DISCLAIMER: Birds of Prey and its characters are the property of Miller/Tobin Productions, Warner Brothers and DC comics. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I started this fic back in 2002, but never finished it. It was the reason, actually, why I stopped posting WIPs. Well, now it's done, so there's a load off. It doesn't necessarily follow either the canon of the show or the comic. It's also probably kind of melodramatic. Oh, and I've changed bits and pieces of the parts that were already posted (as if anyone could remember differences after 7 years).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Here Be Monsters
By Harper


Part 2


The screech echoed throughout the office, the sound pitched high enough to shatter glass. Helena couldn't help but wince, the noise almost enough to shatter meta-enchanced eardrums, but quickly suppressed the gesture as she walked into Quinzel's office. Sauntering in as if unaware of the commotion surrounding her, she slid into a chair, sprawling lazily, determined to project an aura of unconcerned nonchalance. The woman she'd once regarded as her quite sane if not slightly sadistic therapist currently looked like neither, with her eyes flashing in a mix of fury and lunacy, normally well-coifed hair spiking in a multitude of different directions as if it had once been in danger of being ripped out by its roots.

A rather mousy looking man scurried out of the room under the force of Quinzel's gaze, and Helena watched, amused, as the other woman straightened out her business suit, slicked down her hair, and turned to face her with a serene smile, almost as if the earlier unpleasantness had never happened at all. Making her way over to sit across from Helena, hands folded primly in her lap, Harleen tilted her head to the side, her gaze speculative as she took in the black bag resting in the brunette's lap.

"Having problems?" Helena asked, smirking, thoroughly entertained by the drama she'd been witness to only moments before, and by Quinzel's attempts to try and make it disappear.

Deftly plucking an errant piece of lint from her suit jacket, completing the transformation back into wholly calm and collected, Harleen replied smoothly, "None that should concern you. Have you got what I asked for?"

Rolling her shoulders lazily, Helena drawled, "Well, that depends. I thought you told me this partnership was going to be lucrative. Thus far, you've failed to deliver on your part of the bargain. I want to see some profit, Dr. Quinzel."

Eyes narrowing dangerously, body tense with a nervous, distracted anticipation that almost had her vibrating in place, Harleen said sharply, "I'm not in the mood for contract negotiation, Helena. Show me the diamonds."

"I don't think so. I could play cat burglar all by myself if I wanted to," the brunette mused, shifting so that she was sitting a little straighter in her chair, blue eyes boring into brown. "I certainly don't need to be a part of your organization to steal diamonds."

"You test my patience," Harleen replied, her tone sing-song. "Trust me, I have very little. You don't want to exhaust your allotment of it quite yet."

Ignoring the other woman's unveiled threat, Helena pressed on. "I think we need to work out a reimbursement plan. It's either that, or you let me in on the big picture. I can hold back if I know my dividends are going to pay off in the end."

Clucking her tongue in mock exasperation, Harleen sighed. "So greedy. And to think, all I had to do was get you out from under Barbara Gordon's influence and you'd take care of the corruption for me." There was a pause as she let that sink in, gratified by the brief spark of anger the comment drew. Then, as if conceding to a hard-fought point, she murmured, "Fine then, give me a routing number and I'll transfer some cash."

"Please," Helena scoffed immediately, rolling her eyes. "Create a link between us? I think not. I'll take my cut in twenties, unmarked if you please."

"Been watching a few too many mafia movies, haven't you?"Harleen said dryly, arching a brow. "Very well then. Give me a few days. Now, the diamonds, if you please."

Tossing the bag to the other woman, Helena watched with detachment as Quinzel pulled the scattered stones free of their velvet casing. Light hit the array and dispersed, sending shards of rainbow spectrums across the interior of the room, and the blonde's face lit up with something close to sheer joy. "So pretty," she cooed, running a finger down the face of one particularly large specimen. Then, to Helena, "You're far more resourceful than I had given you credit for. Is there something you haven't told me? Did you spend time in juvie, perhaps?"

"Maybe you just underestimated me. It wouldn't be the first time," Helena said, smirking once again, a slightly sensuous edge to her tone.

"Indeed," Harleen said distractedly, pouring the diamonds back into the bag. "But, now that you've proven yourself to be adequately competent, I might just have to change my opinion."

"Just adequate?" Helena asked, stung despite herself.

"Hmm… we'll see how you do on your next job, and then I'll let you know," Harleen teased in reply. "Instructions are over there. You've got another week for this one."

"Sure thing… boss," Helena said sarcastically. "I'll expect full compensation for all the work I've done thus far when I return."

Licking her lips seductively, eyes hooded, Harleen murmured, "You know, I could give you a down payment now."

"Sorry," Helena shot back breezily, "but I prefer hard-earned cash to an easy fuck. I like to have to actually work for the things I get."

"Quite the bitch," Harleen drawled, seemingly unruffled by Helena's blatant put-down. "Guess I'll just have to wait until you come back into heat."

Pushing a fall of wet hair back from her forehead, the strands immediately clinging with tenacious fierceness to the back of her neck and the sides of her face, Barbara swiped a hand across her eyes, flinging droplets of water in an arc that left a trail of wet, winding tracks down the glass door of her shower. Clearing even more water from her face, a neat spray coursing down her chin to slide over her torso, she watched with detachment as a cadre of water droplets meandered down her flesh. They started on her upper chest, delving inward to converge at the valley between her breasts, then flared outward once more when they hit her abdomen. Some ground to a halt in the pinkish-gray bands of scar tissue tracing a path across her lower body, the puckered skin flushed red from the heat of the water. Those that made it further descended effortlessly to the bent crease where her thighs began.

It was intriguing to watch the untimed race. From one moment to the next, the droplets changed from tickling, overly warm sensations to nothing, almost as if they'd dropped off of her body completely, but Barbara knew better. They were still there, running down the contours of legs that, while slim and toned from her physical therapy, lacked the musculature of her youth. Back then, her body had been a work of art, each and every line delineated cleanly, skin pulled taut over the sinewy strength of muscles developed for use and not for show.

She eyed the pink cast of her skin with detached interest. The water was too warm. She knew that, could feel its heat as it hit her forearms, her breasts. If she wasn't careful, she'd burn herself, only, she'd never know it. She could, while sitting there in her hand-crafted shower seat, do irreparable damage and never even feel a smidgen of pain. She would have appreciated the irony, but there was none.

Idly tracing a hand down her belly, she let her fingers trace over the ridges of scar tissue there. She was long familiar with their shape, having learned the curves left by the path of the bullets that had ripped through her skin, the straight line of surgical incisions that had cut with neat precision. If she pushed against them, she could feel a dull, aching pressure. Beneath that, with the exception of a few scattered spots, the feeling faded away to nothing.

Hand drifting down even further, Barbara felt the tease of water-soaked curls beneath her fingertips. If she moved down even more, she could trace the outlines of her sex, find the hard nub of her clitoris. She wouldn't be able to feel the touch, though she knew that she didn't suffer from a complete absence of feeling. There were places deep inside her that still worked, and sometimes, if she or a lover tried hard enough, they could be found.

Moving further down, Barbara traced the curve of her knee, fingers dancing lightly over a childhood scar. She remembered vividly how it had been acquired, and smiled sadly at the thought. She'd been living at home and engaged in her favorite activity, back before her dad had managed to make her an orphan. Perched on the roof of their slightly shabby house with the reckless disregard for personal safety that belonged only to children and idiots, she'd imagined that she was strong and tall, that she was an avenger of good ready to swoop down on the hapless criminals who dared encroach on the people she'd sworn to protect. And swoop she did, slipping on a loose shingle, fingers and knees scraped raw by the rough roofing as she'd lost her balance, as she'd skidding down the slope of the roof to stop, balanced precariously, at the very edge.

Her mother had come running out of the house, drying her hands on an old, worn dishtowel, drawn by the commotion her near fall had made. She'd looked up, eyes wide, lank hair somehow shining in the afternoon sun, and Barbara had felt, quite suddenly, very loved. She was worried about, and cared for, and her mother had dropped everything, ready to rush to her rescue.

Then, of course, her father had to show up and ruin it all.

He'd stumbled out of the back door, already drunk even though it was barely afternoon, one hand shielding his eyes from the setting sun. His hair had been plastered to his forehead with a combination of oil and sweat, and Barbara knew that had she been close to him, she would have been able to smell the stale odor of liquor and unwashed flesh. His shirt was dirty and rumpled, his belt unbuckled, his chin sporting a week's worth of scraggly growth. A nearly empty beer bottle was clutched tightly in his left hand, the TV's remote in his right.

"Damn fool kid," he'd muttered, face screwing into a mixture of disgust and anger. "I ain't paying for no fucking hospital bills. Get your scrawny, ugly ass down before you mess up the roof some more. And go fetch me another beer. Make me at least think something good came out of having you."

All in all, it had been one of the nicer things he'd ever said to her, and at the realization, she laughed, the sound harsh and bitter.

Digging her nail into the now faded scar, she watched as the skin bloomed red but didn't break. When they'd died, she'd missed her mother, but not for long. She had known, from a very early age, that she was never going to be like her, like that woman in the faded and threadbare cotton dress, the woman who never had anything because she was tied to a worthless, miserable excuse for a man who couldn't hold down a job and drank away all his pay when he managed to find one. She wasn't going to stand at her kitchen window, hands absently scrubbing a pan until it shined so brightly it was almost blinding, eyes staring longingly out at the open land beyond the thin pane. She wasn't going to always want things she could never have.

Only, that's exactly what she was doing. Even if the cage was different, she was still that woman. Tied to the past and to responsibility, fear erasing any desire she might have to reach for something better, she might as well be back in Kansas. She'd turned into her parents without even trying. Always yearning for more but never actually trying for it, just like her mother. Or, like her father, just a shell of a human trying to find something that made her happy. Unlike him and his blind devotion to the bottle, she had ideals and responsibilities and duties, and she hid behind them as efficiently as he had Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.

Drawing a finger up her thigh, poking the tip into the muscle with enough force to leave a bruise, Barbara sighed. There had been so many things she wanted to do. She told herself she couldn't now, because accepting her limitations and forcing them on someone else were wholly different matters, but she was getting tired of the refrain. But, despite that weariness, Helena had asked for too much, for things she couldn't give, and Barbara wasn't about to let the other woman know just how incomplete she was. She didn't mind letting other people know, people like Wade, who were only destined for short stints anyway. They didn't matter, and to be honest, she really didn't care what they thought. They were means to an end, tools to be used when she was feeling lonely. They touched her body and she pretended to feel, the charade enough to please them and to satiate her. So what if she didn't find fulfillment with them? That didn't matter so much anymore anyway.

Well, it didn't matter with them. The thought of doing that to Helena, of acting out a farce for the other woman's benefit, sickened her. Helena would see through her deceit where the others hadn't, would know that she was a liar and a fraud. She would fail her, would see disappointment in once trusting blue eyes, and she would lose her. And, quite frankly, Helena was all she had left. Sure, there was Dinah, and she knew she'd come to love Dinah like a daughter, but Helena was different.

She loved Helena.

There, she'd admitted it. She loved Helena. Far from a platonic love, this was more along the lines of crazy obsession. She knew every plane of Helena's face, every expression and hidden desire. She knew Helena's pain, had shared it and witnessed it, had been awed by its depth and scared by her inability to abate it. She was drawn to the other woman in a way she couldn't deny and was barely able to suppress, in a way that made her want to hide the brunette from the world, to cage her away for her own private delectation and delight.

She needed too much.

If she gave into her need, she would lose herself. Part of her was afraid of that, of sublimating herself to another. She wondered, idly, if she was like her mother in that regard, if she could so easily lose herself in the form of another. She wondered if she would cease to exist.

She knew she would fail her.

It was predestined, written in the stars. She quite simply couldn't be what the other woman wanted, much less what she needed. The part of her that chafed under the knowledge that she would hold Helena back, that she would steal something vitally essential to her, battled fiercely with the selfish, hedonistic part that wanted Helena more than she could imagine a being could want.

The battle was false, though. The hedonistic side had already won.

Helena's absence was eating her alive. With each passing day, another part died. She didn't care about the things that had driven her before. She went through the motions of being Oracle, of teaching her students. She didn't even consider trying to stop what she knew Helena was doing. She wouldn't be responsible for putting the other woman in any cage other than one of her own making.

Shutting off the water with a quick flick of her wrist, Barbara sat back against the cool stone wall of her shower. If Helena didn't come back to her soon, she thought she just might go insane.

Mark Downy knew when his life was in serious peril. He was no fool, even if he didn't always make the best career choices. There was very little doubt left in his mind that if he didn't safely deliver the diamonds that had been entrusted into his care, he was a dead man. His boss was quite insane, and if she hadn't offered him an astronomical amount of money, he'd have run from her on first sight. It didn't take him long to realize he should have run anyway, but by the time he figured it out, it was already too late. As it was, he was definitely on unstable footing, just a few inches shy of permanent retirement if he didn't pull this off.

Ducking his head, moving quickly through the cold night, he made his way to the rendezvous point arranged by his contact. If everything went according to plan, and he was praying that it would, then he would meet the man who was going to fence the diamonds, would get the cash, and would be out of there with enough time to spare to drop off the briefcase and flee town. A braver, or perhaps stupider, person might have attempted to take both the diamonds and the money and run, but Mark knew better. He'd be dead within the hour if he even tried something like that. His boss was insane but omnipotent, or at least he was convinced she was.

Sadly, Mark was completely unaware of the figure following his progress from the rooftops above. Dressed completely in black, from the neoprene mask baring only a pair of glittering eyes, to booted feet, the figure blended in perfectly with the shadows, easily avoiding detection. Had Mark noticed something out of the corner of his eye, he undoubtedly would have written it off as a figment of his imagination. After all, a second glance would have revealed nothing.

Mark reached his destination a few minutes before his scheduled arrival time and, as he flicked open a butane lighter and inhaled the acrid smoke of a Marlboro Red, he wondered why it was that the shadier his business dealing, the more uncomfortable the meeting place. There was nothing quite like the docks in the middle of the winter, the freezing wind blowing roughly in from over icy water searing his very bones with its force. Shivering, hands stuffed deeply into his pockets and cigarette dangling from rapidly chapping lips, Mark never even heard the light thump of boots behind him. He didn't feel the blow to the back of his neck, the one that easily knocked him unconscious, nor the support of strong arms that caught him before he could fall.

In fact, Mark didn't feel anything until he awoke in a holding cell at the New Gotham jail, though a quick search through his inside jacket pocket did reveal the one thing he most definitely did not want to find… nothing.

Harleen Quinzel wanted to scream. Since she rarely denied herself anything, she did scream, the sound long, loud, and piercing enough to deafen anyone within a 100 yard radius.

Someone was once again making her very, very angry. Helena would steal something for her, and within the week, someone would steal it back. First the toxin, then the diamonds, then the tiny little Picasso original and now, finally, one of the finest collections of flawless emeralds in the world. That one had been guaranteed to net her at least five million, and its loss was more than frustrating. How was she supposed to be expected to build a crime syndicate if she couldn't keep up a steady supply of funding? Megalomaniacal plans for city-wide anarchy needed financial backing just as much as did any other business scheme, but apparently, someone out there just didn't understand that.

"Helena," she purred, barely keeping the frustration coursing through her from infusing her voice, some sixth sense instantly alerting her the second the other woman walked into her office, "you're such a good, good girl. Show me what you've got for me."

If there was one thing that was constant throughout the entire mess, it was her new protégé's ability to produce results. Harleen had never worked with a more efficient burglar, and had to wonder how the other woman had slipped under her radar up until then. Surely she had to have been practicing her skills somewhere, because people just didn't pick up the trade in a day. But, Helena never failed to bring her what she asked for, and after that first time, had yet to set off another alarm. Not that the missing items weren't noticed and reported, but the window between their theft and the discovery that they were gone was large enough to provide ample time to smuggle the items out of the city. Well, it would have, had someone not stolen each and every one back.

If it happened one more time, Harleen thought she might kill someone, just for the relief of tension it offered. Of course, she'd much rather kill the pesky little vermin nibbling away at her well-constructed plan. Speaking of, she had work to do.

"Care to tell me why this is so important?" Helena asked lazily, holding a small computer chip up to the light. She was getting frustrated, convinced she'd been sent out on a fool's errand and needlessly exposed to capture and discovery. She was also getting antsy. She hadn't had contact with Barbara in a month and a half. Well, she hadn't had physical contact with Barbara in a month and a half. She still watched her almost every night, hidden away from sight of the Clocktower by a parapet that may have blocked her from view but did little to dampen the freezing New Gotham winter winds.

Tsking, Harleen replied, "We've been over this before. You're the retriever, I'm the boss. I say fetch and you do. But don't worry… you'll get your treat soon enough."

Chafing under the other woman's condescending tone but not yet quite ready to challenge her and upset the balance in the arrangement they'd worked out, especially when Quinzel was obviously under a great deal of stress, Helena settled for a muttered, "So you keep telling me, but so far the results I'm seeing aren't worth the effort I'm expending."

"Enough," Harleen snarled, composure breaking slightly, wanting to move on to the next phase of her newest plan. "Your business here tonight is finished. Run along so I can take care of mine."

"You mean you actually do work on occasion instead of always sending other people out to do everything for you?" Helena snarked, unable to help herself.

Ignoring her anger, Harleen instead shifted in her chair so that her legs were spread, eyes hooded and intent clear. "Either make yourself useful or leave," she drawled. "I've got things to do."

Helena merely laughed. Pushing herself out of her chair, she sauntered over so that she was standing directly in front of Quinzel, eyes tracing a blazing path up the other woman's body. Then, leaning forward, gratified by the blatant arousal shining in the blonde's eyes, she whispered, "Someone's a little touchy tonight. Maybe you should look into some stress management therapy, Doctor."

The bored threat in her tone in direct counterpoint to the fires burning in her eyes, Harleen said dispassionately, "Little children who play with fire often find themselves badly burned. You'd do well to remember that."

"I'd do well to remember any number of things, Dr. Quinzel. And, you'd do well to remember that you've already underestimated me once. Try and see if you can avoid doing it again."

As Helena sauntered out of her office, Harleen considered the fact that she had, indeed, been proven quite short-sighted when it came to her latest find.

"Marcus," she said quietly, gratified when a large man separated himself from the shadows to come and stand behind her, his bulk a comforting presence, "see what you can find out about our little thief. I find I'm woefully underinformed."

Marcus grinned wolfishly in reply, body already surging as he considered the prospect. There was something not completely right about Helena Kyle, and he was more than happy to undertake the task of finding out what, exactly, that something was.

Something wasn't right. She'd followed the lackey with the computer chip to an abandoned warehouse, watched the trade, and then watched them leave the briefcase out in the open, completely unguarded, as they apparently slipped into the back to have a drink. It was almost as if they were making things easy for her, and in her experience, anything that came wrapped in a package like that shouldn't be opened. But, the opportunity was too tempting, and she knew she wasn't going to let them get away with whatever was on that chip, so with a resigned sigh, she separated herself from the shadows, scooting quickly across the clear warehouse floor to snatch up the briefcase.

She'd just popped the lid and scooped up the bag containing the chip when she heard it, the borderline insane screech with which she'd become quite familiar.


Cursing, tucking the chip into the pocket of her pants, she looked around her, eyes wild, as four figures emerged from the back recesses of the warehouse. One was the slim figure of Quinzel, the other three the bulky outlines of the thugs she'd seen flit through the other woman's office after hours. Gritting her teeth, hoping there weren't any other surprises laying in wait for her, she took off in the direction of the door. Gunfire erupted immediately, interspersed with further screeches reminding the shooters not to kill, and she winced as she felt the bite of shattered bits of concrete ricochet into the relatively unprotected skin of her arms and her face.

Bounding up on top of a set of crates, using every ounce of strength she possessed, she was barely aware of the sting lancing through her side until seconds later when the pain throbbed through her with every movement, but there wasn't any time to stop and see what had happened. Catapulting herself through a window, shattering the rotting wooden window frame and sending glass shards flying, she sailed out into the cool night air, feet hitting the pavement firmly as she began to run.

The sound of footsteps behind her encouraged her to seek alternate methods of escape, and so with one strong leap, she grabbed the bottom rung of a nearby fire escape, hauling herself up to the platform painfully. She could feel the thick wetness of her own blood seeping into her pants, plastering her soft cotton turtleneck to her skin, but she tried not to think about it. Instead, she raced up the fire escape to the roof then skidded to a halt just out of sight, eyes focused on the street below her. The three thugs and Quinzel appeared seconds later, each, with the exception of Quinzel, looking around frantically in an attempt to find her. The blonde didn't seem at all panicked though, a fact which only served to make her even more nervous, and as she watched, the other woman pulled a small device from her pocket. After staring at the display for a second, the blonde looked up to the exact spot where she was crouched, superior smirk twisting her lips.

"It's right there, boys," Quinzel drawled, and Helena flinched back as a barrage of bullets bit into the brick surrounding her.

Pulling out the chip, turning it over in her hands, she cursed, then flung it off to the side, hoping it was the only thing allowing Quinzel to track her. Then, without thinking about the danger to herself, she shot up, sprinting across the rooftop and lunging desperately, arching out over the street below, hitting the next rooftop with a roll, one hand automatically clutching the searing tear in her side. But, she didn't stop, just kept on running until she could no longer hear the rapport of gunfire. Then and only then did she allow herself to slow.

Stopping, she found quickly, was a dreadful mistake. As soon as the initial rush of adrenaline wore off, the pain in her side became almost unbearable. Ripping off a black leather glove, she touched her hand to her side, feeling faint as her fingertips shone dark red in the moonlight. She was bleeding fairly heavily, whatever wound the bullet had inflicted undoubted exacerbated by her rooftop marathon. Stumbling slightly on her feet, suddenly aware of a sensation of light-headedness, she shook herself, trying to focus on her surroundings once again. It was becoming increasingly difficult to do, however, as blood continued to pour freely from her side. So, with one last bout of strength, she headed to the one place where she knew she'd be safe. Or, at least, to the one place where she hoped she would be.

Dinah watched Barbara, much as she'd been watching her for well over a month. They'd fallen into a rut, a horribly stagnant rut, and if something didn't change, Dinah wasn't sure how much longer she was going to be able to take it.

Barbara moved through each day as if she weren't really aware of its passing, performing her tasks with rote ease. She went to school then came home, immediately planting herself in front of the bank of computers that comprised Delphi. If Dinah didn't bring her food, she didn't eat, and if Dinah didn't speak to her, she didn't say a word. Instead she scanned the rows of information much as she always had, though now without purpose. It wasn't as if they did anything anymore. Ever since Helena had left, they'd become observers, and Dinah was chafing under the restrictions. She was also growing increasingly angry with Barbara, something that was becoming harder and harder to contain.

Just the night before they'd had an argument. Well, it would have been an argument if Barbara had actually argued back, but she hadn't. She'd simply sat there, unresponsive, calmly taking everything Dinah threw at her without defending herself. It had all started when Dinah had caught her watching the security footage once again, something that seemed like a nightly ritual, and she'd finally just let loose of some of her anger, the release not nearly as satisfying as she could have hoped.

"What you're doing is wrong, you know," the blonde had said heatedly, unable to suppress her disgust any longer. "You know she's out there, and you're not doing anything to stop her. That's what we're for, isn't it? Fighting crime, not facilitating it. What's she going to have to do before you get involved? Kill someone? Put someone in the hospital? I thought you had convictions, Barbara. Since when do you get to pick and choose who gets to break the law whenever they want with no consequences and who deserves to be punished?"

Barbara had simply sighed, a muttered, "You don't understand," her only reply.

"No, I do understand," Dinah had shot back, frustrated. "I know you two have some kind of bond, and I know you love her and all that, but she's not any different than anyone else. You're just as bad as she is, covering up her tracks the way you have been. You've become the exact same thing she has."

A hint of fire had sparked through Barbara's eyes but she'd remained silent, and so with a groan of irritation, Dinah had stormed from the room.

She was preparing herself for another battle, determined to batter away at Barbara until the other woman did something about Helena. She didn't want to have to go behind the redhead's back to the police, some part of her still believing that eventually Barbara's sense of right and wrong would kick into play and she would do what she had to do, but if something didn't happen soon, it would be her only option. Sure, she liked Helena, had been growing to respect her, but the other woman had turned against everything for which she thought they stood, and Dinah wasn't at all comfortable with that. She also wasn't comfortable with double standards. They might operate outside of the law, but they always fought on its side. This, though, was something completely different. Helena was clearly breaking the law, and Dinah had the sinking suspicion that Barbara was tacitly helping her.

So, gearing up to try again, Dinah took in a deep breath and opened her mouth, only to be cut off by the mechanical beep of Delphi's security alert. "Intruder alert… Intruder alert," the machine spouted robotically, the words seeming to break Barbara out of her trance. As the other woman sprang into action, the movements filled with more life than Dinah had seen in weeks, the blonde came up to stand behind her, peeking over her shoulder, glad that at last, something was happening.

The quick click of keys soon resulted in a large image of the intruder, whose position had quickly been isolated. The figure was dressed from head to toe in black, its slim form leaning heavily against the back wall of the elevator, and Barbara felt her heart-rate quicken. She was almost positive she recognized the slim frame, and with little regard to her safety, rolled quickly across the floor until she was directly in front of the elevator doors, waiting impatiently for them to open. Though it seemed to take forever, they finally did, and as the chrome slid open soundlessly, the intruder stumbled out, shoulder bumping painfully against the still retracting door before falling in a heap on the floor at Barbara's feet.

Blue eyes looked up at the redhead from the concealing black mask, pleading and weak. "Barbara," a hauntingly familiar voice whispered before an exhausted Huntress lapsed into unconsciousness, and Barbara gestured frantically for Dinah.

"You've got to help me," Barbara said, her voice panicked. Something was terribly wrong, but she wasn't in any position to know what it was. Cursing her inability to kneel down on the floor alongside the figure, to check that well-known form for injuries and rip away the mask she knew was hiding features she'd longed to see again in person for well over a month, Barbara satisfied herself with doing a visual inspection, not at all comforted by the trickle of dark red blood she could see spilling out onto her floor.

Dinah crossed the room quickly, spurred on by the near hysteria in the other woman's voice. Taking in the figure slumped awkwardly on the floor she sighed, instinctively certain that it was Helena. Knowing that they needed to get her up and somehow aware of a need to be gentle, Dinah focused her thoughts as best she could around the turmoil swirling through her brain. With baited breath, Barbara watched as Helena's form levitated a few feet above the ground, intensely relieved Dinah had decided to put aside her ire long enough to help and hoping that for once the blonde would be able to sustain enough concentration to actually do what she intended to do.

"My bedroom," Barbara rasped, rolling ahead to open doors. Dinah followed her slowly, droplets of blood marking the path of Helena's limp form as it traveled through the Clocktower and into Barbara's room. By the time she finally managed to dump Helena's body in the other woman's bed, she was exhausted. Slumping to the floor, completely drained, she watched as Barbara ripped off Helena's mask, as her fingers traced a gentle path down her cheek before she turned wide, scared eyes Dinah's way.

"Go get the emergency first aid kit. I'm going to need towels and alcohol. Hurry… please," Barbara pleaded, already easing Helena's shirt out of the way to reveal the jagged tear running along her ribcage. The bullet had just grazed her, but Barbara knew instinctively that Helena had caused herself a lot more damage trying to evade whoever it was who was shooting at her. Mopping awkwardly at the sluggishly bleeding wound with her bedsheets, Barbara felt herself start to calm somewhat. She didn't know if Helena was going to make it, though she had to have faith that she was. What she did know, however, was that the other woman was finally home, and if Barbara had her way, this time it would be for good.

Dinah returned seconds later, the requested items in hand. Barbara barely seemed to register her presence as she used safety scissors to cut away Helena's shirt, and used gauze soaked in alcohol to wash away the rapidly drying blood surrounding the wound and then gauze soaked in iodine to disinfect it. Helena moaned at the touch, and Barbara looked up, terrified that the other woman had returned to consciousness just in time for the more excruciating part of the evening, but her eyes were still closed.

With deft movements perfected over a lifetime of tending to her own wounds, Barbara threaded a needle then laid it to the side. After rinsing Helena's wound repeatedly, the pinkish stain on her once pristine white sheets spreading further with each pass, Barbara began to stitch the jagged flesh together. She moved quickly but carefully, closing up the nearly six inch long gash in a matter of minutes, leaving a row of tiny, neat stitches in her wake. When that was finished, she slathered the wound with antiseptic cream and wrapped it with a compression bandage, bisecting Helena's firm, tanned abdomen with a strip of nearly blinding white. That done, she made yet another foray into the first aid kit, extracting a small syringe and a vial of clear liquid. Piercing the foil covering with the slim needle, Barbara carefully drew back the plunger, experienced eyes watching intently as suction drew the liquid up the tube. A few quick flicks to break apart any air bubbles, a small push to seal the syringe, and she turned the needle in Helena's direction. After injecting the strong antibiotic, wincing slightly as she penetrated pale flesh despite the knowledge that Helena couldn't feel it, Barbara collapsed back into her chair, exhausted.

"We've got to take her to the police."

Until Dinah spoke, Barbara had completely forgotten that she was still there. The words jolted her back into the present, however, and she became aware of the blonde standing beside her, a scowl on her face as she looked down at Helena's sweat-drenched form.

"No, we don't," Barbara said crisply. "We don't know what's going on, and until she wakes up and tells us, I'm not going to do a thing."

"You've already got your proof," Dinah said wearily. "You watch the tape every night. Quit deluding yourself, Barbara. Helena's obviously changed."

Deciding to ignore the teen, Barbara merely said, "I'm going to change the sheets. Are you going to help me or not?"

Sighing, Dinah acquiesced, well aware that she wasn't going to get anywhere with Barbara. Later, when the sheets were changed and Helena was nestled in under a mountain of covers, her clothes exchanged for bare skin, the blonde left the two of them alone together, once more feeling distinctly like an unwanted outsider.

Helena smiled happily across the table at Barbara, awed by how beautiful the older woman looked bathed in candlelight. When she'd been asked what she wanted for her 22nd birthday, she'd said a night out on the town. Watching with amusement as Barbara shrank back into her chair, as she apparently resigned herself to no longer spending Helena's birthday with the girl in question, the brunette had almost laughed. Barbara had looked downright crestfallen, and it wasn't until Helena shyly corrected her, when she let Barbara know a night out on the town meant the two of them dressing up in their finest and dining out somewhere outrageously expensive, that the other woman smiled again. It was a crooked, happy little smile, one that had never failed to melt Helena's heart, and she remembered how excited she'd been, certain that she was finally going to be able to get what she'd always wanted.

The night had been wildly romantic, at least in Helena's opinion, and as they lingered over dessert, each sipping on a glass of glittering gold champagne, she leaned forward, eyes focused on the nervous bite of even white teeth into a lush bottom lip.

"Helena," Barbara whispered, eyes beckoning her. "Helena… Helena, please… please wake up."

Startled out of her dream world by the words, Helena sat up with a gasp, immediately regretting the sudden movement as pain radiated out from her side to encompass her entire body. Falling back into soft bedding with a groan, she slowly became aware of her surroundings. There was a comforting hand pressed to her forehead, a soothing voice in her ear, and as she rolled to the side, falling into an ocean of soft green, she wondered if she was still dreaming or if, in fact, she'd actually managed to make it to heaven.

Reaching out, desperate to touch Barbara, to reassure herself that the other woman was indeed there, she came to the conclusion that she certainly hadn't stumbled her way into an afterlife paradise, because she was fairly certain they didn't come equipped with mind-numbing pain. But, pushing that aside, she persevered until her fingers brushed lightly against the other woman's cheek, taking in the worry darkening once verdant green eyes.

"Is it really you?" Helena whispered, still not convinced it all wasn't an illusion. She remembered running, and being shot, and thinking that she just had to make it to the Clocktower and then everything would be alright, but she didn't know how she'd ended up in what she was fairly certain was Barbara's bed, nor did she know how long she'd been there.

"It's really me," Barbara said softly in reply, catching Helena's fingers and brushing a kiss across their tips. "You've been hurt. You need to lay still."

"Barbara," Helena rasped, ignoring Barbara's instructions in favor of pushing up on her elbow in search of a better view of the other woman's face, needing to speak more than she needed to rest, "God, I've missed you. I'm so sorry about what I did before, what I said."

The words were laced with pain and despondence, each syllable tearing into Barbara's flesh with the sting of a knife's blade. Unable to help herself, the redhead hoisted herself up from her position, uncurling her upper body from the protective hold she'd had on Helena's form, to ghost a kiss across a sweat-soaked forehead. "I love you so much," she breathed, the words making their way out of her mouth unbidden, much as were the tears streaking down her face.

The figure beneath her stilled suddenly before, with a startled gasp and an awkward, jerky motion, Helena caught her gaze, blue eyes shimmering with suspicious brightness in the darkened room. "Barbara?" Helena asked, tone guarded, heart surging in her chest even as she prepared herself for another rejection. The softly spoken name carried with it so much hope, pain, longing and desire that it made Barbara want to cry. Everything Helena wanted to know was wrapped up in that one word and the gleam of her eyes, and the redhead thought for a moment that it was all simply going to be too much for her to handle. Overwhelming, really, when she thought about the power she could wield with a simple response. The power to set them on a new course of action, to bring their worlds together in a way that left no room for retreat. If she answered the silent plea being directed her way, her whole existence would change inexorably.

Eyes dropping to the side awkwardly, Barbara felt her resolve faltering in the face of such enthusiasm. But, doubts and insecurities still running rampant, she nonetheless managed to nod shallowly. "Yes."

Simple yet elegant, the word was the only affirmation the other woman needed.

Blood rushing at the softly said yet still quite resolute reply, Helena leaned forward for a kiss, ignoring the scream of agony erupting from her side and losing herself in the taste and feel of the other woman. She was giddy, nearly euphoric, and wished desperately that the moment would never end. It had to, of course, because the strain of the position on her stitches soon had her pressing back into the mattress, eyes clenched tightly shut in the face of another bolt of pain, rain-soft kisses from Barbara's lips brushing her chin, her cheeks, and the corner of her mouth, easing the hurt away.

"I need to tell you what I've done," she said when the pain finally edged away, only to be shushed. Guilt was rushing through her full force, the ache of holding it in almost more painful than her pulled stitches.

"I don't want to know," Barbara said immediately, voice rough, eyes pleading. She didn't want to have to deal with Helena's actions of the past month and a half, didn't want to have to face her own complicity. She wasn't going to fall into the same trap as her mentor had. In fact, she'd had more than enough time to contemplate the strikingly linear progression of her relationship with Helena to his relationship with Selena. Bruce had lost Helena's mother because he hadn't been able to reconcile his calling with her nature, and because of that, he'd thrown it all away. In return, he'd gotten nothing but a lifetime of pain in the form of separation from his only child and the death of the only woman he'd ever really loved. In the end, it had all been too much for him, and Barbara wasn't about to run from her life the way he'd ran from his. At least, not any longer. She wasn't going to make the same mistakes with Helena, and her conscience be damned. If she had to loosen her grip on certain ideals to keep the brunette in her life, indeed, to keep someone in her life who made it worth living, then so be it.

Shaking her head angrily, unaware of Barbara's selfish motivations, Helena said strongly, "No, you need to know. Quinzel… she's got something going on, something big. I thought that maybe if I worked my way in close to her, I'd find out what it was and bring her down and when I did… when I did, you'd know. You'd know I deserve to be your equal."

The words were said with intense fervor and she understood instantly, the other woman's motivations crystallizing in her mind. She felt immediate shame for causing such self-doubt, such painful insecurity. "Helena," she whispered sadly, bereft, tears burning in her eyes.

"I stole things," Helena said quickly, her words choppy as she cut the other woman off, determined to lay all of her sins on the table before the reconciliation went any further. "I didn't hurt anyone, but I stole things. I've got them all. All but the computer chip. I threw it away. She was tracking me with it. We'll give them back when this is all over. I didn't… didn't do this for the money or the thrill. You've got to understand that. I didn't cross the line, Barbara. I swear I didn't."

Sighing, pushing back the sweaty, wet strands of hair clinging to the brunette's forehead, Barbara took a minute to formulate her next words. She didn't want any ambiguity to be left, anything that would let Helena assume. "You've always been my equal," she said, green eyes haunted, serious. "You don't have to prove anything to me."

Coughing lightly, feeling herself skirt perilously close to the edge of unconsciousness yet again, still weak from the loss of blood, but not wanting to leave the moment, Helena struggled to remain coherent. "No, I haven't," she said on a soft sigh. "But, it's true now. Don't you see, Barbara? You've got to know you can believe in me. I won't let you down. You don't need anyone else, I promise. You've just got to give me a chance. I earned a chance."

"You…" Barbara started to say, but fell silent as Helena's lids fluttered shut once more, chest rising and falling with the rhythm of sleep as the drugs and the shock still coursing through her system took over. Watching the other woman's features settle out into calm lines, pain erasing its etchings from the once tense outlines of her face and the stiff set of her shoulders, Barbara resigned herself to a lifetime of never being able to do anything but love Helena. She'd fought it, had been willfully blind to its presence in her life, had denied it to the point of driving the other woman away, but she couldn't do it any longer. Her mind told her that the day would arrive when she wouldn't be enough, and when that day came, she didn't know what she would do. Until then, though, she was going to let this happen and enjoy every single second of it.

When Helena awoke again she was alone, the cold surface of the sheets by her side attesting to the fact that she'd been that way for quite some time. Rolling to her feet, biting back a groan of pain at the move but otherwise fairly happy with the marked increase in mobility she was enjoying, Helena pushed herself off the bed and to her feet. A quick rummage through Barbara's chest of drawers produced a pair of soft gray cotton pajama pants and a plain white vee-necked tee-shirt. Slipping awkwardly into the clothes, Helena made her way out of Barbara's bedroom toward the main floor of the Clocktower, somehow sure that was where she'd find the other woman.

The clack of computer keys proved her correct. As she moved slowly toward Barbara's chair, the other woman caught sight of her reflection in one of the many monitors. Whirling, a frown pulling at her face, Barbara scolded, "You're not supposed to be out of bed."

Shrugging her shoulders, wincing slightly as the move pulled at her stitches, Helena ambled up the platform so that she was standing beside Barbara, hip propped against the metal edge of the redhead's desk. "It's no fun without you there too," she said hoarsely, grinning lasciviously, delighted to once again be back in the place she belonged.

Barbara blushed deeply. She might have decided that she was going to let this happen, was going to break down the walls separating Helena and herself, but that didn't mean that she was ready for double entendres and sly grins. So, doing her best to ignore the heat she could see in the other woman's gaze, she fought valiantly to retain her normal tone as she said, "You have to be hungry. What do you want to eat?"

Suddenly aware of a fierce hunger, Helena said, "Whatever you can manage to cook, unless Alfred is around. If he's here, then I want fried chicken."

Somewhat affronted, Barbara protested, "I can make fried chicken."

Rolling her eyes, thinking back to some of Barbara's more fiery culinary adventures, Helena muttered, "No, you can burn chicken. I'm too sore to operate the fire extinguisher."

Soft fingers stole under the hem of her shirt at the words, and Helena sucked in a deep breath, abdomen suddenly more sensitive than she'd ever noticed it being. "I need to change your bandages," Barbara said worriedly, brows furrowing in concern as the words brought her focus back to Helena's wound. "I don't want you to get an infection."

Smiling weakly, Helena said hopefully, "Is that something we can do in here, because I'm not so sure I can make it all the way back to your room right now."

"Does it hurt that badly?" Barbara asked, eyes and voice laden with worry.

"Nope," the brunette joked feebly, "but ever since you touched me, my knees have been too weak for me to even think about moving."

"Helena," Barbara reprimanded, voice a mixture of relief and self-conscious embarrassment, "this is serious."

"I know," Helena said on a sigh, resigned to stowing away the innuendo for another time. "And I'm sorry. It's just that ever since you said that you… you know, that you love me…"

She trailed off, suddenly blushing. "I guess I just can't believe it's true. That you really mean it, and didn't just say it because I almost died on you."

Green eyes made soft by a touch of aching vulnerability looked up, revealing to Helena a wave of emotion that the brunette instinctively knew had to be close to overwhelming for the normally taciturn Barbara to allow it to even make an appearance.

Voice steady though Helena could feel the faint tremor in the fingers still resting lightly against her side, Barbara murmured self-consciously, "I mean it. I love you, and I want to be with you."

Barbara felt her heart nearly race out of control as she said it, the words painfully hard to say in the calm light of day. This time, Helena wasn't possibly dying and she didn't have anything left of the adrenalin high that had helped the words tumble free of her lips earlier. Now she was saying it because it was true, and because she knew just how desperately Helena needed to hear it. Which didn't mean that she still wasn't terrified, because she was. Terrified of what changes the words would bring, terrified of the new turn her life was about to take. Terrified in general, actually, and quite sure the feeling would be with her for quite some time.

Tentative smile teasing at her lips, Helena said softly, "I love you, too."

Barbara shifted uneasily in her chair, not sure she was able to stand up to the emotional weight of the moment. Part of her wished she could flee, could run and hide in some safe little hole where she didn't feel vulnerable or scared. She needed some distance, needed some time to process the swirl of emotions she could see tearing through dark blue eyes. So, drawing her fingers back and severing their physical connection, Barbara said shakily, "Dinah's still quite mad at you. I explained what you were doing, but I'm not sure she's ready to forgive you yet."

Fighting back the urge to growl out her frustration at the other woman's retreat, Helena muttered, "I don't care about Dinah. Right now, I care about you. Do you forgive me, Barbara?"

The redhead hesitated for a moment, mind flitting back over the seemingly endless weeks she'd spent agonizing over what to do about what she knew, blaming herself for what was going on, and cursing her own inability to stop it. Did any of that matter?

"There's nothing to forgive," she said haltingly, eyes hooded and hidden from the other woman's view.

"Don't take the easy way out," Helena said sharply, pushing herself up off the desk, face impassive. Lowering slowly, bringing herself eye to eye with Barbara, the brunette said again, "Do you forgive me?"

Taking in a deep, shuddering breath, Barbara replied, "I do forgive you, Helena. I know why you felt you needed to do what you did, and I understand. Do you forgive me?"

It was, in her mind, the more important question. Helena had done what she'd done as a reaction to Barbara's actions, as a way to prove her worth. She'd done what she'd done because she'd felt it was the only way to show the other woman that she was worthy, that she was an equal partner. Her methods might not have been completely right, but the motivation had come from someplace pure. Barbara, on the other hand, had been acting from nothing more than a selfish desire to protect herself when she'd driven Helena away, when she'd twisted the knife in even further despite the knowledge of the other woman's feelings. If anyone needed to be forgiven, it was her.

Helena's jaw clenched, eyes closing for a long moment as she thought back to the last time she'd seen Barbara, the last words the other woman had said to her. She couldn't shake that hurt, couldn't erase the vicious scene from her memory. But, opening her eyes to see the uncertainty and guilt written clearly across Barbara's face, she tried to let it all go. And, what wouldn't go she consciously ignored, the other woman's declaration of love far more potent than any of her words of hate. So, smiling softly, she murmured a simple yet far from uncomplicated, "Yes."

A wave of relief rushed over Barbara. She felt the tightness of fear that had been constricting her chest loosen, and breathed deeply, the gesture cleansing. But then she felt the band tighten again, more restrictive this time, eyes filling with worry, "Quinzel is going to wonder where you are. If she figures out what you've been doing, she'll try to kill you. Besides, it's not like you can keep working for her. Not after this," Barbara finished fiercely, one hand gesturing toward Helena's side.

Slumping back against the desk, mind spinning slightly at the whiplash turn the conversation had taken, she mumbled, "I don't know, Barbara. I can't just disappear. She knows who I am, and she knows who you are. I can't see her being too happy with me if I march in and say I'm giving it all up for the domestic life."

Trying to ignore the little flutter that went through her at those words, not sure whether it was panic or anticipation, Barbara tried to keep the strain out of her voice as she said, "We'll think of something. I am not going to risk losing you again." The last words were said with a ferocious determination that lit a slow burning fire in Helena's belly. She felt incredibly safe, in that moment, with the force of Barbara's fury supporting her. She also felt the first brush of intense arousal, the heated look in Barbara's eyes touching something primal deep within her.

Fighting to suppress the grin that was threatening to take over her face, Helena said thoughtfully, "We can't let this go just yet, Barbara. There's something more here. The woman is… I don't know. She's crazy. I mean for real crazy, like certifiably insane. She's planning something. I can feel it."

Working to keep her voice calm, Barbara replied, "And last night she tried to kill you."

"She didn't know it was me," Helena pointed out.

Jaw clenched, Barbara said, "That doesn't really matter. You can't continue to steal things for her and then just steal them back. I think it's pretty clear that plan isn't going to work any longer."

"I can't just walk away from this," Helena said, a hint of desperation in her tone. She had done this, had ferreted out this particular criminal, and she wasn't going to let go without a fight. She'd come so far, had done so much. No, she was going to take Quinzel down.

Sensing the frustration, Barbara sat back in her chair, eyes fluttering closed. She was at an impasse, torn between her need to do what was right, her need to support what Helena felt she needed to do, and her need to keep the other woman safe forever. She couldn't send her back in to deal with Quinzel, not knowing the other woman had no qualms when it came to killing, and not with them at the disadvantage. Helena was far too important to risk over a simple op, she thought, the notion almost enough to make her laugh at her own self-delusion. She'd risked Helena's life before, had risked her own life. Only now she wasn't thinking like a crime-fighter. She was thinking like a woman… she paused here, hesitant to admit it. She was thinking like a woman in love.

When she opened her eyes again, Helena was looking at her with determination. So, leaning forward and twining the other woman's fingers with her own, she said softly, "Give me time to think. I'll figure this out."

"So, Barbara tells me you're not happy with me," Helena said nonchalantly, sliding past the opened balcony door to come stand beside Dinah's stiff form, eyes looking out at the New Gotham skyline. Genetics had ensured her recovery time to be much less than a normal person's, and even though it was just a few days after the shooting, she was feeling pretty much as good as new. With her body nearly fully mended, it was time to start working on the other aspects of her life.

Dinah remained resolutely silent, clinging firmly onto her anger. She wasn't ready to forgive and forget yet, not after what she'd seen Barbara go through and not after what she'd seen Helena do. She might have had a good excuse for her actions, but that didn't erase the fact that she'd hidden her intent from them, letting them both think she was a criminal. It also didn't excuse the fact that she'd left them out in the cold in regards to her plans, pretending as if she didn't even need them.

"Well, you can be unhappy with me for as long as you want, but I'm going to need your help so see if you can manage to get over it enough to work with me," Helena sighed, taking in the stiff set of the other girl's jaw, the unforgiving glint in her eyes. "I don't know what's going to happen with Quinzel, but I won't be able to do anything about her if I'm worried about Barbara all the time. I need you to protect her for me."

That finally broke through Dinah's shell, and she turned, eyes blazing with anger. "Barbara can protect herself," she hissed, arms crossed firmly over her chest. "If you were really worried about her, you wouldn't have abandoned her before."

Voice sharp despite her resolve to stay calm, Helena shot back, "You can judge me all you want, but you don't know what was going on. I couldn't stay here. I just couldn't."

Helena watched the shift and play of emotions across the other girl's face as Dinah fought her way through anger and hate, landing hard at despair. "Don't you know what you did?" she asked brokenly, her ire suddenly gone, leaving defeat in its place. "She sat there and watched that security footage of you every night. She knew what you were doing, and she didn't do anything about it. Not one single thing. She didn't try to stop you, didn't tell the police it was you. In fact, I'm almost certain she covered up for you. You turned her into the very thing she hates."

Masking her surprise at the revelation, Helena took a step back, arms crossed defensively over her chest. "Everything can't be black and white, Dinah. There's no invisible line with evil on one side and good on the other."

"That's bullshit, Helena," Dinah muttered bitterly, head dropping down, eyes focused without seeing on the stone beneath her feet. "She broke every single one of her rules because she loved you, and she couldn't turn on you the way she thought you'd turned on her."

"So what?" Helena asked, exasperated. "What are you really mad at me for? Are you mad because you think I deserted Barbara? Because I stole some things? Or, is it because you found out that everyone's human? That everyone has a weakness, and that anyone can do something you think is wrong, no matter how high a pedestal you put them on? I'm not a saint, and Barbara's not either. And, I've got news for you kid… one day, you're going to find out that you're not one yourself. We're just people, and sometimes we make mistakes. If you expect everyone to be perfect, you're going to spend the rest of your life disappointed."

"I guess I'm supposed to stop expecting things of people then, is that it?" Dinah asked sarcastically, pale green eyes shuttered, face devoid of all emotion.

Sighing, running a hand through her hair, Helena shrugged her shoulders. "No. Don't stop expecting things, just realize that not everyone can be who you want them to be. Either you've got to learn to accept the people you love for who they are, or you're just going to have to get used to living without them."

"I don't want to have to compromise," Dinah said sullenly, a frown pulling at her features.

"So don't. It's your choice," Helena said ambivalently. She couldn't dictate morals or beliefs, and certainly wasn't in any mood to try. Dinah would either come around or she wouldn't, and until she made her decision, Helena would simply stay out of the way. Unless she hurt Barbara, at which point it would become an entirely different ballgame.

Sighing, posture deflating slightly, her words echoing those she'd spoken less than two months before, Dinah asked wearily, "What are we going to do now?"

Looking off blindly into the distance, Helena shook her head. "I don't know, kid."

Barbara was propped up in bed reading when Helena inched into her room, not yet certain whether or not she was wanted. They'd slept together the previous past few nights, bodies curled around one another, but she hadn't been sufficiently healed then and there'd really been little possibility for anything more. They'd shared a few soft kisses, had wound their bodies around one another, but Helena hadn't pushed for more and Barbara had been scrupulously circumspect. Now that her wound was little more than an annoyance, not something which would hinder her movements or call for delicate treatment, Helena knew she wasn't going to be able to content herself with languid kisses and cuddling. Now the possibility for something more loomed large, and Helena didn't know how to handle it.

"Uh, can I come in?"

Barbara looked up, one brow arching in amusement at the absurdity of the question. Helena was standing only a few feet away from the foot of her bed wearing little more than a miniscule tank top and a pair of tiny pink cotton panties, obviously already in her room, but Barbara didn't point out that little fact. Instead, she laid her book down on the bedside table and pulled back the covers, slipping her glasses off as Helena slid uneasily into place beside her. Barely holding back a smirk of amusement, Barbara watched Helena as the brunette went stiff as a board as soon as she was horizontal, breathing hitching momentarily before settling into an unusually fast rhythm.

"Comfortable?" she asked sarcastically, tilting her torso so that she was on her side facing Helena, taking in the rigid set of the other woman's profile. Apparently there was something rather fascinating on her ceiling, because the brunette's eyes were glued to it in intense study.

Letting out a long sigh of frustration, Helena looked everywhere but at Barbara. "I don't know what you want," she admitted finally, voice tight with tension. She didn't want to rush things, didn't want to find herself sprawled out on the floor on the receiving end of a rejection once again, but was also intensely aware of a desire to finally act on the fantasies she'd been concocting for nearly a third of her life.

"What do you want?" Barbara asked casually, though the increased rate of her heartbeat gave away her apprehension over the other woman's answer.

Helena finally turned to face Barbara at the question, voice and eyes starkly, painfully honest as she said, "You. I want you, Barbara."

She looked so earnest, suddenly so impossibly young, that Barbara felt her heart melt. All of a sudden, her resistance seemed like such a waste.

"Then," Barbara murmured, voice loose with a release of nervous tension, "we both want the same thing."

At that, Helena smirked, nerves finally settling into something at least a few steps down from tightly drawn. "You want you too?" she asked, chuckling low in her throat as Barbara rolled her eyes.

"You know what I meant," Barbara growled playfully, the intimacy in her tone sending shivers down Helena's spine. Conversely, ironically, it also brought with it a return of the nausea-inducing nervous tension. Now that she was finally within reach of what she wanted, the brunette wasn't sure if she was ready for it. No, that wasn't it. She knew she was more than ready for it, but that didn't mean she was prepared. It seemed, suddenly, that she should have devised a game plan for this moment, a more coherent scheme of attack. Instead she was left with nothing but her own out of control desire and an overwhelming fear that she would fail her soon-to-be lover.

"I'm nervous," Helena blurted, horrified even as she heard the words cross her lips. She wasn't supposed to be nervous, and she sure as hell wasn't supposed to admit it. She was supposed to be calm, confident, and unbearably seductive, not trembling in fear like a virgin after the Homecoming dance. Only, she wasn't any of those things, and the sheer import of the moment hit her like a ton of bricks. She was about to make love to Barbara, a woman she'd loved for so long she couldn't remember a time when it hadn't been so, a woman she'd spent the better part of seven years trying to impress. A woman whose approval of her meant everything.

Despite her reluctance to do so, overly conscious of the near terror in usually confident blue eyes, Barbara murmured, "We don't have to do anything if you don't want to, Helena."

"No!" the brunette exclaimed immediately, aghast, horrified that her hesitance had ruined things. "I mean, I'm not that nervous."

There was a short silence, and then, voice painted heavily with profound relief, Barbara muttered, "Thank God."

A shocked snort of laughter bubbled past Helena's lips as she rolled over fully so that her side was touching Barbara's, eyes twinkling and dimples deeply evident. "I can't believe you just said that."

Shrugging innocently, Barbara smiled. "Well, it's the truth." And, it was. She'd been without what she truly wanted for far too long, mostly because of her own obstinacy, and was more than ready to remedy the situation. If some part of her was terrified as well, she tried valiantly to ignore it.

Inching even closer to the older woman, their heads now on the same pillow, Helena reached out to trace her fingers down the length of Barbara's arm, her touch ghosting pale skin with light grace. "I can't remember a time when I didn't want you," she admitted, eyes downcast at the revelation, mood swinging from teasing to serious in seconds.

"How about when you were fifteen, and cursing me because you'd just failed a pop quiz," Barbara offered, eyes fluttering shut at the feel of Helena's fingertips against her flesh. She was nervous yet excited, the two emotions entwining around one another, setting her nerves on edge, making each touch electric. She was hyperaware of the heat of Helena beside her, of the slight rake of short nails against her skin, of the moist warmth of the other woman's breath. It was surreal in a way, the notion that Helena was in her bed. That Helena was touching her. That she would soon be touching Helena.

Smirking, shaking her head, eyes glued to the path of her meandering fingers, Helena muttered, "Nope. I might have been mad at you, but I still thought you were hot."

"Hot?" Barbara questioned lightly, tone full of amusement. "I may be many things, but I don't think hot is one of them."

"Oh, I totally disagree," Helena breathed absently, lowering her head to nip at the skin bared by Barbara's tank, her lips brushing against hard muscle encased in silk. "And I'm certainly not, nor was I, the only one. The boys in class used to talk about you all the time, about how much they'd like to get held after class. It used to make me so mad, that they'd talk about you like that. I beat one of them up one time."

"Frank Howard?" Barbara asked, voice catching in her throat as sharp teeth slid across her collarbone and raked against the hollow of her throat. She was quickly losing focus, unable to concentrate on the conversation with anything more than passing awareness. The light caresses were short-circuiting her nervous system, shooting through her body with the intensity of a blow.

"That's the one," Helena hummed, her voice muffled, one hand sneaking beneath the loose hem of Barbara's tank top to tease over the flesh of her belly.

Taking in a quick breath, muscles in her abdomen quivering under the light, seductive touch, Barbara breathed, "You got suspended for that."

"It was worth it," Helena murmured, trailing her lips up the length of Barbara's neck until she was poised beside the shell of the other woman's ear. Then, with a whisper, she added, "Besides, I think I may have opened up some doors for Frank. I saw him out one night when I was on a sweep, trailing along after some huge, hulking leatherdaddy."

Unable to help herself, Barbara laughed, her head falling to the side, the move placing their faces only inches apart. "You're lying," she accused gently, eyes crinkling in amusement at the thought. The rapport between them was comforting, making her think that somehow, even after they gave way to the inevitable physical joining, their relationship would survive intact. They'd still be friends, still be able to talk to one another about anything and everything.

"Nope," Helena replied, grinning widely. Then, voice suddenly serious again, she asked gravely, "Barbara, do you remember the night of my 22nd birthday?"

"You mean the night we spent an obscene amount of money at that hopelessly trendy restaurant you dragged me to?" Barbara asked, quirking a brow in confusion, thrown by the sudden change in topic.

Nodding shallowly, blue eyes focused with searing intensity on the lush planes of the redhead's lips, Helena rasped, "That's the one. You were so beautiful, and I was just a little bit drunk, and I wanted to kiss you so badly it hurt. And I tried, but I was afraid and I pulled back."

"And kissed my cheek," Barbara said softly, finishing off the story. "I remember. I thought you were really going to do it. Actually, I was terrified that you would, and that when you did I wouldn't be able to not kiss you back."

Inching closer until Barbara was the only thing she could see, the only thing she wanted to see, Helena asked hesitantly, "Why were you terrified?"

Laughing self-consciously, eyelids fluttering closed for a moment in an attempt to avoid the probing intensity of luminous blue-gray eyes, Barbara muttered, "Because I wasn't ready then."

Heart racing, Helena leaned forward even more, so close her breath seared the sensitive curve of Barbara's lips and brushed past the line of her chin. "Are you ready now?" she asked hoarsely, excitement coursing through her veins.

Eyes opening slowly, impossibly soft in the room's filtered light, Barbara nodded, unable to speak. There was so much she wanted to say, but it didn't seem like the right time, and she wasn't sure she had the words. She wanted to apologize, to say whatever she needed to say to excuse her actions of the weeks and months prior to that moment, wanted to tell Helena that she was sorry that she hadn't known what to do to fix things between them. Except, she had known what to do, so telling her anything to the contrary would have been yet another lie to add to the pile she had already collected. In fact, she'd watched with full knowledge and awareness, with the dispassionate detachment of staunch self-preservation, the consequences of her choices. In a quest to protect herself, she'd done so much damage that it was faintly wondrous to her that Helena seemed prepared to readily forgive and forget, to move on as if Barbara hadn't taken her heart and her painfully honest offerings and tossed them to the side like so much trash.

But then, Helena's lips were on hers, achingly soft, and she didn't want to think about anything other than the moment. A lithe body was sliding atop her own, the fulfilling weight pressing her deeply into the bedding, entrapping her in a gilded cage of silky skin and the rustle of soft fabric. Impossibly gentle fingers had traced a path up her cheeks to bury in her hair, holding her in place, though for once Barbara didn't chafe under the restrictive hold of a lover. It seemed right, somehow, for Helena to imprison her like that, for the other woman to keep her still and calm, though not complacent.

There could be no complacency in their kiss, one that had quickly turned heated. Helena's tongue was in her mouth, exploring with the intent to conquer. Nails were flexing rhythmically into her scalp, hard nipples were scraping against her own, and the other woman's scent surrounded her like a blanket, ensnaring her in a world where there was nothing but Helena.

"I need to see you," Helena rasped, pulling back, her neck straining to fight the tight pull of Barbara's hands, trying to bring her back even as she left.

At the words, the redhead paused, doubts and insecurities once again rushing to the fore. Each and every imperfection ran before her mind's eye in the span of a second, and she frowned, self-condemnation eating away at the roots of her confidence.

"It's not a pretty sight," Barbara said weakly, breathlessly, a touch of self-deprecation in her words. Untangling one hand from Helena's hair, she reached back, fingers searching blindly for the switch she knew would plunge the room into darkness, eager for the cloak it would provide.

With a lunge, Helena caught her wrist, fingers almost painfully tight as she pulled the offending limb down, pressing it forcefully into the mattress above Barbara's head. "No," she said roughly, eyes sparkling with a barely restrained ferocity. "I need to see you."

Taking a deep breath, pushing down the wave of unease that rippled through her, Barbara forced herself to relax, to make herself as terrifyingly vulnerable as the other woman apparently wanted her to be. This type of visibility was something she hadn't allowed before, not since the accident, but the sincere desire in Helena's eyes beckoned her to part with a tiny bit of her control, to give the other woman this gift. So she did, raising her other hand to join the one still pinned in Helena's grasp above her head, posture terrifyingly submissive, hoping but unsure whether or not Helena knew just how difficult it was for her. If Helena knew just what she was being offered.

Crawling down the length of Barbara's body, Helena pulled free Barbara's underwear, eyes focusing intently on the flesh the move bared. Sliding her hands up unresponsive legs, Helena reveled in the first unfettered access she'd been given, in the free rein she'd been handed. Caressing her way up and over the curve of Barbara's hips, she slid the tank top up toned arms, casually wrapping Barbara's wrists in a prison of fabric, leaving her bound but far from helpless. Trailing her fingers back down Barbara's arms, delighting in the unconscious flex of muscles under her touch, she teased her way down around the curve of full breasts, fingers tracing over the visible path of the other woman's ribs to nestle into the firm planes of her lower back. Dropping her head down until shaggy brunette hair teased creamy skin, Helena placed soft, reverent kisses on the five starburst scars scattered across Barbara's lower torso, tracing her tongue along the lines of pinkish gray surgical scars and the mottled swaths of transplanted skin bisecting her flesh.

Eyes closing at the sight, at the butterfly tease of the touch, Barbara forcefully untangled a hand, letting it fall to Helena's head, her fingers winding into the silky hair she found there. Giving a slight tug, she tried to pull the other woman up, to once again make them equal, but was summarily denied. Feeling raw and incredibly, achingly vulnerable at the continuing close perusal, she muttered a pained, "Don't…"

"Why not?" Helena asked raggedly, unable to separate herself from the allure of Barbara's flesh. Tracing her cheek along the soft contours of Barbara's belly, she murmured, "They're one of your best features."

Laughing self-consciously, head falling to the side and eyes focusing on the far wall without seeing a thing, Barbara managed a strangled, "Please. They're just old, ugly scars."

Frowning at the words, Helena looked down at the skin she'd been worshipping, taking in the torn and tattered flesh. "I don't think you understand," she murmured, placing a light kiss on each scar even as her eyes looked upward, trapping and holding Barbara's with a searing intensity. "Each and every one of these tried to take you away from me. They just didn't know how strong you really are."

Shaking her head, a blush tracing up her cheeks at the words, Barbara thought about how weak she really was, how often she'd almost given in to the temptation to just let go. Her scars didn't represent her strength. They were physical, unforgettable manifestations of her weaknesses.

"Yes, they are," Helena emphasized, then closed her eyes, palms tracing a path up Barbara's back, trapped between impossibly silky skin and teasingly soft sheets. Then, changing tactics, she whispered, "I used to dream about this."

"Kissing my scars?" Barbara asked, confused and flustered. She wasn't comfortable with the close scrutiny, with the attention Helena was lavishing on her. For some reason, she was almost certain she would have preferred anything else. Something quick, something rough… either of those would have been easier for her to handle. This, though, didn't provide her a desperately needed place to hide.

Shaking her head, smiling gently, Helena clarified. "No. I used to wonder what it would be like, being with you. Touching you," she said, voice growing suddenly rougher as her hands slid around to cup Barbara's breasts, thumbs brushing over already hardened tips.

Mesmerized by the hypnotic quality of Helena's tone even as she arched into the touch and her shyness abating now that Helena's attention had been diverted, Barbara asked huskily, "What did you wonder about?"

The words were out before she could censure them, and part of her was surprised at her boldness. She'd never really been a talker before, ashamed by the unsteady timbre of her voice in intimate situations. It seemed natural with Helena, though, as if easy words were just simply an expected part of the process.

Tilting her head to the side, eyes flashing with interest and amusement, aware of the embarrassment that had followed Barbara's question, Helena drawled, "Hmm… I wondered about how you would taste."

And then, before Barbara could even reply, Helena's lips were wrapped around a nipple, jaw working as she sucked the sensitive skin into the warm cavern of her mouth. Teeth scraped harshly, bringing about a delightful mixture of pleasure and pain, and Barbara gasped, fingers instinctively burying in Helena's hair, pulling the other woman closer. The velvet rasp of a slightly rough tongue soothed the irritated flesh a second before sharp teeth teased yet again, and Barbara lost herself in the sensation.

Helena remained in her perch for long minutes, only pulling away to switch to the other side, lavishing as much attention on the previously abandoned nipple as she had the first. Eyes closed, an expression of purely hedonistic joy transforming her face, she drank in the guttural noises flowing past Barbara's lips, sure the other woman was unaware of even making them.

When strong hands pulled her away, Helena looked up to see hooded green eyes looking at her, flashing with an intoxicating gleam of want, desire written clearly across Barbara's face. The other woman flexed strong muscles, straining to pull her upwards, to join their lips together once more, but Helena resisted, instead sliding down Barbara's body to settle between her legs, tongue immediately tracing a long path through the lips of the redhead's sex. The sensation itself was faint, but Barbara moaned, body bucking upward, the sight alone enough to send a wave of heat through her belly.

"Tell me what I need to know," Helena rasped, fingers digging roughly into Barbara's hips. She was surrounded by Barbara, with her scent and her taste and the warmth of her skin all combining to drive her senses crazy.

Finding it hard to hold onto any embarrassment in the face of Helena's obvious need, Barbara ran a hand through short, silky brown hair, sighing as Helena's head tilted to the side, cheek resting against her inner thigh. Her words, when they finally came, were painful but necessary. "There are places where I can feel, but it usually takes a lot of time and patience, and even then it won't always happen. I don't have any muscle control, really, so I'm not of much help. Aside from that, there's nothing."

"But you can still…" Helena started to ask, then trailed off, unsure how to properly frame her question.

Smiling indulgently, bemused by the utterly adorable look of consternation crinkling the other woman's features, Barbara said gently, "With me, it's not all about orgasm, Helena. Everyone always wants it and strives for it and thinks it's not sex without one, but… I don't know. Sometimes, it's almost more fulfilling for me if there's no race with that as the set destination. I can't explain it, but being with someone, watching them and touching them and thinking or hoping or just pretending that they love me and I love them… that's what makes it good."

"Well," Helena drawled slowly, crawling up until her lips were once again only millimeters away from Barbara's, bodies pressed tightly together, "I know I love you. No thinking or hoping or pretending needed. I'm the real deal."

Grinning widely, Barbara surged forward on a burst of emotion, intent on stealing another kiss, only to be thwarted as Helena pulled back abruptly, smirking.

"Where are you going?" she growled, brow arching in exasperation.

In reply, Helena slid her hands under Barbara once more, dragging her upward easily so that the other woman was leaning back against the headboard, body in a semi-recline. Looking at Helena expectantly, she waited, kept in silence by the mischievous glint in the brunette's eyes.

Licking her lips, pleasantly surprised to find a hint of Barbara's taste still lingering there, Helena grinned rakishly. "I'm not finished telling you what I used to dream about," she said smartly, easily straddling Barbara's abdomen, careful to remain where she knew the other woman could feel her. With a promising wiggle of her eyebrows, she eased first one spaghetti strap and then the other from her shoulders, baring the clean lines of her upper chest. Utterly enchanted by the show, a delicious thrill of arousal running through her at the coyly seductive look being sent her way, Barbara waited in silence.She thought she should protest, that she should tear her eyes away from the sight. It was Helena, after all, who was watching her with desire heavy in her eyes, creamy almond skin bared for her to see. She thought she should feel guilty or ashamed, some part of her holding on to the niggling guilt that it really hadn't been that long ago since Helena had been her responsibility. But she didn't feel anything other than exhilaration, knowing this very private showing was for her and her alone, the intimacy of the two of them alone, inhabiting a world where it seemed no one else existed, enough to make her mouth dry and her head spin. It was enough to cut free the last few ties of embarrassment and hesitation. She wasn't going to hold back on Helena. The other woman deserved more than that. And, with the decision made, Barbara consciously pushed her natural shyness away, giving herself over to the heat of the moment.

"The first time I fantasized about us together, I didn't even know really what would happen. I just knew I wanted you, and that the thought of you made me all, well --" she paused, tracing one hand down the length of her belly to flirt with the cotton stretched tight across the vee between her thighs, "-- hot."

"Just hot?" Barbara asked without thought, eyes following Helena's hand with undisguised lust, surprised by just how hoarse her voice was.

Brow rising in surprise at the suggestive question, Helena lowered her chin, looking up at Barbara through lowered lashes. Voice low and gravelly, she admitted, "Well, maybe not just hot, but I'm not at that part of the story yet."

Duly chastised and cheeks flaming with embarrassment at her mindlessly spoken words, Barbara pursed her lips. Satisfied that the other woman would be quiet, Helena continued. "I wasn't sure how you'd touch me," she said thoughtfully, the hand between her thighs slinking up to slide under her tank, inching it up and baring even more supple, caramel skin. "I didn't know if you'd be soft and gentle, or rough. I knew how strong you were. I'd seen you in therapy, and found the thought of you overwhelming me, commanding me, very… appealing."

At Barbara's raised brow, Helena blushed slightly, wondering suddenly if sharing had been the right thing to do. She wasn't sure how Barbara would take her most private thoughts, wasn't completely sure what had compelled her to share them in the first place, but since she had started, she was determined to finish. So, with a quick move she whipped the tank off, tossing it away aimlessly, sitting calmly and proudly under Barbara's intense gaze. She had a beautiful body and was well aware of it, that fact something, at least, of which she could be sure.

Barbara, for her part, couldn't take her eyes off of the sight before her. Helena was gorgeous, with her smoothly tanned skin, her firm yet smallish breasts, and her delightfully delineated musculature. Itching to touch, she deftly slid her hands up the long length of the other woman's thighs, palms reveling in the contact. A sardonic glance from Helena stopped her progress, though, and the other woman reached down, easily capturing her wrists and pressing her arms back into the bedding. The move brought her lips dangerously close to Barbara's, and the other woman stole a quick kiss before Helena reared back, smirking. "Not yet," she reprimanded, the husky note in her voice rolling through Barbara. She felt a burst of confidence shoot through her at Barbara's response to her, eyes glittering as she slid even further into the moment. She was in a world she understood fully, and was going to use the full extent of her experience and expertise to ensure that her first time with Barbara would sear itself into the other woman's very soul.

"Sorry," Barbara muttered, smiling unapologetically, her tone making it obvious that she wasn't sorry at all.

Tilting her head to the side, amused expression making it clear that Helena was entirely unimpressed with her apology, the brunette bit her lower lip gently in a pantomime of a tease, a look of pure, unadulterated want in her eyes. "So, where was I? Oh, that's right… I was wondering how you'd touch me."

A sudden shift downward brought warm, damp cotton in contact with Barbara's midsection, and she groaned, stomach muscles quivering. Helena merely smiled innocently in reply to the dark look sent her way, voice light as she began to reminisce once more. "Since I didn't have you there, I had to touch myself," she murmured, hands sliding up to cup her own breasts. Barbara watched the move through hooded eyes, arousal spiking as Helena's fingers found her nipples, as they pinched and twisted, the flesh blooming bright red. The brunette's head fell back, a choked cry erupting past her lips, and Barbara dug her fingers into the sheets, not sure she could stop herself from reaching out and taking over the task.

Bringing herself back under control, Helena continued on, voice scratchy, "Only, that wasn't enough. I needed more."

One hand disengaged itself from the torture of her nipples to slide downward, slipping easily beneath the waistband of her panties to bury itself in the wetness she found between her legs. Eyes fluttering closed, an animalistic moan echoing around the room at the first brush of her fingers over her erect clit, Helena soon had to abandon her breasts completely. Her other hand sank deep into the mattress beside Barbara's knees, body tilted back as her hand continued to work, and Barbara thought she would climax from the sight alone. Watching Helena, her hand trapped by innocent pink cotton, moving wildly beneath the thin confines of the cloth, chest heaving and eyes shut tightly, was too much. With a growl, she reached up, hands snapping the thin sides of the other woman's panties, the rendered fabric soon pulled roughly out of the way.

Strong fingers pulled Helena away from the exploration of her own flesh, and before she had time to register the change, Barbara's hands were on her, fingers of one hand sliding through her wetness to delve deeply inside of her, the other bringing Helena's wet fingers up to her mouth, lips instantly wrapping around them. Snarling, eyes immediately flashing feral, Helena brought her other hand up to cup the back of Barbara's neck, nails digging into the flesh there in an uneven line. With a surge of her hips, she took the redhead in deeper, nostrils flaring as she brought her head up, eyes burning gold with arousal. Locking her gaze with Barbara's, she began to ride the fingers buried inside her, hips thrusting upward, body balanced precariously. Already teetering on the brink, the rough scrape of Barbara's thumb over her hypersensitive clit elicited a scream and the tight clench of her inner muscles, and with sweat beading on her brow, she moved faster and harder, stomach and thigh muscles rippling with effort, until finally her body froze, mouth opened wide on a soundless cry, body racked with uncontrollable spasms.

Taking advantage of the momentary weakness of nearly exhausted limbs, Barbara pulled Helena in to her, lips immediately finding the brunette's. Tongue slashing out, she attacked the other woman. Teeth nipped wildly and her free hand wound through the short hair at Helena's nape, holding her firmly in place as Barbara ravished her mouth, driven beyond the bounds of propriety by the sight of her lover's release.Her earlier trepidation had vanished, leaving in its wake nearly painful arousal and the need to touch Helena, to taste her, to hear her scream over and over again. The sheer force of her desire was alarming in its own way. Barbara had never felt so reckless, so out of control, with any other partner.

Already eager to continue her exploration of the redhead's body, Helena pulled away, tracing her lips down the line of Barbara's throat, the sharp edge of her teeth leaving a line of red marks in their wake. Latching firmly onto the flesh at the base of the other woman's neck, feeling the irregular flutter of Barbara's heart beating just below the skin, she eased her hand between the other woman's legs, surprised by the wetness she found there.

Pressing forward, long fingers sliding deeply inside Barbara, she was soon rewarded by a gasp cut short, by the unconscious spasm of the fingers still buried in her hair. Certain she'd found one of the spots she was searching for, Helena looked upward, eyes burning, ragged voice laced with concern as she asked roughly, "Can I hurt you?"

The look on Barbara's face was almost animalistic, her voice a low growl. "I don't know. Right now, I don't care."

And, some part of Helena was past caring as well. Pressing firmly against the redhead's inner walls, she began to thrust, the movements blindingly fast. At the feeling, Barbara's shoulders rose, unbidden, her body curling inward even as her nails scraped helplessly across Helena's back, eyes staring blindly off into space, open but seeing nothing. She was aware of little more than the sensation of Helena inside her, the coursing flame of arousal burning through her blood, and the harsh, alien panting of her own breath. She wanted to moan, to speak or cry out or say something, but found herself unable to do anything other than mumble a string of nonsense, the words encouraging despite their lack of lucidity. Already more turned on than she could ever remember being by Helena's earlier seduction and driven to the brink of madness by the hard, relentless pressure of Helena's fingers, she tumbled into orgasm, eyes opening wide in surprise even as her body convulsed, as her fingers dug so fiercely into Helena's back that her nails drew blood.

When she collapsed bonelessly, head hitting the headboard with a thump and body still twitching helplessly, Helena followed her, sweat plastering their bodies tightly together. Trying to still her erratic breathing, Barbara ran the fingers of one hand through the brunette's hair in a soothing, rhythmic motion, the other cradling the slim form atop her own in a tight embrace.

"God, you're beautiful," Helena moaned, still slick fingers coming up to trace the curve of Barbara's lower lip. And then, almost as if she couldn't hold back any longer, Helena leaned forward, capturing the other woman's mouth with an almost pained moan. Her teeth nipped gently at Barbara's lower lip, tongue laving the sensitive flesh. She was filled with a restless energy, body refusing to be still as her hands roamed Barbara's flesh. She craved more, needed more contact, needed to hear the mindless cries she was sure Barbara hadn't even known she was making.

Her mouth was on Barbara's flesh again, lips wrapped tightly around a puckered nipple, and Barbara gasped. She felt dizzy, chest heaving as she tried to draw air into her lungs. With Helena touching her, lithe body seemingly everywhere at once as her teeth and tongue teased sensitive skin, it was nearly impossible.

Nearly reckless with want, Helena slid her torso up Barbara's, her lips pressing biting, teasing kisses along the redhead's neck. A delicate ear lobe was between her teeth, drawing a sharp gasp, and then her tongue was teasing the shell of Barbara's ear, her breath a harsh, rasping pant that nearly drove the other woman insane.

"I want all of you," Helena husked, her closeness making the words seem to come from within Barbara's own head. Then Helena was kissing her again, one hand wound into her hair almost painfully, the other behind her back, pressing them together with overwhelming strength. Barbara felt like she was under attack, drowning in the sensations Helena was creating. It was almost too much, the overload washing away all thought but that of what was being done to her. Her own hands were in Helena's hair, holding the other woman to her. She felt an impossible need to draw her in closer, almost as if she wanted to meld them into one being.

But then Helena was pulling away, was moving down her body with dedicated intent, and Barbara barely held back a moan as she saw flashing gold eyes looking up at her from between her own legs. Helena was watching her intently, no doubt as to her intent, and Barbara felt excitement roll down her spine in a flash of fire.

Slim arms slid up her thighs, lifting her with deceptive ease, and then Helena's mouth was on her, eyes still fastened to her. Barbara did moan then, the sensations faint but the sight overwhelming. Helena growled low in her throat, unabashed delight evidenced in every movement. She stayed where she was for long, unbearable moments before growling again, lowering Barbara to the bed as she lunged forward. Her lips were on Barbara's again, her body nestled tightly against the other woman's as a slim hand traced down. Barbara shivered at the feel of the touch sliding down her skin, nails scraping lightly against her belly before that hand was between her legs.

"All of you," Helena rasped, echoing her earlier words. Fighting her way through the haze surrounding her, Barbara realized that Helena wasn't just talking about her body. She was talking about far more, the possessive need in feral eyes nearly stealing her breath.

"Yes," she hissed, not sure what she was agreeing to and not quite caring.

And then Helena was inside her again and she was lost, the sensation rolling through her. It would never be like it had been before the shooting, but with Helena it seemed like she felt so much. The intensity, especially in light of the virtual dearth of feeling she'd carried with her for years, left her whimpering, body shivering uncontrollably. Her hands were clutching futilely at Helena's back, fingers flexing almost painfully as she felt the already wild beating of her heart, impossibly, speed up. One hand jerked upward roughly, fingers tightening painfully in the hair at Helena's nape as she pulled the other woman to her. She needed Helena's lips on hers, nearly brutal as she kissed the other woman. Barely even aware of the sounds she was making, Barbara drew Helena to her as closely as she could as the tremors began to shoot through her body and she screamed, the cry echoing through the room as her mind was wiped clean, nearly painful pleasure consuming every inch of her body.

Moving slowly out of the fog, she snapped back into the present to the feel of Helena's lips moving softly against her own, the other woman's hips rocking against her abdomen. Wrapping her arms around the other woman, she looked up with dazed eyes. "Over," she rasped commandingly.

Helena willingly obliged, easing them over so that she was on her back with Barbara's weight pressing into her deliciously. She moaned at the feel of all that silky flesh against hers, at the seductive feeling of being pinned beneath her lover.

The smirk on Barbara's face could only be described as devilish, and Helena gulped in anticipation as the other woman methodically placed both of Helena's hands on the bed above her head, holding them there in a light grasp. Short nails trailed down the soft flesh of her arm, drawing a choked cry as shivers raced through her, and Helena looked up, eyes pleading.

"Please," she whispered, body writhing as she strove to increase contact, to feel every inch of Barbara.

Barbara wanted to give in to the naked plea, but she didn't. She wanted Helena to feel like she had, and that process wasn't going to involve anything quick. Instead, she took her time, trailing her nails down the suddenly super-sensitive skin on the inside of Helena's arm again, then doing it over and over until the brunette's head was thrashing back and forth on the pillow, her eyes closed and her teeth biting down on her lower lip in a fruitless attempt to stifle the moans emanating from deep within her chest.

Barbara reveled in each twitch of the figure beneath her, each moan and shiver and barely voiced plea. Moving her exploration further down, she continued to torment, her fingers sliding down the silk of the other woman's sides, up to her breasts and over her quivering abdomen. By the time those fingers made their way to the wetness between Helena's thighs, the brunette was nearly insensate; the rush of feeling was so overwhelming. But then those fingers were touching her there, and she wrapped her hands around the steel bar above the bed, muscles straining as she tightened, body already tight as a trip wire.

"Oh, fuck yes," she hissed, head thrashing wildly as Barbara watched. The sight of the younger woman's pleasure raced through her on a wave of power and arousal, and she quickened the movement of her fingers. She watched as the tendons in Helena's throat flexed, as a red flush spread down her neck and over her chest. And then Helena was looking at her, feral eyes staring sightlessly as her body convulsed.

Burying her head in Barbara's shoulder as the spasms rocked her body, Helena fought desperately to bring air into her burning lungs. Her entire body tingled, from the tips of her toes to the top of her head, and she burrowed into Barbara, needing the comfort of the other woman's flesh.

Too exhausted to speak, she slid effortlessly into sleep.

Barbara heard the other woman's breathing even out, felt already limp limbs relax further, and pulled up, taking in the smooth lines of Helena's face. After planting a light kiss on the other woman's lips, she tugged them both down until they were lying flat once more. As Helena unconsciously curled up on top of Barbara, body almost completely supported by the one beneath hers, Barbara followed the other woman into sleep.

Helena awoke with an irritated snort, left hand flailing out to search the sheets next to her. She found nothing, something that didn't come as a complete surprise because she was vaguely aware of having been lifted gently at some point, of a soothing whisper telling her to go back to sleep. Despite her belief that she'd been suitably healed, the loss of blood had apparently taken more out of her than she'd realized, because otherwise she was quite certain she wouldn't have fallen asleep so quickly the night before, nor remained so when Barbara left.

Rolling over, swiping a palm across the length of her face, she blinked a few times, finally bringing everything into focus. She was in Barbara's room, pale cream sheets tangled hopelessly around her legs, bare skin rippling with goosebumps under the apparently excellent air conditioning system. Images of the night before played across her mind and, unable to help herself, she smirked, the gesture lost on the empty room but fulfilling nonetheless.

She'd made love to Barbara.

She'd made Barbara scream.

Now, if only she could find Barbara, it'd be a good day indeed. Pushing off the bed with that intention, she stopped sharply after only a pair of steps, cautiously sniffing the air around her.

Correction… she'd shower, and then she'd go find Barbara.

Not that the redhead was insanely difficult to locate. In fact, Barbara was sipping her morning coffee, calmly reading the headlines splashed across the front of the New Gotham Informer, when she suddenly found herself with a lithe lapful of very amorous Helena. In the blink of an eye, the other woman slid nimbly under her arm, immediately nuzzling the patch of skin left bare between the line of her jaw and the fold of her turtleneck as she curled into her lap, and it was all Barbara could do to put her coffee cup down without dropping it to the floor, paper hopelessly ripped and wrinkled.

"Good morning," Helena murmured, nose sliding up the curve of Barbara's neck until her teeth found a sensitive earlobe.

Startled, Barbara pulled back slightly, eyes blinking in surprise. "Good morning to you, too," she replied humorously, arms wrapping lightly around Helena's slim form, taking in the heat of the other woman's flesh through the thin, almost translucent, white cotton undershirt she was wearing. The other woman's hair was wet from the shower, combed straight back away from her face only to devolve into a mess of erratically jutting ends, and Barbara pushed down the sudden desire to run her fingers through it, to muss it even further. The intimacy of the aborted gesture startled her, not because she hadn't been used to casual touches, but because the familiarity of it transposed into the new context of their relationship was vaguely disconcerting.

"Don't tell me you're going to work," Helena breathed wryly, moving slowly across Barbara's cheek, her kisses coming perilously close to the redhead's lips.

Smoothing her palms up the other woman's back, impressed with the wiry strength of the muscles she could feel coiled tightly along the line of Helena's spine, Barbara nodded. "It's a school day."

"Then call in sick," Helena said immediately, petulantly. Then, suggestively, she added, "Come back to bed. I'll make it worth your while."

Trying to ignore the tease of Helena's fingertips against the sensitive skin of her abdomen, wondering just how the other woman had managed to pull her shirt free without her knowledge, Barbara pursed her lips as if in deep thought. "I don't know. I only have so many sick days saved, and I do have that dermatologist appointment next week."

Pulling back with an outraged huff, Helena said incredulously, "Dermatologist appointment? Barbara, you've got great skin. What the hell do you need with a dermatologist?"

"I am getting older. It takes more work to look ravishingly beautiful these days," she said, voice infused with a faux wisdom, and Helena rolled her eyes as she noticed the mischievous twinkle in Barbara's eyes. Someone had been playing her for a fool, she surmised, and that someone was currently grinning at her, not even bothering to hide her mirth at how easily the brunette had fallen for her ploy.

Deciding to turn things around instead of pouting, Helena licked her lips slowly, instantly aware of how keenly Barbara's eyes followed the movement. "Well, you're right about one thing… you are getting older. If you need a little extra time to recover, you can just tell me. No need to make up outlandish excuses," she said with a smirk, blue eyes twinkling at Barbara's immediate outrage.

"Excuses?" Barbara growled, eyes narrowing as she pulled Helena to her firmly, fingers immediately sliding down into the brunette's loose pajama pants to cup her buttocks. "I'm not the one who turned down a little playtime in the shower this morning."

At the very thought, Helena looked up, clearly horrified. "Did I really? You've got to take me to a doctor. Seriously Barbara, there's got to be internal bleeding going on or something. That's just not normal. I think I might need help. Do I have a fever? Do we even have a thermometer? You know how to check by hand, right?"

A snort of laughter bubbled past Barbara's lips as she rolled her eyes, clearly amused. "I was just kidding, actually," she said drolly, a soft smile brightening her face. "You were dead to the world when I got up, and I wasn't about to wake you."

"No," Helena said gravely, head nodding knowledgeably and voice full of faux concern. "You were just going to leave me there like a cheap one night stand while you merrily ran along to work as if they actually expected you to be there every day."

"It is funny, the way they almost seem to rely on that," Barbara mused, eyes sparkling. She'd missed their repartee, even if it never had been quite so intimate before, and couldn't help but fall back into it, comforted by the familiarity. Familiarity that now seemed somehow right, and this time, she didn't stop her hands when they slid upward, rapidly cooling wet hair tickling at her fingertips.

Sighing, suddenly leaning forward so that their lips were only millimeters apart, Helena whispered, "Really, though, call in. Please… spend the day with me. I finally found you again, and I'm not ready to give you up to boring routine. Stay here, and we'll pretend like we're the only people in the world. Just you and me getting reacquainted. You want that, don't you?"

The pleading in Helena's eyes stealthily stealing all resolve she might have possessed, Barbara nodded her head slowly, closing the gap between them to find soft lips with her own, melting into the moan she felt vibrate through the other woman. There were slim fingers tracing up her sides to brush past her breasts, having made their way completely under the thin cotton of her turtleneck, and Barbara shivered, almost ready to push Helena back onto the table and dispense with foreplay entirely.

"Jesus… can I have my breakfast without the porn, please?"

The sullen words cut through their erotic haze like a knife, earning a highly irritated growl from Helena as the two women pulled apart slowly.

"Don't you have somewhere else to be?" she asked peevishly, refusing to leave her perch and in fact draping herself possessively over Barbara despite the stiffening of the other woman's form.

Eyes meeting Helena's, full of contentious challenge, Dinah snarked, "Yeah, school. Barbara's driving me, and if we don't leave soon, we'll both be late. Isn't that right?"

The last part of her reply was directed Barbara's way, cold light green eyes catching her own and pinning her with a glare that could only make the redhead glad that the blonde's telekinetic abilities didn't include the power to kill by sight alone. Mentally gathering her composure, aware that her answer was going to seriously piss off at least one of the already agitated meta-humans pulling at her, Barbara sighed. "I'm not going to go in today, Dinah. See if you can keep from wrecking the car."

The last was said playfully, and accompanied by a toss of the keys, but did little to combat the scowl deepening on Dinah's face. It did earn her a little kiss on the chin and a sound of startled joy from the woman curled up in her lap, however, and Barbara couldn't help but smile at that. Wanting to smooth over ruffled feathers, though, still trapped by the blonde's baleful glare, she fixed Dinah with an understanding gaze. "Helena and I have a lot to talk about today, and when you get home this evening, the three of us will sit down together and decide what needs to be done."

Still holding firmly to her anger, despite the part of her that had jumped at Barbara's words, at the intimation she'd be treated like an equal partner in this decision, Dinah muttered, "Yeah, I'll bet you two get a lot of talking done today."

Deciding she wasn't going to take any more of the mood-dampening sarcasm, Helena whirled around in her seat, blue eyes narrowing dangerously. "We get it already kid. You're safe and sound on your little moral high ground, so don't worry. But, instead of staying here and continuing to piss me off, why don't you take your holier than thou shit to school, and leave us the hell alone before I kick your ass so hard you don't wake up until graduation."

"Helena!" Barbara gasped, startled.

Now thoroughly miffed, angry at Dinah for provoking her and ruining what had been a rather idyllic morning, Helena leaned back into Barbara once more, sulking. "I just want to be alone with you," she whispered sadly, suddenly tired. Tired of it all, from the melodrama to the demands of a superhero lifestyle. Now that she finally had Barbara, she found she had everything she wanted, and all she needed was a little time to enjoy it. After everything she'd been through, Helena figured it was the least she deserved.

For a moment, seeing them there huddled together, something like exhaustion outlined clearly on Helena's face, Dinah felt her resolve crack a little. After all, these were the women who'd taken her in, had trained her and taught her and included her as part of their exclusive little group, and maybe they deserved the benefit of the doubt for all of that. It still didn't sit well with her, but she felt somewhat ashamed of the way she'd acted, for intruding on the obvious happiness of two people she knew were in dire need of it. So, with a sigh, she mumbled, "I'm going to hang out over at Gabby's for a little while after school. I'll see ya'll later."

Then, unable to resist a last parting glare at Helena, she left the two alone, feeling suddenly horribly empty inside, and irrevocably separate from the obvious bond connecting her two older counterparts. Seeing them together like she had, Dinah had no doubt that if it came down to a choice between her and either of the two, she'd be out on her ass faster than she could say, "Sorry."

"We really do need to talk," Barbara said softly as soon as she heard the door close, tilting her head to the side so that it rested on a still slightly damp cheek.

There was a muffled sound of assent, and then, "It'll be okay if we do all this talking naked and in bed, right?"

Rolling her eyes, backing her chair and the both of them away from the table, slightly thrilled when she felt Helena's arms tighten around her reflexively, Barbara murmured, "As long as you remember the talking part, then I guess it's okay."

Looking up with a smirk, ignoring Barbara's words, Helena said lazily, "You know, I could get used to this being swept off my feet thing. How about I let you carry me to bed every night?"

"We'd burn out the motor," Barbara observed wryly, though she knew the wheelchair was well designed, and could easily manage to transport the both of them everywhere they went if it became necessary.

Shaking her head in mock sadness, Helena muttered, "Barbara, we're rich, but if it bothers you that much, we'll just buy stock in the company, and every time we have to replace one, it'll almost be like getting some of our money back."

"Learn that in one of the many money management classes you've attended?" Barbara asked dryly, easing to a stop at the edge of her bed, blushing slightly. It felt a little odd to be literally carrying Helena back to bed with the full intention to ravish her completely, especially since it wasn't even yet eight o'clock in the morning. She felt decidedly naughty, looking down at the pants she'd struggled into less than an hour before and knowing they'd soon be hopelessly crumpled somewhere on the bedroom floor. Helena had left the sheets in a mess, the top one torn completely from its moorings, leaving the bed looking as if it had played host to any number of orgiastic experiences and for a moment, Barbara wondered again just how she'd managed to get herself involved in a relationship with the girl on her lap. Her life just wasn't… well, it just wasn't that exciting, superhero drama notwithstanding.

Lips pursed in a scowl, Helena eased her hands under Barbara's turtleneck, inching the fabric up slowly. "It's far too early in the morning for sarcasm," she said dryly, "and we've got much better things to be doing."

"I'd ask you what those might be," Barbara murmured, raising her arms slightly and managing to only wince once when Helena ripped the shirt the rest of the way off despite the scrape of rough cloth against her chin, "but I think I have a good idea."

Flicking open the front clasp of Barbara's bra and spreading the ice blue material wide, Helena trailed her hands up the other woman's abdomen to cup her breasts, eyes fastened intently on the newly displayed flesh. "I can't believe you were actually going to go to school this morning," she muttered, shaking her head in consternation.

Remaining silent, unwilling to impart the reasons why she'd pried herself out of bed that morning, not yet ready to expose even more insecurities, Barbara instead shrugged out of the flimsy material of her bra, tossing it carelessly to the floor. "I'm here now, aren't I?" she asked, voice dipping down to a lower register, and Helena felt her breath catch in her throat.

Looking up, finding herself nearly mesmerized by the seductive intent in darkening green eyes, Helena was completely unprepared for the sharp push that sent her sprawling back onto the bed. Landing with a surprised yelp, she immediately curled up to a half-recline, staring at Barbara with a mixture of shock and confusion, all of which shifted easily into a smirk at the sight of the other woman's raised brow.

For her part, Barbara was wondering where this excess of sexuality was coming from. Before the shooting, she'd had an ample, if not extremely active, sex life. There had been Carolyn and Dick, and she'd certainly enjoyed the physical side of each of those relationships. Since the shooting, her sex life had been unfulfilling, to say the least. True, she'd still enjoyed the intimacy of sex, the feel of someone else's bare skin against her own. It hadn't been much more than that, though, and as much as she missed the racing of her heart and the feel of being touched in a way that made her head spin, she'd accepted it as yet another thing lost and got as much out of it as she could. She had become used to gleaning as much as she could out of most of her activities, actually, knowing before she even engaged in them that they wouldn't measure up to anything she'd experienced before Joker's bullets took away more than just her legs.

Not with Helena, though. Earth-shattering would be more apropos, and when she'd awoken that morning with the other woman acting as an impromptu blanket, she'd flushed dark red. The parallel to a much younger, more vulnerable Helena flashed through her mind, visions of the nights the other woman had spent in her bed to soothe away nightmares a disturbing counterpoint to the feel of naked flesh pressed against her own. She remembered meeting Helena, the young woman brash and cocky and a general pain in the ass for the entirety of the AP Literature class that Barbara had taught. Probably barely even 16 then to Barbara's 23, and now that familiar figure was crawling toward her on her hands and knees, eyes hooded, feral and determined. She wasn't sure whether to be disgusted with herself or intensely aroused. The night before, she'd given in to the heat of the moment, to her own desire. She'd been more open with Helena than she had been with any other lover. The disjoint between the passion of the night before, the aching pull to feel that connection again, and the memories of Helena as an adolescent with Barbara as her guardian pulled at her, shattering her mind into a million conflicting pieces.

"You still here with me?" Helena asked softly, stopping inches away from Barbara. The other woman's sudden mental absence was almost like a physical presence in the room.

Green eyes slowly blinked back to awareness and Barbara focused on her completely, a slight frown tightening her brow. "I'm sorry," she murmured, chuckling humorlessly. "I guess this is just a little bit harder than I thought it would be."

Sitting back on her haunches, pushing down the hint of frustration creeping up her spine, Helena fought to keep her voice calm as she questioned, "Harder?"

Blushing, unable to take the scrutiny being directed her way, Barbara turned her eyes to the side. "It still feels a little wrong, somehow," Barbara said hesitantly, cringing even as she heard the words.

Helena sucked in a quick breath at that, the words coming as a physical blow. "Wrong?" she repeated. "Why?"

"You were my ward," Barbara said softly, wishing that she could have kept her emotions hidden, that she could have fought this battle in private. But now it was out there, and she felt a bolt of panic.

Helena clenched her jaw, not wanting to give free reign to the anger she could feel coursing through her system. After the night before, she had thought that Barbara was finally ready for this, ready to give herself over to the relationship. "I'm an adult now," she said through gritted teeth.

Hearing the frustration and anger in Helena's tone, Barbara sighed. "I know, but that doesn't change the fact that…"

"I was almost an adult when I came to live with you," Helena broke in, not wanting to hear whatever the other woman would come up with as a new barrier. "And by that time, I don't really think there was much of my childhood left. Besides, maybe I've been wrong all this time, but it never seemed to me like you were taking care of me, Barbara. We took care of one another. You were my guardian because the state said I had to have one. But, that's just a word, ancient history now. Those things, those roles… they're temporary. Statuses, that's all, and they don't even apply anymore. They aren't feelings. Feelings are the only thing that matter."

At that, Helena paused, eyes achingly sad. Shaking her head and laughing at her own stupidity, she finished tiredly, "I thought you said I was your equal. I should have known…"

"No," Barbara said fiercely, cutting off whatever Helena had been going to say, guilty enough to know there was some truth in it. "You are."

"You can't just say it. You have to believe it."

If Barbara hadn't known better, she would have thought that Helena was on the verge of tears.

"So what?" Helena pushed on, trying desperately to ignore the helpless confusion in Barbara's eyes. "You're going to tell me last night was a fluke? Been there, done that, got it out of your system?"

Trying to calm her suddenly erratic breathing, trying to ignore the bitterness in Helena's voice, Barbara wished that she could find the perfect words. But she didn't know them, was hopelessly lost in all confrontations of an emotional nature.

"That's not what I meant at all," she said, the words weak even to her own ears. "Helena," she continued, frustration evident in her tone, "I meant it all. Every word. Every touch. Everything."

Sitting back, suddenly exhausted, Helena buried her face in her hands.

Cursing herself and her inability to crawl up on the bed and comfort the other woman, Barbara braced her hands on the arms of her chair. Lifting herself up, the long seconds it took to transfer her legs to the bed once she'd managed to shift her torso over… all of it made her want to laugh at the callous cruelty of it all. Everything was a battle, from her body to her emotions to her newfound relationship.

"Helena," she sighed, steadily working herself across the mattress so that she was leaning against the headboard beside the brunette.

Even as she wanted to run away, Helena tucked herself into Barbara's body, burying her face in Barbara's neck. The other woman smelled like rainwater and flowers, and as strong arms wrapped themselves around her, pulling her in closer, she felt Barbara's exhalation of frustration ruffle her hair.

"I don't have the strength to do this anymore," Helena said starkly, weariness evident in her voice.

Grip tightening as if she were afraid the other woman was going to flee, Barbara took in a deep breath, trying to make her mind formulate the perfect response. Futile, she knew, but she was going to try nonetheless. "I don't either," she said tiredly, cheek rubbing against the silk of Helena's hair. "I'm tired of running from my feelings, and of feeling guilty for having them in the first place. I'm tired of second guessing myself and feeling inadequate. I'm tired of missing what I can't have anymore and not grabbing hold of what I can have. I'm tired of trying to pretend that you're not the most important thing in my life."

She stopped, suddenly afraid that she'd said too much. Barbara wasn't one to share emotions, always uncomfortable with the sense of vulnerability that accompanied disclosure. It seemed likely that when she did decide to share, she'd do it wrong, say the wrong things, tell too much.

Biting her bottom lip nervously, desperately wanting to look at Barbara, to see the emotions she knew were present in normally shuttered green eyes, Helena drew her head upward. She was painfully aware that everything she was feeling was written on her face. There wasn't much she ever had control over, and emotions certainly weren't one of the things she could hide away.

Placing a gentle hand on the side of Barbara's face, drawing the other woman back to her when she would have turned away, Helena said softly, "You're my whole world, Barbara."

Barbara felt her heart skip a beat, then resume at what felt like twice its normal speed. Bringing her hand up, she slid it over Helena's cheek and beyond, thumb brushing by the sensitive shell of an ear before her fingers buried in soft, dark hair. Pulling gently, drawing Helena to her, she kissed the other woman softly, pouring all of her words and feelings into the gesture, hoping it would convey everything she didn't know how to say.

Moaning deep in her throat, melting into the embrace, Helena slid upward. Both hands wrapped around Barbara, bringing them almost painfully close. She wanted, more than anything, to pull Barbara into her, to merge them into one whole being, not two separate parts.

Helena wasn't sure how long they kissed, but when she pulled back an indeterminate amount of time later, Barbara's lips were red and swollen and her eyes were glassy. Her hair was mussed, all of the careful styling she had done in preparation for school eradicated by the pull of strong fingers, and Helena wanted to laugh. She'd never seen Barbara look more delicious.

"What?" Barbara questioned softly, uncertainly. She saw the amusement in Helena's eyes and couldn't help but be self-conscious.

Shaking her head gently, Helena reached forward, smoothing the tip of her finger over Barbara's lower lip. "Nothing," she murmured, eyes and voice combining in a hypnotic lure. "I just keep forgetting how gorgeous you are."

Eyes dropping bashfully, Barbara turned her head to the side, focusing on the mussed bed sheets. "That's you," she demurred, "not me."

"Uh-uh," Helena chastised, bringing Barbara's face back around and ducking down so that their eyes met. "I'm not letting you pull your usual shy routine. You are absolutely stunning, Barbara Gordon. Your worst day puts my best to shame."

Grinning despite herself, Barbara said warmly, "You're a charmer, Helena Kyle."

Smirking lasciviously, Helena looked at Barbara from under lowered lashes. "Perhaps I could charm you out of these pants, then," she quirked, reveling in the cheesiness of the line.

Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Barbara said, "I think that will take a little bit more than charm."

Arching a brow, Helena teased, "I'm up to the task if you are. What do you say, Oracle? How's about a little early morning reconnaissance?"

Eyes narrowing, Barbara muttered, "I can't believe you just said that. I thought you were supposed to be smooth."

"I can be smooth later."

Running a slim finger down Barbara's side, Helena delighted in the shiver the move caused. "Dinah's going to be home soon," she said sadly, snuggling closer to Barbara.

The other woman looked at her sleepily, hair a wild mess. "I think that after this morning's display, she's more than aware of just what we did all day," Barbara drawled sarcastically. She was, quite literally, exhausted. Helena was insatiable, and she couldn't remember how long it had been, if ever, that she had devoted that long of an uninterrupted period of time to nothing but pleasure. She'd been drifting in the haze that preceded sleep when Helena's voice had dragged her back, and she was none too happy about it.

Blushing, ducking her head at Barbara's amused look, Helena sighed. "I know that. But imagining and seeing are two different things."

"She won't be doing any seeing unless she comes in here," Barbara pointed out. "And, I doubt she'll do that. Why are you so concerned anyway? Not to be too blunt about it, but I thought you were currently not giving a damn about what Dinah was thinking or feeling."

"It's not that," Helena said slowly, easing back down so she was laying on Barbara's shoulder. "I just think that we should be sensitive, you know. I'm trying to be considerate here. I can't believe you're not supporting it."

"I'm supporting," Barbara said blithely. "Please, be considerate. Just don't expect me to get up and join you for it. I need a nap."

At that Helena snorted, and when Barbara looked down at her, the other woman's eyes were full of arrogant pride. "Tired you out, did I?" Helena teased.

"Thoroughly," Barbara drawled, snuggling down further into the covers. "Don't ruin it by gloating."

Helena was of a mind to ruin it completely, but as Barbara's eyes drifted closed, she realized that the fact that she'd done it in the first place was good enough.

With a sigh, Helena let her jacket fall to the floor. Dinah had yet to reappear at the Clocktower and Barbara had yet to awaken from her nap, leaving her with the perfect opportunity to grab a few essentials from her apartment and head back to the Clocktower for some much needed rest.


The sharp pain in her neck was her second clue that something was wrong, and as she felt her knees turn to liquid, Helena came to the sudden and jarring realization that this was, quite possibly, a very bad thing.

"Get her in the van."

The voice was far-off and hazy, as if the speaker was 3 floors away on a cell phone with horrible reception, but Helena would have recognized it anywhere.

"Fuck," she muttered, trying to push up on her hands. She wasn't sure when she'd hit the floor, exactly, but the soft tease of carpet under her fingers let her know she had. Scrambling, stumbling, she managed to make it to her feet, swaying unsteadily as she tried to fight back the blackness encroaching on the edges of her vision.

There was a soft chuckle, and then slightly insane green eyes swam into her view. "Impressive, dear. There was enough animal tranquilizer in there to take down a tiger."

The words were followed by a sharp tug, and seconds later Helena saw the needle-tipped glass cylinder slide into her view, a gleaming drop of blood hanging precariously from its tip. "Too much and I could kill you," Quinzel said speculatively, the hand holding the dart replaced by one holding a gun, the barrel only inches away from her chest. "Guess I'll just have to risk it."

This time the pain was agonizing, and Helena lurched forward, intent on ripping Quinzel's throat from its moorings. She had trouble catching her, though, her feet seemingly anchored to the floor, and she tried to go feral, tried to think of any way to burn the sedative from her blood, but as she fell, unable to even bring her hands up to keep from crashing face first into the floor, she knew it was too late.

"I'm sorry, Barbara," she said, the words never quite making it past her lips.

She sputtered, coughing as a sudden deluge of water managed to sneak down her nose and into her throat, burning the whole way down. Shaking her head slightly, the minute movement sending her stomach lurching, Helena tried to figure out where the hell she was.

"Goody. Our prodigal thief awakes."

Quinzel. She remembered the other woman being in her apartment, remembered the ripping pain of a needle tearing through her flesh. She'd been captured, obviously, caught off-guard by the unexpected nature of the attack following a long and draining day.

"Where…" she ground out, her mouth as dry as cotton. It felt as if her jaw had been wired shut and forcibly pulled apart, and her eyes, when she tried to open them, felt as if they were full of sand.

"Where are you?" Quinzel asked with a hint of demented glee. "At my lair, of course. All good villains must have a lair. And now I've made you my centerpiece."

Biting back the bile creeping up the back of her throat, Helena took in a deep breath and surveyed the situation in her mind. She was lashed to something, hands, ankles, thighs and torso firmly bound. It felt as if she were upright, and when she managed to pry open her eyes for a second, she could tell that she was. She was also completely naked.

"Looks like you've been busy," Quinzel murmured, and suddenly she was standing right in front of Helena, a soft fingertip tracing over the now barely visible scar left over from the shooting. The finger moved up, sliding over a bruise at the base of her neck. "In more ways than one. Did the delectable Ms. Gordon do this?"

Struggling to hold her head up, Helena glared. "Fuck you."

Quinzel laughed shrilly, the sound grating against her already throbbing nerves. "But now you're used goods, darling. You've been tainted by love. Or maybe I shouldn't care. Maybe I should taint you, make it so that your darling Barbara won't want to touch you again."

The finger slid down, circling the slight indentation of Helena's navel and inching even closer to the cleft between her thighs. And then that cool finger was parting her, and she winced, the touch enough to make her want to vomit.

Quinzel circled her finger gently, not missing the look of fear mixed with pain on her erstwhile associate's face. "Would you like that, love? Do you want me to get you dirty?"

Schooling herself to keep a straight face, Helena looked up with a sneer. "Why don't we skip the requisite insane ramblings of greatness and evil and move on to why I'm really here."

Pulling away with a pout, bringing her finger up to her mouth, tongue flicking out in a blatantly sexual move to lick a path up its length, Quinzel snarled. "You're no fun anymore, Helena. You've been tamed. You're just a domesticated little kitty now. So boring."

"Then why keep me around?" Helena challenged, moving her wrists gently, testing the strength of her bonds.

Smiling again, this one tinged with blatant malevolence, Quinzel murmured, "You have one more purpose to serve for me, pet. And then, if you're lucky, I'll kill you quickly."

It was after midnight, and Helena was nowhere to be found.

"Shit," Barbara murmured, pulling her glasses off to rub at her eyes. "Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. Fuck."

Quite unused to hearing anything like that from the normally reserved redhead, Dinah peered over her shoulder tensely. "Is it Quinzel?"

Helena's comm set had obviously been shoved deep in her pocket, and Barbara was faintly surprised that she'd been able to activate it remotely. The voices she heard when she did were barely discernable. They sounded muffled and far away, but by taping the input, stripping out the background noises and amplifying the content, Barbara was able to hear what was being said as if the people speaking were in the far corner of room. They'd let their guard down, and now they were paying for it.

Stiffening, face grim with determination, Dinah murmured, "Can you find out where they are? I'll get her back for you, Barbara. You just tell me where."

"Oh, Dinah," Barbara sighed wearily, taking in the teen's resolve, "you're not ready. I won't have two deaths on my conscience."

"I'm not just going to sit here and listen to her die," Dinah cried out suddenly, barely leashed fury crackling through her words.

Green eyes narrowing, Barbara shot Dinah a venomous look. "I'm not either, but if I'm going to save Helena, I can't be worried about you going kamikaze vigilante on me, do you understand?"

"I can't just sit here," Dinah cried helplessly, fists clenching.

Biting back her own shout, knowing that directing their anger at one another wouldn't get them anywhere, Barbara said sternly, "Then go train. Just don't distract me, and don't get in my way."

Dinah sulked off, to where she wasn't sure, but she didn't really have time to worry. She'd fix hurt feelings another day, when the other half of her soul wasn't dangerously close to death. Hoping against hope that the GPS device hidden within Helena's comms hadn't been damaged, Barbara worked to pull up her location, compare it against a map of New Gotham, and lock down where she was located.

"Gotcha," she snarled nearly a half-hour later, pages of schematics covering up the bank of screens. It had taken a little time consuming hacking, but she not only knew where Helena was being held, but she also had managed to seize control of the power and had found the number to the only working phone in the building.

"Boss, it's for you."

Quinzel nearly yelled with frustration, throwing down the knife she'd been using to trace shallow, intricate patterns in Helena's skin. "Well, put it on speaker," she screamed, fighting back the urge to shoot the flunky who had interrupted her fun.

Seconds later, the silence in the vast warehouse was broken by a tinny, nearly unrecognizable voice.

"What do you want?"

Straight and to the point, and Helena's heart nearly leapt into her chest at the words. The voice was Barbara's, and even the distorter she'd used hadn't been able to hide that fact from her.

"With whom am I speaking?" Quinzel asked, voice sugary sweet. "And how did you get this number."

"I have my ways," the voice on the phone replied calmly. "Tell me what you want."

Quinzel sighed. "World peace." She paused, laughed. "Oops, must have gotten my demands for world domination mixed up with my acceptance speech for Miss America."

"Quinzel," the voice growled, and the blonde's laughter stopped.

"I see I'm not dealing with a complete fool, then," Quinzel said coldly, ambling back over to where Helena stood, still strapped to the wall. "I take it you want your kitty back?"

Bending down to pick up the knife, Quinzel's eyes blazed with near insanity as she leaned in and whispered, "Sing for her, kitty."

And then she stabbed the knife into Helena's side in the exact place where the bullet had done its damage, and despite herself, Helena screamed.

"Oops," Quinzel giggled, remorse completely absent from her voice. "Quite a bit more blood than I was expecting. Wonder how long before she bleeds out?"

Blood draining out of her face instantly, Barbara struggled to remain calm. "I repeat, what do you want?"

Quinzel paused for a moment as if considering the question in depth. "You seem to be a woman of talent," she finally said. "I'm willing to make a trade with you. You give me my Mr. J and I'll give you back your kitty."

"Joker," the voice on the phone hissed, and Quinzel nearly cackled.

"Ms. Gordon, I presume," she said haughtily, quite sure she was correct in her guess. "I'm sure you remember my Mr. J. He gave you the lovely gift of a chair last time you met, if I'm not mistaken."

Fighting back unconsciousness, not needing to look down to see how much blood she was losing, Helena said weakly, "Don't do it. I'd rather die."

"And I can arrange that, kitten," Quinzel said, eyeing the knife speculatively. "But be quiet. The adults are talking."

The voice on the other side of the phone was quiet for a moment. Then, "How do you propose I go about acquiring Joker for you? He's a prisoner at one of the securest facilities in America."

"You have connections, dearest," Quinzel snickered. "Just call on Daddy and have him arrange things. I have faith in you. You managed to find us here, after all. Surely you've got a few tricks up your sleeve."

"I need assurance that Helena is going to be alive long enough for me to make this happen," Barbara said roughly.

"Well then, I guess you better hurry. Unless kitty has nine lives, you're going to need to work quickly."

She wasn't ready for this. The device was still in testing, and she hadn't been able to use it for a sustained period of time yet. But, at the moment, that didn't matter. If she didn't get to Helena, the other woman would die. She had no doubt about it, given what she knew of Joker and his henchmen. Or henchwoman, in this case, and she wondered why it had taken her brain so long to link Harleen Quinzel to Harly Quinn.

It took her longer than she would have liked to load the wheelchair into the van, and the device was bulky and uncomfortable under the thin bullet-proof vest under her sweater. But, thanks to her years prowling the less savory areas of the city as Batgirl, she knew exactly where she was going and wasted no time in getting there, the wheels of the van leaving the road's surface several times as she took curves at upwards of 90 miles per hour.

Nearly 10 minutes later, the van rocked to a halt in front of a non-descript warehouse, and Barbara took a deep breath as she hit the button that would lower the hydraulic gate that would allow her to roll out of the cab and into the biggest challenge she'd faced since she'd been put in her chair. Listening to the hiss and moan of the gears at work, she closed her eyes for a brief moment, wondering briefly if she was crazy, if today was the day when she finally took it too far. If today was going to be the day she died.

A cadre of armed men spilled out of the warehouse as she rolled toward the front gate, and the weapons trained on her left a halo of red pinpricks glowing on her breast. At the sight she rolled to a stop, sighed, slowly held up her hands, and quirked a brow. "Is this really necessary?" she asked wearily, hands returning to her wheels as she inched forward. "I want to speak with Quinzel. I think we're both aware that I'm not really a threat, unless she's got a crippling fear of paraplegics."

One of the larger men frowned quizzically, gun still trained on her as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a radio. Bringing it to his mouth, he clicked it to life with a burst of static, voice a harsh bark in the cold evening air. "Boss, there's a lady here who wants to see you. She's in a wheelchair. Should I let her in?"

Quinn's voice rang back over the radio, shrill and loud. "Now! Do it now!"

Shaking his head with a grunt, the man tucked the radio back into his pocket and holstered his weapon. Approaching Barbara slowly, he knelt down, hands going to her calves as he began to pat her down. "Gotta make sure," he said roughly, though she thought she could see a hint of blush on his cheeks as his hands made their way up to her waist. The blush disappeared into a scowl as he paused there, brows furrowing as he came in contact with the connector belt.

"What's this?" he asked with a frown, pulling up her sweater. He didn't give the bulletproof vest a second glance, it not the topic of his interest.

Trying to sound embarrassed, Barbara murmured, "It's for my back. It's from the shooting. The skin there didn't heal properly, and I have to wear this or risk infection. Peel it back if you want, but I hope you've got a strong stomach."

Eyes narrowing, he looked at her speculatively. "It's not an explosive?"

"Do I look like a suicide bomber to you?" Barbara quirked, giving him a shy smile. "I'm here to try and get my friend back, not to try and get myself killed."

"But you took precautions," the man pointed out, rubbing the thick weave of the high-tech vest between his fingers.

Biting her lower lip, willing to give up the vest if it would get her inside, Barbara sighed. "Can you blame me? I thought I could use all the protection I could get. But, you can't honestly think I'm going to hurt her with a vest?"

The man seemed to think it over for a moment, then stood with a grunt. "Fine then. Let her in."

And with that, Barbara began the execution of perhaps one of her boldest ever plans. She rolled into the warehouse, alone and determined.

"Pretty kitty," Quinn purred, and Helena opened her eyes briefly, sluggishly, judging from the bright shining haze of psychoticism burning in the other woman's eyes that she'd finally crossed the threshold into utter insanity.

Coughing lightly, tasting blood in the back of her throat, Helena snapped, "Do you ever shut up?"

The sharp slap caught her by surprise, and Helena, already weak from blood loss, felt her vision reel. It made her want to vomit, and she barely caught herself, instead spitting the blood pooling in her mouth out onto the floor in disgust.

Leaning closer, ignoring the blood, Quinn murmured, "Your knight in shining armor just rolled up. I get my Mr. J, get to snap her neck and finish what he started as soon as she springs him, and get you. Good day for me, don't you think? Absolutely, positively a red letter day."

Closing her eyes against the swirling nausea she felt, sure Quinn was simply teasing her and that Barbara hadn't been stupid enough to actually come, Helena rasped, "You're insane."

Quinn laughed wildly, her joy at the imminent culmination of all of her hard work flowing through her unfettered, and she purred, "Maybe, kitten, but at least I'm happy. Not quite sure I can say the same about you."

Raising her head, pretending it didn't take nearly as much effort as it did, Helena muttered, "You're going to die today. I'm going to kill you, and I'm going to enjoy every second of it. And when I'm done, I'm going to kill your Mr. J, but only after I take him your head."

Tilting her head to the side, peering at Helena curiously, Quinn said almost gently, "You've got style and imagination. I like that about you. Too bad you've chosen the wrong side of this little war when we could have been so good together. My brain, your abilities… we could have ruled the world, little kitty. Instead you lie to me, try to thwart me, go behind my back like some kind of righteous avenger. I'll never understand this compunction for good you people feel. It's hopeless, your silly little quest to right all wrongs, to defeat all evil. Evil is everywhere, don't you see? It's the hydra, the phoenix. It will never die, but you will. Your precious Barbara will. Everyone you've ever cared about will die, but my work will live on, and if you hadn't been so stupid, you could have been a part of it."


Rolling her eyes, gritting her teeth in frustration at the interruption, Quinn nonetheless took a moment to smooth her face into calm as she turned to address her henchmen.

"Give me a few minutes alone, boys," she said, voice low and full of menace as she took her first good look at Barbara. She laughed shortly before spinning around on her heel, a vicious and unexpected uppercut catching Helena under the chin and driving the back of her skull into the wall behind her. As she turned back around, calmly licking a drop of blood from her knuckle, Quinn murmured, "I think I can handle this one all by myself."

Casting a worried glance at the woman in the wheelchair, immune now to his employer's fits of violence, the head henchman said, "You sure that's a good idea, boss?"

Head turning slowly, lips pursed in a disapproving frown, Quinn looked at the unfortunate man for a moment before screeching, "Are you questioning me?"

Face growing hard, well aware of the danger of disagreeing with the clearly unstable woman for whom he worked, the man nodded his dissent. "Of course not, boss."

Quinn watched the men file out of the warehouse with a smirk. "I have no idea why he insists on calling me boss. Left over mob mentality, I guess. Comes with the territory when you hire locally."

Trying not to panic at the sight of Helena hanging naked, as bloody as if she were an extra in a particularly gruesome Hollywood horror movie, Barbara said sharply, "I want her taken down, Quinzel. I want to examine her and make sure she's okay before we go any further. If she's dead, then we don't have a deal."

Clucking disapprovingly, easily ignoring the other woman's words, Quinn began to walk slowly toward Barbara. "I'm intrigued by your bravado, little Miss Muffin Top. You're more than you seem, a half-bodied school teacher with a baking business on the side. Of course, I already knew that. A shrinking violet wouldn't have so captivated my Helena. But there's something more there… help me put my finger on it. Tell me more about yourself, Barbara Gordon."

"I'm not here for therapy, Quinzel. If you want me to get Joker for you, you're going to have to do as I ask," Barbara said, eyes focused firmly on Quinzel even as she caught the faintest hint of movement from Helena out of the corner of her eye.

Studying her nails with interest, Quinn drawled, "You seem to have an entirely inaccurate perception of this situation, Ms. Gordon. You're not really in the position to ask for anything, you see. I have under my employ a group of men with very good aim who wouldn't blink an eye if I ordered them to kill you. I would very much so enjoy taking care of the task myself, actually, and would at least do it with a modicum of style, unlike the hired help. You, on the other hand, are an ex-librarian in a wheelchair, and while I'll give you the benefit of the doubt because you actually did come all the way out here knowing that you were probably going to die, I'm afraid that I'm going to be forced to point out the obvious here. You'll do exactly what I say or you both die much, much sooner than you had anticipated. Now, does that make sense to you?"

"Killing me gets you nothing," Barbara said softly, rolling closer.

Tilting her head to the side speculatively, Quinn nodded her agreement. "True, it doesn't get me anything in the traditional sense of the word. But, sometimes the enjoyment we derive from something is just as important as any material good we might receive. Don't you agree?"

Barbara bided her time, watching Quinn wander closer and closer. A hand outstretched in horror, bracing against the doorframe as she'd first rolled into the warehouse and ostensibly steadying her in face of the shock of seeing Helena, and she'd easily transferred the small block of C4. Two steps closer, and Quinn would give her the opportunity she needed.

Not receiving the answer she wanted, Quinn approached Barbara rapidly, angrily, hand outstretched in readiness to strike her. "Don't you agree?" she screeched, hand connecting sharply with Barbara's cheek. Barbara allowed the first slap, but the second snap caught Quinn by surprise, and she looked down at her shattered kneecap in shock just as the room reverberated with the sonic boom of an explosion. The shock was even greater as Barbara stood, her movements jerky and uncoordinated, and Quinn had barely managed to raise her gun up above her head and train it on Barbara's heart when the second blow of the truncheon arrived, crushing into the base of her skull and rendering her unconscious.

Barbara took a moment to roll Quinn over, ignoring the slowly leaking blood pooling beneath her, securing her hands and taking her guns. Then, fighting past pain that had long since prompted her to bite straight through her lip, she shuffled over to where Helena was hanging, covered now with flecks of plaster and bits of shattered wood debris from the explosion.

Helena looked up hazily, saw the vision of Barbara walking toward her, and realized that she'd died. It was most unfortunate, as death still hurt like a bitch and as she'd not been able to go through the extremely long list of things she wanted to do with and to Barbara now that they'd finally gotten together, but she'd long ago learned that there was no arguing with death. At the very least, the grim reaper had indulged in a sense of humor and sent the most welcomed harbinger of it he could find.

"You look pretty sexy. Kind of angry, but sexy," she slurred, wondering if she could convince this angel of death to at least throw some sort of sheet around her corpse so that she wasn't on display to god and everybody when the police finally arrived. "Do you think you could…"

The angel of death stumbled, grimaced, nearly fell into her, and Helena dimly registered surprise that her collector would be so clumsy. Then again, real-life Barbara hadn't been able to use her legs in years. Maybe this afterlife version of Barbara wasn't so used to them either. But then her vision straightened and reached for her, hands shaking.

"That's more like it," she smirked, trying to shake her head to clear the dark grey haze coating everything. "Kind of kinky, but I can roll with it."

"Helena," Barbara growled, fingers fumbling with the straps holding the other woman in place, "this is not the time."

Helena felt her left shoulder nearly wrench from its socket as her right was unceremoniously released. Groaning, she hung limply, unable to catch herself as her other arm was released. She fell heavily, the strap around her midsection biting into her stomach uncomfortably as visionBarbara knelt slowly, stiffly, to undo her buckles around her ankles.

Barbara was beginning to lose feeling in her fingers. They were numb, heavy, thick and uncoordinated. The pain was making it difficult for her to keep focus on the task at hand. Each buckle seemed to take minutes to undo, and she had to grasp hold of Helena's hips to pull herself off of the floor. Fingers now slick with blood, she fumbled with the straps holding Helena's thighs, breath coming in harsh pants and saliva pooling in her mouth as she fought back the urge to vomit. Helena was slumped over, head pressing against Barbara's shoulder as she hung suspended by the last strap around her waist. Barbara pulled roughly, clumsily, tearing off part of her fingernail and ripping flesh with metal as she struggled to pull the last buckle free.

Helena felt her world collapse as she tumbled into the vision, sending them both to the floor. Barbara screamed, ripping at the belt around her waist, needing to be free of the pain. She managed to get it off just as the lights began to dim. Using her arms, she pulled them a few short feet before collapsing, unconscious.

"Barbara? Helena?"

Something about the Clocktower was eerily empty. As soon as she'd stepped back out onto the main floor, now calm and willing to follow Barbara's instructions to the letter so long as it meant she got to help, Dinah had heard the muted, insistent beeping of a warning klaxon. She'd expected to hear Barbara's voice, calm and stern over the comm system as she directed Helena, but there was nothing. No voice, no Barbara – just that insistent, annoying beeping.

Dinah climbed cautiously up the ramp to the Delphi. She was half-afraid that Barbara was going to shout at her at any second, that this was some sort of test she was in danger of not passing. But, even though she wasn't telepathic in the full sense, Dinah was quite sure that she was alone. The place reeked of emptiness, something about it setting her nerves on edge.

The desktop was messy, papers strewn and falling on the floor. The computer screens were alive, each displaying something different, and she scanned them, searching for something that would let her know what had happened. A few scrolled continuously, their screens full of an almost hypnotic fall of ever changing numbers – background programs that Barbara had in place, always running, always monitoring.

It took her several moments to decipher another screen, but when she did, she blanched.

This was the reason for the warning.

She'd seen it before but never really paid attention. When Barbara allowed her to sit with her during Helena's sweeps, Dinah had always been much more interested in the way the other woman hacked into all of the systems she needed to make things run smoothly. Something like simple diagnostics weren't at all interesting, particularly in comparison to the rapid slide of building plans and lighting schemes and road maps that Barbara could pull up with seeming ease.

HR. BP. Simple, easy acronyms. Innocuous. Not even deserving of her attention, until that moment.

Heart rate.

Blood pressure.

And this time, instead of the customary single set of readings, there were two.

Both of them were dying.

"Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit shit shit shit shit," Dinah chanted, channeling Barbara's earlier panic, her own heart rate spiking. This was major. This was not a test. This was her friends, dying.

Fingers trembling, she flicked open her cellular phone, dropping to her knees as she began to frantically scan the other screens.

"Wayne Manor." Alfred always answered the phone as if there was someone other than himself knocking about in that big old house, as if he were actually still a butler with an employer in residence.

"Alfred," Dinah gasped, head spinning. "They're in trouble. I don't know where they are. We've got to find them."

"Miss Dinah?" Alfred questioned, voice as calm and still as an unbroken pond.

Dinah whimpered, hair on the back of her neck rising. "It's… it's a warehouse," she nearly screamed, finding the schematics pulled up on one of the screens. "It's in the warehouse district. I'm not sure which one. Cross-streets 3rd and Wilson."

"Who is in trouble?" Alfred asked, and though the calm was still there, Dinah could feel the urgency behind it.

"Helena and Barbara," Dinah said softly, feeling a veil of calm shroud over her as well. If she was going to help, she couldn't be hysterical. She needed to be able to think. "I'm going after them, Alfred."

"I do not think that is a wise idea," Alfred said sternly, though Dinah could have sworn she heard a hint of fright.

"Probably not," she said, struggling back up to her feet. She paused and took in a deep breath. "They're dying, Alfred."

Alfred was silent. "Very well, then," he said stiffly. "I'll call Master Dick."

Dinah wasn't entirely sure how she'd managed to make it through downtown New Gotham without acquiring a police escort. She'd broken every traffic law she knew, had nicked a lightpost with her front bumper, and had almost caused a three car collision. She hadn't even taken the time to put enough thought into her flight to bring any weapons with her, and had no idea what she was going to do once she found the warehouse. She felt isolated and alone, the comforting reassurance of Barbara's voice in her ear notably missing as she careened through the streets.

Hands tight on the steering wheel, she felt a tear streak down her cheek, followed shortly after by another, and soon her vision was blurry, her eyes stained pink. She was just as likely to get herself killed in this situation as she was to help Barbara and Helena in any way. She wasn't ready, wasn't skilled enough to take on whatever she was going to find at the end of the line.

She was going anyway.

The slim column of smoke alerted her to her destination well before she reached it, and Dinah floored the accelerator, nearly tipping over as she sped around curves.

The outer door of the warehouse was warped, a three foot hole buckling the thin aluminum outward. Dinah pushed it open cautiously, all senses on the ready, but the room inside was absent of any threat. Men were scattered around, skin black with soot and smeared crimson with blood. She could hear the rasp of their breathing, the occasional groan of pain. They were alive but not moving. Small licks of fire burned at splintered wood, small steady flames in no danger of roaring into more, as she stepped through the gaping opening that had probably been a doorway at one point. The inside of the warehouse was messy, with debris from the explosion a thick layer on the floor. She spotted Barbara's wheelchair first, empty and knocked on its side, one wheel spinning lazily.

The trickle of blood led her to the slumped figure of Quinzel, hands bound behind her back as she lay in a pool of crimson, breathing shallow and ragged. Her leg was twisted at an odd angle, her hair matted and sticky, and Dinah took in a deep breath. She pushed the sight from her mind, not wanting to think about who might have done that to the psychopathic doctor or what else might be awaiting her.

She saw Helena first. She was naked, skin slicked red with blood, flesh flayed open in a pattern of cuts, some deep and some shallow. Her arms were wrapped loosely around another figure, and though Dinah wasn't sure if the blood on Barbara's clothing was her own or Helena's, it was clear that her breathing was shallow and troubled.

"No," she keened, the sound deep and full or despair. This wasn't happening. It wasn't. "No, please no."

She wanted to rush over to the pair and wrap her arms around them, but she didn't know the extent of their injuries and didn't want to cause further harm. That didn't stop her from touching them, mind swirling as the images filled her head. Quinzel's gleaming smile, frightening and utterly batshit crazy, hovering inches away from her face as she felt the searing pain of a knife in her side. Barbara's feverish determination to free Helena, despite the pain, despite the corner of her mind that was consciously ignoring what she'd done to Quinzel.

"NO!," she screamed again, jerking her hands back as if they'd been seared.


The word was sharp, short, breaking through the aura of horror. She spun, hands up as she looked at Alfred in confusion, the blood coating them slowly trickling down her forearms.

"They cannot be found here. They cannot be found like this," Alfred said, voice rough. "You must help me, Miss Dinah. We must move them. Quickly. The police are on their way."

"Alfred," Dinah whimpered, voice trembling.

His eyes softened, face crumpling slightly. "Quickly," he said again, imploringly.

Dinah nodded.

She couldn't take them both at once. She was only strong enough to move one at a time, and by the time she deposited Helena on the gurney in the make-shift ambulance Alfred had somehow procured, she thought she wouldn't be able to make the trip again. But, Barbara was still in there, still unconscious and nearly dead, and so Dinah went back in, telekinetic powers faltering slightly as she began to float Barbara out of the carnage. The other woman's body was slack in the air, arms hanging limply to the sides and head canted backward, throat bared and vulnerable. Dinah blinked back tears and focused, body on the edge of exhaustion. By the time she was near the vehicle, she was barely able to take a step.

"Alfred," she croaked, panting heavily.

The old man seemed to understand. Wrapping Barbara in his arms, he hoisted her the remaining way, settling her none-too-gently onto the gurney before stepping back, hands on his knees.

"Master Dick is on his way," he wheezed before straightening slowly, self-consciously. "He will take care of things here. We must go. Now."

Dinah nodded dumbly, too tired to do much else. She wasn't entirely sure she would be able to make it back to the Hummer, much less drive it.

"Meet me at the Manor," Alfred said shortly, voice clipped.

She pulled away from the scene only a few blocks ahead of the police, losing herself in the twisting maze of streets that ran through the warehouse district. After driving for 15 minutes, she pulled over. She was dizzy, unable to focus, heart nearly racing out of her chest. Barely managing to set the Hummer's advanced security features, she slumped down in her seat, exhausted.

It was dark when Dinah awoke, confused and uncertain. She didn't know where she was, or why she was passed out alone in the front of the Hummer. But then it all came rushing back to her, and she straightened in her seat, pulling the seatbelt away from her chest where it had been digging for the past several hours, leaving a strip of abraded and raw flesh underneath her shirt. Wincing slightly, head pounding, she started the Hummer, pulling slowly out of her hiding spot and back out onto the street. She headed away from the still smoking warehouse and out of the district altogether.

The manor looked even more ominous at night. There was something gothic about it, no doubt enhanced by her knowledge of all of the dark things its owner had seen, and she shivered.

Dinah was slightly surprised that she was able to enter the great hall unheeded. She figured there would be some kind of security, or at least a locked door, but she pushed open the heavy and imposing oak with only a slight struggle. Her footsteps seemed to echo in the foyer, reverberating around the open space, and she stood tentatively, not sure where to go.

"I'm not a doctor, Alfred."

She heard the murmured voices long before she saw them.

"They need to be in a hospital."

Alfred's voice was stiff. "I am making arrangements."

"I can't be held responsible for anything that happens."

"And I wouldn't dream of doing so, Lucius," Alfred said kindly. "I appreciate your help, old friend."

Dinah hid in the shadows as the two men walked past, observing the stranger with interest. When she was sure they were out of sight, she pulled free from her hiding place, tracing down the hallway from which they had emerged, opening doors until she found the right one.

Helena and Barbara were in side by side beds, each hooked to an array of machines. Dinah had to wonder where the hospital equipment had come from, and who had managed to hook all of it up to the deathly pale duo.

"I have much experience in the tending of wounds, both small and large," Alfred said softly, coming to stand behind her, answering her unspoken questions. "And I had the help of an old friend."

"Are they going to die?" Dinah asked, voice raw and stark.

For once, Alfred had no comforting response to offer.

Dinah thought that Pieter Cross was the strangest man she'd ever seen. He exuded a sense of peace that contradicted directly with the thick, jet-black aviator like goggles he wore. When he'd first appeared in the Manor, only hours after Alfred had escorted the mysterious Lucius from it, he had greeted the butler with familiarity, his lightly-accented English soothing.

"It is a pleasure to see you again, Alfred, though I wish the circumstances could be less inauspicious," he said with a slight bow, his hair charmingly ruffled around the thick strap of his goggles. "Let's take a look at the patients, shall we, and then perhaps a light dinner."

Nearly an hour later, Cross finished his thorough examination. "Your stitches are superb, as usual," he said with a wry smile. "It is a wonder this one is still alive."

She couldn't see his eyes, but Dinah had the feeling that he was looking at Helena.

"You said you recovered a belt from the scene, ja?" he asked, hands clasped lightly behind his back. "I will need to see it. This one has done something. I do not know what, but it is very bad."

Dick showed up the following morning, inclining his head politely at their new arrival. "Mid-Nite," he said neutrally, skin pale. He looked exhausted, as if he were going to collapse at any moment.

"Nightwing," the other man said in return, smiling slightly. "It is like a reunion."

Dinah watched from the sidelines, entranced. She'd never seen superhero networking quite like this.

"How are they?"

"Comatose," Cross said bluntly. "I have begun transfusions for the dark one. She has lost a great deal of blood. I am frankly surprised that she managed to survive. Her blood pressure is dangerously low, and I do not know what this will mean for her other systems. I must watch her closely, but can do little else for her. She will recover or not, on her own terms."

"And… and…" Dick stumbled, jaw clenching.

"The Oracle is a mystery," Cross offered, disregarding any potential awkwardness. He had worked with Oracle before, had cured her of the Brainiac virus. He knew of her secrecy, but she was not hidden to him. "I am studying the belt found laying beside her. I believe she has been working on a neural transmitter, something that would bridge the gap caused by the break in her spine. It is a brilliant piece of equipment, but my guess is that it was not ready for actual use. It would have allowed her to walk, but the pain must have been overwhelming."

"It was," Dinah blurted before thinking, drawing everyone's attention to herself.

It was disconcerting to have Cross look directly at her, eyes shadowed behind those enormous goggles, head tilted to the side in speculation. "I touched them," she sputtered, unnerved. "I mean, I'm a touch telepath and I can… well, it doesn't matter. I just know it hurt like hell."

Dick laughed hollowly. "Excellent. They're both as good as dead, Quinn is in a coma with some pretty heavy brain damage herself, and for what? What was worth all of this?"

Dinah couldn't help but agree.

After a few days, Dinah reluctantly returned to school. She suffered the sympathy, "Poor Ms. Gordon, in the hospital again." She collected cards and flowers and took them home with her, barely able to persuade the givers that Barbara wasn't up for visitors.

She even snapped at Alfred.

"I think I can help you with your anger."

Pieter Cross was no less weird to her after two weeks of watching him care for her still comatose friends than he had been the first night she'd met him. He still went around wearing those big black goggles. The only time she'd seen him without them had been during a sleepness night when she'd wandered down into the kitchen for a snack only to find him moving with complete ease in the pitch black of the house. She'd turned on a light and he'd promptly run into a table, his resulting curse in a language she didn't understand.

She hated the way his goggles hid his eyes, and thus his thoughts, feelings and intentions, from her. All she had to go on was his soothing voice and calm presence and the wary respect he seemed to have garnered from Dick, who had been spending half of the week in New Gotham ever since the incident.

Given all that, she wasn't sure why she'd agreed to Pieter's invitation to join him for twice daily yoga. Something about his gentleness had seemed to undercut the harshness of his expression, with the stark Nordic lines of his face cutting down like blades from his goggles, and so she'd nodded her agreement. In the first few days, Pieter had patiently shown her his routine, only increasing the complexity of the poses when Dinah indicated that she was ready for more, and within the week, they were moving in imperfect harmony. Wayne Manor had an absolutely gorgeous sunroom, positioned perfectly to catch the first hint of early morning sun, and even though she'd never voluntarily gotten up early enough to see it, Dinah found the sight and the routine calming.

She wondered if yoga was what had given Pieter the preternatural serenity that seemed to surround him like a shield. Despite the gravity of the situation, she never saw him become upset. Despite his own rather unfortunate past, which she'd gathered from a sketchy search of the Delphi databases, he didn't appear to have a grudge against the world. Instead, he seemed in harmony with the world and with fate. Of all the superheroes she'd met, and granted that hadn't been that many, he was by far the most mentally healthy of the lot.

Of course, she wasn't sure that was saying much. Then again, Pieter had been sort of a hero before he'd become a superhero, so perhaps he was simply better suited to the life. Before becoming Dr. Mid-Nite, he'd opened and operated a free clinic in Oregon, though how he'd gotten there from Norway she wasn't sure. But as a physician in touch with his community, he was uniquely in place to see the scourge of a new street drug sweeping through his patient population and had started an investigation of it only to find out that it was produced by Praeda Industries. Messing with evil corporations was apparently dangerous business, or so Dinah had read in Oracle's file on him, as corporate henchmen had drugged Pieter himself. The car accident he'd had as a result had stolen not only his sight but also the life of an innocent.

She could only imagine how disconcerting it must have been for Cross after the accident - to discover that he could only see in pitch black.

"Why don't they wake up?" she asked him one morning, hands quickly rolling her mat into a coil.

Pieter canted his head to the side, the gesture giving away the careful consideration he was giving the question. "The human body is a mystery," he said finally, accent giving the words a soft lilt. His accompanying smile was rueful. "And this is especially true for the meta-human body. Helena should have been dead. It is only her remarkable physiology that saved her. She had lost more blood than a normal human would have been able to tolerate. It is my guess that part of her sleep is restorative. Her body's reserves have been tapped and must be replenished. It is also my belief, not scientifically provable, that her mind must also recover. She realizes, I think, that she is in a safe place, surrounded by people who care for her. She will take her time to recover, ja, so that when she returns, she will be the strong, healthy woman she was before. She will not return to us weakened. She will return to us ready to fight."

"Sounds like Helena," Dinah grumbled, rolling her eyes.

"And the Oracle, Barbara. She has done her body grave damage. Her systems are already compromised. With the use of her neural device, she has strained the limits of her capacity. I do not know why she remains in a coma. Ja, her body must recover. Of that I am sure. But, I do not know how long this will take or what it will entail. Here, we can provide them both with the best treatment available and monitor their progress," Pieter said, voice soft and introspective, "but they will decide whether or not to return to us. You know, I think, that there is more to life and living than the biomedical world can predict, diagnose, and repair."

Dinah wasn't sure she knew that, as she often had the feeling that Pieter was operating on a different plane than she – one filled with ruminations on the mind-body-spirit connection – but she nodded nonetheless. It was intuitive in a way, in that sort of 'miracles' sense that she'd always wanted to believe. It wasn't particularly comforting, given that she didn't know the particular variables that went into the equation and which would signal success, but she chose not to dwell on that aspect.

Dinah wasn't sure who was more surprised the morning she encountered Dick on her way to the sunroom for her early morning yoga session with Pieter.

He had appeared at the doorway to what she was fairly certain was Pieter's room, dark hair tousled in a way that left her mouth a little dry. He had his shoes in his hand, creeping softly in socked feet, and the two of them nearly collided as he turned her way.

"I… uh…"

They both stammered, Dick's face almost as red as Dinah's, and then Pieter had appeared in the doorway to his room in his usual loose shorts and tee-shirt, yoga mat slung casually across his back.

"You will forgive me for being late this morning, Dinah," he said, his tone as calm as ever, "but I will escort Dick out before meeting you. If you wish, you may begin without me."

Dinah didn't begin without him. Instead, she unfolded her mat and sank down onto it, legs crossed in a full lotus and hands resting, palms up, on her knees as she watched the sky move from navy to lavender.

Pieter entered on silent feet, unfurling his mat next to her, and assumed a similar position. As they watched, hints of rust, coral and amber began to streak across a sky headed quickly for vermillion, and the heavy, bloated disc of the sun came lumbering into view.

"Shall we begin?" Pieter asked, giving Dinah what she surmised was an expectant look.

She gave a wry smile and a small nod in return and they moved easily into their surya-namaskar.

An hour later, Pieter said cautiously, "Dick is, for some reason, worried about your reaction to what you witnessed this morning. I do not feel as if he has anything about which to be concerned. Am I wrong in this?"

For some reason, Dinah felt a surge of affection for the always reserved Pieter. It had been a bit of a surprise seeing Dick emerging from his room, and she couldn't help wondering just when this blossoming romance (and she chose to view it in its best possible light by labeling it such) had taken root. But, either way, she was glad for both Pieter and Dick, both of whom seemed quite nice enough for each other.

"You're not wrong."

"Ow. Jesus, fuck."

Dinah had been in the manor long enough to have dropped off her bookbag and fixed herself an afternoon snack before dropping in on Barbara and Helena when she heard the curse. Dropping her plate to the floor, heedless of the way it shattered, she raced down the hallway, almost skidding past the doorway of the impromptu intensive care unit.

"Pieter," she screamed, eyes opened wide. "Pieter, come quick."

Helena's eyes narrowed as she pushed up onto her hands, wincing as long unused muscles protested the movement. "Why are you yelling?" she asked crankily, words slightly slurred and groggy. "And what the hell…"

Pieter arrived, cheeks flushed red with exertion, as unsettled as Dinah had yet seen him. "You must lie back," he said, voice sharp with demand and worry.

Helena didn't look the least bit accommodating as she continued to push and wiggle herself into a seated position, face schooled into a mask of unyielding irritation. The numerous cuts that Quinn had inflicted had long since healed, slowly at first and then with a rapidity that had seemed to indicate that she was improving, leaving only a patchwork of pinkish-silvery lines etched across her torso.

"Who the hell are you," she asked coldly, "and where's Barbara?"

The second the words were out of her mouth, her brain caught up with them and Helena began to search her surroundings frantically, head whipping from left to right. There she saw the other woman's form, still and unmoving and incredibly pale against the white of the sheets below her, and Helena gave a low keening cry that seemed to reverberate through the manor. Fingers tearing frantically at the IV leading into the back of her hand, she was up and off the bed before Pieter had time to get to her, legs collapsing immediately to send her crashing to her knees into the thick pile of the carpet below. Barely managing to catch herself on her hands, still dangerously weak after weeks of inactivity, she was struggling up onto her feet again when the doctor reached her.

"I am Pieter Cross," he said, placing his hands under her arms as he helped her to a standing position. He urged her arm around his shoulder and steadied her on her feet, supporting most of her body weight as he allowed her to walk slowly over to Barbara's bed. "I am a medical doctor and have been in charge of your care since you were injured."

Dinah wasn't sure if it was horror, despair, or Pieter's calming influence that had kept Helena from doing anything more rash than she already had, but the other woman allowed herself to lean heavily against him, eyes focused with unwavering intensity on Barbara's face.

When they reached Barbara, Helena pulled her arm from around Pieter's shoulders, using it to balance herself as she leaned over the other woman's still form. Hand trembling, she traced the sunken planes of Barbara's cheeks with her fingers before bending over to place a soft kiss on her lips. Tears began to course down her face, a precursor to the indefinable sound of pure grief that came from deep within her chest in the next moment. Dinah looked at her in alarm, then glanced at Pieter for guidance. But, there was no guidance to be gleaned, his face impassive and his eyes hidden behind his dark goggles. And so she watched, helpless, aware that Helena did not need or want her comfort in this moment.

They left Helena asleep in Barbara's bed. She had managed to lever herself up and had wrapped herself around the other woman's still form before either Dinah or Pieter had thought to stop her, and once there they knew she wouldn't be leaving soon. And so they had drawn back as she continued to cry, her grief soon giving way to exhaustion. Before they'd left, Dinah had drawn a sheet over her, hand affectionately pushing back the lank fall of Helena's hair.

"Dick had told me they are close," Pieter murmured, "but I had not understood."

Dinah merely nodded, not quite sure she had completely understood either. Pieter had told Helena, the words perhaps falling on deaf ears, that Barbara was not dead and that there was every chance that she would recover. Dinah couldn't help thinking that the sight of Barbara laying there, probably as still as she had been in her hospital bed after her shooting, had left Helena unable to separate one event from the other. She merely knew tragedy and hurt and that was enough to make the rest meaningless.

They were silent for another moment, each grave. Then, Pieter nodded as if to himself, his voice low as he said, "Come. For now, we cannot do anything for her so we will have our yoga. I am in need of balance."

Dinah had found it impossible to find her rhythm. Her mind would not clear, her body would not calm. She could hear the almost inhuman sound of Helena's grief still echoing in her mind, the sound making her want to break out into sobs, and at the end of their hour, her body was just as tight as when they had began.

Later, Dinah collected a tray from Alfred and approached the room cautiously. Helena was awake, staring at Barbara with unblinking eyes. Her fingers were fluttering over the contours of the other woman's face, resting briefly on her chest as if to divine the rise and fall that signaled life.

"It's real food," she joked weakly, easing the tray onto the small, portable table that had yet to be used in service of food. "You'll want to eat."

For a long moment, it appeared as if Helena was going to ignore her. Finally, she said softly, "I dreamed that I was dead and Barbara stood up and came to me."

"She, uh… she probably did," Dinah said, mouth dry. "Helena, I don't know how much you remember about what happened, but here's what we've been able to piece together."

Dinah laid out the facts as she had gleaned them through her incidental scan of both parties. Helena had arrived back at her apartment and been captured by Quinn who had taken the opportunity to inflict a lot of damage. Barbara had gone after her on a dangerous rescue mission. She'd taken with her the neural device found at the scene, the one that had allowed her to walk and to defeat Quinn and which had resulted, at least in Pieter's opinion, in her current comatose state. Filling in the rest with her own experience, Dinah described how she had found them, how Alfred had helped her transport them, how Pieter had arrived to help bring them back to health, and how three weeks had passed in the interim.

"She was crazy," Helena muttered as the story drew to a close. "Absolute, batshit crazy."

Dinah wasn't exactly sure to whom Helena was referring and so kept quiet, gently pushing the tray of food closer in a subtle attempt to get Helena to eat.

"How is she?"

Which meant that it had been Quinn, then, to which Helena had been referring. Dinah shrugged, looking off to the side as she answered, "Permanent brain damage. The doctors don't know the extent. Barbara whacked her pretty hard."

"Good riddance."

Somehow, Dinah wasn't completely convinced that Barbara would see things the same way when she awoke. If she awoke.

"This is my fault," Helena said, her voice raw and broken. "If I hadn't gotten involved with Quinn, if I'd asked for Barbara's help from the beginning instead of thinking I could do it all on my own…"

"No," Dinah interrupted, her voice firm. "You can't start with that."

Helena shrugged, the gesture disturbingly apathetic. "It's true."

Well aware that arguing with Helena wasn't going to do much good, Dinah sighed. "She'll come back to us. She'll come back to you."

The look Helena sent her way was chilling. Her eyes, always so full of fire and emotion, were flat and dead.

"She has to," Dinah whispered, shivering, once again worried for them both.

Barbara had been drifting comfortably and peacefully in the black for a long time, the extent of which she couldn't exactly measure, but something told her it was time to go back. She was torn about this feeling. The black slid over her like the most liquid of silks, as undemanding as it was luxurious. The force pulling her back was hungry and needy. It was raw, jagged in a way that made her ache, and it was nothing if not demanding. But it was strong, sucking her farther and farther away from the inky darkness and back toward the harsh, unforgiving light, and she cringed away from the force of it.

She had the sense of emerging from a deep sleep. Her fingers were leaden, unable to even grasp weakly at the suddenly stifling blanket covering her, and her back ached from the pressure put on it during unconsciousness. She slowly became aware of the awkward sense of incompleteness, of the psychic phantom presence of limbs that no longer worked, and for a moment, it was as if she was waking up in the hospital once again, the kind face of a sorrowful physician looming over her, telling her in kind tones just how her life had been changed.

One side of her was heavier than the other. It was pressing into the mattress, pinned in place by an external force, and it wasn't until she finally managed to coordinate thought to action and turn her head that she saw a shock of ruffled hair.

"Hel…" she said, the word petering out as a dry tongue and dry lips refused to cooperate. She swallowed painfully, her throat surprisingly raw, and tried again. "Hel…"

It took a moment for the body pressed against hers to stir. Helena had never been one to transition smoothly from sleep to wakefulness, and so it took several long, sleepy moments for her eyes to focus and for her brain to engage. When they did, though, and when she managed to comprehend just exactly what was happening, she shot straight up in the bed, chest heaving as tears began to roll down her face.

"You're back," she said, leaning over with a jerky suddenness that would have startled Barbara had she been completely conscious herself. Helena pressed a quick kiss to her lips, then scattered them across the other woman's face like rain. "You're back," she said again, the words whispered with the reverence of a prayer.

"Where'd I go?" Barbara asked, not recognizing the words as funny until Helena barked with surprised laughter.

Helena pushed herself up on her hands, her face hovering over Barbara's. "I thought you'd left me."

"Why would I leave? I just got you back," Barbara pointed out, still vaguely confused.

"And now I've got you back," Helena said, her relieved smile wide and beautiful.

Barbara's brow furrowed as she tried to puzzle things out. "So we got each other back?" she asked hesitantly, hope lilting through the words.

"Yeah," Helena said softly, leaning down to kiss her once again. "We got each other back."

The End

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