DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything, nor am I writing this for profit. The characters belong to the WB and DC comics. No copyright infringement is intended.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thank you, thank you, thank you to Jean. Your kind and thoughtful comments were welcome beyond my ability to express. As for the beta-ing skills for which I hired you, yeah, those are pretty awesome too.
SERIES: This story is a continuation of the series What it Means to Be a Hero. If you haven't read the first part, Getting Back on Your Feet, or the second, A Different Way of Thinking, don't worry. This is the prequel. It is not necessary for you to have read the others first, but they were intentionally written/posted in this order, so you might miss some of the more subtle developments that I worked so hard (two and a half *years* later) to write. Use your own judgment . . . hopefully you have some.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading. Any comments or criticism can be directed to email@example.com.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
What it Means to Be a Hero
Part 1: Getting Back On Your Feet
"This place is for dorks."
"Helena!" The slim woman shot a stern look at the dark haired girl at her side.
"Mooommm . . ." the young girl whined. "Why do I have to do this? It's not like I need the practice or anything."
Green eyes cast heavenward before the woman replied. "Kitten, I enrolled you because you need to learn control. I know you don't need the practice at gymnastics, but you certainly need to practice hiding your . . . abilities." Dark brows furrowed in puzzlement. "Look at it this way Helena." A manicured finger pointed at a girl walking back and forth on the balance beam. "Could you do that?"
Blue eyes widened in indignant outrage. "Duh, Mom, of course I could do that. With my eyes closed. With my eyes closed, and one hand tied behind my back. With my eyes closed, one hand tied, and standing on one leg. With my . . ."
"Alright Helena, I get the point," Selena Kyle interrupted with a laugh. "Now what if you actually followed through with all of your boasting?"
Helena's face screwed up in concentration. "I'd make all of these other losers look bad?"
"No, Helena. You would show all of these other people that you are not normal. That you are different. And that is something we can never do, right?"
Noticing that there wasn't even a hint of the mischievous twinkle that was always present in her mother's eyes, twelve year-old Helena nodded. "Yes mother."
Searching her daughter's face, Selena nodded. "Okay, Kitten. Now, I enrolled you so that you could work off some of that energy you never seem to run out of." Helena brightened, noticing the returning glint in green eyes. "But also so that you can practice behaving like the other girls your age." Pausing dramatically she continued, "When you work with your instructor today, I want you to fall."
"You want me to what?!" Outraged, Helena looked at her mother.
"Other girls fall Helena." Looking around Helena noticed this was true. But she wasn't any girl. She was the daughter of Catwoman, and she had never stumbled, let alone fallen, in her entire life. She was as surefooted as . . . well a cat. It just seemed to be part of her nature. Her mom seemed to think that someday she might inherit all of the other woman's unique abilities, but so far Helena only exhibited unnatural balance and agility. But that was more than enough to single her out, and the girl knew it frightened her mother.
"But Mooommmm . . ." unable to help from protesting the brunette continued, "Falling is just so . . . lame."
Trying not to laugh at the look on her daughter's face, Selena put her foot down. "Then you will just have to be a little lame, Kitten. Now go on, there is your instructor," she indicated a blond man with a receding hairline and pronounced gut. "I've got to get to my meeting, but I will be talking to your instructor when I pick you up, and I expect him to tell me that you have wonderful potential, but you still need practice."
Pouting, Helena turned away from her mother and walked over to the instructor. The man introduced himself and told her to join the group of eight or nine other girls already lined up at the balance beam.
One by one he had them get up and walk from one end of the beam to the other. At some point, each girl would eventually lose their balance and fall to the soft mats below. Each time Helena couldn't help but roll her eyes.
Finally it was her turn. She easily hopped up onto the slim piece of wood without waiting for the instructor to help. Finding her balance easily, she quickly walked to the other end and turned around without the slightest difficulty. For her, she may as well have been walking on level sidewalk. Halfway back, however, she remembered her mother's words. Selena was always loving towards her daughter, but when Helena disobeyed one of her few commands well it never ended well for the brunette.
Sighing, Helena prepared to do something she had never even considered. How did one go about falling? The concept completely foreign to the girl, she allowed all her weight to shift to the right. Feeling gravity take over the girl braced herself for the impact, but at the last second her legs shot out. Cats always land on their feet, and Helena was no exception. Crashing awkwardly to the floor, Helena felt something twist and pull in her ankle. Crying out, she hunched over her injured leg.
The instructor immediately came to her side asking if she was okay. Taking a look at Helena's ankle the man pronounced it was sprained and led the girl over to some mats in a corner. Moments later he brought her an ice pack and told her to wait until her mom came back to get her then returned to the rest of the class.
Noticing the other girls were casting glances at her and laughing behind their hands, Helena felt a burning in her eyes. She promised herself that no one would ever ridicule her again. She didn't have to show off her abilities, but never again would she purposefully take a fall.
Feeling sorry for herself, the brunette closed her eyes and leaned back on the mats. Suddenly the smell of baby powder, leather, and something else - intruded on the girl's brooding.
"That was quite a tumble. I just can't figure out why you fell in the first place." The liquid voice flowed over Helena, blanketing her in warmth. Looking up the girl found herself meeting emerald eyes in a pale face. Long red hair was pulled back in a ponytail that highlighted sharp cheekbones. Helena had often been to the beach with her mother when they lived in Europe and many times had felt the undertow that could pull unwary swimmers out to sea. Meeting those curious green eyes, Helena got the exact same feeling.
"Uh . . . I lost my balance?"
Green eyes crinkled and delighted laughter emerged from the older girl- really, the young woman - causing Helena to shiver. "Are you asking me or answering my question?"
"Well, uh, I . . ."
"Never mind. I guess you're just clumsy." The redhead started to turn around.
For the first time in her life, Helena knew what it meant to see red. "What the hell do you know? I'm not clumsy. The other girls fell too!" Helena couldn't believe the nerve of this girl. You didn't just single someone out and insult them, especially if that someone had been injured. She had no right no matter how wonderful she smelled, or how amazing her voice was, or the fact that her eyes Helena shook her head feeling the strange burning in her eyes again. Unable to remember what she had been thinking, she settled for glaring at the other girl.
"I know you're the only girl who fell on purpose," the redhead responded with a quirk of her lips.
Losing some of her anger Helena replied, "Fine, I fell on purpose, happy?"
"No, I was just curious as to why someone with your grace and natural ability would purposefully fall like that . . . and do it so badly."
Helena didn't really feel it was necessary to have included that last bit, but the redhead's other words were making her kind of lightheaded. Helena knew she was blushing, and also knew there was nothing she could do about it. "Well, thanks, I think."
The redhead laughed then turned serious. "Look, I know it can be hard. You want to fit in, be like all of your friends. But you're not. You have real talent which you shouldn't waste by trying to be like everyone else. You're special and you should be proud of that and work as hard as you can to develop you're gifts."
Helena had never really given much thought to what she was capable of. She had always been different and that's just the way it was. But hearing the older girl's words, Helena couldn't help but look at her abilities in an entirely new light, as something she needed to protect and improve, not just live with. Slightly stunned, Helena met the other girl's kind and determined gaze.
"Hi, I'm Barbara Gordon," the redhead offered extending her hand.
Years of manners and etiquette lessons from her mother kicked in and Helena offered her own hand. "Helena Kyle."
Green eyes widened slightly. "Helena . . . Kyle. Any relation to Selena Kyle?"
Surprised that this girl would have heard of her mother- after all, they had just moved to Gotham - Helena responded, "Yes, she's my mother."
Pierced by eyes that seemed to be looking into and through her, she remained transfixed until Barbara spoke, "Helena Kyle." Helena shivered again at the way her name was said. "I think we'll be seeing a lot more of each other." Helena didn't know whether she should jump for joy or run in the opposite direction. "You'll be coming back won't you? Once your injury heals up?"
Before she was even aware of the question Helena found herself responding, "Yes."
"Great, I'll see you soon then. Keep icing that ankle." With that the redhead winked at Helena, turned, and walked out of the gym.
Helena spent the rest of the session trying not to think about Barbara Gordon. But no matter how hard she tried, teasing green eyes and a low smoky voice kept intruding on her thoughts. The odd idea that if she could just listen to that voice for the rest of her life, she would be happy abruptly came to Helena. Shaking her head the brunette wondered if she had sprained her brain along with her ankle.
When Selena came to pick up her daughter, she was appalled to learn about her injury. Blaming herself, she was quick to reassure the girl that she didn't have to attend the class anymore.
However, dark blue eyes rose to meet hers and Selena was sure she had never seen the expression on her daughter's face before. "No Mom, it's okay. I really like gymnastics. I can come back tomorrow right?"
Completely at a loss, Selena replied, "We'll see, Kitten."
Helena just smiled, knowing that soon she would be seeing Barbara Gordon again. Years later she would realize that falling really wasn't that bad, and in fact could be very, very good.
Barbara loved the feeling of flying through the air. The way gravity seemed to be comfortably cradling you one moment and then slamming your heart into your throat the next. She loved flying, but she loved landing even more. The knowledge that with her bones and muscles she could catch herself, could stop her fall and once again force gravity into a passive influence. Barbara Gordon lived to push herself to the limits.
Maybe that was why she had first put on a costume and gone out into Gotham's dark nights to fight crime. She had heard the stories of Batman and his protégé Robin, many of them from her own father, Commissioner Gordon. They were crime fighters, vigilantes, some even called them heroes. All Barbara knew was that they lived a life of danger and excitement, fighting the good fight over the rooftops of the city.
So at seventeen, already an Olympic hopeful, Barbara had seen a way to push herself even farther. She had inherited her father's really her uncle's need to help people, and she had done it her own way. Then one night Batman caught her in her handmade outfit and forced her to justify her nocturnal hobby. He must have seen something in her because that very night he took Barbara to the Batcave and she officially became Batgirl. Putting on the sleek black, blue, and yellow costume for the first time was the greatest moment of her life.
Now two years later, Barbara was quite content with that life.
Flipping her body over the uneven bars, somersaulting through the air, and sticking her landing, arms outstretched, Barbara had to admit, life couldn't get much better. Walking over to her bag she grabbed a towel, wiping away the sweat of a punishing workout, she considered her varied accomplishments. She was in college getting her degrees in physics, mathematics, and English lit, at night she prowled the rooftops with her mentor and fellow sidekick, and even though her height may have cost her the chance at Olympic gold, she was still one of the greatest gymnasts in the world.
This last qualification was the reason she volunteered at Gotham's premier gymnastics training facility. Even if her own career was coming to a close, she could still help other young girls reach their full potential.
Full potential the words echoed in her mind, shadows of a conversation she had engaged in some two weeks before. With her eidetic memory, recalling the exact circumstances of the exchange was automatic. The fact that the other participant had never been far from Barbara's thoughts was something she chose to ignore.
Helena Kyle seemed like a good kid. A little combative and easily frustrated, but it wasn't like Barbara had any room to be judgmental in that department. People often made comments concerning the color of her hair and her own fiery temperament. Still, Helena had great potential which Barbara hoped she would exploit.
There was only one problem.
Barbara often used her status as Batgirl to search through Batman's files on the criminals he had encountered throughout his career. One very prominent figure that appeared again and again was Selena Kyle, aka Catwoman. The infamous thief had often butted heads with Batman before almost completely disappearing twelve years ago. There were still the occasional thefts attributed to the mysterious woman, but nothing very high profile and nothing within Gotham itself. It seemed Selena had completely abandoned the city were once she was hailed as the Queen of the Criminal Underworld.
Now Catwoman had a daughter. Helena had admitted as much when she and Barbara had talked. Selena had returned to Gotham, but why? Barbara assumed she had toned down her criminal activities when Helena was born, but why come back now, and dragging her daughter along?
Selena couldn't know that Barbara knew her true identity, and she couldn't know Barbara's own secret. Using this advantage, Batgirl was determined to find out what the notorious criminal was up to, and the best way to get close to her and ferret out the information she wanted was through Helena.
Barbara had often toyed with the idea that thinking of an object was in fact the way such an object came to exist. As the focus of her previous thoughts in the form of a lithe brunette walked into the gym, Barbara considered how best to document this evidence. Giving up on the quandary of verifying a personal observation based on internal thoughts, she decided to commence operation "Earn Helena's Trust" instead.
Trying to appear nonchalant, she wandered casually over to where Helena was speaking with her instructor, Mr. Holland. As she approached behind the girl, she overheard the man ask Helena if she was feeling better and whether or not she felt up to practicing today. Helena assured him that she had seen a doctor and she felt fine, however, Barbara noticed that her eyes never rested on the man, but instead continually scanned the room as if she was searching for something.
'Searching for me.' The odd thought flashed through Barbara's mind when Helena turned and she was pinned with the most intense blue eyes she had ever seen. That stare sparked some type of recognition for the redhead she knew she had seen those eyes before - yet her search for the answer to this unsettling feeling was quickly drowned out by other questions. How had Helena known she was there? Barbara had been trained by the best to move silently and she was still several feet from the girl. Where was Selena? She desperately wanted to meet the woman and judge for herself just who and what Catwoman was. And just what was the look in Helena's eyes as she continued to stare at Barbara, almost as if she were transfixed?
Ignoring her questions for the moment - something the inquisitive young woman had a great deal of practice with she greeted the younger girl. "Hello again, Helena. Seems like you decided to come back after all. I hope you won't suffer any further . . . accidents today."
Now it was Barbara's turn to be riveted as she watched the dark, intense look fade from Helena's eyes to be replaced by a look of mischievousness delight. "Nah, I won't fall again." And arrogance, mustn't forget that, Barbara added to the list of adjectives she mentally compiling for the small brunette. "Mom was really sorry that . . . I mean I won't fall again on purpose, but I could probably use some pointers?" Even as she wondered what Helena had been about to say, Barbara seized her chance to get closer to her prey.
"Well I would be happy to work with you independently, but I would have to talk to your mother first."
A guarded look entered Helena's eyes even as she spoke. "Um, I don't know. Mom's kind of a private person."
Taking a chance Barbara tried to subtly force the issue. "Well we would probably have to train after everyone else left. I wouldn't want your mother to worry about you. Gotham can be a dangerous place."
"You don't need to worry about me, I can take care of myself." Something in the way the girl spoke and the set of her features convinced Barbara that she was telling the truth. She also found it rather absurd that she should suddenly feel intimidated by this stick thin twelve year old. "But, you're probably right. Mom doesn't like for me to spend too much time away from her. She should probably meet you. Could you maybe talk to her when she comes to pick me up after class?"
Perfect! "Yes that would be fine. Go ahead and join your group and I'll meet you when you're done."
"Okay." The dark figure started away before quickly turning around and flashing a smile. "And thanks Barbara."
Suddenly Barbara found it quite difficult to breathe as she watched the retreating girl. There had been such gratitude and . . . happiness in Helena's smile. For the first time she wondered if she was doing the right thing using Helena like this. Shaking off her thoughts, Barbara reminded herself that Selena was a dangerous criminal. It was Batgirl's responsibility to make sure she didn't hurt anyone.
Preparing to go again on the uneven bars, Barbara wondered if duty could make up for betraying the young girl's smile.
Helena was nervous. She hated being nervous. Thankfully it was a very rare occurrence for the young meta-human. She had been born with a natural assertiveness and self-confidence that was only enhanced by her unusual abilities. Her mother's protectiveness had also sheltered her from situations which could lead to the unpleasant feeling.
None of these factors were helping Helena right now.
What had she been thinking?
Helena realized that Barbara meeting her mother was not a good idea, but when she had first caught the redhead's distinctive smell, she had been surprised. She had hoped Barbara would be at the gym, but she hadn't been counting on it. So when she had turned, meeting those bright green eyes had left her completely dazed. She was pretty sure she would have agreed to anything the other girl asked. Helena didn't know why Barbara affected her the way she did, only that she wasn't completely unhappy about it.
Watching Barbara work on the uneven bars out of the corner of her eye, Helena wasn't sure if she wanted the class to pass quickly or not. Selena was very perceptive, and the brunette was convinced she would notice Helena was acting strangely. Exactly what her mother would make of her actions was something she didn't want to think about.
Thankfully for her rattled nerves, the rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. Helena worked on the various gymnastics techniques they were assigned. She never used her full abilities but she was still praised often for her technique and skill. Several times she thought she could feel a specific pair of eyes watching her, but every time she looked, Barbara was concentrating on her own routine.
When the class came to an end, Helena tried to appear as tired as the other girls, even though she felt like she hadn't really exercised at all. She watched as her mother entered the room, her presence immediately commanding everyone's attention. Suddenly something in Selena's posture shifted and she seemed to become smaller, less noteworthy. Helena was always awed at her mother's ability to be the center of attention one minute and completely blend in with the crowd the next. Glancing at Barbara, Helena indicated that she should follow her over to the blonde woman. She tried not to fidget as she watched Barbara casually approached her mother.
"Hello Miss Kyle," Barbara began, extending her hand. "I'm Barbara Gordon. I wanted to talk to you about Helena. I'm sure you're aware that she has an amazing amount of potential. I was hoping to work with her individually after class, with your approval of course."
Barbara was doing well. Her mother always appreciated it when someone was straightforward in their intentions. She watched Selena take a moment to process Barbara's words.
"Hmm. Well Miss Gordon, I don't think that should be a problem. Helena seems to really enjoy gymnastics and you seem . . . harmless." There was something in her mother's eyes when she said this that made Helena uneasy. She watched in fascination as Barbara's face turned red, almost matching the color of her hair. When the redhead spoke, Helena thought she could actually hear her teeth grinding.
"I'm glad you see it that way. It's wonderful to see a parent who encourages their daughter's dreams instead of trying to . . . steal their childhood." Selena shot a hard look at the young woman, her normally cool green eyes darkening until they appeared black.
Helena didn't know what was going on, but she got the feeling she was being left out of half the conversation. What was worse, Barbara was making her mother angry. An angry Selena was not a good thing.
"Listen up little girl." Barbara's face flushed a darker red. "I know exactly how to handle my daughter. You don't know what it's like having to raise a child alone, especially one as unique . . ." Helena stopped listening. At this point the young brunette felt near tears. There was no way she was going to be able to train with Barbara now. Reaching up she grabbed her mother's hand, interrupting her scolding of the other girl. Keeping her head down, she started to tug her toward the exit.
"Let's go Mom."
Selena glanced at her daughter, noticing the glimmer of tears on her dark eyelashes. Unable to fathom what could have so upset her daughter Helena had never been one for tears she turned to the object of her earlier frustrations. Barbara was watching Helena intently. Her features had softened from their antagonistic lines and she was regarding the brunette with something like remorse. Before Selena could speak the redhead beat her to it.
"I apologize for my previous behavior, Miss Kyle. I really don't know anything about you, but I would like too for Helena's sake. I probably don't deserve it, but I would like to start over, if you don't mind?"
Seeing the hope clearly reflected in Helena's face, Selena surrendered to the inevitable. "I think that's an excellent idea. If Helena agrees I don't see why you can't work with her twice a week after class."
"Yes!" Helena couldn't believe it. Somehow Barbara had managed to change her mother's mind. Helena couldn't remember that ever happening before. Smiling she hugged her mom before looking at Barbara. When the redhead met her eyes, it was to give her a small smile and a wink which Helena returned.
This was going above and beyond the call of duty.
Barbara scanned the cards laying face down on the table. Using her eidetic memory she quickly recalled all the cards that had already been played and calculated the odds of the next turn. There was an eighty-two percent chance that the next card either she or Helena turned over would be a one-eyed jack.
Hand already in motion even as she laid down her card, Barbara was once again surprised to feel a much smaller hand resting below her own.
"I win again."
Blue eyes twinkled at Barbara as the owner of the hand quickly scooped the assembled cards to her side of the table. Barbara resisted the impulse to stick her tongue out at the younger girl, believing one of them needed to show some maturity. It was a struggle for the redhead however. She hated losing, and for some reason she hated losing to Helena most of all. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Helena never cut her any slack even when it was the polite thing to do. The girl was always testing her. Somewhat bemusedly, Barbara found that she had come to like and respect this quality in her friend.
And Helena was her friend. What had started off as a simple means to an end, specifically using Helena to get close to her mother, the former Catwoman, had turned into one of her most rewarding friendships.
In the eight months since she had met Helena, they had gone from student and teacher, to friends, to their current standing where Barbara almost regarded the girl as a younger sister. A terribly irritating and smug younger sister.
"Are you even trying Barbara?"
"Shut up Hel." Not liking the implication that she was somehow losing on purpose and the reminder that she was losing period Barbara briefly stooped to Helena's level.
"What, it's not my fault you're not fast enough."
Piercing green eyes gave the brunette a look that had been known to freeze criminals in their tracks. "I'll have you know I'm plenty fast enough. This just isn't my game."
They had started off playing poker, but Helena couldn't bluff to save her life. Every emotion was clearly displayed on her face, and after beating the younger girl in several hands with no effort, Barbara had begun to feel bad. She had suggested they play a different game and allowed Helena to pick. A mistake she soon found out, since Helena insisted they play Slap Jack, the brunette's incredible speed allowing her to defeat Barbara time and again.
"I think that's enough for one night." Helena looked like she wanted to argue, so Barbara pulled out her trump card. "Your mom should be home soon and if you're not in bed she might not let me baby-sit anymore."
Eyes flashing sullenly, Helena nevertheless began to pick up the cards, storing them neatly back in their box. "I'm thirteen and a half; I don't need a babysitter anymore."
"You know your mom just wants you to be safe, and with the amount of trouble you get yourself into, she doesn't dare leave you home alone."
Barbara wondered why she was defending her position as Helena's sometimes-keeper. She should be out protecting Gotham with Batman and Robin, or making sure that Selena really was just attending a dinner with old friends instead of stealing some priceless piece of art, instead she was babysitting the cat burglar's daughter.
When did her life become so complicated?
She knew a lot of it had to do with Helena. Something compelled her to protect the younger girl, and if she was honest, she truly enjoyed spending time with her.
Barbara had been forced to grow up quickly, faced with the harsh circumstances of her young life, such as the death of her parents, watching her adopted mother die from cancer, and the nightly horrors she found on the city streets as a vigilante. Somehow she seemed able to forget her responsibilities in the brunette's presence, however, and just be more like the young woman she really was.
Helena made her feel like a regular person and never let Barbara take herself too seriously. Maybe that was why she had initially agreed to baby-sit when Selena had asked, and why she had continued to agree after that first time.
Helena turned around on the stairs that led up to her room. "Night Barbara."
She was glad that Helena never asked her to tuck her in or tried to hug her goodbye. Barbara had never been the touchy-feely type and was often uncomfortable with displays of affection. Thankfully that had never been an issue with the brunette, and Barbara wondered if Helena had somehow picked up on her unease or if the girl simply didn't want or need contact with her. The brunette really was too old for a baby-sitter; she would be starting high school in less than a year.
Thinking about Helena's future plans made Barbara once again consider her own. She had almost finished her undergraduate degrees, and she knew she wanted to continue into graduate school, but she needed something to fill her extra time. School had never been that difficult, and now that she was no longer competing in gymnastics, her days seemed strangely empty. Barbara thrived on pressure and challenges, and without them she felt less than satisfied.
She knew Bruce and Dick would have her committed to Arkham if she told them what she was planning, but it was her choice. If she wanted to teach high school while she worked on her PhD then, dammit, that's what she'd do.
She had discovered her love of teaching when she volunteered to help coach at the gymnastics center, and she figured it could only be more rewarding to teach math or English in high school. The fact that she was barely older than most of her potential students only served to increase her anticipation. She would be able to connect with them and share her passion for learning. And it wasn't like she'd be teaching forever; it was only until she figured out what she really wanted to do with her life - besides crime fighting as Batgirl. It seemed like the perfect solution to her dilemma.
The sound of the front door opening broke into Barbara's contemplation.
Selena Kyle entered her house the same way she did everything, with an almost unnatural grace and a sensual presence that immediately screamed for attention.
"Hello Ms. Kyle." Barbara had deliberately kept to the shadows hoping to startle the other woman. When Selena merely looked at her calmly, she realized she should have known better.
"Hello Barbara. I thought I told you to call me Selena. Being greeted as Ms. Kyle by someone your age just makes me feel old."
Stinging from the implied slur, Barbara gritted her teeth. She'd address a known criminal by their first name when pigs defied gravity.
"Well, I hope you had a nice evening . . . Ms. Kyle." Green eyes flared to life and Barbara barely resisted the urge to smile smugly.
Suddenly the lithe woman was inches from Barbara's face. "I've had a rather difficult evening, child, and I really wouldn't test me if I were you."
In all the time Barbara had spent with the Kyle's, she had never been able to prove that Selena had once again taken up her activities as Catwoman. It was a source of continual frustrating for the young crime fighter, but Barbara never considered giving up. No matter how long it took, she would prove to Batman and Robin that Catwoman was once again operating in Gotham.
Of course, she would then have to explain why she hadn't told Bruce or Dick that Selena was back, something she had yet to justify to herself. She supposed it all came back to Helena. The younger girl worshiped her mother, and Barbara didn't want to hurt her unnecessarily. It would be hard enough for the brunette when Barbara finally caught Selena in the act. She didn't need to be hounded by an over-eager Bruce or Dick before then.
Leaning forward, meeting the challenge head on, Barbara responded. "Oh really. I can't imagine what could be so stressful about meeting old friends."
"Well, I'm pretty sure we don't have the same definition of friends." Barbara was unprepared for the flash of fear that entered light green eyes.
Without even thinking, Barbara rested her hand on Selena's sleeve. "Is there anything I can do?" She even meant it. It was her job to protect people in trouble, even if that someone was Catwoman.
Selena was clearly startled. "No dear, I don't think you can, but I appreciate the offer."
"Don't just write me off because I'm young. I can help if you let me."
Selena looked at her for a long moment. "Now why do I believe you?" Shaking her head as if to clear it, an oddly ungraceful movement for the thief, she continued. "If you want to help, promise me you'll look out for Helena. I can't say that I see the appeal myself, but she truly worships you." Light green eyes bored into Barbara's darker ones. "Make sure nothing happens to my daughter. Keep her safe."
Caught up in the moment, Barbara found herself answering before she could think about the potential consequences. "I promise."
Time seemed to freeze for an instant as the two women contemplated each other, one young and unwavering, the other older, less idealistic, but just as determined. Barbara didn't know why, but it felt like something momentous had just occurred, something that would cause echoes throughout the rest of her life. Just what those echoes would mean, she wasn't sure.
Selena broke the moment first, easily disengaging herself from Barbara's touch. "Well I'd better go up and say goodnight before Helena's asleep, and you'd better run home. I'll see you next week." The way the older woman spoke, it was clear it wasn't a question.
Barbara collected her backpack and quickly left the house, wondering about the game they were playing. If it was poker, she had nearly tipped her hand and given the other woman the advantage. It wouldn't take much for someone as smart as Selena to figure out that Barbara Gordon was really Batgirl. If it was Slap Jack, she needed to act faster instead of just waiting for something to happen. Either way, she needed to start playing smarter.
Barbara smiled into the night. She loved a challenge.
Barbara shifted her weight uneasily on the rooftop, feeling her costume move with her like a second skin. Leather and latex weren't exactly the usual choice for a Saturday night on the town well, at least not for the police commissioner's daughter, yet Barbara loved the contradiction. By day she was the perfect daughter. She wore respectable clothes, attended all the right functions, and was a college graduate with three degrees. But at night, she put on a mask and became Batgirl, the young crime fighter feared throughout Gotham's underworld.
She truly had the best of both worlds.
Sometimes, however, she did question her sanity and not just because she was dressed like a bat.
Barbara had trailed Selena Kyle to an apartment complex on the outskirts of the city, and now she was crouched on the rooftop of the building across the street at two thirty in the morning. She had been debating the pros and cons of trying to sneak into the run-down edifice for the past ten minutes, but still wasn't any closer to making a decision.
Selena had arrived half an hour before, and joined two men who were known associates of the mob boss Al Hawke. The question was, was Selena working with him as a thief or as a semi-reputable art dealer? The first case was definitely a job for Batgirl, but the second was a matter for the police, or possibly the lawyers.
What was a part-time vigilante to do?
The sudden sound of gun-shots made the decision for her, and before they had even fully registered, Barbara had a grappling hook stretched across the distance between the two buildings. Landing lightly on the other side, she moved quickly for the roof-access door, sparing a moment to thank whoever had left it open, relieved she wouldn't have to waste precious time picking the lock.
Running down the stairs, she only had a moment to gasp before she slammed into another body coming up. Barbara went down painfully in a tangle of limbs, and she was about to start throwing elbows when she recognized the slight figure of Selena Kyle dressed as her alter ego. The black leather was slick under her hands, the white uneven stitching catching on her own costume. The other woman must have identified her at the same time because she stopped struggling for which Barbara was exceedingly grateful.
"Batgirl." It was obvious from her tone what she thought of running into Barbara in the middle of the night. "What are you doing here?" The sound of a door opening below them forestalled any further questions. "Never mind, we need to get out of here. Even bats aren't bulletproof."
Jumping to her feet, the criminal moved up the stairs, and Barbara quickly followed when a shot pinged off the railing next to her.
"Hey wait!" Barbara burst onto the roof, slamming the door behind her. Selena was poised on the edge, preparing to disappear into the night, leaving Barbara to clean up her mess no doubt.
Selena raised one blonde eyebrow questioningly. "Why?"
Without waiting for a response, she leapt, easily reaching the neighboring building. Barbara growled in frustration. Shaking her head, she quickly shot a grappling line and followed the retreating figure.
The next half-hour passed in a confused jumble of images. Strange snapshots of indistinguishable buildings and blurred streets as Barbara desperately tried to keep up with the experienced criminal. The woman moved like a shadow and seemed to know every corner of Gotham like the back of her hand, forcing Barbara to use all her considerable skills to track her. Finally she stumbled onto a rooftop where the other woman waited, taking a moment to try and stop the trembling in her arms and legs from the exhausting chase. She shot Selena a murderous glare when the criminal merely watched her, not even breathing hard.
"Well I have to hand it to you; even the Bat would've had trouble keeping up with me tonight." Selena's grin was confident and just a little feral.
After the night she'd just spent however, Barbara was in no mood. "Why were you meeting with Al Hawke's goons?"
Selena's smile disappeared. "That's none of your business."
"I think it is, seeing as he's a criminal and you're a criminal. In fact, that pretty much guarantees it's my business."
Selena threw up her hands. "Just drop it. It's a personal matter." Seeing Barbara about to argue, she continued. "And it's not what you're thinking. I'm not working for him. We're not exactly on the best of terms at the moment."
Barbara laughed without humor. "Yeah, I got that. His two goons shooting at us were a dead giveaway. But if you're not working for him, then what's with the after-hours meeting?"
For the first time, Barbara saw something like fear flicker across the older woman's face. Before she could be sure, however, Selena turned to look back over the city. A sigh shook the leather clad shoulders in front of her.
"I was meeting with him to arrange for protection. I've been gone a long time for . . . personal reasons. I'm not the 'Queen of the Criminal Underworld' anymore, and it's starting to show." She couldn't tell if Selena's tone was faintly mocking, or just tired. "I need to make sure that certain things are safe and I don't need to be constantly looking over my shoulder now that I'm back in Gotham . . . and I'll use any means necessary to make sure of it."
Part of Barbara wanted to snap at the leather clad criminal, secure in her absolute belief of right and wrong, but another part remembered a young girl with startling blue eyes and an easy smile. When she spoke, she purposefully gentled her voice.
"Okay, but you're going about it the wrong way. You know that Batman would help if you'd ask."
Selena whirled around so quickly that for a moment Barbara was dizzy. She could only stare into the blazing green eyes pinned to her own. "What do you know about Batman?! This has nothing to do with him!"
Barbara was rocked by the vehement response, but she felt her own anger rise. "Well it will if you keep dealing with Al Hawke!"
Abruptly, Selena's shoulders slumped and all the fight seemed to leave her. "I don't want him involved."
For a second, Barbara was in the awkward position of actually feeling sorry for one of Gotham's most notorious criminals. Selena looked somehow . . . diminished.
"Look, I don't know if it helps, but I won't say anything about tonight."
Selena gazed at her in shock, and it was no less than what Barbara was feeling herself. Slowly a crooked grin edged over the older woman's features. "You know what; there might be hope for you yet."
Barbara shook her head. "Don't get any ideas. And stop meeting with Hawke. I'm sure we can find another way."
Selena started, tilting her head to gaze a Barbara, then she laughed. For a second, she reminded Barbara of Helena. "I don't think that's going to be an issue. Remember the whole guns, shooting, running thing - and I don't need your help." Barbara bristled, but before she could speak Selena continued. "But thanks for the offer."
Green eyes watched her almost fondly before she gave Barbara a small salute and jumped over the side of the building. This time when Barbara rushed to look, there was no sign of the criminal. Swearing under her breath, she turned around, trying to remember where she left her bike. It was going to be a long ride back to Wayne manor.
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