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 5

"So help me, if you ever put your hand on my ass again, you're gonna have to ask your proctologist to send in a deep probe to find it again."

To emphasize her sincerity about the threat, not to mention her ability to follow through on it, Helena grabbed the hand in question and applied a slow, steady backward pressure. Only when the young man in the Kappa Kappa Delta sweatshirt sank to his knees, tears leaking from his eyes, did she release the pressure. Marginally.

"I'm taken, Bozo" -- Wow, it sure felt good to say that -- "and, even if I wasn't, I don't. Fuck. Frat boys."

The final words were each punctuated by a little more pressure on the offending hand.

Satisfied that her message had been received, the brunette released the young man and retrieved the pitcher she'd been in the process of delivering, continuing toward the back of the Dark Horse.

Thirty minutes left in the shift from hell -- two of the three waitresses had called in -- and that jerkwad tried to pull that move again? Un-friggin'-believable.

Still, it had felt pretty awesome when she'd told dickhead that she was taken.

Helena rolled that thought around in her mind a little. She wished it were true.

Maybe she could get the word tattooed on her forehead or something. Or, maybe over her heart? Well, how freakin' trite would that be? So, where...? Maybe her little toe, just to show that the redhead had every little bit of her.

Or, she could have -- every last piece of her -- if Barbara just weren't so fuckin' terrified.

Even yesterday, during physio, the older woman had tried to act normal, flirting and teasing a little. But, yeah, she'd been uncomfortable. Probably had seen Helena's eyes augmented...

Dammit. She really tried to control it, to... temper it. But some things -- like sweaty dancing in front of the woman she adored -- just sort of... got her blood up.

Man, the young woman really missed having her mom to talk to.

Blue eyes blinked, and the brunette tried to refocus on more pleasant topics, like how good it would have felt to jam frat boy's hand up his own...

Humming a few bars from Alanis Morisette's 'You Learn', she poured a double of JD and efficiently changed some guy's twenty, contemplating the physiological possibility of her threat.

Forty-five minutes later, the lithe woman sucked in a fortifying breath and strolled casually out of the elevator. Two heads -- one crimson, one gold -- bent over something at the Delphi raised at her entrance.

"Hello, Helena." The tone was warm. "How was work?"

"Oh, you know. Intellectually stimulating and socially gratifying, as always."

The raised russet brow suggested a distinct lack of amusement.

"Well, I did hustle two kids at darts," Helena added, just a little defensively.

The older woman laughed.

"Hope you made enough to cover your dry-cleaning."

The dark-haired woman had been working on her "not amused" face, too. Looked like Red got the picture.

"Well. Yes." The redhead fiddled with her glasses. "I'm really glad that you came by tonight before sweeps."

Sensing that her eyes were about to augment, the brunette turned her head towards the kitchen as she responded.

"Yeah. I got to feeling a little peckish. And," she sucked in a breath, "I, uh, just wanted to remind you about my birthday dinner on Friday. I didn't want to shave my legs or something if you, uh, made other plans."

There. That would let Barbara off the hook if she was feeling too nervous after the other night.

Helena detected some puzzlement in the warm, green eyes, but the other woman's response was sincere.

"No reminder needed, Hel. I'm very much looking forward to it."

The soft smile almost took the brunette's knees out from under her. The faintly apologetic look that followed it simply raised her guard.

"However, for tonight, perhaps you'd be willing to grab a bite to eat in the car, Hel?"

A dark brow raised in question.

"I was hoping that you'd be up for a quick B&E."

No fair. Just no freakin' fair.

Here she was, just aching to burn off some energy, and Barbara wanted to send her on a damned stealth job? Helena knew she should have pulped ass-boy a little more back at work.

"Perhaps Dinah could go with you?"

No, not just a stealth job but a job with the Kid tagging along.

The brunette decided to practice a little more on her "not amused" face.

Tone sympathetic, the redhead explained, "It's our DOA from the other night, John Hillerman. I haven't had any luck with CDC matches. I've programmed crawlers to check hospital records nationwide for possible matches, but that's going to take quite a while."

Slightly irritated emerald eyes lost focus and drifted towards the ceiling.

"Why nobody has centralized medical records yet is simply beyond my comprehension. Honestly, in the 21st century, you might think that -- "

Barbara's big brain seemed to register that she was losing her audience's interest.

"As I was saying, a quick sweep of Hillerman's home, just to scan his address book, download his hard drive. The usual. It could provide some other links to investigate."

The green eyes were so eager, so interested and hopeful. The redhead always did love a good puzzle, and if Helena could help find some pieces for her, well, it wasn't like she was going to refuse.

The younger woman's sigh was almost inaudible. Her sarcasm, almost undetectable.

"Sounds like fun. Always look forward to exposing the non-voting crowd to the finer points of burglary."

The blonde, who'd been following the exchange like a ping-pong match, jumped to her feet.

"I can come with you? Really?"

Grabbing the car keys and tossing them to Dinah, Helena growled, "Yeah. Why don't you go warm up the Jeep?"

To her credit, the teen knew when she was being dismissed, and she disappeared behind elevator doors in record time. Helena watched the elevator descend, then ran a hand through her hair and turned to face the older woman who was regarding her with a quizzical smile.

"Uh, just -- I wanted to apologize. For the other night."

Seeing the older woman open her mouth to speak, the brunette plowed ahead.

"Just, you know, sometimes I get a little ramped up. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable or anything, Barbara."

Having said her piece, Helena clenched her jaw and inspected the toe of one boot.

The words that filtered to her were soft, warm.

"Helena, you have nothing to apologize for. I knew, that is, I was aware... of... "

Peeking through thick lashes, the younger woman wondered exactly how much blood could flow to her mentor's face before the woman stroked out.

"I knew you were a little on edge and shouldn't have let... "

The redhead blew out an exasperated breath, then lightened her tone slightly.

"Well, Hel, let's just say that I am only human... And, well -- "

Blue eyes blinked against the words that could finish the other woman's statement. Helena looked up and smiled softly.

"Yeah." she sighed, "So, is -- are we okay?"

The immediate response soothed her. Somewhat.

"Of course, Sweetheart."

Helena decided to try for some humor.

"So, maybe you're gonna install that ergo program now, huh?"

Green eyes twinkled as the older woman turned to the Delphi, responding, "I'll get right on that while you sally forth to instruct our young charge on some of the finer points of breaking and entering."

"She better not make me regret it," the younger woman growled as she leapt from the balcony, taking her own shortcut to the parking garage.

And really, the brunette admitted an hour and a half later, the Kid had done a good job. Popped the window of the guy's fourth story apartment like a pro, found his day-planner and address book in no time, and took care of digitizing them while Helena dumped the hard drive and rifled through closets and drawers.

Smooth and easy.

Almost on their way out, Helena tucked several zip disks into her pockets as Dinah packed up the digital camera.

"Oracle? You copy?"

<"I copy, Huntress. Everything okay on your end?">

"Everything's cool. We've got the hard drive, address book, day-runner. The Kid even thought to get shots of all this guy's prescriptions."

The brunette didn't try to hide the pride in her voice. Sure, Barbara had probably already dumped that information from the guy's medical records, but it had been a good idea on Dinah's part.

Seemed like Barbara thought so too.

<"Good thinking, Canary. Find anything interesting in those?">

Helena grinned at Dinah as she handily cut off the blonde's response.

"Nothing but a serious Rogaine dependency. Soooo, we're about to head out. Just wondered if there was anything else?"

<"Perhaps you can take a last look around for anything unusual.">

Helena unsuccessfully fought the urge to roll her eyes. Like they hadn't looked already.

"Like what? A bottle labeled 'Cellular Disruption Serum'?", she snarked, even as she dutifully started digging through kitchen cupboards.

<"Well, that would be perfect. If you can manage it, Huntress."> Typing accompanied the smoothly purred words.

Huh? Sometimes Red was just a little too...

"Shit, Kid! Go find your own stash to search, why don't you?"

Turning briskly from one cupboard to another, the brunette had nearly collided with the teen, who'd just popped up from searching under the sink.

Sometimes the Kid had waaay too much enthusiasm for this crap. Which gave Helena a thought.

"Go try the bathroom or something."

Completing her search of the cabinets, pantry closet, and even the oven, the lithe figure cracked the refrigerator door -- didn't want too much light tipping off any neighbors -- and checked the contents for anything unusual. A low rumble originated from the vicinity of her abdomen.

Crap, she shoulda brought some food to eat on the way, like Barbara suggested. Hmm, that package of salami looked pretty fresh. Not like anybody would miss a slice or two off the top...

At that thought, the brunette shut the refrigerator and stood on tiptoe, running her hand across the top of the unit. Attempting to avoid the shower... or herd... or tribe... of dust bunnies floating down, the young woman just had time to sense a blindingly fast movement before there was a loud <CRACK>, and she doubled over in pain.

"SH...iiit! Ow, ow, ow..."

The dark figure managed to keep her exclamations to a reasonably quiet hiss only through sheer force of will as she danced back from the refrigerator, shaking her arm.

<"Huntress? What's going on?">

"Goddamned. Fucking. Ugh..." The brunette breathed deeply as she worked at the instrument imprisoning her hand. "Uh, rat trap, Oracle. On top of the fridge."

Freeing her hand, the young woman resisted the urge to shatter the damned thing. Coulda broken her... well, probably not her hand, but it sure had hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.

<"Oh, Swe... Huntress. I'm so sorry. Are you alright?">

Nothing but warm concern in the other woman's voice. That felt pretty nice.

<"Have you warned Canary to be on the lookout?">

Huh. The other woman could have at least waited to see if she was okay before getting all concerned about the Kid.

"No need, looks like she's done. Escaped unscathed," the brunette sniped peevishly as Dinah emerged from the bathroom.

"Well, maybe not unscathed," the blonde piped up, "there were some seriously scary toupees hidden in the back of the towel closet."

"All right then," Helena cut in a little briskly.

She'd had about enough of this assignment.

"Satisfied that there's no handy Acme Disintegrator 8000 lying around, Oracle?"

<"That's fine, Huntress. I do appreciate your double-checking.">

The reply was smooth and unruffled, as were the next words.

<"Why don't you head on back so that I can dump the data, and you can get some ice on your hand?">

The brunette wasted no time in ushering Dinah towards the window. While the leather-clad vigilante erased any evidence of their visit -- tidily re-latching the window's interior lock from the outside, the teen clambered down the fire escape to the alley below.

A startled sound from four stories down interrupted the brunette's work, and she instantly back-flipped off the landing to sail to the ground.

If the Kid had been scared by a damned rat or something, Helena was going to...

Well, it was a rat -- of the two-legged variety.

Looked like a junkie who'd been too long without his fix. Probably more scared by Dinah's sudden appearance from the sky than she had been by his emergence from the dumpster. Not a real problem, except... except for the knife he was waving at the blonde.

The knife, the threat to Dinah. Now those were problems.

Alley-Rat managed to score a hit against Dinah with the knife just as blue eyes snapped to gold. The teen's pained cry echoed through the alley as she doubled over, hands flying to her abdomen.

There was blood.

<"Huntress? Canary? What's going on? I heard a cry.">

Oracle sounded worried. But Helena was fixed solely on her prey.

The dark woman emitted a low snarl as she stalked to Dinah's attacker and, almost delicately, placed a hand on his shoulder.

Distantly aware of Barbara's increasingly panicked questions, the Huntress managed to snarl a response -- "Dinah's been hurt" -- before her world turned red.

Chapter 6

Injured? How could Dinah have been injured?

The redhead's cheeks dimpled in frustration.

It was supposed to be a simple B&E, light reconnaissance. The rat trap had been a bit of a surprise but was hardly debilitating.

Any faint hopes that Barbara might have held that the teenager had merely twisted her ankle on the fire escape had evaporated at the sound of Helena's enraged snarl. The distinct sound of fists meeting flesh further supported her assumption that there was at least one other party involved in the injury.

Of course, the way that Helena was going at it, it sounded like there might have been a dozen.

"Huntress! Please respond. I need to know how badly Canary has been injured. Do you need backup?"

<"You're dead, scum ball!">

The sound of another brutal blow and a high-pitched male shriek accompanied this snarled transmission.

Well, that had been informative.

Even as she brought up screens for police and ambulance dispatch, the cyber crime fighter simultaneously scanned all of the businesses in the neighborhood in the hopes of snagging a security camera.

She needed to find out just what the hell was going on.

Since the only security camera in the vicinity was well down the block, Barbara was reduced to trying to get some response from the younger women.

Definitely time to raise her priority level for designing a decent wireless micro-camera that could be added to the comm sets.

"Huntress? Canary? I need to know what's going on at your end. Please respond."

More pounding and increasingly faint cries for mercy could be heard against a constant rumble over the comm set. The redhead was about the check the receiver's static filter when she realized what the sound was: Helena's low, deadly growling.

<"Ba... I mean, Oracle? You copy?">

Thank heavens.

Barbara had just been about to dispatch the police despite the possibility of having the brunette booked on an assault charge. The redhead shivered. Incarceration was clearly not what the brunette needed to deal with right now.

"Canary! What's going on? Huntress said you were hurt."

<"Uh, uhm, yeah. A little, I guess. I, I surprised this guy in the alley. When we, uh, came down. And, he had a knife.">

The older woman resisted the urge to drum her fingers against the keyboard. Dinah sounded pretty shaken up, and impatience with her wouldn't improve matters. Perhaps later she could have a chat with the teenager about the importance of succinct situation reports.

<"Uh, he kind of cut my hand. It's bleeding pretty hard, and Hel... Huntress just freaked. I think she's going to kill him, Oracle.">

Three sounds filtered over the comm set in rapid succession after Dinah's update: The sharp crack of a large bone breaking -- Barbara winced, probably the humerus, not an easy bone to break; a scream of agony, garbled by a mouthful of liquid -- blood, she presumed; and the sound of violent retching -- Dinah's dinner, the redhead deduced, based on the sound's proximity to the teen's transmitter.

The screaming faded, but the sound of blows continued, slower and more deliberate. It was, the older woman realized with horror, distinctly possible that Dinah was right, that Helena would kill the man. Aside from the moral implications of the act, it was something that the younger woman simply did not need on her conscience, no matter what her motivations.


Barbara suppressed her fear, kept her voice low and controlled.

"Huntress? You need to get yourself together and help Dinah."

To hell with the blonde's code name right now. She needed to keep things simple and direct.

"Huntress? I've dispatched the authorities for the perp," A tap on the send key made it so, alerting the ambulance crew first. "but you must get Dinah back here now."

The redhead fudged a bit, hoping that the brunette's concern for the teenager would outweigh her hellish desire for vengeance.

"We don't know how badly she's hurt, and I need to take care of her."

Well, she could no longer hear the sound of blows, just the brunette's harsh breathing against the constant backdrop of inhuman growling. Barbara shivered again. She didn't know if the cessation of blows meant that Helena was finally responding to her or... if it meant that Dinah's assailant was dead.

"Huntress? Do you copy me? We need to help Dinah."

The growling was quieting although the brunette's breathing was harsh and unsteady.

<"Oracle? I hear --">

Barbara picked up an almost inaudible moan from the unlucky soul who'd hurt Dinah. Naturally, with her enhanced senses, Helena did as well, as evidenced by her sharp intake of breath and low snarl.

"Stay with me, Huntress. You need to get Dinah back here. The authorities will be there any minute."

<"Huh? Yeah, right.">

Finally, finally... it sounded like the dark woman was moving towards the teenager.

<"Oracle? She's conscious. Blood -- lot of blood.">

Good, good. The words were becoming clearer, less tinged with that terrifying dark anger. It sounded like Helena's thinking was finally clearing, too.

The redhead detected rustling, a soft whimper from Dinah.

<"We're on our way, Oracle.">

<"I copy, Huntress. I'll track you on GPS and make sure that all of the traffic lights are green.">

Eleven and a half minutes later, the elevator doors slid open, and Helena stalked in, Dinah in her arms.

After her many years as a vigilante crime fighter, not to mention her experiences in the trenches as a high school teacher, Barbara Gordon had witnessed her fair share of injuries. From minor nosebleeds and broken fingers to some of the more horrific insults that the human body could withstand, she generally considered herself capable of facing almost any triage situation with some measure of equanimity. However, waiting near the elevator with a healthy supply of towels and bandages on her lap, watching the brunette approach and kneel gracefully to offer her burden for the older woman's inspection, Barbara was somewhat at a loss.

Laughter? Probably none-too-productive, although the constant stream of complaints from the teenager about being hauled around like a sack of flour were a definite source of relief for the redhead. Apparently no disabling injuries there.

Fear? Again, not productive. However, the sheer quantity of blood covering the brunette from head to toe was distinctly... unsettling. As was the distressed rumbling emanating from Helena's chest and the stark terror in gold eyes.

Relief? The two young women were back, apparently without life-threatening injuries. Nobody had died -- transmissions that she'd been monitoring from EMS had relieved the redhead of that worry -- although Helena's victim would require a lengthy hospital stay.

The older woman decided on a mixture of all three, plus a healthy dose of the practical.

Dinah first, of course. The redhead suspected that she wouldn't be able to get much out of the other woman until Helena had been reassured about her charge's condition.

Pinning the teenager with The Look, Barbara requested simply, "Let me see it."

Inspecting the wound, Barbara again fought back a wild burst of laughter.

Given the intensity of Helena's attack against the perpetrator, coupled with Dinah's none-too-clear description of her injury, the redhead had expected severed tendons or dangling fingers at the very least. This injury was nowhere near that scale.

Painful? Undoubtedly.

Dangerous? Not in the slightest.

A half-dozen stitches and a shot of ampicillin would do the trick nicely. The brunette had probably sustained worse injuries trying to screw the caps off non-screw-top beer bottles.

And, the older woman snorted softly, probably been proud of them.

Releasing the teen's hand, the redhead looked directly into worried golden eyes as she spoke to Dinah.

"It's going to be fine, Dinah. A few stitches, and you'll be as good as new. There probably won't be any scarring."

Catching the teen's nod of understanding from the corner of her eye, she asked, "Would you mind rinsing it out -- you know the drill" -- after witnessing all of the doctoring that Barbara had performed on Helena, the blonde should know the drill by now -- "and setting out the suture kit while I give Helena a quick check?"

Noting the brunette's disinclination to release her hold on the young telepath, even after what should have been reassuring words, Barbara leaned forward and gently grasped both of Helena's hands. She detected vibrations from the rumbling in the younger woman's chest all the way to her fingertips.

"Sweetie? It's all right now. Dinah's going to be fine. You got her home safely."

Keeping her voice low, her gaze as loving and open as she was able, the older woman gently stroked those slender hands, attempting to soothe the younger woman as she might an injured and frightened animal. Gradually, the rigidly locked arms which were holding the teenager ever-so-gently, if intractably, loosened; the distressed rumbling quieted.

Barbara waited until the blonde had carefully extricated herself and withdrawn before she lifted one hand to cup the other woman's face, gently drawing Helena's gaze to her. The younger woman's eyes were still augmented but were no longer so desperately panicked and introverted.

Nodding minutely at the copious quantities of blood covering the other woman, the redhead softly asked, "Are you hurt, Helena?"

Those phenomenal eyes -- even as they finally reverted to normal -- blinked slowly, several times, as if had never occurred to the brunette to consider the possibility of injury to herself. With a warm rush of tenderness, Barbara realized that, in fact, it probably hadn't occurred to the other woman.

Finally, there was a slow shake of the dark head as Helena ducked her face and muttered something inaudible.

"I'm sorry, Sweetheart. What did you say?"

The answer was soft; the voice rough.

"I said, uh, some of it's Dinah's. Uh, most of it's... his."

Pain filled blue eyes peered through dark lashes, and Barbara fought a shudder at the words she heard next.

"I was gonna kill him, Barbara. Honest to god, I was going to kill him."

Chapter 7

Those compassionate green eyes didn't even blink.

Well, hell, the redhead probably had a pretty good idea of what the younger woman had been planning -- doing. Not like there'd been a helluva lot of planning going on there.

There wasn't any surprise in the older woman's expression, but her face was sure showing a lot of other emotions, including that fucking sad, disappointed look that the brunette had hoped they'd left in high school.

Barbara drew in a long, slow breath before she spoke. Her words were soft, controlled, just a little questioning.

"You were protecting Dinah, Helena."


The brunette scowled in frustration. Her mentor probably thought it had been some freakin' heroic response to a Big Threat. That Helena had been all noble or something.

The dark woman needed for her to understand.

"He was just a junkie, Barbara. Just a stupid kid with a big knife. Cripes, he was probably more scared of the Kid than she was of him!"

The lithe figure finally rose from her crouched position, resisting the urge to pace.

Funny, right now, she wasn't even sure how she'd ended up kneeling on the floor in front of the redhead. Whatever.

She raised a hand to scrub at her face, wincing slightly as bruised knuckles made themselves known. Peering through dark lashes, she saw that Barbara was just sort of waiting. Not really acting like she expected anything, but ready to hear everything that Helena wanted -- needed -- to say.

The brunette plunged ahead.

"I mean, he wasn't even really a threat. I knew that the minute I saw him in the alley...", she trailed off miserably.

"What happened, Hel?"

"He was, I dunno, scared, trying to act all tough with the Kid -- with Dinah. He didn't even know I was there. I was just kind of waiting, seeing how Dinah was going to handle it, ready to grab the knife, scare him a little. You know?"

Anguished blue eyes caught the small smile and slight dip of a red head.

"Maybe give him the address of the methadone clinic..."

Russet eyebrows rose slightly, furrowing at the same time. Helena was going to have to remember to warn Barbara about the worry lines she was going to get if she didn't stop doing that.

The younger woman blew out a breath, started to rake a hand through her hair but -- noticing the sticky blood congealing -- stopped short. Instead, she leaned back against the wall by the elevator and looked at the ceiling, scratching at the drying blood on her neck.

"And then," she fought to keep her voice from cracking, "then he cut her, Barbara. I wasn't fast enough, and that bastard cut Dinah. And... and..."

Helena's face twisted as she saw blood from years ago, blood that wouldn't stop coming. She felt the other woman's hand come to rest softly against her thigh. The warmth of that soft touch gave her the courage to finish.

"I wanted to kill him, Barbara."

The response was immediate.

"But you didn't, Helena. You didn't."

Softly, so softly, Helena confessed, hating how her words would make the redhead see her, "I wish I had."

Helena heard the quick stutter in the older woman's breathing, even as slender fingers tangled with hers, squeezing gently.

"Listen to me, Helena. This... person had just hurt someone you care about. You wanted, needed to protect Dinah. And, no matter how much you wanted to, you did not kill him. You got Dinah to safety, and you did not kill him."

The younger woman clenched her teeth as green eyes, filled with love, caught hers. Barbara's voice was low, passionate with conviction.

"Dinah's assailant is going to be okay. You and Dinah are both home safely. And that is all that is important."

Blue eyes blinked. Something was burning them.

Red just wasn't getting it. It wasn't like she'd just over-reacted a little, snapped at the cable guy because he was four hours late or something. Everything she'd worked on -- controlling herself, channeling that part of herself -- had just disappeared like smoke in the wind. And, somehow, she just wasn't getting this across to Barbara.

But, right now, concerned green eyes were searching her face; tender fingers were holding her bloody hands, thumbs gently stroking her wrists. Barbara was worrying about her. About her. Wanting to be sure that she was okay.

And, it felt so good, so fucking good, that Helena just wanted to curl up in the other woman's arms and forget all about this night. Forget her failure and how she'd fucked up for the other woman again.

Instead, the brunette mustered a tired smile. Exhaled as she squeezed the redhead's hand gently in return.

Time for some damage control.

"Yeah." A ghost of a sigh.

Straightening, the dark woman flashed her trademark cocky grin.

"You'd better go and check on Big D before she goes all Doogie Howser on us and starts stitching herself up."

The older woman's smile didn't quite reach her eyes as she rotated her chair towards the training room, then paused.

"Are you o -- are you going to be okay, Helena?"

"Huh." The brunette grunted softly. "G'wan. I hear a shower calling my name."

An hour later, the water pouring over Helena was ice cold, but she wasn't ready to get out. Not yet.

She'd heard the phrase "seeing red" a lot. Now, she finally, really knew what color that was. It was the color that had covered her hands and clothes and face. The color that still seemed to be washing from her skin.

Yeah. She'd lost control before.

'No angels here,' she laughed without humor into the spray of water.

But, before, it was always life or death. Like with the Crimson Claw or some other mega-baddie. Something she'd needed to go with, letting loose her instincts and raw power and guts. It wasn't even a conscious decision; her body just knew, knew when to surrender herself to her feral side.

But, this little sad sack of shit tonight? Fuck, she probably could have given that strung-out mess the evil eye and said "Boo", and he would have disappeared faster than bacon at an Atkins convention.

And, the thing was, Helena had known that. And, she'd still just gone... great ape all over the guy. Just whaling and pounding on him like some goddamned --

The brunette choked on some spray, coughed. Sucked in a breath, blinking.

But the word wouldn't go away.

Funny thing was, she had a feeling it probably would be around for a long, long time.

Chapter 8

The Bard had certainly been right in "King John", a startled Barbara Gordon acknowledged; words truly could "bethump" a person.

Putting on the last of her light make-up in preparation for Helena's birthday dinner, the redhead had been chatting with Dinah about make-up techniques, subtly attempting to recruit the teen to the "less is more" camp. They'd just transitioned to a discussion about some of Helena's more Goth-like looks in her high school days, Barbara applying a light ring of malachite kohl to her right eye, when the blonde's question had startled her so.

"Do you think that someone like, uhm, Helena could ever be interested in, well, someone like me?"

Considering the emotional "thump" that the words carried, the older woman was grateful that she'd only dropped the applicator rather than jabbing her own eye out with it.

Following the wand's progress as it rolled inexorably under her dressing table, she grumpily realized that it was going to be hell to fish out from the confines of her chair. Dinah instinctively started after it, before freezing and gingerly reseating herself on the end of the bed.

Smiling softly, the redhead asked, "Would you mind?", wondering if she had -- officially -- carried her obsession with independence, with doing everything herself, just a bit too far. She opted to consider that later, since Dinah's disappearance under the table gave her a moment to collect herself, to consider her young ward's question and what might lie behind it.

The two younger women had been spending quite a bit of time together recently. They also weren't absurdly different in age -- not quite seven years, the redhead instantly calculated. And, Helena certainly had been displaying a mile-wide protective streak towards the blonde; the incident of a few nights ago was proof enough of that.

The redhead was, in fact, still puzzling over the events in the alley and, more specifically, Helena's reactions. The entire event had been rather extraordinary.

Helena had emerged from her shower that night long after the older woman had finished her simple stitching job and packed Dinah off to bed with a healthy dose of antibiotics and painkillers. After watching the brunette plant herself on the couch and start her usual dizzying channel surfing, Barbara had headed into the kitchen, returning shortly with a tray of hot tea, cocoa, and a plate of cookies. A foil pouch of strawberry pop-tarts had been tucked discretely in one corner.

Wordlessly, she'd settled herself on the couch, close to the younger woman but not crowding her, and helped herself to tea and a cookie. Only after Helena had settled on something to watch -- one of the Pink Panther movies -- and tucked into the pop-tarts had the redhead finally relaxed marginally. Noticing the scrapes and light bruising on Helena's knuckles -- the marks would fade by the next morning, given the younger woman's remarkable healing abilities -- she'd set her cup down and gently grasped one battered hand in hers.

Barbara hadn't missed the young woman's uncertain look, her slight tensing. She breathed a kiss to the back of the slim hand, murmuring, "I'm so glad that you're both safe, Helena."

The blue eyes were abashed, vaguely sad, and so the older woman had deliberately lightened her tone as her finger gently traced a darker bruise, a thin line transecting the back of the slim hand.

"What's this?"

Helena's succinct response, accompanied by an embarrassed dip of a shaggy head, had provided the relief, the release, that both women needed. They'd dissolved into laughter at her words.

"Rat trap."

Since that night, Helena had seemed a bit withdrawn, less verbose than usual. Thoughtful, Barbara decided.

Despite any withdrawal in general, the brunette had been spending a not-inconsiderable amount of time each day with Dinah -- training, going out for burgers, helping her track down an elusive must-have hat for the play, even working in another dance lesson. She'd also shown up for sweeps each night after her shifts at work. Mercifully, the patrols had been quiet, routine; the redhead suspected that Helena had been relieved by that.

As was she, Barbara admitted.

She was still surprised and slightly frightened by the ferocity of the brunette's response to the assault on her companion. While she understood how the event could have triggered some horrific memories for the young woman, Dinah's injury shouldn't have inspired quite the level of brutality that Helena had unleashed. In light of Dinah's question, the redhead wondered if there could be other feelings that had contributed to the intensity of Helena's response.

On the other hand, considering the situation, the older woman had to admit that if she had been present when the teen was injured, it was distinctly probable that she, too, would have gone medieval all over the poor junkie.

Smiling her thanks as Dinah emerged from under the table and offered the applicator, the older woman dimpled her cheeks in frustration. None of this really provided her with any concrete data to support a hypothesis about the teen's question. Did any of this mean what might be suggested by the girl's question?

Steadying her hand as she attempted to finish her make-up, Barbara decided to lob the ball back into Dinah's court. She'd learned through hard experience with her first ward that the technique was often quite effective.

"What do you mean, Dinah?"

The blush flooding the girl's face elicited a sympathetic frown; the redhead was quite familiar with the travails of the fair-skinned.

"Well, it's just, she's so cool and... beautiful and funny and... Would, uhm, someone like that ever notice someone like me?"

The redhead addressed some of the subtext in the awkward question immediately.


Barbara waited patiently until shy blue eyes rose to meet green.

"You are a beautiful young woman. Bright and caring and funny. Don't sell yourself short."

The blonde smiled hesitantly, the resettled her mantle of discomfort around her shoulders.

"Well, but do you think she, uh, someone like her would ever notice me?"

Looking in the mirror, ostensibly to give herself a final once-over, the redhead directed an exasperated glare at her own reflection. She was deeply over her head on this one, not to mention the fact that she was being swamped by a whole host of other emotions she didn't care to analyze too closely right now.

Turning back towards Dinah, Barbara demurred, "Dinah, perhaps you should just ask Helena."

"Ask me what? Is it okay to come in?"

A dark head peeked around the partially opened bedroom door, and two heads -- one crimson, one gold -- snapped guiltily towards the voice. Barbara recovered first, laughing.

"Of course, Hel. Come in."

The laughter died quite abruptly when the younger woman eased her way fully into the room.

Helena had instructed that the redhead should "dress to the nines" for the dinner she'd shyly asked the older woman to attend. Barbara had chosen a deep green -- almost black -- sleeveless, one-piece pantsuit for the occasion. A mandarin collar encircled her throat, accentuating her long neck and drawing attention to her bare shoulders. The older woman was well aware that the shape and definition in her shoulders and upper arms hadn't suffered since the accident.

The brunette had easily outdone her mentor.

A ten. Definitely dressed to the tens, if that were possible, Barbara mused.

The younger woman was wearing a slinky, black sleeveless cocktail dress which hugged her closely enough to hint at the curves beneath without clinging. The above-the-knee hem line revealed a respectable length of tanned leg, muscles subtly shaped by low, open-toe heels; and the scooped back showed off the woman's slender back to advantage. The silver cat's claw pendant which had belonged to Helena's mother was the only adornment on the brunette.

Barbara licked her lips, then swallowed. She thought she actually heard Dinah swallow, and, for a fleeting moment, the redhead was seized by a desire to scratch the teenager's eyes out.

Where had that come from?

Helena seemed to register the approving stares, pirouetting showily. She ducked her head and impishly inquired, "So, did I clean up all right?"

"Wow," Dinah breathed.

Despite years and years of reading and study, despite multiple master's degrees, despite a memory that let her forget none of what she'd learned, Barbara couldn't have come up with a better word to describe the younger woman. She settled on a wide smile and a slow nod.

"Course," the brunette continued, "I can't hold a candle to you, Red."

Cerulean eyes traced the older woman from head to toe as Helena smiled cheekily.

"Like the Kid said, Barbara: Wow."

Intensely aware of the heat suffusing her in the wake of the younger woman's appraisal, the redhead blushed furiously. She rocked the wheels of her chair twice before finding her voice.

"It is a special occasion, after all. You'll only have one 24th birthday, Hel."

The younger woman grinned.

"Yeah. Ready to paint the town red, Red?"

Part 9

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