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 email@example.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
Helena was furious. She was furious, angry, and somewhere deep, deep down inside where she kept all the things she couldn't admit to herself, she was scared. The fact that Barbara had sat through the Kid's little confession so calmly only made her more pissed-off. Red should have been yelling, or scolding, or . . . something. Instead, the other woman was just sitting there, staring off into space while the Kid fidgeted and apologized in front of her.
She liked the Kid, she really did. When they first met, Helena had been nervous. What if Dinah read her feelings for Barbara and felt she had to tell the redhead? It would have been a disaster. So she had stayed away and treated the teen more harshly than she deserved.
Eventually, she realized that Dinah didn't know her secret. As many times as the Kid had probably read her, she didn't seem to be able to pick up on it. Helena figured she had been burying and denying her feelings for so long, not even a touch telepath had a chance of discovering them. That, or her head was so messed up Dinah couldn't recognize the love for what it was, which, when she thought about it, made a lot of sense considering her personality.
"I'll go talk to her." Helena hadn't realized she was going to speak before the words were out of her mouth. "I'll make her understand that she can't tell anyone and she should just forget what she saw . . . by any means necessary." She was a little sickened to realize that she meant it too; she would do whatever it took to protect her family.
"Barbara, no! You can't let her hurt Gabby! It wasn't her fault." Dinah was alternating furious glares at Helena with pleading glances to her mentor.
Barbara sighed and removed her glasses, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
"I don't think that will be necessary, Helena. I hardly think a high school student will be much of a threat."
"You can't know that!" Helena knew shouting was not the best way to go about convincing Barbara, but fuck, couldn't she see how serious this was?
"No, she can't, but she also can't hurt an innocent girl, just because you're scared."
Helena whipped her head around to stare at Dick in surprise. His voice sounded compassionate, but her adopted brother usually had sense enough not to insert himself in an argument between the three women. Helena had accepted his presence in their lives, but that didn't give him the right to express his opinions. And no one got away with calling her scared.
"I'm not scared," Helena growled low in her throat. Before she could rip Dick a new one, Dinah interrupted.
"Yes, you are. You're trying to be all mighty Huntress and protect us, but you're really just scared. Scared that Gabby will betray me, like Quinn did when you trusted her." Dinah had been barreling along at full steam, feeling brave since Dick and Barbara seemed to agree with her. However, she felt her throat catch when she saw the way Helena flinched at her accusation. "Helena, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. It's not your fault that . . ."
Helena raised a slim hand, cutting her off. "Yeah, whatever. I'll be on the balcony if you need me." She knew she had to get out of the clock tower or something drastic was going to happen whether she was going to strangle the Kid or start crying was anyone's guess.
Feeling the cool air rushing over her flushed cheeks, Helena tried to relax into the familiar sights and sounds of New Gotham, blocking out the muted voices at her back. As much as this city had the power to hurt and enrage her, she also found it oddly comforting.
'Yet another sign that I should probably be occupying my own cozy cell at Arkham.'
Hearing the sound of the motorized wheelchair, Helena didn't turn around. "What if she's wrong? We could all end up getting hurt again." Barbara could end up getting hurt again.
"What if she's right?" Barbara's voice was low and soothing. "Dinah's so new to this Hel; you know how hard it's been for her to keep this part of herself a secret. If we can give her a way to feel more comfortable with who she is, with minimal risk to ourselves, how can we not?"
Helena couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Aren't you the one always telling me to wear a mask and not reveal my secret identity?"
This was so not fair. Barbara would never have let Helena reveal her powers to any of her friends - not that she'd had any friends after her mom died, but still, it was the principle of the thing.
"Yes, Hel, I still think masks are a good idea, but what do you want me to do? I can't change the fact that Gabby knows about Dinah's abilities. If we at least invite her to see what we do here, it might make her less inclined to share what she knows. I've met Gabby and I don't think she would do anything to hurt Dinah." When Helena didn't respond, Barbara's voice dropped even lower, and there was a hint of uncertainty. "If you can't trust yourself Helena, can you at least trust me to try and make the right decision?"
Oh fuck. Helena felt her resistance vanish. She didn't trust her own judgment anymore - not after Quinn - but Helena would always trust Barbara's. If Red thought letting Gabby in on their secret lives was a good idea, then Helena was on board as well.
"Okay, how do you wanna handle this?"
Helena should be back soon.
Today was the first day of the spring semester. Barbara had already been back in school for a week, but universities took a longer winter break, something she had never considered to be fair. When her classes ended for the day, Barbara had done something quite unusual for her, and gone straight back to the tower to wait for the other woman. She knew she shouldn't push Helena for details, but she was worried. If her first day had not gone well, the brunette might give up on the idea altogether.
Hearing the elevator doors chime, Barbara pretended to be engrossed at the Delphi. It was an old trick she had learned very early in her relationship with Helena. The best way to get her to talk was to ignore her or feign disinterest. Helena would soon crave attention and initiate conversation on her own.
Right on schedule, the younger woman walked up and leaned against the back of her chair. "Hey, Babs. Watcha doing?"
"Just some routine diagnostics."
"Oh, okay then."
Barbara could feel Helena restlessly moving behind her and kept her attention focused on the monitors in front of her, grateful that Helena didn't recognize the Matrix screensaver she had installed in one of her more capricious moods.
"So, do you want to hear about my day?"
Gotcha! Barbara covered her smile by raising her hand to remove her glasses. "Of course. How did it go?"
Barbara waited with considerable patience for the rest. When nothing was forthcoming, she decided some leading questions might be in order. Unfortunately, she asked the first question that came to mind.
"Did you make any friends, Hel?"
Both women stared at each other for a moment before simultaneously erupting in laughter.
"Oh my God, Barbara, you should have seen your face!" Helena could hardly get the words out, tears streaming down her own cheeks. "No, I didn't make any 'friends'." Helena's fingers supplied the necessary air-quotes. Wiping her eyes and still chuckling, she continued. "The people in my Intro to Art class seem okay, but kinda young." Barbara refrained from commenting, sure anything she said concerning that particular offering would be taken the wrong way. "Business 101 is going to be tough though. Did you know that they use math?" Again, Barbara thought it best to keep silent. "But over all, yeah, I think it's going to be pretty good." A wicked spark flared in blue eyes. "Definitely some hotties. I think I'm going to be busy with late night study sessions."
Barbara tried not to let her imagination run wild. She had always maintained that as long as Helena was safe, what she did in that area was none of her business. "Just as long as they're not jailbait, Hel."
"It's college Barbara, not high school. They're all legal."
"I wasn't when I first attended." In fact, Barbara hadn't been legal for an entire year in college, something she took great pleasure in pointing out to the various fraternity members who had approached her.
Helena seemed to consider this a moment before shrugging. "Yeah, but you're you. Trust me; most of these kids couldn't think their way out of a cardboard box."
"Thank you for restoring my faith in the college set, Hel. It's so gratifying to know that my students have gone on to become smart, capable individuals."
"Uh . . ." Helena awkwardly patted her on the shoulder. "I'm sure you do great Barbara. Look how I turned out." Giving her a bright smile, the brunette headed into the kitchen, most likely in search of pop-tarts.
Turning back to her screen, Barbara couldn't help but mutter, "That's what I'm afraid of."
"I heard that!"
In the end they decided that Dinah should invite Gabby to the clock tower for dinner. Barbara had maintained that a non-threatening situation would be the best course, and if anything did go wrong, well, no one was leaving the tower unless they wanted them to.
Dinah had spoken to Gabby on Monday, their conversation forced and awkward. She had invited the other girl to the tower on Friday night so she could try and explain things. True to her word, Gabby had agreed. Now all she had to do was convince her best friend she wasn't a freak, keep Helena from killing said best friend, help Barbara find a solution to a civilian knowing their identities, and make sure the lamb didn't burn. Dinah found it sadly confusing that the last item was causing her the most anxiety.
"Miss Dinah, please remove yourself from my kitchen." Alfred had the patience of a saint, but even he was getting tired of the young blond checking on his preparations every five minutes. "I have been preparing meals for some time now. I have even served princes and CEO's alike in my time with Master Bruce. I assure you, dinner will be flawless."
Realizing she was hovering, Dinah rushed to apologize. "I'm sorry Alfred. I just really want this to go well. I mean it's the first time Gabby's been to the tower and all. I just really want her to like it."
Alfred shook his head, wondering why he seemed to be surrounded by such extraordinary young women who couldn't find a clue with both hands and a flashlight. "I'm sure she will Miss Dinah, but are you sure it's the tower you want her to like?"
Dinah gave him a puzzled glance, but before she could reply the chime signaling someone had activated the elevator echoed through the kitchen. Barbara, Helena, Dick, and Dinah all converged on the landing before the doors.
Rolling her eyes, she tucked a strand of hair nervously behind her ear. This didn't look intimidating at all. Her fellow crime fighters had their game faces on. Dick and Barbara wore a cool, assessing mask, and Helena had a feral, challenging set to her features. Gabby would be lucky to survive the initial greeting.
When Gabby stepped off the elevator, Dinah was hit with a wave of fear, her telepathic abilities allowing her to feel her friend's uneasiness and discomfort as if it were her own. Looking over at Helena, Dinah saw she had noticed as well, her heightened senses giving her the same advantage. The brunette's features relaxed slightly just before she winked at her. Walking forward Helena extended her hand.
"I don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm Helena Kyle. You know Dinah and Barbara, over there is Dick Grayson, and Alfred, our butler, is in the kitchen." Helena tried out her most charming smile. "Any questions?"
Gabby seemed to relax a little and even managed a wan grin. "Um, only one. You have a butler?"
Laughing, Helena led the girl over to the couches where everyone settled in. Turning to look at Dinah, Helena gave her a small nod. 'Show time,' Dinah thought. Now if only she had some idea of what to say. Gabby was looking at her expectantly so she tried to suck it up and do her best.
"Um, what happened last week, when I threw that guy against the wall, I was using my telekinesis." She paused for a moment waiting for Gabby to interrupt. When she didn't, Dinah continued. "Right, so I can do stuff like that because I'm meta-human; it means I have abilities that most people don't. Barbara thinks it's probably evolution or something, but no one really knows." So far Gabby hadn't moved and appeared to be listening intently. "Helena is also meta-human" she saw the brunette twitch slightly at this casual admission "but her powers are different."
Dinah stopped and looked at Barbara for permission to keep going. Barbara nodded and Dinah prepared to explain the most difficult part. "You've lived in Gotham your whole life, so you've probably heard the stories about Batman right?" She waited until Gabby nodded cautiously before resuming. "Well they weren't just stories. There really was a Batman - and Robin and Batgirl. They fought to protect the city from criminals, but something happened almost eight years ago that changed everything."
Dinah found she couldn't continue. Her throat felt constricted, like she was being choked. She had come to care so much about the people in the room that talking about it was almost as hard for her as it was for them, especially since her visions allowed her to experience that night as if she had been there.
Confusion plain on her face, Gabby studied them. "You're trying to tell me that there really was a guy who ran around dressed in a bat suit fighting crime? Dinah, come on, that's just ridiculous. And what does anything that happened eight years ago have to do with what I saw last week? You weren't even in New Gotham eight years . . ."
Gabby was staring intently at Barbara's wheel chair. Dinah watched her friend do the math and come to her conclusions. Gabby could act like a stereotypical blond, but she was actually a very perceptive person. Her best friend raised her head to look at Barbara.
"You were Batgirl." Gabby whispered the statement almost in awe.
Barbara nodded slightly. "I was."
Turning to look at Dick, Gabby raised a questioning eyebrow. "Robin?"
Dick smiled and gave a little half wave. Settling her eyes on Helena, Gabby was clearly at a loss. Helena laughed and held up her hands.
"Don't look at me. I wasn't part of the club, and I'm definitely no bat."
Shaking her head, Gabby tried to take deep even breaths. "Okay, so something really bad happened eight years ago, but then what? How do we get from Batman to Dinah kicking some guy's ass without even touching him?"
"I think I can take it from here," Barbara cut in. "After my shooting and the death of her mother, Helena came to live with me. I was aware of her abilities and since I could no longer protect New Gotham as Batgirl, I trained Helena in my place." Barbara's need for accuracy made her clarify her statement. "It's not as simple as that of course. There were several different factors, but essentially, Helena became the vigilante known as Huntress and I became Oracle. When Dinah arrived she sought us out and when she revealed her abilities, it was only a matter of time before she asked to be trained as well. Along with Nightwing Dick's help, we've been protecting New Gotham ever since."
Barbara stopped, taking in the dazed expression in Gabby's brown eyes. "Batgirl, Oracle, Huntress, Robin, Nightwing how do you keep it straight?"
Helena laughed. "It takes some practice. Don't worry you'll get used to it if you stick around."
"I hope you realize the amount of trust we're showing you. If our identities ever got out, there are a lot of people who would do their very best to hurt us." Barbara's voice was determined. "There are also a lot of people who could hurt you because of your involvement."
Gabby was quiet, looking fixedly at the floor. When she looked up, she didn't address Barbara, instead she gazed steadily into Dinah's eyes. Dinah felt like she was drowning as she listened to her friend's response.
"I would never do anything to betray your trust, or get any of you hurt. It seems to me like you do a lot for this city and no one ever thanks you for it. The least I can do is keep your secret. As for someone trying to hurt me, that's already happened once and you were there to rescue me. I'm not going anywhere, so I guess I'll just have to trust you to save me if it happens again."
Barbara glanced at Dick who nodded and Helena who shrugged, adding an eye roll for good measure. "Well I guess that's settled then. I'd like to properly welcome you to our home and base of operations."
Dinah knew her grin was splitting her face, but it didn't matter because Gabby's was just as wide. Gabby broke down first and started laughing. "This is soooooo cool. I can't believe you didn't tell me sooner. Okay I can but, this is just . . . wow. What's your superhero name?"
Blushing, Dinah nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Um, Canary. I got it from my mom, she was Black Canary."
"Your mom was a superhero too?!"
Helena abruptly clapped her hands. "Yeah, yeah we can have story time later, right now let's eat."
Gabby turned to Barbara. "Why do you put up with her? She's not that hot."
While Helena spluttered, Barbara just laughed. "She has her redeeming qualities."
"If you say so. All I know is if she were my girlfriend, she'd drive me crazy."
Helena's undignified noises cut off abruptly, and Barbara appeared to have developed her own problems with rational articulation.
"I'm not . . ."
"We're not . . ."
Barbara and Helena cut each other off in their attempts to deny whatever it was Gabby was implying. Gabby looked a little nonplussed by their vehement rejections.
"Uh, I just assumed." She looked confusedly between Helena and Barbara. "You know since Dinah was so cool with me being gay, and the way you guys always hang out and are so casual about touching each other and stuff . . . and I'm just totally making this worse aren't I . . .?" Gabby trailed off.
Barbara was the first to recover. "Don't worry about it. It was an honest mistake. No harm done." The redhead's voice sounded strangled and she was pointedly not looking at Helena. She didn't need to bother since the brunette was just as pointedly looking at the clock face, not meeting anyone's eyes. Both women were blushing, though Barbara's looked far more severe with her pale coloring.
Dick was looking at all of them as if he had never seen them before. His gaze was confused, but it soon shifted to a thoughtful expression the longer the silence dragged on.
Head in her hands, Dinah wondered how things could have gone so wrong. She had been so hopeful before when Gabby seemed to be taking the superhero thing in stride. Now suddenly her best friend had accused the two most important people in her life of being involved in some kind of . . . torrid affair.
Why did these things keep happening to her?
At least it wasn't Arkham.
Barbara quickly scanned the document she had hacked from the Gotham police department. An escape attempt at Blackgate penitentiary had left two guards wounded, but no deaths and all of the inmates were accounted for.
She sighed, wishing there was someway for her team to be everywhere they were needed, but knowing it was impossible. Even though her company had grown from just Helena and herself to include Nightwing and Canary, they still couldn't cover all of the criminal activity that occurred in a major U.S. city, especially not one as crime ridden as New Gotham. So sometimes people ended up hurt or dead and it was her call as Oracle who those people would be. She told her operatives which calls for help to answer, always striving to do the greatest good with her limited resources. And if occasionally she felt like scrapping the whole thing, erasing their existence from every computer file on earth, and taking her family to some remote tropical island to live out the rest of their days in peace well, she just reminded herself that the Joker, along with the rest of the criminally insane monsters were still safely locked away in Arkham Asylum.
Sadly, she couldn't lock her emotions someplace equally secure.
The meeting with Gabby had gone surprisingly well. Barbara had been impressed with the girl's maturity and her sincere desire to protect their secret. She was fairly certain a good deal stemmed from the feelings the teenager obviously had for Dinah, but that only made her more likely to keep her promise. All things considered, she felt reasonably confident that they could trust her. That didn't mean she wouldn't be monitoring her, after all she was Oracle, but for the time being, observing would be sufficient.
Barbara realized she was once again avoiding the issue her mind so desperately wanted to analyze.
Gabby's assumption of her . . . involvement with Helena had come as a shock, to put it mildly. Barbara's brain had simply seemed to shut down when she comprehended exactly what was being implied, her only thought to deny anything and everything. The fact that Helena had reacted the exact same way did little to make her feel better, however.
It was obvious that the brunette was extremely uncomfortable with the entire situation. The rest of dinner had been a strained and silent affair. Barbara had never realized before how much the other woman carried the conversations when they were together. Helena had not spoken a single word until they had sent Gabby home with an offer to join them the following Friday if she were free. Even then, the other woman had merely wished them goodnight before attempting a tense laugh and saying something about teenagers and their overactive imaginations. Barbara didn't often examine her emotions - it was more than likely to be an unpleasant and confusing experience - but she couldn't escape the fact that Helena's reaction had hurt her . . . which was simply ridiculous.
Removing her glasses, Barbara looked away from her screens. While she may have been able to identify the emotion she was experiencing, she had been unable to determine the cause of her distress.
Part of it had to do with Helena's seemingly cavalier attitude about the whole affair. If Gabby thought that she and Helena were involved in a relationship, how many others had wondered the same thing? The brunette often stopped by the school to bring her lunch or to pick her up after work. She had always considered this to be a sign of their close friendship, but now that she was thought about hell, even conceived of - a different context for these actions, she could understand Gabby's confusion. All of which made her exceedingly uncomfortable.
It wasn't that she was homophobic or any such nonsense, or even that she was "straight." If things had been different, Barbara could easily see herself falling for her gorgeous and charming friend.
There was just something intrinsicly wrong with the very idea.
Barbara had been Helena's guardian for a little over a year. If that didn't put a damper on any romantic tendencies, nothing would, even if Barbara had never been able to bring herself to feel even remotely maternal towards the brunette. Besides, there was the considerable age difference. She had met a twelve year old Helena when she was finishing her undergraduate degree for Heaven's sake!
Besides, it wasn't like Helena was remotely interested. The other woman was the definition of a free spirit and quite content to remain that way. Barbara couldn't count the times she had tried to convince the brunette to settle down into a more stable relationship any kind of relationship - but Helena always brushed her off.
For a little while, she had thought there might be something with Detective Reese, but that had fallen through after Quinn's assault on New Gotham. Reese had transferred to a different precinct shortly afterwards, something Helena had only told her about two weeks after the fact. Obviously, nothing very serious had been going on or, possibly, Helena just wasn't capable of feeling that depth of emotion for another person. Helena had many wonderful qualities, but Barbara was convinced romantic wasn't one of them.
And even if she were interested, it wasn't like Barbara could give her what she needed. It had been hard, but she had come to accept her limitations. Her damaged spine would always make relationships difficult, especially the physical aspects. In fact, it tended to make the physical almost impossible, at least for her and Helena was all about the physical. Barbara knew she could never satisfy the other woman the way she was. Helena had always needed to please her Barbara had recurring nightmares where this was the only reason Helena became a vigilante but that was not something that was possible anymore. That kind of relationship wouldn't be fair for either of them, and would more than likely end up destroying what they did have.
Shaking her head, Barbara was mildly appalled at where her thoughts had led her. She had started out examining her reaction to a simple misunderstanding and had somehow become engrossed in contemplating a physical relationship with Helena. This was why emotions were bad - they made her think about inappropriate and unsettling things. If Barbara wasn't already going to hell for various activities as Batgirl or her routine invasion of privacy as Oracle, this would surely tip the scales.
The sound of the elevator opening revealing a tousled dark head - the lean body comfortably slouched against the railing - pulled her from her self-flagellation. Why was it she was cursed with people who couldn't grasp the concept of posture if an escrima stick were shoved up their . . .
Dick's quiet greeting neatly derailed her hostile thoughts and released some of her frustration.
"Hey yourself. I haven't seen much of you lately." After Gabby's visit, Dick had been absent from the clock tower, only calling to coordinate for sweeps before disappearing again.
As they headed out to their customary spot on the balcony overlooking the city, Barbara realized the current arrangement must be hard on her old friend. They worked together to stop crime in New Gotham, but he was an outsider to the family the three women had formed. Still, Dick had made it a point to come by the tower at least every other day to spend time talking with her or training with Dinah. Helena he ignored, and somehow, without speaking, as far as she knew, the two had worked out a schedule that allowed them to interact as little as possible.
She wondered sometimes why he stayed.
Dick had built a life in Bludhaven after Bruce left. He became a detective with the police force and invented a whole new crime fighting persona, but when Helena left after Quinn's attack, he had given it all up without a moment's hesitation to come and help her. She might be slow on the emotional up-take, but she did realize how fortunate she was to have that kind of friendship in her life.
"Sometimes I wish it could have worked out between us. Maybe things would have been easier."
The soft words were like a bucket of ice-water thrown in her face.
She really didn't need this. First her traitorous mind insisted on contemplating purely as an intellectual exercise a relationship with Helena, and now she was going to have to redefine her association with Dick.
Barbara sighed. When it rained it poured . . . and then it kept raining until it flooded and left you without a single piece of dry land in sight.
"I don't understand, Dick. I don't think our . . . involvement would have made things simpler, quite the opposite in fact."
Dick gave a rueful bark of laughter. "I didn't say simpler, I said easier. I'm not naïve enough to believe anything could be simple with you."
Unsure whether or not she was being insulted, Barbara began to speak only to be summarily cut off by a gently raised hand.
"You were always looking for romance, the great love of your life. Sometimes I just think it would have been easier if I could have been what you needed."
She really didn't know what to say to that, let alone what to feel. How did someone respond to an accusation like that? She had always considered herself a very analytically focused person, not one to indulge in romantic moods and pointless nonsense.
"I think it probably started with your parents."
The sharp reprimand left her mouth before she could even consider her response. He had no right to bring up her parents. Not Jim Gordon and his deceased wife, the people who she considered to be her parents in every way that mattered, but her biological mother and father who had managed to kill themselves in a car wreck. Her father had been drunk at the time which was no surprise considering it was the man's typical condition. Even with her eidetic memory, the few impressions she retained of him were violent episodes and angry, shouted words.
Her mother hadn't been much better in Barbara's opinion. The woman had barely spoken, and then only to agree with the man who overshadowed her existence. Barbara had decided very young that she would never let anyone control her the way Roger Gordon had dominated his wife.
"You don't talk about them often, but when you do it's not hard to see that there wasn't any love in their relationship." Barbara could hardly argue when she had just been thinking the same thing. "I think that's why you set out to find that passion for yourself, but like always that super brain of yours got in the way and you couldn't let yourself see it. You had to hide behind a mask as you tried to make yourself into someone you thought deserved to be loved."
Dick remained focused on the skyline as he talked, dissecting Barbara's life and decisions. If some part of her hadn't been so absorbed, she would have tried to halt the painful stream of words.
"But even after you became Batgirl and saved the entire city more times than I can count, you still couldn't believe it or maybe you just hadn't found the right person, that someone who understood and challenged all of you. Maybe you thought that you needed to try something else and that person would find you, so you became a teacher. A profession that made you give even more of yourself, help even more people."
Dear Lord, listening to him, it almost made sense. His mad theory and explanations could be used to explain all the decisions of her life - but it didn't mean it was true. Dick's detective's mind had obviously been working on this problem for some time. He had merely twisted the facts to prove his hypothesis, nothing more. She was not some kind of starry-eyed school girl going about her entire life trying to find her . . . soul mate. The idea was patently ridiculous and yet she continued to listen.
"After you were shot," the pain in the low voice was impossible to miss, "I think you gave up. You just decided that it wasn't going to happen, that if no one could deserve you before, surely no one would want you now."
That had been a shot right to the solar plexus. All of the air seemed to rush from Barbara's lungs, leaving her lightheaded and gasping. For the first time that evening Dick turned to her.
"Even now, you still can't see how amazing you are. I know I'm not the right person for you. I wanted to be, but I'm not. I may have been a match for Batgirl and even for the Barbara Gordon you let the rest of the world see, but I've never been able to reach the true woman underneath all your masks." Taking her hand he cradled it gently between his palms. "I think you need to consider if you can let anyone in that far and if the answer's yes, who do you want that person to be?"
Was that an actual question? Dick couldn't possibly expect a response. She didn't even believe his absurd theory. This was not her. She was a calm, rational person who very rarely displayed or even experienced strong emotion. She was not the tragically romantic figure Dick had just described. The entire idea was absurd - and terribly, horribly frightening. Because if it was true, where did that leave her?
Dick had just admitted that they weren't right for each other, and if she admitted the truth, she had never loved him that way. And poor Wade, killed by Quinn in some twisted plot for revenge. God help her, but he had been convenient. She had loved his easy manner and friendship, but there had never been any passion between them, no romance. If her entire life had been spent in some kind of veiled search for love, she had obviously failed.
Warm lips on her forehead brought Barbara back from her panicked thoughts. Staring into the kind blue eyes so close to her own, she tried desperately not to show how much his words had affected her. The sheer amount of sympathy directed at her let her know just how unsuccessful she was.
"Please don't give up, Barbara. It's not a weakness to want someone to love you completely and without reservation. Most people just sit back and hope that love will find them very few have the courage it takes to go out and hunt it down. I always thought you were the bravest person I'd ever met and that hasn't changed." Giving her hand one last squeeze, Dick turned to go. "Maybe I'm wrong, but either way, just give it some time. Everything'll work out, you'll see. You're both too stubborn for it not to."
Her mind already reeling, Barbara couldn't begin to guess what he meant.
Calloused fingers trailed lightly up her thigh, leaving delicious tingles where whorled edges seemed to catch on her sensitive skin.
Helena moaned as those same skillful fingers bypassed her need and crossed random patterns over her stomach. Hands continued to tease across her ribs, outlining each curve of bone below the tan skin as she tried desperately to shift forward, needing more contact, more of everything.
Suddenly, she felt the feather soft weight of her tormentor's hair on her upper chest and breasts. A quiet growl escaped her lips as the silky strands caressed her hardened nipples, enflaming her even more. Moist lips were tracing the same path fingertips had just conquered. When the supple mouth reached the tops of her thighs, Helena's hand jerked, wanting so badly to simply grab and force her partner to her aching center.
Usually, Helena preferred her sex to be hard and focused on physical release, but this connection, this act was all about emotion. She could feel it in the quiet breaths against her skin, in the slight shaking of hands curved around her stomach and thigh. Normally, Helena would have climaxed long ago, but something kept her holding back, wanting to share this experience and herself as long as possible.
"Please . . ."
The ragged plea forced its way past her constricted throat. A low chuckle vibrated against her damp curls, causing her to jerk against the hands holding her securely to the bed.
When a gentle finger started to part her folds, sliding easily through the flood of moisture and stroking once, hard against her clit, Helena could no longer hold back. Her eyes shot open as her back arched off the bed. Both hands flew from her sides to tangle tightly in crimson hair, not allowing the other woman to escape, unsure who she was trying to restrain.
Her world shattered in a blast of white sparks and heat.
Helena's eyes flew open, feral senses immediately taking in the details of her bedroom. The sounds of some alternative rock band filtered up from the speakers in the bar below. Sighing, she let her eyes close as she consciously relaxed her muscles and reclined on the bed. Going over the familiar dream, she let out a string of soft curses.
God, she was in so much trouble.
She had been doing so well. Barbara had let her come back, hadn't even really pressured her about why she had left. The other woman seemed to accept that Helena had worked some things out, and had just seemed glad she was home. Helena had been feeling more in control than she ever had before. Hell, she had even managed to work out some kind of relationship with Dick Grayson! So their interaction was based on silence and the occasional cutting insult, it was still a relationship.
And now this.
Damn the Kid for getting Gabby involved in their lives. She knew it wasn't going to end well.
The dreams had started again, so familiar to her after almost ten years. The specifics might change, but never the connection, the feeling of rightness and more than simple sex that she had never been able to reproduce with her waking partners.
And as always, her subconscious would add some detail to force Helena to recognize exactly who it was she fantasized about in the dark. Tonight it had been the hair, sometimes it was emerald eyes watching her, other times it was the unique quirk of full lips signaling some combination of arousal and wicked amusement.
The dreams had stopped for a while after coming back from Europe. She had almost hoped that she might finally move on with her life, but now they were back. Helena really wanted to blame Gabby, but she knew in her heart that it wasn't the teenager's fault.
It was just so hard to wake up to an empty bed and even emptier apartment. Sometimes Helena really hated being alone.
Getting up, she walked in the direction of her bathroom. She needed a shower, a cold shower. She'd done this all before and she could do it again.
A cross between a laugh and a sob shook her shoulders. If nothing else, she now had homework to focus on when she could no longer sleep, afraid to return to cruel dreams that promised her everything and left her with nothing except a soul-deep ache for the one thing she could never have.
"Dad, you in here?"
"Yep, come on in Honey. I just want to finish this last paragraph."
Barbara eyed the mountain of overflowing paper stacked on the polished wood desk. She quickly calculated the odds that the pile would remain standing if she tried to maneuver her chair around the obstacle, and wisely decided to wait by the door for James Gordon to come out.
Eventually, he emerged from his study, giving her a sheepish smile. Wearing comfortable slacks, a navy blue sweater and, she noted with amusement, house slippers, Barbara thought he looked nothing like the tough Police Commissioner she remembered from her youth. This man was obviously more at home writing up his memoirs than chasing down criminals in the middle of the night. The glint of determination was still present in brown eyes, as was the fitness of a man half his age, but retirement seemed the suit the man she called her father.
Jim led her into the kitchen where he quickly set about making coffee, a vice he had passed on to his adopted daughter. "So what's so important that you couldn't wait until Tuesday to talk to me about?"
Retired or not, James Gordon still knew how to get straight to the point. They had a standing appointment every Tuesday to have dinner at the small house Jim owned right outside New Gotham. For her father it was a chance to see his only daughter and relieve some of the loneliness he felt after the death of his wife. For Barbara, it allowed her to spend time with the most important figure in her life when she was growing up - besides Bruce - and to escape, briefly, from her life as Oracle and the demands she placed on herself. It also didn't hurt that her father was a great listener.
"Dad, do you think there's only one person out there for everyone? Kind of like a soul mate?"
Barbara winced as the question left her mouth. It sounded so juvenile, especially when she hadn't meant to say anything at all. Something about her father seemed to make her say what was on her mind, no matter how uncomfortable she was with the topic. It always made Barbara feel like a teenager again, something she was in no hurry to experience. She made a mental note to commiserate with Dinah in the near future.
Jim seemed taken aback by her question. Taking off his glasses he carefully cleaned them with hem of his shirt before speaking. "I'm not sure Honey. I guess based on my own personal experience with your Aunt Barbara, I would have to say yes. I loved her more than I ever thought possible, and after she died I could never consider a relationship with anyone else. If I hadn't had you to look after and my work, I'm not sure what I would have done."
Barbara said nothing about the tears her father quickly tried to wipe away, more than familiar with the discomfort of showing so much emotion. After a moment to collect himself, he continued. "But that doesn't mean that's the case for everyone, and I'm not sure I would use the term soul mate. For me, it was more that I was able to share everything with her. She knew me better than anyone else, even when I tried to push her away. I was trying to protect her from my work and the horrible things I dealt with, but she wouldn't allow it. She used to tell me, I had my work which I never turned my back on, but I also had her and she'd be damned if I'd give her less than I did my job."
Barbara chuckled through the tears that had started falling as Jim spoke about his wife. She felt like she barely had a chance to know the wonderful woman before cancer had taken her away, but all her memories of the time they had spent together were good ones. James Gordon had taught her how to trust again after her parents died, but Barbara Gordon had taught her that she could be loved.
"Why the sudden interest? I know how hard Wade's death was for you, but you can't let that stop you from having someone in your life."
"But what about what you just said? What if he was the one for me?" Barbara tried to point out her father's apparent double standard.
Jim just looked at her. "Well if you really think he was the one, then I would have to agree. He seemed like a nice young man, but we both know you didn't love him. Not the way you just described."
"I know." Barbara's voice was small and she couldn't look her father in the eyes.
A broad hand suddenly entered her field of vision and grasped her own where it lay in her lap. "There's nothing to be ashamed of, Honey. You didn't love him, that's not a crime."
"But he died because of me."
"No, he died because Harley Quinn decided to punish you for being Batgirl and helping to put the Joker in Arkham." Brown eyes bored into her own. "I've always been afraid for you. First when I figured out you were Batgirl, and later when you admitted you'd decided to keep fighting as Oracle, but I've also always been proud of you. You take on so much Barbara; please don't add guilt for something that wasn't even your fault to the list."
Barbara squeezed his hand, letting him know she heard him, but was unable to speak. Hearing her father's words she decided it was finally time to let go of Wade, let go of the guilt for his death and the fact that she couldn't be what he wanted.
Jim gripped her hand once more and leaned back in his seat. Getting up, he poured instant coffee into two mugs and set one in front of Barbara. She took a grateful sip before asking the question that had been haunting her since her talk with Dick.
"Dad, do you think someone could spend their whole life looking for the right person to love and not even know it?"
Glasses caught the light and reflected it back in her face, momentarily blinding Barbara so she couldn't see her father's expression. "I'm not sure, Honey, but it seems to me that if someone were lucky enough to find that person, it shouldn't really matter."
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