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/WARNING: This story deals, in part, with the aftermath of the night Barbara Gordon was shot. I have taken a few liberties as far as the show's canon is concerned, mixing that plus the events in 'The Killing Joke' graphic novel. It may be a trigger for some, but nothing is graphic.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To annebar76[at]gmail.com
"You have your grappling hook just in case?" Helena's voice came in over her earpiece.
"For the tenth time, yes. I'll be fine, Huntress," Barbara responded.
"Just making sure. I don't want you to bruise that cute little "
"If you finish that sentence, you'll never see that cute little whatever it is again." Barbara couldn't help her grin.
She was currently standing atop of a midsize office building just after nightfall. About twenty feet beyond the edge was another building that was one floor higher. It would be an easy jump as Batgirl, but that wasn't what she was attempting to accomplish. The grappling hook was for emergencies, but she doubted she would need it.
After a couple of aborted efforts, Helena had reluctantly agreed to stay a few buildings away. She was being too overprotective, and Barbara knew that would have to be stopped if they were to be partners in crime fighting. So she had practically pushed Helena off the building and told her to find someplace to perch.
The only thing holding her back after that were her nerves, and Barbara had to admit that she had some butterflies in her stomach. She hadn't flown across the rooftops in quite some time, and never like she was planning to do, so she was concerned over her untested ability. She was also beginning to understand Helena's overprotectiveness.
Shaking her head, she knew it was time for action. She concentrated on her target, attempting to gauge how high and how hard she would need to jump, and the most remarkable thing happened: everything became clearer in her sight and in her mind. All nerves fleeing her, she began her run.
Her short run was swift and clear, and when she planted the last footfall on the edge of the building she had never felt as free as she did when she flew through the air. Finally she understood what Helena felt like, and she wasn't afraid of hitting her mark as she sailed up and onward.
She landed on the next building with ease and virtual silence. There had been no jarring sensation as she set down; it had almost been as though she were flying instead of falling into the landing. With a wide smile, Barbara couldn't help but think she was the luckiest woman in the world. Not only did she have the love of a beautiful, strong woman, but she had the good fortune to be able to do her life's work again.
"Phoenix? Do you have an update?"
"Sorry, Huntress. Jump complete and very successful. Why don't you meet me?"
Within moments, Helena landed next to Barbara. "Hey you. How was it?"
Barbara, whose grin hadn't left her since she had landed successfully, brought Helena into a fierce hug. "It was better than I remembered, and much better than I could ever imagine."
Helena returned the embrace before letting go. "Want to jump some more then?"
"Oh, yes. Let's try something a little more challenging this time though."
"How about that one?" Helena pointed to a building that was a number of floors higher.
Barbara looked at it and the same thing happened as before: her target was as clear as day, and she knew exactly how far and upwards she needed to go.
"Phoenix?" Helena asked, and when Barbara turned to her, she saw concern on her lover's face.
"What?" The clarity disappeared, but she could still see well.
"Your eyes changed. They haven't done that before."
"What did they look like?" Barbara asked curiously.
"Gold, like mine, but with round pupils."
"That would make sense," Barbara said thoughtfully.
"How so?" Helena asked, her head tilted slightly to the side.
"When I fixated on the target, it was almost like looking through a telescope. I instantly knew everything I needed to do to make the jump."
"What's the ineloquent 'huh' for?"
"I'm just wondering," Helena began, "if you could apply that to long range attacks."
Barbara thought about that and chided herself for not thinking of it first. "It might be fun to try it out."
Helena's lopsided smile made Barbara as excited as her lover seemed to be. "Tomorrow. I want to fly tonight, shoot tomorrow."
"Do have to limit tonight's activities to just flying?" Barbara asked, nuzzling Helena's neck.
Helena purred a little. "Not on your life. When I get you home, you're mine."
"So possessive," Barbara said, nipping Helena's earlobe.
"Are you complaining?" Helena asked as she tilted her head and offered more of her neck to Barbara.
"Not one bit. I merely wanted to establish it as truth." Barbara kissed her way down Helena's neck.
"If you don't stop, you'll be mine on this roof. I have better plans for you, Phoenix. Trust me," Helena said, and Barbara could hear the restraint in the other woman's voice.
"Do you two seriously want me to have nightmares?" Dinah's voice registered over the comms.
"Relax, Canary. No nudity involved," Helena said with a grin.
"I hope not."
Barbara broke contact with a broad smile. "Let's race home."
"Done. You're it."
With those words, Helena tagged Barbara's arm and started racing to the next building. Barbara followed suit, and soon caught up, touching Helena as she passed between roofs and laughing the entire way. She danced in the air, barely touching one surface before leaping up again. Helena kept up but never quite caught her, and Barbara knew she would get an earful when they made it back to the Clocktower.
"Phoenix? Huntress? We have an alarm on Delphi," Dinah's voice came in loud and clear, even though the wind rushed past Barbara's ears.
"Location?" Barbara asked, landing on a roof and staying there.
Helena landed only seconds later looking a little put out, but happy. It warmed Barbara's heart.
"Two blocks from your location. It's in an alley behind the bar on 9th street. Eyewitnesses saw six men follow a couple of women out of the bar."
"On it," Helena said quickly as she prepared to leap.
"Wait, Huntress. I'm not outfitted for that work yet."
"What's to outfit?" Helena smirked. "You look like anyone on the street: leather jacket, t-shirt, and jeans. What could be better?"
Barbara sighed, but she knew she needed to think quickly. On one hand she didn't want to reveal her identity. It was something Bruce had driven into her mind over and over again. Helena had rebelled against it though, no matter how much Barbara had asked her to wear a mask.
Then again, there were lives at stake, and she couldn't let that go. She was and would always be a protector, and that thought egged her into action. "Let's go."
Without words, they changed course and within minutes were standing on the roof above the alley. Dinah was right; there were six men, and they were crowded around two women. It looked like they had more than mugging on their minds, and from the conversation she could hear, she knew it to be true. The men's drunken taunts were dangerous. She and Helena needed to move soon.
Barbara looked to Helena and nodded. Though she hadn't tested her landings at that height she was more than five stories up she felt sure of herself as she took the final step and fell toward the ground. She landed lightly on her feet behind three of the men, while Helena did the same with the other three men.
"Some people just won't take a hint," Helena said with a smirk, surprising the men as well as the two women cowering on the ground.
"Should we give them a bigger push?" Barbara asked as three of the men turned to her, and the other three turned to Helena.
"C'mon, Bill. This'll be fun," one of the men said, nudging his pal.
Bill didn't respond, instead opting for a drunken, mad rush at Barbara. With reflexes much quicker than his, she moved out of the way easily and kicked him to the side. He landed against the dumpster, but stood up and waivered a bit.
"Anyone else want to try?" Barbara asked with a wild grin on her face. Bill's friend was right. It would be fun, just not for the men.
Barbara lost track of Helena as the other two men facing her rushed her at the same time Bill did. Since Bill was running in the opposing direction as his friends, Barbara simply jumped over them, allowing them to crash into one another. They staggered backwards, and she landed a couple of feet away from where they were.
Bill moved toward her again, but he was more cautious about his next rush. He and his two friends circled Barbara, and she quickly calculated what it would take to knock them flat. She estimated that they wouldn't attack together, since they weren't professionals, and were obviously very drunk. That didn't mean they weren't a threat, though, and she knew it.
One of the men shot out his arm in an attempt to connect with her jaw, but Barbara easily caught the man's fist in her hand and twisted it back. He screamed in pain and fell to his knees before Bill and the third man attacked.
Letting go of her would-be attacker, Barbara threw a punch at the third man while simultaneously kicking Bill in the gut. Both men were knocked back and fell to the ground, moaning.
She removed some ties from her pocket and tied the wrists and feet of the men, and when she finished she turned to see if she could help Helena. It was no surprise that the other woman had already tied the other attackers and was kneeling over the women.
"Are you okay?" she was asking one of them.
Both women nodded. "Th-thank you," one of them said.
"Don't mention it. We're just glad we made it here in time," Barbara said as she kneeled beside Helena. "Canary, alert the police. We have this sewn up."
"You should go back to the bar and let them know what happened. They'll lead the police out here," Helena said gently, as though talking to a wounded child. Judging from the women, they were little more than that. "Do you have a way to get home?"
"We were going to walk. We don't have money for a cab."
Helena reached into her back pocket and pulled out a couple of bills. "Now you do, just in case the police don't take you."
The women stood and walked quickly out of the alley, leaving Barbara to stare at Helena with a grin on her face. "I forgot how good that felt, even if it was a little easy."
"You wanted a difficult fight?" Helena smiled as they started walking away from the street, which was a little too close for them to make their jump up the building.
"I'm not saying that. It was a nice way to stretch my legs, so to speak. I'm out of practice."
They made it to a safer location, and both women easily leaped onto the roof above. "So to speak," Helena said when they landed. "We'll get you back to tip-top form in no time, Phoenix."
Barbara smiled. "Phoenix and Huntress coming back to base."
"Um, is there any chance you could pick up some food? I'm starving."
"One pizza coming up," Helena said as they started for the pizza shop. "Call in the order. Turning off comms."
Since it was practically the only thing the teenager ate, the meal suggestion was a pretty good guess. While Barbara loved excitement and change, she also loved the familiarity of both Dinah's and Helena's eating habits. She just hoped those habits weren't a metahuman trait. She was already eating more than she usually did; she didn't want to start eating junk food.
Barbara shook her head as the landed in the alley. It was close to the Clocktower, and they couldn't really leap from roof to roof with a pizza in each hand, so they decided to walk the rest of the way home. With Barbara holding the normal pizza and Helena holding the one with the anchovies, they made their way through the streets.
"It's such a lovely New Gotham night. The stars are definitely out," Helena said as she took Barbara's hand.
"Oh no. Carrying pizzas while staring at the stars is in no way romantic."
"C'mon. You have to give a girl credit for trying."
"No, I don't. And you weren't trying," Barbara said as she lightly bumped Helena's hip.
"How about tomorrow night then? I hear the weather's supposed to be nice, and there is the symphony. You've been begging me to go for years."
"You make it sound as though it's sheer torture for you to listen to Vivaldi."
Helena stopped and pulled Barbara to a screeching halt with her. "Wait, you knew about the symphony?"
"I was going to ask you," Barbara said with a blush. "I also made reservations at our favorite restaurant on the off chance that we don't have to cancel. Again."
"And what if I said no?"
With care not to drop her precious cargo, Barbara leaned in very close to Helena. "You won't, because if you do, you won't get your present."
"I'm getting a present?" Helena whispered.
"Don't even ask what it is. You'll find out tomorrow."
"Come on, Red. You know I hate surprises," Helena said as they started walking again.
"Will you trust me when I tell you you'll love this one?"
Barbara looked sideways at Helena, and smiled when she saw the other woman actually pouting. "That's really not a good look for you."
"Maybe not, but I'm not going for looks at the moment."
"What are you going for?"
"Oh, hell. I don't know. I definitely wasn't thinking about the fact that I'm going to get that present out of you tonight."
Barbara grinned as they turned the corner to their deserted street. "Consider me a closed steel trap for the night. You won't get anything from me."
They made it to a wall of graffiti, and Barbara laughed as she pressed a small button set high in the wall. "You have only one thing on your mind."
The slab of concrete shifted slightly inward on one side, and the two women squeezed in. "Yeah, but it's a good thing. You can't deny that."
"Not one bit," Barbara said as they moved past the three cars and to the elevator.
"Then it's settled. We kick the Kid out and try out the training room tonight."
Barbara pressed the button for the top floor. "Only if you want to explain to her exactly why we're kicking her out. She might die from blushing so hard."
Helena laughed and kissed Barbara's cheek. "Nah, she can stay. We'll just keep it to the bedroom. For tonight, that is. Tomorrow might be a different story."
Barbara just smiled. She had plans for the next night, and none of them had anything to do with being in the Clocktower. "You won't know until tomorrow."
"Damn. I thought you were going to reveal something. Anything."
"You know we're going to dinner and the symphony, and that's all you need to know," Barbara said as the doors opened onto the penthouse.
"Hi, guys. Everything's quiet for the evening," Dinah said, but Barbara could tell something was wrong.
"What's wrong?" Helena asked, taking the words out of Barbara's mouth.
"Gabby's at the police station. She hit back tonight, and her mom called the police."
"On who?" Helena said, and Barbara could see her anger mirroring her own.
"On Gabby. She used her one phone call to call me. Can we go down to the station?"
"Let's put these away and we'll go." Helena was already heading for the kitchen with both boxes.
"Grab my chair, too," Barbara said reluctantly.
"Why?" Dinah asked before realization set in. "You can't tell people yet."
"It has to be gradual to the public, or else there will be way too many questions," Barbara said.
Helena came around the corner with Barbara's manual chair, and reluctantly Barbara sat in it. "I hate this thing."
"It's just for show. Remember that," Helena whispered in her ear as Dinah pushed the elevator button.
They were silent on the way to the station, and Barbara felt sick to her stomach. She would have to lie, and if they had to pull strings she would have to lie to her father as well. The worst part of it was that they had to go down there in the first place. Gabby didn't deserve the hand she had been dealt, and Barbara hoped they would be able to change it. Going back to that house for anything other than her keepsakes wasn't an option for Gabby anymore. Even then, she wouldn't be going alone.
Helena parked the SUV, and while Barbara waited for her lover to get her chair, Dinah got out as well. When Barbara's door was opened, she carefully shifted her body into the chair, being very conscious not to move her legs at all.
They went inside, and luckily the desk Sergeant was someone Barbara knew. "Hi, Phil."
"Ms. Gordon, It's good to see you. What are you doing here so late?"
"I'm here for one of Dinah's friends. I believe she's at this precinct. Gabrielle Monroe?"
Phil checked his sheet. "Yeah. She was brought in on assault."
"I know you need the judge to set bail, but I would like to talk to the arresting officer. She has special circumstances," Barbara said, laying on her charm quite thickly.
"I'll get him for you," Phil pressed a button on the phone in front of him. "Detective Reese to the front," he said, and the words echoed throughout the station.
Helena gripped Barbara's shoulder as Dinah gasped. They hadn't seen him since the night Harley Quinn had invaded their home, and as far as Barbara was concerned, they hadn't left things on good terms.
"Ladies," Reese said politely. "I understand you needed to see me?"
"Actually we're here to see Gabrielle Monroe. You took her into custody tonight?"
"Follow me," he said, leading them back to an interrogation room. "This is the only place I can put all of you, but I want to know what you know. The entire situation feels funny to me."
Barbara laid the entire situation out for him, and he listened intently as he took notes. "I'll go back and talk to her, but her father is still in the ER with a broken jaw. Once I know something I'll get back to you."
"Wait, Reese," Helena started. He stopped at the door. "Release her into our custody. You know she doesn't deserve to be locked up here. We'll make sure she gets to whatever hearing she needs to get to."
"Why should I trust you?" he asked with his hand on the doorknob.
"Because I've helped you solve half your cases, and because there was a time when you trusted me," Helena said. "Could you maybe trust me this one last time?"
"I'll see what I can do," he said after a moment. He took a pad out of his pocket and laid it on the table. "I need your current address and phone number."
Barbara wrote out the information he requested. The address was nothing more than a dummy location, but it did have a house they kept up in case of emergencies. She didn't want him knowing they hadn't moved from the Clocktower. The phone number there was rerouted to Barbara's cell phone, so they wouldn't have any trouble communicating with him.
"I'll be back," he said, taking the pad.
Once Reese had left, Barbara looked at Dinah, who had been silent since they left for the station. "How are you?" she asked as she wheeled over to her.
Dinah shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. Immediately Helena was by her side. "Hey, Kid. We'll get her out. Even if we don't, the truth will come out eventually."
"She shouldn't have this experience. She should never know what it's like to be in a cell like that," Dinah said quietly.
Barbara didn't have anything to say. Dinah was right. Gabby didn't deserve anything that was happening to her, but at least the end of that chapter of her life was in sight. While Barbara hadn't expected to have Gabby move in so soon, she knew the young woman had spent her last night with her parents. The Birds were her family.
The door opened, and Reese and Gabby came into the room. Dinah rushed to her, wrapping her arms around her girlfriend and holding on for dear life. "Are you okay?" she asked when she pulled back enough to look into Gabby's eyes.
Gabby just nodded as Reese put some paperwork in front of Barbara. She wondered how in the world he had been able to get release papers drawn up so quickly, but decided not to question it as she signed her life away. The only thing she cared about was getting Gabby back to the Clocktower.
"Thank you, Detective Reese," she said as she handed the forms back to him.
"Don't thank me. Just make sure she's back here tomorrow at one and that she's available for questioning if we need her."
"Of course," Barbara said.
"I have to see you out," he said, opening the door once more for them.
The women filed out of the small room, and as they went down the long hall, Barbara noticed that Gabby was hanging onto Dinah's hand like that was the only thing keeping her sane. For all Barbara knew, it was. The thought made her angry; angry enough to go to the hospital and inflict pain on Gabby's father. She took a deep breath instead. It wouldn't do her any good to get locked up as well.
The four women made it outside and got into the SUV. Dinah and Gabby were in the back seat, still holding hands, while Helena was in the driver's seat once again, but she wasn't moving. Barbara looked again. Helena wasn't moving to turn the engine on, but she was trembling. That wasn't the right word, she corrected; Helena was vibrating.
Barbara knew Helena's reaction all too well. She had seen it in the early days after Selina's death, when Helena was getting into trouble all the time at school. It always meant an outburst was coming, and Barbara knew she needed to head it off at the pass. The last thing Gabby needed was more violence.
"Hel," Barbara said softly.
"Don't. Give me a sec," Helena said through clenched teeth.
Barbara stayed quiet, and in a couple of minutes the vibrating stopped. Helena unclenched her fists and put her hands on the wheel. "I'm okay."
"Okay," Barbara said, completely trusting her companion. If Helena didn't think she was safe to drive, she wouldn't have turned on the engine.
The ride back to the Clocktower was quiet, and by the time they made it up to the penthouse, Barbara felt a ball of tension in her chest. She hadn't wanted to end the evening the way they had, but then again, she had never wanted to have to get Gabby out of jail.
"Mind if we go out to the balcony?" Dinah said quietly.
"Go ahead. We'll make you something to eat," Barbara offered.
"I'm not that hungry," Gabby said.
"You're eating something, even if it's just a couple of bites," Barbara said, putting a bit of force into her words.
Gabby just nodded as Dinah led her onto the balcony, leaving Helena and Barbara alone.
"Are you okay?" she asked Helena.
"I need to go workout. Then I'll start feeling better," Helena said, anger evident in her tone.
Barbara walked to her love and lightly touched her hand. "Do what you have to do."
"What about you? Aren't you angry?"
"I have a job to do, but yes, I am angry." Barbara glanced out to the balcony, where Gabby was crying into Dinah's shoulder. "I'll reheat the pizza and feed the girls. Do you want anything?"
"I want her father put in prison for a long time, and if I can't have that, I'll settle for beating him to a pulp."
"Hel, you have to get rid of that. It won't do anyone any good."
Helena sighed and pulled Barbara into her arms. "Hence the punching bag. I'll be okay, I swear."
"If you need me "
"I'll get you," Helena placed a soft kiss on Barbara's lips before leaving.
With a heavy heart Barbara went into the kitchen and took out the pizza. It all seemed so meaningless at the moment, but she knew the food needed to be reheated. They needed to keep their strength up, and not eating wouldn't help at all. She tried to comfort herself with that as she put both pizzas in the oven.
She sat at the table and buried her head in her hands. In an effort to keep her mind occupied, Barbara began thinking of what needed to be done to get Gabby into the Clocktower permanently. They still needed to get Helena's things out of her old room, but that was the least of what they needed to be concerned with. Barbara decided it might be a good idea to let Gabby and Dinah sleep in the same room for a bit, knowing Gabby would need the comfort. Barbara knew she had needed it after she had been shot.
The legal issues would be another hurdle to cross. Barbara felt certain they would be unsuccessful in getting Gabby's mother out of the home, considering the fact that the woman had turned her own daughter in to the police. That was going to cause a lot of heartache for Gabby that Barbara didn't want, but it couldn't be helped. The young woman, who had obviously not told the entire truth to the police regarding the incident, needed to acknowledge her life as she knew it was over. Barbara just hoped she could still see that the new one would be a better one, and despite the line of work Gabby would be going into, it would be safer for her on a day-to-day basis.
There was a ding from the oven timer, and Barbara pulled the food out of the oven. She knew better than to interrupt Helena when she was blowing off steam, so Barbara went to the balcony, where Dinah sat with an arm around her girlfriend. Gabby's head rested on her shoulder.
"The food's ready," Barbara said.
Dinah looked her way. "We'll be in soon."
"Actually, would you mind if I talked to Gabby for a moment?" Barbara said gently.
Gabby looked up at Barbara, and the sadness in the young woman's eyes almost broke Barbara's heart. "Sure."
Dinah stood. "I'll be inside," she said before she kissed Gabby's forehead and left the balcony.
Barbara took a seat opposite Gabby. "Do you want to talk?"
Gabby shook her head. "I can't even talk to Dinah I'm so ashamed. Why did I even go back there?"
Barbara leaned forward and took Gabby's hand. "Blood relatives can have a strong hold on us, and I know you're concerned about your mother."
"Was. I was concerned. She chose him over me tonight." Obvious anger flared in Gabby's eyes.
"It's not that simple."
"Really? She called the police on me. That's about as simple as you get."
"I'll counter that with this: why did you go back, versus staying here for the past couple of days?" Barbara was determined to get through the anger.
"Because I was scared to lose my mother. It's not the same thing."
"She loves him, no matter how he treats her. It's all she's known since the abuse began," Barbara said, reaching up and rubbing small circles on Gabby's back when the younger woman began crying softly. "She's scared to lose the only constant in her life, no matter how terrible that constant is.
"Your father hurt both of you deeply, and in so many ways. I'm hoping that between the Birds and the police we can convince your mother that there is a better way of life."
"What if you can't? What if she sticks to her story?" Fear crept into Gabby's voice.
"Then we'll deal with that, but you don't have to be afraid anymore. Can you trust me with that?"
Gabby was silent a moment, and Barbara could tell her question was not being taken lightly. "Would you be doing this if you didn't know me?"
Barbara nodded. "We've done it before, but it's never been so personal. Like I told you, you're one of us now. I can't guarantee nothing will ever happen to you again, but I can guarantee you that we'll be there to help whenever you need us to."
Gabby just buried her face in her hands. "I lost my family tonight. I have nothing."
Barbara thought about all she had lost in her life, and she knew she needed to make Gabby see that it wasn't the end for her. It was a beginning. "Did Dinah ever tell you how she came to be my ward?"
"I just figured she had always been with you."
"Ask her about it. I won't be the one to tell you, but I can tell you this: all of us, you included, have lost everything at one time or another. We've all come through the fires of hell and are better for it."
"You lost your legs," Gabby said plainly.
Barbara didn't look away as she thought of the pain surrounding that night. "I lost so much more than that though. I lost my way of life, my call to duty. I was Batgirl, and in one night I lost everything, including my mentor, but Helena lost something more important to her than anyone can ever lose, and she lost it in a very permanent way.
"My point to all of this is that you may have lost something, but you've also gained something. The night I was shot, I gained Helena, and she gained me. My life wouldn't be as good as it is now without her, and I know that. Batman always told me that crime fighting was a lonely life, but I don't believe that anymore. What I believe makes crime fighting, or anything else for that matter, bearable is family.
"You have family here if you want it. Helena can be a bit gruff," Barbara laughed softly, "but she will grow on you, and vice versa. Dinah, well, you already know she's part of your family. As for me, I already care about you. You've been good for Dinah, and that gives you a lot of points in your favor."
Gabby just stared at her for a moment. "You've never said anything like that to anyone before, have you?"
Barbara smiled sadly. "Only to Helena, but I felt you needed it tonight."
"You were right. I don't feel quite so lost, I guess."
"That's good. It will get better. We have a few potholes in the immediate future, but once we've overcome those, you'll see clearly that life doesn't have to be bad."
The door opened and Helena stuck her head out. "The pizza's getting cold, guys. You want me to heat it up again?"
Barbara looked to Gabby, who shook her head. "No, we'll come in."
Gabby led the way in, and Helena held Barbara back. "She okay?"
Barbara smiled. "She will be. What about you?"
"I'm better. I ruined another punching bag though."
"I would have been surprised if you hadn't."
Helena grinned. "You know me so well," she said as she started for the kitchen, but Barbara held her back and wrapped her arms around her lover.
"I cannot find the right words to tell you how happy you make me," Barbara said as she brought their lips together.
Helena smiled as she pulled away. "So I've made you speechless?"
"Remember this moment. It won't ever happen again," Barbara said as she playfully poked Helena in the ribs.
"I have my ways," Helena replied, not fazed at all by the fingers lightly dancing across her side. "As the wicked witch said, 'I'll get you my pretty'."
"You haven't seen that since you were thirteen."
"It's a seminal classic, Red. Besides, it fits. You're pretty, and I already have you. So there."
Helena left Barbara standing there wondering how the tables had so easily been turned on her. Barbara shrugged it off though, knowing Helena was indeed right. Barbara was hers heart and soul, and had been for a very long time.
After putting the last plate in the dishwasher, Barbara turned to Helena. "You could help, you know."
Helena sat where she was and grinned. "That would make staring at your ass absolutely impossible."
"You have such a way with words," Barbara said.
Helena practically stalked Barbara as though she was prey and she walked over to her. "When it counts, you know I do," she said as she took Barbara in her arms and kissed her without reservation.
Barbara sank into the embrace, feeling all the lust and love Helena was putting into the touch. She forgot they were in the kitchen, and more importantly, she forgot the stress of everything that rested on her shoulders. There was only Helena, with her tongue penetrating Barbara's mouth so possessively she had never felt so wanted in her life.
After an eternity Helena pulled her lips away, only to lean her forehead on Barbara's. "We should quit while we're ahead tonight," she said breathlessly.
Barbara was suddenly reminded of Gabby, and what the next day would surely bring. She was also reminded that while Dinah might be able to handle how absolutely primal she and Helena could be, it wouldn't be the right thing to do that night, or any night in the near future. Gabby needed to find her place in the Clocktower first, and that would take time.
"We have a lot to do tomorrow," Barbara said as they broke the embrace and started for their bedroom with their hands joined.
"Yeah. I guess out date will have to wait."
"Only until Gabby gets settled," Barbara said, resting her head on Helena's shoulder as they walked.
As they passed by Dinah's room Barbara saw that the light was still on, but she had expected that. Gabby needed to talk, and there was probably a lot Dinah needed to tell her as well. The two young women likely had a long night waiting for them.
Dinner had been a quiet affair, though it wasn't altogether uncomfortable. Even Helena was serious, not even dangling her anchovies in front of Dinah to annoy and disgust the younger woman. Gabby had been completely silent, and after she and Dinah had finished eating, they had both gone back to Dinah's room.
Barbara and Helena closed their own door behind them, and they both changed into t-shirts and sleeping shorts in silence. There was no sense of playfulness in either of them; Barbara was suddenly too tired, and she had the sense that Helena was as well. After getting into bed, Barbara pulled Helena to her and held her lover. Helena rested her head on Barbara's chest, and she could hear a distinct purr coming from the other woman.
"You're listening to my heartbeat," Barbara said quietly.
"Don't I always?"
"I remember you used to do it in the early days after Selina was killed. I don't remember you purring, however."
Helena shifted so that she was looking into Barbara's eyes. "First, I'm not sure why you're bringing up my mother, and second, I was hanging on by a thread then. I only purr when I'm happy. You know that."
"The conversation I had with Gabby brought your mother up. I started thinking about those days when we were both hanging on by a thread. I'm just glad it was the same thread. You were all I had back then."
"Same to you, but we have so much more now. Don't forget that. And, as a bonus, we have a new addition. It might not be from the best of circumstances, but who of us has come from the best of circumstances?"
Barbara ran her fingers through Helena's short locks. "Is there some unwritten rule that superheroes have to be damaged?"
"Superman wasn't damaged when he started out."
"Name me a different hero."
Helena seemed to think about that. "You can't name one either," she finally said.
"No, I can't. That's because I think we do need some damage to be able to see the evil for what it is."
"And what is it?"
"It's our worst foe, but it's also a friend. Everyone else knows it's out there, but they choose not to see it. They walk by carjackings, muggings, murders, and any other assorted crimes. We, on the other hand, live for fighting it.
"I never realized that until I was shot and lost my calling. Even as Oracle, I felt I wasn't doing enough. I wasn't close enough to the evil to stop it."
Helena frowned. "You did more than enough as Oracle. I know how much you lost that day, but you made up for it in spades. How many lives did you save while sitting at Delphi? Probably more than even Superman could. He could never be everywhere at once, but you could."
"I hadn't thought about it that way," Barbara admitted, "but you're right. What am I supposed to do about that now that I'm not Oracle anymore?"
Helena actually laughed at that one. "For someone as brilliant as you are, you can be so stupid sometimes."
"And that makes it okay to laugh at me?"
"This time, yes. If you can't see that you're still going to be out there, not just in spirit anymore, saving as many people as you did as Oracle, you're stupid.
"You built Delphi. You maintain it, and while you'll be training Gabby to take over the day-to-day operations, it's still an extension of you. Every time Gabby helps others, she's doing it because you brought it to fruition."
Barbara knew Helena had a point, and her heart was a little less heavy when she thought about it. Everything Helena had said made perfect sense. There couldn't be an argument or even any more discussion over it. It simply was.
"Just when I think I'm going to go off the rails, you keep me in check."
"You do the same for me, Red. Don't ever forget that."
"Never. Now, lay your head over my heart. I want to hear you purr some more."
Helena smirked. "You like it that much?"
"It feels like home, so yes."
Helena pushed herself up and kissed Barbara softly. "So I guess we have the perfect symbiosis between us, huh?"
Barbara laughed. "We do at that."
Helena moved back down, putting her ear over Barbara's heart. She was purring within seconds, and asleep in minutes. Barbara was soon to follow, feeling completely loved and cherished.
Barbara, Helena, Dinah, and Gabby were all at the elevator doors when Barbara's cell phone rang. She checked the number and frowned. "Detective Reese," she greeted. "Are we late?" she asked, even though she knew they weren't.
"No, Ms. Gordon. I've called to tell you the charges were dropped. Mrs. Monroe told us the full story early this afternoon. We still need her daughter to make a statement, but that won't take long."
"Thank you, detective. I'll let her know, and we'll be there in a few minutes," she said before hanging up.
"What's the grin for?" Helena asked.
Barbara turned to Gabby. "The charges were dropped. We'll know more when we get to the station, but your mother told them the truth."
Gabby's face was a swirl of mixed emotions. "What does that mean?"
"I'm not sure, but Gabby, this is good," Barbara said with a small squeeze to the young woman's shoulder.
"She's right," Dinah said as she took Gabby's hand.
"I guess I'm in a bit of shock."
"It comes with the territory," Helena said.
Barbara pressed the button, and they started the quick trip down to the garage. Once there, they got into the same SUV, mainly because Barbara's chair was still in it. Helena quickly drove through the streets, and after parking the car, everyone filed out and started for the precinct.
Phil was on duty again, and Barbara smiled to him as she wheeled her way toward him. "Ms. Gordon, it's nice to see you again. Should I get detective Reese for you?"
"Please," Barbara said, flashing an endearing smile at him.
Moments after his name was called on the PA system, Reese came out to meet them. "Come on back," he said by way of greeting.
The four women followed him into a larger room, and Barbara recognized it as the room where they put families. It had a green, beat-up couch and a couple of matching chairs with a small table between them. Helena, Gabby, and Dinah sat on the couch, but Reese stayed in the doorway.
"I need to get Ms. Monroe's statement first, if you don't mind," he said.
"May I accompany her? I'm serving as her guardian for the time being."
If Reese was thinking of splitting hairs by saying Gabby was eighteen, he didn't. "Sure."
He led them into the same interrogation room they had been in the day before, and Reese motioned for Gabby to sit on one side. He sat opposite her and pressed a small button on the table that Barbara knew started the CCTV for the room. She wheeled herself to be beside Gabby and waited to be of any support she could be.
Reese asked her questions about that night, and, through some tears, Gabby told him everything. Apparently her father had been drunk and about to hit her mother again, and Gabby couldn't bear to see it happen again. She acted on instinct and, using one of the moves Dinah had taught her, punched him hard in the jaw.
She couldn't really remember her mother calling the police, mainly because she had been so shocked that she had knocked out her own father. By the time the police had put the cuffs on her wrists, Gabby had started admitting she had indeed hit her father, but denied any reason for the assault.
Barbara could see that was a difficult thing for the young woman to admit. Even if it would mean going to prison, she had still been willing to lie for her father. As Gabby finished her statement, Barbara took her hand.
"Thank you, Ms. Monroe. This will help the case against your father." He pressed the button on the table again. "We can go to your friends now."
Gabby nodded, and when they made it back to the room with Dinah and Helena, Gabby sat so close to Dinah she was almost on her lap. As it was, Gabby had a death grip on her girlfriend's hand.
"We've talked to your mother about shelters, and she seems willing to go to one, at least for now. She wants you to go with her, however," Reese said. "Is that something you want to do? They'll be able to keep you safe from him if he gets out."
Gabby shook her head. "Is that her condition for going?"
"It seems to be. She's concerned about you, and it's times like this when family can provide the needed support."
"No," Gabby said with conviction. "I need to talk to her though."
"She's here giving her official statement to my partner, so that shouldn't be a problem. I'll see where they are and get back to you," Reese said as he left.
Gabby sat on the edge of the seat, her hand still linked with Dinah's. "How can I make her understand?" she asked, more to herself than to anyone else.
Barbara was at a loss for once, but Helena wasn't. "Tell her what's in your heart. You can't go wrong with that. She'll see through the lies, so be as truthful as you can be."
Gabby nodded, her tears beginning to fall again. "You'll be here the whole time?"
"Of course we will," Dinah said.
Reese came back in with a short, thin blonde woman in tow. She looked almost exactly like an older Gabby, though the years had been rough to her. When she saw Gabby, she reached out and took a step toward her daughter.
"No, Mom. Not yet."
"I'm sorry, Gabby. I didn't know what else to do," her mother said, completely ignoring the other people in the room.
"It's okay. I understand why you did it. It doesn't make it hurt any less, but I understand," Gabby said, her eyes focused on the floor.
"They tell me they have a strong case against your father, but they want me to go to a shelter anyway."
Gabby looked up. "I won't go with you. I can't."
"Because of these women? How can they keep you safe?" her mother asked disbelievingly.
"They can do more than you know. I'm better off with them, okay? It doesn't mean I don't want to see you anymore, but I think we need some time apart," Gabby said.
"But I'm your mother."
"And you let him beat us for years. I have to find my own way through that. I'll visit you, but I can't go with you. Not now, not ever. I'm starting a new life," Gabby said vehemently.
Gabby's mother turned to Barbara. "You're Barbara Gordon? Gabby's told me a lot about you. What makes you think you can take better care of her than I can?"
"I don't think that, Mrs. Monroe. I'm only honoring Gabby's choice, and I would ask you to do the same. She'll be safe with us, if you don't take anything else from this conversation, take that."
"Let me go," Gabby said as she stood and went to her mother. "I still love you. That won't ever change, but let me go."
Gabby's mother's shoulders slacked in defeat. "Can I have a way of contacting you at least?"
Barbara had been ready for that, and pulled a card out of her bag. "Here's the number for the house, and we'll make sure Gabby keeps her cell phone number."
"You knew she was going to do this all along, didn't you?"
"Does that matter?"
"I guess not." Gabby's mother closed her eyes as Gabby hugged her.
"You won't be alone, Mom. They'll look out after you and get you the help you need," Gabby said, releasing her mother.
Reese cleared his throat from behind them. "Sorry to interrupt, but the people from the shelter are here, Mrs. Monroe."
"Call me when you have a number, okay?" Gabby asked.
"I will," her mother responded as Reese led her out the door.
The four women were left alone, and Gabby sank heavily into the chair. None of them said a word, and Barbara was distracted by the loud sound of the clock ticking by the seconds. She knew it wasn't nearly as loud for anyone but Helena, so she didn't make mention of it. Instead she tried to block it out.
"Come on, guys," Helena said finally. "Let's go home."
They left the station and went back to the Clocktower, where all four women spent an unusually quiet day. She and Helena sparred a bit, but other than that, they tried to do normal things like watch movies and eat bad Chinese food. By the end of the day, Gabby was laughing with the rest of them, even if her eyes still looked haunted. For her first official day with the Birds, Barbara felt Gabby was doing much better than expected.
The weeks passed, and Barbara continued to train Gabby in earnest. Since school was out for the summer, they both had a lot of time to devote to it, and Barbara was pleased with how far the young woman had come in such a short span of time. Barbara knew she would soon be back on the streets fulltime again, and she could barely contain her excitement. It was quite a change for her normally reserved self. She did allow for the fact that there had been a lot of changes to her life in the past few months, and she couldn't be happier.
They had moved Helena's things out of her old room by the fifth day, and it officially became Gabby's room. Things had settled into a rhythm for the four women, and many times Barbara wondered if there had been something missing from the group before Gabby. Finally she decided the young woman simply added to their already complete group.
She and Helena had worked with Barbara's new talents, testing them to their very limits. Barbara found she was excellent with a bow and arrow, and thought seriously about incorporating it into her new costume, which still had yet to be made. She had a mask to wear, but that was the only thing protecting her identity.
When she had mentioned to Helena about the fabric Wayne Industries had constructed, she had never had a chance to tell her any details about it. With everything that had happened with Gabby, that had been swept under the rug a bit. That morning though, Barbara was determined to bring it up again.
"Hel, could you hand me that wrench?" she asked from under Delphi.
"You know, the upgrades can wait a while. We have a lot going on at the moment."
Barbara used her backboard to wheel herself from under the steel grate. "We always have a lot going on."
"Yeah, but we have more going on."
"Uh-huh. There's no time like the present, and you know it."
"With Gabby and Dinah out for the day, I can think of other things I'd like to do in the present, thank you very much," Helena said pointedly.
"We do need to act a little less like rabbits one of these days," Barbara said with a grin.
"Do you really want to start that now?" Helena slowly unzipped her leather pants.
"Of course not, but "
Barbara sighed. "I had something to say, but someone doesn't play fair," she said, reaching up and pulling Helena on top of her.
"Hm, sex on a rolling backboard. Kinky," Helena remarked.
Barbara immediately shifted so that they were on the floor. "Shut up and kiss me."
Helena, being the rebellious woman she was, took her time lowering her lips to Barbara's. She was so slow, in fact, that Barbara reached behind her neck and pulled her the rest of the way. She sighed in contentment as their lips met in a loving kiss that soon turned passionate.
As much as Barbara loved Helena overall, she had to admit she was exceptionally turned on by the other woman's feral side. Once Helena's eyes shone gold, Barbara knew what was to follow would be mind-blowing, and nothing like she had ever experienced. Lying on the floor under Delphi was no exception.
It might not be the most romantic of spots to make love, but somehow Helena did it. Actually, Barbara knew how she did it. When Helena loved her, she worshipped every part of Barbara, never holding back any of the love she felt, and Barbara did the same for Helena. Theirs was a love so complete Barbara wasn't sure where one of them began and the other ended.
Before she had regained the use of her legs, she had been afraid that Helena had been holding back a part of herself, and to an extent she had been. It wasn't the love; it was the expression of that love. Barbara felt no less cherished then, but she knew the reality of her past situation didn't allow them to do some things. Now that she was truly Helena's equal, they didn't have to worry about hurting each other during a moment of passion.
They lay on the floor in the afterglow of their love for a while before Helena shifted. "So that's what's been digging into my back," she said as she pulled the wrench from beneath her shoulder.
"That had to hurt," Barbara said, massaging the spot where the wrench had been.
"It was worth every second of pain," Helena smiled and lightly kissed Barbara.
Barbara settled her head on Helena's chest and started tracing patterns on her arm. "I really do have work to do."
"It was a good intermission though. I highly recommend another one in no more than an hour."
"Is that your professional opinion?" Barbara grinned and placed a small kiss on the center of Helena's chest.
"Yep. I know all about these things. For instance, I know exactly where I can touch you that will make you scream my name, and I also know where you'll crumble into a laughing mass of Barbara."
"Laughing mass of Barbara?"
"Kind of like this," Helena said, and proceeded to show her exactly what a laughing mass of Barbara was.
Just before it became painful, Helena stopped. Barbara loved that she always knew the line between tickling and torture. As Barbara relaxed back into Helena's arms, she smiled. "I'll never doubt you again."
"Did you ever doubt me before?"
"If I did, I can't think of any reason why I would," Barbara brought her lips to Helena's in a quick kiss. "I should really get working. I need Delphi up by tonight." Reluctantly she stood.
"Not even another couple of minutes?" Helena pouted.
"If I do, we'll be rolling around like teenagers again, and by my estimations of our last roll in the hay, we'll likely be showing our assets to Dinah and Gabby," Barbara said as she collected her clothes.
"Spoil sport," Helena said under her breath.
"I heard that," Barbara said and she pulled her shirt over her head.
"You hear everything."
"So do you, so stop complaining," Barbara said as she appreciatively watched Helena put her leather pants back on. "As sexy as it is to see you take those off, it's still sexy seeing you put them back on."
Helena laughed. "I'll have to remember that. We should get back to work. The sooner you get this done, the sooner we can spar, and that's almost as good as making love to you."
Barbara grinned as she laid herself onto the backboard again. "It does make one horny."
"Barbara Gordon! I never thought I would hear you use such language."
"What can I say? Sometimes slang come in handy." Barbara pushed herself under the grate again.
"It's also hot."
"Are you saying you want me to talk dirty to you?"
"You don't know?"
"Don't know what?"
"You already do. That poetry that comes from your mouth is better than any dirty talk anyone else could ever attempt. Don't ever change, Red. I love what you say to me."
Barbara smiled, feeling quite proud of herself. Had she tamed the wild cat? No, she thought, she had merely allowed the trust between them to make them inseparable. That was what made what they had so perfect. It was organic. When Barbara had resisted the natural pull between them was the only time it wasn't. She had to admit she was more than happy she had finally given into the unavoidable.
"Hey," Helena said as she nudged Barbara's calf, "You okay?"
"I was just thinking about unstoppable forces."
"So me again."
Barbara could practically hear the smirk from her lover. "What else?"
"As long as we're clear," Helena responded, and Barbara could hear the distinct sound of magazine pages being turned.
Barbara began making her adjustments again. The part she was currently working on was more grunt work than anything, but she loved doing it. It had been something she had had to show Helena, and then Dinah, to do in her place while she had been paralyzed, so she was glad to get her hands dirty. Besides, if the modifications she was making worked, they would make Gabby's life simpler.
"I think I may let Gabby fly solo next week," Barbara said as she tightened a bolt.
"Really? You haven't even picked a costume yet, or are you going to go with the whole innocent bystander look that's going around these days?"
"No, and you won't be either. Both you and Dinah are getting new costumes, complete with cowls. Before you say anything, these aren't like cowls you usually wear."
"It's still a cowl. I know you want us and our identities protected, but there's only so much you can do."
Barbara moved from beneath the grate. "You're right, but hear me out. Wayne Industries has come up with a special fabric. It's much lighter than Kevlar, and it breathes well. You won't lose any of your mobility, and it's virtually bulletproof."
"You still haven't mentioned the mask," Helena said dubiously.
"It's a cowl, but that won't restrict your movements either."
"You're determined to ruin my hair, aren't you?"
Barbara wouldn't be swayed by Helena's attempts at humor. "I'm determined to keep you as safe as possible in a very dangerous line of work."
"You aren't going to let me get away with it this time."
"Dinah isn't going to get away with it, and neither am I. We're all going to be in a standard outfit, with slight modifications according to our different talents. The prototypes will be ready in a couple of days, and I want to take you and Dinah to properly try them out before going into the field with them."
"What if I don't like the cowl?"
"Then you don't go out in the field," Barbara said with determination. Nothing was going to make her back down on the point.
Helena stared at her for a moment with a startled look on her face. "You really mean it?"
Barbara nodded. "We aren't alone anymore, Hel. We have a family to look after, and if I lost you " she couldn't finish the sentence.
Helena kneeled down. "I get it," she said as she cupped Barbara's face with her palm. "I'll give it a serious shot."
"Thank you," Barbara said sincerely.
"Thank me when I opt for the cowl instead of sitting on the couch eating bon-bons and getting fat while you fight crime," Helena said with a smile.
"You say the nicest things."
"I'll say nicer things once you finish with that machine of yours."
"You don't have to tell me twice," Barbara said, moving under the grate again.
She quickly had the circuit boards in place and put everything back together. Once she was in her chair, she turned on the system. It booted as usual, and Barbara was pleased. Things didn't always work on the first test, but once the system was online, she could easily tell the improvements were successful.
It was simple and only the first phase of the overhaul, but Delphi would be faster and have less overhead in the system. It was perfect, and it made the new station she had created work with the existing one much easier. The next part of the overhaul would be in the flashy section, which was always the part Helena loved. Barbara had to admit that she was looking forward to it as well.
By the time she was finished testing the system, the elevator doors opened, revealing Dinah and Gabby. Both women held an assortment of bags, and Barbara wondered if she should put a cap on their allowances. She shrugged it off. They were young, but after seeing what the two were buying, Barbara wasn't going to press the issue. At least they had good taste.
"Hey, guys," Dinah said as she sat her bags on the couch, while Gabby followed suit. "How's the upgrade?"
"Done, for now."
Dinah shuffled her feet a bit, and for Barbara, that was never a good sign.
"Spit it out, Kid." Sometimes Barbara loved Helena's knack for getting to the point.
"Gabby and I were wondering if we could go out. I'll take my comms, so if you need me I'll be available. Plus, we don't plan on being out late, so I might be able to do a sweep still." Dinah's words came in rapid succession, which was a sure sign she was nervous.
Barbara looked at Helena, who smiled devilishly. "I don't know, Dinah. I was going to go over some things with Gabby tonight "
"Please? I need a night off. My brain is full," Gabby begged.
Barbara was no good at keeping people in suspense, so she nodded. "Go and have fun. Curfew is eleven-thirty though."
"We'll be back before that," Dinah called as they went down the hall.
"You're a pushover," Helena said when the two young women were out of earshot.
"I have ulterior motives," Barbara replied.
"And what would those be?"
"Tomorrow is going to be our date night. We still haven't had an official one yet, and I'm looking forward to taking you out to see the less seedy side of town." Barbara walked to Helena and put her hands on the slim hips.
"You have plans then? Our last few haven't exactly worked out."
"Indeed, but I thought we would wing most of it. The only thing that's planned is dinner. The rest is up to us."
"And that's why I love you so much," Helena said, trailing kisses from Barbara's ear to her mouth.
"Why is that?"
"Your way of surprising me every day. I figured you would have the entire thing planned to the minute."
Helena apparently had enough of talking, because she started kissing Barbara deeply. Wrapping her arms around her lover, Helena pushed Barbara back to the steel column, leaning in so that their entire bodies were touching. She ran her hands up Barbara's sides, and gasped when Barbara arched into her touch. With ragged breaths, Barbara traced a line just beneath Helena's shirt and was greeted by a sharp intake of breath.
"Bedroom," Helena breathed as she hoisted Barbara off her feet and wrapped her legs around her hips.
Barbara swallowed, trying to get some moisture in her mouth. "Now," she whispered as Helena began walking toward their room.
Barbara wasn't surprised that Helena didn't look where she was going; they both knew the route by heart, and they had become very adept at navigating it while being otherwise occupied. She smiled into the kiss, and by the time Helena had their door open, Barbara had both their shirts off and was dangling them in her hands.
They made love slowly, but it was so passionate Barbara was almost overwhelmed by the sensations Helena was evoking in her. It wasn't enough to love the woman beneath her, Barbara wanted every part of her, and Helena was willing to give it. That alone was enough to put Barbara in awe of her lover. She never held back. Not anymore.
Neither did Barbara. Every time Helena touched her, she moved into the feel of her skin against Helena. It was as natural as breathing to seek out that warmth, that love. She never wanted to let that go, and hoped she would never have to.
"Barbara?" Helena's voice came to her through a veil of pleasure.
Barbara slowly opened her eyes to see Helena looking down on her with nothing but love in her eyes. Reaching up, she trailed her fingers along Helena's cheek before pulling her in for a sweet, soft kiss.
"I love you," Barbara said.
Usually Helena said it back, but her eyes were even more intense than usual. "You are so much to me, and I love everything you are and ever could be. I know we've talked about this before, but I'm serious this time.
"When I first met you, we were kids. True, you were a little older than I was, but you were a kid as well. As we grew, I was afraid you would leave me and never look back, especially when you went to college.
"But you never let me out of your life. I know you took that babysitting job to get closer to my mother, but back then I thought it was just because you wanted to be with me."
Barbara put her hand on Helena's. "That was only part of the truth. I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't want to be near you."
"You're a terrible liar," Helena said with a smile. "We were connected even then, and when my mother retired, you were still there. I think she saw that too, but I'm pretty sure she thought our connection was just hero worship, and maybe it was a little.
"I loved the way you would play games with me long after I was supposed to be in bed and not tell my mother the fun we had. I loved it when you would put me on the back of your motorcycle and carry me around town. I felt free then, and you gave me that freedom.
"I was so afraid to tell you about being metahuman, and I know I pushed you away for a while. It's a regret of mine that we had to find out the truth about each other in such a terrible way, but that was the way it happened.
"Remember that Green Lantern ring you gave me for my ninth birthday? You were fifteen, and I thought it was the coolest present ever. Do you remember what you said to me?"
Barbara nodded, knowing exactly what they had said to each other that day.
"You told me that I had no limits. That if I wanted to, I could take on the world. You also told me it would be an honor to help me do it. My crush died, and love took its place. I haven't known anything but since that day.
"After Mom was killed, you were the only person I could trust, but I was so scared to. You saw right through me, and never gave me any slack. At the same time, you allowed me to grow and grieve, even as you were doing the same.
"There were nights in your bed, when you were holding me after a nightmare, that I wanted so badly to kiss you, but I couldn't. It wasn't the right time, and even my battered teenaged heart knew that. So I waited."
"And I took my time," Barbara said mournfully.
Helena smiled again. "You definitely took your time, but it was time you needed. So I stepped back and let you figure things out on your own. I didn't exactly do it well, but I did set you free. Somehow I knew you would come back to me, and now you have."
"You're so much a part of me, Hel."
"Sh, it's my turn to wax poetic," Helena said, placing a finger lightly to Barbara's lips. "I don't ever want you to doubt my love for you, because it is complete and unflinching in the face of life. I want you by my side from now until we can no longer draw breath."
Barbara couldn't speak. Helena's full declaration of her feelings had Barbara flat out floored, and she was shocked when a tear slipped out, only to be caught by Helena's gentle finger.
"Yes," Barbara whispered hoarsely.
"I haven't even asked a question yet," Helena smiled, though her eyes were serious. "What I want is to marry you. I don't care if it's on paper or not, but I want the ceremony with the guests and the shoving of the cake in each other's mouths. I also want that first dance on the floor with you. More importantly, I want to join our lives officially. Does your yes still stand?"
Barbara again found herself speechless, so in answer to Helena's question, she pulled her lover into a searing kiss that, for Barbara, sealed their love forever. It was the first in a new stage of their life together, and one that Barbara felt deeper than anything in her life.
When they broke apart, Helena was smiling lopsidedly at her. "So it's a yes then?"
"It's a yes."
"And we haven't even had our first date," Helena said as she rested her forehead on Barbara's
"Do we really need one?"
"Nah, we have so much more than dates. We have the world."
"You say the most beautiful things," Barbara whispered.
"So I've been told, but only by you. I'm a bit of a slouch otherwise."
Barbara smiled. "That's not true. Your quips are probably the best I've ever heard."
Helena pulled back. "Ya think?"
"I do, but right now I'd rather stop thinking and just kiss you," Barbara said, bringing Helena's lips to her own.
Their passion began to build again, but a knock on the door stopped them. "Guys?" Dinah's voice was distinct through the door.
"I have this," Helena said as she wrapped a sheet around herself and opened the door. "What's up?"
Dinah blushed fiercely, and Barbara had a notion that Helena enjoyed embarrassing the young woman a bit too much. "Um, we decided to stay in, but if you'd rather us leave "
"No, stay in. Helena and I want to celebrate," Barbara said from the bed.
Helena glanced back at her with a questioning look on her face. "Weren't we supposed to work on Delphi?"
"Not tonight," Barbara said to Helena. "We'll be out in a second, Dinah."
Helena shut the door and went back to the bed. "You've moved the plans."
"You did propose to me so well, I figured it might be nice to go out and have fun for once," Barbara said as she reached for Helena's hand.
"Race you to the shower," Helena said, dropping her sheet and running to the bathroom.
Barbara got out of bed in record time and rushed to Helena's side, laughing all the way. Life was good, and Barbara never wanted it to end.
"Would you like to tell me exactly where we are?" Helena asked as she looked around.
Barbara glanced at her and smiled. "You mean you've never been out here?"
"My body was built for the city, not the country," Helena responded as she looked at their surroundings. "This place does have a view of New Gotham though."
They stood in the clearing of a large hill that was fairly close to the observatory, which meant they could see more stars than the average city dweller saw in a lifetime. As Barbara laid the blanket down, she smiled at Helena's appreciative tone.
"I haven't been up here for a long time, but it's just as lovely as I remembered it," she said as she put the picnic basket in the middle and sat on the blanket. "Come, sit."
"Why haven't you been here?" Helena had turned all of her attention to Barbara.
"It isn't wheelchair accessible because of the trail leading here. There was talk of it a couple of years ago, but it wasn't cost effective."
"Let me guess, you were at the center of that talk," Helena said, resting her hand on Barbara's.
"This hill was where I always came after my late nights and needed to cool off. Bruce never wanted me up here in my suit, but I didn't care." Barbara laughed. "I was almost as rebellious as you were."
"For what?" Barbara said, continuing to look at the city.
"That you lost this place when you were shot."
Barbara turned her gaze away from the city and focused solely on Helena. "It was a long time before I ever thought of this place, and mostly I felt regret over not taking you here. It was special to me."
"You didn't share all your special things with me then, Red."
Barbara laughed. "You have a point." She paused. "I wanted to share this with you though. I didn't know why then, and if anyone had told me, I would have denied it and shoved it far down into my psyche."
"Why?" Helena asked quietly.
"Because on some level, even then, I loved you with all my heart. Looking back on that time, it wasn't anything sexual. I just loved spending time with you, I cared more about what you thought of me than anyone else, and you infuriated me in ways I never thought possible." Barbara turned so that she was sitting cross-legged across from Helena. "You have always been in my heart.
"You're a force of nature, Hel. When our old lives were taken from us, you were a force that frightened the life out of me, but not for the reasons you might think."
"Then why?" Helena asked quietly.
"I thought you might one day figure out you wanted to direct that force at me, and that I wouldn't be able to say no." Barbara chuckled a bit. "That's not quite right. It wouldn't be that I wouldn't be able to; I wouldn't want to.
"The first time you kissed me scared me so much. I didn't want to admit that anyone could love me for me anymore; yet you did. I knew you did, and I knew what I said to you cut you to the bone. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have been so cruel."
"But you still would have pushed me away," Helena said.
Barbara nodded. "I was still trying to keep myself sane. It wasn't working very well, as I'm sure you could deduce from my reaction. I regretted it the moment I said it, but it didn't matter. Seeing you moving out the next day was just as difficult.
"I never thought we would recover from that, but I did so want to. I wanted everything to go back to the way it had been, but I had to face the fact that they would never be the same. Instead, I lived with what my words had created. It wasn't a monster; it was a wall. One side built by me; one side built by you. I wish I could have seen just how easy it would be to break down that wall."
"Hey, no crying over spilled milk," Helena said, reaching up and gently wiping a tear from Barbara's face. "Things happen for a reason. You're right, you weren't ready, and I probably wasn't either. Now we are."
Barbara smiled through her tears. "Hey now, no skipping ahead. I'm pouring my heart out here."
Helena returned the smile. "Continue on then, m'lady."
"You knew I had built up so many walls after that night, and you were the only one I allowed to see at my weakest. What you didn't know is that not even you saw me that way. During those early days, when I couldn't find the strength to even work out, I would end up crying on the ground."
"I knew," Helena said quietly.
"You did? And you didn't say anything?"
Helena shrugged. "We had our ways of making each other feel better, and I figured you needed that time to just break down. I think the only time I actually stopped it was the day before I stuck those fishing lures in your trophy case."
"I always wondered what they meant."
"They were meant to make you laugh."
Barbara smiled at the memory. "They did make me laugh. I felt lighter than I had in months because of what you did. Thank you," she said, relaxing her head on Helena's shoulder.
"Good," Helena said softly.
"Tell me something," Barbara started.
"Were you in my room every night? If you were, why?"
"You mean other than the nights we held each other after one of us had a nightmare?"
"Then yes. I usually slept in that chair under the window. Sometimes I would read until I slept, other times I wouldn't sleep at all," Helena said, tracing light circles on the back of Barbara's hand. "I couldn't bear the thought of you leaving me too, and in those early days I thought you might."
Barbara knew what Helena was implying, and she was forced to admit the thought of suicide had crossed her mind more than once, but leaving Helena behind simply wasn't an option. "You helped me through that by staying with me, and I would have let you sleep with me every night had you asked."
"I couldn't though. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to not turn the comfort we were finding in each other into something sexual? I knew it wasn't the right time. Hell, I knew it might never be the right time. I couldn't break that fragile trust we had then."
"I'd like to say it wouldn't have broken anything, but I suppose it would have. You did the right thing, even though I know it must have been torture for you," Barbara said regretfully.
"It doesn't matter now," Helena said with a kiss to the top of Barbara's head. "We're together, and we're happy."
"So why the trip down memory lane again? I thought I'd covered that earlier?" Barbara could hear the humor lacing Helena's tone.
"Because I needed you to know some things before I told you other things."
"What have you done with Barbara?" Helena asked as she pulled back to stare at Barbara's face. "You still look like her, but you talk nothing like her."
Barbara swatted Helena on the arm. "Stop that. You know I'm still me."
Helena laughed as she rubbed the place Barbara had smacked her. "That hurt, but I'm listening. What are these other things?"
"I brought you to my favorite place, under the stars and away from all the grit and grime in order to finally give you the present I told you last month I would give you."
Helena looked at her with the perfect look of joy on her face. "Finally! I was wondering if you would ever get around to it."
"I'm surprised you haven't been bugging me about it since I mentioned it." Barbara smiled, pulling a small box out of the picnic basket. She moved so that she was kneeling before Helena.
Opening the box, she revealed a ring with three stones. The stone in the center was larger than the other two, and was a deep blue. The two on either side of the larger one were both multicolored, with swirls of green, red, and yellow. All were set in white gold.
Helena stared at it for a moment, so long that Barbara thought she had made the purchase in error. When Helena did speak, however, Barbara was pleasantly surprised.
"You matched our eyes," Helena said so quietly only Barbara could hear.
Barbara could only nod as she gingerly took the ring from the box. "May I put it on?"
"Ask me first," Helena said, tears brimming in her eyes.
Barbara beamed. "Helena, you managed to crash through all my walls to reveal the woman I was meant to be. I love you for that and for so much more than I could ever say. Will share your life with me?"
Helena nodded and held out her left hand, tears finally falling down her face. "Of course. Yes."
Barbara took Helena's hand and put the ring on her finger before bringing her love into a soft, loving kiss. "To think you almost beat me to the punch," Helena said when they broke the touch.
"And you'll never let me live it down. Just remember though, I bought the ring first."
Helena kissed Barbara's nose. "I guess it isn't a competition. I can't tell you how happy Dinah will be when we tell her she really will be able to send out invitations."
Barbara laughed. "We'll tell her as soon as we get back to the Clocktower." She brought Helena in for a kiss. "I love you."
Helena dipped her head and touched her lips to Barbara's again, slowly and surely. "I love you. More than there are stars in the sky," she whispered when she broke the kiss.
Barbara didn't respond, instead pulling Helena down with her. They lay facing one another, and for a time Barbara didn't do anything but memorize the face of the one she loved more than anything. It didn't faze her to realize she loved Helena even more than she loved her own calling, and Barbara had never believed she could find someone who could be that much to her.
"What are you thinking?" Helena finally asked.
Barbara smiled and cupped Helena's cheek with her free hand. "How I would give everything up if it meant being with you the rest of my life."
Helena turned her head and kissed Barbara's palm. "You would?"
"In a heartbeat. Say the word, and we'll get a cabin in the woods."
Scrunching up her nose, Helena grinned. "I'm more of a city girl, and you know it."
"Paris then?" Barbara asked.
"Maybe when we retire. Right now, I'm having too much fun fighting crime with you." Helena grew serious, her eyes shining in the night. "We have the same calling, and I don't want to give it up just yet. That said, I'd also give it up if you asked me to."
"Just so that we're clear on that."
"We're clear," Helena said as she leaned in for another kiss. "Now, where are these stars?" She asked when she pulled away.
"You'll have to lie on your back and stop looking at me."
"I don't think I need the stars then," Helena said quietly. "The view is just fine from here."
"Lay back, Hel," Barbara said. The stars were half the reason she had taken Helena up the hill.
Sticking her bottom lip out a bit, Helena did as she was told. "I'm still going to hold your hand."
Barbara laughed, and it reached deep into her chest. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Helena was quiet for a moment, and Barbara was about to say something when her companion spoke. "Did you learn all the constellations?"
"Do you know who you're talking to?" Barbara asked, humor lacing her tone.
Helena chuckled and squeezed Barbara's hand. "I forgot for a second. You probably know the stories behind all of them as well."
Barbara pointed at a dim star cluster high in the sky. "See that cluster of stars?" She glanced at Helena, who nodded. "That's call the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. They're named after the daughters of Atlas."
"Of course you know their names, too."
"I do, but If you're bored " Barbara trailed off, waiting to hear Helena's response.
"You could read the phone book and I would think it was the best book in the world. Continue."
Barbara didn't even attempt to hide her smile. "Okay then. The constellation signaled the start and end of the sailing season in ancient Greece due to its position in the sky when considering the position of the sun as well "
Becoming enthralled in her subject, Barbara regaled Helena with stories of the sisters, detailing each one as much as possible. Helena lay beside her and listened to each tale, encouraging Barbara on at times when she stalled in her story.
"So why are there only six stars?" Helena asked when Barbara finished.
"There's a lot of supposition about that, but that could take up an entire evening," Barbara laughed as she sat up. "We've already been up here too long."
"Do we have a curfew?" Helena asked, pulling Barbara back down.
Barbara traced a line down Helena's face with her finger. "What I want to do next is something better done without dirt in the immediate area."
"Where's your sense of adventure?" Helena closed the distance between them before whispering, "I say we give you another good memory of this place." With that, she touched her lips to Barbara's.
Barbara melted into the warm embrace and sighed. The feel of Helena was setting her on fire, but she truly didn't want to make love on the ground in the middle of the woods. There was still a huge part of her that was quite reserved in her expression of love. There was no need to be discovered by a stranger while they were otherwise indisposed.
"What?" Helena asked as her hand snaked under Barbara's shirt.
"What what?" Barbara breathed. Helena was breaking her reserve to the ground, and she was doing the job quickly.
"You're thinking," Helena said into Barbara's lips.
"Do you really want to do this?"
Helena pulled her head back. "You don't?" she asked. Her eyes were feral, which answered Barbara's question.
Barbara flipped them so she was on top of Helena. "Just checking," she said as she pushed Helena's shirt up and leaned down to kiss her lover's bare stomach.
There were no words after that save for the soft moans of their lovemaking. Barbara lost herself in Helena's gentle, then passionate, touch. Even as Helena teased, Barbara found herself begging for more, which was something she had never done before embarking on their relationship. Sex had been something that was mechanical, and never had she let herself go the way she did with Helena.
Later, as they held each other, Barbara breathed another sigh and kissed Helena's chest. "I don't think I've ever been that daring."
Helena's laugh rumbled through her chest. "I think I've finally knocked through that Gordon reserve."
"Why just now?" Barbara asked, moving so that her chin was resting on Helena.
"You tell me," Helena smiled down at her. "Did you know your eyes change when we're making love now?"
"I thought I had noticed a change in my sight, but I didn't really examine it very much."
"I'm not surprised. I am fairly adept in keeping you distracted these days," Helena smirked.
Barbara smacked Helena on the arm playfully. "You've always done that, just not in the same way you do now."
"I'm glad I've changed my tactics then."
Smiling before turning thoughtful, Barbara looked into her lover's eyes. "I'm glad, too."
"Hey, why the change?" Helena asked with a concerned tone.
"I was just thinking of all our mistakes along the way, and what it took to get us here. I keep reminding myself that nothing matters except the fact that we made it to this place in our lives, but I still can't help some regrets."
"Stop that. We took our journey the only way we could. We had to wait for the right time, and I think we found it. This is perfect exactly as it is. Don't ruin it with regrets that won't do either one of us any good." Helena said as she tucked some hair behind Barbara's ear.
Barbara dipped her head into the touch. "Thank you."
"For keeping me grounded. I seem to take flight at the oddest times these days."
Helena flashed a crooked grin. "Sometimes you take flight at the right time."
Barbara couldn't help but smile back. "That's different, and you know it."
"Maybe, but I made you smile all the same."
"And for that I'm grateful. This isn't an evening for regrets."
"I'm glad you see things my way," Helena said as she brought Barbara's hand up to place small kisses on her fingers. "We should get home. I have twigs in places I don't want to think about."
Barbara grinned as she sat up. "It was your idea to make love in the great outdoors."
Both women stood and situated their clothes, which were quite askew without being completely discarded.
"And I still contend that you're the corrupter," Helena said as she pulled Barbara into her arms.
"Don't start that again, you know I won't win that one," Barbara said, falling into the welcome arms.
"And we both know how much you hate to lose," Helena smirked.
Barbara kissed Helena lightly before pulling out of her love's arms. "Exactly. Now take me home and ravish me," she said as she walked to the car.
From behind her, Barbara could easily hear Helena's sharp intake of breath. She couldn't stop the grin that formed on her lips. Teasing Helena was one of her favorite pastimes, and she was good at it. Barbara never wanted to stop, and she hoped she would ever have to.
They made it back in record time, and Helena showed Barbara exactly what her momentary teasing had done to the younger woman. Barbara would never complain, though. She finally had love in her grasp, and she wasn't going to let it go.
Barbara regarded herself in the mirror. The new outfit was perfect as far as she was concerned. The black fabric, if one could call it that, had a dull shine that would be difficult to pick out in the darkness of the night. The Birds would be virtually invisible, and for that Barbara was grateful.
The fabric was in fact a bulletproof, stab-proof shield that was flexible enough to be worn as a suit that allowed for maximum mobility. Her hair would need to be in a ponytail for it to come out of the small hole in the headpiece that was situated in the back of her neck, but otherwise her head, forehead, and cheeks would be covered. The cowl was a little constricting, but only because she wasn't used to wearing one. Barbara knew that it wouldn't even be noticeable soon.
While the suit itself was tight, much like the Lycra that had covered her body before, her current suit boasted a few additions. She still had her utility belt, carrying various small long range weapons and a seemingly odd assortment of tools needed for her chosen trade. As she turned in front of the mirror, Barbara couldn't help but be impressed with her design.
The dark material was broken by thin strips of dark green, which were in fact pipes that carried temperature controllers that would either heat or cool the body as needed. It was an invention of hers she hadn't yet been able to try considering Helena's disdain for a suit, but she was pleased with the results. Her body was indeed being kept at an optimal temperature.
Helena and Dinah had similar ones, but theirs were blue and yellow, respectively. Barbara smiled when she caught sight of Helena pulling at her skintight suit. The cowl seemed to be the worst part, with Helena attempting, without much luck, to adjust the offending piece of her suit to not destroy her hair.
"Oh, sure. Laugh at me," Helena said with a frown. "I gave it a try, and I'm vetoing the cowl."
"It's not that bad," Dinah said, pulling her ponytail through the hole of the headpiece.
"You're not helping, Kid."
"Hel, you said you would try it. All I ask is that you go into the field with it at least once," Barbara said, sobering a little.
Helena heaved a sigh. "One shot, and that's it. And I'm still wearing my duster."
"Of course you are," Barbara said with a small smile.
"Why no capes?" Dinah asked. "I thought all the Bats had capes."
"Not this time," Barbara replied. "Capes aren't very aerodynamic unless you add the structure we had back then, and none of us have any need to use them. We can fly on our own."
Barbara had to admit, it was good to not have the cape. She had always thought it to be more of a hindrance than anything, and, with the suits they had, they could easily wear everyday clothes over the thin material.
"I'll say this for you, Red. You definitely know how to show off your figure," Helena said appreciatively.
Dinah smacked Helena on her arm. "None of that, you two. You have an audience," she said.
"First off, don't do that again." Helena cast a deadly glare at Dinah. "Second, it's just you, and you don't count."
"Do I?" Gabby said, appearing in the doorway.
Barbara noticed the way the two young women looked at each other, and she briefly wondered how long it would take before they were asking to get their own place, or at least their own floor of the Clocktower.
"I guess," Helena responded. "What do you think?" she asked, motioning to the suits.
"I love them," Gabby said as she stepped into the training room and crossed to where Dinah stood.
Taking Gabby's hand, Dinah grinned. "We get to take them out for a spin tonight, if you're ready to fly solo on Delphi."
Gabby nodded. "I've had a good teacher."
"I've had a good student," Barbara said. She was indeed proud of Gabby, and she wasn't about to hide that.
"Then it's settled," Helena said as she removed her cowl that hadn't quite managed to make it completely onto her head. "Everyone's good. Can we eat now?"
Barbara removed her own cowl as Dinah did the same. As they did so, Barbara noticed that Helena was right about one thing: the cowls did mess their hair. It was a small price to pay for the extra safety.
"You're always thinking with your stomach," Dinah said.
Helena's lips formed a lopsided grin. "That's not all I think with, Kid."
"Ew, just, ew. How many times have I told you that my brain can't take those kinds of images?"
"Several," Helena said as she wrapped her arms around a smiling Barbara. "But I never get tired of you making that face."
"It's not fair to mock the children," Dinah huffed.
"Um, we aren't exactly " Gabby began before being silenced by a strong look from Dinah.
Barbara pulled away from Helena and went to the small dressing room. "That's enough taunting for now. Like Hel said, we need to eat."
She, Helena, and Dinah went into the changing rooms and donned their street clothes again. It didn't take long, and they were on their way out the doors of the small room in minutes.
"So when exactly is Alfred coming back?" Dinah said as she picked up her cowl and started for the door.
"He's not sure," Barbara responded once they were in the hall. "His brother still needs him in England."
"I hope he comes back soon. I'm tired of cooking."
Barbara grabbed Helena's hand. "You say that like you don't enjoy making dinner."
"And breakfast," Helena said.
"If you call coffee and muffins from down the street cooking " Dinah said, dodging Helena's halfhearted punch to her arm.
"Keep 'em coming, Kid."
Helena and Barbara went into the kitchen, while Dinah and Gabby went to the elevator. "Mind if we watch some TV?" Dinah asked.
Helena waved them away. "Go for it."
Barbara knew neither young woman enjoyed being in the kitchen when Helena was cooking. She was like a tornado most of the time, and neither Dinah nor Gabby could find a decent place to sit while Helena stormed about.
Not that she was an angry chef. It was quite the opposite, and Barbara supposed that the girls weren't used to seeing Helena move so fast when she wasn't beating up a criminal. They would get used to it eventually, or so Barbara hoped. She desperately wanted Dinah and Gabby to learn how to do something other than order takeout if they needed to fend for themselves.
"What are we having?" Barbara asked as she sat at the table.
Helena, who had been leaning over and staring at the open refrigerator, stood up and blew a lock of hair off her forehead. "I have no idea. Any suggestions?"
"I loved those hotpots you made last month."
"And they took hours. We need simple and light. Trying on our suits took longer than I thought, and we need to do sweeps after we eat."
Going over to where Helena stood, Barbara snaked her arms around her love's waist and drew her close. "And then?" she asked as she placed a soft kiss on Helena's neck.
"Then you're in for a night of debauchery," Helena responded, and Barbara could sense her love's heartbeat quicken.
"That sounds very tempting."
"What do you say we leave the kids to fend for themselves and start bauching our d's?" Helena grinned as leaned in and grazed her lips over Barbara's.
"When you say it like that, who can resist?"
Just as Helena was about to respond, the entire penthouse became awash in red, and Delphi's alarm sounded. Immediately Barbara started for the computer with Helena in tow, but Gabby beat her to it.
"There's been a breakout at Arkham," Gabby said as her fingers flew over the keys. "Ten people escaped."
Barbara felt her mouth go dry. "Do they know who?"
"They're listed some minor criminals, but the main one is the Joker."
Everything that had happened to her so many years before came flooding back, and Barbara leaned against Helena for support. Almost immediately she righted herself though. It wouldn't do her, or anyone else, any good if she fell apart. She would have to work through her memories another time.
"Have the police been able to track the Joker's movements at all?" Helena asked with her hand resting on the small of Barbara's back.
"It looks like they went underground the first chance they had, but the police are trying to find them."
"They won't," Barbara said quietly. "The Joker knows those tunnels better than anyone in the city."
"We have a map though, and Gabby can lead us through," Dinah suggested.
"Dinah has a point. We should go," Helena said.
Barbara shook her head. "We don't know what we're dealing with, and I won't risk anyone's life to track him down before we can gauge what kind of firepower he has."
"Can I talk to you for a sec?" Helena asked, taking hold of Barbara's hand.
Barbara allowed Helena to lead her onto the balcony, and once they were out there, she looked at Helena expectantly.
"Why don't you want to strike now? He hasn't had a chance to get organized, and if it were anyone else, you would lead the charge."
"It wouldn't be prudent, not with him," Barbara said, though her words sounded hollow.
"Are you sure?" Helena's voice was calm and caring, and that grounded Barbara somewhat.
"He's the most dangerous man we've ever faced. Hel, he took almost everything from us. What if he does it again?"
"What if we don't fight him and he kills everyone in New Gotham? We have to take the calculated risk here. We're not the same people we were years ago. You aren't the same person you were." Helena brought her hand ups and cupped Barbara's cheek. "I'm not just talking about the metahuman stuff. You can fight him and win, and I think deep in your mind you know that. Stop letting fear dictate your decisions."
Barbara thought about Helena's words, and realized she was right. Her reluctance to go after the Joker stemmed completely from fear, and that never served anyone well, least of all her. In the face of adversity, Barbara knew she had to be fearless, if not for herself, then for her family.
"We should get ready then."
Helena kissed her gently on her forehead. "That's more like the Barbara I know and love."
"Promise me you won't seek revenge."
"You have to promise me the same thing then," Helena said. "Don't lose who you are. We send him back to Arkham, and that's all."
Barbara only nodded her reply.
"C'mon, let's go," Helena said as she took hold of Barbara's hand again.
They went inside, where Gabby and Dinah were waiting expectantly. Barbara wanted to tell Dinah to stay back, but she knew they needed everyone in the field. It didn't stop her from worrying about the young woman.
"Gabby, I need you to listen to the radio traffic. The Joker will likely be causing a scene soon, and that should give us a place to start. Hel and Dinah, come with me."
The three women went into the training room, where their costumes were hanging. They wordlessly went into the separate dressing rooms and quickly changed. Barbara was the first one out, and she had already strapped on her utility belt when Dinah and Helena finished. Helena was still trying to get her cowl situated properly on her head, and Barbara went to her and gently righted it.
"Take care of yourself out there," she said.
Helena offered a tight smile. "Same back at you."
Barbara turned away and looked to Dinah. "The same goes for you. I know I don't have to tell you just how dangerous he is. Follow our lead, and if it get too hot, get out and head back to base."
Dinah nodded. "I will."
They went back to the main room, where the chatter over the scanners was clear as Gabby listened for clues to the Joker's whereabouts. She sat intently, reading the screen as well. Barbara felt a little pride even through her fear at how well her protégé was handling the situation.
"Gabby, track our movements. You're our eyes and ears out there tonight," Barbara said.
Gabby barely looked up. "Copy that. I show a break in at 103rd and Warren. It's a gun shop."
Helena looked to Barbara. "Sounds like it could be a lead."
Barbara nodded even as she started for the door. "We're heading there then. Is there a way into the tunnels close by?"
"Less than a block away."
"Okay. Turning on comms." Barbara reached up to her ear as Helena and Dinah did the same.
"Oracle, I need the location of the entrance," Barbara said.
They had reached the location of the robbery, and were in an alley across the street from the store. Barbara could see the mass of police in the area, and knew they were thinking the same thing the Birds were: the Joker had been behind the robbery.
"Two hundred feet away. It's in the alley closest to the shop on the side of the street you're in. The police are swarming around there though, so I'd go for the one beyond that. It's two buildings away from the scene."
Barbara motioned to her companions for them to get to the roof of the three-story building. She and Helena jumped, while Dinah calmly levitated upwards and met them on top. Wordlessly they started for the next building, which was a story taller.
It was a simple jump for all three of them, and soon they were looking down at the deserted alley where the entrance was. There was a small manhole cover deep in the recesses of the small backstreet, and Barbara could smell the stench from the garbage below. It seared her olfactory sense, and she knew they would likely encounter more of the same once they were in the tunnels, but she knew they needed to go.
They stepped off the building in unison, and Barbara landed soundlessly on her feet and immediately started for the manhole, and Helena and Dinah were close behind. Just as Barbara was about to lift the cover, she felt a touch on her arm. When Barbara turned to the source, Helena shook her head.
"People below," she mouthed.
It was then Barbara heard the voices below, and she chastised herself for not noticing that. She had been blinded by her quest to capture the Joker, and she was determined to not let that happen again.
They waited as the voices faded, and once they did, Helena took the cover off and gently laid it on the ground to avoid making any noise.
Helena lowered herself into the tunnel, Dinah followed, and Barbara sank into the darkness after them. She and Helena could still see even in the dark, but Dinah had to put on night vision goggles. They were specially designed to transmit what Dinah was seeing to Delphi, so Gabby could have a better idea of their location.
"There's an intersection up ahead. One leads to a dead end, the one on the right leads to a larger series of tunnels. It looks like one of them will take you to a large room. I'll take you through."
"Copy that," Barbara whispered.
They moved through the tunnels with Gabby leading the way, and when Barbara saw a dim light coming from around the corner, she made a silent motion to stop the other two women. Telling Dinah to stay back with a series of hand signals, Barbara and Helena began carefully moving forward again.
She could hear a group of men having a conversation, but she could only manage to make out a few words. They sounded nervous though, that much she could tell. After a moment, another, louder voice spoke.
"Now kiddies, there's no need to worry. The Birds will be here soon. Once we take them out, we'll have the town to ourselves," the Joker said before he started laughing.
That laughter brought so many terrible memories back to Barbara, and she stopped still and rested a hand on the slimy walls to get her bearings. Helena stopped with her and took her hand, and Barbara silently took strength from that touch. It didn't make it any easier to drop her love's hand and continue down the tunnel to what was surely a trap. Still, she didn't feel they had a choice.
A few feet after they turned the corner, Barbara heard a gear turning behind her, and both she and Helena whirled around to see what was making the noise. Before they could get to the other side, a steel wall shuddered down, sealing them off from Dinah and the outside world.
Barbara felt her anxiety grow, but she tamped it down. She looked to Helena, who was intent in her gaze toward the light. They stayed still for a moment, and Barbara knew they had alerted the Joker and his men to their presence.
"I think we've caught ourselves some Tweety Birds, boys. Should we wait for them to come to us, or let them rot in the tunnels?"
Immediately Barbara looked to the ceiling and saw a groove in the steel. Tugging on Helena's elbow, she pointed upward. The second her companion saw it, her eyes grew wide and they moved beyond the groove. As soon as they were on the other side, another wall fell into place. Barbara breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that they had come very close to death.
She was aware that they hadn't heard anything from Dinah or Gabby since the walls had come down, and she knew there had to be jamming the signal somehow. It wouldn't help to try to find the source; the Joker likely had it close to him, and she and Helena wouldn't be able to use the comms anyway.
"Oh birdies, come out and play!"
The women began walking to the inevitable fight, and Barbara was well aware that the odds were against them, even with their abilities. She found herself thinking back on the recent months and how her life had changed so drastically, and she realized that there was nothing that was going to make her give that up. The Joker would not take her, not in the tunnels, and not anywhere else. She would finally beat him. While she would stop short of killing him, he would never again threaten her family.
There couldn't be any stealth in going into the room; the men already knew she and Helena were there. Barbara took a last look at Helena before they stepped fully into the light.
The Joker looked at them with a demented gleam in his eyes. "Well, well. You have a new birdie in your flock. Where is your little Canary, I wonder?"
At the sight of the man who had taken so much from her and Helena, Barbara fought the urge to rush at him. There were ten armed men ready to attack at them the second they moved, so Barbara stayed still and took stock of the room.
It housed a throne-like structure at one end, and the Joker had taken his place there. It was obvious the room was one of his old hideouts; one that even Batman hadn't known about. The floor was littered with old toys, shopping carts, and other items that had somehow made it into the underground of the city. It seemed a fitting place for the Joker to hide away; there was a little bit of craziness in the scene below.
The tunnel where she and Helena stood came out about ten feet off the floor, and below them, in a semicircle, stood the Joker's men. They were all men Barbara had gone up against during her Batgirl days, and she knew they would be difficult to beat. Still, her one target was the Joker. She had to get to him.
"She couldn't make it, but she sends her regards," Helena said with a sneer.
"Now, now. That's no way to treat your host," he said, tapping his cane on the stone floor. "Boys, I think you need to show them some manners."
Barbara had had enough, and before the men could fire, she vaulted over them and landed behind the men. Helena joined her a split second later, and they both hit the two men closest to them with a high kick to the back and sent them sprawling into their cohorts.
From that moment on, it was mayhem. Barbara fought back at her attackers, but even as she incapacitated one, another made an expert attack on her. It took all her training to block their feet and fists, and that was saying something, considering her newfound abilities.
At one point she heard the loud sound of a gun firing, and even in her battle haze, she knew the bullet had hit her in the leg. The suit had done its job; however, and Barbara reached the man and tore the gun from his grasp before knocking him out.
She lost sight of Helena, but Barbara assumed her companion was holding her own. It wasn't until the Joker's men were scattered around her that she realized Helena was nowhere to be found. She turned slowly, and when the Joker's throne came into view, something in her shattered into tiny shards.
Helena stood in front of the Joker, and he had a gun pointed at her gut, while his other hand tightly held her neck. Though both of Helena's hands held the arm choking her, she looked weak. Barbara could tell Helena was being lifted off her feet slightly, and she knew her love had to be in pain from that hold alone. The thought infuriated her.
"So we've come full circle, haven't we, Batgirl?"
Barbara clenched her fists, hating that he knew who she was. "What do you want?"
"I didn't quite achieve my goal that night. Here you are, walking! It's magnificent, I must say, but not what I envisioned."
"Get to the point," Barbara said through clenched teeth while trying to figure out how to get Helena back.
"You hurt my girl, so I think I should hurt yours. That's only fair, isn't it?" He jammed the gun into Helena's side, and she winced.
Though the suits were virtually bulletproof, Barbara wasn't sure what a shot from such close range would do. At the least, it would bruise Helena significantly. The worst case scenario was one in which the bullet found skin. Helena would surely be killed or crippled in that case, and neither one was acceptable to Barbara.
"You aren't saying anything, Batgirl. Should I take that as an agreement?" he asked as he cocked the gun.
Barbara's vision cleared, and she saw a way through everything. She was faster than he was, and she knew it. All she needed was the aim, and that was something else she knew she had. The only thing she needed to do was get to her belt.
"Does it matter if I don't agree? Won't you just shoot her anyway?" Barbara asked, putting her hands on her hips.
He laughed, and it sounded like pure evil. "It would be fun. For an encore I'll probably shoot you, too. That would be a fitting end to you and your Birds. The only one left would be your little Canary, and I can find her easily enough."
"What if I offered myself, and you let Huntress go?"
"No!" Helena choked out.
The Joker tightened his hold around her neck, and her head lolled to the side as she lost consciousness.
"I think I might enjoy that trade. We could dance, you and I. We never did get a chance to do that."
Barbara tried to keep her focus as she flicked open one of the compartments on her belt. Every fiber of her being hated the man standing before her, and she couldn't stand that he had the power. She decided the time was right and, in a split second, she pulled the miniature batarang out of the pouch and threw it at his hand.
Before the Joker could react, the batarang found its target. He dropped the gun, and at the same time released his hold on Helena, who slumped to the ground. He turned to run out of the room, but Barbara was faster. With her powerful legs, she was on top of him before he had taken two steps.
He tried to struggle out of her grasp, but she stopped him with a well-placed punch to the kidneys. He hunched over in pain, and Barbara hoisted him up by his neck and shoved him against the wall. She could choke him to death, and she knew it, and part of her didn't care. He had threatened her family again, and she wouldn't let it happen a third time.
As the Joker clawed at her arms and struggled to breathe, his wide eyes stared at her with something she had never seen from the madman: fear. That fear began to bring her back to herself, and she loosened her hold. Almost immediately, his expression changed to that of mocking.
"And so the girl who was a bat still couldn't kill," he choked. "How very cowardly."
"Do you want me to kill you?" Barbara asked, her jaw tight with rage.
"It would finally bring out the monster in you," his permanent grin was derisive. "You would become me."
He would never stop coming after them, and Barbara knew that. Everything she felt since that night, the pain, the suffering, and the hatred toward him crystallized, and she tightened her hold again. The fear in his eyes came back, even though his smile never changed.
Helena's voice broke through the haze of bloodlust Barbara felt, but she didn't stop choking the Joker. She instead tightened her hold even more.
There was a hand on her shoulder, and Helena's quiet voice rang through her senses. "Don't do this."
"Why shouldn't I?" Barbara asked as the life began to drain from his eyes.
"Because that isn't who you are. You aren't a murderer."
The last words echoed in her mind until it became a rumbling thunder that she couldn't ignore. What Helena had said was true, and Barbara knew it. She couldn't kill the Joker, and if she did, she would never be the person she had been. She would never forgive herself for taking a life, and it didn't matter who that life belonged to.
Her hand relaxed, and the Joker crumbled to the ground at her feet. As he took sorely needed life-giving breaths, Barbara tried to come back from the brink. She was dimly aware that Helena was tying him up, but she couldn't move to immobilize the rest of his men.
Barbara wasn't sure how long she stood with her hands on her knees, but soon Helena was back at her side with an arm circling Barbara's waist. The touch grounded her, and she took strength from it. Her breathing evened out, and she put a hand over Helena's.
"You brought me back," she said quietly.
Helena squeezed Barbara tighter. "I couldn't lose you."
"I couldn't lose me either. I was close, though."
"But you came back," Helena said as she turned Barbara to face her. Cupping her face with her strong but gentle hands, Helena made Barbara focus on her. "Remember that. When you had a chance, you wouldn't take it. You didn't let him tear down everything we've built."
Barbara stared into the kind, loving eyes of her love, and she knew what Helena was saying was true. "I couldn't lose you, either."
"You'll never lose me," Helena said as she pulled Barbara to her. "Never."
Barbara sank into the embrace, allowing herself the peace that came from Helena's warmth. Soon, though, she realized they had loose ends to clean up, and she pulled away. "We need to find the jamming device and open these tunnels."
Helena seemed about to say something, but whatever she was going to say was lost when the Joker's voice rang through their ears.
"What a lovely reunion. I wish I had my camera."
Helena turned around and kicked his cheek hard. Barbara knew from the sound of bone crunching that his cheek was broken, but she didn't care. She just stared at Helena.
Helena shrugged. "What? Just because we can't kill doesn't mean we can't make him feel some pain."
Barbara smiled tightly, and a part of her wanted to laugh even though she felt so worn down by the events of the last few hours.
"C'mon. Let's find what we're looking for," Helena said as she took Barbara's hand.
They found both the jamming device and the control panel to open the tunnels in the same place, and while Helena destroyed the device, Barbara pushed the appropriate buttons on the panel. Instantly she could hear the walls moving back up, releasing them from their prison.
"Phoenix to Oracle. We're back online." Barbara said into the comm.
Gabby's relieved voice rang in her ears. "Roger that. Any injuries?"
"Not on our side. Canary?"
"Here. I'm heading your way now."
Helena moved beside Barbara again before she spoke. "Belay that. We'll come to you." She looked at Barbara once more. "You ready?"
Barbara nodded. "Oracle? Contact the police and give them the Joker's location. We'll be well away by the time they reach him."
Taking Helena's hand, Barbara felt her anger completely drain away. She had truly beaten the Joker by not allowing him to turn her into a monster, and for that she found a peace she hadn't felt in years. For her, it was another new beginning in a year that had already been full of them. She was ready for more.
"The view from up here never ceases to amaze me," Barbara said quietly as Helena stepped onto the balcony with her.
Barbara didn't turn, but she knew Helena had moved behind her before strong arms wrapped around her waist. Helena rested her chin on Barbara's shoulder, and she leaned back into the touch.
"You don't have to bottle things up anymore, you know."
"I know. I'm just trying to process everything. Wanting to kill someone isn't a place I'm accustomed to being in."
"And it may happen again, but wanting to kill someone and actually doing it are two different things, and you know that."
"What if you hadn't been there?" Barbara asked, her voice rising a bit.
"I was though, so it doesn't matter," Helena said, keeping her tone quiet and reassuring.
"It frightened me."
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't scare me, too. You walked away from those tunnels ultimately knowing that when it came down to it, you didn't lose sight of your purpose and identity. That's all that counts," Helena said as she turned Barbara around to face her.
Barbara leaned in so that their foreheads were touching and closed her eyes. "I almost lost you."
"We almost lost each other. That's happened before, and in our line of work it could easily happen again. This time it didn't. I count that in the victory slot, don't you?"
Barbara smiled. It was small, but it was there. "I do. You know, the suits work."
Helena's head moved back as her eyes found Barbara's. "Really?"
Barbara nodded. "I was shot, and I barely felt it."
"So that was the bruise on your leg."
"Now if we could just get some armor in the neck area," Barbara said, her mind already working out the logistics.
"I hate to put a damper on that party, but we need to be able to move our heads around as much as possible. We'll just have to settle for being bulletproof."
Barbara looked at the angry bruises on Helena's neck. "It doesn't stop me from not wanting to see you choked until you're unconscious," she said as she gently touched the bluish skin.
"I'm with you on that one, and maybe you can come up with a way to stop that from happening, but not tonight. We need some sleep."
"I don't think I can sleep."
"Then we'll hold each other until dawn."
To Barbara that sounded like heaven. In Helena's arms she felt loved, and the world always seemed to right itself. Barbara knew that no matter what happened, Helena would be there for her. By that same token, Barbara would give everything she was to help her love. That was something that would never change.
Helena led them inside, and Barbara looked around at the dimmed lights. "Have Dinah and Gabby gone to bed?"
"They were both wiped out from the night. I let Gabby sleep in Dinah's room, since I think they were both a bit upset," Helena said quietly as they walked down the hall to their bedroom. "Do you mind?"
"Not tonight I don't."
Barbara wasn't lying. The look on Dinah's face when they made it out of the tunnels was nothing short of frightening. Her normally porcelain face was ghostly white, and she was shaking more than a little. Dinah may have seen a lot for such a young person, but Barbara knew that losing the one family she had was terrifying.
She and Helena undressed and got into bed, and Helena pulled Barbara on top of her, cradling her in strong arms. With her head resting over Helena's beating heart, Barbara finally allowed herself to relax.
"Better?" Helena asked after a moment, stroking Barbara's hair slowly.
"Hel?" Barbara said after a few moments.
"Mm?" Helena mumbled, and Barbara knew she had been drifting off.
"I'm thankful you're in my life." That didn't even begin to describe how she felt, but Barbara couldn't find better words for it.
Helena woke up fully and pulled Barbara up so that they were facing each other. "Somehow I get the feeling that's an understatement."
Barbara smiled. Helena knew her better than anyone on the planet, perhaps even better than she knew herself. "A little, but I don't think there are words to really describe how I feel. It's deeper than anything I've ever felt."
Kissing her softly, Helena ran her tongue over Barbara's lips. "You don't have to describe it. I feel it, too. I've felt that way for so long I can't remember a time when I didn't."
Barbara reached up and pulled Helena's lips to her own, kissing her deeply. The only thing that mattered to her in that moment was to be at one with the woman she loved, and as Helena began to kiss her way down Barbara's jaw, she felt more loved than she had ever been. It had been that way with them since their walls had crumbled. Each time with Helena built on the last, and Barbara's feelings for her lover grew more than even she thought possible.
As Helena loved her, Barbara surrendered herself to the passionate touches, allowing them to catch her up in waves of pleasure. She returned every caress with one of her own, and together they soared to new heights, leaving everything else behind them. For Barbara, there was nothing but the woman beneath her.
It was a long time before Barbara was able to take note of her surroundings again, and when she did she noted they were lying in the same positions as before, with Helena holding her. Barbara smiled as she traced small circles on Helena's chest.
"You're smiling," Helena said with a touch of humor in her voice.
"Care to share?"
"I was just thinking that we should be lazy tomorrow. No working involved, just some fun. Maybe an outing or two."
"An outing? Did we travel back in time or something?" Helena said as she laughed. Barbara delighted in the rumble it caused in her love's chest.
"Of course not. It's a perfectly good term, and one that isn't used enough these days."
"Or at all."
"Har-har." Barbara playfully smacked Helena's chest. "Does the phrase 'day at the park' sound better?"
"First, ow. Second, it does, and I'm up for it. We should bring Dinah and Gabby."
"I agree," Barbara said before she yawned.
"I think it's sleepy time for us," Helena said, pulling Barbara closer.
"Hm, I think you're right." Barbara closed her eyes.
She listened to Helena's steady heartbeat, and soon she drifted off. Her last waking thought was of Helena, and the promise of their life together.
"Remind me why we're doing a sweep on our day off," Helena said as she and Barbara crouched on the ledge of a building.
"You know what they say about idle hands, Hel."
"Yeah, yeah. Being a plaything of the devil sounds pretty good to me right about now," Helena snorted.
Barbara chuckled. "There's plenty of time for that later."
Helena cast a sidelong glance at her. "You just wanted to fly, didn't you?"
"Maybe," Barbara begrudgingly admitted.
"No maybe about it. Just remember, this is like foreplay to me."
"What makes you think it isn't for me?"
"Guys!" Dinah's voice crackled in their ears.
"Sorry, Canary," Barbara said, trying hard to contain her laughter. "Turning comms off for a few moments."
"So you're saying that it is?" Helena asked, immediately picking up their conversation again.
"I'm saying," Barbara started as she stood and stepped back from the ledge, "That you are probably in for a late night when we go home."
Helena copied Barbara's movements and moved toward her. "Why not now?"
"We're on a roof in the middle of New Gotham. I think that's reason enough."
"Where's your sense of adventure? C'mon, the comms are off, and it's a beautiful night," Helena whispered in her ear as she began backing Barbara up to the walled-off area for roof access.
"Do I need to list the reasons?" Barbara asked as her back hit the wall.
"You wouldn't be Barbara if you didn't."
"As I've already mentioned, we're on a roof," Barbara said, trying to keep her focus while Helena placed light kisses on her jaw. "I have no intention of getting gravel out of places they shouldn't be."
"Where's your sense of adventure?"
"It's at the observatory, or do you not remember the twigs?"
Helena laughed into Barbara's neck. "How could I forget?"
"The last one is that we have a perfectly good bed at home, and I would hate to waste it."
Helena stopped but she didn't move from where she was kissing Barbara's ear. "We're going back home now then."
There was no doubt in Barbara's mind that Helena's eyes were feral gold, and if she was being completely honest, the clarity of her vision told her that hers had also changed from their typical green. "Look at me."
Helena pulled away slightly, revealing her eyes that were hooded with desire. "Home."
"What are we waiting for?" Barbara whispered.
As she straightened up, Helena held out her hand. "Time's wasting."
"I completely agree," Barbara said as she grinned and took Helena's hand.
They ran for the ledge together, releasing their hold on each other just before launching themselves off the roof. As she flew through the air, Barbara was happy. She was doing what she was meant to do. She was free.
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