DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything, nor am I writing this for profit. The characters belong to the WB and DC comics. No copyright infringement is intended.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Phryne for your wonderful advice. I'm sure I gave you plenty of headaches, but thank you for all your grammar corrections.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading. Any comments or criticism can be directed to email@example.com.
SERIES: Part one of the 'What it Means to Be a Hero' series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
What it Means to Be a Hero
Part 1: Getting Back On Your Feet
Mind almost completely numbed by the sonorous voice lecturing at the front of the room, Helena tried to focus on recording the highlights in her notebook. Though she would rather die than admit it literally Helena had been extremely nervous when she first started attending classes at Gotham University.
In her first two years of high school she had been an excellent student. She had gotten good grades and been a member of the pep squad. Everything had changed during her junior year though when her mother was killed in front of her and her friend Barbara Gordon had been shot by the Joker. After she had finally been able to return to school, she had been too hurt and angry to focus on her studies. She had become withdrawn, lashing out at anyone who got close. Needless to say she did not remain a member of the pep squad. In the end she had barely graduated, and only because Barbara wouldn't let her drop out.
Now, coming back to school, attending university, she wasn't sure she still had the skills to make it in an academic environment. In the clubs, on the streets, she felt completely comfortable, but she wondered if she could somehow reclaim part of the girl who was also comfortable with being smart and hard working.
Helena was interrupted from her musings and inattention to the lecture by the sound of the classroom doors being forcefully thrown open to admit several masked figures armed with guns. Seeing the familiar caricatures of animals, Helena snarled softly; just what she needed, someone deciding to reinstate The Animals. Even when she tried to get as far away from her other identity as she could, it just followed her anyway. Her life was so fucked up.
The figure in the fox mask calmly walked up to the monotonic professor and slammed the butt of his gun into the man's jaw. The professor went down without a sound, slumping unconscious at the base of the chalkboard. Fox-mask then turned his attention to the students scattered throughout the lecture hall, most of whom were visibly shocked by the brutal display.
"Well, I hope that convinces everyone I'm serious and this isn't some event staged by the psychology department." Helena could hear the grin in the man's voice. "Now if everyone would just remain calm, I'll get what I came for and me and my friends will be on our way."
The small eyeholes in the mask seemed to sweep across the chairs, finally settling on Helena. Quickly assessing her options, she decided that she couldn't take out all of the armed gang members before someone got hurt. So far they hadn't shown any inclination to kill, so Helena decided to wait and see how this played out. If they were only after her, she'd be more than happy to go with them, a little privacy was just what she needed to take out these clowns.
Fox-mask stopped just at the edge of her seat, leaning down into her personal space. Staring into the depths of the mask, Helena saw glittering orbs that stole her breath for a moment. There was madness in the eyes that looked back at her, not as bad as Harley Quinn's, that bitch had been in a league all her own, but still something less than sane. When the mask was ripped off leaving her face to face with her kidnapper, Helena couldn't stop her surprised exclamation.
"What the fuck are you doing here?!"
Colin gave her a crooked smile. "Well, I recently got out of the joint for good behavior, and I thought to myself, why don't I go and find my backstabbing former partner, Cat."
"Yeah, well, that seems like a pretty dumb idea, Colin, considering I was the one who kicked your ass and sent you to prison."
Helena didn't see the backhand coming before her head was wrenched violently to the side, blood pooling in her mouth. That was new. Helena's reflexes were nothing short of incredible; there was simply no way a normal human could have landed a blow like that. Assessing the man even as she furiously brought her head around, eyes already shifted to cat-like slits, Helena glared at the former gang leader.
"Well Kitty, last time you had your boyfriend to protect you, and things are a little bit different now aren't they? I'm not the same man I was before . . . and it's all thanks to you." Colin leaned even farther into her until their faces were almost touching. "You're like me Cat. I knew that the very first time I met you. You don't live by society's rules, you were meant to be free, living life to the extreme, on the edge. That's what people like us are made for." The spark of madness seemed to increase in brown eyes. "Can you imagine what it was like for me to be locked up in prison, stuck staring at bars day and night, only able to pace in my cell? I felt like a caged animal, Cat . . . and then I found someone who helped me to really understand what that meant . . . and now he wants to meet you."
Helena prepared to ask him to explain his cryptic statement, your standard hero-villain dialogue, when Colin's hand shot out, again taking her by surprise. As she registered the brightness of white cloth and the distinctive odor of chloroform, Helena decided she really needed to start learning from her mistakes and then she passed out.
Barbara was getting annoyed. Helena should have checked in for sweeps half an hour ago.
She supposed she had become spoiled by the new, more mature Helena. Ever since the brunette had returned, she had made it a point to show up for sweeps on time and be available whenever Barbara tried to contact her. Helena obviously felt she had something to prove or that she had to make up for her earlier behavior in some way even though Barbara had repeatedly told her it wasn't necessary. Whenever she brought up the subject, however, the other woman would merely shrug and remind her how important their mission was. Barbara often wondered who exactly Helena was trying to convince.
Not that she had any room to talk in that particular department.
Since her disturbing talk with Dick and then with her father, her mind had been looping in circles, leaving her more confused and exhausted with each sleepless night spent staring at her ceiling trying to dissect her own motivations. Had she become Batgirl because she needed to feel that she was good enough to be loved? She had always assumed she had done it for the thrill, the challenge, or the need to help other human beings or maybe just because she was a little bit crazy.
After a lengthy evaluation however, she had come to the conclusion that all of them had contributed in some way to her decision to put on the bat costume. She didn't want to be, but if she were completely honest, Dick's theory was not entirely incorrect. Barbara was certain that all her choices had not been motivated by her search for love. It had never been the driving focus of her life. Her thoughts and emotions were too complex for such a simple answer, but her parents' emotional neglect had left deep scars, ones she was only now beginning to recognize.
Dealing with them was another matter entirely.
What exactly did she want from a relationship? Did she even want to try again after Wade? His death had almost broken her and she hadn't even been in love with him. What would she do if she let someone in, let someone know all of her, only to lose them? Wasn't it safer to just let things continue as they had been?
Damn Dick for bringing this up. As far as Barbara was concerned, ignorance had been bliss.
Checking her GPS program, Barbara noted that Helena still hadn't left the Gotham University campus. Perhaps her lecture was running late? A reasonable enough conclusion, except that she knew for a fact that Helena's last class had ended forty-five minutes ago. Maybe she was working on a project or just socializing? Again, it just didn't add up. Helena would have contacted her if she was going to be late.
"Huntress, please respond." Barbara tried hailing Helena using her coms.
With the modifications she had made to the transceivers, the coms were actually very sensitive, an achievement Barbara was quite proud of. They weren't like the radios Batman had supplied them with when she was Batgirl. She had often found herself grateful that Bruce had been a man of few words, it had meant less guessing on her part.
Very faintly over the Delphi speakers she could detect the sound of voices. Turning up the volume to maximum she could just make out the words being spoken.
"Dude, I'm telling you that backpack just talked. Something about a buttress."
"Jake, I think you may have been spending too much time with your architecture notes."
Should she, or shouldn't she? It was a risk, but something had obviously happened to Helena and she need answers.
"Oh my God, the backpack's talking to me!"
"Shut up, you idiot it's probably just somebody's cell phone."
"Go on, answer it."
The sound of zipper opening was almost deafening. Barbara quickly reached out and lowered the volume.
"Um, hello? Guys, I don't see a cell phone."
"Just talk into the necklace, Jake, I can hear you." She tried to keep her voice low and soothing.
"Wow this thing is totally awesome. Are you like an engineering student?"
"Something like that." It was a reasonable enough explanation for the strange equipment. "I'm looking for my partner, Helena Kyle. We're supposed to be testing it for our final project, but I can't seem to reach her."
"Aww man, you don't know. I'm really sorry about your friend."
Barbara's heart plummeted. Something was obviously not right. What if she lost Helena?
"Oh yeah, these guys in animal masks just busted into the room, knocked out Professor McClaine, and then took your friend. We called the police, but they thought we were pulling a prank, and it's not even Thursday."
"Thanks for your help."
Barbara shut down the coms, her mind assimilating all of the new information, working the angles. As she pulled up data on the Delphi related to local gang activity in the past two weeks, she was already opening another channel.
"Nightwing, Canary, we have a situation."
"Ah, you're finally awake my dear."
Keeping her eyes closed, Helena tried to twist her neck towards the voice, only to find herself restrained by a strap crossing her forehead. She tried to lift her arms and feet with the same results. She was completely secured to some sort of metal surface.
Letting her anger go, she used all of her meta-strength to try and break free of the bonds, but only succeeded in bruising her wrists and ankles. Helena felt a tendril of unease squirm through her veins. There were very few materials that could hold her if she really wanted out, and even fewer people who should know what those materials were, let alone that they would be needed with her. Somebody had done their homework.
"Please don't struggle so much. You'll only injure yourself." The voice was male, low and hypnotic. "I'm sorry I've had to restrain you like this, such an improper way to treat a lady." And apparently the guy was older than Alfred. Even Big A didn't have the audacity to refer to Helena as a lady.
Still keeping her eyes shut, Helena focused on her other senses. She could hear the steady drip of falling water in the background. The soft sounds of liquid leaking from pipes and ceilings, and somewhere almost on the edge of hearing, the sound of swiftly rushing water forced through narrow conduits. The sewers then.
If the sounds hadn't given away her location, the smell definitely would. Surrounding her were the smells of a hospital something she chose to ignore for the moment since it probably didn't mean anything good for her. She could make out the man's cologne and a hint of pipe tobacco cutting through the sterile odors as well. Beyond that however, curling in on the vagrant breezes shifting throughout the room, were the distinctive scents of the sewers, something she had unfortunately become quite familiar with in her time as a vigilante.
"I would imagine you've already deduced were you are. Your senses are truly something of a marvel young lady. You should be quite grateful for your genetics."
"Oh I am. They let me take out creeps like you."
Finally opening her eyes, Helena looked at her captor and immediately wished she could rub her eyes in disbelief. The man was dressed like the freaking guy from Jumanji! The figure that met her startled perusal was wearing a rugged kaki vest and trousers along with knee high brown leather boots. All he needed was one of those round hats to complete the look.
"Uh . . ."
The man seemed to understand her unspoken question and moved closer. Helena could now see that he didn't appear that old, perhaps only in his late forties. His black hair was streaked with bits of grey, especially at the temples. Deep set, grey eyes watched her calmly, and a strong jaw was set in definite lines to produce a patrician face. Watching him approach, she noted the way he favored his left leg.
"I realize my apparel may seem somewhat . . . old fashioned to you, but it is what I'm most familiar with, and I find that breeds a certain amount of comfort and inclination on my part to continue wearing it."
"Uh . . ."
Man this guy was worse than Barbara! Why couldn't some people just say what they meant without all the fancy talk and extra words? So the guy liked his outfit, it wasn't like she was going to throw stones. Her entire wardrobe consisted mainly of leather and shirts with holes in one form or another.
"I'd imagine you're wondering what you're doing here. I would like to reassure you that I in no way mean any harm to your womanly assets" - womanly assets! - "but rather, I am interested in your genetic makeup, and how I can use you to further my own research. You see I have been experimenting with combining human and animal DNA for most of my life, but regrettably most of my experiments have been dismal failures." A look of intense anger flashed across strong features, leaving Helena with the feeling that upsetting this man could have dangerous consequences. "However, nature has seen fit to bless you with an amazing gift. You are a perfect amalgam of human and animal DNA feline if I'm not mistaken. You posses the desirable abilities of a jungle cat - speed, strength, agility, while still remaining your humanity. Nature truly is a miracle worker."
Okay, somebody had really been doing their homework.
Helena had been called a freak, a servant of the devil, and even a radioactive mutant by people who had seen some aspect of her meta-human abilities, but very few actually knew that her genetic make-up was a blending of cat and human DNA. This was not good. Oracle was always telling her that knowledge was power, and if that was true, this guy was definitely holding all the cards.
Thinking of Barbara, Helena wondered if the other woman knew she was missing yet. Her coms had been in her backpack during class - apparently it was just as rude for her communication devices to go off as a cell phone, something she had found out her first day of art history class so it was entirely possible that she didn't. Without the coms, Barbara also had no way to locate her. It looked like she was on her own.
Helena figured she might as well start participating in the conversation.
"So, do you have a name I could call you, or should I just resort to Colonel Khaki?" Helena wished Canary could have heard her. That was the way to name a super villain.
"No, my dear, I don't think that will be necessary. However, I don't think I shall reveal my given name, I'm sure you understand. Mister Colin and his friends have taken to calling me Dr. Moreau, and while they do so in an attempt to mock me, I find it rather apropos."
"Okay, Dr. M. What exactly is it you want from me?" Information, she needed more information.
A small frown marred the man's face. "I thought I had already explained that. I intend to use you to perfect my experiments. Your unique genetic make-up will become the template that allows me to create stable human-animal hybrids. Rational, reasoning people capable of tapping into their inner beast. Imagine the potential. I will have single-handedly ushered in the next form of human evolution, one capable of coexisting with our failing world on the most basic of levels. My dear, I'm going to save the world."
Dr. Moreau looked directly into her eyes and Helena could see the spark of madness that had also been present in Colin's.
She may have carefully cultivated the bad-ass, don't give a fuck, all brawn, no brains look, but in reality Helena was rather smart. She could definitely put two and two together. Take one weird doctor experimenting with genetic manipulation, add to that the fact that Colin had been able to over-power her not once but twice, and you naturally got four.
"You've been experimenting on The Animals."
Dr. Moreau looked surprised. "That's quite correct. I used my earlier formula to enhance their speed and strength. It's very unstable and unfortunately causes a bit of mental degradation, but highly effective nonetheless."
Mental degradation? So basically he'd made super strong crazies. Why did these things always happen to her?
Looking into the glittering eyes in front of her, an idea struck Helena.
"You've used the formula on yourself." It wasn't a question.
"Yes I have." Dr. Moreau sighed. "Sadly, it has taken me many years to come to this point in my research. Given a normal human life span, I would have died years ago. I could not allow that to happen, my work is too important." He paused. "Did you know that some lizards have the ability to regenerate? They can grow back whole limbs, but the real work is at the cellular level. If one could alter that process so that the cells renewed themselves throughout the body, well, one would be nearly immortal." One hand dropped down to idly caress his left thigh. "Of course the process was not perfect, there were side-effects, but now that I have you, that will no longer be a concern."
Lucky her. Helena was tempted to inform him that he was insane, but figured it probably wouldn't go over well.
"You sure you didn't cross your DNA with a loon, 'cause I've got to tell you that's one of the craziest things I've ever heard."
Okay, she had meant to keep her mouth shut.
She watched as grey eyes hardened and the sparkle of madness increased. "Perhaps, but I will be alive several centuries from now, watching my children reclaim the world. You my dear will not survive the next few hours."
With that the figure turned and disappeared.
"What do you want Colin?"
Helena had been strapped to the medical table for several hours, and it was starting to get on her nerves. She didn't mind being tied up for certain occasions, but this was definitely not one of them.
"Hey Cat. Just thought I'd stop by. The Doc's about ready to start the injections, so I wanted to say my goodbyes."
Without warning, he leaned down and roughly covered her mouth with his own.
Why was this guy always kissing her without her permission? She felt his tongue sliding wetly against her lips, and had to fight down the rising nausea. Just like last time, her eyes changed to a feral yellow, but this time in anger and frustration. The worst part was she couldn't even use her favorite male attention getting tactic her knee was still strapped to the table.
Suddenly Colin was spinning away from her, a pained howl on his lips. Crashing up against the wall, he slowly slid down until he was hunched against the floor rocking on his heels.
"I believe I told you to stay away from our guest, Mister Colin. I assured her that she would not have to fear that kind of abuse while in my company, and I don't appreciate my word being broken."
Dr. Moreau's voice was low and calm, but as soon as he heard it, Colin began whimpering. Helena couldn't help staring at the man in shock. Just what the hell had he done to the former gang leader?
Noticing the direction of her gaze, the doctor answered her unspoken question.
"When I was altering Mister Colin and his friends, I implanted a small device capable of stimulating the pain centers in the brain. It has proven to be quite effective in controlling their somewhat baser instincts."
"Whatever, but don't even think about sticking one of those things in me."
"I assure you, my dear, that is not my intention. You will not live long enough for me to go to the trouble."
And they were right back to the death threats. Although maybe it was a little more than a threat, since the doctor was pulling out the biggest freaking needle Helena had ever seen.
This was obviously going to hurt.
"Please try to remain calm."
The needle slid into her arm causing brief flare of pain. When the solution entered her bloodstream however, it felt like her entire body had been set on fire. Helena clamped her jaws shut, only allowing a pained grunt past her lips.
"That is quite impressive. Most of my former subjects were screaming by now. The injection I just gave you is a radioactive tracer that should allow me to isolate your feline DNA. Unfortunately the process places incredible stress on your body, leading to massive organ failure."
She barely heard the words, she was so focused on the sensations cascading through her body.
Helena had no way of knowing whether it was the compound itself, or her body's reaction to the chemical, but suddenly she could feel herself entering feral mode. Her meta-genetics were obviously trying to deal with the threat the only way they knew how with interesting results.
Everything had become sharper. Her eyesight was so good she could trace the uneven edges of the cracks in the plaster against the far wall. She could hear the sounds of traffic far above them through the layers of stone. Her sense of smell had also amplified to the point where she was afraid Dr. Moreau's cologne would choke her.
Helena had always tried to keep her feral nature separate from the rest of her personality. She called on it often as Huntress, and sometimes she couldn't stop it from taking over when she experienced strong emotion, but she had a very good reason for keeping it bottled up. When she let it out, she felt out of control. There was no way to put it back and it usually subsided only when the emotion had run its course, which was why she'd always tried so hard not to change around Barbara.
And now it was loose.
She had never felt this powerful, never felt this hungry. She realized it wasn't a physical hunger, she wanted something, and she would have it. Nothing could stop her from taking the one thing she truly wanted.
She could see it in her mind. So many years of fantasies hadn't been wasted. She would go to Barbara, show her how she felt. The other woman would resist. Helena was expecting that. Before she would have tucked her tail between her legs and run, but not now.
Now, she would force Barbara. Helena was actually looking forward to it. She would simply pin the other woman to the ground and take what she wanted, it wasn't as if Barbara could stop her. She would finally posses the one thing that had tempted and teased her for so long.
A fierce growl vibrated through her chest. She could already taste the blood and other fluids. Barbara would learn to accept the inevitable and become her mate. That was simply the way it was meant to be.
But first Helena had to get to her.
Her senses were not the only thing that had been enhanced. Exerting all her strength, Helena easily snapped the restraints holding her to the table. She quickly jumped up and prepared to deal with her captors.
Colin came at her first. Even with the doctor's formula, he was no match for her. His first strike seemed slow and clumsy to Helena even though it was several times faster than an ordinary human could move. She easily blocked his punch and snapped his arm above the elbow. The gang leader fell back, clutching his arm and howling in agony. Helena kicked him in the stomach, sending him crashing into the wall, leaving a deep impression and several thousand tiny fractures in the stone. He wouldn't be returning to the fight anytime soon.
Turning, Helena faced her true adversary.
Dr. Moreau was backed up against the far wall frantically searching through the medical equipment scattered over the counters.
Helena stalked over to him, enjoying the way his eyes widened and the scent of fear that increased as she approached.
"It seems I miscalculated. I did not expect you to be able to harness your animal nature so completely. I suppose it's some small comfort to know that you will perish shortly after you kill me. Your body can not maintain this state and is already beginning to destroy itself."
If she could have understood his words, Helena would have corrected him. Already she could feel her heart rate decreasing, her senses dulling just a bit. It seemed that while all her other abilities had augmented, so had her healing capabilities. Her body was already repairing the damage done by the injection and returning her to normal.
Since Helena couldn't tell him this and she was still filled with a killing rage, she merely backhanded the doctor, sending him flying through the room to crash up against a surgical cart. Bending down over the fallen figure, she picked him up by the throat and began to squeeze. The doctor's eyes protruded as he clawed at her hand. It would only be a few moments before the man was dead. Helena felt a primal joy surge though her.
Suddenly she was the one getting shoved up against the wall, but nothing had touched her. Managing to turn her head, she caught sight of familiar blonde hair. Something about the figure continued to calm the animal inside of her. She knew this person and trusted her.
As the girl slowly approached, calling her name repeatedly, Helena worked to consciously slow her breathing. She needed to get herself under control. She couldn't hurt Dinah. Dinah was family. You didn't hurt family.
"It's okay Canary, you can let me down." Her voice was little more than a growl, but the words could be understood.
Dinah continued to look at her skeptically, unease clearly written on her face.
"I swear. I'm back in control."
The blonde gave her a cautious smile and let go of her TK. "Are you okay? Oracle was so worried when you disappeared and she talked to the people in your class. It took her a while to find The Animal's newest hangout, and Nightwing interrogated one of them so we'd know where to find you."
"Well thanks, Canary. I appreciate the rescue." And she really did. If the Kid hadn't shown up when she did, Helena was sure she would have killed Dr. Moreau.
"No problem, Huntress. Oh here" the teen reached into one of her pockets and pulled out Helena's coms "Oracle wants me to give these to you."
Helena wasn't sure she could face Barbara right now, but she slipped on the necklace and earrings anyway. "Oracle, do you copy?"
"I'm here, Huntress. Good to have you back." The relief in Barbara's voice couldn't be missed.
"Well, it takes more than Colin and a crazy geneticist to keep me down." Although not much more, and she wasn't sure she would ever recover from the terrifying knowledge of what her animal nature could and would be willing to do to Barbara.
Turning to look at the doctor, Helena saw he was awake and struggling to sit up. His pants had been torn during the struggle, exposing his left leg. Where normal human skin should have been, was a twisted limb covered in dark brown scales. Following Helena's gaze, Canary gave a soft cry of horror.
Dr. Moreau looked up, more than just a hint of madness showing in his eyes now.
"Please don't be alarmed little one; it is simply the price I paid for immortality. I had hoped to one day rectify my mistake, but you've ruined that. No matter, my experiments have come to an end. Your friend has shown me the error of my ways. Even if I did manage to create the perfect specimens, they would be ungrateful, treacherous companions. I realize I've come to find the idea of extinction much more appealing."
He produced a small, cylindrical tube as he finished speaking.
Helena instantly recognized it as a detonator. There was no time for hesitation, she simply grabbed Dinah and leapt through the door, putting as much distance as she could between them and the insane scientist, praying that the man had only wired his lab and not the entire section of sewers.
The explosion threw Helena and Dinah several feet down the tunnel. Picking themselves up, they looked back at the damage. The tunnel was completely collapsed behind them. Large pieces of concrete and rubble stood out at odd angles creating an impenetrable barrier. There was no doubt that Colin and Dr. Moreau were dead.
"Huntress, Canary, do you copy?"
"We copy, Oracle. Dr. Moreau set off some kind of charge, blew his whole lab with him and Colin inside. We couldn't save them."
There was silence on the other end for several moments.
"Alright, Huntress, as long as you and Canary are safe."
"Yeah, we're fine." Liar, liar, liar.
"Okay, Dick's got the rest of The Animals secured about 500 yards ahead of you. Why don't you meet up with him and head back to base for de-briefing."
She couldn't face Barbara now. There was something she had to do first.
"I can't, Oracle. There's an errand I have to run. It won't take me long and then I'll head back."
"I'd really prefer it if you came back immediately, Huntress."
"I'm sorry," She'd never know how sorry. "But it's something I've got to do. I'm fine. I'll see you soon."
Helena reached up and quickly shut off her coms. Looking at Dinah, she gave the girl a small smile before turning down a side tunnel and disappearing into the dark.
Barbara Gordon was scared.
How could six little words frighten her so much? She had been Batgirl for Heaven's sake! She used to soar across rooftops and jump off of skyscrapers with only a cable to keep her from falling to her death. She had not only survived the loss of her legs, she had used the experience to push herself into becoming Oracle, a cybernetic crime fighter who nightly protected the city and saved lives. That kind of courage shouldn't just abandon her with the pronouncement of a few simple words!
It was the way Helena had said she was fine. Barbara had only heard the other woman speak in that dead tone once before, and on that occasion the brunette had disappeared for seven months with almost no contact. Looking back, it had almost destroyed Barbara she was certain if Helena left again, it would.
Soft sounds cut through her agonized reflection. She could hear the familiar noise of Helena moving over the rooftops, the scuff of her boots on the tarmac and the swish of air as she performed some acrobatic maneuver between buildings. Barbara was infinitely familiar with the almost silent resonance of Helena's breathing, knowing that for the brunette, traveling this way was about as stressful as taking a stroll in the park.
It seemed that, once again, Helena had forgotten to turn off the receiver on her coms; something that happened routinely when they had first started working together. Helena was often impatient and several times Barbara had been forced to overhear the varied activities the younger woman had engaged in after sweeps, unable to contact her and inform her that she was listening.
Barbara had known then, as she did now, that she should turn off the speakers and respect Helena's privacy, but she had never been able to resist this furtive look at the other woman's life. Helena was always so guarded about the time she spent away from the tower. She would often prattle on about meaningless details where she went shopping, what she purchased, who she flirted with but nothing that ever told Barbara more about the woman she had become something Barbara found she wanted to discover with an intensity that almost frightened her.
Hearing the dull metal clanking as Helena hitched a ride on a passing truck made Barbara grit her teeth. Helena's delight in traveling this way had always seemed needlessly dangerous to her, not to mention illegal and somewhat juvenile. If the other woman would only get a car or even a motorcycle to run sweeps through the city but no, Helena would never give up the freedom of crossing Gotham on her own two feet and the parallels to her father's mode of travel would never be tolerated.
Barbara wasn't sure if she found this personality quirk endearing or just frustrating, a fact which applied to most of her thoughts concerning the brunette.
Barbara listened as Helena disembarked and continued moving for some time. By now she should have reached her apartment, but perhaps she was heading to some bar or club, something Helena often did when she needed to let off some steam. Barbara was aware that whatever had occurred between Helena and her kidnapers had greatly upset the other woman, but it wasn't until moments later that she realized just how much.
The softly whispered words seemed to caress the air as they left the Delphi's speakers, so full of loss and love that Barbara felt her heart clench. How anyone could feel the depth of emotion that was present in such simple words and stay sane was beyond her understanding.
Helena was at the cemetery, at Selina's grave. Barbara knew Helena rarely went there unless she was extremely upset; visits of any other kind were too painful.
"Sorry I haven't been around in a while. Things have been kinda crazy. But you already know that since you're watching out for me and all." Helena paused. When she continued, Barbara could hear the unshed tears in her voice. "I'm so sorry. I know you always tried to help me control the animal inside me. It wasn't always easy for you either, but you managed it. I don't know why I can't . . . why I keep fucking everything up."
Barbara desperately wanted to tell the other woman that it wasn't her fault, she couldn't help the way she was born, and that Barbara was constantly impressed with the way Helena fought against her baser instincts and tried to preserve her humanity . . . or maybe she just wanted to give her a good shake.
"I almost broke my promise." The words were so soft Barbara found herself leaning forward in her chair trying to catch them. "When I lost control, when my animal side took over, my first thoughts were about her. I knew I was strong enough, and I just wanted to go to her and take her, against her will if necessary. Oh God how much I wanted to . . . how much I still want to."
Analytically, Barbara knew she wasn't breathing, and this should concern her, but for some reason it didn't seem important at all. Her entire concentration, her entire being was focused on the agonized words being torn from Helena.
"What am I gonna do? I've tried so hard for so long. I know you told me to stay away from her, that I shouldn't let my feelings for her get in the way of our friendship, that it would destroy her and I've tried, but nothing works."
Who was Helena talking about?
Barbara knew, but she couldn't let herself see. Selina had been right, it would destroy them but if that was the case, why was Barbara's heart beating so fast and her chest feeling like someone was squeezing too tightly, but lifting off a heavy weight at the same time?
"After she got shot and I went to live with her" - well that unequivocally answered that question "I thought things would be different, and for a while they were. I was hurting so much and so was she. We were both so busy putting ourselves back together that there wasn't room for anything else, but later it just came back stronger." Helena paused. "She's so incredible and she doesn't even see it, doesn't see me, and I know that's the way it should be, but it just hurts so fucking much."
Helena paused so long this time Barbara wondered if she would continue, then wondered if she wanted her to continue.
"Don't worry, I'll keep my promise. I've always tried to do that, no matter how much I've screwed everything else up. It'll be okay, just like before. I'll try to come back sooner next time . . . I love you."
Barbara reached out and turned off the speakers, her hand shaking so badly she missed the switch the first two times. She couldn't take anymore, she had already heard too much. She could barely deal with her own emotions, let alone the apparently earth shattering ones Helena had just broadsided her with.
Barbara's conscience quickly kicked in, forcing her to admit to her own culpability. She was the one who had wanted to know more about Helena's personal life, she had no right to complain if she got what she asked for. Now the only question was what to do about it.
Quickly doing the math, Barbara realized she had approximately forty seven minutes before the other woman returned to the tower, giving her less than an hour to decide if she should play dumb and pretend she didn't know what she knew, or if she could somehow find it in herself to face her best friend with this new knowledge, if she could finally see the real Helena and all that entailed.
Rolling towards the liquor cabinet in search of a drink, Barbara admitted she really didn't know if she possessed that kind of courage . . . Batgirl be damned.
The clock tower was dark and silent as she slowly opened the balcony doors and allowed them to close with a soft click behind her.
Helena had expected to find Barbara absorbed at the Delphi. Usually after a showdown with some major villain, Barbara spent several days frantically researching the criminals and the circumstances of the confrontation. At first, this behavior had confused Helena, but she had come to realize it was simply Red's way of dealing with her guilt. If she couldn't predict everything that happened, then the other woman seemed determined that it would never happen again.
Helena just found it pointless and exhausting.
Shit happened. There were always going to be new criminals and new people trying to kill her. That was the reality of her life. She wasn't exactly happy about it, but she had already proven she couldn't walk away. So instead of getting all worked up, Helena had adapted the popular sport saying she tried to leave it all on the battlefield. She could be angry, vicious, violent, and depressed, but when the fight was over, she tried to shove it all back and just be Helena, not Huntress.
Unfortunately, there was no way she could repress the feelings and memories brought out by Dr. Moreau's formula. She had felt so many things so strongly that she couldn't begin to process them all. She was pretty sure she didn't want to. One emotion, one need, had risen above all the others, flooding her mind and body, almost irresistible in its intensity.
Helena had wanted Barbara, needed to claim the other woman with a strength that left her breathless and scared; so scared, in fact, that she had gone to Selena's grave seeking comfort and the determination to keep her promise. Both, the one she had made to herself and the one she had given to her mother so many years before.
Padding silently around the towering computer equipment, Helena wondered where Barbara was. She would never tell the redhead, but she often envisioned the Delphi as some kind of alien spider, crouched above and slowly consuming the other woman. Helena felt a shiver down her spine noting how this image was reinforced with the Delphi on standby, only random points of light glinting through plastic casing showing that the machine was even powered-up.
The sound of rubber wheels on tile brought her thoughts back from their morbid musings. Helena watched as Barbara rolled up to her, the other woman's face completely unreadable. Either Barbara was disappointed in her for getting kidnapped with her coms removed, disappointed with herself for not realizing Colin had escaped and not knowing about Dr Moreau, or she was upset by the deaths that Helena considered unavoidable. The quickly shifting emotions in emerald green eyes hinted that it might be all three.
"Hey, Babs. Tally up another victory for the good guys. We kicked their asses and once again the world is safe."
Helena tried to lighten the mood, playing down her own horrifying experience and trying to focus on the positives. Yeah things sucked, but Barbara still needed to lighten up.
Not getting a response from the other woman she tried a different strategy.
"So where are Nightwing and Canary? I know I heard girlish yells out there, but I haven't seen Dick." Helena offered a teasing smile to let Barbara know she was only kidding . . . mostly. Dick really did shriek like a school girl.
"Dick is making sure the rest of The Animals remain in police custody, and Dinah's staying over at Gabby's tonight."
"Oh, well, that's good then."
Helena didn't know what to make of Barbara's unresponsiveness. Red often seemed . . . distant, but that was just her personality, she didn't wear her emotions on her sleeve the way Helena did, but this seemed different somehow. It was almost as if Barbara was not maintaining her usual tight control, but rather as if she were desperately trying to force her reserve back in place but that would imply that Barbara was feeling out of control, and really Colin and Dr. Moreau hadn't been that big of a deal, at least not to the redhead.
"Soooo . . ."
Barbara's eyes snapped up to meet hers before quickly shifting away. "Would you like a drink, Helena?" A vague wave accompanied her question.
Now she was worried. Barbara was acting really funny, and she was suddenly using her full name when it was just the two of them. She didn't think Barbara was really mad at her, but then what the hell was going on?
"Sure, I could use one."
"Wonderful, why don't you go make yourself comfortable on the couch. I'll only be a moment."
True to her word, Barbara rolled up moments later carrying two glasses and a bottle of scotch. Helena quickly relieved her of the burden and poured a good portion for each of them, for some reason she got the feeling they were going to need it.
Seconds later Helena chocked violently as the alcohol went down the wrong way.
"You left your coms on again."
Barbara never had been one to beat around the bush. Helena quickly tried to remember exactly what she had said at the cemetery. She groaned when she realized there was no way the other woman could have misinterpreted her words. Barbara knew.
"I didn't mean to listen." Red actually rolled her eyes "Okay, I did, but I'm sorry I invaded your privacy like that. I never meant to overhear what I did."
She could still play this cool. Maybe things weren't that bad. Maybe Barbara just thought she was depressed or that she had been in love with someone else for practically her entire life. Right?
"What is it that you know?"
Barbara's voice was the softest whisper, somehow lending more emphasis to her words. "That you want me."
There was no escaping. Barbara obviously knew everything, she might as well confess.
"I see." Barbara sounded like she wanted to do anything but. Looking at Helena, her eyes seemed sad and lost. "But why, Hel?"
Why? What the fuck did Barbara mean, why? Why Helena wanted her, craved her voice and her touch, everything?
"How can you still want me . . . physically?"
Helena couldn't imagine what the question had cost Barbara then the words themselves registered.
"You think this is about sex!"
She couldn't believe it. Hadn't Red heard her, didn't she understand?
Barbara looked uncertain, and maybe a little pissed as well. "Well, yes? What else are we talking about?"
Okay, looked like she was going to have to explain some things to the other woman. Helena took a deep breath.
"When you're really tired, you always rub that scar on your elbow."
There was a substantial pause. "Excuse me, Helena?"
Oh yeah, definitely pissed now. Too bad. Barbara had started this with her spying; she would just have to suffer through whatever explanation Helena could come up with on the spur of the moment.
"Whenever you read Shakespeare, you read out loud under your breath, like you can't stand for the words not to be spoken. You hate football, but you watch the Giants just so you can talk about them with your Dad the next day. You let your class pick the last reading of the year because you trust them and you want them to know that.
"You decorate and I use that term loosely your classroom more than you do here at home."
Barbara was looking at her strangely, but Helena was too absorbed in her thoughts to notice.
"You pinch the bridge of your nose whenever you have a headache, but you never leave your glasses off for long because it bothers you when people can see those little indentations from the plastic thingies, and for some reason you won't even consider getting contacts.
"You can't cook and it bugs you, but you won't take the time to learn. Sometimes when you can't sleep, you'll sit at the Delphi and let all those ones and zeros relax you.
"You've never let anyone down in your entire life, including me, but you insist on beating yourself up for every little mistake.
"Somehow, you always know when I'm around even though I know I don't make any noise. You know when Dinah's had a bad day and needs to talk to you, and you know when I'm in a bad mood and need my space. Somehow you've managed to get Dick into our lives without me killing him and made us work as a team."
Helena paused, wondering if she should continue.
Fuck it; this may be her only chance.
"You hate that wheelchair." Barbara's eyes flashed with pain, erasing the stunned expression that had begun to creep in during Helena's monologue. "You miss being able to swing across rooftops and fight the bad guys one on one. Sometimes you resent that you have to rely on me to do it for you.
"I'm not sure why you picked it, but sometimes you go down to the garage to cry, but not so much anymore.
"Sometimes you laugh and it's all I can do not to scream because after all that's happened you still can.
"When you're sad your eyes are the color of pine needles, when you're angry they're like jade, and when you're feeling playful they're the most gorgeous emerald I've ever seen.
"And sometimes when you look at me, I can see my entire life in them past, present, and future."
Barbara was back to looking at her with that dazed expression. That was fine with Helena; she really didn't want to hear what the other woman had to say about her embarrassing confession. Was it even possible for her to babble more? She had better hurry up and get to the point before Barbara thought she was even more of an idiot than she already did.
"But those are all just facts, observations, they're not the reason I want you.
"I want you because I've always wanted you. Since the first time we met it's always been there.
"It's kinda like atoms. You know, elements and chemistry and stuff? It's like the things that I'm made of are the atoms, my mind, my body, maybe my soul, and the bond that holds me together, that keeps me whole, is me wanting you.
"I want you because I'm Helena. It's who and how I am."
Helena let go of the breath she'd been holding. That was it. She had run out of words finally and now all she could do was wait for a reaction.
Except there didn't seem to be a reaction. Barbara was just sitting there looking at her like she'd grown a second head, or maybe lost her first one.
This was not Helena. Obviously some type of alien life-form had taken over the brunette. Helena simply wasn't capable of being so . . . romantic.
And those words had definitely been the most romantic declaration Barbara had ever heard.
"You love me." It wasn't a question or even a statement. It was a revelation.
Helena's jaw jutted out determinedly "Yeah, I do."
How could she not have seen it? Now that she knew what to look for it was so obvious.
Of course Helena loved her. The sun was powered by a fusion reaction, gravity was a constant force of 9.8 m/s, the sky was blue, and Helena loved her.
Now the only question was how did she feel?
She wasn't sure how she felt about Helena's admission of loving her since their first meeting. That sounded too much like a crush or some sort of hero worship, not to mention the whole age thing, but just a couple of days ago, she had been thinking that Helena was no longer a child and contemplating her own possible attraction to the brunette.
Besides, there was only one explanation for the heartfelt avowal Helena had just delivered. Helena loved her, was in love with her, the way most people only dreamed about.
And when considered that way, there was really only one thing to do. Barbara was surprised how little courage it took in the end.
"Let's go to bed, Helena."
Let's go to bed, Helena.
What the Hell. Red couldn't be serious except the expression on Barbara's face was dead serious, but also open and . . . needing.
Oh shit. This had definitely backfired.
Barbara was supposed to be proud of her for admitting her feelings and then the other woman would let her down gently, saying that she didn't feel the same, and it was best if they just remained friends. She was not supposed to look at Helena like she was really seeing her for the first time and asking her to bed . . . to her bedroom . . . where they would . . .
Oh God, how was she going to get through this?
That had obviously been the wrong thing to say. Barbara's face immediately shut down, but not before Helena saw the hurt flash in those beautiful green eyes.
"I'm sorry, Hel, did I misunderstand something, or did you want to take things slower?"
Helena almost laughed hysterically at the idea of taking things slower. Twelve years was plenty slow enough in her opinion.
"It's not that Barbara. We just can't . . . do this. Uh, be together. You and me."
Helena decided it just wasn't her day for explanations or maybe talking in general.
Barbara was looking confused again, and now the pain was showing on her face.
"What do you mean, Hel? I thought this was what you wanted. I assumed when you said you wanted me you meant . . . but maybe you aren't interested in a physical relationship."
God dammit! Now Barbara was getting all insecure over the whole paralyzed thing, and that was so not the issue.
Quickly kneeling down by the other woman, she picked up her hand and started to rub it soothingly. The fact that her position was almost exactly the same as when she had left before didn't escape her.
"That has nothing to do with it. You have nothing to do with it." Helena sighed, running a hand through her hair. "I can't hurt you Barbara."
The words were said with such calm certainty that Helena almost believed her. If she had heard those words even last night, they would already be in the bedroom, but tonight she had been a prisoner of mad geneticist. She had seen what she was capable of, what her animal nature could drive her to do, and she couldn't risk it. Barbara's life wasn't worth it.
"You don't know that. Barbara I'm not human, at least not completely. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I lose control, and people get hurt. I never know what's going to set it off, or how bad it's going to be. I can live with taking my frustration and instinct out on some criminal, but if I hurt you it would kill me. I made a promise that I would never hurt you, not intentionally, and that's what I'd be doing if we let this go farther. You would get hurt."
She tried to communicate just how serious she was with her eyes, letting Barbara see the agony it caused her to turn away from the gift she offered. She also tried to show the other woman that she wouldn't back down, wouldn't change her mind.
Barbara must have gotten the message because she gasped and jerked her hands out of Helena's grip.
"And what about the fact that you're hurting me now?"
Barbara's voice was brittle and cold, barely containing her hurt and anger.
"I'm sorry. I never meant for you to find out. I wasn't going to tell you."
What did Barbara want to hear? Wasn't this hard enough on her?
Helena stood up and put some distance between them. She really needed to get out of here. It had been a really, really long day.
"Well I did find out, so what do we do now?"
"I guess we just go on like before. We stay friends if we can, or just crime fighting partners if we can't. Either way, I won't leave unless you ask me to."
Barbara was looking at her like she didn't even know her. Her face was a mask of barely concealed fury, and the hands in her lap were clasped so tightly the knuckles were turning white. When she spoke, her words were calculated to hurt, sending needles of pain deep into Helena's heart.
"You'll need to start wearing a mask. If you had worn one from the beginning, none of this would be happening."
Helena wondered what Barbara was referring to, and if the other woman even knew.
As she grabbed her coat, Helena couldn't stop the resigned words from escaping.
"That's fine; I've been wearing one for so long I'm not sure I know how to live without it."
Tears leaking from her eyes, she leapt off the balcony, letting the night carry her away.
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