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
Her hands were slipping. She could feel the sweat between her hands and the shiny, unblemished steel. The tremor in her arms spread to her shoulders. She had to move forward and she couldn't remember how. She couldn't remember how to shift her center of gravity or where to place her hands. She could recall with perfect clarity the physical therapist instructing her on just this maneuver, but there was no sound, like the memory was on mute. She knew she was going to fall, and with fatalistic reasoning, acknowledged it wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last.
Barbara's shout from downstairs woke James Gordon from a light doze. He was usually a deep sleeper, but he was terrified that his recently crippled daughter would need his help and he would sleep through her cries of distress. Not this night, however.
"I'm coming!" He called, running downstairs to the office he had converted into a bedroom. Walking into the room he found his only child sprawled on the floor with the chair the hospital had ordered a few feet away. For a moment he could only stand in the doorway, his mind unable to reconcile the woman on the floor with the vibrant, active daughter that had been stolen from him.
"Dad, a little help please?"
"Of course." Quickly, he moved forward to lift her awkwardly into the chair. He glanced away and didn't mention the tears that still lingered on her cheeks. "What were you trying to do? It's the middle of the night." Barbara leaned her head forward, letting the curtain of red hair hide her face. Some sound seemed to penetrate the barrier, but he couldn't make it out. "What was that?"
"I said I was trying to go to the bathroom!" Barbara's shout surprised him and he took an involuntary step back.
"Right, sorry. Do you need . . ." He trailed off, unable to say the words, but knowing she still needed help with the simplest tasks.
"No," Barbara replied, her voice adamant. "I can manage that by myself. I was just tired and forgot how to get out of bed," she finished in a whisper that broke his heart. What must it be like to consciously plan every time you wanted to get out of bed? He had always known that Barbara was a strong girl, but these last weeks had convinced him beyond all doubt. He wanted to tell her how proud he was, but knew she didn't want to hear it, not now.
"Okay, well call if you need me. I'm off to bed; us old men need our sleep." There was no reply, but as he walked out the door he thought he heard a soft thank you. He didn't turn around but continued into the living room. Stopping before the liquor cabinet, he poured himself a fifth of brandy and went to stand by the fireplace. He could hear the sound of Barbara rolling into the bathroom. Quickly he swallowed the whole glass, forcing back the tears that rose to his eyes.
His daughter, his little girl, he was so afraid for her. He remembered the day she had come into his life, so scared, so distrustful of other people. The way her face would tighten whenever he'd have a drink after work. If his bastard of a brother hadn't already killed himself at that point, he might have been tempted to take his service revolver and correct that oversight. How anyone could ever have hurt such a sweet child would forever be a mystery to him.
Slowly the shattered girl had been healed by his angel, Barb. His wife had just seemed to know what to do - but he didn't. How was he supposed to bring his daughter back this time without her? He was the wrong man for the job, but he was all there was. Several people from Gotham High had tried to visit, but Barbara had sent them all away. Bruce Wayne had disappeared and he hadn't seen Richard Grayson in several weeks. He suspected the couple had broken up, but didn't ask, afraid to upset her further. And Helena, he hadn't seen the girl since the hospital. He hadn't even heard one word from Barbara about her, in marked contrast to before the shooting when every other word out of her mouth had been about the small teenager. Barbara had been so proud of Helena Kyle. He prayed fervently that she was coping well with the death of her mother. He had tried to get them to go to the funeral, but Barbara had said she was too tired. He didn't have the heart to force her, and instead sent flowers to the estate in both their names.
Shaking his head at where his exhausted thoughts had led him, Jim considered another drink before putting the glass down and heading upstairs. Getting into the king sized bed he took in the spot beside him, empty now for almost ten years. He slowly closed his eyes, consciously telling himself to sleep lightly, knowing Barbara might need him again in the night.
"I wish you were here, Angel. She's slipping away and I don't know what to do."
There was no answer as exhaustion claimed him.
Barbara bolted upright in the bed, feeling every muscle in her body pulled tight . . . the ones she could still feel. The numbness of her lower extremities immediately made itself known when her entire body, minus the lower half, shuddered in the cold room as her body dripped with terror induced sweat. Barbara took a minute to quickly review the procedure of transferring her crippled body from the bed to her new chair. She managed to lower herself into the custom molded padding without incident before she set her shaking arms the task of wheeling her into the bathroom. Her father had been wonderful with the remodel, her downstairs bathroom especially. Everything was now designed around Barbara's limitations, and even though it brought home how drastically her life had changed, she was grateful.
Splashing cold water on her face, she debated whether or not to just get a shower. However, that might wake her Dad which she tried to avoid. Lately, he had been sleeping much less than he was accustomed to, and Barbara knew it was her fault. She would try to let him sleep a little longer.
Looking up, she found a stranger staring back at her. This woman had dark circles, like bruises, under her eyes. Her face so pale that blue veins stood prominent in the hollow cheeks and forehead. Her red hair was dank and frazzled from thrashing in the night, and the green eyes that stared into her own were dull and lifeless, holding a shattered gaze. This woman was not Barbara Gordon. This woman was a ghost, a half-dead zombie that should have been resting in its grave.
Barbara raised her hands to muffle the sob that tore from her throat. This was the Joker's true victory. He had broken her, completely and utterly. He had not killed Barbara Gordon, or Batgirl really, but by taking her legs, her independence, he might as well have. For the first time since she had woken up in the hospital, Barbara let that knowledge fill her. She let it rise until it stuck in her throat so that she had to gasp and wheeze to get air into her lungs. She let it swirl in her stomach and rush to her brain where it repressed any other emotion or rational thought. She let it out. She let it destroy the last remnants of Barbara Gordon, the prodigy who would be Batgirl.
And then, when there was nothing but ashes and a dull ache, she lifted her head and stared into the mirror again. This woman was not Barbara Gordon. This woman was not a ghost. This woman was someone new. A woman who had lost everything and was now determined to get something back. Green eyes met her own with determination and confidence, and for the first time in over two months, Barbara believed it.
"There are things that need to be taken care of. We don't have time to wallow in self-pity any more. Time to man up, Babs."
While this was generally good advice, a part of this new Barbara had to question the wisdom of talking to oneself . . . and of spending so long in the bathroom. She was too - something - to go back to sleep, so she quietly wheeled herself into the family room. Resting by the fire, she noticed a stack of letters on the coffee table almost three inches thick. Curiosity getting the better of her, for the first time in months when she thought about it, she picked them up and started to sort through them.
Each was addressed to a Miss Barbara Gordon. Each was written in a bold cursive script that was non-the-less quite legible. Each was instantly recognizable. Barbara flopped back in her chair when she realized every single letter had been written by none other than Alfred Pennyworth, butler and friend of Bruce Wayne, aka Batman.
Hands shaking slightly in anticipation (and maybe some apprehension), Barbara opened the first letter according to the postage dates.
I hope this letter finds you well and on your way to recovery. First let me state that if there is anything that I may do to help you in any way, you have but to ask. I have always believed there is no greater strength than being able to call upon your friends and allies in a time of need. That being said, I don't expect to hear from you right away, but it would please this elderly gentleman greatly to be proven wrong.
No doubt you are wondering where Master Bruce has gone. I can only regretfully tell you that I do not know. I fear that the death of Selena, his one love, the knowledge that she hid a daughter from him, and your own misfortunes, have shattered all confidence and rationality he once possessed. I pray that he can find some measure of peace wherever he has gone, but I do not expect him back presently.
I must admit I am writing to you in the hopes of correcting a grievous error. Perhaps I should not be privy to this information, but I wondered if you knew of Miss Helena Kyle's whereabouts. I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of the aforementioned young lady, and was greatly struck by her spirit. I fear that such a unique soul cannot survive unsheltered by those who can best understand and offer aid. If you should find the time and will to look into this matter it would greatly ease my worry.
Yours sincerely, Alfred Pennyworth
Slowly lowering the letter, Barbara took a moment to consider the words. She had not allowed herself to think of Helena in all the time she had been home. She was aware that the brunette had been at the hospital. Her father had even hinted that Helena had to be dragged away from her room, but she had no idea where the girl was now. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. Helena had never inquired about her either that she was aware of, and she preferred to imagine the teen too happy in her new life to care. Besides, how could she face Helena like this? How could she sit (always sit, never stand) in front of the girl who used to watch her in awe on the parallel bars? How could she face the girl who had tracked her as Batgirl, who she had chased and caught one night on the rooftops of Gotham? How could she look up at Helena and hope to keep her sanity?
No, she had done the best thing for both of them. The teens silence only added to her certainty. Helena would move on and so would she. That was just the nature of life and must be accepted.
So why did it feel like she had been shot again, only this time on the left side of her chest?
Shoving the messy emotions and debates aside, Barbara slowly opened the letters in order. All were variations of the first, with wishes for her continuing recovery, protestations of innocence and ignorance concerning Bruce's disappearance, and always some note about Helena and whether Barbara had spoken to her or planned to in the immediate future.
When she came to the last letter, she almost didn't open it. The letter was dated almost two weeks ago and was twice as thick as any of the others. Inside she was surprised to find photographs and a detailed report compiled by a private detective that Barbara knew her father had employed on past cases, inclining her to take it quite seriously. As Barbara read, she could feel the anger building. The rage was so consuming that she almost missed Alfred's attached note, a single line that had the same effect as dropping a bucket of cold water on the redhead.
"To do with as you must."
And she would. But first a few things needed to be taken care of.
"Dad!" The shout echoed in the family room, drawing an answering thump from upstairs, and Barbara couldn't help the small smile that crossed her face, though it stretched uncomfortably on features grown unaccustomed to happiness of any sort. Moments later, feet could be heard racing down the stairs. Before he could blow past, Barbara called to her Dad and he quickly joined her by the fire.
"What is it, sweetie?"
"How long have you known about these?" Barbara held out the opened letters in her hand.
"Uh, I meant to have those taken care of." Jim tried to explain.
"I can see that. Whether I have any further contact with Alfred Pennyworth or Bruce Wayne is none of your business." Jim was shocked. Those men had almost cost Barbara her life, they had cost her the use of her legs. That they believed they could just waltz right back into her life infuriated him. Earlier in the evening he had planned to burn the letters, but became distracted. Now he cursed himself for letting Barbara see them. Nothing good would come from this.
"I'm trying to protect you, Babs. Look what they did to you!" He watched as emerald green eyes locked on his own with an intensity he hadn't seen since the shooting.
"Don't you ever say that again. I take full responsibility for what happened. And now I'm going to be taking even more responsibility."
"Dad, I'm moving out." The stunned silence continued and Barbara recognized the hurt on her father's face. "Oh, don't look at me like that. I just want to start putting my life back together, and I can't do that while staying under your roof.
"How will you afford it?" Jim knew Barbara always appreciated logical arguments. He had used up most of his savings to remodel his home for handicap necessities, something he would never tell her of course, but still, it would take more money than Barbara had earned as a high school teacher to properly live on her own.
"I'll use this," Barbara said holding one of the letters in her hand. She quickly read the sentence she wanted out loud. "Master Bruce has stipulated you be given a total of 300 million dollars, the rest to be divided between Master Richard and Miss Kyle. Miss Kyle has refused to accept the money, and so it was placed in a trust fund account which she may access at any time."
"You have 300 million dollars?" Jim wondered if the beating of his heart indicated he was headed for a heart attack.
"Yes. Of course it's pity money, but still, I'll put it to good use." Barbara smiled at him, and for the first time he noticed her eyes seemed alive again. They flashed with humor and something he couldn't identify.
"Okay, so you're moving out. Where will you go?" He brought them back to the original question.
"I'm going to build my own watch tower; a place where I can monitor the city."
"Monitor the city? Barbara, I don't want you back in that life!" He tried not to shout in his fear. He couldn't go through something like this again. It would kill him.
"I'm not, Dad. But I figure I can set something up that could help Gotham PD get the criminals off the street. I wouldn't be physically," Jim wanted to hug her when her voice cracked on the word, "involved, but I would be an active part of fighting crime. I need that, Dad. I can't just let it slip from my fingers when there's a way for me to help."
"I know." And he did, he had felt that same pull his entire life. It was why he was still Police Commissioner when he could have retired years ago. "Just promise me you'll be careful. I couldn't if anything happened to I please just promise me you'll be safe."
"I will, Dad." The words were sincere and so was the look in her eyes.
"Good, so do you need some help finding a place?"
"Well, I kind of already have something in mind, but I'd like your opinion." She swiftly booted up the laptop that had been left on the coffee table as well, she forgot why. She watched the emotions flow across his face as she showed him the property she was interested in, before they finally settled in a wry grin.
"You never do anything the easy way, do you?" She knew he wasn't just referring to her.
"Nope, do you know any contractors I could trust to be discreet.
"Yes, and I'm sure Mr. Pennyworth could give you a few more," Jim suggested, brown eyes twinkling.
"Right, sure, thanks." Barbara blushed.
"Okay, you're going to have your work cut out for you, but what about when you're done? That's a lot of space. Is it just going to be you up there?"
"Of course not." Barbara watched him struggle with the question he desperately wanted to ask. She gently laid a hand on his arm. "Dick went to Bludhaven, Dad. He's not planning on coming back.
"I'm sorry, honey."
"Me too." And she was. Dick was a great guy, but he just couldn't handle her being in a wheelchair. He could only see what she had lost, and Barbara really didn't need that right now.
"So, who's . . ."
"Let's just say I made a promise once, and it's about time I kept my word. Or almost time. I want this place up and running first."
"Okay, if you're sure."
They turned the fireplace off after that, and headed to their beds, both with small smiles on their faces. It had been a strange, hectic, and ultimately healing night. As Barbara successfully made it onto her mattress, she couldn't help but run over the plan once more. She would need to contact Alfred soon, get some more information and thank him for his meddling. She would need to make a few calls to certain people at Wayne Industries and a few colleagues of Batman's as well. After that, though, she would have to make the most important call of all. The one that could change everything. The one that could possibly send Barbara right back into deep depression.
As she finally started to drift back to sleep, Barbara was comforted by the fact that soon she would make the first step in keeping a promise she had never intended to break. One that couldn't repair the damage to her body, but might heal the smallest part of her soul.
She hated this place. Her foster parents were assholes and the two other kids they had taken in were idiots. It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be her and her Mom until she went off to college, and even then she would come home every other weekend or live at home. She wasn't supposed to be part of this crappy excuse for a family. It had been four and a half months since they had made her leave the hospital, leave Barbara, and she had been quickly shoved off on the Pettersons, foster parents with a good record when it came to troubled teens.
Helena stared at the glowing beacon of Wayne Tower in the distance. Of course Mr. Wayne no longer worked there. The newspapers had been full of headlines such as "Where's Wayne" and "Gotham's Wealthiest Playboy Vanishes." Helena was maybe the only person in the entire city who knew why Bruce Wayne had gone AWOL, but it brought her no pleasure. Nothing did anymore.
Taking another drag on her cigarette she welcomed the burning in her lungs and throat. Her sense of smell rebelled every time she took out her latest stolen pack, but it didn't matter. At least she felt something, even if it was disgust and nausea.
"Helena! Phone!" A shrill, high pitched voice reached her on the roof of the apartment building. Flicking her butt off the roof, unmindful of where it landed, the dark teen slowly descended into the room she shared with Melanie, the other teenaged girl being fostered by the Pettersons.
"Who is it?" Helena barked at the blonde, not that she cared. It was either her social worker or that English guy again, neither of whom she wanted to talk to.
"I don't know, some woman." Melanie said without lifting her eyes from the magazine she was reading on her pink bedspread pink! Helena took a moment to compare their living spaces. Melanie's side contained pictures of famous actors and boy bands, clothes sorted by color in her half of the closet, and her bed neatly made where she laid on it. Helena's side of the room in contrast was completely bare of any decorations, her clothes were scattered around the floor and desk on her side, and her bed hadn't been made in days. Selena would have killed her, but she just couldn't find the energy to care anymore. Besides, it wasn't like she was allowed to decorate, or leave the house, or use the computer.
"Did you get a name?" She asked as politely as she could, which wasn't very.
"Nope." Helena wanted to smack the smug look off the blonde idiot.
"Right, gimme the phone."
"It's right over there, your legs aren't broken." Helena felt the growl build in her throat but managed to hold it back. She wasn't so far gone that she didn't remember her Mom's stories about what would happen to her if someone discovered her meta abilities. Even the Pettersons weren't as bad as being used as someone's lab rat. Somehow she managed not to reply that it wasn't her legs that were in imminent danger of being broken.
"Thanks," Helena replied sarcastically as she put the phone to her ear. "Helena. What do you want?"
"Helena?" The brunette felt the breath leave her. She would know that voice anywhere.
"Barbara," she managed to choke out, vaguely aware of Melanie whipping her head around to stare at her.
"Yes, Hel, it's me." Helena couldn't speak and after a few moments, the voice on the other end tried again. "Hel, I wanted to apologize to you."
"What!" It was all Helena could think to say. What could Barbara possibly have to be sorry about? Helena wasn't the one that had three bullet holes to the stomach and a coma on the side.
"I assumed you were aware that I was to be given guardianship of you in case Selena well, I wanted to be able to keep that promise, but after . . . everything, I just couldn't. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to contact you."
"It's alright." Helena could hear the physical and mental pain in Barbara's voice, even after all this time away from her. So she said the first thing that came to mind, something to reassure her, make this easier for the woman she loved, even if things were horrible and deep down she blamed Barbara for abandoning her to these people.
"Thank you, Hel. How are you doing?" She could hear the hesitancy. Barbara didn't really want to know. Now Helena knew the truth. Barbara was feeling guilty and she was just checking to make sure Helena wasn't dead before moving on. Dick was surely helping her cope with the changes in her life. This was a pity call. Oh, you remember that girl I used to eat lunch with, the one who's mother died; I wonder how she's doing? I should really give her a call.
"I'm fine, Barbara. You don't need to check up on me. Thanks for calling." She tried to hang up, but couldn't before adding, "It was good to hear your voice again," then pushed the off button breaking the connection.
Dropping the phone on the floor, she flopped onto her bed, burying her face in the pillow trying desperately to stop the tears that leaked from the corners of her eyes. The sound of the phone ringing brought her hands up to clench the pillow over her head and block out the sound. Melanie's, "You gonna get that," completely ignored. It rang several times before going silent. Helena sighed in relief. She zoned out for a while, thinking about good times with her Mom, which she did often. Her musings were interrupted by the voice of Regina Petterson (Helena would rather die than call her Mom like the others) yelling for Helena to come downstairs. At least Bill wasn't home. He would have done more than yell for her.
When she finally managed to force herself out of bed and make her way downstairs, she could hear two people talking quietly. Getting closer she could identify Regina and a male voice that was somewhat familiar. As soon as Helena could make out the British accent she tried to bolt back upstairs, but it was too late, she had been spotted.
"Hello Miss Helena."
"What's up, Al?" She felt a small bit of satisfaction when he flinched. This was Bruce's man after all. She had no reason to like him.
"Miss Gordon requested that I escort you to her new residence," he said matter-of-factly.
"I was sent to pick you up and drive you to Miss Barbara Gordon's new place of residence so that the two of you may talk privately."
"You won't be there?"
"No Miss, I'm just the delivery man tonight." If she hadn't known better, Helena might have thought he was making fun of her.
"Um, okay. Let me go get my jacket." Without another word she turned and ran up the stairs. She could hear Regina arguing with Alfred behind her, but didn't stop. Bill wasn't around so she could probably get away with leaving.
She was terrified, elated, infuriated, and just plain desperate to see Barbara. The part of her that was still capable of emotion knew that she still loved the older woman, but it was so tangled with the hate and anger that had been her constant companion since that day in the hospital when she had listened to Barbara cry. She honestly had no idea how she would react to seeing Barbara in the flesh again. Whatever happened, Helena had a bad feeling, and she was paying much more attention to her feelings nowadays. Still, she grabbed her jacket and met Alfred at the black Rolls-Royce as quickly as she could. Barbara had called, and Helena would always come for her, even now.
Barbara held the stapled papers in hands that shook. She quickly wiped her palms on her jeans, trying not to soak the essay she had finished the night before. Her heart raced to her throat when the elevator chimed signaling the entrance of Alfred followed, somewhat reluctantly, by Helena. She watched as the brunette took in the areas of the house she could see, before settling her gaze directly on Barbara's wheelchair.
"So, you're living in a clock now?"
"I guess you're not up for a quick run on the rooftops though."
Barbara couldn't stop her flinch at the cruel and insensitive words. She looked up in time to catch the severe frown Alfred turned on the teen. Helena seemed remorseful before shrugging to her full height and projecting an air of indifference once again.
"Well, maybe not tonight, Hel. Besides, I'd like to discuss a few things with you."
"And that's my cue, ladies. Please enjoy your evening, and phone if you need anything. Dinner is prepared and warming in the oven."
"I'll need a ride back to the Petterson's," Helena spoke up before he could reach the elevator. He looked at Barbara questioningly.
"We'll call later, Alfred. Thank you so much."
"Of course, Miss." Then he was gone.
"Would you like something to eat or drink," Barbara offered while trying to take in every small change to Helena's appearance. Her hair was short and chopped off in uneven, spiky chunks. It badly needed a trim, or even a basic style, as Barbara could tell it had been done with a pair of scissors and possibly a mirror. She was wearing a Gotham U sweatshirt and a pair of jeans with holes in both knees that extended down past her feet to drag on the floor. Selena had always bought her daughter the latest fashion and Barbara knew for a fact that Helena would never be caught dead in such an outfit. The brunette must have noticed her assessment, and didn't bother to hide her irritation.
"I'm not exactly the poster child for GAP anymore, huh."
"You look fine, Hel," she tried to reassure the girl.
"Don't lie, Barbara, it doesn't suit you. Then again maybe it does, what the hell do I know?" Helena didn't even look at her, instead she spoke with her face toward the kitchen, not bothering to meet her gaze.
"What exactly do you mean by that, Helena?" Barbara could feel her blood pressure increase. She was used to dealing with rude, obnoxious teenagers, but Helena had never been one as far as she was concerned.
"Me? Nothing. I was just commenting. Making small talk, you know?" Helena still wouldn't meet her eyes, so she slowly rolled closer, watching as the girl flinched backwards slightly. In that moment Barbara wanted to scream. She wanted to hit something until it shattered under her fists. Her heart ached so badly that she could barely breathe, but it was enough to smell the smoke that was rolling off of the figure in front of her.
"Are you smoking?!" Helena's head snapped up and finally met her own. Barbara expected them to be the golden, but they were blue and filled with anger.
"Not presently, but yeah, I smoke now." Barbara watched sadly as Helena shrugged off her question like it meant nothing. "You gonna give me the `smoking is bad for you' lecture, cause if you are I can save you the trouble. I've heard it before and I really don't give a shit."
Barbara tried to hide her own pain at the knowledge that Helena had started smoking and cursing at the drop of a hat. Obviously Helena's life had taken a turn for the worse while Barbara was trying to put her life back together. She needed to stay on topic and not get distracted, however. Somehow she had to reach Helena. It was imperative for both of them that she do.
Rolling forward, Barbara held out the papers in her hand. Helena looked at her quizzically before reaching out and taking them cautiously. She watched as the brunette read through her essay. She had written it in hopes that giving Helena proof that she remembered their past friendship might make this easier. Helena had been right, and both of them had barely survived the last semester. Barbara silently prayed that Helena wasn't developing into a precog to go along with all her other gifts. She didn't know if she could handle a teenager with that ability.
"I owe you that," Helena looked up, her eyes hooded so that Barbara couldn't read the emotion, "for your prediction . . . about last semester."
"Don't be stupid, Barbara." It hurt but she tried not to show it. The young woman before her wasn't the one she had joked with just months ago. This young woman was bitter and angry, and took out her pain on the closest target which unfortunately happened to be Barbara.
"I don't think it's stupid to keep my promises. In fact, I think it's very important."
"Well you wouldn't be the first person who didn't." Helena practically spat, spinning away and easily leaping to the second floor and escaping to the balcony that Barbara didn't even know she knew about, leaving the redhead wanting to scream at her, wanting to ask her how she was supposed to continue their argument when she couldn't even walk up the stairs to follow her. Instead, she took a breath to force the anger and hurt down then calmly wheeled to the elevator. Six minutes and twenty-four seconds later she was sitting next to the teenager again. Helena continued to stare off into the city without looking at Barbara, her arm around one of the stone gargoyles.
"I'm not doing this anymore, Hel."
"What, Barbara, you gonna off yourself?" For a second, the redhead couldn't breathe. It felt like her heart had contracted pulling her entire chest with it. That Helena could say something like that to her-
"I'm sorry. I didn't I shouldn't have-" Helena trailed off. Slowly, she turned to look at Barbara, flinching when their eyes met. Her gaze finally settled on the wheelchair that Barbara had come to view as her prison. When she spoke, the words were addressed to the chrome and fabric, but Barbara felt every word like a punch to the stomach, well, like how she remembered a punch to the stomach felt. "That week, the week that Mom . . . Anyway, she promised she would always be there for me. Always. And now she's dead." Helena spat the word, pain and fear clear in her tone. "I'm sorry, but I don't want to hear about any more promises right now."
Barbara didn't say anything, simply giving the words the silence they deserved. When she visibly saw Helena take a breath and attempt to calm down, she spoke again.
"Too bad." Helena's head whipped around, golden eyes pinning Barbara to her chair. She met the stare head-on. "Because I'm making you a promise right now. I'm not going to leave you." Seeing Helena about to argue, she reached out and gripped the arm in front of her, feeling the muscles tense and strain under her hand. "I may be stuck in this fucking thing for the rest of my life, but I'm not going to leave you." She had to hide her smirk when Helena's eyes became comically wide at her use of the swear word.
"You can't promise that." The words were a whisper that twisted Barbara's already sore heart.
"Yes I can, because I mean them. Your Mother meant them too." Helena turned away, but she squeezed her arm to get her attention. "She meant to keep her promise, Hel. That's what matters."
"Maybe." The word sounded like it was dragged from the brunette's throat with the utmost difficulty.
"Like I said before, Hel, I'm not doing this anymore. We're going to get our lives back, together. You and me, whatever it takes. I'm going back to work; you're going back to school in the fall. We're going to treat each other with respect. We're going to start living again, Helena, and I'm going to need your help. I promise not to leave you, but can you make the same promise?"
The wind was the only sound for several moments, long enough that Barbara felt her hope fade. She had tried her best. It wasn't as simple as she had made it seem of course, and it would take both of them working together, but they could do it. They had too. Barbara had another promise to keep.
"I'm sorry about before." Barbara sagged into her chair in relief.
"It's alright, Hel, but for future reference those kind of hurtful words need to stop. I've also been guilty of taking out my anger on the people I love, but we're both hurting enough already." She watched curiously as Helena's eyes sparked to gold for the briefest moment, wondering what she could have said to get such a reaction.
"Yeah, ok." Helena leapt gracefully off the railing, and for a moment Barbara almost chastised her for showing off before remembering her words from only moments ago. She had her own issues to work through as well. "I guess I'll go get dinner."
"Thank you. I'll be down in a moment." Six minutes and twenty-four seconds to be exact.
"Promise?" Helena's words floated back to Barbara, seeming to be carried on the wind that howled around the older woman, a mix of sarcasm and soft teasing. It was a start.
"Yes, I promise."
Helena took a moment to savor the delicious smell of the roast Alfred had left them. She searched until she found plates and utensils then set the table. As she backed up to take a look at the effect, she was surprised to feel tears making their way down her cheeks. It had been so long since she had set a table for two. Tonight however, it would be just her and Barbara.
More tears fell as she thought about the way she had spoken to Barbara. The things she had said! She hated herself for them, but couldn't seem to stop. She had all this . . . rage that just seemed to swirl around her body and lash out at everyone who tried to get near her. She needed it. She needed it to protect what was left of her heart, her emotions, but that didn't mean she had the right to hurt Barbara. Especially not Barbara.
But what had Barbara been thinking?! That she would just invite Helena up to see her gorgeous new house, give her that stupid (but awesome, in a Barbara kinda way) essay, and things would go back to normal. Why was she talking about them helping each other out? You and me . . . what did that mean? She was living with the Petterson's and Barbara now lived in the Gotham Clocktower (which really, how cool was that) with Alfred and Dick. They might phone each other once in a while, but so what? Barbara didn't need to drag her here to tell her that. Helena would have eventually cooled off and called her back. Probably.
After Barbara had rolled to the table and Helena had done her best not to stare, they enjoyed their meal and didn't speak. Barbara had a glass of wine and it was almost finished when Helena finally got up the courage to break the silence.
"I'm gonna go grab a smoke before I call Alfred." It wasn't a question, but she tried to speak politely. She could at least try.
"Helena." Barbara's voice stopped her in her tracks. There was something in her voice, hesitancy, determination, that caused Helena to pause. "What do you think of this place?" Barbara asked waving her hand around to indicate the interior of the Clock Tower.
"It's pretty sweet, Red." Helena replied honestly and was shocked to see two tears leak out of Barbara's eyes. "Um, it really is great, Barbara. I swear! I'm not lying! You did really good," she frantically tried to reassure the older woman.
"Well, Helena. I did well, and it's not that. It's just, I missed having you call me that."
"Oh, geez. Please try not to freak me out so much, Barbara. It's not good for my heart."
"I'll do my best, Hel," Barbara replied, Helena heaved a sigh of relief. This entire night was putting her through the ringer. She would almost be happy to head back to the Petterson's, at least there nothing ever changed. "I want you to live here with me."
"Whaaaa . . .?" Helena realized she could have made a more dignified response, but for some reason that was the only thing her throat could seem to vocalize.
"I. Want. You. To. Live. Here." And it wasn't Helena's imagination, Barbara was definitely smirking. "With. Me."
"But, what about the Pettersons?" And that was so stupid because who gave a shit about the Pettersons. She sure as hell didn't.
"Your Mom left you in my custody, Hel. I gave her my word. I would very much like for you to stay here with me."
Helena could tell she meant it. Red really would like for them to live together. It was too much. After everything that had happened, it was just too much. She felt the first tear break free and quickly stood up, intending to flee, but was stopped by the arm that shot out with almost supernatural speed and caught her wrist. She was quickly dragged down until her head was resting in Barbara's lap, her tears soaking through the blue jeans below. Long minutes later the tears slowed and Helena became aware of Barbara's fingers running slowly through her hair, sending a shiver up and down her spine. God dammit, she should be over this!
Barbara began talking, barely a whisper, but of course Helena heard her clearly, and she knew that Barbara knew it too. It was so nice to be around someone who knew what it meant to have enhanced senses, and didn't try to shout every word at her, that for several moments Helena didn't pay attention to the words, only the soothing voice above her.
"I can't promise you much, Hel." The teenager could hear the slight hesitation and tensed immediately. Here was where Barbara told her it was a joke, or maybe that it would only be a couple of weeks and she shouldn't bother packing. "I don't want you ever going back to the Pettersons, but I know living with an older, disabled woman isn't probably what you were expecting either." Helena couldn't speak, she was too shocked, and Barbara took this as a cue to keep going. "I'll make some calls and you can find a foster family that you can live with until you turn eighteen. Would that be acceptable?"
Helena's head was spinning, so she sat up and moved back a bit from the redhead. Being so close to Barbara was doing horrible things to her body and self control, but enough was left to seriously consider what Barbara had just revealed.
"First, don't ever call yourself an older, disabled woman again. It makes you sound like you should share this place with, like, twenty cats or something. Second, there will be no cats. I'm more of a dog person, really. Third, I don't want another foster family. In my experience, they suck. I would really like to live here with you though. Finally, what do you have against the Petterson's, Barbara? You've never even met them, have you?"
She watched in silence as Barbara rolled over to the desk beside the elevator and removed a manila envelope. Slowly wheeling back, she handed them with great reluctance to Helena. The brunette took a moment to study Barbara before looking inside. What she found made her heart ache and burn at the same time.
There, in the photos, was Mr. Petterson way too close to Melanie, a hand on her shoulder and one on her hip. The shots only got worse from there. Near the end there was a photo of Mr. Petterson slapping Helena across the face. The next was Helena's fist hitting Mr. Petterson right in the jaw, and Helena thought it was actually a decent picture and she might keep it. The next showed her getting dragged to a police car in cuffs.
"So who took the pics, Red?"
"A private detective. Alfred hired him and brought the evidence to me. I got this place up and running, not to mention myself, if you'll excuse the pun, when I found out. I realized I needed to get my life in some kind of order so I could get you back in it. If that's what you want."
"I do, but are you sure about this. I'm not the same person I was before . . . everything," Helena replied. "I smoke, I cuss, I have no patience for anything, let alone good manners, and I have this thing, this rage in me that doesn't go away and lashes out at everyone who gets close." She was trying to be honest. Trying to give Barbara a chance to run away before things got really bad.
"I'm in a wheelchair, Helena. I curse. I break down in tears at the most inopportune times. I yell at the people who try to help me because they don't understand the way I'm hurting. I'm not going to be the easiest person to live with either," Barbara laughed her voice hitching before taking both of Helena's hands in her own, "but somehow, I feel that if I'm here for you and you're here for me, then we'll make it. Together."
"You're gonna make me cry again, and I haven't cried since you woke up in-"
Helena instantly realized her mistake. Why couldn't she seem to keep her mouth shut around Barbara anymore? At this point she was lucky she hadn't just blurted out she was in love with the older woman. For some reason she felt it would only take a few more of Barbara's innocent touches to make her a complete rambling mess.
"When I woke up in the hospital you mean, Hel." She could only nod. "I felt you there you know. When they were trying to bring me back." Helena couldn't stop the flinch this time. As far as she was concerned, the fact that Barbara had technically died on the operating table was a vicious rumor started by bored and underpaid health professionals and she for one was not going to support their gossiping. It made it easier to bear somehow. Sorta. "Dad said you passed out next to the operating room when I - so yeah, I'm pretty sure it was you. And I know I don't do the feelings thing very well, so are you sure you haven't been holding out on me with some new meta ability?"
"Nope, you know all my secr- um, abilities." Helena looked around the room trying desperately not to catch Barbara's eye. She felt too raw and she knew Barbara would see something she shouldn't in that moment. She found it funny that when she finally did look back, Barbara was doing the same thing. Obviously time for a subject change. "So alright, I come live with you here, inside a giant clock. Somehow we manage not to kill each other, but what about Melanie, what about Davy?" Davy was the other child the Petterson's had taken from social services. He was only eleven, but Helena knew that didn't make him safe in that house.
"Helena, I've already informed the appropriate people about the situation. Mr. Petterson will likely be spending several months, if not years, in jail and no child will ever live in that household again, I promise you."
"Good. I tried to tell them what happened, but they wouldn't believe me. Said I was under some kind of post traumatic stress, and of course it was my word against his. Stupid fucks."
"Hel." The reminder was stern, but not insulting.
"I understand, but the fact that you rendered him unconscious probably didn't help your argument. However, let's not dwell on unpleasant topics. The room upstairs and to your left is yours. Alfred can go back tomorrow and get the rest of your things."
"Don't bother. I don't want any of that junk. They wouldn't let me keep any of my old stuff. Said it was too fancy for a kid my age." Helena rolled her eyes in frustration.
Finding out in the hospital that Selena's apartment and most of her things would be sold and the money placed in her trust fund was just one more blow to the already reeling teen. She never wanted to see the apartment again, but she had managed to make a list of the few items that she simply wouldn't give up, sentimental things of her Mom's for the most part that would be placed in storage. It just hadn't seemed that important while waiting to see if the last person on Earth she cared about was going to die. After that, having the Peterson's throw out the clothes she'd brought with her hadn't really registered.
"Don't worry, Hel. I'm sure we can go shopping tomorrow and get you anything you want." Helena wanted to question where all the money was coming from. It must have taken a lot to remodel the Tower, and now Barbara was offering to take her shopping when she knew that Helena had expensive taste.
Suddenly fatigue washed through her so quickly she felt her knees start to buckle. She hadn't been sleeping well for months and after the emotionally draining talk with Barbara she was lucky to still be standing. Barbara noticed and gave her a sympathetic smile.
"Why don't you try out your new bed and I'll see you in the morning."
Helena offered a weak wave in return, but managed to climb the stairs and fall mostly onto the green sheets of her mattress. Green always had been her favorite color. Then she was asleep.
The sound of solid wood meeting flesh echoed in the air followed shortly by a soft expletive.
Seconds later the sound was repeated with more force.
"Dammit, Red! That fucking hurts!"
"I'm aware of that, Hel, but if you continue to curse in such a manner, it's only going to get worse."
"Worse! I know you have some frustration to get rid of, Barbara, but you don't need to take it out on me. I'm sure Dick wouldn't mind flying in for a quickie."
The minute the words left her mouth, Helena wanted to grab one of Barbara's escrima sticks and smack herself in the head. And she had been doing so well lately. For the last few weeks things had been fairly civil between them, both working toward establishing a comfortable living arrangement. Unfortunately, that morning, Barbara had suggested they spar, selling it as a chance for Helena to learn to defend herself more competently, a means for her to work off some of the anger and aggression that still plagued her, and a chance for Barbara to get a workout that didn't involve physical therapy.
It had been going well until the sight of the redhead in a sweaty white tank-top; her hair sticking to the sides of her face in dark red curls, had nearly driven the teenager out of her mind. The desire to kiss Barbara, or just simply touch her, had become a maddening itch that wouldn't let up. The longer they traded witty banter and light physical attacks, the harder Helena had to force herself not to give in to the urge to simply grab the other woman and throw her up against the closest wall. Finally it became too much and instead of acting physically, she lashed out with a verbal assault, one that not only hurt Barbara but herself as well.
"Dick has a life in Bludhaven now, Helena. He won't be dropping by for quickies any time soon. Besides, I doubt he's interested in any kind of relations with a woman who can't even move her legs."
Before Helena could think of a response or offer an apology, Barbara had thrown her sticks to the ground and rolled out of the gym. Knowing she needed to apologize, but unable to make the effort at that moment, Helena chose instead to pick up the escrima sticks and store them in their proper location. Next, she loaded up the brand new push-up bar until it would be a challenge for even her meta-enhanced strength, and forty-five minutes later she felt calm enough to leave the Clocktower's gym. Her first stop was the kitchen for something to eat where she found Barbara nursing a cup of tea at the small wood table.
"I'm sorry." Helena knew there was more that needed to be said, but she also knew that right now, she wasn't ready to talk about it.
"It's alright, Hel. Everyone slips now and then." Barbara's understanding and reassurance simply made the brunette feel worse. "I'd appreciate it, however, if you would stop bringing up Dick." Helena was one of the few people who could appreciate what that request cost Barbara.
"I'll try. I didn't mean to bring it up this time," Helena admitted with some reservation. "I just get so angry, and stuff just comes out of my mouth before I can think, you know?"
"Yes, Helena, I know. However, there's nothing you could say to me that would irreparably damage our relationship, but that won't be the case with everyone." Of course, Helena knew this wasn't really the truth. One word about her romantic feelings for Barbara, and irreparable damage would be the least of her worries. "You don't want to go through life alone because you've thoughtlessly hurt the people in your life once too often."
"I don't care about being alone. I'm already alone." Barbara was quick, but Helena caught the look of hurt that passed over her features. "I just meant with Mom- and then Bruce taking off-"
"I understand why you might feel that way, Hel, but it's not true. I promise you will always have me. No matter how many times you mention my paraplegic state or past boyfriends." Helena knew Barbara was just trying to lighten the mood, but the calm manner in which she spoke of Helena's cruel words still caused the brunette pain. Barbara shouldn't have to deal with her shit right now. She knew Barbara cried herself to sleep every night, and when her own sobs finally stopped, she would listen to Barbara's until she fell asleep. It had become her very own fucked-up lullaby.
"Right, okay." All Helena wanted to do was escape the kitchen, but before she could run away, Barbara held out a hand to stop her.
"I know the Petterson's didn't provide you with an allowance, but I don't want that to be the case here." As the other woman spoke, Helena could feel her heartbeat race with the sudden spark of anger. Who did Barbara think she was trying to give her money, like she was her mom or something?
"Who do think you are?" Helena paused when she saw Barbara flinch slightly away from her, knowing her eyes had gone feral. "You're not my Goddamn mother, Barbara. I don't need your fucking money!"
"Then tell me, Hel, how do expect to purchase anything for yourself?" Barbara's eyes had gone as bright and hard as jade, and Helena thrilled at the blood that shot through her veins as she stared into them. "Well?"
"I don't need anything. You've provided for me quite adequately, Red," she taunted.
"Yes, I hope so. However, I haven't been providing for you. Bruce has." Helena took a moment to remind herself once again that when pushed far enough, Barbara had her own set of claws.
"Yes. Bruce Wayne."
"I'm taking it all back." Helena turned quickly to head up the stairs, intending to carry out her threat that very moment.
"It's eleven on a Sunday. All the stores are closed."
"I'll take it back tomorrow morning then," she replied, not to be deterred.
"Is this really necessary, Helena?" Barbara sighed.
"Yes! I won't take a fucking thing from him. You shouldn't either, Barbara! He abandoned you too!" Helena watched as the words registered with the other woman and her expression grew sad.
"Perhaps, but do you want me to give up our home? Do you want me to fire my physical therapist? Do you want me to give back the money that paid for the medical bills, that continues to pay for them? That was all paid for with Wayne money." She paused before locking eyes with Helena. "Do you want to go back to foster care? Because I can't pay to keep us together."
"Barbara." It was only one word, but Helena couldn't find any more.
"I don't know what you expect me to do, Hel. I'm trying as hard as I can, but it's not enough. It's never enough." Helena watched the tears slide down the other woman's cheeks and felt what was left of her heart spasm in her chest. She knew Barbara wasn't simply talking about their financial situation, but anything she said at this point would only make things worse. "I think I'm going to bed now. Would you please make sure all the lights are off before you turn in?" Helena nodded mutely. "Thank you. Goodnight, Helena." And with that, Barbara rolled into her room and shut the door, leaving Helena alone in the soundless kitchen with an intolerable ache in her chest.
Once again, tears had soaked her pillow. She could feel the moisture at her temples and the salt tracks down her cheeks. Soon she would stop crying for this night, and could turn her pillow over and try to sleep. Soon, but not yet.
Barbara hadn't realized how hard it would be to live with a grieving, angry teenager. She had expected the anger and the acting out. What made it so hard were the inconsistencies. The first day Helena had spent at the Clocktower, she had left an article of clothing on the floor which had subsequently become lodged in Barbara's wheel in an inattentive moment. In the weeks since that time, Barbara had, at no point, seen another hastily discarded article or any item carelessly left on the floor for that matter. It was these conscientious gestures juxtaposed with the painfully biting comments that constantly had Barbara on edge. At any given time Helena could be the sweet young woman she had known, and then for no reason or pattern that Barbara could discern, she would be faced with the enraged, sometimes cruel, stranger that had come forth from that terrible night.
Pulled from her thoughts by an unexpected sound outside her door, Barbara waited to see if it would be repeated. Soon the door opened slightly and a shaggy, dark head peeked through cautiously. She had to stifle a gasp when golden slitted eyes met her own.
There was no answer, and she watched as the brunette slowly approached the bed. For some reason she found she couldn't move, pinned by the feral gaze, even when a slightly shaking hand reached out to trace the faint tracks on her face. It was only when she moved to pull the hand down and into her own that Helena spoke.
"I'm so sorry, Barbara. I can't take his money, I just can't. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't. I want you to have this place. I want you to keep your PT. I want you to have the best medical care. I'm sorry I was such a bitch. I know I'm the worst person for you to be around right now. I've got all these issues, and you don't need to be dealing with them on top of everything else. I was thinking I should just go." Barbara felt her heart start to pound at the thought of Helena leaving her, but before she could speak the younger girl pressed on. "I'm almost eighteen. I can find a job. Rent a place. It's not that hard. I really think that's the best thing."
Barbara allowed herself a few seconds to absorb the thoughts and emotions roiling in her brain, but when the first tear slid from golden eyes and Helena tried to pull away, Barbara acted on instinct. Using her newly sculpted upper-body, she tugged sharply, flinging a shocked Helena across her waist. Before she had a chance to escape, Barbara managed to pull her tight against her side, wrapping an arm firmly around the girl's stomach.
"Barbara?!" Her name came out in a startled squawk which had the redhead fighting valiantly not to laugh.
"Yes, Helena?" Amazed blue eyes stared at her in confusion.
"What the Hell?!" Helena did her best to indicate the situation they were in, but found her right hand trapped underneath her body and her left pinned by the arm Barbara had wrapped around her.
"Helena, as I've become tired of mentioning, I want you here with me. Yes, you being here complicates my life, but," she quickly added when she felt Helena tense, "I wouldn't have it any other way. We'll get through this together, and in that spirit, I think the sleeping arrangements need to be adjusted. I for one am tired of crying myself to sleep alone. How about you?" She watched in amusement as the Helena continued to stare at her in complete shock before nodding silently. "Good, then it's settled. Close your eyes and try to get some sleep."
Feeling comfortable, and if she were shockingly honest, safe for the time since the shooting, Barbara allowed her mind to drift. Minutes or perhaps hours later she felt a soft vibration travel along the bed. A strange rumbling sound began as well, and it took several moments for Barbara's sleepy mind to put the pieces together. Helena was purring. Quickly checking on the girl, she found her sleeping soundly, a small smile on her lips. An answering grin found its way to the redhead's features before she lay back down with a sigh. The sound was very relaxing once she recovered from the alarm, and prompted her last thought as untroubled sleep overwhelmed her for the first night in many months.
She could get used to this.
"It's alive!" Helena used her best mad scientist voice and she couldn't deny that the cobbled together computer system that now sat proudly in the center of the former dining room was impressive. Wires and cables snaked here and there across the floor and monitors rested at precarious angles on several different tables. In the center of the chaos, Barbara sat in her chair looking right at home. "So once again, explain to me why we no longer have a place to sit down and eat dinner" Barbara glanced at her briefly before turning back to the screen directly in front of her.
"One, we hardly ever eat dinner together. Two, you always eat in front of the TV. And three, this was the best location to hook up to the power grid in the Tower. I updated a lot of the wiring, but some things simply can't be replaced without remodeling the entire structure, something I would really rather avoid."
"Uh huh. Okay, so tell me this, why do we need the world's most powerful, and don't forget ugliest, computer system on earth."
"It's not ugly, it's just a prototype, and it has a name-"
"Delphi. I know, I know."
"And once it's functioning properly, I'll start streamlining and make a few cosmetic additions-"
"Which will make it much more attractive," Barbara continued, ignoring Helena's interruptions. "And it's not the most powerful system on Earth. The Justice League's Watchtower is far superior, although considering that it's a satellite in orbit, the argument could be made that it's not really on Earth and therefore disqualified from this particular honorary title. The Batcave computer, however, is more powerful . . . for now."
Helena could almost see the childish glee in Barbara's eyes as she talked about her newest passion. In the nine months that had passed since Helena moved into the Clocktower, the construction of Barbara's technical masterpiece had been a large part of their lives. After the night that Barbara had dragged her into bed, sadly not in the way Helena had always dreamed of, things had gotten better. Each night spent beside the older woman seemed to heal some part of her broken psyche. Of course it was hard to lie so close to the redhead and not do something they would both regret, but for some reason, lying there, knowing she was keeping Barbara from screaming out in the grip of a nightmare or crying in her sleep made it almost - pleasant.
After that night, Helena was finally able to breathe without feeling like Barbara's Delphi was resting on her chest. Red had tried to keep it from her, but Helena had seen the days she would lock herself in her room. She had seen the depression that left the older woman hollow eyed and empty. She had seen her look at the drawer in her dresser that contained Commissioner Gordon's old service revolver. She had seen the self-loathing and hopelessness, and it was part of the reason Helena still cried herself to sleep.
Barbara had promised never to leave her again, and Helena believed her, but she had also seen things she couldn't forget. The construction of Delphi and Barbara's enthusiasm and satisfaction with the project made it easier to believe, to accept. Helena would give up every room in the house if it would make Barbara laugh again, something she had been trying, and failing, to do since the day she first woke up in the Clocktower.
So, time had passed and they came to an understanding. Both went back to school. Barbara started out subbing, but planned on going back to her English class the next semester. Helena went most days and tried to pretend that learning who the twelfth American president had been mattered after you had watched your mother bleed to death. She knew she was only going for Barbara's sake, and she accepted that. She wouldn't be going to college; no matter how many times the older woman brought it up, subtly or otherwise. School would be ending soon, she was almost eighteen, and even if she could never tell Barbara her greatest secret, at least she was close to the other woman. Helena was lost, so very lost, and for now, it was enough to just exist. That would just have to be enough.
Just enough. Like her life, she only had to care just enough not to throw herself into Gotham harbor.
At least the training was going well. Helena doubted she would ever be able to beat Barbara when she used her escrima sticks, but when they sparred hand to hand, she was taking half the bouts now. Barbara had tried to get her to use some of Batman's old equipment, but she had refused. To her mind, it was the same as taking his money. Besides, what did she need any of that junk for anyway?
Barbara's voice snapped the brunette out of her musings. She could tell from her tone that this discussion had Barbara worried, anxious, and a little hopeful - unless she was just totally bullshiting. The redhead had always been hard to read, even more so after the shooting.
"What's up, Red?"
"I was wondering if we could talk on the couch for a moment." This was bad. Anything that dragged Barbara away from her new baby before she was blurry-eyed and dizzy from lack of sleep was serious and deserved at least a defcon three. If she transferred herself out of the chair to the actual couch, bump it up to two. If she shut off the TV and didn't ask for coffee, defcon one, and Helena would seriously consider making a run for the balcony.
Helena tried to casually follow Barbara to the couch while flashing yellow lights seemed to obscure her vision. As Barbara calmly transferred herself onto the cushions, Helena's hands began to shake. When Barbara began to speak, she sighed in relief. The TV was still on, but muted and the first words out of her mouth were very reassuring.
"Oh, I forgot my coffee. Would you mind grabbing it for me, Hel? If you want, go ahead and get something to eat as well."
Helena went into the kitchen for some partarts, soda, and a refill on Barbara's coffee. For the life of her she didn't know what Barbara wanted to talk about. It was obviously somewhat serious. She tried to identify anything she had done at school that could have provoked this level of response, but came up empty. Tired of working herself up, she decided to just get it over with. Walking back into the living room, she handed Barbara her coffee, put her drink and snacks on the end table, and waited for Barbara to spit it out which she did.
"Helena, I want to use Delphi to fight crime in Gotham, and I was hoping you would be my eyes and ears out there."
Helena considered it, but in the end, didn't run for the balcony.
One year since the Delphi had become operational. One year since Huntress had stopped her first criminal. One year since Oracle had become Gotham's electronic guardian. One year of good times and bad.
Nine months since Dick Grayson had come back into her life. Nine months since she had started to laugh again. Nine months since they spent their one night together. Nine months since Dick Grayson had exited her life for the second time.
Almost three days since Helena had called him something highly inappropriate.
One day since she had officially dubbed their crime fighting duo the Birds of Prey. One day since Helena had stopped pestering her.
Two hours and forty-three minutes since Barbara realized she was content. Not just content, happy. She had accepted that she would never walk again. She had accepted that she and Dick Grayson would never be more than very good friends. She had accepted that Helena would not be going to college and would instead be working (illegally) at a bar. She had accepted that she was now a cyber crime fighter with Helena as her partner. She had accepted that Helena was the arrogant, frustrating, willful, playful, loving adhesive that kept her life together. And two hours and forty-six minutes ago, she had realized that she was content . . . and happy. She took a moment to simply laugh, feeling the sound fill her chest and throat.
"What's so funny, Oracle?" Helena asked over the coms.
"Nothing, Huntress. I just felt like laughing." There was several seconds of silence before Helena's spoke, her voice sounding somewhat choked.
"That's really good to hear."
Barbara knew that Helena was having a difficult time. She was a rebellious teenager and living with a crippled high school teacher was not the easiest of arrangements. Add in Barbara's own depression and anxiety plus Dick's short, but disruptive visit, and frankly, Barbara was surprised she hadn't tried to make her escape.
"Why are you still here, Helena?"
The words were out of her mouth before she could think and she quickly brought a hand to her mouth in alarm. The silence over the coms was frightening. She knew better than anyone that there were some things that you just didn't discuss with Helena okay, a lot of things.
"Because I promised, Barbara."
"Oh." The redhead wanted to smack her head against the desk. Where had her extensive vocabulary gone?
"And because I can't imagine not being able to talk to you every day." And now she was speechless, even worse. "Oracle, do you read me?" Barbara heard the hesitancy in the younger woman's voice and it impelled her to speak.
"I'm right here, Huntress. I I'm really glad that you feel that way." Another moment of wanting to smack her head on the desk. "I, um, feel the same way." Goodness that was pathetic.
"I know, Red."
She could hear the smile in Helena's voice, and suddenly it was alright. More than alright. Two years, one month, and eight days since she had lost the use of her legs, Barbara Gordon was content, happy, and something she couldn't have expected Barbara Gordon had hope for the future. A future with Helena Kyle in it.
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