Title: Broken Clocktowers
Fandom: Birds of Prey
Pairings: Barbara/Helena, Selina Kyle/other
Warnings: Unnecessary breakage of an innocent coffee mug.
Disclaimers: Anyone that you recognize is not mine, but rather belongs to someone with much more money than I have. The original characters are mine. This story is not for profit, and should not be posted or linked to without express written permission.
Feedback: Always welcomed and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Dedicated to my beta reader, Commasplice.
Broken clocktowers mend faster than broken souls.
It had been a bad day.
Her pale blue eyes scanned the city below, seeing everything but noticing nothing. Cool wind drove the small droplets of misty rain into the solitary, immovable figure, sheltered only by her signature black leather duster.
A quiet voice beside her and the lightest of touches on her sleeve drew Helena out of her reverie so fast that she jumped, letting out a small curse of surprise. The figure next to her held steady the steaming mug of liquid, wheeling her chair back a few feet to allow Helena more room to compose herself.
Helena bounced on her heels a couple of times, trying to convey that she had been just about to jump due to her… underlying energy, rather than from being surprised and shocked at her entirely uncharacteristic display of lack of focus. Assuming an apology for startling her normally hyper-aware friend would only cause further embarrassment, Barbara simply smiled faintly and handed Helena the cocoa.
The brunette stared down at the ceramic mug for a long period of time, cradling it and allowing its warmth to perfuse her chilled fingers. She didn’t need to move her hands to know what was written on the side of the novelty mug. She briefly contemplated it, the ghost of a smile hitting her lips before returning to her stoic state. It had been a gift from Dinah for her last birthday (and she suspected the oh-so-innocent Barbara might have had something to do with it also). The kid had been so proud of her find, the white letters on the black mug reading… “Superheroes do it with a vengeance”. Helena hadn’t known whether to laugh or blush at the gift, and she ended up doing both, then throwing a pillow from the couch at Dinah’s head. She knew the teenager had noticed that it had become one of Helena’s prized possessions, as she never seemed to use any other glass or mug in the clocktower.
Helena finally broke the extended silence as she continued to examine the steaming contents of the mug. “Hmm... no marshmallows.”
“They melted. You like your cocoa too hot for them to stick around for long,” Barbara answered.
“We need bigger ones, then. The kind you take camping. The ones that go with chocolate bars and graham crackers.”
Barbara gave a short laugh. “When is the last time you went camping?” She quickly admonished herself silently as she saw the brief flicker of warmth fade from her companion’s eyes, chased away by freshly stirred old pain. The brunette turned back to the skyline, the mug in her hand apparently forgotten. Barbara assumed that she, too, had been forgotten, and was about to head back into the clocktower when she heard a whisper, barely rising above the cool breeze and the misting rain.
“There were fresh flowers.”
Barbara stopped for an instant, unsure how or even whether to respond. She was unsure whether the sentence was spoken to her or even if it had been uttered at all. She waited, subconsciously holding her breath lest she exhale too loudly and miss any further attempts at communication. She just started to notice the burn in her chest and the sudden need for air when she heard Helena speak again, more loudly this time.
“Today. On her grave. There were fresh flowers,” Helena said. “Do you think he could have left them? Do you think he is back?”
Barbara stopped, thinking. “I doubt it. I never know for sure, but I haven’t heard anything.” Unsure what answer Helena really needed to hear, she continued. “I can ask Alfred, though. If anyone would know, he would.” The thought only if Bruce wanted anyone to know he was here was left unspoken, but passed clearly though each of their minds.
The dark figure nodded slightly, and this time Helena did not resume her attempts at conversation. Barbara looked at her friend’s back a moment longer, noting the uncharacteristic slump of Helena’s shoulders and the slight bowing of her head. Although she was sure that an ordinary thug would be no less terrified by this portrait of the Huntress than one that had stood on this ledge a few short months ago, to Barbara, suddenly, the difference appeared overwhelming.
The changes subtly shifted the figure before her from one of a guardian looking out over the city she had vowed to protect, to one of a young child, standing on the curb and wondering why her mother had not yet come to find her after the costume party. Barbara almost spoke, but the dark figure vanished over the edge of the balcony and into the city, leaving Barbara alone with her thoughts. She then retreated into the warmth of the clocktower. Although, somewhere down deep, she wondered if she would ever truly be warm again.
Dinah had arisen early to another gray, drizzly day in New Gotham. She pushed the now-soggy multicolored balls of sugar around the remaining milk in her bowl for a few more laps, then gave up and put her dishes and their contents in the sink. She pushed the cereal balls down the garbage disposal, briefly contemplating pouring the rest of the box’s contents straight down after them. She used to be able to buy whatever cereal she wanted, always opting for the coolest toy. Barbara always allowed this, as if somehow knowing this was an unmet need from the blonde’s childhood, but insisted the cereal be finished. Dinah had never had to worry before, because when Helena came back from a good night of fighting evil and righting wrongs, she would always devour everything in the kitchen that had sugar listed as three of its first four ingredients. But Helena hadn’t been on real patrol since four months earlier, when the clocktower had been destroyed… along, it seemed, with their lives and their family. Now Helena was barely around, and the duty of eating the disgusting cereal fell to Dinah. She sighed, replacing the box in the cabinet, wondering if it was a misuse of Delphi to send a letter into the comment boxes of the General Mills Company demanding better prizes in the better-tasting cereals, but making the comment look like it came from the Oval Office. Hmmmm…
Dinah was officially bored. It was nearly Saturday afternoon, and she was still the only person awake in the clocktower. She had already done her homework (at least, the stuff that HAD to be done before Sunday night at 10 pm). Training drills were no fun without Helena, and there was little chance Huntress was going to break her perfect absentee record today to show up and help Dinah spar. The young blonde was afraid to leave and go outside because, thanks to the new security measures that Barbara had installed following the reconstruction of the clocktower, a chime automatically sounded in Barbara’s bedroom when anyone came in or out of the residence. This, of course, had occurred despite her most fervent arguments that this denied her of her inalienable rights as a teenager to sneak out and get into teenage trouble. Her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. Worse, she had not gotten so much as a smart comment or a smile from Barbara. In fact, Dinah thought (not for the first time in the last few days), that she couldn’t remember the last time Barbara had really smiled.
So, although she was perfectly allowed to leave, she decided not to for fear that she might awaken her guardian. Dinah was relieved that Barbara was apparently sleeping in. Barbara had been awake; staring out the windows into the dark Gotham night long after Dinah herself had gone to bed. Judging by the terror-filled screams which had later catapulted the blonde out of her own sleep and down the hall into Barbara’s room, Dinah knew that Barbara’s sleep had been anything but peaceful. She had checked on her several times, sure that something must be physically attacking her to cause that degree of distress, but each time she found the only battle within Barbara’s own nightmares. Dinah had even camped outside Barbara’s bedroom door for a while in the early hours of the morning, listening to the occasional yells punctuated by softer cries, hoping that somehow her presence could help. But she didn’t go in, partly because she didn’t know how to help, and partly because she didn’t want to mentally intrude on Barbara’s most private fears. She had enough contact with Barbara in the past to see glimpses of the sadness surrounding the attack which left her paralyzed. She knew better than to touch the red head on the night of the anniversary of that horrible crime, when she was obviously re-living some of those memories.
She remembered the prior year, having arrived to the clocktower and to her new family only a few weeks prior to the anniversary of the day which had taken Helena’s mother, closely followed by the anniversary of Barbara’s own shooting. Each night that week when she headed to her own room she’d seen Helena and Barbara sitting close, speaking little but apparently drawing comfort from one another’s presence despite the pain. One night, Dinah had awoken to Barbara’s cries but, when she had peered through the ajar bedroom door, she had seen Helena sitting up in the sleeping woman’s bed, murmuring something in her ear as she softly stroked her hair. Dinah had sat mesmerized by the scene for a few moments, amazed at how Barbara’s cries turned to whimpers, and then gave way to steady breathing and a peaceful expression. Dinah had snuck away, and neither she nor Helena had ever mentioned the scene. Dinah had been sure that night that Helena could not possibly have heard or seen her. However, as Dinah learned more over the next few months about just how amazing Helena’s metahuman powers really were, she had occasionally thought back to that night, increasingly sure that Helena had known Dinah had been outside the room, witnessing the scene.
Dinah also looked back on that scene with not a little confusion. That night, she had been sure that the look in Helena’s eyes had not been mere friendly concern. Dinah was sure that Helena had been looking at Barbara the way every woman dreams of being looked at… with complete adoration. In fact, Dinah had been sure, for several weeks after that night, that Helena and Barbara were a couple, and that they were keeping their relationship a secret to make Dinah more comfortable. She noticed the looks that each gave the other, especially when the other wasn’t paying attention. She also noticed that the almost tangible barriers of personal space that surrounded each woman did not apply to the other. A touch on the shoulder here, an absent-minded pat on the leg there.
When Dinah found out that, not only were these women not a couple, but these “Wade” and “Reese” guys were real and not just made-up to shelter Dinah further and throw her off the track, she was astounded. And, if she was honest with herself, a little upset. The little ways in which they looked out for each other, made each other laugh, completed each other’s sentences… those were all things her parents never had, and were all things she thought a couple should and would have. It just seemed beyond belief that they weren’t together, and Dinah thought that they were extremely in denial. Still, it gave her hope that two people could care that much for one another, and seemed so right for each other. That is, until Harley Quinn….
There was so much destruction in their lives. At first, Dinah thought they’d be okay. Even after Wade died, Barbara really hadn’t seemed that upset. She seemed sad for him, but it wasn’t his name that Barbara called out in the middle of the night when she was once again plagued with nightmares after that whole ordeal. It was Helena’s. Whether calling to her to save her or spare her, though, Dinah couldn’t be sure. And Dinah didn’t think Helena could tell, either. So, that time, when Helena didn’t sit on her bedside and try and calm her fears, Dinah knew it was because Helena was afraid that she herself was the source of them.
Dinah was also convinced that was why Helena distanced herself as much as she could from them in the subsequent weeks. That was why Helena now patrolled alone, without her comm device (although Dinah knew she still must at least intermittently use her earpiece because she had come immediately the couple of times that Dinah and Oracle had really needed her help). That was also why Helena rarely came to the clocktower, unless she absolutely needed Delphi’s assistance. And why, Dinah sensed, after hugging Helena one night, that Helena was seeing detective Reese more often than strictly necessary to help make the streets of New Gotham safer.
Barbara entered the room, noting her young protégée sitting on the couch, staring off into space. It was never, she thought, good when a teenager was thinking that hard about something. Especially one as…. creative… as Dinah. She glanced around, mildly surprised to see Delphi untouched (no obvious net surfing or computer game playing) and no other evidence of recent teenage activity (no television and radio blaring, no chip bags and candy wrappers haphazardly strewn about, no phone cords stretched to other parts of the room). She realized that the house had been looking entirely too sterile lately; although formerly compatible with her taste, it now disconcerted her with a teenager living in her midst. Besides, as grudgingly as she would admit it, she had gotten used to a certain amount of chaos to counterbalance her own tendency towards order. She couldn’t recall once when she was Helena’s guardian that the house was ever appropriate for habitation, much less company, without some major arguing and coaxing. But, Helena’s enthusiasm and energy had always been infectious, if somewhat destructive. Barbara was much more comfortable at reeling Helena and Dinah in, not at pumping them up. She decided to try and lift the brooding teenager’s spirits. She pushed her long red hair back off her forehead, and managed a smile that almost reached her eyes.
“Good morning, Dinah.” She saw Dinah jump, startled. Hmm, Barbara thought as she looked down at the arms of her wheelchair…. Maybe I need a bell for this thing.
“Sleep well, Dinah?”
“Sure,” Dinah lied. “No problem. How about you?”
“Like always,” Barbara answered, her words more truthful than her tone. “So, I’ve been thinking… are you ready to step up your training a bit?”
“Sure,” the teenager answered, this time much more honestly. Oracle had been letting her go out on small stuff lately, but nothing bigger than a simple bank robbery. Once she had actually sent her for a cat up a tree, but Oracle had sworn later that she really thought it had been a child stuck in the branches. Dinah hadn’t sure that the chortles of laughter coming from the other end of the comm were very convincing in that matter. “Is Helena coming….,” but she stopped in mid-sentence, the crestfallen look on Oracle’s face the answer to her question. No, she wouldn’t be training with Helena. She would be training instead of Helena. This meant that Oracle really thought that Huntress wouldn’t be working with them anytime soon, and she wanted to get Dinah ready to help patrol for real. She felt her heart skip a beat, and then redouble its original pace.
Barbara managed a small, tight smile. “Hey, I still have a few pretty cool moves to show you. Come on; let’s go down to the training room.”
The pair went off together, each wishing their trio wasn’t down to a duo… and hardly a dynamic one at that.
“I can do this.” The teenager was breathing heavily into the comm., but Oracle could still hear the determination in her voice.
“No. It is too dangerous. I tried to reach Huntress but she just isn’t responding. You can’t go in without backup. There are at least four men in there. Probably high, definitely armed.”
“I can’t just sit here. They have hostages. They just pulled the two guards out of the back of the armored truck and threw them on the ground. I can’t tell much from here, but one of them is definitely still alive.”
“All the more reason for you to STAY PUT. I will send the police to where you are. Any wrong moves and innocent people could get hurt. Please, just stay there.”
It was supposed to have been simple. Delphi had announced the security alarm of the armored car as it was transmitted back to the company. Dinah had checked it out, to discover a small gang of armed robbers driving down the road right past her in the stolen armored truck. Dinah was supposed to follow from a safe distance, watch to see where it ended up, and wait there until Huntress or the police could arrive. Only no one else had come, and now it appeared that the robbers had taken the two guards with them. Dinah watched through the small side window of the warehouse as one of the robbers started kicking the guard who was now semi-conscious, even though he was still heavily bound and gagged and definitely not making an attempt to escape, or even to lift his head. Dinah made her decision.
“I’m sorry, Oracle. I have to go now. I’ll be careful.” She turned off her comm and headset before she could hear the protest that was inevitable. She had made her decision, and she thought that Oracle yelling in her ear would make it that much more difficult to concentrate hard enough to stay alive.
Dinah crept around the side of the building towards the back, staying low. If she could just get close enough to paralyze them all with her canary call, she reasoned… after all, the guards were mostly unconscious, and wouldn’t be nearly as bothered as the robbers by the ear-piercing sound. Besides, she had been working so hard on her mother’s signature move; she was dying to try it out on something besides the thrift store glasses that Barbara had purchased for her to practice shattering.
Dinah crept though the window leading into what most likely was the manager’s office, although the layers of dust would indicate that no one had been in a position to manage anything in this structure for quite some time. She closed the window behind her, creeping around the dilapidated desk toward the inner door that would lead into the main warehouse. She cracked open the door, and could see the armored truck in the center of the room. Only one of the guards was visible from her vantage point, the other having last been seen on the other side of the truck. Three of the four robbers were also visible, one of whom was supervising the other two in the unloading of stacks of bills from the truck. She cracked the door open further in order to try and place the fourth robber, when the world suddenly went black.
Ernie, the fourth robber, watched the young blonde slump to the ground, where she lay motionless except for the faint rise and fall of her back in time with her breathing. He holstered his gun, the butt of which he had just used to render the young intruder unconscious. He kicked her in the side a couple of times and, seeing no response, hoisted her up onto his shoulder and brought her over to his friends. He unceremoniously dumped her next to the fallen guard who had most recently been the subject of most of the kicking.
Ernie, a compact, muscular, hairy man, began removing the ropes used to hold the guard. He then removed gag.
“It’s about time. Geez, Ernie, what did you have to kick me so hard for? Another couple of inches to the right, and my wife would have your skin for messing up her favorite part. Mine too.”
Charlie, a thinner, paler version of his brother Ernie, stopped supervising Louis and Paulie (who had stopped moving the stacks of paper anyway) and came over the help the “guard” up onto his feet.
“Sorry, Gus,” Ernie said. “Didn’t mean to get carried away. Just wanted to get that little blonde bitch to come in here, like you said, before she attracted any trouble. Forgot I had my work boots on.”
“Both of you shut up,” Charlie said. “Just finish gagging her – apparently, she looks small, but if she yells at you then your ears bleed and you go all deaf or something. Hey, speaking of ears…” Charlie walked over to the unconscious blonde, leaning over her as Ernie finished tying her hands behind her back. He studied her for a moment with his steely gray eyes, then quickly removed her communicator as well as her earpiece, tucking back a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear almost gently as he did so. He smashed the electronics under his boots.
“Almost forgot. Don’t need her computer friend listening in on everything. She already played her part, picking up on the fake alarm we sent out. By now she probably figured out that the signal didn’t go to the police. The blonde could still have a tracker on her, though, so we need to move fast.”
Louis, a balding, sweaty man, jogged over, the useless stacks of greenish paper forgotten. “I’ll just be glad when we can exchange this Monopoly crap for the real stuff. I’ll throw the blonde in the back… but what about the leather coat lady. I mean, we don’t get paid if she isn’t part of the package.”
Charlie continued looking, almost kindly, at the prone still figure. “She’ll come. Everything so far is going according to HQ’s plan. So we stick to the plan. Put the blonde in the truck, and we head out. Sooner or later, the brunette shows and we take her down. Then we take them both to the rendezvous point, exchange them for the cash, and get the hell out of Dodge.”
Ernie stood up, satisfied with his handiwork, and looked nervously at his watch. “Better get moving for now, though. That crazy lady said that Hunter chick could find us no matter where we are, but the cops will find us if we stay too long.”
As the men picked up Dinah and loaded her into the back of the truck like a sack of potatoes, Charlie admonished Ernie. “I’d be careful about calling our benefactor crazy. Even from Arkham, I wouldn’t be so sure she can’t slit your throat from ear to ear in your sleep. She’s got some nasty connections, all of whom want to be top dog while she’s behind bars. Rumor is, she won’t be there for long, and she is keeping lists on who’s working the hardest while she’s away.”
“Now, let’s get out of here, and get rid of the evidence. This will be the fun part,” said Paulie, the smallest and shiftiest of the bunch, he knelt down and opened a small pack he had been carrying over his arm. He removed a length of fuse and stuck it into the second “guard” which, on closer inspection, was a quite artistic life-size rendition of a man made of plastic explosive, and dressed in a guard uniform. Paulie, who was quite proud of his little creation, waited until his comrades (who had all moved quickly into the truck and started the engine once they saw Paulie pull out his matches) started backing out of the building. He grinned as he brought a lit match near the end of the fuse. His grin turned to a look of confusion when the flame sputtered and died as a sudden gust of wind extinguished the match inches from the still-unlit fuse.
“Now, now. Little boys really shouldn’t play with fire. They might get burned.”
Paulie looked up into violet-blue eyes, which stared at him unblinkingly. He started to stand, but a booted foot caught him across his face, sending him sprawling across the concrete floor toward the still-moving van.
Huntress sprinted across the short distance to the van, catapulting herself and landing on its roof. Her eyes flashed yellow and she emitted a low growl, her hands finding purchase on the front edge of the steel roof of the van. She pulled back, exposing part of the passenger compartment below as the metal groaned and tore away. The van accelerated backward toward the open warehouse garage door as Ernie floored it, trying to shake their new rooftop passenger. Huntress pulled once more, exposing enough of the passenger compartment to lift Ernie up by his head and throw him clear of the van. Deprived of its driver, the van slowed in its acceleration towards the exit and veered off course, stopping suddenly as it crashed into the warehouse wall to the right of the exit door. Louis and Gus were trapped in the back of the armored truck, unable to open the rear truck doors against the solid barrier of the thick warehouse wall.
Charlie got out of the passenger side door, smiling as he did so. He matched the feral gaze of the dark superhero with one of his own. “Glad to see you, Huntress. Or is it,
? No, I think with that look in your eye, definitely Huntress, out on the prowl.”
Huntress started for a split second then sprang forward to rapidly close the distance between them. She was upon him in moments, ready to hoist him into the air to fling him into the nearby dusty crates, when she suddenly stopped. A voice from her recent, painful past sounded from a small tape recorder that Charlie had pulled from his coat pocket. A voice that paralyzed her with fear, literally.”
“Strawberry pop tarts.”
The most innocuous phrase imaginable, one that Helena had previously associated with late-night cravings after a good sweep of New Gotham, or after other demanding nocturnal activities, now stopped the woman cold. She dropped to her knees, hands over her ears, but the voice could not be muffled. It only grew louder, as the tape recording continued over and over in the voice of her former therapist, and now most bitter enemy…
“Strawberry pop tarts.”
Charlie laughed, setting the tape recorder down on the floor.
“Strawberry pop tarts.”
He pulled a modified Taser from his pocket, and slowly extended the two conduction rods to their full length.
“Strawberry pop tarts.”
“Now Huntress, you didn’t think that Harley Quinn would implant just one trigger phrase, did you? She had to make sure that she had a backup plan. One that would stop you, no matter what you were doing. She always has a backup plan.”
“Strawberry pop tarts.”
Huntress emitted a roar of frustration, her body screaming to shake off her mind’s influence and lash out at the source of her rage. Her blind fury built to an almost unprecedented level as scenes from all of her previous failures, her previous moments of helplessness, came flooding back. Just as her muscles began to rebel against her mind, answering to the most primal of instincts within her to attack, the electricity from the small weapon surged though her body like fire.
“Strawberry pop tarts.”
The surges of electricity, set much higher than a standard-issue weapon, coursed though her body again and again. The small part of Helena’s brain which was still conscious absurdly tried to remember when she had told Harley Quinn about her favorite nighttime snack. Was it early on, when she still resented having to attend the court-mandated counseling sessions, and she was just trying to annoy the woman by bringing up the most trivial facts about her life imaginable. Or had it been later on, when she commented on how thoughtful she thought Barbara was to have noticed and to always make sure that, no matter how bare the cupboards seemed sometimes, there always seemed to be a new box of her favorite food sitting on the upper left shelf. Then, mercifully, even this part of her brain gave up. The voice stopped at last.
Charlie re-sheathed his weapon, knelt down, and stopped the recorder. He looked down at Helena’s pale face.
Which was the last thing he ever saw.
The crossbow bolt jutted from the surprised man’s chest, and he died before he hit the floor. Paulie, who had just started to move again after his initial blow to the head, and Ernie, who remained unconscious, were swiftly dispatched in similar manners. One clean shot, straight into the middle of the chest, for each.
A feminine figure, dressed in blue jeans and a form-fitting purple sweater, emerged from the shadows near the undamaged side of the warehouse garage doors. She walked towards the slightly crumpled truck, from the back of which she could hear the pounding and yelling of the two men still trapped in the back with their young blonde captive. She slid into the driver’s side and put the truck into drive, edging the truck forward a few feet before setting the brake. The doors of the truck burst open and Louis and Gus emerged, blinking at the warehouse lights which contrasted with the pitch black of the truck in which they had been enclosed.
“It’s about time. What ha…” Louis started, then stopped and stared stupidly as his gaze fell upon the prone bodies which lay around him. As he tried to decide whether to draw his gun or simply to run, a shaft of metal through his neck quickly removed the burden of the decision-making process from him, as he joined his friends on the floor.
Gus, who had emerged from the truck closest to the outside of the warehouse and shielded from the action, could not see the bodies of the first three men, nor their attacker. What he did see from his vantage point, however, was Louis as he fell backward, dark pool of blood rapidly spreading from the gaping wound in his neck. Having an ounce of the sense his creator gave him, Gus did not seek out the source of the crossbow bolt. He ran. And he never looked back as he disappeared into the night.
The newest arrival glanced in the rapidly fleeing Gus’s direction, and then shrugged. She shouldered her trusted weapon and knelt down to Huntress’s prone body. A small sigh of relief was her only utterance as she felt the weak but steady pulse under her fingers. She then made her way swiftly to the back of the truck, reaching in and removing the semi-conscious blonde. She removed the gag and placed the girl gently on the ground. She heard sirens in the distance, and quickly stood and strode back to Huntress. With a powerful but infinitely gentle movement, she lifted the prone woman to her and moved to the silver convertible parked in the rear of the warehouse. She remotely disabled the sophisticated security system of the well cared for vehicle, signaled for the car’s canvas top to open, and listened to the ever-louder sirens as she gracefully placed her precious cargo in the back seat. She jumped into the car, vaulting herself over the still-closed door and into the driver’s seat.
She pulled out and down the back access road, heading away from the chaos which was about to surround the warehouse, and out into the quiet still part of the night.
“Dinah, thank God.” Reese ran over to the blonde figure, which was starting to stir, partly in response to the now bustling commotion as the ever-vigilant New Gotham’s finest arrived en-masse. He quickly scanned the carnage before him, but saw no sign of the one other person he had been desperately hoping to see.
Oracle had phoned him at home, pleading with him to get down to the warehouse to help Dinah. She had been furious with Dinah for breaking communication. She vowed never to let the teenager take the car out again (while grudgingly admitting to herself that they should think about buying a second car). She was even more furious when she found that someone (most assuredly Helena) had removed all recent versions of her prototype belt which had enabled her to use her legs, in however limited and painful a fashion, so that she couldn’t quickly go look for Dinah herself. Oracle had called Reese in desperation, demanding in no uncertain terms that he also send a squad car over to pick her up as well.
Barbara arrived very shortly after Reese, thanking the officer who had provided a ride and eschewing any further assistance once she was in her manual wheelchair (the only one portable enough to have been brought with her in the small squad car). She maneuvered over the rough, gravel-strewn pavement outside of the warehouse with no little aggravation, but managed to make it into the warehouse where she headed towards Dinah at once.
“Dinah, are you okay?”
The blonde sat up, which increased the pounding in her head, but she focused on the stricken but fierce expression on her guardian’s face. “Hmm, yeah. I think so.”
“Good. Because I am going to kill you.” Barbara looked around at the fallen men, each surrounded by a pool of blood. “What happened, Dinah?”
“I don’t know. I was coming in through the back, trying to save the guard, and everything went kind of…. black. I got hit on the head. The next thing I remember is waking up and seeing him.” Dinah nodded towards Reese, a movement which only increased the pain in her skull and sent a wave of nausea through her gut. Reese smiled, but got less of a response than he would have liked from his rescued victim. He understood why he never got much of a “thank you” from Huntress, what with the proud lone warrior thing she had going on, but he always thought Dinah kind of looked up to him. The way she was looking at him now, though, like he was in the way of something she really wanted, rather than as the man who had just saved her… or, well at least found her already saved. But she didn’t know that. He could have saved her. And he would have, if someone hadn’t gone and done all the work before he got there. Then Dinah threw up all over his pants and his shoes, and his train of thought was suddenly broken.
“Was she here?” Barbara had to repeat her question to Reese twice, since the first time he was in the midst of jumping back and grimacing as his shoes and pants were covered with former multi-colored sugar balls. Barbara held back Dinah’s hair with one hand and rubbed her back soothingly with the other as she stared up at the detective, waiting for a reply.
“No. I mean, I don’t think so.”
“Well, since I don’t think crossbows are standard issue New Gotham police weaponry, and since I saw your car pull up shortly before mine, I don’t think your men did this to the robbers tonight. Do you have any idea who did?”
Reese stared around at the scene, dumbfounded. “No.” He walked over to a spot on the floor nearby, and picked up a silver ring. “But I think we’d better find out.”
“Hey now, Hellcat. Easy does it.”
Helena had been struggling to regain consciousness, her muscles tense as she thrashed in the soft bed underneath her, trying desperately to ready herself to fend off the attackers who had knocked her out. The gentle voice sounded in the small bedroom, and she stopped thrashing, almost instantly still, trying to place the voice. Safe. She associated the voice with safe. Barbara? Not Barbara…someone else…. from long ago. Childhood? Maybe she was still dreaming. Maybe she really was dead this time. She knew she wanted to exist wherever the voice was, and felt as though she were swimming furiously though murky depths and layers of consciousness towards the voice – a beacon which represented safety, warmth, and love.
“Mom?” Her dry, cracked voice sounded in the silence of the small, dark bedroom.
“No, Helena.” The voice again, filled with love and what sounded like tremendous relief and… something else? A soft kiss on the forehead. The voice again, stronger now, still gentle.
“You’re okay, you’re safe. Just rest for now.”
Helena let out a frustrated growl that sounded half like a sigh, unable to will her body to respond to her commands to get up and take charge of the situation. So tired. She managed to find her voice again. “The kid. Dinah. I went to get her, but I don’t think I made it. Is she okay?”
“Yes. Your blonde friend from the back of the van is going to be fine. Rest now.”
Helena struggled momentarily, opening her eyes, but unable to focus on the shadowed figure in front of her. She felt the bed dip as the woman sat on its edge and, almost instinctively, Helena put her head on the leg of her mysterious, yet somehow familiar, protector. She felt a hand stroke her hair, gently, rhythmically, and with a contended sigh Helena allowed the heaviness to overtake her and she lapsed back into a deep sleep, unplagued by nightmares for the first time in countless nights.
Kathryn remained in the same position for hours, stroking Helena’s hair and marveling at the strong, amazing woman who had curled up and placed her head in her lap. She moved only when she heard the doorbell chime, being careful not to jostle Helena.
The woman pushed back her long brown hair, peppered with liberal amounts of grey, and pulled it into a ponytail as she made her way to the door. She peered through the small window then opened the door wide, greeting her visitor with a tired but genuine smile.
“Hi, Doc. Come on in. I was just thinking how good a cup of coffee would taste right now. Can I fix you a cup?”
The kindly older gentleman entered the small but inviting apartment, placing his coat and hat on the wooden hall tree and meeting Kathryn’s smile with one of his own which made his eyes twinkle.
“I take it my favorite patient is feeling better,” he commented.
“How’s her fever?”
“Definitely improved. She is running a couple degrees above her normal, but I know you said that is good sign that her body is trying to repair some of the damage. She regained consciousness briefly, and now she seems to be sleeping much more peacefully.”
“Good, good. She really had me worried when I came by yesterday. Not that that is by any means unprecedented.” He gave a short laugh, and they exchanged knowing glances. “Is she taking any fluids?”
“Not really. I am glad you were able to give her those IVs yesterday, but I am also glad you took them out before you left. She has been moving around too much, and I never would have been able to keep her from pulling them out.”
“I’ll let her sleep a few more minutes. Sounds like she can use it. How about that coffee?”
The pair headed into the kitchen, and the physician set his bag down onto the tile counter next to him as he took his place on one of the bar stools, facing into the kitchen to watch as Kathryn ground new coffee beans. He opened the black leather bag and extracted a few pieces paper that had been faxed over from the veterinary hospital. He had always used their laboratory because they raised fewer questions about the unusual characteristics of the cells in Helena’s blood.
Tonight, although he had retired from practice some ten years earlier, the elderly physician had imposed upon a friend of his at the lab to do him one last favor. He waited until Kathryn had prepared and turned on the coffee pot, and had turned back towards him.
“I got the labs back this morning. Not much that I didn’t expect. Her white count was mildly elevated, but it really didn’t look like she was fighting off a bacterial infection. I think we were right, that the temporary fevers were more her body’s stress reaction trying to heal the tissue damage from those electrical shocks. There wasn’t any evidence that she had heart muscle damage based her enzymes, but her other muscles went through quite an ordeal. We just have to make sure her kidneys work okay, since they have a lot to deal with when muscles are damaged, but they looked good when I sent these labs yesterday. As long as she is getting enough fluids, I think her body will recover just fine. She really does have amazing healing abilities, Katie.”
“I know. And I’m thankful. Although goodness knows I’ve wondered if she would get into fewer mishaps if she wasn’t so sure that she’s damn-near invincible.” Kathryn set the empty coffee mug down onto the counter emphatically with this last statement, the emotions of the last three days since she found Helena finally catching up to her. The mug cracked, the handle separating off into her hand. She looked down at the remains, a wan smile on her face. “That’s okay. It wasn’t nearly big enough, anyway.” Then the tears which had been threatening for three days finally fell, and she allowed herself to be comforted by her old friend.
A few hours later, after having reassured himself that Helena was indeed healing admirably, he took his leave with instructions not to hesitate to call him again if she needed him. He declined the check which Kathryn offered him until she agreed to make it out to the Gotham Children’s Hospital’s free care fund. Before leaving, he turned to Kathryn, a rare look of uncertainty on his face.
“I don’t know what happened, Katie. And I know it really has nothing to do with me. I just know that you left, and nothing was the same for them after that. They both loved you very much, and, although I didn’t see Helena as often, I know that Selina never seemed the same. I’ve seen a lot of things in my life, but I have rarely seen that kind of love. I don’t know what happened between you two, but she was taken away so suddenly and I don’t know if you got to talk to her much in those last few years. I just wanted you to know… I don’t think she ever stopped loving you.”
The older man turned quietly to go, acknowledging the almost silent “thank you” with a brief nod of his head. He closed the door behind him, leaving Kathryn to her privacy and a new wave of tears, as her heart was rebroken, this time so it could begin to finally heal. The last thing she remembered was making a short phone call, then lying down to rest her eyes momentarily.
The young brunette stood staring in horror at the metal bars extending vertically in front of her. At the top, thirty feet up, a rope ceiling met the iron bars, completely enclosing the monkeys contained within the newly remodeled enclosure. But her focus was not on the three monkeys huddled together in the opposite corner, nor was it on the one slightly braver male monkey standing in the middle of the cage, yelling at the top of the enclosure.
Rather, the brunette’s rapt attention was held by the focus of the monkeys’ consternation: A lanky two-year old with a shock of unruly black hair and a blue and pink plaid blanket tied around her shoulder like a cape.
“Monkey play. Monkey play.” The exuberant two year old bounced up and down where she sat, which happened to be at the junction of the steel bars and the rope ceiling. As she laughed and bounced, she shook the rope, which made the male monkey jump up and down and reinforced the little girl’s antics. She looked for a way to get in between the ropes in order to enter the cage.
“Helena Kyle, you get down from there this instant. NO WAIT. Stay right there. I’m coming to get you.” The brunette, positively frantic, looked around desperately for something to assist her on her climb up the metal rods. She grabbed the rods and attempted to find purchase, but was only managed to climb about ten feet before she slipped back down the smooth metal, now slicked with her sweat.
The two year old just laughed and bounced. By now, a small crowd had begun to gather. In the distance, Kathryn could see two men in green uniforms running in their direction, one of whom had a net attached to a long pole, resembling a pool skimmer.
“Helena, honey. It is time to go home. The nice men are going to help you come down, and then we are going to get some ice cream.”
“ICE CREAM.” The two year old’s eyes got big, and she looked down at the brunette, who suddenly turned even paler.
“Oh, shit. No, honey, stay right there! Just hold on one minute.”
The men in the green uniforms were entering the primate area, but were still too far away from the monkey enclosure.
The two year old jumped, and the brunette’s heart stopped. She watched helpless, unable to move in time to catch the tiny child as she plummeted towards the ground… and landed, like a cat, on her feet, smiling. Kathryn almost fainted dead away, but ran instead and scooped up the little girl in her arms. She was surrounded by concerned well-wishers and the two panting zoo employees. A few people shouted not to move her, and one of the employees said the doctor wasn’t far behind.
“No, no, really.” Kathryn, unsure what to do but certain that allowing a regular doctor to examine her metahuman child could only make matters worse, ran. With the child in her arms, she evaded the perplexed audience and escaped the New Gotham zoo out a side entrance, not stopping until they were well into the adjoining park.
Behind a small collection of trees, near the duck pond, Kathryn finally stopped and set the child gently down on the grass, intending to inspect her carefully for injuries and then somehow reach their family pediatrician at his emergency number.
Little Helena bounded up off the grass, undaunted. Other than the smallest of scratches on her left knee from when she landed in a slight crouch on the pavement, she was entirely uninjured.
“K-Kay fun. Ice cream.”
Kathryn said a silent prayer of thanks to anyone who was listening, and took the little girl by the hand.
“You really are your mother’s child. C’mon my little Hellcat. Let’s go find your momma and get some ice cream.” The two walked off together, hand in hand.
Kathryn was unaware of having fallen asleep on the couch, but awoke to find the room much lighter than it had been. Judging from the crick in her neck and the protest of the muscles in her back, she had slept though the night and into the early morning hours of the next day. And, judging from the blue eyes staring at her intently from the chair across the room, she had some explaining to do.
“Good morning, Helena.” Her voice wavered, and she cleared it, reaching down to find some resolve that she would need to get through this morning.
Helena didn’t respond. She continued to stare, her expression unreadable, almost clinical, as she studied the person in front of her. Kathryn didn’t move, she simply allowed the scrutiny for what seemed like hours, but was really only a few minutes. Kathryn breathed fully again only when Helena finally broke eye contact, rising from the chair.
Helena turned her back to Kathryn, gripping the edge of the counter which connected the family room to the kitchen. Kathryn rose slowly, afraid that sudden movements would escalate the tense situation into something worse. She forced herself to breathe deeply and tried to remain calm.
“You’re her. You’re real.” Helena spoke first.
Although that wasn’t quite the opening line Kathryn expected, she responded the only way she possibly could. Truthfully.
Helena sighed forcefully, then turned back around to face Kathryn, their gazes meeting one more. This time Helena’s was searching, almost desperately… for what, Kathryn wasn’t sure. She did know that she had never seen anyone look quite so… haunted… and that she would do anything to make it go away.
“I thought I made you up. But you are here. It really is you, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Kathryn again, this time trying to conjure up what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
Helena almost returned the smile, a flicker of response, before her eyes hardened. “Then that means you really did leave.”
“Yes.” Kathryn looked down, shattered. She had known this moment would come, known it from the second she stepped from the shadows back into Helena’s life. She would have given anything in her power to make sure Helena was alright again after that brutal attack, but now, in this moment, she didn’t know if she had the strength to pay the price, and have this conversation. Yet she had to, because the little girl she loved as her own had grown up into this hurt, scared woman. And Kathryn had to try and make it better... anyway she could.
“Why?” As she uttered the question, Helena crossed the space between them in an instant. No, Kathryn had to correct herself, not Helena. This was Huntress. This was a being whom she had never met, born partly of the Hellcat she had once known, and forged in the fires of more sorrow than any one person should have to endure, especially one so young. The energy radiating off of her was incredible… the potential for violence, the barely restrained primal passion. For a moment, Kathryn was so transfixed that she forgot to be afraid. She looked into the yellow, feral eyes of the being in front of her and was intensely reminded of her one true love, her joy, which had been Selina. Huntress was so much more than Selina had ever been… more intense, more powerful, and yet the similarities in their energies were almost overwhelming. And thus, in the midst of this potentially destructive power, she could not help but smile.
Kathryn’s reaction caught Huntress completely off guard. She had expected fear, where there was only love and sadness. Part of her was infuriated. This woman had no right not to fear her. She should be afraid, because she had caused so much hurt. She had left them, her mother and her. She had been part of their family, and she had left it, broken. Helena had been so little when Kathryn left, that Helena had almost convinced herself that Kathryn had been a dream, like the other parent she had always wanted but never had. But she did exist, and that meant the overwhelming loss her departure had caused also existed. That her mother’s rare tears (when she thought Helena was asleep) really were for someone who used to be there, but had left. She wanted to shake this woman until she felt some of the pain that her mother, and Helena herself, had felt. She wanted to punish her for leaving them.
Part of her, though, deep down, just wanted to grab onto Kathryn. She wanted to hear some excuse, any excuse that would make this all some horrible misunderstanding and would allow her to regain that part of her heart which had been missing for so long. To be told that she was still loved. That it wasn’t her fault that this woman had left and that her mother had been sad. To know that she had been wanted, and that she had been missed. And part of her knew that this woman was linked to her mother, like no one else had been, and she wanted to grasp onto that part of her mother and never let go.
Kathryn could see the battle in the yellow eyes in front of her, and steeled herself to accept whatever came of it. Finally, Huntress blinked, and Helena’s blue eyes filled with tears. The part of her which longed to be loved unconditionally, to be trusted again, by someone who truly knew her… it was this part that won the battle for her soul. She gave in and hugged Kathryn, and let the tears flow.
The two women sat in the quiet room, illuminated by the warm tendrils of the late afternoon sun as it dared to peek through the clouds which had been blanketing the skies of New Gotham for days. Few words had been spoken when the tears had finally stopped flowing. Each was afraid on some level that today could not really be happening, that if they spoke, the dream would end and each would awaken in her own bed, without a family.
Finally, Kathryn spoke. “Pineapple?”
Helena looked at her, thoroughly confused. “What?”
“Pineapple. Do you still like pineapple on your pizza? I’m starving, and I know you must be because you’ve been asleep for days. Since I am not going to break my perfect record and start cooking now, I was thinking about ordering a pizza. Or two.”
“Just no veggies. Olives belong in martinis, not on pizza. And I am allergic to anything green unless it is frosting.”
Kathryn smiled broadly. “Got it.” She walked over and placed a phone order, grabbed two sodas from the fridge, then walked back to her seat on the couch, offering one of the cans to Helena. Helena took the proffered beverage, popping it open and downing most of the contents in one attempt.
Kathryn said, “There’s more soda in the pantry. Mostly diet… I don’t know if you drink that stuff. I haven’t been shopping in awhile, so I would stay away from the milk. Anything else you can find, you are welcome to it.”
Helena looked around the apartment. “Thanks. Umm… lived here long?”
“No. About three months. I’ve lived a few places over the years. Most recently Detroit. Couldn’t ever settle down, though.”
Helena exhaled sharply at that comment, shifting in her seat. “So, no other family, huh? Husband? Kids? Picket fence?”
“No, no one really. A few friends scattered about. No family.” Kathryn paused a moment, then decided to advance into hostile territory. “My family was here; when I left, there was no one else.”
The next question hung heavy in the air, both women knowing what it was. Finally, Helena found the courage to speak the one word her heart was screaming. “Why?” she asked in the smallest of whispers.
“I had to go. I didn’t want to. I never wanted to. I loved your mother more than I could ever love anyone else. Ever.” Kathryn answered immediately, the words tumbling out before she could rethink them and hold back.
“Was it because of me?” Helena could barely believe she spoke it, but there it was. What she had wanted to know since she was five years old and one of the two most important women in her life left to go to the store, and never returned. The question she had pretended had never existed, because this woman had never really existed. The question that kept her from getting too close to anyone. Because all who had ever really known her and loved her had left, and not returned.
It was the last thing Kathryn expected Helena to say. Helena’s normal veneer of self-confidence was stripped away in that moment, and Kathryn saw the precious, vulnerable little girl that she used to sing to sleep at night.
“No, Hellcat. How could you ever think that? I love you. I have always loved you like my own daughter. Since before you were born. Oh, honey, there was nothing you could have ever done, could ever do, that could change that.”
Helena looked down at her own hands, suddenly fascinated by them.
Kathryn continued, more rapidly this time, appalled that Helena had thought for one instant that it had been her fault, and determined to start to repair the damage that assumption had caused.
“Helena, I had to leave because there was… someone… who was threatening our family. You, and Selina. Someone with powerful connections. They threatened to have your mother sent to jail for what she had done before you were born, threatened to have you taken away. I couldn’t risk that happening. Not ever.”
“Who would even care? Who would do that?”
“It doesn’t matter…” Kathryn said, but Helena looked up again and directly into her eyes. And in that instant, Kathryn knew that Helena had guessed the truth.
“Bruce.” The word hung in the air. It was said as a statement, not as a question. Helena closed her eyes as she said it.
“He said he thought he was doing what was best. And I think, deep down, part of him really thought that he was. For you, for Selina. Especially for you. He knew you had so much stacked against you already, especially as you grew, and it became more obvious what an extraordinary person you were going to become. He knew that your powers would make you a target, and that he thought that having two mothers would only make things worse. I think he felt bad for condemning you to a life that was far from normal, and he wanted to try and make it as normal as possible.”
Kathryn pressed on, unwilling to stop now that she had started, determined to give Helena the entire truth, believing that she deserved at least that much from her. “Plus, although this is the part he didn’t say, I think he just couldn’t stand the thought of my competing with him. I think he had thoughts of marrying your mother someday, of starting this normal life, and he used me as one of his excuses why it wasn’t happening for them. Why Selina didn’t love him like he loved her.” Kathryn’s voice cracked, but she continued. “He told me to leave. He told me not to tell Selina where I went or why, but simply to vanish, or he would have her locked up for the rest of her life, and you would be put in a boarding school of his choosing, so he could make sure that you were raised right.”
Helena looked at her, finding her voice that was fueled by a fury from within. “He had no right. And you left? Without telling her anything?”
“Not entirely. I did leave her a letter, explaining everything. I knew that I owed her that much. I couldn’t tell her in person because I knew my resolve would break, and that I would let you and her come with me. I couldn’t do that… live a life with you on the run. With the entire Justice League, not to mention every law enforcement agency in the country, looking for us. I knew they would find us, and that they would take you away from Selina. I couldn’t let her make that kind of choice, because I knew she would choose to try and run with me, and I couldn’t let her.”
Helena looked as though she had been deflated, her fury suddenly dissipating, leaving her slumped back into the chair. “Then, why didn’t you come back. After… you know. Why didn’t you come back eight years ago?”
“I had no idea Selina had been… had been killed until months after it happened. I received news from time to time, checking in on New Gotham, but all headlines focused on Commissioner Gordon’s daughter being shot and paralyzed. Murders were so commonplace in those days in New Gotham, especially since Batman had disappeared, that Selina’s death didn’t even make a major headline.
By the time that I found out, I rushed back here, but you were living with Barbara Gordon, and she was your guardian. I didn’t think I had any right to walk in after so long and try to reclaim my space in your life. I guess I didn’t know if you had any space left for me.”
“I did.” Helena answered, matter-of-factly.
“And now?” Kathryn asked, her voice now suddenly quiet.
“What do you mean?” asked Helena, barely disguising her interest.
Kathryn continued to look down, unable to meet Helena’s gaze. “I am tired of living like this… tired of living away from you. I miss you. You’re my daughter, Helena… I don’t know if I have any right to call you that anymore, but you always have been, in my heart. I can’t believe I was so stupid, that I stayed away this long. I came back because I want to spend the rest of my life making it up to you. I want to be part of your family again… at least, I want the opportunity to try to be.” Kathryn forced herself to look into Helena’s eyes, half-afraid she would see the feral yellow of rage, but instead looking into pale lavender, glittering with unshed tears, bolstering Kathryn’s courage enough to finish what she had started. “It’s your call, Hellcat. Can you let me try and rebuild what is left of our family?”
Helena stared at her unblinkingly for several long moments, her mind racing. Over the past few months after Harley Quinn. Helena found herself pulling away from everyone, unwilling to allow herself or anyone else to be hurt like that again. She had thought this would be the best for everyone. She convinced herself that Barbara would heal and move on, that the kid would go on with her life – and that everyone else would be better off without her around.
What she hadn’t expected, what she hadn’t even guessed at, is that it would hurt so much. That damned therapist had actually opened Helena up to a part of herself that honestly craved companionship, and love, and made her face the fact that she was not as solitary as she always hoped she could be. And now, sitting in front of her, was a woman who offered Helena a second chance at being loved, and being part of a family again. Helena’s mind screamed for her to say no, to push this woman far away, and to escape into the cold shadows of New Gotham where she belonged, where she deserved to live. And yet, before her mind could engage her mouth, her heart took command and spoke the truth.
“Yes. I’d like that.” There it was. A simple statement, so true that Helena couldn’t bring herself to take it back, to run away. She wanted a family again. And she wanted this woman sitting in front of her to be a part of it again.
At that moment, the doorbell rang, and a pizza man got the biggest tip of his life from a very exuberant middle-aged woman who looked as though she had just won the lottery.
“Where could she be?” The distraught redhead asked Delphi for the thousandth time. Delphi, for its part, remained stoically silent.
Oracle had confirmed that the ring found at the warehouse had indeed been Helena’s; in fact, it had been a high-school graduation gift from Barbara to Helena. Now Oracle was frantic. She had been to the brunette’s apartment, the bar, the hospitals… even the morgue. She had sent Dinah up to several rooftops to check out some of Huntress’s favorite sulking spots, to no avail. She had even asked Reese to check some of the places that Helena had been more recently… he knew much more about her activities of late than she was comfortable with. She was glad that Helena had someone to talk to but… did it have to be Reese? Barbara always thought he was nice enough, but a bit too cocky. And that trait only seemed to work for Helena. Since he didn’t even have the “I have a right to think I’m a badass because I am the Huntress” excuse, Barbara always found him fairly annoying. Helena, she thought, could do better.
For now, however, she would have been glad to hear Reese’s smug pronouncement that he had done what the great Oracle could not… and that would be find Helena. Any sign of her. She was certain that Huntress had not been the one to dispatch the most recent gang of thugs. And Dinah was no help at all (much to the teenager’s dismay), having been unconscious and locked in the back of the truck the entire time. So Barbara was left to worry, and to stare at the phone, willing it to ring.
Dinah, for her part, was scouring ever inch of New Gotham. She felt tremendously guilty for disobeying Oracle in a way that not only almost got her killed, but also resulted in the disappearance of Huntress. She was determined to make it right, determined to find the criminal mastermind who had taken Helena away. She had been patrolling every night which Oracle, much to Dinah’s surprise, actually allowed. She knew that the axe would fall and she would be punished to the end of the millennium once Helena had been recovered, but until then, she knew Oracle still needed her. That is, as soon as she promised on everything she held dear that she would never turn off her communicator again, and that she would do a handstand and cluck like a chicken if Oracle told her to, no questions asked.
Barbara had even granted Dinah a small absence from school, so that she had been able to devote the last two days as well as nights to searching. ‘Another indicator of how scared she really is,’ Dinah thought.
Then, when Barbara returned home after a short trip to school to pick up a stack of essays which demanded her attention, the message machine light was blinking. She scattered the essays over the floor in her attempt to get to the machine. When she didn’t hear Helena’s voice, she almost erased it, thinking the message to be some sort of telemarketing that still managed to make it past the highest security system in New Gotham. She was convinced that the Joker was secretly running the Home Shopping Channel from Arkham, and that telemarketers were his new minions of evil. She didn’t push the button in time, though, and the woman’s voice continued on the machine.
“Ms. Gordon. I hope this is your number, because I had a difficult time tracking it down. I also don’t know if I should be making this call, because I don’t know how much contact you have had with her recently, but in case you were worried, I wanted you to know that Helena is going to be okay. She’s staying with me for a couple of days until she gets back on her feet. I will encourage her to call you when she feels up to it. Thank you.”
Barbara stared at the machine, sure at first she must have misheard the message. She replayed the call four more times, willing it each time to give her more information than the last. A combination of relief and adrenaline coursed through her body, as she literally shook with emotion. “Helena,” she spoke aloud to the inanimate answering machine. “Please let this be true. Please be okay.”
Delphi sprung to life as she traced the number to a pay phone in New Gotham. She transferred the call from her digital answering machine into her computer, screening for any background noises which might clue her into the caller’s identity. Nothing. Something about the voice sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it. Was she an arch-enemy out for revenge? Somehow, Barbara didn’t think so. So, now that she had some small reassurance that Helena might be safe, Barbara had two new questions to deal with. Who was this other woman that Helena went to when she was injured or hurt or needed help? And why did it bother Barbara so much?
“So, who was that guy who gave me a shot in the butt? He was lucky he didn’t lose his hand.” Helena had become much more talkative after devouring her entire large pizza and part of Kathryn’s much smaller one, after having removed most of the offensive vegetables and piling them in the box lid.
Kathryn laughed. “That was your pediatrician, actually. And he came by as a favor. You were running a fever, and I didn’t know who else to call.”
Helena crossed her legs as she settled back on the comfy couch.
“Hmm, that’s okay, I always…”
“… run hot, I know.” Kathryn finished for her. “But these fevers were much higher than your average temperature, even taking into account the stress your body was under. So he ran some labs, gave you something to help you relax so you wouldn’t overstress your muscles.”
Helena looked at Kathryn quizzically, “Did I always? Wow, I mean, as a baby and stuff? I thought maybe it was a puberty thing.”
“Always what? Have a higher than average body temperature?” Helena nodded, and Kathryn continued. “Absolutely always. In fact, that particular little quirk of yours helped keep your mother out of jail, and helped get us together.”
Helena just blinked. She was already amazed that someone knew something about her growing up, that she could ask all those silly little questions that she never wanted to know the answers to until it was too late. Now she was going to finally learn more about her mother, the real person. She looked at Kathryn intently. Kathryn took a long sip of her soda, sat back, and started her story.
Her back ached. She tried to adjust her posture, but the bucket seat of her small piece of junk car would only allow for so much maneuvering. After six hours in the same spot, there was no way to move that would keep her tailbone from aching, or her left leg from going periodically numb. She put the binoculars back down, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hands. She stared malevolently at the clearly inadequate thermos which had long ago stopped dispensing coffee, and now sat empty among the various remnants of her junk food binge. She sorted through the paper wrappers and bags to find only half of a piece of red licorice left, which she chewed on only half-heartedly.
Stake-outs suck, she thought. She felt at least twice as old as her twenty-six years, and she was dying to get out and stretch. If she could just hold on a little bit longer, though. She really felt like tonight was the night all of her hard work would finally pay off. She had been so close for so long. She knew her other cases had suffered a bit, but she couldn’t stop working on the puzzle that was Catwoman. And now, she had the final piece – the one that would complete the picture.
She continued to look up at the third story apartment that she was positive was the lair of one of the most brilliant thieves Gotham had ever known. After years of studying surveillance tapes, crime scene photographs, and interviews with the few eyewitnesses who had ever caught glimpses of the accomplished criminal, Katie thought that she almost knew the woman behind the mask. She was fascinated with her, when she was honest with herself, beyond a simply professional interest. Although she had already earned her stripes and had accomplished a considerable amount in her short career, having been promoted as one of the youngest detectives in NGPD history, she wanted more. And somehow, she knew, all that she ever wanted was tied in with capturing this mysterious woman.
She had fingered Selina Kyle as a suspect several months earlier, but she had tread carefully because she had been woefully wrong before. One particular debacle involved accusing the commissioner’s daughter of being Catwoman. That had almost ended her career, and would have, had the young woman not been so benevolent about insisting that no harm had been done (although Katie still couldn’t figure out how the hair fiber matching Ms. Gordon had become entangled in one of the items at the crime scene). After all those years of the perfect thief making absolutely no mistakes, leaving no clues, it had happened. A partial fingerprint on one of the shards of glass of the broken window at the art museum. Catwoman had fled the scene only moments before the arrival of the boys in blue, and something must have happened that caused her glove to rip.
Katie hadn’t been able to believe it. But the fingerprint had not matched any on record in the police database. Her supervisor told her that it probably belonged to some cleaning person, and not to make a big deal out of it. But her gut told her that it was Catwoman’s, and that they couldn’t identify it simply because Ms. Kyle had no criminal record, and thus no fingerprints on file. Her supervisor had warned her harshly about incriminating another innocent citizen, and strongly encouraged her to make some headway on her other backlogged cases. But Katie just knew if she could get that fingerprint, that she would have it made.
A faint hint of movement immediately drew the young woman’s attention back to the work at hand. There it was. The barest of shadows passed behind the drawn curtains, and she knew that the woman had returned to her apartment. Peering through her binoculars, she saw the woman pass by the mostly drawn curtains for an instant, but just long enough to confirm that it was indeed Ms. Kyle in the apartment. She steeled her resolve, and got out of the car, standing for an extra few moments and grimacing at the pain caused by circulation being restored to her lower extremities. Once she was again able to move, she made her way to the building and up the stairs.
A knock, soft but persistent, got Selina’s attention. She had barely gotten home, and she wanted nothing more than to sink down into a warm bath with a good paperback. She considered ignoring the door, as she often did, especially in this neighborhood. She had few friends, and certainly none she was expecting unannounced at this time of night. Something about the insistence of the knock gave her pause, however, and she peeked through the peephole.
The woman standing at her door was medium build, with long wavy brown hair. She paused in her knocking only long enough to brush her hair back out of her face, revealing warm hazel eyes. Selina considered her options and, against most of her better judgment, opened the door.
“Hi.” Katie prepared to launch into her prepared speech, but upon looking up into Selina’s eyes, all of her carefully rehearsed words went right out of her head. ‘God, they are the most amazing color,’ she thought.
Selina looked down at the slightly shorter, slightly younger woman who seemed to have lost her train of thought, judging from the slightly goofy expression on her face. “Cat got your tongue?” She smiled down at her visitor.
Katie’s suave response to this remark was that she almost choked on her own saliva. She coughed so hard that Selina’s expression went from amusement to concern, and she pounded Katie firmly on the back in an attempt to help. “Was it something I said?” Selina asked, once the coughing had given way to slight wheezing and a sputter.
“No, no, I’m sorry.” The two women could almost hear the grinding of the gears as Katie’s mind tried to swerve back onto the right track. “Coffee. I mean, I am new to the building, and I am out of coffee, and I was wondering if you might have any, to spare.” Katie held out a well-used stainless steel thermos toward the woman, managing a lopsided smile.
“Hmmm. I might be able to round some up, for a new neighbor. Come on in.” Selina opened the door wider, ignoring the thermos but allowing Katie entrance into her home. The apartment was rather large, much bigger than it looked from the outside. It was also immaculate. It had an understated elegance which seemed to match its graceful occupant, who busied herself pouring water into the coffeemaker and replacing the filter.
It was nothing like she expected – no framed pieces of original art work, no real displays of wealth at all. Suddenly, Selina was staring directly at her, and Katie realized that she must have just been asked a question. She thought back over the last few minutes, but realized that she had been so entirely absorbed in taking in her surroundings, she had no idea what had been asked. She took a stab at it
Selina laughed. A short, beautiful laugh that made her eyes twinkle and little tiny wrinkles appear around them. ‘Wait, beautiful… twinkle… what is going on here,’ Katie thought.
Selina tried again. “Ok. Does that mean decaf or regular?”
“Oh, definitely regular. I don’t believe in removing all of that perfectly good caffeine. I mean, what’s the point.”
“You must be quite a night owl. Not many other people drink regular coffee this late at night.”
“Good coffee is much more important than good sleep,” Katie answered back, earnestly.
Selina laughed again, turning to add coffee to the machine. ‘God, she has a beautiful laugh’. She couldn’t figure out why, but she wanted to figure out something to say to make Selina laugh again.
“So,” Selina asked, “did you move into 402? That place has been vacant for awhile.”
“Yes,” Katie answered, a little too hastily. She though she saw a flicker of a shadow cross Selina’s face, but she decided she must have imagined it, for when Katie blinked all she saw was her host’s kind face looking back at her with a thoughtful expression.
“So, what brought you to Gotham?” Selina asked, conversationally.
“A relationship.” Katie answered honestly, without thinking. “I grew up in a small town, and my boyfriend got a job here. He asked me to come, and I did, thinking it would be my only way to get out. The relationship fell apart quickly, but I fell in love with the city. So I started my own life here… and I guess I never really looked back.”
“So, anyone else in this new life of yours?” Selina asked.
“No, not really. I mostly throw myself into my work.”
“Ah, I know the feeling.” Selina gave another smile, but this one did not quite reach her eyes.
Katie looked at her. “So, what do you do?” She was quite interested in the answer, although she thought she already knew.
“Actually, nothing right now. I recently quit.”
Katie was stunned. Not so much by the words, but by what she was seeing. She had risen swiftly through the ranks of the NGPD not simply because of her intellect, but because of what they determined was an uncanny ability to know when someone was lying. What her superiors did not know, was that she was a metahuman. Not only was she deceptively strong with fast reflexes, but she also had an ability to see down into the infrared spectrum. She could see heat, and she could detect subtle changes in body temperature that generally came with lying for all but the most sociopathic of criminals. And right now, she was either standing in front of a sociopath, or Catwoman had recently retired.
“Really, why?” Abandoning any hidden agenda with this question, she was instead intensely curious. Why would this amazingly talented, amazingly beautiful woman suddenly decide to quit being Catwoman?
Selina looked at her for a few seconds, apparently trying to decide something. Her expression softened, and suddenly Katie was struck by how young the woman in front of her really was. While she had thought her to be much older, given her almost regal demeanor, suddenly Katie realized that Selina was only a couple of years older than her. The broadest grin Katie had yet seen on Selina’s face made the slightly older woman’s eyes crinkle, and Katie’s heart suddenly did a small flip in the middle of her chest. “I’m pregnant.”
Katie’s eyes grew wide. “Really?” But she knew the answer, at least, she thought she did. No color change, no deception. Just… happiness. And then Katie looked, down at Selina’s lower belly… and she saw it. A tiny hot spot, no more than four centimeters long, but burning with such intensity that Katie was amazed that she could have missed it earlier. And, as she looked at it, she could see the tiny variations in color as the little heart at the center of the tiny hot spot beat rapidly.
She looked back up at Selina’s face, which bore a slightly puzzled expression. Katie realized that she must have looked strange, staring at Selina’s abdomen.
‘Ohmigod’, Katie thought, ‘What if she thought I was staring a little lower.’ A blush spread up her face, and she could feel her own temperature rise suddenly. But if Selina noticed, she did not comment, choosing instead to study her own coffee.
“So, what do you do?” Selina asked at last.
“I’m a detective,” Katie answered, then stiffened. SHIT. Now she tried to think fast. “A private detective, divorces mostly, boring stuff, but it pays the bills.” She looked at Selina expectantly, but Selina’s cool gaze betrayed nothing.
“Actually, it sounds quite interesting. Must be kind of depressing, though. Always suspecting other people, looking for the worst in them… and often finding it. Must make the world seem rather bleak, sometimes.” Selina turned, refilling their coffee mugs and filling up Katie’s thermos.
As Katie watched, the woman’s hands trembled, almost imperceptibly, and a single drop of coffee escaped the carafe and spilled onto the counter. Selina looked at it, as if surprised that it was there. Then she wiped up the small spill with a paper towel, discarded it, and handed one of the mugs back to Katie.
Katie took the mug, her fingers brushing Selina’s slightly as she grasped the proffered cup, a charge like electricity passing up her arm for the briefest of seconds as they connected.
“Actually,” Katie answered, “it is most of the time. But every once in a while, you find out that assumptions that you made about someone are totally wrong, and that you don’t have a case after all.”
“But then, you’re out of a job,” Selina answered.
Katie didn’t respond, staring down at her coffee mug. She was answered by silence, so after several moments she looked up, and was surprised to see unshed tears glistening in Selina’s eyes. Selina held the now-filled coffee thermos, firmly grasped in her bare hand. Katie took it, Selina’s fingerprints clearly visible on the top portion of the thermos.
Katie’s heart leapt. She held the key to her future in her hands. Her career would soar. She would receive a bonus, a medal, a promotion … the key to the city.
“Sometimes, there are things more important than work.” Katie took the thermos and wiped it clean with the sleeve of her shirt, before setting it down on the counter.
“Now, tell me more about you….” The two women talked long into the night.
Months later, as the woman she loved would lie there, sleeping the exhausted sleep only a new mother can sleep after birth of her child, Katie would look back on that first night they had met. She would realize that what she had thought during that last stakeout had been true – that all she ever wanted would be tied up in capturing the woman that was Catwoman. She just hadn’t realized that her happiness would be dependent on that woman capturing her own heart right back.
Silence permeated the room as Katie finished her story, the last few words spoken mostly to herself. As the long shadows of the late afternoon sun gave way to dusk, Helena and Kathryn still sat, each remembering the woman that they once knew and still loved.
Across town, the clocktower was filled with its own eerie silence, broken only by the faint humming of Delphi in the background. Oracle had run the short digital message hundreds of times, demanding her state-of-the-art system to analyze it and produce some sort of clue as to Helena’s mysterious… what?... friend? Barbara was sure she had heard the voice before, because she knew if she could concentrate just a little bit harder, she could remember where.
She slammed her hand down on the desk in utter frustration, removing her glasses and rubbing at her now-throbbing temples as her blonde ward entered the clocktower.
“Still can’t beat Helena’s time at Minesweeper huh?” asked Dinah as she threw her book bag down on the floor and bounced onto the couch facing Barbara. Dinah thought the redhead looked so much younger without her glasses, and briefly wondered for the hundredth time why the mighty Oracle didn’t invest in contacts. Then she noted the flurry of activity across the computer screen, and came over to investigate.
“Hmmm?... no,” answered Barbara. She removed her hands from her temples and replaced her glasses on her face and looked up at the blonde who had come to join her at her desk. “Have a nice day in school?”
“Yeah, it was fine. It was nice to see Gabby. Hard to go back after three days off, though. I have a pile of work to catch up on. No slack for superheroes, huh?”
“No, I suppose not.” Barbara gave her a small, tired smile.
“So, are you going to tell me, or do I have to guess? Why all the activity on Delphi? New crime boss? Something I need to go check out?” Dinah’s voice got softer and more hesitant. “Or, maybe, did you hear something about Helena?” Dinah picked at the corner of the computer desk, afraid of what the reply might be.
Barbara put her hand over Dinah’s, stilling it in what she hoped was a comforting manner. She mulled over the phone call one last time in her head, then decided that Dinah needed to know as much as she did, which wasn’t much. “I heard… something. A message, left on the answering machine. Nothing I can confirm, because I can’t tell who called. They didn’t give any identifying information, but the caller did say that Helena was safe.”
The teenager looked into Barbara’s eyes for reassurance and then smiled. “That’s really good news, isn’t it? At least, it’s something. But they didn’t give any clues at all?”
“No, nothing. I ran the call through Delphi every way that I could think of, and I just can’t find out anything. The call was made from a pay phone in the middle of downtown. That is all I know.”
“I can go down and check out the pay phone.”
“And what, go knocking door to door from there, asking if they have seen a beautiful wayward heroine dressed in black?” Barbara asked abruptly. Taking in Dinah’s crestfallen appearance, Barbara sighed deeply and sat back in her chair, silently admonishing herself for her outburst and willing herself to regain some sense of her usual decorum. “I’m sorry. I have spent all afternoon on this, and I just don’t know what else to do. It seems that Helena will be found when she wants to be, and not a moment sooner.”
“So what else is new?” asked Dinah grumpily.
Barbara now wheeled around to fully face the dejected teenager who had collapsed unceremoniously onto the couch.
“I know that this has been hard,” she addressed Dinah. “But now we at least have some reassurance that she is safe. When she feels ready, she’ll come home.”
“You mean she’ll go home. To her apartment. To Reese, or whoever. Or maybe she will stay with this new caller guy.” The blonde noticed Barbara flinch slightly, but she continued, weeks of barely-repressed anger and sadness and pain all rising to the surface, hot tears welling in her eyes. “She was barely here before this happened…. she hasn’t really been here for months. What makes you think that she’ll come back at all?”
“Because she has to,” Barbara answered, matching the passion in Dinah’s voice with her own quieter but determined tone.
“Because, whether she likes it or not right now, we are her family. And you don’t just walk out on family. She can’t. Not after everything that we have been through.”
“That’s just it. Maybe we’ve been through too much. Maybe she will feel like it isn’t worth it. Maybe… maybe she will find a new family.” Then the blonde stopped, suddenly sorry that she had spoken all the fears that had been building in her for the last few months. Instead of the reassurance that she had been expecting, and desperately needed, she saw instead the complete opposite in her mentor’s eyes.
The older woman sat back, looking as though Dinah had slapped her. The last two days had nearly stripped all of Barbara’s defenses so that she had no way of stopping herself from contemplating the young blonde’s words. She had never really thought about things that way before. In fact, if Barbara was honest with herself, she never did think that life without Helena was ever really a possibility. For so many years now, they’d been the most important people in each other’s lives. She knew the younger woman had a free, adventurous spirit. But she had kind of believed in the old adage about loving something and setting it free, and that it would come back to you if it was ever really yours. Although, she never really thought that Helena might not come back. She had thought that Helena was hers. Her heart thumped painfully in her chest. And suddenly she couldn’t catch her breath. She couldn’t move. She just sat there, shell-shocked, faced with the realization and unable to look away from it: she wanted Helena to be hers. Like she hadn’t wanted Wade to be hers… or anyone else for that matter. Her Huntress… her partner in crime, her family, her…. Barbara forced herself to stop, unable to face the implications that went along with finishing that mental sentence. Everything that she had been feeling over the years at last threatened to demolish the tenuous hold she had over her own thoughts and force its way into her subconscious. She looked up at the fearful-looking teenager, steeling her resolve once more and forcing a game-face back on as she met Dinah’s eyes.
“We are her family. She knows that. And she will come back, Dinah.” She just hoped she sounded more convincing than she felt.
Helena was pacing around the apartment, which seemed much smaller than it had even that morning. She flexed her muscles anxiously, glancing outside frequently. Kathryn had excused herself 30 minutes earlier, stating that she had a few essential errands to run. She had advised Helena to rest, and had promised to bring her back something to eat.
The problem was, now that Helena was feeling better, her innate hatred of enclosed spaces was kicking in, and her underused muscles were now screaming for attention. She just didn’t know, once she left, if she would be welcomed back in. It was almost as if she had entered the Twilight Zone, and she was afraid that somehow this apartment would vanish if she left and came back.
“No television,” Helena said to herself, for the twentieth time. “How does this woman live without cable? The kid and I would kill each other without that to bond over…” Helena’s thoughts drifted again to Dinah, and of course, to Barbara. Kathryn had told Helena that she had left a short, nondescript message on Barbara’s machine two days ago, shortly after bringing Helena back to her apartment. She had reassured the brunette that she had not left any identifying information, to allow Helena some privacy, and that the next move was entirely up to Helena.
Although, the problem was, Helena wasn’t sure what she wanted that next move to be. Part of her was dying to hear Barbara’s voice again – she couldn’t remember a time she had gone this many days without at least hearing it over her comm. Yet, she knew once she initiated contact, she would have to go back to the real world – and deal with the very real pain that had been so much a part of their recent lives. She could hardly believe how things had gone so wrong since
Harley Quinn showed her true colors and used Helena to destroy the clocktower, as well as to almost kill Barbara. She still thought it ironic that the one person who had finally helped her deal with the past pain and guilt she had felt since her mother’s death was the one who caused more guilt and pain than Helena had ever known before. Further, Helena was sure that Harley Quinn knew that – and was enjoying that fact, even from her cell in Arkham.
And, she thought bitterly to herself, it had all been going so well. For the first time in her adult life, things had been looking positive. Things with the kid had been better – she actually enjoyed having a kind of little sister around, which she had missed out on growing up. She had Dr. Quinzel, who had actually started to really help her to open up, and admit things to herself (and, unfortunately, to the utterly psychotic criminal mastermind who was her therapist). She had finally begun to admit how she really felt about Barbara. And, despite her expressed convictions that Barbara could never return her feelings, she had felt so close to Barbara through the last year that she had just begun to convince herself that there was some sort of shared connection that went beyond their deep friendship.
Then, in the span of just over 24 hours, her life had been shattered once more. Not since her mother’s death had she felt so helpless, and so alone. She had initially thought that things might be okay; at first, Barbara hadn’t even seemed to take Wade’s death that hard. Helena, for her part, had never really thought that Barbara truly loved Wade. However, as the weeks progressed, Barbara seemed to romanticize the deceased teacher, making him into some sort of martyr with whom no future lover could ever truly compete. And, as Barbara became more withdrawn and began to idealize her deceased lover even more, Helena felt worse and worse about the part she unwittingly played in his death, and in robbing Barbara of her shot at happiness. As Helena withdrew further into her own pain, an almost palpable wall grew up between the two women. Helena had sought release in every physical way she could think of, but nothing could touch the emotional pain she held inside.
Now, she thought, she had a spark of hope. In her reunion with Kathryn, Helena had found one of the few people in her life who had once loved her unconditionally. And Helena desperately needed to feel that kind of love again.
To distract herself, she started exploring the small apartment. In contrast to the older woman’s warm personality, Kathryn’s apartment could almost be considered Spartan. Helena started with the kitchen, but found nothing beyond the very basics. She rapidly confirmed that her… that Kathryn cooked even less often than she herself did, which she had previously thought to be impossible. She strolled through the functional living room. The only two amenities which really spoke to the inhabitant’s personality were the oversized, super-comfy couch and the meticulously cleaned and mounted crossbow on the wall. Helena went to gently run her hands over the weapon, thinking it funny that it had been her own weapon of choice for many years, but never until today remembering why. Since she had awoken that morning, little bits of memories, long ago dismissed as the dreams of an overactive imagination, had begun to resurface. She now caressed the formidable weapon, remembering watching a much younger Kathryn deep in concentration, slicing cleanly though the fruit that a young Helena had helped set up on the fence posts in their backyard.
Helena then went back into the bedroom, rifling through the drawers but finding very little that could be considered personal. There was a copy of a Sara Paretsky paperback on the bedside table, bookmarked halfway though. A few other mysteries rested on a small pressboard bookshelf, most bearing stickers designating them as from the New Gotham library. There was no art on the wall, except for a single framed photo which hung over the bed, of the Seattle skyline at night. The room was so impersonal, in fact, that Helena half-expected a Gideon Bible to be in the nightstand drawer, which was the only one she had not yet opened. Inside, she found a bottle of antacids, a flashlight, and a small, well-worn leatherette photo album.
Helena sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the photo album carefully and began to leaf through it, examining the wallet-sized pictures. There were a couple of older people that Helena did not recognize, but whose eyes and smiles betrayed them as Kathryn’s parents. She then found three pictures of her mother, each increasingly pregnant, and none of which without a beautiful smile on her face. The next was of a sleeping Selina with a tiny newborn Helena in her arms. There were then pictures of little Helena walking uncertainly towards her mother’s outstretched arms, one-year-old Helena with her face covered in birthday cake, and Helena giggling merrily as she chased a fluffy black cat, Oscar, around the living room. The last photo in the small album was of a family: Selina, with her arm around Kathryn, and a beaming three-year-old Helena standing in front of them. Helena stared at this last one for several minutes, jumping slightly as someone cleared their throat from the doorway of the small bedroom.
“Hey there, Hellcat. What’cha doing?” she heard Kathryn ask softly.
“Nothing. Just… looking.” Helena actually found her cheeks getting red, and pondered vaguely that she could not remember the last time she blushed.
Kathryn sat down next to her on the bed, looking at the small album cradled in Helena’s lap. “That one was always my favorite. You always did ham it up for the camera, you know. It is actually amazing you can see all three of us in that shot. In fact, in another minute, I am pretty sure you started dancing so that our friend Harry would start taking pictures of just you again. We used to have boxes and boxes of photos of you. Those are some of the things I miss the most – the photos of you and your mother. When I left, I just had what was in my pockets, and I always had that little album with me. It is one of the few things I own that I give a damn about.”
“What about the crossbow?” Helena asked.
“I didn’t have that until… well, until Selina was taken. She left it for me in her will, and a friend of ours held onto it for me for a few months. When I found out Selina had died and I came to check on you, I retrieved it. I was actually surprised that she had kept it, especially in such good condition. She hated that thing; she never did like weapons of any kind in the house after you were born. She knew that you would get into everything, and she was afraid you would hurt yourself with it. Or poor Oscar.”
“Yeah… about that. Sorry about going through your stuff.”
Kathryn smiled. “So what else is new? I never minded… I gave up hiding stuff from you a long time ago. Seriously, even when you were a tiny kid, there was nothing we could keep hidden from you. We had to buy your Christmas presents on Christmas eve…. no pre-shopping for you, not after we found all of your one-year old birthday presents, that had been on the top shelf of our closet, in your crib, gleefully unwrapped, two days after we brought them home and weeks before your party. And you were fearless. If you weren’t our little metahuman, why, you would have been in so much trouble. Selina always said not to worry so much, though, that you had nine lives, just like…well, anyway.” Kathryn’s expression clouded over for an instant, then she got up off the bed, smiling though the unshed tears glistening in her eyes.
“Hey, enough of that for now. I brought food, and I don’t want it to get cold.”
Helena replaced the book in the drawer and stood up, smiling. “Ooohh… what did you bring?”
Kathryn looked suddenly sheepish, an expression which Helena found both unusual on the older woman’s countenance and positively endearing.
“Well, I realized that I don’t know what you like. And as you may have noticed, I haven’t bothered to get a phone installed in this place, so I couldn’t call and ask… and I feel a little silly about this, but, I kind of went with what I knew.”
Helena walked into the living room to a mountain of take-out bags from seven or eight of New Gotham’s finest fast food establishments. Inside, she found every variety of finger foods, from chicken fingers to hamburgers to three types of fries. Each one was wrapped inside of a box or bag denoting it as a kid’s meal, and each one contained some sort of prize. Barbara smiled as she watched Helena emptied all of the containers, one by one, and lined up all of the little prizes on the table in front of her. She arranged the twelve little drink cups, each with their own lid and straw, in front of her and started to much happily as she tried to get four little metal balls into their respective holes within the plastic-enclosed maze at the same time.
Barbara removed her own grilled-chicken sandwich from a separate bag on the counter, and sat down next to the still-playing superhero. As she watched Helena, she marveled at the mixture of the adoptive daughter she once knew and the woman she was just beginning to know. She didn’t know quite how she had lucked out that Helena had accepted her return so readily, but she was not about to question it for fear that she would break the spell and cause Helena to start doubting her as Kathryn knew she had every right to do.
“Thirty-two seconds. Your turn. Helena presented the little plastic maze to Kathryn, who shook it and then tried to beat Helena’s time. The rest of the evening was spent in an equally productive manner.
Barbara awoke from her fitful sleep with a start, sitting straight up in her darkened bedroom. Her voice, emphatic though still hoarse from sleep, cut through the early-morning silence, “Crossbow bolts! Damn it.”
Minutes later, Delphi hummed with life once more as the redhead’s fingers flew across the keyboard. Now in full Oracle mode, she scanned through the online archives of The Gotham Times until, at last, she found what she was looking for, in the Society section from almost 25 years earlier.
People to Watch
At age 22, while most young adults are still figuring out what they want to do with their lives, Kathryn Kimball is a woman on a mission. Recently promoted to become NGPD’s youngest ever detective, she has an impressive record. Chief Reginald O’Malley, in a written statement to the press, asserted that Det. Kimball “has shown an almost uncanny ability to detect whether witnesses and suspects alike are telling the truth, leading to one of the most impressive arrest-to-conviction ratios in the department. She is a natural detective.” Not only is she known for her prowess in the criminal-capturing arena, but also for her unusual level of skill with a crossbow, with which this multitalented policewoman has won many competitions in her off-time. Yet, she is hardly resting on her laurels. In fact, she has named the infamous Catwoman as her next target. This reporter, for one, is glad that Det. Kimball is on our side.
The redhead scanned the newspapers for the next few years. She knew what would not be in the newspapers, and the incident from which she remembered the young, confident detective most clearly. She remembered trying to convince her adoptive father not to punish the young detective for her insinuations that Barbara herself could be somehow involved in the crimes committed by New Gotham’s most notorious cat burglar. She, of course, could not actually admit that she had been at the crime scene trying to catch the elusive criminal, leaving behind her own hair fibers for the detective to trace. She did make up some wild story about how she had been in the detective’s car when the woman was nice enough to give her a ride home from the police station one day, and that she must have somehow inadvertently contaminated the evidence. She was unsure if he ever believed her, or if he suspected even that early-on in her career as Batgirl that there was more to the story, but he did let the matter drop and sealed the file.
Oracle’s gaze alighted on the next article in her search, so small she had almost skipped over it. This was at the bottom of the society page, just above the obituaries, and she had to increase the font of the page to read it clearly.
Detective Kathryn Kimball was honored today in a small reception to commemorate her early retirement from the NGPD. Although known for her impressive early record as one of New Gotham’s finest officers, she had become focused in recent years on the capture of Catwoman. Ironically, although this feline foe successfully eluded this detective throughout her career, there have been rumors that Catwoman has retired as well. This has lead to speculation that Det. Kimball is leaving her post because the biggest goal of her professional life was now unattainable. When asked for her remarks, Det. Kimball laughed but was unavailable for further comment.
Oracle scanned a bit more, but found no more recent references to the detective’s name. “It could be a coincidence,” she said aloud to herself. “But somehow, I don’t think so.”
“What could be?” asked a sleepy Dinah, having emerged from her bedroom moments before. She rubbed her eyes and pushed back her unruly blonde hair.
“This old newspaper clipping. I have been racking my brain, trying to figure out what about this case was driving me crazy. Then it finally hit me – I mean, who really uses crossbows in New Gotham in this day and age. And those guys in the warehouse were taken out by someone who really knew how to use it. Then I remembered, this detective who was always after Catwoman, she was really good with a crossbow. I remember because she had one at work, mounted on the wall above her desk, and I used to pass by it when I visited my dad at the office.
“So you think this detective saved Helena?”
“I don’t know. All I know is that one of Selina Kyle’s most devoted enemies was proficient in a crossbow, and now Helena is missing. We have just assumed that she saved Helena, but what if she really captured her. Maybe she was behind the entire operation, and it was all a trap to get to Catwoman’s daughter, and she just took out her employees to throw off suspicion.” The words came out in a rush, as a wave of panic surged through the redhead. “Plus, the more I think about it, the more I think that might be Detective Kimball’s voice on the answering machine. I only met her a few times, mostly at official functions, but it really could be her. And if I’m right, Helena might be in serious trouble.”
Dinah, no longer the slightest bit sleepy, ran towards her room. “I’ll get dressed,” she called back. “We’ll find her.”
Barbara turned back to Delphi, punching in the detective’s name into various databases. Finally, during slightly less legal search, she came across a credit card with a local billing address.
Fighting off the nausea that threatened to overwhelm her as she realized she had been playing the fool and sitting still for three days while God-knows-what could be happening to Helena, she raced to the bedroom to get ready for what was to come.
Helena awoke to the sounds of someone bustling in the kitchen, and to an aroma which immediately took her back almost twenty years. She jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen, where she found Kathryn softly humming, hard at work.
“Are those what I think they are?” Helena asked, scrambling to sit on the stool at the counter.”
“Good morning to you too, sleepyhead. Did you have good dreams?”
“Sure, I think so. I can never remember my dreams. So, how about that breakfast?”
Kathryn laughed. “Go wash up, and by the time you get back, they will be done.”
Helena grumbled something about being a mighty crimefighter who wasn’t afraid of a few germs, but dutifully dashed back into the bathroom for a quick scrub. When she returned, she was greeted by a large stack of chocolate-chip pancakes.
“Hope you still like these. I am afraid I am a bit rusty, so the first four tries are in the trash, but I think these turned out pretty well.”
“Mmmph,” Helena answered, the international language for so-good-that-I-can’t-stop-to-answer.
Kathryn smiled, and sat down across from Helena, nursing her coffee. The brunette polished off the large stack of pancakes with a contented sigh, then sat back in her chair.
“Thanks. Those were great.” Helena finally managed, temporarily satiated. “See, you can cook.”
“Ah, yes. If you can live on chocolate-chip pancakes and Spaghetti-O’s, then I am a master chef. I am afraid that I haven’t expanded my repertoire much from what you probably remember.” Kathryn got up. “How are you feeling?”
Helena got up and stretched, curving her back as she did so in a move that reminded Kathryn so much of Selina that she inhaled sharply, catching Helena’s attention mid-stretch. “Are you okay?”
“Hmm… fine.” Kathryn recovered quickly, smiling as she looked into Helena’s eyes. “Sometimes, you just remind me so much of your mother.”
Helena made her way over to her favorite place in the apartment, the couch. As she sat, Kathryn resumed her place at the nearby dining table, clutching her new, larger coffee mug that had been purchased as part of her errands the previous evening. It was all white, except for a small black cartoon cat on one of the sides, smiling up at her.
“Can I ask you something?” asked Helena, suddenly looking somewhat smaller, and unsure.
“Absolutely anything,” was the immediate reply.
“So, when I was staying with Barbara, and Bruce had left town… I mean, after you found out about mom and everything…. I still don’t understand why you didn’t come to see me. I mean, Barbara was great and everything, but if Bruce was the main reason that you stayed away, why didn’t you come back?”
Kathryn looked for easy answers in the depths of the cooling coffee, but she found none. As she looked for the right words, Helena continued.
“I mean, you were gone so long, I actually thought I made you up. Like some, imaginary friend or something, only you were like an imaginary way-cool second parent.” Helena started. “You were part of my family. I needed you… especially after mom died. I felt so alone.”
Kathryn looked truly surprised by Helena’s words. “I didn’t come back precisely because I didn’t want to break up your family. Your new family, I mean. After so many years, I hardly expected you to remember me; I was sure that Selina wouldn’t exactly have my picture on every wall, especially not after she and Barbara Gordon got together. I just figured that…”
“What?” Helena interrupted loudly. “What are you talking about?”
Now Kathryn looked more confused than surprised. “Which part?”
“The part about mom and Barbara. I mean, ewww… that’s just…. they most certainly were not together. Not like that. They were friends. End of story. What made you think that?”
“Are you sure?” Kathryn had regained some of her surprised look.
“YES. Definitely sure.” Helena’s tone was adamant, and her expression was one of just having eaten lemon-meringue pie to which someone forgot to add the sugar.
“Okay… Helena, I’m sorry. I had no idea. I just assumed, when she left you to Barbara, that they were a couple. I thought she had taken up where I left off. I mean, your mother had so much love to give…” the true meaning of Helena’s words began to sink in, and Kathryn suddenly looked horror-stricken. “You mean I left you with a family friend? That she didn’t help raise you? That she wasn’t part of your family?”
Suddenly, Helena wanted to take it all back… to say anything that would take that look off of Kathryn’s face.
“No. I mean yes, but only at first. It was… really rough at first. She had her own shit to deal with, after being shot. And I definitely had mine. Sometimes, I am surprised we made it through those first several months.” Helena paused for a brief moment, mentally editing out the worst of the early times, feeling that now was not the time to add to Kathryn’s evident guilt. “But then, we pulled together, and we helped each other out. And she became part of my family.” Helena managed a small smile, trying to reassure Kathryn, who still looked devastated.
“I’m sorry. I am just so sorry. I really had no idea. I should have come and gotten you. I should have taken you home…. I can’t believe I left you there.”
Helena got up, and put her arm around Kathryn, pulling the still-seated woman into an awkward hug. Kathryn then got up and Helena hugged her in earnest, for the first time in nearly two decades. Tears flowed freely from both women, amidst Kathryn’s murmurings of “I’m sorry” and Helena’s reassuring “its okay. Shh.. K-Kay. It’s really okay.” Both were repeated over and over again like their personal mantras for several minutes, until the tears began to subside.
Kathryn sat back down in her chair wearily, and this time Helena took the seat at the small dining table immediately across from her, holding the other woman’s hands in her own. Helena looked squarely at Kathryn until the older woman finally looked up and held her gaze. Only then did Helena speak again. “It really is okay. We got through it, and now we are happy.”
“Are you really, Hellcat?” Kathryn asked. “Are you happy?”
Helena paused. She wanted to completely reassure this woman, to bring back the easy banter that they had just begun to share the previous evening. But she didn’t want to tell her anything less than the truth. “We were. I mean, everyone has their ups and downs. But lately, yeah, we were doing really well. Until, well…”
Although Helena had already cried more that day than she had in years, she found fresh tears threatening to fall. She knew that Kathryn had somehow already discovered about her secret identity as Huntress, having rescued her from the warehouse when she herself was supposed to be doing the rescuing. And she had had no one real to talk to for so long, and so much had happened. So, she began to do what she had promised herself she would never do again – she opened herself to trusting someone one more time. She proceeded to tell Kathryn everything, from the clocktower, to her court-appointed meetings with Dr. Quinzel, to her own betrayal of her closest friends, to Barbara’s relationship with Wade and her part in his early demise, to nearly killing Barbara herself. She only left out Barbara’s secret identity as Oracle and Dinah’s superhero status, still unable to break that part of her solemn vow to herself to never, however unintentionally, endanger them again. Kathryn listened intently to every word, without interruption. When Helena finally stopped, Kathryn smiled softly.
“Does she know?” asked Kathryn gently.
After all that Helena said, somehow, that was the last question on earth she suspected. ‘How could you be such a dumbass?’ ranked pretty high on her list of potential questions, but this one didn’t even make the top 100.
“Does who know what? I think everybody pretty much knows all of it. Harley Quinn made sure of that.”
“Does Barbara know? Know you’re in love with her?”
Helena just stared at Kathryn. She had definitely not shared that piece of information, but realized she had given the former detective enough clues to sort through to come up with the truth. She began to answer, her defenses rising, as a million protests sprang almost instantaneously to her mind. Then, almost inexplicably, they died down as quickly as they had come. Until there was only one answer left. “No.”
Kathryn smiled kindly. “Well Hellcat. When are you going to tell her?”
“Nev-,” Helena started, but the reply died in her throat, as the pair was interrupted by a forceful knock at the door.
Kathryn started toward the door, but Helena pushed her back. Kathryn was about to yell something about checking the security peephole when Helena threw open the door, demanding to know what the ruckus was about.
The blond-haired visitor smiled. An evil smile. And pulled out a large-caliber gun that was aimed directly at Helena’s midsection.
“Your therapist sends her regards,” said Gus, as he pulled the trigger. Helena, for her part, had begun to react. She fell backwards and twisted as she kicked upwards, her foot contacting the underside of the weapon just as it discharged. The change in trajectory caused the bullet to enter Helena’s shoulder, rather than its intended target, but the close-range discharge was enough to knock Helena off her feet. As she lay on her back, momentarily dazed, Gus entered and leveled his gun as he looked around for the woman that had interrupted his fun a few nights earlier and had gotten him in big trouble with his boss. He was determined to redeem himself, visions of being HQ’s number one man filling his head. Unable to see anyone else in residence, he turned his attention back fully to the brunette, who was recovering from the initial shock and struggling to sit up and he aimed for her chest.
He never had a chance to fire. A crossbow bolt ripped through his neck, ending his brain’s communication with the rest of his body. He staggered just for a minute, then slumped to the ground in the far corner of the room, a large pool of blood forming rapidly around him. Kathryn dropped her weapon onto the couch that she had been ducked behind, and ran to Helena. She kicked the door closed behind her, unwilling to introduce neighbors, and thus police, into their little situation just yet.
But the door didn’t stay closed for long. Another blonde, this one equally determined, forced it open again. Dinah had been downstairs when the gunshot had sounded and had raced up all five flights of the small apartment building in record time, leaving a very frustrated Barbara to contend with the elevator. She took one look at the former detective leaning over the battered body of one of her dearest friends, and at the pool of blood on the floor, and she attacked.
The older woman, at first too stunned to fight back, suddenly realized that she needed to defend herself against the onslaught. She blocked the furiously placed kicks and punches, trying to scramble out of the way in order to catch her bearings. Helena was coming around, and saw Kathryn in a mad struggle with… Dinah? Shaking off the pain, Helena grabbed Dinah in order to pull her off of Kathryn, whose back was toward the door. She hauled the struggling blonde back a few feet and looked up to see a very peculiar look cross Kathryn’s face…. shortly before she crumpled to the floor, a batarang embedded in her back.
“NO!” Helena threw Dinah to the side and rushed to the fallen woman, who lay unresponsive on the floor. “Not again.”
Barbara wheeled in, concern etched on her face. “Helena, are you alright. Are you hurt?”
“What did you do? WHAT DID YOU DO?” Helena yelled, her eyes flashing yellow as she brushed Kathryn’s graying hair back, feeling for her pulse. It was there, thankfully. Helena didn’t dare remove the metal weapon, for fear of increasing the already considerable flow of blood.
Barbara paled. She didn’t understand the situation, but knew that she had somehow things had gone very wrong.
Helena turned to Dinah, who was also very pale and very still as she stood, taking in the situation. “Call 911. Downstairs. Hurry.” The blonde flew into action, running back down the stairs towards the payphone in front of the building.
Barbara wheeled closer. “Let me help. We have to apply pressure.”
“That’s a little difficult with a fucking piece of metal sticking in her back, now isn’t it?” Helena yelled, half-blinded by tears and rage.
Barbara backed up a little, seeing the deceased would-be assassin in the corner for the first time. “Ohmigod,” she said quietly.
Helena ignored her, choosing instead to whisper fervently, urgently to the woman who had not moved since she had fallen, watching as her back continued to rise and fall with shallow, uneven breaths. “Please not again. K-Kay. It’s okay. It’ll be okay.” She repeated her previous mantra from what seemed like a lifetime ago. Only this time, Helena wasn’t at all sure she believed what she was saying.
“Ms. Kyle. Ms. Helena Kyle,” a tired-appearing woman in scrubs and a slightly coffee-stained white coat addressed the waiting room at large, reading off the contact name listed on top of the clipboard in her hand.
“Here.” Helena jumped to her feet. She had been waiting in the brightly-lit, but still dismal-appearing waiting room for hours, even after her own shoulder had been sewn together by an intern with a gentle but slightly tremulous hand. She was pale, the color on her face nearly matching the white sling into which her arm had been placed. She had resisted letting them touch her until the E.R. nurse politely but firmly informed her that she couldn’t sit in the waiting room and continue to drip blood all over the floor, as it unnerved the other patients. The bullet had passed clean through and mostly over the top of her shoulder, leaving scarcely more than a flesh wound. She could hardly feel it, because it was as numb as the rest of her body as she stood to hear Kathryn’s fate.
The surgeon smiled through her own fatigue. “She should be fine. She lost a good amount of blood, but we got to her in time.”
Helena let out a small sob of relief. “When can I see her?”
“She is in recovery now, and then she is being taken to the ICU for further observation. Are you family?”
Helena didn’t miss a beat. “I’m her daughter.”
The surgeon patted her reassuringly on the shoulder. “They will let you visit her as soon as she is situated. The nurses will let you know. It will be at least half an hour before they move her, though, if you wanted to go get a cup of coffee or make some phone calls.” The surgeon smiled kindly at her once more, then sighed and headed back toward the operating suites.
Helena began to tremble, the adrenaline which had been sustaining her suddenly drained from her body. She sat back down hard closed her eyes, placing her face in her hands for a long minute. When she opened her eyes again, a cup of hot chocolate appeared in front of her, several marshmallows floating on the top.
Helena looked up to see Dinah, worry marring the features on the normally beautiful face. “Here. I know you aren’t much for coffee.”
“Thanks.” Helena stared down at the Styrofoam cup, taking it into her own hands and cradling it. She contemplated it. “Where did you get the marshmallows? They don’t usually come out of hospital vending machines like that.”
“Barbara gave them to me. She threatened the cafeteria staff about something until they gave her a whole handful.”
Helena looked around, her expression darkening. “Barbara’s here.”
“Yeah. She knew you probably didn’t want us too close, but we wanted to be here… just in case.”
“Just in case what? Just in case Kathryn died from having a batarang thrown into her back? What was Barbara thinking? What were you thinking, for that matter. Why did you attack her?” Helena looked up at the young blonde, searching her face for answers.
“We thought you were in trouble. Barbara did some research and she thought that woman was an enemy of your mom’s. She was afraid she had come to hurt you. That she had set up that whole warehouse thing as a trap. We were trying to rescue you.”
“You were trying to rescue me?” Helena repeated, incredulously. “That woman saved me twice in the last three days, and you two almost killed her for it.”
“We didn’t know, Helena. We hadn’t heard from you… and we knew you had been in that warehouse. Barbara was beside herself with worry. I have never seen her that scared about anything. Why didn’t you just call us, let us know you were alright.”
Helena looked back down at her cooling drink, letting out a deep sigh. “I don’t know. I should have. I just wanted a little more time with her.”
“Who is she, Helena?”
Helena looked up at Dinah again, this time less sure how to respond than she had been when talking with the surgeon. She knew that how she answered Dinah would help determine where her life would go from here. The easiest response was to blow off the question, shutting out Dinah and Barbara and all of the pain and the hurt of the last three months. Kathryn would recover, and Helena could convince her to let Helena come with her. Maybe they could start over in a new city, or go back to somewhere Kathryn already had some ties, like Detroit. Surely other places needed her skills, and Barbara would find other superheroes to fill in the gaps here.
“She’s my mother.” The words came, almost unbidden, to Helena’s lips. She had delayed, and her heart and taken the initiative and spoken for her. No, she wouldn’t run. Not this time. She had too much to fight for.
Dinah’s eyes grew wide and, for once, the normally talkative blonde was completely speechless. Helena had to give a small chuckle as she could almost see the gears turning rapidly in Dinah’s head as she searched for an appropriate response.
“Well,” Helena continued. “Not my mother. But real close. Kind of like a step mom, only better.”
Dinah’s confusion only intensified, if that was possible. “Wait. Batman... I mean Bruce Wayne?”
“No.” Helena cut off the rest of the question. She wasn’t ready to think about him, and certainly didn’t want anyone to associate Kathryn with him. “My mom and her… she helped my mom raise me, when I was little.”
Dinah’s expression gave way to a slightly more comprehending one. “Ohhh... huh. But you never mentioned her.”
Helena sighed again. “Listen, kid, it’s a long story. Let’s just say she’s been gone for a long time, but now she’s back.”
Dinah smiled, but immediately grew sad again. “Oh, geez. Helena, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt her. I really just wanted to help.”
Helena cut her off again. “I know. Let’s just not talk about it right now, okay. I need to go throw some water on my face, and they’re going to let me see her soon.” She discarded the sling into the nearby trash receptacle on her way to the washroom.
Dinah took her cue for dismissal, although she turned back after walking a few steps. “Umm… what do you want me to tell Barbara?” she asked in a quiet voice.
Helena turned to look at her. ‘Good question, kid,’ she thought. “Tell her… just tell her that I’ll be by later. But not to wait up.”
Dinah tried to stifle her smile as she turned away and headed off to find Barbara.
Helena never spent much time in hospitals, and was amazed at how noisy the intensive care unit was. She wondered how anyone was supposed to rest and heal among the cacophony of beeps, whistles, and voices, which spilled into the small private room from the hall through the curtain which was supposed to serve as a door.
The weary brunette looked down at Kathryn, who was attached to many of the potentially noisy machines. The older woman looked quite pale, although her color had improved somewhat with the latest blood transfusion. Helena pushed a stray lock of hair back off of Kathryn’s face gently, tucking it behind her ear. Helena then scooted her chair a tiny bit closer to the bed, taking Kathryn’s right hand in both of her own. Immediately, one of the nearby machines began beeping anew, causing Helena to seriously consider snapping it in half. Fortunately for the machine, a nurse responded to the minor alarm promptly, coming around to the right side of the bed and punching a few buttons. The alarm silenced for two seconds, then began again.
Helena let out a low growl of frustration, to which the nurse responded with an understanding smile. “It’s her arm,” the nurse said quietly.
Helena looked up at the nurse. “Excuse me?”
“Her arm,” the nurse offered again, placing her hands on Kathryn’s right arm and gently extending it. She then turned back to the machine and pushed a few buttons. This time, the alarm ceased and mercifully did not restart. “It is the IV in her arm. It is a little tenuous, and if you bend her arm at all, the IV will quit working and the machine will beep. If it keeps up, I can put a new IV in the other side.”
“That’s okay… I’ll keep her arm straight. I hate to see her poked at one more time.”
The kind nurse smiled again, patting Helena on the shoulder. “I understand. Can I get you anything?”
Helena smiled wanly. “No, thanks though.”
“Just call if you need anything.” The nurse exited the room, closing the curtain behind her to allow them as much privacy as possible.
Helena leaned back a bit in the unyielding metal chair and dozed for, so that she initially incorporated the soft, scratchy voice into her dream. Its persistence, together with a slight pressure on her arm, brought her back to reality with a jolt. She sat straight up in her chair, and realized that Kathryn’s eyes were open, the older woman squeezing her arm gently.
“Hi,” came the hoarse voice. Kathryn winced a bit at the effort, but continued. “You okay, Hellcat?”
“Yeah, I’m fine…” she started. Helena noticed that Kathryn’s eyebrows went up in a most skeptical expression. Helena looked down, focusing on Kathryn’s hand which still held Helena’s forearm. “Okay, not so fine. Pretty bad, actually. A little better now though,” Helena continued.
Kathryn gave Helena’s arm a little tighter squeeze. “It’s all okay. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”
As Helena heard those words, her control slipped just a little, and all of the stress caused by the day’s events finally collided with the pent-up stress of the past three months. It was too much to hold in any longer, and the floodgates opened. Helena broke down and wept like she had never allowed herself to before. There, in the arms of the one person with whom she felt safest, she allowed all of her carefully constructed barriers to crumble; she once more became the little girl that Kathryn had rocked to sleep after a bad dream. She cried for what happened that day, and for what almost had happened. She cried for Barbara’s part in it, and for all of the actions on both of their parts which had driven them so far apart. She cried for the lonely, hurting teenager that she had been, and the still lonely, still hurting adult that she had become. She cried for the mother she lost so many years ago, and the one who was lost to her even before. As Helena sobbed, head bent onto Kathryn’s thigh, the older woman stroked the brunette’s hair with her left hand, whispering soft, soothing, meaningless phrases.
After several minutes, Helena’s racking sobs slowly began to subside into quiet tears. Sniffling, Helena sat up in her chair and wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands, avoiding Kathryn’s gaze. Helena stood up and crossed the small room, removing a box of industrial-grade tissue from its perch. She blew her nose several times, her back to the figure on the hospital bed, in order to clear her head and to postpone looking back at Kathryn for a few more moments. Kathryn waited. Finally, Helena straightened her posture and turned back to Kathryn.
“Sorry,” Helena muttered.
“For what?” Kathryn smiled reassuringly. “I missed that. I missed holding you after you snuck down and watched scary movies, and then woke me up and told me your tummy hurt. I missed hugging you as you cried because your preschool teacher punished you for punching out that 4th grade bully, and then didn’t give you a chance to explain. I missed so much more after that because I wasn’t there, and you don’t know how mad that makes me. I know I can’t make up for those years, Helena, but I really want to be there now. And a little… setback… like this is not going to stop me. Not now. Not after I found you again.” Kathryn coughed a little, again wincing at the pain.
Helena crossed the room and resumed her seat beside the bed, noticing that Kathryn looked a little paler again, and that the lines on her forehead were little more pronounced. “I should go, let you rest.”
“No.” Kathryn tried to sit up a little, mostly failing in the attempt. Helena put each of her strong hands on Kathryn’s sides and almost effortlessly helped her reposition herself closer to the head of the bed. Kathryn smiled gratefully.
“Please, don’t go quite yet. Just a couple more minutes. I’m okay, really,” Kathryn pleaded.
“Sure,” answered Helena. “Of course.”
Kathryn thought for a moment. “I don’t want you to be too hard on your blonde friend, Helena. She obviously cares about you a lot to come in and try and rescue you like that. I have to say, she packs quite a punch. Although I don’t quite remember how she did it… I thought I was a pretty good match for her.”
“She didn’t do it.” Helena’s face darkened, and she got up from her chair again, this time radiating frustration, her hands balled into little fists. “You were hit… from behind.”
“Then who…?” Kathryn started, and then stopped abruptly when she saw the crestfallen look on Helena’s face. “Oh. I see. Where is Barbara now?”
“How the fuck should I know?”
Kathryn raised one eyebrow, but remained silent as Helena continued, quieting her voice somewhat from her initial outburst but continuing to speak forcefully as she gestured emphatically with her hands. “I left her there, in your apartment, when the ambulance came. When you were getting out of surgery, Dinah came and told me she was close by, but Barbara never showed herself.”
Kathryn smiled a little. “Hmmm… I always thought it would be me that would attack your girlfriends, not the other way around.”
“She is NOT my girlfriend,” Helena replied emphatically. “She’s not even my friend. In fact, I feel like I hardly know her at all,” she continued sulkily.
“Now that, Helena Kyle, is a load of crap if I ever heard one,” Kathryn replied. Helena met Kathryn’s gaze, surprised. As Helena was at a complete loss for words, Kathryn took the opportunity to continue, although this time in a slightly softer tone. “Hellcat, I know I haven’t been back in your life for very long, but almost every story I have heard has somehow involved that spitfire of a friend of yours. I know that you love her, sweetie, and from everything you have told me, I have a pretty good suspicion that she cares for you very much as well.” Kathryn wearily held up her hand to forestall the forthcoming protest from Helena. “I know, I can’t know exactly how she feels. But I do know she must be hurting, because I am sure that she is feeling horribly about causing you pain like this.”
“Yeah,” Helena grudgingly admitted, “I guess so. It’s just… she never should have been there in the first place. She never should have come looking for me.” Helena paused, her voice wavering a little. “I should have called her… it’s my fault that you got hurt.” The last part was said in such a whisper, that Kathryn had to strain to make it out over the persistent ambient noise.
“Oh, Helena, come here.” The brunette didn’t move from her position across the room. “Helena Kyle, come here now. Don’t make me get out of this bed and come over there. And don’t think that I won’t either,” Kathryn stated in no uncertain terms. Helena shuffled over and stood by the bed, head still bowed.
Kathryn sat up fully in bed with a determined effort, grunting softly with the pain that accompanied her motion. She reached her hand up and placed it under Helena’s. “This is NOT your fault. This is not Barbara’s fault. If you want to blame someone, then blame me – I should have been clearer in my message on her machine, and I should have encouraged you to call her. I guess I just wanted a little more time with you, before you rejoined the real world.”
Helena smiled faintly. “I guess I can understand how that might feel.” Her smile faded, and she spoke more urgently. “This isn’t your fault. I really should have called her.”
“You need to go see her.”
“I know.” Helena sighed. “I just don’t know what to say.”
“Start by showing up. She is probably scared to death that she is never going to see you again. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of running, lately. Maybe it is time to stop running and face whatever is going on between you two.”
“But what if…” Helena started.
“Just stop, Helena. You can’t go there. There are a million different ways that you can finish that sentence, but you just won’t know how anything is really going to go until you talk to her. And, Hellcat, I don’t think you are going to be able to live with yourself until you do.”
Helena stood in silence for a moment, as Kathryn lowered herself back down on the bed with a heavy sigh, the pain and fatigue now clearly etched across her face. Helena silently cursed herself for overtaxing Kathryn this soon after her injury, and rushed to the woman’s side to help her readjust in bed.
Kathryn smiled faintly up at her, her voice now scarcely above a whisper. “Go on, now. I’ll just be sleeping anyway. I’ll be here when you get back. I’m not going anywhere. Not when I have so much keeping me here.”
Helena leaned in and kissed Kathryn on the forehead, smoothing back her hair once more. “See you soon, K-Kay. Sweet dreams.”
As Kathryn drifted back off to sleep, Helena Kyle disappeared into the cool Gotham night.
Helena entered the darkened clocktower in her customary manner, closing the double doors behind her. The silence in the large room was broken only by the soft hum of Delphi in its powered-down mode. ‘I guess she didn’t wait up for me,’ Helena thought. She knew that, with the heightened security, she probably set off some sort of alarm in Barbara’s room when she came in. She was surprised, therefore, when the redhead didn’t come out to greet her after a few minutes of waiting.
Curious, Helena made her way quietly over to Barbara’s bedroom, and opened the door. She was surprised to find the bedroom empty, the bed made. Helena began to conduct an inspection of the rest of the house. She opened Dinah’s room just enough to hear the soft snores emitting from the teenager, then closed it again. The bathroom door was already open, revealing it to be empty.
Helena went down to the training room, her heart slowing a bit as she realized that light was coming from underneath the door and that Barbara was indeed inside the clocktower. ‘I thought I was the only one who worked out at 2am,’ she thought. She opened the door quietly.
Barbara had her back to the door, seemingly oblivious to her new audience. The wheelchair was positioned now several feet below her as she pulled her body up to the metal bar again and again in a rhythmic fashion. Helena found herself entranced, not for the first time in her life, by the power and the beauty of the redhead as she stressed her upper body to its limits. It was obvious that she had been at this for quite a while, as her t-shirt was drenched with sweat. Finally, arm muscles trembling, she let herself back down into the waiting chair with a thud.
The only sound in the room was of Barbara’s heavy breathing as it slowly settled into a more normal pattern. Helena considered leaving, letting Barbara find her in the living room instead of staring at her like a love-struck teenager, but her exit was forestalled by Barbara suddenly turning her chair around to face the door.
“Hey,” Helena said, trying to sound as casual as possible.
“Hi,” said Barbara, her slightly higher pitch betraying her surprise at her sudden audience.
“I can come back…” Helena started.
“No. No. Don’t go, Helena. I was finished. I was really hoping that you would come by.”
Helena relaxed her stance a little. “Yeah, well, I told Dinah I would.”
“That’s what she said. Dinah wouldn’t tell me anything else, though. She said I had to ask you.”
Helena wasn’t sure if she was glad about that or not. She was almost hoping not to have to go through this again, although she had to give the kid points for keeping her secrets. Helena contemplated what to say next, and Barbara took the silence as her opportunity, afraid at any moment that Helena might change her mind and vanish from her life. “Helena, you have to know how sorry I am,” Barbara began, desperation evident in her voice. The words rushed out, afraid that any pause would give Helena a chance to escape. “I really hope that she will be alright. I am so sorry that I hurt her. I thought you were in trouble, and I was trying to help. I can’t believe how badly I screwed up. It is even worse because it is obvious that she is so important to you. I never meant to hurt someone you care about like that.”
Barbara stopped suddenly, her mind a blank. She searched desperately for the words that would make Helena stay, make her believe her, make everything okay again. Before she could resume her fervent rambling, Helena spoke. “She’ll be okay,” the brunette said softly.
“Thank God,” Barbara let out with a ragged breath, tears suddenly filling her eyes. The weeks of worry and stress, coupled with a feeling of sheer hopelessness, had finally pushed Barbara to the breaking point. She was left without any reserve to help her deal with this conversation. Her emotions were raw and unguarded, and this left her with a lack of control to which she was unaccustomed, and one which she hated.
Helena continued, “I know that you were worried, and I can kind of see how it must have looked. I just… I was just so scared. I never want to lose someone like that again, ever. It just brought it all back. I am so tired of people I love ending up in pools of blood, and not being able to do anything to save them. Makes me a lame-ass superhero.”
“You love her, then.” It was more of a statement than a question. Helena was surprised to hear what sounded like pain behind the words, and was unable to understand the sentiment behind them.
“Of course. I mean, I’m not saying that we don’t still have stuff to work through. But it’s so worth it. I can’t believe she’s back. It’s like a dream, Barbara.” A smile lit up Helena’s face, and Barbara was amazed by it. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen a smile reach Helena’s eyes. Helena was truly beautiful when she smiled.
“I hope that you will be happy, Helena. I really do. She must be a special woman,” her words were sincere, although she couldn’t quite muster a smile to match Helena’s own. She was sure that Helena could hear the sound of her heart breaking. In that moment, the last piece of the puzzle came together, and Barbara finally allowed herself to realize that she loved the woman in front of her with her whole heart. And now, it was too late.
Helena frowned slightly, contemplating Barbara’s reaction and replaying parts of the conversation in her head. Then she resumed the look that she had had on her face when Kathryn had assumed that Barbara and her mother had once been lovers. “Oh no… ewww… no, Barbara. No.” Helena shuddered and shook her head, as if to physically remove the thoughts which now invaded her brain. “What is it with people? No… Barbara… she is like my second mom, or something… she and my mother were together when I was born, and she helped raise me for a while.”
“Ohh.” Barbara smiled, finding herself vaguely amused by Helena’s strong reaction. Barbara thought for a minute. “Selina never mentioned her to me. Did she say why it didn’t work out?”
Helena looked down, her face impassive. “Yeah, she did. And it is something I have to deal with. But not right now.” Helena’s expression darkened and the finality of her tone left Barbara certain that she dare not broach the subject anytime soon.
The two sat for a few moments as each woman contemplated what had been said, and what had been unspoken. Barbara looked restless, and Helena was unable to figure out the source of her discomfort. Suddenly, Helena looked back up, a thought occurring to her. “So, it really bothered you when you thought…well… that evil bad thing that you just thought that shall never be mentioned again. Anyway… Why?”
It was Barbara’s turn to be thoughtful. When she finally spoke, it was with a shaky but resolute voice. “Because I want you to be happy.”
“That doesn’t explain… why would it upset you?” Helena asked.
Barbara looked around the room, willing herself to focus on anything that was not Helena. Her half-empty water bottle. The smudge on the wheel of her chair that needed cleaning. The small rip in one of the exercise mats. Helena merely waited, steadily gazing at the now clearly uncomfortable redhead. Finally Barbara swallowed audibly and continued in a bare whisper. “Because, I don’t want it to be anyone else that makes you happy,” Barbara said. “Because, I… I love you, Helena.”
Helena stared at her, dumbfounded. She was sure for a moment that she must have fallen asleep in that damned chair in the ICU, and that any moment a nurse would shake her awake. But everything was too real. She could hear Barbara’s breathing; she could smell the sweat still clinging to Barbara’s shirt. This was real.
The several seconds it took Helena to take in Barbara’s words seemed like an eternity to Barbara. Then, Helena closed the gab between them. She leaned over tentatively, her eyes locked on Barbara’s until she closed them when their lips touched, making quick but firm contact, then pulling back to gauge Barbara’s reaction. When she saw the shy smile light up Barbara’s face, Helena let out a loud sound which sounded half like a laugh and half like a whoop. The young brunette lifted Barbara out of her chair and took her in her arms, spinning her around. Barbara let out a small yell of surprise, and then closed her eyes against the sudden motion. When she opened them again, Helena had gently replaced her in her chair and the room slowly settled back down.
“Sorry. I got carried away.” Helena said, a little breathlessly.
“Actually, I am pretty sure I am the one who got carried away, literally,” responded the redhead. “So, I take it this is a positive response?”
Helena knelt down, bringing herself slightly below eye level to the seated redhead. “You could say that,” she whispered, as she leaned in toward Barbara.
Whatever Barbara had expected from the powerful force of nature that was Helena Kyle, this was so much more. She was at once overwhelmed by the exquisite tenderness of Helena’s lips, an amazing combination of gentleness and strength. When Barbara deepened the kiss, she felt Helena’s entire being respond, infusing that connection with warmth that radiated through Barbara’s own body. And when the two finally parted, Barbara lost herself in the most amazing eyes she had ever seen.
“I love you, too,” Helena belatedly replied, each word punctuated by feather-soft kisses on Barbara’s lips. The redhead broke out into a beautiful smile that stole away Helena’s breath.
This time, when Helena picked up Barbara, she did not let go. She somehow managed to navigate the halls and doors by sheer force of will, unwilling to break from kissing Barbara long enough to glance in any other direction. When they finally reached the bed, Helena placed her precious cargo reverently on the cool sheets. The rational part of Helena’s mind instructed her to stop, to discuss things with Barbara before jumping into new territory. That part of her was utterly ignored, subjugated by the raw need that bore out of the emotional turmoil suffered by both women over the last several days. One look at Barbara’s expression, and Helena knew that the redhead was feeling the same way.
They continued kissing, this time with Helena extending the length of her body so that it partially lay on top of Barbara’s own. The weight of Helena infused Barbara with a new wave of desire, and her own movements became more urgent, more bold as she moved her hands over Helena’s shoulders, her back, her buttocks… firmly caressing every part that she touched, seemingly in an attempt to meld Helena’s body even more closely with her own. Helena responded in kind, moving from Barbara’s lips to her earlobes, her neck, the inside of her wrists. Everywhere that Helena touched with her lips, Barbara felt as though her skin was on fire without being consumed.
Helena then lifted the t-shirt over Barbara’s head and removed Barbara’s bra in a fluid motion, standing up momentarily to remove her own offending garments. If Barbara’s chest felt momentarily chilled from the sudden lack of contact, it immediately contrasted with heretofore undiscovered levels of heat as Helena covered Barbara’s breasts with her own, kissing the redhead’s beautiful mouth once more. As Helena moved down Barbara’s body, Barbara was swept up in the flood of new sensations as Helena lovingly explored every inch of her torso with her mouth. As Helena covered the redhead’s body once more with her own and took Barbara’s nipple into her mouth as her hands roamed. The redhead suddenly felt as if Helena was kissing her everywhere at once; Barbara’s body spasmed, her climax taking her by surprise. She hung motionless in pure ecstasy for one timeless moment, before rejoining her body and resuming the mundane task of breathing.
“Wow,” breathed Barbara. She looked up into strikingly beautiful yellow eyes. She kissed Helena again, who this time returned her kisses with a more urgent passion. Barbara embraced her lover, negotiating a position where Helena was on her side, facing Barbara. Barbara worked her way down Helena’s body, kissing and caressing every taught muscle which seemed to be straining against the overlying skin to meet Barbara’s touch. Sensing Helena’s need, she reached down to meet the brunette’s passion, stoking the flames. Helena thrust to take Barbara’s fingers inside her with a groan. The force and duration of Helena’s own climax surprised them both, and Barbara was reluctant to pull away when the spasms had subsided, almost unwilling to break the connection.
Sensing her lover’s need, Helena turned Barbara gently over to her other side and enveloped her in a full body embrace from behind. The two began to breathe in slow unison as sleep overtook the exhausted couple.
Dinah padded out to the kitchen, the mid-morning light streaming through the large windows. She brought her long hair back out of her face, into a loose ponytail, and looked toward Delphi. She was surprised to see the computer still in standby mode, as she was sure that Barbara would be up and working by now, as was her custom on Saturday mornings. Seeing no sign of life in this section of the house, she went to Barbara’s bedroom to make sure that everything was alright. She opened the door slightly, blushed furiously, and quickly shut it behind her as she scurried back out toward the living room.
Dinah stared back in the direction of the bedroom for a moment, smiled, did a little happy dance, and promptly celebrated the reunion of her family by pouring out all of the rest of the offensive multi-colored cereal into three large bowls for when Helena awoke. She pulled out the toy and threw the box in the trash, humming a commercial jingle happily as she prepared her own breakfast.
It was going to be a good day.
Thanks for reading. - Rak
|Raktajino||Birds of Prey||Main Index|