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 25

Whoa. Judging from the expression on the older woman's face, Helena realized that she'd been playing with matches, and both women were about to go up in flames.

Fighting her own feelings of disappointment -- at the situation and at her own actions -- she scrubbed at her eyes then stood gracefully and leaned down.

"But," she attempted a light tone as she helped lift the older woman into her chair, "right now I need to hit the shower."

She waggled her eyebrows.

"A cold shower, probably. Then I need to take off."

The brunette raised a hand at the confounded look being directed her way.

"Uh, I promised to let the Kid raid my closet for her club thing after the performance tonight."

Helena suppressed a shudder at the fact that she was actually allowing the Kid into her closet.

"Then, I've got an early shift at the bar."

"Oh, I see."

Red sounded kind of disappointed about that. For some reason, that made Helena feel pretty good.

The older woman's next words made her feel even better.

"Will you co-- I'd like it if you came by afterward. If you'd like, Hel."

The brunette smiled toothily, hoping that she was hiding her disbelief... and fear. After all, stuff like this just didn't happen to her.

"Yeah, I'd like."

The redhead's undisguised delight caused some amazing things to happen in the younger woman's stomach and chest. Helena thought that a flock of hummingbirds might have set up house in there.

"I'll, uh, check in with you when I get off, okay?"

Turning toward the door, the brunette was brought up short by a sudden question.

"Helena? Did I hear you correctly when you said that you're going to let Dinah borrow your clothes?"

Exhaling noisily, the younger woman hurriedly attempted to relieve the redhead of any concerns about early hearing loss -- or loss of mental function. However, as she heard herself speak, Helena wondered about her own mental capacity and judgment.

"Uh huh. Figured it wouldn't hurt for her to kick ass fashion-wise if she's gonna go mano-a-mano with the teenage set."

Barbara moved into the living area with the younger woman, laughing.

"That's really sweet, Hel."


The brunette was pretty sure she didn't do sweet -- at least where the Kid was involved. This was just pure self-interest; wouldn't do for someone from their -- clan to show poorly at a club, after all.

The younger woman snarked, "All I know is I'm probably going to have to burn whatever she wears. I'll never get the smell of teenager club out of them."

Still grumbling about clove cigarettes and Shirley Temples, aware of the redhead's laughing reply about dry cleaning, Helena headed down the hall for her shower.

A long seven hours later, the young woman stood on the roof of her apartment, watching clouds scud across the dark sky, shivering slightly in the cool breeze. Something in the sensation sparked a memory, then an idea.

"You copy, Oracle?"

<"I'm here, Huntress. Are you free?">

"Sure am. You want me to run a sweep?"

<"I don't think that will be necessary. Things seem pretty quiet tonight.">

The brunette smiled. Quiet or no, the older woman almost never passed up an offer for her partner to take a quick check of her city.

Without conscious thought, the younger woman found herself turning toward the clock tower before she remembered there was something she wanted to do first.

"That's good, Oracle, 'cuz I was thinking of heading back to No M -- to our special club for a while."

When there was no reply -- not even the ever-pervasive sound of typing -- the brunette belatedly realized that the older woman was probably trying to run through the scenarios, trying to figure out why her partner wanted to hit the club instead of returning to the clock tower. Crossing to another rooftop, she provided a hasty explanation.

"When I was there last night? I sort of forgot, but I think that -- thing might have been there when I left."

<"Why do you think that, Huntress?">

There was nothing but sincere curiosity in the husky voice.

Helena smiled again. Red always loved a good puzzle.

"When I came out, I think I was being watched but didn't pick up on it entirely. After all that talk about Carly and Hillerman, I thought I had a case of the heeby-jeebies. And, since backtracking last night's chase today didn't turn up anything, I thought I might scout around a little."

<"Hmmm. Sounds like you may be on to something, Huntress, especially since this -- being seems to be targeting metas. Will you...?">

That was weird; Barbara almost sounded nervous.

"What, Oracle?"

<"Will you leave your comms on? We don't know what we're dealing with.">

The dark figure scowled.

While her mentor hadn't officially chewed her out for going off comms that night, she suspected that the redhead might be feeling a little raw about it. Still, the cyber genius was right: they didn't know what they were dealing with here.

The young woman's response was gentle.

"Of course, Oracle. I'll be careful -- nothing riskier than a possible strained elbow from lifting a glass, okay?"

Helena was pretty certain that her tone had been light, teasing; however, the reply over the transceiver was utterly serious.

<"I'm not sure that level of risk is acceptable, Huntress.">

Huh? That was taking 'overprotective' to a whole new level.

The throaty voice dropped an octave; the next words she heard through the comms almost caused the sure-footed young woman to step off the fire escape outside No Man's Land.

<"I might, after all, have plans which require that both of your arms be fully functional.">


The brunette swallowed and considered pinching herself. Instead, she purred, "In that case, I'll try to be extra-careful, Oracle."

And, really, other than nearly having her toes mashed on the dance floor once or twice, the danger had been pretty much non-existent. Helena had nursed a few drinks, done a little dancing, drawn out some of the regulars about Carly and Hillerman and anyone -- or anything -- unusual around the bar.

Other than a little dish about Hillerman's phenomenally bad taste in hair pieces and a mention of some concern that Carly had been having about having kids -- the young crime fighter had to agree that Carly's electrical thing could make for a restless pregnancy -- there just hadn't been anything of note. Even a few stealthy trips to the roof and the alley hadn't turned up any sense of a -- presence.

Pretty much a bust, the brunette groused to herself as she landed softly on the balcony of the clock tower just after midnight. She could always try on another night, but -- on this night -- she'd just wasted an hour that she could have been spending with Barbara. Kid-free. Sure, the Kid's curfew tonight wasn't until 2:00 a.m., but, well, shoot.

The dark figure entered the living room, grumpily shrugging out of her duster with a disgusted sigh. The welcoming smile directed her way from the direction of the Delphi went a long way in reducing her irritation.

"Hello, Helena. It's -- "

Was Red blushing?

"It's really good to see you."

The redhead looked puzzled at her own words, then laughed at herself.

"Honestly, Hel, I feel like a teenager."

The younger woman was relieved to learn that she wasn't the only one feeling like a hormonal adolescent. Still, the mirthful admission was a little alarming. After all, Barbara was one of the most adult people she knew.

The older woman gave the wheels of her chair a quick push and coasted down the ramp, coming to a stop in front of the brunette with a flashy spin to one side.

"May I offer you a proper welcome home, Sweetheart?"

Oh, yeah --

"Uh, sure..."


Helena barely refrained from smacking herself in the forehead, wondering what the fuck was wrong with her anyway. Here she was, getting the looks and words and -- other things -- from the redhead that she'd dreamed of for years, and she was as nervous as a nun in a biker bar.

Deciding that the Powers-That-Be sure had a strange sense of humor, she tried again, this time with a little more enthusiasm.

"I mean, hell, yes."

The lithe woman ducked down to capture soft, soft lips, eagerly swallowing the other woman's breathy moan. This time, the brunette felt better prepared; and so when she felt the soft tongue, she opened her mouth in invitation even as she raised a hand to tangle in crimson silk. For a long moment, she remained still, almost passive, allowing the older woman to explore and map her mouth. Fighting an aroused groan, struggling against a gasp of wonder, she finally allowed her tongue to dance lightly against Barbara's.

Helena distantly wondered if she'd ever be able to comprehend the perfect taste, the perfect sensation and completion which was threatening to overwhelm her.

The young woman's grateful musings were interrupted by the feeling of a strong hand kneading softly at her side. Helena almost jumped and briefly flirted with the possibility that the redhead had some electrical meta-human abilities of her own: it sure seemed like sparks were traveling directly from Barbara's hand to other parts of her body.

Helena removed her hand from the other woman's hair and captured the teasing fingers, torn between moving the other woman's hand up to her aching breasts -- or down to her burning, throbbing center. Instead, she chose to do neither.

She reluctantly withdrew from that sweet mouth and tugged Barbara's hand up to press a soft kiss to the long fingers. Straightening, she breathed softly through her mouth, attempting to get herself under control.

Hell, she might be wanting, but she'd had a long time to get used to the feeling. No way she was going to ruin things now.

The brunette cleared her throat and husked, "Sorry about wasting time at No Man's Land, Babs."

Amused, and a little surprised, Helena watched green eyes blink as Barbara visibly seemed to drag herself back to the moment. She tried not to grin like an idiot at the realization that -- between the afternoon and this moment -- Red hadn't stopped wanting her. A split second later, the young woman tried not to frown at the thought that followed this realization: she -- and only she -- was going to have to make sure that Barbara could continue to feel that way.

The redhead coughed delicately and rocked her chair once.

"No, that's fine, Helena. It was a good idea. Perhaps another night will turn up something."

The younger woman headed toward the kitchen and grinned.

"Hey, that's my kind of assignment, hanging out at a bar."

Blue eyes narrowed momentarily.

How would that really differ from her day job? Other than the fact that she'd be drinking rather than pouring, she'd still be stuck in a smoky, noisy -- bar.

Turning on the kettle and snagging a package of pop-tarts, she shrugged. Life could be kind of weird sometimes.

"Still," Barbara spoke from her position by the kitchen table, "do you think it's odd that absolutely nobody seems to have noticed anything out of the ordinary?"

Helena set her snack on the table then fetched the cream and sugar.

"Dunno, Red. I mean, 11:00 on a Saturday night might not be the best time to get the straight poop."

She ignored the raised eyebrow -- heck, it wasn't anything near The Look; nothing to sweat -- and flashed a wry grin as she poured boiling water into a cup. Grabbing a beer from the fridge on her way back to the table, she expounded.

"At that hour, most everybody just wants to hook up, or get into arguments about politics or the Born Again Human movement or whether Dick Clark really is a meta."

Dipping her head in acknowledgment, Barbara laughed and blew on her tea.

"Indeed, Hel. Although," her voice sobered, "I hadn't realized that the BAH malarkey was still circulating. Honestly, in the 21st century, isn't it time to realize that people cannot simply change who they are, whether it's gays saying that they've 'turned straight' or metas denying their abilities?"

After chasing her final bite of pastry with a long swallow of beer -- for some reason, it wanted to stick in her throat -- the younger woman spoke thoughtfully.

"Maybe some people need that illusion. That they don't have to be different, Barbara. I mean, think about what the Kid went through back in Opal."

The other woman sipped her tea for a few moments.

"True. Thank heavens Dinah escaped that environment. And, she does seem to be,"

Green eyes focused on the ceiling briefly.

"-- recovering well from the ordeal."

Barbara set her cup down and exhaled, a smile transforming her features.

That smile, Helena realized, must be just like nectar to the hummingbirds who had come to life in her chest again.

"But, enough of that for now, Hel. Speaking of 'hook ups',"

The brunette smirked at the normally fluent woman's awkward segue. Talk about 'teenage awkward.'

The redhead's next words neatly removed the smirk from Helena face, leaving the younger woman astonished and just a little thunderstruck.

"Would you be willing to spend the night?"

Chapter 26

Oh, dear.

Barbara hadn't quite expected that reaction to her invitation. The younger woman looked decidedly uncomfortable. Nonplused, even.

Resisting the desire to pinch the bridge of her nose or rock her chair, the redhead smiled softly and wordlessly extended her hand, palm up, on the table. Confusion flashed through blue eyes before Helena returned the smile and reached out to hold her hand.

"I'm sorry, Sweetheart. I didn't mean to surprise you, and I certainly have no intention of -- pressuring you."

Barbara wet her lips, pointedly ignoring the blush creeping up her face. She lightened her tone fractionally as she revealed the embarrassing truth.

"I seem to have a serious disinclination to spend time apart from you right now and hoped that, perhaps, you might want to sleep over."

The redhead considered her words. Nothing suggestive there. If anything, perhaps a bit vague about her intention.

"With me." she tacked on for clarity's sake.

Blue eyes twinkled as the brunette gracefully stood and started clearing the table.

"Shit, Barbara. I thought you might be relieved not to be my human mattress for a while."

With the lessening of the odd choking tension that had erupted at the invitation, the older woman risked a small flirtation. She waited until Helena turned from the sink and met her eyes, then lowered her voice.

"Sweetheart, I look forward to being your human anything-you-want. Any time you want."

Surprisingly, the fiercely independent woman realized, she meant it. She would gladly offer whatever Helena wanted, for as long as the young woman wanted.

Backing away from the table, she spoke softly, ruthlessly tamping down on her own desire.

"But, nothing will occur until you're ready."

More briskly, she added, "For tonight, just sleeping."

The younger woman followed her out of the kitchen and down the hallway to the bedroom. Barbara felt her chest constrict when she noticed that Helena had stopped at the doorway. Willing herself to keep things light, she opted merely to turn her head and raise a brow playfully.

The brunette's tone was shy; however, the older woman thought she detected a hopeful note.

"Uh, maybe some cuddling, too?"

Relieved, the redhead headed into her bathroom and laughed lightly. Keeping it simple, she tossed over her shoulder, "I certainly hope so, Hel."

An hour later, staring into the darkness of her bedroom with the young woman sleeping soundly next to her, Barbara had to admit that the cuddling aspect was certainly turning out to be very pleasant indeed.

After the brunette had brushed her teeth, she'd matter-of-factly stripped down to her tank top and underwear and slipped under the covers with the older woman. Helena had pressed a soft kiss to the corner of the redhead's mouth before curling up with her head on Barbara's shoulder, an arm and a leg wrapped across her like a human octopus. Barbara had managed to shift just enough to wrap both arms around the younger woman's slim torso and bury her face in dark hair, breathing in the sweet scent of the other woman. Within minutes, Helena had drifted into slumber.

Sleep was not coming quite so easily for the redhead. Lying in the dark, nerves thrumming pleasantly, she continued to dissect her younger partner's reaction to her invitation in the kitchen earlier.

Although she had not anticipated the instantaneous and overwhelming desire for the brunette which had consumed her during their first kiss -- had it only been the night before? -- Barbara could not deny the intensity of her need. But, what about Helena? As far as the older woman could tell, the younger woman certainly seemed to reciprocate her desire. Just the way that the brunette had reacted to touching her legs in the training room earlier certainly leant support to that belief. Nevertheless, the brunette had clearly been nervous, almost distressed, at the invitation to spend the night.

Recognizing that this had been a long time coming, the older woman nevertheless wondered if things were proceeding too quickly -- especially in light of recent events. It had, after all, not been quite two weeks. While the amazing young woman seemed to have healed completely physically and appeared to be almost back to herself emotionally, Barbara couldn't help but wonder what unseen wounds lay hidden under Helena's too-casual demeanor.

Furrowing her forehead as she snugged the young woman a bit closer to her, the redhead considered her partner's eagerness to return to her own apartment the week before. She felt fairly confident in assuming that a large part of that desire was based on Helena's self-proclaimed need for "some time". Time to lick her wounds symbolically, time to come to terms. How much time... and space... did -- would the brunette still need?

Barbara closed her eyes and pressed a soft, open-mouthed kiss to the top of the dark head. Inhaling the faint scent of the younger woman's shampoo -- with her acute senses, Helena had always shied away from heavily scented products -- the redhead squeezed her eyes shut as another possibility for the brunette's hesitation came to mind.

Perhaps, she admitted regretfully, the brunette's MO simply didn't include spending many nights with her dating partners.

Pushing her own reaction to that aside, Barbara acknowledged that -- for whatever reasons Helena might have -- she was clearly guilty of suggesting more than the young woman was immediately comfortable with right now. Realizing that she probably didn't have a prayer in terms of throttling back her own feelings, the redhead vowed that she would, at the very least, not pressure the other woman.

The decision allowed the older woman to feel marginally more at peace with the situation, and within minutes, lulled by her bedmate's steady breathing and the feel of slim fingers softly stroking her stomach, she fell into a dreamless sleep.

A sliver of rosy sunlight peeking through the curtains awoke her at dawn, and she discovered that -- at some point during the night -- Helena had finally released her hold to turn onto her other side. Instantly missing the contact, Barbara maneuvered onto her side and pressed herself to the younger woman's back, resting a hand lightly on the brunette's waist and spooning tightly to her.

The sound of soft purring that began when the sleeping woman registered the warmth against her back filled the redhead with tender amusement. The sight of the younger woman's hips thrusting back against her upper thighs elicited an entirely different response.

Green eyes squeezed shut for a moment as Barbara was swept with a hot rage over the fact that she was unable to feel the movement. Rage rapidly gave way to more alluring emotions as arousal flooded through her.

Even without sensation, the sight -- the promise in the motion -- forced the older woman to bite her lower lip in an effort to stifle a moan. Fleetingly, she wondered if -- when -- the two consummated their feelings, if she would survive the onslaught of passion.

In any event, she decided happily, it would be a glorious way to go.

Cheered by the thought, the redhead reconsidered the two women's current position. While her lower body couldn't enjoy the warm soft flesh pressing against it, there was no reason for her to ignore the brunette's... offering completely.

Lifting her hand from the younger woman's side, she lightly trailed her fingers down to Helena's hip, resting her palm gently on the firm muscle under thin cotton. After a split-second debate, she allowed her fingers to drop another few inches to brush the skin just below the elastic leg band of the brunette's underwear. Focusing on the sensation of warm, silken skin, Barbara shut her eyes and burrowed her face against Helena's neck.

World narrowed to pure sensation -- the young woman's sweet scent, the warmth of the brunette's back against her chest, the sound of soft purring, the feel of silken skin -- Barbara rubbed her fingers minutely against the young woman's upper thigh. Aware that she was overlooking one very important sense, the redhead opened her mouth, delicately touching her tongue to the skin near her face. The taste -- sweet and salty and musky, with just a hint of soap -- was nirvana, and the older woman's mouth watered anticipating how the brunette would taste elsewhere.

Succumbing to temptation, she cautiously slid her first two fingers under the elastic band and traced the back of her fingers softly against the warm skin, following the band back and forth from the front to the back of Helena's thigh. On one slow sweep forward, her fingers moved a bit closer to the apex of the brunette's legs; the sensation of moist heat emanating from only inches away was unmistakable.

Sweet heavens. How could Helena be so very, very hot?

The redhead's fingers literally itched to glide forward a few more inches, to explore and map the younger woman. She absolutely refused to allow herself further liberty; at the same time, she found that she seemed to be completely incapable of withdrawing her hand from its warm refuge.

For long moments, the older woman lay still, barely breathing, as she fought the desire to press herself against the sleeping woman. She focused on the enormity of the arousal coursing through her from -- relatively -- minor contact with the younger woman. Infallible memory notwithstanding, Barbara couldn't remember being so powerfully aroused in a very long time.

Gradually, she became aware that Helena's breathing had changed, becoming faster and shallower. She detected a minute, restless shifting of the younger woman's legs and realized that her companion was awake.

Turning her head slightly, she pressed a gentle kiss to the brunette's shoulder and rotated her hand to rest her palm against warm skin. Ever-so-softly, she squeezed the firm thigh. The younger woman's ragged exhalation at the tentative touch elicited a quiet groan of sympathy from the redhead, and Barbara drew her hand to the outside of Helena's thigh, stroking the lean leg from hip to knee.

While she would do nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to push or pressure her partner, the redhead thought that, perhaps, some tender caresses and gentle cuddling would be allowable.

Efforts at restraint unraveled, and green eyes flew open, when a slender hand grasped hers and drew it back to the young woman's hip, raking the leg band of the underwear up to a sharp hip bone. The brunette's hips jerked once, possibly in response to the pressure of the fabric being pulled tightly between her legs, and -- this time -- Barbara gave in to her need to press her aching breasts against the other woman's back.

"Sweetheart -- "

The older woman didn't know if her exhalation had been an exclamation, a question, a supplication. She was, however, certain that the word translated to 'more'.

She grasped the exposed flesh, kneading firmly and wishing desperately that she were able to grind herself to the shapely buttocks pressed against her. Pressing a wet, open-mouthed kiss to the skin next to the tank's strap, the redhead sucked firmly at the tender skin and simultaneously slid her hand forward, under the tightly stretched elastic, to tease at the hot, soft skin of Helena's lower abdomen.

"Uhhh. Barbara, f-fuck."

The guttural whisper inflamed the older woman, leaving her feeling ravenous and dangerously close to losing control completely. She simply wanted to consume the younger woman, tasting and touching every inch of her, rubbing against her -- into her -- until they melded into a single entity.

Instead, remembering her resolve of the night before, she pulled her mouth away from that tempting skin and drew a shuddering breath.

"Do you want me to stop, Helena?"

Barbara had never been a particularly religious individual, however the thought which blazed through her cortex on the heels of her soft question carried the full sincerity of a devout churchgoer in prayer.

Please, please don't let the other woman want to stop. Not now.

She experienced a welling of tenderness and sympathy as she felt the younger woman trembling against her, panting softly and undulating her hips. Unwilling to sway her lover one way or the other, Barbara remained still, waiting.

Finally, Helena shifted, rolling onto her back and fixing the older woman with a pleading stare.

"No. Fuck, no."

The redhead released the breath she'd been holding and snaked her fingers into wiry -- and very damp -- curls.

"Good," she husked, dipping her middle finger slightly lower for a moment.

At the quick touch, the dark woman's hips bucked, and Helena arched her neck, grunting softly. Aware of the echo ricocheting through her chest -- possibly all the way to her toes -- the older woman untangled her hand from the constricting underwear and sucked the damp finger to her mouth. She closed her eyes, savoring the wild, slightly musky taste briefly, before resting her hand on the brunette's chest.

The younger woman's heart was beating so hard that Barbara was amazed that it hadn't hammered completely through her rib cage. Pushing up on her other elbow, the redhead breathed a kiss over the young woman's heart, murmuring, "You feel so wonderful, Hel."

The reply was decidedly labored.

"Oh, fuck, so do you."

The words evoked a tactile memory of having the dark woman's face and hands pressed to her bare chest and stomach not quite two weeks ago. Attempting to steady her breathing, Barbara watched blue eye flutter shut as the brunette panted softly before speaking again in a broken whisper.

"It's just -- I -- "

Still awash in remembered sensations, entranced by the sensation of a firm nipple rising to meet her palm through the thin tank top, the older woman almost missed the whispered words. When the syllables finally filtered through Barbara's erotic fog and reformed themselves into words, green eyes narrowed slightly.

Had Helena said something about being a Virgo? Her birthday had been just a few weeks ago, which would make her a...

Abandoning her astrological digression, the redhead wondered if it were possible to sprain one's forehead. Given how rapidly her eyebrows had just shot up, she suspected that heat -- or was it ice? -- might be advisable.

Barbara repositioned her hand over the other woman's heart again and spoke softly, but very, very clearly.

"I'm sorry, Hel. Did you just say that you're...?"

Uncertain blue eyes met green.

"Yeah. I've never..."

The older woman struggled not to wince when Helena averted her eyes and chewed at her lower lip as she corrected herself.

"That is, I hadn't. Ever. Before."

Stricken, Barbara worked to identify -- to organize and compartmentalize for later analysis -- the scores of emotions flooding through her: disbelief; fury, again, at the younger woman's attackers; rage at her own short-sightedness; sorrow; an absolute tsunami of tenderness for the brunette; others too confusing to name.

"Oh, Hel. Sweetie."

It was all she could manage until pained blue eyes peered hesitantly through thick lashes, obviously expecting something more from the older woman. Barbara struggled for words.

"How...? I thought... You've always..."

The redhead thought that a cup of coffee might be a good idea; preferably, Irish coffee, heavy on the "Irish".

Great merciful cats.

The morning after her good-as-gold current ward had set out with clear carnal intentions on her mind, Barbara was discovering that her bad-to-the-bone former ward was a great deal more virtuous than she ever could have dreamed.

Clearly, it was going to take a minute to recover her faculties. Fortunately, her partner seemed to grasp the gist of things.

With a harsh exhalation, the younger woman pulled herself upright against the headboard.

"Yeah, well, I'm no -- prude or anything. I mean, I'm always up for a little grope-n-tickle or something. But," -- the brunette's voice softened slightly -- "I just couldn't ever let someone have what's always been yours, Barbara."

The words were spoken without a trace of self-consciousness or embarrassment. The younger woman's honest sincerity stunned the redhead.

Was her partner simply the most romantic person in the world?

The younger woman's next words -- ground out softly, bitterly, through tightly clenched teeth -- almost reduced her to tears.

"But, I fucked up and lost that, too. I'm -- I'm really sorry, Barbara."

Barbara didn't think about her response to Helena's self-recrimination. She reached up to cup the brunette's face and draw her gaze to her. Stroking her thumb against soft lips, she spoke quietly, seriously.

"Helena, nobody can take that from you; it's a gift to be given."

The older woman drew in a slightly shaky breath, utterly humbled by the enormity of the younger woman's offering.

"If, when, you want to give me that gift -- allowing me to be the first person you make love with -- I'll accept and cherish it with everything that I am."

The younger woman offered a sweet, shy smile. Her whispered words stripped away the last of the redhead's tenuous control, reducing her instantly to tears.

"I don't want you to be the first, Barbara. I want you to be the only."

Chapter 27

Observing the older woman's face just seem to crumble at her words, green eyes overflowing with tears, Helena drew her brows together in consternation.

All she wanted to do was spend the rest of her days making the redhead happy, and what did she keep doing? Upsetting her.

Damn her mouth, always just running away with her.

That thought, of course, caused her to consider the words that had led to Barbara's current emotional state. Even as she automatically slid down in the bed to wrap an arm around the redhead where she had crumpled against the mattress, the brunette wondered what - exactly - was so goddamned distressing about her wanting to be with the other woman. And only with her.

Sure, Red really hadn't shown much inclination for long-term romantic relationships up to now, but Helena figured that, after all the years they'd been together, the older woman might at least consider the idea. Barbara was pretty open-minded, once she had a chance to wrap her big brain around an idea.

Still, Helena suspected that she might have gone a little too fast, wanted too much. After all, Barbara had only said she wanted to 'date' her; she hadn't said anything about... well... a future.

Damage control time.

"Hey, easy there, Red."

She gently tugged the older woman to her, cradling her in one arm and stroking crimson hair with her other hand.

"I didn't mean to upset you or anything. It's not like I'm backing a U-haul up or anything just yet."

Well, at least that had gotten a decidedly wet-sounding snort from the older woman. From the brunette's perspective, it was a definite improvement on the crying thing.

Feeling something murmured against her chest, the younger woman raised her head, simultaneously removing her hand from Barbara's hair to coax her face up slightly. Finally able to see those beautiful, slightly watery, green eyes again, she lifted her eyebrows in question.

"Hel, you didn't upset me."

The redhead paused, apparently weighing her words against the sight of her tears dampening the younger woman's tank top.

"Well, yes, I was upset. It's simply -- "

Blue eyes watched, disbelieving, as the older woman interrupted herself to raise her head and peer at the night stand. In response to the redhead's irritated grumble -- "Honestly, why aren't there any tissues in this house?" -- the young woman sighed silently, disentangled herself, and headed into the bathroom. She emerged moments later with a roll of toilet paper, a damp washcloth, a dry hand towel, and a cup of water.

Barbara's bright smile, as she pulled herself up against the headboard and accepted the make-shift kleenex, almost made up for Helena's own less-than-pleasant anticipation about what the older woman had been starting to say.

The brunette crawled back under the covers and waited with what she thought was an enormous amount of patience while the redhead neatly tossed her damp make-shift tissue into the wastebasket across the room, cleaned and dried her tear-stained cheeks, then took several sips of water. It was only after the older woman carefully set the glass on her night stand and shifted to look at Helena fondly, but silently, that the dark woman realized that Barbara might not be planning to finish.

Maybe she'd just gotten distracted. Red was always getting lost in her own head, so maybe a little nudge was in order.

"Uh, you were saying that you were upset... or not... or something?"

The older woman had the grace to blush and laugh softly at herself even as she tangled a hand with Helena's.

"Oh, Sweetie, I'm sorry. I was trying to say that I was upset, but in a good way. You simply overwhelmed me."

Helena saw the emerald eyes focus inward and so sat quietly, stroking her thumb lightly against the back of the other woman's hand. Since things didn't seem to be going too badly, she was determined to keep her mouth shut for the moment and just wait to see what else the other woman might want to say.

In a minute or two, Barbara spoke again, tugging their joined hands up to press a soft kiss to the brunette's fingers.

"But, you've always done that, haven't you, Hel? You simply continue to amaze and overwhelm me."

Well, that had been pretty positive. Still, Helena thought that an apology might be in order on her part. After all, Barbara had seemed pretty into things a few minutes ago, and she'd pretty much dragged everything to a screeching halt with what she'd said.

The brunette ducked her head and smiled hesitantly.

"I'm still sorry, Babs. I really didn't want to, uh, throw a wet blanket on anything. I just, uh," -- Helena wondered why her face felt so freakin' hot -- "thought you should know. Because, well, I just want to be able to do right by you."

The young woman wasn't sure what she'd been expecting from her apology-cum-explanation. The redhead's reaction most definitely was not it.

For a split second after Helena finished speaking, the older woman was absolutely still. Then, her face changed -- pupils dilating, planes of her cheeks hardening to ascetic lines, nostrils flaring as she drew in a harsh breath.

Watching the transformation, the brunette breathed deeply and pressed her thighs together under the covers against the sudden, insistent throbbing.

When she spoke, Barbara's voice was low, almost purring.

"Helena, I haven't a doubt in the world that you can, and will, 'do right' by me. In fact, at this moment, I can think of only one thing that you'll need to do to insure my complete satisfaction."

Oooh. Crib notes.

Blue eyes glinted as the younger woman panted softly and prayed that she wouldn't literally hang her tongue out at the other woman's words, her tone. In an attempt not to completely embarrass herself, she kept her reply brief.

"Yeah, Red? What's that?"

Green eyes fixed on blue.

"Show up."

Feeling a little lightheaded at the words, Helena tried for confident and sexy.

"I'm here now, Barbara."

Funny, the words had come out a little more serious-sounding than she'd planned. Looked like the other woman didn't mind at all, judging by her breathy response.

"Yes, you certainly are, Hel. And, I could show you, right now, how true what I said is --"

The young woman arousal skyrocketed at the sight of the redhead trailing long fingers down her own neck, stopping her progress at the upper swell of her breast to knead the soft flesh delicately. Emerald eyes -- truly, black orbs surrounded by a thin green band -- fluttered shut, and Helena whimpered softly at the sight of those elegant fingers barely brushing the pebble hard nipple straining against the other woman's tee shirt.

Fuck. If Barbara didn't touch herself -- or touch Helena -- or let Helena touch her...

Blue eyes -- still riveted on the long fingers -- blinked in irritation at the confusing thoughts.

All that the brunette knew was that some touching needed to start happening pretty damned quick.

When the redhead, instead, opened her eyes and returned her hand to the top of the covers by her hip, the brunette forced herself not to whimper or cry... or beg. Instead, she attempted, with as much subtlety as possible, to ease her own hand -- which had been hovering over the juncture of her legs -- back to the bed.

If the older woman noticed the motion, she didn't let on. Barbara tugged their entwined hands up again to press another kiss to the brunette's fingers before blowing out a long breath.

"And, I promise, Sweetie. I will."

Helena felt her eyes widen hopefully. When the redhead chuckled fondly at her, the younger woman offered a distinctly suspicious look as she blew out an exasperated breath.

She felt a gentle squeeze to her hand as the older woman murmured sympathetically, "I'm sorry, Hel. Believe me: I am sorry. I'm not trying to tease, and I promise that I will show you what you do to me. Soon."

Slightly mollified -- oh, hell, who was she kidding? Helena knew that she'd never hold anything against the other woman -- the brunette managed a wan smile as she shifted onto her side to drape her free arm across the redhead's waist. She sucked in a fortifying breath and decided to give it another go.

Batting her eyelashes playfully, Helena purred lightly, "How soon, Barbara? Cuz, I don't know about you, but a minute's not soon enough for me."

Okay, so Red's full, throaty laughter wasn't quite the "Instant Ravage" scenario she'd been angling for, but it still made Helena feel pretty good. The words that followed -- spoken too softly, too seriously -- instantly deflated her mood.

"I'm sorry, Sweetheart, but we really need to deal with this."

Huh? Oh, fuck.

Helena wanted to cry. Or get up and pace. Or jump off the balcony and start running.

Anything other than listen to Barbara's voice, vibrating concern and sincerity, exposing all of the younger woman's failures and faults.

"I bought it, Helena. Lock, stock, and barrel. I believed that you were taking... "

Eyes closed, the brunette clearly heard the stumble -- and then the bitterness -- in the other woman's words.

"...it as part of the job. Maybe I even thought that your remarkable, resilient self was healing as effortlessly as your body does with your meta-healing abilities."

Helena soundlessly turned onto her back and pushed herself upright against the headboard again, casually extricating her hand from Barbara's. Eyes now fixed carefully on the covers, she heard the redhead's impatient exhalation.

"And, I'm so sorry, Helena -- for not pushing or holding or... Because this is definitely something more, something that you aren't healing from."

For some reason, the younger woman was suddenly very, very angry.

Why wouldn't Barbara just let it go, let her get on with getting on?

Redirecting her overwhelming desire to punch the wall into words, Helena practically snarled her response.

"Yeah? You wanna know why? The only reason is because they took something that was for you, Barbara."

The redhead's response was clipped, direct.

"No, Helena. It's because you continue to believe that it was your mistake, your fault, your 'fuck up'."

Helena held on to her anger and spat out, "But it was -- is -- my fault. I keep fucking up. Screwing things up for you and, and..."

She lowered her voice and added, "It was the only thing I still had for you."

She felt Barbara firmly twine their fingers again as the older woman spoke, voice soft, filled with pain.

"Sweetheart, the only thing you should be grieving for is what you've lost. You need to stop thinking about this in terms of me."

Feeling the gentle stroking of the redhead's thumb against her wrist, hearing the sympathetic words, Helena allowed some of the anger to drain from her. She, too, spoke quietly.

"Don't you get it, Barbara? The only thing I care about losing... is you."

Realizing that she was going to have to make the older woman understand, once and for all, the brunette paused to gather her thoughts.

"I really do mean it, Babs. It may not be politically correct to say so, but in a way, this" -- she waved a hand in the general vicinity of her hips -- "is part of the job. But, it's something that wouldn't have happened if I could just... "

Barbara shifted slightly, resting her shoulder on the headboard to face the younger woman.

"Just what, Sweetheart?"

The brunette drew in a deep breath. Exhaled noisily. Drew in another breath.

"I can't help it, Barbara. I try. I really do, but I don't feel like I ever really have me -- it -- under control."

She paused for a minute, focusing her eyes on their joined hands.

"I thought I was doing okay, you know? Like, that part of me was almost a guardian angel or something, knowing when to come out, how hard to fight. But, I think I was just fooling myself -- fooling you. That I was, could be this person who could do right, who could make you proud, who you could lo--"

The younger woman knew her face was twisting as she bit off her statement. Sure, she'd pretty much laid out her feelings for Barbara with that "only one" thing a few minutes ago; that didn't mean that the older woman did -- or could -- or should feel that way about her.

She tried again.

"Somebody you could look to for whatever you needed."

Seeing the puzzlement still present in green eyes, Helena shut her eyes and screwed up her courage. This time, she didn't hold anything back. It was time for Barbara finally to know the truth about her, about what she was.

"But, maybe, that's not me, Barbara."

Bringing both hands up to scrub at her forehead, the young woman hunted for courage.

Fuck, why was it so hard to say the words? They'd sure run though her head enough, taunting her with what she could never be, with what she could never have. When they finally crossed her lips, the words weren't harsh or angry; she'd had too long to become acquainted with them.

"I try and I try, Barbara. And each time I mess up, I'm so fuckin scared that I'll hurt you or you'll hate me or something."

The pain in the older woman's gasp was unmistakable. So was the miniscule jerking of the covers as the redhead flinched.

"Helena, how could you even think...?"

Shit, Barbara was pinching the bridge of her nose, looking like she was trying not to cry. Helena hadn't wanted to make the other woman feel bad; she just needed for her to understand.

"I'm sorry, Ba -- "

"That is -- "

The brunette decisively shut her mouth. Maybe she could keep from making things worse.

"Helena," the redhead continued, "that -- my hating you -- is not going to happen. It's simply impossible, Sweetheart. You are someone who does do right, who does make me proud, Hel. Someone I could, and do, love."

The young woman clenched her jaw. Although she hadn't let herself say the word, Barbara had. And the redhead had sure put a helluva lot of emphasis on it.

"And, Hel?"

As the silence extended, the younger woman realized that Barbara was waiting for her. Still not willing to speak, even to risk a single word, she ducked her head and briefly made eye contact.

Looked like Red was going to let her off the hook with that.

"Helena, I'm so sorry -- sorrier than I can express -- if you've thought that I expect you to be some sort of... paragon of control or perfection. I never wanted -- I don't want you to feel that I've pressured you or -- "

Even without her enhanced senses, the brunette thought she would have heard the redhead's labored swallowing.

"...or that my feelings for you are conditional. I love you as you are, for who you are. And that is something which will not change."

Awww, crap.

Drawing a leg up, knee near her chest, Helena dropped her head down to thump her forehead against the joint.

"I don't see how you can, Babs. The things I've been doing... wanting to do... "

When Barbara replied, it was easy to hear the genuine confusion in her voice.

"I'm afraid I don't understand, Sweetheart. Are you having some sort of problems with your meta abilities?"

The brunette bit back her laugh, straightening up. Red could be so myopic sometimes, always seeing the trees for the forest -- or something like that.

For a moment, she smiled almost dotingly at the other woman as she searched for a way to explain.

"I feel like Count Bloodcount."

Green eyes narrowed, and Helena figured that Barbara's mind was doing it's memory-thing. She decided to spare the other woman any further mental processing cycles -- or whatever an eidetic memory did.

"The cartoon vampire in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon? You know, 'Transylvania 6-5000'? There was one word that would turn him into a human and another that turned him into a bat, and Bugs kept mixing them together and fucking him up?"

Helena sighed tiredly. Red's confused look suggested that she wasn't quite getting the analogy.

"Well, it's kinda like that with me. Someone says 'Abraca-pocus', and poof I'm Huntress; someone says 'Hocus-cadabra', and bam I'm just Helena again. And, sometimes, something happens, and I'm this out-of-control animal."

Helena dragged a hand through her hair and tried to keep her voice level.

"It's just... I don't know what the magic words are, Barbara. I try and try to be in control, you know, like, like you've tried to teach me. But, something just happens..."

Hating the way her voice cracked, she added, "And, what if there is no magic word, Barbara? What if this is just who -- what -- I am?"

She trailed off, staring at her knees under the covers.

"Hel," The redhead's voice was low, thoughtful. "You've been doing just fine. Granted, there were some, er, rocky periods when you were in high school, but since then... Has something happened that I don't know about?"

The brunette colored and tugged at the neck of her tank top.

"No. You've been there. Uh, a couple of weeks ago, when I was -- uh, working out the kinks in your neck?"


It was the only word that Helena could find to describe the look on the other woman's face.

"Hel, in case you haven't caught on by now, I happen to like it that I excite you."

Disbelieving, the younger woman watched green eyes focus on the ceiling for a moment before the redhead continued.

"Lingua franca, Sweetheart."



Barbara's gentle laugh was like sunshine.

"I may not growl, Hel, but I'm reasonably confident that I can promise some moaning and, very possibly, speaking in tongues."

The brunette snorted, figuring that the tongues would probably be ancient Greek or Japanese or one of the umpteen other languages the older woman spoke. Distracted, she almost forgot where she'd been going with this.

"But, what about a couple nights later with that poor kid in the alley? I mean, he's barely out of ICU, right?"

The older woman's response was instant.

"Sweetheart, you were protecting Dinah. You've never used that level of force before unless the threat was justified. You did not know how badly she'd been hurt."

Helena felt something wet trailing down her cheek and scrubbed at it angrily.

"Yeah, but what about, about when I flipped out with those punks last week? What reason was there for that?"

Swallowing against the pain in her throat -- some sort of weird sensory memory, she figured -- the brunette pounded her fists against her upper thighs and bent over, gasping. Still, she managed to say what she had to.

"What reason -- what possible fuckin' reason was there for me to try to tear the guy's throat out, Barbara?!"

Helena felt one of her hands grasped gently, the sensation of the older woman softly rubbing her thumb against her wrist.

As soothing as the gesture was, the silence accompanying it was unsettling. Helena was pretty sure that Barbara was thinking. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what the other woman was thinking about.

When the measured response came, the brunette realized that Barbara had probably been replaying their entire conversation from last week word for word.

"You said that something happened."

The younger woman peered at the redhead suspiciously. Had she said something like that?

"You told me that you 'flipped out' and ended up using excessive force against -- "

Barbara paused, like she was trying to get the words exactly right.

"against 'the one who had'. Who had done what, Hel?"

Wha--? The one who had...?

Why was it so fucking hard to breathe all of a sudden, dammit?

The brunette opened and shut her mouth several times, as the memories flooded through her. Memories of sending the other woman -- the would-be victim -- on her way and turning to "tsk" reprovingly at the punks. Memories of Number One waving a fucking knife around and... and...

Helena heard some sort of strangled whine from her throat, felt Barbara's arms wrap around her and pull her to the older woman's chest.

She sucked in a hitching breath and whispered, "He, he was waving this knife around -- And, he... made this motion and, and grabbed himself..."

Clenching her hands tightly, dimly wishing that she could still feel the ache in her wrist or the cuts stringing her palm, she growled the rest softly.

"He wanted to know where my 'little blonde friend' was. Said they'd been -- they would be looking for her."

Helena blinked against the burning in her eyes, unable to stop now, as the memory of how she'd reacted consumed her.

"That's, that's when it happened, when I turned into this goddamned, out-of-control animal."

Resisting her urge to yank away, to get up and pace, the younger woman carefully distanced herself from the other woman and focused on her hands where they were clenched tightly in her lap. Despite the trembling possessing her muscles, her organs, she spoke softly, calmly.

"And, don't you see, Barbara? That's the problem. If I hadn't done that -- been that -- none of this would have happened. That's what's wrong."

The silence lasted long enough that Helena was finally compelled to peek through her bangs at the redhead. When she did, Barbara spoke firmly.

"They were threatening Dinah, Hel. And, however you reacted, you weren't out of control. You stopped yourself."

The redhead paused, held the silence until Helena blinked to signal -- if not agreement -- at least comprehension.

"You realized what you were doing, and you stopped yourself. Helena, you are not some sort of an animal. You may be a bit on the thick headed side, Sweetie."

The loving smile that the young woman saw directed at her took any sting out of the softly teasing remark.

"However, primarily, you are sensitive, and loving almost to a fault, and fiercely, fiercely protective of your family."

Something inside the brunette fought against the... almost noble characterization. Helena just knew that she wasn't like Barbara was painting her; however, before she could figure out where the older woman might be getting off track, soft laughter distracted her.

"You remind me of your mother in that way. She wouldn't allow anything to threaten you. Frankly, I was always a little amazed that she even allowed me to baby-sit you. I was dumbfounded when she made me your guardian."

Helena ventured a soft smile.

"Maybe she saw something there for both of us, huh?"

Green eyes sparkled.

"Indeed, Hel. If so, I'm glad she did."

The brunette briefly allowed the warmth of the shared emotion wash through her. However, remembering, she again felt the cold stabbing pain in her chest.

Just because there was an explanation for going ape-shit didn't mean she wasn't... that she could...

She looked up again, blue eyes -- filled with equal measures of anguish and embarrassment -- seeking out green.

"But, what if I can't control it, Barbara? What if I can't -- don't stop?"

The young woman heard her voice rising but couldn't stop herself.

"Like, yesterday, in the training room? It was coming over me and I was gonna turn into something. The things I wanted to do..."

Wishing she could shrink into the mattress, Helena nevertheless kept her eyes locked on Barbara's and whispered her deepest fear.

"I can't do that. Be that thing with you."

There was no way, just no frikkin' way, that the younger woman would ever allow herself to hurt the woman she loved and adored above all others. Even now, she worried about the effect of her words, her revelation about what she was, on the redhead.

Helena wasn't certain what sort of response to expect, but -- like before -- Barbara's reaction just wasn't it.

Amazed, the brunette watched the older woman push herself forward then felt those elegant hands on each side of her face, drawing her towards the redhead. She saw Barbara close the distance, then felt a soft, demanding mouth meld with hers. The kiss was long and gentle, but incredibly demanding. Despite the other unpleasant emotions roiling so close to the surface, the young woman had no choice but to succumb to the passionate intent in the contact.

When the redhead finally drew away from her, Helena couldn't stop the rocking of her hips as her fingers clenched the sheets in a death grip. She tried to duck her head, hide eyes she knew were no longer blue, but Barbara refused to release her face, looking directly at her.

Unable to look away, Helena could not deny the sincerity and love shining in those emerald eyes.

"Yes, all of you." the older woman husked, "You are who I want, Helena. Every side of you, every bit of you."

Oh, wow.

Something that had been tightly clenched inside the young woman for years started to crack open. She thought she actually felt a cold, dark substance leaching away.

Helena turned her face just enough to press an open-mouthed kiss to the heel of the redhead's palm. Barbara's next words transformed the tender caress into a startled gasp.

"And, I can imagine nothing -- nothing, Helena -- that you might do, or want to do, that I would not want."

Chapter 28

Four days later, when it happened again, Barbara Gordon began to reconsider the accuracy of her earlier impassioned words.

Perhaps there were some things that Helena wanted that the older woman simply didn't.

When the Count Bloodcount ergonomic reminder program -- complete with Loony Tunes theme song -- had popped up for the first time the day before, she'd found it to be cute, sweet even. Another one of the younger woman's acts of thoughtfulness. Not to mention proof that the brunette knew a great deal more about computers than she claimed.

However, now, twenty-eight hours and sixteen appearances later, the redhead was finding herself distinctly less amused. The cartoon completely locked the system -- her system -- for a full sixty seconds, and she had yet to determine how to bypass it and cut the thing short. In addition to searching the web and unleashing a host of crawlers to try to track down the program's software engineers, the cyber genius had tried every keyboard combination -- from Escape-E to Control-Alt-Delete -- and keyword -- including "abraca-pocus" and "hocus-cadabra" -- that she could think of.

Having calculated that the wretched program came to life after forty-four minutes of keyboard or mouse activity, the redhead drew a fortifying breath and steeled herself. It had been forty-three minutes since the cartoon figure had last disappeared with an animated <poof>. Glaring at her monitor, she heard a quiet thump on the balcony signaling her younger partner's arrival after sweeps and turned her head to greet the brunette.

While not quite as passionate as she'd been anticipating, post-sweeps debriefings definitely had been quite pleasant in the last few days, after all.

The dark woman strolled in, leading the redhead again to wonder about the strange sense that the quantity of oxygen in the room decreased upon Helena arrival. The young woman's cheerful greeting -- "Heya, Red. How's it hanging?" -- was lost to the sound of a Draculean "Gooood evening" echoing tinnily from the Delphi's speakers.

"Holy horned toads, Helena!" the exasperated redhead snapped in reply, "Can you get this accursed program off of here?"

Immediately embarrassed by her little outburst, the older woman watched the slow rise of dark brows as her partner stepped onto the Delphi platform, leaned over her shoulder silently, and --- with an almost unnerving calm -- pressed the Escape key. Immediately, the ergo program exited to the sound of Porky Pig's familiar farewell.

"Th-th-that's all folks!"

The brunette's teasing comment -- "Shit, Barbara, it's supposed to make you less tense, you know." -- did not exactly improve the older woman's mood.

Very deliberately, Barbara removed her glasses, placing them on her keyboard with a level of care and precision not entirely warranted.

"The Escape key?!"

She heard her voice rising but felt well past caring.

Blue eyes blinked as Helena caught the older woman's eyes and offered a puzzled half-grin.

"Uh, yeah...? Why? Isn't that how most software and, uh, programs respond?"

The younger woman seemed to discern that her mentor might benefit from a few minutes to cool down. Smiling fondly, she bussed the other woman's cheek and disappeared into the kitchen. A moment later, the older woman saw Dinah bounce into the kitchen and heard the two younger women talking, undoubtedly continuing their plotting in what she had gathered were so-far successful attempts on the blonde's part to attract the attention of her classmate.

Deciding that the two would be occupied for some time, Barbara pinched the bridge of her nose, contemplating the difference between IQ and intelligence. How could she have such a very, very high IQ and not have thought to try the Escape key?

She picked up her glasses and fixed her gaze on the screen but remained lost in thought. Perhaps, she amended, the difference was between intelligence and common sense. Obviously she was woefully lacking in the latter.

Helena's amazingly honest, open admissions of four days ago had certainly cast into doubt any confidence that the older woman had held about her own common sense. For years, apparently, the younger woman had been led -- by something in Barbara's own words or actions -- to believe the unthinkable: that her mentor, her former guardian, her friend and partner was constantly judging her and finding her lacking; that the younger woman's intrinsic make up -- meta-human or otherwise -- was somehow undesirable, something to be controlled, to be hidden, to be ashamed of; that her instinctual expressions of this part of herself -- whether in defending a loved one or in revealing her love and passion -- were reprehensible.

Barbara knew that, in their first years together, she'd had to take her angry, hurting, rebelling ward to task -- numerous times -- about channeling her gifts, about applying them in better ways than beating up the comparatively helpless members of the high school football team. She'd simply not been able to sit idly by and watch the girl turn into some sort of hoodlum or thug. With all of the pain and hurt the girl had been dealing with -- not to mention her mother's criminal background -- the redhead had been aware that it would have been all too easy for her young ward to turn in the wrong direction. Apart from that, apart from Barbara's own deeply, deeply entrenched beliefs about might not making right, the redhead -- barely older than the teenager -- had been grappling with her new role as a guardian and with very genuine fears that if the system found her lacking, Helena would be taken from her.

Not for the first time in the last few days, the older woman worried over all of these pieces of the puzzle, arranging and rearranging them, trying to see how they formed the person that Helena had become. Staring at the spot on her screen where Count Bloodcount had disappeared, she finally realized that it was only when she added in a huge piece -- one that she'd been looking at for years but which she'd refused to let herself see -- that everything fit together.

That piece was, of course, Helena's love for her.

The redhead thought back to the one time -- over three years ago, a few months before the younger woman had moved out -- that Helena had skirted the topic. At the time, Barbara had dismissed the brunette's feelings with acute discomfort. After all, until not-too-long before then, she had been the young woman's guardian; and, honestly, the two women were in a relationship which was, if not exactly that of a parent and child, at least "sisterly".

At that thought, the older woman snorted softly. Thank heavens she'd gotten past that misperception about their relationship some time ago.

Nevertheless, at the time, Barbara had been certain that Helena's feelings arose from a combination of some sort of... hero worship, the unavoidable closeness of their relationship, and a heaping dose of the brunette's more demanding -- primal -- urges. Now, the enormity of how wrong she'd been was staggering. If nothing else, the fact that the younger woman had continued to hope -- never quite displaying the depths of her feelings yet still saving herself -- spoke volumes.

Quite honestly, the older woman was still reeling from what she'd learned about the depths of her partner's love and devotion. Skeptical as she was, in the last few days, Barbara had cast a few prayers to the Powers-That-Be that she could, somehow, be worthy of the younger woman.

After their painful and honest conversation of the other morning, the two women had remained in the big bed for over an hour, silently holding each other, coming to grips with their emotions. A rumbling from Helena's abdomen had eventually drawn a soft chuckle from the redhead and a shy smile from the younger woman, and the two had separated with difficulty -- Barbara likened disentangling their limbs to pulling taffy -- and headed to the kitchen.

A few minutes later, when Dinah had slouched in, Barbara suspected that they had shaken the teen to the soles of her feet. It was less the fact that the brunette was there so early having breakfast -- after all, Helena took a fair number of her meals at the clock tower -- than the fact that Barbara was joining her younger partner in digging into an oversized bowl of Count Chocula.

Since then, by some sort of unspoken mutual understanding -- Barbara fiddled with her glasses, recognizing how much unspoken communication the two had always shared -- the new, physical side of their relationship had taken a back seat to quiet conversations as they explored and exposed themselves. The redhead had held nothing back in revealing her fears -- from early discomfort about propriety, to her own failed attempts at relationships and feelings of inadequacy, to her belief that Helena wasn't interested in or capable of long-term commitment.

That last admission, the redhead recalled with a small, embarrassed smile, had reduced both women to almost hysterical laughter.

In the course of their talks, Helena had spoken again of her discomfort with her feral side, her fears of disappointing her mentor or of hurting someone -- notably, Barbara. Although the brunette hadn't said anything directly, she'd also hinted at feelings of always being different and never quite -- whole. Throughout, the older woman had listened, holding her amazingly sweet and sensitive partner, reassuring her to the best of her abilities. All the while, the redhead's heart clenched painfully at the weight of the fear that Helena had been needlessly shouldering for so long.

Mercifully, the conversations -- interspersed with lots of cuddling and some languid kisses -- seemed to be helping exorcise some demons. Even as emotionally dense as she could sometimes be, Barbara was aware of a growing lightness in her companion.

Undoubtedly, a good thing, she sighed gratefully.

The younger woman's tone had become more playful, her physical expressions less terribly cautious and hesitant. The brunette was, in fact, beginning to demonstrate a marked restlessness with the slowed pace of their physical relationship.

Shivering slightly, Barbara smiled. That was definitely a very good thing.

The unexpected reappearance of Count Bloodcount startled the redhead from her thoughts.

Had she honestly spent the last forty-four minutes wool-gathering?

Shrugging, she tapped the Escape key -- smiling ruefully at herself -- before she detected a familiar aroma wafting from the balcony. Uncertain how she felt associating scents from her father with Helena, the redhead nevertheless quietly wheeled out to find her young partner reclining on the low wall surrounding the balcony, staring into the night sky, and puffing contentedly on a robusto-sized cigar.

A Macanudo, if Barbara weren't mistaken.

The older woman sat silently for a few minutes, knowing that the brunette had heard her arrival, drinking in the sight of the beautiful young woman. The nearly full moon -- for once, it was an almost cloudless night in New Gotham -- illuminated delicate features that seemed somehow different. Barbara puzzled over this perception, then nearly sagged in her chair a heartbeat later when she identified what the difference was.

The brunette looked peaceful. The tension, the wary guardedness, which had been a part of Helena's demeanor for over seven years was almost completely absent.

The redhead directed her delight into softly teasing words.

"I still don't understand how you -- especially with your enhanced senses -- can stand those, Hel."

The dark figure gracefully sat up and turned to face the older woman, bringing the object in question to her mouth, puffing pointedly for a moment. She slowly released the smoke, and Barbara's nostrils flared at the rich aroma as Helena delicately licked her lips and smiled.

"It tastes good, Red. Wanna see?"

Amused, the older woman laughed and admitted, "Bilious green really isn't my best color, Sweetie."

In an instant, the brunette was straddling Barbara's legs, knees buried in the soft seat of the wheelchair. The redhead blinked as Helena's face moved to within inches of her own and the younger woman husked, "That's not what I had in mind, Barbara."


A russet brow slowly raised as Barbara grasped the other woman's intent. She stretched to close the distance and press her mouth to slightly parted lips, drawing in warm breath, redolent with a smoky aftertaste.

Well, that hadn't been unpleasant at all. What about...?

The older woman delicately touched her tongue to soft lips. When the brunette opened further in invitation, she slipped inside, tasting the rich tobacco and the sweetness that was all Helena.

Ooooh. It was wonderful.

Dimly aware of the heat building her in her chest, the redhead breathed a plea -- "More..." -- and felt, rather than heard, a chuckle as the younger woman withdrew slightly and brought the cigar to her lips again.

Offering a Cheshire grin, Barbara stayed the movement with her hand.

"That's not what I meant, Hel."

A dark brow quirked until the younger woman, apparently comprehending the redhead's meaning, licked her lips and brought their mouths together again. This time, she smoothly insinuated her tongue between Barbara's lips.


For long minutes, the older woman lost herself drinking from the other woman's mouth, stroking her hands across slender shoulders, feeling slim hands sifting through her hair. When Helena finally withdrew, Barbara didn't even attempt to suppress her quiet whimper of disappointment, a sound that seamlessly transformed into a breathy moan at the sensation of a soft mouth and warm tongue teasing at her ear. The redhead bent her head slightly to the flickering strokes and soft suction. When something low in her abdomen fluttered at the suggestive contact, she reached up and drew her hair back, offering her neck to that wonderfully talented mouth.

Moments later, aware that Helena was whispering something against her throat, Barbara grudgingly refocused her senses on hearing. Her brief pique over the interruption dissolved instantly when she deciphered the words.

"God, you're so fuckin' sexy, Barbara"

Bemused, and -- impossibly, it seemed -- further aroused, the redhead coaxed the dark head up to gaze into shining blue eyes.

"What does that mean, Hel? That I'm sexy?"

She honestly hadn't felt sexy in a long, long time. At least until very recently.

When the younger woman ducked her face to nibble at the corner of her jaw, the older woman almost forgot her question. The sound of a soft voice -- was Helena speaking in French? The throwback to the brunette's early years in France was amazingly arousing -- refreshed her memory.

"It means you're beautiful, and you turn me on. It means I want to touch every bit of you with my hands and my mouth and that I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't want to. It means that I want to make you feel wonderful and doing that's going to make me come."

Barbara thought it entirely possible that she would cry -- or climax herself -- at the breathy words. Her reply was from the heart.

"In that case then, you are incredibly sexy, Hel."

The blush which suffused gamine feature, the redhead decided, was completely endearing. The short gasp and the quick jerk of slim hips against her stomach was something else entirely.

At her own body's thrumming response to the movement, Barbara wryly admitted that both of them were growing rather restless with the slow pace of their... courtship. Debating the merits of simply taking the other woman right there, she realized that Helena was speaking softly.

"I'm... I'm glad that you think so, Red. But, it isn't just physical. You know?"

The older woman nodded shortly, but with conviction, as the brunette continued. She felt herself melting at the words.

"I love you so much, Barbara. I think I always have, that I was supposed to. Hell,"

The dark figure interrupted herself with a soft, embarrassed laugh.

"If it were possible, I'd like to have your babies or something."

Smiling fondly, the redhead replied warmly, "Oh, Hel, that's so --".

The sentence fragmented abruptly as Barbara sat utterly still for a moment, mouth open, and the pieces clicked into place.

Thirty seconds later -- thirty long seconds, judging from the slightly nervous look greeting her from inches away -- she blinked her eyes and snapped her mouth shut.

Oh, dear. Obviously, her timing could have been better for that little time out.

"I'm so sorry, Sweetheart."

Barbara laughed quietly at herself before continuing.

"I was starting to say how incredibly sweet you are, how much I love you, too."

Even as the other woman relaxed minutely, raised dark brows and a quirked smile embellished the whispered question.


"But nothing, Hel. What you said simply made me realize something about our mysterious deaths."

Hmm, Barbara wondered if she could have phrased that a little better. Something in the brunette's patently disbelieving expression suggested that it wouldn't have hurt.

Perhaps when she explained...

"Helena, I don't think that the deaths were foul play at all. I believe that Carly and Hillerman freely chose their course of action."

Part 29

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