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 19

Helena called out softly, catching the waiter's eye.

"Couple of refills here, when you have a minute?"

She turned to her companion.

"Would you like something else?"

Brown eyes regarded their table and the remains of their snack ruefully. At that point, only crumbs evidenced the basket of muffins and scones they'd consumed, only an empty plate hinted at the sliced fruit that had complimented the pastries.

"Honestly, Helena, I'm stuffed. After that huge brunch and then all of this, I'm going to have to do two extra jazzercise sessions this week."

Offering a self-satisfied smile in fond memory of the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet she'd shared with the other woman hours ago, the brunette resisted the urge to unfasten the top button of her jeans and belch. Instead, she transformed the smile into something silky.

"Yeah, that was good, wasn't it? Sure beats pop tarts."

She wasn't sure if it was better -- hollandaise and lobster thermador notwithstanding -- than Alfred's traditional Sunday blueberry waffles, but she figured that the company she had for those waffles was probably swaying her opinion.

Veering away from that less-than-uplifting thought, she added, "Besides, with all the walking we did today, I don't think you have anything to worry about."

She then deliberately raked her gazed down the other woman's form in frank appraisal and spoke appreciatively.

"Hell, even without the walking, an extra muffin isn't going to hurt you."

Sabina laughed self-consciously and waved her hand nervously as the waiter returned to refill their coffee cups.

"Stop it. But,"

She blew on her steaming beverage, and Helena focused on how her lips pursed fetchingly.

"You are right about the walking. I had no idea that New Gotham had so many wonderful spots tucked away."

Helena grinned and raised her own cup.

"Yeah, I kind of got that impression the other night. You choosing The Dark Horse to meet your client and all. Seemed like an unofficial welcome wagon tour of the city might be a good idea."

Not to mention, it was the perfect opportunity to spend some time -- in broad daylight, no less -- with the woman who had seemed so engaging a few weeks before. When Helena had finally reached Sabina the night before, after she'd gotten home and then spent a not inconsiderable amount of time working up her nerve -- and resolve -- to call, the small woman had been shyly enthusiastic when Helena had suggested brunch and a tour.

The mousy woman laughed merrily, and the younger woman carefully checked the position of all of the beverages on the table. Her visual reconnaissance did not go unnoticed, and Sabina laughed harder.

"I *am* sorry about that... those little accidents, Helena. Although, since they really seemed to help you remember me..."

Helena cut her off.

"As a pick-up technique, Sabina, I have to think that you could do better."

Another laugh spilled from the expressive mouth.

"Yeah, you're right. And, you're right about better meeting places for clients -- No disrespect to your fine establishment intended, of course."

The brunette smiled and admitted, "None taken. It's a dive."

"The restaurants by the waterfront are wonderful," the other woman continued, "and I had no idea that the city had so many boutiques and second hand stores and coffee houses."

"Well, next time,"

The younger woman paused, raising her eyebrows in question. Reassured by a shy smile and a nod, she finished.

"I'll take you to NGU. It has some terrific art galleries."

Helena smiled wistfully at the memory of the time she'd spent at the university's galleries, licking her wounds after she'd so abruptly moved out of the clock tower years before. An enthusiastic question drew her from her jaunt down memory lane.

"Anything medieval? For some reason, I fell in love with the architecture -- actually, Gothic cathedrals -- when I was in college."

The brunette threw back her head and laughed as she stood and tossed some bills on the table.

"Sabina, this is New Gotham. You can't go twenty-five feet without tripping over a freakin' flying buttress!"

The other woman smiled in acknowledgement.

"Then, it's definitely a date, Helena."

Waiting for the small woman to gather her bag, Helena rolled the word around in her mind. It was kind of a new concept for her -- really *not* her usual M.O. and all -- but she decided that, at least with this woman, she liked it.

In the last six hours, she'd gotten to know a bit about the older woman: about her recent move from San Diego; a smidge about her work doing something involving data profiling -- whatever the hell that was, though it seemed like Helena's first librarian guess hadn't been too far off base; even about her large and scattered family. In the process, she'd discovered that her initial impression of the woman had been on-target: Sabina was warm and intelligent and possessed of a sweet, self-depreciating sense of humor. Also in the process -- and even more to Helena's surprise -- the younger woman had found herself sharing some of herself: some anecdotes about her mom, some of her taste in art, some stories from the bar. All the regular stuff, she supposed, that ordinary people talked about when they were getting to know each other. All stuff that Helena had never bothered -- or cared -- to learn about anyone else that she'd passed time with.

Walking the other woman back to her loft, the brunette decided that, maybe, passing time wasn't all she'd thought it was.

She smiled slightly at that thought -- who would have thunk it? -- and noticed her companion's shiver in the rapidly darkening twilight of the New Gotham streets.

"Are you cold?"

"No, not really. It's just... It gets so dark here. Do you know what I mean?"

In the dusky shadows, the brunette's smile morphed into something less pleasant as she considered all of the darkness she regularly witnessed on the streets.

Brushing the other woman's arm with hers, she murmured quietly, "Don't worry, the real bad guys don't come out this early."

Sabina's uncertain laugh danced in the air, and Helena's hand and arm suddenly tingled when the small woman threaded her fingers with hers.

"Aren't there stories about masked vigilantes guarding this city? Something about a Bat Man?"

Her voice turned the name into two words, and the young crime fighter chuckled, softly squeezing the hand in hers.

"Yeah. I've heard those stories, but that was mostly before I got here, I think."

Sabina stopped in front of a renewed brownstone. Soft music drifted from a cracked window in the building next door.

Let's talk this over

It's not like we're dead

Was it something I did?

Was it something you said?

"This is me."

The younger woman detected a hint of color creeping into pale features.

"Would you like to come up? Maybe you could suggest a print or painting for me to put up. I suck at decorating."

Helena ignored the fact that she hadn't done anything in that department at her own apartment and noticed as some love-lorn soul cranked the music up a notch.

Don't leave me hangin'

In a city so dead

Held up so high

On such a breakable thread

She considered the invitation, and the woman extending it, remembering her instinctive attraction to her at the club a few weeks ago, body beginning to hum in memory of how ready she'd been then. This, naturally, led her to recall everything that had happened -- that she'd *thought* was happening -- in the twelve days or so since then. With no small measure of regret, she raised her free hand and traced her fingertips over slight features.

"I can't."

The pale woman's disappointment was almost comically apparent.

"Is it that 'not on the market' thing that you mentioned?"

Helena stood silently for a few beats, absorbing Avril Lavigne's sentiment washing through the dark street.

You were all the things I thought I knew

And I thought we could be

You were everything, everything that I wanted

We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it

And all of our memories, so close to me, just fade away

All this time you were pretending

So much for my happy ending

The younger woman clenched her jaw and then exhaled, letting it go with a soft laugh.

"No. I was... mistaken about that."

Sensing, rather than seeing, the possible reaction in those big brown eyes, she attempted to explain.

"Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those U-haul gals or anything. Ba -- This person has been in my life for a long time, and I just kind of misinterpreted some stuff."

Sabina was quiet for a moment. When she spoke, her voice was genuinely sympathetic.

"I'm sorry, Helena. You seemed so happy about it."

The brunette managed a wry grin... or grimace.

"Well, live and learn, right?"

Raising their still-clasped hands slightly, Sabina spoke softly.

"So, uh, maybe it's a little soon, huh?"

Helena gentled her expression.

"Maybe. And -- "

Blue eyes widened fractionally as the brunette surprised herself with her next words.

"-- I don't want to make some of my same mistakes here. With you, Sabina."

Helena watched brown eyes blink rapidly a few times, then leaned into the other woman's space and lightened her tone.

"And, I really do need to get to work. You know, pitchers to pour, martinis to shake..."

The other woman laughed softly, then stretched a tiny bit to press a quick kiss to Helena's cheek. When she spoke, her emotions were unmistakable.

And, Helena realized in an almost dizzying burst of insight, such a contrast to how tightly guarded Barbara was with her emotions.

"Well, I don't want to keep your thirsty public waiting, Helena, but I would like to see you again."

Stepping back, the young woman brought her hand to her own cheek and spoke honestly.

"I want to see you, too."

With an upraised hand of farewell, the dark figure turned and moved fluidly down the street, humming softly to the song in the night air.

It's nice to know that you were there

Thanks for acting like you cared

And making me feel like I was the only one

It's nice to know we had it all

Thanks for watching as I fall

And letting me know we were done

You were everything, everything that I wanted

We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it

Chapter 20

"I think you might be losing it, Oracle."

Helena made sure that her pronouncement was delivered in a suitably light tone. To her credit, the older woman laughed, tone rich and throaty over the comm set. The sound sent a shiver up the younger woman's spine.

<"And just what leads you to that particular conclusion, Huntress?">

The young woman scuffed the toe of her boot against the parapet of WBAT Radio's rooftop and eyed the entrance used by the traffic copter's crew.

Realistically, she knew that, with just the tiniest shift in her tone, she could change the whole tenor of the conversation. Honestly, she realized that she had no desire to do so.

Sure, Helena was still hurting like hell, but Barbara was her friend and partner and the person she loved most in the world. There was no way she was gonna go and fuck that up.

She'd made a promise, and she always -- *always* -- tried to keep her promises. Especially those she gave to Barbara.

And, the young woman had to admit, she did have, well, something -- those three amazing nights. Even if it hadn't been what she'd believed and -- here she had to blink back something that had gotten into her eyes -- even if she hadn't gotten to...

Helena thought that she had a pretty good idea about which particular fears and perceived inadequacies lay behind her partner's... reticence on that front. Even if the young woman hadn't had the time that she'd believed would exist to help ease Barbara through *those* concerns, well, at least Red had trusted *her* to take a chance with first, right?

The young woman couldn't -- wouldn't -- ignore everything that meant. No, she'd just stay focused on sweeps, keep wishing for the older woman's happiness, and damned well keep her nose out of Barbara's love life.

And, so, at that moment, she concentrated on keeping her tone light.

"Well, think about it. This prankster has been rubbing our noses in it for the last two weeks -- "

<"Don't forget the noses of various information sources *and* New Gotham's finest.">

"Aww, New Gotham's finest don't count; they're lucky to find their own asses in the dark with both hands and a flashlight."

Helena paused, waiting for the expected rebuke. It didn't come.

<"Aside from the duration of our failure to catch our prankster, Huntress, what else is behind your reasoning?">

The question sounded sincerely interested, and Helena preened a bit at how her partner -- big brain to the side -- never failed to take her questions and ideas seriously.

"Well, it's just, you're getting pretty good predicting where this guy... or group... is gonna hit next, but it seems like we're always a step behind."

She hopped off the ledge and walked over to the door, assessing the lock. Deciding against the obvious approach -- a swift kick to the lock area -- the dark vigilante fished in her inside pocket for her lock pick set and got to work.

"We were darned close last Friday at the Green Party Headquarters--"

Close enough, in fact, that Helena thought she'd detected the scent of Rocko Martin's cheap aftershave as she and Dinah had waded through the two feet of ballot punch card chads that covered the floor.

"-- but what makes you think it'll be here? Tonight?"

The lock opened with a soft snick, and Helena slipped inside.

The usual sound of soft typing accompanied the older woman's thoughtful reply.

<"The modeling parameters are complex, but each incident does add more data. Based on the frequency of the previous incidents -- factoring for the enforced delay due to the brief incarceration of Mr. Martin -- combined with KBAT's usual Wednesday morning programming...">

Silently descending the service stairs to the main floor of the station, Helena smirked at the older woman's unspoken reference to the new radio's "Straight Poop Weekly" show.

<"and the fact that, tonight, the entire night crew--">

There was a quick pause, and Helena guessed that Barbara was checking her facts.

<"Sportsman Stan and Audio Andy are out of the station covering the game... Let's just say that the signs are favorable, Huntress.">

The brunette smiled fondly at her overly analytical partner's wrap-up of the situation and cracked the door to the floor which contained the sound booths for the "All News All The Time" -- or, she thought, "Same News All The Time" -- station.

"Let's hope you, and your premonition from Delphi, are right, Oracle. I'm going to scout around now. Going silent."

Remaining the in shadows of the vacant studio, the dark woman glided silently through the hallways, opening office doors and peering through plexiglass windows, senses alert to anything unusual. She came to a stop outside the main sound booth and stared inside for a moment, feeling that something was not quite right but unable to put her finger on it.

Couple of chairs. Check.

Lotta knobs and dials on a big desk. Fine.

File cabinet in one corner. Okay.

Microphones and a desktop pc. Sure.

Blue eyes tracked up towards the acoustic tiles of the ceiling. The young woman's eyebrows crept towards her artfully disheveled bangs, and she hissed quietly in surprise.

Huge mylar bag-thingy covering the ceiling. Now that seemed a little out of place. Obviously, a little closer investigation was called for.

<"Did you find something, Huntress?">

Pausing with her hand on the doorknob of the studio, the brunette spoke almost sub vocally.

"Something a little weird in the main studio, Oracle. A big silver, uh, balloon covering the ceiling."


"Uh, you know, that kind of material. Maybe it's a prototype for a weather balloon, but I'm gonna take a quick look."

She heard the amusement in the other woman's tone, even though the words were sincere.

<"Be careful, Huntress.">

Huh. Like a big ol' piece of silver plastic was going to get the best of her.

Helena turned the knob and swung the door open, expecting a bucket of water or something equally hilarious to dump down. When that wasn't forthcoming, she stepped inside and looked up just as an odd ripping sound began, accompanied by an eerie rippling of the material. Before she could do more than raise her arms in reflex, the mylar split and a shower of objects rained down, expanding as they fell, filling the room and rapidly burying her to her armpits.

"Crap on toast!"

Flailing her arms with what she suspected was a singular lack of dignity, the brunette abandoned any attempts at quiet and stealthy for the moment.

<"Huntress?! What happened? Are you injured? Do you need back--">

"Pffft!! Goddamned frikkin' sunnuva..."

Helena laboriously slogged... waded... pushed her way to the door, which had been pushed shut by the force and volume of the deluge. Somewhat bitterly, she realized it was going to be hell to get it open again.

Maybe she could just bust through one of the booth's windows...

<"I take it that they've struck again, Huntress?">

Barbara obviously correctly interpreted her younger partner's remarks as a sign of... upset rather than distress that might require assistance. Fortunately, Helena heard nothing but a cautious -- and pointed -- neutrality in the question as she began digging around the door.

"Nerf balls, Oracle."

<"Nerf balls?">

"Yeah -- Uh.."

She jerked at the door, simultaneously attempting to bat the foam balls away.

"Thousands of the suckers. They must have put them in a space bag or something and vacuumed 'em -- ugh -- down to pea size before hanging the bag -- Uh, Got it! -- up here."

Squeezing into the corridor, she flicked a few balls off her shoulders and back into the booth as the door slid inexorably shut. Finally, she took a moment to breathe in, breathe out...

<"Balls, eh? That makes sense.">

Now the older woman's voice was amused.


The brunette dug in her pocket for the digi, encountering two of the items in question in the process. Oh well, Red would probably enjoy analyzing them or something.

"But, I'll give you this: our timing's getting closer."

The immediate response was warm... and apologetic.

<"I'm sorry, Huntress. I'll try to be much earlier... or later for the next job.">

The silky tone segued into something a bit playful.

<"Having you up to your -- hips? in *balls*...">

The redhead placed a purring emphasis on the last word that simply seemed to suck the air from Helena's lungs.

<"...is not what I'd ever have in mind for you.">

"Armpits, Oracle," she corrected breathlessly, feeling an odd lump in her throat.

The young woman didn't think she'd swallowed any of the foam balls, but...

Clearing her throat and tucking the camera away, she moved back to the stairwell, knowing that some sort of response to the entendre was expected of her.

"So, what did you have in mind for me to be buried in, Oracle?"

<"Hmm, I tend to visualize you with something... softer and more feminine. Although, chest level is about right.">

Helena snickered at the image.

"Now *that's* the kind of crime scene you can send me to any time, Oracle."

Barbara suddenly became businesslike.

<"Speaking of crime scenes, Huntress, I just picked up a call-in for a liquor store robbery. Do you want to take a look?">

The dark figure shut the rooftop door behind her, testing to be certain that it was locked, and allowed a feral smile to creep across her features.

"You mean a regular, garden-variety holdup? Hell yeah!"

She moved to the edge of the roof while her partner relayed the location.

Finally, a chance to do some uncomplicated ass-kicking.

She hoped.

Leaping on top of a cross-town bus -- Hey, it was headed her way -- Helena growled a suspicious question into her comm set.

"You're sure there's no midget clowns and banana peels involved, right?"

Eleven minutes later, the young woman had to admit that there had been no banana peels involved even if she had just taken a symbolic cream pie to the face.

Honest to gosh, she'd walked right into it. She'd taken out robbers number one and number two easy as -- well -- pie. Turning to deal with the last guy, she hadn't been able to duck in time to avoid the suddenly brave store clerk's swing with a fifth of Johnny Walker Red Label.

Pain blossomed across the dark vigilante's face, and she saw red. Contenting herself with a snarl in the general direction of her suitably frightened-looking helper, Helena roughly swiped at her right eye, trying to clear the blood which was dripping down. Raising golden eyes from the floor, she found that robber number three was trying to make a hasty exit.

"Yo, Dude. You're not just going to rob and run are you?"

The brunette leapt over a display of margarita mix, cutting the man off at the door. Looking decidedly nervous, the robber grabbed a mop which was leaning against the wall and took a clumsy swing at his pursuer. Not particularly bothered by the attack, Helena dropped to a crouch and licked her lips, tasting the blood running down her face and anticipating the fight.

"Big mistake, Fella."

She straightened and flashed a smile that was full of teeth... and the promise of pain. The panicked miscreant sucked in a breath -- some serious telegraphing going on there -- and swung with enough force to seriously mess up somebody's day if he made contact. Just for the practice, the brunette performed a tuck and roll over the makeshift staff and caught it as it swung under her. With a negligent jerk, she removed the weapon from her attacker's hands and tossed it aside.

"You wanna give up now or do you want to do this the hard way?"

Making her way back to the clock tower not too much later, Helena wondered why they always wanted to do it the hard way. Maybe it was some dumb criminal code of conduct or something. Not that it mattered, since she'd ended up mopping the floor with the guy anyway. Literally.

The lithe figure landed silently on the balcony, gritting her teeth against the itty bitty, almost unnoticeable, discomfort that the motion set off in her face. Before she could reach for the handles, the French doors flew open.

Green eyes regarded her face for a long, silent moment.

"Training room, please, Helena."

The young woman obediently headed to the medical area of the workout room, standing by the low table as the redhead approached.

"It's not that bad, Barbara. With my meta-healing, it'll probably be gone in a day or two."

For some reason -- Maybe it had to do with the fallout from the last 'triage' session a few weeks before on the balcony -- the idea of close scrutiny from the older woman didn't seem like such a good idea to the brunette.

Busying herself setting out cleaning supplies and bandages, the older woman didn't look up.

"Good, Hel. But I still want to take a look."

Helena dug her hands into the pockets of her coat, praying for strength. When something brushed against the back of her knuckles, she let loose with a quick bark of laughter, releasing some of her tension.

Grinning at the slightly befuddled looking being directed her way, she removed her clenched hand from her pocket and held it out in front of the other woman.


A playful smile softened the concerned lines of the redhead's face, and Barbara extended her hand, palm up, under Helena's.

"For me? You shouldn't have, Sweetie."

The smile became a soft laugh when the brunette opened her hand, allowing the two nerf balls to expand, then drop into her partner's palm.

"As much as I appreciate your bringing your own sponges, Hel, it's not going to get you out of this. Now, up on the table."

Bowing to the inevitable, the younger woman shrugged out of her duster, noting the blood staining the right side of it. Grumbling about the unusual number of times that she'd been having to have the garment cleaned in the last few weeks, she settled onto the table to endure the proximity of close examination... the teasing brush of long fingers cleaning her wound... and the hellacious discomfort of the four small stitches that Barbara insisted on.

She always forgot how much stitches stung -- especially since her physiology burned off the local almost as fast as Barbara could inject it. Next time she got beaned with a liquor bottle, Helena decided that she'd confiscate the weapon so that she could consume the contents on her way back.

"There you go, Sweetheart. All done."

The redhead efficiently gathered the various debris from her doctoring and closed up the suture kit while Helena tried to keep her breathing steady as she watched those gentle, capable hands moving so fluidly. When Barbara turned away, the brunette slid from the table and grabbed her coat, hoping that her brief wobble hadn't been noticeable.

"Thanks, Red. I'm glad you're on my preferred provider list."

The older woman laughed softly, looked back over her shoulder, and spoke seriously.

"I'd prefer that you'd not been injured at all, Helena."

Digging in the pocket of her coat, the young woman extracted the digital camera and offered it to her partner before opening the door of the training room for her. She accompanied the gesture with a lopsided grin.

"No worries, Barbara. Occupational hazard and all that. 'Sides, you know how hard my head is."

The older woman came to a full stop and gave Helena a long look. Dark brows briefly furrowed at the scrutiny until Helena remembered that -- at least on one side -- that particular movement was off-limits for the evening.

"Not so hard, Hel."

Barbara's rebuttal was quiet, and Helena wondered what layers of meaning colored the words.

The redhead's next words were brisk.

"Now, let's get some ice on your eye. You're going to have a beaut of a shiner, I'm afraid."

The brunette blinked and brought a hand up to probe delicately at the eye in question, hissing as she did so.

Yup. Big knot.

Still, no reason to...

Possibly seeing the refusal in blue eyes, Barbara pinned her with a firm look and then gestured to the couch. The young woman opened her mouth, readying herself to say that she had ice at home -- Hell, she lived above a freakin' bar, after all -- but she was cut short when green eyes flashed.

"Goddamnit, Helena! Why do you insist on being so completely stubborn and independent and... and just too bad for your leathers?"

Helena's eyebrows shot up to her hairline and she blinked furiously at the unexpected display of emotion. What the fuck had set off her normally low-key partner?

Probably not even three seconds elapsed after the outburst before the young woman observed the redhead visibly corralling her temper. When Barbara spoke again, there was no mistaking the regret and sadness.

"I'm sorry, Helena. That was uncalled for; however, I ca-- I love you, and you do so much for me. I suppose it makes me feel good when I can take care of you sometimes."

Stunned, the younger woman was defeated before firing a shot. She managed a tentative half-grin and obediently turned to the sofa, snagging the remote and stretching out when the redhead disappeared into the kitchen.

Aiming the remote at the big screen and beginning her usual rapid-fire channel surfing, Helena decided she was simply *not* going to think about that little... moment. At least not until she was safely back at her place and all alone.

Wishing she *had* brought the weapon that had beaned her from the store, she called hopefully towards the kitchen, "Can I at least have a beer?"

There was no immediate reply -- although the brunette was pretty certain she heard a quiet chuckle from the other room; however, in a few minutes, the older woman returned with a tray, which she positioned on the coffee table. Setting the brake on her chair, Barbara summarily tugged the pillow from behind Helena's head and, when the younger woman shifted in protest, transferred herself to the spot previously occupied by the brunette's head.

Helena settled on a station -- looked like a 'Charlie's Angels' marathon -- and stared at her partner a little peevishly while the redhead leaned over the tray to retrieve an ice pack and a cup of hot tea. With no small amount of trepidation, she grasped the older woman's intent when Barbara patted her lap and gestured with the ice pack.

"Lie down, Hel. I want to keep an eye on you for a bit. You may have a concussion. And,"

The redhead set her tea on the end table, and Helena gingerly positioned her head in her lap, hearing the husky tone lighten fractionally.

"...in terms of beer, I believe it was alcohol that caused your injury, wasn't it? For now, hot cocoa for you."

Snorting, the brunette reached for the warm mug awaiting her on the coffee table. A genuine laugh bubbled out of her when she noticed the crazy straw poking out of the cup, allowing her to sip her beverage from her reclined position.

Helena squirmed a bit when Barbara placed the ice pack against her temple, then drifted into the sensation of warm cocoa in her belly and a gentle hand scratching softly against her scalp. Lulled and peaceful for the first time in a week, she felt her eyes trying to close and blinked fiercely against it.

"Relax, Sweetie. I'll let you know if one of the Angels needs to take off her shirt."

Not entirely sure it was a good idea, the young woman did.

Chapter 21

"I wasn't sure this would be okay."

Helena tried not to shift from foot to foot while appreciative eyes slowly traveled the length of her, from feet to hair.

"It's perfect. You look good enough to eat yourself."

Helena laughed and leaned in to give Sabina a quick buss on the cheek.

"Well, if the restaurant decides that I didn't clean up alright, I guess we can revisit that idea."

The remark, accompanied by the trademark Kyle eyebrow waggle, earned a profuse blush from the older woman. Sabina swung the door of her loft open wider in invitation, and the brunette stepped inside, shyly extending a small gift wrapped box.

"Helena, you didn't need -- "

The small woman cut herself off with a self-effacing smile as she accepted the box.

"What is it?"

In response, Helena waved her hand at the box -- "Open it" clear in the gesture -- and grinned as Sabina ripped off the paper. The young woman took the opportunity to give her companion the once over -- twice -- deciding that she liked what she saw.

Sabina was dressed in a mauve one-piece above-the-knee dress with long sleeves. Matching topaz earrings and a broach highlighted her hair, and high-heeled suede pumps brought her exactly to Helena's height. The brunette decided that her own outfit -- heavy black silk slacks and a deep violet shirt, belted outside her pants -- complimented her companion nicely.

"Helena! It's Chartes Cathedral! I've always especially loved this one."

Brown eyes sparkled as the older woman inspected the tiny, detailed replica.

"Yeah. My mom always said it had the some of the best glass work. Consider it a housewarming g--"

The words abruptly ended when Sabina, still carefully holding the gift, stepped forward and raised her other hand to Helena's shoulder. In the instant before delicate lips brushed against her mouth -- too damned briefly -- the younger woman noted the pleasant warmth radiating down her chest from the touch.

"Thank you."

The older woman slowly stepped back and turned to place the tiny cathedral on her desk, and Helena closed her eyes, knowing they'd flickered gold at the sweet contact. She softly cleared her throat, feeling uncharacteristically nervous.

"So, where are we headed?"

True, it had been Helena who had initially called on Wednesday afternoon to suggest an impromptu dinner that night. However, when the other woman had returned her call that evening, apologizing for missing the call and suggesting dinner the next night, Sabina had insisted that she be allowed to pick the restaurant. She'd been vague about specifics, limiting instructions to "casual dressy".

"Er, I polled my coworkers, since I wanted to surprise you and you'd certainly be my first choice to make a recommendation."

The mousy woman laughed cheerfully as Helena waited expectantly.

"So, is Antonio's a good choice?"

Ooohh -- one of her favorites. Helena's eyes widened happily as Sabina continued. The young woman thought she detected a bit of nervousness creeping into her date's voice.

"And then I thought -- er, hoped -- that we could go back to the club for, uh, well..."

The long-haired woman pursed her lips nervously, causing Helena to lick her lips in reflex, and then finished in a rush.

"I'm not really much into dancing. It was just an after-work social thing that had me there before, actually, but I really enjoyed it with you the other week."

Sabina smiled shyly.

"In fact, I'm still thanking Frank -- he's in the next office -- for inviting me."

Charmed, Helena stepped closer to the other woman and smiled indulgently.

"That sounds great, Sabina. Let's go."

As the older woman gathered up her coat and bag, she inquired, "How have you been, Helena? How, uh, are things with your... friend?"

The dark woman smiled softly and followed her host into the hallway.

"Same ol', same ol', I guess."

There was no way she was going to -- or, hell, that she could -- get into how things were with Barbara. The redhead's sweet concern and easy intimacy of two nights before, while not really surprising Helena, had thrown her off-balance. Dozing, and then awakening, with her head on the other woman's legs and the sensation of strong, warm fingers stroking her neck, had left the young woman inflamed. As she'd first awakened, disoriented and perhaps deliberately forgetting the more recent reality of her situation with Barbara, Helena's first instinct had been to turn over, to press more deeply, more intimately against the other woman. Reality had crashed down on her a beat later -- perhaps the pain of her stitches had helped with that -- leaving the brunette poised over an abyss of emptiness and renewed loss.

Reality's good friend, Harsher Reality, had come along to give her another peek into that abyss the next day during the weekly PT session. Helena had thought she was doing okay in dealing with the session and all of the feelings that touching the older woman brought up; however, when Barbara had casually mentioned that they'd not be running sweeps that night since she had a date with her geek, the young woman realized how wrong she'd been.

From what Helena had gathered from Dinah during their workout this afternoon, the date hadn't been anywhere nearly as dressy as Saturday, but it had still been a late night. Other than that -- the young woman wasn't sure whether she appreciated it or not -- Dinah had been pretty tight-lipped about any observations she had.

Descending the stairs to the building's foyer, Sabina apparently interpreted Helena's terse reply correctly.

"Okaaay, I won't go there. May I ask what happened to your eye?"

The brunette raised a hand to the fading bruise and the stitches which were ready to be removed. She'd planned to have the stitches out by this evening but Barbara hadn't been back at the clock tower by the time she'd finished sparring with Dinah, and removing her own stitches had always been one of the young woman's major squidge zones.

For some reason, she'd also not been entirely comfortable with her teenaged sparring partner's too-eager offer to remove the stitches for her.

She spoke lightly, opening the door to the street.

"Oh, I was on the wrong end of a bottle of Johnny Walker."

The older woman gasped, "Does this kind of thing happen often?"

Helena considered the question, then answered truthfully.

"Well, fists do fly a lot in my line of work."

The older woman's response was uncertain as they made their way along the sidewalk.

"If that's the case, Helena, then I'm sorry you didn't have any librarians luring you into a desk job and..."

At the split-second hesitation, the younger woman glanced over, easily detecting how her companion was coloring prettily in the twilight.

"...punching your due date slips."

Helena barked out a quick laugh at the other woman's flirtation. Almost immediately, she sobered, thinking about a certain red-haired English teacher who had so influenced her in other ways.

Seemed like there was no way to get away from having Barbara in her head, under her skin.

"Nah. I think I'm better suited for what I'm doing. But, I'm always open to that due date thing if you're offering..."

A fleeting four and a half hours later, the two women re-ascended the stairs to the loft, hands twined. At the door, Sabina dug interminably through her bag in pursuit of her keys while Helena watched bemusedly.

She had to admit that her date's slightly scattered intellect and gentle wit had shone through during an enjoyable dinner. Not too surprisingly, a distinct self-consciousness had initially demonstrated itself at the club until Helena patiently coaxed a much more relaxed -- and sensual -- side out. By their final dance, the two had practically been glued together, moving seamlessly to Chris Isaacs "Wicked Games".

The older woman offered an exasperated sigh and finally gave up her pretense. She put on her thick glasses and peered into her bag, almost immediately locating the errant keys. Her words were slightly embarrassed.

"A-ha. In plain sight if you're not half blind."

Expression serious, Helena gently plucked the ring of keys from the small hand and then glided forward, slowly backing her companion to the door. She leaned to one side to insert the door key, but, instead of turning it, she slid a hairsbreadth closer to whisper in Sabina's ear.

"I think your glasses... and you in them... are sexy."

Observing the small, surprised "O" of the other woman's mouth from close range, the young woman licked her lips. She then emphasized her sincerity by placing her mouth gently against the older woman's.

"Very sexy."

The kiss was soft and sweet. The touch of tongues meeting for the first time was almost tentative. Still, the sudden pounding low in Helena's belly and Sabina's quiet whimper evidenced both women's enjoyment.

On the dance floor that evening, Helena had learned -- with Sabina dancing in front of her, back pressed to her -- that she could almost encircle the small woman's waist with her hands. In the process, she'd also happily discovered how amazingly sensitive the other woman's stomach seemed to be. Intent on verifying this bit of information, the young woman raised her hands, resting them lightly on her companion's waist and brushing her thumbs softly against the barely rounded flesh under silky fabric.

The response was immediate. And enthusiastic.

Helena felt the other woman's arms wrap over her shoulders, hands locking behind her neck. She easily detected the light tremor that coursed through the small woman's body and the softly breathed sigh.

"Do you want to come in, Helena?"

Brown eyes blinked shyly behind thick lenses, and the older woman lightened her tone.

"Maybe you could help me figure out where to put the cathedral?"

The brunette shut her eyes, knowing they'd augmented for the tenth time in the last few hours, and breathed deeply of her companion's scent. Soap and a hint of White Diamonds perfume and the clean smell of skin. And something else -- desire.

God, yes, she wanted to come in.

She'd spent the last nine days in lonely emptiness. Since her sweet interlude on the couch with Barbara two nights before, she'd been simply aching with loss and need. Her time on the dance floor with Sabina -- Helena thought they'd both demonstrated some pretty good moves -- had inflamed her. Now, pressed against pliant flesh, aware of the almost unconscious rocking of the older woman's hips against her thigh, savoring the unmistakable signs of her date's willingness, Helena was close to melting.

The brunette buried her face against Sabina's neck, kissing sharply then sucking tenderly. She experienced the heat flowing through the other woman against her mouth and drank in the small woman's muted whimpers like a fine wine.

No doubt about it: she couldn't deny the attraction between them. Somewhat to her own surprise, Helena realized that there was also something more than that: the stirrings of a genuine affection for the other woman.

Deciding that she liked the feeling, the young woman raised her head to trace the shell of her companion's ear with her lips, simultaneously teasing her hands slowly up Sabina's ribcage and brushing her thumbs to the sides of her breasts.

"Oh, god, Helena. What you do to me..."

The words were the same -- or too similar to dispute -- as those that she'd heard two weeks before, words which had been spoken so passionately that Helena had had no choice but to open herself to anything and everything that the speaker had wanted.

The time, the voice -- high and breathy -- was not the smooth, knowing mezzo-soprano which nightly still sent waves of longing through the dark woman.

Golden eyes squeezed shut, and Helena slowly raised her head to focus eyes that were once-again blue on eyes that were brown, not emerald. Fighting an instinct to cry, the young woman drew in several slow, deep breaths and grounded herself.

"Helena? Did I do something wrong?"

The young woman detected only genuine concern -- well, maybe just the tiniest hint of frustration -- in the question. She chewed at her lip and then leaned in again to kiss the older woman softly.

"No, Sabina. You didn't do anything wrong. It's just -- "

Just what? Just that she still had another woman in her head, in her pores, under her skin? Just that she had a voice in her head every night -- whether over the comm set or in her dreams -- and was having a helluva time letting go?

Unable to say any of that, Helena lightened her tone and moved to purr into her companion's ear.

"Just put the cathedral by your bed, and think of me when you see it."

Slowly lowering her arms from around Helena's neck, Sabina spoke thoughtfully.

"Whenever I see the amazing lines and the sweeping arches of the cathedrals, it makes my spirit feel like it's soaring."

She reached back and turned the key in the lock as Helena dropped her hands and stepped back regretfully.

"You make me feel like that, too, Helena."

Blushing to the roots of her hair and completely tongue-tied by the sweet words, the young woman barely managed her farewell, barely managed to avoid tripping on the stairs on her way out. Finally on the street, she drew the cool night air into her lungs, and carefully tucked the last few moments away, deep inside herself where she kept the memories she treasured.

Determinedly shaking off the bittersweet melancholy that was encircling her, she checked the time.

Just a little after 11pm. Plenty of time to run home, get changed, and do some soaring of her own.

Part 22

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