In A Song (part 7 of 12)

Monday/Tuesday, 4:17am: Clocktower

It was the blurred edges that told Barbara what she saw was part of a dream and not reality, was a dream and not necessarily a memory. The dreamscape always had a hyper-real quality to it: the sound was sharper, the colors more vivid than anything she’d seen. What gave it away, though, was the fact that only those things she looked directly at were in focus. She’d long thought this narrowing of focus was some sort of existential joke, her unconscious mind’s comment on the narrowness of human perspective.

Despite knowing it was a dream, despite having lived through the aftermath of the Joker’s one and only visit, Barbara vibrated with terror as she felt herself twist the knob on her apartment’s front door. Her conscious mind, the part of her watching herself move through the dream, barely had time to register the figure on the other side of the door before she awoke with a start. The small gasp seemed loud in the dark bedroom and Barbara jumped slightly as strong arms tightened their embrace around her.

“Nightmare?” Helena asked, voice thick with disturbed sleep.

Barbara consciously relaxed into the pillow and into Helena’s embrace. “Just a bad dream,” she replied. She glanced at the clock. It had only been about twenty minutes since they’d turned out the light, sated for the time being, their senses filled to the brim with each other. Barbara smiled softly in the dark as she felt Helena’s lips graze her shoulder, her question communicated by touch rather than sound. She laced her fingers between Helena’s and pulled the brunette’s arm tighter into her body. “Go back to sleep, love,” Barbara said quietly.

It wasn’t until Helena’s breathing settled into the even rhythm that meant sleep that Barbara allowed herself to return to the dream’s final image. She’d only gotten a slice, a brief glimpse, but it hadn’t been the Joker’s unruly green curls she’d seen through the open door. Instead, her eyes had lighted upon a very familiar, and deliberately mussed, dark head.

She pushed the image away, knowing that if she let it sit long enough she’d come up with the answer. Barbara closed her eyes and concentrated on relaxing, willing her sleep to be dreamless as it finally settled back over her.

Tuesday, 12:17pm: New Gotham High Cafeteria

“Let her go,” Dinah said quietly.

Chad looked her up and down and laughed. “Or what?”

“I’ll make you very, very sorry,” Dinah replied, her voice even. Out of the corner of her eye Dinah noticed the kids at the adjoining tables moving away slightly while simultaneously forming a circle around the brewing conflict.

Across the cafeteria Barbara put a soft hand of restraint on Jessica Kalen’s forearm as she started to move toward the scene. She turned toward Barbara her eyebrow forming an arch that conveyed her question perfectly.

“Let’s see what happens first,” Barbara said in reply. She was peripherally aware of the warmth of the other woman’s skin under her hand as she watched the scene across the room play out.

Dinah’s gaze sparkled with anger and mistrust as her eyes slid over the two teachers and their proximity to one another as she and Gabby passed by and left the cafeteria.

Jessica watched the two girls out of the room, the desire to make sure the incident didn’t escalate only bolstered by her curiosity about Barbara’s young ward. She dropped her gaze to Barbara’s face and had to suppress a smile; the redhead’s expression betrayed nothing.

Barbara raised her eyebrows. “Sometimes things just work themselves out. You’ll see.”

“I’d better go see if he’s OK. Lunch some other time?” Jessica asked.

Barbara nodded. “Of course.” As Jessica made her way across the lunch room through the dispersing crowd of students Barbara turned to look at the closed cafeteria door, her mind efficiently assembling all the facts she had to build a plan of action.

Tuesday, 1:43pm: Clocktower Kitchen

Helena yawned as she shuffled into the kitchen. She stopped dead in her tracks. There was no coffee. Alfred passed behind her on his way to the table to set down a grocery bag. “There’s no coffee, Miss Helena, because it’s nearly 2pm. If you’ll sit down I’ll fix some, and perhaps a meal for you.”

Helena ran a hand through her hair. Two o’clock…shit. “Thanks, Alfred. Just coffee. I’m late for something.”

“Manicure?” Alfred asked, measuring out coffee grounds. “Fight in a biker bar?”

The brunette laughed. “I wish. Health inspector.” She turned and made her way back to Barbara’s bedroom, stripping off the redhead’s robe as she went for the shower.

Tuesday, 2:47pm: Gabby’s Bedroom

“Sit,” Gabby said, as she turned the knob lock on her bedroom door.

Dinah needed no more encouragement than that. She flopped down on the bed and lay back, long legs dangling at the knee off the bed’s edge. She felt drained both physically and emotionally, the long nights of IMing were taking their toll. Top that fatigue off with the mental gymnastics she’d been doing since lunch and Dinah was wiped.

She tried to shove the dread she felt to the back of her mind, letting it drift away as she felt sleep take hold. She felt soft hands urge her up and fully onto the bed, but her descent into dreamland was well and truly on its way as she complied with a mumble. She was asleep completely when Gabby lay down beside her and pulled a light blanket over the both of them.

Gabby smiled as Dinah rolled into the crook of her arm, muttering something unintelligible. Thank God for the disco nap. She smiled softly as she leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes.

Tuesday, 3:36pm: New Gotham High Guidance Counselor’s Office

Jessica Kalen opened the file folder and skimmed the school’s standard intake form. No mention of Carolyn Lance. How interesting. The thought of the tall blonde combined with the recent, still felt tingle Barbara’s hand on her arm brought back for Jessica memories that were more than a dozen years old, memories of warm summer nights and the lingering smell of vanilla.

She shook her head and refocused her attention on the thin file’s contents, reading the documents carefully as part of her brain wondered just how much Barbara knew about the girl living under her roof.

Tuesday, 6:52pm: Clocktower Main Room

“Well, I think the kid’s got class,” Helena said, balancing a floppy disk on one corner on the end of her finger. “Me, I woulda just broken his nose.”

Barbara shook her head, not taking her eyes of the monitor in front of her. “That’s what worries me. I think that was her next move.”

Helena palmed the disk and placed it on the stack from which she’d taken it. “Are you saying I’m a bad influence?” She rubbed the backs of her fingers against Barbara’s bare shoulder.

“I’m saying that how you use your powers can more easily pass for enraged teenager. With Dinah, it’s a little bit more difficult to explain how you picked a book up and floated it across the room,” Barbara replied as she noted a slight quickening in her pulse in response to Helena’s touch.

“Or how, without every laying a hand on him, you choked the guy who was about to do god knows what do your girlfriend,” Helena said as she watched her fingers brush over Barbara’s skin. She shook her head.

The hot rush of anger at the idea of anyone hurting Barbara was no different than what she’d felt BEFORE, and she did think of it in all capital letters in much the same way she thought of the time prior to her mother’s death, or the time before Harley Quinn; the difference since she’d become Barbara’s lover was the tinge of righteousness Helena felt along with the desire to protect. Before, she would have done it out of love because it had to be done. After, Helena felt the weight of justification, of purpose.

“Have you heard a word I’ve said?” Barbara asked with amusement.

Helena looked up to find the redhead watching her with a level gaze. “No.” Barbara was about to speak when they both heard the elevator doors slide open. Dinah’s greeting was quiet but not timid.

“Hey,” she said, stepping up onto the Delphi’s platform.

Helena grinned. “I hear you had quite the day at school today young lady.”

“Helena,” Barbara said softly. The edge of command in Barbara’s voice earned her a sharp look from the brunette which she pretended not to notice as she focused on the teenager standing before her. “You look like you got some sleep, Dinah,” Barbara said.

Dinah nodded and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Disco nap. I’m up and ready for sweeps tonight,” she said, trying on a smile. It felt as fake as she was sure it looked.

“You want to explain what happened in the cafeteria today?” Barbara asked with a tilt of her head and a raised eyebrow.

The teenager shrugged to cover the shock she felt. The lecture she’d expected, to be chastised and treated like a kid and she’d been ready to strike back, to ask some pointed questions about Barbara’s “old friend” but she felt the energy draining out of her in the face of the redhead’s calm reason. “Not particularly,” she said after a short pause.

Barbara sighed and pulled off her glasses, rubbing the bridge of her nose in frustration. “Do I have to tell you what the ramifications are of today’s little stunt?” She put her glasses back on only to find Dinah’s jaw set in a stubborn line she recognized immediately as a gift from her mother; Carolyn’s expression had been the same whenever she was completely convinced she was in the right.

“Chad Murphy’s an ass and he needs to learn to keep his hands to himself,” Dinah said. “And he’s not the only one who needs that particular lesson.”

The redhead’s reply was cut off by a soft noise uttered specifically when the utterer wants attention but doesn’t want to intrude. All three women turned to look at Alfred. “Dinner is ready whenever you’re done here.”

“Thank you, Alfred,” Barbara said. She flicked her gaze back to Dinah only to find herself looking at the teenager’s retreating back. She let out a groan of frustration.

“What the hell did that mean, ‘he’s not the only one’?” Helena asked as Dinah slammed her bedroom door.

Barbara looked at Helena, puzzlement obvious on her features. “I don’t have a clue.” She turned back to the Delphi at its beep, fully immersed in seconds in whatever data stream she’d had it flag. Helena stared at the redhead a moment longer and then turned back to consider Dinah’s closed bedroom door, wheels starting to move inside her own head.

Tuesday, 9:23pm, Bond Bread Warehouse

“This is not what I wanted to hear, Jess,” Marcus King said as he stared out over the lights of New Gotham. Jessica Kalen raised her eyebrows in surprise. “But,” King continued. “I’d rather hear the ugly truth than a pretty lie. Suggestions?” He turned to face the three people in his office. Even though he couldn’t see Nicky Street, King knew he was there.

Jessica grinned. The expression was all teeth and not one you’d want to meet in a dark alley. “There’s always a couple of ways to do things, Marcus. Are you looking for permanent removal of the opposition, or simply a short term diversion?”

“We’ll need the diversion anyway,” Jake said. “We’ve got 142 confirmations and all the usual maybes.”

It was King’s turn to look surprised. Over a hundred confirmations in less than 48 hours was a record. “Declines?”

Jake shook his head. “None so far.”

“Keep going with plan A for now. Bring me some options for clearing a path for a permanent base here,” King said, looking Jessica in the eye. “Options first, then we move forward.”

Nicky dropped softly off the wall just behind Jessica as she exited the office. “It will be difficult to eliminate her permanently. She’s not working alone.”

Jessica nodded as she flashed on the scene between Dinah and Chad Murphy. “Everyone has a weakness. We find it, we exploit it. It’s really pretty simple.”

Nicky nodded as he followed his sister down the stairs. Something told him simple and the fighter he’d seen in the alley very rarely intersected.

Tuesday/Wednesday, 12:03am: Business District

“Spill,” Helena said, still scanning the street in front of them.

Dinah looked straight head, not daring to glance the brunette’s way. “Nothing to spill. Chad Murphy’s an ass. He shouldn’t have touched Gabby like that.” And Ms. Kalen’s getting awful handsy too. Dinah had seen the way the auburn haired woman had reached out to touch Barbara and she wasn’t sure what bothered her more, that Ms. Kalen had felt comfortable enough to reach out like that in such a public place or the look of flattered pleasure she’d seen wash Barbara’s features before she’d been distracted.

Helena sighed. “Dinah, you’ve got to be careful about how you use your powers. Think before you act. OK, what’s so funny?” she asked over the teen’s loud giggles.

“You, Miss Poor Impulse Control five years running…you’re telling me to think before I act?” Dinah laughed again, not caring if she attracted the attention of any of the violent element that might be skulking around. She had an excess of nervous energy from the scene in the cafeteria but she’d slept so long at Gabby’s there hadn’t been time for anything else that might drain off some of that energy. Gabby had just laughed and pushed her out the door at her half-hearted suggestion they go for something quick.

Despite being mocked, Helena had to grin. “Yeah, OK, I got it. Look, Red may be a little over-cautious but in some ways she’s right. Or have you forgotten what it was like in Opal?”

Dinah blushed hot and quick, shame and anger mixed together in equal parts. “I’ll never forget that,” she replied, her voice quiet. “So you’re saying I should hide, is that it? Pretend I’m something I’m not?”

“I’m not saying that at all,” Helena said with a shake of her head. “I’m just saying that before you go all ‘underling you have disobeyed me, feel my wrath’ with that power of yours make sure you can trust the person you’re taking the risk for.”

“I want to tell her,” Dinah blurted before her brain had time to censor her mouth. “I want to tell Gabby everything.”

Helena stopped and turned toward Dinah, laying her hand on Dinah’s arm. “Whoa, back up…everything? Like what everything?”

“Me, my mom, the whole meta-human thing, my life,” Dinah said, swallowing hard. “Everything.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

Helena felt her stomach flip over. She knew the impulse keenly, how good it felt to be able to tell someone you trusted the truth about your life. She also knew how badly it could backfire when that trust was misplaced. “That one you’re going to have to run by Oracle. You know how dangerous letting an outsider in can be.”

Dinah nodded, embarrassment keeping the color in her cheeks. She hadn’t considered how the rest of her family might feel, only the practical ramifications. “She’s going to find out about me eventually anyway, whether I like or not,” Dinah said finally.

“Oh?” Helena said, eyebrows raised. She started walking again. Dinah kept pace.

The blonde tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear. “Yeah. I…uh…the last time we…you know…” she said, blushing hard at Helena’s knowing smile. “I levitated the dresser. I don’t think I’m gonna be able to control that any time soon.”

Helena’s laugh was loud and full and it echoed off the darkened office buildings. “How much?”

“Let’s just say that since earthquakes aren’t a regular event here, I’m running out of cover stories,” Dinah said as Helena’s stride and posture shifted slightly. “What is it?”

“You see them?” the brunette asked. “By the mail box…”

Dinah nodded. “And the other in the shadow. Yeah.” She reached up and activated her comm set. “We have company, Oracle. We may need some police in a few.”

< No problem, Canary. Just sing out when you want them called. >

The women both groaned as they moved forward into the killing box the thugs had set up.

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