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 6

Barbara smoothly came up for air, the movement not affecting her rhythm at all, as she performed a swift 180-degree turn in the deep water.

The motion, which was accomplished of course without the use of her lower body and which was in fact designed to reorient her legs with her torso at the conclusion of the turn, had been devised only after months of painstaking consideration. Perfecting it in the physical world after fine-tuning it in her neural world had required an additional four months of practice. Six years before, still coming to terms with a world which seemed to have been reduced to one limitation after another, the redhead had been inordinately pleased with herself when she'd achieved an actual physical triumph.

She had been, she easily recalled as she continued her metered butterfly stroke, even more delighted by the undisguised admiration in her new ward's features when she'd finally, hesitantly, demonstrated the move. Although Barbara still hadn't been able to best the dark teen in their races -- and to her credit, and wisdom, the brunette had never let her win any contest -- she had, finally, had the means to stay in the race.

However, on this extremely quiet Saturday afternoon, the older woman wasn't worried about speed. On this day, her time in the pool was about endurance.




Until very recently, the redhead had allowed herself to forget the freedom and pleasure of time spent in the water; however, after her reintroduction not too many weeks before, she had determined not to forget again. While the NGHS pool couldn't hold a candle to the "oasis" -- as Helena had aptly described it -- at the hotel, it was certainly convenient, and Barbara had taken advantage of it several times in the last few weeks.

She usually did her swimming in the early evenings -- after the students had departed but, for safety's sake, while some of the faculty were present. This afternoon, however, knowing that the entire facility was likely to be vacant, she'd arranged to meet Helena for some recreation.

Smoothly segueing from her butterfly to a modified breast stroke, Barbara almost unconsciously checked her internal chronometer, determining that her partner should soon appear. She wiped the beginning of what was undoubtedly a lecherous grin from her face, lest she end up choking on chlorinated water, and pushed on against the burning tightness building in her upper chest and arms.

Considering her recent train of thought, the redhead wryly wondered if the sensation had as much to do with thoughts about what type of swimwear Helena would be modeling as it did with her own exertion and lactic acid build-up in her muscles. Regardless of the cause, taking a break seemed advisable since she was alone, not just in the pool but, if the empty parking lot outside were an accurate indication, in the entire building.

In all honesty, Barbara was a bit surprised to be at the pool by herself; however, when she'd made her decision, it had seemed perfectly logical.

For some reason, as the quiet Saturday morning had crawled by, the redhead had found herself watching the clock -- admittedly, not a hard thing to do in the tower -- and counting the hours and minutes until Helena's lunchtime shift at the Dark Horse would end. Barbara had been restless... itchy. Unable to lose herself in programming, or in analysis of the blood tests from the pugilists involved in the Tuesday evening brawl, or even in vivid descriptions of how the human body adapted to surviving shipwrecks and time on the open sea, the redhead had eventually thrown in the towel and headed to the pool -- alone -- a good ninety minutes before she was due to meet her partner.

For the last hour, the cyber-crime fighter had been pushing herself through lap after lap, focusing on keeping her movements even, her pace metered, her breathing regular. To her considerable disgust, just as she'd been unable to achieve any sort of emotional dissociation through her usual activities, swimming didn't seem to be doing the trick either.

Finally acknowledging her own limits, the redhead abandoned her repetitions and stroked slowly to the side.

The burning in her upper arms was... pronounced, and it simply wouldn't do to develop a cramp.

Barbara easily balanced herself at the end of the pool, one hand on the edge. Breathing slowly, she peered into the crystalline water and observed her legs swaying beneath her, bemused by the appearance that they were responsible for her upright position rather than the buoyancy of the water. She permitted the image to tantalize her for a few seconds; however the analytical woman was simply too practical to entertain such thoughts for long.

Snorting at her own whimsy, she decisively pushed onto her back. After checking the position of her lower legs -- akimbo was simply not aqua dynamic -- the redhead relaxed, floating weightless and gloriously free in the large pool.

Perhaps she should replace her traditional mattress with a water bed.

The cyber-genius immediately discarded that idea.

Considering some of the activities which had been occurring recently on the article of furniture in question, she doubted that a water bed would hold up under any truly... zealous endeavors. In a fit of what she easily recognized as perverse contradiction, Barbara found herself simultaneously anticipating and dreading having the mettle of her mattress fully put to the test.

Green eyes casually tracked to the high ceiling of the aquatic center, automatically calculating how many degrees she'd drifted off center based on her position relative to the girders above her. Lackadaisically, she waved her left hand in the water by her waist, propelling herself back on course. Tipping her head back until the water lapped over her hairline, the redhead twisted her neck from side to side, attempting not to flinch at the way the cracking of her muscles was amplified by the water in her ears. Maintaining the position, she considered her partner's behavior of the last ten days or so.

Without doubt or question, the brunette remained consistently attentive and playful and sensual: their "dessert interlude" on Sunday evening was more than enough evidence of that. Helena was also undisguisedly... eager, her open desire almost palpable.

Occasionally, Barbara had noticed, her partner's enthusiasm was almost... overwhelming.

The redhead straightened her neck and absently corrected her course, warmth suffusing her upper body as a montage of images -- and sounds... and scents... and tastes -- from their last long, sensual interlude washed over her. The younger woman had spent hours exploring her --

Green eyes narrowed, and Barbara mentally amended that thought before her eyes fluttered shut against the onslaught of images.

Helena had spent hours worshipping her. Utterly humbled, Barbara had needed to battle her own fears when she'd finally had the opportunity to map the younger woman's beautiful body, slowly and thoroughly.

Arching her back against the water and nearly moaning at the image of the younger woman finally letting go under her hands and mouth, the older woman felt a smirk paint her features.

Despite her own lack of experience, the response she'd evoked from her lover had been amazing.

Drifting in the pool, Barbara unleashed the full power of her memory and her imagination, periodically cracking one eye to check her position against the girders above her to confirm that she wasn't about to bump into the side of the pool. Despite her preoccupation, the older woman didn't miss the tiny shiver of awareness which ran through her not too many minutes later and was, thus, spared the indignity of jerking and flailing gracelessly in the water when a low soprano purred in her ear.

"I didn't think the water was that cold, Red."

Crimson lashes fluttered open, and the redhead blinked in puzzlement at the dark figure lazily bobbing in the water near her shoulder. Finally noticing the precise direction of the acute gaze focused on her, Barbara found a clue and lifted her head from the water to look down her body.


To her own surprise, she realized that was not blushing. In fact, she wasn't bothered in the slightest. Consequently, she captured cerulean eyes with her own and deliberately lowered her voice a half-octave.

"I was missing you, Sweetheart."

The sweetly joyful expression which flickered across her partner's face caused the older woman's heart to miss a beat. Her cardiac muscle immediately made up for the stutter-step by redoubling its pace when the younger woman swam close, close enough to bring their bodies almost into contact, and offered a smile rich with sin.

"I'm here now."

Barbara lazily righted herself, using her arms to hold her position in front of the smaller woman. Before replying, she took her time, slowly drinking in the vision before her.

The brunette had chosen the white tankini, exposing a tantalizing swath of firmly delineated abdomen, and the older woman instantly decided that she approved of the choice.

"Indeed you are, Helena."

One smooth stroke brought her directly to the dark woman. She raised first one, then the other, arm to lock her wrists lightly behind her companion's neck, shivering at the sensation of strong hands coming to rest against her waist. Glancing down, the redhead confirmed that the younger woman was keeping them both afloat with slow scissoring sweeps of her lower legs.

"And, if I'm not mistaken..."

The older woman slid one hand free, tracing a droplet of water across a tan shoulder.

"...you and I are the only ones here."

Given that the soft mouth only inches away had been drawing closer as she spoke, Barbara was anticipating a response of a physical nature. She was, therefore, unprepared when her partner abruptly pulled back, a frown creasing those full lips which she'd been so intently focused on.

"Damn straight, Barbara. What the fuck were you thinking?"

The redhead shook her head minutely but didn't bother searching for words: she suspected that her expression eloquently conveyed her befuddlement.

"You'd have a shit fit if you found out that the Kid came here alone."


"True," the older woman concurred mildly, completely unconcerned by her own double standard.

That fierce independence had plagued and driven her for her entire adult life -- and a good portion of her childhood years as well -- perhaps reaching its pinnacle during her days and nights on the streets of Gotham as Batgirl. The tendency to do things on her own had gotten her into a fair number of uncomfortable situations over the years but nothing that she'd not been able to handle. Usually.

Barbara inhaled slowly, concentrating on controlling her instinctive urge to snap or say something completely predictable: 'I'm not helpless' had blazed across her cortex in three foot neon letters. Instead, she recognized the concern -- a valid one, too -- in her former ward's relatively mild reprimand.

"And, you're right, Hel. It was a little irresponsible."

The older woman felt her "fight reflex" waning as she observed her partner's slow nod of acceptance, and so she refocused on what was important.

"But, I'm not alone now, Sweetie."

A smile which could best be described as 'wolfish' eased across the brunette's features. Unable to resist, Barbara lifted her hand from her partner's shoulder and traced those full lips with her index finger.

"Yeah --"

The redhead shivered again as warm breath ghosted her fingertips. She wasn't certain if the lone syllable indicated agreement or approval but found herself smiling in return. That smile transformed to a laugh at the other woman's next utterance, delivered with a trademark waggle of dark brows.

"So, uh, you wanna do some side strokes?"

Barbara play-swatted the brunette's shoulder.

"Is there simply nothing that you can't turn into an entendre?"

Helena scrunched her eyes in comic thought, then grinned happily.

"Not so far. Try me."

Tempted to do just that, Barbara nevertheless couldn't resist the playful challenge. From years of association, she had a good indication that she'd not prevail.

Che sara, sara.

Green eyes lost focus for a moment, tracking to the left.


The older woman's salvo was met with an expression of utter boredom.

"C'mon, Babs. At least try to come up with something challenging."

Recognizing her error in blurting out the first likely -- or was it unlikely? -- thing which crossed her mind, Barbara blushed and thought a little harder.

"Adirondack chair," she ventured.

Not even a second elapsed before the younger woman's mouth twisted into a smirk. The redhead held her breath in anticipation.

"Ooooh, slats."

A crimson brow crept up as Barbara considered the sly workings of her young friend's mind. Somewhat masochistically, she tried again.

"Tomato juice?"

When Helena's eyes hooded and her nostrils flared, the older woman immediately recognized her tactical error. She suspected that, even before the brunette husked her reply, her own face had achieved a level of color remarkably similar to the words which were, nominally, under discussion.

"Mmmm," the brunette sensually wet her lips with the tip of her tongue, "Are you in the mood to drink something thick and tangy and a little salty, Red?"

Laughing helplessly, Barbara mentally shrugged and folded. Truthfully, the outcome had probably never been in doubt.

A moment later, as she idly wondered if there was any V-8 in the school vending machines, the older woman started when her back brushed the side of the pool. Somehow during their banter, Helena had eased them from the center to stand in chest-deep water. The younger woman's hands slid from Barbara's waist, and the redhead looked down to see her legs being lifted to wrap around the other woman, Helena supporting her effortlessly with her hands under her thighs.

Barbara found the position intensely intimate and erotic, reminiscent as it was of some feverish encounters she'd had many, many years ago. With her chest pressed against her partner and their bodies separated only by thin layers of lycra, she felt utterly, deliciously, open and exposed.

Struggling to find her balance, she traced her index finger along the scooped neck of the brunette's tank.

"I really love this suit on you."

When the younger woman finally responded, the redhead thought that Helena seemed distracted. Of course, since the brunette had her mouth firmly latched against her neck, it was a little difficult to be certain.

"I'm glad you like it. Guess I could start wearing it for sweeps..."

"In... ohhh... indeed," she somehow managed.


The vibration against her ear seemed to signify agreement, but, for the life of her, Barbara couldn't remember about what. Arching into the contact, she was noted that she was surprisingly unconcerned about the uncharacteristic memory lapse.

"Yeah, maybe housecleaning, too."

It took the older woman a beat to process the words which tickled her ear just before sharp teeth tugged at her earlobe. The image of her partner exuberantly vacuuming the clock tower in her tankini, unfortunately, proved more powerful than the fire trailing down her neck, and she threw back her head in laughter.

Bemused blue eyes rose to meet green. As Barbara fought to control herself, she gratefully acknowledged that her partner was exhibiting a great deal of patience with her spate of mirth.

"I'm sorry, Sweetie," she gasped between indelicate snorts. "I just had a vision of D-- Dinah's face if she caught you -- "

She paused to catch her breath.

"-- if she caught you dusting in your swimsuit."

The brunette considered that, flashing an entirely self-satisfied grin.

"Yeah, I guess she would be jealous or something."

The redhead snorted again, play-swatting her companion's upper arm before locking her hands behind Helena's neck and leaning back to take in the woman before her. The younger woman remained still under the scrutiny until Barbara smiled with genuine regret.

"I am sorry, Hel."

The brunette smiled tenderly and raised one hand from the older woman's leg. Barbara's eyes fluttered at the delicate brush of fingers along her jaw.

"No fooling around in the school pool, huh?"

As tempting as the idea of 'fooling around' anywhere with Helena was, the older woman couldn't ignore the visceral discomfort the idea evoked. It wasn't surprising that her partner would pick up on her reaction.

"No good, huh?"

The younger woman exhaled and straightened her shoulders.

"Yeah, I can see that. But..."

Barbara cocked a brow and waited when a devilish gleam entered cerulean eyes.

"...I do know about some good spots under the bleachers."

The tension broke.

"As tempting -- and as chilly -- as that sounds," the redhead replied archly, "I believe that I'll hit the whirlpool."

The other woman grinned, side stroking to the steps with the redhead and declaring that she planned to play on the diving platforms. Warmed by her partner's cheerful acceptance, Barbara allowed the brunette to help settle her in the hot tub, smiling fondly as the brunette finally bounded away, whistling a few bars from The Stone's "Beast of Burden."

Not too many minutes later, the redhead decided that -- although it couldn't compare to fooling around with the younger woman -- her choice hadn't been a bad one. She was surrounded by wonderfully hot water which jetted against her, relaxing her utterly. An added bonus was the opportunity to observe her beautiful partner executing one flawless dive after another from the ten meter platform. Mouth watering at the vision of sinewy muscles highlighted by the two skimpy pieces of blindingly white material of the tankini, the older woman felt herself rapidly approaching nirvana -- or, at the very least, wet noodle territory.

Consequently, when she was suddenly struck by a force more intense than she'd experienced since her shooting seven years before, Barbara was completely unprepared for the pain which ripped through her.

Chapter 7

"This is such a pain!"

The exasperated exclamation pulled Barbara from her rapid scans of the results of her latest internet search. Straightening fractionally, she removed her glasses and then joined her ward by the coffee table where Dinah was sifting through a veritable rain forest of documents, forms, and brochures.

The older woman tendered a sympathetic smile.

"Scholarship applications can be daunting. Presumably," she added, "to insure that only the most motivated students apply."

Pale blue eyes met emerald, clearly intimating that motivation was in short supply.

Time for a pep talk or some sort of assistance.

Taking a moment, the cyber genius surveyed the spill of paperwork on the low table, instantly calculating the purposes of the different forms and documents.

Perhaps if the morass were organized in a more logical fashion...

Barbara shook her head, catching herself in the nick of time. She, of all people, understood just how personal categorization schemes could be. Frequent questions and "helpful" suggestions from her previous ward during her early days at the Delphi about just how the older woman chose to organize her electronic files had led to some heated discussions and periods of mutual sulkiness. After calming down, the redhead had occasionally allowed that some of her protege's observations were not without merit; however, they'd reached detente only after Helena had assumed responsibility for organizing the training room equipment, leaving Barbara to her own devices with things electronic.

"What seems to be the problem, Dinah?"

The teen dramatically flung herself backward on the couch, her confusion and dismay visible. The older woman waited while the girl breathed deeply and marshaled her thoughts. A beat later, she was off.

"Well, I can deal with most of this stuff. You know, tracking down school records all the way back to kindergarten even though I don't remember going to kindergarten, writing to my junior high teacher to get proof that I was on the yearbook staff, asking teachers for letters of recommendation, having copies of my SATs and ACTs sent out, doing the essays and discussion questions...?"

The older woman nodded at the hint of a question. It hadn't been that many years since she'd filled out her share of academic paperwork, even if it had been for her third Master's degree rather than undergraduate scholarship applications.

"But, I mean, this section on hobbies and special skills is driving me crazy!"

The redhead pursed her lips against a smile. Considering that she, herself, had recently embarked on her little venture with Bruce and Dick around the time she entered college, she'd had a pretty strong suspicion about what underlay Dinah's current upset.

"I don't think," the blonde continued, seemingly oblivious to her guardian's sympathetic nod, "they're interested in hearing about hanging out at the mall or going to movies with my friends, and I sort of left my stamp collection in Opal. So, it's kind of hard to come up with recent stuff. Or, at least..."

Dinah shrugged helplessly.

"...recent stuff that I can put down."

Faintly miserable pale blue eyes met green.

" 'Cuz, are they really going to get it if I say that I fight crime and can make a temporary fish tank in mid-air?"

Laughing quietly, Barbara commiserated, "Some deeds do need to go unsung, Dinah; however, I'm sure that the fish you saved at the toy store are very grateful."

Surprisingly, the two young vigilantes had found a few survivors in the carnage at the store. While Helena had scouted for a suitable temporary home for the creatures, Dinah had constructed a TK bubble to hold them and a supply of water. After the brunette had emptied a miniature space shuttle, she'd insisted on snapping a picture of the fish floating, seemingly in mid-air, before allowing the teen to release them to their new, high tech home.

Barbara had been considering having the image enlarged and framed, perhaps to replace the presidential plate hanging over the centrifuge.

To her credit, the blonde joined in with her guardian's laughter before sobering.

"I know, Barbara, and it's really not about that."

The redhead nodded. She was quite aware that none of them were in search of gratitude and glory.

"I just feel so... boring, I guess," the blonde finally admitted.

This time, Barbara had no compunctions about her bright laugh.

"Hardly that, Dinah."

The shy duck of the blonde head caused something to squeeze in the older woman's chest. Lowering her lashes for a few seconds, Barbara took stock, opting to go with concrete deeds rather than abstract reassurances.

"For instance, what about the weather modeling simulation you put together?"

The girl peered up uncertainly, and the redhead nodded decisively.

True, Dinah's motivation had been in helping her older partners plan certain sweeps activities around the worst of New Gotham's notoriously horrid weather; however, the effort and results were impressive.

Gaining momentum, the redhead easily came up with another suggestion.

"Don't forget the Trivial Pursuit competition you and Helena arranged at the Senior Citizen's Center last fall."

Helena's primary input, apparently, had involved arranging prizes for the winners while Dinah had handled, in essence, everything else for the tournament. The event had gone off flawlessly, and Barbara was still amazed by the Seniors' enthusiasm for the silky robes, bottles of expensive liquor, and questionable videos which the brunette had rustled up from various "anonymous donors."

A few more forays into the redhead's mental filing cabinet readily restored the teen's confidence, simultaneously kicking her own memory into gear. Satisfied that her charge could continue on her own, the older woman wandered into the kitchen and put a small pan of milk on to simmer, adding three large squares of chocolate to the warming liquid. After a moment's consideration, Barbara shrugged minutely and dropped two more squares into the pan.

Helena had checked in a few minutes prior to the unexpected call to assist Dinah, and, if the younger woman's evident boredom were any indication, the dark vigilante would be returning from The Speak Easy momentarily. The redhead really couldn't fault Helena's eagerness to wrap up the assignment: a poetry club certainly wasn't the brunette's typical choice for recreation and, as the young vigilante had declared, the club district was a trifle dull on Sunday evenings.

Nevertheless, after analyzing the results of the blood work from Tuesday's brawlers -- there had been absolutely nothing of note; none of the men had even been legally intoxicated -- the cyber-crime fighter had felt that a bit of reconnaissance was in order. Background investigation hadn't revealed any common threads in the men's lives; however, in reading through the police reports and interviews with the men involved in the incident, one glaring similarity had emerged in three of the stories.

Apparently, Messieurs McClure, Gumble, and Smithers had all been provoked into a brawl to protect the honor of the woman who had been reading at the microphone. One of the other men, Mr. Gaffney, had made an inopportune remark, setting off the fight, and the other six had simply been unlucky enough to have been caught in the fray.

Clearly, a bit of investigation was in order to locate the poet who had evoked such a strong response in her listeners.

Barbara pulled an oversized mug from the cupboard, feeling a tiny smirk dimple her cheeks as she recalled outlining the situation for her partner several hours earlier. While she was genuinely curious about the woman at the club, the redhead thought that the almost comically incredulous expression which had passed across the younger woman's face had also made the assignment worthwhile.

Hearing the balcony doors rattle, the redhead poured the cocoa into the mug, taking care not to break the milk skin on top: for some reason, Helena loved it. She schooled her features, then exited the kitchen with the mug balanced between her legs.

"Hello, Helena."

The brunette acknowledged the soft salutation with a tight smile, shrugging noisily out of her duster. Only then did she inhale deeply, slowly releasing the breath and a small measure of her tension with it.

"Hiya Red. Kid."

The stacks of paper on the coffee table caught her attention, and the lithe figure strolled over, raising her left brow.

"What's all this? Are we being audited or something?"

Barbara joined her younger partners at the sofa as Dinah giggled.

"No, it's just some forms for scholarships I'm applying for."

The brunette's low whistle of appreciation brought a blush to the blonde's pale features. Barbara caught dark blue eyes with her own, smiling her thanks and waiting until Helena dropped onto one end of the couch before leaning over to extend the cocoa.

The younger woman accepted the offering, nostrils flaring as she delicately sniffed the steam, then barked out a laugh.

"Shit, Barbara, you got anything stronger than this?"

"How did it go?", the cyber-crime fighter finally ventured as her younger partner sipped appreciatively from the large mug.

The brunette took her time settling the cup on a semi-clear section of the coffee table.

"Dull as dust, Barbara. I deserve hazard pay for a gig like that."

Dinah giggled again at the aggrieved reply, and the older woman snorted softly.

"Surely it wasn't that bad."


The younger woman flung herself dramatically back on the couch, the gesture eerily similar to Dinah's earlier display.

"I damned near drowned in my drink -- on purpose."

The brunette paused for a split second, one brow quirking.

"And, don't call me 'Shirley'," she deadpanned.

Hmmm. Obviously the factual approach wasn't the the way to go.

"I'm sorry, Sweetheart. I do appreciate your... sacrifice."

The older woman again caught the other woman's gaze, attempting to convey that she would make it up to her later. The sympathetic words -- or, perhaps it was the unspoken message -- seemed to soothe the brunette a bit.

"Yeah, well, I guess it wasn't that bad," she allowed, poking her index finger into her mug to swirl the milk skin covering the top.

Apparently at the limit's of her endurance for both silence and curiosity, Dinah finally piped up.

"Did you find out who the woman was?"

Blue eyes sparkled in satisfaction.

"I had to bullshit about a lot of bad poetry, but I sure did. I even managed to track her down."

The teen straightened expectantly, and the redhead waited patiently. She understood the desire to relay a story for maximum advantage.

"One Lucille Patterson, although," blue eyes glinted wickedly, "I think she's really Morticia Adams."

Smirking at the blonde's giggle, Helena threw the girl a wink.

"Serious Goth look going on there."

After the two younger women settled down, Barbara prompted, "And, Lucille was at The Speak Easy tonight?"

Their luck was usually never that good.

The brunette popped her finger into her mouth, sucking the chocolate off in a way that Barbara found most distracting. Hygiene complete, the brunette sipped her beverage before fidgeting with the cup.

"Well, that was kind of the funny thing, Barbara. Once I got some of the regulars talking..."

She interrupted herself to fix the older woman with a pained look.

"-- Something which is not easy with some of those wallflowers, I'll have you know."

The redhead nodded her comprehension, confident that if anyone could break through a shy exterior it would be Helena.

"Well, seems like nobody'd ever seen her there before Tuesday. But, since a couple of guys said they'd seen here hanging around, uh..."

The younger woman's eyes darted briefly in Dinah's direction.

"...a rougher club, I caught up with her there."

The dark figure lowered her cup and cracked her knuckles.

"Lucy said she didn't know anybody at the poetry place. She'd just gone there the other night on, uhm, kind of a whim."

Barbara felt her forehead furrow as she processed that information. Her brows rose fractionally -- probably intensifying the wrinkles -- at the sight of Helena suddenly digging into the front pocket of her pants.

"Almost forgot," the brunette explained, pulling a folded piece of paper out of the tight leather garment, "I figured that her poem might be important, so I got her to write it down."

The leader of the little team smiled broadly. Her younger partner had very capably covered all of the bases.

"Well," Dinah was almost bouncing in her curiosity, "how is it?"

An inscrutable expression flitted across gamine features as Helena shifted to the edge of the couch and unfolded the paper.

"You tell me. I'm no English Lit guru or anything."

When she had her audience's undivided attention, the young woman placed one hand over her heart in a dramatic pose and consulted the page.

"I crawl through the oozing slim of our love / Your chains and brands letting the blood flow. / My heart in your hand beyond my limits / Blood and shit and sphagnum feed the hungry rose --"


The English teacher had to interrupt.

"Sphagnum... moss?"

Considering the, er, Gothic tone of the work, Barbara thought that Spanish moss might have been more appropriate.

Blue eyes widened innocently.

"I didn't write it."

"Thank heavens."

The older woman's soft chuckle was apparently a signal of sorts, and the two young women on the couch erupted into laughter.

"That's awful!", Dinah managed to gasp.

Accepting the paper, Barbara had to agree with the critique.

"Dreadful. Nevertheless, I'll check it for encoding or subliminal messages."

Green eyes blinked as the cyber-genius realized that she was going to have to type in the love poem, since the scanner would have difficulty with Lucille's curly-cued script.

This job truly was not all glory.

The brunette sat up, wiping tears from her eyes.

"Seriously, Red. It's the only explanation for Morticia inspiring not one but three Lord Byron wannabes to violence."

Leaving the two young women to a contest of increasingly bad literary puns, the redhead returned to the Delphi. While Helena's explanation was not the only one, it was a possibility; and, since the stanzas weren't mutating themselves, perhaps her decryption program could turn up something.

An hour or so later, as the cyber-genius attempted to piece any meaning from some of the almost whimsical interpretations which her routine had churned out, a shadow fell over her screen.

"Find anything?"

The low soprano burred across her ear, evoking a shiver, and the redhead leaned back, resting her head against her partner's firm abdomen.

"Well, it is possible that the Delphi can turn out better poetry than Ms. Patterson," she allowed wryly.

Strong fingers worked the tight muscles of the older woman's neck, and Barbara sighed her pleasure. A heartbeat later, she remembered herself, snapping her head to the side to check the couch. A dim memory of having bid Dinah good night half an hour before eased her concern.

"Relax, Barbara," soft lips brushed the redhead's jaw, "the Kid's asleep."

The older woman accepted the advice, reaching up to capture one of the hands which was so expertly kneading away her perpetual stiffness. She pressed a feathery kiss to slender fingers, not missing the way that Helena's belly contracted against her or the trembling in her hand. She carefully tugged her partner's hand, pushing back from the keyboard and turning as the brunette circled to face her.

"This other club, Helena," she probed, coaxing the smaller woman to her lap, "which one was it?"

The brunette gracefully settled herself, resting her knees deep in the padding on each side of the older woman's legs. Unable to miss her partner's agitation, Barbara ran her hands soothingly up and down the younger woman's arms.

"Really intense place," Helena murmured, eyelids drooping, "called Chains Of Love."

Green eyes narrowed slightly.

The name rang a bell, and that club would have quite a different ambiance from The Speak Easy, perhaps accounting for her partner's... restlessness.

Further opportunity to explore that hypothesis ebbed away when full lips brushed the redhead's throat. Barbara arched into gentle nips and soft kisses, barely able to decipher the words purred against her skin.

"I want you so bad, Barbara."

The older woman took a measured breath, feeling a bit like a fish out of water. Unfortunately for her, she didn't have a TK bubble to provide an environment to help her adapt to her sensual partner's turbulent desire.

Gentle fingers trailed the outer swell of her breast, and the redhead stiffened minutely, disengaging from the delicious torture at her neck. She raised one hand, tangling her fingers with those at her side.

She just needed to slow things down, take time to think...

The sight of her partner's face -- somehow simultaneously hard and softly, achingly, vulnerable -- pushed her instinctive reticence aside.

Helena wanted... needed... her.

Instantly humbled... and terrified... and terribly, terribly aroused, the older woman released her partner's fingers and eased between them to rest her palm against the brunette's chest. The hard pounding of the younger woman's heart reverberated through her fingertips, and Barbara felt her own heart stutter to match the cadence.

Cautiously, she inched to the side, whispering her fingers over Helena's shirt to circle the heavy flesh outlined by soft leather. The redhead's throat constricted, and she struggled to swallow at the younger woman's almost inaudible gasp.

How could the younger woman be so... ready?

Biting at her lower lip, Barbara cupped the soft swell under her fingers and brushed her thumb across the hard peak which rose to meet her. The brunette whimpered softly, arching into the tentative touch, and the older woman felt her partner's heat leaching into her pores, suffusing her with her own burning desire.

"Dear heavens, Hel -- "

The redhead stretched slightly, capturing her lover's mouth as her hands flew to the placket of the shirt. During the course of the hungry, wet kiss, Barbara fumbled impatiently with the small buttons, managing to free five before she tired of the exercise.

Five would have to do.

Ready to consume the other woman from the top down, she snaked under the leather, working to tug Helena's form-fitting tank up against the tight over shirt. Her frantic movements stilled when her partner pulled away with a harshly panted whisper.

"Here -- "

Barbara blinked in confusion at the sight of slender hands grasping the scooped neck of the undergarment; a low moan escaped her at the sound of the fabric rending. The instant that the material parted, revealing tanned flesh and offering a glimpse of tantalizing shadows, the younger woman dropped her hands to the arms of the chair and ducked her chin to the side, averting her gaze.

The redhead forced herself to still the instinctive movement of her hands, to give herself time to absorb the vision in her lap.

The younger woman was fixed in place, hands gripping the arms of the chair so tightly that Barbara was surprised that the metal hadn't yet bent. Her entire body trembled, hips jerking minutely against the redhead's belly as she panted softly.

Something fierce sparked inside the older woman, and she confidently raised her hands to push back the tattered edges of the soft cotton. Slowly, she spiraled her fingertips around the heavy flesh she'd exposed, then bent to capture a rose-hued tip.

"Oh, fuck, yes..."

Barbara delicately laved the puckered flesh, thrilling as it contracted and became impossibly harder. At the same time, she cautiously cupped the other mound in her palm, squeezing lightly. The woman in her arms torqued under her, thrusting urgently against her belly.

Helena's plea was almost lost in her keening whimper.

"More -- "

The redhead could do nothing by accede to her lover's request. Almost overwhelmed by the urgency of the brunette's reaction, she shyly dropped her free hand to the laces of the tight leather pants.

"Is this what... what you need, Sweetie?"

Helena's urgent thrusts simply... froze, and Barbara felt the other woman finally turn back to her, soft lips tickling her ear. The words she made out through the brunette's ragged gasps were oddly stilted.

"If... if it's... If you want."

Somehow, the reply caught the older woman off guard, and she swallowed roughly, brushing her mouth tenderly against the soft-hard flesh before her.

For a beat, she stilled her hands' movements, trying to process and comprehend the layered meanings in the moment. Her partner's need, her own reaction, their location: it was all exposure, rawness. The feelings engendered by the realization were by no means unwelcome, but they were... unfamiliar.

Strong finger wound through her hair, tenderly pressing her head forward a few millimeters, and Barbara unhesitatingly opened to the nonverbal request. Warm breath caught red hair while the motion against her own lower body redoubled.

"Yeah... That -- that works, too."

Unable to find purchase on the laces, the redhead gripped her lover's flank, working in time with Helena's movements and the avid motion of her own mouth. She planned to remedy the situation momentarily; however, the redhead discovered that there was no time.

Awed, she felt the other woman bury her face against her hair, sinewy muscles locking under her. An instant later, every working nerve in Barbara's body surged under Helena's muffled scream.

Chapter 8

Show me how you do that trick

The one that makes me scream she said

The one that makes me laugh she said

And threw her arms around my neck

Show me how you do it --

Turning into the parking lot, Barbara brusquely snapped off the CD player and concentrated on finding a suitable spot. While the disabled parking places looked big enough and were certainly convenient, she preferred to leave them open for those who really needed them. Resultantly, the redhead found herself cruising up and down increasingly distant rows in search of a likely space.

"Mmm hmmm, lost and lonely..."

Although her companion undeniably had a lovely voice, the older woman suspected that Helena's sudden melodic outburst had little to do with her appreciation for The Cure's catchy tune. Ignoring the quiet singing, just as she determinedly refused to glance over and verify the presence of a smirk which she could literally feel radiating from the passenger seat, Barbara sighed soundlessly.

Perhaps Helena did have a point about the unwieldiness of the Hummer for daily errands, but the redhead just couldn't help it: she really enjoyed driving the boxy SUV.


The older woman felt heat touch her cheeks over her gloating exclamation about finding a parking place.

There was no need to become defensive, after all. Helena was being remarkably circumspect about the parking venture and had displayed nothing but good humor about Barbara's chosen destination.

The older woman opened her door and slid her chair out. Snapping it open, she struggled not to apologize again about their location.

Not their parking spot, of course: neither woman minded a bit of a hike. It was where they'd be hiking to which had Barbara feeling apologetic.

As relentlessly logical as she could be, even the redhead had to admit that inviting her young lover to join her on a jaunt to the bookstore was, possibly, a bit less than inspired for a make up date. Yet, their harried schedules and Barbara's need to get her hands on several texts dictated the trip if she hoped to have time with her partner apart from their other life.

Shrugging philosophically, the older woman maneuvered into her chair and joined her companion at the back of the vehicle. She embarked on the trek through the parking lot with the brunette at her side, all the while absently organizing the list of items she wanted to pick up: some encryption texts; something dealing with holistic medicine; perhaps something light for the bedside. Oh, also more trivia questions for the Quiz Bowl team.

As they approached the store entrance, the redhead slowed and looked to the side. Bright blue eyes were avidly devouring the colorful sales and marketing posters in the picture windows, and Barbara felt an undoubtedly goofy grin working to escape her.

Helena truly was being a champ about the whole thing.

When the older woman had called her partner from school a few hours earlier to suggest the ad hoc get-together, it had been impossible to miss the brunette's lukewarm response. Helena had recovered quickly however, exhibiting a cautious interest in the trip and acknowledging that Buy The Book did stock almost every magazine title known to man.

Barbara had taken pains not to inquire about which hard-to-find titles her younger friend might have stumbled across at the large bookstore; she was simply grateful for the rather lame attempt to make up for their interrupted time together at the pool two days before.

For some reason, the sudden crippling pain which had struck her had put a bit of a damper on their time together on Saturday, and the older woman felt distinctly cheated.

Saturday's attack had doubled the redhead over, leaving her gasping. Despite her position on the platform at the far end of the aquatic center, Helena had somehow been at her side in an instant, sliding into the hot water to cradle the older woman to her.

"What is it, Barbara?"

Still working to breathe through the agony, arms wrapped tightly around her stomach, the redhead had managed to croak a reply which had, doubtless, been less than informative given her obvious physical state.


The pain had begun to recede, although not with the same speed that it had appeared, and Barbara had felt strong arms lifting her from the whirlpool. Helena had simply dropped down on the steps, cradling the larger woman easily in her lap, pressing her lips softly to the redhead's temple and waiting out the pain with her.

The older woman had slowly recovered her composure and looked up to meet her partner's concerned gaze.

"Damnedest thing," she'd managed, touching her torso lightly midway between her hip bones, "just hit me out of nowhere."

She followed the path of her partner's hand, watching as the other woman pressed against her lower abdomen. Helena's soft question carried clear notes of puzzlement and worry.

"Like, uh, cramps?"

That had garnered a rueful laugh on the redhead's part.

"More like labor pains, I'd guess, Sweetheart."

Barbara had looked up, watching some of the younger woman's concern subside. Obviously, the brunette realized that if her partner was able to laugh about the situation, things might not be too dire.

"Besides," the redhead had continued, "even... before, I never had cramps, and even if I've suddenly developed them, I certainly wouldn't feel it."

She'd considered that for a beat, reaching the obvious, albeit baffling, conclusion.

"Some sort of phantom pain, I'd guess," she'd posited mildly.

Helena hadn't been as easily convinced.

"Are you sure? Something that strong...?"

The older woman had nodded briskly, then softened her expression as the brunette had finally settled her in her chair. Just because it was something which she'd not experienced in years -- and something she'd never experienced with such intensity -- didn't mean she couldn't be certain. It was, in fact, the sheer enormity of the sensation which convinced her of its very unreality; after all, if there had been a genuine pain response below her waist, odds were that she would have been completely oblivious to it.

Nevertheless, to ease her partner's concern -- and because it was the responsible thing to do -- she'd managed to contact her doctor and wrangle an unusual late Saturday afternoon appointment.

Being the daughter of the former police commissioner, not to mention having the resources of the Wayne fortune on call when needed, certainly went a long way in opening the doors of the medical community.

She and Helena had spent the remainder of the afternoon, and much of the evening, filling out paperwork and waiting for one test after another: CAT scans, sonograms, blood tests.

It had not been Barbara's preferred way to mark the six-week anniversary of acknowledging her feeling for her companion, and, repeatedly, she'd had to grit her teeth to avoid taking out her frustration on the nurses and technicians.

The tests had all come back reassuringly normal. In fact, the most interesting part of the ordeal for the crimson-haired crime fighter had been chatting with her doctor about the recent break in and vandalism at his practice: nothing had been stolen, however, every bit of glass in the office -- from test tubes, to the partition at the receptionist's desk, to the fish tank, to the lava lamp in his office -- had been smashed. Mercifully, discussing the incident with her partner had provided some distraction; if not for that, Barbara thought she might have simply... gone postal during the protracted waiting between tests.

In the two days since the incident at the pool, the analytical woman had tirelessly dissected the event. In the early days after the shooting, she'd voraciously consumed every bit of material she could lay her hands on about paraplegia and its resulting complications and occurrences. There had been a number of times -- most notable shortly after she and Helena had begun their nocturnal venture and she'd listened to her partner in the field sailing through the skies of New Gotham -- that she'd experienced phantom aches and twitches in her lower body. However, the location and intensity of the pain in the hot tub was something she'd never before imagined.

Conversant as she was with the topic, Barbara knew that the strength of phantom pain was often commensurate with the loss one felt. She recalled recently reading about a violinist who had lost an arm and, years later, continued to suffer from crippling pain in the missing limb whenever he heard string music. Given the position of her own pain and the recent changes in her life, it didn't take a mind as sharp as hers to deduce what might have caused the attack.

Hence, after entering the warehouse-sized repository and agreeing to meet her partner later at the coffee bar, the redhead immediately turned to the section containing medical information. While she'd already run numerous searches on the 'net and was reasonably confident that she'd found the paucity of current research on the topic, sometimes having a physical text in hand proved... illuminating. If nothing else, something on the mind-body connection might suggest new avenues for consideration.

After a leisurely perusal of the three rows of titles nebulously organized under the rubric of "Health", Barbara select two of the less New Age tombs and, with considerably more enthusiasm, headed unerringly to the Mathematics section. Since she knew exactly what she wanted, it only took the cyber-genius a few minutes to pick out a half-dozen works on computational mathematics, data analysis, and Zimmermann's coefficient.

Deciding that she'd grab the latest best-seller from the front of the store for her bedtime reading, the redhead moved cheerfully to her last stop: trivia. Sharp green eyes ran over the spines of two-dozen possibilities before a familiar blue cover caught the older woman's attention.

The distinct sensation of being watched prickled at the redhead's senses a few minutes later, and she slowly raised her gaze from the book in her hands. When she discovered just who was standing only a few feet away, Barbara snapped the book shut and plopped it on top of her stack -- although The Book of Lists was a bit esoteric for Quiz Bowl, it did provide dandy cover for the other titles -- and pasted on a smile.

"Alethea -- "

What were the odds of running into a fellow faculty member from the high school while she had a stack of Ph.D. level mathematics texts in her clutches?

"My, my, fancy running into you here, Barbara."

The history teacher's voice was pure treacle.

"I thought I saw your... friend over in the periodicals section."

The older woman shook her head, tsking sadly.

"It seems that you still haven't helped her learn to dress properly."

The redhead felt her brows crease slightly, and she restlessly shifted her pile of books.

Helena was wearing jeans and -- green eyes narrowed and flickered to the left -- the fringed top which Barbara had, eventually, come to appreciate.

Smiling stiffly, she managed, "Helena has always had a wonderful fashion sense. It just took me a while to appreciate it."

The other teacher peered primly over her glasses.

"I see. Still, I'm surprised not to see... what is her name, Diana? -- here with you. After all, I was under the impression that you would want to be... training her."

Barbara felt the blood begin to boil in her veins, and she clenched her hands around the books in her lap lest she give in to her impulse to employ them as make-shift batarangs.

She simply would not give the old biddy the satisfaction of forcing her into a display of temper.

Slowly, she unlocked her death grip and backed into the main aisle, smiling with tremendous sweetness.

"No, I'm afraid I couldn't find Dinah's leash tonight."

Pausing for a beat, she blinked her eyes innocently.

"You don't happen to have one of your spares with you, do you, Alethea?"

The other woman's eyes widened behind her lenses in a display of affronted dignity. Completely unimpressed, the redhead consulted the store directory before continuing brightly.

"If you'll excuse me, I just remembered that I need to pick up some books on voodoo dolls."

With as much aplomb as she could muster, Barbara turned toward the section on the occult, wondering if the steam rising in her system was visibly emanating from her ears. Only after she was certain that the other woman had disappeared into the knitting section did she roll to a stop, torn between tears and a somewhat wild urge to laugh.

Good. God.

Alethea was certainly the biggest, most bitter, busybody at work; however, Barbara was well aware that the older teacher was often merely the mouthpiece for the whispers and innuendo of others.

Crimson lashes fluttered rapidly before signage on the end of a row caught the redhead's eye.

'Human Sexuality.'

If that wasn't an invitation to distract herself, nothing was.

Determinedly dismissing the other woman, the redhead performed a precise turn into the row of books. It was there that Helena found her some time later debating the merits of Susie Bright against the classic "Joy of Lesbian Sex". The patently wicked smile which instantly transformed the younger woman's face at the sight of the titles made Barbara's decision for her.

She'd just take both.

The older woman added the two paperbacks to her stack, craning a bit to smile over the pile.

"I'm all set, Hel. How about you?"

The brunette held a slender volume in her hand; it appeared to be a study of several O'Keefe prints. The redhead gestured an invitation to add the item to the tower on her lap, but the younger woman simply grinned and shook her head as the two slowly made their way toward the front of the store.

"Nuh uh."

"Nuh. Uh?", the English teacher repeated, seeking clarification.

Blue eyes danced.

"Hey, I don't know what the weight limit is on your chair, but I don't want this to be the final straw or something."

Barbara came to a stop, waiting for a register to clear, and ruefully surveyed her booty.

"Do you think I overdid?"

She glanced guiltily at the newest John Grisham beckoning from an end-cap; with regret, she virtuously decided to forego.


The younger woman leaned over and gracefully snagged the novel from the display.

"...It'll only take you -- what? -- a couple of days to get through 'em all, right?"

The older woman laughed lightly, confessing, "It really depends on how much free time I have, Sweetie."

A register opened, but before Barbara could respond to the beckoning clerk, warm lips brushed her ear.

"In that case, Red, it's gonna take you a looong time to read 'em all."

Thumping her stack on the counter and reaching for the two titles in Helena's hand, the redhead blushed extravagantly when she made out her companion's next words.

"And, you should definitely start with the last two that you picked up."

Barbara primly pulled out her credit card, then turned to fix her partner with The Look. The brunette immediately affected a contrite expression.

"Uhm, so, ready for coffee now, Barbara?"

As she signed the charge slip with a flourish, the older woman considered her companion's overly chipper question. She looked up to meet the sweet blue eyes downcast in the hangdog expression which never failed to melt her, and she couldn't resist her impulse.

"Actually, Hel, how would you feel about having dinner out?"

Minutes later, with the younger woman's happy smile still warming her to the base of her spine, Barbara put the Hummer in gear and decisively clicked on the CD player. Then, she set out in search of the most public restaurant she could find.

Spinning on that dizzy edge

I kissed her face and kissed her head

And dreamed of all the different ways I had

To make her glow

Why are you so far away? she said

Why won't you ever know that I'm in love with you

That I'm in love with you

You... Soft and only

You... Lost and lonely

You... Just like heaven

Chapter 9

<"Mmmm, I think I've died and gone to heaven.">

Green eyes rose from their intense scrutiny of a database listing and narrowed in bemused confusion. When she'd dispatched her partner in response to a silent alarm, Barbara, frankly, hadn't expect that sort of reaction.

A little whining or -- the redhead admitted it -- some out and out bitching and moaning, perhaps, but not the lilting expression of happiness which had just filtered over the comms.

"And why might that be, Huntress?"

The cyber-crime fighter heard a pointed sniff, followed by a bashful chuckle.

<"Catnip, Oracle. Place is lousy with it.">

The redhead barked out a laugh.

"I suppose that would be the place for it, Huntress, but I didn't know that you enjoyed -- "

Something tickled her analytic side.

"Still, Huntress, did the burglars break open the packages?"


The response was deliberate.

<"It wouldn't matter anyway.">

The older woman had the uncomfortable impression that her remote partner was sounding a little... dreamy.

<"This is some fresh stuff. Primo.">

There was the briefest of pauses before Helena elaborated.

<"Real Maui Wowie.">

Crimson brows crawled skyward.

How had she managed to miss this... predilection through the years? Granted, Barbara had never particularly been on the lookout for signs of a -- green eyes blinked rapidly -- a catnip habit, but certainly something should have been apparent.

Perhaps she'd been too lax. During her first years as the guardian of the angry and hurting teen, the young redhead had kept a constant vigilance for signs of drug use, relieved beyond measure when she'd determined that her ward simply didn't seem interested. She'd suspected that the girl's choice to just say no might have had more to do with her unique physiology than concern over legal or moral issues: Helena's system simply burned off drugs -- from antihistamines to pain killers -- almost faster than they could affect her. Regardless, as delighted as she'd been that there was at least one battle she'd not need to wage with her ward, it was possible that she had unconsciously overlooked other habits.

What on earth were the effects of catnip on a metahuman?

When Barbara heard soft humming -- Was that The Door's "Light My Fire"? -- she realized that it was time to get things in hand.

"Huntress? Are you alright?"

The older woman flinched slightly at the sharpness of her question. Her partner's utterly... mellow response did little to reduce her edginess.

<"Groovy, Oracle. How's it hanging back in your little corner of paradise?">

Straightening her shoulders with a noisy exhalation, Barbara raised a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose. Idly, she considered whether any of her herbal teas -- possibly ground up and rolled in paper -- might alleviate her tension.

"Huntress? Why don't you step outside for a bit?"

The melodic humming continued, interrupted by a brief solo on what the redhead identified as an air guitar. Neatly divided between concern -- it simply wouldn't do to have the police, whenever they arrived, finding the younger woman in her current state -- and amusement -- some controlled experiments might be... educational -- Barbara marshaled all of the authority she'd garnered from years on the streets and in the classroom.



The redhead rolled her eyes -- damned near crossed them -- in vexation.

<"Oh, yeah. You said something about going outside, didn't you? Why?">

The brunette seemed genuinely baffled, albeit utterly unconcerned.

<"Sure, it's a marvelous night for a moon dance and all -- ">

Van Morrison? The older woman blinked, fully expecting to be treated to another round of her partner's song stylings.

<"But, I thought you wanted a report on the pet shop.">

Exhaling noisily again, the redhead raised both hands this time to rub small circles against her temples.

"That would be lovely, Huntress," she eventually allowed, the tiniest edge of sarcasm creeping into her message, "if you were up to it."

Instantly, the younger woman's voice was all business, leaving her mentor dizzied by the transformation.

<"Why wouldn't I be up for it, Oracle?">

Barbara belated realized that she'd been had, admittedly not the most difficult feat for her partner to pull off.

"Droll, Huntress. Very droll."

It took the dark vigilante a full fifty seconds -- and the older woman watched each and every one tick by on the clock on the corner of her screen -- to rein in her laughter.

<"Oh, man, Oracle...">

The redhead pursed her lips patiently as another guffaw snerted over the transceiver.

<"...you should have heard yourself!">

The cyber-crime fighter shook her head, wondering if she'd been pushing her partner too hard. A short vacation might do the young woman some good.

<"Okay, okay. I'm sorry.">


Ignoring the fact that Helena's gleeful tone didn't really complement her apologetic words, Barbara opted to focus on business.

"If you've finished with your fun -- "

She pointedly ignored a murmur which sounded suspiciously like the words "For now".

"-- perhaps you can tell me what the situation is?"

When she'd picked up the alarm from Fur, Fins, & Feathers not too many minutes before, the cyber vigilante's first instinct had been to ignore it. However, something had scratched at the back of her mind, provoking her to cross reference the shop's address. When she'd discovered that the pet store was in a strip mall, with a dental clinic on one side and a shop named "House of Mirrors" on the other, she'd found it to be entirely too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence.

A growing suspicion that there were vandals with a medical and/or glass fetish prowling New Gotham made the break in worth investigating. Thus, as her partner in the field had made her way to the store, Barbara had pulled up all of the police and private security reports from the last month, dumping them to a hastily constructed database. She'd just begun sorting the data when Helena had arrived at the scene.

"Did they break in to one of the neighboring businesses?"

<"Doesn't look like it, Oracle, but this place is a mess. Every cage, tank, and terrarium has been smashed.">

Refocusing on her database sort, the older woman knit her brows.

<"There are lizards and gerbils and mice and birds running -- and flying -- all over the pla-- Whoops!">

Barbara jerked her head up at the sound of atypically graceless clattering.

<"Some snakes, too.">

The redhead chuckled soundlessly.

Payback could be a bitch.

Something on the monitor caught her eye, and she attempted to make sense of the pattern she detected in the reports from the last few week's incidents. Not completely forgetting about Helena's situation, she absently inquired, "Do you think you can catch them?"

The cyber-genius continued to type briskly until an exasperated huff alerted her to just what she'd suggested.

"Er, some of them," she amended. "There's no need to have the dental patients completely traumatized tomorrow."

<"Well, I suppose I could...">

The brunette's voice was a teasing drawl, however Barbara detected a rumble through the transceiver which raised the hair on the nape of her neck.

<"...but I think it would give most of them little rodent heart attacks or something.">

An image of feral eyes glittering in the darkened shop arrested the older woman's typing. She cleared her throat and spoke crisply.

"Point taken, Huntress."

Almost certain of what she was seeing, Barbara leaned forward to stare at her monitor.

"What about the fish?"

A puzzled laugh was the other woman's only reply until the redhead's abstracted silence seemed to convince Helena of her partner's sincerity.

<"Uh, I think they're sort of beyond saving, Oracle.">

The older woman tamped down on her impatience. After all, the brunette wasn't yet privy to what she was seeing.

"Are... were there tropical tanks? Do you see anything out of the ordinary?"

Neither woman noted any irony in the question. In their line of work, "ordinary" often carried unique connotations.

Silenced reigned for a few minutes while Helena presumably investigated the exotic fish section and Barbara efficiently copied selected entries from her primary table to a second table. A low whistle finally interrupted the older woman's work.

<"You're right, Oracle. There are fresh water fish all of the floor, but there aren't as many tropical fish as there should be if the number of tanks is an indicator.">

The redhead nodded. Her partner's description confirmed what she'd deduced from the historical reports: namely, the vandals weren't just breaking glass; they were targeting businesses with salt water aquariums. While Barbara was aware that many species were quite valuable, it still seemed like a risky venture for a rather esoteric market.

On a hunch, she began a keyword sort of the theft descriptions in her secondary table.

"Thank you, Huntress. By any chance can you determine if one or more species was particularly targeted?"

The brunette's nearly instantaneous response, coinciding with the display of the weighted list of keywords, suggested that the young vigilante had been following her mentor's thought process. The hushed words, identical to the blinking green display at the top of the list, sent an icy tendril winding down the cyber-crime fighter's upper back.

<"Clown fish.">

Straightening again, the redhead stiffened her shoulders against the sensation of cold fingers tickling her spine. She slowly rolled her head to release her tension, then spoke lightly.

"I understand that they are prized for sushi in some areas."

A blinking light on another monitor distracted Barbara from the younger woman's response -- something having to do with wasabi -- and she gratefully concentrated on the report coming in.

"We have another alarm, Huntress. A disturbance at a warehouse near the docks. Are you interested?"

The sound of rapid movement and an anticipatory growl were answer enough.

<"Kind of busy for a Thursday,"> the brunette observed conversationally.

Only the sound of air rushing across the microphone gave any indication of how rapidly the dark woman was moving toward the address Barbara had provided.

<"I was sort of looking forward to catching some 'Crocodile Guy' on Animal Planet with you tonight.">

It took the older woman a beat to connect the reference to a memorable evening not too many weeks before. Managing a tight smile -- over the expected blush -- she popped open another screen, interfacing with their digital video recorder.

"I'm taping it, Huntress."

Heaven only knew how she'd explain the recording should Dinah notice it.

A soft purr in her headset simply evaporated the redhead's concern.

<"Cool. I'll see if I can wrap this up in a hurry.">

Apparently, the older woman allowed wryly, both she and her partner were in the mood for a bit of... distraction after their little discovery. It could be nothing but coincidence, of course; recent movies had made the cute fish quite popular. Still...

Working fluidly despite an odd shakiness in her fingers, the cyber-genius brought up a new terminal window.

She'd been performing her usual checks at Arkham; however, an anonymous suggestion to double -- no, triple -- check the integrity of certain cells didn't seem unwarranted.

A soft hail interrupted her work.

<"You copy, Oracle?">

Green eyes flitted to the GPS, confirming that Helena had arrived at the warehouse. The brunette had made record time.

"I copy, Huntress. What's going on?"

<"Well, there sure is a disturbance of some sort. I can hear moaning and shouti--">

Barbara hadn't been in the field much for years. Nevertheless, the sound which cut off the younger woman's description was unmistakable... and unforgettable.

It was a scream of pure agony.

<"I'm going in.">

The clatter of breaking wood and glass -- presumably a window which Helena decided to use for her headlong entrance -- drowned the older woman's words of caution. Barbara soon discovered that the sound of the window collapsing had been nothing compared to the noises of mayhem and carnage which followed.

Chapter 10

Wanly surveying the disarray on her plate, Barbara couldn't understand how a two-egg omelet could appear so overwhelming. She poked at the mess again -- she hadn't actually eaten more than a few bites, but she hoped that pushing it around would convince her brunch companion otherwise -- before placing the tines of her fork neatly against the edge of her plate and touching her napkin to her lips.

"You must be stuffed -- "

The redhead gratefully snapped her gaze upward, ready to launch into an enthusiastic description of the food she'd barely touched and wondering if a request for an Alka Seltzer would be over-doing it. The knowing blue eyes twinkling over the rim of a coffee cup neatly ended her theatrical aspirations.

"-- after those two bites you choked down."

The cyber-genius shrugged awkwardly and offered a tiny apologetic smile. She certainly didn't want to give the impression that she wasn't happy they'd braved an early Spring snowstorm to share a leisurely Saturday brunch.

Those acute blue eyes across from her narrowed speculatively, and Barbara almost flinched at the note of accusation in the next words she heard.

"You're not dieting again, are you? I keep telling you that you look just fine..."

Laughing softly, she shook her head and lifted her fork.

Perhaps another bite or two would relieve that concern.

The redhead toyed with her utensil, unable to muster any enthusiasm for her breakfast. She resettled her fork on the side of the plate and cast about for something cheerful and carefree to revive the stilted conversation.

A moment later, she found herself making a mental note to schedule a CAT scan. Somewhere between her brain and her mouth, neurons were clearly misfiring: the words which were spilling from her own lips did not fall under the headings for either "blithe" or "happy."

"Dad, do you think I'm some sort of pervert?"

Since they had been engaged in a somewhat desultory conversation about Dinah's imminent college decision and Barbara's incipient empty nest syndrome, the segue was a bit abrupt. Yet, while the question seemingly came out of nowhere -- as evidenced by Jim Gordon's sudden sputtering into his after-breakfast coffee -- it was by no means unconsidered. As a point of fact, for the last thirty-two hours, Barbara had been giving the idea a great deal of thought.

Unfortunately, she realized with a sinking sensation, that fact did not serve to ameliorate her discomfort under her father's puzzled scrutiny. Nevertheless, she forced herself to remain still, allowing the older man time to consider the sudden inquiry.

As she waited, the redhead began to wonder if her internal chronometer had been affected by the... neural hiccup which had caused her to blurt out the question she'd been pondering.

Surely more than twenty-five seconds had elapsed.

When her companion finally spoke, Barbara -- despite her nervousness -- was amused to note that her father responded to the query in much the same way that she would have if one of her wards had suddenly dropped it in her lap.

"Why do you ask, Barbara?"

The redhead knew exactly why she was asking; however, that didn't seem to make it any easier just to... lay things out, as it were. Catching herself fiddling with her fork again, she primly lowered her hands to her lap and locked her napkin in a death grip.

"Well, Dad, there are certain factors -- er -- changes recently which have, uhm, led me to re-eval... to evaluate..."

Oh, good grief.

Listening to her own stammering, the redhead couldn't fathom her own incoherency.

After all, she'd thought through it all, repeatedly, during the long dark hours of the early morning. Considering that she could have been enjoying the lures of Morpheus -- and the warm embrace of her bedmate -- it was completely ridiculous, and unfair, that she was now failing so miserably in presenting the issue which she'd sacrificed her sleep over.

In the darkness, in the solitude of her own thoughts, it had all seemed a great deal more logical and straightforward and, well, easier to discuss. Perhaps if she took a breather, jotted down some notes for herself, or put the entire mess into an e-mail or a flow-chart or a nice linear time-line...

Expectant blue-grey eyes regarded her patiently, reminding the cyber-genius that she was, supposedly, engaged in a conversation of sorts. Quirking her lips in consternation, the analytical woman cast about for a lifeline.

Her father spared her what would have, undoubtedly, been an awkward attempt.

"Is this about your relationship with Helena?"

Green eyes blinked once. Slowly.

Barbara drew in a deep breath and slowly blinked again. Her father's mild query seemed more like an anchor than something to keep her afloat in the conversation.

The redhead raised her water glass and took a minute sip, suddenly experiencing a tremendous welling of empathy for Dinah and the awkward conversation the teen had bravely initiated a few weeks before.

"My relationship with H--?", she croaked, pausing to clear Michigan J. Frog -- and his entire family --from her throat.

A blushing glance revealed only warmth and love in her father's expression, and Barbara instantly let her discomfort go.

Most of it.

"In a manner of speaking, yes. Yes, it is, Dad," she acknowledged.

The calmness of her reply amazed her. The admission cost her -- had been costing her -- dearly.

The question was one Barbara had been dancing around for weeks, if not years. However, the incident at the warehouse two nights before -- or Helena's reaction to it -- had somehow brought it to the fore.

After the heartrending scream which had echoed over the comms, the older woman had had no idea what her partner would find when she made her dramatic entrance. Even after the dark vigilante had burst into the warehouse, meaningful descriptions had been in short supply.

While 'Get the fuck off her', snarling, and pummeling might eloquently convey the possible urgency of a situation, they did little to provide a meaningful picture of just what was contributing to the exigency.

Barbara had managed to retain her equilibrium throughout the first few minutes of the brutal beating which her partner had seen fit to hand out. She'd even remained calm, although hardly complacent, when the sound of masculine crying and screaming had begun.

After their years together, she had learned to trust her partner's judgment in matters of administering swift justice.

However, when the redhead had heard a woman's voice -- the same woman, if she weren't mistaken, whose scream had drawn the young vigilante into the warehouse -- crying and begging for the dark vigilante to cease her attack, she'd had to act.

"Huntress! Please respond!"

Barbara hadn't quite yelled, however, after years in the classroom, the redhead knew how to project quite a bit of authority. Unfortunately, the stentorian tone seemed to have had no effect. Slow, deliberate blows -- the older woman had distantly thought they sounded like open-handed slaps -- continued in rhythm with her partner's darkly furious words.

<"Not such a big guy now, huh? Can't handle a woman who isn't tied up?!">

The brunette's taunts -- accompanied by masculine whimpers and feminine pleas to stop the attack -- had galvanized the cyber-vigilante.

"Huntress, please respond."

This time, she'd been calm, realizing that it was her best approach to break through her partner's rage.

"Huntress, please... I'm worried... I need to know if you're alright."

The older woman hadn't had much doubt about her partner's physical well-being; however, her emotional state was another matter. It didn't happen often, and actually hadn't occurred in almost a year, but when the brunette was confronted with certain situations -- usually those involving the victimization of the helpless -- the results, both for the perpetrators and for the young vigilante, could be unpleasant.

Barbara's appeal to her partner's concern for her had done the trick. The blows had ceased, and, as if coming up for air, the younger woman had finally responded.

<"Yeah, Oracle. Uh, I'm... okay.">

The redhead had exhaled soundlessly, working to put the noises from the comms into place.

A dull thump, like a large sack of wheat hitting the ground: probably Helena releasing the man from her grip. A whispering snick and soft sawing: presumably the brunette using her blade to release the woman from some sort of restraints. Helena's soft, pained panting and quiet whisper -- <"Put this on; he's not going to hurt you now.">: that had been clear enough.

The rescued woman's response, initially, had been anything but clear.

<<"G--get away from me! What's wrong with you?! Why did you hurt him?!">>

Barbara had been achingly aware of her partner's confusion even as the scenario she'd feared suddenly seemed very likely indeed. Wearily, she'd listened to an exchange which was alternately terrified -- the woman -- and incredulous -- Helena -- and sneering -- the man.

Apparently, her partner had just put her life on the line to interrupt some noisy and genuinely brutal but, nevertheless, consenting sex play.

"Huntress," she'd kept it low and calm, "what's the situation?"

<"The situation?!">

Barbara had been hard-pressed to understand her partner's continuing outrage. After all, she was quite certain that the younger woman wasn't, by any stretch of the imagination, prudish or unconversant with the multitude of ways in which people sought pleasure.

<"This poor kid is more messed up than I thought. She's trying to tell me that she wanted what this guy did to her.">

"It's possible--" she'd begun, only to be cut off by a decidedly smug masculine voice.

<<"The little bitch does want it. She's finally starting to figure it out.">>

<"Figure what out?">

The words had barely been decipherable under the dark woman's thick growl.

<<"Simple. All sex is really about is reaching our limits, then transcending them.">>

Barbara had arched a brow at the self-righteous words, then immediately winced when the man foolishly continued, taunting the brunette.

<<"You may dress the part, but it's obvious you don't get it.">>

She'd interrupted her partner's growl.

"Huntress, you need to leave. Now."

The other woman hadn't been easily convinced -- <"Come on, lemme pulp him a little more..."> -- but Barbara had eventually all-but-ordered her partner to leave. If the woman maintained that the encounter was consensual, then nothing illegal had transpired.

Well, nothing illegal except for Helena's dramatic B&E.

The younger woman had remained pointedly silent on her return from the warehouse; however, the moment that she'd burst through the balcony doors, she'd let loose.

"You shouldn't have stopped me, Barbara! Or, at least, we should have hauled his ass to jail."

At a loss over the intensity of her partner's reaction, the redhead had ventured a response.

"He wasn't doing anything illeg--"

The agitated brunette hadn't wanted to hear it.

"You didn't see what he did to her, Barbara. It wasn't a little..."

Almost trembling, the lithe woman had paced the edge of the Delphi platform, searching for words.

"It wasn't a little bit of kink or something, Barbara. That guy was fuckin' brutal."

Suspecting that it wouldn't have been appreciated, the older woman had tamped down on her instinct to quote Hamlet about there being more things in heaven and earth. Instead, she'd focused on the facts.

"Be that as it may, Hel, it was consensual."

The brunette had spun to fix her with an anguished stare, her bitter words finally revealing the heart of Helena's distress.

"Fuck, Barbara," she'd almost spat, "like she could have consented to anything. She was just a kid!"

Barbara had blanched, fearing that she'd made a grave error.

"A k-- child?"

The voice had sounded fully developed, but it could be so difficult to tell.

Clearly registering her mentor's horror, the younger woman had settled a tiny bit.

"No. Not underage or anything."

The redhead had lowered her lashes, soundlessly exhaling her relief, then looked up in puzzlement. Her young partner's expression had still been utterly... petulant.

"But, she sure as hell wasn't old enough to 'consent' -- "

Helena had laced the word with a copious measure of mockery.

"to that. She couldn't have been more than a few years older than Dinah."

A sudden and complete icy calm had enveloped the older woman. With difficulty, she'd swallowed against something sharp and bitter in her throat and coolly met the other woman's gaze.

"Just-- Just drop it, Helena."


As obvious as his confusion was, the ex-police commissioner's tone was light.

"...what has you questioning your perversity, Barbara?"

Recognizing that she might have overstated things a tiny bit, the redhead brushed the figurative scarlet "P" from herself and mustered a tight smile.

"Okay, Dad, maybe not perverted, but..."

She creased her brows, searching for a way to explain.

"I'm afraid that I've... influenced Helena unduly. That I'm still doing so."

The older man took his time considering that.

"Hmmm, I suppose I can see why that could concern you a bit. Helena does love and admire you very much."

Green eyes blinked.

Was her father deliberately misunderstanding her?

"I meant, er, well, there's the age difference and--"

Jim Gordon cut his daughter off handily.

"If you recall, your Aunt Barbara was a few years younger than me."

The redhead acknowledged the truth of that with a nod, but persisted in her self-doubt.

"But, were you her teacher, Dad?"

Blue-grey eyes twinkled.

"Hmmm, I did teach her how to handle my service revolver."

For some reason, Barbara felt color rush to her cheeks at the words. No wonder Helena and her father got along so well.

"But, no," he continued, "I think, primarily, it was your aunt who taught me a lot of things. Just..."

The older man pointedly caught his daughter's gaze.

"...as I suspect that Helena does for you."

The redhead raised one hand to her mouth, instinctively covering her expression. Her father waited quietly until she finally met his eyes again.

"And, don't give me any of that hooey about having been her guardian either. That ended a long time ago, too."

The analytic woman rationally knew all of this; yet, she found herself unwilling to let her fears be dismissed so... lightly.

"But, I've been so--"

The former policeman raised his hand in the universal gesture for 'Stop.'

"Barbara, Helena is very much her own person. The minute I met her, I knew that she was headstrong."

Both Gordons smiled at their respective memories of the strong-willed teen.

"Trust me, if there is anyone other than you who knows her own mind, it's Helena Kyle."

Lowering her gaze to the table and fiddling with her coffee cup, Barbara processed her father's words. Eventually, she looked up with a tentative smile.

"Thanks, Dad."

The older man stretched forward and covered her hand with his.

"Be happy, Barbara. Love is a wonderful thing."

A comfortable silence followed as the redhead allowed her companion's words to soak through her. Inevitably, however, a different question scratched at her.

"Dad, how did you know about...?"

She hadn't mentioned the shift in the relationship during their calls of the last few weeks.

The distinguished man leaned back, and, even though it was a smoke-free environment, he fished in the side pocket of his jacket for his pipe. Absently tapping the stem of the empty Meerschaum against his lip in a gesture which reminded the redhead of something, Jim Gordon smile indulgently.

"Helena and I had lunch last week."

Blue eyes twinkled at the memory.

"She invited me, as a matter of fact. It seems she wanted to... secure my blessing, I suppose you'd say."

Green eyes flashed for a split second as the fiercely independent woman struggled to understand her younger partner's gesture.

It was completely antediluvian... and hopelessly patriarchal... and utterly impractical... and horridly chivalrous... and tremendously sweet... and... and just perfectly, perfectly Helena.

Eventually, the redhead puffed out her cheeks and blew out a long breath.

"And, did she?", she finally asked with what she suspected was an altogether silly sort of grin.

Knowing the force of nature that Helena was, Barbara didn't really doubt the outcome of the conversation. Still, she had to ask.

The older man smiled indulgently.

"She most certainly did, Barbie."

The cyber-genius' grin widened when she heard the nickname which only her father was allowed to use.

"She obviously loves you very much, and if there's anyone in this world who would do anything to make you happy, it's Helena. And..."

Those sharp blue eyes twinkled.

"...she makes you laugh."

Unable to deny that, Barbara chuckled and speared a bite of her omelet, chewing the congealing eggs with gusto. Her father placidly watched her tuck into her breakfast for a few minutes before leaning forward to push an English muffin her way.

"Don't second guess her feelings for you, Barbara. And, don't ever doubt the power of love."

Part 11

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