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.
ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: I've made several references to a baddie (Crimson Claw) from another work of fanfiction -- The most-excellent "Feral" by Barb/Pink Rabbit Productions. No infringement intended; rather, consider it an homage to a breath-taking work of fanfic (and another plea that Feral be completed??).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Way We Were

Ch. 21

Helena carried another rack of clean beer mugs out of the kitchen and thumped her burden none-too-gently on the bar.

Things at The Dark Horse had been busier than usual, probably the influx of returning college kids, and Leonard had been quite adamant that Helena was needed to work that very night. He'd been right about how busy things were, the brunette admitted crankily. Now, not only was she having to duck from behind the bar to perform double-duty as a busboy, but Helena realized that she wouldn't be getting off work early and, consequently, not seeing Barbara for just that much longer. Despite the healthy tips showered her way -- Didn't know what it was; there just seemed to be something about a sexy woman in black leather serving drinks that encouraged frat boys to open their wallets a bit more -- the young woman was not in the best of moods. She did not want to be working tonight, she reflected petulantly; she wanted to be with Barbara. Now. And repeatedly.

Consequently, when Helena finally extricated herself from behind the bar, a full 45 minutes after her shift should have ended, her first thought as she shrugged into her duster was to fly across the roofs of the city and land at the redhead's feet...and, well, just work her way up.

Already on the roof of her apartment above the bar, the brunette pulled the necklace and small earring from the pocket of her coat and slipped the comm set on, deciding to check in before heading back to the clock tower. Barb...Oracle might want her to run a sweep now, on her way in, instead of heading back out later. For some reason, the young woman suspected that once she got to the clock tower, in the presence of the other woman, it would be just that much harder to go back out on sweeps.

She activated the tiny unit and spoke quietly. "Oracle? Do you copy?"

There was a slight exhalation over the headset, clearly audible to the younger woman's enhanced hearing; then, the warm, calm tones of the Oracle were filling Helena's head, jump starting a slow, throbbing beat in her lower body.

<"I copy, Huntress. Everything alright on your end? Are you available?">

Boy, was she available, the brunette nearly growled. Instead, she breathed slowly, allowing her eyes to revert to blue, and answered quietly, "Things were a little busy earlier; I'm free now. What's up?"

The reply, although in the same warm, calm tone, was just a little rushed. <"It's bizarre, Huntress. Alarms have been going off all over the city for the last hour; break-ins, hold-ups, muggings, several arson reports.">

The dark woman clearly heard the sound of rapid-fire typing.

<"I've been re-routing as many of the minor problems as possible to private security firms, but things are getting out of hand. I haven't seen this much activity at once in ... years.">

There was the faintest of stumbles in the redhead's voice at the last word. Helena chose to ignore it and focus on what she could do.

Respiration shallowing out in anticipation of the hunt, the dark woman purred, "Where do you need me, Oracle?"

At the warm reply, her eyes glowed yellow, and this time, the Huntress made no attempt to clamp down on the response. Sounded like she wouldn't be getting back to Barbara any time soon; a little good ass-kicking might be just the thing.

Four and a half hours later, Helena was realizing there was no "a little" related to the quantity of ass-kicking she'd been engaged in. The entire city had just gone fucking nuts in one night; that was the only explanation.

She'd been running from one crime scene to another, stopping en route to foil the occasional mugging, and still couldn't see any pattern to the crimes. A convenience store robbery here; jewelry store burglary at the same moment across town; apartment fire by the docks. The only constant was the steady stream of muscle-bound baddies at all of the scenes. There hadn't been fewer than three of the goons at every crime scene -- including the little old lady who'd had her walker stolen -- and the Huntress was beginning to feel, well, not exactly pressured, but sort of ganged-up-on.

Through the hours, Oracle had been with her every step of the way, directing her to the spots where she could do the most good, leaving messages for the police about the locations of the neatly wrapped goons subdued by the dark woman, puzzling over the sudden deluge in criminal activity.

Quiet for a moment, Helena now stood atop the low ledge on the roof of an eight story building, watching the NGFD finish extinguishing a fire in a building across the street, a building from which she had just rescued two young kids before returning to rescue one's dog and the other's doll.

A freakin' doll? Just how soft was she getting?

And, why wasn't there some sort of beverage dispenser in this damned coat, she wondered as she coughed softly. Running through fire sure made a body thirsty. Too bad she hadn't snagged a slurpee at the last Quicky Mart she'd saved from the clutches of evil.

A rumble from her stomach caused her to amend her wish: too bad she hadn't snagged a slurpee and some Slim Jims. Had that bagel this morning really been the only thing she'd eaten all day? In that case, maybe something more than jerky was called for. She could just pop back by the convenience store -- wasn't too far away -- just to make sure the clerk was alright; he had seemed kind of shaken up. While she was there, there'd be no harm in picking up a few things. Hell, judging from the look of gratitude on the teenage clerk's face, she doubted she'd even have to pay for them. Let's see: coupla candy bars for starters, then some Cheetos -- no, she'd probably get cheesy orange fingerprints all over her leathers...

A concerned voice cut into her shopping list. <"Huntress? GPS shows you stationary across from the last fire. Is everything okay?">

Sheesh, couldn't a girl take a minute? "I'm just dandy..."

Realizing that neither the hectic night nor her hunger pains were the redhead's fault, Helena blew out a breath and lost the sarcastic edge.

"Sorry, Oracle. Just taking a breather, thinking of grabbing a bite before duty calls again." A sinking feeling washed over her. "Don't tell me: duty's already calling?"

The laughter was soft. <"No, Huntress. It looks like things have finally calmed down. Why don't you come on in?">

Despite her eagerness to see the other woman, Helena really couldn't face the thought of their mandatory post-sweeps debriefing with nothing but some pop-tarts from the cupboard to sustain her. Especially since, after the debriefing, there'd hopefully be more... 'debriefing', her mind leered, to do. And, she had gotten a couple of tiny boo-boos during her heroics; Barbara would undoubtedly want to... check those out. Yeah, she was gonna need a good meal on her stomach.

The brunette blinked, cleared her throat.

"Will do, Oracle. I'm just gonna grab something from the Burger Hut or something. Want anything?"

<"Actually, we have leftovers here, Huntress. It would save you a stop.">

The tone was oddly, endearingly hopeful; kind of like Red was looking forward to seeing her as much as she wanted to see the redhead.

A more genuinely happy lilt in her voice, the brunette started towards the clocktower and asked hopefully, "The 'Big A' cooked tonight?" Alfred really knew his way around a saucepan.

<"Something like that. We do have homemade cooking to feast on.">

The response was enigmatic but full of laughter. Red had been laughing a lot in the last day, hadn't she? Helena was pretty sure that she liked that.

Wait a minute; the all-knowing Oracle had kind of danced around the younger woman's question about who did the cooking, hadn't she?

Feeling a little panicked, Helena prepared to backtrack to the Burger Hut. No way she was going to serve as a human garbage disposal for another of the redhead's fiery culinary creations. Barbara was an amazingly talented, sexy, intelligent, sexy, funny, sexy... Where had she been going with this? Oh yeah, Barbara and the kitchen; they simply didn't mix.

During the first years that the older woman had been her guardian, Barbara had seemed determined to prove her fitness for the position by demonstrating her non-existent domestic skills. Clothes that got bleached in the washing machine, the young Helena Kyle could handle that; hell, they'd actually looked kind of cool on her. But, the array of truly awful dishes that the redhead had turned out regularly was above and beyond what any human being should endure.

Helena had spent many an evening in those early years pretending to eat and then slipping out of the apartment in search of something edible. Oddly, on those occasions when she brought back an extra sandwich or helping of Chinese and left the it in the kitchen, the food just seemed to disappear during the evening and the older woman sure looked a lot less... pinched afterward. Wisely, Barbara had finally accepted her culinary limitations, allowing Alfred to cook and package food for them on a regular basis. Everybody had been happier all around.

So, now what could have persuaded Red to venture back to the kitchen?

Preparing to locate a fire escape and drop to the streets in search of snack food, the brunette realized that she was too late: the clock tower balcony was immediately ahead, and it would just raise too many flags if the GPS showed her veering off at the last moment. Landing soundlessly, Helena decided she'd just have to suck it up; if Barbara had cared enough to... cook -- the brunette swallowed hard -- well, she was just going to damned well enjoy the fruits of her woman's labor. The dark woman sniffed cautiously; the faint aroma of something... well, it wasn't burned, that was encouraging... tickled her nose.

Still trying to identify the lingering odor -- it was kind of onion-y, she thought -- the brunette entered the living area silently. Absolutely no surprise, Barbara was doing something, somethings probably, at the Delphi. The surprise for the younger woman came from the strength of her reaction to the other woman. Crimson hair spilling over her shoulders, half-glasses slipping down her nose, eyebrows crinkled in concentration, smudge of toner on one cheek; Helena thought she would come, or melt, or both at the sight.

As she approached the Delphi platform, the brunette moved slowly, deliberately rustling her duster, not wanting to startle the older woman. Even when the redhead swung herself around, a beautiful smile on her beautiful face, Helena kept her pace deliberate until she reached Barbara's side. There, she slowly lowered herself to her knees, wrapping her arms around the older woman's waist and resting her head against the redhead's abdomen.

Long fingers raked through dark hair for a few minutes before Helena heard the quiet murmur: "You must be exhausted, Hel; not to mention hungry."

Not looking up, Helena replied, voice utterly sincere, "I'm great now. I missed you."

Of course, she couldn't just let that hang out there, so, after a beat, she added lightly, "Something smells good."

The older woman bent to place a soft kiss in her hair, then responded, "Dinah cooked meatloaf; it's actually pretty good."

Helena maintained her position, face resting in the older woman's lap, and pointedly sniffed before raising her head. Twinkling blue eyes met green as she purred, "That's not what I was talking about."

The brunette watched the redhead blush to the roots of her hair -- How healthy could that be for her? -- even as she finally comprehended Barbara's statement about dinner.

She blurted, "The Kid cooked?! And it's, uh, edible?"

Returning to a healthier color, Barbara laughed.

"Yes, Helena. Dinah cooked; it's edible, actually rather good. I understand that the secret has to do with dried soup mix."

She apparently noticed the brunette's look of concern, laughed again. "Don't worry, I won't get any ideas about trying it out myself! Go get washed up, and I'll fix a plate for you."

Helena obediently dropped her duster on the couch and headed into the bathroom. As she divested herself of the grime and gunk that seemed to accumulate in fighting crime, she clearly detected the savory aroma of warming food, and her stomach rumbled loudly. The younger woman's attempts to hasten her toilette came to a halt when she felt the small beeper in her pocket go off.

There was only one person who had the number for this text-message beeper, and, based on their usual schedule, Helena hadn't expected to hear from her for another week or so. Wanting to cry, she fumbled the unit out. Fuck, couldn't she have just one day to believe the pretty dream she was having?

The dark woman wondered how such a brief message could affect her so.

"7PM -HQ".

Clearing the message, she finished drying her hands and moved towards the kitchen. Helena hoped she could do justice to Dinah's cooking; she'd quite lost her appetite.

Ch. 22

Barbara sat at the kitchen table watching the younger woman pick listlessly at her long-overdue dinner -- Honestly, she hadn't thought the meatloaf was that bad -- as they discussed the night's crime wave.

"It certainly was odd," the redhead continued, "nothing terribly major ... for New Gotham, or dangerous -- especially once you got on the scenes, but everything was just terribly...."

"Aggravating?" suggested the brunette on a growl, taking a miniscule bite of meatloaf and looking rather bilious.

"I was going to say 'coincidental', all hell breaking out at once."

Coincidental, indeed, the older woman wondered for the umpteenth time that night.

In the late afternoon, Barbara's revised parameters for checking and cross-checking the staff at Arkham had hit pay-dirt, allowing her to spot deep-cover criminal identities of two staff members, a nurse and an orderly, which linked them to the Joker. Appropriate anonymous flags on the two workers' files and a timely data-dump to Arkham's administrative computer had resulted in the two being picked up by the NGPD within hours for questioning and guaranteed that these two would have no more contact with the green-haired inmate. Given that the coordinated mayhem had erupted within hours -- even though, for now, Barbara had suppressed Quinzel's link to the Joker -- the chance of coincidence seemed slim indeed.

The redhead debated telling Helena about her afternoon's activities and getting the brunette's take on the situation; after all, she certainly would have a better sense of how Quinn reacted than Barbara did. However, observing the other woman's marked lack of enthusiasm for the their post-sweeps debriefing, Barbara decided to table the topic until morning. Helena looked exhausted, not surprising given that she'd been on the go almost all day then plunged back into a hellacious night of crime-fighting while coming off her injuries.

The younger woman also needed something more substantial than the few bites of dinner she'd eaten.

Oblivious to her own abrupt conversational shift, Barbara asked, "Would you like a sandwich, Hel? Or... something else?"

The redhead briefly furrowed her brow; just because she couldn't identify it immediately, certainly there was some sort of food that could be scrounged.

The brunette gave up her pretense of eating and stood, carrying her plate to the sink.

"Nah, not really hungry."

More concerned by this statement than by the fact that Helena hadn't jumped all over the innuendo she'd left herself wide open for with the 'something else' remark, Barbara blurted, "Helena, you're always hungry....".

Even as the words left her mouth, the younger woman turned, smiling softly and raising a hand to forestall the automatic response from the older woman.

"Right now, Red, I'm just kinda tired."

Well, that made sense; neither woman had gotten much sleep in the last 24 hours. Honestly, she could use some rest herself; tomorrow -- today, the redhead corrected herself, it was only hours from dawn -- was an in-service day for the faculty at NGHS to prepare for the new semester.

Voice encouraging, the older woman spoke, "Let's turn in, shall we?"

The dark head come up, a positively adorably hesitant look gracing the gamine features. Waving a hand in the general direction of Dinah's room as she took a step closer, the brunette softly asked, "Are you sure you want me to stay? I can head out...".

The question caught the redhead off guard. Modesty, embarrassment, concern with propriety in front of Dinah; none of these had ever been at the top of Helena's short list of things to worry about in front of the blonde. Quite the opposite, she seemed to delight in testing the deepness and frequency of the blushes she could elicit from the teenager. 'And from me', Barbara noted.

Again, Barbara Gordon kept her answer short and sweet. She stretched up and placed her hand gently to the dark cheek, warming as the younger woman turned her head into the touch.

"I'm sure. I want."

Seeing the blue eyes duck away from her gaze, Barbara pointedly ignored her own desires and added, "Unless you want ... to head back to your apartment, Hel. But, make no mistake, I *do* want you here."

In a blink, the dark woman was straddling Barbara's lap, knees planted on the seat of the manual chair.

'Good grief, she's going to give me a heart attack...'

The remainder of the thought was lost to the feel of soft lips touching Barbara's mouth, feather-light and warm. Barbara threaded her hands in shaggy hair and opened her mouth to the insistently exploring tongue, losing herself in the connection with the younger woman. A long, lovely minute later, Helena scooted back infinitesimally, and the redhead drew a deep breath, attempting to collect her wits.

What had they been talking about?

"Super," the younger woman purred, scratching her index finger lightly over a rapidly-hardening nipple just visible under the redhead's shirt.

'Yes, yes, things were pretty super, weren't they?'

Briefly falling under the hypnotic spell of intense yellow eyes, Barbara caught herself -- had she been thinking 'super'? -- and blinked, several times, to clear her head. She wondered if one of the younger woman's meta-human traits included the ability to turn her into a blithering nitwit with little more than a sly look or a teasingly stroking finger.

"Super?", the redhead echoed, still attempting to ravel the threads of their conversation together.

The brunette offered as saucy grin as she disentangled herself. Deciding to create as little rope to hang herself as possible, the older woman remained quiet, watching as Helena moved across the kitchen and opened the cupboard below the range. Focusing attentively on the other woman -- well, actually on the shapely rear end encased in tight black leather -- as she bent over and rattled pots and pans in the cabinet, Barbara heard a muffled reply.

"Yeah, 'super'." The brunette's voice supplied pronounced quotation marks around the word. "Like, uhm, that makes me really happy, Babs."

There was a slight twist of that lithe body before Barbara was pinned by a twinkling blue eye. Busted, the redhead realized with a blush; Helena knew exactly where her eyes had been focused.

The older woman opted to respond with an innocent look and a slightly raised eyebrow. Over the years of dealing with students' excuses for unfinished assignments and with young wards attempting to convince her that hangovers were 'just a touch of food poisoning', the redhead had found The Eyebrow to be a significant weapon in her arsenal. It seemed to be helping here as Helena returned to her rummaging and talking.

"...but why don't you go ahead?" The brunette emerged from the cupboard, brandishing a small saucepan. "I'm just gonna clean up in here a little and make some cocoa. Do you want some? Or some tea?"

Finally back on solid footing, Barbara smiled fondly. "No, thank you, Sweetie. I'm fine."

As she wheeled from the kitchen, heading towards the Delphi, the redhead deliberately lowered her voice and tossed over her shoulder, "Don't be long; I've been missing you, too."

The sound of some utensil clattering on the counter -- When was the last time the dark woman had dropped something? -- accompanied the redhead's exit. Still grinning, Barbara checked the decryption program -- only 20% done -- hearing the sound of dishes being rinsed and smelling milk warming on the stove.

The redhead had brushed her teeth and changed into her usual nightwear and was just settling herself on the bed, hairbrush in hand, when she detected the approaching odor of chocolate. A moment later, starting to run the brush through her hair -- 'One hundred strokes, my lower back', she mentally groused -- she saw the brunette pad into the room carrying a Starbucks-sized mug of steaming hot chocolate and a single graham cracker.

Cheerfully damning herself for a lecherous old crime-fighter, Barbara watched the younger woman settle her mug and snack on the dresser before quickly stripping herself of ass-kicking boots, leather pants, and leather shirt. That left the brunette in, well, not much: French-cut panties and a small tank top. Oh my.

As Helena retrieved her mug and swallowed a sip with positively indecent, nearly-orgasmic pleasure, Barbara resisted the urge to tease. Instead, attacking her hair with a little more vigor than usual, she observed, "Smells good."

"Mmmmmm-huh", she heard the brunette concur. "Want some?"

Hair brushed forward over her face, struggling with a snarl, the older woman was just able to see a slim torso approaching the bed, mug extended in one hand. She tossed the crimson mess out of her face and automatically reached for the warm mug, even as she demurred.

"Really, I shouldn't, Hel. You love it so."

The matress dipped slightly as the younger woman crawled behind Barbara on the bed. Taking a tiny sip from the mug, the redhead allowed Helena to take the hairbrush from her other hand. Then, the brush was moving through the red hair in long sure strokes as the brunette lightly replied.

"That's why I made extra, Red. I know you like it too, even if you pretend that you're all grown up and only drink perfectly proper hot tea." The brush paused and a mouth purred next to the older woman's ear. "You didn't think I planned to drink that entire...tureen by myself, did you?"

The redhead laughed softly and took another sip. Almost purring herself from the warmth of the sweet liquid and the feel of the younger woman's hands in her hair, Barbara sighed.

"That feels wonderful, Hel. Sometimes I think I should just have the whole mess chopped off; it'd certainly be less trouble."

The brush faltered, then the slow sure strokes resumed. The response was quiet.

"Yeah, I can see that. And, you'd look damned hot with a Wynona Ryder 'do. But, uh," Barbara easily heard the hesitation in the younger woman's voice. "maybe you could keep it long for a little while more?"

The redhead reached a hand back slightly and stroked one lean, bare thigh softly. "For as long as you, we, both want, Sweetheart."

Curiosity got the best of her.

"But, I didn't know you had a special affinity for long hair, Hel...?" After all, since chopping her waist-length hair off shortly after the murder of her mother, the brunette had been a staunch advocate of the ruffle-it-and-go freedom of short hair.

Instead of an answer, the brushing stopped and slim fingers came to rest against the older woman's sides. The brunette requested softly, "May I?".

Barbara nodded, and Helena shifted them both on the bed so that she was reclined against the headboard with the older woman seated between her legs, leaning against her chest. Only then did the gentle strokes with the brush resume as the younger woman responded.

"Not long hair in general, Barbara. Just yours."

Barbara was sure she detected a breathiness to the next words.

"Do you know how long I've dreamed about this, Red?" The hairbrush briefly danced in the older woman's peripheral vision. "Wondered how it would feel?"

The older woman sipped again from the mug, darned if she wasn't drinking most of it, before setting the cup on the bedside table. Further lulled by the soothing strokes, the warmth in her stomach, and the delicious heat and softness of her human pillow, she felt completely relaxed and drowsy.

Blinking her eyes against sleep, she murmured, "And how does it feel, Hel?"

The last thing Barbara heard before slipping into a dreamless sleep was a single, low word.


Part 23

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