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



"Okay, people; here's how it's gonna go down.

"This is the playing field. Anything outside of this is off limits." A slim hand flashed out to trace a circular path around an area of New Gotham displayed on the computer screen. "If you are tempted to cheat," here a stern look was communicated via cerulean eyes, "the referee will, of course, know immediately and beat you within an inch of your life upon your return."

"As the saying goes, all's fair in love and war, and make no mistake, this is war." Ignoring the eye rolling that followed the statement, the speaker continued. "You have your weapons. You will not be supplied with additional ammo. If you waste it shooting at shadows, you're SOL." This was directed to the blond standing before the figure. "There is a two hour time limit. At the end of the playing time you will return here under truce. No revenge shots, got it?!

"If at any time you are tagged. You will immediately report it to the referee, who will be keeping fair and impartial score.

"Now you also get one "Oracle" for the duration of the exercise, meaning you can call into base and our lovely referee," here the speaker quickly side-stepped a hand aimed at her stomach, "will tell you the general location of one of your opponents.

"Sniping is not only allowed, but encouraged. All out dog fights and charging in with guns blazing are also acceptable.

"Finally, we are following the time honored tradition passed down to us from Survivor. Form alliances whenever possible, and then immediately stab your partner in the back when the chips are down.

"Alright, any questions?"

Dick and Dinah looked at Helena with slightly stunned expressions on their faces, clutching their paintball guns and pouches of ammo. "All right then… Dinah, you go first, followed by Dick five minutes later, then me five minutes after that. When Red gives the signal, game on." When Dinah just continued to stare at her as though she had suddenly sprouted a second head, she gently – really almost gently – shoved the girl towards the elevator.

Five minutes later, Dick was jumping off the balcony attached to a cable. Helena turned to Barbara and lifted her paint ball gun in front of her face. "We who are about to die, salute you."

"Whaaaat?" Helena drawled when the redhead just scowled at her.

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this. What was I thinking? Unleashing you on an unsuspecting Gotham with a paint ball gun. Especially when Dick is out there too. I must be losing my mind."

"Come on, Barbara, it won't be that bad. It's just a little fun. You're the one who wanted us to spend more time together." This last was muffled as the brunette pulled her duster on with a flourish.

"Should you be wearing that? I doubt paint is easy to get out of leather."

"Yeah, well, I would be concerned with that if there was a chance that I was going to get hit with any paint tonight, but seeing how that's not even possibility I refuse to be a fashion victim." The dark figure stepped closer and purred into the other woman's ear. "Besides, if I do get shot I'll need medical attention. You'd be up for playing doctor, right, Red?"

Barbara just rolled her eyes while blushing extravagantly and turned toward the Delphi. "You can head out now, Patton. And Helena, for the love of God, if you make me regret agreeing to this, I will beat you to within an inch of your life."

A wide and slightly feral smile was her only response before the other woman ran towards the balcony and soared into the night.

Barbara settled herself comfortably and made sure she was connected to all her operatives. 'All her operatives, indeed,' Barbara thought to herself. Here she was, the Oracle, defender of New Gotham, and what was she doing tonight? Monitoring police frequencies? Designing complex algorithms to help predict crime? Directing her team in stopping a super powered villain? No, she was refereeing a paint ball match. 'How the mighty have fallen,' the redhead added with a mental shrug.

Seconds later as Dick's voice came in over the coms however, Barbara couldn't help but smile.

"Son of bitch, that stings! Actually getting shot hurts less than that! I can't believe you shot me Canary!"

And things had been going so well.

Barbara, Dick, and the Kid had shown up at the Dark Horse near the end of Helena's Friday shift. Normally, Red would never let the Kid into a bar, but since Helena had returned, Barbara had been trying to get them to spend time together. This had led to the never to be repeated paintball fiasco. She was still trying to get the paint out of her duster. Who knew the Kid was such a good shot, or that she would hold a grudge for the way Helena had treated her when she first arrived.

Since Helena had been trying to avoid these situations just as adamantly as Barbara had been trying to create them, they had reached a sort of impasse. Hence the surprise visit.

Earlier, Helena had looked up when a flash of red entered her vision, only to see Barbara wheeling in followed by a scowling Dick, with Dinah treading on his heels, almost bouncing in her excitement. They had taken a table near the back and started talking. At her first break, Helena had squared her shoulders and sauntered over.

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, eh Red," Helena asked when she finally worked her way through the crowd.

"Well, Hel, you've been so busy lately that we decided that we would just have to come to you."

Dick gave a small quirk of his lips. "Yeah, you know, check up on you . . . make sure you're doing okay." He quickly pretended to appraise the interior. "Nice place you've got here. Very, biker hangout meets washed-up alcoholic home away from home. I can totally see the appeal."

Before Helena could spit out a suitably scathing reply Dinah chimed in, "Yeah this is so great. I can't believe Barbara let me come. I mean I had to totally beg for like hours and I can't have anything to drink of course, but it's still totally awesome. I never really get to see you away from the clock tower." This last was said somewhat shyly and though she would deny it even under torture, it completely melted whatever ire the brunette felt from seeing them here and Dick's comments.

"Yeah, well, how about I do my job and get you a coke." This earned her a sunny smile and enthusiastic nod. "And for those of legal consumption age?" Barbara ordered bourbon and Dick ordered a shot of Absolut. This of course caused Helena's opinion of Dick to fall even lower, if that were possible. Everyone knew that Grey Goose was the vodka of choice. Telling Leonard, her boss, that she was knocking off a bit early she delivered the drinks, bringing along a full bottle of the good stuff for herself.

Sitting down at the table across from Dick, she studied her companions as they continued talking; not something Helena was used to. She wasn't a share your day kind of girl, but what the hell. Barbara seemed to be having a good time, chatting about her classes and sharing some of the trials of the modern high school teacher. Dinah was her usual talkative self and seemed to be truly enjoying her last year of high school. Dick however was broodingly silent, only responding when asked a direct question. Not unlike Helena herself. Maybe they really were related.

As the night wore on, Helena went back to the bar to fetch refills several times. Mostly for Dick and herself, she noticed sourly. Barbara was still nursing her second bourbon and the kid had downed four cokes, but seemed to be handling it just fine. Dick on the other hand had had more than a few shots and Helena mentally reminder herself to collect his keys. Not that she should be driving anywhere either. Somehow she had managed to work her way through a substantial amount of her favorite liquor and was feeling a little buzzed.

Suddenly, Dick slapped his hand down on the table causing his empty glass to tip over and almost spilling Dinah's soda. "You know what, let's play a game."

Barbara leaned over and laid her hand on his arm. "I don't think that's a very good idea right now, Dick."

"Why not? We're all relaxed, having a nice night out. I think it's the perfect time. What do you say, Dinah?" Looking like a deer caught in the headlights, Dinah turned toward Barbara. "Well, never mind, Helena will play, right? You know how to have some…fun." This was said with a suggestive drawl that left no doubt as to his meaning.

Barbara had not removed her hand and now squeezed his arm in an almost painful grip. "Dick, you're drunk. I think it's time to leave."

Helena could see that Barbara was distressed and this made her immediately furious with her fellow crime fighter. "You know what Dick that sounds like a great idea. What did you have in mind?"

"One question, each. You have to answer completely honestly and no taking the time to think about your answer. Think you can handle it?"

Helena figured that Dick wanted to ask her some personal question about her more lusty pursuits and embarrass her in front of the Kid and Barbara. That was fine with her. It wasn't like she had ever tried to keep anything about that part of her life secret, and Dick would come off looking like the ass that he was. So, "Oh yeah, I can handle it."

"Great, I'll go first." Barbara tried to interject, but Dick cut her off, suddenly not seeming so drunk anymore, or actually at all. "Why the fuck did you drive Bruce out of New Gotham and away from everything he ever loved." Dick enunciated each syllable clearly so that it seemed to echo in the mostly empty bar.

For a moment Helena was stunned. This was definitely not what she had anticipated, but admittedly she probably should have. Dick was looking at her expectantly however, and she never backed down from a challenge. "I don't know if I can answer that without breaking the rules. I thought about that a lot when I was . . . gone. I guess the answer is I was angry at myself." Dick's expression darkened at this and he opened his mouth, Helena hurriedly cut him off, "That night ... when Mom died, I just stood there. I felt her sag against me and the blood that started to soak into my clothes where we were connected. I heard her fall to the ground and the sound the knife made when he dropped it on the concrete."

As Helena continued talking, the bar faded around her and all she was aware of were her memories and the emotions she was trying to express. "And I held her as she died and begged someone to stop him. I just held her body and asked someone else to take care of it and . . . I let him get away. I let her murderer just . . . walk away. Later when Bruce came to check on me, I took it out on him. I had missed my chance and I wanted him to fix it. He was my father; I felt the only way he could make it better was to kill him. That way maybe my failure could be, I don't know, erased somehow. If he was dead maybe I wouldn't have completely let her down."

Here Helena paused to take a breath, and her surroundings came rushing back. She could see that all three of her companions were hanging on her every word, eyes focused on her face. She saw tears in Barbara and Dinah's eyes, but Dick was just looking at her. She met his gaze squarely and answered his question. "I didn't mean for him to leave. He was my father. I didn't know him, but I never meant to send him over the edge. I know he left thinking I hated him, but that wasn't the truth. I hated myself and he just happened to be in the way."

After this final pronouncement, there was only silence for several beats. Finally Dick spoke in a choked whisper, "Okay . . . just okay. I get that." Again it was silent and by now the bar was completely empty. "So . . . if you didn't hate Bruce, why do you hate me so much? Cause I thought it was the whole adopted son of Bruce Wayne thing, but if that's not the case, then . . . why?"

Helena didn't think it was really fair for him to be asking; after all it was her turn for a question. But the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes convinced her that this was something that had been bothering Dick for a while, and what the hell, she was trying to be more mature. Wasn't that what the whole taking time off thing had been about? But, shit, this wasn't going to be easy.

Ducking her head down to hide behind her bangs she did her best to answer. "I thought you were going to take Barbara away from me." Out of the corner of her eye she saw Red stiffen in her chair. "I'd been living with her for a year when you came back. I know I was a complete asshole and made her life a lot harder. I mean she had just been paralyzed and all I could focus on was how much I was fucking hurting. I really don't know how she put up with me." She was being totally honest. If Helena could have left herself, just walked away from the completely fucked up mess she'd been back then, she would have. "Then you showed up with your shared history, all smiles and charm. And it was like nothing had happened. You were her . . . friend, you fought with her as Batman's sidekick, and you were already making a name for yourself as Nightwing. How could I compete with that?"

Man, wasn't that the truth? When Dick had shown up just before her eighteenth birthday, she thought she was royally screwed. Not only was Dick Barbara's friend and occasional lover, he was also a great crime fighter. Babs had just been starting to take the whole Oracle thing seriously and training Helena to be her eyes and ears out on the street. Then Dick showed up with all the right credentials. How could Helena keep from thinking that she was going to be replaced?

Of course, that didn't happen. Dick had stuck around for a couple of months, spending time with Barbara, and just generally getting on Helena's nerves, then he'd just left, back to his life in Bludhaven, leaving Barbara alone again.

After a moment Helena continued in a voice she barely recognized as her own. "And you made her laugh. Something I had been trying – and failing – to do for over a year."

"Oh, Hel," Barbara sighed at this admission.

Unwilling for Barbara to feel sorry for her or blame herself in any way Helena quickly raised her head and tried to cover. "Yeah well, I was young and insecure," she tossed out with an attempt at her usual sarcastic, devil-may-care attitude. She was pretty sure she was unsuccessful. She glanced over at Dick and willed her sad attempt to stay on her face. "Sorry I took it out on you."

There, she had done it. She had actually apologized to Dick-fucking-Grayson. Wasn't she supposed to feel as though a great weight had been lifted off of her chest? She was pretty sure she had read that somewhere. Well, whatever, all she was feeling was a little drunk and a lot tired. Make that exhausted. Ran fifteen miles, beat up a super villain, and went grocery shopping, whipped.

Dick looked completely shocked by this admission, his mouth opening and closing several times without any sound escaping. Helena sighed and got up from the table.

"Well if it's all the same to you, I've had just about enough emotional evisceration for one night. I think I'll just head upstairs and try to sleep it off." She couldn't stand to be here one more second. Not with the Kid looking at her all sympathetically like she was going to try and hug her any minute, and Dick still doing his best impression of a large-mouthed bass. Helena couldn't even force herself to look at Barbara.

"I'll see you tomorrow. Just lock up on your way out." With that she turned and quickly retreated up the stairs to her apartment, the sound of the door closing downstairs echoing loudly to her sensitive ears.

Barbara had always wondered why Helena had moved into the apartment above the Dark Horse. Even for Helena, living above a bar seemed a bit . . . tasteless. But as she reached up to pull the freight elevator door closed, she thought she might just be finally getting a clue. Not her first one of the night either, she admitted ruefully.

Grinding and clanking, the decrepit conveyance eventually opened up to the second story where Helena's apartment was located. Old liquor crates and empty bottles were stacked along the sides of the hallway. Barbara carefully negotiated her chair around these obstacles and rolled to the door.

Reaching her hand out, distantly noting that it was shaking slightly, she knocked forcefully. Not that she needed the announcement. There was no way with Helena's meta-hearing that she could have missed the sound of the elevator. Therefore, Barbara was not surprised when the door swung open almost immediately.

Helena stood outlined by the light shining from the apartment. She didn't say anything, but rather leaned out and around Barbara to scan the hallway.

"It's just me," Barbara said, correctly interpreting the brunette's actions. "I sent Dick and Dinah home with the Hummer."

"I hope you let Dinah drive." Helena tossed over her shoulder as she moved away from the door allowing Barbara to maneuver her chair inside. Closing the door with a quiet click, the dark figure turned to the redhead and waited.

Barbara was aware that she was shifting nervously under the concentrated gaze of her friend. Helena, her friend, her partner, was hurting. Barbara could clearly see the pain written on Helena's face and in her defensive posture. Sucking in a breath Barbara prepared to tell Helena the truth.

"Thank you for what you did with Dick." Green eyes blinked in puzzlement and exasperation. What the hell had just come out of her mouth? Barbara knew she was no good at emotional scenes, but really that was just pathetic.

Before she could begin to repair the damage, Helena turned away. "Hey no problem, Red. He asked a question and I gave him an answer. It's pretty basic etiquette." Helena moved toward the couch against one wall and just seemed to – fold – into the cushions. "You didn't have to come up here to thank me for him."

"I didn't." Barbara considered the truth of that statement. "I mean, I did actually, but that's not the main reason I came. I wanted . . . I wanted to explain. I need to explain . . ."

"You don't need to explain anything Barbara. Whatever issues I had, or have, they're mine. You don't need to worry about it."

"But I do worry about it, about you. I always have."

'That was pretty good,' Barbara thought. She had actually admitted to having feelings. Now if only she could keep it up.

"What you said earlier… Dick could never have replaced you." Seeing the brunette start to speak, she continued, "Yes, he was important to me, but so were you. And you still are." Helena remained silent and turned her face to the wall. "We were both hurting so terribly back then, but things had started to get better. You made me see that they could get better, that I could be more than a woman stuck in a wheelchair. Dick . . . he just cemented that belief." Barbara rolled forward and tugged on Helena's chin until watery blue eyes met determined green. "But Helena, I could have never, ever done that without you. Please don't ever think differently."

Suddenly Barbara's lap was full of shaking brunette. She ran her hands soothingly through dark hair and waited for Helena's tears to end. Eventually the younger woman looked up, wiping her eyes with the back of one hand. "Okay, Barbara."

"Okay, Hel?" Barbara never imagined it would be this easy.

"Yeah, okay. I believe you," the words were accompanied by a shy smile. "We're cool, Red."

"That's a relief, Helena. You know how very much I hate to be un-cool."

This earned her a smile and mischievous twinkling of blue eyes. "Well, uh, you might want to re-think that whole high school teacher thing. Really doesn't do much for your image."

Barbara swatted at the head that was quickly withdrawn from her lap. "My image is just fine, thank you very much. I'm a highly respected member of the community."

"Yeah, if only they knew what I know, eh Babs?"

Contemplating just what Helena did know about her, and just what sort of damage that could do to her reputation, Barbara chose not to respond, settling instead for eye rolling and a pointed look.

Helena's face sobered as she looked directly at the other woman. "Thanks Barbara. For coming over and talking and just . . . everything."

Feeling like her chest was being squeezed, Barbara responded with one of the truest statements she had ever made. "I'm sorry it took me so long, Helena."

"Yeah, well, I guess we're both a little slow on the uptake. No harm done."

Barbara was not sure she completely agreed with this sentiment, but only responded with a restrained, "Indeed Helena."

Abruptly, the dark figure bounded up from her seat. "Jeez, Barbara, it's really late. Way past your bedtime. Let me grab my keys and we'll get you home."

Barbara laid a staying hand on the other woman's arm. "Actually Hel, I was hoping I could stay here tonight."

The brunette looked completely shocked by this request and proceeded to gape at Barbara. 'Not unlike how Dick looked earlier. Maybe they are related.' Seeming to gather herself and realize that some sort of response was expected Helena managed to stammer out, "Sure, no problem. Uh, yeah, the bedroom is through here."

Following Helena to the back of the small apartment, Barbara entered the sparsely furnished sleeping quarters. A bed, small dresser, and standing mirror were the only furniture present.

Noticing Barbara's study of the room, Helena explained, "I, um, don't decorate much. Never really got the whole HGTV thing."

Hoping to reassure and ease some of the brunette's obvious nervousness, Barbara responded. "It's nice, Hel. It's just seems sad that I've never been in your apartment before."

"Yeah, well, there's not really a whole lot to show off. It's just a place to crash after work and sweeps." Helena stopped and seemed to regard the bed.

"Of course." Barbara wasn't sure she really wanted to contemplate that statement, not sure what it said about the other woman and about herself. "In any case, it is rather late. Would you mind turning in," Barbara asked hesitantly, not entirely sure of the other woman's reaction.

Helena seemed to start and looked away from the bed, a touch of red on her cheeks. "Sure, sure. Um well, let me know if you need anything. I'll just be . . ." a hand came up to wave vaguely in the air, "on the couch if you need me."

Barbara once again felt as if something tight was being wrapped around her chest, and before she could think better of it, found herself blurting out, "Actually Hel, I was hoping you could stay here . . . with me. Like old times." Barbara could feel herself blushing and wondered if she would ever get better at this whole . . . expressing herself thing. "I've missed that." Well, that hadn't been so bad.

It seemed like it had been very good in fact because Helena immediately relaxed. Looking up through her bangs she responded, "Yeah, I've missed it too."

Later, finding herself lying next to brunette, listening to the soft purring emanating from the sleeping form, Barbara admitted to herself that she may have missed this terribly, but mostly she had just missed Helena. Wrapping an arm around the sleeping figure to pull her closer, Barbara finally fell into an untroubled sleep.

A new episode of The Hills, score!

Smiling ruefully, Helena settled deeper into the couch cushions. She was such a sucker for good drama. Considering how much drama her own life had contained recently, the dark figure thought this was maybe the slightest bit masochistic.

The clicking of keys and the occasional burst of bright laughter interrupted Helena's rapt focus on yet another vicious girl-on-girl altercation, reminding her that she was not alone in the clock tower. Personally, Helena would have just kicked the shit out of all of these people after day one. Maybe she really did need to work on her anger management.

'Jeez, doesn't the Kid ever give it a rest from the sunny, happy, pink balloons and rainbows thing.' Even as she thought it, Helena realized that in her heart she hoped Dinah never did. And wasn't she just going all soft? Soon she would be wanting a puppy and going around making cooing noises at strangers' babies. With that disturbing mental image, the brunette resolutely turned her attention back to the ridiculously large plasma screen she had nagged Barbara into getting. However, thoughts of what had occurred two weeks ago kept intruding.

Ever since their little "game" at the Dark Horse, things had been better with Dick. He was still an ass, but he had been acting less ass-like to Helena. When they'd been on sweeps he'd been professional and didn't try to constantly aggravate her. They hadn't talked about what had happened, both seeming to independently come to the conclusion that there was nothing really to be said. However, they still attempted to be more civil.

Barbara was on cloud nine, constantly smiling at both of them, and just smiling more in general. Helena figured it was because she and big brother had made up, but she knew her own more frequent smiles were caused by what had happened later that evening.

Man! When Barbara had shown up at the door to her apartment, she had no idea what to expect. The redhead was always logical, but that didn't mean Helena knew what she was thinking. In fact, it pretty much guaranteed that she would be constantly surprised by the other woman. And Red had come through in spades that night. Opening up the way she had, saying she missed Helena, that she worried about her . . . and then asking to spend the night. Helena was sure she'd had a heart attack when she finally registered what Barbara had said. Her heart actually stopping was pretty much the definition, right?

And then somehow they had ended up in bed together, Helena curled up against Barbara's side, listening to her heartbeat and soft breathing. It had almost been too much for Helena. If she hadn't made her promise, she was sure she wouldn't have been able to keep from touching the other woman, tracing her cheeks and lips, letting her tongue trace the shape of crimson eyebrows and licking at the pale skin of her temples . . . but she had managed it. She thought she might even have slept for five or six minutes somewhere around dawn.

Even though it had been hard to be so close to Barbara, it had seemed to heal something inside Helena as well. Things between her and the redhead hadn't been this good since Quinn, honestly, even before the attack on the clock tower. For the past couple of weeks they had been laughing, talking, and just spending more time together. Barbara seemed happy, and that made Helena happy. It wasn't what she had always dreamed of, but at least they were together - as best friends and crime fighting partners, the way it should be.

More laughter and typing from the Delphi. Didn't the Kid have friends to hang out with besides that Gina . . . Gail . . . maybe Gabby? The Kid was a senior, for fucks sake. When Helena was her age she was out every night doing something, usually getting into trouble, but still, Dinah needed to live a little.

And Helena really needed to talk to Barbara. There was something she had been putting off telling the redhead since she'd come back, and Helena was sure she couldn't hide it for much longer. She just knew, however, that Barbara was going to go all superior on her, saying things like, 'I told you Helena, but you were just too stubborn and stupid to listen to me.'

Okay, maybe Barbara wouldn't say that, but there would be looks and teasing – oh yes, Helena knew there would be teasing. She so did not need to be mocked by Dinah on top of that.

The Kid needed to leave, now.

Goaded into action by her thoughts, Helena turned off the TV and headed over to the Delphi where Barbara seemed to be typing and simultaneously listening to Dinah ramble on about something or other. Helena approached casually while trying to think of a good way to tell the Kid she needed to scram.

"So Kid, don't you have something else to do tonight." Okay that had been smooth. Planning just really wasn't her thing.

"Uh…" Dinah seemed to be at a loss for words, looking uncertainly between Barbara and Helena. "Well all my homework is done, and Gabby," Helena gave herself a mental high-five, "is out with her parents, so uh… no, not really. I was just talking to Barbara about my senior project. You know, for physics. I was going to do something with electromagnetic fields and the interference . . ."

"Yeah, yeah okay, never mind, I just needed to talk to Barbara for a sec."

Barbara looked up from her screen and met Helena's eyes. "If you'll give me a minute Hel, I'll finish this up and we can talk. Dinah is well on her way to creating a very interesting and challenging project." The blond beamed at this praise.

Helena wondered what could be so interesting to the redhead that she wouldn't give her full attention to the Kid's latest signs of scientific genius. "So what are you working on?"

"Oh, it's silly, really," Barbara answered with a laugh. "Someone has withdrawn a large sum of money from one of Bruce's accounts. They must have hacked in thinking it wasn't monitored. Bet they didn't count on having to deal with Oracle," she continued with a wink.

Helena was sure she would have found Barbara's enthusiasm for cyber crime-fighting sexy as hell if her stomach hadn't just plummeted to the bottom of her feet. "Uh, Babs, nobody hacked into the account." This wasn't the way Helena had planned on telling Barbara, but now it looked like she had no choice.

"What do you mean, Hel?" Barbara was looking at her with that non-expression that meant she was extremely interested, but trying to hide it. Even the Kid was watching her without her usual fidgeting.

"Um… it's just that, uh, I took the money out of the account."

"You . . ." Barbara tailed off, removing her glasses.

Helena figured she might as well just spit it out; it wasn't going to get any easier. "Well, you see it's like this. When I was away," a lift of a dark eyebrow indicated the time in question, "I got to thinking. I don't want to tend bar forever. I mean I like it and all. The hours are great, and of course the free drinks. I'll probably keep working there, I just want to do something else too . . ." Helena choked off. She quickly finished the rest of her confession in a hurried mumble.

"I'm sorry, Helena, what did you just say?" It looked like Red was getting a little pissed. Helena didn't understand it. Barbara loved a good mystery, but if it had anything to do with her, Red just seemed to have no patience.

'Probably all the hard times I gave her in high school,' Helena thought remembering some of the stunts she had pulled and then tried to hide from Barbara.

Sighing Helena repeated herself. "I said, I'm going back to school. Well not back to school 'cause I never went to college, but I'm going now. I enrolled in the spring semester. I'm gonna major in business and maybe art history. I want to follow in Mom's footsteps, you know, art acquisitions and auctioning, but legally. And I figured if Bruce's money could help me do that, well he owes me, right? So yeah, I was the one who got . . . into . . . the . . ." Helena trailed off looking at Barbara with concern. "Barbara, are you ok?" Red hadn't blinked in like five minutes, and she was just staring over Helena's head with a glazed expression. "Barbara?"

Words finally began to filter back into Barbara Gordon's stunned brain. Her mind automatically began to process them in an effort to restore her higher mental functions. She distantly noted that two people seemed to be speaking, holding a conversation.

"You broke her."

"I didn't break her. She's just thinking . . . really hard, and that's taking up all of her brain power."

"What are you talking about? She's totally broken. She hasn't moved in like ten minutes. I can't believe you just surprised her like that. You know she doesn't do well with surprises."

"Yeah I know, but what was I supposed to do. She already found out that I removed the money, what was I gonna say? 'Gee, Barbara, I know who took the money, but I can't explain it to you right now. First I've got to come up with a way to tell you that won't completely fry your circuits.' I'm sure that would have gone over really well."

"Okay fine. I just can't believe you broke her."

"For the last time, I didn't break her. Look, I'm gonna go get some water to, you know, splash her with. You keep an eye on her."

During the conversation, Barbara had been steadily gaining more control of her facilities, and hearing Helena's plan to snap her out of her vegetable-like state, the redhead found she was in fact capable of speech.

"I don't think that will be necessary Helena." One dark and one fair head whipped around and two pairs of concerned blue eyes focused on her face. Before she could say anything more, Barbara found herself enveloped in a crushing hug from her youngest ward.

"Oh my God, Barbara, I thought Helena broke you. I'm so glad you're ok. Are you ok?"

Laughing, Barbara returned the embrace. "Yes, Dinah, I'm fine, just a little surprised. And you can't actually break people."

She noticed Helena shoot a pointed look a Dinah before the other woman turned to her. Helena tilted her head down, letting her bangs hide her eyes. "I'm really sorry Barbara. I meant to tell you sooner, and not like I did, but it just kinda happened. I didn't mean to br- . . . surprise you."

Noticing the way the dark figure was shifting her weight nervously, Barbara was quick to reassure the other woman. "It's fine, Hel, really. I must admit though, I'm at a loss for words – in a good way. I . . . when did you come to this decision? Are you sure this is what you want? Why didn't you speak to me before?"

Shoulder's shaking in laughter Helena responded. "Um… when I was in Paris thinking about my future, yes I'm sure, and because I didn't know how you would take the news and I wanted it to be my responsibility, my thing." Laughing harder Helena continued, "And, Red, for someone who's at a loss for words, you sure ask a lot of questions."

"Indeed, Helena. I'm sorry I just don't know what to say." Barbara realized that this wasn't quite the truth. "Actually, Hel, I do. I'm very proud of you." Unable to help herself, the redhead added, "I just hope you know what you're doing. College is a big responsibility and you should take this seriously."

"I know, Barbara, and I'm ready to try." And just like that, it finally hit Barbara how much Helena had changed, how much the brunette had grown while she was away. "And you know I'm really just going for the keggers and hot fraternity guys." Well, she may have done some maturing, but after all she was still Helena.

"Glad to know you have your priorities straight, Hel." Giving the other woman a fond look, Barbara asked, "So you start in the spring. I assume you've registered for classes and know who your instructors are. You should introduce yourself to them as soon as possible and begin building relationships. Also, I'm sure you've already acquired your books. I would suggest reading the first three chapters in each so that you won't be so overwhelmed the first week. Also you should try and find a . . ."

Barbara stopped realizing she was once again getting identical looks from different colored blue eyes. Mentally going over her previous words, she realized she may have been a bit overzealous. Good Lord, if it had still been physically possible Barbara had just stuck her foot in her mouth. Smiling sheepishly Barbara looked at the brunette. "I'm sorry Hel; I got a little carried away. I'll try to stay out of your business."

"Is that even possible for you?" The teasing lilt and gentle smile took the sting out of the words. "I'd like your help, Red, but we've got different ways of doing things." That was an understatement. "Let's just see how things go. I can pretty much guarantee I'll be begging you for help at some point."

"That sounds like an excellent idea." Looking at her computer screen the redhead sighed, it really was a shame. "I guess I don't need to track where the account withdrawal came from. I had a nice computer virus all set up too."

Helena smirked. "Sorry to spoil your fun, Red."

"That's quite all right, Helena. While I shut this down why don't you grab something to eat and let Dinah tell you about her project?"

Seeing the blond perk up, Helena's face contorted. As she was being led away with Dinah already launching into her description of magnetic fields and canceling waves, the brunette twisted to look back at Barbara. "This is punishment for breaking you isn't it?"

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Hel," Barbara managed to say with a straight face, as the other woman disappeared around the corner. Fingers flying over the keyboard, Barbara couldn't remember being this happy in a very long time.

Why had she decided to take anatomy her senior year? Most of her classmates were slacking off, taking film lit. or bowling, but not her. No, she just had to take a class where they cut up innocent little animals everyday. You'd think as a superhero she would have been used to blood, but so far Dinah realized she had been relatively sheltered, and there was something about doing the cutting herself that made her really nauseous.

Looking up from her fetal pig, she automatically accepted the note handed to her by one of her classmates.

So have you found the liver yet? Is it the greenish thing? Do you want to spend the night at my house? It's Friday.

Dinah tried really hard not to laugh, especially since she was trying not to breathe, in general - formaldehyde was just gross. She knew most people thought she talked too much and couldn't focus on one topic for more than thirty seconds, but those people had never met Gabby. Her best friend's ability to match and even surpass Dinah's own randomness was one of reasons she loved her so much. That and the fact that Gabby had been one of the only people speaking to her when she was known as "Zipper Girl." Dinah quickly scribbled a response.

No. It's the pinkish triangular thing. Yeah love to. Got to ask Barbara.

Dinah watched Gabby get the note and give her a thumbs-up then look down at her partially dissected pig and poked it with her forceps, frowning. Glancing back up at Dinah she shrugged making a comically disgusted face. Dinah just smiled and went back to her own dissection.

Several hours later, both teenagers where bored out of their minds. Dinah had gotten permission from Barbara easily. Ever since Helena came back, Barbara was much cooler to be around. She was laughing, telling jokes, and – most importantly to Dinah - even treating her more like an adult. She thought it was great and hoped Helena didn't do anything to screw it up.

When she said she wanted to spend the night at Gabby's, her mentor had assured her that Huntress and Nightwing could cover sweeps and she should enjoy the time off. Three games of scrabble and one half-finished game of monopoly later, Dinah wasn't sure this was what Barbara had in mind.

"Okay, this is just pathetic." Gabby was up and pacing the floor. "We are two seriously hot, almost legal women, and we're playing monopoly . . . monopoly!" Secretly Dinah agreed with her friend, but didn't want to encourage her. Gabby's rants often led to trouble.

"What about your sister?" She continued without waiting for a response. "She works in a bar right? Why don't we go visit her?"

Dinah thought this was maybe the worst idea she had ever heard – except for that time Helena suggested using her as bait to lure out a slime monster from the sewers who happened to have a blond fetish. The first and only time she had visited Helena at work was the night Dick had decided to grill the brunette about Batman's disappearance. That had been seriously awkward, and Dinah now had a definite aversion for The Dark Horse.

"Um, I don't think that's a good idea. Helena's really touchy about her space," and just about everything else, "I don't think she'd appreciate a visit." Seeing her friend's expression fall, Dinah cast about for something to suggest. "I know! There's a new club that opened downtown. They'll let us in, but we'll have to get those stamp things." Dinah rolled her eyes. She hated being a minor.

"Perfect! Come on, I bet I can loan you something to wear. How did you find out about this place?"

It was a good thing Gabby was already heading for her room and didn't really expect an answer. Somehow Dinah didn't think it would be a good idea to tell the other girl that she had used the Delphi without Barbara's permission to research New Gotham's club scene.

Several more hours later, Dinah was regretting opening her big mouth. They had arrived at the club – The Water Garden – and gotten inside almost immediately. Dinah had obediently held out her hand to be stamped, but Gabby had produced a fake id and been ushered inside without one.

For the first few hours things had been going great. Dinah had been invited to dance by several cute guys, and Gabby was almost constantly on the dance floor with one girl or another. Dinah sometimes wondered why Gabby's sexual orientation didn't bother her in the slightest. Maybe it was because the other girl just made it seem so natural. She didn't really advertise it, but she didn't apologize to anyone either.

Sometime after ten Dinah noticed that Gabby was moving just a little slower and stumbling occasionally. After disengaging from her latest partner, the curly haired blond stepped up to the bar and expertly downed a shot. Dinah quickly made her way over to her friend.

"What are you doing, you can't drink!"

Gabby turned to her with a slightly unfocused smile. "Yes I can, it says so right here." She waved her fake id in Dinah's face. "Besides, I need something if I have to watch you dance with all those losers."

Dinah didn't know what to make of this statement. She was hurt, but it was obvious that Gabby was more than a little wasted.

"Okay, you are so drunk. I think it's time to go home." Dinah was slightly surprised when Gabby just looked at her and muttered "fine" before heading for the exit.

Outside, the air was still cold. Winter was almost over, but it seemed to cling to the streets of New Gotham, as if unwilling to retreat from the city it had claimed for three months. Pulling her jacket tighter, Dinah searched for a taxi. They had actually walked to the club – Gabby's parents owned a penthouse in the heart of New Gotham – but she didn't want her friend to walk home in her condition.

Scanning the empty streets, she sighed. Nothing was going according to plan tonight. Taking hold of Gabby's hand, Dinah began to walk past the mouths of deserted alleys, trying to stay in the intermittent illumination of the street lamps.

She was more startled than hurt when a rough hand grabbed her collar and another clamped over her mouth. Dinah felt herself being pulled into an alley and shoved up against the wall alongside Gabby. Two men stood in front of them, both holding guns.

"Okay, ladies, just give us your money and valuables and there won't be any trouble."

Dinah tried to look reassuringly at her friend, but was pretty sure she failed. After several months of crime fighting, she recognized the look of these men. Once they had their money, they wouldn't be letting them go. Dinah knew she had to act, but with Gabby there, she couldn't take any chances.

The sound of a trash can being knocked over at the other end of the alley provided the distraction she needed. Dinah lunged forward and twisted the gun out of one of the surprise robber's hands, knocking him to the ground with an elbow a second later. Turning back to the other man, she was just in time to see him aim at Gabby in a panic.

Not taking the time to consider the consequences of her actions, Dinah used her telekinesis to shove the man back into the alley wall. He groaned once before slumping unconscious to ground. A whimper from behind her caught Dinah's attention.

"You threw him." Gabby's eyes were wide and completely alert. "You threw him, but you didn't even touch him." She wouldn't look at Dinah. "I think I need to get home." The blond quickly began to walk out of the alley.

"Gabby, wait." Dinah started to go after her friend, but realized she had nothing to say. "Would you at least let me explain?"

Gabby stopped, but spoke without turning. "I don't know Dinah. I'm not sure I want to know." Dinah thought that was all she was going to say, but she continued. "Yeah, I'll let you explain. You're my best friend, but I need some time. I'll see you at school on Monday?"

"Yeah, I'll see you then." Dinah watched the figure fade into the shadows. Pulling out her coms, she prepared to tell Oracle there were two men for the police to pick-up. She just didn't know how to tell her mentor that she had also managed to reveal her powers to her best friend.

Walking back to the clock tower, Dinah tried not to imagine what the ramifications of her mistake would be. Maybe it was her precognition, but she got the feeling this night was going to have serious consequences for her family.

Part 4

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