The Way We Were


FANDOM: Birds of Prey TV

PAIRING: Barbara/Helena

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

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

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: I've made several references to a baddie (Crimson Claw) from another work of fanfiction -- The most-excellent "Feral" by Barb/Pink Rabbit Productions. No infringement intended; rather, consider it an homage to a breath-taking work of fanfic (and another plea that Feral be completed??).

ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.


Chapter 1

She surged into wakefulness, jerking into a sitting position with a gasp, from a dream filled with blood, claws, terror, and something else. The first thing she became aware of was the almost complete darkness of her surroundings; the next, the overwhelming pain radiating throughout her body. Sinking back with a barely stiffled groan, she blinked her eyes and allowed the room to come into focus, darkness no longer a problem to yellow cat eyes.

A bedroom. She was in a very familiar bedroom, cocooned in a mountain of covers on a comfortable king bed, lying next to... "Barbara", she breathed. She drank in the sight of the redhead, observing the light breathing of shallow sleep and the faint worry lines creasing russet brows even in slumber. The presence of the woman calmed her brief disorientation-induced panic, and the brunette released a long sigh as her gaze flowed over the form of her bedmate, tracing with her eyes the finely sculpted nose, full lips and sharp chin; following the creamy skin of the other woman's neck to the corded muscles in Barbara's upper arms, revealed by a thin tank top; swallowing with some difficulty as she watched the rise and fall of lush cleavage and a firm abdomen; finally dropping her gaze to long legs, tangled in covers. Instinctively, her gaze snapped to the side of the bed, confirming the presence of the wheelchair -- always within ready reach.

It was all so familiar, so comfortable; and yet, something wasn't right. She felt fuzzy, out-of-place: How had she gotten here? Why was she in so goddamned much pain? And, then, it hit her: Who was *she*? How did she know her bedmate so absolutely but not her own fucking name? Bringing her hand up to rub at her eyes, she hissed in pain, regretting the move instantly.

When she turned her gaze back to her bedmate, she found the other woman's eyes were open, squinting sleepily towards her in the darkness. With glittering, and somewhat panicked, feral eyes and absurdly acute hearing, she easily observed Barbara draw in a quick breath of ... surprise? worry? fear?

"Helena." A soft exhalation across those red, red lips.

Helena turned the single word around in her mind, prodding at it from different angles for a split second, before a second piece clicked into place. 'Kyle. Helena Kyle. That's me.' An almost inaudible sigh of relief ghosted from her as the redhead rolled partially onto her side, right hand moving out, seemingly without conscious thought, to touch Helena's temple gently, smoothing unruly dark hair from her eyes, before finally cupping her face. A brilliant smile flashed briefly across the older woman's features before Barbara became serious.

Concern and relief painting her voice heavily, Barbara breathed out, "Thank heavens. You're finally back with us."

Helena felt a charge run through her at the familiar throaty voice, and she sleekly moved her face against the other woman's hand. She bent her head slightly, parting her lips to scent the other woman's skin before pressing her mouth ever-so-gently to the redhead's inner wrist. The familiar scent, the feel of blood moving through veins, the gentle stroking of Barbara's thumb against her cheek all combined to leave Helena feeling safe and, simultaneously, aching for ... something. A low rumbling bubbled from her chest as she raised her eyes to Barbara's mouth, waiting...

Quirking an eyebrow, the older woman removed her hand from the other woman's face, then grasped the bar above the bed with one hand to pull herself up while attempting to free her legs from the tangle of covers with the other. Finally upright, she reached out to turn on a small light before shifting back towards the younger woman. She gently touched the young woman's tightly bound left shoulder as her eyes assessed a multitude of other injuries. Feral vision still locked firmly on Barbara's face, nerves thrumming tightly from the scent and feel of the other woman, Helena jerked at the delicate touch, the response one of pure biology -- originating at her hips then rippling through her abdomen, chest, throat... culminating with a soft moan. Barbara carefully lifted her hand before murmurring, "Does it hurt that badly, sweetheart?".

'Gordon. Barbara Gordon.' The words popped into Helena's mind, followed by a stream of images: Barbara's hands dancing across a computer keyboard with a delicacy, speed, and sensual grace that pulled another gasp from the young woman; Barbara's deep green eye's gleaming at her with suspicious humor over the top of a pair of sexy half-glasses; Barbara's fiery hair, fanned around her face on the pillow as the older woman convulsed under Helena's hands...

A string of other words, concepts, feelings flooded through the brunette as she continued to stare at the woman she now identified as Barbara Gordon, as former guardian, as mentor, friend... and, yes, it had to be - lover: 'Home. Love. Safe. Want. Need.' Finally, one word: 'Here'. Some pieces were missing, she knew instinctively, but these things -- for these things, there could be no doubt.

A ten-thousand watt smile split her face, and Helena scootched across the bed to drape herself over Barbara's chest and lap, body curling around the woman who was her heart. Almost regretting the move because of the pain it engendered, the young woman nevertheless turned her head enough to press her lips to the redhead's collarbone before husking, "I'm great" and dropping back into unconsciousness.

Chapter 2

Barbara sat quietly, but hardly complacently, holding the young woman to her. Relief still washed through her that Helena had returned to consciousness - albeit briefly -- after the horrendous injuries from her battle with the Crimson Claw three days earlier. True, the young woman had ultimately brought down the monsterous... creature, the only word Barbara could come up with... but the price had been steep: shoulder dislocated, both eyes blackened, three ribs broken, a multitude of bruises and bloody gashes, not to mention a wicked concussion.

Responding to Helena's panicked calls for backup, listening to an undoubtedly brutal battle on the frantic drive to the warehouse, Barbara and Dinah had feared the worst when nothing but silence came over the comm set. Barbara -- in her manual chair, with numerous bat-a-rangs and escrima sticks at hand -- and Dinah had entered the warehouse cautiously, relieved beyond all measure to find The Huntress slumped, dazed -- hands bloodied to a pulp, shoulder skewed awkwardly, other injuries less apparent -- but resolutely guarding her unconscious captive. Anyone else -- well, the injuries would have resulted in death or, at the very least, a protracted hospital stay. Not Helena; she was already visibly healing. Barbara sighed quietly and, once again, thanked the Powers-That-Be for the brunette's meta-human meta-healing powers.

Grateful as she was, and as relieved as she'd been to hear Helena's reassurance, something was still troubling Barbara, nibbling at the edges of her mind. There had been such confusion in the the young woman's eyes -- perhaps natural after the injuries she'd sustained coupled with several days of unconsciousness. Still, the eyes themselves -- The fact that they'd remained in their feral state even after the room was filled with gentle light; sighing, Barbara posited to herself that this could have been an indicator of pain -- as the rumbling purr was probably a sign of distress. However, that simply didn't make much sense when combined with the bright smile that Helena had flashed before curling up around her.

And it was the smile, Barbara realized, which ultimately was troubling her the most. It wasn't as if the brunette didn't smile often; in fact, her cocky, infectious, devil-may-care grin was one of the few things which could consistently light up a room for Barbara. However, this smile... there was something different; the complete joy, the openness, the sheer happiness -- all directed at... well, at her, Barbara admitted. Despite the bad-girl, don't-give-a-damn attitude which she cloaked herself in for most of the world, Helena had always been affectionate, loving, and consistently solicitous towards the redhead. Still, Barbara had to admit, she'd never been graced with that sort of smile and was unable to stop herself from pondering what was behind it.

Shifting ever-so-slightly, the older woman snugged Helena closer to her, careful not to put pressure on any injuries. Reaching out, she turned off the bedside lamp and then rested her cheek against the dark silk of Helena's hair, breathing in the unique scent of the woman. In an instant, her body was overcome with the memory of Helena's ... kiss, she decided to call it ... to her wrist earlier, with the ... feeling .... which had flushed through her body as the younger woman had molded herself to her and pressed that achingly tender sweet kiss to her clavicle. Barbara's breath hitched, and, without thought, she turned her head slightly to press a soft kiss to Helena's head. She noticed that her hands were unconsciously stroking the brunette's upper arms and back; at that moment, she heard a gentle rumbling from Helena's chest and felt the brunette begin to knead against her side gently with a hand. 'Making biscuits.' The old cat-lover's phrase popped into her mind, bringing a smile to Barbara's face at the fact that - even injured and in pain - Helena could demonstrate such contentment.

'With me.' Another thought, seemingly out of nowhere.

But, of course the young woman would feel safe and content with her: they'd known each other since Barbara was 18 -- a flourishing gymnist - and Helena was 10 -- a beautiful, willful, frighteningly intelligent gamine newly immigrated from France, with her mother, Selina Kyle. Through the years and the tragedies -- the murder of Helena's mother in front of her, Barbara's shooting and paralysis, encounters with too many criminals and threats to count -- they'd moved through numerous roles: sitter and charge; high school teacher and rebellious student; guardian and violently angry and hurting ward; mentor in crime-fighting and capable protege; friends and confidants. Now, 14 years after first meeting, Barbara felt the solidity of their connection; they were family.

Family. Barbara snorted almost inaudibly at the word and the layers and meanings it could encompass.

Their relationship had always been complex and interconnected, with Barbara drawn to the young woman from the first time she'd seen her -- at Barbara's gym -- so many years ago. Only a few years ago -- several years after her official guardianship role had ended -- had Barbara finally acknowledged to herself her feelings for the other woman. At that time, Helena was in a period of deliberate, brash sexuality; she was an unrepenantent flirt, a wild partier, and undisguised in her lustier appetites. And so, when Barbara admitted to herself her feelings for the brunette, she was careful to entertain no illusions about having these feelings returned. She was, in fact, somewhat relieved to acknowledge that she held none of the qualities that might lead the young woman to return her feelings. After all, in addition to their differences in age and temperment, Barbara felt quite certain that her obvious physical limitations would preclude the type of physical intimacies that the sensual young woman deserved.

And so, she loved, holding the feeling close within her -- something to cherish and take out in the dark of night to dream over. She occasionally indulged in surreptitious physical appraisals and lingering touches which had nothing to do with assessing her partner-in-crime-fighting's fighting skills or with doctoring her wounds. These small liberties she allowed herself served to nurture the carefully hidden garden within her -- served to sustain her during dark nights when she lay alone, awake, choking on her frustration as her hands moved over unresponsive flesh while her mind supplied images and phantom sensations of what could have been. But, she was always careful, cautious; while she allowed herself flights of fancy, she would not, could not allow herself hope, lest she somehow slip up and damage the relationship which meant everything to her.

As Barbara was caught up in her musings, one of her hands -- seemingly on its own -- moved to brush through the soft, unruly hair covering Helena's face. After pushing the hair back - and smirking ruefully as it immediately fell back - she began lightly scratching the back of Helena's scalp. Immediately, the young woman's purring increased in volume and she managed - almost impossibly, it seemed to an amused Barbara -- to clasp herself more tightly against the redhead. The hand which had been gently kneading Barbara's side slowed its motions and segued into a gentle stroking across the older woman's stomach. Lulled by the heat of the younger woman's body, by the boneless comfort and ease of having limbs so effortlessly enmeshed, Barbara didn't immediately realize that her upper body had arched, seemingly attempting to increase the pressure and contact from Helena's stroking. However, when the sleeping woman's hand managed to push up the bottom of Barbara's tank and the redhead felt those long, gentle fingers brush across her abdomen, there could be no ignoring her body's reaction.

A blast-furnace of heat cascaded outward, following by trembling shivers. Incongruous, the rational portion of Barbara's mind managed to supply before being overshouted by more primal thoughts, urges... needs. Barbara's breathing hitched, then shallowed; she felt -- actually felt -- a tightening in her lower abdomen; and the ache in her breasts was unmistakable. Unthinking -- and not caring that she wasn't thinking -- she again turned toward's Helena's face and slowly, reverently, traced her lips across dark brows, snaking her tongue out ever-so-briefly to taste -- oh, god, finally to taste a tiny bit -- the skin at Helena's temple. Barbara's hands itched to thread further into dark hair, to pull that beautiful face towards her so that she could sample those lush, red lips. Her mouth opened as she panted softly, before she placed another soft kiss above the dark brows.

At this touch, the sleeping woman's hips jerked forward, unmistakably, as she murmurred in her sleep, "Bar-ba-ra", the extra syllable a throwback to Helena's early years in France. In sleep, Helena burrowed her head into her friend and mentor's chest, lips barely brushing a painfully erect nipple through the thin tank, warm breath eliciting a gasp and another arching of the redhead's upper body. As her hand tightened almost imperceptibly in dark hair and she began to guide the sleeping woman's head to the focus of her current need, Barbara was snapped back from the erotic haze which surrounded her by a softly grunted word.


The realization that it was her own mouth which had moved, giving voice to her need, shocked her and froze her movements completely. For a brief span of time, for an eternity, she lay there, heart jackhammering in her chest, feeling Helena continue to undulate gently against her as she burrowed her head into the pillowy softness of Barbara's chest. The redhead swallowed hard against the lump in her throat, appalled at her lapse. The younger woman was asleep, still not fully recovered from injuries, and obviously still in her feral mode -- which, they'd long ago learned, meant that an almost animal physicality ruled the young woman. That she had so quickly, so thoughtlessly, moved from giving comfort to taking -- taking what she wanted doused any remaining embers of passion.

Barbara carefully removed her hand from Helena's hair and used it to move the young woman's head from her chest to her shoulder. At the same time, she moved her other hand down to link her fingers with the hand still gently stroking her stomach, pulling the sleeping woman's hand back to the relative safety of her side. Pressing one last, chaste, kiss to the brunette's forehead, Barbara sighed and stared unblinkingly into the darkness. And so she remained, listening to Helena's breathing deepen and even out in peaceful sleep, until she too drifted into a fitful slumber.

Chapter 3

Save for waking from not-that-infrequent nightmares or waking in response to the sound of Barbara's nightmares, Helena had never been what could be called an easy riser. After a peaceful night, in the arms of the redhead, it was small wonder then that the brunette drifted towards wakefulness rather than snapping awake as she had the previous night.

It was the glare of a thin beam of sunlight streaming from a small crack in the blackout curtains and focusing with laser-like intensity on her face that finally pulled the healing woman fully awake. Remembering her discomfort from the night before, she cautiously raised a hand to rub at her eyes, noting with some pleasure that the amount of pain had decreased dramatically. Not bothering to open her eyes, she stretched her other arm out - displeased to discover that she had the large bed entirely to herself; while the evocative scent of the older woman was clearly present, especially to her heightened senses, the coolness of the bed and covers suggested that she'd be alone in the bed for quite some time.

But not alone in the room, she noted, hearing the page of a magazine being quietly turned. Cracking her eyes, she looked through the thick curtain of her lashes, discovering that the bedroom was currently being shared by a blonde, teen-aged girl who was thumbing through a People magazine, apparently intent on discovering the latest about Britney or Courtney or Whitney or whoever.

'Who the fuck...?' Helena fought her instictive urge to snap into a feral, defensive mode and took a moment to study the girl quietly. A name popped into her mind: 'Dinah', followed by a stream of images, memories. 'Yeah -- our "orphan", our "stray"', she chuckled soundlessly, fondly, as her brain reconnected pieces of Dinah's joining into the life she shared with Barbara. Dinah was, Helena supposed, almost the child to round out the family she and Barbara had.

This was encouraging; stuff was still fuzzy but definitely still there. So, Helena decided to announce her wakefulness.

"Hey, Kiddo. When's Jo-Lo's next wedding?" Her voice was a little raspy, but it shouldn't have caused such a jump and shriek from the blonde, Helena thought a bit peevishly.

Any ill temper immediately disappeared as Dinah practically threw herself on the bed, restraining herself from enthusiastically hugging Helena at the last minute. Instead, she chose to talk.

"Oh, god, Helena! I'm so glad you're awake. That you're better. God, we were so worried. I mean, Barbara didn't even leave the room until this morning. She's been awake almost the entire time and, y'know, I'd bring food but I don't think she remembered to eat or sleep or anything. And, well, now you're better - which is so great. I knew you'd be okay when she came out this morning and said that maybe I could watch you for a while -- Y'know, Oracle stuff again, I guess. Oh, gosh, I bet you're thirsty; want some water?"

Unaccountably warmed by the knowledge that Barbara had stayed so close and worried so much, Helena nodded in response to the girl's question and watched as she opened a bottle of water and tucked a straw in the top. 'Oracle-stuff?' popped into her mind as she sipped the water; Barbara was a high school English teacher, not a freakin' fortune teller... Well, maybe it had something to do with Oedipus Rex or some other dry-ass Greek play that she was currently inflicting on her students.

That particular thought removed a small measure of the warmth that had suffused the dark-haired woman since Dinah's mile-a-minute description of the older woman's devotion to her recuperation. 'What so effin' important about lesson plan stuff to leave me with a, a surrogate?' This rather churlish thought was immediately followed by a snort of impatience at herself as she admitted that Barbara certainly deserved a little time away from playing doctor and that, hell, Helena actually enjoyed the kid's company -- not that she was gonna admit that to the Kid. Things could be worse.

Handing the empty water bottle back, Helena cut off Dinah's continuing ramble about how quiet things had been in the last few days, how fast Helena was healing, gosh -- how *was* she feeling at this point; sitting up a bit more and performing a full one-armed stretch, Helena growled out a laconic inquiry, "We got any pop-tarts around here, Kiddo? Cuz, I don't know about you, but I could eat about two of every flavor right about now."

At that, Helena sat up fully in the big bed and started to swing her legs out from under the covers. Dinah -- almost fearfully, Helena observed while trying to seem like she wasn't -- placed a hand gently on her good shoulder, a symbolic, rather than physical, restraint.

"Uh, Hel? Maybe you should stay quiet a little longer...? I mean, you did get pretty banged up and all... Sure, you heal fast, but Barbara will kill me if I let you get up and you, I dunno, relapse or something."

Something instinctual in the dark-haired woman briefly flared, urging her to sweep the hand from her shoulder and make the young blonde back off. Helena clamped down on this, bringing her right hand up to ruffle through her shaggy hair. The rush of air through her nose the only indication of her irritation, Helena took a moment to assess herself physically: left shoulder was, well, tender; her ribs also seemed to be, well, tender; other than that, only her knuckles -- scraped and swollen like she'd been pounding a brick wall -- really seemed to be an issue.

"Look, D," she sighed, "I'm gonna have to get up sometime -- If for no other reason than that bottle of water I just guzzled."

This statement was accompanied by a waggle of dark eyebrows and an embarrassed giggle from the teenager.

Helena continued, "I'm feeling pretty good. Really. Just a few aches and twinges." With a nod of her head towards her tightly bound shoulder, "I think that damned bandage is bugging me more now than anything."

Sensing the girl's continued hesitation, Helena again bit back on her impatience and flashed a charming smile.

"C'mon, D," she wheedled, purposely avoiding the "K" nickname, which seemed to irk the blonde, "I'm gonna go stir-crazy if I have to stay in here. You don't want that, do you? I really wanna hit the bathroom and find something to eat."

'And go find Barbara', her mind added with an urgency which briefly took her breath away.

Missing the quick inhalation from the other woman, Dinah finally nodded and watched, suddenly dry-mouthed, as the lithe brunette threw back the covers, exposing a glorious amount of flesh -- covered only by brief boxers, a tee-shirt, and a copious quantity of bandages swathing the brunette's left shoulder outside the tee. Moving on instinct, Helena practically bounced out of the room, teasingly throwing over her shoulder, "You comin', Kid?".

Chapter 4

For her part, Barbara was, naturally, planted in front of the Delphi. On the surface, she appeared to be verifying the handling and incarceration of The Claw, researching some suspicious T-1 traffic into the New Gotham Sports Arena, monitoring all incoming and outgoing police, fire, and rescue traffic, and a host of other simultaneous tasks. In actuality, she was engaged in the same activity that had been occupying her since she'd carefully extricated herself from the tangle of limbs in her bed that morning -- 'When had Helena grown octopus tentacles?' -- and sent Dinah in to keep watch: she was mentally banging her head against the desk. Repeatedly. Imagining the dull thudding noise that would ensue and hoping to knock some sense into herself.

'Stupid.' Followed by a mental <thunk>. 'You know you promised yourself... What the hell were you thinking?'

Well, if she were truthful with herself -- something Barbara Gordon prided herself on -- she knew that at least part of her... surge in feelings ... stemmed from the sheer giddy relief at having the young woman alive and relatively well after the horrific battle. But, that scarcely accounted for her ... lapse. Helena had been injured, in danger, too many times to consider comfortably.

'Selfish.' Another mental <thunk>. 'How could you take advantage of that situation?'

As she thought about it, there was something in the young heroine's actions, her responses, her unshuttered eyes after awakening the night before. In the last few years -- really, if Barbara thought about it, it coincided with the time that Helena had started to curtail, or at least be more discrete about, her sexual escapades -- the young woman had closed off a part of herself. She was always, *always*, loving and affectionate with the older woman; yet, she maintained a distance, a separation or ... hiding? ... of some part of herself from Barbara. There had been none of that last night; her eyes were so achingly open, freely giving Barbara a glimpse into her soul. In addition, she'd been so easy in displaying her feral side; 'Acting on it, too', Barbara acknowledged with a shiver, recalling the feel of Helena's mouth against her wrist and the feel of her hands kneading and stroking her side and stomach. From long association, the redhead knew that this was a side of herself, animalistic -- 'sensual': the word blazed across Barbara's brain in three foot neon letters -- which Helena tried to keep under wraps.

Perhaps that was it, she mused. Helena was reacting to her experience, her survival and victory; and Barbara, also reacting, couldn't help but be caught up in it.

'Still, Gordon, what the *hell* where you thinking?' <Thunk>

This mental flagellation was suddenly interrupted by the feeling of a smooth, deceptively delicate arm circling her shoulders from behind while a pair of impossibly soft lips pressed to her ear and mock-growled, "Afternoon, Gorgeous. Didja miss me?"

Reflexively jerking her chair wheels backward a quarter-circuit -- the parapalegic's equivalent to a startled jump -- and avoiding Helena's toes only due to the athletic woman's uncanny reflexes, the cyber-crime-fighter felt herself flushing a shade of red which was -- undoubtedly, she reflected -- unflattering for a red-head. Not-at-all surprised that the other woman had managed to approach so silently -- 'Little cat feet. Hmph.', Barbara mentally groused -- the older woman attempted to get herself under control as she swung her chair 90 degrees, to face Helena from the side.

The redhead performed a quick, but thorough, visual appraisal of the healing woman, starting with her bare feet and legs -- marred only by some almost-faded bruises; moving up her body -- in that damned sheer tee-shirt -- to take in her stance and the comfort she displayed holding herself -- rib and shoulder injury not-withstanding; and ending with her face -- rapidly fading "racoon eyes" and a few scrapes the only indications of injury.

As Barbara completed her inspection, green eyes finally focusing on sparkling colbalt, Helena looked away, murmurring, "Sorry -- didn't mean to scare you. I just -- ". "What are you doing up?" Barbara asked, at the exact moment, tilting her head to try to catch those captivating eyes again.

"Hungry..." "It's okay, you're just quiet." They spoke, again, as one.

The brunette lifted both brows, the question 'Are you done?' clear. Barbara blinked slowly, an invitation for other woman to speak, and offered a smile -- a smile which faltered and became rather forced when Helena finished her thought.

"...and I missed you." This accompanied by another one of those ten-thousand watt smiles as the brunette leaned towards Barbara's face, eyes briefly flickering yellow before reverting to their normal startling blue.

With the incredible timing which had made her such a phenomena in the gynastic circuit and so daunting to villians during her Batgirl days, the redhead ducked her head towards the bank of monitors, swinging her chair back around with seeming nochalance before the younger woman could make contact. Barbara felt, rather than saw, the brunette literally freeze, holding her position for a moment -- face impossibly close to where the older woman's face had just been -- before ghosting a kiss to red hair. Helena casually hopped onto the edge of the desk, throwing what appeared to be an extremely irritated glare towards Dinah, before opening up a package of Pop-Tarts -- strawberry, Barbara guessed -- and asking, "So, what the heck are you hacking into, and does NASA know you've taken over their operation?".

A little surprised that her hack into NASA had caught Helena's eye -- honestly, she was just cross-checking some data, after all, and it was only one screen among dozens -- Barbara laughed and responded, "Nothing quite that dire, Hel. Is this a hint that you want to play Doom? Because, honestly, I'm beginning to believe that you spend more time than I do here."

When there was no response, she looked over to find Helena chewing thoughtfully on her pastry while raking her eyes across the Delphi, her eyes clouded and her expression somewhat puzzled and abashed. Without hesitation, without thought, Barbara placed her hand on the younger woman's knee -- absolutely, positively, refusing to notice the burning warmth that suffused her hand and began to travel up her arm -- and attempted to reassure her.

"Hel, it's alright. Really."

A tentative smile was her response, so the older woman opted to return to earlier, more pressing topics.

"Now, how are you feeling, Helena?", she inquired with what she hoped was an encouraging smile. "You look like you're getting around pretty well -- thank heavens you heal so quickly -- but we need to be alert to any possible set-backs."

The brunette smiled, taking Barbara's hand from her knee to hold it in hers, stroking lightly with her thumb.

"I feel pretty good, I guess." Slightly shrugging her tightly bound shoulder, she added, "This damned bandage is driving me batshit, tho...".

Ignoring the feeling of butterflies dancing up and down her arm, apparently attracted by the rhythmic stroking of Helena's thumb, Barbara regarded her evenly. Clearly, the amazing woman was healing in record time: her color was good; her movements seemed relatively pain-free; her eyes were clear and full of energy and ... sparkling and ... open; her lips were...

Neatly derailing that train of thought before she ended up drooling at the other woman's chest under the guise of checking her breathing -- really, what the hell *was* the matter with her lately? -- she made the decision.

"Ok, I'll take a look at it; if it seems okay AND if you promise to stay quiet for at least another day, we can leave the bandage off."

The young woman immediately dropped from the desk to the floor and knelt, left arm brushing the side of the wheel chair. Her left shoulder was presented to the other woman, clearly for immediate inspection, and her head was bowed, posture almost unnervingly submissive although Barbara was sure she detected a twinkle in the blue eyes barely visible through thick lashes and unruly bangs. Swallowing thickly against the possible implications of Helena's chosen position, she tilted her head in the direction of Dinah -- who was observing from the couch while seemingly engrossed in an episode of Elimidate -- and murmurred, "I think the bedroom might be better."

The moment the words were out, Barbara realized there was no doubt about the twinkle in blue eyes; nor, apparently, could there be any doubt about how unflattering this particular blush shade was on her.

Sighing, and mentally cursing Helena's flirtatious nature -- especially on the heels of her own guilt about the previous night, Barbara silently backed away from the Delphi and headed towards the bedroom, with Helena trailing obediently behind her. On the way, for little other reason than to break the silence which suddenly seemed suffocating, Barbara glanced over her shoulder and asked, "Are you sure that's it? Only your shoulder is bothering you at this point?".

They'd crossed the threshold into Barbara's bedroom before Helena responded. Circling to the side of Barbara's chair, the brunette ducked her chin -- a gesture Barbara knew from long experience meant that Helena was trying to shield her eyes, her face -- and held out both hands in loose fists, exposing the still-bruised and scraped knuckles. The young woman exhaled in a long steady stream, drawing in another breath and holding it.

Concerned that there were injuries she'd been unaware of, Barbara reached up and gently grasped one of the hands presented for her inspection.

"What is it, Hel?", her voice pitched low, meaning to comfort, to coax.

As much as she theoretically subscribed to Bill Shakespeare's wisdom about there being more things in heaven and earth..., Barbara also considered herself to be ... well ... generally unflappable, not easily surprised; after all, considering her career choices -- both as a vigilante crime-fighter AND a high school teacher -- she believed that there shouldn't be much that could catch her off guard. Therefore, when Helena finally spoke, looking at her with pain-filled eyes, she wasn't certain if she was surprised so much by the young woman's words or her reaction to them. Barbara's head jerked back, her mouth parted in a silent 'O', and all the air seemed to leave her body as she heard the softly spoken words.

"Just, uh, kinda wondering. Didja get the number of the truck that hit me? Or, I guess, that, uh, maybe I hit?"

Chapter 5

Helena really, truly, hadn't expected that sort of reaction to her question about the source of her injuries. She sort of supposed that, after the type of accident she'd been in, a little fuzziness would be perfectly understandable.

Apparently not.

Although it was quick, and she was clearly trying to hide it, the redhead had gone absolutely rigid for a moment after the question; then there was the matter of how pale she seemed as she started rolling toward the bed and, with a nonchalance that was entirely too casual to be convincing, asked, "You don't remember, Hel?".

Aw, screw it. She was finally back in the bedroom with her lover, feeling distinctly better than she had last night, hormones screaming for some sort of completion. Barbara had ducked her kiss in the living room -- trying not to embarrass the kid, Helena supposed; but her responses to the few touches they'd shared certainly hadn't escaped the brunette's heightened senses. Sure, there were some blank spots here and there, but the pieces were coming back. No way she was going to divert them from the pressing matters at hand, so to speak.

So, Helena Kyle laughed as she bounded onto the bed to settle facing the other woman, who had maneuvered her chair to a spot facing the foot of the bed. Ignoring the slight, really almost insignificant, outraged scream that the move elicited from her sore ribs, she angled for a tone midway between slightly peeved and outright amused.

"Shit, Barbara. Of course, I remember;", adding an extra inflection of irony to the last word, "I was there, y'know. Just -- well, considering how fast the other stuff is healing..." She trailed off awkwardly, waving one of her battered hands loosely towards the other woman and ducking her chin abashedly.

The strategy had its desired effect. The redhead visibly relaxed as she reached for the other woman's right hand and cradled it on her legs. After fishing in a pocket on the side of her chair, she put on her glasses and gently pulled the injured hand closer to her face -- close enough for Helena to feel warm breath teasing her knuckles. Helena licked suddenly dry lips -- Damn, those glasses were sexy. Very sexy. -- and felt a change in herself. Her vision seemed to ... clarify while being filtered through shimmering gold lights; her heartbeat didn't so much increase as ... seem to get stronger; all of her senses seemed to intensify; and every hormone in her body -- or whatever was fueling her lust -- just plain ol' stood up and screamed, "Hi there!".

No, not just lust, she realized. Need. Deep-seeded, aching need.

Clamping down on the growl attempting to bubble out of her chest, Helena leaned forward slightly, nostrils flaring as the mere scent of the other woman racheted her need another notch. She concentrated again, briefly, on the feel of the older woman's long fingers as they explored her other hand, skin shivering as her imagination supplied images of those hands on other parts of her body.

Her reverie was broken by Barbara's slightly distracted murmur, as the redhead finished her inspection of the younger woman's hands and responded to the earlier implied question.

"Well, you really are healing quite phenomenally. Taking on," she paused, correcting herself, pride evident in her voice at Helena's accomplishment, "taking *out* the Crimson Claw is no small task, you know."

Helena managed to duck her head, under the guise of looking at her hands, just as Barbara smiled and looked up at her. Violent, bloody images -- which she'd hoped were only from the dreamscape -- had popped into her mind's eye when the other woman mentioned the Claw. Ardor temporarily dampened, tho' hardly doused, she muttered in response, "Yeah, well, I just wanted to -- y'know -- be sure. That everything's okay." She paused, then looked up, knowing her eyes had reverted to normal, and gave a saucy waggle of her eyebrows before adding, "I'm really kinda hoping to be able to use these, y'know. Soon."

Helena wasn't certain that any one individual could withstand so many deep blushes in such a short time. Therefore, when Barbara managed to stammer out a somewhat choked reply -- "When you're healed, Hel, I'm sure you won't have any problem filling your dance card" -- she bit back her flippant comment about being ready to slow dance right here, right now. Instead, she puzzled about the odd reparte: it didn't feel like the sort of sexual banter she expected from her lover; but, heck, apparently they'd been through a pretty rough time with that Claw thing.

Still, she was confused. When Barbara had suggested the bedroom for the... physical exam, her brain supplied with a leer, Helena had assumed that the older woman wanted some privacy for them. Privacy which was not needed to remove a bandage that was on the outside of her tee shirt. But, since getting here, the redhead had clearly been nervous, awkward; gentle and solicitous, sure, but, fuck, she could get that from a nurse. Maybe her earlier question had thrown the older woman for more of a loop than she was letting on; maybe the older woman was still mentally back at that bank of supercomputers -- 'What the hell kind of daytrading is she running with that? Oooh, maybe we do real-time streaming porn... Wait, muffin-tops? Where did that come from?'.

She was pulled from her musing as Barbara -- apparently recovered from her earlier embarassment -- leaned towards her, and -- with a steely determination in her voice and a stiffness of expression that seemed really, really, out of place for the task -- said, "Now, let's get this bandage off and check your shoulder."

Chapter 6

The examination had gone much better than Barbara had feared, dreaded -- if she were to be honest with herself, with the young woman refraining from any further suggestive remarks or flirtation. The injured woman had sat quietly as her fellow crime-fighter removed the bandage and gently probed her shoulder, then her ribs, through the tee-shirt -- even the great Oracle could only stand so much temptation. Helena had answered questions about pain and mobility quietly, almost monosyllabically, and then quietly pulled on a pair of faded jeans and - mercifully - covered that thin, clingy tee-shirt with a denim overshirt when Barbara pronounced her healed enough to keep the bandage off.

Since returning to her post at the Delphi -- this time actually noticing some of the data flowing across the dozens of screens -- Barbara had casually been observing her friend. Helena spent the afternoon quietly, as she'd promised, alternating between lounging on the couch with Dinah, riffing on the offerings of their 738 channel cable system and wandering -- almost seeming to explore -- the clock tower, pausing in front of certain items, touching them gently, before moving on. She was, Barbara supposed, reaffirming her survival, her victory, her home.

After the sun had long disappeared, Barbara was startled from her research -- though less violently than by Helena's first entrance that day -- when the young woman quietly appeared beside her, holding a plate in one hand and a large glass of -- Was that milk? It was, the redhead decided with a grin -- chocolate milk in the other.

Turning her head slightly and dimpling her cheeks in a smirk, Barbara looked over the top of her glasses to inquire, "What's all this?".

The brunette set her offerings carefully on a semi-clear section of the desk while replying in a sing-song voice, "Food. Nourishment. Staff of life, y'know." she paused and smiled tenderly at the other woman, "The kid told me that you didn't eat much while you were, uh, taking care of me. Please eat now, Babs."

The fiercely independent part of the older woman -- a fairly large part, she'd have to admit -- almost snapped that she was quite capable... But, the shyly loving look being directed her way danced right past her defenses. Barbara smiled, reaching out to tangle her hand briefly with the other woman's, and murmured, "That's really sweet, Hel. Will do."

Hours later, Barbara pulled her attention from the Delphi and leaned back, rotating stiff her neck and shoulders, wondering where the two younger women were. Dinah's bedroom door was firmly shut; presumably the teenager was soundly sleeping. It was, the redhead acknowledged, a good idea for them all. She wheeled away from the bank of computers, instinctively knowing where she'd find Helena, and turned to the balcony where she found the young woman sprawled almost bonelessly on one of the low walls, staring into the night sky.

Barbara waited patiently, knowing that her entrance had been heard. She scanned the sky, then dropped her gaze and gave herself the gift of an unguarded look at her friend's profile. Eventually, Helena gestured towards the heavens and commented, "It's beautiful, isn't it?".

Still looking only at Helena, Barbara rasped, "Yes. Yes ... it ... is." She paused to clear her throat, then gently encouraged, "Let's get some rest, Hel. You're still healing, you know."

When the brunette sat up and then dropped her feet to the balcony, the older woman turned her chair and moved back through the clocktower, with the other woman casually following her into her bedroom for the second time that day. Helena shucked her jeans and overshirt and then moved to the side of the bed, seeming to wait. Chiding herself for feeling flustered -- 'This is Helena, for god's sake. We've changed in front of each other hundreds of times. Get a grip, Gordon.' -- Barbara changed into her nightwear, shorts and a tank, intensely aware of blue eyes trained on her as she did.

Only after the older woman had settled into the big bed did Helena slide in, reaching across Barbara to turn off the lamp and then flopping back on her side of the bed. Silence ruled for a few minutes until Barbara sensed movement; her bedmate was sliding, slowly but without hesitation, closer and closer, until her head rested on the same pillow and her arm was loosely draped over the redhead's waist.

At the feel of Helena's arm across her, the feel of Helena's slim fingers ever-so-softly, minutely, stroking her side, Barbara tensed. She turned her head, briefly startled by the intensity of the gaze -- so close, so terribly, terribly close to her -- directed her way. Swallowing audibly -- 'Very calm, Gordon. Way to go.' -- Barbara smiled, perhaps a bit nervously, then slowly blew out a long breath and consciously relaxed muscles which had, at some point, gone absolutely rigid with tension.

As if sensing the change, the forced relaxation, the younger woman shifted her head infinitesimally closer and pressed a gentle kiss to Barbara's jaw. Unaccountably warmed by the gesture, Barbara turned her head, on instinct, and pressed her lips gently to the dark-haired woman's forehead. The response to her gesture -- a ragged exhalation from her bedmate -- caused Barbara to blink, several times, and then move to pull her head back slightly, ostensibly the better to see Helena's face in the dim room but with the added ... benefit? disadvantage? 'factor', she finally decided ... of putting a bit of distance between them.

The attempt was summarily, albeit tenderly, denied. Barbara, holding her breath without realizing it, heard covers rustling slightly, sensed a fluid movement, and then felt a slim, strong hand wind into her hair.


So softly said, the redhead could almost persuade herself that she'd imagined the plea. Could almost convice herself that the hand tenderly brushing through her hair was only meant to sooth.


And then, that hand was cupping the side of her head, gently urging her to turn her head, to close the microcosmic distance she'd tried to create.

And then, they were lying forehead to forehead, nose to nose, their breath mingling as Helena breathed raggedly and Barbara found that she could scarcely breathe at all. And so they remained, for long moments, for a brief eternity, until Barbara dared to open her eyes, only to find herself unravelling under the heat of the other woman's burning golden eyes.

'Oh my.' Not her finest mental offering, Barbara would have freely conceded, but her brain was hardly firing on all cylinders at the moment.

The redhead opened her mouth to say something, anything, but there was only one word she could formulate:


Helena -- perhaps responding to the plea that Barbara had not realized was in that lone word -- closed the distance, swallowing the breathy utterance before gifting the other woman with the most tender, melting touch of her mouth against Barbara's. Slowly, and with a tenderness that Barbara feared would reduce her to tears, the young woman tasted her mouth, nibbled on her lips, delicately traced her mouth with the tip of her tongue.

Immobilized, enraptured, enthralled; Barbara could do nothing but receive the worshipful caresses, breathing in the sweet smell of Helena's breath, melting under her mouth. Until finally, finally, her hand moved to cup the brunette's cheek as she surrendered on a sigh. She opened her mouth to the young woman, gratefully receiving her as she would a sacrament.

The first touch of their tongues electrified Barbara; losing all sense of herself, she sucked and suckled at Helena's mouth and tongue, moaning around the thick pleasure that was coursing through her. Still, the other woman didn't increase the pace, although her ragged breathing and restlessly shifting legs bespoke her own growing need. Instead, the lithe figure disentangled her hand from crimson locks and traced it slowly across Barbara's brow, around the shell of her ear, down her neck to her shoulder. One, and only one, finger slid teasingly under the scoop neck of the redhead's tank, and Barbara's upper back arched almost painfully. "Oh god!", she gasped.

Barbara Gordon knew -- without false modesty -- that she was an extremely intelligent, highly educated, well-read person. Additionally, she felt that -- especially in the years before the shooting -- she'd enjoyed a healthy number and variety of satisfying sexual experiences. She also believed herself not to be lacking in imagination, particularly when it came to flights of fantasy concerning a certain dark-haired, gamine-featured crime fighter. However, all of these factors combined could not possibly have prepared her for the force of nature that was kissing Helena Kyle. Barbara was drowning, yet truly breathing for the first time; frozen in place, yet soaring. Every part of her body that she could feel was torqued and burning with a power she couldn't remember ever experiencing before.

Helena finally broke the kiss -- leaving Barbara breathless, immediately wishing the kiss hadn't ended, and - at the same time - hungry to know what the young woman had planned next. As the brunette moved to lick and suckle at her pulse point, Barbara almost laughed at the joy and the incongruity of it all. Helena traced her fingers delicately across her bicep and then along the outer swell of her breast, and Barbara arched again and heard the other woman's low growl.

With the tiny portion of her brain which hadn't yet joyfully succumbed to drowning the in cotton-candy thick pleasure, Barbara wondered why she should feel surprise. Of course it would be Helena who would know her so perfectly. They had known each other, loved and cared for each other for more than half of the younger woman's life; they'd faced tragedy and joy and danger and victories together. They were inside each other.

'Over half her life.'

'Danger. Victories.'

As these thoughts scratched against something in Barbara's conscience, Helena shifted her weight onto her knees -- a slight grunt the only concession to her still-healing ribs and shoulder -- and drew her face into the valley between the older woman's breasts. The brunette's low moan electrified every nerve ending in Barbara's body; her nipples tightened and burned, and the redhead instinctively fumbled for Helena's hand, intent on moving it to cover the ache in her chest. She wanted, oh god, she needed more contact; she needed that strong hand on her breast, holding and squeezing until pleasure almost bled to pain; she ached for that hand to warm her, soothe her, possess her.

Conversely, perversely, that same moan somehow galvanized her mind to suddenly shed the sensual haze that had decended on her at the first touch of Helena's mouth on hers. Every molecule in her body screaming in protest, Barbara mentally gritted her teeth and gently moved her hands to weave through dark hair, urging Helena upward until the small frame rested over her, supported by strong arms which -- already -- had eased under Barbara's back where slender hands were tracing sensual patterns. Golden eyes blazed, then flickered blue, before twinkling at her.

"Hi", the young woman breathed, as she leaned forward to press another sweet kiss to Barbara's jaw, her hips rocking unconsciously against the older woman's stomach.

"Uh, Hi." Smiling gently, Barbara asked, "What are you doing?"

"Uhm....", dark brows waggled, "I'm feeling much better?"

Unable to resist the impish grin, the older woman laughed and responded wryly, "Obviously."

"Now that we've gotten that cleared up...", Helena growled playfully, even as her mouth was returning to Barbara's.

Even as she struggled to remember why she was doing so, the older woman gasped, "Helena... wait."

In response to the inquisitive look from eyes which morphed from gold to blue, Barbara stammered, "You're not even recovered. This... this is..."

"Let me help us both feel even better," Helena coaxed as, again, that sensual mouth brushed hers.

For just a moment, Barbara was tempted. So terribly tempted. But, obviously, the young woman was still exulting in her recent victory, her recovery, reaching out to her without considering the realitites. And, so, Barbara Gordon did what she knew she had to.

She couldn't bear to end this harshly, abruptly. Instead, she tugged one of Helena's arms until she could bring the slim hand between their faces. She reverently kissed each finger, gently ghosting her tongue against the skin, drinking in the taste, filing it away for those dark, stiffling nights she knew were ahead. Finally, she pushed lightly and rolled them both onto their sides, facing each other.

"I ... We ... can't." she whispered.

"Why not? I don't understand" There was a tiny crack in that soft voice, a hint of agony which could be glimpsed through it. Still, the brunette kept trying. She had always, Barbara reflected, been the braver of the two. "Hey, maybe you always...cosset me this way," Helena smiled shyly as Barbara's eyes widened briefly in appreciation of her phrasing, "or maybe this is the wrong night or something...", Helena smiled winningly, hopefully, before continuing. "I know I'm still a little fuzzy about things, but, well, can't we make an exception this time?"


The pieces fell into place for Barbara Gordon.

Chapter 7

Well, this just sucked.

No, Helena realized as she watched a flurry of emotions -- surprise, alarm, sadness, resignation, sympathy -- flash across Barbara's face; the situation would probably need to ascend several thousand feet to even approach suckage.

God, this was just fucked.

Not only was she, apparently, out of luck in persuading Barbara to forget about health concerns in favor of some good old fashioned loving, but it looked like she was just plain out of luck period. There was more going on here than Barbara's concern about her physical injuries, than propriety in front of the kid, than intense involvement with that fuckin' Cray supercomputer. Something intrinsic was... off. The redhead knew something, had figured something out -- something to do with her, she'd thought, winsome attempt to persuade her to make an exception this time...

This time. Helena turned the phrase around in her mind as she watched Barbara, who was, in turn, watching her carefully -- like she was some sort of rare and delicate, or deadly?, animal that should only be approached cautiously.

This time. Sure, she didn't understand why they couldn't make love -- at least a little -- what rule or habit or ... whatever she was breaking. Unless, unless, there was no rule or habit to .... And, that would mean... Helena's mind stumbled a moment, desperately trying to avoid the meaning behind Barbara's concerned and sympathetic gaze, frantically scrambling for the reason behind her lover's refusal.

A small whimper escaped her as she accepted it: the reason behind her lover's refusal was -- she sucked in a breath -- because they weren't, hadn't ever been lovers. The one thing that she'd been most certain of since waking up last night, the one thing which was completely right, completely true in her mind ... well, it wasn't.

Helena blinked, rapidly. Shit. Shit. Shit. She wanted to cry, and damned if she would add that humiliation to the steaming pile she'd created, especially while lying here in the same bed with the woman she'd been attempting -- apparently without warrant -- to seduce.

Without realizing it, she began to curl her legs up and wrapped her arms around herself, transforming from feral to fetal. She ducked her head towards her chest, panting softly through her mouth, unaware of the soft rumbling from her chest.

In an instant, she felt Barbara roll herself closer, envelop her in her arms, patting and stroking her back and head. The older woman murmurred something, her sweet breath whispering through the brunette's hair, absolutely burning her with her need and loss and embarassment.

God-fucking-damnit! How could she have, have thought this, done this to the other woman? What she'd interpreted as propriety around the kid and concern for her injuries, what she'd seen as anticipated blushes from normal banter, what she thought she'd felt in their kiss -- None of it was the truth. Family; well, seemed like that part was still true. Partners... of some sort. But not partners and family like she'd believed. Barbara had been taking care of her -- like she always did, the young woman instinctively knew; and she'd gone and misinterpreted it, twisting it with her own desires and wants and needs. And, even now, the older woman, who had every right to be indignant or angry or ... something -- Helena couldn't name it because she honestly couldn't imagine not responding enthusiastically to an approach from Barbara, regardless of whether they were lovers or not -- even now, the other woman was holding and comforting her. And even that touch hurt. So much.

"Sweetheart..." Helena heard the word with bitterness, curling more tightly into herself as the redhead continued, "you're still confused. You were injured ... so badly, and, waking up...", Barbara stumbled slightly over the words, "waking up next to me, it's not surprising that you'd think -".

"Stop. Please. Stop." the anguished woman whispered hoarsely. 'Just. Fucking. Stop. All of it.'

Helena squeezed her eyes more tightly shut, hoping that maybe -- just maybe -- this was part of the weird concussion-induced nightmares she'd had. Eventually, she'd wake up and, in time, could tell the older woman about the dream -- okay, about carefully edited parts of it -- and they'd laugh. Only, funny thing was -- Helena snorted softly -- she knew this wasn't part of her dreams and she was damned well certain that she wouldn't be laughing about it for a good long while.

For another agonizing moment, she continued to lie still in Barbara's arms, not breathing because even that hurt too much, bringing with it the other woman's sweet smell. Then, she rolled away and sat up on the other side of the bed. For a moment she sat still -- only the trembling of her muscles belying her tension -- gulping in air, fighting hard to clamp down on the rage and embarassment and loss sweeping through her. The vision of a largely barren apartment -- hers, she realized -- flashed before her. The memory of Barbara's throaty voice in her ear as she soared through the night sky, feeling like she could do anything, skittered through her mind. The image of lounging on the big couch with Barbara and the kid, late at night -- after flying over rooftops but before returning -- fucking returning! -- to her solitary apartment hit her. A woman's face -- familiar and, she sensed, very important to her -- contorted in ecstasy? rage? caused her to gasp.

"Enough.", the dark woman growled, frustrated and overwhelmed.

These memories, these images -- yeah, that was about right. She was a part of the Barbara-Helena-Dinah family, but was also an outsider. She had her own place and someone -- that face, surrounded by spikey blonde hair, swam before her eyes again -- who was part of her world but not theirs. Yeah, that was her life; not the pretty picture she had believed in with such fierce certainty since waking up the night before.

Helena rocked forward and stumbled to her feet, the always-graceful woman moving brokenly. As she jerkily thrust herself into her clothes, she was distantly aware of Barbara pulling herself upright, saying something. But she couldn't see, couldn't hear over the screaming in her head. Finally dressed, the young woman drew in a deep breath and turned her head to speak quietly, almost casually, over her shoulder.

"I'm really sorry, Barbara. Really. It's coming back now -- sweeps, my place, the bar." After a brief pause, she gave a lopsided grin and, without even considering why, tried to ease the worry and pain radiating from the older woman. "Guess I just needed a, uh, sudden blow, huh?"

Neither woman smiled.

"I'm gonna head home now. Uh, check my messages, get some zzzz's. Thanks for patching me up."

And, with that, she was out the door, on the balcony, and then sailing over rooftops, her body moving without thought.

Chapter 8

Barbara knew that Dinah was confused, worried. After all, the half-explanation that the redhead had managed to stammer out -- that Helena wanted some time to pull herself together -- sounded woefully ridiculous even to her. There was simply no way Barbara could answer the young blonde's perfectly reasonable question about why Helena -- who was still obviously recovering from severe injuries -- had simply decided to leave in the middle of the night. On top of that, the older woman was fairly certain that, best efforts to dampen them to the contrary, her own feelings of loss and pain and emptiness were radiating clearly enough for the young telepath to pick up on.

When Helena had departed -- fled, the redhead automatically corrected -- last night, Barbara had instinctively moved to get up and follow, to call her back. With a weary sigh, recognizing the near critical mass of agony in the younger woman's eyes and understanding at least a large part of the emotions behind it, Barbara stopped her pursuit before even starting. She knew that she, herself, was in an emotionally tenuous area -- body still thrumming with passion and desire, mind conflicted about the knowledge she'd pieced together, soul horrified by the results of taking part in exposing Helena's misperception so abruptly. She doubted that she'd be able to offer much comfort or resolution or -- whatever in heaven's name someone needed after something like this -- to the younger woman. So, she spent the night, completely, utterly awake; staring into the dark and hoping that, somehow, things would be okay. In addition to her concerns about Helena's emotional state, Barbara had been, and was, deeply concerned about the extent and possible duration of her partner's memory loss. She'd spent a good portion of the night chastizing herself for missing so many signs, now obvious, of what Helena had termed "fuzziness". How she could have such a very, very high IQ and still fail to pick up on what were now glaringly obvious clues baffled and frustrated the redhead to no end. Yes, she'd noticed Helena's initial confusion when the young woman woke up last night, but had -- perhaps understandably -- written it off. But the next day? The young woman's seemingly joking remark about the Delphi could have been missed as a sign, but, coupled with her odd scrutiny of the system moments later, shouldn't have been. Her question about her hands: true, it had raised a huge flag, but Barbara had too easily let the other woman dance around it. Her exploration of the clocktower during the afternoon: why hadn't she fit that piece into the puzzle? Why hadn't she even been aware of the wretched puzzle?

Independently, each action could be overlooked, rationalized. But, in combination with the change in personality which Barbara most definitely *had* noticed, they were glaring. The redhead frowned, angry at herself: her own discomfort with her response to Helena's openness, that animal sensualism, had made it too easy, too tempting, to rationalize away the young woman's actions so that she could do the same for her own.

To say that Barbara Gordon was not pleased with herself was an understatement of staggering magnitude.

Now, sitting on the balcony, watching the sun set over the city which had consumed so much of her, of Helena, Barbara sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. How long did she wait before... before.... Her brain stuttered to a halt, and she idly wondered if Emily Post had guidelines on how to handle the difficult conversation that very probably lay in her future. For the hundredth -- five hundredth? -- time since Helena had left, Barbara questioned why she had halted things.

Quite honestly -- since the murder of Selina Kyle, in fact -- Barbara had never seen the young woman, pain and injuries not-with-standing, as open, as genuinely happy and playful, as ... light and at-ease as she'd been in the day after waking from her injuries. Waking in Barbara's bed, with the redhead curled protectively next to her, with Barbara touching her with the ease that had built between them over the years of their relationship; assuming -- not a huge leap, the older woman had to admit -- that the two shared something more than, well, just about every other aspect of two lives which could be shared. Fears, hopes, dreams; quests for justice, laughter over bad kung fu movies, nightmares over shared tragedies; money, family -- which Dinah's presence only seemed to enhance, years and years of togetherness. Barbara gasped at the realization that the two women were bound at a level few married couples enjoyed.

Never overly fond of self-introspection, and particularly not-completely-comfortable with the outcome of this mental perambulation, Barbara rubbed her forehead and sighed silently. She had to admit that the assumption Helena had made required a leap that even she, in her manual chair, would be able to make. Of course, she had to admit, her physical responses to the young woman throughout yesterday could only have not just reinforced -- a rueful grimace dimpled her cheeks -- but damn near cemented the belief. Just sitting at the Delphi, she'd responded to the brunette with stammering and blushes, thundering heartbeat and shallow breathing which would have been clearly audible to the young meta-human. And, last night, in bed... As the images and sensory memories played through her mind and body again, Barbara blushed, or perhaps flushed?

It had been so easy, so, so seamless, the thick liquid arousal that had coursed through her at the first touch of their mouths. They'd moved, given and taken of each other effortlessly. Blushing -- definitely a blush this time, she determined -- she allowed that her own, well, moaning and writhing had certainly done nothing to disabuse the other woman of her... misperception.

Which led the older woman to prod at the question again: Why had she halted things?

Yes, clearly the behavior was -- unexpected from Helena -- but just as clearly, the woman had been enjoying the experience. As had Barbara herself. Obviously it felt good -- she snorted at the understatement -- to her. It felt more than good; it felt right. In Helena's arms, she'd felt -- lighter than she had since the shooting.



Suddenly, Barbara Gordon was consumed by a rage the likes of which she hadn't felt since waking in the hospital seven years ago to discover that she that she was paralyzed. The Joker's last cruel prank had taken so much from her and from Helena. She'd be damned if she'd let him keep taking!

Since the shooting, her attempts at physical relationships had been, well, half-hearted and woefully lacking, at best. Her fears of her inadequacies necessarily resulted in couplings that were less-than-satisfactory, reinforcing her fears to the point that she'd finally accepted that she could never be desired -- truly desired -- or respond to such desire.

Which was, she realized with a flash of clarity that briefly left her light-headed, complete and utter bullshit.

This, this ... Helena was different.

Obviously, Helena desired her, to the point that -- after awakening, mentally disoriented -- she'd assumed, without apparent second thought, that they were lovers. And, she'd acted on that belief with all of the naturalness and tenderness and passion in the world.

Blushing again before breaking into an increasingly wide, dirty kind of smile, Barbara realized that Helena, apparently, hadn't really misinterpreted things at all and that she, herself, certainly *could* respond to the right person. To Helena.

If it wasn't too late.

Chapter 9

'Too late now, kid', Helena repeated to herself for the umpteenth time that day. 'Ya can't put the whatever-it-is back in the wherever-it-was.'

Eventually, she knew, she'd have to suck it up and face the redhead, undoubtedly enduring a heartfelt and too-kind-for-words conversation, and weeks or months of awkward moments before -- if -- they could get back to something like normal. 'Whatever that was', she snorted. Eventually. Not today; probably not tomorrow. She'd cheerfully submit to being staked over an anthill while someone scraped fingers down a chalkboard all day before facing Barbara at this point.

But, with a sigh, she knew she would have to; they were just too freakin' intertwined -- co-dependent, another part of her suggested. For now though, she didn't want to -- couldn't -- bear to think about it... them... all of it: the mortifying embarassment still washing through her over her actions; puzzlement over her inability to reconcile Barbara's pleasured reactions with the fact that Barbara had stopped her advances; the huge hole in her soul. For now, she'd pace her apartment and continue to knit together the pieces of her memory, starting with the identity of the blonde woman who was pervading her memories more and more frequently.

Her mind flashed on Barbara, saying something bitterly about the woman and her own feeling of shame and fear. She caught glimpses of sitting in a room, an office?, many times, just talking with the woman. There were visions of the woman's head between Helena's legs, of herself licking and biting at the woman's breasts and nipples as the blonde screamed pleasured obscenities. The images were viscerally intense -- and all tinged with shame and humiliation, leaving Helena baffled that she was unable to connect them more coherently.

When the young woman finally got around to, as she'd flippantly stated to Barbara the night before, checking her messages, she could only assume that the chain of flirtatious, then concerned, then outright angry messages she found -- all in the same honey-vinegared voice -- belonged to the mysterious woman.

Three days ago: <Beep> A breathy, sexy tone... <Hello, Tiger. Are you there or on your way? You certainly didn't forget that this is our afternoon did you?> Qu... Quinzel? Was that her name?

An hour after the first message: <Beep> Peeved, a little worried, too... <Kitten, I am just not going to be pleased if you try to tell me you've been ... tied up ... by someone else. I am waiting.> Yeah, Har...leen Quinzel. That sounded right.

A day later: <Beep> The voice was distinctly cutting, acid... <Listen, Helena. You know that being ignored makes me absolutely insane. We don't want that now, do we? *Do* call.> Insane...? Ther...therapy? Oh. Wow. That woman had been her court-mandated therapist, but she sure wasn't calling about a missed counselling session. The brunette smirked; looked like they'd managed to work through any doctor-patient propriety issues.

Twelve hours later: <Beep> Cloying, too sweet... <You know how fond I am of you, but this is bordering on the ridiculous, Puddin'. I will not tolerate being ignored. I was under the impression that we've both been satisfied with our little ... arrangement. If you're having second thoughts after our years of twisted bliss, Tiger, let me know if I need to turn my attentions back to my sweet Mr. J.> Mr. J?

The night before: <Beep> Clipped, too calm... <Do call, Helena. You have until tomorrow.> Shit.

Well, here it was, tomorrow, and Helena was regretting that she didn't have caller-ID on her cheap-ass answering machine 'cuz she sure as hell couldn't remember the woman's -- Quinzel's -- phone number. Running a hand through her dishevelled hair, the brunette resigned herself to trying all of the speed dial numbers which were, hopefully, programmed into her phone. Bypassing Mem-1 in the assumption that it would most likely be Barbara's number, she inhaled and hit Mem-2.

Two rings, then, "Dark Horse Bar."

"Oh, uh, yeah. This is Helena..."

"Hey! Barbara called a few days ago, said you were under the weather. How you feelin'? All of the regulars are asking for you, y'know."

Helena rolled her eyes. Going back to work had not been on her mind when she started her little memory-dial fishing expedition. "Oh, uh, it's probably going to be another week...". With a bit more generic small talk and excuses about needing to crash again, the young woman extricated herself from the conversation.

Well, this was going to be loads of fun. Fortifying herself, she hit Mem-3. After three rings, "Jiffy Pizza". Huh? Oh, cool.

A large pepperoni-and-everything on the way, Helena worked her way through the remaining numbers, deciding -- after a brief but awkward conversation with a surprised and disgruntled Jesse Reese, who was on Mem-5 and obviously should have been removed some time ago -- just to hang up if a number didn't yield the mysterious voice. Twenty minutes later, she was working herself up to try Mem-1, in the off chance..., when there was a knock on the door. Saved by the pizza.

Tossing the cordless on the couch, she grabbed a twenty from her wallet and swung the door open. She wasn't sure why she was surprised not to find a pizza waiting; after all, her sensitive nose certainly hadn't detected the tantalizing odor of pepperoni and other artery-clogging ingredients.

No, rather than a pimply-faced delivery boy, Helena found herself face-to-face, finally, with a frighteningly calm-looking Harleen Quinzel.

Surprisingly, the woman didn't look as utterly pissed-off as her last few messages had led Helena to expect. In fact, after she brusquely raked her eyes over the younger woman and, apparently, noted the fading injuries, the blonde's features relaxed and seemed to gentle.

Locking glittering, glacial blue eyes with deep cobalt, the woman purred, "Hello, Helena. Seems that my ... premonition ... that a house-call might be in order wasn't too far off."

Feeling distinctly like a house-cat in front of a cobra, Helena smiled shakily. Then she pulled herself together, remembering that the woman was a long-term friend, lover?; 'Cripes, get a grip, Kyle; she's been worried about you.'

Swinging the door open further in invitation, the younger woman flashed a more genuine smile and attempted to explain: "Yeah, I'm really sorry about that... about missing the other day. I, uh, sort of got, uh, hurt. Just got back here today."

"Looks like," her former therapist concurred shortly as she shed her suit-jacket and raked Helena with another look, this one undisguised in intent.

Helena experienced a frission of arousal, fear, desire as Harleen Quinzel moved slowly to her. The petite blonde reached out, tenderly tracing some of the lingering bruises and cuts on the brunette's face, then she stretched lightly to press her lips warmly againstly Helena's mouth.

Unable, and not wanting to resist the tenderness, the genuine affection and desire so evident in the other woman's eyes, Helena surrendered to the kiss. Quinzel was gentle, but insistent, moving her mouth against Helena's with unmistakable familiarity and ... want; thrusting her tongue into the young woman's mouth, mapping it with firm strokes which soon had the brunette gasping and fighting not to beg for more.

'Holy shit...' Barbara Gordon may not have wanted her, but this woman sure had her number. Helena pushed herself closer to Harleen, seeking more contact while continuing to gulp at the other woman's mouth. 'Yeah...'.

The sound of knocking slowly permeated Helena's conscious, and, this time, the smell of hot pizza couldn't be missed. 'Aw, cripes...' Disengaging from the kiss with some difficulty, the young woman flashed an apologetic look at the blonde. "Uh, sorry. Pizza..."

As Helena answered the door, Quinzel sauntered to the couch, settling in the middle, crossing her legs primly at the ankles, and adjusting her just-above-the-knee skirt. The young woman set the box on her coffee table, torn between tearing into the food or the other woman. Her stomach made the call, rumbling audibly. Helena ducked her head in embarassment as the older woman threw back her head and laughed delightedly.

"Don't worry about it, Helena. You're a growing girl, you know. Healing, too. Go ahead," she waved towards the box, "You need plenty of energy. At least you will soon." The last accompanied by a smile that threatened to take Helena's knees out from under her.

While it sounded similar, this time the noise Helena made definitely did not originate from her stomach. She cleared her throat around the growl, stepped into the kitchen alcove and opened her refrigerator, peering cautiously inside -- distinctly aware that there might be new lifeforms to greet her -- before snagging two sodas and returning to the couch.

The brunette opened both sodas, handing one to Quinzel, before tucking into the pie. Her guest took a minute sip, then cocked her head to observe the other woman.

"Well, I must say, Helena, while I'm certainly not pleased that you were 'hurt'," a knowing smirk accompanied the word, "it's certainly a relief that you weren't deliberately avoiding our date. You know how much I've come to enjoy our time together, and, really, you seem to be realizing some of the benefits as well."

Perfertly manicured, blood-red nails stroked teasingly against the dark woman's cheek. Helena stopped chewing for a moment to tip her head into the caress.

"Hard to believe it's been almost two years, isn't it?' the blonde laughed gaily. "Perhaps we should plan some sort of anniversary party, Helena?" She paused, "But, really, since the, shall we say, 'shift' in our relationship," the blonde continued, "things just seem to be easier all around, don't they? Even your dear Barbara is benefitting, isn't she? And, of course, there's all of that lovely, lovely sex..."

Quinzel leaned over to punctuate these last words by flicking her tongue around the shell of Helena's ear. For her part, Helena forced herself to finish chewing, to swallow while abso-fucking-lutely refusing to gag as the suddenly tasteless mass slid down her throat.

'Oh shit.' What did Barbara have to do with any of this? The brunette was aware of the other woman's continuing chatter -- "I really have become quite fond of you, you know, Helena. I just *knew* that you had such promise but really, really couldn't have dreamed..." -- but let the words slip past her as she concentrated on closing the pizza box, wiping her hands carefully on a napkin, taking long, slow swallows from her soda.

"All done?", the blonde inquired brightly, placing her hand on Helena's thigh. "Though you are looking a little pale. I'd hate it if you weren't able to be in... good form."

Throughout her adult life, Helena Kyle had always, always been a woman of her word. She had an ... arrangement, of some sort ... a relationship with this woman; the hell with how she was feeling about it at the moment. So she smiled, slow and sultry.

"Well, y'know, I don't think that blood flow to my head is really the issue, do you?", she teased as she leaned towards the small woman and brought their lips together.

Harleen purred briefly at the contact, allowing the younger woman to taste her mouth for a moment before taking charge of the kiss. She slid both hands into dark hair, gripping almost painfully as she thrust her tongue into Helena's mouth, probing and stroking firmly. Helena allowed the heat to build, accepting the exploration almost passively even as her hips began to rock slowly in response to what was promised in the kiss.

As the blonde moved her hand delicately up Helena's ribs, teasing the side of her breast, she broke the kiss and batted her eyes at the other woman. "You seem to be, hmmm, well on the way to recovery, Tiger. Perhaps I can help a bit with that? Kiss something and make it better? Would you like that?"

Feral side already struggling to the surface from the heated kiss, still keyed up from the hours of frustrated longing in Barbara's presence the day before, the dark woman really didn't have a chance. Hell, she'd always been a go-with-it kinda girl. Helena placed her hand over the back of Quinzel's teasing hand, moving it to the front of her breast, pushing it against herself. Hard.

"Fuck yeah", she growled.

At that moment, the other woman's almost colorless blue eyes seemed to spark, just as her other hand flew up and struck Helena sharply across the mouth. Face still affectionate and filled with desire, Harleen Quinzel batted her eyes again and purred, "You didn't say 'Please', Tiger. Now let's try this again."

Body thrumming from a combination of desire, anger, and fear, Helena Kyle blinked slowly and tasted the blood seeping into her mouth. Blue eyes flashed to feral yellow just before she dropped to her knees in front of the other woman, lowered her head submissively, and husked, "Please..."

It was going to be a long night.

Chapter 10

It had been a long two days. More accurately, and Barbara Gordon was an accurate woman, it had been a long 58 hours and 34 minutes.

The sun had set for the second time since Helena's departure two nights before, and there had been no word from her. While Barbara certainly understood any reticence on the younger woman's part -- frankly none-too-certain how she, herself, would be able to handle the next interaction -- she was still concerned. She'd called once each day -- and only once, though she'd chafed at her self-imposed limit -- and, getting only Helena's machine, had left messages which, she hoped, demonstrated support and concern without making the young woman feel pressured or more uncomfortable.

Apart from her own nearly overwhelming need just to see the woman -- after all, it was rare for more than a day to go by without the two seeing or, at least, talking with each other -- the older woman was also worried about Helena's physical condition.

'Right', Barbara snorted, backing away from the Delphi to stare briefly at the balcony. The meta-human had been well on her way to recovery two days ago and, by now, probably barely remembered her injuries.

Smiling fondly, Barbara slowly pivoted back to the bank of monitors and returned to her monthly check into the security at Arkham, more specifically, security for a certain green-haired, pasty-faced lunatic. While the rational portion of her brain admitted that the checks might not have been necessary, there was simply no way that Barbara was willing to forego her monthly ritual. In the first four or five years after the shooting, the redhead's mind stumbled over the word, and the Joker's incarceration, it seemed that he was constantly on the verge of escaping, attempting one madcap and deadly plan after another. In the last few years, the cyber-crime-fighter had somehow managed to uncover each new plot or attempt, often based on a tidbit of gossip that her partner-in-crimefighting extracted during her nightly sweeps, before the plans could get off the ground. Vigilence, Barbara mused, channelling Martha Stewart, was a good thing.

Save for the rapid-fire clicking of keys and the pervasive, low-key humming from the Delphi, it was utterly quiet in the clocktower. Dinah, after another day of moping around the tower, pointedly *not* asking when Helena might show up, had departed for a study date with Gabby. Barbara lost herself in her task, grateful that, at least for a while, she was not concentrating almost exclusively on Helena.

Minutes, or had it been hours?, later, the redhead closed several screens, satisfied that things were comfortably under control at Arkham, and leaned back in her chair to loosen the tight muscles in her neck. Shutting her eyes for a moment, she sighed and realized that if she didn't hear from Helena by tomorrow she'd have to do... something. Perhaps she could send Dinah to check on her; the young woman would certainly be less... would be more welcome than she would, Barbara mused. But, while the two women might be able to delay the inevitable, they would have to face each other and get past whatever...discomfort they were feeling.

Caught up in her thoughts, it took Barbara a moment to process the sounds she heard from the balcony -- a very, very quiet 'thump', like a cat jumping from the roof; an almost inaudible rustling, like a leather duster being tidied. Since she knew quite well that Helena was able to land on the balcony with absolute silence, she recognized the noises for what they were: a gentle and deliberate announcement from the other woman that she was there. Fighting back the urge to break into an idiotic grin, the older woman raised her head and smiled gently as she rotated her chair to face the balcony.

"Are you going to come inside, Helena?" she invited, her tone low and warm.

At this, the dark-haired woman entered with a dramatic flourish of her duster. Barbara's cheeks dimpled in a quick grin: Helena always had known how to make an entrance.

"I, uhm, didn't want to scare you," the brunette muttered, glancing shyly through her lashes, not quite making eye contact.

Continuing to look directly at the other woman, careful to be sure her expression was gentle and open, Barbara wheeled forward slightly, resisting the urge to rock the wheels of her chair.

"I appreciate that. Some of your more, err, dramatic entrances have probably taken years off my life, you know," Barbara teased gently. She casually, but carefully, ran her gaze down the other woman, assessing her movements, catching her breath briefly when she observed what appeared to be a partially-healed split lip -- *That* hadn't been there two days ago. Had Helena been in a fight?

She took a fortifying breath and inquired solicitously, "How are you feeling? You seem to be healing well..."

The brunette smirked briefly, again not quite meeting the compassionate emerald eyes, "Yeah, well, good ol' meta-healing. Does a body good." Apparently sensing Barbara's distinct lack of amusement, she added, "I'm good. Really. Memory seems to have cleared up." Helena coughed before continuing quickly, "Physically, I'm good. Maybe a tiny bit stiff," something made her pause for a beat, "but I should be ready for sweeps again in another day or two."

Moving slowly into the room, Helena turned slightly away from Barbara, presenting a profile before continuing. "Figured I should come by, that you'd want to see for yourself."

Biting back on the urge to respond with something equally neutral, Barbara Gordon moved close enough to reach out and place her hand on the brunette's arm. If she hadn't been aware of the younger woman's nervousness before, the feeling of muscles constricted so tightly they were trembling would have certainly clued her in. She looked up, attempting to catch the blue eyes with her own.

"I'm glad you did, Helena. I did,", swallowing, the redhead corrected herself, "I *do* want to see you." In case that hadn't been clear, she added, "I always want to see you."

Blue eyes briefly caught green before flickering away; Barbara thought she saw so many emotions behind the cobalt gaze: embarassment, fear, sorrow, hope. Then, the young woman blinked, seeming to shutter herself away again and gave an easy grin as she moved her hand to tangle her fingers briefly with Barbara's. Barbara, again, wondered about the split lip -- What other new injuries had the woman sustained? -- as the brunette released her hand and blew a stream of air through her nose.

"Well, good thing I'm always hanging around and raiding your fridge, isn't it?" was the response. Blue eyes flickered around the room, lighting on the Delphi. "Everything copacetic at Arkham?"

Barbara's cheeks dimpled again, this time in frustration. Well, that had been subtle; of course, Helena wasn't usually about subtlety. Clearly, the brunette wanted to steer clear of emotionally charged topics, a tactic that, under normal circumstances the redhead admitted to herself, she would be only-too-happy to embrace. But, these were hardly normal circumstances, were they? Perhaps, if she could get the younger woman to relax a tiny bit, seem less likely to flee at the wrong word or movement...

"Yes, Arkham's fine." The redhead hid any surprise she felt that Helena was so intimately aware of her monthly schedule regarding the facility. "Why don't you... do some raiding," she suggested with a tilt of her head towards the kitchen, "while I shut some things down." Neatly forestalling the refusal she anticipated, Barbara added casually, "And, would you mind making me a cup of tea while you're in there?"

The tactic seemed to work, as the brunette shucked her duster and headed obediently towards the kitchen, tossing over her shoulder, "Cookies, too?"

"Of course," the redhead laughed, wheeling to the Delphi and putting it in standby. Listening to Helena rustling in the kitchen, hearing some soft cursing as the young woman wrestled with the microwave -- honestly, there was a button right on the thing which read 'Boil water', Barbara thought affectionately -- the older woman couldn't keep the smile off her face. Situating herself next to the couch, Barbara recognized the anxiety she was feeling -- quite natural for her when faced with emotional situations; she also acknowledged, with a small blush, the low-grade arousal that had been coursing through her since the dark woman's arrival -- really, now was *not* the time; she was, however, a bit surprised by another feeling pervading her -- giddiness. Helena was back, if only for a bit; but it was a start, and, if she had anything to say about it, it would be the start of something much more.

Helena re-entered the living area, gracefully balancing a tray laden with steaming tea, hot cocoa, a plate piled with cookies, a small bowl of thin mints, the sugar bowl, several wedges of freshly cut lemon, a small pitcher of cream, and two neatly folded napkins. As she set the tray on the coffee table, she inquired, "So, where's the kid tonight?"

Looking over the thoughtfully appointed tray of "snacks", Barbara wryly wondered if the brunette had run out of room for a freshly trimmed rose in a bud vase. Smiling her thanks at Helena, she stirred some sugar into her tea, poured in a dollop of cream. "She's at Gabby's this evening; study date." She brought the cup to her mouth and blew across it.

"'Study' date, huh? I'll just bet," the brunette cracked. Color immediately flooded the gamine features as blue eyes darted away. Seemingly for lack of something else to do with her hands, the brunette brought her cocoa to her mouth -- somewhat jerkily, Barbara noted.

Deliberately ignoring the younger woman's reaction to her own innuendo, Barbara smiled softly and reached for a cookie. She chewed thoughtfully for a moment, murmurring, "Mmm, I love these; don't know why the Girl Scouts don't sell them all year". After observing the slight decrease in the other woman's nervousness that followed the innocuous remark, the redhead decided to put one foot cautiously into the minefield.

Taking another sip of tea, Barbara responded to Helena's remark, voice carefully modulated and warm. "Hel, they're good friends. If something else... is developing, there's certainly nothing wrong with that." She paused and then moved another inch into the field: "In fact, I'd be happy for them."

That Helena had picked up a cookie but had yet to taste it -- sugar-hound that Barbara knew she was -- spoke volumes. The dark woman continued to turn the pastry in her hands, studying it as if it held some sort of answers that she desperately needed. Finally, she looked shyly through her lashes at -- no, the redhead realized, towards -- Barbara.

"Yeah." the brunette exhaled forcefully, "The kid -- Dinah deserves whatever happiness she can get. And, Gabby, yeah, she's been really good for her."

'My goodness but she's getting good at that.' The older woman's eyes widened ever-so-slightly in recognition of the skill Helena was demonstrating in deflecting the conversation. 'Of course, she's had a fantastic role model', she admitted ruefully.

Safety or a little more risk? Focus on Dinah, or Gabby, or the cookies, or the damned weather? Or push a little more, try to draw out the younger woman, let her know that there was no danger here? Observing the brunette guardedly over the rim of her cup, Barbara felt the stilted conversation, if it could be called that, choking her; easily saw how spooked Helena looked; wanted so desperately to reach out to her, not sure how the gesture would be received and terribly saddened that she didn't know.

Chancing just a little, she spoke softly. "Everybody does, Hel. Deserves happiness." Barbara swallowed, hoping the gesture wasn't noticed. "Dinah. You. Me."

At this, the brunette's head snapped towards her, and blue eyes narrowed as the young woman studied her former guardian, her mentor, her friend for a long moment. She carefully set the untasted cookie back on the plate.

The older woman wasn't sure what response she'd expected, but Helena's sudden burst of laughter was certainly not at the top of the mental list she'd prepared. When she stopped laughing, the brunette looked directly at Barbara -- for the first time since entering the clocktower, the redhead noted -- and smiled. Barbara knew that she was very probably sporting the vaguely puzzled, slightly miffed look she got when she wasn't sure if she was being made fun of, but since she was clearly not getting the joke that was amusing Helena so, there wasn't much she could do about it.

Eyes twinkling, Helena stood up, her body loose and her movements easy for the first time that evening. Shrugging into her duster as she made her way towards the balcony, she laughed again and finally responded to the older woman: "Don't be so sure about that, Red. It's not always fairy tale endings, y'know." She stopped for a beat, turned to smile again at Barbara, then added, "Thanks for the cookies. I'll touch base tomorrow about starting up with sweeps again."

With that, Helena was out on the balcony, not hearing or simply ignoring the quiet plea, "Hel, please wait...".

Chapter 11

Helena waited until absolutely, positively the very last second before she moved with lightning quick reflexes to block the vicious blow. Catching the rapidly descending baton easily, she allowed her arm to follow the weapon's initial trajectory for a split second before twisting it sharply to the side and back up, stopping the motion just shy of snapping her opponent's wrist. At the same moment, she crouched and swept one leg out, neatly depositing her attacker on the ground. A perfunctory jerk freed the baton from her opponent's grip, and the Huntress dropped on all fours, pinning her attacker, preparing for a final, incapacitating blow. Holding her opponent's wrists with one hand, Helena swept her right hand down and began to tickle Dinah mercilessly.

When Dinah's giggles gave way to indignant shrieks -- "C'mon, cut it out, Hel. It's not -- Eeek! -- not funny" -- the brunette ceased her torture and rolled gracefully to her feet. Extending a hand to help the teenager up, Helena ruffled the blonde hair quickly, commenting, "You did really good, Kid. You're gonna be kicking my butt in no time."

Dinah visibly glowed at the compliment, blushing furiously, as she stammered, "Well, it was definitely my butt that took the brunt of it this time. Whoever thought that landing on a training mat could hurt so much?"

Laughing as she headed over to her towel and water bottle, the lithe brunette decided that she was glad she'd shown up for their regular weekly workout session, if for no other reason than the enthusiastic hug that Dinah had greeted her with. Well, that and the chance to enjoy some of Alfred's patented blueberry waffles; boy, the old guy really knew his way around a waffle-iron.

When she'd called Barbara yesterday to discuss starting sweeps again, Helena had been a little non-plused by the redhead's suggestion that she rest another day, then come by for the workout, to see if she really was physically ready to return to the streets. The younger woman really hadn't been sure she was ready for the close interactions of the training room; something about solitary flights over the rooftops, kicking some ass on the dark streets of New Gotham had just sounded safer to her.

Half-listening to Dinah's cheerful chatter, Helena pulled deeply from her water, eyes flickering briefly across the training room to drink in the sight of Barbara working on the parallel dip bars, the corded muscles in her forearms flexing as she rhythmically moved through her set. The redhead's tank top was damp with sweat -- the older woman cut herself no slack in the training room just because she wasn't in the field -- and tendrils of crimson hair were plastered to her face and neck. She looked altogether too sexy for words.

The brunette screwed the top back on her water, sighing. Body keyed up from her workout and the sparring session with Dinah, Helena's nerves were now singing just from the brief glance at the older woman. Just great; less than two days after her impromptu visit with Barbara and here she was... lusting after the other woman again. Barbara had been so unfailingly kind when Helena had dropped in two nights before, obviously working to put her at ease, subtly letting her know that she understood, that she didn't blame Helena. The young woman roughly rubbed the heels of her hands into her eyes, ostensibly wiping away sweat, in actuality pushing back the tears that wanted to fall as she remembered how empty she'd felt when Barbara made her remark about everyone deserving happiness, as she remembered how much she'd wanted to curl up in the other woman's arms, crying, telling her everything, knowing that somehow she could make it better.

"Fuck it all", she growled, standing abruptly and interrupting Dinah's description of a recent shopping trip mid-syllable. She wanted, needed, to work out some of her restless energy. Bouncing lightly on her feet, Helena considered pounding all crap out of the heavy bag but realized that her hands were still, maybe, not quite up to it. Instead, she moved to the weight rack, tossing over her shoulder, "Wanna spot me, Kid?". Quickly securing two fifty pound weights to each end of the bar, the deceptively delicate woman dropped to the bench, not waiting for Dinah to get into position before beginning a series of punishingly hard and fast reps. After twenty quick reps, Helena paused for a moment, holding the barbell just above her chest, breathing evenly, as her eyes tracked to the far corner of the room. Barbara was on her last exercise, inverted crunches.

With a sinking sensation, the younger woman realized that there was no way she would allow herself to shirk the next part of Barbara's routine -- helping the redhead with her physical therapy. For over six years, since she'd found the redhead near tears after another session with the less-than-sensitive professionals who were working with the young woman's newly paralyzed guardian, Helena had made it her responsibility to handle every aspect of Barbara's physio that she could. Over the years, the number of sessions that she'd had to miss and the number of tasks that she was unable to handle during PT could be counted on one hand.

Slamming the barbell back into it's rest, the brunette grunted, then smiled evilly at her blonde spotter. "Think ya' can slide another 50 on each end, Big D?".

After twenty more reps, not quite as rapid but no less fluid than the first set, Helena sat on the bench, muscles trembling slightly as she drank deeply from her water bottle.

"So, are we done for today? Cuz I really wouldn't mind putting some ice on my butt..." Dinah waited for the inevitable snicker or innuendo-laden response, but Helena merely waved a hand laconically towards the door, watching as Barbara lifted herself back into her chair and fished for her own water. She watched the redhead's adams apple move, clearly delineated in the slim neck tipped back to drink deeply, and licked her lips. Steeling herself, the dark-haired woman slowly rose to her feet and walked, casually she hoped, across the room. She stood next to the redhead, eyes twinkling mischievously, waiting until Barbara lowered her water bottle.

"Ready to stretch, Red?" she smiled gently, not quite making eye contact, and cracked the knuckles of one hand, then the other.

The older woman blinked, looking faintly surprised. "Hel, we don't need to do this today. It's... I'm... you're still..."

"...Still on the mend?", Helena cut her off handily, quite certain she didn't want to know how the older woman might have completed her thought. "Not hardly. I'm fit as a fiddle, ready to kick ass and take names. And," she added with a grin, "We already missed one session this week while I was lazing around unconscious. I do have my reputation as the world's toughest PT to uphold."

Ignoring the older woman's softly snorted "Not so tough", the brunette teased, "Unless you don't think *you* can handle it...." Damn her mouth, running off without thinking again. "I mean..."

Barbara cut her off this time. " 'Not hardly' ", she teased, throwing Helena's words back at her. Holding out her arms for a lift, she added lightly, "Lay on, Macduff."

"And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'".

Helena automatically completed the quote as she carefully lifted Barbara from her chair and settled her gently on the mat. In response to the teacher's amused look and a raised russet brow, the younger woman, and Barbara's former student, muttered, "Hey, never said I *couldn't* read" as she reached for Barbara's right leg.

As the lithe woman began to work Barbara's leg carefully through a range of stretches, she was distantly aware that the redhead was speaking -- something about The Bard, she thought -- but was unable to hear over the sound of blood thundering through her ears. Her left hand moved automatically down the length of the still well-toned limb, gently grasping Barbara's foot; her right hand slipped under the redhead's thigh, just above the knee, supporting and guiding the leg through a range of motion. Helena carefully regulated her breathing, keeping her eyes locked firmly on her hands as she gently rotated the redhead's foot.

For over six years, these twice-weekly sessions had been a source of consistent pride for the young woman, knowing that she was helping the woman she loved so desperately. The sessions were also a source of almost agonizing torment, tantalizing her with the feel of warm flesh separated from her hands only by a thin layer of fabric. It never, fucking never, got any easier, she realized with a grim smile. Even now, as her hands ran over the unresponsive but firm flesh, as her sensitive nose picked up the scent of Barbara's sweat -- always an aphrodisiac for the younger woman, she was in agony. She wanted, god how she wanted; remembering the feel of the older woman in her arms in bed just a few nights before, her hands itched for more.

'Jesus, get a grip, Kyle. Not. Gonna. Happen.'

Still, touching the other woman, she felt her mouth water. Thinking of Barbara's throaty moans earlier in the week, her heart began to triphammer. Inhaling the scent of the woman, her breathing increased. Then, flashing back to her more recent intimate encounter -- with someone who definitely was *not* Barbara Gordon, her stomach performed a slow roll.

What the hell was she doing, thinking about Barbara? The brunette was already quite...taken.

Helena lowered the older woman's leg gently, but hurriedly, before choking out, "Back in a sec" and bolting for the bathroom. A few minutes later, certain that she'd emptied her stomach of brunch, last night's dinner, and probably everything she'd eaten for the last two years, Helena continued to dry-heave over the toilet. Shame washed over her, both for her loss of control and for leaving Barbara alone, several feet from her chair. Resolutely, the young woman attempted to stop her body's heaving, standing shakily and turning the tap on to rinse her mouth and wash her face.

She glanced at her face in the mirror above the sink -- Whoa, serious Goth look going on there -- and froze, her eyes drawn to her almost healed lip. Instantly, she spun, dropping to her knees in front of the toilet again, gasping. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Two nights ago, when Helena had told Barbara that her memory was back, she had not been lying in the least. In the course of her... interactions ... with Harleen Quinzel two nights earlier, everything had come rushing back. Everything.

After that first brutal blow, their first coupling had been almost tender and certainly passionate, the petite blonde teasing and coaxing Helena to a point that she was panting and screaming and begging for release. When the blonde finally, finally, allowed the young woman to crest, the name that was torn from Helena's lips was not 'Harleen', not 'Quinzel', not even -- to her relief -- the name she truly wanted to shout; the name was 'Quinn'. The name doused any post-coital glow like a bucket of ice water.

'Harley Quinn', the dark woman had realized, even as the other woman was forcibly urging Helena to move down her body. The Joker's girlfriend, the lover of the man who had ordered the murder of Helena's mother seven years ago and had, personally, crippled Barbara. Harley Quinn, who had bedeviled Barbara's beloved Gotham for years with crimes and capers every bit as maniacal and bloody as her boyfriend's. Harley Quinn, who -- under the guise of a renown psychiatrist -- was allowed to visit the Joker in Arkham and, thus, was able to plan and participate in his escape attempts.

Harley Quinn, whose alter-ego, Harleen Quinzel, psychotherapist, had drawn out the young woman's secrets -- from her desperate, hopeless love for Barbara to details about the muffin-top business -- before approaching her two years ago with a proposition to change the nature of their relationship.

Four nights ago, Helena had barely felt those blood-red nails pressing sharply into her shoulders while she pleasured the woman. Instead she recalled her initial shock and horror at Quinzel's, no, Quinn's suggestion. Although the young woman's immediate response had been an astonished 'Hell, no!', her former therapist had been insistent... and persuasive. And, over the course of their relationship, Helena had come to realize that -- as the petite blonde had promised -- the ... benefits could not be questioned.

For almost two years, the brunette had seriously doubted that Barbara would share her viewpoint.

For the remainder of the evening, throughout the sometimes brutally punishing couplings that Quinn clearly reveled in, couplings that were a painful counterpoint to the tender passion she had briefly shared with Barbara only the night before, Helena had been in a daze. Rage and shame and hopelessness blew through her. She recalled instance after instance of humiliated silence around Barbara as the woman spoke scathingly of Quinn. She recalled having to avoid the clock tower on more than one occasion after dates with Quinn, certain that the redhead would notice her stiffness, the haunted look in her eyes.

Holy shit. *This* sure explained a lot, the young woman had realized as it all flooded back to her four nights ago.

She was in a relationship with the psychopathic lover of the psychotic man who had so terribly hurt the woman that Helena had loved since she could remember, the woman that she was still desperately, achingly in love with.

How sick was that?

Chapter 12

Now there was one seriously sick individual, Barbara mused, grimacing sympathetically as she heard another round of violent retching from the other side of the bathroom door. Not good, not good at all.

After Helena's hurried exit, the redhead had managed to snag her chair, get settled into it, and move to the bathroom door in time to hear the sound of water running in the sink. Hoping that the worst of the... episode... was past, she started to back away, only to be pulled up short by the sound of a renewed bout of violent heaving. Certain that the younger woman couldn't have anything left and knowing that she wasn't helping herself any with the dry heaving, Barbara sighed in resignation before quietly swinging the door open and moving inside. Looking absolutely, abjectly miserable, the brunette glanced up, offering a faint apologetic smile before being seized by another round.

During her teaching career and, more educationally, during her tenure as the guardian of a wild, strong-willed teenager determined to explore every variety of alcohol ever distilled, Barbara Gordon had become quite familiar with the signs and symptoms of hangovers. This, especially considering the younger woman's earlier energy in the training room, was not a hangover. Wetting a washrag and gently bathing the brunette's forehead and the back of her neck, Barbara frowned, wondering what could have brought this on so suddenly. She gently rubbed the other woman's back, relieved to see that the violent episode seemed to be abating, and mused that Helena had seemed fine until starting on the PT exercises. Could there be...?

This train of thought was interrupted as the brunette finally rocked back on her heels and turned her head toward Barbara, her eyes seeming huge against the paleness of her face. Helena looked at her apologetically through her lashes, whispering hoarsely, "Are you okay? I'm really sorry about running off and leaving you back there...".

Warmed by the concern radiating from the younger woman -- of course Helena would worry about her first and foremost, the redhead realized -- Barbara smiled gently, handing the other woman a cup of mouthwash, and replied, "Of course I'm fine, sweetheart. Let's just worry about getting you cleaned up."

Re-wetting the washrag, she leaned forward and carefully bathed the brunette's face. She repeated the process with Helena's hands and inner wrists and then, again, her face and neck. By the time she'd finished the slow, gentle cleansing, most of Helena's color had returned, and the redhead felt a great deal more confident that the woman wouldn't be fainting any time soon. Backing away minutely, she grasped both of Helena's hands in hers and tugged gently, urging the woman to her feet. Resisting the desire to say something -- anything -- Barbara simply proceeded Helena out of the bathroom, heading towards a low massage table; she detoured momentarily to snag an unopened bottle of water before pointing silently at the table.

The dark woman hopped onto the low table easily -- her recuperative abilities really were amazing -- and ducked her head in thanks as she accepted the water. The redhead rocked the wheels of her chair back and forth and watched her charge take tentative sips before, apparently deciding that it wouldn't bounce, she downed half the bottle in one long swallow.

"Hey, hey. Easy there. I don't think either of us want to see that again," green eyes sparkled warmly, seeking to look into blue. Helena smiled faintly but managed to avoid the concerned gaze.

Barbara reached up, gently brushing unruly dark bangs back, casually touching the young woman's forehead with her fingertips. No fever, so what had upset the woman so violently?

During the earlier workout -- 'Be honest, Gordon; since Helena got here' -- Barbara had been watching the dark woman, attempting to gauge her physical and emotional state. Not to mention, she admitted reluctantly, simply reveling in having the other woman nearby again.

The younger woman had breezed into the clock tower just before noon; the fact that it was in time to catch the last of Alfred's waffles hadn't escaped the redhead. She'd accepted Dinah's enthusiastic hug before play-punching the teen, throwing a smile -- which only seemed slightly forced -- towards Barbara, and seating herself at the table like it was something she did every day. Well, truth be told, the brunette usually did join them for meals almost every day; things had only been a little ... off recently.

As she'd watched Helena tuck into an obscenely huge stack of waffles with gusto, Barbara became aware of blood rushing through her veins, tingling her extremities, filling her with oxygen. As she'd listened to the younger woman question Dinah oh-so-seriously about her study date with Gabby, the redhead realized how warm she was feeling; had she truly been that... cold for the last few days, waiting for Helena -- the sun -- to return? As she'd watched the dark woman strip off her warm-up jacket to reveal her standard workout gear, tank top and running pants, she discovered that she was leaning forward, starting to reach out, hungering to trace her hand down one of those deceptively smooth, strong arms.

Moving through her own workout on auto-pilot, Barbara had been acutely conscious of the other woman's movements, words. Her mouth had watered as she caught glimpses of the brunette stretching -- my goodness, Helena really was very limber, wasn't she?. Her heart rate had soared as she watched Helena tackle some of the gymnastic equipment, movements highlighting muscles and pushing her flesh tightly against the thin tank top. Her chest had felt tight, nipples burning, as she'd watched her two younger charges sparring, then wrestling and giggling, moving against each other in a way that barely suggested activities she wanted with a deep, dark ache.

When the brunette had finally approached her about the physio exercises, Barbara's first instinct had been a stammered refusal. But, Helena had seemed relatively at ease, teasing the redhead into capitulation -- without much fight, Barbara had to admit. Barbara had barely settled into the routine, determined to focus on some of the intricacies of Macbeth instead of the sight of those long, delicate fingers on her legs, when Helena had visibly paled and bolted. What had happened?

Frustrated by her inability to figure this one out on her own, Barbara bit the bullet.

Placing her hand lightly on top of the brunette's and tilting her head delicately in the direction of the washroom, she asked, "What's going on, Hel? What happened?"

The younger woman shifted her hand from under Barbara's, grasping the older woman's hand gently and giving a reassuring squeeze, accompanied by a self-depreciating grin. "I'm really sorry, Babs. I think I got something bad for dinner last night." A faintly hang-dog look -- the one Barbara was well aware that Helena knew she couldn't resist -- and then, "Something reeeelly bad...".

The redhead doubted this explanation for the same reasons that she'd earlier ruled out an overindulgence of alcohol; plus, the brunette was trying just a little too hard to play this off. It didn't take much insight for the older woman to realize that Helena's physical reaction while touching her, however innocently, following so recently after their -- the redhead colored -- passionate intimacies several nights previous was simply too much of a coincidence to be dismissed as a coincidence.

Was the young brunette so embarrassed, so hurt that she couldn't even make eye contact, couldn't stand to touch her? Regretting again that she'd stopped Helena that night, the redhead longed for the sheer light easiness the two women had shared, for the openness -- unlike anything Barbara had seen in years -- that Helena had displayed. What would it take, how long would it take to reclaim at least a part of it?

Barbara fought back the palpable urge to rock her chair or crack her knuckles or tap her foot -- oh, wait, not an option. Wonderful, Barbara knew she was seriously nervous when she started making paraplegic jokes. She drew in a breath and, keeping her voice as steady and warm and welcoming as possible, Barbara Gordon caught blue eyes with hers and quietly spoke:

"I hope you know that there's nothing -- *nothing* -- you can't tell me, Hel. Nothing you can't ask... of me either."

Blue eyes widened, surprise evident, before a teasing twinkle shuttered the brief openness. "How about the name of the taco joint I ate at last night? Maybe you could hack into NGPL and have their electricity disconnected...?"

Emerald eyes were pleading, begging the young woman to come out, as the older woman responded quietly, seriously, "If that would make you feel better, Helena, I'd do it."

At that, surprise flashed through those blue, blue eyes again. Barbara did *not* abuse the power of the Delphi; not just "not lightly" -- never. As the older woman waited to see if Helena would recognize what she was offering, freely giving her, she noticed the brunette unconsciously touch her tongue to her almost healed lip.

Something clenched inside her. Reversing their hands, so that she was holding the dark woman's hand tenderly, Barbara Gordon went with her gut. She stretched her other hand out and gently cupped the other woman's cheek, stroking her thumb delicately across those lush lips, before finally breathing out, "Who's been hurting you, Hel?"

Chapter 13


Well, that had been a punch to the gut. Had someone sucked all of the air out of the room? There had to be some reason she couldn't get a real breath.

Helena watched alarmed emerald eyes sway back and forth in front of her -- Was Barbara alright? -- before feeling a hand pressing gently against the back of her head, steadying her and trying to guide her head down, before hearing a voice telling her to put her head between her knees. Not much inclined to fight it, the brunette went with things for a moment, until she started feeling more like herself and remembered just what it was that had gotten her kinda of ... discombobulated for a minute. Helena Kyle, the Huntress, did *not* faint.

Snapping her head up so rapidly that she nearly broke the redhead's nose, the young woman looked into concerned emerald eyes, her own eyes wide and panicky. Trapped in that warm, loving gaze, there was no way she could speak, the English language -- hell, the French language, too -- utterly escaping her at the moment.

Helena continued to focus on the little things -- breathing, staying upright -- and watched as, in slow motion, Barbara brought both of her hands up to cup her face so very, very tenderly. She felt the older woman brush her thumb softly against the her lips again before pulling the brunette down towards her gently. Again, in slow motion -- must have to do with the lack of air in the room -- Barbara stretched up to press a melting kiss to the dark brow.

"I mean it, Hel," the redhead breathed softly, "You can tell me anything.... Tell me who's been hurting you."

Helena blinked, then blinked again. Well, this was it then; almost two years -- a pretty good run, the young woman decided as the world moved back into real time. The jig was up, her goose was cooked, the shoe had dropped -- whatever the fuck that meant, she thought peevishly. No way Barbara could ever look at her the same way once she found out what ... who ... the young woman had been doing for the last two years. And, while the brunette was willing to tap-dance around a topic if needed, there was no way, abso-freaking-lutely no way, that she would ever lie to the other woman.

Barbara had moved her hands back down, resting them on Helena's knees, gazing at her compassionately. The brunette stared at those hands for a moment, then, drawing in a deep breath, she spoke quietly, "Quinn...".

Seeing the absolute horror in emerald eyes, Helena couldn't let the name stand like that.

"...zel", she tacked on. Technically, hell, in actuality, it was the truth.

Russet brows simultaneously furrowed -- God, the woman was going to get such worry lines one day if she didn't watch that -- and raised toward the ceiling. "Quin-*zel*?" Barbara repeated, enunciating quite clearly and putting a whole lot of emphasis on the second syllable. "Dr. Harleen Quinzel, the therapist you were ordered to see?"

At Helena's quick dip of her chin, the redhead continued, voice flat, "I thought you'd stopped seeing her quite some time ago."

Helena wanted, urgently, to get up and pace. No, actually she wanted to jump off the balcony; after all, she'd probably land on her feet.

The brunette swallowed, then answered quietly, "I did. Uh, professionally, I guess." She watched the red eyebrows do that weird scrunching-raising thing again. "Quinn...zel, uh, suggested a different arrangement."

"What kind of arrangement, Helena?" The question was gentle.

At that moment, Dinah poked her head into the training room. Noticing the lowered voices of an intense conversation, the intimate position of the two women, the young blonde turned her head from one woman to the other several times before softly clearing her throat. Helena couldn't decide whether to be irritated or relieved by the interruption; she settled on directing her all-purpose scowl towards the teenager.

Barbara turned her head, gaze neutral. "Yes, Dinah?"

"Uh, sorry to interrupt. Just wondered if it's okay to head over to Gabby's for a while, maybe stay for dinner? Her mom's making meatloaf." the teenager flashed a hopeful smile.

"That's fine, Dinah. Just call if you'll be back later than 10." The redhead smiled, waited patiently until the girl exited and the door closed. Then she turned back to Helena and repeated, implacable:

"What kind of arrangement, Hel?"

Feeling distinctly like a blushing virgin, though she had trouble channeling that particular scenario, Helena stammered, "Uh, there's sex..."

Looking pointedly at the younger woman's almost-healed lip, Barbara carefully inquired, "And, is this... mutual? Something *you* want?"

Helena demurred, "It's not, uh, always," Her hand stuttered towards her face, fleetingly touched her healing lip. "uh, like this."

The older woman apparently wasn't going to be sidetracked. Her voice was kind, but the words were insistent. "I asked if this is something that you want, Hel."

Well, not exactly.

"Well, not exactly." The brunette's face twisted briefly.

The first crack in the older woman's calm composure appeared. "Then, *why*, Hel?"

Helena exhaled, then drew in a deep, preparatory breath.

She exhaled again.

Ran a hand through her hair.

Finally said what she had to: "Uhm, while I was seeing her -- professionally -- I kind of got to trusting her, telling her things. You know?"

At Barbara's careful nod, the younger woman blinked back some moisture in her eyes, sucked it up, and finished the confession. "I told her about, about the muffin-top business, Barbara."

Helena stared at her lap, at Barbara's long, elegant hands, still resting on her knees, and waited.

The response was quiet, hesitant. "I'm not sure I understand. Is she... blackmailing you?"

The younger woman choked back her bark of laughter. In for a penny...

"No, Babs, nothing like that," the brunette answered softly, sadly. "Seems that the good doctor isn't really such a *good* doctor; she has some secrets of her own, a secret identity..." She trailed off, watching the green eyes curtain briefly, before they looked directly at her.

"Quinn." The redhead stated. Helena wondered how the other woman could do that, say something with absolutely no inflection in her voice.

Helena nodded, near tears. "I'm really sorry, Barbara. I never... I.. I'm just so sorry."

Helena peered at her friend cautiously, saw Barbara take a breath, felt the redhead reflexively rubbing her right hand up and down over Helena's knee, heard the deadly calm voice asking, "Why would you possibly enter into any sort of...'arrangement'", the word was bitter, "with that woman?"

Helena chewed on her lower lip, then rasped, "She promised to cut back on crime -- which she has -- and she promised..." God, this was hard.

"Tell me, Hel." The request was soft but banded with steel.

"She promised to help keep the Joker in Arkham. To tell me about any new escape plots. To help keep you safe," Helena finally whispered. "All I have to do is," she waved a hand vaguely, "...sometimes..." blinking, " this."

The dark woman heard a strangled sound, and jerked her head up to meet emerald eyes filled with pain, tears brimming in them. Helena dropped her head, shamed and humiliated by what she'd finally revealed to the woman she loved and respected most in the world. Despite her acute hearing, she almost missed the softly spoken words.

"Sweetheart, how hard... How you could do this..." The older woman seemed to be reaching almost blindly, moving her hands up, fumbling, grasping at Helena's sides, tugging her towards her.

Incredulous, unable to comprehend the bright shining love in those green eyes, Helena slid bonelessly to the floor, then leaned forward to wrap her arms around the older woman's waist, to lay her cheek ever-so-cautiously on Barbara's knees.

Chapter 14

Helena's position, Barbara realized with a start, was one of total vulnerability...and total submission. The barely audible rumbling from the young woman's chest spoke volumes about her distress.

How lonely, how frightened and ... shamed and ... angry the young woman must have been for these years. Barbara felt one tear spill down her cheek, wondering how she could possibly deserve the fierce love and devotion offered by the young heroine.

The redhead was aware that Helena continued to remain absolutely still against her. Looking down at the dark head against her knees, the barely visibly trembling arms still wrapped around her, Barbara was rocked by waves of emotion. First and above all, there was a powerful tenderness for the young woman who had given so much, essentially, all for the older woman. There was also absolute blinding fury towards Quinn: under the guise of a trusted confidant -- a therapist, she had secured Helena's trust and then violated it; knowing how slow to trust the young woman was, Barbara was aware of how devastating this sort of violation would be. That the shared confidences included information which could put all of the women, their entire life as protectors of the city, at risk could only have compounded Helena's anger and hurt, could only have fueled her intense need to protect Dinah and Barbara. That Quinn -- the absolute bitch, Barbara fumed -- then could have turned Helena's desire to protect Barbara against her, used Helena's own selflessness to hurt and humiliate the younger woman.... Every muscle that she could use briefly locked as Barbara Gordon was seized by a rictus of rage.

The rage was washed away temporarily by another feeling: horrified sadness. From long association, the older woman knew the depths of emotion and tenderness that Helena cloaked behind her too-bad-for-my-leather image. She could not fathom how her friend had been able to endure the last two years. Despite years of education, reading, observing humanity, all of it stored in her infallible memory, Barbara Gordon simply could not find an appropriate word to express how she was feeling at this moment. She ached for the younger woman.

In the face of betrayal by her 'therapist', the possible threat to Dinah and Barbara, the promise of helping to protect Barbara from a madman, what had Helena done? Barbara realized that, if she'd ever felt the need to consider this particular scenario, she very probably would have concluded that Helena would handle it just as she had. In the interest of protecting those she cared for, the young woman had accepted an unpalatable situation and an even more stomach-turning 'arrangement'.

For almost two years, she'd continued her sweeps diligently, facing the usual petty criminals and other, more horrific creatures with her usual gusto. She'd dutifully shown up to train Dinah, to work out, to assist with the redhead's PT, never hinting at other demands on her time or discomfort with the tasks. She'd smiled cheerfully in their day-to-day interactions, her usual broodiness considerably abated in the last years, Barbara realized, as if the young woman was trying to insure that nothing might lead the older woman to scrutinize her emotional state too closely. And, apparently, on some regular basis -- or, knowing Quinn, it might have been purely whimsical, Helena had met with her betrayer and surrendered to her.

The young woman had the heart of a lion.

Barbara ran her hands softly down the slim bare arms encircling her, ran her fingers gently through that wild dark hair. Save for the minute trembling and the sound of that inhuman rumbling, Helena remained absolutely still and totally silent.

'Waiting for my reaction, waiting for me to... '

Barbara leaned forward slightly, moving one hand to trace Helena's cheek before placing her fingers lightly under her chin. Softly, she tipped the dark head up, coaxing the woman to face her. The redhead caught a glimpse of anguished blue eyes, flickering to gold, before they ducked away. Painfully aware of the young woman's jaw trembling under her fingers, of the fast, shallow breath brushing her wrist, the older woman attempted to soothe Helena as she might gentle an injured and skittish wild creature.

"Shhhh, sweetheart," she whispered. "It's going to be alright." She tentatively stroked the other woman's head with the hand still tangled in dark hair. "Let me help you. Let me help you make it better."

Eyes once again blue, but only slightly less pained, peered curiously into green. The rumbling slowly quieted, and the trembling gradually stilled.

"That's it. I'm here for you, Helena. Nothing, *nothing* will ever change that. Just trust me. It *will* be okay."

Barbara wasn't sure of the exact words pouring quietly over her lips, only that they seemed to be helping. Leaning forward just a bit more, she dusted a kiss to the dark hair. Moving her hand from beneath the angular jaw, she fumbled for one of Helena's hands and tangled their fingers together and then lowered her head to rest her forehead against the dark brow. The younger woman brought her other arm up slowly, jerkily -- as if expecting the other woman to recoil -- and placed her hand lightly on Barbara's shoulder.

Eyes to eyes, nose to nose, Barbara desperately wanted to press a kiss to those softly parted lips. She hesitated, fearing for the other woman's emotional state, mentally cursing the fact that big emotional scenes had never been her milieu. She wished with everything she was that she had the facility to bridge the tiny distance, to know that she could make things alright. Instead, realizing that the position was hell on both of them, the redhead opted for the practical.

Loathe to break the delicate contact, Barbara remained still as she murmured, "What say we go get cleaned up?"

The older woman sensed the split-second tension coursing through the other woman and held her pose, deliberately remaining as relaxed as possible in the awkward position. Then, she felt Helena withdraw slightly before teasing blue eyes caught hers. The young woman exhaled then sniffed pointedly.

There was a slow grin before the young woman ducked her head to look through her lashes, teasing, "Yeah. Between sweat and puke, I guess I'm pretty rank, huh?"

Delighted by the impish display, needing the release like she needed air, Barbara threw back her head and laughed.

"You and me both, Hel. It was a pretty hard workout today."

As the dark woman stood, her movement steady, if slightly less fluid than usual, the redhead backed away and turned her chair. She then shifted in her chair and held out her hand in invitation. There was a brief hesitation before Helena stepped towards her and tangled their fingers, rasping "C'mon, Red. Hot showers all around?"

After Helena released her hand and trailed down the hall behind her, veering off at the bathroom, Barbara busied herself in her room, laying out clean clothes for herself and then undressing, until she heard the sound of the shower in the other bathroom. The sound of running water was immediately, predictably, followed by singing.

When she had assumed guardianship of the young Helena Kyle seven years ago, the redhead had been dumbfounded and, occasionally, irrationally irked to discover that the young woman was apparently biologically incapable of standing in a shower without bursting into song. It spoke volumes about the evolution of their relationship, the older woman admitted on a grin, that she now found the habit only amusing and endearing. At this moment, she also found it eminently comforting.

Moving into the bathroom adjoining her room, Barbara tilted her head, attempting to identify Helena's selection. 'Was that...?' She listened more carefully to the words, the melody, as she transferred herself to her shower seat:

Somebody bring me some water
Can't you see I'm burning alive
Can't you see my baby's got another lover
I don't know how I'm gonna survive
Somebody bring me some water
Can't you see it's out of control
Baby's got my heart and my baby's got my mind
But tonight the sweet Devil's got my soul

Melissa Etheridge, if Barbara wasn't mistaken. A small shiver ran through the redhead as she wondered how random Helena's choice of that particular song had been, which 'sweet Devil' had her soul.

Barbara finished her shower in record time; if not for her damp hair, she might have doubted that she'd been in contact with soap and water at all. Not surprisingly, Helena, who determined that a shower should end only when there was no more hot water, was still in the shower.

Despite the brief emotional respite they'd embraced just before their showers, the redhead was under no illusions that the young woman's revelation would be simple to get past. With a frustrated sigh, the older woman allowed that the... situation had the potential to magnify the obstacles already between the two women.

This insight was immediately followed by a disgusted snort.

'Only if I let it,' Barbara realized.

She decided to do what she could to make the next few hours as easy as possible for both of them.

A call to Gabby's house and a brief chat with Dinah ensured that the older women would have whatever privacy -- decompression time, Barbara mentally supplied -- they might need; the teen all-too-amenably agreed to spend the night with her friend. Ending the conversation, Barbara acknowledged that there probably was some merit behind Helena's suggestive cracks about the two girls and that, possibly, a delicate conversation with Dinah might be in order.

A grimace dimpling her cheeks, the redhead wondered at the irony of her life; here she was, someone who tried to avoid emotional areas with a 99 and a-half foot pole, surrounded by young women who enriched her life so much, but damnably insisted on bringing tons of emotional stuff along for the ride.

Che sara, sara.

Barbara next powered the Delphi to standby, resisting the urge to start some background scans for more information about Harleen Quinzel and recent activities of Harley Quinn. Handling that particular situation would be very tricky indeed, the crime-fighter realized. Exactly what was meant by "situation" was something she didn't care to examine too closely at the moment. There would be time later to determine what level of risk the psychotic blonde posed.

Right now, the only thing, person, worth focusing on had apparently completed her song stylings and was very probably scrounging through the redhead's room in search of some clean clothes to borrow.

'Exactly where she belongs.' The thought filled the redhead with warmth.

After needlessly rechecking the security of the clock tower, the older woman moved into the kitchen. She pulled several bottles of water, a container of juice, and some fruit and cheese from the refrigerator and placed everything on the same tray Helena had used the other night. Grabbing two glasses from the cupboard, Barbara added a package of pop-tarts to the tray with a fond smile. The brunette was bound to be hungry -- honestly, when was Helena *not* hungry?, Barbara smiled -- after her workout and the loss of her brunch.

The redhead returned to the living room to find the younger woman sprawled bonelessly on the couch, clad only in a pair of boxers and one of Barbara's NGPD tee-shirts, a glorious amount of tanned skin exposed.

Casually tossing the pop-tarts in Helena's direction, aware of a slim hand effortlessly snagging the pouch in mid-air, she rolled to a stop by the couch. Barbara set the tray on the coffee table, swatted the young woman's legs out of the way, and transferred herself to the couch. Purposefully ignoring the brunette's curious look, the redhead poured juice into two glasses and pushed one in the general vicinity of her partner before taking a long swallow from her own glass.

"I seem to recall that there's a Jackie Chan marathon on this afternoon," Barbara offered as she settled herself more comfortably.

Well aware of the suspicious look thrown her way, the look followed by a sly grin, the older woman tracked a deceptively slender arm as it raised the remote, aimed it dramatically at the 52" set, and began to click through the channels so rapidly that, had she been watching the screen, Barbara felt sure that she would have been dizzy. Focused on that strong arm, on the muscles jumping minutely under the smooth skin, the redhead flashed to the texture of that skin under her hands earlier in the day.

The older woman was shocked back into the moment, to find the brunette regarding her steadily, if a bit curiously, when an idle thought raced through her mind: 'What would that skin feel like under my mouth?'

Chapter 15

Weird, Red seemed to be spacing out every so often. But, it had been a weird day all around, Helena acknowledged.

Having finished "The Tuxedo", the two were now well into "Drunken Master". Since such a classic clearly called for something more than juice or water, Helena had been galvanized into action: she'd bounced into the kitchen, returning with a six-pack of Fat Tire, and vaulted dramatically over the back of the couch to settle in before the opening credits began to roll. She handed a bottle to Barbara before taking a long pull from her own, watching the redhead from the corner of her eye.

Huh. Considering that she'd brought some to share, the brunette really didn't think all of the eye-rolling from the other end of the couch was strictly necessary.

"Y'know, considering that I brought some for you too, you think you can tone down all the eye-rolling a little bit?" A soft smile took any bite out of the sarcasm.

"Sorry, Hel," green eyes twinkled. "Just in awe, once again, of your dramatic return. Not to mention the timeliness of ", tilting her bottle slightly, "this."

"Hey, being a professional bartender does have its advantages. Always know when a round is called for..."

Now, an hour into the movie, the two women had at some point settled against opposite ends of the couch, their legs companionably intertwined. The younger woman stretched out an arm lazily to retrieve her beer, realizing that, to do so, she'd had to remove her hand from Barbara's foot, which was resting on Helena's stomach, where she had, apparently, been stroking it gently. 'When did she...? When did I...?' Either the redhead hadn't noticed, as-if..., or simply didn't care since she appeared engrossed in the movie and utterly unconcerned about the fact that the brunette was, well, fondling her foot.

Helena finished her beer; it was her third, but with her meta-human physiology, she wasn't even close to having a buzz on. Barbara, she noticed grumpily, was *still* nursing her first. Instead of opening another, Helena allowed her hand to resume its gentle stroking of the redhead's foot.

Staring at the large screen without seeing it, the brunette marveled over the soft, soft skin under her hands. When her thumb brushed the other woman's instep and there wasn't the tiniest jump or flinch from the dead nerve endings, Helena's expression briefly turned grim: In one cruel moment, Barbara had been denied so much. Then, as her hand stroked softly over the redhead's ankle and her fingers fluttered under the bottom of the baggy flannel pajama bottoms, the young woman was briefly, perversely, almost glad that Barbara couldn't feel the stolen caresses. During PT, Helena was careful to keep her touches professional, as businesslike as possible, while still being tender and gentle. At this moment, there was nothing professional about them.

Allowing her hand to venture further up the baggy pant leg, the dark-haired woman massaged the firm calf gently, then delicately brushed her fingertips against the back of the redhead's slightly-bent knee.

'Oh fuck.......'

Helena snapped her eyes shut, knowing they'd gone feral. The delicate caress was too reminiscent of other warm smooth places she ached to touch on the redhead. She viciously bit back on the growl rumbling up her chest as parts lower in her body contracted. She narrowly managed to avoid jerking her hips.

Breathing slowly, deeply, she moved her hand back down to resume the light massage of the older woman's calf. A wave of self-loathing washed through her. What kind of freakin' perve was she, anyway? Not four hours ago, she'd exposed how debauched... or debased... or something skeevy... she was to the older woman. Barbara had been, well, super. And, now, here she was fondling the woman and ready to jump all over her.

Great. Just effin' great.

Okay, she could do this. Just finish the movie and then, casually, roll on out of here. Hell, Helena didn't really know why she'd stayed. It had just felt so good to let go of the secrets; then, the way Barbara had made her feel that it would be okay... But, oh, hell, the redhead would probably want them to talk about it, figure out a plan or something. Even now, Barbara was probably waiting for the right moment, or psyching the young woman out so that she'd bring it up. Well, she could just keep on waiting, because Helena certainly didn't want to talk about it.

The brunette's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Barbara pulling herself upright, by the feel of a soft hand coming to rest gently on her forearm. The arm which was connected to the hand which was ... massaging the redhead's leg, Helena noted sourly.

"Hel?" Nothing but warm affection and concern in the voice, "Are you okay?"

The younger woman opened her eyes, blew out a breath, "Yeah."

Horrified, she heard herself continue, "I was, uh, just wondering if you wanted to talk about... uh... it." Man, Barbara was *good*.

"If you want to talk about it, Helena, that's fine. I'm here." From the corner of her eye, the brunette saw a soft smile gracing those beautiful features. "If not, I'll still be here when you're ready."

With that, and a final soft touch to Helena's arm, the redhead resumed her semi-reclined position at the other end of the couch.


Just... Oh Wow.

Helena skin still burned from the soft touch of that elegant hand; her throat had grown some sort of huge lump in the last few minutes which was making swallowing really hard. For a moment, she sat, frozen, staring at the hand she still had on Barbara's leg.

The redhead again broke the silence.

"You're missing the best scenes," she chided teasingly. "What's so interesting? Did I miss something shaving?"

She was so busted, again. Very-nearly-successfully fighting a blush, the young woman did what she did best: she masked the lonely hunger in her eyes, quirked her lips in an evil grin, and waggled her brows.

"Just thinking that I'm gonna lose my honorary PT license, Red. This makes twice this week that I've let you slide on your physio." The brunette paused; well, what did she have to lose? "I mean, this" she waved at the couch, then the television, "is really great, but, uh, maybe you want to go through your set?"

The redhead had been surprising Helena a lot lately; so, really, the brunette felt like she should have been ready for whatever came her way -- surprising or not. But, really, absolutely nothing could have prepared her for what Barbara, voice low and vibrating sincerity, said next.

"No. I don't think that my regular set is necessary today, Hel. I'd welcome some sort of different.... stretching", the redhead practically purred the word, "with you. But only," and here her eyes became very serious, "*only* when you're ready."

Chapter 16

Barbara Gordon almost laughed at the expression on the brunette's face; probably would have laughed -- not really at Helena, just from the sheer giddy relief of having mustered the courage finally to ignore the self-imposed obstacles, to say what she wanted -- except for the fact she was beginning to worry about the young woman.

"Breathe, Helena", the redhead coaxed gently, pulling herself into a more upright position. After all, CPR might be required.

Apparently, the hint about oxygen had been just what was needed to get the younger woman's synapses firing again. Barbara watched, utterly transfixed, as the dark woman drew in a slow breath and raised her head. Blazing golden eyes locked with green; in one seamless motion, the dark woman rose to her hands and knees on the couch and simply... flowed ... towards the older woman. Frozen in place, Barbara briefly wondered if this was how prey felt, then dismissed the idea. Prey wouldn't have tingles of delirious anticipation running through every nerve ending, would it?

Barbara abandoned this promising hypothesis as Helena came to a halt, knees resting deep in the couch cushions on either side of the redhead's hips, hands against the back of the couch on each side of the semi-reclined woman's head. Noting that the brunette was absolutely, positively, not touching her, the older woman wondered at the heat suffusing her. Green eyes still locked on blazing gold -- had she lost the ability to blink? -- Barbara watched the younger woman bring her face closer and closer, lower her upper body until her tee shirt barely brushed the older woman's chest... still not actually touching her.

Helena lowered her head a fraction more, shifting slightly to the right, bringing her face agonizingly close. Barbara would have sworn that she could feel the fine hairs which dusted the younger woman's cheek brushing against her own cheek, but that was all. Then, then the young woman dipped her face slightly towards the redhead's neck.

A delicate brush of warm breath on her neck led Barbara to believe that the younger woman had opened her mouth; she certainly hoped that she had opened her mouth, that she would soon feel that mouth on her skin. The older woman stretched her neck slightly, angled her head towards the side, offering the creamy expanse of skin freely to the dark woman. Instead of the anticipated brush of lips or tongue or, hell, even teeth, Barbara felt the younger woman taking short breaths through her mouth, *scenting* her, she realized with a thrill. The purr which quickly rumbled through the other woman racheted the redhead's absolute need for contact up another notch.

The older woman fisted her hands by her sides. Lord, she was so tempted to reach up and pull the dark woman to her, tangle her fingers in that silky hair, bring their mouths crashing together over and over. But, concerned for Helena's emotional state, worried that she'd spoken too quickly after their painful conversation of a few hours ago, Barbara was determined to let the younger woman set the pace. She'd finally spoken her heart; whatever might come, would come.

So, she waited. Not altogether patiently, Barbara Gordon would have freely admitted, but she did wait. As she waited, she realized, eyes widening briefly, that she had been terribly, terribly wrong earlier: it was not Helena, but Barbara herself, that might be in need of CPR.

Well, there was mouth-to-mouth contact, Barbara discovered moments later, but it had very little to do with improving her breathing. Quite the opposite, the redhead determined, the process seemed to be impeding her body's ability to take in oxygen. A fact that she found herself caring remarkably little about.

This time, knowing what she wanted, what they both wanted, there was no hesitance. The moment that Helena's lips touched hers, Barbara opened her mouth, gasping, desperate for the taste of the other woman. When Helena's tongue darted out to trace the older woman's lips, the redhead captured it, shamelessly sucking it into her mouth even as her own tongue slipped into the warm haven of the brunette's mouth. For endless moments, the two women drank from each other, Helena's purring sliding briefly into a low growl as she nipped quickly at the brunette's bottom lip.

'Oh my, hadn't that felt wonderful...'. The older woman groaned when the brunette laved the tiny mark with her tongue, sucking the redhead's bottom lip into her mouth and teasing with the stud in her tongue.

Barbara could hold back no longer. Her hands flew up and twined through dark hair. Instead of pulling the younger woman to her, the redhead surprised both of them by gently moving that dark head back slightly, just enough to see those hungry eyes again. And, didn't that open wanting look gracing the gamine features do amazing things to her?

Just as the older woman noticed Helena beginning to look puzzled, eyes starting to close off, Barbara smiled, broadly, and husked, "Come back here". Those phenomenal eyes reverted to sparkling blue -- honestly, the transformation was amazingly sexy, wasn't it? -- as a huge smile broke across the brunette's face.

The sight of that smile simply overwhelmed the redhead; perhaps it hadn't been quite ten-thousand watts, but it was a start. She heard a bright burst of laughter spill from herself. She couldn't have stopped it any more than she could stop the sun from rising.

At the sound, Helena smiled, shy and sultry, before lowering her face to the older woman's neck. Barbara tingled as she felt those sharp even teeth nibbling along the tendon on one side of her neck. When that shockingly talented mouth began to kiss, then suck deeply, at her pulse point, the redhead saw stars.

"Oh. My. God."

Had that been her voice, she distantly wondered.

Barbara fumbled for the younger woman's shoulders, then moved to her back; she pulled gently, desperate for the weight and pressure of the other woman's body against hers. Helena's strong arms were locked, still supporting her weight; when they showed no sign of relaxing, Barbara decided, at the very least, she could get an answer to her earlier question.

Lifting her head slightly from the back of the couch and turning to one side, she gently placed her mouth on one of those smooth, slender arms; then, she slowly traversed the length of the tan forearm, tasting with her lips and tongue, stopping only when she reached the dark woman's inner elbow, where she suckled gently.

'Like heaven,' the redhead decided. Helena tasted like heaven.

A dark head rose from where it had frozen by Barbara's shoulder, and the older woman lowered her head to the couch to look at that beloved face. Helena's eyes were still blue, rather than the bright gold she'd been unconsciously expecting; the older woman wondered briefly at that. And, then, Barbara didn't care so much what it meant because Helena was finally lowering herself onto her.

At the first brush of the lithe woman's breasts against her chest, the redhead surged upward, a low moan escaping her. However, instead of continuing to lower herself, the brunette withdrew, leaving Barbara panting and terribly, terribly frustrated. Almost crazed from the ache in her chest, the tight burning in her breasts, the redhead fought her way up from the erotic haze. With a feeling of panic, Barbara realized that Helena wasn't just pushing herself up, she was getting up. Standing up.

"Helena?", the older woman asked softly. Dear God, had she pushed too hard, wanted too much too fast and spooked the young woman?

The response was a hesitant tilt of the head and a shyly purred question. "Bedroom?"

Her relief was so intense that the redhead almost cried. Instead, she smiled warmly -- *very* warmly -- and gasped, "Please..."

She saw the young woman's hesitant glance towards the wheelchair, clearly uncertain about how Barbara preferred to get to the bedroom. Without hesitation, the older woman raised her arms and quirked an eyebrow, the request clear.

Again, a hesitation from the brunette. Barbara knew that she was, well, insistent to the point of stubbornness about not being 'handled'. She allowed few people to assist with her chair; aside from the occasional lift for PT, she allowed noone to carry her anywhere. However in the face of her overwhelming need for the young woman, seven year's of fiercely independent pride had dissolved like spun sugar in the rain; she never noticed its departure.

Looking imploringly into concerned blue eyes, Barbara Gordon raised her arms a fraction higher, and, voice cracking, asked again. "Please, Hel. Now."

Chapter 17

Helena was stunned. Or dreaming. Yeah, maybe she was dreaming.

It wasn't just Barbara's none-too-subtle innuendo about her PT and the ensuing, er, activities on the couch -- especially after everything Helena had revealed. There was also *this* request. Barbara, Ms. Too-independent-for-her-own-good, the woman who wouldn't accept an umbrella in a downpour 'cuz she was pissed that she hadn't known it was going to rain, Barbara...asking for a lift? Cool. Lifting the redhead into her arms effortlessly, Helena pressed her mouth to Barbara's, kissing her deeply.

By the time they reached the bedroom, the brunette feared that her legs would buckle at any moment, meta-human strength not-withstanding. She stood by the bed for a moment, intensely aware of Barbara's arm wrapped around her neck, the slight weight and the warmth of the woman in her arms. Slowly, carefully, she placed the older woman on the bed, helping her stack some pillows behind her back. Dry-mouthed, she watched the redhead release her hair from its loose ponytail and fan it around her.

Her heart. Her fucking heart was beating so hard...

Looking at those deep green eyes -- really just dark hungry pupils surrounded by a thin band of emerald, at those red, red lips -- slightly kiss-bruised, at that flowing crimson hair, at that long body settled on the bed like an offering, Helena felt her eyes augmenting, felt the growl start to rumble in her throat. Muscles rippled as she prepared for her approach, ready to pounce: she'd rend the fabric of the redhead's clothes with teeth and nails; she'd lick and suck at that creamy skin as she rubbed her own aching center against the other woman.

No. Not like that. The younger woman tore her eyes away from Barbara, breathing hard and fast. Barbara deserved more than that.

A moment later, Helena flashed a cocky grin at the redhead and murmured, "Be right back." She caught the confused and slightly flustered look -- Okay, Red had looked kind of pissed off -- on her way out the door. But, well, this was something she had to do.

The brunette trotted down the short hall to the living area where she snagged two bottles of water and then grabbed the older woman's chair. No way she was going to have Barbara that far from her chair. A minute later she returned to the bedroom, casually pulling the chair behind her. Handing Barbara one of the water bottles, the young woman positioned the chair within easy reach of the bed, aware of the soft smile being directed her way.

Alright-then. That got the housekeeping out of the way. Now what?

The brunette was faintly aghast; here she was, finally where she'd dreamed of for... forever, and she had a case of butterflies like she couldn't believe. Watching the older woman take a small sip of water before replacing the cap and putting the bottle on the side table, Helena decided to play it cool.

After all, it wasn't like she hadn't done this before, Helena thought with a smirk as she moved slowly towards the bed, a death-grip on her water bottle.

The brunette froze in her tracks.

She *hadn't* done this before. Yeah, there'd been sex -- lots of sex; but, wow, when it came to making love with the woman she adored... This was gonna be brand new territory.

Regaining some control of her muscles, the young woman looked over to find Barbara wrinkling her eyebrows just a little, those expressive eyes amused and puzzled, her expression the one the older woman got when she realized that Helena was behaving strangely and that there wasn't a chance in hell of understanding what was going on. Helena loved that expression.

"Are you alright, Hel?" The voice was a little huskier than normal, but still warm and inviting.

"Yeah, just..." the younger woman fluttered a hand, " know...". Well, that had been clear.

There was a pause. Barbara was thinking. Helena wasn't sure that she wanted Barbara to be thinking. Finally, those intense green eyes looked up, nothing but bright love shining in them.

"We don't have to do anything that..." Helena caught the briefest of hesitations, "you're not ready for. Nothing is going to happen that you don't want, Helena."

The younger woman didn't know how she felt about that, didn't know why she felt like she wanted to cry...just a little. She decided to go for confident and sexy.

"What about what I do want?" Okay, it had come out a little less confident than she'd hoped. Still, Barbara didn't seem to notice or care. Her reply rocked the brunette to her core.

"Anything, Hel. Absolutely anything you want."

Feeling a little like she'd just been sucker-punched in a fight, Helena slowly unlocked her grip on the water, placed the bottle neatly next to the other, then sat on the edge of the bed. She was facing the redhead, her hip barely touching the other woman's thigh.

'How could Barbara's leg be so hot? Was she sick? She didn't look sick, but she sure had been acting...out of character.'

The brunette reached down for Barbara's right hand, bringing it to her lips. Blue eyes firmly locked on green, she breathed, "I love you, Barbara."

The shining love in those green eyes took her breath away; the hungry aching want, a clear mirror to her own, nearly undid her.

Helena lowered her head a fraction, touching the elegant fingers with her mouth and lips. She slowly kissed each finger tip, flicking her tongue out to trace the faint calluses from years of typing. Breathing across the sharply delineated knuckles, she gently kissed the back of Barbara's hand before turning it palm side up and cradling it in hers. Again, she lowered her head, pressing a reverent soul kiss to the palm, tongue flickering out to tease the depression in the slightly cupped palm, mouth firmly pressed to the soft flesh to create a gentle suction. The dark woman heard the other woman panting softly -- "Oh god... Hel... please... please" -- and wondered if Barbara was even aware that she was speaking.

The redhead's voice, the taste of her, it was all driving Helena wild. Still, she kept her movements slow, deliberate, languid.

Barbara's fingers were trembling in the younger woman's hand. 'Wonder if she'll like this...' Helena broke her kiss to the redhead's palm and gently pressed the trembling fingers together. Blue eyes peered from under shaggy bangs, noticing the dusky rose flush creeping up the redhead's neck; 'Not a bad color for her at all', the younger woman decided as she began to run her tongue between each of the fingers, thrusting suggestively, firmly, before gentling to teasing strokes.

Yeah, Barbara seemed to like that; she really seemed to like that. The redhead's left hand was tangled in the comforter, clutching tightly; her breath was coming hard and fast; her eyes were absolutely wide, unblinking. And, truth-be-told, Helena was feeling pretty good, too; apart from the other things her actions were suggesting -- things she craved with desperate intensity, the opportunity to touch and taste the adored woman so freely left her lightheaded and shaky.

Drawing in a slow breath, the young woman encircled Barbara's index and second finger with her own hand; waited until green eyes locked with hers; slowly pulled the two digits fully into her mouth, massaging them with her tongue and sucking them rhythmically, deeply. 'Oh, fuck....!' The redhead's fingers were so deep in her mouth; Helena felt parts of her lower body contracting every time she sucked at those long fingers; she shifted her hips restlessly. The brunette groaned as Barbara gently extricated her hand, caressing the side of her face for a moment, smiling beatifically.

Man, that had been all kinds of fun. Over her shallow panting, the brunette managed to gasp, "You're so fuckin' beautiful."

Immediately, the young woman wanted to smack herself in the forehead. Finally, she was touching, kissing the woman she'd fantasized about, loved, for her entire adult life -- not to mention a good portion of her teenage years -- and *that* was the best she could come up with? Smooth, really smooth.

Still holding the other woman's hand, Helena ducked her head in embarrassment. She stared at the bedspread for a long minute until that warm voice broke the silence.


"It's nothing. I, just, want to say the right thing, things. And, well, I'm not so much with the eloquence thing right now."

Barbara's laugh was bright and full.

"Sweetheart, you don't need to be. I'm a sure thing."

Suspicious blue eyes peered into amused green. Had *Barbara* said that? Now she knew she was dreaming.

The older woman's expression turned a bit more serious.

"Besides, I think you're doing just fine in letting me know what you're feeling."

Boy, somehow, Barbara always knew how to say the right thing.

Helena moved onto the bed, straddling the older woman. The brunette felt herself shift, knew her eyes were now their feral yellow. Bringing her mouth to the side of the redhead's face, she permitted a soft growl before tracing the delicate shell of Barbara's ear with her tongue. The feel of the older woman shifting under her, of long hands moving haphazardly down her thighs and up her sides inflamed Helena.

Then, Barbara's hands were no longer touching her; she had moved her hands between them. She was doing something, but not doing it to her. Helena wanted Barbara to be doing something to her. Peering between them, she found Barbara frantically, feverishly, attempting to unbutton the oversized oxford shirt that she was wearing, her normally graceful fingers clumsy in her eagerness.

This time, there was nothing soft about the growl. Those beautiful hands faltered for a moment at the sound. Helena tightly shut her eyes and inhaled deeply. She wouldn't do that, wouldn't just be a fuckin' animal. 'Just breathe in, breathe out.'

But, she couldn't, not with Barbara tugging on both of her hands, bringing them to her face, kissing them. Not when Barbara was moving her hands down and placing them softly against the other woman's breasts. Barbara's relieved moan electrified the young woman; she dipped her hips, briefly raking across the redhead's abdomen before drawing in a deep breath.

Eyes once again blue stared into wide emerald, recognized the aching need. Helena smiled gently and leaned down to press a soft kiss against Barbara's parted lips. Then, Barbara was fumbling with those damned buttons again and she heard the low voice:

"Hel, please. I need to feel you... on my skin....."

The brunette smiled again, slow and sultry this time. Yeah, she could definitely deal with that. She lightly drew her hands across the older woman's breasts and stilled the redhead's hands with hers. Helena briefly looked up through dark lashes and drawled, "Can I be of any assistance with that, Ms. Gordon?"

"If it wouldn't be too much tro..."

The sound of thread ripping and buttons pinging off walls and furniture cut off whatever else Barbara might have added. Sometimes she talked too much anyway, Helena smirked. Shifting backwards slightly, the brunette gently pulled the older woman upright, supporting her easily with one arm as she helped her shrug out of the shirt. The redhead's breasts were milky-white and full; the tips blush rose, visibly firming under the younger woman's burning gaze. Helena's mouth watered.

Even as the brunette helped the other woman settle back against her mountain of pillows, she felt hands plucking at her tee-shirt, attempting to move it up, to pull it off. Not now; sooo not now. Helena brushed distractedly at those questing hands, whispered something -- Had she said 'Later'? -- before bringing her own hands to Barbara's stomach, fingers lightly stroking the soft skin, tracing the firm muscles. The redhead's arousal was palpable: the muscles under the soft skin were fluttering and twitching. Something low inside Helena clenched in sympathy.

Soft. Barbara's skin was so terribly, terribly soft; silken. Helena couldn't get enough of the feel of it, stroking her fingers up Barbara's side, dragging her palms across her stomach, brushing her hands across the other woman's upper chest and shoulders. Constantly moving, stroking, her hands burned from the contact. Wondering how Barbara would react, Helena gently raked blunted nails teasingly down the redhead's chest, in the valley between those ripe, full breasts. Helena heard the other woman hiss, felt her jerk. She couldn't, wouldn't, wait any longer.

"So beautiful. So fuckin' beautiful." Helena knew she'd said something but didn't know what. She rested her hands gently on Barbara's breasts, cupping the sides, experiencing the weight and texture. Pebble-hard nipples teased her palms. Helena closed her eyes briefly, focusing with everything she was on the sensations rippling through her hands. Her focus broke when Barbara arched her back, then brought her hands up and placed them decisively over Helena's, urging the younger woman to touch more firmly.

Another bolt of arousal shot through the dark woman; for a moment, she dropped her head, taking most of her weight on her hands, pressing firmly against those soft mounds as she panted and drove her hips forward against the redhead's belly.

Hands tangled in her hair -- Cripes, Barbara was strong -- pulling her head down; a low voice urged, "Your mouth, Hel... God, your mouth." The brunette allowed the older woman to direct her, stealing a lick against the woman's jaw, a quick nip at her neck. Blue eyes glanced up briefly, drinking in the sight of Barbara restlessly moving her head from side to side, breath blowing hard and fast from her nose. Then, then, she was tasting the older woman, and it was better than Helena had dreamed of for so many years.

She bathed the milky white skin with her tongue, pressed melting kisses to the heavy flesh, drew teasing teeth up the sides. The redhead's whimper destroyed her resolve to move slowly: Helena drew the turgid nipple into her mouth, sucking hard while teasing at it with her tongue. She nipped gently, then laved the spot. Had the redhead just hissed 'Yes'? Determined to find out, the young woman repeated her ministrations. Definitely a 'yes'.

With one hand still stroking and teasing Barbara's right breast, Helena lost herself in the other. She was distantly aware of the purring rumble from her chest as she suckled for long slow minutes, distantly aware of the other woman's deep breaths and slow undulations, distantly aware of a strong hand in her hair scratching randomly at her scalp. But the only thing Helena Kyle was truly aware of was the taste and texture and warmth against her face, in her mouth; of the arousal coursing through her veins and nerves.

Long minutes, hours?, later, the brunette slowly raised her head, smiling softly at the redhead's whimpered protest, at the strength of those arms trying to keep her from moving.

"Hey, it's ok," the brunette soothed, shifting her mouth to the other breast. There, she lost herself again. She licked and sucked, nipped and soothed, her right hand moving restlessly over the redhead. She skimmed the woman's smooth arms, briefly tangling her fingers with Barbara's; she stroked the other woman's shoulder, slid her hand under Barbara's back to rub gently; she tangled her fingers in that long red hair, gradually cupping the other woman's jaw.

'God almighty!'

The redhead had turned her head to take Helena's thumb into her mouth; she was sucking and rasping her teeth along the digit. The young woman's head shot up.

The look she received was absolutely wanton; the words she heard, improbably, more-so.

"Skin. Now." Looked like the redhead wasn't so much with eloquence right now either.

Looked like she was also in a hurry about the skin thing. Helena watched Barbara pull herself slightly more upright, watched her grab the hem of Helena's tee with both hands. While the younger woman detected a twinkle in those emerald eyes, the low voice was utterly serious.

"I am fond of this shirt, Hel, but I promise you that if you don't help me get it off now, I will rip it off you."

O-kay.... A little demanding, maybe. The brunette smiled. Broadly. She liked demanding from Barbara.

Helena raised her arms, and the redhead tugged the tee over her head. The older woman's sharp gasp of appreciation and her hungry gaze roving over the brunette's chest sent tremors through the younger woman. As Barbara's hands came to rest on her bare shoulders and the redhead began to lean forward, Helena remembered that there was a helluva lot of other skin waiting to be uncovered.

"Hold that thought, Red."

Shifting to one side, she smiled winsomely through her lashes even as she hooked the waist of Barbara's flannel pants and began to tug the material down. In response to the brief flash of ... irritation? frustration? ... in those green eyes, Helena stopped tugging and looked directly at the redhead. She was so close to Barbara's center, the other woman's need so evident to her sensitive nose, that it took the young woman a moment to recognize the panic in green eyes.

Having lived and worked intimately with Barbara since the shooting, having witnessed the redhead's frustrations with her day-to-day limitations, having watched with barely concealed jealously the older woman's stilted and increasingly infrequent attempts at dating, Helena had a pretty good idea what lay behind the panic which was suddenly rolling off the other woman in waves. Still, during those years, the younger woman had continued to hope and dream, never letting herself forget that loving and pleasing the other woman -- much less Barbara allowing herself to be loved -- would not be simple. She'd had lots of time; so she'd done research, plowing through anything she could get her hands on at the library, tracing every possible link on the web. She also had watched the older woman, seen what she could and could not do; figured out where there might be hints of sensation just waiting to be coaxed into response. And, of course, she *knew* Barbara, knew that sharp mind and fiercely loving soul which would need as much, if not more, stimulation than her body would.

No way Helena was going to let a little -- well, judging from Red's face, a helluva lot of -- performance anxiety put a damper on things.

She looked up at the older woman, nodded towards the bunched flannel.

"May I?" Earnest blue eyes locked with frightened green. "I need to see you, touch you everywhere..."

Chapter 18

Barbara blew out a long, even breath. Well, she had told Helena 'Anything.'

She nodded once. Slowly.

Swallowing with difficulty, the redhead watched, amazed, as Helena simply seemed to stroke the flannel and her underwear down and off her legs. The brunette paused, balanced on her knees at Barbara's feet, and slowly dragged her eyes up the older woman's legs, past her knees, along her thighs, past her hips. Eyes a shade of gold that Barbara had never seen locked on hers, and that lush upper lip drew upward, exposing sharp white teeth and a decidedly... hungry look.

'Oh my.'

When she heard Helena speak through a throaty growl, Barbara felt a surge of heat rush through her face, her chest and belly, down her arms to her fingertips.

"Fuck. Me."

Still kneeling by the older woman's feet, the dark woman took a deep breath and rocked forward, wrapping her arms around herself for a moment. Barbara heard a purred exhalation as once-again blue eyes peeked up towards green and Helena smiled again, no less hungrily though perhaps a bit less dangerous-looking. The redhead wasn't sure what it said about herself, but she thought she missed the wicked, dangerous smile.

The brunette raked her hands down her own torso -- Barbara swallowed thickly --- and, in a sudden rush, pushed at the thin boxers she was still wearing, seemingly desperate to remove them. Barbara smirked, hearing a soft curse as the brunette wrestled one-handedly to shuck her boxers, even while running a hand up Barbara's legs. And then, confronted with a gloriously nude Helena, Barbara stopped smiling, possibly stopped breathing for a moment.

Over the years they'd been together, especially given the amount of doctoring she'd had to do on a fairly regular basis, Barbara had seen probably every inch of the younger woman. But, well, it certainly hadn't been like this. As green eyes devoured her, Helena sat absolutely motionless by the older woman's feet, her shallow breathing and the minute trembling of tightly torqued muscles bespeaking her excitement.

"C'mere," the redhead breathed. Hmmm, it appeared that she could do some growling of her own.

Barbara watched, transfixed, as the brunette sleekly stretched herself up the length of the redhead's body, mapping the unfeeling flesh of her legs with a gently trembling hand, nose and mouth brushing the skin as she scented the older woman's body. When Helena reached the juncture of Barbara's thighs, she halted her journey and locked still-blue eyes with green.

Barbara held the contact -- Too much; it was too much -- as the brunette brushed her face through the neatly trimmed patch of crimson. Barbara blinked rapidly at the low moan that erupted from the younger woman; my god, how could she be the cause of that unabashed want? The unmistakable sight of those dark hips jerking against her lower legs caused Barbara to emit her own less-voluble moan.

The redhead's hands flew out, fumbling for Helena's shoulders, desperate to feel her. And, then, Helena was on top of her -- face-to-face, breasts-to-breasts, hips-to-hips -- one leg gently insinuated between Barbara's.

'How could she *do* that,' Barbara wondered incongruously, 'suddenly just *be* there?'

Helena smiled and breathed out, "Hi there."

Charmed, and aroused, Barbara dragged the younger woman into a bruising kiss, pulling that lithe body down to rest fully on her own. The older woman experienced a moment of complete sensory overload: breathing stopped; there was no sound; even the room seemed to go dark for a moment. All that she knew, was aware of, was the feel of those lips against hers and the warm softness against her breasts.

When Barbara became aware of herself, of time, again, she felt Helena sucking at her pulse point and kneading one of her breasts. The brunette was purring, stroking herself against the redhead's stomach, as Barbara's hands moved randomly, almost jerkily against her back. Barbara heard sounds, words spilling from her own mouth, as she began to move her upper body increasingly frantically.

"Please... oh god... so good." Had *she* said that, the older woman wondered.

Delighted blue eyes danced into her field of vision just long enough for the redhead to comprehend the soft growl: "Damned straight, Red." The older woman was the recipient of a brief but ardent kiss before Helena ducked back to her chest.

Even as she frantically thrust her breasts up to that teasing mouth, Barbara realized that she honestly had no idea what she was so shamelessly pleading for. Watching Helena rake her hand up the outside of her thigh to clasp her hip, more turned on than she could ever remember, the redhead bitterly recognized that -- save for a faint warmth and tightness in her abdomen -- she could feel nothing, absolutely nothing ... there.

Green eyes squeezed shut in frustration, in anger for what had been denied to her... and to Helena. She was unable to fight off the tension that washed through her and hoped that the younger woman would mistake it for a different sort of tension.

The dark woman was suddenly on her knees between Barbara's calves. Barbara watched her running her hands up and down her legs, wishing that she could respond to that delicate touch and hungry gaze. Then, Helena spoke, eyes a clear blue, voice low and earnest.

"Do you know how long I've wanted this? To touch you everywhere? To look at you everywhere this?" Those amazing eyes briefly flickered gold. "To taste you everywhere?"

The redhead watched, amazed again, as the brunette ran her mouth and tongue up one calf, bestowed an open-mouthed kiss on the inside of the other thigh. Helena sat up, then flowed up, positioning herself on Barbara's left side, near her hip.

"Turn over...?" she panted.

The older woman didn't even think about it. With Helena's help, she positioned herself on her stomach. Then, then, Helena's hands and mouth and teeth and tongue were touching her shoulders and arms and back, stroking away one type of tension and replacing it with another. Then, then, Helena was stretching on top of her, rubbing her chest against Barbara's back, nipping at her neck, growling. The redhead identified the sudden movement against her hips as Helena's sudden jerk, coinciding with the younger woman's throaty, "Oh, fuck -- Barbara..."

Barbara felt her hand lifted, briefly pressed to the dark woman's center. How could she be so hot? So wet? Barbara had scarcely touched the other woman... The younger woman ground herself -- hard -- against the redhead's hand, and, on a moan of unadulterated want, Barbara flexed her fingers instinctively against that hot, liquid warmth... seeking, needing. When Helena moved her hand gently away, Barbara moaned in protest. The older woman thought she heard the soft words 'Not yet.'

And then, then, Helena's hands and mouth were on Barbara's hips and buttocks. With a thrill, the redhead realized that she could actually feel them; distantly, but still feel them.

As she'd healed from the shooting, discovering the limits of her autonomic control and the extent of her physical sensations, Barbara had been surprised to learn that she'd retained more sensation in her ... hindquarters ... than in other areas below her waist. Given that she spent most of her waking hours sitting on the area in question, she'd not always been convinced that this was a particular blessing; however, now, with the dark woman touching and teasing her there, Barbara didn't question the benefits.

Helena whispered something in French -- something about beautiful? definitely something about need -- as she moved her hands and mouth over normally dulled nerves which were now so highly sensitized that Barbara was sure she could feel the sensation of a warm tongue washing over her. Had she felt... yes, oh sweet heavens, yes, she had actually felt it.

And then, then, those slim hands, that soft demanding mouth moved just a bit -- was she going to... Oh heavens, she was -- and Barbara forgot propriety and embarrassment under the sweet teasing pressure, the warm probing tongue. The redhead lost all sense of time and space; her world simultaneously narrowed to the physical connection with Helena and expanded to her tremendous all-encompassing love and tenderness for the young woman. Barbara was vaguely aware of speaking, groaning and shouting, but had no idea what she was saying. However, she was most definitely aware of what she felt, the hungry clenching ache from somewhere low and deep within her. She struggled to push up on her elbows, turned her head enough to catch joyful, questioning blue eyes.

"Help me over, Love. I..." years of independence caused her to stumble over the word, but only for a split second, "I need you inside me."

There was no bright smile, Barbara noticed, as the younger woman gently helped her turn; the dark features were too intense, almost hawklike, blue eyes devouring her, breath panting through flared nostrils.

Barbara instinctively understood the question in the dark woman's features, nodded once as she reached down to help Helena spread her legs. Almost hyperventilating, she followed those slim hands as they moved back up her thighs, brushed through her pubic hair. Helena ducked her head, nose barely brushing the fiery thatch, and inhaled, slow and deep. The sheer volume of the purring that erupted from the brunette's chest startled the older woman; the words sent a charge of electricity through her.

"God, Barbara. You smell so good. You're so fuckin' wet." The dark head dipped, bashfully. "May I taste you?"

Barbara Gordon absolutely, totally ignored the nervousness washing through her. Just because she had limited sensation in some areas, she knew from bitter experience that she simply didn't... couldn't...

"Anything, Hel." The older woman was surprised by the steadiness of her voice.

The dark head lowered as Helena's hands moved between the redhead's thighs. Barbara's arousal increased -- impossibly, it seemed -- as she watched the brunette stroke her face against her. When the younger woman placed her mouth worshipfully against Barbara's center and emitted a throaty moan, the redhead gasped.

Was she really feeling that? Warmth, pressure, faint thrills radiating outward from her center. Barbara felt something wet trickling down her cheek but simply couldn't be bothered to consider the source as she marvelled at the sensations consuming her.

The brunette seemed content to continue her languid stroking indefinitely; however, while she'd always considered herself to be a patient woman, even Barbara had her limits. She moved a slightly trembling hand to stroke through dark silk.

"Helena, please..." Barbara couldn't have named when her voice held such a note of raw pleading. "Inside me. Oh, please, Love, please!"

Without breaking the rhythm of her stroking, the dark woman shifted slightly, moving her hand and, finally, finally that aching need was filled by slim fingers. World reduced to pure bright sensation, Barbara Gordon slid effortlessly into orgasm.

Chapter 19

Whoa. The brunette shook her head disbelievingly.

Helena had never, never, felt -- or heard -- someone come like that. Just the memory of the hoarse scream which had so recently echoed through the clock tower was enough to give her libido a jump start that it really didn't need. Even now, the currents of air whispering through the room from the slowly rotating ceiling fan burned her skin. The dark woman wanted to rub herself all over the other woman like some sort of cat in heat.

Helena sighed. 'I should move.'

Even if the redhead couldn't feel the body sprawled bonelessly over her legs, Helena was probably impeding blood flow to the extremities or something. Of course, even if Barbara could feel, it looked like she wasn't feeling much of anything right now. The older woman had, well, not actually passed out, but she was clearly in some other place.

Helena smirked; a pretty nice place if the expression on Barbara's -- her lover's -- face were any indication.

Of course, the brunette wasn't feeling too bad herself. The last few hours had single-handedly blown every fantasy she'd concocted over the last years completely out of the water. The feel, the taste of the older woman had been a feast to her soul. Barbara's reactions, the way she had so completely given herself over, let loose.... Whoa.

Helena shook her head again and grudgingly extricated herself from her human pillow. She crawled up the bed, smiling affectionately at the sight of the redhead still lying bonelessly. Reaching for one of the water bottles, her hand froze: Were those tears dotting red lashes? She swiped a thumb delicately across one lash and brought it to her mouth; yeah, tears alright.

Abandoning the water, the younger woman laid down next to the older woman, turning on her side to spoon tightly against her. The feel of her breasts tightly pressed to the other woman's arm heightened her need to be touched, and she flirted with the idea of touching herself, knowing that it wouldn't take much to relieve some of her burning need.

'Get a grip, Kyle. This isn't about...that.'

Helena forced herself to lie still, listening to Barbara's deep, regular breathing, exulting in the closeness, drinking in the sight of that finely sculpted face so relaxed and unguarded. Long minutes later, blue eyes watched red lashes flutter, green eyes focus lazily on her, a supremely satisfied smile transfix that beloved face.

Reaching up to cup the redhead's face, Helena pressed a soft open kiss to Barbara's shoulder and whispered, "Hi there." The older woman turned her head to press a kiss to the dark woman's palm, then chuckled abashedly.

"I half expected you to say something like 'Welcome back'."

The redhead turned to press her lips to shaggy bangs. "Good God, Helena. I've never... I... well..."

Barbara trailed off, looking amused at her own inarticulateness.

"Me neither, Babs. Really." Helena cleared her throat. "Are you okay?"

At the puzzled look, the brunette tenderly wiped a drying tear from the redhead's face.

"You, uh, tears?" she explained.

"They're a good kind, Hel. I'm fine, wonderful."

Relieved, Helena shifted to retrieve both water bottles, unscrewing the cap on one and handing it to the redhead before drinking deeply from her own. Barbara finished hers in several long swallows before smiling.

"Thanks. Guess I was a little thirsty. I'm glad you remembered these." A pause. "Why *did* you go get my chair?"

The younger woman deliberately focused on putting the cap back on her bottle, setting both on the table. "Just thought to snag it when I grabbed the water," she demurred.

"Bullshit." The word came out as an affectionate snort. "More likely the other way around."

Helena felt a blush touch her cheeks. "I just didn't want it to be so far from you. You know, if something... y'know... didn't-work-out-or-something", she blurted in a rush.

In case Barbara had come to her senses, she admitted to herself.

There was a moment of absolute quiet, then a soft chuckle.

"Hel, I can't imagine that you get tossed out of too many beds."

The voice became more serious, warmer. "But, I'm touched that you even thought of my needs. But, you always do, don't you? Another reason I love you so much, Helena Kyle."

The brunette released the breath she hadn't realized she was holding and shifted to lie on her side, one arm loosely draped over the redhead's waist. Barbara worked an arm under the younger woman's neck and shoulders, and Helena felt long fingers wind through the hair at her neck, scratching lightly. Purring, the dark woman murmured, "Love you, too, Barbara...".

Barbara shifted again slightly, and Helena opened golden eyes in time to see the older woman leaning over her, moving her head down to press a firm kiss to the corner of her mouth. Helena's hips bucked -- Oh, fuck, how she needed -- and the redhead moved a hand to cup one of her breasts. The brunette felt Barbara's thumb stroking her nipple, distantly wondered if the nipple could get any tighter, any hotter. Her hips continued their rocking, seeking contact and pressure, but finding only the minute space she kept between herself and older woman.

God-fucking-damnit. She was so hot and ready and just, just needing it. And she wouldn't just, just take from Barbara. The redhead had already made almost every dream she had come true; and, she just had no right... But, it was just so hard with the redhead stroking her hand teasingly down her stomach, breathing warmly on her neck, whispering in her ear, "What do you need, Sweetheart? What do you want? Remember? Anything...."

The brunette rolled, casually she hoped, onto her back; turned her face towards the outside of the bed. Barbara's hand was still on her stomach, but it traced further down to stroke her upper thighs before those long fingers whispered through coarse dark hair.

Helena swallowed, fought for a light tone.

"I'm, uh," Why was it so hard to think? "pretty easy to please..." The brunette trailed off helplessly, then tried again. She turned her head to catch emerald eyes with twinkling blue, "I mean, at this point, I think a long look from you might do it."

That probably wasn't too far off the mark, Helena realized. Looking into those hungry green eyes, seeing the features harden with something deep and wanting, she felt her nipples burn as her hips jerked again. Oh, crud, she had it bad.

A tongue trailed her ear. A quiet whisper, "Then I'd better stop looking because I certainly want more than that." Urgent need throbbed at the brunette's center, and she surrendered.

"Touch me, Barbara. Please. Now." The young woman felt tears burning her eyes and squeezed them back. She felt the redhead's quick intake of air, then two fingers were parting her folds, tracing lightly through her swollen, slick need. Helena's hips bucked again, seeking more, and one hand reached down to press the other woman more firmly against her center.

"Uhhh." Helena stopped her hand at the last minute, then raised both arms above her head to grip the heavy headboard tightly. She wouldn't push, force Barbara. Fingers digging into the wood, the younger woman bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from begging and crying and pleading.

The redhead seemed to recognize the overwhelming need, the unspoken supplication. She stopped the light, exploratory touches and, on a moan, drove deeply inside the brunette. The long hand was still for a moment; it felt so fucking good, but it wasn't enough. Helena planted her feet flat on the matress, opened her legs fully, and urgently thrust her hips against those long fingers. She tasted blood in her mouth, heard her own harsh panting, then felt the weight of the older woman's body shift onto her stomach, stilling the urgent thrusting for just a moment before Barbara found the rhythm and force that her body ached for. In next-to-no time, the dark woman burst into orgasm, the only word she knew spilling almost inaudibly through her tightly clenched teeth: "Bar-ba-ra."

Even as she continued to spasm and contract against the older woman's hand, Helena rolled them both over, wrapping herself on top of the redhead and burying her face in Barbara's shoulder. Barbara's hand stilled but the older woman made no motion to withdraw. In the throes of an ecstasy she'd never experienced, Helena continued to rock against that hand, grinding her upper body against the redhead, shuddering as the climax went on and on. Throughout, Barbara held her tightly, alternately moaning in sympathy and whispering words of love.

Long minutes later -- Jesus, how long had she been coming, Helena wondered on a blush -- the younger woman quieted, still glued on top of the older woman, gripped by complete lassitude. She pressed a kiss to that long creamy neck, and, blinking some moisture from her eyes, whispered hoarsely, "Yeah... Uh, that works too."

Barbara's hand slowly withdrew and wrapped around her back, stroking soothingly. An amused and deeply aroused chuckle vibrated against Helena's chest.

"Definitely my pleasure, Hel." The redhead's voice got a little deeper, husky. "Though, next time, you're going to have to let me spend more time..."

Shifting her head slightly, the brunette peered through her lashes and purred, "What time is it? The kid...?"

A tinkle of laughter. "Don't worry about it, Helena. She's sleeping over at Gabby's tonight."

Good, very good. Helena gently grasped Barbara's shoulder between her teeth, shaking her head. She growled, "Good. That's very good."

Chapter 20

And it had been good, *very* good. Twice more, in fact. The redhead allowed herself a Cheshire grin as she took another sip of tea.

Immediately after her prolonged climax, Helena had turned playful. Oh, definitely still sensual, loving, demanding, but also, at loss for a better word, Barbara settled on 'cute'. Purring, playfully growling and nipping at the older woman, bathing probably every square inch of the redhead with a teasing, rasping tongue. Who would have thought that the stud in the younger woman's tongue could feel so amazing...? After seemingly hours of the delicious play, Barbara had succumbed to the demanding mouth on her neck and to the delicate hands which had coaxed every sensation from everywhere possible below her waist, and she'd slipped joyfully into orgasm.

Helena had barely tugged the covers over the two women and spooned tightly to Barbara before the redhead dropped into a satiated, dreamless sleep. She had awakened at dawn to the almost inaudible rumble of the brunette's low purring and to the sensation of the younger woman kneading her breast and gently undulating against her in sleep.

The flare of arousal had been urgent. Barbara had pulled a half-asleep, but patently delighted, Helena into a deep kiss, whispering her need thickly. It felt like mere moments passed -- the brunette raggedly whispering how hot and wet, how tight, how wonderful she felt -- before the older woman had climaxed again and dropped back into exhausted slumber, even as she was dreamily planning ways to return the pleasure.

When she awoke again, the sun was fully up, and Barbara Gordon was quite alone in her bed. For a long panicky moment, the redhead feared that it had all been just another dream... a vivid, vivid dream. She'd pulled herself upright, mentally regrouping. Her heart rate calmed as she noticed, first, that she was naked although she never slept in the buff and, second, that there was a steaming cup of coffee beckoning from the bedside table. A split-second later, sipping from the cup, the redhead heard the sound of her shower running and, of course, Helena singing softly.

In your eyes I can still see the look of the one who really loves me
The one who wouldn't put anything else in the world above me
I can still see love for me in your eyes
And there ain't no way
I'm lettin' you go now...

Definitely more upbeat, but, honestly, pop-country? The redhead had smiled broadly and shook her head, allowing the bouncy tune to energize her from the cocoon of her bed.

'Cause I'm keeping you forever and for always
We will be together all of our day
Wanna wake up every morning to your sweet face always

By the time Helena had emerged, in a pair of skin-tight faded jeans and a not-quite-see-through tank top, Barbara had moved to the kitchen where she was laying out a spread suitable for a professional football team. For some reason, the redhead was absolutely famished.

Oh. That. A wide smile split the redhead's face as she meandered down specific portions of memory lane for a moment.

Helena had bounced into the kitchen, practically skidding to a stop when she spied the older woman, covered only by a loosely tied robe, preparing to tuck into a lumberjack-sized bowl of oatmeal. It had been quick, but the look of raw... want... Barbara caught flickering through those cobalt eyes had nearly caused her to pour her cream in her lap rather than on her cereal.

The younger woman had smiled shyly through her lashes and then glided across the floor in response to the redhead's raised hand. She'd then leaned on the arms of the chair and kissed Barbara -- deeply, thoroughly, breath-stoppingly. My, but Helena Kyle knew how to kiss.

Snagging a bagel, the brunette had almost shuffled her feet, stammering something about it being later than she'd thought, about an appointment at the Dark Horse to get her schedule in order after her sick leave. Still dazed from the good morning kiss, from everything in the last 20 hours or so, Barbara had been letting the words wash through her, trying not to feel too selfishly disappointed that she wouldn't have the younger woman in her arms again all day.

A shyly spoken question permeated her none-too-subtle thoughts about cream, about the way Helena was playing with her bagel, about just what might make up a "complete breakfast"...

"And then, tonight, I'll come by for sweeps... and... I mean... if you want?"

Heart twisting that Helena had even felt the need to ask, the redhead had tangled her fingers with the brunette's. She'd kept it short and sweet.

"I want."

It was now mid-afternoon. Dinah was in her room napping -- apparently there hadn't been much sleeping going on at the sleep-over at Gabby's. Barbara pinched the bridge of her nose, realizing that The Talk was looming. Of course, considering her own activities of much of the night before...

The redhead blushed and returned her attention to the Delphi. She'd just completed the final tweaks to a decryption algorithm, and now several processors were laboriously unencrypting the terabytes of data which had been downloaded to the New Gotham Sports Arena during the night. Barbara resumed her research on Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn.

So far, given what she'd learned from her younger partner yesterday, there were no real surprises other than the fact that, apparently, the insane blonde was being true to her word with Helena. There wasn't a single shred of evidence that, in the last two years, Quinn or her flunkies had engaged in anything more significant than burglarizing other criminals' headquarters and possibly forgetting to report off-track-betting gains on their annual tax returns.

The cyber-crime-fighter was not pleased. She needed something more than sadistic sex and emotional brutalization to get the blonde off the streets and safely locked away, out of Helena's life. And, Barbara was under no illusions that it would take anything less than that to get the woman's clutches from the younger woman. Of course, when -- If? The word spun sickeningly through the redhead's mind -- the brunette ended her current arrangement with Quinn, it was distinctly possible that the unhinged woman would snap, giving the crime-fighters just the ammunition they needed.

When. If. The two words pirouetted through Barbara's thoughts.

Surely, now that her burden had been laid bare, Helena would see the wisdom in coming up with an alternate plan, a way to end the... the torture that... the bitch had been subjecting young woman to for almost two years.

'Easy there, Red.'

Calming herself slightly, Barbara sighed as she realized that it might not be as simple as laying out the logical arguments, even the illogical and more powerful emotional reasons, about why the dark woman could, *must* stop. After this amount of time, the younger woman was possibly too enmeshed, possibly seeing her current situation as the most expeditious way to keep Gotham, and Barbara, safe from Quinn... and the Joker. The 'arrangement' -- the redhead's mouth turned down sourly at the term -- obviously would leave scars.

Barbara replayed that last thought, transposing it against the events of the night before. Emerald eyes blinked, unsuccessfully attempting to hold back tears, as she realized that the scars were, of course, already evident and deep.

As sensual and giving and passionate as the younger woman had been last night, Barbara felt certain that she'd been holding back. There had been none of the easy display of natural animal sexuality, the light openness, that Helena had shown last week... when she'd still had several truck-sized gaps in her memory.

Even Helena's hesitation in asking, in allowing, Barbara to pleasure her bespoke, in the light of day, an uncertainty that the older woman would not have anticipated from the brunette. Despite the jaw-dropping intensity and duration of Helena's climax, it had been so quiet, so controlled, as if the brunette hadn't dared to show herself fully to Barbara.

Of course, there was also the matter of the blood. As she'd showered after Helena's departure, the redhead had noticed dried blood on her skin by several of the play-bite marks. Since the younger woman had certainly done nothing to draw blood from her partner, it didn't take a mind as sharp as Barbara's to reach a conclusion about its source.

Barbara impatiently exhaled: how self-absorbed *had* she been to overlook the signs that the younger woman was holding herself back in their union?

The redhead briefly entertained thoughts of some self-castigation, then dismissed the idea. Last night had been, unquestionably, overwhelming. Finally expressing what she'd been hiding for so many years; finally, under Helena's loving, skillful hands, overcoming deeply ingrained fears of her shortcomings; finally, sharing such an intense bonding with the younger woman. Truthfully, numerous times the night before, the older woman had itched to focus her attentions solely on her younger partner; however, she'd made the conscious decision to let Helena take the lead, not to pressure her. And, she smiled softly, it had simply been impossible to resist being swept away by the overwhelming force of nature that was Helena Kyle.

Clearly, there were some issues that she'd need to address, delicately, in the not-too-distant future. Issues that she simply would not allow to become stumbling blocks in the tenuous path the two women were forging.

The redhead snorted irritably and idly wondered if someone like Alfred could handle the delicate emotional issues on her behalf. The thought elicited a short bark of laughter from her and a somewhat odd look from Dinah, who had just wandered into the living area.

"Are you using the T-1 line to surf for Stupid Redhead Jokes...again?", the teen asked suspiciously.

This time, the laugh was softer and more genuine. "Nothing quite so frightening, D. Just had an idle thought about Alfred." Neatly diverting the conversation, the older woman added, "How was dinner last night? You did remember to thank Gabby's mom, didn't you?"

With that tiny nudge, the young blonde was off: Of course, she'd thanked Gabby and her mom; the two girls *had* probably stayed up too late with a marathon monopoly session; Dinah had actually gotten Gabby's mom's recipe; did Barbara know that adding dried onion soup mix really perked up a meatloaf?

Barbara listened patiently, engaging the teen and attempting to gauge what subtext might lie behind the enthusiastic narrative. Eventually, the redhead managed to wind the conversation down by suggesting that Dinah inventory the kitchen and draw up a shopping list so that she could attempt to replicate the mouth-watering meatloaf recipe for the two older women.

Smiling fondly and hoping that she hadn't just made a big, big mistake with the cooking suggestion, the older woman turned back to the Delphi. The decryption program was still churning along; Barbara wasn't quite sure how she'd feel if, after hours of processing, she discovered that someone was merely bootlegging tickets at the arena.

In the meantime, she intended to update the background check parameters used on the staff at Arkham. While it was clear how Quinzel... Quinn.. could have slipped through -- after all, she'd been a renown psychiatrist for years before succumbing to the Joker's madness, Barbara intended to re-validate every staff member in the off chance of weeding out another crony or henchman of the Joker.

For now, it was the very least she could do to help alleviate a part of the driving factors behind Helena's 'arrangement' with Quinn. And, as she worked, the beginning of some other actions she could take began to percolate through Barbara's mind. She *would* do whatever it took to relieve Helena of the terrible burden she'd been carrying.

Chapter 21

Helena carried another rack of clean beer mugs out of the kitchen and thumped her burden none-too-gently on the bar.

Things at The Dark Horse had been busier than usual, probably the influx of returning college kids, and Leonard had been quite adamant that Helena was needed to work that very night. He'd been right about how busy things were, the brunette admitted crankily. Now, not only was she having to duck from behind the bar to perform double-duty as a busboy, but Helena realized that she wouldn't be getting off work early and, consequently, not seeing Barbara for just that much longer. Despite the healthy tips showered her way -- Didn't know what it was; there just seemed to be something about a sexy woman in black leather serving drinks that encouraged frat boys to open their wallets a bit more -- the young woman was not in the best of moods. She did not want to be working tonight, she reflected petulantly; she wanted to be with Barbara. Now. And repeatedly.

Consequently, when Helena finally extricated herself from behind the bar, a full 45 minutes after her shift should have ended, her first thought as she shrugged into her duster was to fly across the roofs of the city and land at the redhead's feet...and, well, just work her way up.

Already on the roof of her apartment above the bar, the brunette pulled the necklace and small earring from the pocket of her coat and slipped the comm set on, deciding to check in before heading back to the clock tower. Barb...Oracle might want her to run a sweep now, on her way in, instead of heading back out later. For some reason, the young woman suspected that once she got to the clock tower, in the presence of the other woman, it would be just that much harder to go back out on sweeps.

She activated the tiny unit and spoke quietly. "Oracle? Do you copy?"

There was a slight exhalation over the headset, clearly audible to the younger woman's enhanced hearing; then, the warm, calm tones of the Oracle were filling Helena's head, jump starting a slow, throbbing beat in her lower body.

<"I copy, Huntress. Everything alright on your end? Are you available?">

Boy, was she available, the brunette nearly growled. Instead, she breathed slowly, allowing her eyes to revert to blue, and answered quietly, "Things were a little busy earlier; I'm free now. What's up?"

The reply, although in the same warm, calm tone, was just a little rushed. <"It's bizarre, Huntress. Alarms have been going off all over the city for the last hour; break-ins, hold-ups, muggings, several arson reports.">

The dark woman clearly heard the sound of rapid-fire typing.

<"I've been re-routing as many of the minor problems as possible to private security firms, but things are getting out of hand. I haven't seen this much activity at once in ... years.">

There was the faintest of stumbles in the redhead's voice at the last word. Helena chose to ignore it and focus on what she could do.

Respiration shallowing out in anticipation of the hunt, the dark woman purred, "Where do you need me, Oracle?"

At the warm reply, her eyes glowed yellow, and this time, the Huntress made no attempt to clamp down on the response. Sounded like she wouldn't be getting back to Barbara any time soon; a little good ass-kicking might be just the thing.

Four and a half hours later, Helena was realizing there was no "a little" related to the quantity of ass-kicking she'd been engaged in. The entire city had just gone fucking nuts in one night; that was the only explanation.

She'd been running from one crime scene to another, stopping en route to foil the occasional mugging, and still couldn't see any pattern to the crimes. A convenience store robbery here; jewelry store burglary at the same moment across town; apartment fire by the docks. The only constant was the steady stream of muscle-bound baddies at all of the scenes. There hadn't been fewer than three of the goons at every crime scene -- including the little old lady who'd had her walker stolen -- and the Huntress was beginning to feel, well, not exactly pressured, but sort of ganged-up-on.

Through the hours, Oracle had been with her every step of the way, directing her to the spots where she could do the most good, leaving messages for the police about the locations of the neatly wrapped goons subdued by the dark woman, puzzling over the sudden deluge in criminal activity.

Quiet for a moment, Helena now stood atop the low ledge on the roof of an eight story building, watching the NGFD finish extinguishing a fire in a building across the street, a building from which she had just rescued two young kids before returning to rescue one's dog and the other's doll.

A freakin' doll? Just how soft was she getting?

And, why wasn't there some sort of beverage dispenser in this damned coat, she wondered as she coughed softly. Running through fire sure made a body thirsty. Too bad she hadn't snagged a slurpee at the last Quicky Mart she'd saved from the clutches of evil.

A rumble from her stomach caused her to amend her wish: too bad she hadn't snagged a slurpee and some Slim Jims. Had that bagel this morning really been the only thing she'd eaten all day? In that case, maybe something more than jerky was called for. She could just pop back by the convenience store -- wasn't too far away -- just to make sure the clerk was alright; he had seemed kind of shaken up. While she was there, there'd be no harm in picking up a few things. Hell, judging from the look of gratitude on the teenage clerk's face, she doubted she'd even have to pay for them. Let's see: coupla candy bars for starters, then some Cheetos -- no, she'd probably get cheesy orange fingerprints all over her leathers...

A concerned voice cut into her shopping list. <"Huntress? GPS shows you stationary across from the last fire. Is everything okay?">

Sheesh, couldn't a girl take a minute? "I'm just dandy..."

Realizing that neither the hectic night nor her hunger pains were the redhead's fault, Helena blew out a breath and lost the sarcastic edge.

"Sorry, Oracle. Just taking a breather, thinking of grabbing a bite before duty calls again." A sinking feeling washed over her. "Don't tell me: duty's already calling?"

The laughter was soft. <"No, Huntress. It looks like things have finally calmed down. Why don't you come on in?">

Despite her eagerness to see the other woman, Helena really couldn't face the thought of their mandatory post-sweeps debriefing with nothing but some pop-tarts from the cupboard to sustain her. Especially since, after the debriefing, there'd hopefully be more... 'debriefing', her mind leered, to do. And, she had gotten a couple of tiny boo-boos during her heroics; Barbara would undoubtedly want to... check those out. Yeah, she was gonna need a good meal on her stomach.

The brunette blinked, cleared her throat.

"Will do, Oracle. I'm just gonna grab something from the Burger Hut or something. Want anything?"

<"Actually, we have leftovers here, Huntress. It would save you a stop.">

The tone was oddly, endearingly hopeful; kind of like Red was looking forward to seeing her as much as she wanted to see the redhead.

A more genuinely happy lilt in her voice, the brunette started towards the clocktower and asked hopefully, "The 'Big A' cooked tonight?" Alfred really knew his way around a saucepan.

<"Something like that. We do have homemade cooking to feast on.">

The response was enigmatic but full of laughter. Red had been laughing a lot in the last day, hadn't she? Helena was pretty sure that she liked that.

Wait a minute; the all-knowing Oracle had kind of danced around the younger woman's question about who did the cooking, hadn't she?

Feeling a little panicked, Helena prepared to backtrack to the Burger Hut. No way she was going to serve as a human garbage disposal for another of the redhead's fiery culinary creations. Barbara was an amazingly talented, sexy, intelligent, sexy, funny, sexy... Where had she been going with this? Oh yeah, Barbara and the kitchen; they simply didn't mix.

During the first years that the older woman had been her guardian, Barbara had seemed determined to prove her fitness for the position by demonstrating her non-existent domestic skills. Clothes that got bleached in the washing machine, the young Helena Kyle could handle that; hell, they'd actually looked kind of cool on her. But, the array of truly awful dishes that the redhead had turned out regularly was above and beyond what any human being should endure.

Helena had spent many an evening in those early years pretending to eat and then slipping out of the apartment in search of something edible. Oddly, on those occasions when she brought back an extra sandwich or helping of Chinese and left the it in the kitchen, the food just seemed to disappear during the evening and the older woman sure looked a lot less... pinched afterward. Wisely, Barbara had finally accepted her culinary limitations, allowing Alfred to cook and package food for them on a regular basis. Everybody had been happier all around.

So, now what could have persuaded Red to venture back to the kitchen?

Preparing to locate a fire escape and drop to the streets in search of snack food, the brunette realized that she was too late: the clock tower balcony was immediately ahead, and it would just raise too many flags if the GPS showed her veering off at the last moment. Landing soundlessly, Helena decided she'd just have to suck it up; if Barbara had cared enough to... cook -- the brunette swallowed hard -- well, she was just going to damned well enjoy the fruits of her woman's labor. The dark woman sniffed cautiously; the faint aroma of something... well, it wasn't burned, that was encouraging... tickled her nose.

Still trying to identify the lingering odor -- it was kind of onion-y, she thought -- the brunette entered the living area silently. Absolutely no surprise, Barbara was doing something, somethings probably, at the Delphi. The surprise for the younger woman came from the strength of her reaction to the other woman. Crimson hair spilling over her shoulders, half-glasses slipping down her nose, eyebrows crinkled in concentration, smudge of toner on one cheek; Helena thought she would come, or melt, or both at the sight.

As she approached the Delphi platform, the brunette moved slowly, deliberately rustling her duster, not wanting to startle the older woman. Even when the redhead swung herself around, a beautiful smile on her beautiful face, Helena kept her pace deliberate until she reached Barbara's side. There, she slowly lowered herself to her knees, wrapping her arms around the older woman's waist and resting her head against the redhead's abdomen.

Long fingers raked through dark hair for a few minutes before Helena heard the quiet murmur: "You must be exhausted, Hel; not to mention hungry."

Not looking up, Helena replied, voice utterly sincere, "I'm great now. I missed you."

Of course, she couldn't just let that hang out there, so, after a beat, she added lightly, "Something smells good."

The older woman bent to place a soft kiss in her hair, then responded, "Dinah cooked meatloaf; it's actually pretty good."

Helena maintained her position, face resting in the older woman's lap, and pointedly sniffed before raising her head. Twinkling blue eyes met green as she purred, "That's not what I was talking about."

The brunette watched the redhead blush to the roots of her hair -- How healthy could that be for her? -- even as she finally comprehended Barbara's statement about dinner.

She blurted, "The Kid cooked?! And it's, uh, edible?"

Returning to a healthier color, Barbara laughed.

"Yes, Helena. Dinah cooked; it's edible, actually rather good. I understand that the secret has to do with dried soup mix."

She apparently noticed the brunette's look of concern, laughed again. "Don't worry, I won't get any ideas about trying it out myself! Go get washed up, and I'll fix a plate for you."

Helena obediently dropped her duster on the couch and headed into the bathroom. As she divested herself of the grime and gunk that seemed to accumulate in fighting crime, she clearly detected the savory aroma of warming food, and her stomach rumbled loudly. The younger woman's attempts to hasten her toilette came to a halt when she felt the small beeper in her pocket go off.

There was only one person who had the number for this text-message beeper, and, based on their usual schedule, Helena hadn't expected to hear from her for another week or so. Wanting to cry, she fumbled the unit out. Fuck, couldn't she have just one day to believe the pretty dream she was having?

The dark woman wondered how such a brief message could affect her so.

"7PM - HQ".

Clearing the message, she finished drying her hands and moved towards the kitchen. Helena hoped she could do justice to Dinah's cooking; she'd quite lost her appetite.

Chapter 22

Barbara sat at the kitchen table watching the younger woman pick listlessly at her long-overdue dinner -- Honestly, she hadn't thought the meatloaf was that bad -- as they discussed the night's crime wave.

"It certainly was odd," the redhead continued, "nothing terribly major ... for New Gotham, or dangerous -- especially once you got on the scenes, but everything was just terribly...."

"Aggravating?" suggested the brunette on a growl, taking a miniscule bite of meatloaf and looking rather bilious.

"I was going to say 'coincidental', all hell breaking out at once."

Coincidental, indeed, the older woman wondered for the umpteenth time that night.

In the late afternoon, Barbara's revised parameters for checking and cross-checking the staff at Arkham had hit pay-dirt, allowing her to spot deep-cover criminal identities of two staff members, a nurse and an orderly, which linked them to the Joker. Appropriate anonymous flags on the two workers' files and a timely data-dump to Arkham's administrative computer had resulted in the two being picked up by the NGPD within hours for questioning and guaranteed that these two would have no more contact with the green-haired inmate. Given that the coordinated mayhem had erupted within hours -- even though, for now, Barbara had suppressed Quinzel's link to the Joker -- the chance of coincidence seemed slim indeed.

The redhead debated telling Helena about her afternoon's activities and getting the brunette's take on the situation; after all, she certainly would have a better sense of how Quinn reacted than Barbara did. However, observing the other woman's marked lack of enthusiasm for the their post-sweeps debriefing, Barbara decided to table the topic until morning. Helena looked exhausted, not surprising given that she'd been on the go almost all day then plunged back into a hellacious night of crime-fighting while coming off her injuries.

The younger woman also needed something more substantial than the few bites of dinner she'd eaten.

Oblivious to her own abrupt conversational shift, Barbara asked, "Would you like a sandwich, Hel? Or... something else?"

The redhead briefly furrowed her brow; just because she couldn't identify it immediately, certainly there was some sort of food that could be scrounged.

The brunette gave up her pretense of eating and stood, carrying her plate to the sink.

"Nah, not really hungry."

More concerned by this statement than by the fact that Helena hadn't jumped all over the innuendo she'd left herself wide open for with the 'something else' remark, Barbara blurted, "Helena, you're always hungry....".

Even as the words left her mouth, the younger woman turned, smiling softly and raising a hand to forestall the automatic response from the older woman.

"Right now, Red, I'm just kinda tired."

Well, that made sense; neither woman had gotten much sleep in the last 24 hours. Honestly, she could use some rest herself; tomorrow -- today, the redhead corrected herself, it was only hours from dawn -- was an in-service day for the faculty at NGHS to prepare for the new semester.

Voice encouraging, the older woman spoke, "Let's turn in, shall we?"

The dark head come up, a positively adorably hesitant look gracing the gamine features. Waving a hand in the general direction of Dinah's room as she took a step closer, the brunette softly asked, "Are you sure you want me to stay? I can head out...".

The question caught the redhead off guard. Modesty, embarrassment, concern with propriety in front of Dinah; none of these had ever been at the top of Helena's short list of things to worry about in front of the blonde. Quite the opposite, she seemed to delight in testing the deepness and frequency of the blushes she could elicit from the teenager. 'And from me', Barbara noted.

Again, Barbara Gordon kept her answer short and sweet. She stretched up and placed her hand gently to the dark cheek, warming as the younger woman turned her head into the touch.

"I'm sure. I want."

Seeing the blue eyes duck away from her gaze, Barbara pointedly ignored her own desires and added, "Unless you want ... to head back to your apartment, Hel. But, make no mistake, I *do* want you here."

In a blink, the dark woman was straddling Barbara's lap, knees planted on the seat of the manual chair.

'Good grief, she's going to give me a heart attack...'

The remainder of the thought was lost to the feel of soft lips touching Barbara's mouth, feather-light and warm. Barbara threaded her hands in shaggy hair and opened her mouth to the insistently exploring tongue, losing herself in the connection with the younger woman. A long, lovely minute later, Helena scooted back infinitesimally, and the redhead drew a deep breath, attempting to collect her wits.

What had they been talking about?

"Super," the younger woman purred, scratching her index finger lightly over a rapidly-hardening nipple just visible under the redhead's shirt.

'Yes, yes, things were pretty super, weren't they?'

Briefly falling under the hypnotic spell of intense yellow eyes, Barbara caught herself -- had she been thinking 'super'? -- and blinked, several times, to clear her head. She wondered if one of the younger woman's meta-human traits included the ability to turn her into a blithering nitwit with little more than a sly look or a teasingly stroking finger.

"Super?", the redhead echoed, still attempting to ravel the threads of their conversation together.

The brunette offered as saucy grin as she disentangled herself. Deciding to create as little rope to hang herself as possible, the older woman remained quiet, watching as Helena moved across the kitchen and opened the cupboard below the range. Focusing attentively on the other woman -- well, actually on the shapely rear end encased in tight black leather -- as she bent over and rattled pots and pans in the cabinet, Barbara heard a muffled reply.

"Yeah, 'super'." The brunette's voice supplied pronounced quotation marks around the word. "Like, uhm, that makes me really happy, Babs."

There was a slight twist of that lithe body before Barbara was pinned by a twinkling blue eye. Busted, the redhead realized with a blush; Helena knew exactly where her eyes had been focused.

The older woman opted to respond with an innocent look and a slightly raised eyebrow. Over the years of dealing with students' excuses for unfinished assignments and with young wards attempting to convince her that hangovers were 'just a touch of food poisoning', the redhead had found The Eyebrow to be a significant weapon in her arsenal. It seemed to be helping here as Helena returned to her rummaging and talking.

"...but why don't you go ahead?" The brunette emerged from the cupboard, brandishing a small saucepan. "I'm just gonna clean up in here a little and make some cocoa. Do you want some? Or some tea?"

Finally back on solid footing, Barbara smiled fondly. "No, thank you, Sweetie. I'm fine."

As she wheeled from the kitchen, heading towards the Delphi, the redhead deliberately lowered her voice and tossed over her shoulder, "Don't be long; I've been missing you, too."

The sound of some utensil clattering on the counter -- When was the last time the dark woman had dropped something? -- accompanied the redhead's exit. Still grinning, Barbara checked the decryption program -- only 20% done -- hearing the sound of dishes being rinsed and smelling milk warming on the stove.

The redhead had brushed her teeth and changed into her usual nightwear and was just settling herself on the bed, hairbrush in hand, when she detected the approaching odor of chocolate. A moment later, starting to run the brush through her hair -- 'One hundred strokes, my lower back', she mentally groused -- she saw the brunette pad into the room carrying a Starbucks-sized mug of steaming hot chocolate and a single graham cracker.

Cheerfully damning herself for a lecherous old crime-fighter, Barbara watched the younger woman settle her mug and snack on the dresser before quickly stripping herself of ass-kicking boots, leather pants, and leather shirt. That left the brunette in, well, not much: French-cut panties and a small tank top. Oh my.

As Helena retrieved her mug and swallowed a sip with positively indecent, nearly-orgasmic pleasure, Barbara resisted the urge to tease. Instead, attacking her hair with a little more vigor than usual, she observed, "Smells good."

"Mmmmmm-huh", she heard the brunette concur. "Want some?"

Hair brushed forward over her face, struggling with a snarl, the older woman was just able to see a slim torso approaching the bed, mug extended in one hand. She tossed the crimson mess out of her face and automatically reached for the warm mug, even as she demurred.

"Really, I shouldn't, Hel. You love it so."

The matress dipped slightly as the younger woman crawled behind Barbara on the bed. Taking a tiny sip from the mug, the redhead allowed Helena to take the hairbrush from her other hand. Then, the brush was moving through the red hair in long sure strokes as the brunette lightly replied.

"That's why I made extra, Red. I know you like it too, even if you pretend that you're all grown up and only drink perfectly proper hot tea." The brush paused and a mouth purred next to the older woman's ear. "You didn't think I planned to drink that entire...tureen by myself, did you?"

The redhead laughed softly and took another sip. Almost purring herself from the warmth of the sweet liquid and the feel of the younger woman's hands in her hair, Barbara sighed.

"That feels wonderful, Hel. Sometimes I think I should just have the whole mess chopped off; it'd certainly be less trouble."

The brush faltered, then the slow sure strokes resumed. The response was quiet.

"Yeah, I can see that. And, you'd look damned hot with a Wynona Ryder 'do. But, uh," Barbara easily heard the hesitation in the younger woman's voice. "maybe you could keep it long for a little while more?"

The redhead reached a hand back slightly and stroked one lean, bare thigh softly. "For as long as you, we, both want, Sweetheart."

Curiosity got the best of her.

"But, I didn't know you had a special affinity for long hair, Hel...?" After all, since chopping her waist-length hair off shortly after the murder of her mother, the brunette had been a staunch advocate of the ruffle-it-and-go freedom of short hair.

Instead of an answer, the brushing stopped and slim fingers came to rest against the older woman's sides. The brunette requested softly, "May I?".

Barbara nodded, and Helena shifted them both on the bed so that she was reclined against the headboard with the older woman seated between her legs, leaning against her chest. Only then did the gentle strokes with the brush resume as the younger woman responded.

"Not long hair in general, Barbara. Just yours."

Barbara was sure she detected a breathiness to the next words.

"Do you know how long I've dreamed about this, Red?" The hairbrush briefly danced in the older woman's peripheral vision. "Wondered how it would feel?"

The older woman sipped again from the mug, darned if she wasn't drinking most of it, before setting the cup on the bedside table. Further lulled by the soothing strokes, the warmth in her stomach, and the delicious heat and softness of her human pillow, she felt completely relaxed and drowsy.

Blinking her eyes against sleep, she murmured, "And how does it feel, Hel?"

The last thing Barbara heard before slipping into a dreamless sleep was a single, low word.


Chapter 23

"Hello, Tiger. Bet you weren't expecting to hear from me so soon. But, honestly, it's just *super* to see you again."

The faux-innocent tone, in combination with the use of that particular word, grated on the brunette; she didn't attempt to keep the sour expression from her face and the ire from her tone as she entered Harleen Quinzel's penthouse apartment.

"What the fuck was that about last night?"

Helena crossed to one of the leather wing chairs and flung herself into it. The minute her pager had gone off yesterday, there had been no doubt in the younger woman's mind who was behind the mysterious crime wave of the night before.

The blonde's reply was decidedly snappish. "Just trying to get your attention, Helena. Someone certainly got mine yesterday."

At that, the brunette realized she was deeply, deeply at sea; maybe it was time to tone things down a bit and try to find out what was going on. Looked like the good doctor had noticed her confusion; she was practically cackling:

"You *don't* know, then, do you? Hmmm, how utterly delicious."

Helena was pretty sure she didn't like the sound of that.

Quinn continued, chirping brightly, as she moved to the wet bar. "And, of course, you have my sincerest apologies for last night's little misunderstanding, Helena. Let's just chalk it up to my giving you a socially acceptable way to work off all of that anti-social anger of yours, shall we?"

"Thanks so much, Quinn, but, I've been, uh, doing a lot of yoga and, uh, Zen shit recently...." Helena couldn't resist the jab, "And, of course, after our court-mandated sessions to work through my 'anger issues'", her fingers made quote marks in the air, "I'm just a walking center of karmic fucking calm now."

Quinn laughed delightedly, and Helena was uncomfortably reminded that the blonde always had appreciated her sarcastic edge, that she'd always 'gotten' her.

She tracked the older woman with golden eyes as she approached and handed Helena one of the two scotches she'd prepared. The brunette took a sip and watched Quinn pace, trying to decipher the meaning behind the words suddenly pouring forth.

"I can just smell your curiousity, Tiger. And, yes, I will get to that. But, right now I simply must think a moment, reconsider the Arkham situation and my role... Oh my goodness, let's be honest, shall we? Our role there."

Helena suppressed a shudder as the blonde laughed gaily. 'Arkham? What about Arkham? What about Arkham and *them*?'

"I just knew," the older woman continued, setting her drink down, "that you were a woman of your word, dear Helena. Intense brooding anger, all of that lovely, lovely potential for pain and violence, yet still carrying that flag of honor a mile wide. It's almost trite...". The other woman trailed off for a moment, almost like she'd forgotten that the brunette was present. "Yet, oddly, so appealing to me."

Seeming to come back into the moment -- at least as much as the psycho could, Helena thought bitchily -- Quinn blinked at the younger woman and continued softly.

"That's neither here-nor-there, is it? But, you have to admit, don't you, Helena," Here, she paused again and the brunette shivered under the desperate sincerity in the older woman's gaze, "that I've been true to my word? That you've been able to trust me? Haven't I been, darling?"

Clearly, some sort of response was called for here. Helena decided to go with what usually proved to be the best option, the truth.

"Yeah. I mean, I was a little surprised, y'know."

Another brittle laugh scraped the brunette's tense nerves. Sometimes, the woman was just nails on a chalkboard, wasn't she? Hell, most of the time.

"Well, of course you were, Helena. Trust is such a difficult emotion, isn't it?"

Helena set her drink aside, watching with some disbelief as her former therapist, in her $800 suit, slid to the floor, wrapping her arms around her legs, resting her chin on her raised knees. She looked so small; and kind of scared and lonely. As the petite woman simply sat for a moment, Helena fought the urge to go to her, offer some sort of solace. It had always been one of her big faults -- Barbara called it a virtue, as-if! -- this need to comfort others who were in pain.

The urge evaporated abruptly as pale, pale blue eyes locked with gold. Again, the younger woman was reminded of facing a cobra.

She thought that Quinn was going to say more; instead, the woman rolled onto all fours and crawled over to the brunette. Helena shifted minutely as she felt the petite woman raising herself along one of the her leather-clad legs before resting both hands on the tops of Helena's thighs. The brunette shifted again as pale fingers teased. As the blonde placed her face on one of Helena's thighs, the younger woman fought a quick wave of nausea at the similarity to her position with Barbara just last night. When Quinn breathed warmly against her center, Helena fought the tidal wave of arousal coursing over her.

Already ramped up by a combination of anger and fear, the younger woman mentally cursed at the difficulty she had in denying her body's needs... desires... in her augmented state.

'C'mon, you can do it.... This isn't how you want this to go down, is it? Just, uh, breathe in.... Oh, shit! Gotta get her mouth off...'

Helena blew out a relieved... no, frustrated... no, definitely relieved breath when Quinn suddenly disengaged herself and stood up.

"Oh dear." A teasing moue transformed her features as the blonde lilted, "Where *are* my manners, Helena? You must be simply starving, and I have been cooking for hours. Special occasion, you know."

Knowing that Quinn would fill her in about the "special occasion" and Arkham and whatever-the-hell-else was on her mind only when she was good and ready, Helena consciously relaxed, feeling her eyes shift back to normal, and inhaled deeply of the tantalizing odors emanating from the other woman's kitchen.

During the years of their 'relationship', Helena had quickly come to realize that her former therapist's sybaritic tendencies surpassed even her own. In certain respects, the brunette was even able to draw some enjoyment from this fact: unlike Barbara, who often forgot or overlooked even her own body's needs, Quinn was intimately in tune with her body's desires. One of those desires was for good, no, excellent food.

Almost two years ago, Helena had been surprised to learn -- and then immediately surprised that she *was* surprised -- that the blonde was a very capable cook. "Who better to cook for me the way I like? It got so dreadfully tiresome having to come up with creative ways to kill all of those chefs who didn't meet my standards.", Quinn had chirped as she presented the younger woman with the first-of-too-many exquisite dishes. While the brunette had scarcely been able to swallow any of that first intimate dinner with her former therapist, she now found herself genuinely, well, not 'delighted' but certainly not unhappy when the other woman cooked: not only did it delay any other activities between the two women, but Quinn really laid out a mean spread.

This evening was no exception. Helena tucked appreciatively into the rack of lamb, baby asparagus, garlic potatoes, and fruit compote, all the while marveling -- Cripes, her life was weird sometimes -- at the fact the two women were able to make innocuous small talk about patrons at the Dark Horse and some of Quinn's...Quinzel's patients' amusing quirks. Knowing some of her former therapist's more unconventional methods, Helena carefully avoided questions about treatments for said quirks and deliberately kept focused on inane topics.

'Just like a real freakin' date', Helena smirked.

She sobered when she realized that, in fact, the blonde was really the only person she'd ever had these sorts of dinner-dates with. Would she ever get the chance, she wondered morosely, to remedy that situation with Barbara?

After the two women demolished most of the lamb, the brunette watched her dinner partner tidily refold her almost pristine linen napkin and lean forward appraisingly. For her part, Helena was resisting the urge to lick her fingers and, symbolically, loosen her belt. She might have overdone it on dinner, but, hey, she hadn't eaten much in the last few days. She kind of wished she hadn't worn the tight leather pants, kind of wished she was wearing a belt so that she could loosen it.

At that thought, she guffawed and then blushed in the face of Quinn's patently curious look.

"Sorry -- I'm just ... I mean, that was really, really good. And, I was just thinking that all I need now is to belch and scratch a little, pop a beer, and go watch Sports Center....".

Slightly abashed blue eyes peered through dark bangs.

"Well, just, thanks for a great meal, Quinn."

Even if she wasn't exactly here out of desire, the younger woman had had manners thoroughly drilled into her by her mother, then by Barbara.

"Oh, my pleasure, Helena. It's just not as satisfying preparing a special meal only for oneself, is it?" the blonde queried, rhetorically Helena assumed since the woman had to know that her companion didn't prepare meals beyond dialing a phone for delivery.

Quinn continued, her voice vibrating concern too sincere to be genuine: "But, I do hope you didn't overdo; there's still creme brulee... and other things..." one platinum brow rose suggestively as the woman stood up, "for dessert. Why don't you stretch out, digest a bit, while I tidy up?"

Feeling distinctly like Alice in the rabbit-hole, wondering how she could be exchanging these perfectly normal words in this unreal situation, Helena nevertheless moved gracefully to her feet and joined the other woman in clearing the table, tidying the nearly immaculate kitchen. Minutes later, the young woman found herself back in the living room, watching Quinn whisk into the room with a serving tray holding the brulee and coffee; from experience, Helena knew that the coffee was strong and was not decaf.

While Quinn sipped her coffee silently, seemingly preoccupied, the brunette picked at her dessert. For some reason, Helena never had much of a taste for sweets around the blonde -- perhaps it was due to the saccharine facade the other woman often presented, or maybe it had to do with a rise in her own more carnivorous side around the other woman. Whatever.

Setting the barely touched ramekin back on the tray, the younger woman glanced casually at the clock: 9:30 already. Well, no big deal: she'd already told Barbara, as the redhead was rushing off to school that morning and apologizing profusely for falling asleep literally *on* Helena, that she'd be working a double at the bar that night and probably would just crash at her place. She'd squared her schedule with Leonard by working the low-tipping afternoon shift and promising to be in first thing tomorrow to help with inventory.

The brunette wondered when she'd ever get a chance to sleep again. Two nights ago, she -- and Barbara -- had barely slept; last night, she'd not slept at all, holding the soundly-sleeping redhead close, breathing in her sweet scent, worrying about the upcoming meeting with Quinn; and tonight... Well, who knew?

Helena had come to the meeting tonight fully intending to do... something to renegotiate the terms of their 'arrangement'. Something that would, finally, allow her to be Barbara's...and only Barbara's. The younger woman wasn't quite sure what she'd had in mind; after all, planning ahead had never been her forte -- Hell, she was still convinced that going with her instincts on sweeps rather than always following Barbara's carefully planned grid approach was the way to go. But, with the tantalizing snippets that Quinn had been dropping all evening... well, who knew?

All that Helena did know was that she was tired: tired of dancing to her former therapist's whims; tired of hiding things, still, from Barbara; tired of waiting to find out what the fuck Quinn had up her sleeve tonight.

The brunette exhaled impatiently. Not surprisingly, Quinn seemed to pick up on her impatience; probably had seen her look at the clock, too.

"Ah, yes, it is getting late, isn't it, Tiger? And, we have so much to cover."

The other woman was teasing her, taunting Helena with her desperate desire to know what was going on at Arkham, with the Joker.

"So, let's get to the point, so that we can move on to other, more pleasurable topics."

Through narrowed eyes, Helena watched the tiny woman delicately place her china cup in its saucer, balance the whole wad in one small hand. In a clipped, businesslike tone, the blonde continued briskly:

"It's recently come to my attention, Helena, that things in Arkham are progressing in a fashion that makes my continued presence of dubious wisdom. Not to mention, of decreasing value to my Mr. J, who -- I feel I positively must mention -- has become of less and less interest to me over the course of my association with you, dear Helena." Ice blue eyes batted playfully towards deep blue.

Ignoring the last comment, it was just too much to think about at the moment, the brunette growled, "What's going on at Arkham, Quinn?"

"All in good time; all in good time. I know how you do enjoy good pillow talk, Tiger."

Hearing the sing-song tone, Helena fought her instinct to leap across the coffee table and throttle the information from the woman.

"First things first; the important things. Specifically, I want you to know that I'm considering departing our fair Gotham in search of greener", again that gay laugh, "or, perhaps, *less green* pastures."

Fine with her. The younger woman wisely kept that response to herself, opting instead for, "What are you going to do, Quinn?"

After a speculative sip from her coffee cup, the blond smiled. There was, Helena noticed, very little humor in that smile.

"Well, Helena, I considered moving my practice to another city; however, I'm feeling a bit burned out listening to the uninspired bitching and moaning of the common masses. There's always the option of retiring to some tropical paradise and working on my tan while taunting the natives."

The blonde waved a hand airily towards her pale features and spoke sadly, "I'm afraid that there's just not enough sun block on this planet, not to mention lovely hands to rub it on me..."

Again, those pale eyes batted playfully. Helena resisted the urge to shift restlessly. God, the woman sure loved the sound of her own voice; probably a bad trait in a shrink.

Quinn spoke again, apparently finally coming to the point.

"Well, Helena, long story short, I'm now considering turning my not-inconsiderable skills towards fighting the good fight, as you might put it."

The pause, combined with the positively beaming, expectant look that the blonde was throwing her way, clued the younger woman in to the fact that some sort of response was expected.

"Huh?" Oh, yeah, Barbara woulda been proud of that...

Apparently, Quinn was willing to overlook the brunette's current conversational shortcomings.

"Vigilante crime-fighting, Tiger. You make it sound like just oodles of fun. And, you must admit, it would be a change of pace for me."

Pale blue eyes focused thoughtfully somewhere on the ceiling.

"I've read that the average adult changes careers... or jobs or callings... something like seven times over a lifetime. Had you heard that little statistic?"

Helena wasn't certain that her baffled head shake even registered with the older woman as the blonde barreled on.

"I was thinking somewhere cosmopolitan; New York, perhaps; Paris might be nice... There's only one problem with this idea, Helena; I'm missing a vital piece to make the whole thing fly, as it were."

There was absolutely no way that she could have regained consciousness from her battle with the Crimson Claw, the younger woman realized. She wasn't just down the rabbit hole, she was obviously in a deep, drug-induced coma or something. Only way to explain the surreal words her brain was hearing.

Noticing that the blonde was poised expectantly again, head tilted like some hyped-up kewpie doll, Helena realized that it was her turn to contribute to the conversation. She suspected that waxing nostalgic about her childhood years in the city of light was not what was called for, so went with the obvious.

"And what's missing, Quinn?"

"Why you, of course, dear Helena."

As surprised as she was at the older woman's words, the brunette was even more amazed by the utter sincerity on the pale face. Thankfully, it seemed that Quinn didn't need an immediate response since the younger woman doubted that she could form a single coherent syllable at the moment.

The blonde chattered on.

"I do mean it when I tell you how fond I've become of you, Helena. Just think of it; together, we could be unstoppable. Naturally, when I started considering the idea, I first thought of us as partners in crime. It could be just too delicious..."

Helena watched, fascinated, as a shiver ran down the other woman's body.

"Of course, I realize that you simply couldn't abandon all of those pedestrian scruples of yours; so, here I am, ready to change my vocation, run off to Paris, settle into a perfectly hum-drum life on the up-and-up. All for you, Tiger."

The neck of Helena's shirt was feeling pretty tight, which was odd, the brunette realized since she had a rakish number of buttons open. A little strangled sounding, she tried to put the woman off gently.

"Well, that does sound really, uh, romantic and all, but - y'see - I'm kind of settled here."

Quinn waved dismissively. "Oh pish-posh."

'Pish-posh? Who the hell said pish-posh?' Brows furrowed, Helena refocused on the other woman.

"...nothing that you can't do with me elsewhere. We're really so very, very similar -- seeing the world in angry shades of gray and all. Our sexual...proclivities.. certainly seem to bring us both a measure of satisfaction. We belong together, Helena."

Having spent all of her years prior-to-Quinn insuring that her sexual escapades allowed her to avoid just this sort of conversation, the brunette was at a loss for how to ... what was it called? ... let the blonde down easy. Diplomacy seemed to be the order of the day.

"Well, I'm really, uh, flattered." Yeah, that sounded right. Well, maybe not, if the older woman's gleeful cackle were any indication. Maybe another tact.

"I mean, maybe if we'd met... sometime... somewhere..." letting that trickle off, the brunette mentally completed the thought, '...on another planet and we were the only two people on it.'

"I know it's a lot to absorb at all once, Tiger; so, don't be hasty in making a decision. Especially since I'm about to sweeten the offer."

The petite woman slowly stood, stretching languorously as she moved around the coffee table to stand next to Helena. One pale hand snaked out and began massaging the back of the younger woman's neck.

"I know how important it is for you to keep your dear sainted Barbara safe from the grimy clutches of evil; a certain green-haired evil, in particular. Of course, you could never flit away on the wings of romance, " the voice trilled slightly on the word, "as long as there was any danger to your good, good friend. But, Helena, even you can't be everywhere at once; even you can't absolutely guarantee Barbara's safety from my Mr. J."

'Blah, blah, blah.' Sounded like the same arguments that had first gotten her into this mess, the dark woman snarked. Would the other woman ever get to the point?

Half-listening to Quinn's droning, Helena decided that, on second thought, she might not be interested in the blonde even if they *were* the only two people on a remote...

"...come with me, and I'll absolutely guarantee that Mr. J can never bother your sainted Barbara again."

Still caught up in thoughts about distant planets and specific pleasant thoughts about stowing Quinn on a space shuttle and shipping her to Jupiter, it took Helena a moment to process the blonde's last words.


"What exactly do you mean?"

One blood-red nail traced delicately down the brunette's face, down her neck and chest, raising a trail of goose bumps in its wake. Then, the softly trailing hand came to rest and gave a firm squeeze, calculated to be just on the painful side of the Pleasure/Pain continuum.

Over the faint sound of her own gasp, Helena heard the reply.

"It's simply the logical next step in our relationship, Tiger. Come to bed, and we'll talk all about it... and about Arkham, too."

No way Helena could walk away from the promise of that sort of information. Maybe, just maybe, though, she could keep things from getting too wild this time.

Ignoring a voice in her head -- was it Barbara's? Her mother's? -- whispering something about curiosity and cats, Helena stood and pulled the blonde into a fierce kiss. Both women were breathing heavily by the time they separated.

The younger woman twined Quinn's hand in hers and purred, "Shall I lead?"

Chapter 24

Barbara decided to lead with "Sweeney Todd". The movie, of course.

Hopefully, something fun and just a little twisted would encourage a classroom of recalcitrant juniors to be a bit more open-minded about a semester studying various plays. Jotting a few more notes for the syllabus for her upcoming second and third period classes, the redhead scheduled "Medea" next -- another strong female lead; hmm, "Our Town" to coincide with homecoming; and, "Macbeth", naturally, in time for Halloween.

As she wrote, Barbara grinned, remembering the quote that she and Helena had shared from the Bard's play a few days ago in the training room. That memory, of course, led her to recall, vividly, several other things the two women had shared that evening. Their exhaustion and Helena's work schedule had kept them from exploring this new facet to their relationship for the last two days; for the normally patient redhead, it felt like an eternity.

'Enough wool-gathering, Gordon. Back to work.'

She resolutely pushed her glasses up her nose and refocused on her notes. Unlike many of her fellow faculty members, Barbara preferred not to recycle the same lesson plans from year to year; it was more work for her but, she hoped, kept her from getting stale.

'Let's see, two more should get us to Winter Break...' Would "The Crucible" be just too hackneyed for November and the Thanksgiving period? Green eyes temporarily unfocused as the teacher tapped the ballpoint against her lower lip.

Deeply lost in her planning, Barbara almost stuffed the pen up her own nose when a low voice purred directly in her ear, "I dunno, Red. Why don't you just shoot 'em all and save them the misery?"


Trying to look marginally less flustered than she was feeling, the older woman wheeled her chair around sharply, pointedly *not* concerned with avoiding the younger woman's toes. 'Let her little cat feet just deal with it', she thought a trifle uncharitably. When she spoke, that too was a little more brusque than she'd intended.

"Good. God. Helena. One of these days, I'm going to have to put a bell on you!"

The dark head immediately dipped, hang-dog expression one that never failed to reduce the redhead to mush.

"I'm sorry, Barbara. I didn't realize you were so..."

Feeling guiltier by the minute for her over-reaction, Barbara saw even white teeth gnaw at a lush lower lip for a moment before the brunette continued, a guardedly hopeful expression on her face.

"I'll try harder to stomp next time...?"

Now Barbara was feeling like a total ogre. It wasn't Helena's fault that the older woman had been so wrapped up in her own thoughts. And, if the cupcake and can of soda in the brunette's hands were any indication, she'd been in the clock tower, rustling around in the kitchen, for at least a few minutes. And, it certainly wasn't the dark woman's fault that she just naturally moved so very, very silently. Barbara mentally added in the fact that she hadn't seen Helena since the morning before; and *this* was how she reacted?

Time to start over.

"No, I'm sorry for snapping at you, Hel." The older woman exhaled, then smiled warmly. "Can we try this again?"

Barbara, oddly, felt her heart simultaneously clench and swell at the shyly spoken response.

"Barbara, I'll keep trying as long as you want me to. As long as you let me."

Nothing she could do with that except smile. Broadly.

"As long as you'll let me do the same, Hel. Now, come here and give me a proper hello."

Barbara's smile grew as the brunette stepped forward, set her snack on the desk, and leaned down to brush her mouth softly to hers. The older woman thought she heard Helena breathe out "Hi, Red" even while the younger woman's lips tenderly -- almost hesitantly -- brushed and nibbled at Barbara's upper lip. When she felt that pierced tongue softly trace along her parted lips, the redhead broke. It simply wasn't enough.

Grasping slim shoulders, the older woman gave a sharp tug and neatly dropped the brunette into her lap. Barbara immediately slid her hand down Helena's arm, began to stroke the younger woman's throat and upper chest.

"Better", the redhead husked as Helena continued the frustratingly slow caresses of her mouth against Barbara's.

Let's see....

The older woman dropped her hand to knead eagerly, almost roughly, at one of Helena's breasts. The younger woman's instantaneous response shocked but hardly displeased the redhead.

Those soft lips froze against Barbara's mouth even as the brunette opened her mouth slowly, her jaw rigid, to groan "Oh, fuck yes!"

Barbara was fairly certain that she felt something in her lower abdomen clench in response. She had no doubts about the heat which roared through her chest.

A moment later, the redhead experienced a fleeting sensation of loss, followed by a frisson of excitement as Helena tore her mouth away to arch her head back, even as her hips began to rock in time to the older woman's kneading hand. Unable to resist the slim column of tan flesh offered so temptingly, Barbara attached her mouth to Helena's pulse point, sparing just a moment's regret that her other hand was effectively pinned under the brunette's back.

The lithe figure's throaty groan thrilled the redhead anew. The low growl inspired her.

Barbara used her not-inconsiderable upper body strength to wriggle the arm pinned behind the brunette down, down until she could reach the other woman's hip. Without the slightest hesitation, the redhead palmed the firm flesh on her lap, massaging in counterpoint to the hand still kneading Helena's breast. The young woman's hips bucked urgently, almost violently.

My god, Helena was so responsive, so completely...ready.

As was she, herself, Barbara acknowledged. Patience be damned. Today. Right now. She would finally have the time to focus on Helena, to touch, to taste...

Barbara dropped her hand from the soft sweet flesh of Helena's chest and began to pluck at the buttons of the brunette's jeans. The young woman's writhing temporarily stymied her efforts, and so she lowered her hand to cup Helena's center. Astonished by the heat radiating from the brunette, the older woman yanked her mouth from that delicious neck.

Was that a *hickey* she'd left?

Barbara glimpsed a flash of bright gold before Helena's eyes squeezed shut, the gamine features absolutely rigid. Reeling from the intensity of the brunette's response, not to mention her own, the older woman lifted her hand from Helena's center. Over the quiet whine of protest, Barbara fumbled frantically at the button fly, all-the-while whispering, "Oh, Sweetheart. Yes. Let me in there. Let me touch you."

Just as she conquered the second button and was giving serious consideration to just by-passing the other damned buttons, the redhead felt her fingers grasped gently, her movements halted absolutely.

Had *she* made that soft whimper of protest?

Barbara jerked her gaze from the brunette's body to her face. Wet blue eyes stared pleadingly into green, even as the older woman felt her hand being moved, gently but with no hint of hesitation, to the arm of her chair.

"What is it, Hel? What do you - " The redhead's husky rasp was summarily cut off.

"Dinah's coming."

The brunette gracefully leapt from Barbara's lap and, without a backward look, disappeared into the training room.

Barbara wanted to scream.

Two hours later, the redhead had calmed down considerably, actually managing to complete two other syllabi between interactions with Dinah. The young blonde had regaled her guardian with tales of shopping for the latest required wardrobe essentials for the upcoming school year and had even shyly modeled an outfit or two. However, when the teen had suggested joining Helena to do some sparring, Barbara unhesitatingly put the kibosh on that idea; the sounds emitting from the training room were hard and fast. Somehow, the redhead thought it might be unwise to put Dinah between Helena and the furious energy the dark woman was obviously working out.

Barbara almost missed it when the brunette finally emerged, only the profound silence from the training room tipping her off that Helena might be through with her workout. The redhead glanced away from the Delphi just in time to catch the younger woman, sweat-soaked and glowering, as she moved silently down the hall and headed directly to the shower. Barbara made a mental note to look into getting a new heavy bag -- there couldn't be much left of it after today's pounding -- and strained to hear the almost inaudible singing from the bathroom.

Find yourself a partner and treat them well
Try to give them shelter night and day
'Cause here in this blue light
Far away from the fireside
Things can get twisted and crazy and crowded
You can't even feel right

Frowning slightly, the redhead attempted to place the haunting melody.

So you dream of Columbus
Every time the panic starts
You dream of Columbus
With your maps and your beautiful charts
You dream of Columbus
With an ache in your travelling heart

The song was lovely but not quite what she'd expected... hoped for. Perhaps more Shania Twain or, given the brunette's just-completed rounds with the heavy bag, even some "Eye of the Tiger".

Rubbing her temples, fighting a low-grade constant of aggravation, Barbara sighed and returned her attention to the Delphi.

The cyber-crime-fighter was still wading through the terabytes of decrypted data from the Sports Arena. So far, it all seemed to be a record of instantaneous sales, then returns, of blocks of tickets. If she could just find a pattern somewhere...

Suddenly the pieces of the puzzle clicked into place.

She'd been so caught up in the content of the data pouring into the arena that she'd only spared brief attention to the effect of the messages.

Uh huh, thought so.

The arena's fall-through for the vast quantity of data led to an array of computers on a network shared by numerous New Gotham businesses. When the terabytes of data hit the secondary network, there was no way that the businesses on it wouldn't feel the hit. A bit more cross-checking on the origin of the transmissions -- cleverly masked, but really just a moment's work for the Oracle -- against the businesses on the secondary network, and she had it.

"Oh good grief." The redhead's cheeks dimpled as she debated whether to let loose from her sizeable store of expletives or simply burst into amazed laughter.

The fiendish mastermind behind all of this was, well, one Harold Grivens, who'd run up a sizeable outstanding balance at the NG Comic Emporium and, apparently, had his credit suspended. In return, he was trying to cripple the store's network access.

Barbara couldn't believe it. She'd spent a week on this only to discover that it was some kid who was disgruntled about not getting his Spiderman fix.

Well, they couldn't all be plots to take over the world, the redhead smiled philosophically. She quickly programmed a tracer block which would pop up with a warning to cut the crap the next time hacker-boy tried his thing.

There. If Harold ignored her warning, his computer would get hit with enough bugs to take his mind off comic books for a good long time. Nothing destructive or damaging, mind you; just... aggravating.

After a moment's reflection, she was unable to resist adding a secondary pop-up with a suggestion to visit the public library for better reading material. She did manage to suppress her urge to recommend some titles.

A tank of hot water later, Barbara cheerfully looked up from a crossword puzzle to see the brunette noisily approaching. The younger woman had commandeered one of the redhead's sweat suits, and Barbara absently noted that it was decidedly baggy on the smaller woman.

She looked absolutely adorable. Adorable? Had she thought that?

Apparently conscious of the older woman's scrutiny, Helena paused several yards from the base of the Delphi platform, then teased, "Sorry, Red, I'm still working on the stomping thing."

Barbara's mouth suddenly felt very dry as the younger woman resumed her deliberate approach. Was the brunette... stalking? If those gleaming blue eyes were any indication, perhaps she was.

"Well, Ms. Gordon, are you ready to get back to our too-long-delayed physical activities?"

Fighting a shiver from the purring tone and unable to articulate a single syllable, the redhead nodded.

"Let's get to it then, huh?"

That was a smirk, definitely a smirk, Barbara decided.

The older woman also wasn't quite sure about the 'short and to the point' approach that Helena was taking, but, as she felt her heart rate increase under that burning blue gaze, Barbara had to admit that brevity could, indeed, be the soul of wit.

"So, whaddaya think? On the floor here..." Barbara blinked. She couldn't have heard that right; Dinah was just down the hall in her room. She listened attentively as Helena finished her question. "... or the training room?"

"Excus..." Coughing delicately, the older woman evicted the frog from her throat and started again. "I'm sorry. Perhaps I misunderstood something?"

The redhead realized she'd definitely been had -- not the hardest thing to pull over on her right now; apparently her brain simply ceased to function normally around the brunette.

"I was asking if you want to do your physio here or..." a slim hand fluttered towards the training room, and Barbara grimaced slightly as dark brows waggled playfully.

Oh, what the heck. She was long overdue, Barbara admitted with a chuckle. Bowing to the necessary, the older woman risked an innuendo of her own as she headed towards the training room.

"You take such good care of me, Hel. Can you think of anything I can do to reward you later?"

Later, forty hard minutes later, Barbara was feeling pleasantly, thoroughly stretched. She was also faintly amazed at the self-discipline her younger partner had been showing: While the older woman had been tempted at several points -- in all honesty, constantly -- to cut the session short and move on to other activities, Helena had remained completely focused and business-like.

"I'm not letting you slide this time, Red," she'd growled playfully the one time that Barbara had hinted about more... rewarding exercises.

And so, Barbara watched the long slim hands moving her legs, distractedly answering questions about the last two in-service days and listening to Helena good-naturedly kvetch about doing inventory at the bar: her amazement at the amount of dust she'd inhaled; her dismay at the discovery of a case of hot dogs which had somehow escaped the refrigerator *much* too long ago...

"I mean, really, Barbara. It's just disturbing. Wouldn't you think that a 'meat product'", her voice encapsulated the term in quotation marks, "which has been sitting in a box under three cases of cheap vodka for four months would have given up the ghost and rotted by now or something? I'm telling you," she paused to check her placement as she slowly flexed the redhead's right knee, "other than the addition of a shiny leathery sheen, these puppies looked just like the dogs we serve every day."

Barbara watched blue eyes widen, then blink, as the younger woman considered the implications of *that* observation. Apparently, the brunette decided not to pursue that train of thought, shaking her head slightly and continuing her narrative.

"Anyway, like I said; it was really grody, Barbara." Tone teasingly petulant, the brunette added, "I'm probably gonna have nightmares for weeks. Doing battle with giant weenies and fighting the forces of nitrates or something."

Ignoring the blatant play for sympathy, Barbara laughed and then asked, "Well, if the date stamp was on the outside of the box, Hel, why *did* you even open it up?"

The question seemed reasonable to the older woman, however, the aggrieved look on the other woman's face suggested that she thought Barbara was clearly not seeing the whole picture. Barbara kept a straight face as Helena launched into a highly passionate explanation about the benefits of scientific curiosity and why the older woman, of all people, should appreciate that sort of intellectual curiosity.

When the brunette's diatribe wound down -- just as the physio was ending as well, Barbara noted -- the redhead experienced a tremendous wave of tenderness towards the other woman washing through her. Among the many other responsibilities Helena shouldered, she had always, Barbara realized, tried to be sure that there was laughter in their life.

Watching the younger woman as she conscientiously finished with a light calf massage, Barbara realized that, perhaps, putting some laughter in her life wasn't quite what the younger woman had been up to this time. Helena's amusing patter and repartee were about more than jollying her, Barbara suspected; the brunette was distracting her, distancing them from the romantic and sensual connection they'd been enjoying earlier. And, not just in the interest of completing overdue PT; while Helena had always been conscientious about the twice-weekly sessions, even Barbara -- the brunette's decidedly biased number one fan -- had to admit that the younger woman had never had any problem re-arranging priorities in her pursuit of physical pleasures.

Helena, the redhead realized, wanted to avoid having her thinking about sex right now. With a sharp intake of air, Barbara followed the thought to its rational conclusion: Helena wanted to avoid sex... intimacy with her.

Perhaps the young woman heard the noise and interpreted it as a sign of discomfort, for she was beside the redhead in an instant, kneeling by Barbara's side. For the second time that afternoon, Barbara Gordon seriously entertained the notion of screaming when, instead of the sweet intimate connection she craved, there were only slim fingers shakily brushing the hair from her face.

Then, Helena straightened and took a deep breath. Had the brunette's eyes just augmented for a moment? Barbara felt a strong arm under her back, knew there was another under her knees, as the brunette lifted her and helped her settle into her chair. When Helena moved to turn away, the redhead reached out, tangling their fingers, tugging the younger woman back around.

Barbara vowed she'd be damned if she allowed the younger woman shut her out.

Green eyes searched the brunette's face, insistently focusing on Helena's attempts to hide her eyes, *willing* the younger woman to look at her. When Helena quietly sighed and looked up, the redhead discovered that those phenomenal blue eyes were looking at her with longing... and anguish.

"Hel? What is it? What's going on?"

The response was so quiet, so *tiny*, that the redhead had to strain to hear it.

"Can we talk...uh, about Quinn?"

Oh. Of course.

Barbara struggled to keep her expression open and inviting. "Of course, Sweetheart. Whatever you want."

For a long, painful minute, the older woman could only hear Helena's rapid breathing as the younger woman kept her face turned, features obscured by the fall of dark hair. When she detected the minute trembling of slender shoulders, Barbara recognized the fear -- terror? -- for what it was and spoke instinctively.

"Helena? Remember? There's nothing you can tell me that's going to change how I feel about you. About us. Nothing."

The words were halting: "She's uh, planning something at Arkham..."

Chapter 25

Helena waited for any number of likely responses to that bit of information.

Like: "How do you know this?" Like: "When did you find out?" Like: "So, you've been with her again?" Like: "Get the hell out." Like... well, anything but this total silence.

She started wishing that the redhead would say something, even one of the possible responses that had just run through her mind. Well, maybe not the "get out" one. But, something. Something would be good.

Eyes firmly glued to the mat on the training room floor, the young woman heard Barbara move towards her. She almost jumped out of her skin when warm fingers twined with her own. The other woman's voice was also warm.

"What do you need me to know, Helena?"

Aw, fuck. Helena twisted her head quickly to the side, away from the redhead, blinking. Just like that, Barbara had let her off the hook. Again. Perversely, the brunette realized, Barbara was letting her decide just how much foot she should put in her own mouth... something like that. What had she ever done to deserve this amazing woman?

Nothing. Abso-fucking-lutely nothing.

It was the same answer that had come to her several hours earlier as the older woman had been struggling with the brunette's pants and Helena had been approaching nirvana, wondering how she could deserve so much. Held securely in the older woman's lap, Barbara's hands burning on her, she'd been so ready, she'd wanted so terribly much to let go and give herself over to the woman she loved. She wanted, no, *needed* Barbara to have that, to have her. But, it wouldn't have been right. She'd actually been relieved when Dinah showed up. Go figure.

Barbara deserved better. Someone who didn't come to her with the memory of Quinn's hands still fresh on her skin. Someone who could protect her and still do the right thing. Someone.... who wasn't so fucking confused and ashamed and so goddamned tired of being ashamed. Someone who could honestly give herself to the redhead.

Maybe she couldn't give herself honestly, but Helena Kyle decided that she could, at the very least, give the woman she loved her honesty. Screwing up her courage -- keep it short, keep it short -- she raised blue eyes directly to the older woman's face.

"I was with her last night."

It was quick, really quick, but the younger woman didn't miss the flash of pain in those emerald eyes. The reply was measured, calm, just a hint of curiosity.

"Something to do with the crime surge of the previous night?"

Barbara was sharp.

"Yeah." Helena ran a hand through her hair. "She wanted to get my attention, like someone got her attention at Arkham. She said that somebody had ferreted out two of the Joker's lackeys who were working there, got them hauled off to jail."

The small smile and the slow blink of red lashes confirmed the younger woman's suspicions about who had been involved in that particular bit of detective work. Barbara was just too freakin' amazing sometimes. Helena couldn't help it; despite her overall discomfort, she threw a grin at the older woman.

"So, " the brunette exhaled noisily, "Quinn's kind of thinking that, maybe, she should get the hell out of Dodge for a while, y'know?"

Helena noticed that, now, it was Barbara who was starting to smile. Well, that was good; really good. Maybe she could just leave things like that. Barbara was happy that Quinn was going to amscray; she could whisk the older woman into her arms and make love to her all night; and they'd live happily ... ever....

Feeling like she was kicking a puppy, the brunette muttered, "With me."

Boy, that sure took the smile off Red's face.

Helena carefully observed the older woman's face, body language. She was obviously working hard to look pointedly... neutral. Helena thought she was mostly succeeding in looking brittle. Not quite broken, but really, really close.

Maybe some of the more surreal details would help the redhead see how fuckin' bizarre Quinn's whole plan was.

"Yeah. She's worked out this big ol' romantic plan..."

Uh-oh, Barbara had definitely flinched at the 'R' word.

Helena wanted to pace; she really wanted to pace. But, she was afraid that pacing would turn into a full-blown run and she'd never be able to stop. So, she lowered herself to the mat on the floor, sitting cross-legged as she continued with a laugh that sounded a little forced even to her ears.

"She thinks the two of us should head somewhere 'cosmopolitan', like P..."

Shit. Her stupid fucking mouth, always running ahead of her brain. No way she could mention Paris. Barbara knew how much she loved the city where she'd spent the carefree years of her childhood.

Okay, damage control. The brunette cast desperately about for another city name. Why hadn't she paid more attention in Geography classes?


D'oh. Helena supposed it was better than saying 'Peoria'. Barely.

"...or New York." She tacked on hastily.

"Get this: she even said the two of us could fight crime together."

Helena laughed again, twirling her index finger in a circle by her temple in the universal sign for "Nutso".

Red wasn't looking any more relaxed at this information. In fact, she kind of looked like she could use an Excedrin... or a Valium.

Helena sighed, deeply. Time to just finish it.

Helena's voice flattened. "Well, cuz she knows that, *obviously*," the brunette tried to put a lot of emphasis on that word, "I wasn't gonna leap up and click my heels at that idea, well, she said she'd take the Joker out of the picture if I'd come with her."

When it finally came, the older woman's response was quiet, her voice steady. But her hands weren't, Helena noticed, as the redhead briefly rocked the wheels on her chair.

"And, is this what you want, Hel?"

Of course Barbara had put the pieces together. Helena had told her that Quinn *was* planning something at Arkham; with what she'd just learned, no way the older woman wouldn't think that the brunette had accepted Quinn's offer.

Helena buried her face in her hands. Was this what she wanted? How could the redhead even ask?

"No. Yes."

Shit, Barbara was like an ever-lovin' shot of truth serum, wasn't she? She lowered her hands but didn't raise her head.

Peeking through long lashes, she softly added, "And, I didn't, I haven't said yes-for-sure yet. I sort of told her, uh, maybe-yes."

She watched the russet brows furrow. The warm voice was a little less steady.

"You're seriously inclined to accept her... offer?" The redhead pinched the bridge of her nose, exhaled tiredly.

Fuck. Time to lay it all out.

"Fuck, yes, Barbara!"

Helena hadn't meant to shout, but when would Barbara get it? Understand that it was... it always had been and always would be... about protecting her.

"You're never going to be safe as long as that...that piece of green-haired slime is still breathing."

The brunette paused, collecting herself and trying to organize her thoughts.

"Besides, he's never done anything but cause hurt and destruction, Barbara. My mom. You. Hell, he's even destroyed most of the person that Quinn -- Quinzel -- used to be. She's not all evil, Barbara; she got burned, too."

Almost inaudibly, she added, "I think she's really afraid of him, Babs."

Helena swiped roughly at her eyes.

"That bastard's whole life is about causing pain and fear. Even in prison, even there, he's got us... me... always looking over my shoulder. Isn't it time for that to end, Barbara? Can't we feel safe for once?"

The brunette finished, her voice cracking at the end. She bit the inside of her cheek and worried at the sore she'd made just a few nights ago. No way she was going to cry. Just, no fucking way.

And then, then, Helena watched in disbelief as Barbara rolled her chair closer and slid out of it onto the mat next to her. The younger woman saw corded arms reaching out to her in slow motion, felt strong hands tug her tightly to the other woman's chest and stroke through her hair. Clenching her arms around the redhead, she heard the husky voice, the passionately spoken words pouring from the beloved woman.

"Yes, Sweetheart. It's well past time for it to end. It's time for you, us, to feel safe; for you to stop looking over your shoulder and feeling so alone and scared because you can't protect me and the world. Because you can't protect me *from* the world."

Long fingers tipped the dark head up slightly; green eyes, shimmering with tears, fixed resolutely on blue.

"But, letting Quinn kill the Joker isn't going to fix anything, Hel. It won't make me safe; nothing can, Helena, because we're never going to be absolutely safe."

The redhead drew a breath, continued. "I'm going to keep revising and updating security checks at Arkham; you're... you could keep sweeping the streets for news of escape plans... And, still, Hel," those red lips smiled softly, trembling slightly, "it can never be enough. I could go into the kitchen tonight on a wild hare and unintentionally concoct something that would poison all three of us."

The brunette snorted, then was immediately annoyed with herself.

Damnit, this wasn't funny.

Still, she fractionally loosened her death grip around Barbara's waist. She noticed that Red wasn't loosening her hold in the slightest, though she had let go of the brunette's chin. Helena nuzzled against the other woman's chest, listening to that strong heartbeat underscore what Barbara said next.

"Killing... allowing Quinn to kill the Joker might remove one threat. But, please, Sweetheart, think again. The only thing on earth that *I* truly want is for you to be happy, to be the light, free soul I know you can be. That I've *seen* you be. You are not a killer, and if you allow... this, I know it would break that great heart of yours, weigh your soul irreparably with guilt."

Were those tears splashing Helena's cheeks? Not hers, she realized; Barbara's. Distantly, the younger woman wondered how -- if she loved the woman so damned much -- she always seemed to end up making Barbara cry.

The brunette reached up, delicately lifted one of those tears from the older woman's cheek with a trembling hand. The green eyes blinked, then became crystalline.

"Helena, I understand why you feel you need to do this. Believe me, I do understand. And, Hel? Whatever you decide to do?"

The brunette realized that Barbara was waiting, waiting to be sure that she was listening. She dipped her chin slightly, widened blue eyes a little. Apparently it was enough.

"Whatever you decide to do, Helena," the redhead reiterated, "it won't, it can't change anything. I love you."

There was a moment's hesitation as soft lips dusted Helena's forehead.

"Do you hear me, Hel? I love you. Nothing will ever change that." And then Barbara's voice turned husky, so soft Helena barely heard it. "I don't think anything ever could."

Another hesitation.

"But, Hel, if you can believe nothing else, believe this." The tone, the words were implacable. "If you do this and I know that you've sacrificed your sweet soul for me, it will utterly destroy me."

What... How could... Oh, hell. This was just freakin' twisted. As amazing as Barbara's words had been, now the younger woman was even more confused, more torn.

Helena dropped her head back to the older woman's chest and hugged tightly. Voice small, she whispered, "What the fuck am I supposed to do, Barbara? Just, what am I supposed to do?"

The response, while filled with sympathy and warmth, was unwavering.

"You need to do what's right for you. Ask yourself what will finally make you happy, let you be free. What do *you* want, Helena?"

Blue eyes blinked. The answer to that was simple. It was what she'd always wanted.

Helena raised her head and looked directly, openly, at the woman who had always held her soul, had always been her heart.

"Yours. I want to be yours, Barbara."

Chapter 26

It was raining. More precisely, it was pouring.

Barbara Gordon was aware of this fact in several ways: there was, first, the hard-pounding rain rattling against the balcony windows; there was also the weather screen open on one of the Delphi monitors; and there was, of course, the non-stop grousing of her younger partner.

<"It's fucking pouring, Oracle. You'd think there'd at least be a freaking flying buttress or something here for me to stand under.">

The older woman re-checked one of the screens monitoring NOAA, looking at the angry red blotch covering the satellite weather image of New Gotham.

"Yes, it seems that a low pressure system has parked itself directly over New Gotham tonight. No real sign of movement. I'm sorry, Huntress." She knew how much the younger woman despised being caught in the rain.

<"Great. 'It was a dark and stormy night', huh?">

She heard more indistinct commentary, then thought she caught the young vigilante whistling "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" softly through her teeth.

Perhaps, she mused, the musical tendency came out under any type of running water. Of course, tonight, it was more probably a good old-fashioned case of nerves.

The redhead resisted the urge to check the time again. She already knew that Quinn was late; knowing precisely how late wouldn't make the wait any easier. Instead, she opted to make herself as useful as possible by pouring over the schematics and security system information from Arkham. Again. In a situation like this, it always, *always*, paid to be prepared.

Removing her glasses and rubbing futilely at the headache building behind her temples, Barbara acknowledged that she still wasn't fully certain what "this" situation would ultimately turn into.

She and Helena had formulated a plan, a plan which involved Helena agreeing to Quinn's insane offer and meeting her at Arkham tonight to help the deranged woman get into and, presumably, out of the facility in order to kill the Joker. Of course, once Quinn was within reasonable distance of the pasty-faced lunatic, it would be a simple matter to set off some alarms and have her captured red-handed. Then, as the cyber-crime-fighter erased all evidence of Helena from Arkham's security cameras, she'd simultaneously dump information about Quinzel's identity, and some other juicy facts from her past, to the NGPD. The combination should guarantee the woman a nice long stay in a cell adjacent to the Joker's.

It should. Aware of sharp ears on the other end of the comm set, Barbara sighed soundlessly.

Despite Helena's earnest and heart-wrenchingly open declaration of what *she* really wanted two days earlier, the older woman still wondered if the brunette would be able to do this. Would Helena be able to stop Quinn at the right moment, setting her up for easy capture? Or would she help her through the final security station, into the Joker's cell for a killing blow?

Locked away, Quinn would no longer be able to actively assist in the Joker's escape plans. She would also be unable to continue her torment of Helena -- perhaps a greater benefit, Barbara decided with admitted bias. Of course, having Quinn locked up in Arkham would effectively double the number of homicidal psychopathic clowns in the near vicinity intent on escape and revenge.

Barbara's cheeks dimpled in frustration as she fleetingly wondered if there were any empty clock towers for rent in Bludhaven. But, of course, she wouldn't abandon New Gotham; the city had taken too much for her to ... walk away now.

The crime-fighters could only continue to be diligent, vigilant. Would that be enough for her younger partner? After all of sacrifices the younger woman had made -- actions which seemed as instinctive as breathing to Helena -- would she finally be able to let go of her fear, her fierce protectiveness of Barbara, her guilt over what she'd been doing to protect Barbara? The redhead certainly hoped so.

When Helena had looked at her with those bright, agonized eyes two days ago, asking -- no, begging the older woman to make Helena hers, Barbara had been overwhelmed. She'd experienced an immediate, politically correct discomfort at the words themselves, suggesting as they did ownership and dominance. She'd instantly by-passed the discomfort as she'd realized that there was absolutely nothing incorrect with the words at all: after all, the redhead had to admit, she had given herself to Helena, heart and soul. That the younger woman would want to be possessed in the same way was not surprising at all.

Whether Helena was ready was another question.

Two days ago, Barbara had bitten back on the darkly alluring desire which had welled up within her at the brunette's plea. She'd denied the visceral urge simply to take the young woman -- long and hard, marking Helena as hers, *making* Helena hers, allowing the young woman no doubts about where she belonged. Bitterly realizing that it wouldn't be that simple, Barbara instead had opted to hold the woman tightly to her, pledging to help, to do whatever Helena needed.

In the days since the emotional discussion, the brunette had remained attentive and affectionate, patiently enduring Barbara's methodical planning, reviewing the Arkham schematics repeatedly although clearly bored to tears. However, she'd had also maintained a... distance from the older woman, logging extra hours at the Dark Horse and sleeping at her own apartment each night. Barbara suspected that, until the 'Quinn situation' was resolved, Helena would not be able to be comfortable with her... or with herself.

It had been a long two days.

Needing the contact, the redhead interrupted the quiet whistling on the comm set.

"Hey there, Butch. Are you treading water yet?"

<"Almost, Sundance.">

The playful response cheered the older woman immensely.

<"It's really, really wet out here. I've got a stream of water running under my collar and down my back, and it's probably gonna take a freakin' blowtorch to get these damned leather pants off, you know.">

Barbara smiled broadly, but deliberately dropped her voice to a low purr. "Don't worry too much about that, Huntress. I'd be more than happy to get you out of them when you get back. And, while I can promise that there will be heat involved, it won't come from an acetylene torch."

She had to fight back a laugh at the sound of the choked cough that came through the headphones. Helena drew a breath to speak but the redhead didn't get to find out how the younger woman would have responded.

Rather, she heard footsteps splashing quietly -- amazing how sensitive the microphone was -- and knew the wait was over.

<"Oooh, Tiger. You're all wet.">

Definitely Quinn. There was no mistaking that voice. Barbara clenched her jaw as she listened.

<"You simply must forgive me for being so tardy. There's just so much to do when you're preparing to begin a new life... patient referrals, subletting the office, getting the skeletons out of the closet, bodies out from under the bed...">

<"Well, shit, Quinn,"> Helena's voice held a respectable amount of petulant crankiness. <"You'd think that if you were meeting someone who'd agreed to help you break into, and -- maybe more important -- out of, the world's most super-maximum-security facility for the criminally insane in order to kill one of the inmates, you might just be a little more concerned with timeliness.">

There was the sound of a very wet leather coat being flapped.

<"I mean, look at this! I'm fuckin' drowning out here.">

<"Poor, poor, Helena.">

A little surprised that the treacle in the words didn't put Quinn in a diabetic coma, the redhead realized that the blonde must be very close to Helena's microphone necklace. Too damned close.

<"All the more reason to get this taken care of. Then, we can scamper off to a nice warm room in a nice hotel and get you... wetter. Sound good, Tiger?">

There was a moment of silence, nothing but the sound of the rain, then Barbara heard the brunette gasp. Why was Helena gasping? It didn't sound like pain... Oh. Of course.

Steeling herself, the redhead rapidly toggled through the screens displaying the input from all of Arkham's cameras. As soon as the women moved, she'd be able to see them.

There. In the outer courtyard. It looked like Helena had simply picked Quinn up and vaulted over the razor wire atop the 15-foot high walls.

They disappeared from view, and Barbara toggled to another screen. Helena was pulling Quinn into an alcove in the building as an oblivious security guard made a sweep.

While it *was* pouring and she understood the man's haste to complete his rounds and while Barbara had to admit that his carelessness was working to their advantage tonight, there was simply no excuse for not checking that alcove. Even as she toggled to another screen, the redhead zoomed on the guard's badge and cut-n-pasted it into a file. She'd be forwarding that to the Arkham security office tomorrow.

Barbara watched Helena expertly by-pass the alarm on a side door and simply snap the steel deadbolt. She and Quinn were then inside, moving through the corridors silently. At the first and second security checkpoints, Quinn swiped her attending physician's badge and gaily waved her companion through.

The next checkpoint wouldn't be so easy; a guard would have to confirm her identity and buzz her through. Helena had told the redhead that the plan was for Quinn to talk her way in on the pretext of an after-hours consultation, disable the guard, and then buzz her in. Barbara prayed that Helena would be fast enough to keep Quinn from killing the guard.

Where were they? They should have been at the checkpoint by now.

Barbara clicked rapidly through the other video feeds from that floor. Her fingers froze when she heard Helena's soft words.

<"Wait, Quinn."> The sounds of extremely quiet movement -- and harsh breathing -- followed.

<"Don't go that way. It's a trap.">

Chapter 27

Even as she whispered the words to her companion and pulled them into a maintenance closet, Helena wondered if she'd made the right choice.

Oh, well. Sometimes, you just had to go with your gut. But Barbara was probably having a shit-fit.

"A trap? For me? You shouldn't have, Tiger." Quinn batted her lashes playfully, her voice almost sounding genuinely pleased.

Okay, now she was definitely wondering about the wisdom of her choice. And, right on cue...

<"Huntress, what's going on? Where are you?">

Oracle was trying to sound calm, but the brunette easily picked up on the note of, well, not quite panic, but there was some strong concern there. Unfortunately, Helena wasn't in a position to get into a conversation with the woman just now.

For one thing, Quinn was still nattering on.

"And, of course, how utterly predictable. I assume that Barbara knows everything, wants to stop me from killing my Mr. J -- so shortsighted, as always -- and plans to lock me away for all eternity, yadda-yadda-yadda?"

"Yeah, something like th--"

Uncanny reflexes at work, Helena was wrestling the gun from the blonde as soon as she saw it.

Un-fuckin-believable. Here she was, really putting her ass on the line for the other woman, and Quinn was waving a freakin' gun... well, not directly at her, but the threat was implied.

She pinned the other woman with a distinctly unamused look and hissed, "What the fuck, Quinn?! Wouldja just put that away, damnit? It could go off, and all hell's gonna break loose."

Handing the weapon back to her current partner, Helena heard a slow exhalation from the other end of the comm set. Good thing the gun hadn't gone off; that would have freaked Red out to no end.

"Well, darling, if danger's afoot, it pays to be prepared doesn't it?" the petite woman lilted as she returned the weapon to concealment.

Helena tracked Quinn as she stepped forward, bringing her well into the younger woman's personal space.

'Housecat, meet cobra'.

The words whispered through the brunette's mind. Why was she doing this again?

A pale hand touched the other woman's tan face, traced down her throat, one sharp nail pausing over the brunette's jugular.

"So, why are you tipping me off, Tiger? Finally realize how... fond of me you've become? Beginning to fully embrace the idea of Paris and our new life together?"

She heard a sharp intake of breath over the comms. Crap, why'd Quinn have to say 'Paris'?

Cobalt eyes locked on pale blue, and Helena struggled to mask her surprise. While Quinn's actions and words were taunting, threatening, there was only a desperate, sincere hope in her eyes.

"I always knew you were a romantic at heart, Tiger..."

Of course, sincerity aside, Helena couldn't help but notice that the blonde hadn't moved her hand -- that wickedly sharp fingernail -- away from the younger woman's neck. The brunette wondered how that would look on her tombstone: 'The Huntress -- A Manicure Got Her'...

Quinn stretched on tiptoe, bringing her mouth to Helena's ear. The dark woman shivered as the blonde traced her tongue around the outside, then husked, "Is it time for Plan B? It's always so much fun when things don't go according to plan, isn't it, darling?"

The dark woman doubted that that was how Barbara would be describing it, wished she could have tried to explain. But, she hadn't really *planned* not to go with the plan; it just kinda happened.

Stuff like that drove Red crazy.

<"What 'Plan B', Huntress? I can't pick you up on any of the monitors. Are you alright?">

Shit. The rapid-fire questions made Oracle sound distinctly jumpy, like she really wanted to do something. If they hadn't shipped a willing Dinah off to Gabby's again, Red would probably have *her* on the way by now. The brunette figured that it was a fifty-fifty chance: Oracle would decide that her partner was in trouble and set off some alarms to help her out; or... or Barbara would decide that it was now Helena's game, her choice, and let things play out.

Helena wished she knew which version was the truth. It had seemed pretty simple earlier, as the two women got closer and closer to the madman's cell. She just couldn't go through with Barbara's plan; it wasn't going to make the redhead any safer. So she'd gone with her instincts, instincts which were rapidly being overwhelmed under Quinn's teasing, taunting touches.

Sometimes it really, really sucked being a slave to your animal desires, Helena decided. It wasn't the first time she'd had that particular insight, but it was sure ringing with a resounding note of truth tonight.

"Uhhgghh..." Oh, fuck, that must have sounded good over the comms.

Quinn had just dragged her hand down Helena's chest, cupping a breast, teasing. Now she brought her other hand to the waist of the brunette's pants, running a teasing finger beneath the leather as she whispered, "I *was* able to verify that there are no alarms, no cameras in that access tunnel you found in the schematics, darling."

<"Which access tunnel? Can you give me some..."> Helena heard the tiny break in Barbara's voice. <"...indication of what's going on, Huntress?">

Well aware that her eyes had augmented under Quinn's teasing, Helena struggled to keep her breathing light and steady. Tried to think of something she could say to the redhead without tipping Quinn off to the microphone.

"Not now," she growled, as much to Quinn as to the voice in her head. "I've gotta stay focused, damnit."

The young woman peeled the blonde's hands off of her and then, still fully in her feral mode, slipped back into the hallway, careful to avoid areas with security cameras. After this all went down, she wasn't positive that Oracle would be cleaning those tapes afterward.

Quinn trailed behind, merrily chattering. Did the woman never shut up?

"Is this the right way, Tiger? I'm so terribly non-spatial in this awful asylum..."

<"Huntress, what are you doing? Please, think about it; let me help you...">

The brunette snorted softly. Maybe the redhead could trigger some false alarms somewhere and send the guards off on a wild goose chase. Well, maybe that wasn't the kind of help that she'd had in mind.

Helena wished that she could talk with the older woman, explain what she was doing. She absolutely hated having Barbara worried about her...

"...and while I'll simply hate getting my new beret covered in cobwebs in some filthy access tunnel... Well, darling Helena, anything for you! We'll just skip in, kill Mr. J, and be out of here before anyone's the wiser."

Helena swallowed. Hard.

"We're so close, Tiger; close to finally being rid of him, no longer in fear. I'll just pull the trigger, and Mr. J will never be a threat to anyone again."

<"Hel? Please talk to me, Sweetheart...">

No code name over the comm set? Didn't think she ever remembered...

God, she hoped she was doing the right thing. Okay, maybe not the right thing; but, at least, the best thing.

That hypnotic, sing-song voice just kept talking.

"Remember, Tiger, you get to keep your hands clean *and* protect your precious Barbara. And, then, away we go, darling, to our new life."

The brunette stopped short, causing the practically-prancing blonde to plow into her. Ignoring Quinn's startled 'Oof', Helena breathed deeply, raggedly as a warm voice wrapped around her heart.

<"Listen to me, Helena. Remember that I'm here, loving you. Nothing will change that. But, please Sweetheart, don't... don't do anything that's going to hurt you more.">

"Fuck. Let's go."

The young woman's voice was ragged, suffused with anger and hurt.

The dark woman blew out a deep breath, then decided to give her own sanity a break.

"It's gonna be okay. But... would everybody just keep fuckin' quiet?!"

Helena saw pale blue eyes roll broadly from right to left, taking in the empty hallway pointedly, before Quinn raised a platinum brow knowingly and responded archly, "This place gets to everyone, doesn't it?"

Well, that was just swell. Now her former shrink, who was definitely a few bricks shy of a load herself, thought that Helena had more than 'anger management issues' to deal with.

Deciding that she really didn't care what Quinn might think, the brunette swiped at the receiver, cutting off that warm, loving voice. She did care what Barbara thought, and that pain-filled voice was a distraction she didn't need.

It was time to get back to the plan. Her plan.

Grabbing one of Quinn's small hands in hers, Helena set off down the hallway, no longer concerned about security cameras. In a matter of moments, she'd dragged the small woman back through the second security checkpoint, then the first.

"Helena darling, aren't we going the wrong w...."

"Just. Be. Quiet." For once...

In a helluva lot less time than it had taken to get into the depths of Arkham, Helena stepped through the exterior door, still firmly holding Quinn's hand. She flattened them against the wall, then spoke rapidly.

"Sorry, Quinn. I can't let this go down Barbara's way; I just can't lock you up in a cage."

It was that freakin' need to protect the weak, comfort the hurt, she figured. Quinn was both of those. And, she *had* gone almost cold-turkey, crime-free for two years, while also helping protect Barbara. Sure, it hadn't been all altruism and roses, but, still, if that didn't show rehabilitation potential, well then...

Looking into wide, pale eyes, the brunette continued.

"But I can't do it your way either. Killing him's not gonna help any of us."

The look of patent disbelief, accompanied by -- of all things -- head-shaking and eye-rolling, was impossible to ignore. Helena blew out an exasperated breath, one ear cocked for the return of the security guard on his rounds, and ran a hand through her hair.

It wasn't fair. Moral compass was *not* in her job description. Wasn't it enough that she'd weighed the options and temptations herself? Why did she have to be the one to explain... nuances to, of all people, Harley Quinn?

Well aware of the petulant note in her voice, the young woman kept things short.

"Well, let's just say it'll hurt us more than help us. We've gotta let the... situation go."

Helena hadn't deactivated the transmitter. She figured that Barbara would understand the layered meanings in the word 'situation.' She wasn't so positive that Quinn was getting it.

"Helena, while -- as your former therapist -- I'd normally be thrilled with this sudden leap in your personal growth, I simply can't imagine what you have in mind."

"It's simple, Quinzel."

The brunette deliberately emphasized the second syllable slightly.

"I'm going to take you back over this wall; you're going to get in that over-priced car of yours; then you're going to drive like hell to the nearest airport and use 'our' tickets to hop a flight to happiness."

Those pale, pale blue eyes were blinking rapidly, regarding the younger woman speculatively.

"Quinzel, we've gotta stop letting him control us. You've gotta let it go. You've gotta..." Aware of someone listening at the other end of the comm set, even more aware of the woman in front of her, Helena gentled her voice. "let *us* go."

Helena knew that it spoke volumes about Quinzel's level of surprise that the normally verbose woman seemed incapable of speaking. Pushing away her impatience, Helena stood quietly -- as patiently as she could with the rain pouring down her collar again, watching a tremendous range of emotions flash across the older woman's face: puzzlement, anger, hope, disbelief, then -- finally -- something that looked like sadness, loneliness.

With genuine affection in her voice, the dark woman spoke softly.

"I know you're more than the Joker's harlequin. You've proven that to me over and over."

Even as Helena gathered the blonde in her arms, Quinzel spoke, voice subdued.

"Are you so sure you can trust me, Helena?"


Helena grunted softly as she landed outside the walls of Arkham, fighting back the urge to curse volubly. Not at the impact of their landing, but at Quinzel's question.

She set the small woman down gently, then splashed quietly up the road with her, towards the blonde's hidden car. Helena gave the question the consideration it deserved.

Could she trust her? The woman had been as good as her word for two years... But, the price if Helena was wrong could be devastating. Maybe she shoulda just stayed with Barbara's plan, locked the blonde up for the rest of her life... in a cell... next to the madman who'd hurt them all...

Helena waited until the older woman was inside her car, the engine purring to life, before she answered the haunting question.

"Well, Quinzel, if you mean, have I wondered if we'll learn that Interpol is asking 'Who is killing the great chefs of Europe?'... I guess the thought's crossed my mind."

Quinn laughed delightedly, and the brunette grinned crookedly.

She figured Barbara was probably baffled by her reference to the late-70s cult movie. Probably wearing that vaguely puzzled, slightly miffed look, too. Helena really wanted to see that look for herself. Soon.

Closing the car door and bending to the cracked window, the young woman spoke softly, regretfully.

"But, yeah, Harleen. I'm sure."

She hoped.

"Just, I dunno, send me a postcard from paradise some time, okay?"

Helena watched the taillights fade before she turned her steps into New Gotham, towards the clock tower. Well aware of the riot of butterflies in her stomach, the brunette re-activated the comm set receiver and spoke quietly.

"You copy, Oracle?"

<"I'm here, Huntress.">

The response sounded a little breathless, but Helena didn't detect any anger. That was good. The young woman knew she'd done the right thing -- okay, she was pretty sure. She just wasn't so positive that Barbara would share that opinion. However, the next words, laced with warm concern, went a long way towards further reducing the brunette's anxiety.

<"Are you alright, Sweetheart?">

Not 'Where's Quinn now?'. Not, 'What were you thinking?'. Not even a well-deserved chewing out for abandoning the plan without warning.

God, she loved this woman.

Ignoring the fact that she was probably pissing Barbara off by not providing the answer, the reassurance, that the older woman needed, Helena exhaled slowly and sought her own reassurances.

"Are you... about, uh, that... are you upset?"

The response was immediate, filled with love and warmth and something else. Pride?

<"Not in the least, Huntress. If you felt that was the right thing, I trust you. I'm happy.">


Red was just, totally... super.

The brunette decided that it was past time to get back and show the other woman everything she meant to her.

"I'm on my way in."

Helena paused, debated briefly. What the hell, subtlety wasn't supposed to be her thing.

"I remember a promise to help with my leathers, then I've gotta get a hot shower."

The throaty reply almost made the young heroine miss her landing on a rooftop. She windmilled her arms rapidly, skidding on the slick surface, totally glad that nobody had seen *that* little maneuver.

<"Oh, definitely help with your pants, Huntress. But, instead of that shower, I think, tonight, I'll run a bath for two.">

Oh, yeah. Helena was definitely gonna make record time tonight.

Chapter 28

As she wheeled briskly into the bathroom -- it appeared that Helena was making really good time -- and turned the taps on the claw-foot tub, Barbara realized she was softly singing. Was this running-water/singing tendency contagious?

Shrugging cheerfully, she started the Johnny Nash classic again.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,

I can see all obstacles in my way

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)

Sun-Shiny day.

Undoubtedly, an over-optimistic sentiment, the redhead admitted as she left the tub to fill and headed to the bedroom. No telling how Helena would deal with her choice tonight: would she perceive it as a betrayal of Barbara and beat herself up over it? would she wrap herself in attitude and proclaim that it was No Big Deal? Of course, issues stemming from the younger woman's years under Quinn's thumb couldn't be overlooked. Then, there was the little matter of the relatively sudden shift in their relationship -- although, Barbara smiled, it had been a long time coming.

Tugging her shoes off, the redhead blew out an impatient breath.

'Just let it go, Gordon. For tonight, let it all go. All of the... obstacles will still be there tomorrow.'

The only thing -- person worth thinking about was currently swimming her way back to the clock tower, and the older woman was damned well going to welcome her properly. It was enough -- more than enough, after listening helplessly over the comm set while Helena had clearly been staring into the eyes of a hellish temptation -- that, right now, this particular dark and stormy night felt bright and sun-shiny indeed.

Rolling her socks neatly together and tossing them into the hamper -- two points -- the older woman did allow herself a moment's irritation with her younger partner. While she certainly respected the dark woman's intuition, her gift of knowing when to abandon a plan, would it have been too much to ask for the brunette at least to clue her partner in that there might just be an alternate plan?

Of course, knowing Helena, there probably hadn't been an alternate plan two minutes before the young woman started acting on it. And, it certainly could have turned out much worse -- which was something, Barbara realized, she often found herself thinking after the brunette abandoned their carefully plotted plans.

Che sara, sara.

Having worked through that little mental tantrum, Barbara tugged her tee-shirt over her head and decided to let the issue go. After all, for fourteen years, Helena had been maddening, and impulsive, and reckless, and... and the older woman was just going to grab her and kiss her senseless.

My goodness. She was completely... whipped, wasn't she?

Somehow, that thought further lightened her mood. Barbara laughed aloud, and then immediately almost gave herself whiplash at the sound of a throat being cleared softly. The older woman rotated her chair and attempted to look as collected as possible after just having had the wits scared out of her while clad only in jeans and a bra.

Helena stood in the doorway, appearing a bit hesitant. She'd obviously entered the clock tower a few minutes before since she'd managed to divest herself of her duster, boots, and leather shirt. Clad in dripping leather pants and a thin tank top, which was plastered so tightly to her that it left nothing to the imagination, with water still running out of her hair, the woman looked absolutely gorgeous.

Barbara smiled, widely, and gave the wheels of her chair a single push. Letting the momentum do the work, she held both hands out towards the younger woman.

"Welcome home, Sweetheart."

Bright blue eyes peeked through wet bangs as Helena moved slowly into the room to tangle her fingers with the redhead's. Barbara scanned the lithe form quickly; no signs of injury, not that she'd anticipated any. But, some sort of... tension was still rolling off the brunette, despite the light tone of the younger woman's first words.

"Y'know what they say about women who sit around half-naked, laughing to themselves, don'tcha Red?"

"That they'd laugh more if they were completely naked, next to a sexy brunette?" the older woman shot back.

She saw the blue eyes widen, briefly flicker to gold, before the younger woman laughed.

"Well, yeah, I guess you're right about that, Barbara."

Good, definitely more relaxed. The redhead released Helena's hands to move back into the bedroom. The brunette squelched after her, coming to a stop several feet away. Seeming to consider for a moment, Helena stepped forward and dropped to her knees on Barbara's right side.

Face down turned, the young woman cautiously raised a hand, bringing it to rest on the arm of the chair.

"I... I'm really glad to see you, Barbara. It was... just. I'm sorry if I disappointed you or something. I couldn't let her suffer any more 'cuz of him."

Barbara lifted the slender hand and brought it to her face. Pressing her lips fully to the still-damp skin, she murmured, "There's nothing to apologize for, Hel. I meant it when I said I trust you."

Aware of a need to tread lightly, at least for the moment, the redhead added, "I can't begin to imagine how difficult tonight must have been for you, Sweetheart. But, I do know how very, very happy I am that you're here now."

The dark head raised slowly, blue eyes twinkling.

"Yeah, nothing like having rainwater puddling on your hardwood floor, huh?"

Barbara smiled fondly, then allowed the smile to transform itself into something else.

"Well, let's take care of that right now, shall we? I seem to recall promising my assistance with these pants, Helena."

Emerald eyes raked over the sodden figure; breathing shallowed; something low inside the redhead twisted sharply. Releasing the slim hand, the older woman reached out to thread her fingers through the dark hair, cupping the back of the younger woman's skull firmly.

"Make no mistake, I intend to keep that promise."

Yes, the transformation was incredibly sexy, Barbara decided.

This time, the eyes remained augmented as the younger woman rocked forward on her knees, ducked her head, and looked up again through dark bangs. Barbara licked her lips, watching that burning gaze move to her mouth, down her neck, across her chest. The brunette tilted her head slightly towards the hand tangled in her hair, then parted her lips to scent the redhead's wrist. Barbara shivered when the younger woman pressed her open mouth to the inside of her wrist, tongue washing against tendons and veins. The low purr was barely audible; however, when Helena gently tugged the hand in her hair down to rest over her strongly beating heart, it was unmistakable.

The planes in Barbara Gordon's face locked in a hard line while she breathed deeply through flared nostrils. She fought the desire to tangle her fingers in that barely-there tank top and yank Helena to her, to ravish that beautiful mouth, to drink in her moans of pleasure.

Calming herself, she consciously allowed her rough desire to be replaced with tenderness as she absorbed the sight of the younger woman kneeling beside her, her heart under the redhead's hand.

Russet brows briefly furrowed. How had the young woman managed to squeak by with only a C- in Barbara's Romantic poetry class when she so clearly had mastered romantic symbolism? Perhaps she could arrange to have the grade retroactively changed...

Seeing something else in Helena's pose, her gesture, Barbara gave herself a mental shake. *This* was not what she wanted, not what she wanted Helena to offer. At least, not now.

She extricated her hand from the brunette's chest and brushed her fingers along Helena's jaw, across those full lips.

"Stand up, Hel."

The dark woman rose gracefully, the movement stretching the wet shirt in a manner that left the redhead struggling to breathe for a moment. Helena's shallow breathing -- panting really -- was stretching the sheer material tight against the young woman's chest. Seeing taut nipples straining against the tank, Barbara licked her lips, began to lean towards the brunette... and then swore forcefully.


Helena visibly jumped at Barbara's curse. Gold eyes blinked and a dark brow raised.

"Barbara...?" The question "What the hell?" was clear enough.

"I'm sorry, Hel. Would you check the tub? I left it running."

Helena's eyes remained augmented as she turned and moved into the adjoining bathroom. Hearing the water shut off, the older woman started to follow the brunette. Perhaps a soak together, a symbolic cleansing, would help the younger woman relax.

"All full? Why don't we take that bath n..."

The words died in Barbara's throat as Helena re-emerged.

The young woman's desire was clear -- eyes still blazing, upper lip pulled back from even white teeth, a flush creeping up her chest and face as she panted shallowly. Watching her...flow back into the bedroom, the older woman experienced a sudden visceral understanding -- something at the molecular level, she suspected -- of the overwhelming forces consuming the dark woman when she was in her feral state.

Oh. Mercy.

"It's only about half-full, Barbara."

The words were deep, rolling. Not quite a growl, but something very close.

"I, uh, maybe we could top it off with hot water later? Right now," Barbara tilted her head back as the brunette came to a stop directly in front of her, "I don't really want a bath. I think I got wet enough out there."

Those phenomenal eyes locked on the redhead, robbing her of air, of language, of reason and free will. It wasn't the overwhelming desire in those golden eyes that undid the older woman; rather, it was the open, desperate need in the burning gaze.

Barbara felt the heat all the way to her toes.

"Yes," she husked in response.

Had there been a question, she wondered distantly, as her hands moved by themselves, reaching for the other woman. She mastered her reflexes at the last moment, barely brushing those tempting breasts. Instead, she gripped slim tan arms to pull Helena closer even as she leaned towards the other woman.


God, yes.

The feel of Helena's breast in her mouth, even through the thin cotton, was heaven. Moving one hand to the small of the brunette's back to keep her near, Barbara Gordon abandoned herself momentarily to feast on that succulent flesh. It was not, by any means, a gentle seduction, not the feathery worshipful caresses that Helena had bestowed on her; it was a much darker worship. Moving from one breast to the other, the redhead consumed the woman in front of her with lips and tongue and teeth.

Sound and movement gradually drew Barbara back to herself.

The movement was from that lithe figure, jerking minutely against the strong hand which held her in place. Shivering in sympathy, the redhead immediately moved both hands to the buttons of Helena's pants.

The leather garment, always form-fitting, was absolutely soaked and almost cemented to the younger woman. As Barbara wrestled tight wet leather down those long damp legs -- all-the-while mentally revisiting the blowtorch idea, the nature of the sound which had drawn her back to herself gradually permeated her awareness.

It was, of course, Helena. Whispering through panted breaths, words soft, almost obscured by the rumbling in her chest. A repeated refrain to a deep-seeded need.

"F-f-f-fuck. Need... Make... make me..."

Emerald eyes flew wide open -- sprained eyelids might be a possibility -- and the older woman stopped herself just short of ripping the pants at the seams. At this moment, she was quite certain that she could have done it. Restraining herself, Barbara instead chose to give the material a decidedly hard yank, jerking it down those long legs forcefully and caring quite-a-bit-less than she usually might about chafing the tan skin.

The brunette continued to tremble under the older woman's hands, continued to whisper her plea, but otherwise remained still, passive.

Even as she moved her hands to her own back, unhooking her bra and shrugging out of it, Barbara returned her mouth to the younger woman.

This time, her lips touched the bare flesh revealed between the bottom of the tank top and the top of the pale yellow underwear. The older woman pressed a hard kiss to the velvet-soft skin, suctioning against the firm muscles of Helena's abdomen. There would be a mark later, of that she was sure.

Ducking her head, the redhead buried her face in the juncture of the younger woman's thighs and breathed deeply. Although her nose was nowhere near as sensitive as Helena's, the younger woman's need couldn't be missed. Barbara opened her mouth widely, engulfing as much of the area as possible, breathing warmly against the damp material. The sensation of almost-tasting was torture; the redhead brought both hands to clasp the other woman's hips and groaned against her.


Well, that had gotten Helena's attention, hadn't it?


Helena's eyes were still augmented, no surprise there, but now seemed able to focus again on the older woman. Barbara gave a quick tug at the yellow panties and gestured at the tank as she sat up. She watched those eyes flicker briefly towards her bare chest.

"Help me onto the bed, Love..." The redhead had had no idea that her voice could drop that low. "then get those off."

In an instant, Barbara found herself gently positioned against an absurdly huge stack of pillows, with the younger woman above her, straddling her hips. Unblinking, she watched the dark head lower slowly until Helena's lips brushed hers and a slim hand delicately cupped her breast. Absorbing the astonishing heat in that soft touch against her lips, the unbelievable feeling of completion of that hand on her breast, the older woman accepted the soft caresses until she heard the low growl, felt damp cotton brush her stomach.

She dropped both hands to her own jeans, unfastening them and beginning to push them down. The redhead then gently shifted her head to one side.

Hungry emerald locked with vaguely puzzled gold.

"I mean it, Hel. Get those off."

The wicked smile which flashed across gamine features was almost reward enough. Almost.

As soon as the exquisitely naked Helena Kyle crawled back up the bed, the older woman roughly pulled her down, on top of her, into a deep and hungry kiss.


Hazily, Barbara wondered how she had lived, if she had truly been living, without the sensation of the other woman's breasts pressed tightly to hers, those gentle hands moving to knead and caress. Without the feeling of that talented mouth exploring hers, whispering thickly of love and need. Without the rhythm of the younger woman's increasingly urgent thrusting against her belly. Without the sound of that raggedly whispered want, need.

"Oh, fuck. Please, Barbara. Fucking, yeah, just... Uhh..."

The redhead fought her way up through the delirious fog to place her hands firmly on the younger woman's hips. Stilling the frantic motion, she watched the expressive face lock -- almost in pain?

"What do you want, Hel? What do you need?"

The whimper almost undid her, but Barbara remained resolute.

"Tell me, Helena. I'll do it. Anything..."

The redhead actually heard the sound of the younger woman swallowing; she certainly heard the ragged inhalation.

"Yours, Barbara. Please... Make me yours?"

This time, there had been a question, of sorts.

The response was the same.


Barbara smoothed her hands down the long thighs which were straddling her. She reached up by her shoulders and picked up the slim hands, dusted them with feather-light kisses. Resisting the urge to pull the young woman into another deep kiss -- well, honestly, she knew what happened to her focus and resolve when Helena kissed her -- she stretched the hands over her head, placing them on the headboard.

The redhead thought her heart would simply break at the brunette's slightly puzzled but achingly eager-to-please expression.

"Move up here, Love." She tugged lightly at the slim hips. "I'm going to taste you, and I want my hands free to touch you."

And, finally, Barbara discovered the taste of the other woman; something sweet, something wild. Perfectly Helena.

For long minutes, the older woman drank from the other woman, dragging her hands across that slim torso, cupping and kneading roughly at Helena's breasts, stroking through the dark silk of her hair, rubbing fiercely at the muscles of her back. Throughout, she was aware of lean thighs trembling near her chin, abdominal muscles fluttering and jumping just above her eyes, ribs expanding and contracting in shallow bursts. However, until her fingers traced the smooth planes of the younger woman's cheek and felt moisture, Barbara had not been aware of Helena's tears.

Green eyes flew open even as the brunette's soft words again filtered through her.

"Please, please. Barbara... I need it, I need you. Please, just, just fuckin' do it. C'mon... please, please..."

The redhead regretfully pulled away from Helena, then firmly lifted the younger woman's hips and gently coaxed her back, down towards her waist. She moved one hand, fingers extended and held tightly together, to her young lover's entrance. Keeping her gaze steady, she brushed sensitized skin, the touch feather-light, and waited until wet golden eyes opened and locked with hers. Then, and only then, did she thrust.

Barbara's hiss -- "Yessss" -- was completely drowned out by the brunette's shouts...

Funny how the same short, one-syllable word could carry so many different nuances, the redhead mused dreamily, long glorious minutes later. The brunette's final exclamation of the word, coinciding with a climax which left the redhead's stomach absolutely drenched, had been a particularly appealing inflection.

Barbara hoped, planned, to hear it again soon.

The older woman sifted her hand through dark hair and pressed a kiss to the cheek resting by her face as she waited for the younger woman to, well, come back. In the meantime she was completely content, filled with a delicious lassitude, with the young woman sprawled on top of her, exactly where she'd collapsed.

Minutes later -- Helena's recuperative abilities always had been amazing -- that slender body stirred, dark lashes fluttered, and cobalt eyes regarded Barbara somewhat blearily.

Pressing another soft kiss to the dark brow, the redhead inquired, "Are you okay, Hel?"

A ten-thousand watt smile split the brunette's face as she pulled herself -- impossibly, it seemed -- closer to Barbara. Helena turned her head enough to press her lips to the redhead's collar bone before whispering, tone clear and light, "I'm great".

The End