DISCLAIMER: I own the thoughts in my head, maybe <g> but the characters of BoP are not mine. No infringement harm intended & certainly no profit is made.
DEDICATION: A big huge thanks to April who beta'd this for me & gave me sound advice when my brain was stuck. Any still existing typos are completely my own fault when I revised a final time.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: If you like fluffy fic, I don't think this will be it. Call it a hunch, & fair warning.
SPOILER: After the events in Devil's Eyes with a bit of essential creative retelling of events.
FEEDBACK: Please let me know what you think Always appreciated, especially as this is my first BoP fic
ARCHIVING: If you like & want? Just ask.
Where Angels Dare Not Tread
Waking up when you're in pain is always a trip. You never realize how much you're hurting at first, than as the haze recedes gradually the pain becomes more demanding, closing in on your senses. The dull throbbing in my right arm and shoulder were quickly becoming a flare of pain. And my head felt like it was too large and shrinking at the same time, causing a tight lancing pain pulsating in my head.
"Thank God, she's coming to. It worked." Barbara's voice.
"Oh good, I couldn't tell if you were reaching her." Dinah's close.
I can't let her touch me.
I struggle. Arms try to pin me down.
"What's going on?" Dinah asks frightened.
"She must be confused coming out of consciousness. We have to keep her still before she aggravates her injuries.. Dinah, help me hold her."
No, she can't touch me! If she does she'll know everything I lied about. Everything still feels like it's a long way off, I still can't open my eyes. Panic floods me. Without thinking I lash out. A hand catches my fist in a warm, strong clasp. A grip I remember from hundreds of sparring sessions with Barbara. She's one of the few who can block and absorb my blows. The pain in my shoulder and head are now ten times worse but I can't let Dinah touch me. I have to protect her from the truth. I have to protect them both.
I hear a thud and a smack along with a groan.
"You alright Dinah?"
"Yeah." says the one who groaned. She's further away than before. That's good. "Just a little bruised. How can she do that only half-conscious?"
"Instinct." Barbara tells her.
Fighting, I manage to open heavy lids and blurrily see a face coming slowly into focus. Red hair framing a worried face. Green eyes are watching me intently from a very close proximity. She 's leaning over me, holding me down.
Barbara smiles at me. "Welcome back. How do you feel?"
My tongue feels thick in my mouth. Everything feels clumsy. "Hurts. Head tight. Shoulder and arm hurt."
Her small smile grows in relief. "You're making sense. That's an excellent sign. You have a dislocated shoulder and a broken arm. Also some bruises and lacerations. Your head hurts because you bashed it pretty hard." A hand touches my face gently. "Next time you want to hit your head against a wall let me know and I'll set up a nice padded one for you alright?"
The words are said teasingly but there's an undercurrent of seriousness there. I scared her. If she knew the truth, she wouldn't give a damn about me.
Barbara frowns, "You're crying. Does it hurt that badly?"
Soft fingers take away tears leaking out of me. Her kindness hurts me worse than my head.
I hear movement over behind Barbara. I move my head only a fraction, my head screaming in protest. Dinah's on the floor against the wall picking herself up.
"Who knew you could kick like that still half-out of it?" She tells me jokingly but her face is filled with concern and something that she's trying to hide. I cant' read it.
I glance back at Barbara and notice for the first time some swelling starting along her jaw.
"What?" I ask but I fear I already know.
Barbara makes light of it. "You were coming to and started to struggle. When we tried to hold you still you became belligerent. I caught your fist but I forgot about your legs.
"I hurt you." My voice, already weak, breaks.
"It's nothing." She assures me, vibrating sincerity.
She's an angel and I'm nothing but an animal. Worse, a monster. A friend who betrayed her and all that love she gives me. I have to get out of here but I can't move. The pain is getting so much worse.
"Don't let her-" I can't get the words out as the darkness comes back to pull at me.
"Shh, you're in lot of pain Helena. You may pass out. Don't worry. Dinah and I are here to watch over you."
I can't fight it off anymore. I manage to only get one sentence out before I lose consciousness again.
"Don't let Dinah touch me."
The next time I open my eyes it's dark and the pain is a great deal less. I let my feral vision reveal to me that I'm lying in bed in Barbara's room. There's a cot near the bed with rumpled sheets and Barbara's sleeping in them. It heals part of my heart and wounds the other to know she was watching over me so closely. She loves me. At least, her ideal of me.
With my night vision I can easily see the bruising on her jaw from where I kicked her. Judging from the darkness of the bruise I've been out of it at least over a day. My first movements are careful, not just to be quiet but to make sure I can actually move without severe pain. I manage to sit up and my head is still only a dull ache. My arm and shoulder are tightly bound to my chest but even that doesn't hurt so bad. A hundred poptarts for me and my meta-human healing. Now if I can stand, I'll give myself a thousand poptart points.
I slip the IV out that I located on my arm. I'm in an oversized man's shirt and nothing else. I don't even want to think who's shirt it must have been. At least it smells of Barbara and her soap and no one else. otherwise the shirt would have to go too. My bare feet touch cold floor. I gingerly stand and my knees almost go out from under me. I clutch at the bed and quickly look at Barbara but I didn't need to panic. She's still sleeping. I didn't make much noise after all.
The pain isn't as bad but the weakness is. I end up half crawling out of the room. I have to get out of here. The longer I'm here the more I'm going to hurt them. I have to protect them from myself. I don't think I'm getting better at control, in fact, I'm getting worse. I never cry and now I've done it at least once in front of them. I hurt them when all they were trying to do is help me.
God, I feel so alone. I've made it into the main area, my whole body's shaking with the effort it cost me. It hits me there, as I drag myself closer to the elevator just how alone I am. The two people who mean the most to me are here. And I have to leave to protect them from myself, my thoughts, my actions. The only one who even came close to truly knowing me is sleeping back in the room I just left and everything in my soul screams for me to go back to her. It's a selfish want. But I want a lot of things I can never have.
My arms give out close to the elevator and I'm left lying there, dragging in air, my body trembling and cold with sweat. The cool floor against my cheek is soothing. Maybe if I just rest my eyes for a minute, catch my breath-
"Helena?" My eyes open to see steel wheels in front of me. I look up and Barbara's there, sleep tussled hair, a silk bath robe covering her where she sits in her manual chair. "Are you okay? What happened?"
"Had to go. I'm fine." I try to assuage the edge of panic in her voice.
Her eye brow arches at me. "Really? Being fine is why you're shaking and cold, drenched in sweat on the floor? And why were you leaving?"
"I hurt you. And Dinah." I tell her as if that explains everything. For me it does.
Barbara frowns at me. "You didn't mean it."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I know you." She states simply, reaching down to help me up. Carefully she helps me to stand but my legs are too shaky. She deftly takes me onto her lap, my legs over the one side, my head resting against hers, panting for breath.
"You should have stayed in bed." She scolds me while wheeling us back to her room.
"I didn't want to hurt you anymore."
The wheels stop, hands take my face and turn me so that I'm staring into eyes so intense I would try to pull away if I could. Barbara's words come fiercely. "You leaving would hurt me worse than anything you could do."
"You don't know that." My voice is small. I hate my weakness. I want to get out, jump off the building and fall into the night sky. The honest part of me wants to cry in her arms and beg her to make everything better.
An old smirk graces her face, "Of course I know, I'm Oracle remember?"
That almost got me to smile. Damn her. "You shouldn't joke. It's not right that I'm here."
Her hands leave me and she continues our progress to her bedroom. I'm exhausted. She doesn't say another word. Just helps me into bed and checks me over for injuries. Than she does something that takes me completely by surprise. She drops her robe, revealing a tank top and underwear. She slides her body onto the bed next to mine on the left side. Barbara comes closer and rests her head on the same pillow even, her arm going around my waist, holding me to her. Her hot breath and warm skin play havoc with my senses let alone my emotions.
I try to say something, at least I think so because my mouth opened but Barbara just holds me tighter and tells me very clearly. "You're exactly where you're supposed to be. Now get some sleep."
Despite my misgivings, I do.
I wake to the scent of clean cotton sheets and soap. A warmth that has nothing to do with cozy blankets covers my left side, holding me down, and breathing gently on my neck. I open my eyes and confirm that it's not a dream. I'm in Barbara's room, in her bed, and Barbara is asleep holding onto me as if she never wants to let me go. Her face is so close to mine that a splash of her red hair covers my shoulder and part of my upper arm. An arm across my stomach clings to me like I'm her anchor instead of the other way around.
I've dreamt of this. Being here. Being with her. Being hers. Although many of my fantasies involved languid kisses and the feel of hands inside me, it would always return to the same thing. It would always come back to this moment. To the peace and comfort of being held and holding the one you love in turn. The serenity of going to sleep and waking up together in this sense of warm security. But this isn't a dream. And we didn't make love. We never have. We never will. It is such a pretty lie to pretend otherwise that I cling to it for a few moments more, for as long as I can. I try to still my breath so as not to wake her, wanting this to last even if it is all a lie. Deceit is one of the few things I do have still.
A sleepy voice startles me out of my melancholy, so very close to my ear. "Breathe Helena."
I take in an lung-full of air, not realizing that I had actually stopped breathing altogether. "I didn't want to wake you." I whisper back to her.
Barbara doesn't move away. "That's sweet of you but oxygen is still essential for your continued existence, which I'm rather fond of." Her body tenses as she wakes more completely. "Are you in any pain?"
" Just some achies on my ouchies, nothing more." I struggle to sound like my usual self.
"Good." She exhales in relief, her body relaxing fully against mine again.
We continue to lie there, the silence stretching tighter around my chest. Very quietly, I have to ask her, "Aren't you going to ask me about Arkham?"
Her voice replies just as quietly as mine, "Do you want to talk about it? If not, don't. I can wait until you're ready."
I swallow past a dry throat. "No, I don't want to talk about it right now." I don't want to have her fling me from her bed, throw me out of her life just yet. Never. But sooner or later I'll have to face that music. Just not right now, not with her in my arms.
The arm around me gives me a light squeeze. "When you do want to, I'll listen. Okay?"
My heart feels closed in a fist. "'k." I blink my eyes several times. I'll be damned if I cry again. I've already cried more in the past weeks than the past five years.
Barbara pushes herself up on one arm, her hair sliding off my skin in a delicious tickle of sensation. Green eyes peer into mine. Her hand moves from its tucked position around me to brush my misbehaving hair from my eyes, then rests against my heart. "Hey, take it easy." She soothes. "Everything will be all right. It'll get better a little bit everyday. You'll see. I'm here for you, with you. And I'm not going anywhere. So just hang in there for me, ok? No more disappearing acts. Please. I couldn't take losing you Helena. Please, let me help you through this."
I can't believe the words, these indescribable words once told me in a dream. Barbara frowns, glancing down at the hand over my heart than back to my face. "Are you okay Hel? Your heart's suddenly beating a mile a minute."
I blink, try to swallow again but it's too dry. "It's ... what you said reminded me of a dream I had after I bashed in my head. It was a really nice dream." The kind you want to be real, and when you realize it isn't, you ache inside with all you have and everything you are. I look away from her. "It was just a silly dream. I'm being goofy I guess. Do you have anything to drink here? I'm really thirsty."
"Just a dream?" She echoes while reaching over me to the nightstand and comes back with a bottle of water. She sits up and helps me do the same.
"Thanks." I say as I guzzle the water down.
"Anytime," she responds automatically. Though, in her eyes, is a glint I know so well. It's the look she gets when she's working on a problem or theory of some sort and she won't let up until she figures it out. I don't know what brought it on.
She checks my pulse and I quirk an eyebrow at her. She answers my unspoken question. "I was concerned about your heart rate but it already seems to be coming down to normal again. Your body's been through a lot of stress, not only with the injuries but with trying to heal itself. You should avoid anything stressful for the next few days while you're still recuperating. And make sure you get plenty of rest."
"Yes, doctor." I can't help but tease her when she's being so serious.
"Just promise me you'll take it easy and rest."
"I promise oh captain, my captain." I give her a saucy wink, not wanting her to worry over me. It only makes me feel more ashamed.
My comment has the desired effect of making her smile, if only that lopsided, indulgent turn of the lips. I notice a look of resolve in her eyes where the glint had been before. As if she's come to a conclusion about whatever had been working through her mind and has decided on a course of action.
"Good. Then you'll let me check your vitals and your injuries without the usual fussing and complaining from you?" She made it sound much more like a demand that an actual request.
"Sure. But who knew you were so bossy? Does Dinah have to put up with this?"
She settles herself into her manual chair and smirks at me. "You've always known I was this bossy. As for Dinah, she doesn't complain."
"Oracle's pet." I huff, hiding my smile by taking another drink from the bottle.
Barbara checks me over with her usual thoroughness. She shakes her head with something close to awe. "Thank God for your meta-human healing abilities."
"Yeah, good for what ails ya." I glibly respond. I try not to wince at the discomfort of the thermometer she gentle puts in my ear. "Heals all the hurts." The ones on the outside anyway. "Too bad we can't market it."
This is where she would normally smirk and say something clever and caustic. Instead, she covers my hand with hers, her expression serious. "You don't have to do this."
"Pretend. Act like nothing's happened and make jokes even though you're hurting on the inside. It's okay for you to let yourself feel, Helena. Give yourself room to heal the inside as well as the outside."
I stare at her. Barbara's always had a habit of being able to surprise me, but she's done it more in the past week than all our years together. Looking at her I can tell she means every word.
The beep of the thermometer distracts her and she releases me from her gaze. She reads the display and frowns. "Your temperature's running higher than I'd like."
I shrug with my one good shoulder, grateful for the change of focus. "My body always runs hot when it's healing something big."
"I know. But I don't want you to get worse. If the fever gets too high you'll get worse, not better. This is why you have to rest and not let anything get you worked up. Any severe emotional stress could be the straw that breaks the luck we've had with your recuperating. You need to let your body heal itself."
Her tone is stern but the thought of what she's suggesting makes me frown for entirely different reasons. "I don't do bedridden very well."
She casts me a wry look. "I'm well aware of that. I still remember what you were like when you had pneumonia."
I wince at the memory. It was back when we were still struggling with our new roles in each other's lives, after my mother had died and Barbara had been shot. We were both depressed, near suicidal, and fighting with our need for each other. Always on edge and angry. One night changed it all. I had stayed out in bad weather when I already had a bad cold. I still remember the loss of time and the fear as I fought nightmares in my weak, ill state. Only Barbara's voice and constant gentle ministrations chased them away. When I finally woke up and didn't cough harshly at every attempted movement, I found an exhausted Barbara asleep, slumped over in her chair by my bedside. My movements had woken her, and when she saw me awake and better, that smile filled with relief and love, made me smile back shyly. And some of the anger I had went away right then. Its edges dulled by a tired, genuine smile and relieved green eyes. After that we had both recovered, realizing we were more scared of losing each other than not facing life again.
It didn't change the fact that I remained afraid of getting the slightest bit sick. I can't bear the though of being vulnerable, especially now. "It won't be that bad, will it?" I ask apprehensively.
Barbara squeezes my hand again. "Not if you rest."
I groan. "Okay, okay, I get it. Bed rest it is."
"It won't be that bad." She tries to reassure me. "Try not to worry. I know how you hate to feel vulnerable."
I glance at her quickly but her eyes are innocent. "Have you checked to see if you've developed Dinah's telepathic abilities? I swear that's not the first time where it's felt like you're in my head or something."
She tilts her head and gives me a sly smile. "Not yet. I just know you."
The movement put her profile into the light of the room. The bruise along her jaw stands out suddenly in stark contrast to her fair skin. My good hand reaches out to trace it but I stop myself in time, and let it drop back to the bed. "Doesn't look like you knew well enough to duck." I say morosely.
"I'm perfectly fine." She quick to point out.
"And Dinah?" I ask carefully.
"She's a little bruised." She answers, her suddenly neutral expression and voice even more careful than mine. "That's not what's really hurting her."
I remember Dinah's flinch when I yelled for her not to touch me. I remember the pain in her eyes. Pain I put there.
I sigh, looking down, "I hurt her."
"Yes, you did." Barbara affirms, not judging. "But she'll forgive you. If you let her. You'll need to talk to her when you're feeling better. She doesn't understand why you've been pushing her away. She's afraid it's because of her."
I stare at the soft green blanket like it's the most fascinating thing in the world.
"It's not because of her." I finally say.
"I know that." Barbara tells me gently. "But she's the one who needs to hear it."
It's too raw inside me. I can't confess yet, coward that I am, but I explain this much to her. "You know what I did at Arkham. What I was going to do. Can you blame me for not wanting her to feel that kind of hate?"
Slender fingers tilt my chin up to meet eyes that are a softer and so much deeper green than the blankets I'm clutching.
"I don't blame you for anything." Barbara tells me.
It breaks something inside me to have to make her see this truth about me. "I went in there to kill her Barbara. Murder Quinn. Don't try to make it all noble as if I wasn't intending to."
"I know. I wasn't." Her face struggles for that mask of neutrality but there are cracks in it. I see her grief and know I'm the cause.
"After you killed her, what were you going to do then?' She asks me, barely a whisper.
The question takes me by surprise, steals my breath for a moment as my heart freezes. I open my mouth, close it. I know what she's asking. No matter what words I choose, my answer can only hurt her.
"I couldn't survive in a cage Barbara."
Her grip on my hand tightens painfully, as does her expression. The eyes that delve into mine are wet and fierce. "I can't live without you Helena. I won't. So if you ever, ever consider committing suicide again, know that it won't just be you that you kill."
"It wasn't going to be suicide." I protest weakly against her obvious anguish.
Green turns into iron, her words implacable. "That's exactly what it was Helena. You went to kill Quinn in Arkham, the most fortified super maximum penal institution for the criminally insane. You know their procedures as well as I do and even if you can circumvent getting in, they have neural monitors in all their inmates. As soon as Quinn flat-lined the lockdown procedures would have sprung into effect. The whole place would have lit up like a Christmas tree with lasers on any moving targets outside the cubicles. Even with all your agility, you wouldn't have been able to get past that. You can't lie to me and pretend that you intended to come back to me from that. To come back at all. We both know the truth."
My chest seizes at the naked ache so visible in every line of her. I search her eyes for any clue as to what I could possibly say to lessen it for her, save her from me. I can find none.
Her hand on mine clamps down on my wrist. A realization dawns on her face. My eyebrows rise at her curse as she lets out a long, pent up breath. "I'm so sorry Hel. Your pulse is elevated. I told you, you needed to avoid any stress and then I get into an highly emotional topic with you."
I shake my head and say with thick self-loathing, "You have nothing to apologize for. None of this would be happening if it wasn't for me."
She takes my face in her hands, holds me tenderly. "No, don't slide back now Hel. We do need to talk. I admit that, but it has to wait until you're stronger. I was so scared I would lose you. And yes, part of me is angry that you could take such a course of action that would destroy us both, but more than any of that, I'm just so grateful you didn't succeed, relieved that you're here. I care for you so much Helena, you are the person most dear to me in my life. I need you. More than you realize. If you believe nothing else please believe that. Hold on to it until you're stronger."
I can't handle this gently relentless resolve of hers. "I've never been strong Barbara, that's you. I don't have your kind of strength. I never have."
"You're stronger than you know. Better than you think." She persists.
"You can't know that."
"Helena, I know it down to my very core." She takes me into her arms as if she means it, like she believes every word.
I let her. I'm too overwhelmed to fight. It surprises me that I want to believe her. It amazes me that there's a part of me that actually wants to believe that I might not be the unredeemable mess that I've so devotedly believed myself to be all this time. It confused the worst I felt about myself, the worst I knew within myself.
I stayed there in her arms for as long as I could, thief that I am. Stealing these moments of her generosity and kind faith before I tear it all away later. I can't help it. I love her and I hate myself. I take in the warmth of her body, the feel of her arms around me but my hurt shoulder is beginning to protest. And the angle we form, me in my bed and her in the chair, is awkward. I pull away but it's like pulling taffy. There's something thick between us, still clinging between us, even as our bodies part completely.
Her hand caresses the side of my face and despite myself I lean into the gesture, closing my eyes momentarily.
"You need to sleep. Your body's working overtime. I want you to try to eat something first to help you regain your strength. I'll go downstairs and get you some food. I want you to eat some of it-"
"And sleep more?" I finish for her, giving a slow blink. As soon as she had said the word sleep I felt the fatigue in every part of my body, weighing me down. It's as if the exhaustion was just waiting for a cue before my body reminded me of what it needed.
"And sleep more." Barbara agrees, tucking the covers around me. How did I end up lying down already? My blinks are getting longer and heavier.
"Eat first." I respond, sliding my eyes closed. An afterthought catches my now meandering consciousness. "You should really learn how to cook."
"Says the pot to the kettle." Even with my eyes closed I can hear the smirk. "Go ahead and sleep." she urges me. "You can eat later when you next wake up."
My mind's drifting." I can't stay in your bed."
"Why not?" The amused voice floats down to me. "Isn't it comfy?"
"Yeah, comfy..." I admit, no longer able to open my eyes, losing myself to moments of grey fog before sleep takes me away completely. "I don't want to hurt you... if I have bad dreams..." I always have bad dreams.
"Don't worry. You won't," she soothes, her palm smoothing hair back from my face. "I'll be here to chase any bad dreams away."
True to her word, I drift off into a dreamless sleep.
This week has seen the most bizarre dancing that I've ever done. My body grows stronger with every passing day but so does that ever increasing burn of hate for what I've done, what I am. My emotional wounds gape at me as I do nothing but sit, eat, sleep and watch TV or play video games. Far, far too much time to think. To brood. To let the abyss within me widen to consume me and taunt me to jump. And every time it begins to win, Barbara shows up and drives it back with nothing more than her gentle touches and the soft strength in her eyes that holds knowledge waiting to be shared.
She wants to talk. No pushing, no prying. Just waiting with a patience I could never fake, let alone have. She stays close enough to keep the monsters within me at bay whenever I come close to running, but she gives me enough space, so that I don't feel trapped or pressured. The pressure I feel isn't coming from her. It isn't even coming from Dinah, who's been my silent accomplice in our steps to avoid one another. It bothers Barbara. It bothers all of us. But everyone's being so kind, and nice and understanding, and giving me all the time in the world to come to grips and explain.
It could almost make me hate them.
I feel like a rabid animal who needs to bite, snarl and rend. It's guilt, urging me to hurt myself more by hurting those around me. And maybe something far more petty. Simply the unrighteous anger of a bad person against a swell of kindness I could never hope to understand.
Barbara's right though. I need to speak to Dinah. I just don't know how to do that without the two worst possible things happening. Either all my secrets leak out and worm their way under her skin to play like a horror movie behind her eyelids, or the monster within me rears its head and shows its fangs and sinks them into her. It wouldn't be the first time I've let my rage lash out at innocents. At the last people in the world I truly want to hurt.
I don't trust myself. After everything I've done, how can I?
So here I am, wanting to beat down my ample cowardice. Because I'm stuck between my own fears and self-loathing, Dinah's pain, and Barbara's determination to work everything out.
It figures that I would be the one to break first.
It's mid-afternoon and I know exactly where the kid is. Barbara's out running errands. That gives me time to pack and run should I need it. When Dinah learns what I've held back and tells Barbara, or I tell Barbara, all their love and sweetness will be stripped away. Which it should be. But I still want it. Want their love. Want them, my family.
I'm such a mess.
I knock on Dinah's door and hear a surprised voice tell me to come in. I open it and there she is, lying stomach down on her bed wearing a white tee and some dark track pants, reading some magazine. Part of me wants to turn back, say forget it. The more twisted part of me wants to jump on the bed and tickle her just to hear her laugh again. I never claimed to understand my perverse, contrary nature. In fact, I probably understand myself the least of anyone.
Dinah breaks the stalemate with, "I actually didn't expect you for another week. Damn, that means Barbara won the betting pool."
I tread over her threshold. "You two had a betting pool on how long it would take me to apologize?"
She shakes her head, blonde hair like sunshine, eyes gleaming the blue of summer skies."No. But it would have been funny if we did. Plus it got you in the room, didn't it?"
That smile on her face is all happy and sure. She looks younger than she really is, than the mind behind that sweet, innocent face. I really have to try harder at remembering that. "Alright, you get smart points. Happy?"
Her smile leaves as though it never was. "Not for a while now, no."
I hadn't expected that. Directness, that should be me, yet I'm the one stalling. I must be making a very bad impression. I take a breath, and another step into the room. "I'm sorry Dinah."
Dinah shakes her head. "It's not going to be that easy. I know you're sorry. What I need to understand is why?"
I remember what Barbara said. I tell Dinah, "It's not you."
She sits up, tossing the magazine aside. "Are you sure about that? Because I know how people think of me. I remember what it was like in my home town, and with my parents. No one wanted me to touch them because I saw things. Even if they wanted to believe and make like I didn't, it didn't change the fact that they didn't want the freak to touch them." Blue eyes darkened with painful memories and fears, old and new, meet mine. "Are you afraid of me? Do you not want this freak to touch you?"
The way her last words came out, small and lost, shatters something inside me. In one heartbeat I'm by her bedside. By the second beat I've pulled her into my arms and am holding her tight, tight to me. I feel her tears wet my neck. "I'm so sorry Dinah. God, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. You're not a freak. Do you hear me? You're not a freak."
She cries against me, her words choked. "It's my worst nightmare. That everyone I love won't want me near them because of what I am, what I can do. They're all afraid of me reading their minds. But I can't do that without touching a person Helena. And I would never read your mind without your permission. I have so much more control now! I would never betray your trust like that!"
I can only hold her while she cries and I keep apologizing. Any fears of my rage harming her have been swept away by her tears and my growing sorrow for all the unintentional wrong I've done to the only two people who mean everything to me. My desperation to ease her hurt, to even begin to start to heal the pain I've caused her, gives me the ability to tell her something I should have before.
"I love you Dinah. I never meant to hurt you. I only wanted to protect you."
Arms around me tighten at the words and she cries still, but now the tears are softer, the choked sounds gone. "You really love me?"
"Of course I do. We're family, right?"
"I always wanted a good family to belong to. One that truly loved me." She buries her face against my neck, tears falling silent and warm. "I'm glad it was you and Barbara. I love you Helena. Both of you. That's why it hurt so much when I thought you felt I was a -"
"What have I told you before about the 'F' word?" I joke to her.
She chuckles while pulling away from me and wiping her eyes. "I remember."
She looks at me, the chuckle gone, her eyes still damp even though her face is now dry. "You've been so angry and sad all the time. I was scared because I didn't know how to help. And then it seemed like you didn't want me near you."
"Actually, the truth is that I didn't want you near me. I was never afraid of you Dinah. I was afraid for you, of what touching me, reading me, might do to you. And I was afraid of how you'd react, if you knew how I felt, what I was, what I've done."
"And now?" Dinah watches me carefully.
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then, I raise my hand up between us, offering it to her. "If you want to. If it will convince you of how sorry I am, than take my hand. Read me. But it's not good Dinah. It'll change how you feel about me."
Dinah shakes her head and says with all the sincerity of the truly young who can still believe in good things, "Nothing you've done, or how you feel, could ever make me care less for you Helena."
Without the slightest hesitation, she takes my hand in hers.
It's different than the first time she read me in that alley where we first met. Then, I just thought it was static electricity. And chalked up her distracted expression to the shock of nearly being attacked and then unconventionally rescued. This time I feel the current from her and know it for what it is. Her power. I can't read the inward expression on her face, in her eyes. Then just as suddenly, it's over. She blinks and her eyes refocus on mine. Her hand doesn't release me though.
"Helena," her voice cracks, "I don't think you're a monster. I'm glad you showed me. It must have been so hard to keep this inside for so long...I'm so sorry you felt you had to go through it alone."
Dinah than does the damnedest thing. She hugs me.
I push her off. "Are you sure you read me? Maybe you need to hold on longer or something. That didn't take very long. You must have missed something."
She grabbed the hand she had released when she hugged me. "Yes, I'm sure I read you. I don't need longer. No, I didn't miss anything. " Her looks at me with such sympathy it makes me ache. "Why can't you believe that I forgive you? That you're not the terrible person you seem to need to believe you are? Helena, I love you. You're my family. You and Barbara are the only family I have. You two are my world. I've known real monsters Helena, honest. I can tell you about my foster parents if you want. I can show you real monsters. You're not one of them." She squeezes my hand for emphasis. "You're not like that at all."
I can only gape at her.
Taking in my expression, Dinah gives a small laugh. "I never thought I'd make the great big, bad Huntress speechless."
I try to correct her. "You saw what I feel for Quinn right? I mean, you do know I was going to kill her. Good people don't murder other people Dinah."
She nods, her face serious. "But sometimes a person in a great deal of pain can make some very bad choices when they're hurting, afraid, and confused." Eyes too old for her face look at me."Ever since what happened with Quinn, you and Barbara have been so lonely and need each other so much. I wish...I wish I could help make it better for you somehow. Better for both of you."
The sincerity of her words breaks my heart just a little. I take her back into my arms and hold her close. Somehow this young woman has done what only Barbara has been able to do before. She's managed to find a crack in my heart and slip past it to rest securely inside. A new light in my otherwise dark soul. Dinah has found a room in my heart I never knew I had until now. One that wanted family, a sister. Someone to tease and play with and protect. A friend. One whose heart was far larger, and showed more courage and pure loyalty to those she cared for, than any other person I've met save one.
It's so hard, but I try for her sake, maybe for my own, to tell her what's in my heart. "Dinah, you do so much already. You help us just by being here. By being who you are. You do so much for us simply by being in our lives and part of our family. However warped we may be. You got that Sunny D?"
I move away enough to see her face and she glances down with a shy smile. That one look tells me something unexpected. Her bashful expression shows that all her innocence isn't gone yet. Her life with us hasn't worn all her youth away and that gladdens me more than I thought possible.
"That nickname beats 'Blondie' or 'Kid' " She tells me blushing. "I've missed you teasing me. I've missed us hanging out at the mall shopping or watching movies like we used to now and then when you had time. Before."
Before Quinn. Before I went a little mad. "I missed spending time with you too." I mean it.
"You want to do something today? The afternoon's still young. We could grab some vids and ice cream and all other sugary fun and sack out like the pigs we are." I offer her, still meaning it. There was always something relaxing spending time with her. Maybe it was reliving those last years of teenhood I never had the chance to experience before, what with my mother murdered and my rage and becoming a vigilante. Dinah became an unexpected sanctuary from those darker days. Now here I am at one of the darkest possible moments and this slip of a girl is the one who's presence comforts me. How do the damned get such gifts?
Dinah is trying to judge my sincerity. "Really? You really want to hang this aft? Have, like, a daytime slumber party?"
Her whole face lights up at my nod. Like this, it's hard to see the wise adult within her. Right now she's all enthusiastic teenager and it's such a wonderful sight to know I haven't stripped her of that. I realize I would do anything to keep that smile on her face, to protect her youth, what remains of it, for as long as I can.
"Yep, sure thing D. We can even get into pjs if ya want. Hell, you can even pick the movies."
A wicked gleam shines in her baby blues. "I pick the movies? You get no veto power?"
I feel like I've walked unsuspectingly into a trap. "I didn't say that."
Dinah grins, wagging her finger. "Ah, ah Huntress, remember, this is about atonement."
"That's right." Dinah crosses her arms over her chest, her smile smug. "You'll need to beat yourself up more since you think I forgave you too easily. This way, you do penance, and then if you suffer enough you'll feel better about my forgiving you."
"That's messed up." I tell her.
She raises her eyebrows at me silently waiting.
"But it makes sense to me." I finally agree.
She bounces on her heels. "Yes! This is gonna be so cool!"
Dinah grabs my arm, dragging me out of the room, then out of the clock tower. I have to admit, I'm feeling better already. Maybe everything will turn out okay after all.
It's late into the night, I had long ago left Dinah crashed on the couch. Barbara finds me in her room, lying on her bed, my arm flung over my eyes.
"Please put me out of my misery." I groan.
Barbara chuckles. "You were watching movies Helena. How bad could it have been?"
"Sure, laugh at my pain. It's not the sugar rush that did me in Barbara. It was those... those movies! Who could have known there were so many movies about girls whining over pink dresses or the cheerleader movies, my god Barbara, the cheerleader movies!"
"She's a teen Hel. What did you expect?"
"Dinah's the Devil." I declare solemnly.
Barbara laughs. And I peek out from under my arm to watch her change for bed. I was already in my boxers and sleeveless tee from watching movies with the kid. Even though I'm all better, I still sleep in her bed. Barbara hasn't said anything, just one night when I could've crashed anywhere else, she asked if I was coming to bed yet because she was tired. I went. Since then we've had this unspoken understanding that I sleep with her. It totally messes with me. I want to seduce her. Or hug her really hard. Or stay awake and stare at her the entire night while she sleeps. I'm so much better at being a fucked up asshole than this other person emerging from me.
"I'm glad you two made up." Barbara draws my attention back to her as she slides in the bed with me with little more than a silk pajama top of deep blue covering her.
If there's anything underneath I don't know about it. A part of me wants to and comes to life. I'm glad my eyes are shadowed by my arm and hand over them because I feel the change as my beast rises within me. I wonder if Barbara knows she sleeps night after night in shaky safety from me. From my desires.
I take a breath, then another. I sense her leaning over me, her scent doing nothing to help assuage the blood suddenly roaring inside me.
"You okay?" She asks softly. So softly.
I sigh. "Yeah. Just beat and wired at the same time I guess. Too much sugar."
Her hand rests lightly on my stomach. "Tummy ache?" She asks.
"Nah, I'm fine."
"Everything is all worked out between you and Dinah isn't it?"
"Yeah, yeah." I wave her concerns off. "Just took a lot out of me. I'll be fine tomorrow."
Her lips press warm and melting upon my cheek. "I really am glad you both are okay together again."
I have to smile behind my arm. I confess, honestly happy. "Me too."
Too quickly though, my thoughts turn to grim things. And in what has become a nearly nightly ritual, I start our odd bout of pillow talk. "At least she doesn't have to worry about you ever trying to deceive her."
"That's not true. I hid the fact that we were trying to find Hawke from her. We all lie Helena. And we always have our rationalizations and excuses for it."
"That's different." I insist, "You've never been purposely deceitful. Then, you were trying to protect her for as long as you could. It's not like you were never going to tell her. You don't practice actual deception." Unlike me, always lying, covering my tracks. It seems like I'm getting worse at it lately.
"You don't think I'm deceptive?" she sounds amused and I'm being serious.
"No." I tell her, now thoroughly in a bad mood.
Barbara throws me a curve ball. "I'm really glad you've got your talk with Dinah out of the way."
"Because that means it's my turn next." she says enigmatically, turning off the light and laying down to sleep.
I'm grateful for the dark because my eyes are wide open with sudden and complete terror.
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