Helena had always had an appreciation for the female form in action. The torque of a narrow shoulder, the delicate bones under industrious muscle and soft skin. There was power in the small, the unassuming. There was power in largeness, in the obtrusive as well. She loved the way women took up space, backs straight, eyes flashing. She hated the way men thought about them— since what was the difference between a gorgon and a goddess but their name?
If she were truly honest with herself, there was one particular woman she found herself appreciating more than usual recently.
Dinah’s fist landed a dull thud against the punching bag, her breath left her with just as staccato an impact, and a crystalline drop of sweat rolled down her forehead, following the perfect curve of her eyebrow. The shock of the second punch made Helena realize she was staring.
Quickly, robotically, she turned, and thumped her own forehead against the punching bag which should have been holding her focus. Helena sighed, cheeks burning now, and chanced a look back— Dinah was mercifully still engrossed in her workout and seemed not to notice. Helena could hear the tinny noise, the distinct rapid beats, that filtered from her headphones through the cavernous space of their warehouse-turned-training ground.
On a Monday morning, the place was empty but for the two of them. A fact which made Helena feel both a kind of thrumming, excitable sensation that was entirely foreign, as well as a much more familiar nervousness that made her want to shake out of her skin.
Forming their little team had been the biggest change in Helena’s life since she’d lost her family. A change in the opposite direction, rather, a family found.
This meant that there were a lot of feelings Helena was suddenly having to confront, and learn entirely from scratch how to express. One particular feeling was stemming from the way she couldn’t stop… noticing Dinah. She had been a striking figure when they met, but there had been so much chaos in those early days, that Helena was only now beginning to see what all this ‘noticing’ meant, and it made her terribly anxious.
She was pretty sure she had a crush.
What did people do in these situations?
“Helena?” She heard her name, dim, distant amid the churning of her thoughts. “Hey! Crossbow Killer, are you in there?”
It was Dinah. Helena turned from where she had been, admittedly strangely staring into space beside her punching bag. Dinah was startlingly close, leaning against the bag, sending it gently swinging with a tap of her hip.
There was an immediate, inexplicable lightness that filled Helena, then, a tiny smile flickering onto her lips that she couldn’t have stopped if she tried. She rolled her eyes, good-natured.
“That’s Huntress, to you.”
Dinah held her hands up in mock surrender. “Oh, of course, excuse me.”
The way Dinah looked at her, head slightly tilted, lips quirked, amused, gave Helena some unbidden confidence.
“Are you just about done for today?” Helena asked, then, suddenly her hands fumbling awkwardly, until she decided to just cross them over her chest.
“Yeah,” Dinah said, wiping her brow again, though there was nothing there.
Ok. She was going to do this. “Do you— do you maybe want to go get dinner?”
Dinah winced. That wasn’t good. Right? A prickle of panic took hold of Helena’s chest. Then Dinah said, “I’d love to, babe, but not tonight. I’ve got a date.”
Oh. Why did that feel weird? “Oh, cool, yeah no problem.” Helena wasn’t sure how well she played that off. She hadn’t practiced for this feeling. Dinah looked at her like she wasn’t quite convinced.
“Do you… have a boyfriend or anything? You’ve never mentioned anyone.” A boyfriend. The short answer was no, Helena didn’t have a boyfriend. But what was unsaid behind that was that she’d never had a boyfriend. She’d been raised by men so there was nothing really novel about them to her. She’d never even really been interested like that. In anyone. Not until. Well. Not until Dinah. Helena had the distinct feeling of being backed into a corner, in the wide open space of their training room. As she looked at Dinah, longer and longer not answering her question, she could feel the awkwardness swelling between them.
“I don’t have a boyfriend, no,” she finally said, too quick, rushing to get the words out and fill the silence again.
Dinah nodded but still looked at Helena as if she could sense the spike of anxiety that was coursing through her right now. “Well if you want me to set you up with anyone, let me know.”
“I’m not dating right now, but thanks.”
“No worries, babe, I got you.”
Helena did not want to worry about the way her whole body got hot when Dinah called her babe. She didn’t want to think about how affection-starved she had to be to get here, that some small attention from a friend could do this to her. Dinah went to collect her bag, and Helena stood stock still. Ignoring the strange glances Dinah sent her way, and barely muttering a reply when Dinah said goodbye. As soon as she was gone, Helena strapped her boxing gloves back on, and made a point to work out this little issue— with a punching bag.
Dinah wasn’t interested in her, clearly. Helena threw a punch. The satisfying thump of the bag against her glove seemed to confirm her deprecating thought, sent her spiralling further. Dinah was dating a man. Had maybe only dated men. Helena didn’t fit.
She never seemed to fit. She should be thankful for what Dinah was offering her already, her friendship. There was no need to be greedy and ask for more.
These thoughts didn’t leave her satisfied, rather only more troubled by the time she decided to pack it in, her knuckles and wrists aching, and head home. She was always alone, but tonight she felt it more than usual.
Luckily, Helena’s job meant that there was always something more pressing to think about than the melodrama of her nonexistent love life. For instance, at the moment the Birds of Prey were occupied by their investigation of a scourge of kidnappings going on in Gotham. Mostly young, vulnerable women who were college-age, a couple of high schoolers. The police were, as usual, entirely unhelpful. They’d claimed they caught the guy, ignoring that there had been three repeat cases since their suspect was taken into custody, and rather insisting that those were unrelated. The DA’s office was making a case against their scapegoat— a local gangster with loose ties to Sionis’s old organization. Renee thought those ties were a little tighter than they were willing to admit.
Hearing that slimeball’s name sent shudders through Helena’s spine. He had been defeated, she knew that, still, it was hard to get rid of old ghosts. Fuelled by her righteous anger, that no one in his seedy web should be able to do this to more young women, she was especially motivated to see this mission through.
But it was easier said than done.
Renee was running tactical support that night, wired into a headset back at home base. She directed Helena and Dinah as they made their way to a suspected drop point for the goons. It was an eerie, abandoned old theatre. Not the kind for movies, but old school plays. In its heyday it would have sat thousands, with a sprawling orchestra, and lofty mezzanine. But everything was coated in cobwebs now, long fallen into disuse.
It was however, the perfect place to stow kidnapping victims, especially if they were in transit to yet another location. As soon as Dinah and Helena had entered, they’d found evidence of old, cut ropes and patches in the dust. Signs of activity. But no girls.
At one point they decided to split up, Dinah searching further backstage, while Helena made her way through the seats, looking for any potential hideaways. It was a long and tedious task.
But soon, Dinah’s voice crackled through her headset.
“Shit, I think I found something back here.”
Helena needed no further prompting. She ambled her way back through the rows and climbed up on stage. But then. She heard a scuttering sound. Too many feet to just be Dinah.
“Canary, you okay?”
“I’m fine. Do you hear something?”
“Yes,” Helena hissed, and she whirled around, hearing something again.
Helena was on high alert now. Her bow was always a familiar weight in her hands, it was like an extra limb at this point. Even though it was dark, she barely needed her eyes to aim anymore. She head the sounds again, and felt the enemy presence in her periphery, whirled around to meet it. She shot off an arrow into the dark curtains above her. They hit something with a sure thwack. But the move backfired.
The abandoned theatre was rapidly filling with smoke, the fake, pungent stage stuff. Helena skittered off the stage landing heavily in the orchestra pit.
“Huntress, you okay?” Dinah’s voice filtered through the comm in her ear. Instantly, the sound diffused the tension Helena held in her shoulders, made her feel sharper and more secure.
“I’m fine. I think I might have set off these smoke machines.”
“It wasn’t you.”
“I don’t think we’re alone here.” Helena’s pulse rose then, a rapid spike of anxiety. “They can’t see me, but I can see them I—” A crackle of static, and then silence.
Helena sprinted out from the pit, clambering back up the stage steps. She pushed her way through the heavy velvet curtains, unseeing, uncaring. The smoke was harmless, intentionally so, it only made for a nuisance finding her way. All of the backstage area was coated in the stuff. She stared into the haze of white, tinted blue in the moonlight. She listened carefully for a noise, and then, a shuffle from behind a set of sandbags. Helena bolted in their direction.
When she rounded them, she saw a goon, face sheathed in a balaclava, holding a gun to Dinah’s temple. His bulky arm held a vice-grip around Dinah’s shoulders. Finally her eyes flickered to Dinah’s face, features drawn in her struggle get free, her body tensing, leaning away from the point of the gun.
Normally, Helena was prepared for situations like these. Tactical, practiced calm had gotten her out of many worse situations. But something about this now, about seeing Dinah in particular was making her pulse jitter, her grip tightening around her weapon. The goon noticed her movement.
“Put that down or she gets it.”
Helena shook her head, “How about you let her go, and I won’t shoot an arrow in your eye.”
“I’m serious!” He shoved the barrel of the gun roughly into Dinah’s temple, who had to bite her lip to keep from crying out. Helena looked at her, feeling a little helpless, but Dinah caught her gaze. Her look was meaningful, a signal. There was the slightest tipping of her head, in the direction of the rows of prop tables and sandbags behind them. Helena knew her meaning. The Canary was going to ‘sing.’
Quickly, Helena turned, moving to duck behind a nearby stack of sandbags. The robber made a noise, surprised by her motion, but she couldn’t chance a glance back. That’s why she only heard the gun go off, and for a single sickening microsecond feared the worst. When she felt the searing pain cut across her own arm, she ran faster, sagged behind the sandbags in relief, and just barely managed to cover her ears. Still the ear-splitting sound of the Canary shattered through the air, it made her a little dizzy, but maybe that was the blood loss from the slow trickle down her arm. But she couldn’t afford to lose her wits now. As soon as it was over, she clambered out from behind the bags and saw Dinah standing over the goon.
But as soon as Dinah saw her, the distance between them disappeared.
“Shit, Helena, how bad did he get you?”
“Just a graze, I think,” Helena said, dimly, a little shellshocked at Dinah’s closeness. They were barely inches apart, and Dinah’s cold fingers had latched onto Helena’s arm, curling around the bicep. “I’m okay,” Helena managed, her voice shaking a little. Dinah looked up at her then, their gazes met, and held, until Helena began to feel a tingle down the back of her neck. There was a shuffle somewhere, distant, they both heard it and finally looked away. Helena realized they still weren’t quite out of the woods.
Without saying anything, Dinah took off the long sleeved shirt she was wearing, stripping down to the tank top underneath. Helena nearly passed out. Dimly, she became aware of what Dinah was doing, tearing a strip off the hem of the shirt and wrapping it around Helena’s arm to staunch the bleeding. She worked quickly, but her touch was gentle. Helena had to remind herself to breathe.
“Thank you,” she managed, when Dinah was done. Dinah only nodded.
“Can’t have you bleeding out on me, babe.” She said it so casually, so matter of fact. It sent Helena’s heart into a tailspin, and she let the silence linger too long. Dinah brushed her fingers along where she tied the shirt, which startled Helena out of her trance, and she noticed the raised gooseflesh along Dinah’s arms. It wasn’t cold in the theatre.
“I think I heard some of them getting out through the back.”
Dinah nodded, looking away then. “Let’s check it out together. I’ll cover you.”
Helena smiled, “You’d better. Your comm’s not working.”
“Shit,” Dinah said, clutching at her ear. “Piece of shit tech we have to work with.”
Helena smiled ruefully. Dinah laughed then, “Maybe I should sleep with that woman from the DA’s office, or with a cop or something, then maybe we could get something better.”
The smile fell off Helena’s face instantly, before she could even fully register it happening. There was a sinking feeling in her stomach. “Or we could… apply for a grant.”
That made Dinah laugh so loud she had to slap a hand over her mouth. “Shit,” she said, looking around to make sure no one had heard them. Helena did the same thing, puzzled at her reaction. “That’s a good one. Let’s look into an NGO that funds vigilante justice.”
Helena felt her cheeks get hot instantly. She hadn’t thought of that. In fact, she’d only thought about Dinah… sleeping with someone else, and all reason had fled from her brain. But she couldn’t exactly explain that.
“Come on, let’s just get this over with.”
“Aw, don’t be mad.” Dinah pouted, and Helena’s heart melted a little.
“I’m not.” She tried a smile. “I just want to get out of here. My arm hurts.”
Dinah nodded then, suddenly serious, and she held a finger up to her lips (which made it absolutely torturous to try and think about anything other than kissing her) and signalled for Helena to follow her. They made their way once again through the fog, soon seeing nothing but a white haze. Helena came to a realization, it was a dull shock, of something she had long known anyway. She trusted Dinah completely, would follow her anywhere if she let her. It scared her. She kept going anyway.
The rest of that night passed uneventfully. The goons they had been chasing had given them the slip. Helena felt guilty that it had happened while she and Dinah had been talking. They’d waited too long, and given them the opportunity to get away. She was sure Renee wouldn’t be happy when they got back.
She was right.
Helena sat in their makeshift hospital bed, which was an old futon in the corner of their warehouse, its purpose signified by a side table full of first-aid supplies and an empty IV rack. She tried not to feel more miserable than usual as Renee started in on her. Inwardly, she was grateful Renee had sent Dinah off for the night. Though she missed the way Dinah had hovered while Renee had stitched her up. The thought of those moments of stolen closeness, the crinkle of concern in Dinah’s expression, kept her company as she received her dressing down.
It had been going on for a while, now.
“And on top of all that, you went and got yourself shot!”
“You needed twelve stitches!”
“It wasn’t debilitating.”
“It wasn’t nothing.”
“Canary patched me up enough for the time being.”
“She barely stopped the bleeding!”
“It wasn’t my priority in the moment!”
Helena had raised her voice. Renee widened her eyes and covered her mouth. Her anger melted and left only concern. That worried Helena more than her rage had.
“Helena, I need you to try harder to keep yourself safe. You know you’re not expendable in all of this? You’re crucial to us, to the team, to the family.”
That sent a painful twist through Helena’s heart. It must have shown on her face, because suddenly, Renee was coming closer, resting a soothing hand on her uninjured arm. Unforgivably, Helena could feel tears collecting in the corners of her eyes. Her hand shot up quickly to wipe them away.
Finally she spoke, her voice choked with emotion, “I’m sorry. I was distracted.”
“The goon— he had Dinah. He was going to shoot her. She told me to duck and— and I trusted her. But I was slow, I didn’t want to leave her, and just hide and be useless like— well.”
“You’re not useless, Helena.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Look at me, honey.” And reluctantly Helena lifted her gaze, to find fierce protectiveness in Renee’s eyes. “I know you know your worth. You’re the motherfucking Huntress, after all.” That coaxed a small smile from Helena. “Now why don’t you tell me what this is really about?”
The sinking stone feeling again. Helena felt a bead of sweat beginning to form on her brow. All she could think of was Dinah— Dinah with the gun against her head, Dinah holding her gently to patch up her wound, Dinah’s smile, her laugh. The pressure of keeping it in was building. Helena looked around the empty warehouse, landed back on Renee. She took a deep breath. It would have to come out eventually.
“I think I have a crush on Dinah.”
Helena braced herself, dead certain Renee would laugh at her. But Renee surprised her, she pulled Helena into a hug, it was warm and gentle, and entirely foreign to her. Awkwardly, she tried to wrap her own arms around Renee, but her stitches protested. Hearing her hiss of breath, Renee pulled back and checked on the wound, but it was fine. Now Renee’s gaze met Helena’s squarely, her expression was no-nonsense.
“So that’s what this has been about?”
Helena didn’t answer, but she was sure she was sporting a guilty expression that was answer enough.
“How long have you felt this way?”
“I don’t know… a while?” Helena felt the need to defend herself in the moment. “This is all new to me— I’ve never felt like this before.”
“For a girl, or at all?’
“At all.” Helena’s voice felt impossibly small.
“Have you told her?”
She sputtered then, “Told her?! No! Of course not.”
“And why not?”
“She doesn’t like me like that. I don’t want to make things weird with the team.”
“And how do you know that if you haven’t told her?”
“I just know, Renee, let’s just drop it.”
“If you’re hurting, Helena, I can’t drop it. Family doesn’t do that.”
Helena was quiet for a long moment after that. That familiar-unfamiliar warm-heart feeling was back. It was making her feel bold. What was the worst that could happen if she told Dinah? She’d be kind about it when she let Helena down. And if she didn’t. Well. Helena didn’t want to think too long about that option, it made her heart skitter again— too much, too fast.
She took another deep, steadying breath. “Are you telling me my only option is to confess?”
Renee seemed to consider that for a moment. “Well, not your only option but certainly the best one. The one that will make you happiest in the long-run.”
Burying her head in her hands, Helena finally let out a long, frustrated groan, one that had been building inside of her. She looked back up at Renee, miserable. “All my family in Sicily did was teach me how to shoot a crossbow with the cold-blooded instincts of a killer. That was much easier than this feelings crap.”
Renee cracked a smile at that. “You’re learning, kid.”
After a moment. “Okay. I’m going to tell her.”
“I’m so proud of you, Helena.” No one had said that to her before, and so she couldn’t help but smile, even if it was small, even if it was shaky. She was proud of herself too.
Helena made it home that night fuelled by nerves-induced adrenaline alone. After talking with Renee, she decided she needed to giver her poor brain a break from thinking about Dinah, but that meant all she could think about was the mission, how badly it was going, those girls.
Worrying her nails to the quick, she paced through her apartment, floating from room to room desperately trying to think about their next move.
It was in the middle of her thirtieth loop around the tiny studio space that her stomach growled, and she realized she would have to deal with that. She welcomed the distraction. But when she opened her fridge, the cold blast of air informed her that she had very little to work with. Spare condiments and the end pieces of a loaf of bread were wedged into the corner of the fridge, a couple of loose beers and the empty cardboard box they came in, a single, lonely egg. Nothing terribly inspiring.
Sighing, she pulled out the bread and the egg, cracking open a beer as she began to contemplate her desperately sad dinner. Then there was a knock on the door, and she heard the buzz of her cell phone vibrating against the couch.
She went for the door first. A glance through the peephole revealed a sight that made Helena wonder if she’d gone delirious.
She opened the door, smoothing a hand through her hair, though it was probably a limp oily mess from the day, and bent oddly where she’d taken her ponytail out. There was nothing to do about that now, and Dinah had seen her looking worse.
“Hi,” she said, barely trusting her voice. “Come in.”
Dinah brushed past her and the force of the contact made that woozy feeling return like high tide. But then, the smell of something warm, hearty, and spiced distracted her. Dinah held up a plastic bag in her hand.
“I thought you might be hungry after Renee finished with you.”
Helena laughed a little, “Thanks. She held nothing back.”
“You shouldn’t have made me leave, you know. I deserved half the blame.”
“It doesn’t matter, we’re still learning— as a team.”
“And I know you’re not big on authority figures or being scolded— and I’m not either but—”
Dinah’s expression shifted then, veering into annoyance, “What, you didn’t want me to start a fight with her?”
Helena blanched immediately at her tone. “I’m not saying it wouldn’t be justified— I just don’t think it would help right now.”
“Right.” She didn’t sound convinced.
“We’re still building trust.”
Dinah looked away then, busied herself with setting down the food— it was Indian, from Helena’s favourite takeout place— and unpacking it. She walked over to Helena’s cupboards, rooting around for plates and cutlery. She came back, setting everything down with a clink. A long silence had passed, each moment fraying Helena’s nerves just that much more.
Then Dinah caught her gaze, held it until Helena felt herself beginning to sweat. “Renee and I are still building trust, yes. But I trust you, Helena. Completely. You don’t bullshit like the others do.”
Helena wasn’t sure what to do with that, feeling her body suffused with a kind of lightness, her head going a little dizzy, unused to this sort of attention, but revelling in it.
“I trust you too,” she said, immediately. Knowing that this was true startled her. But it made Dinah smile. She looked down then, at the beer Helena had left open on the counter. It was pearling with beads of condensation. Dinah picked it up and then looked to Helena to ask if she could have some, Helena nodded and pretended not to watch the curve of her lips against the can, or the line of her throat as she took a drink.
When she slammed the can down, the metal made an empty clang against her countertop.
“You got any more of these?”
“Yeah, in the fridge.”
“You’re a godsend.”
Helena smiled, she walked closer to her tiny kitchen table, which was more of a formality as she usually ate her meals on her couch or standing over the counter. The grooves of her loneliness were well-worn, and carved into the contours of her daily life.
Dinah came back with two plates piled high with various curries, rice, and naan. She set them on the table and arranged some cutlery and two beers. She sat down in the opposite chair, and Helena’s heart pounded, told her Dinah looked like she belonged there. She smiled and extended her can, Helena met it with hers, and then drank, gaze carefully averted.
Over dinner they made casual conversation— none of the strange sincereness from before. But soon the beers began to take effect, at least for Helena who was feeling that pleasant lightheadedness again. But she suspected Dinah wasn’t totally sober still, either, from the way her gaze lingered.
“Helena,” Dinah said then, her voice going soft around the syllables of her name. There was something hard, though, more serious in the way she was looking at Helena. “I don’t want you to get hurt because of me anymore.”
Swallowing past the flutter in her heart, Helena said, “I’ll always do whatever I can to protect you.”
The can of beer crackled and dented under Dinah’s fingertips. “Why?”
The question threw Helena for a loop. Quelling the immediate panic it inspired, she cleared hr throat. “Because… because we’re a team.”
“Taking a bullet is a bit much for a colleague.”
“Well, you’re my friend too.”
“And you’re sure you don’t want me to set you up with someone?”
If Helena thought she felt lightheaded before, this question made her positively dizzy. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“It’s what friends do for each other.”
Helena took a steadying breath, her hand was gripping the linoleum of her table, hard. “I’m not… looking for that right now.”
“In my experience, it’s only when I’m not actively looking that something happens.”
“Nothing’s happened to me.” Helena shrugged, and crossed her arms over her chest, feeling a little scrutinized. It wasn’t a nice feeling. She could understand that Dinah was only saying this because she cared but Helena’s loneliness had always just been her own business.
Dinah’s gaze felt like it was boring past all of that, all the way down to her soul.
“There’s no one in this whole city you have your eye on?”
It was under this pressure that Helena cracked, just a little bit. “There is. But. She doesn’t think of me like that.”
“She?” Dinah looked surprised, but then she smiled. For a split second Helena was scared that Dinah was laughing at her, before the panic cleared and she registered that there was kindness in Dinah’s expression, not a trace of judgement.
Helena nodded eventually, realizing she had been asked a question.
“You never told me you were into girls.”
“I’m telling you now, I guess.”
“Well. I’m honoured.”
“Like I said,” Helena said, and she found her smile then, a warm feeling spreading through her chest, “I trust you.”
“I like girls too.” Dinah smiled, but Helena could have sworn her heart stopped. She hoped the frantic feeling of it wasn’t too visible on her face. She tried to keep the shaking from her voice.
“And guys, I mean. Gender doesn’t really factor.”
“Are you seeing anyone right now?” Helena hoped she sounded conversational and not nosy.
“Not really. I mean, there was this guy I had that date with last week.”
“How— how did that go?”
“Not amazing. He kept trying to explain F.K.A. Twigs to me. Like I think I get Twigs.” Helena had to crack a smile at that. Dinah went on, “It was just a casual thing. I haven’t felt a real connection like… in a long time. I mean, I haven’t even really had friends in a while.”
“Well, it’s lucky we found each other.”
At first Dinah didn’t react, and Helena feared she may have read too much into her words. She wouldn’t hate it if she’d managed to indirectly confess. But then, Dinah blinked, and the wry smile was back, “Meeting you guys as probably the best thing that has ever happened to me, even if it wasn’t in the best of circumstances.”
“Those were good burritos though. After.”
Dinah’s smile went dreamy. “They really were, weren’t they?”
“Not better than this though,” Helena blurted, and immediately she felt her face growing hot.
“You mean that, Bertinelli?”
With those four words, Dinah struck Helena’s heart to the core. She’d hardly heard her last name for so many years in her life, it had been a secret. But it had been the secret that brought them together. It was a part of her that very few people knew, and even fewer held so delicately, with such care. Helena was staring at Dinah too long, but Dinah was holding her gaze. The moment was charged, it was almost tangible. Helena took a steadying breath.
“I mean it, Lance.”
“Look, I don’t want to sound too forward or anything but would you ever consider dating—” Dinah was interrupted by the shrill ringing of Helena’s cellphone. Helena’s head snapped towards the sound, all of the air in her lungs rushed out then back in.
“I should get that. It. Could be Renee.”
“Yeah. Of course. Go ahead.” Dinah was flushed now, not making eye contact, and Helena worried she had ruined something momentous.
Helena ignored the way her hand was shaking as she lifted the phone to her ear, and answered with a terse, “Yes?”
“We have a lead on the girls. We have to move now, I think they’re taking them to another location tonight— possibly out of the city.”
“Dinah and I can meet you now, just let me know where.”
Renee rattled off an address and Helena nodded, sliding her phone into her pocket. She moved to her closet where she kept her crossbow, and grabbed her long leather trench coat. Dinah was already standing up.
“The girls?” She asked, and Helena nodded.
There was a quick sobriety that held fast the both of them now, as they rushed outside Helena’s apartment, to where her bike was parked in the underground garage.
Helena slid on smoothly, her jacket flaring behind her. She looked at Dinah who hesitated for a second. “Hop on,” she said, smiling a little at Dinah’s nervousness. She didn’t expect Dinah to be the type afraid of motorcycles.
Dinah shook herself out of whatever daze had been holding her back and climbed on the back of the bike. Soon, her strong arms came to wrap themselves slowly, carefully around Helena’s torso. As soon as they started moving, that grip became tighter, until Helena could feel the long line of Dinah’s body pressed warm against her back, a sharp contrast to the cool air hitting her front. Dinah’s cheek rested just behind Helena’s shoulder, and Helena never wanted to leave this bike. But the ride was over sooner than expected, Dinah’s distance at once felt like a gaping wound, missing limb. It wasn’t the time to dwell on feelings like that.
As they rounded the corner, a dark, misty parking lot coming into view, they spotted Renee, distant, and observing. As they reached her she pointed out the semi-truck, and the goons leading the women into it, one by one, roughly shoving them where they wanted to move them like they weren’t even human.
The sight made Helena’s pulse start to jump, her hands tightened around her crossbow. She could figure out her feelings later. Now it was time to save lives.
The sure thud of her bow hitting her target brought a smile to Helena’s lips. The small victory was hard won, their parking lot battleground strewn with upturned cars, and choked with the night’s starless darkness, streetlights punched out in the struggle.
There had been more of them than they thought, and their strategy had rapidly shifted to try and make up for the surprise ambush of backup waiting inside the semi-truck. They held the four girls that they had managed to load in there, and Helena and Dinah worked to make sure they didn’t drive off. Renee handled the girls they hadn’t loaded in yet, Helena could see three of them, hogtied and thrown into the back of a minivan.
By this point, Renee had fended off the three goons who had been by the minivans. They lay, unconscious, limbs scattered, waiting for backup to come take them away.
The two around the semi-truck were slightly better armed, more evasive, and were making every effort possible to drive away.
Helena was not about to let that happen.
The tires had made satisfying hissing sounds as her arrows punctured them, but they were massive and the air was leaking too slowly to make a difference. One of the goons, a tall white guy with a bald head that shone like the moon, made a dash for the drivers side, while the other, who looked almost identical except shorter, kicked down one of the girls as she struggled against her bounds.
Helena shot a quick look to Dinah, and in a nod of the head, they telegraphed the tactical decision. Helena would go for the would be driver.
As she rounded the corner of the semi-truck, Helena smiled, hearing the certain thud of the short bald guy’s head hitting the metal of the truck, and Dinah’s triumphant cry.
Her goon was going to give her some trouble. As she tried to follow him into the front seat of the truck, he landed a kick on her, throwing her heavily onto the ground. She grunted but bounded back up— only she was too late, the guy slammed the door behind him.
Thinking quickly, Helena clambered up onto the hood of the truck, shooting an arrow that had a strong steel rope attached to it like a grappling hook. Her ears were still straining to hear the distant sounds of struggle— she needed to distract this guy long enough for Dinah to get the girls out of the back of the truck.
With a pitched rumble, the goon started the truck. Helena’s fingers slid against the glass as she tried to hold on, finding her grip against the windshield wipers. She had to think fast— so fast you could basically call it acting on impulse. And it was admittedly reckless when she pointed her crossbow, coiled with a truly incredible amount of potential energy, point blank at the glass. The man in the drivers seat stared at it, then her, moving in Helena’s vision as if in slow-motion. She watched his eyes widen in increments, disbelief. But then, crystalline shatters of glass were shooting around them both. Helena turned her head against the onslaught, but she still felt the flying fragments graze her cheeks, slicing fine cuts in her skin, miraculously missing her eyes.
She turned back right away to see the bow lodged about a centimetre off from the goon’s neck. It had grazed him, Helena could see— he was shock-white but for the red dribble down his neck. Helena loaded her next arrow, but the man seemed to recover from his shock at the sight. His rage took over his face once again, his expression changing in a millisecond.
He floored the gas.
Helena went flying forward into the cab of the truck, she couldn't hear anything for the roar of the engine and she was crushed against the leather from the sudden forward momentum. She recovered quickly, rolling over until she was upright on the seat, scrabbling for her crossbow even as he tried to kick it away, eyes swerving from the road, and the truck careening in response.
“At least watch where you’re going, asshole!” Helena spit out, and he didn’t like that at all. Helena watched the incandescent rage in his eyes burn clear any panicked strategy he may have been harbouring. Surely the girls had been evacuated from the back of the truck by now.
The truck picked up speed through the empty parking lot, headed towards the edge— a steep drop. Helena knew what this buffoon would do—floor the breaks to try and throw her out the shattered windshield— so she held onto the leather of the seat for dear life, puncturing the worn fabric with her nails. Sure enough she held fast against the push of the car. The ‘fast-thinking’ goon was not so lucky, the idiot hadn’t even put on his seatbelt.
He was the one that went launching through the window, though his gut hit the steering wheel, preventing him from flying all the way out like Helena would have— it made him smack his head against the hood of the car hard enough that he was finally still, knocked unconscious.
Helena sighed. She extracted a length of rope from her belt and tied the goon’s limp hands together at the wrist, and confident that he was secure, she wrenched open the passenger side door. She smiled when she saw they’d only managed to drive across the wide parking lot in all that fuss. It only took Helena a minute to run back the distance.
But this wasn’t what she had expected to see.
Backup had arrived.
Helena’s eyes first found Renee, just as she landed a roundhouse kick against a mobster’s cheek, a man several feet taller than her, and sent him flying across the concrete. A stab of panic through her chest as another man descended upon her only a second later.
Acting on instinct, her crossbow was aimed, and it fired, whizzing past Renee’s cheek to land firmly in the mobster’s throat. Helena winced— they usually tried not to kill them. Renee only looked a little annoyed before, running back towards the vans— where Helena assumed the girls still were.
Her attention turned to Dinah, then, who was fending off a couple mobsters— as Helena neared to help, she realized they must not have sent as much help as she initially thought— or it was a smaller operation than they’d assumed.
A flash of menace on the mobster’s face as he rounded on Dinah sent murder through Helena’s mind— but she had to hold herself back, not again. Renee’s voice filtered through her mind talking about liabilities and damages, and… then back to this morning, what she had said about Dinah. Those feelings were hard to ignore with all this adrenaline carrying them through her body like a bullet train.
Helena barely had to think before she shot her fist into his nose, just as he swung for Dinah. He reeled back, stunned, and turned on her instead. Dinah shouted something but Helena couldn't hear her— her attention focused on the vicious attack the mobster was mounting towards her now.
As he approached, his gait somehow stalking and lumbering at once, Helena saw her opening, and kicked him roundly in the stomach, but he latched onto her leg—and pulled, immediately sending her crashing onto her back. She skittered back before he could get on her, but he was fast too, holding onto her legs again, and moving quick enough that she didn’t have time to cant her hips and escape. This asshole was bald too, so her hands scrabbled for his head, with no hair to pull, she tried to get a good enough grip to twist his neck, poking her fingers into his eyes as she went. In all this struggle she was calm— combat was what she’d trained in, this was like going back to middle school. That was horrifying for its own reasons.
The mobster held her fast, even as she managed to flip them over, driving her knee into his stomach, she couldn’t pull herself from his grip. If not panicked at the very least she was getting annoyed.
She could hear Dinah still occupied with her assailant— maybe another one had come along. Calling her for help probably wasn’t an option. But she was quickly running out of any other options. The mobster flipped her again, and this time, her head hit the concrete too hard. Black edged into her vision. She heard her name being screamed, but it sounded like it was coming from miles away.
She came to only a moment later, a heavy weight falling suddenly across her torso shocking her awake.
“Shit,” said a voice, unmistakably Dinah’s. Helena blinked until her vision cleared and looked up. The man who had been attacking her was now slumped lifelessly against her. Then, suddenly, Dinah was close, leaning over her and pushing the man away. Helena gasped a breath as his weight was gone, and accepted Helena’s help pulling her back up into a sitting position.
“You okay, Bertinelli?” Dinah said, her voice cracking, and Helena realized with a start that her eyes were glassy. She rubbed a hand against the back of her head.
“Yes. Yeah, I’m fine. Had much worse.”
That seemed to soothe Dinah a bit. But Helena was still concerned.
“How long was I out?”
“Not long. Just a few minutes. Still, I was worried.” Dinah’s hand then came to the side of Helena’s face, brushing the dust off her cheeks. Her touch was stinging where the glass had brushed against her cheeks. “You’re all cut up.”
“Don’t worry about me, Lance.” Helena smiled, tried to imbue her words with levity. But Dinah’s face was dead serious.
“Don’t ask that of me, Bertinelli.”
A tense moment passed between them, the smile slipping from Helena’s lips. Dinah was angry with her— she’d rarely heard her tone so steely, her gaze like stone. Helena struggled to find the words to respond, she couldn’t figure out what she’d done wrong. This was their job. Dinah knew the risks. Why was she suddenly freaking out over a little head wound? A few seconds of unconsciousness? Helena opened her mouth, to ask just that, when Renee approached.
“We should get going.”
“The girls?” Helena asked, her attention diverted instantly. She started to get up, wincing with pain. Dinah sighed and helped her, her touch lingering even when Helena was back on her feet.
“They’re safe,” Renee assured her, and led her behind the van where the girls waited, with their bounds cut and their gags removed, silent and quaking behind the cars. One of them whispered a thank you through her trembling and Helena tried a smile that she hoped was reassuring.
“I called the cops about fifteen minutes ago,” Renee said, “You two should probably go ahead, I’ll keep the girls company until their lazy asses show up.”
Helena nodded, the happiest she’d been to follow Renee’s instructions. She turned, and started walking towards her bike. She noticed a significant presence missing behind her and turned to see where Dinah hesitated.
“Need a ride back?”
“Do you think we could talk first?”
Dinah shook her head. Some of her strange mood still lingering.
“Over a drink, maybe? Something stronger than beer.”
Helena shifted a little uncomfortably in her seat. Dinah had tucked her into a booth in the far corner of the bar and had disappeared to get their drinks. Helena could see her now, leaning up against the bar, smiling at the bartender, joking and laughing. The sight put her a little at ease, to see her sour mood from earlier lifting a little. Though it still set her teeth with jealousy, to see her laughing freely with strangers, and strange and stifled with Helena.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Dinah came back with a tray of shots. Generous measures of amber liquid filled about a dozen tiny crystal glasses. She set them down on the table, a proud smile on her face. Then she squeezed into the booth beside Helena, her proximity instantly dizzying.
“Ask me how much these cost me?”
“Nothing!” And Dinah winked at her. Helena was thankful for the dim lighting back here, because she could already feel her face heating up.
But Dinah was focused on the drinks. She took two of the glasses in her hands.
“Drink up,” she instructed. But when Helena went to reach for one of the shots Dinah had picked up, Dinah just tipped both of them into her mouth, and swallowed without cringing even a little.
“It’s good stuff,” she said, her voice a little hoarser. Helena gulped. Partly because just the sight of Dinah doing any mundane task seemed to set off a thousand jolts of arousal in her, and partly because she was still unsure where this was going.
Still, dutifully Helena drank. She even downed a third one, just to see the smirk Dinah would get on her face when she was impressed. At last, alcohol loosening her tongue, Helena found she couldn’t keep it in any longer.
“Are you mad at me or something?” God, she was already slurring her words. She looked at Dinah expectantly, anxiety mounting in every booze-distorted second of silence.
Dinah took a while to answer. “Not mad at you. Just trying to figure you out.”
Helena furrowed her brow. “Figure me out? What is that supposed to mean?”
Dinah looked at her again, a long, torturous look. Then she took another shot. Then another. And then she was blurting out everything she had been holding inside.
“You have my back. All the time. Every fight. You get shot for me. You take the blame for me. You say you trust me. You say I’m your friend. But you don’t ever ask me for help. You act like— like you don’t need anyone. You fucking tell me not to worry about you—”
“Dinah,” Helena started, an impossible warmth filled her from head to toe. So this is all it was. Her stubbornness, her shyness, Dinah had just misinterpreted— it was easily resolved. But Dinah didn’t let her interrupt. She held up a hand.
“No. No let me finish. On top of all that, you tell me you don’t date. That you have some crush who doesn't like you, which is insane, I'd like to meet this dumb bitch wherever she is...” Here, Dinah stopped for a breath, and Helena ran cold, stiff, her bones frozen to her seat. She flinched as Dinah continued. “But then you blush every time I smile at you. You shiver every time I so much as brush up against you.”
Helena couldn’t take much more. “You do the math then, Lance.” She was louder than she meant to be, and when she rushed out of the booth, she hit the table, sending the remaining shot glasses shaking and tipping over. But Helena didn’t look back. She needed air, space, anything. She just couldn’t take it. Dinah’s tone was so… accusatory, like Helena had done something wrong. It set the flame of panic alight in her chest and she pushed through the bar’s door, into the cool dark night, finally able to breathe.
Why did Dinah bring this up now… if not to ask her to stop. Helena breathed, trying to stay steady, doing her best to quell the panic. And slowly, it subsided. But then, the clatter of the door behind her.
Of course, Dinah had followed.
“Helena,” she said, her voice broken. And though Helena wanted nothing but to run, she was powerless to do anything but stay, listening like a desperate sailor, Dinah’s voice a siren song. But Dinah didn’t speak, again, the silence stewed between them. Helena felt so bone tired she was ready to beg Dinah to drop it, ask her to not bring this up again. But then— Helena heard Renee’s voice in her head. If you’re hurting, I can’t drop it. Family doesn’t do that.
If she’d ever meant any of her promises to Dinah, she couldn’t go back on the truth. Not when they were this close. So she sighed, pushed past her fear though it beat ferociously against her ribcage.
“I like you, Dinah,” she started, but it wasn’t enough. She closed her eyes then, tight, steeling herself to say the rest, and then pouring it forth— it all at once. “I want you. I think you’re the strongest, bravest, most beautiful person I have ever known, and before you, I didn't even know I could feel like this— I’ve never… I don't know what to do in a situation like this. I'm sorry if I... If I ever did anything to hurt you because... I don't know...” The words petered out.
And then, a miracle. Helena felt two soft hands come to hold her face, gently tucking the hair behind her ears, brushing over her still bruised and tender skin. She opened her eyes, and there was Dinah, her eyes dark and full of truth.
“I want you too, Helena,” she whispered, and Helena shivered. Dinah smiled. “Took a while to realize it. Turns out I'm not so good at math.”
Helena smiled back, tentative. “That’s… that’s okay.”
“Oh yeah?” Dinah raised an eyebrow. Then, at once, the scant distance between them was gone. Dinah’s lips were warm and soft and perfect against Helena’s own. Too soon, Dinah pulled back, a dazed smile on her lips, “And how’s that?”
Instantly, Helena’s hands came to grasp Dinah’s face, and Dinah smiled wider. For a second their eyes met, gaze heavy with promise, and Helena’s fingers trembled against Dinah’s cheek, but Dinah pulled her closer, kissed her deeper this time. Helena kissed back at once, it felt like she had been waiting for this moment, even though nothing she’d ever felt before could compare. Dinah tasted like fiery whiskey, and something sweeter. It wasn't long before Helena was melting under her touch, wrapped up in her arms, warm and safe, never wanting to leave. She wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that, kissing gently, unhurried, alone under the stars. Then Dinah pulled back, trailed kisses along Helena’s cheek, her jaw, and finally down her neck until Helena’s knees began to feel weak.
“Hey,” Dinah said, her voice soft, a little muffled against Helena’s skin. “Do you wanna come back to mine?”
Tamping down the thrill fluttering through her chest, Helena smiled, and tried her best to play it cool. She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t know… do you snore?”
Dinah laughed, clear and melodic in the night air. Helena ran her thumb against the soft shaved side of Dinah’s head, her fingers coming back to curl around the shell of her ear. Dinah smiled, and Helena’s eyes caught on her dimple. She moved to kiss it, because she could.
“Was that a yes?”
Helena answered with a kiss.