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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This is not beta-ed, so any mistakes are completely my own and I admit to it up front. Thanks for reading. Any comments or criticism can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Approximately six inches.
I estimated the distance between one square on the carpet to another. Not that far, but a daunting distance for someone in my position. I slowly willed my right foot forward and walked for the first time in nine years.
No one knew. Well, I suppose the scientists and researchers knew, but they hadn't known the big picture, the driving force for all their efforts. Millions of dollars and thousands of man (or woman) hours just so one person could walk again. Sometimes I felt guilty. Still, many people would benefit from this research and I had the means thanks to Bruce's generosity. And it had paid off.
Two days ago I had been contacted by the department head I had established to research solutions to human paralysis, specifically those dealing with spinal damage. I had stopped following the research due to my duties as Oracle and the simple fact that I had given up hope several years ago. I continued to fund the program because I was too stubborn to simply let it go. I was never more grateful for my stubbornness.
And so Dr. Reitserf had contacted me, excitement clearly audible in his voice. The gist of the conversation was that if I was ready, I could walk again. Of course the treatment would need to be tested more thoroughly and eventually approved by the FDA, but there were some advantages to being the sole benefactor for the program. I would be allowed to take the treatment in a matter of days. I insisted on returning to my home after the treatment. I wouldn't allow anyone to see me if it failed. Either way, I would report the results to the team.
Now I stood stunned on the other side of the living room, having crossed the vast distance on my own two feet. I thought I should be excited, but mostly I just felt numb. I had truly never expected to walk again.
I was distracted from my thoughts by the sound of the elevator opening. My mind quickly shuffled through the possibilities, Dinah, Alfred . . . Helena- and of course it was her.
"Barbara!" Her eyes tracked right to me. It was almost comical the way her eyes widened and the look on her face. "You- you're standing!"
"I am aware of that, Hel." I couldn't stop the smile. It felt like it would split my face.
"But how?!" I slowly and cautiously made my way back across the living room and stopped before her, her eyes following me the entire time.
"I think there are a few things I need to tell you, Helena."
It had been several days since I had first taken those few crucial steps, and I was gaining confidence by leaps and bounds. I knew I would soon be back on the streets as Batgirl, or possibly Batwoman considering my age. I spent more and more time away from the clocktower, trying out my second lease on life. I knew both Helena and Dinah were keeping a close eye on me, waiting for a sign that my miraculous recovery wouldn't last, but I proved them wrong at every turn. I noticed as I became stronger and more comfortable that Dinah cheered me on and seemed genuinely happy for each of my successes. Helena on the other hand, was outwardly supportive, but there was something lurking in her eyes that only someone who had known her as long as I had would notice. So far I had yet to figure out what it was.
They had both taken the news of my secret research fairly well. Dinah had been ecstatic, but Helena had, at first, seemed rather hurt that I hadn't confided in her. I told her I didn't want to get my hopes up and asked her to forgive me for not telling her. It seemed to work, but I wondered if the- something- that I saw in her eyes was not related. We had long ago agreed not to keep secrets from each other and I had knowingly broken that agreement. Still, I wasn't sure.
Six months after that fateful night, the first night I went out as Batwoman, I found out.
"God I've missed that." I put my grappling hook away and threw my cape down on the couch, ignoring my own rule about cleaning up after yourself in our home. I was overjoyed at the chance to take on New Gotham's criminal element with my own two fists again. I had enjoyed my time as Oracle, and I would still occasionally be the stay-at-home crime fighter I had been, but nothing could replace the satisfaction of stopping evil with your own physical presence.
"Yeah, you kicked as- butt," Canary amended seeing my look.
"You definitely still got it." Huntress added her two cents. I had taken Canary out for some training, and if I was honest, in case something had gone wrong while Helena stayed home and monitored the Delphi. It was a comfort to have her whispering in my ear even though there were too many sarcastic mutterings for my taste, but I had gotten a few good comments in myself. Being taller than Helena again was definitely a plus. I nodded to her slightly, grateful for the compliment.
"It's good to know it's still there after all these years. Why don't we celebrate? What do you think Hel, pizza and some movies?"
"Sounds great!" Dinah shouted, but I was focused on Helena. There was a look on her face I had seen many times before. I predicted she was about to blow us off.
"Can't, sorry. I've already got plans. You two go ahead though." Sometimes I hated always being right.
"Right, well, we will." My voice was steady and non-confrontational. I tried not to show her how much it hurt that she would make plans on the night of my return to crime fighting, but I more than anyone knew how inconsiderate she could be. We'd talked about it enough to last a lifetime when she was a teenager. She looked at me intently for a moment before turning to get her coat. She only spoke when she reached the elevator.
"Okay, see ya. By the way, great job, Red. It was nice to be the one calling for an ambulance for once." I flushed at her comment and she grinned. I might have gotten a little rough on my first night back. "You too, Kid." Then she was gone. Trying to keep my cheery mood I turned to my newest charge.
"Shall we order the pizza then?" The blonde girl looked at me with sympathy and I cursed, not for the first time, her ability to feel other people's emotions.
"Sure. I'll order and you pick the movies. Just nothing with blood and guts, okay?" With that, she wandered off into the kitchen to find the number. She really was a very sweet girl and I thanked my old friend again for bringing her into the world. I walked (walked!) into the living room and began the search for acceptable movies. I heard her pick up the phone as I passed over the more gory offerings, thinking it was just as well since they would only remind me of evenings spent with Helena.
The movies had played themselves out and I had woken Dinah long enough to get her into bed when I noticed the balcony doors were open. A small breeze was blowing into the Clocktower as I turned to face the Delphi. Standing in front of the screen was a figure clad in black leather. I never doubted who it was, a sixth sense allowing me to identify my former charge instantly.
"Hey." The familiar voice floated over to me. "Sorry I couldn't stay. I had to take care of a few things." I knew better than to ask what things. Helena would accuse me of butting into her life, and I didn't want an argument this evening.
"That's alright. There's some left-over pizza in the fridge."
"No thanks," she grimaced. That was the first sign that something was really wrong. Helena never turned down food, especially pizza.
"Are you feeling alright, Hel?"
"Yeah, just a little nauseous. Listen, could we talk?" Helena's face was a blank mask. Only the clenching and un-clenching of her fists at her side reveled the emotions hiding underneath.
"We are talking." It was a basic defense mechanism. Somehow I knew I didn't want to have this conversation. Helena frowned then nodded her head once, decisively.
"I just want to get this over with. I'm quitting the vigilante business." That was definitely low on my list of possible responses, but not completely unexpected. I was able to respond calmly.
"Honestly?" There was a pause while I nodded. "I don't want to hang around here anymore," she said with a shrug.
That surprised me. Helena could be blunt, but this was a new level even for her.
"You don't want to hang around here anymore?" My tone contained more sarcasm than question.
"No, I don't." Helena's hands moved to her hips, her classic frustrated and angry pose. "Frankly I'm tired of it. I've been babysitting you for nine years and the kid for almost a year. Now that you're back on your feet," she actually took the time to smirk, "I'm ready to head out on my own. Take on the world, be my own woman, things like that." She looked at me expectantly, waiting for my response. I simply stared at her.
My mind was a jumbled mess. So were my emotions. Logically I knew I should be enraged, and some part of me was, okay a lot of me was, but I was also shocked, confused, and extremely hurt. Shocked because even at her worst, Helena was never this cruel. Confused because I had never picked up on any hints that she might be feeling this way, at least not to the point where she would really leave. And hurt because, though I would never give her the satisfaction of knowing, her words had cut me so very deeply. I had never wanted to be a burden to anyone, least of all Helena, and she had flat out accused me of being such.
I took several deep breathes, waiting for my thoughts to sort themselves out. I studied her as I tried to control myself. Her face remained impassive, but her fists were clenched at her sides so tightly that the knuckles were bone white. Looking closely I saw a few drops of blood fall to the floor where her nails bit into her skin.
"I see." I kept my voice free of emotion. "If that's how you really feel, I think you should go. Now." Her breath hitched before she nodded once, jerkily. She didn't say anything; instead she simply climbed the stairs on her way to the balcony. As she reached for the door I called out. "Are you going to say goodbye to Dinah?"
"I'll write her a letter," drifted down to me and then she was gone.
Through sheer will I managed to keep from crying for forty-five minutes, but eventually even Batgirl couldn't hold it together. I fell to my newly functioning knees and sobbed. I had always assumed being able to walk again would make everything better. It turned out that it had somehow made it all so much worse.
I'm ashamed to admit that it took me two hours to realize something was wrong. I had known Helena since she was twelve years old. Yes, she was inconsiderate, broody, and maybe a bit narcissistic, but she was also one of the most caring, fun-loving, and more-often-than-not compassionate people I had ever met. Things had been rough after Selena's death and Harley Quinn, but she had found her way again after each trial. Helena was a good person who had always cared more about the people she loved than herself. I knew in my heart that Helena loved me; therefore something was very, very wrong with this situation.
I considered briefly before deciding that the best action would be to confront Helena directly. I grabbed my cape and belt before taking off from the balcony. I had a little time to think as I crossed the rooftops heading for the Dark Horse. Logic said that she was either being controlled by someone/something, or she was lying for her own reasons. The funny thing was that if she hadn't been so calculatingly cruel I probably wouldn't have suspected anything. I would have believed she just wanted some space for herself.
I admit I wasn't in the best frame of mind when I arrived at Helena's apartment. I offer that as my excuse for literally kicking down her door and, well, also I really did get a kick (no pun intended) out of using my lower extremities. I made sure to keep my senses on alert in case there was someone else involved, but everything was quiet when I entered. I was heading for the kitchen when a small noise came from the bedroom. I approached silently and looked carefully around the doorway. I needn't have bothered.
The room was in shambles. Clothes were strewn around the room; a broken suitcase was thrown in the far corner, and in the middle of the mess Helena sat whimpering quietly, tears rushing down her face. I was crouched down with my arms around her before I fully processed the scene. She turned slightly and buried her face in my neck, the collar of my shirt quickly soaked through. I felt her lips moving against my throat and pulled back so I could make out the words.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She was repeating it over and over in a near whisper. I pulled her tighter to me and kissed the top of her head.
"It's alright, Hel. I don't understand, but it's alright." She stayed leaning against me, but wiped her face with her sleeve (normally Helena would never treat her clothes so poorly) and moved back a little.
"I was afraid you'd leave. I was gonna do it first. No one else can hurt me anymore, Barbara. Mom's dead and Bruce never cared. You were all I had left. I couldn't watch you walk away from me too." She buried her face back in my neck, and I was reminded again of the young girl, young woman really, that had become my ward so many years ago. In many ways she was still that young woman, so afraid of losing the one thing that held her together. It was my fault that I hadn't told her the same was true for me. As Dinah would point out, denial was not just a river. It was also a masked vigilante with emotional issues.
"So you thought your little temper tantrum would do the job?" Just because I now understood didn't mean I wasn't still upset. Helena could frustrate and hurt me better than anyone. She was maybe the only one who could damage me emotionally anymore. You learn to close yourself off when you have to re-learn how to go to the bathroom, and I wasn't an emotionally demonstrative person before the shooting.
"I knew you wouldn't let me go if I told you or just left. You would have tracked me down with Delphi and brought me back."
"First of all, you don't know that. If you had told me you wanted to try being on your own for a while, I would have let you go-"
"And kept tabs on me," she interrupted.
"And kept tabs on you probably," I admitted and she gave a weak grin in triumph. "But I still don't understand why you thought I wouldn't be around in the first place."
"Well, you were gone so much from the tower, even Dinah noticed, and you don't need me anymore." Her head hung down when she finished. She looked like an abused animal and I felt my heart literally ache.
"But I always came back," I tried to defend myself. "And of course I need you, Hel. I always will." This seemed to agitate her and she pulled away. I grabbed her hand before she could move away completely, and she allowed me to rest it in my lap.
"That's not true, Barbara. I was someone to commiserate with when you were getting used to . . . everything. After that I was your friend you didn't have to keep secrets from and then I was your partner in crime fighting." She paused to run a shaky hand through her hair. Then she looked me in the eyes, nothing but sincere belief in her own. "You don't need anyone to commiserate with anymore. Other people know you're Oracle now and Batgirl, err woman, and you clearly don't have problems keeping secrets from me. You don't need a crime fighting partner, but if you did there's always Canary. I know I drive you crazy. I go against your orders and deep down you still think of me as that rebellious kid that part of me is and always will be. I knew it was only a matter of time before you left or asked me to."
I considered her words carefully, acknowledging that she did have a few decent points. I kept her hand in mine, slowly running my thumb across the back of her hand, trying to soothe her and myself.
"It's true, I don't need you anymore." She started, her eyes full of pain, and I couldn't help the brief flair of pleasure at hurting her as she had so recently hurt me. We were definitely a pair, and that was our strength. "I don't need you, but I want you around. I always will. Yes you drive me crazy, and I hate when you disobey my orders, but you're also the only one who can make me laugh when I'm depressed. I'm pretty sure I'll be depressed again sometime in my life, Hel," I said running my hand slowly through her hair. "I find you frustrating, immature, obnoxious, narcissistic, and I couldn't love you more than I already do." She had flinched as I listed each of her faults and looked at me with such hope at the last. "You drive me crazy; I drive you crazy, but that's only because we care so much." She was crying again, and I may have shed a few tears myself.
"I tried to leave," she mumbled. "I couldn't do it."
"Neither of us is ever going to leave the other. We're a pair, Helena, a packaged deal." Her face lit up.
"Case and point," I muttered rubbing the bridge of my nose. Helena tentatively reached for my other hand, holding it lightly in her own.
"So, are we okay?" I sighed tiredly, but didn't pull back my hand.
"Not really. You really hurt me earlier."
"But I was just trying to-"
"I get it now," I cut her off, "but I don't want to keep hurting each other like this. I need to be able to trust you not to break my heart again."
"Like I trusted you to tell me about your research into paralysis?" Her eyes were hard, but she didn't remove her hands either.
"Touché." What did she want from me? I didn't have all the answers, dammit. We sat in silence for awhile, not moving to be closer or further apart.
"Is your heart really broken, or could it maybe be fixed if someone promised to try really hard to be more considerate and trustworthy?" Her hands tightened on mine, and I was reminded again why I would never leave her or let her leave.
"Well, if someone promised something like that, I think I could move on from this point, see where the future takes us." I gently tugged her closer and she came willingly. "Somehow, I think we've got a pretty good chance."
We enjoyed just being together for a while, but soon my legs started to cramp. It hurt like hell and I was ecstatic so I said so. Helena laughed, and together we headed back to the Tower to watch gory movies and eat cold pizza.
So my recovery didn't make everything worse, and no one ended up walking away.
Well, except Helena did limp up to her room when she tried to get back at me for calling her narcissistic and found out the hard way that I still had a devastating shin kick.
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