DISCLAIMER: I own the thoughts in my head, maybe <g> but the characters of BoP are not mine. No infringement harm intended & certainly no profit is made.
DEDICATION: A big huge thanks to April who beta'd this for me & gave me sound advice when my brain was stuck. Any still existing typos are completely my own fault when I revised a final time.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: If you like fluffy fic, I don't think this will be it. Call it a hunch, & fair warning.
SPOILER: After the events in Devil's Eyes with a bit of essential creative retelling of events.
FEEDBACK: Please let me know what you think Always appreciated, especially as this is my first BoP fic
ARCHIVING: If you like & want? Just ask.
PAIRING: Barbara/Helena

Where Angels Dare Not Tread
By North

Part Eight

Despite my fear, sleep claims me. A soul-deep weariness drags me under. I always dream. I wait for them to come, visions of blood and anger and screams.

Nothing could prepare me for what did appear.

It's still the city. But it's not any New Gotham I recognize. There's no cold wind, no stench of rancid decay that I'm used to. The breeze is gentle, and the smells are like any city anywhere. I'm not haunting rooftops, I'm on the ground. And the sky above me isn't dark. I'm standing on a sidewalk, in the day, under a sky of perfect, unmarked blue. People are about. Families and couples, walking by me like I'm as normal as a blue sky. Across the street, children are buying ice cream from a man wearing a white cap in an equally white truck. Happy. That's the only word to encompass the scene I'm in.

It unnerves the hell out of me.

I look down at myself and am reassured by the familiarity of my long black coat, similar shirt, leather pants and black combat boots. My night gear. I'm grateful that something's normal here. I see a bench beside me and decide to sit. Not knowing what else to do, I watch the kids playing in the street.

"Here." A familiar voice just behind me and to the right says.

I turn my head and see a slender hand offering me a chocolate ice cream cone. I look past the hand and ice cream and look up into amused green eyes.

I take the cone and wave at dream Barbara to sit down. "You got any idea what freaky thing this is all about? Because I gotta tell ya, aside from you, it's creeping me out."

Barbara laughs, "Only you could find a scene like this creepy."

I stare at Barbara. There's a word to describe how she looks licking her ice cream, wearing her white tee shirt, jeans, motorcycle boots and the familiar jacket. That word is sexy. Damned sexy. Hell, even my subconscious version of her turns me on. Pathetic.

I gesture to the people around us. "Barbara, people are acting happy."

She comments with her usual sarcasm, "Helena, people can be happy. It's actually a state many seek. Anyone is capable of it. Including you."

I shake my head in disbelief and lick my cone. My eyebrows rise, "It's triple chocolate. That's my-"

"Favourite. Yes, I know."

"What flavour's yours?"

"Rum and raisin."

"Yuck! How can you lick that?"

"It keeps you from stealing bites of it now doesn't it?" she smirks at me knowingly.

"That was one time and years ago! Sheesh, if a friend won't even share a lick of her ice cream...that's not right. Besides, it can be fun to share." I finish my statement by curling my tongue and caressing my ice cream suggestively. I hold Barbara's gaze with mine as I do so. She stares at me so long that I finish my ice cream.

"Your ice cream's melting."

She clears her throat and looks after her own cone. "Don't you need to breathe at all when you eat food like that?"

"The one thing I definitely never lack is stamina." I lick the stickies of my hand and fingers where the ice cream had dripped.

"Must you make everything sound so suggestive?" She complains, noticing the movement of my tongue around my digits.

"No," I grin mischievously at her. "But it sure makes it more fun."

Barbara shakes her head but she's still smiling. She finishes the remains of her ice cream and wipes her hands off with a napkin. She stands and tosses it into a nearby garbage can. Over her shoulder she calls, "You coming?"

Curious, I stand and follow her around the corner of a red brick building. This is one bizarre dream for me but so far it's...okay. Once I turn the corner fully, I stop and gape a little. Sleek looking Barbara is standing by an almost equally sleek bike, looking at me expectantly.

"What's this?" I ask.

"A motorcycle." She answers me, speaking slowly. "A fuel injected engine on two wheels that has the capacity to carry two individuals and travel at high velocities.

I toss her my most unfriendly glare, "Seriously, what's the deal? I don't get this cleaner, happier Gotham, the blue skies, you being all nice to me. Why's everything so perfect?" I never could trust a good thing.

"Not everything is perfect." Barbara responds, a shadow passing over her face. In the distance, I can hear gun shots and a maniacal laugh that sends cold shivers down my spine. Barbara shakes her head and blinks, and just as quickly the eerie sounds are gone.

"What the Hell was that?" I ask.

Barbara pauses near her bike. "Something else. It's not why I brought you here."

"Brought me here?" I'm deeply at sea.

"We have a lot to talk about." Barbara tells me in her serious, near Oracle-like voice. She studies me for a moment. Then she smiles and it's even more perfect than the blue sky above us. "But first I'd like to take you somewhere else. A better place. As much as I like this memory of Gotham, I want to show you my special place. A place for us to have our quid pro quo."

"Barbara," I explain to her patiently, used to this from her over he years. "You slipped into nerd speak on that last part so can you back it up a bit?"

"Oh, it just means a mutual and equal exchange." One of the things I always liked about Barbara is that she explains things and answers any question without ever making you feel inadequate or stupid. It's one of the things that makes her a great teacher and a great person. Honestly, I'm still not following but she's giving me that lopsided smile of hers and it's distracting.

Half hopeful, half shy, she continues, "Plus, I wanted to offer you a ride. In return for the one you gave me." She pats her bike affectionately. "I know it can't compete with hurtling over rooftops but I promise it will be fun."

I look around at this perfect Gotham, the perfect sky, and perfect Barbara. "Am I dead?" I finally ask her.

Barbara bursts out laughing."No, you're not dead Hel. Just a bit of turn around. I'll explain it all, I promise. For now, can you trust me enough to let me give you a ride with me?"

She holds her hand out to me and it reminds me strongly of the time before, when this realistic dream Barbara held out her hand to lead me back to life.

Now, like then, I take her hand.

I straddle the bike behind her. I'm all too aware of the heat emanating from the body so close to me. Gingerly, I place my hands on her hips.

Barbara throws me a sly look over her shoulder. She grabs my hands and pulls them snugly around her waist, forcing my body to embrace the full length of her from behind. She gives my arms a pat before she revs her bike. "You're going to want to hang on tight for this."

I bury my face in the heavy read silk of her hair and purr into her ear, "Well then, let's see if you can impress me."

In answer to my challenge she guns the engine. Without warning, she makes the bike jump as we hit the street.

Holy shit, Barbara Gordon just popped a wheelie.

She moves us easily through the traffic, weaving us in and out at ever increasing speeds. In no time, we're past the city limits and onto open road. That's when Barbara chuckles low and throaty. She ups our speed even higher. Faster and faster we go until I can barely open my eyes against the wind's sting and Barbara's mane whipping behind her like fire. The scenery becomes a blur of colours.

It feels like flying.

This is...wild.

I laugh and feel her do the same even as the wind steals the sound. I think this is the best dream I've ever had.

A wonderful eternity passes before she eventually slows and we stop. I get off and she follows. My body hums from the ride.

I study her flushed appearance and know she feels the same. "That was amazing. I never knew you could drive like that!"

Her smile is the most open and happy I've ever seen her. It's the most unguarded expression she's ever allowed me to witness. It batters my heart to see it. If I hadn't been in love with her already, that smile alone would trip me to fall for her all over again.

"It was cool wasn't it." she grins breathless.

"Damn fine ride." I agree whole heartedly. A grin of my own stretching my face with unaccustomed joy.

Barbara gazes around us, exhilarated. "This is my special place. What do you think of it?"

I was so busy admiring Barbara that hadn't noticed our surroundings. Now that I did, I couldn't help but gasp at the sight.

We're surrounded by trees. The tress rippled with fragrant blossoms of red, pink and white. The petals dance on the sweet wind and swirl around us. I'm kissed softly by a white petal that touches my cheek before falling to join the colourful, sweet scented carpet of petals on the ground. I've never seen anything like this before in my life.

That troubles me, after all, shouldn't the stuff in my head be what's in my head?

I look to Barbara, who's already seated herself under one of the trees. I walk over to her, noting how her eyes sparkle as she watches me.

"It's Japan." she supplies. "I went here once long ago for a gymnastics competition. It's one of my favourite memories, being here, under the cherry blossoms."

That explains it. I must have seen a photo she had and heard her talk about it at some point. I just don't remember it consciously.

It's so strange, but here, I'm not on edge and angry and fearful like I usually am in my dreams. Instead, I feel safe, protected.

"This place is amazing. Spectacular." I tell her warmly. I decide since this is all some crazy, happy dream, that I'll take advantage of it while it lasts. Casual, that's me as I lay down by her and lay my head in her lap. Almost instantly, her hands are in my hair, threading her fingers through my short strands lovingly. It makes my bruised heart ache. If only this were real. Tears prick my eyes and I force them down. I don't want to ruin this mood.

"You like, I take it?" she asks gently.

"I like." I tell her with all certainty.

"I'm glad." She gazes past me after, looking at nothing, deep in thought. "I also wanted to share myself with you. It's not easy for me to let go of my self-control." A forlorn sigh escapes her.

"Hey," I touch her face lightly, concerned, "you don't have to tell me anything. Share anything. Not if it makes you sad."

She grasps my hand and kisses the palm, searing my soul with the gentle touch of her lips upon my skin. "I'm not sad. It's just, as Batgirl, I learned to keep so many secrets; Bruce's, Dick's, Selena's, my own...It became a part of me, that secrecy. And after the shooting, if I didn't keep my emotions under the same kind of control, I think I wouldn't have made it quite as intact mentally or emotionally." She holds my eyes, hers dark with memories, "I don't think you'll ever truly know how much you saved me that first year. I was ready to give up, and every time I would have, you were there. You reminded me I wasn't the only one who was hurting. You were in so much pain but you still reached out to me, felt my pain too. I could read it in your face, especially your eyes. And maybe it was also that you seemed as lonely as I was. You were the only one I felt comfortable with. The only one I felt I could trust. You'd say something outrageous, or hug me, or pull some wild stunt...and suddenly, I believed I could get through another day. After a while, the days stretched into weeks, the weeks to months, and the months to years. All because you were there for me, making it a little bit better every day, until it became easier for me to live again." She blinks back tears, "You still make it better Helena."

"But I almost killed Quinn." my voice comes out hoarse from tears of my own that I refuse to shed.

Barbara shakes her head, "So did I, or did you forget talking me away from that choice between vengeance and justice?"

I open my mouth to protest. I close it, then open it again. "That was different."


"Because that was you." I wave vaguely between us, "And this is me."

She chuckles, "That's not an actual argument."

"It is!" I insist. "You're a good person Barbara, a true hero. She killed Wade, the man you loved. You were provoked."

"And you weren't?" She counters. "She betrayed your trust Helena. Used it against you to hurt the people who mean the most to you. Who you love." She adds, "Besides, I never was in love with Wade."

Her last words fall more softly than the petals landing on my skin, but their weight is immeasurable.

Finally I breathe out, "That's not true."

"I warned you that I'm not as perfect as you made me out to be." Her expression is so open and filled with such sorrow that I instinctively sit up and pull her into my arms.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologise Hel. Please. It wasn't your fault." She pulls out of my arms after a moment and wipes her eyes.

"I don't understand. You did love him,. He made you happy. I could tell."

Barbara stares at me a long time before speaking. "There are all kinds of love. He was a kind and decent man. I loved him as much as I could, which was far less than he deserved."

"Than why were you with him?"

"Because I thought he was who and what I should want. But I've never been a white picket fence kind of girl. And he was definitely that kind of guy." She looks down at her hands, lying limply on her lap, "And I missed you since you moved out. I though it was past time for me to give up the ghost of what I really wanted. What I could never let myself have. I guess I thought I should settle. And that was unfair to him."

Her shoulders slump and she still won't look me in the eye. I struggle to find the right words to say. "Okay, I'll grant you that it bites. Hell, I'll even try to be mature enough to say Wade did deserve someone who was in love with him. But," I tilt her head up to meet my gaze, "it was also damn unfair to you. You should never have to settle."


I stop her protest with a stern look,. "No Barbara, you shouldn't feel guilty about wanting to be loved. You deserve to be. You are. At least you never treated Wade badly. I sure as hell can't say the same about how I've treated Reese."

I brush the petals off myself, "It's not like I can't relate. Reese is a good guy. A decent guy. He even fights for justice. A hero in his own way. He's what I thought I was supposed to want." I consciously echo her words back to her, "I thought that he was who I was supposed to want. But I wouldn't settle even though I don't deserve anyone as good as him."

"That's not true!" Barbara grabs my hands tightly, here green eyes blazing. "You deserve what you truly want. You deserve to be happy! Why do you always insist on believing in the worst in yourself instead of seeing what I see in you?"

I pull out of her grip. "Right. Let's see, could it be because I could only watch while my mother was killed? That I could do nothing when you were shot." I growl and stand up. "Maybe it's because I know I'm a screw up. Maybe it's because all I can feel most of the time is this rage inside of me and this need to beat, tear and rend anything in my way. Because the meta part of me just wants to take and the human part of me wants to lash out at everything. Or maybe, it's because I betrayed you. And that hurt you. I hurt you."

I shouldn't have let this pretty scene fool me. Anything that starts off pretty in my head always turns out ugly in the end. It can never end any other way.

Barbara stands, "You didn't hurt me. Quinn did. And anger isn't the only thing you feel. Do you think I don't know about grief and rage and helplessness? That I don't sometimes wonder 'what if I kill the Joker' every time I think about what I've lost when he put me in that chair? That there weren't moments I blamed myself for what my biological father did to me? I did. We all have our ugliness inside Helena. All of us have this place where we keep our twisted urges and thoughts safely hidden. No one, and I mean no one, is pure good, flawless."

"I've watched you Helena, and you're as capable of great love as you are of feeling such rage. You're passionate, intelligent. I remember when I first woke up in the hospital and the first thing I saw was you. And you stayed by my side, always looking out for me, so tender. You have a capacity for such compassion and gentleness Hel. And it pisses me off to no end to hear you talk about yourself like you're nothing when you've been everything to me!"

I blink. Then, I remember to breathe. I go over her words in my head several times from different angles. All the while Barbara just watches me. Waiting. Always waiting.

I look around us again, taking in the foreign scene. This place is nothing like my dreams. Even now, distressed, I still feel this sense of warmth and protection. Like someone's holding me in a metaphysical embrace, trying to comfort me. My dreams are many things, comforting is far from them.

"Remember in the hospital, three days after you were shot, I was there?" I didn't wait for her to answer but continued, "You were in that brace. You were so pale. You hadn't woken up yet. Not once. It was well into the night. I had slipped in, past the security and the night nurse to see you. I had to see you. I held your hand and I was so afraid you would never open your eyes. I cried. I begged for you to give me a sign that you would wake up. Open your eyes. Squeeze my hand. Anything to give me faith that I wouldn't be alone. I told you if you died that I would too. That I had nothing and no one else. So I prayed and begged and wept at your bedside. I was so scared I couldn't think, couldn't even breathe. Do you remember what you did?"

Tears glisten in her emerald eyes, "No. What happened?"

I meet her gaze and tell her, "You squeezed my hand. And I could breathe again."

"I don't recall any of that." she steps in, maybe to take me into her arms. I'll never know because I step away from her.

"You're still my air Barbara. Even if you've proven that you can be deceptive."

She frowns. She doesn't follow.

I wave at the light rain of petals and idyllic scene around us. "You've never shown me a picture of this place have you?"

"I...I don't recall. I don't know what photos I've shown you over the years. I'm not a scrapbook type."

I nod, knowing it's true. "And you don't remember that time in the hospital because you were unconscious at the time. Only I remember it. And I never told you before. So how did you swing this with Dinah? Can she hear our thoughts, see what we see, hear what we say while we're here in your head Barbara?"

Barbara's breath catches, her eyes widen. She rallies herself though, "No, she can't. She claims whether it's your head or mine, we both are guarded like a son of a bitch."

She's waiting for my blow up. I can see her braced for whatever I throw at her. Whether physical or verbal. Knowing Barbara, she probably thinks she deserves it.

So many things make sense now. Of course this dream New Gotham didn't look familiar. It was her Gotham, old Gotham. And it's also why I feel safe here, it's her head, not mine. And in the real world, all the covert glances at me that I noticed, not understanding why. I'm beginning to understand them now.

"In my dreams you're never like this, it should have tipped me off back when you were in my head. That was you right? The real you."

She nods, not daring to speak. She's still waiting for the other shoe to fall.

I pace. The whirling inside my head is making stillness impossible for me. "And you saw everything. Know all my secrets. What I've done. How I feel. Right?"

"I should have told you right away." She almost takes a step towards me but stops. It's strange to see Barbara less than fearless. "But I was so afraid of losing you. Of your health getting worse or you running away. I thought if I brought you here, shared myself with you like you unknowingly did with me, that it would give us more equal footing with each other. Make you feel less exposed."

"Quid pro quo." I whisper.

"Yes." Barbara takes a deep breath and does take that step toward me. This time I don't step back.

"You knew, all this time." It was more a statement of amazement on my part than a question.

"Yes." She answers again, just as softly.

"And still you took care of me. Let me stay in your bed. Let me sleep with you."

"Of course."

I shake my head. "How? Why?"

She shakes her head, puzzled by my questions. "I felt your pain Helena. And more. You're inside me now. Can't you feel what's inside me? That's your answer."

"I don't get it. I only feel me. And this funny warm safe feeling.:"

A frown doesn't lessen her beauty in the slightest. "Damn, I must still have my walls up and don't even know it." She takes another steadying breath and holds out her hands to me, "I need you to take my hands..if you can trust me enough."

"You forgave me," I tell her, remembering what she had told me that time she was bridged mentally to me, " after everything, you forgave me and took care of me." I sadly regard her, it hurts to see her so ready to think that I'll treat her so badly, so unfairly, after everything she's given me. I'm overwhelmed but I don't hesitate to clasp her hands in mine. Hers are cold. Barbara's afraid.

"What do you need me to do?" I ask her, my voice stronger, gaze direct. I would kill for her. I would die for her. Taking her hand to know what she feels may be scary but I can see what it's costing her, the most private person I know. If my willingness is what she needs, I can be compliant for her. Only for her.

Her eyes hold so much gratitude that I nearly weep then and there. "I need you to listen. Not with your ears, but your mind. And your heart. You have to quiet yourself and sense what's outside of you. What parts are actually me that you're feeling."

I frown a little at the metaphysics but seeing her face so anxious, I don't say anything. I focus first on just breathing. Next, I focus on the warmth that I know is her. Like strong comforting arms around me. She always wants to protect me. And that's when I sense her. Like background music, unless you concentrate on it you don't realize it's there. But when you do, you can make out the tune and the words.

Emotions not my own swirl around me, teasing my senses before washing over me, through me. My hands convulse over Barbara's as I inhale sharply at the rush of sensations. Anxiety and worry first and foremost followed by a fear as great as my own, making me gasp. Fear of losing what you hold most dear. Fear of destroying it. The fear of being discovered and it all happening anyway. The sharp discomfort of being vulnerable and open, so foreign a feeling to us both over the years of careful guarding and isolation from the rest of the world.

More emotions come as we go further. A deep ache brings tears to my eyes. A longing inside her so all encompassing that it easily rivals my own. Despair for the missing part inside of you that hurts and can never be filled. And then, beneath it all, a feeling swells and bursts through me, filling me. It's the kind of feeling that breaks your heart and heals it all at the same time.


My eyes fly open. I can only stare at the very real woman in front of me. "Barbara."

All I can say is her name. Even if I couldn't feel her anxiety or her pain, just knowing her I know how much it's costing Barbara to reveal herself so openly to me. To leave herself completely vulnerable to me, to anyone. And she's done it for me. For me.

"Barbara, I didn't know." I could never have known, could never have guessed this.

"I should have told you it was really me when you had almost slipped into a coma. I should have told you right away." She apologizes. She doesn't need to.

I can't help the sad smile at her misunderstanding. "I'm not talking about that. You did it because you were afraid of losing me. Because you care for me. What I don't understand is why you never told me about how you feel? All these years and I never guessed."

Green eyes widen. I squeeze her hands more gently than before. "You're terrified. Please, Barbara, don't be."

"How can I not be afraid?" her voice shakes, "How can I not be afraid of losing the most important person in my life?"

The sense of loss sweeps over us both. I hasten to reassure her, "You haven't lost me Barbara. You're the air that I breathe, remember?"

At last, she graces me with a smile. It's as shaky as the ground we're on, this unknown path, but it's her and me and the smile is honest.

A thought strikes me, "When you were in my head, I was slipping into a coma. You kept asking me to go with you so that I'd wake up, right?" She nods. "But when I first said no, you told me you'd stay with me. You meant it. You'd have stayed. What would have happened to your body in the real world? What would have happened to you?"

She shrugs in a way that means everything and nothing. "Probably would have fallen into a coma as well. I'm not sure."

"Could you have died?" I nearly whisper the question, half-afraid of her answer.

She shrugs again, saying nothing.

"You could have died. Just to stay with me?" I gape at her.

A tear streaks down her pale cheek, "Helena, you're the air that I breathe."

My own tears fall. We find ourselves in each other's arms, holding tightly. She's still talking, her words slightly muffled against my shoulder. "It would have been better having a half-life inside you than what would have been left of me if you had gone. It would destroy me to lose you Hel. As it is, I almost did lose you. If I had only been able to tell you how I feel, really feel, how much I need you, then so much of this misery could have been avoided. Wade would be alive and you wouldn't hate yourself the way you do....I've failed you."

My hand tangles itself in her hair. "You could never fail me Barbara and you never have. Honest."

Her whole body trembles, "That's not true. If I wasn't so afraid, if I hadn't been such a coward, then you could have been spared so much grief. But I was so desperately afraid of losing the one person I relied on. I was so afraid of losing my best friend."

I could never conceive of this. That Barbara would need me as more than a distraction, a hero in training to mentor, but need me as another soul to seek comfort from the dark. Including the dankness within ourselves. No, I never would have believed any of this except for the fact that I can feel what she feels and sense her thoughts as if they were my own.

Barbara loves me. She's seen all the worst of me and she loves me. We've both been so foolish. With a ghost of a grin, I try to chase her fears away, "I was wrong."

She looks up and sees my grin, "About what?"

"You, Barbara Gordon, are as broody and romantically self-destructive as the next person."

Her lips twitch. My grin widens. The tension between us breaks and we both burst out laughing. We laugh so hard that we lean against each other for support, tears in our eyes. Letting the intense emotions wracking us, drain away.

"Told you I was," She gasps, catching her breath. "Don't forget deceptive."

"I already mentioned that." I elbow her affectionately. "Though we'll have to add Dinah's name on that list. What did you do, wait until I fell asleep and then sneak the kid in?"

"She was very willing to help." Barbara adds mirthfully, "She said to me 'It's about time you two got this out in the open.' Looking back, I don't think she meant my telling you about being in your dream state. I think she knew how we feel about each other."

Just like that, Barbara acknowledges a truth we've both hidden from for years.

"Dinah's a perceptive kid." Is all I say.

"And good. And not so much of a kid anymore. I'm glad she's with us." Barbara adds.

"Me too. I guess this means we have to keep her huh?"

Barbara's arm around me tightens. "Think she'd be able to put up with a couple of weirdoes like us?"

"Speak for yourself." I razz her lightly.

When she catches my eyes, her expression is serious. "Helena, I want tell you, to say the words even though you know how I feel. Can sense it." Her voice softens and takes on a whole new lustre and tone unknown to me, "Helena, I lov-"

"Don't!" She starts. I didn't mean to alarm her. I hurriedly explain. "I want to hear you say those words. I do. Really. But not here. I need to know this is real. I mean, I know this is real but I need it to not be in my head or your head. I want it to be in the real world. The two of us."

Barbara seems to understand despite my clumsy attempt to express myself. "Then let's go." She holds her hand out, just like before.

We both smile as I take her hand. It seems she's destined to lead me to the light, however many times it takes.

I wake up in Barbara's bed with her beside me. Dinah is perched next to us sitting, her hand clasped on top of Barbara's hand intertwined with mine. Dinah gives both our hands a squeeze before standing up and smiling down at us.

"All sorted out?"

"Yeah." I wink at her. I feel like I could fly I've never felt so elated. "You get a cookie."

She tries to glare but the yawn ruins the effect, as does her sunny face. "I'm not your pet. Don't 'cookie' me."

I glance at the clock. "You were up late doing a good deed on our behalf. How about you catch some shut eye and in the late morning I treat you to french toast?"

Dinah looks genuinely frightened, "You're cooking?"

Barbara snickers. This is the loyalty I inspire. "Actually, I was going to treat you to Mama Lou's House of French Toast. You know, the place that puts glazed strawberries on top? With icing sugar? And if this one behaves," I nudge the woman laying beside me, "I'll let her come too."

"Kewl!" Dinah squeals, she loves her sugar almost as much as I do. She bends down and gives us both quick kisses on the cheek before bounding off to bed. "Goodnight!"

I touch the side of my face and stare at the empty doorway. I turn to a grinning Barbara. "You'd better watch out for her. She's getting feisty."

Barbara laughs. She hugs me to her and I lose my train of thought. She knows all my twisted inner workings, every secret, and she loves me. She knows and she accepts me. As is.

Our faces are only inches apart. Her breath is sweet on my face, tickling my mouth. With green eyes watching me warm and tender, she says the words I've longed to hear.

"Helena Kyle, I love you."

She doesn't wait for a response but leans in to kiss me. The faintest caress of her full lips on mine and the fear spikes through me. I pull back to sit up and away from the coveted touch of her languid body and sensual mouth.

"Hey," her hand coves my knee, her words still as soft as cherry blossoms. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No. No, of course not." She was in my head. Barbara knows everything so she understands why I'm afraid. Still, I hate to give it voice after living with it for so long. "It's just...I've dreamt about this for years. And it probably sounds silly considering all we've been through together but..." It's almost too embarrassing to finish.

"Hel, you can tell me."

Barbara's gentle regard undoes my pride as if it were only a paper tiger. "It's just that I always thought we would have a first date before our first kiss."

The sudden, delighted smile on her face is brighter than the moon and stars combined. "You want to date first, before we kiss?"

I nod, the heat rushing to my face.

Barbara traces the blush on my cheeks with unsteady hands, her face filled with wonder. "A first date, a real date before we kiss. I think that's the most perfect, most romantic idea."

"Then you will? Go out on a date with me?" Nothing beyond that one date and kiss can happen but Barbara knows that after being inside me. It's such an astonishing feeling to be so completely accepted. One date, our first and only kiss...but it's so much more than I ever hoped to have.

If anything, Barbara's smile widens and brightens, lightening the weight in my heart immeasurably. "Yes Helena, I'd love to go out on a date with you."

"Friday night?"

"Sounds perfect." She laughs out of sheer happiness. I've never heard that laugh before. I hope to hear it more. I hope to be the reason for it. We'll both be sad after the date. Wistful for what we wished we could have, but at least we'll have this one perfect day to hold in our hearts. A cherished memory to hold close in my heart for when my demons rage.

Barbara laughs again. "Just think, if we had only had the guts to tell each other how we felt years ago, this could be our anniversary right now. We've wasted so much time. I'm so grateful we have a chance to make up for."


The words whirl in my head. I quickly force a laugh and get out of the bed to close the door so that she can't see my face. My heart clenches in that moment. With those words I've realized I had assumed too much. Believed in the shiny beautiful dream held before me only to see it break and shatter in the same breath. I believed she had uncovered all of me while she was in my head, feeling my heart and hearing my thoughts.

I was so completely, terribly wrong.

Barbara didn't know.

I lie in the dark, in her bed, beside her. She's already nearly asleep. She can't feel the shadow hanging heavy over us. And I won't let her. I'm not much for prayer. The only things I've ever had faith in were my mother and Barbara. But here, in the dark, I pray.

I pray for whatever power may be out there, to please be merciful to the woman beside me. I pray for us to be granted one perfect day for her sake. Let me give her that one date and steal that one kiss...

before I take it all away.

Part Nine

Friday comes like a clarion call and I'm a woman on a mission. Nothing matters more than tonight being perfect. I survey the store I stand in and scrutinize all it's flora. I've never bought flowers for anyone before, except my mother's grave. Both experiences I'm finding equally daunting. Flowers for Barbara. Of course I would get her some, but the red roses are too cliché. Yet, I want to get her roses. Too many teenage fantasies of this moment insist on it. It's my adult self that balks, unused to all this uncertainty. First date. First love. Undiscovered country.

An unusual colour catches my eye. I move towards it. Roses. Not red. Not any colour I've seen before. In the semi-shade, they are almost silvery grey, but where the light catches them, the petals are a delicate mauve. Soft. Subtle.

"These." I point them out to the florist. His name tag says Shawn, his hair balding. His eyes are shrewd.

He tuts over the price, while eyeing my leather pants and fashionably torn shirt. He thinks I can't pay. "Stirling Silver roses. A splendid choice but they are imported. Much more expensive than the regular ones."

"Money's not an issue." I wave him along, flashing a number bills with the right presidents, effectively silencing the shopkeeper's protests.

He hums while taking the flowers out and preparing to box them. I have to stop him before he put the regular greens in with Barbara's roses. "Not those. The Tiki ferns." I point behind him to the delicate feathery ferns.

He obliges. Then his hands hover over the Baby's Breath. I shake my head.

"I need better." I know I'm being difficult. But I'm always difficult. And I only get one shot at this; I plan to do it right. It needs to be perfect. At least as close to perfect that anything on this screwed up planet can be.

He shows me other accents and filers. One bucket makes me pause. I regard the white minute flowers fanning out from green stems like feathers. What caught my eye was the smallest dot of deep purple at the heart of every one of those small blossoms.

"Purple Caspia," Shawn supplies. "That would be perfect for your flowers. It will bring out the colour in the roses. See?" He takes some out and holds it up with the roses. He's right, the fanning white contrasts the colour while the subtle darker purple accentuates the mauve, bringing out the full soft colour of the roses.

"Put them in and ring it up."

It's only when I put the change back into my coat pocket that I feel something in there I hadn't noticed before. I wait until I'm in a taxi, the ribboned box safe beside me on the seat, before I take the object out of my pocket.

A folded note. I feel my face stretch into a smile before I even open it. It's folded with such meticulous neatness that I know it's from Barbara. I scan over her elegant handwriting.

There're a hundred things I should be doing today but all I can think about is you.


It takes me three more readings before I can bear to put it away, carefully folding it along the seams she made. Once I'm home, I'll add it to the growing pile of notes Barbara has been leaving around for me to find. It started the first day after we agreed to go out on a date. The first note was in an opened box of poptarts. Her onslaught of gentle affection continued form there, in every word of every note. And even thought he words varied, the message was always the same.

I love you.

I've never received a love letter before. And now I had a growing pile of them. Never a date or someone to get flowers for. The notes stay in the hidden drawer in my room at the Clocktower. I'll keep them safe for the time fast approaching when I won't be receiving them anymore. The ache in my chest haunts me. Like any pain I feel, I accept it and keep breathing. I learned long ago that I can't make the pain go away.

All I can do is live with it.

The Clocktower is quiet when I enter. A quick sniff of the air tells me that Dinah is here, the strains of muted music mean she's in her room. No Barbara. A myriad of strange, new scents are filling the place. They seem to be coming from the direction of my room.

I tuck the long box of roses under my arm and nudge my door open with my boot. The sight of what's become of my room stuns me.

Flowers. Everywhere. All kinds, a sea a fragrant colours. Roses, carnations, bleeding hearts, forget-me-nots, lilies, and dozens of others that I haven't a clue as to what they're called, fill my room. And not just flowers. Balloons are in here. Some regular, others metallic with hearts on them, bouncing off my ceiling as they wander the confines of my room aimlessly. I spy a mug filled to overflowing with foil wrapped chocolates. And on the bed, the only clear space in the room, is a black cat stuffie.

I slide my box on the bed and pick up the stuffed cat. There's note taped to it.

Something to hug until this red head can get to you.


p.s. Maybe someday you'll let me get you the real thing.

I hug the stuffy in pure reflex at reading her words. I understand she wasn't referring simply to getting me a real kitten, but what it would represent, stability, that I would be staying, that we would be an 'us'. The fake black fur is velvet to the touch, and large enough and cushy enough that it is indeed huggable. A light scent in the fur attracts me. I sniff it more closely and a delighted warmth infuses me. Barbara's perfume. Her light scent of cinnamon and what I now know to be cherry blossom, clings faintly to the fur. It seems Barbara decided to test it's huggable quality. Or perhaps, she knows me so well that she knew it would mean so much more if it were to have her scent. That she would know how much this might comfort me, that she could even guess at it...all of this, the flowers, the notes, her sweet wooing of me, is all more than I have ever dreamed of. Tears sting my eyes. I don't want this day to ever end.

I set my cuddly aside. With the greatest of care, I smooth out my latest notes from Barbara. I reach under the drawer of my bedside table and feel for the hidden latch. The secret compartment comes out. A habit learned long ago from my mother, this need to have a place to hide parts of ourselves. Tenderly, I take the small pile of papers out and add the latest to them. Placing them back, I feel for the other item, and take it out. I rest the long black box on my lap. My fingers trace over the velvet as I've done so many times before.

A knock on the door disturbs my reverie. I slide the box under the covers and close the hidden compartment..

"Come on in Kid."

Dinah slips into my room, grinning from ear to ear. She takes in the room and my likely overwhelmed expression. "Barbara really went all out huh?"

She quickly spies the long box holding the roses on the bed. "What are those?"

I quirk an eyebrow at her, "Yes, she went all out. Those are for Barbara. How much did you have to do with all this?"

Cornflower blue eyes blink at me innocently, "Me? Nothing. I just saw the train of deliverers Barbara was conducting. I tried to convince her to hang out and see your face when you walked in, but I think she was too shy."

Such a charming mix of boldness and shy modesty, Barbara is.

"Besides, she said she wanted to go out and buy a new dress and get her hair done. So," Dinah puts her best foot forward, "tonight's the night."


She rolls her eyes at me, "Gosh, don't go all mono-syllabic and broody on me already! I've been waiting for forever for you two to buy a clue."

"You have?"

Dinah quickly holds her hands up. "I didn't do any mind peaking. It's just always been pretty obvious, you know, the way you two feel about each other. The way you always lean against her chair, or her desk near her when she won't let anyone else that close in her personal space. And the way she always touches you when you're close enough, when everyone knows you're not a touchy-feely girl...except with Barbara. The way you both will watch the other when you think the other one isn't looking, or will notice. The way you argue and always forgive each other with barely a word, just a look. The way you say each other's names..."

I cross my arms defensively over my chest, "alright already Sherlock, I get it. I'm dense."

"Not dense." Her playfulness gives way to her compassion, "Just a little disbelieving when it comes to love, specifically someone loving you."

"I know Barbara loves me." Damn, even to me that sounded defensive.

Dinah crouches by my legs. Tentatively, she places a hand on my knee. "But you don't believe in it. You don't think you deserve it. And you're scared about screwing it up. You can believe in this. And you won't screw it up."

She's hitting too many of my nerves square on, but she's right. Except that I've already screwed up and nobody knows it. Except me. But I couldn't say no to a romantic evening with the only person I've ever been in love with. It's always been Barbara that I've wanted. It always will be only her for me.

More controlled, I say, "I believe she loves me, Dinah."

Her blonde head shakes back and forth slowly, "I meant you don't believe in love."

I exhale slowly, "Love can't fix everything Dinah. It'll break you more often than make you."

"I'm not telling you it's a cure-all." Her face is filled with such sincerity, such earnestness, and so much faith that in that moment, my envy of her innocence is a piercing thing. "But I do know that I would sell my soul to have someone I love, love me back, to look at me the way you two look at each other. That's worth some breaking. And maybe whatever gets broken, needs to break, so you can get to what lies underneath."

I stare at Dinah. There must be something in one or more of these flowers that I'm allergic to because my eyes are suddenly burning. I rub at them.

Time to end this.

She squeals as I lunge at her and growl, "Who are you and what have you done with the real Dinah? Cuz there's no way she's this smart."

Dinah relaxes and giggles at the teasing, "Yeah, yeah, smartass. And I am too that smart."

The tension that had been growing in the room drains away with her laughter. Just as I needed it too. I wink at her, "I know you are. Just remember that for tonight I'm Barbara's smartass, so watch it. She's way more dangerous than I could ever be."

Dinah grins, letting the mood lighten and brighten. She's learning when not to push. "I wish I could stick around to see what Barbara looks like once she's back from the hairdresser's but I'm hanging out with Gabby and crashing at her place tonight so you two will have the penthouse all to ourselves."

"You don't need to put yourself out." I protest but her thoughtfulness warms me further.

"Duh! Hello? Big date. First date. This is HUGE! And it's only over an hour away!"

It's actually going to happen. Our first date. Me and Barbara.

"Helena? Helena!" Dinah's getting freaked, I have to pull myself together.

"It's ok. I'm ok. I'm just...a little nervous." More like panic.

"Yeah, first dates are always hard on my nerves." Dinah commiserates, her tone filled with understanding.

Young Dinah, with more experience than me in this arena. And I've discovered recently, she's also far wiser than I've given her credit for. There's suddenly so many things I wish I could ask her. I settle for one. Safe and simple because I'm still a coward.

"Is everyone always nervous before a first date?"

"Usually. I think so, yeah. I now I sure am. Before the date. During. The more I like someone, the more nervous I am."

"So the fact that I have butterflies with dockers on doing Riverdance in my gut is, what, normal?" Hardly a word that usually can be applied to me.

Her eyes soften, "Not only is it normal, I think it's a very good sign. You're human after all Helena Kyle." Before I can even react, Dinah gives me a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'll get out of your hair so you can get ready for your big night. Just remember, she loves you too, so she's probably at least as nervous as you are."

With those parting words, she slips out the door and is gone. I touch my cheek where it tingles from her parting affection. Love in all forms confounds me. Friendship or lovers. It's like reading Chinese, I don't get it. Dinah seems to get it, Barbara has a grasp on it, me, I'm deeply at sea. But somehow I think love has managed to get me.

I take a steadying breath. I have a date to get ready for. And there's no way I'm going to be late. I'm already too late for so many things.

I give myself a final once over in the mirror. Tailored slacks of heavy, black silk flow and drape over my legs and curves nicely. The dark blue silk shirt is deeper and darker than my eyes, making my eyes look violet. The buttons are undone to the point of being rakish, showing enough cleavage without being too graphic. The makeup is perfect, as is my hair. Out of my many sins, vanity is the one I'm all over. It's the only sin I can indulge in without any guilt.

I heard Barbara come home a while ago. She didn't check on me so I gave her the space she was allowing me to get ready. I glance around the room and her many sings of affection., My trail lands on the cat that I hugged earlier. Something to hug until I get to the red head, time I went looking for her.

I want that hug.

I gather the box of flowers, my coat, the slender velvet box, and the car keys. My heart speeds up as I approach her door. Dinah said it was a good sign, this feeling of terror that she called nervousness. I remember to breathe and do what I do best, act casual.

I lightly rap on the door and hear the hum of her chair as she draws close.. She opens it and my plan to sweep her into my arms and hug her is arrested by the very sight of her. Blood thunders in my ears and I can't move.

Her smile is both delighted and amused, "I take it you approve."

She twirls in her chair to give me a better view. I want to nod, speak, but all I can do is stare at the woman before me. Barbara's sheathed in a full length dress so dark a green it almost looks black. It moves up to fasten around her slender neck, leaving her shoulders, and I'm guessing her back, completely bare to my roaming gaze. Her hair is held back by a gold clasp with tendrils of it purposely left loose on either side of her finely sculpted face to shine like lengths of spun rubies. It all serves to make those clear emerald eyes even more luminous. The kohl delicately lining her eyes making them seem even larger. I'm lost in her.

"Approve?" To my embarrassment, my voice comes out hoarse. I shake my head, "There's gotta be a better word for it than that. Barbara, you'd make angels weep, that's how beautiful you are."

She gifts me with one of her rare, completely open, wide smiles. I've been seeing them more this past week. "Thank you," she murmurs, reaching out to feel the cloth of my shirt. "Cerulean blue. It looks amazing on you."

I grin at her rakishly, " Do you approve?"

"Indeed I do." She lets out a breath. It's the first sign I've noticed that she's nervous too. It calms me a little.

I give her the box of flowers. "For you. Though it can't compare to the green house that was formerly my room."

Barbara doesn't open the box, instead she looks at me, her words as hesitant as her hands, "Was that alright? I've never...", she blushes and the sight utterly charms me, "I've never been on a date with another woman before and I was anxious. The only thing that seemed to help was finding things to do for you, those silly little notes, and the other things.. I realize it's not your style. You're too cool for that kind of thing. I-"

Her words stop and her breath catches as I lean in to her and give her a kiss on her soft, soft cheek. I teasingly growl into her pink ear, "Don't even think about apologizing. I loved it. Every note, every flower, even the balloons and the damn stuffy. Thank you for reminding what I was going to do before the sight of you rendered me senseless."

"What was that?" she asks breathless.

The effect we have on each other, the way she reacts to me, it's intoxicating. "Hold on." is the only warning I give her. I warp my arms around her body and lift her up into my arms. Her full length is pressed along mine, my arms holding her easily against me. Her arms wind around my neck and we press into each other. She holds me tight. Not one of those weak, patting hugs that are condescending and fake. A real embrace. Her breath hot against my neck, mine in her hair. We hold onto each other like we're adrift, alone at sea and only the two of us exist.

"Hugging you is way better than that stuffed cat," I confess, but my tone is light and teasing even as my body aches to lay her down on the nearby bed.

"And I've never been jealous of a stuffed anything before."

Instead of releasing me, her arms squeeze me even closer, and I feel warm, wet lips against my neck. I inhale sharply, the beast within me rising at the flare of arousal her touch provokes. I bury my head in her hair, inhaling her scent, drinking it in. "You smell like cinnamon and Cherry Blossoms," I murmur into a now very pink ear, feeling her body flush with heat. It takes all my restraint not to trace the curve of her ear with my tongue, lips and teeth. With will power I didn't even know I possessed, I pull back from her and reseat her in her chair. "I like the way you smell."

Her eyes are darker, more intimate, "I'm glad.." She says it in a way only she has, where it means more than just one thing. I like the other things she's intimating and all I can do is stare at the delicious curve of her lips.

"Helena, how important is it to you that we have our date before our first kiss?"

My want of her is making it hard to think. I do mange to answer her though."Important."

"Than you're going to have to stop looking at me that way, because your looking is like touching, and it's making it very hard for me not to kiss you with you touching me like that."

"Looking isn't like touching," my mouth goes dry at her words. The idea that she wants me too is still too new, too fresh for me to accept so easily..

"Really?" her tone is heavy with amusement and something unknown to me, something headier than anything I've heard from her before. I meet her eyes, they're so dark, they pierce me with her wanting. Slowly, she traces the lines of my face, lingering on my mouth. Her gaze travels downward and my nipples harden under those burning verdant eyes.

"You're right," I nearly gasp. "Looking is like touching."

"Maybe you should open your box?" I nod to the as yet untouched box of roses, hoping it will help us both distract ourselves from our desires.

She nods, still smiling, and opens it. "Hel, Stirling Silver roses, my favourite. How did you know?"

"Lucky guess." I admit as I watch her take one out to smell it, before caressing the petals against the line of her jaw. Her eyes are closed as she revels in the sensation. Apparently I'm not the only hedonist here. It unravels me to watch her like this. It burns me. I want to be that flower, I want to trace her skin, her body with my hands and mouth. My eyes change and I barely manage to restrain the growl growing inside me. My hand clutches the velvet box in my pocket. It helps anchor me. Barbara deserves better than an animal. Barbara deserves better. I force the beast down, and my eyes revert to human by the time she opens her own.

"They're perfect. Thank you. Please, just give me a minute to put them in some water and then we can go to dinner."

I move aside for her. Her free hand reaches out and trails down my arm, to my hand as she passes. I follow in her wake, a turmoil of fear, desire, self-doubt and joy.

The world is a strange and cruel place. The cruelty I learned when my mother was murdered. And all the days since. Tonight, however, with Barbara beside me under the night sky, the world is still strange, and I know it's still cruel, but seeing Barbara smile and knowing it's because of me, has made the world also a splendid and wondrous thing.

Barbara gasps when she catches sight of the restaurant. "Helena! This is the most expensive restaurant in all of New Gotham!"

I open the door for her and wink, "Only the best for you. Besides, I wanted to show you off."

"You want to show me off?" she asks, her voice filled with wonder as I lead her to the elevator.

"Barbara," I chastise her affectionately but I mean every word, "did you not check yourself out in the mirror before we left? You look speckfuckingtacular. There was no way I wasn't going to take you somewhere classy. Though, I have to say, it no where near hits the class level you're at."

"Thank you...sweet talker." She's blushing again. It makes me want to kiss her here and now.

Me and my rules. If only I didn't have them for good reason, I could give in.

The maitre d is there and recognizes the name I give him. He leads us to their most private table, and I notice with pleasure the way everyone can't help but stare at the beautiful woman with me. What an odd feeling, to be pleased and proud that the woman next to me is getting all the looks of curiosity and desire.

The floor to ceiling windows give us a full view of the city at night. The one she's sacrificed so much to protect. I wanted to treat her to it's more pleasurable side for a change.

She stares outside, her expression infused with delight, "The city lights from up here look like twinkling stars. It's an amazing view."

I only half-notice the view, preferring the sight of her profile by candle light. The flame casts varying lights and shadows on upon her, and when her eyes turn back to me, they shine like green stars.

"They have live music." she says, nodding towards a pianist and violinist playing muted classical music. "This is wonderful Helena."

I can only smile at the beauty of her. I hand her a menu and open mine. I look it over. Than I look it over again. My first date, not even an hour into it, and I'm already tripped up. The menu is all in French and only French.

A warm hand covers mine, making me look up into an even warmer gaze, "Do you trust me?" She asks me eagerly, her low voice nearly purring.

Intrigued, I tilt my head at her, "Implicitly."

If anything, her smile widens and brightens. She motions the waiter over. She speaks to him in French and begins to order for us both. I've never heard her speak French before and I can only stare and listen in rapt fascination. I have no idea what she's saying, God I hope she isn't ordering escargot, but I don't care. Barbara's voice has always had a sensual effect on me, playing havoc with my longing. The smoky timber, now speaking with this new cadence is like music to me, teasing my hearing and delighting me.

She hands the menus back and the waiter departs. "So," she draws out the word as she places her elbows on the table, links her fingers to rest her chin on them and regard me with pleased amusement. "You still haven't mentioned where our mysterious destination is after dinner."

"You get points for showing off, but I still won't tell. After all, that would ruin the mystery part wouldn't it?" I tease her gently.

One corner of her mouth quirks upward, "If I can't show off for you, than who can I show off for?"

She's teasing me back but my reply is serious, "You don't need to show off for me. You astound, fascinate and amaze me whenever I look at you, every time I think of you..." I can't help but smile suddenly "but I have to admit I do very much enjoy you showing off."

Her expression gentles further as does her voice, "You say such sweet things."

"Only because it's you. And it's true." Before I lose my nerve, I take out the slim black box and slide it to her on the heavy linen covering the table. "I have a gift for you. Consider it a thank you, for letting me complicate your life."

Surprised, she doesn't say a word but opens the box. Her eyes widen and she stifles a gasp. She takes the necklace out, the gold chain spilling over her hands. The jade gorget of an Asian dragon rests in her palms. Her fingers trace the carved lines and smooth surface. "It's beautiful," she breathes.

"Then it should suit you."

"It's real jade. How did you ever afford it?"

"Time." I shrug. " I saw it years ago and put it on lay-away. The jeweller was an old friend of my mother's, a legitimate contact I might add." Even though my mother ended her years as Catwoman after having me, it wouldn't do for Barbara to think I might have attained her gift illegitimately. "He let me pay it off, over a very generous amount of time. I've actually had it for a while. I kept meaning to give it to you but I never got up the nerve." There was always an excuse. Crime to fight, than Dinah arriving on our doorstep, than Wade was involved with Barbara and I didn't have the heart. And after that, Quinn killed any dreams I still clung to. Or so I thought.

"You've had this for years? For me?"

"It's always been you Barbara, for me."

"Will you help me put it on please?" She holds the necklace against her neck, her eye shining.

"With pleasure," I rise and go to her. She leans forward to grant me better access to her slender neck and the clasp closes easily. I can't help but sneak a caress of smooth skin along my fingertips as I do so.

I move to see her from in front. "I was right, it does suit you." The dark green jade is a close match to vibrant colour of her eyes.

A gentle tug on my shirt pulls me down close to her. "Thank you," she whispers, leaning toward me, her eyes fluttering closed. Guessing her intent, I turn my face just in time for her lips to find my cheek. The touch alone sends my heart racing.

We both pull back and I sit down.

She arches a crimson brow at me, "Tease."

"I don't mean to be." I tell her quietly.

Barbara frowns slightly, her hand again finds mine, "It wasn't a criticism. More of a compliment. I didn't mean to offend you."

"I'm hardly offended." I almost laugh, if she only knew the effect a simple kiss would have on me.

"But I did something wrong, didn't I?"

I shake my head, "Not at all. It's just that the kiss comes at the end of a date, doesn't it?"

"I suppose it does," she concedes "But you make it increasingly hard not to kiss you."

It's my turn to be surprised, "Really?"

"Oh yeah," she drawls, smiling at me. "Didn't I ever tell you that I like complicated?"

I want to lose myself in her gaze, equal parts love and desire staring back at me. No one, not a single soul, has ever looked at me like that. Sure, there's been countless people who have wanted me, but only for sex. And those who wanted more didn't know me, didn't see me, only what they wanted to see. I've never had someone look at me like the woman across from me does now, with such warm affection and desire mixed in. A woman who knows me better than anyone. And still she looks at me with this sweet expression of kindness and longing.

"Trust me Barbara, it's mutual."

Her smile is piercing. Her hand squeezes mine and I know everything's okay.

Even as I think it, I know it's a lie.

Part Ten

Dining with Barbara went even better than I hoped. Despite our mutual nervousness we were able to find levels of comfort in the familiar banter we've developed over the years. There's a new language developing between us now. One filled with open looks of longing, thinly veiled desire, and lingering touches.

Retuning to the vehicle, we sit there, quiet, content. Barbara is staring out the window at nothing, a hand absently stroking her necklace.

"Hey," I gently prod her out of her reverie, "do you trust me?"

A corner of her full lips curve upwards and her eyes shine, "Implicitly."

I chuckle softly at her echoing my earlier words. Reaching into the glove department, I pull out a strip of cloth. Her eyebrows hike up into her hairline when I stretch the cloth between my hands meaningfully.

She points at the blindfold, "Are we about to get kinky?"

Barbara knows we aren't. She has a way of asking what she wants to know without using the exact words. She's sly that way.

"Our mystery destination," I supply as an explanation, holding the cloth up to her, the movement a question.

She quirks an eyebrow at me but leans forward in acquiescence. I can't read the gleam in her eyes. I move closer to her and feel her breath hot on my neck. I put it over her eyes and around, careful not to muss her hair. Just as I tie it in a knot, I'm ambushed by the sudden sensation of her tongue caressing my neck. My breath catches as her tongue creates a slow trail of fire upward to my jaw and along it's curve until she finally reaches my chin. Straight, perfect teeth take quick nip and then she's leaning back in her seat, blindfolded and smug. Meanwhile, my breath is ragged and I'm shuddering that the sensations chasing up and down my spine from her unexpected touch.

"That must be cheating," I say when I can finally speak. I haven't moved so much as an inch away from her.

Her smirk widens. "It's still not a kiss so I don't see how that was cheating. Besides, after a couple of hours of sitting across from you, dying to taste you, this seemed like a reasonable compromise."

She startles slightly at the touch of my fingers against her lips, caressing the curve of them, their softness. Her breath tickles the tips of my fingers as I continue to touch her. The way she said the word taste, throbs in my mind, like she meant more than just my mouth.

"I didn't know what to expect tonight," I tell her, not stopping my exploration of her lips. "You're an incredible date."

Her chuckle is surprised, low and pleased. It sends little shocks through the ends of my fingers, tightening lower things in my body. "You've managed to blow any possible expectations I had right out of the water, in the most wonderful way. You keep surprising me."

"You didn't think I could do romance?" I ask, curious rather than offended.

"Oh, I never doubted that. I just didn't know you could do it so...just so." She finishes, abashed but mirthful at her own loss for words. A rarity. Her voice holding laughter like the sun holds brightness.

Her voice lowers and softens even more, "Hel, with you touching my lips like this...it's becoming incredibly painful to not be able to kiss you yet."

It's as much a warning as a promise.

I withdraw and start up the engine. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize for driving me crazy like this. I felt you might want to know that I was about ten seconds from ripping off this blindfold and taking you right here and now."

My mouth is dry at the realization that I can affect her like this. "It's really getting to you that badly?"

"Helena, I've never wanted to kiss someone so much in my life."

I glance at her, she means it. "If it's any consolation. It's hard on me too."

"Good," she smiles, her hand finding my leg, resting there warm and solid. She settles in her seat to enjoy the ride.

Barbara has been silent through most of the trip. I can almost hear her straining to hear any clue as to our whereabouts. Ted waves us through the gate, a wide grin on his square face. I throw him a wink and guide the vehicle to the building's entrance.

I bring the car to a stop and rest my hand lightly over hers. She hasn't moved her hand from my leg during the entire time of our long drive here. Her thumb rubbing the side of my thigh was an added tease, but I'd swear she hadn't been doing it on purpose.

"We're here," I inform her. I pray this all works out. "But I still need you to stay blindfolded. Do you mind if I place you in your chair and do the driving?"

"Ah ha, so that's why you asked me to use the manual tonight." Her hand gives my leg a friendly, more than friendly squeeze, "And yes, you can do what you need to."

"Cool. But I gotta tell ya, I also like that low rider chair of yours. Kind of sexy."

She laughs, "You just like that it's black." She pauses a second and then adds, "And the fact that it shows more of my back."

What can I say? She's right. The sports model has no side bars and the back comes up at only mid height, which would show a much freer view of the bare back in her sexy dress. "Hey, you show off that much skin and any hot-blooded person is going to want a better view."

"Then by all means," she encourages me, her voice smooth and sexier than any expanse of skin, "take me in."

The transfer is easy. I relished every second of contact with her body. After setting her in her chair, I breathe a sigh of relief that she didn't repeat a similar ambush like when I had blindfolded her.

Barbara heard my sigh and laughs happily. "Don't worry Hel, I'll behave for now."

The 'for now' part worried me in a terrified but eager kind of way.

I use the security pass Ted gave me earlier today and get us in the building. I wheel her into the large domed room, down the aisle and stop beside an suitable chair. "I need to lift you into a new seat."

"I'm all yours."

I place her onto one of the many reclined seats. I regard her almost half lying in the chair, a smile teasing her lips. "If I leave you for a minute, do you promise not to peek?"

"I promise." She wiggles a little and gets comfortable in the unfamiliar chair.

I press my lips to her smooth temple, "I"ll be right back."

I make my way into the back room. Ted explained to me before how to work everything, even giving me a trial run to make sure I had it down. I flip switches and turn dials and the ceiling comes to life, faint music filtering through the sound system.

I return to Barbara and sit next to her. "Ready. Steady." I reach around her and undo the tie of her blindfold, "Now."

Barbara opens her eyes and they widen at the sight before her. She glances quickly at me, astonished, then looks back at the ceiling. She's stunned by the sight of he universe filled with stars and galaxies all moving slowly around the domed surface above us, as if we were floating in space.

"The Old Gotham Planetarium." She says, still staring wide eyed at the universe. "How did you pull this off?"

"I'm a bartender remember?" I answer, pleased at her reaction. "The guy on night shift would come to the Dark Horse, venting his woes about his girl. I gave him some advice and next thing you know, they're getting married and have a little bundle on the way. He said he owed me. I called in the marker."

"Helena, you've outdone yourself." her hand finds mine, "You overwhelm me in the most wonderful, surprising ways."

A smile of pure joy fights it's way free to grace my face. Here in the dark with only twinkling lights from stars and galaxies, I tell her with complete, open honestly, "Heaven fell apart for me long ago Barbara. Then you brought it back to me. It only seemed right to return the favour." The dark, industrial sky has always been unforgiving when it comes to seeing heaven.

Her hand releases mine, finds my face, caressing it tenderly. "You're such a dichotomy. You're wild and brash and yet you still can say such poetry to me, accomplish the most romantic demonstrations of your affections. You defy every dream of love I've ever had, sleeping or imagined."

Her words pierce my heart. I close my eyes at the sweet pain. A tear slides down my face, beyond my control. She catches it with a fingertip and leans in to kiss it away completely. The press of her lips is like her words, tender, warm, undeserved. She makes no move to claim my lips.

"If you don't open your eyes, you can't see the stars." she says ever so softly.

"Barbara," the words slip from my heart like the tears from my eyes, "you are my Heaven."

"I love you too," she whispers to me. She leans her head down on my shoulder, wraps one arm around me to lay snug around my stomach. The other hand lying beside mine, entwines her fingers with my own. With her holding me, I can't help but wonder if love always feels like this. Like someone pried open my chest to pull out my heart, leaving it open and vulnerable.

My free arm covers the one she has over my body, holding it more tightly to me. I open my eyes, but he universe is a blur of flickering lights through my tears.

We sit there in silence, wrapped together, watching universes float around us. Time passes and I curse it. Dinah had said she would sell her soul for this. With stars above me, Barbara holding me tightly, I would sell my soul to keep this moment lasting forever. If only I had a soul left to sell.

"Hel," Barbara asks, not stirring in the least, "is that classical music playing in the background?"

"Yeah. All the programs run with music. I tired to pick something I thought you'd like."

"You hate this kind of music."

I give the top of her head a quick kiss, "Anything for you babe."

She snerks at my razing and snugs me to her more tightly. "Why is it that you dislike classical music so much?"

I continue to tease her lightly, "I only like tunes I can get hot and sweaty to."

"You mean you don't think it's sexy?" her words are heavily laced with amusement.

"Yeah, you can't do the nasty to this kind of thing. Sleepy time tunes."

"You don't think so?" Now there's more than amusement to her voice, but I can't name it.

"Barbara, it's even worse than country." I complain with typical exaggeration.

She raises her head off of my shoulder and regards me, her face mostly in shadow, "You want to bet?"

Bet? "Bet?"

"If I can change your mind about classical music, you fulfill one request for me." Even in the dark, there's lustre to her eyes.

I consider her and that wonderful mind of hers working behind gleaming green eyes, "What kind of request?"

She already guesses what I'm thinking. "Not a kiss on the lips. You can relax. How about a kiss, but not anywhere on my face, or hair? That's what I win if I prove you wrong."

I recognize part of her intent. I adore this playful side of her, and find it impossible to resist. "And what if I win?" I ask.

"What do you want?" She counters, sure of her victory.

"Maybe the same from you?" This was beginning to sound dangerous.

She chuckles, "I'd do that for you anyway." And doesn't that cause amazing things happen inside me at that throaty admission. "Is that all you want?"

All I want. To have what I want. Barbara doesn't know what she's really offering me.

I deflect the dour direction of my thoughts with glibness, "Okay, that, and you do my laundry for two weeks." It saddens me that I have to bluff, to lie and obfuscate to her. It's necessary. Still, her smile makes the outside world seem far away and surreal. For now, it's just the two of us. There's an abyss waiting for me, but Barbara is unknowingly saving me from it for now. Again, it's a matter of time.

She acts like she's weighing her options but we both know her answer. "Alright. It's a deal. Now, to give me a chance all I need you to do is close your eyes and listen to my voice."

"Wow, that's a hardship," I roll my eyes grinning, curious to find out what she's up to wearing that pirate smile.

I do as she bid, closing my eyes. Now I'm fully in the dark.

"Okay, now I want you to listen to the music." She slaps my arm, trying to sound stern and failing amusingly, "Helena! Don't' scrunch up your face like that. You have to really try."

I sigh dramatically and relax myself, "Okay, I'll play nice."

Her voice, a dusky timber, penetrates my senses. In the dark, with no possible distractions, the smooth low tones caress me even more than usual.

"You hear the piano?" I nod and she continues. "The way the piano trills is the way my fingers would dance on your skin, up your arm, across your shoulder, your chest..."

As she says it, I feel it. The music playing in tandem to her suggestions. Exactly the way I want her touching me.

"Now, focus on the strings." her velvet voice caresses and urges me, "You hear how the music rises? That's the way it feels when you finally place your mouth on mine, tasting my lips, slipping your tongue past to brush your tongue against mine for the very first time. The crescendo is our bodies pressed together, your mouth on mine hot and wet, wanting-"

"Stop." I beg her, body on fire. "You win. I'm convinced."

I open my eyes. Barbara is still slightly above me watching me. She's not smiling. The look in her eyes is too deep, too intense for that. A tension builds between us. Electric heat.

I'm afraid. And I'm eager.

"Kiss me." She commands thick and in need.

I ease up from my chair and slide around her. "Sit up." I whisper.

She complies. Waiting for what I might do, wondering what I will do. Thank goodness I put her in an aisle seat. I crouch down in the aisle, her back to me. I remember the rules. Not her head. In the starlight, my gaze feasts on the ivory expanse of skin before me.

I don't ask if she's ready. Her body taut with anticipation. She starts when I lay my hands on her back. I trace the line of her form, revelling in the freedom of being able to enjoy her body, the silken sensation of her skin, the way she trembles at my caresses. I end up resting a hand on her shoulder, the other on the curve of her waist.

She asked for a kiss.

Barbara arches at the first touch of my lips upon lower back. I inhale, taking in the scent of her warm skin as I taste her, all soap and softness. I flick the tip of my tongue out. She gasps and I have to push down the growl fighting it's way to the surface as my arousal rises along with my beast. I wrestle my growing needs back and kiss slowly up her back, mapping her with lips and tongue. I never break contact. When I snake my piercing over a shoulder blade she whimpers so erotically I lose nearly all sense of myself then and there. It's only when I arrive at the base of her neck, where the dress fastens, that I stop. I press my lips to the skin there, resting my mouth upon her before withdrawing completely.

We're both breathing heavily. "Does that qualify as a kiss?" I barely recognize my own voice.

"To hell with if it qualifies or not. All I know is that I want you to do that all over my body."

She twists around in the chair to face me. Her eyes burn into mine. "Take me home Helena."

I nod wordlessly. Time just ran out.

The ride back is a blur. We say not a word, as if to speak might break this fragile moment.

Only the outside clocktower lights filter through to streak us in pale golds amidst the dark shadows. She turns and we face each other. I bend on one knee, place my hands on Her thighs and look up into emerald eyes, both quiet and earnest, as they gaze upon my face.

Her hands rise up to my face. The same slender hands that have patched a thousand hurts, held me close, taught me to fight, wiped my tears. Those same hands now stroked my face tenderly, reverently. We watch each other in awe at this new facet of expression we are finally allowing between us. Too long denied. I don't dare tear my eyes from hers. I don't want to miss a second of the way she looks at me now. How she looks to me, her heart bare to me, her longing a mirror of my own.

My hands cup hers. Not halting, not hindering. Merely to touch and feel her as she touches me. Slowly, I glide my hands along the bare skin of her arms, feeling the fine hairs as I slide them up to her shoulders. I keep moving up, until I'm touching her face, caressing her, a mirror to her actions.

Our breathing seems so very loud, here, in the dark quiet of our long held back desire and longing.

Her fingers trace the line of my eyebrows while my hands reach behind to unclasp her hair. It falls heavy on her shoulders and my open hands, a heavy rain of crimson silk. Her hands on me falter, they fall to my shoulders to steady herself as I twine my hands in her hair. Like forces of nature, magnetic, we pull each to the other. Just a breath from her mouth, I whisper the first words between us since leaving he planetarium.

"Barbara, I can never be anything, except in love with you."

And then.

At last.

My lips find hers. Tears slide from behind my closed eyelids and down my cheeks at the incredible feel of her mouth on mine. The velvet softness so much more than I ever fantasized. The feelings it evokes so much more than anything I've ever felt before this moment. She parts my lips with a questing tongue. I whimper at the first brush of her tongue against mine, sending shocks up and down my spine. She moans as I deepen the kiss. And I steal the sound along with her breath as I drown in the taste of her. Her taste, which will haunt me forever and beyond.

Hands tangle in my hair, pulling me closer, harder. She kisses me like a promise. Demanding and giving all at once. Like something real. Like Heaven.

We can't get enough of the caress of our lips. But she's saying something between heated breaths. The words barely make a sound as they escape her.



Yes, is what I want to say. Taking in her scent of cinnamon and cherry blossoms, my tongue in her mouth, I want to stay. I want to see her hair fanned out around her, her body flushed and sweat slicked moving underneath mine, her eyes on me. Her inside me. Me inside her.

That's when it happens. It rises inside of me, that ugly part of me that's always there, waiting for a chance to lash out, to break out of it's cage. I have to keep myself confined inside, in control, always. But there's always some line where I'll lose, where the control will only last so long, go so far. Than I'm nothing more than raging need. An animalistic surge of primal lust rides over my desires, my love. I clamp down on it with everything I have before I hurt her worse than I already will.

I pull back. From her, and from the abyss widening at my feet. I know that heaven is about to crash around us in bloody pieces. I prepare myself to bear the agony of it's fall.

Barbara doesn't let me pull away, kissing my face, taking my hands and kissing my fingers. "You're crying," she says.

I open my eyes and notice what I hadn't before. "So are you."

She wipes the tears away with the back of her hand, laughing a little. Her other hand clasps mine tightly between us. "It's the good kind. It's just I've never felt so much with anyone else before."

Barbara gazes at me in wonder, at herself, at me, at us. It tears my heart and it will hers too. What love doesn't kill, it surely breaks.

"Barbara," a swell of sadness catches me, changes the word into a sob. I swallow it down as best I can and try again. "Tonight... tonight was beautiful wasn't it?"

Her smile is angelic. Redemption itself but I can't partake of it. "Yes Helena, it's been the most amazing, splendid, wonderful night of my life. But it doesn't have to end yet."

I've never hated myself more than at this moment. "Actually, it does. I need for tonight to stay like this, as perfect as possible."

"Hel," a warm comforting palm cups my face, her face and words so full of warm affection they stab me and leave me cold, empty and cold, "we can make it even more perfect than this."

I shake my head, tears flying free. I can't stop weeping.

Barbara frowns, and even that's beautiful. "I don't understand. Don't you want to stay?"

"More than you can know."

"Than why leave? Am I pushing? Normally I don't sleep with someone on the first date but we've known each other for so long, been through so much."

"You're not pushing Barbara." I kneel up and capture her lips with mine, my last kiss. My last taste of everything that can never, ever be.

"I know you don't understand," I tell her with all the love I have as I stand, my hand reluctant to relinquish hers. "I love you Barbara. I will go to my grave and I'll love you beyond that. Please, just let this night be what it was. A wonderful date. You'll move on. I'll...live. But nothing more can come of it. It can never happen again."

I turn away, dragging my hand from her grasp. I don't want to see the hurt on her face. The pain I just put there. I ignore her calling my name as I head for the door, my heart drenched in all the reasons why.

I can't bear to explain to Barbara that there is far more than my recent betrayal that keeps me from her. That has kept me from her all these years. That will keep me from her forever.

Part 11

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