TITLE: Half Truths or Consequences

AUTHOR: Pink Rabbit Productions

PAIRING: Oracle/Catwoman

UNIVERSE: The comics

DISCLAIMER: This is likely to include angst , all girl action, and who knows what else. The characters beclong to DC comics, not me, but heck, somebody needs to let 'em play now and then.

 

Prologue

All these years and I've never asked before. Never wanted to know I suppose. When someone disappears in this business, there are two common explanations, both of them equally distasteful as far as I'm concerned: get sick of it all, marry, settle down and have two-point-five kids, or get killed. By all accounts, the second option is by far the more common one, though there are a few who've managed the first. For her sake, I suppose I hoped it was the former. Being the practical soul I am, I figured it was probably the latter.

So why was it I slipped and asked Oracle? On the verge of winding up dead myself, and there I was asking if she---Batgirl, not the new, silent model, but the original one with a one-liner for every situation, fire engine red hair and a body that was made for sin, no matter how thoroughly "good" she might be---was alive or dead, and trying desperately to sound like I didn't care.

Even you aren't that good a liar, Selina.

And neither was Oracle. She stumbled on that one, barely even got the word, "retired," out. There was a definite pause and that perfectly modulated, mechanical voice wasn't quite so controlled for just a second. I threw her with that one, hit some kind of hot button. But if Batgirl were simply retired, why the emotional upset, and if she was dead, why lie?

It didn't occur to me until now that there might be a third option.

Forcibly retired.

The woman in the wheelchair. Red hair, green eyes, jaw a little too strong, body on the delicate side, but lithe and firmly muscled. Looked like she's added a couple of inches in height since the first time we met, though it was such a quick look, and a wheelchair isn't exactly conducive to making such judgments, so it's hard to be certain.

Dammit. How the hell can she move that fast in a chair? Not something new in her life, that's for certain.

There she is---down on the street.

Is it really....

Or am I just imagining things?

And why do you care anyway, Selina? It's just this nastiness with Valerie Lewton bringing up old memories. Ones better left forgotten by all involved. Guilt has never set well on your shoulders ... and she just brings up far too much of it ... despite any more ... pleasant ... memories. Dammit, if she actually is taller, then how the hell young was she when I....

Great, more guilt. What cradle did I rob?

Doubtless, she doesn't remember me with anything approaching fondness. I should just walk away from this one.

Gotta love an open window, even if getting it that way requires a bit of broken glass, but if I move fast enough, I can get a better look before she's across the street.

Being an idiot here, Selina. If it was her, she was probably just there because she guessed they were the paintings from Ryder Burnham's collection. Maybe she was curious about why they suddenly showed up for no apparent reason ... or maybe Oracle told her. Yeah, that would make sense. Probably why Oracle was creeped out. Who knows, maybe they're friends, and she was trying to protect her from the big bad, kitty kat. I wonder if she knows the truth? No. If Oracle knew the truth, she'd probably have let me go splat somewhere along the way, instead of helping me stay alive. And, hell, who could blame her. I'm under no illusions. If she were my friend or family, I'd probably want me dead.

Certainly if it was her, she couldn't have realized it was me she spoke to ... couldn't have been there because....

Perhaps because if she had known, she probably would have called the cops, started beating on me, done something, not just chatted in that absently friendly way strangers sometimes do.

Walk away, Selina, just walk away.

Dammit, is it her? Gotta move faster, gain some ground and get a better look.

Oh God. I shouldn't recognize a profile I haven't laid eyes on in years ... shouldn't be able to so easily pluck out features that have matured from youthful softness into adult beauty. I knew even then that one day she'd be striking. I don't think I ever guessed just how stunning she'd turn out.

I doubt she suspects I'm following. Though she's cautious, it's more the care of someone who knows that some people might view them as an easy mark, rather than a directed fear. It's good enough to deal with the average mugger ... not me.

Dammit, Selina, you shouldn't do this. You're just asking for more trouble.

Her car's a Hummer. Now that's unique. License plate number EWF-261.

Now what the hell do I do?

Oh hell, Selina, you know exactly what you're going to do. You always know, even when you don't want to.

* * * * * *

Chapter One

Once More Into the Breach

 

Barbara Gordon cursed softly as she dropped her car keys in the process of raising the lift so she could get into the Hummer. She looked down, hoping they'd caught on the lift platform, but they'd slid between a crack in the steel slats, dropping all the way to the ground. Clearly, she was feeling a bit distracted because she hadn't made a mistake that dumb in ages. In her case, dropping things like that meant she'd have to lower the platform, raise it and return it to storage position again to retrieve them, then start all over again.

"Could you use some help with that?" Lazily asked, the words---or more correctly, the voice that pronounced them---sent a shiver over her skin that was one part warning, one part awareness. She looked up, eyes widening as a slender figure leaned comfortably against the side of the Hummer, arms loosely folded across her chest, the look in her eyes somewhere between assessing and challenging. Somehow she'd managed to arrive unnoticed and arrange herself into that languid pose in the second or two while Barbara was focused on her keys.

Selina Kyle.

A faint smile touched full lips while green eyes slid over Barbara from head to toe with the kind of confidence that few people---if any---could manage, then rose and clashed with her gaze. Selina's hair was shorter now and time had left its mark, but she was a stunning woman and undoubtedly would be until the day she died. Barbara had seen a recent picture of course, but the images gleaming on her computer monitor hadn't done reality any justice. Beautiful as she'd been the first time they'd met, Selina was somehow even more striking now. Still wildly charismatic, but there was also something in her eyes that showed a kind of depth her younger self had lacked.

Barbara swallowed hard, trying to quiet the sudden, startled throbbing of her pulse. "I'm fine," she responded automatically, very uncomfortable with the way the woman had suddenly appeared. The impulse to make an appearance at the showing---and worse to speak to Selina---suddenly seemed very dangerous indeed. Had the other woman figured something out? It seemed unlikely her sudden appearance was pure coincidence.

Cat's eyes dropped to the lost keys where they resided under the wheelchair platform, and a dark eyebrow arched suggestively. "Really it's no problem," Selina drawled, that rich, evocative voice sliding over Barbara in seductive waves, leaving the redhead wondering about her own sanity. She should have known better. Should have stayed the hell away, but some inner need to ... what ... win ... prove something after all these years ... something ... hadn't let her stick to the sane path and steer clear of this woman.

Barbara hit the control to lower the platform back to the ground, ignoring any temptation by reminding herself just how dangerous the thief could be, and how little she could be trusted. "I can do it for myself," she ground out, summoning any righteous anger she could lay claim to in an effort resist the sweet draw of the other woman's automatically seductive tones.

"I never suggested otherwise," Selina murmured, her voice soft with only the tiniest bit chiding. She reached out, hitting the button to stop the platform before it had gone more than an inch or two in its journey back to the ground. "Only that maybe a little help would make it easier." As the redhead looked up, Selina offered another gentle smile. "We all need a little help now and then." Even her, and Selina was the most stubborn, independent person that Selina Kyle knew, though she suspected the woman in front of her ran a close second.

"No thank you," Barbara ground out, and reached for the control again. She pulled up short as Selina abruptly bent down, thrusting her hand under the wheelchair platform to reach for the keys. As the dark haired woman straightened, the key ring hooked over her index finger, Barbara sputtered angrily, "Do you realize that this system is hydraulic? If I'd hit the controls, you could have gotten your hand pinned under there. It might have broken something before I got it shut off."

Selina held the keys out, a lazy smile curving her lips. "I have quick hands," she drawled, something glittering deep in her eyes. "And even if I didn't, I don't think you'd let anything happen to me."

"How very trusting of you," Barbara said a bit too brightly, opting to take another tack as she struggled to paste a somewhat dimwitted mask in place. Like any cat, Selina only got more interested when faced with a challenge. Better to play dumb even if it went against the grain.

"Hardly that," Selina disagreed, her eyebrow rising a little higher, not buying the act. The chirpy, cheerleader voice was particularly ineffective since she knew just how intense and intelligent those honey smooth tones could sound. "But I'm generally a pretty good judge of character ... and I don't think you're the sort to intentionally cause unnecessary pain."

"Fine then," Barbara said, not knowing what to think and suddenly questioning her ability to deal with this woman. Yes, she was older and wiser, but so was Selina. As Oracle, she might have managed to outwit Catwoman by getting the artwork as promised, despite the other woman's efforts to pull a bait and switch. She was, however, under no illusions that that meant she was up for playing the game on a more personal level. "Thank you for your help," she said and reached for the keys only to have the other woman snatch them back before she could grab them.

Selina's smile was taunting as she watched the other woman, easily seeing the anger that flared in green eyes. Good to see that the wheelchair hadn't dampened her spirit. It would have been a damn shame for anything to extinguish that fire. "I prefer expressions of gratitude in a more physical form." She saw black pupils expand until there was only the tiniest ring of jade around their inky depths and purposely waited a beat, stretching out the moment, letting the expectation build. Her smile broadened a notch into a knowing sensual look that promised all sorts of things. "Take me to lunch," she said softly, the words coming out somewhere between a command and an invitation.

Barbara froze, caught by surprise, hands clenched on the armrests of her chair, breath coming quick and shallow. For just a moment, she'd expected. Something. Else.

Selina's arch expression broadcast loud and clear that she knew exactly what Barbara had been thinking. A feline smile on her lips, she leaned down, braced her hands on the armrests of the wheelchair, almost but not quite touching slender fingers, and pressed into the other woman's space. "Or we can jump straight to dessert if you prefer."

Barbara's brain spontaneously shut down, leaving her sitting there, her mouth working, but no sound forthcoming. Slender hands clenched on the armrests of her chair as her cheeks turned a fire engine shade of red and shallow breathing turned to no breathing at all. What the hell was it about Selina Kyle that constantly threatened to turn her into a fumbling child when normally she was so goddamned competent she scared the hell out of superheroes and world leaders alike. "I really should be going," she said at last, her voice little more than a strangled croak, her eyes focused anywhere but on the woman grinning at her so knowingly, and without acknowledging the offer or its implications. Better to just get the hell out of there.

"Afraid?" Selina challenged.

Barbara froze, looking up until her gaze clashed with the other woman's. Nothing like a dare to tweak her stubborn streak. "Should I be?" she rasped, her tone becoming every bit as challenging.

Cat green eyes narrowed faintly. The little girl had grown up. Not so trusting now. Selina deliberately softened her voice, her tone more serious, and leaned just a little closer. "No ... not at all." She pulled her arms back and let them drop to her sides, tempted to reach out, but well aware the other woman would bolt if pushed that hard. "I was just teasing," she insisted, purposely backing down. "You've nothing to fear from me." She took a breath, backing up a step, carefully putting distance between them. It was just too tempting to play with the other woman, particularly when she could see her own reflection in inky pupils, and smell the soft perfume haze that floated around her. "I'm just inviting you to lunch ... in a very public place." She held up the car keys, then tossed them back to their rightful owner. "No strings attached."

Startled by the gesture, Barbara snatched the keys out of mid-air at the last moment, then froze, momentarily caught by the look in the other woman's eyes. "I shouldn't," she breathed almost inaudibly. It was too dangerous. Selina Kyle was too dangerous. She was relatively realistic about who would come out the winner in any kind of competition between the two of them, and with their respective natures, it was a competition---like it or not. The problem was that she was also incredibly curious about why Selina was there---what she knew, what she might have guessed, what she was doing. And most of all, what she wanted.

Selina's smile broadened as she accurately read the temptation in the other woman's eyes. She was curious now, and more than that, challenged. "Live dangerously for once," she drawled, sensing a nature not so different from her own in some ways, though it was far more contained and controlled. "And while you're at it ... be kind to someone who just offered you a hand. I've had a few ... setbacks lately. I could use something to take my mind off of them." The game being played between them made her feel more alive than she'd felt in months. She didn't want it to end and go back to a lonely apartment or sneak into bed with a lover she didn't love.

Barbara just stared up at Selina for a long moment. The other woman had turned the charm all the way up, but at the same there was something serious lurking in green eyes, a sense of loss that only increased her unpredictable appeal. Even knowing what she was, it made it that much harder to resist her. "Really?" she murmured, trying to sound disinterested and unaware without much success. "What kind?"

"Personal ... financial ... any number of things," Selina said softly, not wanting to think about the madness with the youth center or her sister. Valerie Lewton's attempts to kill her had been the least of her problems in the last few months. She looked away, her gaze momentarily distant as she remembered her sister Maggie--- now very probably in an insane asylum for the rest of her life.

Barbara frowned, startled by the way seriousness turned to soul deep sadness. The emotion flickered for a moment before being hidden behind high walls. If it was an act, it was a phenomenal one. It caught her by surprise, driving her to ask, "What happened?" She hadn�t really kept track of the other woman of late, well aware that that had become Bruce�s particular passion, and feeling oddly uncomfortable with their come and go relationship. But what she saw now wasn't a matter of losing a few paintings. Unless Selina was an even better actress than Barbara would have predicted, it was something far more personal, something that had hit hard and cut deep. She suddenly found herself regretting that she�d backed away and hadn�t kept closer track of the woman in recent years, but she�d figured Bruce was doing more than enough of that for both of them.

Selina shrugged, her gaze returning to Barbara. "Join me for lunch ... and I'll answer any questions you want." She reached up, ruffling her hair, then sighed softly. "Not necessarily truthfully," she admitted in a rare burst of honesty, "but I'll answer them." She offered a lopsided smile. "Please."

For reasons she didn't care to look at too closely, Barbara couldn't resist the quiet entreaty. Without saying a word, she reached out and hit the control to lower the chair back to the ground. "There's a Thai place about a block from here that's pretty good," she said as she rolled the chair off the lift platform, then locked things up.

Selina stepped up as if to push the chair, noted the lack of handles, and dropped her hands to her sides.

Barbara looked up, noting the gesture and raised an eyebrow. "There are no handles for a reason." Her eyes flashed, warning the other woman off in case she was thinking of grabbing hold and pushing. "I don't need help with my chair."

It took a beat for Selina to process the sharply uttered words, but when she did, she held up a hand in surrender."Of course not," she soothed, thinking it only made sense. She remembered Batgirl as a headstrong little thing, half a head shorter than the rest of the world, but stubbornly independent and totally uncowed. Clearly some things hadn't changed.

Barbara's gaze momentarily dropped away, a flush sliding over her cheekbones as it occurred to her that she'd gotten a bit aggressive. "Sorry," she whispered as though she wasn't talking to Catwoman. "It's my personal space, y'know ... and people sometimes ... they get pushy ... just assume they have the right."

"Point taken," Selina said softly. "No assumptions from here on out." The look in her eyes was serious, indicating she got the message. She understood the need for independence all too well. To mock the need in someone else would have been far too hypocritical for her tastes.

 

By the time they were seated, Selina had pushed off the momentary bout of depression and gotten her walls of denial back in place with a firm hand. Even so, when green eyes flashed her way, their expression curious, it was tempting to just dump the whole sorry story of the last year of her life. She found herself wondering about the other woman's name, and whether or not she knew just who she was talking to ... and did she ever think about that night. No, it couldn't be. If she knew, she'd probably be anywhere but there ... which left the thief wondering why the hell the woman who had been Batgirl was here. Then again, she wasn't too sure of her own reasons, so maybe the redhead was just as drawn and just as confused. She gnawed on her lower lip, trying to think of something witty or clever to say, but her usual rapier wit seemed to have deserted her to the degree that she was grateful for the waitress that suddenly appeared to take their orders. When the woman left again, Selina looked up to find the redhead watching her closely, so concentrated she could almost see the gears turning behind green eyes.

"Sooo," Barbara drawled at last, curiosity getting the better of her, "why the sudden invitation to a total stranger?"

Selina shrugged, lying and not lying at the same time as she responded, "Sometimes it's easier to be with strangers than people you know." One hand rose in a small, seemingly relaxed gesture. "No pressure." Except judging by the tight, twist of tension in the pit of her belly there was plenty of pressure. She was human enough to wonder what the hell she was doing, and Selina enough not to care too much about the answer beyond the obvious. "Besides. Her eyes slid appreciatively over the redhead's face and upper body, "I always enjoy the company of a beautiful woman."

Intensely aware of the flush that slid over her skin, Barbara's breath momentarily caught. "I'm not--" she started to deny the charge, but Selina cut her off, her voice a rolling drawl.

"Not beautiful?" the brunette interrupted, then offered a lazy smile, feeling more comfortable playing to her default sensuality than she would have dealing with more honest emotion. Seductive sexuality was easy, slipping around her like a second skin, allowing her to control the situation when she might not have otherwise. "I beg to differ."

The look in Selina's eyes only intensified the blush, reminding Barbara of any number of things she shouldn't have even wanted to remember. "I'm starting to think the only problem you could possibly have is an overabundance of hormones," Barbara murmured tartly. The flinch she received in response was no reward. In fact, she was surprised to find that it almost hurt.

Selina offered a tight smile, tempted to snap and list her losses in an attempt to explain just why she wanted to just escape for a little while. A waitress brought the tea before she could say anything, buying her time to slam an emotional wall into place between herself and the woman across the table. This, she realized in an instant, was a very bad idea. This woman played on her mind and emotions in ways she couldn't afford, and she should have resisted temptation and stayed away. Unfortunately, resisting temptation had never been an art form at which she excelled. "You think wrong," she said at last, and looked up. She didn't mean to say that, had seriously planned on some equally sarcastic reply. Except she couldn't stop thinking of Maggie ... in a very nice institution ... very probably for the rest of her life. So when she opened her mouth, the wrong words just came out. Not the flippant, don't give a fuck Selina she was used to showing the world, but something of the human being underneath ... the one she'd long tried to deny even existed. She half expected to hear laughter from the other woman, but the response was softly spoken.

Freezing as though she'd been struck, Barbara couldn't take her eyes away from the agony visible in rich, green eyes. Whatever she'd thought, she was wrong. Nobody could fake that much emotion. Could they? "I'm sorry," she stammered at last. She couldn't help but wonder at her own sanity in believing the mournful expression on the other woman's face. Selina Kyle was, after all, a superb actress, quite capable of playing her targets with all the skill of a master harpist. Even knowing that, she didn't think it was an act. The look in those eyes was too hollow, the pain too real. "What happened?" She couldn't believe she was sitting there asking such a prosaic question of a woman who'd cheerfully stolen her way through life, and wrought more than her fair share of havoc in Barbara's life, and the lives of people she cared for.

Selina considered the question for a long moment, trying to find a way to describe what had happened that wouldn't give away her identity if the other woman didn't already know, but would catch the emotional flavor of what she was feeling. "Have you ever tried to do the right thing," she said at last, "only to have it come out all wrong?" She'd tried to change herself, reach out to family, make things a little better, and somehow it was all even worse now. Selina was surprised by the sympathy she heard in the redhead's voice when she answered.

"Yeah." Barbara leaned forward, eyes sliding closed as she massaged her temple, remembering the brief, disastrous working relationship with Power Girl. She'd screwed up the mission, and made an enemy of someone toward whom she bore no malice. Despite her best efforts to help, people had died and Karen had wound up in worse shape emotionally and hating her guts just to add the cherry on top. "A few times." She blinked, pushing the memory back down, though the hint of depression it always engendered stayed with her when she looked up again. "Tried to do something to help only to have it blow up in my face."

"Then you know," Selina whispered, eyes dropping to focus on her tea, surprised by the sense of camaraderie she felt for her former ... foe? No, that wasn't the right word. They'd both played the games, and mostly on opposite sides, but there'd never been any hate. Or at least none on her side, and she hoped none on the other woman's.

Barbara looked up, uncertain what to make of the sense of affinity with the other woman. "Yeah," she said very softly. "Too well." She looked down, studying her the swirling patterns in the surface of her tea with the sort of attention she usually reserved for debugging computer code. This was ... she didn't even know how to quantify it. Uncomfortable, strange, alien, disconcerting? Her brain kept coming up with assorted synonyms, but none of them were quite right for the situation. Then something warm and soothingly heavy was settling over her hand---Selina's hand---while a gentle thumb---faintly callused from years of the gymnastics required by her chosen career---stroked Barbara's knuckles lightly. The redhead looked up, a hint of a frown drawing her brows together as she stared at the hand covering her own. Larger and heavier, it nonetheless was fine boned with an impossible to miss sort of grace.

"You want to talk about it?" The question was quietly asked, the tone reading as sincere with just a hint of worry mixed in.

Which only left Barbara even more confused by her own emotions. Seeing Selina Kyle as human was almost frightening in a way, like having some larger than life movie character step off the screen and introduce themselves. Incredibly aware of the thumb moving slowly back and forth over the rise of her knuckles. It was tempting to just dump a thousand different fears ... to admit to things she'd never told anyone, like the nightmares that had tormented her since childhood, the text of the horrifying dreams ever-changing, but their presence a constant, or the self doubts that plagued her on an ongoing basis---the failures and the fear of failure. For just a moment, she had the strangest sense that Selina would understand even better than Barbara herself did. She shook off the impulse before it could override common sense. "No," she said at last, then risked a look up through thick lashes. "You?"

Selina reared back ever so slightly before she managed to check the impulse. She shook her head too quickly, then regained control over that response as well. "No," she said very softly when she finally spoke.

A long moment of uncomfortable silence followed, and then Selina cleared her throat, paused another moment, then began carefully, "So which painting was your favorite?" she asked at last, figuring that was reasonably neutral territory. Okay, so there were probably issues having to do with those paintings, but not with the actual quality of them.

Barbara accepted the subject change with a hint of a wry smile. There were definitely time when distraction was a good thing. She thought about it for a moment, then responded, "The Vermier I think."

"Ah ... a woman who loves the masters ... it is quite stunning. I thought the play of light was particularly impressive. You'd almost have sworn there was a candle behind the canvas...."

"But not really your thing," Barbara murmured, noting the rather flat commentary. She glanced down, considering the swirling reflection visible in her teacup. "I'd guess you more for the Gauguin," she said at last, looking up through thick lashes.

The quiet certainty in the other woman's voice surprised Selina. No small trick. "I'm impressed," she admitted, one eyebrow rising high on her forehead. "How'd you know."

"You strike me as someone who'd prefer the style of the impressionists ... something fast and bright ... and there's a sensuality to the Gauguin that I can see you...." She abruptly realized what she'd been about to say and trailed off, a dark flush flooding her cheeks.

Selina leaned forward, a slow smile making its way across her mouth. "Yes?" she drawled, her eyes gleaming bright with hunter's lights.

"I just meant..." Barbara started to explain only to trail off, the words unspoken, her cheeks flaming red now. She couldn't exactly explain that it was the erotic nature of the painting that convinced her it would be Selina's favorite. "It just seemed like the one you'd like the most."

Even if it hadn't been, Selina would have lied and said it was, but as it happened, she did prefer the Gauguin---and had since first stealing the collection. "Well, you're right ... and your reasons are remarkably on target," she added, offering a smile that was part praise, part invitation.

Quickly looking down again to escape that knowing smile, Barbara had a hard time maintaining any kind of concentration as a whole field of butterflies decided to take up residence in her stomach. It was Barbara's turn to be intensely grateful as their waitress made another appearance---with food this time---the interruption giving her a much needed moment to compose herself. By the time the waitress left and they were alone again, she was back in control.

After that, the conversation was somewhat more stately, as though they'd both skated too close to the edge of a high cliff---and knew it. If asked, both women would have admitted to being surprised by how enjoyable the discussion that randomly floated from topic to topic was more enjoyable than they would have predicted. There was some regret when the restaurant owner finally began making noises about needing the table for the dinner crowd.

"I probably should be going," Barbara said softly as she glanced at her watch and noted the time. She really hadn't meant to be away from the clocktower and the Delphi all afternoon.

Finding herself less than eager to lose the other woman's company, Selina fell into step beside her. "I'll walk you back to your car."

Barbara glanced up, felt her pulse spin back into overdrive. God, how did the woman do that her with just one look? It was frightening---almost painful it was so intense. Somehow the notion of going back to her car---alone---away from the unknowingly chaperoning crowd that had gathered in the small restaurant---scared the ever-loving hell out of her. She wasn't even entirely certain why. After all, her car was parked in a perfectly public parking lot. It wasn't like anything could happen there. And yet.... "Really, it's not necessary...."

"I know," Selina said softly without altering her path or the speed of her stride.

"I can--"

"I know," Selina said firmly, then slanted a look at the other woman. "Don't you get that I want to?"

The question caught Barbara by surprise, and she didn't know quite what to say for a long moment. "I just ... I ... can't quite ... believe...." She fell silent, looking anywhere but at the woman keeping pace next to her.

Selina glanced over at Barbara again, felt her own pulse do a few superhuman riffs. God, what an evil trick of fate---almost fitting considering her history---but she wanted, and a shared lunch had only increased the intensity of the impulse. They reached the blocky, ugly-as-they-come Humvee much too soon for her taste, and she watched the other woman move to unlock things. "What about dessert?" she asked before she could think better of it and saw slender shoulders tense in response.

Barbara froze, reacting like a rabbit in the field when it knew the wolf's eyes were on it. She barely resisted the animal instinct to hunker down and make herself smaller in a vain attempt to escape the predator stalking her.

"I offered it before ... I'm offering again," Selina murmured, not letting her escape that easily.

No doubt what Selina meant by that comment---the low, husky drawl she affected made it as plain as the most explicit offer made down at the corner bar---and it wasn't chocolate �clairs, though Barbara suspected chocolate sauce wouldn't be out of the question. A shiver slid through her as her recalcitrant brain conjured an image a pink tongue lapping up dark chocolate syrup dribbled onto her skin in erotic patterns. The redhead suddenly couldn't have said a word if her life depended on it. She took a moment to catch her breath, then looked over her shoulder as she finally managed to summon some semblance of a glare.

Selina raised an eyebrow, unimpressed by the spitting kitten act, though she rather enjoyed the way jade green eyes sparked like cold fire.

"Never been a big dessert eater," Barbara said rather primly. A bite of lunch together was one thing---a little risky perhaps, but something she'd needed to satisfy her curiosity. Whatever Selina was proposing now, it was way past risky and well into serious danger territory. There was history there---of the perilous variety---better for both of them to just run away before somebody got hurt. The irony of that thought struck her even as it went through her brain.

"Mmm," Selina murmured and leaned down, one hand curling around the armrest of the chair, bringing it around as she pressed into the other woman's space, her hot breath playing over the redhead's face, her voice barely above a whisper. "You should try it sometime ... best part of the meal."

Barbara jerked a hand off the armrest, lifting it between them, but didn't quite make contact with the other woman's chest. Instead her hand hovered in the space between their bodies, not touching, but close enough to feel the heat pouring off Selina Kyle's skin. "Not very healthy," Barbara croaked, painfully aware of the way her heart was suddenly hammering against the inside of her ribcage. Even knowing she should do something, activate the alarm on her chair, run like hell, start pounding on Selina with an escrima stick---or maybe all of the above---she found herself simply staring into green eyes. She suddenly understood what a bird felt in the moments before a cat pounced.

"But very tasty," Selina breathed, then let her eyes drop, her gaze running over the slender body sitting upright in the wheelchair. Despite her injuries---whatever they were---she was in superb shape, every curve fit and sculpted. "And you look like you could afford a dessert or two," the brunette added, her tone openly admiring. She'd been good all the way through lunch---well, mostly good anyway---but she'd just about hit her limit. The real Selina Kyle---the one who was far too quick to leap into trouble---was eager to get out and have a little fun. She'd been quiet for months, but something about the redhead called to her. Maybe it was the memory of that shared past, and those moments that summoned a strange combination of shame and excitement.

"No," Barbara said softly, reminding herself that this wasn't real, just some strange impulse on Selina Kyle's part, coupled with some weird attraction she still had to the woman, "I can't." She had Dick, and despite any problems between them, that was real. This was just---just a momentary flight of fancy. The raised hand finally made contact with Selina's chest and she pushed firmly. For a moment, she thought she'd succeeded as the thief backed off under the pressure, and then Selina abruptly froze, unwilling to be pushed any farther.

Unable to resist temptation---no surprise there, resisting temptation had never exactly been Selina Kyle's middle name---Selina lifted a hand to brush a few strands of crimson silk back from the other woman's cheek. She let the delicate threads slide over her fingers, enjoying the texture. "So serious," she whispered, the look in her eyes a direct challenge. "So scared...."

Barbara tensed, suddenly wondering if maybe she should be worried. Catwoman had mostly stayed out of legal trouble for awhile now, but with her history, one never knew what she might come up with.

Selina saw the flicker of real fear, wondered whether it was of her---or Catwoman more specifically---or just the very rational fear of some strange woman being so sexually aggressive out of the blue. Did this woman still track the game she'd once played, or was she far enough out of the loop that she wouldn't know Selina Kyle from a hole in the ground? "I'd never hurt you," she breathed, and then temptation presented itself once again, and she was no better at resisting its siren's song than ever before. Soft lips parted, a pink tongue slipping out to moisten them, and Selina tracked the gesture, her most predatory instincts triggered. No, resisting temptation wasn't her thing at all, she thought as she leaned closer and tasted, drinking in the soft gasp as she took advantage of already parted lips, darting her tongue into warmth and heat. She stole the kiss with the same skill and confidence she'd used in any number of break-ins over the years, burgling soft lips just as successfully as she had jewels and diamonds. The hand braced on her chest pushed harder, but she ignored the pressure and caught the second hand that rose to join the first, dragging it up around her shoulder to the back of her neck. Strong fingers found the hair at the nape of her neck, twining into the thick strands to pull with considerable strength in an effort to drag her back. Selina only deepened the kiss until the grip on her hair shifted, no longer fighting to pull her away even if it wasn't trying to drag her closer.

For her part, Barbara couldn't breathe, her lungs suddenly impossibly tight, her heart thundering in her chest. Her fingers worked their way deeper into impossibly soft black hair, while the scent of something sweet and floral filled her senses along with the flavor of breath mints and warm flesh. The hand that had been wrapped around her own moved on, stroking her down the length of her arm, up her neck and shoulder, and finally finding her cheek, the light caress leaving her skin so sensitive she imagined she could feel the whorls of the other woman's fingerprints. She knew she should yank her head back, scream, hit Selina, do something, and yet, there she was---yet again---her mouth open for an invading kiss, her body vibrating in unfamiliar ways. No, not completely unfamiliar this time, but long forgotten---or perhaps, more realistically, purposely unremembered. It wasn't that she was a total stranger to passion in her life, but it hadn't exactly been a dominant force before the shooting and since ... well ... since ... since then, she'd finally accepted that physical passion wasn't much of an option. She enjoyed making love with Dick. He was tender and caring, and being with him was comfortable. They'd been friends so long that becoming lovers felt safe. She thought she'd accepted that the physical pleasure for her came from simply feeling close to someone, from the sense of being loved and cared for.

As heat coiled and pulsed, bringing life back to parts of her body she'd thought lost, she realized she'd misjudged everything. Dear god, how did this woman do this to her, make her feel in spite of what she wanted or intended ... make her ache, and want, and dream, and throb? It was like Selina Kyle had managed to get a tiny purchase on her soul all those years before, and she'd somehow clung to that tenuous hold, and even found a way of strengthening it.

A moan bubbled up from Barbara's chest, her fingers cramping as she clung more tightly to silky hair, the hand on Selina's chest shifting and curling into the front of her jacket.

"Hey, why doncha get a room?!" Coarse and loud, the rude question broke over the two women.

Barbara would have jerked back, but Selina kept a firm hand on the arm of her chair as she broke the kiss and straightened. Eyes narrowing into a regal glare, she did a slow pivot, nailing speaker in place. Scrawny, no more that twenty-five, his face pock marked by acne scars, his eyes full of stomach-turning fantasies. "Why don't you get a life," she suggested, her voice sharp enough to slice steel.

His eyes narrowed and she saw his lips move as he uttered an insult---or at least what he clearly considered to be an insult---under his breath.

For her own sake, Selina couldn't have cared less. With the things she'd done in her life, she'd long since become inured to petty outrage, but the woman in the chair---she probably felt such things rather acutely. And besides, Selina found herself feeling rather protective. "Careful," she hissed very softly, the look in her eyes dangerous. He wanted to say something---she could see it in his expression and body language---wanted to, but didn't dare. "And now why don't you get lost?"

Thin lips twisted into a sneer, but something about her scared him enough that he turned away without further comment.

Selina stayed where she was---on guard---until he disappeared around the corner of a nearby building, then she turned back, unsurprised to find that the redhead had turned her head away and refused to look up. No more able to resist temptation than she had been only minutes before, she reached out, curving gentle fingers along the smooth line of the other woman's jaw, drawing her head back around. "The Runyon's just down the street," she said simply, very aware of the irony of suggesting that hotel. They'd first met as Catwoman and Batgirl on the roof of the luxury hotel to compare notes on Ryder Burnhan, then later questioned the madman's servant in a top floor suite that was being remodeled. The same suite where Selina had impulsively decided to leave a stolen painting for Batgirl as her cut of the take.

The same suite where she forcibly deflowered the younger woman.

Selina suddenly found herself wondering if that was such a great choice. After all, there was irony, and then there was Irony. That definitely fell into the latter, far more intense category.

Green eyes refused to turn her way. "I can't," Barbara whispered, her voice ragged and stressed. Dick, she reminded herself. She couldn't betray him that way, not when ... when he'd been so damn loyal and stuck by her despite everything. And then there was Bruce. The last time she knew anything, there'd been something going on between he and Selina, and she couldn�t get in the way of that, whatever it was. No, despite the rolling heat in the pit of her belly, she couldn't give in this time. She wasn't nineteen anymore, and easily bowled over by such overwhelming sensuality. Gentle fingers stroked her jaw and cheek, and despite her best intention, she looked up and was quickly caught in the trap of vivid green eyes. "I ... I have someone in my life," she said as much to remind herself as warn Selina off. She should have known that wasn't the sort of thing likely to chase a world class thief away.

Selina leaned back down, one hand still resting lightly on the chair. "I don't care," she admitted honestly.

Barbara knew she should at least try to avoid the mouth that sought out her own, but somehow she just stayed where she was, frozen in place---though cold was the last word she would have used to describe her condition. No, she was hot, incredibly, achingly, agonizingly hot, every last nerve ending that was still connected apparently functioning in high gear, leaving her feeling seared from the inside out. "You don't understand--" she croaked when the kiss broke, her resolve already very nearly shattered. She'd only felt like this once before in her life, and she hadn't known how to deal with it then either.

"I understand I want you," Selina disagreed, fingers still stroking an impossibly soft cheek. "And from where I'm standing it looks like you want me too." Her lips just barely brushed Barbara's. "Now come with me."

Barbara meant to say no, to refuse and get into the Humvee. Instead, she found herself nodding and accepting the kiss that followed, too drawn to the other woman to do what she knew she should and turn away.

Breathing hard, her pulse racing, Selina finally broke the kiss, a low wolf whistle reminding her that they weren't exactly in the right place for this sort of thing. Much better to find a bed, and do it right. She'd made the mistake of not doing that the first time. It wasn't an error she intended to repeat. "Hotel," she croaked, turning her head brush her lips along the other woman's temple. She reached past a slender shoulder, remembered the lack of handles and instead wrapped her fingers around the horizontal steel bar that ran across the back.

Despite the heady daze that had more or less reduced her mental faculties to almost nothing, Barbara noted the gesture and tensed. "No," she gasped as she tore her mouth free. Her eyes flashed angrily, warning the other woman off. "I told you, I don't need help."

It took a beat for Selina to process the sharply uttered words, but when she did, she pulled her hand back and held it up in surrender. She knew all about being stubbornly independent."Of course not," she soothed, then added, "I didn't think."

An embarrassed flush slid over high cheekbones. "I just ... I need to control my space," she said at last. After everything that had happened to her, it was very important to maintain some sense of jurisdiction over her own body and by extension, her chair.

Considering what had already passed between them, the irony of the quiet, faintly embarrassed comments didn't escape Selina. Raw kisses and invitations to a hotel apparently weren't an insurmountable problem, but pushing the chair was. Some days human nature amazed her. "I understand," she said at last and reached out to brush a few loose strands of hair out of green eyes.

Yes, Barbara realized as she looked up at the other woman, she would. Selina Kyle wasn't a woman who accepted help easily. Or sometimes at all. She'd tried to use and reject Oracle's help, only accepting it once again because she'd had no choice in the matter. And even then she'd tried to stiff the payment as though that would somehow negate the reality that she�d needed assistance in the first place. Reminded of those harsh facts, she felt a touch of resurgent sanity. She couldn't do this. It was wrong, but it was just a momentary bout of utter madness, and she could still put a stop to it before it went too far.

Selina saw the change come over the other woman's expression, her emotions suddenly hidden behind high shutters. "No," she whispered almost inaudibly and leaned down, staring into eyes that were suddenly deliberately blank. "No," she said again, slender hands reaching out to frame a fine-boned face. "Don't block me out." And then she kissed, soft and sweet this time, the kind of kiss that was a bare brushing of lips, a fluttering caress that was all invitation and no demand. "Please," Selina breathed as their lips parted and she pulled back no more than an inch or two.

It was the quiet plea that did Barbara in. If Selina had just behaved true to form and commanded or tried to take, she could have resisted, but not the need and something else---something deep and hurt---that glittered in cat-green eyes.

"Please," Selina said again and ran the pad of her thumb along a full lower lip. She almost never asked for anything. It simply wasn't in her nature, but suddenly she wanted to pretend she was someone else for just a little while. She caught a slender hand in her own, stroked the knuckles lightly, then lifted it to press a soft kiss into the center of the palm.

Intensely aware of the press of those soft lips and the gentle caresses still playing over the back of her hand, Barbara closed her eyes momentarily, struggling to block out the silent entreaty directed her way. God, how could the other woman do this to her, make her feel. She'd long tried to deny it to herself, but back in the day, she'd been just a little in love with Catwoman. Maybe that was why she'd never been able to summon the hatred or anger she often felt guilty for not feeling. It was just that there was something irresistible about Selina Kyle, a seductive combination of strength, femininity, total confidence, and something else wholly unique to her. She'd drawn Barbara in and made her head spin when she was only nineteen. Now she was past thirty, and apparently nothing had changed.

"Please," Selina said a third time, her breath playing over Barbara's face in the brief moment before their lips made contact again, just barely brushing this time.

It was insane, and Barbara knew it, but when the kiss broke only a second or two later, she found herself nodding and allowing a gentle tug on the arms of the chair to start her in the direction of the hotel. Reaching for the wheels, she gave them a firm push, moving on autopilot, uncertain what she was doing, but accepting that she couldn't seem to do anything else. Her mind and body were both tied up in knots, thoughts spinning unchecked through her brain, unbelievable heat burning her from the inside out and leaving her shivering as though she was caught in an ice storm. She'd remembered that night for years despite her best efforts to push it away. It had clung to her, playing in her subconscious, coming out again when she least expected it, haunting her in the dark of night when sleep was hard to come by. Maybe if she gave way to this, it would exorcize those demons once and for all. Maybe the only way to deal with that particular addiction was with the proverbial hair of the dog. Or should that be, 'Hair of the cat?' Barbara mused and had to fight the urge to giggle hysterically as several double entendres occurred to her at once.

Taking up a measured pace next to the slender redhead, Selina kept slanting looks her way, and caught sight of the tiny grin that momentarily touched full lips. She was tempted to ask, but feared shattering the tenuous bond that tied them together. She saw green eyes flick her way, and offered a small smile of her own. She was rewarded by the pink flush that slid over sculpted cheekbones. A tiny gasp escaped Selina's lips, the tension coiling tight in every fiber of her being as a kind of excitement that she hadn't felt in far too long washed over her. With everything that had happened in the last several months, her old lifestyle had ceased to have any great draw for her. The old thrill of outsmarting the world and stealing whatever she wanted no longer seemed to hold much appeal, while sex was no longer the fun game it had once been. There was Slam, but sleeping with the P.I. was about comfort, and needing not to be alone at night. And the sad truth was that, though he loved her, she didn't feel the same, and his recent desire to deepen things had her feeling painfully uncomfortable. Meanwhile, her flirtation with Batman was more of an S&M fantasy than something that held any promise of turning into a real relationship. And this was....

What?

She didn't know, hadn't had time to contemplate the possible impact, and perhaps was afraid of looking too closely for fear of shattering whatever it was, because the excitement felt good after feeling so dead inside for so long. She wished she could just sweep the woman off and not worry about the practicalities of life like checking into a hotel, but the nearest of her apartments was several miles away, and she wasn't sure either one of them would make the distance since that would have involved thought, driving, time to consider and reconsider. It wasn't like that black night with the handcuffs, clinging flesh, and soft whimpers, couldn't be so impulsive and insane as that, but was it the sort of thing that would stand up to much contemplation? It was madness for both of them, and considering it too closely would only drive that point home.

They walked in silence, but Selina found herself reaching out, fingers stroking red hair very softly, caught in a strange surreal sense of the world that allowed everything else to drop away, and left time feeling very warped and uneven. The seconds seemed to rush by during the journey to the hotel, then drag miserably while she arranged for a room, incredibly aware of the woman waiting off to the side, half afraid that on the next glance, she'd be gone, gone back into the ether from whence she came. They started to spin impossibly quickly again during the elevator ride to the top floor, then seemed to freeze in place just as Selina opened the door to the suite.

Feeling as though she was moving against imprisoning amber, Selina stared into green eyes, then stepped aside to make way. As she stood there waiting, she half expected Red to turn and leave and she wasn't sure what she'd do if that happened: stand aside or act true to form and steal what she wanted so desperately. She didn't like either answer, so the relief was thick and clinging when the other woman pushed on the wheels of the chair and rolled past her. Time returned to something approaching normal as Selina pushed the door closed behind herself and turned to face....

It suddenly struck her that she didn't know the other woman's name. She swallowed hard, felt time start to drag again as she was caught up in events, the sense of her own uncertainty washing over her. Once upon a time there wouldn't have been any doubt about her actions. Suddenly it seemed as though there was nothing else. "You feel it too, don't you?" she whispered at last, without specifying the emotion in question, grateful for the semi-darkened room that allowed them both to hide in comfortable shadows. It was no surprise that the woman who had once been Batgirl gravitated toward the darkness just as she did.

Despite the lack of explanation---or maybe because of it---Barbara knew exactly what Selina meant. She nodded slowly, her own confusion rolling over her, startled by the seeming vulnerability in what she could see of the other woman's expression. Maybe it was just a trick of the light or the dappled shadows playing games with her imagination, but there seemed to be a softness there that had been missing all those years before. She'd never thought to see that on Selina Kyle's face. And then Selina was right there, immediately in front of her and on one knee, one hand resting lightly on a warm thigh that only barely registered the contact. She reached up with her other hand, stroking Barbara's cheek, the faint contact leaving heat trails in its wake.

"What can I call you?" Not, 'What's your name?' since Selina knew perfectly well that wasn't likely to get an honest answer and wasn't entirely certain she even wanted one. They'd avoided any discussion of names before, sliding into that odd conversational style that strangers often use where names become immaterial. And maybe the anonymity of this experience was part of the appeal. Whatever each of them knew about the other---and she was far from certain about the other woman's knowledge, and suspected the reverse was also true---there was a sense of plausible deniability. It could be nothing more than an afternoon escape if they wanted, something that happened once and became nothing more than an unexplained smile that appeared now and then.

Caught by surprise, Barbara momentarily panicked. Offering even her first name felt much too dangerous, and making up some strange name seemed hopelessly silly.

Selina saw the indecision in green eyes and took pity. Her fingers brushed soft lips in a silencing motion. "Don't torture yourself, Red," she said softly, a hint of a smile curving her lips. "We don't need names if they're a problem." Maybe it would be easier without even a semblance of reality. And then she pushed back to her feet, leaned close and tasted warm lips.

Barbara heard herself moan as that lilting kiss began, felt the twisting heat twine through her body, seeking out and finding every functioning nerve ending and making them pulse and whine for more. A graceful hand found the curve of her waist, stroking softly, and lighting tiny fires all over her skin. And then that hand skated behind her back while another slid under her knees. Breaking the kiss, she pulled her head back, shaking it unsteadily. "I don't need--"

"I know," Selina overrode the defiant declaration with gentle insistence and snatched a quick kiss. "I want to." And then she was lifting, the press of soft flesh and hard muscle feeling so right in her arms. She ducked her head, finding the redhead's mouth with her own as she sank down onto the huge bed. Lips and tongues met and meshed as she moved over the other woman, legs scissored together, hands cupped under her shoulders. A long moment of silent perusal followed as they both studied the rises and hollows visible in the faint light, trying to read each other.

Barbara slid her arms around the lean body poised above her own, one hand easing under Selina's jacket, bare flesh separated from bare flesh by nothing more than a thin, silk shell. She trailed her other hand up and around Selina's chest and shoulder, then worked her fingers into short, dark hair. "Why?" she whispered, still not understanding this at all. Why in the hell would Selina choose her? She honestly couldn't see any reason for it, and the soft laugh the question brought drew a confused look.

"Because we both need someone right now," the brunette drawled without offering further explanation, then ducked her head to explore the graceful slope of the redhead's neck and shoulder. It was as much explanation as she had anyway, or at least as much as she could offer since she couldn't exactly admit to the strange, surreal night and the resulting mix of guilt and desire that had been with her ever since.

Taut muscles spasmed and Barbara arched into the soft kisses that fell on her bare shoulders above the edge of her dress. Selina peeled a thin spaghetti strap aside and explored lower, every brush of her lips drawing a fresh shudder and another rolling wave of heat. It was insane, but her body felt more alive than it had at any time since the shooting, and her stomach muscles clenched, making her buck into the hand that dropped to rest lightly on her lower belly, moving ever so slightly in the lightest of caresses. And then the mouth on her upper chest was sliding higher again, brushing her jaw, her cheek, her temple.

"My turn to ask why," Selina breathed between the fluttery kisses.

Barbara didn't initially answer, just sifted through short, dark hair, playing with the springy strands and letting them slip through her fingers. "You make me feel..." she whispered at last, trailing off when she wasn't sure how to explain exactly what it was she was going through. "Maybe it's just that you make me feel," she said after a long beat during which she failed to come up with any emotional descriptors. "And I haven't in a long time ... at least not like this." The hand on her stomach slid lower, stroking lightly as it moved. The sensation dissipated, but for once it didn't disappear entirely, while nerve endings deep inside her body ached and throbbed. She felt a moment's resentment that it was this woman who did this to her without even really trying when every one of Dick's efforts hadn't even come close. Soft lips brushed her cheek again, and softer words were murmured against her skin.

"I think I know what you mean," Selina sighed, the redhead�s words touching something deep inside of her, something she'd thought lost or discarded too many years before to count. She pushed up on one hand to stare down into eyes that glittered ever so slightly in the faint light. "I know it's probably not the same thing," she admitted, then cocked her head to one side as she considered it. She didn't know what had happened to the woman who had been Batgirl during the intervening years, but maybe some of it wasn't so different. Maybe they were both damaged in ways only the other one could possibly understand. "Then again ... maybe it is." She let her gaze fall to where her hand was stroking lightly, watching the faint restless movement the caresses provoked, and listening to the tiny hitches in the other woman's breathing, while she tracked the faint quivers that slid over her skin. Her gaze rose again. "It's been a long time for you, hasn't it?" she whispered, then added more clarify the question, "Since you really wanted someone ... rather than just not wanting to be alone."

 

Barbara swallowed hard, a little frightened to hear her own unacknowledged emotions put into words that way by someone who, at least in theory, barely knew her. Admitting to that seemed like an even worse betrayal to Dick than sleeping with Selina, and yet she couldn't deny the charge. She curled her fingers around the hand caressing her stomach. "What are you doing to me?" she exhaled in a voice rife with fear. When she looked into Selina Kyle's eyes, it was like she entered some new place in her soul where she barely knew who she was. A faint headshake proved her to be every bit as confused as Barbara.

"I don't know ... but it's mutual," Selina whispered, looking down as smooth fingers outlined her knuckles, then trailed along the cords that stood out against the back of her hand. And then she felt pressure, pulling her hand lower while green eyes slid closed, as though some admissions simply couldn't be made while facing any part of the world. They had started a game long years before only to leave it unfinished. Apparently it was finally time for each of them to make the next move.

And Selina knew exactly what hers was going to be. The redhead was wearing a short minidress and it wasn't long before Selina's fingers were touching a velvety inner thigh. Red moaned, her head pressing back into the pillows, her breathing sharpening. "What do you want me to do?" brunette questioned, fascinated by what she could see of the emotions that slid over shadowed features.

Intensely aware of the faint brush of flesh and heat touching her where she hadn't felt anything beyond a few ghost sensations in years, it took Barbara a moment to translate the question, and when she did her fingers tightened on Selina's hand, a moment's indecision freezing her in place. Stop now and maybe she could still regain her sense of self and not do something that threatened to trash her self respect, and destroy the steadiest relationship she'd ever had in her life. Except....

Except.....

"I haven't felt anything in years ... just a few hints ... a little here and there," Barbara said, her voice a ragged whisper. And then her eyes snapped open. No matter what she should do, she couldn't. And then those fingers moved ever so slightly, the heat of the contact burning her with an addictive fire. "And I feel you." She pulled lightly, felt that searing touch, slight as it was, slide higher on her body. God only knew whether it was real or her imagination, but then again, she wasn�t sure it even mattered. "Touch me." The words came as a desperate plea, her tone melting into a soft whimper as those fingers continued moving against her skin.

Selina shifted, taking a moment to peel off her blazer before stretching out next to the other woman, her weight braced on her elbow as she ran her fingers over soft skin, thrilled by the restless tremors that rippled through the body next to her own. Amazing to realize that someone else's pleasure could do this to her. When it came to matters of sexual intimacy, she'd usually been one to take her own pleasure, confident she'd blown her partner's mind simply by allowing them to be with her. More often than not, she'd been right too. A throaty purr and the compliment that she wanted them had been more than enough gratification for most lovers and all she cared to share of herself anyway. Not this time. This time she wanted it all. She angled closer, lips fluttering along the line of a firm jaw, then covered a mouth that was softer than her own as her fingers found the edge of silky underwear. Fingers tightened on her hand with almost painful force as she worked her way past that delicate barrier, sliding under the thin waistband, then combing through soft curls.

Barbara almost screamed, abdominals spasming, lifting her hips to meet Selina's fingers. Logically, she knew the sensations were faint compared to what they'd once been, but they were so much more than she�d felt in a long time that she could barely think straight. One hand was still tangled in Selina's hair and she pulled her closer, the shields that normally hid her thoughts and feelings falling away.

Her touch light and careful, Selina worked her fingers deeper into humid flesh, moving slowly, afraid of somehow doing damage, but as she glimpsed the hunger visible in green eyes, she wasn't sure that was the right approach. "Hard or soft?" she whispered.

Her breath coming harsh and unsteady, Barbara ran her tongue along the line of her lips to moisten them. She could feel those fingers, long, slim, and agile---could feel them---and just wanted more. Held in place by Selina's gaze, she let go of her death grip on the brunette's hand, trailing her fingertips up the length of her wrist, then higher, wrapping her fingers around her forearm, pressing firmly enough to feel the shape of taut muscle. A moment later her hand rose to Selina's upper arm, the thin silk that separated flesh from flesh doing nothing to stop Barbara from testing the strength of bicep, tricep, and the run of muscle and ligament that tied her arm to her shoulder. She'd felt that strength once before, really felt it as the same fingers that were touching her now were driven deep into her body. "Hard," she admitted at last. She was tired of being treated like a china doll that might break if handled with anything but cautious reverence.

Green eyes flashed with understanding, then Selina slipped her fingers free of soft flesh to curl them into silky underwear and tear. The soft sound of ripping fabric seemed to vibrate the very air molecules around both women, and then the brunette tossed the shredded cloth aside. Holding green eyes that were a completely different shade from her own, Selina returned her fingers to soft flesh, exploring a little tentatively at first, then more strongly as she heard the resulting gasps and moans. Stretched out alongside the slender figure, Selina slid her free arm behind narrow shoulders, pulling the other woman closer, thrilled by the hands that found her body and clung to her back and shoulders. "I know what you need," she whispered near a delicate ear as she slid her fingers more firmly over slick flesh. Her teeth closed lightly on a soft earlobe, then bit harder as she felt the body in her arms shudder. She let go the sharp hold, then trailed her tongue along the whirls of Red's ear. "Someone who knows just how strong you are ... knows you don't need to be protected ... that you need to be challenged...." Remembering the feel of a lithe body in her arms, the struggle between them. And the arousal that had resulted all those years before---because for all of her anger, the woman in Selina's arms had been excited---she knew instinctively that this woman needed to explore that strength. Once upon a time, Red had played the wildest of games. A personality like that wasn't likely to enjoy being coddled and packed away in cotton.

"Please," Barbara groaned low in her throat, and turned into Selina's upper body, clutching tightly, blunted nails digging in where one hand was spread against the small of Selina's back.

"I will ... I promise," Selina breathed, fingers already searching and moving, learning the new---or least little explored---landscape opened up for her. She shifted the position of the hand braced behind slender shoulders, fingers working into silky red hair, pulling Red's head up until their lips met and meshed. Tiny nonsensical whimpers filled her mouth when she eased a single finger inside in a first, careful foray. "Begging for more?" she growled through the ranging kisses.

Barbara pulled away from Selina's mouth, teeth digging into her chin, not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to make green eyes spark and powerful muscles pull taut. "More," she gasped, her voice carrying equal measures of plea and command.

"Such a demanding little kitten," Selina purred, reclaiming possession of sweet lips as she added a second finger to the first. A strong hand tugged her blouse free of her skirt, then slid under, nails digging directly into her lower back.

"Now," Barbara whined.

A ripple of sensual laughter hung in the air and Barbara's temerity was rewarded with a third finger and a slow, deep thrust. Nearly overwhelmed by the wonderful fullness of the invasion, she buried her face in the curve of Selina's neck, pressing soft kisses everywhere she could reach while her hands clutched convulsively at the slender body around and above her own, digging in and pulling her even closer. Sensation, intense and nearly forgotten rushed over every nerve ending still capable of carrying a signal, Selina's ability to arouse her as no one else ever had bringing her body to life in ways she didn't even begin to understand.

"So wild," the brunette whispered and pressed a kiss onto the other woman's temple. "So beautiful." And then she gave the redhead what she was begging for, muscles flexing all along the length of her arm as she thrust with the strength and power her new lover was pleading for.

Clinging even harder, Barbara pulled Selina's head down, mouths blending together in a symphony of sweet, soul-stealing kisses.

 

Mouths moved together, both aggressive and hungry. Easily matching the tempo of raw, hard thrusts. Selina drank in the resulting flow of moans and whimpers, achingly aroused by the other woman's hunger and desperation. Her thumb riding high, fingers going deep, she thrust with such force that she lifted the other woman's hips off the mattress in an openly sexual rhythm, the strength required, grinding their bodies together from shoulder to hip. She pulled back ever so slightly to stare down into flushed features, taking in the need visible in green eyes. Then she kissed again, toying with the mouth momentarily bound to her own. "You need more, don't you, Red?" she growled, then trailed her lips along the sharp cut of the redhead's jaw. "You need my mouth," she hissed in her ear, heard the low groan and felt the body pressed against her own spasm, and smiled.

Suddenly tense and a little frightened, as much because of the sudden flood of heat as in spite of it, Barbara pushed Selina back until she could stare into green eyes, caught and held by the uninhibited pleasure she saw there. "I don't ... I mean ... I ... I..." she stammered brokenly, nearly frozen by the intensity of her response. There'd always been something wanton and a little forbidden about the act, a sense of surrender and even submission that made her uncomfortable. Being the only one lost in that kind of pleasure gave away enormous power, and she'd never been entirely sanguine about letting go that completely. That it meant bypassing scars the sight of which always made Dick wince and often as not seemed to kill his ardor had only made it less appealing.

Selina saw the hesitance but also felt the way the body beneath her own trembled wildly. "You want it...." she whispered knowingly, muscles flexing up and down her arm as she thrust again. "...need it..." she growled and ducked her head, nipping and kissing her way across Barbara's chest. "...and you're going to have it." Braced on her hands, she trailed hot kisses over the slope of gently rounded breasts and down, dragging her tongue along the striated curve of her ribcage, then outlining taut abdominals. She thrust again as her teeth dug into a slender hip hard enough to leave a red imprint and a faint indentation, then pushed slender thighs apart. "All of it."

Despite being careful not damage soft flesh, Selina wasn�t gentle, using teeth and tongue to draw the pleasure ever tighter until Barbara�s back was clenched in a tight bow at the shoulders, her hands gripping soft hair so tightly her fingers threatened to cramp, tiny, whining exhalations escaping gently parted lips. Selina deepened the thrusts and roughened the caresses and felt as much as heard the prone woman�s whispered pleas. And then she pushed up on one hand, staring up the length of Red�s body, grabbing and holding the gaze that swung down to lock with her own in the thin light. That intense jade gaze followed Selina as she lowered herself again, determined not to stop this time.

What followed was all hard muscle, raw strength, and whipping caresses, and Barbara thrived on it, her body heaving and twisting in time with Selina�s barely leashed power until finally fireworks exploded behind her tightly closed eyelids, runners of fire moving along every functioning nerve ending in her body.

Dear God, she�d completely forgotten sex could be like this.

Or maybe she�d never known.

No, that was wrong. She�d known. One night she�d fallen under this same, silken spell and nearly lost her soul for the doing. In the years since, she�d tried like hell to ignore it, forget it, and pretend it never happened, but here it was, still with her, still able to make her doubt her every thought and emotion. And now it even came without the safe, plausible deniability of force. Now it was just as much on her shoulders as it was on Selina�s. She�d made a choice and here she was.

And, god help her, Barbara couldn�t even find it in her to regret the decision.

A keening whine vibrated her eardrums---her own desperate cries, Barbara realized distantly---even as the muscles in her upper back, shoulders, across her chest and down her abdomen all locked, then began pulsing in time with the sudden waves of pleasure that crested and broke over her. Her nails dug in and found a purchase in slender shoulders, doubtless leaving claw marks even through Selina�s blouse.

Barbara never realized what she was doing, too lost in sensation to track the real world.

It was like being caught in a vicious undertow, her body no longer her own to control, darkness and light exploding and popping behind closed eyelids in ways that had nothing to do with the illumination in the room, her lungs fighting for oxygen that seemed to have disappeared, while she was tossed about like so much flotsam on the waves.

And then suddenly the water was gone and she was in midair and plunging straight down so fast she could almost hear the wind whistling past her ears.

Barbara landed hard in her fall back to earth, collapsing into a boneless sprawl, the only faint movement she was capable of, turning her head as she was gathered close to a body that was equal parts hard muscle and soft curves, by arms that held her far more gently than she would have predicted.

"Shhh. It�s all right," Selina soothed and Barbara abruptly realized she was crying, her body shaking with ragged sobs, hot tears falling on the curve of Selina�s neck. A gentle hand petted her hair and soft lips dusted kisses onto her temples. "You�re okay. I�ve got you."

Nosing deeper into the warmth of Selina�s neck, Barbara had to fight a burst of near hysterical laughter as it occurred to her that she believed every word of it. She was lying in the arms of Selina Kyle---Catwoman---feeling as safe and protected as she�d ever felt in her life. It shouldn�t have made sense, and yet somehow it did. She started to pull away ever so slightly, but Selina cupped the back of her head, gently restraining her.

"Shhh. Easy," that silky, oh-so-sexy voice teased Barbara�s ear, the tone both understanding and oddly sympathetic. "Give yourself a few minutes."

Barbara tightened her hold on firm curves, lips playing over a taut cord in Selina�s throat as her pulse slowly settled back to something approaching normal, and she remembered how to breathe again. Finally, she pulled her head back, her breathing slow and deep now, though still a little ragged, a little startled to find Selina�s expression incredibly soft as their eyes met. She dropped her gaze, captivated by the half smile curving full lips. If she hadn�t known Selina better, she would have sworn she was nervous. She looked back up, swallowing hard, her hands still trembling gently as she reached up and brushed overlong bangs away from Selina�s forehead.

"It�s been a long time for you, hasn�t it?" Selina breathed, awed by the intensity of the other woman�s response.

Not knowing what to say, Barbara just shrugged.

Amazed to feel her heart slamming against the inside of her ribs, Selina could only stare for a long moment. When she finally moved again, it was to cup one hand along the side of Red�s face, feeling a thousand different things she�d long since forgotten she was even capable of. She licked suddenly dry lips, struggling to think of something profound to say, but profound had never been among her many talents. She was better at wiseass and snarky, and neither of those sentiments was even remotely appropriate for the occasion. This was....

Oh, yes, it was and how.

Selina ran her thumb along the full curve of the redhead�s lower lip, absorbing the velvety texture and committing the sensation to memory. A wry smile touched her lips as she glanced down and remembered they were both still almost completely dressed. Just a few key bits missing here and there. They�d both been too eager for more to care. Red desperate for raw, sexual pleasure, while Selina had been just as desperate to give it to her. She shook her head in amazement. If she was honest, she�d never been the most giving of souls---in bed or out of it---but there had been a sense of power and something more in knowing that no one else had done this for the woman in her arms in a very long time.

If ever.

The heat of a delicate fingertip stroking the ridge of her cheekbone brought Selina out of her momentary musings, drawing her to refocus on the woman in her arms, noting that the tears had dried, though her smile was still on the watery side. How was it this woman reached inside of her and touched a part of her soul she�d long since concluded she didn�t even have? Red brushed a light caress down the line of her throat, drawing erotic patterns on her skin. Her smile turning decidedly sexual, Selina reached up and covered that hand with her own, guiding it down to the first button in the vee of her blouse. "Let me feel you," she pleaded, her other hand making its way to the hem of Red�s dress. "All of you." She toyed with the soft skin of Red�s upper thigh as she eased her fingers under the edge of her dress, seeking out the textures of velvet and silk she knew awaited her.

Faintly fumbling, Barbara carefully eased the button free, then made her way to the next one, working her way down Selina�s chest, her full attention drawn to the pale, butter-soft skin revealed by her slow progress. As the soft fabric fell open, she slipped a hand underneath the pale silk to cup a full breast with her fingers and palm. Already taut flesh firmed under her touch, Selina�s breath catching while her body shifted restlessly. "Hard or soft?" Barbara knowingly repeated Selina�s earlier question.

Selina considered the question for a moment. She�d played so many games, rough, hard, demanding, kinky games, and suddenly they all seemed hopelessly wrong. "Soft," she breathed, her fingers playing over sculpted cheekbones, then slipping back into russet hair. "As soft as it�s possible to be ... skin to skin." She kissed Red very lightly, lips just barely brushing. "Mouth to mouth ... body to body...." She tugged her lover�s---Selina mentally tested that designation, decided she like it, and kissed her again---dress higher, fingers stroking impossibly smooth flesh during the journey to drag the stretchy fabric higher.

Barbara pushed Selina�s blouse back off her shoulders, fingertips just barely dusting newly bared skin, smiling as she noted the goosebumps that rose in the wake of her touch and heard Selina�s soft gasps as firm curves ground into her own. She frowned ever so slightly, watching Selina, reading the signs and recognizing them, though there was a part of her that didn�t quite believe what logic was telling her.

Well aware of those striking eyes watching her, Selina felt her hands shake ever so slightly as she impatiently tugged Red�s dress higher. After a moment�s frustration, she pushed up to gain some space, then tugged the soft fabric all the way off in one smooth move, letting go and not caring where it fell as her eyes traced stunningly perfect curves. Hard to believe she was anything but perfectly normal without any physical problems at all. Selina reached out and brushed her fingertips along sleek runs of muscle, felt the tiny quiver and twitches, then felt them die away as her fingers slid lower, that shift in response a poignant and visceral dose of reality. She swallowed hard, amazed by her own sense of awe and desire. No one had ever made her feel this way before in her life. She was caught by surprise when Red reached up and stroked her cheek, then slid a hand around the back of her neck, fingers working into the hair at the nape of her neck.

"It�s been a long time for you too, hasn�t it?" Barbara whispered in a sudden burst of understanding. "Maybe not since you�ve been with someone, but since..." she stumbled to a halt, not knowing how to phrase it and suddenly feeling vaguely foolish. Selina Kyle wasn�t a woman who needed to beg for attention from either sex. "I�m sorry. That�s stupid. You�re probably---"

"Actually, you�re right," Selina breathed. "It�s been a long time since I�ve been with someone I really wanted to be with." Mostly she just hadn�t wanted to be alone in her recent encounters. "A very long time since anyone got past the walls." She ducked her head, traded more kisses, leaning into firm curves as she felt agile fingers toy with the fasteners on her skirt. She slithered out of the unwanted garment and her underwear at the same time, helped in the task by quick and graceful hands that stroked and smoothed as they pushed the light fabric down over her hips. And then she was kicking free and sinking down again, upper bodyweight braced on her hands as she scissored her legs together with Red�s. They kissed slowly and fingers toyed with her hair, then played down the line of her spine. Shivering violently, Selina tipped her head back, opening her throat to the soft lips that ambled along a taut cord like Little Red Riding Hood wandering to the Forest. A tiny sound that was half whimper, half moan escaped her lips. Only this time Little Red wasn�t likely to meet a wolf because a very hungry, jungle cat had gotten there first.

Fingers slid down her body, lightly stroking Selina�s breasts and belly.

A very hungry, jungle cat likely to roll on its back and purr happily if Red kept petting its belly that way. Damn! That was always the way to get to a cat, Selina mused with some humor. Pet its belly, stroke its ears, and make it purr and it�s yours---if not for life, then....

Well, she couldn�t contemplate that at that moment.

Actually, given the way her brain was threatening to short circuit, she couldn�t contemplate much of anything. A low moan vibrating the back of her throat much like one of her namesakes, she tightened her hold on Red, then did a slow roll onto her back, pulling the other woman on top of her, shivers quicksilvering over her skin in response to the pure, sybaritic pleasure of feeling the textures of human silk and velvet sliding against what seemed like every inch of her body.

Already spun to a fever pitch, she almost exploded right then and there.

Then she was grateful she hadn�t as Red braced her hands on the mattress, ducked her head, and began fluttering the lightest of kisses---brushes so faint they resembled the passage of a butterfly�s wing---everywhere she could reach. She barely even made contact, sometimes didn�t actually make contact, just drew so close Selina could feel the radiant heat of her lips.

How could something so faint, so light it was almost a trick of the imagination, be so goddamned intense that it had ready to scream? Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, who was generally known for yelling, "Harder, faster," meaning it, demanding it, and using her claws to get it if the party in question didn�t obey her requests with sufficient vigor, was whimpering, moaning, and pleading for caresses so delicate she ought to be barely able to feel them.

And yet, she felt them. From the top of her head, to the very tips of her toes, she felt every single one until her body was humming, every hair standing on end, her breathing ragged and harsh, her toes tightly curled. Red�s lips dusted over her breasts like the softest rose petals, played down the length of each arm, brushed the tip of every one of her ten fingertips, then outlined neatly delineated abdominal muscles that quivered and rippled at their passage. "Please," Selina heard that soft, distant sound---herself begging---and shuddered. She never begged. Selina Kyle absolutely. Did. Not. Beg. Ever. "Don�t stop ... god, please, don�t stop."

Until now.

Dusty kisses fell across Selina�s stomach and hips, then scattered themselves over her upper thighs. Whatever her limitations, Red had clearly figured out how to get around because she seemed to be moving easily and was definitely going anywhere she wanted.

Shoulders rolling into the softness of the mattress, Selina�s body rose rhythmically, fingers working into spun silk hair, her touch as gentle and as light as she knew how to make it, for once not grabbing or controlling. She whimpered, pled, legs apart, inviting the body above her own to move closer and deeper.

Red, on the other hand, had her own plans and was more than willing to take her own sweet time.

Sweet, sweet time. Her lips danced and played, her breath heating already molten nerve endings until muscles trembled and sweat beaded.

Selina lost all track of time and space, her entire existence coalescing into a pulsating whine of sexual need.

And through the whole thing, Red barely even made contact. Selina would have sworn that she�d never been made for such subtleties. She was a woman of action and demand, and yet she was completely lost in the gossamer caresses falling everywhere.

"Please." Again the out of character begging came, and finally, there was some time tiny measure of something approaching real pressure as she was entered and stroked from the inside out. Her spine twisted into a deep arch, shoulders and hips pressing into the mattress, center back coming all the way off of it. And then the faint kisses found the aching center of her need in a flutter of a contact that was less a caress than it was an awareness of nearness. Her heels and shoulders denting the mattress, Selina heard her voice as if from the wrong end of a very long hallway pleading and begging, begging and pleading. How could something so light be so intense, and how could she have been tamed by something so tender? She didn�t understand it at all. A part of her wanted to grab Red and force her to increase the tempo, the pressure, the contact. The hunter wanted its prey.

And the other part knew that the moment she did that, Red might well give her exactly what she wanted, but it wouldn�t be what she needed. Couldn�t be what she would get if she let herself go and let the other woman control this.

She�d said she wanted soft, but she hadn�t known it could be this hard. Her entire body bucked, instinctively trying to take the all the things Selina was fighting the urge to demand, but Red was quick and agile, easily riding with the sudden burst of movement, and refusing to let the pressure increase for any reason but by her choice. Gentle as it was, she was completely in control, and for the first time in her life, Selina gloried in submitting to another person�s whims.

Whimpers melded into soft cries that gained in volume with each passing moment as denial slowly turned to reward, not as fast as Selina might have wanted, but perfectly in time with her body�s needs. Sensual tension coiled tighter and tighter, heat and cold suddenly indistinguishable. Pleasure was so stretched out it was on the verge of sliding over into pain while sensation was so desperately craved that even pain would have been pleasure if delivered by the redhead playing her body like it was her own personal toy.

In the past, Selina had always found orgasm to be a moment as much about much needed relief as pleasure. It had always been rather like scratching a particularly intense itch. Satisfying to be sure, but little more than that. It had hit, been nice while it lasted, then left her with the desire to roll over and sleep, preferably alone.

This was completely different.

In the first instant, as her body tightened and the sensation coalesced, then flowered outward, she discovered an all-new definition.

At first, it was a flashfire, raging over her nerve endings hot and fast in a blinding rush, then almost as quickly as it struck, the tempo shifted, slowing and changing, pulsing quakes rattling back and forth through her like a forest fire rolling back on itself to finish off any fuel left unburned in the first wave. The blaze seemed to go on forever, banking, dancing here and there, then relighting the embers to flare anew, burning even hotter than it had before.

Selina purred, growled, and finally tipped her head back and howled, the roar vibrating up from her chest deep and raw until there was no strength left in her and the sound died away inside and out. She ran out of cries, gasps, and even whimpers. Even the raging beat of her heart seem to have gone silent in her chest.

Suddenly limp, Selina fell back into the mattress in a boneless sprawl. Had she been capable of coherent thought, she might have thought the world had gone away and she�d been ejected into the soundless, airless vacuum of space, the only thing left to tether her to earth, the impossibly gentle hand that made its way up the length of her body, barely touching as it stroked and caressed before settling over her chest.

Time passed, though she never had even a faint idea how long, until sound, heat, and light swam back into Selina Kyle�s realm of existence. She lifted a hand, resting it lightly over the fingers already laid over her left breast, feeling the sympathetic thud of her heart through the light contact. Still there and still beating, she realized distantly, just like her lungs were still working, unsteadily bellowing air in and our, while sweat trickled and ran over her skin.

They lay like that for a long time, and then she felt the mattress shift and suddenly elegant curves were skimming along the sleek lines of her body. Reaching up with a trembling hand, Selina curved her fingers to the slope of Red�s shoulder, the muscles up and down her arm quivering with the effort required. "Red," she whispered shakily, unaccustomed words of affection dancing on the very tip of her tongue. "I..." the words fell away, unspoken, leaving her uncertain what it was she�d intended to say.

Pink lips that were soft and glossy parted, worked silently as though Selina wasn�t the only one having a hard time expressing herself, then pressed closed again as they tipped into a smile.

Feeling her facial muscles pull in response, Selina realized that she was grinning back. Arching up, she found and tasted that smile, quickly discovering that it felt even better than it looked when it was molded to her own mouth. Minutes passed while they shared slow kisses and simply lay dovetailed together, then finally Selina, being Selina, rolled Red beneath her. She was only capable of surrendering control for so long before her true nature reasserted itself. Grinning down at the woman lying beneath her, her weight braced on her elbows, Selina felt strong hands wrap around her, then slide up her back before working their way into her hair. "Hard," she whispered almost inaudibly, "or soft?"

"Surprise me this time," Barbara exhaled, already once again lost in thick pleasure, her body ramped up and feeling the effects of making love to Selina.

Making love to Selina.

Selina Kyle.

Catwoman.

Her some part of her oh-so-logical brain tried desperately to seize on the sheer impossibility of that idea and point out that she didn�t belong there, had no business being naked with her former enemy, and should get the hell out as quickly as possible, but emotion and sensation quickly overruled that sensible part of her nature. It all just felt too damn good, too real for her to pull away, no matter how thoroughly she knew she should. But still she tried to clear her head, tried to remind herself about Dick and their relationship, about all the things that should have prevented her from ever letting it get this far.

"I think a bit of both," Selina whispered, distracting Barbara from her confused musings

Then silky kisses and caresses began trickling over her shoulders and down her chest, and forgot all about any thoughts of pulling away.

Sanity would not reassert itself for hours to come and by the time it did, Selina would be fast asleep.

And somehow, sanity would seem far less sane than madness.

* * * * * *

Selina yawned slowly as she woke and stretched her muscles with languid grace. Grinning silently, she rolled and reached for the body that had spent hours twined with her own only to come up short as she realized she was alone in bed. She blinked, then pushed up on one elbow as something crinkled under her arm. Startled, she reached for it, brows drawing into a dark frown as she realized it was an envelope, the hotel address in the return address corner and hotel stationary inside.

Selina pushed upright so she was sitting on the edge of the bed and reached for the wall sconce nearby to illuminate the neat script that half filled the page in her hand. It was polite, properly emotional, both in expressing regret in not staying to face her and also in reminding her that there was someone else in the picture. It was also very clear that what had happened between them was a one-time thing, and it was over now.

It wasn�t signed.

She crumpled the note, frustrated anger momentarily getting the better of her, but she didn�t throw the paper with its neatly written script away. Instead she clung to it, somehow managing to keep her hold on it as she pushed to her feet and grabbed for her discarded clothes, yanking them on, her movements far more wooden than they�d been in a long time, though they would still have appeared graceful others. Once dressed, she stood at the window, staring out at the city for a long moment, then she slowly let her head fall forward, eyes dropping until they fell on the tightly balled paper still clutched in her hand. Using her thumbnail, she pushed at an edge, opening it ever so slightly, then pushed at another edge, working it open millimeter by millimeter, needing to see the words again even knowing the pain they would cause. When it was finally open, the words crumpled and difficult to read, but legible nonetheless, she stared at the neat script, rereading them even though they�d been committed to memory the first time through. Finally, she folded it, pressing it as flat as possible. As she turned toward the door and reached for the knob, she did a half turn, staring back at sheets that showed the effects of the hours spent with bodies twined together. After a moment, she looked down at the note, then back at the bed. "Oh no, Red," she said very softly, her words a solemn vow, "this isn�t over. Not by a long shot."

* * * * * *

 

Chapter Two

Two Days Later

 

Sleek, Monica Jeffries decided as she watched the lean figure stalk---she tested the word mentally and decided it was the only one that fit curvaceous figure moving easily through the confines of the public library, her body graceful, expression intense. Hard to miss stuff even if Monica's preference hadn't run to women. The newcomer was ... well, she was definitely something and not like the normal clientele of the Gotham Public Library at all. The woman spoke to someone at the counter, who gestured Monica's direction as she answered, leaving the computer records specialist wondering what she should do first, fall into a dead faint or run for cover. She settled on just staring wide-eyed as the woman drew close, her eyes bright, a faint smile on her lips. Monica had the distinct impression the brunette stared right through her and instantly knew her every fantasy---which was incredibly embarrassing given that the woman smiling down at her suddenly figured very heavily in them. The librarian offered a weak smile, her eyes falling on crimson that lips that drew into a charming smile.

"Hello, Ms. Jeffries, I understand you're the one I need to speak to about accessing public records?"

Monica's head bobbed in a nod as she struggled to keep her gaze from trailing down from those full lips to a body that was both curved and lean in all the right places, and all the right proportions. "Uh ... yeah ... public," thank god, she didn't say pubic, which was mildly amazing considering where her brain was apparently residing at that exact moment, "records."

"Perfect," the brunette drawled, her eyes and voice promising all the pleasures in the world. "I'm ... Lena ... Carstairs, by the way," she added and held out a hand. Her skin felt scorchingly hot as Monica automatically reached up and accepted the light handshake.

"Um ... Monica Jeffries," Monica stammered nervously.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Ms. Jeffries," Lena murmured, then directed another slow smile Monica's way as she pulled a chair over and sank down into it, sitting as gracefully as she walked. "You see, I'm rather hoping you can help me with a bit of a problem."

She could pretty much have anything she wanted, Monica mused as she felt her body respond as though there were tiny firecrackers going off all over the place. "If I possibly can," she said quickly.

Lena smiled and settled a hand on Monica's, thumb just barely grazing her knuckles. "Well, it's kind of ... embarrassing...." She leaned a little closer, her tone conspiratorial. "You see I met this woman I was very attracted to---I hope that doesn't shock you...."

"No ... not at all," Monica insisted almost instantly, though she seriously considered settling in for a good cry. There was just something almost too cruel to be true about the notion that this woman was into women, but was already interested in someone. Not that she thought she'd ever be in this woman's class, but it�s no fun having one�s fantasies shattered just as they�re being formed. "I mean ... it's ... uh ... everyone should be able to express what they feel without feeling any shame...." Dear God, she'd slid into some weird babbling space. Who knew what she might say next? She tried to put her mind back on her job. "But I don't understand what I...."

"Well, we met at an art show ... and I didn't get her name ... but I'd really like to see her again."

"Ok-ay," Monica exhaled uncertainly. "I still don't see how I--"

"Well, you see, an old friend of sorts showed up, and I lost track of this woman, but I did get her license plate number as she was driving away."

"Oh ... um ... well..." she stammered, trying desperately not to notice the warmth of the hand covering her own.

"And I was kind of hoping you could look it up, and tell me who she is." Lena offered a tiny grin ... possibly the sexiest smile Monica had ever seen in her life.

Monica would have preferred it if the was romance directed her way, but barring that, she had the softest heart for these sorts of things. She also had a job. "Oh ... you do know that we're supposed to notify the person and get permission before giving out any information?" she murmured, sensing that other woman wasn't likely to be happy with that news.

Full lips pursed ever so slightly, but the brunette's tone was almost fawning. "An excellent precaution obviously. There are so many maniacs out there these days." She paused momentarily, a faintly pleading expression glowing in her almost hypnotic green eyes. "It's just that I was kind of hoping to surprise her with flowers."

"Oh," Monica exhaled. Oh god, that was the most romantic thing she'd heard since her best friend, Annie, started dating a guy who wrote greeting card poetry. He�d been smart, funny, brought flowers, remembered anniversaries, and always knew exactly the right thing to say. If he'd just been a woman, he'd have been perfect. This woman was better. "Well, I suppose ... maybe..." she murmured, still staring into a mesmerizing pair of green eyes. She felt her heart kick into high gear as a high wattage smile was directed her way.

"I knew you looked like someone who enjoys helping true romance."

Monica nodded, her heart throbbing in her chest, the sound so loud it was a wonder she could hear a thing. "If you'll just give me the number, I'll see what I can do."

Ten minutes later, Monica cursed very softly. "I'm sorry, but it looks like it's a corporate vehicle. Probably a loaner from her employer."

"I don't suppose you could tell me what company," the brunette suggested quietly.

Monica pulled up another screen, then shrugged. "Satco. Erudex Unlimited. It's an offshore corporation...." She frowned. "There's a local contact address, but I recognize it. It's one of those mailbox companies." She frowned ever so slightly, trying to make sense of that. One would think a company large enough to own executive vehicles would have more than just a box drop. She was still considering that problem when the other woman interrupted her thoughts.

One dark brow arched suggestively. "Damn." The brunette considered the problem for a moment, then began again. "Any way you could trace her through a driver's licence ... physical features and such ... at least narrow it down maybe? She's pretty unique ... red hair, green eyes, 5'-4" to 5'-6"...." She paused momentarily, then quietly added, " and she uses a wheelchair."

Monica's brows shot up. "You're looking for Barbara Gordon?" she exhaled in shock.

Cat green eyes narrowed faintly. "You know her?" she said, her tone clipped this time.

"We were in the same library science program in undergrad," Monica said in shock. "I mean I don't know that it's the same person ... but she matches the description ... and the last time I saw her she was driving a Hummer."

Full lips moved, mouthing the name as Lena floated away for a moment. "I know that name," the brunette murmured after a moment, her expression thoughtful.

"Her dad used to be the police commissioner."

"The police ... commissioner?" the brunette repeated, her voice creaking ever so slightly. She shielded her face momentarily with one hand, and Monica could have sworn she muttered, "Of course."

"And she always seemed really straight ... y'know ... in college."

When the brunette finally dropped her hand, she offered a charming smile, though for the first time Monica had the distinct feeling it was artificially pasted on. Or maybe that it took effort this time, since it suddenly occurred to her that maybe it had always been artificial. "I don't suppose you'd know of some way to contact her?" The question was hopefully asked and green eyes gleamed.

Monica still felt the force of the raw charm directed her way, but it was finally starting to sink in that maybe she'd gone too far. Even if she'd been able to answer the question, she wasn't sure she would have. She shook her head. "Sorry ... no. She used to come in here sometimes, but I haven't seen her in more than a year." She wasn't really sure about that, but she suddenly didn't want this woman coming here in search of Barbara. She remembered the other woman fairly well since they'd been part of the same study group at one time. She'd always liked her, and Babs had been one of the few people who hadn�t freaked when she came out.

Green eyes flashed, but Lena's---and Monica abruptly had it in her to wonder if that was her real name---tone remained cool. "Thank you anyways, then." The fire drained out her gaze, leaving Monica with the impression that it wasn't really directed her way, and she rose gracefully. "I appreciate your help." Her gaze became distant, as though she was seeing another place and time. "At least I know more than I did." She started to turn away, only to turn back, her expression serious to the point of grimness, any attempt at charm gone missing. "I don't suppose you know what happened to her ... the chair, I mean."

Feeling her brows draw together in a frown, Monica stared up at the other woman in shock. Given that it had been all over the Gotham papers, she was surprised there was anyone left who didn't know what had happened to Barbara Gordon. "I guess you weren't in town a few years ago," she said softly.

Lena shook her head. "I was away for a bit," she said without elaborating. "What happened? Some kind of accident ... a fall maybe?"

Monica shook her head, the words threatening to dry up as she remembered the morning she'd opened the paper and found Barbara's picture on the front page under a screaming headline. It was the closest she'd ever come to real violence, and it still made her shake. "You really don't know," she breathed, a little caught up in that old shock.

"What is it? What happened?" Sick fear throbbed in that husky, warm voice, turning it from the sensual to something much darker in an instant.

"She was shot," Monica said and glanced down at her own hand where it rested on the mouse. "She was at her dad's one night ... knock on the door and she answered it. Some sick fuck mad at her father was there ... he just shot her." She knew her mouth was running unchecked, but the memory was still enough to shake her ... especially the sickest parts of it. "Then he took pictures ... stripped her clothes off and photographed her like that." Her stomach rolled. The local papers hadn't printed any of the pictures, but the tabloids had, and they still popped up online sometimes---on snuff sites that catered to sickos who got off on that sort of thing---though they never seemed to last long. She guessed law enforcement made sure they came down. She'd glimpsed them a few times when people had used library computers to try and access that sort of thing. It was beyond sick.

"Who?" Lena broke in on Monica's thoughts, her tone so rough it sounded as though she'd been gargling ground glass. "Who did it?"

"Some freak who called himself the Joker. Guess he...." She didn't get a chance to finish as the brunette turned on her heel and all but fled without another word. It occurred to Monica that maybe she should have kept her mouth shut. She'd always had a problem with saying too much, and instinct told her that she'd done it again. Oddly enough, despite a few moments of nervousness, she suddenly wasn't worried for her old schoolmate's safety. The hell she'd seen in green eyes hadn't been threatening. It had been shattered and even guilty ... which made no sense now that she thought about it.

* * * * * * *

Selina grabbed the first thing she could reach when she entered her apartment, and flung it hard, the sound of shattering porcelain nowhere near as satisfying as she'd hoped.

The Joker.

That white-faced, green-haired freak.

He was the one who'd....

God.

A sick burst of nausea twisted her stomach into knots.

And she'd worked with him a couple of times ... helped him ... looked to the mainline chance, calculated the profit, ignored what might happen to his victims, and gone ahead with it. Even knowing what he was, she'd played the game for her own benefit. She almost screamed, then slammed her fist into the wall, the pain in her knuckles nowhere near enough to dull the agony throbbing in her chest. She could have killed him more than once, could have reached out and snapped his neck and ended it all before it began. How many lives could she have saved? How much pain could people have avoided?

She grabbed for something else, felt the compression of arm and shoulder muscles as she hurled it as hard as she was able. Again the shattering sound was strangely devoid of any satisfaction. Once upon a time such displays of temper had soothed her. Of late, they only seemed to make things worse.

Maybe it was because she now knew what the pain was like. Once upon a time she hadn't let herself care, had simply thrown herself into her chosen career, not caring where the chips fell so long as she came out ahead, and they didn't land on her head. Only the last year had shown her just how thoroughly people could be hurt and she'd suffered her own losses, the last one enough to wind up with her sister in a mental ward, totally catatonic, and very probably there for the rest of her life.

Sighing heavily, she leaned against the wall, abruptly deflating as it all swept over her. She'd done it all. No escaping it now. She'd done it and never felt a moment's guilt when she was doing it. No, that wasn't entirely true. At least one thing she'd done still haunted her ... in every way imaginable, good and bad. She'd shoved it into the back alleys of her mind for years, only pulling the memory out during the darkest, loneliest hours of the night, but ever since running into Valerie Lewton, her mind had insisted on replaying it. And now to see her again. She shook her head, eyes sliding closed as she remembered the feel of a firm, heated body trapped in her arms, the soft sounds of innocence lost as silky flesh clutched at her fingers, the taste and smell of a body discovering arousal for the first time. She'd wanted---still wanted, if she was honest---and taken. And the worst part was that she couldn't even find it in her to back away from the course she'd set ... to take again. She'd tried to pretend it was simple curiosity, maybe even a possible tool somewhere down the line, but faced with her own perfidy, she couldn't maintain the fa�ade that it was anything but desire that drove her. It would be gently done seduction rather than handcuffs this time, but no less a campaign to steal something she wanted. And with the same refusal to be denied.

Selina pushed away from the wall, straightening her shoulders, the wild rage sliding on past, leaving a cool kind of determination in its place. She was a different person now, one who wouldn't repeat the same mistakes. There'd been temptation in Batgirl's green eyes before; her body had exploded with pleasure under the ministrations of Selina's fingers. And before it was over she'd capitulated at some level. A shudder slid through Selina, heating her body as she remembered the feel of soft lips and rough tongue sliding over her finger, tasting the evidence of their encounter.

All that was assuming that Barbara Gordon really was her. If Joker had shot her, there would have been news stories, undoubtedly pictures as well. She flicked on the laptop computer she'd finally given in and learned how to use some months before, logging on with the intent of hitting the local newspaper archives.

A little over two hours later she knew the truth.

Red was Barbara Gordon.

And human nature was just sick some days. She'd found the original newspaper articles, with pictures of the pretty redhead from her college days.

And then she'd found the reference to the other pictures....

The ones the Joker took.

And wound up learning things about human nature that she'd probably guessed and deliberately avoided seeing when she was working with some of the slimiest scum ever to walk the earth.

There were perverts sick enough to want to see that---to be aroused by seeing that---and they were out there looking for it.

In fact, an entire mythos had developed around them, replete with tales of virused images, hacked websites, and a nasty little tapeworm that once loaded on the owner's computer would check for kiddie porn and turn the IP number over to the F.B.I. if it found anything.

The amazing part was that at least some of the rumors appeared to be true. Several snuff sites had apparently gone down within hours of posting the stolen shots, and the computer system of one rag that had printed them apparently hadn't worked right since.

Oracle, Selina realized in a blink. The computer hacker wouldn't have a problem doing something like that ... or building up a little bit of urban myth around it. Good for her. It seemed to have the perverts cowed. Quite a few even insisted that they knew of people who'd downloaded the jpegs and even they were somehow virused.

And then she actually stumbled across two of them, freshly posted on a usenet group, and automatically decoded. Selina had to back away from the computer to keep from destroying something. When she finally moved again, it was to slam the screen shut so she didn't have to look at them any longer.

She sat frozen for a long time, then finally reached up, massaging her temple slowly, trying to work away the headache throbbing there. She'd spent her life pretending that the things she did hadn't really hurt anyone ... that somehow a rough childhood made it all right ... that the world owed her something ... that it was just money she was stealing.

She let her head fall forward into her hands, suddenly exhausted beyond measure. She needed to think, to figure out what to do next.

The only thing she was certain about was she couldn�t just walk away.

Not this time.

* * * * * *

Dark blonde brows drew into a frown as Dinah Lance entered Oracle�s clocktower lair. Babs was hunched over a computer station, her full attention on a readout onscreen, her gaze focused and intense. It wasn�t what you�d call an unusual sight. Barbara Gordon---AKA Oracle---in full-out intense mode was pretty much the norm in the clocktower. The only reason Dinah didn�t see it all that often was that usually Oracle was so intense because she was desperately trying to keep Dinah alive. Being the Black Canary could be a real bitch some days.

Still, despite the fact that desperate and driven were pretty much Barbara Gordon�s default mode, there was something about it that just felt off to Dinah and had for a couple of days. Her partner had gone missing for close to twelve hours and come back insisting she�d just needed a little time off, but Dinah was certain something wasn�t quite right. She just couldn�t put her finger on it. She paced around behind her best friend, watching her silently, then abruptly vaulted over a nearby desk chair, somehow managing to land in a comfortable pose with her feet up on the desk, legs loosely crossed at the ankles. She folded her arms across her chest and grinned as an annoyed green gaze swung her way. "So, Babs, what�s up?"

Russet brows rose in a high arch and Barbara made a small, random gesture to indicate the computer screen. "Just trying to track some things down," she murmured without getting specific.

"Ah," Dinah murmured. "So are you doing okay?"

"Fine. Why?" Barbara responded, her tone more clipped than usual, not that she was generally a bundle of warm fuzzies when at work. She could be sweet as hell when she wanted, but when lost in a computer problem, sometimes it seemed to Dinah like she became a bit of a computer herself.

Dinah shrugged. "I don�t know. You just seem a little...." She trailed to a halt, expression scrunching up as she considered her words carefully. "Are you and Nightwing having any problems?" For a steady couple, they seemed to have a lot of come and go weirdness---not that weirdness was exactly unheard of in their business, but they seemed to have more than their fair share, and Dinah often got the feeling that Barbara was nowhere near as committed as Dick, although there were times she wasn�t all that sure about Dick either. Actually, now that she thought about it, there were definitely times when she got the distinct feeling they were both there because it was comfortable and safe rather than out of any great, passionate desire for each other.

Barbara blinked owlishly behind her glasses, her expression disapproving. "Why do you ask?"

Which wasn�t an answer in Dinah�s opinion and seemed far more evasive than Barbara�s usual style. Still, it didn�t pay to attack Babs head on. She was much too smart for that. A more devious approach was typically called for. Which wouldn�t have been so much of a problem were it not for the fact that devious wasn�t really Dinah�s strong suit. That was why her partnership with Barbara worked so well. Babs did the devious thing, Dinah did the leap in, feet first, asskicking thing, and all was good. Dinah considered her response for a moment before shrugging. "I dunno, you�ve just been in a funk for a couple of days, and funkishness in your case often seems to relate to the former boy wonder." Okay, so screw deviousness. It just so wasn�t her thing.

Barbara shook her head, turning away to glare at the computer. "It�s not about Dick."

Which was a tacit admission that something was indeed wrong, Dinah realized as the words sank in. "So what is it about?" she asked, eschewing any attempts at trickery altogether. Ironic though it was, considering her history as an undercover agent, but she was just no good at being sneaky, at least not this kind of sneaky. Though, judging by how quickly her efforts to go undercover usually got noticed, possibly not that kind of sneaky either.

Barbara flashed a quick glance Dinah�s way. "It�s not," she said too quickly. "I mean, it�s not about anything," she babbled, which was almost too weird for Dinah. Barbara Gordon just did not babble under normal circumstances. "That is, there�s nothing for it to be about." Clearly, that hadn�t come out quite right either, and Barbara tried again. "I mean, I�m fine."

Dinah just stared at her friend for a long moment. "Well, that was as clear as mud," she said at last.

"Look, it�s nothing," Barbara insisted. "I�m fine."

"Well, that was incredibly believable...not," Dinah scoffed and pushed to her feet, easily insinuating herself between Barbara and the computer screen, arms still folded across her chest, hip hitched against the edge of the computer station. "So what�s really up?" she tried again.

Barbara glared, leaning back and forth in an effort to get a look around Dinah, who neatly blocked her efforts. "Dinah..." the redhead said at last, her tone brusque.

Dinah grinned and leaned down into her friend and partner�s space, now utterly convinced that Barbara was hiding something important and determined to find out what. She drew a breath to ask, then suddenly blinked. "Hey," she said abruptly, her attention caught by the red mark just barely visible under the edge of Barbara�s blouse, "is that a hickey?"

Already pale skinned, both naturally and from hours avoiding sunlight, Barbara went bone white, one hand instinctively rising to cover the mark in question. "No!" she insisted.

Dinah batted her hand aside and leaned in close to get a better look. "The hell you say," she disagreed. "That�s a hickey." Blonde brows shot up. "Believe me, I know hickeys." She offered a knowing grin and straightened enough to stare into green eyes. "If it�s not about Dick, pray tell, who�s been giving you hickeys?"

Barbara�s mouth opened, lips working silently for a long moment as she struggled to formulate an answer.

"And no, I�m not gonna drop it," Dinah informed her cheerfully. Whatever this was, it was big, and she had no intention of being left out.

Barbara snapped her mouth shut and leaned back in her chair. A soft, disgusted sigh escaped full lips. "It�s---"

"Nothing?" Dinah finished for her, then shook her head. "Oh, no. That is so not believable." She braced her hands on the arms of her friend�s wheelchair, then grew more serious. "Something�s up. What is it?"

A long moment passed, and then Barbara let her head fall against back. "You�re not going to let this go, are you?" she asked in a defeated tone.

Dinah shook her head and simply said, "Babs?"

Barbara sighed and folded her arms protectively across her chest, her eyes firmly on the ceiling overhead. She was silent for a long moment and then she finally muttered. "The other day ... when I took off ... I did something I really shouldn�t have."

 

A frown creasing her features, Dinah leaned back against the computer station, worried now. "What?" Barbara just wasn�t one for doing things she shouldn�t. Well, except for the fact that she regularly broke dozens of computer security laws, and stole money from organized crime to fund her work as Oracle, but other than that she was completely honest, and that was in the name of good, which wasn�t the same thing as regular dishonesty at all.

"I cheated on Dick," Barbara admitted almost inaudibly, her eyes still firmly on the ceiling, looking anywhere but at Dinah.

Shocked to the core, Black Canary froze for a long moment, her mouth hanging open. Finally, she managed to snap it shut. "You ... you ... on ... with ... cheated?" she babbled, comfortably certain that any meaning was seriously missing from her attempt at communication.

A heavy sigh escaped full lips. "It wasn�t something I planned," Barbara insisted. "It just ... it happened." She shook her head helplessly. "I shouldn�t have ... but I just ... it wasn�t like anything I�ve ever felt before...."

Dinah was still staring goggle-eyed at her friend. "You ... cheated?" she finally managed to get out. "Who with?"

Barbara waved the question aside. Certain things just weren�t easy to imagine. "It doesn�t matter---" she started to say, but Dinah cut her off.

"It was the Blue Beetle, wasn�t it?" Dinah demanded. "Because I�ve seen the way he looks at you---"

"No!" Barbara instantly denied the charge in outraged tones. She�d had her chance and while his attention had been flattering, it wasn�t the same thing at all. "Look, it�s no one you�d---"

"Oh, my god, was it Batman?" Dinah continued, barely pausing long enough to take a breath before offering another guess.

"Good God, no!" Barbara shuddered with unconcealed horror. If she had a brother, that was exactly what that suggestion would feel like.

"Yeah, that would be kinda icky," Dinah allowed, but it didn�t slow her down. "Y�know Jason Bard�s still in town, and still has a thing for you---"

Speaking of people she�d had her shot at and turned away from. "No," Barbara growled. "Look, I really wish you�d just---"

Dinah refused to take the hint and went on guessing. "Is it one of the guys with the JLA?"

"No."

A sudden, uncomfortable though occurred to the blonde. "It had better not be Ollie---"

"Dinah, don�t be ridiculous!" Barbara all but shouted, the whole topic getting on her nerves in a fairly severe fashion.

"Superman---"

"He�s married!" Barbara snapped, blowing the sort of information she really was supposed to keep completely confidential before she could think better of it. Thankfully, Dinah was so absorbed in trying to figure out who she�d slept with that she never noticed. The blonde made several more suggestions from the usual list of steroid enhanced superheroes, plus a few of the cyber geeks who�d wandered through the clocktower over the years, each suggestion soundly denied by her partner.

Finally, running a little low on candidates, Dinah frowned momentarily as she hunted for another option. "That pizza delivery boy who has a crush on you---"

"Dinah, he can�t be more than 17," Barbara pointed out. She saw her friend draw breath to say something she was comfortably certain was going to piss her off even more. She stuck a finger into the blonde�s face. "Don�t even suggest it."

"Right," Dinah allowed. "That would be pretty disgusting ... not to mention illegal."

Barbara leaned deeper into her chair with a tired sigh. She hadn�t slept well for the past several nights and it was starting to show. She loved Dinah to death, but at that particular moment, she really could have done without her unique charm. "Look, you�re never going to figure it out, so why don�t you just give it a rest." She fervently wished she�d just kept her mouth shut. Shut was good. Silence was good. Clearly Dinah knowing was bad because it went against the whole shut and silence being good concept.

Pausing, Dinah stared at her friend, trying to put things together in her head. Normally Barbara shared everything with her, and she didn�t like being cut out of the loop. And considering some of what Babs had told her over the years, she couldn�t figure out why she�d keep this secret. "Babs," she said at last, her tone cautious, "it is one of the good guys, right?" After all, Barbara wouldn�t walk on the wild side, now would she? Hell, even Dinah hadn�t done that ... much anyway. Okay, so there was that little fling with Ra's Al Ghul, but she�d honestly thought he was just a sexy millionaire. It had never occurred to her that he might be a immortal demon type out to turn her into his mate and evil minion. Really, it wasn�t like every guy out there was either a hero or a bad guy. Okay, so most of them in her experience, but there�d been a chance he was just a normal guy. It suddenly occurred to her that Barbara hadn�t answered and her expression fell. "Please tell me it�s not a bad guy," she requested in a surprisingly calm voice all things considered.

"It�s-it�s not," Barbara responded so haltingly that Dinah didn�t believe a word of it.

"Oh. My. God," Dinah exhaled, completely shellshocked. "Please tell me it�s not Ra�s Al Ghul." One of them falling for that line of B.S. was more than enough. Too much really. But if Babs---the uber-genius, practical, super-smart one---went off and did something that stupid, well, it was probably a sign of the coming of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, or at least the return of Elvis. And given that Dinah never had liked Viva Las Vegas, she wasn�t at all comfortable with that idea.

"It�s not," Barbara insisted.

Dinah was still in shock mode. "Now tell me it�s not a bad guy," she requested in that same, slightly flat tone.

"Actually," Barbara sighed, accepting that she couldn�t play this game any longer and Dinah wasn�t going to stop with the guesses until she learned something more concrete, "it�s not a guy at all."

Dinah blinked, struggling to decode that sentence and come up with what it might be if it wasn�t a guy. Well, okay, so there were a couple of more or less asexual energy creatures running around the superheroing world, and she supposed there were probably a few non-human alien types that might qualify, but she couldn�t quite imagine some energy creature giving Babs that hickey, and while there was probably some alien out there with a sucker that could do the job, she just couldn�t see her friend being swept off her wheels by that sort of thing. "Then what was it?" she finally found the courage to ask.

Barbara�s head tipped to one side as she considered that question. "Well, if it�s not a guy...." She trailed off suggestively.

Dinah shrugged a little helplessly, still struggling to work it out. "Considering some of the ... er ... people you and I know, it could be almost anything."

Momentarily caught by surprise, Barbara could only stare. Dinah had a point, she had to admit, but still.... "Well, it�s not a something, it�s a someone, if that helps."

Dinah still looked blank. If Barbara had ever had any doubts about her friend�s heterosexuality, they were completely quashed. Dinah apparently couldn�t even contemplate the idea. It just didn�t compute for her.

"It�s a woman," Barbara explained at last. Clearly, this subject wasn�t going away, and Dinah wasn�t going to figure it out without help.

Judging by her expression, an alien might have seemed more logical to Dinah. Blonde brows drew together in a frown and there was a definite sense of the gears between her ears grinding to life. "Wonder Woman?" she said at last. "Because okay...yeah, she�s pretty impressive." As JLA members, they�d worked together a few times, and she was definitely.... Yes, she was. Dinah could almost imagine that. Wonder Woman had shoulders, muscles, lots of shoulders and muscles. Dinah liked shoulders and muscles.

"I�ve never even met her in person," Barbara responded and started to say even more.

Before she had a chance, Dinah slapped her forehead. "Oh, god, Powergirl," she said suddenly, looking none too thrilled by the concept. "I always thought there was something a little intense on her part where you�re concerned---" More shoulders and muscles, even if they were attached to a personality that had all the appeal of a hedgehog.

"She hates me!" Barbara exploded, leaning back in her chair as Dinah suddenly thrust a finger into her face.

"Which is only one step from love sometimes," the blonde pointed out. "And I�m telling you, that woman is very intense where you�re concerned."

"Because she thinks I got a lot of people killed!" Barbara shot back.

"Or maybe it�s all frustrated lust---"

"It�s not Karen," Barbara insisted.

"Then who?" Dinah demanded, still half convinced she was right and it was Powergirl.

Barbara flopped back in her chair, fervently wishing she�d just left it alone, but no, Dinah was her best friend, so she�d let it slip. "It doesn�t matter," she sighed on an exhausted note, "since it�s never going to happen again." She pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. "God, I shouldn�t have...." She shook her head, momentarily blocking Dinah out. When she opened her eyes again, Dinah was crouched in front of her wheelchair.

"Babs?" Blue eyes searched green and any humor dropped out Dinah�s voice. "This really has you ripped up."

"It was ... it�s ... I don�t what I...." Barbara kept trying and failing to describe her emotions. How could she, when she didn�t understand them either.

"Who is it, Babs?" Dinah asked after a beat, no longer trying to play any guessing games.

Barbara swallowed hard, eyes sliding away from her friend�s closely watching gaze. "Selina Kyle." She heard Dinah�s soft gasp.

"As in Catwoman?"

"Is there another Selina Kyle I don�t know about?"

"God, I hope so ... or rather I hope there�s one I don�t know about and that�s who you...." Dinah didn�t finish the sentence, just made a rather half-hearted gesture with one hand. She stared at her friend, her posture deflating as it all sank in. "Oh, god," she exhaled at last. "You did it, didn�t you? You slept with Catwoman." Dinah didn�t know quite what to do with that knowledge. This meant that Babs had managed a grand slam surprise, a woman and a ... well, not a bad guy precisely, at least not these days, but a long ways from somebody on the side of truth, justice, and the American way.

Barbara nodded, slumping in her chair and hiding her face. God, why hadn�t she just kept her mouth shut? She was surprised when she felt a gentle hand cover her own where it rested on her thigh.

"You okay?" Dinah asked gently.

Which was a far more complex question than it really should have been. "I don�t know," Barbara admitted.

"What happened?"

A soft sigh greeted the question. "I went to the art show ... the one with the paintings I blackmailed her into returning ... and she was there ... and then she was at my car ... and then we were having lunch ... and somewhere along the way she was kissing me ... and then I was suddenly in a hotel room with her...." Barbara fell silent, the stilted confession ending as suddenly as it had begun as it occurred to her that Dinah was staring as though she�d grown a spare head or something.

Unable to think of anything else to do, Dinah blinked, then blinked again when an appropriate course of action still hadn�t occurred to her. Twenty or thirty blinks later, she finally managed to work up a question, "Does she know who you are?" though she was uncertain whether the who referred to Batgirl, Oracle, Barbara Gordon, or possibly all three.

"I don�t know," Barbara admitted without looking up. She thought about it for a long moment. "She might have recognized me as Batgirl...but I don�t see how she could know about Oracle."

Dinah took a moment to absorb that answer, her expression twisting into a confused frown. Something was going on with Babs, something she wasn�t talking about. They worked so closely together, and while Dinah knew she wasn�t always the most sensitive soul in the house, she knew Barbara Gordon better than most. She was still hiding something. "Okay, so if she recognized you as Batgirl," she said at last, feeling her way, then continuing to pursue the subject when she saw Barbara tense, "why would Selina go into pursuit mode?"

Barbara stared down at her twined hands with laser-like intensity, but didn�t answer.

"Babs?" Dinah whispered when Barbara still hadn�t spoken a full two minutes later.

Another minute or two passed in total silence, leaving Dinah to wonder if maybe her friend had stroked out.

Finally, Barbara tipped her chin up and green eyes rose. "I told you about how Catwoman helped me stop Ryder Burnham when he was murdering young women...."

Dinah nodded, but didn�t speak, afraid of scaring Barbara back into silence.

Barbara took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "What I didn�t tell you was that afterwards...when she gave me that painting I told you about...she was there...and...."

"And?" Dinah finally prompted when Barbara fell silent and didn�t appear to be ready to continue.

"Something happened," Barbara continued at last. "It shouldn�t have...but it did..."

Dark blonde brows shot up, and Dinah simply stared at her friend and partner, waiting to hear the rest of the story.

Barbara looked back down at her hands. It was easier if she just stared at them and didn�t even try to look anywhere else. "It wasn�t...simple...and I�ve never known how to feel about it." She looked up, and there were tears in green eyes. "She handcuffed me," she said very softly, "and she touched me...slid her hand inside my costume ...and...and...." She couldn�t finish.

"Babs?" Dinah demanded, looking scared and more than a little appalled now.

"She touched me," Barbara whispered the hardest words she�d ever uttered in her entire life. She�d never told anyone else, had locked the memory of that unwanted and terrifying arousal away in the deepest recesses of her mind, refusing to look too closely at it. "Used her hand ... and made me ... I was begging her to stop and begging her not to. And when it was over, everything was different." She looked up again, frowning deeply. "When she was done, she held up her fingers with my blood on them...and made me taste it...and I---"

Dinah abruptly jerked to her feet, hands clenched into tight fists at her sides. "I�m gonna kill her," she hissed as what her friend was telling her sank in.

"Dinah!" Barbara shouted before Dinah had gone more than two steps. "What are you doing?"

Dinah spun back, her expression twisted into one of rage. "Unless I�m very mistaken, you just told me the bitch raped you ...and I�m gonna kill her."

"Dinah...no, you can�t." Barbara shook her head, struggling with her own emotions. "It wasn�t ...it wasn�t that simple," she whispered, her voice ragged and uneven.

"Not that simple?" Dinah disagreed. "Handcuffs, begging to stop...blood! Sounds simple to me...and like I said, I�m gonna kill the bitch." She had no idea where Selina was, but she was going to find her---Gotham wasn�t that big a city---and then Selina Kyle was dead. Whatever had happened in that hotel room, clearly, it hadn�t been kosher, and on top of the whole blood and handcuffs thing...yeah, Selina Kyle was dead. Babs was big on the whole shades of grey concept. Dinah didn�t have that problem. Black and white. "No" equals "no." Dinah was very comfortable with seeing things that way too. Selina hadn�t taken no for an answer. Specifically, she hadn�t taken it from someone who was family as far as Dinah was concerned. Yup, that was over the line. Dinah had never killed before, but she could learn.

"I wanted her," Barbara admitted the truth that she�d never before spoken aloud, had barely been able to look at before because she could see the intent in the way Dinah moved and she couldn�t allow it.

Dinah froze, her back to Barbara. "Babs?" she hissed tightly, unable to believe what she�d just heard, her rage on the verge of becoming free-floating.

"I never wanted to ...to admit...to look at it...to be what it meant...."

Dinah did a slow turn, brows drawing into a frown as she stared at her friend. "Babs," she whispered, her voice ragged and uneven. This was too much, overwhelming, and scary as hell. Barbara Gordon was supposed to be completely together, completely in control. Hell, knock her spine out of action and she was still one of the most powerful people in the superhero biz, because she was the hero that controlled the others. A chess master among pawns. She was not some weakling at the whim of...of whatever.

"I wanted her," Barbara said again, her eyes filling with scared tears, "but I could never have admitted it then...and I guess she knew that."

Her own eyes suddenly edged in silver tears, Dinah shook her head slowly, trying to deny what the other woman was saying. No, no, no. Barbara Gordon was not supposed to say things like that, or think things like that. She was Miss All Right and Good with the World. She might see things in shades of grey, but she never did them that way.

Except she did all the time, even if Dinah didn�t like to admit it. Babs stole, she hacked, she slipped in and out of corporate records like most people ate potato chips, and she manipulated the weak and evil with ease. Oh, she did it to good ends, which was why Dinah was able to keep her up on some impossible pedestal, but in terms of rigid ethics or morals, Barbara was nothing but shades of grey.

"I wanted her," Barbara said again, more strongly this time, though she still sounded sick and ashamed. "And I hated myself for it...or for what it meant...." She shook her head, seeming small and scared, not like the hero that Dinah knew. "I don�t know. It scared me so goddamned much I just didn�t let myself think about it."

Dinah strode back, kneeling in front of her friend, her chest and throat so tight they hurt. "Babs...what are you...." She didn�t know what else to say. "Did she force you into that hotel room in any way?" she demanded quietly, thinking maybe she could deal with the things she was hearing if she just focused on that. Maybe that would be simple and cut and dried, and maybe it would give her the goddamned excuse she needed to go and kick Selina Kyle�s ass the way friendship seemed to demand.

"No," Barbara denied, "she just asked."

Dinah deflated, looking away and swallowing hard. Her hands were trembling, she realized in a rush. "And so you just went?" she demanded, still trying to puzzle it out, feeling as though maybe she�d entered the Bizarro World she�d read about in JLA records...where everything was the reverse of reality.

"Yes," Barbara said simply, not adding that those hours had been among the most intense of her life. At least when it came to sex and romance, there was nothing that equaled them..

Dinah considered that for a long moment, still trying to parse it all out. "Why?" she asked at last, the question low and softly spoken and yet still nearly enough to knock Barbara out of her wheelchair. The redhead froze, staring down at her own hands with that particular intensity that she had, which Dinah had literally never seen in anyone else. Even Batman couldn�t do this trick, and god knew, he could do the intensity thing. But with Babs, she always had a sense that every fiber of her being was looking at a problem when she got that expression. It was like she got inside the problem, turned it around and looked at it from every angle possible at almost a molecular level. Considering the genius behind those eyes, it was entirely possible she did.

"I wanted her," Barbara said at last, the admission coming at the cost of rasping vocal cords and a heart pounding so hard it threatened to seize up. She looked up, as scared as she�d ever been in her life, fully expecting to see---she wasn�t sure what---in Dinah�s eyes, but nothing good. Instead, her friend looked a little scared and a lot shaken, but there was no anger, and no disgust, just a rather unexpected sympathy.

For her part, Dinah didn�t understand at one level. The notion of being that swept away by attraction to a woman was something she had to admit, she just didn�t get, but being that swept away by attraction, period? Yeah, she understood that one too well. She could chalk up any number of really bad decisions in her life, and maybe a few good ones as well, to that sort of instant, chemical, just go with the flow because you�ve got no choice, overwhelming need. "Okay," she exhaled at last, spinning it around in her head and looking at the problem from all angles. Babs might be Miss Computer Goddess, but she was a dolt when it came to relationships as far as Dinah had ever been able to tell. "What are you going to do about it?"

Pale by nature and recent career choice---redheads not being great for tans, and staring at a computer all day and night being no better for it---Barbara still managed to lose several shades of color in response to that question. "Nothing," she muttered. "It was a one time thing...I shouldn�t have let it happen...and it�s never happening again...it�s just." She shook her head, her eyes dropping again. "I need to forget it ever happened."

Oh, yeah, that was likely to happen, Dinah thought as she watched her partner�s uncharacteristically flustered response. Dinah knew all about "forgetting" things like that, and just how thoroughly that didn�t happen. "Babs," she began cautiously, still struggling to come up with the right thing to say even as she began. The problem was she truly couldn�t think of a delicate way to phrase what she needed to say. "Are you sure that�s the best way to deal with this?"

Green eyes slid closed, and Barbara seemed to shudder gently. "It�s the only thing I can do," she insisted doggedly, her hands twining together in her lap with white knuckled strength. "I have to," she added, her voice little above a whisper. "I�ve got Dick in my life...and I...I can�t...."

A hint of a frown touching her brow, Dinah watched her friend closely. Forgetting definitely wasn�t going to work. Whatever had happened between Babs and Selina Kyle had been with the redhead since she was 19 years old. It wasn�t going to just go away now. She might not understand the why of it, but Dinah knew that much. She reached up, resting her hand over Barbara�s. "I�m not sure that�s the best approach," she said very softly.

Green eyes swung up, narrowing faintly. "I have to," Barbara disagreed.

A soft sigh escaped Dinah�s lips. "It�s just that," she began a little hesitantly, "it seems like maybe," boy, she really didn�t know how to say what she was thinking, "your relationship with Dick...it�s kind of...I mean, it seems like...."

Barbara was watching her closely now, which only made Dinah stumble over her words even worse.

"It�s just that...as long as I�ve known you...even when you and Dick were together...it just seemed like...y�know...you weren�t entirely...like you were still looking around...not really all that...into it...." She stared at her hand where it covered Barbara�s, totally avoiding her best friend�s gaze. "Like you weren�t really in love," she exhaled at last, finally getting to the main point of what she wanted to say.

Barbara instantly yanked her hand back, sitting stiffly. "I love Dick," she said very softly, the words coming out frightened and a little lost sounding.

Looking up, Dinah stared at her friend, trying desperately to understand. "Yeah, you love him," she agreed. There was no doubt about that. Barbara and Dick had been friends, flirted, fought together, cried together, and been through so much. There was definitely love there. But...but maybe not the kind of love Barbara wanted it to be or Dick wanted. "But you�re not in love with him...and you never have been."

Barbara�s eyed dropped and she stared at her hands where they now rested in her lap. "I know," she whispered at last, then looked up at Dinah, green eyes blazing, "but that doesn�t mean I love her."

* * * * * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selina appears at a party that Barbara is also at...purposely. They have words, and Selina ultimately sweeps Barbara off. They make love, line about silk sheets, Selina carries Barbara over the city.

finally gives way when Selina tells her the truth ("Because I once told you it should have been in a bed with your hair spread over silk sheets,"), and they make love. Later, they're in the bath together, Selina holding Barbara close, trading kisses ... Barbara a little shaken ... bothered that she cheated on Dick, and feeling guilty.

Give Selina the line about silk sheets after their second encounter. "I knew you�d look good with your hair spread over silk sheets." Barbara realizes Selina knows she was Batgirl, they struggle, argue,

They're lazily enjoying each other when they hear something in the other room. Thinking it's probably room service, Selina climbs out, pulling on a robe and goes to see. Instead, as she steps through the bathroom door, she's hit from behind and goes down hard. Valerie Lewton is there in her catwoman knockoff outfit, with a couple of men who are apparently working for her. Barbara tries to fight, but they hold her up and she and Valerie confront one another then they hit her with knockout gas. Selina regains consciousness as the men are about to carry Barbara out, is ready to fight but Valerie braces her claws against Barbara's neck. "If she lives, she won't be moving from the neck down this time." Selina backs down. "What do you want?" Valerie gives Selina a cell phone, says she'll find out in four days. In the meantime, if she contacts anyone, Valerie will know ... and Barbara's dead. And she leaves.

Selina debates what to do, and is very close to going after Batman or trying to find Oracle ... still doesn't realize the truth. But the phone rings. It's Valerie who reminds her that any attempt to find them will cost Barbara her life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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