The thing is Helena isn’t used to fighting alongside other people. She’s not used to having someone else watch her back while she lines up her shots or help patch her up after a fight turns nasty. She’s never had people to make plans with, or compare strategies or drink coffee with in the early hours of the morning while staking out some scumbag’s million-dollar high rise.
It’s…well those parts are pretty nice.
What’s not so nice is suddenly having to be aware of her peripherals in close quarter combat. Helena has always operated on the principle that in a fight, whatever gets too close is going down. So when she throws back her elbow in the middle of a scrum and hears Dinah yelp behind her, there’s a horrible moment of confusion before it dawns on Helena what’s happened.
When she turns around and sees Dinah clutching her nose, she pretty much forgets about the fight altogether.
“Oh god, fuck, sorry, are you okay?” she says, fluttering kind of helplessly and the mobster she was taking on takes his opportunity to pull out his gun.
“Huntress!” Dinah snaps and Helena reacts almost a second too late, whipping the gun out of his hand and sending an arrow through his shoulder. While he’s swearing and clutching at the fresh wound, Dinah knocks him out with a clean blow to the head.
She’s grimacing as she does it, all sharp white teeth and coiled muscle, and Helena just stands there, feeling utterly helpless watching her, feeling like she’s the one being knocked out cold.
“Don’t worry about it kid. These things happen,” Dinah says, flashing her a grin and wiping the blood from her nose with the back of her hand. “You pack a hell of a punch though, fuck.”
“I’m sorry,” Helena says faintly but it’s really hard to hear over the sound of her heartbeat. There’s blood on Canary’s chin and lips and she’s already scanning the room for the next target. All around them the fight is still raging but for a moment Helena feels like everything slows to a crawl.
She wants to wipe the blood away. The thought comes to her very suddenly and simply and maybe it shouldn’t feel like a revelation, but it is. Helena thinks it might be the first time in her life she’s wanted to touch someone not to hurt them or to cause them pain, but to remove it.
Then Renee starts yelling at them to get their asses in gear, and everything suddenly speeds up and the rest of the night is reloading and running along rooftops and the thrill of the hunt.
It ends up like it usually does, with the three of them trudging through Gotham streets in the early morning bitching about their sore muscles and comparing bruises. Or at least, that’s what the other two are doing; Helena is too busy trying not to look at the dried blood on Canary’s hand. They head back to Renee’s flat, which has become their unofficial HQ, but tonight Dinah only stays for one drink before heading back to her apartment. Renee goes to bed not long after that and then it’s just Helena, sitting on the couch she’s been crashing on for month now, still filthy and bloodstained, and too wired to sleep.
She takes a shower instead, running the water a little too hot and zoning out with her forehead pressed up against the tiled wall. There’s a running track playing in her head. Dinah looking up at her from under dark lashes. Saying, don’t worry about it kid. Don’t worry about it.
It should bother her to be called ‘kid’, especially because Helena is pretty sure she’s older than Dinah, and it does bother her, only not in a way where she’s pissed off. She replays the memory again and this time when Dinah says it she’s stepping closer, tilting up her head. And Helena doesn’t hold herself back this time, she’s stepping closer too and holding her hand up to the curve of Dinah’s cheek and saying, I’m sorry, I don’t want to hurt you.
And then…and then….
Helena jerks up her head up, eyes wide, taking in a ragged breath. She turns off the shower with a shaking hand and steps out into the steam. When she rubs a hole in the fog on the bathroom mirror her face is pink and flushed. She avoids eye contact, goes to bed and doesn’t wake up till three in the afternoon the next day.
So that’s how it starts really. It only gets worse from there.
Helena has always been objectively aware that Dinah was attractive. That would be hard to miss. But now it’s like that information is suddenly so much more than a stark fact. The reality of Dinah’s beauty is everywhere, impossible to escape. It's in the way she rolls her eyes and makes faces at the tv screen when they watch the nightly crime report on tv. It's in the way she takes her time lacing up her boots before a fight. It's in the way she talks with her mouth full when they meet up for dinner at their usual 24/7 diner with the sticky formica tabletops. Everything about her is suddenly of a new, intense interest to Helena. She finds herself wondering what Dinah does when she's alone in her apartment. What kind of music she listens to. If she has enough locks on the door. If she's eating.
At first Helena thinks about trying to avoid her, but that's pretty impossible at this point. Not just because of the time they spend together as the Birds of Prey. Dinah had a new job now, as a singer in another nightclub and while this one is less crime infested, it's just as, if not more, sleazy. Back when Dinah had first started, Helena had taken to hanging around in the bar in her free time to watch the show (and maybe not so subtly keep an eye on the other patrons). After about a month of this Dinah’s new boss had taken her aside and told her that if her scary looking friend wasn’t going to go away anytime soon, would she at least like to get paid for the trouble and take over one of the bouncer spots?
Helena had said yes, mostly because she was broke, so now she worked five nights a week at the Midnight Club, breaking up fights and packing drunks off in taxicabs. It's an easy job, even if it doesn't pay well and it means she can watch Dinah sing from the dark spot at the back wall.
This had worked pretty well up until now, especially on the nights where Renee would join them for a drink while the bar closed up around them. But now that Helena is actively trying to avoid romantic situations, it's a lot harder spending most nights watching Dinah croon love songs in a spotlight.
Helena spends three days like this and despite being a little more vicious when it comes to carding people at the entrance, she thinks that overall she's handling it pretty well. She tries very hard to be polite and respectful and a professional teammate.
She pines a little bit maybe, but that's okay.
Then one morning she wakes up on Renee’s couch to find Dinah standing over her, wearing shades and a look of grim determination.
“We’re getting coffee,” Dinah tells her coldly. “My treat.”
“I have coffee here,” Helena says blearily, confused and wishing she wasn’t wearing baggy boxers and a t-shirt with a cartoon character on it.
“Do you have iced hazelnut latte’s?” Dinah asks, crossing her arms. “Or that disgusting instant powder shit?”
Helena wants to say it wasn’t that disgusting, but she had been brought up on freshly roasted beans so she just admits defeat and goes to gets changed.
When she comes out of the bathroom, Dinah tosses over the keys to Helena’s bike and says, “You’re driving.”
“We need to drive to find good coffee?” Helena asks but she obediently follows Dinah downstairs and out to the alley where her bike is stowed away.
“Nah, not really," Dinah says and fishes out the passenger’s helmet kept under the seat. “But I feel like going fast today.”
Helena isn’t sure if it’s the way that Dinah grins as she says it or the easy way she handles Helena’s bike, like it’s second nature to her now, but either way her stomach gives another of those funny little flips.
It makes her grateful for the layer of the heavy leather jacket between them as they set off, Dinah holding tight onto her waist. With the helmets on, Helena doesn’t have to worry about whatever her face might be doing but she’s still worried that Dinah might somehow feel how loudly her heart is beating.
She follows Dinah’s directions to a tiny little hole-in-the-wall café in a quiet and almost forgotten little neighborhood tucked behind the Gotham financial district. A flaked paint sign over the door reads, Taste of Napoli.
Helena gives the sign a doubtful look as they park and walk in but inside the smell of freshly made cannoli makes her mouth water, even if the place itself is a little dingy and run down.
“This place? Are you sure?” Helena asks just to be safe. “If you want an iced latte you’d be better off going to Starbucks.”
She tries to suppress the shudder as she says this which Dinah notices and smirks at.
“What you think my tastes aren’t refined enough?” Dinah asks and then laughs when she sees the stricken expression on Helena’s face. “I’m kidding. I’ll find us a table while you order.”
Helena looks around doubtfully at the deserted café but nods anyway. “What do you want?”
“Surprise me,” Dinah says and the tip of her tongue is caught between her teeth when she grins.
Helena nods stiffly and when she turns to the bar she has to take a couple of deep breaths.
When she comes back to the sunlight table Dinah has chosen by the window, she puts the tray down with more force than is perhaps necessary. The plate with the two cannoli on it rattles, which draws more attention to them than Helena wants. She hadn’t meant to order them in the first place but the smell was too good. She picks up her espresso and drinks it too quickly to cover up her embarrassment and it burns her mouth.
Dinah is inspecting her own drink.
“You found me an iced latte after all,” she says wryly and Helena scowls.
“It’s called a caffe shakerato,” she says brusquely. “It’s espresso, syrup and ice. You’ll like it.”
It comes out as more of an order than a recommendation and Helena winces internally. She wishes suddenly and almost desperately that she could just relax.
But Dinah doesn’t seem to mind, just shrugging and taking a sip, looking pleasantly surprised by the taste.
“Not bad,” she says, looking faintly impressed and Helena feels ridiculously proud of herself for a moment before she clamps down on it.
“So why are we here,” she says, clearing her throat and leaning across the table. “Is this place a front for something? Gun runners? Drugs? Who are we staking out?”
Dinah lets out a short bark of a laugh and then suddenly seems to realise Helena is serious.
“Oh fuck, no, this is just coffee,” she says, holding up her hands. “No crime involved. I just wanted to um, have a chat.”
Helena blinks and then narrows her eyes. “A chat?”
“Yeah,” Dinah says. “A check in.”
She looks at the expression on Helena’s face and tilts her head to the side.
“You don’t have to look so suspicious,” she says wryly. “I’m not trying to corner you into talking about your feelings.”
Helena feels pretty cornered, but she tries not to let it show so much.
“I’m fine,” she blurts out. “What feelings? I don’t really have any right now. Bad ones, I mean.”
She snaps her mouth shut and wants to die while Dinah just raises one eyebrow.
“Uh-huh. I just noticed you’ve been a little… off lately. I mean it’s not like you’re that chatty normally but me and Renee both know you’ve been avoiding us.”
“I haven’t been avoiding you. I got to work. I’m there for our…missions.” Helena says the last part in an undertone, eyes darting around to catch anyone listening in.
“Yeah but then you disappear the rest of the time!” Dinah says, picking up a cannoli and biting into it in frustration. “We don’t even know what you’re doing, if you’re riding around on your bike or brooding on some rooftop.”
Helena scowls again because that’s exactly what she’s been doing and she hates that she’s that transparent. That and visiting the pet shop two block away because looking at the turtles calms her down.
“I’m fine,” she says again. “Just busy. You have a life outside of this too don’t you?”
Helena says it in a mean way, she’s trying to pick a fight but Dinah doesn’t rise to the bait. Instead she just shrugs and takes another bite of cannoli.
“Not really,” she admits. “A few friends but not many. I drove a lot of people away. Before I met you guys I was kind of an angry person, believe it or not. This is delicious by the way.”
Helena watches her lick away a stray smear of ricotta on her fingertip and feels suddenly deflated.
“I never had any friends before you,” she says quietly and reaches for the pastry so she doesn’t have to meet Dinah’s eyes. But when she stretches out her hand, Dinah takes it, very warm on the sunlight tabletop. Dinah squeezes and Helena looks up at her, knowing that her face was going red.
“You know, the good thing about having friends is that you aren’t alone with your problems anymore,” Dinah says slowly, not letting go. “I know what it’s like to spend your whole life mourning family. I know what it’s like to be obsessed with revenge. And when you get it? I know it must be hard to know what to do next. What your purpose is.”
Helena finds it all at once very difficult to breathe. She freezes up and Dinah just smiles sadly at her and lets go of her hand.
“Okay, I’m done for now,” she says, taking a swig of her coffee. “Just wanted to let you know. If you want to talk about, fuck, I don’t know, anything. I’m your girl.”
Helena thinks about this all through the ride back (I’m your girl, I’m your girl) and she thinks about it that night when they’re breaking up a human trafficking ring that night (I’m your girl) and she thinks about it when she’s finally back on the couch at 5am and unable to sleep .
I’m your girl. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a thing people say.
Helena gives up in the end and gets out an old notebook that she used to write the names of her family’s killers in and sits at the kitchen table to wait for Renee to wake up.
By the time she does its noon and Helena has already gone through three bowls of cereal and twenty pages of notes. She’s convinced she’s almost cracked it though; even though her eyes are stinging from tiredness and her hair is a mess because she keeps running her hands through it.
She must look frightening if the sharp gasp that Renee makes is any indication.
“Jesus,” Renee says. “Have you slept at all?”
Helena looks up blearily from her notes and when she speaks it comes out raspy.
“So,” she starts. “I might have a problem. “
“Dinah said this might happen,” Renee mutters under her breath before taking a breath and slumping down in the seat across the table. “Okay so what’s the issue? You have a new target?”
“No,” Helena says miserably. “I think I’m in love.”
“Oh,” Renee says, blinking and sitting back. “Oh. That’s…not what we- what I was expecting. Who’s the lucky er…”
“Girl,” Helena says and then reflexively, “Woman.”
Renee narrows her eyes. “If you think just because I’m gay, that means I can dish out wise lesbian advice then I hate to tell you kid, but most of my relationships have ended pretty shittily.”
“You’re gay?” Helena asks and Renee gives her an odd look.
“You didn’t know?” she asks and Helena just shrugs.
“I’m not…always good at picking up on cues,” she admits, and Renee gives her a tired smile.
“No kidding,” she says. “So it’s Canary right?”
Helena flushes. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“You know like three people in this city and unless you’re confessing to me…oh fuck wait it’s not Quinn is it? Please tell me it’s not Quinn.”
“No!” Helena yelps and then says quickly, “Fine, yes, it’s Dinah.”
“Thank god,” Renee says with feeling, “I mean I know Harley’s not all bad but believe me you don’t want to get mixed up in that.”
Helena gives a heartfelt nod. She actually secretly thinks Harley is kind of cool but the whole city had nearly burnt down as a result of her last breakup.
“So what?” Renee says, smothering a yawn and looking annoyingly nonchalant about the whole thing. “You want advice on asking her out?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know,” Helena says and then buries her head in her hands. “Do you think that’s even something she’d be open to?”
“What?” Renee says. “You’re all muffled.”
“I said,” Helena tries again. “Do you think that might be something she’d be open to?”
There’s a real danger that her face might just catch fire and melt off at this point.
“Hmm,” Renee muses, scratching her stomach. “Dating? Maybe. Dating girls? Sure.”
“Yeah, I think so. Bi at least,” Renee says. “An ex-girlfriend of mine once dated this flight attendant, Tiffany, who used to go out with Dinah for a while, I think. The Gotham lesbian scene is pretty small.”
“Doesn’t that get, uh…”
“Complicated? Oh yeah,” Renee says grimly. “But whatever, my point is Dinah would probably be up for that. Have you talked to her about it?”
“No!” Helena says, feeling shocked. “Of course not. I don’t know, I mean where would I start? How would I even… I made some notes.”
“Notes?” Renee echoes, looking amused. “You don’t need notes to ask someone out. Is this your first time having feelings for a woman?”
Helena just looks at her and sees the comprehension dawn.
“The first time having feelings for anyone?” Renee says, eyes wide. “What about crushes? What did you do when you were a teenager?”
“Mostly martial arts,” Helena says, feeling miserable again. She puts her head down on the table and lets her forehead rest against its cool, slightly sticky surface. After a moment she feels a hand pat her lightly on the top of her head. It’s a little awkward but nice. Comforting even.
“Okay I’m gonna make us some coffee,” she hears Renee say. “And then we’re gonna sit down and have a look at these notes of yours.”
“Thank you,” Helena tells the tabletop. She’s so fucking tired.
Renee scans through her scrawled notes with a poker face, only occasionally lifting an eyebrow or making little ‘huh’ noises in the back of her throat. Helena tries not to make it too obvious she’s watching, choking down the disgusting black instant and wondering if a fourth bowl of cereal is justified. She really wants to be doing something with her hands, like maybe dismantling and cleaning her crossbow, but the others have banned her from doing that in casual situations.
Finally, Renee looks up and says, “So there’s a lot going on here. I see you made a list of ‘reasons not to like B.C. “
“Yes,” Helena says seriously. “It’s all the reasons that she’s a bad person to be attached to. I thought I wrote out all her flaws then maybe I could be more objective.”
“Mm,” Renee hums. “I see the thought process. Why is it blank?”
“Well I couldn’t think of any,” Helena admits.
“Any? You couldn’t think of any flaws?” Renee says in disbelief. “She talks with her mouth full all the time! She’s always laughing at her own jokes and most of them aren’t even funny!”
“I like those things,” Helena say stubbornly. “I think her jokes are funny.”
“Then you must really be in love,” Renee mutters. “Okay, okay what about this list. What to do.”
“The way I see it, I have three options,” Helena says.
“Number one,” Renee reads aloud, “Say nothing. Leave the country and break off all contact. Start new life. Number two: Confess feelings. Leave country and break off all contact. Number three: stop having feelings.”
Helena nods, grimly.
“Don’t you think these are all a bit dramatic?” Renee asks and then rolls her eyes, “Fuck, I forgot who I was talking to. Listen, Helena, can I suggest solution four? Make some moves. See if she’s interested. Maybe at some point ask her out. If she says no, then it’s fine. If you aren’t a dick about it then she won’t be either.”
“You think?” Helena asks, feeling a faint glimmer of hope. “What if she hates me?”
“She won’t hate you, I promise,” Renee says and then smiles in the way where her eyes crease up a little at the corners. “And stop all this shit about leaving the country. I just got used to you.”
Helena has never ‘made a move’ before. She’s not even sure what a move is and when she had asked Renee the only advice was that she should ‘make her interest clear’. Internet research had been much more in depth but also much more confusing (and a large part of it pornographic in nature). There’s a few things that people seem to agree on though. Chocolate. Flowers. Poems.
The first one is pretty easy. They’re staking out the apartment of a potential killer (maybe for the mob or maybe just for fun) and all three of them are bored, sitting around in the hotel room across the street. Renee is at the window with the binoculars and Dinah is sprawled out on the couch next to Huntress, flicking through Chinese takeout menus.
“I’m not even hungry,” Dinah says. “I’m just bored. Do you want beef or chicken?”
Helena suddenly seizes her moment and clears her throat carefully.
“Canary,” she says carefully, because they always use their code names in costume. “I have some chocolates with me. Would you like them?”
Dinah gives her an odd look but says, “Sure dude, thanks.”
She looks a bit more surprised when Helena takes out the box, carefully wrapped in purple tissue paper but her eyes light up when she opens it up and sees inside.
“Holy shit, this is nice stuff,” she says and then yells over to Renee, “Hey, Huntress brought goodies with her!”
“Could we please try and have some semblance of professionalism,” Renee grouses but she gives Helena a thumbs up when Dinah is looking away. Helena returns it, smiling a little shyly.
The chocolates taste good, even if they end up sharing them between them. Dinah smiles a lot when she eats them; Helena considers her first move a success.
The flowers don’t really work so well.
The issue might have been overthinking. Helena knew vaguely that flowers had some complicated code to them and wanted to find the right message. She also wanted it to be purple because, well, Helena liked purple.
She agonized for ages over how to present the flowers, because once the florist actually handed them over, Helena started to think maybe the whole thing was more embarrassing than anything else. Her impulse normally would be to just walk up to Dinah and thrust them in her face but from her research online, Helena knew that more subtlety was probably called for. If Dinah had a dressing room at the club, then the flowers could have been left for her there, but the place was a little too sleazy for that; normally Dinah got ready for her act hunched over the sink in the ladies room trying to apply mascara under the flickering fluorescent lighting.
So instead Helena leaves the flowers outside the door of Dinah’s apartment. She’s a little worried someone will steal them or step on them or something but overall, she’s pretty pleased with herself. Helena isn’t a great judge of this kind of thing, but she thinks they look very pretty; thin green steams and the dark purple of the satiny petals.
That night around 11PM Dinah bursts through the door of Renee’s flat holding the bouquet in one hand, hair flying and eyes wild.
“I think someone’s trying to kill me,” she announces to Renee and Helena, who are eating Chinese takeaway on the couch.
“Okay,” Renee says slowly, taking another bite of her chow mein. “Why?”
“Look what was left outside my door,” Dinah says roughly, brandishing the bouquet like it’s a dead rat. “Lilies. For funerals. Someone’s trying to send me a message. The motherfuckers know where I live.”
Renee says nothing but her eyes slide over to Helena who is trying to keep her face very, very still.
“Lilies mean death?” Helena says and then clears her throat. “Even, uh, purple ones? Because I heard they represent-“
“It could be the Falcone’s,” Dinah is muttering to herself, pacing back and forth across the carpet. “Or the Maroni’s- this seems like their sort of fucked up calling card. Or fuck, maybe even Ivy, flowers are her sort of thing. Isn’t her middle name Lillian? Is it a code?”
“They’re quite pretty though,” Helena tries to say, feeling a little helpless. “Maybe someone just thought you would like them.”
“It could just be a nice gesture,” Renee says, and Helena shoots her a grateful look.
“This is Gotham,” Dinah snarls. “No one here is fucking nice.”
“Calm down,” Renee says. “Have a prawn cracker.”
“I’m having a goddamn drink,” Dinah says with feeling, tossing the flowers into the sink and disappearing into the kitchen.
Renee looks over at Helena who is trying very hard to sink through the couch cushions and disappear.
“Could you have picked a less evil looking flower?” Renee asks and Helena scowls down at her tofu and beef.
“I thought they were nice,” she says defensively, and then Dinah comes out with three glasses and a bottle of scotch. It turns out to be a slow crime night in Gotham that night, which is probably for the best because they all get horribly drunk.
Helena would have written off the whole situation as a disaster but for the fact that, somewhere around the third round, Dinah leans over and puts her arm around Helena’s shoulders and says drunkenly into her ear, “They are kind of pretty I guess. My mom liked lilies.”
Dinah is so close that Helena can smell the whiskey on her breath. She’s very aware that if she turned her head at just the right angle then their noses would be brushing up against each other.
“I think they mean admiration,” Helena tries to say but she isn’t sure if Dinah hears her.
They mean a lot of things; royalty and success and privilege. It wasn’t a very precise code. They meant passion too.
Renee vetoes the poetry entirely.
“It’s not that it’s bad…” she says, obviously trying hard to be tactful. “It’s just a little…much.”
“You don’t like my rhyme schemes?” Helena says, trying not to glower. “I did research.”
Renee flips through the notebook with the same intense expression that Helena has seen her use on corkboards covered with crime photos and red wool. The two of them are sitting on a bench in the park, because for once the sun was shining in Gotham. Everyone around them is wearing short sleeves which Helena finds insane because it’s barely past February and still freezing to her.
“No, no, it’s very uh, technically good. I guess,” Renee says. “I never really read this sort of stuff. But the imagery is kinda-“
“Is it too obvious? Should I take out the part about how good she is at kicking things?”
“I actually like that part,” Renee says, rubbing a hand over her forehead. “But what’s all this stuff about birds singing in the forest…the hunter has become the hunted…”
“You don’t like that line?” Helena says, her face falling. She had been rather proud of it.
“I just mean it’s little violent,” Renee sighs. “You keep on talking about getting skewered by arrows. I’m not sure that’s as romantic as you think it is.”
“Arrows are romantic,” Helena mutters darkly. “It’s a metaphor.”
Renee throws down the notebook on the bench next to her and gives her a long-suffering look.
“Listen,” she says. “I think maybe I gave you bad advice. All this courting shit- maybe you don’t need it. Maybe you should just tell her how you feel. Not with poetry. Keep it simple.”
Helena looks at the park full of couples and playing children and tries not to feel terrified. She’s only been in Gotham a short while but it still amazes her how in the middle of all the masked crusaders and homicidal clowns, for most people, life just went on like normal.
“Yeah,” she says, steeling herself. “Yeah. I’ll tell her tonight.”
In the end she doesn’t get the chance; she doesn’t even get near the subject because just when everything is going smoothly on their normal patrol they stumble into the middle of a gunfight between two of Gotham’s nastiest crime families.
Helena was tempted to let them sort it out between themselves except for the fact that it was slap bang in the middle of Gotham’s busiest clubbing neighborhoods and street was packed with nightlife. Renee takes point on herding screaming clubbers off the street while Canary and Huntress work on breaking up the fight.
Whatever score it is that the mob is settling it must be a nasty one; neither side seem to care about running out of bullets.
“Where the fuck are the police?” Canary yells in the middle of delivering an uppercut. “Or Batman?”
“Too far away,” Helena says through gritted teeth as she shoots a bolt into the shoulder of a man who groans and drops his semiautomatic.
They’re back to back under the awning of a cinema and fighting in that almost choreographed way they’re used to by now; Huntress taking long range and Canary close combat.
It seems to be working or at least the gunshots are getting less frequent and Huntress is just lining up her next shot when she feels a burst of hot white pain in her upper back. At first she thinks someone’s gotten close enough to land a punch and then the pain spreads and she cries out, dropping to her knees.
“Huntress?” Canary says and then she’s dropping down beside Helena where she’s curled up on the pavement. “Helena!”
Helena can hear the fear in her voice and wants to say something to reassure her but it’s hard to think over the pain; it feels like it’s a vice closing around her lungs and it’s all she can do to take a raspy breath, thinking, punctured lung? Broken ribs? Too high for the heart…
“Huntress!” Canary is shouting and the mobsters have taken notice now, they’re pressing in around them and Huntress need to stand up, needs to help Dinah, there’s too many of them.
Then she feels Dinah’s lean in close and brush the hair away from her ear, whispering, “It’s okay, you’re gonna be okay, just hold on alright?”
Then Dinah’s hands cover Helena’s ears, so tight it’s almost painful, and then the screaming starts.
Helena is protected from the worst of the blast but even so, she must black out because the next thing she is aware of is the sound of a siren and blue light flashing on the puddles in front of her. She groans and realizes she’s moving; half stumbling, half carried between two shorter figures through a dark and stinking alleyway.
“Did we win?” she asks blearily and to her left she hears Renee snort in an out-of-breath kind of way.
“Canary fucking won. Took them all out in one go,” she says. “How are you doing sleeping beauty?”
“Everything hurts,” Helena says. “But I don’t think my lung has collapsed so it should be, ah, fine.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Dinah says from her other side. “Just hold on okay, we’re getting you to a hospital.”
“Dinah!” Helena says, feeling woozy from blood loss and strangely giddy. “You didn’t faint this time?”
“Not even a little bit,” Dinah says. “But shut up okay? Save your energy.”
She sounds frayed at the edges but more than that, she sounds fond and Helena smiles in her general direction a little dopily.
“Okay,” she says. “I’m proud of you.”
The last thing she hears is Dinah give this strange little choked laugh, like she isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, and then it’s all rainy back alleys and pain and finally the bright white lights of the hospital.
When Helena wakes up about six hours later, Dinah is sitting in a chair pulled up to the bed with her head down on the blanket. She’s snoring heavily and her hair is all messed up from the awkward angle and for a moment Helena just sits there looking at her.
Helena feels nothing but exhausted and there’s a new and itchy bandage between her shoulder blades that tugs at her every time she moves. She wants a fresh dose of painkillers but also she never wants to move from this spot, ever again.
When Renee finally appears in the doorway and smiles, Helena almost wants to tell her to go away, come back later. But instead she just asks softly in a voice that sounds like sandpaper, “Will I still be able to use the crossbow?”
“In a week or so,” Renee says. “If Dinah lets you. It’s lucky you don’t have a bow and arrow.”
“Bows are stupid,” Helena tells her. “Very impractical.”
Renee smiles at her, looking relieved and very tired. “We booked you under the name of Henrietta Martins. Hope you don’t mind the shitty alias- I’ve never been good at them. Doc says they can let you out tomorrow.”
Helena nods. “You two should go home. Get some sleep.”
Dinah wakes up at that point to start arguing but both she and Renee are dropping on their feet and so, not long after that they head off, on the provision that Helena doesn’t do anything stupid like start a fight or try and check out early.
Even if she had wanted to, Helena wouldn’t have the energy. She passes out almost as soon as they leave, drifting in and out of strange dreams of gunfire and endless dark cities. When she next wakes up someone is moving around in the foreground; a white blur in Helena’s vision.
“You know nurses uniforms don’t actually look like that don’t you?” Helena rasps out when her vision clears enough to recognize who it is under the little white cap.
“Who you callin’ a nurse?” Harley pouts from where she’s perched on the end of a bed. “Can’t you read?”
Helena squints and sees that there’s a name tag pinned on the lapel of what looks like a dollar store Halloween costume, complete with plastic stethoscope and white fishnets. Doctor Harleen Quinzell. Someone has underlined the Doctor in red ink, three times.
“Are you here for me?” Helena asks, confused.
“Aw honey, you’re sweet but nah, I was passing thru’ the area anyhow. Lotta people I work with end up in hospital if you catch my drift,” Harley says and winks broadly. For the first time Helena sees the red splashes on the otherwise pristinely white uniform.
Helena isn’t sure if she wants to know. They had been keeping tabs on Harley’s little mercenary/detective/criminals for hire racket, mostly because Renee wanted to check that Cassandra Caine was being kept out of danger. The two of them popped up here and there, mostly causing chaos and staying one step ahead of the cops but for the most part they kept their heads low. Cass by all accounts, seemed to be doing just fine which is all Helena really cared about.
“Should I be worried?” Helena asks and Harley smiles kindly and pats her foot under the blankets.
“Nothing to worry your pretty head about. Focus on healing up, okay sweetcheeks? Hey, you need any of the good painkillers?” she asks and fishes about in her pocket, pulling out a handful of what looks like loose mixed pills.
“Er, I’m good thanks,” Helena tells her and Harley bounces to her feet.
“Well don’t say I never did nothing for ya! Hey, how’s the rest of the girl gang? Do they miss me?”
Helena makes a face. “Canary’s still pretty pissed about her car.”
Harley gives an airy laugh and waves a hand dismissively. “Oh that old thing? I traded it in a while ago. Had a faulty exhaust anyway. Give them my love anyway! And get better, you hear? I took tha liberty of checkin’ your chart and you should try and stay outta fights for a while. You got real lucky this time.”
“I know,” Helena says and then, before she can stop herself, she blurts out, “Hey can I ask your advice?”
Harley blinks, eyes suddenly impossibly wide and then she grins broadly, almost preening.
“You wanna ask me? For advice?” she echoes and looks for a moment genuinely thrilled. “Sure thing! Whatcha wanna ask? I know all kindsa shit! Weaponry, psychiatry… you wanna know how to make the perfect jello shot? ”
Helena isn’t even sure she knows what a jello shot is.
“Actually it was about, um, love,” she mumbles.
“Oh I know things about love,” Harley says darkly. “Horrible, awful things. You need me to kill some guy for you? What did the scumbag do? You got your heart broke?”
“No, no,” Helena says in a rush. “I mean it’s not a guy but-“
“Oh,” Harley says and for a moment her eyes get somehow wider before a knowing look passes across her face. “Is it Canary?”
“What,” Helena says, flushing. “How did you-“
“Well I know that Dinah is uh, a fan of the female form,” Harley muses. “I used to date this chick who dated this flight attendant, nice girl, I think her name was Tiffany, and she and Dinah by all accounts used to bump uglies. But you? That’s news to me. Big win for the Gotham gay community though, don’t get me wrong, and god knows we need some fresh blood in there.”
Helena blinks, trying to keep up with Harley’s rapid fire monologuing and for the most part failing.
“So, anyway, advice?” she prompts, and Harley cuts off mid-ramble to fix her with a serious stare.
“You want help impressing her? In my experience woman love plants. Like, really love ‘em, to an almost unhealthy degree. Okay maybe that advice ain’t so general in application…”
“I want to know,” Helena interrupts, feeling a little desperate. “If it’s…Fuck, if it’s okay. To like her like that. When she just thinks we’re friends. I just don’t have much experience of liking people so much and I don’t know…is it creepy? Am I being a bad friend to her if I want more? I just…I just…I just don’t want to hurt her. I really, really like her Harley.”
It comes out in a rush- it might be the most Helena’s ever said in one go before and when it’s all out there, she snaps her mouth shut, almost wishing she could take the words back.
Harley looks a little taken aback and then she sits down on the edge of the bed and smiles. It’s not one of her normal smiles; almost scary big and toothy. This one is small and a little bit sad.
“Yeah,” Harley says softly. “Yeah, that’s okay. It’s okay to have feelings for people. It’s even okay to wanna fuck ‘em. As long as you treat her with respect and don’t be an asshole if she doesn’t feel the same way. You ain’t a creepy obsessive. And believe me, I know creepy obsessive. Yeah?”
She puts her hand on Helena’s hand where it’s curled up into a fist on the blankets. Helena lets out a shaky breath.
“Yeah,” she says. “Okay. Cool.”
“Gimme ur phone,” Harley says, making grabby hands. “I got some articles on internalized lesbophobia I wanna send you. And this video we took of Bruce wearing a party hat.”
Helena hesitates but then hands it over.
Two days later Helena shows up for her shift at the Midnight Bar at the normal time, just to have the boss take one look at her and cross his arms.
“Nope,” he says firmly. “No way. Dinah told me you would try this. Look we’ll pay you for the shifts you miss but you can’t come back till you’re healed up.”
This is more generous than Helena was expecting but it still rubs her up the wrong way.
“I’m fine,” she snaps. “I can take out anyone in this bar if I have to.”
“Even me?” Dinah asks from where she’s sitting at the bar nursing a drink. “Because that’s who you’re gonna have to fight if you try and work with an injured back.”
“I’m not a child,” Helena says, glaring at the boss who stares back impassively.
“Then don’t act like one! Come over here, keep me company before the show,” Dinah says and reluctantly, Helena moves over to plant herself down in the next barstool.
“Don’t look so grumpy,” Dinah tells her and slides over a frothy looking drink with an umbrella perched precariously on top. “If you stay until after my set is done, I’ll let you drive me home.”
Helena sniffs the top of the drink suspiciously. “What’s this?”
“A bribe,” Dinah says. “Non-alcoholic. You’ll love it, it’s got pineapple in it.”
Helena takes a tentative sip and is annoyed by the fact that she does actually love it. She can feel Dinah watching her and she takes a longer drink to stall for time, tapping her fingers against the bartop.
“So,” she says finally and takes a deep breath. “There’s something I wanted to-“
At that moment the lights dim and the band stops tuning up; Dinah stand up abruptly, looking towards the stage.
“Ah shit that’s my cue,” she says and looks almost upset when she turns back to Helena. “Hold that thought okay? Wait for me? It won’t be long tonight.”
“I’ll wait,” Helena tells her, and it comes out a little too earnest, too honest. Dinah must hear it too because her cheeks go a little pink.
Dinah was right; it’s a slow night, mostly just regulars nursing their drinks quietly and watching the show. That’s alright though, Helena likes it better this way, when everyone shuts up for a bit long enough to hear Dinah properly. She always looks so natural up there on stage with the light glancing off her jewelry. She looks confident in the same way she does when she’s in the middle of a fight; like she knows she’s the center of attention but doesn’t really care one way or another.
It’s a familiar set; Helena’s heard these songs so many times she could practically sing them herself at this point. By the time the last one ends Helena’s practically vibrating from anxiety, bracing herself for what promises to be an extremely awkward conversation.
On stage, Dinah lowers the mic and Helena stands up, taking a deep breath. But before she can do anything or move, the band starts up again.
This song has never been a part of the set before but Helena recognizes the tune from somewhere and she frowns in confusion. Across the room, Dinah catches her eye and winks and begins to sing.
Helena only has to hear the first line to know what song it is; she has a sudden and vivid memory of her mother playing it from a crackling record player and letting Helena dance on her toes. Her father had laughed at the two of them.
Dinah watches her for the entire song. They could be alone in the club for all that Helena is aware of the people around her.
When the last note dies away, Dinah makes her way over, smiling in that strange, shy kind of way she does sometimes when it’s just the two of them.
“Well?” she asks, “How was my pronunciation?”
“Pretty good,” Helena says, trying to sound nonchalant. It’s hard to do when her voice is choked up.
“I uh, was worried it might be kind of cheesy,” Dinah tells her and looks away, down at the bar, where her fingers are tracing patterns in the rings of condensation. “I don’t want to come on too strong.”
Helena blinks and all at once the pieces fall into place.
“Did you...” she starts and then clears her throat. “Did you learn that song for me?”
She can’t hide the disbelief in her voice but now Dinah is looking up, meeting her eyes for the first time.
“Well, duh,” she says. “You think I would learn to sing Italian for anyone else?”
Helena had come here tonight with a speech planned; she had written it out in her notebook and even practiced sections of it to herself in front of the bathroom mirror. Now, with Dinah watching her, she can’t remember a word.
“Dinah,” she manages to say and she’s reaching out and then Dinah takes her hand tightly and says, “Can I…? Would it be okay if..”
“Yeah,” Helena says, “Yes.”
And then she leans down as Dinah’s hands are coming up to cradle her face and then they’re kissing, right there in the middle of the Midnight Club.
“Who told you?” Helena asks when they finally pull apart. She feels lightheaded; she’s not sure how she’s managed to stay standing.
“Told me what?” Dinah asks, her voice sounding a little husky. She’s still holding onto Helena’s jacket and she’s smiling so brightly it’s almost hard to look at her directly.
“How I feel about you,” Helena says, “Was it Renee? Harley?”
“Harley?” Dinah echoes, looking a little outraged. “Harley Quinn? You told her before you told me?”
“Well,” Helena says, feeling a little embarrassed. “I needed advice.”
“And you went to her?” Dinah says and then laughs. “Fuck I can’t even be mad, I’m too happy.”
“Me too,” Helena tells her and she must sound sincere because Dinah goes up on tiptoes to kiss her again.
“No one told me,” she says when she pulls away. “Purple lilies? Once I calmed down, I worked it out for myself. I don’t know why it took as long as it did. I guess I thought it was too good to be true.”
Helena grins and then says, on impulse, “Do you want to get out of here?”
Dinah smiles back and they must look like idiots, standing here grinning at each other in the middle of the bar, but Helena couldn’t care less.
“Okay, yeah,” Dinah says. “Where are we going?”
“Anywhere,” Helena tells her. “Anywhere you want. I'll take you there.”