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
A cold mist coated her features, the chill drawing Nick up out of blackness and into fire and destruction. She gasped softly, wincing in pain at the weight of a locker pressing down on top of her. It had smashed into her during the explosion, knocking her through another door and into the unexpected shelter of a second classroom. With a determined push, she lifted it, feeling textbooks sliding around inside. A final heave sent it sideways, banging down onto the carpeted floor as she slowly got to her feet.
Above her, a portion of the roof was gone, letting either rain or spray from a fire hose drift down over her. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to get her bearings, trying to remember where she was and what she'd been doing. Taking a deep breath, she noted that the air smelled of smoke and chalk, and she coughed weakly as both tickled her lungs.
She should have been dead. Nick knew that much as she wrestled loose a vague memory of a ball of fire hurtling concrete and metal toward her. She'd sensed the impending explosion on some level and had tried to get out of the way, but the force had been too swift and too violent. She looked down at the locker she'd just tossed aside, realizing that it might very well have saved her life.
The sound of sirens and fire were muted but still distinct beneath the ringing in her ears. Nick shook her head, feeling small pieces of debris tumble off her shoulders as she stumbled toward what was left of the hallway. When she saw the damage, everything else came rushing back.
"Huntress!" she called out, nearly tripping over a chunk of concrete the size of a bowling ball. Nick wiped at her face, noting that her fingers came away covered in damp plaster and blood. "Huntress!" she shouted again, her own voice sounding like it was underwater.
There was no way the other woman could have survived but Nick kept searching anyway, compelled for some reason to find her if there was anything left to find.
Something metal winked at her in the low light, and Nick clambered toward it, crawling over another set of crushed lockers to retrieve it. It was a small bat, she realized, the one Huntress had been wearing around her neck.
One wing was coated with blood.
Her name slowly penetrated, and Barbara realized it was hardly the first time Dinah had said it. The teenager had pushed her away from the terminal and had a bruising grip on both her arms. Barbara shook her head, coming back to herself from the place her mind had fled to when she'd heard the explosion. She covered Dinah's hands with her own, feeling the younger woman steady at the contact.
"God no," she whispered, the truth of what she'd just heard settling over her.
Her gaze jerked to the Delphi and she stared in disbelief at Helena's vital signs. There was no proof of life, only flat lines on every indicator. "No," Barbara said again, an edge of anger tinting her voice this time. She shook her heard, unwilling to believe what all the evidence was telling her. If anyone could survive something like this it was Helena, and Barbara clung to that truth like a lifeline.
"Tell me what to do," Dinah begged. She'd been torn from her dreams moments before the explosion, rushing out of her room to warn Barbara a half second too late. The sound of the blast had reached her as she tumbled out onto the balcony, and the ensuing shriek from Helena's commlink going offline had been earsplitting.
"Go to the school," Barbara answered, her voice tight and strained. "My school " The bomb had been in her classroom. Helena had taken the blast meant for her. Hands shaking, Barbara abruptly slid back to the terminal, snapping out of her shock and evading the grief that wanted to reach up and drag her under. Helena needed her. She refused to accept any other scenario. Reaching up, she touched her earpiece. "Helena? Helena, can you hear me?"
Barbara glanced behind her when she heard Dinah grabbing her jacket. She started to call out a warning but she kept it to herself, needing Dinah's eyes and ears at the scene. For a moment, their gazes met in understanding, then the elevator doors closed between them and Dinah was gone.
"Helena," Barbara said again when she was alone. She paused, drawing in a hurting breath and swallowing in an effort to steady her voice. She'd always known something like this could happen, that she could lose the other woman on the other side of the link, but now that she was in that moment, Barbara couldn't accept it. Not Helena. Not now. Just the thought threatened to break her. "Don't you dare," she ordered the other woman. "Don't you dare leave me. Do you hear me?"
There was no response, only a thickening silence that threatened Barbara's sanity.
She couldn't breathe.
Something heavy was on top of her, pressing uncomfortably on her lungs. Struggling to think past the high-pitched ringing drilling through her head, Helena couldn't comprehend what her own senses were telling her. Her sight revealed debris above her, a familiar picture of Hemingway dangling torn and tattered a few inches from her face. She reached up awkwardly to push on it, hearing the paper crinkle as she realized by the texture that it was attached to a section of a wall. A concrete wall.
"What the hell," Helena mumbled. She couldn't remember anything about how she'd wound up in her current predicament, but she had a sneaking suspicion it would make a hell of a story.
Whatever had landed her in this mess, Helena knew she needed to get out of it. She started to move, barely shifting an inch, when she felt pain tear through her body. Gasping shallowly, Helena tried to coil in on herself but she was pinned. Weakly she flailed, trying in vain to move, trying to get away from the sudden fire that burned through every muscle and joint. She'd been hurt before, but nothing had ever hurt like this.
"Barbara " A plea for help, the name sounded like it was torn from her throat. Helena closed her eyes and groaned, an image of red hair and green eyes swimming behind her eyelids. "Barbara," she called out again, needing the comfort of the other woman's voice.
There was only the incessant ringing and the distant sound of sirens for an answer.
"Always hated school," Helena said through her teeth, grabbing the picture of Hemingway and ripping it off the wall. She figured Barbara would forgive her under the circumstances, and the attempt at humor had the strange effect of calming her nerves.
One hand dropped to her neck, her fingers searching in vain for the familiar bat symbol but only encountering cold, wet skin. Helena swallowed, tasting blood, ash, and plaster on the back of her tongue. Fear bloomed again when she realized she had no way to communicate. She was cut off. Buried alive. Adrenaline made her muddled mind sharpen, but the strength she'd always counted on to get her out of jams like this one had abandoned her.
"Barbara," she whispered a third time, desperate to hear Barbara's sure tones, terrified she would never hear her again. Barbara would know something had gone wrong. She would get help, Helena told herself.
Claustrophobia was creeping over her. She could hear her own gasps for breath, coming faster and shallower now. Helena pushed against the wall again, feeling something give if only slightly. Her hopes surged and she tried kicking out, hoping she would have better luck with her feet.
Blinding pain wrung a new cry from her, a low keening sound she'd never made before. Tears sprang to her eyes and Helena gasped hard, struggling for air as her body rebelled against the shrieking agony in her lower back. It ran like rivers of fire down her legs, and she nearly bit through her lip to hold back another scream as she tried to get away from the sensation, realizing with dawning horror that she couldn't.
Then the pain disappeared as abruptly as it had started, and Helena was left shaking in the dark, a cold sweat coating her whole body. Unconsciousness threatened, a mercy she fought against with everything she had. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. On some level, Helena knew if she yielded to that darkness without a fight, she would never see Barbara again.
Weakly, she lifted her head, managing to see her legs with her inhuman sight even in the dark. They were still there, she confirmed.
Even if she could no longer feel them.
Her head fell back against the carpet. She could feel herself bleeding out, a sticky heat pooling beneath her.
"Barbara " Helena murmured one last time, closing her eyes and remembering the other woman's healing touch on her body from the other night. She had always thought when the end came that she would have no regrets, but Helena found herself with one that brought fresh tears to her eyes.
She would have given anything to kiss Barbara goodbye.
Nick's hands were bleeding but she didn't care as she pawed at the concrete and metal she was certain was between her and Huntress. She glanced behind her, cursing New Gotham's slow first responders, wondering why in the hell no one had found them yet. She'd been digging for ten minutes, desperate to find the other woman if only to confirm what she already knew. There was no way Huntress could have survived, but she had to be sure. She had to see the body with her own eyes before she could walk away. Nick owed Barbara that much.
"To your left."
The sudden voice made Nick jump and she turned her head to see a blonde teenager appear through the gathering smoke at her side. For a moment, all she could do was stare, slowly comprehending that it was the skittish young girl she'd seen hours before in Barbara's classroom.
"She's to your left," Dinah insisted, climbing over the debris in an effort to get to Helena. This close, she could feel her now, and Dinah clawed at the concrete, feeling Helena slipping away from them. "She's still alive," she murmured, but she sounded scared and unsure.
Nick wondered what she should say to that delusion. She wiped at her jaw, holding the truth back a couple of moments more when she realized the teen wasn't talking to her. The same type of bat symbol Huntress had worn adorned the young girl's neck, and Nick realized Barbara had sent reinforcements. Dinah, she remembered from one breath to the next. She wasn't sure why she complied, but she did, shifting her focus to where Dinah indicated and starting to dig anew.
When they found Huntress a few minutes later, Nick's gaze jerked to Dinah's features, watching the horror and grief wash across them. She wanted to drag the teenager out of there, to keep her from seeing this, but Dinah moved closer rather than shying away. She knelt next to Huntress, her fingers drifting through the other woman's short, matted hair.
"Helena," Dinah whispered.
Nick eased in around her before gently laying her fingers against the injured woman's throat. She could smell the sharp tang of blood overpowering the scents of smoke and concrete. Closing her eyes, she lowered her head. She'd had to tell one too many families over the years that their loved ones hadn't made it off her table, but it never got any easier. Just as she started to speak the young girls name, to tell her she was sorry, life fluttered against her fingertips.
"Jesus," Nick hissed, the rest of the cobwebs in her mind clearing as her instincts took over. "She has a pulse," she announced in disbelief. "Move," she ordered Dinah, sliding into a better position to assess Helena's injuries.
Dinah complied, stumbling backward to give Nick room. "You can save her, right?"
Nick looked back, not sure how to answer that question. Had this been anyone else she would have thought it was impossible, but the woman at her feet was already defying the odds.
"Please," Dinah begged.
Wiping at her burning eyes, Nick focused back on Helena. She had been battered to hell in the explosion, her clothing ripped and torn. Blood oozed from numerous gashes and scrapes. Carefully, Nick felt Helena's torso, suspecting there had to be a fair amount of internal damage. Leaning closer, she could see the spreading pool of blood under the other woman. She spared a moment to wonder if she should move her when there was a loud bang from down the hall, something inside one of the other classrooms violently igniting.
They were out of time.
Nick reached down and ran her hand under the unconscious woman, feeling something sharp clip her fingers as she got to Helena's lower back. She paused, swallowing hard when she got a good feel for how deep the object was wedged inside her patient. Helplessly she looked back at Dinah.
"What?" The teenager demanded, clearly sensing the doctor had found something alarming.
"There's damage," Nick said, trying to keep her tone clinical. "Her spine. If I move her "
Dinah stared at Helena for a long moment. "Barbara " she said softly. "What do we ?"
Nick watched as the young girl listened. Slowly, Dinah nodded her head, moving forward hesitantly. She looked intent and focused, but there was still fear and uncertainty in her eyes.
"We have to go. The police can't find her here," Dinah explained.
"She needs a hospital," Nick argued, her blue eyes staring at the bat symbol as if she could see Barbara Gordon through it. "She'll die without treatment."
"She would rather die than be a lab rat," Dinah promised her, even if the thought brought tears to her eyes. "She's different. They won't understand."
"Dinah " Nick tried to keep her tone calm.
"You'll have to do it," Dinah announced, her eyes piercing as they stared at her. She reached out suddenly, grabbing Nick's wrist with a strength that surprised the older woman. She closed her eyes, willing her gift to work, to see what outcome awaited Helena before the coming dawn.
When her eyes opened again, the fear and uncertainty in them was gone, replaced by a steely determination. "You'll do it," the teen said again. "You can save her."
Barbara kept hearing those two words over and over. Had she been able to pace, she knew she would have, her thoughts too chaotic for her to sit still, but she had little choice. With sudden violence, Barbara slammed her fists against the armrests of her chair, the device suddenly feeling like a prison rather than her freedom.
It wasn't going to happen, Barbara told herself. Helena was going to live, and she was going to be soaring over the rooftops again in short order. Nothing less was acceptable.
Barbara watched the elevator doors, trying to prepare herself for what she'd see when Dinah arrived with Helena and the doctor in tow. She'd built a medical bay in their new clock tower, but even though it was stocked with all the essentials, Barbara had never imagined they would actually need it. Not for something like this.
The doors suddenly opened and Barbara felt her breath catch as she saw the doctor. Nick almost looked like a ghost, her face and hair wet and smeared with plaster. Only the thin, angry lines of red that marred one cheek and her temple made her look human. Rolling forward, Barbara barked out an order, sending Nick to her left toward the medical bay. In her arms was Helena, hanging heavy and lifeless. The sight almost destroyed Barbara's composure, but she held it together when she caught sight of Dinah stepping off the elevator behind the doctor. The teen looked rattled, her clothes stained with blood, but she moved with a determined stride as she followed Nick toward the medical bay.
Barbara felt her stomach heave at the stench of blood, but she battled it down, determined not to be weak when Helena needed her at her best. She followed the doctor into the bay, watching as she laid Helena face down on the bed. That's when the light reflected off the jagged piece of metal protruding from Helena's back. Barbara swallowed hard, knowing exactly where it was lodged and what an injury like that could do to a person.
The bullet wound she'd suffered long ago seemed to spasm in empathy.
"Barbara," Nick murmured. "This is crazy. I could have a head injury. I'm filthy. She needs "
"She needs you," Barbara countered before the other woman could finish. She felt Dinah drift closer, coming to stand in silent support behind her chair. "Dinah is right. She's meta. She goes into a hospital and she'll never come out of one."
"At least she'll be alive," Nick fired back, frustrated that no one was taking her seriously.
"That's not living. Not for her." Barbara moved closer, taking in the gashes on Helena's face and arms. She reached out, finding the younger woman's hand and holding it. Helena's fingers felt too cold, and Barbara instinctively brought them to her lips, kissing them gently in an effort to warm them. She looked up at Nick. "Just do your best. That's all I can ask."
"The injury to her spine " Nick began, finally resigning herself to having to perform surgery under less than ideal circumstances.
"I'm the last person you need to explain a spinal injury to." Barbara's voice was calm and her eyes were clear when she met Nick's gaze again. "Just do your best," she repeated, her attention drawn back to the woman before her. "Helena will do the rest."
Nick shook her head, deciding that all three of these women were crazy. She started to turn toward the sink, to at least wash her hands, when Helena let out a small sound of pain. Nick froze, having never truly expected the woman to regain consciousness.
"Hel?" Barbara called, inching closer and feeling Dinah's hands come down on her shoulders. "Hel? Can you hear me?"
Nick watched, stunned, as Helena's eyes slowly opened and stared at the woman next to her. Helena even managed the tiniest of smiles.
"Gonna get to baby me now," Helena teased, but her voice was weak and strained. She was clearly in pain and trying desperately not to show it.
"Damn right," Barbara whispered back, not fooled for a moment but smiling back to keep up the pretense that everything was going to be okay. She let her free hand reach up to drift through Helena's hair in an effort to comfort them both.
"It's bad isn't it?" Helena asked as Nick busied herself at the sink, stripping off her ruined clothes and putting on a pair of scrubs.
Barbara swallowed, feeling Dinah's hands tighten on her shoulders. "Yeah. It's bad."
"Barbara " Helena closed her eyes, willing herself through sheer stubborn will to stay awake. "I can't feel " She took a shallow breath before meeting Barbara's gaze again, grateful that she'd been given the chance to look into those eyes one more time.
"I know," Barbara cut her off gently, her voice wavering.
"Think you can make me a set of matching wheels?" Helena joked weakly.
Barbara bit her lip, everything in her rebelling at the idea. "You won't need them," she promised.
Damp and smelling of soap, Nick came closer, kneeling next to Barbara so she could meet Helena's eyes. There was fear in them, but she was watching Barbara with so much love and trust Nick almost felt like an intruder.
"There's a lot of damage," Nick explained to her, marveling that she was even able to talk to a patient in Helena's condition.
"Just put a band-aid on it, Doc." Helena squeezed Barbara's hand as her eyes began to drift closed. "I'll do the rest."
Nick glanced at Barbara, but the redhead's eyes were only for her patient. She moved back a step as Barbara closed the few remaining inches, giving them a moment to say goodbye.
"Helena?" Barbara beckoned, trying not to panic when it took her friend a long time to open her eyes. "I love you," she told her, needing to say the three words they both rarely spoke. Leaning forward, she let her lips brush Helena's cheek, the idea that this could be their last moments together hitting her so hard she could barely breathe.
"Love you too," Helena slurred, surprising Barbara as her gaze briefly flicked to Dinah so the teen knew she was included. "Gotta go," she murmured, her eyelids fluttering.
"So long as you come back," Barbara told her, breathing in blood, leather, and the familiar spicy scent of Helena's skin. "Just come back to me," she pleaded, the first hint of begging entering her voice.
"Always," Helena said with a smile before she slipped into unconsciousness once more.
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