Just A Matter of Time
A BoP TV Story (B/H)
This story contains adult themes of love between two women. Also, there are attempts to use French in the story - a product of free on-line translators (you get what you pay for). My apologies in advance for the language errors. Thanks to Trusty for proofing.
After a disturbing encounter with a petty thief, Helena finds her world turned upside down. As she searches for a way to turn it right-side up, she faces surprising complications - including Barbara Gordon, the unrequited love of her life, who actually starts to fall for her.
- Enginerd (Nov 2009)
Helena smirked as Dinah gleefully eyed Barbara. "Truth or dare?" Dinah asked eagerly.
"You know, Dinah, why don't we play charades or something. Then all of us would play, right Helena?" Barbara glanced over hopefully to the relaxed crime fighter sitting next to her.
Helena grabbed a handful of popcorn from the big bowl in Barbara's lap and returned her gaze to the DVD playing on the nice big TV.
"Sure. Charades. My fav. Whoo hoo," Helena said flatly, putting an obscenely large amount of popcorn in her mouth. "Wu can we ju waa hee lame mobe?" Helena blurted with a full mouth, pointing at the screen with Jane Seymour, looking pretty hot, which was the only reason Helena put up with watching Dinah's less than thrilling selection of Somewhere in Time.
Barbara frowned and handed the bowl to Dinah, who sat on her other side. "Helena, you are a twenty five year old woman. I know you have manners. I've had, on a rare occasion or two, the great privilege of seeing them. Would you please attempt to at least pretend you care about them?" Barbara asked with a heavy sigh.
"Uuuure. Baaahs," she responded with amusement and some chewed popcorn dropped out of her mouth onto her shirt.
"Ewww," Dinah said, causing Helena to chuckle. Picking up the pieces on her shirt and popping them into her mouth, Helena continued to chew and returned her gaze to the TV.
Barbara rolled her eyes at the young woman, who managed to derive inordinate pleasure from grossing out Dinah. She wondered if Helena would ever grow up. The young woman refused to be serious about anything, except perhaps for kicking ass or "partying." With the parade of acquaintances she "partied" with, Barbara couldn't call them girl or boy friends as Helena apparently never saw them more than once or twice. Why Helena couldn't see that she had so much to offer someone if she would just slow down and….
"Truth or dare?" Dinah asked again, tucking her leg under her as she shifted on the couch and looked intently at Barbara as Helena chuckled quietly, getting an annoyed glare from Barbara.
"I really would rather . . . ."
"You SAID we could do whatever I wanted on my Birthday. I want to play truth or dare," Dinah whined.
"She's got you there, Red," Helena said innocently, as she crossed over Barbara, reaching for the popcorn bowl Dinah now held, her face surprisingly close to Barbara's. "It was YOUR promise," she said silkily, grabbing a handful and waggling her eyebrows at a blinking Barbara, who was startled by the sudden proximity and the unexpected feelings it provoked.
Barbara looked at Helena curiously as she pulled back and returned to her side of the couch, popping a few pieces into her mouth with a satisfied smile. It wasn't the first time Helena had just . . . invaded . . . her personal space like that. And if she thought about it, the unrepentant Helena had been doing that more frequently the past several months, as well as the flirting. Of course, Helena had always flirted with her, which she had to admit made the sweeps more . . . interesting . . . as Barbara took it as a challenge to beat her at her own game. She took a great deal of satisfaction in surprising Helena with her own risqué comments and innuendo. And to actually make Helena blush was truly a guilty pleasure. As Barbara pondered what might be the cause for the changes over the last several months, Dinah spoke.
"You want to know what I think?" Dinah said in challenge.
"If I say no, will you keep it to yourself?" Helena responded hopefully. Barbara bit her lip, trying not to smile.
"You are just too scared to play," Dinah taunted, hoping to provoke Helena into playing.
"Didn't think so," Helena said with a heavy sigh. "Fine, I'm too scared," Helena declared, popping a few kernels in her mouth, surprising both Barbara and Dinah.
"All right, Dinah. Truth," Barbara offered wearily - after all, she did promise.
Dinah beamed. "Cool! Who was the first woman you've ever kissed? And I'm not talking relatives."
Helena blinked, not having expected that question for Barbara. But then, Dinah was talking a lot about this girl Gabby in school and pestering her with obtuse questions, she considered and glanced at the elevator, then the balcony, her possible escape routes.
Barbara winced. "Is it too late to take the dare?"
"Ah ha! I knew it!" Dinah said victoriously, knowing she had to ask her questions carefully or she'd never get anything out of Barbara.
"Well look at the time!" Helena suddenly blurted, startling both women as she looked at her bare wrist and jumped up from the couch. She glanced at Barbara. "Speaking of time, I dropped your favorite watch off at the jewelers - in case you were wondering where it was. With any luck it'll finally be able to tell the correct time more than twice a day," she said with a thin, almost taunting smile as she leaned over Barbara and grabbed another handful of popcorn.
"I was going to get to it," Barbara responded weakly, surprised that Helena did that for her and by how distracting Helena's fragrance was.
"You said that last month," Helena responded with a smirk. "And I'm tired of you complaining you don't have a nice watch every time you go to a classy place with Wade. I almost got you a new one but I know how much you like the one you have."
Barbara's eyes dropped and she offered "Well, it was from a good . . . friend."
"Kinda figured," Helena said with a small, understanding smile. She never had asked Barbara any personal questions like those Dinah had no problem asking, apparently. But Helena knew there had been someone special, with the way Barbara hung onto the old, broken timepiece. If only she could have been that someone special for Barbara, she considered, knowing very well that all Barbara wanted from her former ward was friendship. Her former guardian had made that awkwardly and painfully clear years ago. As the sadness welled up, she pushed it aside, trying to remind herself there was no use in crying over spilt milk….
"You can't be leaving," Dinah piped up, looking at her still half-full popcorn bowl to Helena.
"Yep. And don't worry, I didn't eat all the birthday cake - there still is a slice or two left," she said.
"But it's only nine thirty," Dinah said with a frown.
"Don't tell us it's past your bedtime," Barbara said, crossing her arms over her chest, suspecting with growing irritation where the active young woman was going.
"I have a busy day tomorrow," Helena quickly countered, grabbing her leather duster off the back of a chair on the way to the elevator.
"But . . . ." Dinah blurted helplessly.
Helena stopped and faced the two women now frowning at her. "Dinah, I don't have to be a telepath to know you want to talk to Barbara about . . . things. I get it," Helena said, surprising Barbara, who realized Helena was probably right. Dinah hadn't really pushed hard to play Truth or Dare ever before. Thankfully.
"I want to talk about "things" with both of you," Dinah muttered with a frown.
"I think we all agree - Barbara's a far better role model than me, kiddo," Helena said, winking as she entered the elevator. "Happy Birthday, D. If you're lucky, maybe she'll tell you about the birds and the birds," she said with a smirk as the doors started to shut.
"Thanks for the cool . . ." Dinah called out as the doors shut. ". . . jacket," she said weakly with a sigh.
Barbara and Dinah stared at the elevator doors a moment before looking at each other. "You'd think her ass was on fire by the way she bolted out of here," Dinah offered.
"Dinah," Barbara exhaled wearily.
"Sorry. But I didn't mean for her to leave. We were having a great time before I opened up my big mouth."
"Dinah, Helena just gets . . . uncomfortable . . . talking about personal stuff," Barbara offered awkwardly, feeling the same.
"And, you know, we don't have to play Truth or Dare for you to ask me . . . sensitive questions, Dinah. I'll do my best to answer," Barbara offered gently, getting a slight blush from Dinah.
"Really?" she said with a weak smile.
"Really. And I'd prefer just to talk, instead of a game, if it's all right with you?"
"I'd prefer that too," she admitted with a wince. "I tried to talk with Helena about . . . girls . . . before, but she bolted then too," Dinah admitted uncomfortably with a cringe.
"She is a master deflector when she doesn't want to talk about things," Barbara said, glancing at the elevator with a sigh. "And that's usually with just about every topic."
"Almost as good as you," Dinah ventured, getting a small smile from Barbara.
"Margay Chasseresse," Barbara answered softly. The thought of the older woman unexpectedly brought back an ache of loss she hadn't felt in years.
"Oh?!? A French girl?"
"French woman," Barbara corrected.
"Oh. My. God. You and a French woman had something going on?!?" Dinah said excitedly.
"Ah . . . we only kissed," Barbara clarified. "And we had nothing going on," she added firmly. Regardless of how badly she had wanted it, she silently added.
"Oh," Dinah said with a frown digesting the bad news, then perked up as she thought all was not lost. "But . . . how was the kissing?!?" Dinah persisted enthusiastically.
A blush washed over Barbara as she recalled everything about their kisses, how all-consuming those intimacies were. "It was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was . . . magical," Barbara offered honestly.
Perhaps too magical, Barbara considered, doubting she would ever again find anyone who could provoke such strong feelings in her. Wade certainly didn't, she considered with a sigh, glancing down at her paralyzed legs as she tried not to dwell on her physical limitations. But Barbara knew that a relationship built on only sexual attraction would not survive as the couple grew older. You needed friendship, dependability, and shared interests, she considered logically. Sex really wasn't that . . . .
"So, did she approach you?" Dinah asked eagerly.
"What? No. If anything I had to . . . well . . . I . . . she wouldn't . . . so I . . . did," Barbara said awkwardly, decidedly embarrassed by her admission, but Dinah was impressed.
"That's so cool that you actually pursued her!" Dinah said with increased interest, if that was possible.
"Unsuccessfully, I might add. She left," Barbara noted with a bit of irritation, trying to remind herself that her crush, or whatever it was, was years ago . . . a lifetime ago. "I was young," Barbara said very softly with a dejected sigh.
"It wouldn't have been a magical kiss if she didn't want to kiss you," Dinah offered thoughtfully.
Barbara looked at her surprisingly sage young ward, knowing she was right.
"How young were you anyway?" Dinah asked with a dreamy sigh.
"She was in her mid-twenties and I was seventeen," Barbara said, irritated that her youth had been a factor. She certainly had felt much older than seventeen at the time; she was a senior in college after all.
"That would be like me having a crush on Helena," Dinah said with a thoughtful sigh, understanding the age gap problem.
Barbara looked at her ward with concern. "You're . . . you're not interested in Helena, are you?" Barbara said evenly, trying not to get upset at that notion. After all, Helena was a very charismatic woman and incredibly charming, when she tried to be, not to mention drop dead . . . .
"What?? No!" Dinah blurted with surprise, then burst into unexpected laugher.
Barbara exhaled with immense relief. She did not want Helena to have to tip-toe through that minefield with Dinah - like she had to years ago with Helena. She would never forget the painfully defeated look in Helena's eyes when she explained to the teen that while she loved her, she couldn't love her like she wanted or deserved to be loved. She explained that her feelings would evolve and change as she matured and that she would one day find someone, perhaps someone surprising, who she would love more.
Barbara recalled the conversation, many years earlier, with Margay, who had said similar things to let her down. It was almost as if she took a page out of Margay's playbook for Helena, she considered for the first time. But she did not believe Margay had as awkward a time as she did - Margay was not her legal guardian . . . or a paraplegic, for that matter. It was totally different, Barbara considered stubbornly, still feeling a bit hurt by the rejection so long ago.
Dinah's laughter faded into a wince as she thought more about what Barbara was worried about and said "Eeeeeeew."
"You'd better not say that in front of Helena; her ego might never recover," Barbara said wryly.
"Oh, everyone who has eyes knows she's hot and all, but she's like a sister. And that's just gross!" Dinah explained, once again relieving Barbara. "So, what was Margay like?"
Dinah's ability to produce mental whiplash never ceased to amaze Barbara, who vaguely wondered if that was a meta skill.
"Is there someone that you're interested in?" Barbara cut to the chase, really not wanting to rehash the painful past.
"I . . . I didn't mean to pry or anything," Dinah quickly blurted with concern that she had annoyed Barbara, and continued rapidly. "But I did meet someone but I don't know how to approach her. I just wanted to talk to someone who's been there. I know Helena has dated women, a lot, but she just won't talk to me. And I just, well, I know you are with Wade now and it might seem awkward to talk about a relationship like that, so I'll just shut up now." Dinah finally stopped and took a breath with a wince.
"In spite of what I had . . . hoped for, I never had a relationship with Margay, Dinah. We just kissed so I'm not sure what I experienced would help. And I'm pretty sure what Helena . . . does, so casually, is not what you want, either," Barbara said, a bit of annoyance slipping through, though she tried not to dwell on that. She really hoped she got tested periodically. But knew that was not her place anymore to question Helena like that. She was an adult, Barbara had to remind herself, even if she frequently didn't act like one.
"If your prospective girlfriend is about your age . . ." Barbara said, glancing at Dinah, who nodded. "Well, I would tell you to be good friends first and then see where that takes you," Barbara offered, feeling pretty good about that bit of advice. Friendship was paramount for a good relationship, she firmly believed.
Dinah nodded with a weak smile, knowing that was the best advice Barbara could give. Maybe she could still get Helena to talk….
Chapter 2 - Vive la France
As Barbara pulled the covers up, she sighed and stared at her bedroom ceiling, remembering the enigma that had haunted her dreams years ago; the white-haired woman who had made her blood pulse through her with a passion like no other; the mysterious French woman who first taught her about broken hearts. It took a long time to get over her loss of something that never really had a chance to develop. And now, thoughts of her first, unrequited love came flooding back, bringing with them an ache that she had thought was long ago buried.
The woman's name rolled over her lips unbidden in a soft exhale. How that woman could mesmerize her, by her voice in conversation or song, or by her amazing talent at the keyboard. She was the first female adult who treated her as a peer, even though Margay was several years older. She was the first female adult who applauded her independence and intelligence, encouraging her to follow her heart's desire instead of someone else's idea of what she should do. Margay made her feel . . . normal . . . for being who she was and wanting what she did; a rare gift when she really needed it.
Before Margay, she struggled to fit in and clearly did not. Then to her surprise, as she got to know Margay a bit better, Barbara learned she had much in common with this more passionate and self-confident woman. She could see a similar passion and self-confidence in the way Helena lived her life, though not with the same discipline and maturity. Unfortunately her attempted positive influence over Helena was limited to crime fighting, not her cavalier lifestyle. Barbara sighed again and shook her head at her comparison. There really was no comparison, she considered, absently wondering where Margay was and if she were happy. . . .
Helena knocked on the front door of a modest, single family house. She looked up and down the empty residential street, out of habit rather than of concern. Anyone stupid enough to bother her would get a thorough ass-kicking.
The door swung open, revealing an attractive woman, clearly older than Helena; her red hair sported gray streaks that elegantly flowed from her temples. But Helena never thought about age when she was around this very engaging and vivacious woman.
"Well bonjour, mon ami. I was wondering where you've been," Monique Devereux said with a wry smile. Her melodic French accent just added to the woman's allure. Helena had very fond memories growing up in Europe and Monique reminded her of much happier times.
The older woman, clad in a simple but stylish dress, leaned against the door jamb with her arms crossed over her chest as she waited for an explanation.
"Well, my beautiful and exceptionally talented Monique," Helena said with a smirk.
"A promising start . . ," Monique Devereux responded with amusement, nodding her head for Helena to continue.
"What can I say? I've been busy," she said with a wince and shrug.
"So you think you can just drop by at any hour and expect me to let you in?" Monique challenged, without any hint of anger for the late night intrusion; she admired Helena's free spirit.
"C'était un espoir, mon ami," Helena answered, gallantly grasping Monique's hand and pulling it up to her lips for a soft kiss on the knuckles. "Vous savez que nous faisons la belle musique ensemble," she added with a devious glint in her eyes.
The woman laughed and shook her head. "That we do, ma chére. Beautiful music together. You do know, however, that if you weren't so good, I'd kick you to the curb at this hour," Monique said, gently caressing Helena's cheek affectionately. "Why tonight, at this hour?"
"I could not go another night without hearing the sound of your beautiful voice?" Helena said with an innocent, hopeful smile.
"Oh, you do so much so well, Helena. But convincing innocence? It still eludes you," Monique chuckled and patted Helena on the cheek before stepping back to let her in.
"I can do innocent," Helena protested mildly.
Monique laughed and shook her head as she retreated into her home.
"I can," Helena offered again in protest, following after the older woman with amusement.
Barbara's eyes grew heavy and she finally drifted off into a deep sleep.
There she was! The white-haired woman! Her heart raced with surprising anticipation. She did not know why she felt so drawn to this stranger, this woman, but she was. Without thought, she found herself walking towards her before she slipped away into the crowd.
"Wait!" she blurted, seeing several people turn to her curiously. The one she wanted to wait, tensed, not exactly the reaction she had hoped for. Though she wasn't exactly sure what she was hoping for….
"Uh, hi!" she said.
"Hi," the attractive stranger said, holding the side of her sunglasses as she looked the teen over closely.
The attention was not unwelcome. In fact, it caused an unexpectedly pleasant fluttering in her stomach.
"I never got to thank you," she said uncomfortably.
"No need for thanks. You would have done the same," the woman said, clearly uncomfortable.
"Are your eyes always sensitive?" she asked curiously, surprising the older woman.
"What makes you say that?" the white-haired woman asked guardedly.
"Uh, well, you seem to always wear sunglasses, even when it's dark out," she quickly answered, hoping she hadn't upset this alluring stranger.
"Ah. My eyes are unfortunately very sensitive. I think have a bad case of pink-eye I can't seem to get rid of," the older woman deadpanned, pulling down her glasses to reveal her eyes.
"You're an albino??" Barbara blurted with surprise then cringed at how that sounded. "Uh, I'm sorry. I mean, it really doesn't matter. Not one bit," she blurted, then joked with surprising amusement "besides, infinite diversity, infinite combinations as Spock would . . . say." Her amusement faded seeing a surprised look on the woman's face making her want to kick herself for being such a geek. "I . . . I just get curious and start asking a lot of questions which annoys . . . well mostly everyone. So I try not to ask the first thing that pops into my mind but it isn't easy," she said then awkwardly fell silent, seeing an amused grin on the woman's face. Her heart dropped along with her eyes. She had hoped this woman would understand but concluded that she would never really click with anyone.
To her surprise, the woman gently lifted her chin so the teen would look at her. The touch caused a pleasant chill as she waited with great anticipation. "You remind me of a dear friend, who is also a nervous talker, my beautiful Barbara," the woman said warmly, causing the teen to blush and blink. "And you should never, never stop asking your questions. Albert Einstein said the important thing is to…"
"Not stop questioning," Barbara finished in soft amazement, as the older woman nodded in agreement with an understanding smile. That was exactly what she thought!
"So how did you know to call Alfred?" she asked, the question layered with meaning.
"We all have our secrets, ma chére," the woman vaguely answered with a shrug and wry smile.
"But rest assured, I will be as discreet as Alfred is with yours."
She nodded hesitantly; somehow believing this mesmerizing stranger, which she knew was absurd as she knew nothing about this woman. Not even her name, Barbara thought with frustration that simple courtesy and coherent speaking seemed to elude her around this . . . woman.
"Thank you, for that and helping me the other night. I'd really like to thank you properly. What's your name?" she said. "Or is that a secret too?" She challenged mildly, truly hoping it wasn't.
"I suppose that is only fair, since I know yours…," the woman said, then briefly glanced towards the street as a noisy truck rumbled past them. Returning her gaze to the teen, she answered with a smile. "Margay. Margay Chasseresse."
"That's . . . lovely." And perfect, somehow, she thought, returning the smile with a big one of her own. "I am pleased to meet you, Margay Chasseresse," she said holding out her hand, which the older woman took. "And I do want to thank you, Margay," she added placing her other hand on top of their clasped hands. She could feel the electricity between them.
"My pleasure, Barbara," the white-haired woman said softly, adding "I must go," the woman said uneasily, pulling her hand back.
"But . . . ," Barbara blurted, her smile gone.
"Seriously, ma chére, I must go," Margay said, reaching out to squeeze Barbara's forearm. "Be well, mon ami."
Her body's response to this woman's touch was once again a surprise.
"But will I see . . . ." she asked too late for Margay was gone, having disappeared into the night. ". . . you again?" she exhaled with disappointment, no longer seeing any trace of the beautiful white-haired vision.
Barbara was suddenly jolted awake when Delphi alarmed. As the vivid images in her dream faded, the strong feelings that were provoked did not. The surprising attraction and unexpectedly profound loss were palpable, which irritated the redhead. She had thought she had gotten over the captivating Margay, who had slipped through her fingers, much like she had disappeared into the night in her dream. But a niggling and frustrating longing remained…even after all this time...no matter how she tried to forget.
Delphi's persistent chiming could not be ignored. Barbara groaned and pulled off her covers to respond to the latest crisis. With practiced moves and considerable upper body strength, she quickly shifted herself to her wheelchair and rolled towards the computer.
Rapidly tapping on her keyboard, she brought up several displays and discovered the alarm was a robbery at an antique store. She frowned, sitting back in her chair, debating sending anyone. There had been an increase in robberies lately and she suspected it was the same guy . . . or gal, she amended. She glanced towards the bedrooms and frowned; Dinah was sound asleep and had school in a couple of hours. She sighed, suspecting that Helena was likely . . . preoccupied. Helena had been unusually busy the past several months, she considered absently.
With a small smirk she put her headset on. Turning her comms on, she sent a signal to Helena.
"To what do I owe the pleasure this evening, Oracle?" Helena said melodically over the comms, surprising Barbara with the speed of her response.
"Uh . . . ," Barbara paused with a wince, starting to feel guilty for interrupting whatever Helena was doing. It was just a routine robbery.
"Should I sit down?" Helena responded with some concern, surprised by Barbara's hesitancy.
"That won't be necessary, Huntress. There has been a string of robberies lately and I would really like to get this guy," Barbara offered, which was true, she considered, biting her lip.
"Or gal," Helena amended.
"Or gal," Barbara repeated with a smile in her voice.
"Where?" Helena immediately asked with clear intent.
Barbara's smile broadened at her willingness to drop everything. Again.
After receiving the pertinent details, Helena was upset. "That bastard better not have touched your watch!"
"You left my watch at Hillman's Antiques?" Barbara asked with surprise.
"Arthur is a very capable jeweler and swore he could fix your watch….unlike the other jewelers you have tried over the years. Whoa!"
"Just slipped on the ledge; I think it's time for some new boots. I'm almost there."
"You were already on sweeps?" Barbara said with surprise, fully expecting to have interrupted an . . . indoor activity.
"Actually, I do enjoy an occasional roof-top stroll that doesn't involve criminals," Helena offered, well aware of what Barbara thought she did with most of her time. "And I find I can actually spend lengthy periods of time alone without becoming desperate for company."
Barbara frowned at the terse response. "Just be careful," she said softly, unable to help herself. She would always worry about Helena, in every aspect of her life.
"Aren't I always?" Came the playful reply, which Barbara was happy to hear. Helena was a playful soul, she considered, which she certainly preferred to her annoyance.
"For some reason, the phrase "bull in a china shop" comes to mind," Barbara joked with a grin.
"I'm going into the store. I'm going silent," Huntress said tightly.
"We'll talk later," Barbara said with a frustrated sigh.
"No need for threats, Oracle."
"Huntress? I mean it. Be careful."
"Roger Dodger, big O."
The comms went silent and Barbara blew out a frustrated exhale. Helena's volatile emotions were always difficult to navigate through. She had hoped when Helena grew up she would be easier to deal with. No such luck, she considered, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes
Chapter 3 - Interruptions
Helena's eyes augmented as she looked around the pitch-black room. The robber was still in the store, hunched over a display case, picking the lock. Not a very good robber since he was apparently not aware of the silent alarm, she considered. The man mumbled to himself, confirming to Helena he was a nut-job. She stepped closer, not making a sound as the man finally picked the lock. He released a happy exhale and smiled as he opened the display case and picked up a jewel-studded, football-sized hourglass reverently.
"Whatchya got there?" Helena asked curiously over the robber's shoulder, causing him to jump and swing at Helena with his free hand, protectively cradling the hourglass at his chest.
"Whoa, tiger," Helena said, easily ducking the poorly thrown punch. "Why don't you just hand back the loot and save yourself a bit of trouble, " Helena said conversationally, adding helpfully "and possibly some pain," as she easily ducked another flailing arm.
"Stay away!" He barked, nervously grabbing his bag of loot on top of the display case.
"Well, you see, we have a problem there. You are a robber and I am a vigilante," she explained. "The vigilante's guidebook says I can't ... Stop it, you idiot!" she said as he started to throw things at her, including his bag of jewelry, that spilled onto the floor revealing expensive rings and timepieces.
When she glanced to the pieces, noticing Barbara's watch was not among the booty, he darted out the door with the hourglass clutched to his chest.
"Goddamnit," she muttered under her breath as she ran after him.
She saw the surprisingly fast twerp look back frantically then turn a corner. Helena shook her head at his poor planning; he had just turned down a dead-end street. As she followed, she turned the corner to an unexpectedly empty alley. She immediately halted, carefully listening for any signs of the robber, from heavy breathing to footfalls. With no small amount of annoyance, she had to conclude he got away. Somehow.
Hearing sirens getting louder, Helena took to the building tops to make her own escape, scanning the area, hoping to spot the slippery criminal. He just wasn't there, she concluded with a frustrated growl and headed back to the Clock Tower.
"Is there some reason you didn't turn your comms back on??" Barbara said with annoyance, turning towards the crime fighter as she entered through the balcony windows.
"I did not want to subject you to my . . . French," Helena said angrily, getting Barbara to roll her eyes. "He got away! I had him and he…he disappeared down a dead-end street!!" Helena said with annoyance, her body radiating anger. "I can't believe the bastard got away . . . it was a Dead. End. Street!!" she said and started to pace in front of Barbara, who sighed.
"Do you think he was metahuman?"
"With powers to disappear?" Helena said with interest, stopping her pacing to consider the idea.
"We've seen stranger things…."
"If he could just disappear then why not go POOF when I scared him?" Helena countered.
"Maybe he needs to focus…without being frightened," Barbara offered.
Helena scratched her head then shook it with annoyance. "He even got away with some stuff…"
"Don't tell me, my watch?" Barbara said wryly.
"No, thankfully. I did check to made sure," Helena said worriedly, not mentioning her distraction gave the criminal the opening he needed, damn it.
"Hel, the watch stopped working long ago," Barbara offered uncomfortably.
Helena surprised Barbara by kneeling in front of her and looking into her eyes. "I still have my mother's broken music box that skips notes and is horribly flat. But it was hers. You can't put a price on sentimental value," Helena said with amazing insight and conviction.
The surprising intensity of Helena's emotion and mesmerizing gaze made Barbara blink and almost forget to breathe.
"And even if that bastard didn't take your watch, I'm going to kick his ass for making me look bad on my watch," Helena said with a thin smile, squeezing Barbara's forearm before standing.
"I'm sure you will," was all Barbara could think to say, still a bit surprised by the younger woman's inspiring, heart-felt words that made her feel less silly about holding onto memories.
"You don't have to be patronizing, you know," Helena responded dryly, making Barbara smile with relief for Helena's ability to tease and lift her spirits.
"That was "encouragement," Hel. You know, where I'm supportive of your crime fighting endeavors?" Barbara explained, withholding a smile.
"Oh. Sometimes I get your "patronizing" and "encouragement" confused," Helena offered thoughtfully, scratching her temple. Barbara smiled.
"So what did "poof" guy take?" Barbara asked, turning to one of Delphi's screens.
"Poof guy??? God, Barbara, I think you really need to spend a little less time with Dinah. You are sounding way too much like her - that can't be healthy," Helena said with feigned concern.
"So…?" She persisted, glancing back at Helena.
"An old hourglass. Seemed to be really attached to it."
Barbara frowned at that information, wondering whether it was significant.
"There were a lot of precious stones embedded in a gold frame," Helena offered, prompting Barbara to nod. "Looked like a small fortune."
"Hmmmm. Can you look at some mug shots? Maybe this guy has been caught before."
"Mug shots. WooHoo. I think I'm going to need some pop tarts for this," Helena announced, on a mission to the kitchen. "You want something? Tea?"
"Tea would be wonderful," Barbara said, turning back to Delphi to call up the photos for Helena.
Barbara sipped her tea and smiled; it was just how she liked it. A bit of lemon with a healthy teaspoon of honey. It almost rivaled Alfred's tea, though she would never admit that. Wade never seemed to get a handle on the right amount of lemon or honey…and he used tea bags, she considered with a wince. Looking at Helena, who was finishing up her first pop-tart and decadently licking her long fingers with entirely too much enjoyment, Barbara cleared her throat and asked "Are you refortified sufficiently to look at mug shots?"
Helena waved her hand royally at Delphi to signal Barbara to begin and chomped on the second pop-tart.
"Very well, your highness. Do you have any distinguishing features which could narrow down the search?"
Helena swallowed and drank a sip of milk. "Male. Late thirties, early forties. Brown hair. No scars or anything noticeable. Lousy thief…"
"Well, he did get away from you," Barbara noted as she typed in the parameters.
"Ouch, Barbara. You wound me like no other," Helena said flatly.
Barbara stopped typing and glanced over to Helena worriedly, sensing the truth in her statement. "I didn't mean …." she said softly, interrupted by Helena, who grabbed Barbara's wrist and jiggled her hand, motioning towards the keyboard.
"Keep typing, Barbara. You can do it," Helena said with encouragement.
Barbara rolled her eyes. Helena really did not like to have serious conversations, she considered with frustration as Helena continued her description.
"He was also about six feet tall….and did I mention, he was slippery?"
"Slippery…." Barbara repeated with a sigh and completed entering the parameters. Delphi took a few minutes and produced a list.
"All right, there are about fifty-four criminals that have the same basic characteristics that you have identified."
"Fifty-four? Geeze. What ever happened to originality?"
"Well you gave physical features, Hel. They aren't really in a person's control."
"Say that to Michael Jackson . . . but really, he could do something with his hair or clothing to distinguish himself," Helena offered then added weakly "…or something," as Barbara stared at her a long, quiet moment before returning her attention to Delphi with a slight shake of her head.
"All right - the pictures of our unoriginal criminals," Barbara said, scrolling through them slowly.
In the chair next to Barbara, Helena sat with her chin in her hand and elbow on the desk. As she stared at the mug shots, she impatiently strummed her fingers of her free hand as several pictures scrolled by.
"Is that him?"
"No," Helena said, standing up. "Life is too short not to be an original," Helena argued, starting to pace.
Barbara released a surprised breath, baffled as to why Helena revisited that topic. "All right," she said cautiously, sensing another mine-field ahead.
"Don't you think so??"
"That life's too short? Or that we should be originals?" Barbara joked lightly to defuse the mines that she still couldn't see but knew were there.
"Both! Geeze Barbara, why settle for being like everyone else? Why settle for mundane?? If that guy was living his life with passion, he would not be afraid to be unique or stand out."
"You think he should stand out . . . as a criminal," Barbara stated slowly, looking at Helena with a grimace, not understanding why they were having this conversation.
"I don't care what he wants to be - he should stand out from the others!" Helena said with passion.
"Well, standing out would certainly increase our chances of catching him," Barbara countered, tilting her head at Helena, trying to understand why this seemed so important to her.
"SO? If he's not willing to stand out, he's not living his life with passion - he's settling for the mundane, being like every other . . . petty criminal," she said, finishing awkwardly.
"Or he is just being cautious in his unfortunately chosen field," Barbara offered, then suddenly guessed, grasping for some understanding "Is this about the bull in a china shop comment??"
Helena exhaled heavily and shook her head sadly, sitting back down in defeat. "Scroll the pictures," she said softly.
"Helena? Please. Talk to me," Barbara said with concern, knowing there was a reason for this outburst but not understanding why.
Helena looked at her, really looked at her. Barbara grew uneasy at the seriousness and intensity of Helena's gaze. After a deafening moment of silence between them, Helena grinned ruefully and chuckled. "Sorry," she said shaking her head. "Got off on an odd tangent, scroll the pictures. I really want to get that guy," Helena said with a smile, turning her attention to the screen.
Barbara desperately wanted Helena to open up and share what was bothering her. Determined to not let her change the subject, she took a breath, but was interrupted by her youngest ward.
"Hey," Dinah came up to Delphi still in her pajamas, yawning. "I thought I heard you two. What's going on?"
There was always something interrupting them, Barbara thought with frustration.
"Poof guy," Helena said with a thin smile and shrug, leaning back in her chair, grateful for the interruption.
"Poof guy?" Dinah said slowly, then smiled widely. "I'm rubbing off on you, aren't I?" she said with great satisfaction. Helena just shook her head with a grin.
"The pictures?" Barbara said flatly, resigned to the fact their discussion on uniqueness and passion was put on hold, like many other conversations they never seemed to finish.
"Right-o, Big O," Helena said, swiveling in her chair, gazing back at the pictures.
Dinah mouthed "Big O?" to Barbara, who shook her head and scrolled through the pictures.
"Stop," Helena said, then took a good look at the guy, staring at him in confusion.
"Hold on, he got away from you?" Dinah said with surprise and amusement, knowing that must have really irked her proud mentor that an old guy kicked her butt.
"He looks like the thief but . . . older."
Barbara glanced at Helena a curious moment then called up the guy's wrap sheet. "David Clinton, currently serving an eight year sentence for fraud, identify theft and extortion."
"Busy guy," Dinah offered.
"Not at the moment - he's not due for parole for two years, in June 2007," Barbara noted, then turned to Helena, who continued to stare at the picture with an unhappy grimace. "Poof guy's father?"
"Has to be. He looks just like him, but older," Helena said with a heavy sigh.
Barbara typed in a few more searches. "Hmmm. No marriages. No record of any family…."
"Well, if your son was still only a petty thief, you might not want anyone to know about him," Helena offered. "And he did dabble in fraud and identify theft…not much of a stretch to think papa bear could do a bit of information manipulation."
"True," Barbara agreed. "I think I'll schedule an interview with . . . papa bear," Barbara said, typing in more information and coming up with no other leads.
"Let me know when. But for now, see you later, super friends," Helena said. Unconsciously squeezing Barbara's forearm, she got up, grabbing her coat.
"You're not staying for breakfast?" Barbara asked with a frown of disappointment as the phone rang.
"I'm really beat," Helena said, finding "family meals" with Barbara and Dinah bitter sweet. She knew there would never be anything more than sweeps and the occasional family-kind-of-meal with Barbara. And when she was tired, she found it harder not to become depressed about that. Wade was Barbara's choice and she had to live with that sad fact. And avoidance worked for her, she considered flippantly. Sort of….
Barbara frowned and picked up the phone. "Hello? Oh hi, Wade," she said, missing Dinah's rolling eyes, but Helena didn't and really couldn't blame the kid.
"Breakfast? Uh…. Yes, I know we have plenty of time before class . . . OK, yes, it would be really nice. Sure," she said unenthusiastically. "I'll meet you there in thirty minutes," she said and hung up.
"Great. Alone again," Dinah muttered dejectedly.
"Well, Dinah, I guess you could try and convince me to join you. What's on the menu?" Helena challenged.
Barbara looked at Helena, who always seemed to want to cheer Dinah up, even when she claimed to be annoyed by the youngest crime fighter. But, for some reason, she felt Helena's excuse about being beat was because she didn't want to be around her, which disturbed her. At one time, they had been very close, she recalled. Pushing those troubled thoughts aside, she knew she did not have a lot of time to get ready for breakfast with Wade.
"Pop-tarts?" Dinah said and cringed, knowing that the only one who could really cook amongst them was Alfred, who was on vacation.
"Excellent choice. Just like mom used to make," Helena joked, prompting a big smile from Dinah.
"You two have fun," Barbara said with a thin smile, rolling towards her bedroom to get ready.
Dinah noticed Helena's solemn gaze that followed Barbara and felt the sadness radiating from her. "What's wrong?"
Helena glanced at Dinah. "Other than petty criminal Poof Guy getting the best of me?"
"Barbara isn't disappointed in you," Dinah guessed the source of her trouble.
Helena chuckled without humor. "Right."
"You'll get him," Dinah said easily. "It's just a matter of time," she added with great confidence, causing Helena to grin.
"I knew there was a reason I liked you."
Dinah perked up. "Can I borrow your blue silk blouse?"
Chapter 4 - Girl Talk
That evening, Helena's eyes widened seeing Dinah enter the bar.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Helena said with annoyance as she dried the last of the beer mugs and placed it behind the bar. But she couldn't get too mad; Dark Horse had not opened yet, so technically, it wasn't inappropriate for Dinah to be in the bar. At least that's what she would tell Barbara if she got upset with Dinah visiting her there.
"I'm desperate!" Dinah said dramatically.
"Uh huh," she eyed the teen, then glanced over to the owner, Leonard, and called out. "I'm taking a break."
He grunted and nodded, making Helena smirk as she placed the towel down and emerged from behind the bar, motioning for Dinah to follow her. They headed to the freight elevator, surprising Dinah.
"We're going to your apartment??" Dinah said with excitement as Helena pulled down the gate and pressed the button.
"Yep," she said as the elevator groaned and came to life. "Desperate times calls for desperate measures."
"Cool!" Dinah said happily, having rarely visited the inner sanctum known as Helena Kyle's apartment.
Helena opened her apartment door. When Dinah entered and immediately starting to nose around and inspect things, Helena was reminded why she didn't have the teen over that often.
Shaking her head, she went to the kitchen and got two sodas out of the fridge. "So what is your problem?" Helena said bluntly.
"It's . . . well . . . uh."
Helena tossed a can to the teen, who caught it with her telekinesis. "Thanks," Dinah said with a grin.
"Show off," Helena said with a smirk, pleasing the teen. Sitting on the couch, she motioned for her guest to sit too.
Dinah opened her can and sat down, taking a sip, suddenly shy.
"You know, Leonard is expecting me back before we open in an hour," Helena said sarcastically, and sipped her soda when the phone rang. Helena made no move to answer.
"Aren't you going to get it?" Dinah asked. Helena shook her head no. "You really should get it," Dinah said firmly.
Helena rolled her eyes. "It'll be quick," she said and picked up the phone. "Hello?"
A happy smile filled Helena's face, intriguing Dinah, who was surprised when Helena started to converse in French. She could make out most of what was being said, for the first time thankful for her grueling high school French class.
"Mon beau Monique, oui nous sommes toujours dessus pour le demain. Bien, à moins que quelque chose soit soulevée, comme vous savez. Bien. Jusqu'à demain, mon ami."
Dinah smiled at Helena confirming her date with the obviously French Monique. What was it about the French anyway, Dinah wondered with great interest, considering she might need to pay more attention in French class.
When Helena hung up she knew Dinah would be exploding with questions.
"This is great!" Dinah gushed.
"It is?" Helena said with mild surprise and sipped her soda.
"Sure. That's why I'm here. I need advice on women."
"Women in general?" Helena smirked.
"Well, how to get one interested in me."
"So you didn't like Barbara's advice?"
"It doesn't help me ask her out."
"You want to ask Barbara out?!?" Helena feigned confusion, withholding a smile.
"Nooooo! Ugggh! Gabby. I want to ask Gabby out, but I don't know how to approach her," she frowned than looked up at Helena and suddenly asked "How did you meet Monique?"
Helena slowly sipped her soda and stared at Dinah.
"Oh come on, Helena! I need help here and you have had a lot of . . . success with women," Dinah said delicately, biting her lip.
"In spite of what people might think, Dinah. I'm not a slut," Helena said flatly.
"I . . . I didn't say you were," Dinah sputtered. "But you date - a lot."
"Not as much as you might think," Helena said softly, getting a confused look from the younger woman.
"You always seem so busy," Dinah said softly. "I've missed you."
"I'm sorry, kid," Helena said with genuine regret, placing her hand over Dinah's. "I just need . . . something else."
Dinah understood. She and Barbara had school which gave them something away from the "muffin-top" business that brought a normalcy that was still fulfilling. A job at a bar couldn't possibly fit the bill as fulfilling for the passionate woman. Dinah blinked, surprised by the feeling heartache radiating from Helena. As she opened her mouth to question her, Helena awkwardly withdrew her hand and blurted "Barbara is right about becoming friends and seeing where that takes you."
"How do you know that's what she told me?" Dinah asked, looking at her hand in surprise, then Helena, who chuckled.
"That's your thing, kid," Helena said with a smirk, motioning to the touch telepath's hand. "I just know Barbara."
"So you don't believe in love at first sight?"
Helena's eyes dropped uncomfortably. "You do!" Dinah said enthusiastically.
"Is that what it is with Gabby?" Helena asked curiously.
"Uh . . . no. I get a . . . feeling, when I see her but I can't say . . . love yet. So I shouldn't ask her out?" Dinah asked with concern.
"Hold on, I didn't say that - very few people would date if love was a requirement. People are attracted to each other. It may be love or just physical. If you are lucky it can be both. But you've got to get to know a person, to see if that attraction is something that could become more," Helena said, Dinah hanging on every word. "And taking things slow really is a good thing, Dinah."
"That doesn't sound right coming from someone who thinks microwave popcorn takes too long," Dinah joked.
"Some things are worth taking their time with, Dinah. Even for someone as impatient as me," Helena said with a small smile, causing Dinah to nod.
"How did you meet Monique?" Dinah asked, causing Helena to sigh, prompting Dinah to quickly add "Please tell me? PleasePleasePlease??"
Dinah smiled happily when Helena rolled her eyes and relented.
"I met Monique in a Jazz club. She was playing the piano and singing as song that . . . called to me. She's an amazing musician," Helena said with a warm smile.
"So you two make beautiful music together," Dinah snorted, waggling her eyebrows.
"I think we do," Helena answered seriously.
"Oh. Wow. So . . . it is serious, then?" Dinah said with great surprise.
"To me it is," Helena said and added with a grin "I love music."
Dinah looked at her, amazed. "How long have you been seeing her?"
"About seven months," Helena said, getting up from the couch.
"Seven months! Why haven't we met her?" Dinah blurted.
"And subject the poor woman or me, for that matter, to your interrogations?" Helena chuckled. "Come on, D. This interrogation is over. Believe it or not, my boss is more impatient than I am," Helena said, opening her apartment door.
"All right! It's still not too late to call Gabby!" Dinah declared happily, bouncing out of the elevator as she and Helena returned to the Clock Tower after sweeps.
"I guess she's not upset it was a slow night," Barbara mentioned with a grin, watching the energetic youth bolt for her room.
"It's a good thing you have several phone lines," Helena noted and walked past Barbara for the kitchen without stopping. "You got any food?"
"I think there is a pop-tart or two left since your last raid," Barbara said with amusement, rolling after Helena to the kitchen.
"You want something?" Helena asked absently as she opened several doors in search of the apparently elusive pop-tart box.
"You sure? No tea or . . . something. I might be persuaded to share the pop tarts," Helena finally looked at Barbara, who shook her head no with a smile.
"As really tempting as that sounds, no thanks. But help yourself."
Helena looked at Barbara a long moment then absently nodded, finally pulling the treat from the cupboard.
"Something wrong, Hel?" Barbara asked curiously.
"Other than getting absolutely no ass to kick and having to listen to Dinah gab on and on about Gabby . . . you know, I think her name should be Gabby."
"She's a young teen in love," Barbara offered wistfully, adding with amusement "I might be able to insert a sound-canceling chip in your earpiece that would block her voice's frequency."
"Don't even tease me about that. I might just take you up on it," Helena said. "She came by the bar before work yesterday."
"So, she grilled you on dating?"
"What did you tell her?" Barbara asked hesitantly.
"I suggested she become a nun," Helena said dryly, ripping open the bag of pop tarts.
"Hel, I don't think nuns are allowed to be vigilantes," Barbara said with feigned concern.
"She could do it. Sister Justice! She could bring a bunch of rulers with her and use her TK to hurl them against the bad guys . . . striking the fear of GOD in them," Helena offered, causing Barbara to chuckle at the image.
"Well, if I see her show up to sweeps in a habit, I'll know why," Barbara grinned.
"She didn't really warm up to that idea. She seems to be totally into Gabby."
"What did you tell her?" Barbara asked cautiously.
"Be good friends, go slow, yadda, yadda. All the usual Barbara Gordon advice."
"You did?" Barbara said, clearly surprised.
"Did you think I would corrupt our young ward?" Helena asked bluntly. "Give her a few beers and smokes as we discuss the fine art of fucking?"
"Helena, I didn't think. . . ." Barbara sputtered.
"No, you assume. You assume a lot of things about me, Barbara," Helena countered seriously. "I screwed up a lot as a kid. And you had a front row seat to witness all of it. But I am not about to let Dinah make the same mistakes. I don't want her to learn how damn hard it is to try and recover from a bad reputation," Helena said with surprising restraint.
"Helena . . . ." Barbara said, stunned by Helena's words, not sure of what to say. Clearly, she had made Helena feel like a screw up.
"I just want you to trust me," Helena said, looking into Barbara's eyes. "Trust me to do the right thing. I have grown up, Barbara. But I think you still see me as that screwed up kid," Helena said with a heavy sigh, shaking her head sadly.
The Delphi's alarm punched through the deafening silence.
Barbara didn't even glance towards Delphi, still digesting what Helena had said.
"Go ahead and check it. I really don't have anything else to say on the subject," Helena said softly, rubbing the back of her neck.
Barbara took a breath, knowing she needed to respond but didn't know what to say. Exhaling in frustration, she hated leaving things unsettled but knew she needed time to think about this. With a hesitant nod, she rolled towards the computer with Helena following. Tapping into the display, she frowned.
"What is it?" Dinah came up behind them, scanning the Delphi's screens.
"Déjà vu. Another robbery at Hillman's Antiques," Barbara said, tilting her head curiously.
"Oh I am so gonna get that bastard," Helena growled then fled out the balcony window before Dinah could ask how she was so sure it was Poof guy.
"Should I go?" Dinah asked.
"Please. I think she could use some backup if it is the same guy," Barbara said. "And when you get there, could you please tell her to turn her comms on?" she said with an irritated sigh.
Dinah eyed Barbara and nodded before she left.
Alone, Barbara wrapped her arms around herself and thought about Helena's words, feeling horrible that she had made the younger woman question whether she trusted her. Of course she trusted Helena! She trusted her with their lives on a daily basis. She trusted that Helena would never intentionally hurt Dinah or try to influence her to do the bad things she had done in her own youth. Then why did she keep questioning her as if she didn't trust her?
Barbara shook her head and rubbed the bridge of her nose.
Helena's eyes augmented as she entered the antique store. She spotted the culprit, confirming her suspicion that it was Poof guy. Her eyes widened with surprise as the guy awkwardly loaded up his bag of loot with one hand. His other hand was tightly clenching the jewel-studded hourglass he had stolen before.
"Now I know you are an idiot. You are going to do some time, junior," she said cockily, jumping in front of him. She grabbed his beloved hourglass as she punched him in the face. He stumbled back, letting go of the timepiece and the bag of loot, spilling several valuables onto the floor.
"NO! That's mine," he said, frantically trying to grab it back, shoving her back. She collided into the display case, hard. Her hand with the hourglass crashed through the glass, causing a shower of shards.
"You bastard!" she growled, not because of the pain in her bleeding hand but because she saw Barbara's watch on the floor. She kicked him squarely in the chest, causing him to fly several feet and land in a lump on the ground, unconscious. Leaning down, she picked up Barbara's watch, blowing out a relieved breath. After carefully tucking it into her pocket for safe keeping, she walked over to the guy and felt his pulse, noting it was thankfully strong.
As she stood, she took a moment to look at the object that this guy was so fixated on. Helena had an eye for beauty and this was a beautifully intricate piece, even with the large dent now in its side.
"Hmm," she curiously noticed some dials on one side of the hourglass, for hours, days, and years. When she turned some of the dials and curiously rotated the device for further inspection, it hummed, startling her. As she contemplated the fact that an hourglass really shouldn't hum, the glass suddenly shattered, releasing the white sand that sprayed out, mainly covering her.
"Agh!" she cried as the sand hit her, engulfing her in intense pain. Her hands shot up to her burning eyes as the broken hourglass fell to her feet.
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