DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short period of time.
MUSIC DISCLAIMER: Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.



Part 16

With his ass up in the air and his legs being twisted back above his shoulders, the dude in the gaudy silver trunks was complete human-pretzel material.

Not to mention, Helena figured, that he was totally set up for the triangle hold that Red-trunks was just about to put on him.

She snorted softly, a little irritated that she freakin' knew what move was going to follow, but she didn't raise her head from the arm of the couch or even bother to change channels.

WWF Smackdown wasn't high art, but it was something, and curled up on her sofa with a ratty afghan pulled up to her chest, Helena was okay with it. Hell, if she was lucky, it would bore her into forgetting how uncomfortable the couch was, and she could fall asleep on it for another night.

The bed wasn't an option, of course.

She already had the sheets and pillows pulled from it, wadded in the corner just waiting to be lugged down to the dumpster. A week since that night at the bar and she still couldn't look at the bed.

In fact, she was starting to suspect that she might have to throw out the whole damned thing.

Or move.

Or something.

But, for now, she was just going to lie on the couch. No bottles; no trolling for... whatever. Just... watching the smackdown.

Something about the plans of mice ran through her head a few minutes later when there was a sharp rap at her door.

Obviously, her apartment was becoming too much visited.

For about two seconds, Helena considered ignoring whoever was out there, but, considering just where her apartment was tucked, it wasn't likely to be an Amway salesman who'd just go away.

She swung open the door with a none-too-gentle jerk that obviously startled her uninvited guest. But, when she saw who was at her doorstep, Helena was the one who jumped in her own skin.

Red hair.

Green eyes.

Sitting in the chair.

Her heart boomed once, and she sucked in a slow breath.

"How do I know it's you?"

She didn't really think Harley would pull the same gig again and she didn't see any shiny objects, but a girl couldn't be too careful.

Helena thought she saw a flicker of something in the other woman's eyes -- approval, amusement, annoyance.

"What do you need to convince yourself, Hel?"

The redhead's question was pitched low. The green eyes that searched hers were earnest.

"Would you come back to the tower with me? Would that convince you?"

It was a pretty good offer, but the brunette wasn't much into leaving.

Brusquely, she stepped across the threshold and bent low, allowing her cheek to brush the other woman's. She couldn't keep her eyes from fluttering shut, but she didn't forget her purpose, opening her mouth to draw in the redhead's scent.

No oranges or ginger or other perfumes. Only...

She moved minutely closer and snaked out her tongue, tasting...

Not even Barbara's sharp question -- "Hel?!" -- could break the moment, the feeling of her knees going weak at the hint of soap and sweet skin. Somehow, she fought down the growl that wanted to rumble through her and straightened, keeping her eyes downturned until she was sure she had it under control.

No way to mistake that scent.


Anger spiked through her at everything Quinn had taken, and Helena bit at her bottom lip as she debated. Finally, she took a step back and leaned against the jamb.

"What's the code for the tower?"

Green eyes regarded her evenly for a few seconds. Finally, Helena caught on and snorted.

"Now you're wondering if I'm her aren't you?"

She rubbed at her forehead with the heel of her hand and met the older woman's gaze.

"You don't know if I'm gonna take off my mask and be somebody else..."

When her brain caught up with her mouth, the brunette nearly choked on the words.

Not like she hadn't already been exposed.

Fuck it.

Helena turned from the door with a shrug and headed to the couch.

"Sorry, Red. I don't have anything to give you."

Even with her back turned, she was aware of her guest dropping her hands to the wheels of her chair, but Barbara didn't follow her. Helena almost missed the softly whispered response.

"I very much doubt that, Hel."

Something squeezed at her chest, and Helena stopped, allowing her eyes to fall shut again as she fought through it. Eventually, she turned and simply looked at her until the redhead puffed out her cheeks.

"How about what makes up the code?"

Pretty much indifferent, Helena turned one palm up.


This time, she was pretty sure it was annoyance in her partner's eyes.

"The code is made up of the modulus of your birthdate, plus your birth year, and the three prime numbers from my social security number."

This time, she raised her hand palm out.

"Okay, fine."

She waited until Barbara entered the apartment and clicked the door shut. She tried very hard not to think about the last time that someone who she'd believed to be Barbara had done the same thing.

"What's up?"

She dropped to the couch and snagged the remote, aiming it at the set and thumbing the volume down.

"You haven't called, Hel."

She saw those acute green eyes tick to the answering machine that was on the side table.

"Or checked your messages."

Helena didn't bother to correct her.

"I've been kinda busy."

One crimson brow arched upward, and the redhead took in the room. It took Helena a second to remember that this was, really, only Barbara's second visit.


She followed the tilt of a red head toward the television. Again, she shrugged.

"Yeah, muscle-y men doing homo-erotic things. It's art."


Juggling the remote from hand to hand, Helena followed Barbara as she came to a stop at the end of the couch. She managed to maintain the silence for all of twenty seconds before she caved.

"Your face is almost -- "

She felt her own face beginning to burn, but her companion cut her off.

"That's not what hurts me, Hel."

There wasn't anything she could say, but somehow Barbara kept talking. The words vibrated against her in the dark room -- wounding, healing, hurting.

"Don't let this -- that -- come between what we have, Sweetheart."

The old endearment forced her to look up from her inspection of the remote control.

"It's hard."

Her voice was thick, so thick that she could barely understand herself. Her oldest friend didn't seem to have the same problem.

"I know."

A warm hand came to hers, the touch somehow soothing... and scalding. She hated the flicker of heat -- hope, maybe -- that tickled her chest and, ever so carefully, removed her hand.

She felt more than heard Barbara's slow exhalation.


There was another exhalation, and from the corner of her eye, the brunette watched the other woman shift in her chair.

"I know that I tend to go through life with blinders on."

When Barbara laughed awkwardly, Helena forgot to breathe, aching for her visible discomfort. Somehow, she managed to quirk a smile in return.

"Dad always says that I can be as thick as a plank."

One dark brow arching upward, Helena silently held up her index and second fingers in correction. She was peevishly pleased by her mentor's blush.

"Okay, two planks, Helena."

At the admission, Helena immediately felt guilty and had to interject, somehow ease up the guilt in Barbara's words.

"It keeps you focused on the important stuff, Barbara."

Picking at a little dried pizza sauce on the remote, she didn't think she quite heard her guest's response.

"Only parts of it, Hel."



Helena felt her stomach flip-flop when Barbara extended her hand, palm up. The redhead held the position, tilting her head just a bit to the side, her eyes asking for...

Helena worked her jaw once, then settled the remote on the coffee table and placed her hand in Barbara's. The electric frisson from the contact didn't compare to the words she heard next.

"You know how much I love you?"

A hundred declarations of her own flew through her mind, but she figured that, at this point, they were kind of moot. Wordless, Helena could only nod.

"I can't begin to understand how this has affected you, but..."

She couldn't breath.

There was some huge freakin' weight on her chest, and she didn't know what to do to help with Babs' visible uncertainty.

Catching her bottom lip in her teeth, she lightly squeezed the strong hand holding hers.

"Well, Helena -- "

Something twisted inside her when the redhead straightened her shoulders and met her eyes.

Barbara always had been the braver of them.

"-- someday, perhaps you'll allow me to love you fully."


Helena had heard the term but never really grasped what it meant. Never really *gotten it*.

Until this second.

Suddenly, she could breath again, the rush making her lightheaded. Heat rushed through her belly and chest. Her fingers itched and her feet needed to move and she wanted to shout at the top of her lungs...

Not. Fair.

The words screamed across her brain in eight foot neon.

She'd spent what felt like her entire life -- at least her entire adolescent and adult life -- wanting Barbara. And here, in the space of weeks, she'd finally been told that her feelings were returned by not one but two Barbaras.

Helena heard a harsh bark of laughter. Registering Barbara's quirk of consternation, she belatedly recognized it as her own and scooted from the couch to squat beside the chair.

"No, Barbara."

Hell, it wasn't Barbara's fault she was in this situation.

She lightly rested her fingertips on the other woman's hand. The electricity that coursed up her arm left little room for doubt that this was the real thing.

For a moment, her nerves singing in pleasure, she allowed herself to drink it in.

"I was just thinking that the world's a crazy place."

The other woman's smile was sad.

"Isn't is just?"


Part 17

"Are you nuts?"

The instant the words crossed her lips, Helena recognized just how stupid they were. The woman she'd just addressed didn't take her to task though.

"There have been rumors, Helena."

Rolling her eyes, the brunette motioned for the other woman to follow her and moved to the far end of the bar. Her unexpected visitor obligingly wove through the crowd and came around the ell, perching herself on a stool.

With brown eyes blinking brightly at her, Helena considered her question and the other woman's answer. After all, Quinn had never made much of a secret of her decidedly different mental state.

"Guess being nuts would explain you coming in here," she muttered as she snagged a highball glass and poured two fingers of Scotch for the madwoman.

Quinn accepted the glass with a smile and raised it in what Helena took to be a toast.

Or a reprimand.

"Now, now, darling -- "

Helena dug her nails into her palms when she heard the endearment, just managing not to reach across the counter and throttle the tiny woman.

"-- I have been taking my meds regularly, after all."

Helena thought that some of her skepticism might have shown, because after Quinn set her glass on the bar, she smiled brightly.

"Well, most of them."

Catching herself feeling a little slack-jawed, Helena snagged a bar towel and dabbed at a discoloration on the countertop.


Finally, she looked up, meeting over-bright brown eyes. In addition to removing the contacts, Quinn had cut her hair, and it was back to its usual spiky platinum blonde.

Probably a good thing since Helena knew she would have killed the bitch if she'd dared show up looking like Barbara again.

"Just tell me why I shouldn't wrap your ass in cellophane -- "

She gestured loosely toward the sandwich station at the back of the bar.

"-- and ship you back to the nut house?"

When one plucked blonde brow arched coyly, Helena tried to ready herself for whatever might be coming her way. She failed miserably.

"Now, that wouldn't be a nice thing to do to your lover, Helena."

Absolutely dumbstruck, the brunette fixed her tormentor with a long look.

"You weren't..."

Well, that wasn't quite right.

"It wasn't you," she finished, hating the petulance in her words.

To her surprise, Quinn lowered her eyes. Her response was almost lost amid the bustle and clatter at the Dark Horse, the laughter of the Kappa boys in the corner, and the always-present whine of the jukebox.

"Funny, that. It was always you that I was making love with."

There's no sign of life

It's just the power to charm

I'm lying in the rain

But I never wave bye-bye

But I try, I try

Never gonna fall for

Modern love - walks beside me

Blue eyes blinked once, slowly.

"Fucking's more like it."

It was the best Helena could manage after Quinn's little declaration, and it earned her a trilling laugh.

"Oh, come now, Darling. Don't act quite so put out."

Slim fingers, the nails now bright red, rimmed the lip of the highball glass.

"I seem to recall that you took great delight in our little phallic adventures."

Helena clenched her teeth when blonde lashes batted coyly.

"You took my virtue, Helena."

"Deflowered *you*?"

Snorting, Helena reached for the bottle and raised it in question. Quinn ignored the offer, arching a brow.

"Plowed is more like it, Hel."

There was no way to stop the heat Helena could feel rising to her face. She just hoped that the neon beer signs would hide the color.

Church on time - terrifies me

Church on time - makes me party

Church on time - puts my trust in god and man

God and man - no confessions

God and man - no religion

God and man - don't believe in modern love

Helena shook her head from side to side and turned to freshen up the Jack-and-cokes that the two misplaced businessmen were belting back. She took her time, still trying to figure out what had brought Quinn back to the bar only a week after their little showdown.

"It wasn't you, Quinn," she finally answered when she returned.

Thin red lips moued, and blue eyes narrowed.

"I cared, Helena."

Perhaps unfortunately, the juke silenced just as Helena burst into laughter. For a moment, half the eyes in the bar fixed on her, but she didn't care.

"Right, Harley. Sure you did."

The blonde didn't back down.

"I cared enough to make the first move, Helena. I wanted you enough to notice things about you."

Helena didn't think she liked hearing that. For some reason, it made her think of Barbara, who'd somehow made herself never see.

Not entirely happy with that train of thought she shook her head and blew out a breath.

"Like hell."

Quinn was undeterred.

"I spent months planning, Helena."

The tiny woman was leaning forward, her voice dropping and drawing Helena in.

"I grew my hair and had scars surgically added to help you see past your prejudices."

"Prej-- !"

Quinn ignored her yelp, and, disbelieving, Helena thought she saw moisture pooling in brown eyes.

"I even endured injections of a botox chemical that kept me from really feeling -- "

The sensation of cool fingers brushing her arm raised Helena's hackles.

And sent a charge through her.

"--from feeling your beautiful hands and mouth--"

Scalded, Helena jerked her arm away and held up her hand, palm out.


Trying to will her flip-flopping stomach to calm, she could only hope that Quinn didn't mistake the trembling of her hands.

"Just. Stop right there."

Apparently, Helena's discomfort wasn't what was on Quinn's mind.

"Can't you give me a chance?"

Fuckin' hell, the bitch couldn't be serious.

Attempting to make herself very clear, Helena placed her hand on the counter and leaned close. She waited until brown eyes met hers, then spoke firmly.

"You're crazy."

Helena nearly jumped when Quinn stretched up and touched one finger to her chin.

"Crazy for you, Helena."

The smile was pure saccharine, but Quinn's eyes... There was something almost like longing there.

Helena abruptly straightened up.

"You lied to me, Quinn."

The words came out rough with the pain and anger Helena had been trying to wash away in the darkness of her apartment for the last days and nights. Quinn's reply, offered with such compassion, nearly sent her fleeing back to her haven.

"And Barbara has denied you."

Coming on the heels of the conversation she'd had with Barbara just the night before, the words left her floundering, and Helena turned to the back wall, unwilling to give Quinn the satisfaction of seeing her face. Very carefully, she folded the bar towel into a neat rectangle, then stopped, unsure where to place it.

The problem is all inside your head, she said to me

The answer is easy if you take it logically

I'd like to help you in your struggle to be free

There must be fifty ways to leave your lover

Mercifully or not, the familiar melody that warbled from the juke roused her.

She said it's really not my habit to intrude

Furthermore, I hope my meaning won't be lost or misconstrued

But I'll repeat myself at the risk of being crude

There must be fifty ways to leave your lover

Tossing the towel into a corner, the brunette skipped the by-pass and hopped over the counter. In three loping strides, she was at the juke and yanked the cord from the wall.

With that long-overdue mercy killing accomplished, she ignored the shouts of protest and motioned for Quinn to join her at a table.

Hell, her shift was over.

"She has to."

Even Helena had to admit that her tight whisper wasn't very convincing.

Hell, she wasn't so sure who she was trying to convince.

Still, as weak an argument as it was, it was the truth. And, it was what made Barbara who she was.

And, miserably, Helena had long ago accepted the truth of matters: it was Barbara -- Barbara, with her eyes ever fixed on duty, honor, and yadda yadda yadda -- who she loved.

"And she always will, Helena."

Again, that taunting tone that she'd long associated with her former therapist and long-time adversary was absent. The soft sympathy in the words was almost too much.

"No, she -- "

Belatedly, Helena snapped her mouth shut, unwilling to give Quinn that much.

Not to mention the fact that, after Babs' visit the night before, she was still not sure just what knowledge she was actually in possession of.

Unfortunately, the other woman knew her too well.

Too intimately.

The blonde head tilted, birdlike, to the side.

"So, the object of your affection has professed something?"

Refusing to be played, Helena stared at her nails.

"Tsk, tsk."

Tisk, tisk? Who the hell really said --

"Were I a cynical soul, Helena, I might be prone to question her timing."

Well, that got her attention.

"What fuck are you saying, Quinn?"

Because she had a pretty good idea what the other woman was talking about, Helena didn't bother to look up.

"Well, Helena, after our little unplanned meeting last week, can we agree that you've very clearly demonstrated to Barbara what you want?"

Not sure that "want" encompassed it all, Helena nevertheless offered a grudging nod, and Quinn picked up momentum.

"And, if your grunge appearance--"

The brunette endured the other woman's appraising look, unable to deny that she'd let things go a little.

"-- and lack of presence on the streets for the last week is any indication, I don't think that I'd be too far off the mark in guessing that you've been avoiding your dear Barbara."

She didn't want to hear this.

She didn't need to.

"And," the other woman chirped on, "we both know that Barbara is a very logical soul."

Hating the way the blonde came to a stop like she'd just set up one of those perfect proofs in geometry or something, Helena nibbled at her bottom lip.

It wasn't like she hadn't had her own questions.

The night before, when she'd finally pulled it together enough to say something half-coherent -- "Why now?" -- Babs' answer hadn't been the undying declaration she'd dreamed of.

"Don't let this come between us, Helena."

All she'd been able to promise was that she'd try. Somehow, Red had even wrangled a promise for her to come by after her shift tonight. Then, the weight of unspoken words had grown too heavy, and Barbara had left her to her thoughts.

Thoughts that had rocketed between euphoria and shame, hope and despair, like a pinball on crank.

Now, less than twenty-four hours later, she had the person who'd set it all off right here, saying the same things she'd been trying not to think.

Man, she hated Harley.

Probably deliberately ignoring the hostility Helena could feel rising off herself, the blonde inched her chair closer. Helena just kept from scooting in the other direction.

"I know that you've had your heart set on her for a long time, Helena--"

Something about the sweet treacle in Quinn's voice raised her hackles, but Helena kept listening.

Maybe this was some new hypnosis.

"-- but perhaps it's time to explore other options."


"Options, Quinn?"

Her laugh held no humor.

"What the fuck kind of options do I have?"

She had to be drunk. Or dreaming. Or something.

No other way to explain why she hadn't just pounded Quinn into the ground, poured her into a baggie, and called the cops.


Again, Helena found herself unsettled by the openness of her companion's expression. Over the years, she'd faced Quinn in a lot of situations, seen her face in a lot of lights.

She'd never seen her like this.

"I believe, Helena, that we demonstrated that you can be happy with someone other--"

That still didn't make it right.

"You know I thought you were her," she ground out.

Quinn's waved one hand airily.

"I needed some way to present my case to you."

Feeling more and more like she was tumbling head over heels down the rabbit-hole, Helena lowered her brows.

"So why don't you just hypnotize me again and make me..."

She didn't quite want to finish that sentence, but Quinn didn't seem to mind.

"Because, darling -- "

Helena felt her brows creeping up when the tiny woman leaned close.

Very close.

"-- this time, I want you to know that it's me."


Part 18

Honest to god, Helena didn't think she knew anything for certain any more.

Her worst enemy was professing... something.

Her oldest friend had professed... something.

Suddenly, it seemed like she was very much in demand, but she just didn't know what the hell for.

Lost in her own head, replaying the conversation she'd just had with Harley, it took Helena a second when the elevator doors dinged open at the clock tower. Her abstraction must have been taken the wrong way, because before she knew it, Barbara was in front of the doors, looking more hesitant than Helena could remember.


"Oh -- "

The brunette ran a hand through her hair and managed a smile as she stepped into the living area.

"Hey, Red."

Barbara's smile was soft.


Without thought, Helena took a step toward her, aching to drop to her knees. To bury her head in her partner's lap. To wrap her arms around her waist and hold her.

To be held.

Something held her back.

"I'm glad you came, Helena."

Half-turning, Helena blinked against the burning in her eyes and shrugged out of her coat. Somehow, she swallowed around the knot in her throat.

"No sweat, Barbara."

By the time she draped her coat over the back of the couch and turned around to face the redhead, she'd pulled it together.

Pretty much.

"I was kinda overdue."

She took in the big room: the comforting familiarity of the Delphi humming at the back; the pervasive whir and tick of the damned clock; the big screen muted on one of her favorite channels.

"I'm glad you gave me a kick in the pants, Red."

Barbara's answering smile was like the sun.

"No kicking, Hel."

Helena didn't back away when the older woman moved close and looked up at her, her expression serious.

"I've missed you, Sweetheart."


She realized she'd been a little premature in thinking that she'd pulled things together.


It wasn't much, but she didn't know what to say, how to tell Barbara that she was *still* missing her.

Needing to escape the scrutiny of acute green eyes, she circled to the back of the couch, trailing her fingers across the worn upholstery. She picked up the muted sound of music coming from Dinah's room, saw a band of light from under the closed door.

So, the Kid was keeping a low profile.

"I have dinner for you."

Dark brows lowered, and Helena quirked a grin. For some reason, that caused a pretty shade of red to creep into her companion's cheeks.

"If you're hungry that is. I didn't know--"

Helena decided to cut her a break.

"I could eat."

She saw some of the tension leave the redhead's shoulders. Barbara's laugh was low, tickling something deep in her chest.

"Good. It should still be warm."

Automatically following Barbara into the kitchen, Helena came to a stop.

"Uh -- "

The redhead looked over her shoulder, her eyebrows rising in question.

"-- you cooked?"

She hadn't meant to sound so alarmed, but, well, Barbara's lack of domestic skills were legendary. Fortunately, the older woman didn't seem offended.

"I ordered take-out, however -- "

Barbara moved into the kitchen, and Helena could hear the amusement in her voice.

"-- I was planning to break out the real dishes."

Falling into step, Helena opened the fridge and began digging around for sodas.

"Whoa, real dishes, huh?"

She snagged two cans, a little surprised that there was still Mountain Dew around: Dinah was always raiding her stash, so unless Helena kept hauling it into the tower, it was hard to keep it in stock.

"What's the occasion, Red?"

There was no answer, and Helena felt her stomach knot when she realized she'd pretty much put her foot in her mouth with that one. As casually as possible, she straightened and turned, bumping the door shut with her hip.

Barbara had laid out the dinnerware and was now at her customary place at the table just sort of... looking at her.

"You're here, Hel."

Well, that sure didn't do much for the whole "keeping things light" approach.

Helena bit back the first response that came to mind -- a flip homily about absence making the heart grow fonder -- and stepped over to the table.

She figured that she didn't need to open up the can of worms about why she'd been absent.

She worked her index fingers under the tabs of the two cans and popped them open together, then settled herself at the table. Settling her case of nerves was going to be a whole other battle.

With the redhead's last statement still hanging in the air between them, Helena finally settled on the truth.

"You didn't need to, Barbara."

Hell, it was her own case of terminal embarrassment that was behind everything.

She realized that Red wasn't going to let it go at that when, in the process of spooning out a healthy portion of Kung Pao, Barbara settled the serving spoon in the container. Helena couldn't read the expression in her eyes.

"Yes, I do."

Suddenly, Helena couldn't meet her friend's eyes. Instead, she caught her lower lip in her teeth and reached for the carton of Sesame Chicken.

"So, uh, Dinah said things have been quiet?"

"Too quiet, Hel."

Peering through her lashes, Helena saw the other woman calmly digging into her dinner. She decided that there just wasn't much she could say in response.

Less than an hour ago, just before sashaying out of the bar, Quinn had told her that she'd pulled her men back and there wouldn't be any crime from *her* end.

Giving Helena some time, she'd said.

Helena retrieved a pair of lacquered chopsticks and poked at her rice, wishing she could forget the rest of what Quinn had said.

"I can make this crime-free thing permanent. For you."

Barbara, bless her heart, interrupted those thoughts.

"But, you're not here to talk shop, Hel."

Dark brows knit while Helena finished chewing a bite of egg roll. She gave herself a second to wash it down with a long swallow of Mountain Dew.

"So, uh," she forced herself to meet Barbara's eyes, "why am I--?"

She thought that the older woman's smile was a little sad.

"Some time in front of the big screen and -- "

Barbara's expression changed, and Helena felt her heart skip a beat.

"-- some Chinese food."

Still lost, it took her a second to realize that her partner was leaning forward, offering her a bite of dumpling from her chopsticks. Helena thought there was a hint of dare in those green eyes; definitely something playful; maybe...

The brunette ran the tip of her tongue around the edges of her lips and inhaled slowly when she identified the rest of what she was seeing.


It was the sort of look she'd wanted forever. Just... just not over a mouthful of dinner.


Quirking the corner of her mouth in a smile, she leaned forward, neatly snagging won-ton between her teeth. She sucked the small morsel into her mouth, savoring the sweetly saline sauce that Barbara had dipped it in.

However, she forgot about culinary appreciation entirely when she saw the redhead snap the chopsticks into her palm, when she felt a lightly calloused finger trace her lips.


Then Barbara sucked her fingertip into her mouth, her full, soft lips making a bow as she licked off the drops of sauce.

Dumbstruck, instantly aflame, Helena worked to draw air into her lungs.

"Chew, Helena."

The gentle reminder came just in time to help Helena reign back on everything that was clawing to get out. Certain that her eyes had augmented, she looked down, grateful when she caught sight of the napkin in her lap.

Without looking up from her plate, she swallowed and raised the linen to her mouth.

"Mom did teach me a few manners, you know."

Mercifully, it came out lighter than she'd feared. She even managed a quirk of her lips.

Barbara's chuckle was low, teasing across her like fingers over the sensitive skin of her thighs, like the whisper of hot breath on her...

"I know, Hel."

The flash of white teeth that accompanied the words brought to mind other things, and Helena indulged herself, allowing her eyes to trace the long lines of the redhead's throat.

She'd tasted that skin, so briefly, just the night before, and the sensory memory caused her mouth to water.

God, she still wanted...

"Nobody can question your social skills, Sweetie."

It was said with another smile, but it was too much.

"Yeah -- "

Watching the skillful play of Barbara's fingers on the chopsticks, imagining the redhead's dexterity in all things, Helena almost let it go.

Her conscience wouldn't let her.

"-- I guess it's the stuff that's not fit for public consumption that's the problem."

In all honesty, she hadn't really expected Barbara to let the comment slip past, so she wasn't surprised when she was caught by a long look. Barbara placed her utensils neatly across the edge of her plate before speaking.

"Helena, there is no problem."

Her chest tightened up just a little when the other woman ducked down to catch her eyes.

"Neither public nor private."


Helena pushed her plate away, certain that she couldn't stomach another bite. She almost flinched when one of Barbara's hands caught hers.

"Please, Helena -- "

Something about the plea made her look up, forced her to fall into green eyes.

"-- don't let Quinn make you doubt yourself."

Helena couldn't help herself.

She really couldn't.

She had to laugh even though there was no humor behind the sound.

Unable to take any more, she pushed back from the table and started gathering plates. Busying herself at the sink, she wondered how she could explain that she had always known what she wanted.

And, she still did.

Barbara, however... Well, that was a whole different ball game.

Man, she hated Quinn for that.

Again, that damnable conscience that Barbara had installed over the years forced her to face facts, and she snorted softly.

After all, it was her own damned fault.


Giving in to the almost physical exasperation she could feel being directed her way, Helena finally looked over her shoulder. When she spied the can of Mountain Dew on the table, a thought struck her about just who could have been keeping the stash stocked, and she worked a grin.

"Don't worry, Red. The fat lady hasn't sung yet."


Part 19

"You were humming."

Breezing through the French doors from the balcony, Helena saw Barbara's startled jump over at the Delphi, but she wasn't too concerned. If the older woman's distracted response were any indication, Barbara wasn't too put out by the dramatic entrance either.


Helena pushed the doors shut behind her in concession to the cool fall night then, not bothering to shed her duster, bounded onto the platform that held the Delphi and all of Barbara's other assorted technical gizmos.

"Not 'hmmmming'," she chided lightly, putting a hint of nasal emphasis on the lack of vowels. "You were *humming*."

With that, she came to a stop, resting one hip against the side of the table, and waited. It took less than a second before her cyber-genius mentor looked up from the umpteen screens she had open.

Barbara's face, Helena thought, really was the perfect embodiment of befuddlement. She realized that she was dangerously close to sporting her own embarrassingly doting look when she watched the redhead self-consciously smoothing her sweater.

Man, Babs was so fuckin' cute when she was clueless.

Kind of figuring what was going to happen next, Helena unconcernedly parked one haunch on the edge of the table and swung her leg in rhythm to the ticking of the clock. Right on cue, slender fingers snagged the computer glasses that had slid half-way down Barbara's nose and tugged them off. Green eyes went smoky and distant as the redhead tapped the one earpiece against her bottom lip.

Obviously Red was reworking every second of the last hour or ten.

"No, I wasn't."

Crimson brows furrowed adorably.

"Was I?"

For all of about a nanosecond, Helena thought about messing with her, but her own purpose got the best of her.

Not to mention the fact that the last few days since her dinner with Barbara had been too cautious, too careful. Now, it just felt so damned good being able to feel good. She didn't want to mess it up by having Red think that she was making fun of her.

Deciding not to be appalled at her own sappiness, Helena waved one hand airily.

"Nah. Not right now."

She grinned.

Then she blinked when it hit her: it was a real, honest-to-gosh smile.


She felt her smile stretching toward the realm of "face cracking" when Barbara's befuddled expression morphed into blankness. Helena decided to cut her a break.

"D said you'd been humming around the tower during those weeks when..."

Seeing the recognition beginning to dawn, Helena was mercifully spared from having to finish the description. She gave her partner a moment while she allowed herself to replay the particularly illuminating conversation she'd had during sweeps the night before.

"When'd you know?"

She and Dinah had been waiting for a warehouse to clear out so they could run a search for Barbara. The sheer boredom had finally gotten the best of Helena, and she thumbed off her comm set, motioned for her partner to do the same, and given in to curiosity.

"Uh, know?"

Despite the darkness of their rooftop perch, Helena had had no trouble making out the pink creeping into Dinah's pale features. She'd decided to keep it to the point.

"Yeah, that it wasn't what I thought."

She hadn't felt the need to add that nothing seemed to be what she thought it was anymore.

"I didn't -- "

Something about the way she'd suddenly risen from her crouch maybe startled the teen because her younger partner's hands had gone into the air and her words had come in a rush.

"Honest. I mean, it was confusing, but I just thought she was, uhm..."

Helena had had no trouble coming up with a suggestion to help the teen along.


The word had come out sounding, she'd thought, like what writers would have described as bitter.


That hadn't been very convincing, so Helena had just waited.

"But, then she'd be all..."

The blonde had shrugged, her face wrinkling in thought.

"I don't know. Like...humming while she worked the Delphi and stuff, so I figured maybe I was just missing other signs."

Helena had been really glad that it had been another cloudy night in New Gotham. No other way she could have hidden her surprise.

"Say what, Dinah?"

The Kid had tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and narrowed her eyes a little.

"Something old and mushy... by, uhm, The Cabinet-Makers?"

Half-certain that she was having her leg pulled, Helena had nevertheless prodded at that tantalizing snippet, finally extending her right hand, palm up, in a gesture of clueless surrender.

"You *know*--"

Dinah's voice had carried an edge of exasperated adolescent.

"Why do stars fall down from the sky...?"

The warbling had done the trick, and Helena had burst into laughter.

"The Carpenters?"

Immediately, she'd sobered.

"Whoa. That's heavy, D."

The deep dip of Dinah's chin had said it all.

"Humming, Helena."

It wasn't a question.

Barbara's nod confirmed it, and Helena held her breath.

"You've been -- During those weeks, you were so..."

There was no way to miss the hint of pink crawling up Barbara's neck, and Helena was hard-pressed not to lean forward and kiss a trail behind it, to discover the subtle difference in temperature at the edge of the blush.

"... affectionate and open in a way that you haven't been for so long."

This time, it was Helena's turn to feel heat touching her cheeks.

"I didn't--"

Red hair shook briskly from side to side.


Helena peered through her lashes, and Barbara's tone gentled.


Her attempt to smile failed when she saw the pain flit through green eyes.

"But, at the same time, Helena, you were--"

Although she desperately wanted to jump in, to help her partner with her words, Helena didn't know what she could say. She saw Barbara draw a steadying breath.

"You seemed to be ignoring me or distancing yourself, not coming by after sweeps to debrief and ... "

Slender finger waved loosely.


The redhead retrieved her glasses from the mouse pad and recrossed the bows. Helena was surprised by how steady Barbara's voice was when she finished.

After all, Babs just didn't *do* the emotional thing.

"It was puzzling and maddening and infuriating."

Barbara's eyes held no accusation or recrimination, only something... else. Wanting to fall to her knees and beg for forgiveness, Helena somehow managed an exaggerated shrug and waggled her eyebrows.

"And, this is new?"

Their laughter cleared the air, and for what felt like the first time in days, Helena could breath again. That was, until she looked over to find her partner still smiling at her, one slender hand barely resting on her upper chest.

With her fingers only inches above the swell of full breasts, her cheeks still flushed from laughter, Barbara looked ready to be laid across the table and worshipped.

God. Damn.

Since turning that conversation with Dinah around in her head the night before and the realization that maybe Babs wasn't acting out of pity or to mark her territory or anything but genuine feelings, Helena had been thinking about Barbara.

She'd been thinking a lot.

And a lot of that thinking had veered to the decidedly non-conversational.

Suddenly, the air in the room was thick and heavy, like she was in the tropics and warm humidity made it hard to draw in enough oxygen.

Maybe that was the reason that Barbara's chest seemed to be rising so under her sweater. Maybe it was lack of oxygen that was making everything around the outside of her vision go shimmery and bright.

Too late, Helena realized what she was doing, what she was thinking. When she lowered her head, daring to peek through her bangs, green eyes were fixed on her face.

"Helena -- "

The brunette hissed through her teeth, the cool air from the room doing nothing to cool her down.

"You want to..."

Strong, beautiful hands moved to the placket of the cable knit sweater, and Helena saw -- heard, actually -- the other woman swallow. It was fast, so fast that anyone who hadn't known Barbara, who hadn't gone through so many years and tears and trials, might not have seen how self-conscious this gorgeous, self-assured woman was.

"... to see me?"

Oh. God. Yes.


The word tasted like ash in her mouth, but she had to.

"Why not?"

She couldn't meet her partner's eyes, but she didn't need to. The hurt and confusion in Barbara's question was clear enough.

"Helena, don't you know how much I want--"

She had to cut it off before she heard something that she couldn't pretend away.

"How can you?"

She pushed herself from the table, one hand slashing at the air.

"Don't you understand that I already gave everything to--"

Miserable, she fisted her hands against her thighs, her voice barely a whisper.

"--to her?"

A long silence followed that.

A helluva lot of quiet.

So long that she finally had to look up, which was, she guessed, what her companion had been angling for. Barbara didn't speak, however her actions were eloquence enough.

Shocked speechless -- damned near electrified -- Helena gaped when Barbara simply stripped her sweater up over her head and pushed it down her arms. Helena felt for the table behind her and leaned against it, the jolt heading directly to her already throbbing center.

Somehow, distantly, Helena noticed that Barbara's bra was a pale yellow, presenting the gift within as a lovely offering. She was unable to drag her eyes from the full, creamy skin, the provocative shadow that drew her eyes down and caused her mouth to water and her toes to clench inside her boots.

Attempting to anchor herself against the desire to kneel before the other woman and lavish her with mouth and hands, Helena grabbed at the edge of the table, gripping so hard that her fingers ached.

The pain gave her just enough focus to look away.

"You may have offered many things to the person you thought to be me, Helena--"

Without looking up from her inspection of her boots, Helena heard Barbara move away from the keyboard and cross the short distance between them. Denim-clad knees came into view, and the other woman waited until Helena forced herself to meet her eyes.

"--however, *I* never received those gifts."

Without quite knowing why, Helena nodded. She froze mid-motion when she heard the redhead's next words.

"And you -- "

Barbara's hand came to the outside of her thigh, the touch light but very, very certain.

"-- certainly haven't had a chance to receive anything from *me*."

The world turned to oranges and golds with Barbara's next word.


She couldn't --

But, Barbara was really saying these things.

Meaning them.

Strength fled from her legs, and Helena dropped to her knees. She looked up, searching bright green eyes.

"How can you...?"

Barbara didn't even hesitate.

"Helena, how can I not?"

Turning her face into the hand that came to her jaw, Helena distantly heard Barbara sounding almost like she was talking to herself.

"How could I not have seen... or known for so long?"

There was wonderment in the words and something a little sad and lost. But, with Barbara's thumb softly stroking at her bottom lip, Helena didn't know.

She had to know more.

Cautiously, she painted Barbara's fingertips, seeking to memorize taste and texture.

"Aaah -- "

And that soft, needy moan that drew her up...

Perhaps she, too, made a sound or somehow telegraphed her need, for Barbara was bending close.

So close.

The brush of their mouths was heat.

The tingling raced through Helena, the pressure of Barbara's knees against her breasts a sudden agony.


Her touch still gossamer light, she took in the other woman's air, seeking to capture her very essence.

Barbara already had her soul.

Her skin already sensitized beyond belief, Helena felt the whisper of Barbara's fingers across her cheek like hot wax.

And ice.

How could she ever have believed -- mistaken -- another's hands for these?

Barbara's breath hitched against her. She felt as much as heard her words.

"Helena, kiss me."

Still disbelieving, Helena pulled back.

Just a few inches, just enough to see.

The naked want in her partner's eyes threatened to unravel her.

"Always you, Barbara."

Green eyes seemed to spark, and Helena felt hands pulling at her coat.


But something -- perhaps it was the glow from the amber monitor -- Something reflected in that vibrant crimson hair, making a flickering halo of gold.

Or --

Helena's stomach twisted.

Or, for one disjointed second, blonde.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she pulled back, knowing that it was too late, that Barbara had seen. Impossibly, fingers brushed lightly through her bangs, and Helena almost whimpered when soft lips blessed the skin of her forehead.

"It's alright, Helena."

Again, there was the warmth of full lips above her eyebrows.

"Some day, you'll be able to look at me without seeing her."

Unable to stop herself, she turned the question around.

Maybe she could believe in what Barbara was saying, but how could she ask the same?

"How about you?"

Barbara straightened just a little, her surprise evident enough.


Nodding slowly, Helena bit at her lower lip, working up the courage for what she had to know.

"Are you ever going to be able to look at me without thinking that I'm seeing her?"


Part 20

Helena had to admit that, all things considered, Quinn wasn't so hard on the eyes. Attired in what Helena had come to consider her "shrink clothes", manicured, coiffed, and appearing almost sane, she could have been a model.

Or, the brunette amended bitterly, an actress.

"I'm glad that you decided to call, Helena."

Even her voice was so normal, unlike the honeyed barbs she'd used during therapy or the maniacal cackle that had filled the clock tower during her attack.


Helena thought that her tone, in contrast, was a little... flat, but the blonde didn't seem to notice. Quinn cocked her head to the side and dipped a biscotti into her triple espresso.

And people told Helena that *she* was a caffeine hound.

"Well, I've missed yo--"


Despite everything that her mom and Barbara had hammered into her about manners over the years, Helena didn't care that she was cutting the other woman off. She laced her fingers around her oversized mug and forced herself to hold those cunning brown eyes.

"Why all of this?"

Helena allowed her words to slow as she worked to spell it out.

"I mean, you hacked into the phone company to plant Barbara's number on my caller id when you'd call."

Quinn's chipper nod suggested that she wasn't quite getting the point.

"You stalked Barbara close enough to copy the dings on her chair and copied the plates for the Hummer and kept close enough track of me not to cross paths when I was with Barbara...?"

Again, the blonde head bobbed.

"That's true, Helena."

Quinn's gay chuckle set the brunette's teeth on edge.

"It was quite a bit of work, you know."

Barely -- just barely -- Helena conquered her urge to roll her eyes.

"Dammit, Qu--"

She caught herself and lowered her voice, leaning over the table just a bit.

"Harley, you fuckin' paralyzed yourself to... to..."

Straightening, Helena released the death grip she had on her coffee and waved one hand near her face.

"--to sustain an illusion."

Platinum brows wrinkled, and Helena couldn't keep it back.

"Why, goddammit?"

She barely noticed other customers at The Common Grounds Coffee Shoppe looking over.

"Why go through all that just to fuck with me?"

It was only after the words rushed out that she realized the layers of meaning she'd left open. Mercifully, it looked like Quinn had glommed on to the fact that irony wasn't the best way to go just now.


The tiny woman leaned forward, resting her forearms on the tiny table between them.

"I did a lot of thinking in Arkham, much of it centered on you."

As explanations went, Helena thought that Quinn's needed some work in the whole stating-the-obvious department.

"Well, sure, we put you there."

The chortling that always seemed to come when the bad guys started revealing their diabolical plans didn't materialize. Not a little surprised, Helena peered through her lashes, watching Harley tap the soggy biscotti against her saucer.

"No, Helena," blonde lashes batted, "just about *you*."

The brunette shrugged and poked at the whipped cream that was dissolving in her oversized Americano.

Sure, with her usual karma, it seemed like she was the one the nuts might fixate on.

"It is true," the blonde nodded thoughtfully, "at first I thought it was revenge that I needed to focus on."

Here it came.

Helena raised her cup, sipping slowly.

"But, it wasn't quite that simple, darling."

Nearly choking, Helena thumped her cup down. Quinn appeared unfazed by her glare, but she wasn't talking either. Figuring that something was required of her, Helena cocked a brow.

"It wasn't?"

"No, it most certainly wasn't."

The tiny woman deposited her cookie on a napkin.

"It would have been easier if it had been, I must admit. However, any good therapist -- "

Dark brows furrowed when Quinn interrupted herself. Helena thought she saw a flash of something almost like regret in her eyes.

"--And even you must admit that I never failed to help you find insights about yourself during our sessions?"

Not so sure that she appreciated her former therapist's methods, Helena had to give her her due.

"Yeah, whatever, Harl."

That earned her a beaming smile.

"Well, a therapist must be willing to dig deeper. And so, during those long trippy days in the asylum, I forced myself to examine my interest in you."

A bit disbelieving, Helena watched her companion pick up her demitasse cup and take a slow sip. For all the world, the woman looked like she thought she'd explained herself.

Obviously, a little prodding was in order.

"Your interest in torturing me, you mean?"

The goad did the trick, and Harley lowered her cup. With a dramatically pained sigh, she raised one hand to pinch the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger.

Watching the gesture, one Harley had probably picked up when she'd been studying Barbara, Helena felt something rise in her throat. She swallowed frantically and pushed her mug away.

"Now, Helena, you're oversimplifying things."

"Why don't you educate me, Harley?"

It came out a little... rough, and brown eyes narrowed before Quinn pushed her water glass across the table.

"Sip this, Helena. You're looking a little green around the gills."

Unable to deny that, the brunette nodded her thanks and accepted the glass.

"I realize that my methods may have been a bit... harsh."

Helena's bark of laughter again turned heads in the small coffee house, but Quinn was undeterred.

"I was like a school child on the playground, darling, chasing you and yanking your braids."


At least that's what Helena thought what she was doing was called.

Slowly, she closed her mouth. Then she sat up, squared her shoulders, and looked the other woman in the eyes.

"You went to a helluva lot of trouble."

Those eight words encompassed a lot of what had been screaming inside her for the last days. After all, why couldn't the madwoman just have kidnapped her and locked her up and brainwashed her or something?

Something... private.

Quinn, finally, seemed to get it. Something sparked in her eyes.

"*I* happen to think," the blonde's voice was pitched low, "that you are very much worth the effort, Helena."

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

That feeling that she'd had so many weeks before, when Quinn had shown up as Barbara and started spinning her web, hit her again: the sensation of liquid hot metal freezing through her belly. Helena fought a wave of vertigo as her heart triple-timed.

How was it that her worst enemy would go to so much trouble to notice things, and Barbara could go for years...

Mercifully, the sensation of Quinn's hand coming to rest on hers derailed -- or at least detoured -- that train of thought.

"So, let me assure you, Helena, my intent was not to -- "

The blonde removed her hand, her mouth pursing.

"-- fuck you."

It took Helena a second to remember that her own question had brought Quinn to that statement. In that instant, the other woman's face was transformed by a slyly wicked smile.

It was an expression that Helena remembered too, too vividly from nights among tangled sweaty sheets.

"Or, at least, not about just -- "

Sharp even white teeth caught against the thin lower lip, drawing out the first syllable of Quinn's next word.


The two sat in silence for a few heartbeats. Eventually, Quinn straightened in her chair.

"And, Helena, it can be far more than that again."

Helena's nostrils flared when Quinn tilted her head to the side.

"It can be much more next time."

The brunette scooted her chair back and turned in the seat, draping one arm across the back.

"What makes you think there's gonna be a next time, Harley?"

Her former therapist, her former lover, her continual adversary, was suddenly very businesslike.

"Because I told you the truth, Helena. I do hunger for white picket fences in my own way."

Helena turned that around in her head, remembering how sincere the person she'd thought to be Barbara had been during that conversation. Distantly, she identified the song that had just started playing over the shop's speakers and allowed her eyes to close for a second.

Meeting you, with a view to a kill

Face to face in secret places, feel the chill.

Steadying herself, she opened her eyes and worked for an unconcerned shrug.

"Yeah? So what?"

Blonde lashes batted coyly.

"Because, Helena, I can only do it with you beside me."

"You really are nuts."

It sounded weak to Helena's ears. Quinn clearly wasn't bothered.

"True, but you can't deny that we have chemistry."

Helena felt the corners of her mouth turn down.

"Alchemy's more like it."

"Potato. Patatoh."

The blonde waved airily.

"You say magic; I say explosions."

Choice for you, is the view to a kill

Between the shades, assination standing still.

The first crystal tears, fall as snowflakes on your body

First time in years, to drench you skin with lovers rosy stain

Deliberately, Helena moved her chair next to the other woman. Leaning close, she dropped her voice to a growl.

"So, what? You want to ride off into the sunset together and do the happily ever after schtick?"

Quinn didn't back down.

Rather, she leaned close, her breath warm and sweet, her brown eyes deep and inviting. Rapt, Helena watched a pink tongue dart out to moisten thin, shapely lips.

"Try me, Helena."

For an eternity, Helena remained frozen in place, attempting to take the measure of her tormentor. Finally, she gave a mental shrug.

Couldn't hurt.

With that, she closed the distance to bring her mouth to Quinn's.

But can we dance into the fire

That fatal kiss is all we need

Dance into the fire

To fatal sounds of broken dreams

Part 21

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