DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short period of time.
MUSIC DISCLAIMER: Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended.
WARNING: This story deals with the subject of sexual violence.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.


Chapter 17

Home is where the heart is, or so she'd always been told.

Sitting on the low brick wall encircling the clock tower balcony, dangling her legs over the people eighteen stories below who were scurrying to their homes at the end of the day, Helena wondered if the old expression were true. And, if it were, where did that leave her?

For her first sixteen years, the answer to that had been easy. Whether it was a penthouse in Paris or a walk-up loft in New Gotham or any of the hotels they'd stayed in during her mom's extended business trips, her home -- her heart -- was always where her mom had been.

Then, for the first year or so after... after that night, the whole thing had gotten kind of nebulous, as both she and her new guardian were figuring things out. After that, after she'd given her heart to Barbara, there was never a doubt in her mind. The redhead was her heart, so her home was wherever Barbara was.

Even after she'd moved out, when she had tried to make a life without the older woman as the center to her orbit, she'd known she was fooling herself. Even if she couldn't be the person that Barbara could want or love the way that Helena loved and needed her, the redhead remained her heart, her home.

But now? Helena was having trouble with that one.

The brunette pursed her lips and made a rude noise, then cracked a broken smile at herself.

Not much there to entrust to Red for safe-keeping now. Nothing that she'd want... or that was worthy of her.

In the last two days, the older woman hadn't asked her to explain, didn't seem to have dug it up herself yet, but Helena knew that -- as sure as night fell -- she would.

Disappointment wasn't going to begin to cover the redhead's reaction.

Barbara hadn't let her leave the clock tower, of course.

When Helena had made her request after enduring the older woman's examination again, she hadn't had much hope. Normally, she wouldn't even have asked: she would have just booked on out with a breezy shout about things to do. But, a few days ago, shouting -- not to mention walking -- hadn't been on the top of her list of things to do. In order to get back to her apartment, to escape the redhead's painfully concerned attentions, she'd needed a little help.

Knowing, admitting that to herself, she hadn't really expected the older woman just to grab the car keys and say "Let's go", even if Barbara had been the one asking what she wanted. She'd been ready for Red to go all clinical, ticking off all of the physical reasons that she needed to stay. Helena hadn't been prepared for the short, fervent words that the older woman had spoken to keep her at the clock tower.

Green eyes rimmed with tears had sought out hers; a long, slender hand had come to rest on her knee, clenching almost painfully. Then, Barbara said it.

"Don't -- don't go, Helena. Please. I need you here."

And, well, shit.

Anybody who knew anything knew that the brunette could -- would -- deny the older woman nothing.

So, the dark woman had stayed.

She'd spent that first day shut in the redhead's bedroom, allowing the inane patter of the DJs on Barbara's morning wake-up station to wash over her. She'd not noticed, or cared really, when the older woman kept coming in, checking on her, coaxing her to choke down a few sips of juice or bouillon every hour.

That night, recognizing that the older woman would refuse to sleep otherwise, Helena had silently arranged herself stiffly at the very edge of the big bed, staring at the spackle patterns on the ceiling in the dark, trying not to breath too loudly. She'd laid there, experiencing a pain that was far worse than any physical injuries could cause, trying not to hear the other woman's quiet breathing, trying not to notice the redhead's scent, trying not to want -- or need -- the one thing she knew she couldn't have.

When Barbara's breathing had finally evened out, the brunette had slid from under the covers, intent on making her way at least as far as the couch in the living room.

It just wasn't right for her to be there, taking comfort -- always taking -- in the other woman's presence. Still wanting and needing her -- like the air -- to make everything that was broken in her whole again.

Ultimately, the younger woman's body had betrayed her -- too sore, too friggin' tired. Forgetting her destination, Helena had slumped near the door, curling up and allowing the steady breathing from the bed to lull her into sleep.

She must of been more tired than she'd thought, slept harder than usual. The brunette had awakened the next morning to find a blanket tucked over her, to discover the redhead beneath her on the floor, holding her snugly where she'd rested her head on Barbara's shoulder and curled tightly around her human mattress for the second time.

Helena had started, then cautiously looked up to find amused green eyes regarding her. The older woman had pressed a kiss to the top of her head, rubbing her back softly, and chuckled.

"The next time you want a firmer mattress, Hel, just let me know, and I'll see if we can tuck a board under the bed."

Words -- comprehension, really -- had escaped the younger woman, so she'd opted to push herself stiffly upright and had gingerly helped the redhead into her chair. She'd allowed the other woman to coax her out of her dark lair -- "Come on, Helena, let's get some breakfast. For some reason, I'm always famished after camping." -- and lead her to the kitchen.

The Kid had been there, blinking sleepily at the coffee maker and, maybe, using her TK to make it brew a little faster. Helena hadn't known what to say in response to the blonde's effusive greeting, so she'd tried out a half-grin, pleased when the movement didn't open the healing cut on her lip. When Barbara had presented her with a bowl of warm oatmeal -- really more sugar and cream than cereal -- the brunette had remembered a word to use.


That had been weird. The way Red responded, Helena would have thought that she'd just recited a Shakespearean sonnet or something.

Later in the day, the younger woman had hit the shower -- Barbara hadn't even bitched about getting her dressings wet or anything -- and lost herself under a spray that she couldn't make hard enough or hot enough. She wasn't sure how long she'd stayed in there, only that -- at some point -- she'd looked up from where she was crouched in the corner of the tiled stall to find the older woman holding open the shower curtain, extending her hands to help her up.

Helena had managed to towel off and slip into clean shorts and a tee shirt, sparing both of them the ordeal of having the redhead need to do it. She'd sort of faded out again in the bedroom before Barbara had even finished putting the splint back on her wrist and hadn't really been aware of much else until she'd awakened this morning, once again wrapped around her beautiful bedmate.

Today, well, she was getting around pretty good, feeling a helluva lot better. She didn't think she'd be taking any leaps off the balcony yet, but, other than the splint on her wrist and the remnants of the bruise around her throat, the visible signs from the other night were almost gone.

Good old meta-healing. Gotta love it.

The brunette exhaled angrily.

Yeah, meta-healing. Why couldn't it fix the stuff that mattered?

Blue eyes blinked rapidly as the young woman decided that it was about time for her to clear out, to head -- well, the apartment never really had been "home" -- to head back to her own place. But, before she left, she figured she needed to talk to her mentor.

She needed to do the right thing.

So, yeah, she was gonna do that. Talk with her.

Maybe in a few more minutes.

Red had been pretty involved with those specimens that Helena had picked up at the hospital the other night; no need to interrupt her now if she was all lost in her own big brain or something.

The dark woman sat on the balcony, watching the hustle and bustle on the street below. Her attempts to screw up her courage were interrupted by the sound of tentative footfalls on the balcony and a quietly spoken greeting.


Helena stiffly swung herself around to face the teenager and raised a hand in a laconic greeting.

"Is it okay, uh, if I come out? Here, with you?"

The brunette struggled not to flinch at the question.

Fuck. Now she had the Kid all scared to be around her, too.

"Yeah, sure," Her voice was just a little raspy.

She gestured over the edge of the balcony and added, "Didja bring any water balloons?"

Dinah's face was split by a grin as she bounced over to seat herself on the wall near the older woman.

"No, but I do have M&Ms," she held out a pounder of chocolate-filled originals, "You know, melts in your mouth and all..."

Smiling as the girl trailed off a little abashedly, Helena dug a handful out of the bag and popped a few in her mouth.

"S'pose we could use these as projectiles," she teased, tossing one over the wall.

The blonde cautiously leaned over to peer down, inquiring, "Do you think one of these could really generate enough momentum to, uh, knock somebody out or something? If we hit them on the head?"

"Shit, D, I thought physics was your thing," she snarked as an evil grin blossomed.

"Tell you what. Why don't you work out the equation for the momentum of a quarter-ounce piece of candy dropping eighteen stories, and I'll just pitch a handful over and see what happens? You know, theoretical versus practical research?"

The teenager giggled.

"But, really, it wouldn't really hurt anybody would it, Helena?"

Sheesh, the Kid was just one big giant mush ball, wasn't she?

"Nah, unless somebody had his mouth open and ended up in a diabetic coma." She grinned. "Nobody's getting hurt on this detail, Kid."

Fishing in the bag for another handful of the candies -- attempting not to look like she was deliberately trying to snag the green ones -- Helena saw the change in the blonde's expression, watched the girl gnaw at her lower lip.

Oh, shit. Here it came...

"Helena, I'm really, really sorry about what happened..."

The blonde blushed deeply, sounding a little strangled.

"That you -- Well, that this was, uh, what, the way..."

The dark woman sucked in a deep breath, then puffed her cheeks, exhaling slowly. She decided to go with the truth.

"Yeah. It does kinda suck."

Helena's brain came to a screeching halt before performing a stutter-step. For some reason, she wanted to wrap her arms around herself and curl up on the balcony floor. Instead, the brunette painted on her patented cocky grin.

"But, what the hell. After all these years, I figure I was probably overdue or something, you know?"

She poured her handful of predominantly green candies from hand to hand, waiting as Dinah seemed to consider whether to say something else.

"Uh, that's not what -- I mean, yeah, I'm sorry about that..."

The teen's face clearly mirrored the sentiment in her words.

"But," she finished in a rush, "I was, uh, talking about the other -- "

Cerulean eyes very gently fixed on pale blue as the brunette responded kindly, "I know what you were talking about, Kid."

Helena exhaled noisily again, then pushed to her feet, heading towards the balcony doors.

Seemed like as good a time as any to have that talk with Barbara.

Chapter 18

Hearing Helena's entrance from the balcony -- the younger woman still wasn't moving with her normal catlike stealth and grace -- Barbara minimized the terminal window connected to the hospital's records department and checked on the program which was completing a DNA comparison between John Hillerman and Carly Applewood.

There was no reason yet for her younger partner to know that the redhead had made the connection between the EMS pickup near Helena's last location the other night and her attackers. Blood-typing and other data from hospital records perfectly matched the samples she'd obtained from Helena, confirming the identity of two of the young men. While the older woman didn't expect any surprises in confirming the identity of the other two, she had decided to wait for positive identification before, before --

Frankly, at this point, Barbara was leaning towards adding anonymous orders to their charts, directing the administration of massive doses of potassium. While this plan lacked the personal touch she longed for, she had to admit that a)speedy get-a-ways were no longer her forte, and b)it would effectively remove these wastes of oxygen from the planet.

The redhead turned, smiling softly, as Helena slowly stepped onto the Delphi platform and leaned against the desk.

"Hi there, Hel. Everything in order on the balcony?"

The gently teasing tone masked Barbara's patent delight that the brunette had finally abandoned the dark bedroom in favor of some sunshine.

"Well, I think the Kid's hatching plans for some sort of candy attack over this area of New Gotham, but other than that, yeah."

Crimson brows wrinkled slightly until the older woman noticed some green dye Number 3 on the brunette's fingers. She smiled.

As far as Barbara could tell, all of the colors tasted the same; however, Helena always had had a fascination with the green ones. Perhaps something in the brunette's meta-human physiology allowed her to detect a difference.

The younger woman wiped green fingers against her jeans, then gestured towards one of the screens.

"Have you come up with anything yet?" The brunette coughed softly against her hoarseness. "About Carly and that other guy?"

Catching sight of Dinah heading for the elevator, Barbara flashed an apologetic look toward Helena as she called out, "Dinah?"

The blonde head whipped towards her, and the teen held open the elevator door.

"Remember? We're finishing the set painting tonight? That's okay, right?"

The redhead laughed, "Of course, Dinah. Just call if -- "

"If I'll be back after 10. Sure thing."

The girl's cheerful "See you later" was swallowed by the elevator doors and a chuckle from the brunette.

"She really do that? Call?"

Barbara turned her attention back to the younger woman, smiling.

"Unlike my previous charge, yes, Dinah does call. Or," crimson brows dipped in thought, "she has the four times that she's needed to miss curfew."

Ignoring some pointed rolling from blue eyes, the older woman refocused on their previous topic, pushing down her exasperation at the woman's refusal to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

She, of all people, understood the desire for a little normalcy after traumatic events. Even if said normalcy involved discussions of corpses and gruesome deaths.

"As for Carly, Hel, the cause of death appears identical to our first victim -- massive, uniform cellular disruption. It's simply inexplicable."

Barbara remembered something.

"Are you sure about Carly, though?"

Blue eyes blinked.

"What? You mean the meta thing?"

At the older woman's nod, Helena continued.

"Yeah. She hung out at No Man's, could do some really cool shit with electrical currents."

The brunette eyes grew a little distant as she smiled at a memory.

"Guys learned pretty quick not to try to cop a feel with her. Lot more subtle than, you know, breaking their wrists or something."

Barbara clearly heard the hitch in the younger woman's breathing as blue eyes flickered to the brace on her arm.

"So, yeah. She was meta. Why?"


The redhead picked up her glasses, tapping one earpiece against her lower lip.

"Obviously, I can't state with certainty that I have every possible test; and, clearly there might be factors or indicators of which I'm still unaware. However, typically, metas can be identified quite definitively by the deoxy-two base differences --- "

Noting blue eyes starting to cross, Barbara cut to the chase.

"I simply can't find any indication in her cells that she was a meta, Hel."

She raised a hand, forestalling the "Huh?" that was about to cross the other woman's lips.

"Every bit of DNA is -- although disrupted -- distinctly, totally human."

Barbara couldn't quite read the expression in her younger partner's face as Helena digested that information. After a moment's reflection, the dark woman responded with a quiet question.

"So, the first guy -- Hillerman? -- he could have been a meta, too?"

The brunette absently scratched under the edge of her brace and added, "Something could be out there targeting metas?"

"It's possible. If I'd thought to have you grab a hair sample when you were at Hillerman's apartment -- "

Helena silently interrupted to mouth the word "Rogaine".

"All right," the redhead laughed, "something containing DNA from before his death. That could help confirm the meta aspect. As it is, my crawlers have turned up a handful of deaths matching these parameters in Bludhaven, Metropolis, even Boston and New York. While the situation might be new to New Gotham, it appears to have existed for quite some time. Years, in fact."

The older woman was currently assembling information about all of the victims, tediously attempting to determine any common links among them. With this new theory, she planned to broaden her search to include clues that might indicate whether any of the victims had been meta-human.

The younger woman ran a hand through dark hair, then volunteered, "Hillerman's apartment has probably been cleared out by now, but I could run by Carly's place, snag some hair from a brush or something if you think that would help."

Barbara smiled fondly at the eager expression in those wide blue eyes, then chided softly, "Hel, do you think you're ready to be hitting the streets just yet?"

The redhead didn't miss the clenching of a sharp jaw line, the visible sigh that preceded her partner's slow response.

"Uh, no. Maybe not sweeps yet. But, I did kind of want to talk to you about, uh, that."

Was this it? Was Helena ready to discuss the events of the other night?

The older woman kept her expression as open and inviting as possible as she mentally tried to prepare herself for whatever her friend had in mind. Despite her precautions, she was still taken aback at the brunette's next words.

After visibly waffling about something, drumming her fingers against one knee, the brunette sucked in a deep breath and spoke.

"Anyway, I was kind of thinking that, now that I'm feeling better and all -- and you probably want your bed back -- "

Barbara thought that the smile accompanying the words looked decidedly pained.

"-- that I should probably head on ho-- head out, back to my place. Maybe take a few days to, uh..."

There was a baffled shake of a dark head as the younger woman trailed off, turning to look towards the balcony doors.

The older woman hadn't been expecting this.

No, she corrected herself, she had been expecting this. Just, not, at this moment. Not so soon --

Barbara dimpled her cheeks, fighting not to rock her chair as she struggled to slow her breathing and heart rate. She missed being able to tap her foot.

She focused on Helena.

"Are you sure you're ready, Sweetheart? You're welcome here as long as you'd like to stay. This will always be your home."

The older woman watched, uncomprehending, as the brunette's face twisted in pain for a split second before she breathed slowly in and out.

"Yeah. I'm sure."

The younger woman turned to face Barbara directly, voice gaining strength, as she continued.

"Just, before I leave, I wanted to make sure you understand about the other night. That you don't try to find-- uh, to do anything."

Barbara was utterly lost. The brunette had never been shy in expressing her opinions about the merits of swift, dark justice. It had always been the older woman who urged forbearance.

Perhaps Helena had some plans of her own?


The redhead clearly detected something like humiliation in the blue eyes that focused on her, but -- like the brunette's hushed voice -- they were also utterly, utterly sincere.

For some reason, the words the younger woman spoke seemed initially incomprehensible. Once she'd pieced out the syllables and meaning, they left the older woman shaken to the core.

"It's just, well, I asked them to do it, Barbara."

Chapter 19

What the -- ?

Barbara looked like she'd been punched in the gut or something.

Seeing the redhead stiffen painfully, pale visibly, Helena dropped to a crouch in front of her, wincing at some residual stiffness.

Clearly, Barbara wasn't taking it the way she'd meant. Hell, Helena hadn't been talking -- thinking -- much, so maybe she hadn't said it quite right.

Goddamnit, why was she always doing stuff to hurt the older woman?

"I, I'm sor --" the brunette blurted, then stopped herself.

The younger woman thought back to her words -- that she'd asked, right?

With a tired sigh, Helena stood, realizing that she hadn't really misspoken at all. At least, what she'd said was close enough to the truth that it didn't really make a difference.

But, no. Looked like Red, with her insatiable need for precision, wouldn't let her off without knowing how close "enough" was.

The older woman's voice was carefully modulated, almost without inflection.

"I'm not sure I understood you, Helena. Are you suggesting that this--"

Helena felt her face burn as the redhead pointedly raked her gaze from the top of her head -- focusing for a long minute on the still-visible bruising around her neck -- to her denim-clad thighs.

"was -- is -- something you wanted?"

Helena considered that question carefully, narrowing her eyes as she focused on a faint stain -- tea, probably -- on the desk.

Were asking for something and wanting it the same thing?

She was pretty sure the answer to that was 'no'.

Opening her mouth to answer, she snapped it shut, directing an irritated glare at the wall.

Now was so not the time to be doing fish imitations.

Maybe she'd been taking the easy way out with that answer. Rationalizing. What about all of that subconscious bullshit? She just wasn't so sure she could explain the difference to Barbara.

She peeked through her lashes at the older woman. Seeing the pained confusion still present in green eyes, at a loss for how to explain herself, Helena thought that maybe she should just go back to not talking at all.

Less trouble for everyone.

Barbara saved her from having to commit to that course of action just yet when she seemed to come to some sort of realization. Crimson brows arched slightly, and the older woman's expression softened as the redhead exhaled decisively.


Barbara laughed softly, and the younger woman lowered her brows, wondering what was funny.

Although, the brunette noticed, there hadn't been much humor in the sound.

"No, of course it's not. So," the older woman looked up at Helena, eyes wet-looking, "can you tell me why you think this was something you 'asked for', Sweetie?"

Aw, fuck.

The redhead's expression was gentle, but, pinned by those soft eyes, Helena felt like a housecat in front of a cobra. A beautiful, loving cobra. A beautiful, loving, terribly, terribly determined cobra.

Helena looked down, clenching her hands, feeling the dull ache in her left wrist, then rubbing her fingers against the almost healed cuts on her right palm. Number 3 thought he was being pretty funny when he'd gotten up and started grinding that beer bottle.


He sure hadn't expected her to grab his boot heel and give a sudden twist strong enough to fracture -- compound fracture -- his ankle. The ensuing surprise when he'd started screaming and flailing had finally given Helena enough slack to get loose and perform some perfunctory ass-kicking before she got the hell out of there.

Realizing that the older woman wasn't going to just let her question drop or get distracted by some bit of data on the Delphi and forget that she was there, the brunette finally spoke. Frustration and sadness colored her words.

"It... it just was, Barbara. Can't you leave it at that? Leave them alone and just let it go?"

Maybe if Red could let it go, Helena thought that she might be able to start working on giving up on dreams about things she clearly didn't deserve. It wasn't like she couldn't do it: after all, she'd made herself stop hoping almost three years ago; now all she had to do was learn to stop... wanting.

Green eyes blinked, several times, before the redhead did something surprising.

Without a word, she turned back to the Delphi -- for a disbelieving moment, the younger woman thought that maybe Red would cut her some slack -- and, muttering something about Depo-Provera, simply turned off the computer.

Not standby mode, not a controlled system power down, Helena realized. Barbara had just done a hard shut down. It would probably take hours for her to recover any files she'd had open.

The brunette took two slow steps backwards and cracked the knuckles of her right hand.

Never a good sign when the cyber-fiend crashed her own computer.

Without a backward glance, Barbara headed down the ramp from the platform and disappeared into the kitchen.

Helena cocked her head, staring at the kitchen door in bewilderment.

Had she just been dismissed?

Usually, the older woman was a little more, uh, forthright when she just didn't want to -- or couldn't -- deal with someone. Well, with Helena. As far as the brunette knew, she was the only person who could make the older woman need a... time out.

There'd be a very, very calm look, then some sort of words -- "You can go now, Helena"; some indication that the conversation was over. For then.

Of course, the redhead hadn't really needed to -- collect herself -- so much since her former ward had graduated high school. Maybe she'd forgotten the protocol.

Helena was just realizing that, regardless of her intent, Barbara had given her an opportunity to make herself scarce when the redhead returned. She had a couple of tumblers and a bottle of something -- was that bourbon? -- on her lap.

Moving into the living area, the older woman arranged her items on the coffee table and transferred herself to the couch as she spoke.

"Let's have a drink, Hel. I think we could both use it."

The brunette situated herself a bit stiffly on the far end of the couch and accepted the brimming glass. Eying the other woman cautiously, she automatically responded to Barbara's raised glass and softly murmured "L'chayim" and then raised an eyebrow appreciatively as the older woman neatly downed her two fingers of liquor and reached for the bottle.

Grabbing the decanter first, she laughed.

"Allow me, Babs. After all, I am a professional."

More softly, she added, "Sure wish I could have seen you at a kegger."

The other woman's laugh was soft and husky.

Helena wanted to cry. She couldn't believe that the sound could affect her so.

Even now.

"Tell you what, Helena. Let's make a date to get blotto one of these weekends. I think I could still show you a thing or two about tequila shooters."

The brunette smiled over the rim of her glass -- Barbara really came up with some great ideas some times -- then nearly spewed the fiery liquid through her nose when serious green eyes caught hers.

"Will you tell me what happened, Hel?"

Rubbing at the burning in her eyes -- friggin' bourbon -- the brunette scowled, muttering, "I fucked up, and I got fucked. Okay, Barbara? Just, okay?!"

Helena glowered at her drink, intensely aware of the other woman's patient scrutiny. The redhead would probably sit there, waiting for an answer, all goddamned night.

Leaning forward to place her glass very carefully on the coffee table, the younger woman sighed.

'No way through it but to do it, Kyle.'

"There were these jerks following this woman down the street. Dinah and I ran into them last week, trying to do the same thing, you know? And, last week, I sort of gave them a little etiquette lesson."

Involuntarily, the brunette grinned shyly in response to Barbara's nod and knowing smile.

"So, uh, the other night, I figured they needed a refresher and followed them..."

Showing a slightly less pleasant smile, this one full of teeth, the young vigilante trailed off for a minute, remembering entering the alley, re-living her awareness of the other two goons hidden by the dumpster. Recalling sending the woman on her way before turning her attention fully to the young turks.

The feral grin disappeared, and Helena brought a hand to her forehead, blocking her view of the other woman's patient gaze.

"So, I was 'chatting' with them, y'know?"

Peripherally detecting the nod, she dragged her hand down to her mouth, biting at her thumbnail and turning her face to focus on the dark television screen.


Finish it.

"And they got the jump on me and, and stuff hap --"

Swallowing with difficulty -- Helena thought that the bourbon must have tightened her throat up again -- she jumped to the ending.

"And then I, uh, kind of cleaned their clocks, called 911, and headed home."

After an eternity of absolute silence, the brunette dragged her gaze away from the dark screen to discover that Barbara had somehow quietly moved down the couch, positioning herself next to her. The older woman gently grasped the hand that Helena was gnawing at and drew it to her face. The younger woman whimpered almost inaudibly at the feel of a soft kiss against the fading wounds on the palm, at the sensation of having her palm pressed to the redhead's chest, over her heart.

God. The warmth, the softness, that strong heartbeat all felt so good.


The barest of whispers.

Unable to stand the pain in those beautiful emerald eyes, the brunette dredged up a small smile and struggled for a nonchalant tone.

"It's -- it's okay, Red. It's the business we're in, right?"

"Mmm," was the noncommittal response as the redhead dropped her gaze to Helena's neck and drew her brows together.

Shit. Barbara was thinking about something.

"What I don't understand, Helena, is how four ordinary punks -- ?"

The brunette dipped her head; Red's description was pretty much on target.

"managed to 'get the jump on you'. Was there a... threat or a weapon or some... element of surprise?"

The brunette jerked her hand abruptly from its warm haven to cover her bark of laughter. Mirth abated, she placed her thumb and middle finger on her temples, covering her eyes.

Well, here it was, time to come completely clean. No way Barbara was ever going to be able to look at her the same.

Dark brows knit in puzzlement as the young woman wondered how she could come clean when she felt like she'd never be clean again. Aware of curious scrutiny from warm green eyes, she finally answered Barbara's question.

"Yeah. All of that."

Of course, Barbara was gonna want details.

"What sort of --"


Well, that was a whole lot of silence from the redhead.

Helena wondered if she should buy a diary so she could record this moment. It wasn't every day that Barbara was at a loss for words.

Blue eyes peered over a slender hand to find the older woman regarding her as if she had grown a second head.

She lowered her hand, wondering why the refrain from REM's "End of the World" was running through her head, and looked directly at the woman she loved so much, who she so desperately wanted to please.

Helena's mom had always told her that, if something was really important, she should keep it short and to the point.

"Something happened, Barbara, and I just flipped out."

Green eyes continued to regard her evenly. Maybe the redhead wasn't understanding.

"Saw red. You know, like, uh, last week with that kid? And, and that's how they, uhm, got the upper hand."

There was the briefest of hesitations before the older woman spoke.

"Helena, I don't understand. How could they have possibly taken you down when you were in your feral mode?"

What the fuck did it matter? Why was Barbara having to analyze and dissect every freakin' thing? Why couldn't she just get it, get that her protege had failed and lost...

Willing herself not to cry, the brunette directed her eyes toward the ceiling. She sucked in a breath, hating the clearly audible hitch in her chest, and spoke softly.

"Because, when they did, I wasn't. Augmented. I was just going at it -- all instinct and rage and blood in my eyes like some sort of -- "

Blue eyes shut and the dark figure rocked minutely back and forth at the waist, remembering it all, before she breathed the words.

"A fuckin' animal."

Helena twisted her head violently to the side, clenching her jaw. Feeling long fingers tangling with hers, she consciously kept her hands relaxed, loose, in her lap.

"And, at one point, I sort of, uh, saw myself. I was like fifteen or twenty seconds away from choking the guy who'd... or tearing his windpipe out."

Blue eyes looked inward as Helena considered which outcome would have been more likely. Remembering the feelings of that night -- the impression that she'd just come up for air, her horror as she'd seen herself as if from the outside, the sensations of slowly, deliberately crushing the man's windpipe -- the brunette shuddered.

The young woman puffed out her cheeks and exhaled noisily.

The worst was out. Barbara knew what she'd done. Who she'd been pretending not to be all of these years.

"I dunno. But, it just -- I couldn't believe what I was doing. That -- "

The young woman swallowed with difficulty and blinked against the burning in her eyes.

"That I was this thing. I just froze. I couldn't move or breath or anything."

With that admission, the brunette chewed at her lower lip, wondering what she could possibly say to make things right.

"I'm so sorry, Barbara. I didn't mean for it to happen."

Chapter 20

Feeling like she'd just gone ten rounds with the Joker -- and all of his henchmen -- Barbara worked hard to keep her breathing steady.

For some reason, it was taking most of her concentration to perform the routine function of respiration. Odd that extreme emotions seemed able to interfere with basic autonomic functions. Perhaps she could investigate the physiological basis behind that.

Collecting herself, the redhead remembered that there was someone else who needed attention far more than she needed to focus on new avenues of research.

Barbara regarded her younger partner thoughtfully.

Helena's hands were relaxed under the redhead's soft grip; her breathing was steady, almost inaudible. Downcast blue eyes were hidden by thick lashes. Only the tightly clenched jaw, the woman's minute rocking, and the rigid set of her shoulders betrayed the brunette's tension.

The older woman shut her eyes, then slowly opened them as she considered -- as she tried to grasp -- everything that Helena had revealed. Again, she grappled to comprehend the agony of the experience, this time in light of the young woman's revelations.

Under any circumstances, the ordeal had been horrific; yet, Helena seemed most torn -- most horrified -- by her own behavior, by how she had handled herself with the thugs. The brunette was visibly shaken because she believed that what she had revealed about her own actions, her own loss of control, had been so terrible as to justify what had occurred.

Blinking again, Barbara fought a wave of nausea at the realization that -- at the time -- Helena had been so horrified by her own behavior that she had "frozen", essentially handing herself over the punks. Simply overwhelmed by the emotions which underlay her younger partner's beliefs, the redhead released a long breath and straightened slightly.

This was not the time for reflection.

Barbara released the brunette's hand and reached up, encircling deceptively slender shoulders and gently tugging the dark figure to her. There was a moment of rigid resistance -- the redhead caught a glimpse of uncomprehending blue eyes -- before the younger woman relaxed marginally, allowing her mentor to envelop her in strong arms.

Pressing her lips to dark hair in a lingering kiss, the older woman held the young woman to her tightly, wishing that she could never let her go. Thinking again about the brunette's description of events, her actions afterward, the redhead captured her lower lip in her teeth and blinked, realizing how close things might have been.

"Why didn't you come here? Contact me, Hel?"

The older woman winced at the hint of accusation she'd been unable to keep from her tone.

Apparently, the younger woman's sensitive hearing hadn't missed it either. The brunette tensed and attempted to pull away, but Barbara refused to give her any slack.

"Why, Helena?"

This time, it was pain underlying the older woman's tone.

The reply was muffled against Barbara's shoulder.

"I just -- needed some time, Barbara."

Turning her head slightly to the side, the redhead rested her cheek against dark silk and convulsively tightened her grip a hairsbreadth.


The first denial was barely a whisper. The next carried the strength of the older woman's conviction.

"No, Sweetheart. I could have lost you."

Helena's response was softer than before, less certain. Barbara was fairly certain that she'd heard the words "woulda been okay". She didn't even attempt to hide the anger blowing through her.

"No, Helena. You would not have 'been okay'!"

The words she played back to the brunette were tinged with acid, and the redhead took a moment to steady herself. She lifted her head and leaned back slightly, at the same time using one hand to coax the younger woman's gaze upward until she could see blue eyes.

"Sweetie, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can't share with me. That you can't tell me or ask... or ask of me."

Barbara drew in a breath and prepared herself to say something that she had never expressed in words. She could only hope that some of it would get through her younger partner's thick skull.

"But, Hel? I absolutely cannot -- I will not be able to survive without you in my life."

The redhead caught the sharp flash of pain across gamine features before blue eyes shut and she felt the younger woman's jaw tense rhythmically in her hand. Although Helena's response, through clenched teeth, was quiet, it shredded at the older woman's soul.

"Didn't you hear what I said, Barbara? Don't you understand what I did?"

Almost sub vocally, the dark figured whispered, "What I am?"

The older woman drew her upper and lower lips between her front teeth, physically denying her desire to snap at the other woman. Simultaneously, she wriggled her eyebrows, lifting them towards her hairline and holding the pose for a moment to release the tension that was crawling all over her scalp.

Marginally calmer, the redhead brushed her mouth over the dark brows which were knit as if expecting a blow. Lips still pressed lightly to the brunette's forehead, she responded quietly.

"Yes, Hel. I heard you."

She pressed a tender kiss to the younger woman's brow, still not pulling away from the soft, tan skin.

"I simply cannot subscribe to -- or appreciate --"

The older woman's voice hardened fractionally on the word before gentling again.

"your viewpoint that you in any way 'asked for', or deserved, what happened."

From the stiff set of the brunette's shoulders, Barbara surmised that the younger woman was not convinced.

Regretfully removing her lips from the other woman, the redhead pulled back slightly, breathing, "Hel, look at me, please."

Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the defiant disbelief in those stunning eyes -- the young woman never had learned to hide her emotions -- Barbara smiled, then deliberately put on her most scientific, clinical expression.

"Tell me, Hel. If you'd been out late, wearing some tight, revealing outfit --"

The redhead considered her protege's choice of sweepswear for a moment before continuing, attempting to make herself absolutely clear.

" -- would you still feel that you'd 'asked for' it? Did that poor woman they were initially targeting 'ask for' something because she was out late at night?"

Barbara paused, then attempted again to hammer her point home.

"If -- this had happened to anybody else, for whatever reason, would you say that the victim 'asked for it'?"

Blue eyes which verged on panicked attempted to look away, but Barbara absolutely, positively, refused to release the younger woman's gaze. Channeling every bit of conviction that she'd ever experienced into her expression and her voice, the older woman added softly.

"Sweetheart, sometimes -- shit happens. It is not your fault."


She saw the crack in the younger woman's facade, the nearly painful attempts the brunette made to fight the tears brimming in cobalt eyes. Watching Helena squeeze her eyes shut, a single tear silently descending the tan cheek, the redhead gently placed both hands on the sides of the younger woman's face and leaned forward.

She rested her forehead against Helena's and whispered fervently, "You didn't do anything -- anything -- to ask for, to deserve this, Hel."

Even as she spoke, something -- something the brunette had said, or not said -- nibbled at the edges of the older woman's thoughts. However, when the younger woman finally gave in, when Helena wrapped her arms almost punishingly around her former guardian's waist and buried her face against her shoulder to emit a mewling cry, Barbara pushed those thoughts aside.

There would be time later.

Now, now it was time for the redhead to hold the smaller woman, to take in her soft gasps and trembling, to feel her warm tears dampening the front of the older woman's tee shirt, to hear the pained whisper -- "I'm sorry, so sorry." -- over and over.

"Shh, Sweetie. I know; it will get better."

At the words, the young woman pulled back fractionally, allowing her mentor to see the anguish in tear-filled blue eyes.

"How, Barbara?"

The question was hoarse, fervent.

"I've tried so fuckin hard, and all I do is... Please don't be mad."

The older woman jerked reflexively at the plea. Barbara felt like she'd been slapped.

How could Helena even think...?

"Never, Helena."

Fighting her own tears, the redhead's voice was hoarse as well, and no less impassioned than her partner's.

"Never at you, Sweetie. I love you, and you did nothing to deserve this. Please-- "

Barbara drew in a breath, trying to calm herself, hoping that her message would carry to the brunette.

"Please, Hel, you must believe that."

Blue eyes narrowed and searched the older woman's face before Helena burrowed her head in the redhead's chest again.

Barbara didn't attempt to soothe or calm the brunette. She didn't make the soft shushing noises that rose to her lips, nor did she allow herself to whisper empty words that things would be all right. Instead, she held the woman tenderly, pressing soft kisses to dark hair and breathing in the woman's sweet scent. Near tears herself from the sheer gratitude she felt from being able to hold the younger woman, Barbara remained quiet and thankful that Helena was finally expelling some of her tears and anger and sorrow.

Long minutes later, the younger woman gradually quieted, hiccupping for a moment, then stilled. There was a noisy sniffle as the brunette finally unlocked her grip from Barbara's waist and sat up, rubbing the back of her right wrist under her nose.

Smiling fondly at the gesture, the redhead wondered why there were no tissues nearby.

Honestly, what kind of bohemian household was she running, anyway?

At that incongruous thought, the redhead chuckled, aware of a peevish look being directed her way.

"What? I know the whole puffy eyes, red nose thing isn't my best look..."

The older woman raised a placating hand, attempted a contrite expression.

"No, no, Hel. Just thinking about, well, tissues, actually."

The younger woman's expression clearly suggested that she thought that her mentor might be overdue for a nap -- or a long vacation; however, she merely snuffled again, then ducked her head to mutter, "So, still, you won't, uh, kill them or anything, right?"

Barbara considered the question, wondering if she really would have exacted her own dark justice if the younger woman hadn't made her request. Not entirely comfortable with the fact that she didn't have a definitive answer for her own question, she tabled that line of thought and answered the brunette's question honestly.

"No, Sweetheart. I've found enough evidence tying them to other crimes that they'll be going away for quite a while."

Revisiting her earlier thought about chemical castration, Barbara decided that she just might allow herself the indulgence. It would certainly add a little verve to the bastards' incarceration.

Wordlessly, the brunette nodded at the promise, then chewed her lip and cracked the knuckles of her right hand.

Despite everything she'd heard already, the younger woman's next question still rocked Barbara.

"You're really not -- mad? At me?"

Deciding they might have had enough tears and heartfelt words for the moment, the redhead tried for something a little lighter.

"Only at your thick headedness, Sweetie."

But, no less the truth, she admitted with no small amount of exasperation.

Helena visibly sagged at this, then leaned forward to snag her nearly-full glass from the coffee table, downing the contents in one long, thirsty swallow.

A crimson brow crept towards Barbara's hairline.

Helena thumped her glass back on the table with an appreciative smack of her lips and turned, raking her gaze down the redhead's chest, to offer an apologetic smile.

The older woman thought that the expression might have been more convincing if it weren't accompanied by a teasing glint in blue eyes.

"Sorry I got you all wet, Red."

The redhead glanced down at her shirt, and the other eyebrow joined the first at her hairline. Wet with the younger woman's tears, Barbara's tee shirt clearly revealed -- well -- everything.

Relieved beyond measure to see even a tiny bit of levity -- even at the expense of her own blushing complexion - the older woman realized that she honestly didn't give a flying fig. She laughed as she shifted herself to her chair.

"Not a problem, Helena."

She paused, glancing out the window at the dark evening sky, weighing the options.

There was simply no way she wanted to let the brunette leave. Helena -- and she -- was simply too fragile.

"I know that you said that you're eager to head back to your place, Sweetheart, but would you be willing to stay here again tonight?"

Aware of the pained hesitance in the other woman's eyes, Barbara cheerfully damned her own complete shamelessness and added, "It would make me feel better."

Suspicious blue eyes peered from under shaggy bangs. Nevertheless, the brunette simply started to fish for the remote, murmuring, "Sure, Babs."

By-passing the urge to pump her fist in delight, Barbara merely exhaled, relieved beyond measure.

"All right, then. Why don't I go scrounge something for us from the kitchen?"

Unable to miss the startled turn of a dark head, the vaguely alarmed expression gracing dark features, the redhead directed a playfully exasperated glare at the brunette.

She was well aware of her previous -- and, current, she admitted -- ward's somewhat low regard for her culinary skills.

"Even I can warm up leftovers, Helena," she chided teasingly.

Heading towards the kitchen, she threw over her shoulder, "Somehow, I just can't believe that a dinner comprised solely of M&Ms and bourbon is going to sit well..."

The answering chuckle warmed her tremendously; the next words she heard dissolved the warmth.

"So, maybe tomorrow, Barbara, I can make myself useful again? Run by Carly's place?"

Part 21

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