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.

ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

E-MAIL: bcinewmexico1@yahoo.com

Chapter 1

An inescapable weight on her chest, a pressure slowly robbing her of breath, gradually drew Helena Kyle into wakefulness. Blue eyes inched open, easily penetrating the darkness of the room. Muscles which had tensed in response to a perceived threat loosened when the young woman recognized the familiar sensations surrounding her.

Soft music filtered from the entertainment unit in the corner. Helena realized that the nearly inaudible click of the CD changer switching disks had probably awakened her, and she smirked as she identified the low, sensual crooning of Barry White.

Okay, maybe not her particular choice of mood music, but, given her companion's decidedly eclectic tastes, she allowed that it was an improvement over the classical that she'd dropped off to -- she glanced at the bedside clock -- not quite an hour before.

An underlying accompaniment to the low music came from beside the young brunette.

Rather, on top of her.

Soft, rhythmic breathing emanated from the warm, pliant weight planted firmly on Helena's chest, abdomen, and right arm. Smiling indulgently -- and with no small measure of satisfaction -- at the occasional 'whuff' of a semi-snore near her shoulder, the brunette ducked her head slightly to bury her nose in the hair spilling across her shoulder.

The scent of her bedmate, coupled with the unmistakable impression of full, firm breasts spooned against her chest and upper arm, brought a flood of sensory memories from the preceding few hours, and the dark woman barely suppressed a low growl of pleasure.

Wow. That had been good.

Snugging her companion minutely closer, Helena inhaled slowly, deeply, in response to the awareness of firm nipples pressing against her. Skin prickling from that contact alone, she corrected herself.

It had been damned hot.

Explosive even.

The brunette nuzzled further into the fiery hair under her cheek and shifted her legs against the tightening in her lower abdomen. Despite her resolve not to awaken her justifiably exhausted partner, she was unable to keep her right hand from trailing down the silky expanse of the other woman's back, unable to suppress her soft gasp when her fingers -- exquisitely tuned to flesh beneath them -- experienced the whisper of the fine hairs at the base of her bedmate's spine. The shiver from that butterfly contact seemed to travel up her right arm, across her chest, and down to her other hand, raising it -- seemingly of it's own volition -- to come to rest in the lush curve of the long waist partially resting against her.

Helena's gentle movements -- her breathing, too -- stopped abruptly when her companion murmured a sleepy protest and wriggled her upper body impossibly closer. The younger woman flashed a quick Cheshire grin into the darkness of the room and permitted her hands to resume their almost imperceptible explorations.

It was the sly tap of her forefinger against her companion's waist -- coinciding with the beginning of "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" -- that seemed to do it.

"Good. God."

The voice, a slightly petulant, sleepy croak, was nevertheless warm... inviting. Helena hummed softly in response and pressed a lingering kiss to mussed red hair.

"You really are insatiable, aren't you?"

The dark woman twisted her head enough to catch slightly bleary green eyes with blue. She smiled cheekily, confident that her partner would sense the motion even if she couldn't see in the darkness.

"Incorrigible, too, I'm told."

"Well, you're certainly a corrupting influence on me."

Slender fingers punctuated the teasing rejoinder by walking up Helena's belly to the valley between her breasts. The younger woman shivered pleasurably, capturing the errant hand and drawing it to her lips.

Between gentle nips against the fingers in her grasp, she growled, "And, is that such a bad thing, Freckles?"

The fingers she'd just begun to nibble at immediately disentangled from hers, their owner swatting at Helena's shoulder.

"Watch it there. Just because I have red hair does not mean I have freckles..."

Instantly missing the heady taste that had been so close only seconds before, the brunette still refused to back down from the playfully challenging tone. Instead, she ducked under the seriously rumpled covers and shimmied down the bed until her face was even with her companion's stomach.

"You sure about that?"

She raised her voice ever-so-slightly to compensate for the muffling effect of the covers... and the flesh against her mouth as she nipped at a slightly tumescent belly, then laved the spot with her tongue.

" 'Cuz," she finished her thought, "I'm pretty sure that I found at least a couple of freckles here earlier..."

Completely unimpressed with her bedmate's half-hearted attempt to stifle the moan that her actions had engendered, Helena flowed back up under the covers and pressed a kiss to an angular shoulder. An instant later, she tangled her legs with the long limbs sprawled haphazardly against her and shifted them both so that she rested lightly on the other woman.

Effortlessly supporting herself on her forearms, the brunette insinuated her hands beneath the other woman and feathered her fingers against the smooth skin of her upper back. She rubbed small circles against sharply delineated shoulder blades, marveling -- not for the first time -- how something as common as skin over bone and muscle could inspire the rush of fire flowing through her veins. As her eyelids drooped slightly in anticipation, Helena ducked her nose into the crook of a long neck, groaning quietly as her questing mouth began to savor the musky, slightly saline scent hinting of earlier passion.

"Something on your mind?"

Although the words were laced with irony, Helena didn't miss the breathiness in their delivery. She took a moment before replying to nip at a spot near her bedmate's clavicle which she'd recently determined to be amazingly sensitive. The appreciative moan which bubbled from the redhead's chest tickled the younger woman's lips, fanning a trail of heat down to her abdomen.

The brunette lowered thick lashes over eyes she knew were no longer blue and offered a smile full of wicked promise.

"Maybe somewhere lower..."

Helena's playful purr transformed abruptly to a gasp when strong hands found her breasts, kneading firmly, with an intent just shy of painful. A sudden pinching blossomed fire throughout her torso, and the brunette growled softly and swooped down to suck feverishly at the alabaster flesh of the neck which was arched so invitingly.

Eventually, the lithe young woman brushed those artfully knowing hands from herself and began to nibble a path down a chest which was, owner's earlier protests to the contrary, lightly dusted with freckles. Since she had no problem seeing in the darkened room, Helena played a small game of connect-the-dots, from neck to sternum, lightly kissing each faint speck then using the stud in her tongue to trace to the next mark. By the time the brunette began to circle the heavy swell of more sensitive flesh, the other woman was whimpering quietly, twining her fingers in unruly dark locks in an attempt to guide.

"Please -- Suck me now..."

Unable to deny the plea, Helena gratefully pressed her lips to a diamond-hard peak. She allowed herself a pleased smile as she felt fine sheen of sweat begin to dot her body, as she experienced a rush of another type of moisture lower. The young woman distantly thought that she felt the redhead's ragged exhalation across the fine hairs on her body, and she convulsively sucked at the delicate flesh beneath her. She had no doubts about the fiery sensation of neatly manicured nails scoring her back, leaving four shallow marks trailing each side of her spine from buttocks to shoulders.

Arching her back and hissing in delight, the brunette searched for words.

"Oh, fuck, yesss..."

Under less immediate circumstances, Helena would have freely admitted that her offering had not been the soul of wit and eloquence. Fortunately, it seemed to get her point across, and those strong fingers began to knead almost punishingly at the base of the younger woman's neck. Blissfully surrendering to the minute guidance, Helena lost herself in the succulent flesh beneath her. She moved from one breast to the other with languorous deliberation, nipping and sucking to inflame, then succoring the small marks with wet strokes and cool puffs of air. All the while, she allowed her hands free reign, tracing the shell of a delicate ear, mapping striations of bone and sinew along her companion's rib cage, dipping teasingly into a shallow belly button.

In short order, both women were breathing harshly and writhing against each other with increasing urgency. Helena felt her passion, which had never fully subsided after their earlier encounter, veritably boiling through her veins and dripping down her spine. Grinding her chest roughly against the sweat-slickened pelvis beneath her, she clenched her thighs in response to the welcome pressure and swirled her tongue suggestively in the other woman's navel.

"Get up here."

The brunette ignored the hands fumbling blindly by her shoulders and squirmed lower to nose at the juncture of firm thighs. Proximity to the heady aroma ratcheted the young woman's need, and she felt wet heat swelling her center as a growl boiled in her chest. Fighting her instinct to take roughly, she focused momentarily on steadying her breathing.

Fingers tugging sharply at the hair at the base of her neck recaptured her attention.


Grudgingly moving away from the enticement of warm, wet passion, the young woman reared up, an expression akin to a snarl painting her face, and pounced down to capture welcoming lips in a deep kiss. As the kiss drew on and on, becoming an experience in and of itself, Helena distantly noted that the older woman was repositioning her own legs. The sensation of hands grasping her hips, with more determination than finesse, and moving her over an upraised thigh was too acute to miss.


The lithe figure succumbed to the delicious pressure, dropping her hips to grind briefly against the smooth skin between her legs. Feeling the slender leg beneath her slide down slightly, she fluttered her eyes open to observe the redhead's features.

Yeah -- She was ready.

Knowing that the sound would only inflame her partner, Helena didn't attempt to mute her moan of anticipation as she fluttered teasing fingers through the damp auburn curls below her. When green eyes flew open and locked on hers, the younger woman very deliberately kept their gazes locked as she brought her hand to her lips and offered a smile that was sin itself.

"You taste... you feel so fuckin' good."

She emphasized her sincerity by returning her hand to its previous position and stroking firmly.



Throbbing in anticipation, Helena watched her partner struggle to focus.

"Don't... don't just tell me."

Oh yeah. Helena was all over that request.

Maintaining a deliberate tempo with her right hand, she reached behind her with the other and repositioned the other woman's thigh, supporting it beneath her at the perfect angle. She rocked her hips slowly, methodically, against the warm flesh as she slid two fingers inside her partner.

"Yes! Yes... there-- "

The throaty contralto was a live wire to Helena's already overcharged center.

"Uh... Ba--"

Gritting her teeth against the pleasure threatening to consume her, the dark figure thrust more urgently against the redhead's leg even as she kept her strokes inside the other woman deep and steady.

Just... just the way she liked it.

Acutely aware of the increasingly jerky writhings beneath her, of the near constant moans growing in volume, of the helpless twisting of the red head on the pillow, Helena struggled to stay focused on her partner's needs. When she felt the faint fluttering and clenching against her fingers, she leaned down, bringing her mouth to that long neck which was once again arched like an offering. At the first hint of the her partner's scream, Helena bit lightly at her pulse point, then sucked fiercely, overcome when her hand was locked in a steely contraction.

Feeling the heat, the pressure, roiling within, the younger woman squeezed her eyes shut and gave in. She grunted once harshly against the flesh still in her teeth and allowed her hips to set their own pace. In no time -- and an eternity -- she found the crest and threw back her head to ride it out with one name on her lips.


Chapter 2

Well, it hadn't been Barbara, of course.

It never had been and, probably -- Helena admitted to herself during increasingly frequent bouts of stark honesty -- never would be.

All the more reason that she was thankful the name hadn't actually passed her lips the night before, no matter how close she'd come to slipping. Bad enough that she deliberately sought out look-alikes for the object of her affections for her one- or two-night trysts; no way she needed to compound her... her use of the women by calling them by someone else's name.

Sighing in disgust -- at herself, at the situation in general -- as she finished double-knotting her cross-trainer, the brunette snagged her headband and roughly tugged it over her head and down to her neck before reversing direction. Bangs corralled, she grabbed the athletic tape and brusquely wound several layers around the knuckles of her left hand, using her teeth to bite through the tape at the end.

With an irritated grunt, she lifted the end and peeled it back to smooth a wrinkle in the tape -- no need to give herself blisters on the heavy bag -- and noticed the clock in the corner. She performed the math without conscious thought: 93 hours down, less than two to go.

This time, as she began wrapping her right hand, she vocalized her irritation.

"Geez, Kyle, get a grip."

Could she be any more pathetic? Sheesh, Barbara hadn't been gone for four days, and here she was mooning over the clock and counting the minutes. Still, she thought that her older partner's absence -- some byte-head conference in Philly -- might explain a bit of her near-lapse the night before.

It was rare for the two women not to see each other -- or at least talk with each other -- every day. Given the nature of the two women's relationship, what it had been, what it had evolved into -- teacher and student, guardian and ward, mentor and protege, intensely involved friends who fought crime together -- it was inevitable. Going without the contact -- as torturous as it could sometimes be -- for almost four days had been an agony.

An agony that Helena had attempted to solace the night before -- not having to play babysitter since Dinah had spent the night at Gabby's -- in the arms of a second-rate imitation of the woman she couldn't have. While the encounter had been pleasurable -- the brunette smirked at that understatement as she hooked her Walkman to her track pants and thumbed the volume dial -- it really hadn't done anything to ease her loneliness.

Grabbing a jump rope and starting with some relatively slow double-skips, the young woman wryly acknowledged that maybe there was some truth to the old saw about sex being better when there was emotion -- love -- with it. Not like she'd know, of course.

But -- she increased her pace dramatically, noting the almost insignificant increase in her heart rate -- it also wasn't like she hadn't tried.

And tried.

Granted, those first early attempts -- especially the first -- had been pretty lame, all full of swagger and braggadocio. But, hell, she'd only been twenty -- maybe not quite sure what it all meant, but damned positive of what she wanted: Barbara Gordon, eight years her senior and -- until the year before -- her guardian.

Helena casually tossed the jump rope over her shoulder, not needing to look to know that it had hit its mark and come to rest on its peg on the training room wall. At this point, stowing her gear correctly was just habit, one ingrained from sharing living quarters for four-plus years with someone confined to a wheelchair, someone who was also a compulsive neatnik to boot.

The brunette ran through a few cursory moves on the pommel horse before allowing the momentum from a scissor kick to carry her up to the rings. Bouncing once against the cables, she began to work her upper body in earnest.

She got it. Hell, she'd gotten it then. She understood why that first awkward attempt -- more hormones and alcohol than anything -- hadn't worked. Barbara had been gracious about the clumsy pass, laughing with her about the dangers of sloe gin and even helping nurse her through the god-awful hangover the next day.

But, the next time? She still didn't know what the problem had been then.

It had been over a year later, and Helena thought she'd done a helluva lot of growing. In figuring out the depths of her feelings -- that empty, aching, gnawing need to be with Barbara. In testing the dating pool and finding it decidedly lacking. Hell, even in proving herself as an equal partner in crime-fighting with her cyber-genius mentor.

She'd shown up that night at the clock tower apartment-cum-headquarters that she still shared with Barbara with a pizza and a one long-stemmed red rose. She'd managed to lure the redhead away from her beloved Delphi super-computer and had gotten her relaxed and laughing in front of some terrifically bad video -- she thought it might have been "Starship Troopers". Then, when she'd finally screwed up her nerve and gently grasped the older woman's hand, losing herself in the verdant depths of knowing eyes, whispering how much...

Well, shit.

Helena pulled herself into a perfect iron cross position, grimacing at the strain but holding the pose as the remembered pain of that encounter washed through her again.

Barbara hadn't quite slapped her face and fled the room -- Hell, even before the shooting that had taken the use of her legs, Barbara had never been much on running from anything. But her response -- stiff and clipped, almost businesslike -- had been deadly: It -- they -- simply were not a possibility. Everything Helena had desired with desperate intensity since she'd figured it out three years before was nothing more than an empty dream.

Helena had moved out of the clock tower the next day.

It had taken months of angry solitude to come to the bitter realization that life simply wasn't worth living without the older woman in it -- in whatever capacity. This realization had been cemented by Barbara's near-suicidal attempt to take out -- single-handedly and from her chair -- a horrific creature that Helena herself had barely survived battling seven months before. The younger woman had arrived at the scene in the proverbial nick of time and found herself aghast at the quantity of blood covering her friend, at the redhead's stillness. She'd been even more horrified by her own role -- her selfishness -- in setting the chain of events into play.

That night, Helena Kyle had, quite deliberately, taken the life of an opponent for the first and only time.

She'd returned to the clock tower with a battered and barely rational Barbara and, the next day, as the redhead chafed at her recuperation, had laid it out.

'I'm sorry, Barbara -- for a lot of things. Mostly for being an ass. I probably always will be assing up; but, dammit, I love you, and I promise I'll honestly try not to hurt you ever again.'

Recognizing the opening strains of the next song over her headset, Helena dropped to the training room floor and stalked over to the heavy bag.

Lying here on the floor where you left me
I think I took too much
I'm crying here, what have you done?
I thought it would be fun
I can't stay on your life support
There's a shortage in the switch
I can't stay on your morphine
'Cause it's making me itch

Helena worked on the timing for a complicated feint-crossover-jab that Barbara had been coaching her on for the last month, adding her own twist -- an extra burst of speed at the end -- as she considered the two and a half years that had passed since her heartfelt pledge to the woman she loved.

Without any false-deception, the brunette knew that she had honestly tried to be true to her word. She'd done her best to hide her romantic feelings, channeling the emotions towards other pursuits -- fighting for justice in New Gotham, training the kid -- Dinah -- that Barbara had semi-voluntarily taken in two years ago, strengthening her friendship with the redhead. That the friendship included sympathizing with the older woman over her infrequent and abortive attempts at dating and encouraging her to keep trying had been -- was -- acid on the raw wound of Helena's feelings. Still, she did try.

The young woman gave up the pretense of concentrating on choreographed moves and simply pummeled the bag in front of her, oblivious to the growing rent in the kevlar stitching in one side.

When Barbara had started dating -- getting serious about -- a fellow faculty member from New Gotham High, it had nearly broken Helena. She thought she'd done pretty well in the 'being supportive' department; however, frankly, she did admit that she'd been a little... forced in the sincerity side of things. And, surprise, surprise: all of that bottled up emotion had to go somewhere. For the young vigilante, it had come out during sweeps one night, ending her up in front of a judge on a destruction of property charge. Ending her up with a court mandated sentence of therapy for 'anger management issues.'

So, while the object of Helena's affection had been making kissy-face with Wade -- even opening up the clock tower and their secret identities to the guy -- Helena had been stuck baring her soul to... Well, suffice to say that Dr. Harleen Quinzel -- whose alter-ego was the girlfriend of the very psychopath who had paralyzed Barbara -- had some issues of her own. Everybody knew how that had turned out.

The young woman directed her fury at the situation into a final blow that sent the heavy bag spinning on its chains and turned to grab her water bottle. Gulping deeply, she concentrated on letting go of her shame about the situation that had resulted from her sessions with the good doctor. Almost a year later and even she had come to accept that it wasn't her fault that she'd been hypnotized into attacking Barbara, that Quinzel -- Quinn -- had invaded the clock tower and murdered the man Barbara loved.

Still, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

Completely aware of the irony, the dark woman programmed her Walkman for a continuous repeat of Pink's angry lament and hit the mats for free-form gymnastics.

... I can run just as fast as I can
To the middle of nowhere
To the middle of my frustrated fears
And I swear
You're just like a pill
'Stead of making me better
You keep making me ill

Chapter 3

So caught up was she in exorcising her demons through furious floor exercises that Helena, quite uncharacteristically, was sincerely startled by the appearance of a blonde head as she glanced to one side during a triple back flip. Only a slight bobble -- not even a half-step -- on her landing bespoke the failure of the brunette's normally catlike awareness of her surroundings. Nevertheless, there was a fair measure of ire present in her expression as she turned towards the tall teenager.

"Shit, Dinah! You trying to--"

>>She's back.<<


Noting that music was still blaring through her headphones, Helena abruptly shut off the unit, blinking against the deafening silence. A split-second later, the realization that Dinah's lips had not yet moved had cerulean eyes widening in surprise.

"What did -- ?!"

"Uh, Barbara's back, getting changed--"

Setting aside the warm rush of pleasure that those words elicited, Helena waved a hand dismissively.

"I heard you the first time."

The dark head shook once in bafflement.

"Or, actually, I didn't 'hear' you, but, uh, I did?"

The grin that split the blonde's features could only be described, Helena decided, as 'shit-eating'.

"You got that? Really? Isn't that cool?!"

'Cool'? 'Creepy' was more like it. Sometimes, hanging out with a teenaged telekinetic touch-telepath -- who apparently had other developing skills -- was just too weird for words.

Weighing the possible responses, the brunette snagged her towel and began mopping sweat from her face. As she debated, another phrase danced into her head, instantly determining for her what tone to adopt for her response.

" 'Irene Cara', D? I don't think so. I just don't do Jennifer Beals."

Dropping her towel, the brunette advanced on the younger girl.

" 'Sides, leg warmers went out twenty years ago, Kid."

Helena had to give the teenager credit for not backing down in the face of her deliberately hostile approach. Of course, in the last year, the Kid had gone through a lot and faced a lot worse than one mock-angry older sister-type figure.

"Well, there had to be some reason I could sneak up on you today, Hel."

Deciding to ignore the giggled distraction, the brunette refocused on her earlier question.

"So, how do you do that, Dinah?"

The grin reappeared, and the blonde was off. Helena dropped onto a weight bench, familiar with the teen's M.O. and fully prepared for the long haul.

"Oh, yeah - that! I don't know exactly, but it's like I just sort of push a thought at someone, I think. Kind of like with my TK, you know, just focusing -- concentrating really hard on what I want to happen. But, with this, it's on what I want to say even though I don't 'say' anything--"

Quirking an eyebrow, the brunette attempted to steer a bit in the rapids of Dinah's discourse.

"How'd -- when did you find out...?"

Unfazed, seemingly not pausing to take a breath, Dinah shifted from how to when.

"Oh, just today, actually. During Quiz Bowl practice."

She paused, seeming to reconsider.

"Well, actually, I think it was last night at Gabby's? We were playing Trivial Pursuit, and you know how Gabby sucks at Entertainment and I totally rock?"

Helena nodded fractionally, quite familiar with Dinah's prowess in that particular field.

"So, last night, every time Gabby got a question that I knew the answer to, she just seemed to... get the answer I was thinking."

Apparently observing the slightly skeptical expression being directed her way, the teenager hastened to elaborate.

"Yeah, I know. At first I thought it was just coincidence... or that after all our games she was finally getting the cards memorized or something, but then I realized she was giving exactly the answers that I was thinking -- You know, saying 'S.S. Minnow' instead of 'The Minnow'? So, I started thinking about wrong answers, and she started saying those. Later last night, I sort of forgot about it, uh, when we went to sleep -- "

Well aware that the two teens had been flirting with each other for most of their senior year, Helena just bet that Dinah had had other things to think about the night before. The extra hint of pink in the blonde's pale features was a pretty good tell, too.

"...but, today during practice, when Tom was getting all hung up on some utterly basic questions, I just got exasperated with him and, uh..."

This time, the blush was impossible to miss.

"And what, D?" the brunette coaxed, fighting the beginning of a smile. As with Dinah's other powers, she suspected that a pretty good story was going to come out of the birth of this new skill.

"Uh, he, uh, blurted out the answer."

Ducking her head to catch cornflower blue eyes that were firmly fixed on the mats of the training room floor, Helena raised her eyebrows encouragingly.

"Uh, he said exactly what I was thinking."

Marshalling patience from her fairly non-existent stores, the older woman purred leadingly, "Which was...?"

" 'Rime-of-the-ancient-mariner-you-big-jackass' ", the blonde blurted in an embarrassed rush.

Having a good idea which too-pompous-for-his-own-good member of the team Tom was, Helena didn't attempt to restrain her glee.

"That's priceless, Kid! Guess you couldn't doubt that it was your doing after that, huh?"

She thought that Dinah looked like the perfect embodiment of embarrassment and pride.

"Uh, yeah, guess not. But, Mr. Phelps gave Tom detention for a week..."

"Something I'll try to correct when I get back tomorrow."

Helena almost gave herself whiplash as she snapped her head towards the door of the training room and the source of the silky voice.

Dressed in her usual workout gear and looking as amused as Helena felt about Dinah's little feat, Barbara was radiant. Ignoring a purely instinctual desire to leap into the redhead's lap and rub against her chest and purr, the brunette contented herself with a smile and a laconic wave as she fired a question at the teenager.

"So, you can put thoughts in our heads. Can you hear what we're thinking? Without, uh, touching or something?"

She wasn't sure quite how the touch telepathy thing worked, but figured it might help the blonde with her new skill.

Dinah smiled hesitantly as Barbara came to a stop by the weight bench.

"Uh, I think I can. That is, I've been picking up some random thoughts from, uh, Gabby. I think I would be easier if somebody was actually, uh, thinking at me, you know?"

Helena smiled very sweetly.

"Let me try."

Placing her fingertips dramatically by her temples and shutting her eyes, she concentrated on a message for Dinah. When she opened her eyes, the color flooding the blonde's face left no doubt that her question had been received.

"Helena, geez! Is that all you can think about?!"

The brunette bit the inside of her cheek and batted her eyes.

"Whaaat? C'mon, you have to answer. Otherwise, how will I know if you really 'heard' me?"

She ducked to one side to avoid the visual daggers being directed her way and threw a wink towards Barbara.

"Ooooh, I'm terrified, Kid. C'mon, spill."

The response was a little strangled.

"Pink, okay? They're pink!"

Risking it, Helena directed another thought towards the teen and was rewarded with a decidedly indignant stare.

"They certainly do not have 'Hello Kitty' on them. And I really have better things to do than being insulted inside my own head, if you don't mind."

With that pronouncement, as Helena guffawed and gleefully rolled off the bench, the blushing teen brushed a kiss to Barbara's cheek and exited the training room.

Aware of the somewhat frosty silence in the training room, the brunette reigned in her mirth, fighting a desire to snert indelicately and wipe play-tears from her eyes. Instead, she gracefully rolled to her feet and contritely dug her toe into the mat on the floor.

"I see that the situation on the home front is normal in my absence, Helena. Why you insist on teasing her so..."

Glancing up through thick lashes, Helena was pretty sure she detected a trace of amusement in those arresting green eyes.

"Aw, c'mon, Babs. It was pretty funny. Besides -- "

Leaning down, she effortlessly helped transfer the older woman to the mat to begin their weekly PT session.

"-- with new powers popping up all over the place, somebody has to keep the Kid from getting a swelled head."

"Hmm, perhaps, Hel. Still, it is an interesting development. Not altogether unexpected, given Dinah's other meta abilities -- "

Helena was distantly aware that Barbara was speaking as she positioned herself by the older woman's left knee and began the well-known sequence of movements; however, the sense of the words was lost on her. After almost six years of performing the exercises that helped keep the redhead's muscles from atrophying, the movements were completely routine. The feelings that roiled through Helena from touching the other woman -- even through her workout pants -- never were.

Savoring the delineation of muscles which were still firm, the younger woman realized that Barbara had asked something.

"Hu-- I'm sorry. What was that?"

She couldn't quite read the expression in the amused green eyes.

"I asked if there were any other surprises while I was gone, Sweetheart."

Caramel features flushed almost imperceptibly, warmed by the familiar endearment. Attempting to cover the reaction, the brunette shifted slightly and concentrated on the position of her hands on one slender ankle.

"Aside from the budding Svengali thing that D just showed us? Nah."

Reasonably confident that she'd regained control of herself again, Helena looked up and flashed a smile as she reached for Barbara's other leg.

"How was Geek-Con?"


Not so much in control of herself. The redhead's throaty chuckle played across the younger woman's nerves like silk and champagne. Swallowing thickly, she shifted her gaze back to her work.

"It was the Northeast Regional Tech Expo." Barbara corrected without rancor. "But, you knew that. And, it was fine, Hel."

Helena detected the briefest of pauses.

"Fun actually."

The brunette thought that the older woman sounded surprised at herself as she made the admission. For her part, Helena was thrilled to hear it. For the last nine months -- since the 'Quinn Debacle', as she thought of it -- Barbara had been way too withdrawn. Practically freakin' cloistered behind the screens of the Delphi every minute that she wasn't teaching. It had almost taken a crowbar -- coupled with reminders about accrued vacation time that was going to be forfeited -- to get the redhead out the door for this conference. And, while Helena thought that the event in question sounded a little boring -- seemed like a weekend in Paris or the Bahamas or, heck, locked up with Barbara in her bedroom would be waaaay more fun -- she figured that anything which got the technologically obsessed grey matter between Barbara's ears excited had to be a good thing.

Masking her delight at the other woman's admission, Helena inquired nonchalantly, "Fun, huh? Didja find any handy devices for us to use in the dark of night?"

She punctuated her question with a lascivious wiggle of dark eyebrows, easily noting the blush crawling up the redhead's neck.

Still, Barbara gave as good as she'd gotten.

"I don't think I ran across anything that would fill that bill for me, Hel. However, I did bring back something which might serve you in that capacity."

The brunette couldn't suppress her smile at the familiar flirtatious banter even as her stomach flip-flopped pleasurably at the thought -- however remote -- that Barbara might have thought about her... about that...

Still, she tried to keep it casual.

"Oh yeah? What's that?"

"A one hundred thousand watt mini-tazer."


Helena didn't even try to hide her wince, then joined in with the older woman's laughter.

"Okay... I guess that could light up my life or something, Red."

The brunette worked her thumbs against a firm calf muscle for a moment until a thought struck her.

"What kind of power source would I need to haul around on sweeps for that baby? 'Cuz, I just don't see flying over the rooftops with a portable generator under one arm or a two-mile extension cord trailing behind me."

She trailed off for a beat, considering other possibilities.

"Maybe you could rig up some kind of super light solar panels or something, and I could wear them like big butterfly wings; but that wouldn't work so well at ni--"

An amused voice interrupted Helena's ramblings.

"Two Double-A's, actually."


The younger woman shut her mouth and began to work on the other calf as she considered that bit of information. Science hadn't been her strongest subject in school -- Hell, after her mom was killed, nothing was a strong subject any more, unless you counted detention -- but she still just didn't see how something powered by two lil' old remote-control batteries would really pack such a punch. Maybe a tickle or a buzz, but a hundred-thousand watt 'Pow'?

Apparently reading her silence, Barbara spoke lightly. "It really does work, Sweetheart. Something about amplifying coils."

Helena threw a grin towards the other woman, just as the redhead hastily added, "And, I'll thank you not to test the unit on Dinah... Or yourself."

Ducking her head sheepishly, the brunette decided to think about how to test the gizmo later.

"So, seriously, Babs. Did you find anything interesting?"

So focused was she on keeping her expression neutral and her breathing steady as she filed away the exquisite sensations inherent in stretching Barbara's hamstring that it took Helena a full minute and a half before she realized that the redhead had not answered her question.


Even after the protracted delay, it sounded like Helena's normally fluent friend was at a loss for words.

"Perh -- I don't know."

Despite the brevity of the response, Helena knew her partner well enough to read the hesitant, slightly miserable tone; to interpret the way that normally direct green eyes remained fixed on the ceiling. It didn't happen often, but Helena had been there enough during late nights filled with chocolate chip cookie dough, fudge ripple ice cream, and a grainy copy of "Notorious".

Refusing to play to her partner's insecurities or to give into the feeling that she herself was drowning, the younger woman carefully completed the final stretch then crawled up the mat to stare directly at the woman she loved.

Smiling conspiratorially, she drawled, "Barbara Gordon! You met someone, didn't you?"

Chapter 4

Naturally, Barbara hadn't just come right out and admitted it or anything.

First, of course, Red had tried the old 'I don't know what you're talking about' shtick. But, although Helena's Don't-Bullshit-Me look wasn't nearly as good as the one that Barbara had perfected in the classroom -- and with a trouble-prone ward -- over the years, it was good enough. Faced with the look of patent disbelief that the brunette offered while helping her mentor back into her chair, Barbara had crumbled like cookies in milk.

There'd been a whole lot of blushing -- which Helena had gallantly pretended not to notice -- and then some stammering about meeting a rep from a software company or something and sharing a late drink. Then there'd been some more muttering about how it didn't mean anything, that they'd just talked algorithms and data structures and was Helena aware that a new VLA-RDBMS was just on the horizon, by the way?

Smirking at the memory, the dark woman landed silently on the balcony of the clock tower.

She'd let the matter go at that last week. Let Barbara off the hook -- honestly, how healthy could that shade of protracted blushing be for a person? -- so that she could go check the billion e-mail messages that had built up and make sure that Helena hadn't futzed up the Delphi playing Doom. But, damned if she was going to let it go altogether.

After spilling her tiny little nugget of information, the redhead had closed down the topic -- damned near closed herself off when Helena had tried to dance around it any time in the last week. Uncharacteristically bitter comments about it not meaning anything had pretty much shut the door on any digging she'd tried to do. Still, as she stared into the night sky from the balcony, the younger woman couldn't deny what it meant: as painful as it was for her personally, maybe Barbara was ready -- or getting ready -- to let herself open up again.

Having lived with the woman, having interacted intimately with her -- in every way except the one that she craved -- for the seven years since the shooting, Helena had a damned good idea about the insecurities that Barbara carried around. Dating -- hell, even thinking about dating -- just wasn't something the other woman undertook lightly. When it had seemed like things were getting serious with Wade, it had been brand new territory for Helena.

For Barbara, too, she thought. After all, until then, the older woman hadn't had a "relationship" that lasted more than a half dozen dates.

Since that fucked up night almost a year ago, Barbara hadn't shown any sign of putting herself out there -- of paying attention to anyone or caring about anybody's attention. So, while a late drink and some techno-babble might not sound like much, Helena was acutely, painfully, aware of what it might mean.

Even if Tech-Expo-Geek might not be the one, it was a start.

And, as agonizing as it was to consider, Helena was determined to do what she could to coax her mentor away from her cloak of duty... and her insecurity masked as independence. If Red had a shot at something good... Well, by god, the younger woman figured that she'd be the last one to stand in the way of it. Hell, she'd throw herself down as a bridge over whatever troubled waters were keeping Barbara from taking a chance.

Contemplating that last Quixotic sentiment, Helena quirked her lips and made a rude noise as she unlooped the handles of the plastic grocery bag from her left wrist. She noisily rustled her leather duster, then cast blue eyes towards the night sky to pick out the brightest star in Orion's belt -- the one that her mom had always told her was the special Wish-Star of hunters. A wish -- nothing too huge or elaborate: just... just for a light touch and the courage to help the woman she loved make a move towards her own happiness.

"Hiya, Red."

Helena breezed in from the balcony with a dramatic swirl of her duster. Man, that was a great coat.

"Still can't find any crime for me?"


Barbara hadn't quite jumped, but she looked a little startled. The brunette wondered if she should start knocking when she landed on the balcony -- as if that wouldn't freak her partner out.

"I thought that you'd gone..."

The redhead clearly was at a loss for how to describe Helena's after-sweeps haunts.

"... that you'd knocked off for the night?"

Plunking the grocery bag on the coffee table, the younger woman shrugged out of her coat and leapt onto the couch, effortlessly snagging the remote on her way down to the cushions.

"I have."

Helena glanced over the back of the sofa and flashed her trademark cocky grin.

" 'Starship Troopers' is on tonight, and you know that it can only be properly appreciated on your big screen."

The brunette didn't know quite what it was, but she really liked that movie.

She raised her arm and began to flick rapidly through the channels, aware of Barbara's chuckle as she powered the Delphi to standby.

"I believe it's on 217, Sweetheart."

Helena smirked, but refrained from any obvious cracks. The fact that the older woman knew which channel it was on was probably just her eidetic memory at work rather than an admission that she liked the movie, too.

"Yeah, but you never know what else might be on. Serendipity, Red. See -- here's a new WWF Smackdown..."

Aware of the distinct lack of enthusiasm in the redhead's expression as she approached, Helena continued surfing.

"Oooh, 'Young Frankenstein'! Aw, shit, it's almost over..."

Finally arriving at the proper channel, the young woman toed off her ankle boots and placed them carefully out of the way by the end of the couch. She then extended one leg and dragged the grocery bag across the coffee table with her sock-clad foot until it was close enough to grab. Digging in the bag, she pulled out a jumbo package of Malomars and a double-fudge Yoohoo.

Helena grinned sheepishly in response to the somewhat queasy expression on her partner's face and dug into the bag again to emerge with a chilled low-fat Chai latte and a small package of gingersnaps which she handed over. Her reaction to the redhead's sweet smile of thanks -- an eruption of butterflies in her abdomen -- left the younger woman wondering if she'd be able to stomach any of her own snack.

Settled in companionable silence, the two women lost themselves in the movie and their respective sugar binges. Minutes later, when Rico plugged in his mail message at boot camp -- regrettably a Dear John letter -- Helena saw an opening.

Shifting to pick up her drink, she casually inquired, "Have you heard from that Tech Expo geek yet?"

She figured that the other woman's sharp inhalation -- not to mention the warning tone in Barbara's one word response, "Helenaaa" -- should have been answer enough. But, she cheerfully admitted that she'd never been big on warnings.

"What? I'm just asking..."

This time, the non-verbal response was a little more encouraging, being only a pained -- or maybe it was exasperated -- sigh.

"As a matter of fact, I've received two e-mails," was the somewhat stilted admission.

Helena's stomach sank to the vicinity of her ankles. Fortunately she guessed, that reaction seemed to push her voice up a half-octave, making her response sound -- she hoped -- plausibly light.

"Hey, that's good, right? And, didn't you say that the company is in Wayneboro?"

Helena thought she'd seen a glossy brochure about databases, with an address from the New Gotham suburb, by the Delphi last week.

"So, there'd be no problem seeing each other, right?"

This time, the older woman's inflection was... well... non-existent. The younger woman was familiar with that completely flat tone, having heard it often enough in the year after the shooting.

"Hel, just -- drop it. It's not something that's going to happen."

Recognizing the host of emotions that the redhead was attempting to quash, to deny, with her absolute rationalism, Helena briefly flirted with the idea of doing what Barbara had asked. In the end, she couldn't do it, couldn't let her off quite that easily.

Helena hit the mute button and sat up, turning to face the older woman. Heart clenching at the redhead's quick flinch, she kept her voice soft, her words gentle.

"Why not, Barbara? You can't go hiding your light under a bushel -- or whatever -- forever."

Pointedly ignoring the almost panicked look in those expressive green eyes, the brunette swallowed her own bitterness and shame. She smiled fondly and skirted the elephant in the room.

"I know it may be -- soon, but it doesn't have to be, you know, an affair to remember or anything..."

Fluttering a hand, she sought to clarify.

"It doesn't have to be everything at once, but you could -- I dunno -- have a little fun?"

Her limited supply of courage exhausted for the moment, she sat quietly and struggled not to cry herself as she circumspectly observed her friend's tightly clenching jaw, the measured blinking against moisture pooling in emerald eyes. Finally, Barbara seemed to bring herself under control, looking up, her expression raw and honest in a way that Helena had seldom seen.

"It's -- it's not that simple for me, Helena. Unlike you, even -- before it never was. And now,"

It wasn't hard to detect the bitter tint to the slightly strangled laugh as the redhead lifted one hand, making a fist that she brought down harshly on the arm of her chair. Saddened -- and awed -- Helena watched her dearest friend draw a deep breath and assume her implacable mask.

"Well, Hel, when people learn the true extent of my... limitations,"

There was just the slightest stumble at the word. Unable to draw a breath, the brunette waited as Barbara swallowed and then finished her thought, tone brisk, almost businesslike.

"Well, let's just say that passion seems to fade with remarkable alacrity."

Aw -- Just... just fucking crap!

Helena bit back her rage and sorrow that anybody could have ever made the older woman feel that way. She fought her disbelief that anybody could ever feel that way just because...

Knowing that those emotions were the surest way to shut the other woman down, the young woman instead forced herself to draw a deep breath and then reached for Barbara's hand. Clasping it loosely, acutely aware of the almost unnatural warmth radiating from those elegant fingers, she spoke quietly and with all the sincerity in the world.

"It doesn't have to be like that, Barbara. There are a lot of people out here who see you... who see how fuckin' beautiful and smart and sexy you are. People who would just fall down to be with you and wo--"

Helena snapped her mouth shut and averted her eyes as she swallowed the rest. She knew how close she'd come to speaking what she hungered to do: fall down and worship the other woman with her hands and mouth and body; find every nerve that still fired and do whatever it took to make the redhead believe that she was as beautiful as Helena knew she was.

Peering cautiously through thick lashes, balancing on the razor's edge between terror and hope, she waited for the redhead's reaction.

Slowly, in some odd morphing amalgam of shifting time, she saw Barbara raise her other hand, felt those slender fingers brush her cheek for a hairsbreadth of a moment.

Liquid green eyes, filled with the sadness of the world, met hers -- raw and honest.

"You just can't know that, Helena."

Helena Kyle thought she would scream.

Chapter 5

She hadn't screamed.

With a patience and fortitude she frankly couldn't believe, Helena had raised Barbara's hand -- still loosely clasped in hers -- to her lips and brushed a tender kiss to the back of Barbara's knuckles. With a quick squeeze, realizing that they'd both had enough, she'd let the other woman's hand -- and the moment -- go.

Snorting inaudibly in exasperation as she waited for Dinah to finish her recon inside the main branch of the New Gotham Public Library, Helena acknowledged that there was only so much she could do. Pushing too hard was the surest way to get the redhead's back up, so -- in the last ten days -- she'd pretty much let the matter drop, contenting herself with a cheerful wink the few times she caught Barbara checking e-mail.

For her part, the redhead had stopped looking totally exasperated with the younger woman's hints and now was simply pinning her with a completely inscrutable stare. Honest to god, Helena was beginning to feel a little like a bug under the microscope.

"Whadja see?"

The brunette smirked in the darkness as Dinah jumped. As quiet as the younger girl's approach had been, Helena had heard her coming from a hundred yards away.

When the blonde opened her mouth to launch into what would undoubtedly be a lengthy description of the situation in the library, the older woman summarily pressed her hand to the girl's lips and made a soft shushing noise.

Resisting a snicker, she wondered if the whole 'shushing' thing was too cliched outside a library.

Helena ignored her charge's indignant 'Mff?' of protest and dragged her behind one of the oversized animal sculptures adorning the lawn of the library just as two police cruisers rolled to a stop by the book drop in front of the building. New Gotham's finest, right on schedule, to investigate the alarm that had triggered forty minutes ago.

<"Huntress? Canary? I show that NGPD has arrived. Are you in the clear? Did you find anything?">

"Lotta books," the brunette muttered as she removed her hand from the teenager's face and then pointedly wiped her palm on Dinah's sleeve, smiling sweetly at the blonde's frosty expression.

"You knew what those were?"

"Fuh-nee. Look who's getting a sense of humor. For your information, I do read."

>>Centerfolds don't count.<<

<"Do centerfolds count, Huntress?">

Blinking rapidly and shaking her head against the simultaneous voices in her head and over the comm set, Helena sniffed and then sulkily turned to keep an eye on the uniformed officers patrolling the grounds.

<"Seriously, did you find what triggered the alarm?">

Since her sweep of the roof and ventilation shafts hadn't turned up anything, the brunette simply remained quiet as Dinah spoke.

"We didn't see anybody, Oracle, but it was kind of weird inside. It looks like every encyclopedia has been carted off the shelves in the reference area."

"School kids overdue on a research project?"

Helena realized that her contribution might have been a trifle petulant, but, honestly, if Oracle couldn't find some real crime for her to go fight, she simply couldn't be responsible for a bit of sarcasm.

"Probably not," Dinah piped up, seemingly oblivious to the dark woman's tone. "Kids today use the internet; they don't even know what a library is."


Barbara's voice seemed carefully neutral.

<"Perhaps a fraternity prank, though. However, I think I'll cross-reference the missing volumes through the library's acquisitions system, make sure that there weren't any rare editions and such.">

The sound of rapid keystrokes filtered through Helena's earpiece. Smiling fondly at the redhead's thoroughness, she carefully directed Dinah away from the library and towards a dark alley. Once they were safely out of view, she casually scaled a fire escape to the top of a strip mall, aware that the teenager was slowly levitating herself upward behind her. As Dinah landed with a tiny oomph -- her landings were still a little shaky -- Helena checked her watch and rubbed her hands together.

"Uh, while you're letting your fingers do the walking, Oracle..."

The brunette threw a wink at Dinah as she allowed an edge of naughtiness in her tone.

"do you have anything to keep our hands occupied?"

The response was instant; the tone was decidedly arch.

<"I'd say that you'll need to keep your hands to yourself tonight, Huntress; however I'm afraid of what you could do with that suggestion.">

Grinning widely as Dinah's pale blue eyes widened to saucer-size, Helena purred, "Gimme ten minutes to get there, and I could show you."

The laugh that filtered over the transceiver was as light as Helena had heard in weeks. Warmed by the sound, she led Dinah down another fire escape and onto the street.

<"As... educational as that might be, Huntress, I think I'll forego. And, it appears that the two of you can go as well for the night. The city is simply crime-free this evening.">

Helena blew an irritated stream of air through her nostrils. New Gotham just hadn't had the same criminal... verve since they'd tied up Quinn in a big red bow. Oh well, it was only 9:30 -- which could leave her plenty of time to hit a club or two and... If she couldn't blow off steam by kicking some criminal asses, there were always other ways.

"You want me to walk you back, Kid?"

The blonde smiled and shook her head. When she spoke, her words were directed as much to the person on the other end of the comm set as they were to Helena.

"No. If it's alright, I thought I'd hop the bus and visit Ga-- some friends. I'll be in by curfew."

<"That's fine, Canary. Be careful.">

"Sure," Helena added. "Going off comms now, Oracle."

Both women -- one light and one dark -- simultaneously switched off their transceivers.

Glancing at the nearly empty street, the brunette dropped down on the bench at the bus stop.

"I'll wait with you for the bus, D."

Despite the teen's instinctive response, Helena thought she saw a flash of relief.

"I can take care of mys... Well, yeah, thanks, Hel."

Dinah positioned herself on the bench, taking care -- the brunette noted -- not to come in contact with her. The two sat in silence until headlights from the cross-town bus appeared down the street.

"So, where are you headed now, Helena?"

The lithe figure stood and stepped back from the curb as the bus pulled up. Weighing any number of possible responses, she settled on the simplest.

"Dancing, Kid."

Thirty minutes later, nursing her double Grey Goose and watching the bodies slow dancing in the artificial smoke on the dance floor, Helena swayed slightly to the melancholy lyrics spilling over the speakers and fought a wave of hopeless anger.

I may not be your best
But you know good ones
Don't come by the score
If you've got something missing
I'll help you look
You can be sure
And if you want to be alone
Or someone to share a laugh
Whatever you want to do
All you got to do is ask

Again -- for the hundredth, or thousandth?, time in the last ten days -- she considered the conversation she'd had with Barbara the week before.

It was just un-frikkin-believable.

When would the older woman believe it? If not in Helena, then in herself?

Sure, Red had made it pretty clear that she didn't feel that way about her younger partner; but, why did that mean she couldn't accept that Helena -- and, by extension, other people -- could feel that way about her?

Don't go under the sheets
Under a tree
In the rain and snow
I'll be your fireside
Come running to me
When things get out of hand
Running to me
When it's more than you can stand

Scowling, the dark woman checked the time, then neatly downed her drink. It was late enough that she figured Barbara really wasn't gonna need her to thwart crime; and, since it was her first evening off since the older woman had returned -- Barbara had been keeping her busy catching up with the usual haunts and lowlifes -- she figured it was time to kick back and relax. For right now, relaxing meant downing a sufficient quantity of hundred-proof to loosen her up; later... well, that's what the dance floor was for, right?

She raised a finger for a refill, confident that one of the well-muscled bartenders was keeping an eye on her, and raked an appraising gaze across the dance floor. So far, nobody matching her "type" -- either a buxom, redheaded woman or a tall, swarthy man -- had caught her eye, but it was only 10:30pm. Plenty of time.

Helena nodded her thanks for the refill and signed to start a tab. Twirling the ballpoint between her fingers, she leaned against the bar, idly wondering just what the hell the alphabet soup that Barbara had rattled off two weeks ago meant.

With her usual uncanny timing, she gracefully stepped to one side just in time to avoid having her toes mashed by a mousy librarian-wannabe. Blue eyes narrowed slightly in amusement, and the young woman took a long pull of her drink, waiting to see how long it would take 'Marian' to get the bartender's attention.

Absently doodling on her napkin, she refocused on her earlier train of thought.

"DB": well, that was database, right?

Taking pity on the unnoticed woman next to her, Helena raised a hand casually and smirked as two of the buff barbacks snapped to attention.

"Can one of you fellows help out the lady here?"

So, what about the "VL"-something or other...?

Oh, crap, now she was getting sucked into acronym-city.

The brunette shook her head to dispel any further thoughts along those lines and raised her glass, wondering if maybe she'd already had just a bit too much. Shrugging philosophically -- she wasn't planning to do any driving -- she sputtered when the contents hit her squarely in the face.

"Oh, shit. I'm so sorry!"

The brunette blinked against the burning in her eyes and fought back some of her more creative invective. A narrow face, framed by long brown hair and filled by almost ludicrously wide brown eyes, swam into view.

Huh. It was Marian the Librarian, looking -- well, pretty mortified for one thing. And also -- Helena narrowed her eyes suspiciously -- maybe just a little amused?

A dark brow raised as Helena found herself a little charmed, watching the pale woman fumble for her bar napkin. A split second later, reaching out to accept the offering, the brunette raised her other eyebrow in disbelief when her companion squinted her eyes and withdrew the napkin, holding within inches of her own face to peer at it.

"RDBMS? Are you involved in data storage and management?"


Oh, the doodling.

Helena shifted a bowl of pretzels to one side and grabbed the stack of napkins from behind it. Dabbing at her face and upper chest, she gave the other woman a second look. Despite her decidedly non-prepossessing appearance, there was... something about the woman that appealed to her.

Helena grinned, as much at herself as at the other woman, and extended her hand.

"Nah, I'm more into people storage and management."

The other woman -- she appeared to be in her late twenties, perhaps five or six years older than Helena -- peered at the brunette's extended hand, blinking with some befuddlement.

"I'm sorry -- I don't un-- "

Smiling indulgently, the younger woman reached down and gently grasped her companion's hand, raising and lowering their joined hands slowly.

"Hi. I'm Helena."

She grinned brightly at the shy smile that crept over the other woman's face even as she absently noted the pleasurable warmth traveling up her arm from the contact with the woman.

Man, she was such a sucker for brainiacs.

Helena's smile transformed into a puzzled quirk when her companion abruptly dropped her hand and fumbled in the pocket of her blazer. A beat later, when the woman looked up with a pair of coke-bottle glasses perched on her nose, she grinned in earnest.

Man, she was such a sucker for brainiacs in glasses.

"I'm Sabina. And, I'm so sorry about your drink. Can I make it up to y--"

As the pounding bass of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" spilled from the speakers, Helena reclaimed her companion's hand and led her towards the dance floor. Deliberately moving into the other woman's personal space, the brunette leaned close enough to make those big brown eyes cross and purred her answer.

"Yeah, Sabina. I think you can..."

Chapter 6

"Sunnuvabitch-- !"

Eyes crossing from the force of a blow to the jaw that she'd not be able to avoid, Helena began to wonder if, perhaps, she might be just a bit outnumbered. She also wondered just what had possessed her when she decided to interrupt an intimate dance with her "librarian" to answer the page from Barbara that had gotten her into this mess.

Shaking off that thought as she simultaneously shook her head to dispel the little cartoon stars and birdies circling her head -- until she'd started fighting crime in earnest, she'd always thought those were strictly the purview of Looney Tunes -- the young vigilante threw herself back into the fray.

No way fifteen garden-variety thugs were going to get the best of her.

<"What's the situation, Huntress?">

Sensing the oaf lumbering up behind her, the lithe brunette opted to ignore the silky voice in her ear for the moment. Instead, she tracked the three other goons charging from both sides. She needed to time things just right.

Three... two... one... Liftoff!

Gracefully, seemingly effortlessly, the dark figure leapt straight up -- not a high jump by her standards, only ten or twelve feet -- with an almost eerily precise timing that resulted in the four attackers running pell-mell into each other. Rotating smoothly in midair so that she descended crouched, with her hands and feet below her, she landed gracefully -- but with a bit more force than was usual for her -- on top of the pile of flailing limbs.

Smirking -- Cats always land on their feet, right? -- she cracked the skulls of the two liveliest together even as she shot out a foot, catching a third in the solar plexus and kicking him back a good twenty feet, where he sank to the ground with a pained "Ooomph". She straightened and smiled none-too-pleasantly at the fourth before knocking him into La-La Land with a blindingly fast left hook.

Now that the odds were back in her favor, the young woman took a moment to regroup, watching the remaining men as they circled her warily. She idly wondered if it was finally dawning on the men that a strategic attack -- as opposed to the previous uncoordinated attempts -- might be in order.

Apparently not.

The biggest -- a regular juggernaut of muscles -- stepped towards her from the encircling group.

Helena figured it hadn't hit them yet that they weren't dealing the average, run-of-the-mill New Gotham good citizen, then snorted softly as she raised her arms and beckoned the Great Wall of Flesh towards her with one hand.

Like any citizen of New Gotham woulda just stepped in to take on these half-assed burglars. Or, for that matter, like any semi-intelligent citizen would have been out strolling the dark alleys of the notoriously crime-ridden city after midnight.

Of course, she realized with an irritated blink, how bright was she -- giving up an almost sure thing back at the club to put herself in the middle of this?

An increasingly concerned voice interrupted her bemusement.

<"Huntress, please respond. Do you need backup?">

Neatly ducking under a ham-handed blow, the young crime fighter dropped to a crouch, extended a long leg, and spun -- sweeping the legs out from under her attacker. He landed on his backside with a surprisingly high-pitched squeal.

"Uh, little busy right now, Oracle," she managed on a growl.

Aware of the cautious approach of the remaining ten robbers, the deceptively small woman straightened and flashed a smile at the man she'd just dropped.

"Fuckin' bitch!" was the response as the big man attempted to scramble to his feet.

Shaking her head sadly -- you just couldn't be nice to some people -- the brunette smiled again and extended a hand to the man. Practically salivating in his rage, the large man lunged for the offered hand, surprise clear in his eyes when the dark woman easily jerked him upright.

The expression of surprise only grew -- becoming almost comical -- when the leather-clad crime fighter used the man's momentum to whip him into the air and swing him in a circle -- a variation of crack-the-whip which resulted in toppling each of the man's remaining cohorts. Helena finished her impromptu game by releasing her grip on her human whip and allowing him to impact the back wall of the bank where he slid bonelessly to the ground.

Smirking and whistling the final bars from "Pop Goes the Weasel", the young woman fished in the pocket of her leather duster for her ready supply of plastic riot cuffs and began restraining each of the men.

She spoke cheerfully into her comm set.

"Oracle, you copy?"

<"I'm here, Huntress. Everything okay on your end?">

"Hunky dory, Orac... Oh, shit."

Dark brows lowered in consternation as the lithe figure caught sight of her hand.

<"What's wrong, Huntress?">

The crime fighter reigned in her desire to kick one of the burglars as she grumpily used her teeth to trim off the blunted fingernail which had been broken in the altercation. Finishing her impromptu manicure, she growled menacingly at one of the men who was becoming restless and returned to her hand-cuffing activities.

<"Are you injured? Is everything under control?">


Her cyber-crime fighting companion was sounding distinctly concerned. Warmed by the tone, the young woman finished securing the final member of the gang and spoke lightly.

"Yeah, just a little boo-boo, Oracle."

Blue eyes glinted wickedly in the dim light of the alley.

"Maybe you can kiss it and make it better?"

The relief -- and amusement -- in the voice that filtered over the transceiver was impossible to miss.

<"Hmm, Huntress, I don't recall reading about that therapy in the Merck Manual, but if you feel it might be efficacious...">

The brunette swallowed thickly in response to the gentle flirtation, then husked a reply.

"Oh, yeah, Oracle. Especially for this type of injury."

<"And what type of injury is that? Don't tell me that you've managed to split your lip again?">

Kind of wishing that she had sustained a lip injury that might require the treatment in question, the brunette laughed softly and decided to push her luck a little.

"Nah, not there. I fell on my ass. Hard. You know, serious boo-boo requiring a lot of attention to make it better..."

The soft sound of typing filtering over the comm set halted abruptly at the teasingly purred words, replaced by the sound of a quick inhalation and quiet sputtering. These reactions were, almost immediately, followed by bright laughter.

<"Indeed, Huntress. But, if anyone should be kissing your ass, I'd think it might be the group you just wrapped up -- Or the police, to thank you for doing their job again.">

The voice became businesslike as the sound of sirens approached.

<"Speaking of which, NGPD is on the way to pick up your packages. Why don't you come back in for the night?">

Ascending the rusty fire escape to the roof of the bank in four lackadaisical leaps, the dark figure melded into the shadows, watching several police cruisers screech into the mouth of the alley. Satisfied that none of her "packages" would escape justice, she prowled quietly across the rooftop before sailing over another alley to the roof of an office building.

"Are you sure there's not anything else, Oracle? Something on the scanners? As long as I'm out here, you know..."

She continued her soundless journey across the rooftops of the city, enhanced hearing easily picking up the soft sounds of the mouse clicks as her partner presumably searched for other crimes for her to thwart.

<"Sorry, Huntress. Other than that little job, it's still completely dead out there tonight.">

"Crap. I mean, these goons were fun, but I'm just getting warmed up."

Aware of the whining tone creeping into her voice, the young woman decisively shut her mouth. After all, it wasn't strictly Barbara's fault that she'd pulled her out of the club in response to spotting these jokers on the bank's exterior camera just as she'd been getting decidedly chummy with Sabina. It also wasn't like her partner could just wave a magic wand and create a situation where her ass-kicking skills would be needed.

Probably well aware of the younger woman's feelings, the voice over the comm set was gentle and warmly sympathetic.

<"I know you're a little... frustrated, Huntress. But,">

A quiet laugh caressed the young woman's senses.

<"rest assured that -- this being New Gotham -- something wicked will come your way soon.">

Gamine feature twisted sharply as the dark figure snorted inaudibly.


That didn't begin to express the half of it.

"Warmed up" didn't really begin to cover it either.

Helena Kyle, the Huntress, was downright hot.

And itchy. She couldn't forget that. Her skin was almost crawling with the need for contact.

She checked her watch and realized that the clubs were closing down by now -- at least those that she'd usually be willing to go to.

Dammit. Energy to burn.

Sighing in resignation, wishing she'd drawn out her fight with the wanna-be bank robbers, Helena realized that socially acceptable outlets for her antisocial energy just weren't going to materialize. Apparently, she'd just have to take matters into her own hands. Again.

"Okay, Oracle. Guess I'll knock off for the night, head back to my place."

The silence over the tiny earpiece was almost deafening.

Finally, there was a response, quiet but implacable.

<"I'd really prefer that you stop by first, Huntress. It sounded like you took a pretty hard hit when you were dealing with those burglars, and I'd like to check you out.">

Cerulean eyes squeezed shut momentarily in frustration before the brunette dutifully changed direction, heading towards the clock tower.

Dammit, if only Barbara would check her out, would really see her, see the love and longing that had been directed her way for all these years. But, it just didn't seem to be something the older woman could -- or would -- get a grasp on.

Grimacing, the young woman landed quietly on the balcony of the clock tower and rustled her duster. Just because she was on edge, there was no reason to scare her partner with one of her notoriously cat-footed entrances. Reaching for the handle of the French doors leading inside, the brunette froze, gaze riveted on her partner as she toggled between screens of data scrolling from the Delphi.

God, the woman was so fucking gorgeous.

Enveloped by another wave of longing... need... desire, Helena grit her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut. Maybe she should just... make herself scarce for now. Seemed like too much contact with the older woman right now wasn't the best of ideas.

Eyes still tightly screwed shut, she stepped soundlessly back from the entrance to the living area and leaned against the low stone wall at the balcony's edge. She'd just take a minute... As soon as she got herself under control, she'd just breeze on in, assure her overprotective mentor that she was fine, and then get the hell out of there.

For long moments, Helena focused on her breathing -- that Zen shit that Barbara was always telling her would help with her control. She couldn't quite bring herself to 'go to a happy place', but she did lose herself in memories of her time on the dance floor with the surprisingly sensual woman at the club.

Man, you sure couldn't judge a book by it's cover: The shy woman had sure been well on the way to losing her inhibitions when Barbara's page had come through. Another song or two and Helena thought she could have --

"Everything okay, Hel?"

Blue eyes flew open at the throaty, slightly sympathetic words, and Helena barely suppressed a startled exclamation as she jerked reflexively.

"Shit, Barbara! Stalk much lately?"

The instant that the peevish words spilled from her mouth, the young woman regretted them.

After all, it wasn't like the older woman had exactly snuck up on her, and it sure wasn't Barbara's fault that Helena had been so caught up in her... meditation that she'd been uncharacteristically oblivious to her approach.

Observing the quirk of a crimson brow -- Helena wasn't sure if it signified amusement or consternation -- the brunette experienced a rush of embarrassment coupled with a flash of genuine empathy for the many times that her own soft approaches had startled her mentor from deep concentration. She stammered an apology just as Barbara spoke over a soft laugh.

"I'm sorry, Barbara... I didn't... I was just..."

"I didn't mean to startle you, Helena..."

Both women trailed off before the brunette dramatically shut her mouth, pursed her lips in a smile, and waved her hand in an airy "after you" motion. The fond smile she received was reward enough; unfortunately, it was also unneeded fuel for her barely-banked desire. As the redhead spoke, Helena exhaled slowly and moved a step or two away from her partner.

"I was saying that I'm sorry. It's so rare to catch you off guard, Sweetheart, that I suppose I never even consider the possibility."

Helena felt a shiver trail down her spine as emerald eyes regarded her appraisingly. The older woman moved closer and smiled teasingly.

"Are you sure you didn't sustain a head injury during the fight, Hel?"

Relieved that Barbara hadn't asked what she'd been thinking about -- Somehow, the brunette suspected that a half-assed excuse about contemplating sucking the strawberry filling out of frosted pop tarts wouldn't have gone over too well -- Helena shook her head in the negative and automatically sat on the stone wall, bringing her to eye level with her friend.

"Well, then. Where is this boo-boo you reported, Helena?"

The tone was light, but the older woman's expression was completely serious.

Offering a pained sigh, Helena dramatically raised her left hand and extended her index finger. She struggled not to smirk too broadly as she watched russet brows furrow in puzzlement. When confused emerald eyes sought blue, the brunette held her pose, blinking expectantly, as if the magnitude of her injury should be apparent.

Apparently bowing to the inevitable, Barbara fished her glasses from the side pocket of her chair and gently grasped the offered hand for closer inspection. Blue eyes fluttered shut momentarily at the vision of the fall of red hair covering the older woman's face, at the sensation of warm breath ghosting her fingers. A worried 'tsking' noise drew her back to the moment, and she opened her eyes to find her partner regarding her with an arch expression.

"A torn nail, Helena? Oh, dear..." The words were playful. "This may be beyond my triage capabilities..."

The brunette couldn't stop the smile creeping across her face.

Man, she loved this woman.

"Gee, Red. Ya' think we're gonna have to amputate or something?"

"Perhaps, Hel. I'll get the nail clippers."

Helena almost cracked up at the deadpan response. The redhead's next words -- and actions -- neatly removed the smile from her face.

"But, before I act too hastily, perhaps there might be merit in the therapeutic technique you suggested earlier..."

A playful blink of green eyes accompanied the teasingly thoughtful words, and Helena froze in shocked amazement when the older woman ducked her head to press a gentle kiss -- Oh, fuck, Barbara's lips were slightly parted -- to the finger she'd been examining. At the sensation of soft, soft lips... of warm, moist breath, the brunette bit back a moan as a spark of electric warmth shot from her hand directly to her core.

Seemingly oblivious to the effects of her action -- but, wasn't Barbara always?, Helena mused sourly -- the older woman straightened, becoming more businesslike.

"There we go. I don't think amputation will be necessary, Sweetheart. Now, let me take a look at your jaw."

Still disbelieving -- what would it take to buy the other woman a clue? -- the brunette watched her partner stretch up, felt finger tips slightly calloused from years of typing probe gently against her jaw. When the redhead touched the most tender spot, the resulting jolt of discomfort ratcheted the brunette's adrenaline level. She grimaced and twisted her head, immediately foiled in her attempt to escape the redhead's ministrations when Barbara cupped her chin and tugged gently, thumb brushing against her lips. Fighting to regulate her breathing, Helena obediently ducked her head as the redhead leaned closer to inspect the faint bruising.

Oh, god. The feel of that soft, warm skin against her mouth... Close enough to taste...

Inflamed by the soft contact and the nearness of the other woman, the young woman couldn't suppress a soft groan. She felt heat flooding her face at her lack of self-control, at Barbara's concerned look and soft reassurance.

"I'm sorry, Sweetie; I'm almost done."

Without thought, the brunette gently clasped the slender hand that was touching her face and turned her mouth into the palm before she spoke.

"No, it's not... it's..."

Breathing in the older woman's scent, warmed by the loving expression in melting emerald eyes which seemed so inviting, she tried. Helena really tried to explain.

"It's just... you... I..."

The slightest tilt of the other woman's head, bespeaking puzzlement... or amusement... or something Helena couldn't name, finally undid the younger woman's resolve. Awash in the sight and sound and scent and touch of the woman she'd loved so desperately for so many years, the brunette succumbed to the need to satiate one more sense.

Releasing Barbara's hand, she slowly wound her fingers into crimson hair and leaned forward. Unable to breathe, caught in the surreal vision of moonlight reflecting from curious green eyes, Helena wondered if time had stopped... if she could fall into this moment and spend her eternity here.

The older woman remained still -- shocked? the young woman distantly wondered -- as Helena slowly, tenderly, rubbed her cheek lightly against the redhead's. When she heard the tiniest hitch in the other woman's breathing, the brunette exhaled raggedly, then turned her head a fraction of an inch.


Finally, she brushed her mouth against the soft lips that had haunted her dreams for so many years.

Forcing herself to keep the contact gossamer light, the young woman parted her lips to draw in the redhead's soft murmur. Unable to hear, to comprehend, Barbara's utterance -- surprise? dismay? arousal? -- Helena nibbled gently before reaching out ever-so-slightly to taste.

Oh god --

The taste of those soft lips... Sweet and just a little spicy, something ineffably Barbara.

Oh fuck --

The feel of warm breath ghosting her lips... It radiated through the brunette, from her mouth to her chest to her inexorably pounding center.

The young woman swallowed her growl, quieted the restless shifting of her thighs, resisted her desire to deepen the contact. Instead, caught in the transcendent moment, Helena simply continued delicately touching her lips to the redhead's, eventually feeling -- rather than hearing -- Barbara's softly moaned question.


Blue eyes flew open, immediately darting away from the shining, curious green that sought her out.

Oh god.

What was she doing?

Oh fuck.

What had she done?

Chapter 7

'No harm done'.

That's what Barbara had said -- softly, so kindly -- when Helena had pulled away from the nirvana of her mouth and scrambled away. When Helena had stammered apology after apology -- 'You know how I get; I'm just so sorry, Barbara.' -- even as her body screamed at her to jump over the balcony, fly through the night, and just keep running.

Barbara had been kind, had been almost... resolute in her assurance.

'No harm done.'

Helena just wished she could be so sure.

In the last two days, the young woman had replayed the moment -- the almost-kiss -- a multitude of times. Examining what had happened, how it had happened, what might have happened. Prodding at her reaction and response, poking at Barbara's response.

And, despite all the thinking and worrying, she had to admit that she was right where she'd been two nights ago just before awkwardly departing, leaving the older woman alone on the balcony -- looking a little shell-shocked -- with one hand pressed to her lips: Helena just didn't have a fucking clue.

Grumpily thumping another rack of beer mugs on the bar and then snagging one to fill with a local microbrew, the young woman decided to cut herself a little slack. After all, after grappling with her feelings for all these years, maybe it -- that horribly awkward, embarrassing gaffe of two nights before -- was bound to happen. Especially with the whole 'dating thing' that she'd been batting around with Barbara for the last couple of weeks.

Even the strongest dam could only handle so much pressure, right?

Still, explaining it to herself wasn't helping Helena figure out what the fallout from... 'it' would be.

Running through some of the possible outcomes, the dark woman decided that it was pretty unlikely that Barbara would kick her out of her life or something. The two women just shared too much. She simply couldn't imagine a life without the other woman in it, and after more than seven years of driving each other crazy she was confident -- Okay, pretty sure -- that Barbara felt the same way.

Disappointment. Awkwardness.

Yeah. The brunette could definitely see those as outcomes. After all, Barbara had made herself clear -- freakin' crystal -- two and a half years ago. And, well, shit -- Helena had made a promise, both to the older woman and to herself.

Helena swiped a patron's credit card and started a tab as she fought the urge to cry.

After fleeing the clock tower two nights ago, she'd returned to her almost barren apartment -- after almost three years, she sometimes thought she could have managed to hang a poster or something -- to replay what had just occurred: both the delirious near-kiss and the stomach-turning shame that she was still grappling with.

In the end, she'd decided it all came back to her promise.

Despite a multitude of character flaws and bad attitude that she wore like a cloak of honor, Helena had always -- always -- tried to keep her promises. Especially those that she gave to Barbara. Failing so miserably -- especially only days after encouraging the older woman to trust and open herself up -- was going to be hard to get past.

The misery and nervousness hadn't abated much in the last two days.

Last night, after finishing the late double shift at the bar -- which she'd begged Leonard for -- Helena simply hadn't been able to muster her courage to deal with Barbara's voice in her ear during sweeps and the inevitable face-to-face that would follow sweeps. Chickening out, she'd checked in only long enough to learn that there was no major criminal activity to deal with and then had bailed for the night.

She'd debated hitting some clubs -- maybe she'd run into Marian... Sabina again -- but, in the end, that held no appeal. Restlessly pacing her darkened apartment, she'd filled the empty hours with memories of those soft lips, wondering if she'd imagined the other woman's nearly-inaudible moan and attempting to figure out how she could forget it all.

Ending this shift -- again, at her request, a double -- Helena sucked in a fortifying breath, preparing herself for the inevitable. She couldn't avoid her friend forever, and the young woman hoped that the sooner they got past her little gaffe, the sooner they could get back to hanging out, watching movies, and commiserating about -- or maybe pointedly not talking about -- their respective love lives.

Helena checked the time -- 11:30pm -- and shrugged into her leather duster. She was already wearing her usual sweeps wear: her favorite knee-high leather boots, tightly laced leather pants, and a butter-soft, form-fitting black leather shirt. She found the ensemble garnered her a certain measure of respect, both on sweeps and behind the bar. Not to mention the fact that she thought she looked pretty damned good in it.

The dark vigilante took an uncharacteristic moment to check herself in the mirror, to practice her trademark cocky grin, before she fastened the tiny comm set in place and headed out her window to the roof.

"Oracle, do you copy?"

Well, that had been encouraging. To her own ears, her voice had sounded pretty normal.

The response was immediate -- and oddly shy-sounding.

<"I copy, Huntress. Are you... available tonight?">

Heck, maybe Red was almost as nervous as she was, Helena realized. The thought loosened the band of tension encircling her chest, allowing her to sound almost as carefree as usual when she replied.

"Sure am. What's up?"

<"Nothing much is going on right now, Huntress; so, I was hoping...">

Helena vaulted to a higher rooftop, then spread her arms and tipped her head back, allowing the night breeze to blow through her. Barbara's voice, through the receiver, sounded more relaxed than it had initially -- even if it was laced with a tiny note of apology.

The young woman decided that Red probably felt bad that there weren't any asses for her partner to kick.

Smiling at the thought, the brunette permitted herself some cautious optimism that everything was -- would be -- okay.

<"... that you could run an er -- Wait a minute--">

The dark figure immediately tensed, hearing the sound of rapid-fire typing.

<"Silent alarm just went off at the shoe factory off 38th Street.">

Moving sleekly across the rooftops, Helena felt the need to ask.

"Shoe factory, Oracle? What do you think...?"

<"Hmmm, NGPD records and insurance records for the factory don't show any break-ins for the last fifteen years. I can't imagine that there would be a large store of cash. The supplies on hand are esoteric enough to be of limited interest. Some of the dyes and solvents might...">

Helena smiled fondly as her older partner continued to work through -- and discount -- a list of possible reasons for a break-in. As for herself, the young crime fighter figured that it was probably kids on a dare or something.

<"... and so, I'd have to guess that it's most likely a high school prank, Huntress.">

At that pronouncement, Helena allowed herself a broad grin as she landed silently on the factory roof. Her enhanced senses didn't pick up any unusual sounds or movements; nevertheless, she spoke almost sub vocally.

"Yeah. I'm here; going silent."

Thirty minutes later, the young woman bounded rapidly back onto the roof as New Gotham's finest finally rolled up amid sirens and flashing lights in response to the alarm that had triggered earlier. Blending into the shadows, she wished them luck in finding something more than she had: a trail of hundreds of shoes -- correction: left shoes -- all with their tongues cut out, arranged in a spiral on the warehouse floor.

Frikkin' bizarre.

Blending into the shadows, the dark figure wondered just what the kids today were huffing... or snorting... or smoking. Judging from the bemused bafflement in Barbara's voice when Helena had described everything -- and then carefully photographed the scene at her partner's request -- the cyber genius was also inclined to chalk this one up to youthful mischief.

Still observing NGPD's desultory investigative efforts, Helena rubbed her hands together, chafing for a bit of action.

"Okay, Oracle. Now that we've gotten New Gotham's own version of crop circles out of the way for tonight, do you have any real crime for me to deal with?"

<"I'm afraid not, Huntress, unless something turns up on regular grid sweep.">

Not bothering to mask her frustration, the brunette sulkily dropped into a dark alley to begin a sweep of the city at street level.

Sometimes, if there wasn't much happening, just the sight of a lone woman wandering through the midnight streets was enough to lure out an unsavory character or two.

Unfortunately, other than a long wolf whistle from some punks cruising by in a low-rider -- Helena had grudgingly decided that it wasn't enough to provoke any ass-kicking and etiquette lessons -- the sweep remained quiet.

"Sheesh, Oracle. When a helpless female in tight clothes can't even get herself mugged at 2:00a.m., I start to worry about New Gotham's reputation for crime."

<"Perhaps you need to put a bit more wiggle in your walk, Huntress.">

The cheerful reply, over a low chuckle, did a lot to alleviate the brunette's petulance. Tickled by the easy banter after the evening's cautious exchanges, she shot back a reply without pausing to reconsider as she re-ascended to the rooftops.

"Hey! Are you trying to tell me that I don't have enough swerve in my curves, Oracle?"

Barbara's laughter was bright; her voice, though, sounded kind of odd, Helena thought.

<"I think your swerve-quotient is just perfect, Huntress.">

The brunette paused at the edge of a building and exhaled soundlessly.

"Yeah, okay. Too bad that it's too subtle for the less refined elements of our fair city."

She paused, deciding that this line of banter had gone far enough.

"Is there anything else? You mentioned an errand or something."

The businesslike reply came a beat later; Helena thought that her mentor might have been checking the time.

<"No, I think the other little job can wait. But, perhaps you could run by with the shots from the shoe factory before you knock off for the night?">

Acutely aware of a teensy, weensy -- almost insignificant -- tendril of gaping terror in the pit of her stomach, the younger woman nevertheless turned towards the clock tower, putting her game face firmly in place. During the brief trip across town, she reminded herself again ... and again ... that she had to face Barbara sooner or later. And, things had gone pretty well on sweeps.

Hell, maybe the older woman was just gonna let it go... pretend that it hadn't even happened.

Clinging to that hopeful thought like a deck chair from the Titanic, the brunette swept dramatically through the balcony doors and bounded onto the Delphi platform. She pulled the microcamera from her duster and extended it with a flourish.

"Behold. I come bearing proof of crop circles and the depravity of the teenaged imagination."

A quirked brow and half-smile met the words as Barbara seemed to consider. Finally she accepted the camera and spoke softly.

"No additional proof needed for the latter, Hel. Don't forget, I'm exposed to proof of teenaged depravity on a daily basis."

Turning back toward her monitors, the redhead added, "Why don't you grab something to eat while I download these?"

Twenty-five minutes later, Helena stuffed the last of her fourth pop tart -- blueberry, unfortunately -- into her mouth and reached for the remote when she heard the older woman powering the Delphi to standby and moving down the ramp to the living area. Turning off Jerry Springer in mid-revelation, she downed the rest of her Snapple in one long swallow and sat up from her comfortable nest of cushions on the couch.

"Didja figure out what it all meant, Red? Should we be on the lookout for cow abductions or anything?"

The brunette automatically accepted the microcamera that the older woman held out to her. She noticed the bemused shake of red hair from the corner of her eye as she tucked the unit into one of the capacious pockets of her coat, draped over the back of the sofa.

"You've got me on this one, Helena. I'm running pattern matches against some of the likely databases -- NASA, SETI, FBI..."

"Well, if anyone can figure it out, Barbara, it's you."

The younger woman scootched forward in preparation for her departure but drew up short when a long hand came to rest on her forearm. She glanced up with a puzzled half-smile as the redhead rotated her chair a few more degrees, placing their knees at right angles.


Observing the expression on the older woman's face -- did Red look a little nervous? -- Helena thought she felt something cold and unpleasant trickle down her spine.

"Do you have a minute before you go, Helena? I'd like to talk with you."

At the soft, hesitant tone, the brunette became certain that she felt something unpleasant trickling down her spine. Still, she decided to try to keep it light.

"Sure, Red. What's up? Did you find out where that group of BDU's managed to put together enough of a brain to plan that half-assed bank job the other night?"

Some of the tension seemed to leave the older woman's frame as she laughed.

"Actually, I did pick up something interesting that I may need you to check about the job our Big, Dumb, and Uglies were trying to pull."

Both women smiled as the familiar description crossed Barbara's lips. Helena's smile grew a bit strained as her partner's tone grew serious.

"But, that can wait. Right now, Helena, I'd like to talk with you about that night."

A tendril of terror wormed through the brunette's chest, and she realized that -- at that moment -- she would have cheerfully given up all of her meta abilities for the power to teleport... just once. She concentrated on the possibility for a moment -- didn't hurt to try -- before drawing in a breath and sucking it up.

Hell, she hadn't honestly expected the redhead to let it go without some sort of dissection, right?

"Barbara, I-- I--"

Hearing the quaver in her own voice, Helena focused on her knees, swallowed, and tried again.

"I'm really sorry about that. Really, really sorry. I just--"

Blue eyes blinked rapidly then cautiously peered up when two slender fingers briefly came to rest on her lips, silencing the awkward apology.

"Hel? Sweetheart? I told you: it's okay. I'm... we're fine."

The brunette felt her forehead wrinkle slightly as she carefully observed her friend's face. Looked like there was a little amusement there, definitely nervousness, but nothing suggesting that Barbara was upset.

"Okaaaay. So...?"

Barbara spoke softly, and again Helena heard that odd reticence in her tone.

"Well, it does have to do with the other night. The, er, it... I've been doing some thinking."

At that stilted admission, Helena relaxed marginally. After all, as long as the redhead wasn't thinking about cooking or something, it probably wasn't too bad.

Carefully observing the older woman -- How red could she get? -- she reached out and began to pick at the label of her drink bottle. The sour realization that she was using the finger that had been "injured" on the night in question caused her to roll her eyes and slump back against the cushions of the couch.

"I don't know why this is so difficult, Helena. After all, nobody knows me better than you do."

Not sure what was making her friend so uncomfortable but aching for her palpable anxiety, the brunette leaned forward and gingerly clasped the older woman's left hand in her right. She spoke over a hesitant smile.

"Hey, Red. It's just me; you can tell me anything."

The sweet smile, so filled with love, that Helena received stripped the last of her fear from her. Whatever it was that Barbara wanted to say, the younger woman was determined to hear it out.

"-- true, Helena. And, you've been right when you've accused me of hiding, of being afraid -- "

When the redhead raised a hand to forestall Helena's automatic attempt to apologize or explain, the brunette snapped her mouth shut and allowed her mentor to continue.

"... of believing that nobody would-- or that I couldn't respond... "

When the older woman stammered to a halt, face as deep a red as Helena could ever remember seeing it, the younger woman decided to step in. Voice thick with tears unshed for the fears that this strong, beautiful woman was laying bare, the young woman could only manage a growl.

"But that's bullshit, right, Babs?"

It was enough.

Green eyes sparked briefly as the older woman straightened.

"Exactly, Helena. I know that I tend to be one of the duller knives in the emotional drawer -- "

The brunette couldn't hide her smirk, an expression which she quickly transformed into an expectant smile in response to an arched red brow.

"... but, I do believe... That is, Hel, I think I've detected, er, picked up..."

The redhead sputtered to a stop, impossibly, blushing harder.

Ducking down slightly, the younger woman caught -- and held -- green eyes with blue.

"Out with it, Barbara."

Looking almost as miserable as Helena had been feeling for the last two days, the older woman spoke quietly.

"Hel, I'd like... I don't know how to say this, and it certainly could be awkward..."

Helena squeezed those long fingers reassuringly and spoke lightly.

"C'mon Babs, what could you possibly say to embarrass me?"

The younger woman's patented eyebrow waggle did draw a laugh, but Helena thought it sounded pretty strangled.

What the fuck was it that was so hard for Barbara to find words for?

Watching those brilliant green eyes as they traced her face, Helena suddenly experienced a frisson of awareness, a giddy, almost vertigo-inducing flutter in the pit of her stomach. It was, she thought, a little like the first time she'd stood on the edge of a forty story building, readying herself to leap. Only then... then she'd been young, cocksure, nothing to lose.

Now, though... Well, Helena knew she had a helluva lot to lose.

She held her breath as the older woman spoke quietly.

"Helena, two nights ago made me realize... That is... I'd like... Or, rather, would you, er, be interested...?"

Helena bit the inside of her lip as the redhead trailed off, looking at her imploringly. Looked like the rest was in her hands.

Shutting her eyes for a moment, praying with every fiber of her being that she was reading this right, Helena raised the other woman's hand to her mouth and pressed a lingering kiss to her fingers. Looking directly through her lashes at the woman she loved, the young woman spoke softly.

"In this, Barbara?"

Chapter 8

It felt like an eternity, hovering on the brink, lips resting lightly on Barbara's knuckles, eyes trained on the other woman's face. During that excruciating eon, Helena thought that the redhead's elegant features seemed fixed -- frozen -- as if Barbara were afraid to reveal her reaction... reveal herself.

Knowing the older woman as she did -- what an absolute lack of affect usually meant -- the brunette slowly lowered her lashes, not quite shutting her eyes but nevertheless attempting to shutter away the raw hope she knew had been so bright only moments before.


So overcome with burgeoning self-recrimination was she and so softly spoken was the word that it took Helena a full ten seconds to process, then comprehend, the redhead's soft answer. Startled blue eyes flew open, and the dark head jerked, bringing Helena's chin to rest against the sharp knuckles still in her grasp.

This time, needing to be absolutely certain that she was correctly understanding her normally fluent partner's cryptic offering, Helena could only manage a helpless lift of her eyebrows and a puzzled quirk of her lips.

It wasn't quite a half-smile, but she gave herself points for effort.

Barbara's answering smile was full and warm.

"Yes, Sweetheart. That is what I meant."

Replaying their awkward conversation in reverse, the brunette raised her head as her brows smoothed over twinkling eyes. Hesitation and puzzlement transformed to a full smile as she came to eye level with the older woman, and Helena finally spoke for the first time since she'd braved her question a lifetime ago.

"Then, yes. Yes, I would, Barbara."

'Interested' didn't begin to express the younger woman's level of enthusiasm for Barbara's... proposition; however, she figured that she could clear that up for the redhead later. Nonverbally.

Watching the older woman seem to sag in relief -- Helena had to admit that she understood the feeling -- even as a bright laugh spilled from full red lips, the brunette lowered her head again, turning Barbara's hand in hers and bringing it to her mouth. Reverently parting her lips, she finally, freely, drew in the other woman's scent before placing her mouth to the redhead's palm. Pressing lightly, she touched her tongue briefly to warm skin -- eyes fluttering closed at the coveted taste -- then suctioned gently.

A beat later, the young woman decided that she was glad that she hadn't been able to trade her meta abilities for teleportation skills. After all, she suspected that someone without her enhanced hearing would have missed the tiny sound -- not quite a groan -- that slipped past the redhead's years of iron-clad control. She was, however, damned sure that nobody could have missed the slight tremor in the hand which was pressed to her lips.

Disengaging reluctantly, Helena straightened and turned toward the older woman. She stretched forward, resting her forehead against Barbara's, unable to restrain the huge smile that seemed to be taking control of her face.

Since she wanted to be absolutely certain that she'd been clear, she spoke again, her voice a bit deeper than she'd expected.

"Fuck yes, Barbara."

The older woman's answering grin was all the acknowledgement that Helena needed. She could wait no longer.

Eyes fluttering shut, nostrils flaring in anticipation, she tilted her jaw just enough to brush --

Barbara's fingers? Fingers which had raised and come between her and the object of her desire.


Red's expression was gentle. She wasn't pulling away or anything. Helena figured that was a good thing, so she held her pose -- forehead to forehead, nose to nose, her readiness vibrating through her limbs as a faint trembling.

"Helena, it's simply -- "

The older woman's tone was decidedly husky.

"I love you, and you're the most important person in my life. I... I don't want to end up with any problems between us, Sweetheart."

Helena allowed herself a moment, blinking twice in puzzlement, as she wondered how Barbara could... Then, it hit her and a laugh washed through her.

Of course her digitally obsessive partner was gonna need to cross all the T's and dot all the I's. Idly, Helena wondered if Barbara had a pre-nup tucked in the pocket of her chair.

"No way, Red. I love you too much for that to happen."

Helena didn't need to sign anything. This was a promise she'd been waiting for years to make.

Struggling to focus at such close range, the brunette saw green eyes go cloudy as Barbara weighed her response. A split-second later, they cleared... and danced.

"Thank god -- "

Helena shivered at the throaty tone.

She gasped at the next words.

"Now, kiss me, Hel."

A tremor, another shiver -- hell, it might have been a frikkin' earthquake -- ran through the younger woman, and she smiled again. Shifting her head to one side, she wondered if she should just get the expression tattooed across her face. A moment later, when her lips finally brushed against that lush mouth, she realized that inks and needles wouldn't be necessary: that smile was gonna be fixed there to stay.

"Ohhhh, fu---"

Helena couldn't restrain her hoarse exhalation when their mouths finally came into contact.

The shape... the pressure... the satin touch... They were all more than she'd ever experienced, better than she'd dare dream.

Her jaw dropped slightly behind her closed lips, a yawing hunger licking at the back of her throat, as she continued to brush, then nibble gently at the other woman's soft mouth. When she heard Barbara's soft whisper -- "Dear heavens, Helena..." -- the brunette's jaw trembled briefly as she pulled back and parted her lips to draw in the other woman's sweet breath.

A warm hand cupped her ear; long fingers wound into the hair on the side of her head, nails scratching softly at her scalp. Upper lip drawing back in a pleased snarl, the young woman twisted her head down, tenderly raking the redhead's jaw with teeth and lips as a moist kiss simultaneously warmed her temple.

"Sweetheart-- "

Again, it was only a whisper, but the soft imprecation fanned the flames tickling the brunette's belly. She pushed herself closer to the edge of the couch, desperate for more contact, and rested shaking hands on the redhead's shoulders.

"God, Barbara..."

Lowering her mouth to the long neck arched before her, Helena squeezed her eyes and drew a long breath through flared nostrils.

Time for a little... control. Just a little self-control.

Clenching her teeth, aware that the trembling in her jaw was a complete instinct driven by her giddy, consuming desire for the other woman, she forced herself to slow down. This... this amazing, unbelievable moment was something Helena had wanted too long, and Barbara was too important. No way she was going to rush things.

Helena nibbled and sucked tenderly at the redhead's soft throat and angular jaw, drinking in the other woman's quietly panted sighs and rasped murmurs. She licked at a pounding pulse point, easily scenting the blood rushing beneath skin, and felt herself swelling and throbbing in sympathy to the redhead's deep groan. She arched her shoulders in response to fingers sifting though her hair and whispered her prayer of joy as her lips danced towards her lover's ear.


In a heartbeat, strong hands clasped both sides of the brunette's jaw and coaxed her face back up. A slightly calloused thumb roughly stroked her lips, and blue eyes flew open. Looking up, the young woman found herself impaled by the raw want in verdant eyes. All air seemed to leave her body in a rush, and Helena felt her eyes start to hood, the reaction to the older woman's hawk like gaze one of pure biology.

Regaining some control of her nervous system, the brunette cautiously licked very dry lips, then snaked out her tongue to capture that teasing digit and suck it between her teeth.

"Oh, yeah -- Barbara..."

The feel of the other woman's thumb between her lips, against her tongue, almost caused the young woman to lose control, hinting as it did of the fulfillment she craved, of the chance -- finally -- to take the other woman inside herself. Groaning, she raised her eyes to the other woman's face and smiled wickedly, then danced her tongue across the skin in her mouth and squeezed her thighs together against the pounding in her center that had just increased ten-fold.

Helena's smile was short-lived when the older woman summarily slid her thumb free, tugging the brunette to her even as she leaned forward.

"Helena, please!"

Capitulating to the plea, the young woman managed to shift herself into Barbara's chair, straddling the other woman's thighs, just as their mouths crashed together. She moaned, clenching the muscles of her pelvis, and dug her fingers into the arms of the chair when a questing tongue teased at her mouth. Helena parted her lips on a sigh and felt her muscles -- from her back to her stomach, down her arms to her fingers, across her thighs and down to her toes -- begin to quiver in ecstasy.

For possibly the first time in her life, Helena let go of her ingrained habit of taking charge. Instead, she surrendered to Barbara's pace, to knowing thrusts and teasing strokes that mapped her and shaped her as nothing ever had. She opened, drinking in the heady taste as she would a sacrament, and felt everything within her begin to swell and contract at the same time. As Barbara's hands on her back pulled her closer, the young woman arched into the contact and tried not to cry from the sheer joy of it all.

God, it felt so fuckin' good -- and amazing -- and right.

Still drinking in that impossible, unfathomable kiss, Helena mastered the trembling in her arms and raised her hands to touch the redhead's face. Tender strokes against the smooth plane of the other woman's cheek left her dizzy as Helena's fingers thrummed to the motion of Barbara's jaw as it moved in hungry concert to her teasing tongue. Gentle combing through red silk stuttered and jerked when warm hands moved suddenly from Helena's back to her chest, kneading roughly just above the swell of her breasts then dropping to her belly.

Helena gasped, fighting for breath, when the older woman broke the kiss and brought her mouth to rest against her cheek. She managed to draw her upper lip back in the semblance of a smile at the other woman's ragged breathing, then groaned -- low and thick -- when knowing fingers began to drag the hem of her shirt from her waistband.

"My god, Helena. I need to touch you."

The whisper of warm breath across the fine down on her cheek and the flutter of long fingers against the tank top under her leather shirt sucked the air from the young woman's lungs again. Arching forward like a tightly stretched bow, Helena pressed her lips to the delicate shell of an ear. Crazed for the taste of the other woman, she teased with her tongue even as she husked her reply.

"Oh, please, Barbara -- "

In an instant, impossibly strong, warm hands had cupped her breasts, kneading with languorous intent, palming suddenly over-sensitized peaks. The brunette dropped her hands to the back of the chair to bow her torso back, thrusting her chest into the welcome touch and struggling not to buck her hips against the other woman's lap.

"Fuck -- yeah."

Nearly delirious from the sensations against her own flesh, from the sound of the redhead's increasingly harsh panting, from the feel of Barbara's almost bruisingly frantic caresses, Helena allowed her head to drop back and lost herself. She lost herself in the effort to breathe, lost herself in the other woman's moans and whispers -- "Yes, Hel -- Let me...". She surrendered herself to the heat blooming through her chest and belly, surrendered herself to the grasping, aching hunger that fluttered at her center.

The brunette struggled to swallow through the low rumbling in her chest. She dragged her head upright, licking at her lips with a dry tongue, before lowering her face to brush her sweat-beaded cheek against her lover's. She dropped her head to lick at Barbara's neck, savoring the distinct taste of sweat... and arousal.

Whoa --

Helena rested a hand lightly against the side of the older woman's chest, then froze.

It was too much, too fast. Things were getting way out of ---


Yeah -- oh god, yeah -- it was the unmistakable sensation a slender hand inching past her snug waistband, of long fingers working against the tight leather of her pants to dip --

"Oh, shit, Barbara!"

Yellow eyes snapped open, and Helena instantly forgot every thought she'd ever had except one.


Judging from the almost rapturous look on the redhead's face, she thought she wouldn't have to wait long.

"My god -- You're so wet... so ready."

Barbara's voice was barely a whisper, holding a hint of something that Helena couldn't identify, something wonderful and thick with sin.

Staring into those sharp green eyes, the younger woman shivered anew when she realized what else was in that tone: Want.

Helena blinked back tears and raised a hand, tenderly brushing long red hair back from the older woman's face.

"How long, Barbara? How long have you...?"

The brunette's questions came out on a ragged gasp. Her partner's answer, delivered from under heavy lidded eyes which were filled with dark promises, was molten.

"Too long."

The words were accompanied by another teasing touch, and the brunette bucked her hips wildly and almost exploded.

God, yes, she was ready. She'd been waiting for this for as long as she could remember.

For this... This perfect touch. For Barbara's other hand, strong against her back, anchoring her. For the touch, the pressure that was... was...

Suddenly gone, its loss a physical pain.

"Jesus, Barbara! Wha--"

The hungry, almost desperate look that greeted Helena swallowed her question. The sensation of hands frantically plucking at the laces to her pants and the words that came to her ears on a harsh whisper sent a flood of wetness down her thighs.

"Get these down, Hel. Now. I need to be inside you."

Oh god...

Moments later, Helena rose on her knees, achingly ready for the touch -- the thrust -- that needed no further prelude. Two heartfelt groans mingled before being carried away by soft panting and short gasps. Head bowed, sweat dripping down her arms to slicken her hands where they clasped the arms of the chair, Helena held herself above Barbara. She kept her eyes open, locked on green-rimmed dark orbs which were filled with so much passion... and joy. She breathed slowly, in rhythm -- opening, opening herself until the fullness was all there was. And then -- in the next instant, the next moment, the next eternity...

Overwhelmed by the pleasure and the pain and the purity of the experience, Helena cried out, shuddering and sobbing.

Ready to collapse, aware of wetness seeping from every inch of her body, the young woman slid bonelessly from her lover's lap and sank to the floor. She buried her face against the older woman's knees, completely spent.

For long moments, she huddled there with her pants bunched around her knees and her shirt riding up her chest, aware only of Barbara, who was leaning over her to rub her back, to press melting kisses to her hair, to whisper thickly to her.

"Oh, Sweetheart. You... you're so beautiful. So wonderful..."

For another minute, maybe two, the young woman remained huddled, clinging to the other woman's legs. The sound of Barbara's still-harsh breathing and the feel of her slighty jerky caresses thrilled her, underscoring as they did that she'd not been alone in her passion. Finally, Helena shakily came to her knees and scrubbed the back of her wrist against her eyes, looking up. The frank wonder in that beloved face threatened to wipe out the modicum of control she'd regained.


She'd never, never, seen this coming. Couldn't have imagined it in her wildest dreams. It was everything she'd ever wanted -- needed -- without knowing that it could really exist.

"Are you all right, Hel?"

Recognizing that the whole speechless, glassy-eyed thing might be a little unsettling for the redhead, Helena sucked in a fortifying breath and then grinned.

"Hell, yeah, Red. Just give me a minute, and I'll show you."

The young woman accompanied this pronouncement with a waggle of dark brows and by leaning forward to nuzzle at well-toned abdominal muscles. The feeling of slightly heavier flesh brushing her cheek from above through the cotton of Barbara's tee shirt momentarily distracted the brunette, and she lifted her head fractionally. Stroking her lips across the soft cotton pulled taut against the redhead's upper chest, she amended her earlier remark.

"M'be not even a whole minute, Barbara..."

The only response was long fingers stroking her neck until Helena was surprised by strong hands grasping her shirt, tugging her into the older woman's lap. Puzzled, and certainly pleasantly intrigued, the brunette twisted her head to catch laughing green eyes as Barbara unlocked the brake of her chair and turned towards her bedroom.

"Let's go, Hel. I've got plans for you."

Chapter 9

Helena Kyle awakened slowly, as relaxed and content as she could remember feeling in a long, long time. She felt, she thought, kind of like a well-fed housecat on a sunny window sill.

Tensing her muscles in a series of isometric stretches, the young woman smiled dreamily -- relaxed, content -- then hissed silently as she tensed her thighs. She realized she needed to add to her list.

Relaxed. Content. And, sore.

Deliciously, thoroughly, stretched and sore.

Relaxing in complete lassitude, Helena blinked at the ceiling and smiled broadly. She'd sure been right about that smile thing: looked like "goofy grin" was gonna be her expression du jour for a while.

My god. What a night.

Blue eyes peered grumpily at the barely lightening sky visible through a crack in the heavy curtains, and the brunette corrected herself.

Considering the time that she'd arrived at the clock tower early this morning, it had only been a few hours. A few amazing, jaw-dropping, totally mind-blowing hours.

There had been that perpetuity of awkward conversation -- the brunette rolled her eyes as she recalled a few of the more cryptic and stilted exchanges -- as the two women had danced around their respective terrors. Then -- Helena's eyes fluttered shut as images painted a Monet fresco across the back of her eyelids -- that freakin' amazing interlude in the living area.

Thank god Dinah was a sound sleeper.

After that... The young woman smirked, recalling the trip to Barbara's bedroom, a journey which normally required all of fifteen seconds on a slow day. For some reason -- she thought it might have had to do with their inability to keep their hands to themselves -- this particular passage had taken quite a bit longer.

Helena suspected that some touch-up for the paint on at least two door jambs might be required.

Body suddenly awash with heat, the young woman smoothly turned within the arms which were encircling her from behind. She had no trouble focusing in the dim pre-dawn light, and her breath caught at the sight of her redheaded companion -- her friend and partner, and now, finally, her lover.

The older woman was sleeping soundly, hair fanned back from her face, covers neatly folded at her waist. Her breathing was quiet and steady, and her features were relaxed in repose in a way that Helena was seldom privileged to see. One tendril of long hair was caught against the corner of her mouth, and the brunette reached out to smooth it back.

The sensation of silky hair and soft skin against Helena's fingers sparked tingling down her arm and throughout her belly, and the young woman stilled her movements, amazed anew at her overwhelming response to the other woman. After a few deep breaths, she felt marginally less giddy and so allowed her hand to resume its motion.

Careful not to awaken the other woman, Helena brushed her fingertips lightly against the other woman's beautiful mouth, which had offered such amazing pleasure during the night -- both through words and deed. She brought her hand back to her face, sniffing delicately -- easily detecting her own familiar scent -- and smiling wolfishly at the older woman's enthusiasm.

When Red had said she had plans, she hadn't been kidding.

When they'd finally bumped their way into the bedroom a few hours earlier, Barbara had matter-of-factly removed her own shoes and jeans and transferred herself onto the bed, instructing Helena to take off her pants and over shirt.

"Leave on the tank and your underwear for now."

The honey-thick directive had raised the hairs on the back of the brunette's arms as she hastily complied with the instructions. Crawling up the big bed, she'd managed a light tone as she'd inquired what the redhead had in mind. The older woman's wicked smile and frank appraisal had brought a rush of color to normally blush-proof caramel features. Barbara's words had stopped her in her tracks.

"Later, Sweetheart, I intend to rip them off of you."

Barbara hadn't been kidding about that either.

Still, jaw-dropping, stomach-flipping promises notwithstanding, Helena had needed something else first.

She'd recovered her equilibrium and completed the short trek up the bed. Resting on her knees, she'd grasped the other woman's hand, wanting -- needing -- to tell her... To tell her how Barbara had already defied every dream she'd ever had, sleeping or awake... To tell her how goddamned much, how overwhelming everything was...

Helena knew that she wasn't always so good with words. But, like always, Red just seemed to get it.

Then, Barbara had done something else.

Helena had watched those arresting green eyes lose focus and track just a bit to the left. From long association, she recognized that the older woman was searching her infallible memory for something. When those eyes refocused on her, Barbara had pulled their twined hands to her lap, squeezing Helena's fingers tightly, as she spoke.

"I had been hungry all the years- / My noon had come, to dine- / I, trembling, drew the table near / And touched the curious wine."

She'd paused then, bringing their joined hands to her mouth and inhaling deeply.

" 'T was this on tables I had seen / When turning, hungry, lone, / I looked in windows, for the wealth / I could not hope to own."

When she'd finished the stanzas, both women had sat quietly for a moment, Barbara with her eyes dropping to their hands where she'd returned them to her lap, Helena blinking away something wet so that she could focus again on this amazingly brave woman who had just laid herself so open and bare.

The incongruous thought had run through the young woman's mind that she really didn't know why Barbara insisted that she wasn't any good with the emotional stuff. Helena thought she'd done pretty darned well, even if the words weren't her own.

Wishing that she had -- or could borrow -- the right words to respond, she'd finally fallen back on one of her surer skills: humor.

Helena had leaned forward, thighs tightening pleasantly under the slight strain, and pulled their joined hands to her. Cupping the back of Barbara's hand in her palm, she'd gently guided the older woman's hand to her chest, rotating Barbara's palm against her suddenly heavy and aching breast. As the redhead took over the motion and just before Helena's eyes had fluttered shut and she'd lost the power of speech, the young woman had smiled widely.

"Baby, I'm a regular smorgasbord. Dig in..."

And, boy, Barbara sure had. After two hours of alternating furious passion and slow teasing, the redhead had finally emitted a long groan and flopped back on the pillow, with Helena sprawled limp and wet in the middle of the big bed. Muttering darkly about hurricanes and passions left too long unvented, the brunette had crawled out of the bed, leaving the redhead chuckling warmly. When she'd returned from her quick restroom break on embarrassingly shaky legs, Barbara had been sleeping soundly -- but not too soundly to spoon possessively around the young woman when she'd quietly slipped into bed next to her.

Hearing the soft click signaling that the bedside alarm was triggering, Helena swung an arm out from under the covers and flailed at the night stand. She didn't quite reach the unit in time, and, when she recognized the bubblegum hit, she altered her motion, fumbling for the volume control to quiet the melody instead of shutting it off.

The way you kiss me crazy
Baby you're so amazing
Seven days and seven nights of thunder
The water's rising and I'm slipping under
I think I fell in love with the eighth world wonder
I guess that I'm just falling
Deeper into something I've never known
But the way that I'm feeling makes me realize that it can't be wrong

Sleepily curled in a nest of blankets and welcoming arms, mouth playfully moued at her own adolescent sappiness, the young woman traced a worshipful gaze down the long lines of her companion.


The other woman was simply, freakin' amazing. Everything -- and more -- than she'd longed for.

As for herself -- Well, the young woman flirted with the idea of pinching herself just to see if she was dreaming. But, as her eyes trailed along her bedmate's long neck -- looked like a turtleneck might be a good idea today -- and over the delicious swell at the top of the other woman's tee shirt, Helena unconsciously shifted her legs against the tightening in her lower body. The movement elicited a grimace at the slight soreness, then a full-blown smirk.

No pinching necessary for her.

"Thinking about something, Sweetie?"


Blue eyes flew up to meet very amused green.

Realizing that she didn't have a prayer -- much less any desire -- of bluffing her way out of it, the young woman decided that a... frontal assault might be in order. She ducked her head to the redhead's chest, mouth watering as she nosed at the tee shirt which covered flesh that she'd touched -- but not yet tasted -- earlier.

"I'll give you three guesses, Red..."

She paused for a beat, momentarily distracted by the whisper of a rapidly firming nipple against her cheek.

"... And anything that's not a body part doesn't count."

The redhead's low chuckle was amused and throaty, aroused, and distinctly, distinctly womanly in a way that Helena wasn't sure she'd ever heard in all of her years of sexual experience. The sound brushed across the young woman's skin as surely as the stroke of a warm hand -- or a moist mouth -- and she raised her face to press a soft kiss to Barbara's throat.

"Mmmm, Helena. Good morning."

The brunette bit back any number of glib responses about things rising and shining. This moment... this woman... It was too important for that. Instead, she wriggled a bit more so that she could once again see those warm green eyes in the muted morning light.

"Yeah, it is, Barbara."

Embarrassed by her own naked emotions, Helena grinned and buried her face in the crook of the older woman's neck. Caught up in the subtle taste under her mouth, she was surprised to hear her own voice cheerfully reiterating her earlier sentiment.

"It really, really is."

Helena was shifted slightly as the redhead languorously stretched her upper body under her, the movement pressing Barbara's chest against her in ways that instantly filled her mind with naughty, naughty ideas. She kept her face by the other woman's throat, listening to the rush of blood in her own ears, as Barbara yawned.

"I can't believe I feel this good after only--"

Helena felt the older woman turn her head towards the clock radio, her own face inched slightly in that direction by the twist of Barbara's neck, and she arched her back minutely.

"--little more than an hour's sleep, Hel."

Stroking her cheek lightly across the redhead's upper chest, brushing her lips against the ribbed neck of the tee shirt, Helena purred her response.

"Well, you know what they say, Babs: Diet and sleep only make up two sides of that healthy living pyramid."

"Do they indeed?"

The other woman's response was wry. Without even looking, Helena knew there was an arched eyebrow or two up there. Deciding that a nonverbal response was her best bet, she snaked two fingers under the hem of the redhead's tee shirt and brushed lightly against the soft skin of a firmly muscled abdomen. She thought that the tiny hitch she felt in her partner's breathing was a positive sign. However, since she wasn't sure how to interpret the slow, measured sigh, she reluctantly halted the restless exploration of her fingers and propped herself up on an elbow.

Blue eyes peered cautiously at the older woman, and Helena nibbled nervously at her lower lip. For all of their long years of association, an association that had bridged some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows together, the younger woman just wasn't sure what to make of the wistful, slightly lost expression on her dearest friend's face.

Helena swallowed.


She thought her voice sounded a little -- hell, a lot -- nervous. Apparently the redhead heard something in her tone as well, because a slender hand was suddenly cupping her cheek, thumb brushing her lips.

"Oh, Sweetheart -- No. Everything's fine. I'm just a little overwhelmed by... this."

Barbara removed her hand, gesturing quickly in the general vicinity of their tangled limbs, as she laughed. Reassured, Helena smiled and waited, noticing the color begin to edge up the older woman's face. However, the redhead didn't continue, instead casting her eyes towards the ceiling and turning decidedly rosy.

Raising her hand from Barbara's abdomen, the young woman smirked and walked two fingers up the redhead's torso, past her collar, over her throat and chin, coming to a stop at full lips.

Stroking ever-so-delicately with her index finger, she coaxed, "Aaaand?"

Helena shivered slightly as sharp, even teeth nipped playfully at her fingers.

"And, Helena...," she began briskly, "Well, it was just--"

The brunette hid her smile as her mentor's attempt at a businesslike response wavered rapidly. Instead, she leaned down and brushed a soft kiss to the other woman's lips, breathing her sincere encouragement into her mouth.

"Yeah, it was, wasn't it?"

She didn't move away after that, offering the other woman privacy from inquisitive eyes through her very proximity. The brunette felt Barbara's smile, heard her soft sigh as she finally spoke with endearing shyness.

"Yes, it was. And, I feel like a complete wanton harlot for wanting... so m... again."


Blue eyes popped wide open, and Helena simply purred her response into the shell of a very pink ear.

"Well, you know how I like loose women, Red."

She interrupted the redhead's tight laugh by rolling away from her to fumble on the bedside table. An instant later, she turned back and found herself fixed by a frankly confused stare.

"You want to call in, or you want me to do it for you, Babs?"

Lifting her eyebrows and batting her eyes winsomely, she gestured with the cordless.

This time, the older woman's laugh was full. Unfortunately in Helena's opinion, it coincided with the redhead pulling herself upright and swinging out of bed.

"As tempting as that is, Sweetheart, I did promise to proctor a group before school for a run-through of the AP exam."

Apparently unswayed by the brunette's expression, in which Helena tried to show how very, very unimpressed she was with the older woman's dedication to scholastic pursuits, Barbara laughed again and headed into her bathroom.

Recognizing that she had a better chance of chewing through titanium than she did bypassing the older woman's damnable puritan work ethic, Helena flung back the covers and swung her legs out of bed. The fact that the sudden movement caused several areas of her anatomy to sit up and register protest at earlier hard use improved her mood considerably.

Cheerfully whistling the refrain from the Vanessa Carlton song -- not even caring that the damned tune would be running through her head all day -- Helena bounded out of bed and started digging through Barbara's dresser in search of some underwear to borrow.

Chapter 10

Helena might have been in love with a world wonder but she was feeling pretty darned wonderful herself.

Top of the world, too sexy for her leathers, too happy for public consumption kind of wonderful.

Despite her almost complete lack of sleep the night before, the young woman had bounded through her day fueled by emotion -- and the Super Jumbo Bladder Buster Mocchachino she'd picked up shortly after bussing Barbara on the cheek and sailing off the balcony at 6:30am. During the course of the day, she'd done her bills, restocked her fridge, cleaned something deeply scary out of the shower, and completely caught up on her laundry.

She'd figured that last chore was a priority; after all, if Barbara was gonna be tearing through her unmentionables like that, Helena wanted to have a plentiful supply of replacements on hand.

So, really, the only thing marring her otherwise productive and cloud-nine kind of day was the fact that she had to work another double at the Dark Horse -- in her current state of euphoria, the young woman couldn't imagine why she'd agreed to Leonard's request two nights ago when he was working out the schedule -- and wouldn't be able to see Barbara until around 11pm.

Still, even that, even the fact that she was working the overcrowded, low tipping, weekly Pitchers Night couldn't really deflate her mood. In only a few more hours, she'd be off and making her way back to the only person she wanted to see; and, in the meantime, well, Helena was rackin' 'em and fillin' 'em like a bartender extraordinaire.

Whistling a few bars from "Great Balls of Fire" through her teeth, the brunette straightened from retrieving another stack of plastics from under the bar when the sound of a slightly breathy and somewhat familiar mezzo-soprano voice caught her attention.

"... don't think it will scale for the throughput you need. Have you considered telling your people the truth?"

Helena peered over her shoulder, missing the exact words that the speaker's companion grumbled but getting the gist of things from his tone. She didn't miss the original speaker's slightly exasperated response.

"Harv, it's clearly a cpu issue. You're simply going to have to throw more money at it."

Distracted by a call for refills, Helena didn't hear the rest of the conversation. A few minutes later, during a lull, she noticed when Harv gathered his briefcase and departed, leaving his companion alone at the bar. Taking a guess, the young woman filled a glass with ice and pink grapefruit juice and set it down in front of the solitary figure.

"Let me guess: you sell computers."

Big brown eyes flew open behind thick lenses, then widened further before the woman smiled and laughed.

"Helena! I didn't know you worked here."

Sabina peered down at the glass and frowned slightly, looking puzzled.

"Just juice," Helena supplied, "but I can get you something stronger if you'd like."

The brunette flashed a grin and offered a genuinely apologetic look before adding an explanation.

"Uh, just to make up for cutting out on you so suddenly the other night, you know."

She watched brown eyes blink in surprise as a hint of color dusted the other woman's pale features.

"Oh, I, uh, see. But, that's not really necessary, Helena."

The young woman smiled again and started to speak just as the other woman laughed ruefully and shook her head. Picking up the tumbler and raising it in a toast, her eyes sparkled.

"But, all the same, thanks. It was a bit of a disappointment, after all, even if the whole evening was a bit out of character for me."

She sipped, still visibly flustered. Helena found herself again charmed by the mousy woman.

"Er, a moment ago, why did you ask if I sell computers?"

The brunette blinked, then grinned again.

"Oh, yeah. Sorry about that, but I overheard a little of your conversation, figured you were pushing for a good commission."

"I wish."

Sabina pursed her lips wryly.

"Actually I'm on the software side of things, I guess you'd say. Hadn't you heard that, if you design software and there's a bottleneck, it's always, always, a hardware issue, Helena?"

The younger woman laughed and excused herself to fill a rush of orders. When she returned, the small woman was in the process of rescuing her laptop from the path of a half-dozen non-too-steady collegians and their oversized, Air Jordan-clad feet. Helena reached across the counter top and easily plucked the soft case from the other woman's grasp, setting it safely behind the bar.

"It gets a little hectic in here on Pitcher Night. Lotta NGU kids."

"So I see."

Sabina swirled the ice in her glass, seeming to feel the need to explain.

"I don't usually try to work in bars, but Harvey -- "

She gestured at the empty seat next to her, and Helena flashed on an image of a big white invisible rabbit.

"-- works nearby, and since I don't really know the city yet, this seemed convenient."

Helena smiled.

"New to our fair city, huh? I should have figured that you were into computers, what with the RDBMS-thing, but when we met, I thought..."

Having, as usual, started to speak before thinking, now the young woman was wondering if she should finish her thought, uncertain how it might be received.

What the hell.

"Well, I thought you might be a librarian or something."

To her credit, Sabina laughed. It sounded genuine, too.

"I get that a lot, Helena."

She looked down at herself with exaggerated dismay, adding, "For some reason."

The dark woman reached under the bar to grab a bowl of pretzels, using the motion as an excuse to rake her gaze over the woman across from her. Conservative pants suit over a too-skinny frame, but there was no frilly lace bow or high necked collar hiding the small swell of cleavage. Long, mousy brown hair, but it was hanging loose rather than in a bun. Pale, slightly pinched features, but the intelligence and humor couldn't be missed.

Helena decided that it hadn't just been the alcohol at work when she'd tried to hook up with the woman a few nights ago: Sabina was cute.

Pointedly ignoring some irritated waving across the room from Leonard -- heck, he could refill a pitcher as well as she could -- she offered a smile that was part apology, part harmless flirtation.

"Hey, don't knock it, Sabina. If the librarians had looked like you when I was in school, I might be doing computer stuff now rather than working back here."

Unable to help herself -- heck, flirting was just a second language to her -- she wiggled her left eyebrow up and down in her best Dudley Dooright impression and teased, "And, I sure would have made sure that I got my due date slips punched regularly."

That got her an honest belly laugh -- and a face full of grapefruit juice when the other woman spewed her drink.

The young woman blinked slowly, a little disbelieving, and reached for her bar towel.

"Oh, shit!"

And Helena had thought that Barbara held the record for fastest, deepest blushes.

"I'm so sorry! I can't believe I'm always getting you wet!"

At the words, the young woman very carefully finished mopping herself off, then deliberately refolded the towel and laid it on the counter. She allowed herself a raised eyebrow, but purposely bit her lip to hold back any of a number wicked responses. She just didn't think the other woman could handle any more blood rushing to her face.

Sabina observed Helena's reaction for a beat, then buried her face in her hands with a helpless giggle.

"Oh, god. Just shoot me now and put me out of my misery."

Topping off the older woman's juice, Helena took pity on her.

"Nah. And, don't worry about it. A little cleanup comes with the job."

Absurdly grateful brown eyes peered through small fingers before the other woman raised her head and smiled. When she reached for her tumbler, Helena took a measured step to one side and was rewarded with a wry smile.

"Okay, Helena. But, speaking of the job, will you be getting off soon? Perhaps I could buy you dinner -- or take you to a laundromat or something -- to make up for that?"

Helena flashed another smile, this one tinged with a tiny note of regret.

"Uh, I don't think so, Sabina. I'm kind of off that market now."

Forever, if she had her way about it.

And, forever is what the remainder of her shift seemed like after the older woman departed with a shy wave and Helena returned to the joys of pouring suds and avoiding groping hands. However, a full thirty minutes after the brunette thought she should have already been at the clock tower -- preferably in the master bedroom of the clock tower with the very naked resident of said bedroom -- Helena's shift did end. She ascended to the roof of the bar and turned towards the tower, then abruptly halted. Recalling her partner's damnable puritan work ethic, she smiled affectionately towards the heavens and activated her comm set.

"Oracle, do you copy?"

It could have just been her, but Helena thought it took the other woman a beat longer than usual to respond.

<"I'm here, Huntress. Are you available?">

The dark figure smiled broadly and poured every drop of lasciviousness that she could into her answer.

"Ready, willing, and able."

<"Wonderful, Huntress.">

The words carried a low burr that caused the brunette's stomach to flip-flop pleasantly. The next words stripped away some of the pleasure.

<"I was hoping that you could revisit the scene of the break-in that you foiled a few nights ago, specifically, take some enhanced res images of the door they were working on?">


"Want me to zip over to Bludhaven and pick up some of that sesame chicken that you like, while I'm out?"

Okay, maybe that had been a little snarky, but, crap, the bank job she'd foiled was thirty blocks uptown.

The measured response that filtered over the earpiece soothed a large measure of the brunette's irritation.

<"I'm not really hungry... for chicken, Huntress, but thank you for asking.">

Obediently setting off in the right direction, Helena mentally shrugged. Anybody who knew anything knew that whatever Barbara wanted, Helena tried to do. Even if that included taking pictures of a door... in a dark alley... at midnight.

Seventy-five minutes later -- Helena had stopped en route to foil a mugging and, just cuz she was a crime-fighter extraordinaire, to deliver a brief lecture to a jay-walker -- the young woman landed quietly on the balcony of the clock tower. Moving towards the French doors, she caught herself and jiggled the handle before slipping inside. Barbara -- what else? -- had her nose buried in the Delphi screens but glanced up with a warm smile.

Yeah, Helena realized, she had it bad. That smile alone made the sixty block detour and the hour delay all worth while.

Feeling completely whipped, and not altogether unhappy with that state of affairs, the brunette stood, transfixed, by the doors for a heartbeat or ten, returning Barbara's smile with one of her own. A smile which grew increasingly wide and, well, hungry.

The bemused quirk of a crimson eyebrow finally helped the young woman regain some motor control, and she shrugged out of her duster, catching it with two fingers and dropping it over a chair. Walking slowly, acutely aware of the way the amber lights from the secondary plasma displays seemed to halo around red hair, of how the slow clicking of one of the processors seemed to echo her thudding heartbeat, Helena ascended the platform and stepped to the older woman's side. She opened her mouth to speak but was brought up short when she detected the subtle scent of Barbara's shampoo -- ginger and orange blossoms -- a fragrance her nose had been buried in only the night before.

Mouth suddenly watering, Helena smiled and bent slowly, unblinking blue eyes fixed on green orbs which were dilating and growing ever wider. With her face only inches from the redhead's cheek, she paused and breathed deeply, lip drawing back over her upper teeth as a rush of heat traveled down her neck, through her chest and belly, settling between her legs.

She watched green eyes droop and then suddenly widen, puzzlement manifest.

"You smell... fruity tonight, Helena...?"

The young woman ducked her head, hiding under dark bangs, as she felt that previously pleasant rush of warmth move in the wrong direction -- up her neck to her cheeks. Straightening, she laughed over her confession.

"Just something from one of my many admirers at work. Occupational hazard, y'know."

The older woman's eyes twinkled as she considered the explanation.

"Is that so?"

Helena shrugged helplessly, feeling a bit off balance for some reason, until Barbara cocked her head to one side and placed a warm hand on Helena's forearm.

"Everything okay now, Sweetheart?"

Suddenly, the tension dissolved, and the younger woman answered on a slow exhalation.

"Yeah. I'm great."

Helena leaned down again, nearly jumping out of her skin when the older woman abruptly stiffened.

What the -- ?

"Hey, Helena! Was Barbara right about the bank?"

When the redhead removed her hand from Helena's arm with studied nonchalance, the dark figure peevishly thought that she'd never been less glad to hear Dinah's sunny voice. Judging from Barbara's sudden, rapt attention to one of the monitors, the sentiment was shared.

A rueful shake of red hair and a nearly inaudible murmur -- "This is ridiculous, Hel." -- calmed the young woman, and she was able to smile at the Kid with only slightly forced cheer as she handed the digi to Barbara.

"Yep. Looks like they weren't kidding in the police report that Red hacked. The only sign of attempted B&E was on the door on the other side of the alley."

As Barbara busied herself downloading Helena's high-resolution, late night still lifes of the doors in question, Dinah wandered up and extended an open bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Winking, Helena dug out a handful and popped a few into her mouth.

"So, what's in the building next door that's better than a bank?"

The older woman turned to respond, but the teenager beat her to it.

"It's an office building. Barbara's still identifying all of the business in it, but so far everything is just paper-pushers and stuff."

Helena drew a cooling puff of air over her burning tongue and cocked an eyebrow towards her cyber-genius partner, who nodded.

"So far nothing that should have attracted the attention of the men you intercepted. There's an insurance company, a voter registration headquarters, and some telemarketing offices."

Heading towards the kitchen, the brunette looked back with a grin.

"Maybe they were just pissed that they got one too many calls during dinner or something."

Dinah's giggle followed Helena into the other room where she spent several minutes downing a tall glass of milk and then carefully washing her hands -- no need to leave flamin' red cheesy fingerprints all over her leathers. When she returned to the living room, she grinned at the sight of two heads -- one red, one gold -- bent over a monitor as Barbara patiently supervised the teen's efforts to optimize several photos. The older woman was simultaneously toggling through images on another monitor as she spoke quietly.

"Just like that, Dinah. Excellent. Now, let's set up a plot point comparison with these earlier scans..."

The brunette parked one hip on the back of the couch and watched long fingers flying across the keyboard. Sensory memories of those fingers on... and in... her the night before played across her skin, and she shifted restlessly.

"-- just a hunch, but we might be able to correlate this job with one of these other break ins."

The redhead glanced at the clock and powered the Delphi to standby, and Helena straightened marginally, blood thrumming through her veins.

"It will take a few hours to plot all of the data from these images. Time for us to turn in, Dinah; don't forget the pep rally tomorrow."

Helena ducked her chin, blinking twice, at the note of apology that underlay the older woman's brisk tone. Ignoring a tickling realization of the meaning beneath Barbara's words, the brunette opted to offer Dinah a sympathetic grimace.

"You go to those things, Kid?"

Her memories of high school pep rallies primarily included time spent under the bleachers in pursuit of other adrenaline-raising activities.

Dinah smiled sweetly.

"I do if I don't want to ride the bus to school."

Barbara laughed as she moved across the living room, then stopped near the hallway. Through lowered lashes, Helena observed the older woman's quick glance in Dinah's direction before the redhead spoke to her.

"You're welcome to stay," She gestured towards the big screen, then continued softly, "but I really do need to turn in."

Although the room was dim, the young woman easily detected the flush creeping up Barbara's cheeks when she added, with the ghost of a wink, "I didn't get much sleep last night."

Helena nodded and remained immobile until she heard the redhead's door shut. In a flash, she stalked across the living room, cornering Dinah before the teen could depart for her bedroom. Stepping into the blonde's personal space, the brunette offered a smile that was full of teeth but utterly devoid of humor.

Pale blue eyes widened, and Helena heard the girl swallow. Confident that she had Dinah's undivided attention, she spoke gruffly.

"Tomorrow. You. Me. Coffee."

The teen smiled, a bit tremulously, and nodded carefully.

"Uh, okay. Uhm, four o'clock okay with you?"

Softening a little -- hell, it wasn't the Kid's fault that Barbara was all with the propriety thing -- Helena stepped back and gentled her tone.

"Sure. I'll buy."

As Dinah beat a hasty exit, the dark figure eyed the big screen, knowing that it held no appeal with Barbara only a few paces away yet, apparently, completely out of reach for the night. Grabbing her coat, Helena stepped onto the balcony and threw herself into the night.

Chapter 11

"Get out!"

The high pitched yelp echoed through the coffee shop, immediately drowned out by the sound of chair legs scraping across the tile floor as Dinah bolted upright and flew around the small table to wrap Helena in an enthusiastic hug.

So much for any worries about breaking the news.

Smirking, Helena disentangled herself from the ebullient teen and attempted to salvage her dignity as the teen returned to her seat. Her efforts to maintain an aura of adult decorum dissolved rapidly under the younger girl's beaming happiness, and in short order the brunette found herself smiling back.

"So, uh, I guess this means there won't be any ugly teen scenes and slamming doors, huh?"

Dinah smiled harder, although Helena wasn't sure how it was possible.

"Duh. I've been waiting forever for you two to get a clue!"

Pale blue eyes blinked, and Helena started counting.

Five. Four. Three. Two. One...

"Well, not you -- "

And, Dinah was off.

"Just Barbara, I guess. Cuz, well, it's always been pretty obvious how you felt -- feel. And, I guess, not forever, either. But, maybe around the time she started dating Wade. I mean, he was just sooo not right for her."

Taking the blonde's pause for oxygen as a sign that it was her turn to contribute to the conversation, Helena nodded. Dinah plunged back in.

"It took me forever to figure it out, you know? Barbara didn't really seem all that happy, and I just couldn't figure out why she kept seeing him. But, I think after Alfred give him the codes to the tower and Barbara had to, uh, tell him about, uh, stuff... Well--"

Helena observed the slight wrinkle of pale blonde brows as the girl hunted for a way to explain the redhead's actions. For her part, Helena had no problem coming up with it.

After a beat, both young women spoke as one.


Dinah sighed and stared at her mocha latte, and Helena quietly sipped her cappuccino, thinking about how much her partner had sacrificed for that abstract concept. Still, the brunette brightened, looked like things were different now, like Red was cutting herself some slack.

Apparently, Dinah had entertained similar thoughts.

"But now," the teen smiled again, "Well, I'm just so happy for both of you."

The brunette realized she was gonna have to work on her game face, cuz she just couldn't come up with a convincing glower. For some reason, she was ridiculously pleased by Dinah's enthusiasm.

Rotating her tiny cup in its saucer, Helena narrowed her eyes thoughtfully and then nonchalantly pushed the last chocolate chocolate chip mini-muffin towards the teen with her index finger. After all, Dinah's blessing wasn't exactly all she wanted right now.

"So, D. Any chance you can hang out with Gabby tonight?"

A scant four hours later, the brunette strolled casually from the clock tower elevator, bearing an oversized pizza box with a much smaller, slender, rectangular box balanced on top.

"I didn't cook it, but I'll accept the accola--"

Belatedly noticing that Barbara was on the phone, she snapped her mouth shut and turned towards the kitchen, smiling cheerfully in response to the redhead's quick wave. Helena busied herself setting out plates and stemware, peripherally aware of the muted sounds of Barbara's one-sided conversation in the other room. Just as she finished easing the cork from a bottle of shiraz, the older woman appeared in the doorway and offered a puzzled smile as she took in the table.

Bowing slightly at the waist, the brunette gestured expansively at Barbara's usual place and affected a ludicrously bad French accent.

"Bon jour, mademoiselle. I am Francois, and I weel be your waiter zis evening."

The redhead laughed and spoke lightly.

"This is wonderful, Hel, but I didn't think I'd see you so early tonight."

The younger woman leaned over the table to light a thick candle, smiling her thanks as the older woman reached for the dimmer switch by the door.

"Where else would I want to be?"

"On a Friday night? Oh, perhaps out dancing with one of your many citrus-scented admirers?"

Helena laughed as she straightened and waved out the match.

"Nah. It's teen night. No booze allowed."

Anticipating the other woman's skeptical response -- "Teen night at every one of your many haunts?" -- the brunette was ready.

"Yep. And I told Dinah to check out each and every one. All night."

Barbara laughed again and moved to her spot before abruptly stopping as she caught sight of her place-setting. One hand flew to her mouth before she reached out and carefully lifted the long-stemmed flower from her plate.

Transfixed, Helena watched the redhead bring the small gift to her face, inhaling slowly, closing her eyes as a wistful smile crossed her lips. When the older woman finally looked up after a long moment, Helena thought she detected a trace of moisture in emerald eyes.

"Oh, Helena. How -- where on earth did you find a fuukiran orchid?"

Awed by the site of the delicate crimson and white "wind orchid" juxtaposed against the elegant lines of the other woman's face, Helena stepped quietly to Barbara's side and spoke truthfully.

"I couldn't find anything as beautiful as you, but I remembered how you told me how beautiful you thought these were when you were in Japan."

The older woman didn't often discuss her glory days on the international gymnastic circuit, but Helena was well aware of the treasured spot that the trip to Japan with the US Women's Team held in Barbara's heart.

"Sweetheart," the redhead's voice was husky, "you're too good to me."

Helena knelt by her side and slowly shook her head once, whispering, "No, I'm not."

Meaning it.

Stretching slightly, she scented the blossom that Barbara still held by her cheek and then tenderly nibbled at the redhead's ear, husking, "But, I'd like to be -- If you'll let me."

Also meaning it.


The other woman's exclamation was quiet, barely a sigh. Tracing the fine cartilage of Barbara's ear, then softly sucking on her lobe, Helena was distantly aware of movement as the redhead resettled the orchid on her plate. A moment later, strong fingers cupped the young woman's jaw and drew her mouth to warm, inviting lips.

The older woman opened to Helena instantly, drawing her in, and the brunette unconsciously shifted to the balls of her feet, stretching for more. More of the perfect warmth and soft suction, more of the hidden depths and knowing strokes against her, more of the connection with this amazing woman. Helena lost herself in a kiss that was improbably perfect, impossibly better than she remembered from only two nights before.

And, then, she heard bells, and, for one wild moment, the young woman thought it was entirely possible that she'd been spirited to heaven.

But, no, Helena grumpily mused two hours later as she made her way back to the clock tower, paradise probably wouldn't include the klaxon alarms of the Delphi, signaling a major event of some sort. Paradise wouldn't mean interrupting a quiet evening to respond to a three-alarm fire at the docks. And, paradise sure as shooting wouldn't have put the fire on a -- Helena shuddered violently -- garbage scow with two crewmen too scared to swim through the non-too-pristine waters of New Gotham harbor.


Landing noisily on the balcony, the young woman squirmed out of her duster and dropped it in a soggy heap. Before she could move, the doors opened and Barbara emerged with a huge stack of towels on her lap. Helena squelched over and accepted one with a damp nod, not missing the way the older woman flinched and recoiled when she got too close.

The brunette couldn't really blame her; her own eyes had been watering from the stench all the way back to the tower.

Draping the towel around her neck, Helena withdrew a few paces and plopped herself onto a chaise lounge to begin wrestling with the laces of her boots.

No need to go dripping water... especially this particular water... all over the place.

The older woman sat in silence -- Helena figured they'd pretty well covered the particulars on her way back -- her face a mask of sympathetic concern. Only because she knew her so well was the younger woman able to detect an amused glint in emerald eyes.

Dropping her second boot and standing to begin the battle with her pants, the brunette decided that, for her own peace of mind, she'd simply pretend she hadn't noticed her mentor's amusement. Unfortunately, her resolve was almost immediately put to the test -- around the time she wrestled her very tight, very wet pants down to her thighs -- by the sound of a snicker.

Suspicious blue eyes snapped upward, peering through dripping bangs, to find the older woman biting her lip and looking contrite. Satisfied that her distinct lack of shared amusement had registered, the young woman returned to wriggling out of her pants, only to be brought up short.

There it was again. Only this time, it had been more of a snort.

Very slowly, very deliberately, the young woman straightened and faced her partner -- her loving, supportive partner who, at that moment, dissolved into fits of laughter. Helena stood quietly, with what she thought was an enormous amount of patience, fixing the older woman with a decidedly cool stare as Barbara visibly fought to control herself.

"I'm so sorry, Sweetie..." Barbara apologized before snickering -- no, snorting -- again and raising a finger towards the brunette.

"You look like a drowned cat w-- w-- with--"

The brunette delicately dabbed at her face with the towel and waited for the other woman to finish.

"with St. Vitus disease," the redhead managed to finish, bringing herself under a modicum of control.

"But, I really am sorry, Hel," she added hastily, if a little belatedly.

Finally mastering the recalcitrant pants, Helena limited her response to a long-suffering sigh as she stripped off her shirt, leaving her in a soaked tank top and briefs. She caught the towel coming her way and sponged the worst of the water off her underwear before turning towards the living area and finally speaking, her voice just the tiniest bit cool.

"If no further floor show is required at this time, I think I'll take a shower, Barbara."

Moving into the hallway, the young woman smiled broadly and detoured at the last minute when she heard the redhead speak.

"Why don't you use my bathroom, Hel?"

The warm feeling that the words engendered dissipated just a bit when laughing words caught up to her.

"I put the disinfecting soap in there while you were on your way back..."

Not bothering to dignify the comment, the brunette squelched through the older woman's bedroom and directly into her bathroom, muttering softly and channeling Daffy Duck.

"Ha-ha, ho-ho, hee-hee. It is to laugh..."

Twenty minutes -- and gallons of hot water and four types of soap -- later, the young woman was feeling considerably less aggrieved. While she simply despised unplanned soakings -- probably a cat thing, she figured -- long showers were one of her many sybaritic indulgences, and -- in all fairness -- Barbara had been right about the industrial soap.

The fact that she was actually using the other woman's oversized shower -- and everything that signified -- was icing on the cake.

Launching into her twenty-fifth chorus of "Rubber Ducky", Helena again rooted through the capacious shelf containing umpteen varieties of bath gels. Caught up in a mental debate over the merits of vanilla musk versus sandalwood, the young woman jerked and reflexively stepped back, directly onto a pumice stone that she'd carelessly left on the shower floor, when the door cracked open.

The brunette's planned invective died in her mouth when she looked up to discover a very naked Barbara Gordon regarding her appraisingly.

"Need any help with your back, Hel?"

The tone was playful. The redhead's expression was anything but.

Helena licked her lips, feeling something low inside her begin to curl tightly. Stepping back from the door, she smiled as the redhead effortlessly transferred herself to the shower bench.

"Only if you'll let me do your hair, Red."

Green eyes caught blue and smoldered.

"I think something can be negotiated, Sweetie."

Oh, yeah, Helena was definitely all over the benefits of negotiation. A little give... a little more give...

Since she'd already enjoyed the benefits of the shower, Helena thought it only fair that the other woman have first crack at it. With all of her considerable powers of persuasion, she eventually had the redhead leaning back against her, almost humming in pleasure, as she rinsed the final bit of conditioner from long red hair. Helena continued to rub her fingers gently against the other woman's scalp, content to stay there -- with the other woman's shoulders pressing against her thighs, with her own fingers tingling from the delicious contact -- indefinitely. However, the older woman had plans of her own, slowly straightening and rotating to face Helena again.

"Your back?"

The brunette looked down, savoring her first unfettered look at the older woman. All of the blood left her head -- hell, felt like most of her internal organs, too -- and landed between her legs in a hot, wet rush.

Slowly, she sank to her knees in front of the redhead.

"No -- "

Barely able to hear her own utterance, Helena swallowed with difficulty and looked up imploringly.

"No, let me."

Not waiting for an answer, unable to wait lest she be denied, the young woman picked up a washrag and poured bath gel onto it, working it into a lather. Carefully, she lifted the other woman's right leg, positioning her foot on her thighs, and began a slow, firm cleansing.

Without hurry, with rapt attention to each nuance she discovered as she worked, with the complete peace in her heart counterpointing the restless ache growing inside her, Helena worked.

First, she scrubbed the top and sole gently with the terry cloth. Only when all of the soap had been transferred from the washrag did she set it aside to massage the lather into the arch and between each toe with tender strokes of her hands. Although she longed to bend further and brush her mouth to the impossibly soft flesh, the young woman was unable to miss the tension which radiated from her lover at the close attention. Thus, Helena kept her eyes focused on the soft skin under her hands, working slowly and methodically to rinse away the soap and celebrating the unhurried contact.

Retrieving the washrag, she carefully lowered the older woman's right foot, then repeated the worshipful cleansing with the left. Gradually, perhaps it was when she briefly lost herself in stroking the redhead's instep, she felt Barbara's rigid tension begin to wane. By the time she'd finished lathering and stroking the older woman's ankles and calves, the redhead had settled back against the shower wall, fingers of one hand idly twining through the hair by Helena's ear.

Ready to move up, the brunette straightened marginally and scootched forward, bringing her belly in contact with the other woman's knees. She picked up the washrag and then froze.

In all of their years together, during all of the sparring sessions and physio routines, even two nights before, Helena had never been granted an opportunity to view -- much less touch -- the other woman's lower half so closely.

Awed, her eyes caressed the length of lean thighs and then stopped at the neatly trimmed patch of fiery hair. So close was she that Helena easily detected her lover's most intimate scent, and -- for a moment -- she simply forget to breathe. Enhanced senses clearly noting the other woman's shallow breathing, she trailed both hands up the long legs in front of her and swayed forward slightly.

Belly tightening, nipples tingling as they brushed over Barbara's knees, the young woman shut her eyes and slowly lowered her head. Pressing her mouth reverently to a well-toned quadricep, Helena moaned softly as an aching need took possession of her and her breath came in short gasps.

God, she wanted -- so much ---

Strong hands in her hair coaxed the young woman's face up, and Helena looked up with eyes she knew were no longer blue.

Barbara's expression was almost fierce, her words ragged.

"Stand up, Hel."

The brunette worked her mouth without sound, so close to her desire that she was unable to speak her need. Panting softly, watching a deep flush traverse the redhead's chest, she remained helplessly frozen until Barbara spoke again.

"I need you, Helena. Now."

Unsure how she managed, Helena rose on shaky legs, brushing the older woman's mouth with hers as she straightened. A heartbeat later, Barbara's mouth was on her stomach... washing her with warm strokes... teasing with gentle, hungry, open-mouthed bites... and then, then, moving lower.

When strong hands grasped her hips, steadying her, Helena dropped her chin to her chest and moaned at the sight of that beautiful mouth on her, at the incredible, perfect heat and sensation coursing through her.

Panting raggedly, she trembled as the redhead's own low groan echoed against her, and she fought to keep her eyes open.

She had to see... to watch what she was feeling.

Helena jerkily reached out with one hand to steady herself against the cool tile of the shower wall. She carefully brought the other to the side of her lover's head, moaning -- almost screaming -- at the movement of the redhead's jaw against the heel of her hand.

It was too much, too unbelievable... that this beautiful, long-adored woman should want her like this...

Nearly weeping in her frustration -- in her own need to touch, to taste, to show the redhead how she felt -- the young woman finally let go. Once more, she surrendered her own instinct to take the lead. Again, she swallowed her restless hunger to pleasure her lover, accepting it as a part of the purity of the moment.

And then-- then Barbara's head twisted upward, and Helena was pinned by burning eyes.

"God, Helena, what you do to me."

The brunette blinked incredulously. Finally, in her very self-denial of what she wanted to do, she realized that she could offer, too.

"Are you ready?"

Swallowing thickly, the young woman bent to catch the other woman's mouth. Barbara kissed her deeply, thoroughly, and then pulled away.

"Turn around."

Dazed, Helena allowed the other woman to position her in the large shower, fighting a nearly physical pain from the loss of that beautiful mouth on hers. She struggled to control the trembling of her jaw and to steady her legs until, in an instant, none of that mattered.

There was only sensation... and emotion... and sensation swirling with emotion, consuming her completely: the cold tile of the shower wall burning her nipples; the warm spray of water rivuleting down her chest and back; the searing heat of a ravenous mouth; the incredible pressure of tongue and hands; the overwhelming knowledge that it was Barbara touching her, taking her, claiming her like this.

And throughout, there was Barbara's voice -- Helena dimly wondered if the older woman even realized she was speaking -- a rasping whisper of sin.

"You're so beautiful like this. You have no idea-- how the way you respond makes me feel... how long... much I've needed--"

The heat and the pressure surrounded her, filled her.

The words and emotions consumed and, then, fragmented her.

Unable to hold on any longer, Helena shattered.

Chapter 12

Helena realized that, oddly, she was curled into a fetal position. She was sitting, thighs drawn to her chest, arms clasped around her legs, head buried on her upraised knees. She was naked and wet and shaking, with tears streaming down her face.

She felt amazing.

The world still seemed to be pure sensation: warm moisture, dim light, gentle touches on her shoulders and back, a soft voice.

Grudgingly allowing thoughts to begin forming, the young woman wondered if what she was feeling right now was much different than when she was born.

Of course, not being the type of individual to let that sort of new-age sentiment get past her, the brunette snorted softly at herself. Sure, the earth had moved, and the heavens had collided, and there'd been a helluva lot of waves pounding up on the shores; but there was no reason to start banging on drums and throwing around words like 'karma' and 'rebirthing'.

But, still... Whoa.

A dazed and kind of dirty grin began to creep across the young woman's face just about the time that it dawned on her that she wasn't alone. That, in fact, the very person responsible for the smile in question was gently rubbing her back and talking to her... had been talking to her for quite some time probably, if the creeping nervousness in her tone were any indication.

"... okay, Sweetie? What do you need?"

Sucking it up -- she was a frikkin' superhero, after all -- Helena finally managed to lift her head and focus her eyes. She found Barbara observing her with an almost comically cautious concern -- almost like she was afraid that Helena was going to wash down the drain or something.

The brunette decided to give her voice a try.

"Uh, hi?"

The older woman exhaled and straightened up to lean back against the shower wall. Helena noticed that, at some point -- How long had she been babbling incoherently, anyway? -- Barbara had shut off the water and snagged two towels, one of which was draped over the redhead's lap, the other around her own shoulders. Barbara absently tugged at the towel covering her legs, blinking slowly several times, before she smiled sweetly and leaned back down.

The younger woman almost purred at the sensation of slender fingers softly combing the wet bangs back from her eyes.

"Hi, yourself, Sweetheart."

The redhead's normally brisk alto was low, intimate, and definitely, definitely pleased. Helena shivered pleasurably and snagged her lower lip with her teeth.

The older woman ducked her head slightly, and impossibly dark green eyes caught blue.

"Are you alright, Sweetie? I was beginning to get conce--"

Gently catching the hand that was still absently combing through her hair, Helena drew it down and pressed a tender kiss to the inside of the other woman's wrist. The feel and scent of the blood moving through veins, so close to the surface, provided tinder to the brunette's barely banked desire, and she fluttered her eyes shut.

Content to remain huddled on the floor of the shower indefinitely, Helena nevertheless realized that her lover was probably getting chilly. With a Herculean effort, she rolled to her feet with a soft grunt and tugged the towel off herself to place it around the redhead's shoulders. She coughed quietly to clear her throat and then mustered her best Bogart impersonation.

"Ya ready to blow this popsicle stand, Beautiful?"

When the redhead smiled and raised her arms, Helena bent and slid one arm under her knees, the other behind her back. Lifting the larger woman effortlessly, she inhaled quickly at the sensation of a full breast against her chest and stepped carefully from the shower. The young woman faltered for a beat by Barbara's chair, aching to bypass it, to carry the woman in her arms the dozen or so steps out of the bathroom and lay her on the big bed. However, when the older woman extended her free arm and lifted her robe from the hook on the wall, Helena smoothly helped her settle herself into the chair, wondering if her hesitation had been noticed.

Wordlessly, she accepted one of the towels and wrapped it around herself in a make-shift sarong, then helped the redhead shrug into her silk robe.

"Why don't you grab a pair of my sweats, Hel?"

Barbara's voice was slightly muffled as she vigorously toweled her hair.

"Then," she dropped the towel and reached for her brush, "let's get you fed."

Helena brightened, allowing her gaze to rake over the intriguing shadows of the other woman's decolletage. That earned her a laugh and a playful swat on the tummy.

"The pizza now, Helena."

Before the young woman could even muster a full pout of protest, Barbara's next words restored her playful mood.

"I believe you'll be needing the energy later..."

Forty minutes later, the two women were curled comfortably on the couch, the decimated remains of the pizza on the coffee table. Helena poured the final drops of the shiraz into Barbara's glass and carefully resettled the bottle on the table as the redhead discussed the results of the plot point comparisons that she and Dinah had run the night before.

"... correlated exactly with the entry technique used at the library. It also appears that the same method was used at the shoe factory. It's not as clear-cut, but, nevertheless, Dinah did a superlative job optimizing the scans."

"Maybe you better not tell Dinah that; don't want to swell her head too much."

The older woman rolled her eyes.

"Speaking of Dinah, Sweetheart, how did you manage to pack her off this evening?"


Eyeing the pizza box, Helena decided that there really wasn't anything left worth picking over.

"Oh, I just told her that we might like some privacy."

She looked up in time to notice Barbara's hand freezing in the process of bringing her glass to her mouth. The brunette decided that a little more explanation might be in order.

"We had coffee this afternoon, and I told her that you and I are--"

"You just came right out and told Dinah...?"

Slightly fascinated, Helena noted that the other woman's eyebrows seemed to be rising in tandem with the pitch of her voice.

When Barbara trailed off, clearly at a loss, the brunette smiled winsomely and supplied, "That we're in flagrante delicto? Uh huh."

Very slowly, very calmly, the redhead leaned over and set her wine glass on the coffee table. Noting how composed the other woman's features were, Helena sobered and caught her bottom lip between her teeth. Maybe she'd been a little hasty or something.

"I'm sorry, Barbara. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

When the older woman's rigid posture eased marginally, Helena bent her head to catch worried green eyes with blue.

"She is a big girl, Barbara; and she's not dumb. If nothing else," the brunette hazarded a half-smile, "she'd gonna pick up on stuff when we spar."

O-kay. From the way Red had stiffened and blanched, maybe that last part wasn't the best thing Helena could have said. The young woman decided that not talking might be her smartest choice for the moment.

During the long ninety seconds that followed, she sat quietly, watching the other woman visibly processing the information that Helena had just shared. Finally, the redhead released a long breath and smiled, reaching for the younger woman's hand.

"Yes, you were right to tell her, Helena. Dinah is eighteen and, as you said, she's... intuitive."

The brunette laughed softly and brought the other woman's hand to her lips to brush a kiss to long fingers. Noting the color suffusing the redhead's features -- no guesswork required to figure out some of the images Dinah might pick up on during training sessions -- Helena lowered Barbara's hand and spoke quietly.

"But, seriously, Red. She was really -- really -- happy. She thought it was, uh, maybe overdue for you to..."

Embarrassed herself, the young woman trailed off, hoping she hadn't said too much. To her relief, the redhead smiled.

"Dinah's right. As were you, Sweetie."

When the older woman colored, the brunette raised her brows encouragingly. Barbara squeezed her hand and visibly steeled herself to continue.

"While all of this... the way that I find myself responding... Not to mention," the older woman offered a low, pleased chuckle, "the way that you seem to respond to me..."

Shivering at the tone, the brunette grinned broadly and waggled her eyebrows, eliciting a fuller laugh from the other woman. Encouraged, the brunette inched across the couch towards the redhead.

"Well, let's just say that I'm finding myself very pleasantly surprised -- Oh!"

Helena offered her own punctuation to Barbara's admission in the form of a quick nip to the redhead's jaw.

Still, uncertain, she needed to ask.

"Are you sure? I mean, I haven't really gotten to--"

The older woman turned, catching the brunette's face in her palm and smiling. Her next words were husky.

"I'm quite certain, Hel. You have no idea how it feels."

Green eyes squeezed shut for a split second before the older woman made direct eye contact, speaking with only a hint of self-consciousness.

"How it feels, after all of the other awkward attempts, to have someone reacting so honestly and powerfully to me. It's... it's been a long time, Sweetie."

Stupefied -- at the other woman's honesty, at the fact that anybody could not have responded to the redhead -- Helena blinked and turned to press a kiss to the hand on her face. She remained still until Barbara exhaled and then spoke lightly.

"I'm glad that you were so... persuasive, Hel. And, that Dinah approves as well; I think it's important that she--"

Feeling her eyes start to augment, the brunette lowered her head to the other woman's neck to taste that sweet flesh.

"Can we not talk about Dinah right now, Babs?"

The redhead arched at the contact, offering more of herself to Helena's teeth and lips.

"Hmmm -- And, oh -- What would you like to talk about, Hel?"

Succumbing rapidly to the sound of the older woman's voice, the scent of flowering passion, the heat blooming under her mouth, Helena raised a hand and drew her fingers up the sheer silk of Barbara's robe. Separating her fingers, she placed her index finger under the collar of the robe, languidly sliding the silk between her fingers, down the length of the redhead's chest.

"Tell you what, Red. You can talk about anything you want. I'm gonna use my mouth for other things right now."

"Is that-- Is that so, Helena? Did I mention my theory about the s-- shoe factory?"

Grunting noncommittally and lowering her mouth to the opening vee at the neck of the silk robe, Helena had to give the older woman points for effort. Of course, Barbara always had had amazing powers of concentration.

"Yesss... The fact that, that there were 411 left shoes, all without ton-- tongues."

Helena danced her tongue against the redhead's pulse point.

God, Barbara tasted so fuckin' good...

"The sin-- sinister metaphor of speechlessness..."

Experimentally, the young woman brushed a diamond-hard peak with her finger, thrilling at the other woman's gasp. Lowering her head a fraction more, she swallowed her own moan as she considered what sounds the redhead would make if she could just taste...

"Ohhh, sweet heavens, Helena..."

Sensing movement, the brunette raised her head in time to see Barbara's hand tugging at the sash of her robe, pulling the fabric back from her chest. And, then, feeling the older woman's other hand at the back of her head, she shut her eyes and joyfully surrendered to the welcome guidance.

Chapter 13


Well, knowing how much Red loved a good puzzle, especially one that was in the pursuit of justice and all that, maybe not so unbelievable. But, still, Helena had to amend, it was kind of pushing the boundaries of reason.

A perfectly fine Saturday, with the Kid pledged to be out of the clock tower all day, with no tutoring sessions or essays for Barbara to grade, with no major crime for Helena to thwart, and where was she?

Parked in the jeep, outside a diner on the outskirts of town, waiting. A freaking sit and stare job.

Shifting restlessly in the passenger seat, Helena picked up her liter bottle of Mountain Dew and twisted the cap. Instantly thinking better of it -- Barbara really needed to rig up some sort of comfort station if she was going to be sending Helena on these sorts of jobs -- she sighed and returned to filing her nails.

No need to let her appearance suffer just 'cuz she was doing a little overtime.

<"Still nothing, Huntress?">

"Nada, Oracle. Guess our boy was hungry after nothing but jail food for the last few days."

The corners of the young woman's mouth turned up at the low chuckle even as her heart simultaneously trip-hammered. It was exactly the same tone she'd heard early that morning after touching and tasting and teasing the other woman until...

<"Stay on him. He may be our best chance of finding out what's behind these odd break ins.">

"I know that somebody like ol' Rocko here having a library card is pretty suspicious, Oracle, but, sheesh, couldn't we just put a bug on his belt or something?"

Okay, maybe that had been just a little bit snarky, but she'd cautiously followed the guy for two hours after his release from the county jail, only to end up sitting here for the last hour and a half, watching him nurse a cup of coffee and work a crossword puzzle -- in pencil. Helena was feeling just a little edgy.

Barbara's voice was sympathetic, but Helena was pretty sure she detected just a touch of exasperation.

<"I believe the fact that Rocko is the only member from the office job that you foiled who had an ACLU lawyer spring him with a time served criminal mischief charge may be more telling, Huntress.">

Feeling duly chastened, the brunette spoke contritely.

"I know, and I'm sorry. It's just, this isn't where I really wanted to be today."

This time, the older woman's voice held nothing but warm sympathy.

<"I know, and I do understand; however, Rocko's release today is simply too much of an opportunity to see if he meets with whomever is masterminding these jobs.">

Neither woman entertained any illusions that Rocko Martin, the "juggernaut of muscles" that Helena had encountered early in the week, was behind the break ins.

Sighing, Helena licked her lips and decided to live dangerously. She took a long swig from her soda and coughed when she noticed movement through the diner window.

"He's moving, Oracle. He's... Oh, shit!"


The young woman could almost see the arched crimson eyebrow that was certainly accompanying the older woman's question.

Gracefully sliding over to the driver's seat and inserting her key in the ignition, Helena gave up on her plans for an evening in the other woman's arms.

"He just got on a Greyhound Bus."

She put the jeep into gear.

"Looks like I'm taking a road trip, eh?"

<"What's the bus number, Huntress? I can find out where it's heading.">

Dark brows lowered in puzzlement.

"Uh, I'm behind the bus, Oracle. You know, following--"

A quick laugh cut her off.

<"Of course. How about the license plate?">

A few keystrokes later, and Oracle had the verdict.

<"Boston, Huntress. The final terminus is Boston.">

Sunnuvagun. Helena thought she really should have hit the restroom.

The voice over the comm set became decidedly apologetic.

<"Of course, he may not be going all the way to the end of the line, and I certainly don't expect you to go all the way--">

The brunette threw back her head and laughed at the weirdness of it all. Unwilling to have the older woman shouldering any guilt about an occupational hazard, she spoke lightly.

"No worries, Oracle. I can always buzz out to Provincetown and see what's swinging, right?"

Helena was surprised to note that her mood lifted -- slightly -- at the idea of visiting the gay mecca. Even if it didn't pan out on this trip, maybe she could visit with Barbara some time.

Static crackled through the transceiver, and Helena lost part of her partner's response.

<"... deed. ... out of range. Call to ch... in?">

Helena kept her reply to the point before thumbing the unit off.

"Will do. Off comms now."

Rustling in the center console for a tape, the young woman decided to make the best of the impromptu drive. She had an ample supply of snacks; the late afternoon scenery from the highway was a pleasant change from New Gotham's unrelenting urban bleakness; the sound system in the SUV was top notch; and, best of all, she had plenty to think about from the night before.

She glanced at the cassette in her hand; it looked like a mix, but the writing on the label wasn't familiar. The brunette smirked, wondering if it was something Gabby had put together for Dinah, and popped it into the dash. A familiar pining melody echoed over the speakers.

I'm still wild but not lost
From the thing that I've chosen to be
And it's 'cause you've thrilled me
Silenced me
Stilled me
Proved things I never believed
The face on you
The smell of you
Will always be with me

Feeling the fine hairs on the back of her neck raising in response to Sinead O'Connor's evocative lyrics, the young woman considered Barbara's face, the expression that had graced her features when -- after long, wonderful explorations -- Helena had found a way. A bit unconventional and -- the brunette's jaw clenched in frustration -- Helena had yet to touch or taste everywhere that she still desired on the older woman; nevertheless, it had been amazing.

And utterly, utterly humbling.

Blue eyes blinked back moisture as Helena recalled the emotions that had been so manifest in the older woman's experience. There had been joy and wonder... and something akin to sorrow. And, then, so soon on the heels of the redhead's climax that it had to have been a part of it, hunger: a raw, naked want glowing in emerald eyes. The sight had sent a flood of arousal down Helena's thighs; a heartbeat later, she'd found herself pinned to the bed, fulfilling the other woman's passion with her own.


And, after all of that, here she was, sucking diesel fumes from an aged bus and traveling away from where she wanted to be. Shrugging philosophically, the young woman admitted that life could be pretty weird sometimes and cranked up the volume to John Mayer's "Your Body Is A Wonderland".

Three hours -- and one hurried bathroom break -- later, Helena experienced no small measure of relief when the New Gotham to Boston bus pulled away from an interim station leaving her prey behind.

Apparently Bayside was the end of the line for Rocko.

Parking the jeep, the dark figure stepped out and stretched exorbitantly, thrilled with the prospect of continuing the chase on foot. While the community was small enough that, normally, her pursuit might stand out like a sore thumb, Helena suspected that the dark night -- and Rocko's own distraction -- would shield her from detection.

The brunette moved stealthily from the bus depot to a gas station, then vaulted onto the roof when her quarry took a moment to buy a package of undoubtedly stale gem donuts from a vending machine. Easily keeping pace from the rooftops of the closed businesses on the main street, Helena trailed the man to the edge of town to a self-storage facility and then waited quietly on the roof of a neighboring storage shed while Rocko rustled through a six by twelve unit. As soon as he snapped the padlock closed on his unit and set off, pushing a wheelbarrow, she dropped soundlessly to the ground and strolled to his locker.

The brunette eyed the lock dismissively -- standard Masterlock used by every high school kid in the country -- and set to work. Twenty seconds later, smiling wistfully as she recalled the afternoon that her mom had shared that particular skill, the young woman popped the lock and opened the door.

Well, so much for the missing encyclopedias. Carefully wrapped in waterproof plastic sheeting, stacked floor to ceiling, there they were: Britannica's, Americana's, World Books. The whole gamut.

Catching sight of a box in the corner, the young woman stepped inside and pulled up one of the flaps. Having long ago learned not to doubt her partner's hunches and deductions, Helena wasn't particularly surprised to find a large quantity of shoe tongues inside.

The young crime fighter chuckled soundlessly as she relocked the storage unit and turned to catch up with the subject of her surveillance. She could easily hear him laboring through a nearby field, wrestling with his wheelbarrow and, apparently oblivious to the fact that he had company, cursing a blue streak.

Sounded like 'ol Rocko had had an unexpected encounter with a barb wire fence.

As odd as the man's previous criminal activities had been, Helena doubted that anything the guy might be up to could be terribly surprising. However, when she finally caught up with him in a moonless pasture, the young woman realized that she had, in fact, been terribly, terribly wrong.

Chapter 14

"Bull shit."

"Aw, c'mon!"

"I kid you not, Dinah. The guy was shoveling grade A, farm fresh cow patties into his wheelbarrow."

The brunette accompanied her description by sidestepping the teen's swing with a four foot staff and mentally sticking her tongue out at her sparring partner. Judging from the sudden exasperated expression in pale blue eyes, Dinah's developing mind reading skills were working just fine.

"But, -- ugh -- "

The blonde grunted as she directed a sweeping blow at Helena's legs.

"... why? What did he do with it?"

The brunette effortlessly hopped over the sweeping staff and, just for grins, somersaulted over the younger girl's head.

"You're telegraphing again, D," she cautioned before answering the girl's question.

"I dunno why. But, after Rocko filled up his wagon with the choicest specimens -- "

Dinah wheeled and spun the staff with blinding speed towards Helena's right ankle. Deciding to take the blow -- Kid needed practice in how the hits felt, too -- the dark woman allowed the strike to sweep her off her feet, purposely landing on the staff and grabbing it with one hand.

"-- he headed back, wrapped it in plastic, stuffed it into an army duffel, and -- uggh --"

Helena grunted against the invisible force that was slowly prying her fingers from the end of the staff, then rolled her eyes at Dinah's muttered exclamation.

"Give. It. Back. Hel."


"Okay, Kid."

She smirked and rolled to her feet as the blonde pin wheeled from Helena's sudden release. Then, she finished her story.

"And, then he caught a return bus to New Gotham with his precious cargo in the luggage hold."

Clearly suspecting that she was having her leg pulled, Dinah set one end of the staff on the ground and fixed Helena with a skeptical look.

"And then what?"

Ducking her head and raising a shoulder to swipe some sweat from her face, the brunette shrugged.

"I dunno. I followed the bus, and when we got back to the city, Rocko grabbed the bag and headed back to his apartment."

She didn't feel the need to add that she'd followed suit shortly thereafter. By that time, it had been past dawn, and when she'd checked in, her sympathetically bemused partner had encouraged her to get some rest before the women's regular Sunday afternoon training session.

"But, why, Hel? The guy's just out of jail, and he goes--"

"On a nocturnal cow crap collection expedition?" Helena supplied gleefully.

Having just raised her water bottle to her mouth, Dinah didn't have a chance. The irreverent description, coupled with the brunette's guffaw, resulted in a choking spray that Helena sidestepped with a grin.

No doubt about it, bathroom humor was funny at any age.

Helena patted the coughing teen on the back, still grinning, as she finished answering her question.

"But, you got me. Maybe he does organic gardening or something and missed his regular fertilizer supply while he was in the lock-up last week?"

Finally getting herself under control, the blonde took a cautious sip of water, puzzlement clear in her pale blue eyes.

"I guess that's as good an explanation as any, especially considering the other strange stuff he's been involved with. Did Barbara have any ideas?"

Helena bent over, legs straight and hands flat on the mats of the training room floor, to stretch her hamstrings. Omitting the fact that the older woman had sounded as tired as Helena had felt when she'd talked with her earlier that morning -- No way Barbara would have slept while her younger partner was on assignment -- the brunette kept it short.

"Nah. I think Red thought it was as fucked up as we do."

Walking herself slowly down the mat with her arms, the dark figure performed ten slow push ups before walking herself back up.

"I figured she might have come up with something by now though."

Helena stood, glancing at the door to the training room. She'd not commented on the redhead's absence yet, as unusual as it was. Just because Barbara wasn't out in the field didn't mean she cut herself any slack during workouts.

Dinah followed the brunette's gaze and flashed a quick, nervous smile. Helena's stomach tightened -- just a tiny bit -- unpleasantly.

"Uh, I'm sorry, Helena. I forgot to tell you."

Helena raised an eyebrow expectantly and tried not to glare. After all, it wasn't like she'd given the younger girl much of a chance to say anything when Dinah had shown up to work out. The brunette had been so full of pounding energy that she'd just tossed a staff over -- considering some of the images floating around in her head, Helena hadn't thought hand-to-hand was such a good idea -- and gone at it for the last hour.

"Uh, yeah. Barbara asked me to tell you that she had to go out. Something about a software patch or something for the plot comparison routines."

The blonde sucked in a breath and scrunched her eyes a little.

"I mean, did you notice how long it took the other night just doing the baseline mapping on the office pic--"

Apparently registering Helena's distinctly waning level of interest, Dinah moved ahead.

"So, uh, yeah, and then her dad called and twisted her arm into going to some NGPD function with him."

Tone becoming somewhat sympathetic, the teen finished relaying her message.

"Barbara said she's probably going to be pretty late tonight."

Silence reigned for a moment as Helena digested the news and Dinah shifted from foot to foot. Finally, the teen spoke again, voice artificially cheerful.

"So, uh, no sweeps tonight, I guess."

Ignoring her desire to throttle the messenger, the brunette grabbed her towel and jerked it roughly over her neck.

No sweeps. No Oracle. No Barbara.

Instead of stomping her feet, she spoke gruffly.

"Yeah. Guess I can catch up on my sleep after work, or something."

Instantly registering the triumphant gleam in pale blue eyes, Helena realized that she had to be in a bad way. What other explanation was there for walking right into it?

Cerulean eyes narrowed dangerously as the older woman painted on her best Don't-Go-There expression.

It didn't help. Dinah batted her eyes and smiled sweetly.

"So, you're probably needing to do that, huh? Catching up on sleep, Hel?"

Helena smiled back, not quite as sweetly.

"Think you're ready for the big leagues, huh, Kid?"

Placing her fingers by her temples and offering a look of focused concentration, she added, "Want some pointers to use on Gabby?"

She held her pose as the teenager turned all shades of red and took a quick step back, raising her hands in the universal sign for mercy. Relenting, Helena lowered her hands and chuckled.

"Don't worry, Kid. I don't want to fry your circuits or anything. 'Sides, I'm not sharing any of this."

Dinah visibly relaxed and fell into step with the brunette as they made their way out of the training room. Sensing the urge to speak that was almost palpably rolling of the girl, Helena stopped at the door, cocked her head, and waited while Dinah gnawed at her lip for a moment.

The blonde finally drew in a breath and smiled, speaking softly.

"Seriously, Hel. I really glad that you're so happy. And Barbara, too. She's seemed, I don't know," Dinah paused, looking for the right word over Helena's shoulder, "lighter the last few days."

The brunette didn't fight her own smile as a wave of emotions and memories from the last few days washed over her. It had been a long time coming, but, man, it was definitely worth the wait.

Wrapping an arm around Dinah's shoulder in a quick hug, she stepped out of the training room, speaking cheerfully.

"Hey, if you're not doing anything tonight, maybe you can come down to the bar and help me tape down plastic sheeting for the wet trunk contest tomor--"

Helena belatedly noticed that she was talking to herself and performed a quick one eighty to find the teen frozen at the door to the training room, eyes as big as saucers.

It didn't take a brain as big as Barbara's for the brunette to realize what might have bled through during her quick hug. She felt warmth -- no, a freaking inferno -- traveling to her cheeks as she watched Dinah open and shut her mouth several times.

"Barbara did tha--?!"

The blonde cut herself off with nervous laugh as Helena advanced on her menacingly.

"Sorry, D. I'm gonna have to kill you now, you know..."

Taking off with a shriek, with the brunette in hot pursuit, Dinah tossed her response over her shoulder.

"You're going to have to catch me first!"

Chapter 15

Catching a stiff updraft channeling between two high-rises, Helena abandoned her stretch for the roof that was still twenty feet away -- twenty feet of empty vertical air -- and allowed the current to buffet her higher into the night sky. She shut her eyes and tilted her face up, wind billowing her duster, exulting in her flight. At that moment, two hundred and fifty feet above the grimy streets of New Gotham, floating on air, the young woman was invincible, convinced that -- if she could only stretch a tiny bit more -- she could catch the moon to offer on bended knee to woman she loved.

At the apex of the vertical lift, the brunette opened her eyes, snorting at her wildly romantic notion, and angled towards the roof below her. She wasn't quite sure what Barbara would say were she to show up with the moon on a silver platter, but the young woman was pretty sure that the language would lean towards the types of experiments that the redhead would run on the big rock instead of flowery expressions of devotion.

Probably just as well to leave the satellite orbiting where it was.

Helena crossed to the far side of the building and peered over the edge, at the balcony of the clock tower. Through the transom above the French doors, she could just make out the top of a red head, bent too close to one of the monitors as usual, and her pulse rate jumped. A split second later, the young woman jumped from the roof top, sailed across the narrow street, and landed soundlessly on the balcony.

She quashed what would have undoubtedly been a showy and dramatic entrance at the last minute when she remembered that spending the night nursing Barbara through a heart attack was not what she had in mind. Instead, she flapped her coat outside the door and entered the living area sedately and slowly -- completely, she thought, unlike somebody who was head over heels in love and hadn't seen her lover for over two and a half days.

The bright smile that the young woman received from behind a pair of half-glasses suggested that she'd taken the right approach.

"Hello, Helena."

The brunette stopped to drop her coat and licked her lips.

Damn, those glasses were sexy. Very sexy.

"Are you off already? Isn't tonight..."

The redhead turned to pop open a calendar on one monitor.

"the Wet Boxers Contest at the bar?"

"Trunks. Frat boys in wet trunks," the young woman corrected, voice a low purr as she strolled towards the Delphi.

"For some reason," blue eyes twinkled, "Janey was really eager to cover the end of my shift tonight."

The older woman laughed, then spoke thoughtfully, as Helena came to a stop next to her.

"But, aren't you missing out on the best... parts, Hel?"

The brunette smiled toothily as she dropped to a crouch and gently trailed her fingertips up the older woman's bare forearm.

"Well, there were some pretty swell Speedos at the bar, Red, but, right now, I'm finding that my interest seems to be in tank tops..."

She accompanied this declaration by teasing her index finger under the strap of the redhead's white tank, eyes drooping slightly at the other woman's shiver.

"... and silk robes -- "

Noticing the clear garment bag hanging from a bookcase, blue eyes flew open. Helena took in the shimmering fabric under the clear plastic and swallowed. Hard.

"And that," she managed to finish, with a nod towards the garment.

Green eyes followed her gaze, and the older woman smiled as Helena stood and walked over for a closer look.

"Don't think I've seen this one before, Babs. You really pulled out all the stops for your Dad's shin-dig. Did he stroke out when he saw you in it?"

The brunette smiled appreciatively at the plunging neckline as Barbara laughed gaily.

"I suspect he might have had apoplexy, Hel, if he had seen me in it," she acknowledged, "but that's not what I wore. In fact, actually, I picked that out today."


The shy admission hit the younger woman like a jackboot to the chest, and she immediately decided that she was going to need Alfred's help picking out the right place to take Barbara to show her off in that dress.

In the meantime...

Taking a second to be sure that her eyes weren't literally hanging out of her head or anything, the brunette turned away from the garment and visions of what it would look like on the other woman... and even more alluring thoughts of what it would look like as she peeled it off her.

"Uh, so, how is your dad? And, the banquet. How was that?"

Helena thought she'd managed a pretty good casual tone as she returned to the redhead's side. An arched brow and the ghost of a smirk hinted otherwise.

"He's fine, Helena. And, the banquet was the usual: long toasts and the same old war stories."

A soft laugh removed any harshness from the description.

"I did put out some feelers to see if anyone knows anything about the lawyer who sprung Rocko, but he simply seems to be a hired gun."

Focused on slender hands toggling to a screen in response to some alert, Helena attempted to look suitably interested in the other woman's singular lack of information about Rocko's mouthpiece. For her part, she thought it was well past time for the other woman to be off the clock for the night.

Since that seemed like pretty good thinking to her, the brunette leaned down to share her reasoning -- and maybe do a little coaxing. Unfortunately, the older woman whipped her head back to the side at that moment, catching Helena squarely on the nose. The young woman danced back, hand flying to her nose, eyes watering.

"Oh, sweetie!"

One of the elegant hands that she'd been admiring darted up, landing lightly on Helena's stomach.

"I'm so sorry. Are you alright?"

Recovering her wits, the brunette sniffed experimentally and lowered her hand.

No wonder Red always talked about how effective a good head-butt could be.

"Yeah, no harm done. But, what the hell?"

Green eyes blinked, looking baffled, and Helena felt herself melt. Quirking a grin, she gestured toward the Delphi and was rewarded with an abashed laugh.

"Oh, yes. We just picked up a silent alarm."

Green eyes sparkled.

"I think I know what Rocko is doing with his package from the country..."

Okay, so Red knew something. Helena knew something also: namely, that she'd be heading back out into the night.

Only slightly put out at the fact, the young woman hopped down from the platform and gracefully slid into her coat before turning with a wink.

"Just tell me one thing, Barbara."

Already focusing on the monitor, the redhead looked up with a puzzled smile.

"What's that, Hel?"

"Do I have time to stop and buy some air freshener on my way?"

The older woman's laughter followed Helena off the balcony. However, returning to the clock tower an hour later, the brunette wondered if it had been such a laughing matter. Barbara had been right about the source of the silent alarm; and, while Helena hadn't arrived in time to catch the guy in the act, the evidence was impossible to miss.

Strolling into the living room, the young woman wondered about the practicality of digging out Barbara's old utility belt and stocking it with those little green air freshener trees that people hung from their rear view mirrors. She dismissed the idea almost immediately since the belt would clearly ruin the sleek lines of her coat.

Dropping said coat on the couch, the brunette froze for a beat, wondering if she could just carry a Stick Up around in her pocket.

Barbara's musing recalled her to the moment.

"One more odd crime to add to the tally."

"Uh huh," Helena grinned as she moved to the redhead's side, "The New Gotham Ledger received the equivalent of a flaming bag of doggy doo on its doorstep tonight."


The young woman thought that Barbara's snicker sort of ruined the whole "stern and responsible" look that she was trying for.

"It was the presses, not their doorstep, and the damage is significant enough to be--"

Helena inhaled slowly, allowing the subtle scent of the other woman to wash through her, and tilted her head as Barbara continued to speak. She had to admit that stern and responsible looked pretty good on the other woman.

"However, this does provide another valuable piece to the puzzle. I'm coding some simulations to try to narrow down what the next target--"

The redhead removed her glasses and tapped one bow absently against her lips. The younger woman shifted quietly and swallowed, then licked very dry lips.

"The shoe factory is a bit of a wild card, I must admit, but I believe that coding for..."

Apparently noticing, finally, that her younger partner's attention was a bit... fragmented, Barbara trailed off, arching a brow in question. Helena managed to quirk a brief smile before the redhead's appraising look transformed to something different.


A soft request, as Helena raised one hand, brushing the back of her fingers ever so lightly against the older woman's hair.

Blue eyes lowered slowly when her hand was captured and drawn to soft lips to receive a gentle caress. Golden eyes opened at the redhead's murmur.

"You can ask, too, you know, Sweetie."

The dark figure carefully knelt next to the other woman, not entirely certain that her trembling legs would support her much longer.


The older woman's throaty response whispered across Helena's skin like a flame, searing her skin... and her soul.

"When you want... or need..."

Heat pooled in Helena's belly as she watched Barbara's face harden, and she breathed in the older woman's desire. Unblinking, she shifted -- just enough -- and then lowered her head against her lover's thighs.

"I need."

For a moment, the softly spoken words floated between them, and then the older woman shifted, the unnecessary movement bespeaking the restless desire echoed on her face.

"What do you want, Hel?"

The question was quiet and completely intimate.

Without raising her head, the young woman spoke her heart's desire.

"I want to please you."

Helena felt, rather than heard, Barbara's sharp inhalation. She trembled as one slender finger traced her eyebrow, the one that was slightly higher than the other, giving her a perpetually amused or disbelieving look.

When the older woman finally spoke, her voice was low and pleased.

"Oh, you do, Helena. Never doubt that."

Helena thought she heard... or perhaps felt... the briefest of stumbles in the older woman's voice before she continued huskily.

"From the moment you... touched me on the balcony, I never doubted it."

At that moment, so close to the other woman's center, feeling warmth building against her face, Helena could not doubt either.

"Let's just see..."

Barbara's index finger traced the brunette's ear, causing her to shiver and drawing a low rumble from her chest.

"... if I can please us both."

Helena thought she liked the sound of that. But, still...

Scenting the other woman, panting softly, she raised her head.

"I want to touch you, Barbara."

The older woman's look was a tease. And a promise.

"Why don't you go into the bedroom and wait for me?"

Incongruously, given her escalating level of excitement, Helena felt her heart rate slow, the pounding becoming more powerful -- as if she were laboring to move blood that had suddenly become thick -- molten -- through her veins.

Straightening, she lowered dark brows over playfully glinting eyes, flashed a wicked smile, and drawled, "Why, Ms. Gordon, whatever are you planning?"

The older woman's answering smile, Helena realized with a barely suppressed gasp, might have inspired daVinci's Mona Lisa or, perhaps, might have inspired Adam to taste the forbidden fruit.

"That's something for you to think about while you're waiting for me, Sweetie."

And, that's exactly what the young woman did after rising slowly, blood thundering in her ears, and making her way to the redhead's room. She made the room ready -- checking the thermostat, turning back the covers, selecting the muted illumination of a bedside lamp -- as anticipation prickled at her skin and her nerves hummed like tightly drawn wires. After that, the young woman made herself ready -- a hurried toilette, undressing herself but, sensing that Barbara would prefer it, remaining in her underwear -- before crawling onto the big bed.

The minutes ticked by while she lay on her back, arms under her head, drinking in the other woman's scent that surrounded her on the sheets and pillows. Listening to the muffled sounds of the redhead moving around the living area, then entering the bathroom through the hallway, Helena realized that all of her muscles were trembling minutely.

Having lived with, and worked with, and loved Barbara for so long, the younger woman was not unaware of the power and force that the older woman kept so tightly checked. Yet, after such a brief time as Barbara's lover, Helena suspected that she'd barely scratched the surface of the redhead's true passionate depths.

The thought was dizzying.

Helena's desire to prove worthy of Barbara's desire and to return it -- God, how she wanted that -- was overwhelming.

By the time the older woman entered the bedroom, clad in her usual nightwear -- boxers and a short sleeved tee shirt -- the brunette was breathless with the possibilities. Through a force of will she couldn't believe, she lay still as Barbara transferred herself to the bed, and then Helena shifted to rise onto her elbows.

The movement was summarily halted when the older woman placed a strong hand against the brunette's upper chest and gently pushed her back down.

"I believe..."

The words were a teasing burr.

"... that I liked you as you were."

Golden eyes blinked, and Helena licked her lips, searching the redhead's face. Reading the intent in the ascetic lines of her lover's features, a broad smile split the young woman's face, and she raised her hands above her head on the pillow, clasping her left wrist loosely in her right hand.

Helena watched emerald eyes narrow speculatively and felt her own breathing begin to shorten. When Barbara gently drew one finger down the center of her chest, neatly trimmed nail rasping quietly against the cotton of her tank, the brunette was pierced by an aching emptiness that caused her hips to buck violently.

"Oh god, Barbara!"

That slender hand lifted, two fingers coming to rest lightly against the young woman's lips.

"Shh. No talking."

Helena's jaw dropped, and she cautiously tasted the fingers which were resting against her mouth. They were so soft and warm, tasting faintly of soap... and something else.

The volume of her own moan surprised Helena.

And, then, the other woman shifted slightly, lifting her body. The fabric of the redhead's tee shirt whispered across Helena's throbbing breasts; long red hair curtained their faces. Barbara moved further up the bed, breathing soft kisses to the brunette's forehead, drawing her chest near Helena's throat.

Ravenous, aflame with a need to touch and take in, the young woman grunted softly, twisting her head down. She scarcely touched her mouth to a sinewy shoulder before the redhead pulled away. Gritting her teeth, Helena shifted her hips restlessly and sought the older woman's eyes.


"You're wet already, aren't you, Sweetie?"

Clenching into herself, the younger woman could only nod dumbly.

Dark, dark eyes seemed to flash as a tender smile painted itself on the redhead's face.

"Show me, Hel."

It was the sound of those words, steel enrobed in velvet, which first echoed through Helena's mind when she awakened several hours later, just before dawn. The young woman shivered, recalling the hungry verdant gaze that had stripped her bare, the barely-there touches and ragged whispers that had drawn her nerves and muscles bowstring taut, the promises of taste and fulfillment that had left her sweating and shaking and begging.


Just... whoa.

Snuggling infinitesimally closer to her bedmate, the young woman buried her face against the redhead's side, distantly aware of the contented rumble echoing softly from her own chest. Smiling, she nosed the sleeve of Barbara's tee higher and danced her tongue lightly under her arm, legs twitching minutely at the subtle tang of the older woman's sweat.

"Good morning, Hel."

A languorous stretch accompanied the husky greeting. Watching the play of shadows across the older woman's chest, Helena swallowed against the sudden watering in her mouth and then stretched slightly to press a soft kiss to the redhead's chest.

"Mmm," Helena felt a kiss brush the top of her head as Barbara continued. "I can't believe I woke up before the alarm."

The brunette's pleasantly drowsy mind -- and other parts of her anatomy -- instantly sprang awake and did some calculations. Even before she'd stopped caring about school, math had never been the young woman's strong suite, however...

"Yeah, funny that," Helena purred as she smoothly rolled over to straddle the other woman's hips, "It makes me feel all virtuous and righteous."

She easily detected the amused twinkle in green eyes.

"Does it indeed?"

"Uh huh. Just rarin' to do something energetic to kick off the day."

The young woman emphasized her statement with a soft bump of her hips against the redhead's stomach as she leaned down to lick at Barbara's neck. Her companion responded with a laugh, rubbing her hands briskly up and down Helena's back.

"I see."

The redhead twisted, shifting them to their sides and then leaning in to nip softly at the young woman's chin.

"Well, if you're so full of energy, Helena, perhaps I can draw up a list of errands for you to run this morning..."

Helena clapped her hands over her ears and scrunched her eyes shut tightly, not missing her partner's laugh as the older woman sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. At the sensation of warm fingers tenderly combing through her bangs, she cautiously lowered her hands and cracked one eye to find the redhead regarding her warmly.

Very warmly.

"Don't think I'm not tempted, Sweetie."

Well aware that, in her current state, her response to the older woman's tone was unmistakable, Helena decided to go with it. She smiled encouragingly and reached out to stroke the redhead's cheek softly. Barbara tilted her face into the caress before reaching for her chair and continuing ruefully.

"But, this morning, I believe I need a long shower and an extra cup of coffee if I'm going to make it through the day."

Bowing to the inevitable, the brunette scooted up in the bed to lean against the headboard, tugging the covers over her hips. Watching the other woman rifle through her closet reminded Helena of something and she sat up.

She might need a few days to put something together worthy of Red's new dress, but that didn't mean they couldn't...

"Hey, Barbara -- "

Hearing the hoarseness in her voice -- might of had something to do with all the moaning she'd done last night -- the young woman raised a hand and coughed delicately, trying not to blush in response to the knowing look being directed her way.

"I've got a late shift at the Dark Horse tonight and thought we, uh, well, would you like to have dinner? You know, real food at a restaurant?"

When the redhead merely blinked at her for a beat, Helena batted her baby blues winsomely and added, "My treat."

Barbara's answering laugh warmed the brunette, and she threw back the covers and shifted to the edge of the bed. The older woman's words stopped her cold.

"I'm sorry, Hel, but I can't tonight. I have a date."

Chapter 16

So I guess the fortune teller's right
I should've seen just what was there and not some holy light
But you crawled beneath my veins and now
I don't care, I have no luck
I don't miss it all that much
There's just so many things
That I can touch, I'm torn

As Natalie Imbruglia's raw lyrics whispered from the Dark Horse's jukebox, Helena grimly wondered about the pain involved in poking out her own eardrums with a pair of swizzle sticks. That, or stuffing some cocktail onions in her ears.

To say that she found the song's sentiments ironic would have been understatement on a scale rivaling the Grand Canyon.

Brusquely -- and unnecessarily -- wiping down the bar counter for the twentieth time in the last fifteen minutes, the young woman tried to look at the bright side of things: At least that wasn't the song that had been playing when Barbara's clock radio had clicked on a long, pregnant moment after the redhead had made her announcement.

No, it had been the Pointer Sisters' "Slow Hand" that had echoed from the radio sixteen hours -- a frikkin' lifetime -- ago. The brunette had to admit that even that melody wasn't without its own ironies, but at least it hadn't shredded her the way "Torn" was doing now.

The click of the radio. The sensual lyrics. Barbara's faintly abashed laugh.

The sounds had been nearly simultaneous, and they'd ricocheted off each other inside Helena's head. Hell, they were still bouncing around like pinballs in an arcade game. In fact, when she thought about the whole thing -- and the young woman was hard-pressed to think about anything else -- Helena even saw flashing lights and neon "Tilt" signs going off in the periphery of her vision.

It hadn't really started out with her on the scoreboard hall of fame -- or whatever it was when you got to put your initials on the game as a big winner, or -- in this case -- loser. She'd just put in her quarters and pulled back the knob, so to speak, just for the joy of it when she'd asked about dinner.

And, at first, Helena had figured that she just wasn't understanding, that maybe Red was using the word "date" in an old fashioned or formal way -- "I'm terribly sorry, my good man, but I have a previous engagement." So, when she'd caught her breath, the young woman had gone ahead and put her feet on the floor -- just like it was going to be another great day that had started in her lover's bed -- hoping that Barbara hadn't noticed her flinch.

Needlessly re-arranging the shot glasses on the under-counter shelf, Helena thought about the half-smile and questioning lift of her eyebrows that she'd managed, since speech had been out of the question at the moment. That must have been the equivalent of hitting the flippers just right on the pinball machine and sending the ball all the way to the backboard.

Barbara had pulled her head out of her closet, holding the burnt sienna turtleneck that Helena had given her for Christmas two years before. It had taken the brunette the next six months to persuade her friend that the color would actually compliment, not clash with, her hair.

Helena loved the way that the sweater highlighted the redhead's coloring.

Seemed like the older woman had noticed Helena's disbelieving expression since she'd actually looked a little flustered. And, at that moment, the young woman had been pretty sure that flustered wasn't a good sign.

But then, Barbara had laughed as she tossed the sweater on the bed and chided the brunette.

"I know it's not a regular occurrence, and it has been a while, Helena; but, yes, I'm going out tonight."

Helena had blindly reached for a pillow, crossing her arms over it in her lap as she'd worked to find her voice. Recalling that moment, the brunette thought it was like when the ball disappeared into one of those traps in the game, and she'd been poised, waiting to see where it would show up next.

"Going out?"

Maybe Barbara had heard something in the words, because she'd come around the end of the bed and caught the younger woman's eyes. She'd then smiled so sweetly and shyly -- kind of embarrassed and abashed -- that Helena knew, with every fiber of her being, that she had to be getting it wrong.

"Yes. With Jim. The software rep I met several weeks ago?"

Helena thought that she'd nodded.

"You were so right, Hel, about my hiding and being scared. Even after our talk last week and..."

Still utterly dumbstruck, the young woman had watched color flood the older woman's face in tandem with a slightly self-satisfied smile. She herself hadn't been able to stop the flicker of warmth that suffused her chest when she thought about that awkward and amazing conversation they'd had after her trip to the shoe factory.

"... everything since, I'm still scared to pieces. But, you were also entirely correct that I don't need to regard every..."

The redhead had faltered for a minute, green eyes tracking to the left. Helena had waited to see what word, or words, her mentor would pull from her perfect memory.

"... encounter as a long-term affair."

Suddenly cold, the young woman had looked around for her clothes, realizing that they were too scattered to retrieve at the moment.

Sixteen hours later, carrying a dirty mug to the pass-through for the kitchen, Helena shivered as the same chill seized her. She thought it had to do with the memory of how the redhead had then leaned forward, the sensation of how Barbara had tangled their fingers, the whisper of the older woman's intimate words.

"And you... this-- It's..."

Even as confused as she'd been, Helena had thought that Barbara's smile had been wistful, a little sad somehow. Her voiced had certainly been hesitant.

"... wonderful, Hel. You've really helped me realize how different things can be."

What the f--?

The brunette blinked and started at sudden noise and movements that weren't inside her head. She took a step back, batting reflexively at Leonard, not understanding what Janey was doing with the dishtowel until she looked down and saw the shards of the heavy mug that she'd crushed, the blood dripping from her palm.

Dismissively, she wrapped the towel around her hand and stepped into the back to rinse out the glass, considering Barbara's almost embarrassed admission.

Helena got it. Hell, she'd gotten it early this morning.

It wasn't what she'd believed; it wasn't everything she'd desperately longed for for years. Barbara hadn't taken her as a lover. No, what she'd taken was the younger woman's advice to have a little fun.

The redhead had seen -- fuck, how could she have missed it? -- Helena's response to her from that near-kiss the week before. The other woman -- Helena *hadn't* imagined it -- had responded as well and, fuck, decided to dip her toes -- the brunette bitterly corrected herself since it was more like Barbara had decided to dip her fingers -- into the waters of... of whatever *this* was at Helena Kyle Beach.

For starters.

Helena's own words from several weeks before were a bitter taunt when it hit her that this -- whatever it was they'd shared -- indeed didn't even seem to be an affair to remember for the redhead.

That had been the moment, sitting naked in the other woman's bed, when Helena had stopped trying to work the flippers on the game, when she'd realized at a visceral level that the game was pretty much playing itself now. Numbers were running up on the tot-board, and Barbara was backing towards the bathroom, looking at the younger woman like she *needed* something from her.

As for her... Well, she'd been just sort of transfixed by the flashing lights and pretty pictures on the backboard of the game -- or maybe it had been going off in her head -- until she'd realized with a sickening clench of her stomach just what they were.

Words -- hesitant and joyful -- from a week ago.

Barbara's words: 'I don't want to end up with any problems between us.'

Her own promise: 'No way, Red. I love you too much for that to happen.'

The young woman squeezed her eyes shut against the sting of the cold water on her hand and struggled not to retch.

She'd meant the words when she spoke them a week ago. This morning, she'd known that she would always mean them, and there'd been no choice in the face of Barbara's nervous need. She'd reached deep down inside herself and found a smile and a few words.

"Glad I could, uh, help out. Just remember tonight, Babs: Somebody's gonna be damned lucky to get you."

That had been it.


Game over.

Wrapping a clean towel around her hand, the brunette thought she heard Leonard telling her to call it a night and turned, wordlessly, to climb the back stairs to her apartment. Once inside, she didn't bother turning on a light; her own acute vision and the glow from the bar's neon sign outside her window made it unnecessary. Instead, she moved to her stereo rack and unerringly selected a CD from the shelf, sliding it into the unit, and powering the system up.

In the few seconds that it took for the amps and speakers to come to life, she moved to the low sofa and, noticing blood on her sleeve, shucked her shirt. Dropping onto the couch, she pointed the remote, selected the track she wanted, and programmed it to loop.

As the first bars of her selection sounded softly through her small apartment, Helena exhaled noiselessly and leaned back against the cushions. Alone, in the dark, she stared at the small planter that sat before her on the coffee table -- at the delicate Japanese orchid that she'd been nursing for over three years -- and allowed melody, words, and meaning to bleed together.

I'm all out of faith
This is how I feel
I'm cold and I am shamed,
lying naked on the floor
Illusion never changed
Into something real
I'm wide awake and
I can see the perfect sky is torn

Chapter 17

Helena tore across the rooftops of nighttime New Gotham, knowing that she could easily leave her pursuer behind. Wind in her face, clouds close enough to touch, she leapt into space, easily spanning a fifteen foot gap between two buildings.

A few more loping steps and she'd be able to vault off that gargoyle and disappear into the night.

"Huntress! Wait!"

Leaping easily -- Hell, her heart rate wasn't even up -- the dark figure suddenly tripped and went flying.

Tripped?! What the hell?

The last time she'd tripped had been during an ill-advised experiment with Mad Dog 20-20 back in high school.

That little twerp...

Blue eyes narrowed evilly, and the brunette rolled gracefully to her feet, soundlessly disappearing into the shadows of a ventilation shaft. A heartbeat later, she detected the scuff of a light figure cautiously jogging across the graveled rooftop. The footfalls slowed, then stopped, and a thought blazed across Helena's cortex.

>>Cut it out, Hel. It's not funny.<<

Damn, even in her head, Helena could hear the whine in the teenager's words. Still, it was pretty amazing. Idly, the brunette wondered how great a distance Dinah could cover with her new skill.

Still hidden, she also flirted with the idea of leaping out and scaring the living wits out of her companion. Or, maybe, just fading into the darkness. Wasn't like the Kid couldn't handle this assignment on her own.

Ultimately, she did neither.

Moving so fluidly that not even a shift in the air gave her away, the lithe woman stepped from the shadows into the half light of the cloudy night. Remaining utterly still, almost literally not moving a muscle, she fixed the teen with an intent stare and then simply waited. Eventually -- Too long, they'd need to work on Dinah's awareness of her surroundings -- the blonde seemed to sense the scrutiny and slowly turned.

"Helena! Where the heck were you?!"

"Pretty much right here all the time, Kid."

Too late, the older woman realized how gruff her voice had been, and she instantly felt bad when she saw the girl bite at her lip.

"Good move, though, tripping me with your TK."

That got a hopeful smile.

"Thanks, He- Huntress. But, why didn't you wait for me?"

Resuming their travel at a more sedate pace, the brunette considered any number of likely answers to that question. In the end, she opted for the truth.

"Don't much feel like company right now, K-- D."

Not right then and not since entering the clock tower an hour ago to touch base before sweeps. To touch base, like a good friend, with Barbara about her date the night before.

Honestly, Helena wanted the best for the redhead; she wanted her to be happy; and so she hadn't been wishing some sort of Elimidate experience on her. But, since she ached for the older woman to find happiness with *her*, she also hadn't quite been ready to deal with Barbara's infuriatingly upbeat cheerfulness.

Still, she'd sucked it up, put her best foot forward, taken one for the team... blah blah blah.

Yeah, somehow, the young woman had managed to ask how it had gone. Red hadn't gone all gushy or anything -- Helena knew that Barbara wasn't really a kiss-n-tell kind of gal anyway -- but her mention of another date on Saturday was enough. That, and the wistful smile on her face when she'd described the previous night, with typical understatement, as 'lovely'.

After not-too-much of that -- and the mind-numbing description of software innovations that Barbara and Jim had talked about -- Helena had been itchier than usual to hit the streets. She'd not been prepared, when the redhead had suggested this assignment, for the additional request that she have Dinah accompany her. Since it was relatively early and since the Kid was looking at her with big, hopeful puppy-dog eyes *and* since Helena didn't want to spend any more time at the tower coming up with reasons for Dinah not to come... Well, here she was.

Normally, Helena didn't really mind having Dinah along.

Not that she would have admitted that, even under torture, of course.

Hell, in the last year, she'd kind of gotten used to having the blonde tagging along on some of her sweeps. It gave Dinah good training and exposure in case she decided that she really wanted to embrace The Life. It could even be nice to have the company. Sometimes, if things were dull, the Kid would play bait -- helpless girl on the dark streets of the city -- to see if the pair could lure out a lowlife of two.

But tonight?

A long run across town to check out the older woman's hunch about the office building that Rocko and his buddies had been trying to break into the week before? Helena thought it seemed like a solo job to her.

Actually, right now, she kind of thought that she would -- or should -- be flying solo for a good long time.

At least Dinah seemed to have gotten the hint and wasn't going on and on about her last outing with Gabby. In fact, she wasn't talking at all, at least until her surly guide abruptly stopped at the edge of a roof, and the teen plowed into her back, nearly shoving her into space.

"Shit! Watch it with the bulldozer routine, will ya?"

Man, Helena sometimes forgot that the teen was bigger than she was.

"Sorry, Huntress. Uh, what's up?"

"We're here."

The brunette peered down into the alley and thumbed her comm set, noticing her companion reaching up to do the same.

"Oracle, do you copy?"

<"I copy, Huntress. Everything alright?">

The young woman unhurriedly descended a fire escape to the alley below as Dinah levitated herself down and landed with a quiet 'Oomph.'

"We're here. Looks like you were right."

For some reason, lengthy exchanges were almost out of the question. The young woman thought that, somehow, they would open her up too much to her older partner.

Helena gestured in the direction of the office building's back entrance, and the teenager stepped over, peering at it carefully before pulling out the digital camera and speaking excitedly.

"Yeah, Oracle. The pry marks are the same odd width and located in the same spots as at the library."

There was a brief pause over the transceiver, and Helena detected the sound of rapid mouse clicks. She guessed that her partner was checking all of the private security firms for signs of an alarm having triggered.

<"Is there any sign of anyone still being inside?">

The brunette stretched her senses -- hearing, smell, and that sixth sense of awareness. With a distinct feeling of being cheated out of the opportunity to hand out a good ass-kicking, she realized that the culprits had probably already departed.


Still a little pissed that she wasn't going to have a chance to work off some socially unacceptable anger in a socially acceptable manner, Helena peripherally noted that pale blue eyes were regarding her expectantly.

Screw that.

Cerulean eyes narrowed dangerously, but the dark woman remained utterly silent. Finally, her younger companion spoke hesitantly.

"Uh, I guess we'll go in and take a look? See what happened this time."

A chestnut head nodded once, briskly, before the dark vigilante flowed silently through the jimmied door into the office building.

"Going silent," Dinah added softly as she slipped through the door on Helena's coattails.

The two moved stealthily through the service hallway, the older woman leading effortlessly in the pitch darkness. Dinah wasn't quite as at-home in the darkness, and the third time that she stepped on her guide's heel, Helena brusquely stepped behind the girl and grabbed the collar of her jacket -- taking special care to avoid any contact with the blonde's skin -- guiding her from behind.

Sheesh, she was going to have to get her frikkin' boots re-heeled if Dinah kept that up.

Thirty paces, much smoother paces, further and Helena saw what they were looking for: The door to one of the offices had been messily kicked in. She directed her companion inside and quickly scouted through the cubicles, confirming that the area was empty, even as she tried to identify the faint, pungent odor tickling her senses.

At that point, the brunette pulled a small Krypton light from her duster and handed it to the teen. Dinah gratefully powered the flashlight on and began poking her head into the cubicles as Helena provided a quiet update to her remote partner.

"They were here -- "

She poked her head around the exterior door to read the sign.

"Voter registration headquarters."

A knowing, but exasperated sigh, filtered over the transceiver.

<"What was it this time, Huntress? Spray paint? Silly string? Lingerie hanging from the ceiling?">

Prowling through the reception area, the dark vigilante was at a loss. Noticing that she'd instinctively begun to smile at her partner's light words, she clamped down on it and scowled.

Mostly at herself.

"Dunno, Oracle. Nothing so f--"

"Oh god! Yuk!"

Dinah's exclamation drew Helena into the back in record time.

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

Looking -- and sounding -- a little green around the gills, the blonde choked out an explanation.

"In all the computers... In the CD drives... They, they stuffed some kind of flesh or skin in there!"

<"Fle-- Are you cert--">

Sniffing disdainfully, Helena cut the older woman off.

"Oh, baloney."

Dinah wheeled, voice indignant.

"I know what I see, Huntress!"

Wordlessly, the brunette squatted, delicately lifted the offending substance from the CD drawer, and extended it between her thumb and index finger.

"Bo-lo-ney, Ki-- Canary. See?"

The teen sagged slightly, blushing extravagantly.

<"Boloney, Huntress? As in...?">

"Luncheon meat, Oracle. But, Canary was right about it being stuffed into every computer."

The cyber crime fighter's laughter was soft and knowing.

<"Well, that certainly ties in with the M.O.s to date. If we had any doubts before, I think we can be fairly certain now that someone has a message to share.">

Helena pursed her lips, wondering why she was dealing with crap and boloney instead of real crime, even as Dinah stepped into another workspace and piped up.

"But, why so many guys last week for a job like this, Oracle?"

<"Good question, Canary. My guess would be that they were planning something different, something requiring more manpower. When Huntress interrupted them, perhaps they came up with an alternate operation.">

The dark woman saw a blonde head nodding vigorously over the top of a cubicle.

"That makes sense, Oracle. This is more of a one-man operation, isn't it?"

<"Indeed, Canary. Perhaps you two can get some photos of the scene? After that, you can run a regular grid sweep on your way back.">

Striding soundlessly into the adjoining cube, Helena spoke briskly as she grabbed the camera from the teen.

"Off comms."

The brunette noticed that her companion reached up to deactivate her own comm unit before speaking crossly.

"What's the deal, Helena? I'd think you'd be in a little better mood after keeping Barbara out until all hours last night."

Helena swallowed her angry response, focusing instead on taking pictures at a record-setting pace. She decided to ignore the teenager until a warm hand touched her arm softly.

"What do you mean, 'it wasn't you'?"

The girl's voice was hushed and confused.

Fuck. Now Helena was not only gonna have to watch her mouth but also her thoughts around the Kid.

"Nothing. Just... nothing."

Blue eyes blinked against a burning moisture.

Freakin' camera flash.

Helena sighed impatiently as Dinah regarded her seriously for a long moment.

"Damn, Helena. I'm so sorry. I though that you two were..."

Ignoring the fact that she'd thought so as well, the dark figure exited the office, heading towards the alley. When she finally found the words to respond, her voice was resigned.

"Yeah, well, we're not. It's not always happily ever after, you know."

Chapter 18

Helena wasn't sure just what she'd done wrong in a previous life but figured it must have been a doozy. What else could account for her current situation?

"You don't think this is too much, Hel?"

The young woman considered the object in question -- a shimmering strand of pearls that lay against the exposed skin of Barbara's upper chest. She thought that the luminescent shine of the pearls was easily surpassed by the alabaster luster of their backdrop. Still, they certainly drew extra attention -- unneeded attention, in her opinion -- to the redhead's chest and the provocative neckline of the dress that Barbara had picked up at the beginning of the week.

Offering a knowing waggle of her eyebrows and a mildly lecherous grin -- and wondering how her face wasn't breaking -- she managed the truth.

"You're -- they're amazing, Babs."

Coloring slightly, the older woman turned back to her dressing table and laughed softly.

"Thank you, Helena. I think you're too kind, though."

The brunette blinked, feeling the words like a slap.

Why wouldn't the other woman get it?

She watched the older woman struggle with the clasp of the jewelry for a few seconds before rising from the end of the bed and stepping behind her. Silently, she reached out, taking one end of the necklace in each hand and bending slightly to see the small clasp. The position, unfortunately, brought her much too close to the redhead, close enough that Barbara's shampoo and the clean scent of her skin enveloped her, close enough that the silken skin of her long neck sent sparks up the young woman's fingers as they brushed against it, close enough that her bare shoulders beckoned the brunette to lean down just a bit more and taste...

Helena clenched her jaw and briskly finished with the clasp, almost skipping away from her friend.

"There you go."

Her voice sounded gravel rough to her own ears, and she wondered exactly which level of purgatory this was.

Somehow -- she didn't quite know how -- she'd made it though the last few days. She'd gone through the regular routine, the regular sweeps, the regular banter over the comm set. Somehow, she'd done it all when it felt like nothing would ever feel regular again.

She'd even pulled off Barbara's PT this week.

Funny, a week ago, she'd really -- *really* -- been looking forward to the stretching session as her imagination and libido had supplied all sorts of options for new routines. A week or so ago, before... when she'd just begun to learn how the other woman would taste and feel. This week, burdened with the knowledge of some of those intimate secrets, the session had been ashes in her mouth.

It had been even more painfully confusing to the young woman that the older woman had flirted so freely with her throughout the exercises... almost seeming to taunt her with the lost possibilities. Helena had managed, barely, to hold up her end of the verbal exchanges -- falling back on that second language thing -- but simply couldn't bring herself to believe or understand what was happening.

She'd spent the three days since then prodding at those questions, finally arriving at a very simple conclusion: for Barbara, nothing -- nothing out of the ordinary -- had been happening during PT. Just like over the comm set each night this week as they talked and bantered just like... nothing out of the ordinary had happened to change things.

But, then again, the brunette had been forced to admit to herself, maybe that was true. Maybe it was like that time a few years ago that -- after months of teasing and coaxing and gentle dares -- she'd finally gotten her mentor to agree to let Helena take her flying across the rooftops.

When the idea had first come to the brunette, almost a year before she'd worked up the courage to suggest it, she'd been well aware of the feelings of loss and bitterness that Barbara still had -- would always have -- about what had been denied to her with four cruel gunshots. The intensely independent woman, who had danced so gracefully through the night skies for years before Helena had even dreamed of the joy inherent in the act, no longer had the option to run and fly and touch the sky as she once had. Helena had wanted, somehow, to allow her friend, her partner, the woman she loved to feel at least a part of it again.

Completely uncertain of whether the idea that came to her would help -- or hurt the proud woman even more -- she'd waffled and waited and wanted for almost a year. And then, an opportunity -- in the form of a late night of tequila shooters and some bad movie about parachuting bank robbers -- had given her just enough of an opening. She taken the chance -- hell, taking chances was what she did -- and cautiously planted a seed in the older woman's mind.

Helena really didn't know why everybody seemed to think she had no patience or self-control. She thought she'd been plenty patient after that, carefully, unobtrusively, nurturing the seed of an idea into a seedling and, finally, six months later, a full-grown blossoming willingness.

That night, her own heart almost bursting -- not with effort, but with joy -- she'd sailed the New Gotham skyscape with Barbara in her arms. The redhead's initial trepidation hadn't lasted long. Helena knew that it was like anything that her mentor committed herself to: once Barbara decided to try something, she... just did it.

By the end of the first hour after Helena had leapt from the balcony, Barbara's stiffness -- whatever feelings that had caused her initially to cling so tightly and travel so silently in the sinewy arms which held her securely -- had visibly waned. By the end of the night -- and they had stayed out all night running and leaping and laughing -- the redhead was fully in the moment with her younger partner: Instead of curling tightly into herself as they sailed through the air, she'd spread her arms out like wings, trusting Helena to hold her tight; instead of introverted, fearful silence, she'd exuberantly directed the course of their flight.

It had been, Helena thought, magical. And, it had never happened again.

After that night, the older woman had begun to work with the rings and cables -- sometimes asking for Helena's help -- during her training sessions. She had, finally, taken to relaxing when she joined the brunette on the clock tower balcony -- looking out and up instead of her previous fixed concentration on the caging wall around the balcony. However, she'd always refused Helena's subsequent offers to repeat their outing.

The one time that the young woman had asked why, the redhead had smiled pensively -- Helena had thought her heart might break at the sad knowledge in that smile -- and had told her that, while it had been fun, one night of holding the brunette down was sufficient. She would, instead, try to find out what she could do for herself. The words, melacholy as they'd been, had been banded with iron, leaving Helena no recourse.

Like last week, Helena thought. They'd had fun -- even now, the words had nasty, sharp claws which raked at the young woman's soul -- but it didn't change... things between them. Like that magical starlit night two years before, Barbara had embraced an... opportunity; she'd used it as a springboard to try... other things. But, apparently, it didn't change the intrinsic make-up of the older woman's relationship with her partner.

Helena didn't know how the redhead was doing it, but she knew that, personally, she was having to work mighty hard to make sure that she kept her promise, to make sure that things didn't change, to make damned well certain that there weren't any... problems between them.

So, this evening, what was she doing?

Helena had responded to a distinctly panicky sounding call from the older woman an hour ago. The redhead had been getting ready for her second date with Tech-expo geek, as the young woman had taken to thinking of him, and had an attack of nerves or something. Unable to bear the self-doubt in the beloved woman's voice, Helena had had no choice.

And, for the last forty minutes, she felt like she'd been sucked into some 1950's teen movie, with Sandy getting ready for a date with Danny or something: Was the new dress *too* revealing? Hair up or down? Which perfume...?

Finally, it looked like there wasn't another thing the older woman could do to enhance herself.

"Relax, Red. If Jim has a normal hormone in his body, the only thing you might need are some batarangs to fight him off."

She purposely ignored thinking about the very real possibility that Barbara wouldn't want to fight him off.

Barbara's laugh was full, but brief, as she turned with an amused quirk of crimson brows.

"Her, Hel. It's Gem. G-E-M."

Blue eyes blinked.


'Gem'? What kind of stupid name was that? And, what was the older woman's deal with dating people with goofy names?

Wade. Gem. Even the aptly named Dick.

Maybe that was it; maybe Helena's name was too normal and if she'd just change it to something like 'Moonbeam' or 'Sporty Spice' she'd have a real chance.

Belatedly, the young woman realized that something more might be required conversationally. The twinkle evident in emerald eyes was one pretty good clue.

"Uh, sorry. It's just, well, you've never dated a woman?"

At least, she hadn't in the years that Helena had known her, if you didn't count the week before.

Although, the brunette admitted sourly, apparently she and Barbara hadn't really been dating or anything...

The young woman had some suspicions -- based on the redhead's, uh, facility with her the previous week and based on Barbara's interactions with Carolyn Lance almost two years before. Still, they'd never talked about it. Helena had kind of figured that it might be good pillow talk for a long morning in bed together some time.

The older woman colored slightly and chuckled.

"I haven't... for quite a while."

The unspoken reference to the shooting seven years before hung heavy in the room.

"However, you, er, reminded me of some things I've been missing, Sweetheart."

The admission, softly spoken, was both abashed and pleased. The tone, which Helena had heard so recently lying curled in the big bed with the other woman, raised the hair on the back of the young woman's neck.

"And," the redhead added, "you've definitely shown me that I've been a little... limited in my thinking."

Helena blinked again, knowing there was simply no way that she could comprehend or process all of the textures of meaning behind the words right then.

"Well, okay then," she smiled cockily as Barbara came to a stop in front of her.

Hell, two more "conversions" and she could get that toaster oven, right?

"But, what I said still stands, Barbara. If *she* has a hormone in her body, you'll be fighting her off, Beautiful."

The brunette felt her smile falter a bit as the older woman leaned forward to place a warm hand on her jaw. The smile froze when Barbara drew her forward and then rested her forehead against hers. Heat suffused Helena's upper chest and face at the close contact.

"You really are too good to me, Sweetheart."

With that softly murmured endearment, the redhead pressed her mouth gently to the younger woman's.

Stupefied, Helena experienced soft lips brushing against hers, then gently nibbling at her upper lip. When an tender tongue touched against her, she gasped at the electric sparks that exploded in her lips and traveled down her throat and across her chest.

And then, Barbara was kissing her again, those deep knowing strokes which melted her. Barbara was feathering her fingers against her face and shoulders, and Helena swallowed her moan of arousal... and pain. Helpless, aware that in an instant -- forever -- she would be Barbara's all over again, the young woman clenched her hands tightly against her own thighs lest she attempt to reach out, to touch...

An eternity... or a moment... later, the redhead drew back with a final tender kiss, smiling fondly. Observing the cloudiness in green eyes, Helena swallowed, completely speechless.

"Thank you for helping me get ready for tonight."

The older woman's voice was husky, but when she looked up, her expression was sincere and open.

"I mean that in every way, Hel."


Barbara sure knew how to say 'thank you'.

"Glad I could help, Red."

The young woman cleared her throat, hoping the redhead would mistake her hoarseness for something else.

Barbara's hard look sent tremors clear to the brunette's toes.

"You do, Helena. I don't know that I'd try this," a slender hand waved at her ensemble, "if you hadn't made it so easy to take a chance and if... Well, if you weren't you."

Well, just... crap.

Helena said the only thing she could: words that were the truth but which only hinted at her perpetual wish for the other woman's happiness.

"Hope you have fun, Babs."

The other woman flashed a quick, tight-looking smile and offered a laugh which, Helena thought, sounded entirely too dark.

"Thank you, Helena. I do, too. Although, having fun really is more your metier, while... well, you know me..."

Unwilling to have the older woman doubting herself, the brunette took a stab at humor.

"Not in ya at the molecular level or something, Red? Don't believe it for a minute. I've been told that I can rub off on people, you know."

Oh. Crap.

The young woman mentally winced, wondering why she couldn't just keep her mouth shut. At least the inadvertent entendre had gotten a more relaxed smile out of her friend.

"Indeed, Hel. You are quite the... influence."

It was the dark woman's turn to offer a tight smile, but she steadfastly remained silent in the hope of not putting her other booted foot in her mouth.

Barbara finally turned towards the door.

"What's on your agenda tonight, Helena? Are you working?"

The brunette stood, absurdly glad that Barbara's back was to her so she couldn't see how her partner had just lurched against the rolling in her stomach and the pain in her chest.

"Nah. Leonard balked at any more overtime for me this week. I figured I'd, you know..."

She trailed off, deciding that mention of an evening of making friends with the shadows on the walls of her apartment simply wasn't of general interest.

"I hope you'll try to get *some* rest between bouts of debauchery."

The redhead's voice was teasing, but grew serious.

"You're looking tired, Sweetie."

Trailing into the hall behind the older woman, the brunette made a face and bit back any number of flippant remarks.

'Tired' didn't begin to express it. After only three delirious nights with the older woman, she was -- without her -- completely exhausted and soul-weary.

It wasn't just the loss of intimacy, either. It was the restless emptiness which had been a part of her life for so long. Over the years, especially after moving out to her own place, she'd grown used to it and had found ways -- namely through anonymous encounters -- to solace it. But, in the last few days, it had returned with a vengeance. That week of being with Barbara, of finally belonging in the place she'd hungered to be for years, had been the most peaceful and complete that she remembered since the murder of her mother.

The closest she could recall to that feeling might have been the many nights, especially in the years right after her mother's murder and Barbara's shooting, that the two women had sometimes helped chase each other's nightmares away: on the couch watching bad movies; at the kitchen table with hot cocoa and marathon scrabble games; even, sometimes, sleeping in the same bed.

When she had believed the unbelievable -- just a week before -- Helena had found a full time peace. The abrupt end of her belief, she'd discovered during the last sleepless days, was leaving her emptier and more torn than before. She suspected that a return to any sort of rest would be a long time coming.

Without responding to the redhead's concern, Helena fetched Barbara's coat from the closet, half-listening to the older woman as she delivered a slew of instructions to Dinah. She met the other woman at the elevator, where Barbara accepted her coat with a quick, nervous smile as she jingled the keys to the van.

Helena peripherally noted a sympathetic look being directed her way by Dinah.

"Thank you again for coming over, Helena."

The brunette smiled as Barbara moved into the elevator and spoke to the teenager again.

"I'm not sure when I'll get back, but don't hesitate to call if something comes up."

The two younger women stood silently as the elevator doors closed, watching the indicator lights descend into the parking garage. A leaden silence filled the clock tower until the blonde piped up.

Helena thought that the girl's cheerful tone was decidedly forced.

"Uh, just us girls tonight, I guess. You want to pick a movie, and I can call for pizza?"

The teen waited a beat before apparently misinterpreting Helena's silence.

"Or, uh, maybe you're going out tonight?"

The brunette dug her hands into her pants pockets to hide the fists she was making. She considered the girl's hesitant offer, and her follow-up question.

She sure as hell wasn't going to try to find a quick fix in the arms of some anonymous one night stand. But, licking her wounds with the teenager didn't hold any appeal either.

Biting her lip, she faced the realization that she'd come to during the last few sleepless nights.

For years, she'd pinned all of her hopes and desires on Barbara, and clearly that just wasn't going to happen. Even when she'd briefly been living the heady dream that she'd desired, it just wasn't the same reality for the other woman.

Maybe it was time for a change.

Helena fingered the small square of cardboard in her pocket, a Dark Horse matchbook with a hastily scrawled telephone number that she'd grudgingly accepted almost two weeks before. She smiled gently at the blonde.

"Sorry, D, but you're on your own tonight. I've gotta make a call."

Chapter 19

Helena called out softly, catching the waiter's eye.

"Couple of refills here, when you have a minute?"

She turned to her companion.

"Would you like something else?"

Brown eyes regarded their table and the remains of their snack ruefully. At that point, only crumbs evidenced the basket of muffins and scones they'd consumed, only an empty plate hinted at the sliced fruit that had complimented the pastries.

"Honestly, Helena, I'm stuffed. After that huge brunch and then all of this, I'm going to have to do two extra jazzercise sessions this week."

Offering a self-satisfied smile in fond memory of the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet she'd shared with the other woman hours ago, the brunette resisted the urge to unfasten the top button of her jeans and belch. Instead, she transformed the smile into something silky.

"Yeah, that was good, wasn't it? Sure beats pop tarts."

She wasn't sure if it was better -- hollandaise and lobster thermador notwithstanding -- than Alfred's traditional Sunday blueberry waffles, but she figured that the company she had for those waffles was probably swaying her opinion.

Veering away from that less-than-uplifting thought, she added, "Besides, with all the walking we did today, I don't think you have anything to worry about."

She then deliberately raked her gazed down the other woman's form in frank appraisal and spoke appreciatively.

"Hell, even without the walking, an extra muffin isn't going to hurt you."

Sabina laughed self-consciously and waved her hand nervously as the waiter returned to refill their coffee cups.

"Stop it. But,"

She blew on her steaming beverage, and Helena focused on how her lips pursed fetchingly.

"You are right about the walking. I had no idea that New Gotham had so many wonderful spots tucked away."

Helena grinned and raised her own cup.

"Yeah, I kind of got that impression the other night. You choosing The Dark Horse to meet your client and all. Seemed like an unofficial welcome wagon tour of the city might be a good idea."

Not to mention, it was the perfect opportunity to spend some time -- in broad daylight, no less -- with the woman who had seemed so engaging a few weeks before. When Helena had finally reached Sabina the night before, after she'd gotten home and then spent a not inconsiderable amount of time working up her nerve -- and resolve -- to call, the small woman had been shyly enthusiastic when Helena had suggested brunch and a tour.

The mousy woman laughed merrily, and the younger woman carefully checked the position of all of the beverages on the table. Her visual reconnaissance did not go unnoticed, and Sabina laughed harder.

"I *am* sorry about that... those little accidents, Helena. Although, since they really seemed to help you remember me..."

Helena cut her off.

"As a pick-up technique, Sabina, I have to think that you could do better."

Another laugh spilled from the expressive mouth.

"Yeah, you're right. And, you're right about better meeting places for clients -- No disrespect to your fine establishment intended, of course."

The brunette smiled and admitted, "None taken. It's a dive."

"The restaurants by the waterfront are wonderful," the other woman continued, "and I had no idea that the city had so many boutiques and second hand stores and coffee houses."

"Well, next time,"

The younger woman paused, raising her eyebrows in question. Reassured by a shy smile and a nod, she finished.

"I'll take you to NGU. It has some terrific art galleries."

Helena smiled wistfully at the memory of the time she'd spent at the university's galleries, licking her wounds after she'd so abruptly moved out of the clock tower years before. An enthusiastic question drew her from her jaunt down memory lane.

"Anything medieval? For some reason, I fell in love with the architecture -- actually, Gothic cathedrals -- when I was in college."

The brunette threw back her head and laughed as she stood and tossed some bills on the table.

"Sabina, this is New Gotham. You can't go twenty-five feet without tripping over a freakin' flying buttress!"

The other woman smiled in acknowledgement.

"Then, it's definitely a date, Helena."

Waiting for the small woman to gather her bag, Helena rolled the word around in her mind. It was kind of a new concept for her -- really *not* her usual M.O. and all -- but she decided that, at least with this woman, she liked it.

In the last six hours, she'd gotten to know a bit about the older woman: about her recent move from San Diego; a smidge about her work doing something involving data profiling -- whatever the hell that was, though it seemed like Helena's first librarian guess hadn't been too far off base; even about her large and scattered family. In the process, she'd discovered that her initial impression of the woman had been on-target: Sabina was warm and intelligent and possessed of a sweet, self-depreciating sense of humor. Also in the process -- and even more to Helena's surprise -- the younger woman had found herself sharing some of herself: some anecdotes about her mom, some of her taste in art, some stories from the bar. All the regular stuff, she supposed, that ordinary people talked about when they were getting to know each other. All stuff that Helena had never bothered -- or cared -- to learn about anyone else that she'd passed time with.

Walking the other woman back to her loft, the brunette decided that, maybe, passing time wasn't all she'd thought it was.

She smiled slightly at that thought -- who would have thunk it? -- and noticed her companion's shiver in the rapidly darkening twilight of the New Gotham streets.

"Are you cold?"

"No, not really. It's just... It gets so dark here. Do you know what I mean?"

In the dusky shadows, the brunette's smile morphed into something less pleasant as she considered all of the darkness she regularly witnessed on the streets.

Brushing the other woman's arm with hers, she murmured quietly, "Don't worry, the real bad guys don't come out this early."

Sabina's uncertain laugh danced in the air, and Helena's hand and arm suddenly tingled when the small woman threaded her fingers with hers.

"Aren't there stories about masked vigilantes guarding this city? Something about a Bat Man?"

Her voice turned the name into two words, and the young crime fighter chuckled, softly squeezing the hand in hers.

"Yeah. I've heard those stories, but that was mostly before I got here, I think."

Sabina stopped in front of a renewed brownstone. Soft music drifted from a cracked window in the building next door.

Let's talk this over
It's not like we're dead
Was it something I did?
Was it something you said?

"This is me."

The younger woman detected a hint of color creeping into pale features.

"Would you like to come up? Maybe you could suggest a print or painting for me to put up. I suck at decorating."

Helena ignored the fact that she hadn't done anything in that department at her own apartment and noticed as some love-lorn soul cranked the music up a notch.

Don't leave me hangin'
In a city so dead
Held up so high
On such a breakable thread

She considered the invitation, and the woman extending it, remembering her instinctive attraction to her at the club a few weeks ago, body beginning to hum in memory of how ready she'd been then. This, naturally, led her to recall everything that had happened -- that she'd *thought* was happening -- in the twelve days or so since then. With no small measure of regret, she raised her free hand and traced her fingertips over slight features.

"I can't."

The pale woman's disappointment was almost comically apparent.

"Is it that 'not on the market' thing that you mentioned?"

Helena stood silently for a few beats, absorbing Avril Lavigne's sentiment washing through the dark street.

You were all the things I thought I knew
And I thought we could be
You were everything, everything that I wanted
We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it
And all of our memories, so close to me, just fade away
All this time you were pretending
So much for my happy ending

The younger woman clenched her jaw and then exhaled, letting it go with a soft laugh.

"No. I was... mistaken about that."

Sensing, rather than seeing, the possible reaction in those big brown eyes, she attempted to explain.

"Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those U-haul gals or anything. Ba -- This person has been in my life for a long time, and I just kind of misinterpreted some stuff."

Sabina was quiet for a moment. When she spoke, her voice was genuinely sympathetic.

"I'm sorry, Helena. You seemed so happy about it."

The brunette managed a wry grin... or grimace.

"Well, live and learn, right?"

Raising their still-clasped hands slightly, Sabina spoke softly.

"So, uh, maybe it's a little soon, huh?"

Helena gentled her expression.

"Maybe. And -- "

Blue eyes widened fractionally as the brunette surprised herself with her next words.

"-- I don't want to make some of my same mistakes here. With you, Sabina."

Helena watched brown eyes blink rapidly a few times, then leaned into the other woman's space and lightened her tone.

"And, I really do need to get to work. You know, pitchers to pour, martinis to shake..."

The other woman laughed softly, then stretched a tiny bit to press a quick kiss to Helena's cheek. When she spoke, her emotions were unmistakable.

And, Helena realized in an almost dizzying burst of insight, such a contrast to how tightly guarded Barbara was with her emotions.

"Well, I don't want to keep your thirsty public waiting, Helena, but I would like to see you again."

Stepping back, the young woman brought her hand to her own cheek and spoke honestly.

"I want to see you, too."

With an upraised hand of farewell, the dark figure turned and moved fluidly down the street, humming softly to the song in the night air.

It's nice to know that you were there
Thanks for acting like you cared
And making me feel like I was the only one
It's nice to know we had it all
Thanks for watching as I fall
And letting me know we were done
You were everything, everything that I wanted
We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it.

Chapter 20

"I think you might be losing it, Oracle."

Helena made sure that her pronouncement was delivered in a suitably light tone. To her credit, the older woman laughed, tone rich and throaty over the comm set. The sound sent a shiver up the younger woman's spine.

<"And just what leads you to that particular conclusion, Huntress?">

The young woman scuffed the toe of her boot against the parapet of WBAT Radio's rooftop and eyed the entrance used by the traffic copter's crew.

Realistically, she knew that, with just the tiniest shift in her tone, she could change the whole tenor of the conversation. Honestly, she realized that she had no desire to do so.

Sure, Helena was still hurting like hell, but Barbara was her friend and partner and the person she loved most in the world. There was no way she was gonna go and fuck that up.

She'd made a promise, and she always -- *always* -- tried to keep her promises. Especially those she gave to Barbara.

And, the young woman had to admit, she did have, well, something -- those three amazing nights. Even if it hadn't been what she'd believed and -- here she had to blink back something that had gotten into her eyes -- even if she hadn't gotten to...

Helena thought that she had a pretty good idea about which particular fears and perceived inadequacies lay behind her partner's... reticence on that front. Even if the young woman hadn't had the time that she'd believed would exist to help ease Barbara through *those* concerns, well, at least Red had trusted *her* to take a chance with first, right?

The young woman couldn't -- wouldn't -- ignore everything that meant. No, she'd just stay focused on sweeps, keep wishing for the older woman's happiness, and damned well keep her nose out of Barbara's love life.

And, so, at that moment, she concentrated on keeping her tone light.

"Well, think about it. This prankster has been rubbing our noses in it for the last two weeks -- "

<"Don't forget the noses of various information sources *and* New Gotham's finest.">

"Aww, New Gotham's finest don't count; they're lucky to find their own asses in the dark with both hands and a flashlight."

Helena paused, waiting for the expected rebuke. It didn't come.

<"Aside from the duration of our failure to catch our prankster, Huntress, what else is behind your reasoning?">

The question sounded sincerely interested, and Helena preened a bit at how her partner -- big brain to the side -- never failed to take her questions and ideas seriously.

"Well, it's just, you're getting pretty good predicting where this guy... or group... is gonna hit next, but it seems like we're always a step behind."

She hopped off the ledge and walked over to the door, assessing the lock. Deciding against the obvious approach -- a swift kick to the lock area -- the dark vigilante fished in her inside pocket for her lock pick set and got to work.

"We were darned close last Friday at the Green Party Headquarters--"

Close enough, in fact, that Helena thought she'd detected the scent of Rocko Martin's cheap aftershave as she and Dinah had waded through the two feet of ballot punch card chads that covered the floor.

"-- but what makes you think it'll be here? Tonight?"

The lock opened with a soft snick, and Helena slipped inside.

The usual sound of soft typing accompanied the older woman's thoughtful reply.

<"The modeling parameters are complex, but each incident does add more data. Based on the frequency of the previous incidents -- factoring for the enforced delay due to the brief incarceration of Mr. Martin -- combined with KBAT's usual Wednesday morning programming...">

Silently descending the service stairs to the main floor of the station, Helena smirked at the older woman's unspoken reference to the new radio's "Straight Poop Weekly" show.

<"and the fact that, tonight, the entire night crew--">

There was a quick pause, and Helena guessed that Barbara was checking her facts.

<"Sportsman Stan and Audio Andy are out of the station covering the game... Let's just say that the signs are favorable, Huntress.">

The brunette smiled fondly at her overly analytical partner's wrap-up of the situation and cracked the door to the floor which contained the sound booths for the "All News All The Time" -- or, she thought, "Same News All The Time" -- station.

"Let's hope you, and your premonition from Delphi, are right, Oracle. I'm going to scout around now. Going silent."

Remaining the in shadows of the vacant studio, the dark woman glided silently through the hallways, opening office doors and peering through plexiglass windows, senses alert to anything unusual. She came to a stop outside the main sound booth and stared inside for a moment, feeling that something was not quite right but unable to put her finger on it.

Couple of chairs. Check.

Lotta knobs and dials on a big desk. Fine.

File cabinet in one corner. Okay.

Microphones and a desktop pc. Sure.

Blue eyes tracked up towards the acoustic tiles of the ceiling. The young woman's eyebrows crept towards her artfully disheveled bangs, and she hissed quietly in surprise.

Huge mylar bag-thingy covering the ceiling. Now that seemed a little out of place. Obviously, a little closer investigation was called for.

<"Did you find something, Huntress?">

Pausing with her hand on the doorknob of the studio, the brunette spoke almost sub vocally.

"Something a little weird in the main studio, Oracle. A big silver, uh, balloon covering the ceiling."


"Uh, you know, that kind of material. Maybe it's a prototype for a weather balloon, but I'm gonna take a quick look."

She heard the amusement in the other woman's tone, even though the words were sincere.

<"Be careful, Huntress.">

Huh. Like a big ol' piece of silver plastic was going to get the best of her.

Helena turned the knob and swung the door open, expecting a bucket of water or something equally hilarious to dump down. When that wasn't forthcoming, she stepped inside and looked up just as an odd ripping sound began, accompanied by an eerie rippling of the material. Before she could do more than raise her arms in reflex, the mylar split and a shower of objects rained down, expanding as they fell, filling the room and rapidly burying her to her armpits.

"Crap on toast!"

Flailing her arms with what she suspected was a singular lack of dignity, the brunette abandoned any attempts at quiet and stealthy for the moment.

<"Huntress?! What happened? Are you injured? Do you need back--">

"Pffft!! Goddamned frikkin' sunnuva..."

Helena laboriously slogged... waded... pushed her way to the door, which had been pushed shut by the force and volume of the deluge. Somewhat bitterly, she realized it was going to be hell to get it open again.

Maybe she could just bust through one of the booth's windows...

<"I take it that they've struck again, Huntress?">

Barbara obviously correctly interpreted her younger partner's remarks as a sign of... upset rather than distress that might require assistance. Fortunately, Helena heard nothing but a cautious -- and pointed -- neutrality in the question as she began digging around the door.

"Nerf balls, Oracle."

<"Nerf balls?">

"Yeah -- Uh.."

She jerked at the door, simultaneously attempting to bat the foam balls away.

"Thousands of the suckers. They must have put them in a space bag or something and vacuumed 'em -- ugh -- down to pea size before hanging the bag -- Uh, Got it! -- up here."

Squeezing into the corridor, she flicked a few balls off her shoulders and back into the booth as the door slid inexorably shut. Finally, she took a moment to breathe in, breathe out...

<"Balls, eh? That makes sense.">

Now the older woman's voice was amused.


The brunette dug in her pocket for the digi, encountering two of the items in question in the process. Oh well, Red would probably enjoy analyzing them or something.

"But, I'll give you this: our timing's getting closer."

The immediate response was warm... and apologetic.

<"I'm sorry, Huntress. I'll try to be much earlier... or later for the next job.">

The silky tone segued into something a bit playful.

<"Having you up to your -- hips? in *balls*...">

The redhead placed a purring emphasis on the last word that simply seemed to suck the air from Helena's lungs.

<"... is not what I'd ever have in mind for you.">

"Armpits, Oracle," she corrected breathlessly, feeling an odd lump in her throat.

The young woman didn't think she'd swallowed any of the foam balls, but...

Clearing her throat and tucking the camera away, she moved back to the stairwell, knowing that some sort of response to the entendre was expected of her.

"So, what did you have in mind for me to be buried in, Oracle?"

<"Hmm, I tend to visualize you with something... softer and more feminine. Although, chest level is about right.">

Helena snickered at the image.

"Now *that's* the kind of crime scene you can send me to any time, Oracle."

Barbara suddenly became businesslike.

<"Speaking of crime scenes, Huntress, I just picked up a call-in for a liquor store robbery. Do you want to take a look?">

The dark figure shut the rooftop door behind her, testing to be certain that it was locked, and allowed a feral smile to creep across her features.

"You mean a regular, garden-variety holdup? Hell yeah!"

She moved to the edge of the roof while her partner relayed the location.

Finally, a chance to do some uncomplicated ass-kicking.

She hoped.

Leaping on top of a cross-town bus -- Hey, it was headed her way -- Helena growled a suspicious question into her comm set.

"You're sure there's no midget clowns and banana peels involved, right?"

Eleven minutes later, the young woman had to admit that there had been no banana peels involved even if she had just taken a symbolic cream pie to the face.

Honest to gosh, she'd walked right into it. She'd taken out robbers number one and number two easy as -- well -- pie. Turning to deal with the last guy, she hadn't been able to duck in time to avoid the suddenly brave store clerk's swing with a fifth of Johnny Walker Red Label.

Pain blossomed across the dark vigilante's face, and she saw red. Contenting herself with a snarl in the general direction of her suitably frightened-looking helper, Helena roughly swiped at her right eye, trying to clear the blood which was dripping down. Raising golden eyes from the floor, she found that robber number three was trying to make a hasty exit.

"Yo, Dude. You're not just going to rob and run are you?"

The brunette leapt over a display of margarita mix, cutting the man off at the door. Looking decidedly nervous, the robber grabbed a mop which was leaning against the wall and took a clumsy swing at his pursuer. Not particularly bothered by the attack, Helena dropped to a crouch and licked her lips, tasting the blood running down her face and anticipating the fight.

"Big mistake, Fella."

She straightened and flashed a smile that was full of teeth... and the promise of pain. The panicked miscreant sucked in a breath -- some serious telegraphing going on there -- and swung with enough force to seriously mess up somebody's day if he made contact. Just for the practice, the brunette performed a tuck and roll over the makeshift staff and caught it as it swung under her. With a negligent jerk, she removed the weapon from her attacker's hands and tossed it aside.

"You wanna give up now or do you want to do this the hard way?"

Making her way back to the clock tower not too much later, Helena wondered why they always wanted to do it the hard way. Maybe it was some dumb criminal code of conduct or something. Not that it mattered, since she'd ended up mopping the floor with the guy anyway. Literally.

The lithe figure landed silently on the balcony, gritting her teeth against the itty bitty, almost unnoticeable, discomfort that the motion set off in her face. Before she could reach for the handles, the French doors flew open.

Green eyes regarded her face for a long, silent moment.

"Training room, please, Helena."

The young woman obediently headed to the medical area of the workout room, standing by the low table as the redhead approached.

"It's not that bad, Barbara. With my meta-healing, it'll probably be gone in a day or two."

For some reason -- Maybe it had to do with the fallout from the last 'triage' session a few weeks before on the balcony -- the idea of close scrutiny from the older woman didn't seem like such a good idea to the brunette.

Busying herself setting out cleaning supplies and bandages, the older woman didn't look up.

"Good, Hel. But I still want to take a look."

Helena dug her hands into the pockets of her coat, praying for strength. When something brushed against the back of her knuckles, she let loose with a quick bark of laughter, releasing some of her tension.

Grinning at the slightly befuddled looking being directed her way, she removed her clenched hand from her pocket and held it out in front of the other woman.


A playful smile softened the concerned lines of the redhead's face, and Barbara extended her hand, palm up, under Helena's.

"For me? You shouldn't have, Sweetie."

The smile became a soft laugh when the brunette opened her hand, allowing the two nerf balls to expand, then drop into her partner's palm.

"As much as I appreciate your bringing your own sponges, Hel, it's not going to get you out of this. Now, up on the table."

Bowing to the inevitable, the younger woman shrugged out of her duster, noting the blood staining the right side of it. Grumbling about the unusual number of times that she'd been having to have the garment cleaned in the last few weeks, she settled onto the table to endure the proximity of close examination... the teasing brush of long fingers cleaning her wound... and the hellacious discomfort of the four small stitches that Barbara insisted on.

She always forgot how much stitches stung -- especially since her physiology burned off the local almost as fast as Barbara could inject it. Next time she got beaned with a liquor bottle, Helena decided that she'd confiscate the weapon so that she could consume the contents on her way back.

"There you go, Sweetheart. All done."

The redhead efficiently gathered the various debris from her doctoring and closed up the suture kit while Helena tried to keep her breathing steady as she watched those gentle, capable hands moving so fluidly. When Barbara turned away, the brunette slid from the table and grabbed her coat, hoping that her brief wobble hadn't been noticeable.

"Thanks, Red. I'm glad you're on my preferred provider list."

The older woman laughed softly, looked back over her shoulder, and spoke seriously.

"I'd prefer that you'd not been injured at all, Helena."

Digging in the pocket of her coat, the young woman extracted the digital camera and offered it to her partner before opening the door of the training room for her. She accompanied the gesture with a lopsided grin.

"No worries, Barbara. Occupational hazard and all that. 'Sides, you know how hard my head is."

The older woman came to a full stop and gave Helena a long look. Dark brows briefly furrowed at the scrutiny until Helena remembered that -- at least on one side -- that particular movement was off-limits for the evening.

"Not so hard, Hel."

Barbara's rebuttal was quiet, and Helena wondered what layers of meaning colored the words.

The redhead's next words were brisk.

"Now, let's get some ice on your eye. You're going to have a beaut of a shiner, I'm afraid."

The brunette blinked and brought a hand up to probe delicately at the eye in question, hissing as she did so.

Yup. Big knot.

Still, no reason to...

Possibly seeing the refusal in blue eyes, Barbara pinned her with a firm look and then gestured to the couch. The young woman opened her mouth, readying herself to say that she had ice at home -- Hell, she lived above a freakin' bar, after all -- but she was cut short when green eyes flashed.

"Goddamnit, Helena! Why do you insist on being so completely stubborn and independent and... and just too bad for your leathers?"

Helena's eyebrows shot up to her hairline and she blinked furiously at the unexpected display of emotion. What the fuck had set off her normally low-key partner?

Probably not even three seconds elapsed after the outburst before the young woman observed the redhead visibly corralling her temper. When Barbara spoke again, there was no mistaking the regret and sadness.

"I'm sorry, Helena. That was uncalled for; however, I ca-- I love you, and you do so much for me. I suppose it makes me feel good when I can take care of you sometimes."

Stunned, the younger woman was defeated before firing a shot. She managed a tentative half-grin and obediently turned to the sofa, snagging the remote and stretching out when the redhead disappeared into the kitchen.

Aiming the remote at the big screen and beginning her usual rapid-fire channel surfing, Helena decided she was simply *not* going to think about that little... moment. At least not until she was safely back at her place and all alone.

Wishing she *had* brought the weapon that had beaned her from the store, she called hopefully towards the kitchen, "Can I at least have a beer?"

There was no immediate reply -- although the brunette was pretty certain she heard a quiet chuckle from the other room; however, in a few minutes, the older woman returned with a tray, which she positioned on the coffee table. Setting the brake on her chair, Barbara summarily tugged the pillow from behind Helena's head and, when the younger woman shifted in protest, transferred herself to the spot previously occupied by the brunette's head.

Helena settled on a station -- looked like a 'Charlie's Angels' marathon -- and stared at her partner a little peevishly while the redhead leaned over the tray to retrieve an ice pack and a cup of hot tea. With no small amount of trepidation, she grasped the older woman's intent when Barbara patted her lap and gestured with the ice pack.

"Lie down, Hel. I want to keep an eye on you for a bit. You may have a concussion. And,"

The redhead set her tea on the end table, and Helena gingerly positioned her head in her lap, hearing the husky tone lighten fractionally.

"... in terms of beer, I believe it was alcohol that caused your injury, wasn't it? For now, hot cocoa for you."

Snorting, the brunette reached for the warm mug awaiting her on the coffee table. A genuine laugh bubbled out of her when she noticed the crazy straw poking out of the cup, allowing her to sip her beverage from her reclined position.

Helena squirmed a bit when Barbara placed the ice pack against her temple, then drifted into the sensation of warm cocoa in her belly and a gentle hand scratching softly against her scalp. Lulled and peaceful for the first time in a week, she felt her eyes trying to close and blinked fiercely against it.

"Relax, Sweetie. I'll let you know if one of the Angels needs to take off her shirt."

Not entirely sure it was a good idea, the young woman did.

Chapter 21

"I wasn't sure this would be okay."

Helena tried not to shift from foot to foot while appreciative eyes slowly traveled the length of her, from feet to hair.

"It's perfect. You look good enough to eat yourself."

Helena laughed and leaned in to give Sabina a quick buss on the cheek.

"Well, if the restaurant decides that I didn't clean up alright, I guess we can revisit that idea."

The remark, accompanied by the trademark Kyle eyebrow waggle, earned a profuse blush from the older woman. Sabina swung the door of her loft open wider in invitation, and the brunette stepped inside, shyly extending a small gift wrapped box.

"Helena, you didn't need -- "

The small woman cut herself off with a self-effacing smile as she accepted the box.

"What is it?"

In response, Helena waved her hand at the box -- "Open it" clear in the gesture -- and grinned as Sabina ripped off the paper. The young woman took the opportunity to give her companion the once over -- twice -- deciding that she liked what she saw.

Sabina was dressed in a mauve one-piece above-the-knee dress with long sleeves. Matching topaz earrings and a broach highlighted her hair, and high-heeled suede pumps brought her exactly to Helena's height. The brunette decided that her own outfit -- heavy black silk slacks and a deep violet shirt, belted outside her pants -- complimented her companion nicely.

"Helena! It's Chartes Cathedral! I've always especially loved this one."

Brown eyes sparkled as the older woman inspected the tiny, detailed replica.

"Yeah. My mom always said it had the some of the best glass work. Consider it a housewarming g--"

The words abruptly ended when Sabina, still carefully holding the gift, stepped forward and raised her other hand to Helena's shoulder. In the instant before delicate lips brushed against her mouth -- too damned briefly -- the younger woman noted the pleasant warmth radiating down her chest from the touch.

"Thank you."

The older woman slowly stepped back and turned to place the tiny cathedral on her desk, and Helena closed her eyes, knowing they'd flickered gold at the sweet contact. She softly cleared her throat, feeling uncharacteristically nervous.

"So, where are we headed?"

True, it had been Helena who had initially called on Wednesday afternoon to suggest an impromptu dinner that night. However, when the other woman had returned her call that evening, apologizing for missing the call and suggesting dinner the next night, Sabina had insisted that she be allowed to pick the restaurant. She'd been vague about specifics, limiting instructions to "casual dressy".

"Er, I polled my coworkers, since I wanted to surprise you and you'd certainly be my first choice to make a recommendation."

The mousy woman laughed cheerfully as Helena waited expectantly.

"So, is Antonio's a good choice?"

Ooohh -- one of her favorites. Helena's eyes widened happily as Sabina continued. The young woman thought she detected a bit of nervousness creeping into her date's voice.

"And then I thought -- er, hoped -- that we could go back to the club for, uh, well..."

The long-haired woman pursed her lips nervously, causing Helena to lick her lips in reflex, and then finished in a rush.

"I'm not really much into dancing. It was just an after-work social thing that had me there before, actually, but I really enjoyed it with you the other week."

Sabina smiled shyly.

"In fact, I'm still thanking Frank -- he's in the next office -- for inviting me."

Charmed, Helena stepped closer to the other woman and smiled indulgently.

"That sounds great, Sabina. Let's go."

As the older woman gathered up her coat and bag, she inquired, "How have you been, Helena? How, uh, are things with your... friend?"

The dark woman smiled softly and followed her host into the hallway.

"Same ol', same ol', I guess."

There was no way she was going to -- or, hell, that she could -- get into how things were with Barbara. The redhead's sweet concern and easy intimacy of two nights before, while not really surprising Helena, had thrown her off-balance. Dozing, and then awakening, with her head on the other woman's legs and the sensation of strong, warm fingers stroking her neck, had left the young woman inflamed. As she'd first awakened, disoriented and perhaps deliberately forgetting the more recent reality of her situation with Barbara, Helena's first instinct had been to turn over, to press more deeply, more intimately against the other woman. Reality had crashed down on her a beat later -- perhaps the pain of her stitches had helped with that -- leaving the brunette poised over an abyss of emptiness and renewed loss.

Reality's good friend, Harsher Reality, had come along to give her another peek into that abyss the next day during the weekly PT session. Helena had thought she was doing okay in dealing with the session and all of the feelings that touching the older woman brought up; however, when Barbara had casually mentioned that they'd not be running sweeps that night since she had a date with her geek, the young woman realized how wrong she'd been.

From what Helena had gathered from Dinah during their workout this afternoon, the date hadn't been anywhere nearly as dressy as Saturday, but it had still been a late night. Other than that -- the young woman wasn't sure whether she appreciated it or not -- Dinah had been pretty tight-lipped about any observations she had.

Descending the stairs to the building's foyer, Sabina apparently interpreted Helena's terse reply correctly.

"Okaaay, I won't go there. May I ask what happened to your eye?"

The brunette raised a hand to the fading bruise and the stitches which were ready to be removed. She'd planned to have the stitches out by this evening but Barbara hadn't been back at the clock tower by the time she'd finished sparring with Dinah, and removing her own stitches had always been one of the young woman's major squidge zones.

For some reason, she'd also not been entirely comfortable with her teenaged sparring partner's too-eager offer to remove the stitches for her.

She spoke lightly, opening the door to the street.

"Oh, I was on the wrong end of a bottle of Johnny Walker."

The older woman gasped, "Does this kind of thing happen often?"

Helena considered the question, then answered truthfully.

"Well, fists do fly a lot in my line of work."

The older woman's response was uncertain as they made their way along the sidewalk.

"If that's the case, Helena, then I'm sorry you didn't have any librarians luring you into a desk job and..."

At the split-second hesitation, the younger woman glanced over, easily detecting how her companion was coloring prettily in the twilight.

"... punching your due date slips."

Helena barked out a quick laugh at the other woman's flirtation. Almost immediately, she sobered, thinking about a certain red-haired English teacher who had so influenced her in other ways.

Seemed like there was no way to get away from having Barbara in her head, under her skin.

"Nah. I think I'm better suited for what I'm doing. But, I'm always open to that due date thing if you're offering..."

A fleeting four and a half hours later, the two women re-ascended the stairs to the loft, hands twined. At the door, Sabina dug interminably through her bag in pursuit of her keys while Helena watched bemusedly.

She had to admit that her date's slightly scattered intellect and gentle wit had shone through during an enjoyable dinner. Not too surprisingly, a distinct self-consciousness had initially demonstrated itself at the club until Helena patiently coaxed a much more relaxed -- and sensual -- side out. By their final dance, the two had practically been glued together, moving seamlessly to Chris Isaacs "Wicked Games".

The older woman offered an exasperated sigh and finally gave up her pretense. She put on her thick glasses and peered into her bag, almost immediately locating the errant keys. Her words were slightly embarrassed.

"A-ha. In plain sight if you're not half blind."

Expression serious, Helena gently plucked the ring of keys from the small hand and then glided forward, slowly backing her companion to the door. She leaned to one side to insert the door key, but, instead of turning it, she slid a hairsbreadth closer to whisper in Sabina's ear.

"I think your glasses... and you in them... are sexy."

Observing the small, surprised "O" of the other woman's mouth from close range, the young woman licked her lips. She then emphasized her sincerity by placing her mouth gently against the older woman's.

"Very sexy."

The kiss was soft and sweet. The touch of tongues meeting for the first time was almost tentative. Still, the sudden pounding low in Helena's belly and Sabina's quiet whimper evidenced both women's enjoyment.

On the dance floor that evening, Helena had learned -- with Sabina dancing in front of her, back pressed to her -- that she could almost encircle the small woman's waist with her hands. In the process, she'd also happily discovered how amazingly sensitive the other woman's stomach seemed to be. Intent on verifying this bit of information, the young woman raised her hands, resting them lightly on her companion's waist and brushing her thumbs softly against the barely rounded flesh under silky fabric.

The response was immediate. And enthusiastic.

Helena felt the other woman's arms wrap over her shoulders, hands locking behind her neck. She easily detected the light tremor that coursed through the small woman's body and the softly breathed sigh.

"Do you want to come in, Helena?"

Brown eyes blinked shyly behind thick lenses, and the older woman lightened her tone.

"Maybe you could help me figure out where to put the cathedral?"

The brunette shut her eyes, knowing they'd augmented for the tenth time in the last few hours, and breathed deeply of her companion's scent. Soap and a hint of White Diamonds perfume and the clean smell of skin. And something else -- desire.

God, yes, she wanted to come in.

She'd spent the last nine days in lonely emptiness. Since her sweet interlude on the couch with Barbara two nights before, she'd been simply aching with loss and need. Her time on the dance floor with Sabina -- Helena thought they'd both demonstrated some pretty good moves -- had inflamed her. Now, pressed against pliant flesh, aware of the almost unconscious rocking of the older woman's hips against her thigh, savoring the unmistakable signs of her date's willingness, Helena was close to melting.

The brunette buried her face against Sabina's neck, kissing sharply then sucking tenderly. She experienced the heat flowing through the other woman against her mouth and drank in the small woman's muted whimpers like a fine wine.

No doubt about it: she couldn't deny the attraction between them. Somewhat to her own surprise, Helena realized that there was also something more than that: the stirrings of a genuine affection for the other woman.

Deciding that she liked the feeling, the young woman raised her head to trace the shell of her companion's ear with her lips, simultaneously teasing her hands slowly up Sabina's ribcage and brushing her thumbs to the sides of her breasts.

"Oh, god, Helena. What you do to me..."

The words were the same -- or too similar to dispute -- as those that she'd heard two weeks before, words which had been spoken so passionately that Helena had had no choice but to open herself to anything and everything that the speaker had wanted.

The time, the voice -- high and breathy -- was not the smooth, knowing mezzo-soprano which nightly still sent waves of longing through the dark woman.

Golden eyes squeezed shut, and Helena slowly raised her head to focus eyes that were once-again blue on eyes that were brown, not emerald. Fighting an instinct to cry, the young woman drew in several slow, deep breaths and grounded herself.

"Helena? Did I do something wrong?"

The young woman detected only genuine concern -- well, maybe just the tiniest hint of frustration -- in the question. She chewed at her lip and then leaned in again to kiss the older woman softly.

"No, Sabina. You didn't do anything wrong. It's just -- "

Just what? Just that she still had another woman in her head, in her pores, under her skin? Just that she had a voice in her head every night -- whether over the comm set or in her dreams -- and was having a helluva time letting go?

Unable to say any of that, Helena lightened her tone and moved to purr into her companion's ear.

"Just put the cathedral by your bed, and think of me when you see it."

Slowly lowering her arms from around Helena's neck, Sabina spoke thoughtfully.

"Whenever I see the amazing lines and the sweeping arches of the cathedrals, it makes my spirit feel like it's soaring."

She reached back and turned the key in the lock as Helena dropped her hands and stepped back regretfully.

"You make me feel like that, too, Helena."

Blushing to the roots of her hair and completely tongue-tied by the sweet words, the young woman barely managed her farewell, barely managed to avoid tripping on the stairs on her way out. Finally on the street, she drew the cool night air into her lungs, and carefully tucked the last few moments away, deep inside herself where she kept the memories she treasured.

Determinedly shaking off the bittersweet melancholy that was encircling her, she checked the time.

Just a little after 11pm. Plenty of time to run home, get changed, and do some soaring of her own.

Chapter 22

Kneeling on the edge of a rooftop with one long leg extended in front of her, senses acutely attuned to any sound or movement on the street five stories below, Helena wondered -- not for the first time that evening -- if this idea would really fly.

Sure, Barbara had gotten pretty good at pinning down when New Gotham's prankster with a grudge against information sources would strike. She'd even been right about the target the last few times.

But, this dark and foggy Friday night?

The cyber genius was pretty sure that the next attack would be against a television station; however, she hadn't been able to determine with any certainty which of the city's three stations might be targeted. So, here Helena was, patrolling the block where WGTM and WGTH were located; and Dinah was planted three blocks over, watching for suspicious activity at WNEW.

A fucking sit and stare job again. Or, more accurately, a stroll and stare job.

Helena was really beginning to look forward to catching the party -- or parties -- responsible for the recent spate of pranks. If nothing else, she had some choice words to share with them about how little she appreciated spending her nights sucking fog and staring at vacant streets.

A thought flitted through the brunette's forebrain -- something about activity -- and she smiled.

Kid was getting good at that.

Rather than straining a lobe trying to mentally shout a reply, the young woman spoke aloud as she straightened up, ready to move.

"I missed most of that, Canary. You got activity?"

She didn't even try to hide her hopeful tone.

<"Oh, I'm sorry. No, I don't. I was asking if you had any activity yet?">

"Oh yeah, sorry you've missed all the fun. I've just been kicking butt here."

Realizing that it her boredom wasn't Dinah's fault, Helena toned down the snarkiness.

"Or, more like, I've been trying to keep my butt from falling asleep."

The words were gentler, but the brunette couldn't avoid the disgust in her voice. It was almost 11pm, and if something didn't happen to screw up the late news, she figured that she'd be back out here again tomorrow.

Barbara seemed to have no difficulty registering the sentiment behind her younger partner's words.

<"I'm sorry, Huntress, Canary. It seems that I was wrong about the target or the date... or both. But, just to be certain, let's give it another few minutes.">

Instantly sorry that her peevish whining had put the trace of self-doubt into her mentor's voice, Helena instantly piped up.

"No worries. I understand that fog is good for the skin anyway."

Two laughs echoed over her comm set, and she smiled.

"Okay, Canary. Let's go again. Your turn."

<"Hmmm. Okay, I've got one.">

The teenager's voice turned sing-song.

<"I spy with my little eye something big, starting with a 'B'.">

The brunette perked up, considering the myriad possibilities.

"Breasts?", she inquired hopefully, jumping to the roof of WGTH.

Dinah's somewhat indignant squeak echoed through the earpiece, nearly drowning out a softy, wry chuckle from the other party on the line.

<"He -- Huntress!">

"Okay, okay. Sheesh!"

She pretended to think for a moment.


This time, the throaty chuckle was clearly audible, warming the dark vigilante. A pained sigh from the teenager followed rapidly.

<"I'll give you a hint: Vroom, Vroom.">

Nerves still dancing from the sound of the redhead's response, Helena flashed an evil grin into the night. She modulated her voice to something she figured resembled disingenuousness, although she wasn't positive, not being personally familiar with the concept.

"Oh, I've got it. Is it..."

She drew it out.

"A bustiere?"

Barbara's unrestrained laugh silenced the teenager's protest.

<"Give it up, Canary. You do not want to know what else she can come up wi-- Wait a minute...">

The older woman was suddenly all business, and Helena snapped to alertness. When Barbara spoke again, her voice was slightly distracted and accompanied by the sound of rapid-fire typing.

<"Can either of you take a look at the eleven o'clock news broadcasts from a monitor at your location?">


<"Uh, yeah, I think so. Why?">

<"It appears that my assumptions about methodology were off...">

The redhead trailed off, and Helena dropped to a ledge to peer through a cracked window at WGTH. She immediately realized that Barbara had been dead to rights about the night and the target... targets, just a little off about the nature of the prank.

Somehow, the disgruntled prankster had hijacked into the broadcast, randomly replacing the audio feed with a looped message. Specifically, the scripted words of the very surprised looking anchor desk members were periodically being drowned out by the word "Bullshit".

The brunette watched for a moment, hearing Dinah's gasp over her receiver -- Guess the Kid had found a monitor to watch, too -- and chuckled softly.

"All three stations, Oracle?"

Seemingly impossibly, the sound of clicking keys got faster.

<"Yes, Huntress. I'm accessing the satellite uplinks for the stations and should be able to override the rogue signal in just another minute.">

Suspecting that her older partner was underrating her skills again, Helena cocked an eye at her watch. Sure enough, thirty seconds later, the "Technical Difficulties" message disappeared from the screen, and she watched two puzzled newscasters resume normal operations.

"Nice work there, Oracle," she murmured admiringly, heading toward Dinah's post.

<"Thank you, Huntress, but I wish I'd seen that coming earlier.">

The dark figure shook her head, wondering when Red would cut herself some slack.

<"However, on the bright side, at least this attack skipped the literal element that was dumped at The Ledger.">

Recalling that night, specifically the activities that had transpired after she'd returned from her smelly reconnaissance job, the brunette almost missed her footing as she landed silently next to her blonde partner.

Damn, she really needed to get herself together.

Noticing the teenager mouthing something, she furrowed her brows until she made out the word.

'Bus'? Huh? Oh, the game...

Helena rolled her eyes dismissively -- like she hadn't figured out that was what Dinah had been spying -- and spoke briskly.

"Anything we can do here?"

<"No, I think this caper is pretty well wrapped up. Since nothing else is going on, why don't you call it a night?">

Grumpily wiping some moisture from the collar of her coat, Helena nodded at the blonde, and the two women turned toward the clock tower. Within minutes, both were hovering by the Delphi while Barbara continued to dissect the rogue signal.

"Well, so far I've traced it back six hops, to this weather satellite. Unfortunately, it's going to take a while from there."

Smiling and heading toward the kitchen in search of sustenance, the brunette spoke confidently over her shoulder.

"You'll get it. Just look how fast you hacked in and cancelled the signal tonight."

The brunette half-listened to the two women's continued discussion about satellite pirates and signal traces as she rummaged through the cupboards. Eventually, somewhere around her third pop tart, she heard Dinah heading off to her room. In short order, the older woman appeared in the kitchen, suture kit in her lap.

"Ready to lose those stitches, Hel? I'm sorry that the staff meeting kept me from being here yesterday afternoon to get them for you."

The redhead was well aware of her protege's particular squeamishness about removing her own stitches.

The young woman chased her final bite of pastry with a healthy swig of chocolate milk and rotated her chair to face the other woman.

"No sweat, Babs. I think the whole Bride of Frankenstein look is making a comeback. In fact, you think you can pierce my neck and fit me for some bolts?"

Barbara chuckled quietly and dug into the medical kit.

"I believe that one unconventional piercing above the neck is enough, Sweetie," the redhead murmured absently, referring to Helena's tongue piercing, as she swabbed the tiny suture scissors with alcohol.

Helena watched those slender hands deftly soak a cotton swab with alcohol and reach up. Barbara spoke again, voice an intimate purr, as she dabbed at the brunette's cut.

"Although, you certainly know how to use the one you have."

The young woman shut her eyes and grit her teeth against the bitterness in her mouth. Barbara didn't know the half of it.

She sensed the older woman stretching up, felt soft breath blown against the wound as the redhead cooled the burn of the alcohol. Four quick snips were quickly followed by almost unnoticeable tugs to remove the stitches, and then warm fingers probed gently at the area.

Helena squeezed her eyes tighter. The other woman's closeness, her familiar scent, the gentle touches: they were all maddening.

"You're such a tenderfoot about this, Helena."

"Hurts," the younger woman growled, not really meaning the alcohol or the stitches.

There was absolute silence -- absolute stillness -- then, but Helena didn't dare look, knowing that she'd be presenting yellow, feral eyes. Senses keyed to any sound or motion, she was still startled when the other woman trailed her fingers down her face and under her chin.

"It doesn't have to, Sweetie."

The voice was so gentle, so... inviting. Helena didn't dare think about just what the invitation was for.

"Please look at me, Helena."

Aw, fuck.

An almost inaudible whine escaped the brunette, and she clenched her teeth tightly against the helpless chattering of her jaw.

"I... I can't," she managed to growl out roughly.

The older woman's reply was quiet but implacable.

"You can. Let me see you, Hel."

There was simply nothing the younger woman could do in the face of that request. Clenching her hands into fists against her leather-clad thighs, painfully conscious of her heart thudding leadenly in her chest, the brunette pried open her eyes. Still, she kept her gaze downcast.

Porcelain features swam into view when the redhead ducked down slightly, catching golden eyes with green. Amazed, Helena heard the other woman's harsh inhalation, saw the quick flare of her nostrils. Disbelieving -- she couldn't be reading this right -- she raised her head a fraction and watched those beautiful features transform to hard, ascetic lines.

Warm fingers crept up her jaw to caress her cheek, and Helena tensed, all of her muscles clenching in sympathy with the aching desire billowing through her throat and chest and belly.

"Relax, Hel. This is just us."

The voice was smoky, barely hinting at the fire banked behind dark, dark emerald eyes.

Helena struggled to stay still when Barbara's thumb came to her bottom lip, stroking gently, insistently, creating heat... and want.

Wh-- what the fuck was Red doing? Didn't she know...?

In seconds, the dark woman felt sweat begin to trickle down her throat, down the valley between suddenly aching breasts, and she couldn't stand another moment. She had to have more.

The young woman opened her mouth, just barely, just enough to draw in the scent of the skin that was so tantalizingly close. Somehow, without planning or conscious thought, she touched her tongue to the faintly calloused digit that rested against her lip.

It was too much. It wasn't nearly enough.

"Barbara -- "

Helena knew that she had whispered something, knew that it was a plea of some sort.

For strength? For forgiveness?

For more.

She shut her eyes and sucked softly at the digit that had somehow insinuated itself between her teeth. Barely, just barely, she held back a soft moan as she felt herself swelling and expanding and... aching in response to what her own action suggested.


So quiet, the brunette wasn't sure that the other woman truly had spoken. The sensation of being pulled forward to meet lush, demanding lips removed any doubt.

Finally unclenching her hands, Helena raised them to stroke the sides of the older woman's face, to trail through that thick crimson mane, to caress her jaw, and -- eventually -- to cup the back of her neck. She distantly heard her own mewling growl of raw want as she plundered the redhead's mouth.

Somehow, she forced herself to gentle her touch.

Somehow, she broke the kiss and teased her mouth against Barbara's face, brushing softly, so gently, over and over against impossibly soft skin. The brunette's lips tingled -- blood rushing to the site of tender torture -- as they delicately whispered against the almost imperceptibly fine down of the redhead's cheek. The young woman parted her lips, drawing in the ineffable scent of the other woman and tucking the moment away to treasure forever.

A ragged murmur drew her attention from the minute sensations that she'd been focused on.

"Please, Hel -- Kiss me again..."

And she did.

The women's mouths mated, perfectly fitted, pressure absolute. Their tongues danced and stroked against each other, transfixing the young woman with the total perfection of the union. The kiss deepened and drew on, drew Helena in -- and under -- until eventually, inevitably, she fell.

On the floor, on her knees before the woman she worshipped, the young woman felt her control slipping away. She was drowning in her own need, and she was so terribly, painfully close to the one person who could save her. She straightened and stretched up, tugging urgently -- clumsily -- at the hem of Barbara's tee shirt.

"Oh, fuck, Barbara -- "

Was that rough whimper her own voice?

"-- I need to..."

Helena leaned in, barely yanking the tee up and out of the way before her mouth tasted soft, sweet flesh and her tongue danced over a pebble-hard peak. Arousal coursed hotly through her veins, pooling between her thighs, and she rocked her pelvis forward slowly.


Ohhh, god --

The taste of the other woman fueled the dark figure's ravenous hunger.

Ohhh, fuck --

The sensation of Barbara's hands, the sound of her voice, unraveled her.

Barbara's hands came to her head, winding fiercely through dark hair and clutching her closer. Her whisper slid like velvet over the younger woman's skin, down her nerve endings and directly to her center.

"Oh, sweet heavens, Hel. That feels ama-- Harder..."

The brunette almost exploded at the plea. She opened her mouth wider, practically ready to devour the older woman, then froze.

Oh, god.

What the hell was she doing?

Oh, fuck.

What the hell was she thinking?

Cringing in horror at her own complete loss of control, the young woman yanked her hands from the other woman's waist and locked them against own stomach. It took a fair measure of her not-inconsiderable strength to pull back from the redhead's firm grip, but she managed to distance herself a hand's-breadth from where she wanted to be. Grinding her fists into the hollow ache in her own belly, Helena spoke some of the hardest words she knew.

"I -- I can't, Barbara."

Golden eyes peeked through thick lashes to find green fixed on her, puzzlement and desire at war in the gaze. The brunette worked to explain.

"It's not right. What about--?"

For a fleeting second, Helena was certain that she'd witnessed an expression of infinite sadness flitting across the redhead's features. She immediately forgot about it when a warm -- very warm -- smile softened the older woman's hawk like visage and the confusion cleared from those arresting eyes.

The older woman laughed softly.

"She and I aren't... married, Hel. Just--"

Green eyes tracked briefly to the left, and the brunette thought she detected the faintest trace of something... sharp in the words that her mentor pulled from her memory.

"-- having some fun together. In addition, Helena,"

Now, the voice grew smoky, dizzying the younger woman.

"... she's not here tonight, and I'm not inviting her."

Helena blinked, trying to understand... or at least to find the strength to walk -- hell, even crawl -- away.

As she struggled, the brunette witnessed the other woman drawing in a slow, measured breath. From long association, she knew that the redhead was marshalling her own courage for... something.

The older woman's next utterance was so hesitant, yet the power of the words rocked Helena to her very soul.

"I know that I'm not... That you have..."

The stumble couldn't be missed. Nor could the desire.

"Stay, Hel. Be with me."

Dropping her gaze, the young woman ignored the rent growing inside her and briefly wondered what price would be paid by -- or was it for? -- her own weak heart.

Ultimately, inches from the other woman, it simply didn't matter. She simply didn't have the will or the desire to leave. Instead, she pushed aside those soft and painful emotions, swallowed the emotion in her chest, and focused on the moment.

If Red wanted to have some fun... well, fuck... Everybody knew she was the girl for the job, right? Even if-- if she really didn't feel like that girl when she was with Barbara.

Barbara must have seen something in her face, felt something in the bow of her head.

The next moment, the young woman felt herself being guided back to the older woman. With the softest of sighs, she gave in, surrendering to the nirvana at her lips. She drank hungrily, avid in her need, and the contact began to fill her, to loosen the hollowness in her core. She trailed her hands to the other woman's hips, clasping roughly at the denim of Barbara's jeans, fingers burning and itching for something more.

For long moments -- it could have been hours -- Helena lost herself in touch and taste, floating to the sounds of the redhead's increasingly ragged breathing and the pressure of strong fingers jerking and trembling minutely against her scalp. At some point, she became aware of something more -- too close and too powerful to ignore: the unmistakable scent of her partner's arousal.

A bolt of something primal and irresistible shot directly to the young woman's center, and she squirmed out of the redhead's grasp. Consumed with the need to lose herself in the older woman, Helena lowered her face to the denim-clad thighs before her. She heard the hitch in Barbara's breathing and couldn't escape the fear that was suddenly raining down at her.

Balancing on a thin ribbon between the redhead's terrors and her own desire to know... to show Barbara how much... the brunette froze. And there she waited, trembling, until something -- perhaps it was a tiny change in the older woman's breathing, perhaps it was some dark part of her own soul seizing control -- something shifted the balance for the young woman.

She shut her eyes, nosing softly at the other woman's center, and her mouth watered with a ravenous hunger. Rearing back onto her heels, she fumbled frantically at the button fly of the redhead's soft jeans, mentally berating her sudden lack of coordination.

Didn't know quite what the problem was; normally she was a helluva a lot smoother. But, didn't matter; she was getting there. Two buttons down, three to go...

Long fingers suddenly covered her hands -- Helena easily detected the faint trembling in her partner's normally steady hands -- and the redhead spoke, voice rough with pain.

"Don't, Helena. I can't... It won't..."

The young woman stilled her movements but didn't move her hands away. Instead, she shut her eyes and drew in a breath, biting harshly at the inside of her cheek. The fear and self-defeat in the beloved woman's voice tore at her heart; her own need -- to know, to have this... just this once -- clawed sharply at her chest.

At that moment, Helena knew, without doubt or false pretenses, that she would give -- and do -- anything just to have a chance...

Eyes burning, unable to draw a breath, the brunette rocked forward, curling into Barbara's lap, curling around her own empty desire. Swallowing the blood in her mouth, she felt the older woman exhale and begin to relax her rigid defense. The dark woman finally drew in her own deep breath and immediately discovered what a mistake that was.

She was too close, her control too tenuous.

Damning the other woman's fear -- and her own conscience -- Helena again rocked back to fix hungry golden eyes on green. She set her jaw, breathed slowly, and held the other woman's gaze. Without words, she telegraphed her desire... and her need.

There was no way -- abso-fucking-lutely no way -- that the young woman would take, that she would force... or do any harm to the other woman.

She would, however, beg.

Tension vibrating through her limbs, she continued to look up -- a supplicant, praying that just once she be allowed...

Helena waited, each heart beat a blow and every breath an agony, until red lashes lowered, accepting, over eyes filled with fear and pain.


The whisper was an entreaty... and a hosanna.

Again, Helena waited, unable to move, until liquid green eyes rose again. Deliberately, inviting the other woman to do the same, Helena dropped her gaze to her hands. She stroked down the other woman's lean thighs to her knees and, swallowing her soft growl, carefully spread the redhead's legs. Resting her left hand lightly on a firm quadricep, she trailed her right up the inseam of the redhead's thigh. When she felt Barbara's quick inhalation, the young woman was consumed by the fire racing through her veins and along her nerves. She could tolerate her own slow, soft movements no longer.

Lunging forward on the balls of her feet, she swiftly rotated her right hand, cupping the older woman roughly through her jeans. The heat, even through the thick fabric, seared her palm, and she rose from her crouch to thrust once, harshly, as she bent to the older woman's ear.

"Tell me you don't feel this, Barbara. Tell me and -- "

The young woman panted, struggling for the words to promise what she least wanted.

"Tell me, and I'll stop."

Helena twisted her head enough to see the redhead's face, and, again, she waited. When her own hungry, feral eyes witnessed the expression of wonder spreading across the redhead's tense features, she bit her lip and blinked away something in her eyes.

Barbara finally spoke, voice as shaky as Helena ever remembered hearing it.

"Oh, Hel -- Don't st... "

Hand still firmly placed but unmoving, the brunette lowered her mouth to nip at the redhead's jaw. She felt -- and heard -- the woman swallow.

"Sweetie? Can you do that... harder?"

The request sent a jolt of electricity coursing through the brunette, and she grunted softly, thrusting again, harder. She was rewarded by a quiet whimper and strong hands moving to her shoulders to grip her with punishing force.

It felt amazing.

Helena drew back her upper lip in an ecstatic snarl and lunged forward to rake her teeth softly against the straining tendons of her older woman's neck. And, again, she thrust, feeling -- actually feeling -- a phantom echo of the movement between her own thighs.

Unwilling to bear the awkward position, needing more contact, the brunette abruptly ceased her motion and wrapped one arm behind her partner's back, the other under her legs. She lifted effortlessly and turned, lowering the older woman to the table. In a blink, she crawled up next to the redhead and lowered herself over her.

Helena cradled Barbara's head in her left hand and dropped her right to the juncture of the other woman's thighs, again touching firmly through soft denim. Acutely conscious of the heat suffusing her own abdomen and chest, she ground her breasts against the other woman's, earning a heartfelt exclamation in the process.

"Oh god -- Your mouth, Hel!"

And, then, Barbara pulled her into an endless kiss, and she lost herself in a tongue that mapped her completely, in the other woman's ragged whimpers, in the expression of joy in emerald eyes. Somehow, without even noticing that it was happening, Helena's own excitement -- her own intense pleasure in touching and pleasing Barbara like this -- snuck up on her. A trembling, burning, swelling arousal suffused her limbs... her organs and nerves... her soul.

Fighting the waves within herself that threatened to sweep her away, the young woman tore her mouth from the other woman's and dug her chin sharply against a strong shoulder. She worked to maintain a firm, steady rhythm for the older woman and flexed her own pelvic muscles.

"Jesus, Barbara -- I'm... I'm gonna... "

Distantly, she registered the amazed disbelief in the other woman's voice.

"But, I haven't even touched..."

The brunette bit her tongue, so close to telling the other woman that it didn't matter -- just because she was touching her. She swallowed the words and then almost swallowed her own tongue at the breathless voice in her ear.

"Oh, god, Hel. Show me what you're feeling."

And then, softer, "Help me feel it, too..."

The force of her own orgasm stunned the young woman.

For a minute -- maybe two -- she lost her rhythm while she writhed within a body-stuttering climax. She gasped, then moaned -- damned near sobbed -- at the intense pleasure of being with Barbara like this, and the waves continued to flow through her.

By the time her body allowed her to settle -- to breathe again, the young woman realized that yet another trip to the dry cleaners would be required for her pants. Hell, maybe her socks and shoes, too.

But, there was no time -- or inclination -- for the brunette to think any further about her own response; her partner's restless shifting recalled her to more important things. Helena resumed her motion, placing her thigh against the back of her hand to thrust more forcefully. Briefly, she buried her mouth against the older woman's breast, sucking fiercely through the thin cotton of the tee shirt until the tremors in her partner's upper body forced her to raise her head -- to see... and to know.

Helena gasped. For one wild moment, she wondered if she would spontaneously climax again.

The older woman was utterly lost in her passion, red head thrashing, hands clawing almost brutally at Helena's back. Her iron will was evidenced by the cries she held behind her tightly clenched teeth.

Willing the other woman to let go, the brunette swooped down and ravaged that stern mouth beneath her, demanding that the redhead open to her.

After that, she begged.

"Please... please, Barbara. You're so fuckin' beautiful. Please, just let it happen... Let go..."

Whispering and pleading in counterpoint to her thrusts, Helena felt the other woman's muscles tensing... then trembling... then quaking. She watched green eyes open, wondrous and unseeing, and blinked her own tears away. She witnessed the other woman succumbing to her passion and knew it was time.

Reverently, the young woman lowered her mouth to swallow the scream that had been too long coming.

God. Damn.

Barbara really -- really -- knew how to rock her world.

A heavenly instant later, unavoidably aware of the redhead's almost boneless lassitude, Helena gradually -- regretfully -- slowed, then stopped, her motions. She continued to cradle the older woman's head in her left hand, and raised her other to stroke the redhead's cheek tenderly. Unable to hold herself in any longer, she hid her face against her partner's neck, kissing Barbara's sweat -- and her own falling tears -- away.

"Thank you."

Helena wasn't sure she'd meant to speak aloud, but the words floated out on a whisper. Strong hands came to her hair, coaxing her up, forcing her to face shining green eyes. Barbara opened her mouth to speak, then stopped. She licked her lips and quietly cleared her throat, and the brunette smiled at the blush that crept into her cheeks. Finally, the older woman spoke quietly.

"I think... if anybody should be doing some thanking, Sweetheart, it's me."

The young woman ducked her head again, shaking it minutely from side to side, wishing she had the words or the facility to make the redhead understand. Her pondering about how and why were abruptly cut short when Barbara spoke again, this time, tone light and teasing.

"Perhaps you can share some pointers with Sabina."

Chapter 23

Although she wasn't quite sure how to interpret what the other woman had just said, Helena decided that, at the very least, Barbara really -- really -- sucked at pillow talk.

As carefully and casually as she was able -- the sudden shakiness in her arms and legs was kind of a hindrance -- the young woman raised herself up and rolled away from the redhead. She sat on the edge of the table for a beat, then lowered her feet to the floor and glanced from the other woman to her chair, raising her eyebrows in question.

The brunette admitted that she'd been a little... forceful in moving Barbara to the table. Knowing how the older woman absolutely hated to be "handled", Helena wasn't sure how she'd prefer to return to her chair.

Pushing herself up on the table, the redhead smiled and raised her arms for a lift.

"I'm not certain that I have the muscle coordination to do it myself just now, Hel."

The words were accompanied by a slightly abashed laugh.

Smiling tightly, Helena wordlessly transferred Barbara to her chair. She sucked up her courage then and decided to tackle the redhead's earlier teasing comment.

"Uh, a minute ago? Who?"

Hell, maybe the younger woman simply hadn't heard right. She had been kind of... dazed, and it wasn't like she'd talked about Sabina with Barbara -- or anyone else -- yet.

When the redhead flashed her befuddled look in response to the question, Helena felt herself melt a little. She was such a sucker for scatterbrained brainiacs. Especially one particular redheaded, green-eyed brainiac.

"Uhm, 'pointers'?", she supplied.

Barbara laughed and rolled her eyes at herself.

"Sabina, Hel. You know, the woman I've been-- Oh!"

Awareness seemed to dawn on the older woman, and she blushed lightly.

"I guess I have primarily been referring to her by her nickname, haven't I?"

Dark brows lowered as Helena considered the odds of two different women, both working in computer-stuff, both with the same name, existing in New Gotham. Hell, given how fucked up the city usually was, maybe -- just maybe -- there was a chance...

"How do you get the nickname Gem out of", she made quote marks in the air, " 'Sabina'?"

"Sabina Amethyst Gimler. She claims that she was always so embarrassed by her neo-hippie parents' choice for her middle name, and given the beginning of her last name..."

Yep, Sabina Gimler. That was her Sabina, too.

Allowing the redhead's words to wash past her, the young woman picked up her empty milk glass from the table -- she idly wondered how she'd managed to avoid knocking it over a few minutes earlier -- and turned to the sink to rinse it out.

It figured.

It just frikkin' figured, didn't it? Hell, it was kind of funny in a totally cosmic, isn't-it-ironic kind of way.

Helena thought that she'd wait until later to laugh. Maybe in twenty years or so.

"... and, since we're seeing each other on Sunday, that's why I was teasing you about offering a few pointers. Heaven knows", the redhead chucked wryly, "anybody would consider themselves fortunate to get... pointers from you."

Still facing the sink, the brunette clearly heard the older woman swallow. Her next words were so quietly spoken that Helena wondered if Barbara realized she'd spoken aloud.

"I know that I do."

Helena managed to paste on a smile and turned, wiping her hands on a dish towel. She leaned back against the counter, deliberately dropping her voice to a sultry drawl.

"Barbara Gordon, I can't imagine that anybody who's with you would need... cliff notes. But, maybe,"

She paused a beat to do the Dudley Dooright waggle with her right eyebrow.

"... maybe you should warn her to bring along oxygen and smelling salts."

The older woman laughed brightly and asked, "For her, or for me, Sweetie? Although..."

Blue eyes narrowed speculatively when the redhead's expression turned pensive.

"... it may not be necessary. G-- Sabina seemed a little distant... or distracted, I suppose, on Wednesday. It may be that I simply haven't held her interest."

Oh. Crap.

Helena couldn't believe that she was having this conversation.

Hell, she was still trying to figure out what those exquisite moments they'd just shared on the kitchen table meant. Of course, that whole... interlude might not have meant anything, at least to the older woman. Helena was beginning to think that the redhead had simply added "fuck buddies" to the complicated list of terms describing their relationship and wasn't thinking anything more about it.

But, right now, Barbara looked so uncertain and disappointed, and the younger woman realized that her dearest friend was nervous and a little scared and was probably hoping that her wild and randy younger partner might have some timely tips for her.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

How the fuck was she supposed to offer the woman she loved so desperately advice on winning over the woman she'd just started to think might...

Helena carefully focused on refolding the dish towel, trying to be absolutely certain that the edges were even. Finally, she looked up and met those breathtaking green eyes.

"Well, two things, Red. If that is the case -- and, you don't know that. She could just have had a crappy day at work, right?"

She waited patiently for the other woman's grudging nod before continuing.

"But, if that's the case, then she's obviously not smart enough to be with you anyway. And,"

Now, the brunette forced a knowing smile to creep across her features.

"If it's not the case, then -- oxygen and smelling salts. For her."

Turning to place the towel by the sink, she noticed that the tense set of the older woman's shoulders was easing. The young woman took a moment to practice her breathing before spinning around easily and moving toward the kitchen door. The redhead's next teasingly purred words brought her up short.

"We do have O-2 and ammonium carbonate in the medical supplies, Helena, if you think you might need them."

The look which accompanied the words, raw and hungry, left little doubt about the older woman's intent. Helena's stomach flip-flopped, and she frantically swallowed against the lump growing in her throat.

She rotated smoothly to face the other woman, and somewhere she found a smile.

"Uhm, after everything, Babs..."

She swallowed with difficulty and gestured vaguely, hoping that the older woman would think she was referring to their recent table sports.

"... I think it might kill me."

Helena honestly didn't know how she managed to speak the painful truth so playfully. The other woman smiled softly -- an expression that was somehow both deeply pleased and sad -- and the brunette spoke again.

"I think, maybe, I'll just head out... Crash, you know."

When the redhead reached out and clasped her hand, bringing it to her beautiful mouth to bestow a tender kiss, Helena had to bite her lip to keep from whimpering. Barbara looked a little puzzled, but her response was accepting.

"If that's what you want, Sweetheart."

Helena followed her partner toward the living area, pausing in the doorway with her hand on the light switch. She prodded at the redhead's gentle words for an instant, knowing that what she really wanted, above all else, was to curl up in bed with Barbara where she belonged -- that night and always. She wanted to forget the last few weeks and, once again, to be able to believe in the pretty dream she'd fallen into so naturally three weeks before.

The older woman was offering her some of that, a piece of it, for this night... and maybe others. She knew that, if she could only say the word, Barbara would take her to her bed. She knew the attention would be thorough and the pleasure would be exquisite, but she wasn't sure it would outweigh the pain of giving herself so totally when the older woman was only...

Helena clenched her jaw, blinked her eyes, and forced herself to think the word.


Yeah, afterward, she could curl up in Barbara's bed and pretend that she believed in the pretty lie... at least until morning. But -- the brunette swallowed thickly -- what was the point? Weighing the temptation against everything she wanted, Helena couldn't do it. She didn't want bits and pieces and crumbs. They only kept her hungry and wanting more than she'd ever have.

Helena realized that she must have been thinking too long, frozen in place too glaringly, when a throaty voice broke into her dark reverie.

"Are you coming, Helena?"

Without replying, the young woman snapped off the kitchen light and moved into the living area. She bent jerkily to retrieve her coat, and for an instant Helena feared that her legs were going to give out as her body screamed at her to wrap up in a ball, to curl protectively around her tender soft side. The young woman ruthlessly quashed the feeling and sucked it up -- She was a freakin' super hero, right? -- and jauntily slipped into her duster.

Still, when she glanced over to the French doors leading to the balcony, she admitted that she honestly didn't have anything left in her for her usual mode of travel. She walked to the elevator and pushed the button.


Turning, she found Barbara regarding her curiously, a trace of worry in emerald eyes.

"Are you alright?"

Fuck, no.

The brunette exhaled noisily and flashed a lopsided grin. As usual, she found it simplest to go with the truth.

"I'm sorry, Barbara. I didn't mean to zone out on you there."

In two quick steps, she was beside the older woman and dropped lightly to one knee.

"I guess I'm still a little shell-shocked and all."

She waggled her eyebrows playfully and added, "Maybe I should take a hit of oxygen, huh?"

When the redhead chuckled, Helena rose and brushed a kiss to her cheek. She hesitated and then, again, spoke the truth.

"I meant it, uh, earlier, Barbara. Thank you."

For some reason, an eerie echo of words spoken two years ago by her determinedly independent partner whispered through the young woman's mind.

Very softly, she added, "And, you never hold me down, Red."

The young woman smiled tenderly at the puzzled blush flooding her partner's features and then stepped into the waiting elevator, lifting a hand in farewell. She watched the doors close, hoping that the walk home through the dark streets of the city would allow her to suck in enough oxygen to clear her head.

Five hours later, she'd walked and walked without knowing where and -- a little unfairly, she thought -- still didn't feel any less shell-shocked. Finally back at the Dark Horse, Helena let herself into her apartment, vaguely aware that the sun was just beginning to climb over the horizon.

The young woman dropped her coat by the door, then kicked off her boots and shimmied out of her pants. Clad only in her shirt and underwear, she grabbed the stereo remote and powered on the radio out of habit, hoping that the inane chatter of morning DJs and traffic reports would make her apartment seem less solitary.

The dark figure padded out to the kitchen, half-listening to Audio Andy's daily plans to dispose of another truckload of nerf balls, and snagged the jug of orange juice from the fridge. Chugging deeply, she noticed that the light on her answering machine was winking at her. Helena slowly recapped the juice, then walked over to the machine, eyeing it like it was a deadly cobra.

Correction. A deadly, Ebola virus-carrying cobra.

Mentally cursing that whole cat-curiosity thing, the brunette reached out and hit the Play button.


<"Uh, hi.">

The voice was bright, a little nervous.

<"This is, er, it's Sabina. I, uhm, well, I'm terrible at this, but I really enjoyed seeing you last night...">

Helena checked the digital display, noting that the older woman had called just after she'd headed out the window for sweeps the night before.

<"... and I was, er, I wondered if you're free tonight? Or, maybe this is too short notice, so Saturday would be good, too. Perhaps we could visit NGU, like you suggested? Or, well,">

The brunette clearly heard her caller taking a breath. She smiled, figuring that the small woman had been mentally regrouping.

<"Well, anything would be fine. And, I suppose I should just stop talking now before your machine cuts me off. Because..">

The soft laugh was tentative, yet somehow bright.

<"... I know how smooth that would be. When you have a chance, give me a call, Helena.">

Still smiling, the young woman decided to indulge herself and played the message again. The older woman's awkward fondness and shy enthusiasm sounded clearly through the cheap recorder, warming the brunette. When the message ended, Helena sighed silently and stepped to the window to watch the sun peek over the brownstone across the street.

She knew that, if she put her face to the window and peered hard to the left, she could just make out the clock tower in the distance. That was one of the reasons -- right up there with cheap, convenient, and bug-infested -- that she'd chosen the apartment. This particular morning, she pointedly kept her eyes fixed forward as the rising sun glared through her window, bringing tears to her eyes.

Helena wasn't quite sure how long she stood at the window, however, at some point, she recognized the opening strains of a popular song and scrubbed roughly at her eyes before heading back into the kitchen.

I know I tend to get so insecure
It doesn't matter anymore
It's not always rainbows and butterflies
It's compromise that moves us along
My heart is full and my door's always open
You can come anytime you want
I don't mind spending everyday
Out on your corner in the pouring rain
Look for the girl with the broken smile
Ask her if she wants to stay awhile
And she will be loved

The young woman gathered up a small watering can and a tiny container of custom-blended plant food. However, instead of leaving the kitchen immediately, she returned to the answering machine and stared at the "Saved message" indicator for a few heartbeats. Slowly, she raised her free hand, gnawing absently at her lower lip, and hit the erase button.

Helena knew she'd have to call Sabina later, let her know that she wasn't -- wouldn't be -- available. Let her know that she could do better than a bartender with a bad attitude. At the very least, that should remove one "distraction" that might be getting in the way of Barbara's shot at happiness with the other woman.

So, yeah, she'd do that -- call the older woman back -- in a while. In the meantime, there was something more important to do.

The young woman moved into the living area of her apartment and squatted by her low coffee table. Humming quietly with the melody echoing from the stereo, she began the ritual she'd followed twice a week for three years, carefully tending to the delicate orchid that she'd nursed from a bulb.

I know where you hide
Alone in your car
Know all of the things that make you who you are
I know that goodbye means nothing at all
Comes back and begs me to catch her every time she falls
Tap on my window knock on my door
I want to make you feel beautiful

Chapter 24

Helena dug deep down, grunting against the strain, and pushed the barbell over her head again. And again.

Four more reps and that would make six sets. Maybe, after she took a quick breather, she could stack on another thirty pounds and go for seven.

Being honest with herself, the lithe figure admitted that she didn't strictly need to do another set. Hell, she hadn't needed to push through the burning and cramping from the last six sets. After all, she'd already completed her usual weekly workout session with her crime-fighting comrades. She'd done her usual circuit -- stretching, Nautilus, floor exercises and gymnastics, free weights, and then a cool-down on the treadmill -- while half-listening to Barbara's ongoing analysis of the rogue television signal from two nights before.

Half-listening because the young woman had been otherwise occupied with trying not to let the sound of that throaty voice flay her soul, trying not to freeze up in gape-jawed wonder at the familiar -- and very sexy -- sight of the older woman sweating and straining through her own workout.

At least training with the Kid had provided sufficient distraction to keep her attention off the redhead. Hell, she'd really had to focus on the sparring -- especially the first part, when she'd been working with the teenager on her skills with the batarangs. Kid was top-notch at deflecting the weapons with her TK; however, her offensive skills left a lot to be desired. More than once, Helena had had to execute particularly inspired leaps and rolls -- either to catch one of the weapons before it broke something or just to get the hell out of harm's way.

Come to think of it, maybe that Random Crappy Aim thing of the Kid's wasn't so bad after all.

Snorting softly at the thought, the brunette sat up on the weight bench and reached for her water bottle. She guzzled deeply, panting softly against the exertion that she'd been putting herself through for the last hour.

She and Dinah had finished up the back end of their sparring -- just some free-form street fighting -- almost two hours ago, and they'd duly headed into the living area to find Barbara entrenched at the Delphi, where she'd returned after completing her routine. Helena had thought the expression on the other woman's face had been an odd mixture of satisfaction, puzzlement, and trepidation.

Not much inclined to beat around the bush, she'd bounded onto the Delphi platform, Dinah moving up the ramp less flamboyantly, and just asked.

"Didja eat something sour, Barbara? You've got a real pickle-puss thing going..."

That had gotten her a laugh, followed by somewhat technical discussion of the odd digital data wrapper -- something like that -- that the cyber-genius had found, but not yet decoded, in the rogue satellite signal. Apparently, that particular finding had been the source of both the satisfied and the puzzled looks. The source of the trepidation had been clear enough when the older woman, powering the Delphi to standby, mentioned that her modeling and prediction algorithms showed a strong probability that the Grudge Prankster's next attack would occur in cyberspace.

That little bombshell had been clear enough for Helena to appreciate. While her partner might take a wait-and-see attitude towards some basically harmless slapstick attacks in the real world, an attack in her world of bits and bytes was no laughing matter. The brunette suspected that the older woman would be putting a lot of effort in the next few days into decoding that wrapper thing from the broadcast.

But, not this evening.

An hour ago, Barbara had left her two younger partners to digest the information she'd shared and disappeared to prepare for her date with Sabina. Suspecting that she didn't have much to offer or discuss with the teenager about packet wrappers or the potential upcoming cyber-attack, Helena had rapidly fled to the training room and hit the weights.

Normally, her choice of workouts to exorcises demons was the heavy bag -- or, better yet, the evil-doers of New Gotham. There weren't any perps handy at the clock tower this afternoon, and the young woman knew that the way she needed to go at the bag would have caused too much noise and raised too many flags for the two residents in the living quarters. Hence, the punishing routine with the free weights.

Thankfully, there had been evil-doers in good supply the night before. Helena figured that it had been pretty fortunate, considering her mood, that there'd been no stupid pranks or dull recon jobs. No, nothing reminiscent of the last few weeks of sweeps, just a spate of petty crimes and dumb crooks, capped off by a really ugly gang fight that had allowed her to cut loose.

Eying the ever-shrinking stack of weights on the floor next to the bench, the dark woman acknowledged that cutting loose had been exactly -- exactly -- what she'd needed after the painful call she'd made to Sabina the afternoon before. The other woman's puzzlement and hurt had come through so clearly, despite Helena's entirely sincere use of the "It's not you, it's me" explanation. Under the shy woman's gentle requests for a meaningful explanation, the younger woman had finally given it up -- well, a little of it -- admitting that it had to do with the woman she was still stuck on.

The brunette sighed noisily and recapped her water. She figured she was going to have to re-revisit her ideas about passing time now. Based on the discomfort -- hell, downright pain -- involved in the whole breaking up thing, at the moment, casual encounters seemed downright appealing.

But, on the other hand -- blue eyes blinked in irritation as the brunette tried to remember just how many hands she'd been counting -- when she considered how she felt being on the other end of that type of encounter with Barbara, Helena wondered if she should just give celibacy a try.

She was spared having to make any decisions just then when the training room door cracked open and Dinah entered slowly. The brunette stood and snagged a ten pound weight before pinning blue eyes on the blonde.

"What's up?"

The teen stepped closer and spoke quietly.

"Thought you'd like to know that Barbara left."

Focusing on the lock bolt on the barbell, Helena grunted noncommittally, then checked herself. It wasn't Dinah's fault. Heck, it had probably taken no small amount of guts to come in and face her.

The brunette looked over and quirked the corner of her mouth.

"How'd she look tonight?"

Thick lashes lowered to cover careful scrutiny of her companion, and the dark figure watched how Dinah chewed on her lower lip and stared at the floor before answering.

"Oh, you know. Just, uh, kind of regular."

Damn. Helena hadn't thought it was possible, but the Kid was an even worse liar than she was.

The brunette stood absolutely motionless, waiting Dinah out, until the blonde looked up and Helena fixed her with her very best Don't-Bullshit-Me stare.

Looking as miserable as Helena felt when she heard the words, the teenager admitted, "She looked fantastic. Really, uh, hot, I guess."

Helena nodded quickly and grabbed a weight for the other side of the bar, fastening it into place with a resounding clang. Wordlessly, she dropped onto her back on the bench and positioned her hands, tensing for her first lift. The sensation of two hands coming to rest lightly on hers arrested her motion, and cerulean eyes snapped up to meet pale blue.

"You should probably knock off for the day, Helena. I mean,"

The girl smiled hesitantly, probably suspecting that she had a good chance of being the next object in the room that might get lifted... or pressed.

"... if you get any more pumped, you're going to need to buy all new leathers or something."

The older woman pushed back an angry retort, then chuckled, sitting up on the bench.

"Yeah, you're probably right, Ki -- D."

The blonde brightened, and Helena spoke lightly, raising her arms to flex into a bodybuilder pose.

"Not to mention, I'd probably have to start hanging out at a whole 'nother class of dyke bar, huh?"

This time, Dinah laughed outright, and the brunette joined in, realizing how good it felt. In that instant, it hit her what else might feel good.

"Hey, Dinah, you got any plans for tonight? Hot study date -- "

She deliberately leered a little over the words.

"-- with Gabby or anything?"

The teen blushed deeply and swatted at Helena's arm.

"C'mon! Cut it out, Helena!"

The older woman mentally rolled her eyes. At the pace the Kid was moving, she'd be out of grad school before she hooked up with her friend. The brunette's mood instantly deflated a few notches when she realized that she really didn't have any room to talk. She determinedly pushed that thought away.

"So, does this mean you're free, D?"

Pale blue eyes widened hopefully.

"Sure. What do you have in mind?"

Grabbing her towel and water, Helena rose and headed to the door.

"Just let me hit the shower and get into my gear, and we can try to help Barbara in finding her Grudge Prankster."

And so it was that two hours later -- Helena's stomach had dictated a stop on the way for burgers and shakes -- the two young women found themselves peering through a grimy fifth story window from the fire escape of a run down apartment building. The brunette tested the lock, trying to ignore her companion's nervous shifting.

"Are you sure this is such a good idea? I mean, what would B-- Oracle say?"

The blonde paused for a beat, seeming to think of something.

"And, if it is such a good idea, why didn't she ask us to check out Rocko's place earlier, anyway?"

Helena narrowed her eyes and decided that for health reasons -- Dinah's health -- she'd just ignore the not-so-subtle insult inherent in that last question. She also ignored the fact that she'd wondered too, having enthusiastically volunteered -- several times -- to have a chat with the muscle-bound man.

The dark figure raised her cup and took a long, noisy slurp through the straw, polishing off her jumbo-sized chocolate shake before answering. She set the empty cup on the landing and then carefully ticked the points off on her fingers.

"One: There's no hard evidence that Rocko's been involved in anything since the nocturnal cow crap collection expedition thing. Two: Oracle has been taking kind of a wait-n-see approach."

She noted the teen's nod. Both of them were well aware of the redhead's fondness for puzzles.

"And, three: In case you haven't noticed, she has been a little -- preoccupied lately."

Okay, that last one had come out a little harsh.

Mentally shrugging, the young vigilante turned and popped the window and raised the sash. She took a step back with an "after you" motion. Radiating teenaged self-righteous disapproval, the blonde nevertheless slipped into the empty apartment with Helena on her heels. After confirming that nobody else was in the small space, the older woman pulled the blind and switched on a table lamp.

"You look around out here, and I'll take the bedroom."

"Uh, okay. What exactly are we supposed to be looking for?"

This time, the brunette did roll her eyes.

"Anything that ties Mr. Martin into the jobs or might give us a clue about who hired him. Hell, maybe we'll get lucky and find a W-2 or something with the Prankster's name on it, right?"

A few minutes later, distastefully picking through a mountain of dirty clothes on the floor of Rocko's closet, Helena nearly jumped through the ceiling when a thought screamed into her head.

>>He's coming!<<

This was immediately followed by the sound of the apartment door opening and closing and, then, by two nearly simultaneous cries: Dinah's almost inaudible "Eeeep!" and a familiar, high-pitched male shriek.

Helena guessed that the Kid hadn't had time to get to cover before the apartment's owner made his entrance.

The brunette straightened and strolled back into the living room, wiping her hands on her coat. There, she found a scene that she figured some of the bad fiction she'd read might describe as a frozen tableau: the teenager, bristling by a twenty year old moss-green La-Z-Boy, and the apartment's resident, standing a few feet inside the door, one hand clasped dramatically over his chest. Her arrival broke the stand-off, and Rocko stared at her incredulously.

"You again?! What the hell?"

Helena raised her hands in a "No harm intended" gesture, and the big man gasped and took a step back.

"No way! Just no freakin' way! Are you nuts? Or a stalker or something?"

The brunette locked eyes with her partner.

"Canary, you want to do the honors?"

The dark figure waited just long enough for the eager nod of a blonde head before hopping over the arm of the recliner and planting herself in it.

This should be fun.

"Alright, Rocko. Time to spill it."

Who did the Kid think she was channeling, anyway? Bogart?

Whatever. The big guy looked like he was about to faint as the teen continued.

"Tell us who hired you for the practical jokes."

The burly man sagged -- almost seemed to deflate -- and shuffled over to sit in a high-backed kitchen chair.

"I don't know. You gotta believe me."

A beat later, Helena blinked in puzzlement when the man whimpered and appeared to jerk backward in his chair several times. The mystery cleared up when she noticed the look of concentration on Dinah's face and an indentation -- like a finger had been poking him -- in the man's shirt. Having been on the receiving end of that TK finger poke many a time -- tho' the Kid usually went for the brunette's forehead -- Helena knew how effective it could be.

"Why should we believe that?"

The blonde was still doing her Bogart interrogation, and the man practically whined his answer.

"Honest to god! I stopped doing anything after that job at the political office."

Rocko grimaced and added petulantly.

"I thought that cow sh-- manure job was bad, but that was nothing. I didn't think I'd ever get those friggin' punch card thingies out of my clothes."

From her vantage point across the room, Helena nodded in commiseration. She'd been picking chads out of her boot laces for days after being in the office.

"So, how did the other jobs work? How did they get set up?"

Dinah was asking good questions. Too bad their informant seemed so genuinely uninformed.

"I just-- I'd get these phone calls--"

"Man or woman?", the teen interrupted.

"I don't know. It... there was this -- you know -- voice-disguiser-sounding thing so it just sounded like a robot or a telemarketer or something."

Sighing in disgust, the brunette stood and wandered into the kitchen, finally contributing her own question.

"How'd you get paid?"

She suspected that a personal check was a pretty long shot, but if the big man had so much as a single bit of cash on him that he'd received in payment, she was certain that Barbara could trace the serial number back to an ATM and a bank account.

Since she was cracking the refrigerator door at the time, the dark woman missed Rocko's mumbled reply. She turned from her perusal of the fridge's contents -- tofu and bean sprouts? -- and spoke sharply.

"What was that, Rocko?"

"I said that I didn't. Get paid."

"Oh, come on," Dinah scoffed a split-second before Helena could.

The man raised a hand to his chest protectively as he stammered out an explanation.

"No, really. This person promised that, by the end of things, he was gonna hack into the government database and somehow erase my student loans."

"Student loans?"

The brunette wanted to be sure she'd heard correctly.

This time, Mr. Martin's response was a trifle defensive.

"That's right. You think I didn't go to college? For your information, I've got a B.A. in Philosophy. Why do you think I'm under-employed now, huh?"

Dark brows crept up, and Helena caught her partner's eye. The two women simply blinked at each other for a beat before the older woman shrugged and let Dinah get back to her interview. It seemed pretty clear to her that they weren't going to learn much from their number one lead.

In the meantime...

The brunette grabbed two beers from the fridge, tossing one to their host and popping the other. Sipping philosophically, she decided that she was at least getting something out of their visit.

Chapter 25

Another beer, another crummy tip.

Helena wondered if the bartenders at yuppie martini bars pulled in better tips than she did. Even if they didn't, she thought that the chance to mix up something interesting once in a while had to be a perk. Of course, on the other hand, she had to offset that if the place had some kind of piano player tinkling Burt Bacharach as background for the whole shift.

Nodding to acknowledge a hand raised for a refill, she allowed that at this particular moment -- with Sting crooning the same damned song for the fourth time in the last hour -- maybe some innocuous muzak wouldn't be such a bad thing. After all, she'd never had elevator music stick in her head, but if those two moony-eyed coeds in the corner pumped money in the jukebox and hit Number Fifty-seven one more time, she didn't think she'd ever get that particular song out of her brain.

The brunette checked her watch and did some quick calculations. It was 8:30; only thirty minutes 'til her shift ended and she could hit the rooftops -- and, hopefully, hit some perps, too. So, if she fed the jukebox for three or four songs, that should see her through. Cheered at the prospect, she fished into her tip jar -- all those quarters were finally coming in handy for something other than laundry -- and headed across the room to peruse the play list.

Okay, "Werewolves of London" was a no-brainer. Didn't know why, but for some reason she was in the mood for Dionne Warwick; so, the young woman spent a minute considering which would be better: "Walk on By" or "I Say a Little Prayer"? Then, maybe something -- anything -- by Annie Lennox.

A buzzing from her pocket distracted the young woman from her mental debate about whether Carly Simon's "I Haven't Got Time For the Pain" would be too cliched. Digging out her cell, she stepped into the alcove by the restrooms, where the noise was only a low din, and checked the Caller ID.



The brunette was distracted for a moment when she saw the love bugs heading to the juke again.

No - no - no...

She plugged a finger in one ear and tried to focus on the voice in her other ear.

"Helena? I'm glad I caught you before you left work. I mean, you are still at work, right?"

Helena rolled her eyes but kept it civil.

"Just barely. What's up?"

"Uhm, it's Barbara."

The young woman snapped to attention, all traces of flippancy instantly evaporating.

"She's, well, kind of -- well, not upset or anything. 'Cuz you know she doesn't get upset, right? But--"

The brunette breathed slowly, seeking patience and wondering if she had any Excedrin upstairs. Maybe she could run up and get it, and -- by the time it kicked in -- Dinah might have gotten to the point.

"Uhm, anyway, I think something might have happened on her date or something. And, I thought that, uh, well, I'm supposed to go to Gabby's tonight so we can get to school early for the Quiz Bowl trip, and, well..."

Helena silently waited through the pause until the teen finished in a rush.

"I thought that maybe you should come over before sweeps?"

The dark woman couldn't be certain, but she had a sinking feeling about what could have happened -- or not happened -- on the redhead's date the night before. She clenched the tiny phone tightly and kept her reply to the point.

"I'll be there."

Blowing off the remaining twenty minutes of her shift without a single twinge of conscience, the young woman grabbed her duster from her apartment and was out on the roof in ninety seconds. For a few moments, she stood quietly and stared at the clock tower across the skyline. She was so positive of the redhead's location and actions -- hell, even her posture -- that she could almost see her working at the Delphi with determined, fixed concentration, every muscle rigid and tense.

The dark woman blew out a breath. It was six minutes over there at top speed, but she didn't want to come roaring in like gangbusters or anything. If she just made a brief stop on her way and could force herself to keep her pace down to a slow jog...

Helena landed on the balcony with a noisy thump at 9:20.

There had been a bit of a line at the bodega.

She unlooped the handles of the plastic grocery bag from her left wrist and raised blue eyes to Orion. Her wish was the same as always: for courage, for Barbara's happiness. Smiling without any humor, the young woman decided not to consider the similarities to a night about a month ago which she knew had somehow gotten this whole ball of... wax rolling. She figured that, as long as "Starship Troopers" wasn't on again, it'd be okay.

"Hiya, Red."

Helena breezed in from the balcony with a dramatic swirl of her duster. She noticed that, despite the older woman's seeming concentration on the screen in front of her, Barbara hadn't been startled by her entrance.

Yep. Red was working hard, but her head -- and heart -- wasn't in it this evening.

"Helena. I thought you'd be checking in?"

Posture even more perfect than usual -- although Helena wasn't sure how that was possible -- the older woman turned slightly to offer a puzzled smile. The brunette bounced into the kitchen to tuck her groceries away and called out a cheerful reply.

"Nah. I thought I'd grab a snack, maybe get your take on the sleuthing that the Kid and I did last night."

She emerged from the kitchen a moment later with a slice of cold meatloaf in one hand, thankful as always that Alfred kept the refrigerator stocked for them. Hopping onto the Delphi platform, the young woman didn't miss the slightly queasy look being directed at her chosen sustenance.


"It simply escapes me how you can eat meatloaf like that."

Dark brows furrowed briefly before Helena brought the item in question to her mouth and took another big bite. Her response was a bit muffled.

"Well, yeah. I guess ketchup would really punch it up, but -- "

She swallowed and grinned broadly.

"-- then I'd need a plate and fork, which would sort of take this out of snack territory, wouldn't it?"

That got her a smile, but no laugh. With a sinking feeling, Helena decided that something pretty bad must have gone down the night before. Nothing to do but soldier on.

The brunette stuffed the final bite of meatloaf into her mouth and then planted her hindquarters on a semi-clear section of the computer table. She didn't miss the way that emerald eyes carefully observed her movements when she licked the final traces of her snack from her fingers.

"So, uh, did the K -- Dinah tell you about our recon job last night?"

The young woman was pretty certain that her partner for the previous evening's B&E job wouldn't have been able to keep quiet about their activities, thus providing her level-headed older partner time to digest what they'd done and, hopefully, cool off. But, maybe a little redheaded temper wouldn't be such a bad thing either.

The older woman chuckled softly.

"Yes, she did, Helena. And, sometimes I just don't know what you're thinking, pulling a job like this without any backup."

The brunette ducked her head apologetically and waited. The older woman exhaled and looked over her glasses sternly.

"Still, no harm done."

"Yeah, and no real good done either, I guess," Helena admitted sulkily. She held back her smile when she saw the older woman's gaze soften.

"I'm not sure I'd completely agree. If nothing else, you found out why Mr. Martin had so many, er, helpers with him the night that you first encountered him."

The young woman threw back her head and laughed.

"Sure, I can see why he'd want help to suspend all of the Voter Registration office's computers from the ceiling with bungee cords. I just don't get why he thought that asking a bunch of guys from a bar to come along was the best way to go."

Laughing softly, the redhead nodded her agreement before sobering again.

"It is a shame that Rocko never had any face-to-face contact with the person who's behind all of this."

Helena scrunched up a corner of her mouth in wry acknowledgement.

"I guess, when he got a call out of the blue offering to wipe out his student loans, our guy was just too blown away to care about who was, uh, retaining his services."

"Indeed," the redhead murmured, turning back to the display screen in front of her.

Refusing to be ignored, the younger woman slid from the desktop, strolled around, and bent down to peer over her partner's shoulder.

"Making any headway on that packet thing?"

The redhead tensed slightly, raising her fingers a few millimeters from her keyboard.

"I've had a decryption algorithm hammering against it most of this afternoon and this evening, but I'm not sure it's making any real dent in the wrapper. It's quite madde--"

The older woman stuttered uncharacteristically when Helena brought her hands to those tense shoulders and began to knead firmly. She quickly recovered.

"--maddening. The structure of the wrapper seems so... familiar somehow, but I'm just not making the connection."

Behind her partner, stroking her thumbs against the vertebrae in her neck, the younger woman winced at the frustration and self-recrimination in the low voice. She had a pretty strong suspicion that it wasn't all directed at the other woman's data puzzle. Since there was no time like the present, she decided to tap-dance around the elephant in the room.

"You'll get it, Red. You probably just need to not think so hard about it for a while. In fact,"

She bent again to extend her kneading strokes down the length of strong arms whose muscles were tightly flexed.

"... you're too damned tense to think about anything right now."

Straightening again, she continued to work at the tight trapezius muscles under her hands and sucked in a fortifying breath.

"So, uh, bad date last night?"

Well, fuck. There went all of her un-tensing work down the drain.

Other than the tension which suddenly flooded through her partner's frame, there was no response to the question for a long thirty seconds or so. Finally, the redhead exhaled impatiently and reached up to remove her glasses, tossing them onto the desk.

"No, I wouldn't call it that, Hel."

Blue eyes blinked.

Allll-right. Maybe she -- and Dinah -- had misread the situation.

Helena kept her tone carefully neutral.

"What would you call it, Ba--"

"An unmitigated disaster."

The older woman suddenly pushed back from the desk, Helena's extraordinary reflexes the only thing keeping her toes from harm's way. Close call to her feet aside, as she watched her friend move down the ramp to the living area, the younger woman felt on more solid footing with Barbara's admission out in the open. She hopped lightly from the platform.

"You wanna tal--"


The word was sharp, and Helena pursed her lips in reflex. The redhead seemingly recognized that she'd been a bit terse and looked over her shoulder apologetically.

"I'm sorry, Helena. That was uncalled for. I simply don't want to... think about it right now."

The young woman stepped to the other woman's side, moving with her -- subtly guiding her -- toward the couch. Once there, she smiled winningly, snagged the remote, and began clicking through channels almost too rapidly to follow.

"Well then, Ms. Gordon, I'm your girl. If not thinking is what you're up for, let me help you kill a few brain cells."

For a split-second, Helena was afraid that her partner was going to refuse. Ignoring her own feelings of panic about what she'd do in that case, she plopped herself on the couch, careful to leave room for the other woman, and continued to talk.

"Hey, 'She Devil' is just starting. That's a pretty good 'Romantic Partners Are Scum' movie."

From the corner of her eye, the brunette observed a tiny lessening in the older woman's tension. She finally relaxed marginally herself when Barbara set the brake on her chair and transferred herself to the couch with a chuckle.

"You are not comparing me to Roseanne, are you, Helena?"

Batting her eyes innocently, Helena fixed her friend with a bright grin.

"Only if I can be Linda Hunt for you, Red."

This time, the redhead's laugh sounded a bit more full.

"I think you might not be tall enough, Sweetie."

Helena practiced her Not-impressed expression as she stood and headed to the kitchen.

"Fuh-nee, Barbara. Just for that, I may not share any of my fudge ripple ice cream..."

Seventy minutes later, as Ruth Patchette's lying, cheating ex-husband received yet another well-deserved comeuppance, Helena accepted a second empty bowl from her companion and stretched over to set it on the coffee table. Shifting ever-so-slightly, she reached out and placed her hand on the other woman's and spoke quietly.

"Can we talk about it now, Babs? What'd she do?"

The redhead released a long breath. Helena felt her heart squeeze tightly at the pain in those beautiful green eyes.

"Nothing, Helena. Sabina was wonderful and sweet. It was... The problem was... is with me."

Barbara's soft laugh, the young woman decided, didn't contain much humor.

"I'm beginning to suspect that I'm simply not cut out for... having a little fun."

After the briefest of hesitations, the older woman shifted, the unnecessary motion telegraphing her discomfort. Her voice was bitter.

"I'm... It just doesn't..."

Helena waited, motionless, as the strong, passionate woman next to her drew in a deep breath and spoke without inflection.

"I don't work, Hel. I think I just don't have it in me, and the trying and the failing is just too much..."

Green eyes shimmered behind tears that the older woman would not allow to fall. Gently clasping Barbara's other hand in hers, massaging the palms of both tenderly with her thumbs, the brunette said what she had to: she spoke the truth.

"Bullshit, Barbara. Just look at--"

She stumbled over the words and hoped that her companion wouldn't notice.

"--how things are with us."

Helena remained still for a long sixty seconds under the redhead's searching gaze.

"True. I don't know why you..."

The words were thoughtful, and the younger woman had to clench her teeth against the urge to scream. She wished, desperately, that she could be alone for a minute, just so that she could bang her head against a wall.

She loved Barbara to distraction, but sometimes -- hell, most of the time -- her digitally obsessed friend had the emotional compass of the Titanic in a thick fog.

Almost smiling at that thought, the dark woman decided to try for a logical rebuttal. Her partner usually appreciated logic.

"Hey, Red. Maybe the stars weren't in the right alignment last night or something, huh? You really seem to like this woman, so,"

She swallowed around the lump in her throat and softly squeezed the hands that were still in hers.

"... don't give up just yet 'cuz the karma or kismet was off a little."

Helena inhaled sharply when the redhead raised her hand and pressed a lingering kiss to her fingers. She hoped that the sound hadn't been as loud as it had seemed to her own ears.

"You really are too good to me. I don't know what I'd do without you, Sweetheart." Ducking her head, attempting to hide the raw emotion in her eyes, the young woman ground out the truth.

"I hope you never have to find out, Barbara."

Helena couldn't help but notice that the other woman had yet to lower their joined hands. Instead, Barbara rested her mouth lightly against their tangled fingers.

"Nevertheless, Hel, if it is a problem with the planets and stars, I suspect that Sabina simply may not be in the stars for me."

The redhead sighed. It sounded like surrender... or defeat.

"It's simply possible that the stars aren't in the stars for me, Hel."

As unobtrusively as possible, the brunette coaxed their hands back down to the relative safety of the other woman's thighs. At the moment, anything seemed better than having the redhead's soft lips against her fingers and her warm breath ghosting her skin. She chewed at her lip for a moment, trying to find her way through the nuances of the conversation.

"What do you want, Barbara?"

Impossibly saddened by the way green eyes shuttered and squeezed shut, she waited. The ragged words that whispered across the small space between them tore at her heart.

"Everything that... I... You don't..."

The red head shook once, briskly, and the older woman opened her eyes. Still, she averted her face.

"It's not important. In fact,"

Helena couldn't mistake the effort that her friend put into lightening her words.

"I think that I may just want another bowl of ice cream."

Out of pure reflex, the young woman reached for the bowls on the table and started to stand. Something -- it might have been a soft gasp; it might have been the way she noticed the other woman's eyes following her; it might have been the way the redhead's expression hardened for a fleeting second. Whatever it was, something stopped her, and she turned back to the other woman.

In that instant, she knew -- she knew -- what the redhead would never allow herself to ask at this moment. She could see it in the other woman's face; she could hear it in her heartbeat; she could smell it on her skin.

Blue eyes widened helplessly, and the brunette wondered if she would cry.

At that moment, Helena also knew something else: namely that she wouldn't -- couldn't -- be with Barbara like it was nothing. She'd never been able to lie to the other woman, and she couldn't start now with her body.

Or her heart.

Smiling softly, she cracked open the tight lid she'd tried to put on her feelings, and leaned in to rest her forehead against the other woman's. Fascinated, she watched the green eyes dilate, becoming dark orbs surrounded by thin bands of color.

"Ice cream, huh?," she growled softly, "Is that really what you want right now?"

The younger woman easily heard Barbara's heart rate accelerating. The redhead's words were ragged and halting.

"I don't want -- I don't want to use this as..."

Helena swallowed again, then licked her lips. She pulled back a few inches and studied the other woman's face, finding so many emotions present: unhappiness and hope; nervousness and resolve; love and sorrow.

And, that other one: want.

Something -- a phrase, a hint of melody from earlier -- scratched at the young woman's mind as she shifted to rest on her knees, facing the older woman, legs folded under her on the couch. She placed her hands lightly on her thighs.

You'll remember me when the west wind moves Upon the fields of barley You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky As we walk in the fields of gold

"Ask me what I want, Red."


The older woman's expression shifted unmistakably. Helena clenched her jaw against something that burned in her throat and concentrated on not just what she was doing, but why she was doing it.

So she took her love
For to gaze awhile
Upon the fields of barley
In his arms she fell as her hair came down
Among the fields of gold

"What do you want, Helena?"

Rising on her knees, the dark woman leaned in and brushed her mouth to the other woman's ear. The words wouldn't come, held back by her own sharp teeth biting at her lower lip, by her lungs' refusal to draw in air.

Will you stay with me, will you be my love
Among the fields of barley
We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we lie in the fields of gold

Helena blinked rapidly and drew back again. She fixed blue eyes on green and then lowered her head to watch as she raised her hands from her thighs. She knew by the other woman's soft hiss that Barbara had followed her gaze. Deliberately, she brought her eyes back up -- even as she began to unfasten the buttons at the waistband of her pants -- so that she could see the woman she was offering herself to.

See the west wind move like a lover so
Upon the fields of barley
Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth
Among the fields of gold

It seemed like a lifetime had passed, but Barbara's question still hung in the air for the young woman to answer.

The brunette finally found the words -- and the will to speak them.

"I want you to fuck me, Barbara."

The older woman inhaled roughly. When she spoke, her voice was tight, almost pained.


In reply, the young woman offered a smile full of promise and reached for the other woman's hand, bringing it to the half-unbuttoned fly of her leather pants. She stretched forward and tenderly brushed her lover's mouth with hers.

I never made promises lightly
And there have been some that I've broken
But I swear in the days still left
We'll walk in the fields of gold

When she felt Barbara brushing her hands aside to take over, the brunette dropped her head to the redhead's strong shoulder. When the other woman touched her flesh, blue eyes squeezed shut, and Helena fought with everything she had to silence her voice.

Moving in rhythm with the hands that had begun to possess her, she managed to cut off the sound rising from her chest. However, Helena simply could not stop her lips from moving over and over against the redhead's neck, mouthing the only words she knew.

'I love you, Barbara.'

Chapter 26

"Helena Kyle, I love you."

Somehow, when she heard Barbara's throaty declaration, the young woman managed to avoid spewing the mouthful of soda she'd just chugged. She swallowed and carefully set her drink down before tilting her head to one side and flashing an uncertain smile.

"I love you, too, Red."

Suspecting that -- as with most of her friend's emotional revelations -- there was something more behind the words, she quirked an eyebrow and spoke lightly.

"Uhm, so other than my fantastic fashion sense and sparkling wit, what's got you noticing my lovability today?"

The redhead half turned from her station at the Delphi and laughed happily.

"I've located the source of the television station hacks uplink, and I've almost cracked the data wrapper algorithm."

Yeah. Helena had figured.

The brunette reclaimed the liter bottle of Mountain Dew she'd picked up on her way in from sweeps -- after last night, she needed as much caffeine as she could get -- and sauntered up to the other woman, grinning wolfishly.

"Broke through that little mental block, didja?"

The older woman offered a decidedly arch look -- and the expected blush -- but couldn't hold the expression.

"I don't think that was behind it, Sweetheart..."

Green eyes blinked behind those sexy glasses and the blush deepened as a wicked -- and very self-satisfied -- smile graced those lush lips.

"Well, perhaps that was part of it, Hel."

Helena smirked when the redhead turned cheerfully back to her primary keyboard and toggled through several screens.

God, she loved it when she could tease her partner into a playful mood. Hell, really just about any mood that wasn't filled with self-doubt.

The young woman stepped behind her, preparing to be dazzled yet again by her mentor's brilliance.

"It was something you said last night, Helena -- "

"Hmmm," the brunette purred into the other woman's ear, "Which thing: 'Harder' or 'Don't stop'?"

That question earned a none-too-convincing pained sigh, and the blush raced around to the back of the older woman's neck.

"In fact, it was..."

Barbara paused, obviously waiting to see if her younger partner had finished.

"... about Rocko's being called out of the blue about his student loans."

Dark eyebrows wrinkled in puzzlement.

"I don't get it. What about...?"

Awareness dawned.

"Oh, that Rocko wasn't called out of the blue, right?"

The older woman nodded, looking pleased that her protege had picked up on her line of reasoning so quickly.

"Exactly, Hel. Somebody had to know that Mr. Martin has a mountain of student debt."

"Okaaay. And...?", the young woman prompted, knowing how much the redhead enjoyed these Sherlock Holmes-ian explanations.

"And, Helena, since most people with student loans aren't immediately amenable towards performing criminal mischief to reduce their debts, it seemed possible that whoever contacted Rocko also knew that the man had a criminal record."

The brunette bobbed her head up and down in agreement, aware that the other woman would probably detect the motion in the reflection of her monitor. She clearly saw the reflection of white teeth as the redhead smiled and continued.

"With that information, it was then a simple matter to cross-reference recent hacks into the National Student Loan database with searches for people with criminal records in New Gotham."

The young woman rolled her eyes indulgently at that statement, careful to raise her soda bottle for a swig in order to cover the gesture.

"I pinned down the origin of the searches earlier today."

The redhead twisted her head to catch her partner's eyes.

"Oddly, both came from an Internet Cafe only a few blocks from the Dark Horse, Helena. That turns out to be the location for the satellite uplink transmissions as well."

The young woman heard the hint of a question in Barbara's words but could only offer a faintly puzzled half-smile as the other woman turned back to her monitor and gestured at some lovely patterns on the screen.

"As you can see," she split the screen to display another pretty pattern, "the digital transmissions for the searches are almost identical to the packet wrappers for the TV hack. Fortunately..."

The cyber genius brought up another display, and this one Helena could clearly identify as a graph of some sort.

"... they differ just enough -- almost as if the early searches were using a prototype of the digital encoding wrapper -- that I've narrowed down the structure of the later wrapper. It's an incredibly tight dodecahedron structure."

She clicked to an image of something that looked like a molecule or a cut diamond or something.

"Very secure and extremely efficient for packaging and transmitting large quantities untraceable data."

Helena finally offered a comment.

"Pretty elegant, huh?"

"Indeed it is. Somebody is very, very good at what they do."

Detecting both admiration for the structure of the wrapper thing and a small amount of pride about cracking it in the older woman's voice, the brunette couldn't keep a fond smile from creeping across her face. She waited, knowing that there was more to come.

"While I don't think that our prankster would be foolish enough to transmit from the same location for the next attack, having the packet structure pinned down allows me to place a digital filter throughout all of New Gotham's net hubs. Meaning..."

Helena grinned more broadly and moved to the older woman's side to catch sparkling green eyes.

"Meaning, when this bozo makes his move, you can cut off whatever he sends, right?"

"Not just that, Hel. I can immediately trace it back to its origin, and -- if we're fast enough -- we can catch our prankster in the act."

Discretely checking the time on one of the monitors, the dark woman smiled in anticipation. It was still pretty early and, according to Barbara's models, the Grudge Prankster was likely to make a move this evening. She thought the chance to catch the source of a lot of recent aggravation in the act and have a chat -- or something -- sounded pretty appealing.

"You want me to stick around for a while in case our friend makes his move tonight?"

The redhead's expression was hopeful.

"If you wouldn't mind, Sweetheart. And -- "

Helena thought she heard a tiny hesitation before Barbara continued, words teasing.

"... if you think your citrus-scented public can do without you for a bit longer tonight."

What the h--?

The dark figure managed -- just barely -- to mask her pain at the teasing reference to her nocturnal habits; however, she simply couldn't get her brain to fire fast enough to come up with a clever rejoinder. Unfortunately, the brunette discovered that this little fact didn't keep her mouth from moving.

"Shit, Barbara, we both know that I can get my skank on any ol' time, right? No secret that I'm not the kind of relationship mat--"

Horrified, the young woman heard the sharp words pouring from her own mouth, saw the hurt flash through green eyes so quickly that she might have imagined it.


Goddammit. Why was she always assing up and hurting the redhead? Sure, maybe she was still a little... tender about the night before, but that didn't mean she had to go and say something like that.

"Helena? I'm sorry, Swe--"

Warily turning away from the Delphi to look directly at the younger woman, the redhead appeared, and sounded, lost. Helena slowly shut her eyes and then reopened them, studying the toe of her boot and trying to find some way to excuse what she'd just said. Of course, it was at this point, she observed sourly, that her mouth finally decided to get in sync with her brain and simply shut down. Miserably, she listened as the older woman spoke almost diffidently.

"You know that I was just-- You know that I don't think... that about you, Hel. I don't want you to think that I take you for granted, Sweetheart. Not the time you spend on sweeps or..."

The young woman clearly heard the shakiness in the next words.

"... nor the-- nor everything that you share with me."

Something inside Helena twisted painfully at the cautious statement. She honestly wasn't certain if the anguish arose from the fact that Barbara at least did recognize that they were sharing... something or from her own absurd gratitude about that fact.


The dark figure decided that this was not the time to get all introspective. Instead, she knew that she needed to focus on the only things that truly mattered in her life: this woman and her promise to her.

Taking a quick step forward, Helena dropped to one knee in front of the redhead. Despite being at eye level, she found that she was simply unable to meet those knowing green eyes directed her way.

"No. I'm sorry, Ba--"

The young woman felt the tiniest shift in the air and realized that her partner had raised one of her hands -- as if to reach out to her -- and then dropped it back to her lap. As the older woman spoke quietly, cutting off her attempt at an apology, Helena wondered how that aborted touch could feel -- actually frikkin' feel -- like a slap.

"Please, Hel, let me finish. I... You have so much life, and you're constantly... seizing the day."

Peeking through her lashes, the brunette watched her mentor marshal a tentative smile.

"I admire that in you, Helena. It's not something that some of us -- "

The older woman shook her head and, apparently, decided not to hide behind vague words and abstract concepts.

"... It's not something that I'm very good at, but you've even helped me try..."

The redhead's rueful chuckle at her own expense seemed to transform to something that Helena couldn't quite identify.

"... for better or, perhaps, for worse."

Fuck. Now she'd gone and gotten Barbara even more insecure.

"No. I'm sorry, Barbara. I shouldn't have jumped on you like that."

She looked up, worked on a small smile of her own, and, as usual, spoke the truth.

"And, never 'for worse', Red..."

The young woman somehow managed a playful smile as she made quote marks in the air with her fingers.

"I mean, hell, I guess, maybe, I'm a little jealous of what you have going with Sabina. It's something... Well, it sounds like it could be something good."

Rising to her feet, the brunette noted her partner's downcast eyes and tightly pursed lips; however, recognizing her own limits, how close she was to saying something irreparable, she simply couldn't go any further.

Helena inhaled deeply, deliberately shook the tension from herself, and allowed a slightly dangerous light to come into her eyes.

"Mostly, Babs, I guess I'm just antsy to do some seizing of my own -- "

She waggled her eyebrows, managing to draw a tiny smile from her companion.

"-- with our prankster."

Relieved, she observed a slight lessening in the older woman's nervousness.

"So, really, no problem about hanging out here for a while. I'll just..."

Helena gestured vaguely towards the French doors leading outside and stepped off the platform, seeking the solitude and darkness of the balcony. Once there, she planted herself on the low parapet and swung her legs over to dangle above the empty street eighteen stories below.

Allowing the cool night wind to dry the moisture which insisted on pooling in her eyes before it could spill down her cheeks, the dark figure had no trouble detecting the sound of her partner's soft typing through the closed doors. With a feeling of resignation, she wondered if she'd ever be able to understand how the woman she loved could be so damned brilliant and so damned... clueless at the same time.

Like last night.

After that first frantic... encounter -- Helena couldn't bring herself to call it what it was -- the young woman had collapsed on the couch, half on the redhead's lap. Still shuddering from the force of her reaction to the woman, she'd hidden her face against Barbara's legs. It hadn't been hard at all to pick up on her partner's excitement from that vantage point, but -- understanding how fragile the older woman's feelings about her abilities were at that time -- Helena remained still, digging her nails into the palms of her hands against her nearly overwhelming need to touch the redhead.

All the while, Barbara had been gently stroking her hair, rubbing her back, and whispering brokenly through her own harsh breathing.

"Oh, Helena. Sweetheart. You just don't know -- Nobody has -- It hasn't been like this..."

The older woman had shifted just a bit and bent, and then soft lips had pressed melting kisses to her hair.

"Thank you, Hel."

The words had been so sad and joyful, so hesitant yet... still impossibly aroused. Helena had had no choice but to respond to the other woman's need, to the way that Barbara was finding whatever it was she needed then -- a little boost of confidence or her own pleasure or... whatever.

So she had.

She'd rolled onto her side, scrubbing her tear-stained cheeks across the redhead's jeans in the process, and looked up into green eyes that were still dark and hungry. Not trusting her own voice, she'd kept it short.

"Thank me again, Red."

That time, the young woman's request had gotten her a ravenous, eternal kiss which had left her shaking and swollen and clenching into herself. When Barbara had finally broken the kiss, the older woman had immediately taken charge again. In seconds, the young woman had had her pants roughly tugged off her hips and down to her ankles and she'd been positioned on her hands and knees against the arm of the couch. And then... then, she'd been filled and consumed and... claimed.

Utterly. Completely.


When both women had been totally spent, Helena had somehow managed to right herself and drag her pants back up. She'd been, once again, dumbstruck by the intense pleasure of being with the beloved woman -- in whatever capacity she was needed. She'd been, again, frustrated to the point of pain with the force of her desire to give back to this woman she loved so much.

Lost in their respective recoveries, the two women had settled back against the couch, breathing in time together, until Helena had straightened just a bit and inched next to the redhead. Cautiously, she'd put an arm behind the other woman -- around those strong shoulders which carried so much -- and coaxed the other woman's head to her shoulder, absurdly grateful that Barbara had permitted her that much.

Just before the older woman dozed off -- not reawakening until the morning sun peeked through the transom windows -- she'd wrapped her arm across Helena's stomach and whispered four words that were filled with wonder.

"So easy with you."

In the dark hours of the long night, Helena had cradled the sleeping woman tightly to her, whispering her reply: "Always, if you'd just let me."

And now?

Less than twenty-four hours later, all she could do was look into the night sky and wonder about the tenderness she thought she'd detected from that sweetly demanding mouth, about the emotion that she believed she'd felt in the sure strokes from knowing hands. Only a few minutes after their oddly charged exchange, she could only puzzle over the redhead's odd, reticent apology, coupled as it was with Barbara's acknowledgement -- such as it had been -- that she at least recognized that the two of them were sharing something.

Caught up as she'd been the night before in her own ecstasy -- and agony -- it was difficult to know if any of that had been real. Caught up as she'd been this evening in her own embarrassment and shame, it was impossible to know if Barbara's words meant anything.

Picking out the constellations in the dark canopy above her, Helena tried not to choke as she forced herself to accept that -- very likely -- it was all only her own wishful thinking... or projection... or whatever psychobabble bullshit could explain the workings of her heart. As much as it might mean -- or she might wish it to mean -- to her, harsh experience from the last month showed that only heartache lay that way.

Helena snorted softly and admitted that, while she was in possession of a whole host of less-than-desirable traits, dishonesty -- with others or with herself -- was not one of them. She'd just have to keep trying... trying to...

The young woman felt her control shattering, her face fracturing in tandem with her heart, as she realized what she was facing. With as much patience and love as she possessed and with as little hope as she could permit herself, she was just going to have to do... to be what she was. She was, simply, the woman who loved Barbara Gordon enough to offer her everything: the support to find happiness; the shoulder to cry on if it didn't work out; even, herself, with no strings attached.

Staring at the brightest star in Orion's belt, the dark woman swiped roughly at her face and wished that she could pretend it didn't matter. Bitterly, she forced herself to admit what she knew in her heart: Even if Barbara never saw it, she'd always -- always -- have no choice.

At that instant, another thought blazed through the young woman's mind with the intense brightness of a meteor against a backdrop of empty space.

The idea was so overwhelming, so absolutely -- literally -- breathtaking, that the brunette gasped -- feeling like she'd been sucker-punched -- and doubled over, nearly tumbling heels-over-head into empty space.

God. Damn.

What if -- Could there be some way to make... or to help... Barbara understand? Could she take a chance -- the young woman smirked at that idea since taking chances was what she was all about -- and find a way through word or deed? Well, probably deed since she didn't seem so good with the word thing when it really counted...

Gingerly pushing herself back from the parapet, Helena rolled onto the balcony, then collapsed on the concrete, huddled with her back against the low wall. For long moments, she sat utterly still, save for her own soft panting, trying to understand what -- if anything -- that searing flash of insight could mean, trying to figure out how the hell else she could possibly show Barbara how she felt.


The call was soft, but the brunette was instantly on her feet and almost through the doors to the living area before she caught herself.

Probably not such a bad idea to take a second, make sure that whole puffy-faced thing wasn't going on...

Less than half a minute later, reasonably confident that any color in her cheeks could be attributed to the cool night wind, the young woman sauntered inside.

"Hey -- is it going down?"

Helena didn't even try to mask the excitement in her question; however, one look at her partner stripped the feeling away.

"What happened?"

Rotating a quarter turn from her keyboard, the redhead exhaled loudly and removed her glasses with a rough motion. Blue eyes widened slightly, and the younger woman slowly approached the platform.

"About four and a half minutes ago, our prankster unleashed a massive attack that would have gridlocked all of the internet search engines. The filters caught the transmissions immediately and triggered my alarm. Unfortunately, this bozo is good. Seems like he or she --"

Helena thought she heard an odd inflection on the last word but remained silent so that her partner could finish.

"--caught on to the filters right away and shut down. I pinpointed the origin of the attack at another public internet access site, but I'd imagine that the prankster is long gone."

The young woman felt a little at a loss. She knew how much the cyber crime fighter disliked being outsmarted in her own arena, but that didn't seem enough to account for her agitation.

"Uhm, okay. But, maybe I can run by and see if anybody noticed somebody making a hasty exit or something...?"

Sighing, the older woman tilted her head towards a monitor and replaced her glasses when Helena moved to her side.

"That may not be necessary. This last round of data was enough to correlate the wrapper structure, and I just broke the algorithm. I found a digital signature."

The brunette smiled, raising her brows in question while Barbara muttered something about the hubris of criminals.

"That's good, right?"

"I'm not so sure of that, Helena."

The older woman glanced up, and the young woman was pinned by an unhappy green gaze.


With no small amount of trepidation -- after all, Barbara was normally pretty freakin' unflappable -- Helena turned to look at the screen. What she saw there was initially so incomprehensible that it took her a beat to put the pixels together and decipher -- no, to comprehend -- the word they spelled out.


Helena grappled with everything that the three letters meant.

For starters, she realized that this was sure gonna throw a monkey wrench into whatever chance at happy Barbara had had with the other woman. For another, she acknowledged with a small measure of shame at her own selfishness, it was probably going to put the brakes on any... personal deed-ifying on behalf of her own happiness that she might come up with for a while. For now, helping the older woman deal with any fallout was the only priority.

Sighing in resignation, the brunette wondered what had happened to all of the air in the room. She couldn't seem to get enough oxygen into her lungs to say anything except two short, heartfelt syllables.

"Oh, fuck."

It was the best that the young crime fighter could come up with at the moment. It seemed to get the message across to her partner.


The redhead straightened, removing her glasses and carefully placing them next to her mouse. Awed, Helena watched the older woman settle that implacable mask of command on herself.

"Well, Helena, after my last class tomorrow, would you be available to take a drive out to Wayneboro?"

Chapter 27

"Ms. Gimler can see you now."

Acutely aware of the extremely rigid set of her companion's shoulders, Helena tossed her magazine onto the waiting room end table and offered a sympathetic smile as she rose. She thought that Barbara's answering smile, visible for the briefest moment before they turned to follow the receptionist, looked decidedly forced.

It had been a long, mostly silent, thirty minute drive out to the New Gotham suburb where Sabina's company was located. The ten minute wait in the reception area at Data Solutions, Inc. had also been painfully quiet. Knowing how she was feeling about the upcoming meeting, Helena could only imagine the emotions that her older friend might be struggling with.

Somewhere back in the warren of cubicles and offices, their guide stopped at a closed office door. He tapped lightly and cracked the door, poking his head in.

"Sabina? Ms. Gordon is here."

Helena heard a desk chair rolling back and the sound of someone rising as the receptionist gestured them towards the door and then headed back to the front. She noticed that her companion drew a deep breath before moving inside, Helena a few steps behind.

"Barbara! How wonderful to see you."

The brunette detected only genuine pleasure in the high, dulcet tone. The resident of the office continued to speak as Helena entered.

"Is this business or pleas--"

Big brown eyes snapped over to the young woman, and Helena smiled awkwardly, nudging the door shut behind her.


The brunette observed how those expressive eyes widened in puzzlement, then darted down to take in the way that Helena had casually placed her hand on the back of the redhead's chair. At the exact instant that comprehension flooded the mousy woman's features, the young woman peripherally noticed the sharp awareness in emerald eyes which were carefully observing their host.

"Oh, shit."

Sabina dropped into her chair, looking a little more pale than usual.


Barbara's tone was... contemplative; her eyes were speculative.

Not quite certain of the proper protocol in a situation such as this one -- Man, her life was weird sometimes -- the young woman lifted her shoulders in a minute shrug and offered a helpless quirk of her eyebrows. First to Sabina, then to Barbara.

Uh oh.

From too many misadventures in high school, the brunette readily recognized the expression in her partner's eyes. There would be some chatting later.

As Helena concentrated on making herself as unnoticeable as possible, Sabina visibly pulled herself together, and the older woman turned back to her, clearly once-again focused on business.

"Thank you for seeing me... us, Sabina."

Barbara's voice was smooth, even cordial.

"Uhm, no problem. I'm guessing that this is business of some sort?"

Helena allowed her partner to answer, having decided the moment that she'd set foot in the office that keeping her mouth shut was her best option under the circumstances.

"Indeed, Sabina."

The redhead pulled a disk from the pocket in her chair and held it up.

"We have some questions about this and believe that you can shed some light on it."

The young woman extended her hand, silently accepting the disk, and took two steps to hand it across the desk. Sabina smiled her thanks, fumbling for her glasses, and the brunette smiled fondly. When Helena turned around, she found that Barbara was also seating her glasses on her nose. The brunette sighed silently, with an almost imperceptible shake of her head.

Talk about having a "type".

While Sabina loaded the disk, the older woman moved to the end of the desk -- her dark companion right behind her -- where she had a vantage point for the monitor. A few moments later, the small woman twisted to look at them with a puzzled smile.

"This is one of my data encryption packet schemas. One of my newer designs, in fact, for specific broad band transmission..."

She trailed off, awareness creeping across her features.

"But, I suppose you already knew that, Barbara?"

The redhead nodded.

"Yes. We found your signature embedded in the structure."

Brown eyes tracked up to meet blue, question evident, and Helena cocked her head a bit and quirked her lips.

It was nice of Red to include her in the whole "we found it" thing, but...

The data profiler laughed with some embarrassment, cheeks tingeing pink.

"Well, yes. That is my own little bit of self-aggrandizement. Something for posterity and all."

When Barbara nodded and smiled softly in understanding, Helena felt a rush of warm affection course through her. Even if Sabina was a criminal nut-case, of course the older woman understood the instinct to take pride in top-notch work.

"It certainly made our job a little easier, Sabina."

At this, the small woman turned her chair to face them fully.

"Your job? I'm afraid that I'm not quite following you here."

She paused for a beat, seeming to consider something.

"For that matter, Barbara, where did you get this? It's supposed to be a proprietary design for a client."

Helena felt one of her eyebrows edging up under her bangs and was pretty sure that the movement was being mirrored on her partner's face. She didn't miss Barbara's quick exhalation or the way the tension in her shoulders eased a tiny bit.

"Ah. I see." The redhead's words were thoughtful. "We're going to need to know which client."

Now Sabina was starting to look a little irked, and Helena struggled to hide her grin.

"And, may I ask why that is? If you have some sort of data modeling requirements or something..."

Hearing the redhead's long, slow inhalation, the young woman knew that her partner was weighing the risks. After a pregnant moment, the older woman relaxed and spoke frankly.

"Sabina, whoever has your packet encoding code is the person behind some recent criminal activity in New Gotham."

Brown eyes widened again behind thick lenses before the small woman carefully removed her glasses and placed them on her desk.

"Excuse me?"

Her voice -- and movements -- clearly suggested that she thought she was being set up for some sort of elaborate practical joke. Helena half-expected her to get up and start looking for a hidden camera with Art Linkletter behind it.

Feeling for the woman's situation, she spoke for the first time.

"No shit, Sabina."

Barbara nodded and ticked off some of the crimes in question.

"Did you hear about the encyclopedia thefts at the public library? Then, there have been some prank attacks at the voter registration headquarters, the newspaper, a political office, and a news radio show."

Sabina's jaw was slowly dropping as the redhead continued.

"Not to mention the hack last week into the late news broadcasts?"

The brown haired woman nodded slowly. Helena wasn't sure if the movement signaled her acceptance of what she was hearing or just that she was familiar with the incidents.

"And, last night, there was an attempt to cripple all of the internet search engines."

Sabina got it. She sagged a little.

"Oh dear. Information sources."

Two heads -- one red, one chestnut -- bobbed in unison.


The small woman's voice was barely a whisper.


Helena's disbelieving echo came a split second later.

" 'Harvey'?"

Barbara turned to fix her younger partner with an incredulous stare.


Helena cast about and decided to go with the truth.

"They were at the Dark Horse one night a few weeks ago."

She observed comprehension and a flash of something else -- relief? -- in emerald eyes before the older woman turned her attention back to Sabina.

Possibly picking up on the rather charged atmosphere, the small woman piped up quickly, waving towards her monitor.

"Uhm, yes. He's my first big client here. Harv had some very specific needs which led me to come up with this structure."

When the redhead replied, her genuine admiration for the other woman's work was obvious.

"It's quite efficient and, as Helena described it, truly elegant, Sabina. Not to mention...", she continued ruefully, "incredibly difficult to crack."

The small woman smiled a distracted thanks, speaking thoughtfully.

"Harvey's always ranting and raving about right-wing conspiracies and how all of our information is tainted... That the voice of the common person can't be heard in the misinformation glut... "

Helena pursed her lips. That sure tied in with the 411 thing -- the phone number to dial for information -- and the tongueless shoes.

"... but I just thought he needed to cut down on the Red Bulls, or something. I had no idea that he'd even consider doing anything like this to get his message across."

"Guess he figured that a letter to the editor wouldn't cut it, huh?"

Pinned by two simultaneous hard looks, the young woman decided to revisit that not-talking thing as Barbara spoke quietly.

"You can see why we'd appreciate the opportunity to speak with your client?"

Looking a little overwhelmed, the mousy woman rotated her head from her monitor, then to Barbara, then to Helena. She repeated the circuit before emitting a strangled laugh and lowering her head to thunk her forehead against her desk.

"Oh shit. I'm beginning to believe that I'm just not a lucky person."

The words were slightly muffled by the desktop.

"What do you mean, Sabina?"

Barbara stretched forward to rest a hand lightly on the other woman's arm, puzzlement and concern in her voice. Since she had a few more pieces of the puzzle that Sabina was having put together in front of her, Helena held her breath, waiting for the bombs to drop.

The small woman raised her head and gave Barbara a long look.

"What do I mean?"

Helena didn't hear much humor in the pale woman's quick squeak of laughter.

"I knew -- I just knew that it was too good to be true. For the first and only time in my life, I had not one but two gorgeous, funny, smart women interested in me."

Blue eyes blinked quickly.

Sabina thought she was smart?

When brown eyes rose to find hers, Helena again shrugged minutely and offered a small, apologetic smile.

"Only, it turns out that I'm just some sort of... of... I don't know. Some kind of fulcrum or something in the middle of some screwed up O'Henry short story."

Sabina paused, and added, with a surprisingly limited amount of bitterness, "Of course."

Now, Red was looking seriously... interested. For a split second, she caught Helena with an appraising glance. Then, with what the brunette recognized as an almost dangerous calm, the older woman carefully removed her own glasses and spoke even more carefully.

"O'Henry? I'm not sure that I'm following you, Sabina."

Oh, fuck. Here it came.

Helena chewed at her bottom lip and weighed her chances of slipping out the door unnoticed.

"Oh, come on, Barbara. 'Gift of the Magi'? Only, instead of watch bobs and hair combs, I've got one woman cutting off her chances and the other one not taking any at all."

Absolutely looking like she was at wit's end, the small woman caught sight of her monitor and waved at it a little wildly even as Helena found herself again briefly pinned by totally inscrutable emerald eyes.

"And, to top that off, I find out that my biggest client is a total nut job and my software has been used in criminal activity? I can just see how that's going to go over during my New Hire Review next month..."

Nodding, the brunette grimaced sympathetically as Sabina hit a button on her keyboard and sent something to her printer. The woman had a point: New Gotham hadn't been kind to her.


The brown haired woman pulled the page out and handed it to Barbara.

"Harv's company, his contact information, everything."

The older woman accepted the paper with a soft nod. She started to speak, then seemed to think better of it. Instead, she turned and looked up at her dark companion.

"Helena, would you excuse us for a moment?"

The young woman nodded her acquiescence, then caught herself. She chewed on her bottom lip for a beat before stepping quickly to Sabina's side and leaning down. She spoke softly.

"I really am sorry about... everything, Sabina. I didn't know until..."

The small woman reached out and quickly squeezed her hand, sighing.

"Yeah. It figures, huh?"

With a brief nod, the brunette left the office hastily, shutting the door behind her. She moved to the end of the hallway to inspect a badly matted print of a waterfall. She knew that if she tried, she could probably hear the conversation from inside the office. For some reason, she found that she had absolutely no desire to do so.

The fallout from this particular meeting would hit soon enough.

Chapter 28

Neither Barbara nor Helena spoke, both presumably lost in their own thoughts, as they made their way out of Sabina's building and back to the parking lot. When they reached the van, the redhead silently tossed the keys to her younger partner. It wasn't until they had settled themselves and Helena had merged onto the highway back into the city that the brunette dared to glance over and give her friend a long, surreptitious look.

Whipping her eyes back to the road just in time to dart around a slow vehicle with out-of-state plates, the young woman decided that Red looked a little sad, maybe a little relieved, and... thoughtful.

Really, really thoughtful.

From long experience, Helena knew that the older woman's mental gears were probably turning a mile a minute. Still, despite all of their years together, she simply could not -- *would not* dare -- guess what was occupying the woman so.

The dark woman removed one hand from the steering wheel, reaching out toward the dashboard before snapping it back. She figured that fiddling with the radio might not go over too well at the moment. Nervously clearing her throat, she focused on the late rush hour traffic.

It was Barbara who finally broke the deafening silence.


The word was quiet and definitely too short for Helena to gauge the inflection behind it. Looked like the older woman was putting the ball in her court.

"Uh, yeah..."

The brunette turned her head a little bit and risked a quick smile. She forced a note of cheer into her voice.

"Uh, that went pretty well, huh? I mean, at least Sabina isn't involved in all this shit."


Again, the noncommittal reply was too brief to give the younger woman any direction in stepping through a potential minefield. Unfortunately, it *was* just enough to clue her in -- belatedly -- to the fact that she might have been a little too unspecific about which particular shit she'd been referring to. She fought the urge to smack herself in the forehead with her palm and decided to be a little more clear.

"You were right on target about her and the packet wrapper, but she's not a criminal with a few screws loose, right?"

Finally, the redhead spoke more than a single syllable.

"That is a relief, Helena."

The brunette laughed softly over a sigh.

"Sure is. So, I guess the door's still open for, uh..."

Why couldn't she just stop talking? Without even turning her head, the young woman was acutely conscious of crimson brows raising and emerald eyes fixing on her expectantly in the dim interior of the van.

"You can keep seeing her. Or something."

For some reason, that hadn't come out as light and casual as Helena had planned.

"No, Helena, I don't believe that... that particular door was ever truly open for me."

Having absolutely no idea how to tackle the older woman's words -- spoken softly but banded with iron -- the brunette chewed at her lower lip and moved a little towards the shoulder as a big Bond Bread truck roared past.

Man, where did those guys get their drivers' licenses anyway?

That slightly petulant thought allowed the young woman to focus her nervous energy on something else for a beat, and she consciously let go of her tension. When Barbara was ready to talk about... whatever, she'd get around to it. In the meantime...

"So, you wanna swing by ol' Harvey's office or house and have a talk with him, Red?"

The hopeful question seemed to release a little of the other woman's tightly coiled tension as well, and a soft laugh filtered through the van. The redhead didn't answer her protege's question directly. Instead, when she spoke, she sounded a little surprised by her own words.

Helena certainly was.

"Actually, Hel, I'm hungry. There's a wonderful little diner off the next exit that I used to come to late at night."

The unspoken reference to Barbara's own late night sweeps of the city as Batgirl circled through the van, and Helena obediently flipped on her turn signal as the exit approached.

If nothing else, the young woman certainly appreciated the demands of an empty stomach.

Three minutes later, the brunette hopped lightly from the driver's seat to retrieve her partner's chair and help her out. Caramel features flushed slightly in the dusk when the young woman's stomach reacted to the savory aromas emanating from the diner. Grateful that Barbara pretended not to notice, she laughed softly and closed the door behind her partner.

"Sure smells good. But, what about Harvey?"

The older woman's reply, delivered casually over one shoulder as she moved briskly into the building, was remarkably blase.

"Perhaps we can send Dinah to put the fear of God in him. It sounds like she was remarkably effective with his... business associate, Mr. Martin."

In the process of helping the redhead off with her coat, Helena threw back her head and laughed, loud and long.

God, that felt good.

Bringing herself marginally under control, she finished helping the redhead and then shrugged out of her own coat, dropping into a chair, before another wicked snicker escaped.

Amused green eyes caught blue, clearly waiting to be let in on the joke.

"Honest to gosh, Barbara," she managed to work out over another bout of giggles, "you should have seen the expression on Rocko's face when the Kid started doing the TK poking thing. I thought he was gonna wet his pants right there in his own living room."

The redhead joined in with the younger woman's mirth, her throaty chuckle playing across Helena's nerves like live wires. The brunette quickly checked *those* feelings, smiling her thanks to the waitress who appeared to fill their coffee cups and take their orders. She blew across her steaming beverage, not even trying to hide her fond smile.

"So, Dinah may have a future with the CIA... or the Gestapo or something, huh?"

Raising her own cup to her lips, the redhead paused, speaking thoughtfully.

"Perhaps I will ask her if she'd like to visit with Harvey when she gets back tomorrow -- "

Blue eyes blinked once. Helena had almost forgotten that the Quiz Bowl team was spending an extra day in DC to take in the sights.

"---provided," Barbara continued with a glint in her eyes, "there's someone willing to accompany her?"

The brunette offered a pained sigh but, aware that the waitress was approaching with her burger and the mountain of food that Barbara had ordered -- Red hadn't been kidding about being hungry -- withheld comment. It wasn't until their server departed and both women were tucking into their dinners that she finally spoke around a mouthful of ketchup-covered fries.

"Sure, I'll go with her. Gotta be there in case she gives ol' Harv a heart attack, and he needs CPR, right?"

She raised her mug of coffee to chase the fries and added lightly, " 'Sides, that's what I do, right? Showing her the ropes and all."

Warmed by Barbara's enthusiasm for her capacious blue plate special, relaxed by their easy banter, and reveling in time with the older woman that was untainted by worries about crime and packet wrappers and cow manure, the young woman was unprepared for her dinner companion's response. She almost choked on the mouthful of hot coffee that she'd just sucked in when she heard Barbara's seriously spoken words.

"You do more than that, Helena."

A warm hand moved across the table to rest gently over the hand that Helena still had poised above her fries, and the redhead lowered her voice.

"A great, great deal more than that."

Swallowing with no small amount of difficulty -- was it possible to burn your own tonsils out? -- the dark figure focused on the normally simple act of lowering her cup to the table. Task completed without any embarrassing spills, she looked up and flashed her trademark cocky grin.

"Hey, that's me. Jack of all trades, right?"

She gave the older woman's hand a quick squeeze and then play-swatted that same hand when the laughing woman snagged one of her fries.

"Don't you have enough of your own?"

Her playful grousing, barely audible around the giant bite of burger she bit off, just caused the redhead to laugh harder as she forked an enormous bite of mashed potatoes to her mouth.

"Not hardly, Hel."

'Not hardly'?

The young woman smiled affectionately, deciding that her partner's blood sugar must be really low if she was coming out with something so completely non-grammatical.

Whatever. Red was laughing, and -- as far as Helena was concerned -- that was always a good thing.

A few minutes later, masticating another big bite from her burger, the young woman realized two things: First, that she might have to rethink that whole idea about Barbara's laughing being a good thing; and, second, there was a pretty good chance she wasn't going to be able to enjoy the rest of her dinner.

The older woman spoke casually. Too damned casually, Helena realized sourly.

"What did Sabina mean about the two of us?"

The brunette struggled mightily to finish chewing and swallowing the suddenly tasteless mass in her mouth even as she mentally borrowed the woman in question's almost-patented expression of surprise or dismay.

Oh shit.

She took an extra minute to take a small sip from her water glass, wondering how her companion could just... keep eating her dinner like that. When she finally answered, she recognized the surliness in her voice but was powerless to reign it in.

"Nothing. Just... nothing. Okay?"

The redhead serenely speared some green beans and regarded her evenly.

"Not 'nothing', Hel. You were seeing her, weren't you?"

Sulkily admitting that she wasn't going to escape this particular conversation, the young woman picked up a fry and used it to prod at the pool of ketchup on the side of her plate. She finally replied without looking up.

"I just... I guess... I thought she'd... you know, uh, some laughs, but, well..."

Despite the noise of the diner, Helena clearly heard her partner finish chewing, then swallow. From the corner of one eye, she saw elegant fingers place the fork precisely on the edge of the plate, tines down, pointing at the redhead's salisbury steak. The silence stretched between them for a long few beats, but the brunette refused to look up from the designs she was crafting on her plate with condiments.

Finally she heard a sigh, and Barbara snorted softly.

"No. I think not."

The young woman still didn't look up, and the other woman spoke again. Her voice held a note of something that the young woman had trouble identifying. Nevertheless, she sounded quite certain as she refuted Helena's strangled attempt to dismiss her time with Sabina as nothing more than one of her usual casual dalliances.

"You found out that I was dating her and stopped seeing her, didn't you?"

Abandoning her french fry, which was by now too soggy to do her artwork justice, Helena raised her hand and chewed at her thumb nail. Despite the fact that the redhead was seeing through her like a thin shirt in the rain, she tried again to play it off like it didn't mean anything.

"Yeah, so what?"

The brunette was so determinedly focused on her impromptu manicure that she was surprised by the sensation of gentle fingers wrapping around her hand and coaxing it down to the middle of the table. She followed the movement for a split second, then looked away, hiding behind her bangs, when the other woman brought her other hand up to stroke softly at her wrist.

Helena wasn't certain, but she thought that she detected something like wonder in the older woman's voice.

"Why, Helena?"

Completely at the limits of her endurance -- for this painful conversation; for the redhead's seemingly complete unwillingness to accept that someone could, and would, worship her like she did; hell, even for the soft touches that, even now, were inflaming her -- Helena jerked her hand away and lowered it to her lap. Ducking her head further, she squeezed her eyes tightly shut, aware that the strength of her emotions was causing them to augment.

Her words came out roughly.

"Stop, Barbara. Please, just stop it."

Hearing the older woman's quick intake of air, the brunette was immediately hit by a wave of anger with herself for having upset her companion. When she heard the redhead shift, then felt a warm hand against her cheek, she was struck anew by entirely different emotions.

Barbara's next words were noticeably flustered.

"Stop what? What did...? Why won't you talk to me, Sweetheart?"

Helena clenched her jaw tightly, then had to bite back a burst of wild laughter when an incongruous thought flitted through her mind. Considering all of the teeth-grinding and jaw-clenching she'd been doing lately, it'd be a wonder if she didn't turn up with TMJ problems.

The young woman was distracted from her own mental perambulation by a quiet request.

"Hel... Look at me please, Sweetie."


The dark head shook once, but Helena was frustrated in her attempt to turn further away by that soft, strong hand tenderly cupping her cheek.

"Please, Helena."

This time, it sounded like Barbara was almost pleading.

Unable to allow the woman she loved to beg for anything, the brunette sucked in a long breath and looked up, opening eyes which she knew were not their usual blue. Green eyes met hers unflinchingly, filled with nothing but love... and some kind of disbelieving wonder.

Surprised, she watched the redhead open, then shut, her mouth, almost as if words were escaping her normally fluent friend. When Barbara finally did find the words, they were hesitant.

"How can you still...? After everything?"

The young woman blew a stream of air through her nose and dropped her eyes to the table, wondering if this... these words were what she'd been hoping to have the opportunity for just the evening before. Naturally, this led her to wonder what the hell she'd been thinking when she thought she'd wanted to have this sort of conversation in the first place.

Then, the dark woman looked up again, taking in the vision of the redhead across the table, and it all came back to her. Unable to do anything else, Helena opted for the truth.

"It's just how-- who I am."

Infinitely weary -- after all, hiding her emotions had never been her forte -- she drew in a deep breath and dropped her gaze. Her next utterance, barely a whisper, left her feeling completely naked and raw.

"I love you, Barbara. I want you to be happy. Nothing's gonna change that."


Helena decided that the lengthy silence which followed her declaration was what truly capped off that whole 'naked and raw' feeling.

When Barbara finally did reply, it almost seemed that she was speaking to herself.

"Of course that's what you'd say... and feel."

A heartbeat later, the redhead voice's strengthened, and she drew Helena's gaze back to her with the hand that still rested against her face.

"But, you never tell me -- truly tell me -- what you want, Helena."

Dark brows drew down over eyes that had just reverted to blue. The redhead last statement -- question? -- left the young woman feeling completely off balance.

"I-- I just did. I want... I want you to--"

Finally lowering her hand, Barbara summarily cut off the brunette's stammered attempt to explain.


The word was sharp, but, somehow, Helena got the feeling that the other woman's emotion wasn't directed at her.

"You're always so... so in control of your space and your surroundings that I forget that, on a rare occasion, you can be startled. And, this is just like that, isn't it?"



Completely brushing the brunette's question aside -- or, perhaps answering it -- the older woman continued.

"You're out almost every night, making your life seem so easy and -- uncomplicated. Even making me believe that if I can only embrace your joi de vivre that... that I could share a little piece of that with you."

The older woman's face hardened for a split-second, pain and self-directed anger flashing across the elegant features, then gone.

"And, you make it seem so easy and care-free that it's not hard to believe that it is the entire truth, Helena. But, it isn't, is it? There's more, isn't there?"

Helena stared incredulously at the pain and undisguised emotion in emerald eyes that would not allow her to look away.

What the fuck was the older woman saying? That... that somehow the all-seeing Oracle hadn't seen? Or, that she couldn't see because...

The brunette blinked, several times, trying to understand how the emotions that she thought she wore on her sleeve could be hidden in plain sight.

But, she barely could comprehend the puzzle, much less take time to study it, in the face of the older woman's naked sorrow. Barbara normally kept her emotions so carefully hidden; seeing her like this was seriously... unsettling. Hearing the pain -- one step away from tears -- in her voice flayed at the younger woman's heart.

"What do you want for *you*, Sweetheart?"

Clenching her jaw again, Helena fought tears but refused to look away. The effort not to cry became much more difficult when she witnessed the moisture pooling in expressive emerald eyes.

"I understand that you may not think... may feel that you can't trust me, Helena, but you can. I never meant to hurt..."

The older woman blinked, then finally broke their locked gaze. Helena followed her eyes to the table, watching one elegant hand play with the fork resting on her plate.

"... or not to see. You."

The redhead whispered the rest.

"I wanted to, Sweetie. I think that I... just couldn't let myself be the only one experiencing it... or holding you down. But, you can tell me, Helena."

The brunette shook her head quickly and swiped at her eyes while she digested that. Ultimately, she realized that she had to trust the older woman; if she couldn't trust the person she loved above everything, then there just wasn't a helluva lot left, was there? Accepting that without another thought, she then struggled to identify, then express, her heart's desire.

Never overly confident of her own facility with words -- at least the important ones -- her reply was an embarrassed mutter.

"I don't want to sleep with you."

Uh oh.

The measured blink of green eyes, covering a fleeting look of horror, suggested that she could have -- should have -- tried harder for the right words. Unable to have Barbara believing what she seemed to be inferring, Helena rushed on, not stopping to consider how she was saying it.

"That's not what I meant, Barbara. I mean, I do want to 'sleep with' you,"

She raised her hands from under the table to encapsulate the euphemism in quotation marks, then added miserably, "but that's not all."

Crimson brows raised slowly, clearly not sure what to expect. Helena almost -- almost -- smiled at the familiar expression.

"I wanna *sleep* with you."

She'd tried to put a whole helluva lot of emphasis on the word, but -- judging from the way those russet brows were now furrowing -- Red still seemed to be at a loss.

Shutting her eyes for a heartbeat, the dark woman shook her head from side to side and smiled dotingly.

Smart women -- or, rather, *this* smart woman. She had such a weakness for her.

Wide, open, blue eyes met green, and the young woman spoke her heart's desire.

"You know, Babs -- Sleeping, waking up. Drooling on your chest while I sleep. Staying awake listening to you sno-- breathe."

She saw the beginning of a soft smile breaking across those elegant features.

What the hell. May as well go for broke.

"Every night. Forever."

As the older woman's smile got bigger and bigger -- Helena thought it might be approaching face-splitting territory -- the choking terror that had been gripping the brunette's heart started to melt away.

The redhead's first words, after a pretty protracted silence on her part, were warm and fondly teasing.

"A woman with long term plans, eh?"

Fully cognizant that the older woman was quite aware of her... reputation, Helena decided to go for the trademark cocky grin. Unfortunately, she suspected that it came out looking like her dinner -- the little of it she'd gotten to enjoy anyway -- had given her gas pains.

"Didn't think I had it in me, didja?"

Barbara's soft laugh was rueful.

"I didn't think you couldn't do it, Sweetheart. You've just never, er -- I didn't dare think..."

The throaty voice became wondering.

"... or hope that you--"

Then, it became almost strangled.

"... could -- or would -- Me?"

For a beat, maybe two, the brunette cocked her head and studied the older woman, wondering just how much more garbled and stilted her words -- her vulnerability -- could become. Snapping back to the moment at hand, recognizing that Barbara *had* to be reaching her limits, Helena spared her.

"I've been holding back for the right girl."

Seemed like she might have gotten the words right this time if the broad smile on Red's face could be trusted.

"Is that so?"

When the older woman suddenly became serious, the brunette blinked and wondered about whiplash.

"But, Helena? After everything... I've been so... How can you...?"

Not again.

Or, not more of it.

Obviously, this was going to take a lot of work, even now, to get Red to believe in her... and in herself.

In them.

Helena decided to get started right away.

The young woman shook her head gently from side to side until Barbara trailed off and allowed her to speak. She smiled, unveiling every bit of emotion she had for the other woman, to remove any sting from her next words.

"Let's try this again, Red. This time, try to let it sink through that hard head of yours."

When green eyes softened, the young woman spoke very clearly.

"I. Love. You."

For an eternity, the young woman hovered over the brink. As she waited, she had time to decide that this was waaaaay worse than that night a few weeks ago after the shoe factory.

Yet, somehow, when the other woman playfully checked her watch and then pulled out her wallet to toss three twenties on the table... Somehow, Barbara said exactly the right thing.

"Let's go home and go to sleep, Hel."

Standing shakily -- not quite sure how her legs were holding her up -- the brunette helped her partner into her coat, then grabbed her duster and followed her to the door. She remained silent -- she didn't think her voice would have worked even if she'd had any words -- as they crossed the parking lot and got settled in the van. It wasn't until she put the key in the ignition that something struck her.

Drawing in a slow breath, she turned to look at the woman she loved and made a request.

"Can we run by my place first? I want to pick up my plant."

Chapter 29

A slow, rhythmic pounding, a noise that demanded that her own heart alter its tempo to match, gradually drew Helena Kyle into wakefulness. Blue eyes grudgingly inched open, easily discerning the faintest blush of pre-dawn peeking into the room. Muscles which were absolutely relaxed in peaceful lassitude began to tense pleasurably when the young woman reoriented to the long-coveted sensations surrounding her.

Soft breathing whispered through unruly dark hair, and Helena realized that the minute shift of her bedmate's head had probably awakened her. She smirked at the arms wrapped possessively around her.

An underlying accompaniment to the gentle breathing came from beside the young brunette.

Rather, underneath her.

The steady, powerful beating of a strong heart emanated from the warm, pliant body that Helena was spooned tightly to -- and on top of. The young woman's nerves leapt up to greet the day, shouting a cheery hello to the blood which rushed to her chest and belly, at the realization that she was half-lying on top of her bedmate's right arm and upper chest. Smiling in gratitude, and with complete satisfaction, the brunette twisted her head to bury her nose in the spill of crimson hair which covered the shoulder she was resting on.

The scent of her bedmate's shampoo, coupled with the unmistakable impression of strong hands stroking her arm gently in sleep, brought a flood of emotions from the previous evening, and the dark woman purred with delight.

Wow. It was wonderful.

Snuggling impossibly closer to her older companion, Helena inhaled slowly, deeply, in awareness of the treasured form that she was pressed against. Heart rate accelerating from the memories alone, she corrected herself.

It was amazing.

Completely indescribable even.

Who would have thought that "just" -- she snorted soundlessly at the word -- sleeping together could be so fulfilling?

The brunette nuzzled further into the shoulder under her cheek and shifted her legs against the burning in her lower abdomen. Despite her resolve not to awaken her companion, who would have to get up soon enough, she was unable to keep her right hand from trailing down the firmly muscled expanse of the other woman's abdomen, unable to suppress her soft hiss of pleasure when her fingers -- exquisitely attuned to the body beneath hers -- slipped under the hem of a cotton tee shirt and experienced the achingly soft skin just above the waist of her bedmate's boxers. The electrifying shiver from that silken contact traveled up her arm, across her chest, and directly to the growing need between her thighs.

Helena's gentle movements -- her very ability to breathe -- stopped abruptly at the sensation, and her mouth watered with an insistent hunger. Parting her lips to better draw in her companion's sweet scent, she managed to pull in a jerky breath and then resumed her minute caresses.

She wasn't sure exactly what it was, but, at some point, she became aware that the cadence of her bedmate's breathing had changed, becoming less regular... a little faster... a little more shallow. A sleepy stretch from beneath her confirmed it.

"Good morning, Helena."

The voice, still raspy with sleep, was nevertheless warm... inviting. Helena purred in response and pressed a melting kiss to a muscular shoulder.

"Did you sleep, Sweetie?"

The dark woman twisted her head enough to catch slightly bleary emerald eyes with blue. She smiled -- a little tremulously, she feared -- and then spoke, realizing that her partner might have missed her expression in the dim room.

"Never better, Barbara. I -- "

Swallowing, the young woman hunted for the words. The older woman spared her the effort.

"Yes. Me, too, Hel. Since you moved out, I've missed this-- I've missed you."

The throaty voice stumbled, "I've been so afraid... to believe, or to hope--", and then gained confidence.

"I love you, Helena."

At the declaration, the brunette was split by a bolt of pure joy which left her tingling all the way to her toes -- emotion bleeding into physical sensation -- and worked to speak. When Barbara continued, somewhat hesitantly, she immediately snapped her mouth shut again.

"But, it's not... "

'But' ?

Blue eyes widened in helpless disbelief and dark brows rose, disappearing under shaggy bangs. Absolutely *needing* to see the older woman when she finally finished her thought, Helena squirmed up and fixed her eyes on the other woman's face. Although the room was still dim, she had no trouble watching emerald eyes that had lost focus and were tracking slightly to the left.

Helena held her breath when the redhead finally, apparently, found the words she'd been hunting for.

"... it is *not* just your fantastic fashion sense and sparkling wit, Helena. Nor,"

Barbara's tone lightened a fraction, becoming slightly arch.

"--the fact that you help me break through my mental blocks."

So relieved that she almost sagged on top of the older woman, Helena wryly wondered if Barbara would ever get any better at the whole pillow talk thing.

Oh, well, sounded like there would be time for the younger woman to work on her. For the moment, she opted to keep things light.

"So," she purred with a playful lick to an angular jaw line, "I guess those are just perks, huh?"

The redhead's groan of agreement -- Helena decided to take it as such, anyway -- was surprisingly enthusiastic. As was the way that the older woman suddenly drew the brunette's hand to her chest and smiled wickedly.

"Definitely perky, Hel."

Feeling the indisputable evidence rising under her palm, the young woman ducked her head to rub her cheek against her partner's upper chest. Again, her mouth watered, and she fought the hungry trembling of her jaw, the restless itching in her palms.

God, she wanted... so much...

Unable to stop herself, the dark woman whimpered softly as she tenderly caressed the heavy flesh under her hand. The fingers on the back of her head, which had been subtly guiding her lower on her companion's chest, abruptly stilled.

"Sweetheart? What is it?"

The dark head raised, and stark blue eyes fixed on green. The young woman's words were hoarse.

"God, Barbara, how can you...?"

Helena lowered thick lashes and bit her lower lip. Opening her eyes fully again, she looked imploringly at the other woman and reached out to grasp Barbara's left hand in her right. She guided the woman to the juncture of her thighs, pushed aside the elastic at the leg of her underwear, and placed those elegant fingers against herself.

Emerald eyes flew open, then dilated. Warm -- and oh-so-skillful -- fingers tensed almost convulsively against her for a beat until the redhead gentled her touch.

"Sweetheart -- You're so-- "

Helena gently captured the fingers which had begun to stroke through liquid silk and removed the older woman's hand. Again, she guided wordlessly, bringing their joined hands to the redhead's mouth.

She felt her eyes flicker briefly to gold as she watched the older woman reach out, touching her tongue to her own fingers, an expression of sybaritic enjoyment gracing features which began to harden, to tense, unmistakably.

The young woman released her partner's hand and trailed her fingers along the redhead's jaw, finally completing the other woman's utterance.

"Wet. Really, really wet, Barbara."

Unable to maintain her gaze, she ducked her head, hiding behind her bangs. Her voice dropped to a shaky whisper.

"And, that's just from thinking about it... Thinking about touching you--"

Overcome, the young woman stumbled over her words and everything that they meant. Summoning her courage again, she licked her lips.

"... and about tasting you, Barbara."

Blinking against tears, she bit at her bottom lip again, then looked up, blue eyes open and honest... and pleading.

"Let me touch you. I'll -- "

She swallowed through the thickness in her throat. Sensing that the other woman was preparing to speak, the brunette shook her head quickly as her voice roughened.

"-- do... or you can..."

Helena looked at the woman she loved and whispered a plea.

"Just let me show you how beautiful you are, Barbara."

Other than a sharp inhalation, there was no response from the older woman for a long moment. Something instinctive urged Helena to drop her gaze, to bury her head against the other woman's neck, to cover her face and the naked need she could not disguise. She battled the fear with every bit of strength she had, unwilling to hide any longer.

"No, Sweetheart... "

The older woman's words were thick. Helena thought they sounded like they were full of tears, and she fought a wave of shame for pushing too fast.

"God, I'm sor--"

Strong hands came to each side of the young woman's face, and caramel features smoothed in awe when the redhead stretched up to press melting kisses to her cheeks and forehead.

"No... Don't, Hel. Don't take it back. And don't ever--"

The older woman pulled back just enough to fix blue eyes with green.

"-- Never think that you need to... negotiate."

The older woman lowered her head to the pillow again and continued quietly.

"I know that I've been..."

Peeking out from under her bangs, Helena thought that the redhead's expression was an equal mix of embarrassment, sadness, and deep -- deep -- sensual satisfaction.

"... selfish. The way that you respond is -- You're amazing, Hel."

Dark lashes lowered over blue eyes, and the young woman leaned in to place a butterfly kiss to a strong jaw.

"Only for you, Barbara."

The other woman was still for a moment. Finally, she breathed a soulful response.

"Oh, Sweetheart--"

Helena felt the redhead swallow, heard her draw in a steadying breath, then felt her tenderly brushing the shaggy bangs back from Helena's forehead before speaking hesitantly.

"And, I simply didn't think you'd... didn't know how long you would want to..."

Looking up again, the brunette fixed open emerald eyes with hers and whispered her truth.

"Forever, if you'll let me."

A sad, knowing smile transformed the redhead's elegant features, and tension vibrated from her upper body. Her next words were almost choked.

"You know that it may not... Er, that I may not be able to..."

When she trailed off miserably, the brunette turned her face into one of the hands at her cheek, parting her lips slightly to scent the other woman. She flicked her tongue out to taste Barbara's palm and didn't even try to halt the long rolling thrust of her hips that the action engendered.

Catching green eyes, she purred another truth.

"I will."

Helena left it at that, allowing her eyes to speak the remainder. Both women knew that Barbara *could*; Helena eyes promised that she would do anything and everything to insure that the redhead *would*.

She felt the redhead's slow inhalation, then heard her swallow.

"Will you make love to me, Helena?"

Just seven soft words.

Just nine hesitant syllables.

But they contained such enormous power... and courage.

The brunette blinked rapidly, dizzied by the request and by the way it had caused her eyes to shift from blue to gold and then back to blue in the space of a single heart beat. The feeling of spinning vertigo increased when long fingers softly brushed her face, the whisper of skin against the downy hair of Helena's cheek causing her eardrums to rumble -- almost like a yawn but infinitely more pleasurable. She turned her head to capture one of those clever fingers with her lips, kissing softly and teasing the tip of her tongue against the faintly calloused surface.

At the sound of the redhead's faint gasp, the younger woman's nostrils flared hungrily and she felt her eyes shift, this time remaining augmented as her passion began to thrum through her veins. A beat later, strong arms tugged her fully on top of her larger bedmate, and Helena stretched languorously, rubbing the entire length of her body sleekly against the other woman.

Slowly, the brunette lowered her head and brushed her mouth to those soft, full lips, savoring the older woman's sleepy, warm breath.

"Good. God. Helena."

The young woman swallowed the throaty groan and continued the slow worship of her lover's mouth. Unhurriedly, she traced the full contours with her tongue. Deliberately, she nipped and sucked tenderly at a pouting lower lip. Leisurely, she breathed in and out, drawing the very air she needed from the other woman.

The redhead's hands, wound through dark hair, continued to scratch gently at Helena's scalp; otherwise, the older woman remained almost passive for long minutes under the dark woman's caresses. However, finally, Barbara's iron control broke, and her lips parted hungrily on a low moan. Helena had no recourse -- or desire -- but to slide inside.

The young woman's first movements were soft, exploratory and teasing. When strong hands began to tug at dark hair and an insistent tongue pulled at her, Helena joyfully accepted the guidance and deepened her strokes, regretting only that she couldn't stay connected to the other woman forever.

And, it was only a brief eternity before the brunette pulled back a few inches, feeling -- hell, hearing -- the blood rush to her center at the older woman's disgruntled whimper. Effortlessly supporting herself on her forearms, the young woman insinuated her hands beneath the other woman and began a deep massage of the always-tight muscles of the redhead's upper back. She watched emerald eyes droop in pure pleasure in the creeping daylight and marveled at the power of the emotions which consumed her from offering something so simple. Feeling her own eyes begin to hood in anticipation, Helena ducked her nose into the crook of a long neck, groaning long and low at Barbara's clean, sweet taste.

"Oh, dear heavens, Helena. Oh, yessss-"

The words, impossibly thick with arousal, raised the young woman's blood to the boiling point. Growling softly, she licked, then sucked powerfully at her lover's pulse point. Absently noticing how her center was throbbing in tempo with the blood rushing just beneath the redhead's skin, she gentled her mouth and rasped gently at a sharp collarbone.

"Don-- don't stop."

Mouth otherwise occupied, the dark figure shook her head in the negative.

Nothing -- abso-friggin-lutely *nothing* -- was going to pull her away from the heaven of Barbara's arms, from the sweetly saline taste of her skin, from the indescribable pressure of her breasts -- nipples firming -- against Helena's chest.


<"Good morning! Rise and shine, New Gotham. It's looks like another cloudy day in our great city and we've got the music to get you rolling...">

What the fu---?!

Nothing except that.

Helena lowered thick lashes over eyes that were reverting to blue and sighed in pained frustration. Aware of how the older woman had started almost violently at the sound of the radio, of how -- even now -- she lay beneath her with her muscles trembling minutely, the young woman squeezed her eyes shut and pushed aside her own feelings.

Sighing again, this time in resignation, the lithe figure rolled lightly off her human mattress, struggling against what she suspected was a completely immature desire to pull the pillow over her head and scream and kick her heels against the bed. Instead, she lay still, stared at the inside of her eyelids, and tried to think Zen thoughts -- breathe in, breathe out; no, don't think about the scent of the other woman; breathe in...

She felt her bedmate reach over to the night stand and then settle back on the bed. To Helena's surprise, Barbara hadn't shut off the alarm, and the brunette sighed softly when she recognized the opening strains of the song sounding from the radio.

The dawn is breaking
A light shining through
You're barely waking
And I'm tangled up in you
I'm open, you're closed
Where I follow, you'll go
I worry I won't see your face
Light up again

The mattress dipped a fraction when the redhead turned towards her, and Helena finally peeked through one eye, only to find the cordless being held a few inches above her chest.

"You want to call in for me, or shall I, Sweetheart?"

The teasing quirk of those kiss-bruised lips seemed distinctly at odds with the low burr of the older woman's voice.

Gulping at the sweet promise in dark, dark eyes, the brunette automatically accepted the handset and dialed the school number from memory. Her ability to formulate any sort of plausible excuse for her partner -- hell, to formulate the English language -- was severely hindered by the sight of her companion pulling herself up in the bed and then matter-of-factly stripping her tee shirt and boxers off.

Somehow, the young woman managed to regain her bearings -- just enough -- to stammer some sort of excuse for the redhead before hastily ending the conversation and allowing the handset to drop to the floor on her side of the bed.

Long fingers walked over her tank top -- up her stomach, between her breasts -- to tease at the scooped neck of the small shirt.

"All squared away, Sweetie?"

For some reason, Helena found that she was having a helluva lot of trouble maintaining eye contact with her companion as she gasped out an answer.

"Uh, yeah..."

She dragged her hungry eyes back up the redhead's creamy neck, finding very amused emerald eyes regarding her. Helena didn't care. Smiling back happily, she shifted onto her side to face the older woman.

"Uhm, they hope you feel better and, ah,"

Distracted by fingers whispering across her chest, she gasped, then captured the errant hand, drawing it to her lips to nip lightly at those beautiful fingers.

"... said to stay in bed..."

Helena instantly forgot the rest of the message -- if there had been more to convey -- when the older woman unhurriedly settled onto her back and then reached out to tug the smaller woman onto her. Barbara's voice was rich... and aroused.

"Advice which I intend to follow to the letter today, Hel."

Instantly deciding that she approved of the idea as well, the young woman settled into the arms which where holding her tightly and allowed a soft rumble to bubble from her own chest. The vibration echoed between the two women bringing with it a rush of heat to the brunette's suddenly heavy breasts.

Squirming slightly, she dropped her face to the older woman's neck and washed that creamy flesh with warm strokes. Drawing her mouth across a sharply delineated clavicle, she teased her tongue under the redhead's arm -- eliciting a quick snort which instantly transformed to a gasp when her mouth moved to the inside of Barbara's elbow, sucking and laving at the sensitive flesh.

"Oh, lord -- Hel..."

The redhead was decidedly breathless as she arched her back in search of more contact. Unable to resist the invitation, Helena suddenly reared back on her knees, thighs on each side of her lover's slim hips, and reached behind her head to grasp her tank and yank it roughly over her head. She flung it to one side, immediately forgetting in, and started to lower herself in search of the skin-to-skin contact she craved.

Then, the young woman froze and slowly straightened.

When puzzled -- and slightly frustrated -- emerald eyes flew to meet hers, Helena could only smile helplessly.

She had no words at the moment.
Even the best fall down sometimes
Even the stars refuse to shine
Out of the back you fall in time
I somehow find, you and I collide

Licking her lips, she slowly drew her gaze down the other woman's face, across every inch of the beautiful flesh that had been revealed to her. When her eyes reached the spot where she was resting lightly over the older woman's hips, Helena drew in a halting breath and looked up, disbelieving.

"It's really true? You'll let me love you? I can...?"

The puzzlement which had possessed the redhead's features seamlessly transformed to something beatific. Barbara's brief response, Helena decided later -- much later -- was eloquence itself.

"Everything, Helena. Everything."

The End