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 had never looked so pale.
Her normal healthy tan was missing, her pallor ashy and marred by scrapes and scratches. Barbara gazed upon her with a mixture of relief and lingering horror, rolling up to Helena's bedside so she could touch her, confirm for herself that Helena was still there. Monitors kept track of all of the unconscious woman's vital signs, and Barbara took some comfort in the steady and strong readings they were reporting.
"I've never seen anything like it."
Barbara turned her head and looked back at the doctor, wincing a little at how tired Nick appeared. She had showered and changed, Dinah having gone to fetch the other woman's things from the hotel hours ago. The surgery had taken the rest of the night, all of the morning, and well into the afternoon, now the sun was setting, casting slanted rays of red and gold in through the door and across Helena's bed. "You should get some sleep."
Nick nodded but she came closer to Helena's bed. Barbara had prepared the spare room for her, and Nick had to admit the accommodations were nicer than her five star hotel. "I'm about to," she admitted, staring down at Barbara with painfully bloodshot eyes. "Just wanted to check on her one last time." She sighed. "Your friend should be dead, Barbara. No human being should have survived those injuries."
Swallowing, Barbara switched her focus back onto the woman before her. Helena smelled like her favorite soap and shampoo, the scents made all the more appealing mingled with the familiar scent of the younger woman's skin. Barbara had cleaned her up as best as she was able after the surgery, her hands shaking as she'd avoided too many stitched wounds to count. Reaching up, Barbara let her fingers gently drift through Helena's still damp and disheveled hair. The strands felt like silk against her skin. "I know," she finally answered softly. She hoped Nick didn't hear the faint quiver in her voice.
"You and the kid both called her meta. What is that?"
"I'll tell you all about it later. It's too long of a topic to discuss when you're about to drop at my feet."
Nick's jaw bunched under the skin of her cheek. "The kid said I was just like her. Just like Helena."
Barbara drew in a slow breath, having forgotten all about it in the chaos that had come after. "There are ways to test that," she admitted haltingly. "If you want me to."
"I want to know what it is. You really think I'm going to sleep easy with that on my mind?"
Reluctantly turning her chair toward the doctor, Barbara leaned back and looked up at her steadily. "It's not an insult, Nick. It's a gift. Metas are the next step in the evolutionary chain. They have what would look like powers to the uneducated."
"Powers?" Nick said weakly. "What kinds of powers?"
"They often tend to be considerably stronger, faster. Dinah can sense things see things "
"Psychic?" Nick asked in disbelief.
Barbara shrugged. "As good a term as any." She held Nick's gaze. "You saw it yourself. She knew where Helena was buried. That she was still alive. That you could save her." Her voice softened toward the end and she knew gratitude was shining in her eyes when Nick looked away uncomfortably.
Nick snorted at the very idea. "Barbara "
"May heal faster than your average human," Barbara added knowingly. "Look at her, Nick," she urged, dipping her head toward Helena. "You remember the gashes on her face when you brought her in. Look at them now."
Nick did as she was told, shifting her attention off Barbara's green eyes to gaze down on her patient with open curiosity. She frowned when she realized all the cuts had closed and were clearly healing at a rapid rate. She shook her head. "It's not possible."
"You're seeing the evidence yourself. Something tells me you heal faster as well. Probably a fact that's always bothered you something you've hidden from everyone who knows you."
"It's not possible I'm meta " Nick clarified. "Wouldn't I know?"
"I think you already do," Barbara said gently. "I'm guessing given your relatively young age and your very esteemed status in the medical community that you learn at a voracious rate. You've already displayed impressive reflexes and strength in your fight with Helena, and I imagine that you're more than aware of your abilities when it comes to protecting yourself."
Nick watched her, saying nothing.
"You could have skills you don't even know about."
"Like what?" Nick asked uneasily.
"Some metas have the ability to freeze things with their touch. Black Canary had a sonic scream "
"A sonic scream?" Nick asked with a shaky laugh. She shook her head, starting to wonder if Barbara wasn't yanking her chain.
"Don't knock it. It was damn impressive," Barbara admitted, a fond smile of remembrance on her features. "It's nothing to be afraid of, Nick."
"You're telling me I might be a freak," the doctor argued. She went still when Barbara's eyes glittered with anger.
"Helena isn't a freak," the redhead snarled protectively. "And neither is Dinah. They're both more than most of us I won't have you thinking less of them or yourself."
"And what about you?" Nick asked wearily. She jerked a hand at the clock tower just beyond the open bedroom door. "You're clearly brilliant "
Barbara shook her head. "I'm just a boring old human." She looked down at Helena again, feeling her heart clench at how still she was. "We may have suffered similar injuries, but our fates will be different. Being meta is going to save her."
Nick wasn't so sure. "What the hell are you doing, Barbara?" she asked abruptly. "You're a schoolteacher fighting crime with what? Superheroes?"
Barbara shrugged, ignoring the doctor's snide tone. "I was one of them once. Even after everything, I'd do it again given the chance." She carefully scooped up Helena's hand and threaded their fingers together. "Someone has to fight back against men like Draco," Barbara told her.
"And how many more of you have to wind up dead or in a wheelchair before you let the cops handle it?"
"Like you were going to let the police handle your sister's death?" Barbara fired back. She shook her head. "And Helena is not going to share my fate." She gripped one of the armrests with her free hand. "She is not going to be confined to one of these. You'll see."
Nick put her hand on the back of Barbara's chair. "She's not out of the woods yet," she insisted. "The spinal injury "
"She'll be fine," Barbara promised her, her voice full of so much conviction Nick almost believed her.
They stared at each other for a tense moment before Nick finally looked away. "I'd tell you to get some sleep, but something tells me you aren't going to leave her side."
Barbara sighed, acknowledging the truth of that. "I need to be here."
Nodding, Nick turned to go, pausing at the door and putting her hand on the frame before casting one last look at Barbara. "Maybe " she began, licking her lips nervously before continuing, "maybe you can perform those tests later?"
Offering an encouraging smile, Barbara nodded. "I'd be happy to."
Barbara listened to the fading sounds of Nick's footsteps. A door closed gently, and suddenly the clock tower was quiet. Too quiet.
Edging closer still, Barbara leaned forward and put her forehead against the edge of the bed. She took a deep, shaky breath, as unwanted tears sprang to her eyes and a muffled sob escaped. Then the damn broke and all the fear and terror she'd felt at the thought of losing Helena came rushing back. Finally left alone with her emotions, there was no choice but to let them all out, and Barbara quietly cried herself to sleep at Helena's side.
Slipping from her room early the next morning, Dinah felt her heart leap in fright when she spied a long shadow moving across the balcony of the clock tower. She looked around for something to defend herself with, finally spying a small, metal sculpture on an end table. Grabbing it, she inched closer, watching as the shadow changed direction and headed for the doors. She flattened against the wall and braced herself, hefting her makeshift weapon high.
Swinging down with all her strength as the mystery figured walked by, Dinah felt her hand grabbed and her body twisted as she was jerked negligently around. The sculpture was torn from her hand as she lost her balance, stumbling and falling down in Barbara's chair at the Delphi.
"Good morning to you, too, Miss Dinah," Alfred greeted nonchalantly. He straightened his tie, the only outward sign he'd been rumpled by their encounter.
"Alfred!" Dinah scowled. "You scared the hell out of me!"
"Clearly," the butler murmured before setting the sculpture back on a shelf. "I was just pruning the plants."
Dinah shook her head and got to her feet, glancing at the door to Helena's room.
"Still sleeping," Alfred informed her. "Both of them."
"Both?" Dinah asked, her curiosity kicking into overdrive.
"Go see for yourself." Alfred turned toward the kitchen. "Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes. You might want to wake Miss Barbara and her guest."
Dinah watched him go, feeling surly about her scare and Alfred's easy defeat of her so-called defense of the tower. Rolling her eyes but feeling slightly mollified by the scent of pancakes and bacon, Dinah walked up the ramp toward Helena's room. She peered inside cautiously, her breath catching in her chest when she saw what was waiting for her.
Clear blue eyes lost their glare when Helena saw her, softening a fraction as her lips lifted in a half smile. Barbara was beside her bed, her head resting on her elbows where she lay next to Helena's pillow. Helena was taking advantage of the situation, her arm draped over Barbara's shoulders as her fingers drifted lazily through brilliant red hair. The sun peered in through the blinds, bathing them both in golden tones.
"Hey," Helena greeted casually, but her voice sounded weak and rough. "Do I smell bacon?"
Dinah stifled a laugh, pure joy and dizzying relief washing through her. "Don't you ever scare us like that again," she whispered.
"Wasn't trying," Helena admitted in hushed tones. "Thanks for getting me out of there."
Dinah drifted closer, eyeing Barbara with concern. "She's going to regret that when she straightens up."
Helena turned her head, her gaze sweeping over Barbara's features. "Her back will. She won't," she said softly.
Admitting that was probably true, Dinah couldn't help but stare, enchanted by the love in Helena's eyes as she watched Barbara sleep. "Think you could eat?" she asked reluctantly, hating to interrupt the moment.
"Yeah," Helena said. "Starving, actually."
"Just this once, I'll actually bring you breakfast in bed."
Something flickered across Helena's features, and Dinah felt an unexpected flash of fear from the other woman. Unconsciously, Dinah's gaze jerked to Helena's legs where they rested under the blankets.
"Can't feel 'em," Helena admitted. "So yeah breakfast in bed would be good."
"Helena," Dinah began but her friend shook her head.
"One thing to worry about at a time, kid," Helena told her, but Dinah suspected Helena was trying to convince herself as well.
"Stomach first?" Dinah offered, keeping her tone intentionally light.
Helena managed a smile. "Stomach first."
"Eggs, pancakes, and bacon coming right up."
"Don't forget the coffee," Helena called after her a little too loudly, feeling Barbara stir in reaction.
"Sonofa " Barbara muttered when she started to straighten, her muscles cramping painfully.
"You could have just crawled up here," Helena teased, liking the idea of sleeping next to the redhead. She'd never been much of a snuggler, but she suspected she would be with Barbara Gordon in her bed.
Inhaling in surprise, Barbara lifted her head and found Helena's eyes waiting for her at close range.
"Morning, Babs," Helena greeted with as much cheeky energy as she could muster.
"Helena," Barbara whispered with the beginnings of a smile. Her back complained bitterly and her eyes burned from crying, but her physical discomfort drifted into the background as she got lost in the other woman's eyes.
"You look like shit," Helena told her bluntly, earning herself a relieved chuckle from the older woman.
"Trust me, you look worse." Barbara shook her head in disbelief at Helena's ability to heal, thanking God that Draco hadn't taken this woman from her life.
Helena bravely reached out and let her fingertips ghost over Barbara's features. "Thought I was never going to see you again," she admitted. "Guess the doc knows her stuff."
Barbara swallowed, startled by her body's intense reaction to Helena's touch. She could feel her skin warming and she cleared her throat self-consciously. "I wasn't worried," she replied drolly.
One dark, elegant eyebrow lifted in disbelief.
"Much," Barbara amended with a smile. "Told you not to go in there."
"I wondered how long it was going to take you to say 'I told you so.' You held out longer than I would have suspected."
"I live to surprise you," Barbara teased back. Her breath caught unexpectedly when she thought about how close she'd come to losing this, this warm, welcome banter between them. Tears stung her eyes and she had to drop her head, embarrassed that Helena would see. The younger woman's thumb swiped softly over her cheek, wiping the one traitorous tear that managed to escape.
"I knew you'd find a way to save me," Helena murmured, touched by the emotion Barbara was trying to hide. "Not so thrilled you used little miss 'sky blue eyes' but I'll get over it."
Barbara leaned back, wiping at her eyes as she shook her head. "And here we go "
"She is hot," Helena continued, needling the other woman playfully. She watched a blush bloom on Barbara's cheeks and was charmed at the sight. "Hell of a right hook, too."
Wearing a stern expression that Helena wasn't buying for a second, Barbara warned her off the topic. "Enough of that."
"What?" Helena asked innocently. "I told you if you needed tips on how to get a rush with a woman I was here for you." Helena smiled but she hoped Barbara wouldn't take her up on the offer where the doctor was concerned.
They stared at each other for a long moment, both their smiles slowly falling away.
"Okay," Barbara said carefully. "We've joked and we've teased now you need to tell me how you're feeling. Truthfully, Helena."
Helena thought about lying, but she couldn't, not when those earnest green eyes were still so close. She swallowed, trying to keep a handle on her fears. "I can't " Licking her lips, she tried again. "I can't feel "
"Your legs," Barbara breathed. She felt sick as Helena nodded jerkily, a vulnerability she'd never seen before entering her friend's eyes. "There was a piece of metal it lodged in your spine," Barbara informed her. "It severed some nerves."
Taking an unsteady breath, Helena watched her. "It's bad, isn't it?"
Wiping a hand over her mouth, Barbara nodded. "It's it's in the same spot as mine, Hel."
"So that crack about a matching set of wheels isn't so far off, huh?" Helena joked, trying to keep her tone light, but she could feel panic starting to set in. She was wrenched out of her fears by Barbara's hand tightening on hers.
"We don't know that. The the paralysis " Barbara said, tripping over the word she'd used hundreds of times, "could be temporary."
Hearing the term made Helena's heart speed up. "You said it severed " Her voice wavered and she cursed herself inwardly when Barbara's gaze zeroed in on her with laser-like focus.
"Your nerves were severed. Nick did all she could to reattach them. It was a long surgery."
"It's Nick now, huh?" Helena grumbled, not sure what was upsetting her more, her injury or Barbara's growing closeness to the doctor.
"Helena " Barbara took a breath. "You had extensive internal damage and much of that is already healing at a rapid rate. There is no reason to suspect this is going to be permanent."
"That you talking or the doc?" Helena wanted to know.
"It's her," Nick said as she eased into the room. She was dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, her feet bare. She'd clearly just rolled out of bed a few minutes ago, and Helena almost scowled at how appealing she managed to look. "But you shouldn't have survived let alone be awake and talking right now, so what they hell do I know?"
Helena and Barbara both looked at her and Nick was struck by the apparent intimacy of the moment she'd just interrupted. "Sorry to intrude," she murmured. "I heard voices and thought I should see how the patient was doing."
"You hear voices?" Helena jabbed. "You let a woman who hears voices operate on my ass?" she glanced at Barbara, mustering a mildly outraged expression.
"Slightly above your ass, actually," Nick responded without missing a beat.
Helena's eyebrows arched at the comeback.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like I got blown up," Helena answered honestly.
"Anything hurt more than anything else?"
"Only half of me is hurting. The other half doesn't feel a thing," Helena informed her with mock cheerfulness. She heard Barbara make a soft sound of distress and instantly felt contrite. She sighed. "No," she said honestly. "What I can feel just feels like crap, but nothing hurts worse than anything else."
"So no sensation in your legs then?" Nick asked, not bothering to pull punches.
Helena swallowed, aware of Barbara's eyes on her profile. She shook her head.
"I'm not going to sugar coat things with you, Helena," Nick told her. "You suffered a major traumatic injury to your spine."
"So I'm " Helena paused, looking for a word that wouldn't offend Barbara but coming up empty.
"We don't know. As Barbara said, you heal damn fast. I want you to get another few days of bed rest then we'll reevaluate see if another surgery is necessary."
"Fun," Helena grumbled. She cast a look at Barbara, noting with a frown how the other woman was now staring down at her own feet. "Isn't there anything I can do?"
"Rest," Nick insisted. "It may not be a normal state of being for you, but it's what you need, no matter how fast you heal."
"Doctors orders, huh?" Helena asked Barbara, trying to get the other woman to look at her again. Barbara slowly nodded but kept her eyes averted. "Fine. As long as you keep me company." That did the trick, causing Barbara to look up at her in surprise.
"Whatever works," Nick said flatly.
Dinah chose that moment to edge back into the room with a large tray of breakfast in her hands. Barbara moved back so she could settle it over Helena. All of the women had to admit it smelled wonderful.
Nick leaned over and plucked the cup of coffee off the tray just as Helena started to reach for it first. "Sorry. No caffeine. You need rest." With a smirk, she took a sip and left them to their meal.
"Oh hell no," Helena muttered, secretly a little impressed with the doctor's pluckiness. "I want a second opinion."
Barbara chuckled before she snatched a piece of Helena's bacon for herself.
"You too? Taking food from the sick and infirm. Do you have no shame?" Helena was able to shove her fears to the back of her mind as she focused on the welcome smile that graced Barbara's features. Whatever was going to happen from here, she swore to herself she would deal with it as long as she got to see that smile.
"Alfred can make more," Barbara promised her.
"Fine," Helena grumbled playfully. "I'll share. This time." She watched as Dinah pulled up a chair and they all dug in. One bite went down like a stone when Helena realized she'd been given a second chance to be here with these two women who meant so much to her. Her emotions see-sawed from happy, to terrified, and back again, leaving her feeling confused but grateful.
"Thanks," Helena said suddenly to both of them.
"Our pleasure," Dinah told her without missing a beat. "Besides, now you owe me one."
Helena glanced in disbelief at Barbara as Dinah scooped up a forkful of Helena's eggs. Barbara just smiled.
The sense of family felt tenuous and fragile, but Helena clung to it fiercely, knowing it might be the only thing that could help her survive whatever happened next.
To Be Continued
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