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. 25

Helena waited for any number of likely responses to that bit of information.

Like: "How do you know this?" Like: "When did you find out?" Like: "So, you've been with her again?" Like: "Get the hell out." Like... well, anything but this total silence.

She started wishing that the redhead would say something, even one of the possible responses that had just run through her mind. Well, maybe not the "get out" one. But, something. Something would be good.

Eyes firmly glued to the mat on the training room floor, the young woman heard Barbara move towards her. She almost jumped out of her skin when warm fingers twined with her own. The other woman's voice was also warm.

"What do you need me to know, Helena?"

Aw, fuck. Helena twisted her head quickly to the side, away from the redhead, blinking. Just like that, Barbara had let her off the hook. Again. Perversely, the brunette realized, Barbara was letting her decide just how much foot she should put in her own mouth... something like that. What had she ever done to deserve this amazing woman?

Nothing. Abso-fucking-lutely nothing.

It was the same answer that had come to her several hours earlier as the older woman had been struggling with the brunette's pants and Helena had been approaching nirvana, wondering how she could deserve so much. Held securely in the older woman's lap, Barbara's hands burning on her, she'd been so ready, she'd wanted so terribly much to let go and give herself over to the woman she loved. She wanted, no, *needed* Barbara to have that, to have her. But, it wouldn't have been right. She'd actually been relieved when Dinah showed up. Go figure.

Barbara deserved better. Someone who didn't come to her with the memory of Quinn's hands still fresh on her skin. Someone who could protect her and still do the right thing. Someone.... who wasn't so fucking confused and ashamed and so goddamned tired of being ashamed. Someone who could honestly give herself to the redhead.

Maybe she couldn't give herself honestly, but Helena Kyle decided that she could, at the very least, give the woman she loved her honesty. Screwing up her courage -- keep it short, keep it short -- she raised blue eyes directly to the older woman's face.

"I was with her last night."

It was quick, really quick, but the younger woman didn't miss the flash of pain in those emerald eyes. The reply was measured, calm, just a hint of curiosity.

"Something to do with the crime surge of the previous night?"

Barbara was sharp.

"Yeah." Helena ran a hand through her hair. "She wanted to get my attention, like someone got her attention at Arkham. She said that somebody had ferreted out two of the Joker's lackeys who were working there, got them hauled off to jail."

The small smile and the slow blink of red lashes confirmed the younger woman's suspicions about who had been involved in that particular bit of detective work. Barbara was just too freakin' amazing sometimes. Helena couldn't help it; despite her overall discomfort, she threw a grin at the older woman.

"So, " the brunette exhaled noisily, "Quinn's kind of thinking that, maybe, she should get the hell out of Dodge for a while, y'know?"

Helena noticed that, now, it was Barbara who was starting to smile. Well, that was good; really good. Maybe she could just leave things like that. Barbara was happy that Quinn was going to amscray; she could whisk the older woman into her arms and make love to her all night; and they'd live happily ... ever....

Feeling like she was kicking a puppy, the brunette muttered, "With me."

Boy, that sure took the smile off Red's face.

Helena carefully observed the older woman's face, body language. She was obviously working hard to look pointedly... neutral. Helena thought she was mostly succeeding in looking brittle. Not quite broken, but really, really close.

Maybe some of the more surreal details would help the redhead see how fuckin' bizarre Quinn's whole plan was.

"Yeah. She's worked out this big ol' romantic plan..."

Uh-oh, Barbara had definitely flinched at the 'R' word.

Helena wanted to pace; she really wanted to pace. But, she was afraid that pacing would turn into a full-blown run and she'd never be able to stop. So, she lowered herself to the mat on the floor, sitting cross-legged as she continued with a laugh that sounded a little forced even to her ears.

"She thinks the two of us should head somewhere 'cosmopolitan', like P..."

Shit. Her stupid fucking mouth, always running ahead of her brain. No way she could mention Paris. Barbara knew how much she loved the city where she'd spent the carefree years of her childhood.

Okay, damage control. The brunette cast desperately about for another city name. Why hadn't she paid more attention in Geography classes?


D'oh. Helena supposed it was better than saying 'Peoria'. Barely.

"...or New York." She tacked on hastily.

"Get this: she even said the two of us could fight crime together."

Helena laughed again, twirling her index finger in a circle by her temple in the universal sign for "Nutso".

Red wasn't looking any more relaxed at this information. In fact, she kind of looked like she could use an Excedrin... or a Valium.

Helena sighed, deeply. Time to just finish it.

Helena's voice flattened. "Well, cuz she knows that, *obviously*," the brunette tried to put a lot of emphasis on that word, "I wasn't gonna leap up and click my heels at that idea, well, she said she'd take the Joker out of the picture if I'd come with her."

When it finally came, the older woman's response was quiet, her voice steady. But her hands weren't, Helena noticed, as the redhead briefly rocked the wheels on her chair.

"And, is this what you want, Hel?"

Of course Barbara had put the pieces together. Helena had told her that Quinn *was* planning something at Arkham; with what she'd just learned, no way the older woman wouldn't think that the brunette had accepted Quinn's offer.

Helena buried her face in her hands. Was this what she wanted? How could the redhead even ask?

"No. Yes."

Shit, Barbara was like an ever-lovin' shot of truth serum, wasn't she? She lowered her hands but didn't raise her head.

Peeking through long lashes, she softly added, "And, I didn't, I haven't said yes-for-sure yet. I sort of told her, uh, maybe-yes."

She watched the russet brows furrow. The warm voice was a little less steady.

"You're seriously inclined to accept her... offer?" The redhead pinched the bridge of her nose, exhaled tiredly.

Fuck. Time to lay it all out.

"Fuck, yes, Barbara!"

Helena hadn't meant to shout, but when would Barbara get it? Understand that it was... it always had been and always would be... about protecting her.

"You're never going to be safe as long as that...that piece of green-haired slime is still breathing."

The brunette paused, collecting herself and trying to organize her thoughts.

"Besides, he's never done anything but cause hurt and destruction, Barbara. My mom. You. Hell, he's even destroyed most of the person that Quinn -- Quinzel -- used to be. She's not all evil, Barbara; she got burned, too."

Almost inaudibly, she added, "I think she's really afraid of him, Babs."

Helena swiped roughly at her eyes.

"That bastard's whole life is about causing pain and fear. Even in prison, even there, he's got us... me... always looking over my shoulder. Isn't it time for that to end, Barbara? Can't we feel safe for once?"

The brunette finished, her voice cracking at the end. She bit the inside of her cheek and worried at the sore she'd made just a few nights ago. No way she was going to cry. Just, no fucking way.

And then, then, Helena watched in disbelief as Barbara rolled her chair closer and slid out of it onto the mat next to her. The younger woman saw corded arms reaching out to her in slow motion, felt strong hands tug her tightly to the other woman's chest and stroke through her hair. Clenching her arms around the redhead, she heard the husky voice, the passionately spoken words pouring from the beloved woman.

"Yes, Sweetheart. It's well past time for it to end. It's time for you, us, to feel safe; for you to stop looking over your shoulder and feeling so alone and scared because you can't protect me and the world. Because you can't protect me *from* the world."

Long fingers tipped the dark head up slightly; green eyes, shimmering with tears, fixed resolutely on blue.

"But, letting Quinn kill the Joker isn't going to fix anything, Hel. It won't make me safe; nothing can, Helena, because we're never going to be absolutely safe."

The redhead drew a breath, continued. "I'm going to keep revising and updating security checks at Arkham; you're... you could keep sweeping the streets for news of escape plans... And, still, Hel," those red lips smiled softly, trembling slightly, "it can never be enough. I could go into the kitchen tonight on a wild hare and unintentionally concoct something that would poison all three of us."

The brunette snorted, then was immediately annoyed with herself.

Damnit, this wasn't funny.

Still, she fractionally loosened her death grip around Barbara's waist. She noticed that Red wasn't loosening her hold in the slightest, though she had let go of the brunette's chin. Helena nuzzled against the other woman's chest, listening to that strong heartbeat underscore what Barbara said next.

"Killing... allowing Quinn to kill the Joker might remove one threat. But, please, Sweetheart, think again. The only thing on earth that *I* truly want is for you to be happy, to be the light, free soul I know you can be. That I've *seen* you be. You are not a killer, and if you allow... this, I know it would break that great heart of yours, weigh your soul irreparably with guilt."

Were those tears splashing Helena's cheeks? Not hers, she realized; Barbara's. Distantly, the younger woman wondered how -- if she loved the woman so damned much -- she always seemed to end up making Barbara cry.

The brunette reached up, delicately lifted one of those tears from the older woman's cheek with a trembling hand. The green eyes blinked, then became crystalline.

"Helena, I understand why you feel you need to do this. Believe me, I do understand. And, Hel? Whatever you decide to do?"

The brunette realized that Barbara was waiting, waiting to be sure that she was listening. She dipped her chin slightly, widened blue eyes a little. Apparently it was enough.

"Whatever you decide to do, Helena," the redhead reiterated, "it won't, it can't change anything. I love you."

There was a moment's hesitation as soft lips dusted Helena's forehead.

"Do you hear me, Hel? I love you. Nothing will ever change that." And then Barbara's voice turned husky, so soft Helena barely heard it. "I don't think anything ever could."

Another hesitation.

"But, Hel, if you can believe nothing else, believe this." The tone, the words were implacable. "If you do this and I know that you've sacrificed your sweet soul for me, it will utterly destroy me."

What... How could... Oh, hell. This was just freakin' twisted. As amazing as Barbara's words had been, now the younger woman was even more confused, more torn.

Helena dropped her head back to the older woman's chest and hugged tightly. Voice small, she whispered, "What the fuck am I supposed to do, Barbara? Just, what am I supposed to do?"

The response, while filled with sympathy and warmth, was unwavering.

"You need to do what's right for you. Ask yourself what will finally make you happy, let you be free. What do *you* want, Helena?"

Blue eyes blinked. The answer to that was simple. It was what she'd always wanted.

Helena raised her head and looked directly, openly, at the woman who had always held her soul, had always been her heart.

"Yours. I want to be yours, Barbara."

Ch. 26

It was raining. More precisely, it was pouring.

Barbara Gordon was aware of this fact in several ways: there was, first, the hard-pounding rain rattling against the balcony windows; there was also the weather screen open on one of the Delphi monitors; and there was, of course, the non-stop grousing of her younger partner.

<"It's fucking pouring, Oracle. You'd think there'd at least be a freaking flying buttress or something here for me to stand under.">

The older woman re-checked one of the screens monitoring NOAA, looking at the angry red blotch covering the satellite weather image of New Gotham.

"Yes, it seems that a low pressure system has parked itself directly over New Gotham tonight. No real sign of movement. I'm sorry, Huntress." She knew how much the younger woman despised being caught in the rain.

<"Great. 'It was a dark and stormy night', huh?">

She heard more indistinct commentary, then thought she caught the young vigilante whistling "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" softly through her teeth.

Perhaps, she mused, the musical tendency came out under any type of running water. Of course, tonight, it was more probably a good old-fashioned case of nerves.

The redhead resisted the urge to check the time again. She already knew that Quinn was late; knowing precisely how late wouldn't make the wait any easier. Instead, she opted to make herself as useful as possible by pouring over the schematics and security system information from Arkham. Again. In a situation like this, it always, *always*, paid to be prepared.

Removing her glasses and rubbing futilely at the headache building behind her temples, Barbara acknowledged that she still wasn't fully certain what "this" situation would ultimately turn into.

She and Helena had formulated a plan, a plan which involved Helena agreeing to Quinn's insane offer and meeting her at Arkham tonight to help the deranged woman get into and, presumably, out of the facility in order to kill the Joker. Of course, once Quinn was within reasonable distance of the pasty-faced lunatic, it would be a simple matter to set off some alarms and have her captured red-handed. Then, as the cyber-crime-fighter erased all evidence of Helena from Arkham's security cameras, she'd simultaneously dump information about Quinzel's identity, and some other juicy facts from her past, to the NGPD. The combination should guarantee the woman a nice long stay in a cell adjacent to the Joker's.

It should. Aware of sharp ears on the other end of the comm set, Barbara sighed soundlessly.

Despite Helena's earnest and heart-wrenchingly open declaration of what *she* really wanted two days earlier, the older woman still wondered if the brunette would be able to do this. Would Helena be able to stop Quinn at the right moment, setting her up for easy capture? Or would she help her through the final security station, into the Joker's cell for a killing blow?

Locked away, Quinn would no longer be able to actively assist in the Joker's escape plans. She would also be unable to continue her torment of Helena -- perhaps a greater benefit, Barbara decided with admitted bias. Of course, having Quinn locked up in Arkham would effectively double the number of homicidal psychopathic clowns in the near vicinity intent on escape and revenge.

Barbara's cheeks dimpled in frustration as she fleetingly wondered if there were any empty clock towers for rent in Bludhaven. But, of course, she wouldn't abandon New Gotham; the city had taken too much for her to ... walk away now.

The crime-fighters could only continue to be diligent, vigilant. Would that be enough for her younger partner? After all of sacrifices the younger woman had made -- actions which seemed as instinctive as breathing to Helena -- would she finally be able to let go of her fear, her fierce protectiveness of Barbara, her guilt over what she'd been doing to protect Barbara? The redhead certainly hoped so.

When Helena had looked at her with those bright, agonized eyes two days ago, asking -- no, begging the older woman to make Helena hers, Barbara had been overwhelmed. She'd experienced an immediate, politically correct discomfort at the words themselves, suggesting as they did ownership and dominance. She'd instantly by-passed the discomfort as she'd realized that there was absolutely nothing incorrect with the words at all: after all, the redhead had to admit, she had given herself to Helena, heart and soul. That the younger woman would want to be possessed in the same way was not surprising at all.

Whether Helena was ready was another question.

Two days ago, Barbara had bitten back on the darkly alluring desire which had welled up within her at the brunette's plea. She'd denied the visceral urge simply to take the young woman -- long and hard, marking Helena as hers, *making* Helena hers, allowing the young woman no doubts about where she belonged. Bitterly realizing that it wouldn't be that simple, Barbara instead had opted to hold the woman tightly to her, pledging to help, to do whatever Helena needed.

In the days since the emotional discussion, the brunette had remained attentive and affectionate, patiently enduring Barbara's methodical planning, reviewing the Arkham schematics repeatedly although clearly bored to tears. However, she'd had also maintained a... distance from the older woman, logging extra hours at the Dark Horse and sleeping at her own apartment each night. Barbara suspected that, until the 'Quinn situation' was resolved, Helena would not be able to be comfortable with her... or with herself.

It had been a long two days.

Needing the contact, the redhead interrupted the quiet whistling on the comm set.

"Hey there, Butch. Are you treading water yet?"

<"Almost, Sundance.">

The playful response cheered the older woman immensely.

<"It's really, really wet out here. I've got a stream of water running under my collar and down my back, and it's probably gonna take a freakin' blowtorch to get these damned leather pants off, you know.">

Barbara smiled broadly, but deliberately dropped her voice to a low purr. "Don't worry too much about that, Huntress. I'd be more than happy to get you out of them when you get back. And, while I can promise that there will be heat involved, it won't come from an acetylene torch."

She had to fight back a laugh at the sound of the choked cough that came through the headphones. Helena drew a breath to speak but the redhead didn't get to find out how the younger woman would have responded.

Rather, she heard footsteps splashing quietly -- amazing how sensitive the microphone was -- and knew the wait was over.

<"Oooh, Tiger. You're all wet.">

Definitely Quinn. There was no mistaking that voice. Barbara clenched her jaw as she listened.

<"You simply must forgive me for being so tardy. There's just so much to do when you're preparing to begin a new life... patient referrals, subletting the office, getting the skeletons out of the closet, bodies out from under the bed...">

<"Well, shit, Quinn,"> Helena's voice held a respectable amount of petulant crankiness. <"You'd think that if you were meeting someone who'd agreed to help you break into, and -- maybe more important -- out of, the world's most super-maximum-security facility for the criminally insane in order to kill one of the inmates, you might just be a little more concerned with timeliness.">

There was the sound of a very wet leather coat being flapped.

<"I mean, look at this! I'm fuckin' drowning out here.">

<"Poor, poor, Helena.">

A little surprised that the treacle in the words didn't put Quinn in a diabetic coma, the redhead realized that the blonde must be very close to Helena's microphone necklace. Too damned close.

<"All the more reason to get this taken care of. Then, we can scamper off to a nice warm room in a nice hotel and get you... wetter. Sound good, Tiger?">

There was a moment of silence, nothing but the sound of the rain, then Barbara heard the brunette gasp. Why was Helena gasping? It didn't sound like pain... Oh. Of course.

Steeling herself, the redhead rapidly toggled through the screens displaying the input from all of Arkham's cameras. As soon as the women moved, she'd be able to see them.

There. In the outer courtyard. It looked like Helena had simply picked Quinn up and vaulted over the razor wire atop the 15-foot high walls.

They disappeared from view, and Barbara toggled to another screen. Helena was pulling Quinn into an alcove in the building as an oblivious security guard made a sweep.

While it *was* pouring and she understood the man's haste to complete his rounds and while Barbara had to admit that his carelessness was working to their advantage tonight, there was simply no excuse for not checking that alcove. Even as she toggled to another screen, the redhead zoomed on the guard's badge and cut-n-pasted it into a file. She'd be forwarding that to the Arkham security office tomorrow.

Barbara watched Helena expertly by-pass the alarm on a side door and simply snap the steel deadbolt. She and Quinn were then inside, moving through the corridors silently. At the first and second security checkpoints, Quinn swiped her attending physician's badge and gaily waved her companion through.

The next checkpoint wouldn't be so easy; a guard would have to confirm her identity and buzz her through. Helena had told the redhead that the plan was for Quinn to talk her way in on the pretext of an after-hours consultation, disable the guard, and then buzz her in. Barbara prayed that Helena would be fast enough to keep Quinn from killing the guard.

Where were they? They should have been at the checkpoint by now.

Barbara clicked rapidly through the other video feeds from that floor. Her fingers froze when she heard Helena's soft words.

<"Wait, Quinn."> The sounds of extremely quiet movement -- and harsh breathing -- followed.

<"Don't go that way. It's a trap.">

Part 27

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