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Title: The Thin Line
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions
Feedback: Yes, please at pinkrabbit@altfic.com
Archive: The Pink Rabbit Consortium (www.altfic.com)
Disclaimers: Lesseee, it belongs to others, there's an inference of all girl sexual shenanigans, it's probably way too angsty, and this message will self destruct in 35 seconds.
Pairing: Helena/Barbara
Special Thanks: To the most caffeinated and cheerful of minions around for all the beta reading efforts.
Spoilers: Lady Shiva -- it would probably help if you've seen the ep. Not sure it will make sense otherwise.

The Thin Line

Sometimes almost I hate her. Batgirl, I mean. Which probably sounds totally insane, given that I love Barbara Gordon, also known as Oracle, once known as.... Yes, you guessed ... Batgirl.

I'm sighing here. It's demented, and I know it's demented to love someone so much, and yet resent a part of them so deeply that it's damn near hatred.

God, I'm so fucked up. She's so fucked up. The whole situation's so fucked up.

It's just that I never knew Batgirl, only Barbara. And the sad truth of the matter is that Barbara Gordon, the most brilliant, gorgeous, wonderful person who could ever be is also trapped in a fucking wheelchair -- which I hate with a passion. And why is she in that chair? Yes, you guessed it again.... Batgirl.

Y'see, she got shot by a green haired, white faced psychopath who calls himself the Joker. The bullet shattered her spine and put her in that chair, and he didn't do it because she was once an Olympic level gymnast, or because she could hack her way through the pentagon without cracking a sweat. No, he shot her because she put on the goddamned costume and stood up to him in the most determined, insane way imaginable. Didn't even have any superpowers backing her up, just training and sheer ballsiness. The bastard shot her and carefully did in such a way to ensure that if she survived, she'd wind up in that chair. Then he took pictures of her like that and splattered them all over the place just to make sure everyone knew how thoroughly he had her in his power. That's how sick he was. That's the game he played with her. That's the darkness that costume brought on. And despite that fact, despite that level of sheer horror, I still catch her staring at it sometimes ... remembering other times, longing to go back to who and what she was before.

Is that nuts or what?

So I've gotta admit -- even though it kills me -- that I've got some mixed emotions over seeing her walking -- walking -- the ultimate fantasy for both of us.

But in that damn costume.

That's what she fought and risked everything to walk for, not me, but to put that damn costume back on and go toe to toe with some old enemy. No matter how much time passes, it's still there, still a part of her, and I know in my heart that if she got her legs back tomorrow, she'd be back in it within the week -- hell, probably within the day, maybe within the hour. Any claims to the contrary are absolute and total utter bullshit. She might be a different Batgirl today, but damned if she wouldn't be some kind of Batgirl. She's got black leather and neoprene in her soul. Truthfully, I find that a real turn on in some instances, but when it comes to her willingness -- bordering on desire -- to get herself killed, it's a real pain in the ass. She's a damn junkie for the high. Oracle is just the closest she can get right now, but if she could get the real thing, the needle would be right back in her vein.

And that terrifies me. Absolutely, fucking terrifies me because it's times like this that I begin to suspect that I'm the normal one in this relationship ... maybe even the mentally healthy one. And if that's not enough to scare a person, then not much is. Even with everything she's been through, she'd do it all again while there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to move to a ranch in Wyoming that's about a thousand miles from any human life other than Barbara. I suppose Dinah could come visit now and then, but I think that would be the limit of my human interaction. I like the idea of just the two of us, something vaguely normal in an antisocial kind of way, lovemaking that isn't interrupted by the Delphi alarm, and discussions that don't involve details about autopsies that I could really do without.

She, however, would hate that kind of life. Let's face facts, she's driven in a way I'm not ... maybe never can be. Sometimes I'm afraid I'm just doing it for her, playing at being a superhero because it's the closest she can come to it now. It's easy for me, and it's not like I have any other plans. I mean, I mix a mean margarita, but if you're looking for goals that stretch past next week, it's not really my thing. I'm more of a take life as it comes girl. Which I suppose is the only way I've managed to deal with the quicksilver way she changes from lover to partner to mentor to friend, at random intervals and at what often feels like random times. I never quite know which one she'll be at any given time, and she can turn on a dime from one to the next if I start getting too close.

And while I'm bitching, can I just add that I may be the more socially adept of the two of us, and that really scares me. I mean, when I have a problem, I do this little thing called talking about it. It's a weird concept, I know, and I fully admit that in my case, stomping, cursing, black humored jokes, extreme sarcasm, and the occasional insult are also a part of the process, but dammit, there's communication. What does she do? Goes off, builds some spinal thingie, and winds up in a fight she doesn't have a prayer of winning ... RATHER THAN ASK FOR MY GODDAMNED HELP!!

Argh. I can't believe she did that. Risked her life, risked her health, risked driving me absolutely bat-shit. Apropos, I suppose, given the identity of my father. But still. And worst of all, she risked leaving me alone for the rest of my unnatural life because, any silly flirtation aside, I don't want anyone else.

God, I could cheerfully throttle her for that, absolutely beat her within an inch of her life, then strip her clothes off and make love until she can't see straight and promises never to take another goddamned risk with her life, unless she wants me to tie her to the bed and never let her go. Which part of me can't help but think is a workable alternative if she won't stop taking dumb risks. God, how can she take chances like that with her life when I love her so much -- need her -- so much? It just pisses me off no end.

Which is why I'm sitting out her on a ledge, talking to myself and not in there making love to her. Me pissed off and making love is not a good thing. I've left bruises before, and hated myself for it. She brushed it off, of course. Just acted as though it didn't matter. She's tough that way, but she's also fragile, something she wouldn't admit at the point of a gun. Like it or not, the Joker's bullets did a lot of damage. She's as healed as she's likely to get by now, but she's vulnerable to certain injuries. She has to be careful to make sure to treat anything that happens in the areas she can't feel because that can get dangerous without normal pain signals to drive a body to take care.

Which, I suppose leads me to my other reason for hating Batgirl. This would be the guilt-ridden, I-can't-believe-I'm-such-a-shit-as-to-feel-this-way reason. The one I'd never admit to her because I know it would hurt her, but which she knows perfectly well is there even if she doesn't admit it either (I mentioned we're both fucked up, right?). Sometimes I want the woman she was ... not Batgirl, but the Barbara that would work the uneven bars like a goddess; the intensely physical woman with black belts in judo and karate ... who could probably come close to kicking my ass and making me beg for mercy, and could definitely pin me down long enough to make me beg for mercy for a whole different list of reasons. I want a woman with a whole body and a wild physicality that can match the feral side of me stroke for stroke. And it's a kind of torment to know that she has been that woman, and it was taken away from both of us.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but sometimes it scares me to think that maybe I can't take the pressures of loving someone with the limitations she has. And when I think about that, I feel like a total shit, and then I resent Batgirl even more because it feels like she's the one who got us here.

Stupid, huh?

Sometimes I don't see how we have a prayer of making it. Other times, I can't even begin to contemplate being with anyone else; like when I come in late and hurting. And not just physically. You see things when you do this that no one should have to see ... which makes a body feel things no one should have to feel. She'll hold me, wash away the blood, kiss the bruises, then just sit and watch me, standing guard while I sleep. At those times I feel the safest I've felt since I was a small child.

Which, I suppose, is one of the reasons that it hurts so much when she won't share things with me when I share everything with her -- though at times, I'll admit it's not so much a choice as the physical reality of wearing a microphone all the time. But the point is I trust her completely, and right now it feels like that's a very one way street.

Which leads us right back to you know who, her leather clad, secret identity, mask wearing, alternative self, and the fact that even though she's not Batgirl anymore, there's a part of her that's still wearing the mask even when I can't see it.

Me? I'd a lot rather just kick ass as myself and be done with it, but she's big on the secrecy thing. Not just when it comes to the outside world, but with me too. She lets me in so far and no farther. I can work with her, trust her, touch her heart, and stroke her body, but there's a part of her she holds back, keeps to herself and either can't or won't share.

It's the part that drove her into that costume and into the night, and I resent like hell that I'm not a part of it, and she won't share it. That only scares me more because sometimes I find myself wondering if there's something awful in there that she can't or won't tell me. I'm afraid someone or something hurt her so badly that she'll never be able to completely trust, that something left her shredded and bleeding inside. Just the thought makes me hurt for her and want to destroy that thing and play the knight in shining armor. I want to carry her off and protect from every evil in the world, even though I know that's the one thing absolutely guaranteed to piss her off. The only thing she hates more than being protected is the idea that maybe she needs protecting. Goddamned independent streak a mile wide. I'm sitting here with superpowers and I don't mind admitting I need her help. There've been dozens of times that I'd have wound up as nothing more than a greasy spot on the pavement without her. Meanwhile, she's stuck in a wheelchair and would rather wind up dead than admit she could use some of help now and then. And it's certainly not going to make her back down from any fight. She wants this game we play, fighting the good fight, or however she thinks of it ... even if it ultimately takes her away from me.

The truth is I'm jealous. She's willing to risk everything for a black garbed chimera that's no more real than the virtual games she plays on the computer, and she won't even risk telling me the truth. How's that supposed to make me feel?

Which is probably why it feels like Batgirl's my enemy, stealing her away from me, drawing her back into that web of secrets and lies that I'm not a part of. She's my competition, seducing Barbara in ways I can't, reaching inside her head and understanding her in ways she won't let me. Hell, I don't know. I just know she's a goddamned pain in the ass, and sometimes it feels like she's laughing at my frustration at being left in the dark. I don't even like looking at that stupid costume. It always feels like it's grinning at me, enjoying its little triumph.

Or maybe I've just lost it, finally been driven utterly and completely mad.

No laughing matter. With my family history, it's a definite possibility.

Then again, I've read that if you can still question your sanity, you're probably not crazy, so I think I'm in the clear. I question my sanity on an hourly basis. Though, in the interests of maintaining that hint of mental stability I wonder if I should pump Alfred for more information. He's weird about things like that; all butlerlike and discrete one moment, then spilling whatever secrets he deems have no business remaining secret the next. I think he thinks we're all pretty much morons who'd fall, like lemmings into the sea, without his benign leadership. All things considered, he may be right. God knows, if not for his decision to tell me about Lady Shiva, I'd already have lost her. She'd be nothing more than splotch on the bottom of my old friend's shoe, and I'd be at the funeral, not even knowing why. Dear God, I don't think I could survive that.

Which is probably why it scares me to death that I'm wondering if maybe subconsciously that's what she wanted. She plays sweet and normal so well, but I know enough to realize that it's just a mask, every bit as carefully constructed as the cowl she once wore. She hides herself so well, but sometimes I catch a glimpse of it in her eyes, a kind of hellish death wish. Once upon a time, I thought it was the chair -- being trapped in it -- but I don't think so anymore. In fact, I'm not sure it has much to do with the chair at all. I've come to believe it predates the shooting and helped drive her into that costume. God knows, if you wanted to wind up dead, putting that thing on and going to toe to toe with the people she's faced is one way to get yourself killed while maintaining an air of plausible deniability that you don't have a death wish.

A death wish. Now there's a phrase like a goddamned knife to the gut. I don't even know for certain that's the case. It's just that I don't know it's not, and she won't let me in to find out.

Dammit, I hate that. Being locked out of her life. I should've known about the whole mess with Lady Shiva. She should have told me about something that hurt her that much. At the very least, she should have told me she was the target so I could help her. Instead she hid it, then had the fucking audacity to be mad when I showed up in time to save her life. Ain't that a kicker? Part of me wanted to haul off and hit her during that angry, silent drive back to the clocktower. How dare she do that. How dare she risk so much.

She should have told me. I shouldn't have had to hear about it from Alfred. Just like a lot of other things I shouldn't have to hear from Alfred, but if that's the only way I can hear them, I'll take what I can get. The problem is he only gives me so much before he tells me that the rest is for her to tell me when she's ready. But of course, she won't tell, and I'm too much of a coward to ask, so we sit at an unacknowledged impasse.

We actually sit at quite a number of those, probably more than I even know about given the revelations of the last few hours.

God, I think she's trying to drive me nuts.

No, that's not fair. She's not trying, she just is. She doesn't mean to, and I think she probably hates it as much as I do.

I suppose I should ask myself why I'm in this relationship given my current mood, but I know that even though I'm angry right now, this isn't the way it usually is. There's also the part of her that's incredibly giving. She knows my moods and knows what to say when the world threatens to close in on me, has held me by the hour when the memories of my mother's death were just too much to bear. She never fights back when I can't help but rake a man she worships over the coals. And, when it comes to the physical part of our relationship, she's the most open and sharing lover I've ever had, giving herself completely and focusing on my pleasure with an intensity I've never encountered in anyone else.

Maybe that's part of the problem. I don't see how she can trust me so implicitly to care for her body and not her heart. Doesn't she know I'd die before abuse that? I'm not saying there'd never be a fight, or that I'd never screw up, but I'm not a total moron. I know there are things too painful to use that way. Amazingly enough she's never been physically afraid of me. I wish I could make her see that she doesn't have to be afraid of me emotionally either, that hurting her is literally the last thing I ever want to do.

And now she's here. Well, not here, but down there. I don't have to look to know it's her, I just know. Just like I always know, the faint prickling of hair on my neck a surefire signal. I don't know exactly what I'm reacting to, a faint scent that my subconscious mind recognizes, a small sound that triggers a sense of familiarity, or something else entirely. I really don't know. I just know that it's wholly reliable. I always know when she's near. Ironically enough, despite everything, her presence helps calm some of the anger; just as it always has, even when the anger is directed at her. She's the music to soothe my savage beast, and I'll do whatever's necessary to keep her, whether it means fighting Lady Shiva, Batgirl, or Barbara herself.

It's nothing new. I've fought for her from the beginning, always wanting past the walls she builds around herself in a never-ending construction project. Just about the time I get one down, she manages to get three more up in its place. But the thing is she's worth the effort because when she lets me in it's the most amazing feeling in the world. Looking in her eyes and seeing through to her soul makes me feel like nothing in my life before or since ever has. God, I love her. I spent two years contemplating the best way to seduce her. And by that, I mean seriously contemplating, not just fantasizing, because I'd already had several years of that. But it wasn't until she was in my arms, all soft and loving, that I realized that two years was a small price to pay for that kind of pleasure. Hell, a hundred years is a small price. It was that good, that complete. I'd been in love with her what seemed like forever, but I was no virgin. I didn't expect it to be that different from everything that had gone before, but it was. It was a world away, and I haven't been the same since. I'm hers at every level. She has my body, my heart, my soul. Anything she wants of me is hers.

Which is why it's so frustrating when I feel locked out. I know what it can be between us. And unless she's an Oscar level actress, so does she, because I've seen her so lost in our lovemaking that she probably wouldn't have known her own name if asked, seen her moan and beg, felt her hands on my skin and in my hair, her mouth brushing caresses or tasting my own. In those times, she's completely and totally mine ... just like I'm hers. There is no Batgirl, no Oracle, no Huntress, just Barbara and Helena ... lovers entwined and lost in sensation and each other.

In those times, she's completely open to me. Sometimes I think that's the only time her eyes really become windows with no shutters.

I need that. Need her that way. Just the thought of it makes the heat start to build.

I don't need to look down and meet her gaze to know she's watching me or that she knows I'm angry. She knows me well enough to know how I'm feeling. Just like I know her well enough to realize that, despite our earlier discussion where she said she doesn't miss being Batgirl, she's been in there, visiting her.

Her alter ego and my competition. The woman I fear I'll lose her to one day when she can't resist the mask and gets herself in too deep. By rights, she should be the one afraid of attending my funeral -- and most likely she is -- but I've already seen her come so close once before, seen her stretched out, her body drenched in blood, tubes and wires stuck to every available patch of flesh, her life changed forever. I don't know that I'll survive if I lose her. I barely survived my mother's death. I'm not sure I can take that kind of pain again.

I guess, that's the final reason I hate Batgirl. I'm afraid of her. She has the power to take away the one thing I love above all else, and in so doing, the power to destroy me.

That's the black leather lover she's been longing for.

I hold off going to her as that revelation washes over me. This isn't the time for a confrontation. Not until I can find that bit of peace that's buried deep inside me. Otherwise, I'm afraid of hurting her ... not physically, but emotionally. I'm too raw right now. I need that sense of calm she seems to be able to bring out in me. I wonder if she knows it's largely there because of her ... that she gives me peace, and I just wish I could do the same for her.

Which is maybe the real source of my anger. I'm afraid I can't do for her what she does for me, that maybe she doesn't feel for me what I do for her, because I don't think I could keep myself back the way she does. Even now, I know I won't be able to stay away for long, probably not as long as I should. I never could before. I doubt I'll be able to start now.

Title: Love and Crime
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions
Feedback: Yes, please at pinkrabbit@altfic.com
Archive: The Pink Rabbit Consortium (www.altfic.com)
Disclaimers: Lesseee, it belongs to others, there's an inference of all girl sexual shenanigans, it's probably way too angsty, and this message will self destruct in 35 seconds.
Pairing: Helena/Barbara
Special Thanks: To the most caffeinated and cheerful of minions around for all the beta reading efforts.
Spoilers: Lady Shiva -- it would probably help if you've seen the ep. Not sure it will make sense otherwise.

Love and Crime

I can feel her anger even where she's perched way up on the very top of the clocktower. It radiates out of every pore and it's my fault. I know that, though to be honest, I can't claim to have come to that realization on my own. Alfred's looks say it all, and he's got a very eloquent stare. That he considers me to be an idiot isn't in question. He's thought that for years, I think, so I suppose I should be used to it by now. And who knows, maybe he's right.

Oh hell, who am I kidding? He's definitely right. She loves me. I know that, just like I know that she'd have cheerfully kicked Shiva's ass on my behalf.

Which was probably one of the reasons I couldn't let her do it. It was my mistake, not hers. I needed to be the one to deal with it. Only, I didn't do such a great job of that, now did I. Apologizing didn't do any good, and she was too fast for me when it came to a fight. Took me down two blows into it, and I couldn't do a thing to stop her.

Some superhero.

But then, when was the last time you saw a superhero in a wheelchair? Oh yeah, my dad would get a good laugh out of that one. No, not my dad ... my biological father ... big difference in my case. And why am I thinking about him now? Oh yeah, feeling like shit about myself. His voice has a bad tendency to pop up at times like this, complete with the drunken slur that mocks me, shreds my confidence, and leaves me feeling in need of a shower. It's been twenty years since I last heard his voice -- since he drove off and killed himself and my mother in a drunken binge -- and he's still a part of my mental landscape that pops up at random times. Sometimes I wish I could have been reborn that day so I could just forget everything that went before.

Fat chance of that. I used to lose myself in high flying gymnastics and body pummeling street fights. Now it's hacking, cracking, and tweaking. But a wild bout of typing isn't quite the same thing as beating the bad guys into submission.

Alfred said I used to be impetuous. No, I used to be crazy ... still am if I'm honest, it's just a redirected kind of insanity.

And sometimes I'm afraid I've drawn Helena into it -- made her my proxy because of my own needs and that handing an impressionable sixteen year old with superpowers over to a obsessed woman in a wheelchair with a calling to fight crime was not necessarily the wisest decision social services ever made. Except nobody else could handle her, and she wouldn't go with them anyway. The way she ran away when they tried to put her into foster care was proof enough that that plan wasn't going to work. I still remember when the nurse came to tell me there was a young woman asleep on the couch, and she had no idea how she'd gotten in. Fifty stories up, and she came in the window ... then never left.

So, now she's mine, and I should probably be horsewhipped for allowing her into my bed, but I'm human enough that at some point, I couldn't resist no matter what my better nature said. I played the adult as long as I could, even managed to hold off until she was twenty-one, convinced that her obvious crush would finally dissipate and drain away, even though I knew that when it did I would be the one to suffer. The thing is, I've been in love with her since very early in the game. Oh, not from the first when she was just another student -- smart, funny, and well on the way to being a truly exotic beauty -- but one of a dozen kids I was fond of. I still had distance then, the automatic wall a teacher needs when dealing with eager young hormones with feet. They often stare worshipfully and would cheerfully -- even gratefully -- offer themselves up as sexual sacrifices for any crushworthy adult unethical enough to take advantage. The sleazier types take the bait. I always kept the wall in place. Then, after the shooting, love was the last thing on my mind. It was an impossibility, something that I didn't think would be a part of my life ever again. After all, I couldn't imagine sex being a component of my future, and I couldn't imagine love without sex. I became rather resolved to spending my life as a female eunuch, and that was that.

Except she wormed her way into my heart. Lied, cheated, charmed, conned, and wouldn't let me have a moment's rest. She drove me insane. Laughing and lighthearted one moment, raging and half mad with grief the next. Needing me, wanting me, holding on, then pushing back, finding ways past my walls, and forcing me to find ways past hers. She was so totally and completely alive that she wouldn't let me feel dead ... certainly wouldn't let me give up. She taunted and teased, pulled me out of my self imposed shell, and made me love her even though I knew logically it was so damn wrong it hurt. I spent nearly five years feeling like the biggest pervert who ever lived, lusting after a teenager I was responsible for. She had me wrapped around her little finger and she knew it. Then on her twenty-first birthday, she used it. I never had a chance. She flirted and teased, whispered joking suggestions in my ear until I was wound tighter than a spring. And when her lips touched mine, I didn't have it in me to pull back any longer. I still remember the texture of her hair as I dug my fingers into it and clung so hard it had to hurt, the taste of the aroused sounds she made as our mouths mated in a hurried dance, the words she whispered in my ear to arouse and excite.

God, she knows how to say things; things that would sound obscene coming from anyone else, but whispered in that husky drawl she uses when inflamed, they become achingly, piercingly erotic. She knows what they do to me even though I often try to hide it, a little appalled by the some of the things she's found that arouse my fantasies, and she delights in finding new things to say, new ways to use nothing more than suggestive words to bring me to heel. My mind is as much her playground as my body, and she loves to toy with it by the hour, searching out and finding the scenarios that arouse, innately understanding the break point for me has become my mind more than my body. There is sensation below the injury in my back, but there's no denying that it's not what it once was -- not one tenth of what it once was. It would be easy to lose myself mourning that loss, but she won't let me. Instead, she turns her love and creativity to finding ways around the barrier of dead nerve endings, playing my mind to excite, then searching my body for every flick of sensation that remains. Somehow, she finds ways to make me whimper and beg, to find and draw out all the ways to trigger pleasure every bit as intense -- more intense if I'm honest -- than anything I ever felt before the shooting. I don't know how she does it, just that she does. Sometimes I feel like a surfer caught in a tsunami, just riding the wave and praying it never ends, even though a part of me is terrified that I'm nowhere near good enough to stay afloat on that kind of power.

She has the power to break me. I'm not sure she knows it, but it's hers all the same.

I'm not talking about physical power. Obviously, she could take me and leave me in little pieces anytime she wanted. I've never been afraid of that. I know she'd die before hurting me physically. She's an enormously thoughtful lover, more careful than she needs to be, though I know it haunts her that once or twice there've been minor bruises. It's not a big thing. Hell, I've gotten worse getting in and out of the shower.

No, she could break me emotionally, leave me slashed and bleeding in her wake, destroy me in a way my father never could despite his best efforts.

I sometimes wonder if she has any idea how much trust it takes for me to open up to someone like her. With that fierce charisma and easy charm, she could literally have anyone she wants. I know that, and sometimes I fear it's going to occur to her one day that she wants more than half measures.

Wants more than me.

Now, there's a thought that has all the charm of having my fingernails plucked out one by one.

But the truth of the matter is that I'm scared to death that she's going to wake up one day and need more than I can ever hope to give. And not just physically either -- though, god knows, that's a huge part of it -- but mentally and emotionally. I know she hates the walls and secrets that I can't seem to give up, resents my past, and can't understand why I'm not as open as she is -- at least with me. She's already wormed her way into my soul, but, predator that she is, she wants more; wants every bit of my life and history, every thought, emotion, and fantasy I've ever had. She doesn't understand how truly terrifying it is for me to contemplate being such an open book with anyone, even her. I don't know why it is that I can trust her so completely with my body, but there are limitations when it comes to my heart and mind.

Maybe it's because I learned young to always keep the important things back, never give the enemy any weapons that might be used against me ... whether the enemy was my biological father or some thug on a late night street.

And how can it be that a part of me thinks of the woman I love more than my own life as my enemy?

I think it's that whole power to break me thing. I know she'd never do it willingly, but she's human and subject to so many passions. I can't help but wonder how long she can tolerate a woman who can't offer the things she wants and needs. Maybe a part of me thinks that I can save myself by holding something back, that some small part of my soul will survive if she decides to go on her way and leave me behind.

Except by holding things back, I know I'm hastening my own destruction because the walls are the surest way to drive her away from me. The problem is, I don't know how to do anything else. I try to let the barriers go, but when pressured, I can't. At some level, I wanted to tell her about Shiva, let go of some of the awful shame. I knew she'd offer understanding and forgiveness ... just like she ultimately did. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't put her in danger because of my mistakes. More than that, I didn't want her to know I'd made such a horrific error in judgment. I didn't want her to see my mistakes, and, God help me, there's still some part of me that's afraid of having such things used against me the way my father gloried in doing. Logically, I know she wouldn't do. Instinct is another matter though.

Oh Bruce, you chose your prot�g� well. Sad to say, but I'm just as twisted and screwed up as you are. Maybe we should have run away together and left Alfred to raise her since I think he may be the only mentally healthy person in this entire town.

I know the moment she lands behind me though there's no sound. She can be noisy and plodding when she wants, but it takes effort. Her default is total silence. It's what she falls back on when she's feeling at all threatened or at risk. Which she undoubtedly does. Which is my fault if I'm honest about it. I know her issues with trust and honesty, and I've probably screwed myself all to hell and gone where she's concerned. "I'm sorry," the words are out of my mouth in an instant, the apology sincere. God, I hope she knows that I mean it, and I'm not just mouthing meaningless platitudes. "I love you," the whispered words escape my lips like some all-purpose panacea, and I can't help but wonder at the panic coiling tight in the pit of my stomach, wondering if this will finally be the thing that pushes her away forever. The hand that slides over my hair -- her touch impossibly gentle -- chases away some of the fear.

"Barbara," that smoky, smooth voice wraps around me, "look at me."

I can't resist that warm, husky note of command and before I can think better of it, I'm bringing the chair around, peering up at her, probably looking as scared as I feel judging by the oddly sympathetic expression that touches gamine features. God, she's beautiful. So angelic to look at, but with a dark streak and wildness I never could resist. "I love you," she whispers, her voice silky and sexy enough to relieve some of the terror. Nobody could use that tone of voice when they mean to send someone packing. A faint pursing of her lips and a ripple of tension along the line of her jaw signals that's not all there is to the matter. "Not to say I'm not mad as hell about what happened, but it doesn't change anything." Then her lips are on mine, warm and demanding, and she's lifting me into her arms, smiling ever so slightly when I allow the gesture. I don't always. Months spent in the hospital being handled like a sack of potatoes with little say over anything have left their scars. She's the only one to whom I grant this particular right, and she knows full well how much I hate it when anyone else does it. She's seen me lose my temper and forbid it enough times. I can only hope she understands that it's an expression of how much I trust her, even though it probably doesn't feel that way sometimes.

When our lips part we're in my bedroom, and I hear myself apologizing again, saying the words I probably should have said earlier, and she sighs very softly, then kisses my forehead.

"God, we're a messed up pair."

"A little." My muttered comment draws a soft laugh, and then she's hurrying along, needing to take charge the way she does when she's been blocked out of something, whispering in my ear about all the things she wants to do to me ... wicked, faintly depraved, incredibly erotic things. Suddenly I'm hers all over again, and when she traps me in my own shirt as she peels it off over my head, my arms pinned, loosely blindfolded by the soft fabric, I feel my pulse kick into high gear. "Helena?" Dear Lord, is that strangled croak my voice? Judging by the vibration of my vocal cords, the answer's yes. Her lips brush mine, tasting, teasing, but when I try to push my shirt off, she refuses to allow me, holding my arms trapped above my head and continuing the silky kisses, even as she leans closer, our bodies brushing, the inflicted blindness forcing me to concentrate on the warmth and heat of bare flesh as it presses against me. At first, I pull lightly at those restraining hands, enjoying the gentle battle, and, God help me, enjoying the way she can control my resistance.

"Talk to me," she whispers very softly, then tastes my mouth again.

Oh shit. So that's to be the price of my transgression. Suddenly, my struggle isn't so gentle. Not that it makes a difference to her. She's strong enough to easily overcome my efforts and push me back onto the bed, holding my arms in place as she straddles my hips and comes down over me. I don't want this, and she knows it. The physical push and pull and the blindfold aren't a problem. I'm not frightened of what she might do. But the talking thing. No, that's not really what I'm eager to share.

"Don't you trust me?" she whispers, her breath hot on my neck.

It's tempting to lose all control and start fighting her wildly. There's little burst of panic in the pit of my stomach and I'm right on the edge. Except I know her. It will only trigger the hunter and make her that much more determined to get what she wants. "Dammit, I do trust you." Better to retain some semblance of control, and appeal to her logically. "Do you think I'd be here like this with someone I didn't trust." Honestly... okay, so I don't tell her everything, but I do trust her. I'm lying here naked, all but playing tie-me-up-tie-me-down games with a woman who hasn't yet figured out that there are several more stages of grief after anger, is probably fairly pissed off at me, and who could break me into small, bite-sized pieces for sport. I really don't think that trust is a major problem. There are parts of me I'm not comfortable sharing, but that's not trust.

She's officially not convinced, which I have to confess to finding somewhat irksome. "I think..." she says very cautiously, drawing the words out, "that there are a lot of kinds of trust."

"I trust you--"

"With your body." As if to punctuate that softly spoken declaration, she slides a hand down, stroking my arms and shoulder, then sliding on down to gently cup one breast, her touch leaving my skin so sensitized it's like I can feel the very whorls of her fingerprints. "But I want more." Of course she does. It's her nature to always want more. "Let me in ... tell me why."

God, doesn't she know she's farther inside my head and heart than anyone else has ever been? "Helena," I hear my voice break into pleading, the same note most children get when they don't want to face the dentist or a particularly uncomfortable doctor's visit. God, I don't want to do this. "Please ... believe me ... I trust you." Dammit, why can't she just accept the truth and leave it alone?

"Then do this for me ... let me in just a little." Her breasts are soft and warm as they press against mine, seducing me, driving me to give her anything she wants. I've never been able to resist her when she's like this even though I've always tried. Sometimes I'm not even sure why I make the effort when I know I'm going to lose, but it's part of who I am, and I can't change now.

"Please...."

I know what she wants -- to get inside my head in a way I don't even allow myself -- and the thought makes my stomach clench in horror. "I love you." Despite the words, I can't seem to contain the need to fight, and I jerk at the hands pinning me down, but she doesn't let go.

"I know," she kisses me again, soothing away some of the awful fear even as she tenderly restrains my struggles, careful not to press to hard. "And I love you. That's why I want to understand ... just a little."

Her voice is pleading, her touch impossibly gentle, the begging note giving me some of the strength despite our position, and suddenly, the makeshift blindfold becomes like my old cowl, a protection from the world. I'm more comfortable with masks than without. Even my normal face is a mask, a shielded expression that gives away nothing, but is all practiced surface emotion. As if reading that thought, she pulls it up, keeping my arms trapped, but baring my face, not even giving me that much of an escape.

"Talk to me." It's more a command than a request. "Tell me why you need her so much."

I have to block her out for a moment and center myself to have any hope of continuing. "Let go," I whisper, my voice becoming ultra calm -- too calm -- while I stop struggling, denying her any response, well aware of the way struggle excites her ... excites us both.

Her hands remain firm, her eyes intense. "No," she refuses, frustration making her voice rise. She hates it when I do this -- go cold on her. I can see the temptation to shake me just to get a response in her eyes. "Dammit, I just want to understand." She searches my face, hunting for something, or maybe just trying to see past the barriers. "Don't you know I'd never hurt you?"

I can see the hurt in her eyes. It breaks my heart with guilt because I know I put it there, and suddenly I can't maintain the icy wall I put between us. "I know that," I whisper, hating the lack of control that has my chin trembling gently, but needing her to understand that I trust her beyond anything and anyone. "God, how I know that."

"Then tell me," she's pleading now, and that only intensifies my guilt.

"I can't." It's like all the oxygen is suddenly missing from the air I'm dragging into my lungs. "I'm not sure I even know." It's frightening, but true. Some days I don't really know where the obsession comes from. I just know it's there.

Her teeth grit, muscles compressing in rolling tension along the line of her jaw. "Then just one thing," she whispers at last.

"What?" Dammit, I don't want this, and she has to know that.

"Did you want Shiva to kill you?"

No simple answer to that one because the knee jerk, 'of course not', I'm tempted to offer isn't quite the whole truth. I mean, no I'm not consciously suicidal, never have been, not as Batgirl and not even during the worst days after the shooting, at least not in any obvious way. But sometimes even I wonder at my own willingness to play games with my life. It's so tempting to lie and make it simple, and she reads that desire before I can give way to it, her voice soft in that way she has of making things both a plea and an order.

"The truth ... not just what you think I want to hear."

"Consciously?" I whisper at last, then answer my own question, "No." Realizing that isn't all there is to it, she simply waits while I sort out my thoughts. "Subconsciously ... I don't know." Which is the honest truth. I know she thinks I won't let her in, but what she's never really understood is that most of the time I don't even let myself in. My mind is a twisted, frightening place, and it's always been easier to keep busy than look too closely at my own life and memories.

The confusion that twists her expression is perversely fascinating. For all of her darkness and pain, she's an open book -- or maybe an open wound -- and it would never occur to her to hide from herself and her own thoughts the way I do. It's times like this that it strikes me how ironic it is that her mother was Catwoman, one of the most notorious criminal masterminds to ever walk the streets of Gotham City, and she's the one who had by far the more normal, and healthier upbringing, at least during those early formative years the studies all tell us are so important. "Why?" she asks without bothering to specify whether she's asking why I do the things I do, or why I don't know why.

"It's who I am ... who I've always been," I answer at last, well aware that I'm not giving her what she wants, except I'm not sure I have an answer for the question. It would be so easy to lay it all at my father's feet, but he died when I was twelve and, Jim Gordon, my dad -- my real dad as far as my emotions are concerned -- was the best parent anyone could ever hope to have. And realistically, if everyone who had an abusive drunk for a parent did the things I've done, my investments in the neoprene industry would pay off a whole lot better than they have, while cows would probably be on the endangered species list for all the leather that would be needed.

The truth of the matter is that I fear I'd be pretty much the same person no matter what my childhood was, and that's not an easy thing to admit.

"You can take that or leave it..." I offer after a long beat, my tone fatalistic, accepting that my inability to give her the answers she wants may be the end of us, but unable to change just because she demands it. It's her choice now. I've always said I'd never hold her past the point she wanted to leave. I know her need for freedom and I never want her to feel trapped. It would probably kill me if she left -- or at least kill my soul -- but I'd never try to stop her. "Because I honestly don't have a better answer." Anger flames in her eyes at being denied, that dark, feral side of her making itself known, and I know what she's thinking, but she's wrong. "There are some really rotten things in my past," I suppose oblique confirmation of her suspicions is enough for the moment, "but I don't know that they're the reason. I honestly don't know."

I can feel those eyes watching me, studying me, and assessing my honesty, just like I can feel her fear. "Do you love me?" she whispers at last, and I find myself admiring her ability to cut to the real heart of the matter. In a startling burst of insight, I realize that, just like me, she's afraid of losing what we have.

"God, yes." I hate it when my voice cracks like that. Uncontrolled emotion has always made me feel dangerously vulnerable. I shouldn't mind being this way in front of her given that I love and trust her more than anyone in my life, but I don't know any other way to be. Sometimes I think I'm nothing but smoke and illusion, as virtual as the programs on the Delphi, but then she looks at me and I become flesh and blood again. Suddenly, whatever games we were playing aren't a part of the equation anymore, and I'm shaking loose of my shirt and her hold, which has suddenly become loose enough to allow me freedom, and pulling my arms down to wrap them around her. "I love you, Hel ... don't ever doubt that. You're one of the best things that's ever happened to me ... and I don't know what I'd do without you." Maybe it's not quite what she wanted, but I know I don't say the words nearly often enough, so maybe it's what she needs.

She hangs onto her resolve for a long moment, her expression unreadable, and then the mask cracks, and I feel the heat of damp tears as she buries her face in the curve of my neck. "Damn you." The anger and hurt trigger a wave of guilt that leaves me floundering and holding onto her desperately, my life raft in a perfect storm. "Don't you know I can't do this without you?" She wraps her arms around me, clinging tightly, holding on as though she'll never let go and I know she's referring to much more than simply fighting crime.

"I'm here ... and I'm sorry."

"Next time ... tell me," she pleads against my skin.

"I will," I assure her, hoping I'm not lying even as the words leave my mouth. I don't want to be lying, but I'm not sure I can do what she wants.

She pushes up on her elbows, watching me with that hawklike look, well aware that I'm not necessarily telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but just a grey shaded reality.

"I'll try anyway," I add, unable to stand up under that look. Which is actually probably a sign that she's wearing away at my defenses. A couple of years ago, I'd have lied my way through that question and thought nothing of it, wouldn't have even considered it lying.

A wry smile twists the lips that have bound themselves to my body so many times as though she gets the joke that this is actually an improvement on my part, then she sighs softly and leans down to taste my lips. "Are you ever going to trust me with your secrets?" she asks at last.

Her hair is impossibly soft against my fingers as I stroke it back from her forehead, our eyes locked and holding. "You have everything of me that I can give." Which is the honest truth. No one has ever gotten closer, dug deeper, or gotten farther past the walls I use to keep the world out.

"I know," Helena whispers after a moment, her voice low and soothing, but also confident, that innate arrogance of hers returning in full force. Then she kisses me softly, not letting me run away. "I just can't help but want everything ... even if it's too much for you." There's a quiet note of surrender in her voice as though she knows that she pushed it too hard tonight, just like I did with Shiva. Tit for tat, I suppose, but it's left us both bleeding. She sighs softly, her breath warm on my skin as she leans against me, her forehead tucked under my chin. "God, how I love you." Her lips press against the flesh within easy reach, beginning the healing process. "You know that, don't you?" she whispers, her voice sliding over into desperation.

Of course I do. Just like I know how hard I pushed her ... and she just pushed back. "I know ... and I do love you. Don't ever doubt that." I feel the faint shudder that slides through her, then the soft vibration of her affirmative mumble against my skin. Then those soft lips float along the line of my collarbone, patching me back together now that I'm torn asunder. She knows what I need, tastes my low growl and roughens her caresses. Hands move demandingly while lips press and teeth bite. For just a moment she pauses, suddenly uncertain, but my rough demand brings her back to the game. "Don't stop." Pushing up on her hands, she stares into my eyes for a long moment, seeing the pain and need. For reasons I don't even begin to understand it only drives me to open the throttle even further, putting away the mask that hides my expression and staring at her with open emotion. "I need you." I know I've screwed up, but I want her to understand that simple fact. I love her and need her as I have no one else in my life.

A moment of relief in those violet eyes of hers and then she's with me again, not stopping, taking me to heaven to escape hell.

Later, there will be time for words and I know I won't be able to leave the mask off for long.

But for now she's mine and I'm hers, and that's really all that matters.

End

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