DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything, nor am I writing this for profit. The characters belong to the WB and DC comics. No copyright infringement is intended.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Phryne for your wonderful advice. I'm sure I gave you plenty of headaches, but thank you for all your grammar corrections.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading. Any comments or criticism can be directed to adliren@gmail.com.
SERIES: Part one of the 'What it Means to Be a Hero' series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

What it Means to Be a Hero
Part 1: Getting Back On Your Feet

By adliren



Six months, one week, and five days.

Six months, one week, and five days.

Six months, one we . . .

A really fucking long time!

Barbara Gordon yanked her glasses off and tossed them carelessly onto the keyboard in front of her. Running her hands through fiery red hair, the intellectual woman noted that her outburst was distinctly out of character, but couldn't summon up the desire to care. More and more she had found that her ability to care about, well much of anything, was steadily decreasing. School had resumed three months earlier and even some of her fellow faculty had noticed that the usually collected teacher had been somewhat . . . distracted.

Distracted – that was putting it mildly. It had been exactly six months, one week, and five days since Helena had left.

Since Helena had fled from her, the analytical woman corrected. During that time Barbara had felt as if some piece of herself was missing, as if some part of her had been torn away and she was slowly bleeding out.

Her mind automatically associating that visual with another incident that had happened almost eight years ago at the hands of a green-haired madman, the redhead visibly flinched in her chair. No need to go digging up those memories, she was already plenty depressed, thank you very much.

Sighing, Barbara pushed herself back from the Delphi and rolled out through the balcony doors into the chill October air. Time to engage in her nightly ritual.

Stopping when her chair bumped against the stone railing, Barbara shut her eyes. In the blackness, she could image a figure sitting next to her, staring out over their city, New Gotham, which had taken so very much from both of them. She could imagine wind-whipped dark hair and piercing blue eyes, and the soft sound as the figure shifted restlessly, needing to be out soaring over rooftops and hunting through the dark streets.

Barbara opened her eyes, knowing that she would see only the deserted balcony. Actually feeling her heart ache at the now familiar sight, she hoped that wherever the brunette was, she was starting to let go of her pain and guilt.

Barbara was not a stupid woman. She was aware, without being arrogant, that she was in fact quite brilliant, most would even say a genius. So given all the clues and enough time to work through the emotional issues, Barbara had finally seen what was right in front of her face. Helena blamed herself for Wade's death, for putting her family in danger.

When Helena had come to Barbara after almost killing a bank robber, saying that she was leaving, the redhead had at first assumed she was just running away. It wouldn't be the first time and, accordingly, Barbara had been furious. As their discussion had continued, she had come to realize her error. Helena wasn't running…well, at least not from what she had done. The other woman had been truly serious in her desire to change and in her absolute need to get away. Away from the life the two of them had built together after the death of Helena's mother and Barbara's shooting and subsequent confinement to a wheelchair. Bowing to the inevitable, she had tried to let Helena go with some amount of decorum. She hadn't broken down and cried, or begged the woman not to leave. Barbara was simply not made that way. No, instead she had raised her internal walls, built a moat, posted archers, and let the other woman walk out of her life.

So here they were, six months, one week, and five days later. True to her word, Helena had sent several postcards from various European countries containing trite platitudes and very little else. Besides a couple of hurried emails, this was the only contact Barbara had shared with her long time friend and crime fighting partner. Before Harley Quinn had so altered their lives, it was unusual for the two women not to communicate or see each other every day. She found the time away from the brunette infinitely wearying.

Sighing, Barbara backed away from the ledge and retreated into the clock tower. Nightwing and Canary would be arriving soon to perform their scheduled sweep of the city. Oracle was needed once again, and Barbara Gordon would just have to force down the constant ache of missing her best friend, at least until tomorrow night.

Six months, one week, and six days.

Dark shadows caressed hunched outlines with gruesome features, highlighting some prominent disfigurement then hiding it away again from prying eyes. One shape stood out from all the rest when it shifted positions, easing the ache in muscles too long restrained. Reaching a slim, tan arm out to snake around the shoulders of one of the gargoyles, Helena Kyle returned to her contemplation of Paris from the tops of Notre-Dame.

Barbara was always questioning her affinity for the stone statues around New Gotham. Helena had never confessed her fascination with the creatures had begun when her mother, Selena, had first taken her to see this very church when she was six. Looking up at the magnificent structure, the young Helena had been delighted with the guardians that seemed to adorn every corner and ledge. She had immediately wanted to climb the building to get a closer look. With her natural abilities she probably could have done it, however her mother would never allow it.

Now, eighteen years later, Helena was sitting in companionable silence with the figures, having scaled the giant edifice several hours before. She had come here hoping to clear her head. For the past six months she had been slowly making her way around Europe, trying to make sense of her life. Eventually, she had ended up in Paris, the city she was born in and where she had spent the first twelve years of her life with her mom. Selena had loved art, and Notre-Dame had been one of her favorite places to visit with her daughter.

"So here I am Mom." Helena whispered her words into the night air. "I was kind of hoping for one of those big revelations, you know the flash of light and suddenly all the answers are clear kinda thing." There was no abrupt illumination or sudden epiphanies, however. "Yeah, didn't really think so." The brunette swatted the stone figure sitting next to her. "How about you big guy, any words of wisdom that you've been dying to share? No? Too bad."

While she hadn't really found any answers, Helena had come to realize what her problems were. Well, some of her problems she admitted ruefully. She probably had too many to ever completely identify.

She didn't blame herself for Wade's death anymore. Yeah, she had told Quinn about him and Barbara, but it had been the psycho bitch who had killed him, not her. They had kicked Quinn's ass and she was never getting out of Arkham. It was time to let it go. Helena hoped she could someday help Barbara do the same.

She hadn't come to terms with her inability to control her animal nature however. She had left New Gotham after killing a bank robber six months before. Yeah, the paramedics had been able to revive him, but it didn't change the facts. When Helena lost her temper, bad things happened. She wasn't worried about the criminals, they got what they deserved, but what if she hurt someone who was innocent, someone she cared about . . . someone like Barbara. Helena couldn't do that, couldn't take that risk.

So she'd left, thinking time away from being a vigilante might help. Maybe it had. In New Gotham, she was always on duty. The Delphi alert could go off at any moment and Huntress would be needed to defend the city. She hadn't realized it, but she was constantly on edge, always waiting for Barbara's voice in her ear and for the next petty criminal or super villain to come along and rip another hole in her life or her body. But six months of just wandering around Europe, having nothing to do but reflect and try and enjoy life had shown her that it didn't have to be that way.

Helena knew that she could never completely give up crime fighting. She loved the thrill and the danger too much, and every once in a while it was nice to think she was making a difference. And she would never, ever leave Barbara to shoulder the burden of protecting their city alone. They had started their team together, Helena intended for them to finish it together, but until then, she had come to the conclusion that something else was needed. She needed for there to be more to her life.

Maybe she was finally growing up.

Now, staring at the most romantic city in the world, Helena came to her biggest problem. She hadn't told Barbara why she liked hanging around gargoyles, but that was hardly the only thing Helena had never told the other woman. Helena's biggest secret, one she hadn't even told Quinn when she was spilling her guts, was that she was in love with Barbara Gordon. She was in love with Batgirl, Oracle, Barbara; whatever name she went by, Helena was head over heels, over the moon, completely crazy about the redhead, and she had been since the day they met.

Of course at first she thought it was just a crush, and then later some kind of twisted hero worship, but she had finally figured it out. She was "in love" with Barbara. And Helena knew… knew Barbara didn't feel the same way. In fact, she was pretty sure Barbara had never even considered the idea.

Helena was sure Red loved her as a best friend, and as much as it hurt, probably somewhat as a child she had helped raise, but that was it. After all, Barbara had been nineteen when they first met and Helena had been a hyper twelve year old kid. Not exactly the beginnings of a great romance.

Helena had promised herself long ago that she would never reveal her feelings to Barbara. It would hurt the other woman terribly to know that what she had assumed was affection and a platonic relationship had been warped into the burning passion and . . . need Helena had for her. She couldn't do that to Barbara.

But Helena could never quite give up hope. She had stayed single – well she hadn't entered into a serious relationship, it wasn't like she was going to be celibate – hoping that the other woman might pick up a hint, maybe figure out her feelings. Then it would be up to Barbara what to do about it; but despite how brilliant the other woman was, she remained completely oblivious. And Helena finally realized that she always would.

It wasn't meant to be.

A stupid, melodramatic statement that made Helena feel like a pussy for even thinking it, but that didn't make it any less true. If Helena kept waiting around for Barbara, she would eventually come to resent her. She already did a little bit. Look how things had been even before Quinn. They had been fighting and had been almost at each other's throats. She knew she had been pulling away, and so had Barbara.

Helena couldn't allow that. So they could never be lovers. Yeah, it sucked . . . a lot, but she wouldn't lose the other woman because of it. She needed Barbara. If staying close to the redhead meant only being the best friend and protégé, well she could do that. It was better than nothing, which was what she had now.

"I swear Mom," Helena whispered, letting the wind carry her words out across the streets and rooftops. "I give up. I'll let her go. She deserves to be happy. I know it won't be easy, but I mean it this time. No more longing and regrets. It's time to move on." Helena imagined the wind carrying her next words across Paris, across the ocean, and finally into another dark city where gargoyles defended a different tower. "I promise."

Helena took one last look at her native city; she didn't plan on being back for a long time. Giving the stone she leaned against one final pat, the dark figure flowed to her feet then leapt from the ledge of the great cathedral. It was definitely time to go home.

"Canary, behind you!"

"I see him." Simultaneously shoving the criminal away with her telekinesis and responding to Nightwing, Dinah wondered why she had ever wished she could go out on sweeps more often.

Things had been okay at first. Dinah had tried to hide it, but she had been devastated when Helena had left without saying goodbye. Then Barbara had pretty much become a wreck. Usually, Dinah didn't pick up much of anything from the older woman – she was to in control of her emotions and thoughts – but for that first week Dinah couldn't get near her without being bombarded by feelings of loneliness and frustration. Just when she thought she would have to do something drastic – like get suspended from school – Dick had shown up and seemed to pull Barbara out of her funk.

They had started protecting their city again; only this time there was no sarcastic, leather clad Huntress out on the streets. Instead, Nightwing had taken over the position of New Gotham's most feared vigilante. Within a week, the criminals knew to watch for his masked presence.

Dinah tried not to resent him for taking over Helena's spot in their little family – Dick was actually a really nice guy. He had shown her some great moves and it was kinda nice to go out on sweeps with someone who acted like a real superhero, someone who beat up the criminals because they were criminals, not because they were melodramatic and filled with angst. Dick also trained with her whenever she asked. He didn't kick her ass the way Helena had when they sparred either. Still, she would gladly suffer bruises in embarrassing places if Helena would just come home.

And the fact that Helena hadn't returned to New Gotham – to her family – was beginning to worry Dinah. Every time she tried to talk about it with Barbara, the teacher would simply give her empty reassurances - "Helena needs time, we have to respect that" or "Helena will come back once she's figured things out" – but Dinah knew that even Barbara was beginning to doubt her words, if she'd ever believed them to begin with.

For Dinah it was really a simple matter. Barbara and Helena were her family. With Helena gone, her home was missing half its parts. Dick was nice, but he wasn't family. And things were just less fun when Helena wasn't around. And more painful.

"Oracle, do you have any information?" Nightwing's voice sounded strained, probably because he was desperately fighting the five men that surrounded him - the five identical men.

"Not yet. He's obviously meta. He must be able to somehow replicate or divide himself. You're sure they're not just projections?"

A blow to her ribs answered Barbara's question, as well as bringing Canary's attention back to her own fight. Stumbling backwards, she tried to find the breath to respond. "We're sure Oracle." Looking at the indistinguishable features of the three criminals that she faced, Dinah admitted she was starting to get seriously creeped out. "How do we fight them . . . him . . . these things?"

"Well, if they all derive from one source, I believe that disabling the original will do the trick." Clicking keys were a sharp background to Barbara's next pronouncement, "Although, I have no idea how to determine which one that is."

Using her telekinesis again to force two of the copies against the nearest building while ducking a punch from a third, Dinah noted that it was never good when Barbara admitted she didn't know something. Glancing over her shoulder, she was just in time to see Nightwing go down from a fist to his jaw. The rest of the men closed in and began to savagely kick the fallen crime fighter.

"Nightwing!" Dinah's shocked cry was abruptly cut off when something hard connected with the back of her skull. 'Barbara keeps telling me not to get distracted, guess I should've listened,' Dinah thought before all her senses faded out.

God dammit, she hated being helpless! When she was Oracle, guiding her operatives through some mission, she was part of the team, an integral part. She supplied the information and the experience, and almost always that was enough. She felt useful, something she had long ago admitted she needed. There was only one problem with her role as a cyber crime fighter – she needed people out in the field. More specifically, she needed to be in contact with her people.

Now Canary and Nightwing were not responding. Frantically she tried to discover more about the meta they had engaged, a man apparently able to clone himself at will. She needed more information. How many copies of himself was he able to produce? How long could he sustain the copies? Did they think individually or share something similar to a hive mind?

Too many questions and no way to discover the answers. She was arguably the greatest hacker in the world, but even she couldn't force the computer to give her data that didn't exist. If she had been with Dick and Dinah she could have assessed the situation for herself, but that was no longer an option. The Joker had stolen that along with the use of her legs almost eight years ago.

'Stop feeling sorry for yourself and do what you can,' Barbara snapped to herself. She couldn't let the two vigilantes down; wallowing in self-pity wouldn't get them back safely. Besides, she and Dick had discussed her tendency for brooding on things she couldn't change when he first arrived in New Gotham.

She was sitting out on the balcony when a strong hand rested on her shoulder. For a second her heart soared, thinking Helena had returned even though the brunette had only been gone for a week. She looked up to meet the familiar blue eyes, but not the blue-violet she had known for the past eight years, instead they were a dark blue that she remembered from soaring over rooftops and intimate moments. These eyes belonged to Batgirl's past.

"Hello, Dick, thanks for coming." She knew her voice sounded less than welcoming, but was unable to do anything about it. Helena's abrupt departure had seemed to take all of her energy, as if the brunette's very presence was the means by which Barbara powered herself, leaving the redhead feeling drained and empty.

"You know I'll always come for you, Babs."

Barbara was a little uncomfortable with the meaning implied by Dick's statement. Yes, they had been lovers at one point, but that was over and done with. They would always be close friends, but that was all – with their history, anything else was just too complicated. Not to mention the fact that Dick now had his life as Nightwing and Barbara was confined to a wheelchair.

Dick seemed to take Barbara's hesitation for anger. "I'm really sorry I didn't come after the Quinn thing. You know I would have, but Killer Moth was trying to take over Bludhaven at the time. You have to know how sorry I am about everything, especially your boyfriend . . ."

"Wade, his name was Wade. I know you would have come if you could have – that's the price of being a superhero right?"

They both stood in silence looking out over New Gotham, remembering what it was like to protect this city as Batgirl and Robin – and considering what it had cost them. Dick had lost his parents, then his adopted father and mentor; and Barbara had lost the use of her legs and the life she had once envisioned for herself. Still, neither would change their decisions, this city was worth it, and they were true heroes.

"It's good to be back. I've missed it here. Bludhaven is nice - for a corrupt major city, but I've always felt Gotham is my home."

"It always will be."

"Thanks." Several minutes passed. "So are you going to tell me why Little Sis took off? I think she about gave me a heart attack when she called asking me to come here and replace her."

"I . . .," Barbara didn't know what to say. The truth was she didn't know why Helena had left. She suspected even the brunette wasn't really sure. Obviously, it had something to do with her anger issues and the man she had almost killed, but that wasn't the whole story. Helena had always been complex and this crisis was no exception. "It's private. If she wanted you to know, she would have told you."

"So she didn't tell you either, huh?" He didn't look at her; instead, he just kept staring at the skyline, giving her some privacy. Sometimes she forgot how smart Dick really was. He hid his detective's mind behind good looks and boyish charm, but not much escaped Batman's former sidekick.

"No she didn't."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

Barbara sighed. "I'm going to give her the time she needs and be here for her when she's ready."

"I hope she knows how lucky she is." Turning to look at Barbara he gave his most charming smile. "So, where's Black Canary's daughter. I can't believe she had a kid. I can't believe you didn't tell me she had a kid! Some friend you are."

Barbara had to laugh at his antics. "I didn't know. Alfred should have dinner ready soon and you can meet her then." Turning to look at the man who had been her friend, partner, and lover she tried to put everything she felt into words. "Thank you, Dick."

He gave her a puzzled smile. "For what?"

"For understanding. For being such a good friend."

"Anytime, Babs, anytime."

Dick had been true to his word. For the past seven months he had done whatever Barbara asked, from training with Dinah to running sweeps most nights. It had taken a little while to come to an understanding between Oracle and Nightwing. Dick was used to working alone now, and didn't always check in with her. Also, he sometimes forgot that she was no longer Batgirl and treated her like he did when they were Batman's protégés. However for the last several months theirs had been a good partnership. When Dick had finally convinced her that Dinah was ready to start her own sweeps, things had just gotten better. Gotham had a dedicated and effective crime fighting trio for which she was truly grateful.

Still, she missed Helena. The brunette might have driven her crazy, but she was family. Barbara was aware how much Dinah missed her, and even Alfred had relaxed his unspoken rules enough to ask when Helena might return. As she anxiously tried to get a response from Nightwing's or Canary's coms, Barbara missed Helena even more.

But Helena wasn't there; it was up to Barbara to save her team. Even though they were not responding, she had their location on the GPS tracking system. Wheeling herself away from the Delphi, she prepared to get her neural transponder. She hadn't used the device since she had fought Harley Quinn. There was a seventy percent chance that any further use would cause irreparable damage to her spine and nervous system, leaving her even more paralyzed than she already was. However, some things were worth the risk, like Dick and Dinah's lives.

Holding the belt like apparatus in her hands, she prepared herself for the pain of attaching it to her lower back. Suddenly a crackling static filled the clock tower originating from the Delphi's speakers.

"Is anyone there? Oracle, you copy?"

Barbara couldn't believe what she was hearing. That was Helena's voice. She waited another moment, convinced the stress had finally caused a mental breakdown.

"Is this thing even on? Maybe I shouldn't have left it in the bottom of my suitcase. Barbara's going to kill me if I broke it." The sound of metal connecting repeatedly with something solid echoed through the tower. "Hello?"

Barbara raced to the microphone. "Helena!"

"Hey, Oracle, good to hear your voice."

"Helena where are you?"

"Um, I just landed at the airport. You know they don't let you turn your cell phones on during the flight? I was going to call earlier." Helena's confusion was plain in her voice. Barbara realized the brunette was probably expecting some kind of welcome from her, but right now there were more important things.

"I need your help. I've lost communication with Canary and Nightwing. They were fighting a meta and . . ."

"Hold that thought Oracle. Just tell me where I can find them. You can update me on the way." Helena's voice was all Huntress. No one messed with her family.

Barbara let out a sigh of relief. Listening to the sound of Huntress running over the rooftops, she set the neural transponder on the desk. It looked like she wouldn't need it after all. Once again she had Helena.

"I don't have a lot of information. So far, we've learned that he can produce copies of himself . . .

Slitted, golden eyes searched the inside of the warehouse from the upper-story windows, marking each piece of broken machinery and pile of abandoned refuse, finally settling on the two figures restrained against the opposite wall. Both Canary and Nightwing had lengths of chain wrapped around their arms and legs pinning them to support beams. Nightwing was conscious, moving his head and taking in his surroundings. Canary however, appeared lifeless, her head hanging down on her chest, blonde hair shielding her face. Seeing the teenager like this, Helena could barely contain her fury. She wanted to burst through the window and run to Dinah's side, and if the meta got in her way… well, she was already planning on kicking his ass...

Somehow, Helena managed to control her anger. She hadn't spent all that time away from New Gotham only to fuck up thirty minutes after she got back. Like Barbara was always telling her, she needed to plan. Right now, her companions weren't in any real danger. She should take this time to assess the situation, find out where the meta was hiding himself.

Helena slowly eased open the window, utilizing skills she learned from her mother. Catwoman had taught her daughter everything she had known about breaking and entering, thinking it a valuable life skill. Her mother had tried to make sure she had a fairly normal childhood, but Selena's definition of normal didn't exactly coincide with popular thought. Helena had lost count of how many times she had employed some bit of her mother's knowledge in her role as a vigilante. Offering up another silent thank you to the former thief, Helena dropped silently to the dusty floor and quickly hid herself in the shadows.

Listening intently, Helena stretched her meta-human abilities to their limits. The only sounds she could hear were Dick's breathing – and Dinah's, thank God – and the sounds of several large rats scurrying throughout the building; nothing to indicate that the criminal was still hanging around. She quickly scanned the floor for signs of recent footprints, the interior of the shadowy warehouse as clear as day to her enhanced vision. There were several tracks leading from the service entrance to where Dick and Dinah were being held. Satisfied that her target was not waiting in ambush, Huntress quickly crossed the distance to her fellow crime fighters.

"Hey Bro, looks like you could use a hand or two, since yours seemed to be tied up."

Even with one eye swelling shut, Dick managed to roll the other. "Check on Canary first. I think she took a pretty good hit to the head."

"I'm on it." Helena carefully lifted Dinah's head and felt the back of her skull. "Oracle, do you copy? I've located Nightwing and Canary. They're being held at the warehouse. Canary's unconscious but I think she'll be fine. Nightwing looks about as good as he always does."

"I copy, Huntress." Barbara's voice was low and focused. "Can you get both of them out of there? Is there any sign of the meta?"

"That's a negative, Oracle." Helena began to gently unwind the chains holding Dinah to the wall. "I'm getting them down now. We'll head back to base and then I'll go look for . . ."

Huntress' communication was abruptly cut off when she felt a stinging line of fire across her upper back. Her natural reflexes caused her to surge forward, allowing her to avoid having the weapon buried in her spine. Spinning, she kicked out at the man behind her, knocking him back and causing him to drop the machete he carried. 'Holy crap, a fucking machete,' Helena noted, before she quickly closed on the retreating criminal.

With the adrenaline humming through her veins, she hardly noticed her wound; she focused instead on beating the other meta-human into submission. Hands flying in controlled strikes and blocks, she forced her opponent back until she landed a right hook to his jaw, knocking him unconscious to the floor. Standing over the fallen man she was slightly disappointed. This ass-hole had kidnapped her friends; she had been hoping to rough him up a little more.

Another cruel slash across her back reminded her that the fight wasn't over yet. Turning, she came face to face with a man identical to the one at her feet. Obviously, this copy had picked up the machete his predecessor had dropped. Huntress circled warily not wanting a third cut to add to her collection.

Trying to watch the man in front of her, she also scanned the rest of the building, alert for further copies. Barbara had mentioned something about taking out the original, but nothing about how Helena was supposed to find and identify him. 'Oh well, guess I'll just have to beat the crap out of all of them.' A feral smile stretched across Huntress' lips. This was her kind of mission.

Two more copies appeared from the shadows and rushed her from opposite directions while the one in front of her slashed at her face, forcing her back. Normally, such a coordinated attack would have been quite effective, but normal wasn't in Helena's vocabulary. Waiting until the last possible second she leapt over the men's' heads letting them crash into each other. A ragged scream echoed in the mostly empty building. Rotating as she landed, Helena saw one of the copies with the machete sticking out of his chest. 'That's gotta hurt.' The other two copies were just standing and looking on in horror. She didn't usually do the empathy thing, but even she wondered what it must be like to watch yourself dying.

From the catwalk against one wall of the building an anguished scream rang out. "You bitch! Look what you've done!" Helena could see one of the identical men leaning over the railing glaring at her. "I'm going to fucking kill you for this!" The man waved his hand and suddenly several more clones appeared around Helena, all looking intent on murder. On the plus side, she was now fairly certain who the original was.

Knowing she had to act fast, before the meta could lose himself among his copies, Helena tensed her muscles. Concentrating, she leapt as far and as fast as she could, aiming for a collision course with the figure on the catwalk.

Huntress had just enough time to see the man's eyes widen in surprise before she crashed into him, both of them falling hard onto the metal surface. Helena heard the ringing crack as the man's skull connected with the railing. Picking herself up, she quickly checked to make sure he was still breathing. Limping to the railing she looked down. All of the copies had vanished without a trace, leaving only the bloodied machete to testify to their existence.

Deciding that the meta-criminal would be out for some time, Helena started down the stairs to finish freeing her colleagues. Just as she reached Dinah, it occurred to her that someone was yelling in her ear and had been for quite some time.

"Huntress? God dammit, Huntress, answer me!"

"Hey, Oracle. Yeah, um, everything's fine. I took out the meta and he's all ready to be picked up by New Gotham's finest. I'll get Canary and Nightwing and we'll head back to base." Helena could feel her sheepish expression, even though Barbara wasn't there to appreciate it. Several seconds of silence came over the coms.

"That'll be fine, Huntress. I'm dispatching the police now. See you in a few." Barbara sounded completely cool, and it was only Helena's meta-hearing that allowed her to pick up on the sound of something moving rapidly through the air and the crash that followed. From experience she was pretty sure it was a batarang.

Turning to look at the still chained Nightwing, Helena smirked. "You are so carrying Canary."

"Oh my God, you kicked multiplying man's ass" – Barbara raised one crimson eyebrow – "um, butt!"

"Liquid guy, multiplying man – that's it, you've officially lost your villain naming privileges."

As Helena continued to tease the younger blond, Barbara relaxed into the familiar banter. After Huntress rescued Canary and Nightwing from . . . multiplying man, the three crime fighters had swiftly returned to the clock tower where Oracle waited.

They all had injuries to show from their run-in with Gotham's newest meta-criminal. Dinah was sitting in one of the kitchen chairs holding an icepack to the back of her head. Dick had suffered some fractured ribs and various bruises but was otherwise unharmed. Helena had fared the worst. The brunette had several deep cuts to her back as well as her usual bruises and scrapes.

Barbara focused again on the present when she noticed Helena limping into the kitchen. The redhead never thought the sound of all her cabinet drawers being thrown open could sound so wonderful. Even the muttering and subdued cursing were definitely welcome.

"Hey, Babs, you didn't throw away my pop-tarts did you?"

"Um, I think I finished the last one this morning," Dinah said, looking quite nervous. "I'm really sorry, Helena."

A dark head peered over the counter, fixing the younger crime fighter with a scowl. Barbara prepared herself to play peacemaker between the two women, but to her surprise, the scowl was quickly replaced with a neutral expression as Helena shrugged her shoulders, then winced when it opened up the wounds on her back.

"No big, D. Just thought it might hit the spot after a night of kicking ass. Alfred can pick up some more tomorrow."

While everyone stared at her in shock – the brunette's protectiveness of her pop-tarts was legendary – Helena made her way over and leaned against the edge of the desk.

"So, do you think I could maybe get some stitching? Normally I'm all for staying away from needles, but that machete was really sharp." An aggrieved expression crossed tan features. "Who the fuck carries a machete around anyway? I mean seriously, look what he did to my coat." The dark figure turned around displaying several blood-caked rents in the black leather. Turning to look at Barbara with pained eyes she continued, "I don't think dry-cleaning is going to fix this."

"Probably not, Hel," Barbara demurred. "Let's get a look at your back and see what we can do about putting you back together again."

The irony of her words was not lost on Barbara as she wheeled her way over to the first-aid kit. Had the other woman been able to find the answers she was looking for? What did Helena's sudden return mean? Was she even planning on staying?

There hadn't been time to talk when Helena's voice had come over the coms so abruptly. As it was, the vigilante had almost arrived too late to help her fellow crime fighters. Barbara shuddered to think what might have happened if Helena hadn't returned when she had – of course the other woman always did have an excellent sense of timing.

Putting off her questions and contemplations of Helena's innate gifts, Barbara ordered Helena to remove her ruined coat. As the brunette began to slowly peel off the dark leather, Dinah got up from her chair and began to back towards the stairs.

"Um, I think I'll just go lie down. You know, catch up on some sleep. Good thing tomorrow's Saturday, right?"

Fully aware that the blonde was uncomfortable with some of the medical procedures Barbara was forced to perform, especially suturing, Barbara replied, "Of course, Dinah. You don't have a concussion, but don't sleep in too much; it will just make the headache worse."

"Aww man, one of the greatest pleasures of a Saturday, ruined." Turning to Helena, the teenager turned hesitant. "Um, so I'll see you tomorrow right?"

"Sure thing, D. We'll go grab a coffee. If you can't sleep in, you're going to need a large dose of sugar and caffeine."

Dinah's grin seemed to stretch across her face. "Great, um, okay, see you in the morning. Night, Barbara. Night, Dick." With those cheerful farewells, the tall blond disappeared up the stairs and into her room, closing the door softly.

With Dinah's reminder, Barbara recalled that Dick was actually still present. He had yet to speak since he had entered the clock tower. Barbara wondered what was going through his mind, but decided not to push. He would talk when he was ready. He was like Helena in that respect – neither could seem to hold their tongue when there was something they thought needed to be said. She just hoped it wasn't going to be another argument similar to the ones he and the brunette had engaged in almost daily when Dick had visited a year after she was shot.

That had not been a pleasant time for Barbara. She constantly felt pulled between the two, forced to take sides and settle their petty arguments. She was actually glad when Dick had decided to return to Bludhaven. One more week of their bickering might have sent her over the edge - something she tried to avoid doing: it just wasn't seemly.

"So you're back." Dick's eyes were intently focused on Helena. "You gonna stick around this time?"

That didn't take long.

"Yeah thought I'd settle down, protect my city." Helena glared right back, not giving an inch. "Need to make sure no one messes with my inheritance."

Barbara winced at the brunette's words. The fact that Helena was actually Bruce's biological offspring was a sore spot for Dick. He had always tried to live up to the expectations he placed on himself as the protégé and adopted son of Batman, but Barbara knew that he sometimes felt inadequate. Bruce's departure from Gotham eight years ago without telling anyone – including Dick – only made it worse. Helena's natural gifts, courtesy of her meta-human genetics, also contributed to his dislike. Many of the skills Helena took for granted, he'd trained for years to develop. Barbara had felt this particular frustration herself.

"Seems like you've done a pretty good job so far. Oh wait, weren't you the one who let Harley Quinn into the clock tower so she could almost kill Barbara and take over Gotham?"

"Dick!" To say Barbara was shocked was a ridiculous understatement. Dick Grayson had always had a temper, but she had never seen him quite so vicious. Barbara had told him how horrible Helena felt for trusting Quinn; for him to use that against the brunette was simply unacceptable. "I think it's time for you to go."

"No, Barbara, it's okay." Barbara looked at Helena, clearly displaying her disbelief. Helena gave a wry twist of her lips. "He's right. I did fuck up with Quinn, but that's over now. I can't take back what happened, even though I would give anything to be able to." Helena looked near tears as she admitted this. "In case I haven't said it, I'm so sorry. The only thing I can do is try to be a better protector for New Gotham now. That's what I intend to do."

No one spoke for several minutes with only the ever present ticking of the clock to fill the silence. Finally Dick sucked in a loud breath. "Well, I guess that's that then." He turned to Barbara. "It was really great working with you again, Babs."

Helena's voice halted his steps to the elevator. "You don't have to go. The Kid really likes you and you and Barbara have history. And it's not like there's a shortage of crime in the city. Maybe you could stick around for awhile."

Barbara was fairly certain she had been transported to an alternate dimension, one where Helena was not only letting Dick live after his comments, but was actually asking him to remain within a 500 mile radius. She wondered if pinching oneself was also an effective means of snapping oneself back to their proper reality.

Dick hesitated, clearly wondering if Helena was serious. Deciding she was, he responded, "Yeah I'd like that. It's been nice being back."


"Okay. Well I'm going to go. I'll talk to you tomorrow, Babs."

"That's fine, Dick." Barbara watched the elevator doors close over the tall form in a daze. Turning to Helena she intended to convey her puzzlement - she knew her mouth was open and she had the words formed in her head, but no sound was emerging.

"Less gaping, more stitching, Red." Deciding the brunette's suggestion had definite advantages, chief among them the fact that she wouldn't be required to form sentences, Barbara began to sew a neat line across Helena's back. As she concentrated on her work, it occurred to the redhead that she hadn't been this close to Helena in almost seven months.

'Not since the night she kissed me.'

Barbara had puzzled over that moment since Helena had left. She would be the first to admit that she was not the best person to ask concerning emotional gestures, but it seemed to her there had been something more than a farewell in Helena's actions. She just wasn't sure what that something was.

"I meant what I said you know. If I could bring him back I would."

The soft, heartfelt words left Barbara breathless. Steadying her hand she continued to close the other woman's wounds as she spoke. "I know, Hel. I also know that it wasn't your fault. Quinn killed Wade, not you. In the end, you helped me stop her and kept me from making a terrible mistake. I hope you know that I never . . ."

Helena cut her off. "I know Barbara. It's one of the things I figured out when I was . . . thinking I guess. I blamed myself, and I was convinced you did too, but I don't believe that anymore. I'm really over it, and if you ever need to talk about it, I'll be there." Barbara felt the muscles under her hands expand as Helena took a deep breath. "I won't run away again. I'll be here if you need me."

Barbara tied off the thread and packed up the first aid kit. Gently tugging on a slim arm she waited until solemn blue eyes met her own. "I'm really glad, Hel."

"So . . . what did you want to ask me?"

"What makes you think I want to ask you anything?" Slender hands released their death grip on a large mocha latte to tuck a blond strand of hair behind the owner's ear. "I mean you're back and that's great. You don't owe me anything. It's not like you just took off one night and left me with an emotionally unstable Barbara and then this Dick guy shows up who I've never heard of before and suddenly he replaces you and I'm going out on sweeps more often and . . ."

Helena held up her hand. "Breathe, D." Watching the teenager actually inhale for the first time in over a minute, she tried to explain. "I know it probably feels like I abandoned you, but I had some things to figure out. It wouldn't have been good if I had stayed. You would have ended up getting hurt."

Light blue eyes dropped to the table, refusing to meet Helena's pleading stare. "That's what she said."

Helena sighed. Of course that was how the Kid would see it. "She" was Dinah's mother, the Black Canary. Caroline Lance had left Dinah with a foster family in some nowhere town when she was just a kid. She had said she was trying to protect Dinah, but Helena had never understood the other woman's thinking. Helena's own mother had been in the same situation being the former thief Catwoman, but her mom would have fought tooth and nail before she gave up her daughter. Now Helena flinched at being compared to the woman she had so strongly disagreed with.

"I'm really sorry, Dinah. I wish I could have handled it better. I ran away, and I know I hurt you and Barbara, but I think I did it for the right reasons. I was trying to figure some things out, and now that I'm back things can go back to the way they were, only better . . . if you can forgive me."

"Well . . . I think I can, but it's going to cost you." Some of the sparkle and irrepressible good humor returned to the teenager's eyes. Helena watched the transformation warily. "Let's say you do the dishes around the clock tower for a month and let me borrow your clothes when I go out with Gabby."

"Hmm, let me think. Yeah, that'd be a no."

"C'mon. I thought you were in Europe 'finding yourself' and becoming a better person."

"Becoming a better person: yes. Losing my mind to the point where I let you go pawing through my wardrobe: no." Helena made a play swipe at Dinah's head causing the teenager to yelp and duck.

"Fine. Jeez." Picking up their drinks, the two crime fighters walked out of the coffee shop.

"So what about the dishes?"

"We'll see."

Part 3

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