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.
SEQUEL: To Landslide.


Chapter 16

Let me inside you

Into your room

I've heard it's lined

With the things you don't show

Lay me beside you

Down on the floor

I've been your lover

From the womb to the tomb

I dress as your daughter

When the moon becomes round

You be my mother

When everything's gone

Leaving the noise of the club, the silence in the Hummer had been almost deafening. Barbara had flipped on the radio out of reflex, however, even the soft lyrics did little to dissipate the oddly charged silence.

Keep beckoning to me

From behind that closed door

The maid and the mother

And the crone that's grown old

I hear your voice

Coming out of that hole

I listen to you

And I want some more

It was only after they'd entered the living room that the redhead found her voice. She caught the younger woman's hand, tangling their fingers.

"Are you all right, Hel?"

The brunette's breathing was fast and shallow, and bright blue eyes glittered from under lowered lashes. The redhead unflinchingly held her partner's gaze until Helena offered a measured nod.

The older woman swallowed with difficulty.

"Are you hungry?"

Again, the response was slow in coming. Again, it was nonverbal: a slow shake of a dark head.

Barbara carefully wet her lips, then let go.


The word was quiet, tender, as was her next question, accompanied by a tilt of her head toward the bedroom.

"Why don't you go in and wait for me?"

And she will always carry on

Something is lost

But something is found

They will keep on speaking her name

Some things change

Some stay the same

Barbara took her time before following her partner to the bedroom.

She wanted to give her lover time to prepare. And, she needed some time to prepare herself.

Surprisingly, she realized that she had absolutely no interest in checking the monitoring routines on the Delphi; if there had been a major incident, the computer would have paged her. Instead, she fetched a Perrier and headed to the balcony. The early spring night was cool, but, in her jacket, the redhead felt warm enough.

For long minutes, the older woman remained still, occasionally sipping from her water. Absently running the supple material of the leash between her fingers, she simply watched the stars peeking through the pervasive cloud cover above the city.

Eventually, she shook off her lethargy and entered her bathroom from the door in the hall. Again, she took her time, brushing her teeth, taming her hair, completing her usual toilette. Finally, clad in boxers and the muscle tee she'd been wearing -- it did show the motorcycle tattoo on her bicep to advantage -- she entered the bedroom and slowly drew to a halt.

Helena was waiting for her on the bed, kneeling in the center, wearing only low-cut red underwear -- and the collar.

Bright blue eyes hesitantly met green.

"I didn't know if you'd want..."

The younger woman gestured vaguely from her hips to her neck.

The redhead swallowed and collected herself, then moved to the side of the bed. Her voice was pitched low.

"I want everything off tonight, Helena."

She transferred herself to the bed and turned to find her now-nude partner waiting, still kneeling in the center of the bed.

"What do you want, Sweetie?"

The younger woman's softly husked reply threatened to reduce the relentlessly practical woman to tears.

"I just want to please you."

Concurrently, it reignited her previous passions.

"You do, Hel."

The redhead leaned in to brush her fingertips across her partner's thigh, observing the rippling play of the muscles which fluttered at her touch.

"And, you will," she added as the sensory memory of smooth leather sliding through her fingers threatened to overwhelm her.

"But, for tonight, Hel, it's going to be all about you."

Hours later, waking slowly with her lover spooned in the circle of her arms, Barbara gasped softly as images and sounds and scents and tastes and emotions saturated her. The encounter had, indeed, been all about Helena, or at least she'd intended for it to be. Yet, the older woman had discovered that it couldn't be.

Caught up in an all-consuming passion the likes of which she'd never experienced, Barbara had touched and tasted and teased the younger woman, keying her up until her muscles were so taut they'd almost hummed. She'd kept her lover at that plateau for hours, until Helena had begged, her words urgent and raw.

"C'mon, Barbara, do it. Please..."

With the younger woman effortlessly supporting her greater weight behind her, Barbara had finally thrilled to a touch she'd never expected. She'd been taken in so totally -- connected in a way she'd never imagined. And, when Helena had finally broken, when Barbara had allowed her lover to peak, she too had been swept up.

For the first time in over seven years, she'd experienced an unequivocally physical climax before collapsing nearly insensate on top of her lover.

Good. God.

Utilizing promises of strong, dark coffee, the redhead gradually coaxed her eyes open, unsurprised by the brightness of the room. Her internal clock told her that it was well past her normal Saturday rising hour. Unconcerned by her slothfulness, she performed a series of isometric stretches before snugging her companion closer.

The silken heat of the brunette's bare back pressing against her own naked chest elicited a pleasurable shiver. Unfortunately, the emotions engendered by the sensation swiftly transformed to a less pleasant feeling.

It was only years of conditioning and practice which kept the older woman from jerking away from the woman in her arms. It was only her own iron will which kept her from whimpering at the sight which met her when she forced herself to lower her eyes.

Before her, in vivid hues, was evidence of the failure of her control. The purples and yellows and greens of rapidly fading finger-sized bruises. Angry pink weals from the rake of blunted nails. Even the dark red of dried blood from sharp nips and one deep bite near the younger woman's shoulder.

Good. God.

How could she -- she -- ever have done this?

Barbara swallowed rapidly against something rising in her throat.

Just who the hell was she, transforming something as beautiful as what she shared with her sweet lover into this and...

The older woman clenched her jaw and forced herself to finish the thought.

...and finding the most intense pleasure of her life in doing it?

Obviously, she noted without humor, she'd been unconsciously right on target years ago when she'd gotten her thrills from putting on a black and blue costume to prowl the nights and kick ass. Perhaps there was some sort of limit -- green eyes flashed in vexation at the word -- some sort of cutoff for how long she could go without releasing that sort of impulse. Obviously, last night, a gasket had blown somewhere, and she was going to have to face the consequences.

A soft, relaxed voice interrupted the cyber-genius' self-recriminations.

"Quit it, Barbara."

The older woman eased the rictus of her jaw muscles and kept it short.

"Quit what?"

The smaller woman in her loose embrace emitted a long-suffering sigh before rolling over in the circle of her arms. Barbara's attempt to release her hold from the other woman was denied by slender fingers capturing her retreating hand and guiding it back to the brunette's waist.

"Stop beating yourself up. You didn't hurt me."

Green eyes blinked rapidly.

"But, Helena, just look at your--"

A teasing word cut her off.


Despite herself, Barbara sidetracked from her guilty protests long enough to try to decrypt the puzzling utterance. Her attempts were unsuccessful.

" 'Cat'? " she parroted blankly.

The dark head inches from hers nodded decisively.

"Uh huh. Remember, I'm part cat. Not -- "

Blue eyes widened impossibly and blinked in a convincing imitation.

"-- part owl. I can't turn my head around to see my own back, Red."

The redhead snorted at that image before catching herself. She plastered on a scowl and worked to get back on track as her companion spoke again.

"Still," the brunette shrugged her shoulders experimentally and rotated her head, "it doesn't feel bad at all. I bet it'll be gone by lunch time."

While Barbara had to admit that the younger woman's field assessment was probably right on target -- thank heavens for Helena's amazing recuperative abilities -- it still didn't negate what had occurred. She opened her mouth to say exactly that, but a slender finger came lightly to her lips, silencing her.

Earnest blue eyes caught green.

"You didn't do anything wrong, Barbara."

The redhead quirked her brows helplessly, then wonderingly, as a slow, sensual smile painted itself across her partner's features.

"In case you don't remember, Red, I had a really good time."

Blue eyes briefly flickered to gold.

"A really good time," the brunette reiterated.

The older woman allowed herself to relax marginally for the first time in minutes. The feeling was short-lived, and she tensed at Helena's next rumbling words.

"And, I think you did, too."

Barbara felt herself blush to the roots of her hair while she frantically calculated whether it would be possible to dig through the mattress and bury herself under the bed. Concluding that the chances were slim, she inhaled slowly and drew on her courage. Still, she couldn't find it in herself to meet her partner's eyes and, consequently, addressed the younger woman's breasts.

"I... I did. I just had no idea."

Silence -- a long, pointed, protracted period of silence -- met her admission. Suspecting that she was expected to add something but utterly clueless as to what it could be, the redhead finally sucked it up and met... utterly doubtful blue eyes.

Crimson brows furrowed in record time, and green eyes snapped.

"Yes, Helena?"

Obviously having waited for the older woman's undivided attention, the brunette's crinkled her eyes in laughter as a wicked smile eased across her lips.

"Oh, come on, Barbara. No idea? Not even an itty bitty one?"

The redhead snorted irritably when her partner punctuated her last words by playfully tickling her side.

It didn't seem all that funny to her.

"Hel, what are you talki--"

Full lips meeting hers silenced the analytical woman's peeved question, and she was sucked into a passionate kiss. When the brunette eventually pulled away, leaving the older woman both completely breathless and utterly discombobulated, Barbara blinked and attempted to ravel the extremely scattered threads of what she'd been trying to say... or ask.


This time, it was the amused, and slightly doting, look in blue eyes which silenced her.

"You're a passionate woman, Barbara."

Helena's words were quiet but utterly convinced. And convincing.

"You have been your whole adult life."

The younger woman chuckled.

"Most of your childhood, too, if your dad's stories are true."

Finally ready to listen, the redhead shrugged with one shoulder and quirked her lips. The brunette seemed to read the lessening of the tension and easily rolled them over, coming to rest lightly on top of the older woman.

"And, I'm telling you, Red, whatever floats your boat is fine with me."

Barbara twisted her head slightly, attempting to read everything in her lover's words and everything in her eyes.


The dark head nodded vigorously before the younger woman ducked to trace the panther over the redhead's heart.

"Uh huh. If you want me to read computer manuals to you while you watch me get off, I'll do it."

The older woman emitted a completely undignified giggle at the offer and felt the other woman smile against her chest. The smaller woman wriggled upward again to suck at her pulse point, her voice becoming thicker, more intimate.

"I mean it. Anything you want. If you want me to pull the cuffs out of the gear closet or dig around for that whip that's hidden waaay in the back, I'll do it."

Barbara inhaled sharply and pulled away from that talented mouth. She needed to think, to understand.

"Helena, what are you saying?"

The brunette purred the first part of her reply against the older woman's ear.

"What I'm saying is that I want you to enjoy yourself. And,"

Earnest blue eyes rose into view.

"...well, I'm very limber -- "

Dark brows waggled before the younger woman averted her gaze, finishing softly.

"-- and I heal fast."

Stunned, awash in more emotions than she could count, much less identify, Barbara could only think of one thing to say.

"What if I want you to use them on me?"

Chapter 17

"Take that!"

Slowly, deliberately, Barbara raised her eyes from the monitor in response to both the flippant exclamation and the sight of a long, thick strand of pasta -- fettuccini, if she weren't mistaken -- flying across the Delphi platform to affix itself to her primary screen. Very carefully, she removed her glasses, placing them just so by her mouse, and then turned to regard her boisterous younger partner.


The older woman couldn't really put much genuine ire in the inquiry: the brunette had been relatively subdued for the last few days, so witnessing her ebullience wasn't unwelcome. Nevertheless, she suspected that her tone was a bit on the frosty side.

The brunette sauntered around the edge of the desk, parking her hindquarters next to the mouse pad.

"It's a wet noodle."

For some reason, Barbara found the younger woman's response a bit otiose. Reaching deep inside herself, she drew on her reserves of patience.

"So I see."

The cyber-genius recovered her glasses, speculatively tapping one stem against her lower lip.

"My question, however, had less to do with identifying the item than in determining just why it is currently clinging to the surface of my thirty-five inch prototype multiphased-sync plasma display."

The redhead barely avoided rolling her eyes when the younger woman ducked her head apologetically, her patented hang-dog expression doing its job.

After seven-plus years, the older woman really thought that she should be better equipped to deal with that tactic.

"Uh, I thought it would be good to have it handy."

One crimson brow arched expectantly at the muttered half-explanation.

Was that a hint of color creeping into normally blush-proof caramel features?

Oddly bashful cerulean eyes peeked from under shaggy bangs.

"Uhm, in case you want me to get jiggy with that whole flogging thing?"

A tiny squeak of laughter escaped the older woman before it was banished by a roaring blush. Barbara automatically snapped her gaze to the living area before remembering that Dinah was at a practice for the upcoming senior follies. With that little concern out of the way, she focused on her obviously discomfited partner.


Still collecting herself, the older woman pushed away from her pasta-covered monitor and rotated to face the brunette fully. The dark figure perched on the desk finally met her gaze, smiling with infinite sweetness.

"I know that you were kind of making a point and all when you said what you did..."

The redhead nodded, still regretting her words. The instant they'd crossed her lips on Saturday morning and she'd witnessed the absolute horror in her partner's eyes, she'd realized that she'd overstated her case.

What Helena had been suggesting had been so appalling -- Barbara's own dismay at the thought of truly hurting the younger woman -- in the name of passion or otherwise -- had simply caused her to speak from the gut.

As was so often the case, the analytical woman had discovered that blurting out her first response had not been one of her shining moments.

Helena's shocked response had clearly demonstrated that a visceral reaction to the concept wasn't the sole purview of the older woman. Barbara had immediately apologized and attempted to explain her response; however, the brunette had been... pensive since then.

"...and I meant it that I'll do anything you want."

The lithe figure abruptly slid from the desk top, coming to rest on one knee by the redhead's side. Eager and earnest blue eyes looked up -- and looked into Barbara's soul.

"I want to."

Overwhelmed by the brunette's soft declaration, the older woman struggled to explain again.

"Helena, you know--"

A raised hand cut her off, and the younger woman continued.

"But, Barbara, I could never do... that."

The redhead nodded her understanding as imploring blue eyes searched her face.

"I guess I just wanted you to know that..."

Helena inhaled and tried on one of her cocky grins.

"...well, if there's ever something that kind of hits a squidge zone for one of us..."

A half-shrug completed the brunette's sentiment. Green eyes twinkled, and Barbara tugged the smaller woman to her lap.

"That we can find our way around it, Sweetie?", she supplied quietly.

The dark woman nodded happily, and there was simply no way that the redhead could resist pressing a soft kiss to her lover's mouth. Moaning into the contact, the older woman made the mistake of opening her eyes.

She snorted.

Then she giggled before turning back to her partner to find distinctly unamused blue eyes regarding her. The younger woman huffed with exaggerated annoyance.

"Shit, Barbara. I'm gonna start carrying around a ziploc of catnip just so I can join you in La La Land."

Well, that didn't help.

Regardless, Barbara mustered her considerable powers of concentration and self-control.

"I'm sorry, Sweetheart," she soothed, stroking the younger woman's shoulder.

Another movement from behind her partner caught her attention, and she snorted again, pointing at her workspace.

Like a living thing, the pasta was oozing its way down the front of the plasma screen, evidently headed for the keyboard beneath.

"Still, Hel," Barbara managed between slow, measured breaths, "a wet noodle?"

The younger woman shrugged and climbed gracefully to her feet.

"Well, sex is mostly mental anyway, right?"

In that case, the redhead immediately decided, her young protege obviously had mental faculties rivaling the greatest minds of the 20th and 21st centuries. Regardless, she really couldn't deny the truth of the brunette's assertion. There was simply no other way to account for a physical response which was patently impossible.

Blessing the power of the mind, the cyber-genius opted to revisit their on-going discussion from the last few days.

"True, Hel; however, I still have to wonder if there might have been something in the air -- or the smoke -- at the club."

Cerulean eyes rolled dramatically as the dark woman leaned against the edge of the desk.

"And I still say that I would have noticed something like that, Babs."

The older woman ruefully poked her tongue into her cheek, inclined to agree. With her heightened senses, the brunette probably would have been able to detect any airborne substance which was concentrated enough for non-metas to respond to.

"The only hormones I was picking up on," the young vigilante continued with a sly smile, "were strictly natural. I mean, there's that whole thing in the back that George told me about, but that's different, right?"

Again, the redhead nodded slowly, chuckling softly at her partner's expression.

Helena's scantily-clad dance partner had, apparently, been a veritable font of knowledge, informing the brunette -- between bumps and grinds -- that he could hook her up with something special in the back office. The dark vigilante still maintained that, if she'd had a little more time -- or a set of nipple clamps for George -- she could have gotten the entire story. Since the brunette had had neither on Friday evening, the two crime fighters had planned to follow up on the tidbit this very evening; however, a singularly nasty brawl in the area had sidetracked Helena before she could begin her stealthy explorations.

Barbara's smile faded as she observed a shift in her partner's features.


For a long moment, the brunette inspected the toe of her boot and chewed at her lower lip. She finally looked up, speaking carefully.

"Is it really so... bad if it was all you? Or us?"

There was no hostility... or recrimination... or even impatience in the tentative inquiry, only tender concern. The redhead's first instinct was to reply quickly, to find the words which would somehow reassure her lover. Yet, since Helena had demonstrated such courage in asking -- she had always had the heart of a lion -- Barbara took her time, giving the question the consideration it deserved.

"I... No, of course not," she finally allowed. "It's simply so..."

Green eyes lost focus and tracked to the left as the analytical woman struggled to find the words.

"The only thing which has ever come close was..."

Blushing, she trailed off, helplessly over her head. The brunette smiled encouragingly.

"Was what, Barbara? Come on, I told you about the whole -- "

Slender fingers made quote marks in the air.

"-- teenaged wet dream thing."

As usual, the younger woman's humor did the trick, somehow loosening the tight bands of fear around Barbara's chest.

"Before. When I was still on the street."

The redhead knew that no further elaboration was necessary for the vague reference.

Well, perhaps a bit more detail...

"A fight," she tacked on, not missing the wicked glint which had been creeping into her partner's eyes.

The older woman judiciously decided to omit the fact that it had been, in fact, a fight with Helena's own mother, Selina Kyle, in her criminal persona: Catwoman.

It had been the crimson-haired crime fighter's second encounter with the capable cat burglar. Her first, several months earlier, had been an unmitigated disaster, leaving the twenty year old barely able to limp away from the engagement. To this day, Barbara knew that the more experienced woman could have easily done far worse.

After that first fight, the young woman had licked her wounds and spent a lot of time and energy to ensure that such a defeat wouldn't happen again. She'd quizzed Bruce and Dick -- and even Alfred -- exhaustively about the dark criminal's fighting style; she'd run the battle through a nonstop loop of her memory, ruthlessly identifying where she'd erred; and she'd trained harder and longer than ever before. Thus, when she'd surprised Catwoman coming out of an antiquities store, Barbara had been ready -- or as ready as she was likely to be.

Without wasting time on quips, taunts, or snappy barbs, the young heroine had tackled the cat burglar, throwing her to the rooftop and pinning her wrists. The older woman had sinuously twisted, wrapping her legs tightly around the redhead's waist. Locked in a parody of a passionate embrace, the two had stared deeply at each other, taking each other's mettle. Barbara had just had time to revisit her planning and strategies before Selina had growled, struggling under her.

In that instant, something had snapped in the young woman. Schemes and game plans evaporated, and the cerebral woman became, for the first time in her life, all instinct and raw passion.

The battle had been fierce, and brutal, and completely without quarter asked -- or given. In the end, both women -- with still not a word exchanged -- had staggered to their feet again, panting, bloody and bruised, unyielding. A question had sparked in yellow eyes; a crimson head had inclined ever-so-slightly; and the two had turned and limped their separate ways.

Replaying the encounter, Barbara blinked, almost blinded by a sudden flash of insight, and managed to swallow the sharp gasp which undoubtedly would have alarmed her partner.

Although that encounter with Helena's mother had been the first time the cyber-genius had completely given way to instinct and physicality, she was amazed to recognize that her passionate encounter with Helena on Friday night had not -- as she'd assumed -- been the second. Rather, it had been another engagement, just a few months after she and Helena had decided to embark on their joint venture, that had been the second: it had been that oddly charged, no-holds-barred fight with her protege late one night in the training room.

Pushing aside that realization for later consideration, the redhead contented herself with a uneasy observation about the power the Kyle women obviously held over her. Observing one particular Kyle, who was waiting patiently for something more from her, she surfaced from her memories.

Barbara felt a hint of warmth enter her cheeks: possibly a response to her protracted silence; possibly a reaction to the discussion.

"It's... it's a bit overwhelming, Hel," she offered, adding awkwardly, "losing control like that."

The dark figure smiled softly and extended her hand, palm up. It took the older woman a beat to comprehend the gesture before she placed her hand in her partner's.

"It's okay, you know..."

Blue eyes seemed to glint, or sparkle, in the dim lighting near the computer.

"...to want me."

Conflicted by too many eddying emotions, the redhead mulled on that, attempting to knit together some sort of response which would be worthy of the amazing woman. Finally, she kept it simple.

"I do want you, Helena."

The two lovers shared an intimate smile -- although Barbara had the sneaking suspicion that her partner's tender expression was edging towards a smirk -- before the brunette sobered. She raised her free hand to stroke the pale fingers resting in her palm.

"It's just, I get the feeling when you're touching me that you're... I dunno... "

Slender shoulders shrugged lightly.

"...holding yourself back or something. Like you're scared or not sure."

Stunned, the redhead could only stare helplessly as her lover continued thoughtfully.

"Maybe some of it's that whole woman thing, but I don't think that's really it."

The brunette grinned wolfishly and, relieved that at least one issue had been readily dismissed, the older woman grinned in return. Her smile became a tad forced when Helena added, " 'Sides, there are all sorts of pretty fun toys out there, if that is an issue. Or, even if it's not."

Barbara shook her head slightly, and the younger woman winked, then became serious again.

"Mostly, Red, I think it's here -- "

Gracefully, Helena leaned forward, tenderly touching the redhead's temple. Barbara instinctively tried to protest, but her partner cut her off.

"I know. I do know how you love me, Barbara, but a couple of times when you've let yourself go, well..."

The dark figure straightened, shrugging minutely again.

"...that's when I feel how you really can love me."

Apparently having said her piece, Helena lightly squeezed the older woman's hand. Dumbstruck -- by her lover's words, by the younger woman's seeming ability to sit quietly with no expectation of a response -- Barbara, again, forced herself to take her time, to absorb what the brunette had said.

When she finally stumbled on words of her own, she was surprised by how easily she revealed herself.

"I think I am scared, Helena, of how much I want you."

Pursing her lips, the redhead slowly inhaled, then released the long breath.

"Of how much I need you."

The younger woman's playful and tender smile was a benediction. She stepped lightly from the platform, waiting at the base of the ramp.

"You're preaching to the choir, sister."

Delighted -- and relieved -- by the respite, Barbara powered the Delphi to standby and joined the other woman, who was edging toward the kitchen. When Helena abruptly stopped and turned, the redhead nearly plowed into her.


The brunette leaned in, moving very, very, close to husk in the older woman's ear.

"Just remember, Red. No expectations. No deadlines. And..."

The younger woman drew back with a waggle of dark brows, leaving the redhead filled with warm affection. The next words Barbara heard transformed that warmth to an entirely different type of heat.

"...every time you're ready, no limits."

Chapter 18

"If it's all about no limits, why does this place have so many damned locks?"

Absorbed in a fuzzy photocopy describing the detailed sequence of steps required for removal of her so-called temporary tattoos -- shuttle launch sequences had nothing on this -- Barbara absently murmured, "Chains, locks...".

"Potato. Po-tah-to," the brunette groused lightly in return, setting their drinks on the small table.

The older woman carefully refolded the sheet and tucked it into the zippered exterior breast pocket of her heavy jacket. Lifting her glass with a nod of thanks, she appreciatively observed her partner swinging a leg over the back of an uncomfortable-looking wooden chair to plant herself gracefully on the seat.

"Were you able to find anything?"

She didn't bother to comment on the younger woman's playful complaints about the locks. Even before Barbara had assumed responsibility for training the dark figure in the skills of vigilante crime-fighting, Helena had been in possession of a wealth of knowledge about bypassing security devices. The girl, after all, had been trained by the best: Selina Kyle.

That very fact had caused the young redhead no end of consternation during the early days of her guardianship since there had been simply no way to keep her ward out of the liquor cabinet. One lock after another -- some from the recesses of Bruce's gear supply in the Batcave -- had fallen before the teen. Peace over the issue had finally come only when Barbara had realized that her ward didn't seem to be sampling the wares in the cabinet, merely proving a point, and she'd just stopped locking it altogether.

"Not really," the brunette finally supplied, neatly downing half of her Grey Goose.

The older woman cocked her head expectantly.

Helena had been absent for quite a while on her exploratory sweep. Her delay had resulted in Barbara's need for diversion, leading to the intense perusal of the somewhat alarming document she'd picked up the week before when she'd had the temporary artwork applied.

Although the quality of the photocopy and the current lighting made it difficult to be certain, the cyber-genius hoped that she'd misread instructions relating to the use of bleach and ammonia. If she had read correctly, well, she'd just have to keep recycling her turtlenecks until the bloody rose eventually disappeared, or, if the weather continued its warming trend, a cervical collar might not be out of the question.

"I even got into the ceiling from the bathroom," the young vigilante added.

The brunette paused, fastidiously picking a cobweb from her left shoulder.

"...and looked around the back rooms and the office."

A crimson brow arched, and the brunette grinned.

"There were some places for, uh, private entertaining."

The younger woman's expression morphed into something lecherously hopeful forcing Barbara to clamp down on a laugh.

"Wanna go check them out with me, Red?"

The redhead pursed her lips, pretending to consider the suggestion.

"As tempting as that idea is, Hel, we do have a job to do here."

Not entirely certain how much of her partner's disappointment was genuine, she lowered her tone half an octave.

"Perhaps we can arrange something when we get home."

Although the background noise surrounding the women scarcely approached the level from Friday night, it was still far from quiet; therefore, Barbara was a bit surprised that she heard her companion's rumbling growl so clearly. The cyber-crime fighter promptly decided two things: she hoped that they could wrap up this bit of field work quickly; and she was very, very glad that she hadn't acceded to Dinah's request to be patched in on the comms during their venture.

Originally, Barbara hadn't intended to accompany her partner on this sleuthing expedition at Chains Of Love. It was the type of job which, typically, the younger woman could handle quite capably on her own. However, the incident which had occurred the night before had left the redhead frankly uneasy about sending her partner back to the club without any sort of... safety net.

While Barbara wasn't overly sanguine about just how much assistance she might be able to provide, being physically present at the club seemed preferable to the alternatives in the event of a problem: relying on New Gotham's finest to respond in a timely fashion or another wild dash across town from the clock tower.

The cyber-vigilante still couldn't put her finger on anything illegal occurring at the club; however, there was certainly a pattern of increasing violence and loss of control centered around the establishment. On Monday night, an event which, according to official accounts, had started out as some moderately non-consensual interaction at the club had somehow escalated into a full-blown... wilding. Over two dozen people had been involved; of them, eight -- six of them women -- had ended up hospitalized.

It hadn't been until Helena and she had decamped to the kitchen the night before, and the brunette had tucked into a bowl of mac-n-cheese, that Barbara had learned that one of the women hospitalized had been Adele -- the young woman whom Helena had mistakenly tried to rescue twice before. Increasingly agitated as she'd described the scene, the young crime fighter had soberly described stumbling across the injured young woman just before EMS had arrived to help. According to Helena's account, Adele had been in shock, however, the words she'd kept whispering had been clear enough.

'Please don't make me do it any more.'

Barbara and Helena had taken the plea to heart. Unfortunately, with Helena's stealthy visits to the back areas of the establishment not turning up anything, it seemed that identifying just what was going on -- much less putting a lid on it -- was going to be damnably difficult.

"Yeah, home."

The wistful exhalation drew the redhead from considerations about their next approach -- she supposed that knocking on the manager's door and asking point-blank was a possibility -- and she worked to reknit the threads of their conversation.

Oh, yes, setting something up when they got... home?

Something in the way her partner had breathed the quiet utterance suggested that the brunette was thinking of more than carnal delights. A tendril of fear danced and twisted against a ribbon of excitement as the older woman recognized that it might be time to have that conversation which had been teasing at the back of her throat for the last few weeks.

"Speaking of homes," she began, before her cautious, analytical side clamped a figurative hand over her mouth.

They had, when she did the calculations, only been dating -- the giddily in-love redhead and her analytical counterpart both mentally rolled their eyes at that euphemism -- for a bit over eight weeks. Perhaps it was too soon, too... cliched.

On the other hand, they had been keeping company for a great deal longer than that; they had, in fact, shared living quarters before. Of course, that was for decidedly more innocent reasons, not something to set tongues wagging at work.

Barbara blinked in annoyance, damned if she'd let gossip interfere with the best thing in her life. The only factors which should be calculated in this sort of decision were how she felt about it. And, how Helena felt.

Green eyes blinked again, slowly, while the cyber-genius pondered that last insight. While Helena had spent almost every night with her since the change in their relationship, the younger woman had her own apartment and had spent a few nights there. The brunette, in fact, hadn't made any reference to wanting to change the situation.

A tiny movement, a restless shifting, from across the table alerted the older woman to the fact that she was not alone. The interest in the blue eyes trained on her reminded the redhead that she had been speaking.

"Fish," she blurted.

Those stunning blue eyes blinked once, becoming decidedly expectant. Suspecting that the other woman was waiting for some sort of poorly veiled innuendo, Barbara colored and plastered on a bland smile.

"Er, yes. There were two more Clown fish kidnappings last night, both at private residences."

There. That had been factual enough.

The brunette seemed to relax marginally, chuckling wryly as she tugged irritably at the collar loosely buckled around her neck.

"I'm just surprised there are any of the little buggers left in the city."

The older woman nodded her agreement, revisiting the idea of sending out an APB or some type of alert. Short of having the police remain on the lookout for suspicious persons with damp clothes -- breaking the tanks could not be dry work -- or warning hobbyists to lock up their tanks, there didn't seem to be much she could do.

There was always the option of baiting a trap of some sort, of course, or setting up some sort of monitoring system for existing aquariums...

"So, what's next, Red?"

The question distracted the cyber-crime fighter from elaborate plans to plant radioactive tracer isotopes in all of the tropical fish food in the city. Gratefully, she focused on her partner's practical question about their current venture.

"Have you seen your friend -- er -- George here tonight, Hel?"

The lithe figure half-stood, rapidly scanning the sea of bodies in the dark environment.

"No, not h-- Wait a sec."

The younger woman completed her standing action and ducked into the crowd, reemerging a few seconds later with a pale, willowy woman in tow. A quick but careful appraisal convinced the redhead that the term "heroin chic" had been invented to describe Helena's companion.

"... could help us out since you're a regular and all."

The brunette gestured toward her empty chair in invitation, snagging another free seat for herself as the corpse-like woman settled herself.

"Red," Helena smiled winningly, "I'd like you to meet Lucy."

Crimson brows raised a few millimeters, and the younger woman clearly deciphered her mentor's question.

"This is the poet I was telling you about a few weeks ago."

Barbara smiled and extended her hand, fighting a grimace at the pale woman's cold, clammy touch. It seemed that Helena hadn't been far off the mark when she'd described the poet as a possible vampire; she certainly felt like she'd just crawled out of a coffin. Her instinct to offer the woman a pair of thinsulate gloves was cut short by the arrival of a man clad in lavender silk.

Amused, she watched as he dropped to his knees by the Goth woman and silently bent his head. It was, she supposed, an invitation, one which Lucy's utterly bored eye-rolling suggested wasn't likely to be accepted.

"Beat it. We're talking."

Helena's curt dismissal didn't immediately send the fellow packing; instead, he glanced up surreptitiously, clearly interested in the leather-clad woman who had spoken so rudely. Barbara raised her glass to cover a smirk when her partner allowed a little tooth to show in her next word.

"Now, Liberace."

The man scrabbled backward, undoubtedly collecting a trail of dirt from the floor on his lovely purple pants.

"Anyhoo," the younger woman cheerily continued, "I thought Lucy could help us out, finding George and all, since she's around here a lot."

The redhead nodded approvingly, and the pale woman opened her mouth, only to be cut short by the arrival of two more young men. Crimson brows quirked, and dark brows knit dangerously.

"You wanna talk to these guys, Lucy?", the brunette inquired politely.

Helena clearly took their guest's shrug as lack of interest and laconically waved the two away from the table, permitting the Goth woman to speak.

"Uhm, I was going say that George is here tonight. I saw him go in the back with Clint a little while ago."

"Settling a bar tab?"

Barbara snorted softly at the facetious question; however, the young poet appeared to miss the sarcasm.

"Oh, no. There's, uh, stuff that Clint can -- "

Lank dark hair whipped to one side, a pale hand following to point to the hallway.

"There he is now. He can probably tell you, uh, more."

Helena stood gracefully.

"Thanks, Luce."

Blue eyes caught green in question.

"I'm just gonna catch him, see if I can get that info we need. You okay here, Red?"

Torn between needlessly warning her partner to be careful and offering a de rigueur admonition for Helena to keep the nipple clamps in her pockets, the redhead simply nodded. Already on her way, the dark woman abruptly wheeled, and the older woman sucked in a fortifying breath when she saw the glint in her partner's eyes.

"You know, Lucy, Red's an English teacher. I shared your poem with her, and she spent a lot of time going over it. Maybe you two want to talk about it or something."

Barbara fixed her retreating partner's back with a decidedly unaffectionate stare even as she peripherally noticed her companion shifting to attention and, with a sinking sensation, heard the pale woman's aloof question.

"So, what did you think of it?"

Helena was definitely going to pay for this.

Mercifully, coherent conversation was almost impossible, given the steady stream of suitors interested in attracting the talent-challenged poet's attention, and, finally, Barbara was spared the effort of finding yet another euphemism for 'insipid' when the pale woman found one of the courters to her liking. Breathing a sigh of relief, the redhead checked the time -- her partner had only been gone for about ten minutes -- and fished out her cell, deciding to check in with Dinah.

When the teen had learned some of the details about her older companions' plans and the various events surrounding the club, she'd morphed into a complete mother-hen, threatening to call in the police unless one of the older women touched base every hour. Since she was a few minutes overdue, the redhead hoped that Dinah had remembered the fifteen minute grace-period which was extended for her curfews.

A few minutes later, the older woman's attempts to talk her ward through the conjugation of a particularly tricky French verb -- coinciding with the amused realization that Helena seemed to make herself scarce when there was an academic question that she could help with -- were interrupted by a tall shadow blocking one of the strobe lights from the dance floor. Glancing up, she smiled and raised a finger, nonverbally requesting that her visitor give her a moment to complete her call.

"Hello, Clint."

The redhead snapped the phone shut and slid it in her inside pocket, inclining her head toward an empty chair in invitation.

"Such a nice surprise to see you again, Red."

Williams' tone was cordial enough, however he made no motion to join the redhead, nor, Barbara noticed, had he returned her smile. With her sixth sense jumping like a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, the cyber-vigilante schooled her features to polite interest and spoke coolly.

"Is there something I can do for you this evening?"

The question finally elicited a smile from the tall man, however the redhead was quite certain that she didn't care for it.

"In fact, there is, Red. And..."

Williams stepped around the table, leaning down and lowering his voice.

"...I believe I can do something for you."

Attempting, without success, to read the man's inscrutable gaze and feeling more uneasy by the second, Barbara finally summoned a sly smile.

"I'm not sure what you have in mind, Clint."

Sharp brown eyes sparkled as the man straightened and gestured to the hallway leading to the back.

"If you'll just accompany me, Red, I think we can clear up the questions we both have."

Despite the man's seeming congeniality and her own nearly overwhelming curiosity, the redhead knew there wasn't a chance in hell that she was going anywhere with the vaguely menacing and oddly hypnotic man.

"I'm waiting for my partner to return," she demurred, wondering just what was taking the brunette so long.

Somehow, she couldn't imagine that George possessed enough information to maintain the brunette's interest for almost twenty minutes.

Williams managed to answer the cyber-vigilante's question about her partner's whereabouts while simultaneously overcoming her concerns about accompanying him to the back when he shifted to reveal the grip of a pistol tucked under his jacket.

"I'm afraid that your partner's a little tied up right now."

Gesturing more forcefully toward the back, he added, "If you'll come with me, perhaps we can make that work to both our advantage."

Temptation drags you down

Take you were you wanna be

But deep inside you know

The reason for the fear

The fear of letting go

The fear of being so


All the time

Being hypnotised

By those evil evil eyes

Lead me not into


The pounding music from the dance floor didn't begin to rival the dull thud of Barbara's heartbeat as she followed Clint Williams down the dark hallway leading to the private rooms and his office. They passed the manager's office and two of the rooms, slowing finally as they reached the penultimate room in the short hall. The muted sounds of feminine groaning leached from around the door jamb.

"Pain or pleasure?"

Williams stopped in front of the door, pinning his unwilling guest with a dark smile. Feeling as if she were facing a 'lady or the tiger' scenario -- and entirely aware that, in Helena's case, it could be one and the same -- the cyber-crime fighter met his gaze evenly.

"I believe, Mr. Williams, that you suggested that they are simply flip sides of the same coin."

Brown eyes narrowed.

"Touche, Red. I knew you were paying attention the other night. Do you remember anything else that we discussed?"

The redhead grimaced over her urge to laugh a little wildly.

"You'd be surprised," she finally allowed quietly.

Leaning casually against the wall by the door, the tall man considered that response while the pained moaning from inside the room increased in volume. The soundproofing in the room made it impossible for Barbara to determine if the voice was one she knew or even, as Williams had inquired, whether the noise was one of pain.

The club manager eventually straightened.

"I was thinking, specifically, about how some people need help -- or persuasion -- in letting go."

The redhead nodded cautiously, and Williams resumed their slow journey down the hallway to the last room. Hand on the door knob, he pinned the cyber-genius with a hard look.

"There are a lot of people out there like that, people who want to let go but they need some... help. People like you, I think."

Shivering under the tall man's frank assessment, Barbara was spared the need to come up with any sort of reply when he swung the door open and stepped back, waving a hand in invitation. The crimson-haired crime fighter cautiously entered, green eyes promptly widening in astonishment.

Barbara Gordon did not, by any stretch of the imagination, consider herself to be a naive individual. Years on the streets, years in the classroom, years as the guardian of a trouble-prone ward, even time spent reading and surfing the net had all insured that she was well versed in the variations which could play a part in sexual expression. Therefore, when she took in the room, it was not the oversized bed, or the numerous restraints, or even the variety of... implements on display which shocked her so.

Rather, what dropped the older woman's jaw in disbelief was the sight of Helena, stripped to her tank and underwear, firmly chained to the heavy footboard of the bed.

Chapter 19

The scantily-clad young crime fighter was standing, back to the door, one bare foot against the end of the bed, tugging vigorously on the chains shackling her to the furniture. Barbara's entrance obviously distracted her, and a dark head whipped toward the door before the brunette recognized her guest and smiled guiltily.

"Hey, Red."

It seemed to the older woman that her partner's greeting was a maddening combination of embarrassment and cheerful unconcern.

"Helena? What in the name of stocks and bonds are you doing?"

Honestly, she'd thought that the younger woman had accepted with equanimity her suggestion to bypass the rooms at the club and work out something at home.

The other woman penitently dipped her head, and blue eyes peeked hesitantly from under shaggy bangs.

"Well, it's actually kind of funny when you think about it..."

The redhead drew upon her ebbing stores of patience, waiting to be amused. Possibly sensing that she had a tough audience, Helena picked up the pace of her tale.

"See, I was talking with George and doing a little, er, quid pro quo...?"

A measured nod was the best that Barbara could manage to signal her understanding -- nay, her attention to the words. Understanding was still a bit of a stretch.

"Well," the lithe figure continued with an abashed shrug, "I thought these were the quick-release kind of cuffs."

The brunette shook the shackles on her wrists irritably, then brightened.

"But, I figure I can break through the bed in a little while."

Pinching the bridge of her nose between thumb and index finger, the older woman dubiously assessed the footboard. In all honesty, given the thickness of the wood, she had to allow that her wiry partner probably would be able to extricate herself... in four or five hours.

The redhead inhaled slowly, then released a long, steady, cleansing breath.

"I can see you have matters under control then, so I'll just..."

She turned as if to depart, stopped by the club manager who laughed delightedly and slowly applauded.

"Well done, Red. You just forgot one thing."

Unamused green eyes met brown.

"And, what might that be, Mr. Williams?"

The tall man raised his hands in mock surprise.

"You forgot to tell her that, while she's working on freeing herself, she'll need to pay off the hourly room rate in trade."

Despite the slow anger simmering in her veins, the cyber-vigilante spoke calmly.

"That won't be necessary, assuming that you take cash."

To his credit, the club manager chuckled before waving dismissively as he settled himself on a bar stool near the door.

"Don't worry about it, Red. This one's on the house."

An old saw about the first one always being free ran through the older woman's mind.

"That's very kind of you. However, if you'll locate a key to release my partner, we can vacate the room for paying customers."

Their host seemed to consider the suggestion before a frown creased his face.

"Not so fast. First, I think we need to talk about what brought you here."

Green eyes blinked once, then Barbara gave a mental shrug.

Che sara, sara.

She'd been toying with the idea of knocking on the man's office door and asking what was going on, and here was her opportunity on a silver platter. Aside from the fact that they were in the Marque de Sade's bed chamber rather than a business office, her partner was practically naked and in chains rather than in her sweeps wear, and Williams had a gun rather than a highball at hand... well, everything was just peachy.

"And what might that be, Mr. Williams?"

Instead of responding directly, the tall man reached inside his jacket, and Barbara instinctively readied herself, fingers gripping the arms of her chair where she kept a modified batarang. A slight clinking from behind her alerted the older woman that her partner was also preparing herself for a threat, although Barbara wasn't sure just what the brunette could do in her current state.

Perhaps, a tangential portion of the redhead's overactive brain supplied helpfully, Helena was planning to channel Wonder Woman and deflect any flying bullets with her faux leopard skin-lined cuffs.

Even in the face of possible threats and violence, that image almost managed to elicit a snort from the redhead, a sound she covered with a soft sigh when Williams pulled a large, green capsule from his jacket. Suspecting that they were on the brink of solving their little mystery, the older woman nodded minutely and looked over her shoulder to find Helena offering an enthusiastic nod of her own.

"Fasma?", the brunette queried, with what sounded like a distinct note of hope in her tone.

" 'Fasma'? ", the redhead parroted.

"Fasma," Williams confirmed.

Ruthlessly quashing her mounting desire to rub her temples or pinch the bridge of her nose, the cyber-crime fighter tried again.

"What, exactly, is Fasma?"

"It's the bomb", a soprano voice piped up.

"It's persuasion," a baritone supplied at the same moment.

Again, Barbara sought her partner's eyes and raised both brows archly. Still engaged in some desultory tugging against the heavy wood of the bed, Helena apparently got her mentor's message.

"Well, that's what George said," the younger woman elaborated before attacking her escape activities with renewed concentration.

Since the dark vigilante was thoughtfully keeping her clanking and grunting below forty decibels, the older woman opted to resume her conversation with the club manager.

"How does it work, Mr. Williams?"

Issuing a self-satisfied sigh, the dark-haired man positioned the capsule between his thumb and index finger and held it to the light. The exterior was a greyish-green, the capsule itself approximately an inch and a half long and slightly narrower than the diameter of a pencil.

"Well, that's the beauty of it, Red. It works differently for different people."

Lowering the capsule, Williams absently rolled it between his fingers as he warmed to his topic.

"For some, it allows them to drop their defenses and admit that they want, or need, to be submissive. For others, it might allow them to ignore societal -- "

A bushy dark brow lowered meaningfully, and Barbara forced herself to remain still as brown eyes raked over her.

"-- or internal -- constraints and let go with the passion inside."

"An -- ugh -- inhibition inhibitor?"

Williams and Barbara both started at the grunted inquiry. The half-naked young woman at the back of the room stopped yanking her chains in response to the two sharp looks.

"Whaaat? It sounds kind of like the effects of a few stiff drinks."

The proprietor relaxed marginally, chuckling softly.

"Perhaps, but Fasma is more than that. It also acts on others, the people around those who have used it. It's absorbed almost instantly and then, for some people, seems to be emitted as pheromones or something."

Barbara knit her brows, attempting to make sense out of what the man was suggesting.

"I'm not sure I understand that last part, Mr. Williams."

"Well, Red, I noticed that you were chatting with one of our regulars earlier, and you certainly didn't miss the attention she was receiving?"

The cyber-genius inclined her head in acknowledgement.

The tall man's words certainly went a long way in explaining just what sort of appeal the corpse-like woman had had for all of her suitors. Perhaps, it even accounted for the inexplicable gallantry on Lucy's behalf which had occurred at the poetry club.

"Well, Lucy isn't affected much herself by Fasma, but, once she uses it, certain types of individuals just go wild for her."

Rotating her chair a few degrees, Barbara caught her partner's eyes and quirked a brow. The almost imperceptible shake of a dark head confirmed that Helena hadn't been affected by the Goth woman's mystique either.

"Then," Williams continued conversationally, "there's someone like Adele."

The older woman noticed her protege stiffening slightly when she heard the name.

"Fasma really unlocks the inner slut in that girl, and, by happy coincidence, it really seems to unleash some people's urges to take advantage of that."

Brown eyes seemed to lose focus for a moment as Williams added, "Lot of promise in that girl. I hope she'll be out of the hospital soon."

The fine hairs on the redhead's arm's raised in response to a sub vocal growl from the back of the room. Nevertheless, she spoke calmly.

"What if she doesn't want to take your little wonder drug any longer?"

Somewhat to her surprise, the question elicited a genuine laugh from the club owner. It was, Barbara thought, the first genuine emotion she'd witnessed from the man.

"Nobody is going to force her -- or anybody else -- to keep taking Fasma. It's strictly recreational. Not to mention," he added proudly, "a fantastic marketing tool for the club. With all the business it brings in, I haven't even needed to charge for it."

Steepling her fingers, the cyber-crime fighter rested the tips of her middle fingers between her eyebrows, circumspectly pressing against the bridge of her nose with her index fingers.

From what Williams had just shared, it sounded like it might be very difficult to persuade the man to cease his... marketing.

"Er, what's in it?"

The analytical woman tried another angle, hopes that something patently illegal were in the pill evaporating as the tall man answered with evident pride.

"As hard as it may be to believe, Red, Fasma is all-natural and preservative free."

Barbara fought the urge to roll her eyes, recognizing this speal from too many late-night infomercials.

"It contains a few trace botanicals," the man continued enthusiastically, "and naturally occurring hepatic tissue, making it rich in iron, copper, and B12."

With Williams clearly waiting for some sort of response from her, the older woman smiled wanly, absurdly grateful when her partner sniffed pointedly and chimed in.

"So, what, cod liver oil or something?"

"Something like that," he allowed with a hint of irritation.

Since there didn't seem to be anything illegal in the drug -- although the cyber-genius was eager to analyze those trace botanicals the man had mentioned -- Barbara suspected that she didn't have a wheel to balance on in terms of demanding that the man cease his production. While an appeal to decency didn't seem to hold much hope, it was, very possibly, her best option. Accordingly, she plunged in.

"As, er, healthy and natural as Fasma sounds and as much business as it generates, you still must recognize that it has been causing a great deal of harm rec--"

In a heartbeat, congeniality transformed to anger as the man abruptly stood and stalked toward the redhead.

"Only for those who don't know how to handle it. Before you start preaching about it..."

The tall man leaned down, invading the redhead's space and fixing her with his powerful gaze.

"...don't you think you owe it to yourself -- "

Smiling glacially, he straightened and inclined his head in Helena's direction.

"-- and to her -- to give it a try?"

Intensely aware of the way that William's free hand hovered near the gun at his waist, Barbara squeezed the armrests of her chair, waiting for an opening. She mustered a bored smile.

"I do appreciate the offer, Clint, but I'd prefer to take one home to try in privacy--"

Williams smiled cynically and almost casually removed the pistol from under his jacket. A low growl and the frantic rattling of chains against wood drew the man's gaze to the back of the room. Ready to seize the small diversion, the redhead knotted her muscles then instantly aborted the blow she had planned when the manager whipped the gun up, aiming toward Helena.

The tall man was remarkably blase.

"You need to calm your bitch down, or I will."

Meeting her partner's furious gaze, the older woman remained steady.

"Hel, it's all right."

"Like hell it is!" the brunette spat. "You don't know what's in that--"


The touch of iron seemed to do the trick. Breathing heavily, the younger woman fixed the club manager with a look which could have stripped the paint from wood.

"Fuck, give it to me, Clint. I'll give it a go even if it's gonna be hell swallowing that thing."

Shaking his head, Williams chuckled.

"No, you don't swallow Fasma."

A tiny measure of the young vigilante's bravado seemed to deflate when she visibly weighed the remaining options.

"Aw, man..."

The brunette's resigned groan elicited another full laugh from the tall man, who stepped to Barbara's side with the gun still trained on Helena. The redhead winced as he raised the capsule, brushing it gently against her lips.

"No, Helena," Williams corrected playfully, "not that way either. And -- "

With a quick flick of his thumb, their host snapped open the capsule under Barbara's nose.

"-- not for you either. You're not the one who needs it."

Not bothering to try something amateurish -- after all, Williams could hold a gun on Helena for much longer than she could hold her breath -- the cyber-vigilante breathed normally... and promptly almost vomited.

"Dear heavens," she managed to gasp, not able to control her instinct to avert her face, "that's ghastly."

Even as he followed the direction of the redhead's face with the capsule, the tall man's response was surprisingly sympathetic.

"Yes, that is an unfortunate characteristic of Fasma, but it needs to be that close to work."

The cyber-vigilante was distantly aware of her partner's offended hacking from the back of the room and Helena muttering something which sounded like 'hair balls'. Eyes watering, she managed another measured respiration, and... clarity surfaced.

Although Barbara knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she didn't need it, she deliberately inhaled one more time and, without a second look at the proprietor, turned and moved to her partner.

Bright blue eyes which were filled with concern -- and no small measure of offense over the bouquet permeating the room -- raked over the older woman. The redhead approached slowly, holding her partner's gaze, before she turned at the foot of the bed to face Williams.

"Red? Are you okay? If he messed you up, I'm gonna turn him into something worse-smelling than that stuff!"

Not bothering to hide her fond smile, the older woman attempted to reassure the brunette.

"I'm quite well, Helena."

Still focused on the tall man at the other end of the room, Barbara peripherally noted the uncertainty in her partner's features.

"So, uhm, maybe this stuff doesn't work on you? Or maybe we're gonna have a trail of lovelorn Romeos following us hom--"

"Down, Helena."

Uncertainty morphed to confusion, then comprehension, in the blink of startled blue eyes. Silently, the younger woman dropped to her knees in front of the redhead. Humming her approval, the older woman tenderly pushed shaggy bangs to the side and bent to touch her forehead to her partner's.

"I love you very much, Helena."

There was nothing but trust and acceptance in those bright eyes so close to her own.

"I know, Red."

Inhaling deeply, Barbara straightened, catching the collar which was still around the dark woman's neck in her fingers, nimbly tightening it a notch and adjusting it just so.

As she worked, she casually glanced up, unconcerned by the fact that their host had yet to lower his gun, and spoke conversationally.


"Very observant."

The man's admiration seemed genuine.

"But, not the entire Clown fish -- "

The crimson haired crime fighter felt her partner stiffen at Williams' admission and pressed firmly on the younger woman's shoulders. She needed Helena right where she was.

"-- just the livers."

Rather distractedly, the older woman suspected that no amount of pressure -- or at least pressure from just her hands -- could have stopped the brunette's incredulous exclamation. The dark head whipped around indignantly.

"You've been doing the Hannibal Lector thing with Nemo?!"

Even as she firmly -- very firmly -- hooked the younger woman's sharp jaw and directed blue eyes back to her, Barbara incongruously wondered if a liver from one of the tiny fish would even cover a fava bean.

"It must be difficult to procure enough raw material for your supplies," the redhead murmured while she drew her fingertips across her partner's shoulders.

Just because she finally understood the motivation for the recent spate of Clown fish thefts didn't mean she -- like Sherlock Holmes in the requisite drawing room scene -- didn't want it confirmed.

"It did get terribly expensive," Williams allowed, "so I finally had to use other means."

Thrilling to the way blue eyes morphed to gold under her touch, Barbara didn't look up. Rather, she hooked two fingers under the heavy leather circlet around her partner's neck, urging the younger woman to her feet.

"I take it you're behind the fish burglaries I've been reading about."

The redhead rotated ninety degrees to place the end of bed on her left. Holding her partner's feverishly glinting eyes, she inclined her head toward one of the tall posts and nodded approvingly when the younger woman turned her back and placed her palms against it.

"Yes," the fish mutilator acknowledged, "it's a bit of work, but far cheaper than buying them."

Enough of that.

Satisfied with her partner's position and amazed by the brunette's palpable readiness for whatever might come, Barbara finally backed away a few feet and surveyed the variety of... implements in the room. Obviously noticing the redhead's inventory, Williams waved his pistol at one wall.

"We have some really nice electric prods here."

Poking her tongue into the side of her cheek, the older woman gave the suggestion some thought. Ultimately, it seemed too repetitive.

"Perhaps another time, Clint," she demurred smoothly. "We played with electricity just last month."

The tall man dipped his head in understanding, then mirrored Barbara's own wide smile as she spied just the thing. She lifted her right hand, palm up in request.

"That," the redhead purred, "would be perfect. Would you mind?"

Williams beamed and took two quick steps to the side to retrieve the unwieldy item, tossing it to her. His lowered the gun marginally but kept it firmly fixed on Helena's back.

"Be my guest. It's your party, Red."

"Indeed," Barbara smirked, easily catching the eight-foot whip.

For half a minute, perhaps forty-five seconds, she worked the length of the supple leather through her hands, testing the heft and flex of the item. She struggled to identify the sour taste in the back of her throat and then attempted to reconcile it with the unambiguous darker emotions coursing through her.

As far as she could determine, Helena didn't seem to have been affected by Williams' little concoction: as... accommodating as her partner's responses were, the younger woman's actions, her eyes, radiated conscious acceptance of whatever course Barbara chose. The instincts and actions driving this little tableau, the redhead acknowledged, were indeed in her hands.

Stroking the braided leather lightly with her finger tips, the crimson-haired vigilante steeled herself for what she was going to do -- for what she needed to do. Readied, she wrapped her hand around the butt of the lash and inhaled slowly, noting how utterly still her partner was.

She allowed herself a moment to admire the slender lines of the dark woman's back, the smooth corded muscles of her arms tensing as she gripped the bed post, the tan unmarred skin on the back of her thighs and calves. Hearing the club manager's restless shifting, Barbara banished her ever-present doubts and questions, raised the whip, and -- almost leisurely -- swept it towards her partner.

The first strike was purposefully gentle, a caress against Helena's legs. Expertly positioned, the strike wrapped the material sinuously around the brunette's left knee and calf, the tip of the whip fluttering to rest on top of her bare foot. Avid green eyes traced the flow of the coiled leather, approvingly noting that -- while Helena had tensed at the soft strike -- the younger woman had neither moved nor spoken.

Distantly, Barbara thought she detected a ragged exhalation from the spectator at the far end of the room, but she didn't spare Williams a second glance. Rather, she surrendered herself to the moment, immersing herself in the currents driving through her veins, and tugged sharply at the whip. The movement forced the brunette to spread her legs, resultantly stretching her unmoving arms and shoulders into sharper relief.

Satisfied, the older woman recoiled the whip, instantly snapping it toward her partner with a sharp crack. As Barbara had planned, the tip of the eight foot lash bit against the tensely stretched muscles of dark figure's left shoulder, eliciting an almost inaudible whimper from the younger woman.

The redhead just had time to note two spots of blood marring her partner's skin before she peripherally saw their host craning forward from his vantage point at the back of the room. Surrendering to instinct, viscerally certain that this was the moment, Barbara snapped the whip again, much more sharply, her aim precise enough to jerk the gun from Williams' hand without breaking skin. A second sweep wrapped the leather around the man's legs and took him to the floor.

In less than two minutes, Helena had freed herself with the lock pick the redhead tossed her way and retrieved her clothes; Barbara had selected just the right pair of cuffs to restrain the club manager; and the two were settling themselves in the van.

After inserting the keys in the ignition, the cyber-crime fighter stopped herself and turned to find questioning blue eyes fixed on her. Wordlessly, she leaned over and unfastened the heavy collar from her partner's throat, tossing the item casually into a gear bag.

Tomorrow, she'd dump the video from the camera hidden in the item and, after editing out anything showing the two of them, would forward Williams' confession to the police. While she doubted that the man would get much -- if any -- time for his burglaries, with any luck he would need to return to purchasing the ingredients for his pungent pill. The cost and inconvenience might just convince the man to adopt a different marketing strategy.

For now, however, there were more pressing matters.

Barbara gently touched her partner's deceptively slender shoulder, awed and humbled by the complete trust the younger woman had given her. Attempting to be absolutely clear, she trailed her fingers down the brunette's arm and raised her hand, pressing a melting kiss to the center of the slender hand.

"I'd like to go home now, Sweetie," she husked quietly.

A sweet smile and eager nod of a dark head reassured the redhead more than she'd anticipated. However Helena's soft question initially puzzled her.

"So, uh, that stuff's really getting to you, huh?"

Green eyes blinked as comprehension flooded the older woman, and she calmly reached up to remove the tiny silicon filters from her nose.

She spoke over her partner's wry chuckle, her own voice deep and sincere as she deliberately repeated words her lover had uttered to her almost three months before.

"That is not what this is about, Hel."

Chapter 20

"It's about time."


"Sheesh, Kid, chill out."

Recognizing that she was unlikely to make further headway on her current project, Barbara carefully book marked her search results and pushed back from the keyboard. Unperturbed by the diversion from her two younger partners, the redhead took her time removing her glasses and tucking them into one of the pockets of her chair.

She really needed to ask Alfred for his advice on the job; he'd certainly dealt with these sorts of questions in the Batcave.

Looking up, the older woman found herself fixed by two sets of blue eyes -- one exasperated cornflower, the other devilishly twinkling cerulean. She smiled pleasantly and addressed Dinah.

"I see that you have your outfit assembled."

She took in the girl's appearance -- from the flowing red silk shirt, to form-fitting white pants, to patent leather knee boots -- and nodded her approval.

"Quite the verisimilitude, Dinah."

The blonde blushed, but any response she might have made was lost to her companion's teasing barb.

"Should be. It took her long enough to choose it."


Barbara pursed her lips at the girl's indignant huff and caught Helena's gaze. The slow arch of one crimson brow did the job.

"But, yeah," the brunette smiled toothily, "it does look great."

Somehow, the teen managed to beam and to blush simultaneously.

"Do you really think it's okay? I mean, I'm kind of nervous being up on stage and everything."

Even as she attempted to reconcile the girl's ability to face down the nastiest of criminals with her stage fright, the redhead kept it short and sweet.

"You'll do just fine, Dinah."

Gracefully hopping from the platform to follow the blonde on her way to the elevator, Helena wasn't nearly as succinct.

"Yeah, no sweat, D. Even if some of your sleight-of-hand gets too heavy, nobody's going to be watching your hands anyway with you wearing those tight pants."

Witnessing the teen's flustered mis-step, the leader of the little team coughed quietly. The brunette whipped her gaze back to the platform and grinned sheepishly.

"Just kidding, Dinah."

Helena hooked a thumb toward the older woman.

"Uhm, what she said."

With promises to be front and center by the time the curtain rose for the Senior Follies, and with the added enticement of allowing Dinah to drive herself in the Hummer, they finally ushered the hesitant young woman onto the elevator. Feeling a bit like a proud -- and sad -- parent, Barbara joined her partner by the sofa and tangled her fingers with Helena's while they watched the elevator indicator descend. A gentle squeeze on her hand recaptured the older woman's attention.

"Hey, you okay, Babs?"

The brunette's voice was gentle, with none of the sarcastic bite she so often displayed for the world. The redhead briefly wondered how the younger woman had noticed her fleeting melancholy, then immediately dismissed the question.

Helena had always -- always -- been very aware of her feelings and moods.

"I realized that, in a way, this is it."

Observing the puzzled furrow of dark brows, the older woman worked to explain.

"After today, Helena, grades are pretty much set. The seniors can coast through the next few weeks and, then, it's graduation."

When the dark figure's features didn't clear -- indeed, her brows seemed to deepen into a scowl -- Barbara tried again.

"I suppose I'm having some premature empty nest syndrome."

She looked up with a small, self-effacing smile.

"Do you understand?"

Blue eyes rolled incredulously.

"Well, yeah, but are you telling me that I could have blown off my whole last month of school?"

As usual, the brunette's humor did the trick, and Barbara released the last traces of her low mood. Freeing her hand with a laugh, she play-swatted her companion's tummy.

"I seem to recall that you did just that, Helena."

The younger woman shrugged unrepentantly and perched herself on the arm of the sofa.

"Yeah, maybe," she allowed, raising a hand to nibble at her pinkie finger.

"But, that whole empty nest thing..."

Inscrutable blue eyes caught green.

"...I hear that's not gonna be such an issue now. Even if the Kid stays in the dorms, she's always gonna be around here doing her laundry and raiding the fridge and using the Delphi for her homework and stuff."

The redhead chuckled at the truth of that, then decided to tap dance around a related topic.

"How do you feel about that, Hel?"

She deliberately, a perhaps a bit cravenly, left the question vague. The younger woman apparently took the inquiry at face value, smiling evilly.

"Hey, it works for me. With the Kid at NGU, I can keep ragging on her for a couple more years, right?"

Not fooled for a moment, the older woman merely arched a brow. The brunette's grin remained, however it became a bit less wicked, a bit more eager.

Perhaps, Barbara realized with a rush of fond warmth, even a bit shy.

"Well, there's also that whole chance to do the vicarious college thing."

Edging closer, the redhead lightly rested a hand on her partner's knee.

"You do know that if -- or when -- you're ready, you don't have to experience college vicariously, Sweetheart."

Bright blue eyes widened, then blinked. Several times. Finally, the younger woman snorted noisily.

"C'mon, Red. The closest I want to get to college is, maybe, helping D sneak a keg into the dorm -- "

The brunette seemingly read the older woman's expression, hastily tacking on, "-- uh, when she's twenty-one, of course."

Barbara raised both hands in surrender.

"I give, Helena."

She started to back away but forced herself to arrest the movement. For half a minute -- perhaps a little longer -- the redhead remained still, hands resting over the rims, muscles in her arms tensed.

Dear heavens, why was it so difficult to find the words? To ask?

It wasn't as if Helena weren't, for all intents and purposes, not already living at the clock tower. And, if Barbara had had even the tiniest sliver of doubt about her lover's feelings, the younger woman's perfect trust three nights before at the club should have erased it entirely.


The older woman blinked stiffly when the brunette slid from the sofa arm to squat before her and concerned blue eyes came into view. Swallowing audibly, she wet the edges of her lips.

The question.

The question carried with it levels of subtext and commitment which could be claimed so much more obviously by opposite-sex couples. So many weeks ago, Helena had sweetly stated that she was willing "to do the time", yet were they ready?

"How will you feel if Dinah doesn't move into the dorms?", the redhead finally ventured, immediately vexed by her own cowardice.

The lithe figure before her regarded her levelly, clearly searching for the reasons underlying the long break in the conversation. Finally, she shrugged.

"That's cool, too, Babs. The clock tower is her home, too, right?"

Pursing her lips, the redhead could only nod, and her partner smiled teasingly.

"It is kind of handy having her around to run out and pick up pizzas, since you still don't want delivery kids coming here..."

The older woman ignored the familiar grousing. It was an old argument -- about the illusion of privacy and security -- and no longer carried any heat.

The brunette's smile morphed into something a little naughty, and slender fingers walked up Barbara's forearm.

"...even if it does cut down on opportunities for us to get naked spontaneously."

Shivering in response to those knowing fingers brushing her shoulder and the sight of eager eyes which were no longer blue, the redhead managed to croak, "Is that all you think about, Hel?"

A dark head bobbed decisively.

"Pretty much."

In a heartbeat, Helena flowed upward to settle herself in the chair, straddling the older woman's legs.

"In fact..."

In spite of herself, when the younger woman's warm breath teased her throat and sharp teeth danced across a sensitive tendon in her neck, Barbara arched into the contact, humming softly.

"...I think," the brunette continued, one hand trailing almost casually over the older woman's heart, "we should take advantage of the time we have right now."

For some reason, that seemed like one of Helena's more inspired suggestions. Of course, the younger woman always had possessed a knack for seizing the day.

The redhead ducked her chin to dust sharp kisses to chestnut hair.

"HmmMmm", she managed before catching lush lips with hers, darting inside to telegraph her desire.

The slim woman in her lap gasped, her hips bucking once, twice, against Barbara's abdomen.

"Fuck, yeah. We can -- ugh -- "


The older woman captured her partner's hips in both hands, grasping the sweet flesh firmly. She distantly made out Helena's rumbling words.

"-- skip the follies at school, huh?"

Green eyes blinked, and Barbara exhaled.

Very slowly.

Holy cats. How did Helena manage to do that to her?

Apologetically, she looked up, quirking her brows helplessly. The younger woman's face was an adorable contradiction of aggrieved frustration and cheerful resignation.

The two locked eyes for a moment, then smiled as one, and the brunette carefully extricated herself.

"Gotta remember to keep my mouth shut from now on, Red."

The older woman smirked.

"I believe, Sweetie, that simply not talking should suffice."

Leaving her companion in exactly the oral pose she'd implied -- open-mouthed but speechless -- the redhead serenely headed to the kitchen to retrieve the oversized plate of brownies which Alfred had delivered -- and which she'd tucked out of sight -- earlier in the day. Not a minute later, she returned to the living area, prize carefully balanced on her knees.

"It's still a bit chilly, Hel. What coat do you think I sh--"

The jovial question died on the older woman's lips when she caught sight of her partner, stripped down to her tank top, regarding her fixedly from the center of the room. Barbara swallowed with some difficulty.

"Helena? You know we don't, er, have much time before the curtain goes up."

To her annoyance, the words came out about a half an octave higher than she'd expected.

The brunette smirked, then exhaled noisily.

"Yeah, I know, Red. I was just going to change my shirt, but..."

A slender hand waived toward the coat closet where the clothes-hound kept a rotating wardrobe. Barbara had yet to determine whether it was a matter of convenience or sheer overflow from her partner's own closets, but she'd long ago ceased to care.

"...my stuff's gone."

The redhead smiled tenderly, tempted to chuckle at the younger woman's visible annoyance and confusion. Her smile faltered when Helena's eyes narrowed.

"So help me, if the Kid took off with my stuff, I'm going to--"

Barbara hastily raised a hand and blurted, "It wasn't Dinah, Helena. I moved your clothes."

Observing her partner's bafflement, the older woman was once again reminded of why she tried not to speak without planning.

The dark figure took a few moments, obviously weighing and discarding a variety of responses. Eventually, she sighed, then raised both hands to run her fingers through shaggy hair.

"Shit, Barbara. You could have just, I dunno, asked me to clear the stuff out?"

The redhead opened her mouth to explain, however Helena was picking up steam and barreled on.

"What's the deal? Do you need the closet space or something?"

Damned near giggling in the wry recognition of how on-target her partner's peeved words were, the redhead attempted to reassure the other woman.

"No, Hel, it's not that. And, I don't. Yet."

While that certainly hadn't been one of her finer verbal offerings, the slightly pugnacious tilt of a dark head suggested that Helena was willing to listen.

"You see, I cleared some space out..."

Considering that, the older woman tried to be more specific.

"...er, moved most of my tops with low necklines to the back."

Barbara stammered to a halt, feeling heat touch her cheeks at the recollection of just what had contributed to that choice. Fortunately, her partner reminded her that she'd been in the midst of explaining something.


The redhead knit her fingers over the brownies on her lap and pursed her lips.

Perhaps she'd been too presumptuous.

Forcing herself to meet blue eyes, she whispered, "I moved your clothes, that is, I made room for some of your things in my--"

Barbara stopped again, however the almost comical sight of the brunette literally leaning forward in anticipation freed the tight bands of panic around her chest. Her voice gained strength and surety.

"I want there to be room for your things in our bedroom, Sweetheart."

Granted, given the size of Helena's wardrobe, not to mention her own need to add a few dozen turtlenecks to her own collection, she was going to have to finish her task of locating a discrete carpenter to expand the closet. Still, it seemed like a trivial undertaking.

More nervous than she could believe, yet oddly a peace, the cyber-genius awaited her companion's reaction. When wide blue eyes creased under the force of the younger woman's smile, she relaxed.

Helena was at her side in two graceful steps.

"Cool, Barbara."

Soft lips brushed the older woman's ear.

"Now I've just got to round up a fleet of sherpas to haul the rest of my clothes over."

Even as the older woman laughed -- perhaps a bit more than the quip deserved -- the brunette turned toward the bedroom, calling over her shoulder.

"And, yeah, it is a little nipply out there. Why don't you wear the motorcycle jacket?"

The redhead mulled on that suggestion until her partner reappeared, buttoning a tight purple silk shirt.

"I'm afraid that jacket might be a bit much for a school function, Hel. Actually," she added thoughtfully, "I'm just lucky that nobody I know saw me in it, and at the club, either night."

Obligingly pulling a more sedate suede blazer out of the coat closet, the younger woman barked out a laugh.

"Shit, Red. If anybody had seen you there... well, you would have seen them, too, right?"

Barbara stuffed one hand into the blazer before erupting into giggles, the image of Alethea Harkness decked in chains and leather almost too much to handle. Unfortunately, on the brief trip to the parking garage, she determined that said image was, in fact, more than she cared to deal with and concentrated with fierce determination on finding a way to delete the picture from her neural hard drive. It wasn't until they were settled in the van that Helena finally broke her reverie.

Leaning across the seats, the brunette lightly touched the older woman's chest, just above her heart.

"You're not wearing your bell. How'm I going to know if you need something at the faculty party?"

It had required a certain amount of persuasion to convince the younger woman to accompany Barbara to the staff party scheduled after the Seniors' production.

Spending unnecessary time at the high school always seemed to be near the top of the brunette's short list of things not to do.

However, for reasons she didn't fully understand, the redhead truly wanted the other woman with her -- on her arm, as it were -- at one of the rare school functions where spouses and significant others were welcome. Consequently, the older woman deliberately pitched her voice to an intimate burr when she responded to her partner's teasing inquiry.

"I wasn't planning on letting you get far from me tonight, Sweetie."

Blue eyes blinked before widening playfully.

"Better be careful, Barbara. You know what a bunch of gossips your coworkers are."

The brunette seemed to consider something for a split-second before lush red lips quirked.

"I hear them whisper, you know. You won't believe it."

The redhead felt a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Wrestling it down, she arched a brow.

"Indeed, Hel? What are they saying?"

"Oh, you know..."

The younger woman's voice was airy.

"...that we laugh just a little too loud and stand just a little too close."

Sweet blue eyes met green, rich with intimate knowledge.

"Maybe we stare just a little too long."

Not sure what had happened to all of the oxygen in the van, Barbara nevertheless somehow managed to turn the key and put the vehicle into drive. Before pulling out of the garage, she reached over and squeezed her lover's hand.

"Well, Helena, let's give them something to talk about."

The End

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