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 time.

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

CONTENT DISCLAIMER: Adult language and sexual situations.

SEQUENCE/INSTALLMENT NOTE: This is the final installment of the "Elemental" series fics (Landslide, Watershed, Windshear, Sunspots, Veneer, Stainless, Obsidian, Nuclear and Dark Matter). You can catch up at or

SUMMARY: Every choice has consequences.

ARCHIVING: Probably. Please ask.

COMMENTS: Please. Constructive comments and suggestions welcome.


Chapter 1

The crack of wood meeting bone was resoundingly, jarringly unmistakable. The sound coincided with the crunch of plastic shattering like ice on a frigid day, and Helena didn't even have time to blink before her other senses weighed in to scream pained protests about which bones had been on the receiving end of the strike.


The fire that seared through her knuckles almost distracted her from what she was seeing; her grunt of pain almost masked the other sound that she was too conscious of: Despite a last-second grab with her throbbing hand, she couldn't catch it, and Helena forlornly saw her phone sail end-over-end before cracking on the filthy concrete of the alley.

Naturally, the elegant glass touch screen spider-webbed on impact.

And it had been hell getting out of her old contract.

Yeah, like she'd told -- well, admitted to -- Barbara, it wasn't like she strictly needed the trendy little device for this semester's classes; but it sure was handy being able to skim the web at Starbucks between classes.

Hell, during classes.

"Goddammit, I just got that phone!"

Honest to god, one minute, she'd been leaving work and grinning like an idiot when the ringtone that she'd programmed just for Barbara -- J-Lo's "Do It Well", of course -- had gone off. The next, the vaguely indecent greeting she'd been purring into the phone had been cut short.

Protests about the abbreviated lifespan of her beautiful iPhone ended more abruptly than her call when something caught her jaw with enough force to send her flying into the brick wall. With her vision exploding in white sparks, Helena had to figure that it was probably a good thing that she'd been following the progress of her phone across the filthy alley. If she'd been turning to look at her attacker, this blow would have broken her jaw instead of just glancing the side of her face.


Even before she'd hit the streets for Barbara, Helena had been in her share of street fights. Since then, she'd turned back-alley brawls into an art form. She had enough experience to know a *lot* about weapons of convenience and the feel of being hit by bottles and bricks and wood, so she was pretty sure that she recognized the feel of what had nailed her twice now.

Baseball bat for sure.

A beat later, as she pushed to her feet and her attacker stepped into view and raised his weapon for another strike, she realized she'd been close.

Even if close only counted with horseshoes and hand grenades.

A broken two-by-four.

<<"Hele--? Wha-- --ing on?">>

Glittering yellow eyes ticked from the man in front of her to the small phone, and Helena nodded minutely.

So the phone wasn't completely busted. Maybe she'd go easy on lumber-boy when she busted his chops.

<<"-- hear me? Ca-- --espond?">>

Shaking her aching right hand -- couldn't tell if any bones were broken -- Helena warily circled her attacker as she pitched her voice a little louder than usual.

"Uh, just a sec, Red. I dropped the phone."

In all honesty, Barbara had to allow that Helena's response should have been reassuring. Coupled with the jarring sound of the phone hitting something hard, not to mention her partner's aggrieved exclamations since then, it certainly added up.

Nevertheless, Barbara prided herself on having become something of an expert at reading remote interactions through nothing but verbal clues. Aside from the fact that her sure-footted lover simply didn't do clumsy, the next words she heard through the bluetooth headset of her Blackberry cemented her belief that something was amiss.

<<"Just what the fuck is your problem, asshole?">>

Instantly, the redhead moved her grade book from her lap to the couch and jerked the joystick on her chair toward the Delphi platform. The motorized chair promptly spun a full two-hundred seventy degrees, and Barbara bit back a curse.

Clearly, she'd need to back off on the tweaking that she'd been doing to the wretched thing: *After* she got to her station and helped her partner take care of business.

<<"Hold on, Hel. I'm contacting the police now.">>

Helena was ready to reassure her lover that she didn't need any help taking this particular trash out, but she didn't have time. She easily made out the trajectory of the swing coming her way, the whistle of air coursing around the splintered wood seeming awfully loud in the empty alley. Still feeling a little too dazed to skip away, she managed to tense the muscles of her legs, taking the force of the blow with her flesh, rather than with her kneecaps.

The shot of pain was enough to clear her head, and Helena rolled with the blow, somersaulting forward to grab her attacker around the ankles and take him to the ground.

"Do I know you, asshole, or is this just some random act of violence?"

Scrambling up to plant her knees in the guy's solar plexus, she made out his angry snarl.

"Don't tell me you don't remember me, bitch!"

Helena narrowed her eyes and took in the guy's meaty jowls and piggy little eyes and grubby mustache that seemed to have bits of --

She leaned a hairsbreadth closer and cautiously sniffed, confirming her guess: taco meat.


"I've gotta admit that you're too fug-ugly to forget, but I guess I'm just lucky."

Gourmet-goon telegraphed the swing from a mile out, so she had no problem ducking under the board this time and then batting it out of his hand. The two-by-four landed with a clatter that almost covered his enraged snarl.

"Fuckin' bitch!"

Still receiving audio, even if it was a bit tenuous, Barbara clenched her teeth against the urge to shout something to her partner: After this many years, if Helena weren't aware that taunting the Big Dumb and Uglies wasn't always the best tactic, there was little she could do. The police had been dispatched and, judging from the repartee, Helena was feeling in control of the situation.

<<"You fuckin' do-gooders think you got some right to interfere...">>

The redhead felt one brow tick upward a few millimeters as she considered the words that had come through the bluetooth. Clearly this wasn't the random act of violence that Helena had supposed.

"Yeah, right -- " Helena used her tongue to probe at the cut inside her mouth, a remnant from the first blow, and spit blood. "That's me. A regular good Samaritan."

She looked him over again, trying to figure out what his beef with her was. The taco meat did the trick: A couple of weeks before, she'd intercepted this guy trying to lighten some tourists' wallets behind the Tico Taco. Since he'd clearly been nothing but a two-bit thug, she'd shined up both of his eyes and gone on her way.

Looked like he'd caught sight of her at work or something and decided on a little quid pro quo.

Yeah, right. Looked like it was time to freshen up his bruises.

"*This* -- " she landed a hard blow to his jaw, trying to avoid the food scraps, "-- is for hitting me."

Instantly, Helena sucked air through her teeth and shook her right hand.

Shit. She'd forgotten about her smashed knuckles.

"And *this*--"

Not missing a beat, she switched to her left hand. She wasn't as ambidextrous as Red, but she could make do in a pinch.

"-- is for busting my new phone."

Taco boy went out like a cheap flashlight, and with the sound of police sirens moving in, Helena stood, scooped up her phone, and bounded for the fire escape.

It was time to call it a night.

* * * * *

It was the deepest hour of night, the bedroom dark and still. The tiny mewling murmurs that periodically arose from the crib on the other side of the room reassured Barbara that all was well with Katie; the nearly sub-vocal purr that rumbled from a few inches away in the big bed should have done likewise for Helena.

Should have.

Unable to deny herself, Barbara maneuvered herself under the covers, shifting onto her side to bring herself face-to-face with her lover. She had been lying awake long enough that her eyes had grown acclimated to the darkness, and she drank in the younger woman's features, so peaceful and open in sleep. Carefully, tenderly, she raised her hand, lightly touching the swelling that was already starting to fade from the angular line of her jaw.

Thank heavens for Helena's meta-healing abilities. Even the hairline fractures in her hand would probably be healed within a day or so.

Her hand still cradling her lover's jaw, Barbara stretched a few inches closer, bringing her mouth within millimeters of Helena's. Warm breath, still redolent of mint toothpaste, washed her lips, and Barbara opened her mouth, inhaling.


Four more words trailed behind the first: All that I need.

A line from an insipid song from her youth tickled through Barbara's frontal lobe, naturally maddening her with the need to place the singer or group. For a heartbeat, she allowed her eyes to track to the side, and the answer came: The Hollies, although she much preferred the k.d. lang version that Helena had introduced her to a few years earlier.

Helena's warm exhalation, her breath sweet and so tempting, recalled her. Barbara heard her own voice in the quiet of the room, barely a murmur.

"The air that I breathe."

Giving in to desire, she closed the negligible distance and brushed her mouth against full lips. She felt a brief flare of guilt when her lover stirred.


The semi-question rolled forth on a sleepy purr as Helena worked to pry her eyes open and figure out what was going on. For a couple of seconds, a ragged exhalation was her only answer, then Barbara's lips were on hers, her words filling her mouth.

"I need you, Helena."


If this had been the time to go tiptoeing down memory lane, Helena didn't think she'd be able to remember a time when she'd heard those words from her lover. Since this wasn't the time for that, she rolled onto her back, taking Barbara with her, and opened to her, completely, achingly, instantly wet and aroused.

"You've got me, Baby."

Given her lover's physical response, Barbara scarcely needed the words; however, they were more than welcome.

"Any time. Any way you want, Red."

Squeezing her eyes shut, the redhead pushed herself down the slender form beneath her. Pointedly, she refused to concentrate on the feeling of denial she experienced at these moments, the reality that some methods of physically expressing herself were forever gone to her.

Simply having this -- being with Helena -- was more than she'd ever imagined.

Not bothering with finesse, Barbara tore aside the thin cotton underwear that separated her from her goal. The hitching undulation of Helena's hips almost unseated her, but she steadied herself and pressed her face into the thicket of dark curls, breathing her lover's most intimate scent. Tenderly, she stroked the liquid silk beneath her fingers, her upper body turning to fire when she heard the sharp hiss from above her.


A bit regretfully, Barbara worked her hand free and pushed up on one elbow, bringing her fingers to her mouth. The restless shift of her partner's hips recalled her, and she abandoned one sensory delight for another, working her way back up the lanky frame beneath her and bringing her hand to full lips.

There was no way to mistake what Barbara was offering, and Helena captured the hand that held a tantalizing aroma of mixed scents, drawing the first two fingers to her mouth.


For an instant, Barbara felt something spark between them; their shared need becoming a palpable entity surrounding them. So terribly tempted by that beautiful mouth, she somehow drew her fingers free, caressing the younger woman's cheek with the back of her fingers.

"Oh, Barbara, yeah."

Unable to deny what they both needed, the redhead worked her hand between them, then down. Her battle against the urge to push, to take, was lost when she heard Helena's soft, urgent whisper: "Harder".

Barbara gave herself over.

With their mouths mated in a never-ending kiss and Barbara's hands doing magic, it didn't take any time. From the way Red had collapsed with her head on her stomach, Helena thought that it had gone both ways.

"What was--"

The brunette wet her lips, trying to get some moisture back in her parched mouth, and regrouped, brushing her fingers through the red mane that blanketed her torso.

"Not like I'm complaining or anything, but what was that about?"

The question was an endearing mixture of amusement and satisfaction, and Barbara turned her head to press a kiss to the firmly muscled abdomen beneath her.

"I don't show you often enough how I --"

Quite aware of her earlier words, the she flirted with using the word "feel".

It was, after all, true.

It did not, however, encompass everything, and Barbara forced herself to speak the naked truth.

"--how I need you, Hel."

Pushing up on her elbow, she brushed the pads of her fingers across the younger woman's jaw.

"To show you how much I need you."

Eyes that were still deep violet seemed to search hers, and Barbara submitted to the scrutiny. Only when she made out a small nod of acceptance did she allow her smile to show and worked her way upward in the bed to settle in. With Helena cocooned against her side, she was almost asleep when she felt a tiny, restless stirring and looked down into bright blue eyes.


Dark lashes fluttered in a manner that might have been described as coy, and Barbara felt one brow arch playfully.

"Am I safe to go to sleep now, Red?"

The smile that she got, Helena thought, was pure Mona Lisa. The words she heard clenched it.

"There could be another ambush in the future, Sweetie."

The blinding whiteness of Helena's grin shown through the darkness, and Barbara pulled her close to feel her response whisper over her skin.


Chapter 2

There was a definite snap in the air, a brisk freshness that, coupled with the bright clarity of the sky and the coloring of the leaves, signaled the onset of fall. At this point, the shift in temperature was still mild, providing a welcome crispness in the Tower that allowed them to leave the doors to the balcony open; however, Barbara suspected that they would be buttoning down the doors and windows within a few more weeks.

All the more reason to enjoy the tail end of summer while they could, a sentiment that was clearly shared by her partner.

And their daughter.

With the sounds of Dinah running simulations on the Delphi behind her, Barbara held her position near the French doors, content to absorb the vision of Helena and Katie lounging on one of the Adirondack chairs outside. The brunette was stretched out with her usual negligent grace, earbuds from her MP3 player dangling around her neck as she read aloud to Katharine from some magazine.

The fact that she was wearing blue athletic shorts, revealing a lovely length of tan skin, suggested that Helena's typically warm metabolism was at work. The fact that Helena was wearing a grey zip-up hoodie, with Katie snuggled between the garment and her mother's chest with only her head peaking out under Helena's chin, spoke volumes about the younger woman's tender concern for their daughter.

For a few seconds, Barbara considered fetching the camera and capturing the moment on film. Ultimately, she determined that her admittedly accurate crime-scene photography skills wouldn't do justice to the emotion inherent in the tableau, and she surprised herself a bit by deciding to join the scene rather than simply catalog it.

First, of course, she needed to navigate the baby gate that blocked the balcony from the living area. Given the relative bulk of her motorized chair, not to mention the tension of the gate's latch -- a precaution that she and Helena had agreed on for their daughter's well-being and their sanity -- it was no simple feat. Nevertheless, the device had become a necessity since Katharine had started crawling in earnest in July. Considering the eight-month old's rather amazing physical development, Barbara suspected that something more robust -- iron bars, perhaps -- might be needed in another month or two.

Moving next to her family, Barbara brushed her fingers through the fine red curls covering her daughter's head. Helpless to resist, she felt a smile crease her features in response to the enthusiastic gurgle which revealed the lone tooth that was peeking through Katharine's bottom gum. Helena's bright smile drew her hand, and she trailed her fingers through the chestnut locks that kissed the base of her partner's neck.

"A bit of Saturday afternoon reading?" she inquired mildly, not doubting for a minute that her pleasure was apparent.

In the fourth month of her pregnancy, Helena had settled next to her on the couch one evening. Matter-of-factly, the brunette had produced T.S. Eliot's "Book of Practical Cats", snuggled against Barbara's side, and begun reading to her abdomen.

"Gotta get The Peapod used to my voice," had been her explanation.

Thirteen months later, Barbara was delighted that the practice continued. A beat later, when she realized what Helena had been reading to their infant daughter, she forced herself to concentrate on the positives of the shared time rather than the fact that the bonding was occurring over a comic book.

Offering a half-shrug, Helena reached over to her iPod and thumbed it off, silencing the music that she'd been sharing. She figured that Katie still had plenty of time to learn all of Earrings Golden's lyrics.

"Thought I should practice for The Big Assignment."

Since it was true -- well, at least part of it -- Helena thought that the eyebrow-thing Red gave her was a little much. Still, it wasn't like she could fault Babs a little surprise about the Children's Literature class that she'd picked up on a whim this semester.

After going back and forth over it for most of the summer, she'd gone with the Japanese class after all. And, well, Algebra had been a no-brainer since some of the symbols looked a little like the Japanese Kanji. Testing herself with a third class had... felt right, and, well, maybe the Kiddie Lit had been less a whim than the realization that she'd missed a lot of kid's books growing up, what with moving from one country to another with her mom.

She knew that it wasn't like Babs couldn't offer plenty of guidance in terms of Kat's bedtime reading. It was just...

"Ah, yes, reading excerpts and guiding a discussion with actual fifth graders, isn't it?"

Barbara sounded just a little too amused, but Helena couldn't blame her: after all of the grief that Helena had put her -- and all of her other teachers -- through, she could get the irony of a little poetic justice.

"Yeah," she quirked the corner of her mouth into a grin, "who'da thought there'd be a hands-on element for a class offered out of the Education Department?"

Completely charmed, as she suspected that Helena had intended, Barbara laughed softly.

"Who, indeed, Hel?" She smiled and gave voice to her curiosity. "What book did you decide to share with your class?"

When Helena's face lit up, Barbara held her breath in anticipation.

"It's a King Arthur one by a guy named White."

Almost certain, Barbara waited as the younger woman ducked her head to peer through her bangs. When she named the title, her voice held an endearing mixture of shyness and defiance.

"The Once and Future King?"

Barbara nodded, noting the pleasure that filled expressive blue eyes.

T.H. White's epic had been one of her long-standing favorites, and she supposed that there was little surprise that themes of Might not making Right would resonate for her.

Not to mention Arthur himself.

Yet, while she couldn't deny her delight in being able to share something else with her partner, Barbara suspected that Helena might find another one of the prominent characters more appealing than the nominal hero of the work.

"Who do you like in it, Hel?"

With Katharine beginning to squirm, Helena unzipped the hoodie and raised the girl to rest against her shoulder, bouncing her lightly in her arms.

"There are a lot of archetypes in there, right?"

Reaching out, Barbara accepted their daughter with a smile.

"That's true, Hel."

"And Merlin kind of makes me think of Alfred."

That elicited a smile before Barbara had to wonder just who else her imaginative partner might see reflected in the story. Not to mention, just how Alfred might respond to Helena's comparison.

"Is he your favorite?"

A dark head shook once.

"Nah. I like Lancelot."

"Le chevalier Malfait."

Barbara didn't realize that she'd spoken aloud until Helena nodded.

"Yeah, he's pretty fucked up, huh?"

There was no denying the truth of that, however, instead of delving into matters of flawed heros, Barbara pressed a kiss to Katharine's head and nodded.

"Still, I don't quite understand how reading -- "

Arching one brow, she motioned with her hand toward the comic.

"-- *that* to Katie prepares you for literary discussion, Hel."

The brunette didn't bat an eye.

"So what's the difference between Red Sonja -- "

She flapped the slender volume for emphasis.

"-- and Xena? It's not like I haven't seen you catching a DVD with The Peapod."

Barbara thought that she felt a touch of heat in her cheeks but managed to respond crisply.

"Steel bikini, Hel."

A dark brow rose eloquently, but Barbara clearly made out the twinkle in her lover's eyes.

"As opposed to a leather bustierre, Barbara? Puh-leeze."

The answer came instantly.

"That's practical fighting gear, Hel."

The redhead debated with herself for a moment before adding the rest.

"As evidenced by your own choice in sweepswear."

Helena's laughter was bright, warming Barbara in the cool air of the afternoon.

"But, Red Sonja's steel is protecting her most important parts."

Very close to continuing the debate by pointing out that Xena also sported admittedly minimalist metal armor in the necessary regions, Barbara was saved from her own competitive nature when she heard Dinah call a question from inside. Snugging Katharine to her side, Barbara touched the joystick of her chair, muttering her final words.

"I can't believe I'm having this conversation."

Helena almost followed her, seeing as how much Barbara enjoyed this sort of intellectual debate so much, but she figured she'd made her point. Besides, the sun felt too good, and she still had a few pages left in the comic.

It wasn't like she could just leave a redhead in a steel bikini hanging.

Still, even taking her time to appreciate the pencils and inks in the book, the brunette had finished reading and was... resting her eyes when she heard somebody clambering over the baby gate.

"Hey, D."

Dinah's grin was sunny as she dropped down onto the other chair.

"Hi, Hel. I didn't mean to wa--"

Arching her back, Helena sat up and swung her legs over the side of her seat.

"Wasn't sleeping."

She kept the straight face for a pretty good stretch, measuring the expressions flitting through pale blue eyes. Finally, she cracked a grin.

"Well, not as much as if I'd been inside having to listen to the two of you."

Helena snickered and waited out the eye-rolling that she'd counted on, then she waved toward the living area.

"Did I hear you talking to Barbara about the wand?"

Even without her meta-enhanced senses, Helena had a feeling she would have picked up on mention of the Mentachem wand. The subject was a little less taboo, but it still gave her the creeps. The way that some pink was creeping into the blonde's cheeks told Helena everything she needed to know.

"Yeah, I mean -- "

Dinah pushed a lock of hair behind one ear and shifted a little on her chair.

"-- I'm working on an experiment -- "

Helena figured that the blonde saw something in her face, seeing how she shifted gears so quickly.

"With plants, for my botany track this semester, you know?"

A nod got her going again.

"Well, anyway, it's based a little on what we were talking about this summer with the whole self-fertilization thing that you can do since you have some, uhm --"

Pale features turned bright red, and Dinah shifted again.

"-- sperm from when you were a guy, right?"

"Uuuh huuuuh."

Helena drew it out, trying to figure out where her companion was headed with this.

"Well, it's just not the same grafting plants, and it just seemed like it would be easier with the wand, you know?"

This time, it was Helena who rolled her eyes. Her answer was, she kind of thought, a little bitter.

"A lot of things would be, D."

The excitement drained from the younger woman's face.


The slump of slender shoulders was too much for such a laid-back day. Narrowing her eyes, Helena leaned in and tapped Dinah on the knee.

"Suuure, D. I guess you and your girlfriend wouldn't have been all warm for my form without the wand, huh?"

The words did the trick, and they shared a shy grin that quickly turned sly.

Helena couldn't deny that it was just a damned good thing that they were back on even footing. After her... Well, after she'd misread things early in the summer, she and Dinah had been walking on eggshells for a while. A Fourth of July concert and some burgers afterward had given them the chance to clear the air, and they'd decided to get over it.

It felt good.

"Like hell," Dinah sputtered through her laughter. "It was only Gabby, and she told me that it was a fleeting thing."

Pale blue eyes met cerulean.

"Very fleeting, Hel."

The brunette snorted.

"Yeah, right. So, what about when you were practicing kissing me in the training room or -- "

Dinah cut her off with a yelp.

"Hey! Any other time was strictly you, Romeo."

Caught up in giving Katie a mid-afternoon snack -- to Barbara's gratification, the new tooth hadn't negated breastfeeding -- Barbara remained only peripherally aware of the conversation on the balcony. Two words, yelped in the tone of indignant young people everywhere, neatly redirected her attention.

"Pity kisses?!"

Utterly befuddled, the redhead felt her brows knit. She was unable to calm her curiosity however for, just as she turned to look out the doorway, she caught sight of Helena leaping from the balcony with a laughing Dinah in close pursuit. Her own, more subdued, laughter bubbled forth as her partners disappeared from view.

It was good to have things back to normal.

Chapter 3

As kidnappings -- or even hostage situations -- went, Barbara had to admit that she'd certainly experienced far worse. Indeed, were it not for the element of uncertainty that Helena had insisted on in reaching their mystery destination, she supposed that the analogy wouldn't have come to mind.

Once the plane landed and after Helena navigated their rental car to a beachside resort, Barbara freely conceded that harnessing her curiosity for a few hours had been a small price to pay for a long October weekend in the sun.

With a pool.

Specifically, with an Olympic-sized salt water pool.

"So, it's okay?"

With her elbows resting on the lip of the pool, her body effortlessly supported by the perfectly salinated water, and the Florida sun baking her brains to the consistency of oatmeal, it took the redhead a few beats to register the question that was purred into her hair. Once she comprehended that she was being addressed, it took her still another second to decipher the question and engage her powers of speech.

Perhaps, some barely-functional portion of her brain suggested, her mental lag also had something to do with the three-hour massage that Helena had given her the night before. A mere forty minutes into the heavenly exercises, when Barbara had tried to turn to her partner, she'd been gently but very firmly returned to her prostrate position on her stomach.

"It's not about that, Red. Just enjoy."

And, oh my, had she.

"Everything is perfect, Hel," she managed, with what she thought was astonishing coherency given the ridiculously huge margarita that she'd been sampling.

'Keeping hydrated' had been the less-than-plausible explanation that Helena had provided when she'd appeared with it earlier. Nevertheless, given that they had another day before the holiday weekend faded and she returned to her regular responsibilities -- including breastfeeding Katharine -- Barbara had been willing to seize upon a handy rationalization when it reared up and saluted.

It had taken a bit more rationalization, or -- in all honesty, persuasion, argument, and a bit of fast talking on Helena's part -- for her to agree to the unplanned trip to begin with. When Helena had planted herself on Barbara's work table, grinning like a Cheshire cat and detailing a remarkably well-choreographed... abduction plan less than two days before, Barbara had been dubious at best.

"Just like I said, Barbara."

The redhead had ignored her lover's exaggerated sigh, quite accustomed to better performances from the students in her class.

"Indulge me, Hel. I simply find it hard to believe that you 'came upon' a free room at a -- "

She'd paused, more for emphasis than to search her memory, and then repeated the words Helena had used not thirty seconds earlier.

"-- 'sunny resort that's The Bomb'."

The factual approach hadn't fazed the brunette a bit.

"Janey already paid for the room which is why she got such a good deal, but since she's got something going on with her boyfriend and can't go -- "

Dark brows had waggled, whether in emphasis or excitement Barbara hadn't been sure.

"-- well, I'm doing her a real favor by taking them off her hands."

Still trying to determine just why her partner had decided that taking off on the spur of the moment was something that she'd welcome, Barbara had tried again.

"I'm sure that no one will question your altruism, Helena, however I don't understand why you can't tell me *where* you're--"

She'd been cut off by the airy wave of a slender hand and a blinding smile.

"'Cuz it's a surprise, Red."

Something approaching a well-known hang-dog expression had made an appearance, and Barbara had steeled herself.

"C'mon, it's already paid for, and I already picked up two rock-bottom airline tick--"

"Rock bo-?"

Given her particular needs, Barbara loathed flying, especially in the cattle car environment of coach. Mercifully, she'd seen something in deep blue eyes and, remembering Helena's budget, had let it go.

"What about Katie?"

Although Helena had appeared surprised that she hadn't started with other excuses -- such as grading papers or doing lesson plans or continuing to investigate the human trafficking ring that she'd been monitoring -- and had simply moved right to the heart of matters. Surprised or not, the younger woman had been ready.

"Gabby's in town for the mid-term break, and she and D are all lined up to stay here."

Barbara had felt her jaw tense, in fact had her mouth had opened to speak, when Helena had rushed on.

"And your dad and Alfred -- "

There had been a pause that had forced Barbara to meet her lover's eyes.

"-- *and* Alethea are all on backup call."

It had been a most impressive argument.

"Just two and a half little days, Red. Sixty tiny hours."

Then, Helena had wrinkled her face in a parody of acute concentration, and sing-songed four more words.

"Just thirty-six hundred minutes."

Barbara had blinked, fighting a wave of something remembered, something wonderful. As she had, almost two years before in a hotel room upstate during their visit to State, Helena was working logic and mathematics...

Well, again, it wasn't against her. It was *for* them.

Barbara hadn't been quite convinced that the room had been gifted by Helena's coworker at the Dark Horse, nor that the planning had been completely last-minute; however, on the spot, Barbara had decided that she was not going to try to find out.

The spontaneity and freedom, not to mention time for the two of them, that Helena was offering was too dear to analyze.

"You had me at two and a half, Hel. Let's pack."

It had been less the words than the bright spark in deep blue eyes that had tipped the coin for Barbara. With thirty-one of the hours of her first vacation away from their daughter already spent, she was glad that she'd been persuaded.

With one exception..


Temporarily surrendering her position, Barbara easily turned to cross her forearms on the edge of the pool. Resting her chin on one arm, she peered through her Ray-bans, drinking in the sight of her lover.

Attired in a stunning red tankini, Helena was laid out on a thick towel, sunning herself on the edge of the pool. Long, tanned legs were crossed negligently at the ankles; boy-brief bottoms, accented with a wide white belt, highlighted her abdomen; a halter top that was almost demure continued to tantalize with what it didn't reveal.

Somehow, Barbara managed to keep her mind on the mission.

"Everything but the volleyball, Hel."

The brunette's grin was unconcerned.

"I thought you were awesome." Dark brows waggled behind mirrored lenses. "A real ringer for our team."

Truth be told, Barbara also thought that she'd handled herself tolerably well during the pickup game that Helena had organized around the net in the center of the pool. While there were definite limitations on her blocking and spiking, she'd had no problem in the liberos position on the back row where reaction speed, rather than height, was the driving force. Nevertheless, she couldn't imagine what had gotten in to her.

"Thank you, Sweetie."

She sipped her drink, taking care to lick another one-twentieth of the salt from the rim. She didn't miss the flare of her lover's nostrils or the quick rise of her chest.

"It was surprisingly fun," she added.

Surprised by her own admission, Barbara spoke the rest.

"Thank you for encouraging me to try something different."

There was something-- Helena didn't know what it was, maybe the smokiness of Barbara's voice or the way those dark sunglasses seemed to be taking in everything, but something about the way Barbara had said that had Helena feeling that they weren't just talking about volleyball.

Still, she knew how her partner was with the control thing.

"Thanks for putting yourself in my hands for a while, Red."

As smoothly as possible, she sat up and swung her legs over the side to dangle her feet in the water. When Barbara's hand came to rest lightly on her knee, she reached for the SPF 60 that she'd been lotioning Barbara up with all day.

The way her face was feeling all warm, it didn't seem like it would hurt to use a little on herself.

"Perhaps -- "

Watching slender fingers that were slick with oil moving across the lovely lines of her partner's face, Barbara had to stop, pulling a quick breath through her nostrils.

"Perhaps you'll return the favor for me later, Hel."

The dark head tilted forward, allowing Helena's sunglasses to slide down a bit and revealing deep violet eyes.

"Put myself in your hands?"

Barbara nodded, and lazily turned a few degrees in the water, allowing her torso to come in contact with her companion's legs.

"Do you remember one of our early dates at the school swimming pool?"

She waited, more or less patiently, charmed by the appearance of Helena's "thinking face". Too quickly, enlightenment dawned.

"Yeah. I gave you all hell for going alone -- "

"After that," Barbara prompted.

"And then you had that weird phantom uterus cramping th--"

"Before that."

Judging by the leer that painted her lover's face, the minimal guidance had been enough.

"Tomato juice, right? And Adirondack chairs?"

One crimson brow arched above the oversized sunglasses.

"Indeed." Barbara allowed a smirk to show. "So, do you remember what we couldn't do there?"

Helena sure as hell did. Red's rules about not fooling around on school property had pretty well put the kibosh on some of her long-standing fantasies.

Still, it sounded like--

"Yeah. You have something in mind, Baby?"

She leaned in, allowing herself to inhale the scent of Barbara's sunwarmed hair. Barbara's voice was low, intimate.

It made Helena ache.

"Let's just say that I wouldn't mind coming back here tonight when the pool is empty."

Not minding, Barbara had to admit, was a bit of an understatement. Already, her ever-vivid imagination was supplying images that had the blood racing under her skin. More demandingly, she could almost *feel* the sensation of holding Helena, her mobility enhanced by the water while her lover writhed against her, her center hot against her stomach even in the coolness of the water. She could virtually hear the sound of water slapping between them, of Helena's harsh panting and her own soft exhalations of effort.

So close to Barbara, Helena heard her heartbeat pick up; she could smell the arousal that coursed over her skin. Ready to clear the pool right then and there, she decided on something a little less likely to embarrass her partner and simply rose to her feet with a smile.

"Cool. But, let's get dinner first."

Which was, Helena had to figure later, probably her first mistake, seeing as how they hadn't made it back to the pool after all.

After a dinner of tuna steaks so fresh that Helena thought they might have started swimming again if she'd dropped them in water, they'd decided to spend their last evening strolling the piers on the beach. The stars overhead and the wash of the waves against the sand had been plenty romantic, although they didn't come close to the way Babs had held her hand as they'd walked. Back in the room, Helena had set the scene with some candles and a bottle of wine, and then there'd been another long backrub for Barbara that looked like it had well and truly put her out for the night.

Now, curled against Barbara's side in the hotel bed with only the light from the stars outside their window illuminating the room, Helena couldn't find it in herself to regret a second of it.

There'd be other swimming pools, later. Hell, she'd try to make sure they got a swim in before their flight in the morning, even if they didn't get the extras that Red had been talking about.

The reality of Barbara letting go and relaxing, the sensation of perpetually tight muscles giving way under her hands, the sounds of soft breathing uninterrupted by the constant edge of wakefulness the Red usually clung to --

This was the good stuff.

Softly... stealthily... the brunette peeled the covers back from their intertwined forms, pushing the sheet and light blanket to Barbara's other side. With the air conditioning washing over her skin and cooling the light sheen of perspiration that had begun to cover her, she settled against her lover again, nuzzling into the warmth of her armpit.

Man, Barbara always smelled so good.

Dark lashes fluttered open, and Helena took in the vision of her partner's torso from close range. Red was wearing that strappy pale blue silk number that felt sooo damned good.

Looked mighty fine, too.

Unable to stop herself, Helena turned her gaze to the swell of decolletage that was visible under the sinfully soft material. The regular rise and fall of her bedmate's chest tightened the fabric every so slightly, bringing into stark relief the outline of firm nipples beneath silk.


Instantly, the fire that Helena had tried to put out -- or at least to bank -- during the evening roared to life. Swallowing thickly, she forced herself to remain in place. Muscles trembling, she felt her eyes shift, her mouth already hungering to feel the soft material and the pebbled flesh beneath.

She'd meant it, dammit. She hadn't been... She wasn't angling for sex or anything with the backrubs or, hell, with the whole trip. But, that didn't mean she didn't want.

And, the brunette reminded herself, wanting didn't mean getting.

As best she could, she remained quiescent, attempting to will away the tension that thrummed through her center. Beside her, her partner remained relaxed in sleep, and for just a moment Helena gave in to temptation, shifting her legs... just enough to bring the apex of her thighs into contact with a firm hip.

That much and nothing more, she promised herself, panting softly in the darkness-- until she felt a hand gently rest upon the back of her head.

The touch was soft, but it was enough, and Helena surged forward. Rubbing her face lightly over silk-covered flesh, she slowed herself, waiting out the electricity that charged through her before dropping her mouth to firm flesh enrobed in softest silk.

"Sweet -- "

Helena thought it had been her voice, but she didn't care. All of her focus was on the fabric she was pulling between her teeth, on the wet patch she created and then blew on, watching tender skin harden. Working her cheek lightly across her lover's chest, she finally remembered that there was someone else there with her and looked up, finding green eyes firmly fixed on her. Wordless, she raised her hand to her lover's face, only to have it firmly guided back down to rest on Barbara's other breast.

It was all the encouragement she needed, and Helena squeezed gently, her eyes hooding in response to Barbara's low hum of approval.

Needing more, remembering that Barbara liked more too, she increased the pressure. Her lover's hiss of pleasure was instant, and strong hands came to her shoulders, squeezing as Barbara arched into her touch.


Rearing up onto her knees, Helena showed her teeth, then she allowed her hands to set their own rhythm. Barbara's soft murmurs grew, gaining volume, the panted cries inflaming her until she had to back off, afraid that she would leave bruises.

Instantly, Helena saw green eyes snap open, feral and hungry in their own right.

Oh, shit, she was in so much trouble.

This happy realization filled her just as she was roughly flipped onto her back. After that, she didn't bother to think at all.

It wasn't, in fact, until they were on the plane, the Y-connector of their shared ear bud connection on the armrest between them and Cutting Crew queued up on the 80s mix that she'd burned to her iPod, that Helena realized they hadn't made it to the pool again before they'd left.

Come to think of it, they'd missed the breakfast buffet and the sauna, too.

Somehow, she didn't think either of them minded a bit.

Chapter 4

As kidnapping *and* hostage situations went, Barbara had to admit that very few that she'd been privy to had been this harrowing.

This personal.

The last, undoubtedly, had been the showdown with Harley Quinn the year before, during the last weeks of Barbara's pregnancy. With the lives and well-being of both Helena and their unborn daughter at stake and facing the very real possibility of performing her own C-section in order to hand her child over to Quinn, the encounter had been grim.

To say the least.

It appeared that the events that had begun unfolding in only the last minute just might best Quinn.

"Why the fuck did you let him up, Dinah?"

Already moving down the ramp from the Delphi platform, her adrenaline levels bumped to overdrive, Barbara ticked her gaze quickly to each of the three people who had just exited the elevator. In the periphery of her vision, she saw Helena rising from the couch, a textbook still in one hand, her head cocked as if awaiting a response to her question.

"He made --"

The youngest member of the team's words were cut short when a heavy pistol impacted Gabby's jaw.

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here!"

Barbara stopped by the coffee table, reassured by Helena's presence beside her. A dozen feet away, Dinah and Gabby and their most unexpected visitor stood with their backs to the elevator doors. Barbara could already make out the faint swelling that was rising on Dinah's girlfriend's jaw. She easily made out the shakiness of the .357 that once again had it's muzzle lodged beneath Gabby's chin.

What she could not yet discern was why Dinah hadn't used her TK to disarm the man she'd clearly allowed into the Tower. Nevertheless, judging from the sheer terror in Gabby's eyes and the misery in Dinah's, damage control -- instead of investigation -- was the pressing order of the day.

"Mr. Mandrill," she kept her voice steady and, hopefully, calming. "I see that you've finished serving your debt to society."

Actually, as Barbara well knew from her routine checks of the criminal justice records, the petty crook they had dubbed Matter Minor had been released from the county jail on probation almost a week earlier. Apparently, he'd been well behaved during his brief stay, and the justice system had better uses for his cell.

"Damned straight, I have -- " Mandrill's face contorted into a sneer. "-- and now I want what's mine."

The smell of fear and adrenaline was thick in the room; it assaulted Helena's senses almost as powerfully as the threat to her home and her family torqued her nerves with the need to act. There was no way she was just going to roll over for this asshole.

"You mean you want what belongs to your brother, Mikey."

When Barbara shot her a look, Helena decided to lay back and let her partner take the lead.

Hell, Red was always good with the talking stuff.

"Mr. Mandrill, we don't have the Mentachem wand here--"

While that was certainly true -- the wand was safely locked away in the Batcave -- it was clearly not the answer that Mandrill wanted to hear. His face tightened, the cords in his neck rising in stark relief as he screamed over her.

"Then get the fucking thing, or I'll make you wish you had!"

Briefly, the big gun waved toward Dinah, sending her dancing backward a few steps.

"I'm really sorry, Bar-- "

The blonde caught herself, presumably over the use of her name. Since the entire secret identity issue seemed a bit moot at the moment, Barbara managed something that approximated as smile, inclining her head briefly.

"It's okay, Dinah. How did this -- " she gestured toward Mandrill and Gabby, "-- come about?"

This time it was Gabby who spoke, her voice only the tiniest bit shaky.

"He showed up at the apartment while D was at the lab -- "

Aware that the curly-haired young woman had been in town for Thanksgiving week and that she and Dinah had been staying at Helena's old apartment, Barbara nodded encouragingly.

"-- and he... He made me swallow -- "

Beside her, Barbara felt as much as heard Helena's growl. Carefully, she raised one hand, bringing it to rest on her partner's forearm.

"A tiny little bomb, not much bigger than a great big healthy vitamin pill."

Mandrill's voice was so smug that, for a moment, Barbara flirted with releasing her batarangs on the man. When he raised the hand that was not holding the gun, revealing a small plastic device, she held herself in check.

"And this is the detonator. And if I let up on this button, the Cute Girlfriend here is gonna make a great big mess."

Gabby's whimper was almost lost to the words muttered beside Barbara.

"I think his cheese has finally slid all the way off the cracker, Red."

Once again, the redhead shot her partner a pointed look and mouthed her response.

Not. Helping.

Very carefully, very slowly, Barbara raised her hand, bringing thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose. While the gesture did nothing to ease the tension headache she could feel building, it did buy her a moment to calm her racing heart and to consider the options.

Although there was no way to be certain of just what this particular thorn in their sides had forced Gabby to ingest, she knew that there were factors they could control. There were threats and dangers that she could attempt to mitigate.

"If that's the case, Mr. Mandrill," she dropped her hand to the side of her chair, briefly disoriented when her fingertips didn't encounter the oversized rubber tires of her manual. Regrouping, she settled her hand on the joystick, resisting the urge to fidget with the controls and rock the chair. "then surely you don't need the gun as well as an explos--"

She cut herself short when the .357 waved -- shook, more accurately -- in Dinah's direction.

"Don't bullshit me! I know all about the tricks this one does with that... that mental stuff of hers." Beady eyes glittered. "I figure she can't use mind tricks on both of 'em."


A quick look in Dinah's direction indicated that the blonde was reaching her limit: either tears or some sort of action would probably soon follow. Barbara was quite certain that none of them wanted that: It was too soon; Mandrill was still too edgy.

Deliberately, Barbara caught, then held, pale blue eyes.

"It will be okay, Dinah."

As she spoke, she moved her gaze to Mike Mandrill, focusing on the hand that held the detonator, hoping to convey to Dinah that she would need to handle that part of their attack. She and Helena would dispatch the gun when the opportunity arose.

"Perhaps, Mr. Mandrill, as a good faith gesture you could lower the gun to somewhere a bit less -- "

Barbara's attempts to dust off her negotiation skills fell short, her words abruptly cut off, when Dinah started to move forward. Instantly, Helena lunged from beside her.

It was too soon.

Too early.

None of them were ready -- except Mandrill.

Barbara saw the gun raise, moving toward Dinah. She saw his fingers tightening on the trigger. She heard her own voice, raw in the sudden hollowness of the room.

"Dinah, no!"

It was, she recognized in that instant, simply instinct. There was, after all, every chance that Dinah could have disarmed him while keeping the detonator locked in his hand with her TK; there was a very real possibility that Helena could have reached him in the split second it took her to vault the small expanse of floor that separated them.

"Mike, don't -- "

Her plea was out even as she yanked the joystick of her chair, as she struggled with the balky device in the hope that she could somehow turn it... turn the tide... just as the hand that held the gun was turning toward the living area where Helena was making her move.

Helena saw it. She saw Mikey's beady little eyes shift, going flat and dead. She saw the big honking gun following his evil eyes, and she was moving, hoping that she'd get there and Dinah would do her thing and everything would stop moving so fast.

Then she saw the flash of the muzzle, and time slowed down.

She easily followed the tracer of the bullet. She felt her ears ringing at the boom that filled the Tower. Her nose was assaulted by the stench of cordite. And then, the only thing filling her senses was the red that bloomed across Barbara's chest as she pinwheeled backward in her chair.


Barbara heard the concussive noise of the shot. She felt it strike her chest with the force of a sudden decent from a twentieth story rooftop. In the instant between the noise and the impact, a lifetime of thoughts arced across her synapses, the most pressing being how difficult it would be for Dinah to reconcile her role in all of this.

"You're dead, asshole."

Barbara fell backward, her chair toppling with her in it. She saw her partners taking down Mandrill and heard Helena's words, cold and factual. In the heartbeat between hitting the floor and struggling to shout a warning -- they did not kill -- she felt the recalcitrant wheels of the motorized chair finally move, convulsively clicking from left to right as they spun in the air.

The crunch of bones breaking coincided with Mike Mandrill's wet, gurgling scream.

Or perhaps it preceded it by a bit.

Distantly, Barbara saw the big hand of the clock tick forward. She heard Helena say something from across the room. In the gasping moment between her final cry of warning and her choking attempt to draw another breath from her position entangled in her chair on the floor, she grasped that matters were very bad indeed.

Sucking chest wound.

The words painted themselves behind her eyelids in a vivid shade of blue. They certainly explained how very difficult it was to breathe.

Prying her eyes open, Barbara saw Helena standing beside her. She blinked, not sure how long the movement had taken because when she opened her eyes again, Helena was kneeling beside her, her mouth rounded in an "O", her hands coming to Barbara's chest.

This was bad. This was really bad.

Not even thinking, Helena shoved the fucking heavy chair out of the way, her hands dropping to Barbara's chest in the same motion. She pressed hard, the feel of blood pulsing sluggishly under her palms warm and sticky. Distantly, she heard Dinah shouting something, something lost under the roaring in her ears and Mandrill's high-pitched screams.

A hand, so terribly pale under a film of blood, plucked at her wrist. It took Helena a second to connect the frail limb with Barbara, to grasp that the hands that were usually so strong and graceful and sure were now shaking like the last leaves of fall that clung to the trees. She saw Barbara's jaw working, her lips almost hidden behind a bubbling froth, and she leaned in to make out the reedy whisper.

"Di-ah -- don't kill..."

She got the idea.

And a better one.

"Fuck him, D," she yelled over her shoulder. "Get a force field around Barbara's chest!"

Refusing to give way to panic, Barbara worked to nod her approval. A beat later, she made out Dinah beside her, her blonde hair haloed by the setting sun as it blazed through the transom. Trails of silver seemed to wash the young woman's cheeks, and Barbara wished that she could smile or offer some reassurance.

When a vise closed over her chest and she was finally able to sip a tiny bit of air, she managed.

"B'okay -- "

It wasn't her finest offering. In fact, it did nothing to ease the stricken horror in Dinah's eyes.

"Help me get this on her -- "

She felt herself rolled from one side to the other, and she wished she could give voice to a protest about being handled. Instead, she focused on Helena's face, her eyes so bright and wide and unblinking, as her partner swathed her chest with the bubble wrap that Barbara had been using to bundle items in the care package that she'd been preparing for Dick.

Cautiously, she drew another small breath, working not to show her agony.

She had to admit that the experience of being shot didn't improve with... repetition. And, even with her penchant for empirical research, Barbara suspected that she could have drawn the same conclusion without the actual experience.

"Ipecac," she managed on a wheezing exhalation, the taste of blood on her tongue making her want to retch.

Briefly, confusion replaced the other emotions coursing across Helena's face. Somehow, Barbara managed to drag her eyes toward Gabby, who was speaking rapidly into someone's cell phone. Her free hand was tightly closed around the plastic detonator that Mandrill had held earlier.

"She's breathing now -- " The brunette's voice seemed to crack even as her shoulders squared and she turned to face Dinah. "Help Gabby get that thing barfed up."

Suddenly infinitely wearied from her effort, Barbara allowed her eyes to flutter shut for a few beats, relieved that her audience for this particular performance had been reduced to one.

"No -- "

The only one.

The thought circled Barbara's consciousness, and she managed to see again, wishing that her vision weren't consumed with the image of the tears coursing down her lover's face.

"You promised -- "

Helena's words were barely a whisper.

"You promised you wouldn't leave me."

Instantly, Barbara understood that the repercussions from this would fall much further than Dinah.

"-- try -- "

Her voice was tiny and thin to her own ears, and Barbara mouthed the rest.

Love you.

Helpless in the face of Barbara's struggle to breathe, Helena pressed against the plastic that covered the horrifying wound. Searching emerald eyes, she saw a bright light begin to dim.

"Do-- "

She choked on her own words, damned near vomiting with the clenching terror in her gut.

"Don't go, Baby."

The redhead tried to respond, to offer some reassurance or promise that she would be there. Instead, a cough wracked her, and she felt blood bubble over her lips. When she could focus her eyes again, she saw it: Barbara saw it in the plodding gouts of blood that bubbled from under the plastic with every breath; she saw it in the hard set of Helena's jaw.

They both were moving past denial and into... something else.

No. No. No.

There was a pain in Helena's hands.

Her palms, she realized, where she'd dug her nails in with enough force to draw blood. Only problem was, she didn't know which blood on her hands was hers and which was Barbara's. And then, bitterly, she understood that it had always been the case: their blood was mixed, always had been.

Barbara's blood was her blood.

Her eyes finally dry, Helena watched long red lashes droop shut.

"Barbara? Baby -- " she brushed her thumb across pale lips, wiping blood and foam aside. "Stay with me."

Barbara heard her lover. She wanted to acknowledge her plea, but it seemed that she was having trouble processing everything. There was too much motion and redness, yet at the same time everything was slow, drawn out like an endlessly stretching loop of sticky pink taffy.

She wondered if she traced the loop if it would turn into a Moebus strip.


She fought to get the word out, needing Helena to understand that she wasn't giving up. After all, years before, waking up in a hospital room unable to feel her toes, she'd made a commitment to Helena. Not more than five months before, she'd reaffirmed her promise not to leave her partner.

"I know, Red."

Helena had to tear the words from deep within herself. Yet, witnessing the pain that Barbara was in, the agony of every hitching attempt to breathe, she couldn't withhold them.

"S'okay, Barbara. Why don't you just -- "

For a moment, Helena had to struggle for air herself; then she worked a smile and held her lover's gaze.

"Why don't you shut your eyes? Rest for a minute?"

Her muscles unable to support her, Helena eased herself to the floor next to Barbara. She worked close, wrapping her arms around the other woman, shocked by how cold Barbara's body was in comparison to the still-warm blood that bathed them both. Watching Barbara's normally pale features go grey and bloodless, she pressed a kiss to the redhead's temple and prayed to hear the sirens of an ambulance.

The implacable tick of the big clock seemed to echo the rattling of Barbara's breathing. Unable to believe her eyes, Helena saw a smile touch her partner's lips. Words that were more breath than sound ghosted the air.

"I can feel my legs."

Swallowing convulsively, the brunette lightly squeezed the fingers that rested in her palm.

"Yeah?" she finally managed.

Barbara's answer was more than she could bear.

"They're... cold."

Chapter 5

Barbara died at 5:18 p.m.

It was a Tuesday.

It was a stupid, fucking dumb time to die, and Helena knew she'd never forget that date, that time.

Her friend and mentor and confidant... Her love and her life... Barbara...

Barbara had pulled another reedy gasping breath, the blood frothing at one corner of her mouth. Then her eyes had... just closed.

Just like it had yesterday, Helena felt the room -- and the world -- go gray around the edges. Unlike yesterday, she knew better than to scream and shout and search the room for some sort of miracle.

The only thing she'd seen yesterday had been the shadow of the big clock. The time had been reflected in reverse shadow on the floor next to her lover... her partner.

She hadn't meant to... lose it, but she couldn't help it. She'd shaken Barbara's shoulders. Her voice was still hoarse from shouting.

"Don't you fuckin' dare die on me!"

Rocking forward on the couch, Helena cradled Katharine to her, trying to ignore the tearing ache in her chest.

She should have just let her go, but she couldn't, and -- for a moment, she'd had hope. For an instant, Barbara had come back to her, her eyes fluttering as she'd choked like a car with a bad battery trying to turn over on a cold morning. Blood had matted her hair, her eyelashes; Helena's hands felt like they were glue to her partner.

Helena had leaned in, bringing them forehead to forehead. Then Red had smiled at her, sad and sort of apologetic.

And that had been it.


In any other world
You could tell the difference
And let it all unfurl
Into broken remnants



It had been Dinah and Gabby who had finally pulled her off of Barbara.

Behind her now... behind her, Helena couldn't ignore the whir and hum of the Delphi. On the big screen in front of her, she could see lights from the hard drives reflected as they flashed; she could hear the click of processors and fans. It was just like Barbara had left it, less than a day before when --

Blinking, the brunette rubbed the back of her wrist under her nose.


For all Helena knew, Babs had been right in the middle of hacking into somewhere big and top-secret and scary when Mike Mandrill had pulled his shit, and her jobs had all been sitting there for almost a day, giving whoever it was time to trace back.


Red would have had automatic time-outs or something. Not to mention covering her tracks so deep that a frikkin' Cray wouldn't be able to unravel her path.

Like Helena really gave a damn.


Smile like you mean it
And let yourself let go

'Cause it's all in the hands
Of a bitter, bitter man
Say goodbye to the world
You thought you lived in


Helena snorted softly.

If she tried hard, maybe she could call it a laugh.

She raised the remote and aimed it at the oversized television screen, ready to start the random channel flipping that she'd been doing to try to fill the god-awful quiet in the Tower. When big blue eyes framed by long red lashes looked up at her, she dropped the device on the cushion and leaned in to press a kiss to her daughter's head.

Whatever music station was on was... Well, it was covering up some of the silence, even if it wasn't getting that stupid, incongruous song out of her head: It was from two years ago, a song that she'd burned onto that Hair Band disc that she'd mixed for their drive up to visit State with Dinah.

Bon Jovi.

It was that trip when she and Babs had really had The Talk. It was then, in a hotel room, that she'd pledged that she could -- that she *would* -- do the time with the woman she loved.

She'd made bold promises that, if they had enough time, she'd even end up closing that age difference that had Barbara so freaked out.

It was a promise she'd meant from the heart.


I tried to live alone
But lonely is so lonely, alone
So human as I am
I had to give up my defenses

So I smiled and tried to mean it
To make myself let go


Lost in her own head, Helena thought that Katie's gurgle might have been an answer to the words she wasn't saying. It wasn't until that tiny little head bumped against her chin and she felt her daughter starting to root against her chest that she got a clue.

"Sorry, Kat."

It was kind of past The Peapod's usual lunch time.

Pushing to her feet, Helena settled the infant -- damned near a toddler now -- onto her hip and circled to the far side of the coffee table, winding around the wing chair on the far side.

Anything to avoid having to look at the throw rug that Alfred had put down after he'd tried to clean up.

The brunette grit her teeth. She wouldn't be surprised if the red stain never came out.

Probably have to rip out the hardwood.

Or, maybe they could just burn the Tower down and go somewhere else.


So I smiled and tried to mean it
To make myself let go

'Cause it's all in the hands
Of a bitter, bitter man
Say goodbye to the world
You thought you lived in

Take a bow, play the part
Of a lonely lonely heart
Say goodbye to the world
You thought you lived in
To the world you thought you lived in


Digging into the fridge, Helena pulled out a bottle of breast milk. True to form, Barbara had neatly labeled it with the date and time that she'd expressed the milk.

It was from Monday.

Before bumping the refrigerator door shut, she peered in, counting the few bottles of milk that remained. When she turned, the can of formula that Alfred had brought by caught her eye.

They had it covered.

At least the stuff that could be... attended to.

Swallowing, Helena leaned forward, brushing her mouth against the shell of a tiny ear and inhaling a scent that was so much Barbara's. When she spoke, it was only a whisper, but it seemed horribly loud in the emptiness of the kitchen.

"Oh, Kitty, what am I gonna do?"

Chapter 6

It hurt.

She hurt.

Oh, dear heavens, did she hurt.

Enrobed in inky darkness, Barbara worked for reason... or at least for coherency. The best that she achieved was a soul-deep body memory of a suffocating struggle to breathe, of a pain that consumed her.

It was too much. Surrendering, she floated.

* * * * *

She did not want to breathe.

If sheer force of will had been enough, she would have let go. Yet, crawling upward through a film of gray, Barbara had no choice. Anticipating agony, she drew air into her body.

It wasn't enough. Gasping, she heard her own deep, ragged inhalation as she sucked at the oxygen she'd been starved of.

Merciful heavens.

She could breathe.

* * * * *

It was real.

Without opening her eyes, Barbara easily identified that she was lying in her own bed. Without doubt, she recognized the softness of five-hundred thread count sheets and the faint aroma of baby powder that permeated the room.

Cautiously, she pried open her eyes, expecting... Well, frankly she wasn't quite certain what she'd expected. The light of day, muted by the heavy blackout curtains, and the faint brush of warm air from the central heating somehow seemed too prosaic.

Carefully, Barbara worked to free her hand from the covers, bringing it to her chest. She felt the tremor seize her fingers but pushed on, needing to know.

There were no bandages, just the oversized button-up oxford shirt that she sometimes slept in. There was not the agony she anticipated, only a lingering ache as if she'd contorted herself for the night and slept too long despite the protest of her muscles.

There was no wound.

* * * * *

It was a dream.

Simply put, it was the only reasonable explanation.

With that thought came hope, and, without conscious volition, Barbara's hand snaked under the covers, and reality struck: The disconnect was still there. Below her waist, her fingers registered skin and bone and muscle; however, the nerves of her lower body did not respond to the touch with an answering signal.

Apparently, not everything had been a dream.

For an instant, she teetered, nearly vertiginous, as she tried to process the chasm of what she could trust. Panicked, Barbara whipped her gaze to the side. The motion did nothing to settle her disorientation, but she calmed instantly when she made out the small Helena-sized lump that was curled next to her under the covers.

So, that too hadn't been a work of an overactive imagination and too much junk food after midnight.

Or whatever it was that had inspired such a horrific sequence to play out in her subconscious.

More slowly, she ticked her eyes to the far wall of the bedroom; the presence of a crib was equally reassuring. Still shaken by how real the suffocating agony had seemed, Barbara released a long breath and allowed herself to relax against her pillow.

* * * * *

"You're awake."

Helena's tone was mild, yet it scratched at Barbara's puritan work ethic. On instinct, she cast a guilty glance at the alarm clock, shocking herself by the lateness of the hour.

She simply didn't lounge in bed until all hours of the morning.

"In-- "

She had to stop and clear her throat before she could continue. She took the opportunity to turn to her bedmate and painted on a rueful smile.

"Indeed. I-- I had a nightmare."

The realism of it all still set her pulse racing. More surprising was the fact that she'd endured such a dream at all: In the first years after The Joker had attacked her, Barbara had endured almost nightly dreams of being shot; however, it had been quite a while since she'd been plagued by one.

Obviously, her subconscious was telling her that she was overdue, even if the appearance of Matter Minor in the place of The Joker were an unexpected twist.

For a few seconds, Helena absorbed her partner's words. She drank in Barbara's presence, the brightness of her eyes and the beauty of her smile. Damned near giddy, she pushed herself up on her elbow and reached over to brush the hair back from Barbara's temple.

It all crashed back.

They'd done their best to clean Barbara up, but there was only so much they could do while she'd been... like that. There were still traces of blood in that gorgeous crimson mane, the scent of it sharp and offensive to Helena's senses.

Fingers shaking, Helena dropped her hand to the covers.

"Yeah. I had the same one."

Red brows furrowed as Barbara took in the younger woman's serious expression, her grave tone, the fatigue that lined her eyes.

Reality struck with the force of a blow to the solar plexus.

"It hap-- " She dragged in a mouthful of air, trying again. "I was-- ?"

Barbara saw her partner swallow; she registered the way the muscles in her jaw clenched.


This time, the redhead opted not to dance around the matter. Pushing the covers down to her waist, she fumbled with the buttons on her soft sleep shirt, allowing her fingers to explore her chest.

There. Just to the right of her sternum, there was a patch of reddened, tender skin. The size of her fist, it could have been nothing more than a bad sunburn that was healing or... nascent scar tissue.

Battling nausea, Barbara swallowed rapidly and hunted for words.

"Why... Where...?"

Completely annoyed with her lack of ability to articulate a simple question, she shook her head and searched deep blue eyes.

"How long have I been out?"

Helena felt her lips twist into a half-smile as she sat upright, crossing her legs camp-style on the bed.

No surprise that Red was taking the logical, factual question, instead of The Biggie, first. She'd probably want to assemble all the pieces and fit 'em together like a puzzle.

"Not quite two days."

Barbara did the math.

"Today is Thanksgiving."

It hadn't been a question. Helena's response seemed to serve not as confirmation but as a way to fill the gaps in the conversation.

"Sure is."

Something inescapable clawed at the back of Barbara's throat. Swallowing against the terror that constricted her chest, she worked to give voice to the words.

"I... "

She plucked at the blanket that was pooled around her waist, and then looked into Helena's eyes. The pupils were huge, leaving nothing but a ring of deepest blue surrounding them.

"I was... gone."

It could have been a trick of the light, but Helena's hands seemed to shake as they rose to scrub her eyes. The normally graceful young woman's movements suddenly seemed stiff and disjointed.


For a stuttering heartbeat, Barbara was overwhelmed with images and sensations. Almost instantly, the sensory memories faded, and she was struck by the realization of an utter lack of sensory stimuli. Even as she battled with something much too metaphysical for her comfort, a small analytical portion of her brain noted that she should be grateful that the entire monosyllabic conversation had taken place so quickly. It meant that she was still lying down and the wave of dizzy disbelief that washed over her didn't knock her flat.

The impossibility of thinking about those moments, given that she had simply no frame of reference, was astounding. Accordingly, she tackled the elements of the experience that, hopefully, would be more comprehensible.

"How -- ?"

Although she was a little surprised that Babs had jumped right to the sixty-four thousand dollar question, Helena figured that anybody who did the Lazarus thing was entitled to get right to the heart of matters.

Very gently, she rested her hand on Barbara's, managing to still her partner's restless fidgeting with the covers. The warmth of Barbara's skin, her wonderful solidity and *thereness*, went a long way in easing the sour taste that threatened to crawl up Helena's throat every time she thought about those horrible minutes two days before.


Red lashes blinked once.


Then green eyes widened, confusion morphing into disbelief and inevitably settling into recognition.

Helena nodded slowly.

When Barbara had... died on Tuesday afternoon-- When Dinah and Gabby had pulled Helena off her and she'd heard Katie wailing from her crib in the bedroom, just like she fuckin' *knew* something bad had gone down--

Well, Helena hadn't been thinking miracles. She just knew that she owed it to their daughter to give her any remaining time that she could with her mother.

It was important.

She'd slipped once running down the short hallway; the blood on her clothes and shoes was still slippery. She'd slowed down coming back, but probably not more than a minute or two had gone by since... since Barbara had shut her eyes.

She'd put Katie on Barbara's stomach and then lifted Barbara's hand, trying not to think how cold and lifeless it was, and rested it on Katharine's back. That's when all the energy and will had just drained away, and she'd curled up on the floor next to Barbara, holding Barbara's hand against their daughter.

Willing it all to go away.

She'd felt it first. A few seconds before hearing Dinah's startled squeak, Helena had felt a small shiver in the hand she held in hers.

And then... Well, honest to god, if she hadn't seen the shards of bone and shredded flesh knitting, if Dinah and Gabby hadn't seen it, Helena could have pretended it was all a dream.

A nightmare.


The lone syllable was small and lost.


Helena figured there was no need to go into all of the agonizing hours since then. Barbara had been alive... breathing, but she sure as hell hadn't showed any signs of waking up. Waiting it out had been too much a taste of what could have been.

"My goodness."

Blinking, Barbara worked to digest-- or synthesize-- or merely to grasp-- what this might portend.

In hindsight, of course, she couldn't pretend to be completely surprised. Apart from the mysterious disappearance of the clear cell cancer that had nearly caused her to terminate her pregnancy over a year before, there had been other signs: Dinah's sunburn at the pool in June; Helena's gouged finger when she -- well, then "he" -- had been assembling Katie's crib in late spring; the fact that she, herself, had barely suffered from her usual hay fever, from any of the usual high school crud viruses, or, for that matter, from a hangnail since giving birth.

Clearly, chalking matters up to aloe vera after-burn lotions or to testosterone-enhanced meta-healing or to the efficacy of breast-feeding was a severe slight to their daughter's abilities.

With that, Barbara recalled herself and looked across the room.

The crib was empty.


Flailing, she struggled to sit up. She simply couldn't entertain the possibility of what Katharine's miracle of healing could have cost.

"Where is she?!"

Barbara's panic was unmistakable, and Helena was pretty sure she'd followed her partner's train of thought enough to get what lay behind it. Instantly, she caught Barbara's shoulders and helped hold her upright.

"S'okay, Red."

The redhead stilled her efforts to throw the covers off, but her upper body remained tense. Stuffing a couple of pillows behind her back, Helena sought green eyes.

"Alfred's showing her how to cook -- "

Pointedly -- and purely for show -- Helena sniffed, confirming the scents that had been wafting from the kitchen for the last hour.

"-- turkey and all the fixings."

Alfred had managed to shoo her out of the bedroom for a little while the day before -- to "take some air with Miss Katharine" -- but Helena hadn't been willing to budge yet this day. Something had told her that she needed to be there, but that didn't mean she was gonna keep The Peapod cooped up with her all day.


Although her voice was still a little... lost, Barbara's smile was, finally, real. Helena's was even more so.

"It sure is."

Sure, none of 'em would do justice to whatever Alfred was putting together. Hell, Babs would probably stay hooked up to the IV Ringers and glucose solution that they'd put her on after pumping her full of the blood that she insisted that each of them keep in storage. But Helena was planning on celebrating big time.

She had a helluva lot to be thankful for.

Pretty certain that Red was over her bout of freaking out, Helena stretched over to the night table and retrieved the cup of water that she'd kept handy with a bendy straw already positioned in it.

The liquid tasted like ambrosia when Barbara managed a few swallows. Somehow, she forced herself not to gulp, accepting the cup from her partner and idly tapping against her legs as she waited to see if it would stay down.

A tentative question drew her from an array of confusing thoughts concerning all things metaphysical.

"So, uh, I guess that Katie doesn't think your legs need fixing, huh?"

Relieved to have something relatively factual to focus on, Barbara pursed her lips, contemplating her daughter's rather amazing abilities and the fact that she hadn't seen fit to use them to repair her spine. Giving a mental shrug, she nodded.

"Either the damage occurred too long ago or she simply doesn't see that part of me as... broken."

When Helena nodded, Barbara firmly pushed thoughts about other attempts to the back burner. There would be time enough to see what Katie was capable of later.

"So, how are you feeling now?"

Deciding that her experimental drink wasn't going to bounce, Barbara took another sip, then reached over to settle the cup on her night stand. The movement gave her time to reorient to some of the physical manifestations of her recent experience, most notably the soreness in her chest.

"Like I laid down the bike," she finally allowed.

In her nights on the street so many years ago, during various high speed chases on her souped-up Ducati, there had been more than one occasion when Barbara had undergone an unexpected dismount. Even with the heavy latex and neoprene of her costume, such occurrences inevitably resulted in a wicked case of road rash and some phenomenal bruising.

It was remarkably similar to how her chest currently felt.

Testing herself, she inhaled deeply and considered her analogy. She decided that it was a bit lacking.

"And then got run over by a truck."

Wide blue eyes widened, presumably in surprise, before Helena barked out a laugh. In deference to her sore chest, Barbara simply worked a smile as they shared an image of the Wile E. Coyote-esque sequence of events that she'd painted.

When they sobered, Barbara reached for her partner's hand and added the rest.

"Considering the alternative, I feel wonderful."

Chapter 7

"Honestly, Sweetheart, you don't need to fuss so."

The sweetheart in question paused in the act of tucking an afghan around Barbara's legs and looked up, one slender hand resting on the arm of the couch. The pointed elevation of a dark eyebrow and the patent disbelief in bright blue eyes eloquently expressed the younger woman's thoughts on the matter.

Barbara found a clue.

"But I do appreciate it, Hel."

That earned her a half smile, enough to make enduring the careful attentions of her lover less trying.

That thought brought with it a wash of guilt, and Barbara instantly corrected herself.

It wasn't Helena's care-taking that had her on edge. It wasn't the slow, gentle shower that Helena had helped her with, shampooing her hair with an attention that would have done Lady Macbeth proud, that was causing her to chafe. It wasn't the deliberation that Helena had insisted on in choosing her wardrobe -- sweatpants and a button-up shirt -- that had her antsy. It wasn't even Helena's refusal to allow her to navigate her manual chair down the short hallway by herself that had her ready to say something a bit... curt.

Rather, it was her own growing desire -- need, perhaps -- to get back into her world, to see Katharine, to ascertain what had occurred while she'd been... sleeping. She was, Barbara decided, very ready to catch up with her life.

It was at that moment, just as Helena finally straightened and stepped back, apparently satisfied with her efforts in transferring her from the chair to the couch and getting her settled, that Alfred appeared from the kitchen. In his arms, with what appeared to be a smudge of flour on her nose, was the solution to at least one part of Barbara's edginess.

Honestly, the redhead couldn't be sure whether to attribute the uncanny timing to the abilities of stellar butlers everywhere or to the sensitivity of this particular friend and confidant.

"Hello, Alfred."

He came to a stop beside the sofa, his expression remaining bland despite the warmth in his eyes.

"Miss Barbara. It's a pleasure to see you."

Despite the manners that had been drilled into her by her Aunt Barbara, she found it difficult to concentrate on her old friend when a curly red head turned and the wide blue eyes of her daughter focused on her.

"Thank you, Alfred. I'm glad to see you, too."

Gratefully, she accepted Katharine from him, cradling the back of her head in her palm and cuddling her to her chest. A soft coo, actually a series of M-sounds that could have been mistaken for a word, nearly distracted her from the immediate purr that vibrated against her. The answering ache in her chest left Barbara wondering if her injury were not as fully healed as she'd assumed.

"Would you like me to prepare a bottle for Miss Katharine?"

The bump of a little head against her chin suggested that Katie might be weighing in on the matter, however Barbara thought that she should make things clear as well.

"No, thank you, Alfred. I'd like to feed her."

It was true that the ten-month-old was starting on soft cereal, but Barbara was fully convinced of the benefits of breastfeeding and intended to continue for as long as she could. Truth be told, she'd also discovered that she enjoyed the process far more than she ever would have imagined; rather than feeling like a human milking station, she felt connected to her daughter -- and to a nurturing side of herself -- in the most intrinsic of ways.

"Well, that's good news, Kitty," Helena leaned in to buss the soft spot on the back of their daughter's head. "We were down to the last bottle that your mom had on ice for you and might have had to go with the imitation."

"Formula?" Barbara allowed one brow to arch. "Heaven forbid."

With Alfred discretely returning to duties in the kitchen, Barbara shifted her daughter to one arm and worked the top buttons of her shirt. Immediately, the infant burrowed forward, one soft chubby hand coming to rest on the reddened patch on Barbara's chest as her mouth latched on to a nipple.


Stunned all over again by the odd events and amazing individuals that filled her life, Barbara looked up into her lover's eyes.

Katharine truly did have her mother's eyes.

"I'm utterly at a loss in terms of what to think about what she did, Hel."

At some point during her shower, possibly during Helena's second application of baby shampoo, the redhead had decided to decide that Katharine had resuscitated her rather than actually... well, returning her from the dead. From what Helena had told her, the healing had occurred only a minute or two after she had... left.

While the difference was theoretical at best from a metaphysical perspective, from a medical point of view, it was huge.

Not to mention from the point of view of her sanity.

Helena's smile was sympathetic, perhaps even a touch rueful.

"No kidding, Red."

Since Barbara still looked pretty... lost, Helena dropped down to perch on the edge of the coffee table and quirked a grin.

"Just promise that you're not going to go hooking her up to electrodes or anything, okay?"

It wasn't like Barbara would go all Dr. Mengele or something on The Peapod, but she did have a curious streak a mile wide. And, hell, with Studs' cage parked prominently on the far end of the computer table, Helena figured that temptation might just rear up.

As she'd hoped, the question earned her a rueful chuckle.

"Scout's honor, Hel."

Sobering, Barbara turned her gaze back to the small being in her arms. Emotions roiled in her chest, overwhelming in number and intensity.

"I'm not even sure what to feel about it all, Hel."

Helena knew the admission wasn't an easy one for the redhead, and she gave it its due. Stretching forward, she captured Barbara's free hand, circling her thumb gently over the palm.

"Sometimes you just have to stop thinking about what you're supposed to feel, Barbara, and.. just feel."

While she didn't doubt the wisdom of Helena's words, Barbara wasn't certain that she was quite ready to reconcile herself with the application of the words. It was too soon.

Too much.

Accordingly, she shifted gears.

"What happened with Mandrill, Hel?"

As she'd suspected it might, the question neatly ended the softer moment. Her partner's face hardened as she stood and moved toward the gear closet. When Helena spoke, her voice was utterly devoid of inflection.

"He's not going to bother us again."

Without looking back, Helena opened the door to the closet and started digging for the supplies she needed. She knew that she was pretty much cutting Barbara off, but she figured there wasn't any reason to go into the crushed husk that the ambulance had carted off to the hospital.

Or to think anymore about how the bastard had died in surgery. Alfred and Dinah and Gabby had already put in some serious time with Detective Reese to get it all cleared up.

So, she owed Jesse a favor -- or another favor -- and there was no reason for Red to worry about the man who had set everything off.

While Barbara freely -- and sometimes cheerfully -- allowed that she wasn't the quickest on the uptake with emotional matters, she had no problem reading her partner's expression when she returned.


Helena's nod was brief as she grabbed Barbara's chair and dragged it over to rest next to the Delphi platform.


She watched Helena seat herself on the edge of the platform and drop a bundle of something into the seat of the chair, then Barbara was distracted by a bit of squirming from the other party in the room. In the process of getting Katharine settled on her other side, the redhead noticed her laptop resting on the coffee table, within easy reach.

Presumably another one of Helena's -- or perhaps Alfred's -- thoughtful touches.

Musing on using the computer to do a bit of investigation into the topic of Mike Mandrill was interrupted by a rattle from the Delphi platform.

Time enough for that sort of investigation later.

"What on earth," she craned her neck just a bit to take in the picture of her companion busily... fussing with her chair, "are you doing with my chair, Hel?"

The brunette looked over, flashing her a grin. Without conscious intent, Barbara felt an answering smile touch her lips.

"Putting in a seatbelt."

The smile that had crept across Barbara's features ebbed into something more quizzical as the redhead pondered the response.

Safety was important, however this seemed a bit extreme.

"Are you certain that's necessary, Hel? I have been sitting without much difficulty for quite a while."

Giving an exaggerated roll of her eyes, Helena waved the small length of webbing that she'd been measuring.

"It's not for you. It's to hold Kat in."

Green eyes blinked.

"Excuse me?"

Helena straightened from her measuring and extended the makeshift belt in front of her.

"So you don't have to hold her when you're trying to move around."

She fastened the two ends together with the Velcro she'd just glued in place.

"The Velcro will make it quick for you to fasten her in."

For a moment, Barbara worked to digest that, then she collected herself.

"What about the motorized ch--"

The younger woman cut her short.

"It's gone."

Barbara nodded slowly, finally grasping what Helena was up to and the reasons behind it.

Earlier, in the bedroom, when Helena had appeared with the manual chair, Barbara had assumed that her motorized chair was temporarily out of commission. Given the... situation of two days before, it was hardly unreasonable to expect that some mechanical fixes or cleaning might be required.

Apparently not, thank heavens.

Touched beyond words, the redhead raised their finally-sated daughter to her shoulder and rubbed between her shoulder blades.

"I don't think that Velcro will hold her," she observed.

Katharine's physical development certainly had been at the top of the curve, and Barbara saw no reason to suspect that it wouldn't continue to be so.

"Yeah, but you'll hear --"

A surprisingly robust burp interrupted their conversation, and a smile passed between the two mommies as Barbara settled Katharine into her lap.

"You'll hear the sound of the Velcro rrrrippping -- " A visual and audible demonstration accompanied Helena's description. "-- if she pulls it open."


Barbara tilted her head to one side and blinked.

"Thank you, Hel."

Her efforts to find some other way to express herself were interrupted by the arrival of the elevator. Barbara barely had time to lift Katie to one side before she found herself enveloped in a hugely enthusiastic -- if somewhat gingerly applied -- hug.

"My goodness, Dinah."

It was the best she could manage as she worked to slow her heart rate. Something about the unexpected arrival of the elevator had set it racing.

"Oh, god, Barbara! Alfred called and said you were up, so I got here as fast as I could. I mean -- "

The blonde finally released her, dropping to the cushion next to her on the couch.

"-- I was already on the way back from Gabby's and I was here earlier, but I had to leave just to --"

Taking care to insure that she was smiling, Barbara raised her free hand, palm out.

"It's fine, Dinah."

She was quite aware that Dinah *and* Gabby had been Sitting Shivah, so to speak, at the Tower for the last day and a half. It had been Alfred, according to Helena, who had finally insisted that Gabby spend at least a few hours of the holiday with her family; apparently, Dinah had been persuaded to accompany her.

"How are you, Honey?"

While a great many details from the events of two days before remained mercifully hazy, Barbara was very aware of the implications for her most recent protege. Resultantly, she was resigned to tackling what could grow to be a very large elephant in the room sooner rather than later.

"I'm just so glad that you're okay and -- "

Barbara interrupted what had the signs of being a typical verbal deluge without a qualm.

"You, Dinah."

Pale blue eyes met hers. To Barbara's surprise, the young woman didn't hide behind her hair or any of her usual nervous mannerisms when she finally spoke.

"I... I don't know how to feel about any of it, Barbara."

"Few would, Dinah."

She remained still under Dinah's inspection for several long heartbeats. Eventually, the girl nodded.

"It'll be okay, right?"

Already nodding, Barbara was spared a verbal response by the appearance of Helena, who was pushing the manual chair toward the training room, several ribbons of Velcro-enhanced webbing slung over one shoulder.


Helena was determined that her answer *would* be the truth. Barreling along, she smiled broadly at Barbara and set to work to make it happen.

"You mind if I put the kibosh on the whole sensitive chat thing for now?"

It wasn't hard to pick up on the fact that Dinah's headshake almost rivaled Barbara's in enthusiasm, and Helena swallowed her snort of amusement.

Pretty clearly, Dinah wasn't immune to the influence of Barbara's distaste for the touchier aspects of relationships.

"C'mon, Kid, I want to solder these D-rings to the chair and you can hold 'em with your TK."

Dinah was already up and on the way to the training room before Helena saw her grin falter a little, and she wondered if the blonde had caught the use of the nickname that had slipped out. It had been a while since Helena had used it, but she wasn't surprised.

Point of fact, it was Dinah who was the surprised one when they got into the training room and Helena shut the door behind them and then spun around to face the younger woman. Ignoring the Kid's startled blink, she stepped close, backing the girl up against the padded wall. As an afterthought, Helena hooked her index finger into the ribbed collar of Dinah's NGU sweatshirt and gave a little tug.

"Pay attention, Kid. This is important."

Pretty certain that Dinah was about to go all mouthy on her, Helena raised her free hand to her lips in a shushing motion. When Dinah's mouth snapped shut, she leaned in, making sure to keep her voice down.

The padding on the walls dampened sound from the room but didn't cut it out all the way from the living area.

"You can't do this gig half-way."

She'd already questioned her own half-wayness. She didn't have all the answers for herself, but she sure as hell needed to put some of the same questions into Dinah's head.

"What are you talking about, Hel? And let me--"

Helena cut her short.

"Listen. I know I have to blame myself first cuz if I hadn't wanted to get my body back so bad you never would have had to do what you did."

She waited, finally getting a cautious nod from her companion.

"But that doesn't mean you don't share the blame."

She closed the non-existant distance between them and let her voice drop to a growl.

"I know what you were up to with him."

Barbara had talked to her during the summer about discovering that Dinah had visited Mandrill in jail. A quick phone call to Jesse yesterday and some simple addition made it all clear.

"Visiting that asshole and doing the goody-two shoes guilt thing -- "

Probably trying to draw him out about using the wand. And for certain running off at the mouth and giving him an in about who Dinah was and how to find her... and them.

Still, Helena had to hand it to the girl: she didn't back down.

"That's right, Hel."

Suddenly, the skinny teenager was standing tall and brushing Helena's hand off her shirt.

"I screwed up. But it's not like I'm the only one who's ever screwed up and let the Tower get invaded, is it?"

Yeah, the Kid was learning how to hold her own.

"No, you're not."

Forcing herself to push aside the guilt that she thought she'd worked through over the little Quinn debacle, Helena narrowed her eyes.

"So, everybody on the team gets one biggie. You just claimed yours earlier than I did mine."

After a second's hesitation, she corralled her temper, blew out a breath, and took two steps back.

"But remember that this job isn't all sunshine and kittens, Dinah."

She chewed at the inside of her cheek and turned to look at the rack of staffs on the far wall before she could finish.

"If you can't stop wearing your heart on your sleeves for these scumbags, then you better pack it up now because I'm not going to let this happen to Katie or Barbara again."

When she looked back, pale blue eyes had gone flat and hard. Dinah's voice was pure ice.

"Don't worry about me. I'm not going to let something like this happen again."

Deliberately, Helena raked her up and down, taking her measure.

"We're not done yet, Kid."

Chapter 8

Helena wasn't sleeping. She couldn't.

At least not right now.

Helena wasn't really surprised. She had managed to snag a nap out in the living room this afternoon, after their holiday dinner.

Hell, it had been a requirement after the way the whole Thanksgiving meal was so weird: Dinah had been kinda quiet after their little chat in the training room earlier; Barbara had put up a bold front, sipping cranberry juice and picking at a piece of pumpkin pie, but Helena had known she was tired; and Helena wasn't sure why, but she really hadn't had much of an appetite. Out of the whole family, only Katharine and Alfred had seemed like they were enjoying the get-together.

So, yeah, escaping to the living area and some football on the big screen had been a serious relief. Then, with Barbara and The Kid nattering about nothing she wanted to listen to, it had been easy enough to curl up in the wing chair with Katie and shut her eyes.

And, now, well, who could blame a girl for being not sleepy?

Especially now.

Shifting minutely under the covers, Helena curled a smidge closer to Barbara. When her partner responded to the movement by humming softly in her sleep, Helena somehow -- and just barely -- managed to push down the rumbling that tickled her chest.

Sooo not going to sleep just then.

The bedroom was almost black in the darkness of night, but Helena's senses were fully attuned. Her nerves thrummed in readiness; her muscles refused to let go fully.

Just like it had been since she'd felt Barbara relax against her and drift into sleep. Since then, she'd been spooned up next to Barbara, just... being there.

She knew her eyes were augmented; there was no problem seeing Barbara's pale features under the mane of her hair. She could hear the almost sub vocal mewling murmurs of their kitten in her crib, the sound counterpointed by Barbara's soft sleep noises. Opening her mouth slightly, she leaned in, drawing in the scent of her hair, her skin.

Finally, mercifully, there was no longer any hint of coppery blood; only the baby shampoo that she'd used earlier and the sweet scent that was all Barbara's filled her.

Gingerly, Helena brushed her face against her partner's, feeling the fine downy hair on her cheek rise in response.

Still, it was the sound of Barbara's steady respirations -- breathing in, breathing out -- that just seemed to be drawing her closer. Unable to resist, Helena drew in her lover's air, easily detecting a hint of the herbal tea that Barbara had been drinking before bed. Unwilling to deny it, she settled back to watch the rise and fall of her lover's chest under the faded lettering of the PALS tee shirt that she'd selected for bed. Impossible to fight, Helena allowed her hand to rise and then settle lightly on Barbara's chest, her fingertips easily detecting the steady thump of the great heart beneath her hand.


Shutting her eyes, the brunette eased her hand away, bringing it to her own chest.

It hurt.

For a minute or two, she tried to concentrate on her own breathing. She breathed in, then exhaled long and slow, trying to keep her chest from growing and aching from too much.

She couldn't. It wouldn't stay inside.

Without opening her eyes, she slipped from under the covers and silently padded into the master bathroom. The click of the door shutting seemed loud in the silence, and she readied herself by the door until the continuing sounds of rhythmic breathing convinced her that she hadn't roused anyone. Only then did she open her eyes and step over to the sink.

Helena didn't turn on the light. She didn't need it.

Or want it.

She could easily see the ghost of her reflection in the mirror over the counter. Swallowing roughly, she heard her own hiccup and spun around to turn on the shower to cover her noise.


She looked at her reflection again, watching the clouds of steam begin to obscure her. Then, just because there was no reason to waste all of that hot water, she shed her boxers and the Devo shirt she'd snagged from Barbara and stepped into the oversized stall.

It was hot, but it wasn't hot enough. Lifting her face into the spray, Helena reached out, turning back the cold with her right hand and throttling the hot all the way up with her left. Then, she stood there, letting it strike her face and wash over her skin and run down the drain.

Years ago, around the time that Helena had really started patrolling in earnest and had started coming back to the Tower covered in... stuff, Barbara had had a huge-assed oversized hot water heater put it. Over the years, it had gone a long way in allowing the brunette to master all three hundred verses of the Rubber Ducky song.

This night, it kept the hot water coming for a long time. Helena wasn't sure how long, only that at some point it had finally gone cold.

She took her time toweling off, wrapping a second towel around her hair while she shimmied back into her sleep outfit. For about half-a-second, she flirted with crawling back to bed with wet hair, then gave up and started blotting at it with the towel.

Hedgehog head was so 1997.

Still, with all of the blotting and rubbing she was having to do so she didn't wake anyone up with the dryer, she had to wonder if it was time to trim it back to her usual short length. It was getting long, damned near down to the collar of her tee shirt, and the maintenance stuff was a hassle.

In the darkness, Helena quirked a half-grin, knowing there was no way she was cutting her hair yet. She kind of liked it long, especially when she and Barbara were on the couch together and Barbara was reading or grading papers or doing her big brain thing. That's when Helena could work herself down to rest her head on her partner's leg and, sure as eggs is eggs, she'd feel Red's hand come to her hair, just sort of stroking and letting her hair sift through strong fingers.

Yeah, longer was good.

Her smile feeling pretty good, Helena stepped silently from the bathroom and came to a sudden stop.

"Oh - shit."

Barbara was sitting up in the big bed, the dim light of the bedside lamp glinting off the metal IV pole that was parked next to her.

"I'm sorry, Barbara," she kept her voice down, aware that the other occupant of the room was still sleeping. "Did I wake you?"

The redhead shook her head minutely and smiled.

"No, Hel."

Technically, it was the truth. It had been Helena's absence, the niggling awareness that she was no longer being watched, that had somehow permeated Barbara's sleeping brain and dragged her to wakefulness.

"Why are you up showering at this hour?"

She kept her tone mild, even if the duration of the shower that she'd heard had almost caused her to investigate.

The brunette's smile was tight. Her unconcerned shrug, a bit too offhand.

"Tryptophan high?"

Completely unconvinced, Barbara simply hummed noncommittally and patted the bed beside her. Instantly, Helena was next to her, stretching out on the covers to rest her head on her lap and wrap her arms around her waist.


Helena snugged her arms a little tighter around Barbara, making sure that she was hugging where her partner had sensation. Then she buried her face against her stomach and closed her eyes.

Barbara was back. Everything else was just details.


Barbara's voice was soft.

"Did something happen?"

Surrendering to the overwhelming feeling of being with the exact person that she was supposed to be with, Helena simply shook her head. With the scent of Barbara -- so clean and pure and just utterly Barbara -- filling her, there wasn't anything she could say.

"Sweetheart -- "

Feeling her brows knit, Barbara carded her fingers through Helena's hair. The silky strands were barely damp. In response, she received a murmur that was lost as Helena nosed against her stomach.

"-- I'm getting a little worried."

The younger woman finally looked up.


Barbara felt a smile tug at her lips.

"I see."

Struck by a wave of tenderness, the redhead brushed the knuckles of her hand lightly across her partner's cheek. Before she understood what was happening, her index finger had been caught between sharp teeth and pulled into the wet heat and soft suction of Helena's mouth.

Unable to deny the rushing electricity that pulsed in response to the pulling of her lover's mouth, she caught her breath and drank in the vision of her partner, seemingly lost in her absorption. Distantly, she managed to wonder if Helena were even aware of the effect she was having.

The tickle of the stud in her partner's tongue against the vee of her fingers persuaded Barbara that it was past time to stop wondering. Carefully she extricated her hand and tipped her fingers under the sharp line of her lover's jaw.


The world, the night, rushed back on her, and Helena shook her head, painting on a rueful smile.


Crimson brows rose a few millimeters.


"It's -- I'm-- " She shook her head, wishing for the right words. "It's not that."

For a heartbeat, Barbara seemed to look inside her.


The word -- her name -- was breathed so softly. Helena almost could have missed the note of command.

But, she didn't.

Without thinking, she was in Barbara's lap, her legs straddling Barbara's thighs, their mouths mated so hard... so hot... so fast. The kiss was so deep it almost had Helena coming right then before she remembered and pulled away.

"God, B--"

Four word, spoken over a breath in the silence, seared her.

"Let me touch you."

Already, she could see that Barbara's lips were swollen from their kiss. Helena ran her tongue across her own lips and whispered her own four words.

"It's not about that."

Eyes that were almost black, banded with a thin rim of emerald, found blue.

"It is for me."

Normally, Barbara didn't find herself in the position of needing to persuade her lover. Yet, she saw Helena's need, and she wouldn't deny her own.

"Let -- "

Stretching forward, she brought her mouth to the shell of the younger woman's ear.

"-- me touch you."

She felt the shiver that coursed through wiry muscles, and pressed her lips to the soft skin of Helena's throat.


Helena almost bolted when Barbara ran a hand down her side.


She also almost screamed from being turned on and trying to do the right thing.

"You're -- "

She captured that wickedly knowing hand in hers, rubbing her thumb across the sharp ridges of Barbara's knuckles.

"You're supposed to be resting."

She kept her eyes focused on the beautiful hand in hers, but from the periphery of her vision, Helena saw Barbara raise her other hand, setting the tubing that was hooked to the IV bag swinging.

"This glucose drip is remarkably bracing, Sweetie."

They shared a smile, then Helena sobered.

"Still, you're heal--"

Barbara was having none of it. Ducking her head, she caught her lover's eyes with hers, offering something.

"Let me touch you, Helena."

The words were low, but somehow they seemed to fill the sacrosanct stillness of the darkened room.

Helena didn't want to. Fuck, she didn't even know if she could come... or how she could do it without crying. But, like most everything with Barbara, there was only one answer that she knew.


Chapter 9

She'd tried the usual stuff, the boxing jabs and spinning kicks and backward elbow thrusts, but it wasn't what she was looking for. Now Helena had the heavy bag off its hook and down on the floor of the training room, and she was giving it hell.

Over and over, the bottom side of her clenched fists came pounding down. The dull thwack of skin meeting leather was echoed by a single word the reverberated through her brain.


Helena raised her right fist over her head, bringing it down as hard as she could in another hammer-blow. Her left immediately followed.

No. No.

Three more measured blows, each with its own happy little chorus line.

No. No. No.

Then she stopped counting, just letting loose with a flurry of fists to the bag.


That had felt pretty good, so Helena stood, ducking her head to wipe the sweat off her face against the shoulder of her sweatshirt. Then she took aim and started kicking the bag with enough force to inch it across the mats that covered the floor.

She couldn't do this any more.

She. Just. Fucking. Couldn't.

Here it was, the first day back at classes after Thanksgiving, and she'd sailed onto the balcony this afternoon just in time to see Barbara inching her manual chair up the ramp to the Delphi. Yeah, Katie had laid hands and all the week before, but there had been a lot of damage, and moving around was still hard on Barbara.

Helena hadn't even wanted her to go to school, but, no surprise, Barbara had just come up with some lame story about a fender-bender to explain why she was "a little sore" and gone on in to teach all day. Helena had been trying to beat her home from running inventory at the Dark Horse, just so she could have some hot tea and a bath ready, but she hadn't made it.

It hurt to see that Red was having to fuckin' *work* to get up there. It hurt more that she was working so hard to get up there.

Panting just a little, Helena stopped kicking at the bag, surprised to realize that it had moved halfway across the room and was jammed under the pommel horse.


She snagged the chain at the top end and gave a jerk. As she dragged the dead weight back to the middle of the room it hit her: Not quite nine months before, when she'd been sporting a guy's body, and she and Barbara had been having brunch at the Roosevelt, and Miz Harkness had showed up and made her spray her salad or something all over the table: Helena had been waving down the wait-staff for fresh place settings when she'd realized that she'd just gotten it.

This town that Barbara fought so hard to protect was seriously screwed up. Or, just screwed.

Somehow, in the process of getting her body back and trying to smooth things over with Dinah and, well, just doing their thing, Helena had let the epiphany fade, but that didn't make it go away, and no matter how hard they tried, they weren't going to fix the world.

Hell, just changing it was pretty much off the table, too.

Shaking her head roughly, the brunette swiped her forearm across her forehead and then dropped onto the heavy bag to start another round of punching.

She couldn't do this. They couldn't do it.

* * * * *

"I give up, Katie."

Shaking her head, Barbara pulled off her glasses and set them on the table next to her mouse. Barely registering the characters on the screen, she logged out of several terminal sessions and then quickly verified that the Shimmer Project code that she'd been testing was still running.

The code, so far, had worked very well as a way to hide her ports cryptographically while she logged in to various locations. An added bonus was the possibility of retrofitting some of the source code to support the encryption/decryption algorithms that she'd been allowing to languish for the last year.

However, she wouldn't be tackling that today. The ongoing Bam-Bam-Bam echoing from the training room, presumably indicating the repeated application of something against the heavy bag, was simply too pervasive for concentration.

"Have all of the young women in my life gone a little mad, today?"

Barbara didn't realize that she'd vocalized her question until the very young woman sharing her manual chair responded with an emphatic gurgle. Smiling, Barbara looked down, discovering that her glasses were now being clutched in a tiny little fist with Katie busily gumming on one lens.

"I was referring to the young women of age, Katie," she murmured.

The statement was certainly true enough on at least one count. When Dinah had come by the high school at lunch to bring Katharine for *her* lunch, Barbara had been delighted to see her. Given the events of the last week, she was determined to keep an eye on the blonde in the event of... emotional fallout.

When Dinah had dropped the bombshell of all bombshells, Barbara had realized that her plans might be overdue.

"I'm sorry, Dinah."

In the act of unhooking her nursing bra, she'd had to look up, certain that she'd misunderstood. Given that her companion was turned toward the wall, ostensibly inspecting her bulletin board while giving her the privacy to get Katharine settled, it wasn't out of the realm of possibility.

"What did you say?"

The sensation of tiny fingers pulling at hers had reminded Barbara of the task at hand, so to speak, and without looking away from Dinah's face in profile, she'd finished getting Katharine accommodated.

"I said that I'm dropping out of college, Barbara."

It had taken a few discontented bumps from her daughter's head to her chest for Barbara to recover from her complete shock. To her surprise, she had managed to relax enough for Katharine to procure her meal.

Quite certainly, the necessary delay had been fortuitous in that it had given Barbara time enough to collect her wits and attempt to draw out her former ward about her reasons.

"I just need to focus on more important things, Barbara."

There had been no hesitation, no nervousness. Dinah's tone had been one of calm certainty; the set of her jaw, one of determination.

Somehow, Barbara had managed a concession that the young woman would complete the semester. With only two weeks before finals, she was gratified that Dinah embraced the wisdom of not abandoning the work she'd done.

She hadn't tried to push for anything further at that point with Dinah.

Now, however, she simply couldn't put off investigating whatever was going on with the other young woman in her life. Helena had stalked into the Tower not too many minutes before, and with barely a greeting had dropped her books on the coffee table and headed straight into the training room to pound out god-knew-what frustrations.

"Don't be in a hurry to grow up, Katharine."

She accompanied the request with a bit of sleight of hand, offering the tiny redhead her spare optical mouse in exchange for her glasses. That done, she cruised down the ramp and settled Katharine into her bouncer in the living room before turning to the training room.

Given her energetic daughter's physical development, Barbara had to acknowledge that she would not have been surprised to find Katie bouncing the device across the floor in her wake. However, when Barbara reached the doorway and looked back, the infant seemed content to chew on the mouse for the time being.

Working up her courage, Barbara cracked the door to the training room. Within, she saw Helena on the mat-covered floor, apparently attempting to wrestle the heavy bag into submission, possibly in homage to the UFC sorts of silliness that she'd been attempting to hook Barbara on.

From the corner of the room, the opening strains of a song that Barbara hadn't heard in years warbled forth from the boom box.


Here I am
Just like I said I would be
I'm your friend
Just like you think it should be
Did you think I would stand here and lie
As our moment was passing us by?


Barbara didn't attempt to hide her smile as she entered the room.

"Is my 80's fetish rubbing off on you, Hel?"

The question was tempered with gentle affection, erasing most of Helena's ire over being interrupted.

"If you can't beat 'em, right?"

Barbara allowed one eyebrow to tick upward just a bit and then inclined her head toward the heavy bag -- or the remains thereof.

Honestly, she'd just replaced the bag not five months before.

"Who are you beating here?"

Rising gracefully to her feet, Helena followed the direction of emerald eyes. She thought she felt just little warmer when she realized what a pounding she'd given to the bag.

"Just --"

She shrugged and snagged her towel, looping it around her neck.

"-- stuff."

Not quite ready to let it go so easily, the redhead moved a dozen feet further into the room, taking care that the door remained open behind her so that they could hear Katharine.

"Ah. I thought it might have to do with your Children's Lit assignment."

It was a softball that she'd lobbed. Barbara was quite aware that Helena had completed her field assignment in early October. To the redhead's surprise, her partner had met with the classroom of fifth graders without displaying her usual horror of all things school-related. Nevertheless, Barbara *had* seen the T.H.White book on the coffee table with an educator's visitor pass for one of the elementary schools tucked inside, offering her a reasonable opening.


The brunette raised the ends of her towel and dabbed at her face.

"It was kind of fun last time, so I thought I'd go back and do a different chapter."

Caught flat-footed, it took Barbara a beat to catch up.

"That's wonderful, Hel."

Her partner continued to read to Katharine each day -- from a variety of sources -- however, Barbara certainly hadn't expected her interest to extend beyond the family.

"Which chapter are you covering this time?"

The younger woman took a few steps closer, blue eyes peering from under dark bangs.

"The one where The Wart gets turned into an ant?"

Barbara nodded, even as she worked to conceal her puzzlement. If Helena chose to focus on the early chapters, in which Merlin transformed the young Arthur into a variety of animals to foster his education, Barbara had simply assumed that she'd select the chapter that dealt with his transformation into a bird of prey.

"You know, how Art's learning and everything."

"Dinah's dropping out of university."

The segue wasn't completely out of left field. Hell, Helena could even follow the little neural leaps that Barbara's brain had made in jumping from literature to Dinah. But, judging from the way those gorgeous green eyes got wide, Helena sort of thought that Red hadn't been expecting to just blurt it out.

Catching her lower lip in her upper teeth, the brunette dropped onto the weight bench and gave herself a second to consider the news. She hadn't heard about any of this from The Kid, but she really couldn't say she was surprised.

Not like Barbara clearly was. Heck, knowing how proud Barbara was about Dinah's brain thing, Helena had to figure that the redhead probably had had a cow or something when she found out.

A second later, Helena changed her mind on that. After all, Barbara had always been good about letting them make their own choices.

Which, the brunette remembered a little sourly, was part of the reason they were in the situation they were in.

"Maybe she's got the right idea, Barbara."

Although Barbara had certainly not expected to broach her conversation about Dinah quite so... abruptly, she found herself relieved to be able to unburden herself. Her partner's response, regrettably, did little to ease her confusion.

"I'm not following, Hel."

Closing the small distance the remained between them, Barbara snagged one of the two-pound weights, idly working it from hand to hand.

"Well, what about Katie?"


The redhead settled the small weight on one thigh and blinked.

"What about her?"

Honestly, Katharine shouldn't be starting college for at least another decade...

Perhaps fortuitously, Helena's reply cut short Barbara's thoughts about looking into college prep activities for toddlers.

"So are we just gonna carry her around on sweeps in her snugli to do the laying-on of hands any time somebody gets injured?"

"Of course not, Helena."

Absolutely certain that she did not care for the implication behind the question, Barbara didn't even try to quash the snappish tone of her response. Her ire didn't seem to deter Helena in the slightest.

"Well then, what about her?"

This time, Barbara took a deep breath, forcing herself to try to read behind the confrontational words. Taking in her companion's serious expression and the pain in her eyes, she softened.

"Helena," she set the weight back on the rack and stretched out, lightly touching the brunette's jeans-clad knee. "What about Katharine?"

It appeared that her partner was also attempting to corral her temper, for she took a long breath before answering.

"Do you know how much fuckin' danger she's going to be in if somebody outside--"

A slender hand waved toward one of the exterior walls of the Tower.

" -- finds out?"

Straightening in her chair, Barbara clasped her hands in her lap, saddened. She, too, had had that realization.

"Yes, I do, Hel."

Helena's blue eyes seemed to fill Barbara's vision.

"And, the more danger that we're in, Barbara, the more likely that her... her healing stuff or--"

"Gifts," the redhead supplied quietly.

"Her gifts," Helena nodded, unable to dispute the term, "are gonna get found out."

Barbara's answer came just a little too quickly.

"We'll cross that bridge when we--"

"Yeah, right," Helena interrupted without a qualm. "Ms. Barbara Cross-every-T-and-dot-every-I Gordon without a plan?"

Feeling her hackles rise instinctively in response to the younger woman's sarcasm, Barbara knew that her answering words were a bit... tight.

"Not a finalized plan yet, but--"

"What about Katie if you're not here?"

Dizzied, absolutely convinced that conversational whiplash lay on her horizon, Barbara shook her head.

"If--? Wha--? I'm not here? Why wou--"

Helena cut her short.

"Yeah. What's our daughter going to do without her mother?"


The question hit Barbara hard, almost as hard as the blow that had taken her down six days before. Instantly, a number of things clicked into place, and she heard herself speaking before she was aware that she had an answer.

"I certainly didn't ask to be shot, Helena."

Immediately, Barbara raised her right hand, bringing thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose as she wished for a way to reel her statement back in and try again. It was less the words than her waspish tone that had her cringing; however, since reversing the space-time continuum had continually proven elusive, she could only try again.

"Helena," she softened her tone and extended her hand in invitation. "I didn't go looking for any of this to happen."


The words and the sentiment were very much the truth, and -- point of fact -- the redhead had decided that she was getting thoroughly sick and tired of being targeted in her own home. In general, it was considered the norm for superheroes to suffer their injuries on the street, yet in her case, first The Joker and then this two-bit wannabe BDU had invaded her private life.

Quite honestly, if she were the type given to introspection, Barbara supposed that she would have to wonder what sort of odd karma she possessed that seemed to invite evil-doers into her home. Fortunately or not, Helena saved her from further thoughts along those lines.

"I know, Red."

Helena accepted her hand, the warmth and solidness of the younger woman's hand remarkably steadying despite the topic at hand.

"But having you... hurt..."

She saw Helena swallow, could feel her reaching for words.

"It's too much, Barbara."

Despite herself, the redhead felt her brows wrinkle.

"Hel, you've been hurt more times than I can count. There have been at least a score of times when I've thought that you were --"

As if giving voice might usher evil too close, Barbara couldn't speak the words.

"That's different."

Helena's response was so certain... so sweetly obstinate and self-effacing that Barbara had no choice but to raise their joined hands and press her mouth tenderly to her lover's fingers.

"Your life has a great deal of value, too, Sweetheart."

Wide blue eyes regarded her earnestly.

"Not without you in it, Barbara."

Helena hadn't meant it to hit Barbara quite like it had. And, fuck, she knew that now that Katie was in the mix, there was more to it. Still, it didn't mean it wasn't true, and seeing the way Barbara was looking at her she thought that her lover understood.

"Perhaps, Sweetheart -- "

Barbara pressed another kiss to Helena's knuckles and then lowered their hands, insuring that she never lost eye contact with the other woman.

"-- perhaps it's like your willingness to risk everything to reclaim your body last spring."

She gave that a moment to sink in and then gave voice to the rest.

"Just like you, I can't be anyone other than who I am."

Helena hated it. God, she hated it, but she nodded grudgingly.

It was who Barbara was.

"That doesn't mean that I-- "

Helena didn't complete her thought, but Barbara understood. When they'd first undertaken their joint venture to help safeguard her city, she'd asked Helena for her reasons.

"So people don't have to feel like I did that night," had been the telling answer.

Sometimes, Barbara acknowledged with a barely perceptible nod, it took a long time to figure things out. Perhaps Helena was discovering some things about her passion for justice.

"I... " Helena sucked in a breath and pushed on. "I don't know if I can keep doing it."

Perhaps, Barbara grasped, they were both discovering some things about their passions.

Green eyes met blue. Helena saw only genuine understanding in the eyes of her partner and mentor and friend.

"I understand. There's no deadline, Hel."

Chapter 10

Although, maybe there was. A deadline, that was.

Or, it dawned on Helena with a sinking feeling, more likely there was just a limit to Barbara's patience.

Hell, Red had never been one for delayed gratification and all, and she had let the whole issue of sweeps and patrols and doing the do-gooder thing pretty much slide all the way through Christmas. Or, Barbara had let it go as much as she could: she'd made some noises about the digging she was doing on some kidnapping ring or something, and the police scanner had continued to run, but she hadn't pushed.

So, all the way through Christmas, while Helena figured that other vigilante head-cases were out making the shopping season safe for conspicuous consumers everywhere, Helena had been grooving along with what was maybe the most normal holiday she'd experienced in a long time.

Well, when she thought about her mom and how they were usually on the cocktail party circuit at this time of the year in search of little gifts for her mother to pick up, maybe it was her most normal Christmas ever. Except for the part when she'd put on the Santa suit that she'd auditioned the year before and come in to surprise Katharine. Since the Peapod was only 11 months old, she hadn't made much of an impact. Come to think of it, the reception she'd gotten from Barbara when she'd pulled out the old "naughty or nice" checklist hadn't been that enthusiastic either.


Things had been... low key.

Until now.


Barbara was quite aware that her partner was absorbed in the NGU spring course catalog. She was also far from oblivious about the fact that she was ending the tacit peace they'd established over their crime-fighting activities. Accordingly, she suspected that her tone was just a bit... tentative as she worked to solicit some sort of response from her partner on the couch.

"Did you hear me?"

Nevertheless, this was the first relatively serious event in quite a few weeks, and she couldn't just sit silent. There was also the possibility that enough time had elapsed since the incident with Mandrill.

"I said that a silent alarm just went off at the Federal Savings and L---"

"Loan," Helena finished for her. "I heard you."

Punching numbers into the handheld calculator that she'd dug up from Barbara's work area, Helena didn't look up. She figured that there had to be some way for her to fit in all of the classes she wanted to take this semester.

Fuck, there were twenty-four hours in a day.

Behind her, Barbara felt her eyebrows furrow. Unable to pretend that she hadn't noticed the younger woman's complete lack of enthusiasm for her announcement, she caught her upper lip against her lower teeth, worrying at the skin for a moment.

"External cameras are showing some heavy-duty fire power outside the bank."

The presence of machine gun muzzles jutting from the windows of three armor-plated HumVees left little doubt that the robbers inside the bank would be similarly armed.

Finally, her companion looked up, turning a few degrees on the couch to face Barbara as she muted the sound of the U-2 classic that was playing on one of the satellite music stations. When Helena spoke, the redhead's hopes that she'd sparked her partner's interest rapidly plummeted.

"Did the police catch the alarm yet?"

Schooling her features, Barbara responded as factually as possible.

"Dispatch just called it, however I'm concerned that there could still be workers in the bank--"

Although unlikely, it was only 6:00p.m., and she simply hated to take chances.

"-- and there could be a hostage situation."

For as long as Barbara had known Helena, the brunette had worn her emotions on her sleeve. Her eyes, her face, were simply too expressive for her to hide. This evening, Helena's emotions were on display as well, however, Barbara was simply at a loss to read them.

"Barbara, it's New Year's Day. The only way some employee is going to be there is if they're in on it."


Helena was sad.

The realization blazed across Barbara's cortex in three foot neon even as she heard herself responding automatically to her partner's very logical argument.


As pressure tactics went, Helena knew that this was nothing. Barbara wasn't pulling out the big guns, like saving lives and protecting innocent bystanders. Hell, she wasn't even pulling out the little guns, like duty and doing The Right Thing, but Helena knew that nothing was just that simple. A miasma of hopelessness blew through her, and she roughly pushed the mess of papers covering her lap to one side.

Fuck it all. She was the one who had come to Barbara all those years ago. She was the one who'd been young, dumb, and full of come, begging her guardian to teach her, promising to do it right.

In the heartbeat between one lifetime and the next, Helena was on her feet and around the couch. In two quick steps, she was at the edge of the platform, looking up at her partner.

"The police can handle it, Barbara." She ran the toe of her boot along a seam in the hardwood and said the rest. "That's their job."

Barbara nodded slowly, weighing Helena's words and their import. There had been no anger, nor sarcasm or defensiveness, in her partner's statement. Accustomed as she was to Helena's volatility, Barbara simply didn't want to make any assumptions.

Deliberately, she stretched out and lowered the volume on the police scanner, and then she turned her chair to face her companion.

"That's true, Helena. It is their job."

Barbara removed her glasses, tapping one of the earpieces lightly against her lower lips as she debated her options.

"Do you have any idea when you'll be returning to sweeps, Hel?"

The question was as mild as milk, but Helena didn't miss the way Barbara had put it. She knew the phrasing -- "when", not "if" -- wasn't an accident. She understood very, very well how much Barbara depended on her.

Helena stepped lightly onto the platform. Resting one hip against the edge of Barbara's work table, she poked her tongue into the inside of her cheek and took it all in: the supercomputer, the monitoring systems, the lab equipment. None of it did Barbara much good in her quest for truth, justice, and the American way if she didn't have a partner to do a bit of legwork.

For years, Helena had been those legs. She'd been plenty happy to think of herself as the muscle in the operation.

The partnership.

It was what she had to give Barbara. It was what she'd promised.

Bending down, she placed her hands on the arms of the chair. She waited for Barbara to look up, then she made her decision and leaned in, kissing her lover hard.

Meaning it.

"You know I'd do anything for you, Baby," she husked when she finally broke the soul-deep kiss.

Meaning it more.

She forced herself to meet and hold those beautiful green eyes. The pupils were wide -- surprise, she figured -- and full pink lips were still parted, and for just a second or two, Helena teetered a little, wanting to let go and give in.

To give Barbara what she wanted, what she'd promised.

To have everything be like it was.

Right in front of her was everything that Helena wanted, that she needed. Barbara always had been.

"But I can't do that."

Also meaning it.

She couldn't face Barbara. She wouldn't turn away from her.

Helena leaned back in, resting her cheek lightly against her partner's and fighting the terror that clawed inside her.

There just wasn't any way around it. Whatever she'd promised all those years ago, Helena was the one who was pretty much responsible for bringing both reigns of terror down on the Tower.

And her family.

First Quinn. Then Mandrill.

Fuck, even the guy in the alley outside work at the end of last summer had come back to haunt her after she'd done the Good Samaritan thing. And, as much as she was all about thinking with her fists -- or, fuck, even her clit -- she couldn't keep doing the same thing and hoping for better results. If nothing else, her little chat with Dinah on Thanksgiving had brought that little fact home.

To them both.

She held her breath, waiting. It seemed like no time passed before she felt the slight twitch of the muscles of Barbara's cheek. Helena squeezed her eyes shut, almost able to see her partner's mouth pursing into the pained, slightly exasperated expression that she sported when she wasn't happy with the way things were going.

Still, the brunette held her position, her cheek just touching Barbara's, breathing deeply of the sweet scent of Red's shampoo while vibrant red hair tickled her nose. She waited, bracing herself for the fallout.

When it came, Helena wasn't prepared at all.

Barbara pulled away from her.

No surprise there.

What was the surprise was that she pulled back just enough to turn her head, to bring their mouths together. The gentlest of kisses lingered against Helena's lips before she heard a husky whisper.

"I understand, Helena."

It was only a handful of hours later, however, when Barbara had to wonder if she'd been completely off-the-mark with her statement. At the very least, perhaps the word "understand" had been premature.

When Helena had informed her that she would not respond to the alarm at the bank, Barbara had known that something significant had shifted. Even if the shift had begun some time before -- with one shooting or another, or a stabbing, or a transformation, or something else -- the firmament was finally cementing itself. Thus, when Helena had approached her at the Delphi, she'd seen the truth in her partner's eyes before Helena had spoken the words.

Immediately afterward, she had felt Helena tense as if expecting the gates of hell to blow open, yet the younger woman hadn't backed away. As overwhelmed as she'd been, somehow Barbara had managed to bite back her first response -- and to swallow her second. Apparently the words she'd finally selected had been... lacking.

Granted, the almost comical level of incredulity that had met her words was understandable. As was the somewhat measured stiffness that had marked Helena's return to the couch while Barbara had monitored the bank situation. However, Helena's noticable lack of appetite over the dinner of ham and black-eyed peas that Alfred had brought by earlier had certainly roused Barbara's suspicion. Later, as they had, nominally, closed out the evening by watching an episode of some Kyra Sedgewick drama that had been surprisingly entertaining, Barbara had been unable to miss her companion's restless edginess.

It had brought to mind a cat in a room full of rockers; however, the redhead acknowledged on a slow sigh, that unease in no way compared to this.

"This" being the two of them in bed.

Katharine had been tucked in minutes before and was already sleeping soundly in her crib. The two adults in the room were both under the covers with Barbara already stretching, out of habit, to turn off the bedside lamp.

It was, she had to assume, the sheer volume of the stilted silence from the other side of the bed -- palpable even to her -- that stayed her hand at the last minute. Looking to the side, she took in the Helena-sized lump that was huddled on the far side of the bed. Her partner's back was to her, her muscles vibrating tension that was visible under the heavy comforter, as she practically teetered on the edge of the mattress.

Great shivering timbers.

Without the usual preplanning that accompanied such moves -- any movement -- Barbara found herself turning on her side to take in the outline of her partner, and the realization struck: Helena was waiting for the fallout from her decision.

The redhead freely admitted that she had never been proficient with the concept of "no", specifically with being on the receiving end. Nevertheless, the visible evidence of her shortcomings in this area was impossible to deny.


She reached over, lightly touching the brunette's shoulder. Instantly, Helena's tight grip on the covers eased.


Helena didn't know just what she might have been doing, but she hoped it was something less likely to piss Barbara off than her decision earlier.

"Was I hogging the covers or -- "

And she really, really, really hoped that Barbara didn't want to talk about that right now.

"-- or -- "

Inspiration struck.

"Did you want some tea?"

She was already pushing the covers away, ready to swing her feet out of bed and make like the wind when she felt lightly calloused fingertips brush her cheek. So softly. Unable not to, Helena turned on to her back, hunting her lover's face through a curtain of her lashes. What she saw was almost too much to believe.


Even in the less than stellar lighting of the room, even through the fall of overlong dark hair, even through her own myopia, Barbara had no trouble reading the emotions that were at war in her lover's eyes.




While she certainly had not been in a mood before that instant -- she had, in fact, meant only to pursue a hug and snuggling -- there was simply no way to ignore the hot wash of affection and desire that blazed through her chest. There was no way to bypass the powerful ache that spread through her. There was no way to deny this need to show Helena the truth.

"Would you come here, Hel?"

Not willing to be misconstrued, she stretched her near arm out on the bed in invitation.


Typically, sweetly, Helena was already in motion as she spoke.

"Always, Sweetheart."

Pulling her close, Barbara brushed her mouth across her lover's forehead, pressing a kiss to the perpetually raised left eyebrow that forever seemed to call to her. Since she absolutely needed to be understood, she spoke again as their mouths met.


The muscular frame under her hands seemed to surge with a different sort of tension. Barbara felt as much as heard a noise that registered somewhere between a laugh and a growl.

"Jesus, Barbara -- "

For a moment, she was enveloped in an enthusiastic embrace, slender hands working the tight muscles of her back even as warm breath danced over her throat.

"-- let me make you feel good... "

As heavenly as Helena's back rubs were, that wasn't what she wanted. Marshaling a not-inconsiderable measure of willpower, Barbara worked free of those tempting hands and caught her partner's face in her hands.

"Slowly," she murmured across a tender brush of their mouths.

It took several more of the gentle remonstrances; however, the slow and tender focus that followed was more than she'd anticipated. Somehow, as the minutes ticked by, time lost its solidity, growing thick and liquid. Their mouths never parted as Barbara allowed her hands to wander at will, stroking velvet skin and tracing the trembling muscles beneath. When her fingers eventually found their haven in the wet heat that opened to her, when she felt Helena's hand convulse against her side, and when she heard them both whisper the same words at the same moment, Barbara was grateful that they'd forgone passion for something more. Capturing her lover's hand in her free hand, she guided their intertwined fingers to the juncture of her own legs.

"I want you to touch me, too, Helena."

The words seared Helena's skin, easily penetrating the haze of pleasure that had been layering across every nerve ending. The world narrowed to a crystalline emerald clarity as she searched Barbara's eyes.

"Yes, with me, Helena."

Tenderly, she touched, barely parting silken folds, awed anew by the textures and flavors racing from her fingertips, through the nerves of her arms, to her heart.

Barbara had always been her heart.

Searching, Helena raised her face to her partner's, melding their mouths so softly, sharing the air they breathed.

"Yes, show me, Sweetheart, what you feel. What you want to feel."

Dimly, apart from the radiance that exploded within her, beside her, Helena understood: This was a mirror, a dancing echo of the first time that they had made love. Just like that time, they were showing each other.

Thrusting deeply, Helena almost climaxed at the sensation of the movement returned. Molten heat coursed through her, and then she was laughing and crying and coming. And Barbara was in her arms, her own laughter low and sexy and content.

"Good heavens, Hel. I didn't know that I was that good."

Just then, meta-recuperation or not, Helena just didn't have it in her to say anything. But, in a minute or two, when she caught her breath and collected her wits, she was going to remind Barbara that she *was* that good.

They were that good.


Chapter 11

But if you want to leave take good care
Hope you find a lot of nice things to wear
But then a lot of nice things turn bad
Out there


One already. Where did the time go?

Apparently, Barbara had to admit with an emotion that she chose to label "wistful", there was a fair measure of truth to some of the parental wisdom that she'd received from her adoptive parents through the years. Too often, some activities did seem amusing -- or simply intriguing -- until someone's eye got put out by a sharp pencil -- or someone was harmed in some other way. Maintaining a clean change of underwear and eating one's vegetables were both sound practices. And, as Barbara was discovering, time did seem to go by so quickly.


Oh, baby, baby, it's a wild world
It's hard to get by just upon a smile, girl
Oh, baby, baby, it's a wild world
I'll always remember you like a child, girl


With Maxi Priest's reggae classic segueing into Alan Parsons Project's "Games People Play", Barbara finally managed to tear her attention from the center of the living area and the undeniably alluring sight of Helena dancing with Katharine. In just the last five or six weeks, their daughter had graduated from cruising from one item of furniture to another and was now walking -- toddling -- in earnest, allowing her to dance on her own two chubby feet for one of the first times.

Tempus fugit, indeed.

Feeling her lips quirk, the redhead turned her gaze to the other two young women who were dancing beside Helena and Katharine. Dinah and Gabby had assisted Helena as she'd moved the coffee table and wing chairs to the periphery of the room, and now they were working to perfect some sort of complicated pas de deux that, undoubtedly, was being hindered by the force of their giggles.

Given that Gabby had flown down from State only for this little Bacchanalia, Barbara was a bit surprised that she and Dinah had elected to come early and didn't seem to be in any hurry to move the festivities along. Likewise their other guests.

Typically, Alfred seemed to be spending most of his time in the kitchen rather than accepting his status as an invitued guest. Nevertheless, simply because her old friend continued to appear periodically with finger sandwiches and small delicacies for their other guests, Barbara had no intention of neglecting her duties as hostess.

"Can I get you more tea, Alethea?"

Ensconced on the couch next to her father, Barbara's colleague peered over her glasses at the bone china cup that she was balancing on a saucer. Then, a liver-spotted hand came to rest on her father's forearm.

"No, thank you, Barbara. James -- "

Barbara felt her eyebrows elevate just a bit as she identified the older woman's tone: Simpering.

Alethea was practically *simpering*.

Or, perhaps more accurately, *Alethea* was practically simpering.

"-- has been very attentive of my needs."

With not-inconsiderable difficulty, Barbara plastered on a smile that she hoped made it past the borderline from sickly-sweet to sweet.

"That's wonderful, Alethea."

The sudden image of a future with a step-mother in it freeze-framed across Barbara's retinas, and she set her own cup and saucer onto the side table with a clatter that was audible over the music and laughter behind her.

"Dad, do you mind helping set up for the cake?"

As tactics went, Barbara suspected that she'd done better; however, her father didn't seem to mind, rising to his feet with gratifying alacrity. By the time Barbara thought to wonder just what she planned to ask him to do -- spontaneous simply wasn't her forte -- the younger women were on the move with Gabby lowering the volume on the radio and Dinah shoving the coffee table back into place.

"Just a minute, young lady, and I'll help yo--"

Jim Gordon's eager attempt to make himself useful was cut short by a cheerful smile.

"No thanks, Mr. Gordon. I've got it."

Seeing Helena occupied with the wing chair, Barbara moved to intercept Katie, who was toddling toward the bookcases that had been lowered to hide the Delphi. Her father beat her to it, easily lifting the little girl.

"Well, you are a strong one, Dinah."

Dinah's nod was a bit too casual; Barbara's was a slow echo. While the redhead suspected that the young woman might be employing her TK to help a bit, there was no denying the growth that she'd undergone in the last two months.

Emotional and physical.

No doubt, the long hours that Dinah had been putting in with the sensei that Barbara had recommended were paying dividends. There was also simply a new determination and focus that had appeared in her most recent ward soon after the incident with Mandrill. Combined, the changes in Dinah were finally allowing Barbara to relax a bit as she allowed Dinah to run sweeps on her own.

Granted, it hadn't been an easy decision, and in the dark hours of the night Barbara still fought her doubts. Nevertheless, the discussions that she'd had with Dinah after the young woman had decided to suspend her studies had left little doubt: if Barbara didn't assist with her protege's development into a full-time crime fighter, Dinah was determined to do it herself. Given Helena's decision to... retire at the turn of the new year, Barbara had finally begun to accept that the partnership had shifted.

Indeed, it seemed to have shifted almost as smoothly as the furniture in the house was being shifted back into position.

"Well, then, Dinah -- "

Then senior Gordon interrupted himself to pry his granddaughter's fingers from his mustache.

"-- how does it feel not being in school?"

Barbara detected nothing but genuine interest in her father's question. Apparently Dinah did as well, given her smile when she looked up from clearing a space on the coffee table.

"It's different, but I'm keeping pretty busy."

Unable to miss Helena's vigorous eye-rolling, Barbara smiled and shook her head minutely as she turned to retrieve some matches from the chest of drawers in the hallway. The ongoing conversation followed her.

"Flower shop, is it?"

"Yeah, I'm working at Mr. Mushnik's, downtown. And other things."

The redhead returned in time to see the blonde's nonchalant shrug. Barbara honestly couldn't guess what had caught Dinah's interest in the part-time job she'd chosen. When she'd asked her, the young woman's explanation had been simple enough.

"Flowers make people happy."

Somehow, Barbara suspected that there was more to it; however, when she'd brought up the topic later with Helena, her partner had displayed a singular lack of curiosity.

"Shit, Barbara, your green thumb can kill fake plants. It's probably a good thing we have someone in the family who can handle flowers."

Dinah's next words managed to distract her from thoughts of what other motivations might lie behind the decision to work with plants instead of people.

"It's kind of nice to take a break and, besides, Helena's covering enough classes for both of us."

Absolutely certain that the buck had just been royally passed her way, Helena shot the blonde a look. There was no way to miss the grin on Barbara's face when her dad turned and pounced.

"That's right, Helena," Jim settled onto the chair that she'd just put back in place, those steel blue eyes pinning her like a bug on a collection board. "Five classes, isn't it?"

Going for casual, she stepped over to meet Alfred, accepting the big round layer cake that he was carrying in. Gabby was following behind with a stack of plates and utensils.

"Six, actually," she allowed as she settled the cake on the coffee table.

Sure, the Phys Ed credit that she was taking really shouldn't count. It was a mandatory class, but it was turning out to be a joke, so much that her instructor had just turned her loose in the university gym to keep herself busy with the different equipment. So, while all the freshmen were sweating to the oldies and running laps, she was sinking lay-ups and playing with the target practice equipment and trying to figure out how to play badminton by herself.

So far that last one still had her her pretty flummoxed.

"I certainly never expected you to become a student, Helena. Have you selected a major yet?"

Helena knew that Babs had sort of... bonded with Miz Harkness and all, but that didn't mean that the old biddy's voice didn't raise the hair on the back of her neck. Biting the inside of her cheek, she swallowed the need to educate the high school teacher to the fact that a C average would get her a diploma just as well as a B or an A.

Fuck, it was Barbara who'd told her that employers didn't give a flying fart about your GPA anyway.

Still, she put on a big smile and got out of Dinah's way as the Kid dragged Katie's high chair over by the low table.

"Nah-- " Something that flickered in Barbara's eyes made her catch herself. "--t yet. I just thought that since I had all of my elective credits under my belt, I'd buckle down on some of the core courses."

Barbara felt a smile touch the corners of her mouth; however, opting to keep her own counsel, she simply tossed the book of matches over for Helena to light the lone candle that adorned Katharine's first cake. Although she couldn't deny that the eclectic nature of the various courses that Helena had been dabbling in for the last year and a half certainly more than fulfilled her elective credits, Barbara wasn't sure just why her partner had chosen to become Uber-student.

Granted, since she was no longer engaging in their former pursuits, there was a great deal more free time; however, Barbara was quite aware that Helena had never seemed to have a problem with relaxing into unscheduled time.

"C'mon, Barbara, blow!"

There was no way to ignore Helena's insistence that she join Katie in the ritual of blowing out the birthday candle, and so Barbara formulated her own wish. Then, with the sound of Helena leading the others in singing "Happy Birthday," she closed her eyes and helped her daughter begin a ritual for a lifetime of birthdays. One look at the glee in two pairs of deep blue eyes persuaded her to leave the introduction of something else to Helena.

"I believe you may need to help out a bit, Hel," she suggested while the small group sat expectantly, watching Katharine who was simply staring at the small wedge of cake that Alfred had plated for her.

"Yeah, guess so."

A bright grin flashed and Barbara felt her own follow when Helena swiped her index finger through the frosting and extended it to their daughter. One taste was all it took before the toddler's eyes locked on the cake that rested on the tray of her high chair. Without hesitation, the little red head plowed face-down into the pastry.

Clearly decisiveness wasn't going to be an issue for this branch of the family tree.

When Katie finally pulled back, the frosting that covered her face from forehead to chin couldn't hide her giant smile. The laughter of the adults in the room was unable to obscure her delighted giggles.

Or the pride in Helena's voice.

"Yeah, it's your first taste of real sugar, Kitty. Life only gets sweeter from here."

Chapter 12

"Well, that went just splendidly, don't you think?"

Somewhat distantly, Barbara identified the very bright -- chipper, almost -- tone of her partner's question; however, absorbed in cataloging the absurdly large pile of gifts that Katharine had received at her party and mentally prioritizing the thank you notes to be written, she missed the sense of the question.


What had her father been thinking in giving a one-year-old a tiny little T-ball set?

"Kat's party?"

This time, Helena's tone was leading, almost comically so. It was enough to distract the redhead from her list-making, and she looked over to find Helena working on another slice of birthday cake.

It was the third that Barbara was aware of.

"What about the party, Hel?"

The question earned her an exaggerated sigh; however, Barbara was fairly confident that her companion's expression leaned toward playful rather than pained.

"I said, I thought it went pretty well."

Searching for nuance, Barbara allowed herself to tick quickly through the guest list and the interactions of said guests. All things considered, she had to agree with her partner's assessment, and so she did.

"Yes, it was--"

Catching her lower lip in her teeth, she hunted through her mental dictionary, finally finding the vocabulary that seemed suitable.

"--fun, wasn't it?"

Helena's answering nod was delivered around a final bite of cake.

"So, what's that big sexy brain of yours working on, Red?"

Barbara allowed one eyebrow to lift a few millimeters, not missing the care that her partner was displaying in licking the last of the frosting from her fork.

"A list of thank you notes to write."

The special people in Katie's life really had been too generous. Even Dick, who had yet to meet the girl, had mailed her a teddy bear that was bigger than she was.

"What's the deal with all of the different booties that Alethea brought?"

Tearing her gaze from the vision of Helena running one slender finger around the edge of her plate, presumably to catch any remnants of frosting, Barbara took in the pile of gifts on the coffee table. Automatically she found herself counting the variations of brightly color yarn that filled half the table. When the tally hit thirty, she gave up with a shrug and a smile.

"A pair for every day of the month?" she posited.

The expression on the younger woman's face as she surveyed the pile of booties was eloquence itself, and so Barbara turned fully to face her partner.

"It was very thoughtful, Helena. It must have taken her weeks or..."

When Barbara trailed off, Helena figured that even her big brain couldn't run the math that quickly.

"Uh huh."

Settling her plate on the end table, she brightened.

"I thought the best was Dinah's baby-sitting gift certificates."

Ab-so-frikin-lutely the best. Maybe the Kid was getting a clue somewhere.

Which pretty much reminded her that maybe Gabby might need a little nudge in that department.

Helena chewed on the corner of her thumbnail for a second and then decided to tackle the question head-on.

"Do you think your Dad bought what we said about Gabby's stuff?"

The little satin super-hero cape had been bad enough, but when Gabby had also thrown in a toy doctor's kit, it had taken some fast-talking to get Jim Gordon's unibrow to unwrinkle. Although Helena didn't think it was any surprise that Dinah's girlfriend was still working on coming to terms with everything she'd seen -- and learned -- a few months back, she also knew that Barbara put a lot of stock in being... discrete.

Especially around her dad.

Hopefully, spinning that the cape was just another blankie for Katie had gone over.

"I believe that Dad was too busy pacing the interior dimensions of the living area to be concerned with that."

At least Barbara hoped it to be the case. Even she had to admit that explaining the doctor kit as an attempt to steer Katharine to a career that would support her mothers in their old age was a bit of a stretch.

"Yeah," the brunette's voice was thoughtful. "He's been here before plenty of times. Why do you think it -- "

Barbara followed the wave of a slender hand that was directed toward the bookcases that were still in place hiding the Delphi.

"-- set off his detective radar today and not the other times?"

Her response was out before she had time to reconsider.

"Perhaps it's because he didn't have Alethea hanging on him the other times?"

Snorting her laughter, Helena stood and sauntered over, bending to rest her hands on the arms of her partner's chair.

"Could have been Katie, too."

The arch of a crimson brow came right on cue.


"Uh huh."

Helena grinned and cocked her head toward the bookcases.

"Every time you disappeared into the kitchen, she tried to get to the Delphi. I thought she was gonna climb over those things to find you."

Those big green eyes got wide, and Helena could have sworn that Barbara actually sputtered.

"A- are you suggesting that I spend all of my time at the computer?"

A brief flare of guilt accompanied the question, given that Barbara *had* been planning to make her way back to her workstation sooner rather than later. Before the arrival of their guests, she'd unleashed a satellite worm to help her narrow down the location of the kidnapping operations that she'd been pursuing for months. In addition, she'd also found a tantalizing hint of some sort of blackmail operation that might be tied in to the whole mess.

Nevertheless, even in the face of the Helena's frank stare, she managed to school her features.

"Noooooo, Barbara. *I'm* not suggesting it," she sing-songed.

Then, just because the whole faux-innocent thing that Barbara was trying for was just too fuckin' sexy for words, Helena hitched up her skirt a little and slipped onto her lap.

"But, you know what they say," she murmured against the sweet skin of her lover's throat. "If the keyboard fits..."

"Isn't that -- "

For the life of her, Barbara couldn't understand why concentration was suddenly so difficult.

"-- shoes?"

Completely uninterested in semantics... and footwear, Helena didn't look up.

"Hmmmm, whatever."

The syllables trilled against Barbara's throat, raising goosebumps. A light bulb went off, allowing her to pinpoint the possible source of her mental fugue.

"What are you -- "

The particularly skillful application of sharp teeth to the skin that covered her jugular forced a hitching gasp.

"-- doing?"

The response was short and very much to the point.


With not-inconsiderable force of will, Barbara prodded at that. It was true that, together -- with a bit of help from Alfred -- they had just successfully entertained as a family.

"Happy birthday?"

Without conscious volition, Barbara arched into the teasing brush of Helena's mouth, nodding. It was also true that, possibly in spite of some of Barbara's inadequacies in the parenting department, their daughter had managed to reach a one-year milestone.

"S'just us."

The redhead, further, couldn't deny the fact that they had the Tower to themselves.

The sensation of Helena's fingers working at the buttons of her shirt completed the persuasion. Her breasts suddenly aching and heavy, Barbara pushed upward under her lover, twining her fingers in dark hair. She just managed to glimpse her partner's smile before their mouths joined, Helena's whimper breathing through her.

Inflaming her.

Dear heavens, how did Helena manage to do this to her?

She could taste the sweetness of the butter cream frosting on the full lips that covered hers. Suddenly ravenous, Barbara teased Helena's mouth open, swallowing her own gasp of pleasure along with her lover's moan. Her hands trailed across wiry shoulders, then fell to Helena's waist, Barbara's fingers confirming what she couldn't feel: already, Helena was rocking against her.


Her own voice was nearly unrecognizable, hoarse and thick. Grabbing Helena's hips, Barbara managed to distance herself from her animal brain just enough to recognize, then to remember, that Helena had chosen to wear a mini-skirt for their little festivity.

"Show me."

Her fingers slipped down, tracing the valley that was formed along the top of Helena's thighs, the line delineating her rectus femoris and the vastus medialis muscles, from the tensing of her legs. For a few heartbeats, Barbara teased herself, allowing her fingers to pulse in rhythm to the younger woman's movement. When she felt her own forearms tensing in sympathy, she gave up on the sweet torture and simply reached under the short skirt.

Barbara took care in working out. Since the shooting in November and the return to the freedom of her manual chair, she'd increased her time in the training room. Accordingly, it required no effort at all once she worked two fingers into the crotch of Helena's underwear: a bit of tension and the careful twist of her wrist, and the material gave way.

Helena's hiss slid to a whimper, the sound almost lost under the rip of the cotton fabric.

"Jeezus, Barbara -- "

Not that Helena was complaining or anything. Especially with Barbara's palms on her ass, yanking her down and forward and...

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

The sensation of the leather pants that Barbara had chosen for the day felt just freaking amazing against her. Instantly, impossibly, wet, Helena caught her weight on her palms and knees, allowing her lover to guide her.

So hot.

Somehow, Helena pried open her eyes and drank in the sight of Barbara: Her eyes were wide open; a red flush was creeping up her neck; a tendril of crimson hair was caught against her sweating check.

She was so fucking gorgeous, and Helena felt her lower abdomen spasming, wanting... needing to give everything. She was already leaning in, trying to steal another soul-deep kiss to send her over when reality struck.

Oh... crap.

It took Barbara a moment to grasp, then to comprehend, the fact that Helena had gone still under her hands. When she did, she worked to find her voice, searching bright gold eyes.


To her relief, the passion in the younger woman's eyes was unmistakable. However, so was an expression that was a bit harder to classify.

"Sorry, Red, but I was going to make a mess all over your pants."

It didn't occur to her to smile or laugh. Instead, Barbara kept her response quite serious.

"I assumed that you planned to clean up after yourself."

The wiry muscles under her hands suddenly went utterly, utterly still. Barbara held her breath as she watched the tip of a pink tongue trace the edges of her lover's lips.

"Cripes, Barbara."

Helena was tempted. She was very, very tempted.

The thought of letting go like that, then of working her mouth and tongue all over that soft leather was freaking mind-blowing.

But, she knew it wasn't as good as something else.

Something more.

"Yeah, Baby," she leaned in, drinking a bead of sweat from Barbara's neck. "But I'd rather clean up from your skin."

Pulling herself away, she quirked a smile that she hoped Barbara would decide was inviting rather than just horny-as-hell.

"Let's go get naked, Babs."

Smirking, the redhead gestured toward the pile of wrapping paper that littered the floor.

"As charming as your invitation is, Helena, what about all of this?"

That perpetually raised dark brow worked up just a bit, suggesting how very unimpressed Helena was with the question.

"I'll help you write the thank you notes later."

Barbara almost fell into the banter before she caught herself. Briefly, she regarded the young woman on her lap.

"I suppose that you do have a bit more free time now that you're no longer..."

Barbara didn't say the rest, but Helena understood the implication, the subtle prod, all too well. She didn't look up; she didn't make eye contact. Instead, her gaze fell to the placket of Barbara's shirt where Helena had gotten most of the buttons open.

Slowly, she lifted her right hand from the arm of the chair. Carefully, she brushed back the fabric that covered Barbara's chest. Tenderly, she ran the pads of her fingers around the faint edges of the slightly pink patch of skin that was the only physical remnant of their ordeal from three months back.

"So," she looked up, peering through her bangs. "Bedroom?"

Those expressive blue eyes were humbling in their openness. Her chest aching with something indefinable, Barbara sifted her hand through the dark hair that coursed over Helena's shoulders. She understood that her lover had responded to a host of questions.

She would do no less.

"Sofa, Hel."

After all, Katharine was sleeping off her sugar high in the bedroom, and there was no reason to disturb her.

Judging by the speed with which Barbara found herself on the item of furniture in question, with Helena working industriously to tug her pants down, she wasn't alone in her desire to allow their daughter to have her rest. Of course, the redhead had to acknowledge as she drank in the vision of her companion brushing her cheek sinuously across the leather that she was pulling down, Helena might have had her own motivations as well.

Helena looked up from her intent focus in time to catch Barbara starting to fumble with the few buttons of her shirt that Helena hadn't already popped open. Instantly, her mouth went dry as every drop of moisture in her body seemed to head to one spot. Struggling to keep it together long enough to finish up with her whole Get-Barbara-Naked-Now plan, Helena cast about.

"So, uhm -- " Her gaze fell on a tiny little T-ball post with a knit baby bootie draped over it. "your dad and Miz Harkness, maybe?"

It *had* been kind of funny watching the whole interaction that afternoon.

Deliberately, Barbara finished unbuttoning her shirt and brought her fingers to the front clasp of the nursing bra. At that point, she gave Helena a long look, taking care to be certain that her lover understood how very serious she was.


She popped open the bra and then shrugged out of it and her shirt in one fluid motion.


The brunette's response was commendably swift.


Settling against the arm of the couch, Barbara searched her lover's eyes, taking in the look in violet eyes.

Apparently, Helena had gotten the message.

The heat that licked against Barbara's belly was too much to ignore. Despite feeling tremendously underdressed -- rather, despite wanting Helena naked with her -- she simply couldn't wait.

Perhaps it had been the party; she had consumed a fair amount of cake herself, possibly ramping up her adrenaline. Perhaps it was the fact that their sugar-crazed daughter had foregone her usual afternoon meal, leaving Barbara feeling a bit swollen and heavy.

And that had been before Helena's attentions had exacerbated matters.

Perhaps it was the naked hunger in her lover's eyes.

Giving up on the concept of equality of garb for the time being, Barbara stretched down, clasping Helena's shoulders and tugging her upward to where she needed her most.

"Dear heavens, Helena, I need your mouth."

Helena didn't need to be asked twice.

Hell, it was hard enough getting Red to ask for anything; and it was twice as hard in the bedroom.

Or on the sofa.

No way she was going to give her time to rethink or anything. And a heartbeat later, god, was she glad she hadn't.

Easing Barbara toward the back of the couch, Helena spooned tightly to her side, catching the heavy underswell of one breast in her mouth. Her body was already humming, wired and ready to light up, but she was determined to keep it slow, to take Barbara slowly.

Opening wide, she tasted the smooth, tumescent flesh and then allowed her tongue to flicker down, washing the warm crease where the soft flesh met Barbara's ribs. She worked her free hand to the other side, brushing turgid flesh with the pad of her thumb as she started to mouth her way across Barbara's belly.

Helena's efforts to control herself ended when strong, lightly calloused fingers came roughly to the back of her head.

"Helena -- "

Her name was breathy, needy -- almost a whine. With a low snarl, the brunette allowed herself to be guided upward the last few inches. Squeezing her thighs together, she closed her lips on pebbled flesh, then scraped her teeth across Barbara's nipple. She felt Barbara tremble and sucked in as much as she could, working the flat of her tongue against the aureole and squirming in delight at the bruising pressure of Barbara's hands in her hair.

Goddamn but Barbara was strong.

Then... Then -- warm liquid hit the back of her mouth. It took just a second for Helena's senses to weigh in and let her know that the slightly sweet liquid was real, and then she was damned near coming right there. She'd gotten tastes before, here and there, but Barbara had never gotten past all of those hang-ups or whatever and just let her milk down.

Until now.

Fucking amazing.

"Oh god, Baby..."

Barbara knew.

The instant that she'd let her guard down and felt the release, she'd known. A heat that had nothing to do with passion had washed across her cheeks, her discomfort bordering on shame for an act that was so intimate.

Somehow, she held herself in check, allowing herself to absorb Helena's murmurs of pleasure as the rumbling from her lover's chest tickled her skin. Somehow, she even pried open her eyes, allowing herself to see -- really to see -- her lover's unguarded pleasure. Somehow, she let go, allowing herself to face the reality of the relationship that she'd shared with Helena as a guardian and to embrace the changes they'd shared.


Barbara didn't give voice to the endearment, choosing instead to hold it close and taking strength, and then passion, from it.

She gave way under Helena's need, her desire. Helena's tender ministrations nurtured her own passion, inflaming her. Her skin burning and her nerves aflame, Barbara held herself steady as long as she could. When she could stand it no longer, she pushed upward, offering and demanding. When even that wasn't enough, she hooked her arms around Helena's waist, working the short skirt upward to rake her nails across firm glutes.

Filing Helena's mewling hiss away for later consideration, she flipped her lover to her back.

"Let me, Hel."

The response that came on a rumbling growl suggested that Barbara's impatience had been forgiven.

"Oh, fuck yeah."

The next words that Barbara made out after that -- rather the next semi-coherent words -- were a long time coming. Entwined in the arms of her still-clothed partner, Barbara barely registered the fact that Helena had spoken.


Laughing softly, Barbara ran her palms up and down her lover's back.

"Good. God."

To her consternation, the words completely lacked the affect that she'd intended. Bowing to reality, she smiled and pressed a kiss to the dark head that rested on her shoulder.

"Give me a minute to recover, Sweetie."

The younger woman's head jerked upward with such speed that Barbara feared whiplash. She let go of that concern when blue eyes that were dancing impishly swam into view.

"Not that -- "

White teeth flashed in a vaguely predatory fashion.

"Well, not just that."

Still half-occupied with thoughts about what would be involved in screwing the top of her head back on, Barbara worked for a smile. When dark brows wrinkled and Helena spoke again, she was reminded that she had, perhaps, lost the thread of the conversation.

"So, whaddaya think?"

The redhead gave herself a little mental shake.

"About what, Hel?"

Helena's reply neatly completed the process of rousing her from her comfortable lethargy.

"Should we have another one? You know, a little sister or brother for Katie."

While she suspected that her blood pressure had just undergone an unhealthy sort of jump, Barbara merely arched one eyebrow.

"Are you volunteering?"

The brunette's startled blink quickly disappeared under her broad grin.

"With whose sperm? You said that we didn't want to use the swimmers that I put on ice for me."

Barbara's laughter was low, raising chills across Helena's skin.

"That's true, Hel."

Beneath her, Helena felt Barbara stretch. Unable to resist, she lowered her head to her partner's chest allowing her to feel as much as hear the next words.

"Let's just keep them in the bank for now."

Chapter 13

All things considered, Barbara had to wonder if she would be better off flying solo. At this moment, she was quite certain that her partner in the field would be better off if Barbara had elected to remain a lone wolf operative.

It was true that, back in the day, she'd paired with Bruce or Dick on occasion. In the early days of her apprenticeship, such teamwork had been valuable in more ways that one. Nevertheless, as she'd settled in to her role, Barbara had usually found it simpler, not to mention more expedient, to work by herself.

Safety had also been simpler, only having her own well-being to account for.

In the years since her involuntary move to the sidelines, the necessity of teamwork had limited her need to second-guess the decision. The fact that Helena had proven to be so capable so quickly had also perhaps served to lull her into a certain complacency: her first protege hadn't encountered anything that she couldn't handle on her own for the duration of almost her entire first year in the field. Even when Helena had been overmatched, her meta-human reflexes -- and healing abilities -- had made it easy to overlook some of the responsibility that Barbara shouldered every time that she sent the younger woman into the fray.

Not so now.

"Dammit it all to hell."

The words were barely a murmur as Barbara continued to fix her eyes on the monitor, hoping for a sign -- or a clue -- or inspiration. The small portion of her brain that was somehow managing to remain removed from her growing panic continued to protest that she'd allowed this.

That she'd sanctioned it.

"What sort of god-awful idiot am I, Alfred?"

The words didn't begin to touch on how she felt; they didn't even suggest the strength of her overwhelming desire to bang her head vigorously and repeatedly against her work surface. Mercifully, her old friend remained a voice of calm reason.

"Miss Dinah did volunteer for this particular assignment."

Unwilling to surrender quite so easily, Barbara tossed her glasses next to her mouse pad and looked up into eyes that were sympathetic.

"Nevertheless, Alfred, *I* gave her the go-ahead."

"At her insistence, if I recall correctly."

Pushing back from the keyboard, Barbara turned her chair a few degrees to face her companion more directly.


To her surprise, her normally deferential confidant abandoned his habitual politeness and cut her short.

"But nothing, Miss Barbara. We both know that she has been doing extremely well in her martial arts training, not to mention in her routine sweeps. As this assignment was to be no more than a bit of reconnaissance, there is no reason to second guess yourself now."

Barbara pursed her lips, worrying at the inside of one cheek with her teeth. Although the points that Alfred had made were valid, she simply couldn't shake off her concerns.

Or her guilt.

Granted, the utter banality of the intelligence that she'd happened across last fall, the seemingly disparate incidents that she'd painstakingly pieced together over the last weeks and months, had pointed to a reasonably simple bit of recon. Nevertheless, the pedestrian nature of what she'd dug up couldn't obviate the reality that it was *her* intelligence-gathering that had been lacking.

True, the careful digging that she engaged in online to track down the genesis of a series of disappearances -- human and material -- had suggested an operation that was harmless enough in comparison with some of the foes that they had faced. Yet, appearances and evidence to the side, there was no way to absolve herself from the culpability of having dispatched her partner into a situation of horrifying brutality.

"Did I just take the easy way out in sending her?"

After all of the remote detective work that she'd done, when Barbara had finally pinpointed the origin of so many crimes it had been simply unthinkable not to pursue further.

"When have you ever taken the easy road?"

Alfred's words were gentle; his smile, indulgent. Somehow, it freed a bit of the tightness in the redhead's chest.

"Indeed." She turned back to her workstation, reaching for her glasses. "Now how do we go about assisting Dinah?"

There was simply no way to entertain thoughts that her newest partner in the field would not escape.

Her companion took two steps closer, leaning forward slightly to take in the oversized monitor.

"I dare say that you--"

The arrival of the elevator interrupted whatever advice Alfred had been about to bestow, and Barbara glanced over to confirm that Helena and Katharine were returning to the Tower. They were proceeding slowly, Katie's little fist tightly clenched around the first two fingers of Helena's right hand as their daughter asserted her growing independence by insisting that she walk rather than being carried.

"Hey, Red." Helena's voice was cheerful. "Alfred."

A couple of steps into the Tower, and the brunette got the impression that the stiff nods that she'd gotten in response to her greeting were about more than Barbara defragging her hard drive. Even clear across the room, she could tell that her partner was giving off so much nervous energy that Helena half-thought she might just levitate up from her chair.


Detouring by the coffee table, she deposited the long-stemmed rose that she was carrying. It only took a couple of hand signals for the Peapod to follow suit with the tiny little heart-shaped box of chocolates that she was carrying.

Somehow, Helena had a feeling that celebrating Valentine's Day might be off the table for the time.

"What's going on?"

She was already on her way up the ramp to the Delphi, Katie trundling along beside her, when Barbara's clipped answer nearly stopped her in her tracks.


Helena knew what it meant when Barbara got all monosyllabic. Still, she had to know, so she looked over to Alfred, widening her eyes in question.

"It seems that Miss Dinah may be in some difficulty."



Floored by the identical concern in the two sets of bright blue eyes, Barbara stretched out, allowing Katharine to grab her hand and toddle over as a deluge of questions rained down.

"What happened? Is she hurt? Where is she?"

There wasn't any thinking involved. Helena was already digging into the pocket of her duster, hunting for the comms necklace that wasn't there. When she came up empty, she remembered that she might have put it in her underwear drawer last month, when it had hit her that she really wasn't doing this any more.

Still, Barbara would probably have a spare around the Delphi or--

"She's... she's not in New Gotham, Hel."

Barbara's answer was quiet. Helena didn't bother.

"Well, where the fu--"

She caught herself, painfully aware of the big blue eyes, framed by long red lashes, that were peering up at her.

"Where is she, Barbara?"

The redhead straightened in her chair, determined to remember that it was concern that lay behind her partner's tone. Alfred's intervention spared her from speaking too quickly in spite of herself.

"Perhaps Miss Katharine would like a snack after her outing?"

Barbara looked at him gratefully as Katharine squealed and grabbed his hand. It was Helena who responded verbally.

"Yeah. Thanks, Alfred," she stepped aside to allow them access to the ramp. "She probably is a little peckish."

Hell, she had been, too, before ... this.

Silence reigned until the two disappeared into the kitchen and Helena heard the sound of the kettle being settled on the stove. At that point, she turned back to Barbara and raised one hand, wordlessly gesturing in an "after you" motion.

For the second time in not-too-many minutes, Barbara felt her lips purse. Silently, she clicked her mouse, bringing the topographic map to the top window of her monitor. Somehow, she continued to hold her tongue while Helena leaned close, peering at the map with obvious disbelief.

"Rhee-- Rheela--"


Helena couldn't even pronounce the name of the place. It wasn't like she had a chance of guessing where in hell might be.


Something hot and angry started crawling over her skin, and Helena roughly rubbed the heels of her hands against her eyes.

Sure, she hadn't seen the Kid in a few days, but with her course load and trying to keep up her hours at work, it wasn't that unusual. Still, it seemed like a pretty big thing for Barbara to forget to mention that Dinah was off in some unpronounceable jungle somewhere.

"What the fuck, Barbara?"

Helena was pretty sure that her eyes were still augmented, but she didn't care.

"So, while Kitty and I were finishing off her birthday cake in the kitchen last week, you just took Dinah aside and offered her some wonderful trip to... to..."

Helena's tone was pure outrage. The disgusted wave of her hand as she spat out the rest spoke volumes.

"-- to Bumfuck?"

"Eastern Bumfuck," Barbara bit out, refusing to look away from the map on her screen.

She felt bad enough, and one look at Helena -- who clearly had adrenaline to spare -- might just tip matters for the worse.

"Whatever. You sent her alone?"

"Just who was I going to send with her?"

The words snapped out before she thought to stop them. Instantly, Barbara regretted them. With an act of will, she looked up, forcing herself to meet bright yellow eyes.

"It was a fact-finding mission."

Or, the cyber-vigilante admitted bitterly, it had been a fact-finding mission. Dinah was to have breezed in, investigated some stolen property that had been ransomed and done a bit of digging for further clues on human ransom side of the issue. Barbara knew that she didn't need to make explicit the fact that she obviously hadn't been privy to the full scope of the operation that she'd been tracking for the last months.

"Okay -- "

Helena could see that Barbara felt plenty bad. She heard the conciliatory note in her voice. She knew how much responsibility her partner insisted on carrying.

Sucking in a slow breath, she leaned one hip against the table and went for something that would register a few notches below an Eight-point-oh on the Richter scale of panic.

"So what's the big deal?"

Barbara very much appreciated the effort that her companion was displaying. Nodding once, she turned back to the monitor and spelled it out.

"The deal, Helena, is that Dinah is now out there," she circled her mouse around the outline of the last known location of her partner, "and the mastermind behind the kidnapping scheme that I've been investigating has some extremely unpleasant enforcer chasing her."

Actually, Barbara suspected that the best case scenario involved Dinah being pursued. She refused to contemplate other possibilities.

Helena felt her stomach hit somewhere around her knees. Sucking it up, she shook it off.

"Why can't we get someone to her?"

She figured it went without saying just which someone that might be, but the frustrated shake of a red head told her it wouldn't be that easy.

"I had a lock on her comms, but they're off her now and in the mail."

Helena really had no idea what that meant.

"Her comms are in the mail?"

"Indeed they are," Barbara bit out, working not to gnash her teeth. "Dinah's comms are in the care of the US Postal Service--"

Clicking to another window, she checked the GPS signal which, unsurprisingly, hadn't moved in hours.

"Specifically, it appears that they are currently making their way through the New York City post office."

Dark brows beetled almost comically.

"Why the hell did D mail her--"

Barbara ended her confusion.

"Dinah didn't."

For heavens sakes, Barbara had wanted her newest partner to swallow the damned things when she'd been captured, allowing her to keep track of the young woman. Unfortunately, Dinah hadn't had time.

"Her jewelry is being mailed as proof that she is alive and in their control."

When Helena held her questioning expression, Barbara spelled it out.

"For a ransom."

She chose not to detail what sorts of proof of life might follow the earrings. Clearly, allowing herself to be persuaded that this would be a simple in-and-out bit of sleuthing had not been one of her shining moments.

Disgusted, she clicked back to the topo map and shook her head.

"It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack without the comms."

Blue eyes regarded her.

"You don't have to search the whole haystack at once, do you?"

Barbara narrowed her eyes, her heart rate picking up as Helena continued.

"You can get control of the Google Earth satellites, and you know the basic grid where she was, right?"

Barbara's fingers were already flying across the keyboard, working to triangulate and then scan outward. Assuming that Dinah was still near the compound and that she could be picked up on a satellite camera was a long shot, however it was the best she had to work with.

Heaven help them all if she couldn't find her newest partner.

Chapter 14

"'The White Witch?' said Edmund; 'who's she?'

"'She is a perfectly terrible person,' said Lucy. 'She calls herself the Queen of Narnia though she has no right to be queen at all, and all the Fauns and Dryands and Naiads and Dwarfs and Animals -- at least all the good ones -- simply hate her. And she can turn people into stone and do all kinds of horrible things. And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia -- always winter, but it never gets to Christmas. And she drives about on a sledge, drawn by reindeer, with her wand in her hand and a crown on her head.'

"Edmund was already feeling uncomfortable from having eaten too many sweets, and when he heard that the Lady he had made friends with was a dangerous witch he felt even more uncomfortable. But he still wanted to taste that Turkish Delight more than he wanted anything else."

Momentarily distracted by the familiar passage, Barbara interrupted herself. Somehow, she remembered to offer her companion an apologetic look before she turned from her monitor to take in the sight of Helena and Katie snuggled together on the couch in the living area. Helena seemed to have just turned the page in her paperback and was now looking seriously into tiny blue eyes that were wide and round.

"Remember Edmund, Kat. I betcha that he's the type who going to sell his whole family down the river for some candy or something."

"Cuk-cake," was the enthusiastic response.

"Yeah or cupcakes."

Something warm tickled Barbara's chest as she watched her partner turn her book upside down on her leg and reach over to retrieve the two cups of milk that were on the end table. The sensation -- the emotion -- only intensified when Katharine accepted hers and Helena raised her Captain Crunch mug, allowing their daughter to knock her sippy cup against it.

"Cheers, Mate."

Presumably celebrating a meeting of the minds with regard to the infamy of Edmund, they chugged in unison, the brief break in Helena's reading and Barbara's own work bringing to the forefront the selection that was piping out of "I Love the 80s" on the big screen.

Regardless of Helena's protests, Barbara simply couldn't fathom how Culture Club's greatest hit would *not* be considered a classic.

"Ready for more, Kat?"

Helena apparently accepted the little redhead's wriggle as agreement, lifting her book and starting to read. Barbara was certain that her lover knew that Katharine wasn't absorbing much, if any, of C.S. Lewis' work; however, Helena truly seemed to enjoy sharing the reading time.

Barbara was also not unaware of a certain expediency factor involved in Helena's most recent selection of reading material: When the brunette had realized that she could substitute another Children's Literature class for one of the English Lit requirements at NGU, she'd been quick to seize the opportunity.

"Hell, yeah. What would you choose, Narnia or Shakespeare?" had been her succinct summary of the choice she'd made. Barbara had elected to keep her own council on a question that was, undoubtedly, rhetorical.

Not even bothering to hide her fond smile, Barbara finally turned back to the task at hand.

"I'm sorry, Dinah."

The dip of a blonde head and a knowing smile were sufficient grace, and Barbara gestured toward her monitor.

"As I was saying, I think the 1500 is going to be too much, while the 620 won't challenge you. Altogether, the 1000cc Monster-- "

Pausing for just a beat, she clicked to the item in question on the Ducati website.

"-- should be mild enough for starters while continuing to let you gro--"

The awareness of a sudden, complete silence from the living area drew her attention. It was, the redhead realized, an absence of sound that Barbara could honestly classify as "pointed".

When she looked over, she found herself pinned by twin pairs of blue eyes that were peering over the back of the couch. However, while the shade of blue was identical, only one pair held an expression that required immediate acknowledgement.

"Yes, Hel?"

Satisfied that she had Red's attention, Helena popped to her feet, handing the book over to Katharine.

"You're not talking lawnmower engines are you?"

Barbara's headshake was maddeningly... normal. Her response was just plain... wrong.

"No, Hel. Dinah asked about transportation options while she's on sweeps and --"

Pulling her jaw up off the floor, Helena interrupted.

"You're going to get her a motorcycle?!"

Man, Barbara had never really suggested a cycle for *her*. Even if Helena had always been pretty set about wanting to stay on the rooftops.

She started for the Delphi, then remembered herself: She probably didn't need to get her book turned into a teething ring the week before mid-terms. Offering Katie the remote control in exchange for the novel and pretty certain that the girl could keep herself busy for a few seconds, she bounded onto the ramp.

"Motorcycles are dangerous."

The words just popped out, and Helena felt herself falter just a tiny bit as she stepped onto the platform.

Had *she* just said that?

Regrouping, she joined the two women by the work table.

"C'mon, Barbara. Dinah still stinks just driving the Hummer."

More amused than she suspected it would be wise to admit, Barbara regarded the brunette serenely.

"Perhaps something a bit smaller and more agile will be just the thing, then."

"Riiiight --" Deep blue eyes sparked. "So, what about that whole VW Bug idea we were batting around?"

Barbara heard an indignant squeak from where Dinah was still poised just behind Helena. She thought she made out the words "not cool"; however, Helena barreled along so quickly that she didn't have time to make the observation that appearance was only a small part of the equation.

"Jesus Christ, Barbara!"

Working up a head of steam, Helena half-turned and gestured toward Dinah with a slashing motion of her hand.

"She's not back her three weeks from getting worked over in... in whatever hellhole that was you sent her to and now--"

To Helena's complete surprise, Dinah cut her off.

"So not true, Hel."

Fascinated, and quite aware that she had become something of an observer rather than a participant, Barbara watched as Dinah took a step forward, planting herself sounding in Helena's personal space.

"I kicked ass out there, and you know it."

Barbara felt one eyebrow tic upward as she registered that Dinah's statement had been delivered with confidence rather than bluster. It took less that a heartbeat's reflection for the redhead to agree with her newest partner's self-evaluation.

Three weeks before, the painstaking search of three-by-three meter grids of jungle had finally paid off when Barbara had finally pinpointed the blonde scaling a cliff. Panning out, she'd picked up a dozen salivating dogs and a large, costumed man -- with an intimidating rifle -- in pursuit. Even with the local militia dispatched to assist her comrade, Barbara had only been able to fear the worst: Dinah had been on the run for almost a day; the environment had been against her; and her pursuer had simply been... too frightening for words.

Nevertheless, by the time the helicopters had arrived at Dinah's location less than half an hour later, the situation had been... resolved. Having later read the hospital reports on the condition of the man who had been in pursuit, Barbara simply couldn't dispute Dinah's words.

Apparently, she noted, neither could Helena.

The brunette's expression seemed to be a mixture of frustration at war with pride. After running her hands through her hair, Helena apparently opted to let the latter emotion rule.

"Yeah, you did, D."

If only for a moment.

"Still, is this -- "

Barbara flinched -- unnecessarily -- when her former partner in crime-fighting waved toward the Delphi.

"-- really what you want?"

When Helena spun to face her, Barbara barely mastered her instinct to flinch again.

"Is it? Do you want to turn Dinah into... Mini-You?"

Again, before Barbara could rise to her own defense, the attempt was made moot by Dinah. The blonde didn't move, however, the tenor of her response forced Helena to face her while cutting off whatever denial or justification that Barbara might have made.

"Well, maybe the apple really doesn't fall so far from the tree, Helena."

Pretty sure she wasn't going to like where the blonde was heading, Helena dropped her voice.


The Kid didn't even blink.

"Well, your dad pretty much decided to get out when things got rough, didn't he?"

Barbara saw her lover's eyes spark to gold.


She spoke quietly but the shake of a dark head ended her remonstrance.

"No. It's okay, Barbara. The Kid's got a point about the whole genetic thing, right?"

Barbara followed Helena's gaze when she turn to look face the living area, confirming that Katharine was still on the couch. It appeared that the youngster was happily engaged in attempting to unlock one of the cable tiers with the remote. When Helena turned around, Barbara was amazed to see that her eyes were -- well, not blue but at least back to violet.

Deliberately, Helena raked her eyes down Dinah's lanky form.

"Look at you. You think you can throw on some fishnet stockings and be your mom?"

Yeah, the homage to Black Canary was better than the green body suit number that Dinah had been wearing, but that wasn't the point.

"Sure, I can see why you'd want to go with your strengths," she paused for emphasis and waggled her fingers at the long length of leg that Dinah was showing. "Your only strength. But do you really think that's going to keep you safe?"

Dinah did the fish mouth thing once or twice, then she pulled it together shaking her head and sending her pony-tail swinging.

"No. I can take care of myself, and Barbara's got my ba--"

Helena wasn't going to let her fall for that.

"Like hell, Dinah. You were out of contact for damned near a day. On your own --"

Seeing the blonde getting ready to protest, she held up a hand and give Dinah her due.

"Yeah, you came through. This time. But you had Barbara and Alfred and Katie scared shitless."

Although she didn't care for the reminder, Barbara couldn't deny the truth of Helena's description. Honestly, perhaps she could look into having an RFID chip embedded under Dinah's skin.

Her considerations about how such a course of action could provide valuable data on the efficacy of the practice that could perhaps be employed when Katharine started dating were interrupted by Helena's growl.

"And you --"

The brunette seemed to coil in on herself before she stretched into Dinah's face.


Helena jabbed her index finger into the younger woman's breast bone.

"Have. Been. Killed."

Frankly amazed to hear words that she'd said, many times, to Helena now echoing from her lover's mouth, Barbara felt her eyebrows inch upward. As fascinated as she was by the shifting roles that were playing out, she had to acknowledge that matters were getting out of hand.

Not to mention the fact that the conversation wasn't entirely appropriate and was certainly not what Dinah had signed up for when Barbara had suggested that she come over to discuss her transportation concerns.


She waited until the younger woman turned to her, her aggressive posture easing just a bit. Then, Barbara spoke, ensuring that her tone was clipped and factual.

"Your points are noted, however you surrendered your right to input when you retired from this particular venture."

For a second, Helena felt like she'd been slapped. Judging from the look on Dinah's face, she wasn't alone.

Still, she wasn't going to give up that easily.

"Maybe, Barbara."

She nodded, her words picking up speed as her indignation grew.

"But I sure as hell didn't retire from this family. And going ahead is putting Dinah at risk when she's not ready--"

"It's not your call, Helena."

Barbara noted that Dinah's voice was calm. Certain. Her expression when she turned to look over, apologetic.

"It's not even Barbara's call to make any more. This is something I'm choosing to do."

The redhead blinked, once, then felt her head dip in slow acknowledgment. Quite suddenly, quite viscerally, she grasped that she was possibly irrelevant not just to the conversation but also to the business.

"We can help people," Dinah was again addressing Helena. "We can save lives. Like that apartment fire last week?"

Clenching her jaw, Helena narrowed her eyes and dipped her chin.

She remembered.

"I did a lot of good there."

Slowly, Helena nodded her agreement.

"That's true, Dinah."

Fuck, she understood how it felt to rescue people who were in trouble. She really understood how it felt to take out the not-so-innocent people, too. But, seeing as how Dinah was looking like she'd scored a point in debate club, maybe she'd given away too much.

"Then, Helena, why won't you--"

"Why?" Helena barked out a laugh. "Because, Dinah, pretty soon it's not just saving people from burning buildings. It's doing preventative saving and stopping muggers from hurting people, and then it's just stopping bad guys, and pretty soon we're out casing warehouse for drug deals or rogue electronics or weapons or..."

Barbara snapped.

"Helena. That's enough."

Deliberately, slowly, Helena turned to face her lover, her mentor and former partner. She stared at her long and hard and then made her decision.

"No, Barbara. It's not enough."

When the words came out, Helena thought she'd surprised all three of them.

For long moments, Barbara felt the world narrow to Helena and herself. The silence stretched between them, first thick and cloying. When she searched deep blue eyes, the redhead revised her metaphor: the silence was stringy and brittle, like cotton candy too long exposed to the air.


Helena cut her short.

"Just... just fuck it."

The brunette hopped lightly from the platform and then turned, looking pointedly at Dinah before meeting Barbara's eyes. When she spoke, her voice was flat. Barbara suspected -- oh, good grief, she knew that the absolute lack of affect in her normally emotional partner's voice was a harbinger of much more than shouting ever could have been.

"Congrats, Barbara. It looks like you can keep at it."

Chapter 15

"You look tired."

Dear heavens, how could it show so soon?

Of course, the accuracy of the observation could be construed to support the words that had been echoing through Barbara's head for the last long hours. Despite her best efforts to focus on making bubble-suds animals with Katharine during her bath or scouring the net for discount motorcycles or updating her lesson plans, the words looped like a record with a scratch in it: What a difference a day made.

Rather, Barbara had already allowed, a night. Or, perhaps it was the conversation of that night that made the difference, although she had to acknowledge that it also could have been the invasion of their home three months before that had led Helena to reconsider everything, or it could have been the lifetime of choices and actions that had put all of them where they were at this exact moment.

"I didn't get much sleep last night, Dad."

That was, of course, an understatement in the form of an outright lie. After the charged conversation by the Delphi the night before, Helena had returned to the living area only long enough to situate Katharine in her playpen. Then, she'd disappeared into the training room, closing the door behind her with a careful click that was all the more deafening for its restraint. In the following minutes, then hours, Barbara hadn't heard the usual sounds of the heavy bag being battered, leading her to suspect that it was refuge rather than release that the brunette sought.

Dinah had departed minutes later, leaving Barbara to her own devices. Two times during the evening, after bathing Katharine and after bringing her work for her day job up to date, Barbara had approached the training room. The first, she'd stopped herself several feet from the door, determining that too little time had passed. The second, she'd gotten as far as resting one hand on the door knob before deciding that too much time might have slipped by.

She'd been spared the need to muster her courage for a third foray. Well after midnight, Barbara had already tucked Katharine in and was occupying herself with a bit of mindless work on her laptop when the door to the other room silently swung open and Helena emerged. The silence, which until then had merely been oppressive, had become suffocating.

Somehow, Barbara had forced air into her lungs. Somehow, she'd opened her mouth and breathed a single syllable.


The brunette had straightened from gathering some of her course texts from the coffee table. Deep blue eyes had seemed to search her soul, leaving Barbara feeling lost.


"Thought I better hit the books."

Helena had dropped gracefully to the couch, the remainder of her words muffled by the high back of the sofa.

"Midterms start on Monday."

Although she'd suspected that she could wait Helena out -- Barbara was no stranger to all-nighters -- she'd decided that a showdown of that nature would be in nobody's interest. Somewhere around dawn, she'd decamped to the bedroom and pretended to rest. When she and Katharine had risen not too many hours later, the Tower had been empty, save for a note stating that Helena would be at the library all day.

Roughly an hour later, without conscious planning, Barbara had found herself sitting in the van with Katie, parked in her father's driveway. As recognition had dawned about her choice, she'd fought her concern that she honestly had no real memory of driving over, not to mention no real reason for being there.

If Jim Gordon's expression when he'd opened the door to retrieve the morning paper were any indication, Barbara was not the only one surprised by her uncharacteristic spontaneity.

Nevertheless, she'd been greeted warmly.

"Two of my best girls, just in time for breakfast."

Her dad had opened the driver's side door and stepped back in invitation.

"Come in, come in. I was just about to make coffee."

"That sounds heavenly, Dad."

"Good, good." Her father had accepted Katharine and led the way to the front door. "I believe that I can even rustle up some Oatie-Os for Katie."

It had all been so prosaically normal. Even now, situated at the table in the kitchen that she'd grown up in, listening to the coffee pot perk, and watching her father bustling around in his ratty flannel robe, Barbara knew that she could almost convince herself that life was.... routine.


When a mug of coffee was placed in front of her, the redhead murmured her thanks and paused in the process of pulling drawing paper and fat crayons from the backpack that she carried in lieu of a diaper bag. Wrapping her hands around the warm ceramic, she bowed over the cup as if it were the holy grail.

"Is this lovely lady the culprit for your sleepless night?"

Although she had almost lost track of the brief conversation, Barbara managed not to jump when her father spoke. She took a long swallow from her coffee while he picked up his granddaughter, swinging her over his head before bringing her down to tickle her cheeks with his mustache.

"Are those new teeth still bothering you, Katie Fee?"

Barbara smiled, preparing to come to her daughter's defense, when Jim turned and regarded her with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Charlie O'Hara always claimed that rubbing a bit of Southern Comfort on his children's gums helped."

Barbara ticked up an eyebrow, mulling on who would actually benefit more from the application of the sweet spirit.

"I think I'll let -- "

She stumbled over her instinct to joke, to suggest that Helena should be the one to introduce Katharine to the tools of her trade.

"I think I'll hold off on introducing her to the hard stuff for now, Dad."

She pause, screwing up her courage.

"And no, Katie's fine."

Despite her best efforts, Barbara couldn't quite read the wrinkle of her father's brow.

"Ah." The senior Gordon resettled his granddaughter in a her high chair. "So, is there -- "

The question about just how far he should prod seemed clear enough. Katharine resolved the issue.


It was the name that Helena had chosen to take. Barbara was "mommy".

Although Barbara was certain that her daughter's contribution was nothing more than coincidence, she could still feel the heat of a blush touching her cheeks. When her father bustled over to the stove, ostensibly to start whipping up some pancakes, Barbara spread out the paper and crayons for her daughter.

"Did you and mom ever -- "

Catching her lower lip in her teeth, Barbara searched for words.

"-- have difficulties about your job?"

She waited, more or less patiently, while her father tapped the spatula absently against his chin, seemingly oblivious to the dot of pancake batter that he left there.

"Are you encouraging Helena to leave the bar, Barbara?"

Although the redhead couldn't have said what response she had been anticipating, this wasn't it.

"No. She's--"

She faltered, the slight hiss of pancake batter hitting the griddle filling the awkwardness.

"Is Helena objecting to your teaching?"

Barbara was not oblivious to the fact that her father had yet to answer the question that she'd put to him. Nevertheless, she worked to help him contextualize her concerns.

"It's the internet business. The muffin top venture?"


The sight of a half-cooked griddle-cake flipping through the air accompanied the acknowledgment.

"And what, pray tell, is it that Helena objects to about -- "

When gunmetal blue eyes turned to take her in, Barbara felt herself straightening in her chair.


Buying herself a moment, Barbara checked on Katharine's coloring. The toddler had scribbled something that, in the right light and with the wrong prescription glasses, could have been a bat. Picking up an orange crayon, Barbara tackled a clean corner of the page, sketching something that was similar to a cat.

"She's afraid that I'll get burned and -- "

Dear heavens, Helena was right: their nominal cover story was, as her partner had put it, "lame".

"-- that we might be trying to do too much."

Her father slid a finished pancake onto a plate and dropped a pat of butter on it.

"I suppose that Helena is worried that Katie is at risk of getting burned as well, eh?"

A second pancake landed on top of the first, and Jim Gordon ladled two more dollops of batter onto the griddle, continuing to speak before Barbara could assure him that she, too, was concerned on that front.

"Still, Barbara, I was under the impression that you weren't much involved in the actual... baking."

Barbara found a yellow crayon and began coloring in her cat's eyes.

"That's true, Dad. I suppose that the internet side of things is more my forte." She looked up, sharing a smile with her father before sobering and adding the rest. "Honestly, I'm not sure how much I'm really needed for that."

Her father turned the two cakes on the griddle, pushing them to one edge before dropping a final spoonful of batter to make a silver dollar-sized pancake.

For Katharine, Barbara presumed.

"So, could you just hand the whole business off to Dinah?"

Barbara surrendered her art for the moment and moved to the hutch to retrieve silverware and napkins as she considered the question. While she had certainly gotten the impression the night before that the business would continue with or without her, she simply couldn't step away from her responsibilities that easily.

"Am I being selfish, Dad?"

Great blathering balderdash, where had that come from?

Feeling hopelessly needy and inarticulate, Barbara busied herself locating the syrup in the cupboard.

"Rather, Dinah says that she wants to take part, but I'm not sure that she's ready to handle it all."

She returned to the table just as her father approached holding two plates. As she'd guessed, the tiny pancake was resting on the edge of the plate that he set in front of her. Barbara lightly touched the silver-dollar pancake with her index finger, confirming that it wasn't too warm, and then pinched off a small bite that she offered to Katharine.

"Dinah needs more time."

As did she.

Her father hummed a response while he masticated a healthy bite of his breakfast, and Barbara turned her attention to administering a neat two tablespoons of syrup to her plate.

"So, Barbara, you asked if your aunt and I ever didn't see eye to eye about my vocation --?"

With her own mouth full this time, the redhead raised her brows in encouragement. It was enough.

"Indeed we did, Barbara. To the point that I moved to a less front-line job for a while."

Surprised by the admission, Barbara searched her memory, attempting to remember a time when her father hadn't been in the field, either as a detective or as commissioner. As if reading her mind, Jim Gordon smiled wryly and stabbed another bite of pancake.

"It was before you came to live with us, Barbie."

Barbara smiled at her father's use of the nickname and settled the remaining bit of the small pancake into the chubby fist that was extended.

"I'm not sure that would work, Dad." She addressed the remainder to the patterns that she was drawing through the syrup with her fork. "I think that Helena wants the business to go away altogether."

Suddenly lacking an appetite, she pushed her plate away.

"I -- I don't know how to talk with her."

Clearly the roles and interactions that she'd grown familiar with had shifted. Barbara had yet to determine just how much the changes encompassed and how far they went.

Finally looking up, Barbara found herself fixed under her father's fond scrutiny. On instinct, she reached out, using her thumb to wipe a dab of crusted batter from his chin. When he spoke again, she dropped her hands to her lap, working her napkin to a knot.

"That's a challenge, Barbara. Sometimes there just isn't room for compromise, and one person simply has to give in."

Chapter 16

"Why can't you just give it up?"

"Jeez, Helena, why can't *you*!?"

Helena didn't even try to hide her exasperation. In fact, she made a point of rolling her eyes so that Dinah would get the full show.

This was going nowhere in a hurry. Of course, she hadn't expected much when Dinah had come sashaying through the main floor of the Dark Horse a little earlier and stopped by the bar where Helena was drawing a couple of pitchers.

Saturday nights were always good for some sort of sports on the big screen and lots of guys swilling beer.

"Hey, Helena."

Seeing as how the Kid was technically too young to be drinking for another year, Helena had flirted with ratting her out to the cops for even being in the bar.

But that would have been petty. Not to mention that she figured that either Dinah could kick the police's ass or Barbara would fix the records to make everything hunky-dory.

So, just to let her know that she wasn't going to have a stick up her ass -- at least about the petty stuff -- Helena had raised an empty mug and gestured toward the taps.

"What can I get you, D?"

Shit, if Barbara thought that the blonde was old enough to fight crime, a beer wasn't going to kill her. Besides, she had looked like she could use a little re-hydration: Dinah's normally pale features had been sweaty and flushed; under her coat, Helena had picked out the edges of her karate Gi; even in the miasma of sensory experiences that the bar offered, Helena hadn't had any problem picking up the tang of clean sweat. All of it had told her that Dinah was coming back from lessons instead of her work at Mushnik's Flowers.

"No thanks, Hel. I'm okay."

Dinah's bright smile had dimmed a little, and Helena had held her breath.

"I was hoping you could come up to the apartment when you get a break."

She thought that the Kid must have seen something in her eyes. Those pale blue eyes had gone wide, just a little pleading.

"Just for a few minutes, Hel?"

Helena had thought about telling Dinah where she could get off with her invite, but, shit, what was she going to do? It wasn't like she could go through the next weeks and months and years pretending that Dinah didn't live right above where Helena was working or, hell, even trying to ignore her when she came to the Tower.

So here she was. If the greeting at the door was any way to tell, this little tete-a-tete was going to be loads of fun.

"God, Helena."

Dinah was in sweats, her hair damp from the shower. Deciding to ignore the whole "teen huff" in her host's tone, Helena stepped into her old place and shut the door, watching while Dinah snagged two bottles of water and waved toward the fire escape.

"Want to go outside?"

Dark was good, even if Helena wasn't sure how she felt about Dinah taking over her old brooding spot -- well, one of them -- on the roof of the bar. Hell, she wasn't sure that having the Kid take over her old apartment on what was looking to be a permanent basis was going to sit well.

Maybe the lumpy mattress on the bed would be as hard on Dinah's back as it had been on hers.

"Barbara said you were hiding at the library all day."

Sitting next to Dinah on the low parapet that circled the roof, staring out at the flickering lights of New Gotham, Helena didn't look over.


The Kid had the good grace to back down a little.

"Well, that was my take on it, Hel."

Helena dipped her head once, deciding to let Dinah figure out whether it was to accept the retraction-cum-apology or whether she was acknowledging where she'd been.

Even if she hadn't spent the whole day hitting the books. Somewhere around mid-afternoon, she'd had enough of digging through ISI Web Of Knowledge and running searches on Silverplatter -- especially since she could have gotten all of the info for her mid-term papers light years faster on the Delphi. Somehow, she'd ended up in the University art museum, looking at the familiar exhibits and spending a lot of time looking at the new Pollack stuff that had come in on loan.

She'd also found herself doing a lot of thinking about her mom, who would have loved to get her hands on a few of the pieces.

Helena couldn't be sure, but she thought that Bruce might have been the only person that Selina Kyle had really loved in her adult life.

Other than her.

But no matter what she'd felt, her mom had gotten the hell out of Dodge, leaving Bats to his own broody schtick, when Helena had come along. Helena kind of thought that part of the reason was to protect her from Bruce, but she knew that more of it was to protect her from the stuff that Bruce just brought raining down on himself.

Karma was pretty fucked up sometimes.

"So, Hel? Are you going to turn into the team bookworm now?"

Helena twisted the cap on her water bottle tight and then turned to look at her companion.

"No." She held her eyes. "Maybe I'm going to be the *family* bookworm."

Hell, it made sense in a stupid way, what with the roles that she and Dinah were filling going ass-over-noggin in the last few months.

"Look, D."

Helena half-turned, tucking one ankle under the leg that was still swinging out into the empty space of the alley behind the bar.

"You've done a lot of growing up in a hurry."

She saw Dinah starting to open her mouth and raised the hand that wasn't holding the plastic water bottle, asking for a minute to finish.

"I wanted to say that I'm sorry that's happened."

Funny thing was, it wasn't until she said the words that Helena realized how much she meant them. At twenty, Dinah should have been in school, doing the romantic angst thing and trying to sneak into bars and dreaming of her future.

Too bad that it seemed like Dinah wasn't on board with that picture.

"No, Hel, it was time. Like you said -- "

For the first time in a long time, Helena saw the blonde tucking some hair behind one ear. She'd missed that little nervous tell.

"-- I can't play at this."

Choking back the words that wanted to spill out, Helena turned to face the city again, dropping her leg to kick both heels against the crumbling brick of the wall.

"You don't have to do it at all, Dinah."

The blonde didn't answer her directly.

"Helena -- "

She sounded horribly earnest, which immediately got Helena's guard up.

"It's not like I'm not a little familiar with some of what you're dealing with. With having someone... important at risk."

Trying to play fair, Helena thought back to that day just a little over three months before.

"Yeah, that was pretty rough with Gabby."

A cautious look to her side revealed an expression on Dinah's face that was at least a little doubtful.

"Really," Helena added.

She felt Dinah's posture relax a little.


The word bled away on the wind, and Helena remembered herself.

"How's she doing?"

The brunette hadn't seem Gabby in over a month. She knew that Dinah and her girlfriend were making a point of visiting each other every few weeks, but that didn't mean much when it came to dealing with the fallout of what Gabby had seen.

"She's... She's okay."

Helena was pretty sure that there was more, so she tapped her water bottle against her thigh and waited. It didn't take any time.

"She thinks that she wants to join the team."

Helena half-turned, her eyebrows stretching for the moon.

"You're kidding, right?"

Or, maybe Barbara was right when she talked about her students and how stupid could be contagious.

The shake of a blonde head was eloquence enough, and Helena chewed on the information, one conclusion blazing across her brain in nanoseconds.

"Barbara's going to shit a brick."

"No kidding, Hel."

Of course, Helena had to consider that her gung-ho former partner might just be all thrilled to have a bigger team and more chances to fight for truth, justice, and yadda-yadda. Since she really didn't want to think about that, she decided to go with just the facts.

"Well, does Gabby have any -- " She pitched her voice and made air quotes with her fingers. "-- special skills?"

Helena kind of thought of herself as pretty well-versed in the ways of the world. She was no blushing virgin. Still she almost fell backward off her seat on the parapet when she made out the look that Dinah was giving her: It was just too dirty for words.

"Superhero skills," she managed.

The blonde sobered.

"Nothing meta, but she's smart and she's strong and, well, I guess it'd be kind of like Batm-- Batgirl."

Helena let the near-slip go.

"But does she have that whole do-gooder mentality?"

She didn't elaborate. She knew that Dinah understood.

Apparently, she realized a second later, Dinah understood too well.

"It's always been important for Barbara to make a difference, Hel. You know that."

A pale hand briefly touched her knee, ghostlike in the darkness.

"And you know her whole responsibility thing, too."

God, did Helena ever know it. But that didn't mean that Dinah could dance off scott-free.

"Then why the fuck don't you back away so that she has the chance of not being responsible?"

The brunette had to give her companion credit: Dinah didn't flinch.

"Would that really do it, Hel? And, would that be the right thing for Barbara?"

The blonde swung her legs over the parapet, resting her feet on the rooftop. That's when Helena noticed that she was wearing slippers.

Bunny slippers.

"Helena, Barbara is a... a teacher. And a leader."

Something in the wind must have blown into her eyes. Helena scrubbed the heel of her hand across her eyelids, trying to rub away the burning.

"Why isn't that enough, D?"

Why the fuck did Barbara have to be so damned selfish?

She didn't think she expected an answer. When she got one, the words undid the progress she'd made in clearing her eyes.

"Because she's also human, Hel."


Helena stood up and tossed her bottle over the edge of the roof, confident that she'd landed it in the dumpster two stories down.

It was time to get back on the clock.

She also figured that Dinah would be out hitting the streets soon. With Barbara's voice in her ear, telling her where to go and what to do.

"Like I said last year, D, if you mess up and hurt the family, I'll be coming for you myself."

The fierce hug that she got wasn't what Helena had been expecting, but it did remind her of something else that was important.

"Fuck, Dinah. Don't mess up and get yourself dead either."

Naturally, the Kid didn't let it go. Hell, Helena had to figure that, even without the hug, Dinah was probably picking up on the emotions Helena had been battling all day.

"What are you going to do about Barbara, Hel?"

Which was, the brunette couldn't deny as she re-entered the noise of the bar a minute later, a pretty important question. One she didn't have an answer to.

Still, she was pretty certain that she wasn't going to figure out her answer any time soon with some damned Wilson Philips pop blaring out of the juke. Grabbing a few quarters from the tip jar, she stalked over to the offending machine and started feeding it.

She hadn't heard that remake of the Nancy Sinatra classic in a while, so Helena chose it first. Then, just because, she picked something she hadn't heard of by someone she hadn't heard of.

It didn't hurt that it was number sixty-nine on the juke's playlist either.

She'd been back behind the bar for only about five minutes, just long enough for Jessica to finish her promise to walk on out, when she sensed somebody stepping up behind her at the back edge of the bar. Helena was speaking as she turned.

"What can I get you?"

The professional smile that she'd perfected over the years -- enough to ensure decent tips without getting her hit on by every guy in the place -- hitched, then it got genuine when she saw the handsome features across the counter.


Wake up in the morning, stumble on my life
Can't get no love without sacrifice
If anything should happen, I guess I wish you well
A little bit of heaven, but a little bit of hell


"Some of your time and, well, whatever I can get from you."

Helena waved to get Janey's attention and motioned that she'd be at a table. Ducking under the pass-through, she threaded her way through the bar, leading Jesse Reese to a small table in the corner.

"Haven't seen you for a while, Jesse."

Beautiful chocolate brown eyes seemed to search her before the detective answered.

'Yeah, well, I -- Well, after you and Barbara -- " A strong hand gestured vaguely, and Helena thought she detected a hint of a blush in dark features. "I thought I'd just better lay low."

"Thanks," she mouthed, not sure what the proper etiquette was in this kind of situation.

Jesse's answering smile was tight.

'Well, I'm hoping that I''m not overstepping here, but I need to call in that favor."


This is the hardest story that I've ever told
No hope, or love, or glory
Happy endings gone forever more
I feel as if I feel as if I'm wasted
And I'm wastin' everyday


Something prickled the hair at the back of Helena's neck. She pushed the sensation aside and quirked a grin.

'What is it, Jesse? Dinner and movie?"


So much for trying to crack wise.

"Well, not just that, Helena."

His smile was quick, registering an emotion that Helena couldn't quite place, but she knew that she'd seen pain -- and hope -- there. For an instant, that damned tingling danced over her skin again; for a heartbeat, she thought about asking whether she needed to talk to Barbara.



This is the way you left me,
I'm not pretending.
No hope, no love, no glory,
No happy ending.
This is the way that we love,
Like it's forever.
Then live the rest of our life,
But not together.


Then, Helena remembered. She also remembered everything that she owed Jesse, everything they had shared.

He had been a good friend. He was a friend.

Her answer was out before she could reconsider.

"Anything, Jesse."

Chapter 17

While Barbara was willing to grant that it could have been little more than wishful thinking on her part, it did seem that, possibly, she wasn't completely irrelevant yet. Indeed, while she freely acknowledged that anyone who had the power of the Delphi would have quite an advantage in the arena of cyber-sleuthing, she suspected that a keen eye for details and the ability to pick out patterns that would drop below the radar of a program couldn't be discounted either.

And she, as she'd just demonstrated quite to her satisfaction after hacking into LexCorp's online financial system, apparently still possessed both.

Although she'd essentially been dabbling as she'd coursed through the national IRA databases earlier -- killing time during Dinah's sweeps in a bit of real-life Monopoly, as it were -- the sudden surge in account reallocations all originating from one I.P. address had been enough to peak her interest. Thus, while her partner in the field had been running sweeps in downtown New Gotham, Barbara had followed her hunch and tracked the leads.


<"Come again, Oracle?">

A bit belatedly, Barbara remembered that her comms were still active. Almost guiltily, she jerked her gaze from the terminal screen that she'd been focused on and checked the GPS. She was a bit surprised to note how many blocks Dinah had covered in the last few minutes of her abstraction.

"Nothing, Canary. Just a possible fly in the ointment elsewhere."

<"Anything you need me to check on?">

Barbara was certain that she detected a distinct up-tick in the interest that registered in her newest partner's voice, and she chuckled softly.

"Afraid not, Canary. How are our BDUs doing?"

After a relatively low-key patrol, with Dinah working to protect Saturday night party-goers from the typical street criminals of the city, Barbara had been about to suggest calling it a night. However, when Dinah had noticed two Big, Dumb, and Uglies emerging from an alley, the young woman had suggested tailing them.

<"Just for a few blocks. Something about them sets my teeth on edge.">

Unable to deny a fellow crime-fighter's hunch, Barbara had agreed. She suspected that neither of them had been surprised when Dinah's prey had started tailing three partiers near the docks not too many minutes later.

<"They've closed the distance a little on the frat boys,"> was the brief response.


<"Kappa Kappa Gamma hoodies.">

The redhead nodded briefly and toggled to the police scanners to verify that nothing more promising had cropped up.

"Have they done anything yet, Canary?"

For some reason, the exasperated huff that rasped through the headset was not what Barbara had been expecting.

<"Well, when I brushed by them two blocks back -- ">

The words reminded Barbara -- again -- of the difference in her newest partner's style: whereas Helena had preferred to stalk from the rooftops, Dinah seemed more comfortable on the streets.

<"-- the frat boys reeked of alcohol?">

There was a distinct note of hope in her partner's words, however Barbara didn't hesitate.

"I think we'll leave the public intoxication busts to the police, Canary."

They needed to stay focused on the mission, although the fact that their two BDUs hadn't jumped at the bait of a single young woman on the street could indicate that Dinah's sixth sense still needed a bit of honing.

"Any suspicious action from the two you're following?"

She was pleased that there was no trace of defensiveness in the response she received.

<"Nothing yet, Oracle, but what are the odds that they just happen to be following these guys for sixteen blocks?">

Immediately, Barbara worked backward from Dinah's current location, mentally flicking through the series of streets and alleys that had been traversed, not to mention the turns and meandering progress that they had tracked. When she ran the tally and did the math, the results were telling.

"I believe the odds are greater for a woman to get married after forty."

The instant that the words were out, Barbara regretted them. On-comms banter had simply become too... charged since the night before.

Green eyes ticked to the on-screen clock, confirming the time, and Barbara automatically corrected herself. Since it was after midnight, it had technically been two days since the little... showdown.

<"Uh, okay. How about I give the BDUs a little TK push to see if it kicks them into gear?">

Grateful for the distraction, Barbara was ready to give the go-ahead when she heard her partner snicker.

<"And, if that doesn't do it, maybe I can sober up the frat boys by giving them a push into the harbor.">

Although she allowed herself a smile, Barbara kept her response dry.

"Considering what, and who, may be floating in the waters of New Gotham's harbor, Canary, I believe that would be tantamount to attempted murder."

<"How about I just dump some on their heads?">

With a soundless chuckle, Barbara opted to table for later her curiosity about Dinah's marked antipathy for drunken university boys. At the same time, she determined that the wash of fondness for Dinah's doggedness -- no doubt reminding her of the same trait in her former partner -- would best be tucked into a box and shoved to the distant recesses of her mental closet.

It was best to focus on the matters at hand.

"Whenever you're ready."

Dinah's push did the trick, enraging the two thugs who turned first on each other and then toward the frat boys. When Dinah announced that she was stepping into the fray, Barbara deliberately chose not to offer any guidance. She was more than delighted when she gathered that her newest protege was relying on her martial arts training instead of her telekinetic ability to win the day.

As stunning as Dinah's meta-abilities were, it was safest to have other skills as well.

With NYPD dispatched, Barbara bid her partner a good night and began the process of closing down her workstation. Given the lateness of the hour, it seemed that there was little use in staying up: Helena shift at the bar had ended almost two hours before. Nevertheless, she was loathe to turn in, suspecting that doing so would turn into little more than an exercise in lying awake in the big bed.

So it was that, after checking on Katharine, Barbara found herself shutting off the lights in the Tower and then moving onto the balcony.

There was no moon, the darkness almost absolute; however, Helena had no trouble finding her footing when she landed soundlessly on the roof of the building that faced the balcony. She had even less difficulty making out Barbara's profile where the redhead had sequestered herself in the shadows.

God, she was so damned beautiful.

Unable and unwilling not to look, the brunette crouched two stories above, one knee resting lightly on the tarred gravel that covered the roof. Barbara's pale skin seemed to draw, then refract, the meager light from the city at night; her hair draped her shoulders like a cloak. As Helena watched, she saw her lover absently running her fingertips to the right side of her shirt placket, just above the swell of her breasts.

Helena hissed, and then swallowed something sour that clawed at her throat. Her own chest ached in the same spot that Barbara was touching.

She thought it always would.

When she saw Barbara shiver in the cool early spring night, Helena was on her feet and bridging the air between the buildings without thought.

She couldn't just stand back.

To Barbara's admittedly human ears, Helena's arrival was perfectly soundless. Nevertheless, she simply knew when the younger woman had joined her, and she turned, unerringly pinpointing her in the darkness.

"Hello, Helena."

Between one word and the next, Helena's duster was around her, cocooning Barbara. The heat from the younger woman's body lingered, warming her; Helena's scent mingled with the rich leather, making Barbara feel utterly secure.

This was right.

The words flashed behind Barbara's eyelids while she drew in a deep breath. Yet...

Barbara pried open her eyes, catching her lower lip in her teeth. When she spoke, she hated the hesitation in her words.

"I wasn't sure that you'd be ho--"

Something about the way the other woman seemed to stiffen forced Barbara to stumble. She continued carefully.

"--that I'd see you tonight."

There was a flash of teeth, white in the inky blackness. Barbara chose to accept it as a grin.

"Huh. It's not like I have your tolerance for hitting the books for days in a row."

"And nights," Barbara gently reminded her.

Digging the toe of one boot into the flagstone edging, Helena bit her tongue. She knew that Barbara was more than aware that she'd done her part, that she'd called part-way through the afternoon.

<<"Will you-- What are your plans for the rest of the day, Helena?">>

Helena hadn't been sure just what her big-brained partner -- her domestic partner -- had been thinking about asking, but what had come out hadn't been real encouraging. So, she'd told Barbara the truth.

"Leroy called. He has an extra shift for me so..."

For some stupid reason, she'd left it hanging. Barbara's answer had helped her make up her mind on the spot about accepting the offer from her boss.

<<"I understand, Helena.">>

The brunette wasn't so sure that Barbara did. She wasn't so sure that she could help her understand.

As the silence wore on, Barbara realized that her companion had chosen not to respond, and so she decided to probe a bit.

"You're... late."

Helena stepped from the deepest shadows, something self-mocking in her tone.

"Relax, I wasn't out doing black-market sweeps or anything."

When she saw nothing but calm acceptance -- and the curiosity that Barbara just couldn't fight -- in Barbara's features, Helena shrugged and turned to face the cityscape.

"I ran into... an old friend. We were catching up."

She really didn't know why she was nervous about fessing up. Nothing had happened, even if she had given Jesse her promise.

For a few beats, Barbara waited to see if there would be anything more. When nothing was forthcoming, it dawned on her that this might be the most she could expect. Screwing up her courage, she decided that one of them simply had to make at least a passing reference to the elephant that seemed to be cemented -- or wading knee deep in molasses -- on the balcony.

"Do -- Would you like to talk about -- ?"

Despite her best intentions, she faltered, wondering just how to describe the apparent unraveling of so much.

"-- the other night?"

Helena had faded into the dark edges of the balcony again, only the soft outline of her face visible in the blackness. Her voice seemed to float from nowhere.

"I... I don't -- "

Don't what?

Helena poked her tongue into her cheek, wondering if she wasn't ready to talk yet or --

"I don't think there's anything left to say, Barbara."

Although the redhead doubted that very much, she wasn't adverse to a bit of avoidance.

At least for the time being.

Accordingly she offered a noncommittal hum, and they fell into a silence broken only by the scree of the cold March wind.

"Beware the Ides," Barbara heard herself murmur.

"Caesar or Brutus?" floated again from the darkness. Since she simply had no answer, Barbara opted not to respond.

Pretty much instantly regretting her little fit of foot-in-mouth, Helena took a cautious step forward.

"Everything okay, Red?"


She couldn't tell if Barbara was clueless, or just lost in her own thoughts, or clueless and lost, or...

"With sweep--"

Something made it hard to say, even if it was something they talked about.

"Everything go okay tonight?"

Barbara pulled Helena's coat more snugly around her shoulders, allowing herself a smile as she nodded a confirmation.

God, Helena loved that smile. There was no way she couldn't respond.

"You're looking pretty pleased with yourself, Ms. Gordon."

Finally, something had been spoken without that damnable cloak of reticence. Almost giddy, Barbara allowed her smile to bloom.

"I am, actually."

The words had their intended effect, luring Helena another step closer.

"I noticed some suspicious banking activity and traced it back to LexCorp. It looks like the CEO is working out how to raid the employee pensions."

Helena's next step had a bit of spring in it.

"Not nice," the younger woman allowed, and Barbara seized on the words.

"Indeed. This impacts lives."

For a split second, Barbara held her breath. The snicker that she made out wasn't what she'd hoped for, but it was better than what she'd feared.

"What're you going to do? Send The Kid out to give him a stern talking to?"

When she saw emerald eyes spark, Helena shook her head.

"Joking, Barbara. Sheesh."

She slipped to the side, blending into the absurd shadows cast by the stone gargoyles above them.

"I know that, Hel," For some reason, Barbara felt the need to defend her own enthusiasm. "However, that is something that--"

Helena raised one hand, palm out, in a request for silence.

Or, Barbara wondered as her companion faded to the darkness again, perhaps it was a request for peace.

"I -- I don't think I want to know other than if she -- if everything is okay."

Dropping her hands to the wheels of her chair, Barbara rocked herself a few inches forward, then back, turning a few degrees in the process in order to track Helena's location.

"Sweeps went very well, Helena. I thought you might not want to hear the details."

The answer came from behind her, causing Barbara to jump a tiny bit.

"Just that everything's okay."

Somewhere in the street below, a dog barked. Then, Barbara jumped in earnest when Helena leaned down, one hand coming to the arm of her chair, the other lightly brushing the hair from her cheek.

She hadn't even sensed Helena's movement.

"You look like you're wired up."

Helena didn't even try to hide her half-smile. Hell, who knew better than she did how much of a buzz that Barbara got from a good sweeps or cracking some puzzle or striking another blow for the good guys?

And the vicarious thrill of the hunt, too, she was reminded when she picked up Barbara's scent.

Helena had always loved the way Barbara smelled, and the heat and faint hint of perspiration that rose from her lover was almost a caress. Closing her eyes, the brunette opened her mouth, breathing in the sweet familiar essence of her home, her life.

"I suppose I am."

Fighting the urge to rock her chair, Barbara knit her fingers in her lap. It did nothing to reduce the aching awareness of Helena's proximity.

"I was just thinking about some tea to wind down."

The wind rose, tickling Helena's lips with a few strands of crimson silk. Eyes heavy-lidded, she pushed Barbara's words around a little, trying to weigh them-- and the emotion behind them. Finally, she decided to take a leap.

"There are other ways to burn off that energy, you know."

The low burr in the younger woman's voice raised the fine hair on the back of Barbara's neck. Suddenly no longer the slightest bit chilled, the redhead felt gooseflesh erupt on her upper body.

"Is -- " She had to stop, to take the time to swallow and wet her dry mouth. "Is that so?"


The lone syllable was a touch, Helena's breath warm; her next words were little more than a rumbling purr.

"Let's go to bed."

Chapter 18

Fear was metallic in Barbara's mouth. For an instant, the taste brought with it the choking taste of copper and saline blood. Then, she looked up and for the first time in the awkward minutes that had passed since Helena's arrival, she saw her partner's face.

Her eyes.

Helena's eyes were not the feral yellow that she'd expected. Rather, they were deep blue, dancing tandem to the clearly indulgent smile that painted her lips.

Swallowing, Barbara raised her arms in request.

"Yes, Hel."

By the time they were settled on the bed in Dinah's old room, the terror that had briefly seized Barbara was a distant memory. It had been replaced with something softer, a deep affection that swelled larger with every trip that Helena made to the room: first carrying Barbara in, then returning with her chair, and finally ducking out to check on Katharine where she slept in their room.

"The Peapod is still sawing wood," was the verdict.

Shucking her boots and pants, Helena crawled onto the bed, swinging one leg across Barbara's thighs to straddle her lap. Without breaking the flow of her motion, her fingers came to the buttons of her lover's shirt, easily plucking them open.

She'd already stripped Barbara of her shoes and jeans when they'd come it, and there was no way she was beating around the bush any longer. She could smell the exciting coursing on Barbara's skin.

"You're ramped up, aren't you?"

Helena brushed the shirt from Barbara's shoulders and tossed it to the side, her free hand already cupping the redhead's breast and her thumb rubbing against the lace of her bra. Barbara pushed aside her urge to resist the contact and arched upward slightly.

This was, after all, good as well. It was certainly more than she'd expected when she'd moved to the balcony earlier.

"Yes," she managed a smile. "I suppose I am."

Helena's grin was sly.

"Any way in particular you'd like to celebrate the successful deployment of your newest operative?"

Barbara read no censure in the question, and she took courage from that.

"I was thinking -- " She wet her lips and made the choice to join in with Helena's play. "-- of something of a carnal nature."

Helena's grin grew wider.

"Why, Ms. Gordon," she batted her lashes, "is that your way of saying that you want to get naked with me?"

Green eyes regarded her levelly as Helena felt her hand brushed from her lover's chest.

"Buck -- "

The brunette caught her breath at the sight of Barbara's fingers working the front closure on her bra.

"-- naked, Hel."


Yanking her own tee off, Helena leaned down, bringing them skin-to-skin. When the shiver that always took her from that contact let up, she allowed her mouth to follow a wandering line down Barbara's neck to the leaping pulse at the side of her throat. As she washed the sweet flesh with her tongue, she felt the steady pulse of blood moving through her lover's veins, but it was more of what she wasn't feeling that got her attention.

"C'mon, Red," Helena whispered as she raked her teeth over delicate skin. "Celebrate."


Barbara's murmur set Helena's pulse to pounding, just like the way that Barbara was pulling her close and going soft and open beneath her. She pretty much figured that one more throaty whisper from the redhead would push her into---

Helena caught herself. She caught on to Barbara.

Pushing up on her forearms, she waited until green eyes met hers and crimson brows quirked. The affectionate amusement that painted those elegant features was nice, but it wasn't going to touch the energy that Barbara had said she wanted to work off.

Okay, it was time to haul out the big guns.

Buying herself a minute, Helena worked her hands under Barbara's back, letting her fingers automatically go to work on relaxing stiff muscles. Then she started reviewing the usual suspects.

There was flattery.

Talking to Barbara about her strong hands and the softness of her skin and the way that her hair felt washing across Helena's thighs could get pretty damned hot. Although, when Helena came to think about it, that kind of talk probably went further in getting her charged up than Barbara.

So, there was always talking filthy.

There'd been a lot of times when the judicious use of certain words -- usually those starting with the letters "t", "f", and "c" -- could light Red's fire. Helena had already leaned in when it struck her that this wasn't about that.

Pressing a tender kiss to the redhead's temple, Helena kept thinking.

Talking to Barbara in French sometimes got her going.

A few well-timed bits of poetry or, hell, just some romantic description had been known to get Barbara's motor revving. But, she admitted the second the idea came to her, this wasn't so much a hearts and flowers time either.


Helena figured she could go for the trifecta and try flattering her lover with a few dirty French words. But, it still wasn't the right kind of... energy.

They were here, in the guest room, because she'd suggested it. And Helena had suggested it because, well, this was Barbara. Yeah, sexy beautiful big-brained Barbara, but it was Barbara who was ramped up because --

Well, Helena knew why.

Closing the gap, Helena breathed a single word into her lover's ear.


Pleasantly relaxed -- and not entirely sure that she could rouse herself from that state -- Barbara felt her brows crease.

"La-- ?" she echoed, a trifle stupidly she suspected. Was Helena suggesting the use of the purple--


That cinched it. Barbara planted her palms against her partner's shoulders and applied a bit of pressure. Helena refused to be budged.


This last was delivered in tandem with the application of sharp teeth to Barbara's neck. Not quite sure why, Barbara thought she detected a stutter in her heartbeat.

"Baby powder."

Helena hadn't really planned on that one, but, hell, Barbara was getting kind of sweaty and Helena didn't want any, well, mental chafing. Besides, something about the scent always made her think of Barbara.

"Careful, Hel..."

Needing to know, the brunette pulled back a few inches. She saw that the warning was offered through a smile; however she also saw the glint in green eyes that were rapidly dilating to black. Without hesitation, Helena pushed up on her hands and narrowed her eyes in challenge.


Fisti-- ?

Barbara felt her eyebrows stretching for the head of the bed, and she struggled to stifle a thoroughly undignified snort. Undeterred, Helena went for the kill.


Very slowly, she walked her fingers up the silken skin that covered a muscular bicep, allowing the pads of her fingers to linger lightly at the spot just above Barbara's elbow that always made her squirm.


Helena swept her hands down the length of both of Barbara's arms and caught her wrists. She raised them both above her lover's head, pinning them loosely with her left hand.


She brought her free hand down to cup a full breast and squeezed.



It was Barbara's word finally, deep and husky. Helena just had time to make out another as Barbara sat up beneath her and flipped her to her back.


Somehow, the brunette managed one more salvo -- "Conquer--?" -- even if it was more of a moan than a continuation of their conversation. Then, with Barbara attacking her throat and her mouth and those strong hands digging in to her side, Helena didn't worry much about being coherent for a while.

There were better things to think about. Like the way Barbara was looking at her like she was chocolate in a room full of PMS-ing women.

Her own skin flushed from the verbal foreplay that Helena had initiated, Barbara began a deliberately paced, randomly mapped, trip down Helena's body. Using her tongue and lips and teeth, she brought an answering bloom to dusky skin. She lingered at Helena's breasts, working the smooth skin against her palms and painting Helena's nipples with her mouth. It was only when she noticed her lover's ragged breathing that Barbara reluctantly released the succulent flesh; however, she'd barely begun to explore the tantalizing planes of a washboard abdomen when she felt slender fingers in her hair, drawing her back up.

"Not that," Helena's whisper was thick. "I want... more."

Helena watched a crimson brow arching toward Barbara's hairline, eloquently expressing a great many things. She waited out the scrutiny, trying to breathe through the desire that fluttered in her belly.


The desire in the younger woman's face was apparent, as was the invitation. Barbara dropped her eyes, focusing on the subtle tensing of the muscles in Helena's legs. She ran the tip of her index finger across satin skin while she weighed what she saw in Helena's face against her own desires.

And her fear.

Heaven help her, Barbara knew that she wanted... wanted so much. Reared in the polite mores of middle class, Barbara accepted that such desires weren't something she cared much to consider. She understood an instinctive fear and distrust not just of how much she wanted this, but why.

Analytically, of course, she could grasp that some of the reasons certainly sprang from what had transpired at the hands of The Joker. Yet, whether the genesis rose from acting out rage over what she could no longer experience or it was one way to make up for what she could no longer do didn't matter.

All that mattered was before her, reclining in open desire before her. All that counted was her own willingness.

To trust.

Viscerally, the sheer power of what she sometimes wanted was terrifying. Yet, searching violet, hungry eyes, she couldn't deny the trust that Helena had offered to her in the last two years: time after time, Barbara had asked her partner to trust her with her needs, with her feral side, and Helena had offered her everything.

Could she trust Helena any less with her secrets?

"Sweetheart -- "

Barbara honestly wasn't certain what she planned to say. Her attempt was aborted when she felt Helena capture her hand, raising it to her lover's breast. Under Helena's guidance, she palmed the sensitive flesh, feeling her own nipples burn in an answering ache; however, when Helena covered the back of her hand and squeezed, it was the fire in Helena's eyes that set her aflame.

"C'mon, Red. Do me."

Something pounded low in Barbara's stomach, and she swallowed thickly. For another heartbeat, she regarded the younger woman, and then she smiled slowly. With intent.

The look made Helena's toes curl. But it didn't hold a candle to the words, rich and thick, that Barbara spoke.

"Oh, I shall, Helena. I shall."

Not giving herself time to second-guess, the redhead lowered herself to rest on one elbow, simultaneously tugging Helena towards her. When she felt her partner roll toward her, Barbara arched toward the contact, allowing her palm to land on firm glutes with just a hint of force. Instantly, she was almost toppled backward by the volume of the guttural growl that echoed between them.

For a split-second, Barbara hovered on the precipice. The sensation of Helena moving sinuously against her tipped the scales.

Oh, this could be very, very nice.

Once more, again with more intent than force, she brought her hand down. The dark head arched back, slender neck straining in a pure animal display of pleasure.

"On your knees, Hel."


Feeling her eyes begin to droop with anticipated pleasure, Helena shucked her underwear and boosted herself to her hands and knees. She had to fight to keep herself still, steady, and when Barbara's fingers came to her chin, it didn't help. Somehow, she held it together, dropping her chin to suck two fingers into her mouth.

Barbara's smile was indulgent.

And sexy as all hell.

"You don't come, Hel."

It wasn't like Helena was going to argue, so she just nodded, allowing Barbara to extricate her hand. Then, Barbara was extending her hand in front of her, palm out, and Helena felt the frown forming while she tried to puzzle it out.


Exhaling harshly, Barbara fought her own desire to push, to rush, allowing Helena to take her time as she languorously wet her palm with her tongue. Only when her lover pulled away did she give in.

She gave herself over, measuring her pace and tempering every blow. She watched the sweat rise on the bare skin of her lover's back, feeling an answering heat across her own upper body. She choreographed her movements to the arching, rolling undulations of Helena's hips, mouth watering. She grit her teeth against the need to whisper -- or moan -- as Helena's litany of pleasure sounded for both of them.

"Barbara-- god."

Eventually, she slowed, then stroked skin that was hot with blood and alive under her touch. And still Barbara needed.

"I need to see you, Helena."

The younger woman was on her back before the words had faded. The snarling hiss that bled out when her skin touched the sheets almost undid the redhead.

Again, Barbara battled down her need to rush.

Dancing her fingers through wet heat, she caught her lower lip in her teeth and tasted blood at the image of Helena grunting in pleasure, digging her heels into the mattress and thrusting up to meet her hand.

Slowly, delicately, Barbara worked her hand, then her fist, feeling the returning squeeze of velvet enrobed muscles. Transfixed, she held her lover's gaze, unable to breathe through the rigidity of sinewy muscles that were locked in a rictus of pain that, even as Barbara watched, bled to pleasure. Helpless, she leaned in to cover Helena's mouth -- rounded in an "o" -- with her own, unable to bear the light in gold eyes the offered transparency to her lover's soul.

For an eternity, for an instant, Helena's soft panting exhalations were the only sound to accompany the slide of skin against wet, succulent flesh. Barbara finally gave in, breaking the silence that threaded between them.

"Come, Helena."

She felt the younger woman's passion growing, moving upward through her limbs, centering in her body as she shuddered soundless. The pressure against the redhead's fist grew, and Barbara looked up again, pierced by blue eyes that were eternally fixed on her.

Without conscious volition, Barbara's free hand rose to the side of the brunette's face. Helena's smile coincided with her orgasm, and Barbara struggled upward to whisper kisses across her lover's cheeks and eyelids and mouth.

Dear heavens, Helena was so beautiful.

Unable to deny herself, Barbara demanded entrance to Helena's mouth, swallowing her soft whimpers before she backed away, once again pressing gentle kisses to her skin.

"Sweetheart, my -- I..."

Burying her face against a strong shoulder, Helena shook her head once. It felt so fucking right, and she just wanted to stay there forever. Almost like Barbara knew, she didn't pull out right away, and Helena curled into her, feeling her muscles spasming with the aftershocks and just... just having Barbara being a part of her.

"God. Damn."

Finally prying open her eyes, Helena peered up through her lashes to find Barbara smirking at her. She had to admit that it hadn't been the most eloquent way to wrap it up, but it had pretty well nailed the essence of the experience for her.

Still, it wouldn't hurt to try again, seeing as how Barbara was all about language.

"I want to do that again, Red."

For a moment, Barbara remained stock-still, attempting to collect her flabbergasted wits. Surprising herself, she stopped short of overthinking matters and allowed her laughter to bubble forth.

"I do, too, Sweetheart."

The smile they shared did little to dissipate the heat that built when Barbara slowly, regretfully, separated from Helena. Nor did the achingly content stretch that she witnessed when her partner rolled onto her side.

"My, but you're sexy, Hel."

Green eyes blinked once while Barbara acknowledged that it really had been her voice that had spoken the words. Apparently, the uncharacteristic utterance didn't faze her partner in the slightest.

"What does sexy mean to you, Red?"

Barbara obediently repositioned her arm to allow Helena to snuggle against her side while she considered the question. For a few moments, she weighed reason and rational linguistics against the mental photo album that she'd collected through the years with her partner.

She felt the blood rushing into her cheeks.

"It means," she finally decided to admit, "that I want to do unspeakably filthy things to you."

Slowly, the dark head that was resting on her shoulder rose, bringing bright blue eyes into view. When Helena spoke, her voice was a curious mixture of pleading and, well, leering.

"Speak a few, Baby."

Flirting with a demurral, the redhead heard herself swallow, and then she gave a mental shrug.

"I believe one might involve positioning you face down on the bed, securing your ankles and wrists to the far corners, placing a pillow or two under you, and -- "

Seeing the warm blush of arousal coursing up her lover's throat, Barbara stretched over to whisper the rest.

She decided to take the growl that she heard as enthusiasm.

"Want to go again, Hel?"

White teeth flashed.

"Like I'm gonna say no to that?"

Chapter 19

Dawn had long since come and gone, its advent occurring less than an hour after they had returned to their bedroom. Since then, Helena had been relaxed beside her, nothing but the low rumble that emanated from her chest suggesting that she was even breathing. Barbara, content with the arrangement, lay quietly, her right arm curled around her lover as she watched the shifting changes of light in the room and reflected on their night.

It was only when the younger woman's purring transformed to a soft whuffling against Barbara's underarm that the redhead dared to move. She worked a minute series of isometric stretches, feeling Helena respond by somehow, impossibly, plastering herself closer to her side.


Barbara felt a smile tug the corners of her mouth and turned her head to press a gentle kiss into the mussed locks that rested on her shoulder. In response, she felt Helena stretching exorbitantly beside her.


The murmur was almost lost as the younger woman buried her nose against her side, and Barbara worked not to squirm ticklishly when she felt soft inhalations against her breast. Determining that the brunette was awake enough to scent her, she swallowed and broke the silence.

"Are you all right, Hel?"

Unable to miss the fact that Barbara's skill with morning-after sorts of pillow talk wasn't improving in a hurry, Helena grudgingly dragged her eyes open. The view that she was faced with -- an extreme close up of Barbara's chest -- went a long way in reducing some of the crankiness that she felt.

"Almost as awesome as you are, Baby."

Helena felt her partner's measured inhalation. She felt Barbara's muscles tense. Pretty sure she was about to get a protest and damned near positive that her big-brained lover had probably been lying there worrying ever since they'd left Dinah's room and Helena had dragged her ass back to the big bed, she pushed up on her elbow, snagged Barbara's free hand, and brought it to the area of her anatomy she'd just been thinking about.

Then, Helena applied a little pressure to the back of the hand she was guiding. When Barbara took over and those strong fingers squeezed, Helena didn't have to think any more about reassurances.


Instantly, Helena was on top of her companion, her hands roving over her chest and sides and her legs starting to scissor against Barbara's.

Pillow talk was good, but she could handle some nonverbal communication, too.

"Hold on there, Hot Stuff."

Barbara was laughing, the sound sending heat straight to Helena's center. She ignored her body's outraged protests and stilled her hands long enough to look up into deep emerald eyes.

"Are you sure, Hel?"

Crap. Crap. Crap.


No pillow talk *and* no nonverbal, but, Helena accepted with something akin to resignation, there was going to be talking. Refusing to relinquish the prime real estate that she was perched over, she smiled and worked to figure how she could speed the chatting process along.

"Barbara," she waited a beat, making sure she had the redhead's full attention. When she was certain, Helena spoke slowly, carefully, hoping to impress Barbara with the depth and duration of her response. "I'm really, *reeeelly* sure."

Although Helena didn't so much as blink or crack a smile, Barbara forced a smile of her own across the tightening of her jaw. There could be little doubt as to Helena's sincerity; however, that didn't mean that she understood how her partner could be so... open. When she felt her hand gently grasped, Helena's thumb brushing over her knuckles, Barbara suspected that her lover had read her doubts.

"What's chewing at you, Barbara?"

Helena knew that the range of possibilities for that question was probably astronomical. It wasn't like Barbara ever had trouble finding something to fret over, and seeing what she'd let go with a few hours earlier...

"I suppose that I wasn't expecting--"

Mentally wincing at the sheer... formality of her diction, Barbara twitched the muscles of her face, hoping that Helena would interpret the gesture as the apologetic smile that was intended.

"I didn't think that you'd want to be..." Despite her best intentions, she faltered before soldiering on. "-- to engage in that sort of intimacy."

Gamine features wrinkled in confusion. When Helena spoke, her voice was deceptively light.

"What, the slap and tick--"

Fearing that the blush she could feel rushing up her neck might consume her, Barbara cut her short.

"Any intimacy, Hel."

The confusion in the younger woman's eyes only deepened. Dropping her hands to the covers, Barbara worked fists against the sheets and tried to clarify.

"Because we were-- we are--"

Helena got it.

"Because we're kind of fighting about sweeps and the business?"

Simultaneously relieved and embarrassed, the redhead nodded. Unprepared for the snort of laughter that greeted her admission, she schooled her features to something that she hoped approached disbelief. Helena seemed to be undeterred, merely dropping down to rest fully on Barbara's upper body, her laughter dissolving into a series of snickers.

As delicious as the sensation might have been, Barbara was not going to be distracted.

"Care to share with the class, Helena?"

"It's just -- "

A lingering snert tickled Barbara's chest before Helena pushed up on her elbows, her face -- and voice -- registering frank incredulity. Barbara honestly was unable to decide whether to be relieved or miffed by her partner's rather patronizing tone.

"Well, shit, Barbara. That would be like holding *my* breath to punish *you*, wouldn't it?"

As if that were all that needed to be said, the brunette grinned and then planted a kiss on the tip of Barbara's nose. Barbara felt an eyebrow hitch as she comprehended Helena's logic.


A beat later, she felt her brows furrow: There was simply no way that matters could be that simple.

Ready to turn her attention to more pressing matters, Helena felt Barbara's jaw work against her cheek, and she slowed down, calming herself. She knew that Barbara was tied up in the thinky aspects of sex, so it wasn't all that hard to figure that she maybe had it a little harder when it came to mixing up logic and love.

"Look, Barbara."

Helena scooted up just a little, allowing herself to rest her forehead lightly against her lover's.

"We're always partners. Just, well, here the dynamic shifts a little more."

Ignoring the suspicion that she'd gone a bit cross-eyed trying to see at such close range, Barbara focused on the topic at hand.

"Are you certain, Hel?"

It simply seemed too difficult to make such a transformation so... seamlessly.

"Bar-ba-ra..." was the reply that was sing-songed.

"Er, the... what about the specifics?" Barbara managed to clarify on a nearly strangled whisper.

She could hardly fault her own mortification: sometimes, she herself wasn't sure just what drove her. While she admitted that the frustration of being hobbled formed a part of it, she hoped it wasn't the largest part.

Apparently, she needn't have worried.


At such close range, Helena could see the doubt ready to hop right past concern and into guilt and self-castigation. Do not pass "Go"; do not collection two hundred dollars. Hell, it was probably going to bring along some friends like horror and propriety just for funsies.

She pushed up again, straddling Barbara's waist.

"It's like I said, Barbara: There's that -- " she waved toward the living area of the Tower and then lowered that hand to rest lightly over Barbara's heart. "and then there's family."

And, like she'd realized the night before when she'd been talking with Jesse, everything ultimately did come down to family.

She gave her partner a few seconds to mull on that, but when it looked like Barbara was still a little slow to get her ticket punched on the clue train, Helena hunted for a way to explain.

"You remember that guy with the laser a couple of years ago and how you had to come roaring out to rescue D and me?"

Quite vividly recalling the man who had indirectly unleashed an entire series of events through his attempts to contact a passing comet, Barbara merely arched her eyebrows. She was determined not to be completely left behind by the seeming conversational one-eighty.


"And do you remember what we talked about that night? In... in your bed?"

The redhead started to correct the pronoun that her lover had used to describe their bed, and then she remembered herself.

That night had, in truth, been their first night together.

As Barbara recalled that particular genesis, her infallible memory supplied not just the fact that they had been fumbling towards intimacy but also the greater intimacy of the conversation they had shared.

** "It was a little possessive, Barbara. That whole 'Get the fuck away from my woman or I'll kick your ass' speech."

Barbara distinctly recalled the heat of a blush that had touched her cheeks. She also recalled that she'd managed a laugh and a salvo that had been surprisingly bold for her.

"And, don't you forget it, Sweetie."

She had expected a chuckle or a suggestive comment. Therefore, her partner's response hadn't just surprised her; it had floored her.

Blue eyes, achingly open and hopeful, had met hers. A soft, utterly happy smile had crept over gamine features before transforming smoothly into something soft and... wanting. Dark lashes had fluttered closed, and Barbara had lost the power to breathe when Helena had ducked to rub the top of her head lightly against her chin.

"I've always been yours, Barbara. I've just been waiting for you." **

"In here," Helena's voice was gentle and oh-so serious. "I'm all about bottoming for you, Baby."

Struggling for oxygen, for something to kick start her brain, Barbara felt her mouth moving.


Deep blue eyes unflinchingly met her searching gaze, allowing Barbara to consider the declaration.

Allowing her to accept it.

"*All* about it, Hel?"

Finally, it seemed that the awful tension of the last days was finally fading.

"Uh huh." Helena's eyes were impish. "Want me to prove it?"

Struck by a wave of emotion, Barbara searched for some way to express what she needed to. More important, she realized with what even she admitted to be rare insight, she wanted to express what Helena needed.

"No," shaking her head slowly, she smiled. "I want to prove it to you."

The words hit Helena squarely in the solar plexus, the heat they created radiating outward like a supernova.


It was all that Helena had time to say before she felt Barbara tugging at her hips.

Cripes but Red was strong.

The realization -- and maybe just a touch of friction coming from moving across Barbara's stomach -- made her nipples burn. The intent behind Barbara's actions made her clit twitch.

"Up here, Hel," Barbara punctuated the words with another tug. "I want to use my mouth."

The brunette was already in motion when her conscience scratched at her, and she put on the brakes.


Helena lowered herself to take her weigh with her thighs, being extra-careful not to rest herself on Barbara's chest. She wasn't worried about her weight, just the distraction of having her lover's skin in contact with her throbbing center. Then, she smiled, hoping it came off as at least a little charming.

"I like to help you feel good too, you know."

Hell, it didn't seem much fair seeing as how Barbara had taken her to the exosphere three, no, four times last night. And there would have been a fifth if Helena just could have gotten her body to reform from the gelatinous state that she'd entered after that last go-round. A sultry chuckle roused her from some powerful and pleasant memories of just what it was that Barbara had done to reduce her to that state.

Who the hell would have guessed that the application of skillful fingers to *that* portion of her anatomy would have sent her through the roof like that?

"Oh, you will Helena."

Seeing the hesitation that remained, Barbara sobered and searched blue eyes.

"This *is* what I want to feel good, Hel."

Continuing to hold her lover's eyes, Barbara ran her hands down Helena's things where they flanked her ribs. Despite the enticing round of squirming that the action engendered, she remained focused, catching her own breasts and bringing her nipples to attention. When she saw deep blue spark to violet, she smiled an invitation.

"Indulge me?"

The younger woman responded with commendable alacrity, moving upward again and settling above her with a hungry grin.

"If you insist, Red."

Barbara kept it short and to the point.

"I most certainly do."

Since words, at that point, seemed superfluous, the redhead settled in. Brushing her face lightly against the thicket of dark curls, she inhaled deeply, achingly aware of Helena's heat and wetness. Delicately gathering a first taste onto the tip of her tongue, she was reminded once again of her surprise when she'd tasted Helena for the first time two years before. At that time, she'd been hesitant and uncertain. More bluntly, she admitted that she'd feared that she wouldn't respond. The instant that she had sampled her new lover's most intimate flesh, she'd understood how foolish her worries had been.

Helena was the air that she breathed.

At this point, Barbara simply couldn't fathom how she'd stumbled through three-plus decades before the understanding had come home.

"Don't," she pushed back into the pillow to hunt for her lover's eyes. "come too fast, Helena."

Helena's reply was muffled, but Barbara had no trouble deciphering the breathy whine.

"Ba- Baby, I don't think I can help..."

Determined that she'd see what she could do to help, the redhead laughed quietly into silken folds. The sensation -- on top of a bunch of other amazing sensations -- caused Helena to buck above her. Then, because Barbara had asked, the brunette sucked in a steadying breath and tried to relax, to give herself over.

She wasn't sorry.

Lightly calloused fingers whispered across her thighs and hips, over and over; once in a while, they'd dance upward to tease her breasts before Barbara would scrape her nails down her sides. On and on, Barbara's mouth, her tongue, was touching her and licking and working soul-deep kisses. Forever, Helena kept looking down to the spray of crimson hair that swept the pillows under her knees, seeing emerald eyes looking up to her.

Always to her.

Oh god oh god ohgodohgod.

Helena had to bend forward, leaning at the waist to bury her fists in the pillow above Barbara's head. The demanding pressure that was building inside must made it fucking impossible to keep herself upright by muscle and willpower alone.

And still it just kept building.

There was warm breath and soft lips and sharp teeth on her, and the pressure was building and building, and then Barbara's tongue was circling her entrance, and Helena knew she was going to explode the second that Red was inside her, and--


And then Barbara stopped.

"B-- Barbara?"

Helena didn't much care for the -- well, it had been a squeak in her voice, but there just wasn't much she could have done about it.

"Someone is at the elevator."

With the haze clearing a tiny bit, Helena finally made out the soft chime that announced visitors.

"Uh, since they're ringing the bell, it's probably not a surprise attack or anything, Red."

She rotated her hips a few inches, hoping to get Barbara back on task. The sensation of strong fingers drumming against her thighs suggested that her lover wasn't too impressed with her logic... or her hint.



The two spoke as one. Pushing up on her knees, Helena looked down and tried again.

"Probably just a door-to-door salesman."

A look was enough. Groaning against her protesting nerves -- and muscles and, hell, a few internal organs had been pretty poised on the brink -- Helena rolled out of bed and padded into the living room.

While she was gone, Barbara unentangled herself from the covers, bowing to the inevitable: regardless of how quickly Helena got rid of whoever was downstairs, the interruption had awakened Katharine. When the brunette returned in less than a minute and announced their visitor, Barbara found her nonchalance utterly maddening.

"It's your dad."

Green eyes flew wide open so fast that Helena half-expected to hear a comic-book "Sproing" noise.

"That's not funny, Helena."

Already gathering up her clothes, the brunette didn't bother dignifying that with a response.

It wasn't exactly her idea of how she would have been spending the morning.

"He said something about bringing Katie's backpack back."

Helena shimmied into her sweatpants, registering her partner's cautious nod.

"Oh, and he has honey-buns."

She snagged her tee shirt and worked to turn it right side out.

"I asked him to wait a minute before we ring him up, seeing as how we were all in flagrante delicto and all--"

Her explanation was interrupted by an indignant hiss.

"You did no such thing!"

The flutter of dark lashes, not to mention Helena's smirk, suggested that the younger woman might have done just that. Gritting her teeth, Barbara shifted into her chair, grabbed for her robe, and jumped into action.

"Would you get Katharine while I get the bookcases down and then we'll need to--"

Since Barbara was already heading down the hallway, Helena didn't try to hide her eye-rolling as she bent to retrieve their daughter from their crib.

"Are you gonna freak like that when your mom and I surprise you having sex?"

She decided not to consider just how bad Barbara would freak at that point; from the sound of the bustling and crashing coming from the other room, Helena figured that she probably had enough to focus on right now. She knew it was bad enough that Jim had caught them not just in bed but also that the Tower was in its usual state and Barbara was going to bust a gasket from all of the covering up she was going to try to do.

"Do I look like I've just been having sex?"

A little miffed by the sheer panic that infused the question, Helena strolled on past her partner, Katharine snuggled in one arm and a clean diaper in her other hand.

"Helena! I'm serious."

The brunette turned, her smile not a whit contrite.

"Sorry. You're fine on that count."

Since that was patently impossible, Barbara searched for a mirror. Her partner's next words brought her up short.

"You do kind of look like you've been hustling around trying to hide a secret identity or something though."

For the first time in minutes, Barbara slowed down.

"Not funny, Hel."

Once again, Helena bit her tongue, fighting the need to inform her big-brained partner that it hadn't been meant to be funny. Instead, she focused on a quick diaper change for Katie, watching from the corner of one eye while Barbara ruffled her hair with her hands, making it poke up in several interesting directions.

"I suppose it's showtime, Hel," she sucked in a fortifying breath before her nerves faltered again. "Honestly, Helena, do we look like we've been having--"

Helena gave up.


She tossed the wadded up wet diaper into a trash can and stood up.

"At least we don't look like we *finished* having sex." Not giving her lover time to respond with whatever piece of propriety might come out, Helena slid onto her lap and purred the rest into her ear. "But I could help with that while we send the elevator down."

Arching one eyebrow, Barbara ignored the one hundred and twenty pounds of invitation that was on her lap and moved toward the elevator.

"Mind on the mission, Hel."

Without bothering to wait for Barbara to stop, Helena hopped over the arm of the chair and regained her feet. She set her jaw and stepped back to the living area where Katie was making a beeline for the kitchen.

Screw it.

She knew that the prim reprimand had contained a fair measure of humor, but it still didn't make her feel less pissed off. It was only when she heard the elevator key turn and the unit whirring down to the parking garage that it hit her why it grated on her so much.

Her mind *had* been focused on the mission, but just like always, it was never going to occur to Barbara that they might be working different missions.

Chapter 20

As Monday night activities went, hanging upside down by her heels didn't generally rate at the top of Helena's list of favorites.

Well, unless the hanging was taking place with Barbara pulling the chains.

But, this wasn't. In fact, the reason that Helena was outside on a damp March night, hanging over some alley from a fire escape that was waaaay too close to a dumpster, had nothing to do with Barbara.

Or, she had to figure, maybe it had everything to do with Barbara.

Helena had already decided that if the do-gooder instinct was genetic, she had a fifty-fifty shot, at best. So, there had to be something more that had her inclined to blow off studying for her mid-terms -- not to mention her own plans to give up the hero shtick -- and hang. And, even if she knew that it was Jesse Reese who had set her in motion, Helena had to give credit where it was due.


It was Barbara who embodied -- who fucking personified -- the hero myth. It was Barbara who outdid Helena's dad because she fought with a conscious. It was Barbara who had put the stars of doing good into Helena's eyes; Barbara who Helena had needed to impress enough to end up on the streets; Barbara.

Unfortunately, Helena hadn't let Barbara in on her plans for this particular recon job. The whole issue was just too charged after the go-rounds they'd had in the last months.

Even if Helena wouldn't have minded the help.

She'd flirted with doing a little tete-a-tete with Barbara's dad when he'd come over the day before and scared the bejeezus out of Barbara. Ex-Commissioner Gordon still had a lot of good connections on the street, but Helena couldn't make herself ask: it would have meant coming up with some sort of lame cover story, and Babs' suave, cool, and collected mode over coffee and pastries had probably already sent Jim's radar soaring through the roof.

Hell, all of the chit-chat that he'd made about honey buns instead of muffins had almost sent Helena around the bend laughing. She hadn't had it any easier when Jim had been gathering up to leave. With Babs giving Katie a late breakfast, Helena had walked him down to the garage.

"It's been fun, Helena, but I need to run. I'm picking up Alethea for a matinee in a bit."

She'd been pretty sure that her double-take had been epic.


The question had barely been out before she'd seen the twinkle in gunmetal blue eyes.

"I do believe that I'll allow some things to remain a mystery, Helena."

Just like Helena had decided to leave Barbara in the dark about her dad's teasing: Red had already been plenty fried. Enough that Helena had decided not to try to grab some time on the Delphi to do a little research for Jesse's request.

It wasn't like she hadn't been able to handle it on her own through a few contacts at No Man's. A little leg-work yesterday, a couple of heart-to-heart chats with some low-lifes on the streets last night, and here she was: Freezing her ass off and trying to keep her hair from falling in her eyes while she dangled upside down.

Some pretty sour musings on the issues of nature versus nurture when it came to hanging like a bat were interrupted by the eruption of an odd melody from Helena's pocket. Since she was pretty well occupied with hanging on while trying to get a view through the greasy curtains of the apartment across the alley, it took her a few seconds to recognize that the sound was coming from her phone.

"What the fu--?"

She cut short the curse as she read the caller ID and thumbed the handset on.

"Why'd you go and change my ringtone?"

Okay, even Helena admitted that it hadn't been the best greeting, but she had just downloaded Macy Gray onto her phone not two hours before. Not to mention the choice that Barbara had made.

"I mean, come on, Barbara. ABBA?"

Not at all surprised by the salutation that she'd received, Barbara jumped in in the off chance that she could ameliorate her partner's ire.

"I'm sorry, Helena. I needed a way to confirm my GPS lock, and downloading something to your number was the most expedient method."

Helena's one-word response suggested that she still had some explaining to do.


Given the fact that GPS showed that the younger woman had been parked in the same location near downtown, suggesting that she was engaged in something, Barbara had expected a bit more pushback. Distracted by Helena's relative lack of histrionics, the redhead felt her brows knit.

"What's wrong with S.O.S.?"

Honestly, she'd been rather pleased by her choice. Helena apparently opted to not to further enlighten her about the shortcomings of her taste in music.

<<"Riiight. So, what's up?">>

Barbara couldn't help but notice that Helena wasn't addressing the fact that Barbara had used the GPS on her; she wasn't certain whether the seeming lack of interest indicated that fallout would occur later, that Helena was simply accustomed to being on Barbara's radar, or that her partner understood that something pressing was afoot.

<<"I need your help, Helena.">>

The words were direct to the point of bluntness. There was no apology tempering them. Helena had a feeling that it wasn't a good thing.

"What is it?"

The answer she got almost caused her to lose her grip on the metal rungs of the fire escape.

<<"Dinah's in trouble.">>

Almost ready to panic, Helena realized that Barbara *wasn't* panicked.

At least not yet.

"What happened?"

<<"Do you remember the pension fund racket?">>

Helena felt herself grinning a little at the memory of that conversation, less at the memory of her suggestion that Dinah be sent forth to kick CEO-ass than the slew of sensory memories that assaulted her from the follow-up that she and Barbara had shared that night.

"Uh huh."

Detecting some movement from the apartment she'd been casing, she raised her night vision scope, confirming that the man she'd been hunting had just returned.

"It was a set-up, Hel."

Barbara elected not to go into the full details of how something that had appeared relatively cut-and-dried had gone so horribly wrong. The man who had appeared to be a corporate raider had, in fact, been blackmailed into creating the trail that had drawn her into the game. When Dinah had entered the picture, somehow the mastermind behind the plot had managed to capture her and now...

"I think she's been injured."

The admission was difficult.

<<"Is she in--?">>

The cyber-vigilante jumped in.

"I don't believe she's in imminent danger."

It was true enough. Barbara was comfortably certain that the self-claimed savant who was using Dinah as bait for her cooperation was too smart to destroy his only card.


Helena knew what that final word had probably cost her partner. Her first instinct was to jump in and head out to help, but she'd made a promise to someone else.

For a few seconds, Helena weighed the odds, and then she made a decision. Fitting her bluetooth to her ear, she tucked her phone into her pocket.

"I'm just this close to cracking the Baby Reese kidnapping, Red."

She pulled an inverted sit-up, wrapping her hands around the bottom rung of the fire escape and swinging her legs free. Finally right side up for the first time in what felt like days, the brunette shook her head and then took a practice swing or two from the fire escape, building up momentum.


Barbara suspected that her response had been sharp; however, she disliked surprises.

<<"His nephew.">>

Instantly, the redhead toggled through the police reports, running a keyword search. As she'd suspected there was nothing.

"I take it that Detective Reese kept things under wraps?"

Seeing the GPS blip moving, Barbara didn't expect a confirmation. As a police officer, Jesse would have ways to keep matters from the records until he was ready for them to become public.

"Are you going in?"

The crash of glass breaking provided a reasonable semblance of an answer to that, forestalling the need to suggest that Helena complete her business and then tackle a rescue for Dinah. Her hands hovering above the keyboard, Barbara listened to a litany of confrontational words between Helena and an unidentified couple. The ensuing fistfight, although not as clear as Barbara had become accustomed to over the comms, sounded entirely one-sided.

The thump of a heavy body collapsing, followed by Helena's growl, further reassured Barbara that Helena had emerged victorious.

<<"Okay, Lady, where's the baby?">>

A frightened whimper was the only response that Helena received, and Barbara felt herself wince as she heard a series of bangs, thumps, and crashes and then comprehended that Helena was ransacking the home.

<<"So help me, if you hurt him--">>

Mercifully, both Barbara and the woman that Helena was addressing were spared learning what the full extent of her wrath would be.

<<"There you are.">>

There was no way that Barbara could miss the totally different timber to her partner's voice.

"Is he all right, He--"

Suddenly conscious of the fact that, comms or no, Helena was effectively in the persona of her alter-ego, Barbara cut herself short.

<<"Yeah. They had him in a drawer.">>

Tension that she hadn't realized she was holding ebbed from Barbara's shoulders. A moment later, when her partner in the field murmured a few words, she felt a different edginess creep upon her.

<<"You wouldn't believe how good this baby smells.">>

Quite confident that she had just sprouted a few white hairs, Barbara swallowed around a lump in her throat.

"Why don't we discuss the joys of the New Baby Smell offline, Huntress?"

<<"Yeah. Let's do that.">>

Something about Helena's response set off warning bells, however with the younger woman on the move to deliver Baby Reese to his family, Barbara chose to ignore them. This was simply not the time to concentrate on domestic matters; she needed to be prepared to back up her partner when she rescued Dinah.

Mind on the mission.

At least that's what Helena figured to be running through Barbara's head when she went all clipped and tactical. And, about two seconds after she burst into the building that Red had directed her to, Helena had to agree that focus needed to be the name of the game.

"Holy crap..."

When she'd come barreling in, Helena hadn't been sure what to expect: a bevy of BDUs or a bunch of locked rooms to search for Dinah or who the hell knew. She hadn't expected to find Dinah dragging herself across the foyer at the bottom of a flight of stairs, both legs in heavy plaster casts and a dirty bandage wrapped around her head.

In a nutshell, The Kid looked like she'd been to hell.

"Watch out for creote, Huntress..."

On instinct, the brunette looked down to see what she might be stepping in. When a shadow -- correction, a huge fucking shadow -- filled the doorway, she realized she might have misunderstood.


She worked a tight smile at Dinah and jerked a thumb at the mountain of muscle that was coming at her.

"Creote, I presume?"

Helena had seen big guys. She'd fought big guys. This guy was in a totally new league. He had muscles on his muscles.

Shit, he probably needed extra muscles just to hold up his muscles.

Her admiration for Dinah's managing to make it past this guy and on her way to the door jumped ten-fold.

"How the fuck did you get past the incredible hulk here?"

She was already jumping over the younger woman, getting between her and the big guy.


Helena hated Dinah's raspy cough. From the corner of her eye, she saw the blonde raise one hand to her head, wincing.

"-- poked him in the eye."

Despite the lumbering threat coming at her, Helena couldn't help it. She turned and gave Dinah a look. The blonde's grin was full of spirit.

"Right after I hit him in the nuts."

The laughter felt good, right up until Muscles' fist impacted Helena's jaw. After that, it was all business. Distantly, Helena was aware of another dude entering the foyer, but she was too busy dancing and weaving and wiping the sweat out of her eyes while she tried to avoid getting pulped to pay much attention.

All she knew was that Dinah was trying to hold her own with the new guy, and she was feeling a little like Indiana Jones when he was facing down the big guy on the airfield who wanted to fight and he was soooo not into it.

With that image in her head, Helena ducked under the swing of a heavy fist and turned around, wearily gesturing for him to bring it on. Between her invitation and Creote's next swing, Barbara was yammering in her ear.

<<"Can you get to a computer, Huntress?">>

"Little busy here -- " was the best she could manage.

The distraction turned out to be too much: a casual flick of the big dude's wrist caught Helena square on the jaw, sending her slamming into a wall. With the plaster cracking against her ribs and white dust showering into her eyes, she suddenly realized that her rescue was going all wrong.

Chapter 21

"So you see, Katie, while it is conceptually possible, nobody has ever succeeded in creating a perpetual motion machine."

Pausing in her explanation, Barbara reached past her little audience of one to retrieve another piece from behind Katharine on the floor. As she snapped the white Lego block into place, she looked over the tower that they were completing and smiled.

"That should never stop you from trying."

The little girl grinned in return, waving the tinker-toy propeller that they had constructed earlier.


Barbara nodded and settled the plastic base onto the hardwood between them.

"Exactly." She gently tapped the receiving area that they had fashioned into the Legos, nodding in approval when the little redhead worked to stuff the shaft of the blade apparatus into the base. "Entropy is simply one force that we haven't been able to overcome yet--"

"What about that whole body in motion staying in motion thing?"

The teasing murmur made her jump, presumably scaring a number of very useful years off her life. Katharine didn't seem to be similarly affected.


In an instant, the toddler was on her feet and barreling toward the French doors to the balcony, where Helena was in the process of stepping over the baby gate. Lego blocks and wooden sticks and circular fittings scattered in her wake.

"Well, perpetual motion always did seem to hold for you, Helena," she allowed as she pulled herself back into her chair.

Judging from the detritus, their little construction-cum-science lesson would need to be tabled for the time being.

"Inertia, right?"

The question was muffled just a bit as the younger woman bent to scoop up their daughter and pressed a kiss to her head. Although Katharine had recently enjoyed a milestone of having her first haircut, her curly ringlets still abounded, obscuring most of Helena's face.

"Indeed," Barbara nodded, not bothering to add that it usually took a significant force or event to counter a process that was already in motion. Instead, she watched quietly as Helena lowered their daughter to the floor and, pointing at the mess of blocks and tinker-toys, whispered something to her. Barbara felt the corners of her mouth turn upward when the girl grabbed one of her plastic pails and began gathering up the mess, her giggles belying the fact that she was engaged in a chore.

Honestly, Barbara simply couldn't fathom where the child got her penchant for organization. She didn't have the opportunity to comment when she glanced back to her partner and took in the expression on her face. Without conscious thought, she turned and gave the wheels of her chair a sharp push.


Before she'd come to a complete stop, Helena was in front of her, sinking to her knees. Barbara thought she detected wetness in deep blue eyes as the dark head lowered to rest in her lap, and she fought a wave of panic. Gently, she carded her fingers through long locks, considering the possibilities.

The last that she'd heard, Helena had been planning to visit Dinah at her apartment above the Dark Horse. Certainly nothing could be amiss so soon.

Unable to fight her concern, Barbara lightly tugged, bringing Helena's eyes into view. She searched, registering a miasma of emotions.


Leaning down, she pressed a tender kiss to her lover's forehead. In response, she felt strong arms encircle her waist before the brunette once again lowered her head to her lap. Green eyes ticked to the side, confirming that Katie was still engaged in her cleanup, and Barbara drew several deep breaths through her nose, weighing the options.

Ultimately, she forced herself to break the silence.

"Helena, what is it?"

Finally, blue eyes rose into view to search her face. Something twisted sharply inside Barbara's chest when she finally recognized, and then named, the emotions she saw: sadness and defeat.

"I'm not as strong as my mom."

The redhead felt her brows furrow a bit, and then she allowed her gaze to drift upward a bit and to the left. Freeze-frame images of encounters with Selina Kyle flashed through her mind's eye, providing tantalizing views of battles fought and lessons learned; however, regardless of the encounter that presented itself, Barbara couldn't begin to compare Selina's physical prowess to Helena's.

"What do you mean, Sweetie?"

The response that Barbara received suggested either that she had been on the wrong track or that Helena had moved on.

"That bastard broke Dinah's legs, Barbara."

She nodded slowly. She, too, was terribly aware of that fact.

The day after a somewhat miraculous rescue, Gabby had flown down from State, jump-starting her spring break to nurse her girlfriend. There had been no recriminations from either of the young women; however, that did nothing to alleviate Barbara's own feelings about the matter.

"He hit her until he gave her a bad enough concussion that she couldn't use her TK, Barbara."

"I know."

The admission stole her breath, but Helena seemed unaware-- or undeterred.

"He was going to keep hurting her."

Barbara couldn't let this continue.

"I'm aware of that, Helena. What's your point?"

Instantly, she regretted her snappish tone, yet she couldn't deny that Helena had been injured far more gravely -- many, many times -- during her years on the street. Additionally, Barbara couldn't help but resent an implication in her companion's words that she might be... unaware of matters.

To the contrary, Barbara had tried to talk with Dinah about this very topic during the first day after the rescue.

"I just don't understand why you're all skittish now, Barbara."

To her surprise, Dinah's statement hadn't carried even a whit of the adolescent whine that would have been present a year before. Accordingly, Barbara had tried to remain equally factual.

"Honey, he broke your l--"

The blonde, parked beside her in her own wheel chair, both legs elevated in the leg rests, had interrupted whatever she had been working up the nerve to say.

"Hairline fractures. With these walking casts -- " She'd gestured to the items that had replaced the heavy plaster that her captor had applied, "I can, well, I'm walking already."

Barbara had been unable to deny that, yet she'd suspected that her youngest protege might be missing the point.

"True enough, Dinah, however you were injured and--"

Once again, Dinah had refused to listen.

"Shit happens, and when it does, does that mean we stop trying?"

The younger woman's tone had been gentle. The look that had been directed to Barbara's own chair had not been unkind. Nevertheless, Barbara had gotten the point.

Of course, she had long advocated the merits -- and necessity -- of leading by example.

"You wouldn't have let him keep hurting her, Barbara."

Helena's words brought her up short.

"No," she had to admit, "I wouldn't."

Something unreadable passed across gamine features.

"He was going to use her to make you work for him."

Something undefinable twisted inside Barbara's chest.

"That was his plan, Helena."

She remained still under her lover's scrutiny; however, Barbara was unable to remain stoic when Helena spoke again.

"We rescued her too late for Katie to fix D's legs."

As one they looked to the side, checking on their daughter. The toddler was planted on the floor, working diligently to reconstruct the lego tower that had been kicked apart in her mad rush to reach Helena minutes before.

Turning back to her companion, Barbara noted that their reassurance was apparently mutual: Helena's full attention was once again directed at her. Her own efforts to note that the fractures had already been healing by the time they'd found Dinah settled like ashes on her tongue.

"It was another close one, Barbara. There have been a lot of them."

Bitterly aware of that, the redhead nodded.


She considered the word, taking Helena's observation to heart. There was no room for self-deception in this business, and Barbara was unwilling to start now. There was simply no way to overlook the fact that the self-proclaimed "genius" who had been behind this last caper had gotten the drop on Dinah; he and his muscle had nearly taken out Helena; he had *dupped* Barbara. In addition, the rescue that she and Helena had mounted had been precarious at best; if Dinah hadn't managed to push through the agony of her concussion to manage a few TK maneuvers, and if Helena hadn't finally managed to drop the muscle man, and if Barbara hadn't managed to hack in to the mastermind's computer -- simultaneously wiping out his blackmail database and exposing him for the poseur he was --

Straightening in her chair, Barbara shook her head minutely.

There were too many "ifs"; nevertheless, at the end of the game, it was the result that counted.

"We came through, Helena," she reminded her companion gently.

Blue eyes looked up, two words hanging heavy between them.

This time.

Utterly at a loss of what to say to bridge the silence, Barbara dropped her hands to the wheels of her chair. She managed not to rock the wheels as a litany of empty reassurances cascaded through her cortex. Since any one -- or every one -- would be a disservice to them all, she searched for answers in the sweet face that still looked up to her.

It was, of course, Helena who found her voice first.

She had always, Barbara knew, been the braver of them.

"We could have lost her this time, Barbara. And even if that asshole had kept her alive and locked up, we --"

The younger woman's jaw clenched, and then Helena pushed up to rest on her knees, scrubbing the heel of one hand under her nose.



The comfort that Barbara so desperately wished to offer was refused. A slender hand rose between them, palm out, and Helena shook her head slowly.

"It could have been you. Or, it would have been you eventually."

Denial was instinctual.

"Helena, it doesn't have to--"

The protest fell on deaf ears.

"And, I keep thinking and thinking about what I can do, and it always comes back to how I'm just not strong like my mom was."

Dizzied by the sudden return to Helena's earlier statement, Barbara felt the weight of her lover's expectation, of Helena's need for her to understand.

"Helena, I don't--"

"I can't leave you like she did."

Barbara was ready to protest that her relationship with Selina hadn't been of quite that nature when enlightenment dawned.

"When she left Bruce."

It wasn't a question.

Then realization struck, dragging terror in its wake. Helena hadn't jumped back to her earlier topic; she had come full circle.

"When she left...?"

Something cold clenched in her abdomen. A bit distantly, Barbara thought that it felt very much like the freezing terror that had seeped through her limbs not too many months before as she'd laid on the floor, choking on her own helplessness to make things right.

"Would you--? Are you--?"

Dear heavens, she couldn't even think the words, much less say them.

The look that she received was sad; resignation threaded Helena's slow sigh.

"I can't, Barbara. You're my life. You and Katie and Dinah and -- "

The dark head shook once and then lowered, coming to resting on Barbara's legs again. Barbara very much wished that she could actually feel the weight of her lover against her.

"-- everything. You."

Unhesitating, she moved her hands from the wheels of the chair, allowing one to rest on one deceptively slender shoulder. The other came to Helena's face, carefully, tenderly, touching the swelling that had almost faded from the angular line of her jaw.

A momento from the fight a few days before.

Blessing the meta-healing abilities of her partner, Barbara leaned in, resting her cheek against Helena's and bring her mouth close. Warm breath, sweet with a hint of Red Bull, washed Barbara's lips, and she opened her mouth, inhaling.


Pulling back a few inches, Barbara traced the fading injury. Something threatened to constrict her breathing, and her eyes blurred for an instant when recognition arrived: Helena had faced far too much loss and hurt in her short life. Truly, the only pain that Barbara wanted her lover to experience from this point forward, should be... recreational.

"You're the air that I breathe, Helena."

The words were out without thought. The decision was made in that moment, surprising Barbara with how easily it was to give voice to her decision.

"I'll quit."

Chapter 22


Some people live with the fear of a touch
And the anger of having been a fool
They will not listen to anyone
So nobody tells them a lie


Poised to enter the Tower, Helena stopped with her fingers resting on the handle of door from the balcony. Through the glass, she could easily see Barbara where she was positioned near the couch in the living area. The redhead had her laptop open but she didn't seem to be working on it; the big screen was on, tuned to one of the local news channels, but Barbara wasn't looking at it either. Instead, her partner seemed to be fixated on something on the floor near her feet, lost in thought. With Barbara not even moving and the sound of the television muted, it was only the warbling of some damned old 80s song that gave any indication of life in the house.

Helena was pretty used to Barbara getting all caught up in her own head and all, but there was still something about Red's utter stillness that had her feeling like somebody was walking across her grave. Since that wasn't a feeling she wanted to get familiar with, the brunette made a point of scuffing her feet before flinging open the French doors and letting a little spring air into the room.

"Hey Red."

When Barbara looked up, Helena suddenly figured out where that creepy feeling might have come from: Barbara had been looking that piece of flooring that had been replaced a few months back.

The one that they couldn't get the blood stain out of.


She thought that Barbara jumped a little inside her skin, so Helena took a leap with both feet. It wasn't like she was going to go beating around the bush or anything. She knew that Barbara was still sorting things out after her sudden -- and immediate -- retirement the week before.

"Whatcha doing?"

Feeling inexplicably guilty -- and immediately irritated with herself for it -- Barbara worked to meet her partner's eyes. Her smile managed to relax a wee bit when she looked up, finding nothing but nonchalance in her companion's features.

"I was just... surfing," she admitted, not missing the roughness in her words.

Helena heard it, too. She saw the faint hint of blush working its way up her companion's neck.

She understood.

Barbara had been as good as her word. After she'd made her choice last week, she'd shut down the Delphi just like that. She'd made a point of only firing it up when Helena was around, making sure that Helena knew that she was just offloading files to send to the JSA and scrubbing her data directories and unmounting disks and other techie stuff that didn't tie in to fighting crime.

Well, "cleaning house" is how Barbara had put it. Putting things to rest is what it felt like to Helena.

And, Barbara had been good about not spending too much time on that either, but Helena knew that once Barbara made up her mind, she didn't spend a lot of time second-guessing herself. So, between brief bursts of activity at the Delphi, Barbara had been all hers and Katie's. Four days ago, Red had shown up after work with a couple of movies in hand that Helena had been wanting to see.

Okay, even Helena had to admit that Bruce was getting a little long in the tooth to be doing the action hero gig, and there was no amount of plastic surgery and CGI that was going to convince anyone that Stallone was young enough to be playing Rambo again, but it had still been fun.

Helena also thought it had been pretty fun when Babs had tagged along with her yesterday on her monthly pilgrimage to the Super Warehouse Club. Barbara had even managed a pretty good impression of enthusiasm when Helena had pounced on a fantastic deal on tuna fish.

So, yeah, Helena wasn't going to let her lover think that she was doubting her now.

Crossing the short space between them, Helena casually leaned over the side of Barbara's chair to see the screen.

"Real estate, Red?"

The redhead turned a few degrees.

"I was curious about what sorts of more traditional offerings might be available."

Given that they were no longer needed in the heart of the city, not to mention the sheer weight of memories associated with the Tower, Barbara thought it was only logical to look.

The grin that she found plastered on Helena's face was unexpected. In lieu of comment, Barbara quirked the corners of her mouth and arched one eyebrow. The younger woman accepted the non-verbal request to elaborate on her amusement.

"And you were worried about me being the Super-Lesbian with the U-haul."

Feeling the lines of oh-so-attractive furrows deepening in her forehead, Barbara searched her memory. She easily recalled some tentative teasing that she and Helena had engaged in early in their steps towards intimacy. Indeed, she couldn't dismiss her own fit of bravado during a trip to a pawn shop two years before when they'd been investigating the series of break-ins that had led them to their laser-firing madman.

Nevertheless, she simply couldn't fathom what that had to do with housing.

"I'm afraid I'm not following, Hel."

Her companion's smile transformed into something approaching a smirk.

"Oh, c'mon, Barbara. That whole thing about white picket fences in the suburbs."

Just to make it clear, Helena hummed a few bars from the Crosby, Stills, and Nash classic.

"Two cats in the yard?" Barbara laughed as her mind's eye supplied an image of Helena and Katie sunning themselves on a velvet green lawn in front of a homey bungalow. A moment later, reality struck and her laughter turned a little rueful. "Heaven forbid we end up in the suburbs too close to my father."

Deliberately, working partially for a comic effect, Barbara shuddered at the idea of having her father drop in too readily. Although there was now certainly less to hide, she suspected that she would always appreciate a healthy measure of privacy on the parental front.

Or any other front.

For a moment, there was no response, only the chorus of the CD that was playing echoing through the room.


But I'm not above
Making up for the love
You've been denying you could ever feel
I'm not above doing anything
To restore your faith if I can


Eventually, Helena responded, not with the laughter that Barbara had anticipated. Rather, the younger woman's expression seemed thoughtful.

"Your dad is a pretty handy guy to have around."

Barbara absorbed that, nodding slowly.

"I noticed that the bowling alley is having open lanes this Friday." She searched Helena's eyes. "We could take Katie with us, or Dad might keep her."

Again, Helena remained thoughtful, allowing a break in their conversation.


Some people see through the eyes of the old
Before they ever get a look at the young


"Well, what about asking D to keep her? We still have those baby-sitting certificates from Kitty's birthday."

Exhaling sharply through her nostrils, Barbara shut her laptop. The action reminded her of other shutdowns, and she took a moment.

There was no way to deny that she'd always enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, the battle of wits that occurred in tracking down evil, the cat and mouse interplay and setting a stage like a chessboard. It was, she had long suspected, one reason that she'd been drawn to Bruce's brand of vigilante justice: Rather than merely responding to events as they occurred, there was a fair amount of preventitive detective work as well.

It had been a mercy, allowing her not to completely lose her mind -- or her will to live -- after the incident with the Joker: although she could no longer partake of the endgame as immediately, she had still been able, through cyber-infrastructure, to dig deeply into the setups. While her partners on the street were out helping her with her sleuthing -- and bashing heads as the opportunity presented itself -- Barbara was able to investigate, to make connections, to plan.

Clearly, times had changed.

"I'm afraid that Dinah won't be available many evenings, Helena," she finally managed, refusing to allow the words to swallow her with them.


I know you don't want to hear what I say
I know you're gonna keep turning away
But I've been there and if I can survive
I can keep you alive


She had tried.

Leaving Dinah on her own was something that galled her no end; however, Barbara had given her word. Having done so, she had met with Dinah, encouraging her to accept a field promotion.

"Do what, Barbara?"

It had been difficult enough to tender the offer the first time; Barbara had suspected that, even without the benefits of touch telepathy, Dinah had sensed her emotions.

"I'm suggesting that you come off the streets and handle the Delphi, Dinah," she'd repeated.

There had been no need to re-iterate the good that Dinah could accomplish from the driver's seat; nor had there been any reason to dwell on the danger that she faced as a lone operative on the street. Barbara had covered it all once, and Dinah was far from oblivious.

Unfortunately, she'd known before Dinah had spoken, her most recent partner was also far from interested in her suggestion.

"I love that you care about me, Barbara. And -- "

The blonde had briefly seemed to lose the poise that had been developing so quickly in last months. For an instant, Barbara had seen the sweet, hesitant young woman who had come into her life not too many years before.

"-- well, I know that you've been doing some thinking yourself in the last ... well, since..."

Barbara had nodded, sparing them both. Pale blue eyes, the color of summer sky, had held hers unflinchingly.

"But, you of all people have to understand, Barbara."

Knowing what would be coming hadn't made hearing Dinah's words any easier.

"I need to do this. I have to help people. It's the only thing that makes sense."

Barbara *had* understood. Her heart had been entirely on Dinah's side. Regardless, she'd owed it to her partner to try one more salvo.

"Dinah, without backup you'll be--"

When she'd seen the set of her most recent ward's jaw, Barbara had cut herself short. Dinah's response had been certain.

And final.

"I'm not anybody's sidekick anymore, Barbara. You're going to have to trust me."


I'm not above going through it again
I'm not above being cool for a while
If you're cruel to me I'll understand


In retrospect, Barbara was forced to admit a measure of pride in the growth that Dinah had shown in the last months. It was, she suspected, not unlike the changes that Helena had undergone.

With Helena, the last months had echoed the paradox of irresistible force: a battle of wills akin to the unstoppable object meeting the immovable post. One well known possible outcome from such a meeting was, of course, a lot of friction resulting in a really loud explosion.

True enough.

For weeks, Barbara had assumed that Helena's need for excitement and challenge might carry the day; apparently, however, the younger woman's tolerance for boredom had outpaced her own. Or perhaps, Barbara had come to realize through the weeks of watching Helena interact with Katharine and keep up with her coursework, her devil-may-care partner had redefined excitement.

Canting her head to one side, Barbara allowed her hair to fall forward to obscure most of her vision. For a few heartbeats, she focused on her hands where they rested, fingers knit, in her lap.

It had been a good run. The immovable post apparently could bend.


Some people run from a possible fight
Some people figure they can never win
And although this is a fight I can lose
The accused is an innocent man


When Barbara looked up, Helena finally let go of the breath she'd been holding. She took a step backward when the redhead placed her laptop on the end table by the couch.

"Are you hungry, Hel?"

The brunette's ready answer died on her lips when she made out her partner's next words.

"I made dinner."

Helena felt herself blanch. She was pretty sure she hadn't quite covered it.

"Uh -- " she waved one hand toward the kitchen. "You cooked?"

Very, very aware of the quaver in Helena's voice, Barbara kept it light.

"Nothing involving fire, Hel."

The tense set of slender shoulders eased for a moment, then Barbara saw deep blue eyes narrow suspiciously.

"Is there meat?"

A chuckle worked its way free.

"I made tuna fish salad."

Barbara's hopes that she'd sufficiently reassured and clarified ebbed when she saw Helena attempting to peer at her hands. Sighing, she held them up and waggled her fingers.

"No cuts either."

Helena finally relaxed, happy that Red had taken her concern -- well, her concerns -- in stride. After all these years, she still couldn't figure out how this amazing woman could handle razor-sharp Batarangs so gracefully but, put her near a kitchen knife, and she was likely to slice a finger off.

"In that case, I'm starving," she finally answered the original question and snagged the remote to turn off the big screen.

When she swung around and pointed the device at the television, she finally noticed that there was a breaking news story. From what she could pick up without the sound up, it looked like a standoff, complete with a lot of guns, at the docks.

Probably, Helena had to figure, a drug bust gone bad.

Still locked in place, her hand extended with the remote pointing at the screen, Helena heard a sharp inhalation from beside her. From the corner of her eye, she saw emerald eyes glint.

Helena tried to throw out a lifeline.

"Should we give Dinah a call?"

Barbara didn't hesitate.


The word echoed hollowly between them, but the redhead chose not to elaborate. She had made a decision, and she wasn't going to enter a slippery slope of dabbling, using a cell phone and calls to Dinah as a virtual nicotine patch.

She could do this.

She would do this.

Steadying herself under her Helena's scrutiny, she only turned toward the kitchen when she finally saw the brunette's nod. Barbara heard the television click off and then felt her partner fall into step behind her as they moved to the kitchen, only the sound of the stereo filling the silence.


Some people hope for a miracle cure
Some people just accept the world as it is
But I'm not willing to lay down and die
Because I am an innocent man

I am an innocent man
Oh yes I am
An innocent man

Chapter 23


The quiet snick of plastic hitting the wooden top of the kitchen table was barely noticable over the hum of the popcorn that was popping in the microwave. Still, Barbara didn't blink as she looked up from the list that she'd been making and glanced at the three by two inch rectangle.

"What's this, Hel?"

For a second, the brunette thought about playing it off or letting it go. With her heart pounding like she'd just chased a bunch of crooks fifty blocks -- and they'd been driving -- it suddenly seemed like letting things coast along like they had been might not be such a bad idea.

For almost a whole month, she'd been getting something she'd never known before: undivided time and attention from Barbara. There had been no alarms, no late nights sitting vigil, none of those weird lines that sometime seemed to grow across Barbara's forehead when something was going bad. Instead, Helena had been able to focus on her course work and Katie and Barbara, and Barbara had been right there.

Hell, Red had even been understanding about Helena's course load. Instead of seeming like she was missing the time that Helena was having to spend on classes and work, Barbara had been saying that she was jealous and had been making noises about getting another degree of her own.

The ding of the microwave finishing its timed cycle pulled the brunette from her thoughts about just what subject was left for her multi-degreed lover to pursue. Without that noise, Helena realized -- again -- how quiet the Tower was without the usual pervasive hum of the Delphi's fans and the chatter of police scanners in the background.

Acutely conscious of the green eyes that were still fixed on her expectantly, she pulled a grin and rested one hip against the edge of the table.

"It's the access card for Bruce's accounts."

Well, technically since dear old Dad had amscrayed, they were Helena's accounts, but she figured that Barbara got the gist of things.

The redhead removed her glasses, a smile ghosting her features.

"You know I can get into those accounts without this, Hel."

Helena rolled her eyes and stepped over to the microwave to retrieve her partner's snack.

"Yeah, yeah. It's a symbolic gesture."

Arching one brow, Barbara smirked and folded her glasses, placing them neatly next to her notepad.

"And what, pray tell, are you symbolizing?"

She nodded her thanks when the younger woman placed a bowl of steaming low-fat salt and black pepper flavored popcorn in front of her. Her hand froze midway to the bowl when Helena responded.

"That it's time to stop thinking with my fists."

And, Helena thought, it was time to stop thinking with her heart as well. Though she wasn't as certain about that one.

Recollecting herself, the redhead snagged a handful of popcorn and spoke mildly.

"I was under the impression that you've already made that transition, Hel."

A dark head shook from side to side.

"I was wrong."

Barbara didn't have the opportunity to solicit further information about the nature of her partner's error when the dark head shook again and Helena recanted.

"Well, not all the way wrong."

This time, Barbara decided that there was no rush. Accordingly, she finished her mouthful of popcorn and then took a cleansing swallow of her tea. Only when she felt appropriately fortified did she plunge back in.

"Would you mind being a bit more specific, Helena?"

Sighing extravagantly, Helena dropped into one of the kitchen chairs and gave Barbara a long look.

She really couldn't blame her lover for being cautious, for being unwilling to see. But that didn't mean that she wanted to deal with the... blandness that painted Barbara's normally keen features. Sure, there hadn't been much in the way of worry lines lately, but there hadn't been laugh lines either. Those green eyes remained guarded.

Barbara had been bare-knuckling it.

"We need to get back into the business."

For a second or two, the brunette allowed herself to digress, to think how funny it was that her words sounded like some declaration from a crime family. She flashed on Tony Soprano talking to Carm, and she had to wonder if Katie would turn out to be more like Meadow or AJ.


"Is this a joke?"

Barbara didn't sound amused, and Helena remembered the date.

"Okay, so my timing sucks."

She swallowed, not sure that she cared for the irony of that, then she let it go. During the last week of March, with the schools on spring break, Helena had gotten a chance to watch Barbara puttering around the Clock Tower.

She'd really seen her, and she'd finally glommed onto the fact that Barbara was scheduling her days pretty tightly, metering out her time, making sure that she was always busy... and away from the computer. Something had really clicked when she'd found Barbara reading through a glossy brochure for the Mommy and Me classes that were offered out of the YMCA.

No doubt in her mind: that sort of thing would be mind-numbing for Barbara *and* Katie.

"You were polishing the silverware last week," she finally offered.

Barbara stared at her in frank puzzlement.

"Simply because Alfred is kind enough to -- "

Helena cut her off with a laugh.

"Barbara, they're frikkin' stainless steel."

She snagged the spoon that was resting on the saucer that held Barbara's tea cup. "No polishing?" she added when it was pretty clear that Red wasn't making the connection. When she saw Barbara stiffen, she had to fight her urge to scream and shout and stomp her feet.

Honest to god, her partner was starting to remind her more and more of that Marcia Cross chick on Desperate Housewives: more brittle every day.

Barbara felt warmth touch her cheeks, the sensation not improved when Helena waved her spoon like a conductor and gentled her tone.

"Look at yourself, Barbara."

Instinctively, the redhead started to look down. Belatedly grasping that the instruction might have been figurative, she felt her brows knit, and she searched for some response.

"Helena, I don't understand what my domestic skills or -- " she pursed her lips and managed a hint of a smile at her own expense. "-- or lack thereof have to do with anything."

With Barbara's confusion hanging in the air between them, Helena bit her bottom lip. Then she noticed the notepad that Barbara had been working on resting on the table between them. Craning her head, she saw what was written and realized that she had what she needed.

"Look at this."

One slender index finger landed accusingly on the page. A beat later, Helena rotated the paper, and Barbara watched in fascination as her companion read over her work, her eyebrows fairly leaping toward the ceiling. When she discerned that Helena's expression of amazement was transitioning to one of distaste that bordered on horror, she jumped to her own defense.

"I hadn't finished working on it."

"So? Just look at it."

Once again, Barbara felt her brows knit. She easily read the neat block printing upside down.


Date Night Activities
-- Billiards and Bowling (two week rotation)
-- Swimming
-- Theatre
-- Local events (UFC? LeatherCon?)
To Do
-- Masters coursework (MBA? )
-- Faculty knitting/crafts
-- Habitat for humanity
-- Cooking classes (NB: Create separate list of Helena's favorites)
Provisioning for Intimate Activities
-- Nipple clamps
-- Rebuild vibrator for 220V
-- Leather cuffs


"Helena," she looked up, searching bright blue eyes. "I still don't--"

Granted, the nascent organizational exercise was a bit rough, and she'd barely begun to exercise any creativity in terms of date night activities; however, Helena's response seemed a trifle extreme.

"This -- " The brunette waved the notebook loosely. "-- is just whacked."

Glancing at the words again, she caught herself.

"Well, not these last ones." She pointed to the third category and smiled at her lover. "They're great."

In fact...

Stretching out, Helena retrieved Barbara's pen and scratched in another item under the cuffs: Fur blindfold.

The silk scarves were nice, but a girl could use a little variety.

Deciphering Helena's writing, Barbara allowed herself a smile and then decided to by-pass this particular topic. Obviously, Helena's reasoning was simply beyond her ken.

"I thought you said that Dinah wasn't ready."

Pretty sure that she understood what Barbara was doing, Helena rolled with the change in the conversation.

"I was wrong."

Her shrug, Barbara thought, seemed to suggest that Helena was admitting that such a thing could happen, and she smiled in spite of herself.

"D proved herself plenty getting by that man-mountain when she had two broken legs. She just needs backup."

Barbara regarded the other woman cautiously, finally allowing, "We all do."

"But, it's not just that, Barbara."

And, Helena knew -- right then -- that she couldn't be wrong about this.

It wasn't *just* because fighting crime was what Barbara was. It wasn't just because Helena wanted Katie to know -- to see -- what making a difference meant. It wasn't just because she kinda, sometimes, missed pounding BDUs into the pavement or because Dinah was out there on her own trying to fight the good fight or hell, even because of the nature/nurture aspect of things.

"What is it about, Hel?"

Barbara kept her voice gentle, suspecting that a step in the wrong direction could spook either of them. She waited more-or-less patiently as Helena drummed her pen against the table for a few seconds before answering.

"I think it might be about sweating the details."

Blue eyes looked up, meeting green.

"To stop doing this half-assed."

Something akin to the patented hang-dog expression passed across expressive features; however, this time Barbara suspected that the emotion was sincere rather than for the sake of effect.

"I've been going at it half-assed all this time, Barbara, and that made it impossible for you to get into it... uh -- "

Suspecting that she was detecting a hint of color in normally blush-proof features, Barbara stepped in.

"With both cheeks?" she suggested cautiously, still not entirely certain that she was following the thread.


The volume of Helena's agreement was enough to reassure the redhead that she was on the right track.

"Fuck, if I'm not hiding our identities any better than I was and I'm assing around the bar and lipping off, well --"

A slender hand came to rest atop Barbara's.

"Well, shit, no wonder Mandrill found us so easily."

Finding the younger woman's willingness to absolve Dinah sweetly surprising, Barbara rotated her hand beneath Helena's and linked their fingers.

"And, it's no wonder that D might have gotten the wrong idea about how to do things, right?"

Offering a gentle squeeze, Barbara could only nod dumbly. It was, apparently, enough.

"So, I figure we have to stop doing it half-way. Take the money and do it right."

Helena's challenge seemed to fill the quiet space of the Tower. Barbara inhaled slowly and straightened in her chair, easing her hand free from her partner's.

"And how do you suggest we do things right, Helena?"

With so much before her, Barbara could barely find her voice.


Helena waved a hand dismissively. In return, Barbara allowed one brow to rise, eliciting a rueful grin from the other woman.

"Well," the brunette grabbed a handful of popcorn and tossed a few kernels into her mouth. "I figured that we could get a plane. Build a frigging information fortress. Hell -- "

She chewed rapidly and swallowed. "Let's bring some others on-board."


Barbara was certain that her expression could be, generously, described as incredulous. Helena's next admission did nothing to ease her sense of mental entropy.

"Sure. Gabby's already volunteered."

Barbara barely had time to quirk her eyebrows before Helena picked up steam.

"I bet there are plenty of other nubile young women out there that we can corrupt and then send out in scanty outfits to fight evil and injustice."

Although the redhead wasn't entirely certain that she cared for that particular characterization of her life's work, the twinkle in Helena's eyes deflated most of her pique. Accordingly, she took a mental step back to focus on the big picture.

"What about school, Helena? Are you going to stop taking classes?"

The dark head shook emphatically.

"No. I quit at the Dark Horse this morning."

Barbara felt her jaw hanging open at the announcement that had been delivered with seeming casualness. Very aware that Helena had always professed to love her job, she somehow managed to crank her jaw shut.

"You quit."

Helena pushed the bowl of cold popcorn to one side and nodded.

"I wanna keep going to school full time, and, with getting back into the business, there's just not time."

Somehow Barbara ignored the fait accompli that Helena seemed to have announced.

"You want to keep taking classes full time?"


For an instant, Barbara's partner looked impossibly young and shy.

"I declared a major yesterday."

Fighting a sensation of vertigo that bordered on euphoria -- or nausea -- Barbara blinked.

"What did you choose?"

She didn't even try to come up with a guess. Knowing her lover's spirit and keen intelligence, Barbara suspected that she wouldn't be surprised to hear that Helena had elected to major in Rocket Science or Home Economics or Physics or Art History or --


That choice, however, was surprising. As were Helena next words, spoken so quietly that Barbara almost could have believed that she'd supplied them in her own imagination.

"I want to teach."

The question must have been clear in her face, for Helena spoke immediately, ducking to hide behind her long hair.

"I got to thinking, well, about who made the most difference in my life."

The focus of those startling blue eyes was clear. And humbling.


Barbara's soft exhalation stole the air from her lungs. Helena's smile set her heart to pounding.

"Heck, I'm an adrenaline junky, right?"

The laughter they shared finally freed Barbara's breathing.

"That's true, Hel."

Barbara had long posited that nothing -- not a dozen BDUs, not a gaggle of armed robbers, not even The Joker -- could be more challenging to deal with than a classroom full of students. Yet, even as she could grasp, intellectually, the truth of her lover's words, she had to know, again, that her intent was true.

"Are you really serious, Helena?"

There was no need to elaborate further. One look at Helena's face made her following words superfluous.

"As a heart attack, Barbara."

Chapter 24

How her heart could stop beating while blood absolutely pounded through her veins was a mystery.

Barbara knew that her heart had stopped through the simple expedient of observation: the lump in her throat could be nothing else. Likewise, that fact that her blood continued to rush through her veins was indisputable: she could feel it suffusing her skin and nerves and every cell of her body that had sensation -- and possibly a few that hadn't felt anything in a decade.

Clearly, it was a paradox, one that Barbara fully intended to consider in some depth.


At the moment, the subtle shifting of her companion as she stood before her suggested that something of a verbal nature was expected on her part.

"Holy Mother of God, Helena," she managed to breathe.

The effort earned her a beaming grin, and the brunette pirouetted gracefully.

"You like?"

Struggling to work a bit of moisture into her very dry mouth, Barbara licked her lips. The raspiness of her voice when she formulated a response surprised her.

"Very much."

Clearly, Alfred had outdone himself, although Barbara certainly wasn't discounting Helena's own sense of style.

"I-- I like your ears, Hel."

Through long years in the classroom, Barbara had learned that specificity was paramount when offering a critique, and the stylized purple ears that swept up from the mask that covered Helena's eyes and jaw seemed as good a place as any to begin.

They were dramatic and impossible to categorize as either feline or chiropteran.

The brunette smiled and touched the bat-shaped gold receivers that were affixed to her earlobes.

"All the better to hear you with, Red."

The smile, Barbara determined, was really quite wolfish.

"I meant--"

When she made out the glint in the blue eyes hidden behind the three-quarter face mask, Barbara cut herself short.

"Touche, Hel."

She smiled and swallowed any additional words to the effect that it was high time that her free-wheeling partner began to listen to her. At this stage in the game, it was unnecessary: as had been evidenced during their discussion a few days before -- not to mention by Helena's current state -- the change was already occurring.

Indeed, Barbara recognized, it appeared that both the immovable object *and* the unstoppable force could... have a concurrent change of directions. She was able to embrace a future that included a search for a more secure -- and secret -- base of operations and that included scheduled vacations and more help, and Helena was accepting her legacy in full.

Admittedly, her fit of tactfulness wasn't solely based on altruism and personal responsibility: Barbara simply had other things to focus on.

Namely, the costume that Helena had created and was now modeling for her.

"Dear. God."

For the second time in minutes -- and, quite possibly for the second time in a years -- Barbara felt a phantom tug from between her legs. Atypically, she opted not to concern herself with the phenomenon.

It was clearly her body's response to... a force of nature. Specifically, there was no way to doubt that she was responding to the force-of-nature that Barbara thought she'd come to know as Helena. With absolutely no regret, the redhead allowed that she might need to revise her assumption. After all, she had never anticipated... this.

The costume was striking, to say the least. The body, if the form-fitting material that sheathed Helena from her upper thighs to her neck could be called that, was a deep blue, almost black. Briefly, Barbara allowed herself to wonder if the color were an homage to Bruce ... or to her old outfits.

In contrast, the purple cape that almost touched the floor, in combination with the same color for Helena's boots, gloves, mask, and the gear belt that circled low on her hips, was all Helena. As was, Barbara determined appreciatively, the cutout in the outfit that extended from just below Helena's breasts to just below her navel. Trimmed in baby blue and exposing rock hard abs, it offered a tantalizing view.

Indeed, while she wasn't entirely sure what lay behind the instinct, Barbara felt a nearly overpowering need to run her mouth across the exposed skin of her partner's abdomen.

"So, whaddaya think?"

Faced with a dawning insight that Helena was growing impatient with her distraction, Barbara finally met her partner's eyes again.


When she made out the vigorous rolling of said blue eyes, she flirted with returning to her perusal of the outfit.

"You think the costume will turn heads or stop traffic or whatever?"

Barbara didn't doubt it for an instant.

"I suspect that it will turn traffic and set heads rolling, Hel," she allowed with a chuckle.

Not to mention the possibility of setting tongues wagging in the New Gotham tabloids. Nevertheless, Helena was clearly soliciting some serious input on her change of wardrobe, and Barbara was determined to do her best to provide it.

"What do you have in the utility belt?"

Since, to date, her partner had assiduously avoided wearing anything reminiscent of a gear belt, Barbara's curiosity was definitely piqued.

"Just some odds and ends."

The brunette made a show of looking down, taking in the small pouches that did nothing to cover her bare midriff.

"Pepper spray and one of those mini-tasers that you picked up a while back and a few packs of gum and some Twinkies and --"

Barbara couldn't restrain herself.

"Twinkies? Won't those get crushed in a --"

Belatedly, she recognized the glint in sparkling blue eyes. She had to imagine the dark brow lifting behind the mask. When she realized that she'd been had -- again -- Barbara began to suspect that something had short-circuited a few of her neurons.

The sight of Helena tossing her cape dramatically back over her shoulder distracted her from that concern when she took in the vision of --

Dear heavens.

"Cross bolts?"

Swallowing convulsively, Barbara approached her partner, distantly aware of the fact that she was damned near hyperventilating at the vision of the small bolts that were strapped to a toned thigh.


There was no way that Helena was missing Red's reaction to the weapons that she'd kept from view. Of course, Barbara always had had a Jones for gear of any type.

Reaching back and under her cape, she pulled out the crossbow that she'd had sheathed. With her instinct to do things in the moment, she knew she was going to have a hard time holding off using the thing when she got on the street the first time.

"When I was dicking around in the gym during the mandatory Phys Ed class this semester, I found these thing and, well -- " She offered a shrug. "They make a cool noise when they fly."

The uptick of a crimson eyebrow told her that her partner wasn't buying it.

"I'm a huntress, right? I'll hunt."

She figured that she didn't have to go into how fighting from a distance could have let her take out Mandrill without ever having to go face to face. For some reason, not always having to use her fists was sounding pretty good.

"I'm not sure that you'll be doing much hunting in the immediate future, Sweetie."

The husky burr in Barbara's voice sent shivers up and down Helena's skin.

"Yeah?" She had to stop and clear her throat before she could finish. "Why is that?"

Hearing the catch in Helena's voice gave Barbara confidence, yet she still couldn't give voice to the bald fact that she was, frankly, incredibly hot for her lover. She chose to phrase matters another way.

"I believe I need to inspect your costume in more detail."

The brunette beamed.

"So you really like the new threads?"

Her smile turned a little predatory when she saw the flare of Barbara's nostrils.

"What hits you the most, Barbara? The belly cutout or the thigh boots or -- "

The long look that raked over her set her skin on fire.

"Perhaps... it's the cape."

Barbara poked her tongue in her cheek and considered.

There were, after all, so many choices.

"I presume," she stretched out and snagged one edge of the item in question, running the fabric between thumb and forefinger, "that it's not for decorum."

Even behind the mask, Helena's shocked expression was clear.

"Fuck, no. It's the intimidation thing."

Barbara nodded, quite cognizant of the fact that a menacing shadow -- preferably a large shadow -- could go a long way in dissuading some potential criminals from their plans.

"And warmth."

That elicited a chuckle, and Barbara had to give her lover credit for honesty.

The outfit certainly didn't offer much in the way of coverage.

"Perhaps it's the cross bolts," she murmured, closing the remaining distance between them.

Barbara thought that her companion said something in response; however she missed it as she ran her hands gently over the silky material encasing her body. Following through on her movement, she swept her fingertips around Helena's hips to trace lightly across the hem of the mini-short type body suit that ended a full inch or so above where Helena's thighs met her buttocks.

A sudden, almost convulsive, squeeze of her glutes had Helena happily remembering that she wasn't the only one who had a problem with delayed gratification.

And, sometimes, with self-control.

"Where's the catch, Hel?"

It took the brunette a beat to catch the key concept of Barbara's question: she'd asked "where", not "what". When realization struck, she felt a lazy grin painting her face.

"You'll have to find it yourself, Red."

And, no surprise, Barbara did.

Maybe, Helena got to thinking later -- much later -- it was Barbara's time on the streets and her familiarity with the whole superhero shtick. Whatever it was, it seemed like she'd been disrobed in record time.

Not that she was complaining at all: that zipper that had been ripped open could always be fixed.

Feeling utterly sated and just a little sleepy, Helena stretched a minutely on the hardwood of the living room floor where she was acting as a human cushion beneath Barbara. The sensation of lightly calloused fingers tracing patterns over her belly pulled her from any further thoughts of a... tailoring sort.

"Would you mind suiting up again?"

Beneath her, Barbara felt Helena's muscles vibrate just a bit. The leer that painted her lover's face was unmistakable.

"Why? You gonna rip it off again?"

The redhead pushed up on her hands and regarded her very naked partner seriously.

"No, Helena. This time -- "

Holding herself with one arm, she scraped her nails down the other woman's sternum.

Not entirely gently.

"-- I thought I should go more slowly."

Blue eyes sparked to violet, and Barbara lowered herself to breathe the remainder across kiss-bruised lips.

"I'd be remiss if I omitted a careful item-by-item inspection."

Helena's laughing response was almost swallowed in their kiss.

"I guess it is the only safe way to go."

Chapter 25

Given the amount of security that had been added to the Tower over the last months, and especially in the last weeks, it was simply silly to react with such terror to the alert that signaled a visitor waiting at the elevator downstairs. Cognitively, Barbara understood this completely. Viscerally, such a grasp of the obvious did nothing to obviate the fact that her heart was trip-hammering as if The Joker were waiting downstairs.

Nor the fact that she almost wished that it were The Joker coming to visit.

"Theeeeere heeeere."

Apart from being completely unnecessary, Helena's sing-song announcement seemed just a bit too cheerful to Barbara. Somehow she kept a reign on her temper; in lieu of snapping at her companion, she merely offered a long, pointed look.

Helena's shrug, she chose to decide, was clearly meant to be apologetic.

"Indeed they are," she offered.

For the life of her, Barbara couldn't fathom what she'd been thinking when she'd tendered this invitation for a holiday brunch two days earlier. Obviously, something had seriously clouded her judgment.

Still locked in place at the base of the ramp to the Delphi, Barbara looked down at the small remote that she had clenched in one hand. The device performed a multitude of functions, from handling their recreational electronics to unlocking the elevator to bringing down the bookcases that secreted her workstation.

It was the last that had Barbara teetering on a virtual precipice.

A second buzz from downstairs nearly tipped the redhead over the edge. This time, it was Katharine who served as herald. A mop of red curls appeared from behind the sofa, where Katie had been busily hunting for eggs under the cushions and concurrently managing to smudge the pale yellow dress that Barbara had just helped her into, and the toddler's voice rang through the living area.

"Mommy! Ding dong!"

Wincing, Barbara raised her free hand, her index finger hovering above the button that would bring down the bookcases. The sensation of a slender hand coming to rest lightly on her shoulder forestalled her action.

"It's gonna be okay, Barbara."

Searching blue eyes that weren't altogether unsympathetic, the redhead heard her own whisper.

"I'm not so sure, Hel."

Nevertheless, she allowed Helena to pry the remote from her hand. In answer to her partner's unspoken question, Barbara nodded her assent to send down the elevator and turned to move to the entryway.

The blare of the stereo coming to life arrested her motion and nearly arrested her heart.


Father wears his Sunday best
Mother's tired she needs a rest
The kids are playing up downstairs

Sister's sighing in her sleep
Brother's got a date to keep
He can't hang around

Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our street

Our house it has a crowd
There's always something happening
And it's usually quite loud


If she'd still been physically capable of such an action, Barbara suspected that she might have hit the ceiling of the vaulted room. The look that she gave her partner said as much.

"Oops." Helena held up the remote in one hand, raising the other in a pacifying manner. "My bad."

Barbara felt her eyes narrow and waited to turn this time until she saw Helena very pointedly pressing the button that would send the elevator down.

"Thank you," she spoke crisply and very, very quietly.

In return, Barbara received an abashed grin, but she didn't have time to dwell further on her partner's "accident". The ding of the elevator announced the arrival of their guests and sent her stomach into freefall.


Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our
Our house, was our castle and our keep


This time, Barbara didn't even try to hold her temper in check.

"Not funny, Helena."

Finally she saw the power indicator light for the stereo go dark. Barbara thought she heard a mumble from behind her to the effect of "a little funny"; however, with their guests stepping off the elevator carrying a gaudy oversized basket filled with what appeared to be ten pounds of chocolate, she chose to ignore it.

Mustering her flagging courage, she shooed Katie toward the elevator and worked appear, if not at ease, at least... not completely panicked.

Dear heavens, her mouth felt as dry as one of Alethea Harkness' hams.

Barbara smiled when she saw Katharine's enthusiastic embrace of Dinah. Ticking her gaze to the left, she took in the acute blue eyes that were narrowing to observe the room -- the full expanse of the room -- and then the white brow that notched upward. Refusing to falter, she widened her smile.

"Hi Dad."

* * * * *

Not too many hours later, Helena dropped yet another blue foil Cadbury Egg wrapper into the trash, wishing she'd been the one to eat the candy.

No bout-a-dout-it, Katie was going to be bouncing off the walls from all the sugar, but it was all part of the holiday. Besides, she figured that the toddler would have to crash soon.

"So," she spun around and grinned at Barbara. "That didn't go too bad, right?"

Helena thought it was damned decent that Dinah had volunteered to accompany Jim Gordon over for brunch: it was no surprise that Babs could use all of the moral support she could get.

Of course, Helena had a sneaking suspicion that the blonde hadn't been all altruism: the offer for of some of Alfred's patented brunch cooking couldn't have hurt.

"Do you really think so, Hel?"

Green eyes that were wide and beseeching and -- Helena thought -- just a little shell-shocked were pinning her, and so she resisted the urge to go with the easy reassurances. She knew what a big fucking deal the day had been to her partner.

It was almost a shame that The Big Moment had been, well, pretty anti-climactic.

"Oh, Barbara, I'm not sure what you expected," had been Jim's laughing response to Barbara when she'd asked if he was okay with it all. "All of these years that I've accepted -- "

A strong hand had gone up in the air, Jim Gordon ticking off points one by one on his fingers.

"-- that you were some sort of collateral damage from The Joker, that you took in various waifs and strays, that you've established a lesbian relationship with your former ward, and that you've blessed me with a granddaughter who is almost a virgin birth?"

Feeling a little prickly about being referred to as a stray -- since she figured that Dinah had earned the "waif" thing -- Helena had let it go when Barbara's dad had mentioned Katie's origins.

It just couldn't have been healthy for her lover to turn that shade of red.

"And those are just the tip of the iceberg, aren't they, Barbie?"

Gunmetal blue eyes had twinkled, and Helena had seen the second that Barbara had thrown in the towel.

"There's no getting anything past you, is there, Dad?"

The eldest Gordon had bounced Katharine on his knee and raised that bushy unibrow.

"And don't you forget it, young lady."

There'd been just a second's silence before Jim had dropped his voice to a rumble.

"Honestly, when you invited me over for some big announcement, I was rather hoping that there might be news about another grandchild."

Helena had just about spewed her Mimosa all over the coffee table at that. She still didn't know why he'd been looking at *her* like that.

Still, whatever hell Jim had put her through for the rest of the visit -- asking about her health and throwing out comments about biological clocks -- had been worth it. A few days before, Helena had asked Barbara to help them all act like professionals. Her partner's decision to tell her dad hadn't been so much for safety's sake -- or even to add the ex-commissioner to their list of resources -- as for sanity's sake.

"Yeah, Baby." Helena closed the distance between them and leaned down to rest her arms on Barbara's chair. "I'm sure."

Straightening, she allowed herself a snicker. Barbara perked to attention at the sound.

"Bat-baby. Your dad is too much."

Rolling her eyes, Barbara nodded her agreement. After the big revelation -- and her Dad's subsequent lack of reaction -- he'd reminded them of the broad hint he'd provided in giving Katie the T-ball set for her birthday.

Che sara.

The redhead exhaled slowly and at length, releasing a world of tension. Then, she checked the clock, quite unnecessarily since her internal chronometer told her exactly what time it was: too early for dinner and too late to start on anything of weight.

"Well, Helena, what now?"

If she'd expected a flip response, she was surprised. Her partner leapt lightly to the coat rack by the elevator and dug through her messenger bag, emerging with a dog-eared paperback.

"How about you read to Katie and me? We've almost finished."

Barbara instantly recognized the beauty of Helena's suggestion.

"Perhaps that will help calm Katharine down," she allowed with a smile as she situated herself on the couch.

Accepting the C.S. Lewis classic that Helena had been reading to their daughter, she made a mental note to pump their daughter full of sugar before dropping her off at Grandpa's the next time. While Helena made herself comfortable, stretching out with her head on Barbara's lap and Katie on her stomach, the redhead turned to the bookmarked page and acquainted herself with where Helena had left off.

"Are you ready?"

She heard the amusement that threaded her words as she took in the sight of her partner and their daughter curled up beside her, twin expressions of expectation on their faces.

"Mmmm hmmm."

"Aslan!" was Katie's enthusiastic response.

Needing no further encouragement, Barbara began.

* * * * *

"At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise -- a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant's plate.... The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

'Who's done it?' cried Susan. 'What does it mean? Is it more magic?'

"'Yes!' said a great voice from behind their backs. 'It is more magic.' They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

"'Oh, Aslan!' cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad....

"'But what does it all mean?' asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

"'It means,' said Aslan, 'that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.'"

* * * * *

The restless shifting of her lover drew Barbara's attention from the page. She glanced down, lifting her eyebrows in question.

"Are you sorry?"

Utterly at a loss, Barbara rewound the last moments and hours. Since she suspected that Helena wasn't referring to Aslan's return from the dead, she went with the most likely alternative.

"Sorry that I told Dad about--"

"No." The dark head in her lap shook once from side to side. "That I changed back from a guy and we can't get married."

Barbara's response required no thought whatsoever.

"I believe that we're happily-ever-aftering just fine as we are, Sweetheart."


Barbara had always been... ambivalent at best about the Batcave. Nevertheless, it had been the Strategic Command Center as it were for her mentor, and so she'd admitted her lack of admiration to nobody: not to Bruce, when he'd been available, nor to Dick or Alfred, and not even to Helena.

Especially not to Helena.

Idly sorting through a small box of transceivers, the redhead had to snort at that last thought.

Heaven knew, her partner certainly had enough hostility toward anything related to her father that Barbara hadn't wanted to contribute to the laundry list. Nevertheless, protecting Bruce's memory from Helena didn't negate her own feelings toward her old stomping grounds.

The place was simply ghastly. It was dank... and inaccessible... and dark... and smelled of mouldering earth... and sounded of dripping water... and, well, quite frankly the place reminded her of a grave. However, regardless of her personal feelings, Barbara had felt an obligation through the years to visit and check on her old stomping grounds at least once or twice a year.

Barbara was quite cognizant that Alfred maintained the place, yet she still needed to make the pilgrimage. Sometimes she had a specific mission in mind, such as locating a particular program from the computer files or scavenging gear or electronics. Some visits, such as this one, simply found her sitting in the sepulchral quiet, chasing her own thoughts and memories.

And, on this day, Barbara recognized with something akin to surprise, her plans.

It had been, apparently, quite some time since she'd contemplated such a change in her future. Suddenly almost giddy, she heard her own laughter echoing through the recesses of mossy rock before being swallowed by stone and silence. Another sound, something akin to a soft hiss, and then a few words, cut short her delight.

"Not healthy, Red."

Nearly scared witless, Barbara somehow managed to turn calmly to take in the sight of Helena completing her descent from Wayne Manor via a Batpole. While her response wasn't as collected as she might have preferred, it was at least not the startled squeak that she'd anticipated.


Even in the dim light, she saw blue eyes dancing.

"You know, that whole Doctor Moreau thing---? Sitting in a secret lair cackling maniacally?"

Although the redhead wasn't certain she agreed with Helena's characterization of her laughter, Barbara let it go. She had other issues on her mind.

"How did you know I was here, Helena?"

In deference to Helena's feelings, Barbara limited her visits to Bruce's old residence, and she tried not to make a production of it. On this day, she'd simply mentioned that she had a few errands to run.

"Tracked your cell on the GPS," was the laconic reply. "And then D gave me a ride out here on her bike."

Helena ran her hands through her hair, pretty certain that she had a bad case of helmet-head.

"She's wicked crazy on that thing, you know," she added before something more important struck her. "I have *got* to get one of those."

Barbara didn't even try to suppress her smirk. After all, she had... debated with her partner for years about the efficacy of having available alternative means of transportation.

"Rather helpful for getting around, aren't they?"

The frankly dirty smile that painted itself on expressive features suggested that she might not have won the battle for the right reasons. Helena's words confirmed it.

"It's like riding a giant vibrator."

A crimson brow ticked upward. For good measure, Barbara threw in an eye-roll. Then she spoke primly.

"In that case, Hel, you'll need a Harley Fat Boy for the full effect."

For a split second, the redhead was certain that she'd seen an expression flit across Helena's face that mimicked Homer Simpson when he contemplated donuts, and she readied herself to hear a response to the effect of "Mmmmm, Fat Boy."

It didn't come.

Instead, Helena simply grinned broadly and turned to take in the Batcave.

"Hey, how about I ride--"

Barbara saw where Helena's gaze had landed.

"No, Hel."

She managed to speak gently, but she left no room for doubt. Her old bike simply wasn't... appropriate. Helena wasn't Batgirl, and Barbara refused to take even one step to make her over in her own image.

Perhaps in the years to come, someone else might choose to fill that costume. Now -- and always -- Helena was simply too precious *as Helena*.

To her relief, her partner let it go, turning her attention to the further recesses of the room and focusing pointedly on the Batmobile.

"Well, you think Dad'll mind if I take the keys to the car?"

Laughing, Barbara shook her head.

"I don't think he'd mind a bit, Sweetheart."

She returned the box of transistors to its rightful location and moved toward one of the gear cabinets.


Barbara glanced over, taking in the image of Helena's nose wrinkled in disgust.

"I can't believe you all hung out here." She sniffed pointedly. "Guano."

Laughing, the redhead pressed her thumb to the biometric lock that guarded the contents of the cabinet. It immediately opened with a nearly inaudible click.

"The bats weren't as prevalent when we were around every day, Hel."

She blinked and then corrected herself.

"The small, winged version, that is."

When she saw the brunette's nod, Barbara turned back to the shelves that were now exposed to her and began rooting through them. Helena's next comment drew her attention from her search again.

"So, do you think we should have our base out of here?"

The redhead couldn't read the other woman's tone, and she had to assume that Helena was deliberately keeping her opinion on the option to herself. Barbara chose not to be coy.

"I'd rather not, Helena."

This time, there was no missing Helena's relieved sigh.

"Yeah, I like the Tower, too. Maybe we can figure out a way to stay there, huh?"

Spying what she'd been looking for, Barbara held back her smile.

"Still, Helena, I have been considering some experiments, and the gear is more readily available to us here."

Blue eyes didn't even blink.

"What kind of experiments, Red?"

Barbara took her time in answering, first shutting the cabinet door and then turning to head toward the van. Only when she was next to the driver's side door did she stop, and, raising the heavy manacles that she'd procured, she offered a slow smile to her partner.

"I'd like to test whether it really is possible to make someone go unconscious from climaxing multiple times."

Helena felt her stomach hit somewhere around her knees.

It wasn't a bad sensation at all.

"Test someone?"

Those big green eyes didn't so much as blink.


Drawing a deep breath, Helena decided to step up to the challenge.

"I don't pass out easily, Barbara."

Her lover's smile as she shifted into the driver's seat was pure promise.

"And I don't give up easily, Helena."

This time, it was Helena's laughter that filled the cave. Waiting for Helena to circle the van, Barbara turned the key and allowed herself to join in with a chuckle.

Sometimes, apparently, the paradoxes of opposing forces could offer certain benefits.

Her musing about who would bend or change direction first in this particular battle of wills was interrupted by an affronted exclamation from the passenger seat.

"Jeesus, Barbara."

Calmly, the redhead looked over, arching one eyebrow in question.

"I don't believe that you came toodling out to the frigging Batcave listening to that."

Utterly perplexed, Barbara looked at the dashboard, confirming the obvious: the CD that had been playing when she'd arrived had kicked back on.


You belong to me now
Ain't gonna set you free now
When those girls start hanging around
Talking me down
Hear with your heart and you won't hear a sound
Just stop, 'cause I really love you


She felt her brows knit.

"Why not?"

Helena opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Fuck, it was wrong on so many levels that she couldn't even figure out where to start. Huffing, she threw her hands in the air and pulled the shoulder belt across her chest.

"You are one freaky bitch, Barbara."

The redhead accepted the words for the compliment they were and leaned across the console that separated their seats. Briefly, she brushed her mouth lightly across full lips, then deepened the kiss. Helena almost jumped out of her skin when she felt her lower lip seized by sharp teeth.

Not entirely gently, either.

"And don't you forget it, Hel."

Pulling away, she waited for the younger woman's happy nod and then turned her attention to fastening her own seat belt. While she was occupied, the lyrics from the stereo suddenly changed, and Barbara looked over to find that Helena had toggled from the CD to the radio.

REO Speedwagon's 'Keep On Rolling'.

For a moment, Barbara flirted with allowing it to play. It was, after all, not a bad song; nevertheless, it also reminded her of the final episode from The Sopranos for some reason. As appropriate as it might be, Barbara made the decision in an instant in favor of her own taste.

The Captain and Tennille seemed to fit as well.

Stretching out, she rested her index finger above the button to switch back to the CD and smiled at her companion.

"Indulge me?"

On cue, the hang-dog expression made an appearance.

"Okay, Babs. One more time."

Charmed, Barbara abandoned the sound system for the moment. Instead, she reached over, cupping the angular line of her lover's jaw in her hand and brushing the pad of her thumb lightly across full lips.

"You always do, don't you?"

The answer was clear enough in those deep blue eyes. Somehow, Barbara forced herself to breathe as she took the moment within herself to cherish. Pulling out of the darkness of her old haunt, she toggled the stereo back to the CD and waited to be certain that the security doors to the cave came down.


I will
Be there to share forever
Love will keep us together
I said it before and I'll say it again
While others pretend
I need you now and I need you then
Just stop, 'cause I really love you
Stop, I'll be thinking of you
Look in my heart and let love keep us together


"So, what are we going to do next, Red?"

Barbara didn't even blink at the question.

"Elementary, my dear."

They shared a smile before Barbara put the van into gear and turned them toward The Tower.

"We head home and start on the next phase of our lives."

----------------------- FIN.


And, a brief note:

To quote one of my favorite redheads: Good heavens!

It's hard to believe that it's been more than three years since Barbara, in "Landslide", allowed herself to be described as "strictly dickly" and since, not too much later as Babs began to reassess that position, Helena promised to do the time if Barbara would. To all of you who have done the time with with me on this series, thank you so much for your support and encouragement. It's been a fun ride; thanks for indulging with me.