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 9

Helena brought the wineglass towards her face, swirling and sniffing delicately at the red liquid before staring glumly at the glass in her hand.

God, this was hard.

What had she been thinking when she asked the redhead to dinner -- just the two of them -- in honor of her birthday? Of course, that had been almost a month ago, before things started getting so... raw.

Teach her to plan ahead.

The young woman snickered softly as she considered using this situation as ammunition in her ongoing debate with Barbara about the merits of the older woman's methodical planning versus Helena's play-it-by-ear approach. She quickly brought her napkin to her lips to mask the sound; she wasn't so sure that Red would think it was funny.

Well, maybe, it wasn't that humorous after all.

The two women were seated at the best table of New Gotham's most elegant restaurant. The rooftop establishment's large windows provided a stunning view of the cityscape below and the stars above, and candles created intimate illumination at each table. Against the backdrop of stars, crimson hair reflecting the fire from the candles, Barbara was simply luminous. The deep green material of the older woman's outfit seemed to shimmer, drawing Helena's gaze again and again to the other woman's neck and chest. Artful trails of crimson hair escaped the loose chignon, whispering against the sides of the redhead's face.

Helena thought she must be in Hell.

Sitting at the small table, sharing bites of her torte with the other woman -- Barbara had insisted that the waiter place a single small candle on top when he delivered it -- the brunette couldn't believe that she was keeping up her end of their teasing conversation.

Instead of focusing on the redhead's words, she longed to run her fingers through the silky tendrils of hair, caressing the elegant planes of the other woman's face. She ached to move to Barbara's side and bury her nose in that soft hair, ghost her fingers across those strong, bare shoulders, map the other woman's back with her mouth. She yearned for those emerald eyes to look at her the way she wished she were free to look at the other woman. She burned for the other woman just to grab her and take her -- roughly, hard, needing.

She didn't want all of the playful words they were exchanging; she only wanted one: Yes.

The young woman ignored a desire to fan herself with the napkin, replacing it ever-so-gently in her lap. In her current state, even the whisper of the linen in her lap was an agony, and she shifted restlessly, tried to focus on what Barbara was saying.

"I haven't been here in years, Helena. Thank you for inviting me. Although, shouldn't you be out with one of your many admirers?"

Not sure how she did it, the brunette kept her tone light, her expression playful.

"I thought that I was, Babs."

The redhead smiled and play-swatted the younger woman's arm. Helena dodged the swipe and continued easily.

"Besides, you know my 'No repeats' rule."

"Yes, I do," the older woman murmured.

Helena thought that the other woman's voice didn't sound very playful all of a sudden.

"What is it with you and that rule, anyway? Haven't you sown enough wild oats?"

Smoothly transforming her pained grimace into an evil smile, Helena gave a saucy wink.

"Don't want anyone getting too needy, y'know."

The redhead's response was almost completely without inflection.

"What will you-- what do you plan to do when you're older, Helena? I know that you're still young, but..."

Dark brows furrowed momentarily before the dark woman decided that truth was the best option. Nevertheless, she tempered it with a grin and a teasing tone.

"Well, I guess I'll just be a spinster, still hanging around, bugging the crap out of you, Red. Probably a lot of cats, too. I understand they're a requirement."

The older woman's laugh was bright as she reached across the table to rest one long elegant hand lightly on Helena's.

"Indeed, Hel. But," now it was russet brows that creased as green eyes danced playfully, "can someone with your experience technically be a spinster?"

"Guess I'll just have to write some new rules or something, Barbara."

Shit, that hadn't come out quite as playful as she'd hoped. Still, the redhead was moving on from this painful topic. Finally.

"Perhaps that won't be necessary, Hel. It may be that our young charge has a bit of a crush on you."

What? No way --

"Oh, uh, I'd... I've never."

Helena paused, regrouping, working it out in her head.

"Nah." The word was decisive.

The brunette signaled for the check, smiling.

"She's got her eye on some little cutie in her science class. Gert? Gabby Something-or-other. 'Sides," the woman's tone darkened slightly, "even if she did, she'll figure it out soon enough."

Anybody with any sense would, she figured. Barbara sure had.

Barbara seemed a bit puzzled by the response, or -- more likely, Helena figured -- to her companion's inflection; however, she remained quiet until they reached the van.

"Well, then, Helena, what's next?"

"Uh," God, she hoped this wouldn't backfire, "just sit tight."

Minutes later, the younger woman pulled into an empty parking lot and shut off the engine. She turned to smirk at the redhead.


Huh, that hadn't come out quite as confidently as she'd planned.

"The roller rink, Hel? I'm not sure I understand."

Red was getting that vaguely baffled and miffed look that she got when she wasn't sure if there was a joke she wasn't getting.

Helena loved that look.

Exiting the van and assisting the other woman out, Helena decided to try for the shy, hangdog expression that she was well-aware the other woman couldn't resist.

"Hey, I never had one of those birthday skating parties. Thought I was a little overdue."

The redhead laughed, then remembered herself, glancing uncomfortably at her chair.

"But, Hel...?"

Helena held the door of the empty facility open with one hand, offering a CD to the lone attendant for her private party, and smiled teasingly.

"Think about it, Red. You on wheels. Me on wheels -- "

The brunette paused dramatically, then waggled her eyebrows.

"-- in this dress. Who's gonna end up on her ass the most?"

Barbara laughed -- rich and throaty -- and wheeled enthusiastically inside. The redhead always loved a competition.

In short order, the brunette had exchanged her tasteful heels for a pair of skates which had obviously seen better days and sailed onto the floor where the redhead waited, smirking at the glitter-ball lights which had just come to life.

Helena resisted comment as her hearing picked up the tiny click of the sound system. Waiting for the first track of her recently mixed disc to start, she channeled John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever", thrusting one hand in the air, tilting her head down and to the side. As the unmistakable intro to a '70's classic filled the rink, the young woman pushed off, dramatically swinging her raised hand down and across her body, and -- after an embarrassing amount of pin wheeling -- inevitably fell on her backside.

Amazing how out of practice she was after twelve years or so...

She grumpily watched the redhead -- who was laughing just a little too hard, she thought -- lick her index finger and paint a big "1" in the air before accepting the proffered hand up. Helena fixed the smiling woman with a cool stare and gestured in the general vicinity of the speakers.

"C'mon, Red, we're here to do The Hustle," -- a cautious hip-shake accompanied the title of the song, "not joke around. Care to offer a girl a hand?"

Barbara extended a hand, and for the duration of the disco classic and the next song they circled together as Helena regained unused skills, attempting an occasional cross-over, grabbing the handles of the other woman's chair for balance when she got over-ambitious.

Helena had a suspicion that she might have stayed upright more if the redhead didn't seem to be deliberately swerving around. She mentally shrugged; maybe Red was just grooving to the music.

When "Stray Cat Strut" faded out and Randy Newman warbled over the speakers, Barbara braked sharply, nearly sending the brunette spilling into her lap.

"What the hell?", the younger woman inquired, a little crankily.

The redhead pursed her lips and offered a pointed stare towards a speaker. In response, blue eyes blinked innocently.

A raised crimson brow suggested just how very unamused the other woman was.

Helena tried. She really did. But, she couldn't keep a straight face.

The younger woman burst out laughing which naturally sent her to the floor in a heap. Having won their face-down, the redhead gave in to her laughter as well, as her companion attempted to speak.

"Whaaat?," the brunette wheezed between indelicate guffaws, " 'Short People' is a roller-skating tradition. Practically a goddamned anthem, Barbara. Really, it's in the official charter for all the rinks."

Green eyes sparkled -- coulda been reflections from the disco ball, but Helena didn't think so -- as the older woman pretended to consider.

"All right, Hel. If you say so. However, if I hear a single song from the 'Xanadu' soundtrack, I am out of here."

The young woman scrabbled to her feet, narrowing her eyes as she followed the other woman's progress to the side of the rink, where they'd left their coats. Red had been laughing, but maybe she really did have something against the movie... Helena glided slowly over as Randy continued his lament about the vertically challenged.

"Hey, I'm gonna go grab something for us to drink from the snack bar. Forgot to tell you that it comes with the rental, so if you want a hot dog or some nachos..."

Helena thought the redhead looked a little queasy.

"As much as I do enjoy an open bar, Hel, I cannot imagine how a serving of barely-warm cheese-whiz over stale tortilla chips could possibly enhance the four-star dinner we just enjoyed. But," -- was that a challenging gleam? -- "don't hold back on my account, Sweetie. After all, it is your party."

The young woman clomped in the direction of the refreshment stand, snagging two bottles of water before stepping into the sound-proof booth, to interrupt the rink attendant's phone conversation. She waited with thinly veiled impatience until he put his hand over the mouthpiece and looked her way.

"Yeah, sorry to interrupt there -- Would you make sure you skip track eight on the CD I gave you? My friend has issues with ELO."

Helena smiled sweetly at the grumpy acknowledgement and headed back to her companion, wondering if she should get them out of the place during track seven. She wasn't too confident about their host's ability to retain her instruction through another five, or was it four?, tracks.

The brunette started through the play list. 'Short People' was second -- no, third -- which meant...


Helena glided gracefully to the bench and half-slid on to it, silently handing a bottle of water to Barbara and smiling widely as the redhead performed little pop-wheelies and sang to the reggae, hip-hop beat of Shaggy.

Girl, you're my angel, you're my darling angel
Closer than my peeps you are to me, baby
Shorty, you're my angel, you're my darling angel
Girl, you're my friend when I'm in need, lady

The older woman interrupted her singing to turn to the brunette.

"You know, you still haven't told me what you want for your birthday, Hel."

The redhead was notoriously awful at picking out gifts. Years ago, she'd finally thrown in the towel and mandated that the people in her life simply give her a prioritized list of what they wanted for each occasion. Serial and model numbers were optional but highly recommended.

Helena considered, listening to the beginning of another verse.

You're a queen and so you should be treated
Though you never get the lovin' that you needed
Could have left, but I called and you heeded
Begged and I pleaded, mission completed...

Inevitably, the younger woman chickened out. The last week had been... too much. Maybe next year.

Helena chugged her water, then grinned.

"This is it, Barbara. Just a night on the town with you."

The brunette wondered how -- when she was honestly having so much fun -- she could ache so, feel so splintered and hollow.

Nevertheless, she smiled and stood, extending a hand to the older woman and waiting as the redhead screwed the top back on her water.

Uh, uh

Girl, in spite of my behavior, said I'm your savior
(You must be sent from up above)
And you appear to me so tender, say girl I surrender
(Thanks for giving me your love)

"C'mon, Red, let's boogie. We've only got three more songs before we've gotta get out of here."

Chapter 10

"Boogie Nights"? How had that gotten in there?

<"You copy, Oracle?">

Head buried deep in a cabinet, Barbara started at the voice purring through the receiver in her ear. She backed away from the cabinet, fixing it with an irrationally irritated stare, and replied smoothly, "I copy, Huntress. Are you available?"

The older woman had been caught up in lesson plans, waiting for Helena's shift to end. She was slightly surprised to note how pleased she was by the sound of the other woman's voice over the transceiver.

<"Sure am.">

The voice was light, playful.

<"So what are we doing tonight, Brain?">

Smiling at the Animaniacs reference, Barbara responded lightly, "Oh, the usual, Pinky. Foiling plots to take over the world, halting forces of darkness and petty criminals..."

Channeling her best megalomaniac mouse voice, she added, "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?"

The response was deadpan.

<"I think so, Brain. But where are we going to find rubber pants in our size?">

Barbara laughed, bright and full. How Helena could make her laugh...

"No need for all that to foil a convenience store robbery. A silent alarm tripped a few minutes ago on 16th Avenue. Do you want to take a look?"

<"Sounds like fun. Maybe I can pick up a snack.">

Barbara heard the sound of slow steady breathing, the wind blowing across the comm set, the slight scuffing of boots. The familiar sounds of her partner flying across the rooftops of the city.

Steeling herself, the redhead returned to the cabinet and resumed her search.

<"What are you working on, Oracle?">

The dark woman had undoubtedly heard Barbara rustling through the DVD cabinet.

"Mmm? Oh, nothing, really. Just trying to find 'Nemo'."

<"Is that one of the ergonomic exercises, or are you getting into something kinky there, Oracle?">

The redhead felt the blush creep up her neck and blew out an exasperated breath. What had the Creator had in mind with blushes when nobody was around to witness -- and increase -- the reaction?

"Just the DVD, Huntress. I hoped that it might spark something for one of the groups in my daytime project."

Helena grasped the reference to her mentor's fifth period senior English class.

<"Aw, you're not inflicting 'The Odyssey' again, are you?">

Barbara withdrew her head from the cabinet and focused her full attention on the conversation.

"What would make you think that, Huntress?"

<"Huh. Let's see. You're hunting for a movie about perilous journeys,">

There was a quick pause, and the teacher could almost see her protege ticking the points off on her fingers.

<"numerous misadventures, vivid descriptions -- or, animation in this case, a central figure of heroic caliber -- even if he is a clown fish. In short, 'a long narrative on a grand scale about the deeds of warriors and heroes'.">

The quotation marks encapsulating the final formal definition of an epic were clear in the brunette's voice.

Barbara blinked, shaking her head at the brunette's synopsis of "Finding Nemo" -- and of Homer's work. She simply didn't understand how the young woman had only skated through her senior English class with a B-.

"Exactly. I hoped that something more modern might resonate."

Curiosity got the best of the older woman.

"How do you know so much about the topic, Huntress?"

"Hey, I kind of like those Greek epics -- lots of fighting and loving and dying. Of course, 'The Aeneid' was way better -- sort of the condensed version, you know?"

Barbara's amused response was cut short by the other woman's next transmission. All trace of playfulness gone, the woman's tone was completely business-like.

<"I'm here. Gonna check things out. Going silent.">

Spying the DVD behind a stack of 'Best of Jerry Springer' tapes -- how had those come into her possession? -- the redhead grabbed the film and returned to her station at the Delphi. As she monitored police broadcasts and waited for her partner to check in, she absently mused about the contradiction that was Helena Kyle.

Brash, yet endearingly shy.

An avowed non-intellectual, yet possessing depths of eclectic knowledge -- as just witnessed by their brief exchange about Greek and Roman literature.

Brooding and notoriously short-tempered, yet capable of extraordinary depths of sweetness and humor. The brunette's antics at the roller rink were demonstration enough of that. Barbara hadn't been fooled for a minute by the always graceful woman's clumsiness with the skates. Honestly, Helena had never even tripped in her life as far as she could recall.

Blatantly, almost proudly, uncommitted and emotionally irresponsible, yet tremendously protective and sensitive. The younger woman's interactions with Dinah -- her response to the threat against the teen, her almost palpable discomfort when Barbara had broached the possibility of a crush -- were evidence enough of this.

And, romantic. Barbara couldn't forget romantic, especially after their dinner date last night.

The cyber genius tilted her head to the side, considering. Had it been a date? Dinner, with an activity afterward.


The only thing missing had been a goodnight kiss... or ten.

For a giddy, breath-stopping moment, when Helena had accompanied her up to the clock tower after they'd left the rink, the redhead had thought -- hoped -- feared -- that the younger woman was planning to -- to do something.

Before leaving, the brunette had almost shuffled her feet and then leaned down, bringing her face close, so close; Barbara swore she had felt the fine hairs of the other woman's cheek brushing her face. The redhead had heard Helena's soft measured breathing, felt warm breath brushing her hair, marvelled at the heat radiating from the younger woman. For a moment, a moment filled with longing and possibilities, Helena had held the pose.

Barbara had broken first.

She'd turned her head, admittedly disappointed when her lips met the smooth, tan skin of the younger woman's cheek instead of the soft lips she could no longer deny wanting to taste. Helena had accepted the buss with a shy smile and then departed without another word.

The redhead pursed her lips, dimpling her cheeks, simply amazed at her own short-sightedness. Clearly, when it came to her former ward, she'd not been looking at the whole picture.

So this was it.

Ilia iacta est.

Last night had been, Barbara acknowledged, a most definitive cast of the die for her. She'd known for years that she loved -- was in love -- with Helena Kyle. She could, would, no longer deny wanting to act on those feeling.

There would be pain, heartache; of that she was sure. Once this Rubicon was crossed, she wouldn't have a hope of hiding her heart, wouldn't be able to use Helena's damned 'No Repeats' rule to protect herself, wouldn't even be able to shield herself behind the armor of scars and unfeeling flesh.

Dammit. In the face of her younger partner's sweetness and passion, Barbara's shields and armor were simply dissolving like paper tigers in the rain.

A quiet beep from the Delphi distracted the woman from her thoughts.

One of her monitoring routines had been tripped, originating from New Gotham General. That meant only one thing: another corpse matching the parameters of last week's DOA.

Oh, good grief.

While additional data could be helpful in establishing a pattern, why couldn't the first death have been some sort of bizarre fluke?

Well, hard experience had long ago taught the cyber crime fighter that there were extremely few flukes in New Gotham.

Barbara debated with herself.

While she absolutely would not ask Helena to repeat last week's trip to the morgue and while she could try to make do with whatever lab results she hacked from medical records, the older woman could not deny that another set of tissue and fluid samples to compare with the first would be invaluable.

Green eyes narrowed thoughtfully as the redhead tapped her glasses absently against her chin. Hmmm, perhaps she could split this Gordian Knot.

Opening another terminal window and beginning to type, the crime fighter laughed softly. Since this was a dilemma of her own making, perhaps it would be better described as a Gordon-ian Knot.

Twenty-five minutes later, Barbara responded to her younger partner's hail over the comm set with a clear -- relatively clear -- conscience.

"Yes, I copy, Huntress. Everything go smoothly at the Quicky Mart?"

<"Aw, the cops were already there. I hung around, did the innocent by-stander thing just in case.">

The redhead thought she detected the sound of a slushee being sucked through a straw.

"Hmm," she responded neutrally, "Are you available now?"

She waited, hoping. If this little job went smoothly, Helena would be returning to the clock tower soon. There were a few things she wanted to talk about with the younger woman.

<"Sure. What's up?">

Clearing her throat, she inquired, "I was hoping that you could make a quick stop for me."

Chapter 11

What the...? Again?

After spending the last week worried that her own shadow might leap up and bite her -- or Barbara or Dinah -- the brunette was finally putting some of her fear and embarrassment to rest. Maybe it had just been the full moon and her concern for Dinah and whatever the fuck else went on with her feral side.

Or, maybe some seriously whacked out PMS.

The young woman barely stifled a guffaw as she landed silently on the roof of the hospital. PMS didn't hold a freakin' candle to how she'd been feeling, acting.

The brunette hadn't felt so out of control, so utterly miserable in her failures in front of the older woman, in a helluva long time. She could have cheerfully gone on a lot longer without revisiting those particular feelings.

At least she was feeling more in control again. She hadn't wanted to kill -- or ravage -- anyone since the night of Dinah's attack. Though, last night at dinner, she'd been feeling a little shaky about that second thing. But -- she gave herself a mental high-five -- she had managed to get through the dinner without crawling all over Barbara. She'd even squeaked through that weird, charged minute when she'd dropped the redhead at the tower and her baser instincts had been telling her -- screaming -- that the other woman wanted her to...

Now, she was just a little bit eager to get out on the streets to find some action.

A "quick stop" by the hospital pathology lab was probably the last thing she'd had on her mind.

Helena sighed.

It was only a couple of blocks -- buildings -- away from the convenience store; and, if it allowed her to avoid another visit to the morgue while giving Barbara more information to help stop this... thing, well, who was she to complain?

Catching a glimpse of three orderlies taking a smoke break by the roof entrance, the dark figure ducked behind a ventilation shaft. She eyed the vent speculatively. Should she? Sure, it would shave a few minutes, but, well, just ick.

<"Huntress? GPS shows you stationary at NGG. Is everything under control?">

"Yeah," she whispered back, "just a little delay on getting inside. No biggie."

Hearing the sound of typing over the comms, the young woman settled back, whistling almost inaudibly as she waited for Larry, Daryl, and Daryl to finish their smokes. A soft chuckle over her receiver interrupted her second chorus of 'Beast of Burden'.

<"Honestly, Huntress, the Stones?">

"Can't beat a classic, Oracle -- Wait, the entrance just cleared. I'm going silent."

Effortlessly jimmying the roof access door, Helena wondered what it would be like if Barbara got all intrigued and excited about a case of -- oh -- odd cross-pollination in tulips or something for a change. Really, anything that didn't involve dead bodies. The woman seriously needed to rethink her topics of interest.

Poised to vault over the rail for another flight of stairs, the brunette froze as it hit her: It wouldn't make a bit of difference if Red did rethink; the woman was already interested in every friggin' topic.

Sighing fondly, she landed soundlessly on the fourth floor landing and peeked through the stairwell door. Coast was clear.

Helena rolled her eyes.

Well, of course the coast was clear. It was 11:20 at night. No surprise that things might be a little quiet on the normally nine-to-five lab floor.

The dark woman strolled casually, confidently, into the corridor. Her mom had always said that if you acted like you belonged, most people wouldn't question you. Helena was well aware that this particular bit of wisdom had assisted Selina Kyle with the acquisition of a gorgeous trinket or a lovely work of art on more than one occasion. She hoped that it would prove equally helpful for a woman in black leather prowling through the closed-off floor of the hospital at midnight.

Well, if anyone asked, she could just say that she was making a withdrawal for the Transylvanian blood bank.

On second thought...

The lithe figure veered into a supply closet and shucked her duster, replacing it with a slightly soiled lab coat. Wrinkling her nose against the overpowering odor of cologne -- cripes, Chaps was just so 1980s -- she twisted the fabric of the lapel to peer at the nametag.

'Dr. Weinberg'? O-kaaaay.

A moment later, she slouched into the main office of the lab, interrupting the night clerk's round of instant messaging with -- blue eyes flickered gold for a split second -- some dude named Harold Grivens. The startled clerk quickly clicked a spreadsheet to the forefront before pinning Helena with a Can't-you-see-how-terribly-busy-I-am glower.

"Uh, hi?" The brunette batted her lashes and tried to look a little nervous. Not a huge stretch, really.

Pretending to consult the clipboard she'd swiped on the way in, she stammered, "I just got sent up from Infection, uh, stat --"

Yeah, they were always saying stuff like that on E.R., weren't they? She ignored the pained sigh that came over the comm set.

"-- for some rush samples for Carly Applewood?"

Carly Applewood? Wait a minute...

Obviously dismissing her as nothing more than an overworked third-year student gopher, IM-boy grunted and gestured to a neatly packaged box.

It looked kind of like Chinese take-out.

The young woman scribbled a signature on the receipt next to the box and headed out the door. Unable to resist, she turned and ducked her head back in, freezing the dedicated medical professional as he was in the process of clicking back to his IM screen.

Batting her eyes again, Helena purred, "Y'know, contrary to what old Harold thinks, I'm with you. Spiderman 2 was waaay better than the first."

In two minutes flat, she'd reclaimed her coat and was back on the roof, ready to head back to the clock tower.

"I'm out and on my way."

<"Everything go all right? It wasn't too bad, was it, Huntress?">

Well, it hadn't been that bad. Beat all hell out of the morgue thing last week. But, maybe she wouldn't tell Barbara that just yet, let her feel a little guilty.

Who was she kidding?

Effortlessly sailing onto another rooftop, she sighed, then responded.

"Fine, Oracle. A lot better than last week's job."

Leaping again, she spoke quietly.

"Oracle, I knew Carly, from No Man's Land."

The older woman immediately recognized the name of the popular hang-out for some of New Gotham's meta population.

<"She was a meta, Huntress?">

"Yeah -- "

Ready to leap across an alleyway, the dark woman froze as a sudden frisson of awareness snapped her mind directly back to the moment and drew her attention to the street below.

What the fuck?

She had to be seeing things, cuz there was no way her luck was this good. But, yeah, couldn't mistake those two goons: tape on their noses, raccoon eyes evidencing the recent breaks, same cock-sure walk as they tracked a woman unfortunate enough to be heading down the street alone at midnight. And the dumb sons-of-bitches had the nerve to keep doing this in the same neighborhood where the brunette had kicked their asses just last week.

You just couldn't reason with some people.

Barbara was still talking.

<"What sort of ability -- ">

"Sssss." Helena summarily silenced the older woman's concerned questions and then checked herself.

"Sorry, Oracle," she muttered, "just saw some... old friends I want to catch up with for a minute. Going off comms for a bit."

She'd been hoping for a little action; looked like she might have found it. No need to trouble the older woman with the harsh words she had in mind for the stupid punks.

Eyes flickering yellow, the young woman deactivated the comm set, dropped into the alley, and set off for a hunt.

Chapter 12

Hunting through neatly organized desktop files, Barbara restrained herself from cursing volubly and throwing pencils only because of the concerned pale blue eyes which she knew were watching her. She was, after all, supposed to be an example of calm, cool, rational good judgment.

Still, perhaps there would only be a small, temporary blemish to her reputation if she threw just once pencil in front of Dinah?

Christ on a bicycle! What was Helena thinking, turning off not just her comm set but also her GPS?

Barbara hadn't been alarmed when the brunette had abruptly cut off her transmitter -- and receiver. The young woman had been quite clear about a desire for a few moment's privacy, and Barbara had resisted the urge to examine too closely what her friend might have meant by "catching up" with friends, afraid it would lead her to think of some sort of sordid hook-up in an alley.

However, when Helena failed to check in after half an hour and Barbara noticed that the GPS was no longer transmitting, the older woman was seized by concern.

Concern which she chose to channel into her current search for the override codes which could remotely reactive Helena's units.

Barbara halted her search momentarily when the EMS monitor popped up. An ambulance had just been dispatched to an address not far from Helena's last position. Could the brunette...? No, dispatch records were for four men who had been in a fight.

She resumed her methodical search of the Delphi, revisiting the pencil-throwing idea, as she -- quite deliberately -- chose to continue believing that the younger woman had turned off the unit herself. However, if she didn't get some sort of communication in short order, she'd have to face the possibility that the GPS unit attached to the necklace transmitter had been deactivated by someone -- or something -- else.

A-ha, there it was, all of the documentation she'd assembled for the remote units, in logically labeled folders in perfectly obvious subdirectories on the Delphi's M drive. Didn't know why she'd had such trouble finding it.

Double-clicking the correct PDF file, she pasted the code for Helena's GPS unit into the waiting window on another screen. It should take just a few seconds for the satellite uplink to trigger and...


Noticing Dinah's eyes widening at the sudden exclamation, Barbara refrained from pumping her fist in the air.

The redhead realized that her own eyes were widening a bit as she tried to make sense of the data from the locator. The signal was decidedly weak, intermittent, and she was unable to get an exact lock on it. Had the unit been damaged somehow?

A trickle of something cold and unpleasant ran down the cyber crime fighter's spine, coming to rest in the pit of her stomach.

Barbara slammed open another terminal window, oblivious to Dinah's startled jump, and, within thirty seconds, had hacked tracelessly into NASA. She needed to get control of the GPS satellite and boost it's signal in order to lock in more precisely on Helena's location. Long fingers flew across the keyboard even as the older woman kept one eye on the GPS window, trying -- hoping -- to determine whether there was any movement from the thready signal which supposedly indicated her younger partner's location and movement.

There, she'd snagged the satellite; now, if she diverted some power from another signal...

Green eyes scanned the available options, and without so much as a blink, without a single twinge of conscience, the redhead channeled the power from the space agency's educational cable network. Hopefully, she rationalized as she watched the GPS signal strengthen, the broadcast would be interrupted so briefly that the two dozen people around the globe who might be watching wouldn't have time to become concerned.

The relief which washed through the older woman when she boosted Helena's signal enough to get a lock on it was quickly replaced by puzzlement. According to the coordinates, Helena -- or, at least her GPS unit -- was... at the Dark Horse?

More probably, she decided, at her apartment above the bar.

Barbara typed a few commands with one hand, returning power to the broadcast feed but remaining linked to the satellite for the time being, as she reached for the phone. With every fiber of her being, the older woman prayed that the brunette had "caught up" with her friends and returned to her place for... well, whatever. Dialing, she hoped that the problem with her friend's GPS was a fluke, a bad battery, even the result of some sort of indelicate escapade.

The redhead drummed the fingers of one hand against her mouse as she listened to ringing on the other end. Finally --

Oh, for the love of...

It was the other woman's machine.

<"Hey. You've reached Short Attention Span Theater. Leave a pertinent message at the impertinent beep.">

Barbara opened her mouth to speak and then abruptly snapped it shut, becoming utterly still for the first time in minutes. Considering.

What if Helena were merely 'catching up', she euphemized, with an acquaintance? The older woman certainly didn't want to interrupt or seem too possessive of the other woman's time. Nevertheless...

"Helena? It's Barbara. I hope I'm not interrupting. After we got cut off earlier, there seems to be some problem with your mobile, and I've been unable to get in touch with you. Nothing urgent, but I am a bit concerned and would appreciate a call."

There. Nothing that couldn't be heard by a -- guest but, all the same, hopefully enough to spur the brunette to return the call. Helena had always been conscientious about not allowing her mentor, her former guardian, to worry unduly.

At that thought, the redhead snapped her gaze to Dinah.

"Do you have the number for the Dark Horse?"

She'd give Helena five minutes to return her call...

Within eight minutes, Barbara was on a different line, trying to rein in her temper as she spoke with an obviously flustered server at the bar.

"Yes, I do understand that he doesn't stay on the floor. I simply don't care. I don't care if he's in his office with a hand up somebody's skirt -- or pants -- " it was a new millennium -- "this very moment."

The older woman pinched the bridge of her nose, exhaled slowly, and added very sweetly, "Would you please get Leonard on the phone? Now."

Persistence paid off, and, in short order, the redhead waited none-too-patiently as the bar owner went upstairs with his spare key to check on the whereabouts of the brunette. When she heard the man returning to the phone, the older woman dimpled her cheeks in frustration, and began running through the short list of other options she had for locating the woman.

Clearly, Leonard had returned much too quickly to have found Helena at home and dealt with any ire his intrusion might have engendered.

Barbara was confident enough in her deduction that she was surprised -- to say the least -- when the first words she heard were, "She's there."

The next words both clarified for her how the man had escaped Helena's wrath so quickly and dissolved the brief relief that had begun to inch through her, replacing it with a much different emotion.

"You'd better get over here. She's messed up pretty bad."

Part 13

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