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: Thank you, thank you, thank you to Jean. Your kind and thoughtful comments were welcome beyond my ability to express. As for the beta-ing skills for which I hired you, yeah, those are pretty awesome too.
SERIES: This story is a continuation of the series What it Means to Be a Hero. If you haven't read the first part, Getting Back on Your Feet, or the second, A Different Way of Thinking, don't worry. This is the prequel. It is not necessary for you to have read the others first, but they were intentionally written/posted in this order, so you might miss some of the more subtle developments that I worked so hard (two and a half *years* later) to write. Use your own judgment . . . hopefully you have some.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading. Any comments or criticism can be directed to email@example.com.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
What it Means to Be a Hero
Part 1: Getting Back On Your Feet
She could do this.
Helena took a moment to breathe deeply, filling her lungs and trying to force out the butterflies that had taken up residence in her stomach. Unfortunately, the air was filled with unfamiliar and disturbing scents that only seemed to increase her nervousness. The usual disinfectant smells she had learned to ignore, as well as chalk dust and the chemical smell of dry-erase markers, but beyond that, the air of Gotham High School was a riotous mixture that caused her head to spin. Hundreds of different perfumes and colognes blended with the nauseating smell of cafeteria food and the distinctive odor of too many people crammed too close together.
Around her, students streamed past, completely unconcerned by the olfactory assault she was enduring. For some reason, Helena was just more sensitive than other people. At least that's what her Mom always said. In fact, Helena was sensitive to many things that other people seemed unaware of. So far, it hadn't caused too many problems for the small fourteen year-old.
Steeling herself, and very deliberately taking shallow breaths, Helena walked determinedly in search of her locker. Twenty minutes later, she finally stood in front of the dark green metal coffin, glaring at the lock that refused to open no matter how many times she entered the combination.
"Do you need some help?"
Helena jerked back, spilling the books she had been holding with her left arm. It was only her mother's conditioning that kept her from letting loose a string of swear words she wasn't supposed to know. Kneeling down to pick up her fallen belongings, she transferred her glare to the curly-haired boy that had spoken.
"Oh well, okay." He looked disappointed, but then smiled and held out his hand. "I'm Gibson."
Helena couldn't believe it. She was giving him her best curl-up-and-die glare, but he seemed totally unaffected. Of course, it never seemed to bother Selena or Barbara either, but that was different.
When she didn't answer, Gibson retracted his hand, but kept smiling. "It looks like you might be having some trouble with your locker." Increase in power of death look. This time he stumbled. "Uh . . . if you want, I can take a look."
Without a word, Helena finished picking up her belongings and stepped back, gesturing for him to go ahead. Giving her another bright smile, he walked forward and proceeded to open her locker without any trouble.
"How did you do that?" Helena spoke without thinking, forgetting she didn't want anything to do with him.
"It's simple really." A smug look plastered itself on his face, making Helena instantly want to smack it off. "They gave you the wrong combination. It happens sometimes. All the students who go here and stuff."
Helena regarded him quizzically. "Okay, but how did you know what the right combination was?" She figured he had hacked into the computer system. If so, she wasn't concerned. In fact, she was impressed. He might be worth keeping around.
"Oh . . ." Gibson's ears turned bright red, and she had to fight the urge to laugh. "Well I was in the office, getting my homeroom changed . . . they made a mistake on my schedule . . ." He seemed to be waiting for some kind of response, so Helena nodded slightly. "Right, so I was in the office waiting to see my counselor, and one of the secretaries had the locker assignments on her computer screen."
Helena waited for the rest, but Gibson seemed to be finished. "So you printed them off?"
"No. I just remembered them." If it was possible, his ears became redder.
"Right." Not sure what else to say, Helena began to put her books in her opened locker. "Well I've got to get to homeroom. Maybe I'll see you later." If she was very, very unlucky.
"Okay, great. See you later." He looked at her like a slightly lost puppy, then turned around and walked away.
Helena soon forgot about the incident as she tried to figure out which hallway led to her class.
She could do this.
Barbara took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the comforting smells of the classroom. Her classroom. She, Barbara Gordon, was Gotham High School's newest English teacher. It felt strange to walk through the doors as a member of the faculty and not as a student, but in a good way. And she was certainly not nervous . . . not at all.
Standing by the window, she watched students stream towards the school, brightly colored backpacks riding between their shoulders. They would have to hurry if they didn't want to be late. The first bell was going to ring any-
Briiiiiinnnngggg . . .
The loud, jarring noise sent Barbara's pulse racing. Walking quickly to her desk, she reached for her attendance list, noticing with disgust that her hands were shaking slightly. Issuing a stern mental command she was Batgirl for Heaven's sake she forced her hands to steady and assumed a confident, relaxed pose leaning against the side of her desk.
Just in time, as a lanky boy with brown hair burst into the room causing the door to bang forcefully against the wall. Barbara raised one crimson eyebrow as the boy flushed and turned to look at her. For one moment, Barbara was afraid she was going to be forced to perform CPR on her first student when he continued to gape at her without breathing.
"I'm Miss Gordon; you can have a seat anywhere you like."
Barbara did her best not to laugh as the young man sucked in air and promptly choked. Nodding, and still coughing, he retreated to the back of the room.
This might actually be fun.
Barbara was careful to keep the smirk off her face as more students filed into her classroom - most of the male population, and a few of the female, suffering similar respiratory distress when they caught sight of her.
Finally, when everyone had chosen a seat, Barbara began to take attendance. Her homeroom this year was filled with sophomores, and she marveled at the clothes and attitudes on display. These kids were only a few years younger than she was, but it didn't seem that way to her. She would never have held a conversation during attendance . . . and she certainly wouldn't have considered quite so many piercings.
It was going to be an interesting year.
Lunch couldn't come soon enough for Helena. When the bell finally rang, she marched out with the rest of her freshman biology class, hoping the flood of students would carry her along to the cafeteria.
Selena had packed her a lunch but also given her some money in case she wanted to eat at school. Judging by the smell, Helena wasn't sure the food they were serving was edible, but she was almost certain she couldn't find her locker again. Maybe she would just skip eating altogether.
Trailing behind a group of girls talking and laughing animatedly, Helena suddenly stopped dead in the middle of the corridor. Some of the students gave her odd looks as they forced past her unmoving figure, but she didn't notice. She only had eyes for the person sitting at the desk through the partially open door in front of her.
Not bothering to knock or signal her presence in any way, Helena walked into the classroom and up to the desk. She stood with her arms crossed until startled green eyes looked up to meet her own furious gaze.
"Barbara." Helena tried to put all of her confusion and hurt into the word, and it seemed to work since the redhead flinched slightly. Like all teenagers, Helena was a master of inflicting guilt.
Barbara hastily stood up from her desk. "Uh . . . so how has your first day been going?"
Helena couldn't believe her ears. Barbara was asking her about her day? Well, it was fine if you didn't count broken lockers, un-navigable hallways, and, oh yeah, her best friend failing to mention not only that she had gotten a new job, but that she would be teaching at her school.
They stood regarding each other for a moment before Barbara sighed. She motioned Helena to a seat in the front row and sat beside her.
"Look I'm really sorry I didn't tell you, Helena. There were a lot of reasons for my decision."
"What reasons?! I tell you everything!"
Barbara smiled slightly. "I know, and I'm really glad that you trust me so much, but it's different for me."
Helena might be a teenager, but she wasn't stupid. She had known Barbara was keeping secrets for a long time. The way she avoided certain topics and the hasty departures when she used to baby-sit were proof enough.
"Okay, but why couldn't you tell me about this?" She waved her hand in the air, taking in the classroom with its neat rows of desks and minimal decorations.
"I just . . . I just couldn't." Barbara ran a hand through her hair, sighing when she realized she had probably coated the red strands in chalk. "A lot of people weren't very happy with my decision, and I didn't want to go through that again."
Barbara was tempted to laugh at her gross understatement. Bruce and Dick's reactions had been bad enough, but when her father had questioned her resolve to teach, she had been devastated. She knew they didn't understand, hell, half the time she didn't understand it herself. Her education and talents didn't exactly point to a career in teaching, but it was what she wanted, at least for now. Like being Batgirl, it was a chance to help other people, but this time out in the open and not wearing a mask.
Barbara shook off her thoughts and glanced at Helena, noticing the brunette was frowning furiously. She held her breath, waiting for the tirade to come.
"They shouldn't have done that. It's your choice."
For a moment Barbara could only stare at the younger girl. There was such a look of protectiveness and righteous indignation on her face. Not for the first time, Barbara had a sense of déjà vu looking into the deep cerulean eyes of her friend.
"So . . . I guess I messed up, huh?"
Helena tried to keep scowling, but couldn't manage it. "Yeah, but you've done worse."
"Thanks." Barbara didn't try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, and smiled when the brunette shot her a pointed look. Laughing, she held up her hands. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. How about I buy you lunch as a peace offering?"
"What, you think you can just feed me and all is forgiven?" When Barbara raised an eyebrow pointedly, Helena caved. "Yeah, okay, that'll work." Grinning, she got up and walked to the door.
When Barbara joined her however, they both stood standing in the doorway. After a minute, Helena was the first to speak. "You do know the way to the cafeteria, right?"
"Nope. Didn't you used to go here?"
"Yeah, but I always spent lunch in the library . . . and they've remodeled."
Barbara slowly shook her head. "How about I buy you lunch tomorrow?"
"Works for me."
Turning around, the friends re-entered the classroom, both contemplating the fact that their day was starting to look a lot better.
Helena burst into their luxuriously decorated apartment, barely remembering to close the door in her excitement. Looking around, she remembered how she had first hated the place when they moved from Paris. Now, Helena took it all in gratefully. After spending the day surrounded by public education's idea of decor, coming home to Selena's impeccable taste was a welcome relief. Paintings hung on almost every wall, done in radically differing styles, but somehow forming a unified whole. Small statuettes and sculptures were placed strategically around the room, their familiar lines soothing to the teenager.
All of the pieces were real of course. Selena Kyle would never allow any reproductions to grace her home, but all of the really valuable works of which she owned quite a few were on loan to various museums and exhibits. One of the first things Selena had taught her daughter was that art should be available to everyone. She had deep seated distaste for people who purchased art solely for their own enjoyment. Helena had often listened to her mother's grief when a piece of art was bought for a private collection. The fact that those same pieces would go missing within a couple of weeks always escaped the notice of the young girl.
"Helena, stop shouting!"
Helena quickly shut her mouth at Selena's tone. She also decided to forego mentioning that her mother was also shouting. She did have some sense of self-preservation.
"Mom, you won't believe it." Helena tried to stay calm, but her voice rose when Selena entered the living room. "You'll never guess what happened today!"
An indulgent smile lifted the corners of Selena's mouth. "Oh really? Let me see." Helena laughed at the exaggerated thinking face her mother adopted. "It was your first day of high school . . ." She waited for Helena's excited nod. "So . . . did some cute boy ask you out?"
"Alright, some cute girl?"
"Mom." Helena used her best teenager voice and added an eye-roll for extra effect.
Selena held up her hands, laughing. "Alright, I get the picture, Kitten. So, if it wasn't a boy or a girl what had you bursting through the door and almost scaring poor Isis to death?"
Helena looked guiltily over at the couch, where the black cat crouched regarding her balefully. "Sorry, Isis." She quickly turned back to her mother. Isis had never seemed to like her, but lately the intelligent feline had started acting more friendly. Helena wasn't sure that was a good thing, it was a little creepy, but nothing could ruin her mood today. "It's so great. You're not going to believe it."
Selena waved her hand. "Not if you don't tell me," she pointed out wryly.
Helena took a deep breath. "Barbara is teaching at my school!"
Expecting her mother to be as excited as she was, Helena was confused by the look of concern that flashed across Selena's face. It was quickly replaced by a warm smile, but Helena knew she hadn't imagined it. Why would her mother be concerned about Barbara?
"That's wonderful, Kitten. Is she one of your teachers?"
"No." Helena couldn't hide her disappointment. "She's teaching English for the sophomores and juniors."
"I see." The small lines around Selena's mouth smoothed out. "So, I suppose you two won't have much time to spend together?"
Helena frowned. "I'm not sure. I know she's going to be really busy, but we had lunch together today, and she promised we could do it again tomorrow."
Selena sighed, knowing what she had to do, but dreading it just the same. "Kitten, I don't think that's a good idea."
"What do you mean?"
"Helena, you care about Barbara, right?"
The brunette nodded cautiously. Something was going on, but she couldn't figure out what. "Of course, she's my friend."
"And I'm sure Barbara cares about you too . . . as a friend."
Selena waited for Helena to acknowledge her point, but the teenager just looked at her blankly. Maybe she was wrong?
She had seen the way Helena had begun to interact with the redhead, and with her gifts starting to show themselves, things could become very messy, very fast. It was best to address it now.
"It was okay for you two to spend time together when she was watching you for me, and when she was your gymnastics coach, but this is different."
Selena wanted to bang her head against a wall. Why did Helena have to be so stubborn and curious? Thoughts of just who had contributed genetic material to produce her amazing daughter instantly came to mind. Obviously, some things were just meant to be.
"Well, Barbara's a teacher now, and you're a student. Some people might think it's inappropriate for her to be spending so much time with you."
Helena rolled her eyes. "That's stupid. Barbara would never do anything inappropriate. She's like, the opposite of inappropriate."
Secretly, Selena agreed with her daughter, but it wouldn't help things to admit that. "It's not about you or Barbara, but about what other people could think. Even if nothing was going on, Barbara could lose her job. Is that what you want?"
The misery and disappointment in Helena's eyes almost broke her heart. She felt terrible for manipulating her this way, but it was for the best. Helena would recover and two people would be spared future pain.
Selena wasn't naive. Helena had inherited her sensual charm to complement her father's coloring and commanding presence. The former thief had no doubt her daughter would soon be breaking hearts all across Gotham. She liked Barbara enough not to put the young woman in that kind of position torn between her morals and Helena's innate attraction.
"Can I still see her sometimes?"
Selena wanted to go with her first reaction, but the hopefulness in deep blue eyes crumbled her resolve. Those eyes had always been her weakness. "Sometimes, but you need to be careful. Don't have lunch together every day, don't loiter around her classroom. You have to be smart."
"Okay. I can do that." Helena was practically jumping on her toes at this point. "Still, it is great, isn't it? That she's teaching at Gotham?"
She could see that Helena still didn't truly understand, but she had forced the issue enough for one day. "Yes Kitten, it's wonderful. Now why don't you go get something to eat. You look half starved."
Helena blushed. "Uh yeah, I'm kind of hungry." She turned to enter the kitchen, then turned back. "Oh, thanks Mom."
"What for?" Selena responded distractedly, trying to work out what had happened to her carefully prepared lunch.
"For protecting me and Barbara." With that, she was gone and the sound of cupboards being thrown open soon echoed in her wake.
Selena warily sat down on the couch, stroking an absent hand along Isis's back. "I'll always try Kitten, but sometimes you don't make it easy."
Barbara glanced at the clock then took another, longer look in surprise. Homeroom would start in fifteen minutes. Biting back a sigh, the redhead closed her laptop and carefully stowed it away in her bag.
Pulling off her glasses, she rubbed tiredly at her eyes. After two months, she could now admit that she had been woefully unprepared for the stresses of being an educator. It wasn't that she was afraid of hard work far from it there was just so much of it. Between teaching in the classroom, meeting with students and parents, and all the grading, she barely had any time to herself. Add to that the fact that she was still spending her nights protecting the city as Batgirl, and Barbara felt like she could sleep for a week.
At least her partnership if it could be called that - with Selena Kyle seemed to be working out. Batgirl hadn't caught the former thief at any more late night rendezvous. Of course that didn't really mean anything. She was smart enough to realize that if Selena was determined to hide something, the former thief would find the means to accomplish her goal. But disregarding her personal ambition, at least she wasn't required to haul Selena off to jail. Barbara knew that Helena would never recover from such a blow.
Speaking of Helena.
Looking up at the clock again, Barbara wondered where her young friend was. Helena had mentioned that she often arrived at school early since Selena dropped her off on the way to work, but the teenager almost never stopped by to visit. When she did, there was no pattern that Barbara could discern. It was almost as if Helena was trying to be unpredictable.
Sometimes it even felt like Helena was avoiding her, which Barbara knew was ridiculous. The brunette was fearless and straightforward in a way Barbara could only admire and occasionally find exasperating. There was simply no way, not to mention any reason, for Helena to be avoiding her.
Yet it still bothered her. They hadn't even gotten to eat lunch together, and this after Barbara had gone to the trouble of creating a schematic of the school grounds. Contrary to all logic, she was seeing less of her friend now that they were spending most of their time in the same building.
She knew Helena was a teenager, and was more than likely making friends closer to her own age, but she could have at least bothered to inform her. Barbara didn't make friends easily, and for some reason, she had never considered that Helena wouldn't be part of her life. Now that she was forced to, she found that she didn't like it very much.
The sound of sneakers treading on linoleum flooring roused Barbara from her depressing thoughts. Whatever her own issues, she had a job to do. When all of her students were present, Barbara began reading the announcements, resolutely not wondering if she would see Helena that day.
Lunch seemed to arrive quickly. While it was true that some aspects of teaching were unexpected, Barbara found she did truly enjoy it. She loved nothing more than giving her students a different way to look at the world and helping them reach their full potential. Most days it was even worth dealing with the combined attitudes of over sixty teenagers.
After the last student completed his headlong rush to the cafeteria, Barbara sat down at her desk with a relieved sigh. In just a few moments she would pull her lunch out of her bag. Right after she pried her eyes open.
The sound of her door opening expedited matters considerably. Her eyes actually widened noticeably when she took in her unexpected visitor. Helena stood in the doorway, but made no move to enter.
She watched curiously as Helena fiddled with the bag she held clutched in her hands.
"Helena. Would you like to come in?"
It seemed ridiculous to be inviting the teenager into what was essentially public property, but Helena instantly relaxed. Smiling widely, the brunette approached her desk.
"Um, I was wondering if you maybe wanted to have lunch together. If you don't already have plans or anything?"
Helena wasn't exactly nervous. If Barbara were forced to name the emotion that was rolling off of her friend, she would have labeled it caution. Or possibly anticipation. Or some combination of both.
"No, no, Hel. Please join me. Um, you can, uh, pull up a chair, desk. They're really not that bad." Whatever the emotion, it seemed to be catching.
Helena smirked. "It's been awhile since you've been in high school, so I'll let that go. In case you've forgotten, it's like sitting on a piece of plywood attached to some kind of . . . medieval torture device." She dragged one of the identical desks over to Barbara. "I mean seriously, who came up with these things?"
Barbara couldn't help but laugh at the look on the brunette's face. "I'm not sure, Hel. I think efficiency was the primary goal, with comfort running a very distant second. And I'll have you know, it wasn't that long ago. Why do you think I'm sitting on this side of the desk?" Barbara gestured to her own excessively padded chair, sans attached writing table.
Leaning down, Barbara pulled out her own lunch. "I'm glad you've finally stopped by. I was beginning to wonder if you were angry with me."
If she could have, Barbara would have smacked her head against the desk. She hadn't meant to say that. What was it about Helena Kyle that occasionally made her behave like an idiot?
Helena blushed. "I wasn't mad or anything, I just didn't want to bother you. I mean, you just started teaching and everything. I figured you were probably hanging out in the teachers lounge or something."
It was a perfectly legitimate excuse, and if Helena wasn't such a terrible liar, Barbara might have believed it. The brunette wouldn't meet her eyes though, and her hands were fidgeting again. Barbara knew she should let it go. Helena must have a good reason for lying to her, but denying her curiosity had never been her strong suite.
"Is that so, Hel?"
Helena was still avoiding her gaze, so Barbara decided to try a different tactic.
"Well, in that case, what have you been up to?"
The teenager started, and then visibly seemed to gather herself. "Oh, you know the usual. Living it up like every other inmate of Gotham High." She smiled, but it seemed forced. "At least I don't have to eat whatever it is they serve in the cafeteria."
"I believe it's called food, Hel."
"Really, coulda fooled me. I'm just glad Mom doesn't mind making my lunch," Helena sighed before taking a bite of her tuna sandwich.
"Yeah, you're pretty lucky."
Barbara wasn't being facetious. Selena may have been a lot of things, criminal, thief, and extortionist, among them, but Barbara had to admit she was a good mother to Helena.
They sat for several minutes, both steadily eating their lunches. Barbara was intensely curious, but she managed to stay quiet. Even though nothing was being said, it was a comfortable silence that seemed to permeate the room, and once again, she realized how much she had missed her younger friend.
"So what's really going on, Hel?"
She had managed to contain her curiosity for the entire lunch, which when she thought about it, may have been a new record. To her credit, Helena didn't try to avoid the question this time.
"I had a talk with Mom." Helena glanced at her quickly through her lashes then lowered her eyes back to the desktop. She began to pick at a line of graffiti with a fingernail. "She said it's not a good idea for us to spend time together anymore."
The instant Helena's words registered, Barbara was buffeted by emotions. Taking a deep breath, she took a moment to try and sort through her conflicted thoughts before she responded.
First and foremost was anger at Selena. How dare she think she knew better than Barbara! The woman was a convicted felon! The day Selena Kyle was considered a better influence on children than her was the day Barbara hung up her costume and possibly her sanity.
Following quickly after however, was a wave of, not fear, but concern. She had been using Helena to get closer to Selena, or more accurately, Catwoman. Did Selena know that? Had she somehow discovered Barbara's alternate identity? Would Catwoman now hold a grudge against Batgirl? Could she expect Selena to take out her anger with Barbara on the streets of Gotham?
Lastly, she felt the shame of her actions in regards to Helena. She did genuinely care for the younger girl, but she had been treating her as a means to an end, at least until Helena had stopped coming around. At that point she wasn't missing her source of information; she was simply missing her friend.
"Barbara . . .?"
The hesitantly spoken question brought the redhead out of her musings. Turning back to Helena, she sighed before pushing forward.
"Did she say why, Helena?"
"Um, well, she said people might think it was inappropriate, that you could get in trouble, that you could lose your job." Barbara watched as the girls fingers clenched around the hem of her shirt and the tears in her eyes that she hid by quickly looking at the floor.
Again Barbara felt her emotions spin out of control. This talk was wreaking havoc with her supposed equilibrium. Intellectually, she understood what Helena, and more accurately Selena was implying, but she had never considered the possibility herself. Helena was a child, albeit a beautiful and quickly maturing child, but a child nonetheless. Also, Helena was her friend, nothing more. Helena had never shown an interest in her like that, had she? Barbara quickly racked her eidetic memory. No, there was nothing, only friendship and a bit of hero worship. Nothing to be concerned about.
That left Barbara with only one question. What did Selena know that Barbara didn't?
"Did she say anything else, Hel?"
Helena seemed to consider for a moment. "Just that we can hang out, just not so much. That's okay right?" She looked up and Barbara could see the hope and fear in her cerulean eyes.
"Of course." She didn't even take a moment to consider her answer. Even if Selena was worried, she couldn't simply abandon her younger friend. "Maybe we could have lunch once, maybe twice a month." She offered hesitatingly. She felt some of the tension in her shoulders ease when Helena smiled at her.
"Okay, great." She looked down at her desk and then back up into Barbara's eyes. "Can we eat somewhere else next time? This desk is so not ergonomically designed."
"Of course, I've got a schematic around here somewhere." She laughed as Helena merely rolled her eyes before giving her a smile.
"I bet it's got every part of this school mapped out to within a tenth of an inch. You are such a-"
Briiiiiiiinnnnnggggg . . .
Helena was interrupted by the bell signaling the end of lunch period. She quickly got up, after some minor tussling with the desk, and threw away her trash.
"Thanks, Barbara," Helena said shyly. "See you next week?"
"Sounds like a plan, Helena," Barbara replied as the brunette walked out the door and turned down the hall. When she was sure the girl was gone, Barbara dropped her head on her desk with a hard thump. It didn't take a genius to see that a confrontation with Selena Kyle or possibly Catwoman was in her near future. Catwoman had never been known to kill, but Barbara wondered silently if she would be the one that ended up breaking that trend. Her morose thoughts were interrupted when her students began to file into the room, loud and animated after lunch. Figuring out how she wanted to handle this situation would have to wait. As she moved to the chalkboard, she hoped a compromise could be reached that kept Selena happy, but allowed her to still see Helena. Somehow, to her that had become that most important thing in the entire mess.
Barbara's stomach flipped when something wrapped around her arm just as she jumped from the top of one of Gotham's taller apartment complexes. A hard tug strained her shoulder before depositing her on her ass back on the same building she had intended to leave moments before. Shaking her head slightly, she looked at her arm and the black braided whip that wound several times around her bicep. Immediately Barbara rolled to her feet and took a good hold on the whip, ready to pull it out of its owner's hand if necessary.
"Be a nice baby bat and stay on the ground, pretty please."
Barbara's eyes followed the black line of the whip to where is rested comfortably in the hand of a figure covered in stitched black leather.
"S- Catwoman." Barbara cursed her almost slip.
"Now, now, battling, lets not play games. You know my alter ego, and let me assure you that I am most definitely aware of yours." With a casual motion of her hand, Catwoman uncoiled her whip from around Barbara and gathered it back. Barbara tensed for a moment until the blonde placed it back on her hip.
"Alright, no games. What do you want?" Barbara didn't relax her stance one millimeter. Selena was always unpredictable. She wasn't going to be caught flat-footed.
"I want to talk to you about a matter very dear to my heart . . . and yours as well I imagine."
"Helena." Barbara sighed in answer.
"Got it in one. You just might be as smart as my daughter keeps insisting," Selena taunted lightly.
"What about Helena?" Barbara questioned. She ignored the feeling that rose up when she thought about Helena telling her mother she was intelligent often enough for Selena to mention it.
"Helena told me you two had talked. Why did I have to be the one to tell my daughter what needed to be done?" Green eyes narrowed at her menacingly. "Why didn't you do something before this became a problem? I happen agree with my daughter, you're intelligent enough to have seen this coming. You obviously have a strong sense of morality," Selena commented after scanning up and down Barbara's costume. "So what's your excuse?"
Barbara felt the sting as the words hit home. She had been asking herself the same questions since she and Helena had talked and still had no answers.
"I don't know." Barbara looked away as she answered. "She's just a child. I'm her friend. That's all. I never considered anything else. I should have, I see that now, but I just . . ." Barbara trailed off, her voice fading into the wind that hummed along the concrete roof. A large sigh distracted the redhead from her troubled thoughts.
"You know, at first I thought you were just using her to get to me." Selena's face tightened and her eyes turned hard when she saw the masked vigilante flinch. "However, you do seem to care for her." It was a statement, but somehow the woman managed to turn it into a question, or maybe a challenge.
"I do." There was no hesitation.
"Hmm, yes." Selena paced a few steps before turning back. "You understand why I'm concerned." Green eyes seemed to burn into Barbara's darker pair.
"Yes, but you don't need to be. I would never harm Helena," she stated solemnly.
Selena gave a small laugh that contained no humor. "I know that. I'm more concerned that you will harm each other."
"You can't be suggesting . . ." Barbara started to protest.
"I'm not suggesting anything. I'm merely stating the fact that my daughter can be a difficult force to resist when she finds something she wants," Selena said with a wry grin.
"And you think she- you suspect that- has she told you that she's . . ." Barbara internally berated herself for her stumbling speech. Still, it was shocking that Helena's mother would hint that Helena had some sort of feelings for her, Barbara Gordon.
"To be honest, Batgirl, I'm not sure. However, as her mother, I worry."
"And so you want us to spend less time together." Barbara didn't miss the thief calling her Batgirl, not some insulting nickname. "I hope you know I would never . . . not with Helena." She felt the blush that crawled up her neck and cheeks, hoping her mask would hide the effect of her discomfort and anger at this situation.
Selena smiled at her sadly, her eyes focused on some memory Barbara couldn't see. "More than one girl has sworn they wouldn't go there and been unable to keep that promise. Sometimes it doesn't end so badly. Sometimes it's the best thing that could ever happen to you." The blonde's voice was quiet, almost reverent before she seemed to reconnect to the moment. "But Helena is much too young to make such a decision for herself, so I'm making it for her."
"I understand." And Barbara did. She'd distance herself from Helena as much as possible without completely removing herself from the younger girl's life. "She's lucky to have you for a mother." Barbara surprised herself with that comment, even more because she meant it.
"Thank you." Selena seemed surprised as well. They stood awkwardly facing each other for a moment. "Well, I guess that's that then."
"I guess. Unless you're planning on stopping for a quick heist on your way home? I could hold the bags for you," Barbara said trying to lighten the mood.
"Mmm, not tonight, but I'll definitely take a rain check." Selena smiled.
As the two masked individuals parted and went their separate ways, neither noticed the golden, slitted eyes that watched from behind an air-conditioning unit 30 feet away. The slim figure seemed to shake itself before gracefully standing and heading in the same direction the thief had taken . . . but not before casting a confused and longing look after the redheaded vigilante.
Two immobile figures sat pressed against the stone of Gotham's Clocktower, indistinguishable in the early morning darkness. The lights of the city shone far below, the only light above streaming from the quarter moon and to the left, the slender outline of Wayne Tower, a beacon in the heart of the city. One figure shifted, revealing dark hair pulled into a tight braid, knees drawn up to the chest, a slender arm stretched out to lay a hand on the head of the stone gargoyle that kept ever-silent vigil on the dark streets.
Tonight was not the first time Helena had followed her mother when she went out as Catwoman. The teenager always got a thrill from watching the thief effortlessly move through the city, sometimes meeting with people Helena didn't recognize, other times seeming to be touring the city, waiting for something or someone. She had never regretted breaking the rules, not until tonight, not until her mother had met with Barbara- or was it Batgirl.
Helena was a smart and inquisitive girl. It had taken only moments after the conversation began for Helena to realize the masked crusader's alter ego. That jaw dropping, gum swallowing, holy shit revelation was only part of the reason the brunette had sought out her favorite thinking spot, however. Selena thought she was staying at a friend's house so she had all night to deal with the repercussions of her spying on her mother's extracurricular activities. Fragments of sentences and emotions swirled through her mind while her eyes stared unseeing, watering in the wind that managed to invade the niche.
"So what's really going on, Hel?"
". . . a matter very dear to my heart . . . and yours as well I imagine."
"And I'm sure Barbara cares about you too . . . as a friend."
"I hope you know I would never . . . not with Helena."
Helena squeezed her eyes shut, leaving a single tear to slide down her cheek. She tried to stop the voices but they kept coming, striking at her mind and heart equally.
". . . you will harm each other."
"Is that what you want?"
". . . so I'm making it for her."
But that wasn't true. No matter what she wanted, Selena couldn't make this decision for Helena, or was it decisions. The teenager let out a long breath in an attempt to relax her cramping muscles then she turned her sights inward and began to order her thoughts.
First, Barbara was Batgirl. Somehow she couldn't feel any real surprise about that revelation. Helena had always seen and been drawn to the passion and intensity that Barbara took pains to hide from most people. It made sense that she would channel that into helping others. So Helena wasn't bothered at all that Barbara was Batgirl except for the fact that her friend had kept that knowledge from her.
Second, her Mom and Barbara had met before. Did they meet as Barbara and Selena first or was it the other way around. That would have made a big difference she was sure. The fact that they talked about her tonight as if she wasn't there (although technically they thought she wasn't) really ticked her off. She was almost fifteen years old! She could make her own decisions, dammit, which led her to the third thing she was desperately trying to wrap her mind around.
Her Mom thought something was going on with Barbara- or did she think something would be going on? Again, Helena wasn't stupid. She was almost through a year of high school. She knew what Selena was intimating. But did she feel that way about Barbara Gordon?
For the first time, Helena allowed herself to examine her feelings for the woman beyond just a best friend. She thought about the dark red of her hair, how it fell around her face when she let it down. How the movements of her body were so graceful and efficient whether she was walking down the hall or performing a triple back flip. The jokes that she told rarely, but that always reduced Helena to tears. The way the redhead would look at her and suddenly Helena's entire focus would consist entirely of Barbara Gordon.
Her body slumped in defeat, mimicking the posture of the stone statue that flanked her. Of course she loved Barbara. She had been in love with her from the moment she had looked up into emerald eyes. The feeling of being caught in an undertow she couldn't escape washed over her once again, shivers racing up and down her spine. Yep, she was definitely hot for Barbara Gordon. It wasn't really a surprise, just something she had been trying desperately not to admit to herself.
Helena wanted to laugh in relief and cry in despair at the same time. She loved Barbara, but so what? Barbara had all but stated that she would never be anything but Helena's friend, which made sense, to her Helena was just a kid. But that wouldn't always be the case. Counting quickly, Helena realized by the time she was eighteen, Barbara would be twenty-five. That wasn't so bad. It sounded a lot better than fourteen and twenty-one. Besides wasn't it illegal for her to date Barbara at her age? Anyway, at eighteen it wouldn't be, and maybe by then she could convince Barbara that she was girlfriend material. Selena was always saying she had too much charm for her own good.
A hand slapped suddenly against the rough stone, producing an eerie echo in the dark. Helena jumped to her feet, energized with her plan and the thought of one day accomplishing her goal. A moment later she frowned as one more piece of the nights revelations hit her. Her Mother wasn't about to let Helena anywhere near Barbara in the next few years, or maybe ever. She trusted Selena to take care of her, but Helena wouldn't let her make this decision for her. It was too important. Besides she doubted she could stay away from Barbara if she tried. So, naturally, she would just have to hide her feelings . . . for years.
Helena sighed again, before turning to look at her rapt audience. "Well, it's not going to be easy, but nothing worth having ever is, right? Right. So, all I have to do is try to make Barbara fall in love with me by the time I'm eighteen without being obvious enough to alert Barbara or Mom to my intensions. Yep, piece of cake." With a final weary pat, Helena turned away from the gargoyle and jumped out into the night sky. She might as well run off some of her frustration before heading over to Julie's. After all, high school had just gotten a lot more stressful for one, Helena Kyle.
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