DISCLAIMER: Birds of Prey and its characters are the property of Miller/Tobin Productions, Warner Brothers and DC comics. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To annebar76[at]gmail.com
As I wait anxiously at Delphi, I know that in a room deep within the recesses of the Clocktower Helena lies broken and bleeding on a table. I also know that both Alfred and Dinah are doing everything they can to make sure she survives. This is the time I wish I could do more than bandage lesser wounds.
Tonight started out no different from any other night. Hel was patrolling, but neither one of us was finding much in the way for crime. Then her comm went dark. It doesn't happen often, and most of the time it's because she shuts it off. Not this time though.
Dinah was the one who found her, and I barely recognized my friend when the elevator door opened with Helena on a stretcher. I remember reaching out for Hel's hand, but Dinah stopped me.
"They're both broken," she said in a shaky voice as she wheeled the stretcher into the medical room.
And so I wait at Delphi, which is my one refuge in a storm. And this is one hell of a storm. Even if Hel makes it through this, she'll be recovering for weeks, maybe months.
Finally, long after night has given way to day, Alfred emerges. "Miss Barbara."
Before he can finish, I have already wheeled myself to him. At the look on his face, I cry out. For someone who doesn't show emotion, this experience is too much for me. I know what he's going to say before he says it.
"We couldn't save her."
There are tears in his eyes, tears I have never seen from him. I can't comfort him right now; I need to see her and say goodbye.
Alfred stops me when I try to go to her. "Remember her the way she was."
But I have to, and I know it. "I need to see her," I say with determination.
He hesitates, and I think he may try to stop me again, but he dips his head. "Very well. I shall be here when you are finished with your goodbyes."
The medical room is a mess. Blood seems to be everywhere, and the instruments are laid haphazardly around the area. Dinah is sitting beside Helena's body, and I vaguely notice that she's crying gently. Once I process that, my full attention is focused on the one person who ever really touched my heart.
Dinah was right Hel's hands are broken. I wonder if it caused her pain, or if she was too far gone by the time she received those wounds. The thought makes me want to retch. Because of this, my hand strays away from the mangled appendage and up to her head. I'm shocked by what I see, and as I softly run my fingers over her swollen and split lips, I hear Dinah leave.
I can feel my heart rip out. She not only was my friend; she was the woman I loved. It was something I never admitted when she was alive, but now, seeing her broken body, I know I'll never fully recover from this loss. All of my fears don't matter anymore, and I realize they never did.
She never knew. She would never know. Sitting beside her and stroking my fingers through her wet and sticky hair, I hate myself. I don't know how long it is before I start crying, but I do. The tears come softly first, but soon the sobs come mercilessly.
I wake up crying, feeling the loss yet again. The dream is always the same, and I always wake up thinking it really happened. I've even called Helena a few times to make sure she's okay. She always grumbles about being woken up at the butt crack of dawn, and I'm so relieved to hear her voice that I can't help but laugh.
After taking a shower and getting ready for the day, I go downstairs to the kitchen. It's the weekend, so thankfully I don't have to go to school. I've always enjoyed teaching, but lately things have been a bit uncomfortable. Wade hasn't taken our break up very well, and I'm concerned that I may have to transfer to a different school because of it.
That's not my concern this morning, however. Dinah and Helena are sitting at the table, and I can tell they're plotting something. Whenever that happens, trouble usually follows.
"What are the two of you up to?"
Dinah looks at me, grinning with absolutely no shame. "It's picnic day."
I eye her skeptically. "We have a picnic day?"
"Aw, come on, Red. It's a pretty day, there are no bad guys on the horizon, and Dinah and I just want to have some fun. Peel yourself away from Delphi for a little while and have some fun with us."
"When you put it so eloquently, how can I say no?" I grin. Helena can always put a grin on my face.
"'K then. I'll call Alfred and ask him to pack a basket," Helena says as she gets up.
When she's gone, I look at Dinah. "Was this your idea?"
She holds up her hands and shakes her head. "Nope. It was all Helena. Oh, is it okay if Gabby comes along?"
"Of course. You've been spending a lot of time with her lately."
Her face blushes a deep shade of pink that reaches her ears, and I know something's different about their friendship, but I decide to let her tell me when she's ready.
"Um, yeah. We've been doing a lot of studying."
I put a hand on her knee. "It's okay. I like her."
Her face brightens, and I know I've said the right thing. "You do? I was worried, since she isn't in the business, but I think she's great."
"We're not in the mob," I laugh. "Protecting the city can't exactly be called a business."
"Maybe, but hobby doesn't quite work for me."
"Fine then. It's a business," I say, still grinning as I turn to go to my bedroom.
I'm dressed to sit at Delphi all day, and that isn't suitable park wear. After choosing a nice, relaxed pair of jeans and a blouse, I change. It only takes me a bit longer than most people; I'm so practiced at dressing my broken body that I hardly think about it anymore.
Except that as I struggle to put on my jeans, I think about how truly helpless I am. If I tell Hel about my feelings for her, there is more than one reason why things wouldn't work between us. She's an active person, just like I used to be, and to have someone dragging you down is not something that's bearable.
But maybe I'm not giving her enough credit. She does enjoy spending time with me, I do know that. Would she be content with not going dancing or bar hopping? I don't think so, and I'm not going to be the one to cramp her style.
The thought leaves me melancholy. It's not a frame of mind I'm familiar with, and it disturbs me. As I finish with the buttons on my blouse and pull my hair back, I think for the first time that I might need a vacation. Some sun, beach chairs, and a good massage would do me some good.
Who am I kidding? I couldn't go on vacation any more than I could walk these days. My life has become Delphi and the fight against evil. That is who I am, who I will always be. Bruce told me once that this was a lonely life, and he was right. No matter how many people I have around me, I'm still alone. But I wonder now, is that by circumstance, or by choice? I suppose I'll never find out.
There's a knock at the door, and immediately Hel's voice filters through. "You ready?"
"Coming," I say, checking my hair one more time before opening the door.
"I haven't seen that blouse before," she says when she sees me.
"You don't like it?" I can't believe I actually am hanging on whether or not she likes my clothing.
She flashes me a wide grin. "Didn't say that. It's nice; I just can't remember you ever wearing it before."
"Actually, Wade gave it to me," I say sheepishly.
Her face falls. "We should get going." She turns and is out of my sight before I can even blink.
As I wheel myself to the elevator, I'm perplexed at her reaction to Wade's name. I know she didn't get along with him, but I didn't realize her feelings were that strong. Helena has already left the tower apparently, so I am left to my own confused, depressed mind for the journey to the ground floor.
"This is nice," I say, tilting my face up toward the sun. Its heat has definitely had a positive effect on me today.
"Yep," Hel says simply as she does the same thing.
I open my eyes long enough to check on Gabby and Dinah, who are sitting on the swings. It's not difficult to see that those two are becoming more than friends, but I am determined not to interfere. I can't even get my own love life right.
"So whose idea was this?"
"Why do you ask?" She says innocently.
"Because Dinah told me you were the mastermind behind this, and I was just wondering why you chose today."
There's a pause, and it's long enough for me to glance at her. She hasn't moved, but I see that her face has tightened.
"I've been planning it for a while, but we've been too busy for it. Today is the perfect day."
"But why? Picnics aren't usually high on our list of fun things."
Suddenly she gets up, and it's so quick I barely react until she's already talking. "Give it a rest for a day, Barbara. I just thought this would be fun. That's it. End of story."
She walks away, and I again curse my lack of working legs. If I could, I would chase after her and demand to know why she did that the picnic as well the storming off.
Dinah must sense something because I see her glance at me. I shake my head slightly, and she turns back to Gabby, though she seems a little upset. I wonder how much she saw, and what insight she might have. Maybe it would be better to call her over, but it isn't fair to Hel.
I'm not sure how much time passes because I finally acquiesce to my falling eyelids and lie down. I don't sleep, that goes against everything in me, but I do try to relax a bit. It doesn't work at all, since all I can think about is her.
I need her. I want her. I love her. Those last three words are the most difficult to hear in my mind. I may have admitted it in my dreams, but when I'm awake it's a different matter altogether. Now that I've thought it, though, there is no going back for me. I have a decision to make. Do I live my life in fear, or do I finally find out the truth and stand the chance of being cut so deeply that part of me might die?
I'm still lying on the blanket with my eyes closed when a shadow falls on me. When I open my eyes, I'm surprised to see Helena standing over me.
"I'm sorry," she says as she sits down. "Leaving like that it wasn't right."
I sit up and look at her. "Then why did you?" I ask quietly.
"I don't know."
That's not the truth, but I don't call her on it. "Will you answer my question then?"
She dips her head and picks at the grass, and I idly wonder if there will just be a patch of dirt when she's finished with it.
"I've been worried about you."
"What? Why? I'm fine."
Her eyes find mine again, and I can see the deep concern in them. "You aren't acting like you normally do."
"I'm fine, Hel. I've just been absorbed in a project." I hate myself for lying.
"I would know if you were working on a project. What's really going on? I'd like to help."
"Nothing's " Crap. I can't do this anymore. "I'm having nightmares."
She puts a hand on mine. "Of the Joker?"
Of all people, she alone knows of the nightmares I had after nearly dying at the Joker's hand. At first, it bothered me to have someone know so much about me, but eventually I was grateful for it. Now that I'm having nightmares again, I suppose I should tell her about them.
"Nothing like that," I say, shaking my head.
"Are you going to tell me what?"
"It doesn't matter." This time it's me who looks away.
"Hey guys, ready to go?" Dinah asks as she and Gabby approach.
The moment is broken, and though part of me is relieved, I'm also terrified. Hel has had a glimpse into my mind, and she won't stop until she knows everything.
Helena leaps up and grabs the picnic basket as I get into my chair. These are the moments I hate; the moments when I should be able to leap up like she just did simply destroy parts of me. I miss my legs.
Both Dinah and Gabby are talking animatedly about some high school thing as we go toward the car, but I'm not paying much attention to them. The only thing I'm trying to concentrate on is wheeling my chair. It's the only thing that's safe right now.
It's been two days without any nightmares, but I'm still afraid to sleep. I let it overtake me only when I'm too tired to stay upright, and even then, it's difficult to give in. Watching Helena die over and over is a living hell, and the less I have to witness it, the better.
"Oracle?" Dinah's voice comes through the speakers.
"I'm here, Canary."
Hel took the evening off, and I'm assuming she went out dancing. That's where she usually goes, and knowing her pattern, she'll most likely end up in bed with the closest warm body she can find. That's reason number forty-two to not tell her my feelings. I would be tossed aside very quickly.
My logical brain tells me that wouldn't happen, but it's my fear all the same. She doesn't get attached to people in general, but I would like to think that she at least feels attached to me, even a little. I know I'll never have her as a lover, but if my dreams are any indication, I couldn't live without her in my life.
"Earth to Oracle."
I'm brought out of my thoughts by Dinah's voice again. "Sorry, Canary. Is there any activity?"
"Nope. I was just going to ask if I could come in early. I have some things to take care of."
I know she means studying, and I know I was the one who gave her the bulk of the homework. Grinning as I tap the keys, I see that there is indeed nothing happening in the city tonight. It's a rare occurrence, but it does happen.
"Of course. Will you be coming back to base?"
"Not yet. I'm going to G's first."
"Okay. See you soon."
Just as I finish saying that, I hear the soft thud of feet landing on the balcony and I smile sadly. I know who it is, and my stomach does flip-flops. The feelings I've been trying to suppress since the picnic come churning up and I hate myself for not being able to control them.
"Hey, Red," Hel says as she comes inside. "It's cold out there tonight."
I turn from Delphi and look at her. She's in the outfit she usually wears to patrol, but I know she wouldn't have done that without telling me. I also know that she only wears those clothes to leap buildings, and if she's doing that without patrolling, she's upset about something.
As she moves gracefully into the kitchen, I can't help gazing at her. She's talking, but I can't tell what she's saying; I'm lost in a different world.
" so I told him he could just fu are you listening to me?" Without me realizing it, she has moved from the kitchen to the sofa with a bottle of water in her hand.
I come out of my trance and focus on her lovely eyes. The eyes that have so much depth to them I could dive into them and never hit bottom. I have to remind myself to focus on the conversation.
"Um, I was distracted?" It's the only excuse I can conjure, and I know she's going to question me on it.
"By what? You aren't at Delphi, and you're just staring at me." I may be imagining things, but I think I can hear concern in her voice.
"Just something in my head." This excuse is getting worse by the minute. "Why are you pushing this?" I say, and I cringe a bit at my irritated tone.
"Because we've been worried. Actually, I've been worried."
"Damn it, Hel. Can't a woman have a bad week without having an intervention?" I wheel over to Delphi and start banging on the keys so hard I think I may break the keyboard.
Unfortunately she doesn't take the hint, and after a few seconds of silence, I feel her hand on my shoulder. She doesn't turn me around; instead she moves to face me. It isn't until I feel her rough fingers gently touching my face that I realize tears are rolling down my face.
"You never let anyone in," she begins softly, "and that worries me."
"I let you in."
She shakes her head. "You don't not all the way. Dinah told me she hears you crying out in the night. Do you know what you do scream?"
My stomach and heart both sink at the same time. "No."
"My name," she says as she cups my cheek with her hand. "Are you having nightmares about me?"
I feel like a cornered wild animal. The truth can never be told, and yet she is demanding it from me. My frayed edges are being completely unraveled. I'm more frightened than I've ever been.
"No," I manage to whisper.
"Always the tough one, right? Don't you know you don't have to be tough around me?"
She's poked under my armor long enough. I take her hand from my cheek and lay it on the table. "I'm going to bed."
I pull my chair out, but she quickly holds it in place. "Please, talk to me."
"Let. Me. Go." I say through gritted teeth.
She releases me immediately and quickly goes to the door to the balcony. "That's the last time I'll do that. I'm tired of you keeping me at arm's length. I'll see you around, Barbara."
Before I can get a word out, she leaves. I want to tell her to come back, that I'll tell her everything as long as she'll stay, even though I know she won't. At least not for long. No one ever does. At the same time, I can't help this nagging feeling that it will be a long time before I see her again. The thought sends ice through my heart.
Dinah will be home soon, and I really don't want to talk to anyone right now, so I go up to my bedroom and close the door. A few moments later I can hear her downstairs, and I ignore the sounds, put my book on the nightstand, and lay my head on the pillow in a vain attempt to get some sleep.
The nightmare is back, only now it's worse. While the dream is the same, I can't call Hel when I wake up to make sure she's okay. The only confirmation I have of that is every night on the comms, and those conversations are filled only with business. She doesn't make any funny comments or have even a bit of emotion in her voice. Even her fighting has become quip-free.
I am truly disgusted with myself. Over the years, I've done some questionable things in the name of justice, but I've never done anything questionable when it comes to personal matters. Have I? Maybe I have. I don't know anymore. All I know is that I miss my best friend, and I don't know how to fix it without telling her the truth.
It's another great evening sitting in front of Delphi while Hel and Dinah do the job I was meant to do. Every time a call goes out, I point the Birds in the right direction. That hasn't been a difficult job lately; most of the criminals are locked away in Arkham. I keep waiting for the big breakout to happen, but I pray that it doesn't.
I hear a familiar thud, and I look to the balcony. Helena is standing at the edge, but she isn't moving. She's just watching, and it seems she's waiting for me, apparently. This is the talk I've been dreading, and I haven't made my decision. What if I can't and I lose her? What if I can, and she leaves anyway?
Taking a deep sigh, I wheel myself out to her. "Hi."
Her expression doesn't change. "That's all you have to say?"
I refuse to get angry, mostly because it will come from fear. "I'm sorry I pushed you away."
She starts pacing, and following her movements makes me feel like I'm at a tennis match.
"You always push me away, though. Don't you know that? I've gotten used to it over the years, but I'm tired of it. I can't take it."
"You have dark circles under your eyes, and your clothes are practically hanging off you. You're distracted most of the time, but it isn't the way I know you to be distracted." She stops and looks at me. "Something is going on, and you aren't telling me."
I can't meet her eyes anymore, so I choose to look at the night sky. "I'm having dreams."
"I know that," her voice has lost some of its anger.
"About you." Finally, I look at her. "More specifically, your death."
"It comes and goes, but lately it's been a lot worse. I can barely sleep."
She kneels beside me. "I can help, you know. I did it once, and I can do it again."
"That isn't your job anymore."
"It was never my job," she says, standing and walking back to the edge. "It was more than that. I can't put words to it. I just knew I needed to help you; you were damaged as much, if not more, as I was after the Joker's attack. You understood me when no one else did."
"And you understood me." I move toward her and take her hand. "You have no idea how much value that has for me."
"Until I get too close. Then it's like I barely know you."
"It's not like that," I say. She has a final note to her voice that scares me, and I don't know if I can fix that.
She rips her hand from mine. "Here come the excuses. It's the job, right? That one is wearing pretty thin at this point." Through her hands in the air, she starts pacing again. "Hell, it was always thin."
My anger does flare then. "Then why didn't you say anything before now?"
"Because I kept thinking you would realize I wasn't going to hurt you," she says as she stops pacing and looks at me. The sadness in her eyes hits me like a ton of bricks.
"I know you won't hurt me." I'm such a liar.
"No, you don't. If you did, you would have told me about your nightmares."
There's no argument for that, at least not one I can come up with. I'm not quite sure what to say to that though, and since that is the case, I say nothing.
"Whatever. I'm done with this."
That snaps me out of whatever fog I'm in. "What?"
"I'll still patrol, but it'll be like this past week. I'll come by if I need to for repairs when necessary, but for nothing else. If you want to let yourself waste away, I won't be a part of it."
I sit with mouth agape. Can she really be saying what I think she's saying? Are all my fears becoming a reality? I can't let that happen.
Before I can react, she's on the ledge again. "Hel, don't go."
"What can you possibly say right now to make things better?" She asks, though she doesn't turn around.
"I can't bear to lose you," I say quietly.
At that, she does turn to face me. "You have to do more than that. I won't go back to the way things were."
"I can't "
"Can't what? Tell me the truth? For someone who's so big into justice you sure as hell don't care about the truth when it comes to you. Why not? Why don't you train your detective skills on yourself for a while?"
"Because I'm scared!" I all but yell.
As soon as the words are out, I clamp my hands over my mouth, though I know it will do no good. I've let out the raging tiger within me, and I fear my decision has just been made for me.
She doesn't flinch; instead she comes closer. "Of what?" she asks quietly.
The dam inside me breaks, and everything that I've kept in comes flooding out.
"I'm deathly afraid of losing the only person in this world who truly understands me. The one person who knows what I'm thinking even before I think it. The one person who challenges me at every turn."
She swallows, and I know she's shocked I'm finally telling her. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I don't want to be without you."
"You have to say the words. No more telling me you need me in your life. I need to know how you need me," she says quietly as she kneels beside me.
I take a deep breath and take that final leap. "You are the most important person in my life. You are the one I think of first when I wake up, and the last thought I have when I go to sleep. I fell in love with you a long time ago, and I can't imagine waking up tomorrow without you by my side."
She's grinning by the time I finish, and she softly traces her finger down my jaw. "I've been waiting years to hear you say that."
"It won't be easy."
She shakes her head as she leans in. "It'll be as easy as breathing."
"Don't you think we should talk?" I ask breathlessly, if she does this to me now, I can't imagine how I'm going to be able to control myself on a day-to-day basis.
"Talking's overrated," she says, closing the distance between us.
Finally our lips meet, and at that first touch, every fear I have is pushed to the side. Much later, when we're lying in bed and exhausted, I finally feel whole.
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