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 21

"So, what do you know about Carly Applewood?"

Helena stirred her drink with her index finger, watching her companion from the corner of her eye, peripherally aware of the slowly growing after-work crowd at the bar.

The brunette's visit to Carly's apartment the preceding week -- after a lot of promises to Barbara that she'd be out in under five minutes -- had yielded an address book and a few hair samples. While none of the names in the book had correlated to those from Hillerman's life, the hair samples had confirmed that, prior to her demise, the young woman's genetics had clearly indicated her meta-human make-up.

Since a week of cautious stealth assignments -- casual trailing of names from the address book -- hadn't uncovered anything of note, the dark vigilante had decided to check out one of the young woman's known haunts.

Didn't hurt that it gave her a chance to feel useful, like she could start making up for everything. Hell, maybe if she could keep it together, in another few years she could prove herself all over again.

Pushing those thoughts aside, she took a small sip of her drink.

Didn't hurt that the bartenders at No Man's Land made a wicked vodka martini, either.

She distanced herself slightly from the guy on her left, who was lighting a cigar with his index finger -- Helena figured that he must be a lot of fun after getting a half-dozen drinks under his belt -- and waited for Gibson's reply.

"Carly Ap...? Oh, heavens. She was that poor girl who died eleven days ago, wasn't she?"

The brunette nodded.

"I didn't know her that well; she hadn't been coming in too often lately."

Gibson tilted his head to one side.

"The last time was, let's see, seventeen days, twenty-one hours, and thirteen minutes ago. Before that, it had been -- "

Helena smoothly distracted the young man from his calculations.

"I remember that she used to hang out here all the time, Gibson. Wonder why she stopped?"

"Oh, well, Helena," the young man placed a hand on her forearm and leaned in, reminding the dark woman of a gossipy hen, "didn't you know? Carly was engaged. She was getting all caught up in the house in the suburbs, gas-guzzling SUV, 2.4 kids motif..."

Yeah, they'd already checked out the fiance. Nothing interesting there, other than the question about why a dynamic meta might have been into a dull-as-dishwater insurance salesman.

As Gibson waxed sentimental about the beauty of romance, Helena waited for an opening.

"So, I understand that she'd registered at Pottery Barn; honestly, you'd think that somewhere like -- "

"Yeah, speaking of shopping, do you ever remember some guy named Hillerman coming here? John Hillerman?"

Well, that had been smooth. Maybe she could claim that she'd been thinking about J. Peterman, or something.

Helena ignored the pained sigh filtering over her earpiece.


At least, Gibson didn't seem too put out by the abrupt change of conversation. Of course, he could talk about anything, or absolutely nothing, for hours.

"Well, names aren't really my 'thing', you know, Helena."

"Uhm, he was around fifty, brown eyes, serious rug dependency?"

"Oh," Helena's companion cast dramatic eyes heavenward. "JH. Yeah, he came in sometimes. It's been a while though."

Sure had, the brunette noted sourly.

"You know, he actually blamed his little, er, follicle problem on his meta genes! How a little ESP vibe would impact hair growth --"

Gibson laughed as Helena smoothly downed the rest of her drink and stood up. The fact that Hillerman had even known about No Man's Land was proof enough for her.

"Sorry to drink and run, Gib," she interrupted again, "but I've gotta book. Hot date, you know."

Offering a farewell smile and wink in response to her companion's interested leer, the young woman ducked out the back exit and bounded up a fire escape. On the roof of the bar, she shivered -- too much talk about dead people for one night, she figured -- before speaking quietly.

"You get all that, Oracle?"

<"Hot date, Huntress?">

The tone was warm, amused. It kick started the usual thrumming in the dark woman's lower body. The sense of disgust with herself that accompanied the feeling was newer, but the brunette suspected that she'd get used to it.

Obviously, it was going to be a little harder to get over the dreaming -- wanting -- stuff than she'd hoped.

"Heh" -- Why did her collar feel so tight? It wasn't even buttoned. -- "You know. I've got a reputation to uphold and all."

Helena leapt to another building as she continued, a bit more confidently.

"Besides, even if our destination is a little, uh, prosaic, you can't deny that you're damned hot, Re -- Oracle."

<"I see.">

The tone was calm, unruffled. Apparently a little flirting was out tonight.

Hell, there hadn't been much flirting at all in the last week or so. Or much action during sweeps either. Helena thought that Red was treating her like she was made out of glass or something.

Considering that, the young woman had to admit that it really wasn't too surprising. Obviously, Barbara was going to want to be sure that she wouldn't just go postal again. And, as for the flirting, couldn't really blame the redhead for backing off on that as well.

<"Do you have an ETA for picking me up for our little event, Huntress?">

"ASAP, Oracle," the dark woman responded with just the tiniest edge of sarcasm, pleased -- and a little alarmed -- that she'd managed to jargon back so effortlessly.

Noticing where she was, the young vigilante made a sharp right and sailed to a different rooftop.

Just a quick detour...

"I just have to run home and change, then I'll be right over. Probably fifteen, twenty minutes, tops." she elaborated, this time with just the tiniest edge of apology in her tone.

Shit, it wasn't Barbara's fault that she was worried about her young partner.

<"That's fine. I show that you're moving at a right angle to your destination, though, Huntress. Anything wrong?">

"Nah, I wanted to -- Whoa!"

The young woman's speech and progress came to an abrupt halt simultaneously.

Helena stared over the edge of a rooftop, breathing out, "Man, those're massive..."

<"Huntress? What's wrong? Do you copy?">

Huh? Red was sounding a little worried... Oh, right.

The brunette tore her gaze from the billboard that had been recently erected on the roof of Carly Applewood's building and answered.

"Sorry, Oracle. Everything's fine."

Eyes creeping back to the billboard in spite of herself -- sometimes it was hard, being a slave to her hormones -- she added distractedly, "I didn't know that a new Hooters was gonna open up here."

<"Hoot-- ?">

The exasperated hoot carried clearly over the comm set.

<"Honestly, Huntress. It won't be open for months; perhaps you can check in then to see if there's any undercover work in order.">

"You knew about -- "

A sudden perception of being watched snapped Helena directly back to the moment and froze her in place on the roof of the building opposite Carly's apartment. The brunette felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as ice ran down her spine. Eyes instantly feral, every sense heightened, the dark figure dropped to a crouch and opened her mouth, scenting the night air.

<"Huntress?"> There was a hint of concern in the warm voice. <"You've stopped moving. Is there a problem?">

Almost sub vocally, the dark figure growled, "Got a feeling. Hold on."

All questions ceased from the other end of the comm set. There was only the sound of the redhead's slow, measured breathing. Barbara was with her completely -- listening, tracking her, ready...


A rapid movement out of the corner of her eye. The sudden absence of a huge -- really frikkin' huge -- shadow cast by the waning moon. It filled her with dread while simultaneously beckoning visceral parts of her.

Without a thought, the Huntress took off in pursuit.

For almost twenty minutes, the dark figure sailed from rooftop to rooftop, chasing a shadow, a scent of decay, a teasing sensation. She ignored the one soft question that filtered through her ear piece -- "Not now!" her only reply -- as she tracked the soft footfalls, the shifting pieces of debris which rustled from someone's -- or something's -- recent passage.

After too many days of cautious, tedious healing and stealthy assignments, there was finally a hunt.


And, then, as suddenly as it had been there, it was gone.

No hint of movement, no scuffling footsteps, no scent.

The lithe figure dropped soundlessly into an alley, lips pulled back in a hungry grimace, mouth scenting the air and finding only the usual dank night smells of the city. Her blood still thundered in her ears, burned through her veins. Her fingers itched for the feel of flesh being rent.

God. Fucking. Damnit.

She knew it had been someone, something, linked to the two odd deaths. Something linked to Carly, a woman not much younger than Helena, with so much to look forward to.

She wanted to smash something. Drive her fists over and over into yielding flesh. Strike out with teeth and nails to stop that awful force that had remained just out of her sight, out of her grasp.

Fighting to even out her breathing, to gentle the powerful driving beat of her heart, Helena walked slowly towards the street. Marginally calmer, she finally growled, "Lost him... it. Sorry Oracle."

Chapter 22

"And then there were none..."

As the curtain in the auditorium lowered on the premiere performance of the drama club's newest offering, the audience erupted into applause. Barbara noticed that Helena, who had barely managed to make it for the opening curtain after heading home to change after her abortive chase, was whistling and calling for an appearance by the stage crew.

Smiling at the brunette's support for Dinah and -- perhaps more so -- at the return of some of Helena's joi de vivre, Barbara added her voice to the cry.

The curtain rose again, and the cast of "Ten Little Indians" bounded onto the stage to link hands for their final bows.

In response to her companion's movement, the redhead continued to applaud, but shifted slightly to focus on Helena's question. She attempted to ignore her own response to the feel of the younger woman's breath whispering across her ear as she separated the brunette's words from the noise of the audience.

The older woman raised a hand, directing two fingers in the direction of a curly-haired girl bowing deeply on the stage.

"Third from the left. Gabby played Emily Brent."

This time, the brunette's whistle seemed to have very little to do with expressing appreciation for the performance, the redhead noted with a flash of irritation; rather, it appeared to express the brunette's appreciation for one particular thespian.

"Whaaat?" Blue eyes batted innocently. "Our Dinah's got good taste; that Gabby's a little hottie."

The older woman couldn't maintain any real ire in the face of her younger friend's cheerfully frank assessment. She laughed, unlocking the brake of her chair.

"I suppose she is, Hel; but don't let that get out, or I'll probably be suspended or something for ogling a student."

As she waited for a lull in the exodus up the aisle so that she could turn her chair around, the redhead pondered what penalties lay in store for ogling, for wanting, a former student -- not to mention ward.

Rocking her chair slightly, she observed the former student in question stand and smoothly insinuate herself between Barbara and the wave of parents and students moving up the walkway. A sultry grin transformed gamine features as the brunette batted her eyes at a burly man.

"Think you can give my friend here a hand? Maybe hold back this Great Wall of Gotham for us?"

Barbara barely held back her laughter as the gentleman's chest visibly puffed and, preening just a bit, he turned to halt the flow of traffic behind him. She didn't miss the sharp look that his wife fixed on the man. Undoubtedly, the couple's drive home would be lively.

Of course, considering Helena's appearance -- form-fitting, flared black slacks made of heavy silk; a barely-buttoned cream poet's blouse; patent leather dress boots with just enough heel -- the redhead decided that she could scarcely fault the man, or his wife, for their respective responses. Helena always had been able to turn heads.

Thirty minutes later, the two women entered the clock tower, deep in discussion about Dinah's visible contributions to the play's set and wardrobe.

"Yeah," Helena admitted as she tossed her coat over a chair and then -- without apparent conscious thought -- assisted the older woman with hers, "I'll give you that she did okay with keeping all of the outfits in the same period. I just don't understand the near-frantic hunt for that stupid hat. I mean, shit, Barbara, Colonel Peacock only wore it for about two friggin' minutes in the whole play!"

Laughing lightly at the brunette's overly dramatic aggrievement, Barbara brought the Delphi up from stand-by.

"It was General Mackenzie, Hel," the redhead corrected automatically as she scanned the monitoring programs for anything out of the ordinary. "And, the hat that you helped Dinah find was absolutely perfect for the character. I think we can be proud of her for caring enough to focus on those sorts of details."

Hmm, it appeared that nothing too significant had occurred in New Gotham this evening. Perhaps the criminal element were attending their children's school plays as well.

"Compulsive is more like it," the brunette snarked, adding, "You think Ritalin would help her?"

The older woman directed a pointed look at her younger partner. While it was not quite The Look, it seemed to accomplish its intended purpose. The dark head dipped contritely for a split second and a slender hand rose to scratch at the base of a tan neck.

Transfixed by the sight of that hand slipping lower along the unbuttoned shirt placket to rub idly at the skin of the brunette's upper chest, Barbara was gradually reunited with the moment when she became aware that Helena seemed to be waiting for some sort of response from her.

Working hard to appear casual, she returned her gaze to mildly curious blue eyes and opted to go with a noncommittal, "Hmm, Hel?"

"I asked what the quote is you like so much. You know, something about details? By that van Roach guy?"

"It's van der Rohe, Sweetheart," the older woman laughed, then supplied, "I believe you're thinking of 'God dwells in the details'. It does seem to apply to Dinah, doesn't it?"

Blue eyes twinkled as the younger woman leaned back against the desk, resting her hands on the edges near her hips.

"Yeah, 'cept I always heard it as 'The devil's in the details', Red."

Barbara smiled, then paused, considering what sort of devil the younger woman had been pursuing earlier.

"What was... it tonight, Helena? I noticed that you were directly across from Carly's apartment. Do you think...?"

The brunette's features hardened. Barbara detected the other woman's shiver.

"I -- I don't know, Barbara. I never really saw anything. It was all light and shadows, footsteps and echoes. You know?"

The older woman nodded in response to the searching look.

In her day, she'd engaged in a few chases like that. Not a few of those had been, in fact, with Helena's mother.

"But," Helena's voice became hushed, "there was just this feeling, this... presence. This rotten stink."

The brunette drew in a shaky breath and visibly snapped herself back to the present.

"I don't really know why I went by; I just had an urge after talking with Gibson. But, yeah, I think it was... related."

Barbara considered this information. She also considered her younger partner's current unease.

"Hmm, Sweetie. This could be good news, actually."

In response to the frankly skeptical expression being directed at her, the redhead elaborated.

"We can now be somewhat sure that we're not looking at a widespread chemical or biological agent. That, of course, simplifies containment issues. And, tomorrow, in daylight, perhaps you can retrace your steps to see if there's any evidence to pick up."

Although they might not have been exactly what the younger woman wanted, or needed, to hear, the words seemed to relax her a bit. Helena always seemed to do better when there was something she could act on.

That had certainly been true in the last week as the brunette had slowly gotten back into her nightly sweeps rotation. Although Barbara had attempted -- trying not to seem too obvious -- to make the assignments as safe as possible, the opportunity to prowl the New Gotham nights and sail the rooftops appeared to have been the best therapy in the world for the young vigilante.

Finally, Helena was once again speaking without the nearly painful hesitation that had followed the attack. Her movements were easier; her confidence seemed to be returning. And, judging from the occasional flirtatious or teasing remark, she was recovering her emotional equilibrium as well.

Hoping to improve her partner's current mood, the older woman deliberately lightened her tone as she powered the Delphi back to stand-by and headed towards the kitchen.

"But, for now, Hel, what say we toast Dinah's success over tea and cookies?"

Taking the brunette's grunt, followed by the sound of the big screen coming to life, as an assent -- the younger woman's monosyllabically charming version of "Well, that would be lovely, Barbara. Anything I can do to help?" -- Barbara turned on the kettle and fished in a lower cupboard for a snack.

She could have sworn that there was one last box of Girl Scout cookies tucked back there...

"Uhm, I ate 'em."

Straightening with a startled squeak -- that had been attractive, hadn't it? -- the older woman brought one hand to cover her pounding heart and turned to fix her cat-footed partner with a less-than-friendly stare.

"Are you honestly telling me that you ate my last box of Thin Mints, Helena?"

Seeing the blue eyes dart nervously to the floor as even white teeth gnawed at a full lower lip, the redhead sighed and calmed herself. No reason to take out her adrenaline from being scared as anger about a box of cookies, after all.

"I'm sorry, Hel. You just startled me. That's fine about the cookies."

The brunette accepted the apology with a shy grin.

"No prob. I forget sometimes how quiet... But, hey, maybe I can make up for it -- "

In a single seamless movement, the lithe figure bounded onto the counter and stuck a hand on top of one of the upper cupboards. After a moment of rustling, she hopped down lightly and presented two items from what appeared to be a fairly respectable hidden stash of sugar.

The redhead automatically accepted the proffered snack-size package of Milanos and the jumbo package of Oreos.

Oreos with double stuff, she noticed, feeling a bit bilious at the thought of Oreos and tea.

Barbara poured the now-boiling water into two cups as the younger woman placed tea bags, the sugar bowl, cream, and a package of instant cocoa on a tray. Helena added the two cups of hot water and hefted the tray, following the older woman from the kitchen.

"What else is in your stash, Hel?" Barbara teased, then added, "And, why the Milanos?"

The older woman knew that a snack package wouldn't even touch the woman's raging sweet tooth.


The brunette set the tray on the coffee table before gracefully sprawling on the couch and tearing open the cocoa packet.

"They're for you. I know, uh, sometimes you like a little something sweet."

Green eyes didn't miss the fact that the younger woman was directing undue concentration to stirring her cocoa. Nor did the redhead overlook the slight nervousness in the other woman's shy explanation.

Barbara dunked her tea bag, oblivious to the fact that she was probably directing undue concentration to the act, and considered the other woman. One act after another of almost instinctual sweetness on the part of the younger woman came to mind, and the redhead pondered, not for the first time, what might lie behind them.

Bemused with herself, she decided that it was time to stop guessing. She'd gathered and analyzed as much data as she could; it was time to test her hypothesis. Barbara had been ready to tap-dance around the topic almost two weeks ago. With the steady return of her Helena, she decided there was no reason to wait any longer.

At this point, she was practically prepared to break-dance into the subject.

She set her teabag aside and raised her cup.


The older woman kept her tone as carefully modulated as possible. A not inconsiderable feat considering how much trouble she seemed to be having drawing a deep breath.

Considering the frequency of the occurrence, perhaps there would be merit in spending some time researching the effects of emotions on autonomic functions.


The reply was slightly distracted as the brunette busied herself tearing open the mega-package of Oreos.

"Would you be interested--"

Oh, great galloping guppies, that was a little stiff wasn't it?

Barbara mentally rolled her eyes and tried again, as inquisitive blue eyes looked up from the cookies.

"That is, would you like to go out some time?"


There was a flicker of confusion in the gamine features before the brunette snagged a cookie and tossed it from hand to hand.

"I thought we did tonight, Red."

The younger woman smiled charmingly before the grin slid into something a little naughty.

" 'Sides I'm holding out for that 'blotto night' that you promised."

Helena seemed to notice the fact that the older woman wasn't smiling. She carefully placed the cookie on the tray and peered through long lashes.

"What gives, Barbara?"

The older woman was distinctly aware that she was blushing to the roots of her hair. After all of the years of teasing and blush-inducing moments with the younger woman, it simply seemed unjust that she hadn't learned to control the response. Nevertheless, she valiantly ignored her discomfort and attempted to clarify her invitation.

"No, not a school function or a -- special occasion. Just us. A--"

The redhead resisted the urge clear her throat, to fan herself. Her voice sounded strangled to her own ears.

"--a date, Hel. I'd like to ...."

The older woman trailed off, blowing absently at her tea as she considered.

Perhaps, she mused, she really was a little... mature, or old fashioned, if she was attempting to declare her intentions like this. Of course, that brought her squarely to the point: what, exactly, did she intend to declare? What was it she wanted to do with Helena?

The cyber genius ran down a short list of possibilities.

Date her?

Well, yes, but definitely more than that.

'Be with' her?

She suppressed a shudder at the euphemism. As an English teacher, certainly she could find more descriptive language than that.

Fuck like bunnies?

She mentally winced at the language, even as an odd warmth suffused her upper body at the sentiment.

Too crude. Accurate, she had to admit, but too crude.

Court her?

Definitely too antiquated.

Marry her?

She smirked slightly behind the rim of her cup as an old joke about U-hauls flitted through her mind. She decided to table that option lest she entirely put the other woman off.

At that thought, the older woman refocused her eyes and observed that the brunette was still, apparently, awaiting some sort of clarification, or completion. The young woman was leaning forward, actually on the edge of her seat.

Helena's expression, Barbara decided, was guardedly disbelieving; however, she was exhibiting a palpable level of interest. Tension was almost visibly rolling off the lithe figure.

"To date you" she blurted hastily.

Endearingly, the brunette cast a suspicious glance over her shoulder before she seemed to accept that Barbara was talking to her and not some other person who had magically appeared in the room.

Green eyes locked on blue as the redhead smiled fondly.

"You, Helena."

Noticing that she was still holding her tea, poised by her lips, the redhead sipped delicately, attempting to gauge the younger woman's reaction.

Rather, she noted with trepidation, Helena's lack of a reaction.

The brunette was utterly, utterly still. Unnervingly, she seemed to be, literally, not moving a muscle.

A crimson brow crept skyward as the redhead wondered how badly she'd misjudged... or mistimed... or mishandled the situation. She leaned over to set her cup down. Mercifully, her hands remained steady, sparing her the embarrassment of sloshing hot tea all over.

"I realize that you may not be interested, Hel. Or it may be... too soon -- "


"-- and I don't want you to feel uncomfortable letting me know if--"

Green eyes blinked. The redhead felt a cautiously hopeful smile edging the corners of her mouth.

"Excuse me, Helena?"

Blue eyes twinkled as the brunette straightened fractionally. Her voice was gentle, affectionate.

"Is your -- receiver malfunctioning, Babs? Your transmissions are coming in just fine, but, if you're missing some of what I'm saying, maybe we need to check out your equipment."

The older woman started to laugh, then -- aware of the multiple layers of meaning behind the words -- coughed and blushed.

" 'Yes'? ", she managed to croak.

"Hell, yes," the dark woman elaborated with a bright grin.

The older woman realized, moments later, that she seemed to be simply sitting there, mirroring Helena's expression with a rather goofy grin of her own. Her relieved delight abated somewhat when the brunette picked up her cookie and began fiddling with it as she exhaled noisily.

"But, uh, I probably should, uh... Well, I should talk to you about -- that I lied to you."

Barbara thought she detected something akin to fear... or sorrow... in cerulean eyes. Nevertheless, the young woman smiled tentatively and expanded on her awkward confession.

"About my birthday. I lied to you about, about not wanting anything else."

Barbara attempted not to blink, not to shake her head and mutter something about whiplash. She suspected that 'befuddled' was not a particularly flattering look on her.

"Well, Hel, I have been known to miss a special occasion. It's still not too late for me to try to come up with what you want." She smiled encouragingly. "What's your birthday wish, Sweetie?"

The dark head dipped and the older woman clearly detected a blush suffusing tanned features.

What on earth could discomfit her partner so? Honestly, the young woman had cheerfully engaged her former guardian in a lengthy -- and detailed -- discussion about the merits of various vibrators she was considering for purchase a few years ago...

Shy blue eyes met green, held the look, as Helena spoke softly.

"I'd like you to kiss me, Barbara."

The redhead didn't fight the puzzled blink this time as she reached out for the younger woman's hand.

She knew she tended to become a little oblivious to offering signs of physical affection, but, honestly, why had Helena even felt the need to ask?

"Hel, you don't have to make that a special birthday wish -- "

The brunette looked away for a split second before exhaling and catching green eyes again.

"Like a lover."



The older woman tilted her head slightly to the side and attempted to keep her heart rate steady as a tendril of fear wormed through her chest. She couldn't -- wouldn't -- claim surprise at the request. It was, honestly, something -- among many things -- which she wanted, too; however, she did feel that she'd been caught a bit... short.

After all, in finally working up her courage to approach Helena about a possible romantic element to their relationship -- for however long it might last -- Barbara had done quite a bit of thinking about the conversation itself and its possibly outcomes. Unfortunately, none of her scenario-building and emotional preparations had managed to include this unexpected request from the brunette.

The younger woman didn't seem to know quite how to take her mentor's quiet reflection. She spoke again, her voice soft, her tone thoughtful.

"It's... It's something I've wanted for a long time, Barbara."

The redhead realized that, in all honesty, she had as well.

Her opportunity to reply was cut short as abject blue eyes turned away from her.

"There's, uh, no hurry or anything. Maybe you wanna see how that date thing goes-- I don't want to make you uncomf -- "

Barbara silenced the brunette by drawing her hand up and brushing a gentle kiss to slender finger.

"No, Helena. It's not that. It's just that I..."

Helena's blush must be contagious, she decided.

"er, I simply haven't had much practice lately. For quite a while, in fact."

The younger woman muttered something -- it sounded like she'd said "could tell?" -- as a teasingly hopeful glint appeared in her eyes.

"I could, you know, help you with that, Red."

Barbara laughed and tugged the smaller woman onto her lap.

"Indeed, Hel. I suspect that you certainly could."

Even as she found herself distracted by brilliantly blue eyes and full, red lips, something about her statement niggled against the redhead's brain. Something about the verb?

"Can. That you certainly can."

Much better. Accuracy -- precision -- was important, wasn't it?

In fact, Barbara estimated that the brunette's mouth was precisely a handbreadth away from her own suddenly dry lips. It wouldn't take much to close that distance...

The redhead licked her lips and blinked, baffled by what had apparently been a momentary short circuit in her synaptic processes.

Aware of a thrumming tension radiating from the lithe figure, the older woman resisted her urge simply to devour the lush mouth positioned only inches from hers. She brought her hand to dark hair, scratching softly at the nape of Helena's neck, observing the slow, sultry droop of the other woman's eyelids. She brought her hand forward to trace a dark eyebrow with her index finger and rub her thumb softly against a full lower lip.

She saw the other woman swallow, felt the warmth and wetness as the brunette snaked the tip of her tongue out to taste her thumb. The redhead shivered and drew the younger woman's mouth to hers.

For a long moment, Helena ignored the subtle pressure of Barbara's hand attempting to coax her into the firm contact which the redhead suddenly craved with an insistent hunger. Instead, the younger woman only grazed her slightly parted lips tenderly, ever-so-lightly, against Barbara's. The older woman was aware of warm breath ghosting her lips; of a soft, soft mouth brushing against hers; of the tingling, swelling sensation that accompanied blood rushing to the site of the tender torture. With a contented sigh, Barbara ceased her attempts to pull the younger woman's mouth closer.

Getting there, she was discovering, could be a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. And, when the brunette did finally arrive...

Oh my.

Helena's lips were so very, very soft; her mouth so very, very gentle -- and insistent.

The brunette nibbled slowly against Barbara's mouth, delicately tracing her upper lip with the tip of her tongue, softly sucking on her lower lip. Terribly aware of the tingling radiating from her hairline to her waist, the redhead opened her mouth slightly under the tender caresses and touched her tongue to the brunette's.

Oh my god.

The contact was electrifying. The taste of the other woman -- a hint of chocolate, something else sweet and indefinable -- exquisite.

For one of the first times in her life, Barbara found that she didn't give a whit about maintaining a decorous, controlled silence. She moaned quietly, opening her mouth in invitation, distantly aware that she'd really, really been missing something during all of these years.

She ran her fingers again and again through that dark hair as Helena tenderly mapped her mouth, fanning the heat building in her chest. The languid, knowing strokes from the younger woman inflamed a nearly frenzied want; however, the redhead resisted giving herself over to it completely. Instead, Barbara drank in a soft exhalation as she tentatively entered the other woman's mouth and -- in a dizzying moment of insight -- recognized that she'd found her home.

A thick, liquid arousal coursed through her veins, dripping down her spine. Barbara suspected that, if she chose to investigate, she'd discover that it was coming to rest in the juncture of her thighs.

Helena's birthday wish, the redhead reflected giddily, had been a wonderful idea; a gift that just seemed to go on giving.

The older woman foggily worked to formulate her own wish, something having to do with the suspension of time and this perfect, never-ending moment. However, when she felt moisture on the brunette's face, she gently disengaged herself and pulled back enough to focus her gaze.

There was one lone tear track, quite a juxtaposition to Helena's patently delighted half-grin.

"Wow, Barbara. Doesn't seem like you need much practice at all."

Chapter 23

"Oh, come on, that's just lame, Kid. Get with the program."

Looking decidedly wary, Dinah slowly levitated herself down from her position two feet above the training room floor. As her feet touched the mats on the floor, she defensively raised her hands.

"Yeah, yeah. I know. Practice makes perfect, Hel. But, at least my practice doesn't leave me too sore for the dance after tonight's show."

Helena grinned wolfishly as she thought about the merits of practice. Lots of practice.

Sensory memories of the previous night flooded through her, memories of that first kiss. That first kiss with Barbara. That first knee-shaking, heart-pounding, breath-stealing first kiss with Barbara. More than five years of dreaming and fantasizing sure hadn't prepared the young woman for the emotions and sensations that had rushed through her at that first coveted touch -- and taste -- of the other woman.

Not wanting to push things, to push her luck and screw things up -- Hell, she still couldn't believe it had really happened -- Helena had gently extricated herself after the kiss. She'd had to smile warmly -- very warmly -- as the redhead had moved to stop her withdrawal before quickly restraining herself with a charmingly flustered look. Helena had only been able to grin more broadly at that and rasp, "You wrap a mean birthday gift, Red."

And, she'd meant it. Even if that was all she ever had -- if, when, Barbara got over whatever bout of temporary insanity had seized her -- that kiss was the best gift Helena had ever gotten. She'd felt like she was fifteen and discovering kissing all over again.

Giddy, completely tongue-tied and embarrassed as all hell by that fact, the brunette had grabbed her duster as smoothly as she could. The naked longing and sadness that appeared in the older woman's eyes had temporarily halted Helena's retreat. Feeling pinned like a bug on a specimen tray, she'd stood there -- stupidly, she later thought -- drowning in enchanting green eyes, leaning -- actually fucking leaning -- further toward the other woman as if drawn by magnetic forces.

Barbara had spared her the crowning humiliation of actually falling forward onto her face when she'd smiled softly and broken the spell.

"You need to go...?"

"Yeah, don't want the Kid walking in on us."

The brunette had elected to depart by the elevator and actually to walk home on the streets rather than sailing the rooftops. Nevertheless, she'd felt like her feet were six feet off the ground all the way back to her place, even without TK powers like Dinah's.

"Yeah, Kid. Maybe you're right about that. Today."

Helena eased her aggressive stance slightly, watching the teenager relax from her ready position.

Helena had shown up early this afternoon for the women's twice-weekly workout session, hoping to grab a few minutes with Barbara. The clock tower had been empty, so, with a shrug, the brunette had hit the training room to work off some energy. Twenty minutes later, Dinah had bounced in, and the two young women had completed their usual circuit on the equipment before engaging in some light sparring.

"Uh huh." A blonde head nodded vigorously. "Bruises are just so last year as a fashion statement."

The older woman hid her flinch -- she couldn't deny that bruises were her specialty -- by turning to the sound system.

"So, no sparring today. What say we practice something else? A final dance lesson before tonight so you can really wow Gertie -- "

She easily dodged the teen's play swipe and laughed.

"Okay, okay, D. 'Gabby'."

The blonde cocked her head as the first bars of Helena's selection pumped through the speakers.

"What's this?"

Blue eyes narrowed in puzzlement.

How could the Kid not know this one? It was a frikkin' classic.

The brunette placed her hands on the teen's slender hips and pulled their bodies together.

"It's a classic, D. Come on, just feel the music with me."

You wander around on your own little cloud
when you don't see the why or the wherefore.
Ooh, you walk out on me when we both disagree
'cause to reason is not what you care for.

A minute later, the unmistakable sensation of being watched filled the dark woman with a warmth that had nothing to do with exertion from her workout or dancing.

You try to be smart then you take it apart
'cause it hurts when your ego is deflated.
You don't realize that it's all compromise
and the problems are so over-rated.

She separated slightly from her dance partner to lead her through several showy spins and twirls, then allowed the teen to take the lead for the final chorus.

Don't sleep in the subway, darlin'.
Don't stand in the pouring rain.
Don't sleep in the subway, darlin'.
The night is long.
Forget your foolish pride.
Nothing's wrong,
now you're beside me again.

Helena figured that her partner was feeling pretty cocky, 'cuz Dinah ended by dramatically dipping her older dance partner. The brunette obligingly leaned back in the teen's arms, kicking a leg up by her hip and batting her eyes flirtatiously.

The blonde's bright grin was infectious, until applause echoed through the room, causing Dinah to convulse with laughter and drop her precariously balanced partner.

"Ooof -"

Well, that had been flattering.

Blue eyes narrowed dangerously; however, hearing the bright laughter from near the training room door, the brunette sighed and decided that she'd let the teen live. This time.

"Well, that pretty much sucked, Kid."

Dinah blushed a deep, deep red, visibly uncertain about whether to offer the brunette a hand up or to run like hell.

"Oh, gosh, Helena. I'm soooo, sooo sorry. Really sorry."

The lithe figure rose gracefully to her feet, purposely radiating menace. She advanced on the girl.

"You'd better be sorry, Kid. Gabby might not be as forgiving as I am and settle for -- "

The brunette darted forward and lightly jabbed her fingers to the teen's side. The blonde shrieked and bolted from the training room, slowing only to wave at her guardian on the way out.

Helena strolled to the bench by one wall and grabbed her water bottle. Ignoring the odd constriction in her chest, she greeted the older woman.

"Hiya, Red."

Nonchalant. Yeah, nonchalance was good, right?

The brunette spied a raised eyebrow as the other woman moved into the room.

"Whaaaat? How's the Kid gonna battle the forces of evil if she can't hold her own in a damned tickle fight?"

Barbara came to a stop inches from the younger woman's toes, eyes amused.

"Petula Clark, Hel? Let me guess: one of your mother's many eclectic influences?"

Ignoring the tiny fractured feeling in her chest, Helena smiled wistfully at the memories of dancing with her mom in their living room. She ducked her head and rubbed at her eyes.

Some sweat must have gotten into them.

When she looked up, the redhead was regarding her, expression gentle -- and longing?

"Uh, hi?" the brunette croaked.

Still-disbelieving -- maybe Red had really meant it about it not being her fault, about not being mad -- Helena felt long fingers tangling with hers and tugging her down.

"Hello, Sweetheart."

Deciding to let herself dream -- and want -- just a little bit, Helena leaned into the gentle kiss. Her knees almost went out from under her at the sensation of a questing tongue tracing her lips, and she abruptly pulled back a few inches to catch her breath.

Wouldn't do to fall on her ass for the second time in as many minutes.

Amused -- and aroused -- green eyes regarded the younger woman, but Barbara didn't push it.

Oh. Wow.

Helena hadn't just been dreaming -- again -- last night.

Blue eyes blinked, then widened, as Helena began to realize that it was true; at the very least, Barbara actually wanted her. Even after -- everything, Barbara wanted her.

Coming in for post-sweeps debriefings was gonna be a whole new ball game.

"Sorry I missed our workout, Hel. The faculty were putting up some congratulatory streamers and decorations in the drama club dressing room."

The redhead stripped off her over shirt, adding, "This is the first time in years that we've had a premiere without some sort of incident."

The older woman laughed as she held out her arms for a lift.

"Remember last year's 'South Pacific', Hel? Tiki torches setting off the sprinklers in the auditorium?"

Barbara finally seemed to register that her younger partner hadn't moved to help her to the mat for her stretching.


The brunette wasn't sure why she couldn't move.

Barbara was in her usual workout gear -- tee shirt and light track pants -- but Helena had never felt free to look at her so openly. The older woman's strong shoulders were highlighted by the muscle tee, her breasts pushing against the thin fabric. And her face -- her beautiful face -- wore that befuddled look that always turned the younger woman's insides to mush.

Helena was stunned, riveted, enraptured.

Just looking at the redhead like this -- the realization that she didn't have to guard her feelings left the brunette light-headed -- was a dream come true. Helena decided to try for a fantasy.

After all, it had worked out pretty well with the birthday wish thing the night before...

"Uhm," she dropped her head, trying for the hangdog look that almost always worked.

"I was just wondering if you'd do me a favor this time?"

The response was instantaneous.

"Of course, Sweetie, if I can. What is it?"

"Uhm, for PT today -- "

This time the abashed look was completely genuine. The brunette noticed that, for some reason, her voice seemed to get smaller.

"would you wear your shorts?"

In over seven years, Helena had never gotten to touch the older woman's bare legs during PT. The mere thought of it had fueled many a long, sleepless night for the young woman.

But, maybe it wasn't gonna happen just yet, the brunette realized.

Seeing the older woman's hesitant expression, Helena wanted to pound her head against the training room wall. Red had great legs, but she was kinda nervous about her appearance. Especially from the waist down.

"Never mind -- "

"Sure, Sweetheart -- "

The two women spoke at the same time.

The instant that the redhead's words penetrated, Helena was off, trotting out of the training room to return in moments with a pair of nylon running shorts from the other woman's room. She tossed them over, aware of an elegant hand deftly snagging them, and busied herself with her water bottle as the older woman changed.

"Ready, Helena?"



D'oh. Had she said that out loud?

Mentally shrugging, the brunette helped an amused-looking Barbara situate herself on the mat, kneeling in her usual spot by the older woman's left knee. Helena reached out with trembling hands -- smooth, really smooth -- intensely aware of the green eyes regarding her.

'Come on, pull it together, Kyle... Well, maybe just one -- '

She drew the fingers of her left hand delicately up the long leg, from ankle to thigh, then shut her eyes, breathing shallowly as the sensation of soft, soft skin overwhelmed her. It felt so amazing that all she wanted to do was fall forward and worship the woman with her mouth and hands.

Well, that and maybe just a little bit of rubbing her body all over the redhead...

Forcing her eyes open again, she met the even green gaze directed her way and spoke quietly, with all of the sincerity in the world.

"God, Barbara. You're so fuckin' beautiful."

Helena blinked her eyes and fought not to cry. She'd wanted to say those words forever.

Those gorgeous eyes widened, then the redhead flashed a wicked smile.

"We could skip the... usual... stretching today, Hel."

The brunette blinked. Several times. Something low in her belly clenched pleasurably, and she struggled not to rock her hips.

Was Red saying what she thought?

Suspecting that Barbara was, indeed, saying what she thought, Helena bit at her lower lip.

Maybe, sometimes, you did get second... and third chances.

With considerable difficulty, the younger woman got herself under control and painted on a cocky grin as she began the well-known sequence of stretches.

"Nuh uh."

Barbara's reply was lightly mocking.

" 'Nuh uh', Hel?"

Helena clarified.

"Nuh. Uh. You're not just gonna flash a little leg and get out of physio that easy, Red."

When there was no response, she peeked through her lashes and struggled not to laugh.

Was the redhead pouting?

Awww, that was just too sexy for words. Just like the way Barbara's hair was fanned out around her... Like the light sheen of perspiration breaking out on her neck and face made the brunette think of other sweaty endeavors...

Helena realized that her eyes were augmenting, that something deep and intense was rising in her.

Brushing her fingertips against the back of the older woman's knee, she stopped the exercises in mid-motion, every muscle in her body locking and trembling as a fire of deep-seeded desire roared through her.

God, she wanted. She wanted, needed, the other woman so bad. She'd never, ever, felt like this.

Breathing shallowly, the brunette swallowed the growl bubbling in her chest and slowly, jerkily, resumed the sequence.

"Tell me about those decorations, Babs."

Chapter 24

Barbara had to admit that Helena really had done an exemplary job of maintaining the -- decorum of the PT session. Other than those breath-stopping moments at the beginning of the session -- the older woman had fleeting thought, hoped, that the brunette was going to pounce on her right there -- the younger woman had remained focused.

Well, relatively focused.

The redhead hadn't missed the other woman's shallow breathing, her slightly shaky hands, her distraction as they chatted. The brunette had also scarcely looked up from the exercises that she was guiding Barbara through, almost as if she couldn't take her eyes off the older woman's legs.

Of course, Barbara had to admit that she, herself, had hardly been at her best in holding up her end of the desultory conversation. Discussions about teacher-made banners and previous drama club fiascos simply could not hold a candle to the current charged interaction with Helena.

Although she couldn't feel it, just the sight of those slender hands touching her, kneading her unresponsive muscles, moving her limbs so capably had the redhead as excited as she could recall having been for a long time. Quite a long time.

Observing, somewhat dreamily, as Helena rubbed her thumbs deeply against a calf muscle, Barbara barely resisted the urge to lick her lips and grin lasciviously. This new aspect to their relationship -- whatever it might entail and for however long it might last -- was certainly going to add an entirely new element to post-sweeps debriefings.

A protracted silence and the sight of blue eyes regarding her expectantly drew the redhead away from pleasant thoughts about the multiple meanings of 'debriefing'.

"I'm sorry, Sweetie. Did you ask something?"

Expecting a superior smirk at her obvious distraction, Barbara found herself slightly unnerved by an embarrassed smile and the shy dip of a dark head.

"Uhm, yeah. There's something I was wondering about."


"Why, uh, why now?"

Green eyes blinked, then narrowed in puzzlement as Barbara worked to decipher Helena's rather abbreviated question. When the meaning finally dawned on her, the redhead gave herself a few moments to find, to formulate, a response. A myriad of answers existed -- enough for a lengthy dissertation, in fact: propriety, self-worth, her own shortcomings, her fears of heartbreak when Helena inevitably moved on. In the end, she opted not to disguise her own foolishness with rationalizations.

Aware of the color creeping up her face, the older woman spoke over a self-depreciating laugh.

"I guess I'm just a little slow emotionally, Hel."

Judging from the way the younger woman visibly relaxed, the answer had been the right one.

The brunette spoke seriously, gently flexing one of Barbara's ankles.

"Yeah, that makes sense."

Curious, the older woman quirked a brow.

"It does?"

Devilish blue eyes glinted, and the young woman grinned cheekily.

"Well, you always have been kinda emotionally -- retarded, Red."

Unable to deny the truth of that, if not the political correctness, Barbara contented herself with a long-suffering sigh as she watched the brunette focus on the other ankle. With a start, she realized that Helena was on the final set of stretches -- how had this session flown by so quickly? -- and thought hard for a moment.

The redhead decided to give it the old college try.

"Thank you, Sweetie. You always take such good care of me."

When that statement was met with a shy look, Barbara couldn't stop the fond smile that spread across her face. She almost forgot her resolve.


"Er, I have been putting in a lot of time at the keyboard today, and my arms are a bit tight."

Considering that she had no drama experience, the redhead wasn't sure how she managed to keep a straight face. She smiled sweetly in response to the brunette's knowing smirk, plastered on her most innocent expression, and soldiered on.

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble, perhaps you could..."

In a heartbeat, the younger woman had straddled Barbara's legs and crawled up -- over -- her body, coming to a stop with her knees resting on each side of the redhead's hips. Strong fingers began to work the tight muscles of the older woman's upper arms.

"No trouble at all, Babs. Sure that's the only place you need me to rub?"

While Helena's words were spoken lightly, there was nothing humorous in the brunette's raw expression. The redhead shivered, barely suppressing a moan.

As she blissfully succumbed to the sensations of those warm, soft hands stroking up and down her arms, of thumbs delicately feathering the sides of her breasts, Barbara realized that she would probably be learning quite a bit about passionate seduction from her younger partner.

Experience, she decided, could be a very good thing.

Slowly, dimly, the older woman became aware of a change in the tempo of Helena's strokes and the pressure of her fingers. She pried open her eyes to find blue eyes fixed with burning intensity on her chest as the dark woman minutely rocked her hips -- still held several inches above Barbara's abdomen -- and breathed harshly through flared nostrils.

The naked hunger in the hawklike gaze was unmistakable.

As was, Barbara realized -- with a gasp which left her dizzy, the adoration and devotion also evident in blue eyes.

The redhead swallowed, with great difficulty, as those eyes rose to meet hers and the younger woman trailed her fingers down to grasp her hands. Without thought, Barbara drew their intertwined hands to rest on the mat above her head, with the happy result of pulling the brunette down to stretch out against her chest. Barbara noticed that Helena didn't allow her full weight to rest on her -- supporting herself almost effortlessly with her extended arms, but even the slight brush of the younger woman's firm breasts against her own was exquisite.

Exquisite torture, she amended momentarily.

Having been in a state of low-grade arousal for over an hour, the other woman's undisguised want and the feel of firm breasts whispering over her tee shirt ratcheted Barbara's need to near-stratospheric levels instantly. The redhead was suffused with heat; her breasts ached and seemed to swell; her nipples, rock hard, simply burned.

Aware of warm breath panting against her face, the older woman tore her gaze from arresting blue eyes and focused on those lush lips, only inches from her own. Amazed by her body's response, the intensity of the desire blossoming so rapidly for the younger woman, she raised her head from the mat and breathed a plea.

"Oh, kiss me, Helena. Please, kiss me."

Even as soft lips brushed hers, sucking and nibbling reverently against her mouth, Barbara untangled their hands and wrapped her arms around deceptively slender shoulders. Even as she opened her mouth to the tender touch of a warm tongue and suckled desperately, she pulled the lithe figure fully onto her and groaned in ecstasy at the sensation.

For long moments, the redhead was aware of nothing but the taste of the other woman, the softness of her slight weight against her. When the younger woman pulled away from her mouth, she moaned at the overwhelming sensation of loss; she moaned again when that shockingly talented mouth began to suck at her neck, to lick the drying sweat from her throat, to nip at her pulse point.

Too soon, the delicate ministrations ended, and a dark head raised. Barbara felt herself come undone under the hungry golden eyes, at the softly rasped words.

"God, you taste so fuckin' good, Barbara."

The older woman felt her body arch -- seeming on its own -- from her waist to the top of her neck, seeking contact -- and offering herself. She wanted -- with a vengeance -- that mouth, those teeth, back on her neck. She also desperately needed relief for the heated, swollen ache in her chest.

Barbara dragged her arm from the brunette's back and grasped the hand near her head, drawing it to her chest.

"Touch me, Hel."

The younger woman's reaction tripled the redhead's heart rate and caused green eyes to widen.

A growl. A distinct, wanton growl.

Sweet heavens, the sound was amazing. The older woman thought she detected the reverberations all the way to her unfeeling lower extremities.

Barbara's response -- something involving pleading and promises of anything and everything -- died painfully on her lips as the brunette abruptly jerked away and scrambled back a few feet. The older woman blinked through her erotic haze at the sight of Helena seated on the training room floor, knees drawn to her chest, arms wrapped tightly around her legs, panting harshly.

Oh, sweet suffering succotash... What had she done?

The younger woman had certainly seemed to be enjoying herself, but perhaps it was too soon. Perhaps the young woman's growl had signified something other than pleasure.

Normally, the redhead was a staunch supporter of slow, measured steps in the progression to physical intimacy in a relationship; however, in terms of her reactions to Helena, there simply was nothing normal about it.

Had she pushed too hard, moved too fast?

The redhead slowly pushed herself upright and moved towards the other woman. Ignoring her desire to pound her head against the mats on the floor, she cautiously rested a hand on Helena's back, rubbing softly.

"Sweetheart, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to push, to make you feel that you needed to do anything -- "

The sight of a dark head shaking once, harshly, from side to side interrupted Barbara's apology. She waited quietly and, after a few beats, saw the younger woman peer at her.

"No, it's not that. I want to touch you..."

All of the oxygen seemed to leave the redhead's body as she watched Helena raise a trembling hand to her chest, as she watched slender fingers trace -- but never quite make contact with -- the outer swell of her breast. Riveted, Barbara realized, with a feeling bordering on dismay, that if she were only able to draw a breath -- not even a deep breath, simply one shallow, panting breath -- she would finally have the physical sensation that she craved.

Unable and unwilling to push, she forced her eyes to the other woman's face and concentrated again as Helena continued her awkward attempt to explain.

"God, how I want to. I just..."

Ignoring her disappointment that the brunette had lowered her hand, Barbara smiled encouragingly at the ragged admission. With some fascination, she watched as the young woman visibly calmed and those stunning golden eyes morphed back to their usual startling blue.

The transformation was amazingly sexy, she decided.

The brunette spoke again, ducking her head shyly.

"Things were getting kinda out of control there, Red. You have no idea how fuckin' hot you are."

The older woman blinked twice, then felt a broad smile stretch her cheeks.

"You really think I'm 'hot', Hel?"

Blue eyes regarded her seriously.

"Nuclear, babe."

Any irritation Barbara felt at the teasing endearment -- Honestly, did she look like a baby pig? -- evaporated immediately at the brunette's next words. Not to mention, her actions.

The dark woman shifted unto her knees, leaning slightly towards the redhead.

"In fact, right now,"

Barbara watched in amazement as Helena trailed a slender hand across her own abdomen, down to the juncture of her thighs. The younger woman fluttered her fingers lightly against the thin material of her track pants and jerked her hips once reflexively.

The redhead realized that, perhaps, Helena was right. She did, indeed, feel extremely hot.

She barely stifled a moan at the brunette's next words, realizing that she was dangerously close to ravishing the young woman on the spot.

"Right now, I'm about to melt down altogether, Red."

Part 25

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