In A Song (part 3 of 12)

Six Weeks Later: 12:43am: In a dark alley somewhere in New Gotham

Helena felt the thug’s nose break as she shoved the heel of her hand into his face. She stepped back from the gush of blood as her attacker put both his hands up to his wounded face leaving his midsection completely open. Her foot landed hard in his soft middle and sent him flying into the brick wall across the narrow passage.

< Huntress? Where’s Canary? >

“She’s got her end under control, Oracle,” Helena replied, glancing over to where Dinah held the other two of their three attackers suspended four feet off the ground. Despite mile-long police records, reputations, and experience on New Gotham’s grimy streets, both men had wet spots across the fronts of their pants.

Helena pulled a pair of plastic riot control handcuffs out of her coat pocket. She rolled the thug with the broken nose over, crossed his arms at the wrist, and secured him with the plastic cuffs. She sauntered over to where Dinah kept a careful eye on the two levitating men. Dinah grinned. “You guys have a couple of choices. I put you down and you cooperate. We cuff you and you wait quietly for the police.”

“Or?” the blond one asked.

Helena’s smile was full of teeth. “She puts you down, you don’t cooperate, and you still end up cuffed and waiting for the cops, only you look like him,” she jerked her head toward their now unconscious cohort. “And maybe you aren’t so quiet for all the moaning in pain.”

She was cuffing the second of the two unscathed attackers when she heard sirens in the distance. “Cops are on their way,” she said to Dinah who held the men immobile still. “Hit the road. I’ll catch up in a few.”

The men stumbled as Dinah’s TK let them go. She grinned and levitated herself slowly but steadily up to the roof of a nearby building. Helena snorted and shook her head.

< Is she showing off again? >

“Big-time showing off happening here,” Helena said as the two men sat down heavily on the ground. “Stay.” She pointed a finger at them, grinned, and scrambled up the fire escape in a blink.

She watched from the rooftop as a squad car arrived immediately followed by an unmarked sedan, tan, with a small dent in the right front quarter panel. Reese. Damn it. She turned to Dinah. “Give me a sec, OK?” Dinah nodded her agreement as Helena went over the edge of the building and dropped down behind Reese as he emerged from the mouth of the alley after talking with one of the uniformed officers.

He’d gotten used to the rush of air that presaged her presence but the woman herself still made Jesse Reese a little nervous. “Hey there,” she said quietly.

Reese turned around to look at her. She still took his breath away even after so many months. “Hey, yourself. Nice packages you left in the alley there. I particularly like the one with the broken nose.” He examined her clothes for evidence of blood and found none.

Helena shrugged. “He’s mine but I can’t take credit for the other two. Had a little help.” She flicked her eyes upward.

“Right, your other mysterious partner.” Reese nodded. “Seems like a pretty straight forward mugging attempt.”

< It’s not. You and Canary picked those guys up at the warehouse the other night. >

“We did not pick anyone up. Nobody follows me, you know that,” she replied to the voice in her ear.

“Oracle?” Reese asked, gesturing with his pen.

Helena nodded. “Those three work for the outfit that owns the old Bond Bread warehouse.”

“The one they’re turning into condos?” Reese watched a uniformed officer load the thug with the busted nose into the back of the squad car.

“Uh huh…Know anything about it?”

“Just that the floor plans look great and the rent is way more than I can afford on a detective’s salary,” Reese turned his gaze back to Helena. His tongue darted out and wet his bottom lip. “Listen, about the other night, I’m sorry.”

In the clocktower Barbara was suddenly left with mostly silence over the comms frequency as Dinah’s transceivers picked up little of the business four stories below on the street. “Canary, is something happening to Huntress?”

Dinah peered over the edge of the building. “Nope, she’s just chatting with Reese. Want me to take a closer look?” She’d heard Helena’s transceivers go dead and groaned silently.

Barbara pulled off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “No, just keep an eye on her.”

“On it,” Dinah replied leaning her forearms on the ledge and looking down on the street below.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for. I should be apologizing to you. I just…well, it’s like a second language, you know? I fall into it without meaning to sometimes,” Helena said with a grin.

“Flirting as a second language…does NGU have courses in that? ’cause, clearly, I need some,” Reese’s smile was hesitant.

He’d run into her at a bar and talked her into having a drink. Two hours and a couple of cocktails later and he found himself trying for a repeat of a kiss they’d shared several months back. His lips had fastened on hers and he’d given it his all, only to get absolutely no response. None. She’d let him kiss her without pushing him away while she stayed as still as a light post. His humiliation would have been complete if she’d rubbed the back of her hand across her mouth and spit after he pulled away. As it was he knew immediately that any hope he still held for a romance, hell, even a hookup was deader than last Tuesday’s catch of the day.

“Just tell me, is there somebody else?” Reese asked, half looking for a way to save his ego.

Helena nodded. “Yeah, there is.”

“The new partner?” Reese glanced upward and back and Helena’s face. Her grin threw him a little off balance.

“Not hardly. It’s…complicated,” Helena replied, hating herself even as she echoed Barbara’s words. Reese nodded, his face impassive. “And you don’t need flirting lessons, you do just fine.” Helena smiled softly, putting a hand on his forearm. “Are we good?” Reese glanced down at her hand. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” she asked, removing her hand and shoving both her fists into her coat pockets.

“You are, but we’re good. Now, get out of here before I have to explain to the uniforms why I’m not helping them with the mess you left,” Reese said.

Helena nodded and moved down the block to another alley. She’d just reactivated her transceivers when Dinah dropped down from the fire escape. “What’s next, Oracle?”

< Nothing hot, just continue the grid sweep. Everything OK with Reese? >

Helena shot Dinah an annoyed look. “Everything’s fine. We’re on grid sweep and silence.” She deactivated her microphones while Dinah did the same. They stepped out onto the sidewalk and continued down the block away from the flashing lights of New Gotham’s finest.

“What?” the blonde said. “It bugs the hell out of her when you go silent like that with no warning.”

Helena shrugged as she scanned the few blocks ahead of them. “It was personal.”

“Right, and you’ve drawn that line. Personal on one side, business on the other,” Dinah said her hands illustrating her words.

“Yep.” Helena flexed her hands. She took a deep breath to calm her pounding heart. That’s going to look great on the Delphi’s monitors.

Dinah glanced at her friend out of the corner of her eye. “She still worries about you, you know.”

“Don’t go there, D.” The warning was clear in Helena’s tone. Cranky and irritable didn’t begin to touch how Helena felt six weeks after swearing off sex entirely. The clubs, full of pheromones, noise and mating postures and rituals cluttered up her ability to think. Sorting out what she wanted, she’d decided, meant keeping intimate contact to a minimum. She’d only just started to be able to bear Dinah’s occasional goodbye hugs.

Dinah could tell Helena was miserable even though she’d gotten better at hiding it. She said nothing to Helena about her situation even as Dinah let Barbara think that how unhappy she was remained a well-kept secret as well. “OK, this is me not going there,” Dinah replied.

They continued down the sidewalk and across town, finishing out the rest of the grid without incident. Along the way Dinah checked in with Barbara to see if anything specific needed their attention. Every time the answer was negative. An hour after they’d taken on the three thugs in the alley, Dinah and Helena stood outside the clocktower’s entrance.

“You should come up,” Dinah said, her voice hopeful despite the fact that Helena had refused every enticement, plea, and request for the past month and a half. This one would be no different as Helena shook her head. “Going home. Got some things to do, people to see.”

“At 1:45am on a Tuesday?” Dinah said, smile threading through her voice.

“You forget, I live above a bar,” Helena smiled and waggled her eyebrows. Dinah rolled her eyes and laughed. She waved goodbye, turned, and keyed her way into the clocktower’s entryway. Helena waited until the door slid shut to let the smile drop off her face. She had an hour and a half until the Dark Horse closed and it was time for her meeting with Leonard. She glanced up and across the skyline at Wayne Tower.

The first two weeks after she’d made her deal with Barbara she’d spent the hours between the end of sweeps and dawn sitting on the penthouse balcony watching Barbara work the Delphi. After the third night in a row of rain it finally dawned on Helena that if she was going to get on with her life she needed to get on with her life. The problem was, she didn’t want to. She wanted Barbara, or at least a full explanation, whatever “complications” the redhead had mentioned laid bare under a strong light. She’d seen the look on Barbara’s face when she’d mentioned Wade during their argument in the training room. It had taken her weeks to realize that even though she’d fixed on him as the issue, he wasn’t what was bothering Barbara.

What she needed to get what she wanted was strength and patience, and to stop caring so much if she got hurt. Pain was an integral part of Helena’s life, and had been since her mother’s death. Every moment she was awake, and some while she was asleep, she felt a dull ache from the lack of Barbara in her life. It was nothing compared to the sharp pain she knew she’d face once she had the strength to confront the redhead again. To prepare for that pain Helena needed a safety net, and the only way to have one was to build a life that wasn’t centered around Barbara Gordon.

She shook her head and started down the sidewalk leaving the clocktower behind her.

Thursday: 10:25pm: Blue Note

Helena tossed back the rest of her vodka as Davey Cruz walked onto the stage and into the spotlight. “You may know our next voice from her regular gig behind the bar at the Dark Horse. Please give it up for Helena Kyle.” Davey stopped and kissed her on the cheek before she stepped onto the low stage. “Knock ’em dead.”

Helena’s laugh was lost in the short smattering of applause. She stepped into the spotlight behind the mike. “Thank you.” She glanced over her shoulder at the house band and nodded her readiness. She closed her eyes as the music started. When the band hit the right place in the score, she sang.

Saturday, two weeks later: 6:30pm: Clocktower

“You look nice,” Barbara said catching sight of Dinah’s outfit. The dark, A-line skirt was short enough to show off her legs to good advantage without getting her mistaken for a working girl while the peach blouse left just enough to the imagination. “Date?”

“I think…maybe…yeah,” Dinah replied her cheeks warming. During the past several weeks, Gabby had definitely turned up the dial on the undercurrent of flirting in their relationship. Dinah had been waiting for her to make a move but so far nothing had come of it other than the occasional vivid dream that left her reaching for the cold knob in the shower in the morning. She’d decided enough was enough but that didn’t keep her from being nervous.

“But you’re not sure?” Barbara smiled. She was glad to see Dinah getting out. The girl had spent far too much time during the past couple of months keeping an eye on Barbara. Despite the reality of how much she clung to Dinah’s company to keep the depression she felt circling her at bay, Barbara had vowed not to make the same mistakes with Dinah that she’d made with Helena. There would be no monopolizing her time. In the past few weeks she had been subtly encouraging the teenager to spend more time with her friends and less time cooped up in the clocktower.

Dinah shook her head. Deep breath. “It’s sort of hard when you are interested in someone who’s a friend to tell where the friendship ends and the dating begins, you know?”

Barbara nodded even as the paranoia that was part and parcel of the circling depression threw up a possibility she couldn’t look directly at. She swallowed hard as she tried to banish the image of Dinah and Helena together and happy. “Well, have a good time.”

Some instinct told Dinah that despite Barbara’s calm front everything was not as placid as it appeared. “You know, I can cancel if you want. We could stay in and watch a movie.”

“Thanks for the offer but you should go have a good time,” Barbara replied, putting as much cheer into her voice as she could.

“OK, don’t stay up too late,” Dinah said finally after taking a hard look at Barbara. She was worried, and she knew Alfred was too, about Barbara’s sleepless nights and recent lack of appetite. Dinah shook her head as the elevator door closed.

Barbara let out a deep breath once the elevator started to descend. She felt the tears that so often came when she was alone sting her eyes. Barbara swiped a hand across her eyes and put her glasses on.

Helena had kept her distance and Barbara had kept her word. Even if she’d wanted to violate her end of the agreement the brunette had taken to leaving her comms set in her apartment except when she was going on sweeps. The few times Barbara had looked in on them during training days Helena and Dinah had been hard at work, any personal conversation happening out of Barbara’s earshot. Beyond what happened during sweeps, Barbara had no contact with Helena. Alfred was even more mum than Dinah on any word of Helena. The itch, the blind spot of not knowing bothered Barbara less than the emptiness in the clocktower.

She’d come home one day shortly after their blow-out in the training room to find all of Helena’s things gone. Her room and bathroom were spotless, as if she’d never been there at all. Barbara had been glad Dinah had stayed late at school. She’d burst into tears as her cowardice was made real.

Little things, focus on the little things, Barbara. She turned to the Delphi to start a deeper search running on the Bond Bread Warehouse’s corporate ownership. They’d done the same routine in LA, Seattle, and, most recently, Bludhaven. Move in, buy an old warehouse in a seedy part of town, turn it into upscale housing, only to sell out at a very small profit and move on six months later. Not illegal, just suspicious. As her search ran, Barbara tapped into the consumer affairs database in LA. Complaints from tenants, if they existed, might be another way to find out what was really going on.

Saturday: 8:26pm: Tivoli Theater

“I thought you hated black and white movies,” Gabby said moving down the aisle to the middle. She sat in a seat almost dead center in the middle of the screen.

Dinah sat next to her. “This is a classic. You can’t not love this movie.” She held her bag of popcorn out and Gabby dug in taking a handful. “It’s good drama, and it’s romantic.” Dinah fixed her eyes firmly on the bag of popcorn.

Gabby looked at her friend. “Romantic is good, I like romantic.” She dug into the bag for another handful of popcorn, her forearm brushing Dinah’s. The contact sent a surge down her already overloaded nervous system. Dinah had been all flirtatious glances and nerves over dinner. Gabby had loved the attention, teasing her friend by flirting back even more than usual. Much to her surprise, Dinah hadn’t backed off or turned things into a joke as she normally did and Gabby found herself wondering what was really going on.

While they waited for the movie to start they finished the popcorn and answered the trivia questions on the slides. Dinah got eight of the ten right. Not surprising since she ruled the Entertainment category in trivia games. As the lights went down she set the empty popcorn bag on the floor under her seat. She took a deep breath, reached over the seat’s arm, and slipped her hand into Gabby’s. “It’s OK if I do this?” Dinah asked, her voice quiet even as her thumb rubbed across Gabby’s knuckles.

“Yeah, it’s great,” Gabby said, trying to keep the surprise out of her voice. Her efforts were less than successful as she saw Dinah’s smile in the flickering light from the screen.

“What? You think I’d dress like this for anything but a date?” Dinah squeezed Gabby’s hand. “Watch the movie.”

Gabby stared at Dinah’s profile for several seconds before turning her attention to the movie unspooling on the screen in front of them.

Saturday: 9:45pm: Dark Horse

Helena dropped a coaster in front of Davey Cruz and pulled a Miller out of the cooler. She popped off the cap and set the bottle down in front of him. “I don’t know how you drink that swill, Davey.”

“One man’s swill is another man’s champagne,” Davey replied with a grin. He took a big slug from the beer bottle. “So, I’ve got good news, good news, and good news, which do you want first.”

The brunette laughed. “Give me the good news first.” She tossed the bottle cap into the trashcan.

“My cousin says they’ll take the booking,” Davey said, taking another drink from the beer bottle. “I sent him your sheet music and lyrics. He wants you to do your songs.” He watched as Helena’s expression closed down at this last bit of information. “I don’t see why you’re so hesitant about this. You’re good, and the songs are perfect for them.”

Helena shook her head. “What I was was drunk, Davey.” She acknowledged a customer down the bar. “They won’t take it if I don’t do the numbers?”

Davey shook his head. “Nope.”

Fuck. “Fine. Only one song. That’s it, and they do a 90 minute set.” Helena’s tone was all business. She pulled a bottle of rum from the shelf behind her and poured an ounce over the ice she’d just dropped into a highball glass. “And they rehearse me. I’m not doing it cold.”

“No problem.” Davey stuck his hand across the bar. Helena’s handshake was firm. “We’ll work out the details later in the week. What’da I owe you for the beer?”

“It’s on the house,” she said, reseating the beverage dispenser nozzle and moving down the bar to serve the customer who’d called for another rum and Coke.

Saturday: 11:26pm: Gabby’s front porch

“You were right. It’s a great movie,” Gabby said, sitting down on the glider. “Thanks for taking me.”

Dinah smoothed out her skirt and sat down next to Gabby who started the glider moving in a slow, smooth motion. “I’m glad you had fun.” The two girls sat in silence for a few minutes enjoying the fall air and the sound of the crickets. Dinah swallowed hard and looked at her friend’s profile. “Gabby?”


“So…holding your hand…that was OK?” Dinah’s chest felt tight.

Gabby nodded, still looking off in the distance. “It was nice.” She heard Dinah’s sharp intake of breath.

“Nice…” OK…so totally misjudged that one. Some telepath I am. She dropped her gaze to the floor, the sight of their slightly rocking feet suddenly mesmerizing. “That’s good. I mean I’d hate for it to have totally sucked. I guess…maybe I misjudged some things. I mean, well,” she tucked some hair behind her ear. “We do spend a lot of time together and it’s not like we’re not flirting all the time or anything…”

“Dinah?” Gabby said, turning to look at her friend. She waited until Dinah’s eyes met hers. When they did, Gabby smiled softly. “Just shut up and kiss me.”

Dinah leaned forward and brushed Gabby’s lips with hers. She teased Gabby’s lips apart with the end of her tongue as her nose filled with the mixed scents of Gabby’s soap, shampoo, and skin.

Gabby pushed back on Dinah’s mouth, her own tongue gently exploring the inner edges of Dinah’s lips. Don’t rush…don’t rush. She’d wanted this for so long. She moved her hand up to Dinah’s cheek as she broke the kiss. Gabby leaned her forehead against Dinah’s. She stroked Dinah’s cheek with her thumb. “Hi…”

“Hi yourself,” Dinah said with a smile. “Was that nice too?”

Gabby laughed. “That was very nice.” She pulled away a little and dropped her hand to Dinah’s wrist, running her thumb over the soft skin there. “Do you want to come in for a while?”

Dinah leaned in and kissed her again softly. “I want to but I shouldn’t.” She brushed Gabby’s lips again and had to use all her willpower to pull herself away from the softness of Gabby’s mouth. “Go inside before your Mom starts flicking the porch light on and off.” Dinah stood and offered her hand to her friend.

Gabby took it and used the momentum of standing up to pull Dinah close to her. She captured Dinah’s lips putting a little more heat into the kiss. She pulled away, smiling when she saw the flush in Dinah’s cheeks. “Call me tomorrow, OK?”

“OK,” Dinah stammered.

“Goodnight,” Gabby said, unlocking the door and going inside.

Dinah stood for a moment on the porch, shook her head to clear out the fog created by Gabby’s kiss, turned, and started on her way home. Once Dinah was out of sight, Gabby turned off the porch light. Her grin stretched wide across her face as she made her way upstairs to her room.

Little did Gabby know that Dinah’s feet literally did not touch the ground once on her way home.

Saturday/Sunday: 12:12am: Clocktower balcony

“Out here,” Barbara said to Dinah’s call from the balcony doors. She gazed out over the skyline. She’d let the tears come after Dinah had left, giving in to pent up emotion. A box of tissues later and Barbara Gordon felt free, and more alive than she’d felt in weeks. As she sat and looked out over New Gotham she also felt she’d reached a turning point. She knew what she had to do; now she just had to figure out how to do it.

Dinah crossed the balcony and came to a stop next to Barbara’s chair. She rubbed her arms as a chill breeze blew across the balcony.

“Did you have a good time tonight?” Barbara asked, turning to look at Dinah. The teenager radiated a happiness that was infectious.

Dinah grinned and blushed simultaneously. “Yeah, I did. How was the rest of your evening?” Even through her own giddiness, Barbara seemed somehow lighter to Dinah.

“It was…illuminating,” Barbara replied finally. “I’m going to ask you something and if you don’t want to tell me it’s OK.” Dinah nodded as her stomach tightened up. Barbara cleared her throat. “Is Helena OK?” She watched Dinah’s face closely. When she hesitated Barbara filled the silence. “Never mind. Forget I asked. It was inappropriate of me.” She felt the sadness she thought she’d flushed out of her system squeeze her chest. She turned to look back out over the skyline. OK…direct approach, not such a good move. She felt Dinah touch her on the shoulder. Dinah didn’t speak until Barbara looked at her.

“She doesn’t really tell me much. I think she doesn’t want to put me in the middle,” Dinah said. Like you just did…

“Like I just did,” Barbara said, echoing Dinah’s thoughts.

“Are you sure my powers aren’t rubbing off on you?” Dinah teased with a smile. She paused as she gazed out over the skyline. “I know she’s working a lot. You know that too from her schedule for sweeps.”

Barbara nodded. “I know I shouldn’t do this but, do me a favor…let her know I hope she’s OK.”

Dinah turned to look at Barbara. “You could let her know yourself, you know,” Dinah said with a soft smile.

“I suppose I could.” Barbara’s smile touched her eyes as she patted Dinah on the arm. “I’m going to bed. Don’t stay out here too long or you’ll catch a cold.”

“I won’t. Good night.” She watched Barbara move into the clocktower, her own happiness made even larger by Barbara’s improved mood. Bed? I’m so wired I may never sleep again. She stood gazing out over the skyline and feeling the warmth of Gabby pressed against her as they’d kissed the last time. When the wind picked up, Dinah went inside the clocktower. Her dreams were filled with soft hands and the scent of tangerine soap.

Two weeks later: Sunday: 1:46pm: Clocktower

Barbara smiled as she listened to Dick recount the latest in his romantic misadventures. “I’m sure she’ll forgive you,” she said into the receiver.

“I don’t think so,” Dick replied. “I mean, how many roses can one guy send without a response before he gives up?”

“Forty-seven,” Barbara said, her voice absolutely deadpan.

Dick sighed. “Babs, that’s not even a multiple of twelve.”

“Good to hear your math skills have improved.” Barbara’s laugh was hearty.

“Calculator brain,” Dick replied.

“Block head,” Barbara said back as they fell into a routine of teasing retorts they’d established many years ago.

Dick laughed. “So, what about next weekend? You up for dinner? Maybe a couple of drinks with an old friend? I’ve got that info you wanted on the development company.” He hoped this last bit was enough of an enticement to get Barbara out of the clocktower. Dick checked in regularly with Alfred. Even though the old man swore he had no idea where Bruce was, Dick thought it was a good idea to keep him updated on what was going on in his little part of the world. During their last conversation Alfred had let slip his concern over Barbara’s state of mind. Knowing the deep depression she’d gone through immediately after her shooting, Dick was determined to hold his hand out for Barbara to take sooner rather than later.

Barbara hesitated. Deep down she felt like she wouldn’t be good company but something about the joy in Dick’s tone pushed her through her anxiety. “I’d like that, yes.”

“Great! I’ll come by about 7pm and we can get a bite and catch up.” The smile in his voice was clear. “Talk to you then.”

Barbara hung up the phone. Her light mood was tempered by the absence of sound echoing out of the training room. Helena had stepped out of the elevator just as she’d picked up the ringing phone. Barbara frowned. Based on the schedule they’d been keeping, she and Dinah should have been well into their twice-weekly sparring match. She crossed over to the training room.

Sunday: 1:46pm: Clocktower training room

“So, what do you think?” Dinah asked, pulling the corner of her bottom lip between her teeth.

Helena smiled. “It was never ‘me and girls’ Barbara had a problem with, Big D. It’s ‘me and Barbara’ that Barbara has a problem with. Tell her. She’ll be fine with it. Are you happy?” She took a drink from the water bottle she held. Their sparring match had been fast and hard. Dinah had been fueled by an energy the source of which was suddenly clear to Helena. She’d been impressed, too, with the young blonde’s developing combat skills.

Dinah nodded. “In a way too sweet for public consumption sort of way, yes.” Her smile lit up her whole face.

“So…have you slept with her yet?” Helena asked, mischievous grin painting her mouth. She knew her teasing had hit a sensitive spot by how fast Dinah’s face colored. “‘Cause, if you need any pointers, I’d be happy to help. I’ve seen Gabby. She’s a little hottie.”

Dinah’s mouth dropped open even as her face reddened further with the embarrassment. “I am so going to get you for that.”

Helena laughed. “You can try, but that still doesn’t answer my question, does it?” She spotted Dinah’s arcing fist out of the corner of her eye and let the blow land on the ball of her shoulder.

Barbara just barely crossed the threshold of the training room when Dinah landed the soft blow on Helena’s shoulder. Still holding her bottle of water, Helena popped off the bench and backed into the center of the room, oblivious to Barbara’s watching presence. Barbara’s heart seized at the sight of her slim back and dark hair. The hole in her life, how much she longed for Helena’s company, was brought firmly to the forefront as she watched the brunette’s feet carry her lightly across the training room floor.

“C’mon then,” Helena said waving Dinah toward her with her empty hand in a universal gesture of challenge. Barbara was about to call for a stop to the action when she heard the amusement in Helena’s tone and realized that Dinah’s shoulders quaked not from anger or fear but from laughter. “Aw, that just sucks, D.,” Helena said as Dinah floated up and off the bench and over to the middle of the room. She reached up and grabbed the blonde’s ankle. When she was down at eye level Helena wrapped the teenager in a hug.

Dinah’s gaze flicked over Helena’s shoulder to where Barbara sat. “We have company,” she said quietly. She felt Helena stiffen up even as she let her go.

Helena ran a hand through her hair and turned around. She was sure she kept the longing that stabbed through her out of her facial expression. “Hey, Barbara. You’re just in time to watch the kid get her butt whooped for the second time today.”

“I don’t think so,” Dinah protested. “I won fair and square.”

Helena looked back over her shoulder. “The point is not to win fair and square, the point is to stay alive, kid. Oh, really mature,” Helena said as she caught sight of Dinah sticking her tongue out.

“Dinah, can you give us a minute,” Barbara said, the laugh in her voice easily heard as she wheeled over to where the other two women stood.

“Sure, no problem.” She whacked Helena across the butt with her towel as she went by. Barbara watched her go, waiting until Dinah left the room before she turned back to Helena. She wasn’t surprised to find Helena had crossed her arms over her chest in a defensive posture. Her facial expression was perfectly composed, showing nothing.

“What’s up?” Helena asked.

“That’s sort of what I was wondering,” Barbara replied. She watched Helena’s body language close down even further as the brunette dug the toe of her shoe into the mat covering the training room floor.

“My life, remember? There was that whole you staying out of my business thing, or have you forgotten?” Helena said finally, her tone sarcastic even as her eyes flicked away from Barbara’s face. Her mind threw up an image from a dream she’d been having for the past few weeks. Nearly naked was how Barbara could best be described. To have the woman live, in the flesh, in front of her was torture for Helena in her self-enforced celibacy.

Barbara shook her head. “I haven’t forgotten. I just…” She reached out and touched Helena’s forearm. “Look, nothing I say is going to come out right so I’m just going to say it. I want you to know that I hope you’re OK and if you need anything you can always come to me, agreement or not,” she pushed the words out over the lump that closed her throat.

“Yeah, OK, I get that,” Helena said, still not meeting Barbara’s eyes. “Thanks.” The touch of Barbara’s skin to hers burned not Helena’s flesh but her soul.

“You’re welcome.” Barbara dropped her hand away from Helena’s arm. She backed her chair away, turned, and made her way out of the training room.

Helena closed her eyes tight to fight off the tears she felt. She turned and heaved the water bottle against the wall. It burst like a balloon.

Tuesday: 3:46pm: Gabby’s room

Dinah whimpered as Gabby nipped the side of her neck below her ear. She ran her hand up Gabby’s back, short nails scratching lightly through Gabby’s shirt. The groan of pleasure she got in return brought a smile to her lips. “We’re both going to fail Bio if we keep doing this. You realize that, don’t you?” Dinah said without opening her eyes.

Gabby levered herself up on one elbow. She ran a finger over Dinah’s eyebrows. “I suppose we should get some studying done.” She licked her lips and moved to roll off the taller girl. Dinah held Gabby on top of her and opened her eyes. “Do we need Bio to graduate?”

“Right now,” Gabby said with a laugh. “I’m not sure I care.” As she brushed Dinah’s lips Gabby moved her free hand to the buttons on her shirt. She’d gotten two open when Dinah felt the cooler air of the room on her skin. Dinah covered Gabby’s hand with hers, stopping her from working the third button undone. She pulled away from Gabby’s kiss and opened her eyes.

“Could we not do that yet?” she asked, searching Gabby’s face. Gabby drew in a deep breath. She nodded, her expression tight. Dinah brushed her fingers over the curly haired girl’s cheek. “It’s not that I don’t want to, ’cause I do. It’s just…” she hesitated.

“You’re not sure?” Every instinct she had was telling Gabby that Dinah was just another straight girl on a field trip, and every feeling she had screamed in denial against the possibility that instinct was correct.

Dinah shook her head. “No, I’m sure. I like you touching me. I’m…scared.” She smiled softly at the surprise on her friend’s face. “You’re my best friend. If this turns out to be a huge mistake I don’t want to lose you. We sleep together right away and there’s no way we can stay friends if we don’t work out.” She brushed her fingers through Gabby’s ringlets. “So, slow is OK?”

“Slow is nice,” Gabby said with a grin.

Dinah rolled her eyes. “For that, I make you do Bio homework.”

“Wait, you mean all this kissing wasn’t our take-home lab?” Gabby asked with a grin. “You know, experiments in human interaction, or something?” Dinah’s laugh was lost as Gabby’s mouth covered hers.

Wednesday: 3:32pm: Common Grounds coffee house

Helena picked up the oversized cup and the plate holding the slice of pound cake. She turned to look for a seat in the crowded coffee house. A familiar splash of red caught her eye. She took a deep breath and wound her way through the crowd coming to a stop at a table on the far side of the establishment.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked her tone even and betraying nothing. She moved a little so a bespeckled 15 year-old boy carrying a huge backpack could get by.

Barbara looked up. Helena was a beautiful sight to behold, wearing the fringed white top that Barbara loved. She glanced down and noted the striped pants that she hated were also present. She smiled. “No, it’s not. Please, sit,” she moved the stack of graded papers out of the way so Helena could set down her mug and plate.

“Getting out of the classroom?” Helena sat. She hadn’t missed Barbara’s appraisal. She took a sip from the big cup, smiling behind the rim.

“Changes in latitude, changes in attitude,” Barbara replied with a grin.

Helena’s laugh was full and throaty. “Jimmy Buffett? Barbara, I expected someone a little more high-brow than that.” She pulled a corner off the slice of pound cake and pushed the plate toward Barbara. “Have some, it’s really good.”

Barbara stifled her surprise. Helena was usually like a convict in the mess hall when it came to sweets, one arm around the plate and practically growling at anyone who got near her. Barbara pulled off a bit of the pound cake and popped it into her mouth. “Not as sweet as your normal choice, but good,” she said after she swallowed.

“Alfred,” Helena said with a nod. “He comes up with the most surprising things.” She trailed off at a loss for words. Helena took another sip from the big cup. She felt Barbara’s gaze on her face. “Listen, I wanted to say thanks. Sunday, that was…nice of you.” Helena swallowed hard. The impulse to push, to ask Barbara what the hell was really going on in her head nearly overwhelmed Helena.

Barbara smiled softly. “Well, I meant it.” She toyed with her pen, clicking the ballpoint in and out a couple of times. “So, are you doing OK? I know you’ve been working a lot.” Helena’s expression hardened a little. “Not difficult to figure out. Your schedule for our other project…when you’re working, when you’re available,” Barbara said, forestalling Helena’s irritation.

“True,” Helena nodded. “Yeah, the bar’s been keeping me busy. We’re making some changes.”

“You seem happy, well rested,” Barbara said.

Helena raised an eyebrow. “Don’t go all clinical on me or anything.”

“Sorry,” Barbara dropped her eyes to the stack of ungraded papers on the table in front of her. “I never wanted anything but for you to be happy, Helena.” The sadness and longing rose, dropping a cinderblock on her chest. She nearly jumped when Helena’s hand covered hers, stilling the fingers that clicked the ballpoint in and out rapidly.

“I know. I just…” Helena looked away, out the coffee shop’s front window. When Barbara didn’t pull her hand away Helena looked back to Barbara’s face. Barbara’s breathing was shallow, her pulse up, and her cheeks flushed. Fear or desire, Helena couldn’t tell which. “I just wish I wasn’t so damn inarticulate sometimes.” Helena shook her head and pulled her hand back. “I should get going. I’m glad I ran into you.” She stood.

“I’m glad you did too. Take care, OK?” Barbara said with a soft smile.

Helena grinned, mask firmly in place. “Catch you later.”

Barbara watched her all the way out of the coffee house and as far down the block as she could see out the windows. Part of her was giddy. She knew the only time Helena got tongue-tied is when she really cared about something. Barbara’s fingers still felt warm from Helena’s touch. Maybe you’re wrong, Alfred. Maybe it’s a thousand and one chances. Barbara looked down at the ungraded papers. It was going to take all her willpower to pull her attention back to essays on Hamlet. She clicked the ballpoint of her pen out and bent to the task.

Wednesday: 4:30pm: Dark Horse office

Helena stared at the payroll program. User-friendly, my ass. No wonder Leonard chucked it all for the lures of mountain air and gambling. The fog in her head from her chance meeting with Barbara wasn’t helping matters. Barbara’s admission that she wanted Helena to be happy had shoved Helena through a door of possibility she’d been afraid to enter.

“Having a problem, boss?” Jaycee stopped outside the open office door to tie on her apron.

“Can you make this thing speak English?” Helena dropped her head into her hands.

Jaycee shook her head and smiled. Helena was a whiz behind the bar but some of the aspects of running a business just eluded her. She crossed into the room and motioned Helena out of the chair. She sat down and looked at the screen. “OK, it’s pretty simple. Look here, you’ve got to enter hourly rates for everyone before you can calculate their paychecks. For example,” she said, mousing down to her own record. “I make $3.75 an hour plus tips. So, you only have to worry about the $3.75. Declaring the tips is my problem.” She entered the amount in the wage column and tabbed over. Instantly amounts appeared in the withholding and net income columns. “Pretty simple.”

Helena looked at her for a few seconds as the idea blossomed. “You’ve got a degree in accounting or something don’t you?”

“Finance and business administration, actually,” Jaycee grinned up at Helena. She stood and moved out of the way so Helena could sit.

“So why aren’t you working some 9-5 somewhere?” Helena tilted her head and continued to look at Jaycee.

Jaycee blushed and ran a hand through her short hair, dyed bright purple for this week. “In New Gotham? Are you kidding? One thing they don’t teach you in school is how to cook the books. It’s practically a requirement in this city. Once I save enough to get out I’m gonna go square. See if I can find a job somewhere else.”

“What if you could find a job here?”

Jaycee shrugged. “I’d stay. My family’s here.”

“So how about running this place for me?” Helena crossed her arms over her chest.

“You mean, like manage the office?” Jaycee gulped.

Helena nodded. “Something like that. Help me take care of all the stuff that matters that I have a little trouble with, like payroll.” She shuddered. “I can pay you a lot more than $3.75 an hour, and, you wouldn’t have to work the floor anymore.”

“Starting when?” Jaycee asked when she saw that Helena was serious.

“Now?” Helena knew that dealing with customers was Jaycee’s least favorite part of the job.

The girl grinned as she untied her apron. “You’ve got a deal.”

Thursday: 1:22am: Bond Bread Warehouse

< Because I said so, that’s why. >

The irritation in Barbara’s voice came through loud and clear across the comms channel. “Look, all I’m saying is that I think you’re overreacting. It’s possible that this is exactly what it looks like, a company betting some overpriced condos are going to upscale a neighborhood,” Helena replied.

< And it’s possible there’s something else going on. There were 25 complaints about excessive traffic in the first month from tenants living in their building in LA. >

Barbara sighed with frustration.

< Just go in and check it out. I want some video to compare to the earlier footage. >

“You’re the boss,” Helena replied clamping down on her own irritation. There had to be real crime going on somewhere in the city. Crime that would give her the opportunity to lose some of her nervous energy. “We’re silent.” She turned off her transceivers. Her groan of frustration made Dinah laugh. “Boy she is in a mood.”

Dinah nodded. “Actually a much better one that usual. I don’t know if it’s Saturday she’s looking forward to or she’s just feeling better.”

“What’s happening Saturday?” Helena said, glancing around to make sure they weren’t being observed. She applied her foot to the basement service door. It opened with a bang.

Dinah silently cursed her tendency to babble. “Uh…”


“Dick Grayson’s taking her out to dinner,” Dinah said in a rush, hoping that if she said the words quickly they’d sting less.

Helena nodded even as her stomach twisted into a knot. So much for her people-reading skills. “That’s good. She needs to get out of the damn clocktower more.” Helena proceeded into the building. Dinah followed her, pushing the door shut so that to the casual observer things would look normal. She followed Helena into the basement.

“Could you back off a little? If I take your head off I’d like it to be on purpose,” Helena snapped as she stopped short and Dinah almost crashed into her.

“Sorry.” Is crankiness contagious?

Helena shook her head. It wasn’t the kid’s fault she was one big walking hormone and that she was sharing on a molecular level. “Would you just go ahead and sleep with her already, please? You’re killing me here with all the giddy teenage hormones,” Helena said.

Dinah raised her eyebrows. “Not getting any of your own lately?”

“No,” Helena growled. “Gave it up for Lent. Can we talk about anything else, please?”

“Lent was months ago, you’re not Catholic, and you brought it up.” Dinah’s voice had a sing-song lilt to it. She could tell she was really starting to piss Helena off by the way her forehead creased. “Yeah, OK, pushing my luck. How’s work?”

Helena pulled the video camera out of her pocket. “Work is good. You should bring Gabby by on Saturday. We’ve got a killer band lined up.” She turned on the camera and put it into thermal scan mode.

Dinah raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Leonard’s booking ‘killer’ bands now? His taste must have improved a lot.”

“Not exactly,” Helena replied.

Friday: 4:36pm: Dark Horse

“Ben’s the lead guitarist and Amy does the vocals,” Davey said with grin.

Helena laughed. “Yeah, I know, Davey. I have heard of them.” She shook Ben’s hand. “Thanks for taking the gig. I think you’ll find a good audience here.”

Ben Moody returned her grin. “I hope so. Davey says you’re going to do a number with us.” The question threaded through his voice.

The blush came quickly to Helena’s cheeks. “Why don’t you hear me sing first before you decide? I mean, I’m sure Amy could do a much better job.”

“It’s always nice to hear the songwriter’s interpretation before I make something my own. Just don’t let him sing solo,” she said, pointing at Ben. “Backup singer material, definitely.”

Ben’s huffing and puffing was clearly for show. When the four of them had laughed themselves out Ben looked at the stage. “Well, let’s get set up and rehearse you a bit.”

Helena nodded as he and Davey moved toward the door where most of the band’s gear was piled.

Saturday: 6:33pm: Clocktower

“You’re going out in that?” Dinah asked, unable to keep the incredulity out of her voice.

‘That’ was Barbara’s favorite pair of faded jeans, her moss-green v-neck sweater, and black boots. Barbara looked down at her outfit and then back up at Dinah who was definitely dressed for a night out. A black skirt, yellow blouse, and knee high, black, suede boots created Dinah’s tasteful ensemble. “You’re the only one with a date tonight. Dick’s just an old friend.”

Dinah raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

Barbara’s laugh was throaty and full. “Yes, definitely. It’s a been there, done him, got the t-shirt, not going on that ride again kind of thing.” Barbara laughed even harder as Dinah’s face colored at her words.

“Barbara!” Dinah thought she might have to figure out a way to wash her ears out with soap, or whatever the aural equivalent was for hearing something naughty.

“You think I don’t have a past? I’ve got as much past as anyone,” Barbara smiled. “So, who is this mystery guy you’ve been seeing?”

Dinah swallowed hard. “I kinda wanted to talk to you about that,” she said, even as her tone of voice conveyed exactly the opposite meaning as her words. Dinah moved over to the couch. She dropped down near the end and pulled a pillow across her lap as Barbara came to a stop across from her.

“Are we going to have the safe sex talk? If we are I can get the charts and diagrams,” Barbara said with a smile. She leaned forward and touched Dinah on the knee when she saw Dinah’s slightly sick expression. “Hey, it was a joke. Are you OK? This guy didn’t hurt you did he?”

“No, nothing like that,” Dinah said. She was amazed at how quickly Barbara was ready to come to her defense despite her skills at hand to hand combat, much less the developing telekinesis. “The guy I’m dating isn’t exactly what you think.” Dinah stared off through the clocktower’s windows. She’d had this all planned, for sometime next week, or maybe the week after that, or maybe in a couple of months if she got the nerve up.

Barbara said nothing, waiting for Dinah to continue in her own time. After a couple of minutes of silence Barbara had a pretty good idea why Dinah was stalling. “Dinah?” She waited until Dinah’s eyes flicked back to her face. “Did you think I’d be surprised that you’re dating Gabby?”

“It’s that whole all seeing all knowing thing again, right?” Dinah sighed, relief flooding her body.

“Exactly.” Barbara brushed some hair away from her face. “Are you happy?”

Dinah nodded, a grin creeping across her face. “Extremely.”

“Good,” Barbara said patting her on the knee.

“So, if you knew I was seeing Gabby, why did you ask me about the guy I was dating?” Dinah squeezed the pillow she held in her lap.

Barbara’s smile was soft. “Because I have been wrong in the past. 90 percent of the population is heterosexual, or so they tell us.”

“Are you?” Dinah made sure to watch Barbara’s expression. The question left Barbara off balance, sputtering for an answer. “Never mind. Sorry. Not my business.”

“No, it’s a fair question given everything that’s happened in the past few months. Let’s just say that, in the past, I’ve taken love as it’s come to me. The person as a whole mattered more than the specific detail of that person’s gender,” Barbara replied.

Dinah wasn’t sure how far she could push. “And now?” Barbara shook her head. “And now, this conversation is over.” She smiled as the visitor buzzer sounded from downstairs. Count on Dick to be early when I need him to be. “Do you need a ride anywhere tonight?”

The buzzer sounded again. Dinah shook her head. “Nope, I’m good. Thanks.” She put the pillow aside and stood. Dinah leaned down and hugged Barbara. “And thanks, for everything.”

Barbara squeezed Dinah back inside their hug. “No problem. We’ll see you later, maybe?” Dinah pulled back from the hug. “Maybe,” Dinah said. She moved toward the elevator. “You want me to let him up?”

“Please,” Barbara replied as she moved toward the Delphi to put it into sleep mode.

Friday: 7:25pm: Cafe Rinaldo

Dick smiled at Barbara and picked up his wine glass. “To old friends.” Barbara clinked her glass with his. “Definitely.” They both drank and set their glasses down. Dick adjusted his silverware, moving the knife, fork, and spoon slightly away from the plate. He cleared his throat. “I’m worried about you, Babs.”

Barbara tilted her head and smiled. “Alfred been blabbing, has he? Oh don’t look so shocked. Just because I’ve been in a funk doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention.”

“So why have you been in a funk?” Dick sipped from his wine glass as relief coursed through him. Starting things had never been his strong suit. Once something got going, though, he was a champ.

It was Barbara’s turn to toy with her silverware. She’d thought about this a lot in the past week. Dick had been her first in so many ways. Her first requited crush, her first lover, the first person to take her over the edge. They’d worked their way through teenage fumblings together, albeit complicated by the less than usual having to go out and fight crime aspect of their lives, and still managed to remain friends through the years and romantic misadventures.

“I’ve got a little problem and I need some advice,” she said finally.

“What sort of problem?” She had his interest now.

“It’s a bit…delicate,” Barbara replied.

Dick smiled. “I can do delicate, despite all suspicions to the contrary. Give it up, Babs. What’s going on?”

“I’m in love,” Barbara grinned.

Friday: 7:36pm: Tony’s Pizzeria

“You told her? What did she say?” Gabby picked the mushroom of her slice of pizza and pushed it to the side of her plate. The pie was supposed to be half mushrooms, half black olives. The chef failed fractions, apparently, as the whole pizza was covered with both.

“She asked if I was happy.” Dinah snagged the mushroom Gabby had just rejected and popped it into her mouth.

Gabby shook her head. How Dinah could eat those things baffled her. “And you said?”

“I told her I was miserable. That I was only staying with you out of insecurity and that you made me dress like this,” Dinah deadpanned. “Not funny?” she asked, catching sight of Gabby’s stricken expression.

Gabby shook her head as she blinked away tears. Too many times she’d been ready to give her heart away only to find out that she was nothing more than a science experiment. Gabby had promised herself that wouldn’t happen again.

Dinah reached across the table and covered Gabby’s hand with hers. She rubbed Gabby’s palm with her thumb. “Hey…hey, I’m sorry. Me and my stupid sense of humor. Gab? Look at me, please.” When Gabby met Dinah’s eyes Dinah smiled. “You want to tell me about it?”

“Not right now,” Gabby said, glancing around the restaurant. The place looked safe enough and while Dinah was giddy about Barbara’s acceptance, Gabby wasn’t sure Dinah was ready for what it meant to be publicly affectionate. Dinah squeezed her hand and let go. “Later, maybe?”

“Definitely later,” Gabby replied. She took a deep breath and dropped her eyes to the slice of pizza on her plate. She picked off another couple of mushrooms. “So, what else do you have planned for tonight?”

Dinah chewed the bite of pizza she’d just taken. “There’s a band at the Dark Horse. I thought we could go,” she said swallowing. Gabby smiled. The Dark Horse meant Helena, which meant a chance to show off their new relationship. “Great.”

Saturday: 8:36pm: Cafe Rinaldo

“So, what do you think?” Barbara’s system buzzed with anxiety and embarrassment. She’d gotten over the first hurdle when she’d told Dick just exactly who she was in love with. She hadn’t missed his semi-private groan. While they respected each other’s skills and abilities, Helena and Dick disagreed on some fundamental aspects of the vigilante-hero job. He took his share of risks and his way worked for him. Over the years and watching Barbara train her, Dick had come to realize that Helena’s way worked for her, and he’d told Barbara as much the last time Helena had been a topic of discussion.

The bigger leap, the scarier one for Barbara had been telling him about her physiological difficulties. She’d kept the story on the clinical side, but not textbook medical, to stave off some of the embarrassment. That he knew her well and loved her helped Barbara feel less ashamed of being so afraid to talk about her problem.

“The way I see it, Babs, it boils down to whether you want her or not,” Dick replied, forking the last of his ravioli into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed. “If she’s worth you loving her, she’ll understand and she’ll do everything she can to please you, no matter what it takes. I know that’s what I’d do,” he said with an almost impish grin. “If she’s not worth giving her even the opportunity to understand the problem then she’s not worth you loving her.”

Barbara furrowed her brow as she worked her way through Dick’s convoluted logic. “I think that might almost not be a tautology.” She grinned.

Dick barely resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her. “Does Dinah know about this?”

“The being love with Helena part, yes. The other, no, I don’t think so,” Barbara replied, finishing the rest of her wine.

“You don’t think?” Dick put his fork and his knife on the plate in front of him and pushed it away a little bit.

Barbara smiled. “She is a touch telepath, Dick.” He nodded his understanding. “So, you’re saying I need to make the leap of faith? I need to trust.”

The waiter approached the table. He asked about coffee and dessert, which Barbara and Dick both declined, and cleared away their empty plates. When the waiter was out of earshot, Dick leaned forward, reached across the table, and took Barbara’s hand. “Yes, Barbara I-must-have-concrete-proof-for-everything Gordon, you have to take the leap of faith.” He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. “And if I know Helena, even if everything turns out alright in the end, there’s going to be some spitting and clawing when you do talk to her.” He squeezed and released her hand, sitting back in his chair.

“Cat analogies now?” Barbara arched an eyebrow. “I’ll make sure to tell her you said so.”

Dick snorted out his laugh. “Please, tell her on your fifth anniversary or something. I like my balls. She finds out I knew about this before she did, she’ll have them bronzed and hanging over her fireplace before either one of us can blink.” He looked around, found their waiter, and signaled him for the check. “Let’s get out of here and get a real drink.”

“I think I know just the place,” Barbara said through her own laugh.

Saturday: 8:47pm: Dark Horse

Helena stood in a corner and scanned the crowd that filled the bar. Word about the band had gotten out quick enough, and Jaycee had convinced her that a $10 cover was more than reasonable with no drink minimum. Based on the size of the crowd, she’d been right. She glanced over at the door to check on Tony. Dinah and Gabby stood chatting three or four deep in the line to get in. By the time Helena made it over to the entrance Tony was shining a hard light on their ids. She leaned an arm on his shoulder. “These two aren’t trying to pass those crappy fakes off on you are they, Tony,” Helena winked at the two blondes.

Tony’s chuckle was a rolling baritone wall of sound. “You know nothing gets by me, Helena.” He snapped the orange bands around both girls’ outstretched wrists and stepped aside so they could enter. Helena waved at the guy collecting the cover to pass Dinah and Gabby through. She lead them to a table for four with a good view of the stage and plucked the reserved sign off. “Ladies…”

“Not without a hug you don’t,” Dinah said, wrapping her arms around the brunette. Helena laughed and rolled her eyes. “Hey, with the hands. Not in front of your girlfriend, Big D. She might kick my ass.” Helena winked at Gabby over Dinah’s shoulder.

Dinah laughed and stepped back. “I think I’d pay money to see that.” Girlfriend. Dinah hadn’t missed the word and it felt comfortable to her.

“And you got kinky on us when?” Helena raised her eyebrows. She chuckled as Dinah blushed a deep crimson. She stepped forward and gave Gabby a quick hug. “Hey Gabby, glad to see you here.”

“Glad to be here,” Gabby smiled. “You look great.” She looked Helena up and down. She seemed at ease in black leather pants and a tank top in deep maroon. “New boots?” Helena nodded. “Thanks. Sort of, yeah. Now that someone is no longer raiding my closet every day I’ve rediscovered my own wardrobe.” She smiled affectionately at Dinah. “Sorry I can’t stay and chat. We’re a little jammed.” Helena waved vaguely at the milling crowd.

“S’okay,” Dinah said. “I think we can entertain ourselves. When’s the band on?”

“About half an hour. I’ll send someone over for your order when I get back to the bar. Enjoy.” She wound her way through the throngs to the bar and ducked through the service cut out. “What’ll you have?” she asked a guy with a $20 bill in his hand.

Saturday: 8:56pm: Down the block and around the corner from the Dark Horse

“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” Dick asked as he set the brake on Barbara’s manual chair. She grabbed the sides of the chair and swung herself into the seat, placing her feet on the dual platforms. “I’m not at all sure it’s a good idea, but it feels like the right thing to do.” Dick shook his head as he shut her door and locked it, setting the car’s alarm. He hadn’t planned on Helena style fireworks. If I’d known I’d have worn the flame retardant coat. He walked beside Barbara as they moved down the block toward the queue in front of the bar.

Saturday: 9:06pm: Dark Horse

Gabby sipped her Coke as she watched the crowd ebb and flow like a single, live organism. She put her glass down and patted Dinah’s arm, drawing her attention away from the band tuning up on the small stage. “Isn’t that Ms. Gordon?” Gabby gestured toward the front part of the bar’s space. “Who’s the guy with her?”

“Dick Grayson. I’ll be right back,” Dinah got up from her chair, took two steps, and turned back to Gabby. She leaned in and brushed Gabby’s lips with hers. “Have I told you tonight that you smell great?” she whispered in Gabby’s ear after she pulled away. Gabby was left with a rather satisfied smile on her face as she watched Dinah negotiate the crowded floor.

Dinah’s Mona Lisa smile was the first thing Barbara noticed as the teenager pushed through the crowd to where she and Dick had stopped. “Hey Barbara. Hi Dick,” Dinah said, shyness edging into her voice. Dick leaned in and kissed the girl on the cheek. “Dinah.” Carolyn had always been more Barbara’s friend than his when they were all running Gotham’s streets; still Dick felt a swell of uncle-style affection for Dinah. He moved aside to let a couple wearing more leather than he’d seen in a while go by.

“You guys want to join us? We’ve got a table closer to the front.” Dinah tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear.

“We?” Dick asked, looking toward the tables near the front of the stage. He’d been scanning the crowd for Helena since they’d passed through the front door. So far, he hadn’t seen her.

Dinah nodded. “Me and Gabby.” She fervently hoped neither of the two people she was talking with could see the heat that rose to her cheeks. Barbara smiled. “We’d love to.” Dinah led them back to where Gabby waited. Dick pawned the fourth chair off on another group so Barbara could pull up to the table. Dinah made introductions and Dick politely shook Gabby’s hand.

“Hey, Ms. Gordon,” Gabby said. She crunched some ice out of her glass as Dinah sat down next to her. Barbara knew immediately from the girl’s manner that Dinah had told Gabby of their conversation. “You can call me Barbara, Gabby. It’s OK,” she smiled. “What time does this band start, anyway?”

Dinah glanced at her watch. “Soon…hey, grab our waitress, Dick.” Dick signaled for the waitress and she worked her way over to the table. “These guys with you too, Dinah?” Jill asked. “Yep.” Dinah smiled. Jill took their drink orders, two more Cokes for Dinah and Gabby, a rum and Coke for Dick, and a bourbon and Coke for Barbara. Dick held up his credit card. “Can we start a tab?”

Jill shook her head. “No need. The boss says drinks are on the house for Dinah and her friends.”

Barbara couldn’t keep the surprise off her face. “Since when is Leonard randomly comping people drinks?” Jill shot Barbara a quizzical look. She recognized the redhead as a friend of Helena’s. “We’ve been under new management for a few weeks. Let me see if I can get these back to you before the first set starts, OK?” She didn’t wait for an answer. She turned and wound her way through the crowd toward the service area at the bar. Barbara fixed her gaze on Dinah. “Dinah?”

Dinah swallowed hard. “Helena bought the place about a month ago. Leonard moved out west, Tahoe I think.” She sucked the last of her soft drink through the cocktail straw to combat her mouth’s sudden arid quality.

“Really? Well, that’s…good,” Barbara said after the initial wave of surprise loosened its grip on her tongue. She craned her neck and twisted in her chair to try to see the bar over the crowd. “Where is she?”

Dick patted her on the arm. “Up there,” he said as Barbara’s head swiveled around to face front and the stage. The music that had been filling the bar faded out quickly.

Don’t tap on the mic, don’t tap on the mic. “Hey everybody. Thank you all for coming tonight.” Helena smiled out over the crowd from her place in the spotlight. “Though their name means ‘to disappear like smoke’ I don’t think tonight’s band is going anywhere anytime soon. Please welcome Amy Lee, Ben Moody, John LeCompt, and Rocky Gray. You know them better as Evanescence.” The audience roared as the band emerged from the small backstage area and took up their instruments. Ben stopped to give Helena a kiss on the cheek as she moved off stage. Out of the corner of her eye she saw that Dinah and Gabby had picked up two guests at their table. The flash of Barbara’s red hair was unmistakable. Perfect. Just perfect. Helena’s stomach clenched into a knot at the thought of what was to come as she moved through the crowd and back to the bar where she could keep tabs on everything.

About a minute into their third song Dick leaned over, his lips almost brushing Barbara’s ear, and said, “They’re very…loud.”

Barbara laughed. He turned his ear toward her. “Dick Grayson, you don’t have a broody, romantic bone in your body, do you?” Dick shook his head. He glanced over at Dinah and Gabby who seemed fully absorbed in the music. Dinah’s hand rested partly under the table on Gabby’s denim covered thigh. Dick turned toward Barbara again. “Are they?”

Barbara glanced over at the two blondes. Gabby was whispering something in Dinah’s ear and the words were provoking a smile. “Based on the way Dinah’s been acting, I’d say probably not yet, but I’m sure they will, and probably soon.” Barbara laughed as Dick’s cheeks reddened. For all his sexual experience, Barbara was still amazed at how much of a prude Dick could be sometimes. “Listen to the band. They’re better than you think.”

Saturday: 9:37pm: Bond Bread Warehouse

Markus King reactivated the alarm system after the truck driver was safely out of the building. He signaled to the guy driving the forklift. “Take off the top layer. When that’s done, call me.” He stepped into the waiting elevator and swiped his card key to activate express passage to the top floor. Once he was there he swiped his key again and reentered his office.

“How’s it look, Jake?” he asked, thumping his assistant on the shoulder with a massive hand.

“Not bad, boss,” Jake replied. He closed the computer’s security log. “Nothing missing from that break-in Thursday. All the apartments look clean so we can start moving tenants in…day after tomorrow at the latest. I think it was just teenagers looking for a place to party. No more, no less.”

King nodded. Something about the scenario didn’t fit Jake’s theory. Partying kids always left a mess, empty liquor bottles, half-eaten fast food, used condoms, but Thursday night’s guests had done nothing but break in. “Are we still on track for opening night?” Jake asked, pulling Markus out of his internal musings.

Markus’ smile was bright. “We are indeed, my friend. We are indeed. Send out the invitations, and don’t forget the relay maps this time.” Jake nodded and turned back to the computer. He pulled up a database and started setting up the ping relay he’d need to hide the true location of his transmission. Markus sauntered over to the window and looked out over the New Gotham dockyards. Soon, very soon.

Saturday: 9:51pm: Dark Horse

“Thank you very much,” Ben said into the microphone over the audience’s applause. He grinned at Amy. “Before we take a short break we’d like to do a new song. We’ve got the songwriter in the house and we’re hoping you can help us get her out from behind the bar and up on stage to sing.” Ben shaded his hands with his eyes to look deep into the crowd. “C’mon, Helena…don’t get shy on me now.” He jumped when Helena tapped him on the shoulder. The crowded laughed. She smiled at him. “So much for my cool factor,” he said into the mike. The crowd laughed even harder.

Amy squeezed Helena’s hand on her way by as she moved off stage and Helena took the spot behind her mike. Ben, John, and Rocky started the first stanza of the song. Helena stood loose behind the mike, tapping her foot to the beat. As they approached the third stanza, Helena gripped the mike and closed her eyes. Her voice emerged as a smooth mezzo-soprano.

Dear my love, haven’t you wanted to be with me?

And dear my love, haven’t you longed to be free?

I can’t keep pretending that I don’t even know you

And at sweet night, you are my own

Barbara’s eyes were riveted on Helena. She barely registered Dinah turning to look at her as the rhythm guitar swelled and Helena and Ben pushed their way through the chorus. Dick leaned over closer to Barbara’s ear. “Where did she learn to write music?”

“Eight years of piano lessons. Selina insisted,” Barbara replied, not looking away from the stage. Every fiber in Barbara’s being screamed for her to turn and run. She was inside out, her thoughts made visible through the transparent casing of her skull, her feelings writ large on her face and body.

The small analytical part of her that still functioned told Barbara that not everyone in the bar’s confines knew the full story behind the song. The emotional part of her ripped the top off the box where Barbara made it sleep. It stopped briefly as the longing and want flew through her to marvel that the lungs were getting any air at all she felt so breathless. Barbara’s brain engaged and registered the lyrics as Helena swayed in the spotlight.

Come with me

Don’t look back you’re safe now

Unlock your heart

Drop your guard

No one’s left to stop you

Helena opened her eyes as Ben played his way through the guitar solo in the bridge. She flicked her gaze over the crowd. Her enhanced vision allowed her to find Barbara’s face even through the glare of the spotlight and the haze of cigarette smoke. Helena knew her humiliation was complete when she saw Dick look from her to Barbara and back again. Then he leaned over and whispered something in Barbara’s ear. Barbara shook her head, her eyes never leaving Helena.

Ben played the last stanza of the solo in the bridge and Helena turned back to the mic for the final repeat of the song’s chorus.

We’re leaving here tonight

There’s no need to tell anyone

They’d only hold us down

So by the morning’s light

We’ll be halfway to anywhere

Where love is more than just your name

The boys played a repeat of the first two stanzas and the house mixer faded everything out including the stage lights. The crowd screamed its approval, clapping wildly. Ben stepped to Helena. “You did great.”

“Thanks. Do I have to go out there now?” she smiled in spite of the knot in her stomach and a sickly prickling at the back of her neck.

He put his head back and laughed. “Yeah, you do.” He stepped back and pulled his guitar off over his head. He set it on the stand and motioned Helena to precede him off stage to the back. The house mixer brought the lights in the bar up a tiny bit and faded in some instrumental trance music as a sort of aural sorbet between the two sets.

Silence reigned supreme at their table as Dinah and Barbara sat stunned. Barbara turned to Dick. “Order me another drink. I’m going to visit the rest room.” She backed away from the table and excused her way through the crowd that had pushed away from the stage and toward the bar.

Dinah looked at Dick and raised an eyebrow. He nodded slightly. “I’m just going to go see if she needs anything or something.” She slid her chair back and followed the swath Barbara had cut through the crowd. Gabby and Dick both stared at the tabletop for a moment. “So, I’m guessing I sort of missed something here,” Gabby said finally. She fiddled with an abandoned cocktail straw. Dick ran a hand through his short brown hair and blew out a big breath. “Yeah. I think you’re not the only one though.” He turned in his chair and scanned the crowd for their waitress.

Dinah caught up with Barbara in the line for the ladies room. She touched the redhead lightly on the shoulder and Barbara looked up. “Hey,” she said.

“Hey…so that was…” Dinah trailed off. The line moved up as someone exited the restroom and someone else went in. “Yeah, it was,” Barbara replied. Her skin was flushed and her heart beat as quickly as if she’d just run a mile. She wiped her clammy palms on her thighs.

Dinah cleared her throat. “Are you?” Barbara put up her hand. “Fine.” Dinah nodded. “Good. That’s good.” She stared off into space for a few moments. “So, I think I’ll stay at Gabby’s tonight,” Dinah said. Barbara’s nod was small and quick. “Probably a good idea.” They waited silently together for space in the rest room as the line crept forward.

Saturday: 10:17pm: Helena’s apartment

Helena paced the length of the apartment as the baselines from the band’s second set thumped from the bar below. Despite her desire to, Helena couldn’t generate any anger to aim at Dinah. She hadn’t told the kid she might be singing. She hadn’t told her not to invite Barbara. Helena closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Action, not planning, was Helena’s forte.

She continued to pace, bottom lip pulled between her teeth as she wrestled with her next move. She’d never meant for Barbara to hear her feelings set to music. She felt hot and itchy, confined, the urge to get out and get moving almost overwhelming. Helena paced until she heard the melody that meant the band had launched into the second single they’d released from their new album, the last song on their set list. Helena made her decision. She pulled her duster off the peg on the wall and swung it on. She hit the light switch on her way out leaving her apartment completely dark as she shut the door behind her.

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