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 22

Kneeling on the edge of a rooftop with one long leg extended in front of her, senses acutely attuned to any sound or movement on the street five stories below, Helena wondered -- not for the first time that evening -- if this idea would really fly.

Sure, Barbara had gotten pretty good at pinning down when New Gotham's prankster with a grudge against information sources would strike. She'd even been right about the target the last few times.

But, this dark and foggy Friday night?

The cyber genius was pretty sure that the next attack would be against a television station; however, she hadn't been able to determine with any certainty which of the city's three stations might be targeted. So, here Helena was, patrolling the block where WGTM and WGTH were located; and Dinah was planted three blocks over, watching for suspicious activity at WNEW.

A fucking sit and stare job again. Or, more accurately, a stroll and stare job.

Helena was really beginning to look forward to catching the party -- or parties -- responsible for the recent spate of pranks. If nothing else, she had some choice words to share with them about how little she appreciated spending her nights sucking fog and staring at vacant streets.

A thought flitted through the brunette's forebrain -- something about activity -- and she smiled.

Kid was getting good at that.

Rather than straining a lobe trying to mentally shout a reply, the young woman spoke aloud as she straightened up, ready to move.

"I missed most of that, Canary. You got activity?"

She didn't even try to hide her hopeful tone.

<"Oh, I'm sorry. No, I don't. I was asking if you had any activity yet?">

"Oh yeah, sorry you've missed all the fun. I've just been kicking butt here."

Realizing that it her boredom wasn't Dinah's fault, Helena toned down the snarkiness.

"Or, more like, I've been trying to keep my butt from falling asleep."

The words were gentler, but the brunette couldn't avoid the disgust in her voice. It was almost 11pm, and if something didn't happen to screw up the late news, she figured that she'd be back out here again tomorrow.

Barbara seemed to have no difficulty registering the sentiment behind her younger partner's words.

<"I'm sorry, Huntress, Canary. It seems that I was wrong about the target or the date... or both. But, just to be certain, let's give it another few minutes.">

Instantly sorry that her peevish whining had put the trace of self-doubt into her mentor's voice, Helena instantly piped up.

"No worries. I understand that fog is good for the skin anyway."

Two laughs echoed over her comm set, and she smiled.

"Okay, Canary. Let's go again. Your turn."

<"Hmmm. Okay, I've got one.">

The teenager's voice turned sing-song.

<"I spy with my little eye something big, starting with a 'B'.">

The brunette perked up, considering the myriad possibilities.

"Breasts?", she inquired hopefully, jumping to the roof of WGTH.

Dinah's somewhat indignant squeak echoed through the earpiece, nearly drowning out a softy, wry chuckle from the other party on the line.

<"He -- Huntress!">

"Okay, okay. Sheesh!"

She pretended to think for a moment.


This time, the throaty chuckle was clearly audible, warming the dark vigilante. A pained sigh from the teenager followed rapidly.

<"I'll give you a hint: Vroom, Vroom.">

Nerves still dancing from the sound of the redhead's response, Helena flashed an evil grin into the night. She modulated her voice to something she figured resembled disingenuousness, although she wasn't positive, not being personally familiar with the concept.

"Oh, I've got it. Is it..."

She drew it out.

"A bustiere?"

Barbara's unrestrained laugh silenced the teenager's protest.

<"Give it up, Canary. You do not want to know what else she can come up wi-- Wait a minute...">

The older woman was suddenly all business, and Helena snapped to alertness. When Barbara spoke again, her voice was slightly distracted and accompanied by the sound of rapid-fire typing.

<"Can either of you take a look at the eleven o'clock news broadcasts from a monitor at your location?">


<"Uh, yeah, I think so. Why?">

<"It appears that my assumptions about methodology were off...">

The redhead trailed off, and Helena dropped to a ledge to peer through a cracked window at WGTH. She immediately realized that Barbara had been dead to rights about the night and the target... targets, just a little off about the nature of the prank.

Somehow, the disgruntled prankster had hijacked into the broadcast, randomly replacing the audio feed with a looped message. Specifically, the scripted words of the very surprised looking anchor desk members were periodically being drowned out by the word "Bullshit".

The brunette watched for a moment, hearing Dinah's gasp over her receiver -- Guess the Kid had found a monitor to watch, too -- and chuckled softly.

"All three stations, Oracle?"

Seemingly impossibly, the sound of clicking keys got faster.

<"Yes, Huntress. I'm accessing the satellite uplinks for the stations and should be able to override the rogue signal in just another minute.">

Suspecting that her older partner was underrating her skills again, Helena cocked an eye at her watch. Sure enough, thirty seconds later, the "Technical Difficulties" message disappeared from the screen, and she watched two puzzled newscasters resume normal operations.

"Nice work there, Oracle," she murmured admiringly, heading toward Dinah's post.

<"Thank you, Huntress, but I wish I'd seen that coming earlier.">

The dark figure shook her head, wondering when Red would cut herself some slack.

<"However, on the bright side, at least this attack skipped the literal element that was dumped at The Ledger.">

Recalling that night, specifically the activities that had transpired after she'd returned from her smelly reconnaissance job, the brunette almost missed her footing as she landed silently next to her blonde partner.

Damn, she really needed to get herself together.

Noticing the teenager mouthing something, she furrowed her brows until she made out the word.

'Bus'? Huh? Oh, the game...

Helena rolled her eyes dismissively -- like she hadn't figured out that was what Dinah had been spying -- and spoke briskly.

"Anything we can do here?"

<"No, I think this caper is pretty well wrapped up. Since nothing else is going on, why don't you call it a night?">

Grumpily wiping some moisture from the collar of her coat, Helena nodded at the blonde, and the two women turned toward the clock tower. Within minutes, both were hovering by the Delphi while Barbara continued to dissect the rogue signal.

"Well, so far I've traced it back six hops, to this weather satellite. Unfortunately, it's going to take a while from there."

Smiling and heading toward the kitchen in search of sustenance, the brunette spoke confidently over her shoulder.

"You'll get it. Just look how fast you hacked in and cancelled the signal tonight."

The brunette half-listened to the two women's continued discussion about satellite pirates and signal traces as she rummaged through the cupboards. Eventually, somewhere around her third pop tart, she heard Dinah heading off to her room. In short order, the older woman appeared in the kitchen, suture kit in her lap.

"Ready to lose those stitches, Hel? I'm sorry that the staff meeting kept me from being here yesterday afternoon to get them for you."

The redhead was well aware of her protege's particular squeamishness about removing her own stitches.

The young woman chased her final bite of pastry with a healthy swig of chocolate milk and rotated her chair to face the other woman.

"No sweat, Babs. I think the whole Bride of Frankenstein look is making a comeback. In fact, you think you can pierce my neck and fit me for some bolts?"

Barbara chuckled quietly and dug into the medical kit.

"I believe that one unconventional piercing above the neck is enough, Sweetie," the redhead murmured absently, referring to Helena's tongue piercing, as she swabbed the tiny suture scissors with alcohol.

Helena watched those slender hands deftly soak a cotton swab with alcohol and reach up. Barbara spoke again, voice an intimate purr, as she dabbed at the brunette's cut.

"Although, you certainly know how to use the one you have."

The young woman shut her eyes and grit her teeth against the bitterness in her mouth. Barbara didn't know the half of it.

She sensed the older woman stretching up, felt soft breath blown against the wound as the redhead cooled the burn of the alcohol. Four quick snips were quickly followed by almost unnoticeable tugs to remove the stitches, and then warm fingers probed gently at the area.

Helena squeezed her eyes tighter. The other woman's closeness, her familiar scent, the gentle touches: they were all maddening.

"You're such a tenderfoot about this, Helena."

"Hurts," the younger woman growled, not really meaning the alcohol or the stitches.

There was absolute silence -- absolute stillness -- then, but Helena didn't dare look, knowing that she'd be presenting yellow, feral eyes. Senses keyed to any sound or motion, she was still startled when the other woman trailed her fingers down her face and under her chin.

"It doesn't have to, Sweetie."

The voice was so gentle, so... inviting. Helena didn't dare think about just what the invitation was for.

"Please look at me, Helena."

Aw, fuck.

An almost inaudible whine escaped the brunette, and she clenched her teeth tightly against the helpless chattering of her jaw.

"I... I can't," she managed to growl out roughly.

The older woman's reply was quiet but implacable.

"You can. Let me see you, Hel."

There was simply nothing the younger woman could do in the face of that request. Clenching her hands into fists against her leather-clad thighs, painfully conscious of her heart thudding leadenly in her chest, the brunette pried open her eyes. Still, she kept her gaze downcast.

Porcelain features swam into view when the redhead ducked down slightly, catching golden eyes with green. Amazed, Helena heard the other woman's harsh inhalation, saw the quick flare of her nostrils. Disbelieving -- she couldn't be reading this right -- she raised her head a fraction and watched those beautiful features transform to hard, ascetic lines.

Warm fingers crept up her jaw to caress her cheek, and Helena tensed, all of her muscles clenching in sympathy with the aching desire billowing through her throat and chest and belly.

"Relax, Hel. This is just us."

The voice was smoky, barely hinting at the fire banked behind dark, dark emerald eyes.

Helena struggled to stay still when Barbara's thumb came to her bottom lip, stroking gently, insistently, creating heat... and want.

Wh-- what the fuck was Red doing? Didn't she know...?

In seconds, the dark woman felt sweat begin to trickle down her throat, down the valley between suddenly aching breasts, and she couldn't stand another moment. She had to have more.

The young woman opened her mouth, just barely, just enough to draw in the scent of the skin that was so tantalizingly close. Somehow, without planning or conscious thought, she touched her tongue to the faintly calloused digit that rested against her lip.

It was too much. It wasn't nearly enough.

"Barbara -- "

Helena knew that she had whispered something, knew that it was a plea of some sort.

For strength? For forgiveness?

For more.

She shut her eyes and sucked softly at the digit that had somehow insinuated itself between her teeth. Barely, just barely, she held back a soft moan as she felt herself swelling and expanding and... aching in response to what her own action suggested.


So quiet, the brunette wasn't sure that the other woman truly had spoken. The sensation of being pulled forward to meet lush, demanding lips removed any doubt.

Finally unclenching her hands, Helena raised them to stroke the sides of the older woman's face, to trail through that thick crimson mane, to caress her jaw, and -- eventually -- to cup the back of her neck. She distantly heard her own mewling growl of raw want as she plundered the redhead's mouth.

Somehow, she forced herself to gentle her touch.

Somehow, she broke the kiss and teased her mouth against Barbara's face, brushing softly, so gently, over and over against impossibly soft skin. The brunette's lips tingled -- blood rushing to the site of tender torture -- as they delicately whispered against the almost imperceptibly fine down of the redhead's cheek. The young woman parted her lips, drawing in the ineffable scent of the other woman and tucking the moment away to treasure forever.

A ragged murmur drew her attention from the minute sensations that she'd been focused on.

"Please, Hel -- Kiss me again..."

And she did.

The women's mouths mated, perfectly fitted, pressure absolute. Their tongues danced and stroked against each other, transfixing the young woman with the total perfection of the union. The kiss deepened and drew on, drew Helena in -- and under -- until eventually, inevitably, she fell.

On the floor, on her knees before the woman she worshipped, the young woman felt her control slipping away. She was drowning in her own need, and she was so terribly, painfully close to the one person who could save her. She straightened and stretched up, tugging urgently -- clumsily -- at the hem of Barbara's tee shirt.

"Oh, fuck, Barbara -- "

Was that rough whimper her own voice?

"-- I need to..."

Helena leaned in, barely yanking the tee up and out of the way before her mouth tasted soft, sweet flesh and her tongue danced over a pebble-hard peak. Arousal coursed hotly through her veins, pooling between her thighs, and she rocked her pelvis forward slowly.


Ohhh, god --

The taste of the other woman fueled the dark figure's ravenous hunger.

Ohhh, fuck --

The sensation of Barbara's hands, the sound of her voice, unraveled her.

Barbara's hands came to her head, winding fiercely through dark hair and clutching her closer. Her whisper slid like velvet over the younger woman's skin, down her nerve endings and directly to her center.

"Oh, sweet heavens, Hel. That feels ama-- Harder..."

The brunette almost exploded at the plea. She opened her mouth wider, practically ready to devour the older woman, then froze.

Oh, god.

What the hell was she doing?

Oh, fuck.

What the hell was she thinking?

Cringing in horror at her own complete loss of control, the young woman yanked her hands from the other woman's waist and locked them against own stomach. It took a fair measure of her not-inconsiderable strength to pull back from the redhead's firm grip, but she managed to distance herself a hand's-breadth from where she wanted to be. Grinding her fists into the hollow ache in her own belly, Helena spoke some of the hardest words she knew.

"I -- I can't, Barbara."

Golden eyes peeked through thick lashes to find green fixed on her, puzzlement and desire at war in the gaze. The brunette worked to explain.

"It's not right. What about--?"

For a fleeting second, Helena was certain that she'd witnessed an expression of infinite sadness flitting across the redhead's features. She immediately forgot about it when a warm -- very warm -- smile softened the older woman's hawk like visage and the confusion cleared from those arresting eyes.

The older woman laughed softly.

"She and I aren't... married, Hel. Just--"

Green eyes tracked briefly to the left, and the brunette thought she detected the faintest trace of something... sharp in the words that her mentor pulled from her memory.

"--having some fun together. In addition, Helena,"

Now, the voice grew smoky, dizzying the younger woman.

"...she's not here tonight, and I'm not inviting her."

Helena blinked, trying to understand... or at least to find the strength to walk -- hell, even crawl -- away.

As she struggled, the brunette witnessed the other woman drawing in a slow, measured breath. From long association, she knew that the redhead was marshalling her own courage for... something.

The older woman's next utterance was so hesitant, yet the power of the words rocked Helena to her very soul.

"I know that I'm not... That you have..."

The stumble couldn't be missed. Nor could the desire.

"Stay, Hel. Be with me."

Dropping her gaze, the young woman ignored the rent growing inside her and briefly wondered what price would be paid by -- or was it for? -- her own weak heart.

Ultimately, inches from the other woman, it simply didn't matter. She simply didn't have the will or the desire to leave. Instead, she pushed aside those soft and painful emotions, swallowed the emotion in her chest, and focused on the moment.

If Red wanted to have some fun... well, fuck... Everybody knew she was the girl for the job, right? Even if-- if she really didn't feel like that girl when she was with Barbara.

Barbara must have seen something in her face, felt something in the bow of her head.

The next moment, the young woman felt herself being guided back to the older woman. With the softest of sighs, she gave in, surrendering to the nirvana at her lips. She drank hungrily, avid in her need, and the contact began to fill her, to loosen the hollowness in her core. She trailed her hands to the other woman's hips, clasping roughly at the denim of Barbara's jeans, fingers burning and itching for something more.

For long moments -- it could have been hours -- Helena lost herself in touch and taste, floating to the sounds of the redhead's increasingly ragged breathing and the pressure of strong fingers jerking and trembling minutely against her scalp. At some point, she became aware of something more -- too close and too powerful to ignore: the unmistakable scent of her partner's arousal.

A bolt of something primal and irresistible shot directly to the young woman's center, and she squirmed out of the redhead's grasp. Consumed with the need to lose herself in the older woman, Helena lowered her face to the denim-clad thighs before her. She heard the hitch in Barbara's breathing and couldn't escape the fear that was suddenly raining down at her.

Balancing on a thin ribbon between the redhead's terrors and her own desire to know... to show Barbara how much... the brunette froze. And there she waited, trembling, until something -- perhaps it was a tiny change in the older woman's breathing, perhaps it was some dark part of her own soul seizing control -- something shifted the balance for the young woman.

She shut her eyes, nosing softly at the other woman's center, and her mouth watered with a ravenous hunger. Rearing back onto her heels, she fumbled frantically at the button fly of the redhead's soft jeans, mentally berating her sudden lack of coordination.

Didn't know quite what the problem was; normally she was a helluva a lot smoother. But, didn't matter; she was getting there. Two buttons down, three to go...

Long fingers suddenly covered her hands -- Helena easily detected the faint trembling in her partner's normally steady hands -- and the redhead spoke, voice rough with pain.

"Don't, Helena. I can't... It won't..."

The young woman stilled her movements but didn't move her hands away. Instead, she shut her eyes and drew in a breath, biting harshly at the inside of her cheek. The fear and self-defeat in the beloved woman's voice tore at her heart; her own need -- to know, to have this... just this once -- clawed sharply at her chest.

At that moment, Helena knew, without doubt or false pretenses, that she would give -- and do -- anything just to have a chance...

Eyes burning, unable to draw a breath, the brunette rocked forward, curling into Barbara's lap, curling around her own empty desire. Swallowing the blood in her mouth, she felt the older woman exhale and begin to relax her rigid defense. The dark woman finally drew in her own deep breath and immediately discovered what a mistake that was.

She was too close, her control too tenuous.

Damning the other woman's fear -- and her own conscience -- Helena again rocked back to fix hungry golden eyes on green. She set her jaw, breathed slowly, and held the other woman's gaze. Without words, she telegraphed her desire... and her need.

There was no way -- abso-fucking-lutely no way -- that the young woman would take, that she would force... or do any harm to the other woman.

She would, however, beg.

Tension vibrating through her limbs, she continued to look up -- a supplicant, praying that just once she be allowed...

Helena waited, each heart beat a blow and every breath an agony, until red lashes lowered, accepting, over eyes filled with fear and pain.


The whisper was an entreaty... and a hosanna.

Again, Helena waited, unable to move, until liquid green eyes rose again. Deliberately, inviting the other woman to do the same, Helena dropped her gaze to her hands. She stroked down the other woman's lean thighs to her knees and, swallowing her soft growl, carefully spread the redhead's legs. Resting her left hand lightly on a firm quadricep, she trailed her right up the inseam of the redhead's thigh. When she felt Barbara's quick inhalation, the young woman was consumed by the fire racing through her veins and along her nerves. She could tolerate her own slow, soft movements no longer.

Lunging forward on the balls of her feet, she swiftly rotated her right hand, cupping the older woman roughly through her jeans. The heat, even through the thick fabric, seared her palm, and she rose from her crouch to thrust once, harshly, as she bent to the older woman's ear.

"Tell me you don't feel this, Barbara. Tell me and -- "

The young woman panted, struggling for the words to promise what she least wanted.

"Tell me, and I'll stop."

Helena twisted her head enough to see the redhead's face, and, again, she waited. When her own hungry, feral eyes witnessed the expression of wonder spreading across the redhead's tense features, she bit her lip and blinked away something in her eyes.

Barbara finally spoke, voice as shaky as Helena ever remembered hearing it.

"Oh, Hel -- Don't st... "

Hand still firmly placed but unmoving, the brunette lowered her mouth to nip at the redhead's jaw. She felt -- and heard -- the woman swallow.

"Sweetie? Can you do that... harder?"

The request sent a jolt of electricity coursing through the brunette, and she grunted softly, thrusting again, harder. She was rewarded by a quiet whimper and strong hands moving to her shoulders to grip her with punishing force.

It felt amazing.

Helena drew back her upper lip in an ecstatic snarl and lunged forward to rake her teeth softly against the straining tendons of her older woman's neck. And, again, she thrust, feeling -- actually feeling -- a phantom echo of the movement between her own thighs.

Unwilling to bear the awkward position, needing more contact, the brunette abruptly ceased her motion and wrapped one arm behind her partner's back, the other under her legs. She lifted effortlessly and turned, lowering the older woman to the table. In a blink, she crawled up next to the redhead and lowered herself over her.

Helena cradled Barbara's head in her left hand and dropped her right to the juncture of the other woman's thighs, again touching firmly through soft denim. Acutely conscious of the heat suffusing her own abdomen and chest, she ground her breasts against the other woman's, earning a heartfelt exclamation in the process.

"Oh god -- Your mouth, Hel!"

And, then, Barbara pulled her into an endless kiss, and she lost herself in a tongue that mapped her completely, in the other woman's ragged whimpers, in the expression of joy in emerald eyes. Somehow, without even noticing that it was happening, Helena's own excitement -- her own intense pleasure in touching and pleasing Barbara like this -- snuck up on her. A trembling, burning, swelling arousal suffused her limbs... her organs and nerves... her soul.

Fighting the waves within herself that threatened to sweep her away, the young woman tore her mouth from the other woman's and dug her chin sharply against a strong shoulder. She worked to maintain a firm, steady rhythm for the older woman and flexed her own pelvic muscles.

"Jesus, Barbara -- I'm... I'm gonna... "

Distantly, she registered the amazed disbelief in the other woman's voice.

"But, I haven't even touched..."

The brunette bit her tongue, so close to telling the other woman that it didn't matter -- just because she was touching her. She swallowed the words and then almost swallowed her own tongue at the breathless voice in her ear.

"Oh, god, Hel. Show me what you're feeling."

And then, softer, "Help me feel it, too..."

The force of her own orgasm stunned the young woman.

For a minute -- maybe two -- she lost her rhythm while she writhed within a body-stuttering climax. She gasped, then moaned -- damned near sobbed -- at the intense pleasure of being with Barbara like this, and the waves continued to flow through her.

By the time her body allowed her to settle -- to breathe again, the young woman realized that yet another trip to the dry cleaners would be required for her pants. Hell, maybe her socks and shoes, too.

But, there was no time -- or inclination -- for the brunette to think any further about her own response; her partner's restless shifting recalled her to more important things. Helena resumed her motion, placing her thigh against the back of her hand to thrust more forcefully. Briefly, she buried her mouth against the older woman's breast, sucking fiercely through the thin cotton of the tee shirt until the tremors in her partner's upper body forced her to raise her head -- to see... and to know.

Helena gasped. For one wild moment, she wondered if she would spontaneously climax again.

The older woman was utterly lost in her passion, red head thrashing, hands clawing almost brutally at Helena's back. Her iron will was evidenced by the cries she held behind her tightly clenched teeth.

Willing the other woman to let go, the brunette swooped down and ravaged that stern mouth beneath her, demanding that the redhead open to her.

After that, she begged.

"Please... please, Barbara. You're so fuckin' beautiful. Please, just let it happen... Let go..."

Whispering and pleading in counterpoint to her thrusts, Helena felt the other woman's muscles tensing... then trembling... then quaking. She watched green eyes open, wondrous and unseeing, and blinked her own tears away. She witnessed the other woman succumbing to her passion and knew it was time.

Reverently, the young woman lowered her mouth to swallow the scream that had been too long coming.

God. Damn.

Barbara really -- really -- knew how to rock her world.

A heavenly instant later, unavoidably aware of the redhead's almost boneless lassitude, Helena gradually -- regretfully -- slowed, then stopped, her motions. She continued to cradle the older woman's head in her left hand, and raised her other to stroke the redhead's cheek tenderly. Unable to hold herself in any longer, she hid her face against her partner's neck, kissing Barbara's sweat -- and her own falling tears -- away.

"Thank you."

Helena wasn't sure she'd meant to speak aloud, but the words floated out on a whisper. Strong hands came to her hair, coaxing her up, forcing her to face shining green eyes. Barbara opened her mouth to speak, then stopped. She licked her lips and quietly cleared her throat, and the brunette smiled at the blush that crept into her cheeks. Finally, the older woman spoke quietly.

"I think... if anybody should be doing some thanking, Sweetheart, it's me."

The young woman ducked her head again, shaking it minutely from side to side, wishing she had the words or the facility to make the redhead understand. Her pondering about how and why were abruptly cut short when Barbara spoke again, this time, tone light and teasing.

"Perhaps you can share some pointers with Sabina."

Chapter 23

Although she wasn't quite sure how to interpret what the other woman had just said, Helena decided that, at the very least, Barbara really -- really -- sucked at pillow talk.

As carefully and casually as she was able -- the sudden shakiness in her arms and legs was kind of a hindrance -- the young woman raised herself up and rolled away from the redhead. She sat on the edge of the table for a beat, then lowered her feet to the floor and glanced from the other woman to her chair, raising her eyebrows in question.

The brunette admitted that she'd been a little... forceful in moving Barbara to the table. Knowing how the older woman absolutely hated to be "handled", Helena wasn't sure how she'd prefer to return to her chair.

Pushing herself up on the table, the redhead smiled and raised her arms for a lift.

"I'm not certain that I have the muscle coordination to do it myself just now, Hel."

The words were accompanied by a slightly abashed laugh.

Smiling tightly, Helena wordlessly transferred Barbara to her chair. She sucked up her courage then and decided to tackle the redhead's earlier teasing comment.

"Uh, a minute ago? Who?"

Hell, maybe the younger woman simply hadn't heard right. She had been kind of... dazed, and it wasn't like she'd talked about Sabina with Barbara -- or anyone else -- yet.

When the redhead flashed her befuddled look in response to the question, Helena felt herself melt a little. She was such a sucker for scatterbrained brainiacs. Especially one particular redheaded, green-eyed brainiac.

"Uhm, 'pointers'?", she supplied.

Barbara laughed and rolled her eyes at herself.

"Sabina, Hel. You know, the woman I've been-- Oh!"

Awareness seemed to dawn on the older woman, and she blushed lightly.

"I guess I have primarily been referring to her by her nickname, haven't I?"

Dark brows lowered as Helena considered the odds of two different women, both working in computer-stuff, both with the same name, existing in New Gotham. Hell, given how fucked up the city usually was, maybe -- just maybe -- there was a chance...

"How do you get the nickname Gem out of", she made quote marks in the air, " 'Sabina'?"

"Sabina Amethyst Gimler. She claims that she was always so embarrassed by her neo-hippie parents' choice for her middle name, and given the beginning of her last name..."

Yep, Sabina Gimler. That was her Sabina, too.

Allowing the redhead's words to wash past her, the young woman picked up her empty milk glass from the table -- she idly wondered how she'd managed to avoid knocking it over a few minutes earlier -- and turned to the sink to rinse it out.

It figured.

It just frikkin' figured, didn't it? Hell, it was kind of funny in a totally cosmic, isn't-it-ironic kind of way.

Helena thought that she'd wait until later to laugh. Maybe in twenty years or so.

"...and, since we're seeing each other on Sunday, that's why I was teasing you about offering a few pointers. Heaven knows", the redhead chucked wryly, "anybody would consider themselves fortunate to get... pointers from you."

Still facing the sink, the brunette clearly heard the older woman swallow. Her next words were so quietly spoken that Helena wondered if Barbara realized she'd spoken aloud.

"I know that I do."

Helena managed to paste on a smile and turned, wiping her hands on a dish towel. She leaned back against the counter, deliberately dropping her voice to a sultry drawl.

"Barbara Gordon, I can't imagine that anybody who's with you would need... cliff notes. But, maybe,"

She paused a beat to do the Dudley Dooright waggle with her right eyebrow.

"...maybe you should warn her to bring along oxygen and smelling salts."

The older woman laughed brightly and asked, "For her, or for me, Sweetie? Although..."

Blue eyes narrowed speculatively when the redhead's expression turned pensive.

"...it may not be necessary. G-- Sabina seemed a little distant... or distracted, I suppose, on Wednesday. It may be that I simply haven't held her interest."

Oh. Crap.

Helena couldn't believe that she was having this conversation.

Hell, she was still trying to figure out what those exquisite moments they'd just shared on the kitchen table meant. Of course, that whole... interlude might not have meant anything, at least to the older woman. Helena was beginning to think that the redhead had simply added "fuck buddies" to the complicated list of terms describing their relationship and wasn't thinking anything more about it.

But, right now, Barbara looked so uncertain and disappointed, and the younger woman realized that her dearest friend was nervous and a little scared and was probably hoping that her wild and randy younger partner might have some timely tips for her.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

How the fuck was she supposed to offer the woman she loved so desperately advice on winning over the woman she'd just started to think might...

Helena carefully focused on refolding the dish towel, trying to be absolutely certain that the edges were even. Finally, she looked up and met those breathtaking green eyes.

"Well, two things, Red. If that is the case -- and, you don't know that. She could just have had a crappy day at work, right?"

She waited patiently for the other woman's grudging nod before continuing.

"But, if that's the case, then she's obviously not smart enough to be with you anyway. And,"

Now, the brunette forced a knowing smile to creep across her features.

"If it's not the case, then -- oxygen and smelling salts. For her."

Turning to place the towel by the sink, she noticed that the tense set of the older woman's shoulders was easing. The young woman took a moment to practice her breathing before spinning around easily and moving toward the kitchen door. The redhead's next teasingly purred words brought her up short.

"We do have O-2 and ammonium carbonate in the medical supplies, Helena, if you think you might need them."

The look which accompanied the words, raw and hungry, left little doubt about the older woman's intent. Helena's stomach flip-flopped, and she frantically swallowed against the lump growing in her throat.

She rotated smoothly to face the other woman, and somewhere she found a smile.

"Uhm, after everything, Babs..."

She swallowed with difficulty and gestured vaguely, hoping that the older woman would think she was referring to their recent table sports.

"...I think it might kill me."

Helena honestly didn't know how she managed to speak the painful truth so playfully. The other woman smiled softly -- an expression that was somehow both deeply pleased and sad -- and the brunette spoke again.

"I think, maybe, I'll just head out... Crash, you know."

When the redhead reached out and clasped her hand, bringing it to her beautiful mouth to bestow a tender kiss, Helena had to bite her lip to keep from whimpering. Barbara looked a little puzzled, but her response was accepting.

"If that's what you want, Sweetheart."

Helena followed her partner toward the living area, pausing in the doorway with her hand on the light switch. She prodded at the redhead's gentle words for an instant, knowing that what she really wanted, above all else, was to curl up in bed with Barbara where she belonged -- that night and always. She wanted to forget the last few weeks and, once again, to be able to believe in the pretty dream she'd fallen into so naturally three weeks before.

The older woman was offering her some of that, a piece of it, for this night... and maybe others. She knew that, if she could only say the word, Barbara would take her to her bed. She knew the attention would be thorough and the pleasure would be exquisite, but she wasn't sure it would outweigh the pain of giving herself so totally when the older woman was only...

Helena clenched her jaw, blinked her eyes, and forced herself to think the word.


Yeah, afterward, she could curl up in Barbara's bed and pretend that she believed in the pretty lie... at least until morning. But -- the brunette swallowed thickly -- what was the point? Weighing the temptation against everything she wanted, Helena couldn't do it. She didn't want bits and pieces and crumbs. They only kept her hungry and wanting more than she'd ever have.

Helena realized that she must have been thinking too long, frozen in place too glaringly, when a throaty voice broke into her dark reverie.

"Are you coming, Helena?"

Without replying, the young woman snapped off the kitchen light and moved into the living area. She bent jerkily to retrieve her coat, and for an instant Helena feared that her legs were going to give out as her body screamed at her to wrap up in a ball, to curl protectively around her tender soft side. The young woman ruthlessly quashed the feeling and sucked it up -- She was a freakin' super hero, right? -- and jauntily slipped into her duster.

Still, when she glanced over to the French doors leading to the balcony, she admitted that she honestly didn't have anything left in her for her usual mode of travel. She walked to the elevator and pushed the button.


Turning, she found Barbara regarding her curiously, a trace of worry in emerald eyes.

"Are you alright?"

Fuck, no.

The brunette exhaled noisily and flashed a lopsided grin. As usual, she found it simplest to go with the truth.

"I'm sorry, Barbara. I didn't mean to zone out on you there."

In two quick steps, she was beside the older woman and dropped lightly to one knee.

"I guess I'm still a little shell-shocked and all."

She waggled her eyebrows playfully and added, "Maybe I should take a hit of oxygen, huh?"

When the redhead chuckled, Helena rose and brushed a kiss to her cheek. She hesitated and then, again, spoke the truth.

"I meant it, uh, earlier, Barbara. Thank you."

For some reason, an eerie echo of words spoken two years ago by her determinedly independent partner whispered through the young woman's mind.

Very softly, she added, "And, you never hold me down, Red."

The young woman smiled tenderly at the puzzled blush flooding her partner's features and then stepped into the waiting elevator, lifting a hand in farewell. She watched the doors close, hoping that the walk home through the dark streets of the city would allow her to suck in enough oxygen to clear her head.

Five hours later, she'd walked and walked without knowing where and -- a little unfairly, she thought -- still didn't feel any less shell-shocked. Finally back at the Dark Horse, Helena let herself into her apartment, vaguely aware that the sun was just beginning to climb over the horizon.

The young woman dropped her coat by the door, then kicked off her boots and shimmied out of her pants. Clad only in her shirt and underwear, she grabbed the stereo remote and powered on the radio out of habit, hoping that the inane chatter of morning DJs and traffic reports would make her apartment seem less solitary.

The dark figure padded out to the kitchen, half-listening to Audio Andy's daily plans to dispose of another truckload of nerf balls, and snagged the jug of orange juice from the fridge. Chugging deeply, she noticed that the light on her answering machine was winking at her. Helena slowly recapped the juice, then walked over to the machine, eyeing it like it was a deadly cobra.

Correction. A deadly, Ebola virus-carrying cobra.

Mentally cursing that whole cat-curiosity thing, the brunette reached out and hit the Play button.


<"Uh, hi.">

The voice was bright, a little nervous.

<"This is, er, it's Sabina. I, uhm, well, I'm terrible at this, but I really enjoyed seeing you last night...">

Helena checked the digital display, noting that the older woman had called just after she'd headed out the window for sweeps the night before.

<"...and I was, er, I wondered if you're free tonight? Or, maybe this is too short notice, so Saturday would be good, too. Perhaps we could visit NGU, like you suggested? Or, well,">

The brunette clearly heard her caller taking a breath. She smiled, figuring that the small woman had been mentally regrouping.

<"Well, anything would be fine. And, I suppose I should just stop talking now before your machine cuts me off. Because..">

The soft laugh was tentative, yet somehow bright.

<"...I know how smooth that would be. When you have a chance, give me a call, Helena.">

Still smiling, the young woman decided to indulge herself and played the message again. The older woman's awkward fondness and shy enthusiasm sounded clearly through the cheap recorder, warming the brunette. When the message ended, Helena sighed silently and stepped to the window to watch the sun peek over the brownstone across the street.

She knew that, if she put her face to the window and peered hard to the left, she could just make out the clock tower in the distance. That was one of the reasons -- right up there with cheap, convenient, and bug-infested -- that she'd chosen the apartment. This particular morning, she pointedly kept her eyes fixed forward as the rising sun glared through her window, bringing tears to her eyes.

Helena wasn't quite sure how long she stood at the window, however, at some point, she recognized the opening strains of a popular song and scrubbed roughly at her eyes before heading back into the kitchen.

I know I tend to get so insecure

It doesn't matter anymore

It's not always rainbows and butterflies

It's compromise that moves us along

My heart is full and my door's always open

You can come anytime you want

I don't mind spending everyday

Out on your corner in the pouring rain

Look for the girl with the broken smile

Ask her if she wants to stay awhile

And she will be loved

The young woman gathered up a small watering can and a tiny container of custom-blended plant food. However, instead of leaving the kitchen immediately, she returned to the answering machine and stared at the "Saved message" indicator for a few heartbeats. Slowly, she raised her free hand, gnawing absently at her lower lip, and hit the erase button.

Helena knew she'd have to call Sabina later, let her know that she wasn't -- wouldn't be -- available. Let her know that she could do better than a bartender with a bad attitude. At the very least, that should remove one "distraction" that might be getting in the way of Barbara's shot at happiness with the other woman.

So, yeah, she'd do that -- call the older woman back -- in a while. In the meantime, there was something more important to do.

The young woman moved into the living area of her apartment and squatted by her low coffee table. Humming quietly with the melody echoing from the stereo, she began the ritual she'd followed twice a week for three years, carefully tending to the delicate orchid that she'd nursed from a bulb.

I know where you hide

Alone in your car

Know all of the things that make you who you are

I know that goodbye means nothing at all

Comes back and begs me to catch her every time she falls

Tap on my window knock on my door

I want to make you feel beautiful

Chapter 24

Helena dug deep down, grunting against the strain, and pushed the barbell over her head again. And again.

Four more reps and that would make six sets. Maybe, after she took a quick breather, she could stack on another thirty pounds and go for seven.

Being honest with herself, the lithe figure admitted that she didn't strictly need to do another set. Hell, she hadn't needed to push through the burning and cramping from the last six sets. After all, she'd already completed her usual weekly workout session with her crime-fighting comrades. She'd done her usual circuit -- stretching, Nautilus, floor exercises and gymnastics, free weights, and then a cool-down on the treadmill -- while half-listening to Barbara's ongoing analysis of the rogue television signal from two nights before.

Half-listening because the young woman had been otherwise occupied with trying not to let the sound of that throaty voice flay her soul, trying not to freeze up in gape-jawed wonder at the familiar -- and very sexy -- sight of the older woman sweating and straining through her own workout.

At least training with the Kid had provided sufficient distraction to keep her attention off the redhead. Hell, she'd really had to focus on the sparring -- especially the first part, when she'd been working with the teenager on her skills with the batarangs. Kid was top-notch at deflecting the weapons with her TK; however, her offensive skills left a lot to be desired. More than once, Helena had had to execute particularly inspired leaps and rolls -- either to catch one of the weapons before it broke something or just to get the hell out of harm's way.

Come to think of it, maybe that Random Crappy Aim thing of the Kid's wasn't so bad after all.

Snorting softly at the thought, the brunette sat up on the weight bench and reached for her water bottle. She guzzled deeply, panting softly against the exertion that she'd been putting herself through for the last hour.

She and Dinah had finished up the back end of their sparring -- just some free-form street fighting -- almost two hours ago, and they'd duly headed into the living area to find Barbara entrenched at the Delphi, where she'd returned after completing her routine. Helena had thought the expression on the other woman's face had been an odd mixture of satisfaction, puzzlement, and trepidation.

Not much inclined to beat around the bush, she'd bounded onto the Delphi platform, Dinah moving up the ramp less flamboyantly, and just asked.

"Didja eat something sour, Barbara? You've got a real pickle-puss thing going..."

That had gotten her a laugh, followed by somewhat technical discussion of the odd digital data wrapper -- something like that -- that the cyber-genius had found, but not yet decoded, in the rogue satellite signal. Apparently, that particular finding had been the source of both the satisfied and the puzzled looks. The source of the trepidation had been clear enough when the older woman, powering the Delphi to standby, mentioned that her modeling and prediction algorithms showed a strong probability that the Grudge Prankster's next attack would occur in cyberspace.

That little bombshell had been clear enough for Helena to appreciate. While her partner might take a wait-and-see attitude towards some basically harmless slapstick attacks in the real world, an attack in her world of bits and bytes was no laughing matter. The brunette suspected that the older woman would be putting a lot of effort in the next few days into decoding that wrapper thing from the broadcast.

But, not this evening.

An hour ago, Barbara had left her two younger partners to digest the information she'd shared and disappeared to prepare for her date with Sabina. Suspecting that she didn't have much to offer or discuss with the teenager about packet wrappers or the potential upcoming cyber-attack, Helena had rapidly fled to the training room and hit the weights.

Normally, her choice of workouts to exorcises demons was the heavy bag -- or, better yet, the evil-doers of New Gotham. There weren't any perps handy at the clock tower this afternoon, and the young woman knew that the way she needed to go at the bag would have caused too much noise and raised too many flags for the two residents in the living quarters. Hence, the punishing routine with the free weights.

Thankfully, there had been evil-doers in good supply the night before. Helena figured that it had been pretty fortunate, considering her mood, that there'd been no stupid pranks or dull recon jobs. No, nothing reminiscent of the last few weeks of sweeps, just a spate of petty crimes and dumb crooks, capped off by a really ugly gang fight that had allowed her to cut loose.

Eying the ever-shrinking stack of weights on the floor next to the bench, the dark woman acknowledged that cutting loose had been exactly -- exactly -- what she'd needed after the painful call she'd made to Sabina the afternoon before. The other woman's puzzlement and hurt had come through so clearly, despite Helena's entirely sincere use of the "It's not you, it's me" explanation. Under the shy woman's gentle requests for a meaningful explanation, the younger woman had finally given it up -- well, a little of it -- admitting that it had to do with the woman she was still stuck on.

The brunette sighed noisily and recapped her water. She figured she was going to have to re-revisit her ideas about passing time now. Based on the discomfort -- hell, downright pain -- involved in the whole breaking up thing, at the moment, casual encounters seemed downright appealing.

But, on the other hand -- blue eyes blinked in irritation as the brunette tried to remember just how many hands she'd been counting -- when she considered how she felt being on the other end of that type of encounter with Barbara, Helena wondered if she should just give celibacy a try.

She was spared having to make any decisions just then when the training room door cracked open and Dinah entered slowly. The brunette stood and snagged a ten pound weight before pinning blue eyes on the blonde.

"What's up?"

The teen stepped closer and spoke quietly.

"Thought you'd like to know that Barbara left."

Focusing on the lock bolt on the barbell, Helena grunted noncommittally, then checked herself. It wasn't Dinah's fault. Heck, it had probably taken no small amount of guts to come in and face her.

The brunette looked over and quirked the corner of her mouth.

"How'd she look tonight?"

Thick lashes lowered to cover careful scrutiny of her companion, and the dark figure watched how Dinah chewed on her lower lip and stared at the floor before answering.

"Oh, you know. Just, uh, kind of regular."

Damn. Helena hadn't thought it was possible, but the Kid was an even worse liar than she was.

The brunette stood absolutely motionless, waiting Dinah out, until the blonde looked up and Helena fixed her with her very best Don't-Bullshit-Me stare.

Looking as miserable as Helena felt when she heard the words, the teenager admitted, "She looked fantastic. Really, uh, hot, I guess."

Helena nodded quickly and grabbed a weight for the other side of the bar, fastening it into place with a resounding clang. Wordlessly, she dropped onto her back on the bench and positioned her hands, tensing for her first lift. The sensation of two hands coming to rest lightly on hers arrested her motion, and cerulean eyes snapped up to meet pale blue.

"You should probably knock off for the day, Helena. I mean,"

The girl smiled hesitantly, probably suspecting that she had a good chance of being the next object in the room that might get lifted... or pressed.

"...if you get any more pumped, you're going to need to buy all new leathers or something."

The older woman pushed back an angry retort, then chuckled, sitting up on the bench.

"Yeah, you're probably right, Ki -- D."

The blonde brightened, and Helena spoke lightly, raising her arms to flex into a bodybuilder pose.

"Not to mention, I'd probably have to start hanging out at a whole 'nother class of dyke bar, huh?"

This time, Dinah laughed outright, and the brunette joined in, realizing how good it felt. In that instant, it hit her what else might feel good.

"Hey, Dinah, you got any plans for tonight? Hot study date -- "

She deliberately leered a little over the words.

"-- with Gabby or anything?"

The teen blushed deeply and swatted at Helena's arm.

"C'mon! Cut it out, Helena!"

The older woman mentally rolled her eyes. At the pace the Kid was moving, she'd be out of grad school before she hooked up with her friend. The brunette's mood instantly deflated a few notches when she realized that she really didn't have any room to talk. She determinedly pushed that thought away.

"So, does this mean you're free, D?"

Pale blue eyes widened hopefully.

"Sure. What do you have in mind?"

Grabbing her towel and water, Helena rose and headed to the door.

"Just let me hit the shower and get into my gear, and we can try to help Barbara in finding her Grudge Prankster."

And so it was that two hours later -- Helena's stomach had dictated a stop on the way for burgers and shakes -- the two young women found themselves peering through a grimy fifth story window from the fire escape of a run down apartment building. The brunette tested the lock, trying to ignore her companion's nervous shifting.

"Are you sure this is such a good idea? I mean, what would B-- Oracle say?"

The blonde paused for a beat, seeming to think of something.

"And, if it is such a good idea, why didn't she ask us to check out Rocko's place earlier, anyway?"

Helena narrowed her eyes and decided that for health reasons -- Dinah's health -- she'd just ignore the not-so-subtle insult inherent in that last question. She also ignored the fact that she'd wondered too, having enthusiastically volunteered -- several times -- to have a chat with the muscle-bound man.

The dark figure raised her cup and took a long, noisy slurp through the straw, polishing off her jumbo-sized chocolate shake before answering. She set the empty cup on the landing and then carefully ticked the points off on her fingers.

"One: There's no hard evidence that Rocko's been involved in anything since the nocturnal cow crap collection expedition thing. Two: Oracle has been taking kind of a wait-n-see approach."

She noted the teen's nod. Both of them were well aware of the redhead's fondness for puzzles.

"And, three: In case you haven't noticed, she has been a little -- preoccupied lately."

Okay, that last one had come out a little harsh.

Mentally shrugging, the young vigilante turned and popped the window and raised the sash. She took a step back with an "after you" motion. Radiating teenaged self-righteous disapproval, the blonde nevertheless slipped into the empty apartment with Helena on her heels. After confirming that nobody else was in the small space, the older woman pulled the blind and switched on a table lamp.

"You look around out here, and I'll take the bedroom."

"Uh, okay. What exactly are we supposed to be looking for?"

This time, the brunette did roll her eyes.

"Anything that ties Mr. Martin into the jobs or might give us a clue about who hired him. Hell, maybe we'll get lucky and find a W-2 or something with the Prankster's name on it, right?"

A few minutes later, distastefully picking through a mountain of dirty clothes on the floor of Rocko's closet, Helena nearly jumped through the ceiling when a thought screamed into her head.

>>He's coming!<<

This was immediately followed by the sound of the apartment door opening and closing and, then, by two nearly simultaneous cries: Dinah's almost inaudible "Eeeep!" and a familiar, high-pitched male shriek.

Helena guessed that the Kid hadn't had time to get to cover before the apartment's owner made his entrance.

The brunette straightened and strolled back into the living room, wiping her hands on her coat. There, she found a scene that she figured some of the bad fiction she'd read might describe as a frozen tableau: the teenager, bristling by a twenty year old moss-green La-Z-Boy, and the apartment's resident, standing a few feet inside the door, one hand clasped dramatically over his chest. Her arrival broke the stand-off, and Rocko stared at her incredulously.

"You again?! What the hell?"

Helena raised her hands in a "No harm intended" gesture, and the big man gasped and took a step back.

"No way! Just no freakin' way! Are you nuts? Or a stalker or something?"

The brunette locked eyes with her partner.

"Canary, you want to do the honors?"

The dark figure waited just long enough for the eager nod of a blonde head before hopping over the arm of the recliner and planting herself in it.

This should be fun.

"Alright, Rocko. Time to spill it."

Who did the Kid think she was channeling, anyway? Bogart?

Whatever. The big guy looked like he was about to faint as the teen continued.

"Tell us who hired you for the practical jokes."

The burly man sagged -- almost seemed to deflate -- and shuffled over to sit in a high-backed kitchen chair.

"I don't know. You gotta believe me."

A beat later, Helena blinked in puzzlement when the man whimpered and appeared to jerk backward in his chair several times. The mystery cleared up when she noticed the look of concentration on Dinah's face and an indentation -- like a finger had been poking him -- in the man's shirt. Having been on the receiving end of that TK finger poke many a time -- tho' the Kid usually went for the brunette's forehead -- Helena knew how effective it could be.

"Why should we believe that?"

The blonde was still doing her Bogart interrogation, and the man practically whined his answer.

"Honest to god! I stopped doing anything after that job at the political office."

Rocko grimaced and added petulantly.

"I thought that cow sh-- manure job was bad, but that was nothing. I didn't think I'd ever get those friggin' punch card thingies out of my clothes."

From her vantage point across the room, Helena nodded in commiseration. She'd been picking chads out of her boot laces for days after being in the office.

"So, how did the other jobs work? How did they get set up?"

Dinah was asking good questions. Too bad their informant seemed so genuinely uninformed.

"I just-- I'd get these phone calls--"

"Man or woman?", the teen interrupted.

"I don't know. It... there was this -- you know -- voice-disguiser-sounding thing so it just sounded like a robot or a telemarketer or something."

Sighing in disgust, the brunette stood and wandered into the kitchen, finally contributing her own question.

"How'd you get paid?"

She suspected that a personal check was a pretty long shot, but if the big man had so much as a single bit of cash on him that he'd received in payment, she was certain that Barbara could trace the serial number back to an ATM and a bank account.

Since she was cracking the refrigerator door at the time, the dark woman missed Rocko's mumbled reply. She turned from her perusal of the fridge's contents -- tofu and bean sprouts? -- and spoke sharply.

"What was that, Rocko?"

"I said that I didn't. Get paid."

"Oh, come on," Dinah scoffed a split-second before Helena could.

The man raised a hand to his chest protectively as he stammered out an explanation.

"No, really. This person promised that, by the end of things, he was gonna hack into the government database and somehow erase my student loans."

"Student loans?"

The brunette wanted to be sure she'd heard correctly.

This time, Mr. Martin's response was a trifle defensive.

"That's right. You think I didn't go to college? For your information, I've got a B.A. in Philosophy. Why do you think I'm under-employed now, huh?"

Dark brows crept up, and Helena caught her partner's eye. The two women simply blinked at each other for a beat before the older woman shrugged and let Dinah get back to her interview. It seemed pretty clear to her that they weren't going to learn much from their number one lead.

In the meantime...

The brunette grabbed two beers from the fridge, tossing one to their host and popping the other. Sipping philosophically, she decided that she was at least getting something out of their visit.

Part 25

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