DISCLAIMER: If I owned them, Reese would have only been a secondary player, so we can safely assume they aren't mine <g>. The imaginative people at Tollin/Robbins, the WB, DC Comics, and a whole bunch of others own these characters and settings. It's their world, which I'm lucky enough to play in … and I don't make a dime for doing it.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As usual, I have no realistic feel for this story. In other words, I don't know if it's good, bad, or ugly. Read at your own risk <g>. It's mainly experimental on my part, since I'm well aware that one of my weaknesses is trying to write in more than one POV. It's also experimental in that I'm writing as a way of trying to understand life, the universe, and everything, so I'm aware the writing and dialogue may be a bit rough and awkward because of it.
SPOILERS: set after the finale, and the only real spoilers are for the finale.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Crisis of Conscience
By ocean gazer


Helena stood totally still in the grimy alleyway, staring down at the motionless body of the would-be rapist she'd clocked. She could dimly hear the broken sobs of the woman who had almost been his victim, and could dimly hear the concerned calls of "Huntress!" echoing in her ear canal. But those sounds seemed to be from another world, another reality, and she tuned them out, focused on the reality that was right in front of her.

She stood transfixed, eyes locked on the drying trickle of blood from the corner of the man's mouth, the rapidly darkening imprint of knuckles on his jaw, the finger shaped bruises on his neck. All of the marks were from her hand – the latter from when she'd slammed him hard against the sooty brick wall, the former two from when she'd knocked him senseless.

Her fingers, her knuckles, her handiwork. She had done that to him.

She couldn't tear her eyes away.

Dinah skidded into the narrow mouth of the alleyway, the motion a testament to her rapid stop. She was following the worried summons from Oracle, who couldn't get Huntress to respond on comms. The teen paused for a second, her brow furrowing first in confusion and then in annoyance at the sight of her sweeps partner just standing there, seemingly lost in thought. Walking forward, she shot a quick reassuring look at the huddled mess of a victim before clapping her hand onto Helena's shoulder.

"Hey. What's going on, Huntress? Oracle was starting to get worried, especially since the cops will be here soon."

The girl half expected an annoyed curse for butting in or some growled variation on "Get your hands off me, Kid." The stony, immobile silence that greeted her scared her more than any of the dark woman's melodramatic mood swings ever had.

She swallowed hard and tucked an escaped tendril of blonde hair behind her ear, noting in both shock and surprise that Helena hadn't even bothered to handcuff the scumbag. Realizing that the other woman was completely lost in la-la land, Dinah quickly relayed the news of current events to Oracle as she swiftly and none-too-gently secured the unconscious man's hands behind his back. Then, she went over to the still-crying victim and squatted beside her.

Helena sensed the arrival of her younger teammate, but tuned her out, unable to look at anything other than the bruising marks she'd made on the man's body. There weren't that many, comparatively speaking, but she still couldn't take her eyes from them.

She knew that she should do something or say something – she didn't need to be a touch telepath to pick up on the worry radiating from her sweeps partner. And though she wasn't really registering the actual words, she recognized the thinly veiled panic underlying Barbara's voice in her ear.

But tumultuous feelings pounded in Helena's chest. Her heart felt like it was constricting with every beat and she struggled just to draw in breath. The feelings were too strong, and she couldn't break free from the paralysis in which they held her.

Dinah kept one eye on Helena even as she quickly examined the victim. It didn't take long to determine that the woman's attacker hadn't managed to inflict any more harm than a ripped blouse and several slaps to the face. The teen could see she was obviously in shock and shaken from being attacked, but knew she'd be fine.

The woman was still sobbing though, spilling her story into Dinah's sympathetic ears. The would-be victim was just barely out of high school and was hysterical with fear. Less from the attack itself, than from her parents finding out that she'd used a fake ID to go out drinking, and from the fact that she'd spent the evening flirting with the man who'd tried to rape her because "he was such a nice guy and he was, like, really thoughtful and polite."

A guy who just happened to be more than twice her age, Dinah thought sourly. She calmed the woman as best she could; reminded her that everything would be ok and that the man couldn't hurt her any more. But she also told the victim sternly that when the police showed up, she needed to tell them the whole story – the fake ID, the flirting, everything. Otherwise, if the facts came out later, she'd look like a liar and her attacker might not suffer the penalty for what he'd done.

Hearing Oracle's warning in her ear, she explained to the woman that the police were on their way and that she had to go. Then, the teen turned back to the statue-like form of Helena. Seeing that the brunette was still non-responsive and knowing that they had roughly sixty seconds before the first squad car reached the scene, Dinah made a snap decision.

Not knowing what else to do, she used her telekinesis to literally push Helena towards the mouth of the alley, so the victim would be unable to see them, while she followed right behind. The very second they were out of sight – and grimacing at the knowledge of how much her head was going to hurt later for over-taxing her still-developing powers – Dinah wrapped herself and Helena in a mental bubble and levitated them up towards the roof of the building.

They were barely fifteen feet off the ground when the first police car skidded to a curb-scraping stop beneath them. Luckily, it was dark and none of the officers bothered to look up.

With a last surge of effort, Dinah managed to get the two of them to the top of the ten story building. She set Helena down as softly as possible, before misjudging her own landing and stumbling to her knees. Since she'd ended up fairly close to the edge with her fall, she took one long look down to make sure things were okay. Then, she glanced over to make sure Helena hadn't fallen or wandered to the roof edge. Given her teammate's current preoccupation, she wanted to be sure the woman wasn't in any immediate danger.

Satisfied that everyone was safe and sound, Dinah sighed deeply and then – unceremoniously – passed out.

Helena wasn't exactly sure what broke her out of the grip of the paralysis. Maybe it was being pushed down the alley or floating shakily through the air. Maybe it was the slack and pale face of Dinah, who was sprawled awkwardly near the lip of the building's roof, or the worried voice of Barbara murmuring in her ear.

Or maybe it was the simple fact that she could no longer see the marks she'd left on the man's face.

Whatever it was, she eventually decided, didn't really matter. Though her heart was still trip hammering in her chest, her breathing still felt labored, and she still felt like her head was stuffed with cotton candy, she finally managed to come back to herself enough to know what needed to be done.

Helena spoke into her mic, only vaguely aware that her voice sounded staccato and monotone, telling Oracle only that everything was ok and they'd be home soon. Then she turned off the comm set, unable to keep her tenuous hold on her concentration with that voice in her ear. She bent down slowly and picked up Dinah, draping the unconscious teen over her shoulder. Briefly, she contemplated the quickest rooftop route to the Clocktower.

After a moment's thought, she abandoned that plan and made her way to the fire escape ladder on the opposite side of the building from where they'd been. Watching for several minutes to make sure the coast was clear and the police had moved on after their quick search for the people who had foiled the attack, she carefully started climbing back to the ground.

It wasn't that she thought Dinah's scant weight would burden her enough to prevent her from flying through the night skies of the cityscape.

It was that she didn't quite trust her instincts to keep her focused and keep them both from falling.

If she did say so herself, Barbara had done an excellent job keeping herself calm, cool, and collected as she examined her two protégées. When they'd arrived back at the Clocktower an hour before, Dinah draped lifelessly over Helena's shoulder and Helena's face a granite visage, she'd been about ready to indulge her temper and impatience.

She'd actually started to, but quickly realized that the brunette wasn't quite operating on all cylinders, and the barbed comments weren't even raising a dark eyebrow. And then Dinah had begun to stir, and the pained expression on the girl's face had been enough to switch Barbara into her mothering mode.

Now, after hearing Dinah's version of what happened, with Helena tossing in terse addendums only when specifically asked, Barbara found herself struggling to keep calm, to stay focused. It didn't help at all that the scene described by the teen was so bizarre, leaving her with more questions than answers.

But it was Helena's emotive blankness that scared and worried her in a way she'd never imagined. The younger woman usually wore her heart on her sleeve. Barbara felt certain that whatever could manage to tamp that sort of thing down had to be something pretty horrific, something that Dinah had arrived too late to witness.

Not sure how to proceed, or how to break through the expressionless mask on the brunette's face, she settled for wheeling her chair over to sit next to her partner. She pressed a shot glass full of brandy into the woman's hand and draped Helena's favorite afghan across narrow shoulders.

Dinah watched the solicitousness of Barbara's interaction with Helena and scowled as she swung her feet restlessly. She sat on the edge of the padded table they used as a medical exam bed, so her feet were nowhere near the floor and she couldn't scuff them on the floor like she wanted to. Instead, she kept kicking the leg of the table, hoping the solid thwacks would help vent some of her annoyance.

She was trying really hard not to be petulant. After all, her mentor had listened very carefully to her account of events, had examined her thoroughly to make sure her collapse wasn't due to anything more serious than overexertion, and had been very nice to her. She had a big mug of hot cocoa with whipped cream in her hand, and *her* favorite afghan was draped over *her* shoulders. So it wasn't like Barbara had ignored her to focus on Helena.

Dinah knew she wasn't really irritated with the older woman. And, well, she wasn't really mad at Helena either. It just was hard to be sitting there, doing nothing, with no one paying attention to her right at the moment. Especially since she still had the mother of all headaches, despite the heavy-duty painkillers she'd taken. She glanced over at the two people across from her – Helena in the office chair and Barbara in her wheelchair. She could see the haunted look in the brunette's eyes and could read the tension in her face, even though it was set in lines of stone.

No, she wasn't mad at Helena. She was scared for her.

With every passing moment, Helena felt her heartbeat continue to slow minutely, and felt like she was *that* much closer to finally being able to breathe freely. Her feelings still seemed as hopelessly twisted and tangled as a ball of yarn after kittens, and her thoughts seemed as indecipherable as a scroll in ancient Greek.

But the familiar setting, the recital of events from Dinah's perspective, and the soft touches given by Barbara all helped to draw her more back into the moment, more back to herself. Helena took a small sip of the brandy, swallowing it slowly, savoring the burn on the back of her throat. Something about the warmth of the drink grabbed her attention and she finished the rest of the glass in the same manner.

Finally, she felt the paralysis that had frozen her words and chilled her heart thawing and melting away.

Dinah still didn't quite understand her telepathy. Oh, she knew, all too well, that she was a touch telepath – that she picked up the thoughts and memories of others when she touched them. That was no longer a mystery, no longer something she didn't – couldn't – comprehend. She'd even learned how to master it to some extent, so that it didn't catch her off-guard.

What she didn't understand – and what she struggled to hide even from those around her – was how and why she would sometimes get an out-of-the-blue flash of insight when she wasn't touching anyone at all. So she was as surprised as her two companions when she abruptly sat straight up on the table, and dropped her mug to send ceramic and cocoa shattering and splashing on the floor.

And she was probably more shocked than either of them when she heard herself blurt out, "You feel guilty for punching a scumbag like that?!"

If she hadn't been paralyzed, Barbara knew she would have jumped out of her chair. Not because of the deafening crack of the breaking mug or the splash of burning liquid against the bare skin of her arm, but because of the teen's words. Later, she would wonder why she didn't even doubt them. But at that moment, she could only stare at Helena, the woman she'd shared her life with for so many years, and gape in disbelief.

She and her partner had fought many, many times, over many, many things. And one of the recurring themes was violence towards criminals and the need for restraint. Or rather, Helena's joyful lack of restraint and her own stubborn insistence that they follow some kind of code. She'd tried time and time again to explain to the younger woman that if they didn't follow a code and practice some kind of self-control, some degree of moderation, then they weren't much better than the criminals they were going up against.

And time and time again, she'd felt as though she was beating her head against the proverbial brick wall.

So the mere idea that the woman would feel guilt for her considerably restrained response to someone caught in the act of committing a crime just didn't quite compute in Barbara's head. She gently put her hand on Helena's forearm, once again aware, despite her own sense of incredulity, that whatever had driven the brunette to this particular point couldn't possibly be good.

The butterflies that had been dancing in her stomach all evening started fluttering even more at the thought. All she could think to do was caress her partner's arm softly, soothingly, figuring the woman would need all the support she could get.

Helena swallowed hard as Dinah's words echoed in her mind, and she fought not to shy away when she felt Barbara's hand rubbing her arm. She knew the gesture was meant kindly. For a long minute, she considered taking refuge in anger – to put off the inevitable with a show of annoyance and a temper-tantrum worthy demand that the blonde stop snooping in her mind. But she quickly dismissed the idea.

She'd been around the teen long enough to know that the only time Dinah picked up on thoughts without direct physical contact was when the person from whom she got the thoughts was projecting them. So it wasn't really the girl's fault. It was hers.

For what seemed like an eternity, as the room sat shrouded in silence and the weight of disbelief hung heavy in the air, she considered side-stepping the topic by holding on to the stony silence she'd maintained for the last couple hours or so. But she found herself feeling almost sick at the thought of remaining quiet. It was a classic catch-22 – the thought of saying what was in her heart and head was as distasteful as not saying it.

She pondered for a moment more, finally deciding that she wasn't someone who could simply bottle her emotions up inside the way that Barbara could. It just wasn't who she was. And now that the icy grip of the earlier paralysis had worn off and she could find her tongue, she suddenly realized that, as painful as the notion of speaking was, she longed to let the words and feelings loose. She longed to purge what she could of her demons by setting them free into the world.

The irony was not lost on Helena that for all the terrible things Harley Quinn had done to her and to those she cared about, Harleen Quinzel had at least helped her learn that much about how to cope with the darkness inside her. Still, despite coming to the conclusion that she needed to verbalize what was going on inside her, she couldn't quite look up from her careful contemplation of her hands in her lap as she answered Dinah's question.

"Yeah, I feel guilty about hitting him. You see, he's my cousin."

If Dinah had not already dropped her cup, she would have done so at those two stark sentences.

She clutched the edge of the bed and sat shock-still, all the spare energy in her body going to her brain to try and help her process what she'd just heard. She kinda remembered Helena saying something about having a cousin her mom's age – her only maternal relative – and how they'd lost touch with him a couple years before her mom was killed. It had been during one of their talks where they'd commiserated about being alone in the world, since Helena didn't count her father any more than Dinah counted her foster parents. So the idea of the brunette having a long-lost cousin wasn't the issue.

It was the idea that the scumbag they'd caught for the cops was the cousin in question. It … it was absurd. Sure, she knew there were criminal tendencies on that side of her teammate's family, since she knew all about Selina Kyle being Catwoman. But still, a would-be rapist was a far cry from being a cat burglar, particularly a cat burglar who took pains not to harm innocents in the process. Dinah shook her head, since the thought still wasn't quite computing. She figured Helena must have gotten confused or something, and she said as much.

Helena cringed at the innocent outrage in the girl's statement. She knew what Dinah was thinking, and she only wished it was a simple case of mistaken identity. She grabbed blindly for Barbara's hand, holding it tightly in her own for support and some degree of comfort. She heard her partner's involuntary gasp of pain at the fierce grip. But she couldn't quite let go – the intensity of her own emotions too strong to be ignored. She felt almost like a stranger in her own body, not completely in control of her own reactions. She kept her head downcast, unable to look up and face what she thought she'd see in the eyes of her friends.

"I wish … God, how I wish this was all just a mistake. But it's Marc, I know it. His body language … his scent …"

She trailed off then, the sense memory flooding through her, overwhelming her for a moment. When she had herself more or less back under control, she continued, proud that her voice only quivered a little bit.

"I know it was him. He didn't recognize me – I mean, I've changed a lot since I was 14. But he looks the same, older and starting to turn grey, but I'd recognize him anywhere. I just … my God … my cousin!"

She swallowed hard against the lump in the back of her throat.

Barbara sat completely still, ignoring the bone-crushing pain in her hand, her entire focus on the naked pain she could read on Helena's face. She wished – hopelessly, desperately – that she could do something to help, to either mute the emotions or take them away entirely. But she'd been around long enough to know it didn't work that way. Some situations, some wounds, just couldn't be salved.

There were things that each person had to deal with in her own way and her own time – situations where a person had to dig deep to find her own inner strength to get through. This was one of those times. Still, knowing that didn't stop her from murmuring soft sounds of sympathy, aware that Helena's sensitive ears would hear them. It didn't stop her from hoping that it would – in some small way – help.

While she knew Helena would have to work through this on her own, that didn't mean she had to do it alone. A very fine distinction, she knew, but no less valid for all that.

Dinah watched her two older teammates carefully, feeling like there was something going on under the surface, something she couldn't quite get a handle on. It irked her – that sense that she was missing something important. She'd never liked feeling like she was out of her depth when she couldn't figure out what was going on.

Her feet started swinging again, jerking back and forth almost violently, as if maybe motion would help everything else fall into place. It didn't really seem to help, though, because she still didn't understand what was going on, still couldn't quite read the nuances.

Without thinking, she stated flatly, "I get that you were shocked to see him like that. It would shock anyone. But you shouldn't feel guilty about hitting him or about him going to jail. The guy's a slimeball and he was caught in the act. He's only getting what he deserves because of what he did."

A wave of hot rage flowed through Helena at the words. She sent a death glare in Dinah's direction, inordinately pleased to see the girl blanch and cower. She didn't even realize she'd risen from her chair until she heard the softest of groans. Looking down quickly, she realized she'd wrenched Barbara's hand and wrist abruptly upwards when she'd stood. Her partner's face was stoic, but the woman's thinned lips told the truth.

At the sight, the rage drained out of her as though a plug had been pulled, and she slumped back into the chair. Damn it, it wasn't anyone's fault that Dinah had no clue. She dragged her free hand through her messy hair, not quite registering that she still had her mentor's fingers in a death grip with her other hand.

"I know what he was doing, Dinah, and I'm not trying to make excuses for him. But he's my cousin. He's the guy who taught me how to climb trees and to play baseball, the guy who carried me on his shoulders so I'd be taller than everyone else. He was the one who took me to my first circus. He always brought me presents every time he visited, since he loved his little cousin. And he was the first person who really helped me understand that it wasn't my fault that I didn't have a father. And he was the first person who made me believe, really believe, that I shouldn't be ashamed because of it."

Tears threatened to fall at the memories of him and her in happier times, and she blinked quickly, angrily. She wasn't going to cry. Not here. Not now. She was afraid that if she started, she'd never stop. Fisting her free hand, digging into her palm with her own nails to keep the prickling of tears at bay, she struggled to finish what she'd wanted to say.

"He … I knew him, Dinah. He was never a bad person inside … not at all. That's why it's so … so hard to believe it."

And therein, Barbara knew, lay the rub. This wasn't just some anonymous stranger on the street, someone who was simply "a bad guy" with jail as his only future. For the first time really, Helena – and Dinah too – got a real, personal glimpse of the complexity of what their work as crime fighters was all about, of the layers that lay beneath the surface of that life.

For the first time, they'd gotten a reminder that most of the people they ran into on their nightly sweeps – with the notable exception of the rare sociopath types like the Joker – were real people with real lives and real pasts. They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers. They were people doing bad things, terrible things, to be sure. They were people who crossed the lines of acceptable behavior and needed to face the consequences for what they'd done. They were people who were a danger to themselves and to others, who needed to accept the punishment for their crimes and for the hurt they'd caused.

And, when she and her team were really lucky, they were people who were stopped before they could do any damage – the drunk who was stopped before he got behind that wheel, the mugger who was caught before he could do more than scare his victims. It didn't make them any less guilty, but at least in those cases she felt like they'd truly done some good, like they weren't just playing catch-up.

But while the two younger women tended to stick with the simplicity of black and white to talk about their nightlife, Barbara had always known there would come a day when her own shades of grey would make themselves known to her teammates. It was an epiphany of sorts, one that happened when a crime fighter stayed in the life long enough to run across a familiar face or when a vigilante made an error in judgment and pummeled someone who was truly innocent.

Despite knowing this day would almost certainly come, Barbara found she still hadn't figured out what to say now that it was here. She used her free hand to reach over and rub Helena's thigh and sent a sympathetic look in Dinah's direction.

She kept her voice purposely soft and calm. "I know it's hard to believe. But you've seen that it's reality. Things happen in people's lives that leave scars, things that push them to their breaking points. And sometimes people just change with age. It's one of the reasons we have to walk such a fine line as vigilantes … where we stop the crimes and do what we must to keep the criminals from escaping, but where we don't act as judge, jury, and executioner."

Barbara could see the defiant glare in Dinah's eyes and could read the stress in Helena's stiff posture. It seemed that her words weren't really helping, but she didn't really know what else to say, except to remind the two of what she believed in, remind them why she fought crime the way that she did.

"There are motives and layers and things we simply can't see from where we stand in our roles, and that's where the justice system steps in."

Dinah found her temper rising as she listened to her mentor. What the hell was Barbara talking about? If the bad guys weren't always just bad guys – then what was the point of doing sweeps? What was the point of anything that they did as a team? And why did Barbara condone breaking someone's nose or slamming someone into a wall when it wasn't strictly self-defense?

Agitated, she pushed off the table, landing on and splintering the ceramic remains of her mug. Ignoring the tiny fragments crunching against the sole of her shoes, she started to pace, all-too-aware of the intent green gaze following her. It seemed like a betrayal for her mentor to be siding with the criminals – it went against everything Dinah thought she'd been training for, against the lessons she'd taken away from the debacle with Harley Quinn.

Finally, she stopped pacing, turning and standing in front of her teammates with her hands on her hips, almost daring Barbara to contradict her.

"How can you say that? How can you be sympathetic to the street scum we have to deal with every day? You've spent your whole life fighting to keep people safe! And now you sound like some Dr. Phil show about forgiveness. Am I supposed to feel sorry for Al Hawke after what he did to my mom? Is Helena supposed to just kiss and make up with the man who murdered her mom? And you …"

Barbara read the look in cornflower eyes and the emotion on flushed cheeks – and knew exactly how that sentence would have ended.

"And am I supposed to go make friends with the Joker?"

She paused there for a moment, to give more weight to her next words. "The answer to all those questions, Dinah, is no."

She stopped again, still acutely aware of the tension flooding through the frame of the woman sitting next to her, aware of the tension flooding the lanky body of the girl standing across from her. She was surprised by her own seeming inarticulateness, now that the subject had been broached and her teammates were seeing past the narrowness of black and white. It was just that she hadn't quite imagined this discussion happening under this particular set of circumstances, hadn't envisioned it being quite this personal.

After a long pause, aware of the air of expectation hanging in the air, she continued slowly, "Actions have consequences. When someone harms someone else, they should make reparation or face punishment. They should have to accept and face the consequences."

She could see the unspoken but obvious 'that's my point' on the blonde's face and knew she was failing miserably at explaining what she meant. Taking a deep breath, she struggled to find the words that would make her meaning clear.

"The thing we have to remember is that we can't undo what's already been done. All we can do is hope that dealing with consequences – whatever they are – will prevent it from happening again."

She could see from the teen's expression that her point still wasn't clear, so she tried again. Not for the first time since she'd taken up the mantle of Oracle, she wished Bruce was around so that she could have his help in dealing with these sorts of situations. Clearly, these kinds of conversations were not her strong suit. Unexpectedly, as though thinking of her mentor had caused her to figure out how he might handle the situation, she had a sudden glimmer of what might help make her point. Feeling uncomfortable about what she was going to say, what she was going to reveal, she steeled herself.

"The thing is, Dinah, that we have to go beyond simply *what* happened and look at *why*. Take my father – my biological father – for example. By your criteria, we should have thrown him in jail for verbal and physical abuse, and for neglect. But even though I hate what he did to me, to my mom, and the scars he left – I have to wonder if jail would have done him any good, or if it simply would have hardened him further."

She paused briefly, to let the thought sink in just a little, before carrying it to the logical conclusion. She was proud that, despite her profound discomfort with the topic and with talking about her past, her voice was steady.

"For him, moot point though it is now, alcohol rehab and anger management classes might have made more of a difference."

Helena glanced up briefly, startled by Barbara speaking so openly about her own past. Having lived with the redhead for so many years, she could guess what the conversation was costing her. It made her feel slightly guilty about indirectly being the cause of it, but she was also deeply touched that the other woman was taking the situation so seriously.

She'd kept her head down during most of the conversation, but hadn't missed what Dinah was doing by pacing around. Despite her own racing thoughts and still conflicting feelings, she was glad to see that Barbara's words seemed to have given her teammate something to think about. Under normal circumstances, she knew, she would have been right there beside Dinah, arguing the point until she was blue in the face.

But the reality check of seeing her once-adored cousin doing something so, so wrong had caused her to glimpse a complexity to the world of kicking butt and taking names that she'd never before seen. She'd always just thought Barbara – and her own father, come to think of it – was an overly noble type, adhering to a passé moral code that didn't fit the scarier modern world in which she lived. It had been easy to scoff at the notion of holding back, of being cautious, of delivering criminals to the police instead of just beating them senseless and enacting a little revenge.

Now – in the span of one evening – she saw the practical reasons for holding to a code, of not presuming to act as a judge. But that, well, that wasn't really what was bothering her. It was something deeper, harder to put into words. Absently, she let go of Barbara's hand, hugging herself tightly.

"I know my cousin isn't evil, despite what he did. And he does need to pay for what he did, so I wasn't betraying him by turning him over to the cops. Maybe he needs jail and maybe he just needs treatment. At least by being turned in, he can get whatever kind of help he needs."

Helena was tempted to stop there, to pull away from the deeper thought that was troubling her, to let the conversation lie fallow. But she felt the compulsion to speak, to give voice to the question swirling foremost in her mind.

"I just … I mean … how … how do you forgive someone when they do something unforgivable?"

The loaded question hung heavy in the room and Dinah felt her head spinning with the seriousness of it. Without really realizing what she was doing, she edged back towards the exam table so she'd have something to lean against.

Never before had she really thought this in-depth about the world of crime fighting, the world she'd chosen to live in. At first, she had simply followed her vision and her dreams of being a hero, certain that *anything* was better than being stuck with her foster parents in a not-so-tolerant small community. Then, after she'd arrived in New Gotham and seen and heard things she never could have imagined before, crime fighting became a crusade for her – a righteous striking down of evil.

She'd never really considered what drove people into a life of crime and violence. She'd just figured they were losers or evil people. And she'd never thought much about what happened beyond kicking people's asses and leaving them for the cops to haul off to jail. She'd never thought about anything beyond fighting them, striking out at them on behalf of their victims … especially after what happened to her mom. On sweeps, she'd grown angrier at the injustice in the world, more willing to strike first and not only use her powers in defense.

But now, she was seeing a hint of just what lay beyond her simple vision of heroes and evildoers, of good and bad, of us or them. She could sense many of Helena's jumbled emotions and knew her teammate was having her eyes opened in the same uncomfortable way, only it was a lot more personal for the other woman. And the question the brunette had asked was the same one burning in Dinah's chest, so she echoed it, needing to give voice to some of her own confusion.

And maybe it would help Helena to know she wasn't alone.

Barbara gingerly flexed her newly freed fingers – finding it ironic that the discomfort in her hand paled in comparison to her discomfort with the conversation. The emotional realm was not her forte, not at all. But under the circumstances, the topic could not be avoided or tabled or otherwise side-stepped.

Her protégées were depending on her to help them through this, and she couldn't let them down.

Tonight was the night when the two younger women were asking themselves the serious question of what and who they were fighting for, and what they – in good conscience – could allow themselves to do in that fight. Perhaps they weren't asking it in those exact words, or weren't even aware that that was part of what they were struggling to come to terms with. But she'd been there herself; she knew the signs; she could see the question reflected in everything they said and did.

She'd watched Helena skirt the issue for years. Now that her partner was forced by circumstances to face it, Barbara had to do what she could to help her with it. And to help Dinah, whose struggle mirrored Helena's.

She knew that deeper, more soul-searching question would not – could not – be answered in one night. It was far too complex for that. She knew that this was simply the start of the journey to find answers. Knowing that, however, still didn't mean she could leave things hanging forever. Not with the actual question that had been asked and repeated. She took a deep breath, speaking carefully.

"Forgiveness is hard, especially with some of the terrible things that people do to other human beings. The thing to keep in mind is that it's more for the person who has been wronged then the person who did wrong. Make no mistake, people who have hurt others often do need – sometimes desperately – to know they're forgiven so that they can make some peace with their demons."

She stopped, glancing back and forth between the two women, trying and failing to gauge their reactions. When she continued, she enunciated her words, for no other reason than to make sure their full weight and meaning came through.

"But in a lot of ways, forgiveness is a way of coming to terms with what's happened to you and being able to move past it."

Barbara was uncomfortably aware that she really did sound like a talk show host, or an after-school special. Still, it didn't make what she was saying any less real or important. She was aware that she was oversimplifying things in some ways, but in light of what was going on and in light of who she was talking to, it seemed like the best approach. And hopefully, she was giving them a new way to think about things, something they could take with them and work with in the days ahead as they continued to wrestle with their roles.

"Forgiving someone for what they've done is far different from simply accepting the fact that they've done it. And it's not always possible or necessary for some people and some situations. It's not something that can be forced. I … I can't say that I've forgiven the Joker for what he did to me. I may never get to that point. But, I also know the lack of forgiveness is part of what drives me too hard and keeps me from really making peace with the loss of being Batgirl."

She felt a familiar stab of pain that always came with that memory, with that train of thought. And she felt the stab of pain that came with actually admitting, both out loud and to herself, that the Joker still had a hold on her and her life because she hadn't been able to move on. Pushing past the pain, fisting her hands to ground herself, she continued her point.

"The bottom line is that, ultimately, the one you hurt with a lack of forgiveness is yourself."

Barbara stopped there – looking carefully from Helena's thoughtful face to Dinah's questioning one. She'd answered the actual question, she knew, but as she knew too well, there was more to it than just what had been said on the surface. They were both searching for some kind of reassurance. And they were looking for something to guide them now that the old world they'd built on absolutes seemed to be crumbling away under the tides of circumstances.

Knowing that, she wanted to be cautious, to carefully consider her words before speaking. Instead, she found herself speaking off-the-cuff.

"Nothing can change what's already been done. Vengeance, an eye for an eye, often seems like the ideal solution. It might make someone feel better for a while, but it can never make up for what they've already lost."

How well she knew that. She'd come so close to killing Harley Quinn, wanting to take out her pain on the person who'd caused it. But even as she spun out of control, Helena's plea the only thing stemming the tide of violence, she'd known deep inside that killing Quinn wouldn't really have helped. It wouldn't bring back the dead or assuage the guilt of the living. It might bring an illusion of closure, but would never really fill the void.

"That's why I have always followed a code, why I've always worked with the justice system, flawed though it is. It sucks that nothing we do can undo the bad things that happen to good people. But what we can do is work with all our might to make sure that they *never* happen again. It might mean life in jail for a murderer or drug rehab for a petty thief. I don't know what it will mean for your cousin – it depends on what exactly he's done to other women and whether he can actually be helped with treatment."

She almost stopped right there, not quite sure what else to say. But she found herself almost unconsciously speaking the words a wiser person had said to her years before.

"It's not a perfect solution. But the world is not a perfect place. And hopefully, we can find some peace in knowing we've done the best we can to help people and to see that justice is served."

Dinah found herself slowly starting to nod at her mentor's words. She still wasn't quite sure about all this, wasn't sure what to think about her world and her role in it. It was too big to digest completely, too big to try and figure out all at once. But in the midst of all her uncertainty, the redhead's words gave her something to hold onto, some way of starting to make sense of it all.

Helena turned to Barbara, laid her hand on her partner's forearm. She still felt like her thoughts were hopelessly tangled as she tried to reconcile what she was hearing with what she was feeling, and with what she'd been struggling with for years already. But it helped to know she had Barbara – and Dinah – to help her question the chaos and try to make sense of it.

It didn't make it any easier to deal with her emotions about Marc – her conflicting reactions as a crime fighter and as a cousin. It didn't make the sense of betrayal any less acute. But at least she knew she didn't have to deal with it alone.

She might be overwhelmed by the darkness, but her friends were there to help her find the light.

The End

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