DISCLAIMER: Birds of Prey and its characters are the property of Miller/Tobin Productions, Warner Brothers and DC comics. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to ladyvictory and fallon ash for the beta! This takes place after the series ended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Fear of Falling
By Inspector Boxer
Helena shivered and burrowed further into her knee-length leather jacket. It provided scant protection against the bitter wind blowing through New Gotham, bringing with it the first hints of fall. Around her, the balcony glistened from the recent rain, the dampness only adding to the pervasive chill. The city lights shone weakly through a gathering fog, beacons of color seeming to float in billowing gray. The smells, sounds, and sights were all a perfect fit for Helena's darkening mood.
Barbara was attracted to a woman, so strongly that Dinah had picked up on it instantly. Even through the pain and anguish Dinah had detected off the business card, Barbara's interest in this woman had punched through. The kid didn't hit on anything that didn't at least rate a six or higher on the emotional impact scale. There must have been some serious heat.
Kind of like what she'd felt between herself and Barbara in the kitchen. Helena wondered what Dinah would have thought about that.
Her thoughts scattered and frenetic, Helena could only close her eyes and beg her mind for silence. She breathed in the damp air, feeling a fine mist lightly bathing her features. Sighing, Helena walked to the balcony rail and leaned against it. The prudent thing would be to go back inside to the dry warmth of the clock tower, but somehow the mid-September night appealed more to her spirit at the moment. She put her elbows on the rail and looked over, watching patches of traffic crawl by below.
"You going to stay out here all night?"
The voice made her jump. Helena turned to see Dinah watching her from the doorway. It was disconcerting that she'd been so lost in her thoughts she hadn't even heard the kid. So much for super powers. "Shouldn't you be in bed? It's a school night," Helena muttered derisively.
Dinah rolled her eyes as she stepped out onto the balcony. "I'm still a little juiced from what happened earlier," the teenager admitted. "I have to let the emotions fade."
Helena turned and hitched a hip on the rail. She played it casual and managed not to ask which of the emotions it was that was keeping the teen awake. "You okay?"
Dinah shrugged. "Other than still tasting shoe leather from where I stuck my foot in my mouth? I'm fine."
A slow, begrudging smile wormed its way onto Helena's features. She dipped her head before looking up at Dinah through her wet bangs. "You just said what you felt."
"Maybe. But there is a reason God graced us with internal edit buttons. Apparently mine was malfunctioning."
The smiled widened a bit. "I doubt Barbara is mad." It was true, Helena acknowledged. Despite the fact Barbara clearly wished Dinah hadn't shared such a juicy morsel of information, there was no way the older woman was angry about it.
Dinah sighed. "I know she isn't. Honestly, though, I'm more worried about how you feel."
Helena's head came up. "Me?"
"I said what I said without regard for your feelings. That was insensitive of me."
Helena wasn't sure what part of the whole conversation she should start addressing first. "You didn't even know I was in the room," she muttered when she could think of nothing else to say.
"But I knew you were in the tower. And I know how you feel about " The teenager bit her lip and cast a look over her shoulder. Barbara was inside, just beyond the glass, sitting at the Delphi terminal, oblivious to the serious conversation about her taking place a few yards away.
"Dinah " Helena's voice came out rough and tired.
The blonde looked back at her older companion. "You can lie to yourself if you want to, Helena. But you can't lie to me." Dinah noted the caught expression on the other woman's features and felt a twinge of sympathy. They'd never talked about what was so clearly between Helena and Barbara before, but Dinah figured if they were ever going to address it, now was the time. Her relationship with the other meta was an antagonistic one, but Dinah loved Helena Kyle like a sister, and she hated knowing Helena was in pain. "I would never tell her."
Helena looked away, feigning casual interest in the surrounding buildings. Inside, her heart was pumping so hard she could feel the beats in her throat. "Look, kid " She glanced back at the teenager when she thought she had enough control reflected in her features. "I do care about Babs but whatever you're thinking "
"I know you care about her," Dinah interrupted, sounding more like the parent than the child at the moment. "But your feelings for Barbara are even more than you realize, Hel. I just I don't want you to run from the way they make you feel."
Blue eyes studied her with such intensity Dinah almost looked away.
"I don't run from anything," Helena finally rasped.
"Then don't start now. You've been neatly evading the whole thing, but you gave a part of yourself away tonight. Barbara is going to wonder why her being attracted to a woman bothered you so much."
"Maybe I'm a prude," Helena retorted flippantly.
"Maybe the Penguin will sprout real wings and fly," Dinah smacked back.
A black eyebrow arched neatly. "That was pretty good."
"I've been practicing."
Helena sighed and crossed her arms. The cold was starting to make her bones ache. She thought about Barbara's offer to tend to her injuries. How nice it would feel to have Barbara's warm hands on her, soothing her pains. As usual, she didn't examine too closely why she wanted the redhead's touch, but Dinah's words made her aware of her denials. "On a scale of one to ten."
"Huh?" Dinah blinked.
"On a scale of one to ten how attracted was Barbara to this chick?" Helena decided a diversion was in order. This way she got to satisfy some of her curiosity as well.
"I'm not telling you that."
"Come on. You're acting like my ally here. Give me a little intel." Helena's features relaxed into a seductive grin.
"Are you admitting you're attracted to her?" Dinah asked warily.
"I'm admitting nothing. Now spill."
"So personal you blurted it out to the room?"
"I didn't know you were there," Dinah almost whined. "What difference does it make?"
"None at all," Helena lied smoothly. "I'm just thinking this woman had to be hot to stir up Barbara's blood."
"Nicole Kincaid. That's the woman's name. She's some sort of doctor."
Smart and gorgeous, Helena thought bitterly. Great. "Lucky her."
"What I felt off her business card the last word I'd use to describe her is lucky." Dinah swallowed at the remembered emotional agony. "She's really hurting right now."
Feeling a little chastised, Helena sighed again. They both heard the door open and looked back in time to see Barbara roll out onto the balcony.
"What are you two doing out here? It's freezing."
"Just chatting," Dinah said easily. "Helena's finally promised to show me how to rappel."
"I have?" Helena muttered, confused only to suddenly realize the teen was covering for her and raced to agree. "I have. Right. Rappelling. Absolutely."
Barbara narrowed her eyes at both of them. She had a sliver of suspicion about the topic of conversation before she'd interrupted. "Are you talking about Nicole?"
"Who?" Helena managed in an impressively bland voice.
"Nicole Kincaid. The woman I met tonight."
"Is that her name?" Helena asked innocently. "The topic never came up."
Green eyes fixed on Dinah, and it was all the teen could do not to squirm. Barbara might not be a meta, but she sure seemed to have powers like one. Sometimes the teenager was sure the redheaded woman was psychic. "What?" she asked, hoping she sounded breezy and not busted.
Quietly proud of the younger woman, Helena ducked her head to hide a smile.
Barbara shook her head. "Fine. You two metas may be able to stand the cold, but I'm going back inside. Especially since I'm heating some milk for hot chocolate."
"Hot chocolate?" Both of the younger women chimed in eager unison.
Still shaking her head, Barbara went back inside. Helena bounded after her, holding the door for Dinah.
"Eight," Dinah murmured as she passed.
"What?" Helena asked blankly.
"The attraction. It was an eight."
Helena stood there, the door still open, as she processed that bit of news. Something inside her went colder than the night air. Barbara had claimed that nothing would come of what she had felt, but how did you turn your back on an eight?
She hoped Barbara would find a way.
"That's it. I'm packing it in." Dinah yawned half an hour later before setting her empty cup down. "I'll get the dishes in the morning."
"Damn right you will," Helena teased with a smirk. She easily caught the pillow the blonde tossed at her and then offered a jaunty wave as Dinah headed up the steps toward her room.
"I should probably hit the road, too," Helena admitted after a moment of charged silence. She put the pillow down and got to her feet, momentarily losing her concentration when she glanced down into Barbara's upturned features. Helena felt the familiar wave of emotions rolling toward her at the sight. With a sigh, her mental levee repelled them. Best not to go there. Not to let those waves pull her in and under. Helena knew if she ever gave them free reign she would drown.
"You okay?" Barbara asked softly. There was something terribly endearing about Helena when she got that little lost, confused look in her eyes. She'd see it every now and then when she'd catch the younger woman looking at her. Barbara always wondered what Helena was thinking in those moments but had never found the courage to ask. This time was no different.
"Fine." Helena offered her a smile to prove it. "I'm just going to go get my things."
"You never let me take care of those cuts," Barbara pointed out with just a hint of hurt to her voice.
Helena stopped as she made her way toward her jacket. "Uh " She hated it when Barbara used that tone with her. It did things to her insides. "I just thought you know it's late "
Barbara sat aside her mug and motioned Helena to sit next to her on the couch. The brunette hesitated before slowly yielding to what her body craved and came closer. Helena noted the first aid kit on the table for the first time and wondered how she'd missed it. "Babs, it really is late. You don't need to "
"I know. I think I can manage to keep my eyes open for a few more minutes," Barbara teased faintly. "Where is it the worst?"
Helena sank down onto the couch. "My back," she admitted after a moment. "I must have gotten cut or something."
Frowning, Barbara waited for Helena to turn before gently lifting the younger woman's thin sweater. She hissed at what she found. "Christ, Helena."
"Bad?" The younger woman asked. She tried to turn her head to see but that only tugged on the injury. "Stung like a mother in the shower."
"I'll bet. Someone stabbed you."
"Ah. Explains a lot."
Barbara snorted at the other woman's casual attitude. The bleeding had fortunately stopped long ago, but the wound was an angry red and the skin had yet to knit back together. Had this been anyone else, Barbara knew they would be in the hospital in serious condition. She gently brushed her fingers along the sides of the injury feeling the skin ripple in response.
"Tickles," Helena lied, her voice sounding breathless.
Barbara reached for the iodine and some cotton balls. "Let me just clean this up a little."
Helena closed her eyes at the gentle touch that followed. What would it be like, she wondered, to feel that touch all over?
Do. Not. Go. There.
Bitterly Helena closed the lid on those thoughts. Then she felt the ghost of Barbara's breath on her bare skin, and she felt that lid crack open a notch. "So."
"So," Barbara mimicked as she finished with the iodine and applied some ointment for the pain.
"You going to see her again?"
"Who?" the redhead asked distractedly. She applied the ointment liberally, hating to see her younger friend in pain. Barbara patted a bandage in place then let the sweater slip down over the smooth expanse of skin.
"Nicole?" Barbara wiped her hands on her jeans then decided to make the most of Helena's cooperative mood. She put her hands on the younger woman's shoulders and began a gentle massage.
"Kin " Helena's voice caught and faltered at the touch. Her eyes fluttered closed. "Kincaid," she croaked, trying not to moan.
"Oh." Barbara's brain worked out what Helena was talking about. "I said I'd help her with Draco, so I guess so."
"You don't sound excited by the idea," Helena pointed out. A soft groan escaped her as Barbara found a tense knot in her right shoulder and began to work on it. She was damn good at this, Helena noted. Barbara's touch made her want to stretch out like a cat in the sun.
"Does that hurt?"
"Feels good," Helena admitted before she thought better of it.
A flicker of a smile crossed Barbara's features. "You're nothing but knots. You should see a massage therapist."
"You're cheaper," Helena teased. She frowned when she felt Barbara's hands move away. She glanced over her shoulder, worried she'd offended her friend. Barbara's touch abruptly returned, but this time it slipped under Helena's sweater to massage bare skin.
Breathing became something Helena had to consciously concern herself with. "Um "
Barbara felt the younger woman tense. "Relax. I'm just putting on some liniment."
The scent of wintergreen reached Helena, followed by the slow spread of heat through her abused muscles. She sighed it felt so good. Surrendering to the care, Helena leaned forward, granting Barbara all the access she wanted to her aching back. "Thanks," she murmured softly.
"What are friends for?" Barbara asked, enjoying the chance to take care of the younger woman for a change. Not that she ever wanted Helena to hurt, but she took pleasure in making her friend feel better when she did. Helena's skin was warm and soft beneath her fingertips, pliant under her ministrations. "See what you've been missing out on by turning me down every time you're hurt?"
Helena could hear the smile in Barbara's voice. "As often as that is, you'd tire of this pretty quickly."
The redhead frowned when she realized her friend was right. About the hurting part anyway. "I hate it when you get hurt," Barbara said softly. "I just wish " She sighed, knowing there was no point letting her mind walk down that tired, bitter path.
Helena pulled away from Barbara's touch so she could look at the older woman. "I can take care of myself," she replied gently.
Barbara laid her now idle hands in her lap. "I know that," she answered as she studied her fingernails intently. "It just feels sometimes like you have to fill the role I had to leave behind. A role you don't want." She looked up then, straight into a pair of stricken blue eyes. She shrugged and glanced away, uncomfortable with the turn in conversation.
"I do this because it needs to be done," Helena murmured.
"But not because you want to do it. Not like I did." Barbara risked looking at her again. Helena was so damn beautiful, a wild animal barely tamed. There was always an air of danger around Helena, an air of primal sensuality. Barbara sighed. "Helena, I don't want you to feel that this has to be your life's work. I don't want you to feel that you have to do this out of some obligation."
"To you?" the younger woman asked hoarsely. They'd had similar discussions in the past, but she'd always seen them coming, had always had her flip answers ready. But Barbara had caught her with her defenses down tonight. To her surprise, she was in no mood to put them up. "You think I do this because you took me in when no one else would? Or worse, do you think I feel sorry for you because you're in a wheelchair?"
Barbara blinked, startled faintly by Helena's frank questions. She bit her lip. "Do you?" she whispered, finally asking a question she'd always wanted to ask but had never spoken for fear of the answer.
Helena closed her eyes, unable to bear the uncertainty in her friend's features. "Babs," she choked out. "When have I ever done something I didn't want to do?" She slid to her feet and put some distance between them, walking away a few paces before finally turning and facing the redhead again. "I do this because I can, because I need to make a difference." Her gaze swept over Barbara's legs. "I do it in part because of you. But it's not because I feel sorry for you. I do it because I want to protect you. I want to keep you from getting hurt again."
"There is no guarantee that won't happen, Helena," Barbara answered honestly.
"But if I wasn't there to stop it I would never forgive myself."
"I don't want you to live your life in fear of that. I don't want you living this kind of life if there is something else you want. My fate is still my own, and I accept whatever will come. And if someone gets to me someday " Barbara broke off when Helena turned her back and walked toward the windows overlooking the balcony. "It won't be your fault," Barbara finished in a hushed voice. "But I know how you feel."
"I doubt that," Helena murmured as her breath fogged the glass. She felt the familiar ache in the center of her chest when she thought of Barbara, that nameless emotion that could sneak up on her and nearly squeeze her heart into arrest.
"Do you know what it would do to me if something happened to you, and I couldn't stop it because I'm in this damn chair?"
Helena turned to look at her. "I don't give a damn that you're in that chair." Her voice was rougher than she intended. "You take care of something far more important than my life, Barbara. Even if I died tomorrow, you'd still have that one thing safe."
The older woman frowned in confusion.
"You have my soul. And I know you would die yourself to save it." Helena swallowed hard when she met the wide, stunned green eyes with her own. The situation was too intense, brought too many frightening emotions to the surface. Jerking into motion, Helena grabbed her jacket off a nearby chair and slipped it on. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Helena, wait " Barbara managed, but her friend walked out onto the balcony and leapt out into the darkness.
Barbara took an unsteady breath. Twice tonight her younger friend had stunned her into stupefied silence. Her eyes dipped to her hands.
You have my soul
She closed her hands into fists. A sweet ache filled her chest and for just a moment she surrendered to it, letting it consume her completely. It was a feeling she never gave a name to, never looked at too closely.
Reluctantly, Barbara tamped the feeling back into the lonely little hole it lived in inside her as she put away the medical supplies and closed the kit. When everything was in its proper place, she glanced around the empty room once more before turning off the light and heading for bed
never seeing Helena crouched on the ledge across the street, watching her through her tears.
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