Title: Whisper in My Ear Again
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions ( pinkrabbit@altfic.com )
Disclaimer: The characters and situations all belong to DC, the words contained herein are my own, though if they opt to sue, I'll disavow them posthaste. This story contains all girl nookie, so if that's likely to offend (and if it is, boy are you on the wrong site), get anybody arrested (you, me, or the postman), or cause general havoc, make all of our lives easier and move along.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: THIS IS SET IN THE COMIC UNIVERSE, NOT THE TV SHOW. So, the Dinah Lance in here is more or less the same age as Barbara and is currently the Black Canary.
Summary: What happens when friendship moves into new territory?

| Part 1 | Part 2 |

Whisper in My Ear Again
Part 1

God, I hate elevators. Nasty devices that leave you nothing to do but think while you're riding along, trapped in a box, traveling at their whim. And the only thing worse than muzak in an elevator is silence in an elevator ... especially an elevator that has a long way to go. And it's a long way from the ground floor to the top of the clocktower.

Which leaves plenty of time for thinking about all sorts of things since the angel on my shoulder's in a low-key mood tonight. I miss her when she's like this, all quiet and brooding. I may not understand a word she says when she goes all techno-geek, but I've gotten used to the company and it feels strange when she goes on silent running mode, like something's wrong. Except normally when something serious is up she clues me in. Not this time. Right now, she's just quiet, and I've gotten so used to the occasional bits of chatter that it feels vaguely uncomfortable, like something's missing.

Oh man, when did this happen? When did the voice in my ear become more than just the voice in my ear and Oracle become a part of my life instead of just a part of the job.

Not recently, that's for sure. It started a long time ago, long before I found out who she is, before I even saw her face, touched her hand, or stared into eyes that gleam a sharp, crystalline green. It was so damn weird when we started working together, trusting my life to someone I didn't know, but who seemed to have every tiny detail of my life on file, who could listen in on my every conversation, track my every move. Damn strange feeling, being tethered so intimately to someone I'd never even met. I've had lovers who never learned a tenth as much about me as she knew on the first day. Heh, and I didn't know a blessed thing about her ... not even her first name. She was just Oracle, a faceless unknown, with no past, no future, just the present in which she guided me through assorted dangerous situations. Which I guess is probably why I set out to get to know her. Oh, not her real name, though I tried to coax it out of her a few times---okay, more than a few times. But I got to know her, a woman who tried not to laugh at my bad jokes, but couldn't quite hide her soft chuckles, who could lose herself in a level of technology that frankly leaves me dazed and still understand the harsh realities of hand to hand combat, who always did her damnedest to cover my backside, even when people hunting her were ready to put her own in a sling. I teased, poked, prodded, made bad jokes, probably drove her a little crazy, but I was hungry for information as I tried to put together a picture of the mind behind the voice in my head.

And when Blockbuster was after her.... God, I've never been so damn terrified in my life. Which, when you consider my life is saying something. Hell, that pregnancy scare when I was still with Ollie still gives me the shakes when I think about it. And, oh yeah, a few hundred people have tried to kill me too.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Blockbuster, big pug ugly with some seriously nasty habits, more money than Croesus, and a destructive streak a mile wide, plus a knack for hiring really vicious---not to mention effective---lackeys. And he was after Oracle, ready to kill anything and anyone to get to her. Drove her out of her clocktower lair and had her on the run, hiding out in a dry docked submarine she'd outfitted in advance.

And whoa boy, how she'd outfitted it. All the high tech toys in the world, plus a cute little self-destruct sequence that she set in motion when it was obvious I wasn't going to get there in time to save the day.

Only Barbara Gordon would think of escaping probable assassins by sinking the submarine she's hiding out in. Even wounded and outnumbered, she kicked their asses pretty thoroughly, then swam away while it was still sinking. I got there just as she surfaced. What a way to meet, yanking her out of the water when she swam clear, holding her for the first time, her body warm and firm in my arms, though she was bleeding from a wound in the thigh. I only had a few minutes before Blockie's minions found us, a few minutes to get her to safety, then drink in those moments of contact. God, she was beautiful; the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my life, totally outstripping the fantasies I'd had about her. I'd mentally imagined her with every color of hair, every body type; tall, short, thin, fat, busty, flat, beautiful, and homely. But I hadn't done her justice in any of those mental pictures. There were so many things I wanted to know and so many things I wanted to say.

Except Blockie and crew were there for her, and there was no time. I assumed they were trying to kill her when I traded places, claimed to be Oracle and handed myself over to the people hunting her, cheerfully ready to give up my life to save hers. I tried to tell myself it was just because she was the unique one---around Gotham City, costumed crimefighters are a whole lot cheaper than a dime a dozen---but there's only one Oracle.

Oh yeah, I was in deep by then.

Desperately, in-way-over-my-head deep in ... what? Friendship? Love? Lust? Or some wholly blended amalgam of all three? Whatever it was, it was all about someone I'd seen for all of five minutes at most, but who somehow knew me better than anyone before or since. And it's only gotten more intense in the time since ... since I've gotten to know her as more than just Oracle, gotten to know her as the partner, the woman, the friend, as far more than just the husky drawl that echoes in my ear. Except that voice has become the symbol for everything she is to me. Usually, I'm good at picking up on her moods, hearing the catch in her voice when she's worried, or the lazy tone that she gets when things settle in and she's bored, even the way her breathing gets ragged when I'm in a tight situation and she's working along with me, trying to keep me alive. Usually, she's pretty good at picking up on my moods too, a predictable side effect of our oddly synergistic relationship. One I don't normally mind in the least. Only lately, I've been a lot more shielded with my own emotions. Because I'm really not sure how she'd feel about the news that her operative went off and fell in love with anyone....

Much less her. Whoa boy, Dinah, when you decide to play fast and loose with your emotions, you don't do it in a small way, do you? Me, Dinah Laurel Lance, party-girl extraordinaire, lover of pretty boys that I use like pretty toys, techno-moron, and all around dumb blonde---even if the harsh reality is that, bleach aside, I'm a brunette through and through---went and fell for a voice in my ear.

A voice that just happens to be attached to crimson hair, jade eyes, a body that is sinfully good looking, and a pair of legs that don't work, though you'd never know it from the way she kicks ass when she wants to.

All of it wrapped up in one, neat, heterosexual package.

Shit.

She's got a thing for Nightwing, a guy I not only don't hate, but who I really like, and who's been kind enough to bail me out of a couple of really nasty situations over the last few years. And I suppose I'm glad for her. I mean, like I said, I like the guy, and I'd rather she was with someone I like than some asshole likely to rip her to emotional shreds.

But.

But, but, but, but....

A person can get lost in that word. Whoa. Dangerously close to getting philosophical there, Lance, which is an ugly thought any way I go about it. Me philosophical? That would be infinitely too reminiscent of those moments when Madonna decides to try and prove she's deep and thoughtful. Yup, that goes on the list of things I'd just as soon not experience. Probably get a laugh from everyone I know.

Including her.

Well, okay, so maybe not her. She generally shows the remarkable self-restraint to only laugh at me when I'm intentionally funny. For instance, she didn't laugh at me when I tried to avoid reality by convincing myself that I was falling for a man who was handsome, charming, rich, intelligent, and ... oh yeah ... just happened to be the demon Ra's Al Ghul. He was going to marry me. How cute. The bleach went straight through to your brain that day, Lance. She sent one of her occasional operatives off to save me from myself, but I wasn't in the mood to listen. More bleached out brain cells apparently. I should have known to trust her judgment. And by the time I figured out the truth, it was nearly too late. While my fianc� and daughter-in-law to be hotfooted it out the back, one of his lackey's beat me so badly he very nearly killed me.

Very, very nearly.

Broke my back, shattered several ribs which in turn punctured my lungs, then pretty much destroyed my spleen and kidneys.

I was dying when Barbara got there with backup. Only she would go into the field all dolled up in her best wheelchair ... rolling to the rescue through the shattered remains of an insane demon's thousand year old pyramid. And only she would cheerfully trade a chance at regaining her legs for my life. And how pathetic is it that I wanted her to use it for herself? Ra's Al Ghul's a nasty specimen, but he knows how to brew up a formula to fix what ails you. Okay, so one of the side effects is murderous insanity, but it's all there in the fine print of the insert the druggist hands you; the one nobody ever reads. One quick dip in the bath salts from hell---literally---and I woke up good as new, the Canary Cry back in place, that wonderful feeling of power that comes from, what is for me, nothing more than a simple scream. For others it can cause incredible pain, even death, and, if I'm in the mood, bring down the odd building---like, for instance, the ancient pyramid we were in at the time. For me it's just a quick how-do-you-do, but for others it can be a rather murderous sort of greeting. The insane rage was temporary, but it was very, very real. I woke up healthy as a horse and hating everything and everyone, but particularly her.

Even in that rage driven state, she was my focus. The others who'd come with her were unimportant. She was the only thing that mattered. I hurt her with the cry and if she hadn't zapped me unconscious god only knows what I might have done to her; beat her, killed her, raped her. Yeah, even mad as a hatter and ready to take on the world I wanted her, wanted to strip the clothes from her body, stroke---well, okay more claw than caress---every inch of her body. I wanted my tongue and hands inside of every part of her that could be entered, wanted to rule the world with her at my side, tattooed and branded with my mark so no one ever questioned just who she belonged to.

Great, screw with my sanity a little and I turn into Ming the Merciless. If Barbara hadn't used one of her many toys to knock me out, I probably would've started twirling an invisible mustache at some point. That is soooooo embarrassing. Thankfully, I didn't get a chance to do any of it ... and she's a forgiving sort for what I did do. Made me rest longer than I would have liked, until I was all but begging her to put me back into the field, not so much because I missed the work---though it's a satisfying job---but because I missed her voice in my ear, missed the way she sounds worried when she can't control every aspect of a mission, missed her responses to my need to banter ... just missed every aspect her sultry drawl playing in my ear.

Which leads me to wonder if I've got a bit of a previously unnoticed submissive streak because she can be bossy as hell and she's always telling me what to do.

And you love it, Lance. Every minute of it.

Which is why I'm quick to show up at the clocktower whenever she calls. Except tonight's little bout of the quiets has been going on for awhile now. She's been subdued lately, not so chatty on missions, and downright silent between them. Normally she checks in regularly, sometimes quick and professional, but often just talking, her tone indicating some measure of boredom or worry about something else---though she rarely shares. A girl with secrets is she. More secrets than a normal mind can hold, probably more than I can even begin to guess at. She knows Superman's real name, for instance, and Batman's too---though I suppose that's a given since she used to be Batgirl---and Wonder Woman's, not to mention the Green Lantern's, and ... well, no need to go listing them all, since that could take days. She's got secret codes and secret commands, knows heads of state, and has criminals who owe her favors.

In fact, now that I think about it, there may only be one secret left that she's not privy to. And I'd probably have to be pretty drunk to go telling her that one, though some days I worry that I'll let it slip, forget to turn off the two way radio connection at the wrong time, let go and whisper her name during some private moment. Now that would be bad in a way that plumbed all new depths of embarrassment, which given a few incidents from my party hearty days is quite a statement indeed.

And I've really gotta talk to her about putting Muzak into the elevator up to the clocktower because this whole thinking during the journey to the top floor thing probably isn't such a great idea. I tend to get myself in trouble when I think too much. Better to play the mental featherweight and go from there. It keeps people from looking too deep, and mostly it's truer than I'd like.

Which leaves me to wonder what the hell I'm thinking, thinking the things I'm thinking. Now, there's a sentence to confound even the most determined English professor, but it's true. Even if she were to suddenly decide to pitch aside her burgeoning heterosexuality, somehow I don't think I'm quite what a gorgeous Einstein in a skirt is going to go looking for. Not so much beauty and the beast as genius and the dimwit.

She'd hit you for that one, Lance. You know she doesn't like it when you make jokes like that, though it's hard to tell whether it's my putting myself down or labeling her a genius that makes her more uncomfortable. I guess it's probably some of both since she doesn't seem to consider me stupid or herself particularly intelligent. Or maybe it's a reaction against the nerd-girl persona some people slap onto her, even though she's as far from nerdy as it's possible to be. Okay, so her fashion taste could use a little improvement now and then, and she's not always the most emotionally aware person I've ever known, but neither is she some kind of savant you can't let out of the house without a keeper. Heh, though if that were the case, I'd be more than happy to volunteer for the job.

Ding, ding, ding! And we have a winner! The hopeless, blank-eyed, teenage crush of the year award goes to Dinah Laurel Lance. I can put it on the mantle next to the one I got for putting up with Ollie for all those years.

Oh good, the elevator's arrived. I can stop thinking now. That should be an improvement. "Hey, Babs." She's lost in something, barely looks up, grunts something under her breath and nods. Uh oh. That's never a good sign. Could mean almost anything from a broken nail to total thermonuclear Armageddon. But it's never good. "So, how quickly do I need to be off to save the world?" That earns a look, an extra long one that has her tipping her head to one side and considering the question as though she's forgotten English and is struggling to translate into her own native geek-girl tongue.

"You don't," she mutters at last, and goes back to glaring at the readouts.

"Ah." Don't know quite what to say to that, but I guess she'll explain when she's ready. Or maybe not. Explanations aren't always her strong suit, though I've learned by experience to just ride with the insanity because usually whatever plan she's got going in her head is my best shot at survival. Peering over her shoulder generally gets a look---the one she reserves for people who are seriously annoying her---and a heavy sigh---sometimes even a quick flick from one of her escrima sticks if she's really in a foul mood and I'm likely to touch something she doesn't want touched, so I hang back, finding a seat on an empty table, content to wait and watch. What the hell, I like watching her. She's so into it, focused and concentrated, moving quick and graceful through her world. Funny how somebody can be graceful while typing. If somebody had told me I'd think that some day, I'd have laughed them off the face of the earth. Then I met her.

God only knows how long I've been musing on the notion of graceful typing when the clatter of a pen being thrown echoes through the room, sounding amazingly loud for such a soft sound.

"Problem?" Dumb question and it earns me a quick glare, a sure indicator she's in a foul mood. Okay, so she's not always the most patient person around, but she's not usually this bad.

Full lips compress and she leans back in her chair as she folds her arms across her chest. "I thought I had a line on something." An angry snort echoes from her lips. "But it's gone now." Sharp teeth dig into her lower lip for a second, then she flashes a quick glance my way, her tone more like its normal self when she finally speaks. "Sorry, looks like I got you up here for nothing." Contrition quickly replaces annoyance in her expression, as though it's occurred to her that she's been snappish. Probably one of the reasons I don't mind the occasional bouts of snarliness. They never last long, and she usually turns around and gets all nice to make up for them. Then the apologetic smile is turned my way, followed by that adorable little shrug thing she does when plans aren't quite on track and she won't be sending me out to face my probable doom after all. At least not today. Only she would be apologetic for not sending someone into a situation where they're sure to risk life and limb.

Damn, she has a cute set of dimples. And there's that melty, tight little burst of heat in the pit of my stomach ... and one or two other places ... right on schedule. God, I gotta get laid, just ditch the two-way for a night, pick up some gorgeous, brainless guy, and ... or maybe some gorgeous, brainless woman. Maybe if I actually tried it, I'd find it wasn't for me anyhow and I could dump this near obsession. Then again, it also might just make things that much worse if I liked it. Uncertainty I can almost deal with, but if it was at all good, I'm afraid I might just do something really stupidly insane ... like make a pass or something. Gotta stop thinking about that. It's gonna make trouble one of these days because as sure as I think about something I really shouldn't do it seems to be the first dumb thing I can't resist the urge to try. "Not a problem."

She's still doing the apologetic thing, and waves me off, her tone still annoyed, but now the irritation is directed inward instead of outward. "I just feel bad bothering you for nothing." There's something there in her tone, more than just the usual irritation when she can't do what she wants, or when she's wasted time---hers or someone else's. "It's not fair. You have a life, and I shouldn't be dragging you out for no reason." A hand comes up---she has gorgeous hands ... and is it shaking ever so slightly?---then brushes loose hair back from her face. I don't like this, because that was definitely a tremor I saw.

Something's wrong even if she's not talking about it, and I'm off the counter in a second, as though we're facing some kind of invading force---not an impossibility all things considered, but unlikely at present---and crossing the short distance between us. Her shoulder's firm under my hand, slim, but with a hard layer of muscle, and I feel another tremor, though it's so faint most people wouldn't notice. "Hey, you're my best friend. Coming over isn't a problem." My grin gets a watery smile from her. "Besides we haven't been spending nearly enough quality, non-saving-the-world time together lately." I can't resist the urge to offer up a flirty wink. "We oughta just go see a movie or have a drink now and then." We haven't had much time to just hang out for a couple of months, and like the voice in my ear I'm missing the time together. Saving the world is all well and good, but it's nice to have a little fun now and then, and when she loosens up, she can be a lot of fun. "C'mon, Nightwing can share you on one of your nights off--"

"Not a problem." Muttered under her breath, the comment is so soft I almost don't hear it, but having heard it, the bitter note is impossible to miss.

"Ahm ... are you ... okay?"

Her wide-eyed, deer in a headlights response to my uncomfortable stammer is a sure sign she really didn't mean for me to hear. "Fine ... it's just...." She almost slips and lets it out. I can see her catch herself. "Nothing."

Except that's not a nothing face she's wearing. That's a something face. A Nightwing something unless I'm totally misreading the signals. I'm probably gonna piss her off, but I can't just ignore things. "You sure?" Ooo, not liking the look in her eyes now. That's a back-off look if ever there was one. Oh well, I never was good with taking hints anyway. "Because it seems as though you've been a little ... off ... for a few days." And maybe I should just get out of range of her escrima sticks now.

"Dinah...." And now I get the ticked off, butt out, warning voice.

Thankfully, she's a sucker for wheedling. "We're friends, Babs. If something's wrong, I just want to help."

Point made, anger neatly deflated, though I'm not sure that's such a good thing as her posture sinks along with her temper, and she starts struggling for words, mouth working but nothing coming out. Green eyes fall away, focusing on her hand where it's resting on the desk.

"Babs ... what is it? What's wrong." She won't look at me, and I find myself kneeling down, then reaching up, drawing her chin around. Oh god, she's got tears in her eyes, actual tears. She never cries. Mind on the mission and full speed ahead is her normal mode. The mere thought of what might be causing it makes my stomach twist and roll, the knots tying themselves a lot tighter. "What's happened?"

"Really, it's ... it's nothing for you to worry about." It's brave face time, and she tries to wave her problems aside, but there are still tears in her eyes, and no way of getting around the fact that something's very wrong. "Just ... nothing."

"It's not nothing if it's got you crying." God, her cheek is soft, her skin like fine velvet.

"I'm not...." The denial stumbles into silence as she blinks back on the tears in question as though just becoming aware of them. "Damn."

"Talk to me." God, how many times have I wanted to say that to her? Just push for answers until I get a good look inside her head.

Her answering smile is shaky, as though she can just barely hold onto it.

Jeez, this is scary. This is a woman who's faced a thousand different terrors without doing much more than batting an eyelash. Wonder if this means the world's coming to an end. No, it's more personal than that. Her hands are remarkably soft in mine when I curl my fingers around her palms. "Is it Nightwing? Is something wrong?"

Her eyes slide closed, blocking me out, though I can see the way she's trying to regain control in her body language. "No ... no ... it's not ... anything...." And now she's not looking at me. "I mean ... not anything ... wrong ... with him...."

"You're scaring me here." My whispered admission draws a squeeze from the hands caught in mine, and she looks up again, eyes meeting mine. She gets it this time.

"Sorry ... just ... um ... wasn't really planning on ... on discussing any of this...." Damn, if she clamps down any harder, I'm likely to wind up with a couple of broken fingers. "But ... you might as well know." She pauses and I want to urge her to hurry up, but hold off, knowing she'd on edge and needs to take things at her own pace. "You know Nightwing's been patrolling in Bl�dhaven?"

"Yeah." It's been his haunting ground for awhile now from what I can tell. No big deal for her equipment though. Hell, she can bounce signals all over the world, so Bl�dhaven's no big stretch.

A nod from her to acknowledge my confirmation tells me she's stalling for time, and I can feel the way she takes a deep breath as though nerving herself up. "He's been training someone there ... a woman...."

Oh God, please no, don't let him have done that to her.

"Things have been a little ... tense ... between he and I ... but apparently ... well ... more like intense ... between the two of them."

I'll kill him. And so help me, if he made her feel responsible, or blamed that goddamned chair in any way, I'll make it hurt so bad, he'll begging to die. The guy's saved my life more than a few times, so physical violence is out, but goddammit, I'm not above tying him down and making him watch Donny and Marie reruns until his brain shuts down from the torment. I guess that thought shows in my expression because she falls back on defending him ... or at least making excuses.

"It wasn't something he planned ... or meant to happen...."

"He still--"

"I know." Her tone says it all. She doesn't want a post-mortem. She's still in the hurts-too-much-to-talk-about phase of things. "That's why it's over."

I still feel the need to offer, "I can kill him for you, if you want," though I manage to get enough irony into my tone to keep it from sounding as murderous as I'm feeling. Her wan smile is all the rejection the offer requires. I know how she feels. God, do I know how she feels, to the point that even if I weren't so emotionally involved, I'd want to punch the guy in the face. I've been in her shoes my fair share of times. It's a sore point as a result. "Ah, damn, Babs ... I wish...." What do I wish? Good question. Don't really have a good answer, because there's suddenly this twisted part of me that's contemplating the fact that we can probably spend more time together now, then using that as a jumping off point to wonder if maybe somebody else could have a shot. If I could have a shot. Best friend, stepping in, offering to be there in the time of need. And does she know how damn kissable her lips look in this light? "Is there anything I can do to help?" Was that croaking sound really my voice.

She tries to speak, doesn't make the grade, and finally just shakes her head.

"Are you sure it's over? Maybe if you--" I don't know why I feel the need to make sure, or maybe I do. Either way, she cuts me off before I can even get the second part of the question out.

"I'm sure." Her voice comes out harsh and angry, signaling that some kind of confrontation took place between the two of them. And I don't think I'd ever want the look on her face right now directed my way. "I'm not going to wait around while he thinks about it ... considers his options, and ... samples them both."

Ouch. Damn, Nightwing, you are one serious dumbass if you tried to pull that routine on this woman. I might have fallen for it in my younger, far needier days---hell, I did fall for it a time or two---but she's not one who's ever going to put up with that sort of thing. "I'm sorry." Not much more to say. Well, actually, there is, but I don't figure she really wants to hear it right now.

"Not your doing." She tips her head back, leaning against the chair and staring ceilingward, a sad, depressed sigh escaping her lips as she blows her bangs out of her eyes. "I just wasn't ... expecting ... this...."

I hate this ... really, really hate this. Okay, so maybe there's a part of me that's quivering over the idea that I could have some kind of a chance, even though ... well ... I think it's a pretty long shot. But I'd cheerfully give up any vague chance to erase the hurt from her eyes. She's given up so much for so many other people ... lost so much ... and it hurts to think that she's losing again. Damn, now I'm crying too. Great, Lance, get it under control. The last thing she needs right now is you, blubbering like an idiot. "Okay," I murmur at last, my voice sounding strained to my own ears as I kick start my brain and start moving again. "I think it's time for you to get a change of scenery."

A quick blink and a hint of a frown are turned my way. "Really ... I--"

I'm on my feet with one firm push, standing over her and offering a forced smile. I know she's hurting, and god knows I'm hurting for her, but sitting around in the clocktower isn't going to do her any good. Suddenly I'm leaning forward, offering my most rakish grin, hands braced on the armrests of her chair as I purposely invade her space. The frown turns downright owlish as her eyes narrow faintly.

"Dinah--"

"You need to get drunk." Actually on second thought.... "We both need to get drunk." That's it. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. "Falling down, cross-eyed, kill-me-now-when-the-hangover-hits ... drunk."

She's looking at me like I've grown a spare head. Okay, so it's probably not the sort of solution she's used to ... undoubtedly her answer would be very sober, proper, and upright. "Dinah...." Her tone slides from annoyed to outraged to disbelieving in the space of two syllables.

"You need to get bombed ... blitzed ... totally blotto--"

I think I must be up to three or four extra heads by now, judging by the way she's staring at me. "Have you lost your--"

"Mind?" I finish for her and hear my voice turn almost cheerful. "Nope." And I can't resist leaning forward until we're almost nose to nose. "You got cheated on. Tradition demands you either get drunk or get laid--"

"Dinah!" She's cute when squeals like that. Imagine her reaction if I offered to help with option two as well as option one. The squawk would probably give the Canary Cry a run for its money. I think I must be up to five or six heads by now.

Only it suddenly occurs to me that maybe I've made things worse, that maybe there's something about her condition that makes it a bad idea. I don't know that much about what she goes through, or her limitations. Never noticed enough limitations to worry about, and it's not really something I felt comfortable asking about. "You ... uh ... you can ... drink ... right?"

Rusty brown eyebrows shoot up, green eyes going wide. "Yes," she snaps through gritted teeth, then adds under her breath in an affronted tone, "among other things."

Do not laugh, Dinah, just don't do it. It's just that the notion of Babs picking up some strange guy for the night is damn funny. It's just soooo not her style. But I'm not stupid, I know laughter would be a bad choice here. Which makes it that much worse when I can't hold back a little chuckle. "Ow!" Damn, those escrima sticks hurt.

"It's not funny."

At which point it occurs to me that I may have hit a really sensitive point. I don't mean to, but my eyes drop to touch on her legs, heat filling my cheeks as a flush slides over my skin. Sometimes I forget about it ... the chair. She's so damned independent, so in control, that it's easy to do. Suddenly I couldn't laugh if my life depended on it. "No ... it's not."

In an instant, her eyes flash. Nothing like a hint of pity to really piss her off. "I can drink you under the table, Lance."

Oooo, a challenge. I wonder if she has the faintest idea how damn sexy that look she's giving me is? So, if she can drink me under the table, can she also....

No, no, no. Do not think like that, Lance, especially when you're off to get bombed with her. That way lies madness, extreme danger, and the high probability of extraordinary, kill-me-now, embarrassment. Because joking around is one thing, but you make a serious move and she will slap you silly. "Awfully confident there, red."

"Try me."

I wish. "You're on...."

* * * * * *

Dear God, what was I thinking? She wasn't kidding when she said she could drink me under the table. She's still steady handed as hell, and here I am kinda woozy and waffling, and more than a little afraid that if I try and stand up, I'm gonna sit down again ... really fast, and possibly not on the chair either. "So, if I fall over, are you gonna give me a ride back to the tower?" We walked and rolled here respectively---cute little corner bar just a little way from the clocktower---but at this rate, I have my doubts about how well my legs are gonna be working by the time we close the place out. "Since you've still got wheels."

She leans forward, elbows on the table, a blowsy grin on her face. "Alas, my conveyance is more of a single seater." Only a former librarian would use the word conveyance in daily speech, and I'm not even gonna comment on alas.

Dunno what demon makes me offer a teasing grin. "I could sit on your lap." The alcohol appears to have gone straight to my libido, judging by the bolt of heat that thought sends over my skin.

"I'd get all squished--"

"I don't weigh that much."

God, she's cute when she blushes, and I like making her blush ... like watching that creamy, perfect complexion turn all pink. I even like the chiding, faintly slurred way she says my name. "Dinah."

"Ye-es?"

"You're incorrigible."

"And you love it." I can't help but grin, offering up the smile that has been known to bring men to their knees. Wonder if it'll work the same way on women? On one woman in particular. Heh, got her blushing till her face is roughly the same color as her hair.

"Dinah ... you are...." She trails off, shaking her head, her expression bemused, leaving me to wonder if maybe she's starting to figure out the game I'm playing with her. Not that I expect it to go anywhere, but even the flirting is fun, and I figure I'll walk away from this night with some serious fantasy material. "Thanks," she says suddenly, leaning forward, elbows on the table, her bleary smile turning serious. "I needed this."

"Hey, we're partners, saving the world together and all that. It was the least I could do." I won't mention what the most is. That would get me slapped ... though it might just be worth it.

She smiles. Got a bring 'em to their knees smile of her own ... or maybe it's just me, because if I weren't sitting, I'd be kneeling. I'm seriously considering it anyway. "We're more than partners." Her serious mien only deepens as she continues, "We're friends." And then suddenly the blush is back, along with an uncomfortable, hesitant stammer that's wholly unlike her. "At least ... I mean, I hope we're friends. I think of you as a friend."

I can't resist the urge to reach out and cover her hand with my own. Her skin's so soft, the bones delicate, but there's corded strength there, and when I look down I can't help but admire that sight. Our hands look good together like that. Mine a little larger, skin a little more tanned, hers finer and more graceful. And how drunk am I to be finding this the most erotic thought I've had in ages? "Best friends." A slow stroke over her knuckles has me shivering and more aroused than the last two pretty boys I slept with added together, and I can't help but wonder if maybe it's playing a few games with her because she abruptly looks down, staring at our hands, her voice a little shaky when she finally speaks.

"Best friends." And then her hand turns under mine, fingers squeezing, sending an unexpected bolt of heat through already stimulated nerve endings, only this time it's not just about sex, but about sex and everything else. Jesus, I haven't felt this way in years, like a virgin again, excited by the tiniest little thing. Except the notion of me a virgin is too damn laughable for words. Hell, I even hated the damn Madonna song.

"How about letting a guy in on the action." Uncultured, cigarette rough the voice breaks in on the moment, probably saving me from making a damn fool of myself. I still want to kill him. Big, dumb, the kind of guy that thinks if two women are together then it's either because they're not good looking enough to get a guy, or they're trying to turn one on. Dumbshit.

I'm still hunting for a sufficiently insulting response when Barbara simply growls, "No thanks."

He looks at her, a slimy, smarmy look that only doubles my desire to punch him in the face. I can see the gears turning in his tiny, little brain. He's thinking about her, noticing the chair, wondering what it would be like, then smirking confidently. "C'mon, darlin', y'know you look like you could use a little attention." Does she get a lot of that? Assholes who think that a woman in a wheelchair just has to be grateful for the offer, no matter how big a loser the guy is.

I can see her looking down out of the corner of my eye, pointedly glaring at the spot most guaranteed to make a creep like this wilt. "From the look of, a little is all you've got." Damn, she's got a mean mouth when she's had a few.

He starts to swing. Big mistake, because I'd have to be a whole lot drunker than I am to let somebody this slow, big, and dumb get away with anything. Out of my chair, catch his fist, and twist. He's on his knees, whimpering, in an instant. "Not nice." He tries to bring his other hand around to shove or hit. I could deal with it, but she takes care of the problem with an escrima stick before I get the chance. "Now, why don't you go play with yourself and leave us alone before we decide to really hurt you." The bartender's looking, trying to decide whether or not to wade in. Poor guy's probably pretty confused. Logic dictates he should be offering to help a couple of female customers---one in a wheelchair even---being bothered by a jerk, but at this point, the jerk's the one in need of help.

The jackass thinks about trying something else, the impulse broadcasting itself in the way flabby muscles tense. He doesn't get a chance to follow through. A quick punch to the nose and a sharp blow from an escrima stick to the back of one thigh make sure of it.

"Now, crawl away like a good boy ... while I'm still feeling nice." He's dumb enough to draw breath to hurl an epithet. I can see the thought behind his piggy, little eyes, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let it happen. Without thinking about it, my hand clamps on his throat. "Don't even think it." At this point, I've had more than enough alcohol to drop any normal inhibitions about beating him senseless, but not enough to reduce my ability to do so. One good shove throws him to the floor.

"Leave ... now," Babs orders, an escrima stick tapping a light, but menacing rhythm against one wheel.

The guy may be a dumbshit, but he's got enough sense of self-preservation to keep his mouth shut as he scrambles for his feet and makes a run for it.

"Cretin."

Only she would use such a mild epithet under the circumstances, and I can't resist a small chuckle. "I was thinking asshole."

"That too."

"Dumbshit?"

"Definitely."

Grinning, I roll out an impressive list of obscenities, and she confirms every one of them, managing to curse without actually uttering the words in a way that's damned adorable.

"On the house, ladies," the bartender abruptly breaks in on our mutual giggles as he delivers a couple of frosty, fruity, and somehow frilly and feminine drinks that are probably the most expensive things on the menu. Mine's pink, and I can't decide whether or not I like this idea. "That jackass is always bothering customers. Maybe now he won't come back."

Barbara does the classy thing and smiles her gratitude, even offering up the proper verbal response. I can't take my eyes off the pink Icee sitting in front of me. Then again, hers is mint green, so maybe that's even worse and she's better off not even looking at it. I'm still staring at it after he leaves. On second thought, pink is definitely worse. "It's pink." I tend to prefer my alcohol straight, undiluted, and maybe if I'm feeling adventurous---over ice. Okay, so when on vacation, I'll have the odd fruity, umbrella drink, but they're always nice and clear in tall glasses. This is.... "Did I mention it's pink?"

Her soft laughter slides down my spine like an actual caress, and I look up in time to see a slender hand swirl a straw through the dollop of whipped cream on top of her drink, painting white twirls in green slush. She dips the straw into the slush, filling the first couple of inches, then capping the end with a finger to lift it out. I can't take my eyes off the sight as she tips her head back, then lifts the straw until the end is poised above her mouth and takes her finger away. Mint green tips into her mouth, and she swallows, the sight almost painfully erotic.

"It's mint." A slow smile turns my way. "Mostly creme de menthe, I think."

Mint. Her mouth probably tastes like mint now. Cool, sweet ... mint. Sweat's suddenly sliding between my shoulderblades as I imagine that taste on my tongue, combined with the taste of her mouth. The pink drink in front of me is completely and utterly forgotten.

"Yours is probably strawberry ... daiquiri by the look of it."

Oh yeah, the drink. Which is still very, very pink.

"It won't bite, y'know."

I can't resist the temptation to look up, utterly entranced by the grin directed my way. "You're sure?" She smiles. "Cos it's pink, Babs ... and I don' like pink ... am inclined to think pink should be outlawed." It's still there and still very, very pink. "Ever notice that no superheroes wear pink? Only villains trying to be psychopathically cute." It occurs to me that I'm officially very tanked as I shake my head and the world kind of wobbles around me. Funny, I don't feel drunk. I mean, seems like I'm thinking clearly and all that, but then again, I don't think I usually worry quite so much about color. "I don't trust it ... pink, I mean."

She smiles, reaches out with her straw, and catches some of the pink concoction the same way she trapped the green, tips her head back and repeats the trick, throat muscles working as she swallows. I thought that was supposed to be the sort of thing only guys find incredibly erotic---and we all know why---only I find my pulse kicking into overdrive, heart thudding against the inside of my ribcage as though it might just escape if I'm not careful. Suddenly, my mouth's hanging open, tongue lolling like a dog's on a hot, summer day, the world swirling around me. Dear ... God....

"Strawberry daiquiri," Barbara confirms as she tips her head back down and smiles at me---a lazy, almost taunting, wanton grin that makes sweat start to bead on the back of my neck. She knows. She has to know. Nobody could be doing to someone else what she's doing to me without being at least a little bit aware of it. Or maybe I'm playing head games with myself. Trying to come up with an excuse to do something stupid---like grab her and find out what the combination of cold strawberry and mint tastes like on her lips.

"You should try it."

The timing of her softly spoken words momentarily leaves me thinking she's inviting the kiss I'm contemplating, and then I realize she's only referring to the drink. Yep, still very pink. I don't know what my problem with the damn thing is. It's just that ... well ... it's very, very pink. On the other hand, so are her lips, and I don't seem to have a problem with the idea of how they'll taste.

"It's almost sinfully sweet ... with just a bit of a bite."

Did I just whimper? And could she have heard? Heat prickles all over my skin, setting me on fire from the inside out. And suddenly I'm grabbing the damn, pink concoction from hell and slamming it down ... not for the alcohol, but for the ground ice, hoping it might do something to cool my raging libido. Even as I chug-a-lug it, it occurs to me that it might be more effective if I just dumped it into my lap. Then again, at this point, that almost sounds sexy. I can imagine--

Oh no, you don't, Dinah. Nope, nope, nope. Do not let yourself go there mentally. Except it's too late. The image is in my mind now. Overheated bodies twined together in sweaty sheets, icy pink slush spilling over my skin, the darker shade of her lips and tongue sweeping it up, stained a brighter color by the sweet fruit.

I repeat ... Dear ... God.

"Easy, Dinah," that silky smooth voice washes over me just as the cold-chill headache hammers at my skull like a demon trapped inside and trying to batter its way out. "I don't think those are meant to be pounded."

"Probably ... not." Blazing pain in my temples leaves me close to doubling over. Dumb, Dinah, really dumb. Still lost in the pain, I don't realize she's moved around the table until a gentle hand joins mine at my temple, lightly brushing my fingers aside and taking over the massage, moving more slowly and easing the pain where my own fingers only seemed to increase it. I don't even consider my actions, just turn toward her, relieved when her other hand takes up residence rubbing my opposite temple.

"I'll bet you gave yourself a lot of ice cream headaches as a kid," she murmurs, her tone wry.

Yeah, I did. Never could remember to slow down when I was going after something I really liked. Always been a fool rushing in, and it's gotten me in trouble more than once. Not really a fact I care to admit to at that exact moment, so I just trust myself into her care as she chases the pain away via some strange magic unique to her that I don't even begin to understand. Her fingers continue to move slowly, drawing me to lean closer, invading her personal space, though she doesn't seem to care.

"Just relax and let it go," the whisper ruffles my hair and teases my left ear as she leans a little closer. Then her fingers slide back into my hair, still working in small, concentric circles, until the pain ceases to exist as though it never was.

My shoulders collapse and I can't contain a heavy sigh, exhaling the tension along with the headache.

"Better?"

"Mmhm ... thanks." It suddenly occurs to me that my hands are clinging to the armrests of her wheelchair, while my forehead is only a few inches from her shoulder. If I just lift my head, our faces would be so close ... I could almost claim it was an accident if our lips brushed. Oh, bad thoughts, Dinah. Very bad thoughts.

Almost as quickly as the thought runs through my brain, it's not an option anymore as she pulls back, reaching for her drink. Some part of me is hoping that maybe she needs cooling down as much as I did, that she'll gulp and swallow hard, but she only sips delicately through the straw, then sets it aside again. A russet eyebrow rises as her gaze meets mine, and I find myself wondering what she knows, what she suspects, and what she doesn't even have a clue about. She's a complex woman, and I haven't any idea what she's thinking. Then suddenly I'm raising a hand and ordering another stoli. Much safer than pink drinks if only for the lack of ground ice. She picks up the free drink again, shifting in her chair to take a sip, the position change just enough to reveal a bit more of pale cleavage, showing me the inner curve of a firm breast. Then again, maybe more alcohol isn't the safest idea in the world. In fact, maybe any alcohol isn't the safest idea in the world because I'm dry mouthed and itchy fingered. I haven't wanted anyone like this since I was a high school kid fumbling in the back of Tommy Gallagher's Chevy, only barely aware of what the hell sex even was, but wanting it so bad I was shaking. Now I know---or at least I have a vague suspicion, because in some respects, in contemplating the probable differences between that and this, it occurs to me that I have unintentionally regained my long lost, and never missed, virginity. And the irony is I'm shaking even worse than I did then.

Thankfully, the stoli arrives before I can do something really stupid, and suddenly we're giggling, reminiscing about our triumph over the forces of evil miscreants everywhere. The sexual attraction doesn't go away, but it dissipates ever so slightly, allowing me to act more like myself, rather than some tongue tied, hormone driven teenager. Or at least I hope I'm acting more like myself. After enough alcohol, it's difficult to be entirely certain.

Too soon, it seems, the bartender is oh-so-politely throwing us out, offering to call a cab, and generally making a nuisance of himself when we insist on looking after ourselves.

"Just live down the street," Babs murmurs, hooking her thumb over her shoulder to indicate the clocktower. "And the cold air'll probably be good for both of us."

I grin. "Don't worry, we can take care of ourselves."

The poor guy can't really argue that point, so he finally just shrugs.

As we step into the night, I'm tempted to ask for that ride I hinted at earlier, but the lighthearted humor has shifted to a more serious mood. And besides, a chilly wind has a bit of a sobering effect, clearing a few of the cobwebs from between my ears. Easily adjusting my pace to her own, I can't resist the urge to slant a curious look her way, but her expression is contemplative and unreadable.

As if sensing my perusal, she glances over, offering a faintly bleary smile. "So, you wanna spend the night since you're ... uh ... not exactly in any condition to be driving?"

Good point. I'm barely sober enough to walk. Driving would just be an insanely---not to mention illegally---bad idea. Still, spending the night.... Not necessarily a good idea all things considered. "I can call a cab."

"At this hour?" she murmurs doubtfully. "Unlikely. Besides, I wouldn't mind some company in the clocktower. Gets a little lonely up there sometimes."

The sad, lost note in her voice catches me by surprise, drawing my attention back to her. It never occurred to me that she might be lonely up there. After all, she's always tethered to a dozen different people, from me to Nightwing, to the entire JLA. But then again, most of the people she works with haven't the faintest idea who she is, and she's such a high tech secret that the clocktower is one giant security zone, all designed to keep her safe. Not exactly a way to make friends.

"Especially now," she adds on a soft, melancholy note that leaves me wanting to play white knight to her maiden trapped in an ivory tower.

I should definitely refuse. Walk---no, run---away as fast as possible. But I can't leave her alone like this. "Sure. Not sure I could cover a cab ride anymore anyway. I think I may have drunk all of my mad money." My hand settles naturally on her shoulder, staying there as we amble companionably along.

"Dinah?" she murmurs as we near the ground floor entrance to her sanctuary.

"Mmhm?"

"Thanks."

"Anytime." And then we're inside and out of the cold, and I discover I don't mind elevators nearly as much with company along for the ride. Not that either one of us says anything, but it's a comfortable kind of silence that allows the time to pass quickly.

Continue to Part 2

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