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.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.


Chapter 16

So I guess the fortune teller's right

I should've seen just what was there and not some holy light

But you crawled beneath my veins and now

I don't care, I have no luck

I don't miss it all that much

There's just so many things

That I can touch, I'm torn

As Natalie Imbruglia's raw lyrics whispered from the Dark Horse's jukebox, Helena grimly wondered about the pain involved in poking out her own eardrums with a pair of swizzle sticks. That, or stuffing some cocktail onions in her ears.

To say that she found the song's sentiments ironic would have been understatement on a scale rivaling the Grand Canyon.

Brusquely -- and unnecessarily -- wiping down the bar counter for the twentieth time in the last fifteen minutes, the young woman tried to look at the bright side of things: At least that wasn't the song that had been playing when Barbara's clock radio had clicked on a long, pregnant moment after the redhead had made her announcement.

No, it had been the Pointer Sisters' "Slow Hand" that had echoed from the radio sixteen hours -- a frikkin' lifetime -- ago. The brunette had to admit that even that melody wasn't without its own ironies, but at least it hadn't shredded her the way "Torn" was doing now.

The click of the radio. The sensual lyrics. Barbara's faintly abashed laugh.

The sounds had been nearly simultaneous, and they'd ricocheted off each other inside Helena's head. Hell, they were still bouncing around like pinballs in an arcade game. In fact, when she thought about the whole thing -- and the young woman was hard-pressed to think about anything else -- Helena even saw flashing lights and neon "Tilt" signs going off in the periphery of her vision.

It hadn't really started out with her on the scoreboard hall of fame -- or whatever it was when you got to put your initials on the game as a big winner, or -- in this case -- loser. She'd just put in her quarters and pulled back the knob, so to speak, just for the joy of it when she'd asked about dinner.

And, at first, Helena had figured that she just wasn't understanding, that maybe Red was using the word "date" in an old fashioned or formal way -- "I'm terribly sorry, my good man, but I have a previous engagement." So, when she'd caught her breath, the young woman had gone ahead and put her feet on the floor -- just like it was going to be another great day that had started in her lover's bed -- hoping that Barbara hadn't noticed her flinch.

Needlessly re-arranging the shot glasses on the under-counter shelf, Helena thought about the half-smile and questioning lift of her eyebrows that she'd managed, since speech had been out of the question at the moment. That must have been the equivalent of hitting the flippers just right on the pinball machine and sending the ball all the way to the backboard.

Barbara had pulled her head out of her closet, holding the burnt sienna turtleneck that Helena had given her for Christmas two years before. It had taken the brunette the next six months to persuade her friend that the color would actually compliment, not clash with, her hair.

Helena loved the way that the sweater highlighted the redhead's coloring.

Seemed like the older woman had noticed Helena's disbelieving expression since she'd actually looked a little flustered. And, at that moment, the young woman had been pretty sure that flustered wasn't a good sign.

But then, Barbara had laughed as she tossed the sweater on the bed and chided the brunette.

"I know it's not a regular occurrence, and it has been a while, Helena; but, yes, I'm going out tonight."

Helena had blindly reached for a pillow, crossing her arms over it in her lap as she'd worked to find her voice. Recalling that moment, the brunette thought it was like when the ball disappeared into one of those traps in the game, and she'd been poised, waiting to see where it would show up next.

"Going out?"

Maybe Barbara had heard something in the words, because she'd come around the end of the bed and caught the younger woman's eyes. She'd then smiled so sweetly and shyly -- kind of embarrassed and abashed -- that Helena knew, with every fiber of her being, that she had to be getting it wrong.

"Yes. With Jim. The software rep I met several weeks ago?"

Helena thought that she'd nodded.

"You were so right, Hel, about my hiding and being scared. Even after our talk last week and..."

Still utterly dumbstruck, the young woman had watched color flood the older woman's face in tandem with a slightly self-satisfied smile. She herself hadn't been able to stop the flicker of warmth that suffused her chest when she thought about that awkward and amazing conversation they'd had after her trip to the shoe factory.

"...everything since, I'm still scared to pieces. But, you were also entirely correct that I don't need to regard every..."

The redhead had faltered for a minute, green eyes tracking to the left. Helena had waited to see what word, or words, her mentor would pull from her perfect memory.

"...encounter as a long-term affair."

Suddenly cold, the young woman had looked around for her clothes, realizing that they were too scattered to retrieve at the moment.

Sixteen hours later, carrying a dirty mug to the pass-through for the kitchen, Helena shivered as the same chill seized her. She thought it had to do with the memory of how the redhead had then leaned forward, the sensation of how Barbara had tangled their fingers, the whisper of the older woman's intimate words.

"And you... this-- It's..."

Even as confused as she'd been, Helena had thought that Barbara's smile had been wistful, a little sad somehow. Her voiced had certainly been hesitant.

"...wonderful, Hel. You've really helped me realize how different things can be."

What the f--?

The brunette blinked and started at sudden noise and movements that weren't inside her head. She took a step back, batting reflexively at Leonard, not understanding what Janey was doing with the dishtowel until she looked down and saw the shards of the heavy mug that she'd crushed, the blood dripping from her palm.

Dismissively, she wrapped the towel around her hand and stepped into the back to rinse out the glass, considering Barbara's almost embarrassed admission.

Helena got it. Hell, she'd gotten it early this morning.

It wasn't what she'd believed; it wasn't everything she'd desperately longed for for years. Barbara hadn't taken her as a lover. No, what she'd taken was the younger woman's advice to have a little fun.

The redhead had seen -- fuck, how could she have missed it? -- Helena's response to her from that near-kiss the week before. The other woman -- Helena *hadn't* imagined it -- had responded as well and, fuck, decided to dip her toes -- the brunette bitterly corrected herself since it was more like Barbara had decided to dip her fingers -- into the waters of... of whatever *this* was at Helena Kyle Beach.

For starters.

Helena's own words from several weeks before were a bitter taunt when it hit her that this -- whatever it was they'd shared -- indeed didn't even seem to be an affair to remember for the redhead.

That had been the moment, sitting naked in the other woman's bed, when Helena had stopped trying to work the flippers on the game, when she'd realized at a visceral level that the game was pretty much playing itself now. Numbers were running up on the tot-board, and Barbara was backing towards the bathroom, looking at the younger woman like she *needed* something from her.

As for her... Well, she'd been just sort of transfixed by the flashing lights and pretty pictures on the backboard of the game -- or maybe it had been going off in her head -- until she'd realized with a sickening clench of her stomach just what they were.

Words -- hesitant and joyful -- from a week ago.

Barbara's words: 'I don't want to end up with any problems between us.'

Her own promise: 'No way, Red. I love you too much for that to happen.'

The young woman squeezed her eyes shut against the sting of the cold water on her hand and struggled not to retch.

She'd meant the words when she spoke them a week ago. This morning, she'd known that she would always mean them, and there'd been no choice in the face of Barbara's nervous need. She'd reached deep down inside herself and found a smile and a few words.

"Glad I could, uh, help out. Just remember tonight, Babs: Somebody's gonna be damned lucky to get you."

That had been it.


Game over.

Wrapping a clean towel around her hand, the brunette thought she heard Leonard telling her to call it a night and turned, wordlessly, to climb the back stairs to her apartment. Once inside, she didn't bother turning on a light; her own acute vision and the glow from the bar's neon sign outside her window made it unnecessary. Instead, she moved to her stereo rack and unerringly selected a CD from the shelf, sliding it into the unit, and powering the system up.

In the few seconds that it took for the amps and speakers to come to life, she moved to the low sofa and, noticing blood on her sleeve, shucked her shirt. Dropping onto the couch, she pointed the remote, selected the track she wanted, and programmed it to loop.

As the first bars of her selection sounded softly through her small apartment, Helena exhaled noiselessly and leaned back against the cushions. Alone, in the dark, she stared at the small planter that sat before her on the coffee table -- at the delicate Japanese orchid that she'd been nursing for over three years -- and allowed melody, words, and meaning to bleed together.

I'm all out of faith

This is how I feel

I'm cold and I am shamed,

lying naked on the floor

Illusion never changed

Into something real

I'm wide awake and

I can see the perfect sky is torn

Chapter 17

Helena tore across the rooftops of nighttime New Gotham, knowing that she could easily leave her pursuer behind. Wind in her face, clouds close enough to touch, she leapt into space, easily spanning a fifteen foot gap between two buildings.

A few more loping steps and she'd be able to vault off that gargoyle and disappear into the night.

"Huntress! Wait!"

Leaping easily -- Hell, her heart rate wasn't even up -- the dark figure suddenly tripped and went flying.

Tripped?! What the hell?

The last time she'd tripped had been during an ill-advised experiment with Mad Dog 20-20 back in high school.

That little twerp...

Blue eyes narrowed evilly, and the brunette rolled gracefully to her feet, soundlessly disappearing into the shadows of a ventilation shaft. A heartbeat later, she detected the scuff of a light figure cautiously jogging across the graveled rooftop. The footfalls slowed, then stopped, and a thought blazed across Helena's cortex.

>>Cut it out, Hel. It's not funny.<<

Damn, even in her head, Helena could hear the whine in the teenager's words. Still, it was pretty amazing. Idly, the brunette wondered how great a distance Dinah could cover with her new skill.

Still hidden, she also flirted with the idea of leaping out and scaring the living wits out of her companion. Or, maybe, just fading into the darkness. Wasn't like the Kid couldn't handle this assignment on her own.

Ultimately, she did neither.

Moving so fluidly that not even a shift in the air gave her away, the lithe woman stepped from the shadows into the half light of the cloudy night. Remaining utterly still, almost literally not moving a muscle, she fixed the teen with an intent stare and then simply waited. Eventually -- Too long, they'd need to work on Dinah's awareness of her surroundings -- the blonde seemed to sense the scrutiny and slowly turned.

"Helena! Where the heck were you?!"

"Pretty much right here all the time, Kid."

Too late, the older woman realized how gruff her voice had been, and she instantly felt bad when she saw the girl bite at her lip.

"Good move, though, tripping me with your TK."

That got a hopeful smile.

"Thanks, He- Huntress. But, why didn't you wait for me?"

Resuming their travel at a more sedate pace, the brunette considered any number of likely answers to that question. In the end, she opted for the truth.

"Don't much feel like company right now, K-- D."

Not right then and not since entering the clock tower an hour ago to touch base before sweeps. To touch base, like a good friend, with Barbara about her date the night before.

Honestly, Helena wanted the best for the redhead; she wanted her to be happy; and so she hadn't been wishing some sort of Elimidate experience on her. But, since she ached for the older woman to find happiness with *her*, she also hadn't quite been ready to deal with Barbara's infuriatingly upbeat cheerfulness.

Still, she'd sucked it up, put her best foot forward, taken one for the team... blah blah blah.

Yeah, somehow, the young woman had managed to ask how it had gone. Red hadn't gone all gushy or anything -- Helena knew that Barbara wasn't really a kiss-n-tell kind of gal anyway -- but her mention of another date on Saturday was enough. That, and the wistful smile on her face when she'd described the previous night, with typical understatement, as 'lovely'.

After not-too-much of that -- and the mind-numbing description of software innovations that Barbara and Jim had talked about -- Helena had been itchier than usual to hit the streets. She'd not been prepared, when the redhead had suggested this assignment, for the additional request that she have Dinah accompany her. Since it was relatively early and since the Kid was looking at her with big, hopeful puppy-dog eyes *and* since Helena didn't want to spend any more time at the tower coming up with reasons for Dinah not to come... Well, here she was.

Normally, Helena didn't really mind having Dinah along.

Not that she would have admitted that, even under torture, of course.

Hell, in the last year, she'd kind of gotten used to having the blonde tagging along on some of her sweeps. It gave Dinah good training and exposure in case she decided that she really wanted to embrace The Life. It could even be nice to have the company. Sometimes, if things were dull, the Kid would play bait -- helpless girl on the dark streets of the city -- to see if the pair could lure out a lowlife of two.

But tonight?

A long run across town to check out the older woman's hunch about the office building that Rocko and his buddies had been trying to break into the week before? Helena thought it seemed like a solo job to her.

Actually, right now, she kind of thought that she would -- or should -- be flying solo for a good long time.

At least Dinah seemed to have gotten the hint and wasn't going on and on about her last outing with Gabby. In fact, she wasn't talking at all, at least until her surly guide abruptly stopped at the edge of a roof, and the teen plowed into her back, nearly shoving her into space.

"Shit! Watch it with the bulldozer routine, will ya?"

Man, Helena sometimes forgot that the teen was bigger than she was.

"Sorry, Huntress. Uh, what's up?"

"We're here."

The brunette peered down into the alley and thumbed her comm set, noticing her companion reaching up to do the same.

"Oracle, do you copy?"

<"I copy, Huntress. Everything alright?">

The young woman unhurriedly descended a fire escape to the alley below as Dinah levitated herself down and landed with a quiet 'Oomph.'

"We're here. Looks like you were right."

For some reason, lengthy exchanges were almost out of the question. The young woman thought that, somehow, they would open her up too much to her older partner.

Helena gestured in the direction of the office building's back entrance, and the teenager stepped over, peering at it carefully before pulling out the digital camera and speaking excitedly.

"Yeah, Oracle. The pry marks are the same odd width and located in the same spots as at the library."

There was a brief pause over the transceiver, and Helena detected the sound of rapid mouse clicks. She guessed that her partner was checking all of the private security firms for signs of an alarm having triggered.

<"Is there any sign of anyone still being inside?">

The brunette stretched her senses -- hearing, smell, and that sixth sense of awareness. With a distinct feeling of being cheated out of the opportunity to hand out a good ass-kicking, she realized that the culprits had probably already departed.


Still a little pissed that she wasn't going to have a chance to work off some socially unacceptable anger in a socially acceptable manner, Helena peripherally noted that pale blue eyes were regarding her expectantly.

Screw that.

Cerulean eyes narrowed dangerously, but the dark woman remained utterly silent. Finally, her younger companion spoke hesitantly.

"Uh, I guess we'll go in and take a look? See what happened this time."

A chestnut head nodded once, briskly, before the dark vigilante flowed silently through the jimmied door into the office building.

"Going silent," Dinah added softly as she slipped through the door on Helena's coattails.

The two moved stealthily through the service hallway, the older woman leading effortlessly in the pitch darkness. Dinah wasn't quite as at-home in the darkness, and the third time that she stepped on her guide's heel, Helena brusquely stepped behind the girl and grabbed the collar of her jacket -- taking special care to avoid any contact with the blonde's skin -- guiding her from behind.

Sheesh, she was going to have to get her frikkin' boots re-heeled if Dinah kept that up.

Thirty paces, much smoother paces, further and Helena saw what they were looking for: The door to one of the offices had been messily kicked in. She directed her companion inside and quickly scouted through the cubicles, confirming that the area was empty, even as she tried to identify the faint, pungent odor tickling her senses.

At that point, the brunette pulled a small Krypton light from her duster and handed it to the teen. Dinah gratefully powered the flashlight on and began poking her head into the cubicles as Helena provided a quiet update to her remote partner.

"They were here -- "

She poked her head around the exterior door to read the sign.

"Voter registration headquarters."

A knowing, but exasperated sigh, filtered over the transceiver.

<"What was it this time, Huntress? Spray paint? Silly string? Lingerie hanging from the ceiling?">

Prowling through the reception area, the dark vigilante was at a loss. Noticing that she'd instinctively begun to smile at her partner's light words, she clamped down on it and scowled.

Mostly at herself.

"Dunno, Oracle. Nothing so f--"

"Oh god! Yuk!"

Dinah's exclamation drew Helena into the back in record time.

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

Looking -- and sounding -- a little green around the gills, the blonde choked out an explanation.

"In all the computers... In the CD drives... They, they stuffed some kind of flesh or skin in there!"

<"Fle-- Are you cert--">

Sniffing disdainfully, Helena cut the older woman off.

"Oh, baloney."

Dinah wheeled, voice indignant.

"I know what I see, Huntress!"

Wordlessly, the brunette squatted, delicately lifted the offending substance from the CD drawer, and extended it between her thumb and index finger.

"Bo-lo-ney, Ki-- Canary. See?"

The teen sagged slightly, blushing extravagantly.

<"Boloney, Huntress? As in...?">

"Luncheon meat, Oracle. But, Canary was right about it being stuffed into every computer."

The cyber crime fighter's laughter was soft and knowing.

<"Well, that certainly ties in with the M.O.s to date. If we had any doubts before, I think we can be fairly certain now that someone has a message to share.">

Helena pursed her lips, wondering why she was dealing with crap and boloney instead of real crime, even as Dinah stepped into another workspace and piped up.

"But, why so many guys last week for a job like this, Oracle?"

<"Good question, Canary. My guess would be that they were planning something different, something requiring more manpower. When Huntress interrupted them, perhaps they came up with an alternate operation.">

The dark woman saw a blonde head nodding vigorously over the top of a cubicle.

"That makes sense, Oracle. This is more of a one-man operation, isn't it?"

<"Indeed, Canary. Perhaps you two can get some photos of the scene? After that, you can run a regular grid sweep on your way back.">

Striding soundlessly into the adjoining cube, Helena spoke briskly as she grabbed the camera from the teen.

"Off comms."

The brunette noticed that her companion reached up to deactivate her own comm unit before speaking crossly.

"What's the deal, Helena? I'd think you'd be in a little better mood after keeping Barbara out until all hours last night."

Helena swallowed her angry response, focusing instead on taking pictures at a record-setting pace. She decided to ignore the teenager until a warm hand touched her arm softly.

"What do you mean, 'it wasn't you'?"

The girl's voice was hushed and confused.

Fuck. Now Helena was not only gonna have to watch her mouth but also her thoughts around the Kid.

"Nothing. Just... nothing."

Blue eyes blinked against a burning moisture.

Freakin' camera flash.

Helena sighed impatiently as Dinah regarded her seriously for a long moment.

"Damn, Helena. I'm so sorry. I though that you two were..."

Ignoring the fact that she'd thought so as well, the dark figure exited the office, heading towards the alley. When she finally found the words to respond, her voice was resigned.

"Yeah, well, we're not. It's not always happily ever after, you know."

Chapter 18

Helena wasn't sure just what she'd done wrong in a previous life but figured it must have been a doozy. What else could account for her current situation?

"You don't think this is too much, Hel?"

The young woman considered the object in question -- a shimmering strand of pearls that lay against the exposed skin of Barbara's upper chest. She thought that the luminescent shine of the pearls was easily surpassed by the alabaster luster of their backdrop. Still, they certainly drew extra attention -- unneeded attention, in her opinion -- to the redhead's chest and the provocative neckline of the dress that Barbara had picked up at the beginning of the week.

Offering a knowing waggle of her eyebrows and a mildly lecherous grin -- and wondering how her face wasn't breaking -- she managed the truth.

"You're -- they're amazing, Babs."

Coloring slightly, the older woman turned back to her dressing table and laughed softly.

"Thank you, Helena. I think you're too kind, though."

The brunette blinked, feeling the words like a slap.

Why wouldn't the other woman get it?

She watched the older woman struggle with the clasp of the jewelry for a few seconds before rising from the end of the bed and stepping behind her. Silently, she reached out, taking one end of the necklace in each hand and bending slightly to see the small clasp. The position, unfortunately, brought her much too close to the redhead, close enough that Barbara's shampoo and the clean scent of her skin enveloped her, close enough that the silken skin of her long neck sent sparks up the young woman's fingers as they brushed against it, close enough that her bare shoulders beckoned the brunette to lean down just a bit more and taste...

Helena clenched her jaw and briskly finished with the clasp, almost skipping away from her friend.

"There you go."

Her voice sounded gravel rough to her own ears, and she wondered exactly which level of purgatory this was.

Somehow -- she didn't quite know how -- she'd made it though the last few days. She'd gone through the regular routine, the regular sweeps, the regular banter over the comm set. Somehow, she'd done it all when it felt like nothing would ever feel regular again.

She'd even pulled off Barbara's PT this week.

Funny, a week ago, she'd really -- *really* -- been looking forward to the stretching session as her imagination and libido had supplied all sorts of options for new routines. A week or so ago, before... when she'd just begun to learn how the other woman would taste and feel. This week, burdened with the knowledge of some of those intimate secrets, the session had been ashes in her mouth.

It had been even more painfully confusing to the young woman that the older woman had flirted so freely with her throughout the exercises... almost seeming to taunt her with the lost possibilities. Helena had managed, barely, to hold up her end of the verbal exchanges -- falling back on that second language thing -- but simply couldn't bring herself to believe or understand what was happening.

She'd spent the three days since then prodding at those questions, finally arriving at a very simple conclusion: for Barbara, nothing -- nothing out of the ordinary -- had been happening during PT. Just like over the comm set each night this week as they talked and bantered just like... nothing out of the ordinary had happened to change things.

But, then again, the brunette had been forced to admit to herself, maybe that was true. Maybe it was like that time a few years ago that -- after months of teasing and coaxing and gentle dares -- she'd finally gotten her mentor to agree to let Helena take her flying across the rooftops.

When the idea had first come to the brunette, almost a year before she'd worked up the courage to suggest it, she'd been well aware of the feelings of loss and bitterness that Barbara still had -- would always have -- about what had been denied to her with four cruel gunshots. The intensely independent woman, who had danced so gracefully through the night skies for years before Helena had even dreamed of the joy inherent in the act, no longer had the option to run and fly and touch the sky as she once had. Helena had wanted, somehow, to allow her friend, her partner, the woman she loved to feel at least a part of it again.

Completely uncertain of whether the idea that came to her would help -- or hurt the proud woman even more -- she'd waffled and waited and wanted for almost a year. And then, an opportunity -- in the form of a late night of tequila shooters and some bad movie about parachuting bank robbers -- had given her just enough of an opening. She taken the chance -- hell, taking chances was what she did -- and cautiously planted a seed in the older woman's mind.

Helena really didn't know why everybody seemed to think she had no patience or self-control. She thought she'd been plenty patient after that, carefully, unobtrusively, nurturing the seed of an idea into a seedling and, finally, six months later, a full-grown blossoming willingness.

That night, her own heart almost bursting -- not with effort, but with joy -- she'd sailed the New Gotham skyscape with Barbara in her arms. The redhead's initial trepidation hadn't lasted long. Helena knew that it was like anything that her mentor committed herself to: once Barbara decided to try something, she... just did it.

By the end of the first hour after Helena had leapt from the balcony, Barbara's stiffness -- whatever feelings that had caused her initially to cling so tightly and travel so silently in the sinewy arms which held her securely -- had visibly waned. By the end of the night -- and they had stayed out all night running and leaping and laughing -- the redhead was fully in the moment with her younger partner: Instead of curling tightly into herself as they sailed through the air, she'd spread her arms out like wings, trusting Helena to hold her tight; instead of introverted, fearful silence, she'd exuberantly directed the course of their flight.

It had been, Helena thought, magical. And, it had never happened again.

After that night, the older woman had begun to work with the rings and cables -- sometimes asking for Helena's help -- during her training sessions. She had, finally, taken to relaxing when she joined the brunette on the clock tower balcony -- looking out and up instead of her previous fixed concentration on the caging wall around the balcony. However, she'd always refused Helena's subsequent offers to repeat their outing.

The one time that the young woman had asked why, the redhead had smiled pensively -- Helena had thought her heart might break at the sad knowledge in that smile -- and had told her that, while it had been fun, one night of holding the brunette down was sufficient. She would, instead, try to find out what she could do for herself. The words, melacholy as they'd been, had been banded with iron, leaving Helena no recourse.

Like last week, Helena thought. They'd had fun -- even now, the words had nasty, sharp claws which raked at the young woman's soul -- but it didn't change... things between them. Like that magical starlit night two years before, Barbara had embraced an... opportunity; she'd used it as a springboard to try... other things. But, apparently, it didn't change the intrinsic make-up of the older woman's relationship with her partner.

Helena didn't know how the redhead was doing it, but she knew that, personally, she was having to work mighty hard to make sure that she kept her promise, to make sure that things didn't change, to make damned well certain that there weren't any... problems between them.

So, this evening, what was she doing?

Helena had responded to a distinctly panicky sounding call from the older woman an hour ago. The redhead had been getting ready for her second date with Tech-expo geek, as the young woman had taken to thinking of him, and had an attack of nerves or something. Unable to bear the self-doubt in the beloved woman's voice, Helena had had no choice.

And, for the last forty minutes, she felt like she'd been sucked into some 1950's teen movie, with Sandy getting ready for a date with Danny or something: Was the new dress *too* revealing? Hair up or down? Which perfume...?

Finally, it looked like there wasn't another thing the older woman could do to enhance herself.

"Relax, Red. If Jim has a normal hormone in his body, the only thing you might need are some batarangs to fight him off."

She purposely ignored thinking about the very real possibility that Barbara wouldn't want to fight him off.

Barbara's laugh was full, but brief, as she turned with an amused quirk of crimson brows.

"Her, Hel. It's Gem. G-E-M."

Blue eyes blinked.


'Gem'? What kind of stupid name was that? And, what was the older woman's deal with dating people with goofy names?

Wade. Gem. Even the aptly named Dick.

Maybe that was it; maybe Helena's name was too normal and if she'd just change it to something like 'Moonbeam' or 'Sporty Spice' she'd have a real chance.

Belatedly, the young woman realized that something more might be required conversationally. The twinkle evident in emerald eyes was one pretty good clue.

"Uh, sorry. It's just, well, you've never dated a woman?"

At least, she hadn't in the years that Helena had known her, if you didn't count the week before.

Although, the brunette admitted sourly, apparently she and Barbara hadn't really been dating or anything...

The young woman had some suspicions -- based on the redhead's, uh, facility with her the previous week and based on Barbara's interactions with Carolyn Lance almost two years before. Still, they'd never talked about it. Helena had kind of figured that it might be good pillow talk for a long morning in bed together some time.

The older woman colored slightly and chuckled.

"I haven't... for quite a while."

The unspoken reference to the shooting seven years before hung heavy in the room.

"However, you, er, reminded me of some things I've been missing, Sweetheart."

The admission, softly spoken, was both abashed and pleased. The tone, which Helena had heard so recently lying curled in the big bed with the other woman, raised the hair on the back of the young woman's neck.

"And," the redhead added, "you've definitely shown me that I've been a little... limited in my thinking."

Helena blinked again, knowing there was simply no way that she could comprehend or process all of the textures of meaning behind the words right then.

"Well, okay then," she smiled cockily as Barbara came to a stop in front of her.

Hell, two more "conversions" and she could get that toaster oven, right?

"But, what I said still stands, Barbara. If *she* has a hormone in her body, you'll be fighting her off, Beautiful."

The brunette felt her smile falter a bit as the older woman leaned forward to place a warm hand on her jaw. The smile froze when Barbara drew her forward and then rested her forehead against hers. Heat suffused Helena's upper chest and face at the close contact.

"You really are too good to me, Sweetheart."

With that softly murmured endearment, the redhead pressed her mouth gently to the younger woman's.

Stupefied, Helena experienced soft lips brushing against hers, then gently nibbling at her upper lip. When an tender tongue touched against her, she gasped at the electric sparks that exploded in her lips and traveled down her throat and across her chest.

And then, Barbara was kissing her again, those deep knowing strokes which melted her. Barbara was feathering her fingers against her face and shoulders, and Helena swallowed her moan of arousal... and pain. Helpless, aware that in an instant -- forever -- she would be Barbara's all over again, the young woman clenched her hands tightly against her own thighs lest she attempt to reach out, to touch...

An eternity... or a moment... later, the redhead drew back with a final tender kiss, smiling fondly. Observing the cloudiness in green eyes, Helena swallowed, completely speechless.

"Thank you for helping me get ready for tonight."

The older woman's voice was husky, but when she looked up, her expression was sincere and open.

"I mean that in every way, Hel."


Barbara sure knew how to say 'thank you'.

"Glad I could help, Red."

The young woman cleared her throat, hoping the redhead would mistake her hoarseness for something else.

Barbara's hard look sent tremors clear to the brunette's toes.

"You do, Helena. I don't know that I'd try this," a slender hand waved at her ensemble, "if you hadn't made it so easy to take a chance and if... Well, if you weren't you."

Well, just... crap.

Helena said the only thing she could: words that were the truth but which only hinted at her perpetual wish for the other woman's happiness.

"Hope you have fun, Babs."

The other woman flashed a quick, tight-looking smile and offered a laugh which, Helena thought, sounded entirely too dark.

"Thank you, Helena. I do, too. Although, having fun really is more your metier, while... well, you know me..."

Unwilling to have the older woman doubting herself, the brunette took a stab at humor.

"Not in ya at the molecular level or something, Red? Don't believe it for a minute. I've been told that I can rub off on people, you know."

Oh. Crap.

The young woman mentally winced, wondering why she couldn't just keep her mouth shut. At least the inadvertent entendre had gotten a more relaxed smile out of her friend.

"Indeed, Hel. You are quite the... influence."

It was the dark woman's turn to offer a tight smile, but she steadfastly remained silent in the hope of not putting her other booted foot in her mouth.

Barbara finally turned towards the door.

"What's on your agenda tonight, Helena? Are you working?"

The brunette stood, absurdly glad that Barbara's back was to her so she couldn't see how her partner had just lurched against the rolling in her stomach and the pain in her chest.

"Nah. Leonard balked at any more overtime for me this week. I figured I'd, you know..."

She trailed off, deciding that mention of an evening of making friends with the shadows on the walls of her apartment simply wasn't of general interest.

"I hope you'll try to get *some* rest between bouts of debauchery."

The redhead's voice was teasing, but grew serious.

"You're looking tired, Sweetie."

Trailing into the hall behind the older woman, the brunette made a face and bit back any number of flippant remarks.

'Tired' didn't begin to express it. After only three delirious nights with the older woman, she was -- without her -- completely exhausted and soul-weary.

It wasn't just the loss of intimacy, either. It was the restless emptiness which had been a part of her life for so long. Over the years, especially after moving out to her own place, she'd grown used to it and had found ways -- namely through anonymous encounters -- to solace it. But, in the last few days, it had returned with a vengeance. That week of being with Barbara, of finally belonging in the place she'd hungered to be for years, had been the most peaceful and complete that she remembered since the murder of her mother.

The closest she could recall to that feeling might have been the many nights, especially in the years right after her mother's murder and Barbara's shooting, that the two women had sometimes helped chase each other's nightmares away: on the couch watching bad movies; at the kitchen table with hot cocoa and marathon scrabble games; even, sometimes, sleeping in the same bed.

When she had believed the unbelievable -- just a week before -- Helena had found a full time peace. The abrupt end of her belief, she'd discovered during the last sleepless days, was leaving her emptier and more torn than before. She suspected that a return to any sort of rest would be a long time coming.

Without responding to the redhead's concern, Helena fetched Barbara's coat from the closet, half-listening to the older woman as she delivered a slew of instructions to Dinah. She met the other woman at the elevator, where Barbara accepted her coat with a quick, nervous smile as she jingled the keys to the van.

Helena peripherally noted a sympathetic look being directed her way by Dinah.

"Thank you again for coming over, Helena."

The brunette smiled as Barbara moved into the elevator and spoke to the teenager again.

"I'm not sure when I'll get back, but don't hesitate to call if something comes up."

The two younger women stood silently as the elevator doors closed, watching the indicator lights descend into the parking garage. A leaden silence filled the clock tower until the blonde piped up.

Helena thought that the girl's cheerful tone was decidedly forced.

"Uh, just us girls tonight, I guess. You want to pick a movie, and I can call for pizza?"

The teen waited a beat before apparently misinterpreting Helena's silence.

"Or, uh, maybe you're going out tonight?"

The brunette dug her hands into her pants pockets to hide the fists she was making. She considered the girl's hesitant offer, and her follow-up question.

She sure as hell wasn't going to try to find a quick fix in the arms of some anonymous one night stand. But, licking her wounds with the teenager didn't hold any appeal either.

Biting her lip, she faced the realization that she'd come to during the last few sleepless nights.

For years, she'd pinned all of her hopes and desires on Barbara, and clearly that just wasn't going to happen. Even when she'd briefly been living the heady dream that she'd desired, it just wasn't the same reality for the other woman.

Maybe it was time for a change.

Helena fingered the small square of cardboard in her pocket, a Dark Horse matchbook with a hastily scrawled telephone number that she'd grudgingly accepted almost two weeks before. She smiled gently at the blonde.

"Sorry, D, but you're on your own tonight. I've gotta make a call."

Part 19

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