In A Song (part 1 of 12)

Saturday/Sunday: 1:26am: New Gotham Club District

Helena sighed and moved some pebbles around with the toe of her boot. Her body and brain screamed out their boredom in a feeling that left her simultaneously restless and lethargic. Ever since Harley Quinn had been wrapped up in a big bow for the New Gotham PD the rest of the city’s criminal element had been laying low and regrouping.

< Something happening, Huntress? >

Helena’s pulse leapt as the warm, silky tones insinuated themselves into her brain via her ear. She just barely quieted the sharply drawn breath at the mental image of Barbara sitting in front of the Delphi, glasses slipping down her nose, brows knitted in concentration as she juggled more than a dozen simultaneous tasks. She could hear the soft sounds of typing coming through the comms channel. “Not a thing, Oracle. That’s the problem.” She made no effort to keep the boredom out of her voice. “I’ve been out here for three hours and all we’ve got to show for it is one foiled mugging, and even the foiling wasn’t all that hard. What’d it take, five minutes?”

< Four and a half, to be precise. >

It wasn’t a stretch for Helena to picture the half-smile gracing Barbara’s lips. That mental image gave her libido a kickstart it really did not need.

< PD radio band seems pretty dead. GPS puts you in the club district. You want to knock off for the night? >

Across the street a familiar figure and a flash of blonde hair caught Helena’s eye. Her eyes narrowed as she registered the outfit the young blonde wore. That little twerp. She watched the girl go into the club after showing ID to the doorman.

< Huntress? Something happening? >

“Sorry, distracted. Where’s the kid tonight?”

< Staying over at…a friend’s house. >

Gabby…Helena filled in the blank that Barbara’s caution on comms had left. She smiled into the night, part predator, part older sister. ‘Oh really,’ she thought. “You want me to come back there?” she asked aloud.

Back in the clocktower Barbara pulled off her glasses and rubbed her temples. What did she want? She wanted Helena here with her, an open bottle of wine, and several hours spent in the company of her best friend. What she wanted she pushed aside out of reflex.

< No, take off. >

“Great. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon for our workout. I’m off comms for the night.”

Saturday/Sunday: 1:28am: Clocktower

The radio silence seemed emptier to Barbara than it usually did when Helena signed off for the night. GPS had, more accurately, put Helena on the roof of a building across the street from Apex, a club Barbara knew through other sources Helena had been frequenting in the past few months. The one time Barbara had asked about Helena’s extra-curricular nocturnal activities her reply of “Superheroes don’t exactly settle down to the house with the white picket fence, do they?” had closed off further discussion.

Barbara knew why she didn’t ask again, though she’d rather die screaming than admit the reason aloud. “Jealousy is not a pretty emotion,” she thought as she plucked the neon blue, slimline jewel case from its less than public storage space at the bottom of a stack of Christmas music CDs. She shook her head with affection at her youngest charge’s musical taste, smile painting her lips, as she put away the discs Dinah had left in the player’s carousel. Barbara slipped the unmarked CD into slot one and started the player. She pulled a bottle of red wine out of the rack on the wall. As she made her way to the kitchen for a corkscrew and a glass the atmospheric first bars of Sarah McLachlan’s Possession filled the clocktower.

What Barbara could never allow herself to say out loud she’d found a way to permit herself to feel through the work of some of popular music’s more evocative performers. She wasn’t sure, though, as she pulled the cork from the wine bottle and Possession’s haunting plea segued into Jonny Lang’s professions of total devotion if these occasional musical indulgences were doing more to stoke her feelings than they were to alleviate them.

The love she felt for Helena had always been complex, in no small part due to the admiration Barbara had for Selina Kyle. Even after Barbara had gotten to know Selina, or more precisely the parts of her Selina would let Barbara know, they hadn’t always seen eye to eye on morality, the law, and ownership of property. Selina was, after all, a thief, but Barbara had learned to appreciate the other woman’s quick mind and her skill at reading people. Even before Selina had confirmed what Barbara already suspected about Helena’s parentage, Barbara could see traces of Bruce, her mentor and friend, in the little girl.

Barbara sipped the ruby liquid as her eidetic memory pulled up the instant she realized her love for Helena had turned into something deeper than the love of a friend and mentor.

They’d been in the clocktower less than a year. Sundays for Barbara in the first few years after the Joker’s last, cruelest prank meant, and continued right into the present to mean, one of three weekly stretching sessions designed to keep the muscles in her legs and lower back flexible, slowing the rate of the decay in those muscles which was a side effect of disuse. Helena had insisted on learning the proper technique and taking over the sessions after she’d found Barbara just barely managing not to cry behind closed doors one afternoon after a session at the hospital. Barbara had been reluctant to be that dependent upon Helena, and had said as much.

“You hate going to the hospital,” the adolescent had said, her expression tight. “They’re assholes and it makes you feel horrible. I don’t like it when you feel bad.”

“Language, Helena.” Barbara spent every ounce of self control she had to keep her voice from cracking. She knew that once it did the tears she’d worked so hard to suppress would flow freely making her feel more vulnerable than simply being stuck in the chair ever could. Being subject to the sometimes less than sensitive ministrations of the doctors, nurses, and physical therapists at New Gotham General was, Barbara felt, just one more reminder of that vulnerability.

“Fuck language,” Helena had replied, her hands clenched tightly into fists, righteous indignation at the idea of a bunch of strangers handling Barbara like a sack of flour rolling off her in waves. “Let me do this for you. You’ve done so much for me.”

The sadness in Helena’s eyes, and the memories of how they’d helped each other through the blackness of the grief they’d each faced after her shooting and Selina Kyle’s death had Barbara nodding her agreement. Helena had clamped down on her temper, and on her desire to take her rage out on the therapists and doctors that were less than sensitive with Barbara, long enough to learn the proper techniques for the sessions.

One such home session found Barbara flat on her back on the mat covered training room floor as she and Helena worked their way through a stretching routine they’d done so many times neither of them gave it conscious thought.

Helena cradled Barbara’s right foot in her hand as she slowly bent Barbara’s right knee and eased it toward her chest. “Leg still feels good,” Helena had said, a mischievous glint in her eyes. Helena guided Barbara’s knee across her torso stretching out the hip flexor. “And your butt doesn’t look bad either.”

“Since when does my butt’s appearance concern you?” Barbara replied, smile dancing on her lips.

Helena moved Barbara’s leg back through the stretch and lay it flat on the mat. She leaned over, hands on either side of Barbara’s head, putting their faces and bodies mere inches apart. Barbara’s breath hitched, her pulse quickening as Helena swayed over her. For one, fleeting instant Barbara thought Helena was going to close the small distance between them. Barbara licked her suddenly very dry lips even as her imagination supplied a sample of what Helena’s mouth might feel like pressed against hers.

“What? I know beauty when I see it, and I like to appreciate it,” Helena said with a grin that was equal parts amusement and sensuality. Barbara blinked and in that brief moment Helena was gone, back at her feet, starting through the same routine with her left leg.

For several months Barbara had mulled over the disappointment she’d felt when Helena didn’t kiss her, turning it over in her mind like an unexpected yet interesting result during a routine experiment. She’d spent almost as much time closely observing her physical and emotional reactions to the lithe brunette. It didn’t take a mind as sharp as Barbara’s to reach the inevitable conclusion.

In the years since she’d admitted her feelings to herself, Barbara had put considerable effort into burying that desire, into channeling that love into something that would help Helena find herself and her way in the world. It had taken Barbara more effort than she would have liked. Helena’s innate sensuality, a genetic and behavioral gift from her mother, showed itself in everything she did. Not only that, she was an unrepentant flirt with double entendre being her primary verbal weapon. Even the unflappable Alfred occasionally became a target.

Barbara had developed ways of coping, including allowing herself a little verbal sparring. There were times, in those rare moments when Helena was so lost in thought, when she felt safe enough to become distracted and she could be observed unnoticed, that Barbara felt her heart break just a little at the thought of what she could never allow herself to ask for, all of Helena’s love. She knew Helena loved her as a friend, as a mentor, in much the same way that Barbara loved Helena’s father, but it ended there for the young brunette. Of this, Barbara was quite sure.

Barbara shook her head and pushed the cork back into the wine bottle. She rolled to the sink and washed out her glass, placing it on the drain board with pans Alfred had cleaned up after making sure everyone got at least one good meal for the day. Barbara picked up the remote for the stereo and hit STOP, cutting Annie Lennox off before the end of the song. “What I need,” she thought, “is a serious distraction.” She hit the light switch dimming the lights in the Clocktower on the way to her bedroom where a brand new book on prime number cryptography waited on the night table.

Saturday/Sunday: 1:48am: Club Apex

The heavy bass thump would have bothered Helena’s sensitive ears if she weren’t already used to working in a dark, loud, smoky bar, and if she didn’t have micro-fine control over her meta-human abilities. It was those abilities that were allowing her to cut through the smoke and sort through the throng of bodies that jammed the club to locate one particular girl. Her wicked grin was filled with the twin promises of retribution and blackmail as her eyes finally found the familiar blonde at a table in the corner. The guy standing at the bar next to Helena grinned at her.

“Not you,” she said, tone and body language both dismissive even as the bartender finally appeared in front of her. She ordered a double Skyy on the rocks and told the bartender to keep the change when he returned with the glass. Helena wound her way through the mingling crowd, her libido already in overdrive from the miasma of pheromones filling the club. True to her predator nature, Helena approached the young blonde from behind. The only tell of Helena’s appearance the teen might have had was the wide eyed gaze Dinah’s friend gave her as Helena bent down to whisper her message.

“You are so busted,” Helena said, her voice husky and her lips scant inches from the pink shell of Dinah’s ear.

Dinah coughed as a mouthful of liquid, bourbon to Helena’s experienced nose, went down the wrong way. Helena draped herself across one of the empty chairs at the table. She took a sip from her own drink and crossed her black-leather clad legs, watching patiently as Dinah sputtered and tried to regain her composure. Helena turned her gaze to Dinah’s friend whose shocked expression had been replaced with something that was equal parts lust and challenge.

“You must be Gabby,” she said, holding out her hand.

“And you have to be Helena,” Gabby replied, gripping Helena’s hand slightly longer than necessary. Gabby took a moment to take in Helena’s “work” clothes, from the sturdy, black leather boots, past the form fitting black leather pants, up to the cropped, royal blue tank top which showed off Helena’s flat, toned belly. “I can see why D. is always borrowing your clothes.”

Helena smiled at the curly haired girl’s territorial posture. Isn’t that interesting? “I thought you were…working,” Dinah said finally, her face still red.

“There wasn’t a lot going on so the boss lady let me go early.” Helena took another healthy swallow of her cocktail as she considered the girl in front of her. Dinah looked good in the clothes she’d pillaged out of Helena’s closet. Helena was forced to admit to herself that the kid had a certain amount of fashion sense. Of course, it helps to have good materials to work with. The corner of her mouth turned up in a wry grin.

“So, what are you going to give me to not tell Barbara you snuck into a club to drink on a fake ID?” Helena’s attention was drawn across the dance floor by a flash of auburn hair. Her eyes narrowed, focusing on the way the woman moved toward the back bar and her body language as she waited for her drink.

Dinah put on her best bored face, hoping Helena would buy what came next. “It’s just Coke.”

Helena focused on Dinah, arching an eyebrow over one dark blue eye. “Dinah…”

Dinah closed her eyes hoping against all odds that when she opened them Helena’s appearance in the club would prove to have been a bad dream induced by the really strong drink the bartender with tight t-shirt and the arms that called for it had poured for her. No such luck as Helena’s utterly together form was still sprawled in the chair when Dinah opened her eyes. “What do you want?”

Helena’s grin was wide, and gloating. “That…project Barbara has us working on, I want you do to what I say when I say it without giving me a lot of grief for, oh,” Helena paused to study her nails. “Say, the next 3 months. And, ” she continued, pointing a finger at Dinah who had opened her mouth to issue a protest. “I want you to stop borrowing my clothes.”

“Anything else?” Dinah asked, her tone clearly defeated.

Helena shook her head as she swallowed the last of her double vodka. “Nope, that about covers it.”

“So, wait, you’re not going to tell me not to do this again?”

“Why would I do that? You’re a teenager. It’s your job to break the rules, and it’s my job to catch you breaking them and hold it over you.” Helena stood and stretched, rolling her neck and shoulders. Across the dance floor the redhead had turned, leaning back, elbows on the bar. Her eyes met Helena’s, a slow grin spreading across her mouth as she sipped her drink.

“What are you going to be doing for the rest of the night?” Gabby asked, drawing Helena’s attention.

Helena’s sly smile sent a shiver of arousal right through the girl. “Hunting.”

Saturday/Sunday: 2:12am: Clocktower

Barbara clapped the cryptography book shut with disgusted sigh. A hundred pages of pedantry about the United States’ efforts to break Nazi codes during World War II had not been what she’d signed on for in her efforts at distraction. That annoying fact and the recurring mental image of Helena dressed for sweeps that she could not seem to suppress were foiling her efforts.

Barbara shut her eyes against the desire building inside her. That desire was about more than sex. Even the simple, physical release of sex had further been complicated by the damage to her spine.

Over the years Barbara had slowly discovered the limits of her body’s physical response. That first climax after the shooting, one that had taken her nearly six months of patient experimentation to achieve after more than a year of working up the nerve to try, had been both a relief and a burden. There were times when, even pursuing stimulation that she had proven worked in the past, Barbara was unable to get that simple, physical release. While the spirit was willing, the flesh, or more accurately the nervous system wasn’t always with the program.

If it had been just sex, complicated her entire life by her need to be as aroused mentally as she was physically, Barbara could have managed the gnawing ache with relative ease. It was more than that. It was as much an emotional scream for the wanting hand of another, and one specific other at that as it was a physical desire.

Barbara slid the cryptography book onto the night table and put her glasses down on top of it. She clicked off the light, hoping to be able to get some sort of rest before dawn.

Saturday/Sunday: 2:41am: Gabby’s room

Gabby held the door knob so the catch would be soundless as she shut the door to her room. Dinah flopped on the end of the bed, eyes closed and her hair fanned out behind her.

“That was fun,” she said, her voice a little bit slurred. She toed off her shoes. “Even with Helena showing up.”

Gabby sat down next to Dinah on the bed. She’d had a couple of drinks, about the same number as her friend, but she doubted they were as strong. “That bartender was kinda cute, don’cha think? Well, I mean…I know you’re not into him but I thought he was kinda cute. Well, just ’cause you aren’t into him doesn’t mean you might not have an opinion. After all, a cute butt is a cute butt. OK, I’m babbling aren’t I?”

Dinah’s flirting with the bartender had been harmless on her part. Gabby wasn’t so sure about the bartender. As her eyes caressed the planes of Dinah’s relaxed features she felt the low level of excitement brought on by a night on the dance floor kick up a notch in the slight thump between her legs. “A little muscle bound for my taste. I prefer a little bit softer and more rounded. Hey, ow,” Gabby said as Dinah slapped her on the leg.

“Work with me here, Gabby.”

Gabby laughed. “OK, he was kind of cute in an arrogant sort of way. Do you trust her not to call you out to Ms. Gordon?” Dinah’s brow furrowed. “Helena,” Gabby supplied at her friend’s obvious confusion. Gabby leaned down to untie her own shoes, pushing them off when the laces were loose.

Dinah shrugged. “Sure. If don’t keep up my end of the deal I’m toast though. Like that, burnt to a crisp.” Dinah snapped her fingers.

“What’s the project you’re working on?” Gabby asked, pulling a pair of boxers and a tank top out of her dresser and sliding the drawer shut.

“New flavors for the muffin tops,” Dinah replied, the reflex to keep the women’s lives as guardians of the night over running her common sense and her mouth. She mentally slapped herself for resurrecting the poor fiction of Barbara and Helena’s muffin-tops-by-internet business. Dinah opened her eyes and sat up a little too quickly. Her head spun from the alcohol induced dizziness.

“Are you OK?” Gabby asked, pulling the tank top the rest of the way over her head.

Dinah nodded. “Need some water, and to brush my teeth I think. Is it OK if I roll my sleeping bag out down here?” she gestured to the space on the floor at end of the bed.

“The bed’s big enough for both of us. If you don’t mind that is,” Gabby added quickly even as the blush rushed to her cheeks.

Dinah stood up slowly and navigated her way around her discarded shoes to the door, oblivious to her friend’s momentary discomfort. “Why would I mind?” She pulled the door open and went right, then passed by the door again going to the left as she headed for the hall bath.

Gabby smiled as her affection for her friend grew. Now if she weren’t so damn hot, everything would be fine. She pulled back the comforter and threw it on the floor knowing that the alcohol, and the extra body in the double bed, would warm her up enough as she slept. She slid between the cool sheets and waited for Dinah to return.

Saturday/Sunday: 3:17am: Argyle Apartments

Moonlight sliced across the bed as some of the evening’s cloud cover moved across the sky. Helena felt languid fingers trail up her thigh and across her belly. The voice next to her ear was low and purred with promise.

“You want to give it another go?”

Helena’s nose was still filled with the scent of her companion’s arousal, her eyes just back from the feral yellow they turned as she climaxed. She smiled before she opened her eyes.

Sunday: 8:57am: Clocktower

Barbara was already sitting in front of the Delphi when Alfred stepped out of the elevator. The flash of concern he felt over how hard she worked immediately lessened when he saw she was still wearing her robe.

“Good morning, Alfred,” Barbara said, not looking away from the flat-panel screen in front of her. Six hours of fitful sleep put an edge on Barbara’s mood. Immersing herself in something technical had sounded like a good idea when she’d awakened just before 8am.

“Good morning, Miss Barbara. Will Miss Helena be joining us for breakfast?”

“I don’t think so. Things were kind of slow last night. We called it early so she could have some time to relax. She said she’d be by later if you need her for something.” Barbara’s fingers flew over the keyboard as she pulled the schematics for several buildings currently being renovated in the warehouse district out of the New Gotham historical society’s database and stored them on one of the Delphi’s many drives.

Alfred shook his head. He kept his own tabs on Helena and her personal exploits. As bright as they both were, Alfred found himself repeatedly confounded at how little Helena and Barbara really perceived about each other. “Should I have a need to get in touch with Miss Helena I’m sure I can find her.”

Barbara frowned slightly as the irritation in Alfred’s tone penetrated her multi-tasking consciousness. She turned to look at him but he’d already made his way into the kitchen. Barbara shrugged and turned back to the Delphi. She cut the connection with the historical society’s database and erased her tracks in.

She was well into the plans and permits division of the Consumer Affairs office when Alfred set the cup of raspberry-vanilla tea down on the table beside her. “Waffles?” he asked.

Barbara smiled despite her preoccupation. “Blueberry, please.”

“Of course.” She half expected him to click his heels before he turned and made his way back to the kitchen.

Sunday: 9:36am: Argyle Apartments

Helena eased off the edge of the mattress hoping not jolt her companion awake. Pants collected from the floor, her tank top from the back of a chair, boots pulled on without sitting down on the bed and Helena was dressed to go before her conscience poked at her. She held the tip of the pen she’d scrounged out of a cup on the kitchen counter over a scrap of paper when she heard noises in the bed behind her.

“You’re out of here then?” the woman asked, her voice still thick with sleep.

“Yeah, I’ve got some things I’ve got to do.”

The redhead stretched and sat up, holding up the sheet despite the fact that Helena had seen, touched, and tasted every inch of her in the dark the night before. The light of day changed everything. “I don’t suppose I’ll see you again?”

Helena clicked the ballpoint back into the pen, laid it on the dresser, and turned to face the bed. “No,” she said, her voice flat. She pulled her duster on and shoved her hands in the coat’s pockets. Her knuckles brushed against the hard lumps of her comms earrings at the bottom of the coat’s pockets, small reminders of her other life, obligations, and desires.

The redhead smiled. “Well, honey, I hope who ever she is she’s worth it.”

“Who do you mean?” Helena asked, brow furrowed with the spike of irritation she felt. Being psychoanalyzed lately fell only slightly below eating ground glass on the short list of things she’d rather not do.

“The woman who’s got your heart in her fist. Just pull the door shut on your way out, ‘k?” She rolled over, sheet slipping off her and exposing her back as she snuggled into the pillow Helena had abandoned. She was asleep again before the front door clicked closed.

Sunday: 11:25am: Gabby’s room

Dinah tried to open her eyes. Her efforts were in vain as her eyelids felt as if they’d been crazy-glued shut in some bizarre fraternity prank. Her lips felt dry, and cracked. She licked them, another futile effort since someone had sopped up every last ounce of liquid in her mouth overnight. Shouldn’t need the tk to open my own eyes. A little more effort produced a small sliver through which to glimpse the room.

“What’s that big bright light in the sky?” she croaked.

Gabby looked up from where she’d curled herself into the bean bag chair in the corner. “It’s not the dragon of the North Sea, that’s for sure.” She grinned. “It’s after eleven.”

“Damn,” Dinah said, sitting up. “Whoa.” Gabby laughed as Dinah swayed in the bed. “It’s not funny.”

“That’s what you think, Keanu.”

“Why aren’t you hung over?” Dinah swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Her memory of getting ready to sleep the night before was full of holes. She caught sight of her sleeping bag rolled up tight where she’d dropped it the day before beside Gabby’s desk. “Did we sleep together last night?”

Gabby shut the book she had been reading around her finger. “Only in the ‘we were both unconscious’ meaning of the phrase.” She glanced down at the book, her face flushed despite her amused tone. “Does that freak you out?” she said, finally meeting Dinah’s eyes.

Dinah shook her head, and regretted doing it almost immediately. “I was just wondering if I hogged all the covers.”

“And most of the bed, too,” Gabby said with a soft smile. She held out a bottle of water. “Start drinking, you’ll feel better.” As Dinah took the water her fingers brushed Gabby’s. Gabby thanked whatever spirits protected girls with crushes that Dinah was too distracted to notice her involuntary shiver at the small contact.

“We need to get some food into you so Ms. Gordon doesn’t forbid you from coming over here again.” She pulled herself out of the beanbag and set her book on the dresser. “And the reason I’m not hung over is that we got the boy bartender and you were showing enough cleavage to tempt the Pope.” And every lesbian in the place, including the one you were unconscious next to the rest of the night.

Sunday: 2:18pm: Clocktower training room

“I can’t believe I missed waffles,” Helena said, her words more petulant than her tone. “Blueberry, right?”

“Right.” Barbara breathed out has she finished the last reps in a set of parallel bar dips. “I’m sure he would have made you some when you got here.”

Helena made a rude noise with her lips as she bent over and stretched her hamstrings. “Waffles after 1pm is a little indulgent even for me. You ready to stretch?”

Barbara nodded gritting her teeth against the part of the routine she hated the most, having Helena lay her out on the mat. She felt Helena’s arm across the middle of her back and she knew, objectively, that the brunette’s other arm must be supporting her legs as Helena lifted her out of the low parallel bars and carried her with ease to the middle of the room’s open space.

Barbara glanced at the side of Helena’s neck, and then glanced again as her eye tried to make sense of the light-purple bruise about the size of a half-dollar on Helena’s neck just below the corner of her jaw. Her curiosity overtook her jealousy. “Is that a hickey?”

Helena set Barbara down gently on the mat. “Probably. You want to start with left or right?”

“Right.” Barbara stared hard at the top of Helena’s head, sensing a barrier between them she hadn’t noticed before. Helena had been more tight lipped than usual since Harley Quinn’s invasion of the clocktower keeping so much to herself that Barbara had begun to worry. “You can talk with me about anything that’s going on in your life. I hope you know that.”

Helena just nodded. She didn’t trust herself to meet Barbara’s eyes. Sex, even with someone so anonymous, always pushed the knot of emotions she normally channeled into sparring or just simply beating the hell out of some low-life scum right to the surface. Telling Barbara her deepest feelings after nights when she’d used her good looks and charm to bed some woman Helena knew in her heart was just a poor substitute for the one she really wanted was a mere flippant remark away. That’s why Helena tended to steer clear of the Clocktower on the days after she’d hooked up in the dark of the night before.

Barbara reached out and touched Helena’s hand where it rested on the top of her thigh. “I mean it, Hel. Anything.”

The slash of anger Helena felt was brief. She knew Barbara’s intentions were benign. In someone with fewer scruples, Helena would have assumed the gentle prodding was more about gossip and dirty details than about a genuine willingness to listen. What Helena wanted to say she knew Barbara didn’t want to hear. She also knew that hell would freeze over before she destroyed their friendship with the secret she nurtured, tended, and cared for like the rarest of orchids.

When Helena finally met Barbara’s eyes her smirk would have blazed impure thoughts through the peaceful libidos of even the most devoutly celibate of individuals. “You want the blow by blow or is it enough to tell you I had a good time?”

Barbara’s heart clenched tight at the thought of Helena writhing in ecstasy in the arms of another even as something lower, and more primal tightened at the idea of Helena aroused and demanding. She managed to keep her expression neutral. “Whatever you want to share,” she said after a slight pause.

“What I want to share, is that we are half done, Ms. Gordon,” Helena said, smirk sliding into a wider, more innocent smile. She laid Barbara’s right leg back down on the mat. “On to the other half.” Helena picked up Barbara’s left leg and began to work through the same set of stretches.

Sunday: 4:23pm: Clocktower training room

The rhythmic thwap of fists against the canvas of the heavy bag echoed inside Dinah’s already pounding skull. She sat on the bench by the wall and bent over to check the laces on her shoes. As the wave of nausea washed through her she cursed all alcohol in general, and bourbon and Coke in particular.

“Hung over, kid?” Helena didn’t look away from the bag she seemed to be trying to pound into another time zone. She’d already done the full yoga routine and a circuit with the weights in an attempt to push off the crawling skin restlessness she felt. So far, pounding the bag had been the only thing that managed to take the edge off.

Dinah massaged her scalp as her dangling hair hid the green tinge on her face. “Yes.”

“Not even going to bother to lie?” Helena glanced at Dinah out of the corner of her eye. She hit the bag in a one-two combination. “How much did you drink?”

“Two…three…two. Does it really matter?”

Helena snorted. She stopped punching the bag and caught its backward momentum in mid swing. “Let’s see, wearing my best black leather mini and the poet shirt with the top four buttons undone, I’m surprised you can stand up.” She wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her arm. “You ready to spar?”

“Spar?” Dinah croaked. Her stomach flipped over.

Helena crossed the distance to the bench. She squatted down in front of Dinah and waited for the girl to meet her gaze. “It’s what being a grown up is about. You do what you have to do because you have to do it.” She patted the young blonde on the knee. “I promise I’ll go easy on you.”

Dinah hauled herself up off the bench and crossed to the middle of the room’s open space. She took up a ready position across from Helena who promptly threw an easy jab.

“I said easy, not effortless,” Helena said, countering Dinah’s slow block with a punch from her other hand which scored a direct hit on the girl’s shoulder.

Dinah glowered at Helena. “This sucks.”

Helena’s laugh was full and from the belly. “Baby bird not ready to leave the nest yet?”

“And what about you?” Dinah said, circling around, anger making her bold. “Tell me about the woman you left the club with. Did you even get her name?” She saw Helena’s expression close down. Bingo! “Little too close to home, or not close enough maybe?” Helena growled as she swept Dinah’s legs out from under her. Dinah hit the mat with a loud thump. She thought seeing little stars was something that only happened in cartoons. Now she knew better.

Helena leaned over Dinah. “Remember when I said I’d go easy on you? I changed my mind.”

Dinah mentally slapped herself for pushing too hard. “Helena…”

“Get up and get ready, kid. I’m about to show you what it means to run with the big girls.”

Dinah pushed herself up off the mat with a groan and turned to face Helena.

Sunday: 5:19pm: Clocktower medical facility

Barbara set the butterfly closure over the cut above Dinah’s eyebrow. “You two aren’t supposed to kill each other in there. What the hell was going on?” She turned to look at Helena whose stare was firmly fixed on her trainers.

Helena felt Barbara’s steady, patient gaze and she knew the other woman would wait almost indefinitely for an answer. She couldn’t bring herself to meet Barbara’s eyes. “Is it my fault the kid doesn’t tell me she got a little touch of food poisoning last night?”

“Dinah?” Barbara turned back to the young blonde.

“Bad hotdog at the movie. I spent most of the night barfing. I’m just a little dehydrated.” Relief at the chance to plausibly lie did more for Dinah than an entire bottle of Pepto Bismol.

Barbara closed the first aid kit. She handed it to Dinah who stowed it back in the cabinet. “We need to make sure you get your electrolytes up. Don’t take too much at dinner tonight. Give your stomach a break, OK?” Dinah nodded. “Good,” Barbara said, patting her on the arm. “Showers please, in deference to Alfred’s cooking.” Barbara rolled out of the room leaving Helena and Dinah to each other.

“Thanks,” Dinah said quietly.

“For what, splitting open your eyebrow? No problem.” Helena didn’t give an inch. Her anger that Dinah would allude to something she’d seen inside her head during the occasional, accidental readings that happened as they sparred sat banked in Helena’s belly like a well tended fire. It was her embarrassment, though, that prevented her from meeting Dinah’s eyes. The pity she thought she’d find there was enough to drive the anger away, making her feel quite small.

“For covering for me. I…I was out of line earlier and you could have ratted me out to Barbara to get even. Thanks for…well, just thanks.” Dinah hurried out of the room.

Helena sighed and ran her fingers through her sweat soaked hair. Sometimes doing the right thing is such a pain in the ass. She flipped the light switch on her way out of the room.

Sunday: 9:46pm: Clocktower

“Do you think Alfred would marry me?” Helena said, tossing the magazine she’d been flipping through onto the coffee table.

Barbara smiled but didn’t turn away from the array of the Delphi’s flat-panel monitors. “Perhaps if you asked him nicely. Why the sudden urge to settle down?”

“I’m never going to learn to cook and I haven’t felt this satisfied by a meal since…” Helena trailed off, remembrance bringing a smile to her lips.

She’d been seventeen when she’s surprised Barbara with a homemade pizza picnic on the clocktower balcony. What had surprised both of them more than Helena’s attempt to cook was the fact that she’d turned out an edible meal. They’d eaten themselves full and still hadn’t finished the four pizzas that Helena had made. To make all four had seemed the thing she should do. The shells came four in a pack and she’d told Barbara as much.

“Something you’d care to share with the group?” Dinah asked, stepping over Helena’s outstretched legs to flop on the opposite end of the couch.

“No one under 17 admitted without parent,” Helena replied, bluffing and composing her expression as Barbara wheeled her chair about and moved to the end of the couch where Helena sat.

“Hey, I’m seventeen, and that’s without parent or guardian…hello?” Dinah gestured toward Barbara with the spoon she’d just pulled out of the pint of ice cream she held.

Helena stuck her finger in the pint, pulled it out, and licked the dollop of ice cream off. “Um…rocky road.” She grinned as Dinah opened her mouth to protest.

“Is your stomach feeling better, Dinah?” Barbara asked, fixing the teen with a steady gaze.

“Much,” Dinah said around a mouthful of ice cream. “Do you need me for sweeps tonight?” Her training had been fairly steady in the lull after Harley Quinn’s capture, and her skills with the telekinesis had improved significantly. “It’s pretty flat out there.”

“She could probably handle it,” Helena said, tapping the toes of her boots together where they rested on the coffee table.

Barbara shook her head. “Later in the week, if it’s still slow, and you’re feeling completely better. Homework?”

Dinah nodded. She stood, stepped over Helena’s legs, and headed for her room, pint of ice cream in hand. Barbara watched her until she heard the door to the girl’s room close. She turned her attention to Helena whose eyes flicked rapidly away as if she didn’t want to be caught staring. “A bad hotdog? Is that the best you two could come up with?”

“What?” Helena’s expression was as innocent as she was capable of making it. Barbara’s laugh was full and throaty, and it shot right to Helena’s core, turning her on like a light.

“The one thing you didn’t get from your mother was the ability to lie. I know hung over when I see it. I saw it on you enough times when you were that age,” Barbara said, smile still lighting her eyes. “Please tell me you at least kept her out of your closet as the price for your silence?”

“Hey, the hotdog thing was all her. I just opened the door, and no more borrowing my clothes was one of the terms of the deal, yes.” The look on Barbara’s face told Helena it was pointless to lie. “How did you know?”

Barbara patted her on the thigh, oblivious to the rise in body temperature and heart rate the touch of her hand caused even through the leather of the pants Helena wore. “I am Oracle, remember? All seeing, all knowing.” Barbara backed up and moved over to the Delphi. “There are a couple of discrepancies between the renovation plans filed with the permits office and what’s on file at the historical society for that old warehouse down on Maine Avenue. I’d like you to take a look tonight while things are slow.”

“Sure, no problem,” Helena said, standing and swinging on her duster. All seeing all knowing, my ass. If you knew you sure as hell wouldn’t be touching me like that. “I’m on it.” She moved toward the balcony doors.

“You can use the elevator, you know,” Barbara said, settling her glasses on the bridge of her nose.

Helena’s smile was full of teeth, slightly feral and dangerous. “Nah, not as much fun, and after all, if it’s not fun, why do it?” She pushed out the balcony doors, closing them behind her, and leapt off the edge into the night.

Barbara turned to the Delphi with a shake of her head as GPS tracked Helena’s descent and landing on a nearby roof.

< Show off.>

Helena grinned at Barbara’s first words into the comms channel. She could hear the smile lighting Barbara’s eyes. Barbara knew the uninterrupted descent from the Clocktower’s balcony was one of the things Helena enjoyed most about sweeps. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it, baby. Where am I going?”

< Baby? Are you sure you don’t have some of that food poisoning? I think it might be effecting your brain. >

“Positive.” A shiver coursed through her as Helena recalled the light touch of Barbara’s hand on her thigh. Some instinct told her too much banter was not a good idea tonight. “Where?”

< Fourth and Maine Avenue. The old Bond Bread Company warehouse. >

“Bond Bread, when were they active in New Gotham?” Helena leapt easily from roof to roof as she made her way across town.

< They weren’t. They were a pretty big employer in old Gotham. Over a thousand trucks a day distributing fresh baked bread, rolls, and pies all over the city. >

“Why, Oracle, are we flashing back to a childhood memory?” Helena teased.

< Hardly. They closed before I was born. >

After several blocks of silence Helena finally reopened the comms channel. “OK, I’m here, now what?” she asked, settling on a roof across the street from the darkened warehouse.

< Just go in and take a look around, get some video, and try to be subtle about it. We don’t know for sure that anything is going on. It could just be an architect being lazy. >

“Gotcha. Once I’m in I’ll let you know what I see.”

Sunday/Monday: 12:42am: Clocktower

Barbara heard the elevator doors slide open as she pulled her glasses off and massaged the bridge of her nose.

“See, I can use the elevator,” Helena said, dropping her duster across the back of a chair. She crossed to the Delphi and leaned on the edge of the table. Barbara’s expression was drawn, and she was paler than usual. Helena frowned. “Are you OK?”

“Just tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“I know what my excuse was. What’s yours?” she asked, crossing her arms.

“Let’s leave my sleepless nights out of this. You’ve got the video?” Barbara resettled her glasses on her face.

Helena handed over the DV cassette. “How long is that thing going to take to load?”

“At hi-res, over night at least,” Barbara replied, sliding the tape into the deck in the Delphi’s rack.

Helena watched as expert hands flew over the Delphi’s keyboard, opening the digitizing program and dumping the clip into the right project. A vision of those expert hands doing other things flashed across her brain. She blinked to clear the mental image.

“I’d like to make sure it’s running properly before I go to bed. You don’t have to stick around if you have something you’d rather be doing.” Barbara’s eyes were focused on the Delphi’s monitor, but her emotional radar was tuned for Helena’s response.

“Even I can only get into so much trouble at,” she leaned over into Barbara’s space to glance at the Delphi’s on-screen clock. “12:51am on Monday morning. Mind if I hang out and kill some brain cells with late-night TV? I’m a little too wired to sleep.”

Helena turned her head, noting rather belatedly how close this put her face to Barbara’s. She also noted the dilated pupils in the middle of Barbara’s emerald-green eyes and the slight blush that colored her cheeks. Helena could have sworn the blush deepened in the few seconds before Barbara responded.

“You’re always welcome here, you know that,” Barbara said, backing the chair away from the table, and away from Helena. “I’m not sure why you still keep your apartment. You’ve been spending most of your time here anyway, and most of your things are still here.”

Helena crossed to the couch. She sat down and pulled off her boots, setting them at the end of the couch out of the path Barbara would need to travel to get to her bedroom. “Ever the pragmatist. I like having my own space,” she said, picking the remote up and hitting the power button. Helena stared directly at the TV as she flicked rapidly through the channels. She could feel Barbara watching her. She stopped randomly to take in a few bits and pieces of shows finally settling on a channel with a movie starting on the hour. “Popcorn?”

“Only if you want some,” Barbara said, still watching Helena’s profile. Some instinct told her Helena’s behavior was off but she couldn’t identify exactly what wasn’t right. She knew better than to push, though. Helena in full avoidance mood was not a force to be tangled with lightly. Barbara would bide her time; waiting Helena out usually worked.

Helena grinned, eyebrows raised. “And I’m not hungry when?” She headed for the kitchen.

Monday: 7:10am: Clocktower kitchen

“Please tell me there’s coffee,” Helena said, shuffling into the kitchen as she scrubbed a hand over her face. “And please explain to me how one teenager can make so much noise in the morning.”

“There’s coffee,” Dinah said, taking a sip of orange juice while she used her tk abilities to butter an English muffin. “Maybe you ought to dial down the super-hearing before you go to bed. Ear plugs work, from what I’ve been told.”

“Should you be doing that?” Helena slid into a seat at the table across from Dinah. She took a sip from the steaming mug she cupped between her hands.

“Barbara says it’ll help me develop finer control. More control makes the abilities more useful in a fight.” She used the tk to put down the knife gently even as she picked the buttered muffin out of the air with her hand.

“Better make it to-go, Dinah. It’s late,” Barbara said from the kitchen’s doorway. “Helena, can you keep an eye on that digitizing job we started last night? It’s taking longer than I thought it would.” Barbara backed away from the kitchen after getting Helena’s grunting acknowledgement of the task. She moved toward the elevator to the garage.

Dinah gathered up the pile of books from the table with the hand not holding the muffin. She leaned over as she passed Helena who’d balanced her head on one fist as she steadily drained the coffee mug she held in her other hand. “I want it duly noted that all the clothes I’m wearing are my own.” Dinah grinned in the face of Helena’s glare. The spring in her step as she left the kitchen only irritated Helena more.

Monday: 11:18am: Clocktower

Helena clicked the TV off and tossed the remote on the table with a grunt of disgust. I thought nothing was worse than late night programming. Now I know better. She wandered over to the Delphi to check the digitizing job. The program showed steady, if slow, progress through the thermal scan portion of the DV tape which was the last pass that Helena had shot in the old warehouse.

She wandered back over to the couch and considered the reading material on the coffee table. Mostly Dinah’s, she’d read through it all anyway since she’d gotten up. What a way to spend the day, babysitting a computer. Her eyes swept the room, lighting on the stereo. She crossed to the component stack, ran nimble fingers down the series of power buttons, and opened the CD player’s tray. One, unmarked CD sat in tray slot number one. OK, surprise me. She hit play, rotating the tray around. “Possession” echoed out of the speakers.

Helena frowned and hit skip. She’d been mired deep in the realization that she was in love with Barbara the year after ‘Fumbling Toward Ecstasy’ had been released. Knowing nothing of the music but feeling the title somehow fit, Helena had applied a five-finger discount, brought the CD home, and discovered to her shock that someone had managed to capture the inner turmoil she spent most of her energy making sure no one could see. The CD sat in her portable player for months, so many, in fact, that by the time she’d finally accepted her feelings every track had a skip in it somewhere. It would be years before she could bear to hear anything from it on the jukebox at the bar.

The player cycled to the next song and the four/four thump of the bass drum pounded out of the speakers.

If being in love means waiting around so you can dance with me I am

Helena smiled and turned up the volume. She dropped onto the couch, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. Thursdays at the Dark Horse meant blues night. When whatever band had been hired for the week went on break this song invariably came up on the jukebox. Prince’s lyrics and Jonny Lang’s searing guitar and the dirtiest voice this side of Howlin’ Wolf conjured up a regular fantasy of green eyes smoky with desire in the dark. Helena smiled at the familiar mental image, one she allowed herself on nights when the edge on her hunger was too sharp to share with another human being.

I’d sleep outside your window if that would make you see

that I’m the only one for you and you’re the only one for me.

The song faded out, replaced by the bouncy first bars of Stephen Stills “Dark Star.” Helena listened, eyes closed as that song played through and was replaced by another love song. Etta James…damn what a voice. Helena grinned as the song played through only to be replaced by another love song, and another, and another weaving a tapestry of love and lust behind her eyes until the CD played itself out. As silence settled over the clocktower Helena opened her eyes. She crossed back over to the stereo. She punched the menu button and scanned for a title. Blank. She punched down in to the menu on more layer looking for the disc author information. DELPHI displayed in block letters. No way. That can’t be right.

Beeps from the Delphi itself pulled her attention away from the stereo. She was pulling the tape out of the machine and saving the final digitized clip when Dinah walked out of the elevator.

“Tell me you didn’t break it?” she teased. Helena’s discomfort with the Delphi was matched only by her lack of skill in the kitchen.

“No such luck, which means sweeps for us the rest of the week. What are you doing home so early?”

“Parent teacher conferences today. Kinda pointless when the only thing vaguely resembling a parent in my life is already at school, right?” Dinah’s eyes were sad despite her matter of fact tone.

“Right,” Helena replied. Dinah’s grief and anger so much resembled her own grief which had been resurrected on discovering the identity of her mother’s killer it sometimes made her a bit scared for the girl. She leaned back against the Delphi’s table and nodded in the direction of the stereo. “Nice CD. Wide choices of music. Your taste is improving.”

“How many times do I have to tell you, I only bought that Backstreet Boys CD because the video was so cool,” Dinah said, crossing to the stereo. She punched for the CD player’s tray, and looked at the disc after it cycled around. “I’d say thanks but it’s not mine.” She pushed the tray back in with a slight trickle of tk energy. “I’m gonna hit the training room. You want to join?”

Helena nodded. “Give me a few and I’ll kick your butt again.”

“It’s not my butt I’m worried about.” Dinah went to her room, shutting the door behind her.

Helena moved back to the stereo. She put the CD in the blue jewel case that sat empty on top of the amp. Tapping the case on her thumb after she’d powered down the equipment, her mind whirled around the possibilities. She took the CD with her into her room and shut the door.

Monday/Tuesday: 1:11am: Quik Mart

“You know, with the economy the way it is I’m surprised we don’t have more crime,” Helena said, backhanding the armed robber into the glass doors of the soda case. “After all, fewer jobs, people have to do something for money.”

The guy, 6’2″ and 215 lbs if he was an ounce, bounced once on the glass doors and landed on his butt with a thump, unconscious. Behind the convenience store’s counter the half-liter of Dr. Pepper slid out of the teenage clerk’s suddenly nerveless fingers.

Helena looked around for some clothesline or rope. “Kite string?” she said, holding up the ball in disgust. “Please, this wouldn’t hold my grandmother.” She tossed the ball of string over her shoulder and pulled a couple of extension cords off a display of household fix-it items. A few interesting knots later and the man was bound at the ankles and wrists. Helena stalked over to the counter. She cocked her head at the sounds of distant sirens. “Called the cops already?” she asked with a smirk. The clerk just blinked at her as the pool of Dr. Pepper fizzed and dripped off the edge of the counter onto his shoes.

< Did you think you’d get to have all the fun? >

“I never get to have all the fun,” she replied to the voice in her ear.

“I know you,” the clerk said, drawing Helena’s attention back to him. “You’re that vigilante. You, like, save people all the time but nobody knows who you are.”

< Huntress, get out of there now. >

Helena winked at him. She levered herself onto the counter and reached up into the overhead bin. After a bit of feeling around she found what she was looking for. She pulled the cassette out of the machine, shoved it into the pocket of her duster, and hopped down. “Yeah, and I’d like to keep it that way.” She turned and bolted out the store’s entrance, went up the fire escape on the building across the street, and made her way from roof to roof. She didn’t stop until she’d put at least ten blocks between her and a crime scene rapidly filling up with New Gotham PD’s uniformed finest.

“OK, that was a nice little appetizer,” Helena said, leaning against the service entrance door to an elevator shaft vent. She could feel the excitement flushing her cheeks. “What’s next?”

< Unfortunately, I think it was the main course. There’s just nothing out there. It looks like the entire force is responding to that armed robbery. >

Helena shook her head. The rush of adrenaline from banging heads was the flip side of sex for her, just as good and lasted no where near long enough. “Donut shops must be all out of merchandise. I’m calling it a night then. Some really bad sci-fi movie is calling my name, I can feel it.”

< Are you sure that’s all you can feel, Huntress? Your heart rate’s pretty high. >

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m coming in,” she said breathing through the rush of adrenaline tinged with lust. She whistled softly as made her way back to the clocktower.

Across town the melody coming softly over the open comms channel brought a smile to Barbara’s lips even as her photographic memory associated it with a name and performer. Midnight at the Oasis? Barbara turned and looked at the stereo component stack.

Monday/Tuesday: 2:49am: Clocktower, Barbara’s bedroom

Barbara turned over with a sigh. She lifted herself up on one elbow, punched an indentation into the pillow and dropped back down onto the mattress. If she strained she could just barely make out the low murmur of dialogue from the movie Helena was watching in the main room. She rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling through the darkness.

Helena had reappeared in the clocktower rippling with more barely suppressed sexual energy than usual, frustration, Barbara supposed, borne of boredom and a distinct dearth of asses to kick on the streets. Whatever the cause, with Dinah firmly ensconced in her room cramming for some exam and not available to provide even a small buffer, it was more than Barbara could bear so she’d excused herself from the evening’s brain cell massacre.

Barbara sighed again and was about to roll over onto her other side when she heard a soft knock at her door. “Come in.”

The door opened slowly, just enough to let Helena duck her head in the room. “Is this too loud? I don’t want to keep you up.”

“No, it’s not too loud. How did you know I was awake?” Barbara asked, refolding the sheet and blanket into a neater line and tucking them around her.

Helena pushed the door open a little further and leaned against the door jamb. “I can hear you tossing and turning in here.” She regarded Barbara solemnly through the dim light for a few seconds, crossed to the edge of the bed and perched next to the line Barbara’s hip made under the bedding. Helena reached out with a hand she hoped wasn’t obviously trembling and brushed the hair off Barbara’s forehead. “You want me to make you some tea or something?”

Barbara’s eyes widened in surprise at the unexpected tenderness. Helena’s grin was slow, and soft. “Hey, even a culinary klutz like me can boil water in the microwave. There’s a little button right on the damn thing that says boil water.”

The thought that she ought to find something to say popped into Barbara’s head as Helena’s fingers stopped stroking through her bangs and dropped down to her forearm where it lay on top of the blankets. The warmth of Helena’s hand distracted Barbara more than she would have liked. “Thanks, but I’m fine. I just need to get comfortable.”

Helena nodded. Her fingers moved lightly over Barbara’s arm as she relished the feel of fine hairs over soft skin. “I’ll turn it down a notch though.” She stood and crossed to the door. “Yell if you need anything, OK?”

Barbara nodded, knowing that even in the dim room Helena would be able to see the motion. She finally let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding as the door’s latch clicked home.

In the main room, Helena dropped onto the couch. She picked the up the remote, thumbed the volume down a couple of notches, and mentally turned up own hearing abilities to compensate. She dropped the remote on the couch next to her and stared at the TV, concentrating more on the sounds coming from Barbara’s room than the images flickering on the screen in front of her. Half an hour later when she heard Barbara’s breathing settle into the even rhythm that meant sleep, she punched the TV off and went to her own bedroom to try and get some rest, knowing even as she shut the door that she was in for a night of staring at the ceiling as thoughts of the woman asleep on the other side of the building whirled around her brain.

Tuesday: 7:17am: Clocktower kitchen

Barbara filled her travel mug from the last of the pot sitting in the coffee maker. She felt a stab of guilt caught between knowing that Helena was useless in the mornings without a big jolt of caffeine and the fact that she was already running late for school because she’d over slept.

She was pushing the faucet on fill up the pot when Dinah appeared in the kitchen door. “You don’t have to do that. She’s been up and out for about an hour. I heard her go this morning while I was in the shower.”

Barbara frowned. “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” Dinah said, nodding. “And I can’t be late, I’ve got an quiz first period today, so get a move on, would you?” The girl grinned. She turned and moved toward the elevator to the garage. Barbara shut off the water and set the coffee pot on the counter. She filed away the unusual fact of Helena’s early rising for later consideration and followed Dinah into the waiting elevator.

Tuesday: 3:46pm: No Man’s Land

Helena settled herself on a stool at the bar and surveyed the crowd. No Man’s Land was always open, and always hosted a healthy bunch of customers no matter what time of the day or night it was in the outside world. Meta-humans tended to live around the fringes of society so their amusements tended to take place around the clock as well.

“Why Helena, so nice of you to join us after only 11 days, 19 hours, and 36 minutes,” Gibson said dropping a coaster on the already gleaming bar in front of where Helena rested her elbows. “To what do I owe the most definite pleasure of your company today?”

Gibson’s light banter and full grin was infectious “A meta-girl can’t just want some peace and quiet?” she asked, smile spreading across her lips.

“Ah, but you are no ordinary meta-girl, now are you?” Gibson wiggled his eyebrows. Flirting with Helena was almost a reflex for him by now even though the result was usually less than zero progress in his light-hearted quest for her affections.

Helena leaned in and motioned for Gibson to do the same. “You know, secret identities only stay secret if they stay secret.” Her eyes flared yellow for an instant before she leaned back from the bar.

Gibson swallowed hard, his uncertainty about Helena’s mood painted clearly on his expression. Helena shook her head and grinned. “Relax, would you? I only bite when asked nicely.”

“Oh, I very much doubt that. What I can do for you today, my sweet?” he asked, relief washing through him.

“I need a favor.” She picked up the coaster and walked it knuckle to knuckle over the backs of her fingers. “Not really a favor since I’m willing to make it more than worth it.” She balanced the coaster on its edge and gave it a twist. Gibson’s eyes were drawn to the spinning cardboard disc which he watched for several seconds before clamping his hand over it. His eyes flicked back to Helena’s face.


Helena shook her head.

“You can’t need money if you’re making it worth my while,” he said, eyes narrowing. “You’ve got all the sanctuary you need.” He shook his head. “What, then, can a humble barkeep offer you?”

Helena inclined her head in the direction of the other end of the room where the jukebox rested against the wall. “K12…I need to at least borrow it.”

Gibson smiled softly. There it is. “You know, it’s been 27 days, 14 hours, 43 minutes, and 19 seconds since the last time you played that song. What, it’s my thing?” he said, responding to Helena’s laugh.

“I did not know it had been that long, Gibson. I really did not know that,” Helena said, her expression settling into serious lines. “So, are you going to lend it to me or what?”

“It’s a rare bootleg, you know. Took me years to find it. I’ll spare you how many exactly.”

“Gibson?” Helena’s eyes never left his face.

“On one condition,” he said, reaching under the bar and taking the key for the jukebox off a hook. “Promise me that whoever the lucky woman is you’re really sure. You can’t waste a song like that on just anyone.” He came around the bar and stopped next to Helena’s stool. “Promise me,” he met and held Helena’s gaze.

Helena put her hand on Gibson’s forearm. “I promise you. I’m sure.” Gibson nodded and crossed the room to the jukebox. He put the key in the side, opened the machine, and hit the stop button on the CD player inside which got him a chorus of groans from the assembled customers. He waved a hand in acknowledgement as he rotated the storage trays around so he could pluck out the appropriate CD.

Once he had the CD that responded to a request for song K12 in hand he hit play, and relocked the side of the cabinet. The jukebox started up with a roar as he crossed back to Helena. Gibson gingerly handed the disc to her. “No charge, but don’t ever tell anyone or my reputation would be ruined.”

Helena pulled a portable player out of her interior jacket pocket, snapping the lid open. She popped the CD onto the nub, thumbed the lid closed, and slid the player back into its resting place. Helena leaned in and kissed Gibson on the cheek. “Thank you, and don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.” She hopped off the stool and strode over to the waiting elevator.

Gibson put his hand on his cheek and turned to look at her as she closed the gate and started the lift upward. He didn’t look away until she’d completely disappeared from sight. “Who ever she is, she’s one lucky woman,” he thought.

Wednesday/Thursday: 12:11am: Bond Bread Warehouse

“You know, I never thought I’d be wishing for a jewelry store robbery or some punk kid with a ski mask and a water gun getting all uptight at a convenience store but damn if that wouldn’t break up the monotony right now,” Helena said.

< I thought cats were supposed to be patient hunters. >

Helena snorted and shook her head. “That would require the presence of some prey.” She tossed a pebble at Dinah who’d taken up a position on the other corner of the roof.

Dinah glared at her as the pebble bounced off the arm of her coat. “Hey, new leathers here.”

< Is there anything going on at the warehouse? >

“Not a thing, Oracle,” Dinah replied, sticking her tongue out at Helena. “Want us to go in and take a look?” Both women could hear the soft sound of typing through the comms channel.

< Negative. I want you to watch it for a little while longer, though. They got a couple of late-night deliveries Tuesday that looked a little suspicious. >

“No problem,” Helena said, crossing to where Dinah sat on the roof. “We’re on silence until then.” Helena settled herself next to Dinah and leaned back against the wall as she maintained an easy surveillance of the warehouse’s delivery entrance. “Turned those things off yet?” she asked, gesturing to Dinah’s comms set.

Dinah nodded, watching Helena as she stared at the warehouse. Helena had been quiet the past couple of days and while not getting called “kid” every five minutes was something of a relief this wasn’t the brooding, dark-hero kind of quiet to which Dinah had grown accustomed. As much as she tried to deny it, what Helena thought of her mattered to Dinah. “Listen,” Dinah said, clearing her throat. “I hope you’re not still pissed at me about Sunday. It was a dumb thing to do, and I’m sorry.”

“Coming home hung over? Yeah, that was pretty dumb but live and learn.” Helena’s eyes didn’t leave the warehouse.

Dinah rolled her eyes, and sighed. “No, I mean me needling you about something that should be a private thought. What goes on in your head is no one’s business but yours.”

“I know what you meant, kid.” Helena flicked her eyes over to Dinah’s face. The curve of Helena’s soft smile seemed so sad that Dinah was nearly overwhelmed by an impulse to wrap Helena in her arms.

“Can I get you to make yourself scarce on Friday night? Stay over at Gabby’s or something?” Helena asked. She took in Dinah’s wide-eyed expression and pushed through her own rising anxiety. “I’ve got something I need to do that I don’t really want an audience for.” The sad smile extended itself to Helena’s dark blue eyes which were fixed on Dinah’s face.

Dinah nodded. Helena’s steady gaze was enough stop Dinah from asking the question that wanted to roll off the end of her tongue. Are you finally going to tell her? “Sure,” she said aloud. “Any particular time you want me to come back, or not come back?”

Helena shook her head. “Any time Saturday should be fine. Just try not to come home hung over, OK?” The rumbling of a truck on the street caught her ear and she glanced down the block. Her hand went to her ear, reactivating the transceiver in the earring. “Oracle, we’ve got company. Six wheel delivery truck, white body, blue cab, no markings. Coming from the south.”

< I’ll see if I can grab a camera from the bank down the block, maybe get a plate number. >

The sound of fingers hitting keys carried over the comms channel as Dinah and Helena watched the big truck stop at the chain link gate outside the warehouse. A few seconds later the gate rolled open and the truck moved into the warehouse’s loading dock area.

< Got it. Running the plate now. >

The driver backed slowly up to the loading dock and cut the engine. He hopped out, clipboard in hand. He stopped in front of a service door, punched a code into a keypad next to the door, and pushed through.

“Oracle, do we go in or not?” Helena asked, her voice low, her body thrumming with the potential to deal out some choice ass kicking.

< No. The company the truck’s registered to seems to check out as legit. I need to do some more digging. Stick around for a while. Let’s see if we can figure out what they’re off loading so late at night. >

Fuck. “A sit and stare job, my favorite kind,” Helena’s reply fairly dripped with sarcasm. Barbara’s responding chuckle would have pissed her off if it hadn’t brought to mind a picture of the woman making the noise, mouth and eyes colored with joy. Helena swallowed hard as the silky voice on the other end of the comms channel replied.

< You asked for prey, didn’t you? >

Wednesday/Thursday: 2:14am: Clocktower

Dinah stifled a yawn against the back of her hand as the elevator doors slid open. Barbara sat in front of the Delphi clicking through articles with one hand while the other held a cup of tea.

“Did Helena come up the balcony?” she asked, turning to look at the yawning teenager.

Dinah shook her head, crossing to where Barbara sat. “She said she was going to spend the night at her place.” She yawned again. “I never thought just sitting and watching could make me so tired.” Dinah noted the frown creasing her face and laid her hand on Barbara’s shoulder. “Are you…” Dinah trailed off as the images overwhelmed her.

The few times she’d accidentally read Barbara while she was learning to control her abilities Dinah had seen a lot of what she thought of as “public memories,” gymnastics tournaments, a graduation ceremony, Commissioner Gordon’s retirement party. All things someone reading the paper could have learned about. It was the difference between her two friends and mentors. Where Helena was a ball of raw, unguarded emotion underneath her public face, Barbara’s mind was very carefully controlled and organized with layers upon layers of protective coloration.

This time what the brief contact gave Dinah was a quick peek at the most private of Barbara’s thoughts and feelings, probably exposed because of the combination of fatigue and her concern over Helena’s absence from the clocktower. Dinah lifted her hand away as if she’d been burned. The feelings of want, of loneliness, of desire for what and who she could never permit herself to even ask for flushed through Dinah. “I’m sorry…” Dinah wasn’t sure if she meant it because she’d invaded Barbara’s privacy or if she meant it because of what she’d seen and felt in the brief contact.

“Dinah?” Barbara regarded her steadily. “What did you see?”

“I…nothing, really.” Dinah’s cheeks colored. Barbara reached for her hand. Dinah stepped back.


Dinah held up her hands, as if asking for mercy. She turned and ran to her room, shutting the door firmly behind her. Barbara drew in a deep breath. Way to go, Barbara. Traumatize another one. She powered down the Delphi for the night, determined not to let what had just happened fester into something that turned into the big pink elephant in the living room.

She stared at Dinah’s closed bedroom door for a full five minutes before she backed away, and headed into her own bedroom, shutting the door behind her.

As she heard the motor-whine of Barbara’s chair recede Dinah breathed out heavily on the other side of her closed door. Her skin still tingled with the fantasized feeling of Helena’s hands on her back, Helena’s lips on her neck, Helena’s strong fingers inside her. Dinah decided she was about to find out if cold showers really worked.

Thursday: 2:17pm: After last bell: New Gotham High

Barbara worked her way through the pop-quizzes from each of the seven periods she’d taught that day. The spelling on most of them was atrocious, and the penmanship little better. “So much for computers improving our lives,” she thought, taking off two points for the spelling errors and marking the last of first period’s tests with an 78 percent.

“Hey,” Dinah said softly from the doorway not quite crossing the threshold into the classroom.

“Hey yourself,” Barbara said, looking up from the stack of papers. “Come in and close the door.”

Dinah stepped into the room and shut the door behind her. She crossed to the chair that sat beside the desk and perched on the edge, books clutched in front of her like a shield. Her eyes looked everywhere except at Barbara’s face. She’d taken the bus to school that morning so she could avoid the discussion she knew was coming.

“Dinah, look at me,” Barbara said, her voice soft. When Dinah’s eyes finally met hers Barbara smiled. “You don’t have to tell me what you saw, but I’d certainly appreciate knowing. If you want to talk about it, whatever it was, I’m willing to do that with you.”

“I’m really sorry, Barbara. My control’s not great when I’m that tired. I should have known better.” Dinah tucked some errant strands of hair behind her ear.

“It’s OK, really.” Barbara’s expression was open and without a hint of judgment. “Do you want to tell me what you saw?”

Dinah snorted out a small laugh. “Not particularly, but if you want me to, I will.”

“I’m guessing it probably had to do with my feelings for Helena.” Barbara acknowledged Dinah’s quick nod with a tilt of her own head. “You do understand that whatever you saw has to stay between us?”

“Absolutely. In fact, I was kind of hoping I could forget it and everything could stay just with you.” Dinah’s smile was thin and tight. “There are some things you just don’t need to know about your friends.”

Barbara blushed as Dinah’s eyes slid away from her face. Helena’s concern over her lack of sleep had been uppermost in Barbara’s mind just before Dinah’s return to the clocktower. Barbara had been examining Helena’s words and movements for any hint of her motivation, the need to understand being used as an excuse to hope so she had a pretty good idea what Dinah might have seen on her accidental tour. Barbara had worked her way down to mortification in the list of names she knew for the feeling that was forming a solid lump in her throat even as she wished she could just will herself invisible when Dinah spoke.

“I’m not going to interfere. What you think, and feel, it’s your business. Of course, if the superhero thing doesn’t work out for me I could one-up Miss Cleo and be the psychic matchmaker.” Dinah grinned, hoping a little humor would take the edge off the atmosphere in the room. “Yeah, OK, bad joke,” she said quickly in response to Barbara’s serious look. “I hope you know that I love you, both of you. You’re my family now,” Dinah said, swallowing hard. “I want you both to be happy.” She put her books down on the desk, stood, leaned over, and hugged a very surprised Barbara.

“No hacking the database, I swear,” Dinah said in response to the question plainly written on Barbara’s face. “Are we OK?”

Barbara smiled softly. “Given what you pulled out of my head last night, I should be asking you that question, but yes, as far as I’m concerned we’re OK.” She could see the relief wash through Dinah as the girl’s posture relaxed.

“Good. I’m gonna go to the library, brush up on my trivia. I got invited to Gabby’s for a Trivial Pursuit until we drop party tomorrow night and thought I’d stay over if that’s OK.”

“No coming home hung over,” Barbara said, lips turned a wry grin.

Dinah’s eyes widened. “What did Helena tell you?”

“Not a thing. Honestly. Hi…all seeing, all knowing, remember?” Barbara’s small grin turned into a full smile.

Dinah nodded, unsure if she’d just blown her own cover nor not. “So…I’ll be home in time for dinner,” she said, picking up her books off the desk. “You want the door open or shut?”

“Open’s fine,” Barbara replied, marveling again at the teenager’s resilience, strength, and quietly growing maturity. She watched Dinah out into the hall as she mulled over the girl’s words. I want you both to be happy…what the hell does that mean?

Thursday: 4:04pm: Common Grounds coffee house

Helena watched the foam slosh up its sides as she rotated the oversized cup around on the saucer tapping the ring on her forefinger on the handle as it went around. She didn’t even have to look up to know that her companion had found the correct coffee house.

“Is this seat taken,” Alfred asked, cultured tones giving each syllable just the right inflection to sound utterly civilized.

Helena smiled and looked up. “Actually, I’m waiting for a friend but you’ll do for now.

Alfred’s mouth hardened into a thin line, the only sign that he found Helena less than amusing. He took off his hat, set it on the table, pulled out the chair and sat. He regarded Helena patiently, knowing full well that she’d get to whatever was at hand in her own good time and no sooner for him pushing her.

The waitress appeared at the side of their table. “Earl gray, if you have it, if not, coffee black, and a slice of pound cake, please,” he said. She nodded, the scribbles on her notepad illegible to Alfred’s eye. “Another for you?” she asked Helena, pointing to the cup with end of her pen. Helena shook her head.

Helena stared off into the space behind and to Alfred’s left, not really seeing the rest of the patrons in the coffee house. The waitress brought Alfred’s mug of tea and his pound cake. He broke off a corner and pushed the plate so it sat equidistant between them. Helena broke off the opposite corner and popped it in her mouth. The cake was light with a slight lemony aftertaste. “‘s good,” Helena said around the bite of cake.

“Indeed,” Alfred replied, sipping from his mug of tea. “Is there something I can do for you, Miss Helena?”

Helena licked her lips. “I’d say teach me to cook but in the time I’ve got even you can’t perform that miracle.”

“I dare say I probably would not be up to the task even if I had the rest of my life.” The image of the clocktower’s kitchen after Helena’s first attempt at a birthday cake flashed through Alfred’s mind. He still hadn’t figured out how she’d gotten batter on the ceiling.

“Tomorrow night…can you make a really nice dinner for two to go with this?” Helena pulled a bottle of red wine out of the shopping bag which sat by her chair and placed it on the table next to the pound cake. It was only long years of keeping his cards very close to his vest that kept Alfred from sputtering through the sip of tea he’d just taken.

“You do realize that this is a $250 bottle of wine. It doesn’t go with pizza or burgers,” he said, putting down his mug.

Helena nodded. “I figured that out, yeah. That’s why I’m giving you 24 hours notice to come up with something that does it justice. You can do it, right?” Her expression was a mixture of hope and challenge.

“Of course. I do have some resources and experience. I assume you won’t be requiring my presence for the service and clean up?” he asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Nope, just set everything up and I’ll take care of the rest,” Helena stood and lifted the shopping bag onto the table. “Do I have to tell you that elegant is a priority?”

“Indeed, you do not Miss Helena.” Alfred regarded the shopping bag with some curiosity.

Helena smiled. “I got three bottles. Take good care of them until tomorrow.” She dropped a $10 on the table to cover her coffee and Alfred’s afternoon tea. “And thanks.” She squeezed his shoulder on the way by and headed out of the coffee house and onto the street.

“My, my,” he thought. “Elegant, is not the word I would have chosen but we will do our best.”

Thursday: 7:49pm: Clocktower balcony

Helena sat on the ledge watching the evening sky color toward night. A couple of good hours in the training room had taken the edge off her anxiety but hadn’t quieted the workings of her mind. Black Canary’s murder and the discovery of the identity of her own mother’s killer had given Helena a reminder of the value of time. Time wasted, time lost, time counted on that might never arrive.

She’d arranged almost everything. Everything except the one crucial element, which was going to be the most delicate to maneuver. Whatever calm she felt quickly dissipated as Barbara rolled out onto the balcony. Helena continued to scan the skyline as Barbara stopped next to her.

“I thought you were working tonight,” Barbara said, watching Helena’s profile.

“I’m not on until nine. Just enough time to shower and grab something quick to eat,” she replied. “Isn’t that beautiful?” Helena gestured to a cloud washed with orange and gold light.

Barbara followed the line of her arm to where Helena pointed at a quite beautiful image in the sky, then she followed it back to the woman herself. “Yes, very.” She was quiet as she gave herself the gift of an unguarded look at Helena. Even in track pants and a tank top, hair mussed from her workout Barbara couldn’t help but find her exquisite. The love she felt for Helena brought an involuntary smile to her face despite the sadness she felt welling up inside her. “Thank you,” she said softly.

“For what?” Helena asked, finally turning to look at Barbara. The moss green v-neck sweater she wore showed off her coloring, and the evening sun burnished her hair an even darker red. The intensity of her expression caught Helena by surprise.

“Coming to check on me the other night. I appreciate it.” Barbara dropped her gaze to her hands. Something about the look in Helena’s eyes made her feel as if her thoughts were as visible to Helena as they had been to Dinah.

Helena slipped her hand into Barbara’s. “We’ve been taking care of each other a long time, Red. It’s what we do, remember?” She rubbed her thumb over Barbara’s knuckles enjoying the feeling of Barbara’s skin and the corresponding change in the older woman’s breathing. She squeezed Barbara’s hand and let go. “You want to pay me back?” she asked, mischievous grin on her mouth. She sipped from the bottle of water that had been sitting on the ledge next to her.

“Does it involve mini-golf or large quantities of really sweet liquor with obscene names?” Barbara teased, deflecting some of her feelings into humor. The simple touch of Helena’s hand had started a chain reaction of arousal in her body, just has it had done earlier in the week in her bedroom.

Helena shook her head. “Play hooky with me tomorrow night. We’ll stay in, have dinner, and pretend to be normal people who don’t go out roaming the streets at night as vigilante crime fighters. I’ll even let you pick the movie without too much complaining. What do you say?” And what am I going to do if she says no? Helena waited drawing on reserves of patience even she didn’t know she had, utterly sure that if she pushed too hard her carefully built house of cards would collapse.

“You know, that sounds really good,” Barbara said after a few moments’ thought. “Dinah’s staying over at Gabby’s tomorrow so we only have to order enough Chinese for the platoon instead of the whole army.”

Helena took another sip from the water bottle. “One of my regulars at the bar gave me a couple of really nice bottles of wine as a thank you. I was going to ask Alfred to dazzle us.”

“A thank you for what?” Barbara asked, voice thick with coming double entendre.

“I gave him some good advice about women. Kept him completely out of the doghouse,” Helena replied, purposely keeping her tone even. “I thought we could crack one of those babies open and go to town.”

“Do the tops screw off?” Barbara asked, amused skepticism threading through her tone of voice.

“I’m shocked, Barbara,” Helena said, hopping down from the ledge. “I’ll have you know that I am a professional bartender. I know good wine when I see it…OK, and when I research it on the internet to find out if it really is good wine.” She slugged down the rest of the water from the half-liter bottle. “So, it’s a date then?”

Barbara nodded. “Absolutely.”

“Great. I’ll tell Alfred dinner around 6:45pm.” Helena patted Barbara on the shoulder as she moved past her to the doors. “I’m gonna shower and then it’s off to work. Catch you later.” She pushed through the doors into the clocktower leaving Barbara alone with the final wisps of the fading day highlighting the edges of the clouds. Barbara sat thinking, rearranging bits of information in her mind until the last of the sun’s light was gone from the sky. When it was fully dark she went inside and took up her comfortable place in front of the Delphi.

Friday: 6:41pm: Clocktower

Dinah slung her bag over her shoulder as she headed out of her room. She frowned when she saw Barbara in front of the Delphi. She didn’t know exactly what Helena had planned but she was pretty sure it didn’t involve hours of Barbara buried up to her eyeballs in research.

“I’m gonna head out to Gabby’s unless you need anything,” she said, coming up beside Barbara. A glance at the screen told her Barbara was digging through some database of clippings about the development company that owned the Bond Bread warehouse.

Barbara shut down the Lexus-Nexus database window before she looked at Dinah. “Have a good time,” she said, reaching up and tucking a strand of hair behind Dinah’s ear. “Just remember, there are only four hockey answers in Trivial Pursuit.”

“I know, I know. Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Wayne Gretzski, and Mario Lemieux,” Dinah said with a grin. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Hope you win big, or at least stay up the longest.” Barbara turned back to the Delphi.

Dinah crossed over to the elevator where the doors were just sliding open. Her eyes widened as she caught sight of Helena stepping out of the elevator. Style was usually paramount to her; Helena’s closet was jammed with a wide variety of pieces, from ones that would have been completely slutty on anyone less naturally sexy to ones that were simple, elegant, and the building blocks of any good wardrobe.

Even though the outfit she’d chosen was simple, her favorite black boots, low-rider black-leather pants, and a long-sleeved, blue, silk shirt that matched the color of her eyes, something about her radiated even more raw sexual energy than usual. Helena stepped out of the elevator and stopped beside Dinah. “On your way out?”

Dinah nodded. “Yeah, gone for the night.” She paused wanting to say more but not sure if she should risk it. “Nice outfit. Classy,” she said finally.

“Thanks,” Helena replied, glancing over at Barbara who appeared to be absorbed in something on the Delphi. She looked back at Dinah. “And thanks.”

“No problem,” Dinah said, wanting to wish Helena luck, wanting to give her the edge of knowing what was already in Barbara’s head. She said nothing more but simply pushed for the elevator and the doors slid open immediately.

Helena didn’t move until she heard the door slide shut behind her and the elevator start down the shaft. She shucked her duster and laid it over the back of a chair as she crossed the room. “OK, time’s up, Barbara,” she said, coming to a stop beside Barbara’s chair. “Kill that thing so we can play hooky.”

“In a minute,” Barbara said, eyes scanning the information in front of her.

Helena stood quietly beside Barbara’s chair, literally not moving a muscle. The tactic quickly became too much for Barbara who finally turned to look at the waiting brunette.

Had she heard Dinah’s comment Barbara would have agreed with classy as an assessment of Helena’s outfit but another, more fitting adjective popped to the front of her mind as she took in the deliberately mussed spikes of Helena’s dark hair, her carefully understated makeup and jewelry, and the way she managed to hold herself casually but with an aura of danger. Sultry was the word that blazed in three-foot high letters across Barbara’s cortex even as her eyes stopped on and then flitted away from the full curve of Helena’s mouth.

“So, bottle of wine, and whatever mouthwatering thing Alfred has left for us?” Helena asked with a soft smile. Her meta-enhanced senses allowed Helena to note the slight rise in Barbara’s heart rate and change in her breathing, the flush of her skin, and even a slight change in her scent.

Barbara nodded, she hoped not too dumbly. “Sure…yes, right.” She closed down the program she’d been working with and powered down the monitoring programs she’d normally use in her work as Oracle leaving only the security system online.

Helena blinked against the subtle changes in Barbara’s body in the small space in time where Barbara’s attention was back on the Delphi. Desire. The woman in front of her smelled like desire. It was all Helena could do not lean down and move the gentle fall of Barbara’s hair aside to kiss the back of her neck. Helena backed up a couple of steps when Barbara was ready so she could turn and move into the kitchen first. She clenched and unclenched her hands, trying to rid herself of the impulse to push, to just blurt everything out like ripping a bandage off a wound quickly, so she wouldn’t have to face the torture of possible rejection.

Once inside the kitchen, Helena said a silent thank you for Alfred’s sense of style and grace. The kitchen table was decked out with a linen cloth, matching napkins, and the good china and crystal. Dinner waited for them already plated under silver warming covers. Barbara came to a stop in front of her place. Helena pulled the cover off Barbara’s plate. Alfred had outdone himself.

Medallions of filet mignion rested on top of basmati risotto with capers, curls of fresh parmesan, and broccoli rabe. Helena lifted the cover over her own plate away and put both of the big silver domes on the counter. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out the mixed field greens salads Alfred had left. She set those on the table and sat down opposite Barbara who had filled each of their glasses from the bottle of wine Alfred had opened and left to breathe.

“This is a really nice wine, like over $200 a bottle nice. What kind of advice did you give this guy?” Barbara said, putting the bottle down on the table.

“The kind that kept the woman he loves from leaving him,” Helena said, putting her napkin on her lap.

Barbara smiled. “Well, I’m glad you did. I love a really good red.”

And they always said I couldn’t concentrate in class. Helena smiled. “When I got it I could only think of one person who’d appreciate it.” She looked down at her plate, steeling herself for her next move. “It’s too damn quiet in here. I’m gonna put on some music.” She put her napkin on the table beside her plate.

Out in the main room she pulled the neon-blue case out of the pocket of her duster. Instead of one CD it held two, the unmarked one that belonged in it and one Helena had burned Wednesday while Barbara and Dinah were at school.

As Helena slipped the unmarked disc into the CD player’s first tray position and her CD into position two she could feel her heart beating rapidly. She took a deep breath to calm herself, blowing the air out steadily as she programmed the play order of the songs from disc number one. She’d already memorized them and decided to skip “She.” An arousing sentiment but a little too obvious for what she had planned. Annie Lennox first, then Miles Davis, Janet Jackson last. She worked her way through the disc, made sure the volume was appropriate, hit play, and went back to the kitchen.

Helena smiled as she sat down opposite Barbara who had waited for her to return before starting to eat. Barbara’s eyes narrowed as the first bars of “Why” spilled from the stereo’s speakers. “It smells great, yeah?” Helena asked, her eyes meeting Barbara’s.

“Yes, it does. I think we should have a toast,” she said holding up her glass. “To good advice.”

“To good friends,” Helena replied, clicking her glass with Barbara’s. She sipped from her glass. The wine was rich on her tongue, not overbearing. She blushed and dropped her eyes to her plate as a random musing about what the woman across from her would taste like shot across her brain. Helena put down her wine glass and sliced into the first of her three small filets.

Barbara watched her for several seconds, turning bits of information over in her mind to see how they fit together, before she started on her own meal.

Friday: 7:53pm: Gabby’s Room

Dinah tossed the die into the middle of the board and looked at her options. Entertainment or history. She moved her piece to the entertainment square even though she already had the pie slice for that category. “Hey Gabby?”

Gabby looked up from the card she was about to read. “Yeah?”

“Do you think it’s possible for two people to be really good friends and be in love with each other and not know it,” Dinah asked, her voice soft.

“Probably, yeah. Why?” Gabby replied, trying to keep her voice even.

Dinah picked the die up from the board and tossed it from one hand to the other, wishing she could use her tk. “I don’t know. It’s just…sometimes I wonder how two people who could spend so much time together could know so little about each other.”

“What two people would that be?” Gabby asked, the card in her hand forgotten.

Dinah shrugged. “Forget I said anything.” She dropped the die on the board. “So what’s my question?”

Gabby regarded her friend steadily for a bit before dropping her eyes to the card in her hand. “What was the name of the boat on Gilligan’s Island? And if you don’t get this I’m declaring myself the winner.” She grinned.

“Not a chance, little buddy. The S.S. Minnow.” Dinah smiled. She picked up the die and tossed it again.

Friday: 8:03pm: Clocktower

“So there I am with this totally shredded volleyball in my hand trying to explain to Coach Monahan that it was kill the volleyball or pummel Stacy Hillenbrand’s face in because she’d insulted you. I got detention for a week,” Helena said, dropping onto the couch.

They’d finished two of the three bottles of wine she’d bought. She should have been drunk. Instead all Helena felt was a slight buzz, and not all of it was from the wine. The pleasure of Barbara’s company without having to worry about the Delphi, without having to think about fighting crime, righting wrongs, or protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves was sweeter than anything she’d known in a long time, and Helena knew Barbara was more than a little relaxed. Her laughter had been fuller, and more frequent than Helena had heard it since Harley Quinn had invaded the clocktower. Her smile lighted both her eyes and lips, unrestrained. Helena saw a darkness, though, that still shadowed her expression in moments when Barbara thought she wasn’t being observed.

“Detention which you skipped, I might add,” Barbara said, coming to a stop beside the couch. Her eyes were steady on Helena’s face. “I never knew why you’d gotten in so much trouble.”

Helena’s eyes slid away from Barbara’s. “Yeah, well, I didn’t think you needed to know at the time.” The memory of too many dark, desperate nights she and Barbara had spent keeping each other away from the edges of their respective grieving popped up from the depths of Helena’s memory. She shook away the memory and flicked her eyes back to Barbara’s face only to find she was still under the bright light of Barbara’s unwavering gaze. “What? Did I get dinner on me somewhere?”

Barbara shook her head. Helena most certainly hadn’t gotten any of dinner on her clothes. Not only that, she’d been more charming than usual, less sarcastic, and more inquisitive, and more forthcoming than Barbara had ever seen. “Courting behavior. Get you to like me by giving you the chance to talk about yourself,” Barbara thought, taking in Helena’s relaxed slouch and silently admiring the lines of her body. Arousal tingled along Barbara’s skin standing the hair on her arms on end. Jesus, get a grip Barbara. She blinked, clearing her mind of the mental picture of Helena gently undressing her.

As the first notes of “That’s the Way Love Goes” whisked their way around the clocktower the last piece of the puzzle Barbara had been working on since they sat down to eat fell into place. “This is a nice CD,” she said, her voice calm. The look on Helena’s face told her all she needed to know. The sinking feeling in her stomach pushed against the prickly swelling of anxiety that heated the back of her neck.

Helena licked her suddenly very dry lips with a not very moist tongue. “I’d say thanks but it’s not mine.” Helena fidgeted in her seat. “It’s not Dinah’s either. I asked her.” She raised her eyes to Barbara’s. “I was hoping you could tell me something about it.” God, remember to breathe. She waited, hoping Barbara would fill the silence she’d left, take the opening she offered and not make her have to ask the questions directly.

Barbara swallowed hard against the anxiety that was working it’s way around her neck like a noose. “It’s mine, Helena, but you’ve figured that out already.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t figure it was Alfred’s. I mean, Etta James, maybe, but the rest of them? Not a chance,” she smiled softly. “They’re good choices. They create a certain mood.”

“And what mood would that be,” Barbara asked, grasping at the slim chance Helena could be deflected, half hoping she wouldn’t be. Barbara knew that chance was gone when Helena reached out and took her hand.

“It’s a love letter, Babs,” Helena replied, rubbing her thumb in circles in Barbara’s palm. “The only question is, whose name is on the envelope?”

Barbara took a deep breath. The touch of Helena’s skin on hers was electric, and the motion of her thumb like a power surge on an already overloaded line. “It was ‘She’ that gave it away, wasn’t it?” Her lips turned a wry grin. “I was never sure about Kiss but that one just seemed to fit.”

“Really? You think? ’cause I think I’ve got a pretty damn good idea how fantastic I look naked,” Helena teased, amusement coloring her voice. “You’ve probably got a pretty good idea too, given all the doctoring you’ve had to do over the years.”

That instant Barbara knew, as if she were meta and had been given the power of precognition, how the rest of the conversation was going to play out, how she would have to make it play out. She cleared her throat. “You know, sometimes, people feel things they aren’t always free to express. All those feelings have to go somewhere.”

“Why can’t you say them, Barbara? What’s stopping you?” Helena asked, tilting her head slightly. The anxiety she felt lift moments earlier returned with a vengeance, a steel plated, jack-booted, armed with a machine gun vengeance.

“Don’t you think our lives are complicated enough?” Barbara said, frustration borne from years of suppressing what she wanted threading her tone. The flush of anxiety she felt was replaced by one of anger.

“I happen to like complicated, in case you hadn’t noticed,” she said, surprised by the anger she saw washing Barbara’s expression.

“So your many, complicated liaisons would indicate,” Barbara pulled her hand out of Helena’s. She looked away, out the front of the clock toward the Gotham skyline. Helping the cops catch a serial burglar was no problem. Hacking the FBI database to find out if they were even aware of the existence of meta-humans was a snap. Bringing down a major crime syndicate was all in a night’s work. Making herself completely vulnerable to someone she knew she loved was about as easy for Barbara as getting up and walking across the room would be.

Helena watched Barbara carefully using all her enhanced senses. She could see in the regulation of her breathing the physical effort Barbara was making to control her emotions. “I decided a long time ago that a monk’s life wasn’t for me,” Helena said, her voice soft. “Even if I could never have exactly who I wanted, I’d at least have something, that little bit of human contact.”

She ignored the remote on the couch, stood, and crossed to the stereo. She killed the stored program from the first disc and turned back to Barbara, making sure she had Barbara’s attention before she spoke. “You’re right. People feel things they can’t always say. People being you. People being me.”

She turned back to the stereo, hit disc two to rotate the tray around, and hesitated only slightly, finger hovering over the PLAY button. She could feel Barbara’s eyes on her back. All or nothing, babe. All or nothing. Her finger pushed down the black rectangle.

Barbara recognized the song before the first few notes had died away into the expanse of the clocktower. She closed her eyes against the emotion which was clogging her chest and making it hard to breathe as the combined power of the singers’ voices and the lyrics washed over her.

I had a dream I was your hero

Damn I wish I was your lover

I’d rock you ’til the daylight comes

Make sure you were smiling and warm

Helena stayed facing the stereo, her back to Barbara, afraid to turn around and see the look on Barbara’s face as the song’s chorus poured out of the speakers. Her stomach twisted with the knowledge that hitting PLAY had meant she’d finally have to face the only thing she’d ever admitted to herself she feared, Barbara’s rejection. When she finally did turn to look their many years of friendship and her experience with Barbara’s moods told Helena the redhead was using all her self control to fight back tears.

For me there is no other

You’re the only shoe that fits

I can’t imagine I’ll grow out of it

Damn I wish I was your lover

Barbara felt the change in air pressure as Helena sat in front of her on the couch. She opened her eyes, hoping they weren’t obviously wet despite her desire to control her reaction. Helena’s expression was open, waiting for her response seemingly without apprehension.

“This…this is how I feel, Barbara.” Helena’s gaze was fixed on Barbara’s face, her head tilted slightly to one side, dark locks falling over azure eyes.

Barbara shook her head. “No.”

“Yes.” Helena reached up with soft fingers and caressed Barbara’s cheek. “I can’t remember when I didn’t love you, when I didn’t want you.” It took all her restraint not to lean in and capture Barbara’s lips with hers.

The softness, the gentleness of the touch of Helena’s fingers against her skin came as no surprise to Barbara. For all her skill in the arts of combat, Helena’s exterior toughness protected a romantic soul that had depths of tenderness which consistently surprised Barbara even after so many years. She felt Helena’s fingers slip into her hair as Helena’s thumb stroked the plain of her cheek. Barbara wanted to lean into that hand, to expand the slight contact into something more. Expand it into Helena’s body pressed against hers, naked and warm. Instead she pulled away and shook her head again.

“And I love you, but loving me and wanting…,” Barbara paused, unaccustomed to not being able to find the right word. “Wanting this are two very different things. Life isn’t always as simple as we’d like it to be. There are more complications than you realize.”

A smiled curved Helena’s full lips. “I’ve had a crush on you since I was 12.”

“Hero worship,” Barbara said, allowing herself a half smile.

“A little, maybe. You were so graceful, so smart, and even if you didn’t always agree, my mother respected you. But it was more than that.” Helena dropped her hand to Barbara’s knee, fingers light even though she knew Barbara couldn’t feel her touch. “I was 14 when I had my first orgasm. I lay there, in the dark, imagining you, red curtain of hair falling like silk over your shoulder and tickling my skin as you leaned over me. In my mind it was your hand between my legs not my own, your lips on mine demanding, teasing, and promising, and it felt good. It felt right, Barbara.”

Barbara felt the blush warm her cheeks. She looked away, unable to meet Helena’s eyes, afraid that she might give in and admit that what she’d wanted for so long was not only within her grasp but sitting in the palm of her hand waiting for her to close her fingers and take it. As the stereo continued to pump out the two women’s voices, Barbara steeled herself to make the only choice she felt she could. When she finally met Helena’s eyes again the gaze she saw there was so full of love, so vulnerable it almost broke her resolve. Almost. “I…we…it can’t happen, Helena.”

“Why?” Helena’s heart cracked, ready to shatter into a million pieces at the slightest wrong touch. She hoped she could keep the desperation she felt off her face even though she hadn’t been able to keep it out of her voice.

“Because…it just can’t,” Barbara whispered. The coppery taste of her own fear was thick on her tongue even as the wine in her stomach turned bitter from the shame she felt at being afraid. Part of her wanted to let Helena in, to tell her the real reason why, in spite of her suspicions of Helena’s feelings, she’d never made a move. Part of her wanted to tell Helena of the fear that she could never be everything Helena deserved in a lover, the fear that she wouldn’t be able to respond to those lovely hands and that beautiful mouth because of what Joker’s bullet had done to her spine. Years of habit, years of keeping her true thoughts and feelings locked deeply inside kept that one last wall in place.

“It can’t be because of the kid. Hell, she’s been in my head, I’m sure she’d jump for joy and gloat that she knew before you did.” Helena smiled, pulling on the familiar cloak of sexual bravado out of reflex. “I’m definitely ‘of age’ so there’s none of that skeevy guardian-ward thing going on,” Helena said, ticking the points off on her fingers. “And it can’t be because you’re with someone else…”

Helena’s eyes widened as her voice trailed off. She didn’t say his name but Helena’s stiff expression lead Barbara to where she knew Helena’s thoughts had gone. Wade.

Helena knew now, after the fact, that she hadn’t actually killed Wade. Still, she felt her confessions to Harley Quinn had led to his death just as surely as if she’d snuffed out his life with her own hands. She’d carry the weight of that responsibility with her for the rest of her life, and it made itself felt in the sudden heaviness in her limbs and a pounding ache in her head. Helena groped for the remote on the couch, stabbing at buttons randomly until she finally hit PAUSE stopping the CD player in mid-note.

The sound of the silence nearly deafened Barbara. She could only imagine what the change did to Helena’s meta-enhanced hearing. Helena stood up, quickly sidestepping Barbara’s chair. The crushing magnitude of her feelings pulled her down toward a pitch black emotional pit almost as deep as the one whose edges she’d skirted in the months immediately following her mother’s death.

Helena ran a hand through her already artfully mussed hair. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have presumed…”


“No, I think I really need some air,” Helena said, backing toward the balcony doors. “Maybe in a couple of days, in broad daylight, when we haven’t had any wine, and I don’t feel like a complete idiot I’ll come back and we can figure out if there’s anything left of our friendship or if I’ve just totally screwed up my entire life.”

Helena picked up her duster from where she’d draped it on a chair at the end of the couch. She slid it on as she twirled toward the doors to the balcony. Helena pushed through the doors and was off the edge of the platform before Barbara could move her chair an inch.

My entire life. The words echoed in Barbara’s head far longer than they’d sounded in the space of the clocktower. Her mind whirled, throwing out possibilities and interpretations. Barbara felt all the sadness she’d held in, all the want, all the hope that she’d finally get what she’d longed for for so many years well up into tears. “Get a hold of yourself, Barbara,” she thought. She took a couple of deep breaths to control her heart rate as she tried to shove the impulse to cry into the deepest corner of the lock box in which she kept her emotions.

After the roil of emotion Barbara felt subsided a little the silence in the clocktower quickly became oppressive. Curiosity and a driving need for a distraction turned Barbara’s attention to the CD player. She could see that display showed only two songs on the current disc. She plucked the remote for the stereo off the couch where Helena had dropped it.

A few seconds of thought had her finger moving that last few millimeters and depressing the PLAY button. As the remainder the duet played and faded out and the next song started the meaning of the two songs together forced the emotions Barbara thought she had dealt with to the surface shredding the last of her carefully maintained self-control. Barbara’s tears coursed down her cheeks as Sheryl Crow’s voice implored her love.

Come to me now

Lay your hands over me

Even if it’s a lie

Say it will be alright

And I shall believe

On a roof across the way, Helena made sure she was buried deep in a shadow, her back against something solid as she watched Barbara through the clocktower’s windows. Her meta-enhanced vision allowed her to see Barbara pick up the remote. Her meta-sensitive ears heard the stereo restart, and her very simply human heart broke a little more as she saw the tears spill down Barbara’s face. It wasn’t until the salty liquid hit her lips that Helena noticed her own tears.

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