Title: Out of the Dark
Fandom: Birds of Prey
Disclaimers: I don’t own Birds of Prey or any character created by WB or DC Comics used in this story. I’m making no profit on this and wouldn’t want to – as it is ‘borrowed gods’. All credit goes to the creators of Birds of Prey.
Author's Notes: English is still not my first language, so despite ‘beta-ing’ please excuse any strange grammar or spelling mistakes…
Second Author’s Notes: This is another stand-alone story.
Special Thanks: Again thank you to my beta-reader for time and energy put down into my stories!!! :)
Summary: an alternate spin off tale of the episode Gladiatrix (very alternate…)
”Yes?” She held the phone to her ear and heard the unfamiliar, male voice on the other end ask her to hold on for a moment.
It was a gloomy day outside her office. It was summer, but the wind was chilly and the sky dark; it seemed as if it would rain before nightfall.
It was a quiet day at the library, for which she was thankful; the fewer people she had to deal with, the better she felt. It had been different once, but those sunny days when she could laugh with and talk to people were long gone. Her life had ended two years ago – and then again on a dark and rainy autumn’s night not long after.
“Reese?” She straightened in her wheelchair, unconsciously tightening the hold on the phone. He never called her at work, what if...?
“We’ve found her.”
She dropped the phone, feeling a cold, cold dread creeping up on her, threatening to overwhelm her. “We’ve found her...”
She had been waiting two years to hear those words and now, when she did, she was afraid of what it meant.
Slowly she bent and picked up the phone. In the space and time it took her to reach it and put it back to her ear she reflected upon those lost years. They had been dark years. She had been all alone.
Two years ago Helena had disappeared when on a mission. She had been following a lead that took her to Old Gotham and the sewers, where she then disappeared without a trace. She had been tracking a one-eyed kidnapper and possibly a murderer. Several women had disappeared and then turned up dead and the guy Huntress was tailing had been caught in the act of trying to abduct a female meta-human. The investigation had lead to an underground organization called Gladiatrix, where ordinary men paid to watch female meta-humans fight against each other to the death.
When Dinah, followed by Reese and the police, found the location of Gladiatrix the arena was being abandoned. Several women, meta-humans, were found locked up in cells and several highly esteemed citizens – men – were caught at the scene. The men, of course, were later free to go. No crime could ever be proven. The one-eyed man Dinah had identified as the leader behind the arrangements was gone – and so was Huntress.
Weeks went by with no word about Helena. Reese, Barbara and Dinah searched everywhere for her, following every trace and the slightest suspicion on her whereabouts across the country, but to no avail.
Without Huntress the criminal activity of New Gotham increased and everywhere one looked it was chaos. Dinah did her best to keep the criminals in check, but on her own she was too young and too inexperienced. Barbara had to call in re-enforcements in the shape of Dick Grayson: AKA Nightwing.
And then Clayface broke out of jail, blew up the town-hall and killed the mayor. Shortly thereafter Harley Quinn – the supposed girlfriend of the Joker and, as it turned out, Helena’s former psychologist: Harleen Quinzel – made her move and captured the whole of New Gotham in a hypnotic web. Nightwing got caught and was ordered by Harley Quinn to kill Barbara. In the process of fighting for her life against her once best friend Barbara was wounded and would have died had not Dinah given her own life to restore Dick’s sanity. She did so by entering his mind, fighting him in his head at the same time Nightwing took the opportunity to gut her with an axe. Her body died instantly, but her mind survived long enough to break Harley Quinn’s hold on Dick.
When Nightwing realized what he had done he was devastated, almost mad with remorse he attacked Harley Quinn and they fought. The showdown took place at the top of the Clock Tower, where Nightwing took the mad woman with him when he jumped from the building, throwing the two of them towards a certain death.
Life from that night on had been lonely and dark for Barbara Gordon, the sole survivor of the former vigilante group. Hiding in a small office – or in the basement with the oldest books that needed re-cataloging at the City Library – as a minor assistant to the head of the library, she isolated herself from everyone and everything around her. She hadn’t been inside the Clock Tower since Dinah’s and Nightwing’s deaths and consequently Gibson Kafka, the new mayor, had arranged for an apartment close to the library for her.
For two years she had lived the life of a recluse, only speaking when spoken to at work and only with Reese – sometimes with Gibson, when he came for his occasional visits – in private. For two years she had waited for the phone call that would change her life.
“Barbara...? Are you alright? Are you there?”
“I’m here, Reese.” Surprisingly her voice sounded even and calm. “Reese...?” She hardly dared to ask...
Oh, thank God! She closed her eyes and felt the tears trickle down her cheeks. They wet her lips and she tasted the salt on her tongue.
“I’ve sent a car to pick you up. They’ll be with you in a minute.”
“Fine. Reese... where is she?”
There was a moments silence before Commissioner Jesse Reese answered her question.
“She’s at Arkham.”
“My team followed the lead you gave us and it led us straight to her”, Reese explained as they moved along the dark corridors of Arkham Asylum; a guard followed them at a respectful distance. “He had brought her back with him. Back to the underground arena. I can’t believe he would be stupid enough to start it all up here again.”
“Maybe he thought it safe”, she said, keeping her eyes locked on the door ahead of them. She knew what was behind that steel enforced door. “It’s been two years now… I told you he was probably behind the missing women in Ontario last year. If someone had just…”
“But we didn’t and now she is here”, Reese cut in.
Barbara silenced. She wanted to argue with him, but knew it wouldn’t do any of them any good. She could hear the strain in his voice and suspected she knew the reason behind it. Both Reese and Dinah had blamed themselves for Helena’s disappearance when it happened, but neither had blamed themselves as much as she had blamed herself. No one had known how much she had grieved Helena.
She had sworn never to forgive herself for losing Huntress.
“She knocked out ten of my best men, Barbara”, Reese said, not looking at her. His face was hard and when he added: “She didn’t recognize me”, she understood why.
“What did you do to her?”
“They had to sedate her. She’s been here for two days…”
“Reese!” She halted her wheelchair and turned towards him. “Two days! And you tell me now?”
“I haven’t been here, you know that”, he said in a controlled, measured voice. “I was out of town, I only returned today. They told me about what happened and I came here as soon as I could. When I had confirmed it was her I phoned you.”
She closed her eyes and calmed down. “Fine”, she said after a minute and looked up at him. “Fine, then.” She turned her wheelchair and moved towards the end of the corridor; towards a steel enforced door.
“I didn’t want them to contact you”, Reese went on, following her. “I didn’t want you to come down here and find it wasn’t her. I didn’t want you to get your hopes up in case it wasn’t…”
“I said ‘fine’”, she snapped, looking at him over her shoulder. “You did what you had to do.”
He halted and held her gaze. “Yes”, he said softly, before he moved past her towards the door. He fiddled with a bunch of keys before he found the right one, put it in the hole and turned it. The door swung open and Barbara wheeled in, followed by Reese. The guard stayed outside.
A short corridor greeted them. On the right hand there was a thick, black wall – on the left there was a padded cell, with white, bright lights and what seemed to be glass walls. Barbara knew it wasn’t glass; it was much thicker and stronger than glass and the woman behind it was oblivious to their presence in the corridor. There was a low bed, a sink and a toilet-seat in the cell, but that was all.
“She can’t see us”, Reese explained. “Look”, he added and indicated a black curtain covering some parts of the cell at the end of the corridor. “If we remove the curtain there is a two-way window and a door…”
Barbara wasn’t listening. She stared at the woman behind the glass, at the woman in the white room. It’s really her, she thought, amazed, stunned – terrified. Oh, God – Helena…
She wheeled up towards the glass and put her palm against it. On the other side the dark haired woman kept pacing back and forth like a nervous animal in a cage. She seemed to be crouching, almost growling as she moved. She seemed more like a wild beast than a human; her hair was dark and matted, her face pale and thin and there was a dangerous gleam in her eyes. In her feral eyes.
“She’s been like this for two days”, Reese said at her side. “Since they placed her here. She’s eaten the food they’ve given her, but she hasn’t said a word. In the beginning she tried to smash the walls, but when she failed she settled with this…” He gestured towards the pacing woman. She was dressed in white – the required outfit for Arkham’s internees – and the light color made her eyes look like dark bruises in her face.
“She’s lost”, Barbara whispered, not taking her eyes off Helena’s face.
“What?” Reese asked, looking down at her.
Barbara shook her head. Reese wouldn’t understand; he hadn’t known Helena all that well before she disappeared. He wouldn’t know… He couldn’t know the rage that had lain dormant within Helena before she vanished, or how easy it could have been for her to give in to it. But she hadn’t, Barbara knew that. If Helena had given in to the rage that once had threatened to engulf her she wouldn’t have been pacing back and forth behind a glass wall in a prison cell in that moment – she would have been free, a killer on the loose. A killer, thirsting for even more blood.
“She didn’t kill those women, Reese”, Barbara said.
“Are you sure?” he asked sharply. “You know I can’t let her loose like this. And if she killed those girls…”
“No.” Barbara shook her head.
“There’s no way you can prove that she didn’t”, he objected.
“There’s no way you can prove that she did”, she said.
Three women had been found dead near the harbor; the bodies had been dumped. The women had been beaten to death, much like those women who had disappeared two years ago – right before the time when Helena disappeared. The similarities had made Barbara believe the founder of Gladiatrix was back and Reese’s cops had looked into it. Apparently they had found Helena.
Helena – Huntress – paced. Back and forth, back and forth… A wild animal in a cage.
“They’ve fed her through the slit… You see?” Reese pointed at a small opening at the base of the cell wall. She tries to kill anyone who enters the cell…”
“Did she kill the cops, Reese?” she asked him in a low voice. He didn’t answer immediately.
“No”, he finally said. “She probably could have…”
“She’s not a killer, Reese.”
“You don’t know that. She’s not who she used to be. Whatever they did to her turned her into a killer. She’s a beast, Barbara, out of control…”
She moved her wheelchair towards the black curtain covering the glass wall at the end of the corridor.
“I must see her…”
Before Reese had time to stop her she pulled at the curtains. As soon as she had done so Helena spun around and stared at her; golden eyes gleaming. Barbara was caught in that look; in the depths of the woman she had once known. Whom she still knew – she was certain of it as soon as she looked Helena in the eye.
Those eyes… There was so much pain, hurt and fear behind the mask of rage and restlessness. Barbara knew no one else would see past the rage to discover what lay behind the hatred, but she had known Helena for a long, long time.
“Open the door”, she said, not breaking eye-contact with the other woman.
“Forget it, Barbara…”
“Open the god-damn door!” she snapped, looking up at Reese with blazing eyes. “Let me in!”
“She’ll tear you to pieces”, he angrily objected.
“She won’t”, Barbara said and looked back at Helena. “Just open the door, Reese”, she added softly.
He hesitated, but then walked towards the steel enforced door where the guard stood, exchanged a few words with him and then closed the outer door. When he came back he pulled a magnetic card from his pocket and slid it across the lock on the glass door. The door slid slightly open and Reese pulled his gun, prepared for any eventualities, but Helena didn’t move. Reese opened the door enough for Barbara to be able to wheel through. As soon as she had passed the threshold he closed the door behind her. A small slot, level with the lock in the door, made it possible for Barbara to hear him when he said: “Only briefly, Barbara.”
She didn’t answer him. She stared at Helena, who stared back at her. Two years… It felt like an eternity.
“Helena…” Her voice wasn’t more than a whisper.
“I know you”, Helena whispered in a broken voice. “I know you…”
Tears welled up in Barbara’s eyes and she wheeled forward. Helena reacted instantly.
“No!” She threw up her arms, covering her face at the same time as she was backing away to the corner in the other end of the room. “You are not real!” she screamed. “You are not real! Go away! Go away!”
There was so much anguish in her voice Barbara came to a halt, feeling her heart tearing into pieces: Reese had been right about that, just not in the way he had anticipated. “Helena…”
“Go away! Go away…” Helena crumbled in the corner, with her back to the wall and with her head in her arms. She rocked slightly back and forth, whispering inaudibly to herself.
“Barbara…” Reese said in the background.
“Let me stay, Reese”, she pleaded, unaware of the tears wetting her cheeks. “She’s no danger to me…”
He let her stay and she sat in silence for hours, only looking at Helena huddled up in the corner.
* * *
Barbara didn’t sleep well that night. Memories from the past haunted her and made her twist and turn in bed, until she finally rose just before dawn.
She had taken two weeks leave from work, knowing she would need it. Her boss had granted it to her without a second thought. He was probably glad to be rid of her for a while; some people complained that she shouldn’t be working where the public could see her, since her appearance was an offence to any decent human being. Those were someone’s actual words and two years ago she would have felt deeply offended hearing someone speak like that, but since the battle with Nightwing she had heard – and been subject to – worse offences than that.
To think that she once had been insulted hearing Wade’s parents call her a freak. She wondered what they would think of her now… Oh, no – she actually knew what they thought: in their eyes she was an aberration, bordering on an abomination.
She wheeled in to the bathroom and wet her face before looking herself in the mirror. “Her appearance is an offence to any decent human being…”
As if she wasn’t a decent human being. As if she hadn’t done more for this city than anyone else, including Commissioner Reese and Mayor Kafka. As if she hadn’t sacrificed more than anyone else for the wellbeing of New Gotham.
She touched her cheek. The reflection in the mirror did the same. Her fingers traced the deep, ragged scar on the right side of her face where the blade of Nightwing’s axe had grazed her. Had she not been able to throw herself out of the wheelchair in time that blow would have split her scull. It would have saved her a lot of sufferings.
The scar disfigured her face and marred the beauty she had once possessed. But she never let other people’s opinions of her appearance put her down – she wheeled with straightened shoulders and her head held high. Her choice to live like a recluse stemmed more from the pain of losing her loved ones than from the reactions her presence caused New Gotham’s citizens. The scar was in some ways a relief; it served as an excuse for her to be able to isolate herself without anyone intruding on her privacy.
She didn’t expect to find someone who’d love her the way she looked these days, not after Wade had left her. Although the loneliness didn’t bother her that much, it was the broken dreams that plagued her – and the loss of Helena.
Some parts of her had given up when she lost Helena. She remembered it well, how Dinah one night contacted her over the intercom and told her she had caught a few bad guys trying to rob the bank. Such a cliché, she had thought. Robbing the bank – so there are still a few old-fashioned thieves amongst us. “Take them to Reese”, she had said and Dinah had done so. Reese had received the robbers, thanking Dinah for her effort. It was then Barbara suddenly realized that Helena was gone. It had been three weeks and there hadn’t been one word... It was then the realization hit her – not in an explosive kind of way, but quietly. And just as quietly something within her had died.
At ten o’clock she wheeled past the massive doors at the entrance to Arkham Asylum. She had been given a private pass the day before and entered the area and the corridors without effort. It wasn’t until she reached the corridor with the steel enforced door she realized something was wrong. Three heavily armed guards stood watch outside the door and even through it she could her Helena screaming.
My God! she thought, desperately moving towards the door. “Let me through!” she demanded, but the guards – two men and one woman – only looked at her with stern, inscrutable faces. “Is Reese there?” she asked, trying to see past the guards at the closed door, as if she could see through the steel. “Reese!” she called. “Reese!”
The guards looked at each other and the woman nodded, before she moved to open the door. The other two guards immediately blocked the view and the female guard disappeared behind the door. Barbara heard Helena’s angry cry from inside the cell.
She waited impatiently and worriedly until the steel door opened and Reese came out.
“What the hell is going on?” she demanded to know, while the female guard resumed her place with the other two.
“Don’t know. She’s been like this the whole night, since you left yesterday evening.” Reese made a gesture with his hands. “They showed me the video from the surveillance camera; she’s been like a wild animal the whole night. Trying to break free, even screaming your name.”
“And why didn’t anyone call me?” she asked icily.
“The warden thought it best to sedate her and I...”
“And does it seem to have worked?” Barbara went on. “Goddamn, Reese! You should have called me! Let me see her!”
“And do you believe it would make matters worse?”
“Barbara – her psychologist is in there, trying to talk to her. Too many people will only upset her and...”
“Her last psychologist was a goddamn psychopath, Reese! I won’t have more people messing with her mind. Let me see her – now!” She looked at him with cold, controlled rage and Reese lowered his eyes and nodded.
“As you wish”, he mumbled as he turned away.
A moment later Barbara wheeled past the three guards and into the corridor where Helena was held in her cell. Three men in white clothes and with needles in their hands stood guard at the glass door, where a man with glasses was trying to speak to Helena. Four police officers with drawn guns flanked the male nurses and the psychologist.
Helena was trashing her room. She had torn the sink from its hold and the water had sprayed the walls. Her mattress was torn to shreds and so was the padding on the walls; the steel frame of the bed had been mutilated and the steel bars bent in knots.
“Get them the hell out of here!” Barbara hissed, seeing the tiny man in glasses talking soothingly to Helena in a voice that would drive anyone crazy who wasn’t before. “Now, Reese! Get them the hell out of here!” Her voice was still measured and controlled, but it was filled with an icy rage the Commissioner knew not to argue with.
In a few moments Reese had the others leaving the room, even the psychologist and his nurses. When the steel door closed and Helena noticed Barbara in the corridor she suddenly came to a halt. Barbara saw that she was bleeding from a scratch above her left eyebrow. Helena’s face displayed uncontrolled rage and even madness.
“Let me in to her”, Barbara asked softly.
“She’ll kill you in this state, Barbara. She won’t know you, she doesn’t even know herself. I can’t let you...”
“She’s only afraid, Reese.”
“Afraid?” he snorted condescendingly. “There’s no fear in her, only hatred and rage. I told you, whatever they did to her changed her. She’s not your friend anymore.”
Barbara shook her head softly. “You are only upset because she didn’t recognize you…”
Reese inhaled with a soft gasp. “That’s not…”
“True? No?” Barbara asked, turning her head to look at him. “You loved her, didn’t you? It must hurt that she doesn’t remember you. But Reese, I’ve known her longer. I know Helena in a way you could never…” She hesitated. I loved her too, she thought. I still do. But she couldn’t tell him that. She sighed and wheeled towards the door. “Just open it”, she said lowly, holding Helena’s gaze. “I’m asking you, Reese. If she kills me... If she kills me I have failed and in that case I wouldn’t want to live anymore, anyway. Please, Reese...”
He opened the door and Barbara wheeled in to the room.
Helena stared at her for a moment, which felt like an eternity. Then, with a loud, hurtful scream, the other woman threw herself at Barbara and grabbed her by the throat, lifting her out of the wheelchair with one hand.
“You are not her!” Helena cried in anger, squeezing harder. Barbara felt darkness sneak up on her, but held Helena’s eyes and tried to reach the other woman only by looking at her. Trying to convey their shared past, the happy memories, the affection...
“Let her go – or I’ll shoot!”
“Reese, no...” Barbara whispered. She wasn’t sure he heard her, but something in Helena’s face changed – something hard and hurt in her eyes gave way and she loosened her grasp on Barbara’s throat, although she didn’t let her go completely.
“Do you hear me?” Reese said. “Let her go or I’ll...”
“Reese...” Barbara’s voice was clearly heard this time and with her back towards him she gestured to him to back off. “Leave us, Reese...”
“You are not her”, Helena repeated, this time in a more normal voice – sounding bewildered.
Oh, God – what have they done to her? Barbara thought, trying to swallow. “Helena...”
“Don’t...” Helena tightened the grasp again, flashing anger in her eyes. “Don’t speak my name like that. You are not her!”
Barbara silenced; she didn’t say anything, but she held Helena’s eyes until Helena slowly let her go. Barbara rubbed at her throat, inhaling deeply as she sank back into the wheelchair.
“Thank you”, she said.
Helena shook her head and backed off towards the corner where she had huddled the day before, but now she only crouched down – wary like a cornered animal. Her eyes were gleaming as she fixed Barbara with her gaze, staring intensely at her. Barbara slowly turned her head to look at Reese.
“You alright?” he asked, warily eyeing both women. He stood in the doorway, still with his gun in both hands. She nodded.
“Please, leave us, Reese”, she asked. “She won’t harm me now.”
He hesitated, but then nodded and put down the gun. “I hope you know what you are doing.”
“I do. Tell that... shrink to leave her alone or Mayor Kafka will have him fired. And no more drugs, Reese. Tell them.”
He nodded again. “I will.”
He closed the door and left the corridor, but he posted a guard on the inside of the steel enforced door.
Helena seemed to relax a little when Reese was gone, but she didn’t leave her corner or take her eyes off Barbara.
“You are only a figment of my imagination”, she said. “You are not real.”
“Perhaps not”, Barbara said softly. “But if I’m a figment of your imagination I can’t harm you either. Let’s only talk.”
Helena shook her head. Her eyes were still augmented, gleaming like a cat’s eyes in the dark. “I won’t talk to you.”
“Then I’ll talk...”
She hadn’t talked as much in two years as she did that week. She wasn’t even aware of what she talked about, it wasn’t anything important: the flowers outside her window, the kids in the library, the new City Hall, the newly planted City Garden opposite the Clock Tower – a city park for the citizens of New Gotham. And she talked about memories.
She related memories from before Helena’s mother died, from the time when Helena’s meta-human powers made themselves known and from Dinah’s arrival in New Gotham. She didn’t talk much about Dinah, only mentioned the girl a few times before she changed subject. It was too painful to talk about.
Helena never said anything. She sat curled up in the corner, staring at Barbara while she was talking – intently listening, but also constantly alert and never relaxed. Usually when Barbara arrived she pretended not to notice the other woman until Barbara wheeled into the cell, but that day – a week after their first reunion, odd and painful as it had been – Barbara was late.
“Good morning, Ms Gordon”, the warden said when she arrived. “I believe you are expected.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, glancing suspiciously at the tall man. She didn’t trust anyone working at Arkham, not since Harleen Quinzel turned out to be the mastermind behind New Gotham’s criminal activity two years ago. Besides, this was the first day the warden even looked in her direction, for him to actually talk to her must mean he wanted to gloat about something.
“Your plaything... She’s been asking for you.”
“She’s not my...!” she snapped, but then clenched her jaws. The man didn’t know what he was talking about, he was snide and mean and she wasn’t lowering herself to talk to him.
“I told her you weren’t coming!” he called after her with a laugh when she wheeled towards the corridors.
When Barbara wheeled into the corridor where Helena was held she noticed Helena sitting on her new mattress with unusually slumped shoulders. It even looked as if she was crying. When Barbara wheeled closer to the glass she realized that Helena indeed was crying. She was sitting on her bed with her knees drawn up to her chin, staring straight ahead into empty space while tears trickled down her cheeks.
“Helena”, Barbara mumbled.
When she moved towards the curtain and pulled it away from the door Helena looked up with a suddenly hopeful expression on her face. When she recognized Barbara her face went blank, but her eyes... Barbara felt something pull at her heart, seeing that look in Helena’s eyes. It was hope, mingled with fear and... love. She swallowed, drying her own tears with the back of her hand, before she opened the door and wheeled into the cell.
“Sorry I’m late”, she said casually. “There was an emergency at work and I had to cover for someone for a few hours.”
“They said you wouldn’t come.” Helena’s voice was void of emotions, but her eyes followed Barbara across the room.
Barbara made an involuntary face. “The warden told me. He’s a jerk, you shouldn’t listen to him.”
“My Barbara wouldn’t tell me someone’s a jerk”, Helena said and her eyes drifted off towards something far away.
“No?” Barbara asked carefully, halting in the middle of the room, a few feet from the bed. “Maybe she has changed too.”
“I loved her”, Helena went on, as if Barbara wasn’t present anymore. She was staring into space, talking in an even, measured voice. “I never told her, of course. I was too much of a coward...”
“She knew, Helena”, Barbara said, softly.
“And she had Wade. She seemed happy with him...”
Barbara frowned. “Helena, what do you mean?”
“She had this special way of saying my name sometimes, it made me believe... But it was all in my head. I was only imagining things, hoping things to be true the way I wanted them to be true. Just like now.” Helena turned her predator’s eyes towards Barbara. “You are not real.”
“What are you talking about?” Barbara wheeled towards the bed and without thinking she reached for Helena. “Tell me. You loved... her? How?”
She touched Helena’s hand and Helena didn’t pull away. She only looked down at their hands and turned her own hand with the palm upwards, to grasp Barbara’s hand in hers.
“I didn’t kill”, she whispered in a broken voice. “Barbara – I didn’t kill...” She looked up at Barbara with hurt in eyes filled with tears. “I didn’t kill. I listened to you, all the time... I listened...” Slowly she began to rock back and forth in bed, whispering: “I didn’t kill, I didn’t kill, I didn’t kill...”
Barbara didn’t know what to do. She held on to Helena’s hand, trying to make sense of what Helena had told her. She loved... me? She loved me that way? She loved me like Wade loved me? Oh, God – oh, no!
“She was there, with me all the time”, Helena suddenly said, still silently crying. “Barbara... She was there and I listened to her when he tried to make me want to kill... And when he tortured me, I listened to her voice...”
Torture? My God!
“Barbara... I wish I could tell her, I didn’t kill.”
“Oh, Helena...” Barbara reached for the other woman and pulled her towards her across the bed.
“Tell her, I didn’t kill anyone...”
“I will, I will tell her. Hush, now.” In one swift motion Barbara moved herself from the wheelchair towards the bed and took Helena’s head in her lap, caressing the other woman’s sweat streaked hair.
“I wish – I wish I could see her again... In real life. Not only in my mind...”
“You will. I’ll find her for you.”
“Tell her I didn’t kill, tell her...”
Barbara held Helena close to her. While both of them were crying she whispered soft words to the younger woman, telling her everything would be fine, telling her all would be well. She didn’t know how, but she knew she’d do anything to get Helena back to her old self again.
Helena cried for a long time, all the time mumbling incoherently, but finally – when it was time for Barbara to leave, according to the warden’s rules – she looked up at Barbara and acknowledged her presence.
“Will you stay with me?”
“You need to rest, sweetie.”
Helena nodded. “I can’t rest. Only if you stay with me. Will you stay with me? Please...”
Barbara caressed Helena’s forehead and nodded with a soft smile, remembering the child Helena had been and the young girl she had grown up to be, before she became a woman. “I will. You sleep now. I’ll stay, I promise.”
Helena smiled and closed her eyes. “Good”, she mumbled and then fell asleep.
When Barbara woke up it took a moment for her to regain orientation and to remember where she was. It was dark, with a soft, violet light in the background and something soft lay pressed against her. Her arms… She gasped softly: she lay holding Helena wrapped in her arms in the narrow bed of Helena’s cell.
Helena lay with her back towards her, holding her hands close to her chest and breathing softly. She was still asleep.
Barbara remembered the warden’s face the night before when she told him she was staying with Helena. He had wanted to object, but she had said one thing, a name: Gibson Kafka.
The warden had been furious, but he had left them alone.
Barbara’s neck was slightly stiff, but she didn’t dare rub it for fear of waking Helena. As far as she knew this was the first time Helena had slept peacefully a whole night; she needed her rest.
Sometime during the night Barbara had managed to lay down with Helena in her arms and to pull the grey blanket over them. They lay huddled together beneath it like two lovers on a campfire-tour. The thought made her blush. There had been a time before Helena disappeared when she had believed herself to be in love with the other woman, but then both Wade and Reese had entered their lives and with Dinah around too there hadn’t been much time left to analyze such thoughts. Although she had felt strangely drawn to Helena, a fascination that had bordered on the indecent – even awakening some erotic sensations she’d had a hard time dealing with. To be sexually attracted to another woman, and especially to Helena – whom she had known since she was a child! – had bewildered her. She had tried to deal with it, telling herself to concentrate on Wade – because, face it; Helena wouldn’t be interested in her in that way in any case.
Now it seemed she had been wrong. And to wake up with Helena in her arms like this, feeling the warmth of the other woman’s body so close to her… It made her close her eyes with a sigh. Whatever Helena thought she felt for the Barbara she had left behind, real-life Barbara couldn’t do anything about it. Her first duty was to get Helena back on her feet and she couldn’t do that by making her even more confused. Besides, she wasn’t sure herself what she felt. Her emotional life had been dead for two years – she hadn’t felt anything, not even the need or desire to keep up “the good fight”, as Bruce once had called it. She was dead inside and she wasn’t even sure Helena’s presence would make a difference to that.
Although her blushing cheeks told a different story.
At that moment Helena moved and turned around in Barbara’s arms. She opened her eyes – and they were normal.
Helena blinked. “Barbara?” she said bewildered. “What…?” She gasped and her eyes widened. “What has happened to your cheek? What – where… are we?” She sat up and looked around and Barbara stared at her.
“Barbara – where the fuck are we? What happened? Why are we together…” – she looked confused and a little flustered down at Barbara – “in bed?” In the next moment her eyes changed again. “And who the hell did that to your face?” she said angrily.
Oh, dear… Barbara thought.
It seemed Helena didn’t remember a thing from the night she went down below the sewers to Old Gotham two years ago and until she woke up with Barbara. Reese couldn’t believe it, the warden of Arkham refused to let Helena go and Barbara had to deal with an annoyed Helena who refused to stay in her cell. Finally Helena relented and promised to behave in her cell if she got some food, entertainment and Barbara’s word that she would be let loose before the afternoon.
“You can’t promise her something like that!” Reese almost yelled at Barbara in the warden’s office at Arkham. “You had no right!”
“And what would you have me do?” she snapped. “Look at her – she’s Helena again, however weird that is…”
They turned as one to look at the screens in the office; two of them showed Helena on her bed contentedly eating burgers, watching a portable television and flipping through glossy magazines.
“Right”, Reese jeered. “As if she won’t lose it any time soon.”
“I’m not saying she won’t”, Barbara said. “But she doesn’t belong in there…”
“Fucking right you are!” Reese pointed at her. “She put ten of my men in the hospital, she ought to be in jail.”
She could have slapped him for it. “You forget yourself”, she said coolly.
“No, lady – you forget yourself”, the warden said, pointing at her. “This is my house, with my rules – I’m in charge here…”
Barbara didn’t even look at him. “Reese”, she demanded. “Get Gibson on the phone.”
“He won’t deal with her”, Reese said. “Maybe he had a silly crush on her two years ago, but that was before he…” He silenced abruptly.
“Everyone changes”, she said, knowing what he had been about to say. “But the thing with changing, Reese, is this: none of us want to change so much that we don’t remember who we were. He will help her, from the memory of the man he once was. Just like you refuse to help her, because of the man you became when you failed the last time.”
“You have no right!” He took a step towards her, glaring at her.
“I have every right!” she snapped at him. “I lost her, Reese. Goddamn you – it was my fault, not yours. And you have blamed me for it ever since…”
Her words were like a slap in his face and he tumbled backwards. “I haven’t…”
“You believe yourself to be so noble, so righteous…” She shook her head. “I know what you’ve been thinking.”
“No”, he whispered, but she saw the truth in his face, plainly written.
“You even told me once, remember?” She knew he didn’t, he had spoken harsh words in anger and in fear when he wasn’t thinking clearly and he had forgotten. She knew that, because if he had remembered he would have apologized. “You told me I had been safe behind the walls of my tower, while she did all the dirty work for me.”
“You were right, of course. But you were the one that gave up on her and wanted to bury her when she didn’t come back. You were the one that said it was futile to try and find her, that she was gone… And that’s what your guilt is all about. You want your Helena to be dead, because if she is your conscience is cleared and you can put this wild beast behind bars without remorse.”
He stared at her, not finding words.
Reese had changed too, after Helena’s disappearance and with the increased crime rate of New Gotham. After Harley Quinn’s death he and Gibson Kafka had created a nobler New Gotham, purer and without the high criminality of before. But it came with a price and Barbara was the only one who knew that Reese had to kill a man to become Commissioner. If it had been a price worth paying she wasn’t in position to answer – that was all up to Reese himself – and in any case: she cared less about what was right and wrong than she once had.
“Now, get me the Mayor and we’ll be out of here.”
“No, lady”, the warden said as Reese picked up the phone on the desk behind him. “I told you, no one is getting out of here without my permission and I’m sure as hell not giving that freak a pass.”
“You will, or I’ll have your head on a plate”, Barbara said icily, looking at the man. He sneered at her.
“And who are you? A librarian? Well, no – not even that. You are an assistant librarian! Who the fuck would listen to you? You come in here, threatening me with the Mayor, but I bet you don’t even know him. You sorry ass of a freak. The only good you’ll do is…”
“For you”, Reese said with a stern face as he handed the phone over to the warden.
“What?” the man said, slightly annoyed.
“It’s the Mayor. He wants to talk to you.”
* * *
“Wow!” Helena whistled as they walked out of the gates of Arkham Asylum and glanced at the large, darkly looming building behind them. She was dressed in black jeans and a dark t-shirt Reese had sent one of the guards to buy for her; the weather was warm and she wouldn’t be cold. “I can’t believe I’ve forgotten two years of my life. What the fuck happened?”
“We better talk about this when we get home”, Barbara said, realizing Helena’s amnesia would pose a problem. Reese was right: sooner or later the emotional and mental walls Helena had put up to forget her trauma would crumble. There was a high risk that Helena would explode and only God knew what would happen then.
Barbara could imagine what would happen and she realized she wouldn’t be able to relax until Helena finally lost it.
“Yeah, you are probably right.” Helena shuddered. “This place gives me the creeps.” She turned and smiled at Barbara.
“What?” Barbara asked, a little self-conscious at Helena’s intimate gaze. She had managed to get a shower at Arkham and had changed into dark trousers and a light yellow blouse; the same guard that went shopping for Helena had picked up the clothes for her. But she still felt a little dazed at the unexpected development and was not used to the old Helena – who at the same time seemed so new to her. It had been such a long time since they talked like this.
“Nothing. I’m just happy to see you. It feels like it’s been ages.”
“It has”, Barbara said and Helena suddenly laughed out loud.
“Apparently”, she said, grinning. Then her smile faded and there was a warm, gentle look in her eyes that was new. Barbara felt a slight blush creep up her neck. “Your scar…” Helena said and leaned forward.
Well, yeah – if she ever actually did feel something for me it’s bound to die because of that scar… Barbara thought, but then gasped in surprise as Helena’s fingers gently caressed the rough scar across her right cheek.
“Helena…” she whispered.
“Hush”, Helena softly said; her thumb grazing against Barbara’s lower lip. Then she bent forward and kissed Barbara on the cheek, lingering by her side. Barbara held her breath and involuntary closed her eyes for a second, before opening them again.
Helena straightened and said: “Did you order a cab?”
Barbara nodded, not sure her voice would carry.
“Fine”, Helena said, pointing to a yellow car further up, on the opposite side of the road. “That’s probably it.”
They took the cab to the library, spending the time in silence. Barbara was trying to come to terms with the surprising event that was Helena’s sudden recovery and was grateful for the quiet ride back to the library. She was also wondering how Helena would react to meeting Reese again. The former detective had left Arkham before Helena was released and the two of them hadn’t met yet. Would Helena still have feelings for him? And exactly what had Helena meant when she said she had loved… her?
“No tip”, Helena said when they stepped out of the cab and pulled the dollar Barbara had given the driver as extra money from his hands.
“What the fuck…?” he said angrily.
“Fuck you!” Helena said and her eyes changed in anger. “I saw the way you stared at her. I see what you’re thinking, looking at her…” She leaned forward and the man sat back down in the seat of the car.
“Helena…” Barbara said. “Come on.”
“No tip”, Helena repeated, growling at the man. He pulled the door closed and drove off.
“What was that about?” Barbara asked, slightly confused. Helena shrugged, putting the dollar in her pocket and looked around.
“Why are we here? I thought we were going home?” she asked as she realized they were standing at the square in front of New Gotham’s City Library.
“Well, yeah, the thing is…”
“We moved?” Helena turned to look at her; her eyes were back to normal. “We moved the headquarters?”
“Well, the thing is…” Barbara slowly inhaled. “I don’t live at the Clock Tower anymore.”
“You don’t? What about the rest of…? Hey!” Helena suddenly spun around, grabbing a passing woman in the arm.
“Helena!” Barbara called out, suddenly noticing they were surrounded by people coming and going from the library. She suddenly realized something else, too.
Right after Dinah’s sacrifice and Nightwing’s death Barbara had been so burdened by the loss she hadn’t really registered the world around her. It took her months before she realized people were actually staring at her when she went out the door. It took her some more months before she realized they thought her ugly and a freak – a woman in a wheelchair, with a scar across her face that would scare a corpse back to life.
That was what Helena had meant when she rebuked the driver and that was why she now harassed the people around them.
“What the fuck are you looking at? Huh?” Helena held the woman’s arm, demanding an answer.
“Helena – let her go”, Barbara said, wheeling up to them. “Let her go…”
“What’s the matter with you people?” Helena called out, pushing the woman away. The woman stumbled backwards, but regained her balance with the help of a man who happened to pass by. “Huh?” Helena demanded, looking about her with a stubborn set jaw. “What are you looking at?”
“Please…” Barbara asked.
“Fine”, Helena said and turned around, throwing out her arms. “Fine – let’s walk, let’s pretend they’re not staring at us…”
“They’re not”, Barbara said dryly. “They are staring at me – and I’m used to it. Get used to it, too. You’re the one making a scene…”
She wondered why it all of a sudden felt so natural for her to be back to that particular, casual way of discussing serious matters that she’d always had with Helena. It was as if the other woman had never been missing at all. Except she had – and life wasn’t as bright and sunny any more.
“So? Are they right to whisper behind your back like that?
“No”, Barbara agreed with a sigh. “No, but I can’t do anything about it.”
Helena blinked and seemed to be at loss for words. She also seemed to realize it wasn’t the time to joke around and nodded. “Alright, let’s go – but I want to go to the Clock Tower. I want to see it. Let’s talk there.”
Barbara guessed it was fitting that they should talk there and nodded. Helena would hear the story at the place where it all had happened. Where the soul and heart and will of Barbara Gordon, once Oracle – once even Batgirl – had died.
Helena sneezed as soon as she stepped out of the elevator to the former headquarters at the Clock Tower.
“Wow! It must have been awhile since Alfred cleaned this place up”, she said and looked around. What she saw silenced her and Barbara took the time to wheel up to her side.
The Clock Tower was trashed since the last fight against Harley Quinn. Delphi was destroyed; Barbara wasn’t sure how much of the computer system was working, or if there was anything worth salvaging.
“Helena”, she said slowly, feeling eerily out of place in front of Delphi. This had been her place, her home – where she spent so many waking hours watching out for New Gotham’s citizens. This was where she had fought her last battle – not against Nightwing, but against the computer instructed nuclear bomb Harley Quinn had left behind. Only Reese and Gibson knew what she had done for their city that night – for their state, even – when two of her most loved and trusted friends had died.
“Alfred died six months ago”, she said levelly. There was no perfect time to tell news like that. “Heart-failure.”
Helena turned to look at her. She stared at Barbara for a long time, seemingly trying to comprehend what she had heard. “Oh, my God – Barbara…” she finally whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
Barbara nodded. “Maybe you’d like to sit down?” she asked, gesturing towards a chair lying on its side not far from them. Helena looked at it and then back at Barbara with cheeks growing pale as the realization dawned on her.
“Barbara, where is… Dinah?”
Barbara closed her eyes hearing the pain in Helena’s voice. The last time Helena saw Dinah the two of them had been arguing. Barbara remembered how upset Dinah had been because Helena hadn’t taken her seriously enough. Helena hadn’t acknowledged Dinah as a true crime-fighter because of her young age. They argued and Helena went out on her own – never to return. And now…
Barbara felt the tears trickle down her face, but she knew she must be strong. She must be strong for Helena’s sake.
“No”, she heard Helena whisper and opened her eyes. Helena shook her head, vehemently trying to deny what Barbara not yet had revealed. “No!”
“She’s gone, Helena”, Barbara whispered. ”I’m so sorry. So, so sorry…”
“Oh, God…” Helena fell down on her knees in front of Barbara. There was pain in her eyes, but no tears. “What happened, Barbara? Tell me. What happened?”
“She…” It was my fault, she thought. If I hadn’t been confined to this… If I had only been stronger, faster, smarter… “She saved my life”, she heard herself say in a perfectly steady voice. “She died saving my life. She died saving us all, because if she hadn’t stopped Nightwing – he couldn’t have stopped Harley Quinn.”
“Harley Quinn?” There was a silent question in Helena’s eyes when she heard the name and Barbara nodded.
“It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? She called herself Harleen Quinzel…”
“My fucking psychologist!” Helena was on her feet, her eyes changing to that of a predator’s. “Where is she now? I’ll find her and beat the crap out of her.”
“Nightwing did that already.”
“Nightwing?” Helena tilted her head to one side and looked at Barbara. “Dick Grayson? My adoptive brother?” she added dryly. “Wait…” She frowned. “You said Dinah had to stop Nightwing from killing… you? What happened? Did Nightwing kill Dinah?”
Barbara took a deep breath and held it for a moment, trying to calm herself. “Will you sit down, Helena?” she asked one more time and this time Helena did as she was asked; she straightened the chair and sat down.
Barbara told the story of what had happened since Helena disappeared and up to when Nightwing took Harley Quinn with him in death.
“After that the city changed”, she said, finishing up the story. “Reese became Commissioner…” She left out the part with the killing; not even Reese knew she knew about that. “And after a few months Gibson was elected Mayor…”
“Excuse me? What?” Helena blinked. “Could you say that again, I’m sure I heard you wrong? I thought you said…”
“Gibson is the Mayor. He is this city. If we held a re-election today he would win with more votes than any other Mayor in history. Everyone loves him.”
“But Gibson is…” – Helena made a face – “Gibson.”
“Not anymore.” Barbara paused, remembering the old, slightly silly Gibson Kafka with his sweet and innocent ways. “He changed. Harley Quinn changed him. She put him through terrible torture and you know, with his memory…”
“Oh, my God”, Helena paled. “Poor Gibson.”
“Yeah. So, afterwards he was more… focused. He… killed two people.”
Helena paled and stiffened, and for a moment Barbara actually thought she was going to throw up.
“Gibson?” Helena whispered. “Gibson… killed someone?”
Barbara nodded and tried her best not to let the past interfere with the present. She walked a thin line, talking about killing, she realized. The odd, psychological effect last night had had on Helena might not last much longer if she was reminded of things she’d rather forget and the word killing had obviously awakened strong reactions with her. “In self-defense”, she said. “But it changed him, obviously. He’s very… sharp, focused. And he and Reese together have done wonders for this city. There’s hardly any criminal activity, meta-humans and humans are living side by side…”
“No need for vigilantes”, Helena said, a tad bitterly.
“Not so much, no”, Barbara said softly and then added, before she had time to stop herself. “Besides, they are all dead or gone. Sometimes I wonder if they ever did any good, other than lure more bizarre criminals to this city – to challenge them.”
Helena shook her head. “I can’t believe you said that. You talk as if you… as if you’ve given up. You! Barbara Gordon – Oracle.”
“Oracle is dead”, Barbara said flatly, shaking her head. “Look at this place. Our dreams are dead. It’s people like Commissioner Reese and Mayor Kafka who run things now and from what I’ve seen they do it so much better than I ever did.”
“Don’t say things like that!” Helena snapped, getting to her feet. “You are the backbone of this city. You… you always keep fighting when everyone else gives up. You are always there for anyone! What about the ‘good fight’? The ‘right way’ to do things?”
“It’s who I was, Helena”, Barbara said softly. “I’m not her anymore. You’ve been gone for two years. A lot of things happen in two years. A lot of things change…”
Helena shook her head, seemingly refusing to believe what she was hearing. “No, not you. You…” She silenced and seemed to remember something. “Where is Wade? What about Wade?”
Barbara lowered her eyes. “He left me”, she mumbled.
“He left you? When you needed him the most he left you…? What a bastard! Because of what Nightwing did to you?” Helena asked, more softly.
“No!” Barbara looked up. “No, it wasn’t like that. It was my own fault, I…” She silenced and looked away.
“What, Barbara?” Helena kneeled by her chair and lifted one hand to Barbara’s cheek. Again her fingers gently caressed the ugly scar. “What did you do?”
Barbara closed her eyes and leaned in to Helena’s touch with a small sigh. It had been so long since anyone touched her in such a way. “I’ve missed you so much”, she whispered.
“I’m here now. Everything will be fine I won’t leave you again. Ever.” Helena cupped Barbara’s face in her hands and affectionately caressed her cheeks with her thumbs; drying away tears, Barbara realized somewhat embarrassed and opened her eyes. Helena’s face and eyes and lips were so close to her own, if she only leaned a little further… Her eyes went to Helena’s mouth.
“Barbara…” Helena mumbled softly.
“Yes?” she whispered, feeling oddly light-headed and forgetting where she was, what had been.
At the same time they both heard the elevator buzzing. Barbara gasped and pulled away from Helena, realizing she had almost kissed the other woman. Helena was instantly alert; rising to her feet and watching the elevator with intense alarm in her eyes.
“It’s probably only Reese”, Barbara said, fighting to regain her composure.
“Reese?” Helena asked in an even voice, looking down at Barbara.
“He said he would want to see you today.”
“But he didn’t know we were coming here, did he?”
“You forget… He knows you too. He probably figured you wanted to see the Clock Tower. And, if he phoned me at home he would know we weren’t there.”
Helena tilted her head to one side. “You don’t have a cell-phone?”
“It’s off”, Barbara said. “Reese missed you a lot”, she added, not sure why. Maybe she just wanted to make sure Helena still had feelings for Reese. “He was devastated when you were lost.”
“It’s all so strange”, Helena said with a frown. “I remember things as if it was yesterday I went down those sewers and looking for that one-eyed madman, but you… I wonder what I should say to him?” she added, mumbling.
“Hello would be a good beginning”, Barbara said. “Take it from there.”
Helena grinned at her. “Full of good advice as usual. See, you are still…” She silenced and the smile faded from her face. “I forget, then I look around at this place and I remember what you told me – about Dinah and Alfred… I see your face.” She shook her head. “I understand, things are not the same anymore.” She looked around. “It’s so dark in here.”
Barbara followed her gaze, nodding with a sad ache in her heart. “Some things are still the same”, she said softly, looking back at Helena. “You should talk to Reese. He broke a lot of rules for you that night you disappeared.”
Helena seemed to hesitate before she met Barbara’s eyes. “I…” She silenced again when the small bell from the elevator announced the arrival of Commissioner Reese.
They turned around at the same time as Reese stepped out of the elevator. He looked up and came to a halt when he noticed them.
Silence stretched out for what felt like an eternity to Barbara as Reese and Helena looked at each other.
“Hi”, Helena finally said, tilting her head to one side, smiling.
“Hi”, Reese said with a small, seemingly unwilling smile. Barbara instantly recognized the man he had been in that smile and felt both relief and jealousy seeing it. Helena had flirted quite heavily with this man at one time in her life and Barbara had stood by, trying to sort out her own feelings for the restless, beautiful Huntress.
Helena turned to look at Barbara. “What now?” she asked.
“You go with him”, Barbara said as she suddenly knew that was the reason why Reese had come; to ask for forgiveness – and to try to patch up his relationship with Helena. When she saw him watching Helena she noticed the careful hope he was trying to hide.
“Me? What about you?”
“I’ll stay here.” Barbara looked around. “It was a long time since anyone tended to this place. I’ll see if Alfred left a stack of sheets and pillows still in their plastic wrappings somewhere. I’ll have plenty to do, cleaning up.”
Helena nodded. “Fine. And then I could go on sweeps.”
“Hum”, Reese said, coughing.
“No sweeps, Helena”, Barbara said. “Please? Not just yet. I think it’s better you get a little acquainted with the new New Gotham first.”
Helena frowned, but then shrugged. “Alright. I’ll bring home some food for you.”
Barbara nodded, controlling the turmoil of emotions that were rising within her. “Reese?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll bring her home safely.”
The electricity in the Clock Tower – as the elevator indicated – was amazingly enough still working. The fridge and the freezer in the kitchen had been cleared out and disconnected by Reese after Harley Quinn’s death and now Barbara re-connected them again. It seemed she and Helena would be staying in the Clock Tower.
She cleaned up in one of the bathrooms and then found some clean sheets and pillows, with which she made the beds both in Helena’s room and in her own, all the time with the same rigid self-control. The same rigid self-control that had driven Wade away.
Well, that – and the lies. And maybe – because it was one thing to have a girlfriend in a wheelchair, even if ones parents called her a freak, and quite another to have a disfigured girlfriend in a wheelchair.
She had never told Wade about her nightly activities as Oracle. Not until the days after Harley Quinn’s death, when she explained the true cause of her hideous “accident”. It was then she also told the true story of how Helena went missing. The first time she told him about Helena’s disappearance she had given him a plausible story of her being one of the kidnapped girls the newspapers had written about at the time and he had tried so hard to be supportive of her, but he just couldn’t… reach her. No one had been able to reach her after Helena’s disappearance, not even Dinah. She had cut herself off completely, burying herself in work and in her role as Oracle. And after Dinah’s and Nightwing’s deaths matters had been made worse. Wade had blamed her for cutting him out of her life and he had been right, but the thing was… He hadn’t tried really hard to get to know her. He once had told her he wanted to take care of her and when he realized she didn’t need taking care of in the sense he meant it, he left her. He left her the day she went to the hospital to take off the bandage covering her face.
He looked her in the eye, refusing to look at her face, and told her he couldn’t stay with her. He kissed her on the cheek – on the other cheek – and said he hoped they still could be friends.
Of course she had driven him away; she hadn’t tried really hard to hold on to him. She hadn’t even known if she loved him or if she wanted him around. The one thing she did know, was that she hadn’t wanted him to stick around because of pity. It had been better that he left, than if he had stayed because he felt sorry for her. It was the really honorable thing to do.
Still she wondered why even now, two years later, she could feel such pain remembering that he had kissed her on the wrong cheek – on the other cheek, the healthy one. If he had kissed her scarred cheek she could have moved on, she could have forgotten and accepted his words as to why he was leaving her as the truth. Now she would doubt him till the day she died.
She was caught in front of Delphi. It was there her stern resolution not to have an emotional break-down failed. She wasn’t crying, she had been crying enough over the years, but she sat staring at the dark, disconnected computer system for two hours – almost not blinking. She didn’t move until Helena came back and only then because she was reminded that she wasn’t alone anymore. Helena needed her, so she couldn’t afford to have a mental or emotional breakdown at the moment.
“I brought pizza”, Helena said.
“Thanks”, Barbara said, turning around with a weak smile. Helena frowned worriedly at her.
Barbara shrugged. “Could be better, but I’m alright.”
Helena nodded and looked around the hall. She found a turned over desk which she straightened up and brushed off until she was satisfied, then she moved the desk closer to Delphi and placed the pizza box on it. “You’ll eat with your fingers, right? I brought napkins.” She glanced at Barbara with a grin and produced some white napkins from her pockets, which she put on the desk beside a can of Coke.
Barbara wheeled up to the desk, suddenly aware that Helena was watching her with an intense, scrutinizing expression.
“What?” she asked, as she opened the box and looked inside.
“Reese told me what you did”, Helena said solemnly. “Apparently he had a need to… talk.”
Barbara glanced up at her. “What? What did he tell you?”
Helena held her gaze for a moment before she answered; there was tenderness, pride and worry all in a strange mix in those intense eyes. “He told me about the nuclear bomb you disarmed. He told me that you, with that” – Helena touched her own cheek, but looked at Barbara’s scar – “injury, bleeding so badly and so hurt… And with the grief of losing both Dinah and Dick… He told me you saved this city, that not even the best bomb-experts in the police force could do it. But you cracked the code and disarmed the bomb in a few minutes, right before the explosion…” She shook her head. “And you didn’t tell me.”
“There was nothing to tell”, Barbara mumbled.
“He said you didn’t want anyone to know… No one knows.”
Barbara shrugged. “You know what it’s like, being a vigilante is not about fame.”
“But you saved them and they spit on you!” Helena raised her voice, challenging her. “He told me…” She hesitated. “He told me you have no friends, no one who cares for you. He said people mock you to your face, that they even harass you and you don’t… If they had known they would treat you better.”
“You think?” Barbara arched an eyebrow at her. “You have a high opinion of human beings.” She sighed. “No. If they can’t treat me with respect like this, then I don’t want their respect when… It doesn’t matter. I don’t want them to know, because if we’d told New Gotham the true story from the beginning they would have known my shame.”
“Your shame?” Helena said incredulously.
“Yes”, Barbara snapped, looking at her. “My shame. I failed, Helena. I lost Dick and I lost Dinah and it was my fault. I was in charge. I should have done something, I should have seen it coming, but I was so fucking blind… Oracle” – she huffed in self-mockery – “what a joke. I didn’t even see what was right in front of me. I failed. I lost the three people who trusted me the most. Beginning with you”, she said, holding Helena’s eyes.
“I would never blame you”, Helena said, shaking her head. “And knowing Dinah she wouldn’t either. She made her own choices – you know, the way you taught us to. I didn’t know Dick, but Dinah and I… we would gladly give our lives for the cause, because it would mean we would do it for you.”
Barbara blinked and averted her face. “No. No one is worth that much love, that much trust…”
“Don’t do this”, Helena pleaded, moving around the desk to look at her. “Don’t turn away from me. Don’t shut me out.” She paused. “This is what you did to Wade, isn’t it?” she asked softly. “You shut him out and he didn’t fight enough to keep you, so he lost you. He failed you…”
“No, no that’s not it.” Barbara looked up for a brief moment. “He just couldn’t…”
“Couldn’t what, Barbara?” Helena asked, moving closer. “Love you? Did he even know the real you? Did he even try to get to know the real you? You are always hiding, even now.” She paused again. “Don’t you think I see?” she asked, hoarsely. “Don’t you think I notice when I look in your eyes that you have changed? There’s so much pain in your eyes. There never used to be.”
Barbara only shook her head in silence and moved away from the desk.
“No! Don’t go. You need to eat something. You look so thin, it seems to me you haven’t eaten for ages. Please, Barbara… Let me care for you, for once.”
Barbara hesitated, but then gave in with a sigh and nodded. She returned to the desk. “You’re right”, she said with a wry smile.
Helena grinned. “Eat”, she commanded.
Helena found herself a chair and sat down opposite Barbara while she ate. They didn’t talk much. Helena’s eyes never left her and Barbara felt uncomfortable with the intense scrutiny, but concentrated on her food. Helena’s words echoed within her: “Don’t you think I see?” Not even Reese noticed the pain she was hiding. Not even Wade had. All they saw was the mask of indifference and efficiency she wanted them to see.
“You still see Wade?” Helena asked, as if she was reading her mind.
“We have lunch once every second month”, she said. “He’s married, to the teacher who filled in for me.”
“Imagine that”, Helena said dryly.
“Yeah. He seems happy. And she’s never jealous of our lunch-dates”, she added wryly, touching her cheek with an unconscious gesture.
“I’d be”, Helena mumbled softly – so softly Barbara wasn’t sure she’d heard her correctly. She looked up in surprise.
“What… did you say?”
There was a slight blush on Helena’s cheeks. She made a swift gesture with her hand, as if to brush away the question. “You know”, she said, with a slight frown. “Reese told me something else.”
“Oh?” Barbara dried her fingers on one of the paper napkins.
“Yeah, he said…” Helena paused as the elevator suddenly buzzed and went down. She looked quizzically at it.
“Probably Reese again”, Barbara said and took up her cell-phone. “Yeah, see – he’s tried to phone me recently”, she said as she turned it on and watched the display. She looked up. “You were saying?”
Helena seemed to hesitate. “He said you were the only one who believed I wasn’t dead. He said you never gave up looking for me. Why?”
There was a silent question in Helena’s eyes that made Barbara inhale slowly; she felt hope, mingled with fear. She suddenly wished Reese hadn’t picked that particular moment to come for a second visit.
“I knew you weren’t dead. I just… I just wasn’t sure I would ever see you again, or that I would find you in time. I knew – because I would have… I would have felt it if you were dead.”
Helena shook her head in wonder. “He said it was thanks to you they found me at all, because you didn’t give up.”
“I couldn’t”, Barbara said hoarsely. “Helena, I…” She wasn’t sure what she was about to say, but at that moment the elevator arrived at their floor and she silenced, turning her head towards it. Helena did too.
It wasn’t Reese who stepped out of the elevator. It was a man with only one eye – holding a gun.
“Helena…” Barbara said softly. Helena’s eyes and face had changed as soon as the man stepped into the hall; there was hatred, rage and fear in her changed eyes, in the hard features.
Helena slowly rose from the chair, moving in front of Barbara.
“I’ve been looking for you”, the man said, pointing the gun at Helena.
“Huntress”, Barbara said carefully. Helena didn’t react.
“I couldn’t get to you in Arkham”, the man went on, almost amicably. “And I didn’t count on you being let loose so quickly. You have friends in high places.”
Helena growled, suddenly seeming to revert back to the wild beast she had been when Barbara first encountered her in Arkham a week ago. The man laughed.
“Yes, yes – that’s the way I want you. I enjoyed you so much, such a pity you wouldn’t kill, though.” He sighed, shaking his head in rebuke. “But we had other good times, didn’t we? Remember the iron rod? The electrocution?”
Helena growled again, crouching low. Barbara moved her wheelchair a fraction, glancing at Helena. Helena’s face was contorted with rage and hatred; there was death in her eyes. She thought of Gibson who had killed in self-defense. She thought of Nightwing and Dinah…
“Helena…” she tried again and put all the love she could muster for the other woman in her voice, at the same time as she reached out to touch her arm. Helena turned to look at her and something she saw in her face – Barbara didn’t know what; she didn’t even know what she wanted to tell Helena had she found the words to do so – wrought a sudden change in her. Helena crumbled like she had the day before in her cell, her eyes filled with pain and fear – her face a mask of desperation.
“Help me”, she whispered. “Don’t make me kill… Don’t make me kill…” She fell down on the floor, curled up like a ball before Barbara’s wheelchair.
Barbara looked up and noticed the disdainful expression in the man’s eyes.
“You are pathetic”, he spat, pointing the gun at Helena. “I have no use for you like this. You’re like a broken down toy, not my plaything anymore.”
His choice of words triggered a memory within Barbara and she frowned slightly at the man, considering what he had said.
“There’s no need for you to kill her”, she said, to stall him. “She’s no threat to you.”
He grunted. “She’s worthless now. She used to be a really good fighter. Granted, she didn’t kill, but there were other ways to entertain my audience. Torture in public apparently pays very well…” He grinned for a second, but then frowned. “Then, when we returned here, she began to refuse to fight. Two games she lost and I had no use for her. I was just about to get rid of her when the cops interfered and took her away. Then she fought, like a wild beast. A pity – look at her now.” He waved his gun at Helena, who mumbled inaudibly on the floor. “Pathetic.”
“You are the pathetic one”, Barbara said coldly. “You can’t get yourself a proper date, so you wank off to women fighting.”
“And how good it is!” the man grinned. “And you – maybe you’d like to date me? What a cute couple we would be.”
“Beauty comes from the inside – and there’s nothing beautiful about you. At least I have two eyes…”
The man moved forward, squeezing the gun. “I’m the one with the power here.”
“You’re nothing more than a pathetic man with a tiny gun. Killing us won’t make you a god; it will only make you more pathetic.”
He smirked. “And look at the two of you. Look at her…” He spat at Helena curled up on the floor, sobbing. “She’s lost it completely and you…” He suddenly frowned, as if he came to remember something. “You are her, aren’t you? You are the one whose name she was screaming when she was tortured… What was it again? Betty?” He smiled loathingly. “No, Barbara, I believe. She screamed your name over and over again when her blood sprayed the walls. And where were you? Huddled in your wheelchair, covering your face from the rest of the world?”
“At least it was my name she was screaming”, Barbara said, refusing to give in to the rage he was trying to awaken in her. She wasn’t giving him the satisfaction of seeing her lose control. That was what he wanted – that was the power he was seeking. “Not yours.”
“You…!” He moved even closer, but stopped himself at a safe distance. “No.” He shook his head. “You are not worth it. Neither of you are…” He raised his gun and Barbara looked him in the eyes.
She knew she was going to die and there was nothing she could do about it. “Wait”, she asked. Slowly she slid down to the floor and cradled Helena’s head in her lap. “Alright, get it over with…”
“How sweet”, the man mocked and squeezed the trigger.
Two gunshots were heard in close succession and Barbara closed her eyes, feeling an odd sense of deja-vú as she remembered the Joker with a gun in his hand – and the gunshot that had crippled her for life. Although this time there was no impact. Only Helena twitched in her arms as the gunshots echoed in the empty hall and when Barbara opened her eyes the man with one eye toppled over and fell. His gun hit the floor and slid away a few feet, out of reach.
Barbara looked up and saw Reese standing in front of the elevator with a gun in his hands. He straightened as she looked at him.
“I took the stairs”, he said as he moved forward towards them. He checked on the one-eyed man and then holstered his gun. “Don’t you have an alarm in here, warning you about creeps like him?”
“Delphi is off”, Barbara said, indicating the computer system behind her. “The alarm too.”
“I tried to call you. Don’t you ever use your cell-phone?” he chided.
“No one ever calls me”, she said. “There’s not much use in having it on.” She looked down at Helena’s pale face in her lap, stroking her cheeks. “I knew you’d come. I figured you tried to phone me to warn me about him?” She looked up again, into Reese’s dark, concerned eyes. He nodded.
“One of the special force members was on to him, but lost him down the sewers. I figured he would come for Helena.”
“How is she?” Reese looked at the woman in Barbara’s arms.
“She’s no threat to anyone, Reese. I’ll keep her with me.”
“Yeah. But I’ll hold you responsible if she harms anyone…”
“You ought to look into that warden at Arkham”, she said, remembering. “I believe he’s been to a ‘game’.”
Reese nodded. “I’m already on to him. One of the guards at Arkham tipped me off, letting me know the warden was taunting Helena whenever you weren’t there.” He sighed. “We really need to get some good people into that institution. Ever considered running a ‘hospital for the criminally insane’?”
“Me? God no!”
He shrugged. “You’d be good at it – and according to Helena you need a career-change.”
“You’ve been discussing me a lot, it seems?”
“She didn’t want to talk about anything else.” Reese bent down and threw the dead guy over his shoulders with a grunt. “I’ll take care of this”, he added. “Keep an eye on her.” He nodded towards Helena and she could see the softness in his eyes as he looked at the woman. She also noticed a sense as of regretful farewell in his look.
“She made a choice, you know”, he said as he stepped into the elevator.
“What do you mean?”
“She said you needed her more than I. We had a good talk – and I can finally let her go.”
Barbara nodded as the elevator doors slowly closed. “Good for you, Reese”, she mumbled. “Good for you.”
“I’m cold”, Helena whispered and Barbara looked down at the younger woman, forgetting everything else. Helena needed her.
“Sshh”, she said soothingly. “He’s gone now, you’re safe.”
Helena looked up at her with a desperate look. “I don’t want to kill… I didn’t want you to hate me.”
Barbara closed her eyes for a brief second, forcing back the pain. She shook her head and looked at Helena again. “I won’t. I wouldn’t. I could never hate you.”
“Sure? Even if I… even if I – killed? Even if I was a monster? A killer?”
“I could never hate you, not even then. But you would never be a monster, Helena. Given the choice I know you would do the right thing.”
Helena closed her eyes. “I’m cold”, she mumbled and shivered. “So cold.”
“Come. I cleaned the bathtub. But you are too heavy for me to carry. I can’t walk, you know…”
“No?” Helena smiled slightly, still with closed eyes. “I’d forgotten. You did in my mind.”
Barbara bent down and kissed her on the forehead. “Come now”, she said softly. “A warm bath for you and then bed.”
“Bed? It’s not even dark…”
“You need your rest. Don’t make a fuss…”
Helena opened her eyes and even though she was still shivering and there still was fear and pain in her changed eyes she also smiled. “OK, Barbara.”
* * *
While Helena sat in the bathtub – knees to her chin – Barbara massaged Helena’s neck and back with the soap, feeling the naked, soft skin beneath her fingertips and tried not to forget that Helena needed her as a friend and nothing else. Helena’s shoulders and arms were well muscled and Barbara remembered in the past when the younger woman sometimes teasingly had lifted her from the wheelchair and spun around with her in the air – just to prove she could and to annoy Barbara. Barbara had never let on how much she enjoyed it when Helena did that, but instead pretended to be irritated by it.
What prevented her from losing herself in daydreams about Helena’s smooth skin and tight muscles were the scars that run along Helena’s body – both on her front and on the back: long, white scars and shorter, wider ones. Marks from the torture the one-eyed man had been talking about. And those were only the visible ones.
Living with her own, hardly healed wounds Barbara could imagine what torment Helena had been through – what hell she had been living in. The first sight of those scars had brought tears to her eyes and when she traced them with trembling fingers she wondered how Helena had survived two years in captivity at all.
An uncontrolled shiver run along Helena’s back and Barbara swiftly poured some more hot water from the tub over her shoulders and back; she didn’t dare lean forward to pour water on Helena’s front, for fear she wouldn’t be able to conceal her feelings for the other woman if she saw her in all her naked glory. “Still cold?” she asked softly.
Helena shook her head. “Just thinking.”
Helena had calmed down as the water filled the tub and once in the warm water she had finally relaxed, but she hadn’t said much.
“You remember, don’t you?” Barbara’s voice was low and careful; she didn’t want to cause the other woman even more distress.
“Yes…” Helena’s voice sounded strained. “I… I’m so ashamed.”
“Ashamed?” Barbara asked surprised. “Of what? You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“No?” Helena turned her head slightly, looking back at Barbara. “No? I lost it completely… In front of you, in front of… Reese.”
“Helena…” Barbara pushed back some of Helena’s dark hair from her face with a gentle gesture.
“No. No, don’t… do that.” Helena squeezed her eyes shut and averted her face.
“What, Helena?” Barbara asked confused, pulling away her hand from the other woman. “Touch you…?”
Helena shook her head, but didn’t answer the question; she looked up and stared ahead of her. “I lost it – completely. I remember everything now. Strange how I could even forget, but that other night, yesterday, I felt so…” She silenced.
Barbara didn’t know what to say or do; she didn’t want to upset Helena even more, so she didn’t move.
“Don’t stop”, Helena whispered.
“What?” Barbara had to lean forward to hear her.
“Don’t stop… rubbing my back.”
“Oh!” Barbara hesitated, but then poured some more water from the tub over the younger woman’s back. Slowly she rubbed at Helena’s tense muscles. “You have nothing to be ashamed of”, she repeated. “After what you’ve been through…”
“Don’t you think I should have killed him?” Helena suddenly asked with bitterness. “And wouldn’t you have hated me if I had?”
Barbara again thought of how Reese had killed a truly corrupt and dangerous man to prevent him from becoming Commissioner. She thought of Gibson killing in self-defense and what it had done to him.
“You know I never believed in killing”, she said slowly, wanting to do less rubbing and more caressing of Helena’s skin. “I still don’t, but seeing you like this… What you’ve been through, Helena, it’s… I don’t believe anyone could describe it. What you’ve been through would warrant killing if anything. And the fact that you haven’t killed…”
“I wanted to”, Helena whispered, hugging her knees. “I wanted it so much…”
“I know”, Barbara whispered in return, caressing Helena’s hair and temple. “I know – and I wouldn’t have hated you. I could never hate you.”
“You would have…” Helena whispered, closing her eyes. “You think me pathetic too, don’t you?” she asked after a moment’s silence, turning her head to look at Barbara. “Because I didn’t even try to fight him? I know Reese thinks me pathetic.”
“No, I don’t think you pathetic. Helena…” She felt Helena stiffen like before and wondered what she had done, but went on: “I know why you didn’t fight him. I know what you fear.”
“Do you?” Helena’s voice was hardly audible when she raised her head, looking at Barbara with a searching expression.
“I know you didn’t fear him. You feared killing him. You fear losing control, because if you do…”
A tear trickled down Helena’s cheek. “Because if I do… If I kill only once”, she whispered, “I won’t be able to stop.”
Barbara nodded. She had known that all along. Reese hadn’t even seen the fear in her and when she had lain before him, trembling before the wheelchair only a few hours before, he had only seen a frightened woman – not the Helena he once had known. He – as little as that truly pathetic, one-eyed man – hadn’t understood the roots of Helena’s fear. They didn’t know her.
Helena had always been a complex woman, hiding her true intentions and emotions behind a mask of indifference and – more often – anger. For people who didn’t know her it was difficult to see behind the mask to reach the real woman. Helena’s greatest fears had been to disclose her true self to others – and that fear had been so immense nothing else had come close to it. She had never feared anything or anyone more than she had feared herself, therefore nothing outside herself could terrify her – not even the scum torturing her.
“I hear them, all the time…” Helena lifted her hands and tore at her head. “Inside – here… I hear them, calling for me to kill. ‘Kill, kill, kill…!’ they scream. And I want to. I want to make them stop, so I want to kill, and kill and kill…” Her face contorted into a mask of endless pain and Barbara’s heart bled for her. “I almost did, those first times… They had us fight each other and they drugged us to awaken the rage within us. My third fight I almost beat a woman to death. She was innocent, she hadn’t done anything to me – except she was there, to fight me… And I wanted to kill her. I knew I could and if I did they would celebrate me and call my name in praise. Oh, God – Barbara, I wanted to so much… I wanted to taste her blood, hear her scream and smell her fear…”
Helena lowered her hands and opened her eyes to look at Barbara. “You would have hated me, because if I had killed I would have killed innocents. I would have turned into a monster and I would have hated myself.”
Barbara shook her head, again caressing Helena’s temple. “I would have found you beneath the hatred and the rage. You could never hide from me…” She wanted to tell Helena how much she meant to her – and how much she had begun to believe she loved her, in all different kinds of ways. But it wasn’t the time; Helena needed her as a friend, not as a… What? A potential lover? Oh, God, she thought, taken aback for a moment. I can’t seriously consider… But obviously she did and when she watched Helena in front of her she knew the truth. She loved Helena. She was in love with her.
And that was the real reason why she had never let Wade into her life.
Helena averted her face, shaking her head. “I wish I could believe you.”
“Sometimes… Sometimes we are forced into doing things we don’t want to. Circumstances, other people, even our own choices put us in positions were we must choose between two equally immoral acts. Sometimes the only thing to do is to try to choose the one that will compromise the least our own beliefs, and if we can we need to look at the outcome of our choices. Sometimes we may choose not to choose, but that’s also a choice.” Barbara paused, before adding: “You chose the most difficult path and I’m so proud of you. You stayed true to yourself even in the midst of chaos and that’s…” She shook her head, trying to find the words to describe what she felt. “No one could have done what you did, Helena. To control yourself even when affected by drugs…The fact that you didn’t kill with those odds is amazing, it shows just how strong you are.”
Helena shook her head. “It wasn’t me. I could never have done it without you. You were there, all the time… I wondered what you would have done and I thought… I thought you would rather have died than kill anyone.”
“I don’t know, Helena. Honestly”, she said.
“But they didn’t kill me. I won every fight and refused to kill, only waiting for them to kill me. And then he figured he could make use of me, torturing me in public. They betted on me, to see how long I would last before I… before I was broken. I screamed and I swore I would kill in the next game, actually believing I would, but I never could. Because they were all innocent girls. I kept thinking it could have been you or Dinah I fought. If I killed one of those innocents I would be killing you in my head. And then, when those cops attacked me, I wanted to kill them. He wanted me to kill them; that was why he set me loose to see if I would. But I heard your voice in my head. ‘Don’t kill…’ it said. It’s strange…” she added, a bit confused. “Your voice was so soft, so quiet – I hardly heard it beneath all the other screaming in my head… Those people screaming inside me that I should kill. But it was you I listened to.”
“I’m glad you did”, Barbara said softly and Helena nodded, still a little dazed.
“Me too. I’m glad. And when I saw him today…” She shivered and Barbara instantly rubbed at her back and shoulders. “When I saw him I wanted to kill him. And if I had killed him I wouldn’t have stopped at that. I would have gone mad, killing and killing…”
Helena sighed and rubbed at her forehead while Barbara reached out to grab a towel from a nearby shelf.
“I would have lost it and I’m not sure you would have been able to stop me…”
“Maybe not”, Barbara admitted, handing the bath towel to Helena. “But I would have tried. And I wish you would believe me…” She held Helena’s eyes as the towel passed between them. “I would never have hated you. I know you, Helena – and knowing and understanding sometimes makes it difficult to hate someone. We all make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes involve dark choices, such as killing. But if we are on our way out of the dark and into the light we have a right to be given a second chance. It’s about knowing what’s right before you make a choice, and if you’re in a position where you don’t see the right path then it’s difficult to make the right choice.”
Barbara wondered why the conversation felt familiar, as if she had told Helena these things once already – in a long forgotten dream.
“The main thing, Helena, is that when presented with a choice between right and wrong I know you would choose what’s right. You did, not because you heard my voice in your head or because you were afraid I would hate you. You did it because it was the right thing to do. That’s the Helena I know. That’s the Helena I believe in and…” And fell in love with, she thought. “You did the right thing”, she added after a moment. “You are a true hero, Helena Kyle. Face it, accept it – and move on.”
Helena sat quietly for a moment with the towel in her hands, looking at Barbara. “I believe”, she soon said slowly. “I believe that was one of your most inspiring pep-talks ever.”
Barbara almost laughed out loud, but settled with a smile. “Yeah, wasn’t it? There’s still some of the old Oracle in me, it seems.”
“I knew she wasn’t quite dead”, Helena mumbled and rose.
Barbara’s immediate reaction was to avert her eyes from Helena’s sudden nakedness, but then she realized Helena would take offense – believing Barbara couldn’t face her scars. So she held Helena’s eyes, waiting for Helena to cover herself with the towel – although she didn’t.
“Look at me, Barbara”, she said. “Look at these scars. Who will ever love me, the way I look?”
Barbara refused to lower her eyes to look at Helena’s naked body. “There’s more to beauty than the outer appearance of a body or a face”, she said. “And love doesn’t judge by appearances.”
“Do you believe that?” Helena said dryly. “With what Wade did to you?”
“I do”, Barbara said calmly and this time she looked at Helena, taking in her naked beauty – almost drinking it in, like a man dying of thirst in the desert celebrating when he found an oasis. She took great care that Helena wouldn’t see what she was thinking, hiding her thoughts and the excitement she felt behind a mask of nonchalance as she watched the other woman’s naked body.
“Do you think I’m beautiful?” Helena asked softly.
There were so many ways she could answer that, she thought, letting her eyes travel the length of Helena’s body. She noticed the muscles, the softness – the glistening water on naked skin… Shapes and curves and lines that she longed to trace with her hands; velvet skin, soft to the touch. She didn’t even see the scars to begin with; white and pinkish, some darker – slashes across Helena’s stomach, her chest and even her breasts. In Barbara’s eyes those scars didn’t mar Helena’s beauty. It made it even more perfect.
She lifted her face to meet Helena’s eyes, smiling fondly at her and remembering the teenager Helena once had been. “Do you think I’m beautiful?” she had nervously asked before going on her first date.
“Does it matter what I think?” Barbara said, smiling fondly – asking the same question she had asked all those years ago. It felt like a lifetime ago.
“Of course it does”, Helena answered, just as offended as then.
“Alright, then – I think you are beautiful.”
Helena made a face and wrapped the bath towel around her. “You’re only saying that to make me feel better.”
Barbara grinned. “Does it work?” She arched an eyebrow at Helena, who paused.
“You always make me feel better”, she said seriously and Barbara’s smile faded.
“That’s not what you said then…”
Helena shrugged and stepped out of the bathtub. “I was young.” She looked at Barbara. “I’m not so young anymore and you…” She hesitated. “You’re not so much of a teaser these days…”
“I guess not. Life… was less complicated then.”
Helena sighed. “It sure was. Barbara”, she added as an afterthought. “I know it’s not late, but I haven’t really slept properly for… ages, and I’m really tired. But…” She hesitated. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep. I have nightmares, dreaming about people wanting me to kill. Could you…? Could you stay with me? Could you hold me, like you did last night? I felt… safe then.”
Helena nodded. “Please? I’m… I’m not really myself and I don’t want to be alone…”
The vulnerability in the younger woman – so out of character for the angry, young woman Helena once had been – was heart wrenching, and Barbara didn’t think twice before she nodded. “Take my bed”, she said. “It’s larger. I’ll be with you in a minute. And oh, I believe there are some clean t-shirts still unwrapped in Alfred’s room. One of those ‘I want to save a beaver’ t-shirts he bought from the girl-scouts.”
“I remember. He gave them away for every holiday he could think of.” Helena nodded and wrapped in the towel she made as if to leave the bathroom, but paused at the door and glanced back at Barbara. “Thank you”, she said softly and Barbara smiled at her.
She had believed it would be difficult, sleeping with Helena in her arms. It wasn’t. As soon as she had come to bed that first day Helena had snuggled up close to her, as if she belonged in her arms, and went to sleep. To be near Helena in that way, to be able to hold her and to soothe her fear when the nightmares began – it seemed to be enough. She didn’t need more than to be able to show Helena her love that way; to dry her tears, to hold her close, to caress her cheek, to kiss her softly on the temple…
Barbara hadn’t slept very well either for the last two years, but with Helena close to her at night she felt at peace. If Helena didn’t have nightmares she would sleep a whole night through, even feeling rested in the morning. It did wonders for her appetite and for her mood, although she guessed having Helena back was the main difference in her life.
They took it slow. Despite her meta-human abilities Helena was in need of rest, though her need for respite had more to do with emotional issues than physical injuries.
“Barbara”, she had asked that first night when they lay curled up together in bed. “Would you consider being Oracle again?”
“Now? New Gotham won’t need another Oracle. Reese’s special force team takes care of everything.”
“Yeah, he told me. A group of meta-human cops…”
“Dealing only with meta-human criminals”, Barbara said, nodding. “It works well.”
“It’s so strange, seeing New Gotham turn into a city where humans live side by side with metas…” Helena mumbled sleepily. “You ought to get some credit for it.”
“You too”, Barbara had said softly, caressing her dark hair.
“Maybe you could team up with them”, Helena suggested.
“Sure. Would you?”
“Me?” Helena had almost laughed at that. “No… Could you see me as a cop? No, I can’t follow rules.”
“I’m not very good at it either…”
“Could have fooled me”, Helena mumbled, almost drifting off to sleep. Then she said: “Barbara, I’m so tired… Those people – they are screaming in my head all the time.”
Barbara had wanted to tell her not to listen, but she had known it wouldn’t make a difference. Helena was going through something pretty bad and the only thing they could do… was to let time heal the wounds.
They didn’t do much over the next few days, just moved around in the Clock Tower – cleaning up and repairing things that needed fixing up. They talked, not engaging in any serious discussions – only talking about safe subjects: the weather, food, the changes in New Gotham. They left the heavy conversations to the night; it was safe in the dark, beneath blankets and with their arms around each other, they could share the painful memories of the past. Barbara talked about Nightwing and Dinah – and about Wade and her employment at the library; Helena talked about her fights and the torture.
The one thing they didn’t talk about, Barbara came to realize, was their relationship. Except for those first days they hadn’t mentioned what they meant to each other: Helena didn’t say in so many words that it was the memory of Barbara that had helped her through the torture and Barbara didn’t point out that a part of her had died once Helena disappeared.
At the same time Barbara could wake up in the middle of the night, feeling Helena’s warm breath on her neck, hearing Helena’s heart beat close to her own – being completely content and happy with her life. And Helena would get into her bed every night and snuggle close to her, seemingly with no intention to sleep in her own bed anytime soon.
The more Barbara considered it, the more the arrangement began to confuse her. And when she thought even more about it she realized that she soon would cross a line without thinking about it. One of the nights she had caressed Helena’s cheek, mumbling soft words of comfort to her and then almost, almost kissed her on the mouth before she caught herself. It hadn’t been the first time she had forgotten herself – and not the last.
Thinking of it one morning a little more than two weeks after Helena’s appearance at Arkham she realized she had a problem. When she finally acknowledged that not only was she in love with Helena, but also very attracted to the other woman, she suddenly couldn’t even look at her without feeling the need to blush. It amazed her how ignorant and naïve she had been, believing herself to be content with only sleeping next to Helena. And once the thought of what she actually could do with Helena’s naked body had entered her imagination she couldn’t get it out of her mind.
That morning she dreaded the coming night. She would hurt Helena if she told her they couldn’t sleep together anymore without giving any explanation and to go ahead and sleep with her even one more night would be too difficult for her if she wasn’t allowed to… God, she thought and closed her eyes for a brief second. Why couldn’t she continue to live in blissful ignorance of her own emotions?
Her own predicament wasn’t the only thing that troubled her. Helena had been strangely restless the past two days and although she hadn’t been outright rude she’d been slightly terse in her behavior. As soon as it was night, though, she had calmed down and went to bed without problems. Barbara found it odd and therefore, that morning, she pushed her own problems aside, thinking she had neglected Helena for a few days when she had been dealing with her own troubles, and decided to ask Helena if something was wrong.
When the younger woman came down for breakfast later on Barbara felt a tug at her heart seeing Helena; she was so beautiful and so sensual in her movements. Barbara wondered if she was even aware of it herself.
“Are you practicing today?” she asked carefully. Helena had been edgy the past two days and Barbara wasn’t sure of her responses.
“I guess”, Helena said with a non-committal shrug, looking for something to eat in the kitchen. She’d been spending a lot of time in the training-room the past days, working-out and punching bags. Barbara figured it was a way for her to work out her anger and to find balance in herself.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you”, she said. “Is there something… wrong? Other than the obvious, obviously”, she added hastily, seeing Helena’s expression. “Did I do something wrong, you seem… a bit annoyed with me?”
“Oh, no! Barbara I didn’t…” Helena paused, shaking her head. “No, you didn’t do anything…” she mumbled, turning away.
“Helena…?” Barbara asked cautiously.
“It’s just this place!” Helena turned around, throwing out her arms. “I’m stuck here. You’ve been out shopping food and clothes and… And I’m a prisoner.”
“You’re not a prisoner. I asked if you wanted to come yesterday, but you said…”
“I want some time on my own”, Helena said flatly and Barbara blinked.
“Oh! Oh, alright then…” She nodded and turned her wheelchair, feeling it as if she’d been punched in her chest. Tears began welling up in her eyes and she discretely dried them off with the back of her hand.
“Barbara! I didn’t mean…” Helena called after her.
“It’s fine”, she said, waving a hand as she wheeled off towards the elevator.
“Fuck!” she heard Helena say behind her and shut her eyes for a second.
She wanted to turn to Helena to soothe the self-blame she heard in the other woman’s voice, but at the moment she was too preoccupied with not starting to cry. “It’s fine”, she called when she found her voice again. “You have fun, I’ll see you later.”
She went to her rooms and when she came out a few hours later Helena was gone. She knew she probably shouldn’t have let the other woman leave like that – New Gotham wasn’t what it used to be and to have an out-of-control Huntress/Helena running around was perhaps not very wise – but she hadn’t known what else to do. She didn’t want to suffocate Helena, or to try to control her life. Helena did need some space; she wasn’t a girl anymore – Barbara certainly knew that – and to try to dictate her movements, to tie her down even in her present state, would only make matters worse. She needed to have some faith in Helena and to show her that she trusted her enough to let her be on her own.
And in all fairness, Helena seemed to recover quite quickly from the state she had been in only two weeks before – huddled up in the corner of a cell in Arkham, hardly speaking and only growling when looking at others.
Considering Helena’s progress she realized she had to do some serious thinking in regards to her own life. With Helena missing life hadn’t seemed worth living and the thought of finding Helena had been the only thing that kept her going. Now, with Helena back in her life… She couldn’t let her life evolve around Helena anymore. She, like Reese, had to let the other woman go. She had to let go of the past, to – just like Helena was trying to do – move out of the dark. Maybe they could do it together, like friends, but she had no right to centre her life around Helena and the other woman’s recovery – she needed to find her own life again.
And what was her life? What had been her life?
Sitting in front of Delphi, still dark and silent she realized that what had been her life still lay in ruins within her – just like the interior of the Clock Tower had when she and Helena first returned. Her life had been shattered and she had truly given up on the ideals, the hopes and the dreams she’d once had. Those ideals, those hopes and dreams, had been her life and with those gone… With those gone she was nothing. She had nothing more to live for. Her whole life had been about fighting the good fight, about making a difference and about… And about never giving up.
She looked at Delphi. What is the singer without a song? she thought.
The point was: New Gotham didn’t need her anymore. The city was orderly, cleaned up from the heavier criminals, and Reese’s special force kept that order. As she had told Helena, there was no need for Oracle – or any other vigilante. And she needed to be needed in order to make a difference.
Maybe they could move, she thought. She’d heard there were some strange things going on in L.A. Or maybe she should just take up on Reese’s offer to manage Arkham Asylum; she’d fit right in, with her scar and all.
She didn’t reach a conclusion, but the rest of the day Delphi was in the back of her mind and as she moved around the building – cleaning up, worrying about Helena – her eyes always returned to the computer system. Finally, in the afternoon after she’d eaten, she began the repair of what once had been the watchdog of the Clock Tower.
For the last two years, since the death of Harley Quinn, she’d hardly worked with computers. The most she’d done had been cataloguing old books on the library computer system, which wasn’t very advanced. Starting up Delphi and looking at the complexity of the system she felt a thrill she hadn’t felt over those two years. Her mind instantly alert, eager to analyze and calculate, she wondered why she had suffered the loss of her favorite occupation for so long.
She knew the answer to that, of course, and chose not to dwell on it. Delphi called to her and she buried herself in the system.
It was late at night when the phone rang and diverted her from what she was doing. It wasn’t until then that she realized she hadn’t been thinking about Helena for several hours and she was suddenly afraid something had happened to the other woman.
Picking up the phone and hearing Reese on the other end she realized her fears were warranted.
“Barbara, we have a problem…”
She squeezed the phone-handle and in a flash remembered the day almost two weeks ago when she answered that other phone call – the one she’d been waiting for, for two years.
“Is she there?”
“No. What… happened?”
A sudden movement at the windows above her head caught her attention and distracted her for a moment.
“She almost beat a man to death…”
Oh, God – Helena…
Her thought was a response to the sight of Helena in front of her, not to Reese’s words – although the two events were connected.
“Barbara – I saw her at the crime scene, but she fled. She’s probably…”
“Reese, I’ve got to go…”
And she hung up on him, staring at Helena in front of her.
Helena had used the window entrance, scaling the building the way she had when they worked together as a team. She came to a halt in front of Barbara, holding out her blooded hands in front of her. Her face was streaked with tears and blood.
“Look…” she whispered in a broken voice, showing her hands. Her clothes were flecked with blood and she had blood on her boots.
“My God, Helena…” Barbara whispered. “Are you hurt?” she asked worriedly.
“It’s not mine”, Helena said in a broken voice. “It’s not mine… Oh, God, what have I done?” She fell down on her knees, looking at the blood on her hands. Barbara had an inner, visual flashback of a play she had once seen, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
“Helena”, Barbara said sharply, wheeling up to her. “Tell me – what happened?”
“I don’t… I don’t remember…”
“Look at me. Helena!” Barbara took Helena’s chin in her hand and raised her face. “Look at me”, she said more softly. “Tell me now. Reese said it was a man… Where did you meet him?”
“I…” Helena’s eyes became unfocused. “In a bar. I went to a bar, to drink – to forget…” She silenced, making a face.
“I understand”, Barbara said gently, drying some of the tears mixed with the blood from Helena’s face.
“He was there, hitting on me and I… I flirted a bit with him, its been a long time since I… And I needed to forget…”
Barbara nodded, trying not to show that Helena’s remark about flirting and the unspoken allusion of what she meant to do with the man hurt her.
“Then I don’t remember, but in the next moment we’re in an alleyway… kissing and…” Helena blanched. “Then he told me… He said…”
She began to shiver and she looked down at her hands again, clenching them into fists. Her eyes were filled with pain; they were changed, an animals.
“Tell me”, Barbara said softly, caressing Helena’s cheek.
“He said he recognized me. He said he’d seen me in the arena in L.A. and had come here to find me, to fuck me. I pushed him away and then he pulled a gun on me, telling me I would give him what he wanted or else…” Helena closed her eyes, breathing heavily. “I lost it, Barbara”, she whispered. “I beat him into a bloody pulp.” She opened her eyes, looking desperately at Barbara. “Reese came… I know he’ll come for me, but I wanted to see you one last time. I belong behind bars…”
“No”, Barbara said sternly. “I’m not losing you again. You did nothing wrong.”
Helena blinked. “Nothing wrong? I almost killed someone…”
“Tell me – who stopped you from killing him? Reese?”
“No.” Helena shook her head. “I stopped myself. I heard those voices in my head, wanting me to kill and then…” Her eyes wandered around the room, before they returned and settled on Barbara. “I remembered Darkstrike…”
“Oh, yes”, Barbara said softly.
“I remember what Dinah said about him, that he gave up everything – body and soul; himself… He lost himself in the fight. You’ve lost everything too, but you… You are still you. And you said – that time you said that nothing worth having in this life is easy…”
“You forgave Darkstrike”, Barbara said, remembering the vigilante who’d turned into a killer.
Helena nodded. “And I realized you were telling the truth when you said you would never hate me and when I was beating up that man… I didn’t want to put you through what it would mean if I killed someone. I’m so sorry…” she whispered, but Barbara shook her head.
“Don’t be”, she said, pushing some of Helena’s dark hair from her eyes. “Go and clean up yourself.”
“I told you. I’m not losing you again. Ever. Reese will soon be here and with all that blood on you…” She made a gesture, swatting at some bloodstains at Helena’s collar. “It’d be like annoying a bull showing him all that blood on you. Go – clean up, change clothes and come back down when you’re done.”
She was speaking firmly, giving clear orders, which was what Helena needed in that moment to stay focused. “I need you, Helena”, she added more gently. “Please…”
Helena gasped softly and scrambled to her feet. “Yes, Barbara.”
“And Helena – hurry.”
While Helena was gone Barbara contemplated what to tell Reese, but she realized she had to play it by ear. Reese wasn’t completely unreasonable, but he wouldn’t be overly patient either and she would have to take her cue from his position on the matter. There were things she could use against him, if she wanted to.
When Helena came back down she had cleaned up nicely. She even seemed to have had the time to take a shower; her hair was dark and damp and she had changed clothes, wearing a black shirt and jeans. Her expression when she slowly, cautiously moved towards Barbara was that of a child that knew it had done something wrong and was expecting to be punished for it.
Reese was already on his way up in the elevator and Barbara knew they didn’t have much time. She wheeled up to Helena.
“Helena…” she said tenderly, holding the other woman’s gaze.
Helena’s reaction took her completely off guard.
“God, Barbara – I’ve told you not to do that!” Helena snapped angrily, backing away from her.
“But… What?” Barbara asked bewildered. “What… did I do? I didn’t do – anything…” She silenced, suddenly realizing something. The times when Helena had pulled away from her during the past few days and even before – when she was suddenly stiffening and becoming reserved – had occurred in connection to Barbara speaking her name. “Don’t speak my name like that...!”
The words echoed within her as she stared at Helena, remembering something else the younger woman had said: “She had this special way of saying my name sometimes, it made me believe…”
Maybe part of Helena’s problem had nothing at all to do with the torture she’d been put through or with the fear of losing control. What did she want to forget, flirting with that man…? Barbara suddenly wondered. She opened her mouth to speak, maybe to ask what Helena had been running away from – drinking and… But in the same moment the elevator reached their floor and the bell signaled Reese’s arrival when the doors opened.
He came alone, but he didn’t look pleased. Barbara hadn’t expected him to. Helena’s head snapped up and she immediately moved a few steps in his direction, seeing him enter. He instantly pulled his gun when he noticed her changed eyes.
“Reese – no!” Barbara called and wheeled up to Helena, who instantaneously came to a halt. “Put that down”, Barbara ordered crisply, holding out an arm before Helena to prevent her from moving forward again.
Reese narrowed his eyes, but straightened and lowered the gun – although he didn’t holster it.
“She must come with me”, he said, looking at Barbara.
“I will”, Helena said. “I’m ready to take my punishment.”
“She mustn’t”, Barbara said coldly, ignoring Helena’s remark.
“You heard her”, Reese said, still not looking at Helena, but he gestured towards her with his free hand.
“She’s not going anywhere, Reese.” Barbara was adamant; she wasn’t letting Helena go without a fight.
Reese held Barbara’s eyes for a moment, then quickly glanced at Helena. “A word with you in private?” he asked, arching an eyebrow at Barbara.
“Helena?” Barbara asked and the other woman shrugged.
“I’ll wait over here”, she said, moving towards Delphi.
Barbara and Reese moved a few feet away and Barbara wondered if Reese was aware that Helena would still be able to hear them if she wanted to.
“I told you, I would hold you responsible”, Reese said, turning to her with blazing eyes. “What were you thinking, letting her out like that?”
“Do you even care what that man did to her?” Barbara asked crisply. It silenced him for a moment, but then he shook his head.
“Whatever creep he is he didn’t deserve a beating like that.”
“I would never have believed I would say this”, she said, “but I believe he did. He came from L.A. to New Gotham for the sole purpose of watching her in the arena. When he found her in a bar he thought he’d scored…”
Reese actually paled at that. “He told her so?”
“Yes. And he held a gun to her head… Reese”, she pleaded. “What would you have her do? Even I would have wanted to kill a man like that, after what he’d put her through…”
Reese shook his head with a sigh. “Barbara – it doesn’t… What if she loses it a second time, with an innocent bystander who happens to say the wrong thing? I can’t risk that. This is my city now, Barbara, and I need to care for my people…”
Barbara clenched her jaws, keeping silent.
“She’s a danger to others and to herself. I need to bring her in. Not Arkham, but…” He shrugged. “She needs help, Barbara. More help than what you can give her.”
“She’s getting better. Tonight… There will always be setbacks in the beginning.”
“Setbacks?” he scowled. “She almost killed a man. How can you be so casual about this?”
“I’m not”, she said.
“No? Well, it sure as hell seems like it. You are ready to risk other people’s lives for her sake… That’s not the Barbara Gordon I knew.”
“You didn’t know me very well when I was that Barbara Gordon”, she said curtly. “Besides, I’ve changed – as have you.”
“I put my father in jail”, he said angrily. “The least you could do is to show me some support in this. She’s unpredictable and she even admits to her crime if she’s willing to come with me. Why fight this, Barbara?”
“Because I lost her once and I’m not losing her again. She’s not a killer, Reese. She doesn’t belong behind bars, you know it as well as I do. She didn’t kill that man. And she has learned her lesson – she won’t do it again.”
“How can you say that?” he exclaimed. “How can you be so sure?”
“Because I know her”, she stated flatly. “I trust her.”
“You might as well trust a wild animal”, he snarled. “Would you turn your back on a lioness?”
“This lioness I would”, she said calmly. “I told you – I trust her.”
“Well, I don’t”, he stated emphatically and pulled the handcuffs from his belt. “I’m bringing her in.”
Reese moved a few steps away before Barbara turned the wheelchair and made up her mind.
“Reese”, she said and the unspoken warning beneath the single word stopped him. He glanced at her. “I once made myself a promise”, she said, holding his gaze. “I promised to never use what I know against you…”
Reese hesitated and turned back to her. He lowered the cuffs and the gun. “What do you mean?” he asked, a bit defensive – but she noticed the uncertainty in his eyes.
“I know what you did, Reese”, she said lowly.
He didn’t seem to understand at first, but then he paled and gasped softly.
“Yes”, she said, nodding and confirming she knew what she was talking about. “Remember the previous candidate for the Commissioner’s post? I saw you, Reese.”
“How?” he whispered. “That’s not… possible.”
“I couldn’t sleep that night… I came back here – it was the first time for two weeks, since the death of… all those who died. I didn’t enter, but I saw you and that man in the alley behind the Clock Tower. I heard you and I saw what you did. I didn’t blame you… I never have. Life – is not as black and white anymore. It wasn’t… since Helena went missing.” She looked at him. “The point is, Reese – I might not be able to prove what you did, but I’m not giving up Helena without a fight. I will do anything, Reese – and I mean anything to keep her with me.”
She knew, looking at him, that she was speaking the truth. She would do anything to keep Helena with her. Even killing, if she had to? She didn’t know; she wasn’t sure. Maybe not two years ago, but two years ago Dinah had been alive and Helena hadn’t been tortured.
Two years ago Gibson had been a sweet and innocent young man, not tormented by his past, and Reese… Reese had been an honest detective who’d never even consider killing an option, or a solution to a predicament.
Reese didn’t say anything at first. He only stared at her and she could see that he was trying to gauge if she was serious. Finally he holstered his gun and refastened the cuffs at his belt. “Beware when saints turn to sinners”, he said.
“’In the calmest waters…’” she agreed. “But Reese, we are all entitled to make mistakes. If you have the right to make one wrong for the greater good, she’s allowed one mistake. She’s allowed a second chance, for what she’s been through and for what she’s dealing with.”
“Fine”, he snapped, looking at Helena beside Delphi. “But only this one time, Barbara.”
“It’s all I ask for”, she said softly. “It’s all we need.”
He shook his head. “You’re breaking all your rules for her.”
“That’s what they are for”, she said softly, looking at Helena. “Sometimes breaking rules is the only way we can learn what is truly worth something to us in our lives. Remember?” She glanced at him. “You broke some rules for her too, once…”
“But I lost her”, he said in a whisper. “It did me no good, breaking rules.”
“It’s the effort that counts”, she said softly. “Imagine that you never tried at all – your guilt and regret would have been much worse.”
“Is she worth it?” he asked after a moment, looking straight at her. “How can one person be worth so much love and trust?”
She had refused to believe it of herself, but Helena…
“You tell me”, she said, holding his look. “Do you believe she’s worth it?”
“Time will tell, won’t it?” he said cynically, before he turned around and left.
Helena came up to her as she sat staring at the closed doors of the elevator, hearing the soft buzz of the machine in the background.
“You’ve started up Delphi”, Helena said, indicating the blinking screens; they weren’t working as they were suppose to yet – there was a lot more work needed.
“Yes”, Barbara said, distractedly.
“He left”, Helena added softly. “You made him leave…”
“I told you – I’m not losing you again.”
Helena breathed out, nodding. “I heard you”, she said softly. “I heard… what he did. Isn’t life strange? I was always the angry one, the one breaking all the rules – and now… I made it, didn’t I?” She looked at Barbara, suddenly seeming more relaxed, more self-assured – as if something hard and darkly coiled in her soul had given way to brighter possibilities. “I mean” – she made a small gesture with her hand – “I’m not done yet, but the hardest part is over and I survived. I didn’t kill anyone.”
“No”, Barbara said gently, smiling a little. “You didn’t. The toughest battle is always against ourselves, against our own inner demons. And you’ve kicked the crap out of your demons.”
Helena suddenly laughed. “I did, didn’t I? I feel free, Barbara!” She swirled about with her arms in the air, laughing. “Oh, it feels so good to be back! Thank you!” She unexpectedly bent and lifted Barbara from the wheelchair in one swift motion, swirling her about.
“Helena!” Barbara exclaimed in surprise and had to grab on to Helena’s neck not to fall backwards in the swirling dance Helena spun her around in.
Helena kept on laughing, swirling about in a wild dance across the room. “I didn’t kill anyone! I didn’t kill – and I’m not afraid anymore!”
She suddenly stopped just as abruptly as she had begun the dance and Barbara caught her breath, realizing that she, too, was laughing. Helena smiled at her.
“Thank you, Barbara. I couldn’t have survived the last two weeks without you. You’ve…” Helena silenced and shook her head. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Well, you goof – you could start with putting me down. I’m no rag doll…”
Helena grinned. “You’re so cute when you’re exasperated.”
“I’m not exasperated”, Barbara said, faking offense. “Put me… Wait, what did you say?”
Her arms were still around Helena’s neck and their faces were mere inches from each other; Helena was looking at her with normal, kind eyes – and with a slight blush on her cheeks when Barbara arched an eyebrow at her.
“I said you are cute”, Helena mumbled.
“Helena…” Barbara said without thinking and Helena squeezed her eyes shut for a brief second, inhaling deeply.
“I’m putting you down”, she then muttered and moved towards the wheelchair.
“I gave up when I lost you”, Barbara said quickly and Helena stopped, glancing at her. “Please, listen…” Barbara went on. “I was… lost without you, Helena. I didn’t know how much you meant to me until you were gone. I gave up – I tried to keep up ‘the good fight’, but it was useless. I missed you too much. And once I’d given up I didn’t try as hard any longer. That’s why I lost Dick and Dinah, because I didn’t believe in what we were doing anymore. I made mistakes…”
“It wasn’t your fault”, Helena said hoarsely.
“It was, Helena – and I will have to learn to live with that. It was me Harley Quinn was after and I’m only glad not more people died because of me. If she had known about Wade…” She shook her head. “Thank God she didn’t.” She sighed, looking at Helena. “The point is, I gave up. I failed. You didn’t, but I did.”
“No, you didn’t”, Helena said calmly and there was something in her conviction that made Barbara frown.
“What do you mean?”
“You didn’t give up. You are only human, Barbara. God – you believe you can save everyone and everything, carrying the fucking world on your shoulders! Well, newsflash – you are no Superman… You are only human. Hell, you saved the fucking city! Give yourself some credit, woman!” Helena shook her head. “That wasn’t my point”, she said. “I…” she grimaced. “You know what I’m like with words. The point is that you didn’t give up on me. You believed in me, you kept looking for me and when you found me… You didn’t let me down. I was lost and so close to losing my mind. That night, when you stayed with me – it saved me, Barbara. I was allowed to feel safe, for the first time in such a long time. It brought me back to the world, to myself. Well, yeah”, she said dryly, “I only forgot two years of my life to begin with, but…” She silenced. “I would truly have been dead without you.”
“As I would be without you”, Barbara whispered, touching Helena’s cheek. “You were the first in these two years who didn’t treat me like a freak. You saw me behind the scar. Helena…”
“Oh, please, Barbara”, Helena whispered, almost desperately. “I asked you not to say my name like that… Every time you do I completely lose myself…” She silenced, realizing she probably had said too much.
“Sshh”, Barbara said, tracing Helena’s lips with trembling fingers. Helena gasped softly, opening her mouth only a fraction. “I’m trying to tell you something”, Barbara went on, her eyes fixed on Helena’s mouth. “I’m so sorry I never realized… I’m so sorry I was too much of a coward too, to take a chance with you…”
“What… do you mean?” Helena whispered. “What… are you doing?”
“Kissing you”, Barbara said hoarsely and closed the small space between them.
For a moment, when her lips brushed against Helena’s, she thought the other woman was going to drop her, but then Helena seemed to recover and tightened the hold on her. Barbara carefully kissed her again, softly on the lips. At first Helena didn’t respond; she seemed rooted to the ground – as immobile as a tree and just as stiff. Barbara traced the outline of her lips with her own – softly, sensuously... wanting more. She whispered Helena’s name, tenderly twining Helena’s dark hair between her fingers, caressing her cheeks. Her mouth sought Helena’s as she was trying to encourage the younger woman to believe in what was happening and to respond to her.
After a brief moment Helena did respond; her lips were soft and tentative, somewhat careful – as if she was afraid that Barbara would pull away any minute.
They kissed: slow, soft, light kisses... Helena’s lips were surprisingly tender, her mouth soft and yielding. Barbara felt the need build up within her and when Helena finally gave in and opened her mouth to welcome Barbara she heard herself moan softly as their tongues hesitantly prodded at each other: warm, wet and infinitely soft... Barbara wanted more and pulled Helena closer, her hands clasped around the other woman’s neck. She craved more of the paradoxically firm softness of Helena’s lips and tongue and touch... There were no end and no beginning as she kissed the other woman, no past and no future – only the endless present; the eternal now. This is how I will love her, she thought. For always in the moment... Forever...
Helena’s kiss deepened and she became more confident as Barbara pulled her tighter; letting her tongue circle Barbara’s, demanding pleasure and not only receiving it – giving it and taking it, without meekness or violation. Kissing: lips searched and found; tongues meeting and pulling away to meet again... Softness – Barbara thought she would drown in Helena’s soft kisses, feeling a melting sensation sneak up on her. At the same time she felt her own need and passion igniting like a flame.
“Helena”, she mumbled again, between the deep, slow kisses. “Oh, Helena...” She felt the name to have the power of a mantra that brought her back to life, to the living. “My Helena...”
“Barbara?” Helena mumbled, questioning.
“Sshh”, Barbara admonished. “Just kiss me, please…”
Helena seemed happy to oblige; so happy, in fact, that Barbara wondered how she could have been so blind to Helena’s needs.
The next kiss lasted a long time. Helena’s kiss was soft and tender, but Barbara felt the growing need within the other woman – the flaming passion she was trying to control; the animal wanting to break free. To encourage Helena not to hold back she deepened the kiss and urged the other woman on with her tongue, her lips, her hands holding Helena’s neck…
“Barbara…” Helena said, breathlessly – the first to break free. “I don’t… Why are you doing this?”
“Because I want to”, Barbara said truthfully, caressing Helena’s cheek. “Because I’ve wanted to for a long, long time. And because I… I love you. I hope”, she added with sudden apprehension, “that you love me too?”
A great burden seemed to lift from Helena’s shoulders and she sighed, deeply. She nodded. “I do – oh, God, yes I do! You don’t know how hard it has been for me these past few days… The only time I could relax was when I was in your arms. At least I was close to you then, but seeing you during the days and without being able to… touch you it was…” She blushed.
“I know”, Barbara said. “I mean, I know now. It took a while for me to understand. I’m sorry, I should have realized sooner…”
“Sometimes you are a little dense”, Helena agreed dryly.
“Be nice – or there’s no more kisses for you!”
Helena grinned, holding Barbara tighter. ”Look who’s talking – you can’t even run away from me.”
“I would never want to run away from you”, Barbara said, clasping her hands behind Helena’s neck, kissing her lightly on the mouth. “Although, what I do want at the moment…”
“Is for us to move very quickly to my bedroom... I believe we have a lot of lost time to make up for.”
Helena grinned. “I can’t remember you being so impatient with Wade.”
“I didn’t love him the way I love you and I have waited long enough for you, thank you very much.”
Helena held her gaze, looking intently at her. “You really mean it.”
Barbara nodded solemnly. “I do. Please, trust me…”
Helena kissed her then, more thoroughly and more fervently than before – awakening sensations in her body that she had thought long dead and gone; a passion neither Wade or any other lover before had made her feel.
“Oh, God”, she mumbled between the kisses. “Helena, could we move… now?”
“Mmhm”, Helena agreed walking swiftly towards the stairs, kissing Barbara on the way. “Undress”, she mumbled and Barbara wasn’t slow to follow her command. She unbuttoned Helena’s shirt and pulled her own thin sweater over her head. Before they had reached her bedroom they were both naked from the waist up.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this”, Helena whispered as she put Barbara on the bed, almost tearing off her jeans. “Before I was… abducted, I used to dream about this.” She silenced, looking down at Barbara’s naked body before her. Barbara noticed an almost reverent look in her eyes and sat up, touching Helena’s cheek.
“I’m glad we’ve come this far, finally”, she said softly, gently – also trying to control her growing physical need to feel Helena’s hands on her body.
“I loved you so much and when Wade…”
“Hush, Helena.” Barbara kissed her on the mouth, softly, tenderly, sliding a hand along Helena’s neck. “It’s in the past. We’re here now and I…” She pulled away so that she could look Helena in the eye when she realized what might be bothering the other woman. “I find you beautiful, Helena”, she said and guided Helena’s hand to the scar on her cheek. “Just like you find me beautiful even with this.”
“I love you so much, I’m just afraid I’m…”
“Trust me – you are not dreaming.” Barbara leaned forward again to kiss Helena and then pulled her back with her on to the bed. “Touch me, please”, she whispered as she let go of Helena’s mouth for a second.
Helena paused, looking down at her with desire, need, love and affection – all emotions Barbara recognized from within herself. “We’ll make it, right?” Helena asked.
“Yes”, Barbara said with a confident, loving smile. “It’s a dark and winding road, but we’ll make it.”
“We are on our way, aren’t we? We are on our way out of the dark…” Helena said, touching Barbara’s naked skin with soft, capable hands.
“And into the light, yes...” Barbara nodded and caressed Helena’s cheek, her lips – kissing her. Loving her…