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.
SERIES: Some readers were kind enough to point out that there are more than the traditional four elements which were covered in the original Elemental series (Landslide, Watershed and Windshear). This story is the fourth extension of the Elemental series following Veneer, Stainless, Obsidian and Nuclear.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Dark Matter


Chapter 11

The position was kind of shaky, but the rewards looked pretty tempting.

At least that was Helena's take on the mixed emotions that were on display in her daughter's cherubic face.

"Check it out, Barbara," she waved toward the infant who was on the floor in front of her. "I bet she'd crawl for M&Ms."

Slowing the rapid strokes of the brush through her hair, the redhead managed to bite back a smirk, quite confident about just where Katie might have inherited that tendency. Grasping the immediacy of her partner's words, she lowered the brush to her lap and took in the scene before her.

Not too many minutes before, not quite one third of the way through the DVD they were watching, Helena had surrendered the bowl of popcorn and decamped to the living room floor with Katharine... and the remainder of the bag of candy-coated chocolates that she'd been sprinkling into her buttered popcorn.

Now, Katharine was up on her hands and knees, a position she'd been practicing in the last few weeks, rocking minutely forward and backward. Her attention was fixed on the neat row of candies that were laid out on the floor; red, orange, yellow, green, and blue -- one of each -- were in a neat line that began only eighteen inches from their daughter's hands.

The determination in Katie's eyes was unmistakable. With equal determination, Barbara by-passed the easy question about the wisdom of offering their five-month old chocolate.

"It's a little early for crawling, isn't it?"

She was certain that she'd read that infants didn't usually start crawling for another six or eight weeks.


The word sounded just a bit... proud.

"My mom said that I was crawling at four months."

Barbara felt one corner of her mouth turn up slightly.

"And swinging from the chandeliers at six months?"

"Uh uh." Helena's response was a bit distracted, her focus clearly on her mission as she pushed the red candy another inch in Katie's direction. "The drapes."

As visions of their daughter scaling the bookcases flashed before her, Barbara saw Katie raise one chubby fist from the rug. The redheaded infant held the position for a moment, possibly uncertain about her next step, before stretching forward and causing her to begin a head-first course toward the rug.

Helena got there first, neatly sliding her hands under Katharine's chest and scooping her up.

"Maybe tomorrow, Kitty."

The promise earned her a soft coo, and Helena snagged the candies from the rug, popping them into her mouth as she rose and returned to the couch. By the time she re-situated herself with Katie cradled on her lap and the popcorn bowl on the cushion beside her, Barbara had started her brushing again.

Probably about halfway through those hundred strokes that she tried for every night.

Carefully, Helena leaned to one side as snagged her Modelo from the end table, wrapping her fingers around the neck of the bottle. The cool glass eased the way her fingers were itching to run through that gorgeous red mane, and she took a long draw, trying not to feel rejected by the way Red had sort of absently rebuffed her earlier offer to help.

Something about staying focused on the movie.

The brunette set her beer back on the table, pressed a kiss to the mop of red curls snuggled under her chin, and took her partner's advice. It didn't seem like she'd missed much; there was no way to misunderstand just why Spencer and Katharine were running around behind Sidney Poitier's back.

"Who do you think Kat's gonna bring home to freak us out?"

She turned her head to take in Barbara, who was in her chair at the end of the couch. The redhead had finished the nightly brushing routine and was reaching for the bottle of moisturized that she'd dragged out -- along with her brush, nail file, hand mirror, and eyebrow tweezers -- when Helena had suggested they watch a movie.

It wasn't that Helena was adverse to watching her partner's nightly beauty rituals; but she'd had to work pretty hard to bite back an offer to go get Babs' razor from the bathroom.

Just to round things out and all.

Pouring a small dollop of moisturizer into her palm, Barbara managed a smile that she suspected might be a bit... thin.

Years before, in the halcyon days of Helena's youth, she'd certainly entertained the gamut in terms of who -- and, in some cases, what -- Helena had dragged through their home. When her instinct for self-preservation and sanity had finally asserted itself, Barbara had simply decided that she would not be surprised by anyone that her wild young ward -- and, later, her young friend -- might choose to keep company with.

Unfortunately, she was beginning to suspect that, as the old truism went, nothing, save death and taxes, was a certainty in life.

"Probably somebody very straight-laced would be the most surprising," she finally allowed, concentrating only on the question at hand.

Dark brows wrinkled briefly before Barbara detected the twinkle in her partner's bright blue eyes.

"Yeah, that'd do it if she brought home some blue-blooded society kid or a Kennedy boy, huh?"

Already focusing on working the lotion into her finger tips, Barbara heard a snicker and looked over again. Helena's expression was gleeful.

"Or a Republican."

Pursing her lips, Barbara kept it brief.

"Perish the thought."

She turned her gaze back to the big screen and reached for the lotion again. A soft interruption distracted her from attempts to calculate the last time she'd moisturized her elbows.

"Speaking of creeps, Barbara..."

She felt her eyebrows tick upward at the segue and paused in the act of working vanilla musk into her elbow.


Barbara didn't know just what she'd expected; however, Helena's response was not at the top of her list of possibilities.

"Did you know that D's been visiting Mandrill in jail?"

Honestly, the redhead wasn't surprised. Not too many days before, she'd run a routine sweep of the facility that was currently hosting the man who had brought such turmoil to their household. It had been something more than routine -- a hunch perhaps -- that had led her to hack into the visitors' log for the county jail.

Barbara's initial relief that there had been no "Dinah Lance" listed had been replaced with a different set of emotions when she'd run across two entries for a "D. Redmond".

"How do you know that, Hel?"

Helena knew how careful Barbara was with her words, and she didn't miss that her partner's response wasn't really an answer.

"She told me about it."

Gently, she shifted Katharine in her lap so that she was resting in the crook of her arm.

"We talked about it this afternoon, on the way home."

The comms had been off by that point.

Keeping her eyes focused on the drowsing infant in her arms, Helena heard the lotion bottle being placed on the coffee table. She thought she heard a soft sigh.

"Dinah experienced something that I can't begin to imagine, Helena."

Finally looking up, she searched green eyes.

"You both did, Helena."

There was something... something that Helena couldn't quite read in Red's words. Without looking away, she fumbled for the remote and paused the movie.

"Yeah. Maybe."

She gave a one-sided shrug, trying not to disturb Katie.

"But mine was just some aches and owies and shit."

Deliberately, Barbara tapped her index finger against her chin.

When would Helena learn to stop discounting her own experiences, her own pain?

"Dinah and you -- "

The redhead ran the tip of her tongue across the edge of her lower lip and hunted for some way to explain.

While Dinah had faced using what might be construed to be extreme force on someone for the first time, Helena had willingly made herself open to the same situation. She'd allowed Dinah to practice on her -- in her -- mind.

Helena had let Dinah in.

Barbara straightened her shoulders.

"You both shared the experience, Helena."

She held out a hand, palm up, to forestall the disagreement she saw forming on her partner's face.

"To greater or lesser degrees, you took responsibility for moving forward with the plan, and you and Dinah made it happen."

Sharing the responsibility.

"But I'm not the one visiting that asshole in jail, Barbara."

The younger woman's expression was truculent; her words, deliberately obtuse. The redhead decided to tackle one issue at a time.

"Do you think that it's just -- "

She nearly blanched when the word came out, minimizing as it did the gravity of what Dinah had endured.

"Do you believe that what happened with Mandrill is the primary issue for her, Hel?"

Although she was fairly certain that she knew the answer, Barbara was nevertheless interested in Helena's take on matters. Accordingly, she remained patient while the brunette gave the question some time.

"Yeah, Mikey's bothering her, but -- "

The dark head shook once from side to side.

"-- there's something more than just hurting him going on."

That night, when they'd gotten back from making Mandrill use the wand and she'd been hurting and D had been so freaked out, Barbara and she had thought that Dinah was feeling the pain of what she'd done. But Barbara had talked to the Kid and she'd been right that D understood about using their powers.

There was more.

"I was thinking that maybe it had to do with..."

Helena peered through her bangs, not quite ready to make eye contact when she spelled out it.

"--- well, that she felt bad that we blew your only chance with the wand."

Quite certain that Dinah wasn't the only one of her younger partners who might be carrying some guilt on that front, Barbara hunted for the blue eyes that were hidden beneath dark bangs. Although she'd tackled this particular elephant with Dinah, she had yet to clear the air with Helena, and so she held her silence, waiting.

Eventually, her patience was rewarded when Helena straightened and pained blue eyes met hers.

"Yeah, me, too. A little."

The quiet admission was quite a change from the young woman that Barbara had essentially inherited nine years before. At that time, Helena had worn her pain and rage on her sleeve, her broodiness and bad attitude as a badge of honor.

She still remembered, so acutely, the day that she'd come home from PT. It had been a day like any other in the life that had turned upside down for both of them: Barbara had been exhausted and depressed; Helena, angry and sarcastic before she'd disappeared into her room.

The rhythmic pounding of flesh against plaster had finally drawn Barbara down the hall and into her ward's room. As she'd anticipated, Helena had been slamming her fists into the wall, over and over, painting the crumbling sheetrock pink with the blood that ran from her knuckles.

The framed picture of Selina that Helena had kept on her dresser had been face down on the bed.

She'd waited, silent, in the doorway until Helena's rage had ceded to exhaustion and the girl dropped to the floor. Quite certain that she didn't have the control to get herself back into her chair -- and not giving a damn for the first time since the shooting -- Barbara had awkwardly joined her.

"I miss her."

She'd wrapped the young woman in her arms, amazed by how small she'd seemed.

"I know, Hel."

It had been, honestly, one of the first times that Helena had admitted it.

"Everybody leaves, Barbara."

It had been one of the first times that Helena had been so vulnerable with her.

"I won't, Hel."

Of course, as she regarded her partner, Barbara had to grant that Helena's earlier method of handling her emotions and her current approach were perhaps only flip sides of the same coin.

"Helena, believe me." She leaned in, stretching to rest one hand on the younger woman's knee. "I don't need the wand. It's oka--"

Lacing the fingers of her free hand through those that warmed her thigh, Helena cut her off.

"I know, Barbara."

And she did. Red wasn't going to let losing a long-shot like using the wand to get her legs back get her down.

Or, at least, it wouldn't keep her down.

"And," she wriggled a few inches closer to the end of the couch so that her partner didn't have to stretch to keep their hands joined. "I think D's problem isn't so much about that."

"Has she... talked with you, Hel?"


Gently, she rubbed the pad of her thumb across Barbara's knuckles. She knew that Barbara wasn't asking her to reveal a confidence or anything.

Still, Helena figured that her lover needed to be in on this one.

"She's kind of hung up on--"

Helena couldn't quite say it. She also couldn't miss the question in emerald eyes.

"She's kind of wondering if Gabby's the one."

Carefully, Barbara extricated her hand and straightened again in her chair. She was certain that Helena hadn't shared everything; nevertheless, it was enough.

"I'm glad that she's more at ease opening up with you, Hel."

She reached for her cup of tea, hoping to wash down the metallic taste that was attempting to lodge in the back of her throat.

"I'm glad that you're there for her."

It was enough that at least one of them could provide Dinah with what she needed.

Barbara sipped her tea while her companion regarded her through dark lashes. Helena's expressive face was curiously unreadable.


Barbara's face was open, her smile gentle. Helena thought she got the message.

Heck, she liked Dinah.

She owed Dinah.

"I'll be there for her, Red."


Chapter 12

The whine of the motorized chair coming down the hall was unmistakable. So was the inevitable pained sigh that Helena also heard.

It was quiet, but there was plenty of feeling behind it. Since it came right behind the sound of the chair scraping the drywall, Helena decided that a little action on her part might be called for. Sliding out of her cozy nest of covers, she padded across the bedroom and stepped into the hallway.

"Hey, Red."

Barbara felt the blood rush to her cheeks; nevertheless, she forced herself to look up from her efforts to steer the balky chair away from the wall.

"I didn't mean to wake you, Hel--"

The wave of a slender hand cut short her apology.

"Nah, I was waiting up for my girls."

The redhead searched her partner's eyes, finding nothing but calm affection. A smile that was almost genuine tugged at the corners of her mouth.

"I'm sorry to be so late, Sweetie."

She gave up on the chair for the moment and lifted the infant that she'd been cradling to her chest with her free hand.

"Would you mind putting her to bed? She's already had her midnight snack."

With two quick steps, Helena accepted the small bundle, pulling her daughter close and burying her face in the soft mop of red curls. The smell of Barbara's milk was strong -- baby's breath, for sure -- and the brunette turned quickly and moved into the bedroom.

It wasn't like it was a big deal that Red had fed Katie out in the living room.

Even if it was usually a bedtime ritual for all of them.

The sleepy purr that Katie made somehow pushed aside the small, tight pain that had been working at her chest, and Helena carefully laid her drowsing daughter on the changing table. She didn't think that the girl was wet, but with the great deal they were getting on diapers from the warehouse club, Helena was all about keeping her comfortable.

Having finally worked her way free of the wall -- the paint wasn't even chipped for a change -- Barbara paused outside the bedroom doorway, drinking in the sight before her. The room was softly illuminated by the bedside lamps, and Helena was clearly taking care to be quiet as she efficiently snugged the disposable diaper closed and swaddled their daughter in a fuzzy blanket. The image of her nominally bad-assed, too-tough-for-her-leather partner tenderly bending to whisper a kiss to a plump tummy was simply too lovely to interrupt.

Her chair, it seemed, felt otherwise.

Something -- perhaps the twitch of her finger or an air current touching the joystick that controlled the wretched thing -- caused her to jerk forward a few inches.

"Christ's corset!"

Somehow, Barbara kept her volume low, even as she glared balefully at the small gouge that she'd just put in the trim around the door.

Heavens, but she hated this chair. She loathed what it said about her, despised how it abstracted her yet another layer from controlling her own movements.

Yet, Barbara Gordon refused to back away from reality, and her sporty manual chair simply wasn't realistic for moving around with Katie: it required two hands which was not conducive to dealing with an increasingly active infant.

"You want me to get your manu--?"

"I'm fine, Helena."

The response was sharp, and Helena busied herself with settling Katie into her crib.

"I just need a bit more practice."

Considering how bothered Babs was by Dinah's withdrawal from the family -- or at least from Barbara and Gabby since D didn't seem to have any problem with her -- Helena thought that her partner could work on setting a little better example.

She leaned in, murmuring wishes of sweet dreams to her daughter and hearing the chair stop at the foot of the bed.

"Honestly -- "

Barbara's voice was pitched a little high, a little tight.

"-- I don't know why I'm having such trouble with the thing."

Helena was pretty sure she knew. She could feel the frustration rolling off her lover; she knew how Babs looked at the chair.

It didn't take Sigmund Freud -- or, fuck, even Harley Quinn -- to figure out that her usually tech-happy partner might have some latent hostility toward the thing.

Helena also knew why Barbara was working on making herself use it.

"So, uh," she moved silently back to the big bed and dropped onto the mattress, folding one leg beneath her. "Anything on the poptart boxes?"

That had been why Barbara had begged off coming to bed when the movie finished earlier.

"Some were ripped, by hand I assume."

Barbara looked up from pulling off her second tennis shoe.

"A few were cut with a straight edge."

Not surprisingly, Helena immediately picked up on the possibilities.

"You think there was more than one person?"

Inching her chair over to the shoe rack that was just visible inside their oversized closet, Barbara allowed a smile to touch her lips.

"Perhaps, Hel." She stretched out enough to stuff her sneakers onto the rack and rotated the chair back toward the bed. "Or, perhaps our vertically challenged prankster got tired of finesse."

Barbara decided that she was grateful that Helena didn't question her description. At this point, it was simply too nerve-wracking to consider the petty crimes to be anything other than a prank.

"What about the prints?"

She shook her head and watched her partner stretch across the bed to fiddle with her alarm clock.

"The only prints that I got a hit on belong to a clerk at one of the bodegas."

"And the MegaLo-Mart got hit, too?"

Barbara was about to respond in the affirmative when her partner accidentally set off the alarm. It only took a few beats before the redhead identified the CD that was playing, and she felt the second blush in only minutes touch her cheeks.

What could she say? She was a slave to her musical roots.

Wisely, Helena bit back any comment on her lover's kinky taste in music: Cheap Trick was too much even for her to have on in the morning. Instead, she focused on getting the alarm pushed back to 7am.

It was a stupid time to be getting up on a summer morning, but she figured she'd better get started again with Dinah.

She'd promised.

I'll shine up the old brown shoes,
Put on a brand-new shirt.
I'll get home early from work
If you say that you love me.

Didn't I, didn't I,
Didn't I see you cryin'?
Feelin all alone without a friend
You know you feel like dyin'.

Choosing not to comment on her partner's fixed concentration on the clock, Barbara retrieved her PALS tee shirt and sleep shorts from the end of the bed, another thoughtful touch of Helena's, and aimed for the connected bathroom.

"I'll just be a minute."

Dark brows furrowed. Helena watched her partner disappear into the master bath.

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I'd love you to love me.
I'm beggin you to beg me.
I want you to want me.
I want you to want me.
I want you to want me.
I want you to want me.

By the time Barbara returned, decked out for bed, Helena had gotten the CD out of the clock and was thumbing through the swimsuit issue of a sports magazine.

You never knew where you could pick up a fashion tip.

A little surprised, she realized that she'd been staring at the same page for a long time: it was a leggy blonde modeling a tankini.

Too skinny.

She waited until her partner slipped under the covers, then set the magazine on the table by her side of the bed. In a heartbeat, she was on her knees next to Barbara, one hand resting lightly on a smooth forearm.

"Let me make you feel good, Baby."

For a moment, Barbara froze. Somehow, she pushed aside her concerns about focus and managed a slow smile.

"Do you know what I'd like, Hel?"

The younger woman visibly trembled at the question.

"Anything you want, Barbara."

Her eagerness almost rent the redhead. Suddenly nervous by the sheer dullness of her intended request, she somehow found her voice.

"A backrub would be heavenly."

Before the words were out, Helena was helping her roll over. Then strong hands were working under her tee, gentle fingers stroking her skin, shaping and forming her into something that approximating boneless goo.


Barbara's murmur sent ribbons of fire across Helena's nerves. Unable to resist, she leaned close and brushed a gentle kiss to the redhead's jaw.

"Is it okay if I'm going to have to get myself off after this?"

She tried to keep her question light, gratified by the smile she saw when Barbara looked back over her shoulder.

"Very okay, Hel."

Helena thought she saw Barbara's nostrils quiver -- suppressing a yawn -- and she leaned close to whisper into red silk.

"I'm going to keep this up until you go to sleep."

It didn't take long. Still, by the time she heard her lover's rhythmic breathing, Helena realized that she wasn't ready to sleep.

Or in the mood for anything else.

With a grimace, she tucked herself under the covers and retrieved her magazine.

Maybe there'd be a redheaded model in there.


Chapter 13

"I'd say that it's official, Huntress. Somebody is sending us a message."

Barbara truly hadn't wanted to accept the possibility; however, the latest incident was simply too much coincidence.


Her partner's voice was just slightly breathy, evidence of Helena's haste to reach the sight of the reported gunfire.

<<"All thing's considered, Oracle, I'd rather get a--">>

Picking up the distant crack of rifle fire, Barbara surmised that her partner was close.

"A Hallmark?" she prompted quietly as her impeccable memory supplied the tag-line from an old commercial.

<<"A what?">>

She shook her head and checked the police scanners.

"Never mind, Huntress."

Honestly, it didn't matter. Helena's sentiment was absolutely on-target: almost any message would be preferable to the sniper fire that had been reported at the Zoo's aviary.


The agitated skree of the birds and the shrieks of zoo visitors told Barbara where Helena was.

"Report, Huntress."

<<"About a dozen people pinned down in the free bird area. The shots seem to be -- Shit!">>

The sound of rifle fire seemed to follow the younger woman's exclamation. Barbara held her breath, rustling and soft footfalls making it easy to visualize Helena's retreat.

<<"Too fuckin' close.">>

The redhead released a long breath.

"Are you all right?"

<<"Yeah. He's firing high, and I was up a tree.">>

Another shot echoed through the headset, and Barbara winced minutely when she heard an avian scream of pain.

<<"Fucker took out a Golden Eagle, but I think I see where he's shooting from.">>

"Are any people hurt, Huntress?"

Barbara ran the options and priorities in the split second that it took her partner to answer.

<<"I don't think so. Just hunkered down and scared.">>

That cinched matters.

"Try to take down the gunman."

A blip on the gps confirmed that Helena was moving away from the aviary toward... A half-dozen keystrokes overlaid the coordinates on a satellite image of the zoo, and Barbara took a guess: The roof of the snack bar provided good line of sight to the aviary.

<<"Any word on backup?">>

Barbara toggled to the police scanner, confirming what she already knew.

"NGPD is still assembling a tactical squad."


She had to agree.

"Canary is en route."

The redhead had barely hesitated before contacting Dinah at the lab. To the young woman's credit, when she'd heard the details, she'd instantly set out to assist Helena.

"E.T.A. two minutes," Barbara added.


This time, Helena sounded more genuine, and Barbara felt a small smile touch her lips.

<<"But, I don't want to wait.">>

The crack of the rifle was too loud.

Too close.

<<"I'm heading to the roof of the --">>

Gunfire, this time sounding more distant, and Helena's soft cry of pain cut short the dark vigilante's update.

<<"Fuck. I'm hit.">>

Without conscious thought, Barbara's fingers flew across the keyboard, bringing up EMS Dispatch.

"Where are you hit, Huntress?"

Barbara wasn't quite sure how she'd managed to keep her voice level. Apparently, years of practice did pay off.

<<"In the back.">> Helena's words were breathy, winded. <<"Second gunman behind me--">>

Since she'd already determined that a second shooter was probably present, Barbara cut her off.

"How bad it is?"

There was a moment of stillness, the whisper of material shifting -- presumably as Helena tried to determine the extent of her injury -- then... laughter.

<<"Hot damn.">>

Barbara wasn't amused.

"Huntress, I need to know--"

A third voice, Dinah's, suddenly chimed in.

<<"She's okay, Oracle. It was a paint gun.">>

<<"Still stings like a motherfucker">> was Helena's muttered assessment.

Barbara ignored it.

"Glad that you're on site, Canary. Where was Huntress hit?"

<<"In the -- uhm -- flank.">>

<<"Ruined my pants.">>

The responses came as one, and Barbara released her panic with a chuckle.

"Is the first shooter using paint as well?"

<<"Lemme just find out.">>

Eschewing caution, the brunette scaled the side of the snack stand, narrowly dodging another burst of red paint from the rear. When she hit the roof, her plans to kick ass came to a screeching halt.

The roof was empty, save for a nearly empty package of red paintballs and a black porkpie hat.


"What's up?"

A blonde head popped over the edge of the roof, and Helena turned in time to see Dinah finish levitating herself onto the small surface.

"He must have turned tail while I was -- " She waved vaguely toward her hip. "-- regrouping."

Come to think of it, the shooting from behind them had stopped, too.

"C'mon, Canary, let's see if we can catc--"

<<"No time for that, Huntress. We have a report of a bomb in the squirrel exhibit.">>


Not twenty minutes later, sailing over the rooftops toward the balcony of the Clock Tower, Helena didn't even try to hold back her shout.

She'd done it.

They'd done it.

She'd hit the squirrel cage running, confident that Dinah had been right behind her. The report that Barbara had picked up from the scanners had been right: a big, gnarly mess of wires, sticks of dynamite, and a freakin' wind-up alarm clock was resting outside the habitat for the flying squirrel.

Who the hell used a wind-up alarm as a timer for a bomb? Who the hell used a wind-up alarm clock for anything?

Or, like Dinah had wondered, who used stick dynamite instead of C4?

Talk about retro-fetishes.

But, like Barbara had pointed out, old-style bombs could still go boom. Or, in this case, it was all about substance over style.

So, even while Dinah had been pushing the security guard off to a safe distance and promising to talk to him later about some "skinny woman in a purple dress" that he's seen set the bomb, Helena had been trying to describe the thing to Barbara and wondering just how strong Dinah's TK bubbles could be.

"No. No red wire, no white wire. All the wires are black, Oracle."

There'd been a lot of grumbling through the comms about that. There'd been even more tsk-ing when Helena had told her that all of the wires from the dynamite had been mungled together into the bell on the clock.

<<"It's going to be a guess, Helena.">>

That hadn't been too reassuring, but with the little red alarm hand on the three and the little black hour hand creeping up on the three, there hadn't been much time for complaining.

Or decision-making.

<<"Huntress. Canary. Clear out now.">>

Or for leaving a big gnarly bomb to go off in the middle of the zoo.

It was like Dinah and she had been in sync or something. Helena had whipped out her pocket multi-tool; Dinah had stepped right up to the bomb and sort of scrunched up her face.

Suddenly, the tick-tick-tick of the little clock had gotten muted, courtesy of a lovely TK thought bubble.

But, as good as D was using her bubbles to peel eggs and get The Joker's bubble goo off of people, Helena didn't even want to test whether it could contain a blast of dynamite.

"Open it up, Canary."

She'd started to poke her right hand in before good sense -- and the memory of the state she'd been in the night before when she'd been massaging Barbara -- had hit. She'd switched her LeatherWoman to her left hand and moved the tool next to the wires.

The sensation of the Tk force field snugging around her wrist had been... kinda weird.

"Which wire, Oracle? Left, right, or middle?"

<<"The right one, Huntress.">>

She hadn't hesitated.

In that heart-stopping moment between when she'd cut the wire on the right and when the clock had stopped ticking, she had wondered if Babs had been talking about position or accuracy. She had held her breath and just about wet her pants.

But, they'd done it.


Landing silently on the balcony, the brunette spun in a circle, grinning stupidly at the sky-line.

No bout-a-doubt-it, she was ramped up.

She was alive, dammit.

Somehow, Helena managed to tone down her exuberance when she stepped through the French doors into the living room.

No reason to give Barbara a heart attack.

"Behold -- " she bounded onto the Delphi platform and extended a bundle of wires, dynamite, and a clock. "I come bearing gifts."

Helena hadn't even bothered to ask if her partner wanted the bomb.


So, here she was while Dinah was back at the zoo doing the Casual Observer thing and trying to get details on the guy in the dark coat who'd been shooting at the birds and his slinky girlfriend with the bomb.

"How did you know it was the wire on the right side?"

Carefully -- very carefully -- settling the pile of trouble into a kevlar bag, Barbara didn't bother to point out that "right side" was certainly relative.

"I didn't, Hel."

"Then why'd you choose it?"

She slipped the first bag into a second and, relatively content with the security of the package, looked up into violet eyes.

"Over the years, I've found that it's usually safe to assume that the most damage comes from the right wing."

The younger woman's laughter was bright. Barbara didn't have a chance to join in before she was surprised by her partner sliding into her lap.


Busy working her mouth against the slender column of Barbara's neck -- god, Babs smelled good -- Helena didn't let herself get too distracted.


"What are you--?"

The rocking of slender hips against her stomach honestly left little room for doubt. Nevertheless, Helena seemed to grasp the sense of the question.

"Just celebrating another stunning victory over the forces of evil."

Helena finally looked up and offered a broad smile, ignoring the flicker of consternation in green eyes.

It was true. They'd saved the day yet again -- or at least saved some squirrels from a really loud noise. So, left wire, right wire, whatever: she was wired.

"Another feat of do derring and all."

Unable to deny that, Barbara accepted her partner's enthusiastic kiss, pulling away only when she felt her hand being moved to Helena's hip. Very conscious of the still damp paint under her palm, the redhead gingerly removed her hand.

"Daring duo, as well, Sweetie."

For some reason, Helena realized that her enthusiasm was settling a little further in the direction of her boots.

"Derring do?"

She didn't really know why they were talking anyway; but it sure seemed like Babs wasn't much into celebrating.

"Duo," Barbara clarified. "You and Dinah."

Not bothering to protest that Barbara had played a role, too, Helena rose and took a few steps backward. She eyed the double-bagged bomb on the table, accepting that she probably needed to head back to the zoo and help the Kid with the questions. Somehow, she pulled a grin as she turned toward the balcony.

"Yeah, I guess Dinah and I do make a good team."


Chapter 14

"You did really good, Dinah."

Helena didn't have to try to force the words: she meant them. The blush she saw rushing from Dinah's neck to the tips of her ears wasn't surprising.

"You weren't so bad yourself, Helena." The younger woman pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, pale blue eyes peering through blonde bangs. "Doing the whole dismantling thing and all, I mean."

Quirking a grin, Helena shifted a little against the big oak that she was leaning against. Dinah was taking her lunch hour with her, and they'd met for sandwiches by the two hundred year old tree that covered the center of the NGU Commons. There was just no way that they wouldn't start talking about their little adventure from the day before.

It was a lot to think about.

Naturally, Barbara was all caught up in whoever was trying to get their attention, and she was totally freaked by the Pop-tart thing.

Hell, Helena herself was a little jittery about it.

It was easy enough to figure how whatever nutcases-du-jour were out there would use the bird and bat stuff to get their attention, but how would anyone know about her fetish for those particular snack foods?

Since Quinn, nobody outside the family had been inside her head enough to know stuff like that.

So, yeah, Helena couldn't fault her partner for running lots of extra checks on the Tower's security and gluing her butt in front of the Delphi, working on the descriptions that she and Dinah had gotten for the perps: a tall, skinny woman with long black hair and a strapless purple dress, and a short guy with dark hair and a pencil mustache wearing a black trench coat. Babs had worked up some composites and had her routines digging through all the major crime databases for a match.

Nose to the grindstone, that was her partner.

Nothing new there about Barbara, even if the sticks of dynamite had turned out to contain only a sprinkling of gunpowder and a whole lot of sulphur di... di-something-or-other. So, if the bomb had gone off, it would have made a little bit of noise and a really big stink but not much else.

In a nutshell, Helena figured they were tracing a couple of whack-jobs with a fondness for formal attire and not-so-funny practical jokes.

But, like Red had pointed out, it wasn't like that took anything away from what Dinah had pulled off the day before.

"Nah, D." She raised her cardboard cup and sipped a little watery soda through the straw. "The way you used your TK on that bomb was awesome."

Settling her drink onto the grass, Helena watched the blush that had been receding come roaring back full force.

"Yeah, I guess."

The blonde's lips twitched a little, and Helena worked an answering smile.

"You betcha--"

"As long as--"

They spoke as one, and Helena did the gallant thing, waving Dinah to go on.

"I mean, as long as I stay out of people's heads I'm okay, huh?"

Shit. So much for being gallant.

"Listen, D." Helena scootched across the small distance that separated them, working really hard to ignore the lovely chlorophyll stains that were probably getting all over her pants. "Mandrill was -- "

Clenching her jaw, she looked down, watching her fingernails leave faint trails of white as she scratched at the knees of her leather pants. When a slender hand covered hers, Helena stilled her hands.

She still didn't look up.

"I'm sorry I put you through that, Dinah."

For once, her companion didn't seem to have anything to say right away. The distant chatter of other students on the Common and the sigh of the warm breeze through the leaves overhead filled the silence for several minutes.

"No, it--"

Dinah's voice was tentative. Owing her, Helena forced herself to look into sky-blue eyes.

"It's okay, or at least I'm working on that."

Helena turned her hand palm up under Dinah's and offered a gentle squeeze. The pressure was returned as the younger woman spoke quietly.

"It's just... earlier, being in your head kind of got me thinking, and sometimes I don't know what I'm feeling about anything."

Somehow, Helena thought that Barbara might have known what to say. Since she didn't she chose to close the small distance between them, bringing them shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh. Extricating her hand, Helena wrapped her arm around shoulders that were too skinny, and she pulled Dinah close.

It felt kind of weird.

Nice weird, though.

Naturally, that's when Barbara called.

Which, because she'd had her phone on vibrate, pretty much explained the tingling that had been going on in her lower body.


Since it was time for Dinah to head back to the lab, Helena volunteered to run the call solo. The thirty block sprint downtown would give her enough time to settle down before she investigated whatever it was Babs had picked up on the Police Band.

"Huntress, I've isolated the disturbance."

The image from the ATM camera that the cyber-vigilante had hacked into was grainy, however she couldn't mistake what she was seeing: two figures, a man in a dark coat and a woman in purple, were rappelling down to the street from the roof of City Hall.

"It appears to be our friends from yesterday."


It was impossible to mistake the relish in her partner's tone, and Barbara allowed herself a smile before returning to business.

"They're descending to the street on the west side of City Hall."

She toggled through a half-dozen other screens, perhaps with a bit more force than was needed, confirming what the two had been up to: the street in front of the city's central building was littered with hundreds, if not thousands, of bananas. Most were split, presumably from the force of their fall from the roof, and at least one city bus and two cabs had already skidded into curbs.

<<"I see 'em, Oracle. I'll go have a chat.">>

The redhead was speaking even as she detected a dark figure sweeping into the frame of one video feed. She watched as their quarry ducked down the alley that skirted the building.

"Careful, Huntress, we don't know if they're dangerous."

One bruised Golden Eagle and one pair of leather pants notwithstanding, the odd pair hadn't actually harmed anyone; however, it didn't pay to take chances.

<<"No sweat, Oracle.">>

The dark shape disappeared into the alley and out of camera range. In lieu of drumming her fingers against her mouse pad, Barbara raised her hand and allowed Katie, who was buckled into her snugli on her lap, to grasp her index finger.

<<"Nice day for a climb, huh?">>

Pursing her lips, Barbara extricated her finger from her daughter's mouth, wiping a healthy coating of baby drool on the hem of her tee shirt.

Katie was definitely starting to teethe, which might make breastfeeding more challenging.

<<<"You arrived more quickly than I anticipated.">>>

Helena narrowed her eyes, trying to place the man's thick accent. A voice in her ear helped out.

<<"Slavic, Huntress?">>

Grunting a sub-vocal acknowledgement, she took a step closer and showed some teeth.

"Yeah, that's me: fast on my feet. But -- "

Pointedly she raked her gaze over the pair, taking in the woman's form-fitting purple sheath dress and the man's long overcoat.

"-- you didn't do too bad yourself coming down that wall. Considering."

Shorty hadn't even lost his hat on the trip down.

"We're so glad that you could join us, although--"

Helena narrowed her eyes as the corners of the man's mouth twitched in a smirk.

"-- we had hoped that your do-goodnik partner would come, too."

<<"What in the name of--">>

Ignoring the interruption, Helena shrugged.

"Sorry, even do-gooders don't have to waste all of their time on jerks like you."

The verbal jab got a response: Shorty puffed up a few inches, his face turning red.

"Clearly you do not grasp the import of ---"

"Yeah, right." Helena blew on her fingernails and buffed them against the soft fabric of her tee shirt. "So you got our attention. What's the deal?"

Shorty smiled, reminding her a helluva lot of a used car salesman.

"But of course. Allow me to introduce myself. I--" He doffed the porkpie hat and bowed stiffly at the waist. "-- am Boris Badenov."


Closing her mouth -- there were flies back in the alley -- Helena ducked her head a little and stared at the guy.

"You've got to be shitting me. Who's she?"

Seeing as how there was only one other woman in the alley, pointing probably hadn't been necessary, but what the hell.

On the other end of the comms, Barbara held her breath, almost certain of what she'd hear.

<<<"Natasha, darhlink.">>>

The woman's accent was, if possible, even heavier than her companion's.

<<<"Natasha Fatale.">>>

Great snorkeling guppies, they'd clearly stepped through some sort of time warp. Perhaps Snidely Whiplash would show up next to round things out.

"Huntress, I'm putting in a call to Arkham."

Barbara felt as much as heard her partner's low chuckle tickle through the comms.

<<"Good call, Rocky. Somebody blew out these guys' pilot lights a while ago.">>

Considering that she'd done damned little flying in the last nine years, Barbara gave voice to her curiosity as she finished keying in an alert to the mental ward.

"Why am I the flying squirrel, Huntress?"

Helena thought it was pretty obvious that Rocky had always been the brains of the operation. Which pretty clearly put her in the big dumb moose's slot and Dinah would be...

"Pah! You waste our time when we should be --"

'Pah'? Who the hell said 'pah'?

Helena raised her eyebrows, pushing aside thoughts of Dudley Doright for later.

<<"Keep them talking, Hun--">>

"So, what's up with the Pop-tart boxes?"

They were moving to the back of the alley, so she strolled along with them, jerking to a stop when Boris whirled to face her.

"We do not want the children to get the clocks and -- "

From the corner of her eye, Helena saw Natalie grabbing something out of her partner's pocket.

"-- we do not need to deal with you now!"

The two took off running as something that looked a whole lot like a grenade came sailing her way. Helena didn't even have time to think about getting the hell out of dodge before a blast slammed her into the brick wall and the world went dark.


Helena didn't think she'd been out for more than a second or two.

<<"Huntress, please respond!">>

Just, it seemed like, long enough for Barbara to go get a bullhorn to yell at her through the comms.

Carefully, she cracked one eye, then the other. She had to figure that since they were fighting cartoon bad guys, the little cartoon birdies sailing around her head made sense.

<<"Huntress, I don't know if you can hear me but I'm dispatching EM--">>

"M'okay," she managed over a cough.

Bricks were hard on the ribs.

"Some kind of grenade sent me pins over teacups."

And a headache. She had one beaut of a headache.

Bringing her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose, Barbara released a slow breath.

"It must have been a concussion grenade."

Barely registering what she was doing, she canceled the EMS dispatch.

"Are you mobile or do you need a ride?"

Her partner's response was reassuringly steady.

<<"I'm fine, but Dumb and Dumber got away.">>

Barbara smoothed Katharine's curls and pressed a kiss to her temple before turning to the screens of the Delphi.

"Come on in, Huntress. I have a plan."


Chapter 15




They were all synonyms on a spectrum, and Barbara Gordon didn't care for any of them.

Intellectually, it was easy enough to understand the personal element involved. She had, after all, been a bit of a geek as a child.

In all honesty, it was a label that she wore with pride at this point.

Nevertheless, being a geek twenty-five years before had carried considerably less cachet than it did today, and she'd been subject to her fair share of teasing, taunting, and bullying. While she'd mercifully left that age behind, there was no way to remain oblivious to some of the behaviors that occurred when some people saw her in her chair.

In a nutshell, she felt that she had a reasonable comprehension of matters, and she did not appreciate it. At this point in time, she was directing a distinct lack of appreciation at the Jay Ward-inspired antics of the two figures that had been teasing and taunting her partners -- her family -- for the last two weeks.

No one had been injured yet; however the concussive grenade could have crippled anyone without Helena's unique genetics.

"Are you certain that you're all right?"

Not giving the brunette time to answer, Barbara reached up, managing to snare her lover's forearms and tug her into her lap. Even as she took in the myriad already-healing scratches and bruises that marred Helena's exposed skin, her hands moved on their own, running down her partner's arms, across her back, through her hair.

"Told you, Red -- "

The remaining measure of the redhead's concern slipped away when her partner interrupted herself to catch her wrist and press a lingering kiss to her palm.

"-- I just got shaken up a little."

Swallowing her instinctive urge to question, Barbara let it go, giving the younger woman her head. She arched into the pressure of a hungry mouth against her neck and wrapped her arms around her lover's slender shoulders.

Helena's response to adrenaline was, after all, hardly a surprise. Since nobody else had to be accounted for, Barbara saw no reason not to hold on for the ride.

A soft hiss, the sensation of air being drawn across the sensitized flesh of her throat, disabused her of the notion.

"You are hurt, Helena."

Cautiously, she probed at the other woman's back, isolating a spot near Helena's shoulder that made her wince.

"Not really," was the breathy response. "Just a little bruised, Baby."

Barbara felt the motorized chair move a tiny bit as Helena rocked her hips in her lap. Her irritation with the infernal contraption evaporated under the power of her partner's sultry smile.

"Why don't you kiss it better?"

One look into bright gold eyes convinced Barbara that she didn't have much choice in the matter. Accordingly, she guided Helena's hand, which had somehow come to rest above the swell of her breasts, to her lips.

The hiss that she heard this time clearly was one of pleasure. It lit a flame in Barbara's chest, and she pulled back to catch her partner's eyes.

"Up on the table, Hel."

Mouth already watering, she nodded toward the Delphi table. To her surprise, Helena didn't move.

Rather, Barbara automatically corrected herself when she felt taut muscles humming beneath her fingers, Helena didn't move to stand.

"I don't want--"

Fascinated, Barbara watched golden irises shift to violet and then focused on even white teeth catching a full lower lip.

"Baby, I want--"

Nothing further was forthcoming, and so she took a guess.

"C'mere, Sweetheart."

She pulled her close, clasping restless hips in both her hands as their tongues met for a long tangle. For an uncalculated amount of time, Barbara surrendered to the mouth that plundered hers and the hands that danced over her face and shoulders.

"Please, Barbara."

She could barely make out the younger woman's whine. The sensation of her hand being guided from Helena's hip was impossible to misunderstand.

"Sweetheart, I--"

The elevator was arriving.

Barbara saw the indicator light up and, concentrating, heard the hum. She felt sure that, even in the midst of matters, Helena would have picked up the sound of the motor.

"I can't, Hel."

The words spilled past just as the elevator door opened and Dinah stepped out. Although she suspected that their position left little doubt about what was transpiring, Barbara didn't see the expected blush in her most recent charge's pale features.

She suspected that her own cheeks weren't faring as well under the intent scrutiny of pale blue eyes. Nevertheless, this wasn't about her.

Dinah's expression, she decided as she observed the blonde taking in the tableau, was... pained.

"Hello, Dinah," she managed, acutely conscious of Helena's stiffness as she rose from the chair.

Even more conscious of the way that Dinah seemed to gravitate toward Helena, she turned back to her workspace, ostensibly to retrieve the stack of pages that she'd printed out just before Helena had arrived. While she might not understand everything that was going on with the youngest member of their little group, Barbara was quite cognizant of her own sympathy for the underdog, her desire to help and to make things right.

Sometimes, apparently, doing so required keeping her hands off and deploying other resources.

"Hey, Kid."

Helena's voice didn't betray a bit of irritation over the interruption.

"Guess that Barbara called you about the Looney Tune gang, huh?"

Not bothering to correct her partner on the copyright differences between Bugs Bunny and Bullwinkle the Moose, Barbara kept her attention on her printouts.

"And the concussion grenade, Helena. Are you okay?"

Since she had spent the last years working vicariously from a terminal and attempting to determine situational clues through an audio headset, Barbara thought that she had a reasonably good grasp on conversational nuance. She decided that she needed to re-evaluate her assumption when she processed Dinah's question.

It had sounded oddly... flat.

By the time Helena had reassured Dinah and regaled her with the story of her encounter with Boris and Natasha, a great deal of the initial awkwardness had bled from the room. Barbara, accordingly, didn't give it a second thought when she put her two younger partners to work in the training room.

Piecing together a forty-by-forty electric net did require a fair amount of space and many hands.

Not to mention, Barbara noted approvingly as she returned from disposing of the pizza box -- completely empty, of course -- that had been delivered not too many minutes before, many hands did make light work.

"It looks like we're almost d--"

Since she'd been concentrating on the yards and yards of elastic cord and metal filament that covered the mats on the training room floor, Barbara wasn't surprised that she'd allowed the side of her chair to bang into the pommel horse.

She wasn't pleased either. The juxtaposition of her graceless bumbling and the easy synergy that her partners seemed to share was particularly jarring.

"Hells bells."

Two pairs of blue eyes -- one deep blue and tinged with concern, one pale and unreadable -- touched her. Barbara opted to focus on the impish twinkle that crept into Helena's eyes.

"Yes, Hel?"

Nimble fingers threaded another length of modified electric fencing wire through the edge of the net.

"What if we got some of those long metal things that they put on cars for your chair? You know, curb feelers?"

The redhead was tempted to allow her expression to speak for itself, however, Helena seemed focused on snugging off a knot.

"Tasteful, Hel."

That earned a soft titter from Dinah that was overshadowed by Helena's bark of laughter.

"Like this giant butterfly net is so elegant, Red?"

Barbara had to agree that the net wasn't the soul of subtlety.

"Indeed, Hel. I suppose that, if Boris and company had called us for a nice game of chess, I might be more concerned with finesse. As it is..."

She narrowed her eyes and then dug into the pocket of the chair for another spool of wire.

"... let's add a bit more zap."

The brunette's face creased in an evil grin, and Barbara attempted to prepare herself.

"You heard our fearless leader, D. Let's get to it."

Cocking a brow, Barbara moved to the far side of the net and began rolling up the completed work.

"Tres amusing, Hel. I was under the impression that I was Rocky the Squirrel."

Dinah managed to chime in with their banter about Mr. Big, Fractured Fairy Tales, and Mr. Peabody as they finished wiring the net and gathered it into a semi-portable ball. However, every time Barbara glanced at the young woman, she found Dinah's gaze fixed firmly on... her.

"You sure you don't want to come with us to lay this out?"

Helena punctuated her question by jingling the keys to the Hummer while Dinah gathered a variety of D-rings from the gear closet.

"You and Katie could come. We could make her a little mask."

Opting not to consider that offer too deeply, Barbara laughed and shook her head.

"No, thank you, Hel. My days of climbing fire escapes are behind me."

She thought she detected a lessening in the stiff set of Dinah's shoulders when she made her demurral. However, the tension returned -- with a vengeance -- when Helena leaned close, clearly intent on sharing a farewell kiss.

Masked from Dinah's direct line of sight by Helena's body, Barbara observed the blonde, her breath catching in her throat at the girl's expression: it was, she thought, one of infinite loss.

And, she forced herself to acknowledge, jealousy.

There was simply no way to deny it or avoid it: Something was making their youngest partner acutely uncomfortable with any closeness that she and Helena shared.

"I'll -- " Barbara turned her face, catching Helena's kiss on her cheek and placing a hand lightly on the brunette's shoulder. "--see you later, Sweetheart."

Belatedly, she managed a little smile, even as she raised her brows helplessly and glanced in Dinah's direction. To her relief, Helena's expression of puzzled hurt shifted seamlessly to something less raw.


The brunette straightened and glanced over at Dinah.

"Don't wait up. We might get ice cream."

Barbara wasn't quite certain how she had managed to sound unconcerned when she told the two to take their time. She wasn't quite sure that she had managed to sound casual.

She waited until the elevator descended to the parking garage, then pushed hard on the joystick of her chair. The motor ground out a protest as the chair jerked up the ramp to the Delphi, and Barbara took care not to let one of the tires slip over the lip.

It only took a moment to pull up the schematic for the controls on the chair, and she went over the diagrams carefully. It was, after all, possible that she could do something to improve the sensitivity of the controller.

Perhaps she could even add some sensors to the thing, something a bit more appropriate than curb feelers, to keep the damned thing away from walls, furniture, and people's feet.

In the meantime, while her mind percolated, she could focus on other matters.

With another two-dozen keystrokes, Barbara placed an order for a new heavy bag from her favorite online supplier of sporting goods. That done, she returned to the training room, which somehow seemed almost cavernously empty without her partners there.

Taking a few deep breaths, she selected a heavy staff from the rack on the wall, positioned her chair neatly behind the heavy bag, and began methodically beating the stuffing out of it.

Part 16

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