Author's Disclaimer: Don't own them. And don't have any money worth suing for. Just taking them out for a spin.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and places are the property of the WB, Warner Brothers Television, Tollin/Robbins, and DC Comics. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. . This site is in no way affiliated with “The Birds of Prey,” the WB, or any representatives of Dina Meyer, Ashley Scott, or Rachel Skarsten. This site contains stories between two mature, consenting adult females.
Author’s Notes: This is an alt-universe -- because Wade isn't going to die. But he won't get the girl, either. And, Helena had trusted Dr. Quinzel enough to tell her Everything.
Dedication: As always, this is dedicated to my very dearest friend Quire. I do it all for you, Mulder.
“Yep. That’s him. The armored car attempts…seen him twice now.”
<And he’s gotten away twice? Losing your touch, kid?>
Helena snorted at this. “Beg your pardon? Dinah’s the kid. And let me tell you about my touch. Both times he ran away while I was busy touching about five or six other motherfuckers right into jail.” Helena could hear the smile in Barbara’s voice when she replied.
<Follow him, Huntress—and be careful. Remember it’s still daytime.>
Helena rolled her eyes. “Is that why there’s a big bright ball in the sky?”
<I’ll laugh later. Just be careful.>
“Will do, Mom—oops, Oracle—going silent.”
So she’d been following him for twenty minutes. She’d hesitated for only a second before deciding she could tail him the old fashioned way—on foot—without drawing attention to herself. Or, rather, no more attention than a stunning women clad in black leather generally received. The man in front of her was so lost in thought that, even had she actually been a heavy stepper, he wouldn’t have heard her. In fact, she could probably even have walked beside him. He was moving along in that quick, worried way people do when they’re late and don’t want to run but sure as shit don’t actually want to get where they’re going. Had to be a meeting—and with someone he was afraid of.
Helena hoped the identity of this someone would provide some answers to the recent crime wave in Gotham. An incredibly well-orchestrated wave that was breaking nightly over her head. Every sweep for the past two weeks had been a veritable festival of ass-kicking. And though she’d never thought she’d say it, the amount of ass-kicking one could enjoy actually had a limit. After that limit, ass-kicking just entirely lost its flavor. Two Pop Tarts at a sitting—even four: good. Thirty-seven Pop Tarts at a sitting: bad.
She longed for a few quiet nights where the streets were so boring that she could cut the sweep short, head to the Clocktower and veg out with Barbara—hell, even with the kid. She wondered momentarily whether this meant she was getting old, but this thought was interrupted by another, more pressing concern. The streets had been getting just a little too familiar and as she followed the man toward the building he was undoubtedly headed straight for, Helena felt her heart sink. She gave Oracle the address and began to pray.
Dr. Harleen Quinzel tapped one elegant shoe against the floor as she peered through binoculars at the street below her office building. This one was always late and she was beginning to take it personally. She supposed she really should get rid of him. She considered it for a moment, then sighed very deeply. Killing him would only mean she’d have to replace him. The old, trite saying ‘good help is hard to find’ was never truer than when you were attempting to wrest complete criminal control of a city.
She continued sweeping the sidewalks through her binoculars. She’d found that binoculars were a good coping mechanism for a person who didn’t like to be kept waiting. Once she could actually see the person or car in question, no matter how far away, it made her feel somehow that they were already there. Which was just soothing enough that it had more than once kept her from killing people who’d merely been detained in traffic. She recognized, of course, that this indicated a hint of compulsivity and more than a hint of impulsivity regarding the lateness issue but she didn’t hold it against herself.
There. There he was. What a furtive little man. He looked exactly like a rat slinking down the street. She smirked. Honestly. It was almost as if he imagined someone might be following a zero like him. She peered away from him and something suddenly caught her eye. Really, really caught her eye.
She didn’t have an appointment today. Or…perhaps….she was otherwise…occupied. The doctor watched long enough to verify that Helena Kyle was indeed following her rat, considered the possible implications of this and found all of them scrumptious.
Please don’t let it be her.
Please don’t let it be her.
Please don’t let it be her.
It was all Helena could think as she left a bit more distance between them as she followed her man into a building she knew very well.
“He’s getting on the elevator. Can you tell me what floor?”
<Uh huh…one second.>
The news wasn’t good. Helena raced up the stairwell. “Holy shit. Please tell me it’s possible this could be a coincidence.”
<It’s possible this could be a coincidence.>
“Ya know, that didn’t sound all that sincere.”
But, on her end, Barbara actually was sincerely hoping for a coincidence just as fervently as the young woman racing up the stairs. This was all Helena needed. Her partner in crime-fighting didn’t trust people easily and rarely let people get to know the private woman—the one who wasn’t an abrasive and standoffish wise-ass. Barbara had been more than a little surprised that Helena had continued her therapy appointments after the court-mandated sessions had been completed. She’d concluded that this therapist must be very special indeed if Helena felt comfortable enough with her to share her thoughts, her feelings with her. Barbara closed her eyes, and tried willing it not to be true. Because Helena really didn’t need this. At all.
Helena followed the man down the hall, and as he turned the corner, stopped and pressed herself against the wall.
“You’re late!” It was a very familiar voice but an unfamiliar tone.
Helena peered out just far enough to confirm the worst. Oh yeah. Her therapist all right. She watched Dr. Quinzel step firmly into the man’s personal space.
“Excuse me, sir,” Quinzel said brightly. “Precisely whom do I have to kill around here to get some service?”
The man was clearly terrified and didn’t answer.
”So! The word is that you’re having a bit of trouble picking up a certain little package I asked for. And that’s unfortunate, because you’re only the latest of the many, many fish I’ve recently been prevented from frying. Figuratively speaking, of course—I can never find time to cook.” She watched the man lick his lips before he spoke.
”I know it can be done, ma’am. Just give me one week and a few more men.” The doctor turned her head in that strange little way that meant she was processing the statement. Helena had seen it a hundred times.
“You know what? You have two days to deliver one armored car complete with contents….with a bow on top.”
The man couldn’t help himself. “Look—I’ll try. I’ll do my best. You gotta know, though…it’s just that--” A sudden instinct of self-preservation cut the man’s sentence short.
“Excuse me? What?” the doctor asked, smiling—very sweetly, which was somehow scarier, “It’s just that what?”
”It’s just that generally…you just knock over the car and get the stuff and go. It’s a lot harder when you have to take the car too. If you see what I mean, it makes the getaway a lot more…conspicuous.” He watched her bat her eyelashes at him before she answered.
”I know that. But—hey—call me crazy. Want that armored car. In two days. Got it?
“And considering what a waste of skin you are, I think it very generous of me that I’m allowing you to continue to breathe long enough to try again. Don’t you?”
”Yes. I do. Th…thank you. I’ll get right on it.”
”You do that.”
Helena was gone before the man turned the corner. Dr. Quinzel walked slowly around the corner, just catching him with her voice before he entered the elevator.
He turned, swallowed hard. “Ma’am?”
“I hope you know I wasn’t joking about the bow on top. Want that bow.”
“Yes, ma’am. Uh….any particular color?”
She shrugged. “Surprise me.”
As the doctor watched Bernie disappear behind the elevator doors, she sniffed the air. Ah…yes. Helena had been here. She’d always loved the way her client smelled. So now Helena knew her little secret. But Helena didn’t know she knew she knew. Funny, that. And useful. She could scarcely wait.
As she moved from rooftop to rooftop, Helena realized the sudden adrenaline rush of horror at finding out about Dr. Quinzel was not going to just go away. She could feel her extremities going cold at least twenty times on the way to the Clocktower. She felt nauseated, light-headed, even faint. This, she knew, was shock. Beyond the shock, she also knew there were all sorts of emotions—hurt, embarrassment, rage, anguish. But those emotions had to wait. That man had been scared spitless of Dr. Quinzel and if he was taking into account the range of brutal crimes the doctor was probably responsible for, he had reason to be. Quinzel was a dangerous, dangerous woman. A dangerous woman who knew her secrets. Even the Big Secret. And now there was no way around having to tell Barbara that she’d told a criminal sociopath the Big Secret. This thought made her stop in mid-stride and then she threw up, violently—naturally, on the roof.
All Helena had said was, “It was her. Be there in a few.” And since then, Barbara had felt her stomach turn over a number of times. She was glad Dinah was at the movies—it was entirely likely this wouldn’t be pretty and the fewer people who saw it, the easier it would be for Helena. Her heart skipped a bit as she heard familiar footsteps.
She’d expected the younger woman to be upset but she hadn’t expected her to be so very pale—even her lips were white. Barbara spoke as she moved toward her quickly.
“Sit down and put your head between your knees.”
Helena swayed toward a chair with Barbara beside her. But, in a split second, the younger woman had collapsed over Barbara awkwardly, sliding downward before she grabbed her, held her tightly. Barbara frowned, utterly bewildered. Helena had fainted. Fainted—and although she was holding the evidence in her arms, fainting wasn’t something she’d ever imagined Helena could do. Not the Helena she knew. She had held her just long enough for that thought before the woman began to come to—and jerked upward when she realized where she was.
“Oh shit…I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”
More worried about Barbara than herself. Now, that was the Helena she knew. “Of course you didn’t. Sit down in that chair and put your head between your knees.”
Helena immediately did as she was told, which worried the older woman even more. As Barbara gently stroked the lowered head, she thought she heard a muffled sentence.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I fainted. Like a girl. Like a little bitch.”
”Well…you are a girl….and a little bitch.”
This earned Barbara a lifted head and a smile, then Helena slumped back into the chair.
“The clinical term is shock, Hel. It happens.”
”Doesn’t happen to me.”
”So now it has. No big deal. I’m just glad I was there to catch you, sweetie.”
Helena smiled again. “But you always catch me, don’t you? Lucky me.”
“No. Lucky me,” Barbara said as she leaned forward and cupped the young woman’s cheek for a second. Helena felt her heart skip a beat and, for the ten millionth time, wondered how a genius like Barbara could miss the reaction she invariably caused in her. But Helena knew she could miss it—not only could but would. And would the twenty millionth time. And would evidently forever since Barbara was nothing if not dependable.
She winced at the word. Just how dependable was her pending confession going to make her seem to Barbara? She glanced at her briefly. The care and concern for her visible in the other woman’s face felt like salt in a wound and she actually had to stifle a groan. Oh well. No time like the present.
Helena had decided on her way over that short and sweet was the order of the day and so, after a deep breath, that’s what it was. “I told her everything, Barbara.”
“I know…and I’m so sorry.”
”No you don’t know. I mean…everything, everything.”
Barbara let that sink in, managing finally to produce what sounded, to her own ears, like an idiotic croak. “Everything, everything?”
“Yes. And I’m really, really sorry.”
Short and sweet.
Selina Kyle had always said that if apologies for truly serious things came with a bunch of excuses attached, they really lost effect. So her daughter didn’t bother to make any of the hundred excuses she could think of. She looked Barbara in the eyes and waited for the bombs to drop.
It didn’t take long. Barbara looked at Helena’s stricken face just long enough to conclude that: A) Helena was not only sorry, she was mortified and B) She was not only mortified, she was mortified enough to faint about it. It took about three seconds. She gave Helena’s hand the briefest squeeze.
“It’s okay. We’ll work it out.”
Helena blinked her eyes before replying. Many times. ”I’m sorry. What? Did you just say it’s okay that I told a criminal psychopath about the…muffin top business?”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say it’s okay. What I mean is—we’re okay. Look, I can’t begin to imagine how hard this is for you.” Barbara hesitated a bit before continuing, “and I want you to know we can talk about whatever other…aspects of what’s happened that you want to share with me. Whenever you want to—but only If you want to.”
“But, how about the security—“
Barbara quickly interrupted her. “I know. But why don’t we discuss the security implications of all this after dinner, huh? And we’ll work it out, okay? Don’t we always?”
Helena felt the weight of the world slip off her shoulders. She knew she’d have to pick it up again—and soon—but for now she could only feel grateful that she’d have Barbara with her when she did. She drew in a deep breath, released it, then leaned forward and put her hands on the other woman’s knees.
”Barbara Gordon, I truly worship the ground you...roll on.”
A beautiful smile was the only reply. Behind that smile, the younger woman could see no sign that Barbara understood that Helena meant that literally.
As it so happened, at that very moment, the only person who knew how hopelessly in love she was with Barbara was planning to use that fact against her. And in the most painfully delicious way.
Dinner had been surprisingly low-key. Dinah had made it home for dessert and had managed not to swallow her spoon when Barbara told her quite casually that not only was Helena’s psychotherapist a psycho-therapist, but also an evil criminal mastermind who knew their identities. And that Helena would naturally be staying with them until further notice.
Then she’d simply rolled off to take a quick shower.
The girl waited until she was sure the woman was out of earshot, and then leaned toward Helena. ”C’mon, spill. What’d she really say when you told her you’d fucked up like this?” The look this statement got her caused Dinah to back up a few steps before continuing. “Oh right. Like it’s not a fuck-up? What would you call it?”
“You know, kid, you’re getting really lippy—I’d watch that if I were you.”
“Alright, I’m sorry, but c’mon. It’s like I’m always missing all the good stuff around here. What’d she say? Did she yell at you?”
“Nope.” Helena smiled triumphantly at the teenager. “She just said it was okay and that we’d work it out.”
Dinah’s mouth literally dropped open. “No way. No…way.”
“Way,” Helena shrugged dismissively, “Hey—what can I say? When you got it, you got it.”
Dinah’s face was a mask of utterly aggravated wonder. ”You are SUCH a teacher’s pet—do you know that? I’d be fish-bait if I did what you did.”
”No you wouldn’t.”
“Oh yes I would and you know it.” She jumped up abruptly from the table, took her bowl to the kitchen, feeling really…well…maybe not angry but certainly…aggrieved.
She felt rather than heard Helena walk up behind her and was surprised at the gentleness in the woman’s voice.
”Hey, uh…D. Let me ask you something.”
Dinah turned and faced Helena.
”As much as I kid you about it—I know you’re getting to be sort of a junior adult…and so you’ve got your own problems and feelings and things and all kinds of crap you’re sad or mad or glad about. All in all, a whole bunch of really, really personal shit going on these days, right?”
The girl was a bit mystified by this turn in the conversation. “Well…yeah. I guess so.”
”Okay, well…what if you told all that really personal shit to some psycho criminal who’d only just been pretending to want to help you?” Helena moved very close to Dinah, “A criminal psycho you’d really trusted with just about everything? Do you want to know how that feels?”
Helena only held Dinah’s hand for a moment but that was all that it really took. The girl had always thought that ‘tears springing into a person’s eyes’ was a turn of phrase so she was quite surprised to find tears falling—instantaneously—from her eyes.
If she’d been feeling even the tiniest part of the guilt, horror and embarrassment Helena was feeling, she’d be on the ground, screaming and barking or something.
It wasn’t the first time she’d realized how strong Helena was but it was the first time that she’d realized the depth of fragility beneath that strength. Actually, that touch told her a few other things, too—things that made her stare at the woman as if she’d just met her.
And for the first time, Dinah spontaneously and truly hugged the other woman—feeling sure she wouldn’t get punched for it and quite certain that she really needed it. Helena hugged her too. Tightly—ferociously, before breaking away sheepishly, shrugging again. “That’s why Barbara didn’t yell at me. She knows how I feel. Barbara always knows.”
As Dinah watched Helena turn and walk out of the room, she wondered how on Earth the woman could say that…because there was no way in hell Barbara knew Helena was in love with her.
Helena watched as Barbara blew her hair dry, watched her from a comfortable lounging position on Barbara’s bed, a bed she had shared with the woman on many a bleak night. She ran her hands lightly over the comforter as she watched. She really dreaded staying in the Clocktower again. In so many ways, it was so much easier to have an apartment to escape to every night. It kept her from creeping into this bed when she or Barbara had bad dreams or were feeling blue, neither of which was all that rare. Bad-asses that they both were, they were both also terribly uneasy sleepers. Not so much afraid of the dark—but afraid of lying alone thinking in the dark. And every one of the nights spent together in that way was torture for Helena, who lay there perfectly still, perfectly awake the entire night, revelling in the closeness, and always saying ‘fine—great’ when asked how she’d slept, when she was actually facing another terribly sleep-deprived day—and night.
While Barbara, on the other hand, always slept like a happy baby, never seeming to give a second thought to the fact that she quite frequently slept wrapped around another adult who was ostensibly merely a friend. Helena had pondered for years about this astonishing lack of introspection and had finally concluded that Barbara must consider her a sort of littermate—a fellow puppy to keep warm and safe with. And, somehow, despite the finely tuned instincts that told her she was being watched on the streets of Gotham, Barbara hadn’t yet noticed that her puppy had morphed into a grown cat—a cat with its eyes fixed entirely on her.
Helena groaned and closed her eyes. Yet another thing she’d shared with the good doctor. In the few hours she’d known about Quinzel, she’d fought recognizing the sheer enormity of the doctor’s breach into her existence. She just wasn’t ready for it yet.
Quinzel knew so much. So much she’d never told anyone else—not even Barbara. God, especially not Barbara. In fact, she reflected, that was the quasi-irony of the situation. If it just hadn’t felt so damned good to finally, finally talk to someone about her feelings for the Barbara, she wouldn’t be sitting with Barbara talking about the person she’d talked to about Barbara.
She was jolted from these thoughts by the sound of Barbara shouting above her hair dryer, “Hel, are you listening to me?
“I’m sorry, what?”
Barbara turned the dryer off and approached the bed. “I was asking you your take on the situation. You know her—I don’t. She’s known about our identities for months—why hasn’t she done anything with the information?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been wracking my brain. I’m positive that I’d know if someone had been doing surveillance on us.”
”I agree. Let’s check her out.”
It was truly unlike Barbara to have waited so long to run a facial feature search—unlike her not to have completed it even before Helena’s return to the Clocktower from Quinzel’s office, much less waiting for hours until after dinner. She wondered momentarily as they moved toward Delphi whether she’d had a moment of prescient reluctance there—perhaps she really didn’t want to know. She keyed in the commands and they waited as Dinah joined them. They didn’t have to wait very long.
Dinah closed her eyes. Helena groaned. Barbara took a very deep breath before speaking.
”I think that just about eliminates the possibility that she might not try something against us, wouldn’t you?”
“Yep.” Dinah knew just enough of the history of Gotham crime-fighting to give an immediate response.
“I’ll bug her.” Helena wanted to focus on action—not emotion—because emotion would overwhelm her. She felt a surge of nauseated self-hatred rise in her throat. Shit, shit, shit. She’d told Barbara’s secret to the lover of the man who’d left her paralysed. Way to go, Kyle.
“I don’t want you going back there. What if she saw you?” In this respect, at least, Barbara knew exactly how Helena was feeling and knew that she might get reckless trying to set everything right.
”She didn’t see me. I’m sure of it. Let me go—you have to. I’ll bug her and we’ll catch her.”
Although Dinah saw only defiance, Barbara saw despair and desperation in Helena’s eyes. “Hel, please don’t think you have to make everything—“
“Of course I do! It’s my goddamned fault we’re in this mess. I’ll bug the bitch, we’ll catch the bitch and it’ll be over.”
Dinah was smart enough to stay out of the range of fire as Barbara took a full minute to reply.
”When’s your next appointment?”
”Alright then. You’ll bug her. We have three days to formulate some sort of plan.”
Later that night, Barbara was wrapped around a miserable Helena, who lay awake looking at the ceiling, feeling, with the entire length of her body, the other woman’s sleep—breath by breath.
At the same moment, Harley Quinn was also in bed looking at her ceiling, deciding exactly what it was she should do. Temptation was…well…such a temptation, after all. Of course she’d known for months about the goings-on in the Clocktower. Hell, she’d known for months that the occupants of said tower were the ones continually confounding her criminal efforts. But she’d been biding her time and rather enjoying the dichotomy. Therapist by day—antagonist by night. Especially enjoyed seeing Helena stroll into the office looking a little tired, a little sore after a long bout of fighting her off all night.
She smirked at the ceiling. My goodness gracious, didn’t these crime-fighters come in pretty packages?
It was sad really. All those good times were over. Now that they’d found out who she was, she knew they’d feel honor-bound to act. She considered this a character fault in these do-gooder types—they just couldn’t bare to sit on juicy information. Always had to ham-hand their way into things—setting things right, restoring order, triumphing over evil, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Let’s see…what would it be…Helena would come to her next appointment. Check. She’d plant a bug in her office. Check. She’d say she couldn’t make the next couple of appointments. Check. Then they’d spy for a while to get the goods on her. Check, check, check, blah, blah, blah. Typical do-goodnik predictability.
When Helena had first told her the Secret, she had felt such a surge of amazed hilarity that she was surprised she’d been able to suppress a shriek of laughter. But since then, she hadn’t been able to decide what to do. It had to be something really special. She’d looked into their lives, of course, considered offing the blonde or that unprepossessing khaki boyfriend of Gordon’s—but those options seemed a bit obvious. It would hurt them, sure, but not in that really gut-level hurt she knew she could inflict if she just used her imagination. And actually—that’s all she wanted to do. Really hurt them, not kill them. When she’d done a bit of introspection about why she didn’t feel so murderously inclined toward them lately, she could think of only two reasons:
First, if she killed them, taking over the city would be like shooting fish in a barrel, or puppies in a barrel—whatever it was you shot in barrels. Entirely too damned easy. She liked a bit of resistance. Who didn’t? And breaking Mr. J. out of prison had lately become less and less of a priority for her. Which brought her to the second reason, which--
She felt a flashgun go off in her mind.
And suddenly she knew exactly she was going to do.
The next morning Helena tried, without success, to disentangle herself from Barbara without waking her.
”Where you going?” Barbara murmured into the young woman’s neck, tightening her hold momentarily.
”Coffee…coffee. Can’t you hear it calling?”
The C-word was a magic word in their household and Helena, immediately finding herself unceremoniously pushed, swung her exhausted body upright and sat on the bed for a few seconds.
”How’d you sleep?”
Helena turned to reply, “Fine. Great. You?”
”Like a baby.”
“I don’t need the kid.”
“Hel, I really think—“
”What—that I’m such a fuck-up now that I can’t plant a bug in the office of an unsuspecting person—an office I’ve been in a million times?”
Helena knew why she was feeling defensive—she knew Barbara knew, too.
”You know I don’t think you’re a fuck-up. Helena. But I also know we would do well not to underestimate Harley Quinn.”
“I don’t mind going,” Dinah piped in, wanting to just get this over with. The tension in the Clocktower had been brutal over the past two days.
“I know you don’t, kid, and thanks, but I really don’t need any help with this.” Helena turned back toward Barbara. “Just please…please let me do this myself. It would make me feel a lot better, okay?” She gazed at Barbara with pleading eyes, giving her one of her ‘oh isn’t this touching—I’m being all vulnerable’ looks. It was a sucker-punch and she knew it, but it worked.
”Alright. But you’re going on comm.—no debate.” She handed her the earring transceivers.
“Fine.” Helena accepted them, put them on and smiled.
”If you see or feel any—and I mean any—sign that she knows what you’re doing, get the hell out of there.”
“Sure. No prob.”
Barbara just couldn’t let it go. “I mean, look—for example, is that the sort of thing you usually wear to her office? Looks more like Sweep-wear. See—that—that sort of thing could tip her off.”
Helena looked down at her clothing. Black leather, black leather, black leather. “Looks pretty normal to me. You need to get grip, Gordon.”
”Helena. Please be careful.”
Helena, reacting to the real strain in Barbara’s voice, did something she almost never did. She leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “I will. I promise.”
She play-punched Dinah and she was gone.
Dr. Quinzel met her at the door in an outfit that was eerily like her own.
The doctor’s eyes twinkled as she took this in, “I see you got the memo, too.”
Helena smiled as she passed the doctor, felt her follow her into the office.
”Yeah—black leather Friday.”
Before they’d even arranged themselves in their seats, Helena had planted her bug.
It was a relatively bland session, obviously, knowing as Helena did, who was listening on the other line. The doctor had let her blather on about work, how busy she’d been lately and had seemed quite content to let her client lead the session.
As they sat and passed the hour, both of them were thinking that, really, this was too easy…
“I’m going to have to miss the next few sessions.”
”Oh? The doctor’s head tilted lightly to one side. “And why’s that?”
“I’m going to be doing a lot more day sweeps with Dinah—so maybe after a couple of months, I’ll call back and reschedule.”
”That’s fine, Helena.” The doctor looked at her watch. “Five o’clock already. Where does the day go?”
She smiled quite sweetly at Helena. “You may have noticed that, recently, I always schedule you for the last appointment of the day. You know why?” Her eyes widened as she answered her own question. “because it can only go downhill from you.”
The doctor stood, moved toward one wall, pushed a button and a wet bar appeared.
“Would you like a drink? I mean, since you’re sort of going away for a while and all. A bon voyage drink, so to speak. I’m having scotch. You?”
<Don’t take it Huntress.>
“Could I just have some water?”
”How very low maintenance of you. Of course you can.” Helena watched as the doctor poured the drinks. “I would never have guessed that bar was there.”
The doctor smiled, then crossed back to Helena, handing her a glass of water. “I know. You may not believe this but some of my more…trying patients send me right to the bottle.”
She covered her mouth momentarily in mock dismay. “Oh dear. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.”
Helena took a tentative sip of her water, then shrugged. “I don’t doubt it. Bartending’s the same thing—people’s problems all night long. I have a few shots to steady myself every once in while, too.”
<Excuse yourself and get the hell out of there.>
Helena put her water on the table beside her chair and stood. “Thanks for the water. Gotta get going.”
The doctor crossed to her, opened her arms. At Helena’s quizzical look, she merely smirked. “Surely heroes need hugs, too.”
Helena stepped very lightly into the hug and, although she felt the slight stinging sensation in her back, she found herself powerless to do anything about it.
Harley Quinn quite easily caught the slumping Helena, moved her toward and into a chair. The young woman was unconscious—and quite, quite paralysed.
A fantastic substance, actually. Quinn loved it—producing instantaneous unconsciousness and large-muscle paralysis without compromising autonomic functions. She crossed to her desk, removed a long metallic object, scanned over her client and her chair. A laser beam flash signalled the device’s finding the bug. Harley pocketed that. The next laser beams: the transceiver necklace and earrings. Quinn left the necklace in place, removed the earrings and put them on herself.
”No no, my dear Oracle…the doctor is in.”
Quinn could almost hear the gears turning…grinding.
<You listen to me, Quinn. If you hurt one hair on her head, I will make it my life mission to find you and when I finish with you, what’s left of you will fit in a Ziploc bag.>
The doctor laughed, delighted.
”My God, Oracle, that was butch of you, “ the doctor looked fondly at her leather-clad client, “what a fight for the top it must be at your house.”
<What do you want?>
”I’ll tell you. The Clocktower is surrounded by my men. If you or that cute little blonde trick of yours tries to leave, I will kill Huntress. If you send the police to apprehend those surrounding you, other members of my organization, who are in constant contact with these men, will be alerted. That’s called system redundancy, as you know. Now, I repeat, you may think you can sneak out and I won’t know, but I will. The reason they call it ‘we have you surrounded’ is because we have you surrounded. Got it?”
<What do you want?>
”To make you pay—for what you did to my sweet Mr. J.”
<I think I have paid more than enough, thank you. He can still walk.>
”Hmmm, that’s a point. But if you’ll just…sit…tight there for a bit, I’ll have my bit of fun and you will have Huntress back safe and sound.”
<Is there a point to any of this?>
”Does there have to be?”
Barbara’s voice was a low growl, <If you hurt her, I swear—>
”Heard you the first time, Oracle. I’m not going to hurt her physically. Promise. Unless of course you try to stop me in the next few hours. If you do that, I’ll slit her throat without a second thought. So those are the rules. Non-negotiable. You leave me alone—you get her back unharmed…physically at least. Got it?”
”Get ready, Bar—oops, no names, right? Wouldn’t want to break your precious rules. Get ready, Oracle, I’m about to give you a blow beneath the belt even you’re going to feel.”
Dinah brought Barbara a glass of water—noticed that Barbara’s hand was shaking when she took the glass.
”Just let me try—I’ll make sure no one sees me.”
”You heard what she said. I’m not going to take that chance. And I can’t send the police. You don’t know this woman—she could pick her teeth with the policemen, kill Helena at the same time and laugh at us as she did it.”
”He’s not in the city.” The older woman turned to Dinah and saw the girl looked fully as frightened as Barbara felt. “Look—we’re just going to have to wait and play the cards as quickly as she deals them.” Barbara reached out and squeezed Dinah’s hand briefly. “Sometimes it’s part of the job.”
Barbara turned back to Delphi and Dinah watched her assume the mantle of Oracle, watched her, knowing now that the blood running through her veins was as cold as the ice water she’d just given her.
Cold…she was so cold. That was all Helena could think as she felt herself floating back to consciousness. Why the hell was she so cold? And what was she just about to…
Her eyes flew open, instantaneously yellow, her instincts telling her to leap into combat—except…she couldn’t. She could only pick up the upper part of her body so much. She assessed her situation in a second.
Cold: because she was only wearing her goddamned underwear.
Alone: in a dimly-lit room, which looked almost like a warehouse storing…only her, evidently.
Shackled: to some sort of low-lying, quite large padded table. She looked again—yeah, she’d seen this sort of thing before. They had them at Barbara’s rehab places. Enough room for the person being rehabilitated and the person doing the rehabilitation.
Which didn’t, she quickly realized, exactly bode well considering the situation.
She jerked against the manacles firmly tightened around her ankles and wrists, looked more closely at those holding her wrists. Some sort of super-light and, obviously super-strong metal alloy. The manacles were padded, though, or she knew she would have already done herself a great deal of damage.
She could feel that her earring transceivers were gone but felt her necklace.
“Oracle? You probably know I can’t hear you but just wanted to let you know I’m alive and it looks like I’m alone for the moment in some sort of warehouse and I hope like hell somebody’s on the way because this isn’t looking good at all.”
Barbara jolted upright in her seat. “Huntress!” She and Dinah heard Helena’s plea for assistance, then the sound of a metal door sliding open, then closed…then the sound of approaching footsteps.
<Oh look, baby’s awake.>
<Let me go, Quinn!>
<My, my. Grouchy, aren’t we? Makes me almost believe I wouldn’t want to wake up next to you in the morning.>
Helena took in the sight of Harley Quinn and could not repress a shudder. Which was natural enough, she supposed, because the bitch was crazy and she was freezing her ass off. She could just move her upper body enough to rest on her elbows so she did and gestured with a toss of her head toward her lack of clothing.
“If this is what you wanted from me you could’ve just asked me out for a date.”
Quinn smiled and sat next to Helena on the low table.
“Now you know I couldn’t do that, dear. Professional ethics and all.”
“Great! Well, I know you think I’m really hot and all and I’d have to agree that usually I am but right now I’m freezing…so if you don’t mind--”
“Now, Huntress, I realize that this little show of bravado masks a great deal of fear and anxiety, perfectly natural emotions under the circumstances. You also hope that you can keep me talking until one or both of your cohorts shows up. But that’s not going to happen. Let me bring you up to speed. Oh, and look, “ Quinn turned her head so Helena could see the transceivers in her ears, “your friends are listening.”
”Oracle, get me the fuck out of here!” Helena’s voice sounded panic-stricken—even to her. She took a few deep breaths, knowing she needed to pull it together.
<Goddamn you, Quinn. I swear to—>
”Shut up, Oracle. This is my show.”
”Huntress dear, you’ll be pleased to know that Oracle has threatened me with death, dismemberment and is probably even considering having my professional license revoked! So, Oracle, your threats have been duly noted. Now we’re going to be moving along to the important stuff.”
Quinn spoke so quickly that Helena could barely keep up.
”I don’t want and do not intend to kill anyone tonight. However, the Clocktower is surrounded by my men. If anyone—anyone—tries to come rescue you or in any other way interfere, I’ll slit your throat. The Clocktower also has an anti-aircraft gun trained right at that precious little clock. You will play my game or I will have them blow the tower, Oracle, Delphi and Dinah right into orbit. And though I hear the Earth looks really pretty from space, I don’t think you want them to find that out tonight.”
Helena looked at her with such hatred that Quinn drew back. “My goodness, I’m sure nobody’s ever lived after getting a look like that from you.”
”You won’t be the first.”
Quinn winked at her. ”I wouldn’t bet on that if I were you, sugar.”
Helena lunged toward her but didn’t get far.
”Now none of that. I hate head butts—they hurt so badly. You know, I considered strapping your head to the table so you couldn’t do that but then I decided—hey—she hasn’t used her head with me yet!”
Helena relaxed back down onto her elbows. “So, what do you want, doc?”
“I want you to get some things off your chest,” Quinn looked from Helena’s chest to her eyes, “so to speak.”
She lay her hand on Helena’s stomach and was amused to see the woman twitch.
”You are cold, aren’t you? But I’m warm…very warm…I can help you with that.”
”Get your fucking hand off of me.”
“Let’s get something straight—right up front, okay? Do you want me to touch you?”
”Your ‘hell no’ has been registered. I believe we can both wrap our minds around the concept that everything I do from this point on is a crime. We’re clear on that, got it? So let’s just skip the ‘don’t, no, please stop’ stuff, okay? Bores me. Even irritates me. Which is worse, believe me.”
Helena sneered at her. ”Alright then. Just fuck me and get it over with. You’re not the only one bored here.”
Quinn laughed heartily. “You are such a bad-ass. Is it wrong that that excites me?”
Helena only stared at her coldly. “I mean it. If this is a game—let’s play it and get it over with.”
”It’s not a game, actually. It’s therapeutic intervention on my part. And I’m so glad that Oracle can be here. You two have been needing family counselling for quite a while.”
A look of pure terror jumped into Helena’s eyes and her voice was instantly humble, pleading.
”If you’re doing what I think you’re doing, I’m begging…begging you not to.”
“Well you see, dear, there’s a secret about family secrets. They hurt much more in the keeping than in the telling.”
”Stop it. Please, Dr. Quinzel. Please. I’ll do anything for you if you just please don’t do this.”
Barbara had no idea what could be so terrifying that Helena would use a tone that she personally hadn’t heard since the woman was a child.
<I think it’s time you knew that your Huntress has not only been living a double life—she’s been living a triple life.>
”Whatever it is—it’s her business. I don’t want to hear about it unless she wants to tell me.”
<The problem is…you really, really need to know and she will never, never tell you. It’s what’s been causing all that tension between you. I’m sure you’ve noticed it over the past few years.>
Despite herself, Barbara’s interest was piqued by this. Her relationship with Helena was always good, always affectionate, but there had been a difference in the woman for years—a closing off. There was a wall around her that had not been there in the beginning and through which she never allowed Barbara to penetrate.
Dinah was sitting in a chair with her knees drawn up into her chest, her arms wrapped around the knees, head down.
But she didn’t want to hear.
”Yes, the fact of the matter is that Helena has been for some time quite passionately and quite unrequitedly in love with a woman whom doctor-client discretion demands I call Madame X.”
<Is that right?>
”That’s right. And the fact that it’s so one-sided and so unfulfilled and so hopeless and so absurd is the reason she’s so frequently surly or mean-spirited or excessively violent. In fact, I’d say that, while her mother’s death and her father’s abandonment have been painful, she’s dealt with them fairly well. And they certainly aren’t the problem that haunts her every hour of every day.”
Helena was lying flat on the table, tears tickling her face, thinking…a thousand things…then only one. She lunged forward again.
”JUST KILL ME YOU BITCH! I’D RATHER DIE!”
“See, Oracle. Now, wouldn’t you say this is a problem?”
Quinn got up, swung onto the table and straddled Helena at her waist, pushing her shoulders down with her hands.
”Shhhh, baby, shhhh. Everything’s going to be okay.”
As Helena was pushed back on the table, she felt Quinn extend herself onto the length of her body, positioning herself above her so that she could control Helena’s head by keeping firm handfuls of hair. Helena was both disgusted and amused by the fact that the weight and heat of the woman’s body were so oddly comforting.
She shuddered as she felt Quinn kiss her on the cheek, then nuzzle her ear, whispering. “This is how it’s going to go. I ask questions. You tell the truth or I blow the Clocktower into the sky like a big fat Roman candle. Got that?”
Quinn pulled back and looked Helena in the eyes. “And you know I know you well enough to tell if you’re lying, right?”
Helena stared at the woman, wondered momentarily if that were necessarily true. The woman smiled at her; she knew exactly what she was thinking. Oh yeah, this bitch knew her up one side, down the other.
”Good. I want to talk about your sexual fantasies.” Quinn almost laughed at the horror in Helena’s eyes. “I mean, surely you have them, don’t you?” Quinn pulled the hair lightly. “The truth, remember—the truth.”
“Well…of course, doesn’t everybody?”
”Yes, everyone does. But I want to talk particularly about your sexual fantasies about Madame X.”
”What’s this fascination with sex, doc?” Helena forced a chuckle, her brain moving a mile a second, trying to imagine anything she could say to steer this away from where it was going.
“Well…I’ll tell you, dear. Sex is the one thing—probably the only thing—you two have never shared, isn’t it?
Helena swallowed hard, didn’t answer.
”Let me re-phrase that. You two share a life, your work, a home, your thoughts, your feelings, your fears, your hopes, your money, your family, don’t you?” She pulled her hair a bit more firmly. “Truth.”
”You even sometimes share a bed, don’t you?”
“But, unfortunately, she doesn’t want you past sharing…oh…virtually every other aspect of her life she can share with another person, is that right?”
”Are you sure?”
“And that hurts you, doesn’t it?”
Helena didn’t answer because she knew she was going to start crying. And act, for the second time this week, like a little girl, a little bitch.
“I’m sorry. Hurt isn’t the word I’m looking for. I meant to say—that tortures you, enrages you, and makes you alternately miserable, heartsick, lonely and violently, violently sad. Doesn’t it?”
Helena felt Quinn kiss her on the temple. “Doesn’t it?”
”Yes,” Helena whispered.
Quinn smiled, bent down and spoke straight into the necklace transceiver.
”You copy that, Oracle?”
Dinah had seen Barbara’s face happy, sad, angry—any mixture of a million emotions. But she couldn’t begin to know what Barbara was feeling at that moment. Her face was utterly impassive, though terribly, terribly pale.
<I said did you copy that?>
”Yes, I copy that.” Barbara’s voice, sounded for the second time that week, to her own ears, like an idiotic croak. “Please let her go now. Isn’t that enough?”
“I don’t think so. Not nearly enough. We haven’t gotten to the fantasy yet, have we, Huntress.”
Quinn looked into the woman’s eyes and was vaguely surprised to see nothing there—nothing. No spark, no anger, no sadness. She didn’t particularly like that so she pulled a scarf from around her neck and tied it around the other woman’s eyes.
”Lights out, dear Huntress. Fantasy’s easier in the dark.”
”In your fantasies, Huntress, Madame X loves you, isn’t that right?”
Helena sighed. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Nothing mattered.
”Madame X has held you and comforted you and bound your wounds, fought you and kissed you and…oh…touched you in every way a person can touch another person except one. And in your fantasies, the same hands that have touched you so intimately in so many ways finally, finally become a lover’s hands. Is that right?”
Nothing mattered, nothing mattered, nothing mattered.
“Let’s see—something like this…”
And suddenly the weight and the warmth of Quinn’s body were gone. Helena wasn’t sure what she expected to happen but it certainly wasn’t what actually did happen.
She had often been accused of going off all half-cocked during fights, sweeps. What people didn’t seem to understand was that her actions were one thing; her mind was another. She could, even had to, keep her mind above the fray. It was a life and death thing. You couldn’t get so wrapped up in the moment that you couldn’t dissect it—identify—anticipate what might happen next.
She couldn’t have anticipated this. She couldn’t have expected this woman to touch her so gently, so tenderly, so…lovingly. But she could identify this. This was…exactly…what she thought it would feel like if Barbara touched her. If the person who knew her best in the world, who loved her more than anything or anyone else and whom she loved more than life, touched her—this was exactly what it would be like.
She was so cold and the woman’s hands and mouth were so warm that she found herself wanting that touch, wanting it, wanting it, wanting it. And she knew she shouldn’t. But this was one of the harder parts of her meta-human existence—once she was aroused, once her blood was up and she was on, it was very, very, very difficult to turn off. And she had little choice in this matter. So when she felt the woman removing her underwear, she found she didn’t care. And then the warmth of those hands and that mouth were everywhere and, when she felt the warmth of those hands and that mouth removed from her skin, it was all she could do not to beg for them to be replaced. But she didn’t have to beg. This woman knew her very well—as well, indeed—as almost anyone ever had. The love of her life didn’t want her. But evidently this woman did.
She knew, after a while, that she was losing track of time, of place—even her name at this point. But she was painfully aware there was someone out there who knew the exact time, her GPS coordinates and her fucking name—so she kept her breathing as even as she could, she made almost no sound at all.
Which was getting harder to manage with the woman so deep and so insistent inside her. She felt the mouth at her ear.
”Getting very, very close, aren’t you, darling?” Helena felt a sudden sharper thrust which she knew meant—tell the truth.
”And in your fantasy, what exactly would you say…when…this…happened?” The woman was astonishing, timing her climax to the very end of that question mark.
And, suddenly, it was there, overwhelming her. So she told the truth.
After a few moments, she felt the woman’s hand slip from within her, then the scarf was removed from her eyes, leaving her blinking and stupefied in more ways than one. Then she kissed her—which she had not done. A velvet kiss so tender and gentle that Helena was unsure it had happened.
As Helena’s eyes regained focus, she realized she was so utterly overwhelmed by what had just transpired that she had no energy left to feel angry or to fight or to do anything but whatever it took to get away from this woman. Now.
Helena watched as Quinn took her necklace transceiver off, the earrings from her own ears and spoke into the transceiver. “Now, Oracle, don’t freak out. I’m going to have to muffle the transceivers a bit so Huntress and I can wrap up our session in private. Then she’s on her way home.”
Quinn pulled up the mat and put all the electronics underneath it. Then sat down again and smiled brightly.
”I think you’ve made great strides in your therapy today.”
She moved closer to Helena—very close, then spoke extraordinarily quickly.
”I want you to know that exploring your relationship with Barbara has made me question some aspects of my own primary relationship with Mr. J. And, of course, I’d planned to do all of this anyway, but last night it occurred to me why. You don’t have the unrequited love market cornered, you know.”
This seemed to require an answer but Helena only managed, “What?”
“We belong together.”
Helena could only stare, blinking her eyes. If the planet Jupiter had dropped into her bowl of cornflakes, she could not have been more surprised. The only thing that startled her more was something she’d never seen in the doctor’s eyes: a complete and vulnerable sincerity.
”Now, you probably don’t think so but you probably have never considered the fact that we’re just flip sides of the same coin. Look at how we live. We give and we give and we give to these people who are so wrapped up in their agendas that they never give us what we need or deserve. What’s more important to my Mr. J? Me or Evil? Evil. What’s more important to Barbara Gordon? You or Justice? Hello?! Justice. As long as we serve a purpose, we’re in. When we don’t—we’re crying alone in our beds wondering why they just can’t seem to love us.”
She stopped Helena before she could reply. ”And, beside that, we’re both people with dark personalities who see the morality landscape in shades of grey. I mean…I know that I’m ostensibly a lot worse than you are but your mentor was Barbara; mine was The Joker.”
”Call me Quinn.”
”Quinn, I understand what you’re saying…I think.” Helena fished for a way to get out of this, “but I, uh, love Barbara and while I realize you may have ruined my relationship with Barbara forever, I can’t just—“
”Tell you what. The offer stands. I know it’s a lot to digest post-coitus.”
She leaned forward and kissed her. “And I can change—you’ll see. I’m really almost sane if I take my anti-psychotic medication.” She kissed her again. “Now, if I let you go, will you promise not to kill me?”
”Will you promise to leave Barbara and Dinah alone?”
”Absolutely. I’ll call off my boys—the whole bit. They’re yours. I won’t touch them.”
”You won’t kill anyone else or have anyone killed?”
”Promise about the murder. But I’ll have to step down the crime part—even smokers have nicotine patches.”
”Alright, fine.” Helena didn’t know why she was going to let this woman go. She was too tired to question herself about her motives.
Quinn unshackled her ankles and one wrist. “I want to trust you, but trust takes time. I’ll toss you the key from the door—then run like hell.”
She gave her one last fond look. “You know, I really am sorry about all this. And I wish it could have been more…mutual. But I’ll be in touch. Maybe we can try again. Because if you think I’m good at fucking with your mind, you wouldn’t believe…” she merely widened her eyes to finish the sentence before leaving.
And in three minutes Helena was clothed and back on the streets.
She was crossing over roofs on her way to her apartment when she finally checked in.
Helena winced at the palpable anxiety in the reply.
<Huntress!? Are you okay? Where is she?>
“She’s gone. And I’m as okay as I can be after a day like today. I’m on my way home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
<Please come to the tower. What if—>
”She won’t hurt you. I promise.”
<You can’t promise that.>
”Yeah, I can. You know I wouldn’t leave you vulnerable if I weren’t certain.”
”Why,” Helena growled, “do you need a debriefing? Here it is—short and sweet. I fucked up and got fucked. I think that just about covers it, don’t you?”
<Please…I need to see you.>
Helena only growled and Barbara knew she was on her way.
When she arrived at the Clocktower, she noticed Dinah studiously avoided her eyes as Barbara moved toward her.
”The kid heard all that, too? Well, that’s not just humiliation, it’s humiliation with a cherry on top.”
She jerked away before Barbara could touch her. “Don’t touch me. I think I’ve been touched just about enough tonight.”
She could see Barbara lower her head—unsure what to do, what to say. When she looked up at Helena, there were unshed tears in her eyes, which for some reason Helena couldn’t fathom, made her very angry.
”I KNEW I shouldn’t have come here.”
”What? What? Why are YOU crying? I’ll still fight crime for you, honey. No skin off YOUR nose, Barbara. It doesn’t CHANGE anything for you. Not really. I’m not asking you to DO anything or SAY anything you don’t want to. BECAUSE WE BOTH KNOW YOU DON’T WANT TO, RIGHT?
Barbara was trying but she couldn’t seem to cobble together even a word in reply so Helena kept going.
“The only thing that’s different now—is that you know how I feel. And if I can handle it, you sure as shit should be able to. And even if I am in love with you, what makes you think that’s any of YOUR GODDAMNED BUSINESS?”
And then she had flown back out into the night. And she was crying, which was rare.
And Barbara was crying. Which was even more rare.
What a difference a day makes
Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain
My yesterday was blue, dear
Today I'm part of you, dear
My lonely nights are through, dear
Since you said you were mine
What a difference a day makes
There's a rainbow before me
Skies above can't be stormy
Since that moment of bliss, that thrilling kiss
It's heaven when you find romance on your menu
What a difference a day makes
And the difference is you
As Harley Quinn relaxed into her bed that evening, she was humming an old, favorite tune.
What a difference a day makes.
Oh boy. And how.
She hadn’t really been prepared for just how momentous she would find the events of the day.
But momentous they’d been indeed.
What a beautiful girl. And honestly, despite the drugging, kidnapping, shackles and threats, it was almost possible to think she’d been willing. Her body had certainly felt excited enough. Although, objectively speaking, Quinn could extrapolate that Helena’s meta-human body probably reacted to wanting to kill someone (namely her) exactly as if it were sexual desire.
And so what if she’d wanted to kill her? Quinn couldn’t actually imagine anyone she was romantically involved with not wanting to kill her. At some point or other.
She leapt up out of her bed, padded to her bathroom, and opened her medicine cabinet. Ah…her anti-psychotic medication. She hated—hated—it, incredibly unpleasant to take. Terrible side effects and it made her feel like she wasn’t herself, not at the top of her game. Which, again, she could see was fairly unstable thinking, if the top of her game was sociopathic killer. She prided herself on being nothing if not objective.
Maybe a trip to Dullsville, Sanity, was in order, though. After all, it might be different this time. She’d never known anyone there she’d wanted to visit before. But now she did. So bottoms up. She swallowed the medicine and returned to her bed.
She hoped that this whatever it was she was feeling for Helena wouldn’t be as catastrophic as her relationship with Mr. J. Not that he was entirely out of her mind. He was merely on a slow-simmering back burner. The problem with Mr. J., though, was that he always, always made her see red and feel blue, or green.
Helena, as dark as she was, made her see yellows and oranges. Even, God help her, pinks.
A crush. That’s what she had.
She chuckled to herself.
Really, how quaint was that?
As Helena crashed into her bed that night, she chuckled mirthlessly. Could one day change her entire world?
Sure it could.
The day hadn’t started out all that well and it had ended even worse. And now she’d lost it with Barbara, when the other woman hadn’t really deserved it. Adding insult to a fuck-load of injury as far as she was concerned. And she’d thought she’d needed therapy before.
She was surprised, staggered even, to find that she felt astonishingly little anger toward Quinn. No, for some reason or other, she didn’t hate the doctor. But she certainly hated herself. And thought, for the umpteenth time in the past hour or so, that Quinn must be right. They must be more alike than she could ever have imagined if she’d been able to get that excited—hell, even actually gotten off on what had happened to her.
It was no wonder Barbara didn’t, couldn’t, love her. Naturally enough—she was a fucking freak.
She thought for a few moments, got up, reached for her phone, and dialled.
Barbara lay awake in her bed for a very long time.
That bitch. That bitch Harley Quinn. She’d said Barbara would feel it below the belt and she had. The woman had knocked her to the floor with one smack to the intellect. What a super-cyber-genius, she thought bitterly. Could read architectural schematics, ferret out software algorithms, hack into just about any goddamned thing. But couldn’t read, couldn’t understand the workings of the very simple heart right in front of her.
Perhaps that was it. Maybe she’d been expecting complexity. Because Helena’s heart wasn’t simple, not by a long shot. Except where she was concerned, evidently. If she entered that little line of code into her brain—Helena’s in love with me—she got the answer to everything.
Barbara had the grace to blush when she thought of having shared a bed with Helena the night before, enjoying the woman’s warmth and tenderness and the safety she always felt in her arms. And having gotten what she’d needed, she’d just pushed her out of the bed to make coffee. She groaned at the memory. Barbara would never before have described Helena as particularly patient. But now? The young woman had the patience of a saint.
Only a saint would put up with Barbara the way Quinn had described her. Her life, described through Quinn’s eyes, told her things about herself she didn’t think she was ready to know. Barbara went through the list:
Is it my work or ours? Ours.
My mission or ours? Ours.
My home or ours? Ours.
My money or ours? Ours.
My kid Dinah or ours. Ours.
My life or ours? Ours.
It was no wonder Helena was so surly and distant sometimes. Barbara realized with a thrill of something like horror that, if she looked at the facts of the matter, she was already, and had been for years, in a committed relationship with the young woman. Without, somehow, having heard about it.
But a lifelong romantic relationship? Because she had no delusions on that point—once they were together, there’d be no turning back. No three or seven or twenty year itch or reconsideration.
A relationship with Helena.
To be fair to herself, it had just never occurred to her. It would have been akin to someone saying to her, ‘Barbara, have you ever considered spending the rest of your life as an aardvark?’
Well…actually…no. She’d never understood that to be one of her life options. She had nothing against aardvarks or a particular reluctance about aardvark-ness. She just really hadn’t considered it a possibility. Except, evidently it was. The aardvark option was wide open, hers for the taking.
So why was she hesitating?
With a burst of what she recognized as selfish petulance, she hated Quinn for thrusting this information upon her, for forcing her to face this. And she hated—hated—Quinn for hurting Helena.
Though it was a bitter thing to realize that she had little room to talk.
Dinah lay awake for a long time, knowing that the next day, and the next, and the next would not be easy. Would be, instead, very, very hard—if not impossible.
And she hated—hated—Harley Quinn for having so disturbed her family.
When Dinah had padded out of her room the next morning, she found a pensive Barbara sitting in front of Delphi. From long experience watching the woman, Dinah could tell she wasn’t really looking at, seeing, anything. She didn’t even seem to realize Dinah had joined her.
But she had. Dinah had known things would be bad, but she didn’t know just how bad until Barbara asked her, quite tentatively. “Do you think we should call her?”
Hoo boy. You’re asking me, Dinah thought. You know her better than anyone in the world and, beside that, you’re the adult, and you’re asking me? What she said, though, was, “maybe we should give her a little time.” Barbara nodded as if Dinah had offered her sage advice, rather than that first thing she could think of.
”Yeah, maybe so.”
Dinah moved toward the coffeemaker, astonished to find it empty. ”Didn’t you make…I mean, want some coffee? I’ll make.”
”Sure, yeah, whatever.”
Whatever to coffee. Holy shit.
Great. It was going to be a great day.
Helena decided light. That was the ticket. She just had to get through the next 24 hours and she’d be free. Light and breezy—she’d pretend it hadn’t even happened. What the fuck else could she do? So she strolled into the Clocktower with a dozen donuts and a smile.
She threw the donuts on the kitchen counter, play-punched Dinah and actually kissed a startled Barbara on the cheek before throwing herself into a chair.
”Hey, don’t think I’ve forgotten about babysitting little D tonight.”
”You don’t have to. I mean, I can, and probably should, cancel.”
”No way. You gotta go. And I’ll be here to protect our young charge from the forces of darkness, so there’s no excuse.”
“Look, you can’t just ditch the opera. Not after you swore you’d go and I’m sure his highness Prince Wade has already bought the tickets. It’s cool. Me and D’ll just go to the movies or something.”
Dinah joined them with a “I don’t need a babysitter.”
”Not even a babysitter as hot as I am?” Helena was pleased to see Dinah blush, pleased to make something, anything, normal.
“You’re not all that hot.”
”Yes I am. And don’t think I don’t know you think so. Don’t even start.”
Dinah smiled gently at this. But it wasn’t lost on her that Helena wasn’t really looking either she or Barbara in the eyes. ”Okay, so you’re hot. That and about $2.50 will get me coffee at Starbucks.”
”Whoa…speaking of coffee.” Helena jumped up and moved toward the kitchen.
Barbara looked at Dinah as if an extremely rare bird had flown into their midst, disappeared into the brush, and was soon expected to make another appearance. When Helena emerged with her coffee, Barbara decided she needed to say something.
”Hel, do you think maybe it might be a good idea to take some—“
”Time off?” Helena beat her to it handily. “Yeah, sure do. I called Nightwing last night—he’ll get in tomorrow. Thought I’d take about a month off.”
”You called Nightwing? Yourself?”
“Yeah. I can dial a phone, B. No reason to stroke out.”
”What’d you say?”
”That I’d fucked up royally, he’d be happy to hear, and that you needed him to protect New Gotham and the Wayne family bacon since I was too utterly fucked up to be of any use to anyone.”
”That’s not true. And you know I don’t think that.”
”That’s very kind of you, I’m sure.”
“But, Helena, a month?
“It wouldn’t be safe for me to be out there right now—not for me and not for anybody who might piss me off. I…need some time, Barbara.” This was the closest reference yet to the elephant in the room.
“What about your job?”
”Oh, I’ll be working. I’ll be in town. So if you guys really need me, you can just call.”
Barbara digested this, knowing, naturally, that this wasn’t about the job, the sweeps, at all.
“So, actually, you’re saying you need to take some time away from—“, she was going to, wanted to, but knew she shouldn’t, say ‘me.’ So she amended it, gesturing at the room, “all of this.”
“Yep, that’s right. But I’ll be back fat and sassy in a few weeks. Ready to kick ass, take names.”
Light. Light and breezy.
”Okay, sweetie, if that’s what you need.”
”Wanna get the donuts, kid?”
Dinah knew when she was being shooed and she nearly fled the room.
As Dinah disappeared, Helena knelt beside Barbara’s chair and looked up at her. “Sorry about last night. Really.”
”You have nothing to apologize for, but if it helps, I accept. And I’m sorry, too. For everything.” Neither she nor Helena wanted to consider exactly what she might be apologizing for.
Barbara hesitated, offered, “After breakfast, would you like to talk?”
Helena smiled at the other woman’s nervousness but cursed herself as she couldn’t help but hope. “Nope…not unless you have something really world-shaking to say to me.”
Barbara swallowed hard, dismayed. She just wasn’t ready for world-shaking. Not yet. “No, nothing like that.”
Helena smiled again, tightly. ”Then no. I’d prefer not to talk. But thanks for the offer.”
This was still said so kindly that Barbara felt she needed to rise to the occasion. “I hope that, no matter what…my limitations are…I hope you know how much I love you, Helena.”
Helena winced at the ‘limitation’ bit but was able to say truthfully, “Oh yeah. I know you do. And, as has been recently and so charmingly exposed to you, I love you, too…desperately.” She cursed herself for having added that last word, knowing what would happen.
Yep. She could feel the intensity between them thicken exponentially. And saw that Barbara was instantly almost panic-stricken.
So she stood up and grinned, hastened to make the most serious thing in her life a joke. “By the way, did I ever tell you that you’re the wind beneath my wings?”
Barbara smiled and followed Helena toward the kitchen with, “did I ever tell you you’re my hero?”
Later that evening, Barbara wondered that her male company, the wondrous spectacle and—hell—the sheer volume of the opera, did so little to dint her concentration. A month without her. They’d never been apart for a month.
Helena and Dinah had taken the Humvee to go to the movies. Helena hadn’t wanted to run into Wade and nobody’d blamed her. They’d enjoyed the movie and even had dinner without remotely broaching the topic at the top of their minds.
When they returned to the Clocktower, they both decided to sit outside and look at the skyline. Once there, silence had overcome them for about half an hour.
”Helena, uh….” Dinah hesitated, then plowed on, “I know I’m a little young to know what’s going on but I know you can’t talk to Barbara about it….and that particular therapist of yours is probably shot at this point…”
”Gee, ya think?” Helena’s laugh was a short bark. “Thanks kid, but I’m fine.” She thought for a second before adding, “But I’m sorry you had to hear all that.”
”Not nearly as sorry as I am you went through it.”
They sat there for a while in a companionable silence, which Dinah broke.
”You know, when my mom left me with my stepparents, I sat there for days, waiting for her to come back. Wondering what I’d done—wondering why she didn’t love me. And, for days, my stepparents kept pushing, pushing, pushing food in front of me. But I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t feel like eating. I felt like dying. But the days kept going by and going by and then one day my stepmother put a milkshake in front of me.”
Dinah paused so long that Helena interjected, “So yeah? Did you drink it?”
Dinah continued ruefully. “Sure did and you know what? It was the best fucking milkshake I’ve ever had, before or since.”
Helena smiled. “I bet. Though I guess I should say watch that mouth, junior.”
“And you know what else?”
Helena had no idea what was prompting this trip down memory lane but she was willing to go anywhere that took attention off of her.
”Years later, when my powers started showing, my stepfather would sometimes knock me around a little, then my stepmother would throw me in a dark closet and lock me in for hours to teach me better non-meta manners.”
”Yeah, you’ve told us that. That really sucks.”
”And every time, I’d sit there in the dark being so hurt and sad and so mad that I swore I’d never, ever speak to either of them again. But, every time they’d let me out, a few days would go by and every time, eventually, my stepmother would pull me onto her lap and hug me and kiss me. Tell me I was her special, pretty girl. And you know what?”
”Even though I wanted to hate her, I was always glad she did it and it always made me feel better. For a really long time, though, I hated myself for being so weak that I’d make up with the people who were battering me for the price of a little hug or a kiss.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
Dinah paused for a long moment, then said, “I just wanted to tell you that sometimes…our bodies want and need things our minds tell us we shouldn’t.” She watched Helena’s jaw twitch. “And even if we…enjoy these things, sometimes we just can’t help it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Helena sat with this uncomfortable information just long enough for Dinah to wonder whether she might ought to get out of fist range. Long enough for Helena to realize how amazingly kindly and how very tactfully the girl had broached one hell of a subject, a subject it was sad she knew anything about.
Which was long enough that Dinah started when she saw Helena reach toward her.
”If I touch you, will you stay the fuck out of my head?”
Dinah was surprised to feel Helena move closer, put her arm around her shoulder. Then she rested her head against hers. “I’m sorry that shit happened to you, kid.”
”Yeah. Me too. Sorry about you, too.”
”Thanks…you know, sometimes I’m really glad Barbara brought you home from the pound.”
They sat for a very long time, together, silently looking out at the sky.
Which was how Barbara found them when she returned. She didn’t immediately disturb them and felt a pang of, not jealousy, but tremendous sadness as she looked at them, knowing as she did that she was not at this time, and could not be, a source of comfort for the woman she loved so dearly.
When she announced her presence, Helena jumped up as if scalded.
”Hey, you’re back! How was Cats?”
”The opera was lovely, thank you. How was the movie.”
”Great, thanks, but I gotta get going.”
”Why don’t you stay for some coffee?”
”Love to, but my vacation’s a’callin’.”
Helena barely touched Barbara’s shoulder as she passed her, calling over her shoulder loudly “Call me if you guys get into anything you can’t handle.” Then louder, as they heard her retreating through their home, “thanks for everything, kid. See you guys in a few weeks.”
And she was gone.
Dinah glimpsed at Barbara, who looked suddenly and entirely deflated, desolate.
Oh, yeah. Things were going to get worse before they got better.
As Dick Grayson drove through the streets of New Gotham, he looked at them with an affection that only someone who loved them enough to fight and sweat and bleed for them could. And, no mistake, he loved this city. Loved it to death, if need be. He wondered briefly whether this was some ineffably innate factor of his existence, or just another legacy Bruce had passed on to him and Barbara. Probably a mixture of the two: a bit of nature, dash of nurture.
Barbara. He gunned the accelerator a bit. He wanted to be there already. He’d always known Helena would one day let Barbara down in a big way, just as he’d always known he’d be there to pick up the pieces. He’d always expected it, though he’d always expected to get the big call from Barbara.
Because it hadn’t been at all like little sis to call him, even more unlike her to ask for a favor. After he’d picked his jaw up off of the floor, he’d stifled his glee as she’d rather humbly asked him whether he’d clean up some nebulous fuck-up of hers. Please. The ‘please’ part had been downright surreal. But of course he’d help. The city, and Barbara, deserved the very best. And without Bruce around, that was…well…him.
He breezed into the Clocktower with a smile and a bunch of flowers, finding the women occupied in their usual Sunday afternoon ways. Barbara was sitting in front of Delphi; Dinah was reading, sitting in a chair behind her.
Barbara accepted the flowers with a slight smile, ”Hello, Dick. Thanks for coming.”
Dick was immediately taken aback by the fact that five words could say so much. Because, although Dick Grayson would have readily admitted he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed where identifying emotional undercurrents was concerned, he would have to have been an idiot not to know something was very wrong.
Dinah jumped forward.
”Dinah.” He flashed his 1000-watt smile at her, receiving only a wincing grin in return as she took the flowers, “Hi Dick—Barbara, I’ll put these in some water for you.”
”Thank you, Dinah. Could you make another pot of coffee?”
Dinah called over her shoulder as she left the room, “Will do.”
Barbara honored him with the thinnest smile he’d ever seen and then turned back to Delphi.
”I’m glad you made the drive down on such a pretty day. It’s really good of you to come on such short notice.”
”My pleasure.” He leaned against her desk, then paused, trying to read the situation before asking, “Okay, let’s hear it. What’s she done now?”
”She? Helena? She hasn’t done anything. She’s taking a vacation. I’m grateful that you’re willing to fill in.”
“That’s not what she told me. She told me she’d fucked something up.”
”She was exaggerating—as usual,” Barbara followed this with an evasive chuckle, ‘But you know how she is. Everything’s fine.”
So this was how it was going to be, Dick thought. As usual, Barbara was going to defend her little baby Jesus. A growl stuck in his throat. It was maddening.
”Oh, okay, so you mean Ms. Responsible decides on a Friday night to take a month—a month—off starting Sunday. But for no reason, right? When’s the last time you or I took a month off, huh? Ever? It’s a damned good thing I’m available, isn’t it?” He let this sink in before adding, “It’s stuff like this that makes me think I need to move back to New Gotham.”
Barbara wanted to steer toward safer waters. ”Oh really? Well, that sounds great. We’d be glad to have you back on the team.”
But Dick wouldn’t let her, laughed derisively. “Team? That’s a joke. She’s not a team player.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Really? Okay. So where’s your star player right now, coach?”
Dinah had chosen to come into the room at this point and wheeled right back around and headed out again when she heard Barbara’s reply.
”What do you want me to say Dick? What? That I’ll be happy if you move back into town? I will. And I’ll enjoy working with you again. But that doesn’t change the fact that Helena is my partner. She has been and will be. If you have no appreciation for what she’s done and been for me in all the years since—“, she smacked the sides of her wheelchair, “then you’re less intelligent and a hell of a lot less of a friend than I thought you were.”
To his credit, Dick thought before he spoke because it really wasn’t like Barbara to snap at him. Things must be a lot more serious than he’d guessed. He spoke more gently this time. “Babs, what’s going on? Is there something wrong with Helena?” Acting slightly concerned about Huntress, he was irritated to see, did the trick. Something in her eyes changed from defensiveness and anger into sadness.
”On Friday afternoon, she was kidnapped by Harley Quinn. Drugged, kidnapped, shackled and assaulted while Dinah and I listened.”
He was as stunned as if he’d heard something like that had happened to Batman. He didn’t necessarily like his sister but he had a very healthy respect for her talents. “Oh my God. I don’t know what to—is she okay?”
”Physically, she’s fine. But, as I’m sure you know, super-heroes find the whole forced helplessness thing even more degrading than civilians do.”
”Yeah. Sure. But how? Harley Quinn’s dangerous but I never would have imagined she could get the drop on somebody like—“
Barbara turned away from him to look at Delphi as she continued their conversation. Dick couldn’t immediately decide whether this was a distancing action on her part or just typical Barbara, always on the job. “Harley Quinn has an alter ego, Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Dr. Quinzel was Helena’s psychotherapist.”
Dick could only offer a low, astonished whistle at this announcement.
”And Helena trusted her enough to tell her…everything.”
He could barely believe this, “Everything, everything?”
Barbara suppressed a grin. “That’s what I said when she told me. Yes, everything.”
”So that’s the fuck-up she’s talking about, huh?”
”One hell of a security breach, too.”
”And she’s chosen this time to take off?” His tone was neutral but the criticism was implied.
”Yes, which I believe shows remarkable maturity. She could have stayed here and gone out every night too distracted, angry and volatile to be on the streets. But she chose to call you instead and arrange for the Clocktower and the city’s safety while she gets her head together.” She turned from Delphi to look into his eyes. “C’mon, Dick, you must understand how difficult it was for her to call you and ask for help.”
He thought about this for a moment and had to acknowledge she was right. He would have to have had one leg in a bear-trap and the other in a bear’s mouth to call Helena for help.
At 2:30 the same afternoon, Helena hated to admit, but had to, that she was hammered. Although she was usually able to drink an aircraft carrier’s worth of sailors under the table, she didn’t usually start drinking at 6:30 in the morning. On an empty stomach, to boot, she felt her stomach tell her. She briefly considered ordering Chinese take-out but decided against it since she’d actually have to interact with another human being or two in order to get it.
She’d decided on Friday night that at least one full day of drinking was in order after Quinn’s little theatrical exercise. And it was more than in order thinking about Dick-fucking-Grayson at the Clocktower doing her job. Smiling his shiny white smile at Barbara and Dinah and flexing his goddamned muscles all over the place. The outstanding All-American, upright, perfect nose to the grindstone, broad shoulder to the wheel motherfucker she wanted to hate but couldn’t, since he’d saved Barbara’s life on many an occasion, since he genuinely loved Barbara. And who could blame him for that?
She felt tears sting her eyes, which she knew meant she wasn’t just hammered, she was Hammered. She generally cut people off and called the taxis when the maudlin tears started falling. She suddenly remembered a long conversation she’d had with one of her favorite drunks on a slow night at the bar. He’d asked her if she knew that some psychologists considered turning to alcohol a low-level reaching out for God, a desire for an experience of the divine. She could see that, sort of. And sometimes she wished she felt more certain about God.
Her mother had been murdered in front of her, Barbara had been paralysed and her father had fled the city on one eventful day. But the God she hated for allowing those things to happen had also been benevolent enough to give her Barbara for the rest of her life. Which was no inconsiderable gift when she thought about it. Barbara had been the perfect person to care for her and absolutely the perfect person to care for.
She smiled faintly. It almost evened the scales between them as far as she was concerned. So she raised a bottle to the Big Man in the sky.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Barbara cast a quick glance at Dinah, who was playing chess with Dick as Barbara did a pre-sweep scan of Delphi.
The past two weeks had been, without exception, the dullest crime-weeks in New Gotham during Barbara’s experience. She and Dick had agreed, with Dinah a far less experienced third ‘aye,’ the past fortnight’s crime-watch had been like watching paint dry.
They’d had only a brief, ‘hello, I’m okay’ email from Helena once each week since she’d left, which left Barbara much more discomfited than she wanted to admit to herself. She’d been astonished at how urgently, on a minute-to-minute basis, she’d wanted to call her, connect, hear her voice.
She’d emailed Helena once, hoping to draw her out about the lack of criminal activity—hoping for some, any response. What she’d received was less than encouraging, even vaguely anxiety-inducing. She’d written, ‘B: Told you she’d leave us alone. She said so and I believed her. Glad you’re getting a break. All else okay. H.’
She wondered (desperately, she realized) how Helena might be able to make such an assertion. In all actuality, though, she knew for some reason she truly didn’t want to think about it too much.
As Dinah sat playing chess with the, well, let’s face it, eminently studly Dick Grayson, she thought for the thousandth time how A.) Handsome and nice he was, and B.) That despite this, how weird it was to know he and Barbara had ever slept with each other and C.) How strange it was that Barbara persisted in her relationship with Wade despite Dick’s presence.
And, she thought with no little amount of grim disappointment, despite how Helena felt about her. She didn’t like feeling disappointed and even a bit angry with Barbara because these feelings made incongruous bed-partners with the awe, respect and love she felt for the older woman.
Geez Louise, as her stepmother might have said, adults could certainly be difficult. She made a mental note to herself to try not to be so utterly fucking clueless in whatever romantic relationships she might face in the future. Not that her relationships had been necessarily clear-cut, mind you. Sure, it was taking a lot of time, but she was wrapping her mind around forgiving her stepparents and their well-meaning but bigoted limitations. She’d gotten to the point that it was easier to forgive her mom for abandoning her and look back with love on the brief relationship they’d had. And she knew, and knew Helena knew, that whatever their outward appearances, they loved each other dearly—though it might take decades to admit it. And Barbara, she loved quite easily and openly.
So what the hell was wrong with the rest of her family? And why? Since it was bound to happen eventually, why not just sleep together and get it over with? Get everything back to normal but happier? Honestly.
She sighed deeply, then smiled and took Dick’s king.
Dick, even more than Dinah, had been startled by how determined Barbara had seemed to introduce Wade into their daily existence. He was willing to concede that, since he was still playing busy bachelor-about-town, he had no right to judge but…Wade? Nice guy and all but she could do better. Because really, as far as he was concerned, no one was good enough for Barbara.
Except maybe him.
Or even someone like…
Barbara didn’t have any idea why she was suddenly and so insistently injecting Wade into her home life. Well, then again, maybe she did but didn’t want to think about it. Not that she’d originally had any choice in the matter. Once Alfred had forced her to come clean to Wade about the reality of the muffin-top business, Barbara had had to let him in more than she might have liked to. But, having let him in, she’d realized he was just pleasant and smart and…regular enough that she’d enjoyed it after all.
Which saved her from having to spend every night in bed with Dick. Not that that would necessarily have been a hardship, beauty and loving long-time friend that he was. It was just that Dick, obtuse as he sometimes could be, would have known how distant and unreal everything seemed to her right now. Dick would have known she was there, but not really there, in their couplings. Poor Wade had no idea.
Poor Wade, indeed. God, how he’d enjoyed finally knowing the real Barbara, knowing more about this amazing woman’s true life—her work in the Clocktower. He’d even enjoyed getting to know Dinah better, though Helena was another matter. She was entirely too…something. She made him deeply uncomfortable and he didn’t really know why.
But he sure as hell knew why Dick Grayson made him uncomfortable. Handsome millionaire super-hero. Cock-sure (in every possible sense of the term) long-time friend and erstwhile lover of Barbara. How was he supposed to compete with him? Even Dinah looked at him with pity. Though for some reason, he wasn’t sure Dinah’s look was about Dick. And for some reason he wasn’t remotely as jealous of this guy as he was of Helena. Which was weird when you thought about it. Or…was it? He thought about that for another few seconds.
Two weeks in, Helena had arranged to take the next week away from the bar.
And her last night was a deadly slow shift, except for an unexpected tsunami of customers who’d come in just about 10:00.
As she’d filled their orders, she’d felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. They’d suddenly dispersed and she saw why. One of her more obnoxious drunks, Barry, was hitting on…what to call her? Dr. Quinzel? Harley? Quinn? She sauntered down to their location at her bar.
”C’mon baby, don’t be shy. I’ll buy you a drink.” This wasn’t the question it should have been; it was a statement.
This received a very cool ”No thank you.”
“Aww, c’mon. A pretty lady like you needs company and I’m your man,” he slurred confidently as he grabbed Quinn’s arm with one enormous hand.
She batted her eyelashes at him winningly. “Want to know where that hand of yours could be later?”
He gave her a bleary-eyed leer, “I sure do.”
“Bobbing in a jar of formaldehyde on my mantelpiece.”
“Whoa!” Helena moved in quickly, “Hey Barry, leave her alone.”
”Ah, c’mon, Hel, I’m doin’ great.”
”Nope, don’t think you are. And I’m telling you, I’d rather fuck with Caligula or Joe Stalin than this lady.”
Quinn smiled brightly at Helena and purred, “Sweet-talker.”
Helena ignored this and continued with Barry. “Get lost,” she said with real fervour, ‘and count yourself lucky, buddy, that she doesn’t unleash the hounds of hell on you.”
Barry wasn’t so drunk that he couldn’t see Helena was serious and, because she was his favorite bartender by far, he decided to move on to more willing game. As they watched him stagger away, Helena poured two fingers of scotch in a glass and slid it toward Quinn.
”Since I bum-rushed your date, I’ll buy you a drink. How ‘bout that?”
”Thank you. And how nice of you to remember my drink of choice.”
”Comes with the job, Dr. Quin—“
”Please call me Quinn. Everyone I care about does.”
Helena had known she’d encounter the woman again—it was just a matter of time. She’d said she’d be in touch and Helena had had no doubt in the world that she would.
Quinn smiled again as she took a sip of her drink. “I hear, as I’m sure you’ve heard, that New Gotham’s been particularly quiet these days.”
“Yep. But I’m not exactly in the loop. I’ve been taking a few weeks off.”
“Not on my account, I hope.”
Helena poured herself a quick shot and slugged it down, job be damned.
”Well, not entirely on your account.”
”Oh? Do tell. How is the sainted Barbara? Did you two talk?”
Helena smiled ruefully, ”Of course not.”
“My God, you two are fanatics.”
”You think so? In what sense?”
”In the sense you’re both fanatically averse to confronting what’s biting both of you on the ass. Even to the point of neurosis, in my professional opinion.” She turned her head slightly to one side and winked, “Which I’m sure you value more than ever these days.”
”Oh, you betcha.”
”At least, ” she paused for effect, “I know for a fact that it isn’t the crime-fighting that’s keeping you apart.”
”Uh huh, though I hope you’re not telling me this dip in crime means that you’ve been responsible for nearly all of the crime in New Gotham.”
”Even I wouldn’t be so bold. But I am telling you that not only have I turned over a substantial new leaf, I’ve had certain associates of mine…repress other criminal elements as well.”
”And why would you do that?”
”I told you. Because I’ve grown quite fond of you.”
Helena didn’t know quite how to reply to this so she didn’t.
”I must say you look particularly fetching tonight, Helena. Lovely outfit.”
Helena gave herself a quick glance, couldn’t help but approve herself, but merely said “Thanks.”
”Yes…yet another one of your many, many ‘I know you want to fuck me but you can’t’ ensembles. By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever told you how entirely I approve of the intentionality of your clothing choices. And I say that advisedly, being something of a clothes-horse myself.”
At this, Helena couldn’t help but laugh. And she remembered with some alarm and discomfort that she actually liked this woman. Or, she reminded herself quickly, had liked her before…
“Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Have you considered my offer?”
Actually, Helena was almost too embarrassed to admit to herself, she had—at a very distant, almost dreamlike distance.
But she looked her in the eye. ”Yeah, I did. Honestly. But sorry, I’m still holding out for my girl.”
“Ah yes. Barbara. Ms. Right.” Quinn swallowed this with the rest of her scotch.
“Yeah. Ms. Right. Sorry.”
Helena watched as Quinn gave her the once over twice.
“Well...my dear…I know I’m not Ms. Right...but how about Ms. Right Now?”
Helena felt adrenaline rush through her and was surprised to realize that this was, for some reason, exactly what she wanted—though what she wanted exactly wasn’t quite within her purview at the moment.
“Alright. Though I’m not sure you’re ready to take what I’m giving.”
”Why don’t you try me? Your place or mine?”
”My place sort of sucks but if you’re thinking freezing warehouse on a rehab table, you’re out of your mind.”
”Now that’s not nice—you’re talking to a girl who’s been taking her anti-psychotic meds religiously lately.”
Helena laughed, “Yeah? And how’s that treating you?”
She was chagrined to see Quinn’s face fall, that real emotion could come so quickly to the woman’s eyes.
”Oh, let’s see. Drowsiness, dizziness, indigestion, migraines, lethargy and feeling all in all like I’m going to hell in a hand-basket and don’t even know myself. How’s that sound?”
“Like shit, actually.”
”So that’s how it’s treating me, thanks.”
They didn’t speak for a moment, then Quinn broke the silence.
”I’ve taken the penthouse at the New Gotham Plaza. Want to join me?”
”Sounds like a plan.”
Three hours later
Helena raised one languid hand to scratch her temple as she felt Quinn get out of bed.
”I’m getting some water. Want some?”
She watched the naked woman disappear into the darkened—what? The drawing room or something, for fuck’s sake, of this enormous penthouse suite.
As soon as she tried to relax into the bed, she found that she was too mortified to do so. She’d known before, of course, that she’d been angry with the other woman for what she’d put her through. But Helena hadn’t thought herself capable of the brutality she’d just shown Quinn. Sure she liked to kick ass and, sure, sex was fun a little rough sometimes. But this had been vicious and, she had to confess, payback. As she’d fucked her, holding back none of her meta-human strength, she’d thought to herself, ‘she deserves this, this is what she gets for…”
Hurting her feelings? Sure. Hurting her? Because she hadn’t.
Though she knew it wasn’t necessarily p.c. to think so, she’d come to consider what Quinn had done to her as just like taking another kind of beating from someone else. Helena’s body was her medium—that’s what she used with the forces of darkness. So sometimes strange shit happens. Right? Then again, maybe not. She clapped her hands over her eyes. She didn’t know what the fuck to think.
No matter what, though, she couldn’t reconcile what she’d just done to the other woman with any forgivable human behavior. No matter how much she might deserve it.
She got up and padded out into the other room to face what she’d done.
Quinn placed a few cubes of ice in a glass, added water and drank deeply. Filled the glass again and drained it. Dry mouth—yet another delightful side effect of her meds.
So this was what civilian life was like, she chuckled to herself. Not all that different from her criminal life.
Because this wasn’t the first time, by far, that she’d been punish-fucked. And she’d even enjoyed it, idiot that she knew she was. It was a bit startling to realize that someone as small as the girl in the next room could be as sadistic as her Mr. J. But there it was—strange things sometimes came in small packages.
She didn’t hear Helena’s silent approach. Even in the darkened room, Helena was aghast at the sight of the other woman. Quinn looked, to her horrified but experienced eyes, as if she’d just fought—unsuccessfully—a couple of thugs. She knew too well the signs of the bruises to come. And they were everywhere, her neck, her arms, her thighs. She winced. And after the thugs had gotten through with her, the poor thing had clearly tangled briefly with a bobcat. Which explained the scratches all over the woman’s thin back.
Holy shit. Usually she didn’t mind feeling like an animal.
She moved with a little more sound so she wouldn’t alarm Quinn and was freshly horrified to see the woman flinch at her touch—ready for more pain.
She took the glass from Quinn’s hand and finished the water. “C’mon, baby, I’ll make it better.”
She gently lifted Quinn into her arms and carried her into the bathroom—which was of Neronian splendor.
She placed Quinn on the side of the enormous tub and began to run the bath. She looked around a bit. Yep, this joint had everything, she thought, as she added some bath salts to the water. ”Be right back.”
Helena grabbed her bag from the other room and returned to the bath. She took a small kit from her bag—which was actually a rather deluxe first aid kit that Barbara forced upon her. She smiled as she looked at a thing she’d never had reason to use since Barbara always took care of her.
”This’ll sting a bit.”
She quickly cleaned the scratches on Quinn’s back. And from Quinn’s flinching, she could tell that it did sting, though the woman made no sound. Which was sort of scary, or sad, non-stop commenter that Quinn usually was.
”This’ll be cold.” She watched the woman flinch again as she sprayed a small aerosol can, “This is Second Skin—it’ll form a semi-permeable layer over the scratches. Lets air in but not water or germs. Keep everything sterile ‘til it heals.”
The bath was full enough, she decided.
She turned the water off, got into the bath then pulled Quinn gently in with her, seating her in the O she’d formed with her legs.
And when she kissed Quinn again, she knew that this was going to be a first in her life. God knows she was no virgin. She’d had sex. But she’d never, she saw with a flash of true clarity, never made love with anyone in her life.
She’d always assumed Barbara would be the first. Evidently not.
When she awoke the next morning, she looked at the clock and found she’d slept into the afternoon. And since getting gone was generally her first priority after any sexual encounter, this was fairly startling news.
Did she smell coffee?
Yes. Quinn was seated at a table reading the New Gotham Times, drinking coffee, eating a bagel.
Helena kissed her on the neck. “Good morning.”
”Good afternoon. I thought the smell of food would wake you up.” She didn’t look up from her paper, but waved her hand at the many dishes and carafes on the table. “Didn’t know what you’d want so I ordered a lot.”
As Helena poured herself a cup of coffee and helped herself to a hell of a lot of food, she felt Quinn’s eyes on her so she looked at her and smiled.
”I thought I’d pre-empt your anxiety, Helena, by telling you that I know this can’t happen again.”
Helena found that she felt more embarrassed by this than she should be.
“No. It can’t. I’m sorry.”
Quinn shrugged. “No problem. Worse things happen at sea.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
”Navy saying.” She laughed at the look on Helena’s face. “What? You don’t think I’ve known sailors?” She turned back to her paper and they ate in silence for a few minutes.
“You’re going about it all wrong, you know.”
Helena looked up. “What? What do you mean?”
Quinn kept her eyes on the paper as she spoke. “This avoidance behavior of yours. I bet you never stick around, have dinner, watch TV with Barbara and all these Dicks and Wades, do you?”
“Nope. Never do.”
“If you took the time to think about it, you’d realize disappearing every time Dick or Wade enter the room never gives Barbara the opportunity to make the obvious comparisons between you three.”
Quinn put her paper down and ran one hand through Helena’s hair. “And they’d suffer in comparison, believe me.”
Helena leaned forward and kissed her. “I don’t know whether I should take advice from you about women…considering your pick-up style.”
Quinn kissed her on each cheek, then her nose, before taking another sip of coffee.
”Worked with you, didn’t it?
Helena smirked. “Yeah, but Barbara’s not the freak we are.”
Quinn’s laugh was short and sharp. “Two words. BAT. GIRL. She used to dress up as a bat, Helena. She’s probably twice as freaky as both of us put together.”
Helena sipped her coffee and thought about that. ”You know, all I can say in response to that is yum.”
Quinn turned back to her paper. “When you finish your food, we’ll go take a shower. That way, when you go back to the Clocktower, which you’re doing today, goddamnit, you’ll look freshly laundered rather than freshly fucked.”
”Oh? Is that what I look?”
Later, at the door, feeling both newly laundered and fucked, Helena hesitated for a beat. “If I hug you, you won’t paralyse me again, will you?”
”Nope. Fresh out of that particular drug.”
She hugged her gently, then kissed her for what she knew would be the last time.
”Thanks for everything, Doc.”
”My pleasure,” she purred in reply. “Believe me.”
Helena’s face became serious. “What are you going to do now?”
”As long as you’ll keep Barbara from killing me, I think I’ll go back into private practice. Maybe a little moonlighting on the side.”
”Scout’s Honor. Now get out of here and go get that girl. Shoo—we’ll see each other again. Promise.”
She laughed at Helena’s look of slight disbelief. “Believe me. We’re too much alike not to run into each other…sometime or other, somewhere.” A sharp little laugh and smirk followed these words. And a few moments later, as she strolled out into a beautiful day, remembering that smirk made the hair stand up on Helena’s neck.
Though she really couldn’t put her finger on why.
No guts, no glory. No guts, no glory. No guts, no glory. Helena chanted this to herself as she moved through the night.
She’d chosen dinnertime to stroll into the very full Clocktower with a loud “Honey, I’m home!”
A very startled Barbara, Dinah, Dick and Wade looked up from the table where they were all tucking into some of Alfred’s cooking. Great, Helena thought, the whole fucking Brady family. She got all of her greetings out of the way jovially and quickly.
Clapped Wade on the back. “Hiya Wade. How ya doin’, man?”
Whacked Dick on the back: “Big bro! Long time, no see!”
Play-punched Dinah, then kissed her on the cheek. “Hiya kid.”
Which brought her to Barbara. A radiant Barbara, a Barbara who was manifestly very, very happy to see her. “Hi beautiful, didja miss me?” She hugged her tightly and as she pulled out of the hug, she pecked her very lightly, very casually on the lips before kneeling beside her chair and looking up at her.
Although Barbara was blushing furiously, it wasn’t lost on Helena that she was still smiling.
It wasn’t lost on Dick that the woman had never—ever—been as happy to see him, except maybe a few times when she thought he was dead.
It wasn’t lost on Wade that he now knew what Barbara looked like in love, just in case he was wondering.
None of this was lost on Dinah, who was surprised yet again by the typhoon of emotions this relatively small woman could so effortlessly evoke.
She snorted, chuckled to herself. Way to go, Kyle, she thought. Way to go.