and I might have, could have, and never did. Which means one thing to me at least, that Helena never wanted me. Still doesn't. But there was the kiss. What did Helena mean by that? I have to be careful and not read too much into her passionate gestures. She's a dramatic individual. She's always been flamboyant. She doesn't simply light up a room, she sets it on fire. But I wanted her to burn only for me. Selfish. God I've always been greedy. Wanting more. Nothing could ever be enough. I had to push it at school, push at being Batgirl, prove myself and thumb it in the faces of anyone who got in my way. Like Quinn. Like Reese. Like anyone who could have Helena's affection when I was the only one who tried to change the world for her. The Delphi was never for me. It was always about Helena. When it comes down to it, the world is gone for me. It always has been a haze. There's only Helena and me. No one else exists for me really.
She puts a slender hand to my chin bringing my gaze back to her. "Where did you just go off to?" She asks gently.
"Remembering," I answer. The pain in my chest has nothing to do with anything physical. It's the horrible pain I've worked so hard to drown in alcohol and drugs. Without those it's free to breathe and spread inside me. Why shouldn't I have made myself less when being so much more meant nothing? It means nothing. "I was just thinking Hel, how it's not the getting back up after you fall, it's the fact that no matter how many times you get up, you'll get knocked back down again."
"Pessimistic of you." She makes an indelicate noise. "What does that have to do with me, Reese, Quinn, and you exactly? Tie in those cerebral jumps for me Smarty."
"That we both will spend time with people we don't love, lead them on, and disappoint them." I actually don't say it unkindly at first. The anger in me is a constant thing that I live with. That simmers and seeps upwards inside me with each passing moment. With each thought of all I've done and how far I've fallen. And I won't be getting back up. "Wade, Reese, they're only our most recent casualties aren't they? Wade's dead because he was in a place he should have never been in-"
"The clock tower? You can't blame yourself-" I brush off the hand she puts on me to offer comfort and I cut her off as she did me.
"I don't mean only the clock tower. A place in lives they had no place in. Think what you must have cost Reese. Possibly his career. If nothing else, a part of his soul Helena. He was one of the few good cops, and what did we do? Break him. He lied and falsified reports to protect a murderer. All for your pretty eyes and attractive moody self."
Those pretty eyes wide she leans back in her crouch. "You're jealous of Reese? Reese did what he did to protect us, the people who put our asses out there on the line risking ourselves every night for a messed up city and ungrateful people who for the most part aren't worth the effort. And you're jealous of him for doing what he should do just because he had to break a few rules to do it?"
"Covering up a murder isn't just breaking a few rules." Damnit, why does she have to be this dense?
She raises up a little, rocks forward and gets in my space, as is her way. Why is she so upset? So angry about this? Can't she see it's the truth? "Barbara, I'm going to tell you this flat out so you get what I'm saying. The first time I met Reese, he asked me who I was. The next time he asked, it was to ask me what I was." She shakes her head making a disgusted noise. "When I saved you from that tree fall when you had tried to save my silly butt, you never asked me what I was Barbara. I knew you'd seen my eyes change, but you never asked that. You never treated me like anything less than a person. I never forgot that. Like I'd ever give it up to anyone who couldn't treat me the same. I'd never get down with a guy who'd look at me like I was a thing. Fuck, Barbara. He's gone okay? You have nothing to be jealous over. You never did."
He said that to her? I'll hurt the man. And how could I not be jealous over what I can never have? "Yet it didn't stop you from -how would you put it?- playing tongue tag with him. I'm not jealous Helena, I'm incensed. I murdered a woman. You can't sweep that under the carpet like a bit of errant dirt you don't want someone to see."
She sighs and her whole body reverberates with the weight of it. "You keep confusing me with you. I never had any so called 'calling'. Batman was your mentor. Your good guy rules never appealed to me. You killed a terrible, psychotic person who tried to kill us all, had killed countless people. In jail she would just have taken up money that could have gone to a hospital or something else. She would never have reformed and saved the world. You killing her did the world a favor."
Appalled, I stare at her a moment in shock. "How can you of all people say that to me Hel? You begged me not to kill her. You didn't kill Clayface when you had the chance and he had murdered your mother. Helena. And you didn't kill him. How can you say I didn't commit a heinous act?"
"You forget how many people I killed in the line of duty." She looks at me expectantly.
"In self defence." I counter readily enough.
This time she puts her hands on me, on my forearms so I can feel her, warm and real. She slides them down and grips my hands. "Yours was too. And that you killed her, you need to get past it somehow Barbara. She isn't worth losing yourself over. What good would it do to put you in jail? All the lives you've saved, how many more aren't because you aren't home, kicking my butt to do the good deed while you keep tabs on what's the what in the underground? You would trade all the lives we'll save together for one life that didn't deserve to live?"
I don't pull my hands from her. In fact, I have the distressing urge to lean in and rest myself on her shoulder. "It's not for us to play judge and executioner Helena. That's not what you should ever do. And it's only right that I should pay for my crime."
Reese got to touch her body while Quinn heard all of Helena's secrets. They took what I wanted. They took what I yearned for. They took the only things that mattered to me. Helena's affection and trust. God, I hate them both still. "You should let me turn myself in Hel."
"What?" She barks, "No! God, Barbara, Why can't you listen to something other than the sick thoughts in your head? You killed a criminal who had killed a guy, whether you loved him or not, that you appreciated was a good person. She killed him. She had spent the night torturing me. No one, and I mean no one, mourns her loss. Hell, the truth is her death saved lives. Once that living will of her was put into action her donated organs saved lives. Bet you didn't know that. Her kidney went to a father of five, her heart to a sixteen year old girl. You saved them unintentionally with Quinn's death."
An awful, terrible dread washes over me like cold water at Helena's words. "A living will?"
That could only mean one thing. Quinn hadn't died right away at the clock tower. She was still alive.
I push down the bile rising in my throat. "Helena, explain."
"Fuck," Helena seems to say it more at herself than me. "D said I should wait until later but I figure if you're ready to ask then you deserve to know." Despite her words, her expression is clearly torn.
"How could she not be dead?" I had killed Quinn, so how could a living will have been put into effect?
"You didn't kill Quinn. Right away, anyway." Her dark head lowers and then raises, solemn eyes that hide nothing meet mine. "You broke her neck. She was paralyzed completely. Couldn't even breathe. Reese gave her air until the paramedics showed. They stabilized her as best they could, but the lack of oxygen to her brain, the damage from the blow- and they also think from the meta transferring trick she did- all were too much. She was in a coma on machines. It took a few days but they found a living will she had done back when she first moved here and became a shrink. I guess before she went all psychotic and into the Joker. I don't know. Anyway, they followed the will and turned off the machines. She died and the file with the will also had her as an organ donor. I told you the rest." She leans back, watching to see what I'll do with this.
The acid burn up my throat makes me think I'll vomit despite my efforts not to. I pitch forward and Helena, as always, catches me. I retch a little but it won't come out. Nothing will, but I should suffer. If only I could die of shame. "How long? How long was she alive, paralyzed like that?" Completely immobilized and trapped within your body. I know a little about that. To think I could do that to someone else. It horrifies me more than being a murderer.
I feel Helena's hesitation in her body, in the way she holds me. God help me, I can't even cry anymore. "She was..the legal stuff took a while. They wanted to verify things. She was taken off the machine about a month ago."
Two months trapped like that. I can barely get the next words out but I have to know, even while it terrifies me. Strangles me. "Did she ever wake up? Do you know?"
She shakes her head a little beside mine, accidentally rubbing her short dark hair against my face. It's soft. Just like her right now. How can she be this way, knowing what I'm responsible for?
"I don't think so. They didn't say she did and the reporters were haywire covering it. If she had, we would have heard."
To have paralyzed someone, even Quinn. I can't believe this, but for the first time in all these years, I wish Joker's bullets had killed me. To have lived and done this to another human being. Unlike him, I didn't even need a bullet. Most serial killers prefer to kill by hand. What have I become...
Helena suddenly grips me tightly, molding her body into mine. Her words come fast and fierce, "Remember when we were kids and I saved you from that fall from the tree? I never regretted catching you Barbara. Please, don't you start regretting it now. Please, I need you."
It's only at those last words that I realize Helena's weeping into my shoulder. Undone, I hold her to me. I can't tell her I've regretted it for some time now. That it's not about how to ensure I don't start, but about how to make it all stop. Make me stop. The image of her competes with the image of the ugly things I've done, but not enough. God help me, it won't be enough.
I turned Quinn into the victim and became the monster in her stead. There's no coming back from that. I wouldn't know how. I've fallen too far to get back up again.
I hated Reese and Quinnzel for having parts of Helena I wanted. I hated them for the wrong reasons. I should have hated myself for trying to horde Helena like she was an object. Like I owned her. Trying to change the world for her. Who was I kidding?
I have to say her name twice before she lifts her head and blearily gazes at me from a tear stained face and blurred eyes still wet with unshed tears. "If you could pass me the soup again?" I tell her in my gentlest voice. "I think I better try to get some down."
Lost. She looks so lost, my sweet, dark angel. What I've done to her. She passes me the soup, it might as well be the pieces of my heart. They're worth so little now. She's always had them, though. I take the soup and manage to sip it on my own. I nod over to the far side of the table. "There are some kleenex over there. I'm sorry but I can't reach them." There's so much I'll never be able to reach and make better. My fault, all of it.
She turns and wipes vigorously at her face. Only now does she look a little sheepish at her display of emotion. More like the Helena I knew three months ago. I frown at the soup. "Hel, maybe my tastebuds are off from the long rest and medication. This still tastes very salty to me. Could you take a decent swallow of it and let me know what you think?"
"Sure." She swigs it. I can't help but smile. Her defiance of manners is a trait I always found charming in the rebellious young woman who became my reason. Just not reason enough. Or maybe the reason why.
Helena smacks her bow shaped lips and puts it on the table. "It does taste kinda funny." She sits on the couch beside me. "Maybe it's gone bad. I'll check with Dinah."
I put a hand on her arm to stop her. "Not just yet. Stay with me. Just for a moment."
She looks at my hand then up at my face. "You have to know by now I'd do a lot more than stay if you'd just let me."
I didn't know. She can't mean- "What exactly are you saying Hel?"
Vulnerable eyes, a pale, tired face, but she manages the sweetest, gentlest of smiles that somehow is shy. I can't recall the last time I saw Helena shy. "I always allowed you to keep to yourself, be all isolated, reserved gal. I thought it was what you needed. I thought it was what you wanted." Such a pained expression overcomes her. "I never thought you might want...me. So I didn't dwell on it. Well, that's a lie. I always have been crazy about you but I never thought...I don't know what it would have changed. But Barbara, I've always been in love with you."
These unbelievable words rain over me like a warm rush. Even as they pierce me they soothe. Tears sting my eyes. I will not shed them. I take a deep breath, this may be the only time I can tell her, the only time I have just enough bravery left inside me to tell her. I take her more fully in my arms. Raising a hand I trace and explore her face with my fingertips as I had so long desired to. I touch the eyebrow with the scar, I slide down her cheek to the pliant texture of her lips. And then I tell her the truth that I've always held back. "I'm in love with you Helena." I do not deserve this but I take it anyway. I kiss her, I kiss the woman I've loved for all these years. And who would have thought that between the two of us, I would turn out to be the thief? I kiss her and it's too late.
Her lips are warm velvet, the catch of her breath makes my hunger for her catch fire. I've wanted her for so long, so badly. I ache for her and yet, I never deepen the kiss. Helena responds to me as I always wished she might, beyond and so much better than any dream. That's when I feel her start to go slack. Hands find my shoulders and push me away. Puzzled eyes, more violet than blue, look up at me. "What did you do?"
"Just a couple of those pills in the soup you drank." I had been careful, slipping the medication in my hand and down. Then it was only a matter of having to wait for her back to be turned to put them into the soup, give them a minute to dissolve and now she's going to sleep. She can't keep her eyes open.
She tries to fight it. Those pills are strong. Helena told me so after all. "Don't...do this. Don't go."
I slide her gently, carefully back, having far more strength in my rested body than I let her believe. I let her believe the lie of red hair and soothing words. "Shh, Hel. It will be okay."
"Don't...go." I see a tear escape and slide down the side of her face, to get lost in her wild dark hair. It breaks my heart that much more. But it's in part her own fault. Sober, I have far more resolve and clearer thinking than while I was striving to drink myself to death these past months. She would have had better luck controlling me before.
Her hands try to hold onto me but it's such a weak, frail hold as she begins to lose consciousness completely. Selfish until the end, I lean down and kiss her one last time. And I tell her the truth, "Hel, the best part of me has always been with you."
I let her sleep. And I make for my chair. I have to get to it before Dinah realizes anything is wrong. And if she does, I'll have to do what needs to be done. Like I always have, and hopefully always will. No matter the cost to myself.
The chair was too far away.
I try for the twenty seventh time to reach the wheelchair from my position on the couch. If I dropped myself to the floor it would make too much noise and alert Dinah. I'm losing valuable time. I'm not completely sure about how strong the medication I slipped Helena is, but I do know her meta-human metabolism will burn it at least five times faster than the average seven foot heavily muscled adult male.
I have to risk detection. Through more an act of will power than actual physical strength, I slide my legs off the couch and lower myself to the floor. My body shakes with the effort and the last inch I drop myself accidentally as my arms simply give out. Panting, I rest there for a few too brief moments before using my weak arms to slide myself backwards along the floor, dragging my legs to where the chair sits so near and so far. All the time I listen intently for other noise to hear if Dinah was approaching.
Every second is an eternity but I make it. I check and the brakes are on. The hardest part now is lifting myself up into the chair. I try, twice, arms, body shaking. I don't have the strength to leverage my weight and pull myself up. I can't do it. I have to.
I turn my head to face Dinah at the entryway into Helena's small living room. Her blue eyes take in Helena's sleeping, oblivious form on the couch, my trembling, sweat laden panting body trying to get into my wheel chair, and I see her face change from surprise, to confusion, to frustration and sorrow all within a heartbeat of time.
"Dinah, I...", hoping I could still lull her into a false sense of security, hoping she would keep trusting the mannerisms and red hair of her familiar Barbara rather than the person I've become. She cuts off my words and my sinister hope all with one word.
She moves to Helena, checks her eyes and pulse and curses softly under her breath. She looks at the soup and then at me accusingly. Dinah certainly has grown sharper in the time I've been away.
"I counted the pills while I was in the kitchen." she tells me, standing up but not yet stepping towards me. "There were a lot of pills. I counted three times just to be sure. I came in here afraid you stole them for yourself. I didn't think you'd...do this."
I'd shake my head but I'm too tired. Being sober, the pain is too clear as is my mind. With every second I become more the person I tried to flee. I remember and think, and part of me wishes I couldn't do either still. But it's too late. Too late for going back to either of them or the person Dinah and Helena love. A whole new third Barbara, one that's a little of both, is who I am now. Yet I still can't help but want...
Exhausted, I look up at those eyes so filled with sadness, her lips pressed into a thin line of disappointment. I see the shadows under her eyes from sleepless nights, the haggard expression not only on her face but in her very stance. I wasn't the only one exhausted by all of this.
I try something different, I try the truth with only one goal: to make Dinah understand. "How did you think this could turn out Dinah?" I lean back against the wheel of the chair letting it take my weight as much as it could. "With all that's happened, with all I've done, to myself, to the two of you, especially to Helena, how could this be any other way?" I take a breath, exhale slowly before meeting her eyes again. "I don't mean it unkindly Dinah, at least not towards you, but you must see the madness in it all. You must know that you can't keep me prisoner. You have to let me go."
She stares at me, visibly torn. I push gently at the moment.
"Help me get into my chair."
The skin around her eyes tightens, her jaw twitches at the same time as her hands clench. "You mean help you leave. You'd leave us again." Anger built on those last words.
"Dinah, I'm sorry, deeply sorry. I know you know that you felt what I feel when you touched me. And that's why I know you understand that the Barbara Gordon that you knew never truly has come back." My eyes are dry, I seem to have shed the last tears I'm capable of giving.
Dinah though, her face breaks and twin lines of wetness streak down her cheeks. Truth hurts far worse than anything I know, except love. Sweet, tragic Dinah has to deal with both.
"When you fell, it left a hole in Helena that can't be filled. Not by anything, except you."
The rawness in her voice, her expression, pains me but it changes nothing. Nothing can change the horror that I threw us all into.
"That Barbara doesn't exist anymore."
She shakes her head and tears fly off her cheeks and chin. "No, no. It doesn't matter what's happened, or it does but, not the way you think, not to her. All that matters is that you're with her. It's what she needs. Not want, I mean she has that too. But she needs you. She's in love with you Barbara. She always has been. If you let her go, if you leave, she'll fall with you."
That Dinah could believe that only shows how desperate Helena's been, that she could convince herself of that lie and convince Dinah with it. Helena has never been in love with me. Being pushed past the brink by losing me has convinced her otherwise, that's all it is. "I can't stay. And you won't keep me." Dinah's too kind, too understanding of the world around her as a consequence of her telepathic abilities. "Touch me Dinah." I hold out my hand. "You know I'm right. I have to go somewhere. I have something I need to do. After that, I have to leave. No more drinking. No more drugs. But you must let me leave."
She takes three upset strides to where I sit and grabs my hand nearly pulling at my arm. Instantly I see a myriad of emotions, mine, run across her face like waves. She lets go to regard me with a look of such desolation that's all hers alone but I'm the one who put it there.
Without a word she puts me in the chair. Without a word she settles me in and hugs me tightly, so tightly I felt some of my upper vertebrae pop. Dinah shakes and I hold her as she weeps silently against me, for me, for Helena and for herself. I wonder at how she learned to cry so quietly. And my heart astoundingly is able to break a little more.
I smooth her hair and hold her until she lets me go, a slow heavy release. She never says a word, even as she calls me a cab and helps me out of the apartment. She hands me money for the fare and then turns and walks away back inside. Resigned, I wait for the cab, already seeing the checkered yellow vehicle turn the corner. It is only when I am in the cab and we are moving that I realize I haven't told Dinah I love her, however imperfectly. I wish I had, even though she knows. Still, I wish I had told her this last time.
"And that's how I ended up here." I finish, looking at the grey stone bleeding into the darkening cement sky. I hadn't realized I had been here so long that night was falling around us. Well, me and the dead in the cemetery. I regarded the twin angels guarding this resting place. I've been here countless times in the past but it has been a very, very long time since I last visited this marker.
It seems absurd that I could sum up my life in so many hours. And yet I have. Lucky for me the dead keep secrets better than even I do. I look at the stone angels wondering if they would come to life and strike me down, but they never moved. Their impassive faces never blinked. I was the only one who flinched here in the cold, arms sore from wheeling myself up the slope. All this talking to Selena only makes me feel that much more alone and empty.
I wasn't a part of the funeral, being tied to tubes and monitors and unconscious as the surgeons and doctors fought for me to live after I had been shot. So I don't know what it was like for Helena. I don't even know to this day if she went to her mother's funeral. Nor do I know who arranged for Selena to be put here, in this peaceful spot high up and somewhat separated from the more clustered graves. I don't know who it was who decided to place her between two guardian life sized stone angels, massive statues on pedestals, cloaked in granite cloth and faces that are both kind and sad at the same time, looking down with sightless eyes in a frozen image of benevolent grace. I've been here before and wondered. I never asked Helena about it, I never had the courage to. And I was so afraid of hurting her. Hurting her by a simple question that would lay open old wounds never truly healed. And yet with one act I tore her open and destroyed both our lives anyway.
Hanging my head I kept my hands on my lap, refusing to try to warm them. "I've done so horribly wrong by her Selena. Loving her. In love with her...I didn't think it mattered. She wanted Reese. In the years she's had a parade of meaningless guys. It didn't matter until another woman came and had taken what I wanted. Then nothing mattered. Including me." I look up at the sky helplessly, God, it was all so useless. Finally I wring out the last words in me, "I can't fix this."
"Sometimes that's how it goes."
Startled, I reach for batons that aren't under my chair and then freeze as I see her in the darkening gloom. Helena is standing on one of the stone pedestals, draped alongside the angel in such a fashion that she's nearly a part of the dark shadows. With her black long coat loose and the ends trailing behind her with the breeze she looks otherworldly, like a devil next to the angel. Yet the only evil here is me.
Helena gracefully drops down coming towards me. "Life's hell, your mother gets stabbed in front of your eyes. You find out your father is a lunatic in a bat suit who wants nothing to do with you. And the woman you've loved since you first met her, your best and only true friend's been shot by a psychotic killer with green hair and a clown smile. None of that could be fixed. Not a goddamn single thing. Why is this so different?" Her eyes, dark in the shadows reflect the distant lights by the church. "Why, when you can't fix it, do you stay stuck there instead of keeping moving, dragging yourself along until the pain that makes you want to heave every minute gets less, and you don't want to tear into everyone every second, and eventually, you have someone who makes you realize that as long as they're in your life, you can take it. It doesn't matter that you don't want to. You can because there's something about her smile, the warmth in her voice that makes the world somehow less cold."
She stops in front of me and looks down into my face, pain and pleading raw in her eyes and voice. "Please Barbara, please, won't you be with me again? I'm so sick and tired of being out in this cold."
My chest burns. I take a breath, I fight for another. After all this I will not cry. I can't possibly have anything left inside me to cry with. "You make this so hard." I'm exhausted too, to the very core of me.
Her eyes shine and she seems to fight with herself to stay still, "What of any of this do you figure is easy?"
"It can't be like it was." So why must she do this?
"This time it will be worse, and better." She tilts her head at me. "Worse for what we have to forgive ourselves for. Better because now we can finally be honest with each other."
"How can you even contemplate me being back in your life?" I grip my wheels but the rims are so cold I quickly clench my hands back on my lap. I look down at my feet, I can't look at her. Sober, all I can think about when I see her...I can't think, only ache for what I can never have and will always want. "What I did to Quinn...it's the worst thing...I can't forgive myself..."
She sighs, a puff of breath in the night air as I look up at her rustling. She shrugs out of her coat and drapes it around me. "You're shivering." She doesn't move her hands away from the coat's lapels where they rest against my chest. "And I don't give a damn about Quinn. I told you before we don't agree on justice and what happened to Quinn. Bad, yeah. But I'm not sorry she's dead. I'm not sorry her death makes us all safe and saved good people. As for it being the worst thing? Barbara," she kneels down in front of me, looking up at me now holding my gaze with her steady one. "There are far worse things. We both know that for fact and have some of the scars to prove it."
I close my eyes to shut her out. "It doesn't change how I feel about it."
"Is it really worth killing me over? Because that's what you're doing."
I shake my head but keep my eyes shut. "Don't be so dramatic."
"Don't lie to yourself that it isn't killing me by inches Barbara. You can lie to yourself for as long as you want that I'm not in love with you, but don't lie to yourself about this."
Hands tighten on the coat wrapped around me, pulling me towards her. "Helena, I know this hurts you, but you're not in love with me. You've just convinced yourself of that because you're scared of losing me."
Hands release the coat and tangle in my hair. In the blink of time it takes for me to open my eyes it's too late, Helena's lips claim mine. And whereas before her kiss had been gentle and unobtrusive, this time she takes my lips with hers as if her life did depend on it. The demand and desire in her pierce me. She does want me. She might even truly be in love with me. How could I not have seen it? Her tongue slides into my gasping mouth and rubs velvet hot against mine. Every languid caress is a silken fire against my senses. My hands betray me, grabbing fists of her shirt to pull her even tighter to me. Helena's encouraging growl vibrates down my body and I moan into her mouth having wanted this for so long. I can't think, but I try. I have to. I promised her mother...I promised myself.
At first she resists, but I keep pushing her away even as my lips reluctantly leave hers. She stares at me incredulously, frustrated. "How can you push me away after kissing me back like that? How can you still say no?"
"Because I promised. Because you asked me not to make us less and I did." My hands are still tangled in her shirt, god help me I don't want to let go. She does love me, in love. God help us both. "I did that to us."
She grabs me, her tone and face fierce. "Then get your shit together Barbara and make us more. You can, right now. Ever since you tried to save me up in that tree and I caught you and you looked up at me not afraid of what I was, what I am, I wanted to be with you. Not just as a friend or a partner but like this, mouths hot, skin hotter, sliding against each other, with each other, wet and wanting and finally having. We can have that, finally, and I may be wrong or bent or even evil but if that psychotic bitch is the reason that you can finally admit to wanting me too, then put it in the past Barbara. Put that horrible, awful shit behind you as much as you can and take what good there is now. Take me. Be with me and never leave again. Whether you want to be Oracle or not doesn't matter to me, only you. You alive and with me. We can find something close to happiness together Barbara. Hell, maybe even more than that after eons of angsting and putting yourself through your mental tortures. But be with me. Tell me you love me enough to let me catch you this time. Please."
Violet blue eyes search mine for answers, and I'm lost. I'm not strong enough. Forgive me Selena, I've never been strong enough. I run a trembling fingers though wind blown dark hair. "Aren't you even mad I drugged you?"
A rakish grin like her old self graces that beautiful face, "Sure. But kiss me like that again and I'll forgive you almost anything."
"It can't be this easy." I can't believe I'm considering this. But Helena wants me and I've always been selfish in so many ways that I can't change. I want her too. And she said 'please', again. She looks up at me like I can fix this, at least make it better. And I want to, for her. Always, everything for my want for her, to see her smile again. My running away, the self destruction weighs so heavy and I'm tired of the weight. Sick and selfish. I doubt I'll ever be anything more, but I do love her, imperfect as I am, as my heart is, it's there and the only thing about me that hasn't changed in the last three months.
She looks like she could almost laugh. Her pouty lips quirk up and she presses another, but more chaste kiss upon me. "What on Earth about any of this do you call easy?"
I want to laugh. I want to be free enough of the bands tight around my chest to be able to do so light a thing again. Except as I close my eyes, even now, I imagine Quinn in that bed alive but suffering a living death at my hands before the machines were shut off and her breath rattled and wheezed and then stopped. "I can never forgive myself. Not ever Hel."
She stares at me reflecting an equal sense of futility, of helplessness, all her smiles gone. "I know. But I love you anyway. I always have. I always will. Better or worse. Make us less or more. But I'm here Barbara. You fell and wouldn't let me catch you. Will you at least let me help you back up?" A cold tear splashes down her cheek. "Wishing things away changes nothing. You take the hit, you deal, you keep moving 'cause nothing around us cares. The world doesn't give a shit about your pain or mine. And I chose a long time ago not to care about it in return. You get what you give and the world hasn't been dealing out the happies much and a lot of woe. So give me this, or do you still think I couldn't be in love with you? I always wanted to ask how you never saw it in all these years. Man, you're dense."
Her gaze warm with fond affection regards me, taking out the sting of any reproach in her words. I remember that odd conversation with her mother all those years ago. "Did you really have trouble with English Lit?"
For the life of me I don't believe it, Helena is blushing. The woman who wears leather like a second skin, flirts with seething intensity, broody and melodramatic Helena is standing in front of me looking as bashful as a teenager caught in her first crush. But neither of us are teenagers anymore. I forgot she could look like this. I didn't know she still could look like this, so young and for a brief moment untainted by the tragedies around us, within us. The feeling cutting into me right now, it's been so long but I know it well from the past when I believed in myself. It's hope. If Helena can still look like this after everything then might there be a chance? How can I even consider this?
"Uhm, okay look," she runs a hand through already wildly dishevelled hair, "I saw you at the library and well, it seemed like a great way to get you to talk to me." Hel throws me a droll expression, "Having the hot woman of my dreams talking romantic poems to me? How can you hold that against me?"
I shake my head, more at myself for not having seen it.
"You know, my mother said something to me I'll never forget. It was after that fall from the tree when she came in after speaking with you." I watch her, curious at the sudden shift to seriousness. Helena's always been mercurial though. "She told me 'Be careful of that one. She's even more independent that you are kitten. She's adventurous, but she takes the world too seriously. You'll have a hard time getting through that pride of hers and getting her to smile.' "
Incredulous, I look at Selena's name on the marker and then back to Helena. "She actually said that?"
"Yeah, she could be sly, but when it came to setting me straight about important things she shot from the hip." She scuffed a boot toe into the ground suddenly looking anywhere but at me. "You know I heard you two that day. Your promise to her. You fucked that up."
My heart sinks down more to where it's used to being. "I know."
"No," she shakes her head at me, "you don't. You messed it up royally, thinking by running away you were protecting me or whatever it was going through that head of yours. Dinah tried to tell me some of it, explain it to me. But Barbara, the only thing that keeps me sane, well, close as I can be for a girl who jumps off of buildings on a nightly basis, is you. Your voice in my ear, your smile when I come in all swanky and working you over for poptarts. You're it for me. I don't know any other way to tell you. How many more ways can I say this to you before you believe me? Believe me enough to stay."
The grin she sported just moments ago, the light banter, both lifted my heart. As hard as she says it is, it can't change, it can't be fixed. I stare at the most beautiful person I've ever seen, the fiercest spirit I've ever known and the walls I built so hard and so high crack and break at the touch of her lips, the promise of her words. It's a warmth that begins to burn so badly it hurts in my chest like acid oozing out of my heart.
"Why," I demand staring up at her through eyes blurring with unwanted tears. "Why now? Why all this now, when it's too late? God damn you," the grief turns to anger, always there's the anger, "after all the awfulness that I can't go back and undo do you tell me you love me now? Kiss me now, when its so ugly?" I'm so ugly. I'm the awful thing, and the thought that she loves me, is in love with me when I've become my worst nightmare...I want to scream. The wail of frustration and shame and confusion grind like jagged rocks in my chest, pushing at me to get out. I clench my jaw even as I yell at her, "How the Hell can you tell me you're in love with me now Helena, after what I've done! Damn you.! Damn you..."
I sob and Helena kneels down and takes me in her arms, squeezing me to her so hard it hurts. I bury my head against her shoulder and wordlessly scream against soft cotton and warm skin. Helena holds me tighter still breathing with me, rocking me a little as I scream and scream all the horror inside me. The violence, the deaths, her mother, Sandy's sister, Wade, Stephan, my legs, my life. My life! God I want it back. I want to change everything. Go back to that simple moment when a girl saved me when we both fell out of a tree. For the first time in my life I wished I'd never been Batgirl. So many people might be alive, so many others living happy healthy lives. People like Helena. Helena who tells me after I've paralyzed and murdered a woman that she loves me. Helena who holds me even now. She thinks I can save myself, save her, save us. She kissed me and she's in love with me. How could she give me a dream I thought was impossible when I'm living my worst nightmare? How can she offer it when it's so terribly wrong?
"Why couldn't you have told me before this? Before I murdered her?" It was the closest to blaming her I've ever come.
She stiffens against me but doesn't let go, not a fraction. She answers me, voice low and rough causing me to suspect she's crying too. "Why didn't either of us own up to it? I was scared of losing my best friend, the one person who's my reason to get up in the morning, well afternoon. I knew you were attracted to me but hey, I'm me right? You never did anything. And you act on anything you have a conviction about. I just figured you weren't...like that...for me. That I wasn't what you wanted. I was too scared to ruin what small bit of happiness I had. If you had rejected me I don't know what I would have done."
"Come back home with me." She pulls away to look at me but I'm still in her arms. She's not letting go.
I shake my head at her, my eyes burning, my face sore from crying. "You're asking the impossible."
"No, I'm asking you the simplest thing in the world. Which do you need more? Which do you want most? To love me or hate yourself?"
The simplest thing in the world. I look at the woman I've known for years as she waits for my answer. The easiest thing in the world is a vice around my heart, and the vice has claws.
I look at her, my life, my hope, it all rests with her. I don't dare believe in myself. Which do I need the most? To hate or to love? Looking at the love in her eyes, the need of hers there, all on the verge of hopelessness, I give her the only answer left inside me.
Helena embraces me while in the pit of my soul I'm sure I've just condemned us both.
I stare at the red bricks, ignoring the door and the key pad beside it. It was impossible, however, to ignore the presence beside me that vibrated anxiety.
"Are you sure Barbara?"
I glance at Helena who stands there with her arms crossed in front of her, studying the door as if she's never seen it before or knows what it is. She's trying so hard to make this not a big deal that her worrying couldn't stand out more.
"I'm sure Hel, it's time I see it. See if I can...live here again. Besides, we're driving each other crazy in that one bedroom apartment of yours." I'm not claustrophobic, but one more day in her cramped quarters and I'll snap."
"We've been standing here for ten minutes," she points out.
"I'm aware of that." It's only that being here, it seems longer than four months. It feels like four years, and like yesterday all at the same time. I relish neither emotion.
My hand rises to put in the code to get in. I stop and turn my head toward her. "What's the code?"
She frowns at me. "The same."
I stare at her astounded. "You didn't change it after Quinn's attack? My god Helena, what if one of her thugs had remembered how to get in? You should have-"
Her hand on my shoulder stops me. "If I had changed it, then how could you get back in? If you came home, I wanted you to be able to be home."
The haunted shadows in her eyes are only a hint at the stricken expression she's trying to hide, how much she's suffered since I had first run away. The past couple of weeks had shown both her and Dinah getting some much needed rest, but they both were far from recovered. I'd hurt them too deeply over too long a time. God, what made me think I could do this and come back here?
Helena's movement draws me out of my introspection. Her lips on mine surprise me. We've shared exactly fourteen kisses since I first woke up fully in her apartment. Every kiss surprises me each time. The look, the need, in those violet blue eyes reminds me why I'm here.
I take a shaky breath and open the door. I stop her with words before going into the elevator.
"Me alone, Helena. I need to face this by myself first." It takes a lot but I add, "if that's okay?"
I can't look at her, but hands find my shoulders again, warm and sure. "Whatever you want, whatever you need."
I reach up to my shoulder and lay my hand over hers, griping briefly before moving forward . "Thank you." I add before the doors close, sealing my decision to do this.
All too quickly I reach the top. The doors open and I move forward, the wheels hitting the slight bump of the elevator lip and the floor. The streaks of violet, amber and green lights are as familiar as my own face to me. The hum of the Delphi system idling lay in the air like a lullaby I thought I'd forgotten, as if I have the luxury of being able to forget anything. The place even smells exactly the same. I don't turn on the room lights when I roll my chair further into the room. The illumination from the outside streaming into the tower, along with the Delphi lights, is enough for me to see by. They had cleaned up the place well. It looked exactly like it had before Quinn's attack. I look around remembering. There, on the main floor was where Quinn and Helena had been fighting. Then Quinn had jumped up to the upper railing and I had followed...
I skirt as wide a birth as the ramps will allow around the Delphi and head up to that area where the sidebar is. Where Quinn and I had fought. As soon as I reach it I touch the railing, a cold metal affirmation that I am here, this is real. I look to the side almost expecting to see Helena standing there like she had been before, begging me not to kill Quinn. Not to make us less. And it was against this railing right here that I had Quinn by the neck, heard her poisonous words and acted on them. It wasn't even a quick death. She had lived through my worst nightmare, trapped in her own body, tied to a bed and hooked up to machines. A living death, until someone had found her living will to turn off the machines. A prisoner in her own body due the violence of another. Due to me. Leaning forward, the rail's cool metal is soothing where my forehead rests against it. What made me think I could do this, face what I've done? There's no forgiving such a thing. No going back.
The choked voice startles me, but not as much as the sight of Alfred aged so severely before my eyes. He stands there in the semi-shadows less than eight feet away from me, his hands twisting in front of him as he struggles to look composed. He's far thinner than I remember, his face haggard. He looks slight, fragile. Was this my doing too?
"Alfred," I clear my throat to smooth out the rough edges. "It's good to see you." Apologizing would have been ridiculous, as if such small words could compensate for all the devastation I've laid upon those close to me.
"Might I say, it is very good to see you Miss." His voice is ragged, he's having a hard time holding back his emotions. The dear reserved man has tears brimming his eyes. I'm not deserving of this, his worry or his relief at seeing me.
"I've done terrible things Alfred."
"Indeed you have, Miss," his pale eyes don't leave mine, solemn and searching. "Yet we can learn, sometimes, a great deal more from the most horrible of our mistakes than our greatest achievements. Have you learned from yours, Miss Barbara?"
The question and its implications are close to a slap. What have I learned? I had always been so certain of my answers in everything before, and yet now, standing before one of my oldest friends all I have is bone deep regret and confusion. "I don't know."
"An honest answer," he nods and a look like relief seems to fill his eyes and release some of the tension in him. "And if I may add, an excellent place to start."
"Start what Alfred?" I wave at the clock tower and all the shadows around us, surprised at his answer and incredibly dismayed. "How on Earth can I start to fix any of this? What I've done can't be undone. I can't fix anything. I can't go back to being who I was before this. And I can't stay as I am." In between somewhere and nowhere, someone and no one.
"Then it would seem," he replies in his most fatherly voice, "that you have no choice but to go forward. Moment by moment. And when in doubt, to have the courage to turn to the ones who care for you for help should you need it. You only ever have had to ask."
I don't know how I came back here to try to see what I could salvage of myself. I almost laugh, here I am having one of the most important philosophical discussions of my life about how to piece my life and myself back together, and yet I'm barely strong enough physically to roll myself back down to the main floor. My shoulders sag a little at the mere thought of it. It is easier to think about than what Alfred had just said. I've never asked for help. I don't ever ask for help.
The movement was so small I almost missed it, but I had been looking towards Alfred and caught the slightest motion of a foot just startling to slide forward and a hand jerk ever so mildly as if about to raise, before both foot and hand were put back into their original position. He had wanted to step forward and offer a hand, quite literally. But he's known me longer than anyone except my father, and everyone knows I don't like to be pushed. That's when I realize what Alfred has been trying to say in his very proper, very British was. All this time I've prided myself on my independence. I chose to be Batgirl, I chose to be Oracle, and everything in between was all on my shoulders because I would not allow it to be any other way. I made the decisions and never asked for help because I thought it was a weakness and I would not allow myself to be weak. Looking at Alfred, so desperately holding himself still so as not to offer a hand lest I find it offensive, thinking back on the way both Dinah and Helena have been so careful in their offers, both so afraid of my reaction to them, now I see. Perhaps my need for such strict isolated independence was my weakness, not the strength I had always believed it to be. If I had just bent enough at times to allow myself to lean on others, turn to them for their advice or a simple hand, maybe I wouldn't have fallen so hard on that terrible day. Maybe I wouldn't have killed Quinn, because I would have had the strength to either trust Helena, or at least ask her instead of taking it all upon myself. Maybe there was a way I could start to go forward. And it was Alfred who had pointed out the key.
"My old friend," I ask, "I had been thinking about going back downstairs but I think I'd prefer to go out on the balcony and get some air. Unfortunately though, I'm far from recovered from...everything. I haven't built up my arm strength back to what it was. Would you...help me to the balcony? I'd be grateful for a push."
There was a moment, when he hesitated, that I feared the worst. That I thought maybe I had misread the small movements he had restrained and that I had put too much hope and expectations on his capacity to forgive me for what I put him and everyone he cares for through. But then I saw the way his stance straightened and his eyes widened in shock, but also brightened. It made the cost to my pride worth it. The way he carefully pushed me out onto the balcony was his forgiveness. I thought of how much weight I put on something so small as a simple push and how that gave so much in this moment to someone who cared for me so deeply. And how it gave so much to me. Perhaps asking for help could be a strength, in the right circumstances. Maybe it wasn't so much about taking away my independence as it was about letting those who love me be a part of my life and letting them be of help, letting them give. Maybe I had been more wrong than I had thought to begin with.
We reached the outside and I set the brake where Alfred had stopped us. "Perfect Alfred, thank you." And it was, the view at night over Gotham has always been one of my favorites and the breeze was refreshing.
"You are most welcome. Will that be all Miss?" He sounded so much like his old self it made me smile a smile wide enough to stretch my unaccustomed face tight with it.
"For now Alfred. Thank you again."
"My pleasure Miss Barbara." I hear the smile in his voice and the retreat of steps much lighter than they had been.
I look out over the skyline and wondered how much about my life I had made worse through my choices, long before Quinn had come into Helena's life and then mine.
A warmth stings my eyes. I've cried more in the past few weeks than I have in the past several years. Maybe this is something I'll have to get used to as well. I hope not though. It always frustrates me when I cry. Looking over the city for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, I can't stop the warm lines sliding down my face. I never thought to be here again, sit here like this, let alone have the people I love back in my life. I thought my act had taken them all from me forever. I had been certain of it, and that it was for the best. God, I've made such a mess of it all.
Go forward. One second it seems possible, the next, anxiety chokes me as I try to consider what comes next.
"Here," I nearly jump out of my chair, a true feat for a paraplegic. Helena walks over from the shadows taking off her coat. She drapes it over my shoulder almost like a shawl, bringing it forward to cover my front.
She crouches down in front of me and says simply, "You seemed cold. And lost."
"Yeah," I answer to both.
Helena seems to understand. With a voice as warm and reassuring as her hands had been on my shoulder downstairs, and as her coat is now, she tells me in her matter of fact way the very heart of her.
"I couldn't stay down there with you up here. I can't ever be apart from you for long without going crazy Barbara."
Her hand reaches out and smooths the tears from my face. "Bad thoughts?"
"I'm scared." How much that admission costs me, words I never dared speak before...before Quinn.
"It's okay to be scared. Just remember you're not all alone when the big bad thoughts rolling around in that sexy head of yours get the better of you, okay?"
Reaching out, I dare to touch her cheek, feel its softness against the palm of my hand. I watch, mesmerized at how she inclines into my caress, how she does everything so naturally, so easily, without second guessing everything. I envy her that as I envy so much about her. She's always been so brave and I've had to realize that I never truly was. Particularly when it comes to this. To love.
"I love you."
Blue-violet eyes widen at my words and then a lazy grin relaxes Helena's demeanor entirely. "Hmm, I like this reassuring you, and I get words of woo from you."
Damn, the woman can make me smile no mater what. "'Woo' Hel? I doubt I'm up to that just yet."
Her eyes gleam. "Don't you worry. When you are, I'll be here. But for now, how about a friend to hold your hand?"
Trying to live here again is going to be...this might be a mistake but looking down at her happy face I have to try. Move forward. I wish I knew how. Moment to moment, from one breath to the next. I'll do it second by second until I can go a minute without panic seizing me. Then maybe it will go to an hour, maybe two. Maybe someday a whole week could pass without this terror and confusion over my actions robbing me of breath and reason. For now, I'll take Helena's hand to help me get to the next second, and the one after that.
Her hand in mine is grounding, and unlike the ghosts that haunt me waking and sleeping, her grip is solid, strong, reassuring and real. The seconds pass us by.
I remember how the ocean smelled. Clean. The Gotham docks smell, but it is nothing I would describe as clean. But on such a bright day with the sun high in a cloudless sky, warming my aching joints, I can't find it in myself to complain about it.
"You doing okay?"
I turn to look up at Dinah standing there in jeans, a simple lilac shirt and blue denim jacket. The past few months have done her good. The shadows under her eyes are gone, and the shadows within those blue eyes of hers reveal themselves less and less frequently. Today her eyes are the same color as the cloudless sky and just as warm.
"I'm fine," I smile to reassure her. "Helena put me through a bit more of an assertive physio routine this morning than usual. That's all. I'm a bit stiff still." Four months of hours of physio everyday to try to slowly undo the damage my lapse in judgement and sanity have caused. I still had months more of physio and more months after that.
Dinah frowns at me, concerned. "Are you sure you want to do this? We don't have to do this today, after all. It can wait."
So young to be so protective of the people around her. I don't know how I got so lucky to have her in my life but I'm grateful. "I don't want to wait anymore."
She takes the simple and short answer well, not arguing with me. Ever since she became legally emancipated she's seemed more responsible, more practical. Or maybe she grew up and I simply hadn't noticed until it hit me, looking across the table at her one day, that my being her guardian was superfluous. In light of my behavior last season it was downright absurd. She had agreed readily enough to my suggestion, not so differently than how she let me continue with my goal today, as if she had expected it. Considering she's a telepath with bouts of precognition, I shouldn't wonder at it.
"Do you see her?" She stands on her tip toes, shielding her eyes to look around the dock workers and equipment that much better.
"Not yet." I peer harder, looking for what would be one of the few female workers. And in the next instant I spy her, a slender figure with hair a light chestnut pulled back into a ponytail, so unlike the blonde I remember. If I hadn't seen her on a couple of hacked camera images I wouldn't have recognized her at a glance. Lisa had changed as much as I have.
"There she is."
Dinah follows my gaze and nods. "Are you sure she won't recognize you?"
I chuckle at that as I begin to wheel myself towards the slender figure wearing an oversized dock worker standard uniform. "A red head in a wheel chair with glasses who doesn't have a Hispanic accent? I think I'll be fine." When I look in the mirror these days it still strikes me how different I had looked then, with my face so thin and sallow, the dark eyes and hair making me look even paler. No, Lisa won't recognize me.
Lots of ramps on docks. It helps me ease my way in my chair as I move towards her. Seeing her so changed helps, but when she turns to see me and I catch those eyes so like and yet unlike Dinah's, I remember the harsh and hateful words I said to Lisa the day Stephan was killed. I had been angry. I still am, but not at her.
She stands and dusts her hands off on her uniform. It's only then that I understand why it doesn't fit her well. The name tag says Stephan Valort. She had kept his clothes and had been doing his job for nearly as long as I've been back at the Clocktower. I had known about the job, but the clothes surprised me.
"Can I help you?" She asks it the way one politely addresses strangers in wheelchairs, kindly but puzzled. She doesn't recognize me.
"Hello. Would you be Lisa Valort?" The name change had surprised me when Dinah had first told me what happened to. I smiled that polite yet vague smile office staff give clients.
"Yeah." Her eyes narrow, giving me the once over. She still has that hard edge, waiting for when it's needed."What do you want?"
"This is a delicate matter. It involves one Stephan Valort." I look around to give her my meaning. "If you would like this discussed in a more private setting-"
"Here's fine. What about him? Who are you?" That edge has crept into her tone.
"I'm from B&G insurance." I give her a not-so-informative card. "He had a will and you were named- well, under your original last name- as his beneficiary. Were you not aware?"
The poor girl looked flummoxed. Her demeanor changed abruptly, her tensed body dropping, shoulders sagging, her expression stricken.
I soften my voice further, "I realize this might be a shock to you Miss Valort, but there's nothing for you to be concerned about, honestly. What I have here is a check for you. It's not a large amount, but I hope it helps you." I lie so easily. I hand the crisp piece of paper out to her. It takes her a couple of deep breaths and then a shaking hand takes it from mine. She looks at the digits on the check and her eyes widen. I had Dinah look up how much she makes a month here and that she still lives at that rundown hotel. I made sure there was enough there for her to get herself a small house in a not too bad part of town if she wanted. The word sorry is so useless. This seemed a better apology, or maybe I'm still a coward. Maybe both are true.
"He had this much, but..." She seems dazed.
"Maybe you should sit down." She accepts my nudging and sits on the edge of a sizable crate nearby. With her so distracted I take a good look at her. Like me her hair has grown out more and her natural color suits her better. Dinah assured me Lisa's been sober for as long as I have, and this close to the woman I know it's true. The added weight looks good on her and the tan from working outside makes her shine with health. She's actually quite attractive. I wonder if this is how Stephan always saw her, if it's part of what he saw in her. To work at the docks was no small task for a woman. But Lisa seemed to have something to prove, at least to herself. It's a motivation I understand all too well.
Blue eyes a shade darker than Dinah's look up at me, the blue in them shimmering from tears threatening to spill. "He wanted me to have this?"
"He did." A lie, but barely, since if he had been alive he would have wanted anything and everything good for her. "That's why he had an insurance policy set up. I see you've taken his last name."
"Ah, yeah." She looks down at the name tag and touches it affectionately, like she's done it a hundred times or more. "He was a nice guy you know? Not my type, I thought. But...he- he was killed trying to help me. No one ever...He was just someone special, you know? Thought about me instead of saving his fool ass when he should have." She sighed. "I never got to thank him. I never got to say sorry either. He had wanted things for me, stuff I told him was crazy but," a shrug, "He wanted this job, wanted me and him to, you know...live better than we were. I was in a kind of...dead end job before this. When he died I thought a lot about what he did and what he wanted. He can't be here to live the life he worked hard to build for us, so I thought I maybe should try to do it for him. It's the only way I can think of to let him know I'm sorry. And maybe if I do this long enough, someday I'll see in me what he did. Maybe then I'll believe."
"Believe what?" Hearing what she said, I realize how badly I've misjudged her.
She shrugs again, stands and looks off to the side self-consciously. "Believe I was worth it."
I didn't ask worth what. I knew. I felt it myself. Worth dying for. Worth all this pain.
"I hope you do." I meant it. "If you ever need anything Miss Valort, please contact me on the number on the card I gave you. For anything."
"Uhm, thanks." She rubs at her face with the back of her sleeve. "Man, I don't know what got into me babbling like that. Sorry."
"It's no trouble, really."
A broad fellow yells over at us, making a motion to Lisa to get a move on. "Are your co-workers treating you well?"
"Oh sure, they're great, really. Don't let their looks fool you. When I came in to fill Steph's job they were real sad and nice about it. Said he had seemed like a swell guy and all that. And they let me try out for the job." A proud grin changes her face into someone else entirely, a Lisa I never knew existed. "They couldn't believe a small chick like me could haul ass as much as them. Showed them."
Showed us all. "I'm glad. I'll let you get back to work. It was nice meeting you Miss Valort."
"Nice meeting you too." She adds while folding the check neatly and putting it carefully into her pocket.
I stop my half turn to go and have to tell her. "The name Valort, did you know it means courage?"
"Really? I like that."
I like it too. "Take care of yourself Lisa."
She smiles and waves while going down to help unload a truck that's just arrived. I make my way back to where Dinah's waiting.
The trip home is a long one. Seeing Lisa again has me thinking about that awful night.
"I want to thank you Dinah," it's not what I meant to say, "for all our help - you and Alfred- in finding Lisa for me and helping me set up the phoney insurance cover. She'll be able to use that money."
Dinah keeps her eyes on the road while she's driving. "You've already thanked both of us lots. Honestly, the two of us together can't do one-hundredth of what you can do on the Delphi with your eyes closed. But I'm glad we could help."
It's the most gentle reproach I've ever experienced. The months have passed and I've shied away from the Delphi like a guy I've been trying to avoid after he gets heavy and I want out. Alfred mentions nothing but looks pointedly at the machines when in my eyesight while Helena prowls restlessly at times but refuses to say what hangs heavy in the air. I don't know how to tell them the obvious, that I don't trust myself.
The inside of the vehicle doesn't feel comfortable anymore, not to me. I have to say this and I'm afraid of how there's no way for it to come out well. I try to say what I meant to before, "The things I said to you that night, when Steph died, I don't know how to make it right Dinah."
Her shoulders rise in the barest hint of a shrug. "It's past. You were drunk, stoned, and all you wanted was to hate yourself and push me away. It was a mistake. There's nothing you need to make right. I know you're sorry."
I let out a breath and don't look directly at her, though I can see her clear enough in my periphery. "A mistake is like saying it was an accident. No one's fault. At least no ill intent. I said cruel things to you Dinah, hateful things. It wasn't an accident. Drunk and stoned I knew what I was saying and meant to hurt you. That's not a mistake. Friends don't do that kind of thing, not if they care about you more than they care about themselves."
Dinah glances at me and pulls the car over to the soft shoulder and puts on the hazard lights. "Barbara, you said things and yes, they were cruel. And yes, you hurt me. But what you said, it wasn't like it was a lie. We both know it was the truth. You do remember what you said don't you?"
I glance at her startled by her words and how calmly she says them. "Yes, I remember." Too much. That I told her she wanted Helena and me, had maybe even fallen in love with us a little bit, the way teenagers do. But looking at Dinah now there's nothing youthful about her except her young face, but not the eyes, nor what she says next.
"What you said wasn't untrue, it was just cruel. And I made peace with it because I don't want to end up like the two women I first had crushes on, and maybe fell a little in love with. I don't want to wear my mistakes around my neck like a noose, or to use them as excuses for horrible thoughts and feelings and let it lead to me doing awful things because of it all. Why is it that when people listen to their inner voices, when they hear things, it's never 'Hug a puppy or help a widow with her bags'? It's always messed up- fucked up- stuff like 'hurt yourself, hurt others'." She grips the steering wheel very hard and her eyes are suddenly no longer seeing me at all, but other things, the stuff only a telepath, privy -however unwanted by her- to the thoughts and feelings of others, has had to bear, "I really wish people's inner voices were warm and fuzzy things, all pink and happy and comforting."
She takes a deep breath and her face turns back to me, her eyes refocus and tears are in them. "Why can't they be like that Barbara?"
It's the plea of a young child. One we've all had. Why does it hurt? Why can't it stop hurting? I have to be better for her. I have to pay attention to the things that matter.
With a snap I undo my seat belt and lean over to release hers before I pull her into a my arms and hold her to me. And suddenly it feels like over a year ago when she first began living with me and I felt like this, like a mother.
"I don't know Dinah. I wish I did. People are messed up, confused, and get lost in their pain so that they can't see what's real anymore. But because of people like you they sometimes get a second chance, whether they deserve it or not."
I hold her for some time while she allows it, taking what small inadequate comfort I can give. But I try to concentrate on how nice it feels to hold and be held, to have someone allow me to console them. I focus on how much I love her. However much I've failed her, I love her.
She pushes lightly at me and I let her go. She straightens up and wipes at her eyes with a Kleenex she fished out of the glove compartment. She gets the car going again.
"I know you're sorry. I know it Barbara." I look at her as she gets back on the road. Of course she knows, she's a touch telepath. But I'd rather she never had to know any of the pain I visited upon her. "I know, and I forgive you."
Just like that. She makes it so easy. And I can hear Helena laughing at me saying 'What about this do you figure is easy?' Helena's right. She and Dinah. They forgive me. They even forgive me for not being able to forgive myself.
All I can smell in the training room is the mat and my sweat as I work through the crunches, relishing the burning I can feel in my upper torso. Anything to keep myself distracted. I pause at the clunky metronome of combat boots coming closer.
I look up at Helena standing over me to the side, the end of her black duster furling at the side to tickle my ribs. "Are you going to workout every night Dinah and I go out on sweeps? You've been working up a sweat each time we go out."
"I like to keep occupied," I moderate while trying to catch my breath.
She kneels down and wipes wet strands of hair from my face. "You're over doing it."
I smile slightly, "It's my nature."
Hel gives the same half smile back, "Guess I'm not the only extremist here." She exhales loudly, blowing her bangs up. Not a good sign. The small smile disappears. Worse. "Look, I told you, heck, even Dinah told you...be Oracle, don't be Oracle...we just want you to be happy."
I stare up at her. "I know."
Her hand trails along the exposed skin of my abdomen, stopping just short of the black sports bra, leaving a trail of goose bumps in her wake. "So why work yourself until you're exhausted every time we go out on sweeps?"
Because the thought of you out there without me watching over you drives me crazy. Because I want to protect you and have learned that no matter what I do I'm helpless.
"I'm not the type to just sit and watch TV or read a book. I'm not good at waiting. Besides, the training has been helping me regain my strength, build up stamina." The last was hitched as her hand moved on my skin again, sliding downward and stopping just below my navel, just before she could slide her hand under the elastic of my shorts.
Violet-blue eyes follow that hand, a pink tongue moistens full lips. She sounds as breathy as I suddenly feel. "Why don't we do more than kiss? You keep stopping me before it gets...more."
"Hel..." I don't know how to tell her. Because I love her. Because I can't forgive myself even if she does. Because I'm scared of seeing Quinn's sightless eyes whenever I close mine and I couldn't bear it if that happened with Helena, when Helena should be the only one in my vision when we make love. Because I don't know if I can keep my nightmares from touching her again. Because I'm terrified of what might happen, what might not, of how much I want her. Because I know now that I can't control myself, that no matter what I do, I'm helpless.
She shakes her head. "Forget it. Sorry. I didn't mean to push." She doesn't look at me, just shuts down, turns away. Because she's always making the first move and letting me make the last. Because she loves me. Because she's still afraid I'll run away, in so many ways.
"I'm sorry," I whisper, knowing she can hear me.
She's at the door and stops, puts a hand on the doorway and almost turns back. Almost. "I know." Is all she says and then she walks away.
Tears of frustration and sadness sting my eyes. Stuck. I'm stuck. What was it Alfred said? Move forward. I keep trying and then end up right back in this trapped feeling, not trusting myself to do anything, so I do nothing.
...go forward. Moment by moment. And when in doubt, to have the courage to turn to the ones who care for you for help should you need it. You only ever have had to ask.
To have the courage to ask, to reach out. "Helena?" Did she leave already?
The sound of returning boot steps sets my heart racing. In seconds she's back beside me, kneeling and searching my face. "You okay Barbara? What is it?"
I search her face just as intently. I pray for courage. Because I want her. Because I love her. Because I'm helpless every time I look into that face so sure with love for me.
Curling a hand into her duster I pull her closer and hope I can answer her question. I make the first move this time, taking her lips, feeling their satin softness, pushing to feel the wet velvet stroking of her tongue on mine. Helena is as responsive as always, taking what I'll give and careful not to push for more. I want to give her more. I want all of her as I have wanted for so long, ached for her and only her.
So I pull instead of push. Helena falls and I catch her in my arms, against my body lying on the mat. A small sound of surprise escapes her before I claim her mouth again and my hands don't pull but caress under her coat, under the small tight plumb shirt she's barely wearing. My senses reel at the feel of her soft skin, so soft...A groan reverberates down my body. I think it was me.
Helena pulls away and fear overrides my arousal. She stares down at me with wide astonished eyes. "Barbara," and it pleases and reassures me no end that she's as breathless as I am, "are you sure?"
Have courage, Gordon. Give her what you both want. For once, speak the entire truth. Helena deserves no less. "The one thing I'm sure I can still believe in is you Helena."
"Is that a yes?" And now her expression openly shows her hope and gives me mine.
I almost laugh with relief that she isn't walking away. "Yes Hel, please yes."
She leans down and now it's the two of us fighting for sensual dominance of who will lead this dance. Her hands on my body, fingers teasing my breasts push me past any striving for civility on my part. I groan again and this time bite her neck, tease every inch of skin I can reach as if I could devour her. I want to know if she's wet, taste her. Helpless in my desire for her, I try to give in, trusting her to catch me if I fall too far, too fast.
My hands start to undo her belt and the thought is suddenly there, cutting me: I have no right to her, to have this happiness, to feel this good. The fear inside grips me sudden and sharp.
Helena stops and breathes against my ear, "You just tensed up, you okay?" That thread of fear is back in her voice. She has every right to be scared that I'll push away again. I've done it so often, how could she expect anything different unless I change?
I fail her in so many ways and I'm helpless to stop it.
"You have sweeps. Dinah's waiting. It wouldn't be right, us, right now." I don't quite meet Helena's eyes. I can't.
Helena slowly gets up, every movement a sign of her reluctance, but like always, she lets me finish what gets started. Her movements are a bit shaky. She chuckles hollowly, trying to skim over our anguish, make it like it isn't throbbing between us painfully, "You'd better pray that Dinah doesn't accidentally brush against me tonight, cuz whoa! So not wanting to share this. Poor thing might be traumatized. Or hook up at a sex club." Hel sends me a droll look. "You have a good rest of your workout." With a saucy wink that's a kind lie, she's gone.
I fold my hands over my stomach and just lay there on the mat, catching my breath. Throwing an arm over my eyes I fight not to cry. Start, stop. I can't move forward. I simply don't know how.
A door slams and my upper torso jumps. Adrenalin coursing through me I look up just in time to see Helena standing there, the door closed behind her. She takes her coat off and drops it to the ground as if it were nothing to her. She's no longer wearing the comms.
"What?' Is all I manage to ask before she's straddling me, hands on either side of my shoulders and looking down with eyes gone into vertical feline slits.
"No." She enunciates the word clear as the ringing tone of a bell.
"What?" I repeat myself, deeply at sea.
"No," still in that crystal clear tone, "I won't let you push me away this time. No, I won't go out on sweeps until we have had this out one way or the other. No, I won't let myself walk out again when we both want this. No, I'm not going to listen to your fear, or mine, anymore."
My eyes dart from hers to elsewhere, my mind racing to decipher her words and what she's going to do. One thing shines that I hold onto. "You're afraid, Hel. What are you afraid of?"
"Of what you'll do when I stop letting you push me away." Her eyes are steady but the expression in them is raw. "I was terrified when you were missing, and now I'm too scared half the time of what I'm going to do or say that might make you run from me again. I'm afraid of never being able to act on what I feel. And I'm tired of being afraid. Aren't you?"
Yes, oh, yes, but the consequences of acting, of what might happen from any action I choose robs me of breath.
Sad eyes watch me, Helena slowly shakes her head. "You can't keep living like this Barbara, always second guessing yourself until you're unable to move. It's paralysing you more than those bullets ever did."
I inhale sharply at that. Still, I can't do anything, say anything. Please, I can't hurt her anymore. If I say the wrong thing I might hurt her worse than by doing nothing.
"Talk to me Barbara. Stop shutting me out."
Sorrow pierces me, "I couldn't survive hurting you again. And I will. With the way I am how can I not?"
Her hands, so warm, find my face, run through my hair. "With the way you are now, hurting me is exactly what you're dong. You have to let go, you have to make a decision beyond this rut you have us in. Us Barbara. It's not just you that you're trapping by this dance we keep doing."
Tears leak down the side of my face. I ache to be with her, have imagined it countless ways but with all that's happened, it mars everything. "I'm too scared." I confess, it costs me dearly to speak those words aloud.
"Then let me help you face it," she whispers, tears sliding down her own pale cheeks before she leans down and kisses me. It's tender and desperately gentle. So are the hands that find their way along my skin teasing my senses again, coaxing me, luring me to give in, to let go. But I don't know how.
I tear my mouth from hers. "We should stop."
Aching eyes meet mine. "Why? Do you want me to stop? Your body moves into every touch and I can smell the change in you, feel the heat rise along your skin, catch every intake of breath from the way I touch you. Don't tell me what your fear wants Barbara. Tell me what you want. Just you. What do you want?"
God help me. "You."
Something gives at my reply. Helena's body relaxes, her expression grows less fierce but no less intense. "Then show me."
With trembling hands I trace the lines of the face above me. I look at the lips that were just kissing me, see the woman above me that is offering me everything if only I can be brave enough to try. My hands shake more.
Helena catches them in her own, cradles them. "Just try Barbara. That's all I'm asking. Try to show me how much you love me, want me. I need to know. I need more than words. I need you."
Violet-blue eyes delve into mine, "Make us more."
I let her down once and brought hell to us all. Looking up at the woman who is offering me her soul, who's always had mine despite it being the worse for wear, I try. Terrified but wanting, I reach out to her and try.
My fingers find her belt buckle again and this time I follow through with what I started earlier. I undo it and pull the black leather through the loops in a slow movement, letting her feel the pull of it as it slides around her waist into my hands. We're both breathing harder and we haven't even touched each other again, yet. My fingers slide in her pants just enough to twitch open the top button and then drawn down the zipper in another unrushed movement.
I nod at her to indicate her position. "Move back enough so that I can sit up."
She does what I asked immediately, no more, no less. I like that. I sit up, leaning forward enough to balance out my upper body with my legs lying beneath where Helena is kneeling. I slide my hands up the arms of her long sleeved tee, letting the tickling sensation of the satin-like polyester blend tease my palms as I smooth it out around the planes of the muscles in her arms, then her shoulders, along her collarbones, down her chest to her abdomen where the shirt stops short to reveal her taut belly, quivering now. Reverently, I slide the shirt up in a long languid, unhurried movement. Without a word, Helena lifts her arms up, allowing me to undress her.
She tosses the shirt aside when it reaches the top of her hands. I put my hands on her waist quickly to maintain my equilibrium because the sight of her, naked from the waist up, undoes me that much more. It uncurls the desire I've struggled to bury tight inside me. As it begins to stretch out in me, I take a breath, another. I gather it up and let it feed what little courage I have. It's enough to let me meet Helena's eyes searching mine for any distress. It lets me see the flush covering her torso and full round inviting curves of her breasts. She's watching every thing I do as if she's memorizing it. Her gaze on me is as physical as a hand steadying me, urging me. I do what I've wanted to do for years, I lean in and first kiss those bow shaped lips. Then I slide my mouth along hers and down, getting the corner of the beginnings of her sudden smile. I trace my lips down to the slope of her neck, tasting her skin, darting my tongue to let it lay hot along pale softness. With my hands I urge her to kneel up a bit and she does without question. I lick the underside of her left breast, feel her sudden trembling at the touch, her sharp intake of breath at the unexpected contact. With an unfounded confidence that astonishes me, I take that tight peak into my mouth and pull on Helena with long, languid strokes of my tongue and mouth. She grips my shoulders quickly, this time needing to steady herself and she lets out a shuddering groan. That sound, this, with her, this is what I've wanted for so long. The way her hips are moving, the way she's responding, it's what she wants too. She lets me know with every sigh, every grip of her hands on my body, ever motion of her form that she wants this, wants me. I'm afraid still, but having Helena like this, my desire begins to roar with real strength to drown it out, but it can't drown my fear entirely.
Right then, when the fear is about to stop me again, Helena starts speaking to me in low, erotic tones that I've never heard from her before.
"Barbara, damn, watching you, your mouth on me like that is almost too much. I don't want to cum just yet." A gasp, a mewling sound that ignites every nerve in my body, "I want you inside me before I cum. Barbara, hurry, please."
"I.." Overwhelmed at the need in her voice, I respond honestly, "I always wanted to taste you."
A deep shudder wracks the slender form holding onto me, holding us both up. "God Barbara, just the thought of you wanting to lick me, go down on me...We'd better hurry. Later, we can do that later, but now I need your hand on me, in me, hurry."
Leaning my forehead against her shoulder I try to regain some sense of myself. It's hard to think with her so close, her bare skin under my hands, the sounds she's making, but there's that part deep down inside me that makes me wonder if I should stop, protect her. After all, aren't I the monster now? I did such horrible things, how can I possibly be the one to partake in this kind of beauty now? It feels as if the seams of me are coming apart. There are pieces of me I never knew were inside me, ugly pieces. I have no right to seek shelter in Helena's desire this way, using my own to comfort me. I have no right to comfort her.
Helena's hands grip my hair and twist tightly, almost to the brink of pain. She pulls me away to look at her.
"You're doing it again."
I have no answer for her. I don't know what to do. How can I move forward alone?
The smile she bestows on me is as tender as it is unexpected. Puzzled I ask with my expression.
The hold on my hair gentles, as does her voice, "You keep trying to take on the world outside and in your head. You try to do everything alone. You're not alone in this. I'm here." She grabs one of my hands and places it over her heart. The beat is fast, faster than I would have expected. She's not as composed as she seems, but she does seem sure of herself. "We do this together."
I watch, helpless in an entirely different way as she begins to peel up my sports top. Her gaze wanders as intently as her hands as she touches me, not reverently but with a hunger, an eagerness that is only half of what is in her eyes. My gasp as her fingers tease me in just the right way, with the pressure just so as she pinches already aching peaks makes her smile in a way that robs me of thought completely. She's so beautiful. Always was, but like this...she could make angels weep for joy at a smile like that.
I find my voice, "How can you...want me after what I've done?" All I've done.
The look I get is so raw, so intense I would step back if only I had the use of my legs and she wasn't on top of me. Her personality is a force in and of itself.
When she answers after a moment, it is with a voice that is so certain that I know there is no room for doubt within her about this. "I love you. And no matter how long, how many years you've been wanting me, I've wanted you like this even longer and I'm not going to waste this chance. Bad shit will tear you down time and again, but the good things...Damn Barbara, the really good things like this I won't waste. We've lost so much time together. I don't want to lose anymore than I already have."
I recline down onto the mat, a strange feeling of peace invading me. I slide my hands over her jeans, "Show me, help me show you." I'll trust in her certainty, in what she sees and believes until I can see it, believe in it too. Because I want to. I need to. I don't want to be helpless in the face of such love anymore. I want to move, if only a little forward, for both our sakes.
She moves down as I crane my neck up so that we can both share a searing kiss that leaves us breathless. We don't waste time. She hurriedly touches me, as wild in this intimate moment as I've ever seen her in a fight. What I don't know her sure hands teach me and for every erotic touch, every moan she elicits, I strive to gain the same from her. When she moves my hands to her open jeans I don't need urging to slide my fingers inside the tight confines and I chuckle into her moan when I discover she isn't wearing panties. I glide over the wetness there and it electrifies me as nothing ever has in my life. I moan louder than Helena at the contact and there's suddenly no more fear or confusion on what I should be doing, or what's best for her or me or the world, there's only the silky feel of her most intimate flesh over my fingers as she rocks her hips to help me find the right spot. There's only the heady smell of our arousal frosting the air so heavily that I can almost taste it on the back of my tongue.
There's no grace in our movements now. Raw desire that needs more than wants, her movements over me are frantic as I tighten my circles around her swollen flesh more tightly, and then tighter still. I look up at her not wanting to miss a moment, literally memorizing every sound, every touch, the very vision of her as she holds my gaze with complete trust and lets herself go, lets her cries echo in the room, lets her reactions escape unchecked, lets herself fly and fall for me to catch her.
For a second the room grows dim and then I'm back in my body and Helena's in my arms, her skin on mine, a wonderful friction of silk and sweat. I realize with amazement what just happened. All of it.
Helena, catching her breath, doesn't so much as raise her head as roll it lazily on my shoulder so that I can look at her and she me. "In the end, the way you were breathing, you came too didn't you?"
It had happened so unexpectedly, "Yes, it usually takes more, I mean, it's not that easy for me-" Her laughter cuts me off.
Her smile is beatific and wicked all at once. "What about any of this did you think was easy?"
I regard the woman in my arms, her shining eyes filled with mischief and joy, a sight I thought never to see again, let alone to this degree. And I can't stop it, nor do I try. I smile and laugh with her. Easy? Perhaps not. But in some ways this moment was both the easiest and hardest, and the greatest gift I've ever been given.
"Helena, I love you." She looks at me, having known that all along, and we both laugh harder.
Later, she and Dinah both decided to do sweeps. Just to be sure Gotham is safe.
Wheeling into the main room I pause and dry my face with the towel again. It's Helena's simple white towel and smells faintly of her skin. She's out there right now racing rooftops and I don't know what's out there. They're out there ensuring the city and its people are safe, but there's no one watching over them.
The clock tower is dark. The only lights are from outside. It's enough to see clearly by. Move forward, Alfred had said. How can I be sure what the correct direction is to take?
I had been so sure when I was younger. I was certain about being Batgirl, convictions abounded despite all the opposition. When the Joker's bullets ended that and I was barely able to function, I had been sure then too. Sure I would go on. Sure about taking in Helena when I learned her mother had been murdered that same night. I had never had any doubts about becoming Oracle. My love for Helena had grown to be a bone deep state of being for me. One that I had been certain I could never reveal because I had believed with all my soul that Helena could never return my feelings. It was with that same certainty that I had believed Quinn and her filthy lies, I had believed what my jealousy wanted. I had been sure of what to do. I had been certain throwing myself into exile was what was best. I still think a life of abusing myself is what I deserve. But so many of my absolutes were proven false.
I had believed I loved Helena such that I could never hurt her and instead I tore her life apart. I had been certain love always won out over hate, but that day when I murdered Quinn I had chosen otherwise. As far as my conviction that Helena would never, could never be in love with me, I couldn't have been more wrong. She loves me with an intensity that matches my own. Helena loves me. So here I am now, in the clock tower, the lights off, and my hands shake.
Are you sure Barbara?
No, I'm not sure about much of anything anymore, but maybe in time I will be. Maybe it's good to work in an area of uncertainty. Maybe that's the only way to truly know if I'm making the right choices now; by sometimes failing, by hopefully someday forgiving, however unlikely, but always living and trying to do better. Maybe Lisa had the right idea. Do what those who love you wish for you and then someday, maybe, I can believe I'm really worth that love, worth their forgiveness, worth life, this life. Here. Now.
I can never forgive myself. But I can try to give Helena what she asked of me.
I tap the keyboard.
"This is Oracle back online. What's your status?"
I will make us, myself, more.