With A Loose Grip
FANDOM: Birds of Prey (comics)
DISCLAIMERS: Birds of Prey is owned DC Comics, which is owned by Time Warner. I make no claim to any piece of that empire, but intend neither profit nor injury.
RATING: Very Mature NC-17.
SUMMARY: Barbara interrupts Helena at church to send her on a mission, and another night in Gotham unfolds.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: bluefragment gave me the title, stolen from Cat Power, because she's awesome.
WEB SITE: http://www.broodingdetective.com/
Helena was in an alcove in the second Catholic church in Gotham -- St. Michael's -- the other one, where politicians didn't give campaign speeches and cops didn't weep at funerals while wearing holstered guns. The poor still got fed every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, and the pipe organ still sounded gothic. Helena, though, felt itchy and uncomfortable, like a vampire with sunburn might feel. She really wasn't supposed to be here and the powers that be were letting her know through the power of skin rash.
She was dressed in civilian clothes, fulfilling her role as the lost Catholic orphan. Helena Bertinelli, played tonight by the Huntress. Her name, she thought, rather rolled off the tongue, if anyone ever said it, which they didn't. She was usually called You Bitch, or Cunt. Her fault, she supposed, for answering when called.
Standing in a church was as ridiculous as trying to be a school-teacher, which she did because she was smarter than people thought she was. Trying to curry God's favor was as ridiculous as trying to be a hero when you're one of those Italians, when you've killed and you could recall the metallic taste of blood at will, when there's so much ugliness in the world she finally screamed, "No! Enough!"
The evil just responded, "Watch this."
Helena avoided the curious eyes of the priest and pressed her forehead against the pillar. She wondered if a confession would make it all go away.
Helena turned and then looked down to see a redhead in a wheelchair staring up at her with an expectant, annoyed expression, who said, "Your communicator's off."
"I'm in a fucking church, Barbara." No need to ask how Barbara had tracked her.
"I need you. There's no one else."
Helena squinted. She knew Barbara was lying. Helena had moved to the top of the list months ago, to be called in before Batman, before Nightwing, before Cass... even before Dinah, because Barbara's obsession with keeping Dinah safe meant she wouldn't risk her out there on anything but the easiest missions, so Helena got to suffer in her stead. Helena found it aggravating, not because of the hard battles, which she rather enjoyed, but because Dinah Lance was a woman who'd chew off her own leg before she'd be kept in a cage, but Barbara, like all Oracles in history, was incredibly fucking blind.
"I'm busy," Helena said, turning her attention to the service. The Latin monotone of the priest shielded her briefly from Barbara's scowl, but then Barbara grabbed her hand, forcing Helena back.
"It's not for me. Dinah's in trouble."
"She's a big girl. She can take care of herself," Helena said, already reaching for the purple mask inside her coat.
"Poison Ivy's got her."
"Christ." Helena knew Barbara had her. "I hate the park at night."
Barbara smirked. "And it's raining."
Helena headed for the back of the church, knowing Barbara was wheeling after her. "Of course it's raining." She paused in front of an urn and dipped her fingers into the water, and then crossed herself quickly, with a futile prayer that Barbara couldn't see what she was doing, because she didn't know what she was doing. "I'll get her back."
Barbara's words were faint beyond the closing church door and the insistent sound of rain. "I know."
Dinah sneezed for the third time. She was curled in an easy chair, chamomile tea perched on the arm, and she was swearing blue pajamas. Domesticated. For a woman who'd just spent four hours strapped to a frond in a park, she looked bright and refreshed, and rather happy.
"Dinah, you're a florist, how can you be allergic to plants?" Helena said from the edge of the computer desk. She was standing, not one to settle into the lair like it was her home, unless invited, and she hadn't really been invited.
"They're evil plants. I'm not allergic to good plants. Just wicked spores of doom." Dinah sneezed. "Besides, the florist thing is just my secret identity."
Barbara, in her wheelchair at her computer, chuckled. "No, sweetheart. Black Canary is your secret identity."
"Oh, right. Must be the antihistamines." Dinah yawned.
Helena straightened. "I should go--"
"You don't have to. Stay." Barbara said.
"Yeah, stay." Dinah unfolded herself from the chair and stood. "But I'm going to bed." She came to Helena and kissed her on the cheek. "Thanks for saving my life."
Dinah smiled and reached over to muss Barbara's hair. "Night." Then she padded off to the guest room.
Helena watched her go. "Hard to believe she's one of the world's most deadly fighters."
"Hard to believe." Barbara reached up to run her fingers through her hair. "That's why I let her do this to me. I fear her."
Helena approached. "I see."
Barbara watched warily as Helena shifted posture and knelt in front of the wheelchair. "Thanks for digging the canary out of the garden."
"What was she doing, anyway?"
"Oh, chasing down an underage prostitute."
Barbara pursed her lips. "I'm sorry I interrupted church..."
"Don't." Helena lifted her hand. "I need to tell you... I didn't do it for Dinah. I did it for you."
Barbara remained silent, but Helena could see she was paying attention. So she went on. "It's not an 'I owe you' thing. I was glad to do it." Helena saw the flash in Barbara's eyes, the look of hatred that Helena saw whenever she and Barbara made eye-contact for more than a few seconds, because of Nightwing. Then the look was gone, replaced by understanding, and curiosity, and Helena liked to think it was because Nightwing was a good judge of character and Barbara was finally figuring things out.
"I'm glad you were there," Barbara finally said. She leaned forward, and not quite reaching Helena's shoulder, settled for brushing Helena's jaw with her fingertips. Helena responded by putting her hand on Barbara's knee, forgetting that Barbara couldn't feel it, and by the way Barbara's eyes narrowed slightly and she inhaled, maybe Barbara had forgotten, too. "You--I can trust you, Helena."
"When I was Batgirl, when I was having fun... It was just that. Fun. I was never as committed as you."
"Well, I was never as in control as you."
"We all have strengths and weaknesses. And secrets, and hidden identities. Dinah doesn't talk about Seattle. I know I don't talk about... anything. But you, Ms. Bertinelli, are screaming at the top of your lungs to anyone who will listen. I'm finally listening. I've been listening." Barbara looked away, as if her hand on Helena's cheek didn't mean anything, as if it was really just a business arrangement between them.
"I know you think I'm so hard I won't get hurt. That I'm your balance for her, who's still so nice about everything, and you don't have to be nice to me, because I won't break. It must be a relief. You can pretend none of this will hurt, because we're just that tough, Barbara, you and I. So, come on, let's just pretend it's all true."
Barbara closed her eyes. "I... You're smarter than you look."
Helena turned her head and kissed Barbara's palm. Barbara closed her eyes. Helena grasped the wrist, and drew Barbara's fingers into her mouth. Her tongue brushed the pad of Barbara's index finger, and she could feel Barbara's pulse under her grasp.
Barbara said, "Dinah's in the next room..."
Helena drew back from Barbara's fingers and looked up at her face. "Do you think she'd really mind?"
"Don't be sorry." Barbara freed her wrist, and then took Helena's face in her hands and leaned down to kiss her. The kiss was fierce and Helena found her lips being forced apart by a hot, demanding tongue. She clung to Barbara's knee and let Barbara kiss her, realizing that kissing Barbara was like doing anything else with Barbara. Barbara was the one who made something happen.
When Barbara pulled back, Helena fell forward, panting, draped over Barbara's knees. Barbara stroked her hair, and Helena thought that might be all there was, that Barbara was really after tenderness, but then Barbara said, in a tone used to giving orders to the likes of Superman, "Bedroom."
Helena got to her feet. Of course, she thought. Why come to her for comfort when there was a loving blonde fifteen feet away? But she led the way to Barbara's room, and kept her eyes averted as Barbara maneuvered herself onto the bed, content to stand in the shadows until Barbara cleared her throat.
She turned in time to see Barbara pulling her shirt over her head. Barbara's breasts were full and slightly sagging on a pale torso. Barbara smiled, in invitation or just confidence, and Helena moved toward the bed, stepping into the light. She removed her mask, and Barbara reached up to pull the pins from her hair, stroking her face, and then capturing her lips in another searing kiss.
When they were naked, torso to torso, Helena found herself distracted from the stillness of the thighs trapped between her, the way Barbara didn't thrust at her or kick her or squirm with arousal, by the way Barbara used her hands to claim Helena's back, claw at her hips, bite her neck. Helena, hoping for tenderness, understood roughness as Barbara's fingers slid against her clitoris so hard Helena bit back a cry of pain. She arched her hips, forcing Barbara to reach for her, at the same time she took Barbara's neck in her hand to hold her to the bed.
Barbara's guttural frustration, not at being pinned, but at not being able to possess Helena all at once, turned to silence when she met Helena's primal gaze. Helena smirked. Barbara's brow furrowed. Her hands stilled on Helena's torso. She would not let Helena have the satisfaction.
"Oh, yes, you will," said Helena. She slid higher, and ducked her head, and though it burned Barbara where her lips touched, kissed her cheek.
Barbara's lips parted soundlessly and Helena kissed them. Then they were fighting again, tongues dueling for possession of each other's mouths, teeth nearly clacking until Helena groaned against Barbara. Barbara slid her hands down Helena's back, more gently this time, over her ass, and then back to her shoulders, holding her although it was hardly necessary. Helena was right there with her.
As they kissed, Helena opened her eyes to see flashes of red hair, the curve of an ear, the slope of a shoulder, and then closed them again when Barbara sucked on her tongue, demanding her surrender. She felt Barbara's breasts moving against hers with Barbara's heavy breath. Nipples pressed into her skin. Still as they were, Barbara's legs were warm, and Helena could feel wetness against her thigh as she arched above Barbara, cruelly making Barbara reach for her.
Barbara dug her nails into Helena's shoulders and Helena lunged forward, letting her weight fall onto Barbara. She could tell Barbara's close because Barbara was panting against her ear. Her abdomen was contracting under Helena's with short, eager gasps. Barbara's hand moved between her legs again, and though she couldn't quite surrender herself, she bucked against Barbara, gritting her teeth so that it was Barbara who said, "Yes," one syllable, hot and desperate near her ear, and then Barbara's fingers were as still as the rest of her.
Helena settled onto Barbara, tucking her head into Barbara's shoulder. She wondered when Barbara would send her away. Barbara's arm moved, muscles flexing as she reached up to cup the back of Helena's neck. Helena sighed.
Barbara said, "Stay," in a tone Helena had never heard before, because Barbara had made it a question.
But already the restlessness was crawling up Helena's spine. The night, the rain, the city... there was too much to do. She would no more stay than Dinah would, and she wondered Barbara's heartbreak would be more or less. As if it would change anything. "As long as I can," Helena said.
Helena leaned against the doorstop, watching the computer screens flicker. Two hours before dawn, the Gotham night was active. Communication streams, hidden cameras, financial transactions -- all indecipherable to her. Lots of light, a low buzz of sound, and still Barbara's work seemed lonely.
The guest room door opened and Dinah emerged, pulling her hair into a ponytail.
"I liked you better as a brunette," Helena muttered.
"What?" Dinah looked in her direction. "Helena. I didn't know you were still here," she said, smiling.
Helena shrugged. She tilted her head. "You going somewhere?"
"Yeah. Batphone paged. Little altercation downtown." Dinah sat on the edge of a chair and picked up her boots.
"Nah. Routine." Dinah adjusted a heel and stood up. "Helena... I'm glad you're here. Babs likes you."
"Thanks," Helena said, watching her go. She turned back to Barbara's bedroom. Barbara was asleep, lying on her side and facing Helena, her slack expression softer than Helena knew she should be allowed to see. She went and knelt at the side of the bed, hesitated, and then kissed Barbara's loose mouth.
Her shoulders still ached where Barbara's nails had been. She wondered what Barbara would say in the morning, or how Barbara would look at her. Helena had never been one for sticking around for the aftermath. Too messy. Too much blood.
Barbara stirred, parting her lips. "Helena," she rasped, her eyes still closed.
Helena leaned forward, pressing her lips to Barbara's cheek.
Barbara relaxed again.
Helena twisted around and settled onto the floor, leaning back against the bed. She could hear Barbara breathing, soft and even, behind her. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe tomorrow, things would be different.