FANDOM: Birds of Prey TV

PAIRING: Barbara/Helena

DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short period of time.

MUSIC DISCLAIMER: Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended.

WARNING: This story deals with the subject of sexual violence.

ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

E-MAIL: bcinewmexico1@yahoo.com


A Time to Kill

'Massive internal damage. Blood loss.'

'If there's ever a problem and you need help, you can always call Barbara.'

'Injuries too severe. So sorry.'

'Remember, you can trust her.'

'There was nothing we could do. You can claim the body at the morgue tomorrow.'

Injuries. Blood loss. Barbara. Massive internal damage...

The words, the voices -- a nurse, her mom not too many weeks ago, a doctor -- They were all getting mixed up in her head. It didn't make any sense.

She hurt. God, how she hurt.

They'd just gone to see a play. Her mom said it would help her visualize what Ms. Gordon -- Barbara -- was trying to teach her in English class. And, it had been pretty good -- a lot better than the dry-assed thee's and thou's in the book: the costumes, the sword fight, the hokey stage blood.


The dark-haired teen stared at her hands, clasped tightly between her knees, at the congealing stains from where she couldn't keep the blood from pouring out of her mom after they came out of the theatre and... it happened.

Blood loss. Severe injuries. Barbara. Damage. Nothing they could do.

Helena watched those bloody hands rise from her lap, turning palm up, drawing closer and closer to her face. A foot away and the bloody digits filled her vision. Four inches away and blue eyes could see nothing but red.

She could clearly make out the coppery scent -- Didn't think she'd ever actually smelled copper. Was that really what it smelled like? Maybe blood just smelled like blood.

But, no, this blood held another scent, something more. It was the scent that had comforted her all of her life as her mom held her, made everything okay, loved her.

God, she wanted her mom.

The girl opened her mouth slightly, drawing the essence in, as she lowered her head to bury her face in her hands. Hidden behind blood-stained fingers, cobalt eyes transformed to yellow, pupils narrowing into vertical slits. The brunette tasted the blood on her lips, in her mouth as her jaw trembled violently.

Claim the body. Sorry.

Fucking words!

They didn't make sense. They didn't -- couldn't -- mean anything.

Lowering her hands, Helena stared unseeingly through dark, shaggy bangs, licking blood from the corners of her mouth. She panted softly, aware of a rumble emanating from her chest but unable to understand what it meant.

She needed someone who could find out what it all meant. Someone who could tell her.

Lurching to her feet, the teenager made her way down the hall, seeking a pay phone, leaving a bloody trail on the wall with the hand she extended to help keep her upright. She dialed the number from memory, not breathing until the ringing stopped and...

Shit. It was Barbara's machine.

<"Hi. This is Barbara, but I can't take your call right now. I'm probably off saving the world -- or, more likely, buried under a mountain of sophomore essays. You know the drill.">


What...? What was she supposed to say? How could she squeeze everything into a thirty second message?

"Barbara, it's... it's me."

The girl took a shuddering breath.

"I'm at... the hospital. Something happened to my mom. I -- I don't understand. How it..."

The expressive face twisted; the soft voice cracked.

"Where are you?"


A Time to Heal

Where on earth could Helena be? The girl should have been home hours ago.

Granted, the two women didn't keep a regular dinner hour -- Barbara snorted; often as not she simply forgot, or didn't care, about eating altogether -- but the teenager was supposed to call if she would be out past dark on school nights. Checking the clock, then returning her gaze to the window, the older woman realized that darkness had fallen well over an hour ago, a fact that had somehow escaped her despite the fact that she'd been staring out -- or, at -- that window for the last few hours.


Barbara just really did not need this today.

The redhead considered that thought momentarily.

Today? Hell, she really didn't need this any day, she determined grimly, then choked back what would have been, she suspected, a rather wild burst of laughter.

Probably wouldn't be taken as a good sign if someone caught her alone in the dark bedroom, laughing maniacally. In her day, she'd helped put away more than one person with those sorts of traits.

Of course, it certainly wasn't "her day" any longer, and, on a good percentage of days, she felt like she was dangerously close to not caring what the hell she did in her solitude.

Why did Helena have to make it even more difficult?

Fidgeting with the brake on her chair, Barbara blew out a noisy breath, exasperated with herself.

It wasn't that the girl actually caused any real trouble. In fact, some days, the brunette almost made it easy to forget that -- in a heartbeat, in the flash of a knife -- Barbara had become responsible for her. Since the older woman had been released from the hospital and fully assumed guardianship of the teen two months ago, it hardly seemed that the girl had spoken more than a few dozen times. Helena moved quietly through Barbara's small apartment, as if walking on egg shells, spending most of her time either shut in her room or sitting in the dormer window in the living room.

Somehow, though, she always seemed to appear instantly if her guardian reached the limits of what she was capable of and needed a lift, or assistance in reaching something, or help with... whatever the redhead was no longer able to handle on her own from the confines of the chair. With her natural genetic gifts, with her enhanced strength and grace, the deceptively delicate teen was easily able to assist the older woman. Afterwards, she always remained nearby watching through wide blue eyes -- wordlessly, cautiously -- until Barbara assured her that she would be able to handle whatever... chore the next portion of her life had become.

So, no, Barbara was forced to admit, her ward really wasn't actively making her life more difficult. However, the situation itself sometimes felt impossibly overwhelming.

Four years of babysitting a young Helena Kyle and, two years later, six months as the young woman's sophomore English teacher had in no way prepared the older woman for the huge responsibilities suddenly thrust upon her by Selina's murder. Under normal circumstances, the situation would have been challenging enough. Newly paralyzed by a psychopathic madman -- on the same night that Helena's mother had been murdered at that madman's order -- Barbara was simply at a loss. Every identity that she had embraced -- world-class gymnast, masked vigilante, kick-ass high school teacher -- had been torn away.

Sighing, the redhead finally released the brake on her chair and moved towards the closed door of her room. Regardless of how she was feeling right now, it was time to put on her "responsible adult" identity and try to locate her errant ward. Of course, if she weren't able to pin her down fairly quickly by calling the few classmates that Helena sometimes claimed to spend time with, the older woman wasn't sure just what recourse she'd have. Cruising the streets in the adapted van didn't seem too promising, and calling on her dad for assistance was even less palatable.

Grimacing, the redhead decided that she'd first check the teen's darkened room in the off chance of determining whether Helena had even come home from school before disappearing. Without much hope for her venture, Barbara quietly opened the teenager's door and stretched up for the light switch, all the while trying to come up with suitably creative invective for the architect who had placed the switches in her apartment just above her reach.

When her fingers finally caught the switch and light filled the room, the older woman's curse -- something having to do with horny toads and warts -- died in her throat.

Barbara's search for her overdue charge was over before it began. The dark-haired teen was in her room, and -- if the backpack spilled carelessly by the bedroom door were any indication -- she had been there since slipping in from school hours ago. The girl was seated on the end of her bed, head bowed, hands clasped between her knees, body rigid.

'Posed' was the first word that flashed through her guardian's mind.

No, she immediately corrected her first impression. Poised. Helena looked poised. Waiting for... what?

Barbara smiled softly as blue eyes peeked shyly through dark lashes, as even white teeth bit one corner of a lush lower lip. Since she had been unjustly maligning the young woman, assuming the worst of her presumed absence, the redhead decided that -- at the very least -- an apology for barging into the girl's room was in order.

"I'm sorry, Helena. I didn't realize -- "

The brunette spoke at the same time.

"Uh, sorry. I didn't hear you. Do you need -- "

The words were spoken so softly that it took the older woman a moment to decipher, then comprehend them. When she did, she instinctively jerked the wheels of her chair slightly, blinking against the meaning suggested by the words, by Helena's posture.

The girl had been waiting alright... for Barbara. To be summoned for help, or to be called for dinner, or... to be needed or wanted... or noticed.

The redhead closed her eyes for a moment and pursed her lips, attempting to identify, to organize, to compartmentalize the emotions sweeping through her.

It was too much. How could she have been so...

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Time enough to deal with her reaction -- reactions -- later, the older woman decided. She opened her eyes, just in time to catch a smooth movement as the teenager shifted something from her right hand to her left and casually -- too damned casually -- straightened the left cuff of her long sleeved tee a bit.

Anger replaced other emotions instantly. The redhead gave her chair wheels a sharp push, coming to a halt with her knees inches from the teenager.

So help her, if the girl was using drugs, Barbara vowed that she'd be redoubling her PT so that she could kick her ass as soon as possible. Or, she allowed with a frustrated sigh, she could just ask her charge to share.

Ignoring the brunette's slight flinch, the older woman extended her right hand, palm up and pinned her ward with a look that she had perfected over eight years of dealing with petty criminals and during three years of handling students scarcely younger than herself in the classroom.

The dark head dropped lower before Helena slowly raised her left hand, tension evidenced by the trembling of her arm and the whiteness of the tightly clenched knuckles. She hesitated for a split second -- the incongruous thought flitted through Barbara's mind that she might need to practice The Look in a mirror now -- and then dropped something into her guardian's hand and slowly lowered her arm.

Emerald eyes blinked once, then widened in surprise.

Lying in the palm of the older woman's hand was a pendant: a silver cat's claw, razor sharp, embedded with a small diamond. Barbara had seen the item numerous times, but always before it had been clasped around Selina Kyle's neck.

She looked up to find blue eyes -- wet with unshed tears -- fixed miserably on the pendant. The teenager's jaw was trembling as she bit at her lower lip hard enough to draw pinpoints of blood.

"It's mine."

The anguished whisper filled the older woman with shame. Once again, she'd needlessly assumed the worst about her charge.

Barbara extended her hand, turning it slightly, as she murmured, "Yes. Yes, it is. I'm sorry, Helena. I didn't know --"

Helena closed her left hand reverently around the item, looking through her bangs to offer a tiny smile. The look was so hesitant, so heartbreakingly grateful, that Barbara almost missed something else.


The pieces clicked into place, and the redhead gently grasped the teenager's wrist, turning Helena's forearm with one hand as she reached out to push up her sleeve with the other. The trail of cuts -- deep and methodical, in all stages of healing -- filled Barbara with an absolute fury at herself for the self-pity which had blinded her so to Helena's pain. Simultaneously, she experienced an overwhelming, aching tenderness for the young woman.

Reaching out, she cupped the young woman's jaw and coaxed blue eyes towards her.

"Not like this, Sweetheart."

The endearment flowed from her mouth, from her heart, easily, naturally.

"Don't... Believe me, I do understand, but don't remember her like this, Helena. Don't do this."


A Time to Embrace

Helena couldn't remember ever taking a punch like that.

Of course, since she'd broken Frank's nose first, he had been pretty out of control. Still, she didn't feel one bit sorry. He shouldn't have called her -- that.

Slipping silently through the dormer window and navigating unerringly through the darkened apartment, the teen touched her tongue to the inside of her cheek, tasting blood.


She hated the taste, the feel, of blood in her mouth.

After shutting the bathroom door, she turned on the light and stared at her reflection in the mirror.

A scrape over one eye -- that should be gone by morning, considering how fast she healed. Her shirt was ruined. And, yeah, there was gonna be a beaut of a bruise on her cheek. No way Barbara wouldn't notice that.

The redhead was probably going to get that sad, disappointed look. Again.

Helena hated it when she made the older woman get that look.

The brunette stared at her reflection again, looking past the scrapes and bruises, trying to see herself. Not the shaggy hair or blue eyes or dark brows -- one just slightly higher than the other, giving her a perpetually amused or disbelieving or angry look. Not the too-skinny body -- she'd lost some weight a few months ago -- or the hips that were almost boyishly slender, or the small breasts that had been getting her attention -- and trouble -- in the last few years.

No, all of that was just... window dressing.

She wanted to see what was behind the curtain. She wanted to see Helena Kyle.

What did that mean, 'Helena Kyle'? Did the words say anything about who she was?

Her mom used to call her "Kitten", especially when she was young and her mom tucked her in, patting and soothing her, but the teenager sure didn't see anything soft or cuddly or playful in the mirror.

Later, when she'd grown up, started itching and hungering for things she couldn't even name, her mom had called her "Little Hunter", told her to be patient, that her time would come. Watching her eyes augment to yellow slits, Helena figured that she could see some of the "hunter" thing, but she sure didn't know when her time was going to come.

Before... before everything happened, the yearbooks had always called her "popular", "friendly". That sure wasn't her now. That stuff just wasn't important.

Now, they -- kids like Frank -- they looked at her and called her other things: Perve, Sicko, Animal. Drawing back her upper lip in a snarl, the brunette thought they might be right.

But, Barbara. Well, the redhead called her "Sweetheart". She always said it like she meant it, too. And, the funny thing was, when Helena was around the other woman, she could feel that raw, throbbing pounding in her chest gentle and start to beat like a normal person.

Shedding her torn shirt, the teen wadded it up and tossed it in the wastebasket, then ducked over the sink to wash her face. She flicked off the light before cracking the door and slipping down the hall to her room, where she shed her shoes and jeans and flopped on top of her covers. She wanted to go raid the fridge, watch some TV, but -- if there was any chance that Barbara was sleeping -- she didn't want to disturb her. Aside from the fact that it would tip her guardian off to the fact that Helena had broken curfew again, the brunette knew how much trouble the older woman had sleeping.

Forty minutes later, any hopes that she'd had for a peaceful night for the other woman dissolved when she heard the soft cries from down the hall. The girl thought she could count, on one hand, the number of nightmare-free nights that Barbara had had since... since everything happened.

Helena padded down the hall and soundlessly entered the redhead's room. With her enhanced vision, the girl could clearly see the covers tangled around her guardian's chest as she wrestled with her nightmares. The blankets were still incongruously tidy around the woman's motionless lower body. Helena saw the sweat dotting the older woman's forehead and chest as she moaned the same word she always did.


Helena awakened from a lot of her own nightmares with that same word in her mouth. For the first few months after she'd moved in with the redhead, she'd lie in the dark, panting, hearing the blood rushing through her. Trying hard not to remember other blood which had poured over her. Trying not to hear Barbara's pained cries of that same word from down the hall.

In the last couple of months, after the older woman had surprised her in her room one night, things started to change a little. It was like they'd both understood something, found something.

Barbara stopped spending almost every minute shut behind her door. Helena began hitting the deli on the way home from school each day, forcing herself to eat, cajoling her guardian to do so as she dredged up some story or another from the day to coax a smile from the redhead.

At night, when she awoke from another nightmare, the girl had taken to sneaking into the older woman's room to curl up near the door. The sound of Barbara's breathing, the very scent of the other woman, managed to push the bloody images away. And, when the redhead cried out, Helena was right there; she'd glide to the bed to brush her fingers lightly through sweat-dampened hair, to straighten tangled covers, to press a soft kiss to a forehead furrowed in pain. Then, when the other woman's breathing finally evened out again, Helena could return to her spot by the door, secure.

This night, the teenager hadn't been at her post when Barbara's nightmare started, and she hadn't been able to get to the woman as quickly. Brushing a lock of crimson hair from the smooth plane of her guardian's cheek, the girl froze when green eyes flew open and the redhead gasped.


She was so fucking stupid, missing curfew, getting to Barbara too late, scaring her.

"It's -- it's just me," the brunette whispered. "I'm sorry -- You were, uhm, I was just checking on you."

The older woman released a long breath, then raised a hand to tangle her fingers with those still frozen near her face.

"It's all right, Sweetie."

The voice was quiet, still rough from sleep, but so gentle. That beautiful face turned slightly, and Helena felt the softest of kisses pressed to her knuckles.

"I appreciate it, Helena. Really. I know that you... check on me quite a few nights."

A lengthy silence followed that reassurance. Helena figured that the redhead was thinking. As for her, well, something about the feel of those soft lips on her fingers had just taken away the teen's power of speech... or movement... or, well, breathing.

The girl finally remembered to suck in a lung full of oxygen just as the older woman released her hand and folded back the covers on the other side, patting the bed lightly.

"Why don't you get in, Helena? You -- I -- I think we'll both sleep better tonight."

Blue eyes blinked. Barbara just didn't... wasn't... She just didn't do the touchy-feely stuff. Hell, Helena couldn't remember the last time that the redhead had hugged her. Maybe the last time she'd done the babysitting thing, before heading off to grad school.

Deciding not to give the older woman time to reconsider, Helena slid soundlessly under the covers, lying rigidly on her back, staring at the spackle patterns on the dark ceiling, trying not to breath too loudly. Only when she heard the older woman's breathing even out did she turn on her side, gazing at the other woman's profile. Slowly, inch-by-inch, her body seemed to move itself across the big bed until her head rested on the pillow next to Barbara's and her arm draped itself lightly over the other woman's waist.

Breathing deeply the scent of her guardian's shampoo, feeling the comforting rise and fall of the older woman's abdomen, Helena dropped into a dreamless slumber.


A Time to Refrain from Embracing

Barbara Gordon regarded the piece of latex in her hands. For so long, it had made up such a big part of her hopes and dreams. It was ironic, perhaps even fitting, that it was also responsible for the loss of these dreams, for the nightmares that nibbled around every moment of what her life had become now.

"Barbara? Where are you?"


Emerald eyes flashed in anger.

Couldn't she have a minute? Just a minute to herself? A minute to remember what she had been... never could be again?

"Hey, Barbara -- You in here?"

Tucking the cowled mask back into the drawer, the redhead just had time to straighten before the door to her room cracked slightly and a pair of startling blue eyes peeked in.

"Oh, uh. Sorry." The dark head ducked apologetically. "You didn't..."

The older woman sighed soundlessly and forced her irritation aside.

It wasn't Helena's fault. The girl didn't know about her guardian's none-too-uplifting trips down memory lane. And, she certainly didn't know about some of the avenues and alleyways, involving masks and dark justice, which branched off that lane.

"It's all right, Helena. Come in."

Barbara offered an encouraging smile to the girl as she took a half-step into the bedroom.

"I was just putting away some laundry. Thought I might weed out a few things that don't... fit any longer."

The teenager gnawed at her lower lip before blue eyes peered shyly through dark lashes.

No doubt about it: the girl was going to be a heart breaker. Rather, the older woman realized, given the frequency of her ward's late night outings, she probably already was breaking hearts.

"Hey, it's only been a year. You're already putting some weight back on, getting your muscle tone back."

Barbara detected the uncertainty before the girl added teasingly, "Not that I don't think that your wardrobe could use a serious overhaul..."

The redhead laughed softly, noting how good it felt to laugh again, even if it was at the expense of her own fashion sense.

It felt even better, she acknowledged, to see Helena finally trying to find a little humor in life again.

"And I should take fashion advice from someone who thinks that clothes only come in one color?"

The older woman kept her tone light. The brunette was clearly trying so hard to help keep her guardian's spirits up.

"Black is very versatile, Barbara."

"Funereal -- "

The silence that greeted the word was absolutely leaden.

The redhead desperately wished that she could reel the word back in. For someone who supposedly had such a very, very high IQ, sometimes she could be about as bright as a small appliance light bulb.

She decided to take a try at some humor herself.

"Besides, I'm really going for something more colorful, perhaps something that can get me in to that open audition for Riverdance next week?"

The attempt seemed to do -- not the trick -- but some sort of trick. The teen looked a little less pained.

"Well, at least, your paraplegic humor is getting better, Barbara."

The girl traced a finger against the door frame, then inquired softly, "Are you ready to do your PT now or -- "

Barbara neatly cut her off.

"I thought we might forego today, Helena. Perhaps you want to hit the arcade, catch up with some of your friends?"

The girl had been amazingly responsible since she'd taken on her guardian's daily physical therapy sessions two months ago. And, while Barbara certainly found the sessions with Helena a great deal more palatable than they had been under her previous less-than-sensitive therapists, it simply wasn't right for the girl to put her life on hold every day. The teenager needed a life apart from caring for a guardian who relied on her as much -- or more than -- the teen needed her.

Mentally shaking her head, Barbara wondered if the word 'dysfunctional' even began to describe it.

"Nuh uh."

This time, the shake of a red head was quite visible.

" 'Nuh uh'?" Barbara mimicked as one crimson brow quirked and she smiled in spite of herself.

Helena, playful, could simply cut through the worst of the redhead's moods.

"Nuh. Uh." Helena repeated, enunciating clearly. "I don't want to forget the steps, and you know it's helping."

Bowing to the inevitable, the older woman moved to the corner of the living room where a low training table and a weight bench had been wedged.

They really needed more space, she reflected as Helena casually -- unobtrusively -- helped her position herself on the table.

The redhead tugged her shirt down to cover the still-livid scars on her stomach and then lay passively, observing slender hands manipulating her legs through a range of motions which would, hopefully, slow muscle deterioration. In all honesty, she had to agree with her ward that she was regaining some of her strength in her upper body and muscle tone all over. Apparently, the combination of semi-regular meals and Helena's refusal to let her skip the daily sessions was a good one.

Barbara smiled fondly at that thought and observed the young woman -- the fluidity and gentleness of the girl's touch, the look of concentration as the brunette followed the sequence of movements. Focusing on the gamine features a little more closely, the older woman noticed a faint puffiness, the beginning of discoloration on the girl's jaw.

Not again.

The redhead sighed. Blue eyes darted to the older woman's face and, reading the emotion there, became shuttered.

"What was it about this time, Helena?"


The terse response was barely more than an angry growl.


Barbara hadn't quite pulled out The Look yet, but she was definitely getting close.

The dark head jerked away, leaving the girl's guardian with a glimpse of glowering features.

"Just drop it, okay? I fucked up. Again. I'm sorry. End of story."

The older woman drew in a quick breath.

Had the teen's eyes just changed? Helena's movements with the redhead's left leg were still gentle, but they were considerably less fluid.

As if sensing the other woman's discomfort, the brunette carefully settled the other woman's leg on the table and took two measured steps back. She kept her eyes averted.

Barbara pushed up on her elbows, frustrated by how difficult that movement still was, and inquired, "Are you, Helena?"

In response to the wrinkled brows, she elaborated.

"Are you sorry?"

The girl blew out an angry breath and rubbed her eyes before fixing deep blue on emerald.

"Yeah. No. I don't know."

Having long ago recognized the wisdom behind the "silence is golden" homily, Barbara remained quiet, waiting.

It didn't take long.

"They were picking on this dorky freshman. And, yeah, I guess I'm sorry I broke Harvey's wrist, but he had it coming, dammit!"

The redhead blinked and pushed herself more upright. She pinched the bridge of her nose, attempting to stave off the pounding pressure building behind her temples.

Not good. Not good at all. She'd definitely be getting another call from the school. How much longer could she smooth things over for the girl, make excuses about grief and the healing process?

Barbara attempted to mask her dismay... and pride... and fear. The "Guardianship For Dummies" handbook certainly didn't cover this. Thank heavens she'd already had a good indication of Helena's particular... talents when she'd agreed to Selina's request to be named guardian in her will.

The silence extended as the older woman considered the oddly appealing mix of sweetness and anger, selfishness and thoughtfulness, childlike playfulness and dark broodiness that made up her young ward. As she reflected, Helena's expressive face visibly transformed from defiant to shamed to frustrated sadness.

Finally, Barbara spoke, wondering what she could say this time that might get through to the girl.

"Sweetheart, while it sounds like your heart was in the right place, you simply cannot keep doing this. Aside from the fact that you're dangerously close to being expelled -- "

Registering the distinct lack of displeasure that met these words, the redhead interrupted herself to elaborate.

"Hel, if you're expelled, the system is going to take a long, hard look at how well I'm doing as your guardian."

Ignoring the fact that she had some serious doubts of her own, the older woman plunged ahead.

"They could decide that I'm not the best choice for you. They could... relocate you to a more... formal environment."

The teen's startled blinking suggested that she had gotten the message, and so Barbara returned to her earlier point.

"Apart from that, Hel, you must learn to control yourself. With your -- gifts, your strength and power, you simply cannot give in to that part of you which is so out of control."

The girl set her jaw and glared at the wall, muttering, "Yeah, yeah. 'Great power. Great responsibility.' Blah, blah, blah."

With some difficulty, the redhead quashed an instinct to snap at the headstrong teenager. Now was simply not the time to have her father's lecture about showing proper respect to a parent come pouring out of her mouth.

Instead, she purposely gentled her tone.

"Helena, this is important. You can't go through life on anger and intimidation. And, you certainly don't want to make a mistake and hurt someone. You can learn to control this... this part of you. To channel it."

Barbara smiled softly.

"And, Sweetheart, it's also okay to let the rest of the world see the other side of you, the side that I'm sometimes allowed to see. The side I'd like to share more often."

Blue eyes peered at her, the expression disbelieving but achingly eager-to-please.

"You really think I can -- can do that? You know, learn how to -- " A slender hand fluttered.

A ninety-eight pound weight lifted fractionally from the older woman's chest.

"Sure do, Helena," she responded lightly. "In fact, I have some experience with learning to control my temper, being a redhead and all. I might be able to teach you a thing or two about keeping your head in a tough situation."

The girl blinked at the teasing challenge. Exhaled.

"Yeah. That'd -- that'd be good."

Helena smiled cheekily as she resumed the physio routine, and, suddenly, she was just another teenager.

"But, uh, tonight? I was kind of hoping that you could help me with my computer homework? You know that stuff is like Greek to me. Still don't think the damned things are good for anything..."


A Time to Hate

Now that was one huge motherfucking computer.

The way Barbara's eyes had lit up, it must be a pretty major deal, too. Something from Wayne Industries, some sort of super-duper prototype called a... Delta, no, Delphi.

Barbara looked like she'd been handed the keys to the candy shop and an oversized shopping cart.

Of course -- naturally -- it had to be Dick -- the young woman's mind laced the name with venom -- who had managed to get it for the redhead.

The way the other woman's eyes had lit up at Dick seemed like a pretty big deal, too. No way she could ever rate a look like that. Hell, most of the time, it was a red letter day if she could just avoid pounding some jerk at school, if she could avoid her guardian's puzzled, disappointed looks, if she could miss the lectures about how she needed to be responsible with her "gifts".

Gifts. Yeah, right.

Turning into an animal. All rage and instinct. Not to mention the power to make shit happen.

And what did Barbara want her to do? She kept telling Helena that she needed to temper it; kept saying that she didn't have to give into it.

The teen didn't know if that was true, if she really didn't have to let that side of herself take over. But she did know that, when she just let loose, just lost herself in the power and rage, she sure as hell forgot to feel empty inside.

Sometimes, Helena really missed having her mom to talk to. She was the only one who had any idea what it was like -- that feeling like the undertow was sucking her in until she couldn't breathe the air any more and drowning started feeling pretty damned good.

But, Barbara kept asking her, encouraging her. So, she kept trying to swim against the current.

God, she tried. She really did.

But it was just so hard, and she felt like a piece of her broke a little inside every time she failed and saw the disappointment in soft green eyes. Every time she exploded and saw the redhead flinch a little, afraid of her.

The young woman really couldn't understand that. Didn't Barbara know that she'd never, ever, hurt her? That she'd do anything for the older woman. Abso-freaking-lutely anything.


Seemed like the redhead actually wanted her to do less. She'd cut back their PT sessions to twice a week. She kept pushing the teen to go hang out with kids from school. Like hitting the arcade for laser tag or sneaking under the bleachers for some tonsil hockey could hold a candle to spending time with Barbara.

Why didn't Barbara get it?

Even now, the only person that Helena wanted to spend time with was directing the installation of some T-something line and making goo-goo eyes at Dick Fucking Grayson.

God, she wanted to tear his throat out... or go bang her head against the wall in her room until she was bloody and numb.

But, Helena did neither. Instead, she continued to watch from the shadows of the balcony of the apartment they'd moved to last fall.

A change, Barbara had said, to mark the beginning of the teen's last year of high school and of the redhead's return to teaching. Helena thought that her guardian mostly wanted to escape the dark pall of their old place, the memories of pain-filled hours and days and months of hurting and healing.

And, Barbara had been right. The change had been good.

Whether it was the new place or getting back out into the world, the older woman's mood sure had improved. When the redhead laughed, the smile reached her eyes now. And, the brunette knew that her guardian wasn't having nearly as many nightmares. That was a good thing -- even if it did mean that Helena didn't have as many chances to curl up with the other woman at night -- holding her gently, breathing in her scent, aching for... something.

Even if Barbara was trying to cut back on Helena's... responsibilities to her, at least they were spending time together doing other things since moving to this apartment.

Almost every Friday night, they celebrated the end of another school week by hanging out with a pile of junk food and a stack of bad movies. It was awesome the way Red could watch a movie just once and then quote the dialogue chapter and verse. Well, maybe, a little creepy, too.

Sometimes, Barbara would come out with the teen on weekends and hit the arcade, although the younger woman had learned early on never to play head-to-head against the other woman. While the teen's phenomenal reflexes allowed her to win the first couple of rounds, the other woman's amazing mind just learned the routines too fast to lose after that.

Barbara was even teaching her some judo-type stuff -- Helena didn't know where the high school teacher had picked up that knowledge. The redhead said it would help the girl learn more discipline, some control. The brunette wasn't so sure about that, but -- hell -- anything that could teach her new ways to kick ass was alright by her.

So, yeah. Aside from the older woman's ongoing campaign to pimp her out to the Clearasil crowd, things had been pretty good. Helena was six weeks away from graduating and shaking the dust of high school off; the teen sometimes thought that, maybe, she could learn to control that raging, broken side of herself, that she could become someone who didn't keep disappointing the redhead; and Barbara was finally treating her less like someone that she had to be totally responsible for and more like a... person.

Yeah. Barbara had been right about the change of scenery.

Considering that she was only eight years older than Helena, Barbara sure was smart. She just seemed to know everything.

The teenager replayed that thought again, snorting softly.

Not hardly everything. The older woman sure didn't seem to have a clue about what Helena was feeling.

But, looking down -- eyes glittering yellow -- as Dick leaned way too close to the redhead's chair and casually rested a hand on her shoulder, the young woman figured that was probably a good thing. No way Barbara needed to know about the jagged shards of loss and rage that were tearing into her ward like shattered glass.

Growling softly, the teen stalked to the hallway window and headed out. Didn't look like Barbara was gonna be overly concerned about Helena's 'control issues' for a while.

It was time to find some trouble.


A Time to Love

Considering the number of classes that Helena had blown off and the number of "incidents" she'd been involved in during the last month, Barbara found it somewhat miraculous that the girl had not been expelled. Somehow, the teen had had the wherewithal to complete her most important assignments and charm her teachers into overlooking her absences, and she had kept most of her fights off school grounds. And, so, here they were tonight, at New Gotham's best French restaurant, in celebration of Helena's graduation.

Mercifully, even the commencement had gone smoothly.

Aside from a particularly inspired message that the brunette had taped to her mortarboard -- which her guardian had promptly removed -- Helena had endured the pomp and circumstance gracefully, accepting her diploma politely and tossing said mortarboard into the air with two hundred other exuberant young adults.

Barbara hadn't missed the pain in those stunning blue eyes as the girl watched her classmates embracing their parents after the ceremony, nor had she overlooked the somewhat forced note of cheer in the husky voice as they departed for the restaurant.

Some wounds, the redhead mused over a spoonful of soup, probably never healed completely.

"So, yeah, if Jenny Gartner hadn't gotten a case of nerves or conscience or something, the entire second row was going to moon the stage at the end."

Well aware of which row her young charge had been sitting in, the older woman teased, "And, you weren't able to rally the troops to the cause despite the protests of one person, Hel?"

"Ya gotta pick your battles, Red."

Blue eyes twinkled mischievously over the rim of a wine glass.

"Besides, none of us knew that 'String Bean' Wilson was gonna get put in our row at the last minute. I mean, thinking about seeing his skinny butt kind of took the fun out of it, you know?"

Barbara suppressed a self-satisfied smirk. Apparently her premonition about shaking up the seating arrangements at the last minute had been right on target.

"Speaking of fun, Helena, I'm still not sure why you aren't out with your cohorts. Isn't there some huge party at Cheryl Avery's house? With her parents out of town, it sounded like the place to be."

Green eyes watched blue widen slightly in surprise.

Granted, Helena hadn't included the information about Cheryl's parents when she'd mentioned the party, but the redhead did keep her ears open around school. Still, even without the incentive of a chaperone-free party, Barbara really had thought that the brunette would want to attend the get-together. She was well aware of the fact that the two young women had been spending quite a bit of time together, locked behind bedroom doors, supposedly studying.


The girl -- young woman, Barbara corrected herself -- seemed to have moved past her surprise and was smiling winningly.

"I can find sex, booze, and rock and roll any old time. A chance for a swanky dinner out, just the two of us, now that's the place to be."

Trust Helena to drop a casual revelation about sordid activities and then follow it up with something so charming.

Not that Barbara was oblivious to the fact that her ward walked on the wild side; however, since the girl had managed to stay out of jail, hadn't gotten pregnant, and even approximated making curfew most nights, the redhead had chosen not to make an issue out of it. Forbearance notwithstanding, after almost two and a half years as the teen's guardian, Barbara was sometimes surprised that she didn't have any gray showing yet.

Helena swallowed a bite of lamb and touched a napkin to her lips before lowering her head slightly to peek through her lashes. She seemed to have interpreted the older woman's silence for disbelief.

"Honest, Barbara. It's just, well, we don't get to spend a lot of time together much any more. Just you and me. I mean, it's like you're always playing with that computer, or," a slim hand nervously toyed with a water goblet, "or Di-- doing other stuff."

The older woman tried to hide a guilty flinch.

It was true that she'd been quite wrapped up in the Delphi in the last few weeks, learning the in's and out's of the system, tweaking the code, doing some light hacking and investigation for Dick. It just felt so good to be useful again. She couldn't fight crime physically, but, in cyber-space, the redhead could make a difference. The realization had been thrilling.

So, yes, perhaps she had been neglecting the young woman a bit, but Helena had been making herself pretty scarce in the last month or so, as well. Honestly, some days the teen seemed to breeze through the apartment only to exchange clothes which had been ripped in a fight for apparel which had been artfully torn prior to purchase. Or, the redhead reflected, to trade insults with Dick.

Green eyes blinked slowly.

Of course. Dick.

The sudden change in Helena's behavior had neatly coincided with the change in Barbara's relationship with her old friend. How could she have not seen it, understood what was going on? Not only was the teen grappling with the usual pre-graduation jitters and worries about life after high school, but she was feeling displaced in her own home.

The redhead fought a blush, resisting the urge to bang her head against the expensive linen tablecloth.

It wasn't as if the young woman really had anything to worry about, Barbara admitted. This, this -- she cast about for a word, finally settling on 'fling' -- had been a deluded mistake from the beginning.

After years of flirting as the two patrolled the streets of New Gotham, after almost two and a half years of feeling like nobody would ever look at her again, Barbara just hadn't been able to say no when Dick had come on to her like gangbusters six weeks ago. The young man had been so sweet, his desire so open and apparent, and for several heady moments, the redhead had allowed herself to hope, to believe that it would be enough.

The letdown -- her absolute lack of response -- had been almost too bitter to handle. She'd ended up choking back tears, a reaction she'd tried to mask as pleasure.

Still, having someone beside her at night, someone to touch -- and to please, had seemed like it might be enough.

Barbara was honest enough to admit that she'd been deluding herself about that as well.

Dick was sweet and thoughtful and giving, but their relationship simply worked much better on a... professional level. The redhead suspected that Dick shared that sentiment, but neither of them was quite ready to face the fallout from that particular conversation just yet.

She gave the relationship -- the romantic relationship -- another month.

In the meantime, there was Helena.

The brunette was beginning to look absolutely mortified. Something in the older woman's expression as she'd mentally dissected her behavior of the last few weeks seemed to have given the young woman the wrong impression.

"Uh, I didn't mean it to sound like that, Barbara. I mean, if anyone, you're entitled -- "

Reaching across the small table, the redhead placed her hand over nervously fidgeting fingers.

"Hel, it's fine. And, truthfully, I'm the one who's sorry."

Dark brows furrowed, puzzlement clear in those expressive blue eyes.

"I have been neglecting you -- us. The Delphi has been such a treat, a real chance to make a difference again."

Puzzlement was being edged out by frank confusion. Perhaps the time was approaching for a chat with the young woman about some of her guardian's former activities. However, at this moment, there were other things which needed to be said.

"And, I know that having Dick around so much has been..."

The redhead looked at the ceiling, disappointed not to find a teleprompter. Emotional conversations were really, really not her milieu.

"... has been difficult. Er, different."

"No, he's, uh, a really, uhm, nice guy, Barbara."

Helena had yet to learn how to lie convincingly.

"I shouldn't be so hard on him, and, uhm, y'know, he makes you happy and all..."

Smiling fondly, rubbing her thumb against the back of Helena's slim hand, Barbara softly interrupted the young woman's painfully awkward protests.

"Dick is a nice man, Helena, and this," she waved her free hand vaguely, again trying not to blush, "has been nice."

Russet brows furrowed briefly as something about damning with faint praise scratched against Barbara's conscious.

"Good," she added more decisively. "It's been good. Frankly, it's something that I think I needed after..."

The older woman's expression hardened briefly as she glanced at her chair. She released a slow breath and softened her gaze.

"However, my relationship with Dick -- or with anyone -- will never come between us, Helena. I should have talked with you before now, let you know. Nobody could ever replace you, Sweetie. And, I never, never, want you to feel uncomfortable in our home. We're family, Hel, and..."

Barbara Gordon smiled softly and prepared herself to say something that she seldom expressed in words.

"And, I love you. Don't ever forget that."

Although the brunette didn't speak, her response was eloquence itself.

She turned her hand under Barbara's and gently drew the other woman's hand up as she leaned forward to breathe a tender kiss to long fingers. With a soft squeeze, she released the older woman's hand and flashed a half-grin before picking up her utensils and attacking her entree again.

"So what's this 'making a difference' thing with the Delphi, Barbara? What are you hatching?"

The redhead smiled and drew in a deep breath.

"Let me tell you a little about some of my, er, nocturnal activities of a few years ago, Hel."


A Time to Break Down

"I love the nightlife..."

A deceptively small fist impacted the would-be mugger's cheek leaving a red mark that would soon blossom into a full-blown bruise.

"I love to boogie..."

A sweeping kick dropped him like a sack of cement.

"I got to get out and shake my groove thing...."

Helena fastened a pair of riot cuffs to the moaning man's wrists, and cheerfully bounded up a fire escape towards the rooftops of New Gotham. The night was moonless, and, decked out completely in black leather, the young woman was little more than a shadow in the skyscape.

<"I'm not sure that's how the lyrics go, Huntress.">

The brunette deliberately ignored the realities of Barbara's infallible eidetic memory -- Trivial Pursuit was just not fun with the older woman -- and teased, "Who's watched 'Love At First Bite' more times, Oracle? You or me?"

The rich sound of Barbara's laughter through the earpiece flooded the brunette with warmth. A throbbing beat began in her abdomen, radiating outward.

God, the redhead was gonna kill her with desire one day.

<"I notified the police about the location of your last package, Huntress. Things are pretty quiet tonight; do you want to come in?">

The throaty voice filtering through the comm set was so warm, inviting. It shot another bolt of arousal directly to the brunette's core, and she bent at the waist, suppressing a gasp.

Fuck yeah, she wanted to come in -- her mind painted the words with irony and longing -- but not like the older woman meant.

This unrequited lusting after her best friend and former guardian was really hell sometimes.

Pushing away the frustrated anger coursing through her, the young woman's reply was smooth, almost purring.

"Not just yet, Oracle. I think I'll, y'know, cat around a little first. Going off comms now."

With that, she deactivated the small unit and leapt to the next rooftop, exulting in the feel of the wind against her face, in her own effortless movements and power.

Her mom had sure been right that there was a time for everything. Dogs might have their day, but the nights -- well, they belonged to her.

In the last three years, since Barbara had dropped her Batgirl bombshell and her plans for fighting crime in cyberspace, the young woman had undergone a transformation. She had trained and worked, disciplining herself and absorbing every bit of wisdom that she could from her mentor, embracing her role as the physical side in their partnership to help free New Gotham from crime.

Despite some decidedly rocky first efforts, the young woman had taken to the role naturally, almost effortlessly. It was almost the perfect vocation for her.

Aside from allowing the brunette to channel some of her more violent tendencies in a socially acceptable manner, the partnership had served to strengthen the ties between Helena and her former guardian. Every moment that the young woman was sweeping the streets, every battle she waged, Barbara was constantly with her. Guiding her, encouraging her, filling her.

Just... not enough. Not the way Helena craved.

Around the time that Barbara's role as her guardian ended when she turned nineteen, Helena had figured it out.

She'd added it all up -- that nameless ache that consumed her when the two women shared a bed after the nightmares that still frequented them, that hopeless rage and loss she felt when the redhead dated anyone, that angry hurting animal inside her which made her want to lash out and which was magically tamed when Barbara looked at her just so -- all of that and more. She'd added it up and come up with an answer so simple and so overwhelming that she'd been staggered.

For almost two years, the brunette had puzzled over the fact that the older woman just didn't seem to have a clue. Helena had flirted and dropped hints. She'd delicately sounded the other woman out, trying to gauge just how Barbara felt about her... or could feel about her. A few months ago, she'd even screwed up her courage and skirted the topic of her feelings with the older woman.

The redhead had been kind -- stammering something about powerful urgess in the younger woman, allowing that her former ward's feelings weren't altogether unexpected given their close relationship -- but her discomfort had been evident. A discomfort which had bordered on panic.

So, Helena had pushed her hungry ache aside, had laughed and said something about hormones and pheromones and the full moon. She had turned her feelings into a joke, watching the redhead relax, and vowed to be more careful. Nothing -- nothing -- was worth jeopardizing her relationship with Barbara over.

Since then, she'd spent time leaning over the redhead's shoulder at the Delphi, trying to absorb the woman's words as the other woman's scent and voice and movements inflamed Helena's senses, and it was all she could do not to drop to her knees and worship the woman from head to toe. Since then, she'd continued to share the sofa with the other woman, cuddling companionably and trying to watch movies on the big screen, as her body burned -- literally aching -- for the other woman to notice her, to touch her the way she wanted to touch the redhead. She had continued methodically to work through all of Barbara's physio exercises twice each week as her hands itched to touch the skin that was separated from her by the thin fabric of the other woman's workout pants.

At the end of each night -- or, at least the nights that Helena was able to make herself return to the clock tower apartment they'd located their base of operations in -- Helena brushed Barbara's cheek with a soft kiss. And she wished -- she wanted, with a helpless, almost physical, pain -- to find the courage to turn her head just a bit. She hungered to taste those red, red lips -- if only once. And then, she retired to her own solitary room to shift restlessly under the covers, body wire-tight, unable even to solace the need coursing through her with her own hand.

If it had just been sex, the young woman thought she could have dealt with it, gotten over it. There were plenty of fish in the sea. But, it was more than that, so much more. It was a prickling, itching need for connection, an empty aching hope of completion, a wild almost-unstoppable urge to share herself completely with the other woman.

Standing on the ledge bordering the twenty-five story rooftop of an office building, the brunette threw her arms out and her head back. Out here, in the dark with no voice in her ear, she could forget for a moment the woman she saw every day but who didn't -- or wouldn't -- see her. She could lose herself in the space inside herself and become... emptiness and night.

Blowing out a harsh breath, steeling herself for what she knew she had to do, Helena turned towards the clock tower.

She couldn't maintain that calm void in herself when she was around the redhead. She couldn't stand the feeling of being half-full that being with Barbara created in her. And, she sure as hell couldn't force the older woman to feel the way that she did.

Turning that last thought around in her mind for the millionth time, the brunette snorted.

She never -- she had never -- had a chance. How could she compare to the eminently studly Dick Grayson or any of the other safe and responsible and normal people that the older woman occasionally dated? She wasn't about planning and normalcy and control; she was all go-with-it and hunting and wildness.

Even though she had a suspicion that it just wasn't in her at the molecular level or something, she'd tried, she kept trying, to be... better. And the wanting, the trying and failing, the sense of Barbara's disappointment or anger or fear, was driving her crazy.

Helena thought it might be time to try emptiness, full-time, for a while.

Time to suck it up. Time to change.

The young woman landed soundlessly on the balcony, then deliberately rustled her duster on the way inside. The redhead was renown for the depths of her concentration and the lengths of her jumps in the wheelchair when startled.

"Helena. You're back early."

God, the woman was so fucking gorgeous. Helena had to fight for breath, fight the urge to forget her resolve.


She shucked her duster and approached the Delphi, leaning against the desk.

"Kinda need to talk to you about something."

A raised russet brow and a soft smile encouraged the young woman to continue.

Keep it short. Keep it simple.

"Uh, yeah... Uhm..."

Swallowing, Helena ran a hand through artfully disheveled hair and said what she had to.

"I'm moving out."


A Time to Build Up

Barbara had thought that being shot by the Joker was a horrible blow. She now knew that it had been a pittance, a slap across the cheek. It couldn't begin to compare with how she'd felt when Helena had blurted out that she was leaving.

After almost six years of sharing a home -- a life -- with the younger woman, the redhead was in no way prepared for the sudden announcement. The words had carried the force of a physical blow, leaving the older woman gasping and breathless.

Helena's stammered explanations about time for a change, a need for some space and independence had all been valid enough, the older woman acknowledged. However, they simply didn't ring true. The pain in those blue eyes, the difficulty the brunette had had in making eye contact, her disturbing succinctness, the fact that the woman -- who lived by the credo of playing things by ear -- had already made her plans... These all had suggested that Helena's problem rested less on the changing needs of a young adult and more on her dissatisfaction with her current living arrangements. The young woman wasn't moving towards something new in her life; she was running from something in her current situation.

The very next day, after the young woman had cleaned out her room and departed for the apartment she'd already rented over the bar where she was working, Barbara had felt emptier, more depressed, than she could recall. Even after the shooting, which had been admittedly a damned bleak period, there had been something which had kept her from drowning in anger and self-pity. The something, the someone, of course, had been Helena: Helena, who had been hurting so terribly and had yet always remained gentle with her new guardian; Helena, who had drawn the older woman out of herself and forced her to care; Helena, who had needed her and somehow, inexorably, had caused Barbara to need her.

But, it seemed that the younger woman didn't need, or want, her former guardian quite so much any longer.

In the first long months after moving out, the young woman had checked in for sweeps each night; however, there was no longer any easy banter, and Barbara's partner seldom came to the clock tower after sweeps for their ritual debriefings. In those awkward first months, the brunette had shown up like clockwork for their twice-weekly training and PT sessions, but she was quiet, withdrawn almost to the point of sullenness. Helena answered direct questions, listened quietly to Barbara's gossip from school, but volunteered nothing -- absolutely nothing.

On more than one occasion after the younger woman departed, the redhead had been reduced to tears, wondering what she had done to alienate her friend so terribly. The woman's absence in the tower was palpable, especially given the energy that always radiated from her. The brunette's silence was deafening, especially given her normal verbosity with the older woman.

Over the empty months, Barbara had posited and dissected theories about what could lie behind Helena's distance. She was willing to allow that some normal growth and separation -- individuation -- might lie behind part of it. Still, a rather charged and awkward conversation the two had had a few months before the young woman's departure continued to haunt the redhead's memories. In due course, she admitted to herself that the issues they'd skirted during that talk were very probably a significant contributing factor in her younger friend's distance. Barbara had initially accepted the brunette's sweetly humorous disclaimers at face value, had believed that the conversation had arisen merely as a passing fancy -- after all, it wasn't as if Helena ever had more than a passing fancy in anyone. She couldn't help but wonder, now, if there had been more to it.

Regardless of the reasons behind the change, Barbara had decided that there was little she could do but wait... and hope that the younger woman would work out whatever she was wrestling with. The older woman could only fight her desire to grab the brunette and simply force her to talk, instead waiting and hoping that Helena would let her back into her life. Barbara could only listen to the clipped responses over the comm set, storing the voice inside her as a comfort -- and agony -- during the long nights alone in the tower when she longed for the soft sounds of her partner moving through the apartment, when she ached for the young woman to pad softly into the bedroom and wrap her in strong arms which kept all nightmares at bay.

Tonight, however, the redhead needed to focus on a living nightmare facing the two crime fighters. Her partner had just finished battling a self-styled ninja who had been leaving a bloody trail throughout New Gotham. Judging from the sounds that had come over the comm set, the villain wielded his dual swords with gusto.

The dark vigilante had, only minutes ago, defeated the criminal and turned him over to the police. Even now, she was making her way to the clock tower to allow Barbara to inspect the injury she'd admitted to sustaining during the fight.

The thump on the balcony announcing Helena's arrival was a bit heavier than normal for the graceful woman, alerting the redhead to the fact that the "little cut" might be a bit more severe than the brunette had claimed. Barbara wheeled over to meet her partner, not bothering to hide her gasp at the quantity of blood covering the other woman's left forearm.

"Training room."

The young woman turned obligingly to the training room's medical area, shucking her duster and struggling to roll up her sleeve. She seemed to note the exasperation in green eyes.

"Hey, you're not cutting this off. It's my favorite shirt and I can probably get this little... nick in it stitched up."

Despite herself, the redhead smiled. Helena really was a clothes horse.

"Just take it off, Sweetheart. It will be impossible to get off after I get a bandage on your arm."

She set about laying out gauze and alcohol and the suture kit, pointedly not drinking in the sight of the tanned flesh revealed by the tank top under Helena's leather shirt. She pointedly also focused only on the six inch gash that she was cleaning instead of the feel of that warm, smooth skin under her hands. During the preceding months, other than the rather business-like PT sessions, Helena had maintained a distance from the older woman, insuring that there was never physical contact between them. As normally aloof and indifferent as she was to physical contact, Barbara had come to realize how much she had come to depend on the easy contact, the warmth, that she and her younger partner had shared.

The opportunity now to touch freely, if only for a few minutes, even under these circumstances, felt like a blessing.

"Not so little, Hel. I'm glad you didn't just slap a butterfly on it and call it a day."

Concentrating on threading the suture needle, the older woman didn't expect a reply. She narrowly avoided jabbing her gloved finger when she heard the soft voice.

"Yeah, you're probably right. But, good old meta-healing probably would of fixed it up in a day or two."

"Mmm, perhaps," Barbara focused on making small, even stitches, "but a few stitches should keep it from scarring."

"A scar'd serve me right for letting him get past my guard."

Had that been a soft laugh?

Emerald eyes caught blue, and the redhead gestured to a small scar near her right eye.

"Everybody drops their guard sometimes, Helena."

She risked an old joke.

"Even us old fogies from the latex era."

The brunette actually laughed and visibly relaxed, for perhaps the first time in the last six months. Barbara wanted to cry; she'd missed that laughter so much. Instead, she smiled and returned to her stitching.

"Tell me about this mutant ninja, Sweetie..."

Forty minutes later, the brunette was sprawled on the couch, finishing a cup of hot cocoa and completing an amusing blow-by-blow description of her epic battle with the opponent that Barbara would forever remember as Ninja Turtle. It was the most time that Helena had spent in the apartment, aside from training, since moving out, and the older woman was in no hurry for the tale to wind down. Unfortunately, the younger woman appeared ready to leave, standing gracefully as she completed her story.

"So, yeah, he honestly kept yelling 'Ki-ya'. If he hadn't been so intent on showing off his 'Crouching Tiger' moves, he might of even gotten away."

Blue eyes sparkled as the young woman snagged her duster.

"Thanks for patching me up, Red. And, uh, for the cocoa. But, I need to book -- Places to go, people to do. You know, maybe grab a few z's so I'll be fresh for sweeps tomorrow."

"Of course, Helena."

The older woman pushed down her feelings of disappointment, of imminent loss.

"But, let's skip sweeps tomorrow; you can take a... sick day?"

Helena looked puzzled, not surprising given that the last sick day she'd taken had been after a much more horrific battle with a creature known as the Crimson Claw. The young heroine had required three days of downtime before pronouncing herself ready to return to the streets.

The sing-song response was teasing.

"Crime waits for no woman, Barbara. You know that. Neither rain, nor snow, nor your immaculate stitching can keep me from my appointed rounds, right?"

Barbara deliberately held the other woman's gaze.

"I think that, for tomorrow, they can. But, perhaps you could stop by tomorrow night so that I can check on my immaculate stitching?"

Barbara considered, decided to risk it.

"In fact, I seem to recall that Tomb Raider is premiering tomorrow on cable. Since you won't be out pursuing justice for our fair city, perhaps you'd like to..."

The redhead trailed off, bracing herself for some polite brush-off. The reply, when it finally came after a pause long enough to become painful, elated her.

"Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good, Barbara. I'll bring a pizza and you supply the dead bodies."

Chapter 1

"I'm sorry, Oracle. You want me to go... Rather," the next words were heavily painted with mocking incredulity, "you want me to 'pop in' where?"

<"Is your receiver malfunctioning, Huntress? Your transmissions are coming in fine, but, if you're missing some of my broadcasts, perhaps we need to check out your comm set.">

Helena blew an irritated stream of air through her nose as she landed on the roof of the city Municipal Building.

Either the cyber-genius was so wrapped up in some fascinating data feed that she'd missed her partner's sarcasm, or she was simply ignoring the younger woman's protest. Or, the young crime-fighter acknowledged, Barbara was just giving as good as she'd gotten. Her voice had sounded a little distracted, but sometimes it was just hard to tell.

The dark-haired woman decided to be a little more clear.

"I heard you, Oracle. I'm just having a little trouble understanding why you want me to 'pop in' to the city morgue." The young woman's voice was laden with aggrieved disbelief.

There. Barbara shouldn't have any trouble understanding that.

Of all people, the redhead knew how much her younger partner hated that particular spot; not just for the general squidge factor but also for the memories it brought back.

There was no trace of distraction in the sympathetic response. The throaty voice sent a shiver down Helena's spine.

<"I'm sorry, Huntress, but I picked up a report from New Gotham General about a suspicious death of undetermined origin. Notes on the chart suggest that there could be a meta-human element involved.">

Helena heard the sound of keys clicking rapidly.

<"Since you were already in the downtown area, it should only take a few minutes to...">

The brunette detected the briefest of hesitations as Barbara apparently re-considered the wisdom of repeating the exact phrasing of her initial request.

<"... to stop in and procure a sample for me to analyze.">

'Procure'? Only Ora... Barbara would use the word 'procure' in a real conversa --

Whoa -- Hold the phone. A sample? What kind of sample? Man, sometimes this job just wasn't that much fun.

"Uh, what kind of sample, Oracle?"

<"Nothing too awful, Huntress.">

Was that laughter in the redhead's voice? Sheesh.

Helena rolled her eyes even as she lifted the grate of a ventilation shaft and started into the building.

<"The usual. Hair, skin, nails... ">

Uh oh.

The throaty voice was getting that distracted tone, like Barbara's big brain was taking control of her common sense again. Helena was familiar with that tone. Too familiar. She mentally braced herself for whatever came next.

<"Actually, fluid samples would be helpful, too.">

Uh huh. Thought so.

Helena snorted softly as she peered through a vent leading into the cold storage room of the morgue.

<"If it wouldn't be too much trouble, that is,"> the redhead added, a little belatedly in the younger woman's opinion.

Helena's shiver, as she landed soundlessly in the still room, had nothing to do with the temperature. She revised her earlier thought.

Man, sometimes this job just sucked.

"At least tell me that you know which locker the body is in," she growled.

<"Well, I haven't been able to access that information yet, Huntress.">

Swell. Just freakin' swell. She was definitely going to have to renegotiate her job terms...

Thirty-five minutes later, the lithe figure landed silently on the balcony of the clock tower, working to tamp down on her dark mood. It wasn't like Red wanted to torture her; she was just doing what she always did: protecting the city, with a special care towards its meta-human populace.

Still, on this night, the Huntress really hadn't needed the confined, stealthy assignment she'd just completed. She needed to be running free, sailing on the rooftops, working off the furious energy which possessed her. Some serious ass-kicking -- in the name of justice, naturally -- would have been best; but, really, anything... physical.

Standing at the very edge of the roof, the brunette extended her arms and let her head fall back. The cool night breeze blew through her, carrying with it the complex scents of the city. The full moon and a few stars were visible through the clouds which perennially blanketed New Gotham. Swaying in the wind, seeing only sky, Helena wanted to lose herself as a creature of the night, to forget that sweet voice in her ear and the urges rearing up in her, to let go of her perch and simply... fly.

Blue eyes flickered gold before a warm and welcoming voice grounded her, pulling the dark woman from her reverie, coaxing her into the clock tower.

"Are you going to come inside, Hel?"

The brunette blew out a long, steady breath, felt her eyes revert to normal. Only then did she step through the balcony doors.

"Still don't know how you do that, Barbara."

Helena tossed a large Ziploc containing numerous double-bagged vials in the direction of the older woman as she shrugged out of her duster. A slender hand snagged the package deftly.

"I just know when you're out there, Helena. I guess I just -- feel you."

Green eyes twinkled fondly, and the brunette swallowed thickly.

The redhead glanced down at the baggie.

"That was quick."

Helena barked out a laugh.

"Shit, Barbara. It's not like I'm gonna stop for a bite to eat or take in a movie while I'm hauling," she gestured towards the samples, "that around. I mean... just... eeew."

The smile on those red, red lips was gentle; the husky voice even more so.

"I know, Sweetie. And I am sorry. But, it is important to stay on top of these sorts of incidents."

Raising a hand to silence the older woman, the brunette nodded her understanding.

The redhead continued, nevertheless.

"But, don't think that I don't appreciate it, Helena. I do."

A dark brow raised playfully as an evil grin crept over gamine features.

"Ya wanna thank me, Red?"

The two women had been playing this game far too long for Barbara to fall into that trap so easily. The redhead looked over her half-glasses, batting her eyes, before a slow smile crossed her face.

Voice low, face a picture of confused innocence, she inquired, "And, whatever could I do to thank you properly, Helena, for such diligence, such continuing heroism in the face of cold storage lockers?"

The older woman's tone shot directly to the brunette's core. Still, she played it straight.

"Just tell me that you don't need me to go right back out, Babs. I have got to get a shower, get this smell off me."

Her hypersensitive sense of smell had been registering outraged protests since entering the morgue. Hell, since entering the ventilation shaft of the freakin' building.

As the redhead's short burst of laughter faded, she continued, her voice a low purr.

"And, you could lend a hand in the process, y'know."

Dark brows waggled as the young woman suggestively fluttered a hand down her shirt buttons, pausing at the waistband of skin tight leather pants.

There. Right on schedule.

The blush coloring Barbara's face was just too sexy for words.

Still, the older woman didn't back down.

"Hmm, Hel. If you're having trouble disrobing," Emerald eyes twinkled, watching the younger woman wrestle with a tightly laced boot, "I'd certainly like to be of assistance."

Catching the movement of Barbara's chair, blue eyes flickered up to follow the redhead's deliberate approach. The barely audible curses at every bootlace ever made abruptly ceased.

"Yes. I believe I can be of definite assistance here."

Green eyes raked over the younger woman appraisingly, and Helena fought a shiver. Unsuccessfully.

"Although you have been dressing and undressing yourself for years, I'm certainly more than willing to be of... service in your time of need."

Whoa. The way Barbara had said that last part made breathing a little difficult. Trying not to pant, the brunette waited to see what the other woman had in mind.


Helena blinked at the scissors being extended in a slender hand, ignored the teensy-weensy feeling of disappointment. Just because she'd stopped hoping didn't mean she'd stopped wanting, after all.

Over two years had elapsed since Helena had thrown in the towel on her attempt to maintain some sort of distance from the redhead. The decision had come after the young woman had grasped the simple fact that she'd never be able to keep her life separated from the other woman because, well, hell, Barbara was her life. Finally accepting things as they were, the young woman focused her energies on... coping.

Conquering the second bootlace, the brunette dropped her footwear to the floor with a thump.

"Fuh-nee, Barbara. You're a regular laugh riot, aren't you?"

A soft smile removed any trace of harshness from the words.

Play-swiping for the scissors, the younger woman added, "S'pose I could just as well cut everything off."

She pinned the redhead with a petulant stare.

"You do realize that I'll never get the stink out of these clothes, don't you? Probably gonna have to burn them or something and you know how much I like these pants... "

Still grumbling, aware of the redhead's laughter and some reply about dry cleaning, Helena made her way out of the room, leaving a trail of clothing in her wake. For some reason, a cold shower was sounding pretty good.

Chapter 2

At the sound of the shower coming on, Barbara grudgingly dragged her gaze from the hallway and tried to focus on the specimens in front of her. In less than half a minute, the redhead admitted to herself that the samples of dead tissue simply could not hold a candle to the glimpses of tan flesh she'd watched disappearing down the hall.

The cyber crime fighter sighed, straightened slightly, and removed her glasses, placing them carefully on her keyboard. Obviously, she would need a minute to collect herself after that little display.

My, Helena certainly had been in fine form -- Barbara swallowed -- this evening.

The older woman was by no means immune to her protege's charms, nor was she oblivious to the brunette's... interest in her, an interest which seemed to have peaked several years ago. Barbara had -- did -- flirt with the idea. However, flirting with the idea -- and, occasionally, flirting playfully with the younger woman -- was all that the older woman allowed herself.

Hmmm. That and appreciating. Definitely appreciating.

If the younger woman cared to engage in playful flirting and teasing... or a strip tease -- the redhead swallowed again, wondering if the climate control in the tower was operating normally... Well, who was she to look a gift horse in the mouth?

After all, it wasn't as if she'd had -- or had taken -- much opportunity to "appreciate" or flirt with anyone else these days. The payoff truly was not worth the effort.

The older woman replayed the image of that deceptively delicate hand tracing down the younger woman's own body; the sound of throaty, teasing words; the brief image of long legs as Helena shucked her pants before disappearing into the bathroom.

Well, these thoughts would certainly add some fuel to her dreams tonight. As would the sensory memory of the energy which had been rolling off the other woman.

Fifteen minutes earlier, Barbara had sensed the younger woman's arrival on the balcony, glanced out, and then had to choke back a gasp. Even from a distance, the raw sensualism radiating from the younger woman had been unmistakable. Wind blowing through her hair, eyes blazing, mouth slightly open -- probably to draw in the night scents better, the redhead realized: the brunette had looked utterly wild and untamable.

Sighing, the redhead reminded herself that she could make better use of her energies now by processing the samples that Helena had delivered. Replacing her glasses, she turned her attention to the specimens.

Half an hour later, the older woman removed a test tube from the centrifuge, absently humming along with the words emanating from the shower.

So dig a little deeper, cause you still don't get it yet
See me lickin' my lips, need a primitive fix
And I'll make, I'll make you love me
I am extraordinary, if you'd ever get to know me
I am extraordinary, I am just your ordinary
Average every day sane psycho...

"Supergoddess... " Barbara half-sung under her breath as she stared at the data plot spewing from the Delphi.

This was absolutely fascinating, albeit difficult to comprehend. Perhaps if she cross-checked the mitochondria...

So absorbed was she that the sound of the elevator opening completely escaped her. The sudden sound of an additional member in her choir did not escape the redhead.

"See me jump through hoops for you; You stand there watching me performing... "

Her head snapped up.

What Dinah's contribution lacked in harmony, it made up for in volume.

She quirked a brow as the teen wound down and smiled sunnily.

"Liz Phair, Barbara? Gee, I thought you were sort of into the oldies. Perry Como? Bee Gees?"

Resisting the urge to snap at the teen, the older woman replied smoothly, "No, I'm more of a Devo girl, Dinah."

Perhaps she was getting too... mature for this guardianship role if her newest young ward was associating her with the Big Band era. Even the Disco era.

As if.

Neatly tabling that thought, the redhead rotated her chair and watched the blonde open and close her mouth, perhaps attempting to swallow the Devo reference.

Whip that, the older woman smirked.

"How was drama practice?"

The blonde blushed lightly as she replied, "Well, technically, I'm not practicing. You know, just doing the set, trying to put together suitable wardrobe. Did people really wear that much wool back then?"

The redhead directed a slightly exasperated look at the teen -- Just hold old did she think her guardian was? -- a split-second before Dinah interrupted herself to peer towards the balcony, then towards the kitchen.

"Actually, that reminds me. Is Helena here yet?"

Wool? Helena?

Barbara just had time to open her mouth before the young woman noticed the trail of black leather leading down the hall.

"Oh, yeah, guess so. But, why are her clothes all over the place?"

This time, the older woman decided to forestall a reply until she was quite sure that the teenager had finished speaking.

"She didn't get hurt or anything, did she?"

Worried pale blue eyes locked with green.

The redhead smiled softly. Of course Dinah would worry about Helena. Despite their almost constant bickering and teasing and grumbling, the two younger women honestly seemed quite fond of each other.

"No, Dinah. Helena's fine. Just a run-in with some unpleasant odors. I believe she's considering retiring those items from her wardrobe permanently."

Pale eyes widened speculatively.

"Kewl! You think I could have them? I love those pants, and the leather shirt -- well -- it just has to go with the pants, right?"

Laughing, Barbara responded, "I think you'd best check with Helena about that, Dinah."

She simply did not want to imagine the intensity or duration of the explosion if the younger girl just appropriated the brunette's clothing.

"Why did you want to see her, anyway, Dinah?"

"What? Oh, yeah, the wardrobe for the play. It's kind of neat," she jumped right back into her earlier topic, picking up momentum, "finding period clothing and stuff. I mean, they've actually given me a budget. It's only a hundred dollars, but it sure beats having the cast going through their parents' closets. I thought that maybe Helena could help me, you know, find some groovy second-hand shops and pick out stuff."

Puzzling over the teen's seeming lack of need for oxygen while speaking, the older woman laughed, acknowledging, "Luring Helena out for clothes shopping is a pretty sure thing, Dinah. I'd imagine that she'll be happy to help out."

"Just what am I being volunteered for now?"

The teasing purr drifted from the kitchen an instant before the dark-haired speaker strolled in wearing faded jeans and a v-neck tee shirt, an open bottle of Wild Turkey in one hand.

"And the words 'morgue' and 'corpse' better not be involved this time."

Russet brows wrinkled; how had Helena... When had she... ? Well, the younger woman always had moved on little cat feet.

The older woman smiled softly, ostensibly at Dinah's sudden verbal deluge, as she casually observed the two younger women. She hadn't missed the bright flash of... something in the teen's eyes at Helena's appearance.

"Helena, hey! It's nothing bad or anything. And you probably, well, you might like it. I mean, I hope you won't mind because, you see, I've signed up to work on 'Ten Little Indians'... "

How high could those slowly raising dark brows go, the redhead wondered. The brunette definitely had her game face on -- not quite scowling, but decidedly less than hospitable -- but a twinkle in blue eyes was evident to the older woman.

"I'm not acting in it or anything. I'm a grip. You know what a grip is right? So I'm trying to do wardrobe and stuff... "

The brows were lowering now, creasing a little in perplexity. Warmed by Helena's amused puzzlement, Barbara reigned in her newest ward.

"Dinah? Why don't you and Helena grab something to eat? Alfred left a casserole in the refrigerator. You can bring Helena up to speed over some food."

Laughing cheerfully at the now frankly annoyed expression on the brunette's face, Barbara turned back to the computer. The two disappeared into the kitchen, Helena playfully growling, "C'mon, Kid. Let's see what Alfred left for us, then you can start from the beginning... "

It sounded like the brunette probably would not be inflicting bodily injury on the teen in the immediate future. The redhead gratefully re-immersed herself in data, briefly wondering if Dinah would work up the nerve to ask for Helena's discarded clothing.

An hour later, deeply absorbed in the specimens, Barbara detected a shift in the air. Straightening slightly, she looked over one shoulder, grimacing as the tense muscles in her neck popped, to find her younger partner approaching soundlessly, carrying a dinner plate laden with some sort of delectable smelling noodle concoction. The younger woman stepped lightly onto the Delphi platform to set the plate carefully on a relatively empty area of the desk and then positioned herself directly behind the redhead.

What was the brunette up to?

Only after Helena placed her hands lightly on Barbara's shoulders and began to work her thumbs gently against the tight muscles of the older woman's neck did she speak.

"You might have some competition in the planning department, Babs. Kid's got this whole shopping 'strategy' going on for tomorrow. You'd think we were invading Normandy or, at least, getting ready for a big Broadway production."


The redhead practically purred as the younger woman increased the pressure of her massage fractionally. It had been so long -- too long -- since she'd been touched so easily, so naturally.

In the last few years, Helena had seldom touched her -- and never like this -- anywhere that the older woman could feel. As for the last person Barbara had dated; well, he'd been too eager to prove that he could overcome some of the redhead's physical... limitations to bother with these sorts of touches. A pity really, especially since he'd been otherwise wrong as well.

Recalling that she was supposedly taking part in a conversation, Barbara added, "Dinah's really excited about being involved."

"Yeah, that got right by me, Red. What with emotions not being my thing and all."

A gently teasing tone took any sting out of the sarcasm.

"In fact, I haven't even begun to notice how excited you are right now."


Slightly panicked emerald eyes blinked wide as the redhead jerked backward.

Well, yes. Certainly, she'd been enjoying the neck massage and, perhaps, she'd daydreamed just a little about the sensation of those strong, slender hands... But, honestly, she wasn't... she wouldn't...

"Hey, hey. Easy there, Red. You're undoing all of my terrific un-tensing work here."

The gently kneading fingers moved to her shoulders.

"You gotta get better ergonomics or something, Barbara. Maybe one of those little programs that pops open every hour and reminds you to, I dunno, move your head once in a while? This kind of stress is no good."

A sigh breezed through red hair.

"But, for now, tell me what's got you so excited about those samples. Was the guy a meta?"

Oh, of course. That sort of excitement.

Relaxing again under the delicious sensations, the older woman murmured, "No. At least I don't think so, but something was radically off."

"You mean other than him being dead? And looking like he'd be run through one of those gadgets that sucks all of the air out of a plastic bag so you can store your blankets flatter?"

The words were purred softly near Barbara's ear as the brunette began stroking her thumbs down each side of the redhead's spine. The delicate hands pressed firmly on each downward stroke, then feathered against Barbara's shoulder blades and upper back on the upward strokes. It felt divine.

The older woman rolled her head experimentally, sighing when no annoying cracks and pops made themselves evident. Really, she should tell the younger woman that she could stop now; but, the feel of those talented hands was too wonderful. Perhaps, just another minute or so...

"Well, that's just it. There was disruption... Mmmm, that's wonderful, Hel."

The brunette was working a particularly sensitive spot between Barbara's shoulders. The redhead dropped her head forward, allowing gravity to assist in stretching the tight muscles that Helena was kneading.

"Disruption," the older woman continued, frankly amazed that she was managing to hold on to the threads of the conversation, "at the cellular level."

She coughed lightly, attempting to clear the odd hoarseness from her throat. Perhaps some tea would be helpful.

"In every single sample, the basic cellular make-up has been altered. Which led to a painful, messy death."

There was a response of some sort. A single syllable, drawn out over a low purr, the tone low and honey thick.

The redhead had just decided to treat the sound as an all-purpose noise of encouragement -- a monosyllabic, non-verbal "Go on, Barbara. This is really fascinating." -- when slender fingers began to brush up and down her bare arms, raising gooseflesh in their wake.

Other areas of her anatomy, the redhead noted a split-second ahead of a blush, weren't far behind in responding with raised flesh.

Barbara swallowed with some difficulty, cursing herself for not ending the massage earlier, berating herself for wanting -- even now -- the soft touches to continue, fighting her own body's desire to lean back and pull the other woman closer. She was aware of making a soft noise and fleetingly wondered what it had been. The brunette's response, of sorts, vanquished the older woman's concerns about her own vocalizations.

Had that been... a growl?

So soft it had barely been audible, but absolutely, utterly unmistakable.


The word flashed through the redhead's synapses, trailing behind it a wave of fear and anger.

How could she have allowed things to progress this far?

Based on Helena's responses during fights when she was fully in her feral mode, Barbara knew that the younger woman often had difficulty... restraining herself. The dark woman's control had definitely improved over the years, but it was by no means perfect.

That she, herself, had not reined in the situation -- obviously providing whatever encouragement the already key-up woman needed -- was inexcusable.

She would not -- could not -- permit a temporary aberration to strain things between them. It was time to get back to work, to focus.

Steeling herself, Barbara lifted her head even as she gently captured one of those roving hands in hers, giving a gentle squeeze.

Absolutely, positively willing any hoarseness, any tremor, from her voice, the redhead murmured, "Thank you, Hel. That was lovely."

She moved both of her hands to the keyboard and continued, "The cellular disruption reminds me a bit of the pfiesteria samples I analyzed several years ago. We really need to try to identify what could... "

The redhead trailed off, painfully aware of slender hands still hovering over her shoulders, of the younger woman's rapid breathing. The brunette remained still, absolutely immobile, for a few beats, as Barbara wondered where she would find the courage to turn and face her.

Helena spared her that ordeal, exhaling slowly, then hopping onto the desk as she gestured at the plate of food.

"Eat while it's still warm, Babs. You can tell me about the -- Wisteria thing while you eat, can't you?"

Thank heavens. The young woman had come through for her again. The redhead bit back her sigh of relief, laughing instead as she reached for the plate.

"It's 'pfiesteria', Hel. You remember the fish epidemic several years ago?"

Taking the other woman's "Yuk face" as a sign that she recalled the gory details, Barbara continued.

"Of course, this is only reminiscent of the type of cellular damage caused by that bacteria. Perhaps I can hack into CDC and compare these samples with recent disease reports."

The cyber crime fighter lost herself in thought for a moment as she chewed slowly.

"Still, the damage almost seems too consistent across all of the cell samples."

Repositioning her hands at the keyboard -- a trifle shakily, she noted -- the older woman toggled through several screens before gesturing to one.

"If you look at the plot graph, especially cross-checking mitochondrial make-up --"

Dear heavens, was she babbling?

"--with proteinase levels... Well, it's just a hunch, but I think that there's a different type of agent involved."

A dark brow crept up as the younger woman scratched absently at her left wrist.

"Like, maybe, meta-human?"

The redhead picked up her fork again, then stopped mid-motion on the way to the plate. Tapping her lower lip with the tines of the utensil, she responded slowly.

"It's entirely possible. There's still so much that's unknown about the capabilities of metas. There's always the potential for destructive ability."

"Still," she added, "it also could be the result of a new chemical or biotoxin whipped up in a government lab."

The brunette reached out slowly and grasped the hand holding the fork. She guided the utensil down gently to spear another bite, then flashed a grin as she slid from the desk and began to pull on her duster.

"The truth is out there, huh?" Helena teased softly. "Doesn't sound like there's much I can do to help you find it right now, so I'm gonna head out while you play with your samples s'more."

Barbara worked valiantly to finish chewing, to swallow a mouthful of casserole as the dark woman swept out the balcony doors. For some reason, Alfred's superb cooking had quite lost its appeal.

Chapter 3

Carefully selecting the biggest, greasiest, most cheese-covered fry from the plate, Helena delicately swiped it through some ketchup and, after a moment's consideration, plowed it through the chili on the side of the plate. She popped the whole wad into her mouth, neatly licking an errant dollop of cheese off her thumb, as she listened to Dinah's description of "the zipper incident".

"I guess everyone's finally starting to forget about it. At least they're not calling me Zipper Girl all the time now."

The blonde paused to slurp a little more frozen cappuccino.

"Thank god," she added, a bit unnecessarily in the brunette's opinion. "It was just, well, really embarrassing, you know?"

The dark woman snorted. Kid didn't know the half of it about embarrassment.

Last night. Now that was embarrassment.

Walking, talking embarrassment that had set up a booth and was selling tickets.

How could she have been so fuckin' stupid?

Helena knew she always got a little... itchier around the full moon. She should have known better than to touch the redhead like that last night.

Hell, she hadn't touched Barbara like that, for that long, since before she'd moved out. Aside from physio, she always made damned sure to keep their contact brief and careful.

But, that neck popping thing had been as loud as firecrackers to her sensitive hearing. No way she could ignore it.

But... but, when she'd felt herself shift -- something in Barbara's tone, the way she'd relaxed bonelessly under the brunette's hands... When the throbbing heat started to consume her and her hands itched for the feel -- if only for a minute -- of the other woman's skin... And, then, when her body had begun to tremble and she was fighting tears 'cuz she wanted so badly...


Why hadn't she just backed off to a nice safe distance?

Like, Cleveland.

What the hell had been wrong with her? She'd been about one minute away from...

Well, whatever it was, at the very least, it sure would have added a super-sized heaping helping of awkward to their relationship.

She'd fought it -- herself -- down. Even resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to run and had kept calm, played along with the redhead's nearly panicked efforts to get things back on an even keel. Red had been pretty seriously freaked out, scared.

Taking a sip of her coffee, swallowing past the tightness in her throat, the brunette prodded at that thought again.

Embarrassment? Yeah.

Nervousness? Sure.

But fear? What had frightened Barbara so damned much?

The redhead, clearly, had been enjoying the friendly -- Helena mentally rolled her eyes at that little euphemism -- massage. Her responses to the less-innocent touches had been unmistakable as well.

But, well, it wasn't like she'd given Barbara much choice, the brunette admitted sourly. What the fuck had she been thinking?

She'd just been so caught up in the feel of that soft, soft skin. Breathing in the scent of the older woman's hair -- oranges and ginger. Throbbing in response to that husky voice.

It had been so damned long, and she'd been so freakin' careful. All she'd wanted was to touch the other woman like -- kind of like -- she used to. Face it, she'd just succumbed to the moon and the night wind and her own selfish wants. And, then -- then her goddamned feral side had reared up and crashed the party.

The older woman probably thought she was about to be eaten alive.

Which was, Helena realized with a sickening clench in her stomach, not too far from the truth.

The brunette carefully set her cup down and pushed the plate of fries away. That particular stomach bomb was a really, really bad idea right about now.

Noticing the expectant look through shyly downcast blonde lashes, Helena hunted for something to say. What had the Kid been talking about? Oh, yeah, embarrassment.

"Face it, Kid. High school is hell. Some sort of sick torture inflicted on junior adults who are still trying to come to terms with all the shit going on with their bodies and lives so they can turn into real human beings."

Swirling the coffee in her oversized cup, the young woman added, "Don't know why Barbara wants to swim in that hormone soup every day. I couldn't wait to get out. Couldn't breathe -- felt like I was wearing a goddamned straightjacket every day."

The blonde head bounced up.

"I still don't know why you didn't buy that outfit, Helena. I mean, it would have looked great on you!"

Blue eyes blinked.

The Kid was gonna give her whiplash one day -- all moony and moaning one minute then bouncy and bubbly the next. Sheesh.

Rewinding through the day's shopping, attempting to recall whether they'd browsed through any racks of straightjackets, Helena settled on the outfit that Dinah was most probably referring to.

A dark brow disappeared under shaggy bangs.

"You mean that 60's retro, white leather 'pantsuit' thing, D? Who am I, Eartha Kitt?"

Observing the Kid's puzzled expression, the brunette marshaled a more cogent argument.

"'Sides, it would sort of, uh, take away that whole 'dark-n-deadly' heroine look that I've got going, don'tcha think?"

Dinah almost bounced in the booth.

"But, that's just it. A new, different look. I mean, the Lone Ranger wore white, didn't he?"

Throwing back her head, the brunette laughed loudly and then stood suddenly. Tossing a few bills on the table and snagging several of the shopping bags from under the table, she finally replied, "It's a brand new century, Kid."

With a wink, she added, "And, besides, it's after Labor Day."

She headed towards the pastry display at the front of the all-purpose college diner-cum-coffee shop, assuming that Dinah would follow after she gathered the remaining bags. By the time the teen joined her, Helena was carefully tucking a chocolate croissant into a pocket and moving out the door.

"Uh, Helena?"

The teenager shifted her shopping bags nervously as the two young women walked towards the clock tower.


"I was kind of wondering if you'd help me with... I mean, I really appreciate your help with the wardrobe stuff, and I'm sure you've got other things to do, but maybe... "

When the blonde trailed off rather pathetically, Helena resisted the urge to shake the rest of it out of her. She stopped walking and pulled the teen against a storefront, catching pale blue eyes with vibrant cobalt.

"C'mon. Out with it, Ki... Dinah. You can ask me anything."

Well, maybe not "anything". But, considering that the teen was a touch telepath, she probably wouldn't need to ask a lot of the stuff that Helena didn't want her asking anyway.

The brunette shook her head briskly against that confusing mental sidetrack.

Catching the hesitance still present in pale eyes -- Geez, what did the Kid have in mind? -- she added a trifle impatiently, "Honest."

The teenager drew in a breath and gnawed on her lower lip.

"Uhm, okay. It's just, you know, back in Opal, I didn't socialize much... "

The older woman set her jaw, biting back an instinctive wince at the mention of Dinah's former hometown. It hadn't been a happy place for the Kid.

"And, well, all of us who are working on the play are talking about, uhm, maybe going to Rings of Jupiter in a few weeks. You know, kind of a party?"

Helena was beginning to feel seriously lost. What was Dinah so nervous about?

Jupiter was one of those teen clubs, right? Clubbing always sounded like fun to the brunette; well, except for the "no alcohol" thing going on at that particular spot. But, what the hell, it wasn't like she was being asked to endure the place, right?

Deep blue eyes blinked, then narrowed suspiciously.


As Dinah finally half-whispered her request, face as deep a shade of red as Helena had ever witnessed on her, the brunette conscientiously struggled to keep her expression neutral, her response free of sarcasm. After all, Helena wasn't totally unfamiliar with the concept of embarrassment.

"Sure, D. Not a problem. It could even be kind of fun to -- "

Catching a glimpse of something down the block, the older woman shoved the shopping bags she was carrying at a surprised Dinah and started towards a nearby alley, growling, "Hold on a minute, Kid." After a half dozen steps, she pivoted mid-stride, fished in her pocket, and removed the croissant, which she thrust at the teen.

Didn't want that getting crushed; she'd be picking crumbs out of her coat forever.

"And hold this, too."

Yellow eyes pinned the girl.


Her walk slow, almost sultry, the dark-haired crime fighter soundlessly approached the four young punks who were circling a thirty-something woman in the alley.

"Heya, fellas," Helena purred, tapping the nearest on the shoulder. "I hope that you're only showing this fine citizen some of the latest dance moves, cuz if you were thinking of trying anything else, I'm really gonna be upset."

As the four turned and moved towards her, the dark woman showed some teeth in a not altogether pleasant smile.

"So, what was it? Square dance? Hokey pokey?"

With that, the Huntress put her right foot out, swiftly knee-capping one of the unsuspecting would-be miscreants. At the same moment, she put both hands in, lashing out and neatly breaking the noses of two more. Deciding that those three were occupied with their various owies for a moment, she focused her attention on the last.

Whistling a few bars between her teeth, she decided that the wet spot which had just appeared on the fourth punk's trouser front made a promising target...

"And, that's what it's all about, guys," she smirked.

The young heroine turned to the almost-victim, quickly checking for signs of injury, even as she scooped up a fallen purse and extended it towards the woman. Noting the fear still present in the woman's eyes, Helena kept her movements slow, her voice soft.

"Are you okay? They didn't hurt you, did they?"

Wide brown eyes stared unblinkingly before the woman grabbed the handbag, then recoiled, gasping, "I'm... I'm fine. How did you... ? Your eyes... ! That's not humanly possible... "

Wha... ? Of all the miserable, ungrateful...

The young vigilante swallowed any number of less-than-heroic responses.

Hell, even the Lone Ranger probably had bad days now and then.

Helena turned back to the mouth of the alley, where Dinah was waiting, clutching an ungainly number of shopping bags in one hand and gingerly holding the brunette's croissant in the other. She relieved the teen of a few bags and reached for her pastry.

"Gimme that, Tonto."

Tucking the sweet back into her pocket, she glanced back, eyes still feral, smile dangerous.

"Yeah, maybe so, Lady. Somehow, though, I never seem to have a problem holding my own at the dance."

Chapter 4

Helena certainly danced beautifully.

Of course, given the younger woman's genetic background, her natural grace and athleticism, her exotic beauty, not to mention the years of dance lessons which Selina Kyle had insisted on for her daughter, Barbara had never entertained any doubts to the contrary.

The redhead only wished that she could be the one dancing like that.

The addendum that followed this wistful thought surprised the redhead, but she didn't bother to deny the truth of it. The events of the night before would not allow her to be dishonest with herself.

'With Helena.'

Barbara wished that she could be dancing like that... with Helena. The one feeling those slim hands pulling her back into the young woman's arms, her back against Helena's chest, her hands teasing the outside of the brunette's thighs as their hips ground together. The one swaying within the slender arms, shivering to the feel of Helena's hands dancing up and down her sides. The one turning her head to brush a cheek against the other woman's as Helena rested her chin lightly on her shoulder. The one spinning in the brunette's arms to press herself tightly to the other woman's chest, twining her arms around Helena's neck.

Feeling the heat, the ache, building in her chest, Barbara Gordon ruthlessly tamped down on those thoughts.

She'd had her... dancing shoes retired for her a long time ago.

The older woman snorted softly.

'Face it, Gordon. Even when you could -- even before, you never danced like that.'

Emerald eyes surreptitiously drank in the sight of Helena, clad in her standard workout gear -- running pants, tennis shoes, white tank top -- dancing closely, intimately, with Dinah. Both young women were still flushed and sweaty from their earlier workout, their clothing plastered to their bodies.

The low, throbbing bass of U2 filled the training room.

My hands are tied
My body bruised, she's got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose
And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away...

As the song faded into its final chorus, Barbara clenched her jaw, blinking back tears. She hoped that any moisture on her face would be mistaken for the effects of her own workout.

The redhead couldn't deny it: the younger woman called to her on every level.

Nevertheless, Barbara recognized it as a siren's call: something which would lure both of them to the rocks, leaving them bruised and bleeding. Helena's distance, the estrangement, of several years ago had been painful enough without an actual romance behind it; the redhead knew that heartache was certain to pale in comparison to the fallout from... something else.

After all of the years she'd known the brunette, Barbara was well aware that the younger woman was, well, a huntress. Honestly, the woman felt that a relationship had outworn its welcome if she bumped into someone after one date. As for herself, Barbara smiled softly, after her own stilted and increasingly infrequent attempts at dating... Well, she was quite confidant that she certainly wasn't relationship material either. Especially the type of material that the vibrant young woman deserved.

And yet, she still continued to be caught up in the dark woman's allure, her own need for the woman, regardless of the consequences. She'd allowed herself to slip last night -- even now, the redhead shivered at the memory of the other woman's low growl, the feel of gentle fingers whispering on her skin -- and had only narrowly avoided an encounter that would have been awkward at best.

Although Helena had responded with tremendous grace to her mentor's -- her former guardian, the redhead reminded herself sternly -- lapse, she'd clearly been shaken. Hours after the young woman had departed and Barbara was shutting down the Delphi, she randomly noticed the young woman's GPS signal was still online. The location -- the cemetery -- had spoken volumes.

That the young woman sometimes visited Selina's grave when she was upset was no secret to the older woman. That Barbara's own actions -- first the request to visit the morgue, then the later... lapse -- should have sent her there was inexcusable.

Not for the first time, the cyber genius flirted with the possibility of retaining someone to handle the delicate emotional areas in her life.

If only it were that easy.

The redhead dimpled her cheeks, frustrated with herself, and added ten more reps to her usual set of parallel dips.

Puffing slightly on the eighth repetition, she was honest enough with herself to acknowledge that she had not ended her observation of the two young women. Even as she fretted about Helena's emotional state and her role in it, what was she doing?

Well, frankly, she was ogling her former ward while the young woman taught her current ward some of the finer nuances of what could only be described as dirty dancing.

And, if that didn't put her somewhere squarely on the degenerate scale, nothing would.

Barbara debated adding another ten reps, then realized that her triceps probably wouldn't take it. Overdoing and landing on her ass with a crash was not on her list of things to do today. Reconsidering her study of the two young women, she rationalized -- rolling her eyes at herself even as she did so -- that there were non-prurient reasons behind her observation. She was intensely interested in the interaction between the two women.

The brunette had never been renown for the depths of her patience with anyone -- well, except for Barbara. Yet, here she was, putting herself out for the second time today with the teenager.


The two young women had breezed into the clock tower several hours before, burdened by an unbelievable number of shopping bags from, seemingly, every second hand store in New Gotham. As the teenager began to rummage through the bags, Helena had strolled over to the Delphi and casually handed Barbara a chocolate croissant -- one of the redhead's guilty pleasures -- muttering something about having an extra left over from lunch.

Well aware that, when the younger woman was around sweets, there was seldom "extra" of anything, the older woman offered a smile, just stopping herself from reaching out to squeeze the brunette's hand. Even as she pinched a bite off the treat -- after all, they really were best when fresh -- she'd inquired about the lengthy shopping excursion, nearly choking at the younger woman's response.

"Good. God. Barbara." A dramatic exhalation had followed this. "I think I may never shop again."

With a gleam in her eye, the dark woman had then leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, "But, all that searching really paid off; we came back with change from Dinah's budget", and dramatically plunked thirty-eight cents on the desk.

Helena's description of plans to invest the windfall in an internet muffin top IPO had been interrupted when Dinah had bounced over to shyly present her guardian with -- of all things -- a vintage Devo concert tee shirt. The teen's tentative invitation for her guardian to view some of their better finds had sent Helena fleeing to the couch -- a pained groan clearly audible -- to kill time in front of the big screen before their workout.

Barbara had spent much of the next hour patiently examining numerous items, drawing the teen out about the merits of various purchases. All the while, she'd fought the urge to hot rod to the couch and wrap the brunette in a giant hug.

Clearly, Helena's shopping expedition with the young blonde had gone far above and beyond the call of duty. Yet, for some reason, the brunette had accepted another call to duty from the teenager.

When the two younger women had cut short their sparring session and Helena had started programming the CD player, Barbara had quickly discerned the situation: something about a club, a party, and Dinah's insecurity with her dance skill. She'd continued her own workout, trying to seem casual in her observation of the dance lesson, puzzling over their interaction.

And, ogling, she remonstrated herself sternly.

Barbara tightened the cap on her water bottle, attempting unsuccessfully to resist tapping her fingers to the infectious beat of Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop". The brunette had just demonstrated the right amount of swerve to put into a grind, followed by a hip shake. The two younger women dissolved into laughter as Dinah attempted to replicate the move, before Helena demonstrated it again.


The redhead swallowed.


My, Helena certainly was flexible, wasn't she?

The older woman derailed that train of thought as Helena approached. Since Dinah was shutting down the CD player and gathering her gear, the redhead assumed that the lesson was over for the day. Although, Barbara smiled, Helena and Dinah both still had a distinct bounce in their steps.

Twinkling green eyes looked up to meet -- yellow?

The brunette's eyes only augmented when she was upset -- usually angry or in distress -- or when she experienced other... strong... emotions. Urges.

From dancing with Dinah?

Hoping that she'd masked her surprise, the redhead smiled.

"Well, that was... educational, Helena."

A smirk crossed gamine features, but instead of replying, the younger woman gestured to the mat on the floor.

"Ready to get horizontal, Red?"

Horizon... ?

Oh, of course, PT. How could that have slipped her mind? Could it be time for another well woman's exam? Perhaps she was getting a little senile, too... mature. She had read some promising research about Ginkgo...

Somehow, in both women's current condition, having Helena helping with her stretching just didn't seem prudent.

Barbara extended her water bottle, demurring, "Why don't you cool down a bit first?"

The younger woman guzzled the water, and the redhead became transfixed with a droplet moving down Helena's chin. Green eyes traced the liquid as it trailed down that long, tan neck, as it coursed down the brunette's upper chest, finally disappearing into the v-neck of her tank top.

Barbara licked her lips. For some reason, she was feeling quite thirsty.

She looked up and found eyes which were once-again blue regarding her evenly.

Battling a blush, the older woman was flooded with renewed anger at herself as she opted to brazen her way through it. She raised her arms for a lift.

"Let's get those hands of yours to work then, shall we?"

Chapter 5

"So help me, if you ever put your hand on my ass again, you're gonna have to ask your proctologist to send in a deep probe to find it again."

To emphasize her sincerity about the threat, not to mention her ability to follow through on it, Helena grabbed the hand in question and applied a slow, steady backward pressure. Only when the young man in the Kappa Kappa Delta sweatshirt sank to his knees, tears leaking from his eyes, did she release the pressure. Marginally.

"I'm taken, Bozo" -- Wow, it sure felt good to say that -- "and, even if I wasn't, I don't. Fuck. Frat boys."

The final words were each punctuated by a little more pressure on the offending hand.

Satisfied that her message had been received, the brunette released the young man and retrieved the pitcher she'd been in the process of delivering, continuing toward the back of the Dark Horse.

Thirty minutes left in the shift from hell -- two of the three waitresses had called in -- and that jerkwad tried to pull that move again? Un-friggin'-believable.

Still, it had felt pretty awesome when she'd told dickhead that she was taken.

Helena rolled that thought around in her mind a little. She wished it were true.

Maybe she could get the word tattooed on her forehead or something. Or, maybe over her heart? Well, how freakin' trite would that be? So, where...? Maybe her little toe, just to show that the redhead had every little bit of her.

Or, she could have -- every last piece of her -- if Barbara just weren't so fuckin' terrified.

Even yesterday, during physio, the older woman had tried to act normal, flirting and teasing a little. But, yeah, she'd been uncomfortable. Probably had seen Helena's eyes augmented...

Dammit. She really tried to control it, to... temper it. But some things -- like sweaty dancing in front of the woman she adored -- just sort of... got her blood up.

Man, the young woman really missed having her mom to talk to.

Blue eyes blinked, and the brunette tried to refocus on more pleasant topics, like how good it would have felt to jam frat boy's hand up his own...

Humming a few bars from Alanis Morisette's 'You Learn', she poured a double of JD and efficiently changed some guy's twenty, contemplating the physiological possibility of her threat.

Forty-five minutes later, the lithe woman sucked in a fortifying breath and strolled casually out of the elevator. Two heads -- one crimson, one gold -- bent over something at the Delphi raised at her entrance.

"Hello, Helena." The tone was warm. "How was work?"

"Oh, you know. Intellectually stimulating and socially gratifying, as always."

The raised russet brow suggested a distinct lack of amusement.

"Well, I did hustle two kids at darts," Helena added, just a little defensively.

The older woman laughed.

"Hope you made enough to cover your dry-cleaning."

The dark-haired woman had been working on her "not amused" face, too. Looked like Red got the picture.

"Well. Yes." The redhead fiddled with her glasses. "I'm really glad that you came by tonight before sweeps."

Sensing that her eyes were about to augment, the brunette turned her head towards the kitchen as she responded.

"Yeah. I got to feeling a little peckish. And," she sucked in a breath, "I, uh, just wanted to remind you about my birthday dinner on Friday. I didn't want to shave my legs or something if you, uh, made other plans."

There. That would let Barbara off the hook if she was feeling too nervous after the other night.

Helena detected some puzzlement in the warm, green eyes, but the other woman's response was sincere.

"No reminder needed, Hel. I'm very much looking forward to it."

The soft smile almost took the brunette's knees out from under her. The faintly apologetic look that followed it simply raised her guard.

"However, for tonight, perhaps you'd be willing to grab a bite to eat in the car, Hel?"

A dark brow raised in question.

"I was hoping that you'd be up for a quick B&E."

No fair. Just no freakin' fair.

Here she was, just aching to burn off some energy, and Barbara wanted to send her on a damned stealth job? Helena knew she should have pulped ass-boy a little more back at work.

"Perhaps Dinah could go with you?"

No, not just a stealth job but a job with the Kid tagging along.

The brunette decided to practice a little more on her "not amused" face.

Tone sympathetic, the redhead explained, "It's our DOA from the other night, John Hillerman. I haven't had any luck with CDC matches. I've programmed crawlers to check hospital records nationwide for possible matches, but that's going to take quite a while."

Slightly irritated emerald eyes lost focus and drifted towards the ceiling.

"Why nobody has centralized medical records yet is simply beyond my comprehension. Honestly, in the 21st century, you might think that -- "

Barbara's big brain seemed to register that she was losing her audience's interest.

"As I was saying, a quick sweep of Hillerman's home, just to scan his address book, download his hard drive. The usual. It could provide some other links to investigate."

The green eyes were so eager, so interested and hopeful. The redhead always did love a good puzzle, and if Helena could help find some pieces for her, well, it wasn't like she was going to refuse.

The younger woman's sigh was almost inaudible. Her sarcasm, almost undetectable.

"Sounds like fun. Always look forward to exposing the non-voting crowd to the finer points of burglary."

The blonde, who'd been following the exchange like a ping-pong match, jumped to her feet.

"I can come with you? Really?"

Grabbing the car keys and tossing them to Dinah, Helena growled, "Yeah. Why don't you go warm up the Jeep?"

To her credit, the teen knew when she was being dismissed, and she disappeared behind elevator doors in record time. Helena watched the elevator descend, then ran a hand through her hair and turned to face the older woman who was regarding her with a quizzical smile.

"Uh, just -- I wanted to apologize. For the other night."

Seeing the older woman open her mouth to speak, the brunette plowed ahead.

"Just, you know, sometimes I get a little ramped up. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable or anything, Barbara."

Having said her piece, Helena clenched her jaw and inspected the toe of one boot.

The words that filtered to her were soft, warm.

"Helena, you have nothing to apologize for. I knew, that is, I was aware... of... "

Peeking through thick lashes, the younger woman wondered exactly how much blood could flow to her mentor's face before the woman stroked out.

"I knew you were a little on edge and shouldn't have let... "

The redhead blew out an exasperated breath, then lightened her tone slightly.

"Well, Hel, let's just say that I am only human... And, well -- "

Blue eyes blinked against the words that could finish the other woman's statement. Helena looked up and smiled softly.

"Yeah." she sighed, "So, is -- are we okay?"

The immediate response soothed her. Somewhat.

"Of course, Sweetheart."

Helena decided to try for some humor.

"So, maybe you're gonna install that ergo program now, huh?"

Green eyes twinkled as the older woman turned to the Delphi, responding, "I'll get right on that while you sally forth to instruct our young charge on some of the finer points of breaking and entering."

"She better not make me regret it," the younger woman growled as she leapt from the balcony, taking her own shortcut to the parking garage.

And really, the brunette admitted an hour and a half later, the Kid had done a good job. Popped the window of the guy's fourth story apartment like a pro, found his day-planner and address book in no time, and took care of digitizing them while Helena dumped the hard drive and rifled through closets and drawers.

Smooth and easy.

Almost on their way out, Helena tucked several zip disks into her pockets as Dinah packed up the digital camera.

"Oracle? You copy?"

<"I copy, Huntress. Everything okay on your end?">

"Everything's cool. We've got the hard drive, address book, day-runner. The Kid even thought to get shots of all this guy's prescriptions."

The brunette didn't try to hide the pride in her voice. Sure, Barbara had probably already dumped that information from the guy's medical records, but it had been a good idea on Dinah's part.

Seemed like Barbara thought so too.

<"Good thinking, Canary. Find anything interesting in those?">

Helena grinned at Dinah as she handily cut off the blonde's response.

"Nothing but a serious Rogaine dependency. Soooo, we're about to head out. Just wondered if there was anything else?"

<"Perhaps you can take a last look around for anything unusual.">

Helena unsuccessfully fought the urge to roll her eyes. Like they hadn't looked already.

"Like what? A bottle labeled 'Cellular Disruption Serum'?", she snarked, even as she dutifully started digging through kitchen cupboards.

<"Well, that would be perfect. If you can manage it, Huntress."> Typing accompanied the smoothly purred words.

Huh? Sometimes Red was just a little too...

"Shit, Kid! Go find your own stash to search, why don't you?"

Turning briskly from one cupboard to another, the brunette had nearly collided with the teen, who'd just popped up from searching under the sink.

Sometimes the Kid had waaay too much enthusiasm for this crap. Which gave Helena a thought.

"Go try the bathroom or something."

Completing her search of the cabinets, pantry closet, and even the oven, the lithe figure cracked the refrigerator door -- didn't want too much light tipping off any neighbors -- and checked the contents for anything unusual. A low rumble originated from the vicinity of her abdomen.

Crap, she shoulda brought some food to eat on the way, like Barbara suggested. Hmm, that package of salami looked pretty fresh. Not like anybody would miss a slice or two off the top...

At that thought, the brunette shut the refrigerator and stood on tiptoe, running her hand across the top of the unit. Attempting to avoid the shower... or herd... or tribe... of dust bunnies floating down, the young woman just had time to sense a blindingly fast movement before there was a loud <CRACK>, and she doubled over in pain.

"SH...iiit! Ow, ow, ow..."

The dark figure managed to keep her exclamations to a reasonably quiet hiss only through sheer force of will as she danced back from the refrigerator, shaking her arm.

<"Huntress? What's going on?">

"Goddamned. Fucking. Ugh..." The brunette breathed deeply as she worked at the instrument imprisoning her hand. "Uh, rat trap, Oracle. On top of the fridge."

Freeing her hand, the young woman resisted the urge to shatter the damned thing. Coulda broken her... well, probably not her hand, but it sure had hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.

<"Oh, Swe... Huntress. I'm so sorry. Are you alright?">

Nothing but warm concern in the other woman's voice. That felt pretty nice.

<"Have you warned Canary to be on the lookout?">

Huh. The other woman could have at least waited to see if she was okay before getting all concerned about the Kid.

"No need, looks like she's done. Escaped unscathed," the brunette sniped peevishly as Dinah emerged from the bathroom.

"Well, maybe not unscathed," the blonde piped up, "there were some seriously scary toupees hidden in the back of the towel closet."

"All right then," Helena cut in a little briskly.

She'd had about enough of this assignment.

"Satisfied that there's no handy Acme Disintegrator 8000 lying around, Oracle?"

<"That's fine, Huntress. I do appreciate your double-checking.">

The reply was smooth and unruffled, as were the next words.

<"Why don't you head on back so that I can dump the data, and you can get some ice on your hand?">

The brunette wasted no time in ushering Dinah towards the window. While the leather-clad vigilante erased any evidence of their visit -- tidily re-latching the window's interior lock from the outside, the teen clambered down the fire escape to the alley below.

A startled sound from four stories down interrupted the brunette's work, and she instantly back-flipped off the landing to sail to the ground.

If the Kid had been scared by a damned rat or something, Helena was going to...

Well, it was a rat -- of the two-legged variety.

Looked like a junkie who'd been too long without his fix. Probably more scared by Dinah's sudden appearance from the sky than she had been by his emergence from the dumpster. Not a real problem, except... except for the knife he was waving at the blonde.

The knife, the threat to Dinah. Now those were problems.

Alley-Rat managed to score a hit against Dinah with the knife just as blue eyes snapped to gold. The teen's pained cry echoed through the alley as she doubled over, hands flying to her abdomen.

There was blood.

<"Huntress? Canary? What's going on? I heard a cry.">

Oracle sounded worried. But Helena was fixed solely on her prey.

The dark woman emitted a low snarl as she stalked to Dinah's attacker and, almost delicately, placed a hand on his shoulder.

Distantly aware of Barbara's increasingly panicked questions, the Huntress managed to snarl a response -- "Dinah's been hurt" -- before her world turned red.

Chapter 6

Injured? How could Dinah have been injured?

The redhead's cheeks dimpled in frustration.

It was supposed to be a simple B&E, light reconnaissance. The rat trap had been a bit of a surprise but was hardly debilitating.

Any faint hopes that Barbara might have held that the teenager had merely twisted her ankle on the fire escape had evaporated at the sound of Helena's enraged snarl. The distinct sound of fists meeting flesh further supported her assumption that there was at least one other party involved in the injury.

Of course, the way that Helena was going at it, it sounded like there might have been a dozen.

"Huntress! Please respond. I need to know how badly Canary has been injured. Do you need backup?"

<"You're dead, scum ball!">

The sound of another brutal blow and a high-pitched male shriek accompanied this snarled transmission.

Well, that had been informative.

Even as she brought up screens for police and ambulance dispatch, the cyber crime fighter simultaneously scanned all of the businesses in the neighborhood in the hopes of snagging a security camera.

She needed to find out just what the hell was going on.

Since the only security camera in the vicinity was well down the block, Barbara was reduced to trying to get some response from the younger women.

Definitely time to raise her priority level for designing a decent wireless micro-camera that could be added to the comm sets.

"Huntress? Canary? I need to know what's going on at your end. Please respond."

More pounding and increasingly faint cries for mercy could be heard against a constant rumble over the comm set. The redhead was about the check the receiver's static filter when she realized what the sound was: Helena's low, deadly growling.

<"Ba... I mean, Oracle? You copy?">

Thank heavens.

Barbara had just been about to dispatch the police despite the possibility of having the brunette booked on an assault charge. The redhead shivered. Incarceration was clearly not what the brunette needed to deal with right now.

"Canary! What's going on? Huntress said you were hurt."

<"Uh, uhm, yeah. A little, I guess. I, I surprised this guy in the alley. When we, uh, came down. And, he had a knife.">

The older woman resisted the urge to drum her fingers against the keyboard. Dinah sounded pretty shaken up, and impatience with her wouldn't improve matters. Perhaps later she could have a chat with the teenager about the importance of succinct situation reports.

<"Uh, he kind of cut my hand. It's bleeding pretty hard, and Hel... Huntress just freaked. I think she's going to kill him, Oracle.">

Three sounds filtered over the comm set in rapid succession after Dinah's update: The sharp crack of a large bone breaking -- Barbara winced, probably the humerus, not an easy bone to break; a scream of agony, garbled by a mouthful of liquid -- blood, she presumed; and the sound of violent retching -- Dinah's dinner, the redhead deduced, based on the sound's proximity to the teen's transmitter.

The screaming faded, but the sound of blows continued, slower and more deliberate. It was, the older woman realized with horror, distinctly possible that Dinah was right, that Helena would kill the man. Aside from the moral implications of the act, it was something that the younger woman simply did not need on her conscience, no matter what her motivations.


Barbara suppressed her fear, kept her voice low and controlled.

"Huntress? You need to get yourself together and help Dinah."

To hell with the blonde's code name right now. She needed to keep things simple and direct.

"Huntress? I've dispatched the authorities for the perp," A tap on the send key made it so, alerting the ambulance crew first. "but you must get Dinah back here now."

The redhead fudged a bit, hoping that the brunette's concern for the teenager would outweigh her hellish desire for vengeance.

"We don't know how badly she's hurt, and I need to take care of her."

Well, she could no longer hear the sound of blows, just the brunette's harsh breathing against the constant backdrop of inhuman growling. Barbara shivered again. She didn't know if the cessation of blows meant that Helena was finally responding to her or... if it meant that Dinah's assailant was dead.

"Huntress? Do you copy me? We need to help Dinah."

The growling was quieting although the brunette's breathing was harsh and unsteady.

<"Oracle? I hear --">

Barbara picked up an almost inaudible moan from the unlucky soul who'd hurt Dinah. Naturally, with her enhanced senses, Helena did as well, as evidenced by her sharp intake of breath and low snarl.

"Stay with me, Huntress. You need to get Dinah back here. The authorities will be there any minute."

<"Huh? Yeah, right.">

Finally, finally... it sounded like the dark woman was moving towards the teenager.

<"Oracle? She's conscious. Blood -- lot of blood.">

Good, good. The words were becoming clearer, less tinged with that terrifying dark anger. It sounded like Helena's thinking was finally clearing, too.

The redhead detected rustling, a soft whimper from Dinah.

<"We're on our way, Oracle.">

<"I copy, Huntress. I'll track you on GPS and make sure that all of the traffic lights are green.">

Eleven and a half minutes later, the elevator doors slid open, and Helena stalked in, Dinah in her arms.

After her many years as a vigilante crime fighter, not to mention her experiences in the trenches as a high school teacher, Barbara Gordon had witnessed her fair share of injuries. From minor nosebleeds and broken fingers to some of the more horrific insults that the human body could withstand, she generally considered herself capable of facing almost any triage situation with some measure of equanimity. However, waiting near the elevator with a healthy supply of towels and bandages on her lap, watching the brunette approach and kneel gracefully to offer her burden for the older woman's inspection, Barbara was somewhat at a loss.

Laughter? Probably none-too-productive, although the constant stream of complaints from the teenager about being hauled around like a sack of flour were a definite source of relief for the redhead. Apparently no disabling injuries there.

Fear? Again, not productive. However, the sheer quantity of blood covering the brunette from head to toe was distinctly... unsettling. As was the distressed rumbling emanating from Helena's chest and the stark terror in gold eyes.

Relief? The two young women were back, apparently without life-threatening injuries. Nobody had died -- transmissions that she'd been monitoring from EMS had relieved the redhead of that worry -- although Helena's victim would require a lengthy hospital stay.

The older woman decided on a mixture of all three, plus a healthy dose of the practical.

Dinah first, of course. The redhead suspected that she wouldn't be able to get much out of the other woman until Helena had been reassured about her charge's condition.

Pinning the teenager with The Look, Barbara requested simply, "Let me see it."

Inspecting the wound, Barbara again fought back a wild burst of laughter.

Given the intensity of Helena's attack against the perpetrator, coupled with Dinah's none-too-clear description of her injury, the redhead had expected severed tendons or dangling fingers at the very least. This injury was nowhere near that scale.

Painful? Undoubtedly.

Dangerous? Not in the slightest.

A half-dozen stitches and a shot of ampicillin would do the trick nicely. The brunette had probably sustained worse injuries trying to screw the caps off non-screw-top beer bottles.

And, the older woman snorted softly, probably been proud of them.

Releasing the teen's hand, the redhead looked directly into worried golden eyes as she spoke to Dinah.

"It's going to be fine, Dinah. A few stitches, and you'll be as good as new. There probably won't be any scarring."

Catching the teen's nod of understanding from the corner of her eye, she asked, "Would you mind rinsing it out -- you know the drill" -- after witnessing all of the doctoring that Barbara had performed on Helena, the blonde should know the drill by now -- "and setting out the suture kit while I give Helena a quick check?"

Noting the brunette's disinclination to release her hold on the young telepath, even after what should have been reassuring words, Barbara leaned forward and gently grasped both of Helena's hands. She detected vibrations from the rumbling in the younger woman's chest all the way to her fingertips.

"Sweetie? It's all right now. Dinah's going to be fine. You got her home safely."

Keeping her voice low, her gaze as loving and open as she was able, the older woman gently stroked those slender hands, attempting to soothe the younger woman as she might an injured and frightened animal. Gradually, the rigidly locked arms which were holding the teenager ever-so-gently, if intractably, loosened; the distressed rumbling quieted.

Barbara waited until the blonde had carefully extricated herself and withdrawn before she lifted one hand to cup the other woman's face, gently drawing Helena's gaze to her. The younger woman's eyes were still augmented but were no longer so desperately panicked and introverted.

Nodding minutely at the copious quantities of blood covering the other woman, the redhead softly asked, "Are you hurt, Helena?"

Those phenomenal eyes -- even as they finally reverted to normal -- blinked slowly, several times, as if had never occurred to the brunette to consider the possibility of injury to herself. With a warm rush of tenderness, Barbara realized that, in fact, it probably hadn't occurred to the other woman.

Finally, there was a slow shake of the dark head as Helena ducked her face and muttered something inaudible.

"I'm sorry, Sweetheart. What did you say?"

The answer was soft; the voice rough.

"I said, uh, some of it's Dinah's. Uh, most of it's... his."

Pain filled blue eyes peered through dark lashes, and Barbara fought a shudder at the words she heard next.

"I was gonna kill him, Barbara. Honest to god, I was going to kill him."

Chapter 7

Those compassionate green eyes didn't even blink.

Well, hell, the redhead probably had a pretty good idea of what the younger woman had been planning -- doing. Not like there'd been a helluva lot of planning going on there.

There wasn't any surprise in the older woman's expression, but her face was sure showing a lot of other emotions, including that fucking sad, disappointed look that the brunette had hoped they'd left in high school.

Barbara drew in a long, slow breath before she spoke. Her words were soft, controlled, just a little questioning.

"You were protecting Dinah, Helena."


The brunette scowled in frustration. Her mentor probably thought it had been some freakin' heroic response to a Big Threat. That Helena had been all noble or something.

The dark woman needed for her to understand.

"He was just a junkie, Barbara. Just a stupid kid with a big knife. Cripes, he was probably more scared of the Kid than she was of him!"

The lithe figure finally rose from her crouched position, resisting the urge to pace.

Funny, right now, she wasn't even sure how she'd ended up kneeling on the floor in front of the redhead. Whatever.

She raised a hand to scrub at her face, wincing slightly as bruised knuckles made themselves known. Peering through dark lashes, she saw that Barbara was just sort of waiting. Not really acting like she expected anything, but ready to hear everything that Helena wanted -- needed -- to say.

The brunette plunged ahead.

"I mean, he wasn't even really a threat. I knew that the minute I saw him in the alley...", she trailed off miserably.

"What happened, Hel?"

"He was, I dunno, scared, trying to act all tough with the Kid -- with Dinah. He didn't even know I was there. I was just kind of waiting, seeing how Dinah was going to handle it, ready to grab the knife, scare him a little. You know?"

Anguished blue eyes caught the small smile and slight dip of a red head.

"Maybe give him the address of the methadone clinic..."

Russet eyebrows rose slightly, furrowing at the same time. Helena was going to have to remember to warn Barbara about the worry lines she was going to get if she didn't stop doing that.

The younger woman blew out a breath, started to rake a hand through her hair but -- noticing the sticky blood congealing -- stopped short. Instead, she leaned back against the wall by the elevator and looked at the ceiling, scratching at the drying blood on her neck.

"And then," she fought to keep her voice from cracking, "then he cut her, Barbara. I wasn't fast enough, and that bastard cut Dinah. And... and..."

Helena's face twisted as she saw blood from years ago, blood that wouldn't stop coming. She felt the other woman's hand come to rest softly against her thigh. The warmth of that soft touch gave her the courage to finish.

"I wanted to kill him, Barbara."

The response was immediate.

"But you didn't, Helena. You didn't."

Softly, so softly, Helena confessed, hating how her words would make the redhead see her, "I wish I had."

Helena heard the quick stutter in the older woman's breathing, even as slender fingers tangled with hers, squeezing gently.

"Listen to me, Helena. This... person had just hurt someone you care about. You wanted, needed to protect Dinah. And, no matter how much you wanted to, you did not kill him. You got Dinah to safety, and you did not kill him."

The younger woman clenched her teeth as green eyes, filled with love, caught hers. Barbara's voice was low, passionate with conviction.

"Dinah's assailant is going to be okay. You and Dinah are both home safely. And that is all that is important."

Blue eyes blinked. Something was burning them.

Red just wasn't getting it. It wasn't like she'd just over-reacted a little, snapped at the cable guy because he was four hours late or something. Everything she'd worked on -- controlling herself, channeling that part of herself -- had just disappeared like smoke in the wind. And, somehow, she just wasn't getting this across to Barbara.

But, right now, concerned green eyes were searching her face; tender fingers were holding her bloody hands, thumbs gently stroking her wrists. Barbara was worrying about her. About her. Wanting to be sure that she was okay.

And, it felt so good, so fucking good, that Helena just wanted to curl up in the other woman's arms and forget all about this night. Forget her failure and how she'd fucked up for the other woman again.

Instead, the brunette mustered a tired smile. Exhaled as she squeezed the redhead's hand gently in return.

Time for some damage control.

"Yeah." A ghost of a sigh.

Straightening, the dark woman flashed her trademark cocky grin.

"You'd better go and check on Big D before she goes all Doogie Howser on us and starts stitching herself up."

The older woman's smile didn't quite reach her eyes as she rotated her chair towards the training room, then paused.

"Are you o -- are you going to be okay, Helena?"

"Huh." The brunette grunted softly. "G'wan. I hear a shower calling my name."

An hour later, the water pouring over Helena was ice cold, but she wasn't ready to get out. Not yet.

She'd heard the phrase "seeing red" a lot. Now, she finally, really knew what color that was. It was the color that had covered her hands and clothes and face. The color that still seemed to be washing from her skin.

Yeah. She'd lost control before.

'No angels here,' she laughed without humor into the spray of water.

But, before, it was always life or death. Like with the Crimson Claw or some other mega-baddie. Something she'd needed to go with, letting loose her instincts and raw power and guts. It wasn't even a conscious decision; her body just knew, knew when to surrender herself to her feral side.

But, this little sad sack of shit tonight? Fuck, she probably could have given that strung-out mess the evil eye and said "Boo", and he would have disappeared faster than bacon at an Atkins convention.

And, the thing was, Helena had known that. And, she'd still just gone... great ape all over the guy. Just whaling and pounding on him like some goddamned --

The brunette choked on some spray, coughed. Sucked in a breath, blinking.

But the word wouldn't go away.

Funny thing was, she had a feeling it probably would be around for a long, long time.

Chapter 8

The Bard had certainly been right in "King John", a startled Barbara Gordon acknowledged; words truly could "bethump" a person.

Putting on the last of her light make-up in preparation for Helena's birthday dinner, the redhead had been chatting with Dinah about make-up techniques, subtly attempting to recruit the teen to the "less is more" camp. They'd just transitioned to a discussion about some of Helena's more Goth-like looks in her high school days, Barbara applying a light ring of malachite kohl to her right eye, when the blonde's question had startled her so.

"Do you think that someone like, uhm, Helena could ever be interested in, well, someone like me?"

Considering the emotional "thump" that the words carried, the older woman was grateful that she'd only dropped the applicator rather than jabbing her own eye out with it.

Following the wand's progress as it rolled inexorably under her dressing table, she grumpily realized that it was going to be hell to fish out from the confines of her chair. Dinah instinctively started after it, before freezing and gingerly reseating herself on the end of the bed.

Smiling softly, the redhead asked, "Would you mind?", wondering if she had -- officially -- carried her obsession with independence, with doing everything herself, just a bit too far. She opted to consider that later, since Dinah's disappearance under the table gave her a moment to collect herself, to consider her young ward's question and what might lie behind it.

The two younger women had been spending quite a bit of time together recently. They also weren't absurdly different in age -- not quite seven years, the redhead instantly calculated. And, Helena certainly had been displaying a mile-wide protective streak towards the blonde; the incident of a few nights ago was proof enough of that.

The redhead was, in fact, still puzzling over the events in the alley and, more specifically, Helena's reactions. The entire event had been rather extraordinary.

Helena had emerged from her shower that night long after the older woman had finished her simple stitching job and packed Dinah off to bed with a healthy dose of antibiotics and painkillers. After watching the brunette plant herself on the couch and start her usual dizzying channel surfing, Barbara had headed into the kitchen, returning shortly with a tray of hot tea, cocoa, and a plate of cookies. A foil pouch of strawberry pop-tarts had been tucked discretely in one corner.

Wordlessly, she'd settled herself on the couch, close to the younger woman but not crowding her, and helped herself to tea and a cookie. Only after Helena had settled on something to watch -- one of the Pink Panther movies -- and tucked into the pop-tarts had the redhead finally relaxed marginally. Noticing the scrapes and light bruising on Helena's knuckles -- the marks would fade by the next morning, given the younger woman's remarkable healing abilities -- she'd set her cup down and gently grasped one battered hand in hers.

Barbara hadn't missed the young woman's uncertain look, her slight tensing. She breathed a kiss to the back of the slim hand, murmuring, "I'm so glad that you're both safe, Helena."

The blue eyes were abashed, vaguely sad, and so the older woman had deliberately lightened her tone as her finger gently traced a darker bruise, a thin line transecting the back of the slim hand.

"What's this?"

Helena's succinct response, accompanied by an embarrassed dip of a shaggy head, had provided the relief, the release, that both women needed. They'd dissolved into laughter at her words.

"Rat trap."

Since that night, Helena had seemed a bit withdrawn, less verbose than usual. Thoughtful, Barbara decided.

Despite any withdrawal in general, the brunette had been spending a not-inconsiderable amount of time each day with Dinah -- training, going out for burgers, helping her track down an elusive must-have hat for the play, even working in another dance lesson. She'd also shown up for sweeps each night after her shifts at work. Mercifully, the patrols had been quiet, routine; the redhead suspected that Helena had been relieved by that.

As was she, Barbara admitted.

She was still surprised and slightly frightened by the ferocity of the brunette's response to the assault on her companion. While she understood how the event could have triggered some horrific memories for the young woman, Dinah's injury shouldn't have inspired quite the level of brutality that Helena had unleashed. In light of Dinah's question, the redhead wondered if there could be other feelings that had contributed to the intensity of Helena's response.

On the other hand, considering the situation, the older woman had to admit that if she had been present when the teen was injured, it was distinctly probable that she, too, would have gone medieval all over the poor junkie.

Smiling her thanks as Dinah emerged from under the table and offered the applicator, the older woman dimpled her cheeks in frustration. None of this really provided her with any concrete data to support a hypothesis about the teen's question. Did any of this mean what might be suggested by the girl's question?

Steadying her hand as she attempted to finish her make-up, Barbara decided to lob the ball back into Dinah's court. She'd learned through hard experience with her first ward that the technique was often quite effective.

"What do you mean, Dinah?"

The blush flooding the girl's face elicited a sympathetic frown; the redhead was quite familiar with the travails of the fair-skinned.

"Well, it's just, she's so cool and... beautiful and funny and... Would, uhm, someone like that ever notice someone like me?"

The redhead addressed some of the subtext in the awkward question immediately.


Barbara waited patiently until shy blue eyes rose to meet green.

"You are a beautiful young woman. Bright and caring and funny. Don't sell yourself short."

The blonde smiled hesitantly, the resettled her mantle of discomfort around her shoulders.

"Well, but do you think she, uh, someone like her would ever notice me?"

Looking in the mirror, ostensibly to give herself a final once-over, the redhead directed an exasperated glare at her own reflection. She was deeply over her head on this one, not to mention the fact that she was being swamped by a whole host of other emotions she didn't care to analyze too closely right now.

Turning back towards Dinah, Barbara demurred, "Dinah, perhaps you should just ask Helena."

"Ask me what? Is it okay to come in?"

A dark head peeked around the partially opened bedroom door, and two heads -- one crimson, one gold -- snapped guiltily towards the voice. Barbara recovered first, laughing.

"Of course, Hel. Come in."

The laughter died quite abruptly when the younger woman eased her way fully into the room.

Helena had instructed that the redhead should "dress to the nines" for the dinner she'd shyly asked the older woman to attend. Barbara had chosen a deep green -- almost black -- sleeveless, one-piece pantsuit for the occasion. A mandarin collar encircled her throat, accentuating her long neck and drawing attention to her bare shoulders. The older woman was well aware that the shape and definition in her shoulders and upper arms hadn't suffered since the accident.

The brunette had easily outdone her mentor.

A ten. Definitely dressed to the tens, if that were possible, Barbara mused.

The younger woman was wearing a slinky, black sleeveless cocktail dress which hugged her closely enough to hint at the curves beneath without clinging. The above-the-knee hem line revealed a respectable length of tanned leg, muscles subtly shaped by low, open-toe heels; and the scooped back showed off the woman's slender back to advantage. The silver cat's claw pendant which had belonged to Helena's mother was the only adornment on the brunette.

Barbara licked her lips, then swallowed. She thought she actually heard Dinah swallow, and, for a fleeting moment, the redhead was seized by a desire to scratch the teenager's eyes out.

Where had that come from?

Helena seemed to register the approving stares, pirouetting showily. She ducked her head and impishly inquired, "So, did I clean up all right?"

"Wow," Dinah breathed.

Despite years and years of reading and study, despite multiple master's degrees, despite a memory that let her forget none of what she'd learned, Barbara couldn't have come up with a better word to describe the younger woman. She settled on a wide smile and a slow nod.

"Course," the brunette continued, "I can't hold a candle to you, Red."

Cerulean eyes traced the older woman from head to toe as Helena smiled cheekily.

"Like the Kid said, Barbara: Wow."

Intensely aware of the heat suffusing her in the wake of the younger woman's appraisal, the redhead blushed furiously. She rocked the wheels of her chair twice before finding her voice.

"It is a special occasion, after all. You'll only have one 24th birthday, Hel."

The younger woman grinned.

"Yeah. Ready to paint the town red, Red?"

Chapter 9

Helena brought the wineglass towards her face, swirling and sniffing delicately at the red liquid before staring glumly at the glass in her hand.

God, this was hard.

What had she been thinking when she asked the redhead to dinner -- just the two of them -- in honor of her birthday? Of course, that had been almost a month ago, before things started getting so... raw.

Teach her to plan ahead.

The young woman snickered softly as she considered using this situation as ammunition in her ongoing debate with Barbara about the merits of the older woman's methodical planning versus Helena's play-it-by-ear approach. She quickly brought her napkin to her lips to mask the sound; she wasn't so sure that Red would think it was funny.

Well, maybe, it wasn't that humorous after all.

The two women were seated at the best table of New Gotham's most elegant restaurant. The rooftop establishment's large windows provided a stunning view of the cityscape below and the stars above, and candles created intimate illumination at each table. Against the backdrop of stars, crimson hair reflecting the fire from the candles, Barbara was simply luminous. The deep green material of the older woman's outfit seemed to shimmer, drawing Helena's gaze again and again to the other woman's neck and chest. Artful trails of crimson hair escaped the loose chignon, whispering against the sides of the redhead's face.

Helena thought she must be in Hell.

Sitting at the small table, sharing bites of her torte with the other woman -- Barbara had insisted that the waiter place a single small candle on top when he delivered it -- the brunette couldn't believe that she was keeping up her end of their teasing conversation.

Instead of focusing on the redhead's words, she longed to run her fingers through the silky tendrils of hair, caressing the elegant planes of the other woman's face. She ached to move to Barbara's side and bury her nose in that soft hair, ghost her fingers across those strong, bare shoulders, map the other woman's back with her mouth. She yearned for those emerald eyes to look at her the way she wished she were free to look at the other woman. She burned for the other woman just to grab her and take her -- roughly, hard, needing.

She didn't want all of the playful words they were exchanging; she only wanted one: Yes.

The young woman ignored a desire to fan herself with the napkin, replacing it ever-so-gently in her lap. In her current state, even the whisper of the linen in her lap was an agony, and she shifted restlessly, tried to focus on what Barbara was saying.

"I haven't been here in years, Helena. Thank you for inviting me. Although, shouldn't you be out with one of your many admirers?"

Not sure how she did it, the brunette kept her tone light, her expression playful.

"I thought that I was, Babs."

The redhead smiled and play-swatted the younger woman's arm. Helena dodged the swipe and continued easily.

"Besides, you know my 'No repeats' rule."

"Yes, I do," the older woman murmured.

Helena thought that the other woman's voice didn't sound very playful all of a sudden.

"What is it with you and that rule, anyway? Haven't you sown enough wild oats?"

Smoothly transforming her pained grimace into an evil smile, Helena gave a saucy wink.

"Don't want anyone getting too needy, y'know."

The redhead's response was almost completely without inflection.

"What will you-- what do you plan to do when you're older, Helena? I know that you're still young, but..."

Dark brows furrowed momentarily before the dark woman decided that truth was the best option. Nevertheless, she tempered it with a grin and a teasing tone.

"Well, I guess I'll just be a spinster, still hanging around, bugging the crap out of you, Red. Probably a lot of cats, too. I understand they're a requirement."

The older woman's laugh was bright as she reached across the table to rest one long elegant hand lightly on Helena's.

"Indeed, Hel. But," now it was russet brows that creased as green eyes danced playfully, "can someone with your experience technically be a spinster?"

"Guess I'll just have to write some new rules or something, Barbara."

Shit, that hadn't come out quite as playful as she'd hoped. Still, the redhead was moving on from this painful topic. Finally.

"Perhaps that won't be necessary, Hel. It may be that our young charge has a bit of a crush on you."

What? No way --

"Oh, uh, I'd... I've never."

Helena paused, regrouping, working it out in her head.

"Nah." The word was decisive.

The brunette signaled for the check, smiling.

"She's got her eye on some little cutie in her science class. Gert? Gabby Something-or-other. 'Sides," the woman's tone darkened slightly, "even if she did, she'll figure it out soon enough."

Anybody with any sense would, she figured. Barbara sure had.

Barbara seemed a bit puzzled by the response, or -- more likely, Helena figured -- to her companion's inflection; however, she remained quiet until they reached the van.

"Well, then, Helena, what's next?"

"Uh," God, she hoped this wouldn't backfire, "just sit tight."

Minutes later, the younger woman pulled into an empty parking lot and shut off the engine. She turned to smirk at the redhead.


Huh, that hadn't come out quite as confidently as she'd planned.

"The roller rink, Hel? I'm not sure I understand."

Red was getting that vaguely baffled and miffed look that she got when she wasn't sure if there was a joke she wasn't getting.

Helena loved that look.

Exiting the van and assisting the other woman out, Helena decided to try for the shy, hangdog expression that she was well-aware the other woman couldn't resist.

"Hey, I never had one of those birthday skating parties. Thought I was a little overdue."

The redhead laughed, then remembered herself, glancing uncomfortably at her chair.

"But, Hel...?"

Helena held the door of the empty facility open with one hand, offering a CD to the lone attendant for her private party, and smiled teasingly.

"Think about it, Red. You on wheels. Me on wheels -- "

The brunette paused dramatically, then waggled her eyebrows.

"-- in this dress. Who's gonna end up on her ass the most?"

Barbara laughed -- rich and throaty -- and wheeled enthusiastically inside. The redhead always loved a competition.

In short order, the brunette had exchanged her tasteful heels for a pair of skates which had obviously seen better days and sailed onto the floor where the redhead waited, smirking at the glitter-ball lights which had just come to life.

Helena resisted comment as her hearing picked up the tiny click of the sound system. Waiting for the first track of her recently mixed disc to start, she channeled John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever", thrusting one hand in the air, tilting her head down and to the side. As the unmistakable intro to a '70's classic filled the rink, the young woman pushed off, dramatically swinging her raised hand down and across her body, and -- after an embarrassing amount of pin wheeling -- inevitably fell on her backside.

Amazing how out of practice she was after twelve years or so...

She grumpily watched the redhead -- who was laughing just a little too hard, she thought -- lick her index finger and paint a big "1" in the air before accepting the proffered hand up. Helena fixed the smiling woman with a cool stare and gestured in the general vicinity of the speakers.

"C'mon, Red, we're here to do The Hustle," -- a cautious hip-shake accompanied the title of the song, "not joke around. Care to offer a girl a hand?"

Barbara extended a hand, and for the duration of the disco classic and the next song they circled together as Helena regained unused skills, attempting an occasional cross-over, grabbing the handles of the other woman's chair for balance when she got over-ambitious.

Helena had a suspicion that she might have stayed upright more if the redhead didn't seem to be deliberately swerving around. She mentally shrugged; maybe Red was just grooving to the music.

When "Stray Cat Strut" faded out and Randy Newman warbled over the speakers, Barbara braked sharply, nearly sending the brunette spilling into her lap.

"What the hell?", the younger woman inquired, a little crankily.

The redhead pursed her lips and offered a pointed stare towards a speaker. In response, blue eyes blinked innocently.

A raised crimson brow suggested just how very unamused the other woman was.

Helena tried. She really did. But, she couldn't keep a straight face.

The younger woman burst out laughing which naturally sent her to the floor in a heap. Having won their face-down, the redhead gave in to her laughter as well, as her companion attempted to speak.

"Whaaat?," the brunette wheezed between indelicate guffaws, " 'Short People' is a roller-skating tradition. Practically a goddamned anthem, Barbara. Really, it's in the official charter for all the rinks."

Green eyes sparkled -- coulda been reflections from the disco ball, but Helena didn't think so -- as the older woman pretended to consider.

"All right, Hel. If you say so. However, if I hear a single song from the 'Xanadu' soundtrack, I am out of here."

The young woman scrabbled to her feet, narrowing her eyes as she followed the other woman's progress to the side of the rink, where they'd left their coats. Red had been laughing, but maybe she really did have something against the movie... Helena glided slowly over as Randy continued his lament about the vertically challenged.

"Hey, I'm gonna go grab something for us to drink from the snack bar. Forgot to tell you that it comes with the rental, so if you want a hot dog or some nachos..."

Helena thought the redhead looked a little queasy.

"As much as I do enjoy an open bar, Hel, I cannot imagine how a serving of barely-warm cheese-whiz over stale tortilla chips could possibly enhance the four-star dinner we just enjoyed. But," -- was that a challenging gleam? -- "don't hold back on my account, Sweetie. After all, it is your party."

The young woman clomped in the direction of the refreshment stand, snagging two bottles of water before stepping into the sound-proof booth, to interrupt the rink attendant's phone conversation. She waited with thinly veiled impatience until he put his hand over the mouthpiece and looked her way.

"Yeah, sorry to interrupt there -- Would you make sure you skip track eight on the CD I gave you? My friend has issues with ELO."

Helena smiled sweetly at the grumpy acknowledgement and headed back to her companion, wondering if she should get them out of the place during track seven. She wasn't too confident about their host's ability to retain her instruction through another five, or was it four?, tracks.

The brunette started through the play list. 'Short People' was second -- no, third -- which meant...


Helena glided gracefully to the bench and half-slid on to it, silently handing a bottle of water to Barbara and smiling widely as the redhead performed little pop-wheelies and sang to the reggae, hip-hop beat of Shaggy.

Girl, you're my angel, you're my darling angel
Closer than my peeps you are to me, baby
Shorty, you're my angel, you're my darling angel
Girl, you're my friend when I'm in need, lady

The older woman interrupted her singing to turn to the brunette.

"You know, you still haven't told me what you want for your birthday, Hel."

The redhead was notoriously awful at picking out gifts. Years ago, she'd finally thrown in the towel and mandated that the people in her life simply give her a prioritized list of what they wanted for each occasion. Serial and model numbers were optional but highly recommended.

Helena considered, listening to the beginning of another verse.

You're a queen and so you should be treated
Though you never get the lovin' that you needed
Could have left, but I called and you heeded
Begged and I pleaded, mission completed...

Inevitably, the younger woman chickened out. The last week had been... too much. Maybe next year.

Helena chugged her water, then grinned.

"This is it, Barbara. Just a night on the town with you."

The brunette wondered how -- when she was honestly having so much fun -- she could ache so, feel so splintered and hollow.

Nevertheless, she smiled and stood, extending a hand to the older woman and waiting as the redhead screwed the top back on her water.

Uh, uh

Girl, in spite of my behavior, said I'm your savior
(You must be sent from up above)
And you appear to me so tender, say girl I surrender
(Thanks for giving me your love)

"C'mon, Red, let's boogie. We've only got three more songs before we've gotta get out of here."

Chapter 10

"Boogie Nights"? How had that gotten in there?

<"You copy, Oracle?">

Head buried deep in a cabinet, Barbara started at the voice purring through the receiver in her ear. She backed away from the cabinet, fixing it with an irrationally irritated stare, and replied smoothly, "I copy, Huntress. Are you available?"

The older woman had been caught up in lesson plans, waiting for Helena's shift to end. She was slightly surprised to note how pleased she was by the sound of the other woman's voice over the transceiver.

<"Sure am.">

The voice was light, playful.

<"So what are we doing tonight, Brain?">

Smiling at the Animaniacs reference, Barbara responded lightly, "Oh, the usual, Pinky. Foiling plots to take over the world, halting forces of darkness and petty criminals..."

Channeling her best megalomaniac mouse voice, she added, "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?"

The response was deadpan.

<"I think so, Brain. But where are we going to find rubber pants in our size?">

Barbara laughed, bright and full. How Helena could make her laugh...

"No need for all that to foil a convenience store robbery. A silent alarm tripped a few minutes ago on 16th Avenue. Do you want to take a look?"

<"Sounds like fun. Maybe I can pick up a snack.">

Barbara heard the sound of slow steady breathing, the wind blowing across the comm set, the slight scuffing of boots. The familiar sounds of her partner flying across the rooftops of the city.

Steeling herself, the redhead returned to the cabinet and resumed her search.

<"What are you working on, Oracle?">

The dark woman had undoubtedly heard Barbara rustling through the DVD cabinet.

"Mmm? Oh, nothing, really. Just trying to find 'Nemo'."

<"Is that one of the ergonomic exercises, or are you getting into something kinky there, Oracle?">

The redhead felt the blush creep up her neck and blew out an exasperated breath. What had the Creator had in mind with blushes when nobody was around to witness -- and increase -- the reaction?

"Just the DVD, Huntress. I hoped that it might spark something for one of the groups in my daytime project."

Helena grasped the reference to her mentor's fifth period senior English class.

<"Aw, you're not inflicting 'The Odyssey' again, are you?">

Barbara withdrew her head from the cabinet and focused her full attention on the conversation.

"What would make you think that, Huntress?"

<"Huh. Let's see. You're hunting for a movie about perilous journeys,">

There was a quick pause, and the teacher could almost see her protege ticking the points off on her fingers.

<"numerous misadventures, vivid descriptions -- or, animation in this case, a central figure of heroic caliber -- even if he is a clown fish. In short, 'a long narrative on a grand scale about the deeds of warriors and heroes'.">

The quotation marks encapsulating the final formal definition of an epic were clear in the brunette's voice.

Barbara blinked, shaking her head at the brunette's synopsis of "Finding Nemo" -- and of Homer's work. She simply didn't understand how the young woman had only skated through her senior English class with a B-.

"Exactly. I hoped that something more modern might resonate."

Curiosity got the best of the older woman.

"How do you know so much about the topic, Huntress?"

"Hey, I kind of like those Greek epics -- lots of fighting and loving and dying. Of course, 'The Aeneid' was way better -- sort of the condensed version, you know?"

Barbara's amused response was cut short by the other woman's next transmission. All trace of playfulness gone, the woman's tone was completely business-like.

<"I'm here. Gonna check things out. Going silent.">

Spying the DVD behind a stack of 'Best of Jerry Springer' tapes -- how had those come into her possession? -- the redhead grabbed the film and returned to her station at the Delphi. As she monitored police broadcasts and waited for her partner to check in, she absently mused about the contradiction that was Helena Kyle.

Brash, yet endearingly shy.

An avowed non-intellectual, yet possessing depths of eclectic knowledge -- as just witnessed by their brief exchange about Greek and Roman literature.

Brooding and notoriously short-tempered, yet capable of extraordinary depths of sweetness and humor. The brunette's antics at the roller rink were demonstration enough of that. Barbara hadn't been fooled for a minute by the always graceful woman's clumsiness with the skates. Honestly, Helena had never even tripped in her life as far as she could recall.

Blatantly, almost proudly, uncommitted and emotionally irresponsible, yet tremendously protective and sensitive. The younger woman's interactions with Dinah -- her response to the threat against the teen, her almost palpable discomfort when Barbara had broached the possibility of a crush -- were evidence enough of this.

And, romantic. Barbara couldn't forget romantic, especially after their dinner date last night.

The cyber genius tilted her head to the side, considering. Had it been a date? Dinner, with an activity afterward.


The only thing missing had been a goodnight kiss... or ten.

For a giddy, breath-stopping moment, when Helena had accompanied her up to the clock tower after they'd left the rink, the redhead had thought -- hoped -- feared -- that the younger woman was planning to -- to do something.

Before leaving, the brunette had almost shuffled her feet and then leaned down, bringing her face close, so close; Barbara swore she had felt the fine hairs of the other woman's cheek brushing her face. The redhead had heard Helena's soft measured breathing, felt warm breath brushing her hair, marvelled at the heat radiating from the younger woman. For a moment, a moment filled with longing and possibilities, Helena had held the pose.

Barbara had broken first.

She'd turned her head, admittedly disappointed when her lips met the smooth, tan skin of the younger woman's cheek instead of the soft lips she could no longer deny wanting to taste. Helena had accepted the buss with a shy smile and then departed without another word.

The redhead pursed her lips, dimpling her cheeks, simply amazed at her own short-sightedness. Clearly, when it came to her former ward, she'd not been looking at the whole picture.

So this was it.

Ilia iacta est.

Last night had been, Barbara acknowledged, a most definitive cast of the die for her. She'd known for years that she loved -- was in love -- with Helena Kyle. She could, would, no longer deny wanting to act on those feeling.

There would be pain, heartache; of that she was sure. Once this Rubicon was crossed, she wouldn't have a hope of hiding her heart, wouldn't be able to use Helena's damned 'No Repeats' rule to protect herself, wouldn't even be able to shield herself behind the armor of scars and unfeeling flesh.

Dammit. In the face of her younger partner's sweetness and passion, Barbara's shields and armor were simply dissolving like paper tigers in the rain.

A quiet beep from the Delphi distracted the woman from her thoughts.

One of her monitoring routines had been tripped, originating from New Gotham General. That meant only one thing: another corpse matching the parameters of last week's DOA.

Oh, good grief.

While additional data could be helpful in establishing a pattern, why couldn't the first death have been some sort of bizarre fluke?

Well, hard experience had long ago taught the cyber crime fighter that there were extremely few flukes in New Gotham.

Barbara debated with herself.

While she absolutely would not ask Helena to repeat last week's trip to the morgue and while she could try to make do with whatever lab results she hacked from medical records, the older woman could not deny that another set of tissue and fluid samples to compare with the first would be invaluable.

Green eyes narrowed thoughtfully as the redhead tapped her glasses absently against her chin. Hmmm, perhaps she could split this Gordian Knot.

Opening another terminal window and beginning to type, the crime fighter laughed softly. Since this was a dilemma of her own making, perhaps it would be better described as a Gordon-ian Knot.

Twenty-five minutes later, Barbara responded to her younger partner's hail over the comm set with a clear -- relatively clear -- conscience.

"Yes, I copy, Huntress. Everything go smoothly at the Quicky Mart?"

<"Aw, the cops were already there. I hung around, did the innocent by-stander thing just in case.">

The redhead thought she detected the sound of a slushee being sucked through a straw.

"Hmm," she responded neutrally, "Are you available now?"

She waited, hoping. If this little job went smoothly, Helena would be returning to the clock tower soon. There were a few things she wanted to talk about with the younger woman.

<"Sure. What's up?">

Clearing her throat, she inquired, "I was hoping that you could make a quick stop for me."

Chapter 11

What the...? Again?

After spending the last week worried that her own shadow might leap up and bite her -- or Barbara or Dinah -- the brunette was finally putting some of her fear and embarrassment to rest. Maybe it had just been the full moon and her concern for Dinah and whatever the fuck else went on with her feral side.

Or, maybe some seriously whacked out PMS.

The young woman barely stifled a guffaw as she landed silently on the roof of the hospital. PMS didn't hold a freakin' candle to how she'd been feeling, acting.

The brunette hadn't felt so out of control, so utterly miserable in her failures in front of the older woman, in a helluva long time. She could have cheerfully gone on a lot longer without revisiting those particular feelings.

At least she was feeling more in control again. She hadn't wanted to kill -- or ravage -- anyone since the night of Dinah's attack. Though, last night at dinner, she'd been feeling a little shaky about that second thing. But -- she gave herself a mental high-five -- she had managed to get through the dinner without crawling all over Barbara. She'd even squeaked through that weird, charged minute when she'd dropped the redhead at the tower and her baser instincts had been telling her -- screaming -- that the other woman wanted her to...

Now, she was just a little bit eager to get out on the streets to find some action.

A "quick stop" by the hospital pathology lab was probably the last thing she'd had on her mind.

Helena sighed.

It was only a couple of blocks -- buildings -- away from the convenience store; and, if it allowed her to avoid another visit to the morgue while giving Barbara more information to help stop this... thing, well, who was she to complain?

Catching a glimpse of three orderlies taking a smoke break by the roof entrance, the dark figure ducked behind a ventilation shaft. She eyed the vent speculatively. Should she? Sure, it would shave a few minutes, but, well, just ick.

<"Huntress? GPS shows you stationary at NGG. Is everything under control?">

"Yeah," she whispered back, "just a little delay on getting inside. No biggie."

Hearing the sound of typing over the comms, the young woman settled back, whistling almost inaudibly as she waited for Larry, Daryl, and Daryl to finish their smokes. A soft chuckle over her receiver interrupted her second chorus of 'Beast of Burden'.

<"Honestly, Huntress, the Stones?">

"Can't beat a classic, Oracle -- Wait, the entrance just cleared. I'm going silent."

Effortlessly jimmying the roof access door, Helena wondered what it would be like if Barbara got all intrigued and excited about a case of -- oh -- odd cross-pollination in tulips or something for a change. Really, anything that didn't involve dead bodies. The woman seriously needed to rethink her topics of interest.

Poised to vault over the rail for another flight of stairs, the brunette froze as it hit her: It wouldn't make a bit of difference if Red did rethink; the woman was already interested in every friggin' topic.

Sighing fondly, she landed soundlessly on the fourth floor landing and peeked through the stairwell door. Coast was clear.

Helena rolled her eyes.

Well, of course the coast was clear. It was 11:20 at night. No surprise that things might be a little quiet on the normally nine-to-five lab floor.

The dark woman strolled casually, confidently, into the corridor. Her mom had always said that if you acted like you belonged, most people wouldn't question you. Helena was well aware that this particular bit of wisdom had assisted Selina Kyle with the acquisition of a gorgeous trinket or a lovely work of art on more than one occasion. She hoped that it would prove equally helpful for a woman in black leather prowling through the closed-off floor of the hospital at midnight.

Well, if anyone asked, she could just say that she was making a withdrawal for the Transylvanian blood bank.

On second thought...

The lithe figure veered into a supply closet and shucked her duster, replacing it with a slightly soiled lab coat. Wrinkling her nose against the overpowering odor of cologne -- cripes, Chaps was just so 1980s -- she twisted the fabric of the lapel to peer at the nametag.

'Dr. Weinberg'? O-kaaaay.

A moment later, she slouched into the main office of the lab, interrupting the night clerk's round of instant messaging with -- blue eyes flickered gold for a split second -- some dude named Harold Grivens. The startled clerk quickly clicked a spreadsheet to the forefront before pinning Helena with a Can't-you-see-how-terribly-busy-I-am glower.

"Uh, hi?" The brunette batted her lashes and tried to look a little nervous. Not a huge stretch, really.

Pretending to consult the clipboard she'd swiped on the way in, she stammered, "I just got sent up from Infection, uh, stat --"

Yeah, they were always saying stuff like that on E.R., weren't they? She ignored the pained sigh that came over the comm set.

"-- for some rush samples for Carly Applewood?"

Carly Applewood? Wait a minute...

Obviously dismissing her as nothing more than an overworked third-year student gopher, IM-boy grunted and gestured to a neatly packaged box.

It looked kind of like Chinese take-out.

The young woman scribbled a signature on the receipt next to the box and headed out the door. Unable to resist, she turned and ducked her head back in, freezing the dedicated medical professional as he was in the process of clicking back to his IM screen.

Batting her eyes again, Helena purred, "Y'know, contrary to what old Harold thinks, I'm with you. Spiderman 2 was waaay better than the first."

In two minutes flat, she'd reclaimed her coat and was back on the roof, ready to head back to the clock tower.

"I'm out and on my way."

<"Everything go all right? It wasn't too bad, was it, Huntress?">

Well, it hadn't been that bad. Beat all hell out of the morgue thing last week. But, maybe she wouldn't tell Barbara that just yet, let her feel a little guilty.

Who was she kidding?

Effortlessly sailing onto another rooftop, she sighed, then responded.

"Fine, Oracle. A lot better than last week's job."

Leaping again, she spoke quietly.

"Oracle, I knew Carly, from No Man's Land."

The older woman immediately recognized the name of the popular hang-out for some of New Gotham's meta population.

<"She was a meta, Huntress?">

"Yeah -- "

Ready to leap across an alleyway, the dark woman froze as a sudden frisson of awareness snapped her mind directly back to the moment and drew her attention to the street below.

What the fuck?

She had to be seeing things, cuz there was no way her luck was this good. But, yeah, couldn't mistake those two goons: tape on their noses, raccoon eyes evidencing the recent breaks, same cock-sure walk as they tracked a woman unfortunate enough to be heading down the street alone at midnight. And the dumb sons-of-bitches had the nerve to keep doing this in the same neighborhood where the brunette had kicked their asses just last week.

You just couldn't reason with some people.

Barbara was still talking.

<"What sort of ability -- ">

"Sssss." Helena summarily silenced the older woman's concerned questions and then checked herself.

"Sorry, Oracle," she muttered, "just saw some... old friends I want to catch up with for a minute. Going off comms for a bit."

She'd been hoping for a little action; looked like she might have found it. No need to trouble the older woman with the harsh words she had in mind for the stupid punks.

Eyes flickering yellow, the young woman deactivated the comm set, dropped into the alley, and set off for a hunt.

Chapter 12

Hunting through neatly organized desktop files, Barbara restrained herself from cursing volubly and throwing pencils only because of the concerned pale blue eyes which she knew were watching her. She was, after all, supposed to be an example of calm, cool, rational good judgment.

Still, perhaps there would only be a small, temporary blemish to her reputation if she threw just once pencil in front of Dinah?

Christ on a bicycle! What was Helena thinking, turning off not just her comm set but also her GPS?

Barbara hadn't been alarmed when the brunette had abruptly cut off her transmitter -- and receiver. The young woman had been quite clear about a desire for a few moment's privacy, and Barbara had resisted the urge to examine too closely what her friend might have meant by "catching up" with friends, afraid it would lead her to think of some sort of sordid hook-up in an alley.

However, when Helena failed to check in after half an hour and Barbara noticed that the GPS was no longer transmitting, the older woman was seized by concern.

Concern which she chose to channel into her current search for the override codes which could remotely reactive Helena's units.

Barbara halted her search momentarily when the EMS monitor popped up. An ambulance had just been dispatched to an address not far from Helena's last position. Could the brunette...? No, dispatch records were for four men who had been in a fight.

She resumed her methodical search of the Delphi, revisiting the pencil-throwing idea, as she -- quite deliberately -- chose to continue believing that the younger woman had turned off the unit herself. However, if she didn't get some sort of communication in short order, she'd have to face the possibility that the GPS unit attached to the necklace transmitter had been deactivated by someone -- or something -- else.

A-ha, there it was, all of the documentation she'd assembled for the remote units, in logically labeled folders in perfectly obvious subdirectories on the Delphi's M drive. Didn't know why she'd had such trouble finding it.

Double-clicking the correct PDF file, she pasted the code for Helena's GPS unit into the waiting window on another screen. It should take just a few seconds for the satellite uplink to trigger and...


Noticing Dinah's eyes widening at the sudden exclamation, Barbara refrained from pumping her fist in the air.

The redhead realized that her own eyes were widening a bit as she tried to make sense of the data from the locator. The signal was decidedly weak, intermittent, and she was unable to get an exact lock on it. Had the unit been damaged somehow?

A trickle of something cold and unpleasant ran down the cyber crime fighter's spine, coming to rest in the pit of her stomach.

Barbara slammed open another terminal window, oblivious to Dinah's startled jump, and, within thirty seconds, had hacked tracelessly into NASA. She needed to get control of the GPS satellite and boost it's signal in order to lock in more precisely on Helena's location. Long fingers flew across the keyboard even as the older woman kept one eye on the GPS window, trying -- hoping -- to determine whether there was any movement from the thready signal which supposedly indicated her younger partner's location and movement.

There, she'd snagged the satellite; now, if she diverted some power from another signal...

Green eyes scanned the available options, and without so much as a blink, without a single twinge of conscience, the redhead channeled the power from the space agency's educational cable network. Hopefully, she rationalized as she watched the GPS signal strengthen, the broadcast would be interrupted so briefly that the two dozen people around the globe who might be watching wouldn't have time to become concerned.

The relief which washed through the older woman when she boosted Helena's signal enough to get a lock on it was quickly replaced by puzzlement. According to the coordinates, Helena -- or, at least her GPS unit -- was... at the Dark Horse?

More probably, she decided, at her apartment above the bar.

Barbara typed a few commands with one hand, returning power to the broadcast feed but remaining linked to the satellite for the time being, as she reached for the phone. With every fiber of her being, the older woman prayed that the brunette had "caught up" with her friends and returned to her place for... well, whatever. Dialing, she hoped that the problem with her friend's GPS was a fluke, a bad battery, even the result of some sort of indelicate escapade.

The redhead drummed the fingers of one hand against her mouse as she listened to ringing on the other end. Finally --

Oh, for the love of...

It was the other woman's machine.

<"Hey. You've reached Short Attention Span Theater. Leave a pertinent message at the impertinent beep.">

Barbara opened her mouth to speak and then abruptly snapped it shut, becoming utterly still for the first time in minutes. Considering.

What if Helena were merely 'catching up', she euphemized, with an acquaintance? The older woman certainly didn't want to interrupt or seem too possessive of the other woman's time. Nevertheless...

"Helena? It's Barbara. I hope I'm not interrupting. After we got cut off earlier, there seems to be some problem with your mobile, and I've been unable to get in touch with you. Nothing urgent, but I am a bit concerned and would appreciate a call."

There. Nothing that couldn't be heard by a -- guest but, all the same, hopefully enough to spur the brunette to return the call. Helena had always been conscientious about not allowing her mentor, her former guardian, to worry unduly.

At that thought, the redhead snapped her gaze to Dinah.

"Do you have the number for the Dark Horse?"

She'd give Helena five minutes to return her call...

Within eight minutes, Barbara was on a different line, trying to rein in her temper as she spoke with an obviously flustered server at the bar.

"Yes, I do understand that he doesn't stay on the floor. I simply don't care. I don't care if he's in his office with a hand up somebody's skirt -- or pants -- " it was a new millennium -- "this very moment."

The older woman pinched the bridge of her nose, exhaled slowly, and added very sweetly, "Would you please get Leonard on the phone? Now."

Persistence paid off, and, in short order, the redhead waited none-too-patiently as the bar owner went upstairs with his spare key to check on the whereabouts of the brunette. When she heard the man returning to the phone, the older woman dimpled her cheeks in frustration, and began running through the short list of other options she had for locating the woman.

Clearly, Leonard had returned much too quickly to have found Helena at home and dealt with any ire his intrusion might have engendered.

Barbara was confident enough in her deduction that she was surprised -- to say the least -- when the first words she heard were, "She's there."

The next words both clarified for her how the man had escaped Helena's wrath so quickly and dissolved the brief relief that had begun to inch through her, replacing it with a much different emotion.

"You'd better get over here. She's messed up pretty bad."

Chapter 13

Shit. This was all messed up.

The brunette rocked forward, attempting to curl in on herself until agony abruptly halted her movement. She grunted softly, then hissed at the pain that had caused. She cut short her attempt to swallow. Just breathing was hard enough right now; swallowing around the stricture in her throat sure didn't seem like such a good idea.

Blue eyes blinked in the dark apartment, and Helena looked down at her hands where they rested on her thighs. She flexed her fingers, puzzling over the resistance of the drying blood that coated them.

This was not good. How could she have let this happen? What could she possibly say to Barbara -- all of these years, trying, holding herself back, hoping...

The dark woman leaned forward slightly, raising her right hand to scrub at her burning eyes. For some reason, her left arm refused to move. Opening her mouth, she scented the blood on her hand, trembling violently in recognition.

She just needed to think. Only problem was, her brain just wasn't coming up with anything. Maybe if she gave it a minute... if that loud rumbling would just stop... if she could just sit here and think -- not think.

Helena rested her forehead against her palm, shut her eyes for a minute. Maybe two.

A hushed voice distantly caught her attention.

"Why's she over there in the corner?"

Dinah? What was the Kid doing here?

"It's like I told you, like I saw her. Doesn't look like she's moved. I didn't do anything. Didn't want to -- you know -- scare her or anything."

And Leonard?

The dark head rose fractionally.

Yeah, that was Leonard. Why hadn't she ever thought to change her damned locks?

"That's fine, Leonard. I'm so glad that you saw her."

Helena's mouth twisted, and, this time, she did swallow, ignoring the clenching agony in her throat.

Barbara, too? How'd she get up here? There wasn't an elevator. Leonard woulda had to carry her up, and Red didn't let anyone to carry her.

The brunette glared in the direction of the voices.

He'd better have kept his hands to himself, or she'd take a piece -- a very specific piece -- out of him.

"Dinah, would you check the bedroom and bathroom? Find some blankets and towels, please?"

God, Barbara sounded so fucking good. She could help her figure it out... But, no, that was wrong!

Cautious blue eyes peered from under long bangs as someone turned on the table light, as Barbara's chair came close.

Fuck! The redhead shouldn't see her like this, couldn't know...

Then, that beautiful face leaned down, red hair spilling over her shoulders; a hand softly touched the brunette's hair.

"Hello, Sweetheart."

Helena whined softly and tried to back away, but she was trapped in the corner where she'd collapsed. Nevertheless, she pistoned her legs, futilely trying to escape from the older woman's compassionate gaze.

"Shhh, it's okay. It's going to be all right, Helena."

The Kid was back, standing behind the redhead's chair with a stack of towels and Helena's favorite afghan. And Barbara was -- What was she doing? Sliding out of her chair onto the floor, moving herself next to the younger woman.

"Thank you, Dinah. Just set them here."

Liquid green eyes attempted to catch frightened blue. An elegant hand tentatively touched a bloodstained arm.

"Let's get you covered up, get you home, Sweetie."

Panic consumed the brunette.

They couldn't see her like this, couldn't know --

She jerked her arms up to cover her head and was struck by a bolt of agony. Just before fading out, she managed to rasp, "Don't let Dinah touch me."

After that, there were disjointed images, voices, sensations.

Barbara's throaty voice: "Leonard, we're going to need your help -- Can't move her like this."

The sensation of the big man holding her from behind, causing something instinctive in the dark woman to struggle.

The redhead's face swam into her vision. She said something, tried to soothe the younger woman as she gripped the brunette's left arm near the elbow.

Tension. Grinding. Pain. A helluva lot of pain.

The feel of stumbling down the stairs, Leonard supporting her with an arm around her waist before she slumped down on the bottom step, waiting for something.

Looking up, seeing a crimson halo'd angel being carried down from above; watching the angel -- Barbara. It was Barbara. -- settle herself in the chair that Dinah must have brought down.

The inside of the van and movement.

Dinah must be driving cuz Barbara's strong arms were wrapped around her, snugging her tight in the other woman's lap. Helena rested her head against the other woman's shoulder, heard the strong heartbeat.

Gentle lips pressed to her forehead. Soft words whispered over her, but she didn't know what they meant. Something wet fell on her face.

Then, there was the ceiling of the van again -- No, Helena thought she must have lost a little time somehow. She was in the clock tower, on Barbara's bed? So, it was the bedroom ceiling, eggshell white, no -- red?

The older woman was touching her, bathing her neck, her chest and stomach, with a wet, warm cloth. What had happened to her shirt?

The brunette hissed as long, cool fingers played over the side of her right breast.

It hurt.

It felt heavenly.

That elegant hand cupped the underside of her breast, thumb delicately tracing the heavy flesh on the outside, moving up towards a nipple that was suddenly hard and tight. Helena struggled not to whimper and arch her back at the touch she'd been waiting for all her life.

What was...? Why...?

The dark woman panted softly through slightly parted lips and attempted to lie passively, waiting to find out, to feel what the other woman was doing. She turned her head, needing to see the older woman's face.

The redhead looked so sad as she raised her other hand, holding a small tube of something, some sort of ointment.



Blue eyes shut tightly, and Helena clenched her hands, feeling some sort of tape wrapping the right, aware of something stiff constricting her left wrist.

The younger woman's jaw trembled when the older woman finished putting a bandage on her chest, helped her slide into an oversized button-down shirt. When she felt Barbara's hand move to her pants, pushing them down her hips, the trembling spread to her entire body. Helena clenched her jaw to quiet the audible sound of her chattering teeth but couldn't still the movement.


Not this. Not like this. Not when she was like this.

Lying in the other woman's bed, surrounded by the scent of her, feeling Barbara's hands on her, Helena's body was on fire. The delicate brush of those long fingers down her legs left trails of pain in their wake. The dark woman knew she was already ramped up from earlier; now, a relentless, thick liquid heat suffused her, leaving her swollen and throbbing, and Barbara's hands were coming to her underwear, tugging at them gently, relentlessly.

Helena shifted her legs, clenching them together, ignoring a sickening, drowning sensation that accompanied the move. She pried open her eyes to catch the gentle gaze turning to her, concern and confusion in the green eyes. She fought the choking tightness in her throat.

"Please," she whispered. "Don't. Don't do this."

Barbara spoke softly, but the younger woman couldn't hear her over the blood roaring in her veins. She could only feel a soft hand resting lightly on her hip, feel that terrible throbbing that urged her to rock her hips and find contact.

She couldn't breath, couldn't think. The only thing Helena knew was the spasming need in her lower abdomen, the sensation of a gentle hand on her hip. If Barbara would just -- just touch -- just for a minute...

It was all she needed; all she'd ever wanted.

Panting softly, the dark woman moved her right hand, bringing it to rest lightly on top of the older woman's; forced herself to keep her touch light while trying to draw that cool hand to her need.

Horrified, Helena jerked her hand away and turned her face in shame. Shutting her eyes against the tears, she clenched her hands again, willing her body to cease its restless shifting, begging herself not to plead for the touch, the release, the comfort she needed.

The young woman focused on the constricting pressure on her left wrist and realized what she needed to do. She minutely raised that arm, ignoring the ache radiating from her shoulder, and focused with everything she was until she felt the grinding pressure in her wrist.

Moments later, the stabbing agony offered the oblivion she craved, and she gratefully fell into it.

Chapter 14

Confusion etched the older woman's features briefly after her patient, who had been fitfully resisting her efforts to help her, suddenly relaxed bonelessly under her hands. Green eyes flew to Helena's face, noting the dots of blood where the woman had bitten her lip.

The young woman was unconscious, although Barbara hadn't -- yet -- found any injuries that should have caused her normally robust partner to pass out.

The redhead furrowed her brow as she drew her gaze down the lithe form. Her features hardened at the bruising on the other woman's face. She fought a wave a nausea -- again -- at the horrific marks on Helena's neck, at the outline of the bandage beneath the oxford shirt, at the still-awkward skew of the woman's shoulder. Then, her eyes fell on the younger woman's splinted left wrist.

The metal supports in the brace were twisted sharply inward, leaving the fractured joint painfully tensioned.

Barbara didn't even attempt to hold back her horrified gasp. Tears rimmed her eyes as the meaning behind her friend's action constricted her stomach with the force of a physical blow.

She shut her eyes and breathed deeply, recognizing that Helena's action would, at least, permit her to complete her examination, allow her to finish cleaning and treating the young woman. She returned to her task, ruthlessly shunting aside the rage and sorrow that billowed through her for later reflection. For later action.

Wheeling across the room, she cracked the bedroom door and found Dinah sitting in the hallway, knees drawn up to her chest. The older woman smiled softly at her ward, aware of the teen's feelings of helplessness, appreciating her nearness.

"Dinah, would you find another wrist brace? Oh, and a few of the cool-paks in the refrigerator?"

Barely hearing the girl's acknowledgment, the redhead returned to the bed, tugging a pair of her boxers up Helena's legs. The garment was a bit large on the smaller woman which was, the older woman suspected, a good thing.

Barbara accepted Dinah's offerings and sent the blonde on another errand while she re-splinted the brunette's wrist and wrapped the shoulder which had been so painfully dislocated. After a moment's thought, she tucked the injured wrist into the wrapping, snugging it gently, but firmly, against Helena's chest.

Hopefully, that would keep her partner from further exacerbating the fracture.

Noticing the blonde head peeking into the room, the older woman wheeled into the hallway to accept the bottles of water and juice that the girl had procured, thanking her briefly. Her hasty return to the bedroom was arrested by a softly spoken question.

"Is she... Will Helena be okay, Barbara?"

The redhead visibly sighed. She wished that she knew.

For now, she opted to take the girl's question at face value.

"Her... injuries aren't too severe, Dinah. You know Helena..."

Barbara was well aware that the half-smile she directed toward Dinah didn't reach her eyes.

"Some of them will be gone by tomorrow; the rest should heal within a week."

If Helena didn't keep re-injuring herself, she noted grimly.

She continued, "I'm going to stay with her, in case she wakes up -- needs something. Why don't you -- "

The redhead trailed off, completely at a loss for what she might suggest the girl do. The teen didn't wait for her guardian to come up with something.

"Uh, okay. I'll just be out here. Uh, homework. Just yell if you need something?"

Barbara smiled her thanks and returned to her bedroom, stripping down to a tank top and boxers before positioning herself on the other side of the big bed. Helena mercifully still appeared to be unconscious, or sleeping deeply. With the practical, physical, issues taken care of, there was now little that Barbara could do, save wait for her friend to awaken.

Then, the older woman acknowledged sadly, the difficult part would begin.

Again, she drew her gaze over the smaller woman's form. With Helena not awake -- even though Barbara wasn't altogether certain that the younger woman had truly been aware of everything when she had been conscious -- the redhead didn't try to keep the anger and sorrow from her expression. She could not stop the tears that fell.

The marks around Helena's neck -- deep impressions from some type of large chain -- coupled with the matching impression around her fractured wrist and the dislocated shoulder, evidenced a horrifying brutality. From her not inconsiderable experience with the worst elements of society, the older woman suspected a choking force, somehow tensioned brutally against the delicate bones of the young woman's wrist, all at an angle that had resulted in the eventual dislocation of the woman's shoulder.

Just viewing the outcome was appalling; Barbara could only begin to imagine the agony of the actual experience.

Unfortunately, little imagination was required to comprehend the other injuries that the woman had sustained. The bruising on the brunette's face and knuckles, the split lip were clear indicators of a fight. The deep cuts on the palm of her right hand had been imbedded with glass, as if ground in by a large boot heel.

It had taken an hour of careful digging to remove all of the debris from the sluggishly bleeding gashes.

Barbara inhaled slowly as she considered the rest. The brunette's ripped clothing; the deep, vicious bite mark on her breast; the bone-deep finger-sized bruises all over the younger woman's thighs and hips; the blood on her inner thighs.

These injuries told their own story.

The older woman scrubbed roughly at her face, bringing her fingers up to massage deeply at her forehead. She clenched her jaw as her expression steeled.

What sort of new threat had come to New Gotham? What, or who, could be strong enough and fast enough to have taken Helena off guard and done... this?

By god, when she found the... the animals responsible for this, they'd be lucky to survive so that they could wish they'd never been born.

With the force of will that had gotten her through so much in her thirty-two years, the redhead deliberately focused on her breathing, on calming herself and compartmentalizing her fury and horrified sadness. All of that would be there later, and she could -- would -- re-examine it and use it as needed as she sought out those who were responsible. For now, she needed to be available for Helena.

The older woman was fairly confident in the assessment she'd provided to Dinah about the brunette's physical state. The amazing woman would heal handily. Barbara had done all that she could to help: antibiotics, a few stitches, the brace. She'd swabbed -- the redhead pinched the bridge of her nose angrily -- so that she could test for STDs, and she had a few RU486 pills by the bedside, although she suspected -- hoped -- that the young woman was on the pill, given her rather lusty approach to life.

Having done what she could to help the woman physically, now the older woman could only wait to see how Helena would react, what she would need.

That thought triggered the memory of the brunette's reactions, and what she had done, when Barbara had attempted to examine her. The young woman had been decidedly -- the redhead searched for a description, waffling between "agitated" and "restless", finally settling on 'keyed up'. Barbara hadn't missed the fleeting sensation of having her hand drawn from Helena's hip before... before the younger woman had so decisively stopped herself.

Barbara knew that the brunette often had trouble winding down after a fight; it was not, she supposed, surprising that -- after something like this -- the woman's body might remain... keyed up. The redhead only wished that her charge had addressed whatever needs -- or urges -- she had directly, by whatever means necessary -- color flooded the older woman's face as she replayed the tactile memory of having her hand coaxed towards the brunette's center -- rather than re-injuring herself.

The redhead sighed noisily and settled against a stack of pillows to observe her charge by the soft light of the bedside lamp. Helena seemed to be sleeping --almost peacefully -- now, almost entirely still and silent save for a minute, restless shifting of her legs.

Exhausted and emotionally drained, lulled by the reassuring rise and fall of the other woman's chest, the redhead dozed lightly only to be yanked awake an hour later by Helena's pained cry when the dark woman jerked into a sitting position, clawing at herself. Disoriented, heart trip-hammering in surprise, Barbara watched for a split second as the brunette struggled with the bandage on her shoulder, panting harshly and whining softly.

The movement, the fear rolling off the younger woman, suddenly clicked into place, and the redhead struggled to reach the other woman.

Great flaming sausages of shit! What had she been thinking? How stupid could she be?

After the younger woman had been painfully restrained and horribly attacked, what had her friend and mentor done? Restrained her.

"Off -- off. P-- puh -- lease, get it off."

The brunette's heart wrenching plea was little more than an agonized, hoarse whisper. It tore at Barbara's soul.

"Shhh, Sweetie, shhh. Let me help."

Stroking Helena's back gently with one hand, the redhead stilled the other woman's frantically plucking hand with the other.

"I'm sorry, Helena," she whispered as she started to free the splinted wrist from the bandage, "I didn't think. I wanted to keep you from re-injuring... I'm sorry."

Hand finally freed, the brunette crossed both wrists across her chest and bent at the waist, rocking slightly. She continued to tremble violently, breathing in short, terribly silent gasps. Sitting next to the brunette, Barbara continued her tender stroking of the other woman's back, whispering apologies and reassurances until Helena turned suddenly and curled into her arms.

The unexpected move threw off the redhead's precarious balance, and she put a hand behind her to lower them both slowly to the bed. Instantly, she wrapped both arms around Helena's slender shoulders, holding the woman where she was curled by her side. The woman's trembling didn't seem to be subsiding, and she began to move jerkily against Barbara, whimpering and panting softly.

With Helena's legs tangled on top of her, the older woman couldn't turn to hold her more firmly. Therefore, she tugged gently, coaxing the brunette onto her further until the young woman's head and upper body came to rest on her chest, her right hand resting on Barbara's abdomen.

The redhead clearly felt the dark woman's jaw chattering, struggled not to twitch against the restless hand kneading delicately at her side. She continued to rub Helena's back with one hand while bringing the other up to cup the back of her head tenderly, all the while murmuring soft reassurances.

Gradually, the older woman became aware of a change in the cadence of Helena's breathing. The young woman was no longer gasping and panting; rather, she was breathing shallowly through her mouth.

Scenting her, the redhead realized with a rush of adrenalin.

Hoping to help the brunette re-orient, she whispered softly, "It's all right, Sweetie. It's just me. You're home now."

The redhead felt the dark head lifted slightly, enough for Helena to move her cheek -- her face -- softly, sleekly against Barbara's chest. The younger woman gingerly drew her knees under her -- Barbara distantly noted the restless rocking of the slender hips -- and gently placed her mouth against her former guardian's neck.

At a loss, the older woman waited, then felt Helena inhaling deeply, heard a soft whimper. The brunette dragged her face lightly down the older woman's chest, pausing in the valley between her breasts to turn her face so that warm breath ghosted across Barbara's breast as Helena rubbed her cheek from one side of the redhead's chest to the other. At the same time, the redhead was aware of that restless hand at her side plucking at the bottom of her tank, tugging it up enough to expose a hand-width of skin which slender fingers stroked tremulously.

Stupefied, the redhead managed to continue her soft rubbing against Helena's back as the dark woman, still trembling, drew her face down to the exposed skin. The brunette drew in a long breath over a shaky moan before pressing her mouth lightly to Barbara's stomach, becoming absolutely still for a moment.

The older woman felt herself flooded with heat... and something deeply, darkly alluring. She immediately bit back the feeling and then forgot about it entirely when the brunette raised her head, entire body trembling again, and drew herself back up the redhead's chest.

Emerald eyes blinked, fought tears, at the vision of unseeing, tear-filled blue eyes which were absolutely filled with agony and... and a hopeless, helpless need.

One tear escaped Barbara's control when she finally made out the single word panted hoarsely, repeatedly, by the younger woman as she held herself over the redhead, muscles twitching and jerking minutely.

"Ba -- ba -- ra... Ba -- ba -- ra."

Without hesitation, without a thought to modesty or propriety or even mortification about the ribbons of scars on her torso, Barbara fumbled a hand down her side and tugged the front of her tank up to her neck, baring her skin. With the other, she urged the young woman down until the dark head, the impossibly soft, tear stained cheek came to rest on her chest. She slid a hand under Helena's shirt, rubbing small circles on her back as she spoke.

"It's all right, Helena. I'm here."

Chapter 15

Helena came awake by inches, one sense at a time.

First, her sense of hearing detected deep, peaceful breathing and the steady resonant thump of another's heartbeat.

Next, her sense of smell was enveloped with a well-known scent -- oranges and ginger, and the complex, subtle scent of her bedmate's sweat and skin.

Tactile sensations flowed to life then, and she recognized the softness of her pillow for what it was: the impossibly satiny, sweet skin of Barbara's chest.

God, it felt good. It felt so very right and good that the brunette never wanted to move again.

Blue eyes fluttered open, staring in puzzlement at the sight of one of the older woman's breasts -- full and milky white, nipple firm and rose-colored -- inches from her suddenly watering mouth.

Taste was last as the brunette finally comprehended the sensation in her mouth -- blood -- and fought not to gag.

Fuck. Helena hated the taste of blood in her mouth.

Relieved beyond measure when she recognized the blood as her own, the young woman touched the tip of her tongue to the split at the corner of her mouth -- it was still seeping -- and eased herself gingerly off her human matress. That slow movement reawakened some other sensations -- in her shoulder, her wrist, her throat; the whisper of her oversized shirt against her skin as she settled onto her pillow inflamed her breast, creating an answering ache in her loins.

Ignoring the discomfort that the move engendered, she reached over and snagged the hem of her bedmate's tank top -- still bunched around the redhead's upper chest and throat -- and drew it down to the other woman's waist, all the while resisting the powerful desire to drag her fingers lightly over the exposed skin, to steal another sensation. That done, Helena wrapped her arms around her own chest and lay on her side, panting softly and trying not to shift her legs, simply looking at the other woman's profile.

The morning sun was edging through cracks in the deep burgundy curtains which provided bright adornment to the eggshell walls. The color choice had required a lot of cajoling on Helena's part years ago when her mentor had been picking out some sensibly bland ecru drapes.

The warm, rosy light highlighted the older woman's porcelain skin, making her appear slightly flushed. Barbara's hair was fanned around her head on the pillow, and Helena shut her eyes at the memory of running the fingers of her taped hand -- once, twice -- through that soft mane during the night before mapping the woman's face ever-so-tenderly with her fingers. The redhead's lips were slightly parted, and the younger woman shivered at the memory of their incredible softness against her fingertips.

The dark woman didn't shift her hungry gaze lower; she didn't need to. The sensations from the night before were indelibly branded in her memory.

Blue eyes burned, and the young woman swallowed convulsively -- at least that was possible today -- as she attempted to understand what had transpired, what Barbara had given her. The older woman had somehow understood Helena's instinctual need for comfort, for soft skin, for something to quiet the raging, aching thing inside, and she'd been there, giving.

The brunette slowly shut her eyes, awash in shame.

She knew she hadn't -- didn't -- deserve any of the sweet tenderness that the redhead had given her. Not after... after she'd just gone and fucked up so badly.

She'd tried and tried forever, held that part of herself back, waiting and hoping that it would matter. And, in a stupid instant, it just didn't any more.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

It was pretty obvious that Red hadn't figured it out last night, but she would soon enough. She'd know.

The insidious question gnawed at the young woman's heart: When Barbara figured it out, then what?

Helena tightened her arms around herself, drawing her knees up to her belly. She had no tears, no whimpers. There was only a vast hole inside her, a maw beckoning with promises of the purity of pain and oblivion. She stared into swirling reds and blacks, wondering if she would fly, or swim, or simply drown in them.

A change in her bedmate's breathing, the awareness of being observed, gradually coaxed blue eyes open, and the brunette started, trying to pull back, as she found herself transfixed by warm emerald eyes. She watched the other woman shift, turning herself slightly onto her side, facing Helena; she saw the tentative smile transform worried features.

Again, Helena tried to pull back, turn away, unable to stand the close scrutiny, the love radiating in the other woman's gaze.

Why couldn't she move? Why could she only lie there, something thrumming painfully inside her -- causing her to tremble and pant shallowly?


The word was, could have been -- before -- a benediction, a blessing. The dark woman wanted to take the quietly breathed syllables into her mouth and swallow them like a sacrament. Helena shut her eyes, trying to draw in the other woman's sweet breath; something to hold inside herself.

"How are you feeling, Sweetheart?"

Blue eyes opened hesitantly, watching uncomprehendingly as Barbara's hand seemed to move towards her in slow motion. She felt the soft touch of cool fingers against her forehead, a gentle brush against her cheek, and the young woman hissed quietly at the burning ache that followed.

Green eyes widened fractionally at the sound and flickered down the brunette's body, then back to her face.

"Are you in much pain, Hel?"

The younger woman furrowed her eyebrows slightly, baffled by the words. She prodded at them from various angles, trying to understand what the question meant.

Her body?

She swallowed with some difficulty. Yeah. No. She'd heal. She was stiff and sore as all hell, but she'd been there before. It didn't matter. Not really.

Barbara had to know that. She had to know that it was just the dues she paid in her job, that the younger woman was already healing. The redhead was all too familiar with her protege's meta-human healing abilities.

So, what was she asking?


Blue eyes remained open, unblinking, as Helena thought about the word, wondering if it described the feelings inside her. There was that swirling empty ache whispering to her. There was that thrumming trembling that controlled all of her organs and muscles. There was, somewhere in her, nothing.

Was any -- or all -- of that pain?

In the end, she could find no meaning, no answer. She decided the question wasn't that important, really, and so simply remained silent, staring at the redhead in puzzled confusion.

Barbara pushed herself up on one elbow, concern etched across her beautiful features, and reached out to cup the side of the younger woman's face. Helena closed her eyes at the touch, at the feel of the redhead's thumb tenderly tracing her lip, skirting the cut at the side of her mouth. The brunette panted softly, every muscle torqued to the point of tremor -- as if a low volt current were running through her. She moved her jaw, seeking words -- something to relieve the other woman of her worry -- but, again, came up empty.

She opened her eyes, focusing again on the redhead in time to see her sigh, watch the emerald eyes blink slowly as the woman seemed to come to some sort of decision. Barbara turned away briefly to retrieve something from the night stand, then spoke again, the tone still soft, the words practical.

"Can you drink, Hel? Rinse out your mouth?"

The older woman twisted the cap off some water, hesitantly extended the bottle and a cup.

This time, it was the younger woman who blinked as she grudgingly drew her eyes away from the redhead's face to stare at the objects being offered to her. She moved her jaw, noting the lingering taste of blood still present, and touched her tongue again to the cut on her lip.

Would water get rid of it? Would rinsing really cleanse her?

Aware that Barbara was still waiting -- the young woman distantly recognized that the redhead wanted her to do something -- Helena turned onto her back, then pushed herself up. She accepted the bottle and makeshift spittoon, holding them loosely in her hands, temporarily at a loss again. A soft murmur -- "Just small sips, Sweetie." -- prompted her, and she brought the water to her lips, swallowing a few mouthfuls with difficulty.

That was -- enough. Enough, it appeared, to satisfy the redhead, who visibly released some of her tension as the brunette drank.

Helena sat the open bottle and unused cup on the table next to her side of the bed and jerkily lowered herself to the mattress again. Turning onto her other side, away from the concerned gaze directed at her, the young woman curled into herself and shut her eyes, willing sleep to overtake her.

Chapter 16

In the face of a nearly overwhelming desire to do something -- anything, Barbara nevertheless remained still, watching her younger partner silently turn away from her and assume a fetal position. The distressed rumbling emanating from Helena's chest -- her only vocalization so far, if it could be called such -- was mercifully quieter than the night before but still impossible to miss.

The redhead lifted a hand, moving to stroke dark hair but stopped herself at the last minute.

She thought she'd detected the barest stiffening in already rigid shoulders as her hand drew near, and she absolutely refused to be the cause of any further distress for the young woman. Sighing soundlessly, she pulled herself upright against the headboard and circumspectly observed the other woman.

Physically, the amazing woman seemed to be recovering at her usual phenomenal rate. Although her few movements had been stiff and awkward, she appeared to have full mobility. Barbara suspected that the young woman's throat might be bothering her most: Helena had clearly experienced some discomfort when she drank, and the pain could partially account for the dark woman's hesitance -- unwillingness? the redhead wondered -- to speak. The redhead planned to re-examine the other woman's injuries thoroughly later.

External injuries, she corrected herself, with not a little frustration.

She considered the brunette's withdrawn silence of this morning, attempting to reconcile it with the younger woman's desperate need for contact during the night.

When Helena had come to her, not asking for anything, yet her need so achingly apparent, there had been no choice for the older woman. She had -- she would always, Barbara realized with a startled blink -- offered the dark woman anything she could give her.

Last night, just the feel -- and taste, the redhead recalled with a shiver -- of her own skin had, apparently, been what the younger woman needed. Helena had softly stroked the other woman's abdomen, her rib cage, the side of her chest with hesitant fingers. She had drawn her face ever-so-gently across Barbara's chest, pressing her mouth -- just once -- meltingly over the older woman's heart, trebling the redhead's heart rate when she felt the stud in the brunette's tongue flicker briefly against her skin. The terrifying trembling possessing the young woman's muscles had slowed when the dark head lifted and brilliant blue eyes impaled the older woman. Helena had raised her bandaged hand to sift delicately through red hair before tracing Barbara's brows, her cheek, her lips with her fingertips. The dark woman had then settled herself lightly on the redhead's chest again and dropped into quiet slumber.

Sleep had not come nearly as easily for the older woman.

Watching the measured rise and fall of Helena's chest now, Barbara wished she knew what to offer the younger woman this morning.

Physically, yes, the brunette was on the mend.


The older woman shivered at the memory of those beautiful blue eyes, fixed on her so openly only minutes before. The younger woman had not attempted to avoid Barbara's gaze, to divert her eyes; yet, the eyes themselves revealed nothing save confusion and a piercing, haunting emptiness.

Sighing, the redhead prayed that sleep, indeed, might help knit the raveled sleeve of care for her younger partner.

She extricated herself carefully from the big bed and grabbed a pair of sweats on her way from the room, leaving the door ajar. There was nothing more she could do for the moment, and she knew that some sort of productive activity might help settle her own unease.

Barbara found Dinah in the kitchen, prodding listlessly at a bowl of cereal. In response to a worried look, the older woman paused on her way to the coffee pot and directed what she hoped was a reassuring smile at the teen.

"She's sleeping again, Dinah. She, er, managed to rest well through the night and doesn't seem to be having too much physical discomfort."

The teen still looked worried. Well, the redhead had to admit, her reassurances had been a bit on the clinical side.

She tried again.

"She's going to be fine, Dinah." Please let it be true. "Though it might take a little time..."

Barbara poured herself a cup of coffee and snagged an oversized muffin from the counter. Headed towards the door, she remembered that she had two charges.

"How are you doing, Dinah? Did you get some rest last night?"

The blonde dropped her gaze and poked at the soggy flakes in her bowl again.

"Uhm, a little, I guess. There was a lot of, uhm... I couldn't really help it, uh, picking up on some really, uh, strong emotions."

A russet brow crept up. No doubt where the emotions had originated. Small wonder that the brunette had asked Barbara not to let Dinah touch her; the emotions and memories that the young telepath would undoubtedly pick up from direct contact would be overwhelming.

The teen continued.

"It, uh, was especially at first. And, uh, then again a few minutes ago..."

She trailed off rather helplessly and threw in the towel on her breakfast, standing and carrying her dishes to the sink.

Barbara felt rather helpless herself. What was the protocol for shielding her newest ward from the horrors that the brunette had experienced, would doubtlessly be reliving in the days to come? Should she pack the girl off to a friend's house for a few days or...

The redhead's puzzled ruminations were interrupted as pale blue eyes caught hers.

"It's okay, Barbara. Really. I just wish I could, I dunno, help take some of that away from her. You know?"

Warmed, the older woman smiled sadly.

"Indeed, I do, Dinah."

She exhaled, straightened slightly before turning towards the living area.

"I'm going to start processing some samples while Helena is sleeping."

Presumably, the girl would assume that her guardian was referring to the samples from the hospital which they'd found by the door to Helena's apartment on the way out. The container had been battered, but the individual specimens were still intact. Lord knows how the brunette had managed to hold on to them after... everything.

While the cyber genius certainly had no intention of ignoring the hard-won evidence that Helena had heroically held on to, other samples were more pressing at the moment. She needed to analyze the swabs she'd taken last night, both to check for disease and to check DNA, to try to determine who -- or what -- had attacked her younger partner.

"Would you mind keeping an ear open in case Helena wakes up?"

Reassured by an eager nod, the redhead situated herself in the lab area, losing herself -- at least for a short time -- in the clarity of data. She breathed a sigh relief as preliminary scans indicated that STDs were probably not going to turn up. Minutes later, she removed her glasses and stared, unseeing, at another screen, puzzling over what the results of that particular test meant.

Helena's assailants had been human.

The redhead simply could not comprehend how a presumably small group of humans -- the damage hadn't been extensive enough to be the work of more than a handful of individuals -- could have overcome the brunette. After all, Barbara had witnessed the younger woman easily holding off gangs of a dozen or more on several occasions.

Perhaps, she mused, they'd been in possession of some sort of weapon that Helena couldn't overcome.

A soft cough pulled the older woman from her introspection, and she turned to find Dinah hovering near the hallway that led to the bedrooms.

"She's awake now."

Smiling her thanks, Barbara swung by the kitchen to warm some tea and honey in the microwave before heading down the hallway. She detected soft music -- was that Rufus Wainwright? -- as she approached the bedroom and assumed the brunette had chosen to alleviate the silence with the clock radio.

There was a time you'd let me know
What's real and going on below
But now you never show it to me do you?
Remember when I moved in you?
The holy dark was moving too
And every breath we drew was hallelujah

Barbara deliberately bumped the door with her chair, swinging it open widely before entering. She found Helena sprawled against a stack of pillows at the head of the bed, legs drawn together and knees bent against two pillows in the middle of the bed. The younger woman was absolutely motionless, blue eyes focused somewhere on the ceiling.

Maybe there's a God above
And all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It's not a cry you can hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

"Hello, Hel."

She approached the brunette's side of the bed and lifted the warm cup from between her thighs.

"Warm tea with honey. It might help your throat, Sweetie."

There was absolutely no reaction, no movement from the dark figure.

Barbara closed her eyes for a moment, regrouping, attempting to focus on the practical. If nothing else, it seemed like a better alternative for the moment than beating her head against the night stand.

She set the mug on the night stand as she spoke again.

"I also need to take a look at your injuries, check your bandages, Helena. Will you let me do that, Sweetheart?"

This time, the younger woman responded, silently swinging her legs stiffly over the side of the bed to face the redhead and extending both hands. She sat passively -- reactionless -- as Barbara replaced the bandage covering the cuts on her right hand, then checked the circulation and mobility in her left hand and stretched up to probe at her shoulder. The older woman contented herself with a visual inspection of the still-livid bruise encircling Helena's throat, then reached towards the top button on the brunette's shirt, speaking quietly, carefully.

"I'd like to change this bandage, as well, Hel. Do you mind?"

She detected the briefest shake of a dark head before the brunette averted her face and shut her eyes.

Painfully aware of a single tear coursing down the other woman's turned face, Barbara rebandaged the injury as efficiently as possible -- it, too, was healing rapidly -- and buttoned the young woman's shirt with slightly shaky hands. That task completed, she reached for the last item on the night table and waited silently for Helena to open her eyes, steeling herself.

When blue eyes finally turned toward her, she extended her hand, palm up, offering the pills.

"Do you need to take these, Hel?"

Puzzled blue eyes sought out hers, and the older woman offered a short explanation.

"Morning after."

The young woman dropped her gaze to focus on the tablets, then reached out to delicately remove them from Barbara's palm. She chewed, then dry-swallowed. The redhead suppressed a grimace of sympathy as she considered how the chalky fragments must have felt going down.

Again ignoring the tea that Barbara extended, the brunette sat quietly.

Poised, the redhead determined with a shiver.

Helena was waiting for further instructions or... or... The redhead simply didn't know.

In the end, she opted to go with her instincts, tangling one hand loosely with the fingers of the young woman's bandaged hand.

"What do you need, Hel?" she begged softly.

For a long moment, there was no movement, no answer. The older woman began to wonder if one would be forthcoming when haunted blue eyes finally flickered up to meet hers and Helena whispered an anguished plea.

Barbara's heart broke at the words.

"I just want to go home, Barbara."

Chapter 17

Home is where the heart is, or so she'd always been told.

Sitting on the low brick wall encircling the clock tower balcony, dangling her legs over the people eighteen stories below who were scurrying to their homes at the end of the day, Helena wondered if the old expression were true. And, if it were, where did that leave her?

For her first sixteen years, the answer to that had been easy. Whether it was a penthouse in Paris or a walk-up loft in New Gotham or any of the hotels they'd stayed in during her mom's extended business trips, her home -- her heart -- was always where her mom had been.

Then, for the first year or so after... after that night, the whole thing had gotten kind of nebulous, as both she and her new guardian were figuring things out. After that, after she'd given her heart to Barbara, there was never a doubt in her mind. The redhead was her heart, so her home was wherever Barbara was.

Even after she'd moved out, when she had tried to make a life without the older woman as the center to her orbit, she'd known she was fooling herself. Even if she couldn't be the person that Barbara could want or love the way that Helena loved and needed her, the redhead remained her heart, her home.

But now? Helena was having trouble with that one.

The brunette pursed her lips and made a rude noise, then cracked a broken smile at herself.

Not much there to entrust to Red for safe-keeping now. Nothing that she'd want... or that was worthy of her.

In the last two days, the older woman hadn't asked her to explain, didn't seem to have dug it up herself yet, but Helena knew that -- as sure as night fell -- she would.

Disappointment wasn't going to begin to cover the redhead's reaction.

Barbara hadn't let her leave the clock tower, of course.

When Helena had made her request after enduring the older woman's examination again, she hadn't had much hope. Normally, she wouldn't even have asked: she would have just booked on out with a breezy shout about things to do. But, a few days ago, shouting -- not to mention walking -- hadn't been on the top of her list of things to do. In order to get back to her apartment, to escape the redhead's painfully concerned attentions, she'd needed a little help.

Knowing, admitting that to herself, she hadn't really expected the older woman just to grab the car keys and say "Let's go", even if Barbara had been the one asking what she wanted. She'd been ready for Red to go all clinical, ticking off all of the physical reasons that she needed to stay. Helena hadn't been prepared for the short, fervent words that the older woman had spoken to keep her at the clock tower.

Green eyes rimmed with tears had sought out hers; a long, slender hand had come to rest on her knee, clenching almost painfully. Then, Barbara said it.

"Don't -- don't go, Helena. Please. I need you here."

And, well, shit.

Anybody who knew anything knew that the brunette could -- would -- deny the older woman nothing.

So, the dark woman had stayed.

She'd spent that first day shut in the redhead's bedroom, allowing the inane patter of the DJs on Barbara's morning wake-up station to wash over her. She'd not noticed, or cared really, when the older woman kept coming in, checking on her, coaxing her to choke down a few sips of juice or bouillon every hour.

That night, recognizing that the older woman would refuse to sleep otherwise, Helena had silently arranged herself stiffly at the very edge of the big bed, staring at the spackle patterns on the ceiling in the dark, trying not to breath too loudly. She'd laid there, experiencing a pain that was far worse than any physical injuries could cause, trying not to hear the other woman's quiet breathing, trying not to notice the redhead's scent, trying not to want -- or need -- the one thing she knew she couldn't have.

When Barbara's breathing had finally evened out, the brunette had slid from under the covers, intent on making her way at least as far as the couch in the living room.

It just wasn't right for her to be there, taking comfort -- always taking -- in the other woman's presence. Still wanting and needing her -- like the air -- to make everything that was broken in her whole again.

Ultimately, the younger woman's body had betrayed her -- too sore, too friggin' tired. Forgetting her destination, Helena had slumped near the door, curling up and allowing the steady breathing from the bed to lull her into sleep.

She must of been more tired than she'd thought, slept harder than usual. The brunette had awakened the next morning to find a blanket tucked over her, to discover the redhead beneath her on the floor, holding her snugly where she'd rested her head on Barbara's shoulder and curled tightly around her human mattress for the second time.

Helena had started, then cautiously looked up to find amused green eyes regarding her. The older woman had pressed a kiss to the top of her head, rubbing her back softly, and chuckled.

"The next time you want a firmer mattress, Hel, just let me know, and I'll see if we can tuck a board under the bed."

Words -- comprehension, really -- had escaped the younger woman, so she'd opted to push herself stiffly upright and had gingerly helped the redhead into her chair. She'd allowed the other woman to coax her out of her dark lair -- "Come on, Helena, let's get some breakfast. For some reason, I'm always famished after camping." -- and lead her to the kitchen.

The Kid had been there, blinking sleepily at the coffee maker and, maybe, using her TK to make it brew a little faster. Helena hadn't known what to say in response to the blonde's effusive greeting, so she'd tried out a half-grin, pleased when the movement didn't open the healing cut on her lip. When Barbara had presented her with a bowl of warm oatmeal -- really more sugar and cream than cereal -- the brunette had remembered a word to use.


That had been weird. The way Red responded, Helena would have thought that she'd just recited a Shakespearean sonnet or something.

Later in the day, the younger woman had hit the shower -- Barbara hadn't even bitched about getting her dressings wet or anything -- and lost herself under a spray that she couldn't make hard enough or hot enough. She wasn't sure how long she'd stayed in there, only that -- at some point -- she'd looked up from where she was crouched in the corner of the tiled stall to find the older woman holding open the shower curtain, extending her hands to help her up.

Helena had managed to towel off and slip into clean shorts and a tee shirt, sparing both of them the ordeal of having the redhead need to do it. She'd sort of faded out again in the bedroom before Barbara had even finished putting the splint back on her wrist and hadn't really been aware of much else until she'd awakened this morning, once again wrapped around her beautiful bedmate.

Today, well, she was getting around pretty good, feeling a helluva lot better. She didn't think she'd be taking any leaps off the balcony yet, but, other than the splint on her wrist and the remnants of the bruise around her throat, the visible signs from the other night were almost gone.

Good old meta-healing. Gotta love it.

The brunette exhaled angrily.

Yeah, meta-healing. Why couldn't it fix the stuff that mattered?

Blue eyes blinked rapidly as the young woman decided that it was about time for her to clear out, to head -- well, the apartment never really had been "home" -- to head back to her own place. But, before she left, she figured she needed to talk to her mentor.

She needed to do the right thing.

So, yeah, she was gonna do that. Talk with her.

Maybe in a few more minutes.

Red had been pretty involved with those specimens that Helena had picked up at the hospital the other night; no need to interrupt her now if she was all lost in her own big brain or something.

The dark woman sat on the balcony, watching the hustle and bustle on the street below. Her attempts to screw up her courage were interrupted by the sound of tentative footfalls on the balcony and a quietly spoken greeting.


Helena stiffly swung herself around to face the teenager and raised a hand in a laconic greeting.

"Is it okay, uh, if I come out? Here, with you?"

The brunette struggled not to flinch at the question.

Fuck. Now she had the Kid all scared to be around her, too.

"Yeah, sure," Her voice was just a little raspy.

She gestured over the edge of the balcony and added, "Didja bring any water balloons?"

Dinah's face was split by a grin as she bounced over to seat herself on the wall near the older woman.

"No, but I do have M&Ms," she held out a pounder of chocolate-filled originals, "You know, melts in your mouth and all..."

Smiling as the girl trailed off a little abashedly, Helena dug a handful out of the bag and popped a few in her mouth.

"S'pose we could use these as projectiles," she teased, tossing one over the wall.

The blonde cautiously leaned over to peer down, inquiring, "Do you think one of these could really generate enough momentum to, uh, knock somebody out or something? If we hit them on the head?"

"Shit, D, I thought physics was your thing," she snarked as an evil grin blossomed.

"Tell you what. Why don't you work out the equation for the momentum of a quarter-ounce piece of candy dropping eighteen stories, and I'll just pitch a handful over and see what happens? You know, theoretical versus practical research?"

The teenager giggled.

"But, really, it wouldn't really hurt anybody would it, Helena?"

Sheesh, the Kid was just one big giant mush ball, wasn't she?

"Nah, unless somebody had his mouth open and ended up in a diabetic coma." She grinned. "Nobody's getting hurt on this detail, Kid."

Fishing in the bag for another handful of the candies -- attempting not to look like she was deliberately trying to snag the green ones -- Helena saw the change in the blonde's expression, watched the girl gnaw at her lower lip.

Oh, shit. Here it came...

"Helena, I'm really, really sorry about what happened..."

The blonde blushed deeply, sounding a little strangled.

"That you -- Well, that this was, uh, what, the way..."

The dark woman sucked in a deep breath, then puffed her cheeks, exhaling slowly. She decided to go with the truth.

"Yeah. It does kinda suck."

Helena's brain came to a screeching halt before performing a stutter-step. For some reason, she wanted to wrap her arms around herself and curl up on the balcony floor. Instead, the brunette painted on her patented cocky grin.

"But, what the hell. After all these years, I figure I was probably overdue or something, you know?"

She poured her handful of predominantly green candies from hand to hand, waiting as Dinah seemed to consider whether to say something else.

"Uh, that's not what -- I mean, yeah, I'm sorry about that..."

The teen's face clearly mirrored the sentiment in her words.

"But," she finished in a rush, "I was, uh, talking about the other -- "

Cerulean eyes very gently fixed on pale blue as the brunette responded kindly, "I know what you were talking about, Kid."

Helena exhaled noisily again, then pushed to her feet, heading towards the balcony doors.

Seemed like as good a time as any to have that talk with Barbara.

Chapter 18

Hearing Helena's entrance from the balcony -- the younger woman still wasn't moving with her normal catlike stealth and grace -- Barbara minimized the terminal window connected to the hospital's records department and checked on the program which was completing a DNA comparison between John Hillerman and Carly Applewood.

There was no reason yet for her younger partner to know that the redhead had made the connection between the EMS pickup near Helena's last location the other night and her attackers. Blood-typing and other data from hospital records perfectly matched the samples she'd obtained from Helena, confirming the identity of two of the young men. While the older woman didn't expect any surprises in confirming the identity of the other two, she had decided to wait for positive identification before, before --

Frankly, at this point, Barbara was leaning towards adding anonymous orders to their charts, directing the administration of massive doses of potassium. While this plan lacked the personal touch she longed for, she had to admit that a)speedy get-a-ways were no longer her forte, and b)it would effectively remove these wastes of oxygen from the planet.

The redhead turned, smiling softly, as Helena slowly stepped onto the Delphi platform and leaned against the desk.

"Hi there, Hel. Everything in order on the balcony?"

The gently teasing tone masked Barbara's patent delight that the brunette had finally abandoned the dark bedroom in favor of some sunshine.

"Well, I think the Kid's hatching plans for some sort of candy attack over this area of New Gotham, but other than that, yeah."

Crimson brows wrinkled slightly until the older woman noticed some green dye Number 3 on the brunette's fingers. She smiled.

As far as Barbara could tell, all of the colors tasted the same; however, Helena always had had a fascination with the green ones. Perhaps something in the brunette's meta-human physiology allowed her to detect a difference.

The younger woman wiped green fingers against her jeans, then gestured towards one of the screens.

"Have you come up with anything yet?" The brunette coughed softly against her hoarseness. "About Carly and that other guy?"

Catching sight of Dinah heading for the elevator, Barbara flashed an apologetic look toward Helena as she called out, "Dinah?"

The blonde head whipped towards her, and the teen held open the elevator door.

"Remember? We're finishing the set painting tonight? That's okay, right?"

The redhead laughed, "Of course, Dinah. Just call if -- "

"If I'll be back after 10. Sure thing."

The girl's cheerful "See you later" was swallowed by the elevator doors and a chuckle from the brunette.

"She really do that? Call?"

Barbara turned her attention back to the younger woman, smiling.

"Unlike my previous charge, yes, Dinah does call. Or," crimson brows dipped in thought, "she has the four times that she's needed to miss curfew." Ignoring some pointed rolling from blue eyes, the older woman refocused on their previous topic, pushing down her exasperation at the woman's refusal to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

She, of all people, understood the desire for a little normalcy after traumatic events. Even if said normalcy involved discussions of corpses and gruesome deaths.

"As for Carly, Hel, the cause of death appears identical to our first victim -- massive, uniform cellular disruption. It's simply inexplicable."

Barbara remembered something.

"Are you sure about Carly, though?"

Blue eyes blinked.

"What? You mean the meta thing?"

At the older woman's nod, Helena continued.

"Yeah. She hung out at No Man's, could do some really cool shit with electrical currents."

The brunette eyes grew a little distant as she smiled at a memory.

"Guys learned pretty quick not to try to cop a feel with her. Lot more subtle than, you know, breaking their wrists or something."

Barbara clearly heard the hitch in the younger woman's breathing as blue eyes flickered to the brace on her arm.

"So, yeah. She was meta. Why?"


The redhead picked up her glasses, tapping one earpiece against her lower lip.

"Obviously, I can't state with certainty that I have every possible test; and, clearly there might be factors or indicators of which I'm still unaware. However, typically, metas can be identified quite definitively by the deoxy-two base differences --- "

Noting blue eyes starting to cross, Barbara cut to the chase.

"I simply can't find any indication in her cells that she was a meta, Hel."

She raised a hand, forestalling the "Huh?" that was about to cross the other woman's lips.

"Every bit of DNA is -- although disrupted -- distinctly, totally human."

Barbara couldn't quite read the expression in her younger partner's face as Helena digested that information. After a moment's reflection, the dark woman responded with a quiet question.

"So, the first guy -- Hillerman? -- he could have been a meta, too?"

The brunette absently scratched under the edge of her brace and added, "Something could be out there targeting metas?"

"It's possible. If I'd thought to have you grab a hair sample when you were at Hillerman's apartment -- "

Helena silently interrupted to mouth the word "Rogaine".

"All right," the redhead laughed, "something containing DNA from before his death. That could help confirm the meta aspect. As it is, my crawlers have turned up a handful of deaths matching these parameters in Bludhaven, Metropolis, even Boston and New York. While the situation might be new to New Gotham, it appears to have existed for quite some time. Years, in fact."

The older woman was currently assembling information about all of the victims, tediously attempting to determine any common links among them. With this new theory, she planned to broaden her search to include clues that might indicate whether any of the victims had been meta-human.

The younger woman ran a hand through dark hair, then volunteered, "Hillerman's apartment has probably been cleared out by now, but I could run by Carly's place, snag some hair from a brush or something if you think that would help."

Barbara smiled fondly at the eager expression in those wide blue eyes, then chided softly, "Hel, do you think you're ready to be hitting the streets just yet?"

The redhead didn't miss the clenching of a sharp jaw line, the visible sigh that preceded her partner's slow response.

"Uh, no. Maybe not sweeps yet. But, I did kind of want to talk to you about, uh, that."

Was this it? Was Helena ready to discuss the events of the other night?

The older woman kept her expression as open and inviting as possible as she mentally tried to prepare herself for whatever her friend had in mind. Despite her precautions, she was still taken aback at the brunette's next words.

After visibly waffling about something, drumming her fingers against one knee, the brunette sucked in a deep breath and spoke.

"Anyway, I was kind of thinking that, now that I'm feeling better and all -- and you probably want your bed back -- "

Barbara thought that the smile accompanying the words looked decidedly pained.

"-- that I should probably head on ho-- head out, back to my place. Maybe take a few days to, uh..."

There was a baffled shake of a dark head as the younger woman trailed off, turning to look towards the balcony doors.

The older woman hadn't been expecting this.

No, she corrected herself, she had been expecting this. Just, not, at this moment. Not so soon --

Barbara dimpled her cheeks, fighting not to rock her chair as she struggled to slow her breathing and heart rate. She missed being able to tap her foot.

She focused on Helena.

"Are you sure you're ready, Sweetheart? You're welcome here as long as you'd like to stay. This will always be your home."

The older woman watched, uncomprehending, as the brunette's face twisted in pain for a split second before she breathed slowly in and out.

"Yeah. I'm sure."

The younger woman turned to face Barbara directly, voice gaining strength, as she continued.

"Just, before I leave, I wanted to make sure you understand about the other night. That you don't try to find-- uh, to do anything."

Barbara was utterly lost. The brunette had never been shy in expressing her opinions about the merits of swift, dark justice. It had always been the older woman who urged forbearance.

Perhaps Helena had some plans of her own?


The redhead clearly detected something like humiliation in the blue eyes that focused on her, but -- like the brunette's hushed voice -- they were also utterly, utterly sincere.

For some reason, the words the younger woman spoke seemed initially incomprehensible. Once she'd pieced out the syllables and meaning, they left the older woman shaken to the core.

"It's just, well, I asked them to do it, Barbara."

Chapter 19

What the -- ?

Barbara looked like she'd been punched in the gut or something.

Seeing the redhead stiffen painfully, pale visibly, Helena dropped to a crouch in front of her, wincing at some residual stiffness.

Clearly, Barbara wasn't taking it the way she'd meant. Hell, Helena hadn't been talking -- thinking -- much, so maybe she hadn't said it quite right.

Goddamnit, why was she always doing stuff to hurt the older woman?

"I, I'm sor --" the brunette blurted, then stopped herself.

The younger woman thought back to her words -- that she'd asked, right?

With a tired sigh, Helena stood, realizing that she hadn't really misspoken at all. At least, what she'd said was close enough to the truth that it didn't really make a difference.

But, no. Looked like Red, with her insatiable need for precision, wouldn't let her off without knowing how close "enough" was.

The older woman's voice was carefully modulated, almost without inflection.

"I'm not sure I understood you, Helena. Are you suggesting that this--"

Helena felt her face burn as the redhead pointedly raked her gaze from the top of her head -- focusing for a long minute on the still-visible bruising around her neck -- to her denim-clad thighs.

"was -- is -- something you wanted?"

Helena considered that question carefully, narrowing her eyes as she focused on a faint stain -- tea, probably -- on the desk.

Were asking for something and wanting it the same thing?

She was pretty sure the answer to that was 'no'.

Opening her mouth to answer, she snapped it shut, directing an irritated glare at the wall.

Now was so not the time to be doing fish imitations.

Maybe she'd been taking the easy way out with that answer. Rationalizing. What about all of that subconscious bullshit? She just wasn't so sure she could explain the difference to Barbara.

She peeked through her lashes at the older woman. Seeing the pained confusion still present in green eyes, at a loss for how to explain herself, Helena thought that maybe she should just go back to not talking at all.

Less trouble for everyone.

Barbara saved her from having to commit to that course of action just yet when she seemed to come to some sort of realization. Crimson brows arched slightly, and the older woman's expression softened as the redhead exhaled decisively.


Barbara laughed softly, and the younger woman lowered her brows, wondering what was funny.

Although, the brunette noticed, there hadn't been much humor in the sound.

"No, of course it's not. So," the older woman looked up at Helena, eyes wet-looking, "can you tell me why you think this was something you 'asked for', Sweetie?"

Aw, fuck.

The redhead's expression was gentle, but, pinned by those soft eyes, Helena felt like a housecat in front of a cobra. A beautiful, loving cobra. A beautiful, loving, terribly, terribly determined cobra.

Helena looked down, clenching her hands, feeling the dull ache in her left wrist, then rubbing her fingers against the almost healed cuts on her right palm. Number 3 thought he was being pretty funny when he'd gotten up and started grinding that beer bottle.


He sure hadn't expected her to grab his boot heel and give a sudden twist strong enough to fracture -- compound fracture -- his ankle. The ensuing surprise when he'd started screaming and flailing had finally given Helena enough slack to get loose and perform some perfunctory ass-kicking before she got the hell out of there.

Realizing that the older woman wasn't going to just let her question drop or get distracted by some bit of data on the Delphi and forget that she was there, the brunette finally spoke. Frustration and sadness colored her words.

"It... it just was, Barbara. Can't you leave it at that? Leave them alone and just let it go?"

Maybe if Red could let it go, Helena thought that she might be able to start working on giving up on dreams about things she clearly didn't deserve. It wasn't like she couldn't do it: after all, she'd made herself stop hoping almost three years ago; now all she had to do was learn to stop... wanting.

Green eyes blinked, several times, before the redhead did something surprising.

Without a word, she turned back to the Delphi -- for a disbelieving moment, the younger woman thought that maybe Red would cut her some slack -- and, muttering something about Depo-Provera, simply turned off the computer.

Not standby mode, not a controlled system power down, Helena realized. Barbara had just done a hard shut down. It would probably take hours for her to recover any files she'd had open.

The brunette took two slow steps backwards and cracked the knuckles of her right hand.

Never a good sign when the cyber-fiend crashed her own computer.

Without a backward glance, Barbara headed down the ramp from the platform and disappeared into the kitchen.

Helena cocked her head, staring at the kitchen door in bewilderment.

Had she just been dismissed?

Usually, the older woman was a little more, uh, forthright when she just didn't want to -- or couldn't -- deal with someone. Well, with Helena. As far as the brunette knew, she was the only person who could make the older woman need a... time out.

There'd be a very, very calm look, then some sort of words -- "You can go now, Helena"; some indication that the conversation was over. For then.

Of course, the redhead hadn't really needed to -- collect herself -- so much since her former ward had graduated high school. Maybe she'd forgotten the protocol.

Helena was just realizing that, regardless of her intent, Barbara had given her an opportunity to make herself scarce when the redhead returned. She had a couple of tumblers and a bottle of something -- was that bourbon? -- on her lap.

Moving into the living area, the older woman arranged her items on the coffee table and transferred herself to the couch as she spoke.

"Let's have a drink, Hel. I think we could both use it."

The brunette situated herself a bit stiffly on the far end of the couch and accepted the brimming glass. Eying the other woman cautiously, she automatically responded to Barbara's raised glass and softly murmured "L'chayim" and then raised an eyebrow appreciatively as the older woman neatly downed her two fingers of liquor and reached for the bottle.

Grabbing the decanter first, she laughed.

"Allow me, Babs. After all, I am a professional."

More softly, she added, "Sure wish I could have seen you at a kegger."

The other woman's laugh was soft and husky.

Helena wanted to cry. She couldn't believe that the sound could affect her so.

Even now.

"Tell you what, Helena. Let's make a date to get blotto one of these weekends. I think I could still show you a thing or two about tequila shooters."

The brunette smiled over the rim of her glass -- Barbara really came up with some great ideas some times -- then nearly spewed the fiery liquid through her nose when serious green eyes caught hers.

"Will you tell me what happened, Hel?"

Rubbing at the burning in her eyes -- friggin' bourbon -- the brunette scowled, muttering, "I fucked up, and I got fucked. Okay, Barbara? Just, okay?!"

Helena glowered at her drink, intensely aware of the other woman's patient scrutiny. The redhead would probably sit there, waiting for an answer, all goddamned night.

Leaning forward to place her glass very carefully on the coffee table, the younger woman sighed.

'No way through it but to do it, Kyle.'

"There were these jerks following this woman down the street. Dinah and I ran into them last week, trying to do the same thing, you know? And, last week, I sort of gave them a little etiquette lesson."

Involuntarily, the brunette grinned shyly in response to Barbara's nod and knowing smile.

"So, uh, the other night, I figured they needed a refresher and followed them..."

Showing a slightly less pleasant smile, this one full of teeth, the young vigilante trailed off for a minute, remembering entering the alley, re-living her awareness of the other two goons hidden by the dumpster. Recalling sending the woman on her way before turning her attention fully to the young turks.

The feral grin disappeared, and Helena brought a hand to her forehead, blocking her view of the other woman's patient gaze.

"So, I was 'chatting' with them, y'know?"

Peripherally detecting the nod, she dragged her hand down to her mouth, biting at her thumbnail and turning her face to focus on the dark television screen.


Finish it.

"And they got the jump on me and, and stuff hap --"

Swallowing with difficulty -- Helena thought that the bourbon must have tightened her throat up again -- she jumped to the ending.

"And then I, uh, kind of cleaned their clocks, called 911, and headed home."

After an eternity of absolute silence, the brunette dragged her gaze away from the dark screen to discover that Barbara had somehow quietly moved down the couch, positioning herself next to her. The older woman gently grasped the hand that Helena was gnawing at and drew it to her face. The younger woman whimpered almost inaudibly at the feel of a soft kiss against the fading wounds on the palm, at the sensation of having her palm pressed to the redhead's chest, over her heart.

God. The warmth, the softness, that strong heartbeat all felt so good.


The barest of whispers.

Unable to stand the pain in those beautiful emerald eyes, the brunette dredged up a small smile and struggled for a nonchalant tone.

"It's -- it's okay, Red. It's the business we're in, right?"

"Mmm," was the noncommittal response as the redhead dropped her gaze to Helena's neck and drew her brows together.

Shit. Barbara was thinking about something.

"What I don't understand, Helena, is how four ordinary punks -- ?"

The brunette dipped her head; Red's description was pretty much on target.

"managed to 'get the jump on you'. Was there a... threat or a weapon or some... element of surprise?"

The brunette jerked her hand abruptly from its warm haven to cover her bark of laughter. Mirth abated, she placed her thumb and middle finger on her temples, covering her eyes.

Well, here it was, time to come completely clean. No way Barbara was ever going to be able to look at her the same.

Dark brows knit in puzzlement as the young woman wondered how she could come clean when she felt like she'd never be clean again. Aware of curious scrutiny from warm green eyes, she finally answered Barbara's question.

"Yeah. All of that."

Of course, Barbara was gonna want details.

"What sort of --"


Well, that was a whole lot of silence from the redhead.

Helena wondered if she should buy a diary so she could record this moment. It wasn't every day that Barbara was at a loss for words.

Blue eyes peered over a slender hand to find the older woman regarding her as if she had grown a second head.

She lowered her hand, wondering why the refrain from REM's "End of the World" was running through her head, and looked directly at the woman she loved so much, who she so desperately wanted to please.

Helena's mom had always told her that, if something was really important, she should keep it short and to the point.

"Something happened, Barbara, and I just flipped out."

Green eyes continued to regard her evenly. Maybe the redhead wasn't understanding.

"Saw red. You know, like, uh, last week with that kid? And, and that's how they, uhm, got the upper hand."

There was the briefest of hesitations before the older woman spoke.

"Helena, I don't understand. How could they have possibly taken you down when you were in your feral mode?"

What the fuck did it matter? Why was Barbara having to analyze and dissect every freakin' thing? Why couldn't she just get it, get that her protgw had failed and lost...

Willing herself not to cry, the brunette directed her eyes toward the ceiling. She sucked in a breath, hating the clearly audible hitch in her chest, and spoke softly.

"Because, when they did, I wasn't. Augmented. I was just going at it -- all instinct and rage and blood in my eyes like some sort of -- "

Blue eyes shut and the dark figure rocked minutely back and forth at the waist, remembering it all, before she breathed the words.

"A fuckin' animal."

Helena twisted her head violently to the side, clenching her jaw. Feeling long fingers tangling with hers, she consciously kept her hands relaxed, loose, in her lap.

"And, at one point, I sort of, uh, saw myself. I was like fifteen or twenty seconds away from choking the guy who'd... or tearing his windpipe out."

Blue eyes looked inward as Helena considered which outcome would have been more likely. Remembering the feelings of that night -- the impression that she'd just come up for air, her horror as she'd seen herself as if from the outside, the sensations of slowly, deliberately crushing the man's windpipe -- the brunette shuddered.

The young woman puffed out her cheeks and exhaled noisily.

The worst was out. Barbara knew what she'd done. Who she'd been pretending not to be all of these years.

"I dunno. But, it just -- I couldn't believe what I was doing. That -- "

The young woman swallowed with difficulty and blinked against the burning in her eyes.

"That I was this thing. I just froze. I couldn't move or breath or anything."

With that admission, the brunette chewed at her lower lip, wondering what she could possibly say to make things right.

"I'm so sorry, Barbara. I didn't mean for it to happen."

Chapter 20

Feeling like she'd just gone ten rounds with the Joker -- and all of his henchmen -- Barbara worked hard to keep her breathing steady.

For some reason, it was taking most of her concentration to perform the routine function of respiration. Odd that extreme emotions seemed able to interfere with basic autonomic functions. Perhaps she could investigate the physiological basis behind that.

Collecting herself, the redhead remembered that there was someone else who needed attention far more than she needed to focus on new avenues of research.

Barbara regarded her younger partner thoughtfully.

Helena's hands were relaxed under the redhead's soft grip; her breathing was steady, almost inaudible. Downcast blue eyes were hidden by thick lashes. Only the tightly clenched jaw, the woman's minute rocking, and the rigid set of her shoulders betrayed the brunette's tension.

The older woman shut her eyes, then slowly opened them as she considered -- as she tried to grasp -- everything that Helena had revealed. Again, she grappled to comprehend the agony of the experience, this time in light of the young woman's revelations.

Under any circumstances, the ordeal had been horrific; yet, Helena seemed most torn -- most horrified -- by her own behavior, by how she had handled herself with the thugs. The brunette was visibly shaken because she believed that what she had revealed about her own actions, her own loss of control, had been so terrible as to justify what had occurred.

Blinking again, Barbara fought a wave of nausea at the realization that -- at the time -- Helena had been so horrified by her own behavior that she had "frozen", essentially handing herself over the punks. Simply overwhelmed by the emotions which underlay her younger partner's beliefs, the redhead released a long breath and straightened slightly.

This was not the time for reflection.

Barbara released the brunette's hand and reached up, encircling deceptively slender shoulders and gently tugging the dark figure to her. There was a moment of rigid resistance -- the redhead caught a glimpse of uncomprehending blue eyes -- before the younger woman relaxed marginally, allowing her mentor to envelop her in strong arms.

Pressing her lips to dark hair in a lingering kiss, the older woman held the young woman to her tightly, wishing that she could never let her go. Thinking again about the brunette's description of events, her actions afterward, the redhead captured her lower lip in her teeth and blinked, realizing how close things might have been.

"Why didn't you come here? Contact me, Hel?"

The older woman winced at the hint of accusation she'd been unable to keep from her tone.

Apparently, the younger woman's sensitive hearing hadn't missed it either. The brunette tensed and attempted to pull away, but Barbara refused to give her any slack.

"Why, Helena?"

This time, it was pain underlying the older woman's tone.

The reply was muffled against Barbara's shoulder.

"I just -- needed some time, Barbara."

Turning her head slightly to the side, the redhead rested her cheek against dark silk and convulsively tightened her grip a hairsbreadth.


The first denial was barely a whisper. The next carried the strength of the older woman's conviction.

"No, Sweetheart. I could have lost you."

Helena's response was softer than before, less certain. Barbara was fairly certain that she'd heard the words "woulda been okay". She didn't even attempt to hide the anger blowing through her.

"No, Helena. You would not have 'been okay'!"

The words she played back to the brunette were tinged with acid, and the redhead took a moment to steady herself. She lifted her head and leaned back slightly, at the same time using one hand to coax the younger woman's gaze upward until she could see blue eyes.

"Sweetie, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can't share with me. That you can't tell me or ask... or ask of me."

Barbara drew in a breath and prepared herself to say something that she had never expressed in words. She could only hope that some of it would get through her younger partner's thick skull.

"But, Hel? I absolutely cannot -- I will not be able to survive without you in my life."

The redhead caught the sharp flash of pain across gamine features before blue eyes shut and she felt the younger woman's jaw tense rhythmically in her hand. Although Helena's response, through clenched teeth, was quiet, it shredded at the older woman's soul.

"Didn't you hear what I said, Barbara? Don't you understand what I did?"

Almost sub vocally, the dark figured whispered, "What I am?"

The older woman drew her upper and lower lips between her front teeth, physically denying her desire to snap at the other woman. Simultaneously, she wriggled her eyebrows, lifting them towards her hairline and holding the pose for a moment to release the tension that was crawling all over her scalp.

Marginally calmer, the redhead brushed her mouth over the dark brows which were knit as if expecting a blow. Lips still pressed lightly to the brunette's forehead, she responded quietly.

"Yes, Hel. I heard you."

She pressed a tender kiss to the younger woman's brow, still not pulling away from the soft, tan skin.

"I simply cannot subscribe to -- or appreciate --"

The older woman's voice hardened fractionally on the word before gentling again.

"your viewpoint that you in any way 'asked for', or deserved, what happened."

From the stiff set of the brunette's shoulders, Barbara surmised that the younger woman was not convinced.

Regretfully removing her lips from the other woman, the redhead pulled back slightly, breathing, "Hel, look at me, please."

Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the defiant disbelief in those stunning eyes -- the young woman never had learned to hide her emotions -- Barbara smiled, then deliberately put on her most scientific, clinical expression.

"Tell me, Hel. If you'd been out late, wearing some tight, revealing outfit --"

The redhead considered her protg 's choice of sweepswear for a moment before continuing, attempting to make herself absolutely clear.

" -- would you still feel that you'd 'asked for' it? Did that poor woman they were initially targeting 'ask for' something because she was out late at night?"

Barbara paused, then attempted again to hammer her point home.

"If -- this had happened to anybody else, for whatever reason, would you say that the victim 'asked for it'?"

Blue eyes which verged on panicked attempted to look away, but Barbara absolutely, positively, refused to release the younger woman's gaze. Channeling every bit of conviction that she'd ever experienced into her expression and her voice, the older woman added softly.

"Sweetheart, sometimes -- shit happens. It is not your fault."


She saw the crack in the younger woman's facade, the nearly painful attempts the brunette made to fight the tears brimming in cobalt eyes. Watching Helena squeeze her eyes shut, a single tear silently descending the tan cheek, the redhead gently placed both hands on the sides of the younger woman's face and leaned forward.

She rested her forehead against Helena's and whispered fervently, "You didn't do anything -- anything -- to ask for, to deserve this, Hel."

Even as she spoke, something -- something the brunette had said, or not said -- nibbled at the edges of the older woman's thoughts. However, when the younger woman finally gave in, when Helena wrapped her arms almost punishingly around her former guardian's waist and buried her face against her shoulder to emit a mewling cry, Barbara pushed those thoughts aside.

There would be time later.

Now, now it was time for the redhead to hold the smaller woman, to take in her soft gasps and trembling, to feel her warm tears dampening the front of the older woman's tee shirt, to hear the pained whisper -- "I'm sorry, so sorry." -- over and over.

"Shh, Sweetie. I know; it will get better."

At the words, the young woman pulled back fractionally, allowing her mentor to see the anguish in tear-filled blue eyes.

"How, Barbara?"

The question was hoarse, fervent.

"I've tried so fuckin hard, and all I do is... Please don't be mad."

The older woman jerked reflexively at the plea. Barbara felt like she'd been slapped.

How could Helena even think...?

"Never, Helena."

Fighting her own tears, the redhead's voice was hoarse as well, and no less impassioned than her partner's.

"Never at you, Sweetie. I love you, and you did nothing to deserve this. Please-- "

Barbara drew in a breath, trying to calm herself, hoping that her message would carry to the brunette.

"Please, Hel, you must believe that."

Blue eyes narrowed and searched the older woman's face before Helena burrowed her head in the redhead's chest again.

Barbara didn't attempt to soothe or calm the brunette. She didn't make the soft shushing noises that rose to her lips, nor did she allow herself to whisper empty words that things would be all right. Instead, she held the woman tenderly, pressing soft kisses to dark hair and breathing in the woman's sweet scent. Near tears herself from the sheer gratitude she felt from being able to hold the younger woman, Barbara remained quiet and thankful that Helena was finally expelling some of her tears and anger and sorrow.

Long minutes later, the younger woman gradually quieted, hiccupping for a moment, then stilled. There was a noisy sniffle as the brunette finally unlocked her grip from Barbara's waist and sat up, rubbing the back of her right wrist under her nose.

Smiling fondly at the gesture, the redhead wondered why there were no tissues nearby.

Honestly, what kind of bohemian household was she running, anyway?

At that incongruous thought, the redhead chuckled, aware of a peevish look being directed her way.

"What? I know the whole puffy eyes, red nose thing isn't my best look..."

The older woman raised a placating hand, attempted a contrite expression.

"No, no, Hel. Just thinking about, well, tissues, actually."

The younger woman's expression clearly suggested that she thought that her mentor might be overdue for a nap -- or a long vacation; however, she merely snuffled again, then ducked her head to mutter, "So, still, you won't, uh, kill them or anything, right?"

Barbara considered the question, wondering if she really would have exacted her own dark justice if the younger woman hadn't made her request. Not entirely comfortable with the fact that she didn't have a definitive answer for her own question, she tabled that line of thought and answered the brunette's question honestly.

"No, Sweetheart. I've found enough evidence tying them to other crimes that they'll be going away for quite a while."

Revisiting her earlier thought about chemical castration, Barbara decided that she just might allow herself the indulgence. It would certainly add a little verve to the bastards' incarceration.

Wordlessly, the brunette nodded at the promise, then chewed her lip and cracked the knuckles of her right hand.

Despite everything she'd heard already, the younger woman's next question still rocked Barbara.

"You're really not -- mad? At me?"

Deciding they might have had enough tears and heartfelt words for the moment, the redhead tried for something a little lighter.

"Only at your thick headedness, Sweetie."

But, no less the truth, she admitted with no small amount of exasperation.

Helena visibly sagged at this, then leaned forward to snag her nearly-full glass from the coffee table, downing the contents in one long, thirsty swallow.

A crimson brow crept towards Barbara's hairline.

Helena thumped her glass back on the table with an appreciative smack of her lips and turned, raking her gaze down the redhead's chest, to offer an apologetic smile.

The older woman thought that the expression might have been more convincing if it weren't accompanied by a teasing glint in blue eyes.

"Sorry I got you all wet, Red."

The redhead glanced down at her shirt, and the other eyebrow joined the first at her hairline. Wet with the younger woman's tears, Barbara's tee shirt clearly revealed -- well -- everything.

Relieved beyond measure to see even a tiny bit of levity -- even at the expense of her own blushing complexion - the older woman realized that she honestly didn't give a flying fig. She laughed as she shifted herself to her chair.

"Not a problem, Helena."

She paused, glancing out the window at the dark evening sky, weighing the options.

There was simply no way she wanted to let the brunette leave. Helena -- and she -- was simply too fragile.

"I know that you said that you're eager to head back to your place, Sweetheart, but would you be willing to stay here again tonight?"

Aware of the pained hesitance in the other woman's eyes, Barbara cheerfully damned her own complete shamelessness and added, "It would make me feel better."

Suspicious blue eyes peered from under shaggy bangs. Nevertheless, the brunette simply started to fish for the remote, murmuring, "Sure, Babs."

By-passing the urge to pump her fist in delight, Barbara merely exhaled, relieved beyond measure.

"All right, then. Why don't I go scrounge something for us from the kitchen?"

Unable to miss the startled turn of a dark head, the vaguely alarmed expression gracing dark features, the redhead directed a playfully exasperated glare at the brunette.

She was well aware of her previous -- and, current, she admitted -- ward's somewhat low regard for her culinary skills.

"Even I can warm up leftovers, Helena," she chided teasingly.

Heading towards the kitchen, she threw over her shoulder, "Somehow, I just can't believe that a dinner comprised solely of M&Ms and bourbon is going to sit well..."

The answering chuckle warmed her tremendously; the next words she heard dissolved the warmth.

"So, maybe tomorrow, Barbara, I can make myself useful again? Run by Carly's place?"

Chapter 21

"So, what do you know about Carly Applewood?"

Helena stirred her drink with her index finger, watching her companion from the corner of her eye, peripherally aware of the slowly growing after-work crowd at the bar.

The brunette's visit to Carly's apartment the preceding week -- after a lot of promises to Barbara that she'd be out in under five minutes -- had yielded an address book and a few hair samples. While none of the names in the book had correlated to those from Hillerman's life, the hair samples had confirmed that, prior to her demise, the young woman's genetics had clearly indicated her meta-human make-up.

Since a week of cautious stealth assignments -- casual trailing of names from the address book -- hadn't uncovered anything of note, the dark vigilante had decided to check out one of the young woman's known haunts.

Didn't hurt that it gave her a chance to feel useful, like she could start making up for everything. Hell, maybe if she could keep it together, in another few years she could prove herself all over again.

Pushing those thoughts aside, she took a small sip of her drink.

Didn't hurt that the bartenders at No Man's Land made a wicked vodka martini, either.

She distanced herself slightly from the guy on her left, who was lighting a cigar with his index finger -- Helena figured that he must be a lot of fun after getting a half-dozen drinks under his belt -- and waited for Gibson's reply.

"Carly Ap...? Oh, heavens. She was that poor girl who died eleven days ago, wasn't she?"

The brunette nodded.

"I didn't know her that well; she hadn't been coming in too often lately."

Gibson tilted his head to one side.

"The last time was, let's see, seventeen days, twenty-one hours, and thirteen minutes ago. Before that, it had been -- "

Helena smoothly distracted the young man from his calculations.

"I remember that she used to hang out here all the time, Gibson. Wonder why she stopped?"

"Oh, well, Helena," the young man placed a hand on her forearm and leaned in, reminding the dark woman of a gossipy hen, "didn't you know? Carly was engaged. She was getting all caught up in the house in the suburbs, gas-guzzling SUV, 2.4 kids motif..."

Yeah, they'd already checked out the fiance. Nothing interesting there, other than the question about why a dynamic meta might have been into a dull-as-dishwater insurance salesman.

As Gibson waxed sentimental about the beauty of romance, Helena waited for an opening.

"So, I understand that she'd registered at Pottery Barn; honestly, you'd think that somewhere like -- "

"Yeah, speaking of shopping, do you ever remember some guy named Hillerman coming here? John Hillerman?"

Well, that had been smooth. Maybe she could claim that she'd been thinking about J. Peterman, or something.

Helena ignored the pained sigh filtering over her earpiece.


At least, Gibson didn't seem too put out by the abrupt change of conversation. Of course, he could talk about anything, or absolutely nothing, for hours.

"Well, names aren't really my 'thing', you know, Helena."

"Uhm, he was around fifty, brown eyes, serious rug dependency?"

"Oh," Helena's companion cast dramatic eyes heavenward. "JH. Yeah, he came in sometimes. It's been a while though."

Sure had, the brunette noted sourly.

"You know, he actually blamed his little, er, follicle problem on his meta genes! How a little ESP vibe would impact hair growth --"

Gibson laughed as Helena smoothly downed the rest of her drink and stood up. The fact that Hillerman had even known about No Man's Land was proof enough for her.

"Sorry to drink and run, Gib," she interrupted again, "but I've gotta book. Hot date, you know."

Offering a farewell smile and wink in response to her companion's interested leer, the young woman ducked out the back exit and bounded up a fire escape. On the roof of the bar, she shivered -- too much talk about dead people for one night, she figured -- before speaking quietly.

"You get all that, Oracle?"

<"Hot date, Huntress?">

The tone was warm, amused. It kick started the usual thrumming in the dark woman's lower body. The sense of disgust with herself that accompanied the feeling was newer, but the brunette suspected that she'd get used to it.

Obviously, it was going to be a little harder to get over the dreaming -- wanting -- stuff than she'd hoped.

"Heh" -- Why did her collar feel so tight? It wasn't even buttoned. -- "You know. I've got a reputation to uphold and all."

Helena leapt to another building as she continued, a bit more confidently.

"Besides, even if our destination is a little, uh, prosaic, you can't deny that you're damned hot, Re -- Oracle."

<"I see.">

The tone was calm, unruffled. Apparently a little flirting was out tonight.

Hell, there hadn't been much flirting at all in the last week or so. Or much action during sweeps either. Helena thought that Red was treating her like she was made out of glass or something.

Considering that, the young woman had to admit that it really wasn't too surprising. Obviously, Barbara was going to want to be sure that she wouldn't just go postal again. And, as for the flirting, couldn't really blame the redhead for backing off on that as well.

<"Do you have an ETA for picking me up for our little event, Huntress?">

"ASAP, Oracle," the dark woman responded with just the tiniest edge of sarcasm, pleased -- and a little alarmed -- that she'd managed to jargon back so effortlessly.

Noticing where she was, the young vigilante made a sharp right and sailed to a different rooftop.

Just a quick detour...

"I just have to run home and change, then I'll be right over. Probably fifteen, twenty minutes, tops." she elaborated, this time with just the tiniest edge of apology in her tone.

Shit, it wasn't Barbara's fault that she was worried about her young partner.

<"That's fine. I show that you're moving at a right angle to your destination, though, Huntress. Anything wrong?">

"Nah, I wanted to -- Whoa!"

The young woman's speech and progress came to an abrupt halt simultaneously.

Helena stared over the edge of a rooftop, breathing out, "Man, those're massive..."

<"Huntress? What's wrong? Do you copy?">

Huh? Red was sounding a little worried... Oh, right.

The brunette tore her gaze from the billboard that had been recently erected on the roof of Carly Applewood's building and answered.

"Sorry, Oracle. Everything's fine."

Eyes creeping back to the billboard in spite of herself -- sometimes it was hard, being a slave to her hormones -- she added distractedly, "I didn't know that a new Hooters was gonna open up here."

<"Hoot-- ?">

The exasperated hoot carried clearly over the comm set.

<"Honestly, Huntress. It won't be open for months; perhaps you can check in then to see if there's any undercover work in order.">

"You knew about -- "

A sudden perception of being watched snapped Helena directly back to the moment and froze her in place on the roof of the building opposite Carly's apartment. The brunette felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as ice ran down her spine. Eyes instantly feral, every sense heightened, the dark figure dropped to a crouch and opened her mouth, scenting the night air.

<"Huntress?"> There was a hint of concern in the warm voice. <"You've stopped moving. Is there a problem?">

Almost sub vocally, the dark figure growled, "Got a feeling. Hold on."

All questions ceased from the other end of the comm set. There was only the sound of the redhead's slow, measured breathing. Barbara was with her completely -- listening, tracking her, ready...

There. A rapid movement out of the corner of her eye. The sudden absence of a huge -- really frikkin' huge -- shadow cast by the waning moon. It filled her with dread while simultaneously beckoning visceral parts of her.

Without a thought, the Huntress took off in pursuit.

For almost twenty minutes, the dark figure sailed from rooftop to rooftop, chasing a shadow, a scent of decay, a teasing sensation. She ignored the one soft question that filtered through her ear piece -- "Not now!" her only reply -- as she tracked the soft footfalls, the shifting pieces of debris which rustled from someone's -- or something's -- recent passage.

After too many days of cautious, tedious healing and stealthy assignments, there was finally a hunt.


And, then, as suddenly as it had been there, it was gone.

No hint of movement, no scuffling footsteps, no scent.

The lithe figure dropped soundlessly into an alley, lips pulled back in a hungry grimace, mouth scenting the air and finding only the usual dank night smells of the city. Her blood still thundered in her ears, burned through her veins. Her fingers itched for the feel of flesh being rent.

God. Fucking. Damnit.

She knew it had been someone, something, linked to the two odd deaths. Something linked to Carly, a woman not much younger than Helena, with so much to look forward to.

She wanted to smash something. Drive her fists over and over into yielding flesh. Strike out with teeth and nails to stop that awful force that had remained just out of her sight, out of her grasp.

Fighting to even out her breathing, to gentle the powerful driving beat of her heart, Helena walked slowly towards the street. Marginally calmer, she finally growled, "Lost him... it. Sorry Oracle."

Chapter 22

"And then there were none..."

As the curtain in the auditorium lowered on the premiere performance of the drama club's newest offering, the audience erupted into applause. Barbara noticed that Helena, who had barely managed to make it for the opening curtain after heading home to change after her abortive chase, was whistling and calling for an appearance by the stage crew.

Smiling at the brunette's support for Dinah and -- perhaps more so -- at the return of some of Helena's joi de vivre, Barbara added her voice to the cry.

The curtain rose again, and the cast of "Ten Little Indians" bounded onto the stage to link hands for their final bows.

In response to her companion's movement, the redhead continued to applaud, but shifted slightly to focus on Helena's question. She attempted to ignore her own response to the feel of the younger woman's breath whispering across her ear as she separated the brunette's words from the noise of the audience.

The older woman raised a hand, directing two fingers in the direction of a curly-haired girl bowing deeply on the stage.

"Third from the left. Gabby played Emily Brent."

This time, the brunette's whistle seemed to have very little to do with expressing appreciation for the performance, the redhead noted with a flash of irritation; rather, it appeared to express the brunette's appreciation for one particular thespian.

"Whaaat?" Blue eyes batted innocently. "Our Dinah's got good taste; that Gabby's a little hottie."

The older woman couldn't maintain any real ire in the face of her younger friend's cheerfully frank assessment. She laughed, unlocking the brake of her chair.

"I suppose she is, Hel; but don't let that get out, or I'll probably be suspended or something for ogling a student."

As she waited for a lull in the exodus up the aisle so that she could turn her chair around, the redhead pondered what penalties lay in store for ogling, for wanting, a former student -- not to mention ward.

Rocking her chair slightly, she observed the former student in question stand and smoothly insinuate herself between Barbara and the wave of parents and students moving up the walkway. A sultry grin transformed gamine features as the brunette batted her eyes at a burly man.

"Think you can give my friend here a hand? Maybe hold back this Great Wall of Gotham for us?"

Barbara barely held back her laughter as the gentleman's chest visibly puffed and, preening just a bit, he turned to halt the flow of traffic behind him. She didn't miss the sharp look that his wife fixed on the man. Undoubtedly, the couple's drive home would be lively.

Of course, considering Helena's appearance -- form-fitting, flared black slacks made of heavy silk; a barely-buttoned cream poet's blouse; patent leather dress boots with just enough heel -- the redhead decided that she could scarcely fault the man, or his wife, for their respective responses. Helena always had been able to turn heads.

Thirty minutes later, the two women entered the clock tower, deep in discussion about Dinah's visible contributions to the play's set and wardrobe.

"Yeah," Helena admitted as she tossed her coat over a chair and then -- without apparent conscious thought -- assisted the older woman with hers, "I'll give you that she did okay with keeping all of the outfits in the same period. I just don't understand the near-frantic hunt for that stupid hat. I mean, shit, Barbara, Colonel Peacock only wore it for about two friggin' minutes in the whole play!"

Laughing lightly at the brunette's overly dramatic aggrievement, Barbara brought the Delphi up from stand-by.

"It was General Mackenzie, Hel," the redhead corrected automatically as she scanned the monitoring programs for anything out of the ordinary. "And, the hat that you helped Dinah find was absolutely perfect for the character. I think we can be proud of her for caring enough to focus on those sorts of details."

Hmm, it appeared that nothing too significant had occurred in New Gotham this evening. Perhaps the criminal element were attending their children's school plays as well.

"Compulsive is more like it," the brunette snarked, adding, "You think Ritalin would help her?"

The older woman directed a pointed look at her younger partner. While it was not quite The Look, it seemed to accomplish its intended purpose. The dark head dipped contritely for a split second and a slender hand rose to scratch at the base of a tan neck.

Transfixed by the sight of that hand slipping lower along the unbuttoned shirt placket to rub idly at the skin of the brunette's upper chest, Barbara was gradually reunited with the moment when she became aware that Helena seemed to be waiting for some sort of response from her.

Working hard to appear casual, she returned her gaze to mildly curious blue eyes and opted to go with a noncommittal, "Hmm, Hel?"

"I asked what the quote is you like so much. You know, something about details? By that van Roach guy?"

"It's van der Rohe, Sweetheart," the older woman laughed, then supplied, "I believe you're thinking of 'God dwells in the details'. It does seem to apply to Dinah, doesn't it?"

Blue eyes twinkled as the younger woman leaned back against the desk, resting her hands on the edges near her hips.

"Yeah, 'cept I always heard it as 'The devil's in the details', Red."

Barbara smiled, then paused, considering what sort of devil the younger woman had been pursuing earlier.

"What was... it tonight, Helena? I noticed that you were directly across from Carly's apartment. Do you think...?"

The brunette's features hardened. Barbara detected the other woman's shiver.

"I -- I don't know, Barbara. I never really saw anything. It was all light and shadows, footsteps and echoes. You know?"

The older woman nodded in response to the searching look.

In her day, she'd engaged in a few chases like that. Not a few of those had been, in fact, with Helena's mother.

"But," Helena's voice became hushed, "there was just this feeling, this... presence. This rotten stink."

The brunette drew in a shaky breath and visibly snapped herself back to the present.

"I don't really know why I went by; I just had an urge after talking with Gibson. But, yeah, I think it was... related."

Barbara considered this information. She also considered her younger partner's current unease.

"Hmm, Sweetie. This could be good news, actually."

In response to the frankly skeptical expression being directed at her, the redhead elaborated.

"We can now be somewhat sure that we're not looking at a widespread chemical or biological agent. That, of course, simplifies containment issues. And, tomorrow, in daylight, perhaps you can retrace your steps to see if there's any evidence to pick up."

Although they might not have been exactly what the younger woman wanted, or needed, to hear, the words seemed to relax her a bit. Helena always seemed to do better when there was something she could act on.

That had certainly been true in the last week as the brunette had slowly gotten back into her nightly sweeps rotation. Although Barbara had attempted -- trying not to seem too obvious -- to make the assignments as safe as possible, the opportunity to prowl the New Gotham nights and sail the rooftops appeared to have been the best therapy in the world for the young vigilante.

Finally, Helena was once again speaking without the nearly painful hesitation that had followed the attack. Her movements were easier; her confidence seemed to be returning. And, judging from the occasional flirtatious or teasing remark, she was recovering her emotional equilibrium as well.

Hoping to improve her partner's current mood, the older woman deliberately lightened her tone as she powered the Delphi back to stand-by and headed towards the kitchen.

"But, for now, Hel, what say we toast Dinah's success over tea and cookies?"

Taking the brunette's grunt, followed by the sound of the big screen coming to life, as an assent -- the younger woman's monosyllabically charming version of "Well, that would be lovely, Barbara. Anything I can do to help?" -- Barbara turned on the kettle and fished in a lower cupboard for a snack.

She could have sworn that there was one last box of Girl Scout cookies tucked back there...

"Uhm, I ate 'em."

Straightening with a startled squeak -- that had been attractive, hadn't it? -- the older woman brought one hand to cover her pounding heart and turned to fix her cat-footed partner with a less-than-friendly stare.

"Are you honestly telling me that you ate my last box of Thin Mints, Helena?"

Seeing the blue eyes dart nervously to the floor as even white teeth gnawed at a full lower lip, the redhead sighed and calmed herself. No reason to take out her adrenaline from being scared as anger about a box of cookies, after all.

"I'm sorry, Hel. You just startled me. That's fine about the cookies."

The brunette accepted the apology with a shy grin.

"No prob. I forget sometimes how quiet... But, hey, maybe I can make up for it -- "

In a single seamless movement, the lithe figure bounded onto the counter and stuck a hand on top of one of the upper cupboards. After a moment of rustling, she hopped down lightly and presented two items from what appeared to be a fairly respectable hidden stash of sugar.

The redhead automatically accepted the proffered snack-size package of Milanos and the jumbo package of Oreos.

Oreos with double stuff, she noticed, feeling a bit bilious at the thought of Oreos and tea.

Barbara poured the now-boiling water into two cups as the younger woman placed tea bags, the sugar bowl, cream, and a package of instant cocoa on a tray. Helena added the two cups of hot water and hefted the tray, following the older woman from the kitchen.

"What else is in your stash, Hel?" Barbara teased, then added, "And, why the Milanos?"

The older woman knew that a snack package wouldn't even touch the woman's raging sweet tooth.


The brunette set the tray on the coffee table before gracefully sprawling on the couch and tearing open the cocoa packet.

"They're for you. I know, uh, sometimes you like a little something sweet."

Green eyes didn't miss the fact that the younger woman was directing undue concentration to stirring her cocoa. Nor did the redhead overlook the slight nervousness in the other woman's shy explanation.

Barbara dunked her tea bag, oblivious to the fact that she was probably directing undue concentration to the act, and considered the other woman. One act after another of almost instinctual sweetness on the part of the younger woman came to mind, and the redhead pondered, not for the first time, what might lie behind them.

Bemused with herself, she decided that it was time to stop guessing. She'd gathered and analyzed as much data as she could; it was time to test her hypothesis. Barbara had been ready to tap-dance around the topic almost two weeks ago. With the steady return of her Helena, she decided there was no reason to wait any longer.

At this point, she was practically prepared to break-dance into the subject.

She set her teabag aside and raised her cup.


The older woman kept her tone as carefully modulated as possible. A not inconsiderable feat considering how much trouble she seemed to be having drawing a deep breath.

Considering the frequency of the occurrence, perhaps there would be merit in spending some time researching the effects of emotions on autonomic functions.


The reply was slightly distracted as the brunette busied herself tearing open the mega-package of Oreos.

"Would you be interested--"

Oh, great galloping guppies, that was a little stiff wasn't it?

Barbara mentally rolled her eyes and tried again, as inquisitive blue eyes looked up from the cookies.

"That is, would you like to go out some time?"


There was a flicker of confusion in the gamine features before the brunette snagged a cookie and tossed it from hand to hand.

"I thought we did tonight, Red."

The younger woman smiled charmingly before the grin slid into something a little naughty.

" 'Sides I'm holding out for that 'blotto night' that you promised."

Helena seemed to notice the fact that the older woman wasn't smiling. She carefully placed the cookie on the tray and peered through long lashes.

"What gives, Barbara?"

The older woman was distinctly aware that she was blushing to the roots of her hair. After all of the years of teasing and blush-inducing moments with the younger woman, it simply seemed unjust that she hadn't learned to control the response. Nevertheless, she valiantly ignored her discomfort and attempted to clarify her invitation.

"No, not a school function or a -- special occasion. Just us. A--"

The redhead resisted the urge clear her throat, to fan herself. Her voice sounded strangled to her own ears.

"--a date, Hel. I'd like to..."

The older woman trailed off, blowing absently at her tea as she considered.

Perhaps, she mused, she really was a little... mature, or old fashioned, if she was attempting to declare her intentions like this. Of course, that brought her squarely to the point: what, exactly, did she intend to declare? What was it she wanted to do with Helena?

The cyber genius ran down a short list of possibilities.

Date her?

Well, yes, but definitely more than that.

'Be with' her?

She suppressed a shudder at the euphemism. As an English teacher, certainly she could find more descriptive language than that.

Fuck like bunnies?

She mentally winced at the language, even as an odd warmth suffused her upper body at the sentiment. Too crude. Accurate, she had to admit, but too crude.

Court her?

Definitely too antiquated.

Marry her?

She smirked slightly behind the rim of her cup as an old joke about U-hauls flitted through her mind. She decided to table that option lest she entirely put the other woman off.

At that thought, the older woman refocused her eyes and observed that the brunette was still, apparently, awaiting some sort of clarification, or completion. The young woman was leaning forward, actually on the edge of her seat.

Helena's expression, Barbara decided, was guardedly disbelieving; however, she was exhibiting a palpable level of interest. Tension was almost visibly rolling off the lithe figure.

"To date you" she blurted hastily.

Endearingly, the brunette cast a suspicious glance over her shoulder before she seemed to accept that Barbara was talking to her and not some other person who had magically appeared in the room.

Green eyes locked on blue as the redhead smiled fondly.

"You, Helena."

Noticing that she was still holding her tea, poised by her lips, the redhead sipped delicately, attempting to gauge the younger woman's reaction.

Rather, she noted with trepidation, Helena's lack of a reaction.

The brunette was utterly, utterly still. Unnervingly, she seemed to be, literally, not moving a muscle.

A crimson brow crept skyward as the redhead wondered how badly she'd misjudged... or mistimed... or mishandled the situation. She leaned over to set her cup down. Mercifully, her hands remained steady, sparing her the embarrassment of sloshing hot tea all over.

"I realize that you may not be interested, Hel. Or it may be... too soon -- "


"-- and I don't want you to feel uncomfortable letting me know if--"

Green eyes blinked. The redhead felt a cautiously hopeful smile edging the corners of her mouth.

"Excuse me, Helena?"

Blue eyes twinkled as the brunette straightened fractionally. Her voice was gentle, affectionate.

"Is your -- receiver malfunctioning, Babs? Your transmissions are coming in just fine, but, if you're missing some of what I'm saying, maybe we need to check out your equipment."

The older woman started to laugh, then -- aware of the multiple layers of meaning behind the words -- coughed and blushed.

" 'Yes'? ", she managed to croak.

"Hell, yes," the dark woman elaborated with a bright grin.

The older woman realized, moments later, that she seemed to be simply sitting there, mirroring Helena's expression with a rather goofy grin of her own. Her relieved delight abated somewhat when the brunette picked up her cookie and began fiddling with it as she exhaled noisily.

"But, uh, I probably should, uh... Well, I should talk to you about -- that I lied to you."

Barbara thought she detected something akin to fear... or sorrow... in cerulean eyes. Nevertheless, the young woman smiled tentatively and expanded on her awkward confession.

"About my birthday. I lied to you about, about not wanting anything else."

Barbara attempted not to blink, not to shake her head and mutter something about whiplash. She suspected that 'befuddled' was not a particularly flattering look on her.

"Well, Hel, I have been known to miss a special occasion. It's still not too late for me to try to come up with what you want." She smiled encouragingly. "What's your birthday wish, Sweetie?"

The dark head dipped and the older woman clearly detected a blush suffusing tanned features.

What on earth could discomfit her partner so? Honestly, the young woman had cheerfully engaged her former guardian in a lengthy -- and detailed -- discussion about the merits of various vibrators she was considering for purchase a few years ago...

Shy blue eyes met green, held the look, as Helena spoke softly.

"I'd like you to kiss me, Barbara."

The redhead didn't fight the puzzled blink this time as she reached out for the younger woman's hand.

She knew she tended to become a little oblivious to offering signs of physical affection, but, honestly, why had Helena even felt the need to ask?

"Hel, you don't have to make that a special birthday wish -- "

The brunette looked away for a split second before exhaling and catching green eyes again.

"Like a lover."



The older woman tilted her head slightly to the side and attempted to keep her heart rate steady as a tendril of fear wormed through her chest. She couldn't -- wouldn't -- claim surprise at the request. It was, honestly, something -- among many things -- which she wanted, too; however, she did feel that she'd been caught a bit... short.

After all, in finally working up her courage to approach Helena about a possible romantic element to their relationship -- for however long it might last -- Barbara had done quite a bit of thinking about the conversation itself and its possibly outcomes. Unfortunately, none of her scenario-building and emotional preparations had managed to include this unexpected request from the brunette.

The younger woman didn't seem to know quite how to take her mentor's quiet reflection. She spoke again, her voice soft, her tone thoughtful.

"It's... It's something I've wanted for a long time, Barbara."

The redhead realized that, in all honesty, she had as well.

Her opportunity to reply was cut short as abject blue eyes turned away from her.

"There's, uh, no hurry or anything. Maybe you wanna see how that date thing goes-- I don't want to make you uncomf -- "

Barbara silenced the brunette by drawing her hand up and brushing a gentle kiss to slender finger.

"No, Helena. It's not that. It's just that I..."

Helena's blush must be contagious, she decided.

"er, I simply haven't had much practice lately. For quite a while, in fact."

The younger woman muttered something -- it sounded like she'd said "could tell?" -- as a teasingly hopeful glint appeared in her eyes.

"I could, you know, help you with that, Red."

Barbara laughed and tugged the smaller woman onto her lap.

"Indeed, Hel. I suspect that you certainly could."

Even as she found herself distracted by brilliantly blue eyes and full, red lips, something about her statement niggled against the redhead's brain. Something about the verb?

"Can. That you certainly can."

Much better. Accuracy -- precision -- was important, wasn't it?

In fact, Barbara estimated that the brunette's mouth was precisely a handbreadth away from her own suddenly dry lips. It wouldn't take much to close that distance...

The redhead licked her lips and blinked, baffled by what had apparently been a momentary short circuit in her synaptic processes.

Aware of a thrumming tension radiating from the lithe figure, the older woman resisted her urge simply to devour the lush mouth positioned only inches from hers. She brought her hand to dark hair, scratching softly at the nape of Helena's neck, observing the slow, sultry droop of the other woman's eyelids. She brought her hand forward to trace a dark eyebrow with her index finger and rub her thumb softly against a full lower lip.

She saw the other woman swallow, felt the warmth and wetness as the brunette snaked the tip of her tongue out to taste her thumb. The redhead shivered and drew the younger woman's mouth to hers.

For a long moment, Helena ignored the subtle pressure of Barbara's hand attempting to coax her into the firm contact which the redhead suddenly craved with an insistent hunger. Instead, the younger woman only grazed her slightly parted lips tenderly, ever-so-lightly, against Barbara's. The older woman was aware of warm breath ghosting her lips; of a soft, soft mouth brushing against hers; of the tingling, swelling sensation that accompanied blood rushing to the site of the tender torture. With a contented sigh, Barbara ceased her attempts to pull the younger woman's mouth closer.

Getting there, she was discovering, could be a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. And, when the brunette did finally arrive...

Oh my.

Helena's lips were so very, very soft; her mouth so very, very gentle -- and insistent.

The brunette nibbled slowly against Barbara's mouth, delicately tracing her upper lip with the tip of her tongue, softly sucking on her lower lip. Terribly aware of the tingling radiating from her hairline to her waist, the redhead opened her mouth slightly under the tender caresses and touched her tongue to the brunette's.

Oh my god.

The contact was electrifying. The taste of the other woman -- a hint of chocolate, something else sweet and indefinable -- exquisite.

For one of the first times in her life, Barbara found that she didn't give a whit about maintaining a decorous, controlled silence. She moaned quietly, opening her mouth in invitation, distantly aware that she'd really, really been missing something during all of these years.

She ran her fingers again and again through that dark hair as Helena tenderly mapped her mouth, fanning the heat building in her chest. The languid, knowing strokes from the younger woman inflamed a nearly frenzied want; however, the redhead resisted giving herself over to it completely. Instead, Barbara drank in a soft exhalation as she tentatively entered the other woman's mouth and -- in a dizzying moment of insight -- recognized that she'd found her home.

A thick, liquid arousal coursed through her veins, dripping down her spine. Barbara suspected that, if she chose to investigate, she'd discover that it was coming to rest in the juncture of her thighs.

Helena's birthday wish, the redhead reflected giddily, had been a wonderful idea; a gift that just seemed to go on giving.

The older woman foggily worked to formulate her own wish, something having to do with the suspension of time and this perfect, never-ending moment. However, when she felt moisture on the brunette's face, she gently disengaged herself and pulled back enough to focus her gaze.

There was one lone tear track, quite a juxtaposition to Helena's patently delighted half-grin.

"Wow, Barbara. Doesn't seem like you need much practice at all."

Chapter 23

"Oh, come on, that's just lame, Kid. Get with the program."

Looking decidedly wary, Dinah slowly levitated herself down from her position two feet above the training room floor. As her feet touched the mats on the floor, she defensively raised her hands.

"Yeah, yeah. I know. Practice makes perfect, Hel. But, at least my practice doesn't leave me too sore for the dance after tonight's show."

Helena grinned wolfishly as she thought about the merits of practice. Lots of practice.

Sensory memories of the previous night flooded through her, memories of that first kiss. That first kiss with Barbara. That first knee-shaking, heart-pounding, breath-stealing first kiss with Barbara. More than five years of dreaming and fantasizing sure hadn't prepared the young woman for the emotions and sensations that had rushed through her at that first coveted touch -- and taste -- of the other woman.

Not wanting to push things, to push her luck and screw things up -- Hell, she still couldn't believe it had really happened -- Helena had gently extricated herself after the kiss. She'd had to smile warmly -- very warmly -- as the redhead had moved to stop her withdrawal before quickly restraining herself with a charmingly flustered look. Helena had only been able to grin more broadly at that and rasp, "You wrap a mean birthday gift, Red."

And, she'd meant it. Even if that was all she ever had -- if, when, Barbara got over whatever bout of temporary insanity had seized her -- that kiss was the best gift Helena had ever gotten. She'd felt like she was fifteen and discovering kissing all over again.

Giddy, completely tongue-tied and embarrassed as all hell by that fact, the brunette had grabbed her duster as smoothly as she could. The naked longing and sadness that appeared in the older woman's eyes had temporarily halted Helena's retreat. Feeling pinned like a bug on a specimen tray, she'd stood there -- stupidly, she later thought -- drowning in enchanting green eyes, leaning -- actually fucking leaning -- further toward the other woman as if drawn by magnetic forces.

Barbara had spared her the crowning humiliation of actually falling forward onto her face when she'd smiled softly and broken the spell.

"You need to go...?"

"Yeah, don't want the Kid walking in on us."

The brunette had elected to depart by the elevator and actually to walk home on the streets rather than sailing the rooftops. Nevertheless, she'd felt like her feet were six feet off the ground all the way back to her place, even without TK powers like Dinah's.

"Yeah, Kid. Maybe you're right about that. Today."

Helena eased her aggressive stance slightly, watching the teenager relax from her ready position.

Helena had shown up early this afternoon for the women's twice-weekly workout session, hoping to grab a few minutes with Barbara. The clock tower had been empty, so, with a shrug, the brunette had hit the training room to work off some energy. Twenty minutes later, Dinah had bounced in, and the two young women had completed their usual circuit on the equipment before engaging in some light sparring.

"Uh huh." A blonde head nodded vigorously. "Bruises are just so last year as a fashion statement."

The older woman hid her flinch -- she couldn't deny that bruises were her specialty -- by turning to the sound system.

"So, no sparring today. What say we practice something else? A final dance lesson before tonight so you can really wow Gertie -- "

She easily dodged the teen's play swipe and laughed.

"Okay, okay, D. 'Gabby'."

The blonde cocked her head as the first bars of Helena's selection pumped through the speakers.

"What's this?"

Blue eyes narrowed in puzzlement.

How could the Kid not know this one? It was a frikkin' classic.

The brunette placed her hands on the teen's slender hips and pulled their bodies together.

"It's a classic, D. Come on, just feel the music with me."

You wander around on your own little cloud
when you don't see the why or the wherefore.
Ooh, you walk out on me when we both disagree
'cause to reason is not what you care for.

A minute later, the unmistakable sensation of being watched filled the dark woman with a warmth that had nothing to do with exertion from her workout or dancing.

You try to be smart then you take it apart
'cause it hurts when your ego is deflated.
You don't realize that it's all compromise
and the problems are so over-rated.

She separated slightly from her dance partner to lead her through several showy spins and twirls, then allowed the teen to take the lead for the final chorus.

Don't sleep in the subway, darlin'.
Don't stand in the pouring rain.
Don't sleep in the subway, darlin'.
The night is long.
Forget your foolish pride.
Nothing's wrong,
now you're beside me again.

Helena figured that her partner was feeling pretty cocky, 'cuz Dinah ended by dramatically dipping her older dance partner. The brunette obligingly leaned back in the teen's arms, kicking a leg up by her hip and batting her eyes flirtatiously.

The blonde's bright grin was infectious, until applause echoed through the room, causing Dinah to convulse with laughter and drop her precariously balanced partner.

"Ooof -"

Well, that had been flattering.

Blue eyes narrowed dangerously; however, hearing the bright laughter from near the training room door, the brunette sighed and decided that she'd let the teen live. This time.

"Well, that pretty much sucked, Kid."

Dinah blushed a deep, deep red, visibly uncertain about whether to offer the brunette a hand up or to run like hell.

"Oh, gosh, Helena. I'm soooo, sooo sorry. Really sorry."

The lithe figure rose gracefully to her feet, purposely radiating menace. She advanced on the girl.

"You'd better be sorry, Kid. Gabby might not be as forgiving as I am and settle for -- "

The brunette darted forward and lightly jabbed her fingers to the teen's side. The blonde shrieked and bolted from the training room, slowing only to wave at her guardian on the way out.

Helena strolled to the bench by one wall and grabbed her water bottle. Ignoring the odd constriction in her chest, she greeted the older woman.

"Hiya, Red."

Nonchalant. Yeah, nonchalance was good, right?

The brunette spied a raised eyebrow as the other woman moved into the room.

"Whaaaat? How's the Kid gonna battle the forces of evil if she can't hold her own in a damned tickle fight?"

Barbara came to a stop inches from the younger woman's toes, eyes amused.

"Petula Clark, Hel? Let me guess: one of your mother's many eclectic influences?"

Ignoring the tiny fractured feeling in her chest, Helena smiled wistfully at the memories of dancing with her mom in their living room. She ducked her head and rubbed at her eyes.

Some sweat must have gotten into them.

When she looked up, the redhead was regarding her, expression gentle -- and longing?

"Uh, hi?" the brunette croaked.

Still-disbelieving -- maybe Red had really meant it about it not being her fault, about not being mad -- Helena felt long fingers tangling with hers and tugging her down.

"Hello, Sweetheart."

Deciding to let herself dream -- and want -- just a little bit, Helena leaned into the gentle kiss. Her knees almost went out from under her at the sensation of a questing tongue tracing her lips, and she abruptly pulled back a few inches to catch her breath.

Wouldn't do to fall on her ass for the second time in as many minutes.

Amused -- and aroused -- green eyes regarded the younger woman, but Barbara didn't push it.

Oh. Wow.

Helena hadn't just been dreaming -- again -- last night.

Blue eyes blinked, then widened, as Helena began to realize that it was true; at the very least, Barbara actually wanted her. Even after -- everything, Barbara wanted her.

Coming in for post-sweeps debriefings was gonna be a whole new ball game.

"Sorry I missed our workout, Hel. The faculty were putting up some congratulatory streamers and decorations in the drama club dressing room."

The redhead stripped off her over shirt, adding, "This is the first time in years that we've had a premiere without some sort of incident."

The older woman laughed as she held out her arms for a lift.

"Remember last year's 'South Pacific', Hel? Tiki torches setting off the sprinklers in the auditorium?"

Barbara finally seemed to register that her younger partner hadn't moved to help her to the mat for her stretching.


The brunette wasn't sure why she couldn't move.

Barbara was in her usual workout gear -- tee shirt and light track pants -- but Helena had never felt free to look at her so openly. The older woman's strong shoulders were highlighted by the muscle tee, her breasts pushing against the thin fabric. And her face -- her beautiful face -- wore that befuddled look that always turned the younger woman's insides to mush.

Helena was stunned, riveted, enraptured.

Just looking at the redhead like this -- the realization that she didn't have to guard her feelings left the brunette light-headed -- was a dream come true. Helena decided to try for a fantasy.

After all, it had worked out pretty well with the birthday wish thing the night before...

"Uhm," she dropped her head, trying for the hangdog look that almost always worked.

"I was just wondering if you'd do me a favor this time?"

The response was instantaneous.

"Of course, Sweetie, if I can. What is it?"

"Uhm, for PT today -- "

This time the abashed look was completely genuine. The brunette noticed that, for some reason, her voice seemed to get smaller.

"would you wear your shorts?"

In over seven years, Helena had never gotten to touch the older woman's bare legs during PT. The mere thought of it had fueled many a long, sleepless night for the young woman.

But, maybe it wasn't gonna happen just yet, the brunette realized.

Seeing the older woman's hesitant expression, Helena wanted to pound her head against the training room wall. Red had great legs, but she was kinda nervous about her appearance. Especially from the waist down.

"Never mind -- "

"Sure, Sweetheart -- "

The two women spoke at the same time.

The instant that the redhead's words penetrated, Helena was off, trotting out of the training room to return in moments with a pair of nylon running shorts from the other woman's room. She tossed them over, aware of an elegant hand deftly snagging them, and busied herself with her water bottle as the older woman changed.

"Ready, Helena?"



D'oh. Had she said that out loud?

Mentally shrugging, the brunette helped an amused-looking Barbara situate herself on the mat, kneeling in her usual spot by the older woman's left knee. Helena reached out with trembling hands -- smooth, really smooth -- intensely aware of the green eyes regarding her.

'Come on, pull it together, Kyle... Well, maybe just one -- '

She drew the fingers of her left hand delicately up the long leg, from ankle to thigh, then shut her eyes, breathing shallowly as the sensation of soft, soft skin overwhelmed her. It felt so amazing that all she wanted to do was fall forward and worship the woman with her mouth and hands.

Well, that and maybe just a little bit of rubbing her body all over the redhead...

Forcing her eyes open again, she met the even green gaze directed her way and spoke quietly, with all of the sincerity in the world.

"God, Barbara. You're so fuckin' beautiful."

Helena blinked her eyes and fought not to cry. She'd wanted to say those words forever.

Those gorgeous eyes widened, then the redhead flashed a wicked smile.

"We could skip the... usual... stretching today, Hel."

The brunette blinked. Several times. Something low in her belly clenched pleasurably, and she struggled not to rock her hips.

Was Red saying what she thought?

Suspecting that Barbara was, indeed, saying what she thought, Helena bit at her lower lip.

Maybe, sometimes, you did get second... and third chances.

With considerable difficulty, the younger woman got herself under control and painted on a cocky grin as she began the well-known sequence of stretches.

"Nuh uh."

Barbara's reply was lightly mocking.

" 'Nuh uh', Hel?"

Helena clarified.

"Nuh. Uh. You're not just gonna flash a little leg and get out of physio that easy, Red."

When there was no response, she peeked through her lashes and struggled not to laugh.

Was the redhead pouting?

Awww, that was just too sexy for words. Just like the way Barbara's hair was fanned out around her... Like the light sheen of perspiration breaking out on her neck and face made the brunette think of other sweaty endeavors...

Helena realized that her eyes were augmenting, that something deep and intense was rising in her.

Brushing her fingertips against the back of the older woman's knee, she stopped the exercises in mid-motion, every muscle in her body locking and trembling as a fire of deep-seeded desire roared through her.

God, she wanted. She wanted, needed, the other woman so bad. She'd never, ever, felt like this.

Breathing shallowly, the brunette swallowed the growl bubbling in her chest and slowly, jerkily, resumed the sequence.

"Tell me about those decorations, Babs."

Chapter 24

Barbara had to admit that Helena really had done an exemplary job of maintaining the -- decorum of the PT session. Other than those breath-stopping moments at the beginning of the session -- the older woman had fleeting thought, hoped, that the brunette was going to pounce on her right there -- the younger woman had remained focused.

Well, relatively focused.

The redhead hadn't missed the other woman's shallow breathing, her slightly shaky hands, her distraction as they chatted. The brunette had also scarcely looked up from the exercises that she was guiding Barbara through, almost as if she couldn't take her eyes off the older woman's legs.

Of course, Barbara had to admit that she, herself, had hardly been at her best in holding up her end of the desultory conversation. Discussions about teacher-made banners and previous drama club fiascos simply could not hold a candle to the current charged interaction with Helena.

Although she couldn't feel it, just the sight of those slender hands touching her, kneading her unresponsive muscles, moving her limbs so capably had the redhead as excited as she could recall having been for a long time. Quite a long time.

Observing, somewhat dreamily, as Helena rubbed her thumbs deeply against a calf muscle, Barbara barely resisted the urge to lick her lips and grin lasciviously. This new aspect to their relationship -- whatever it might entail and for however long it might last -- was certainly going to add an entirely new element to post-sweeps debriefings.

A protracted silence and the sight of blue eyes regarding her expectantly drew the redhead away from pleasant thoughts about the multiple meanings of 'debriefing'.

"I'm sorry, Sweetie. Did you ask something?"

Expecting a superior smirk at her obvious distraction, Barbara found herself slightly unnerved by an embarrassed smile and the shy dip of a dark head.

"Uhm, yeah. There's something I was wondering about."


"Why, uh, why now?"

Green eyes blinked, then narrowed in puzzlement as Barbara worked to decipher Helena's rather abbreviated question. When the meaning finally dawned on her, the redhead gave herself a few moments to find, to formulate, a response. A myriad of answers existed -- enough for a lengthy dissertation, in fact: propriety, self-worth, her own shortcomings, her fears of heartbreak when Helena inevitably moved on. In the end, she opted not to disguise her own foolishness with rationalizations.

Aware of the color creeping up her face, the older woman spoke over a self-depreciating laugh.

"I guess I'm just a little slow emotionally, Hel."

Judging from the way the younger woman visibly relaxed, the answer had been the right one.

The brunette spoke seriously, gently flexing one of Barbara's ankles.

"Yeah, that makes sense."

Curious, the older woman quirked a brow.

"It does?"

Devilish blue eyes glinted, and the young woman grinned cheekily.

"Well, you always have been kinda emotionally -- retarded, Red."

Unable to deny the truth of that, if not the political correctness, Barbara contented herself with a long-suffering sigh as she watched the brunette focus on the other ankle. With a start, she realized that Helena was on the final set of stretches -- how had this session flown by so quickly? -- and thought hard for a moment.

The redhead decided to give it the old college try.

"Thank you, Sweetie. You always take such good care of me."

When that statement was met with a shy look, Barbara couldn't stop the fond smile that spread across her face. She almost forgot her resolve.


"Er, I have been putting in a lot of time at the keyboard today, and my arms are a bit tight."

Considering that she had no drama experience, the redhead wasn't sure how she managed to keep a straight face. She smiled sweetly in response to the brunette's knowing smirk, plastered on her most innocent expression, and soldiered on.

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble, perhaps you could..."

In a heartbeat, the younger woman had straddled Barbara's legs and crawled up -- over -- her body, coming to a stop with her knees resting on each side of the redhead's hips. Strong fingers began to work the tight muscles of the older woman's upper arms.

"No trouble at all, Babs. Sure that's the only place you need me to rub?"

While Helena's words were spoken lightly, there was nothing humorous in the brunette's raw expression. The redhead shivered, barely suppressing a moan.

As she blissfully succumbed to the sensations of those warm, soft hands stroking up and down her arms, of thumbs delicately feathering the sides of her breasts, Barbara realized that she would probably be learning quite a bit about passionate seduction from her younger partner.

Experience, she decided, could be a very good thing.

Slowly, dimly, the older woman became aware of a change in the tempo of Helena's strokes and the pressure of her fingers. She pried open her eyes to find blue eyes fixed with burning intensity on her chest as the dark woman minutely rocked her hips -- still held several inches above Barbara's abdomen -- and breathed harshly through flared nostrils.

The naked hunger in the hawklike gaze was unmistakable.

As was, Barbara realized -- with a gasp which left her dizzy, the adoration and devotion also evident in blue eyes.

The redhead swallowed, with great difficulty, as those eyes rose to meet hers and the younger woman trailed her fingers down to grasp her hands. Without thought, Barbara drew their intertwined hands to rest on the mat above her head, with the happy result of pulling the brunette down to stretch out against her chest. Barbara noticed that Helena didn't allow her full weight to rest on her -- supporting herself almost effortlessly with her extended arms, but even the slight brush of the younger woman's firm breasts against her own was exquisite.

Exquisite torture, she amended momentarily.

Having been in a state of low-grade arousal for over an hour, the other woman's undisguised want and the feel of firm breasts whispering over her tee shirt ratcheted Barbara's need to near-stratospheric levels instantly. The redhead was suffused with heat; her breasts ached and seemed to swell; her nipples, rock hard, simply burned.

Aware of warm breath panting against her face, the older woman tore her gaze from arresting blue eyes and focused on those lush lips, only inches from her own. Amazed by her body's response, the intensity of the desire blossoming so rapidly for the younger woman, she raised her head from the mat and breathed a plea.

"Oh, kiss me, Helena. Please, kiss me."

Even as soft lips brushed hers, sucking and nibbling reverently against her mouth, Barbara untangled their hands and wrapped her arms around deceptively slender shoulders. Even as she opened her mouth to the tender touch of a warm tongue and suckled desperately, she pulled the lithe figure fully onto her and groaned in ecstasy at the sensation.

For long moments, the redhead was aware of nothing but the taste of the other woman, the softness of her slight weight against her. When the younger woman pulled away from her mouth, she moaned at the overwhelming sensation of loss; she moaned again when that shockingly talented mouth began to suck at her neck, to lick the drying sweat from her throat, to nip at her pulse point.

Too soon, the delicate ministrations ended, and a dark head raised. Barbara felt herself come undone under the hungry golden eyes, at the softly rasped words.

"God, you taste so fuckin' good, Barbara."

The older woman felt her body arch -- seeming on its own -- from her waist to the top of her neck, seeking contact -- and offering herself. She wanted -- with a vengeance -- that mouth, those teeth, back on her neck. She also desperately needed relief for the heated, swollen ache in her chest.

Barbara dragged her arm from the brunette's back and grasped the hand near her head, drawing it to her chest.

"Touch me, Hel."

The younger woman's reaction tripled the redhead's heart rate and caused green eyes to widen.

A growl. A distinct, wanton growl.

Sweet heavens, the sound was amazing. The older woman thought she detected the reverberations all the way to her unfeeling lower extremities.

Barbara's response -- something involving pleading and promises of anything and everything -- died painfully on her lips as the brunette abruptly jerked away and scrambled back a few feet. The older woman blinked through her erotic haze at the sight of Helena seated on the training room floor, knees drawn to her chest, arms wrapped tightly around her legs, panting harshly.

Oh, sweet suffering succotash... What had she done?

The younger woman had certainly seemed to be enjoying herself, but perhaps it was too soon. Perhaps the young woman's growl had signified something other than pleasure.

Normally, the redhead was a staunch supporter of slow, measured steps in the progression to physical intimacy in a relationship; however, in terms of her reactions to Helena, there simply was nothing normal about it.

Had she pushed too hard, moved too fast?

The redhead slowly pushed herself upright and moved towards the other woman. Ignoring her desire to pound her head against the mats on the floor, she cautiously rested a hand on Helena's back, rubbing softly.

"Sweetheart, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to push, to make you feel that you needed to do anything -- "

The sight of a dark head shaking once, harshly, from side to side interrupted Barbara's apology. She waited quietly and, after a few beats, saw the younger woman peer at her.

"No, it's not that. I want to touch you..."

All of the oxygen seemed to leave the redhead's body as she watched Helena raise a trembling hand to her chest, as she watched slender fingers trace -- but never quite make contact with -- the outer swell of her breast. Riveted, Barbara realized, with a feeling bordering on dismay, that if she were only able to draw a breath -- not even a deep breath, simply one shallow, panting breath -- she would finally have the physical sensation that she craved.

Unable and unwilling to push, she forced her eyes to the other woman's face and concentrated again as Helena continued her awkward attempt to explain.

"God, how I want to. I just..."

Ignoring her disappointment that the brunette had lowered her hand, Barbara smiled encouragingly at the ragged admission. With some fascination, she watched as the young woman visibly calmed and those stunning golden eyes morphed back to their usual startling blue.

The transformation was amazingly sexy, she decided.

The brunette spoke again, ducking her head shyly.

"Things were getting kinda out of control there, Red. You have no idea how fuckin' hot you are."

The older woman blinked twice, then felt a broad smile stretch her cheeks.

"You really think I'm 'hot', Hel?"

Blue eyes regarded her seriously.

"Nuclear, babe."

Any irritation Barbara felt at the teasing endearment -- Honestly, did she look like a baby pig? -- evaporated immediately at the brunette's next words. Not to mention, her actions.

The dark woman shifted unto her knees, leaning slightly towards the redhead.

"In fact, right now,"

Barbara watched in amazement as Helena trailed a slender hand across her own abdomen, down to the juncture of her thighs. The younger woman fluttered her fingers lightly against the thin material of her track pants and jerked her hips once reflexively.

The redhead realized that, perhaps, Helena was right. She did, indeed, feel extremely hot.

She barely stifled a moan at the brunette's next words, realizing that she was dangerously close to ravishing the young woman on the spot.

"Right now, I'm about to melt down altogether, Red."

Chapter 25

Whoa. Judging from the expression on the older woman's face, Helena realized that she'd been playing with matches, and both women were about to go up in flames.

Fighting her own feelings of disappointment -- at the situation and at her own actions -- she scrubbed at her eyes then stood gracefully and leaned down.

"But," she attempted a light tone as she helped lift the older woman into her chair, "right now I need to hit the shower."

She waggled her eyebrows.

"A cold shower, probably. Then I need to take off."

The brunette raised a hand at the confounded look being directed her way.

"Uh, I promised to let the Kid raid my closet for her club thing after the performance tonight."

Helena suppressed a shudder at the fact that she was actually allowing the Kid into her closet.

"Then, I've got an early shift at the bar."

"Oh, I see."

Red sounded kind of disappointed about that. For some reason, that made Helena feel pretty good.

The older woman's next words made her feel even better.

"Will you co-- I'd like it if you came by afterward. If you'd like, Hel."

The brunette smiled toothily, hoping that she was hiding her disbelief... and fear. After all, stuff like this just didn't happen to her.

"Yeah, I'd like."

The redhead's undisguised delight caused some amazing things to happen in the younger woman's stomach and chest. Helena thought that a flock of hummingbirds might have set up house in there.

"I'll, uh, check in with you when I get off, okay?"

Turning toward the door, the brunette was brought up short by a sudden question.

"Helena? Did I hear you correctly when you said that you're going to let Dinah borrow your clothes?"

Exhaling noisily, the younger woman hurriedly attempted to relieve the redhead of any concerns about early hearing loss -- or loss of mental function. However, as she heard herself speak, Helena wondered about her own mental capacity and judgment.

"Uh huh. Figured it wouldn't hurt for her to kick ass fashion-wise if she's gonna go mano-a-mano with the teenage set."

Barbara moved into the living area with the younger woman, laughing.

"That's really sweet, Hel."


The brunette was pretty sure she didn't do sweet -- at least where the Kid was involved. This was just pure self-interest; wouldn't do for someone from their -- clan to show poorly at a club, after all.

The younger woman snarked, "All I know is I'm probably going to have to burn whatever she wears. I'll never get the smell of teenager club out of them."

Still grumbling about clove cigarettes and Shirley Temples, aware of the redhead's laughing reply about dry cleaning, Helena headed down the hall for her shower.

A long seven hours later, the young woman stood on the roof of her apartment, watching clouds scud across the dark sky, shivering slightly in the cool breeze. Something in the sensation sparked a memory, then an idea.

"You copy, Oracle?"

<"I'm here, Huntress. Are you free?">

"Sure am. You want me to run a sweep?"

<"I don't think that will be necessary. Things seem pretty quiet tonight.">

The brunette smiled. Quiet or no, the older woman almost never passed up an offer for her partner to take a quick check of her city.

Without conscious thought, the younger woman found herself turning toward the clock tower before she remembered there was something she wanted to do first.

"That's good, Oracle, 'cuz I was thinking of heading back to No M -- to our special club for a while."

When there was no reply -- not even the ever-pervasive sound of typing -- the brunette belatedly realized that the older woman was probably trying to run through the scenarios, trying to figure out why her partner wanted to hit the club instead of returning to the clock tower. Crossing to another rooftop, she provided a hasty explanation.

"When I was there last night? I sort of forgot, but I think that -- thing might have been there when I left."

<"Why do you think that, Huntress?">

There was nothing but sincere curiosity in the husky voice.

Helena smiled again. Red always loved a good puzzle.

"When I came out, I think I was being watched but didn't pick up on it entirely. After all that talk about Carly and Hillerman, I thought I had a case of the heeby-jeebies. And, since backtracking last night's chase today didn't turn up anything, I thought I might scout around a little."

<"Hmmm. Sounds like you may be on to something, Huntress, especially since this -- being seems to be targeting metas. Will you...?">

That was weird; Barbara almost sounded nervous.

"What, Oracle?"

<"Will you leave your comms on? We don't know what we're dealing with.">

The dark figure scowled.

While her mentor hadn't officially chewed her out for going off comms that night, she suspected that the redhead might be feeling a little raw about it. Still, the cyber genius was right: they didn't know what they were dealing with here.

The young woman's response was gentle.

"Of course, Oracle. I'll be careful -- nothing riskier than a possible strained elbow from lifting a glass, okay?"

Helena was pretty certain that her tone had been light, teasing; however, the reply over the transceiver was utterly serious.

<"I'm not sure that level of risk is acceptable, Huntress.">

Huh? That was taking 'overprotective' to a whole new level.

The throaty voice dropped an octave; the next words she heard through the comms almost caused the sure-footed young woman to step off the fire escape outside No Man's Land.

<"I might, after all, have plans which require that both of your arms be fully functional.">


The brunette swallowed and considered pinching herself. Instead, she purred, "In that case, I'll try to be extra-careful, Oracle."

And, really, other than nearly having her toes mashed on the dance floor once or twice, the danger had been pretty much non-existent. Helena had nursed a few drinks, done a little dancing, drawn out some of the regulars about Carly and Hillerman and anyone -- or anything -- unusual around the bar.

Other than a little dish about Hillerman's phenomenally bad taste in hair pieces and a mention of some concern that Carly had been having about having kids -- the young crime fighter had to agree that Carly's electrical thing could make for a restless pregnancy -- there just hadn't been anything of note. Even a few stealthy trips to the roof and the alley hadn't turned up any sense of a -- presence.

Pretty much a bust, the brunette groused to herself as she landed softly on the balcony of the clock tower just after midnight. She could always try on another night, but -- on this night -- she'd just wasted an hour that she could have been spending with Barbara. Kid-free. Sure, the Kid's curfew tonight wasn't until 2:00 a.m., but, well, shoot.

The dark figure entered the living room, grumpily shrugging out of her duster with a disgusted sigh. The welcoming smile directed her way from the direction of the Delphi went a long way in reducing her irritation.

"Hello, Helena. It's -- "

Was Red blushing?

"It's really good to see you."

The redhead looked puzzled at her own words, then laughed at herself.

"Honestly, Hel, I feel like a teenager."

The younger woman was relieved to learn that she wasn't the only one feeling like a hormonal adolescent. Still, the mirthful admission was a little alarming. After all, Barbara was one of the most adult people she knew.

The older woman gave the wheels of her chair a quick push and coasted down the ramp, coming to a stop in front of the brunette with a flashy spin to one side.

"May I offer you a proper welcome home, Sweetheart?"

Oh, yeah --

"Uh, sure..."


Helena barely refrained from smacking herself in the forehead, wondering what the fuck was wrong with her anyway. Here she was, getting the looks and words and -- other things -- from the redhead that she'd dreamed of for years, and she was as nervous as a nun in a biker bar.

Deciding that the Powers-That-Be sure had a strange sense of humor, she tried again, this time with a little more enthusiasm.

"I mean, hell, yes."

The lithe woman ducked down to capture soft, soft lips, eagerly swallowing the other woman's breathy moan. This time, the brunette felt better prepared; and so when she felt the soft tongue, she opened her mouth in invitation even as she raised a hand to tangle in crimson silk. For a long moment, she remained still, almost passive, allowing the older woman to explore and map her mouth. Fighting an aroused groan, struggling against a gasp of wonder, she finally allowed her tongue to dance lightly against Barbara's.

Helena distantly wondered if she'd ever be able to comprehend the perfect taste, the perfect sensation and completion which was threatening to overwhelm her.

The young woman's grateful musings were interrupted by the feeling of a strong hand kneading softly at her side. Helena almost jumped and briefly flirted with the possibility that the redhead had some electrical meta-human abilities of her own: it sure seemed like sparks were traveling directly from Barbara's hand to other parts of her body.

Helena removed her hand from the other woman's hair and captured the teasing fingers, torn between moving the other woman's hand up to her aching breasts -- or down to her burning, throbbing center. Instead, she chose to do neither.

She reluctantly withdrew from that sweet mouth and tugged Barbara's hand up to press a soft kiss to the long fingers. Straightening, she breathed softly through her mouth, attempting to get herself under control.

Hell, she might be wanting, but she'd had a long time to get used to the feeling. No way she was going to ruin things now.

The brunette cleared her throat and husked, "Sorry about wasting time at No Man's Land, Babs."

Amused, and a little surprised, Helena watched green eyes blink as Barbara visibly seemed to drag herself back to the moment. She tried not to grin like an idiot at the realization that -- between the afternoon and this moment -- Red hadn't stopped wanting her. A split second later, the young woman tried not to frown at the thought that followed this realization: she -- and only she -- was going to have to make sure that Barbara could continue to feel that way.

The redhead coughed delicately and rocked her chair once.

"No, that's fine, Helena. It was a good idea. Perhaps another night will turn up something."

The younger woman headed toward the kitchen and grinned.

"Hey, that's my kind of assignment, hanging out at a bar."

Blue eyes narrowed momentarily.

How would that really differ from her day job? Other than the fact that she'd be drinking rather than pouring, she'd still be stuck in a smoky, noisy -- bar.

Turning on the kettle and snagging a package of pop-tarts, she shrugged. Life could be kind of weird sometimes.

"Still," Barbara spoke from her position by the kitchen table, "do you think it's odd that absolutely nobody seems to have noticed anything out of the ordinary?"

Helena set her snack on the table then fetched the cream and sugar.

"Dunno, Red. I mean, 11:00 on a Saturday night might not be the best time to get the straight poop."

She ignored the raised eyebrow -- heck, it wasn't anything near The Look; nothing to sweat -- and flashed a wry grin as she poured boiling water into a cup. Grabbing a beer from the fridge on her way back to the table, she expounded.

"At that hour, most everybody just wants to hook up, or get into arguments about politics or the Born Again Human movement or whether Dick Clark really is a meta."

Dipping her head in acknowledgment, Barbara laughed and blew on her tea.

"Indeed, Hel. Although," her voice sobered, "I hadn't realized that the BAH malarkey was still circulating. Honestly, in the 21st century, isn't it time to realize that people cannot simply change who they are, whether it's gays saying that they've 'turned straight' or metas denying their abilities?"

After chasing her final bite of pastry with a long swallow of beer -- for some reason, it wanted to stick in her throat -- the younger woman spoke thoughtfully.

"Maybe some people need that illusion. That they don't have to be different, Barbara. I mean, think about what the Kid went through back in Opal."

The other woman sipped her tea for a few moments.

"True. Thank heavens Dinah escaped that environment. And, she does seem to be,"

Green eyes focused on the ceiling briefly.

"-- recovering well from the ordeal."

Barbara set her cup down and exhaled, a smile transforming her features.

That smile, Helena realized, must be just like nectar to the hummingbirds who had come to life in her chest again.

"But, enough of that for now, Hel. Speaking of 'hook ups',"

The brunette smirked at the normally fluent woman's awkward segue. Talk about 'teenage awkward.'

The redhead's next words neatly removed the smirk from Helena face, leaving the younger woman astonished and just a little thunderstruck.

"Would you be willing to spend the night?"

Chapter 26

Oh, dear.

Barbara hadn't quite expected that reaction to her invitation. The younger woman looked decidedly uncomfortable. Nonplused, even.

Resisting the desire to pinch the bridge of her nose or rock her chair, the redhead smiled softly and wordlessly extended her hand, palm up, on the table. Confusion flashed through blue eyes before Helena returned the smile and reached out to hold her hand.

"I'm sorry, Sweetheart. I didn't mean to surprise you, and I certainly have no intention of -- pressuring you."

Barbara wet her lips, pointedly ignoring the blush creeping up her face. She lightened her tone fractionally as she revealed the embarrassing truth.

"I seem to have a serious disinclination to spend time apart from you right now and hoped that, perhaps, you might want to sleep over."

The redhead considered her words. Nothing suggestive there. If anything, perhaps a bit vague about her intention.

"With me." she tacked on for clarity's sake.

Blue eyes twinkled as the brunette gracefully stood and started clearing the table.

"Shit, Barbara. I thought you might be relieved not to be my human mattress for a while."

With the lessening of the odd choking tension that had erupted at the invitation, the older woman risked a small flirtation. She waited until Helena turned from the sink and met her eyes, then lowered her voice.

"Sweetheart, I look forward to being your human anything-you-want. Any time you want."

Surprisingly, the fiercely independent woman realized, she meant it. She would gladly offer whatever Helena wanted, for as long as the young woman wanted.

Backing away from the table, she spoke softly, ruthlessly tamping down on her own desire.

"But, nothing will occur until you're ready."

More briskly, she added, "For tonight, just sleeping."

The younger woman followed her out of the kitchen and down the hallway to the bedroom. Barbara felt her chest constrict when she noticed that Helena had stopped at the doorway. Willing herself to keep things light, she opted merely to turn her head and raise a brow playfully.

The brunette's tone was shy; however, the older woman thought she detected a hopeful note.

"Uh, maybe some cuddling, too?"

Relieved, the redhead headed into her bathroom and laughed lightly. Keeping it simple, she tossed over her shoulder, "I certainly hope so, Hel."

An hour later, staring into the darkness of her bedroom with the young woman sleeping soundly next to her, Barbara had to admit that the cuddling aspect was certainly turning out to be very pleasant indeed.

After the brunette had brushed her teeth, she'd matter-of-factly stripped down to her tank top and underwear and slipped under the covers with the older woman. Helena had pressed a soft kiss to the corner of the redhead's mouth before curling up with her head on Barbara's shoulder, an arm and a leg wrapped across her like a human octopus. Barbara had managed to shift just enough to wrap both arms around the younger woman's slim torso and bury her face in dark hair, breathing in the sweet scent of the other woman. Within minutes, Helena had drifted into slumber.

Sleep was not coming quite so easily for the redhead. Lying in the dark, nerves thrumming pleasantly, she continued to dissect her younger partner's reaction to her invitation in the kitchen earlier.

Although she had not anticipated the instantaneous and overwhelming desire for the brunette which had consumed her during their first kiss -- had it only been the night before? -- Barbara could not deny the intensity of her need. But, what about Helena? As far as the older woman could tell, the younger woman certainly seemed to reciprocate her desire. Just the way that the brunette had reacted to touching her legs in the training room earlier certainly leant support to that belief. Nevertheless, the brunette had clearly been nervous, almost distressed, at the invitation to spend the night.

Recognizing that this had been a long time coming, the older woman nevertheless wondered if things were proceeding too quickly -- especially in light of recent events. It had, after all, not been quite two weeks. While the amazing young woman seemed to have healed completely physically and appeared to be almost back to herself emotionally, Barbara couldn't help but wonder what unseen wounds lay hidden under Helena's too-casual demeanor.

Furrowing her forehead as she snugged the young woman a bit closer to her, the redhead considered her partner's eagerness to return to her own apartment the week before. She felt fairly confident in assuming that a large part of that desire was based on Helena's self-proclaimed need for "some time". Time to lick her wounds symbolically, time to come to terms. How much time... and space... did -- would the brunette still need?

Barbara closed her eyes and pressed a soft, open-mouthed kiss to the top of the dark head. Inhaling the faint scent of the younger woman's shampoo -- with her acute senses, Helena had always shied away from heavily scented products -- the redhead squeezed her eyes shut as another possibility for the brunette's hesitation came to mind.

Perhaps, she admitted regretfully, the brunette's MO simply didn't include spending many nights with her dating partners.

Pushing her own reaction to that aside, Barbara acknowledged that -- for whatever reasons Helena might have -- she was clearly guilty of suggesting more than the young woman was immediately comfortable with right now. Realizing that she probably didn't have a prayer in terms of throttling back her own feelings, the redhead vowed that she would, at the very least, not pressure the other woman.

The decision allowed the older woman to feel marginally more at peace with the situation, and within minutes, lulled by her bedmate's steady breathing and the feel of slim fingers softly stroking her stomach, she fell into a dreamless sleep.

A sliver of rosy sunlight peeking through the curtains awoke her at dawn, and she discovered that -- at some point during the night -- Helena had finally released her hold to turn onto her other side. Instantly missing the contact, Barbara maneuvered onto her side and pressed herself to the younger woman's back, resting a hand lightly on the brunette's waist and spooning tightly to her.

The sound of soft purring that began when the sleeping woman registered the warmth against her back filled the redhead with tender amusement. The sight of the younger woman's hips thrusting back against her upper thighs elicited an entirely different response.

Green eyes squeezed shut for a moment as Barbara was swept with a hot rage over the fact that she was unable to feel the movement. Rage rapidly gave way to more alluring emotions as arousal flooded through her.

Even without sensation, the sight -- the promise in the motion -- forced the older woman to bite her lower lip in an effort to stifle a moan. Fleetingly, she wondered if -- when -- the two consummated their feelings, if she would survive the onslaught of passion.

In any event, she decided happily, it would be a glorious way to go.

Cheered by the thought, the redhead reconsidered the two women's current position. While her lower body couldn't enjoy the warm soft flesh pressing against it, there was no reason for her to ignore the brunette's... offering completely.

Lifting her hand from the younger woman's side, she lightly trailed her fingers down to Helena's hip, resting her palm gently on the firm muscle under thin cotton. After a split-second debate, she allowed her fingers to drop another few inches to brush the skin just below the elastic leg band of the brunette's underwear. Focusing on the sensation of warm, silken skin, Barbara shut her eyes and burrowed her face against Helena's neck.

World narrowed to pure sensation -- the young woman's sweet scent, the warmth of the brunette's back against her chest, the sound of soft purring, the feel of silken skin -- Barbara rubbed her fingers minutely against the young woman's upper thigh. Aware that she was overlooking one very important sense, the redhead opened her mouth, delicately touching her tongue to the skin near her face. The taste -- sweet and salty and musky, with just a hint of soap -- was nirvana, and the older woman's mouth watered anticipating how the brunette would taste elsewhere.

Succumbing to temptation, she cautiously slid her first two fingers under the elastic band and traced the back of her fingers softly against the warm skin, following the band back and forth from the front to the back of Helena's thigh. On one slow sweep forward, her fingers moved a bit closer to the apex of the brunette's legs; the sensation of moist heat emanating from only inches away was unmistakable.

Sweet heavens. How could Helena be so very, very hot?

The redhead's fingers literally itched to glide forward a few more inches, to explore and map the younger woman. She absolutely refused to allow herself further liberty; at the same time, she found that she seemed to be completely incapable of withdrawing her hand from its warm refuge.

For long moments, the older woman lay still, barely breathing, as she fought the desire to press herself against the sleeping woman. She focused on the enormity of the arousal coursing through her from -- relatively -- minor contact with the younger woman. Infallible memory notwithstanding, Barbara couldn't remember being so powerfully aroused in a very long time.

Gradually, she became aware that Helena's breathing had changed, becoming faster and shallower. She detected a minute, restless shifting of the younger woman's legs and realized that her companion was awake.

Turning her head slightly, she pressed a gentle kiss to the brunette's shoulder and rotated her hand to rest her palm against warm skin. Ever-so-softly, she squeezed the firm thigh. The younger woman's ragged exhalation at the tentative touch elicited a quiet groan of sympathy from the redhead, and Barbara drew her hand to the outside of Helena's thigh, stroking the lean leg from hip to knee.

While she would do nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to push or pressure her partner, the redhead thought that, perhaps, some tender caresses and gentle cuddling would be allowable.

Efforts at restraint unraveled, and green eyes flew open, when a slender hand grasped hers and drew it back to the young woman's hip, raking the leg band of the underwear up to a sharp hip bone. The brunette's hips jerked once, possibly in response to the pressure of the fabric being pulled tightly between her legs, and -- this time -- Barbara gave in to her need to press her aching breasts against the other woman's back.

"Sweetheart -- "

The older woman didn't know if her exhalation had been an exclamation, a question, a supplication. She was, however, certain that the word translated to 'more'.

She grasped the exposed flesh, kneading firmly and wishing desperately that she were able to grind herself to the shapely buttocks pressed against her. Pressing a wet, open-mouthed kiss to the skin next to the tank's strap, the redhead sucked firmly at the tender skin and simultaneously slid her hand forward, under the tightly stretched elastic, to tease at the hot, soft skin of Helena's lower abdomen.

"Uhhh. Barbara, f-fuck."

The guttural whisper inflamed the older woman, leaving her feeling ravenous and dangerously close to losing control completely. She simply wanted to consume the younger woman, tasting and touching every inch of her, rubbing against her -- into her -- until they melded into a single entity.

Instead, remembering her resolve of the night before, she pulled her mouth away from that tempting skin and drew a shuddering breath.

"Do you want me to stop, Helena?"

Barbara had never been a particularly religious individual, however the thought which blazed through her cortex on the heels of her soft question carried the full sincerity of a devout churchgoer in prayer.

Please, please don't let the other woman want to stop. Not now.

She experienced a welling of tenderness and sympathy as she felt the younger woman trembling against her, panting softly and undulating her hips. Unwilling to sway her lover one way or the other, Barbara remained still, waiting.

Finally, Helena shifted, rolling onto her back and fixing the older woman with a pleading stare.

"No. Fuck, no."

The redhead released the breath she'd been holding and snaked her fingers into wiry -- and very damp -- curls.

"Good," she husked, dipping her middle finger slightly lower for a moment.

At the quick touch, the dark woman's hips bucked, and Helena arched her neck, grunting softly. Aware of the echo ricocheting through her chest -- possibly all the way to her toes -- the older woman untangled her hand from the constricting underwear and sucked the damp finger to her mouth. She closed her eyes, savoring the wild, slightly musky taste briefly, before resting her hand on the brunette's chest.

The younger woman's heart was beating so hard that Barbara was amazed that it hadn't hammered completely through her rib cage. Pushing up on her other elbow, the redhead breathed a kiss over the young woman's heart, murmuring, "You feel so wonderful, Hel."

The reply was decidedly labored.

"Oh, fuck, so do you."

The words evoked a tactile memory of having the dark woman's face and hands pressed to her bare chest and stomach not quite two weeks ago. Attempting to steady her breathing, Barbara watched blue eye flutter shut as the brunette panted softly before speaking again in a broken whisper.

"It's just -- I -- "

Still awash in remembered sensations, entranced by the sensation of a firm nipple rising to meet her palm through the thin tank top, the older woman almost missed the whispered words. When the syllables finally filtered through Barbara's erotic fog and reformed themselves into words, green eyes narrowed slightly.

Had Helena said something about being a Virgo? Her birthday had been just a few weeks ago, which would make her a...

Abandoning her astrological digression, the redhead wondered if it were possible to sprain one's forehead. Given how rapidly her eyebrows had just shot up, she suspected that heat -- or was it ice? -- might be advisable.

Barbara repositioned her hand over the other woman's heart again and spoke softly, but very, very clearly.

"I'm sorry, Hel. Did you just say that you're...?"

Uncertain blue eyes met green.

"Yeah. I've never..."

The older woman struggled not to wince when Helena averted her eyes and chewed at her lower lip as she corrected herself.

"That is, I hadn't. Ever. Before."

Stricken, Barbara worked to identify -- to organize and compartmentalize for later analysis -- the scores of emotions flooding through her: disbelief; fury, again, at the younger woman's attackers; rage at her own short-sightedness; sorrow; an absolute tsunami of tenderness for the brunette; others too confusing to name.

"Oh, Hel. Sweetie."

It was all she could manage until pained blue eyes peered hesitantly through thick lashes, obviously expecting something more from the older woman. Barbara struggled for words.

"How...? I thought... You've always..."

The redhead thought that a cup of coffee might be a good idea; preferably, Irish coffee, heavy on the "Irish".

Great merciful cats.

The morning after her good-as-gold current ward had set out with clear carnal intentions on her mind, Barbara was discovering that her bad-to-the-bone former ward was a great deal more virtuous than she ever could have dreamed.

Clearly, it was going to take a minute to recover her faculties. Fortunately, her partner seemed to grasp the gist of things.

With a harsh exhalation, the younger woman pulled herself upright against the headboard.

"Yeah, well, I'm no -- prude or anything. I mean, I'm always up for a little grope-n-tickle or something. But," -- the brunette's voice softened slightly -- "I just couldn't ever let someone have what's always been yours, Barbara."

The words were spoken without a trace of self-consciousness or embarrassment. The younger woman's honest sincerity stunned the redhead.

Was her partner simply the most romantic person in the world?

The younger woman's next words -- ground out softly, bitterly, through tightly clenched teeth -- almost reduced her to tears.

"But, I fucked up and lost that, too. I'm -- I'm really sorry, Barbara."

Barbara didn't think about her response to Helena's self-recrimination. She reached up to cup the brunette's face and draw her gaze to her. Stroking her thumb against soft lips, she spoke quietly, seriously.

"Helena, nobody can take that from you; it's a gift to be given."

The older woman drew in a slightly shaky breath, utterly humbled by the enormity of the younger woman's offering.

"If, when, you want to give me that gift -- allowing me to be the first person you make love with -- I'll accept and cherish it with everything that I am."

The younger woman offered a sweet, shy smile. Her whispered words stripped away the last of the redhead's tenuous control, reducing her instantly to tears.

"I don't want you to be the first, Barbara. I want you to be the only."

Chapter 27

Observing the older woman's face just seem to crumble at her words, green eyes overflowing with tears, Helena drew her brows together in consternation.

All she wanted to do was spend the rest of her days making the redhead happy, and what did she keep doing? Upsetting her.

Damn her mouth, always just running away with her.

That thought, of course, caused her to consider the words that had led to Barbara's current emotional state. Even as she automatically slid down in the bed to wrap an arm around the redhead where she had crumpled against the mattress, the brunette wondered what - exactly - was so goddamned distressing about her wanting to be with the other woman. And only with her.

Sure, Red really hadn't shown much inclination for long-term romantic relationships up to now, but Helena figured that, after all the years they'd been together, the older woman might at least consider the idea. Barbara was pretty open-minded, once she had a chance to wrap her big brain around an idea.

Still, Helena suspected that she might have gone a little too fast, wanted too much. After all, Barbara had only said she wanted to 'date' her; she hadn't said anything about... well... a future.

Damage control time.

"Hey, easy there, Red."

She gently tugged the older woman to her, cradling her in one arm and stroking crimson hair with her other hand.

"I didn't mean to upset you or anything. It's not like I'm backing a U-haul up or anything just yet."

Well, at least that had gotten a decidedly wet-sounding snort from the older woman. From the brunette's perspective, it was a definite improvement on the crying thing.

Feeling something murmured against her chest, the younger woman raised her head, simultaneously removing her hand from Barbara's hair to coax her face up slightly. Finally able to see those beautiful, slightly watery, green eyes again, she lifted her eyebrows in question.

"Hel, you didn't upset me."

The redhead paused, apparently weighing her words against the sight of her tears dampening the younger woman's tank top.

"Well, yes, I was upset. It's simply -- "

Blue eyes watched, disbelieving, as the older woman interrupted herself to raise her head and peer at the night stand. In response to the redhead's irritated grumble -- "Honestly, why aren't there any tissues in this house?" -- the young woman sighed silently, disentangled herself, and headed into the bathroom. She emerged moments later with a roll of toilet paper, a damp washcloth, a dry hand towel, and a cup of water.

Barbara's bright smile, as she pulled herself up against the headboard and accepted the make-shift kleenex, almost made up for Helena's own less-than-pleasant anticipation about what the older woman had been starting to say.

The brunette crawled back under the covers and waited with what she thought was an enormous amount of patience while the redhead neatly tossed her damp make-shift tissue into the wastebasket across the room, cleaned and dried her tear-stained cheeks, then took several sips of water. It was only after the older woman carefully set the glass on her night stand and shifted to look at Helena fondly, but silently, that the dark woman realized that Barbara might not be planning to finish.

Maybe she'd just gotten distracted. Red was always getting lost in her own head, so maybe a little nudge was in order.

"Uh, you were saying that you were upset... or not... or something?"

The older woman had the grace to blush and laugh softly at herself even as she tangled a hand with Helena's.

"Oh, Sweetie, I'm sorry. I was trying to say that I was upset, but in a good way. You simply overwhelmed me."

Helena saw the emerald eyes focus inward and so sat quietly, stroking her thumb lightly against the back of the other woman's hand. Since things didn't seem to be going too badly, she was determined to keep her mouth shut for the moment and just wait to see what else the other woman might want to say.

In a minute or two, Barbara spoke again, tugging their joined hands up to press a soft kiss to the brunette's fingers.

"But, you've always done that, haven't you, Hel? You simply continue to amaze and overwhelm me."

Well, that had been pretty positive. Still, Helena thought that an apology might be in order on her part. After all, Barbara had seemed pretty into things a few minutes ago, and she'd pretty much dragged everything to a screeching halt with what she'd said.

The brunette ducked her head and smiled hesitantly.

"I'm still sorry, Babs. I really didn't want to, uh, throw a wet blanket on anything. I just, uh," -- Helena wondered why her face felt so freakin' hot -- "thought you should know. Because, well, I just want to be able to do right by you."

The young woman wasn't sure what she'd been expecting from her apology-cum-explanation. The redhead's reaction most definitely was not it.

For a split second after Helena finished speaking, the older woman was absolutely still. Then, her face changed -- pupils dilating, planes of her cheeks hardening to ascetic lines, nostrils flaring as she drew in a harsh breath.

Watching the transformation, the brunette breathed deeply and pressed her thighs together under the covers against the sudden, insistent throbbing.

When she spoke, Barbara's voice was low, almost purring.

"Helena, I haven't a doubt in the world that you can, and will, 'do right' by me. In fact, at this moment, I can think of only one thing that you'll need to do to insure my complete satisfaction."

Oooh. Crib notes.

Blue eyes glinted as the younger woman panted softly and prayed that she wouldn't literally hang her tongue out at the other woman's words, her tone. In an attempt not to completely embarrass herself, she kept her reply brief.

"Yeah, Red? What's that?"

Green eyes fixed on blue.

"Show up."

Feeling a little lightheaded at the words, Helena tried for confident and sexy.

"I'm here now, Barbara."

Funny, the words had come out a little more serious-sounding than she'd planned. Looked like the other woman didn't mind at all, judging by her breathy response.

"Yes, you certainly are, Hel. And, I could show you, right now, how true what I said is --"

The young woman arousal skyrocketed at the sight of the redhead trailing long fingers down her own neck, stopping her progress at the upper swell of her breast to knead the soft flesh delicately. Emerald eyes -- truly, black orbs surrounded by a thin green band -- fluttered shut, and Helena whimpered softly at the sight of those elegant fingers barely brushing the pebble hard nipple straining against the other woman's tee shirt.

Fuck. If Barbara didn't touch herself -- or touch Helena -- or let Helena touch her...

Blue eyes -- still riveted on the long fingers -- blinked in irritation at the confusing thoughts.

All that the brunette knew was that some touching needed to start happening pretty damned quick.

When the redhead, instead, opened her eyes and returned her hand to the top of the covers by her hip, the brunette forced herself not to whimper or cry... or beg. Instead, she attempted, with as much subtlety as possible, to ease her own hand -- which had been hovering over the juncture of her legs -- back to the bed.

If the older woman noticed the motion, she didn't let on. Barbara tugged their entwined hands up again to press another kiss to the brunette's fingers before blowing out a long breath.

"And, I promise, Sweetie. I will."

Helena felt her eyes widen hopefully. When the redhead chuckled fondly at her, the younger woman offered a distinctly suspicious look as she blew out an exasperated breath.

She felt a gentle squeeze to her hand as the older woman murmured sympathetically, "I'm sorry, Hel. Believe me: I am sorry. I'm not trying to tease, and I promise that I will show you what you do to me. Soon."

Slightly mollified -- oh, hell, who was she kidding? Helena knew that she'd never hold anything against the other woman -- the brunette managed a wan smile as she shifted onto her side to drape her free arm across the redhead's waist. She sucked in a fortifying breath and decided to give it another go.

Batting her eyelashes playfully, Helena purred lightly, "How soon, Barbara? Cuz, I don't know about you, but a minute's not soon enough for me."

Okay, so Red's full, throaty laughter wasn't quite the "Instant Ravage" scenario she'd been angling for, but it still made Helena feel pretty good. The words that followed -- spoken too softly, too seriously -- instantly deflated her mood.

"I'm sorry, Sweetheart, but we really need to deal with this."

Huh? Oh, fuck.

Helena wanted to cry. Or get up and pace. Or jump off the balcony and start running.

Anything other than listen to Barbara's voice, vibrating concern and sincerity, exposing all of the younger woman's failures and faults.

"I bought it, Helena. Lock, stock, and barrel. I believed that you were taking... "

Eyes closed, the brunette clearly heard the stumble -- and then the bitterness -- in the other woman's words.

"...it as part of the job. Maybe I even thought that your remarkable, resilient self was healing as effortlessly as your body does with your meta-healing abilities."

Helena soundlessly turned onto her back and pushed herself upright against the headboard again, casually extricating her hand from Barbara's. Eyes now fixed carefully on the covers, she heard the redhead's impatient exhalation.

"And, I'm so sorry, Helena -- for not pushing or holding or... Because this is definitely something more, something that you aren't healing from."

For some reason, the younger woman was suddenly very, very angry.

Why wouldn't Barbara just let it go, let her get on with getting on?

Redirecting her overwhelming desire to punch the wall into words, Helena practically snarled her response.

"Yeah? You wanna know why? The only reason is because they took something that was for you, Barbara."

The redhead's response was clipped, direct.

"No, Helena. It's because you continue to believe that it was your mistake, your fault, your 'fuck up'."

Helena held on to her anger and spat out, "But it was -- is -- my fault. I keep fucking up. Screwing things up for you and, and..."

She lowered her voice and added, "It was the only thing I still had for you."

She felt Barbara firmly twine their fingers again as the older woman spoke, voice soft, filled with pain.

"Sweetheart, the only thing you should be grieving for is what you've lost. You need to stop thinking about this in terms of me."

Feeling the gentle stroking of the redhead's thumb against her wrist, hearing the sympathetic words, Helena allowed some of the anger to drain from her. She, too, spoke quietly.

"Don't you get it, Barbara? The only thing I care about losing... is you."

Realizing that she was going to have to make the older woman understand, once and for all, the brunette paused to gather her thoughts.

"I really do mean it, Babs. It may not be politically correct to say so, but in a way, this" -- she waved a hand in the general vicinity of her hips -- "is part of the job. But, it's something that wouldn't have happened if I could just... "

Barbara shifted slightly, resting her shoulder on the headboard to face the younger woman.

"Just what, Sweetheart?"

The brunette drew in a deep breath. Exhaled noisily. Drew in another breath.

"I can't help it, Barbara. I try. I really do, but I don't feel like I ever really have me -- it -- under control."

She paused for a minute, focusing her eyes on their joined hands.

"I thought I was doing okay, you know? Like, that part of me was almost a guardian angel or something, knowing when to come out, how hard to fight. But, I think I was just fooling myself -- fooling you. That I was, could be this person who could do right, who could make you proud, who you could lo--"

The younger woman knew her face was twisting as she bit off her statement. Sure, she'd pretty much laid out her feelings for Barbara with that "only one" thing a few minutes ago; that didn't mean that the older woman did -- or could -- or should feel that way about her.

She tried again.

"Somebody you could look to for whatever you needed."

Seeing the puzzlement still present in green eyes, Helena shut her eyes and screwed up her courage. This time, she didn't hold anything back. It was time for Barbara finally to know the truth about her, about what she was.

"But, maybe, that's not me, Barbara."

Bringing both hands up to scrub at her forehead, the young woman hunted for courage.

Fuck, why was it so hard to say the words? They'd sure run though her head enough, taunting her with what she could never be, with what she could never have. When they finally crossed her lips, the words weren't harsh or angry; she'd had too long to become acquainted with them.

"I try and I try, Barbara. And each time I mess up, I'm so fuckin scared that I'll hurt you or you'll hate me or something."

The pain in the older woman's gasp was unmistakable. So was the miniscule jerking of the covers as the redhead flinched.

"Helena, how could you even think...?"

Shit, Barbara was pinching the bridge of her nose, looking like she was trying not to cry. Helena hadn't wanted to make the other woman feel bad; she just needed for her to understand.

"I'm sorry, Ba -- "

"That is -- "

The brunette decisively shut her mouth. Maybe she could keep from making things worse.

"Helena," the redhead continued, "that -- my hating you -- is not going to happen. It's simply impossible, Sweetheart. You are someone who does do right, who does make me proud, Hel. Someone I could, and do, love."

The young woman clenched her jaw. Although she hadn't let herself say the word, Barbara had. And the redhead had sure put a helluva lot of emphasis on it.

"And, Hel?"

As the silence extended, the younger woman realized that Barbara was waiting for her. Still not willing to speak, even to risk a single word, she ducked her head and briefly made eye contact.

Looked like Red was going to let her off the hook with that.

"Helena, I'm so sorry -- sorrier than I can express -- if you've thought that I expect you to be some sort of... paragon of control or perfection. I never wanted -- I don't want you to feel that I've pressured you or -- "

Even without her enhanced senses, the brunette thought she would have heard the redhead's labored swallowing.

"...or that my feelings for you are conditional. I love you as you are, for who you are. And that is something which will not change."

Awww, crap.

Drawing a leg up, knee near her chest, Helena dropped her head down to thump her forehead against the joint.

"I don't see how you can, Babs. The things I've been doing... wanting to do... "

When Barbara replied, it was easy to hear the genuine confusion in her voice.

"I'm afraid I don't understand, Sweetheart. Are you having some sort of problems with your meta abilities?"

The brunette bit back her laugh, straightening up. Red could be so myopic sometimes, always seeing the trees for the forest -- or something like that.

For a moment, she smiled almost dotingly at the other woman as she searched for a way to explain.

"I feel like Count Bloodcount."

Green eyes narrowed, and Helena figured that Barbara's mind was doing it's memory-thing. She decided to spare the other woman any further mental processing cycles -- or whatever an eidetic memory did.

"The cartoon vampire in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon? You know, 'Transylvania 6-5000'? There was one word that would turn him into a human and another that turned him into a bat, and Bugs kept mixing them together and fucking him up?"

Helena sighed tiredly. Red's confused look suggested that she wasn't quite getting the analogy.

"Well, it's kinda like that with me. Someone says 'Abraca-pocus', and poof I'm Huntress; someone says 'Hocus-cadabra', and bam I'm just Helena again. And, sometimes, something happens, and I'm this out-of-control animal."

Helena dragged a hand through her hair and tried to keep her voice level.

"It's just... I don't know what the magic words are, Barbara. I try and try to be in control, you know, like, like you've tried to teach me. But, something just happens..."

Hating the way her voice cracked, she added, "And, what if there is no magic word, Barbara? What if this is just who -- what -- I am?"

She trailed off, staring at her knees under the covers.

"Hel," The redhead's voice was low, thoughtful. "You've been doing just fine. Granted, there were some, er, rocky periods when you were in high school, but since then... Has something happened that I don't know about?"

The brunette colored and tugged at the neck of her tank top.

"No. You've been there. Uh, a couple of weeks ago, when I was -- uh, working out the kinks in your neck?"


It was the only word that Helena could find to describe the look on the other woman's face.

"Hel, in case you haven't caught on by now, I happen to like it that I excite you."

Disbelieving, the younger woman watched green eyes focus on the ceiling for a moment before the redhead continued.

"Lingua franca, Sweetheart."



Barbara's gentle laugh was like sunshine.

"I may not growl, Hel, but I'm reasonably confident that I can promise some moaning and, very possibly, speaking in tongues."

The brunette snorted, figuring that the tongues would probably be ancient Greek or Japanese or one of the umpteen other languages the older woman spoke. Distracted, she almost forgot where she'd been going with this.

"But, what about a couple nights later with that poor kid in the alley? I mean, he's barely out of ICU, right?"

The older woman's response was instant.

"Sweetheart, you were protecting Dinah. You've never used that level of force before unless the threat was justified. You did not know how badly she'd been hurt."

Helena felt something wet trailing down her cheek and scrubbed at it angrily.

"Yeah, but what about, about when I flipped out with those punks last week? What reason was there for that?"

Swallowing against the pain in her throat -- some sort of weird sensory memory, she figured -- the brunette pounded her fists against her upper thighs and bent over, gasping. Still, she managed to say what she had to.

"What reason -- what possible fuckin' reason was there for me to try to tear the guy's throat out, Barbara?!"

Helena felt one of her hands grasped gently, the sensation of the older woman softly rubbing her thumb against her wrist.

As soothing as the gesture was, the silence accompanying it was unsettling. Helena was pretty sure that Barbara was thinking. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what the other woman was thinking about.

When the measured response came, the brunette realized that Barbara had probably been replaying their entire conversation from last week word for word.

"You said that something happened."

The younger woman peered at the redhead suspiciously. Had she said something like that?

"You told me that you 'flipped out' and ended up using excessive force against -- "

Barbara paused, like she was trying to get the words exactly right.

"against 'the one who had'. Who had done what, Hel?"

Wha--? The one who had...?

Why was it so fucking hard to breathe all of a sudden, dammit?

The brunette opened and shut her mouth several times, as the memories flooded through her. Memories of sending the other woman -- the would-be victim -- on her way and turning to "tsk" reprovingly at the punks. Memories of Number One waving a fucking knife around and... and...

Helena heard some sort of strangled whine from her throat, felt Barbara's arms wrap around her and pull her to the older woman's chest.

She sucked in a hitching breath and whispered, "He, he was waving this knife around -- And, he... made this motion and, and grabbed himself..."

Clenching her hands tightly, dimly wishing that she could still feel the ache in her wrist or the cuts stringing her palm, she growled the rest softly.

"He wanted to know where my 'little blonde friend' was. Said they'd been -- they would be looking for her."

Helena blinked against the burning in her eyes, unable to stop now, as the memory of how she'd reacted consumed her.

"That's, that's when it happened, when I turned into this goddamned, out-of-control animal."

Resisting her urge to yank away, to get up and pace, the younger woman carefully distanced herself from the other woman and focused on her hands where they were clenched tightly in her lap. Despite the trembling possessing her muscles, her organs, she spoke softly, calmly.

"And, don't you see, Barbara? That's the problem. If I hadn't done that -- been that -- none of this would have happened. That's what's wrong."

The silence lasted long enough that Helena was finally compelled to peek through her bangs at the redhead. When she did, Barbara spoke firmly.

"They were threatening Dinah, Hel. And, however you reacted, you weren't out of control. You stopped yourself."

The redhead paused, held the silence until Helena blinked to signal -- if not agreement -- at least comprehension.

"You realized what you were doing, and you stopped yourself. Helena, you are not some sort of an animal. You may be a bit on the thick headed side, Sweetie."

The loving smile that the young woman saw directed at her took any sting out of the softly teasing remark.

"However, primarily, you are sensitive, and loving almost to a fault, and fiercely, fiercely protective of your family."

Something inside the brunette fought against the... almost noble characterization. Helena just knew that she wasn't like Barbara was painting her; however, before she could figure out where the older woman might be getting off track, soft laughter distracted her.

"You remind me of your mother in that way. She wouldn't allow anything to threaten you. Frankly, I was always a little amazed that she even allowed me to baby-sit you. I was dumbfounded when she made me your guardian."

Helena ventured a soft smile.

"Maybe she saw something there for both of us, huh?"

Green eyes sparkled.

"Indeed, Hel. If so, I'm glad she did."

The brunette briefly allowed the warmth of the shared emotion wash through her. However, remembering, she again felt the cold stabbing pain in her chest.

Just because there was an explanation for going ape-shit didn't mean she wasn't... that she could...

She looked up again, blue eyes -- filled with equal measures of anguish and embarrassment -- seeking out green.

"But, what if I can't control it, Barbara? What if I can't -- don't stop?"

The young woman heard her voice rising but couldn't stop herself.

"Like, yesterday, in the training room? It was coming over me and I was gonna turn into something. The things I wanted to do..."

Wishing she could shrink into the mattress, Helena nevertheless kept her eyes locked on Barbara's and whispered her deepest fear.

"I can't do that. Be that thing with you."

There was no way, just no frikkin' way, that the younger woman would ever allow herself to hurt the woman she loved and adored above all others. Even now, she worried about the effect of her words, her revelation about what she was, on the redhead.

Helena wasn't certain what sort of response to expect, but -- like before -- Barbara's reaction just wasn't it.

Amazed, the brunette watched the older woman push herself forward then felt those elegant hands on each side of her face, drawing her towards the redhead. She saw Barbara close the distance, then felt a soft, demanding mouth meld with hers. The kiss was long and gentle, but incredibly demanding. Despite the other unpleasant emotions roiling so close to the surface, the young woman had no choice but to succumb to the passionate intent in the contact.

When the redhead finally drew away from her, Helena couldn't stop the rocking of her hips as her fingers clenched the sheets in a death grip. She tried to duck her head, hide eyes she knew were no longer blue, but Barbara refused to release her face, looking directly at her.

Unable to look away, Helena could not deny the sincerity and love shining in those emerald eyes.

"Yes, all of you." the older woman husked, "You are who I want, Helena. Every side of you, every bit of you."

Oh, wow.

Something that had been tightly clenched inside the young woman for years started to crack open. She thought she actually felt a cold, dark substance leaching away.

Helena turned her face just enough to press an open-mouthed kiss to the heel of the redhead's palm. Barbara's next words transformed the tender caress into a startled gasp.

"And, I can imagine nothing -- nothing, Helena -- that you might do, or want to do, that I would not want."

Chapter 28

Four days later, when it happened again, Barbara Gordon began to reconsider the accuracy of her earlier impassioned words.

Perhaps there were some things that Helena wanted that the older woman simply didn't.

When the Count Bloodcount ergonomic reminder program -- complete with Loony Tunes theme song -- had popped up for the first time the day before, she'd found it to be cute, sweet even. Another one of the younger woman's acts of thoughtfulness. Not to mention proof that the brunette knew a great deal more about computers than she claimed.

However, now, twenty-eight hours and sixteen appearances later, the redhead was finding herself distinctly less amused. The cartoon completely locked the system -- her system -- for a full sixty seconds, and she had yet to determine how to bypass it and cut the thing short. In addition to searching the web and unleashing a host of crawlers to try to track down the program's software engineers, the cyber genius had tried every keyboard combination -- from Escape-E to Control-Alt-Delete -- and keyword -- including "abraca-pocus" and "hocus-cadabra" -- that she could think of.

Having calculated that the wretched program came to life after forty-four minutes of keyboard or mouse activity, the redhead drew a fortifying breath and steeled herself. It had been forty-three minutes since the cartoon figure had last disappeared with an animated <poof>. Glaring at her monitor, she heard a quiet thump on the balcony signaling her younger partner's arrival after sweeps and turned her head to greet the brunette.

While not quite as passionate as she'd been anticipating, post-sweeps debriefings definitely had been quite pleasant in the last few days, after all.

The dark woman strolled in, leading the redhead again to wonder about the strange sense that the quantity of oxygen in the room decreased upon Helena arrival. The young woman's cheerful greeting -- "Heya, Red. How's it hanging?" -- was lost to the sound of a Draculean "Gooood evening" echoing tinnily from the Delphi's speakers.

"Holy horned toads, Helena!" the exasperated redhead snapped in reply, "Can you get this accursed program off of here?"

Immediately embarrassed by her little outburst, the older woman watched the slow rise of dark brows as her partner stepped onto the Delphi platform, leaned over her shoulder silently, and --- with an almost unnerving calm -- pressed the Escape key. Immediately, the ergo program exited to the sound of Porky Pig's familiar farewell.

"Th-th-that's all folks!"

The brunette's teasing comment -- "Shit, Barbara, it's supposed to make you less tense, you know." -- did not exactly improve the older woman's mood.

Very deliberately, Barbara removed her glasses, placing them on her keyboard with a level of care and precision not entirely warranted.

"The Escape key?!"

She heard her voice rising but felt well past caring.

Blue eyes blinked as Helena caught the older woman's eyes and offered a puzzled half-grin.

"Uh, yeah...? Why? Isn't that how most software and, uh, programs respond?"

The younger woman seemed to discern that her mentor might benefit from a few minutes to cool down. Smiling fondly, she bussed the other woman's cheek and disappeared into the kitchen. A moment later, the older woman saw Dinah bounce into the kitchen and heard the two younger women talking, undoubtedly continuing their plotting in what she had gathered were so-far successful attempts on the blonde's part to attract the attention of her classmate.

Deciding that the two would be occupied for some time, Barbara pinched the bridge of her nose, contemplating the difference between IQ and intelligence. How could she have such a very, very high IQ and not have thought to try the Escape key?

She picked up her glasses and fixed her gaze on the screen but remained lost in thought. Perhaps, she amended, the difference was between intelligence and common sense. Obviously she was woefully lacking in the latter.

Helena's amazingly honest, open admissions of four days ago had certainly cast into doubt any confidence that the older woman had held about her own common sense. For years, apparently, the younger woman had been led -- by something in Barbara's own words or actions -- to believe the unthinkable: that her mentor, her former guardian, her friend and partner was constantly judging her and finding her lacking; that the younger woman's intrinsic make up -- meta-human or otherwise -- was somehow undesirable, something to be controlled, to be hidden, to be ashamed of; that her instinctual expressions of this part of herself -- whether in defending a loved one or in revealing her love and passion -- were reprehensible.

Barbara knew that, in their first years together, she'd had to take her angry, hurting, rebelling ward to task -- numerous times -- about channeling her gifts, about applying them in better ways than beating up the comparatively helpless members of the high school football team. She'd simply not been able to sit idly by and watch the girl turn into some sort of hoodlum or thug. With all of the pain and hurt the girl had been dealing with -- not to mention her mother's criminal background -- the redhead had been aware that it would have been all too easy for her young ward to turn in the wrong direction. Apart from that, apart from Barbara's own deeply, deeply entrenched beliefs about might not making right, the redhead -- barely older than the teenager -- had been grappling with her new role as a guardian and with very genuine fears that if the system found her lacking, Helena would be taken from her.

Not for the first time in the last few days, the older woman worried over all of these pieces of the puzzle, arranging and rearranging them, trying to see how they formed the person that Helena had become. Staring at the spot on her screen where Count Bloodcount had disappeared, she finally realized that it was only when she added in a huge piece -- one that she'd been looking at for years but which she'd refused to let herself see -- that everything fit together.

That piece was, of course, Helena's love for her.

The redhead thought back to the one time -- over three years ago, a few months before the younger woman had moved out -- that Helena had skirted the topic. At the time, Barbara had dismissed the brunette's feelings with acute discomfort. After all, until not-too-long before then, she had been the young woman's guardian; and, honestly, the two women were in a relationship which was, if not exactly that of a parent and child, at least "sisterly".

At that thought, the older woman snorted softly. Thank heavens she'd gotten past that misperception about their relationship some time ago.

Nevertheless, at the time, Barbara had been certain that Helena's feelings arose from a combination of some sort of... hero worship, the unavoidable closeness of their relationship, and a heaping dose of the brunette's more demanding -- primal -- urges. Now, the enormity of how wrong she'd been was staggering. If nothing else, the fact that the younger woman had continued to hope -- never quite displaying the depths of her feelings yet still saving herself -- spoke volumes.

Quite honestly, the older woman was still reeling from what she'd learned about the depths of her partner's love and devotion. Skeptical as she was, in the last few days, Barbara had cast a few prayers to the Powers-That-Be that she could, somehow, be worthy of the younger woman.

After their painful and honest conversation of the other morning, the two women had remained in the big bed for over an hour, silently holding each other, coming to grips with their emotions. A rumbling from Helena's abdomen had eventually drawn a soft chuckle from the redhead and a shy smile from the younger woman, and the two had separated with difficulty -- Barbara likened disentangling their limbs to pulling taffy -- and headed to the kitchen.

A few minutes later, when Dinah had slouched in, Barbara suspected that they had shaken the teen to the soles of her feet. It was less the fact that the brunette was there so early having breakfast -- after all, Helena took a fair number of her meals at the clock tower -- than the fact that Barbara was joining her younger partner in digging into an oversized bowl of Count Chocula.

Since then, by some sort of unspoken mutual understanding -- Barbara fiddled with her glasses, recognizing how much unspoken communication the two had always shared -- the new, physical side of their relationship had taken a back seat to quiet conversations as they explored and exposed themselves. The redhead had held nothing back in revealing her fears -- from early discomfort about propriety, to her own failed attempts at relationships and feelings of inadequacy, to her belief that Helena wasn't interested in or capable of long-term commitment.

That last admission, the redhead recalled with a small, embarrassed smile, had reduced both women to almost hysterical laughter.

In the course of their talks, Helena had spoken again of her discomfort with her feral side, her fears of disappointing her mentor or of hurting someone -- notably, Barbara. Although the brunette hadn't said anything directly, she'd also hinted at feelings of always being different and never quite -- whole. Throughout, the older woman had listened, holding her amazingly sweet and sensitive partner, reassuring her to the best of her abilities. All the while, the redhead's heart clenched painfully at the weight of the fear that Helena had been needlessly shouldering for so long.

Mercifully, the conversations -- interspersed with lots of cuddling and some languid kisses -- seemed to be helping exorcise some demons. Even as emotionally dense as she could sometimes be, Barbara was aware of a growing lightness in her companion.

Undoubtedly, a good thing, she sighed gratefully.

The younger woman's tone had become more playful, her physical expressions less terribly cautious and hesitant. The brunette was, in fact, beginning to demonstrate a marked restlessness with the slowed pace of their physical relationship.

Shivering slightly, Barbara smiled. That was definitely a very good thing.

The unexpected reappearance of Count Bloodcount startled the redhead from her thoughts.

Had she honestly spent the last forty-four minutes wool-gathering?

Shrugging, she tapped the Escape key -- smiling ruefully at herself -- before she detected a familiar aroma wafting from the balcony. Uncertain how she felt associating scents from her father with Helena, the redhead nevertheless quietly wheeled out to find her young partner reclining on the low wall surrounding the balcony, staring into the night sky, and puffing contentedly on a robusto-sized cigar.

A Macanudo, if Barbara weren't mistaken.

The older woman sat silently for a few minutes, knowing that the brunette had heard her arrival, drinking in the sight of the beautiful young woman. The nearly full moon -- for once, it was an almost cloudless night in New Gotham -- illuminated delicate features that seemed somehow different. Barbara puzzled over this perception, then nearly sagged in her chair a heartbeat later when she identified what the difference was.

The brunette looked peaceful. The tension, the wary guardedness, which had been a part of Helena's demeanor for over seven years was almost completely absent.

The redhead directed her delight into softly teasing words.

"I still don't understand how you -- especially with your enhanced senses -- can stand those, Hel."

The dark figure gracefully sat up and turned to face the older woman, bringing the object in question to her mouth, puffing pointedly for a moment. She slowly released the smoke, and Barbara's nostrils flared at the rich aroma as Helena delicately licked her lips and smiled.

"It tastes good, Red. Wanna see?"

Amused, the older woman laughed and admitted, "Bilious green really isn't my best color, Sweetie."

In an instant, the brunette was straddling Barbara's legs, knees buried in the soft seat of the wheelchair. The redhead blinked as Helena's face moved to within inches of her own and the younger woman husked, "That's not what I had in mind, Barbara."


A russet brow slowly raised as Barbara grasped the other woman's intent. She stretched to close the distance and press her mouth to slightly parted lips, drawing in warm breath, redolent with a smoky aftertaste.

Well, that hadn't been unpleasant at all. What about...?

The older woman delicately touched her tongue to soft lips. When the brunette opened further in invitation, she slipped inside, tasting the rich tobacco and the sweetness that was all Helena.

Ooooh. It was wonderful.

Dimly aware of the heat building her in her chest, the redhead breathed a plea -- "More..." -- and felt, rather than heard, a chuckle as the younger woman withdrew slightly and brought the cigar to her lips again.

Offering a Cheshire grin, Barbara stayed the movement with her hand.

"That's not what I meant, Hel."

A dark brow quirked until the younger woman, apparently comprehending the redhead's meaning, licked her lips and brought their mouths together again. This time, she smoothly insinuated her tongue between Barbara's lips.


For long minutes, the older woman lost herself drinking from the other woman's mouth, stroking her hands across slender shoulders, feeling slim hands sifting through her hair. When Helena finally withdrew, Barbara didn't even attempt to suppress her quiet whimper of disappointment, a sound that seamlessly transformed into a breathy moan at the sensation of a soft mouth and warm tongue teasing at her ear. The redhead bent her head slightly to the flickering strokes and soft suction. When something low in her abdomen fluttered at the suggestive contact, she reached up and drew her hair back, offering her neck to that wonderfully talented mouth.

Moments later, aware that Helena was whispering something against her throat, Barbara grudgingly refocused her senses on hearing. Her brief pique over the interruption dissolved instantly when she deciphered the words.

"God, you're so fuckin' sexy, Barbara"

Bemused, and -- impossibly, it seemed -- further aroused, the redhead coaxed the dark head up to gaze into shining blue eyes.

"What does that mean, Hel? That I'm sexy?"

She honestly hadn't felt sexy in a long, long time. At least until very recently.

When the younger woman ducked her face to nibble at the corner of her jaw, the older woman almost forgot her question. The sound of a soft voice -- was Helena speaking in French? The throwback to the brunette's early years in France was amazingly arousing -- refreshed her memory.

"It means you're beautiful, and you turn me on. It means I want to touch every bit of you with my hands and my mouth and that I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't want to. It means that I want to make you feel wonderful and doing that's going to make me come."

Barbara thought it entirely possible that she would cry -- or climax herself -- at the breathy words. Her reply was from the heart.

"In that case then, you are incredibly sexy, Hel."

The blush which suffused gamine feature, the redhead decided, was completely endearing. The short gasp and the quick jerk of slim hips against her stomach was something else entirely.

At her own body's thrumming response to the movement, Barbara wryly admitted that both of them were growing rather restless with the slow pace of their... courtship. Debating the merits of simply taking the other woman right there, she realized that Helena was speaking softly.

"I'm... I'm glad that you think so, Red. But, it isn't just physical. You know?"

The older woman nodded shortly, but with conviction, as the brunette continued. She felt herself melting at the words.

"I love you so much, Barbara. I think I always have, that I was supposed to. Hell,"

The dark figure interrupted herself with a soft, embarrassed laugh.

"If it were possible, I'd like to have your babies or something."

Smiling fondly, the redhead replied warmly, "Oh, Hel, that's so --".

The sentence fragmented abruptly as Barbara sat utterly still for a moment, mouth open, and the pieces clicked into place.

Thirty seconds later -- thirty long seconds, judging from the slightly nervous look greeting her from inches away -- she blinked her eyes and snapped her mouth shut.

Oh, dear. Obviously, her timing could have been better for that little time out.

"I'm so sorry, Sweetheart."

Barbara laughed quietly at herself before continuing.

"I was starting to say how incredibly sweet you are, how much I love you, too."

Even as the other woman relaxed minutely, raised dark brows and a quirked smile embellished the whispered question.


"But nothing, Hel. What you said simply made me realize something about our mysterious deaths."

Hmm, Barbara wondered if she could have phrased that a little better. Something in the brunette's patently disbelieving expression suggested that it wouldn't have hurt.

Perhaps when she explained...

"Helena, I don't think that the deaths were foul play at all. I believe that Carly and Hillerman freely chose their course of action."

Chapter 29

Helena absently swirled the overpriced coffee in the oversized cup, attempting to look appropriately sympathetic -- alternately not much of a stretch or else extremely difficult -- as Carly Applewood's fiance recounted his shock at her death, the absolute horrors of undoing all of the wedding and honeymoon preparations, his loneliness without Carly.

"But," Bill Press sighed dramatically, "I guess you kind of understand. You did say you were friends...?"

Smoothly covering the slight -- almost insignificant -- stretch of the truth which had gotten her a date for coffee with the grieving fianc, the brunette offered, "Well, you know, the meta community is pretty tight-knit."

With that, finally seeing an opening to probe for the information that she and Barbara needed, she continued, "None of us quite understood what was going on with Carly about -- that."

Fortunately, the young woman didn't need to be more specific. The words and a vague wave of her hand were all the loquacious young man needed.

"Oh, yeah. She really had a bee up her bonnet about that. I mean, I sure didn't mind."

Bill laughingly added, "Carly could do, you know, some things that added a real charge to our love life."

Helena tried not to grimace as hazel eyes regarded her appraisingly.

"So, what did you say your meta thing was anyway?"

Resisting a strong desire to pour her still-hot coffee in the man's lap, the brunette wondered just what Carly had seen in him. Nevertheless, she decided to throw him a bone.

"Double-jointed. Everywhere. And, complete control of all my, you know, internal muscles," she purred, attempting not to crack up at the sound of a wicked snicker over her receiver.

"But, Bill," she added, with a slow blink, "what was her issue with it? Sounds like you sure didn't have any problems with it."

Helena had to give the man some credit for managing to drag his eyes back to her face as he replied.

"Oh, she was so scared about having kids. She was just convinced that she wouldn't be able to take a pregnancy to term. Or, that the kid would have her meta genes."

The young woman hid her frown at that information with her best "Go on, this is fascinating" look.

"She'd been seeing doctors, but they didn't really get it. But, just a couple of weeks ago, she told me that she'd heard about some sort of revolutionary treatment or something through the BAH."

Helena blinked several times at the reference to the fanatical anti-meta movement and at her surprise that Carly would have taken anything they said seriously. Looked like Barbara had been right -- as usual -- about Carly choosing her course of action.

"What kind of treatment, Bill?"

"I don't really know. Something about a miracle healer, I think, but honestly I just figured that it was probably some snake-oil salesman myself. And, I don't think she had time -- before..."

Reverting to genuine sympathy again as the man choked up, the brunette led the conversation back to less emotionally charged areas before eventually managing to extricate herself -- suffering a somewhat sloppily groping hug in the process -- and ducking into an alley. Scaling a fire escape, she spoke softly.

"Well, you were right, Oracle. Sounds like Carly sure did something."

The warm reply was immediate.

<"I might prefer to have been wrong about this one, Huntress.">

"Want me to hit the club and try to dig up something about this 'miracle cure'?"

Distaste heavily painted the last two words.

<"No. I'm going to follow up with the BAH tomorrow. Why don't you come in?">

Huh? It was only 8:30; way too early to cut sweeps short on a Friday.

Possibly sensing her partner's confusion, the redhead elaborated, <"It is the last weekend for Canary's other project, Huntress.">

Helena immediately grasped the reference. Dinah would be out late at the play, and she and Barbara would have the clock tower to themselves for hours.

Although she had to admit that all of this taking it slow stuff was kind of nice in its own way, over five years of unrequited passion was beginning to take its toll on her. Sheesh, it was almost like Barbara was -- courting her or something.

Like there was any need for that.

While they hadn't gotten any further the night before, the older woman's eagerness -- at least until she got all caught up with her theory, the brunette amended sourly -- had been impossible to miss. Helena was definitely looking forward to a chance to pick up where they'd left off, and it sure sounded like the other woman might be as well.

Helena realized that her silence had probably been interpreted for uncertainty when the redhead spoke again.

<"I believe that 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' will be on shortly.">

Already turning toward the clock tower, Helena snorted softly. She didn't need any inducements. Hell, the Kid was going to be out late; she didn't have a shift at the Dark Horse on a Friday and Barbara was blowing off sweeps; and she'd just had a huge jolt of caffeine.

What were the odds?

"I'm on my way, Oracle. Do I need to pick up some popcorn?"

An hour later, the brunette was happily ensconced on the couch, lying curled up with her head in Barbara's lap as they watched Allan Quatermain and Tom Sawyer pursuing a hellish figure through night time Paris. When they simultaneously reached into the bag of microwave popcorn which rested by the redhead's side, she gallantly withdrew, ghosting a teasing touch of slightly buttery fingers to the older woman's wrist. The soft hum from the redhead was reward enough for her forbearance, but the young woman still wasted no time diving into the bag after the other woman withdrew with a handful of popcorn.

A bemused voice caused her to jerk slightly as she pulled her hand out of the bag.

"I simply do not understand how, if the M&Ms are evenly dispersed, I always seem to end up with all popcorn while you end up with eighty percent candy, Hel."

The brunette smirked and shoveled a few peanut M&Ms and one kernel of popcorn into her mouth. The combination of the warmed candy and the salty, buttery popcorn really was quite tasty. Could she help it if she favored a heavier candy-to-popcorn ratio?

"Hmm," she purred as she chewed slowly, "probably just a fluke, Babs. Or, maybe a meta thing."

The older woman's reply was light, causing Helena to chuckle softly.

"No, I can accept meta abilities accounting for your ability to snag the green ones without looking. However, that simply does not make up for defying the law of averages, Helena."

Silence reigned for a few minutes as the two watched Mr. Hyde painfully transform himself back into Dr. Jeckyll.

When Barbara spoke again, the younger woman clearly heard the reticence in her voice.

"Do you -- have you wanted not to be meta, Hel?"

The dark woman finished her handful of popcorn as she considered the question. She washed it down with a swallow from her beer before answering.

"Yeah. No."

Setting her beverage back on the coffee table, she added, less than helpfully, "I don't know."

Helena suppressed her sigh of fond annoyance at the expectation that was simply rolling out of the other woman's silence and attempted to elaborate.

"I mean, it's what I am, and --"

The young woman swallowed against a sudden lump in her throat.

Damned popcorn.

"...and, it is a real link to my mom. But, fuck, it sure would be simpler sometimes."

She paused, considering the possibility of not being what she was.

"It's hard to think about giving up what you do know for what you don't, you know?"

Sensing the redhead's nod, she added, "I just -- I don't know what being human would be like, Barbara."

The older woman's response was soft, thoughtful, but utterly laden with conviction.

"Hel, don't forget the part that comes after 'meta'. You are entirely one of the most human people I know. Having meta genes doesn't make you less human. It makes you more."

The brunette figured that her mentor must be serious to let something so... non-grammatical pass her lips. Nevertheless, she decided to lighten the suddenly leaden mood.

"Well, it does come in handy with M&Ms, Red."

Barbara's laughter was soft, but light.

"As long as you're looking at the bright side of things, Sweetie."

The brunette chose not to answer, digging instead into the popcorn bag to emerge with another half-dozen candies and two kernels of popcorn. She stuffed most of her handful into her mouth, then shifted enough to look up at the older woman's face. Holding the remaining candy -- green, of course -- between her thumb and first two fingers, she raised her hand to the other woman's lips.

Observing the playful quirk of a crimson brow, Helena licked her lips and smiled as the redhead silently snaked out her tongue to pull the candy into her mouth. When the other woman opened her mouth, wrapping her lips around the extended fingers and sucking rhythmically, the younger woman shut her eyes and focused on the moist warmth surrounding her fingers.

Oh, fuck....

She felt her eyes begin to shift as she wondered if it would feel that hot, that wet, when she finally...

"Thank you, Sweetheart."

The decidedly husky words dragged the brunette back from the brink. Drawing in a deep breath, she shifted back to the television, murmuring a heartfelt reply.

"My pleasure, Babs."

Shit. The redhead was going to kill her with wanting one of these days...

Helena attempted to focus on the movie again even as she positioned her free arm -- the one not pinned behind the other woman's back -- so that she could rest her hand against the redhead's side, stroking softly at the soft cotton of Barbara's tee shirt. Her interest in the sight of The Nautilus cruising through the canals of Venice waned considerably when she felt the older woman's hand, which had been lightly rubbing her back, sneak under the hem of her tank top and begin brushing her lower back.

Oh, god. How could Barbara's fingers feel like that?

They tickled.

They sent chills up and down her.

They burned.

The brunette shut her eyes, concentrating entirely on the sensations. However, as those long fingers slid under the waist of her sweatpants to tease the skin at the base of her spine, blue eyes flew open. On a whimper, she jerked her hips and then froze, waiting... waiting.

Helena thought she detected a slightly ragged sigh from her companion as the older woman placed her hand fully against her lower back and began stroking one finger softly up and down. She was quite certain that her own inhalation had been pretty damned shaky.

Shaky or not, a heartbeat later, Helena was simply grateful that she'd managed in inhale at all. The sensation of having her free hand covered by long fingers and then coaxed from Barbara's waist to her breast completely removed the younger woman's ability to breathe.

The incredible softness, the weight and texture through the tee shirt, the sensation of the nipple firming against her palm -- It was almost too much. The brunette was utterly transfixed by sensation; however, the redhead's barely audible hiss of pleasure broke the spell, galvanizing her to action.

Without moving either of her hands, Helena smoothly rotated herself 180-degrees to her other side, now facing Barbara, with her knees pressing into the back of the sofa. Reverently cradling that heavenly flesh and gently rubbing the other woman's back with her other hand, the young woman nudged the hem of the tee shirt up with her face and nuzzled softly at the warm flesh of the redhead's stomach.

Experimentally, she squeezed delicately and almost came undone when Barbara arched her back into the contact.

"Oh, fuck, Barbara..."

Panting softly against the other woman's abdomen, Helena couldn't understand why it was so hard to breathe, so hard to think.

"I've never -- always -- "

Goddammit, that had been really smooth, hadn't it?

The brunette hid her face against the older woman and bit at her lip, absolutely mortified.

After all of the years of waiting and wanting, how could she possibly tell the other woman how nothing had ever felt like this? How she'd always wanted and dreamed...?

"In that case, Hel, it's certainly time, isn't it?"

Red was sounding a little breathless herself, which made Helena feel marginally better. Peeking up at the other woman's movement, embarrassment was immediately replaced by much more urgent emotions.

In a single swift motion, the older woman yanked her tee shirt off and then wrapped her hands around the brunette's wrists, tugging toward her chest.

"Touch me, Hel."

Helena felt like she'd just been handed the keys to the candy shop. Her own breasts tingled in sympathy at Barbara's request.

The lithe woman pulled herself slightly more upright, feathering her fingers against the outside of the redhead's breasts. Watching emerald eyes flutter shut at the sensation, seeing Barbara rest her head against the back of the sofa and lick her lips, the younger woman squeezed her own eyes shut, fighting the urge to take roughly. Instead, she teased lightly with her hands and fingers as she softly -- so softly -- brushed her cheek to the valley between the older woman's breasts.

Maybe, she wondered dimly, long moments later, Barbara just somehow knew how her mouth was watering. Or, maybe the redhead had some needs of her own, she added happily when long fingers suddenly grasped the back of her head and coaxed her to one side. One hand released Helena's head and pushed her hand aside, and the young woman blinked in amazement as the redhead cradled her own breast in offering.

"Helena -- your mouth."

For her? She had to be dreaming.

The brunette looked up to find emerald eyes burning into her. She raised her eyebrows in helpless disbelief.

A beatific smile and a single word dispelled her doubts.


With one of Barbara's strong hands holding her head, fingernails scratching lightly against her scalp, the young woman surrendered and lost herself to a taste, a sensation, she'd been waiting for her entire life. Still kneading softly at the other breast, she licked and sucked, nibbled and nipped, with Barbara's softly panted murmurs -- "Yes. God, Hel. So good..." -- washing through her like a warm spring rain. Helena was distantly aware of a soft rumbling from her own chest, dimly aware of the slow undulations of her hips, but all that she truly knew was taste and texture and an overwhelming desire for this perfect, perfect moment never to end.

Eventually -- perhaps she was taking a breath, pulling back just enough to focus on the succulent flesh by her mouth -- the brunette realized that Barbara had not been -- was not -- entirely still. The older woman's hand had returned to the skin of her lower back, snaking under the waist of her sweats again, to stroke tenderly. Momentarily forgetting the feast in front of her, the young woman exhaled slowly at the sensation of a strong hand roughly grasping her hips, fingers fluttering teasingly where her cheeks met.


Blue eyes fluttered open in perplexity.

Had Barbara just made that sexy moan? Helena wasn't even doing anything...

Holy shit, the young woman blinked happily, Barbara was an ass woman. How great was that?

Lowering her head -- Red seemed to have forgotten about holding her quite so tightly to her chest -- the brunette turned her face into the older woman's lap and breathed deeply. The aroma was unmistakable. And powerful.

Reassured, Helena gave in to her own arousal as she felt a long finger dip dangerously close to the juncture of her thighs.

"Ugh. Fuck, Barbara -- "

Clenching her hands against the older woman's sides, the brunette thrust her hips back, desperate for contact. Something deep and primal urged her to push onto her hands and knees, to present her heated, aching need to the other woman. The young woman scowled darkly at the animal image and attempted to slow the near-frantic rocking of her hips. The words she heard spilling hoarsely from the older woman didn't help her effort.

"Oh, Sweetheart. You're so beautiful. I want you so much. I want to make you feel everything."

Neither did the feel of long, strong fingers pushing her apart, teasing against her.


She'd never felt anything like this.

Shifting abruptly onto her back, Helena lifted her hips slightly and spread her legs. Panting shallowly, she waited for green eyes to look down, then gently drew the other woman's hand -- still under her sweatpants -- to her lower abdomen.

"Please, Barbara..."

The brunette blinked against the pleading note in her voice, then decided that she didn't care. She needed the other woman that bad.

Waiting, poised on the razor's edge of need, the young woman tried to decipher the emotions in the redhead's face. She figured that temptation sure as hell made up a big part of them.

"Hel, I'm not sure " the response was breathy, disjointed, "this is how your, our, first time -- "

Blue eyes blinked. Several times.

Shit. Barbara wasn't going to go all 'planning mode' on her, was she? The younger woman thought that they'd sort of agreed that, sometimes, playing things by ear could work, too.

Helena couldn't have kept the frustration from her expression if she'd wanted to. Still, she tried for a modicum of humor.

"Is there some sort of rule that I don't know about, Red?"

As she observed the other woman processing her question, the brunette realized that she was always going to get a little weak-kneed and loopy at the redhead's befuddled look.

Yeah, she had it bad.


"Yeah, some sort of rule that it's over if -- when one of us...?"

The comprehension flooding across those beautiful features was lost almost immediately to a different expression, this one clear in intent. Barbara's face visibly hardened to tense, ascetic lines, and the redhead drew in a slow breath.

"No, Sweetheart, there isn't."

When she felt a long finger dip lower, the brunette bucked her hips again, hissing at the burning in her nipples, the palpable aching emptiness inside herself. She almost missed the harshly whispered questions.

"Is this what you want, Hel? Is this what you want now?"

She forced herself to focus through the dampness in her eyes and locked on startlingly intense green.

"Yes -- you. You, Barbara."

It was all she could manage, but it was enough.

And, when Helena finally, finally felt the touch she craved more than air itself, she realized -- once again -- that it was what she'd always wanted, always needed.

She forced herself to keep her eyes open, wanting to share -- to give -- this moment to the other woman. When those long fingers finally entered her and she heard her own hoarse whimper mixed with Barbara's low moan, Helena couldn't stop the tears. She bit at her lower lip and gave in to the sensation, swept away. She heard a question, registered the concern as the older woman slowed her movements, and she shook her head urgently in the negative.

God, no, she didn't want it to stop.

Fuck, no, it didn't hurt.

It was perfect. It was absolutely... everything.

Long minutes later, her own hoarse cry still ringing in her ears, the brunette lay sprawled across the older woman's lap, legs still convulsively clenched, tightly holding the hand that was cupping her tenderly. As she came back to herself, Helena realized that Barbara was gently sifting her other hand through her hair, looking a little -- well -- shell-shocked herself. Deciding that the older woman needed some circulation in her hand in order to type -- or whatever -- later, Helena relaxed her legs, smiling a little tremulously.

"Oh, Sweetie -- "

The soft exhalation accompanied the withdrawal of the other woman's hand. Watching the redhead raise her very wet fingers to her face, the brunette somehow found the energy and the coordination to capture Barbara's wrist gently and redirect those fingers to her own lips. She kept her gaze softly focused on the puzzled green eyes as she inhaled the scent -- familiar yet, finally, different. Helena delicately touched her tongue to one finger, then sucked the first two fingers into her mouth.

It was amazing, more than she'd dreamed.

Helena Kyle had never tasted herself on someone else.

Blinking rapidly, she lost her battle against tears when she saw the comprehension dawn in Barbara's face, when she heard the husky affirmation.

"Yes, Hel. That's you. On me. And, if I have any say in the matter, you'll be getting very familiar with the combination."

Chapter 30

What a wildly disparate combination of brash, open sensuality and tender innocence that had been. Or, Barbara smirked, as foreplay went, it had simply knocked everything else out of the competition.

Helena's openness, her freedom in expressing her need, her aching vulnerability and uninhibited delight, the power of her raw emotions... Sitting on the sofa, unashamedly naked from the waist up, cradling the other woman to her, the redhead simply couldn't find words.

Emotions -- and sensations -- however were in plentiful supply. At the sight of the tears spilling silently from wide blue eyes, there was no avoiding them.

As overwhelming as it all was, Barbara found herself remaining still and silent, utterly content in the moment. Content, that was, until she looked down to find bright blue eyes regarding her with disbelief... and wonder. At that point, contentment morphed fluidly into something decidedly less passive, certainly more needful.

"Let's move, Sweetie."

Floor, bed, training room mats. The older woman didn't care as long as she had room for more maneuverability.

Noticing the younger woman's puzzled but sweetly eager-to-please expression, Barbara elaborated, voice a timbre she'd never quite heard from herself.

"I believe, Helena, that I promised to show you what you do to me."

The redhead prided herself on always keeping her promises.

In a flash, the brunette was on her feet, effortlessly lifting the older woman from the couch. When the lithe woman froze, Barbara followed her gaze to her chair.

"Leave it."

Swimming against the thick erotic haze that seemed to be taking possession of her, she worked to explain even as the young woman walked slowly past the chair with obvious reluctance.

"I'm not planning on going anywhere without you for quite a while, Hel."

Had the always-surefooted Helena Kyle just stumbled?

Opting to gather a bit more evidence, the redhead lifted her head from a slender shoulder, offering a quick nip to a sharp jaw line before teasing at the other woman's ear with her lips. Fairly certain that she'd detected a trembling in the arms which were supporting her so effortlessly, she insinuated her tongue gently and traced the inside shell of a delicate ear.

Yes. Definitely a stumble.


The rumbling tone wavered between breathy petulance and teasing warning.

"Better watch that unless you want to end up on the floor. Remember what you said about the part of me that comes after 'meta'..."

Barbara considered the wisdom of the younger woman's advice, wondering if a tumble to the floor would hinder or expedite matters. Perhaps fortunately, Helena completed the short trip to the bedroom before the redhead decided to conduct some physical experiments into the question.

The older woman remained still as her partner set her ever-so-gently on the bed, piling a small mountain of pillows behind her back, stealing one -- and only one -- feathery touch against the bare skin of her back. Only after the brunette had positioned herself on the bed, kneeling by Barbara's right thigh, hands resting loosely on her still-clothed knees, did the older woman move. She unbuttoned her jeans, then -- with the slow clicking of the zipper serving as a counterpoint to her words, spoke.

"Help me off with these, Sweetie."

The absolutely wicked smile gracing gamine features, the barely discernable rocking of the younger woman's hips, the brunette's shallow breathing as she efficiently stripped Barbara's jeans and underwear all combined to ratchet the older woman's excitement to a level she'd never experienced.

Although she'd never been any sort of exhibitionist -- skin tight latex costume to the contrary -- the redhead felt absolutely no embarrassment or nervousness. The scars which humiliated her so simply didn't exist. Concerns about how she would or could respond evaporated into the ether. All that Barbara Gordon knew was this moment and her overwhelming need to give this -- herself -- to her lover.

Tangling her fingers with the young woman's, Barbara drew a slender hand to her face, ghosting kisses to each finger tip. Unable to stop herself, the redhead smiled fondly and spoke softly.

"The time has come, Helena... "

Blue eyes twinkled as the younger woman supplied the next phrase from the nonsense poem.

"...to speak of many things, Red?"


Preoccupied by the taste of the other woman's palm against her lips, the redhead barely managed to murmur a reply.

"Pr'bly be words, Hel..."

"Sea -- "

The brunette appeared to be having some problems of her own with words.

"Sealing wax?", she finally managed.

Laughing softly, Barbara regretfully released her partner's hand and promised, "Well, probably something a little ... sticky, Sweetheart."

The redhead looked up to focus on rapt blue eyes. She spoke quietly, all traces of playfulness absent.

"I believe that I told you, Helena, that all I need for satisfaction is for you to 'show up'."

At the slow nod, she continued, "And I want -- I need -- to show you how true that is. It's been a long time since I've felt anything remotely like this."

Barbara thought about that statement for a split second, then laughed almost shyly.

"I know I've never felt anything exactly like it."

Suddenly ravenous for the taste of the younger woman, the redhead stretched out to drag Helena to her with more determination than delicacy and lost herself in a long, messy kiss. When she finally released her iron hold from slender shoulders and the brunette reluctantly returned to her kneeling position, both women were breathless and slightly glassy-eyed.

Green eyes remained fixed on blue as the older woman basked in the tremors of excitement coursing through her.

My, but Helena knew how to kiss.

A cautiously expectant half smile alerted Barbara to the fact that she'd been saying something, planning something. She narrowed her eyes slightly, attempting to backtrack mentally.

"You were -- feeling something, Red...?" the brunette purred helpfully.

Awash with sensations, the older woman smiled with intent and tangled her fingers with one of Helena's hands again.

"Oh, sweet heavens, yes."

She trailed her other hand across her chest, to one aching, swollen breast, and teased an almost unbearably sensitive nipple. Increasing the pressure of her fingers slightly, aware of the slight trembling in younger woman's hand, she struggled to speak between shallow breaths.

"Just thinking of you touching me. Thinking of your mouth on me, Hel. Remembering the taste of your kisses..."

Barbara bit back a soft chuckle. The thoughts, the memories: they didn't just affect her when she was near the brunette. Remaining focused on her fourth period students' presentations about Medea this week had been challenging, to say the least. She decided that she could tell Helena about that some other time.

Releasing her nipple, she cupped the entire breast, squeezing firmly and -- almost unaware -- arching her back slightly to the pressure. Heat flowered through her upper body, and for the first time in so, so long, Barbara Gordon was positive that she felt a warm ache elsewhere.

She exhaled steadily through pursed lips before attempting to speak again.

"Since the shooting, I've had a lot of trouble getting excited, Hel."

She opened her eyes and very deliberately focused on the other woman's burning blue gaze. When she was certain that the brunette would hear her words, she spoke more precisely, more graphically.

"Trouble getting wet. But, with you Sweetie, not now -- "

Fighting to keep her gaze steady, she drew their intertwined hands down her body, utterly certain what their joined fingers would find.

Helena's sharp gasp and her sudden rocking motion validated what Barbara had already known, what her own fingers had just proven to her. She released the other woman's hand. Feeling her nipples become impossibly tighter, she stroked herself and moaned softly at the realization that she had felt something.

Sweet merciful angels, she'd actually felt something.

Barbara dragged open her eyes -- somehow, they'd squeezed themselves shut at the shock of sensation -- and raised her hand to her partner's mouth. She smiled tenderly when the brunette licked her lips in anticipation; however, instead of offering her hand to the young woman, she chose to paint those soft, lush lips with her fingers.

The young woman's low groan almost sounded like pain. The syllables whispered past trembling lips were almost undecipherable.

"Ohhh -- Fuck. Me. M-mine?"

Barbara smiled widely, wantonly, as she responded with complete sincerity. A lifetime of fierce independence vanished without a whimper.

"Yes, Sweetheart. All yours. Everything that I am."

The redhead traced her stomach and her breasts with both hands as she spoke again.

"Since the shooting, as much trouble as I've had with arousal, Hel, well, climaxing hasn't even been in the picture. But, with you Sweetie, I'm realizing that I am feeling -- a flicker here..."

Barbara insinuated one hand between her legs again, illustrating her words for the bright blue eyes tracking her every move.

"... Uhh... a flutter there. And, a hellacious encompassing feeling inside, too. For you. Because of you."

Drawing a deep breath, the older woman used her hands to spread her legs, opening herself to the decidedly hungry gaze of her lover.

"It should be impossible, Hel."

She had to pause for a moment as sensations and emotions threatened to unravel her. Focusing, she forced herself to say what she needed to.

"It should be impossible, but I'm realizing that -- with you, Sweetheart -- nothing is. I -- I feel."

Even as she lost the capacity for speech, Barbara kept her eyes fixed on the brunette, needing the connection as she stroked herself and simultaneously felt the other woman's gaze like a physical touch.

And then, there it was: the incredibly sexy transformation from cerulean blue to burning gold.

The redhead shivered as she watched the transformation through heavy-lidded eyes, as she saw the younger woman's lips pull back in a hungry smile. When she felt a slender hand come to rest lightly on her own -- covering her hand but allowing her own motions to guide -- she moaned.

In an instant, the brunette bent and Barbara felt warm breath in her ear, struggled to decipher the panting question that was almost a growl.

"May I?"

Raising her hands above her head on the pillows, the older woman breathed her answer.

"Oh, heavens, yes. Please, Helena."

A heartbeat before soft lips reached hers -- Barbara was well aware that she would very probably lose all capacity for thought when they did -- the older woman managed a request.

"Your clothes? Off. Now."

Perhaps, she formulated a moment later, it had been more of a demand than a request. However, confronted with the sight of a gloriously nude Helena Kyle, the redhead wasn't much inclined to split semantic hairs. Rather, she surrendered joyfully to the sensation of strong hands and a warm mouth mapping her body. For long minutes, the older woman writhed under feathery touches and firm pressure, under teasing nips and warm laving strokes. She drank in the sounds of the younger woman's near constant vocalizations -- rumbling purring, soft panting, profane exclamations, thickly spoken words of love and desire -- adding a few moans of her own to the chorus.

When the brunette's touches moved below her waist, Barbara realized that Helena had stopped moving, and she opened her eyes. She discovered that the younger woman was waiting, poised over her thighs.

Waiting, Barbara realized, for her to witness what she might not feel.

Helena's sweetly imploring gaze and soft whisper confirmed the older woman's assumption.

"Watch me, Barbara. Watch me loving you."

Hearing those words, the older woman was powerless to resist the passion which swept through her. Although she couldn't physically feel the reverent strokes and kisses, there was no sense of loss; she was simply too overcome with other feelings, with emotions.

Barbara felt almost lightheaded with wonder when the brunette finally brought her mouth to her, barely touching at first as she breathed in; the trembling which took possession of Helena's limbs was almost incomprehensible. When the older woman finally felt -- actually felt -- warmth and pressure against her, any fleeting concern she might have had about the distance of the sensation simply disappeared; it was simply impossible to focus on anything but the sight of golden eyes remaining locked on her face while the brunette groaned and then shuddered violently in her own climax.

For the first time in her life -- but not the last, she suspected -- Barbara Gordon completely understood what it meant to feel sexy.

Desperate, she reached for the younger woman's arms and pulled sharply.

"Come here. I need you." was all she could manage by way of explanation for her rather confused looking partner.

Fortunately, it was enough, and the redhead gasped at the sensation of the smaller woman flowing up her body to mold against her. Wasting no time, she wound her fingers into dark silk and dragged the other woman into a deep soul kiss.

Minutes later, aware of the rumbling growl softly vibrating against her chest -- perhaps to the soles of her feet -- Barbara released the dark hair and trailed her fingers down the younger woman's arm to catch a slender hand. Shivering at the sensation of teeth against the tendons in her neck, the redhead cupped Helena's hand and guided it to press firmly between her legs.

In combination with the somewhat muted pressure of the other woman's hand, Helena's sudden loud growl -- almost a snarl -- almost pushed Barbara over the edge.

A split second later, the dark woman's attempt to yank herself away and curl in on herself almost reduced the redhead to tears. Instead of giving in to her sorrow at the younger woman's fear, Barbara held her tightly and pressed a firm kiss to the top of a dark head. Helena stopped her attempts to pull away, but the tension locking her muscles was impossible to miss.

As were the agonized words, thick with unshed tears, being growled against the redhead's neck.

"I can't -- can't hurt you, Barbara..."

It was time to end this.

Barbara could not deny the urgency of her needs. She was also quite aware that her younger lover had some strong desires of her own. Furthermore, she was fully convinced that -- if Helena could only get past her fear of hurting her -- they could reach a most mutually satisfactory solution for both of them.

The older woman's response flowed past her lips almost before she realized she was speaking.

"Sweetheart, the only way you can hurt me is if you don't give me -- us -- the chance to find out what we can be together."

Still holding the brunette to her firmly with one arm, she used her other hand to coax the younger woman's head up until she could bring their lips together. However, rather than kissing the brunette, the redhead breathed -- somewhat harshly -- against those soft lips as she again captured Helena's hand and firmly settled it between her thighs.

For a full thirty seconds, she held the pose, still uncertain whether the younger woman would bolt. Only when she detected the barest lessening of tension in the highly torqued frame did she release her hold against the brunette's back to cup the dark head firmly. Still pressing the other woman's slender hand to her, she finally spoke -- voice pitched low, tone urgent.

"Remember, Hel? All of you. I want all of you."

She saw eyes that were still gold blink once slowly and continued, hearing the hoarseness creeping into her tone.

"And, I meant it. There's nothing you want that I don't. And, right now, I have some wants -- some needs of my own."

Arching her neck, she drew the other woman's face down until she felt warm breath panting softly against her throat. Barbara spoke softly, praying that her sincerity would be heard.

"I want you to take me and mark me..."

The protracted growl made the hair on the redhead's arms stand on end. Nevertheless, she remained focused. Pressing the hand between her thighs, thrusting forcefully, she searched for the exactly the right words.

"And, Helena, I want you to fuck me and fuck me -- Oh sweet heavens --"

Feeling the younger woman begin to take over the movement, acutely aware of the somewhat muted sensation of fullness beginning to overwhelm her, Barbara temporarily lost the power of speech. With a supreme effort of will, she managed to complete her entreaty.

"Uhh, Sweetheart, yes! I need everything that you are..."

Chapter 31

"Fuck, man, I need everything you've got."

The brunette ran a hand through artfully disheveled hair.

"I've gotta find a solution somehow," she continued. "I'm crazy in love but I... I can't do anything without my meta side coming out and ruining everything."

Well, she figured that pretty well summed it all up.

The young woman nervously licked her lips, remembering the blood that had been on them this morning when she awakened. Helena hated the taste, the feel, of blood in her mouth. The fact that, this time, it had been Barbara's was something that she was having a lot of trouble wrapping a mental lobe around.

"Have you tried relaxation and control techniques?"

Quashing her urge to wipe the condescending smile of the BAH counselor's bland face, the brunette answered honestly, the pain of her ongoing failure evident in her tone.

"Yeah. For years."

She paused, then continued.

"I try and try, but it's just not something I can 'control'."

Fingers making quotation marks in the air, she looked imploringly at the sweaty man.

"I... I just can't be like this any more. I need -- well, I need to be human, I guess."

Helena thought she heard a soft inhalation over her receiver but couldn't focus on the sound as the counselor -- she thought his name was Phelps -- leaned across the card table serving as his desk and patted her shoulder, making sympathetic 'tsking' noises.

"Well, you've certainly come to the right place, Miss -- ", he consulted a card, "Wayne."

The dark woman hadn't felt the need to share everything about herself with the movement.

"So many people like you," Phelps continued, "never accept that they don't have to give in to these inhuman instincts. If most of -- your type would simply exercise a little self-control..."

"I told you," Helena interrupted with a growl, beginning to lose patience. She was here for some help, not a lecture. "I've tried that road for years."

Something in her expression seemed to convince the man of her sincerity. He shuffled a few papers quickly.

"Er, yes. Yes, you did. Well, medication has been efficacious -- "

Thin brows raised towards a receding hairline at the slow, sorrowful shake of a dark head.

"Nah. My metabolism just burns it off."

Probably, Helena snorted inaudibly, the only reason she hadn't gotten interested in drugs during her hell-raising teen years.

"Electroshock, perhaps?", Mr. Phelps suggested, perhaps a trifle too eagerly.

The young woman pretended to think about that, wondering if everybody in the Born Again Human movement was as nutty as this guy. Finally, she shook her head again slowly.

"Nah. Same problem, I'm afraid."

Leaning forward smoothly, she swiftly plucked the cheap metal Cross pen from the man's hand and waved it towards a nearby socket.

"Wanna see?"

Based on the age and condition of the office, the brunette suspected that the building's wiring would take a harder hit than she might if the nervous man accepted her offer.

"Er, no. That shouldn't be necessary, Miss Wayne."

The pudgy man pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to mop at his forehead.

"I can see that you clearly have some difficult issues with your manifestation of this illness."

"Tell me about it," Helena replied laconically. She twirled the pen absently, wishing for a different -- softer -- sensation between her fingers.

Of course, she thought a bit sourly, that would probably mean losing control again, wouldn't it?

Straightening abruptly, tone businesslike, she cut to the chase.

"So, can you help me?"

Phelps sighed softly as he tucked her paperwork into a folder and spoke in an equally clipped fashion.

"Officially, I'm afraid not."

"Although, you're certainly welcome at our prayer and recovery meetings," he added hastily.

Not what she was looking for, the brunette decided with a roll of her eyes.

"What about unofficially?" she purred, batting her eyes a few times and crossing her legs.

Phelps stretched for a clear view over the card table before tugging at his frayed collar. Looking over his shoulder -- kind of unnecessary, Helena thought, in an otherwise empty office -- he lowered his voice.

"Well, we have heard about a, er, doctor of sorts who has had quite a bit of success in actually curing people like you."

Yep. A bonafide cure. That was the ticket.

Helena leaned forward again, pretty certain that her very genuine interest was apparent.

"Yeah, that's what I need. Where is this doctor?"

The older man tugged at his collar again -- the brunette thought she had an idea about how it had gotten so frayed -- and demurred, "Er, he travels a lot -- from city to city. Something of a philanthropist you know. Fortunately for you, he happens to be in New Gotham currently."

The broad smile that Mr. Phelps offered that bit of information with suggested that he might have been personally responsible for arranging the lucky coincidence.

Helena doubted it.

"How do I get an appointment with him then?"

When the man's face fell, her suspicion solidified. Phelps didn't have anything to do with this mysterious "doctor".

"Well, Miss Wayne, it's not that simple. I understand that he, er, seems to find his own patients..."

A quarter of an hour later, Helena slowly climbed to the New Gotham rooftops, pausing to admire the moonrise in the darkening sky. She guessed that clouds would cover the sky later, but, at the moment, the blanketing darkness was clear.

Softly whistling a few bars from Van Morrison's "Moondance", she sailed to another rooftop, eager to leave the dingy headquarters of the BAH behind. Moments later, her receiver snapped to life.

<"Huntress? Do you copy?">

Detecting a trace of strain in the soft voice, the dark figure abruptly ended her musical interlude and slowed to a walk. She shivered, realizing that the strain might have had something to do with Red's screaming the night before.

"I copy, Oracle. Did you get all that?"

Helena thought the soft reply sounded almost sad.

<"Yes. I did. And, the jackass couldn't even help you find this mystery doctor.">

The young woman effortlessly leapt across a twenty foot wide alley to another rooftop, suspecting that Barbara had more to say.

<"I'm sorry they wouldn't talk to me on the phone today, Huntress, that you had to hear that metaphobic load of horseshit.">

A dark brow raised at the unembellished expletive. Red must be pretty steamed.

<"I'm sorry that I had to hear it.">

The brunette sighed inaudibly. None of it had been new.

"Yeah," was all that she said.

She heard a few keys click, then smiled when she heard a tinny <Poof> noise over the comm set, followed by the partial phrase "Gooood even--". The cartoon voice terminated abruptly -- very abruptly -- to the sound of a muted curse. Something -- if her hearing was up to par -- involving the ancestors of certain software engineers.

Well, at least the older woman was moving in response to the ergo program. At some point, Helena figured that she'd need to drop the manual for the program somewhere that Red could find it.

Her consideration about which locations might not be too obvious was cut short.

<"I show you moving northeast, Huntress...?">

"Yeah. I think I have an idea where I might be able to locate the good doctor, Oracle."

There was a slow, measured inhalation from the other end of her receiver.

<"You'll be careful, Huntress?">

Reaching her destination, she spoke gently.

"Of course."

The next words she heard surprised the dark woman so that she almost tripped over some debris on the rooftop.

<"In that case, I say 'Abraca-pocus'. And, go kick some ass, Sweetheart.">

No code name?

An actual invocation of the words she'd jokingly claimed turned her into Huntress?

An enthusiastic invitation to raise some hell?

Helena felt kind of like she'd just scarfed fifteen Dr. Peppers or something. Bubbly and tingling and definitely, definitely buzzed.

Smiling, she faded into the shadows, whispering her reply.

"I'll see what I can do. Going silent now."

For almost an hour, the dark figure crouched motionless in the shadows of a ventilation shaft. Yellow eyes took in the clouds beginning to scud across the sky as she scented the night air and listened to the waning noises of the city quieting as its inhabitants returned to their homes and families at the end of the day.

Periodically, the brunette glanced at the garish billboard atop Carly Applewood's apartment. Looking at the buxom woman on display, thinking of the beautiful redhead typing quietly back at the clock tower, Helena wondered what it might be like to be able to touch the woman she loved without the fear of losing control.

True, Red had seemed pretty into things the night before -- a slightly wolfish grin briefly split gamine features -- but, still, was that the way things had to be?

The young woman thought it was just like she'd told Barbara -- about wondering about being human: it was just hard to know what you didn't know.

Helena crossed her eyes in irritation at that particularly obtuse train of thought. Fortunately, a dim scent, the soft scuff of footsteps, the ghost of a shadow alerted her that she was no longer alone and, thus, spared her further introspection.

Straightening and slipping soundlessly from the shadows, she coughed lightly, freezing the shadow's movement.

"Evening," she drawled. "Nice night for it."


The word was almost a hiss.

The dark vigilante rolled her eyes.

Honestly, did bad guys have some sort of phrase book that they had to study? Cuz it sure seemed like that particular inflection of the word was right up there in the top three "Villainous Utterances" or something, right along with "I'll get you, my pretty" and "Curses, foiled again."

The young woman took another cautious step forward, aware of the absolute quiet over her comm set receiver. Red knew that she'd made contact.

Lightly, she replied, "Yep. It's me alright. I know we haven't been introduced or anything yet..."

The shadowy figure loomed closer, and Helena fought not to gag at the decaying stench wafting from it.

"But, you want my help, don't you?"

The voice was soft, almost hypnotic. The other voice, which echoed immediately in her ear, was also soft, but instead of hypnotic, it was concerned.

<"Careful, Huntress.">

"Uh, yeah, I will... I mean, I guess I do," the brunette admitted, shaking her head slightly as she tried to separate the conversation on the roof from the one in her earpiece.

"I've got this problem -- "

The menacing figure suddenly stepped from the shadows and dramatically swirled his cape back. In an instant, he was nothing more than a small, terribly pale middle-aged man with greasy black hair.

Whoa, that ratty, oversized cape really added some FX, Helena realized with a surprised blink. The guy was smaller than she was.

Idly, she wondered if they made capes like that in leather.

Recovering her train of thought, she added, "Uh, you see, I heard that you can kind of help metas."

"Oh, that's true. I can." The small man sounded almost sad. "I can free you from your curse."

Seeing how this guy had "freed" Carly and Hillerman, the brunette wasn't so sure she was buying it. She kept her reply to the point.


"It's my gift -- and curse."

Huh? Maybe it was time to start over. Mysterious and cryptic just wasn't cutting it.

She flashed a smile and held out her hand.

"Let's try this again, okay? Hi. My name's Helena."


She rolled her eyes at the note of warning in the word even as her rooftop companion started at her friendly gesture. Slowly, he extended a gloved hand.

"Dr. Lewis Renfield, at your service."

'Renfield'? Images of Arte Johnson in 'Love At First Bite' flashed through the brunette's mind. She ignored them and went with a more obvious question.


"Ph.D. Romanian Studies."

Of course.

"So, Lew," she began as she strolled to the edge of the building and sat, swinging one leg over the edge, "what's the deal?"

The small man moved towards her and cautiously situated himself near the edge of the roof.

"I'm a meta," he said as if that explained everything.

Guessing from the sudden inhalation over the receiver, maybe it did for the redhead. Helena decided that she could use a little more clarification.

"And...?" she prompted.

Renfield sighed and leaned back on his elbows to look upward.

"My unique genetic quirk allows me to, shall we say, neutralize meta-human genetics in others. Unfortunately, while it can remove meta genes from others, it also requires them for me."

The brunette cocked her head and waited.

"I'm sure you've noticed some less-than-pleasant characteristics about me, Helena."

Opening her mouth to demur, the young woman was spared the attempt when the pale man waved a hand dismissively in her direction.

"Don't bother to deny it."

Well, okay, she'd always been a pretty rotten liar.

"My body is in a constant state of rapid degeneration," Renfield explained. "It seems that only by absorbing cellular structure from other metas can I slow the march of decay in myself."

"That, uh, sucks," the brunette offered, not unsympathetically.

"Indeed," the man chuckled bitterly. "Fortunately, wherever I go, there are always metas who need my help and, in turn, are willing to help me."

Helena considered that information for a moment.

"So, how does it work? Uh, metas helping you, you helping us?"

"Skin to skin contact is all I need to absorb a tiny amount of healthy meta DNA, enough to keep myself going for a few days or a week."

Skin to skin...?

"Uhm, like a handshake?" she inquired, really noticing the man's gloves for the first time.

Renfield smiled gently.

"That might be enough for a day or two, especially if I could master a politician's handshake. Obviously, most people simply aren't too enthusiastic about any sort of contact with me."

The small man lowered his gaze to look directly at the young woman.

"But, I don't do things that way, Helena. It's something of a personal code of mine always to ask. I'm not some sort of -- vampire or something."

The brunette hoped that the dark night hid her blush.

"Okay. What about the other part then?"

The older man's reply was brief.


Dark brows raised.

"Excuse me?"

Renfield smiled bitterly as he elaborated, "An injection of a small quantity of my blood permanently neutralizes non-human DNA."

The guy was an anti-meta meta?

<"An anti-meta meta. Fascinating.">

Distractedly, the brunette realized that, although she and Barbara had just gotten together officially, maybe they'd already been together too long. Thinking alike like some old married couple was just a little disturbing.

A soft question pulled the dark woman from thoughts about the advisability of separate vacations and such, assuming that she could ever get the older woman to take a vacation.

"My turn now, Helena. How did you know I'd be here?"

The young woman was a little proud of that bit of deductive work on her part.

"I got to thinking about last week when we, uh, met. The fact that you came here. I thought maybe you weren't just trolling for other people to help, that maybe you felt bad about Carly. When I learned you were still in town, it seemed like you might come back."

The small figure nodded thoughtfully, and Helena continued.

"So, what happened with Carly? And," she took a shot, "that other guy, Hillerman?"

Renfield stood, suddenly agitated, and the young woman tensed. She relaxed marginally when he began to pace restlessly.

"I truly don't know, Helena. In 99% of the treatments, it works wonderfully."

He stopped pacing, and the brunette shivered slightly when the man pinned her with a beseeching stare.

"You must believe me! There have literally only been a handful of times when there have been... side effects."

Blue eyes narrowed. The young vigilante thought that 'side effects' was putting it kind of mildly. Judging from the impatient snort over the comm set, Barbara probably thought so, too.

Still, the redhead had only been able to find a few other deaths matching the two recent incidents in New Gotham. Maybe the guy was on the up-and-up. And Renfield sure seemed genuinely baffled and upset about the -- side effects.

Helena exhaled and smoothly rose to her feet. Noticing the small man's almost panicked step backward, she raised her hands in a universal 'no harm intended' gesture.

"Okay. So, that's your thing then? Traveling around, trying to stay one step ahead of the grim reaper and, uh, helping out metas who don't want to be different any longer?"

Renfield shrugged minutely, accepting the young woman's assessment.

When the breeze picked up a bit, carrying the man's scent of decay across the rooftop, Helena thought for a moment, then stepped forward. She ignored the brief flash of hurt that flared in her when the older man took a fearful step back and extended her hand.

"You need a fix, man?"

"Are you sure?"

<"Are you sure about this, Huntress?">

The dark woman answered the simultaneous questions simply.


A few minutes later, she watched in amazement as Renfield pulled his glove back on, even as his physical appearance visibly improved. Sniffing cautiously, she realized that the scent of decay had almost faded entirely as well.

Fuckin' bizarre.

Straightening, the dark man twitched his cape and pulled something from his pocket. Helena watched silently as Renfield uncapped the syringe and rolled up his sleeve.

Placing the needle by a prominent vein, he asked softly, "And, now, what about you, Helena? Can I help you?"

For a moment, the young woman stood silently, considering. When she heard the slightly strained inhalation over her receiver, she made her decision.

"Yeah, Lew. I think you can."

Chapter 32

Heaven help her, Barbara thought distractedly, if Helena didn't get to the clock tower soon -- or at least check in -- she simply might lose her mind.

Her partner had switched off her comm link twelve minutes earlier, casually mentioning that she was going to "boogie" as she hummed a few bars from "Werewolves of London". The brunette's parting words -- "Gotta make a stop; I'll be there soon" -- after she'd accepted Lewis Renfield's offer of help and he'd disappeared into the night had been neither informative nor reassuring.

The older woman had literally bitten her tongue resisting her desire to demand that Helena tell her what had transpired. The rooftop conversation that she'd been privy to left little doubt about the nature of the help that had been tendered; she could only hope that her partner had acted wisely in her acceptance.

Now, without the comm link, Barbara was having some distinct concentration difficulties as she attempted to follow Dinah's enthusiastic description of the massive cast blow-out party that had followed this evening's final performance of 'Ten Little Indians'. Paging through the results from her analysis of the two New Gotham victims of Renfield's "treatments" -- while attempting to appear casual in her periodic checks of Helena's GPS signal -- she suspected that she simply was not properly appreciating the teen's veiled references to a punch-bowl spiking incident.

The sudden motion of the elevator caused green eyes to fly to the GPS screen. According to the signal, her wayward partner was... right on top of her. Or, more accurately, on her way up to her.

Barbara pushed away from the desk and turned to face the elevator as it came to a stop. A beat later, the brunette strolled out and flashed a self-satisfied smile.

"Hey, Red! Hi, Kid! What's with the welcoming party?"

The redhead pushed down her exasperation, her desire to lash out verbally... or to scold... or to nag... or to wrap the other woman in a hug and never let go.

Helena was certainly an adult -- definitely a free spirit -- someone entitled to make her own decisions, entitled not to be tracked and second-guessed every moment. And, the older woman acknowledged, 'shrewish' was certainly not a description that she particularly cared to embrace for herself.

Time to focus on the important things. It looked like no harm had been done.

Watching the brunette settle two packages -- a plastic shopping bag and a container of Chinese take-out -- on the coffee table before removing her duster, Barbara kept her voice gentle.

"Helena. How are you?"

She fought her feelings of disappointment as the dark woman took a step toward the Delphi platform before seeming to think better of it. Instead of basking in the contact she craved, Barbara could only watch -- with not insignificant amusement -- as her younger lover flashed a dark scowl at Dinah and muttered, "Peachy keen, Red. Just peachy."

Noticing the blonde's baffled blink at the look which had just been directed at her, the older woman wasn't quite sure what to say. Quite frankly, at the moment, her own feelings towards the teenager were a bit less welcoming than usual.

Perhaps, she mused, she could concoct some errand for her young ward...

She was distracted from her plotting when Helena turned back to the coffee table and reached for her packages. The redhead thought that the younger woman froze for a split second before smoothly detouring towards the kitchen.

A more cheerful response came over the sound of water jetting in the sink. Quite cognizant of just what the other woman had been in contact with so recently, the redhead wasn't particularly surprised by the Lady Macbeth-like vigor of Helena's hand-washing.

"Hey, Babs, I brought us both a little something."

The redhead nodded in response to Dinah's questioning look.

The teen reached the coffee table just as Helena returned from the kitchen, peeling a ribbon off a piece of string cheese as she leaned against the door jamb. It was impossible to miss the decidedly devilish glint that appeared in those arresting blue eyes when the teenager gestured to the container of Chinese food.

"Hey, if you're hungry, Helena, I could heat this up for you?"

Not quite sure why, the redhead opened her mouth to intercede but was cut off handily by her partner's quick response.

"Don't know if that'd be good. I was hauling it around for a while. Why don't you check on it?"

Recognizing that Helena sounded too nonchalant -- too innocent -- to be innocent, the older woman pursed her lips and waited for the fallout. She was determined to let this little exchange -- whatever it was -- run its course. She simply was not going to play referee for hormonal students all day at school and then run interference at home as well.

An indignant shriek was a good indication that the container did not contain the usual offering.

"What is thi... Oh, yuck! That's just gross, Helena!"

Strolling into the room, the brunette neatly plucked the open box from the teen and headed towards the Delphi platform.

"Well, yeah, Kid. But, this vigilante stuff can't all be about kicking ass and getting accolades, you know."

"Dinah," Barbara finally spoke, "perhaps you should sit down for a minute."

The girl was looking a bit pale.

She accepted the container and peeked inside to find a capped syringe containing several cc's of blood and a baggie holding what appeared to be skin samples. She murmured her thanks with a soft smile.

She planned to thank the younger woman more thoroughly later.

Relieved beyond measure, she still had to ask.

"Renfield's, Hel?"

The younger woman's reply was eloquence itself.

"Sure is. Figured you might be able to do your big brain thing with it."

The older woman's nod of understanding was interrupted by her partner's sudden exclamation.

"What the hell...?!"

Gamine features transformed from gentle to aggrieved in the blink of an eye, just before Helena leapt from the platform and vaulted over the couch to pounce on Dinah. Still seated on the sofa, empty shopping bag on the coffee table, the blonde was holding a can of aerosol whipped topping in one hand and a bottle of chocolate syrup in the other.

Apparently, Barbara noted, her ward hadn't quite learned her lesson about opening the packages that the brunette brought into the clock tower. It seemed that Helena was fully prepared to further educate the teen, possibly at length.

Fighting a blush as the implications behind her lover's impromptu shopping expedition clicked into place, the redhead determined to let the two younger women sort things out themselves. She turned towards the ersatz specimen container, then stopped short.

The snarled words from the other side of the couch didn't sound terribly playful.

"Who the fuck told you to go digging around in there, Kid? Do I need to rip your ears off and put them in your pockets so you can hear me kicking your ass?"

Noticing an arm raised as if preparing for a blow, the redhead started towards the couch. Dinah's shriek of laughter arrested her movement.

"I'm sorry, Hel -- "

A rather indelicately snorted giggle followed the apology.

"Please -- quit it! Stop tickling me. I said I'm sorry!"

Smiling, Barbara watched the brunette leap gracefully from the couch, a smirk painting her features.

"Yeah, well, let that be a lesson, Kid."

"Uh, okay? I shouldn't have just started digging around. I mean, look what I found in that box, right? But, what are these for, anyway? They can't have anything to do with the, uh, other stuff. Can they?"

Accompanying her words with pronounced eye-rolling, the brunette snarked, "Maybe I just wanted a freakin' sundae, Dinah, and Baskin Robbins closed while I was out pursuing justice. Okay?"

The tone gentled.

"C'mon, I'm gonna put these up while you tell me all about the party tonight."

The older woman cheerfully puzzled over the younger women's interaction as she began to process the blood sample. In the background, she was distantly aware of laughter from the kitchen.

Well, the younger women seemed to have gotten past the little incident easily enough. Heaven knew, the relationship between the two was -- the redhead searched for an adequate description -- complicated.

Then again, what wasn't complicated about the brunette? Not thirty minutes ago, Barbara had been fretting over her partner's well-being and her continued existence as a meta -- or just her continued existence. Now.. now, she was recovering her wits after a tickle fight.

She smiled fondly.

Helena was brash and profane, fearless and protective, full of attitude and swagger. At the same time, the young woman could be endearingly shy and surprisingly romantic, breath-takingly tender, and simply too sweet for words.

Sweet, indeed, Barbara smirked as the contents of the shopping bag jumped to mind. With the brunette's legendary appetite for sweets, it could be a long night.

Half an hour later, the redhead absently plucked a test tube from the centrifuge as she attempted to refocus thoughts which had progressed from visions of whipped cream and chocolate to images of honey and cream. She gave a dismayed shake of her head.

Honestly, for an English teacher, she felt that she should be able to manage symbolism that was at least slightly more subtle.

The clock tower was quiet, most of the lights dimmed. Dinah had retired to her room a short while ago, and Helena was occupied with one of her usual lengthy showers. Turning to pick up the skin samples, Barbara gave her chair an extra hop in accompaniment to the Joan Armatrading melody issuing softly from the bathroom.

I'm right on target, my aim is straight
So you're in love, I say what of it?
Things can change, there's always changes
I wanna try some rearranging, I say
Drop the pilot, try my balloon
Drop the monkey, smell my perfume
Drop the mahout, I'm the easy rider
Don't use your army to fight a losing battle
Animal, mineral, physical, spiritual
I'm the one you need, I'm the one you need

A few minutes later, the older woman labeled the final sample and tucked it into the dorm fridge near the lab equipment just as the brunette appeared, toweling her hair, clad only in boxers and a tee shirt. The young woman draped the towel around her neck and finger-combed her hair, pausing by the couch to fix the redhead with an intent stare.

Barbara shivered, wondering if this were how prey might feel.

Observing the lithe figure's approach -- movements slow and deliberate, athletically trim hips swaying a bit more than was usual for the woman -- the older woman promptly forgot the question in the face of her overwhelming desire for the younger woman simply to get to her.

Helena always had known how to make an entrance.

When the brunette finally came to a stop by the side of her chair, Barbara immediately reached up to grab the ends of the towel hanging around a slender neck. She tugged gently, pulling the other woman towards her until the brunette stopped her downward motion, holding herself firmly in place, her face perhaps twelve inches above crimson hair. Aware of the playful glint in blue eyes, the redhead smiled and tugged a bit more firmly.

Helena was naturally strong, but Barbara was fully prepared to use all of her not-inconsiderable upper body strength in the pursuit of her objective. She was spared that particular exercise when the brunette broke into a crooked grin and allowed herself to be pulled the remainder of the distance separating the two women's faces.

Barbara's lips tingled, almost seemed to burn, as that sensual mouth drew closer.

Had it only been last night -- early this last morning, actually -- that she'd felt those lips on hers? It felt like an eternity.

Making love with Helena Kyle, she'd joyfully discovered, was a completely addictive experience. Despite spending the entire night exploring almost infinite physical possibilities with the finally uninhibited and extremely energetic young woman, despite the presence of still pleasantly tender bite marks covering her throat and chest, despite an almost complete lack of sleep in the last day and a half, Barbara couldn't wait for more.

However, it would be at least a few moments more, the redhead realized a split second later as Helena averted her mouth and turned her head to brush her cheek sleekly against hers.

Even that soft contact was exquisite.

Barbara gripped the ends of the towel more tightly as warm breath whispered across her ear.

"Got it all figured out yet, Red?"

Mmmm, she was well on her way. If she could just lure the other woman's mouth from its teasing nibbling on her earlobe, coax it back to her lips...

"The samples? Anti-meta meta?"

The words were soft, purring, but the questions insistent.

The older woman blinked as she twisted enough to catch blue eyes with green.

"You," she tugged the brunette down to kneel in the chair, straddling her hips, "should be in the CIA. Their interrogation techniques have nothing on you."

A wave of tenderness washed through the redhead at the shy dip of a dark head and the half-grin which followed her words.

"But," she exhaled, "no, I haven't, Hel. I've just started analyzing the samples you got from Dr. Renfield."

Barbara paused, considering.

"Do you trust him, Helena? Do you believe what he said?"

Helena's response was instant.

"Yeah, I do, Babs. He's not like those BAH assholes. He's just a meta, trying to keep things together for himself and maybe help a few other folks in the process."

Not altogether unlike a certain beautiful woman currently sitting in her lap, the older woman noted wryly.

Steeling her courage, the redhead mentioned the elephant in the room.

"Helena, when he offered you his blood, were you -- did you consider taking it? Were you tempted?"

The brunette's features hardened fractionally, blue eyes shuttering for a moment. The tension in the lithe frame was hard to miss.

Barbara released the towel and ran her hands soothingly over the slender shoulders, up and down the strong arms.

She waited.

"I -- I don't know, Barbara. Maybe a little, but not really -- you know?"

Keeping her expression open and welcoming, the older woman smiled softly and nodded once. How could her partner not have been tempted, at least a bit?

When she continued, the brunette's voice was just a bit husky.

"It's who I am, and it's pretty cool, I guess. And,"

A cautious -- and just slightly wicked, Barbara thought -- smile flickered across the dark woman's features as she reached up. The older woman felt slender fingers gently pulling down the neck of her mock-turtleneck, tracing the purpling bite mark over her pulse point.

"-- you seem pretty okay with it."

The older woman offered what she suspected to be a wide -- and very probably -- dirty smile.

"Indeed, Hel," she purred, then became serious when the brunette spoke again.

"But, I also wonder if I'm always gonna be like that -- uh, this. I mean, what if you could use Lew's blood to make some kind of temporary blocker or something which could let metas -- me -- find out what it would be like to be hu-- normal?" Barbara considered that admission, the question. She also considered her younger partner's current unease.

"Hmmm, Sweetie. I happen to like -- really like -- super-normal."

She thought she detected a twinkle in blue eyes. Acutely aware that the brunette had yet to lower her hand, that she was -- in fact -- ever-so-lightly tracing the increasingly sensitive mark, Barbara swallowed and struggled to stay focused.

"I will see what I can find out about the anti-meta properties in Renfield's blood. At the very least, perhaps we can determine why it's fatal for some of his 'patients' and can warn him."

With that out of the way, the redhead turned her attention to matters that were rapidly becoming more pressing.

She caught blue eyes with green and smiled an invitation.

"But, for right now, Sweetie, I'm feeling like a snack. How about you? Something sweet, perhaps...?"

Long, wonderful hours later, the redhead pushed herself up on her forearms, inhaling sharply as the movement drew her breasts across the mattress and induced another eruption of tingling throughout her body.

Great grandmother's garters.

Not again.

Her body simply couldn't take it.

Ignoring the hue and cry from overcharged nerves and happy hormones, she turned onto her back, aware of the unobtrusive assistance provided by the long tan legs still tangled with hers. For a moment, she simply stared -- glassily, she suspected -- at the ceiling, not a single thought of programming algorithms or dead bodies or lesson plans running through her head.

She felt like a wet noodle. A deliciously satiated wet noodle. A deliciously satiated, terribly sticky wet noodle.

Barbara's earlier teasing words -- 'I feel like a snack' -- had certainly proven prophetic as she, in fact, had become a snack for the younger woman during the last few hours.

'Snack', hell, she snorted inaudibly, attempting not to grin dopily at the ceiling.

She'd been a veritable five-course dinner for her lover. More accurately, she smirked, six -- if she counted the back-to-back episode.

Now, the redhead was feeling decidedly peckish herself.

Managing to turn her head, Barbara drank in the sight of Helena, curled on her side next to her. The brunette had both hands clasped prayer-style between the pillow and one cheek, twinkling blue eyes fixed on the redhead. Her mouth was still ringed with chocolate, and there was a dollop of whipped cream above one dark eyebrow. The woman looked absolutely adorable.

And edible.

"C'mere," the older woman husked, heat suffusing her as the brunette enthusiastically positioned herself on top of her.

Barbara wrapped her fingers in dark silk and drew the younger woman down for a long, leisurely kiss. Tasting her own essence -- mixed with chocolate -- on the other woman, the redhead blinked back tears. In the last two nights, she'd experienced that essence -- copiously -- more than she had in the preceding seven years combined.

Lord, she loved this woman.

Dropping one hand to a firm breast, the older woman altered the tempo of her kiss, thrusting her tongue in counterpoint to her gently kneading hand, deliberately telegraphing her intentions. She nipped, then sucked gently, at Helena's lower lip, heard the quick growl, felt the sharp thrust of slim hips against her abdomen.

Oh, yes.

Since their physical relationship had begun to blossom just over a week ago, the younger woman's responsiveness -- her complete, seemingly-immediate readiness -- had proven powerfully alluring to the redhead. Tonight was no exception.

To hell with seduction. She'd get to "long and slow" next. For now, at this moment, it was her turn.

Barbara untangled her other hand from the brunette's hair and slid it between their bodies. She brushed wiry curls, briefly teased slick, silken folds. Helena's thrusting froze, and the redhead heard a softly panted mewling. Possessed by need, she hoarsely gasped her plea.

"Yes, Sweetie. God, let me..."

Further words died in her throat as the older woman felt Helena shift, a slim hand moving between them to grasp her wrist gently, but unyieldingly.

"No. Not... not now."

The voice was rough, slightly pleading.

Barbara swallowed a gasp of frustration. She blinked, twice, slowly.

Aside from the lust-filled haze still fogging her brain, she was completely at a loss.

Releasing a long, slightly unsteady, breath, the redhead kissed Helena's jaw softly. She drew both of her hands from between them, bringing them to rest on the brunette's back, rubbing lightly.


The younger woman buried her face against Barbara's shoulder and drew in a long breath.

"I kind of wanted to talk with you, ask you - uh - something."

The older woman was beginning to feel a bit alarmed; nevertheless, she hummed encouragingly.

"Nothing... uh, no big deal or anything."

Barbara placed a hand against the sharp jaw line and gently drew Helena's head up. The blue eyes were so earnest, so shy.

"Remember, Hel? Anything."

She punctuated the reassurance with a soft kiss.

It seemed to help.

The other woman exhaled noisily before flashing a cocky grin.

"Well, I know we've -- uhm, I've -- kind of just, uh, eaten..."

The redhead smiled as dark brows waggled playfully.

"...but, would you be willing... Did you mean it... That is, uh, would you like to --"

A crimson brow crept up slightly as the brunette trailed off, blushing furiously.

My goodness, what could be making the younger woman so nervous?

Considering a few of Helena's more inspired activities during the last few hours, Barbara began to wonder if there might be a serious bit of kink involved in the upcoming request.

The redhead dissected that thought for a split second, almost moaning at some of the possibilities which came to mind. She had a suspicion that anything -- absolutely anything -- that her younger lover might come up with would be acceptable to her.

She smiled encouragingly, and Helena finally spit out the rest of it.

"...to go out? You know, a candlelight dinner -- kind of like my birthday? Some swanky joint with real napkins and everything. Maybe even a play or a movie afterward so I can feel you up in the dark?"

Slightly dumbstruck, the redhead slowly blinked once, feeling the younger woman shift to settle next to her, curled tightly against her side. The brunette apparently felt that her partner's silence required further clarification of her invitation.

"Uh, with me."

Barbara blinked again as a smile took control of her face.

A date.

When they'd discussed it the week before, Barbara hadn't been entirely certain whether the term was simply substituting for other meanings.

Apparently not.

Helena Kyle wanted to go on a real date with her. How incredibly sweet was that?

"Absolutely, Helena. I'd love to show you off. Providing," the older woman lightened her tone, "that there are absolutely no dead bodies or lab specimens involved in the evening's activities."

The young woman's laugh was cut short as Barbara shifted abruptly and captured her lips for a heated kiss. When she came up for air, the redhead reiterated her acceptance.

"So, yes, Sweetheart. I'd be delighted to go out to dinner with you. Soon."

She deliberately lowered her tone as she trailed a hand down the other woman's body.

"However, I am hungry now. Care to share a snack in bed with me?"