DISCLAIMER: Birds of Prey and its characters are the property of Miller/Tobin Productions, Warner Brothers and DC comics. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I started this fic back in 2002, but never finished it. It was the reason, actually, why I stopped posting WIPs. Well, now it's done, so there's a load off. It doesn't necessarily follow either the canon of the show or the comic. It's also probably kind of melodramatic. Oh, and I've changed bits and pieces of the parts that were already posted (as if anyone could remember differences after 7 years).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Here Be Monsters
Dr. Harleen Quinzel would have been one second away from going insane had she not already been there, though the tenuous tether she had on her ability to control her more sociopathic impulses was growing rather loose. Lately, nothing had been going right. Some cliched dark figure of good had flown onto the scene, putting major crinkles into her nice, smooth plan to take over New Gotham. At the rate things were going, she'd never be able to build the empire she wanted to develop and give over to her puddin' as a 'Happy Busted Free from Arkham' gift. In fact, good help had become so hard to come by that she'd contemplated just simply giving up on the whole dual personality thing and getting everything in order herself, but the sharp, analytic side of her reminded her that it was best to be the brains behind the scenes and not the brawn on the front pages of the newspaper.
And then, added to that, one of her formerly most interesting clients had suddenly gotten so boring that she momentarily gave serious thought to simply shooting the girl not an idle threat when it came to her and putting them both out of their collective misery. Helena Kyle had shown such promise early on that the good doctor had actually looked forward to her visits as a break from the tedium of mind-numbing sessions with obsessive-compulsives and manic-depressives. There was a hint of danger to her, easily visible in the hard to control aggression that played out so plainly on her expressive face. She was flippant and sarcastic, and Harleen had given many long, pleasurable hours over to thoughts of just how, exactly, she'd break the charming creature.
It appeared, though, someone had apparently beaten her to the punch, stealing all the delicious verve that had once made Helena so appealing. For three sessions in a row, it'd been nothing but Barbara, Barbara, Barbara, and Harleen was ready to scream. Barbara does this, and Barbara says this, and why didn't Helena just come out and say that she'd slit her wrists gladly like the love-sick puppy dog she was if only Barbara would ask her. It was sickening, really, to see the vacant, starry-eyed expression, and to be honest, Harleen had stopped listening to the other girl blather on about Barbara nearly a session and a half ago.
Straightening in her chair, blinking her eyes in an attempt to bring them back into focus and appear as if she were still paying attention to the sickening drivel spewing forth from the once captivating Helena Kyle's lips, Harleen said shortly, trying to remember anything remotely relevant to the tale at hand and failing, "So, when did you go from being young ward to lover?"
There was a long pause, and Harleen looked up, a slight smirk creeping across her features as she noticed the guarded look on her client's face. The silence said it all, and she sat up a little more, interested once again.
"Hmm. Could it be that you haven't won the prize yet, Helena?" she drawled slowly, a hint of sarcasm laced through the words.
Dark brows lowered in anger, but Harleen merely smiled and continued blithely on, "You haven't even made a move, have you? For the past three weeks, you've spent hours in here raving on and on about the glory that is Barbara Gordon, but she doesn't have a clue about your little schoolgirl crush, does she? Surprising, really, that you'd be so weak about this, Helena. Such hesitance doesn't seem to fit with your usual pattern of reckless disregard for consequences and tendency to impulsivity."
Helena's nostrils flared, fingers tightening on the arms of her chair with such strength that she could almost feel the hardwood giving away beneath her, but still Harleen continued, giddy with the knowledge that she was pushing both Helena and the boundaries a bit too far.
"Why so scared, I wonder," she said contemplatively, tilting her head to the side and templing her fingers under her chin. "Let's see what I know about Barbara. She's older than you, at least seven or so years from what I can remember. A high school teacher who bakes muffin tops on the side, and manages to do it all from a wheelchair." Somehow Harleen made it sound so distasteful, her voice skirting a fine edge between patronizing Helena and mocking Barbara, and Helena felt her muscles tense, ready to spring into action and forcibly shut up her doctor if the woman didn't realize the need to do so for herself sometime soon.
Grinning gleefully, Harleen cocked a brow, pushing forward despite the anger she saw growing behind impossibly dark blue eyes. "Someone stable, responsible, and grounded, and no doubt looking for someone else who is the same. Almost a paragon, isn't she?" she purred sarcastically. "And then there's you. Young, angry and irresponsible, prone to breaking the law. You're a bartender, hardly stable, respectable work. You like to party, to ignore and break rules and regulations, and you've got quite the little attitude. It's no wonder she's not crawling into bed with you," Harleen finished with a smirk, a second brow raising impertinently to join the first, enjoying herself more than she really should but not particularly concerned about it.
"Enough," Helena snapped, pushing out of her chair and closing the distance between herself and the therapist in a flash, her body little more than a black blur in the few seconds before Harleen found herself inches away from burning dark blue eyes. Helena had trapped her in her chair, arms on either side of her and her body a very effective block, suddenly shrinking the space around the doctor down to nothing more than black leather and a roiling sheen of anger.
Ignoring the aggressive threat of her client's stance, Harleen merely smiled and licked her lips, unable to push down the shiver of arousal that raced through her. This was the Helena she preferred, and she wasn't coy enough to deny that she'd like her as more than a client. "Hit a little too close to home? Did the truth hurt?" she asked with a faux, sickeningly sweet and innocent tone, crossing her legs so her knees were pressed against Helena's thighs, the heat of the other woman's body burning into her.
For a moment, Helena struggled to hold back the urge to simply strangle the other woman, to beat her into submission for putting into words shortcomings she hadn't even considered, for mocking her desires. Before, it had simply been her fear of upsetting the status quo, her certainty that she'd be rejected, that had stopped her. Now, though, she had actual, concrete and certainly logical reasons to back up her own fears from a supposedly impartial observer, and nothing appeared to be stacked in her favor. The mere concept infuriated her, not to mention the woman who had brought it to her attention. In response, the desire to hurt was nearly overwhelming, and she felt herself grow perilously close to giving in to it. But then, she noticed it the aroused flare of dark pupils, the intoxicating perfume of desire. Shifting from aggressive to seductive within the span of a second, she shot the other woman a sensuous smile and said languidly, "Looks like you've got a few issues of your own, Dr. Quinzel. What about therapist/client distance? Not quite square with ethical guidelines to want to fuck a patient, is it?"
The doctor blinked slowly, her voice smooth and not at all rattled as she responded. "You're the one who bridged the distance, Helena. Looking for a little affirmation? Can't get into the pants of one reassuring Mommy figure so you thought you'd try another?"
"Fuck you," Helena spat, blue eyes blazing.
One slim brow rising, Harleen looked down her patient's form assessingly, taking her time before returning her gaze to Helena's eyes. "Thanks for the offer, but our time is up. I think we made wonderful strides today, Helena. Let's see if we can keep up this kind of rapport for next week."
With a snort, whether of amusement or disgust Harleen wasn't sure, Helena pushed away from her chair, striding out of the office without another word. The doctor watched her progress with a smile, a glint of anticipation in her eyes.
Helena was brooding. It wasn't that it was particularly unusual for her to brood. In fact, after years of being a guardian and then just a friend, Barbara was quite used to the brunette's penchant for indulging in depressive fits, but there was something different about this one. This one wasn't quite the normal 'weight of the world on my shoulders' kind of wallowing, and as such, Barbara was concerned. In general, slightly depressed or slightly pissed off was a stable constant for Helena, both looks she wore well, but today she just looked well, rather pitiful.
"Bad session?" Barbara asked softly, rolling over to rest beside the couch where Helena had flung herself when she'd entered the Clocktower nearly an hour earlier.
One bleary blue eye peeked out from underneath the forearm Helena had slung across her face, noting with dismay that the redhead was as close as she'd surmised she was. "Is there any such thing as a good session?" she asked wearily, arm dropping back down to once again shield her eyes. She'd retreated to her haven as usual, but for once just the simple nearness of Barbara's presence hadn't been enough to calm her. Dr. Quinzel's words kept tracing their way through her mind, and with each successive passage, she realized just how true they really were.
Sighly softly, reaching out to push back the unruly hair scattered across Helena's forehead but stopping herself at the last second, fingers hovering mere millimeters above the other woman's skin, Barbara continued to prod. "Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. If you're finally working through some of the issues that have been troubling you, then, in the long run, it can only be a good thing. Don't get discouraged."
Fighting the wave of nausea that accompanied Barbara's little pep-talk, hating self-reassurance pop-psychology bullshit almost as much as she hated being coddled, Helena pushed herself upright, cool blue eyes focusing on soft green. She wanted to see the other woman's expressions, which, though suppressed, always told her volumes more about what Barbara was actually thinking as opposed to what she felt compelled to say.
"Do you think I'm irresponsible?" she asked finally, voice harsh as sharp eyes searched the other woman's face for any sign of reaction. There was very little, other than surprise that the question had been asked at all. It certainly wasn't the follow-up Barbara had been expecting.
Brows creasing for a moment as she thought, a moment she shouldn't have needed in Helena's opinion, Barbara said finally, haltingly, "You carry a great responsibility, Helena. It's one that I don't think many people would have taken, nor been prepared to handle."
Which was, Helena noticed with some small bit of amusement, essentially not an answer at all. "So you do think I'm irresponsible," she surmised with a soft laugh, rolling her eyes.
Hedging, now a bit uncomfortable, Barbara tried to backpedal. "It's not that I think you're irresponsible. It's just that I don't think you're well suited to responsibility in the traditional sense of the word. You are undoubtedly a talented, dedicated crime-fighter, but you're not a nine-to-five kind of person, Helena. I think you've designed your life to fit perfectly around your temperament, and it works out well for you. There's nothing wrong with that."
"But you wouldn't trust me to, say, pay the bills here for six months. Is that it?" Helena asked a bit sarcastically, a sour feeling settling in the pit of her stomach. She wasn't sure she liked the way Barbara saw her, even if it was a true reflection of who she was. The funny thing was, she'd never really given it much thought before. Sure, she was a little irresponsible, but she'd always just assumed that it only added to her appeal. She was a little bit of chaos in counterpoint to a well-regulated life, and for some reason, she'd thought Barbara had appreciated that. Now, though, she wasn't so sure.
"I think you're deliberately misunderstanding me," Barbara shot back, slightly irritated at the resignation she saw in the other woman's form. Seeing self-defeat in someone who had so much going for her always made Barbara angry. "You can do anything you set your mind to, Helena. I've seen you, so don't pretend like you can't. There's no way to count the number of things you've done to make the world a better place. Not the least of which, I might add, would be the way you took care of me after " Barbara said, stumbling slightly over the words, " after the shooting."
"Yeah, well, maybe you don't know me as well as you think you do," Helena said sharply, bitterly. For some reason, Barbara's words, though comforting, didn't actually manage to comfort her. It was all superhero blah blah blah, you can do anything you want blah blah blah, and if she'd been looking for a bit of good karmic reinforcement and assurance, she could have read a fucking Deepak Chopra book.
Frowning, not quite sure that the conversation they were having was the one Helena was actually hearing, Barbara asked, "Again, where is this coming from? Therapy?"
"It's just," Helena started, frustration written clearly across her features, "I don't think I could ever do the whole white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog thing."
Mired in confusion, thrown off balance by the apparently non-related statement, Barbara murmured, "Well, people like us we're not ever going to have that kind of life, so maybe that's not such a bad thing. It's one or the other, Helena. Normal life or this, and if you're looking to trade out, then you need to let me know."
"But you want a normal life, don't you," Helena said plaintively, blue eyes focused on green with nearly painful intensity. "You want all that family stuff, with the kids and the minivan in the garage and soccer games after school."
Barbara's gaze hardened, her jaw tightening. "Those things aren't available to me either," she said slowly, her words calm and controlled. "You don't have a stranglehold on being outside the mainstream. If you're feeling confused or uncertain about all of this, then perhaps you need to take a little time off and see if you made a wrong choice somewhere along the way. This game," she said, gesturing expansively at the Clocktower, "isn't something you can half-ass. If you don't want it, then you need to be out of it completely. Anything less than total dedication and you'll get yourself killed."
"What happened to being part of a team?" Helena muttered sullenly, curling in on herself. "Not that you don't have my replacement all lined up and ready, just waiting for the day when I screw up and bite it."
"Dinah?" Barbara asked with no little confusion, brows drawn together tightly.
"Yeah," Helena shot back bitterly. "The little super-baby wonder. See her throw things with her mind. Watch her read your thoughts with just a touch," she said mockingly, sneering. "What's a girl who can just climb walls to do with that kind of competition?"
Growing increasingly annoyed, Barbara wheeled back slowly. "Why don't you take some time to figure out just what it is you want, and when you're in a better mood, then we can talk more," she told Helena stiffly, trying to push down her anger. She didn't know which statement among the many the other woman had made infuriated her more, but for the moment her desire to comfort had disappeared.
By the time Barbara made it back to her console, Helena was gone, flying across rooftops with no set destination in mind, sure that her plan, if she'd ever even had one, had gone horribly awry.
Helena looked at the woman appraising her coolly over the top of a thick piece of cream resume paper, sure for the fifth time that day that she was once again about to be summarily dismissed.
"Ms. Kyle, it says here that you've been a bartender for the past two years. Why the sudden desire to become a bank teller?" the woman, a Ms. Morrow, asked slowly, a small smirk flitting across her features, and Helena reined in her initial impulse to scratch the cocky woman's eyes out.
Gritting her teeth, she said simply, "I'm looking for something a little more stable."
"And the skills you currently possess how do you anticipate incorporating them into a position here?"
There was something so smarmy about the woman, as if she found the thought of Helena working there to be hilarious in the extreme and was more than willing to poke fun at the brunette's expense. So fine, Helena decided. Screw interviewing etiquette. It wasn't as if she'd really been possessed by a burning desire to work there anyway.
"Well, I've got quite the wicked right hook. It'll knock anybody out flat, no matter how big they are. You've got to get less than friendly customers in here from time to time, but you wouldn't have to worry about security with me on the job. Two years of reading drunks' handwriting on bar tabs ensures that I'll always get check amounts right. I'm intimately familiar with ATMs, having used them myself for at least four years now, and have been balancing my own checkbook for probably a little over five. All you need to know is how to fucking add, anyway, and I can assure you that I never get the little plus and minus signs mixed up," she sneered, unable to take any more condescension. "So you know what fuck this. You can take your job and shove it straight up your ass. I could be a fucking billionaire if I wanted, so I don't know why the hell I'm even here. It was a stupid idea."
The other woman, having apparently decided that it was no longer necessary for her to play the demure interviewer, smirked broadly at Helena's outburst. "More like fucking a billionaire," she muttered under her breath with a snide snicker, eyes flicking toward her office door to make sure it was still closed.
Eyes narrowing, Helena felt her anger grow to nearly unmanageable proportions at the taunt. It was the last straw, really, in a day of increasingly shorter straws. So she hadn't gone to college. So she hadn't built up an impressive work history. So she hadn't actually had a regular day job before. So she didn't own any business suits and hadn't taken seminars on how to interview for success. She risked her life night after night to save assholes like the woman sitting in front of her, not-so-subtly mocking her just as the previous four before her had done, and it was simply too much.
Hands that were itching to rip the woman apart limb from limb settled upon grabbing the chair she had been sitting in and lifting it above her head. For a moment, she was intensely gratified by the look of sheer terror in the other woman's eyes at the easy way she hefted the piece of heavy, expensive furniture, at the imposing figure she cut in her fury. And then, even as a voice in the back of her head screamed at her to stop, she hurled the chair toward the plate glass window behind the woman, noting with some surprise that it simply shattered against what she now surmised to be bulletproof glass. Splintered pieces of demolished hardwood rained down around the office as the seat fell heavily to the floor, landing with a loud thump and skittering off to the side.
It had been a stupid thing to do, to give in to her more violent impulses that way, and she watched with a frustrated detachment as the woman dialed furiously for security. Slumping to the floor in resignation, knowing it was fruitless to try and run even though she didn't for a moment doubt her ability to get away, Helena merely waited. She wasn't going to use her powers against an effectively helpless security guard. Not that it would matter anyway. Her resume and all of the personal information that one required to track her down was sitting squarely on the desk in front of her. Even if she had snatched it before running, she sincerely doubted that Ms. Morrow would ever forget her name.
The ride down to the police station was long and even more depressing, and Helena tried desperately to spend the time thinking of anything other than how Barbara was going to react to her latest indiscretion. Quinzel had been right about her. She was a fuck-up and there was nothing she could do about it. Barbara would never want to become involved with someone who couldn't even hold her temper in the face of a little mocking, who terrified bank officers and shattered otherwise perfectly respectable mahogany furniture.
Gritting her teeth at the sight of the far too familiar building, getting ready to go through the booking process yet again for another destruction of property charge, Helena did nothing to work on improving her increasingly dark and volatile mood. Maybe she should take Barbara's advice and take a break. Maybe she wasn't cut out for this superhero gig. Perhaps there was something in her fundamentally unsuited to protecting the public good, and she had simply been doing it all for the wrong reasons. The wrong reasons being, of course, her libido and her desire for a certain redheaded resident genius, not to mention the socially acceptable opportunities for handing out beatings. Maybe she was too much like her mother, too full of ambiguities and gray areas to ever really fit into the world she currently inhabited.
Much to her surprise, Helena bypassed the booking area completely, and was roughly pushed into an interrogation room instead. For a moment she was terrified that the police had somehow found out that she was the Huntress and that they were going to try and force something from her her secret identity, her cooperation, her promise to stay out of their way. Whatever it was, she couldn't imagine the deviation from routine to be a good thing, and with a growing sense of urgency and claustrophobia, waited to see exactly what her fate would be.
She was in the midst of working out an escape plan that involved the ventilation ducts and airplane tickets to Columbia when the door opened and a familiar soft hiss of wheelchair wheels against flooring tickled her eardrums, drawing a resigned sigh. "Barbara," she said flatly even before the figure in the wheelchair made her way past the door and into the room.
Waiting until the door was closed and they were alone, thoroughly conscious of the fact that one could never be truly alone in a room with a one-way mirror, Barbara wheeled over so that she was inches away from Helena, a look of frustrated concern etched across her features. "Care to tell me what happened?" she asked, genuinely perplexed. Even after searching her mind for possible reasons, she still couldn't figure out why Helena had been where she had been, nor why she would have done what she had done.
"No," Helena said stubbornly, dropping her forehead down so that it rested on the hard wood of the table in front of her, not quite sure she could take looking at Barbara.
The room was silent for a moment as Barbara waited for Helena to continue and Helena waited for the world to end. Neither happened, so after a few minutes, Barbara sighed softly, the sound one of aching disappointment that seemed to scrape away the top layer of Helena's skin, leaving her raw, bare and exposed. "You're lucky that an old friend of my father's was working the desk today," Barbara said stiffly, not sure what to do with the figure currently slumped over in dejection in front of her. "You're not going to be charged and the bank has already received a check that is more than sufficient to cover any of the damage you may have caused. But Helena, you can't keep doing things like this."
"I didn't mean to," the brunette muttered, her voice contrite.
There was a disbelieving scoff, and then, "How can you not mean to hurl a one-hundred pound piece of furniture at a plate glass window with enough force to demolish it completely?"
Well, when put that way
"She just made me mad, that's all," Helena said awkwardly, well aware of how inadequate it was as an explanation even as the words crossed her lips.
"She made you mad," Barbara repeated slowly, disbelievingly. "And for this, you throw a temper tantrum of such monumental proportions that you end up in jail?"
Helena sighed again, then wished her mother was still alive. If anyone would have understood, her mother would have. It wasn't as if she always had a firm grip on her emotions or her actions. Sometimes they ruled her completely instead of the other way around, and only someone who had ever experienced the phenomenon themselves would know what it was like to not be able to control certain impulses. Her mother was most certainly one of those people, the kind who had acted on instinct without thinking more times than not. Often it worked as an advantage, adding an almost instinctual edge to fights and logic. Other times, though, it backfired horribly.
"So do I get to go home now?" Helena asked, pushing up off of the desk, tired of the interrogation and the disappointment. She just wanted to go home and sulk.
For a moment, Barbara didn't say anything. There was a stark, unforgiving despair in Helena's eyes, an emptiness to her expression, and it shocked Barbara, instantly draining away all of her ire. Suddenly, it didn't matter quite so much why Helena had done what she had done. Instead it became imperative that Barbara chase away the demons she could see haunting the other woman, that she fix whatever it was that had made Helena look the way she did.
"Helena " she said softly, reaching out to cup the other woman's cheek. Helena allowed the contact for a moment, stretching to rub sleekly against Barbara's palm, conversely comforted and inflamed by the simple touch of the other woman's skin against her own. But then she realized what she was doing and pulled back, her chair flying across the room as she stood abruptly, turning so that her back was to Barbara, arms crossed protectively across her chest.
"I just want to go, Barbara," Helena rasped, squeezing her eyes shut.
Barbara traced her thumb and forefinger over her eyebrows, the massaging motion doing little to dissipate the tension pulling tightly at her skin. She felt helpless, impotent against the inscrutable emotions driving Helena, against the plainly visible front of self-loathing she could see in the other woman's eyes. It seemed as if she were forever scrambling to catch up, always just barely grabbing on to the tail end of whatever space Helena was occupying at any given moment, there just long enough to realize things had changed. It was a constant feature in her life, the sense of uncertainty, of the chaotic imbalance that came with living with and knowing the brunette. For once, she would have liked to have been able to pin something down, to know exactly what was going on and what would make everything calm once again.
"Why can't you trust me, Helena?" she asked softly, defeat coloring her tone. "Why can't you just tell me what's going on with you? It's always a guessing game, and I'm running out of guesses. I can't help you if I don't know you, but you don't ever let me in."
The words elicited a sharply inhaled hiss from Helena, and Barbara watched as slim shoulders tightened, as every line of the other woman's body grew rigid with tension. "I'm not some improvement project, Barbara," Helena muttered, head dropping down and to the side, her profile barely visible over the curve of her left shoulder. "I don't want you to fix me."
"Then what do you want?" Barbara asked simply, becoming increasingly frustrated. Talking to Helena could be like banging her head repeatedly against a brick wall. The wall certainly wasn't going to give, and she would only end up with a raging headache, bloody and bruised for her trouble.
Sighing, the words spoken so softly that Barbara wasn't even sure she'd heard correctly, Helena whispered, "It doesn't matter. I can't have it anyway."
Harleen watched her client with an almost unnerving, predatory intensity, her gaze never wavering as she sat, unblinking. Helena hadn't spoken in the fifteen minutes she'd been in the office, merely sitting with her jaw clenched firmly shut and her arms crossed over her chest, her body a picture of angry resentment. Resisting the urge to tap her fingers, to uncross and recross her legs, to do anything more than sit motionless, waiting with a seemingly endless patience, Harleen continued on, determined to win the game.
Finally there was a break, the soft creak of leather as Helena moved, the barely audible whispering tease of a sigh, and Harleen smiled, seeing her opening. "Trouble in paradise?" she asked with a smirk, inwardly very pleased with herself. As of the week before, her patient had become interesting once again.
Refusing to be baited, Helena murmured, "No, just the usual. A little vandalism, some destruction of property. I felt it was time to get reacquainted with my local New Gotham police force. Catch up with the boys and girls in blue, you know."
"Hmmm," Harleen purred, her pose losing some of its rigidity as she settled into the repartee, "someone's been a bad girl again. Can I expect an extension of our little court mandated sessions to be forthcoming?"
Sniffing lightly, Helena replied archly, "I'm afraid not. Barbara pulled a few strings, so my record will remain as spotless as ever."
"Barbara?" Harleen asked, interest spiking her tone. "Oh, that's right. She is Commissioner Gordon's daughter, isn't she?"
Helena nodded grudgingly, embarrassed yet proud. Some part of her was a bit ashamed of the way she had used Barbara. Or, perhaps, of the way she'd allowed Barbara to clean up her mess. On the other hand, it felt really, really good to know that the other woman would go through the trouble to call in a favor for her, especially when she knew just how little Barbara liked putting herself in anyone's debt or using her father's influence.
"So why fix this and not do anything about the little incident that landed you here?" Harleen asked sharply, genuinely interested.
Pursing her lips, Helena said scathingly, "Because Daddy's money couldn't buy my way out of that one. Last time, it was public property, and New Gotham wasn't in a particularly forgiving mood. Besides, I'd already been through booking by the time Barbara found out about it. Somehow, she knew about this one before I'd even gotten to the station. A little phone call to an old friend of her father's, a nice big check to pay for the damage, and it was no big deal."
Harleen arched a brow at that, eyes full of mischief. "So, Barbara wasn't at all concerned that you'd managed to get yourself nearly incarcerated yet again? It didn't bother her in the slightest?"
Frowning, Helena snorted, "Not hardly." Barbara's ire might have been muted, but it certainly hadn't been non-existent.
Tapping her forefinger against the arm of her chair, eyes narrowed slightly with barely suppressed malice, Harleen asked pointedly, "How many more chances do you think you have, Helena? I can't imagine Barbara will be happy to clean up after you forever. How long before you become more of a liability than an asset, hmm? What do you really bring to the relationship? When will you become more trouble than you're worth?"
"Barbara would never leave me," Helena shot back heatedly, feeling the familiar tension of anger coil around her spine. The mere thought was abhorrent. They'd been together too long, had been through too much together. Barbara wouldn't abandon her, not after all this time and certainly not simply because she had an unfortunate tendency to wind up in trouble. They were family. There was no friend to it. They were more than friends bound together, really, by something far stronger than blood. They'd chosen one another, had stayed together not because they had to but because they wanted to. Barbara wouldn't give that up. Would she? Even if she had suggested Helena take a break to reevaluate her priorities, that was just business. And anyway, even if she wasn't the Huntress, Barbara would still want her around. Right?
A soft chuckle met her words. "But Helena, you've got to have Barbara before she can leave you. Other than your friendship, which quite frankly seems more parasitic than symbiotic, what hold do you have on her?"
"You don't know what you're talking about," Helena said bitterly, feeling her insecurities start to once again make their way to the surface. So she wasn't perfect, and living with her could be far from easy. If Barbara had wanted her gone, then she would have said so, right? It wasn't just that the redhead was keeping her around as nothing more than the legs of the operation. It wasn't as if she was the clichéd, expendable superhero.
There was Dinah. Sure, Barbara hadn't gone out and actively recruited her, but she certainly hadn't sent her back home and she hadn't balked when the girl suggested taking a more active role in their activities. Hell, she'd practically entrusted the girl to her care, expecting the brunette to train her, to make her the best she could be. Barbara just wanted to take some of the burden off of her shoulders, right? To make it so that she didn't have to patrol every single night, and so that she'd have someone there for back-up when it was needed. Not because she figured Helena would soon find herself on the wrong side of a low statistical probability of survival. Not because she didn't want to have to deal with the lag time between the loss of one blindly heroic figure and the training of a new one. And, most certainly not because she was going to suggest that the Huntress make an early departure from the crime-fighting game.
She had to mean more to Barbara than that, didn't she? But then, it wasn't as if she'd ever really managed to make herself all that important to anyone else. Her mother, certainly, but her mother didn't count. Her mother really hadn't had a choice in the whole matter. Not like her father who hadn't even bothered to stick around long enough for a, "Hey, sorry I missed the first 16 years of your life. Want to get together for lunch sometime and catch up?"
But, just because he'd left, that didn't mean Barbara would. They were nothing alike. Except for their steadfast devotion to the cause, the tendency to lose themselves in their work, the hidden, haunted part of themselves they tried to sublimate in the throes of following a higher calling. Most certainly not in the way they put the needs of others and of society above themselves, going so far as to sacrifice loves and limbs if necessary.
Harleen watched in fascination as a parade of emotions made its way across Helena's face. There was such resentment there, such anger and hatred and rage all waiting to break free. She could use this girl, could break her and remake her, could add her to an ever-growing arsenal of weapons. Form her into yet another soldier ready to sacrifice for the cause. All she needed was a little time.
"Oh, I think I know exactly what I'm talking about," Harleen said with quiet self-satisfaction, basking in the look of absolute and utter animosity sent her way. Deciding, though, that she needed to rein things in a bit, she affected her best concerned voice, injecting as much support as possible into her gaze. "That's what I'm here for, Helena. To help you see the truth and accept it, no matter how much you try to hide from it. Sometimes the people we want don't want us in return. But, it's not the end of the world. Trust me, there's so much more out there for someone like you."
Resisting the urge to scream out her frustration, Helena rose from her chair, striding quickly from the room, the sound of Dr. Quinzel's soft laughter following her down the hallway.
Barbara was about to take a sip of her freshly brewed tea when Helena made her announcement, and thus could only be glad that she didn't have feeling in her legs, because she was sure that the scald of it landing in her lap would have been quite painful otherwise.
"You want to what?" she sputtered, eyes rounding in surprise.
"Take over Wayne Industries," Helena repeated breezily. "The Bat left it to me, didn't he? Well, I'd say it was about time that I checked in on my inheritance."
"That's crazy," Barbara scoffed, wincing at the sight of the shattered remains of what had once been her favorite coffee cup scattered across what had once been her clean floor. "You don't have any background in business."
"Well then, I guess I'll just run the company into the ground then, won't I?" Helena replied flippantly, hopping up to settle herself on the kitchen counter, hands propped against the edge of the polished concrete top.
"Be serious, Helena," Barbara said sharply, glaring at the brunette as she carefully wheeled her way around the small puddle of tea slowly inching its way across slate tile to retrieve a roll of paper towels. "Wayne Industries employs thousands of people. You can't just play with their lives like that simply because you're having some kind of crisis."
Brows lowering in anger, Helena shot back, "I am being serious. I can't be a bartender all my life, you know."
"So what? You can't get a job as a bank teller, so you decide to attempt to take over leadership of one of the largest corporations in the world instead?" Barbara scoffed, wincing slightly at the look of hurt that instantly closed off Helena's features.
Voice deadly soft, Helena asked, "How'd you find out about that?"
Rolling her eyes in exasperation, Barbara said, "Did you think I was just going to accept your complete non-explanation of what led up to the little chair smashing incident? I still can't believe you felt the need to terrify a bank employee and throw a chair at a window just because you got turned down for a job."
"Five," Helena muttered, drawing a raised brow from Barbara.
"Excuse me?" the redhead asked in confused frustration, not at all following Helena's train of thought.
Clearing her throat, Helena looked up, shame and defiance mingling in her eyes. "I got turned down for five jobs that day, and it wasn't so much the fact that she practically laughed in my face during the interview as it was her insinuation that I was a brainless slut that really pissed me off."
Befuddled, Barbara said in exasperation, "I don't understand why you were even looking for a job anyway, Helena. What's wrong with the job you have? Did you get fired? Can you not pay your rent? If you're having some kind of trouble, you know I'll help you out in any way I can."
Jumping from her post, pacing in nervous agitation from one end of the counter to the other, barely missing the splash of glass shards on the floor with each pass, Helena said irritably, "I don't want your help. You're not my keeper, Barbara. I can take care of myself. I'm not a liability, and I'm not a charity case."
Utterly bewildered by the other woman's defiant attitude and seemingly random assertions, Barbara shook her head, mouth opening to argue but barely able to find the words to refute Helena's claims. "I never said you were a charity case. I'm fully aware that you're a competent adult, but that doesn't mean you can't come to me for help when you need it, Helena. Everybody has to ask for it some time."
"Not you," the brunette nearly hissed, spinning abruptly so that she was facing Barbara. "You're always so together, so fucking self-sufficient. You don't need anyone, and most definitely never ask for help. At least, not from me."
"That's not true," Barbara retorted heatedly. "I ask for your help every single day."
"No, you have me run your errands, Barbara," Helena said cynically, pouting slightly. "Trust me, there's a difference."
Barbara felt herself growing defensive, angry replies springing to her lips more rapidly than she could filter them for content. "No, I'm forced to depend on you because I can't do it myself. Don't you think I'd much rather be out there fighting alongside you than being stuck here as little more than a glorified cheerleader?"
"Forced to depend on me?" Helena echoed angrily, not quite ready to tackle the rest of the minefields laid by Barbara's reply. "What, are you just waiting until a more agreeable replacement happens along? Oh wait, you've already found one, haven't you. Maybe you're just waiting until I have her primed and ready for you. Is that it? I get to train my successor before you retire me? What's the severance package for a job like this? Thanks and get the hell out?"
Bringing her hand to her forehead, unsure how she'd managed to let the argument escalate or why she'd even felt the compunction to participate in it in the first place, especially considering the foul mood that had been following Helena around for weeks, Barbara sighed. "You know that's not true, Helena, but if you insist on believing it, then I suppose there's nothing I can do, is there?" She paused, then added tiredly, " I would have thought that you knew me better than that."
"I thought I did," Helena replied caustically, arms crossed protectively over her chest.
Her memories of Barbara were getting all mixed up with Dr. Quinzel's words and her own doubts and insecurities, and suddenly Helena couldn't think, couldn't make everything slide neatly back into its appropriate slot. It was all swirling around in her brain without order, coloring her world in a violent mix of angry reds and grating yellows. She felt trapped, and every slight sensation suddenly had the powerful impact of a jarring blow. There were Barbara's eyes, too green and too all-knowing and too insightful and too beautiful all at the same time, watching her as if she'd suddenly metamorphosed into a strange, exotic and deadly creature. There was the earthy sweet smell of the rapidly cooling tea, something that suddenly seemed so entwined with the very essence of who the redhead was that Helena was uncertain she would ever be able to stand the scent of it again without being painfully reminded of this moment. Of Barbara's disappointment. Of her own failings.
Of course the other woman wouldn't ever want her, not as an equal. She was a monumental fuck-up, unable to do even the simplest of things without wrecking it completely. A quick glance down to the remnants of Barbara's cup seemed to reinforce that fact with the force of a hammer's blow. She was like that, shattered and empty, worthless really.
With a stifled sob, Helena fell to the floor, scooping the broken glass into a pile with her bare hands, only vaguely aware of the slice and pinch of sharp edges cutting into her skin. There was blood mixing with the tea, staining the weak brown a darker burgundy, but she didn't care. She needed to fix things, needed to stop being such an impediment to Barbara. To stop being a burden.
"Helena Helena HELENA!"
Helena finally looked up at the sharp tone, meeting Barbara's soft, compassionate gaze with wide, frightened eyes.
"What are you doing?" Barbara asked gently, rolling over so that she was only inches away from Helena's crouched form, looking at the other woman's now bloody hands with a kind of resigned sadness.
"I It's my fault it's broken," Helena said awkwardly, suddenly hyperaware of just how she had to look, kneeling there in a pool of cold tea and her own blood, hands still cradling a pile of broken, jagged glass. "I know how much you liked this cup. It was your favority, and and I'm sorry."
"Helena," Barbara sighed, a frustrated grimace dimpling her cheeks, "it wasn't your fault. Why don't you throw away the glass you're holding while I go get the first aid kit? You're going to have to let me see your hands."
Looking guiltily at the floor, Helena nodded, wishing she could bang her head against the cabinet in frustration. Barbara had the ability to turn her into a psychotic, slightly insane mass of contradictions and uncertainties, reducing her capacity to function as a normal, well-adjusted individual to somewhere around zero.
She'd managed to clean up the glass and spilled tea and wash the worst of the blood off her hands by the time Barbara returned, but the perplexed look the redhead sent her way at first sight of the myriad cuts marring the surface of her palms and fingers and streaking down the side of her hands made Helena wince. She must have clutched the shards a bit harder than she'd realized, especially to cause the kind of damage she had.
Barbara pushed Helena in the direction of the kitchen table, indicating with a distracted wave that she should pull out a chair. When the other woman was seated, she reached out, gently pulling the still bleeding appendages into her lap. She'd spread a thick white cotton towel over her upper thighs, but Helena could still feel the lean contours of Barbara's legs through the lush cotton and the fabric of her pants, the sensation making her skin itch with anticipation and frustration.
The touch of soft fingers against her own drew her out of a contemplation of just what it would be like to touch those thighs without the encumbrance of barriers between her hands and Barbara's skin. She looked up to find Barbara tracing her eyes over Helena's flesh, eyes liquid with unreadable emotion. Actually, she looked almost sad, and Helena watched, transfixed, as Barbara's fingertips became stained with her blood. It was still flowing freely, if a bit more sluggishly than before, and there was something about the sight of it on the other woman's hands that made her freeze. She'd looked like that once before, fingers and palms and arms slick with hot, vibrantly red blood, and she closed her eyes, blocking out the memories as best she could.
The sharp, startled inhalation of breath must have drawn Barbara's attention from the reverie she'd fallen into, because she began to clean Helena's injuries, her touch light and sure.
"Why do you do these things?" she asked softly, contemplatively. "Why do insist on hurting yourself?"
Helena didn't have an answer, more than aware of the fact that Barbara was asking about far more than the cuts currently visible on her hands. There was an insight to the question she didn't want to face, and so instead she remained silent, watching as if mesmerized as Barbara rubbed her hands down with antiseptic ointment, as she bound them securely in strips of stark white gauze. When she was finished, Helena noted wryly that she looked almost like a prizefighter minus the gloves.
The silence stretched out between them until Barbara leaned forward on a sigh, fingers gently but firmly pulling Helena's chin up so that their eyes were locked. Dark blue attempted to avoid the piercing intensity of incisive green, but Helena found she couldn't, that her eyes were drawn inexorably upward as if by the sheer force of Barbara's will. There was something there, something indefinable but hauntingly familiar, something she half-thought she'd seen in the mirror before. Longing, repressed desire something she was fairly certain she wanted. Something she was completely certain terrified her.
Struggling to breathe, suddenly conscious of the almost unnatural thickness of the air, Helena pulled back sharply, unable to face the unvoiced questions weighing down the space between herself and Barbara. "I I can't," she croaked, her chair screeching angrily against the tile floor as she pushed away violently, leaping to her feet. She wanted to run, wanted to find somewhere safe and hide there.
"Can't what?" Barbara asked, caught up in the surrealistic nature of the moment. It occurred to her that they were dancing around one another, shadows skirting forward and back yet never touching. Shadows of what, she didn't know. All she did know was that Helena's emotions were written in stark, unequivocal terms across her face. There was desire and lust and an almost aching need for acceptance in her eyes, all inescapable and painfully clear.
She was accustomed to the feeling of imbalance Helena created. It had been growing steadily for the past few years, though it had skyrocketed in recent months. Part of her was loath to recognize it. It felt wrong, in many ways, to view the girl she once saw as her responsibility and charge as something more than that, but she couldn't deny the fact that Helena most certainly wasn't a child any longer. She was an adult, with adult desires, desires that Barbara suspected that she herself mirrored. At least, she thought she did. But, of course, that assumed she was reading Helena correctly, something which was never really a given, despite her general overall level of comfort with being able to interpret the other woman's moods and expressions.
Despite her occasional unease, there was something quite primal in Helena that called out to her. The other woman was an abyss, one in which she could easily find herself lost. The very idea terrified her, but she was drawn by the magnetic and ultimately alluring combination of intelligence, sex appeal, and hints of darkness. Helena was the gray areas she couldn't allow herself to be. She was casual sex and a reckless disregard for society and its laws. She was a good girl wrapped up in a bad girl's body, with all of the attitude and pathos that came with that. But then, she wasn't a good girl at all when the redhead thought about it, except for in the ways that really counted. She was a walking contradiction, one even Barbara couldn't operationalize and quantify. Helena would forever be an unknown variable, achingly vulnerable one moment and brashly independent the next.
She wanted that, for reasons she couldn't or wouldn't or didn't want to define. Helena was like a kitten, cuddly one second and all claws the next. For someone who valued order and stability, even if it came in quite the non-mainstream package, such chaos and unpredictability was almost unthinkable, generally considered an anathema and a state to be avoided at all costs. Yet Barbara was drawn to it, desiring the heat of the flame even as she knew it would burn her.
Helena hadn't answered her, and Barbara realized with some surprise that her thoughts must have been showing on her face, because Helena was watching her with a combination of fascination and fear. She was usually much more adept at keeping things suppressed, but the past week had taken a toll on her reserve. She realized idly that sullen, withdrawn and prone to violence weren't necessarily qualities that should be as attractive as she found them, but then again, Barbara was aware of the distinct dichotomy between what she should want and what she did want.
Maybe she'd always had a bit of a self-destructive streak. Actually, it would be ludicrous to think otherwise. Truth, justice and all that could have been served in a variety of ways that wouldn't have put her physical safety at risk, but those things hadn't appealed to her. She'd always liked the rush, that heady jolt of adrenaline perhaps the strongest aphrodisiac of them all. From the first taste, she'd been hooked. Her childhood had been a study in finding new ways to get her fix. She'd pitted brains and brawn against any challengers, always easily clearing the field of any true competition. Broken bones and bruises and mild concussions hadn't been stumbling blocks so much as they'd been expected and somewhat welcome by-products.
When she'd run out of socially acceptable avenues, Barbara had found others. These took her to far darker places, both literally and metaphorically, and once there, Barbara found a new addiction. Danger, in all its many forms. Flying high above the streets of New Gotham, separated from death by only the tenuous hold of a grappling hook on brick or squaring off against criminals with less than no compunction about hurting or perhaps killing her had taken the place of gymnastics floor exercises and Quiz Bowl competitions. Even if she couldn't inhabit the gray areas herself, they were where she felt at her most comfortable. Barbara embraced the shadows, the ambiguities, and the delicious thrill of impending doom that pervaded each and every interaction.
The objective part of her brain realized that it wasn't entirely normal or healthy, but that didn't change things. Barbara thrived in that atmosphere. It was her secret heroin, her preferred drug of choice. As long as she had the danger, then she didn't need anything else. It was a natural high unlike any synthetic or induced one could provide.
Then she lost it all. Inevitable, perhaps, that the very thing she craved would destroy her. The allure wasn't quite as alluring in the face of the searing pain of a bullet through the gut, but even when they told her she'd never walk again, Barbara couldn't bring herself to regret a single second of it. She'd played the game and she'd lost, but like any addict, she couldn't stay away. So she couldn't be Batgirl, couldn't perch high above the city, fighting the wind and gravity and her own fear of falling? So she couldn't look into a soul of pure evil and throw regard for safety out the window, plunging herself whole-heartedly into battle with the unwavering determination that she would emerge the victor? She could do other things. She had a better hold on the city as Oracle than she ever could have imagined as Batgirl. The thrill was still there, though she fought the phantom ghosts of the limitations of the human mind and the always real potential that she'd be discovered instead of heavy-handed thugs and brutally insane psychopaths. So there was something missing, something more than her long-lost ability to hurl herself into the midst of a fight? If it was the sweetly acrid taste of danger, then she just had to accept the fact that it was no longer available to her.
Helena was dangerous.
She was dangerous for all of the same reasons Barbara had craved before, and for a whole host of new reasons she wasn't sure she could handle. One of the trickier aspects of their relationship was that she had a hold on Helena, had the ability to tame the wild, feral beast upon which the other woman often had little more than a tenuous grip, and both of them knew it. The truth was, for the most part Barbara didn't particularly want Helena tamed. She wanted her animalistic and uncontrollable, and Barbara wasn't sure what that said about herself. Of course, on the other hand, possessing that power was also rewarding. She could bring Helena to her knees, could leash all of that energy and anger if she so desired. She wasn't quite sure what her delight in that fact said about herself either.
Which was all quite interesting and enlightening to ponder, but did nothing to cut through the tension surrounding the two of them. She needed to push, or perhaps to pull back, or really to do anything other than sit there in the limbo her words and actions had created.
So, voice ragged, Barbara rasped, "What is it you can't do, Helena?"
Which was really just a challenge masquerading as a question, its disguise poor by intention and not fault. Barbara was looking for proof of the laws of gravity and inertia. For every action
there was an equal and opposite reaction. Eyes gone feral in a surge of emotion, Helena stalked toward her prey. Barbara had pushed and she'd pushed, though had she been pressed Helena wouldn't have been able to point out the catalyst for her actions, nor would she have been able to justify her response based on the events leading up to it. One second she was standing, body taut with the tension of the moment, and the next she'd descended upon Barbara, knees buried in the soft cushioned seat of the other woman's wheelchair as she straddled her thighs, hands tangling roughly in silky red hair. It wasn't a gentle kiss, not by any stretch of the imagination, but Helena couldn't be bothered to take the time for soft seduction. She'd wanted and been denied for so long, and as far as she was concerned, not giving Barbara an opportunity to turn her down was by far the more appealing option.
Not that she needed to worry about rejection. Judging from the enthusiastic fervor with which she was being kissed in return, Barbara wanted it just as much as she did. Perhaps even more so, because strong fingers were digging into her back, pulling her forward with a strength she'd always known Barbara possessed but hadn't been allowed to feel. There would be bruises. Of that she had no doubt.
"I need you."
The words were out before Helena even realized she was going to speak, harsh on the rasping pant of excited breath, far more needy than she'd ever envisioned herself sounding. And need. Need was so much more than, well want. Need was oxygen and water and food, and the more she thought about it, the more Helena realized she indeed did need Barbara. Needed her to survive. Needed her just as much as those more elemental things necessary to sustain life.
And, it seemed like Barbara needed her too. Unspoken sentiments to the revelation aside, Helena could feel it in every touch of the redhead's hands on her body. There was an urgency, a near frantic desperation. Short nails scored the tender flesh of her back before soft palms soothed the irritated skin, and even white teeth nipped roughly at her lips and tongue, belying something far more dire than just simple want. Barbara was consuming her, eating her alive with the force of her passion and emotions, and Helena reveled in the feeling. It was what she wanted, what she'd always wanted, and it didn't surprise her that Barbara was the only person she'd ever found who was capable of giving it to her.
Because Barbara knew her. Barbara was more than friend, family, or soon-to-be lover. Barbara was systemic, a part of her. Barbara flowed in her veins.
The burn of tape-wrapped hands pressing up her abdomen, shoving the silky fabric of her bra aside with more resolve than finesse, left Barbara panting. The part of herself that was wholly separate from the proceedings, that was simply floating above the tangled mess of arms, legs, lips, skin, teeth and tongues, was a bit horrified by it all. This was Helena, after all. Helena, who had cried herself to sleep in Barbara's arms for months after her mother's death, who had occasionally crawled into the other woman's bed in the early hours of the morning for years after, tears streaming wordlessly down her cheeks. Helena, who had sat in Barbara's AP English class not paying much real attention to the redhead at all, until the Joker had ripped both of their lives in half and they'd become each other's caretaker. Helena, who had come to her with bruises and broken hearts alike, somehow certain that Barbara could heal whatever ailed her. Helena, seven years younger than her and, until her 19th birthday had come and gone, her ward.
She was taking advantage of the girl. She had to be. After all, what would someone like Helena want with her? Not only was she wildly unexciting, so unlike the brunette's past conquests as to be almost of an entirely different species, but she was a cripple, the half of her body most important to endeavors such as the one in which she was currently engaged totally devoid of feeling.
A fact she was brutally reminded of as she looked down, as she tore her lips away from Helena's to watch one slim fingered hand trail down her abdomen to slip beneath the waistband of her pants. The sensation trailed from the tantalizing tickle of soft fingertips to absolutely nothing in the span of a heartbeat, and even as she watched the outline of Helena's hand move beneath the somewhat restricting fabric of her pants, she was floating in the aching void of absolutely nothing. No feeling and no sensation other than an almost preternatural awareness of the heat of Helena's breath scorching the flesh of her neck.
She couldn't do this. There was no way she could allow it to happen, moment of temporary insanity notwithstanding. Helena needed someone who could be her equal in all things, and Barbara needed anything other than the resounding absence of feeling and the look of pity she was certain would soon be directed her way from too caring blue eyes. She'd forgotten, or perhaps had consciously ignored, the inevitable outcome of a confrontation such as the one she'd let herself be drawn into, but there was no escaping the reality of the limitations of her body and the sheer wrongness of the situation.
"Stop," she said roughly, hoping her voice would be enough. It wasn't though, or else her entreaty fell on deaf ears, because Helena's lips continued to trace a path of fire across the exposed expanse of her neck and upper chest. For a moment she nearly gave into it, wanting, for the first time in her life, to do something she knew was wrong simply because it felt so very good, but she couldn't do that. Couldn't do it to Helena, and couldn't do it to herself.
So, strong fingers found Helena's shoulders, and she pushed, perhaps a bit harder than she'd intended, because seconds later the brunette was looking up at her from a sprawl across the floor at her feet, blue eyes full of confusion and hurt. "I said stop," Barbara rasped, eyes dropping to the side, focusing on the arm of her chair. It was easier that way, to not have to be subjected to the critical mass of near agony she'd briefly glimpsed in Helena's eyes.
"I I don't understand." The words were ragged, literally infused with anger and puzzlement, and Barbara focused on the way her fingers stroked lightly over the fabric of her pants, touching a stranger for all that she could feel of the motion.
Without looking up, Barbara wheeled back slowly, putting some distance between herself and Helena. "This isn't something I want," she said softly, her words tinged with sadness. But, Barbara was long used to self-denial. In fact, she'd been practicing it for so long that she was practically a professional, and no matter how much part of her was raging at the loss of contact and the deliberate chill inflicted by her words, she wasn't going to back down.
Helena laughed, the sound completely devoid of humor. "Bullshit, Barbara. It was something you wanted quite a bit until something kicked in, probably that oversized brain of yours, and told you that you shouldn't have it."
"I don't want to talk about this." A hard twist of her wheels and she was facing away from Helena, green eyes unfocused as they looked out over the Clocktower's main floor. She could see her computers contentedly humming away, streams of data flowing across their monitors and just waiting for someone to come and interpret it. There was the faint hum of the refrigerator, and the muted sound of a laugh-track from a television she hadn't even realized was still on. And then, of course, there was the weight of Helena's stare almost burning a hole through her shoulder blades.
Even though she didn't hear her move, Barbara knew when Helena closed the distance between them. She could feel the heat of the other woman's body, could sense the sheer force of her presence. "Tough shit. I want to talk about it," Helena growled, a hand hovering over the back of Barbara's neck. She wanted to touch the other woman, to reestablish a physical connection. Hell, she wanted to push her way past Barbara's protestations completely, sure that she could make things between them so good that Barbara would forget she'd ever said no, would know that she hadn't ever meant it anyway. She could do it. And if it was wrong, if the mere thought would have sickened her had she been in her right mind, then it was a good thing she wasn't.
"Tell me why you pulled back, Barbara. The real reason."
There was such frustration, such pain in Helena's voice, that for a moment, Barbara wanted to give in, wanted to spin around and open up her arms. She hadn't been wholly unaware of the fact that Helena was interested in her beyond the realm of partners and friends, but she hadn't ever expected anything to actually come of it. Indeed, there was so much history between them that it was practically inescapable. Helena couldn't help but be drawn to her. After all, they'd seen each other at their weakest, had been instrumental in rebuilding one another, and now Helena often laid her life in the palm of Barbara's hand, fully trusting the other woman to watch her back. It was only natural that the bond between them was strong, and that Helena could temporarily mistake it for something it wasn't. For lust or love or whatever the brunette thought she was in, but Barbara didn't want to start something she could already see ending. She was simply being realistic about the whole thing. Giving into this now would only strain things between them. Helena would inevitably move on, and Barbara would be left wanting more, because she knew with an unwavering certainty that once she'd had the brunette in her life as a lover, she wouldn't be able to go back. Barbara didn't do things half-heartedly. When she fell in love, she fell hard, with little to no chance of recovery, and she was well aware that her feelings for Helena were teetering dangerously on that edge.
It was an edge over which she wasn't going to fall, a line she wasn't going to cross. There was no way that she'd make herself even more vulnerable than she already was. She wasn't going to put herself at the mercy of Helena, wasn't going to set herself up for failure and heartbreak. Sure, the other woman might think for a little while that things would work out, that it was what she wanted, but then something newer and better would happen along and Barbara would be left alone. It wasn't as if she had a multitude of choices or offers, and the thought of watching Helena once again make her way through a line of boys and girls while she could do no more than sit helplessly on the sidelines and watch was about as unappealing of a prospect as she could imagine.
Barbara's silence was unnerving, and Helena felt her already unsteady composure crack just a little bit more with each passing second. "Tell me why," she demanded roughly, barely resisting the urge to pull Barbara around to face her, to force an answer of out the other woman.
"Because I don't want to fuck you, Helena. It's that simple," Barbara said starkly, the uncharacteristically harsh words sounding alien coming from her lips. It was all she could think to say, though. Anything else, any sort of exploration of feelings or expressions of doubt or concerns for the future would have given too much away, would have opened the door to conversations she didn't want to have.
Helena stepped back as if struck, and Barbara was instantly aware of the change in the air surrounding her, of the sudden and seemingly irretrievable loss. "Is that what you thought it was? Is that what you thought I wanted?" Helena asked slowly, feeling tears sting the corners of her eyes. She blinked them away, determined not to appear any weaker than she already had in front of the woman slowly ripping her heart in half. At that moment, Barbara didn't deserve it, didn't deserve to know just how much she could hurt her.
"Why?" Barbara challenged, steeling herself with anger she didn't feel. "Did you think it was something more? The beginning of some grand, epic romance?"
There was a bitterness and hatred in the words that tore into Helena's soul, and she stiffened, feet already itching to run. Barbara was being so cruel, so unlike herself, and Helena was quite certain that she couldn't take much more.
"Maybe I did," she whispered in reply, watching the way Barbara's shoulders slumped at the words, unsure what it meant. "What would be so wrong about that you and me together? What's so wrong with me?"
Barbara felt reckless, out of control, bashed back and forth between cliffs of emotion she didn't understand, and the pain in Helena's voice only exacerbated that. She had no hold over the situation or her words any longer, and she listened, horrified, as they spilled out into the open, staining the air between herself and Helena a dark, violent black. "You're not exactly relationship material, Helena, and if I just wanted to fuck, then there are plenty of people who can take care of that for me. What we have is a partnership. Don't try to make it into more."
Which was a bald-faced lie, all of it, and she cringed both from the bite of her conscience and from the strangled sound she heard come from the woman behind her. Barbara wondered when she'd lost her grip on the situation and on herself, because she quite certainly had. She'd taken something that had no reason to be as vicious as it was and turned it into a blood-bath, and she had no doubt that they'd both be licking their wounds for some time to come. But she had to do it, had to eliminate all possibility of something between them, had to restore their working relationship to what it should have been. Something caring but platonic, and even though she knew it would take Helena a while to get past what had been said, she would. Of that, Barbara was certain.
Helena felt her anger spark somewhere near the base of her spine and radiate outwards until every square inch of her body burned with it. She could taste blood, though whether it was in the metaphorical sense or due, instead, to the tight grip her teeth had on the inside of her cheek, she wasn't sure. There was a part of her dying, a rather essential part, but she couldn't focus on that. All she could do was take in deep breath after deep breath and keep a tight lid on the impulse that urged her to reach out and strangle some sense into Barbara that or just plain strangle her. At that particular moment, Helena couldn't decide which would be more satisfying.
"You're lying," she managed to grit out, not really having any basis for the assertion other than her own fervent yearning that it be true but yet, somehow, still believing it desperately. She hadn't been imagining the looks, the sly touches, or the way Barbara had reacted to her when she'd finally managed to get up the courage to kiss her. If she hadn't been wanted in return, then the other woman's hands would have been pushing her away, not pulling her in closer. Barbara could lie to her and lie to herself all she wanted, but Helena knew the truth. Barbara wanted her, but that didn't mean she would give in to that desire. As obstinate as the redhead was, she'd probably take her lies to her grave as the absolute truth, and trick herself into believing it all the while.
Barbara didn't answer, just sat stone still in her chair, eyes staring at nothing. She wanted the confrontation to be over, wanted to retreat to her room and sort things out in her mind. But, most importantly, she wanted to get started on the getting over it part, because she'd had what she wanted for one magnificently intense moment, and it was going to be hard to move on, especially knowing that she'd had the opportunity for more and thrust it away. Even if she hadn't been able to feel Helena's hands on her, she would have gotten to touch the brunette, to see her face and her body contorted with passion, and to burn that image into memory for the day when she was alone yet again. And really, wasn't that what she lived on now memories? Memories of the time when she'd had legs that worked, when she'd been Batgirl, when she'd been a fully functional and capable lover. Memories of when she'd been truly alive.
After the protracted pause grew into an awkward silence, Helena realized Barbara wasn't planning on answering her or responding to her words, and with a sigh, she felt the tension in her body uncoil, leaving a kind of helpless lethargy in its wake. She felt drained, as if she'd faced down a cadre of thugs, her body just as tired and bruised as if the words had been fists instead of verbal arrows. Raising her hand to the bridge of her nose, pinching the thin sliver of cartilage there in a useless attempt at staving off the stress-induced headache she could feel building, Helena muttered, "Tell yourself whatever it is you need to, Barbara. Justify it. Say it's my fault. I don't care. Just just don't come looking for me, okay."
"Helena " Barbara started, her voice cracking as she turned her chair so that she was facing the other woman. Only, there was no other woman to face, just the barely visible slip of black over the Clocktower's balcony and the coolness of nothing.
Dinah was confused. She was confused and anxious, and not at all certain how to remedy either of those states. It'd been a week since she'd seen Helena. Actually, it'd been since the night she came home to find Barbara slumped over in her chair, face bright red with the stain of tears. To see her mentor and the woman she practically hero-worshipped in that kind of condition had been startling and disconcerting to say the least, but Barbara had simply wiped her hands across her cheeks and smiled up at her as if she hadn't been crying, asking her if she'd had dinner yet in a falsely cheerful tone that had grated jarringly against the pained silence of the room.
She hadn't touched Barbara, partly because when she came close the other woman seemed skittishly nervous, eyeing her almost as if Dinah were attacking instead of trying to console, so there was no way for her to learn what had happened. It wasn't as if Barbara was going to tell her, because the older woman had merely wheeled her way into the kitchen as if possessed by demons of domesticity, trying in vain to find utensils she couldn't name to prepare a meal she didn't know how to make with ingredients they didn't have. She'd been buzzing with nervous energy, throwing out questions to Dinah more quickly than they could be answered, but Dinah had the feeling that Barbara wouldn't have heard or even cared about her answers anyway.
While she might not have had the opportunity to employ a little psychic spying, Dinah was well aware that something was horribly wrong. She could almost smell it in the air. Confrontation, anger, pain and confusion lingered about as if they were a perfumed cloud, and she wondered at the intensity of emotion necessary to leave behind that kind of trace. She'd caught glimpses of things such as it before, though usually only when she'd stumbled upon the scene of some tragedy. Funerals also brought them about on occasion, but she hadn't ever been hit by a wave of emotion as profound as the one cloaking the Clocktower.
She hadn't said anything, cowed by the haunted look in Barbara's eyes and her own unstable footing in the household. Instead, she'd dutifully eaten the truly awful macaroni and cheese Barbara managed to produce, swallowing the overly crunchy lumps with as big of a smile as she could muster, and then escaped to her room, eager to be away from the sensations still assaulting her.
Barbara had been back to normal the next day, if a little pale and perhaps a bit more subdued than usual, so Dinah had let it slide once again. She still didn't feel comfortable enough to encroach on where she was visibly not wanted, and could only hope that Helena would show up and cheer Barbara out of her black mood. She'd seen it happen before, seen whatever funk Barbara had fallen into disappear completely at the other woman's appearance, though how the usually sullen Helena could bring good cheer into anyone's life, she didn't know. Not that she didn't like Helena, or admire or want to be her just a tiny little bit, but she was already well aware of her flaws after residing with them for only a few short weeks, and she'd very rarely ever had her mood actually improve simply because of the brunette's presence.
But Helena hadn't come. Barbara had waited without seeming to wait, positioned staunchly in front of one of Delphi's many screens, eyes tracing over the lines of information coming at her with such speed that Dinah had to wonder how she could absorb it all. Barbara hadn't said anything, even when Helena didn't come by and didn't check in, and the one time Dinah had managed to work up the guts to ask about her, Barbara had thrown her a painfully nonchalant, "Well, she does have a life, you know."
Except, Dinah knew about Helena's life, and Helena's life was centered out of the Clocktower. Being the Huntress might not have been the sacred calling for her that being Batgirl had been for Barbara according to the stories she'd managed to coax from Alfred, but it wasn't something she shied away from either. She'd seen Helena uneasy and impatient under the demands being Huntress made on her time, but she'd also never seen her leave until Barbara deemed things all clear. And even then, it wasn't as if Helena had rushed out into the night immediately after, headed off for any one of the numerous destinations Dinah imagined would appeal to the other woman. No, instead of a bar or a club or something Dinah pictured but wasn't quite sure what to call, though she was faintly certain contained a lot of black leather, she'd stick around. She'd bug Barbara or dig through the refrigerator or sigh about the lack of good quality late night programming since having the "kid" around meant they couldn't watch porn. And Barbara would smile at that and ask when they'd ever watched porn to begin with, and Dinah had found the exchanges nearly unbearably cute.
Helena's life was Barbara, and it had taken her well over a week to realize that the two of them weren't together. It wasn't as if she'd run into many well, any same-sex couples in Opal, but if she'd thought to picture what it would be like, Helena and Barbara would have fit perfectly. They gave off all of the signals long-established couples transmitted without effort, with their unconscious yet vaguely intimate touches, with the glances that went on far longer than were necessary, with the easy familiarity that was harder to achieve than it looked. There was an unspoken communication between them, and having the two in close proximity was almost enough to create an invisible force field of intimacy, one that clearly knit them together while protecting them from the outside world. Dinah was more than aware of that one, having felt the outsider more times than she could count when she'd walk into a room to find the two hunched over some project or computer screen, faces so close they were nearly touching and words muted into soft whispers.
But, underlying it all, there had been a barely discernable line of tension. Helena might have stuck around the Clocktower for as long as she could have managed, but she always left. She had her own apartment, and it wasn't until Dinah realized that Helena actually returned to it every night that she surmised that things were not as they'd seemed. At first she'd thought it was a ruse for her benefit, a 'keep the kid in the dark' kind of thing. But, when Helena left, she didn't return, and Barbara always retired to bed alone, so that hadn't been it.
Sadly, the information she'd collected seemed to make it more difficult to uncover what had happened. Had the two been together, she would have chalked it up to a lover's quarrel, and waited for Helena to drag herself back and apologize. Because really, it undoubtedly would have been Helena's fault to begin with, because the brunette was always doing or saying something stupid, and it wasn't that far of a stretch of the imagination to picture her being at the root of any problem. But, they weren't together, and Barbara's unnaturally neutral mood made it impossible to decipher what had gone on. If Barbara had railed at the absent Helena, if she'd shown some sort of anger or frustration, then Dinah would have felt more at ease with the situation. As it was, she was eerily quiet about the other woman's very blatant absence, continuing on about her job as if Helena's missing persons status wasn't at all unusual. And maybe it wasn't out of the ordinary for the brunette to disappear for long stretches of time. Dinah hadn't been there forever, after all, so it wasn't as if she was intimately familiar with the ins and outs of their routine.
But, she was fairly certain that wasn't what had happened. From what she'd seen of Helena, there was no way the Huntress would have willingly or voluntarily have left Barbara alone for so long. She'd picked up on Helena's overly protective streak almost immediately, and that those energies were constantly directed in full force at Barbara. Leaving the redhead alone was tantamount to leaving her defenseless in Helena's estimation. Or, at least that's what Dinah had managed to infer, though she wasn't quite sure Barbara had ever really realized what was happening or else her wildly independent and self-sufficient streak would have chafed under what she would have perceived as a slight. Besides, there had been some sort of confrontation, and if nothing else pointed to something out of the ordinary, that did. They'd had a fight, though about what Dinah couldn't imagine, and for some reason Helena had run.
Which brought her back to the beginning, looping her into the same cycle of frustration and confusion that had plagued her attempts to deconstruct the situation. It wasn't unusual for Helena to run. In fact, it seemed like a natural defense mechanism for the brunette. What was unusual was Barbara's reaction, or, rather, non-reaction. Dinah could have understood anger, frustration, or irritated acceptance, but the carefully controlled lack of a response was just simply not normal. Nor was the fact that Barbara was about to let her go out in the field all by herself.
"You have to wear this at all times. You cannot take it off," the redhead was saying sternly, holding out a transceiver and giving Dinah a pointed and vaguely intimidating glare. Not that Dinah felt she deserved it. After all, it wasn't as if she was Miss Queen of Teenaged Rebellion like Helena undoubtedly had been.
Barbara didn't seem convinced by Dinah's enthusiastic nod, but continued on nonetheless. "All you're going in to do is see if there's been any activity. You stay back and don't try to make contact. There will be no investigating, no stunt-pulling of any kind, and no theatrics. You go up on the roof, you look around, and you take a few pictures. That's it. Do you understand?"
Barely resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Dinah took the proffered headset, grimacing at the weight of the bulky gear. Not only had Helena disappeared, but she'd done so with the cool gadgets as well. "I've got you. I don't do anything."
A wry smile crossed Barbara's lips. She wasn't wholly unaware of the mothering streak in her that sometimes came out in full force in regards to her protégés, and was well aware that Dinah was not-so-slyly poking fun at her. "I just don't want you to get hurt," she said wearily. After all, she'd apparently already driven off one superhero that week no need to get a fledgling one killed.
"I'll be fine," Dinah said blithely, full of the vain certainty of youth.
As soon as the rather meaty hand had clamped down on her shoulder, Dinah had been possessed by the sneaking suspicion that she might possibly be in trouble. Matters certainly hadn't improved when she'd been tugged rather roughly from her perch on the roof and hauled down the side of the building by an attacker she was in no way prepared to face. When she'd been ushered into a small, fairly dark and definitely musty room and duct-taped into a chair well, that pretty much took away any lingering doubts she might have had about the seriousness of her situation.
She took in her attackers as best she could, not at all comforted by the fact that there were four of them, and of the four, none appeared to be up for any kind of negotiation. The slight leers on their faces didn't do anything to ease her apprehension either, and she began to seriously rethink crime-fighting as a possible career choice. Perhaps it was even time to take one of those aptitude tests her guidance counselor had been pushing at her.
"So," one of the thugs said slowly, lumbering around so that he was squatting in front of her, his surprisingly light blue eyes even with her own, "care to explain?"
He held up the headset she'd been wearing, one brow cocked in anticipation of her answer, and Dinah sighed. She never had been very good at lying, especially when anything she might have concocted would have been ludicrous anyway.
"Uhm no. There's no explanation really. Nothing going on. Nothing to see here," she said nervously, babbling.
The thug looked remarkably unimpressed. "You know," he said idly, cocking his head to the side, "I could just leave you in here alone with these guys for a little while and see how much your ability to answer questions truthfully improves while I'm gone."
An apprehensive glance around the room revealed far more than she'd ever wanted to know about just how much the prospect of a young, helpless and bound female prisoner appealed to her captors, and Dinah began to panic in earnest.
She opened her mouth, ready to tell them every secret she knew, including the fact that Mary Ellen Parker tongue-kissed her own brother in the second grade, when a violent crash cut her short. Dinah watched with some amazement as the door to the room flew open with such force that it shattered, sending a shower of wooden splinters flying and leaving a blanket of sawdust-like particles in its wake.
"Sorry boys hate to cut the party short, but my friend here is out past her curfew so we have to be going. I'm sure you understand." Dinah nearly fainted with relief as the slow, smoky drawl emerged from the darkness, followed shortly thereafter by Helena herself. She looked imposing and fierce in the dim light of the warehouse and Dinah felt herself relax. Huntress would take care of things for her. Hopefully.
Four heads swiveled in tandem, eyes wide in surprise at the interruption. But, when the thugs caught sight of Helena in all of her slim, lanky glory, they smiled.
"Look at this, boys. We've got ourselves a two for one special going tonight," the ringleader said smugly, advancing quickly toward where Helena stood, hands outstretched to catch her as if he were chasing a run-away puppy.
With a sniff of dismissal, Helena planted a boot against his sternum, sending him flying back into the far wall. The other three looked on in a combination of confusion and amazement as their comrade slid slowly to the floor, but after a moment's indecision, all rushed Helena at once, low growls of anger filling the silence.
Dinah watched with no little amount of awe as the remaining men were quickly incapacitated, all with quick, economical movements whose easy grace belied their power. In fact, Helena didn't look as if she were breaking a sweat, or even as if she were really devoting all of her attention to the fight. Instead she finished the gang off in seemingly bored silence, snagging the roll of duct tape they'd used on Dinah to effectively hog-tie them with the skill of a seasoned calf-roper, leaving a line of limp bodies in a neat row by the wall.
When she was done, she none-too-gently ripped the tape from around Dinah's limbs then stooped to pick up the abandoned headset. "Get back on that thing and tell Barbara to send the police out to get these guys, and give me the keys. I'm driving," she said curtly, expression closed.
Dinah, however, was too flush with relief to really listen to what the other woman was saying. "Oh, my God. I'm so glad you're back, Helena," she gushed. "Did Barbara send you out here? They were gonna I don't even want to think about what they were "
Trailing off, shivering at the memory of the undisguised violence and lust in her captors' eyes, Dinah slowly became aware of the fact that Helena wasn't answering her, nor even really paying her words much attention. Fumbling into silence under the bored yet somehow still imposing force of the other woman's glare, she pulled the headset on with quick, jerky movements, digging in her pants pocket to find the car keys.
There was no reception, and Dinah grew increasingly nervous under Helena's increasingly agitated gaze as she ripped the headset off and fiddled with a few buttons, not sure what she was doing but hoping and praying it would work nonetheless. When she heard the crackle of static, she nearly fainted in relief. Helena's scowl had grown into a glower, and she had the distinct impression that she should do everything in her power to avoid pissing the brunette off any more than she already was.
"Uh, Barbara? I mean uh Oracle," she said hesitantly, lightly fitting the headset back into place. The tension in the room was reaching its peak, and Dinah began to shift from foot to foot in apprehension. Anything, really, to escape the force of Helena's angry glare.
"Dinah? Is that you? I'm on my way. Don't panic," came the breathless reply, and Dinah nearly winced at the frantic quality of Barbara's voice.
Clearing her throat, Dinah said quickly, "No. No need to do that. I'm fine now. Uh Huntress saved me."
For a long moment, Barbara didn't say anything, and Dinah could hear absolute silence where before there had been the background sounds of Barbara gathering things together. When she finally did speak, her voice was quiet, and a little bit strangled. "She's there?" Barbara breathed, and Dinah's brows crinkled at the myriad threads of emotion she could hear running through the two simple words.
"Yeah. And um I don't think she's going to let me drive home. Do you think you could call the police and let them know that they'll find some guys here waiting to be picked up?"
"Sure," Barbara replied weakly. "Is she coming back to the Clocktower with you?"
For a moment, Dinah frowned at the seemingly odd question. If Helena had come after her, then surely she and Barbara had worked out whatever problem it was that had been keeping the two apart, and if that was true and they were once again working with one another, then there wouldn't be any reason to suspect that Helena wouldn't return. After all, they'd have to do their post-mission debriefing and all of the other really boring things Barbara insisted on after each sweep or foray, and Helena had to be there for that. Unless unless Helena hadn't talked to Barbara at all. Which meant, then, that Helena had known Dinah was in trouble without an alert from Barbara. Which meant Helena had been watching over them, unless she just had the phenomenal luck to blindly crash into a room inside an apparently abandoned warehouse where Dinah was being held captive.
Which meant, really, that Helena hadn't ever left at all. She'd still been there, protecting Barbara, and by default Dinah herself, without the other woman's knowledge. For some reason, the thought of Helena perched atop some rooftop, all alone in the cold with no voice to keep her company as she steadfastly watched over them, nearly broke Dinah's heart. Spinning quickly before Helena could see the tears that pricked the corners of her eyes, Dinah said steadily, "I don't know if she's coming back. Why don't you ask her yourself?"
There was another awkward silence before Barbara said stiffly, "If she wants to come back, she'll come back."
The feeling that she was dealing with a pair of the most emotionally stunted individuals she'd ever met hit Dinah with the force of a ton of bricks, and she sighed. She had an inkling that things around the Clocktower weren't really going to improve in the near future, and as much as she hoped she was wrong about that, she really didn't think she was.
"You finished yet?" Helena asked roughly, cutting into the blonde's introspection, and with a too bright smile, Dinah turned, nodding yes.
"Uh-huh. Just can't wait to get back," she said with falsely sarcastic cheer, wanting to do something to break the hard shell of angry near silence wrapped around her as tightly as a cocoon. If she got annoying in the process, then it was what the other two deserved.
Narrowing her eyes, Helena merely grunted and held her hand out for the keys again, turning on her heel and stalking out of the warehouse as soon as she'd secured them. Dinah wasn't surprised when the other woman made her way without any assistance to the exact spot where she'd left their jeep.
By the time she'd managed to climb into the passenger's seat and buckle herself in, Helena already had the radio blaring at near ear-shattering levels and was racing away from the warehouse. For the first few moments, Dinah couldn't do anything more than grab the handle above the door and brace herself for turns that were far too sharp to be making in a vehicle with a center of gravity that high. It didn't take her long to accustom herself to the patterns of Helena's driving, though, and she was actually quite relieved that the other woman didn't drive with extreme adherence to any and all traffic laws like Barbara had the tendency to do, which made trips to school in the morning arduous to say the least.
Reaching out to turn down the radio, noting with detached amusement that Helena had set it to a volume that rattled every single window in the vehicle, she turned in her seat, taking in the other woman's stern profile.
"I thought it was your fault, but it wasn't, was it?" she said suddenly, conversationally, and Helena's head snapped around so quickly that Dinah was surprised she didn't get whiplash.
"I'm sorry. Did I ask for your input on something and forget?" Helena rasped, blue eyes glinting wildly in the alternating light from the street lamps. For a moment, Dinah almost let it go, but she just couldn't. Firmly convinced that Barbara and Helena would never work things out if she didn't do something to help, she continued bravely on.
"I thought the fight was your fault, but it was Barbara's, wasn't it," she clarified, desperately hoping that Helena wouldn't break her nose for interfering. She wouldn't put it past the other woman, who hadn't really always had a firm rein on her more violent impulses from what Dinah had observed.
Lying easily, Helena said smoothly, "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."
Taking a deep breath, wondering idly if she was suicidal, Dinah continued on. "At first I thought it had to be you. I mean, no offense or anything, but it makes more sense to think that you did something to piss Barbara off than it does to think of Barbara causing problems between you two. So, I figured you'd said something stupid or picked a fight with her and then just cut out. She hasn't said anything, and I haven't really asked, so it seemed logical. But now well, I'm not sure that's the way it went down. Even if it does seem a little crazy, I think whatever's wrong might be Barbara's fault, and I just wanted you to know that you know that you can you know talk to me about it if you want to. You know?"
Her words petering out to a near painful whisper by the end of her offer, Dinah merely sat back and held her breath, waiting for the inevitable explosion. She got nothing, though, but the rhythmic tic of Helena's jaw as she curbed whatever it was she'd initially planned to say in favor of silence. Ironically, the silence didn't do anything to dissipate the tension that had once again sprung up at Dinah's offer of help, and the blonde began to wonder if she was going to be scraping herself up off of the pavement in the near future.
With a sound that was almost a growl, Helena finally said, "Thanks for the concern, but it's none of your business, kid. And don't go to Barbara with this 'I wanna help' shit either, you got me. Just leave it alone, okay. I can handle it."
Desperately wanting to point out that Helena apparently couldn't handle it, not judging by the events of the last week, but still aware of a need for self-preservation, Dinah fell silent.
"I told you to stay back out of the way."
In the habit of all terrified parents, or in this case terrified guardian, Barbara vented her helplessness and fear by going on the offensive.
"I did," Dinah protested, stepping back at the assault, slamming squarely into Helena. The other woman grunted then pushed her aside, striding confidently into the room as if she hadn't been MIA for a week.
Barbara's eyes narrowed, jade flashing, but she fell silent. Dinah watched, transfixed, as the two stared each other down in a silent battle of wills that quickly decomposed into something most certainly not silent.
Her voice full of derision, Helena spat, "She did. It wasn't her fault."
Instantly taking that as an attack, Barbara wheeled forward, closing the distance between herself and Helena, gaze intense. "Well, something obviously went wrong."
"The whole thing was wrong, Barbara. Have you lost your mind? She's nowhere near ready to go out in the field. She's just a baby. You know that. What were you thinking?"
Even Dinah was taken aback by the vehemence in Helena's tone, and she stepped forward, instinctively wanting to defend Barbara. But, the women's postures indicated that they were most unwilling to have a third party enter into the battle, and so she stopped, the words dying on her lips.
"I guess I was thinking that someone needed to do it, and I obviously couldn't," Barbara said derisively, though whether her anger and frustration was directed at Helena, Dinah, or herself wasn't completely clear. "The job doesn't stop just because you aren't here to do it."
"So what? You send her out there to get killed? To get raped? Maybe you need to re-evaluate your priorities, Barbara. What the fuck was so important that you had to send her out?" Helena asked, nostrils flaring and brows jerking rhythmically inward in anger.
Barbara suddenly grew silent, her expression chagrined. "There had been a rash of thefts lately. I was fairly certain the activity was based out of that warehouse, but I wasn't sure," she mumbled, eyes downcast. But, at the sound of Helena's snort her head snapped up, features set in angry defiance.
"Thefts? What do you think the police are for, Barbara? Give them a call sometime. Do you know what almost happened because you wanted to bring down a group of thieves?" Helena stressed, and Dinah felt her cheeks burn bright red with embarrassment. She hadn't fully processed the whole thing yet, and she was sure that once she had, once she took time to fully contemplate the potential consequences of her actions, that she might just need to have a small mental break down. She wasn't at that point quite yet. Instead, she was still trapped in her 'shame over her own incompetence' phase, though that one was equally as unpleasant.
"You weren't here," Barbara snapped wearily in reply, a pleading note creeping, unbidden, into her tone. It wasn't at all a compelling argument in response to Helena's assertions, but the statement was so telling that Helena didn't even bother to point out that fact.
Suddenly tired of the fighting, Helena slumped down into a nearby chair, her elbows braced against her spread thighs, head falling forward as if she were exhausted. "I needed some time," she said dully, her words starkly evocative in their lack of emotion. Everything she was had been drained away, and in its wake she felt consumed by the boneless lethargy of sheer exhaustion.
Suddenly tender in direct counterpoint to her words and actions of only seconds earlier, Barbara closed the space between them, her hand coming up to cup Helena's chin, thumb stroking gently along the line of her cheekbone. "I know," she said softly, sighing. "I'm sorry."
Watching the scene, Dinah had the distinct impression that she was intruding somewhere she shouldn't be, and started to back away quietly. There was so much being said without words. She'd never seen anyone communicate like the two women before her, all eyes and gestures and tone of voice, and she was frankly quite amazed. Barbara and Helena told each other everything without telling each other anything at all. It was no wonder they were in such a mess.
For a long moment, Helena leaned into Barbara's caress, simply enjoying the feel of the other woman's skin against her own, enjoying the illusion that it was all real. But it wasn't, and before she could let herself do yet another thing she'd have to regret, she reached up, capturing Barbara's wrist. Surreptitiously grazing the other woman's thumb across her bottom lip as she lowered Barbara's hand, pressing it back into the other woman's lap, she leaned back, eyes hooded and conflicted. "Don't do things when you don't mean them, Barbara," she said huskily, a small frown settling on her lips.
Barbara wanted to protest, wanted to bring her hand back up, to continue on as she had been. But, there was something in Helena's eyes, a coldness that hadn't been there before, as if she was oddly detached from the situation. She could feel a distance in the other woman's body posture that didn't physically exist, but for all of the lack of space between them, they might as well have been miles apart. She felt shut-out and achingly alone and knew, instinctively, that she just didn't possess the skills to make this better. She was a coward, and instead of saying the words she knew would make everything okay once again, at least for a little while, she pulled back, rolling a few inches away from where Helena was sitting.
With the imposition of actual space between them, Barbara felt her loss more keenly. There was something she wanted, wanted desperately, and it was just outside of her reach. The only problem with that was that she knew she could grab it, knew it would only take one minute of uncertainty, one split second of floating without the stability of hard ground under her feet, and then she'd be there. But, it was the fear that she'd never make it over the abyss, that she'd get to the other side only to have the earth crumble away from underneath her that held her back. She'd rather stay right where she was than risk any of that, no matter how desperately Helena's eyes had once pleaded.
"Are you back?" she said instead, her voice strangely calm.
Helena's eyes fluttered shut, well aware that Barbara had once again made the decision to push her away. She felt empty, the futility of the whole situation creeping through her body on not so stealthy feet, turning her limbs leaden. She was tired of Barbara having that kind of power over her, tired of living in reaction to the other woman's whim, but wasn't sure she knew how to fix it. For so long, Barbara had been her everything. Friend, guardian, confidante and finally, the woman who represented everything she wanted out of life. That the other woman could turn that away, could shunt her aside with what appeared to be little more than a passing thought, was perhaps one of the most painful things she'd ever experienced.
But, she didn't say any of that. Instead, in a resigned voice, she murmured a simple, "Yeah." Then, unable to bear the weight of her disappointment any longer, she fled once more.
"You missed our session last week," Harleen observed casually, intently eyeing Helena's dejected form. The other woman was definitely missing her usual verve. Exhaustion was outlined in every limb, and the dark circles under suddenly lackluster eyes betrayed a string of sleepless nights. Still though, she was quite delicious.
Shifting restlessly in her chair, Helena looked off to the side, eyes tracing the contours of Gotham's skyline. "I was busy," she mumbled, lips twitching in irritation. While part of her protested that counseling was just the right place to talk about her troubles, the larger segment of her mind insisted that she quite simply didn't want to be there.
"Busy," Harleen drawled, stretching the word out with sarcastic doubt. "Doing what?"
Sniffing quickly in frustration, Helena turned to face her therapist. She took a moment to survey the other woman, sharp as always in a classically tailored business suit that still, somehow, managed to just barely skirt the edge of professionalism. She occasionally felt unnerved by the other woman's hawk-like gaze, and a quick glance upward confirmed that it was once again in place. Dr. Quinzel was an enigma to her, someone who seemed at once both completely at home and wholly out of place in her sleekly appointed office.
"Busy doing things, Dr. Quinzel," Helena shot back snottily, sneering slightly at the brief flash of annoyance her words garnered.
Stuffing down her impatience, Harleen merely cocked a brow arrogantly and pursed her lips in a vaguely disapproving manner. "Busy doing what things, Helena? Barbara maybe?"
She imagined, from the look on Helena's face, that the other woman would have snarled at her for that if the animalistic noise wouldn't have been completely out of place, and Harleen smirked, sensing quite easily that she'd hit a sore spot. And, there were no better spots, in her estimation. "Oh my the seduction's not going quite as planned?"
Turning her head to the side, fighting to keep her composure and not get herself arrested on yet another destruction of property charge, or perhaps even assault and battery, Helena took a deep breath, organizing her thoughts. Finally, she managed a gritted, "Barbara's not an issue any more. I've moved on."
Barely able to keep herself from chuckling sadistically, Harleen pressed on, almost physically unable to keep herself from twisting the knife in even further. "Turned you down, did she?" she sniped, thoroughly enjoying the wince that made its way across her client's features. "She must not have been impressed with what you had to offer."
This time Helena did snarl, the sound a little too close to the real thing for Harleen to feel anything other than a frisson of fear. It was a delicious fear though, an arousing one. She never had been able to separate those things apart very well, something that had landed her in trouble more than once.
"There's absolutely nothing wrong with my offerings," Helena growled, keenly aware of her therapist's spike of excitement. "You, of all people, should know that."
"Pardon me?" Harleen questioned, her voice mildly incredulous.
More than anxious to turn attention away from herself and Barbara, Helena leaned forward in her chair, eyes hypnotic in their intensity. "If you want me so badly, Dr. Quinzel, then all you have to do is ask. Well, ask nicely, of course."
Impressed, drawn despite herself by the aura of cocky arrogance surrounding the other woman, Harleen absently leaned forward herself, creating a sheen of tense intimacy. There was just simply something about a powerful, demanding person that got her engine revving. One had only to look at her Mr. J to see her weakness, after all. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Harleen said, struggling for nonchalance but unable to hide the hint of anticipation in her tone. She was playing with fire, and with having her license revoked, but simple little obstacles like that had never truly bothered her.
Helena hadn't actually expected the other woman to take up her barely veiled challenge, but there was something in Quinzel's posture indicating that she was more than ready to jump the divide between aloof therapist and and well, Helena couldn't quite bring herself to think lover, but there was no better term for it. Now that the prospect suddenly seemed like a reality, she wasn't sure if it was what she wanted. She was attracted to the woman in the amorphous way that she was attracted to all beautiful women, but beyond a healthy appreciation for the curves hidden underneath the conservative lines of her suit, Helena wasn't particularly interested in her doctor.
Then again, what better time to have meaningless sex than the present, she mused, feeling her impulsive side catapult itself to the fore. So, with a suggestive leer, she leaned back in her chair, spreading her legs lewdly, her open posture a far more direct challenge than her half-teasing words had ever been.
"I'm sure you do know, Doctor," she said softly, one hand tracing down the front of her thin shirt to find the line of buttons on her leather pants. Popping each one with agonizing slowness, she opened the vee, baring tan flesh and the merest hint of black silk. "You want me so fucking bad I can practically smell it."
It was a calculated ploy, one designed to either get her thrown out of the office completely or to call the other woman's bluff, but after she did it, Helena began to doubt its effectiveness. It seemed Dr. Quinzel wasn't at all ready to back down.
Unconsciously licking her lips, Harleen leaned even closer, pupils dilating almost immediately. The other woman was quite the specimen, with her soft caramel skin and the play of beautifully defined muscles rippling beneath tight flesh. There was also a pronounced conceit about her, a certainty that she was going to get what she wanted. Quite frankly, that kind of assuredness made Harleen wet. Very wet. "Perhaps you've misinterpreted the role of a therapist," she said, her voice husky with arousal. Suddenly, this was something she wanted very, very badly.
"Perhaps you think I give a shit," Helena replied airily, feeling extremely reckless. She could sense, both from the other woman's replies and from her obvious arousal, that insults and sarcasm were the good doctor's ultimate aphrodisiac. "I'm tired of talking, Dr. Quinzel. Either you come over here or I leave. Which is it?"
It was tempting. Tempting, tempting, tempting, tempting, oh so very tempting. No one had talked to her like that in quite a while. No one had had the guts to since her Mr. J got sent away, and she'd forgotten just how much she missed it. Forgotten just how intensely she got off on it. And she wanted it. Wanted it, wanted it, wanted it, wanted it
The other woman was kneeling between her legs before Helena could even really prepare herself for it, beautifully manicured fingernails scraping harshly along the flesh of her hips as her pants were tugged down roughly. Quinzel didn't even bother taking them completely off, just drew leather and silk down to Helena's ankles then lifted her still joined legs in the air, balancing slim calves on her shoulders. Sharp nails dug into the muscles of her buttocks, pulling her forward on slick leather, and before Helena had time to consider whether or not she was completely committed to the course of action she'd apparently chosen, the broad flat of a tongue was tracing up her sex, and her hands were slipping against short tendrils of blonde hair, pressing the other woman more fiercely into the vee of her thighs.
"Oh, fuck yes," she hissed in encouragement, still mildly shocked that it was even happening at all. But, she'd always been a 'go with it' kind of girl, and it certainly wouldn't be the first time she'd had ill-advised sex. So, go with it she did, only barely remembering to rein in her strength. Not particularly concerned with being gentle, though, she raked her nails down Quinzel's neck, tugged roughly on the short hairs at the nape of her neck, and ground herself against the other woman's face just because she could. It was nothing more than a simple exercise in getting off, and when she did, when her body froze and the muscles in her thighs turned rock hard and her heartbeat sky-rocketed, she merely grunted her satisfaction and fell back against her chair, breathing raggedly. And, when she managed to come back down, body achingly unfulfilled despite the haze of completion pervading her limbs, she simply detached herself from Quinzel, placed a booted foot on each shoulder and pushed, sending the other woman sprawling.
Standing, pulling her pants back up and buttoning them with fluid grace even as she surveyed the other woman, as she took in the wetness of her arousal thick on Quinzel's lips, the mixture of anger and utter satisfaction in the other woman's eyes, she laughed humorlessly. "Thanks, Doc. It was fun, but I'm not up for talking any more today. Guess I'll see you when I see you."
"You bitch," Quinzel said, though the words were more of a purr than a reproach.
Smirking, more than aware that her therapist had a host of issues of her own, Helena murmured, "Maybe, but I'll bet you still think of me when you get yourself off."
Before she could formulate a reply, Harleen found herself alone in her office. Then, with a shrug, she did exactly that.
"How'd it go with your therapist today?" Barbara asked absently, eyes locked on one of her many computer screens. She was inwardly extremely surprised that Helena had shown up at the Clocktower, almost certain that their days of easy camaraderie were gone, and with them the many hours the brunette spent watching her cable and rustling through her refrigerator.
"Eh," Helena said, idly picking up the remote, "don't think I'll be going back to see her."
"Oh?" Barbara asked, drawing attention away from the monitor to look in Helena's direction, intrigued by this new piece of information. "Do you think you've worked through everything you need to?"
Secretly, she'd been quite pleased when Helena had been court ordered into therapy as part of her probation. While Barbara hadn't ever been able to convince her she should go, she'd always thought that the other woman needed someone to talk to about everything that had happened to her. Someone other than herself, because no matter how much she wanted to help and how hard she tried, Barbara was far too intimately connected to the proceedings to provide an appropriate sounding board. Truth be told, she had contributed in great part to the brunette's trauma. In her opinion, Helena had needed someone unbiased, someone who knew far more about how to handle grief than did Barbara, and someone who could actually help her, something the redhead had sincere doubts she could do.
Deciding whether or not to tell Barbara the truth of the matter but then figuring that, if anything, it would be interesting to see her reaction, Helena said nonchalantly, "Nah. I'm sure I've still got plenty to work on."
Barbara's brows drew together in confusion at the intentionally vague comment, sensing there was far more to the story. Far more that Helena wanted her to have to work for, apparently. "Then why won't you be going back?" she asked, exasperated.
"Because I fucked her, and I imagine that tends to mess with a therapist's objectivity," Helena drawled, eyes glinting in anticipation as she awaited Barbara's reaction.
She wasn't disappointed. The other woman took in a startled gasp of air, eyes wide as she stared at Helena in incomprehension, quite sure she hadn't heard correctly. "You mean you with your therapist?" she asked jumpily, sounding distinctly unsettled.
Nodding her head, Helena took great delight in confirming Barbara's delicately worded question. "Uh-huh. Sure did. Well actually "
"NO!" Barbara nearly shouted, face turning bright red. "I mean, I'd really rather not hear the specifics. Helena, what were you thinking?"
Grinning, thoroughly enjoying both Barbara's discomfort and the other woman's vaguely jealous reaction, Helena said smugly, "I was thinking that she was hot for me, and that I really wouldn't mind getting off. And, turned out she was hot for me, and I quite enjoyed getting off."
Which wasn't technically true, but Barbara didn't need to know that. Besides, empty pleasure was still pleasure, even if she did feel bad about herself after the fact.
"I can't believe you you you " Barbara couldn't even say it. It wasn't that she was prudish, though perhaps a part of her was. It was just that she didn't want to think of Helena that way, didn't want to hear about the other woman's exploits, didn't want to bear witness to her brazenly cavalier attitude toward sex. In part, it confirmed what she'd already known. She'd done the right thing when she'd pushed Helena away. Had she given in to what she'd wanted that night, she'd be in the therapist's place now, nothing but another notch on the other woman's belt, a story to tell and an experience to brag about. And, Barbara noticed, someone who wasn't going to appear on Helena's landscape again.
Yes, her choice had been the right one.
Even despite her amusement at Barbara's indignation, Helena almost immediately felt her enjoyment start to fade. She'd done the same thing she always had screw things up. One rash decision later, and she was minus a therapist, not to mention yet another rung lower on the scale of Barbara's esteem. It had been fun to see the other woman's reaction, and it had been fun, in some way, to exploit Dr. Quinzel as she had, but only seconds after reveling in her revelation, she doubted the wisdom of it. How would Barbara see her now? She'd once again done something brash and impulsive, something she undoubtedly shouldn't have done, and only a week after she'd practically pleaded for Barbara's love. And then, in the face of her monumentally bad judgment, she'd once again thrown caution and logic to the side in favor of drawing out some sort of a reaction. A reaction that had told her something, but not much, and even then it wasn't worth the weight of the silent disapproval she could feel being mentally telegraphed her way.
So, deciding to try and salvage things a little, Helena said sheepishly, "Yeah, it was pretty dumb, wasn't it?"
Lips quirking in exasperation, part of her undeniably drawn to the absolutely adorable look of contrition being sent her way, Barbara sighed. "Yeah, pretty dumb. What are you going to do about it?"
Wincing, thinking back to her parting words as she left Quinzel's office, Helena explored her options. It didn't take long.
"Nothing. I can't go back there," she said in defeat, having now completely crashed down from her earlier high.
Resisting the urge to wheel over and comfort the other woman, Barbara stayed silent. Part of her was actually rather glad that Helena had done what she'd done, and then shared it with her. If nothing else, they were talking once again, much as they had before the incident. Barbara could shift back into her role as mentor and advisor, and maybe if she tried hard enough to make things exactly like they had been before, they'd somehow revert back. Maybe it could be like nothing had ever happened, like nothing had changed.
And, she thought, snorting to herself, maybe one day I'll just wake up and be able to walk.
Suddenly aware of the silence that had fallen, Barbara said awkwardly, "Maybe you can find another therapist."
Helena shook her head at the suggestion, smiling softly. "Nah. I don't really need to go. I'll be fine."
"Helena " Barbara started, a warning tone in her voice.
"I said I'll be fine," Helena broke in, her voice surprisingly stern. Then, mood changing in a split second, she muttered, "Look, I've gotta go. I'll get in touch with you when I do my sweep tonight, alright?"
"You can stay," Barbara said quickly. Too quickly, she berated herself, disgusted at her own neediness. She'd nearly gone insane when Helena had disappeared. The other woman had become such an integral part of her life, and to have her out there somewhere, doing God only knows what, had preyed on her mind. She'd pictured her dead, lying drunk in a gutter, or worst of all, taking comfort in the arms of another. Something she'd done at least once, apparently, judging by her sudden lack of an available therapist.
Helena hesitated for a moment, sensing an urgency in Barbara's words, but headed for the door anyway. She couldn't stay there, pretending like things were the way they'd always been. Not when she'd been so thoroughly and completely rejected. She might not have had many things, but she still had her pride.
Well, at least a little of it.
Helena had thought she could do it. She'd been sure that she'd be able to move past what had happened, that she'd be able to reassimilate herself into Barbara's life, but things weren't working according to plan.
It probably would have been easier if hadn't seen the brief touch in the second before Barbara had quickly slid her hand away from the back of Carolyn Lance's thigh. It hadn't been a touch of friends, and most certainly not of acquaintances. It had been a touch born of past intimacy, of that Helena was sure. Barbara just simply didn't touch people easily. She was a fairly self-contained entity, and with rare exception, didn't allow anyone into her personal space. Helena had lived with Barbara for close to a year before the other woman's unconscious stiffening at initial contact went away, and for far longer, Barbara had been so sparing with her touches that to receive one became almost like a gift. So, to see her touch some stranger like that had been eye opening to say the least. She didn't mention her suspicions to Dinah, of course, but Helena was almost absolutely positive that the blonde's mother and Barbara had once been lovers.
As a result, she hadn't been able to help her instinctive antagonism toward Carolyn Lance, and the other woman didn't offer her a reason to change her view. Helena had reined in her impulse to flatten Canary because she was well aware of just how Barbara would react to that, and in the end, she knew it would only make a bad situation even worse for an already torn Dinah. But, the other woman's jabs had certainly gotten to her. All of the insinuations that she wasn't to be trusted, that she was, in essence, beneath Barbara and undeserving of her time, had worked on Helena. And, when coupled with her newfound knowledge that Barbara had, at one time, been far more than friends with the woman she let practically walk all over Helena, that she let disparage Helena's mother well, it wasn't good. Not at all.
It wasn't that she felt any measure of satisfaction in Carolyn Lance's death. She wasn't that far gone. Dinah deserved at least some chance to get to know her mother, even if the other woman had abandoned her, and bad attitude aside, Carolyn wasn't an intrinsically bad person. In fact, she was far from it. She was a superhero. Yet another superhero, in fact, in a long line of superheroes. Yet another superhero who'd had Barbara in the way Helena wanted but had been denied. But, Black Canary hadn't been denied Nightwing either. Each had possessed the woman Helena desired, and the brunette couldn't help thinking that there had to be something horribly wrong with her. And, some part of her couldn't do anything about the fact that she hated Carolyn simply because she'd possessed that magical something Helena didn't. That something that made her special enough to share Barbara's bed, her life.
Things had been so busy before, when Hawke had nabbed Canary and Dinah had gone off after her. Then, after Carolyn's death, there hadn't really been time to process everything that had happened, and Helena found herself consumed with an overwhelming sense of compassion for the young blonde. She hadn't known how to help, of course, and she still wasn't completely convinced she liked the kid, but she knew exactly what the girl was going through. So, she'd stayed nearby, her presence silent support for the girl.
Despite her best intentions, though, Dinah hadn't really needed her help. She had Barbara, and Barbara was far better at wiping tears and listening sympathetically than Helena was, and so she'd taken off yet again. There was only so much time she could spend in the Clocktower without going completely insane, and so she'd decided that the events of the past week and a half had been more than enough to merit a night out. Accordingly, she'd headed out to her favorite club, ordered up a row of shots, tried to fall into the grips of the dance music tugging at her consciousness, and convinced herself she was going to have a good time. Only, the good time didn't seem to be anywhere in her future, and the more she drank the more she thought about Barbara with her hand indecently high on the back of Carolyn Lance's thigh. The more she thought about that, the more infuriated she became, until it became imperative to confront Barbara with her lie of omission, to see how she'd manage to wiggle her way out of it.
Scaling the wall of the Clocktower wasn't the brightest thing to do in her inebriated condition, but Helena didn't care. Some part of her almost wished that she'd fall, that she could simply lose her balance and have all of her problems disappear. She wouldn't fall though, and even if she did, she knew she'd manage to land on her feet. There was no easy way out for her. At least, not that way.
Nimble fingers keyed in the security code on the box out on the balcony, and she slipped inside, eyes adjusting quickly to the dimly lit open area of the main floor. Barbara wasn't there, and judging by the absolute quiet blanketing the place, hadn't been there in quite some time. That meant she was in her living quarters, and so, with resolute steps, Helena moved in that direction, throwing open the door that lead to Barbara's apartment with conviction born of anger. The door moved silently on well-oiled hinges, drawing some fire away from the move, but Helena moved forward, undeterred by the lack of suitable, accompanying drama. She had almost made her way to Barbara's bedroom when a faint spill of light from the kitchen caught her eye, and she reversed direction, taking a deep breath for fortification. She wanted the upcoming confrontation to be as messy as possible.
The opened refrigerator door blocked her view of Barbara, and she stood for a second, listening to the other woman rustle through its meager contents before saying softly, "Barbara, we've got to talk."
There was a bump and a curse, the voice most definitely not Barbara's, and then a dark head appeared to peer at her, followed shortly thereafter by a nearly nude male body. It was Wade, some dork of a teacher Barbara had brought by once or twice and claimed to be dating. Helena hadn't really thought much of it, because Barbara really didn't date. She pretended that she was dating occasionally, but Helena had been witness to a number of those sham relationships and was vividly aware of their lack of depth. They usually lasted about three weeks, and were quickly followed by the obligatory and often painful period of ducking unwanted phone calls.
Apparently, though, this time was different, because there was Wade, open carton of orange juice clutched tightly in one hand, boring white boxers covering up all the skin he'd apparently wanted covered. Helena noted idly that his body wasn't all that bad, the observation one she didn't particularly want to make.
Wade absently rubbed the back of his head where he'd banged it into the top of the refrigerator, staring at Helena in confusion all the while. He'd met the other woman twice, and both times he'd been distinctly unimpressed. Well, perhaps unimpressed wasn't quite the right word. Helena was certainly attractive, though he knew rationally that her beauty wasn't a conventional one. In fact, it owed itself more to the nearly crackling field of sexual energy surrounding her, taking attention away from cheekbones that weren't quite sharp enough and a nose that was more cute than anything else. She'd also seemed quite charismatic, and her barely veiled jabs at him had hinted at an impressive intelligence. So no, unimpressed wasn't correct at all. Maybe dislike would have been more appropriate, because he'd gotten the distinct impression that she was more than unhappy at his introduction. Not that it was a problem the feeling had definitely been mutual. There had been something about the way she'd looked at Barbara and then at him, one glance full of barely muted desire and the other of not-so-veiled threat, that had made her position plain. They both wanted the same thing, and she was not at all thrilled at his inclusion in the game.
None of which mattered, really, because he was the one who'd just left Barbara's bed, and not her. The thought brought a smirk to his face, one he didn't have the sense to hide.
"Sorry, Barbara's asleep," he said smugly, raising the carton of orange juice to his lips for a long gulp. He knew he was rubbing the other woman's face in it, but he couldn't help it. The natural antagonism between them and his sense of victory didn't allow for anything else.
Helena was quite certain she had to be screeching in pain, but oddly enough, the kitchen was deadly silent. Wade was in Barbara's kitchen with his triumphant, shit-eating grin, telling her that Barbara was asleep. He was in his underwear drinking orange juice straight from the carton, a move guaranteed to earn Barbara's disapproval. And, he was gloating. He had won and he knew it, and he wasn't above letting her know it.
Helena felt the already weak grasp she had on her self-control snap completely.
With a cry of pure fury, she nearly flew over the space between them, a stiff forearm to the throat pushing Wade back into the refrigerator with such force that it left a dent in the sheet rock behind it. Dropping the juice to the floor, he clawed at her arm, surprise and fear evident in his eyes, and she leaned in so close to him that she could smell Barbara on his skin and snarled, "You don't deserve her, and if you fucking lay a hand on her again, I swear I'll kill you."
Helena pulled back, watching with some measure of satisfaction as Wade's hands immediately went to his neck, as he struggled to pull in oxygen. Then, with a howl of near glee, she punched him, the blow hard enough to knock him off of his feet and back into the refrigerator once more, and as she watched him slump down to the floor, eyes hazy from the force of the blow, she growled, "You don't deserve her."
She turned, intent on making her way out of Barbara's apartment, sure that she needed to calm down before she did anything else to get herself in trouble, such as killing Wade. Unfortunately, when she turned, she came face to face with an extremely furious Barbara. Correction, an extremely furious Barbara wearing nothing more than a half-way buttoned, oversized men's dress shirt. Temper flaring even higher at the sight, at the possession the garment inferred, Helena stalked forward until she was standing in front of the scowling redhead, arms crossed defiantly over her chest.
"What happened to having standards, Barbara?" she asked sweetly, eyes flashing.
Green eyes hardened as Barbara struggled to pull in her temper. For the most part, she considered herself a sane, rational and quite level-headed individual. She didn't lose her calm, didn't act rashly unless Helena was around. For some reason, the brunette's mere presence seemed to send her life rushing into chaos, her actions into anarchy. She said things she shouldn't, wanted things she couldn't have, and made decisions on the spur of the moment.
And, catalyzed by her anger at the violence, at Helena's presumption, at the way she had been treated, almost as if she were a prize to be won, she said simply, "I turned you down, didn't I?"
It was wrong, and she knew it was wrong as soon as she said it. The sheer cruelty of the statement was out of character, the words backed by venom she didn't possess. She hadn't meant to say it, really she hadn't, but there it was, out in the open between them and horribly, irrevocably irretrievable. Even as she saw Helena pale, as she watched a virtual wave of hurt ripple through the other woman's body, she couldn't make her mouth move, couldn't take the words back. It was as if her entire body was paralyzed, and as Helena straightened her shoulders, as she walked past Barbara to disappear into the Clocktower, the redhead didn't say a word.
It was when she heard the door leading out of her apartment slam that Barbara realized she was going to have to do something to fix the mess her thoughtless words had created. Wheeling about sharply, not even hearing Wade's groan of pain nor giving the crumpled man a second thought, she followed after Helena, making it back to the Clocktower just in time to catch the other woman about to disappear out onto the balcony.
"Helena, wait," she called out, her voice breathless. The other woman stopped, shoulders still unnaturally stiff, but didn't turn.
Trying to even out her breathing, Barbara rolled across the floor until she was alongside Helena, looking up into the brunette's face. The other woman's chin was clenched tightly, and the near-constant tic of a small muscle under her right eye betrayed the amount of concentration she was exerting on simply remaining calm.
Reaching forward, capturing unresponsive fingers in her own, Barbara said softly, "I didn't mean it. You have to know that. I was angry with you for what you did to Wade and I struck back, but it wasn't true."
Helena took a deep breath, the air hissing in through her nose, then calmly pulled her hand away, stepping back from Barbara and putting more space between them. "Kidding when you said you turned me down?" she asked, her tone acid. "Because I seem to remember you being serious about that."
Closing her eyes and sighing, not happy with the turn the conversation had taken, Barbara mumbled, "I was talking about the other."
She winced even as she said it, cursing her lack of conversational skills. Barbara might have been able to converse comfortably with heads of state and foreign dignitaries, but when it came to simple interpersonal relations, she had the skills of a mostly non-verbal five year old.
Turning sharply, feral eyes clearly revealing the depths of her emotion turmoil, Helena rasped painfully, "Oh, you mean you were kidding when you said you turned me down because you have standards? Standards that I obviously don't meet? Not that I didn't already know that. Yeah, I'm not relationship material. We covered that already, and I've got no proof to refute it. And I guess you weren't lying about there being plenty of people out there just waiting to crawl into your bed. You certainly showed me up on that one."
"Helena " Barbara said weakly, stunned by the accusations, true though they were, and by the pain she saw in the other woman's face. She never meant to cause anything like that.
"No," Helena said sharply, cutting Barbara off with a slash of her hand. "You don't get to talk. Tell me the truth about why you don't want me or don't tell me anything at all."
"Helena," Barbara whispered, reaching once more for the other woman's hand and once more being denied, "it's not like you think."
"Oh, it's not?" Helena shot back sarcastically. "Because I'm kind of sure it's exactly like I think. Two weeks ago you turn me down, and tonight I find some half-naked geek in your kitchen? If you just want to fuck, I can guarantee you that I'm better than that jackass. Don't tell me it's not because of me, Barbara, that there's not something wrong with me, because otherwise, I should have been with you tonight. Everything else you've said to me is nothing but pure bullshit. You're not looking for a relationship with what's-his-name, so don't even bother trying to convince me that you are. Take that away and you know what it leaves me with, Barbara? Nothing. Not one single reason why we shouldn't be together, other than the fact that you apparently can't stand the thought of it and don't even have the guts to just tell me. So come on. Deny it. Make me believe there's a reason. A real, valid reason. Tell me you don't want me. Tell me you don't love me. Tell me something I can believe, because I can't live like this."
Barbara sighed in defeat. She was feeling too much. Shame, because everything Helena had said was true. She'd lied, and she'd hid the truth of her feelings from herself and the brunette. Cowardice, because Helena's accusations were dead on. Fear, because she was afraid of what would happen, afraid of the ramifications of a relationship between them. Helena was full of passion and vigor and an undeniable zest for life, and the more she thought about the other woman being chained to her, to a paraplegic science nerd, the more ludicrous the idea sounded. By remaining firm in her conviction, she was doing them both a favor. Helena wouldn't have to come up with a way to leave her, and she wouldn't get left. Even if some part of her whispered that she'd lost sight of the reality of the situation, that she'd chosen the wrong course of action and was sticking with it for equally wrong reasons, she couldn't listen. This was the way she'd protect herself.
"Can't you just accept the fact that it's not going to be, Helena?" Barbara asked plaintively, palms tracing a nervous path down the front of her thighs to rest on her knees.
For a long moment, the other woman was silent. Then, in a voice so soft that Barbara had to strain to hear, she said, "No, I can't. And you shouldn't either. I never knew you were such a coward, Barbara."
Before the redhead could reply, before she could even think of the words she wanted to say, Helena was gone, having cleared the gap between their rooftop and the next with a seemingly easy leap. Barbara watched as she landed softly, as she turned to look back one last time before sprinting off in the other direction. An uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach told her that it might be the last time she saw that particularly soulful gaze for quite some time.
Barbara didn't even bother to check the tears running freely down her cheeks.
"My, my what a surprise. I didn't think I'd see you again, Helena," Harleen purred, unreasonably excited to see the other woman once again draped across the supple leather chair opposite her own. She'd kept their regular appointment time open, something she considered a vain hope even as she did it. But, when she'd walked her last client to the door after their session, she'd caught sight of the familiar tousled brunette, and hadn't been able to hold back a smirk.
Harleen held no illusions about the other woman, nor about what had happened between them the week before. As a highly trained psychologist, she was well aware of the origins of her behavior. There were certain things she craved no, things she needed, and she'd been without them for a long time. Giving in to her desire for her beautiful, aggressive client had not necessarily been the wisest thing to do, but she didn't regret it. She didn't believe in living life as a succession of regrets. Granted, that philosophy had landed her in a tight spot or twenty over the years, but all in all, she felt it was quite worth it.
She even knew where her more base desires stemmed from, though they weren't places she normally cared to look. Deep inside, some part of her craved debasement and humiliation, and if that was a reflection of the hidden, inner core of herself that didn't believe she was worthy of more, then so be it. There were multiple layers on top of that one, all of which built a shell of well-deserved confidence and arrogance. If that core had to be nurtured on occasion, then it was simply a small price to pay in exchange for the health of the rest of her.
The sound of her client's voice pulled Harleen back into the present, and she scrambled to catch up with what the other woman was saying.
"I didn't think I'd come," Helena muttered, feeling uneasy and agitated. She hadn't been back to Barbara's since their last confrontation, and quite frankly didn't have any intentions of returning. It was something she knew wouldn't last forever, more of an instinctive response geared toward self-protection, but for the moment, she'd made herself believe it. Unfortunately, without Barbara as her natural recourse in her downtime, she was lonely. Incredibly, oppressively lonely, even though it had only been a few days since she'd last seen the other woman. Barbara was the only person in the world who understood her, one of the few people Helena had ever managed to care for, and without her, the brunette was quite lost. So lost, in fact, that the mere thought of not having Barbara around sent her spiraling quite quickly into the grips of depression. Well, even greater depression. She'd been depressed for weeks, if not years. When Barbara was around, though, things didn't seem so bad. Not that thinking about Barbara not being around did anything to help the depression, so with a sigh, Helena resigned herself to being caught, helpless, in the midst of a rather vicious cycle.
Harleen took in the other woman's dejected tone, her boneless sprawl. Helena wasn't very good at hiding things, no matter how much she thought differently.
"You're looking positively suicidal today," she remarked off-handedly, smirking at the glare she got in response.
Straightening, making more of a conscious effort to appear sane even if she didn't quite feel sane, Helena snarked, "Where'd you go to school? De Sade University for Sadistic Therapists? Aren't you supposed to at least pretend to be concerned about me?"
Rolling her eyes slightly, Harleen replied, "I just don't see any use in prevarication. What good do I do you if I pretend you're fine and you pretend you're fine and then we fuck and start pretending again?"
Wincing, thrown by the bored tone Dr. Quinzel had used and sent back to wallow in her own guilt at the mere mention of the previous week's session, Helena muttered, "Yeah. Look, I'm sorry about that "
"Oh, please," the other woman broke in, annoyed. "Don't say things you don't mean just to tidy up your messes. You're not sorry and I'm not sorry, and that's the end of that until we do it again."
Snorting in amusement at the doctor's dismissal of her apology, Helena purred, "Awfully confident, aren't you, Dr. Quinzel? Who said anything about it happening again?"
Eyes narrowing maliciously, Harleen shot back, voice razor sharp, "What's to keep it from happening again? I had fun, you had fun, and it's not as if there's anyone else. For you, I mean. Or maybe you look so happy because Barbara finally said yes," she finished sarcastically, enjoying the flash of pain and rage her words caused.
"I told you before, Barbara's not an issue any more," Helena ground out stiffly, furious with the other woman. Quinzel was quite familiar with her painfully obvious hot button, and had absolutely no qualms about pushing it.
Harleen took in Helena's form, stiff to the point of breaking, and the ever deepening bags beneath her eyes. "But something happened, didn't it? Tell me what's gone on since last we spoke."
For a moment, Helena debated the wisdom of sharing everything. It wasn't as if Quinzel had proven herself to be a kind and sympathetic listener, but really, there was no one else to turn to. Besides, if she was angry then at least she wasn't sad. There was nothing she hated worse than being boring, depressed and impotent little Helena doing little more than moping about, whining about her problems to anyone who would listen.
"I went by to see her one night, caught her in bed with this guy. Well, I didn't catch her in bed, per se. I caught him in the kitchen in his undies, beat the hell out of him, and managed to piss her off thoroughly. I think she might have kicked me out if I hadn't left first," Helena said bitterly, her much reduced version of events highlighting all the points she found salient enough to mention.
"Poor, poor Helena," Harleen said, her voice kittenish, a confusing combination of soft and sharp. "Turned down by the only woman she's probably ever loved. No wonder you're so bitter, so ," she paused, shivering deliciously, " rough. What are you going to do now?"
"I've got my own life," Helena muttered defensively, sliding deeper into her chair, not quite sure she liked the assessing look being thrown her way. "I've got a job and an apartment. It'll just take a little time."
Harleen felt an impulse, one she wasn't sure she should follow. Perhaps she was being led by her libido and not by her brain, something that wouldn't necessarily be a first for her, but she had a feeling that Helena was ripe for the taking. Metaphorically, that was. Or, not so metaphorically. She was more than happy to have her cake and eat it too.
"Perhaps I know of something to help take your mind off things. Do you really want to forget Barbara, forget all about her?" Harleen asked, her voice tantalizingly provocative.
Intrigued despite herself, Helena leaned forward, nodding her head to indicate her willingness to learn more.
"Barbara was all goody-goody good girl, wasn't she? Daddy was Commissioner Gordon, she's a teacher public service and all the boring honesty, justice and fairness rhetoric that comes with it. But she wasn't honest with you, was she? She wasn't just or fair with you? You don't have to hide behind those things, Helena. You don't have to follow the rules I'll bet she set up for you. You've got such potential," Harleen said softly, her voice so full of longing it was almost liquid. "I can see it inside you. Anger, rage, pain that's all there too, of course, and we can certainly use that. But, more than anything, I see someone who is smart, driven, and skilled enough take another path. A very, very lucrative path. That is, if you want. Be everything Barbara would hate. Stop letting her control you."
Helena was intrigued, both by the unnamed opportunity Quinzel was offering her and by the prospect that she'd accidentally stumbled into something quite interesting indeed.
Almost demurely, she said, "I can't take another path if I don't know which way it leads first."
Feeling a triumphant smile cross her lips, sure that the bait had been taken, Harleen felt herself relax just a tiny bit. "Oh, I'm sure you'll be quite happy with the direction. But first, I need you to do a little something for me. Call it a test."
Helena dropped down lightly onto the roof of GenetiX Labs, the tall, narrow shadows of nearby buildings hiding her from any eyes that might have been watching. She'd definitely stumbled onto something, though what it was she didn't quite know. Her therapist was into far more than counseling, and from the task she'd been given to prove her worth, Helena knew that whatever it was, it was big. It was the kind of big that Barbara would want to know about and infiltrate, but she didn't think Barbara had picked up on it yet. Or maybe no. She couldn't think about Barbara. She had things to do, and thinking about Barbara was the height of counter-productivity.
Trying to recall everything her mother had ever told her, mind recalling sly smiles and the mischievous glint of sharply slit eyes more so than anything else, Helena made her way over to the roof-top access door on the far side of the building. Sliding off the bag she'd slung securely over her shoulders, she extracted a set of lock picks, easily flicking open the case to reveal a row of tools, each gleaming dully in the light of the quarter moon. After a quick examination of the door, cat-sharp eyes giving her more than enough detail even in the dark of night, she chose one from the set, nimble fingers delicately easing the pick into place and manipulating the lock with the skill of a seasoned burglar. A few seconds later and she was inside, another more complicated tool set out and being put to use to disable the alarm system.
Completing the task efficiently, sure her Mother would be more than proud of her skills, she made her way down the hallway. GenetiX Labs had a large, open courtyard that extended all the way to the top of the building, with offices and labs arranged around it, as if the designers had thought they could create a skyless oasis in a land of concrete and steel. Almost all of the building's lights were out, but a sudden, instinctive streak of cautiousness hit, and Helena found a secluded corner and pressed herself into it, trying to slow her breathing. Excitement made it more difficult than usual to do so, but when she finally managed, she turned her acute sense of hearing outward, picking up the footsteps of a single guard somewhere far below her, and the hum and whirr of various machines. The place was practically deserted.
Staying in the shadows until the last possible moment, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, envisioning the jump to come. Then, with a sudden flurry of almost agitated motion, Helena hurled herself over the top floor railing, sailing effortlessly over the open area to land ten floors below where she had been, hands easily grabbing the top of the opposite railing. A quick bounce on the balls of her feet sent her up and over the barrier in what her ego imagined to be a visually stunning back-handspring. Landing silently, she quickly made her way back into the shadows, poised in silent apprehension for several minutes to make sure no alarm had been raised. Satisfied that her acrobatics hadn't been spotted, she began the search for her destination, scooting furtively down the hallway, looking for the room number she'd committed to memory earlier in the evening.
The door, when she finally found it, had a cardkey access slot, just as Quinzel had said it would. Moving slowly, acutely aware of the open vulnerability of her position, Helena slid her pack off once more, unzipping it as silently as possible. The handy bit of technology she'd been given to combat this particular lock was resting securely in the bottom of her bag. It looked innocuous enough, a thin piece of plastic no larger than a credit card with a slim cord attaching it to an equally small black box. Sliding it down the slot in the access panel beside the door belied it's apparently benign nature, though, and red flashed to green as the barely audible snick of a lock flipping echoed through the hallway. Sliding the door open just far enough to enable her to slip through, Helena made her way into the darkened lab, eyes quickly adjusting to the much dimmer light.
Burnished steel countertops and cabinets shone with nearly incandescent brightness, and as she slipped between them, Helena couldn't help but admire the almost militaristic order of the room. The lack of clutter certainly made her job much easier, and she made her way quickly over to the cold storage unit. She also became distinctly and uncomfortably aware of the excitement coursing through her, strong enough to bring a tremor to her hands and a flash of silver in front of her eyes. It was disconcerting to realize that she'd never felt the same thrill during a sweep as she did in the confines of the darkened lab, black leather no longer a tool of intimidation but rather camouflage.
Decompressing air hissed out into the room as she opened the door to the refrigeration unit whose lock she'd just picked, and she was momentarily blinded by the bellows of icy steam. When her vision cleared once again, she turned her attention to the samples in front of her, all neatly labeled and stored. She wasn't completely sure what they were, but was quite certain she didn't want to be in contact with them for any longer than was necessary. Grimacing, wishing she'd paid a bit more attention in science class, Helena rustled through her pack once again, this time producing a small silver suitcase. Grabbing the first samples she saw, she tucked them neatly into the padded interior of the case, easing them in with nervous care. Closing and locking the case, relieved when the vials were out of sight and presumably no longer a danger to her, she shut the door to the storage unit and slipped the case into her pack once again.
Helena knew the easy part of her evening was finished. While she'd been able to make the leap down ten floors with ease, making the same jump back up just wasn't possible. Had there been enough room for her to get adequate speed and momentum first then it wouldn't have been a problem, but the relatively narrow walkway was far from sufficient. That meant a trip up the stairs, something with which she wasn't entirely happy. Enclosed areas offered less protection, and if the security guard happened upon her, there was less of a chance of getting away without having to somehow incapacitate him, and Helena wasn't going to let someone get hurt just so she could work through the enigmatic Dr. Quinzel's scheme.
Finding the stairwell was much more difficult than finding the office had been, but after five agonizingly long minutes of searching, of keeping in the shadows and skirting from barely hidden hiding place to slightly more conspicuous hiding place, Helena spotted it. Breathing a sigh of relief, she slid a glove-encased hand over the thin sliver of metal, pressed down, and stepped inside.
And cringed .
The piercing shrieks of the alarm system she'd been sure she disabled startled her, and Helena stood for a second, listening in shocked disbelief before realizing that it was in her best interests to make herself scarce. Looking up at the distance she had to cover with trepidation, she began to move. Taking the steps five at a time, she was well on her way up to the top when the sound of a door slamming open below her caught her attention, and she paused, peeking down over the railing to see who was following her.
"Hey Hey, you up there! Stop!"
"Shit," Helena muttered, eyes rolling. If she got arrested again because of this, Barbara would kill her. Well, actually Barbara might not speak to her at all. She might have to actually face this conviction alone, and prison jumpsuit orange had never been a color that complimented her complexion.
"I said stop!" came the voice again, this time much more insistent than before. And, as Helena heard the loud rapport of a gun and the ping of a bullet bouncing off of the concrete wall somewhere behind her, she revised her earlier concern. Barbara would kill her if the idiot behind her didn't first.
Reaching the top of the staircase in a barely controlled skid, dodging another wildly fired bullet, she paused to look down and see how far behind her the security guard was. "Thought you couldn't shoot at fleeing suspects, buddy," she muttered, seeing the man racing up the stairs several floors below her, gun waving precariously as he peeked in between the railings.
Unwilling to stay there and face possible maiming any longer, Helena burst through the upstairs door and back onto the roof again, stumbling for a moment in the brisk wind that had picked up considerably since she'd gone inside. There was another rooftop a street away and two stories up, and so she began to run, gauging the amount of speed it would take to give her adequate distance. As soon as she planted her foot and leaped, however, Helena knew something was wrong. She hadn't taken into account the sudden, furious gust of wind that battered her airborne body, and in horror, she watched the building start to almost waver in front of eyes stinging with cold-induced tears. Barely catching herself on the very corner of the rooftop, one hand wrapping up and over the building's ridge, she was unable to stop her body from careening into the metal and glass side wall. Grunting in pain as her ribs took the majority of the force, she felt the grip of her fingers slip as she began to literally slide down the slick surface of the building.
Falling three floors before her fingers found purchase on a windowsill, she dug in with all of her strength, halting her descent. Hanging there for a moment, once again battered by increasingly strong winds, she caught her breath and attempted to return her heartbeat to something close to normal. When that was accomplished, she eased her way across the side of the building, inching along with agonizing slowness but unable to move any faster for fear of losing her already tenuous grip, until she was in back of it, out of sight of the rooftop of GenetiX Labs. Once out of sight, she scurried down until she was on stable ground once more, flinching slightly as the imperfections in the metal raked at her fingertips through the inadequate protection of her gloves. Then, once on solid ground again, she shoved her hands in her pockets and began to walk calmly away, not even flinching as a cacophony of sirens broke through the night air.
The Delphi alarm stunned Barbara out of the fog in which she'd been swimming since Helena had disappeared into the night for the second time the week before. Fingers searching for her glasses, she tried focusing on the computer screen before her without them, eyes squinting as she scanned over the fuzzy text.
She'd configured the computer to monitor the police scanners for her, and the use of certain words was designed to immediately signal for her personal attention. Modified voice recognition software translated it all into text format for her, so only a few seconds after a call was radioed in to the New Gotham Police Department, Barbara was reading its transcript.
This call appeared to be a break-in at the GenetiX Labs building downtown. The security guard reported shots fired, but hadn't gotten a good look at the perp, and Barbara sighed with relief at the prospect that she was actually going to have something to do. Flexing her fingers, she pulled herself closer to the array of keyboards she'd designed to surround her, and went to work breaking into GenetiX's computer system. Security was suitably vigilant not particularly challenging in light of her hacking skills, but it would keep out the hundreds of amateurish attempts to break through their firewalls the company undoubtedly received weekly. No problem for her, though, and within minutes, Barbara had made her way into the segment that housed the surveillance tapes, and a click of a button started the process that would digitally record onto her computer the images the cameras had captured.
Only giving the tapes cursory attention, the majority of her resources engaged in ensuring no one knew she was there, Barbara almost missed it. But there was no way, really, that she couldn't be drawn to the all too familiar face that popped up on the surveillance footage, and with a gasp, she slowed the stream, freezing a frame, sure that her eyes had been playing tricks on her.
There, in all of her glory, was Helena, dressed completely in black and carrying a bulging satchel, and Barbara felt her heart skip a beat. Her mind raced in an attempt to come up with a viable excuse for why, exactly, the other woman would be there. After a few seconds, she came to the conclusion that there wasn't one. Well, no good reason, and Barbara deliberately staved off the number of other, grossly unappealing reasons that instantly sprang to mind. Not that it was something she could worry about at that exact second, however. There were more important things to do.
Moving quickly, sure that her time in the system was limited, Barbara snipped out the segments with Helena in them, looping the empty security footage back in on itself, virtually erasing the other woman from the tapes. She didn't think about what she was doing or why, she just did it. Protecting Helena was second nature to her, and she wasn't about to have the police out on a manhunt for the other woman before she figured out what was going on herself.
After sneaking out of the system the same way she'd come in, Barbara collapsed wearily back into her chair, mind spinning. What was Helena doing? Had she finally decided to take after her mother? In light of their disagreements, had Helena given up on the crime-fighter role to step into the shadows as a criminal?
It was unthinkable, but Barbara couldn't deny what she'd seen on the tape. Helena had broken in to GenetiX Labs, stolen something, and was quite lucky she hadn't gotten herself shot. Without knowing what she'd taken, Barbara couldn't be sure of the other woman's motivation. Before talking to Helena, before hearing first-hand just what the other woman had been thinking, Barbara steadfastly refused to let herself seriously consider any of the less attractive options swirling through her thoughts, no matter how high the evidence in their favor. Quite simply, she couldn't bring herself to accept that Helena would turn against everything they'd built together.
Then again, she was also well aware that Helena wasn't in the best of mental states, largely well, wholly, due to her. Barbara had been battling with herself for years, unable to deny her growing attraction for her much younger friend and, in the technical sense, ward, but unable to accept it either. So, she'd tried to stem her feelings, but Barbara had quickly learned that no matter how rigid her control over them purported to be, there wasn't really anything she could do. Helena was enchanting, and nothing if not viscerally compelling. Those times, when she was nothing but a jumble of raw emotion and pain, were perhaps just as enticing as the times when she wasn't. There was something about the untamed, unrestrained life running through her veins, with all of the grief and anguish that came with it, that called to Barbara at a primal level she normally tried to avoid.
The first year had been rough. So rough, in fact, that Barbara had constantly doubted her wisdom in accepting custody of the obviously troubled teen. She was adjusting to the new limitations on her life, not really doing so with any measure of success, and not at all in the best frame of mind to deal with Helena's difficulties. There had been days when the two of them had sat in morose silence, each holed up in their own individual quarters of Barbara's small apartment, with little or no contact with each other or the world in general. She hadn't been oblivious to Helena's needs and her problems, but she hadn't really known what to do about them, and hadn't been able to fight past her depression enough to try and find the answers. In fact, it wasn't until the day she'd pushed open the door to Helena's room to see if the girl wanted something to eat only to find blue eyes looking at her guiltily, a razor sharp knife dripping blood dangling loosely from her fingers, that Barbara had realized that if she didn't change, one or both of them would probably wind up dead.
She'd rolled into the room, flicking on the light as she went, watching as Helena flinched as it hit eyes too long accustomed to the darkness. Barbara had been in a state of unnaturally surreal calm as she approached, some part of her trying desperately to dissociate from the situation, until she saw the line of thin, shallow cuts trailing up the inside of Helena's arm in a disturbingly orderly progression from almost healed scars to increasingly angry looking wounds. That was when she'd lost it, snatching the blade from Helena's fingers and flinging it to embed in the far wall, hands reaching out to cradle the blood covered limb in her hands, head falling forward in dejection.
"Why did you do this to yourself?" she'd whispered, voice rough with restrained emotion, heart finally tearing away from the icy isolation it had been occupying for months, the separation almost unbearably painful.
"Because " Helena had rasped, pain lacing each syllable as she struggled to find the words to explain it all, "because I just wanted to feel something again."
Barbara had gently cleaned and bandaged the girl's cuts, appalled at herself for not having noticed just how far gone Helena was. For not noticing just how far gone she was.
Things had changed after that. They'd moved, getting away from the pall that had settled over Barbara's old apartment. Since Helena had missed a great deal of school, Barbara made it her mission to bring the girl up to speed, and so she did. When Helena rejoined her class at the start of her senior year, not having had to be held back on account of what Barbara perceived as her personal failing to safeguard Helena as she should, it had been one of the happier days of her life. She'd even started to take more interest in herself, something she hadn't done since she'd awoken to find out she was paralyzed with little to no hope of any recovery of the loss of function she'd sustained. With Helena there, and with her finally seeing the girl, seeing how much she was needed, she had something to live for again.
It had taken yet more time for them to move on, to reclaim the parts of themselves that had been sacrificed in the wake of depression and self-pity, but it had happened. Helena recaptured her dry sense of humor, her aura of invincibility, and she brought Barbara along with her. It had actually been Helena who had planted the seeds of what had evolved into their partnership. She'd challenged Barbara one day when the redhead had let the losses and the pressures get to her despite her best efforts, had asked her why she kept going if her life so was fucking miserable, and if it wasn't, then when was she going to start using her more phenomenal talents, none of which had anything to do with her legs. Barbara still remembered her exact words in all of their inelegant glory, the mix of keen intelligence and careless slang a natural defense Helena assumed, for reasons the other woman couldn't begin to understand.
"Fuck, Barbara, you're the smartest person I know, and as cheesy as it sounds, you can do anything you want to do. You want to fight criminals? Do it, then. Jumping around on rooftops ain't nothing but grunt work anyway, and most anybody with half a brain and a fitness club membership can do it. All you've got to do is find where you fit, and everything else will work itself out."
Strangely prophetic in retrospect, she mused.
And, once again, Helena had given Barbara new purpose, had known something Barbara would have known had she not still been trapped by the dulling lethargy of self-pity. The legs of an operation were replaceable, but the heart, brain and soul of one were not.
Still, through it all, she'd had to try and avoid the attraction, calling herself a pervert, a pedophile, and every other name she could come up with to beat down the attraction she held for a woman several years her junior. It hadn't really worked, though, because the physical attraction was only a small part of what drew her. She was fascinated by the seemingly unsolvable puzzle Helena presented. She was smart, funny and charismatic, yet also deeply troubled, brooding and prone to violence. She was both sides of the coin wrapped up in one, and Barbara knew that sometimes it was hard to manage the constantly raging fight between those competing sides of herself. Her mother's death and Barbara's drive to preserve and enforce justice had pushed her in one direction, but the redhead always had the niggling thought in the back of her mind that if those things hadn't happened, then Helena wouldn't have chosen the path she had. Not at all.
Which was why, really, Barbara absolutely had to talk with her. If Helena had decided to indulge her darker impulses, then Barbara was going to have to decide what to do about it.
She wasn't completely certain she'd be able to do anything at all.
Leaving a note and some dinner money for Dinah, Barbara maneuvered herself into the van for the short trip over to Helena's apartment. The place was fairly nice, and, Barbara acknowledged ruefully, undoubtedly chosen with the possibility of her visiting in mind, because it had a large elevator and spacious hallways, two things that certainly made her life easier. The trip up to Helena's floor was short, the ding announcing her arrival there prompting Barbara to take a deep breath for fortification before rolling out into the hallway.
Pausing for a moment outside Helena's door, she raised her fist, preparing to knock. A flutter of nerves pushed her to lower it once more, though, until cursing herself for a coward, she finally did bring knuckles to hardwood, the sound echoing sharply down the hallway. Listening intently for footsteps, Barbara was rewarded with the resounding silence of nothing, and her brow wrinkled as she thought over her options. She could either give up and try back another day, something she silently acknowledged she might not be able to work up the courage to do in the near future, or go inside and wait while emotions and adrenaline provided the impetus to enter into what she knew would be yet another potentially painful confrontation. It only took a few moments thought to decide there was really only one thing she could do. Fumbling with her keyring, she located Helena's key and, hoping she was doing the right thing, slid it into the door's lock, twisted, and pushed the door open, steeling herself for the upcoming immersion into Helana's world. Something was horribly wrong, though, and she'd already rolled over the threshold before she really registered what she should have known from the first.
The place was empty. Totally and completely empty, with nothing but dust-free squares left behind to indicate it had ever been occupied at all. Catching her breath, suddenly filled with a jolt of panic that caused her heart to race and her palms to sweat, Barbara remained frozen just inside the doorway, eyes wide.
Helena was gone, and she had absolutely no way to contact her. The other woman's comm had been left behind at the Clocktower, but Barbara had always assumed it to be a temporary thing. Even that night, even seeing Helena's face on the security footage, hadn't been enough to convince her that there was something different about this time, something horrifyingly permanent. This, though, was an indicator even she couldn't dismiss.
Her breathing quickened, on the point of hyperventilation, as she considered the ramifications. Because of her actions, Helena was well and truly lost to her, and perhaps lost to the side of good forever. She'd driven away the one person she wanted because of her own fears and cowardice, and now it seemed quite possible that she wouldn't ever have a chance to fix things, or to at least own up to her part in the attraction. Past that, she was faced with the daunting prospect of having to track and capture the other woman, a thought that made her instantly sick and ill at ease. Helena wasn't built to be confined, and if Barbara did manage to catch her, if she could put aside the little voices already beckoning her to just let things slide, then the consequences of her actions would undoubtedly be Helena's final undoing. Jail, confinement, no matter how great or small the punishment, and the brunette wouldn't last. It would break her in a way nothing else had ever been able to do. Of that, Barbara was sure.
Barbara stiffened at the words, surprised that she'd been so caught up in her grief that she'd missed the sound of footsteps behind her. Wheeling about slowly, coming face to face with Dinah's confused and hurt countenance, Barbara nodded her head weakly. "I know. What are you doing here?"
"Followed you," Dinah muttered shortly, ducking her head and blushing at the pointed look Barbara shot her. But then, figuring there were more important things at stake than her unauthorized use of Barbara's car, she asked the question that had been bouncing around inside the other woman's head, doubts and insecurities rife in her tone, "What are we going to do now?"
Sighing, eyes fluttering closed, Barbara shrugged her shoulders in defeat, unable to come up with any words of consolation.
"Good girl," Harleen purred, eyes full of malevolent glee as she caressed the small, shiny briefcase with such obvious desire that Helena almost wanted to avert her eyes and give the two of them privacy.
Clearing her throat, rolling her eyes at the other woman's words and wondering how she'd managed to miss that now so obvious gleam of insanity in the other woman's eyes before, Helena asked, "So what is it anyway?"
Turning sharply, eyes narrowing in anger, Harleen nonetheless managed to say calmly, condescension dripping from each syllable, "That's really not any of your business. You're the brawn in this new partnership, sweetheart. Leave the thinking up to me. I'm far more qualified."
Anger flaring at the words, Helena stepped forward then stopped, not wanting to get into a fight with the other woman and ruin things before she even really had a grasp on what was happening but unable to let the slight go without some sort of retaliation. "I won't be your errand girl unless I know what's going on," she said between gritted teeth, palms clutched tightly into fists. The blonde was infuriating, sharply intelligent and dangerously ruthless, but certainly not above getting her ass thoroughly kicked.
Sighing, Harleen turned toward Helena, gaze patronizing. "I think we're on to something quite mutually beneficial here, don't you?" Harleen questioned, voice irritatingly sweet. "Don't go and fuck it up by asking questions. I'd hate to have to kill you this early in the game."
At the words, the brunette laughed, taking in Harleen's less than imposing stature. "Kill me?" Helena echoed, brows raising in amusement, momentarily forgetting that she didn't look like all too frightening of an opponent herself. "You and what army?"
The question seemed to cause abject amusement, and smiling evilly, Harleen raised one hand parallel with her shoulder, two fingers beckoning an unseen someone. "That one," she said, grinning ruthlessly, and Helena heard the hiss of a pneumatic door opening behind her. Spinning quickly, automatically falling into a fighting stance, she looked up just in time to see one of the walls of the office slide back to reveal three very large, very mean looking guns attached to three equally and impressively mean looking figures. Despite the apparently dire nature of her predicament, Helena had to grin.
"Oh, that one," she allowed, chuckling humorlessly.
Laughing gaily, Harleen stepped forward so she was even with Helena. With a quick motion of her head, she gave her men the signal to leave them alone, obviously not at all concerned with being left alone and defenseless. Though, Helena had to think that if she had one small army hidden behind a wall, it was entirely likely she had another one lurking about somewhere else as well.
Before the brutes had even taken a step, the blonde linked her fingers with Helena's, giving the brunette's hand a tug. The move served to bring Helena around so that they were facing, and Harleen used her free hand to trace a line down the length of Helena's neck, pupils expanding instantly, turning brown eyes even darker. "How about a little pleasure to mix with our business," she husked, a sly smile sliding over her face.
Feeling her stomach revolt at the thought, Helena took a deliberate step back, one brow arching arrogantly. "I think not."
"Ooh," Harleen purred, once again closing the space between them and hooking her forefingers in the waistband of Helena's leather pants. "Going to make me work for it?"
Wrapping her hands around the blonde's wrists, applying a bit of meta-enhanced force and guiltily enjoying the resulting wince, Helena pulled the other woman's hands free and took another step back, eyes narrowing in anger. "Playtime's over, Dr. Quinzel, and I'm not interested in furthering our acquaintance."
Fire flared in brown eyes for a second before it was pushed down. When Harleen spoke, her voice was crisp and businesslike. "Very well. Details on your next assignment are in there," she said sharply, pointing to a plain manila envelope resting on the corner of her desk. "I expect results within the week."
"And if I can't work it into my schedule?" Helena asked breezily, tracing her fingers over the cool surface of the envelope, questioning her wisdom in getting involved with the whole mess to begin with.
A slim hand slid up her back to rest lightly on her shoulder, the touch enough to be painful had she been a normal human being. "Oh, I would suggest that you find a way to make time," Harleen said cheerily, fingers trailing over Helena's neck, nails none-too-gently raking across her skin.
Shrugging out of the other woman's grasp, Helena made her way to the door slowly, determined not to let the other woman get the upper hand. Intimidation wasn't going to work on her, and the sooner she let Quinzel know it, the better.
"See you when I see you, Doc," she said airily, then moved easily from the room.
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