DISCLAIMER: It all belongs to a bunch of people who ain't me <g>. (DC Comics, The WB, Tollin/Robbins, so on and so forth.) I have received neither money nor bribes from this work of fiction. I steal these characters and write about them as homage to the show I so enjoyed. (Was that enough of a suck-up to avoid getting sued? <g>)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: 1. A very big thanks goes to Thunder for the kick-ass beta. Any errors or issues are entirely my fault, especially since I added a bunch of text that she hasn't yet seen <g>. 2. While I like happy endings as well as anyone, I wanted to explore what would happen if Barbara opted not to follow her heart. It seems to me, that because of who she is as a person, this outcome would be as likely as any "happily ever after" piece. I'd be very interested in hearing feedback, if you have any interest in sharing. You can reach me here.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The title is taken from a verse in the hymn "Heart with loving heart united" translated from German by Walter Klaassen. (In case anyone wanted a further reference, it's taken from the Brethren/Mennonite hymnal.)
WARNING: If you're looking for a traditional happy ending, read no further. You won't find one here.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Lady Shiva.
All Selfish Claims Deny
By ocean gazer
Barbara sighed heavily, pulling off her glasses and rubbing the bridge of her nose. The gesture was a mostly futile one, since her eyestrain-induced headache had started an hour or so ago. It was hard to be sure exactly when the pain had started, since she'd ignored it and kept working, just as she always did. She knew perfectly well that when she hit the point where the text on the computer screen was blurred and fuzzy, she really needed to shut down for the night. Not that it was still night, by any stretch of the imagination, since a quick glance at the onscreen clock told her it was nearly six am. Knowing that she should do something for herself, however, didn't mean she always did it.
She stretched in her chair as best she could, feeling the strain of muscles gone stiff from too many hours cramped over her keyboard. Her body was telling her, in no uncertain terms, that she wasn't taking very good care of it again. But she'd wanted to finish up the project she was working on, and since it was the weekend and she didn't have to get up for school, she'd counted on being able to sleep late. Originally, she'd thought she'd be done three hours ago, which according to her more nocturnal circadian rhythms was a nice, normal time to call it a night. But that plan hadn't taken into account Helena getting injured and needing to be doctored up.
At the thought of the younger woman, Barbara cursed herself under her breath. She'd gotten so wrapped up in updating one of the Delphi's databases that she hadn't checked on Helena in the last couple hours. Damn it.
Rationally, she knew that Helena was in no real danger. The bullet hadn't done too much damage to the woman's thigh muscle, and the rest of her cuts and scrapes weren't serious. And given the brunette's meta-human healing abilities, it was likely that she'd be mostly healed up in a few days. But she should have checked on her regardless, to make sure that she was sleeping comfortably and that the bleeding hadn't started again.
'Got seduced by your imaginary little world again, Gordon,' she berated herself.
With a quick flurry of keystrokes, she settled the Delphi on standby mode and wheeled herself away from her workstation. Time to go check on Helena, and then see about heading to bed.
Deftly, she manipulated the joystick on her wheelchair, glad for the electronic help. She had been reluctant to give up her manual wheelchair even though the electric models were far more comfortable because she'd liked the sense of physicality that pushing it allowed her. But even she'd had to acknowledge at some point that when she was overworked and tired a state she let herself slip into too often it was nice to not have to expend the extra energy. Though she hated to admit it, even to herself, her health was more precarious since the shooting and she didn't have near the stamina she'd once had. She'd learned the hard way that she had to make a few concessions here and there in order to live the life she'd chosen as Oracle.
She rolled down the hall to the spare bedroom where she'd left Helena to recuperate. With a faint touch of amazement, she realized how quiet the Clocktower was now that the Delphi was on standby. She lived so much of her life in front of the screen that she sometimes forgot about the normal sounds and rhythms of life. Not that her life was what you'd call normal, what with the costumed crime fighting and the secret identities. But with a tiny wave of sadness, she realized that even Helena and Dinah led far more normal lives than she did. For all the fantasy content of their night lives, both of them were more anchored in reality than she was, because they weren't leading secret lives as a way of hiding from the world. She was, and had been since the day she first put on the costume to become Batgirl. Obviously, her desire to make a difference had played a part in her decision, but had she just been motivated by a "do-gooder" mentality, she could easily have found many less bizarre ways to accomplish her goals.
She quickly pushed that thought away, as she did almost any time her mind tried to veer into such personal territory. It was no little ironic that she who did more thinking in an ordinary week than many people did in a lifetime was so out of touch with her own thoughts and feelings. She could analyze the behavior patterns of notorious criminals and could figure out how nearly any piece of technology worked. But ask her how her own mind worked or how she felt about certain things, and she was at a loss for words, feeling almost as if she were drowning in a sea of the unfamiliar. There were certain things she'd had to deal with and figure out, but some of the things that ran deepest and were most complex were beyond her comprehension. Not because she couldn't have figured them out, but because she didn't want to look that closely, scared of the darkness she sensed in herself.
Giving herself a little mental shake, she found herself in front of the spare bedroom. She gently opened the door, moving as quietly as she could, not wanting to wake Helena. While she knew that the painkillers she'd given the younger woman should keep her asleep for hours, she also knew that Helena's body metabolized things far faster than any mere human's would. Thankfully, the brunette was still asleep deeply asleep by the sound of her slow, steady breathing.
Barbara gave a soft sigh of relief and a wave of tenderness washed over her as she looked down at the younger woman. There was a softness in those gamine features a kind of vulnerability that was rarely seen when the woman was awake and in control. She wouldn't go so far as to say that Helena looked angelic when she was sleeping that was too poetic and flowery to describe it. It was something more subtle than that, some quality that could only be seen when Helena was not projecting her usual hard-ass, devil-may-care persona. The persona was a survival mechanism; Barbara knew that. She was one of the few people who really understood that under the younger woman's sarcastic, angry, nonchalant mask, there lay an understanding, caring, tolerant human being. She was one of the few people Helena had ever let inside.
That reminder pained her, even as it warmed her.
Moving closer, she slowly pushed the blanket aside so she could see the bandaged patch on the younger woman's thigh. Her fingers, light and dexterous, carefully lifted the tape holding the gauze so she could see the wound beneath. It was ugly a ragged hole but at least there was no new bleeding and no angry redness that would show infection settling in. Barbara fumbled around, finding the tube of antibiotic cream and squirting more onto the injury, before reapplying the bandage. When Helena woke, she'd be sure to start her on oral antibiotics as well, just to be on the safe side.
She'd half expected that the younger woman would be roused by her ministrations, so it came as something of a surprise to realize that Helena was still deeply asleep. She was grateful for that, however, knowing that the woman needed sleep in order to help her body heal. Bullet wounds, no matter how minor, were not something to take lightly. For a long moment, she sat and just looked at her friend, watching her sleep and feeling a sense of gratitude that she was safe.
Then, feeling safe in the knowledge that the younger woman was asleep, Barbara reached out and let her fingers stroke unruly brown bangs. Leaning down, she pressed a gentle kiss to Helena's forehead. It was a sign of affection she would never have allowed herself had the younger woman been awake. Though she loved Helena dearly, she didn't dare show her how much. She couldn't allow Helena to hold on to the hope of something that could never be.
At that thought, Barbara felt a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the cool air of early morning. A sense of sadness rushed through her and she fought to put her depressing thoughts back in their usual lockbox. With a soft sigh, she moved away from the sleeping brunette and headed out of the room, easing the door shut behind her. As she rolled down the hallway, away from her friend, it occurred to her almost distantly that she really should head to bed and try to sleep. She knew she was running on fumes as it was, and that her body needed more rest than she normally gave it. She also knew that, as tired as she was, her mind was now too keyed up for her to sleep without some kind of sleep aid. And she didn't want to take a pill, out of fear that if Helena woke in pain and needed her, she'd sleep right through it.
Without quite knowing how she'd gotten there, she found herself out on the balcony. There were faint streaks of pink and orange slicing through the dark sky, and the stars were slowly starting to fade to dim points of light. She looked out over the city she loved, the city she'd sacrificed so much to protect. A shiver wracked her body, not because she was cold, but because she was in one of her rare, reflective, melancholy moods. She tried her damnedest to avoid going there, to avoid allowing herself to think so much about who she had been and who she had become. Unfortunately, being so close to Helena, seeing once again the vulnerability and trust in that dear face, had done the near impossible and brought her demons to the surface.
Intellectually, she knew why it had happened. If she could have taken a step outside herself, she could have looked at it all logically and analyzed it. And had the situation been applied to anyone but herself, it would have been quite interesting to pick it apart and study it. Since it was, however, something so personal, it wasn't interesting. It was painful.
She loved Helena. She'd never told her, but she did love her.
And Helena loved her too. The younger woman had come to her one night and confessed her feelings had told her that she'd been in love with her for years. And all the brunette had asked of her was that if she felt the same, that they give a relationship a try. No expectations, no demands, and not even much in the way of pressure. Just a request that if she felt the same, if there was any hope at all, that they give it a chance.
She tried to fight the memory; tried not to let her mind wander so freely down painful pathways. But she couldn't. She was too tired to stay in control, especially with something that intense. Given enough distance and the distraction of work, she could have managed the trick. She could have managed to stuff the memory down as she managed to repress all the other dark little tidbits from her life. Often it seemed as though her memories were full of blank spaces from where she'd repressed the events of her life.
But it had only been three months since Helena's confession and her whispered plea. It had only been three months since Barbara had really realized the depth of her own feelings. And it'd only been three months since she'd told Helena, gently but firmly, that there was no hope at all for them to be anything more than friends.
Practiced in the art of self-torture, her mind conjured up the stricken look she'd seen on Helena's face. As though it had happened only yesterday, she could see the tears that had fallen in torrents from those hurt-filled blue eyes. She hadn't seen such pain on the younger woman's face since those first terrible weeks after her mother's murder. Even knowing it was for the best, it had taken all of Barbara's self-control to hold on to her resolve, to not offer Helena false hope in an effort to soothe her pain. She had known with a type of dreadful certainty that with a simple word of encouragement, the younger woman would have waited for her. She knew that had she offered any bit of hope, Helena would have waited forever for something that never could be.
And while it might have made things easier in the short run for both of them it wouldn't have been right. It wouldn't have been fair.
Barbara felt a lump in her throat and fiercely willed herself not to cry. She knew, in some distant corner of her mind, that crying might actually be good for her, that it might help ease some of the burden. But that would mean facing her feelings in their entirety and letting them wash completely over her. And she couldn't wouldn't let herself go that far. Tired as she was, she still had enough control for that.
She fisted her hands where they lay in her lap, only distantly aware of the edge of pain as her fingernails dug into the soft skin of her palms. With the discipline borne of years of practice, she focused on her breathing, seeking to calm her mind as she calmed her body. After several minutes, however, she had to admit it wasn't working as well as she'd hoped. The threat of tears was gone, but the melancholy remained.
Of course, she thought with a sudden, grim sense of irony, her whole life was built on melancholy. While on the outside she appeared as happy as anyone else, it was only a façade, a face she wore both for other people and for herself. Her life was nothing more than a series of losses, and the choices she'd made were almost more about dealing with limited possibilities than about any sense of purpose.
With the exception of becoming Batgirl, everything else had been a matter of necessity, rather than desire.
While she'd survived her losses and overcome them, she'd never completely dealt with them. She'd never found a way to shake the power they had over her, over every aspect of her life. And now, even if she'd wanted to change, she wasn't sure she could. She wasn't sure she knew how.
And that was the reason she could never give in to her feelings for Helena. She might have screwed up her own life, but she'd be damned if she was going to be responsible for screwing up Helena's. At least, not any more than she already had. While she knew rationally that Helena was responsible for her own choices, she knew her quest for justice and her passion for crime fighting had been quite an influence on the younger woman. And her burning bitterness at being forced into a wheelchair had helped fuel the brunette's wellspring of anger. The Joker's actions might have been a catalyst for both of them, but things might have turned out far differently had she not taken custody of Helena.
At one point, she'd thought her influence on the younger woman had been positive. Now, she wasn't so sure.
Barbara sighed heavily, her eyes watching as the shadows of night were chased away by the waking of the sun. She knew intellectually that much of what had happened in her life wasn't truly her fault she hadn't asked to be shot or asked for an abusive father. She knew enough of psychology to realize that just leading a screwed up life didn't mean that you yourself were a screwed up person. But, in a secret little corner of her brain, she couldn't help but wonder whether she did have some blame to bear for who she'd become. She didn't know whether it was just innate personality and life events that had made her the woman she was, or whether it was the way she'd simply avoided really dealing with some of her demons. It was the kind of question to which the answer could never be known. It was also one of the things that haunted her, and that made her cringe away from allowing anyone to get too close.
While she could live with herself and her personal limitations, she couldn't bear the thought of hurting someone she cared about because of them.
It should have been the physical limitations that worried her the most. It wasn't. Not that they weren't daunting in and of themselves. But what really haunted Barbara, that made her shy away from anyone who got too close, was the knowledge that she could never be what someone else needed. Not that she'd taken an opinion poll of everyone who ever lived, to know what they all needed in a partner. But she was so fiercely private, so fiercely independent, so unable to open herself to anyone on a personal level. No matter how much she cared for someone, there were walls around her heart and soul that she couldn't tear down. And then there was the fact that her identity as Oracle and her work for justice would always come before anyone or anything else even her own needs. She felt in her bones that her moods, her emotional distance, and her tendency to lose herself in her work were traits that no would-be lover could tolerate for long.
Helena had been her friend and her work partner for several years now, and even she'd had major bouts of frustration and anger when Barbara lost herself in her own little mental world. And that was without there being anything deeper than friendship without any promise of "to have and to hold." If she'd given in to the younger woman, if she'd allowed them to pursue a relationship, she knew it would have gotten very painful for both of them. The pressure of Helena wanting to be let into her heart and her thoughts, of wanting something she never could give, would have the potential to destroy them both.
She would never forgive herself if she hurt Helena that way. And she was unwilling to risk making her own pain worse by letting herself love Helena, and then having the younger woman leave her when things got hard.
It wasn't that she thought so little of Helena that she feared Helena would just up and leave when things got rough. The younger woman had more patience with her moods and her need for space than anyone else did. It was ironic in that the brunette was not exactly known for her patience, but Helena understood her in a way few people did. She had nothing but respect for the fact that the younger woman had stuck around through some truly dark times, even though she now realized that hope and love were part of the reason why the woman had stayed.
But Barbara knew that Helena for all her patience and understanding wasn't a saint, and at some point, she'd get tired of waiting. She knew that the younger woman would feel like she was on the outside looking in, able to touch Barbara physically but not emotionally. That's what had doomed all her past relationships her lovers had gotten frustrated with never being able to share in all aspects of her life. And Helena wasn't the type to torture herself forever, not even for love.
By denying them both the hope of more, Barbara was trying to keep from losing the friendship if a relationship went sour. She could handle anything, as long as she didn't lose Helena completely.
Slowly, she unclenched her hands, feeling the twinge as her nails withdrew from her skin. She hadn't drawn blood, but she had purple half moons imprinted on her skin. Looking up, she saw that the sky was growing lighter. She only wished her own mood would lighten with it.
She knew she should still try to sleep, even if only for a few hours. But with her mind spinning in circles, she wasn't sure she could manage it. This was one of the reasons she hated letting herself think too much about herself. It was not only uncomfortable, but it made it even harder for her to do the things she needed to do to preserve what she could of her health. Not to mention her sanity.
She sighed, looking out at the faint rays of sun spreading a thin veil of gold across the skyline. Deliberately, she tried to focus in on something positive. She hadn't lost Helena; at least that was something. The younger woman had run out of the Clocktower and disappeared for a few days after her confession of love had been rebuffed. Much to Barbara's relief, she'd come back and made it clear that if friendship was all she could have, she'd settle for that. She knew full well that Helena was still waiting for her, that the younger woman was still hoping that things would change and that they could try to build a life together.
But she'd also seen signs that Helena knew, at least subconsciously, that there was no hope. The younger woman wasn't quite as open with her anymore. They were still close years of shared experience and trust couldn't change that but now there was a subtle distance between them. And Helena was spending more nights at her own apartment now, making more of an effort to create a life outside the Clocktower.
It saddened Barbara, even as she knew it was by her own choice.
She knew that Helena would wait for a while; it was not in the younger woman's nature to give up on something so easily. Anyone with the moniker "Huntress" had to have some predatory instincts. But Barbara knew the woman fairly well and knew that at some point, with no hope to hold on to, Helena would give up on the dream and move on. She knew the brunette would find someone who would be able to be open with her, someone who could let her in, someone who would trust her with her secrets.
When that day came, Barbara resolved to be happy for her. Even if it broke her heart in the process.
She did, truly, want Helena to be happy. And she truly didn't think Helena could be happy with her. In the short run, perhaps, but not forever.
The soft sound of movement inside the Clocktower served to shove Barbara's thoughts into the present, rescuing her from the solitary mental pathways she'd been walking. Someone was awake, though she had no idea whether it was Alfred, Dinah, or Helena. Her best guess would be Alfred, since Dinah was the antithesis of a morning person, and with luck Helena was still in a drugged sleep.
She let out a deep breath, the awareness that she wasn't alone doing wonders to restore her composure. She never let down her guard like that when anyone was around to witness it. Casting one lingering look at the brilliant sunrise, she wheeled her chair around, knowing she needed to go back inside. If Alfred were awake, he'd likely come looking for her soon, since it would be all too obvious that her door was open and her bed hadn't been slept in. If it was Dinah, it most likely meant a nightmare had woken the teen and she'd be in need of some reassurance. And if it were Helena up and moving, she'd be at risk of aggravating her wound and would be in need of medical attention. No matter who it was, Barbara knew she needed to go back inside.
She paused briefly on the threshold. She knew she'd be ok she was nothing if not a survivor. And it wasn't, by any means, the worst thing that had ever happened to her. She knew Helena would be ok she was young and would heal. And it wasn't, by any means, the worst thing that had ever happened to Helena. Their friendship was still intact, and would only grow stronger as they weathered this storm and adapted to the new landscape. It would all be ok, Barbara repeated to herself like a mantra.
But as she headed into the Clocktower, back to her friends and her chosen duties, she knew that by sacrificing her own feelings for Helena's sake, she'd destroyed a tiny piece of her own heart.
She just hoped she hadn't done the same to Helena's.
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