Just A Matter of Time
A BoP TV Story (B/H)
Chapter 5 - Lost
"There was no sign of her??" Barbara asked her ward when she returned to the Clock Tower.
"I didn't see her. But the display case was broken and there was some blood," Dinah said with a wince.
"Blood?" Barbara snapped, then exhaled slowly as she pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to reign in her rapidly growing concern.
"Not a lot. I think someone got cut on the display case glass," Dinah said, biting her lip.
"Did you get a sample?" Barbara asked, rubbing her temples.
"Uh," Dinah cringed, feeling really stupid. Of course she should have taken a sample….
"Something must have happened to her," Barbara said worriedly. "Why wouldn't she contact us if she had to leave the scene?"
"A really hot date?" Dinah joked awkwardly then cringed at Barbara's glare.
"Helena has never gone . . . partying without first debriefing sweeps," Barbara immediately countered, clearly dismissing Dinah's comment.
"Maybe she was hurt more than the scene would indicate," Dinah said what they both feared.
"If she had enough strength to leave the scene, then she would have contacted me for help. And she didn't," Barbara added with quiet conviction.
"Amnesia?" Dinah offered.
Barbara looked up at Dinah and sighed. "Maybe. But I think we would have had some indication of a woman with no memory being found by now."
"She couldn't have just disappeared," Dinah blurted in frustration.
Barbara looked at her curiously. "Like poof guy did before?"
Helena was on her knees, feeling sicker than she had ever felt before as she expelled the contents of her stomach onto the floor. Unable to focus on anything but the pain, her body shook like it was going through withdrawal.
After several minutes, the powerfully wretched feeling settled into a dull, throbbing queasiness.
What the hell was in that hourglass, she wondered. As she glanced accusingly at the broken timepiece on the floor in front of her, another wave of nausea hit her. Having finished retching, she hoped, she weakly wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve and glanced around the store, still feeling very light-headed and weak.
The first thing she realized was the light streaming into the store really hurt her eyes. The second thing she realized was that the light was from the sun, meaning it was now day, which didn't make any sense. The police, Dinah or Barbara would have found her if she had been unconscious for that long. She tried to stand up, feeling incredibly weak. When her legs started to buckle, her hand darted out, finding purchase on the display case. After steadying herself, she blinked in confusion; the display case wasn't broken. Now she knew something was really wrong. No one would just step over her to fix the display case. She looked down at her hand, finding the cuts she expected but the unhealthy pallor of her skin startled her. She hadn't lost THAT much blood to get that pale, she considered in confusion.
She looked around the shop, seeing many of the same old pieces on display. A wooden flute sat on the mahogany credenza with various other vaguely familiar trinkets of crystal and silver. The walls sported oil paintings, instruments, clocks and a variety of other items, some she recalled, but not all. What caught her eye next made her expel a humorless laugh. According to the calendar on the back office's door, it was September 1987. Her heart pounded at the absurd notion. She slowly and calmly reached up to her necklace and switched her comms back on.
"Oracle? Oracle, are you there?" Deafening silence filled the air as the seconds ticked by and her uneasiness grew. "Ah . . . Barbara? I'm really sorry I didn't put my comms back on. I really do get it now. The silence is really . . . well, disturbing and this is a great lesson. So I promise I'll try harder to remember to keep them on in the future, but please . . . please just answer me?" She asked nervously.
She frowned at the continued silence. "Bastard must have broken my comms too," she muttered, wanting to believe that. She bit her lip and looked around for a phone, finding one behind the display case. Pausing a startled moment, she stared at the rotary dial, then shook her head. "It's an antique store with antiques," she told herself, picking up the receiver. "Jeeze! This is ridiculous!" she grumbled as she dialed clumsily and slowly. After finally finishing dialing the number - after what seemed like an eternity she muttered "I swear I'll keep my comms on in the future."
Hearing the ringing, she exhaled with some relief.
"Hello?" A gruff man's voice answered, startling Helena. It didn't sound like Alfred . . . or Wade, even if they had bad colds.
"I, uh . . . . Is Barbara there?" Helena asked with a frown.
"Uh…sorry. I guess I must have dialed a wrong number," she said and the man hung up with a grunt. Helena's heart pounded as she shut her eyes and tried to calm down. "This is not happening."
As Helena mopped up the mess she made on the floor, she muttered to herself. "There's a rational explanation for all of this," she said with forced conviction, wringing the mop in the bucket with a cringe. "She must have used Delphi to reroute her phone number. Good one, Barbara," she growled, then glanced over to the hourglass pieces that were now in a pile on top of the undamaged display case.
"And of course, an antique store would have an antique calendar," she muttered, tackling an easier oddity to explain, pulling the mop back out of the bucket and swabbing the floor. "Makes sense to me. Or maybe he's just too cheap to buy a new calendar and recycling one he can use again" she thought, vaguely remembering Barbara mentioning the days of a calendar would be repeated every so many years. And the antique store business is probably pretty tough, she considered reasonably, once again glancing over to the hourglass pieces.
Unfortunately, she couldn't explain the pesky night to day thing, or the clearly undamaged display case. And the absence of any of the sand on the floor also struck her as odd, though not as odd as the absurd explanation she kept coming back to after her feeble attempts to explain away the incongruities. No, she thought, she just had an active imagination. Or maybe she was just sleeping and having a nightmare. Yeah. That would be a much better explanation than traveling 18 years into the past….
Someone knocked at the locked front door, making her jump. She wanted to run, but suspected that would look even more suspicious than her being in a closed store without any staff. She held up her finger to the old woman, who peeked around the closed sign as she placed the mop back in the bucket.
Opening the door, she plastered on a pleasant smile, even though the daylight was painful and made her squint. "May I help you?" Helena asked, noting the woman was giving her an odd look, then smiled at her.
"I didn't expect to see anyone in the store this week, with the funeral and everything."
"Just cleaning up for Arthur a bit," Helena said, pointing back to the mop and bucket with an innocent shrug. It was the truth.
The old woman smiled. "That's very nice of you dear," she said then an honest look of concern filled her face. "Do you know how Arthur and his family are doing? Losing Mildred must have been devastating for him."
Helena blinked. She knew Arthur. She knew Arthur had a wife, Mildred. She knew Mildred had died about . . . 18 years ago.
"Uh . . ," Helena blurted, barely containing her panic. "I'm sorry, no. It's been amazingly quiet," she said. "I don't mean to be rude, but I need to finish up and meet some people."
"Of course, dear," the old woman said and took a breath to ask another question but the door was quickly shut and locked. She frowned, looking around the closed sign again and watched the younger woman quickly pick up the mop and bucket and head into the back office.
She sighed, shaking her head as she left.
Helena could no longer ignore what all the evidence was telling her and the weight of that realization was too much. She leaned heavily against the office wall and slid down, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. "Oh God," she whispered as she dropped her head onto her knees and trembled, wanting nothing more than to go back at the Tower and have Barbara scold her about leaving her comms off again….
Barbara stared at the computer screen, the various hospital, police, and fire reports indicated no signs of Helena. While a relief, she was still no closer to finding her after being missing for over a day. She stretched her neck, reluctantly starting to accept that Helena would not be returning this evening…or rather, morning, she corrected herself, looking at the monitor's time of 0427.
She looked down to her left wrist and absently rubbed it, thinking about the watch that had not worked in several years. It was interesting that Helena had always known it was special to her, even without asking why. Wade hadn't known about the watch, but then, Wade only knew what she let him know, which wasn't much.
Trust me, Helena had asked of her. The surprisingly passionate plea from Helena plagued her as she rubbed her tired eyes, wishing Helena knew that she was trusted above all others. But she obviously didn't know, having to ask her something that was so fundamental. Sure Barbara questioned what sort of advice Helena would dispense to Dinah, knowing it wasn't easy to navigate the emotional minefield of a teen and required careful consideration and thought in all answers. And wasn't it Helena who said she wasn't a good role model, leaving Dinah's questions to her? She fleetingly wondered if Helena was staying away because of her irritation over that, then dismissed that thought. Helena was too professional to do that.
You assume many things about me, Helena had said.
Barbara exhaled heavily at the truth in that statement. She did assume. She assumed things based on Helena's youthful indiscretions and annoyingly frequent adult innuendos. She glanced over to Dinah, who had fallen asleep on the couch while attempting to offer her mentor moral support. If she really thought about it, she couldn't imagine Helena being anything less than the best role model she could be for the teen. Yet, Helena was always running off to do who knows what with who knows whom, she considered, wondering how that could possibly be a good example for Dinah.
You assume many things about me.
The words were true; she didn't exactly know what had kept Helena so busy the past several months. Nor was she sure she really wanted to know, recalling the lazy smiles and unusually relaxed nature of her former ward when she returned to the clock tower for sweeps. Helena had always been edgy growing up, needing physical activity to take that edge off. It was clear to Barbara that she had found an activity other than crime fighting and it disturbed her to think what it could be, having smelt the smoky clothes and seen the smudged lipstick on her cheek frequently after having returned from said "activity."
Rolling down the dais, she went to the couch where Dinah was sprawled out and sleeping. "Dinah?"
"Hmm?" the teen responded groggily and shifted on the couch, not making any effort to wake.
"Oh!" She blurted, waking with a jolt. "Did you find her?"
"No. I'm calling it a night . . . well, morning."
"You're not giving up, are you?" Dinah said with alarm.
"Of course not!" Barbara snapped sternly, making Dinah wince. "I'm sorry," she said, pinching her nose and releasing a heavy, focusing exhale. "I just think we both need a few hours of sleep - in a bed. Or neither of us will be thinking clearly . . . and possibly start snapping at each other," Barbara said wryly with an apologetic wince.
"Ah," Dinah said, with a small smile. She wiped her sleepy eyes and got up from the couch. Barbara watched her retire to her room for a long moment before heading to her own bedroom.
It would be really convenient to attribute Helena's disappearance to irresponsibility. While that may have applied in her youth, Helena had never given any reason to doubt her responsibility as an adult. She always had dropped whatever she was doing to support her, Barbara noted, then realized that even as a youth, Helena had always dropped everything to help her.
Even in her time of greatest need, she couldn't say that about anyone else, save Alfred. Yet he had not been able to anticipate what she needed like Helena. Barbara sighed, realizing she had taken Helena always being there for granted. They say you never really know what you have until they are gone, she considered, then banished the morose thought. She was going to find Helena, then yell at her for scaring the hell out of her, she considered with confidence, starting to plan her day for tomorrow.
They would go see David Clinton and hopefully get a clue or two on Helena's whereabouts, she thought as she shifted herself out of the wheelchair, into her bed. She quickly realized that although the bed concept was good in theory, in execution, it didn't quite work out as she had hoped. She blinked and stared at the ceiling, wondering where Helena was. After a while, a fitful sleep claimed her.
Dick Grayson smiled at Barbara, who, ever since the Simpaticos were introduced was paying little or no attention to him.
"You seem awfully interested in that . . . band," Dick Grayson finally said with amusement, sipping his beer.
Barbara sipped her soda and smiled. "They're good; Don't you think so?"
"That's not what I meant," Dick grinned.
"I know," Barbara said and sipped her drink again as she returned her attention to the stage and the white-haired singer who spoke to the audience.
"Merci, mes amis," Margay spoke, gaining a few wolf whistles that made Barbara frown. "There are a few more requests that I will be playing for you," she said in English, though her accent was decidedly French…and beautiful, like her voice, Barbara thought with a contented sigh. "You'll forgive me if I just sing them as written, you can insert the pronouns that apply to you," she said with a sly grin and sat down at the piano. Nodding to the ensemble surrounding her, the familiar popular song started with soft percussive rhythms, followed by a simple piano melody and then her lovely voice that held no trace of an accent.
You can look at the menu but you just can't eat
You can feel the cushions but you can't have a seat
You can dip your foot in the pool but you can't have a swim
You can feel the punishment but you can't commit the sin
And you want her and she wants you….
The female voice turned decidedly male as Barbara slowly woke to her alarm clock playing that oldie. With a groan, she slapped the alarm clock, stopping the haunting tune. Sitting up, she rubbed her eyes.
Ever since Dinah brought up Margay, she started dreaming about her, she considered with annoyance, shaking her head. With a heavy exhale and frown, she shifted herself to her chair to continue her search for Helena.
Chapter 6 - Old Friends
The police officer stood at the door to the interrogation room. "He's shackled to the table and not the violent type but . . . are you sure you don't want me in there with you, Miss Gordon?" the man winced, knowing if anything happened to her, the former Commissioner would have his hide.
"That's all right, George. We'll be fine."
"All right. He's all yours," the policeman opened the door and nodded for them to enter.
Sitting at the table, the prisoner sat back in his chair, his arms crossed over his chest. He looked up to see two women enter and smiled. Dinah carefully watched the man, who looked to be about sixty, hoping to pick up images that might give her clues about her missing friend.
"I didn't expect visitors."
"Your son doesn't visit?" Dinah asked curiously.
"My son?" David Clinton looked at the girl with surprise.
"You don't have a son?" Barbara asked, eyeing him closely.
"Oh, I didn't say that," he laughed. "So what has my son done?"
Barbara looked at him curiously before offering. "We believe your son is involved in the disappearance of our friend."
"Maybe they hooked up," he said with a chuckle. "My son does like the ladies," he added with a wink.
"This isn't amusing, Mr. Clinton," Barbara said sternly.
"No. I guess it really isn't," Clinton said with sudden seriousness. "I am sorry to hear your friend is missing. But I am sure you'll find her. It's only a matter of time," he said with a knowing grin. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get breakfast before the cafeteria closes."
"Thank you," Dinah said with a sincere smile and held out her hand, surprising the prisoner.
"You're quite welcome," he said solicitously, taking her hand and looking right into her eyes.
Seeing vivid images of what he was thinking, she quickly retracted her hand. "I hope you visit again," he said with a sly smile.
"Anything?" Barbara asked the touch telepath as they sat in the Humvee in the prison parking lot.
"I couldn't get anything useful from him," Dinah sat dejectedly. "But I will be taking a shower when we get back to the Tower," she added, wiping her right hand on her jeans as Barbara started the car.
"David Clinton knew our friend was a she. He knows more than he was letting on," Barbara said with a weary exhale, leaving the parking lot and stopping at a red light.
"He was certainly amused to talk about his son visiting. Maybe he knows it would be like turning himself in if he visited?"
"Maybe," Barbara said, not convinced that was the case. Something else was going on with Clinton.
"If . . . If Helena was injured, maybe she went to her girlfriend's?" Dinah blurted uncomfortably.
"What??" Barbara said, startled.
Shaking her head, Dinah quickly dismissed the thought. "Nah, she would have called us."
"She doesn't have a girlfriend," Barbara said, dumbfounded. "She doesn't date anyone more than once."
"I don't know why you think that," Dinah said with a curious look. Barbara looked confused. Helena had said things . . . implied things, she amended.
"But, we would have known about a steady . . . girlfriend," Barbara said, at a loss.
"I know it's weird but Helena was apparently worried about us interrogating her or something. We wouldn't do that," Dinah said confidently, then added with a guilty wince "much."
An obnoxiously loud horn honked behind them, snapping Barbara out of her stupor. As she carefully accelerated, she coolly asked Dinah "Have you met this . . . girlfriend?"
"No," Dinah responded uneasily, feeling she had said something wrong.
"So what makes you think Helena is seeing anyone?" Barbara asked calmly, though she felt a growing annoyance that the confirmed bachelorette could be seeing someone steadily and never once mention it.
"Well, uh. I kind of went to the bar and asked her some questions to help me with Gabby," Dinah said with a cringe, hoping not to insult Barbara by still wanting more help after their discussion.
"And she just offered up that she had been seeing this . . . girlfriend; someone we have never heard about before?"
"No. Monique called when I was there. Helena wasn't even going to answer, which was actually kind of sweet if you think about it, since she was determined to give me her full atten. . ."
"Dinah??" Barbara tersely interrupted Dinah's rambling.
"Sorry. Well, she called and . . . ," Dinah said with a smile. "I haven't seen Helena smile like that in a long time. I could feel she was happy." Dinah, suddenly worried about what her mentor thought, blurted "I didn't scan, she was just really projecting happiness, you know?"
Barbara was surprised by her feelings. She should be happy for Helena finding someone special who made her happy. More than once she had expressed concern to Helena about her lack of commitment in her relationships, hoping she would stop playing the field. But Barbara wasn't happy. She did not like the helpless feeling that Helena was slipping further away from her.
"Anyway, she started speaking French and I'm pretty sure she had confirmed a date."
"French?!?" Barbara blurted curiously, trying to digest that surprising detail. But she knew Helena spoke French fluently. Her mother had taken her to live in Paris for part of her childhood. And a French Monique??
"Yeah. You know it sounds a lot prettier when Helena speaks it than when my French teacher does," Dinah mentioned conversationally.
"Do you know where this . . . Monique lives? We need to rule out that's were Helena is," Barbara said tightly, although she knew that wasn't the only reason. She was compelled to see this . . . Monique for herself.
Dinah blinked, feeling the stormy emotions rolling off of Barbara, which was highly unusual. Barbara did not just "project," normally the epitome of self-control. But right now, Barbara was projecting - a lot. She wasn't surprised to sense worry and fear for Helena, but she hadn't expected to sense . . . a palpable insecurity and deep-rooted, self-doubt from her amazingly accomplished mentor.
"I don't know, but I'm sure it won't be hard to find her. How many French Jazz singers by the name of Monique are there in Gotham city?"
"Are you all right?" Dinah asked, concerned by her mentor's odd look.
"I won't be all right until we find our missing team member," Barbara said neutrally as she digested the newest detail.
After typing in the search parameters, Barbara waited, staring at the screen blankly. Helena had a girlfriend? Who was a French Jazz singer named Monique? Was it infatuation?
Was it . . . serious?
The computer beeped, signaling the search was complete. Various windows popped up, including a photo of a small ensemble of five playing at Amelia's, a high-scale Gotham jazz club. Zooming in on the photo, she was greatly surprised to see a familiar face.
"Is that her?" Dinah asked with interest, pointing to the young blonde, who was the type Helena seemed to go for.
"No, that is her," Barbara said, confidently pointing to the picture of the older, redheaded woman.
"Oh my GOD! She's old enough to be her mother," Dinah blurted with amazement as Barbara frowned, knowing age wouldn't matter to Helena as she stared at the undeniably beautiful woman.
"Monique?!? You've got visitors," a man at the front door called back to the singer, who paused mid-chord with a pencil in her mouth. She looked up curiously from the sheets of music that were scattered on top of the baby grand piano. Placing the pencil down, she took off her reading glasses as two strangers came up to the small stage.
"Bonjour?" Monique said with a curious smile.
Dinah sighed dreamily. Spoken French was so . . . romantic.
"Hello, Miss Devereux. I'm Barbara Gordon and this is Dinah Lance," Barbara said, noting a flicker of recognition in the older woman's eyes.
"I thought you looked familiar. It has been a long time, Ms. Gordon," Monique said, looking at Barbara with a warm smile.
"You've met??" Dinah asked with surprise, looking between the two redheads.
"In the 80's," Barbara supplied uncomfortably.
"We met through a mutual friend," Monique added. "I wish I knew what happened to Margay after she went home, she had a great gift with the piano and a voice like . . . fine wine," Monique said wistfully, missing her fellow musician and friend, who had left after the start of a promising career. Monique had always regretted reminding Margay of how ill-advised it was for her to become involved with the not-yet-legal-age Ms. Gordon, believing that was why Margay had left, to avoid that complication. But she supposed if it was meant to be, it would have been.
Dinah's mouth dropped as several thoughts raced through her mind. The main one was whether this Monique was the reason Margay rejected Barbara's advances. Looking over to Barbara, she could see her tense.
"I'm here about another mutual . . . friend. Helena Kyle?"
"Helena?" Monique said with surprise, then concern. "Has something happened to her?"
"We don't know. We haven't heard from her. Have you have had any contact with her in the last day?" Barbara asked, seeing the woman's concern quickly fade with a knowing smile that really irritated her.
"No, Ms. Gordon. But I wouldn't worry. Helena is a free spirit. She probably went off for a few days to . . . explore," Monique said with a chuckle, adding confidently "she'll be back."
"You two have an open relationship?" Dinah blurted with surprise, gaining a curious look from the French woman.
"Dinah!" Barbara scolded her ward.
"Hey, I'm not judging," Dinah quickly responded, prompted by her mentor's disapproving glare. "I mean, if you two are happy with that sort of thing," Dinah said to Monique with a shrug and cringe.
"Dinah," Barbara groaned, rolling her eyes. She would definitely have to work on improving that girl's tact.
"Mon ami, we are not in a physical relationship," Monique said with a delighted laugh. "Although, I would be the first to admit, she'd be hard to resist if she wished for us to be."
"But she's been seeing you," Barbara blurted in uncomfortable confusion, glancing at Dinah, who shrugged. "For a while," she added awkwardly.
"Oui, as a music student," Monique elaborated, patting her piano. "What she has accomplished on piano in several months is what most people who have spent years training can only hope to achieve. She has an amazing ear and capacity to learn. And her voice," Monique added wistfully. "It is like . . . well, fine wine," she offered the familiar praise with amusement, then added thoughtfully "Very much like Margay's, come to think of it, although Margay was already accomplished and comfortable with performing when I had first met her."
Barbara blinked, trying to digest this surprising information which prompted other thoughts of comparisons and contrasts.
"So do you have any musical inclinations, Dinah?" Monique asked the teen, who awkwardly pointed to herself.
"Oh no. I'm tone deaf. Or that's what Helena tells me," Dinah said, causing Monique to chuckle.
"Well, if there is nothing else, I must get back to work. I'm trying to finish up a new arrangement before the first set tonight," Monique said politely.
"Thank you for your help, Miss Devereux," Barbara offered absently, her mind preoccupied with memories.
"I would not worry about Helena, Miss Gordon. She is the type to always return home," Monique said sagely, looking directly at Barbara, who nodded hesitantly.
". . . and I didn't know Helena had any musical talent, well other than singing in the shower. Which is OK, but that hasn't exactly been like a gift, for any of us," Dinah said dryly, then looked over to Barbara who rode up the Tower's elevator in silence.
Their infectious vitality, Barbara thought.
"So we ruled out her being at Monique's," Dinah ventured softly, knowing Helena's disappearance was weighing heavily on Barbara's mind.
Their humor, Barbara thought as she nodded absently.
"Small world, isn't it? I mean, Helena knew Monique, who knew Margay, who knew you, who knows Helena."
And their smile, why hadn't she noticed that, Barbara wondered.
"It's like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, only without six degrees . . . or Kevin Bacon," Dinah said, then curiously asked "you don't happen to know Kevin Bacon, do you??" She said, getting out of the elevator.
Barbara shook her head no and rolled towards Delphi. But their complexion, hair, and eyes were clearly different…
"Helena seems to be really serious about the music thing," Dinah continued. "I assumed they were dating for seven months. I mean, I did ask Helena if it was serious and she said yes. What else was I to think? I certainly didn't think music," Dinah said, shaking her head. "I guess that just goes to show that if you assume, it makes an ass out of you and . . . ."
Barbara's sharp glare caused Dinah to finish weakly "…me?"
Barbara frowned, returning her gaze to the computer screen for a pensive moment as the password window popped up. Dinah looked at Barbara with growing concern as her mentor stared at the screen a long moment, lost in a memory.
Her green eyes grew moist but Barbara rubbed them before any tears could fall. Taking a fortifying breath with a slight shake of her head, as if shaking off the memory, Barbara slowly and deliberately typed her password as she struggled with the overwhelming number of memories, both recent and old, that began to bubble up and collide together, merging into a disturbing and unbelievable mosaic.
"Barbara? Are you all right?" Dinah asked worriedly. Barbara was unusually quiet on the ride home and didn't even get annoyed with her energetic rambling. And the storm of emotions crossing her unusually unflappable mentor's face, greatly alarmed Dinah.
Barbara shook her head no, which further unnerved Dinah, who had not seen her mentor so uneasy . . . and freely admitting it.
"I'm sure she's OK, wherever she is," Dinah quickly blurted, wanting to easy Barbara's worry.
To get a Library card, you need some ID, like a driver's license, Barbara considered as Dinah continued.
"Maybe Monique was right and she is off just exploring or something. Although, I do think she would try to phone . . . ." Dinah said with a frown.
"I don't think David Clinton is Poof Guy's father," Barbara interrupted, typing in a few search strings and pressing enter.
"No. I believe . . . I believe he IS poof guy," Barbara announced, getting an incredulous look from the junior crime fighter.
"That's impossible! You can't be in two places at the same time. And Clinton is way too old. Barbara, you aren't making any sense," Dinah protested.
"You are limiting yourself to Euclidean space," Barbara noted, staring at the computer screen, anxiously waiting for her search to finish.
"Uh huh," Dinah blurted wearily with a frown, sometimes feeling she needed an Encyclopedia when talking with Barbara.
"Did you know that Margay is also the name of a wild cat?" Barbara said neutrally, though her heart pounded as she pulled up a picture of the cat in question, building her case for her incredible theory.
"Uh, no?" Dinah responded, glancing at the cat curiously, wondering what that had to do with anything.
"And what is "Chasseresse" in French?" Barbara asked, still staring at the screen as a slight, humorless chuckle escaped at the obvious answer.
"I . . . don't know?" Dinah said, biting her lip, feeling a bit embarrassed.
Barbara pulled up the next puzzle piece up on the screen, causing Dinah to read the display.
"It means Huntress??" Dinah snorted, looking at her mentor with a cringe of confusion at these coincidences, which slowly faded as comprehension of the implications dawned on her. "No way," Dinah said shaking her head in disbelief.
"David Clinton was right, Dinah. It was just a matter of time," Barbara said numbly, absently realizing that she had never sought to track down Margay before now, even with unlimited access to the Batcomputer. She sighed, knowing the pain had been too raw when she first left, then after time passed, she realized hunting Margay down would do no good if Margay had no intention of returning. She did the only thing she could do - let go.
The sought Gotham City driver's license finally popped up onto the screen. The pale but familiar face on the picture stared back at them, confirming the unbelievable.
"That's . . . ." Dinah said with amazement, staring at the familiar, but white-haired woman.
"Helena," Barbara confirmed, taking a steadying breath as she gazed upon the image that provoked many feelings.
Helena stood in front of a mirror in the small store bathroom. Helena blinked, wanting just one thing to be normal about this experience. If being sent back in time didn't depress her, the reflection staring back at her certainly did. The white hair, including her eyebrows, matched her pale white skin . . . and those eyes? Pink? No wonder the old lady was staring at her oddly. Shaking her head, she realized that not only was she alone in the wrong time, she also looked like a FREAK! Fuck!!!!
Not that her looks should matter, she considered, knowing she would have to lay low and not interact with anyone anyway. If she had learned anything from watching Voyager, other than strong, intelligent women would always be hot, especially the red-headed variety, it was that you just don't screw with time; the Temporal Prime Directive and all that. She frowned, knowing just being there was altering history. She may already have, she worried, starting to pace, wondering what kind of ripple effect her conversation with that lady would cause. Crap!
Her growling stomach interrupted her thoughts, prompting her to venture to the apartment above the store. She felt bad squatting in Arthur's house, exploiting his absence while he was out of town, mourning his wife, but she had no other options at the moment. Right now, this was the safest place to be.
She shook her head again as she opened up the door to the pantry, wondering how she could possibly figure out how to get back without interacting with anyone.
In a comforting, familiar habit, she sat in front of the TV with a bowl of cereal. She looked around for the remote, then winced, noticing how old the TV was. She shook her head; apparently the antique dealer never got the memo that remotes existed in 1987. Helena sighed as she got up and turned the TV on, flicking through the channels until she stopped on one of her favorite shows.
With a smile, she settled back down on the couch and ate her cereal. "Just kiss her already!" Helena said to the screen with her mouth full as she watched Jo cross her arms and glare at Blair, who was once again furious with her.
"Oh. My. God. Do you know what this means?!?" Dinah blurted, drawing Barbara's gaze. "You kissed HELENA!"
"That is the only thing you can think about?" Barbara said tersely, pinching the bridge of her nose, although her thoughts were along the same lines. She wasn't sure how she would be able to reconcile her feelings for Helena, the young girl who professed her undying love for her dangerously depressed and crippled mentor, and the captivating Margay, who rejected her and broke her heart.
"Uh. How are we going to bring her home??" Dinah tried again.
"I don't know," Barbara said uneasily with a sick feeling. "But we'll find a way," she said with forced determination.
Having donned one of Arthur's hats and a pair of Mildred's sunglasses to cover up and shield her very sensitive eyes, Helena finally ventured out of the store the next day. She had to get out of that place, which was becoming claustrophobic. She also had to make an attempt to figure her way out of this mess. And she always thought better when moving.
She couldn't help but nervously look around at the crowd of people on the sidewalk, wondering how her presence would have an impact on the future. Glancing at a news stand, she wondered what would happen if she were to buy a newspaper. Barbara had mentioned something about chaos theory, where the turbulence from a butterfly's wing could theoretically cause a ripple effect that ultimately manifested itself as a hurricane on the other side of the planet - or something like that. What if a simple thing like taking a newspaper causes someone to stay unemployed because they missed getting that copy which had an advertisement for a job that they were supposed to get? What if they get kicked out of their house, prompting them to become criminals and kill someone?? What if that someone was supposed to do something important to benefit mankind?!?
What was going to happen because she was consuming Arthur's food and borrowing his money?!? She quickly concluded she'd have to replace everything she took. But that would require getting money, she thought with a frown. What if that money was needed by someone else? Crap! There was no way NOT to make an impact. She'd have to accept the fact that she was going to have some effect on the future, she considered with a worried wince.
Interrupting her troubled thoughts was the sight of a teen walking by, happily rocking to the sounds of Pat Benatar from his loud Sony Walkman. A cassette player!! Huge by today's . . . well, 2005 standards, she considered with amusement. She stopped with a grin, watching him go by as fond memory surfaced - her mother presenting her with her very own cassette player. A pedestrian suddenly collided into her.
"Watch it!" A man gruffly barked.
"Sorry," she said weakly, pushing up her sunglasses and adjusting her hat. Blowing out a nervous breath, she silently scolded herself. "Get a grip!"
She continued walking, more carefully, through the city, finally arriving at her destination. Glancing around, she stopped and looked warily at the imposing building she had never voluntarily visited before. With a heavy sigh, she entered the Gotham City Library.
Once inside, she exhaled with relief; the sunlight was really bothering her. Looking around a moment, she was surprised, finding the architectural detail of the place rather pleasing. She had been there before, when Barbara forced her, but she never really appreciated the building's symmetry or the rich wood of the daunting bookshelves, or the skillfully carved details of the crown molding and pillars, or the marble floor with its amazingly intricate design.
Not sure where to go first, she took a fortifying breath and headed towards the Librarian's desk, knowing she would have to eventually talk with someone if not just to avoid going insane. She waited as an elderly woman slowly checked out a large stack of books for two college students, who softly chuckled and chatted about some girl, who really needed to "date" even after the older woman cleared her throat and glared at them in disapproval for their continued, not so veiled, conversation.
Well, she had time, Helena supposed with a frown, absently wondering if her impact to the timeline would be less if she just talked with old people who might not be around in a few years. Feeling a tingle at the back of her neck, she reached up to rub it with a frown, although she was glad the nausea hadn't returned. That was a real bitch….
"You'd better not be thinking of bothering her; I'll revoke your library privileges," the elderly woman threatened after a few more rude comments, glancing at them over her reading glasses.
"Oh don't worry, grandma. We know better than to bother the commissioner's pride and joy."
Helena's grin disappeared as she sucked in a startled breath. She was here, Helena realized, both fearful and excited. Nervously, she glanced in the general direction one of the students motioned to with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Among a few students doing research with their texts and papers sprawled out over the surface of large wooden tables, Helena spotted a familiar red head buried in a pile of books. As Barbara Gordon flipped through one book, glanced at another, took notes, checked another, and took more notes, Helena couldn't help but think Barbara was the only person she knew who could make studying look like a sport.
As Helena watched, her heart ached for Barbara to wrap her up in a comforting hug and offer soothing words that would inevitably come, assuring her everything was going to be all right - that she'd be going home soon. But the painful reality was that this was not her former guardian who had helped heal her wounded soul after her mother's murder, who had patiently mentored a volatile metahuman teen, who had grown to be her best friend and the woman she loved with all her heart.
This Barbara was not the amazing crime fighter Oracle - who could solve any puzzle thrown at her and always covered her back, Helena considered with a heavy heart, desperately needing Oracle's help right now.
Helena continued to watch this young woman who, though beautiful and amazingly intelligent, was still just a teenaged student, whose biggest concern in life was getting good grades. As it should be, she considered in consolation.
"Besides, she's a stuck up bi . . ." the student continued, getting a cautioning elbow from his friend as the old woman's eyes narrowed. "Geek."
Her eyes narrowed as she sharply focused on the stupid boy. She always had a strong protective streak for Barbara, but now . . . it was almost overwhelming.
"Barbara Gordon is a brilliant young woman, who will undoubtedly graduate before the likes of either of you," the librarian said crisply with a thin smile, finally pushing the two stacks of books towards the students.
"You suck up to them, just like everyone else," the vocal student spat.
"Come on, Jerry. Let's just go," the other, much wiser student said, tugging nervously at his arm, feeling the attention of the unnerving white-haired, pale-skinned woman standing beside them at the desk. He glanced at her uncomfortably. Although she wore sunglasses, he just knew she was staring at them.
"You know she keeps screwing the curve, Bob!" Jerry huffed and marched off with an arm-full of books, joining a small group of students waiting for him.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Milner," Bob said with an apologetic wince.
"You're a good kid, Bob. You shouldn't be hanging around that boy or his friends," Mrs. Milner said, shaking her head as she warned "They are trouble."
Bob nodded uneasily and joined his friends and left, prompting a sigh from the librarian.
"May I help you, Miss?" Mrs. Milner said, drawing Helena's attention away from the stupid student.
After a calming breath, she responded. "Uh . . . do you have any books on time travel?" Helena asked with a weak smile.
Chapter 7 - Puzzle Pieces
"Ah, you're back!" David Clinton said with a smile. "You look tired. Not getting enough sleep?" he guessed from the dark circles under the redhead's eyes.
"I understand more now," Barbara said, ignoring the comment as she rolled up to the table in the interrogation room with Dinah in tow. "But I don't understand how."
"It is a mystery, even to me," he admitted with a shrug.
"Why don't you tell me what you do know?" Barbara said firmly, making Dinah think Barbara would be an amazing lawyer. Although, she'd be amazing at anything she set her mind to, Dinah had to admit.
"Why? What's in it for me?"
"Earlier parole, if it pans out," Barbara said, gaining a surprised look from her young ward.
"That's not good enough," he said confidently, thinking he'd get more out of his cooperation.
"I see. It is just time, after all," she offered, noting his slight wince at the notion of wasting any more of it cooped up in the slammer. "And since you are so intent on serving all your time, you should be pleased I'll be providing your parole board a long list of unsolved crimes that will likely make them want to revisit your case more thoroughly," she said pointedly and watched the man shift in his seat with some satisfaction.
"All my crimes were solved," he challenged with irritation.
"They don't know that," Barbara said with a smile, making him frown and contemplate the situation.
Dinah looked at Barbara with concern, sensing the threat was not just a bluff.
"I'm not sure how much I can help you," he finally said, adding with annoyance "I don't know how it works.
"How what works?" Barbara asked.
"The hourglass," he said uneasily.
She reached down to the side pocket on her chair and pulled out a pad and pencil, placing it on the table. She slowly pushed them towards the convict. "Draw it and tell me exactly what happened that evening when you and Helena were sent back."
"I'm not much of an artist," he grumbled, reluctantly picking up a pencil.
"I am confident you will do your best, Mr. Clinton," Barbara said, her gaze unwavering.
He licked his lips and cleared his throat as he started to draw. "When I finally retrieved the hourglass, Huntress caught me. I managed to run. I really didn't know what I was doing and rotated the time dials," he said pointing to poorly drawn blocks. "and jumped forward in time," he said with amazement. "I wasn't even sure it would work. I had heard some old man talk about this magical hourglass…."
"A former thief, who had heard it from someone else," the man shrugged.
Barbara's patience was growing thin with the vague information that she just knew would not help her get any closer to a solution.
"So you stole the hourglass because of a rumor?" Dinah asked incredulously.
"The jewels were enough to make it worth my trouble, even if it didn't work. But it did!" He chuckled. "And when I arrived, I was already in the neighborhood and thought I'd finish what I started but I had my second encounter with her," he said, then shook his head offering "that woman is insane!"
Dinah couldn't help but nod knowingly.
"She grabbed the hourglass and we struggled. I just had to get it back. It took me forever to track it down," he complained, shaking his head. "I barely managed to shove her back. Her hand and the hourglass crashed through the display case. She got pissed and kicked me across the room. That's the last thing I remember before I woke up."
"When?" Barbara asked pointedly.
"1996," he said. Seeing Dinah eye him with surprise, he blurted with irritation. "Yeah, I know, the years haven't been kind to me. You should try showing up someplace with nothing, no money, no home, no identity. See how well you do," he challenged tersely.
"She wasn't with you," Barbara stated confidently.
"How . . . ?" He said with surprise, eyeing her curiously.
"Why wasn't she with you?" Barbara interjected firmly, ignoring his question.
"Lady, I have no clue. All I know is that, I got stranded in 1996 with no way back," he said, then chuckled oddly "well, other than the old fashioned way - living through it."
Barbara took an uneasy breath, not wanting to think that Helena might be out there, somewhere, alone, because they couldn't find her way home. "Why don't you tell me more about how you knew about the hourglass?"
Several days after her stupid and futile attempt to get answers at the Library, a very depressed Helena sat on the Clock Tower balcony, looking out over the city on an October night. What was she thinking? Finding herself a pair of ruby red slippers to click together was looking more promising than the "C-" student extracting something worthwhile from fictional tales or boning up on temporal mechanics. She needed Oracle, who did not yet exist.
She looked down at her feet dangling over the edge, to the familiar street and traffic below. She could almost believe she was home, just having come back from another night of sweeps. But she had learned that in 1987, the Clock Tower had been . . . was currently . . . an office building for a group of ambulance-chasing lawyers.
She could almost believe that in a few minutes she would hear the comforting hum of an electric chair and find Barbara rolling onto the balcony to check up on her. But the Barbara of this time wasn't Oracle. The Barbara of this time didn't know Huntress, or that Helena even existed. Their first introduction would occur in another two years. Right now, Barbara was busy studying for her college degrees.
High above the city, she could almost believe nothing had happened. But something had.
A tear fell, then another. She started to believe, for the first time, that she might actually be stuck here, destined to live out her life in a timeline not her own. . . without her Barbara or Dinah. Exhaling roughly, she wiped the tears away with irritation, trying not to be too gloomy. What if she was meant to be here, she considered, trying to look on the bright side. Didn't Barbara tell her that things happen for a reason?
But any attempts at trying to be positive were thwarted by an instinctual feeling that she wasn't supposed to be here and that she could adversely affect history.
With a deep breath, she stood up and brushed off her unflattering baggy jeans, or rather, poor, recently departed Mildred's jeans, which reminded her that Arthur would soon return. Helena had to find a new place to stay and she was going to need money. She could do with a better wardrobe too, she considered wryly.
She hopped down off the familiar ledge to another roof top with a comforting familiarity. Before descending to the streets, her ears picked up noises in the distance that alarmed her - screeching tires and gun fire. Those sounds were never good, she considered, automatically following the commotion, hopping from roof top to roof top with practiced ease, the wind on her face in a familiar caress….
Finding the source of the noise, she watched the action play out on top of a department store. She smirked, imagining the drivers of the speeding bank truck were not too pleased that the ominous batmobile flew down the street after them. She couldn't help but think that boys like their toys as she watched the batmobile and its turbo-engine's flame pass by. The bullets fired at the batmobile bounced of the windshield, creating impressive sparks but no damage. Suddenly, the batmobile fired a grappling hook and snagged the rear of the truck, causing Helena to chuckle as she considered it sucks to be them.
She propped her chin in her hand and placed her elbow on the ledge, watching the criminals try to evade their inevitable fate. She had to admit this was far more entertaining than TV. With a high-pitched protest from the turbo-engine, the batmobile quickly reversed, causing the wire rope to snap taught and jolt the truck to a stop. Helena reluctantly admired the fearless driving as the batmobile turned the corner in reverse and flipped the truck onto its side, effectively ending the chase . . . with undeniable flair. And here she thought her tendency for showmanship was from her mother, she considered wryly, then shook her head, having to acknowledge that any guy wearing a batman costume had to have a bit of exhibitionism in his DNA.
As she watched the efficient capture of the criminals by Batman and Robin, she was somewhat comforted that the city was still protected, even if it was by her estranged father . . . and Dick. It was risky enough that she would have to get a job and interact with people. Crime fighting really didn't seem like a good idea….
Hopping down into a dark alley, Helena made her way back to Arthur's, her temporary refuge. In the distance, another sound caught her attention. Beyond the usual noise of a city at night, the traffic, the sirens in the distance, or the boom boxes on street corners with people shouting for someone to turn it down, she heard something soothing, something that beckoned to her - the smoky sounds of a saxophone.
Following the music, she found a small club unfamiliar to her. She considered that many clubs failed within the first couple years, somewhat saddened by that stray thought. Entering the establishment, she immediately cringed at the cigarette smoke that assaulted her senses. She covered her mouth as she coughed, coming face-to-face with a bouncer.
"There's a cover charge," he growled, eyeing her baggy clothes with disapproval.
"Oh?" She winced, then vowed to do something about her wardrobe.
"Twenty?!?" She frowned, now understanding why that establishment didn't last.
"Get lost," he sneered, quickly guessing she couldn't pay.
"Bruno, you must stop doing that, or I'll tell Jacque you're hiking up the cover," a silky voice came out of the darkness.
Bruno growled at the bold woman, who emerged from the shadows to join them. Her sharp look dismissed the large man, who shook his head and left the women.
"Monique??" Helena blurted with surprise, seeing the very alluring woman come to her rescue.
"Do I know you?" she asked with a curious smile.
Crap! Helena froze for a moment at her slip before her brain kicked into gear. "Not yet. But I have seen you perform in Paris," Helena said in French, which greatly pleased the French woman.
"Ah, wonderful! I hope you enjoyed the performance," she said, continuing their conversation in French with a delighted smile. Monique was truly a beautiful woman, Helena thought - whatever age.
"It was . . . mesmerizing. I love the way you interpret the greats," Helena continued, recalling their previous discussions about Monique's work in Paris. "I wish I could move people as you do, especially like you have done with Someone to Watch Over Me," she honestly said, having heard Monique sing that song several times and honestly been moved.
"Flattery will get you everywhere," Monique said silkily, with a grin and sparkle in her eye.
"I hope so," Helena said, getting a bigger grin from the other woman.
"That was a particularly successful song for me in Paris. . . I'm actually going to sing that tonight," she announced.
"No, my dear, you're not," a short man said ruefully, also in French, joining them with a grimace on his face. "You need Benny on piano and he's passed out in the back. Again! I swear this is the last time. When he wakes, I'm going to fire his worthless hide!"
"Jacque, please don't be so dramatic. I'll just play for myself," Monique said with a warm smile, patting him on the cheek.
"You can't work the crowd tied to the piano," Jacque grumbled, knowing Monique's ability to connect to the audience up front and personally was a money maker.
"The show must go on, Jacque," Monique countered.
"I could play for you," Helena ventured, surprising them.
"You play?" Monique asked with a smile.
"Yes. And if you like what you hear, perhaps you'll consider paying me . . . the next time?" Helena suggested, causing Monique to chuckle at the confident woman looking for work.
Jacque looked at her in disbelief. "You are French, play the piano, and are willing to work for free to help us out? Am I dreaming?"
"Unfortunately no, this situation is real. But you would do no less for a fellow countryman in a strange land, would you?" Helena said, adding "I sing too, but not as beautifully as Monique." She saw their surprise and wondered if she was laying it on a bit too thick.
"Well, I have to say - I like what I hear so far," Monique said with a chuckle. "We will pay her for tonight, with a portion of the tips, assuming no boos from the patrons. Deal?" she said, looking sternly at Jacque.
"Works for me," Helena said with a confident smile.
"Deal. What should we call you?" Jacque asked.
"Uh . . . ," Helena blurted, alarmed, knowing any name she provided would be traceable. "Blanche Neige. . . uh," she said awkwardly, pointing to her hair. 'Jesus Fucking Christ! Snow White?!?! She silently moaned with a cringe.
"Interesting . . . stage name," Jacque said flatly, eyeing her critically as Monique laughed. "But we can change that later. Right now, Ms. White, you need to get ready. The set starts in fifteen minutes," he barked then noticed Helena's attire. "Monique? Do something about . . . THAT" he motioned to her hideous clothes with both hands.
Helena vowed again that her first paycheck was going to be for some decent clothes!!!
"We don't have much time to outfit you, Ms. White," Monique said, pulling at Helena's arm. "Do your friends call you "Snow"?" she asked with amusement.
"Perhaps I'll think up another stage name," Helena grumbled.
"What is wrong with your real name?"
Monique looked at her with a smile of understanding. "It is all right, my dear. I know a few people in this country who would rather not . . . stand out, while they wait for their green cards," Monique said, knowingly.
"You are an exceptional woman, Monique," Helena said honestly.
"You are without a doubt, an exceptionally perceptive woman, Snow," Monique said with a chuckle, looping her arm around Snow's. "I can tell you and I are destined to be good friends."
"Without a doubt."
Chapter 8 - Contact
A couple of weeks had passed with Helena gainfully employed, thanks to Jacque and Monique. She had a pretty decent income, mostly due to tips and a small but respectable wardrobe, thank GOD. Although nowhere near as nice and daring as the one she had back home, her current wardrobe was acceptably stylish none-the-less. And a small part of her felt really good about her music, if she could consider anything about this situation good.
She also had a place to stay, once again thanks to Monique, who shared a three-bedroom flat with a vacancy that she pounced on just before Arthur came back. She had replaced all that she took and added a few more bucks to his register, as sort of payment for him unknowingly helping her. It was only fair.
Suspecting that ruby red slippers were not likely in the cards, Helena, for some reason was drawn back to the library in search of some clues or perhaps inspiration. She did not want to admit that she had hoped to spot another glimpse of Barbara, which she knew would just tempt fate and be a really, really bad idea.
And there she was, in the Library again, waiting for Mrs. Milner, who was helping another student at the front desk. Helena couldn't help but glance over to the study area and the large tables. She immediately spotted Barbara, who was apparently tutoring another older student in a varsity jacket. He must have been trying her nerves as Barbara appeared very tense but determined. When the guy smirked and placed a hand below the table, Helena felt her hackles rise. With a swift motion, Barbara had removed the jerk's hand from her leg, bending it back to the point of pain, if the grimace on the guy's face was any indication. Helena smirked.
After saying something quietly into his ear, Barbara released his hand and collected her books as the guy rubbed his wrist with an uneasy look on his face. Clearly annoyed, Barbara left the library.
"Good for her," Mrs. Milner muttered, having finished with the student and facing her.
"Does that happen often?" Helena couldn't help but ask, adding "The boys the other day and that jerk?"
Mrs. Milner nodded sadly. "She's a beautiful, brilliant girl who doesn't fit in with these Neanderthals. The female students are just as bad, maybe even worse. Jealousy does that, I suppose. And when she makes the effort to help them, they are ungrateful and keep doing stupid things - like that, for example," Mrs. Milner said looking over to where Barbara had just been. "I'll never understand why she keeps trying."
"Because she doesn't give up, no matter the odds," Helena said with a small smile of appreciation, getting a curious look from the librarian. Helena smiled uncomfortably, then added "it can't be easy for her, trying to fit in when she's younger and smarter."
Mrs. Milner nodded again. "In a few years, she'll be past all this nonsense and really show them what she's got," Mrs. Milner said with conviction, clearly a Barbara Gordon fan.
Helena grinned with a nod, becoming a fan of Mrs. Milner's.
"So, dear, how may I help you today?" Mrs. Milner said with a smile.
"So you think the hourglass was damaged in the struggle with Clinton?" Dinah asked as she paced in front of Delphi as Barbara typed in a new search string to investigate this hourglass.
"That might explain why they went to two different times," Barbara said as she continued to type.
"Then, if it's broken, isn't she stuck in the past like he was?" Dinah asked cautiously, biting her lip. "What if she's out there now, but older??" She added, distressed by that thought.
"The fact she hasn't contacted us," Barbara said with an uncomfortable pause "would indicate to me that she isn't in our current time." At least, that's what Barbara hoped.
"But . . . ?"
Dinah's questions were interrupted by the telephone ringing. Barbara was relieved for the respite from the teen's very good questions for which she had no answers.
"Hello? Oh, hi, Wade," Barbara said with a sigh as Dinah rolled her eyes. "Uh, no. Not tonight," Barbara said with a wince. "Well, actually . . . tomorrow isn't good either. Yes, business is pretty busy. I expect for the next couple of days I'll be pretty . . . yes, I'll see you at school. Ok. Bye, Wade," Barbara said, sighing as she hung up.
The scene in the library continued to bother Helena, who jumped from one roof to another, taking familiar refuge above the city at night. It seemed that all of Barbara's life there were substantial obstacles to over come. She knew how hard Barbara's life had been after the shooting, having lived through her slow recovery and volatile emotions during difficult physical therapy as Barbara had to finally accept the fact she would not walk again. But until now, Helena had no appreciation of the difficulties Barbara faced before her paralysis, when she was a young brainiac among an older, unsympathetic, and ignorant student body.
Looking down at the street below, she curiously noted three black sedans turning into a pot-hole ridden alley. While that wasn't that unusual in itself, as they could be taking a bumpy short-cut, the fact there were green question marks on the top of the cars was, at the very least, notable. Especially since the green question mark was Riddler's trademark, she considered, getting a little closer to see what was going on.
Was he really that overt? She thought with amazement, believing it was incredibly foolish to advertise yourself like that. She blinked, realizing the irony of that thought, recalling her passionate arguments to Barbara over the need to stand out and be unique. She could not understand why anyone would settle for normal and boring, tremendously frustrated that Barbara chose Wade, a man who would never measure up or be worthy of her.
But now, Helena's perspective had shifted a bit. Now she wanted disgustingly normal, like sharing a bowl of popcorn and watching a DVD with Barbara, without the nerve-racking drama of wondering whether her actions would adversely impact the time line. She had to consider that, just perhaps, "normal" was what Barbara really did crave after all. Perhaps her mentor had enough of a very unconventional and obstacle-burdened life. Perhaps the excruciatingly normal Wade was the right one for her, she considered reluctantly.
Helena's depressing thoughts were interrupted when she noticed the sedan doors open and men in green suits get out. They had the clear markings of Riddler's henchmen - question marks liberally covered their coats and ties. Well, they certainly were well-dressed henchmen, though the pattern was way too busy, she considered. One of the men from the first car opened the back seat door for the final man to emerge. He got out, donning a green bowler, then adjusted his thin green mask over his eyes. The Riddler, she concluded, recalling Barbara's stories about that supervillan's exploits. Moving to a lower rooftop, she just had to see what they were up to this fine Gotham evening.
Watching a large, muscular henchmen use a crow bar to pry open a locked door, she cringed, feeling very agitated she was doing nothing to stop them. But then, Huntress did not exist yet, she considered, biting her lip. When the warehouse door opened and the green-clad henchmen entered the building, she softly growled in frustration. Where the hell was a superhero when you needed one?? She glanced up and down the alley, wondering if Batman was off taking a donut break with Robin or something.
She cringed at an irritating flash of light at the far end of the alley. Vaguely wondering if anyone made a decent pair of sunglasses in 1987, she squinted, watching as a motorcycle entered the rutted alley. The darkly clad rider immediately shut off the engine, extinguishing the light. The alley was once again plunged into darkness, save for the weak illumination from dingy yellow street lamps at the far ends, and a single rusty lamp over the open warehouse door. When the dark rider dismounted, Helena immediately noted the full curves of her hips as she rolled the bike behind the cover of a large dumpster.
She sucked in a surprised breath. "What are you doing??" Helena quietly hissed, her eyes widening in panic. There were seven of them and only one of her!!! Those were horrible odds, even for a seasoned Batgirl, which the teen clearly was not. Helena dropped down and followed in the shadows. Damn the ripple effect Helena thought with growing anger for her predicament, knowing that in a competition between Barbara and, well, anything else, Barbara would always win. She would never allow anything to happen to her - even if it meant altering history.
Barbara nervously paused, thinking she heard someone behind her. Slowly turning, she saw nothing out of the ordinary but couldn't shake the feeling she was being watched. Unable to waste any more time, she took a fortifying breath and continued stealthily towards the closest sedan. Crouching down, she carefully placed something beneath the back bumper.
Likely a tracking device, Helena guessed as her fists clenched nervously as she watched a young Barbara clad in tight black leather pants and motorcycle jacket continue to the next sedan. She wouldn't have even guessed she was "batgirl" tonight except for the make-shift utility belt and cowl, covering her face. She might have chuckled at the definitely unpolished look had not the whole situation been so nerve-wracking.
An alarm sounded and the gang members quickly emerged from the building with boxes and bags of loot. There was no place for Barbara to hide, Helena noted with panic as one of the henchmen pointed to Barbara and cried out "Get her!!"
"You can try, boys," Barbara taunted, making Helena wince. Don't provoke the bad guys!
As the men rushed towards her, Barbara deftly dodged the bulkier hoodlums. She ran towards the hood of one sedan and smoothly slid over it on her hip, dodging two others. Helena might have appreciated the graceful move had she not been filled with fear for the teen.
Reaching into her belt, Barbara pulled out a small disk and threw it at the warehouse lamp, destroying the light, plunging the immediate area into darkness. Helena smirked as her eyes augmented, giving her an advantage. She watched curiously as Barbara reached into her utility belt again and drew out several small balls. When she threw them to the ground, thick white smoke billowed up, further cloaking her position.
Helena frowned, thinking it overkill, especially now that her advantage had been neutralized. Her augmented eyes couldn't see through the thick smoke. With the quickly ensuing scuffle, Helena heard muffled groans - male groans, thankfully.
The Riddler calmly took stock of the situation, then got into the driver's seat of the first car and started the engine. "What's black and blue and red all over?" He called out. "A baby bat who tries to stop my heist!" He laughed with great amusement and drove off, leaving the cloudy alley behind him.
No wonder the police wanted him in jail, Helena considered with a wince, wondering how many horrible riddles he had cruelly subjected the unsuspecting, innocent masses to in his career.
"Where is . . . ?" One goon blurted with irritation, then saw the masked young woman, whose foot solidly connected with his chest. "Ugh!" he exhaled, falling backwards, plopping in front of Helena with an "oof." When he scrambled to get up, she grabbed him with one hand, easily pulling him up. With a swift punch, he fell back down, now unconscious.
Two men backed up into her and cried triumphantly "Ah ha!" "Gotcha!"
Their glee was interrupted when they saw an unexpectedly menacing, white-haired, sun-glasses-wearing vigilante, instead of the masked girl.
With pleased smile, Helena launched a powerful series of punches and kicks, causing the two to fly back several feet. They slammed into the side of the building and slid down, both unconscious. She tilted her head, cracking her neck. Man that felt good, Helena thought, having missed the action of sweeps.
Barbara paused in confusion, hearing the scuffle several feet away, then . . . joints cracking? What the hell, she wondered as she almost let another henchmen grab her. Successfully dodging his arms, she tripped over one of the unconscious hoodlums littering the ground, clumsily joining him. Before she could get back up, the hoodlum kicked her in the side. "Ugh," she exhaled, never having felt such pain before.
Barbara! Helena thought with panic, turning towards the sound as a crowbar made contact with her back. She collapsed to her knees and her sunglasses went flying.
Barbara sucked in a pained breath; certain she had a broken rib after getting kicked again.
The goon's eyes widened in surprise as the inhuman creature jumped to her feet with a growl after that back-breaking blow.
Barbara tried to get up but two large hands grabbed her, lifting her up as if she weighed nothing, and slammed her into the side of the sedan - several painful times.
Nervously swinging the crowbar again, the goon sucked in a startled breath when Helena grabbed the bar, stopping it mid-swing. He stared dumbfounded, as she yanked the crowbar from his hands and tossed it aside. The last thing he saw was a fist rapidly approaching his face.
Barbara blinked, fighting the dizziness that fogged her head. When the henchman released her, she slid to the ground in a heap. "Ugh" she exhaled upon the impact, then fell unconscious.
Barbara slowly woke, blinking as she attempted to focus on her dark surroundings. She recalled the fight in the alley, but recognized she was not in the alley. Greatly alarmed, she sat up, sucking a pained gasp. Her hand gingerly touched the excruciatingly sensitive side, a souvenir from her first encounter with Riddler's gang . . . or any criminal for that matter.
She nervously glanced around the apparently empty building, not remembering how she got there. From the moonlight streaming in through several cracks in the rusted roof, she could see some old crates, a few chairs, and filing cabinets, in random locations, scattered around the floor, and . . . her bike? The surprise was welcome as she didn't have to worry about the police finding it and tracking the VIN to her, she considered as her head started to throb.
Great, another painful souvenir from her brush with the gang, she considered with a frown and reached up to rub her temple, concluding she likely had a mild concussion. As she massaged her throbbing head, it slowly dawned on her that she no longer wore her cowl.
Panic surged through her as she quickly searched the floor and found her cowl by her side. Grabbing it, she pulled it to her lap and stared at it a long moment as her heart pounded. Her father was against her joining the police force; what would he think about this? What would her classmates? Suddenly feeling the air stir and a strong presence, she nervously looked around the dark room. Someone was there, just out of sight, she thought, swallowing hard.
Helena debated what to do, but the need to reassure the frightened young woman overwhelmed her.
"Do not worry, mon ami. Help is coming," she said softly, startling the teen, who gasped and abruptly turned towards the voice.
"I can't have anyone . . . know," Barbara said feebly, her eyes dropping to helplessly stare at her pathetic, homemade cowl as tears started to well up.
"He will be . . . discreet, I promise," the voice said quietly. Helena wanted nothing more than to go to her side and hold her but knew that was out of the question; she would never want to let go.
"Who . . . who are you?" Barbara said nervously, squinting in the direction of the voice.
"A friend, mon ami," the mysterious voice said, shifting uncomfortably in the shadows.
"But…." Barbara called out, feeling frighteningly vulnerable. Needing to take some action, she took a fortifying breath and stood up, with a muffled groan.
"That is not wise. You should . . . ." Helena said worriedly.
"I can't let anyone find me," Barbara said in desperation, looking around for the best way to exit. "Anyone else…that is," she corrected herself, hoping just a glimpse of her face would not be enough for this stranger to completely compromise her secret identify.
"But your injuries should be looked at," Helena persisted with concern.
"I can't risk it," Barbara said doggedly.
For the LOVE of GOD! Helena thought with frustration for Barbara's super-sized stubborn streak, then took a calming breath and said in a surprisingly even tone. "Mon ami, not even Batman goes it alone . . . Batgirl," she said firmly.
Barbara looked sharply into the shadows, towards the voice, and held up her cowl. "Are you mocking me?" she said tersely, having experienced more than her share of ridicule from her classmates. And sadly, though her father didn't intend to, he also did more to discourage her dreams than anyone.
"I would never," Helena said honestly.
Barbara laughed without humor. "But there's plenty to mock, isn't there? My first time out and I failed to complete my task, get beaten unconscious, and find myself compromised to someone I can't even see," she said disdainfully. "Some, Batgirl huh?" she said dejectedly, looking at the cowl in her hand before letting it slip from her fingers to the ground in defeat.
Helena never expected to witness such doubt from a young Barbara Gordon. It rivaled the doubt she had just after learning she would never walk again. Like then, Helena couldn't bear to let this exceptional woman feel bad about herself.
"You will be," Helena said with conviction.
Barbara shook her head. "With an encounter like tonight's, I have to admit I'm having my doubts. And why on Earth am I spilling my guts to you??" she questioned the stranger helplessly.
"You just need some guidance."
"Oh? And you're going to give me that . . . guidance?"
Helena didn't know if to laugh or cry at the irony. "I wouldn't presume to be the right choice, mon ami. But you do need someone to help you become one of the most," she said, then quickly amended "no, I predict the most formidable crime fighter Gotham has ever seen," she said with a conviction that Barbara so wanted to believe.
"Well, I'm not off to a very stellar start."
"We all must start someplace, mon ami. And I believe it is a crime to give up and let your doubts win. So your first true challenge, Batgirl, will be fighting those doubts," the stranger had said in challenge, confusing the young crime fighter, who had a million more questions.
"Who are you?" Barbara asked desperately as the sound of a squeaky door echoed through the building.
"Hello? Anyone there?" The male voice with a familiar English accent. "Miss Barbara?" he said, shocking her.
Not only had her face been revealed, they knew her name!
Alfred's torch cut through the darkness, revealing Barbara, who winced in embarrassment, too embarrassed to question why Bruce Wayne's butler was making a late night trip to help an injured, wannabe crime fighter.
"Miss Barbara, are you all right? I was told I would find you here," he said with genuine concern as he approached her, seeing her looking a bit worse for the wear, like the anonymous woman had told him.
"Over there, Alfred," Barbara quickly blurted, pointing to the shadows several feet away, where her French "friend" had been hiding from sight.
"Don't," Helena called out, but the light was already on her, making her squint in pain at the sudden brightness.
Barbara wasn't sure what she was expecting but couldn't help but stare at the curiously mesmerizing, white-haired woman . . . who wore sunglasses?
"Turn that off!" she snapped, her hands trying to block the offensive light from her sensitive eyes. She then added softly "Please, Alfred."
"Oh dear," Alfred said worriedly, fumbling a brief moment before extinguishing the painful light. "I'm so sorry, Miss."
"It's all right. Just take care of her, Alfred," she said. "Au revoir, mes amis," were her parting words as they felt the breeze of her swift departure.
"No! She can't just leave," Barbara said, abruptly reaching for his flashlight, which was a mistake with her injuries. "Ow! Damnit!" she hissed in pain, grabbing her side gingerly.
"Miss Barbara, I suggest we take care of first things first and get you some medical treatment," he said kindly.
"Who is she, Alfred?" Barbara asked, looked at him anxiously.
"Why, I don't really know," he admitted with a shrug. "She called, informing me the commissioner's daughter was injured and in a . . . delicate situation that required discretion," he said, his eyes drifted down knowingly to the cowl on the ground. "It appears it was a good thing she did."
"If my father, or anyone, finds out about this…" she blurted nervously, finding only a kind smile.
"Find out about what, Miss Barbara?" he interjected with a completely straight face, projecting amazing innocence.
She nodded hesitantly, still feeling uneasy but for some reason she knew she could rely on Alfred. As she started to leave, he gently stopped her. "Aren't we forgetting something?"
Following Alfred's gaze, Barbara looked down to the cowl uncertainly, feeling unworthy. Alfred knelt down and carefully picked up the cowl, dusting it off reverently before handing it back to Barbara with a smile.
She looked at him and her eyes widened as she realized why he was so understanding about her extracurricular activities. It all made sense. Wow, she thought with amazement.
He smiled and nodded at her comprehension. "You are a very clever girl, Miss Barbara. I do hope you are as discreet as you are clever," he said.
"You have my word," Barbara vowed solemnly.
"Very good," Alfred said with satisfaction as they left the building.
"That means . . . she must know too," Barbara hesitantly offered to the butler.
"So it would seem," he said thoughtfully.
"And you're not concerned?"
"Actually, no," he said with surprising confidence. "She called and sounded genuinely worried about you and your delicate situation. It would seem she truly wants to help," he said.
Barbara nodded hesitantly, wondering who this woman was and why had she
"Another vigilante?" Barbara asked, unable to let it go.
"And you just came in the middle of the night to some warehouse, because someone, who you didn't know, had asked for your help?" Barbara queried.
"We help people, Miss Barbara. Even those we don't know," he lectured gently.
Barbara looked at him and nodded with a small embarrassed smile. "Of course."
A small beeping, indicating Delphi had completed another search, startled Barbara awake. She took a sharp breath and sat up in her chair, blinking, trying to focus on her computer screen. With a grimace, she stretched the kinks out of her back caused by the awful position of sleeping at her computer console, again, which wasn't her intent. She stretched and glanced at the clock. It was 6 AM.
She had been researching the hourglass and reading various myths surrounding the time traveling powers of various objects, knowing there usually was some kernel of truth to a myth. But she found nothing useful and nothing resembling Clinton's hourglass.
Opening the window with the latest long list of documents to review, she sighed, feeling depressed. What if Helena didn't come back? Her heart truly ached at that thought.
"Hey! Did you stay up all night?" Dinah said accusingly, joining her side in her pajamas.
"I had . . . a nap," Barbara hedged, not looking her in the eye.
"Aw man! You slept here again, didn't you? You now how that aggravates your back muscles," Dinah scolded.
"Yep," Barbara admitted as she once again stretched her back.
"Barbara…." Dinah continued her scolding, but was silenced by a sharp glare. "Hmmm. Did you find anything?"
"Nope. But I will," she said with conviction.
"I'll make us breakfast and then I'll help you with the research," Dinah said firmly, marching off to the kitchen.
Barbara glanced back at the teen who had come into their lives unexpectedly. It was like they were a family, she considered, then corrected herself. No, they were a family; a family currently missing a loved one, she thought, staring off into the distance.
"There you go," Dinah said, placing a cup of tea and a plate of pop tarts in front of her with a smile.
"Pop tarts, Dinah?" Barbara queried.
"For inspiration," Dinah said perkily ". . . and no one has gone food shopping since Alfred went on vacation," she added with a shrug. "I'll do that later today, OK?"
Barbara nodded, biting into the pop tart, then took a sip of tea. After a quiet moment between the two as they had their breakfast, Barbara spoke softly. "She . . . was there. The first time I attempted to be Batgirl."
"What??" Dinah blurted with surprise at this revelation, prompting the story of that infamous night of Barbara's first, unfortunate outing.
"I thought I could impress Batman by planting homing devices on the Riddler's cars and find their hideout. But they ran out of the building before I could finish. The Riddler got away and left me with his henchmen. I took precautions, smoke bombs, taking out the lights, but it wasn't enough - I was beaten unconscious. The next thing I remember was waking in a warehouse, with my cowl off. I never felt more frightened."
Barbara took a sip of tea, shaking her head, recalling that night. "She called for help," she said, looking at Dinah with a smile. ". . . and Alfred came."
Dinah shook her head in awe. "Wow. That's so . . . wow," she repeated, then looked at Barbara sternly. "You would have so grounded me for going alone without any experience!"
Barbara had to smile. "If my father had found out, I might still be grounded today," she responded, making Dinah snort with amusement as Barbara sadly remembered her father's displeasure with any criminal justice career plans.
"Wow. She covered your back your first time out and then hooked you up with Batman's right-hand man," Dinah said with amazement. "And then, you helped her when her mother died and then mentored her in crime fighting."
"Dinah, whatever I have done to help her pales in comparison to what she has done for me," Barbara said with conviction. "She never, ever, let me give up on myself after the shooting. Even when she was hurting, she always was there for me," Barbara said, shaking her head, amazed by Helena's innate ability to know what she needed. "And even before the shooting, when I was ready to give up on Batgirl, she challenged me to face and overcome my doubts. God," Barbara exhaled with amazement at Helena's ever-present support that had always helped her get through the dark times.
But then, she had to admit she had come to rely on Helena for more than her support. She missed living with the lively young woman and looked forward to their all-too-infrequent family nights, just enjoying each other's company. She missed seeing Helena bounce into the Clock Tower after a successful night kicking ass on sweeps, looking especially captivating. She missed the rare and exhilarating glimpse of her eyes when they had turned feral, that made Helena look even more dangerous and alluring….
"It's like you were always destined to profoundly impact each other's lives. That is soooo romantic," Dinah gushed dreamily, then felt startled eyes on her. "I mean . . . uh. Want another pop tart?" she blurted with a weak smile.
Barbara silently shook her head no, feeling a distinct blush come over her as she glanced at Delphi almost hoping for an interruption.
"If she hadn't gone back, I wonder . . . would you have ever gotten Alfred's or Batman's help? Would I have ever had the visions of you two and come to New Gotham??" Dinah said with growing alarm. "How do we know what the right time line is supposed to be?" she added worriedly. "And if this isn't the right time line, I'm not so sure I'd really like the alternative of never meeting you two."
Barbara had to think a moment. Once again the teen offered very good questions. "Well," she said then sighed. "I don't know. But I'm working with the premise that this," Barbara said, waving her hand, motioning around them. "is the correct time line and that we are going to get Helena back soon. Somehow," Barbara added, trying to tamp down her worry.
"You'll figure something out," Dinah said with an encouraging smile.
Barbara offered her a weak smile and sighed, hoping the teen was right.
The phone rang causing the two to look at it and each other. "It's not Gabby. She can barely get to school on time let alone manage to dial a phone this early," Dinah said with a smirk as the phone continued to ring.
Barbara sighed and answered it. "Hi Wade," she said with a sigh. She glanced up to Dinah, noticing her thoughtful look, before the teen smiled weakly and left, giving her privacy for her call.
"Breakfast? Uh . . . I'm rather bu. . . . I know it's been . . . . No. No. I'm not . . . I . . . this is not the type of conversation to be having on the phone. All right. I'll see you then," Barbara said and hung up the phone with an irritated exhale.
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