DISCLAIMER: Oh, you already know I don't own a thing … I'm just thieving scum that runs off with the characters from time to time. They are owned by the benevolent and understanding people of Tollin/Robbins, DC Comics, The WB, etc. etc. Thanks for letting me play in your sandbox <g>. Since I've never followed the comics, I'm not entirely certain about Barbara's past history. The references to her past in this story were gleaned from other fanfic writers and may not be consistent with what's been presented in any of the comics' histories.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was written after very little sleep and way too much time on airplanes <wry grin>. (Though I did, of course, do some editing and polishing before posting it.) The inspiration for this story, odd as it is, came from conversations as we prepared for my grandma's funeral. It's not the best thing I've ever written, but hopefully something in it will resonate with you, the readers. If you have comments to make, I'd love to hear them, though feedback is never a requirement. Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, the opinions on alternative rock expressed within are solely Barbara's, not mine <g>.
DEDICATION: this story is dedicated to the memory of my Grandma Gwen. May you rest in peace.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

These Precious Things
By ocean gazer


"Ghouls. Fucking grave-robbing ghouls."

At the furious note in Helena's voice, Barbara jumped and whirled around in her chair. Normally she wasn't so easily flustered, but she'd been so busy trying to track Huntress and Canary on the GPS that she hadn't even heard the younger women come in. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart. Usually she didn't need to hunt down the dynamic duo, but this evening they'd turned their comms and GPS off after tracking down some burglary suspects. That wasn't even close to standard procedure – and over the last hour she'd grown increasingly annoyed about the whole situation.

Especially since they weren't usually out on sweeps so early – a quick glance at the onscreen clock told her it was barely past seven-thirty – or out on such banal calls. But many members of the New Gotham Police Department were out at a charity fundraiser, so she'd started sweeps early to help the on-duty cops, figuring it would make for a relatively easy night. After all, the baddest of the bad boys and girls either came out closer to midnight or were bold enough to come out in broad daylight. Early evening was usually fairly quiet on the criminal activity front. She could deduce absolutely no reason for the younger women to have dropped all communication with her.

Pushing away from the desktop, trying to keep her annoyance from getting the better of her, Barbara took a moment to look over her partners, studying them from head to toe. Obviously something had happened that she wasn't aware of, and she wanted to avoid reading them the riot act until she heard what they had to say. And though she didn't want to admit it to herself, something in Helena's voice jarred her to the core. She couldn't imagine why a routine burglary call had roused such anger in the younger woman, since no innocent lives were in danger.

Barbara saw a feral glint in the brunette's eyes and the woman's knuckles were suspiciously reddened and scratched. And watching as closely as she was, she could swear that Helena was trembling in angry indignation. Turning her attention to Dinah, she noticed that the teen seemed equally off-kilter – the youthful cheeks were flushed with emotion and the girl's breathing was ragged. She also took note of the fact that Dinah was hiding her hands in her pockets, leaving her to suspect that her knuckles were also bruised.

Of course, minor injuries like those were almost routine in the world of crime-fighting. Hell, anything that didn't involve broken bones, guns, or sharp-edged weapons was hardly worth getting excited about. She wouldn't have given it a second thought except for the vehement emotion radiating from the younger women. That usually only showed up when a criminal managed to inflict bodily harm – or, in Helena's case, harm to clothing. Or when an innocent civilian was hurt or killed before they could get there to save the person. But none of that seemed to apply in this case.

Barbara blinked rapidly, wondering just what the hell she was missing. The lecture that she'd planned to give the two about not dropping contact died unspoken in the back of her throat. Something bad had happened, something that needed mending. Admonitions could wait until later.

"Helena, Dinah. What happened?"

She knew the question was simplistic, but she'd worked with the two long enough to know that they wouldn't need a lot of prompting. Thankfully, the younger women didn't tend to hold their feelings in; they'd both learned about the therapeutic value of venting. She was the one who tended to bottle everything up too tightly.

The younger women glanced at each other, as if trying to figure out who should start. She just sat and waited as patiently as she could, trying to project an aura of calm. It wasn't too surprising that, even with an invitation, neither of them spoke right away. She watched as Helena started pacing rapidly, in counterpoint to Dinah who was standing shock-still.

Finally, the teen found her voice – and there was no mistaking the quaver in it. "Those bastards robbed the house. All the jewelry … all the artwork … all the family heirlooms … gone. Those fucking vultures took everything they could carry."

With the analytical part of her brain that was detached from the conversation, Barbara noticed that the girl was so worked up that she didn't even seem to register that she'd used a swear word in front of her guardian. That was significant since Dinah seemed to wince every time she was heard using something as mild as "hell".

She snapped her head around abruptly as Helena joined the conversation. "They had bags of stuff. And it wasn't just the usual stuff like CD and DVD players … they took all the sentimental stuff too … china … quilts …" There was a pregnant pause before the brunette stopped her pacing, reached out, and slammed her fist against the closest wall. "They were fucking ghouls, Barbara."

Two pairs of blue eyes swung around to rest on Barbara, and she fumbled around for something to say in response. The problem was that, well, she wasn't quite sure what the problem was. Ok, there had been a burglary and someone had lost their jewelry and other household goods. It was both sad and maddening, but not precisely unusual for that kind of crime. Burglars tended to make off with valuable things precisely because they didn't strike when people were around, thus giving them more time to collect their goods. And given that Helena's mother had been an annoyingly successful burglar, she knew that it wasn't the crime per se that was causing such a strong reaction. There had to be something more to the story, something she'd missed in translation.

She opened her mouth to ask the obvious question, but Helena had evidently seen her confusion. "The homeowner was at a funeral, Barbara. He was at his wife's funeral. He had her jewelry at the house for his kids and grandkids to go through … he had all the precious keepsakes out where he could find them easily for the family. The fucking thieves read the obituary, figured out when the funeral was, and hit the house when they knew it would be empty."

A sudden lump rose in Barbara's throat and she felt a hot surge of anger. No wonder the younger women were upset. Both of them had lost their mothers, their families. All they had to hold onto were the keepsakes they'd gotten – those prized possessions that reminded them of the loved ones they'd lost. The idea that a burglar would invade someone's home during their time of grief – would steal those things that were sentimental as well as valuable – was awful, appalling. Ghoulish.

She wheeled forward, stopping next to Dinah, and simply held out her arms, knowing that words would not be sufficient right now. The teen bent down for a hug, and Barbara could feel her trembling. It didn't surprise her, since she knew the girl was still coming to terms with her own loss, but it made her heart ache. She tightened her arms around Dinah and was unaccountably gratified when the teen sank to her knees, snuggling into the embrace. Though she knew there was no way to shelter her ward, she still wished she could make the pathway smoother for her. At least she was able to offer support. Wasn't as much as she wanted to do, but for now, it would have to be enough.

The emotional realm had never been Barbara's forte, but she delved into it when necessary for the sake of her partners. Dinah and Helena had both lost so much – and she wanted with all her heart to help them. She pushed aside the nagging reminder of her own losses – numbing her personal feelings through a lifetime of practice.

Holding Dinah tightly, she looked up and met Helena's eyes. The feral glint had faded, but anger still radiated from the woman. In its own odd way, that was a relief – at least the younger woman no longer was pacing around like a caged animal ready to pounce. Having seen Helena in that mood, Barbara could attest to the fact that it was scary. She wanted to reach out a hand, but knew her partner well enough to recognize that that sort of affectionate gesture would not be welcome. Not yet, anyhow. The other woman was still too caught in her dark mood to be coaxed out into the light.

Accepting that there was nothing else she could do for either of the others, Barbara instead asked two questions. "How badly are the thieves hurt? And do I need to alert the police?" She kept her tone as neutral as possible, wanting to avoid aggravating Helena's mood by putting her on the defensive. She could already feel the tension at those questions rolling off of Dinah, and she rubbed the teenager's back soothingly, trying to tell her without words that they weren't in trouble, that she wasn't mad at them.

Apparently Helena took the words in the spirit in which they were intended; the brunette exhaled loudly, moved closer, and plopped down cross-legged on the floor in front of her. The woman's tone still reverberated with anger, but Barbara could see – bit by bit – the signs that she was calming herself.

"They're alive and breathing – just going to have some very colorful bruises. We didn't do any permanent damage … didn't even break any bones." Despite the gravity of the situation, Barbara almost smiled when Helena paused, clearly thinking about what she was saying. "Well … ok … we did break some bones. We just broke a few fingers … nothing serious. Honest." Watching the younger woman closely, she saw the hard set of her jaw as she continued. "But they deserved to pay for what they did … for robbing a grieving family … for adding more trauma to their lives. Under the circumstances, we went easy on them."

Barbara caught Helena's eye and nodded slightly, letting her partner know that she understood why they'd done what they did. But since Dinah still had her head pressed against Barbara's chest, she opted to voice the reassurance. Yes, the girl was a touch telepath and had likely already picked up on the unspoken words, but this way she'd be sure that the point got through. She'd learned the hard way that miscommunication could have fatal results.

"Given what you've both been through with losing your mothers, I understand why you're so angry about this crime. And truthfully, I'm proud of the restraint you showed." She heard Dinah's muffled sigh of relief and saw the lines of tension in Helena's face start to ease. Smiling gently, reassuringly, she once again met dark blue eyes. "What about the police? Do I need to give them a heads up?"

The sudden smile that appeared on Helena's face at that relatively innocuous question could only be described as predatory. Oddly, the familiar expression served to soothe Barbara's worries.

"There's no need to call them. We … er … hand-delivered the assholes to the precinct. Tied them up with their own shirts and dumped them in the street in front of the cop shop. Then the kid kept an eye on them while I went in and talked to Reese. Gave him the bags of stolen goods and the address – he sent an officer to the home, to let the family know that everything had been recovered." Barbara watched as a satisfied smirk graced Helena's features. "It's all tied up in a nice, neat package. Just the way you like it, Oracle."

Despite the circumstances, she couldn't help herself; she found herself smiling at the last words. She still tended to worry that she hadn't done the best job of training her partners. So it was nice to hear that her "superhero code" had made enough of an imprint on the women that they'd put aside their personal feelings and focused on the job at hand.

Shifting flawlessly back into her mentoring role, Barbara loosened her hold on Dinah. The teen got the hint, untangling her arms and moving gracefully out of the hug. Before the blonde could move entirely out of reach, she gently grabbed hold of her hand, turning it over to examine the swollen, reddened knuckles. A sharp intake of breath told her that the girl was hurting – no matter how much she was trying to hide it. Not for the first time, she silently cursed the Redmonds for making Dinah so worried about getting in trouble for even the most minor infractions.

Reaching up to pat the teen's cheek, Barbara said, "Ok Dinah … we need to get you bandaged up." She fixed the girl with a stern look, forestalling the almost inevitable protest that everything was fine. "And yes, I can see that you didn't break any skin and that you didn't crack anything internally. But I also know that bruises can do some damage, especially if you don't take care of them and keep aggravating them. Ice packs will help your hands heal and salves will help keep the pain to a minimum." She dropped the injured hand that she'd been holding and gave Dinah another pat on the cheek. "Go on … we'll meet you in the training room."

To her credit, the girl didn't bother to argue, just turned on her heel and walked off, leaving Barbara alone with Helena. She pushed her chair forward, and then reached out to grab for the other woman's hand. Grasping it gently, she started to examine it, not too surprised to hear a soft snort of protest at the action.

"I'm fine, Barbara. You know me – I'll heal completely in a couple of days."

For a long moment, Barbara ignored her, busy looking at the cuts and scrapes that covered the swollen knuckles. She wasn't surprised that Dinah hadn't hit anyone or anything hard enough to break skin. She also wasn't surprised that Helena had. There were certain things she'd learned to expect from both of them.

Tenderly, she caressed the wounded hand that lay in hers – not for any medical reason, but simply to provide comfort. She could tell that the other woman had shaken off the worst of her mood, and now needed some time and attention to help move past the emotional maelstrom. The fact that Helena allowed the contact warmed her, since the younger woman rarely let anyone see her when her guard was down. It made Barbara aware of just how deep a bond they shared – a bond forged through seven years of living and working together, and of going through hell and back together.

Pushing those sentimental thoughts to the side to focus on the more immediate here and now, she spoke softly. "I know you'd be fine without treatment, but you'll heal faster and have a lot less discomfort if you let me bandage you up." She caught the hint of pain in Helena's eyes and paused. It was clear to her that the conversation (such as it was) was ripe with unspoken undertones, and she marveled in the fact that both of them knew what was going on under the surface. Her next words were quiet, but full of conviction.

"Don't let those bastards cause you any more pain than they already have."

Barbara knew she'd hit the right note when she heard the other woman's profound sigh. She felt Helena's hand turn in hers and the long fingers were amazingly tender as they grasped hers. Looking up, she saw that the last vestiges of anger had drained from the gamine features, leaving behind only sadness. She watched Helena's mouth open, heard her clear her throat as if she wanted to say something.

Faintly, as though ghosted on the wind, she heard a simple "Thanks."

Barbara sat silently on the balcony overlooking the Clocktower's living room, watching her partners, her family. She'd treated and bandaged the women's hands, declared that under the circumstances they weren't doing any late-night sweeps, and had left them listening to the latest in screamingly, annoyingly loud alternative rock … er … music. While she had wanted to have more of a heart-to-heart talk with the two of them, especially knowing that they were both too keyed up to sleep, neither had seemed in the mood to share any more than they already had. After what had happened with her last psychologist, Helena was understandably leery of any conversation that sounded like armchair analyzing. And Dinah seemed oddly embarrassed about the fact that she'd been rattled by the events of the evening – brushing off her mentor's concern with the perfunctory "I'm fine".

From long experience – personal experience even – Barbara had learned that at times like that, it was best to just let people be. Forcing someone to talk when she wasn't ready tended to be a recipe for disaster. She never had understood how loud guitars, off-beat drums, and painfully out-of-tune voices could help anyone relax, but it seemed to have a cathartic effect on the younger women. She'd left the two of them to unwind and had headed back to the Delphi, finishing up some correlation programs she'd left running.

After two hours, the programs were done and she'd set the system on standby, coming out to the living room to check on her partners. The first surprise had been that they'd switched from loudly playing rock to softly playing classical. Straining her ears, she'd identified it as Bach. She'd been sitting there on the balcony for a good five minutes, just listening to the music and watching the younger women.

At first, she hadn't been able to figure out what on earth the two were up to. Both were sitting cross-legged on the floor, with old department store boxes and bags spread around. As far as she was aware, neither had gone on any major shopping sprees lately to justify the amount of stuff they had lying around them on the floor.

As she sat and watched, however, she realized that they were looking at mementos – looking through the things passed down to them from their mothers, even from their grandmothers. Helena had been there when her mother's penthouse was cleaned out and had been able to choose the things she wanted to keep. As long as she lived, Barbara would be grateful that the brunette had had that chance; it had made certain aspects of the grieving process a lot easier. Dinah hadn't had her things as a child, of course. Her foster parents had kept them for her – whatever their faults, they had at least understood the importance of holding on to the past. Once the girl had come to live at the Clocktower, Barbara had arranged for Carolyn's personal effects to be shipped to New Gotham. And once Carolyn had returned and then gone up in the warehouse fire, she had given the things to Dinah.

Neither of the younger women got into the boxes very often. They each had a few pieces of jewelry – rings and pendants – that were worn on a regular basis. The other items stayed tucked away in a special storage closet.

Of course, it was no real surprise to Barbara that tonight – after what had happened – both of them would want to look over those things. It was a way of reassuring themselves that their treasured possessions were safe – that they hadn't lost those tangible links to their loved ones.

Barbara had lost track of how long she'd been sitting there watching them. When she'd stumbled across the scene, it felt like she was witnessing something sacred, something on which she had no right to intrude. Now, it still felt like she was witness to something special, but her reluctance to intrude was less from a sense of sanctity and more from a sense of being an outsider. She had lost her mother in a car accident; but given the abusive and tenuous relationship she'd had with her parents, it hadn't felt like much of a loss. Certainly, it was nothing she'd ever mourned.

As she watched the two show things to each other, pausing to tell stories or share memories, she felt a fond smile curl her lips. She still wanted to find a way to ease their hurt, but they were doing that for each other. And it felt like a privilege to see that happen. From her perch on the balcony, she could just barely see the glassiness in the twin set of blue eyes that told her both women were crying. But she could also hear laughter, and there was a sense that both were finding peace and comfort in their shared memories.

She found herself smiling wider at the beauty of it all. Not just at the tender scene and the nostalgic looks on their expressive faces, but at the softly lilting music as well. Barbara rarely, if ever, remembered to listen to music on her own – it was yet another one of those nurturing things that she failed to do for herself. Usually, she was stuck listening to whatever the other two had on the stereo, and she realized with a hint of longing that it had probably been six or seven years since she'd listened to Bach. And she'd always loved his style and arrangements.

There was a moment of silence as one piece ended and another began. The tune was hauntingly, achingly familiar and Barbara struggled to put a name to it. She'd always loved the piece … which one was it … ah, yes … "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". Closing her eyes, she drank in the beautiful melody, and suddenly found that there were tears slowly streaming down her cheeks.

And then, then she remembered. That had been one of her Aunt Barbara's favorites – and it had been played at the woman's funeral. She opened her eyes and gripped the arms of her wheelchair tightly, trying to shove the tears away. She managed to avoid breaking down entirely, thanks to a lifetime spent suppressing her feelings, but she couldn't quite stem the tide of slow, steady tears. Much as she tried to keep her memories safely locked away – since her childhood had been neither pleasant nor easy – music had always been something that could break through her barriers.

Her beloved aunt … the woman whose name she bore … the woman who had been like a mother to her. The woman who taught a lonely and maltreated child the meaning of love.

Abruptly, Barbara pushed backwards in her chair and headed towards her bedroom. Pausing to wipe the tears from her eyes, she turned her back on the scene below. She couldn't just sit there and watch any longer; there was something she needed to do.

Fifteen minutes later, Barbara wheeled into the living room. She could feel the sticky traces of tears on her cheeks and as her partners looked up, she could see the worried look on Dinah's face and the knowing one on Helena's. The latter expression didn't surprise her – she had no doubt that Helena had been able to sense her sitting on the balcony and had also smelled the salt of her tears. It said something about the intimacy of their relationship that the younger woman knew when to leave her alone with her moods and when to step up and intervene.

She smiled at the two of them, trying to project reassurance to Dinah. While the brunette had seen her in all manner of moods, the blonde had rarely seen anything more than the calm, cool, and collected Oracle persona.

Setting the brake on her wheelchair, she maneuvered herself down to the floor, sitting next to the other two. Then, she reached into a special compartment under her chair and took out the box that she'd tucked there.

She was a bit taken aback when Dinah looked at it curiously, and then reached out with bandaged hands as though it was a present for her. Before Barbara could get any words out, she saw Helena reach out one bandaged hand and gently brush the teen's hand aside. She saw the flash of hurt in the girl's eyes and then saw it replaced by a flash of confusion. Wanting to say something to explain, she was nonetheless grateful when Helena did it for her, saying in a low voice, "We're not the only ones who have lost a mother figure, Dinah. Barbara has too … she knows what it's like. What's in that box is hers."

Barbara reached out and covered Helena's hand with her own, careful of the bandage, squeezing gently in a wordless gesture of thanks. She looked over to the teen, who was regarding the small box in Barbara's lap with a vague look of dismay. Given the vast piles of stuff – scarves, necklaces, rings, ceramic figures – that both the younger women had sitting next to them, it didn't take a genius to figure out what prompted the expression. She said softly, "It's not the number of mementos that matters to me, Dinah. What does matter is that they mean something to me – that they invoke good memories."

She stopped short there, unwilling to tell the girl more about the bad childhood she'd struggled to put behind her. It was a place she rarely let herself go with anyone – even with herself. But she still had her hand covering Helena's and wasn't too surprised when she felt the younger woman lace their fingers together and caress gently. The comforting gesture warmed her, reminding her that Helena did know about her life and was there to listen anytime she wanted to delve into it.

When she heard Helena speak, she knew the words were directed as much to her as they were to Dinah. The younger woman might be all moods and dark edges to the world at large, but to those she cared about, she showed a caring streak a mile wide.

"As long as we remember them, they stay alive in our hearts. There's nothing wrong with mourning the loss – that's how we know the depth of our love for them and their love for us. And that's why we hold on to these things, these precious things. It's a tangible reminder of who they were … and of what they meant to us."

Barbara felt the tears come again, could see that Dinah's eyes were once again glassy with moisture. And she didn't have to see Helena to know that she was crying too – the sniffles gave it away. For long moments, they just sat there together in silence, save the soft strains of "Sheep May Safely Graze".

Then, Barbara reached forward to grasp Dinah's hand, even more carefully than she had with Helena, mindful of the bandage. She gave a tighter squeeze to Helena's hand where their fingers were still laced together, and smiled softly when the other woman returned the pressure. And then she pulled her hands back, pausing for a moment to wipe the fresh tears off her cheeks. Opening the box that still lay in her lap, she pulled out the necklace sitting on top. It was a simple silver chain with a silver-fringed emerald heart pendant hanging from it. The stone was a rich, vibrant green, and Barbara had loved it from the minute she'd laid eyes on it, because of how it made her eyes seem just a little bit greener than they really were.

In a soft, reverent voice she began, "This was left to me by my Aunt Barbara. She told me that it meant I would always have a special place in her heart …"

The End

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