Title: Settling
Author: ocean gazer: quietoceangazer@yahoo.com
Date: 2 October, 2003
Category: Um � AU, missing scene, tiny bit o� angst and hurt/comfort. (Basically, this is an AU that picks up during the series finale and goes beyond it.)
Rating/Content Warning: Rated R for language, refs to violence, and a hint o� lesbian sex.
Pairing: Barbara/Helena, first time
Spoilers: Big ones for Devil�s Eyes; minor ones for everything else <g>.
Summary: When a door is closed, sometimes a window opens �
Archive: Pink Rabbit and Slash Edge. Anyone else, please ask.
Disclaimers: Oh, we all know I don�t own these characters � I�m just stealing them. They belong to the wonderful folks at DC Comics, Warner Bros., Tollin/Robbins, and a whole bunch more. Thank you for letting me play with these characters and not throwing my ass in prison <g>. I have received no money, plane tickets, paid vacations, or chocolate for this work of fiction.
Special author�s notes: Thanks go to Thunder for the beta. She very patiently pored over this for me and some of her suggestions were quite helpful. Give her a hand, everyone.
Regular author�s notes: I started this story way back when Devil�s Eyes aired. Plot holes and kissing aside <wry grin>, I rather liked the finale � until they got the last couple scenes. I didn�t like the note on which the show ended, so I decided to write my own version. Be warned that this picks up right in the middle of the fight in the Clocktower, so if you haven�t yet seen this episode, the beginning of the story may make no sense at all. (Hell, it might not make sense, even if you have seen it <g>.) Anyhow, I fully admit that the end, in particular, is a bit rough � sorry about that. I�ve just hit the point where I don�t know what else to do with the piece. Anyhow, if you have comments to share (from praise to flames, and everything in between <g>) you can contact me either onlist or at

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Clocktower main room

May 10, 7:39pm

In the space of a single moment, Helena Kyle�s entire world narrowed and focused in on one thing and one thing only � Barbara Gordon.

Lying on the floor breathless � where a lucky blow had sent her sprawling � Helena looked up, trying to keep track of what was happening in the melee. Her eyes focused on Barbara and her gaze followed the redhead, amazed at seeing the older woman standing and fighting. It was like a damned dream come true or something � to see her mentor kicking ass the way she had in her days at Batgirl. Even as the fight raged around her, she couldn�t tear her eyes away. She watched with both fear and fascination as the older woman mustered the strength to leap up and chase after their nemesis. Harley Quinn � her psychotic psychotherapist � had taken over the Clocktower and was now trying to make her escape.

Helena took a deep breath and pushed to her feet, eyes never leaving the struggling pair. She was only vaguely aware of Reese, Dinah, and Alfred fighting off the hypnotized cops serving as a twisted army of evil. A surge of anger rushed through her as she saw Harley slam Barbara into the bar, and saw how the redhead�s face contorted in pain. The woman�s mouth opened as if to cry out, but no sound escaped.

The mere thought froze her in place and she held her breath, suddenly horrified that Barbara might well be critically injured or killed in front of her eyes. She was the one whose life was usually on the line. Not Oracle. Not the woman who guided dozens of superheroes safely through their battles with the bad guys. Barbara was supposed to be safe in the Clocktower � safe in her wheelchair. Damn it, the woman wasn�t supposed to be up walking, pushing her body and her endurance to the limit in an effort to stop a madwoman. Her earlier amazement at watching the redhead fight was gone, now that she was reminded of just how high the stakes were. She�d gotten used to relying on her meta-abilities in a fight � they protected her from most physical damage and healed her up quickly when she was hurt. But her mentor was fighting with nothing more than guts and determination � nothing that would keep her from getting killed.

Helena was moving before she was even aware of it, leaping up to the balcony with the thought that she had to help fight Quinn. She almost couldn�t breathe � nearly paralyzed with a fear she hadn�t felt in years. She couldn�t bear to lose Barbara. Anyone but Barbara.

Before she could do anything other than get her bearings, she saw Barbara gain the upper hand in the fight, shoving Quinn into and up onto the balcony railing. A new sense of horror boiled up in her chest � a horror that the redhead was going to actually intentionally kill another human being. Helena could read the pain and the fury in her mentor�s eyes. She had never seen the other woman this close to the dark edge, had never seen her so lost in emotion. It scared her in a way she�d never been scared before, and she was moving forward, a lump in the back of her throat.

Killing wasn�t Barbara�s way, and Helena knew only that she couldn�t let her do it.

She was beside the struggling duo in a moment, pleading with Barbara, trying to reach her. Helena didn�t think the older woman would let things get that out of control, but she couldn�t be sure of that. Not after what had happened. She tried hard to keep the guilt out of her voice � the guilt that if not for her, Wade would still be alive, Quinn wouldn�t have known about Oracle, and Barbara wouldn�t be standing here with pain and anger radiating off her like an aura.

Helena didn�t even know what she was saying � she could have been speaking Greek for all she knew. She was only aware of intense green eyes, glistening with unshed tears. And then, Barbara gave a final push on the riot baton she had pressed into Harley�s throat, stepped back, and released the psychotic woman. Helena felt relief surge through her veins as Quinn collapsed unconscious. Barbara hadn�t crossed the line, hadn�t abandoned her ideals. It didn�t make Helena feel any less guilty about the whole mess, but at least the loss of Barbara�s soul wasn�t another sin on her conscience. She had more than enough black marks there already.

And then there was no time to say anything or even really turn to see what was going on with all the other players in the little drama. Her whole focus was still on Barbara and she saw the older woman stagger for a moment � her hand going to her back. Helena couldn�t tell whether it was a response to a sudden burst of pain, or whether the older woman was switching off the device that had allowed her to walk. Not that it mattered; the end result was the same. Helena was there to catch Barbara as she collapsed, easing the semi-conscious woman to the floor and wrapping her arms around her protectively.

"Barbara," she murmured softly, brushing her hand gently through red hair. "Barbara." Helena cradled the woman, trying to comfort her, not sure what else to do.

She finally pulled her attention away from the redhead when she heard the clomping of feet on stairs. Looking up, she saw Reese and Dinah reach the balcony and watched as they made their way over to Harley�s body. She winced slightly as she got a good look at Dinah�s face � the girl looked completely shell-shocked. Strangely enough, Reese looked exactly the same, though his training kicked in enough to prompt him to handcuff the unconscious psychotherapist. She would have thought he�d be a little more used to violence, being a cop and all. Apparently the ordeal had taken a lot out of all of them.

Helena felt a faint tug on her sleeve and looked down, worried. She found pain-glazed green eyes staring urgently at her. She leaned closer to Barbara, though her meta-human senses were more than adequate to hear the woman�s barely audible whisper. "Blindfold."

She felt a sense of awe that Barbara was still able to pay attention to the details, despite what she�d been through. It was so like her. With a soft "thank you," she pressed a tiny kiss to the top of red hair, not giving a damn what anyone would make of that. Continuing to cradle the woman in her arms, Helena jerked her chin in Harley�s general direction and said, "We need to blindfold her."

Reese looked momentarily confused and Helena fought down a surge of irritation � an emotion the man brought out in her all too often. She had figured he�d understand what she meant by that � it was a pretty obvious solution, after all. Granted, she hadn�t thought of it herself � but she�d understood the reference the minute she heard it. Of course, he was also the man who had been working with her for months, had seen her face, and yet had never been able to figure out her name. He was a decent and hardworking cop, and he had his strengths. But she was seeing more and more clearly that intelligence wasn�t one of them. Either that, or Barbara had spoiled her and gotten her used to being around someone who understood things almost instinctively.

Before she could shoot off an explanation laced with a healthy dose of sarcasm, Dinah opened her mouth. "We have to make sure she can�t hypnotize anyone else before we get her safely locked up � in some kind of cell that deflects her gaze or something."

Helena�s eyes narrowed in worry as she heard the words; Dinah�s voice sounded like it was coming through a strainer. And she could feel the sudden tension in Barbara�s muscles as well, telling her that the older woman was also worried. And if she had the strength to be worried despite her own pain, it was a sure sign that things weren�t good.

Helena purposely kept her voice soft, showing the gentler side of her nature that she rarely allowed anyone other than Barbara to see. "Dinah, sit down for a minute. You�re white as a sheet." She watched with concern as the girl basically went boneless and sank down to the floor, not even offering a protest that she was fine. With a sudden flash of memory, she remembered Barbara explaining that it was possible to exhaust reserves of telekinetic energy and that there was always a physical response to using mental powers. No wonder the blonde was so out of it.

"You did good, kid," Helena said earnestly, "but now it�s time for you to rest and let someone else take care of things for a while." She�d been in the teen�s shoes before � emotionally wiped out after an ugly confrontation � and she knew a little sympathy would go a long way. An exhausted nod and a crooked smile at the compliment were the only response she got.

She felt a spasm shake the body in her arms, and decided it was long past time to get Barbara up off the floor and into the comfort of her bed. She pressed another kiss to red hair, then looked away, intent on seeing what Reese was doing and leaving him in charge of the clean-up. She found him leaning over Quinn�s body, securing a bright red bandana over the unconscious woman�s eyes. Her mouth opened but before she could say anything, she felt another spasm rush through the redhead and then felt an insistent tug on her sleeve. She looked down, seeing both pain and determination on Barbara�s face. Admiration and annoyance rushed through her at the older woman�s sheer stubbornness. Damn it, she needed rest � she needed to be examined to make sure the device hadn�t done any permanent damage this time. But instead, she was looking up at Helena with steel resolve on her features.

Barbara�s whisper was faint. "We have to undo the damage her broadcast caused."

Helena knew exactly what she meant � while they�d been fighting the battles in here, there was an entire fucking city going mad. She resigned herself to the fact that while she wanted nothing more than to take care of Barbara, there was still work that had to be done. "Tell me what you need me to do."

She frowned at the single, emphatic headshake Barbara gave her. "I � I can�t. Not � entirely." The redhead paused for breath and Helena felt her heart break at just how badly her friend was hurting. Only someone with a strong will and iron self-control could be in that much pain and still be focused on the tasks at hand. "You can use the same device on these guys that you used on Alfred � that I used � on you." Helena saw a flash of strong emotion in green eyes as the woman said those last words, but she couldn�t decipher what it meant. And there wasn�t time to ponder it as the redhead continued speaking. "But the city � it won�t � I need Delphi � I have to do this �"

With a reluctant growl, Helena agreed. She didn�t understand the high tech computer system well enough to be able to do anything complicated, even with Barbara giving her explicit instructions. Neither did anyone else. The only people who knew the system better were the designers, and Helena knew that it was damned unlikely that one of them would miraculously show up on their doorstep. Assuming, of course, that they weren�t going nuts, just like everyone else in New Gotham. Not to mention that they�d need some very explicit details in order to understand just what the hell had happened and what they needed to do to counteract it. And Barbara was the only one who could tell them what they needed to know.

She wrapped her arms a little tighter around the redhead, whose body was trembling softly with pain and exhaustion. Much as Helena hated to admit it, it would be far quicker and easier to just let Barbara do it herself. Hell, it would probably be less of a strain on the older woman because she wouldn�t have to expend energy trying to explain things. God, this sucked.

Helena growled low in her throat again, not liking the situation, even as she knew there wasn�t a choice. As much as she wanted nothing more than to shut out the world for a little while, take care of Barbara, and focus on the aftermath of what had just happened, she knew she couldn�t. It was the price they paid for the lives they led � a responsibility to an entire city full of people. They couldn�t relax, couldn�t just shut down for some healing time � not until after they�d undone the mess Quinn made. It was at times like this when she wished she led a normal life and could be selfish like the rest of the human race. Instead, she kept finding that Barbara�s ideals and work ethic were rubbing off on her. Damn.

She wanted to put Dinah in charge of zapping people back to normal, but one glance at the blonde teenager put that idea to rest. The girl had curled up in a ball on the floor, her eyes closed and her face slack as she succumbed to sleep. If the situation weren�t so damn serious, the sight would actually have been kinda cute.

That left Helena with option number two. She cleared her throat and watched the way Reese�s head swung around to her at the sound. For some reason, she was uncomfortable relying on him for help right now, but she couldn�t figure out why. And now was not the time for this sort of self-analysis anyhow. She tossed the electronic gadget to him. "Here. I need you to zap all these guys � break the spell she�s got going on them."

She frowned as he looked from the device to her with confusion in his eyes. As if she were a mind reader, she could see him gearing up to ask why she couldn�t do it since he wanted to be right there beside the notorious Harley Quinn and take her off to Arkham himself. Fighting down another surge of exasperation at the man, she snapped, "Dinah doesn�t have the strength left to do it, I don�t know where Alfred is right now, and I can�t do it myself. I need to be with Barbara � she needs my help."

She froze as he turned an intense gaze on her, looked down at Barbara, and then stared into her eyes again as if trying to figure out a particularly complicated problem. It was more than a little unnerving and she almost literally sighed with relief when he blinked and averted his gaze for a moment. Studying him, she saw that his expression had softened; it wasn�t searching any longer. But she couldn�t quite read the emotion she saw etched across his features. Shit, they didn�t have time for all this "get in touch with your feelings" stuff. She saw him nod once, presumably in response to her instructions, and then he abruptly turned and wound his way downstairs.

The moment he was out of sight, she essentially forgot his presence, her attention focused in again on the woman in her arms. Helena smoothly slid out from under the redhead, then turned and scooped Barbara up, lifting and carrying her as though she were a child. It scared her when the older woman didn�t even offer a token protest. She knew how much Barbara hated to be picked up or carried. Gently, conscious of the precious burden in her arms, she made her way downstairs and over to the work station in front of the computer system.

Glancing around, she couldn�t find any sign of the woman�s wheelchair � or anything else that she could sit the redhead down in. The Clocktower was a complete disaster zone � people and furniture and assorted weapons scattered everywhere. It seemed like nothing short of a miracle that the computer system seemed to have escaped the fighting without a scratch. At least she hoped it hadn�t been damaged. She knew what that would do to Barbara.

Helena shifted her grip on the redhead, so that she was holding the woman upright, pressed against her body for support. She wrapped her arms around Barbara to hold her steady, then walked them both over to the main monitor and keyboard, bending over slightly to make it easier for the redhead to reach the keys. Wasn�t a very comfortable position for her, but she�d go through torture if that�s what it took to make things easier for her friend.

The normally agile fingers were slow and the sight of it made Helena�s heart ache. But even at the reduced speed, she couldn�t follow a single damned bit of what Barbara was doing. Suddenly, there was a blue flash � not just in the room, but radiating over the entire city. Out of the corner of her eye, Helena could see out the broken window of the clock face and see that the entire sky was lit with the eerie light emanating from the screens and electronic billboards that had previously been broadcasting Harley�s evil eye. It pulsed for probably a full minute, then slowly faded to a soft blue glow.

She heard a soft, but triumphant, "It�s over." And then, without warning Barbara went limp in her arms. It wasn�t surprising to Helena after what the woman had been through, but it still scared her. She could feel her heart practically beating out of her chest as she scooped the redhead up once more. Now that the nightmare was over, now that the city was once again as safe as possible for the moment, she was intent on nothing more than getting Barbara to bed and seeing just how badly she was hurt.

Just as she was nearing the hallway that led off to Barbara�s room, Alfred appeared at her side. He still looked like the unflappable and perfect English butler, but to anyone who knew him, the worry stood out starkly on his face. She could hear the faint quaver in his voice as he asked softly, "Shall I send for a doctor, Miss Helena? You know as well as I what risks Miss Barbara takes with her health every time she uses that device �"

Helena cut him off before he could go any farther with that faintly accusatory statement. She knew it was her fault that the redhead had strapped on the device to begin with � and she wasn�t in the mood to hear Alfred�s subtle criticisms of her actions and of Barbara�s. Given the day she�d had, she might well go off on him, and that would be a very bad idea. "No � not yet. I�ll get her settled and comfortable � then I�ll call myself." She didn�t look up at him, knowing full well she�d be able to read the disapproval in his eyes. "If she has done any permanent damage" � her heart ached at the very thought � "a doctor won�t be able to fix it anyhow. We can wait �til she wakes up. And I can bandage up her other injuries myself. She � I�ll stay with her ... I owe her that �"

She broke off, not sure what else to say. Her love and concern for Barbara overwhelmed her, making it almost impossible to focus on anything other than just settling the woman in her bed and taking care of her as best she could. The woman had always been there for her, and she wanted nothing more than to return the favor. Nothing else was important right now � the only thing that mattered was looking after Barbara.

She heard the subtle clearing of his throat, and looked up. Steeling herself to see something negative in his gaze, she was surprised at the understanding and the guilt in his eyes.

She wanted to ask, but it wasn�t the time. Instead, she nodded at him � then abruptly remembered the other member of the household. Shit, how could she have forgotten about the kid? Suddenly sure that he needed to take care of someone just as much as she did, Helena jerked her chin up in the general direction of the balcony. "While I�m taking care of Barbara, could you take care of Dinah? She looked really shaken up by the fight and by people attacking us in our own home. And I think she kinda wore herself out � using her mental powers and all. I think Reese can deal with the cops � but it also might be a good idea to make sure Gibson�s doing ok."

She allowed herself a half-smile as the request seemed to draw Alfred up, where he�d seemed slightly deflated before. "Miss Dinah is still an innocent in many ways. I would imagine that this situation has been particularly hard on her. Do not worry, Miss Helena, I will make sure she gets some rest and I will do my utmost to help her come to terms with all that has happened. I will also ensure that Master Gibson is taken care of and will assist Detective Reese with cleaning up the mess."

"Thanks, Alfred," Helena whispered. Then she turned away, trusting him to take care of everything else so that she could focus on Barbara.

******

Barbara Gordon�s bedroom

May 18, 1:17pm

"You�re supposed to be resting."

Barbara looked up in surprise at Helena�s abrupt entrance into her bedroom. Letting the papers in her hand fall to the sheet, she settled back against her pillow. She could actually hear the faint whine in her own voice as she protested, "I am resting."

She saw the frown tugging at the brunette�s mouth and felt her own features settling into a similar expression. It�d been eight days since the confrontation in the Clocktower � and Helena had been in a solemn mood the entire time. She knew that at first it had been because the younger woman was so worried about her. Barbara had come way too close to doing permanent damage this time, and she knew she�d given everyone a scare. She�d given herself a scare, if she was honest about it. At the same time, she had mostly recovered from the havoc the electrical shocks had played with her system, so she couldn�t quite figure out why Helena was still so pensive and so careful around her. She wasn�t quite strong enough to be out of bed for more than a few hours at a time, her body still racked with occasional spasms as the lingering effects of the device reacted with her system. But she was also getting stronger day by day, and yet Helena was acting as though she were at death�s door.

She watched the brunette moving slowly from the doorway over to her bed, a tray of food in hand. The usual energy in the younger woman�s movements had all but disappeared, and Barbara�s frown deepened as she realized for the first time that Helena seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.

When Helena set the tray down on the table beside the bed, Barbara reached out and grabbed her wrist in loose fingers. "Sit down," she invited softly. Now that she�d finally noticed the depths of the younger woman�s mood, she was determined to do something about it. She was struck by the irony of the idea � she couldn�t even face her own emotions and yet here she was, thinking she could help Helena deal with hers. It was the story of her life since the shooting � she�d become the epitome of the wounded healer.

Exercising the fierce discipline that had marked her entire life � whether being a gymnast, being Batgirl, or being Oracle � Barbara shoved that thought aside. She would deal with her own feelings later � or, more likely, simply avoid and ignore them until she no longer felt them, killing off another piece of her soul. Right now, her duty was to Helena.

She wasn�t surprised when her prot�g�e sat on the edge of the bed, a disapproving look on her face as she picked up the papers. "God, Barbara. You�re still hurting from that damned device, and yet you�re wasting energy on reading the details about Harley Quinn�s transfer to Arkham? What difference does it make? She�s locked up. She can�t hurt you anymore � leave it alone. You need to rest."

Barbara winced at the hurt and guilt in blue eyes. It was her fault that those emotions were clouding Helena�s face, and she had to do something to make things ok. She reached out her hand, but the younger woman pulled back, almost as if scared of something. "Helena �" She levered herself up into more of a sitting position and reached out again, finding the woman�s hand and taking it in hers. "I just wanted � to be sure." Emotion coiled around her heart, almost literally squeezing it, and she gasped slightly with the force of it. She took a deep breath, forcing the unwelcome feelings away, and refocused on the brunette.

She felt Helena�s fingers twine with hers and saw the way the younger woman�s expression morphed from anger to guilt. The brunette spoke softly, sounding young and haunted in a way she hadn�t since the first couple years after her mother�s death. "I�m sorry. I know how badly she hurt you � with Wade �"

Barbara felt her heart break at the utter despair in her friend�s tone.

"I just � it�s my fault and I can�t change what happened so I just want to take care of you and make sure you�re ok � none of this would have happened if it wasn�t for me � and I �"

Barbara leaned forward. Drawing Helena into a tight hug, she ignored the way the movement sent a stab of pain up her spine. She�d guessed some of this, to be sure, but she hadn�t realized how thoroughly the younger woman blamed herself. And it was all needless guilt; since Barbara knew full well the blame should sit solidly on her shoulders. It was her fault, not Helena�s, and she couldn�t bear to have the younger woman beating herself up over it.

"Sshh," she whispered soothingly, "it�s going to be okay. It�s not your fault." Barbara could feel the soul-deep shudder that wracked the younger woman at those words, and she wasn�t too surprised when Helena burst out sobbing. She knew that under the hard-ass image her prot�g�e projected, there was a sensitive and caring woman. And Helena wasn�t the type who could keep her feelings bottled up for long.

For long moments, she held Helena, her fingers lightly petting brown hair. Murmuring soft, comforting words, she tried to offer any reassurance she could. She felt herself start to relax into the warm embrace, taking immense comfort in the physical touch. It was really the first time since all hell broke loose that she and Helena had touched or hugged, and despite her self-control, it touched her deeply and caused her own tears to flow.

She heard the rough edge of despair in Helena�s voice, the woman�s words breaking through the sobs. "It�s not okay � and it�s all my fault. I told her about you, about Wade, and �" Barbara held her friend tighter, her fingers still petting her hair. She could tell that Helena was holding something back, something that needed to be released before it either strangled her or destroyed her piece by piece.

"Helena, I�m here and I�m not going anywhere. Tell me what�s wrong."

It wasn�t her most motivational speech ever and it gave new meaning to the term brevity. But she could tell that something in the simple words reached the younger woman; she could feel the way Helena�s arms tightened around her, the way fresh tears soaked through her shirt. After a moment, she also felt Helena draw in a deep breath and pull away from her slightly, apparently nerving herself up.

Barbara�s heart ached at the lost look on her friend�s face, but she fought down her automatic urge to comfort, knowing that Helena needed to be able to speak in her own time. There was some sort of "confession" coming, and she knew full well how hard things like this were for her prot�g�e.

"I haven�t told you everything, Barbara."

She watched as Helena�s hands fisted, fingers curling in on themselves in a manner that looked painful.

"I � I wasn�t hypnotized when I told her about you or Wade."

At first, Barbara thought there must be more to the story than that. But after a long moment of silence, she realized that that simple revelation was it. That was what was eating away at Helena � the idea that she�d volunteered the information that led to Harley being able to track her down � that led to Wade�s death. They hadn�t really talked about that, not yet, and she mentally kicked herself for not having figured it out sooner. She knew that his death was in no way Helena�s fault. It was Harley Quinn�s fault. And it hadn�t occurred to her that Helena might blame herself for that. In retrospect, she should have guessed that from the start.

She noted the way Helena was staring fixedly at the blankets, avoiding her eyes. She reached out and covered one of the woman�s fists with her hand, and saw the way Helena cringed at the touch, guilt and shame painting themselves across gamine features. Barbara felt her own shame rising, a lump in the back of her throat. She couldn�t bear to have Helena blaming herself for something that wasn�t her fault.

Barbara reached out her other hand and gently coaxed Helena�s head around so that they faced each other. She met blue eyes steadily and said softly, emphatically, "You have nothing to blame yourself for, Helena. She was your psychiatrist and you were simply telling her about the type of things people tell their psychiatrists. After all, she�d already learned about your secret identity, so there didn�t seem to be any harm in trusting her with the rest of the story. You had no way of knowing what she�d do with that information � you had no way of knowing that she was evil. Wade�s death is not your fault."

She heard the catch in her own voice as she said his name, and she saw the flinch in Helena�s eyes at her reaction.

The brunette�s words were anguished. "How can you even bear to look at me, knowing that she killed him because of me? I know you loved him � and I told her that � and now he�s dead. How can you say it�s not my fault?"

Barbara felt tears stinging her eyes. She didn�t speak for a moment, realizing just how screwed up everything was and knowing that it was her fault. Not Helena�s fault, not even Quinn�s � but hers. It was a sobering thought and she realized � not for the first time � just how much her mental and emotional walls could hurt the people around her. She�d learned early in life not to show herself to anyone, and she kept learning anew how her distance from even the people she loved caused them pain � in all sorts of ways.

She felt like her defenses were crumbling away under the force of that realization, under the pain she felt radiating off of Helena. And once the wall came down, she couldn�t control the deluge that followed.

"Because it�s not your fault, Helena. It�s my fault. Yes, Harley Quinn did the actual killing, but I might as well have been holding the blade." Barbara was nearly blinded by her tears, and was only scarcely aware of the pressure of Helena�s hand wrapping around hers or the surprised look in blue eyes. "She killed him to hurt me, because of who I am, because of who I was. She said in this report that she was getting vengeance for Mister J � no one at the jail knew just what she meant, but I do. She wanted to hurt me because I�m one of the reasons that The Joker is locked away. She wanted to hurt me because I was Batgirl. It�s because of me that Wade is dead � not because of you. She used you Helena, and there�s no blame in that. You didn�t know who or what she was. But I knew full well the risks in letting Wade be here � I screwed up � and it�s my fault that he�s dead. I shouldn�t have let him be here � especially when I didn�t �"

She was crying openly now, feeling out of control in a way she hadn�t since the days after being shot, the days when she first realized that her life as she�d known it was over. It scared her, scared her to feel so vulnerable, scared her to know just what she�d said. God, what would Helena think of her now? She�d probably want to run screaming, seeing for the first time how totally dysfunctional her mentor was.

But as her tears subsided, Barbara gradually became aware that Helena hadn�t run anywhere, that, in fact, Helena was hugging her and holding her close. And though the crying spell had left her with a faint buzz in her ears, she thought the younger woman�s voice was sympathetic. "When you didn�t what, Barbara? Please, talk to me. Let me help you."

Barbara fought herself, one part of her wanting to let go of the secret she�d been carrying, the other part of her not willing to be that completely vulnerable. And then she felt a soft kiss against the back of her neck, and the gentleness and care of the gesture undid her control completely. "When I didn�t love him."

And then she was crying again, leaning heavily against Helena, hating the way it felt to be so vulnerable, and yet loving the comfort offered by her friend. She had half-expected Helena to pull away in confusion and disgust at what she�d done, so the fact that she was still being held in strong arms and the fact that Helena was whispering soothing words in her ear chased away a little bit of the self-loathing she�d been carrying around.

She hiccupped slightly as her sobs began to abate, and she took a deep breath to steady herself, still feeling far more vulnerable than she was remotely comfortable being. Neither she nor Helena dealt well with people seeing them exposed, and she wanted to climb back onto more stable ground before she made any more difficult or embarrassing confessions.

Barbara whispered "thank you" as she pulled away from Helena�s warm embrace. There was a small part of her that wanted to stay like that forever, feeling safe in strong arms. But she also knew she couldn�t � that it was selfish to even consider it.

She met Helena�s eyes and watched the younger woman cock her head to the side, studying her like she was a particularly interesting piece of sculpture. The scrutiny made her squirm and she was relatively certain her cheeks were stained with a faint blush of discomfort. Barbara couldn�t even begin to imagine how Helena felt about the revelation that she hadn�t loved Wade � and she wasn�t looking forward to finding out. She wasn�t worried that it would ruin their partnership, but she was well aware that the younger woman might well lose some respect for her. And that idea hurt nearly as badly as the damned device that allowed her to walk.

She forced herself to hold Helena�s gaze and was actually surprised to see that there was a thoughtful look in blue eyes. "You really didn�t love him?"

She couldn�t muster a verbal response, so she settled for nodding. A surge of self-loathing coursed through her. She still couldn�t believe she�d led him on the way she had, that she hadn�t made him leave once Alfred had brought him to the Clocktower.

Distracted by her own dark thoughts, she couldn�t quite figure out why the look on Helena�s face shifted from thoughtful to understanding.

"It�s not your fault either, Barbara."

She opened her mouth to protest, well aware that it was all her fault, but was silenced by a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"You had no way of knowing what Quinn was up to � no way of knowing Wade would just drop by unannounced � or that he had a key. I know perfectly well you didn�t give him one."

Barbara felt her mouth drop open in surprise. She hadn�t quite thought about that aspect of things. She saw a look of fierce determination on Helena�s face as the younger woman continued speaking. "And yeah, maybe you should have told him to take a hike and not come back, but once he knew about your secret, you couldn�t exactly do that. That would have been a bigger risk than letting him stick around, thinking you were opening your life up to him."

She wasn�t used to having anyone make excuses for her, so she wasn�t quite sure how to take Helena�s argument. Because the truth of the matter, the truth that she�d pushed aside in her overly responsible way, was that she had done what she thought was best to try and protect both Wade and her household. She just hadn�t had time to figure out how to deal with the situation. Helena was right � she hadn�t let him into the Clocktower in the first place � and she had no idea that Alfred had given him the codes and a key to get in whenever he felt like it.

She sighed, wishing she could so easily shrug off the blame. "I know what you�re saying, Helena, I really do. But I should have ended the relationship a long time ago � it never should have come to this. I cared about him very much � he was someone I could be happy with when I couldn�t �" Barbara broke off, suddenly aware of how close she�d come to admitting the one thing she�d sworn to herself to never reveal. This was one of the reasons she hated being vulnerable and exposed; it tended to lower her defenses and she lost some of her usual iron control. Psychologists would say that was a healthy thing, but given that her entire life had been built on keeping secrets, it wasn�t her way of operating in the world. She saw the flash of curiosity in blue eyes and spoke quickly, trying to distract Helena from that train of thought.

"It never should have come to this. He bought plane tickets for us to go on vacation � even though I never told him I�d go. I knew he thought we had a future together, and I knew we didn�t. If I had just had the courage to break it off with him when he started to get really serious, he would still be alive."

She shuddered slightly and averted her gaze as fresh tears crept out of the corners of her eyes. Damn it, he shouldn�t have died because of her.

She felt a hand against her temple, lightly stroking her hair.

"And if The Joker hadn�t shot you and Quinn hadn�t been bent on revenge, he would still be alive. Let�s not forget that important little detail."

She felt Helena�s hand under her chin, coaxing her head up, and reluctantly she met the intense blue gaze.

"Ok, so you should have broken up with him and I shouldn�t have trusted Quinn. And Alfred shouldn�t have brought him here in the first place. And Wade shouldn�t have just shown up here without making sure it was okay, knowing what he did about our work and the need for secrecy and privacy. There�s plenty of blame to go around."

Barbara couldn�t help it; a tiny laugh worked its way out of her mouth. Sounded odd, especially when her face was still stained with tears, but she couldn�t stop the reaction. "It�s funny � you sounded just like I would if our positions were reversed."

She saw a brilliant smile grace Helena�s face. "Well, I do pay attention to you from time to time, you know."

Barbara smiled back and took a quick mental inventory. Amazing how a few choice words, combined with the catharsis of actually releasing her emotions rather than repressing them, could do such wonders for her mental state. Not that it was that easy to forgive herself � or to stop blaming herself. It was more that she now had a slightly more objective way of looking at the situation, rather than being locked so solidly in her own head. There would still be nightmares, to be sure, and more tears. But for the first time since Wade�s death and the strain of stopping Quinn, Barbara felt some of the tension draining from her body.

She didn�t have to carry the burden alone; Helena would help her with it.

Feeling somewhat less ragged, she turned her attention back to Helena and asked quietly, "How are you doing?"

It was a strange question, she fully admitted it, but she trusted that Helena would know what she meant. She studied her friend, really taking in her haggard appearance for the first time. The younger woman had bags under her eyes and her skin was sallow. Barbara mentally kicked herself again for not noticing any of this before. Granted, she�d been a little preoccupied with her own pain and loss. But Helena was the most important person in her life, and she should have been aware of what was going on for her.

She saw the way Helena�s brow crinkled in surprise as she considered the question, as if the younger woman was just now realizing how she was doing after the emotional conversation. And Barbara could hear the faint note of wonder in the woman�s voice as she spoke.

"I think I�m actually ok." There was a pause, as if Helena was searching for words, and Barbara reached out without thinking about it and ruffled brown hair. "I still feel guilty about the whole mess � but I guess it feels somehow like we�re going to be okay. I � I just couldn�t bear the thought that you hated me because of what happened."

The last words were said in a rush, as if Helena couldn�t get them out any other way, and Barbara felt a stab of pain at the touch of fear in her friend�s tone. None of them had walked away from the experience unharmed � and while they were all used to dealing with physical pains, it wasn�t often that a criminal hurt them emotionally.

She spoke earnestly, needing Helena to know she was serious. "I could never hate you, Helena. I know you � and I know you would never intentionally do anything to hurt me. And no matter what � we�re going to get through this together � we�re going to be okay."

She reached out and pulled Helena into a hug and was warmed when she heard the woman whisper, "I just never want to lose you."

Impulsively, she pressed a kiss to brown hair, hugging Helena tighter, aware of just how close they�d all come to losing each other. She had shied away from thinking too hard about it, not wanting to make herself crazy. But she knew that while Wade�s death was painful and riddled her with guilt, she was still able to function and try to pick up her life. She couldn�t even imagine her life without Helena. She could hear the rough edge of tears in her voice as she whispered, "I couldn�t bear to lose you either."

Barbara hugged Helena close for several minutes, taking comfort in the contact. She wasn�t what you�d call a touchy-feely type � neither was Helena for that matter. But there was something powerful in the embrace, and she knew her friend felt it as well, judging by the way strong arms had tightened around her torso.

They could likely have stayed like that forever, but Barbara felt Helena shift slightly away from her and heard a loud yawn. She used her fingers to coax Helena�s head up and saw fatigue drifting across the expressive face as she watched. A pang of guilt hit her as she realized anew just how tired the younger woman was, worn out by both the fight and by taking care of her in the aftermath.

Without thinking about it, Barbara used her hands to position herself on the bed until she was lying down with her head on her pillows. She patted the space beside her in invitation, a gesture that she knew Helena would understand. When Helena was a teenager and overcome with grief at her mother�s death, she had often shown up at Barbara�s door and had crawled into bed with her. They�d spent many difficult nights sleeping in the same bed and drawing comfort from each other.

She frowned as she saw an uncertain look cross Helena�s face. She couldn�t quite decide whether the emotions laid bare by the conversation were just too raw, or whether the younger woman�s hesitance was due to something else. Reaching out a hand, Barbara spoke softly. "You�re exhausted, Helena � and I know you don�t sleep well on the couch."

There was still indecision on the gamine features and she wished for a moment that things hadn�t gotten so complicated between them. Though she would never want to return to the time right after being shot, the one thing she sometimes missed was the way she and Helena had been so close. "Let me do this for you � you�ve done so much for me. You need some sleep � and it will comfort me to have you here."

She knew she�d struck the right note when Helena crawled up next to her and lay down, resting her head on Barbara�s stomach. Reaching down, she ran her fingers through brown hair, wanting her friend to just relax. She smiled to herself when she heard a soft sigh and then felt an arm drape lazily across her midsection. The gesture was sweet, trusting. It warmed her.

Barbara started to hum under her breath, and let her fingers stroke Helena�s thick hair, amazed at how good it felt to be able to comfort the younger woman like this again. It had been far too long since they�d been cuddled together like this, and now that they were here together, she realized just how much she had missed it. Her fingers moved slowly, gently. And as she soothed Helena, coaxing her to relax so she could sleep, she felt some of the wounds in her own heart begin to heal.

Within moments, they both were fast asleep.

******

Outside Barbara�s bedroom

May 18, 4:52pm

Dinah poked her head around the door to Barbara�s bedroom, not bothering to knock since the door was halfway open. She opened her mouth to call out a greeting, but managed to shut it before getting any words out, seeing her two mentors fast asleep on the bed.

Standing in the doorway, she watched them for a long moment, feeling once again a sense of gratitude that they were both ok. She�d already lost her mom; she didn�t know what she�d do if she lost her new family. Sure, she knew it was a risk they took every time they did sweeps, but it still wasn�t the same as having some psycho criminal take over their home and try to kill them.

She shivered and hugged herself at the reminder. Not an experience she ever wanted to repeat.

Moving quietly, she shut the door to the room; leaving the older women to get some much needed rest. The ordeal had taken a lot out of all of them, and while Dinah had spent two full days in bed to recover from it, she knew that her mentors hadn�t done the same. If she hadn�t admired them both so much, she might have joined Alfred in cursing their stubbornness.

She padded down the hallway towards her room. God, she was glad things were getting back to normal. Still, despite it all, the experience had taught her a few things. One of which was to not leave too many things unsaid, assuming that there would be time to say them later. If later never came, she didn�t want a bunch of regrets haunting her.

Settling on her bed, she reached for the phone and dialed Gabby�s number. She only hoped that both the older women had learned the same lesson she had.

******

Dark Horse bar

May 21, 6:59pm

"Buy a girl a drink?"

Jesse Reese nearly jumped as the oh-so-familiar voice purred into his ear. Damn, he wished she would stop sneaking up on him. It was enough to make him paranoid � especially since he�d told her before how much he hated it when she did it.

He managed to not fall off the barstool as he turned to face Helena. She had that smirk on her face that she seemed to wear like a mask. The only time he�d ever seen that mask slip was � well � he didn�t want to think about that too closely, even though that was the reason he�d called her and asked her to meet him.

Turning to the bartender, he ordered himself another beer and a rum and coke for Helena. As she settled herself on the stool next to him, he picked up his half-empty bottle and drained it in a long swallow. He glanced over to see a frown on her face.

"Something wrong, Jesse?"

That was one way of putting it. He simply nodded in response, chunked his bottle down on the counter, and picked up the new drinks the bartender had brought him. With his chin, he gestured to a quiet booth in the corner, and Helena led the way over. As they walked, he found himself once again admiring her ass, then wrenched his attention away, determined not to let his hormones get the best of him. They had been all along, and it was time to put a stop to it.

He set the drinks on the tabletop and then slid into the vinyl-covered seat across from Helena. He could see her watching him curiously, even as she tried to cover the gesture by sipping her drink. Reaching out, he grabbed the beer bottle, turning it thoughtfully between his fingers. Silence hung between them for a long moment.

"I�m leaving town, Helena."

He didn�t look at her as he brought the bottle to his lips, taking a long swig. He wasn�t sure what he�d see in her eyes, and didn�t really know if he wanted to. Still not looking at her, he set the bottle back down, waiting for her reaction.

He could hear the confusion in her tone as she drawled, "Okayyy. So you�re taking off for a while � that�s perfectly understandable after everything that�s happened. You could have just called me and let me know you�d be gone for a while and not to worry. What�s so important that you have to tell me this in person?"

Had the situation not been so unfavorable to him, he would have laughed aloud. Ok, so the two of them had never officially been an item � they�d just flirted like crazy and had some no strings attached, mind-blowing sex. But the utter lack of concern in her voice just confirmed his suspicions. He knew, sadly enough, that he wasn�t the brightest guy on the planet � but even he could add two and two together and come up with four. The fact that his pseudo-girlfriend was so deep in denial that she kept coming up with three did nothing to make him feel any better. If anything, it made him feel worse. Now he�d have to explain not only what he was up to, but explain her own actions to her as well. Wonderful.

"I�m not coming back."

There. It was on the table now.

He glanced up in time to see her brows knit together. As he watched, she drained her glass and just stared at him, not saying a word. There were various emotions dancing across her face and only one of them was sadness.

He leaned forward, suddenly feeling like he was the one in control of the situation. In the entire time he�d known Helena Kyle, she�d always had control over their interactions, over when and how often they met � even over the content of their conversations. Only now, when he was the one with the upper hand, did he realize how much he needed to be in charge. It was yet another revelation about himself that he wasn�t thrilled about having.

"Look, Helena � I�ve got some things to sort out." If it hadn�t been unmanly, he would have winced at the lameness of the statement. He took another long swig of his beer, meeting her eyes and holding them. "I�ve spent my entire life hating my dad � doing everything I could to be the complete opposite of who he is. And yet, I keep finding that despite everything, he�s just a man trying to deal with the choices he�s made, same as me. I used to think it was some evil within him that made him who he was. But I�ve seen myself do some things lately that I never thought I�d do � some things that he�s done at times in his life."

He paused, looking down at where his fingers were tapping against the side of the bottle. "I need to get away from everything here and figure out who I really am. I�ve resigned from the force � figured I�d save them the trouble of busting my ass for going outside the law while I�ve been working with you."

He looked up in time to see her flinch. He could hear the annoyance in her tone. "Look, Jesse, you�ve known all along how I operated. It was your choice to go along with that, to work with us. Don�t go blaming me for that �"

He reached out and placed a finger on her lips, silencing her tirade. "I�m not, ok." When she didn�t seem inclined to argue any more, he dropped his finger away, aware of the lingering heat of the touch. "It was my choice; I accept that. But it�s the kind of thing HE would have done." There was no need to specify who "he" was. "And that�s what I can�t accept, that I�m turning into him more and more."

There was sympathy in her tone and he felt a sense of gratitude for it. "Look, Reese, whatever you�ve done, you�ve done in an effort to do good. You are not your father. Ok, so our parents have an impact on us, whether we want them to or not �" He wasn�t surprised when her voice trailed off there, since what little he knew of her family life made it clear that he wasn�t the only one with parental issues. "But you don�t go around killing innocent people for your own gain."

He took another sip of beer. "I know that. But I also know I�ve got some growing up to do." There was a lull while he turned things over in his mind. At long last, knowing he was delaying the inevitable, he took another drink and said, "The reason I wanted to tell you in person is that I felt like I owed it to you. I�m serious when I say I�m not coming back. And even though we�ve never had any official sort of relationship, I didn�t want to break up with you over the phone. That wouldn�t be right."

A hurt look settled in blue eyes and he almost laughed aloud at seeing such an obvious sign of denial. He�d known all along that his feelings for her were a lot more serious than hers for him. "Look, Helena, you can�t be what I want in a partner � and after seeing you in the Clocktower, I know I�ll never be what you want."

"I don�t �"

He shushed her with another finger on the lips, a last reminder of the physical bond they�d briefly shared. "Go home, Helena. Go back to the person you love. Go back to Barbara."

He almost laughed aloud at the shock and surprise in her eyes. This was the first time he�d been able to upstage her. "How? � How did you? �"

With a headshake, he said firmly, "Does it matter? Look, Helena, I�d always wondered why you always kept me at arms length. Even when we slept together, you wouldn�t really let me in. And then I realized it was because you were already in love with someone else. Couldn�t figure out who, though � and then I met Oracle. I�ve seen the two of you together. It�s like when you�re together, no one else really matters." There was a flash of uncertainty in her eyes and his heart suddenly ached for her. She was so confident in everything she did, and yet she obviously had no idea that her partner in crime fighting cared for her that way. But he knew. He�d seen it.

"Go home to her, Helena. She loves you, even if she doesn�t know it yet. I may not be the best detective in the world, but I know that much. I�m leaving town so I can find a way to create a happy life for myself, one outside this city where my father�s ghost haunts everything I do. You deserve to make a happy life for yourself too. Let yourself be happy, Helena."

He took it as a good sign when she didn�t speak, simply leaned over and gave him a thorough kiss on the lips. As she pulled back, he let his hand linger on her cheek for a moment. He smiled as she covered it with her own and said softly, "Take care of yourself, Jesse." He simply nodded and watched as she stood and made her way to the door.

Taking another swig from the bottle, he smiled. For the first time since he�d known Helena, she was walking lightly, like a burden had been lifted from her shoulders. Maybe she was right about him doing some good in the world.

******

Clocktower kitchen

May 21, 7:32pm

"Alfred, can I speak with you for a moment?"

He turned slowly at the sound of the woman�s voice, schooling his features into a pleasant mask to avoid letting on that she�d startled him quite badly.

"Of course, Miss Barbara. I am always at your disposal."

Carefully, he placed the platter he�d been holding on the counter, watching his employer out of the corner of his eye as he did so. He saw the thin smile she offered him and had it not been impolite, he would have grimaced. Knowing the woman as he did, he knew her smile was intended to hide her anger. Clearly she had learned much from her mentor, Bruce Wayne.

As she wheeled herself over to where he was standing, he could not resist asking, "Are you certain it is wise for you to be out of bed? After all, you�ve just barely recovered from the effects of that device." It occurred to him that if he could hear the distaste in his own voice at the mention of her neural stimulator, then she most certainly would hear it as well.

His suspicion was confirmed when her smile grew brittle. "I�m fine, Alfred. And your protests against me using the device have already been heard and noted."

Yes, she was quite angry. It was to her credit that she was able to talk to him in such a level tone, rather than yelling, as he knew the younger members of the household would have. And he had a rather unfortunate feeling that he knew what events were prompting her reaction, though � mindful of his role � he simply stood and waited for her to continue. While it was true that he had absolutely no compunction about acting outside his role of butler when, in his judgment, it was important to do so, he tried to reserve that for occasions that warranted it. Were he to make a habit of it, he was certain that Barbara would act in even more secrecy than she currently did. And that would be beneficial to no one.

As he watched her, she looked up to meet his gaze. "We need to talk about what happened with Wade."

That had not been what he had expected to hear. He spoke slowly, knowing that he could not hide the faint confusion in his tone. "What happened to Master Wade was simply dreadful, Miss Barbara. I cannot imagine that you wish to discuss it in any detail."

He saw the emphatic shake of her head and wondered just where she intended to take the conversation.

"I don�t mean about his death, Alfred."

Remaining silent, he watched as she reached up with one hand to massage the back of her neck. Despite her enforced bed rest, it was clear to his experienced eyes that the woman was fatigued and deeply troubled by something. He wanted to reach out and place his hand on her arm in a gesture of support, but was well aware that in her current mood, she would not welcome the touch.

"We need to talk about the fact that you let him into the Clocktower and gave him a key."

Ah yes, he should have guessed that eventually it would occur to her to mention that particular topic. And with a strange sense of relief, he realized that this was an occasion that would warrant him stepping momentarily out of his role. "Miss Barbara, if I may say so, there are occasions when some outside interference in your life becomes necessary. Had I not mentioned your whereabouts to Miss Helena when you were determined to fight that Lady Shiva individual, you would have certainly perished. And had I not taken it upon myself to bring Master Wade here, you would have driven him away with your avoidance of him."

He squared his shoulders at the end of his speech, preparing himself for a continued debate with her on the subject. During the course of his time in her employ, he had faced off with her on a number of issues. While he knew that there was no danger of her relieving him of his duties, he was human enough to feel defensive when his choices were challenged. Especially considering that he was nearly old enough to be her grandfather and felt the same sense of knowing what was best for the young woman.

He saw the way her eyes flashed with strong emotion. "Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps I was avoiding him until I could find a way to break up with him? Despite your assumptions, I didn�t want him here, in my space, privy to all my secrets."

That statement startled him. "Miss Barbara, despite your claims to the contrary, I know that you cared for that young man. I was simply attempting to help you find a measure of the happiness that so eluded Master Bruce."

It disturbed him to realize that he was once again comparing the woman to her mentor and his oldest friend. He did not wish for her to realize that he still had frequent contact with Bruce Wayne, knowing that both she and Helena would be deeply hurt to know of it. Thankfully, she didn�t seem to focus on that part of his statement.

"Yes, Alfred, I cared for him. But I didn�t love him. And I was in no way ready to open this part of my life to anyone. You had no right to bring him here without asking me first � and you had no right to make assumptions about what is best for me. Yes, I know there are times, such as the events with Shiva, where I need you to look out for me. I just don�t need it in my love life."

He could not shake his consternation that this conversation kept heading in directions for which he was not prepared. "Miss Barbara, perhaps I was remiss in bringing him into the Clocktower without your permission. My actions, however, were prompted by the desire to see you happy. And you appeared to be happy with Master Wade. You appeared to love him."

Surprisingly, she slumped slightly in her wheelchair as he spoke. His brow furrowed in thought. It was not like her to be so easily defeated, and he could not help but wonder about the sense he�d had earlier that there was something troubling her deeply. Or perhaps, her lingering fatigue was simply making it difficult for her to continue the argument effectively.

Her voice, when it reached his ears, was soft, almost as though she were talking to herself. "I was settling for Wade because I couldn�t have the person I really wanted. And by the time I realized that, I couldn�t quite figure out how to break up with him. And before I could find a way, you brought him here and then I couldn�t ask him to leave � not without running the risk that he�d expose our secret."

Alfred wanted to find some way to comfort the woman, as he was aware that the anger had drained from her voice and her posture, leaving behind only sadness. But he found that his confusion was simply too great to contain. "Master Wade would not have exposed us. He simply did not have such a vengeful nature."

He saw the wry twist of her mouth as she responded. "You never met his parents. He had it in him to be like them � he simply worked very hard to overcome that part of himself and be a nice person." There was a measurable pause and his eyes followed hers as they settled on her lap, where her fingers were clenched tightly together. "I just couldn�t take that risk � couldn�t risk putting the per� the people I love in danger because I�d screwed up with him."

Forgetting his dignity, he knelt beside her wheelchair and covered her hands with one of his, the sadness in her expression causing his own heart to ache. As if for the first time, he realized just how badly he�d misread the situation. He�d known his employer was in love; he just made the wrong assumption as to who she was in love with. "Who is the person you really want, Miss Barbara? Is it Miss Helena?"

Had the mood been less solemn, he might have smiled at the shy nod of the woman�s head and the faint pinkness that colored her features. But he found that the revelation of the secret did nothing to assuage his curiosity. "If I may be so bold, Miss Barbara, why do you not simply tell Miss Helena how you feel about her? Why bother to settle for someone else in the first place?"

He could see the gleam of pain and frustration in her eyes as she returned her gaze to him.

"Alfred, I was her guardian. How could I ever tell her how I felt without it sounding perverted in some way? And she�s always been busy with boyfriends � girlfriends � she�s had more lovers in the past year than I�ve had in my entire life. What on earth would she want with someone like me?"

While he was not particularly surprised by the resignation in her tone, having heard it on more than one occasion, he was aggravated to hear it now. He may have misread her feelings � she was so private that he still had difficulty reading her, even after all these years � but he�d clearly seen Helena�s feelings on display. He�d been aware for quite some time that Bruce�s daughter was in love with the woman sitting in front of him, but he had never felt it necessary to inform Barbara of that, as he was convinced that she cared for Wade Brixton.

He patted her hand and said in his kindliest tone, "You have not been her guardian for many years. And it is not as if you were old enough to be her mother." When she cracked a tiny smile at that reassurance, he felt emboldened to continue. "And perhaps the fact that Miss Helena flits from dalliance to dalliance is a sign that she, too, is trying to settle, feeling that she could not have the person she wanted. I have observed the way in which she looks at you. And I have noticed that you are the only person she allows near when she is in some of her more � emotional moods."

He knew there were many more things he could have said, but he also knew that once Barbara had all the necessary pieces in place, she�d be able to see the picture for herself. She might be oblivious to certain elements of social interactions, more comfortable in her world of theory and abstraction, but once those elements were brought to her attention, she was quite capable of analyzing them.

As he watched her, he could almost see her mind spinning as she struggled to make sense of his words. Long accustomed to her thought processes, he simply waited, knowing that she was filtering her old assumptions and conclusions through the framework of the new information she�d been given, testing to see if the new picture she was putting together made any sense.

He was a bit surprised when she reached up and squeezed his hand fondly, the look on her face best described as hopeful. He offered her a smile and then stood up, feeling as though it would be best for them to go back to their normal roles. But before the last vestige of intimacy faded, he said gently, "Just talk to her, Miss Barbara. What I said before is true � you deserve to be happy."

As he had expected, she smiled up at him and said, "Thanks, Alfred." He simply nodded in response.

As she wheeled her chair around and rolled out of the kitchen, he heard her voice floating back towards him. "Don�t think that this lets you off the hook though."

With a faint, very un-butlerly smile, he murmured. "Why does that not surprise me?"

******

Il Fornaio Ristorante

May 22, 6:00pm

Helena took a sip of wine and smiled as she heard Barbara order appetizers for the group in flawless Italian. Well, she assumed it was flawless Italian. Considering that she didn�t speak the language, she didn�t have a clue. But since the waiter was looking incredibly awed, she figured he was impressed with the woman�s language skills. Usually, she�d assume that he was just awed by the awesome looking redhead, but since she�d seen this waiter at the Dark Horse several times, doing some pretty heavy making out with some extremely pretty boys, she figured Barbara wasn�t exactly his type.

She kinda wished that they hadn�t decided to have their celebratory dinner tonight, since she�d really been hoping to have a little heart-to-heart talk with Barbara. Ever since she�d left Reese in the bar the evening before, she�d impatiently been waiting to get the older woman alone. She wasn�t entirely sure what she was going to say � after all, how exactly was a person supposed to go about asking, "Do you love me the way I love you?" But she also figured she�d just wing it when she got to that point.

Instead, she�d gotten to the Clocktower just in time for an alarm to go off and she and Dinah had been dispatched to deal with a bank vault robbery � and then with a convenience store robbery � and then with an attempted rape � and so on and so forth. By the time she and Dinah made it back to the Clocktower, it was late enough that Barbara was practically falling asleep over the keyboard. Not the best time to have a potentially intense conversation.

And with the mundane details of life getting in the way, there hadn�t been time today to corner the redhead before they needed to leave for the restaurant. Sometime during her convalescence, Barbara had decided that she wanted to buy dinner for the group of people responsible for stopping Harley. So here they all were � herself, Dinah, Barbara, Alfred, and Gibson. Reese had already left town, or he�d have been there. And much to Helena�s surprise, Dinah had insisted her friend Gabby be allowed to join them. It was actually kinda cute, since it was pretty clear the two blondes had massive crushes on each other.

Though Helena had to admit she did find it a bit weird that their little relationship seemed to come so suddenly out of left field. After all, when Dinah had a crush on that Matt guy, she�d mooned around the Clocktower for weeks, constantly wanting advice on how to approach him. �

"Earth to Helena."

She blinked in surprise as Gibson snapped his fingers in front of her face as he spoke. "Sorry," she said quickly. "Guess I was just distracted by the scenery," she added, jerking her chin over to where Dinah and Gabby were exchanging covert glances over the tops of their menus.

She heard a strangled laugh from Barbara and didn�t dare look at the redhead, knowing if she did, she�d start laughing and not be able to stop. And that would undoubtedly make both Dinah and her friend feel a bit self-conscious. Since the kid had grown on her, she didn�t want to embarrass her � well, not too much anyhow. God, had she ever been that young? Or that transparent?

Turning to look at Alfred, she was surprised to see that the butler didn�t seem the slightest bit nonplussed at the innocent flirting going on. And she was even more surprised when he stared meaningfully at her and then deliberately shifted his gaze to Barbara. Good lord, was he insinuating what she thought he was insinuating? She risked a glance at the redhead and saw that she was turning a delightful shade of pink. Apparently, she�d read his meaning correctly.

And she couldn�t help the sudden sense of delight that rushed through her at that. Maybe Jesse had been right � maybe Barbara really did have feelings for her. She glanced again at the other woman and saw that those intelligent green eyes were watching her speculatively. And with the complete randomness that seemed to mark all Helena�s mental processes, she suddenly recalled something the other woman had said the afternoon that they�d ended up doing the whole "break down and cry" routine.

Helena suddenly felt sure that the continuation of that sentence would be something like "when I couldn�t have the person I wanted." Maybe the conversation they needed to have wouldn�t be so difficult after all.

An annoyed cough brought her fully back to the present moment. Gibson was staring at her expectantly. Damn it � she needed to get her head together. While she really just wanted to drag Barbara off and have that little heart-to-heart with her, it would be kinda rude to do it in the middle of dinner. Especially since it wasn�t like they wouldn�t have time later. After all, she knew where Barbara lived.

The mere thought struck her as funny, and she couldn�t help chuckling. She looked up and saw that Gibson was staring at her as though she�d finally completely lost her mind. Sparing a quick glance at Barbara, she saw a distinct glint of amusement in green eyes. She pulled her attention back to the man sitting next to her and said quickly, "I�m sorry Gibson. I think the wine must be making me giddy."

She wasn�t too surprised when that statement made him stare at her like she�d grown another head. He knew as well as she did what a high tolerance for alcohol she had. But apparently he was going to leave that alone, since he simply asked, "Have you even heard a word I�ve said?"

That would be a no. Deciding that sarcasm might be her best option for getting through the meal, she opted for a dry, "Apparently not."

She heard twin teen giggles and if it were possible for Alfred to smirk, he was doing it now. She didn�t even want to look at Barbara, already knowing she�d see a raised eyebrow and an amused half smile. Thankfully, however, her dry tone had some odd reassuring effect on Gibson, because he smiled at her in his oh-so-infatuated � and oh-so-infuriating � way. "I was just asking if, now that the handsome detective is leaving town, you were in the market for a new boyfriend. If so, I thought maybe we could go out this Friday. Dinner and a movie?"

Helena had been in the process of taking another sip of wine while he spoke, which she proceeded to choke on as the words bored into her brain. There was sudden, complete silence in the wake of that question � even the two blondes were distracted from their game of googly-eyes. Leave it to Gibson. She liked the guy, but considering that he hadn�t yet made it onto her date book in all the years she�d known him, she figured he would have finally gotten the hint that his charms just weren�t what she was looking for. How the hell was she supposed to answer that particular question? Well, a number of answers came to mind, but they were quickly dismissed because she really didn�t want to rip his heart out and hurt his feelings.

And then, she felt Barbara lean closer to her, since the redhead was on her other side. And then she felt Barbara�s arm drape around her shoulders. And then, she about fell over in shock as she heard Barbara�s voice, with only a slight nervous quaver, say, "Sorry Gibson, but she�s playing for the other team now."

Helena had two instantaneous, and completely conflicting reactions. The first was to sit frozen in shock, since she had never, ever, seen the redhead do something so � bold. The other was to turn and place a gentle kiss on Barbara�s lips, now that she felt sure that the gesture wouldn�t be turned down.

The kiss won.

She was amazed at the softness of Barbara�s lips. But aware of the audience, she broke away quickly, though she noticed that the other woman made no move to put any distance between them, still keeping her arm draped around Helena.

Gibson looked momentarily surprised, but then, to her amazement, burst into a beaming grin. "I see!" he exclaimed, as though the secrets of the universe had somehow been revealed to him. "No wonder you�ve never shown any interest in me. I�m just not a feminine enough guy to appeal to someone like you." While she watched in surprise, he thumped his chest � as if somehow the gesture proclaimed his extreme masculinity.

She could not think of a single suitable thing to say. Glancing over at the teens, she saw that they were both giggling again, looking incredibly happy at the turn of events. No help there. She looked to Alfred for inspiration and he simply shrugged, apparently at as much of a loss as she was. Great.

Turning her gaze back to Gibson, glad at least that he seemed happy for her, rather than crushed by a rejection, she managed to say, "You�re right. You�re just too macho for someone like me." She was proud that she managed to keep a straight face while she spoke.

The waiter chose that moment to reappear with the appetizers and set them down in the middle of the table, completely unfazed by the little drama playing out. Helena watched him set the plates down carefully in the middle of the table. Then he turned to Barbara, said something polite sounding in Italian, and then left them alone again.

Not sure where to take things from there, Helena was unaccountably grateful when Alfred reached out for the plate closest to him and said, "Shall we begin?"

******

Clocktower, Barbara�s bedroom

May 22, 11:20pm

Barbara sighed softly, contentedly, and snuggled her head a little closer to the curve of Helena�s neck. They were sitting on her bed with Helena leaning against her headboard. She was held securely in strong arms, leaning back against the younger woman�s body. "I almost can�t believe this is happening," she murmured, for probably the twentieth time in the last hour.

They�d come straight home from the restaurant, after dropping Alfred off at the Manor, Gibson off at the bar, and Dinah and Gabby at Gabby�s house. And they�d finally managed to have THE conversation � the one that still left her feeling vaguely amazed. How had she managed to miss Helena�s cues for so long? How had she never suspected that her feelings for the younger woman were returned in spades? Too locked inside her own little mental boxes, that was how. And now that she was breaking free of them, she still couldn�t quite believe all the revelations. Or how good it felt to finally let her feelings out.

She smiled as she felt the brunette�s lips graze her temple. "Me neither. I swear, even after the talk I�d had with Reese, you surprised the hell out of me when you put your arm around me in the restaurant. I never expected that."

Barbara couldn�t help but chuckle at the memory. "I still can�t believe it myself. Even though Alfred had assured me that you had feelings for me, I wasn�t sure. I wanted to talk to you about it � to make sure he hadn�t been misreading things the same way he�d been misreading me with Wade." She took a deep breath, since her voice still had a tendency to crack when she said his name, the guilt overwhelming her. And then she felt Helena�s arms tightening around her, holding her closer. It made her feel a little better, knowing that the other woman still cared about her, even after all that had happened. She�d never imagined that someone could actually see some of her demons and still care about her once they�d been revealed.

Drawing in another deep breath, she continued. "I was just on pins and needles, waiting to have this long conversation with you. And then the next thing I know, I�ve got my arm around you in the middle of a public place." She still couldn�t believe how bold she�d been. Maybe she�d actually learned something from Wade�s death � namely, the importance of seizing the day. "Of course, then you blew me away when you turned around and kissed me. I almost fell out of my chair."

She smiled at the memory � and at the practical note she could hear in Helena�s response. "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, especially since I was pretty sure by then that you weren�t going to haul off and slap me or something." And then she heard a faintly defensive tone creep into the brunette�s voice. "I didn�t notice you objecting."

Turning slightly, she stretched her neck up so she could kiss the side of Helena�s jaw. "No, no objections here. A bit of embarrassment, maybe. I�ve never been someone into public displays of affection � and with Dinah and Gabby there �" Her voice trailed off, still annoyed with herself for allowing her newest ward and one of her students to see her kissing someone in public.

She felt gentle fingers stroking her hair. "Oh come on, Barbara. You impressed the hell out of them. And you probably did them a favor � y�know, making it clear that the idea of two girls kissing doesn�t bother you. Given how infatuated they are with each other �"

Hearing Helena break into giggles started her laughing as well. "Oh, I know. Were we ever that young and hormonal?"

She felt a hand trail up her body, cupping her breast gently and stroking it through her shirt. "Well, we must have been that young at some point. Last time I checked the only person who came into the world full grown was Athena when she burst from her father�s head."

Barbara couldn�t help herself; she stared up at the other woman in amazement. Helena never failed to surprise her. The younger woman looked down at her and said, "What? I can�t know Greek mythology?"

She laughed softly, reaching up to cover the hand on her breast with her own hand, encouraging the gentle explorations. Helena didn�t disappoint her, continuing the strokes as she kept on talking. "And I think it�s pretty clear that even if we weren�t that hormonal when we were teens, we�re both feeling pretty hormonal right now."

Barbara couldn�t deny that. It had been a long time since she�d been so � aroused � by something as simple as a hand on her breast and a couple hours of cuddling. She couldn�t even remember the last time she�d felt so � alive. While she and Wade had made love, it hadn�t really given her much pleasure. It had made her feel warm and cared for � but there had been no real arousal, no real passion. At least not for her. She�d already felt more sparks of desire in the last couple hours with Helena than she�d felt in all the time she�d been with Wade.

But she couldn�t just give into her feelings. She couldn�t. Her injuries made it impossible for her to just lie back and let nature take its course � she had to make sure every potential lover knew what they were getting into. It was one of the reasons she�d tended to avoid relationships after the shooting. Not just because of her nightlife as Oracle, but because it was just too complicated most of the time. She could already feel her muscles tensing, her body responding to her mental meanderings.

As if reading her mind, she felt Helena ghost a kiss across her temple. "I know what you�re thinking, Barbara. Remember, I was there after the shooting. I know what it did to you � not just the paralysis, but the scars."

With a faint surge of relief, Barbara relaxed � consciously instructing her muscles to loosen as she lay back against the younger woman�s body. For the first time, she realized that she didn�t have to explain anything to Helena. The woman already knew. Helena had been by her side during the months of physical therapy � just watching and encouraging her. And Helena had been there when she came home, and had to relearn how to do even the simplest of daily tasks like dress herself or take a shower.

The freedom of not having to worry about the effect her physical condition would have on a lover left her in tears. She was embarrassed to find herself crying, since she rarely did it. And she was only vaguely aware of Helena repositioning their bodies, sitting them both upright and pulling her into a hug.

"Hey, beautiful. What�s wrong? Did I do something?"

Barbara raised her head and found Helena�s lips with her own. When the kiss broke, she said fervently, "No, you didn�t do anything wrong. It�s just � " She broke off for a moment, wiping tears from her eyes. "It�s just that it�s � overwhelming � knowing that you already know what the physical limitations are � and that you�re still � interested � even with all that." She couldn�t look at Helena as she finished, suddenly feeling shy at the mere idea that this passionate, vibrant, active woman had the slightest interest in being with her.

She felt insistent fingers under her chin and her head was coaxed up until she had to meet Helena�s eyes. The affection in the brunette�s voice amazed her. "You have no idea just how sexy and appealing you are, do you? You look at the chair and figure that no one in their right mind would have any interest in you."

Soft lips dusted against hers and she felt like crying again � still overwhelmed by all the revelations of the evening. "Well, I�m here to tell you that I�d have to be crazy to not be attracted to you. You�re smart � funny � and loyal as they come. And believe it or not, Barbara, you are one of the most attractive women I�ve ever laid eyes on. So there are things you can�t do and parts of your body you can�t feel. We�ll find a way around that. It doesn�t change the fact that I want to be with you. Making love is a lot more than just penetration and oral sex � it�s about two people loving each other � and there are a lot more erogenous zones that just the obvious ones."

It was probably one of the longest speeches she�d ever heard Helena make, and it touched her so deeply she almost couldn�t find words to respond. She settled for kissing the other woman, hoping that some of her feelings would translate themselves through the touch. "Do you have any idea how incredible you are, Helena?"

By way of response, she got a brilliant smile and then she felt Helena pull her closer as their lips met once more. She leaned into the kiss and closed her eyes, amazed at how her blood was burning with arousal. She could even � faintly � feel an occasional flicker of life between her legs. It was wonderful. Reaching up, she cupped the back of the brunette�s neck with her hand, pulling her closer. She opened her mouth, gasping slightly as Helena deepened the kiss with her tongue.

Oh God, it felt so good to be kissed with such passion. She�d almost forgotten what it was like. She let both her hands come up to the back of her lover�s neck, fingers sliding through thick brown locks of hair, concentrating on the feel of her mouth meshed warmly with the other woman�s. A sudden shiver worked down her skin, and it didn�t take her long to realize her shirt and bra had been abruptly ripped off and Helena�s hands were busy stroking and exploring the newly bared skin. She shuddered in pleasure and then moaned softly as the woman�s lips left hers and went straight to her exposed breasts. Her hands were still buried in Helena�s hair, and she kept them there, wanting � needing � her lover�s mouth on her skin.

And then she heard the faintest of chuckles vibrating against her skin. "God, Barbara, I�m sorry � I didn�t even realize I�d torn your clothes off. The things you do to me �"

She couldn�t help but laugh softly. "So you ripped my shirt. You�ll buy me another one." Tugging gently, she brought Helena�s head back up to her own and kissed her soundly, her tongue tracing the woman�s lips. She pulled back, gasping for breath, seeing that her lover was as breathless as she was. Leaning closer she whispered, "You can rip off all the rest of my clothes if you want � just don�t stop."

Within seconds, she found herself on her back, the younger woman hovering over her. She shivered with arousal as soft lips traced their way down the line of her throat, then made their way back to the breasts they�d abandoned. A sharp surge of pleasure rushed through her as she felt Helena�s mouth close on her nipple. With a cry of delight, she gave herself over to the sensation, losing herself in her lover�s touch. Amazing � it was absolutely amazing how lips and tongue could work such magic on her body.

The warm heat of Helena�s mouth made her heart race and the wet trails the brunette was mapping with her tongue made her gasp. Then she felt a hard surge of desire wash over her as sharp teeth bit down on her nipple. Oh God, that felt so good � so intense � anchoring her in the here and now. It had been so long since she�d been able to turn off her brain while making love, but Helena�s ministrations were definitely causing her mental processes to shut down. She couldn�t think anymore, just feel, as a rough tongue washed over the small hurt, easing the pain, before sharp teeth once again bit down, harder this time.

In the space of that single moment, Barbara Gordon�s entire world narrowed and focused in on one thing and one thing only � Helena Kyle.

The end.

Sorry � this is about as explicit as I get.

Return to Summary Page

 

You Are On
The Pink Rabbit Consortium
(click the above link to break out of frames)
Send Comments or Questions to Pink Rabbit Productions
pinkrabbit@altfic.com

| Home | Subtext Zone Art Gallery | Subtext LinksWhat's New |
 | Xena Fanfic Archive | Buffy Fanfic Archive | In Process |