DISCLAIMER: I still don't own them; Tollin/Robbins, DC Comics, the WB, and others have that honor. I make no money and take no bribes for writing fanfic <g>.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't know exactly where this story came from. Maybe being on an airplane and listening to the same Incubus CD repetitively had something to do with it <g>. At any rate, it's nothing all that special, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. As always, feedback is welcome but never required.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By ocean gazer


"So don't let the world bring you down
Not everyone here is that fucked up and cold
Remember why you came and while you're alive
Experience the warmth before you grow old"
Incubus, "The Warmth"

Barbara sat in front of the Delphi screens, absent-mindedly drumming her fingers on the desktop, her eyes focused on the far wall. While the location was almost her default setting – as in she spent more time in front of her precious computer system than anywhere else – her lack of attention to the scrolling information was not normal. Not for her anyhow – she was usually able to focus on the streaming data no matter what was going on around her.

She forced her eyes back to the screen directly in front of her face, willing herself to concentrate. Placing her fingers on the keyboard, she started typing in a series of commands, telling the computer to tabulate the results of her current database search once it was done running. When she had to hit the backspace key for the tenth time – unusual for her since she rarely misspelled words – she finally conceded that her concentration was completely gone and there was nothing that would bring it back. Try as she might, her mind kept flitting back to earlier in the evening – focusing on the anguished look she'd seen on the faces of both her young teammates.

She sighed softly and settled the Delphi on standby mode. Hands sliding down to the wheels of her manual wheelchair, she pushed herself away from the workstation. Reaching up, she carelessly pulled off her glasses and tossed them casually onto the desk, then massaged the bridge of her nose. The gesture was a sign of stress, she knew. That awareness made her rub even harder, as though she could somehow erase the tension running through her body.

Unfortunately, the pressure of her fingers did nothing to ease the pressure weighing down on her mind and heart.

Through discipline born of years of practice, she forced herself to stop the unproductive motion, instead dropping her hands back down to the wheel of her chair. With a forceful thrust of her wrists, she set herself in motion, the hard rubber and metal a familiar caress against her calloused palms.

She rolled quickly and quietly out of the Clocktower's main room, moving towards the smaller living room area. If left to her own devices, the entire Clocktower would have had the most Spartan of furnishings and décor. It would have been a high-tech dreamland, more suitable for robots than for people. But even she had come to appreciate Helena's insistence on having a comfortable living space. They'd taken a small room next to the kitchen and stuffed it with beanbag chairs, a cushy couch, a big screen television and entertainment center – and then added plants and vases of flowers for a softer, earthier touch.

Barbara hadn't been all that interested in spending time there in the beginning, but over the years she'd found herself feeling more and more grateful that she had a relaxing space to just sit and let go of some of the stresses in her life. And both Helena and Dinah gravitated to the cozy little room like moths to a flame. She had no doubt that in their current moods, she'd find both of them there right now. Even though Helena had her own apartment, the younger woman still spent as much time around the Clocktower as she did in her own place.

She knew that some people thought Helena was sponging off of her – just hanging around for the perks she couldn't afford on a bartender's salary. Some of Barbara's fellow teachers, particularly the ones who still remembered the brunette from her student days, had made their opinions on that matter well known. It didn't trouble Barbara what other people thought, though she found it no little ironic that most people seemed to think she was some kind of saint for giving a luxurious home to not one, but two young women. She was continually amazed by the realization that both Helena and Dinah gave her far more than she'd ever given them. Not in a materialistic sense, but in terms of balance. The younger women didn't spend all their time and attention on the superhero business – and they'd managed to pull her out of her shell on that front. Though she recognized that she still worked too hard and pushed herself too much, she knew the younger women had given her a gift by reminding her of life beyond the Clocktower walls.

She wished desperately at this moment in time that she could give them an equal gift – that she could find a way to give them what they needed to ease their emotional turmoil.

Unfortunately, she had no idea what to say, what to do to help them.

That thought stopped her in her tracks, as did the fact that she'd reached the threshold of the living room. She was vaguely surprised that neither of the young women looked up at her approach – Helena, at least, should have heard the whisper of her wheels against the floor. Then again, there was a cloud of gloom hanging in the room – so thick it was almost palpable. Even to Barbara who, admittedly, was not the most emotionally sensitive person around.

For a long time, she simply sat and watched her team … her partners … her friends. Dinah was curled up on an oversized beanbag, her eyes focused on the television, which was proudly displaying the virtues of some juice machine. The teen's fingers were busying toying with her blonde locks – braiding, unbraiding, and then re-braiding the same section repetitively. Helena was sprawled across the couch – one foot dangling off the side, the other draped over the back. To anyone who didn't know her, the brunette looked bonelessly relaxed. But Barbara took in the clenched jaw, the slightly furrowed brow, and the way she kept flexing and un-flexing her fingers.

Not to mention the fact that Helena hadn't heard Barbara's approach.

Her heart ached at the sight of the two, and she wheeled herself forward. It was a measure of how concerned she was that she entered the room without any plan – or even an idea – of what she should do or say. That was totally out of character for her; it went completely against Oracle's "prepare for all contingencies" nature. She had actually tried to talk to the two younger women a couple hours before, when they'd first come in from sweeps. But after giving her the cold, hard facts about what had happened in that last alleyway, they'd both literally pushed past her, insisting that they were – alternately "fine" or "not some wussy baby."

She'd let them go then. She couldn't do it now.

Consciously, she cleared her throat softly, to alert them to her presence but to avoid startling them in the process. Twin pairs of blue eyes swung around to rest on her – hanging in the air expectantly. The weight of their scrutiny surprised her, as did the mix of pain and longing reflected in both women's gaze. The pain she'd expected; the longing caught her off-guard. And then she knew, with the suddenness of a brick to the head, that they didn't need the perfect words from her, the words that would somehow make everything all right. There were no perfect words – there was nothing she could say to take away the pain, to undo the vicious murder-in-progress that they'd stumbled across.

It wasn't her words – or even her actions – that they needed. It was her. Not Oracle … just her as Barbara. Their mentor. Their friend.

She offered them her softest and most understanding smile, even as she rolled forward, stopping next to the couch. Without a word, Helena sat up, moving over to one side, curling her legs underneath her. Barbara deftly swung herself from her wheelchair to the middle of the couch, positioning herself comfortably on the cushions before shoving the chair gently away, letting it roll to a gradual stop next to the television set. She heard a soft click as Dinah punched a button on the remote control, allowing the screen to fade to black so that the only sound in the room was of the three women breathing.

She heard the clearly audible sigh as Helena curled up like a cat, settling her head in Barbara's lap. She smiled down at the brunette, then registered the dip of the cushion on her other side as Dinah sat down beside her. She put her arm around the blonde and tugged gently. It warmed her heart when the teen obeyed the non-verbal summons, cuddling up against her side and resting her head against Barbara's shoulder.

Keeping an arm around Dinah and holding her close, she then tangled the fingers of her free hand in Helena's unruly locks, stroking gently. She wanted to say something reassuring and comforting, but still couldn't find words. So she just held Dinah and petted Helena's hair – trying to let touch speak where language was inadequate. And slowly, gradually, she could feel the tension in the air dissipating – could feel the subtle physical cues that showed the two younger women were letting go of some of their stress, some of their anguish.

She doubted she would ever hear the whole story, would ever know more details of the grisly scene they'd walked in on. From what she'd gleaned from both their words on comms and the subsequent chatter on the police bandwidth, she knew it hadn't been a pretty sight. And she knew it wasn't the first murder either of them had seen – nor would it be the last. It was the price they paid for the lives they led. Much as she wanted to protect all those around her, particularly the people she loved, Barbara knew she couldn't protect these two women who fought by her side. It was another of life's little ironies – the protectors were unable to protect each other … at least not emotionally.

She continued the slow, soothing stroking of Helena's hair, continued gently massaging the muscles of Dinah's forearm where her hand rested. Both the young women sighed softly, snuggling closer.

There were no right words, no way to do anything more for her friends. But at least they had this – they had the language of touch and they had each other.

The End

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