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
"So you really are a teacher."
The mid-afternoon sun poured through the windows lining one wall of Barbara's English class. Dust motes floated lazily in the warmth, caught and held by musty air thick with chalk dust. The redhead looked up from the papers she'd been grading. Nicole Kincaid stood in her doorway, her long tapered hands tucked into the pockets of her faded jeans. She wore a figure-hugging brown sweater and brown leather jacket, her blonde hair now dry and hanging in loose curls.
Barbara felt the same twitch of attraction deep in her belly that she had last night. She tried to brush it off by tunneling her hands through her hair. "Dr. Kincaid. This is a nice surprise."
"Just Kincaid. Or Nick," the surgeon offered before pushing off the wall and wandering into the classroom. Her blue eyes skimmed over the literary posters and a smile tugged at her lips. "I never did get into Shakespeare." She brushed a smudge of chalk dust off the nearest portrait.
Barbara licked her lips and smiled. "Obviously. That's Hemingway."
"Right." Nick swung to look at her then shrugged. "Told ya."
Barbara snorted. "I guess you're more a math and science kind of girl."
"Bet you hate both," Nick guessed.
"Actually, I love both. I dabble in them from time to time. You know, balancing the checkbook. Identifying some evolved object in a Tupperware container in the fridge "
Nick's smile widened and Barbara felt her heart trip in reaction.
"Why do I get the feeling that's not entirely true?"
The redhead shrugged. "I can't imagine." She set her pen down and leaned back, welcoming the distraction. Her thoughts had been scattered and as much as the papers had needed grading, Barbara was finding it impossible to focus on them instead of her worried thoughts of Helena. "So what can I do for you?"
Nick crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. "Draco bothered you today?"
"No. I don't expect he will, either." Barbara watched her. "I was going to call you tonight. To see if you wanted to finish our conversation."
"Is dinner involved?"
Barbara hesitated. "Sure. If you want it to be," she said slowly, wondering if she should reschedule in the event Helena might want to talk about the heavy conversation they'd shared last night. Barbara discarded the idea as soon as she thought of it. As brave as Helena was at taking on people twice her size in a fight, her friend was a complete coward when it came to handling her own feelings. Chances were excellent Helena wouldn't show for anything but her sweep, and she would do that by checking in via comm-link.
"Why not? Girl has to eat." Nick glanced around the room again before letting her eyes rest on Barbara. "I have to admit, I'm curious about you."
Barbara tried to pretend like her ego didn't inflate slightly at the comment. "Why?"
"You threaten bad guys by night, teach high school English by day." Nick came closer and crouched next to Barbara's wheelchair, running her fingers over some of the components. "And I've never seen a chair like this. You moved away from the table last night just by thinking about it. Didn't you?"
Green eyes gazed down into blue. "You think I'm psychic or something?" Barbara teased playfully, ignoring the curiosity she could see in Kincaid's expressive eyes.
"Or something," Nick answered with a crooked smile.
"Hey, Barbara. Let's bolt. I've had enough of Oh, sorry." Dinah pulled up short as she rounded the corner to find the woman in her visions from the night before kneeling on the floor next to Barbara. "I uh "
Nick stood. "Is this your daughter?"
Barbara's eyebrows elevated at the question. Sometimes she felt like she played mother hen to Dinah and Helena but she was rarely accused of the genetic equivalent. "I'm her legal guardian."
"Dinah," the blonde supplied but made no move toward the other woman. The last thing she wanted was a repeat performance of last night. She gave the newcomer the once over, admitting to herself that Kincaid was attractive. She even picked up on a subtle vibe that the doctor might feel the same way about Barbara.
"Hi, Dinah, I'm Nick." She didn't make a move to approach the girl, sensing Dinah didn't want to be touched.
"Nice to meet you," Dinah said weakly. An odd feeling of betrayal manifested in the middle of her chest along with a fierce urge to protect the one woman missing from this moment. "You talk to Helena today?" she blurted at Barbara.
Barbara blinked. "No. Why?"
"No reason. Just asking." Dinah looked from one woman to the other. She didn't think she could hang around and watch them flirt. "Actually, do you mind if I head to the library for a few hours? I need to get some study time in."
"I thought you wanted to bolt," Barbara replied. She sensed something going on with her young charge but damned if she knew what it was.
"Nah. I'll just catch up on my trig. I'll ride the subway home."
"Are you sure?" Barbara asked, not really liking the idea.
"Yeah." Dinah's gaze darted to Kincaid and away again. "See you guys around." Spinning on her heel, she rounded the corner and all but fled.
Barbara suspected the reason for Dinah's departure and her face heated slightly. She scratched the bridge of her nose, hoping to hide her blush.
"High strung little thing," Nick drawled with a hint of a smile.
"Teenagers," Barbara muttered as if that explained everything with a shake of her head. "Well, it looks like I'm free now if you'd like to get a head start on the dinner rush."
"Barbara?" Helena cleared her throat as her voice nearly cracked under the weight of her nerves. She frowned as she stepped off the elevator and looked around. The clock tower was eerily silent save for the low level hum of the computer equipment. There was none of Dinah's music pumping out of her room. No familiar whirl of servos as Barbara moved about in her chair. No patter of keystrokes as her friend tracked down the latest criminal she set her sights on.
The brunette nearly leapt out of her skin. Glancing to her right, she spied Alfred emerging from the kitchen. She wondered if he'd ever been a superhero before becoming a butler. He sure has hell had the stealth skills for it. "Alfred."
"I didn't mean to startle you," he stated calmly but there was a little smirk on his lips that did not go unnoticed.
"No big deal," she muttered as she came down the steps. "Where is everybody?" Glancing at her watch, Helena frowned again. It was almost seven. The sun was now nothing more than a sliver of red on the horizon, no longer bright enough to bathe the tower in even the faintest glow.
"Miss Dinah will be home momentarily. She is picking up pizza."
"Oh. Sweet." The idea of pizza sounded pretty appealing actually. "Where's Barbara?" Helena asked as she laced her fingers together to keep them from fidgeting. It had taken damn near everything she had to make herself come to the clock tower tonight, but something felt like it had shifted between her and Barbara the night before, something fundamental. Helena had been compelled to return, if only to see the green eyes she couldn't seem to get out of her head lately.
"Ms. Barbara is having dinner with someone. She said she'd be in by eight."
Helena's full attention diverted from the setting sun onto Alfred. "Who is she having dinner with?"
"I did not ask and she did not say."
"I thought she wanted to do a sweep tonight," Helena muttered, feeling jilted. Not that Barbara had any reason to suspect she'd show in person tonight. Her track record was a little weak in that regard. Helena suspected whom Barbara was having dinner with and she was just as suspicious that Alfred was lying about it.
"Ms. Barbara didn't expect you tonight," Alfred told her without preamble.
"Course not. I pour my heart out once in a blue moon then avoid people until the next one," Helena groused, more frustrated with herself than Barbara.
"You poured your heart out to Ms. Barbara?" Alfred inquired innocently.
Helena narrowed her eyes at him. "Once in a blue moon, Alfred," she reminded him. "And you missed the event last night."
"Shame," he said blithely.
Helena sighed, her gaze drawn to the empty Delphi terminal. "So Barbara gets to have a social life while I sit on my tail around here?" She tried to come off like she was joking but she felt her effort fall flat.
"Ms. Barbara so rarely goes out, Ms. Helena. I would think you would be pleased." The butler's voice easily carried a stern note of disapproval, but there was an underlying tone of understanding.
Helena winced. So he was right. It still didn't mean she had to like it. "Whatever," she answered lamely then rolled her eyes at how pathetically childish she sounded as she turned away from him.
The elevator doors opened and Dinah stepped out, balancing two pizza boxes, her book bag, and a six-pack of soda. Fearing for the life of her dinner, Helena bounded up the steps and intercepted the boxes and cans before they hit the floor.
Dinah glanced up, startled to see Helena seemingly materializing in front of her. "Oh. Hey."
"Hey, yourself." Helena sniffed the boxes. "These have olives on them?"
"One of them does. I learned my lesson the last time."
Helena grinned, feeling her mood lightening a little.
Dinah glanced around. Noting Alfred, she gave him a wide grin. "Hi, Alfred."
"Miss Dinah." He bowed his head in her direction.
"You staying for pizza?"
"I would be delighted."
"Cool." The teenager followed Helena back down the steps and they all wandered into the kitchen. "So Barbara isn't home, yet?"
"She plans to be home by eight." Alfred went to a cupboard and pulled down three plates.
"Eight? Jeez, they've been together since four."
Helena had decided to start without waiting on something as trivial as plates or napkins. Her first slice paused halfway between her mouth and the table. "Who is she with?" The busted expression on Dinah's face told the brunette all she needed to know. Her appetite fading, she still forced herself to take a bite, burning the roof of her mouth in the process.
"Dr. Kincaid stopped by," Dinah answered in a subdued voice. "They went to get a bite to eat."
"Three hours ago," Helena muttered as she chewed mechanically.
"How did she seem?" Alfred asked as he methodically cut up his cheese and pepperoni.
"Who, Barbara?" Dinah asked, confused.
"Dr. Kincaid. Ms. Barbara seems to like her but she did not elaborate."
Helena cocked her head at the butler. "I thought you didn't know who she was with?" she accused.
Alfred inserted a perfect square of pizza into his mouth and chewed silently.
"She seemed nice," Dinah answered simply.
"Nice?" Both Helena and Alfred intoned in nearly the same inflection. They exchanged looks.
"Nice," Dinah replied before stuffing another bite of pizza in her mouth, determined not to add anything more on the subject.
The elevator doors opened and they all turned their attention toward the sound. Barbara wheeled out. Alone, Helena gratefully noticed. The redhead gave them all a wide smile.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Barbara said as she pulled up next to the table.
Helena tried not to frown. She hadn't seen Barbara wearing a smile like that since Wade asked her out the first time. Her stomach soured and she swallowed before setting her slice of pizza down.
"Actually I just got here with dinner," Dinah chimed in before sipping from her soda.
"Great. I'm going to go change. I'll be back in a few minutes. You up for a sweep tonight?" Green eyes cut to Helena and studied her intently.
The brunette paused, caught in that green regard. "Sure," Helena said when she remembered how to speak. Her eyes tracked Barbara's progress until her friend disappeared around the corner. She itched to follow. To ask the bevy of questions crowding onto her tongue
"Looks like Ms. Barbara has found a new friend," Alfred commented casually before forking a piece of pepperoni into his mouth.
Jealousy, cold and tight, settled in the center of Helena's belly. She knew what she was feeling and she was mad at herself for feeling it. With a disgusted sigh, she shoved her plate away. Her gaze met Dinah's and she gave her a wry, lopsided smile. "I'll be out on the balcony."
Dinah watched her go. When the doors had closed behind her she glanced at the doorway to Barbara's room.
"Don't get involved," Alfred advised.
Dinah gave him a sharp look. "Don't get involved in what?"
"Between what's going on between Ms. Helena and Ms. Barbara."
Dinah's eyes widened in surprise. "You know?"
The butler gave her a coy smile. "They have to figure things out for themselves."
"Is there something to figure out?" Dinah asked. "I mean Helena telegraphs her feelings like an air raid siren. I don't have to be psychic to hear them "
"But Ms. Barbara reveals nothing."
"Exactly," Dinah agreed, impressed with his observation skills and pleased to have an ally in all this. "Sometimes I think that maybe "
"She reciprocates Ms. Helena's feelings?"
"Alfred," Dinah lowered her voice. "Something is happening with this Kincaid person. I'm worried Helena is going to get hurt."
"Or maybe this will be the final push she needs to face her feelings."
"Maybe," Dinah allowed, but she still had a very bad feeling about the way things seemed to be developing between Barbara and Kincaid.
"Have you seen something to tell you otherwise?" Alfred asked before sipping primly from the straw in his soda.
Dinah shook her head. "No. Something has been gnawing at me the past week, though. I can't put my finger on it." She nibbled a piece of mozzarella off her thumb.
The teenager shrugged. "Have you ever had a funny feeling that something bad was going to happen?"
Alfred watched her with a worried frown. When Dinah got one of her "feelings" there was usually something to be concerned about. "Have you spoken with Ms. Barbara?"
"No," Dinah said again. "I'm not sure what to tell her."
"Do you believe this bad feeling you are having pertains to Dr. Kincaid?"
Dinah looked up at him, their dinner momentarily forgotten. She could hear Barbara moving around in her room and knew her mentor would be joining them soon. Her eyes cut to Helena who was sitting on the edge of the balcony. "I don't know," she finally replied. "I keep having these dreams. I had them before Barbara even met Kincaid. They don't make sense. They're mostly just shadows and emotions."
"But they frighten you," Alfred observed when she met his gaze again.
"Yeah," she said softly. "I feel like I'm going to lose something. Something important."
"Did you save me a piece?" Barbara rolled into the room. She'd changed into jeans and a navy blue hoodie.
"I thought you were having dinner with Dr. Kincaid?" Dinah asked, grateful for the distraction.
"That was hours ago. Then we went for a walk down by the park. Chatted a little." Barbara picked up a piece of Helena's favorite pizza and took a healthy bite. "It's cold out there. I worked up an appetite, I guess." She looked around, wondering where Helena had wandered off. She'd changed quickly, afraid Helena would leave before she had the chance to talk to her. Barbara had been pleasantly surprised to see her when she'd arrived, feeling some tension in her body unwind at the sight of her familiar features. She caught sight of the woman in question out on the balcony. "What is she doing out there?"
"Brooding, I suspect," Alfred murmured with a hint of playfulness to his voice. "This is Ms. Helena we're talking about."
Barbara gave Alfred an amused look but then her gaze returned to Helena's lonely figure. Something about the sight clutched her heart and squeezed.
"So what did you talk about?"
"Hmm?" Barbara glanced back at Dinah before taking another bite of her pizza, her gaze drawn back to Helena automatically.
"You and the doctor. What did you talk about?" Dinah asked.
Barbara felt a slight blush rise to her cheeks when she realized why Dinah was asking. The girl had picked up on her attraction and now assumed that Barbara was interested in pursuing the doctor. "Just stuff. Nothing major."
"Dinah." There was no mistaking the hint of warning in Barbara's tone.
"Just asking. She's really pretty."
"I don't know if she's married or not. It didn't come up." Barbara grabbed a soda then moved away from the table no longer comfortable with the direction the conversation was taking. She wheeled over to the Delphi terminal, set her soda down, and booted up the system.
"So what's on tap tonight?"
The sudden husky voice next to Barbara's right ear made her jump. She turned her head and came face to face with a smirking Helena. The brunette winked before sauntering back toward the kitchen table and finishing her slice of pizza. Barbara shook her head, amazed as always how stealthy the younger woman could be.
Dinah noted that Helena had regained some of her composure as Helena sipped her soda. The teenager gave Alfred a look, which he answered with a dignified shrug.
Helena finally returned to Barbara before leaning over her, resting both her hands on the armrests of the redhead's chair. "So," she drawled. "Where do you want me?"
Barbara tipped her head back. She was picking up on something odd with Helena's mood but couldn't puzzle out what it was. "Looks like there's a lot of activity tonight." Her gaze skimmed the angles of Helena's face at close range. "Where do you want to be?"
Helena ducked her head and looked down into her friend's upturned features. She couldn't help it. She smiled at that beautiful face looking up at her with such open trust. With a sigh, she tore her gaze away and focused it on the screen. "Looks like a robbery in progress three blocks from here. Might as well start with that." Reaching up, Helena activated the communications link on her necklace.
"Be careful," Barbara told her as the brunette moved toward the balcony.
"Aren't I always?" Helena called back playfully over her shoulder before diving off the balcony and into the shadows below.
"No," Barbara murmured. "I wish you were, though."
"I've got studying to do," Dinah said as she gathered a few pieces of pizza on her plate. She hefted her backpack and gave Alfred a smile. "See you, Alfred."
He nodded once, his gaze promising her they would speak more later.
"Call me if you need anything," Dinah shouted down to Barbara as she took the steps up to her room two at a time.
Alfred came around the table and walked over to Barbara. He stared at the tracking dot that represented Helena's moving figure. "She certainly travels quickly," he commented.
Barbara smiled. "Practically flies," she agreed with an edge of pride in her voice.
"So is she?"
Barbara frowned, not sure of the question. "What?"
"Dr. Kincaid. Is she as pretty as Dinah says?"
The blush was back. Barbara looked away and put the communications signal on mute so Helena wouldn't hear the conversation. "Why are you asking?"
Barbara narrowed her eyes at him. "Alfred "
"I like men."
He smiled knowingly. "If you say so, Ms. Barbara." He walked away and began to pick up after their meal. He could feel Barbara Gordon's eyes on his back, though. Almost as much as he could sense her confusion.
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