DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short period of time.
MUSIC DISCLAIMER: Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended.
SERIES: This is the final installment of the "Elemental" series fics (Landslide, Watershed, Windshear, Veneer, Stainless, Obsidian, Nuclear and Dark Matter).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.



Chapter 1

The crack of wood meeting bone was resoundingly, jarringly unmistakable. The sound coincided with the crunch of plastic shattering like ice on a frigid day, and Helena didn't even have time to blink before her other senses weighed in to scream pained protests about which bones had been on the receiving end of the strike.


The fire that seared through her knuckles almost distracted her from what she was seeing; her grunt of pain almost masked the other sound that she was too conscious of: Despite a last-second grab with her throbbing hand, she couldn't catch it, and Helena forlornly saw her phone sail end-over-end before cracking on the filthy concrete of the alley.

Naturally, the elegant glass touch screen spider-webbed on impact.

And it had been hell getting out of her old contract.

Yeah, like she'd told -- well, admitted to -- Barbara, it wasn't like she strictly needed the trendy little device for this semester's classes; but it sure was handy being able to skim the web at Starbucks between classes.

Hell, during classes.

"Goddammit, I just got that phone!"

Honest to god, one minute, she'd been leaving work and grinning like an idiot when the ringtone that she'd programmed just for Barbara -- J-Lo's "Do It Well", of course -- had gone off. The next, the vaguely indecent greeting she'd been purring into the phone had been cut short.

Protests about the abbreviated lifespan of her beautiful iPhone ended more abruptly than her call when something caught her jaw with enough force to send her flying into the brick wall. With her vision exploding in white sparks, Helena had to figure that it was probably a good thing that she'd been following the progress of her phone across the filthy alley. If she'd been turning to look at her attacker, this blow would have broken her jaw instead of just glancing the side of her face.


Even before she'd hit the streets for Barbara, Helena had been in her share of street fights. Since then, she'd turned back-alley brawls into an art form. She had enough experience to know a *lot* about weapons of convenience and the feel of being hit by bottles and bricks and wood, so she was pretty sure that she recognized the feel of what had nailed her twice now.

Baseball bat for sure.

A beat later, as she pushed to her feet and her attacker stepped into view and raised his weapon for another strike, she realized she'd been close.

Even if close only counted with horseshoes and hand grenades.

A broken two-by-four.

<<"Hele--? Wha-- --ing on?">>

Glittering yellow eyes ticked from the man in front of her to the small phone, and Helena nodded minutely.

So the phone wasn't completely busted. Maybe she'd go easy on lumber-boy when she busted his chops.

<<"-- hear me? Ca-- --espond?">>

Shaking her aching right hand -- couldn't tell if any bones were broken -- Helena warily circled her attacker as she pitched her voice a little louder than usual.

"Uh, just a sec, Red. I dropped the phone."

In all honesty, Barbara had to allow that Helena's response should have been reassuring. Coupled with the jarring sound of the phone hitting something hard, not to mention her partner's aggrieved exclamations since then, it certainly added up.

Nevertheless, Barbara prided herself on having become something of an expert at reading remote interactions through nothing but verbal clues. Aside from the fact that her sure-footted lover simply didn't do clumsy, the next words she heard through the bluetooth headset of her Blackberry cemented her belief that something was amiss.

<<"Just what the fuck is your problem, asshole?">>

Instantly, the redhead moved her grade book from her lap to the couch and jerked the joystick on her chair toward the Delphi platform. The motorized chair promptly spun a full two-hundred seventy degrees, and Barbara bit back a curse.

Clearly, she'd need to back off on the tweaking that she'd been doing to the wretched thing: *After* she got to her station and helped her partner take care of business.

<<"Hold on, Hel. I'm contacting the police now.">>

Helena was ready to reassure her lover that she didn't need any help taking this particular trash out, but she didn't have time. She easily made out the trajectory of the swing coming her way, the whistle of air coursing around the splintered wood seeming awfully loud in the empty alley. Still feeling a little too dazed to skip away, she managed to tense the muscles of her legs, taking the force of the blow with her flesh, rather than with her kneecaps.

The shot of pain was enough to clear her head, and Helena rolled with the blow, somersaulting forward to grab her attacker around the ankles and take him to the ground.

"Do I know you, asshole, or is this just some random act of violence?"

Scrambling up to plant her knees in the guy's solar plexus, she made out his angry snarl.

"Don't tell me you don't remember me, bitch!"

Helena narrowed her eyes and took in the guy's meaty jowls and piggy little eyes and grubby mustache that seemed to have bits of --

She leaned a hairsbreadth closer and cautiously sniffed, confirming her guess: taco meat.


"I've gotta admit that you're too fug-ugly to forget, but I guess I'm just lucky."

Gourmet-goon telegraphed the swing from a mile out, so she had no problem ducking under the board this time and then batting it out of his hand. The two-by-four landed with a clatter that almost covered his enraged snarl.

"Fuckin' bitch!"

Still receiving audio, even if it was a bit tenuous, Barbara clenched her teeth against the urge to shout something to her partner: After this many years, if Helena weren't aware that taunting the Big Dumb and Uglies wasn't always the best tactic, there was little she could do. The police had been dispatched and, judging from the repartee, Helena was feeling in control of the situation.

<<"You fuckin' do-gooders think you got some right to interfere...">>

The redhead felt one brow tick upward a few millimeters as she considered the words that had come through the bluetooth. Clearly this wasn't the random act of violence that Helena had supposed.

"Yeah, right -- " Helena used her tongue to probe at the cut inside her mouth, a remnant from the first blow, and spit blood. "That's me. A regular good Samaritan."

She looked him over again, trying to figure out what his beef with her was. The taco meat did the trick: A couple of weeks before, she'd intercepted this guy trying to lighten some tourists' wallets behind the Tico Taco. Since he'd clearly been nothing but a two-bit thug, she'd shined up both of his eyes and gone on her way.

Looked like he'd caught sight of her at work or something and decided on a little quid pro quo.

Yeah, right. Looked like it was time to freshen up his bruises.

"*This* -- " she landed a hard blow to his jaw, trying to avoid the food scraps, "-- is for hitting me."

Instantly, Helena sucked air through her teeth and shook her right hand.

Shit. She'd forgotten about her smashed knuckles.

"And *this*--"

Not missing a beat, she switched to her left hand. She wasn't as ambidextrous as Red, but she could make do in a pinch.

"-- is for busting my new phone."

Taco boy went out like a cheap flashlight, and with the sound of police sirens moving in, Helena stood, scooped up her phone, and bounded for the fire escape.

It was time to call it a night.

It was the deepest hour of night, the bedroom dark and still. The tiny mewling murmurs that periodically arose from the crib on the other side of the room reassured Barbara that all was well with Katie; the nearly sub-vocal purr that rumbled from a few inches away in the big bed should have done likewise for Helena.

Should have.

Unable to deny herself, Barbara maneuvered herself under the covers, shifting onto her side to bring herself face-to-face with her lover. She had been lying awake long enough that her eyes had grown acclimated to the darkness, and she drank in the younger woman's features, so peaceful and open in sleep. Carefully, tenderly, she raised her hand, lightly touching the swelling that was already starting to fade from the angular line of her jaw.

Thank heavens for Helena's meta-healing abilities. Even the hairline fractures in her hand would probably be healed within a day or so.

Her hand still cradling her lover's jaw, Barbara stretched a few inches closer, bringing her mouth within millimeters of Helena's. Warm breath, still redolent of mint toothpaste, washed her lips, and Barbara opened her mouth, inhaling.


Four more words trailed behind the first: All that I need.

A line from an insipid song from her youth tickled through Barbara's frontal lobe, naturally maddening her with the need to place the singer or group. For a heartbeat, she allowed her eyes to track to the side, and the answer came: The Hollies, although she much preferred the k.d. lang version that Helena had introduced her to a few years earlier.

Helena's warm exhalation, her breath sweet and so tempting, recalled her. Barbara heard her own voice in the quiet of the room, barely a murmur.

"The air that I breathe."

Giving in to desire, she closed the negligible distance and brushed her mouth against full lips. She felt a brief flare of guilt when her lover stirred.


The semi-question rolled forth on a sleepy purr as Helena worked to pry her eyes open and figure out what was going on. For a couple of seconds, a ragged exhalation was her only answer, then Barbara's lips were on hers, her words filling her mouth.

"I need you, Helena."


If this had been the time to go tiptoeing down memory lane, Helena didn't think she'd be able to remember a time when she'd heard those words from her lover. Since this wasn't the time for that, she rolled onto her back, taking Barbara with her, and opened to her, completely, achingly, instantly wet and aroused.

"You've got me, Baby."

Given her lover's physical response, Barbara scarcely needed the words; however, they were more than welcome.

"Any time. Any way you want, Red."

Squeezing her eyes shut, the redhead pushed herself down the slender form beneath her. Pointedly, she refused to concentrate on the feeling of denial she experienced at these moments, the reality that some methods of physically expressing herself were forever gone to her.

Simply having this -- being with Helena -- was more than she'd ever imagined.

Not bothering with finesse, Barbara tore aside the thin cotton underwear that separated her from her goal. The hitching undulation of Helena's hips almost unseated her, but she steadied herself and pressed her face into the thicket of dark curls, breathing her lover's most intimate scent. Tenderly, she stroked the liquid silk beneath her fingers, her upper body turning to fire when she heard the sharp hiss from above her.


A bit regretfully, Barbara worked her hand free and pushed up on one elbow, bringing her fingers to her mouth. The restless shift of her partner's hips recalled her, and she abandoned one sensory delight for another, working her way back up the lanky frame beneath her and bringing her hand to full lips.

There was no way to mistake what Barbara was offering, and Helena captured the hand that held a tantalizing aroma of mixed scents, drawing the first two fingers to her mouth.


For an instant, Barbara felt something spark between them; their shared need becoming a palpable entity surrounding them. So terribly tempted by that beautiful mouth, she somehow drew her fingers free, caressing the younger woman's cheek with the back of her fingers.

"Oh, Barbara, yeah."

Unable to deny what they both needed, the redhead worked her hand between them, then down. Her battle against the urge to push, to take, was lost when she heard Helena's soft, urgent whisper: "Harder".

Barbara gave herself over.

With their mouths mated in a never-ending kiss and Barbara's hands doing magic, it didn't take any time. From the way Red had collapsed with her head on her stomach, Helena thought that it had gone both ways.

"What was--"

The brunette wet her lips, trying to get some moisture back in her parched mouth, and regrouped, brushing her fingers through the red mane that blanketed her torso.

"Not like I'm complaining or anything, but what was that about?"

The question was an endearing mixture of amusement and satisfaction, and Barbara turned her head to press a kiss to the firmly muscled abdomen beneath her.

"I don't show you often enough how I --"

Quite aware of her earlier words, the she flirted with using the word "feel".

It was, after all, true.

It did not, however, encompass everything, and Barbara forced herself to speak the naked truth.

"--how I need you, Hel."

Pushing up on her elbow, she brushed the pads of her fingers across the younger woman's jaw.

"To show you how much I need you."

Eyes that were still deep violet seemed to search hers, and Barbara submitted to the scrutiny. Only when she made out a small nod of acceptance did she allow her smile to show and worked her way upward in the bed to settle in. With Helena cocooned against her side, she was almost asleep when she felt a tiny, restless stirring and looked down into bright blue eyes.


Dark lashes fluttered in a manner that might have been described as coy, and Barbara felt one brow arch playfully.

"Am I safe to go to sleep now, Red?"

The smile that she got, Helena thought, was pure Mona Lisa. The words she heard clenched it.

"There could be another ambush in the future, Sweetie."

The blinding whiteness of Helena's grin shown through the darkness, and Barbara pulled her close to feel her response whisper over her skin.



Chapter 2

There was a definite snap in the air, a brisk freshness that, coupled with the bright clarity of the sky and the coloring of the leaves, signaled the onset of fall. At this point, the shift in temperature was still mild, providing a welcome crispness in the Tower that allowed them to leave the doors to the balcony open; however, Barbara suspected that they would be buttoning down the doors and windows within a few more weeks.

All the more reason to enjoy the tail end of summer while they could, a sentiment that was clearly shared by her partner.

And their daughter.

With the sounds of Dinah running simulations on the Delphi behind her, Barbara held her position near the French doors, content to absorb the vision of Helena and Katie lounging on one of the Adirondack chairs outside. The brunette was stretched out with her usual negligent grace, earbuds from her MP3 player dangling around her neck as she read aloud to Katharine from some magazine.

The fact that she was wearing blue athletic shorts, revealing a lovely length of tan skin, suggested that Helena's typically warm metabolism was at work. The fact that Helena was wearing a grey zip-up hoodie, with Katie snuggled between the garment and her mother's chest with only her head peaking out under Helena's chin, spoke volumes about the younger woman's tender concern for their daughter.

For a few seconds, Barbara considered fetching the camera and capturing the moment on film. Ultimately, she determined that her admittedly accurate crime-scene photography skills wouldn't do justice to the emotion inherent in the tableau, and she surprised herself a bit by deciding to join the scene rather than simply catalog it.

First, of course, she needed to navigate the baby gate that blocked the balcony from the living area. Given the relative bulk of her motorized chair, not to mention the tension of the gate's latch -- a precaution that she and Helena had agreed on for their daughter's well-being and their sanity -- it was no simple feat. Nevertheless, the device had become a necessity since Katharine had started crawling in earnest in July. Considering the eight-month old's rather amazing physical development, Barbara suspected that something more robust -- iron bars, perhaps -- might be needed in another month or two.

Moving next to her family, Barbara brushed her fingers through the fine red curls covering her daughter's head. Helpless to resist, she felt a smile crease her features in response to the enthusiastic gurgle which revealed the lone tooth that was peeking through Katharine's bottom gum. Helena's bright smile drew her hand, and she trailed her fingers through the chestnut locks that kissed the base of her partner's neck.

"A bit of Saturday afternoon reading?" she inquired mildly, not doubting for a minute that her pleasure was apparent.

In the fourth month of her pregnancy, Helena had settled next to her on the couch one evening. Matter-of-factly, the brunette had produced T.S. Eliot's "Book of Practical Cats", snuggled against Barbara's side, and begun reading to her abdomen.

"Gotta get The Peapod used to my voice," had been her explanation.

Thirteen months later, Barbara was delighted that the practice continued. A beat later, when she realized what Helena had been reading to their infant daughter, she forced herself to concentrate on the positives of the shared time rather than the fact that the bonding was occurring over a comic book.

Offering a half-shrug, Helena reached over to her iPod and thumbed it off, silencing the music that she'd been sharing. She figured that Katie still had plenty of time to learn all of Earrings Golden's lyrics.

"Thought I should practice for The Big Assignment."

Since it was true -- well, at least part of it -- Helena thought that the eyebrow-thing Red gave her was a little much. Still, it wasn't like she could fault Babs a little surprise about the Children's Literature class that she'd picked up on a whim this semester.

After going back and forth over it for most of the summer, she'd gone with the Japanese class after all. And, well, Algebra had been a no-brainer since some of the symbols looked a little like the Japanese Kanji. Testing herself with a third class had... felt right, and, well, maybe the Kiddie Lit had been less a whim than the realization that she'd missed a lot of kid's books growing up, what with moving from one country to another with her mom.

She knew that it wasn't like Babs couldn't offer plenty of guidance in terms of Kat's bedtime reading. It was just...

"Ah, yes, reading excerpts and guiding a discussion with actual fifth graders, isn't it?"

Barbara sounded just a little too amused, but Helena couldn't blame her: after all of the grief that Helena had put her -- and all of her other teachers -- through, she could get the irony of a little poetic justice.

"Yeah," she quirked the corner of her mouth into a grin, "who'da thought there'd be a hands-on element for a class offered out of the Education Department?"

Completely charmed, as she suspected that Helena had intended, Barbara laughed softly.

"Who, indeed, Hel?" She smiled and gave voice to her curiosity. "What book did you decide to share with your class?"

When Helena's face lit up, Barbara held her breath in anticipation.

"It's a King Arthur one by a guy named White."

Almost certain, Barbara waited as the younger woman ducked her head to peer through her bangs. When she named the title, her voice held an endearing mixture of shyness and defiance.

"The Once and Future King?"

Barbara nodded, noting the pleasure that filled expressive blue eyes.

T.H. White's epic had been one of her long-standing favorites, and she supposed that there was little surprise that themes of Might not making Right would resonate for her.

Not to mention Arthur himself.

Yet, while she couldn't deny her delight in being able to share something else with her partner, Barbara suspected that Helena might find another one of the prominent characters more appealing than the nominal hero of the work.

"Who do you like in it, Hel?"

With Katharine beginning to squirm, Helena unzipped the hoodie and raised the girl to rest against her shoulder, bouncing her lightly in her arms.

"There are a lot of archetypes in there, right?"

Reaching out, Barbara accepted their daughter with a smile.

"That's true, Hel."

"And Merlin kind of makes me think of Alfred."

That elicited a smile before Barbara had to wonder just who else her imaginative partner might see reflected in the story. Not to mention, just how Alfred might respond to Helena's comparison.

"Is he your favorite?"

A dark head shook once.

"Nah. I like Lancelot."

"Le chevalier Malfait."

Barbara didn't realize that she'd spoken aloud until Helena nodded.

"Yeah, he's pretty fucked up, huh?"

There was no denying the truth of that, however, instead of delving into matters of flawed heros, Barbara pressed a kiss to Katharine's head and nodded.

"Still, I don't quite understand how reading -- "

Arching one brow, she motioned with her hand toward the comic.

"-- *that* to Katie prepares you for literary discussion, Hel."

The brunette didn't bat an eye.

"So what's the difference between Red Sonja -- "

She flapped the slender volume for emphasis.

"-- and Xena? It's not like I haven't seen you catching a DVD with The Peapod."

Barbara thought that she felt a touch of heat in her cheeks but managed to respond crisply.

"Steel bikini, Hel."

A dark brow rose eloquently, but Barbara clearly made out the twinkle in her lover's eyes.

"As opposed to a leather bustierre, Barbara? Puh-leeze."

The answer came instantly.

"That's practical fighting gear, Hel."

The redhead debated with herself for a moment before adding the rest.

"As evidenced by your own choice in sweepswear."

Helena's laughter was bright, warming Barbara in the cool air of the afternoon.

"But, Red Sonja's steel is protecting her most important parts."

Very close to continuing the debate by pointing out that Xena also sported admittedly minimalist metal armor in the necessary regions, Barbara was saved from her own competitive nature when she heard Dinah call a question from inside. Snugging Katharine to her side, Barbara touched the joystick of her chair, muttering her final words.

"I can't believe I'm having this conversation."

Helena almost followed her, seeing as how much Barbara enjoyed this sort of intellectual debate so much, but she figured she'd made her point. Besides, the sun felt too good, and she still had a few pages left in the comic.

It wasn't like she could just leave a redhead in a steel bikini hanging.

Still, even taking her time to appreciate the pencils and inks in the book, the brunette had finished reading and was... resting her eyes when she heard somebody clambering over the baby gate.

"Hey, D."

Dinah's grin was sunny as she dropped down onto the other chair.

"Hi, Hel. I didn't mean to wa--"

Arching her back, Helena sat up and swung her legs over the side of her seat.

"Wasn't sleeping."

She kept the straight face for a pretty good stretch, measuring the expressions flitting through pale blue eyes. Finally, she cracked a grin.

"Well, not as much as if I'd been inside having to listen to the two of you."

Helena snickered and waited out the eye-rolling that she'd counted on, then she waved toward the living area.

"Did I hear you talking to Barbara about the wand?"

Even without her meta-enhanced senses, Helena had a feeling she would have picked up on mention of the Mentachem wand. The subject was a little less taboo, but it still gave her the creeps. The way that some pink was creeping into the blonde's cheeks told Helena everything she needed to know.

"Yeah, I mean -- "

Dinah pushed a lock of hair behind one ear and shifted a little on her chair.

"-- I'm working on an experiment -- "

Helena figured that the blonde saw something in her face, seeing how she shifted gears so quickly.

"With plants, for my botany track this semester, you know?"

A nod got her going again.

"Well, anyway, it's based a little on what we were talking about this summer with the whole self-fertilization thing that you can do since you have some, uhm --"

Pale features turned bright red, and Dinah shifted again.

"-- sperm from when you were a guy, right?"

"Uuuh huuuuh."

Helena drew it out, trying to figure out where her companion was headed with this.

"Well, it's just not the same grafting plants, and it just seemed like it would be easier with the wand, you know?"

This time, it was Helena who rolled her eyes. Her answer was, she kind of thought, a little bitter.

"A lot of things would be, D."

The excitement drained from the younger woman's face.


The slump of slender shoulders was too much for such a laid-back day. Narrowing her eyes, Helena leaned in and tapped Dinah on the knee.

"Suuure, D. I guess you and your girlfriend wouldn't have been all warm for my form without the wand, huh?"

The words did the trick, and they shared a shy grin that quickly turned sly.

Helena couldn't deny that it was just a damned good thing that they were back on even footing. After her... Well, after she'd misread things early in the summer, she and Dinah had been walking on eggshells for a while. A Fourth of July concert and some burgers afterward had given them the chance to clear the air, and they'd decided to get over it.

It felt good.

"Like hell," Dinah sputtered through her laughter. "It was only Gabby, and she told me that it was a fleeting thing."

Pale blue eyes met cerulean.

"Very fleeting, Hel."

The brunette snorted.

"Yeah, right. So, what about when you were practicing kissing me in the training room or -- "

Dinah cut her off with a yelp.

"Hey! Any other time was strictly you, Romeo."

Caught up in giving Katie a mid-afternoon snack -- to Barbara's gratification, the new tooth hadn't negated breastfeeding -- Barbara remained only peripherally aware of the conversation on the balcony. Two words, yelped in the tone of indignant young people everywhere, neatly redirected her attention.

"Pity kisses?!"

Utterly befuddled, the redhead felt her brows knit. She was unable to calm her curiosity however for, just as she turned to look out the doorway, she caught sight of Helena leaping from the balcony with a laughing Dinah in close pursuit. Her own, more subdued, laughter bubbled forth as her partners disappeared from view.

It was good to have things back to normal.


Chapter 3

As kidnappings -- or even hostage situations -- went, Barbara had to admit that she'd certainly experienced far worse. Indeed, were it not for the element of uncertainty that Helena had insisted on in reaching their mystery destination, she supposed that the analogy wouldn't have come to mind.

Once the plane landed and after Helena navigated their rental car to a beachside resort, Barbara freely conceded that harnessing her curiosity for a few hours had been a small price to pay for a long October weekend in the sun.

With a pool.

Specifically, with an Olympic-sized salt water pool.

"So, it's okay?"

With her elbows resting on the lip of the pool, her body effortlessly supported by the perfectly salinated water, and the Florida sun baking her brains to the consistency of oatmeal, it took the redhead a few beats to register the question that was purred into her hair. Once she comprehended that she was being addressed, it took her still another second to decipher the question and engage her powers of speech.

Perhaps, some barely-functional portion of her brain suggested, her mental lag also had something to do with the three-hour massage that Helena had given her the night before. A mere forty minutes into the heavenly exercise, when Barbara had tried to turn to her partner, she'd been gently but very firmly returned to her prostrate position on her stomach.

"It's not about that, Red. Just enjoy."

And, oh my, had she.

"Everything is perfect, Hel," she managed, with what she thought was astonishing coherency given the ridiculously huge margarita that she'd been sampling.

'Keeping hydrated' had been the less-than-plausible explanation that Helena had provided when she'd appeared with it earlier. Nevertheless, given that they had another day before the holiday weekend faded and she returned to her regular responsibilities -- including breastfeeding Katharine -- Barbara had been willing to seize upon a handy rationalization when it reared up and saluted.

It had taken a bit more rationalization, or -- in all honesty, persuasion, argument, and a bit of fast talking on Helena's part -- for her to agree to the unplanned trip to begin with. When Helena had planted herself on Barbara's work table, grinning like a Cheshire cat and detailing a remarkably well-choreographed... abduction plan less than two days before, Barbara had been dubious at best.

"Just like I said, Barbara."

The redhead had ignored her lover's exaggerated sigh, quite accustomed to better performances from the students in her class.

"Indulge me, Hel. I simply find it hard to believe that you 'came upon' a free room at a -- "

She'd paused, more for emphasis than to search her memory, and then repeated the words Helena had used not thirty seconds earlier.

"-- 'sunny resort that's The Bomb'."

The factual approach hadn't fazed the brunette a bit.

"Janey already paid for the room which is why she got such a good deal, but since she's got something going on with her boyfriend and can't go -- "

Dark brows had waggled, whether in emphasis or excitement Barbara hadn't been sure.

"-- well, I'm doing her a real favor by taking it off her hands."

Still trying to determine just why her partner had decided that taking off on the spur of the moment was something that she'd welcome, Barbara had tried again.

"I'm sure that no one will question your altruism, Helena, however I don't understand why you can't tell me *where* you're--"

She'd been cut off by the airy wave of a slender hand and a blinding smile.

"'Cuz it's a surprise, Red."

Something approaching a well-known hang-dog expression had made an appearance, and Barbara had steeled herself.

"C'mon, it's already paid for, and I already picked up two rock-bottom airline tick--"

"Rock bo-?"

Given her particular needs, Barbara loathed flying, especially in the cattle car environment of coach. Mercifully, she'd seen something in deep blue eyes and, remembering Helena's budget, had let it go.

"What about Katie?"

Helena had appeared surprised that she hadn't started with other excuses -- such as grading papers or doing lesson plans or continuing to investigate the human trafficking ring that she'd been monitoring -- and had simply moved right to the heart of matters. Surprised or not, the younger woman had been ready.

"Gabby's in town for the mid-term break, and she and D are all lined up to stay here."

Barbara had felt her jaw tense, in fact her mouth had opened to speak, when Helena had rushed on.

"And your dad and Alfred -- "

There had been a pause that had forced Barbara to meet her lover's eyes.

"-- *and* Alethea are all on backup call."

It had been a most impressive argument.

"Just two and a half little days, Red. Sixty tiny hours."

Then, Helena had wrinkled her face in a parody of acute concentration, and sing-songed four more words.

"Just thirty-six hundred minutes."

Barbara had blinked, fighting a wave of something remembered, something wonderful. As she had, almost two years before in a hotel room upstate during their visit to State, Helena was working logic and mathematics...

Well, again, it wasn't against her. It was *for* them.

Barbara hadn't been quite convinced that the room had been gifted by Helena's coworker at the Dark Horse, nor that the planning had been completely last-minute; however, on the spot, Barbara had decided that she was not going to try to find out.

The spontaneity and freedom, not to mention time for the two of them, that Helena was offering was too dear to analyze.

"You had me at two and a half, Hel. Let's pack."

It had been less the words than the bright spark in deep blue eyes that had tipped the coin for Barbara. With thirty-one of the hours of her first vacation away from their daughter already spent, she was glad that she'd been persuaded.

With one exception...

Temporarily surrendering her position, Barbara easily turned to cross her forearms on the edge of the pool. Resting her chin on one arm, she peered through her Ray-bans, drinking in the sight of her lover.

Attired in a stunning red tankini, Helena was laid out on a thick towel, sunning herself on the edge of the pool. Long, tanned legs were crossed negligently at the ankles; boy-brief bottoms, accented with a wide white belt, highlighted her abdomen; a halter top that was almost demure continued to tantalize with what it didn't reveal.

Somehow, Barbara managed to keep her mind on the mission.

"Everything but the volleyball, Hel."

The brunette's grin was unconcerned.

"I thought you were awesome." Dark brows waggled behind mirrored lenses. "A real ringer for our team."

Truth be told, Barbara also thought that she'd handled herself tolerably well during the pickup game that Helena had organized around the net in the center of the pool. While there were definite limitations on her blocking and spiking, she'd had no problem in the liberos position on the back row where reaction speed, rather than height, was the driving force. Nevertheless, she couldn't imagine what had gotten in to her.

"Thank you, Sweetie."

She sipped her drink, taking care to lick another one-twentieth of the salt from the rim. She didn't miss the flare of her lover's nostrils or the quick rise of her chest.

"It was surprisingly fun," she added.

Surprised by her own admission, Barbara spoke the rest.

"Thank you for encouraging me to try something different."

There was something-- Helena didn't know what it was, maybe the smokiness of Barbara's voice or the way those dark sunglasses seemed to be taking in everything, but something about the way Barbara had said that had Helena feeling that they weren't just talking about volleyball.

Still, she knew how her partner was with the control thing.

"Thanks for putting yourself in my hands for a while, Red."

As smoothly as possible, she sat up and swung her legs over the side to dangle her feet in the water. When Barbara's hand came to rest lightly on her knee, she reached for the SPF 60 that she'd been lotioning Barbara up with all day.

The way her face was feeling all warm, it didn't seem like it would hurt to use a little on herself.

"Perhaps -- "

Watching slender fingers that were slick with oil moving across the lovely lines of her partner's face, Barbara had to stop, pulling a quick breath through her nostrils.

"Perhaps you'll return the favor for me later, Hel."

The dark head tilted forward, allowing Helena's sunglasses to slide down a bit and revealing deep violet eyes.

"Put myself in your hands?"

Barbara nodded, and lazily turned a few degrees in the water, allowing her torso to come in contact with her companion's legs.

"Do you remember one of our early dates at the school swimming pool?"

She waited, more or less patiently, charmed by the appearance of Helena's "thinking face". Too quickly, enlightenment dawned.

"Yeah. I gave you all hell for going alone -- "

"After that," Barbara prompted.

"And then you had that weird phantom uterus cramping th--"

"Before that."

Judging by the leer that painted her lover's face, the minimal guidance had been enough.

"Tomato juice, right? And Adirondack chairs?"

One crimson brow arched above the oversized sunglasses.

"Indeed." Barbara allowed a smirk to show. "So, do you remember what we couldn't do there?"

Helena sure as hell did. Red's rules about not fooling around on school property had pretty well put the kibosh on some of her long-standing fantasies.

Still, it sounded like--

"Yeah. You have something in mind, Baby?"

She leaned in, allowing herself to inhale the scent of Barbara's sunwarmed hair. Barbara's voice was low, intimate.

It made Helena ache.

"Let's just say that I wouldn't mind coming back here tonight when the pool is empty."

Not minding, Barbara had to admit, was a bit of an understatement. Already, her ever-vivid imagination was supplying images that had the blood racing under her skin. More demandingly, she could almost *feel* the sensation of holding Helena, her mobility enhanced by the water while her lover writhed against her, her center hot against her stomach even in the coolness of the water. She could virtually hear the sound of water slapping between them, of Helena's harsh panting and her own soft exhalations of effort.

So close to Barbara, Helena heard her heartbeat pick up; she could smell the arousal that coursed over her skin. Ready to clear the pool right then and there, she decided on something a little less likely to embarrass her partner and simply rose to her feet with a smile.

"Cool. But, let's get dinner first."

Which was, Helena had to figure later, probably her first mistake, seeing as how they hadn't made it back to the pool after all.

After a dinner of tuna steaks so fresh that Helena thought they might have started swimming again if she'd dropped them in water, they'd decided to spend their last evening strolling the piers on the beach. The stars overhead and the wash of the waves against the sand had been plenty romantic, although they didn't come close to the way Babs had held her hand as they'd walked. Back in the room, Helena had set the scene with some candles and a bottle of wine, and then there'd been another long backrub for Barbara that looked like it had well and truly put her out for the night.

Now, curled against Barbara's side in the hotel bed with only the light from the stars outside their window illuminating the room, Helena couldn't find it in herself to regret a second of it.

There'd be other swimming pools, later. Hell, she'd try to make sure they got a swim in before their flight in the morning, even if they didn't get the extras that Red had been talking about.

The reality of Barbara letting go and relaxing, the sensation of perpetually tight muscles giving way under her hands, the sounds of soft breathing uninterrupted by the constant edge of wakefulness the Red usually clung to --

This was the good stuff.

Softly... stealthily... the brunette peeled the covers back from their intertwined forms, pushing the sheet and light blanket to Barbara's other side. With the air conditioning washing over her skin and cooling the light sheen of perspiration that had begun to cover her, she settled against her lover again, nuzzling into the warmth of her armpit.

Man, Barbara always smelled so good.

Dark lashes fluttered open, and Helena took in the vision of her partner's torso from close range. Red was wearing that strappy pale blue silk number that felt sooo damned good.

Looked mighty fine, too.

Unable to stop herself, Helena turned her gaze to the swell of decolletage that was visible under the sinfully soft material. The regular rise and fall of her bedmate's chest tightened the fabric every so slightly, bringing into stark relief the outline of firm nipples beneath silk.


Instantly, the fire that Helena had tried to put out -- or at least to bank -- during the evening roared to life. Swallowing thickly, she forced herself to remain in place. Muscles trembling, she felt her eyes shift, her mouth already hungering to feel the soft material and the pebbled flesh beneath.

She'd meant it, dammit. She hadn't been... She wasn't angling for sex or anything with the backrubs or, hell, with the whole trip. But, that didn't mean she didn't want.

And, the brunette reminded herself, wanting didn't mean getting.

As best she could, she remained quiescent, attempting to will away the tension that thrummed through her center. Beside her, her partner remained relaxed in sleep, and for just a moment Helena gave in to temptation, shifting her legs... just enough to bring the apex of her thighs into contact with a firm hip.

That much and nothing more, she promised herself, panting softly in the darkness-- until she felt a hand gently rest upon the back of her head.

The touch was soft, but it was enough, and Helena surged forward. Rubbing her face lightly over silk-covered flesh, she slowed herself, waiting out the electricity that charged through her before dropping her mouth to firm flesh enrobed in softest silk.

"Sweet -- "

Helena thought it had been her voice, but she didn't care. All of her focus was on the fabric she was pulling between her teeth, on the wet patch she created and then blew on, watching tender skin harden. Working her cheek lightly across her lover's chest, she finally remembered that there was someone else there with her and looked up, finding green eyes firmly fixed on her. Wordless, she raised her hand to her lover's face, only to have it firmly guided back down to rest on Barbara's other breast.

It was all the encouragement she needed, and Helena squeezed gently, her eyes hooding in response to Barbara's low hum of approval.

Needing more, remembering that Barbara liked more too, she increased the pressure. Her lover's hiss of pleasure was instant, and strong hands came to her shoulders, squeezing as Barbara arched into her touch.


Rearing up onto her knees, Helena showed her teeth, then she allowed her hands to set their own rhythm. Barbara's soft murmurs grew, gaining volume, the panted cries inflaming her until she had to back off, afraid that she would leave bruises.

Instantly, Helena saw green eyes snap open, feral and hungry in their own right.

Oh, shit, she was in so much trouble.

This happy realization filled her just as she was roughly flipped onto her back. After that, she didn't bother to think at all.

It wasn't, in fact, until they were on the plane, the Y-connector of their shared ear bud connection on the armrest between them and Cutting Crew queued up on the 80s mix that she'd burned to her iPod, that Helena realized they hadn't made it to the pool again before they'd left.

Come to think of it, they'd missed the breakfast buffet and the sauna, too.

Somehow, she didn't think either of them minded a bit.


Chapter 4

As kidnapping *and* hostage situations went, Barbara had to admit that very few that she'd been privy to had been this harrowing.

This personal.

The last, undoubtedly, had been the showdown with Harley Quinn the year before, during the last weeks of Barbara's pregnancy. With the lives and well-being of both Helena and their unborn daughter at stake and facing the very real possibility of performing her own C-section in order to hand her child over to Quinn, the encounter had been grim.

To say the least.

It appeared that the events that had begun unfolding in only the last minute just might best Quinn.

"Why the fuck did you let him up, Dinah?"

Already moving down the ramp from the Delphi platform, her adrenaline levels bumped to overdrive, Barbara ticked her gaze quickly to each of the three people who had just exited the elevator. In the periphery of her vision, she saw Helena rising from the couch, a textbook still in one hand, her head cocked as if awaiting a response to her question.

"He made --"

The youngest member of the team's words were cut short when a heavy pistol impacted Gabby's jaw.

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here!"

Barbara stopped by the coffee table, reassured by Helena's presence beside her. A dozen feet away, Dinah and Gabby and their most unexpected visitor stood with their backs to the elevator doors. Barbara could already make out the faint swelling that was rising on Dinah's girlfriend's jaw. She easily made out the shakiness of the .357 that once again had it's muzzle lodged beneath Gabby's chin.

What she could not yet discern was why Dinah hadn't used her TK to disarm the man she'd clearly allowed into the Tower. Nevertheless, judging from the sheer terror in Gabby's eyes and the misery in Dinah's, damage control -- instead of investigation -- was the pressing order of the day.

"Mr. Mandrill," she kept her voice steady and, hopefully, calming. "I see that you've finished serving your debt to society."

Actually, as Barbara well knew from her routine checks of the criminal justice records, the petty crook they had dubbed Matter Minor had been released from the county jail on probation almost a week earlier. Apparently, he'd been well behaved during his brief stay, and the justice system had better uses for his cell.

"Damned straight, I have -- " Mandrill's face contorted into a sneer. "-- and now I want what's mine."

The smell of fear and adrenaline was thick in the room; it assaulted Helena's senses almost as powerfully as the threat to her home and her family torqued her nerves with the need to act. There was no way she was just going to roll over for this asshole.

"You mean you want what belongs to your brother, Mikey."

When Barbara shot her a look, Helena decided to lay back and let her partner take the lead.

Hell, Red was always good with the talking stuff.

"Mr. Mandrill, we don't have the Mentachem wand here--"

While that was certainly true -- the wand was safely locked away in the Batcave -- it was clearly not the answer that Mandrill wanted to hear. His face tightened, the cords in his neck rising in stark relief as he screamed over her.

"Then get the fucking thing, or I'll make you wish you had!"

Briefly, the big gun waved toward Dinah, sending her dancing backward a few steps.

"I'm really sorry, Bar-- "

The blonde caught herself, presumably over the use of her name. Since the entire secret identity issue seemed a bit moot at the moment, Barbara managed something that approximated as smile, inclining her head briefly.

"It's okay, Dinah. How did this -- " she gestured toward Mandrill and Gabby, "-- come about?"

This time it was Gabby who spoke, her voice only the tiniest bit shaky.

"He showed up at the apartment while D was at the lab -- "

Aware that the curly-haired young woman had been in town for Thanksgiving week and that she and Dinah had been staying at Helena's old apartment, Barbara nodded encouragingly.

"-- and he... He made me swallow -- "

Beside her, Barbara felt as much as heard Helena's growl. Carefully, she raised one hand, bringing it to rest on her partner's forearm.

"A tiny little bomb, not much bigger than a great big healthy vitamin pill."

Mandrill's voice was so smug that, for a moment, Barbara flirted with releasing her batarangs on the man. When he raised the hand that was not holding the gun, revealing a small plastic device, she held herself in check.

"And this is the detonator. And if I let up on this button, the Cute Girlfriend here is gonna make a great big mess."

Gabby's whimper was almost lost to the words muttered beside Barbara.

"I think his cheese has finally slid all the way off the cracker, Red."

Once again, the redhead shot her partner a pointed look and mouthed her response.

Not. Helping.

Very carefully, very slowly, Barbara raised her hand, bringing thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose. While the gesture did nothing to ease the tension headache she could feel building, it did buy her a moment to calm her racing heart and to consider the options.

Although there was no way to be certain of just what this particular thorn in their sides had forced Gabby to ingest, she knew that there were factors they could control. There were threats and dangers that she could attempt to mitigate.

"If that's the case, Mr. Mandrill," she dropped her hand to the side of her chair, briefly disoriented when her fingertips didn't encounter the oversized rubber tires of her manual. Regrouping, she settled her hand on the joystick, resisting the urge to fidget with the controls and rock the chair. "then surely you don't need the gun as well as an explos--"

She cut herself short when the .357 waved -- shook, more accurately -- in Dinah's direction.

"Don't bullshit me! I know all about the tricks this one does with that... that mental stuff of hers." Beady eyes glittered. "I figure she can't use mind tricks on both of 'em."


A quick look in Dinah's direction indicated that the blonde was reaching her limit: either tears or some sort of action would probably soon follow. Barbara was quite certain that none of them wanted that: It was too soon; Mandrill was still too edgy.

Deliberately, Barbara caught, then held, pale blue eyes.

"It will be okay, Dinah."

As she spoke, she moved her gaze to Mike Mandrill, focusing on the hand that held the detonator, hoping to convey to Dinah that she would need to handle that part of their attack. She and Helena would dispatch the gun when the opportunity arose.

"Perhaps, Mr. Mandrill, as a good faith gesture you could lower the gun to somewhere a bit less -- "

Barbara's attempts to dust off her negotiation skills fell short, her words abruptly cut off, when Dinah started to move forward. Instantly, Helena lunged from beside her.

It was too soon.

Too early.

None of them were ready -- except Mandrill.

Barbara saw the gun raise, moving toward Dinah. She saw his fingers tightening on the trigger. She heard her own voice, raw in the sudden hollowness of the room.

"Dinah, no!"

It was, she recognized in that instant, simply instinct. There was, after all, every chance that Dinah could have disarmed him while keeping the detonator locked in his hand with her TK; there was a very real possibility that Helena could have reached him in the split second it took her to vault the small expanse of floor that separated them.

"Mike, don't -- "

Her plea was out even as she yanked the joystick of her chair, as she struggled with the balky device in the hope that she could somehow turn it... turn the tide... just as the hand that held the gun was turning toward the living area where Helena was making her move.

Helena saw it. She saw Mikey's beady little eyes shift, going flat and dead. She saw the big honking gun following his evil eyes, and she was moving, hoping that she'd get there and Dinah would do her thing and everything would stop moving so fast.

Then she saw the flash of the muzzle, and time slowed down.

She easily followed the tracer of the bullet. She felt her ears ringing at the boom that filled the Tower. Her nose was assaulted by the stench of cordite. And then, the only thing filling her senses was the red that bloomed across Barbara's chest as she pinwheeled backward in her chair.


Barbara heard the concussive noise of the shot. She felt it strike her chest with the force of a sudden decent from a twentieth story rooftop. In the instant between the noise and the impact, a lifetime of thoughts arced across her synapses, the most pressing being how difficult it would be for Dinah to reconcile her role in all of this.

"You're dead, asshole."

Barbara fell backward, her chair toppling with her in it. She saw her partners taking down Mandrill and heard Helena's words, cold and factual. In the heartbeat between hitting the floor and struggling to shout a warning -- they did not kill -- she felt the recalcitrant wheels of the motorized chair finally move, convulsively clicking from left to right as they spun in the air.

The crunch of bones breaking coincided with Mike Mandrill's wet, gurgling scream.

Or perhaps it preceded it by a bit.

Distantly, Barbara saw the big hand of the clock tick forward. She heard Helena say something from across the room. In the gasping moment between her final cry of warning and her choking attempt to draw another breath from her position entangled in her chair on the floor, she grasped that matters were very bad indeed.

Sucking chest wound.

The words painted themselves behind her eyelids in a vivid shade of blue. They certainly explained how very difficult it was to breathe.

Prying her eyes open, Barbara saw Helena standing beside her. She blinked, not sure how long the movement had taken because when she opened her eyes again, Helena was kneeling beside her, her mouth rounded in an "O", her hands coming to Barbara's chest.

This was bad. This was really bad.

Not even thinking, Helena shoved the fucking heavy chair out of the way, her hands dropping to Barbara's chest in the same motion. She pressed hard, the feel of blood pulsing sluggishly under her palms warm and sticky. Distantly, she heard Dinah shouting something, something lost under the roaring in her ears and Mandrill's high-pitched screams.

A hand, so terribly pale under a film of blood, plucked at her wrist. It took Helena a second to connect the frail limb with Barbara, to grasp that the hands that were usually so strong and graceful and sure were now shaking like the last leaves of fall that clung to the trees. She saw Barbara's jaw working, her lips almost hidden behind a bubbling froth, and she leaned in to make out the reedy whisper.

"Di-ah -- don't kill..."

She got the idea.

And a better one.

"Fuck him, D," she yelled over her shoulder. "Get a force field around Barbara's chest!"

Refusing to give way to panic, Barbara worked to nod her approval. A beat later, she made out Dinah beside her, her blonde hair haloed by the setting sun as it blazed through the transom. Trails of silver seemed to wash the young woman's cheeks, and Barbara wished that she could smile or offer some reassurance.

When a vise closed over her chest and she was finally able to sip a tiny bit of air, she managed.

"B'okay -- "

It wasn't her finest offering. In fact, it did nothing to ease the stricken horror in Dinah's eyes.

"Help me get this on her -- "

She felt herself rolled from one side to the other, and she wished she could give voice to a protest about being handled. Instead, she focused on Helena's face, her eyes so bright and wide and unblinking, as her partner swathed her chest with the bubble wrap that Barbara had been using to bundle items in the care package that she'd been preparing for Dick.

Cautiously, she drew another small breath, working not to show her agony.

She had to admit that the experience of being shot didn't improve with... repetition. And, even with her penchant for empirical research, Barbara suspected that she could have drawn the same conclusion without the actual experience.

"Ipecac," she managed on a wheezing exhalation, the taste of blood on her tongue making her want to retch.

Briefly, confusion replaced the other emotions coursing across Helena's face. Somehow, Barbara managed to drag her eyes toward Gabby, who was speaking rapidly into someone's cell phone. Her free hand was tightly closed around the plastic detonator that Mandrill had held earlier.

"She's breathing now -- " The brunette's voice seemed to crack even as her shoulders squared and she turned to face Dinah. "Help Gabby get that thing barfed up."

Suddenly infinitely wearied from her effort, Barbara allowed her eyes to flutter shut for a few beats, relieved that her audience for this particular performance had been reduced to one.

"No -- "

The only one.

The thought circled Barbara's consciousness, and she managed to see again, wishing that her vision weren't consumed with the image of the tears coursing down her lover's face.

"You promised -- "

Helena's words were barely a whisper.

"You promised you wouldn't leave me."

Instantly, Barbara understood that the repercussions from this would fall much further than Dinah.

"-- try -- "

Her voice was tiny and thin to her own ears, and Barbara mouthed the rest.

Love you.

Helpless in the face of Barbara's struggle to breathe, Helena pressed against the plastic that covered the horrifying wound. Searching emerald eyes, she saw a bright light begin to dim.

"Do-- "

She choked on her own words, damned near vomiting with the clenching terror in her gut.

"Don't go, Baby."

The redhead tried to respond, to offer some reassurance or promise that she would be there. Instead, a cough wracked her, and she felt blood bubble over her lips. When she could focus her eyes again, she saw it: Barbara saw it in the plodding gouts of blood that bubbled from under the plastic with every breath; she saw it in the hard set of Helena's jaw.

They both were moving past denial and into... something else.

No. No. No.

There was a pain in Helena's hands.

Her palms, she realized, where she'd dug her nails in with enough force to draw blood. Only problem was, she didn't know which blood on her hands was hers and which was Barbara's. And then, bitterly, she understood that it had always been the case: their blood was mixed, always had been.

Barbara's blood was her blood.

Her eyes finally dry, Helena watched long red lashes droop shut.

"Barbara? Baby -- " she brushed her thumb across pale lips, wiping blood and foam aside. "Stay with me."

Barbara heard her lover. She wanted to acknowledge her plea, but it seemed that she was having trouble processing everything. There was too much motion and redness, yet at the same time everything was slow, drawn out like an endlessly stretching loop of sticky pink taffy.

She wondered if she traced the loop if it would turn into a Moebus strip.


She fought to get the word out, needing Helena to understand that she wasn't giving up. After all, years before, waking up in a hospital room unable to feel her toes, she'd made a commitment to Helena. Not more than five months before, she'd reaffirmed her promise not to leave her partner.

"I know, Red."

Helena had to tear the words from deep within herself. Yet, witnessing the pain that Barbara was in, the agony of every hitching attempt to breathe, she couldn't withhold them.

"S'okay, Barbara. Why don't you just -- "

For a moment, Helena had to struggle for air herself; then she worked a smile and held her lover's gaze.

"Why don't you shut your eyes? Rest for a minute?"

Her muscles unable to support her, Helena eased herself to the floor next to Barbara. She worked close, wrapping her arms around the other woman, shocked by how cold Barbara's body was in comparison to the still-warm blood that bathed them both. Watching Barbara's normally pale features go grey and bloodless, she pressed a kiss to the redhead's temple and prayed to hear the sirens of an ambulance.

The implacable tick of the big clock seemed to echo the rattling of Barbara's breathing. Unable to believe her eyes, Helena saw a smile touch her partner's lips. Words that were more breath than sound ghosted the air.

"I can feel my legs."

Swallowing convulsively, the brunette lightly squeezed the fingers that rested in her palm.

"Yeah?" she finally managed.

Barbara's answer was more than she could bear.

"They're... cold."


Chapter 5

Barbara died at 5:18 p.m.

It was a Tuesday.

It was a stupid, fucking dumb time to die, and Helena knew she'd never forget that date, that time.

Her friend and mentor and confidant... Her love and her life... Barbara...

Barbara had pulled another reedy gasping breath, the blood frothing at one corner of her mouth. Then her eyes had... just closed.

Just like it had yesterday, Helena felt the room -- and the world -- go gray around the edges. Unlike yesterday, she knew better than to scream and shout and search the room for some sort of miracle.

The only thing she'd seen yesterday had been the shadow of the big clock. The time had been reflected in reverse shadow on the floor next to her lover... her partner.

She hadn't meant to... lose it, but she couldn't help it. She'd shaken Barbara's shoulders. Her voice was still hoarse from shouting.

"Don't you fuckin' dare die on me!"

Rocking forward on the couch, Helena cradled Katharine to her, trying to ignore the tearing ache in her chest.

She should have just let her go, but she couldn't, and -- for a moment, she'd had hope. For an instant, Barbara had come back to her, her eyes fluttering as she'd choked like a car with a bad battery trying to turn over on a cold morning. Blood had matted her hair, her eyelashes; Helena's hands felt like they were glue to her partner.

Helena had leaned in, bringing them forehead to forehead. Then Red had smiled at her, sad and sort of apologetic.

And that had been it.


In any other world
You could tell the difference
And let it all unfurl
Into broken remnants



It had been Dinah and Gabby who had finally pulled her off of Barbara.

Behind her now... behind her, Helena couldn't ignore the whir and hum of the Delphi. On the big screen in front of her, she could see lights from the hard drives reflected as they flashed; she could hear the click of processors and fans. It was just like Barbara had left it, less than a day before when --

Blinking, the brunette rubbed the back of her wrist under her nose.


For all Helena knew, Babs had been right in the middle of hacking into somewhere big and top-secret and scary when Mike Mandrill had pulled his shit, and her jobs had all been sitting there for almost a day, giving whoever it was time to trace back.


Red would have had automatic time-outs or something. Not to mention covering her tracks so deep that a frikkin' Cray wouldn't be able to unravel her path.

Like Helena really gave a damn.


Smile like you mean it
And let yourself let go

'Cause it's all in the hands
Of a bitter, bitter man
Say goodbye to the world
You thought you lived in


Helena snorted softly.

If she tried hard, maybe she could call it a laugh.

She raised the remote and aimed it at the oversized television screen, ready to start the random channel flipping that she'd been doing to try to fill the god-awful quiet in the Tower. When big blue eyes framed by long red lashes looked up at her, she dropped the device on the cushion and leaned in to press a kiss to her daughter's head.

Whatever music station was on was... Well, it was covering up some of the silence, even if it wasn't getting that stupid, incongruous song out of her head: It was from two years ago, a song that she'd burned onto that Hair Band disc that she'd mixed for their drive up to visit State with Dinah.

Bon Jovi.

It was that trip when she and Babs had really had The Talk. It was then, in a hotel room, that she'd pledged that she could -- that she *would* -- do the time with the woman she loved.

She'd made bold promises that, if they had enough time, she'd even end up closing that age difference that had Barbara so freaked out.

It was a promise she'd meant from the heart.


I tried to live alone
But lonely is so lonely, alone
So human as I am
I had to give up my defenses

So I smiled and tried to mean it
To make myself let go


Lost in her own head, Helena thought that Katie's gurgle might have been an answer to the words she wasn't saying. It wasn't until that tiny little head bumped against her chin and she felt her daughter starting to root against her chest that she got a clue.

"Sorry, Kat."

It was kind of past The Peapod's usual lunch time.

Pushing to her feet, Helena settled the infant -- damned near a toddler now -- onto her hip and circled to the far side of the coffee table, winding around the wing chair on the far side.

Anything to avoid having to look at the throw rug that Alfred had put down after he'd tried to clean up.

The brunette grit her teeth. She wouldn't be surprised if the red stain never came out.

Probably have to rip out the hardwood.

Or, maybe they could just burn the Tower down and go somewhere else.


So I smiled and tried to mean it
To make myself let go

'Cause it's all in the hands
Of a bitter, bitter man
Say goodbye to the world
You thought you lived in

Take a bow, play the part
Of a lonely lonely heart
Say goodbye to the world
You thought you lived in
To the world you thought you lived in


Digging into the fridge, Helena pulled out a bottle of breast milk. True to form, Barbara had neatly labeled it with the date and time that she'd expressed the milk.

It was from Monday.

Before bumping the refrigerator door shut, she peered in, counting the few bottles of milk that remained. When she turned, the can of formula that Alfred had brought by caught her eye.

They had it covered.

At least the stuff that could be... attended to.

Swallowing, Helena leaned forward, brushing her mouth against the shell of a tiny ear and inhaling a scent that was so much Barbara's. When she spoke, it was only a whisper, but it seemed horribly loud in the emptiness of the kitchen.

"Oh, Kitty, what am I gonna do?"

Part 6

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