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The Waynes of Gotham

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“All right, Trish… it’s just Ms. Wayne. It’s not like she’s a supervillain. Like the last person with around as much money as she has that you met.” Trisha (nobody called her Patricia, though that was what her birth certificate said, and “Pattie” was asking to be found at the bottom of the harbor) Baum sat outside Ms. Wayne’s office, waiting to be called in. She was the only one here for the last interview - the hiring manager had narrowed the candidates down to three, and the CEO to just her - but she was still jittery.

When one has walked out on Lex Luthor…

“Sir…” she had said to him when called into his office after tendering her resignation. “I know this is a great job that nearly anyone would kill for. But… well, it’s just that, sir. I love the vast bulk of what we do here. I love the medical tech, I love the charity work. Just… Mr. Luthor, today, a piece of paperwork for ‘Wide-Range Explosive Kryptonite Delivery System” came across my desk, and… I can’t. I feel like my continued presence here would be a drain on my conscience and a potential obstacle to your goals… which could be a drain on my lifespan.”

She hadn’t intended that last bit to be said out loud. Thankfully, Mr. Luthor had seemed more amused than angry, and had made sure that she got her full severance. Which she’d been living on until she got called in here.

She didn’t want to live in Gotham. But the chance to work for Ms. Wayne, personally?

Worth that. Worth the jitters, too.

Lucius Fox had been nothing but pleasant in their brief interview, and his assistant had been more than helpful, but somehow neither had done anything to settle the butterflies in her stomach. There just wasn’t a reasonable way to convince yourself it wasn’t a big deal to be meeting (probably) the richest woman in the world whose contact list had included Senators and federal judges even before she’d moved out of her high society party girl phase and become a serious philanthropic presence on the world stage. It would have been easier to meet Ms. Wayne during the party-girl phase of her life - they would have been more alike in age, yes, but also… there was something absurd in everyone she’d ever liked. Especially everyone powerful she’d ever liked. Even Mr. Luthor… powerful and wealthy beyond imagining but unable to let go of a singular self-destructive obsession. It humanized him. Ms. Wayne, from everything she could see in her public persona, was perfect - and one couldn’t even take her perfection as a sign of ease. Between young tragedy and overcoming personal demons and foibles, she’d worked for it.

A tall, leggy Latina with a proprietary headset behind her left ear stepped out of the anteroom and offered her hand, smiling. “I’m sorry, Ms. Baum, I should have invited you in to wait more comfortably but we were juggling an international conference call and you already know we’re short-handed. I’m Sofia Guerra, Ms. Wayne’s lead secretary. If things work out, I’ll be reporting to you by the end of the day, so you can imagine I was hoping to make a better impression.”

Trisha smiled, rising to her feet and shaking the woman’s hand. Ms. Wayne surrounds herself with beautiful people. That, I suppose, might be seen as a vice… if she wasn’t so damned good at that, too. “It’s quite all right. If things work out, I’m going to need you to show me which way is up and which is down around here. It’s good to meet you, Ms. Guerra.”

“And you, ma’am. Ms. Wayne is ready for you now, so I’m just going to take you right in. Do you need anything first?” Sofia had a bright, engaging smile, but the accent was native Gotham and there was just a little hardness around the eyes that suggested she hadn’t always worn hand-tailored suits and perfect make-up.

And there’s the other side. She hires almost entirely inside Gotham. So everyone in the office will have their stories. “No, thank you,” Trisha said. “To be honest, I’m nervous enough right now that I wouldn’t want to put anything in my stomach. But… let’s go see Ms. Wayne.”

“Don’t worry. La jefa has not eaten anyone in two, three months now. And the glass windows are very sturdy,” Sofia said without breaking that smile, showing Trisha through the door before she had a chance (or a need) to come up with a retort.

Her first thought was that Ms. Wayne stood as perfectly erect in her neat heeled boots as the black metal supports running through her enormous window, framing a view of Gotham that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else in the city. The coal black of her hair was twisted up in a stylish but very functional knot, still either untouched with gray or the most careful dye-job Trisha’d ever seen, and her suit could have come from the same tailors Mister Luthor shopped at except for the color. She was… striking, even from behind (and even without looking down), in a way that hours of looking at interviews and semi-candid video could not have prepared Trisha for at all.

Then she turned around, a neatly efficient motion without any wasted movement, and those famously dark blue eyes took Trisha in with a glance. “Ms. Baum. Thank you for coming all this way and being patient with our little process.”

“Ms. Wayne.” Her voice did not crack. It was not breathy. It was normal, even, respectful. “The process has been… much more interesting than any other job I’ve applied for. Mr. Fox and Ms. Guerra have been nothing but kind, though.”

“As you can imagine, we got a few applicants.” The famous Wayne charm was in full operation, and that smile definitely suggested that the rumors about Ms. Wayne’s list of conquests in her younger days might not be exaggerated after all. “But Lucius tells me that you stood out from the start, and I’ve always found him to a great judge of people. We’ll sit, if you don’t mind?” An open, decisive gesture to the two corner sofas flanking a glass and steel table spared her wondering whether Ms. Wayne was going to be one of those executives who couldn’t wait to get behind their enormous desks. Apparently not.

“I don’t mind at all.” Trisha moved to the sofa, but waited for Ms. Wayne to sit before she herself did. “Mr. Fox seemed very… devoted to you. So has everyone I have met who has worked for you directly.”

“He was a good friend of my father’s. He’s been with me ever since I came back to Wayne Enterprises.” Ms. Wayne’s smile warmed, though there was a hint of sadness about her eyes for a moment before she tucked one leg over the other and straightened up again. “I don’t imagine anyone else has told you, but I should - I haven’t made it a practice to have a personal assistant in the past, so this will be a new experience for me. You’ll be defining a lot of this as we go along. I would have preferred not to go this route, honestly, but Lucius and Alfred - Mr. Pennyworth, my butler - more or less staged an intervention to tell me that my staff weren’t getting half as much done as they ought to be because they didn’t have someone to exercise supervision. So here we are.”

“If you, with the schedule you have maintained, have made it this long without a personal assistant, your staff is very good. I look forward to working with them.” Trisha offered a wide smile, folding her hands in her lap.

“They are.” Ms. Wayne had a way of sitting, very straight and very still, that should have seemed artificial or cold but somehow managed not to be either. “And of course, this is Gotham, so we’re used to managing under less-than-ideal conditions. On the subject of which, our primary project for the immediate future is going to be a major revitalization project here in Gotham. We’re going to be rebuilding as much of the downtown core as we can pull funding in for and the Mayor can be convinced to permit, with a corresponding upgrade in transit and city services in the affected areas, and as you can imagine that is going to be a pretty heavy lift.”

“That sounds like something I’d be proud to work on, Ms Wayne. Which… wanting to have that is why I’m here in the first place.” She managed not to stare. Or to spend too much time looking away. Ms. Wayne both drew the eyes and encouraged deference; finding the right balance was difficult.

“‘Ms. Baum’s commitment to her work is commendable, but somewhat clouded by her occasional sentimentality,’” Ms. Wayne quoted, then favored Trisha with another smile. “Lex Luthor has a very backhand way with his compliments, but I personally happen to think that there’s nothing wrong with bringing a conscience to work. Not to mention courage, which you seem to have plenty of.”

“Thank you, Ms. Wayne. I actually liked the vast majority of my work for LexCorp, but… well, that last little bit was rather… unavoidable. Monday, help treat a particularly virulent form of cancer. Friday, help try to kill Superman… it wasn’t a long-term option for me.”

“What do you think of him?” Ms. Wayne paused a fraction of a second, then clarified. “Superman, not Lex. He doesn’t really allow for much variety in opinions, his press profiles to the contrary.”

“Superman? I’m from Metropolis, Ms. Wayne. Superman is Metropolis. As far as I know, I’ve never been in mortal danger from some otherworldly being, but I’m still entirely certain Superman has saved my life more than once… and those of everyone I’ve ever known, and of everyone I’ll meet. But, more than that… when he is there, I know I can be better tomorrow than I was yesterday.”

The edge of Ms. Wayne’s mouth ticked up in a strange little smile. “I imagine that must be very gratifying, Ms. Baum. I think you’ll do, at least on a provisional basis. Do you have any questions you might like to ask me before you accept?”

“Yes.” Trisha leaned forward a bit. “It is the natural habit of a personal assistant to take very little time off and offer her employer very little time in which she is not around. So… will you be comfortable telling me to take a hike when you need you-time?”

Ms. Wayne startled her slightly with a warm, vivid laugh. “Oh, yes. I’m afraid I take my off-time pretty seriously. Possibly a little too seriously - I have a bad habit of cancelling things or calling in by phone if I find myself in the wrong city or on the wrong continent when I ought to be in a meeting. One of the things you’ll find yourself doing a lot for me is playing deputy - making decisions based on what you think I would want done. We’ll ease into that, of course, but you should probably start thinking about it now.”

Yes, Mr. Queen, of course Ms. Wayne is willing to part with Wayne Entertainment in return for your Arrowmobile. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable offer. ” Trisha laughed quietly. “We’ll figure that out.”

“For the record, I don’t believe that vehicle would be particularly valuable as either a collectable or a pleasure. Though if you ever get a line on an actual Batmobile, please do at least let me know.” Ms. Wayne’s smile showed just a hint of extremely white, even teeth. “I’m something of a fan.”

“The Bat seems to be a fan of yours as well, Ms. Wayne, given how often she solves thefts and things from Wayne Industries. If I meet her, I’ll suggest a date.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I imagine she’d be a little butch for my tastes, though I can’t say that I would say no to dinner.” Rising to her feet, Ms. Wayne offered her hand. “If you’re accepting, we can start by dispensing with the formality. Helen, please.”

Trisha was on her feet as well, shaking Ms. Wayne’s hands. “Very well, Helen. Trisha.” She did blush a little, this time.

“Trisha.” Oh, but that was a bad sign already - one’s boss really ought not be able to make one’s common-use nickname sound so charming right off the bat. “Shall we get down to work, then? You can let Sofia know that she ought to start the conference call I had her arrange with my secretaries so you can meet everyone.”

“Very well.” Trisha smiled widely. “I really can’t wait to meet Helen Wayne’s Most Excellent Secretarial Pool.” The blush, stubbornly, did not fade.

 


 

“I am dead.” Trisha fell into place behind her desk, head rolled back onto the blessedly comfortable neckrest of the blessedly comfortable chair. “Call the morgue, for I have perished. Passed on. Am deceased. I pine for the fjords. She’s really in Hong Kong? And nobody knew before she landed?”

“That’s what the Hong Kong office says.” Sofia Guerra kicked off her heels and put her feet up on the couch, resting her head back on the arms. “Armand?”

“Cut tequila for Mademoiselle. And for you?” Armand Dubois, immaculate in his tuxedo as he was in his manners, smiled at Trisha with the air of a man sympathizing with someone else’s problems. “The liquor closet is excellent, as you’d expect.”

“I wouldn’t expect that. Mr. Luthor didn’t allow drinking on the job, the fiend.” Trisha waved her hand. “Something that will need a cab home after.”

“Cognac, then.” He poured two snifters, mixed a tall glass and carried the three drinks over to the table with a philosophical shrug. “Helen has always been a free spirit. You can’t let it worry you too much.”

Trisha swallowed far more of the drink than was healthy in one go. “Didn’t you have her scheduled for the Mayor’s gala? Which Senator Rowan was going to be at? And Batgirl? Because I seem to recall that being on the plans for this evening.”

“I called Miss Kane to cover for her, and Pennyworth will be managing the event.” Armand waved a hand languidly. “You get used to that, too. Once she called me an hour before a dinner with both our senators and half the state delegation from Gotham to tell me she was skydiving with three supermodels, and could I arrange something?”

“I think I’d have sent the Senators on the skydiving trip,” Trisha murmured. “That would give an equal number of dignitaries and supermodels.”

“Not bad. But it would probably have ruined Helen’s fun.”

“Don’t mind him,” Sofia sighed, sipping from her drink and fixing the older man with an aggrieved stare. “He has ironclad job security because he was at school with la jefa, so he can afford to be relaxed.”

“It’s not nice to give away a gentleman’s age, Sofi.”

“I’ve read your file, you know. I know your birthday. And what I’m getting you for it, by the by,” Trisha pointed out.

Armand’s expression suggested deep betrayal, but he quickly composed himself. “Well, as long as you don’t go spreading it around with any of the eligible young men at Helen’s parties, I suppose I can accept that.”

“My lips are sealed,” Trisha said. “I think I need another cognac. How often does she suddenly cut these trips short and immediately need all hands on deck?”

“Not very often.” Sofia shifted over to look at Trisha more directly while Armand retrieved the bottle from the cabinet and settled for putting it on the table between them this time. “Only when there’s an actual problem she’s let fester. I mean, the trips tend to start or end on their own schedule known only to her and maybe Mister Pennyworth, but usually once she gives you the day off it stays off unless Mister Fox or someone at the Foundation urgently needs something solved.”

“Mm. Good.” Trisha scratched the back of her neck. “In that case, I’m going to stay home tomorrow, in my pajamas, and catch up on… popular show. Not the one where everyone gets gruesomely killed. Some other one.”

“You don’t watch a lot of television, do you? You could join my abuela in watching some telenovelas,” Sofia teased gently.

“I really don’t,” Trisha said, sighing. “I always promise myself I’ll keep up with something, but it never happens. Are you calling me an old lady?”

“I would never dare tell my boss that.” Sofia’s smile was radiant. “I might be implying that your life is quiet enough to be mistaken for hers, though. I’m going to call mi cielo up and see if he’ll let me take him out for the day.”

Armand’s expression turned wistful. “He really is a lovely man. Sofia has depressingly good taste in that department.”

“As opposed to me, with terrible judgement.” Trisha sighed. “Have enough fun for all of us, Sofia.”

“Oh, I sense gossip worth hearing,” Armand pounced. “We insist on hearing about your Metropolis misadventures, Ms. Baum. I need all the consolation I can get.”

“Warg.” That was the closest word to the sound she made. “There’s not a lot to tell… I’ve been single since a few weeks after I started working for Mr. Luthor. Dated a guy in high school who had lovely eyes and was convinced that ‘marijuana’ counted as a hobby. Two girls in college… one was ‘experimenting’ and hadn’t told me that was what was happening; the other converted to Mormonism and dumped me after a year and a half. Guy after I graduated who was working his way through a very promising chef’s apprenticeship right up until his boss and I, coming in through separate doors, found him with his mentor’s daughter in one of the storerooms.”

“Bad day for him,” Sofia chuckled, sitting up and dangling her drink between her knees with a lupine smile. “I knew those Metropolis boys couldn’t be all they’re made out to be. Nobody that clean-cut can be good for you.”

“It gets worse. They wound up running away and getting married. Last I heard - we’ve got a mutual friend who turns him down every time he’s looking for money - they’re living in Star City and he’s decided he’s going to be a scientist. Never mind that he wouldn’t know a beaker from an alkaline solution.”

Now both of them were laughing. Well, so it went. Armand got his composure back first. “Well, I can cheerfully promise to introduce you to any attractive and available young women I know.”

“Not the men, though,” Sofia shot back. “He doesn’t want the competition. You’re better looking than he is.”

“I’m certain there are attractive young men who aren’t his type. Or who are straight. He can still send me the cast-offs.” Trisha winked, finishing her drink.

“A very practical young woman! I believe I like her, Sofia.”

Sofia tipped one hand back and forth, feigning a thoughtful expression. “The jury is still out, but she’s not bad. Especially for not being a Gotham girl.”

“My grandmother’s from Gotham… my mother’s mother. Doesn’t that make me at least a little more acceptable?”

“Mmm. Honorary. Yeah, you’ll do.” Sofia toasted her. “Welcome to the madhouse, Trisha Baum.”

 


 

Winter snow was falling on Gotham City, draping itself over the spires of industry and the squat ruins of the Narrows alike, seeping its chill into the bones of the city. Trisha leaned against the window of the car, hands folded in her lap. Gotham was… oppressive, once you got out of the shining spires of the Wayne conglomerate and the high rise where her own modest apartment looked almost far enough past the horizon to see Metropolis across the bay - on a particularly bright day, she felt like she could just catch the glint of the Sun off the globe atop the Planet building.

There was something wrong with this city. Something that went further than the crime and corruption that formed its popular image in the world. Hollywood was glamour, San Francisco was eccentricity, Central City was… whatever made a place adopt the Flash as its local hero. And Gotham, to the world outside, was crime and corruption. But there was more to it, like the crime was the raindrops but the city itself was the cold that the rain drove past your skin and into your bones. And, even as a newcomer, she had come to appreciate just how much the presence of the Wayne companies in the city pushed back against that cold.

She did not understand how, really. She would have to think about that more. But she was, for the first time in her life, proud of her job - not just of her ability, but of the job she did. Keeping the engine of warmth in a place this cold running well was worth being proud of.

Everyone knew what Wayne Manor looked like, of course - even an estate as big and as ruthlessly elite as Helen Wayne’s couldn’t help that, not in an era of helicopters and telephoto lenses - but it was different coming through the Palisades and then the massive wrought iron fencing into the Wayne Estate.

The sun dipped behind the Manor just as it came into sight, casting a long shadow over the drive. The lawn around the drive was carefully, possibly even obsessively, manicured, grass kept to an attractive but not inconvenient length, hedges placed in a way both pleasing to the eye and strategically arranged to hold the thin topsoil of Gotham Hill in place on the hard basaltic bedrock. It felt like… a zoo, where the idea of wealth was on display rather than endangered animals from faraway continents. The sight of untamed weeds barely visible between the estate’s many buildings made that idea feel more real - the walkways of nature, looking down into the enclosures of human excess. A well-designed approximation of the natural habitat of plenty.

Trisha shook her head. Old places, apparently, made her poetic. She had the impulse to apologize to the driver who wasn’t there for woolgathering. Then the car pulled away from the broad demi-circle of the reception drive and skirted the edge of the house instead, slowing as if made as nervous as she was by the looming gargoyles at the edges of the manor, then turning off into a small, very modern garage that was occupied by a dozen of its counterparts resting in their charging cradles. It was like a little piece of the future neatly tucked away in the shadow of the old grand house, trying not to be noticed by the edifice looming above it.

A strip of LEDs lit on the ground in front of her as she got out, marking a path to one of the doors.

Approaching the house was nearly as intimidating as approaching Mr. Luthor. It glared down at her, stately and… stately. The words “stately Wayne Manor” were so ingrained in discussion of it that “foreboding” went unspoken. It didn’t need to be said, or thought.

She rang the bell at the entirely normal door that seemed far too small for the house itself. It was only a moment or two before it was opened by a tall, narrow man - balding but tidily so, impeccably dressed, dignified as if he were as old as the house itself - who smiled warmly when he saw her. “You must be Miss Baum. It’s a very great pleasure to finally meet you.”

“Thank you. Yes, I’m Trisha Baum.” Trisha offered the man a smile. She had to look up rather a lot to offer him that smile.

“Alfred Pennyworth, at your service. If you’ll just come this way,” he said, stepping to the side to invite her in. “Can I fetch you anything to make your stay with us more comfortable? A room has been made ready for you, as well, so I’ll take care of that bag if you’ll permit.”

A room? I guess I am staying the night. Glad I packed. “Thank you, Mr. Pennyworth,” she said, passing him the bag. “And…” She looked into the house self-consciously. “I don’t suppose there is a map of the place to orient myself by? Warnings to stay out of the West Wing?”

“I’m afraid not, ma’am. You will actually be staying upstairs in the West Wing - I thought the servant’s quarters might be a bit to droll if you take my meaning - but you should feel free to wander where you like. The doors which Ms. Wayne wishes to be locked are kept that way, so if a door is open you may be sure you are welcome to enter.” The butler handled her bag neatly, without disturbing the upright propriety of his step as he led her past a couple of old, functional doors and up a narrow stairway toward the second floor of the house. “My office is just through the room behind that door, but you’ll find it easier to call me through the house’s bell system - I’m often busy attending to things, so I rarely use the office. We don’t have a great deal of use these days for the East Wing except when we’re using the main kitchen - it was very much built with a larger staff in mind.”

“Do you keep this whole place running by yourself?” Trisha looked around the gallery with a bit of wonder - a huge room, after a stairway, after a few more huge rooms, and they hadn’t yet reached anything that did the basic jobs of a house or a home office. “That’s… very impressive.”

“I make do with the occasional outside service,” Pennyworth sniffed, “Though if you could convince Ms. Wayne to see her way to expanding the staff somewhat I would certainly be grateful. She has a most lamentable aversion to having people in the house when it can be avoided.”

“I’ll see what I can do, though Ms. Wayne strikes me as someone who changes her mind only rarely and when it is convenient for her to do so.”

“You have no idea,” Pennyworth sighed with some feeling. “Just through here into the North Gallery, if you please. Ms. Wayne ought to already be dressed and waiting for you, but I’m afraid punctuality is not one of her most prominent virtues, so you’ll have to take your chances.”

“Thank you, Mr. Pennyworth. It was a pleasure to meet you.” She meant it, and her next smile to him was far more relaxed. Then she stepped into the North Gallery. Which, she predicted, would be another huge room that still did not get into the usual business of being a house.

She was half-right - it was certainly a huge room, with enormous windows overlooking the grounds, but it folded several parts of the usual business of being a house into one room - there was a broad desk tucked into one corner flanked by a wall of well-used bookshelves, a sitting area of couches and chairs arranged around a marble-topped table, a piano with seats arranged for listening, a fireplace with old and comfortable-looking leather chairs flanking it and a pair of portraits hanging above it. It had all the function of an office, a parlor, a family room and a den crammed pleasantly into one room, and the small scatter of everyday objects to suggest it was in regular use.

It was lived in, and that made it little more comfortable for Trisha to find a place to sit. It was simply being invasive - which was tempered by the fact that she was doing so by invitation - rather than walking through the halls of a mausoleum.

Great. Now I’m not sleeping tonight.

Her eyes fell on the portraits. The first was obvious - the fact that the murder of her parents was a defining moment in the lives of both Helen Wayne and Gotham itself was common knowledge, alongside Mr. Luthor’s hatred of aliens and President Ross’s love of Tootsie Rolls. The one beside the portrait of her parents, though, took more thought.

There was Helen, looking… relaxed. Moreso than Trisha had, to this moment, seen her, anyway. Mr. Pennyworth, standing behind the other subjects, his serious look broken up by a hint of a smile, with perhaps a bit of mischief to it. Two boys - one a man, if barely - with black hair and blue eyes, their basic phenotype making them look almost, but not quite, like members of the same family that would produce Thomas and Helen Wayne. The older boy, in particular, was strikingly… somewhere between handsome and pretty. And a girl, a redhead, with a wild look to her that the stateliness of the portrait and her formal clothing could not quite cover. But the similarities in appearance between Helen and the boys, the differences between those three and the girl, and the fact that Mr. Pennyworth was a butler and not a Wayne did not change the fact that everything about the posing of the picture and the expressions on the faces said this was a family portrait - and one of a family with an immense amount of shared love.

Perhaps, Trisha thought, Ms. Wayne, behind the clashing dead-serious and playgirl personae, was also just a person.

Richard Grayson. Timothy Drake-Wayne. Carrie Kelley . The names came to her mind, one by one, from her exhaustive dossier on Helen. Personal information about her boss’s wards was difficult to come by - Grayson lived in Bludhaven and was probably an ex of Senator Gordon’s daughter, while Drake had an apartment on the largest of Gotham’s three main islands and Kelley lived in the Manor. They were all, perhaps, even more private than Helen herself - or, perhaps, Helen extended her own aura of privacy to her wards, who did far less to attract attention than Helen did.

“Miss Baum.” She’d become accustomed - she thought - to Helen Wayne’s voice by now, but there was a rigid force and formality in it at Wayne Industries that wasn’t there now. In its place was something more silken and overpowering, the presumption of a power that went down into the basalt bones of the land they were staying on, that reminded Trisha that her boss was not merely the world’s wealthiest industrialist but the last daughter of one of Gotham’s First Families - the nearest thing America had produced to a true aristocrat. The sight of her didn’t help settle Trisha’s nerves, either - Helen had discarded her usual perfectly tailored business suit for a midnight-black evening gown and an ivory shawl, and she glittered with the family jewels.

Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth for a moment, and when she opened her mouth to speak no words came out at first. She took a moment, composed herself, hoped to pass her initial breathless silence off as startlement (which probably did not work), tried to force her heart to both slow down and stop skipping beats when Ms. Wayne breathed (which definitely did not work), and, finally, spoke. “I thought you were calling me Trisha, Helen,” she managed. “Thank you for the invitation.” Her voice probably didn’t crack.

“Well, I was convinced by Alfred and Lucius that my truculence on the subject was exceeding reasonable limits. And it seemed a little...” Helen paused and waved a white-gloved hand, a hint of a smile sneaking onto her face. “Alfred would chide me for being quite so informal in my actual welcome. And for not saying, in so many words, welcome to Wayne Manor as my guest. So now that we’ve dispensed with all that, Trisha, do you want to sit down by the fire or by the windows?”

“The fire, if we could.” Trisha smiled a little. “The manor is surprisingly warm, but years of childhood reading books about ‘drafty old castles…’” Trisha let herself blush. “This is the nearest to a castle I have actually visited.”

Something moved behind Helen’s eyes - wistful, or sad, or maybe something else altogether - but her smile didn’t falter as she took one of the chairs by the fire and waved Trisha to the one opposite. “I don’t know if it came up in your reading, but there was a period when I had it closed and lived in the penthouse over Wayne Industries. After Richard moved out on his own, it just seemed too big for one woman and her butler. But the call of the family pile gets to you after a while, you know?”

“Roots,” Trisha said. “Nearly everyone I have ever known has spent their lives either trying to find comfort with them or trying to get as far from them as possible.” Which was an observation she would never, never have shared with Mr. Luthor.

“Or, for some of us, doing both by turns.” The corners of Helen’s mouth lifted, and she turned her head slightly to watch the fire crackle. “Eleven years away from Gotham before I came home, and it still felt exactly the same, this house.” Her eyes lifted, and the smile faded. “You’ll have to forgive me - I never quite know how to talk about myself with other people. Everyone always seems to know exactly the wrong amount.”

“The hazards of being a public figure. I expect that busybodies who assembled exhaustive dossiers on you before meeting you are the very worst.”

“They do seem to develop very peculiar ideas about me,” Helen agreed, the smile flashing loose again for a moment. “Of course, as Alfred never ceases to remind me, I’m a very peculiar woman.”

The smile dazzled Trisha for a moment. “Maybe,” she said. “But you’re a pleasant sort of peculiar.”

“Thank you, Trisha. That’s very reassuring.” The door opened, turning Helen’s head away for a moment, and Pennyworth swept in with two cups of what smelled like a strong cider. Helen smiled fondly at him and took hers, breathing deeply for a moment. “Were you listening at the doorway for me to mention you?”

“I would never, ma’am,” Pennyworth said, shaking his head and going on in a particularly dry voice. “A few minor matters came up. The Conservation Society called, for instance.”

“Write them a check.”

“The Historical Preservation Commission?”

“A check or a report, whichever it is they want. Probably both.”

“The Society for the Care of Socially Isolated and Obsessive Middle-Aged Women?”

Helen didn’t bat an eyelash. “Write them a check, too. That will be all for now.”

“You could give him a raise instead of having him start a personal charity,” Trisha said with a smirk.

“He wouldn’t find that as satisfying. Besides, he talks to most of the accountants for me - if he wanted to give himself a raise, he could do that any time.”

“If only that would inspire you to reform your behavior, ma’am,” Pennyworth sighed, then swept out of the room. Helen watched him go, laughing very softly to herself, then stole a sideways glance at Trisha that seemed almost unsure.

“When my parents died, Alfred all but raised me. He won’t answer to anything but my butler, but... well.” A small shift of her shoulders, and a sip of her cider. “I wouldn’t know what to do without him.”

Trisha considered a moment. “Would you take it amiss if I said I could see the resemblance? Your dignity looks strikingly like his.”

“I’d be flattered,” Helen murmured. The dark, piercing blue of her eyes was thoughtful. “You’re a very perceptive woman, Trisha. I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

“I could try not noticing anything, Helen, but I’m afraid I don’t have an intermediate setting.”

“You’d bore her if you did,” the voice from the door cut in, startling them both.

Carrie Kelly looked about as out of place in an evening suit as it was possible for a human being to look, lounging in the doorway carelessly with everything about her ever so slightly askew. She flashed Trisha a narrow, crooked smile and Helen a more challenging one, then pushed away from the door and wandered over toward the windows. “H don’t shiv people who hold back, never has.”

“Carrie.” There was an edge of steel in Helen’s voice, an almost military snap that didn’t go with the room or her clothes or anything else about her, and her eyes tracked the younger woman. “Manners. This is Trisha Baum.”

“Right. Figure I love doing the meet and greet,” Carrie muttered, just loud enough to hear, then spun on her heel and whipped out a dazzling smile. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Baum. You make yourself comfy here?”

“It’s not hard… the Manor is comfortable.” Trisha offered Carrie her hand. “And please, call me Trisha.” The girl was… well, the portrait understated how wild she was. But Trisha was pretty sure that a decade ago, she’d have thought Carrie Kelley was the hottest thing since hotness. “It’s good to put a voice to the picture. The single, blurry picture. Given how much time the tabloids spend chasing anyone even remotely associated with the Wayne name, you must be good.”

“Aces. It’s not that hard to step out on pricks with cameras.” Carrie’s handshake was quick and a little hard, not quite comfortable, but there was warmth in that smile under the hard edges. “Manor’s big and soft and balls Gothic, but you seem on your feet - like a cat.”

“Hey, it’s got enough room inside that I can put my arms out and not hit wall, and nobody who lives here is likely to build a green laser to kill Superman with. I’m good.” Trisha rubbed her hand a moment. Yeah, she’d have been right up sixteen-year-old me’s alley. Sixteen-year-old me was dumb, but she’d have been right up her alley.

“Oh, right, you used to run for Luthor.” The edge of Kelly’s mouth curled with an approving sort of scorn. “Luthor’s a prick, but he nasty. Figure you must have loved working for him. Real safe, like in the Narrows.”

“I moved paperwork that helped put an effective cure for a particularly rare but virulent form of breast cancer into final clinical trials faster than it would have gotten there without me… and got handed another piece of paper that would have put fifteen pounds of kryptonite into Metropolis’s downtown. And half the people around me knew a dozen ways to make me dead, which was a dozen more ways than I knew. It was time to go.”

“Heh. You got head, that true.” Helen was giving Carrie a narrowed stare, and the girl straightened up awkwardly. “Excuse me. Miss Wayne is trying to make me learn to talk like the Ritz. It’s a work in progress.”

“Well… I’ll always know it’s you talking to me. And that’s helpful.” Trisha winked. “It’s very good to meet you, Carrie.”

“Oh yeah, flashing lights and presents.” Carrie winked back, then started for the door still talking. “The big Penny wants me. Figure I got nothing better to do than stand over the staff for this party thing, I figure. Out.”

Helen waited for the door to close, then turned back to Trisha with a rueful look on her face. “She’s very young.”

“She’s tough,” Trisha said. “And she’s smart, and those things come out at a glance. It seems likely to me that age will give her most of the rest.”

“She grew up... well, it was hard. Absent parents, hard mentorship. She’s still trying to get used to life here.” Helen smiled and lifted her cider cup as if in a toast as Trisha sat back down. “I may be getting too old for this sort of thing, but I couldn’t just leave her on the street.”

“From what I’ve seen, you’ve never been able to. Not just your wards… the Wayne Foundation’s focus on charities that help poor and disenfranchised youth is… well, notable.”

Helen’s eyes flashed and her back straightened, but her voice stayed quiet and level. “I had Alfred and Leslie Thompkins. A lot of kids aren’t so lucky. I can’t take care of them all, but damned if I’m not going to try.”

“It needs to be done,” Trisha said, more quietly. “And, honestly, on a larger scale… I expect that work will do more to make Gotham both safer and happier than everything Commissioner Sawyer and the Bat do together.”

“The Foundations - my mother’s foundation....” Helen paused, her eyes clouding for a moment, then went on more steadily. “My mother always had an eye for the most important things. I hope her foundation is still the same.”

Trisha did not know what to say in response to that, so she sat a moment before reaching out to touch Helen’s hand. She trembled just a little as their hands touched, Helen’s gloved fingers brushing hers as the other woman turned her hand so their palms almost touched....

Helen drew back first, whatever she might have said disappearing behind other charming smile. “We should discuss the guest list and the party tonight. I’m sure you have plenty of notes for me to remember. But I do hope you’ll try to enjoy yourself tonight as well?”

“I always enjoy myself at parties, Helen.” Trisha’s fingers still tingled from that momentary touch. Did Helen’s, as well? That was a silly thing to wonder. “So I’ll make certain to especially enjoy myself at this one.”

“Good.” Helen nodded, knocked back the rest of her cider, then folded her hands in her lap. “We’d better make a start, then.”

 


 

It certainly couldn’t be said that Wayne parties didn’t live up to their reputation. The guest list was swimming with the bright and the good as well as the great and powerful, the food and the bar were both exquisite, the music and dancing unobtrusive but delightful, and the charity auction had raised tens of millions. More to the point, Helen’s presentation of her plans for the Gotham Revival had gone over very well - even Mayor March had been impressed. Everything had gone, in a word, perfectly.

Which was made it so hard for Trisha to explain to herself why she’d been forced to retreat to the library again now that the night was starting to wind down.

Perhaps it was the quiet, or the oddly serene feeling of being surrounded by more first editions than the Library of Congress. Or perhaps it was because the sunroom didn’t let her cool off enough from hours of watching Helen Wayne laugh.

Such things were dangerous.

No, it was definitely the books, Trisha decided as she reached for one. Dickens. Well, she wouldn’t be reading that, but sitting in the library with a book in front of her seemed less suspicious than sitting in the library without one, so she kept it.

“The guests have finally gone,” Helen murmured behind her, startling her half out of her skin as she came fully awake in front of the library fireplace. She hadn’t meant to doze off, even after the lights dimmed out, and she wouldn’t have imagined someone wearing what Helen was could come up on her so quietly. “Alfred is finishing up with the event staff. I see we wore you out?”

The firelight played on the dark embroidery of the dress and the fall of Helen’s hair, the strong lines and ivory skin of her face, danced in the hearts of her jewels and the richness of her eyes. The silver moonlight reflecting off the snow and through the window kissed the other side of her, washing the other half of her profile perfectly pale and dark. It was a scene for a painter or a poet; for a personal assistant to speak would have been to rob it of something. So Trisha did not, letting the moment hang for a minute or more. Finally, she said, “Your employees enjoy themselves with the same gusto they bring to their jobs.” It was the wrong thing to say, but to say the right thing would have taken the talents of the Bard and involved confessing the fact that she had the hots for her boss.

“I’m not sure that Alfred has ever enjoyed himself quite that much in his life, but I’ll tell him that you said so.” Helen smiled, her gloves stroking the wine glass in her hand lightly. “And did you enjoy yourself tonight, Trisha?”

“I did.” Maybe too much. “And I have to say… Mr. Pennyworth tells the best stories. He had me in stitches for a half-hour.”

“Alfred tells stories? Funny stories?” Helen affected disbelief as she settled into the chair next to Trisha’s. “How have I gone my whole life not knowing this?”

“Well… a couple were a bit… bawdy. And very English. One tends not to tell bawdy English stories around someone one raised.” Keeping her gaze above Helen’s neckline did little to help her relax - those eyes - but at least it didn’t look quite as leer-ish from the outside. She hoped.

“You have a way with people,” Helen mused softly, the edges of her mouth playing up a little as she sipped her glass. “Even Carrie seems to like you, and she doesn’t take well to anyone.”

“When I was her age, I’d have…” She’d had too much to drink, obviously, because she never would have started that sentence sober, but she wasn’t too drunk to change course midway through. “Thought she was the coolest girl ever. She’s got moxie for days, and that has to be respected.”

“She certainly makes a point to see that it is.” Helen chuckled softly, tipping her head back to the side and looking into the fire. It was as much a relief as a disappointment to have those too-seeing eyes leave her. “We made progress tonight. It was good for Gotham.”

Her heart stopped quivering, at least for a moment. “It was. And it was a good party. I was surprised to see Senator Gordon there… he doesn’t leave Washington often.”

“Jim’s a good friend. We’ve been through a lot together. Besides, he doesn’t like to be out of Gotham for New Years.” A hint of pain at the edges of Helen’s voice, sharper and clearer than usual. “It’s a difficult time of year for him.”

It was impossible, with that pain so on the surface, not to touch Helen’s hand. “I’ll make sure to talk to him more, next New Years.”

Helen didn’t look away from the fire, but her hand fell away from her glass to touch Trisha’s fingers lightly. “Gotham is a hard place. It takes things from you. Sometimes things that you don’t know how you can bear to go on without. But it gets into your bones, this city. You stay even when you know you’re in for a fight.”

“It’s not there, yet, for me. But I’ve always been someone who has to pick people to believe in. And, in these last few months, you’ve made clear that you’re someone I can.” Trisha looked down a little. “That was way sappier than it sounded in my head…”

“Flattering,” Helen murmured, and now she did turn her head and look back at Trisha with the most painfully wistful smile on her lips. “Very flattering. I’ll try not to let it go to my head.”

Trisha blushed at that look, her eyes dropping a little. Which helped by getting her gaze off of Helen’s, and did not help by dropping her gaze below Helen’s neckline. There was no safe place to look. “If being Helen Wayne hasn’t gone to your head, I don’t think a little praise from me will.”

“You never know. Sometimes it’s the smallest things.” Helen didn’t let go of her hand, but something closed in her face even so. “I should send you to bed. You’ve been working all night and I’m keeping you.”

“It hasn’t felt like work…” It was work, though, and Helen was right. Even with that shift in her expression - which stung to a surprising degree - Trisha did not want to walk away from her just now, though. “I’ll be all right. A little longer.”

Helen looked away, then, out the window at the moon. In spite of the fire, it made her face cool and remote and somehow desolate. “All right,” she murmured, though it was as if she were talking to someone else entirely for a moment. “A little longer, then.”

And then, just like that, the charming smile and the vivid life were back. “So tell me about these stories of Alfred’s that I’ve never heard.”

She was beautiful even when desolate, captivating in her sadness, riveting when her life came back. “He’s never going to forgive me if I repeat some of them, but I think it’s safe to tell you about the time in Warsaw…”

 


 

It was March 15, and the Soothsayer gave good advice.

She’d been working for Helen Wayne for a few months now. She’d gotten through her first Gotham mugging in January, leapt out of the way of her first parade of police cars running full-speed through early evening traffic to the wharf to respond to a Mr. Freeze-related incident a month later, replaced that lovely suit she’d gotten for her interview with Helen the next day. But it was March 15 that she questioned, for the first time, whether being in Gotham was wise.

It was a whole day of making arrangements for the Gotham City Police Charity Ball, working directly with Helen and Mr. Drake, who had taken a personal interest this year, on being certain everything was in order. The lots, the venue, the trusts that would make certain the money was spent on things of actual value to police on the ground instead of disappearing into the ever-contracting but still vast void that was Gotham’s municipal corruption. A whole day on which she was on fire , full of more good ideas than she’d ever had in one day in her life.

A full day of saying those ideas to Helen, and Helen giving her that approving, fond smile.

A full day of her stomach turning to some semi-solid form and trembling every time she got that smile, and working harder to get the next one.

Being in love with Helen Wayne was, she knew, the very worst plan anyone could ever come up with. Especially when that someone was her employee, something like thirty tax brackets below her, and had to be trusted with her personal information and schedule. Falling in love was a conflict of interest, an invitation to heartache, and a thing that had her grandmother’s voice in her head calling her a fool, all in one, but she’d done it. She wasn’t doing it, she’d done it, and she’d done it weeks or months ago.

On realizing that, she’d called in - her first time ever doing so - and told the night secretary that something she’d eaten on the way home was disagreeing with her and not to expect her in the morning. A sane, proper response to that would be to then spend her day in meditation, reflection, planning, looking for a way out.

A sane, proper woman wouldn’t fall in love with Helen goddamned Wayne, so she laid face down on her bed all day instead, alternately wallowing in self-pity and fantasizing about just how wonderful Ms. Wayne was. It was horribly unhealthy, but it was therapeutic.

And the next day, she was back at work.

 


 

Helen was out yachting, and did not need her personal assistant, which was just as well because Trisha did not need to reveal to Helen quite yet that her first time - and only her first time - aboard any given boat, she got sufficiently seasick that, the second time she rode the Gotham Downtown Line, two custodians recognized her and gave the sign of the cross as she passed. She went to the office, though, rather than work from home - she had to coordinate a product launch with Mr. Fox’s secretary, a lovely young metahuman (power: controlling a single insect at a time) named Reby.

Reby, though, was out of the office with Mr. Fox on the out-of-town testing field, and, because PAs and secretaries did not have their own PAs and secretaries to coordinate their schedules, Trisha’s own schedule was not coordinated with Reby’s. She’d have to wait for evening for that meeting, which left her day one of fielding Helen’s calls and shooing away members of the press.

It was productive, if a bit boring. Until two in the afternoon, when her phone rang. When she answered, there was an automated voice. “Ms. Baum, you are needed in Ms. Wayne’s office.”

The voice hung up, and Trisha stared at the phone for a moment. Ms. Wayne was yachting. Surely, Trisha would know if she’d returned to the office? But she stood, walked out into the secretary’s office then approached the door to Helen’s. As she reached it, she was buzzed in.

Richard Grayson was sitting on Helen’s desk wearing a leather jacket, jeans and dangling a ballcap between his fingers. It looked a lot more natural on him than the suits she’d seen him wearing at the handful of Wayne parties he’d attended, but it also made her wonder (for the second it took her to remember he owned ten percent of the company) how he’d managed to walk in through security looking like that.

He had a particularly charming and rakish smile, but it didn’t quite touch his eyes at the moment. “Miss Baum. Nice to finally speak.”

Goddamned dreamy eyes. None of the Waynes are at all fair. “Hello, Mr. Grayson. If I’d known you were coming, I’d have greeted you properly.” And possibly at least tried to keep you out of Helen’s office.

“I know. If I come by the office, everyone always has to make a production. That’s why I don’t come by here or the Foundation very often. But I wanted to talk to you, and I figured this was as private a place as any.” Grayson didn’t get up from the desk, but he reached out and kicked one of the chairs in front of the desk back a little bit. “Want to sit down?”

“With me?” That was out loud. The Waynes were unfair. She took a seat, crossing her legs carefully. “Very well.”

Grayson smiled faintly, ruefully, and got up from the desk to wander over to the window. “Are you a drinker, Miss Baum? I’m usually not, but some things are easier over a drink.”

“Occasionally. If you think this is a good moment for it, I’ll trust your judgement. Shall I pour us some scotch?” He’s stalling starting this. Either I or the topic am… intimidating, maybe? Something. Him. And I don’t think it’s me.

“Scotch would be good. Thanks.” He smiled over his shoulder, rocking a little on his heels while she poured. When he took the drink, he toasted her a little bit ruefully, and it made him look like the circus boy he’d been before Helen took him in. “You’ve done a lot of good work this last year. Everyone says great things about you.”

Trisha took a sip of her own drink, half-closing her eyes as it burned delightfully going down. “I’m glad I’ve made a good impression. The work Ms. Wayne does is important, and I’m proud to do my part in it.”

“Damn.” Grayson shook his head, took another swallow of the drink and then set it down on the table. Put his hands in his pockets. Swore again, more softly. “Damn. Right. There’s no good way to say this, so I’m just going to say it - Helen’s the nearest living thing I have to a mother, and she’s gone on you, so I need to know where you stand.”

Trisha’s mind refused to take what Mr. Grayson said in, so she stared at him blankly instead. “What.”

“Helen...” Grayson stared at her, just as nonplussed, then leaned against the desk and sighed. “How much do you know about Vesper Fairchild?”

“More than I’d like to admit.” The mention of Helen’s murdered lover - a murder Helen was framed for - snapped her out of her surprise. “But not enough to feel like I know what I need to. I don’t know who arranged for Helen to be framed, or… why. Why any of it. Why someone felt Helen needed more pain than she already had.”

“The yacht she’s out on today - the one she goes out on when she needs to be away from everything - is named after Vesper. A way of remembering her.” Grayson was watching her, very steadily, all humor banished. “She still thinks about her. But she hasn’t been out on that yacht in a while, and she hardly ever takes anyone out with her. I have it on good authority that she almost asked you out on the river with her today.”

“Asking me out on a yacht named for a lover whose death was pinned on her…” Trisha sighed, looking out the window herself. “She would. How badly is she going to be hurting when she gets back?

“I don’t know. She isn’t the most sharing person about that kind of thing.” Grayson straightened up. “But it sounds like you’re getting the hang of how she works, so that’s something. I guess there’s not much point in me trying to wave you off at this stage?”

“Wave me off… what, exactly?” Trisha finished her drink and folded her hands in her lap. “I… I’m smitten with her, Mr. Grayson, but I wasn’t planning on doing anything about that. I didn’t think it would… work.” She looked down a little. “If she has feelings for me, I suppose there’s that excuse out the window, leaving me only ‘it’s a terrible idea’ and ‘she’s your boss stupid.’ I don’t plan to leave this job, regardless. I love it, quite outside my feelings for her, and I love what I get to help happen. And I think I’ve proven over the last few months that, whatever my feelings, I can be professional.”

“I’m not...” He hesitated, then came around the desk and sat in front of her, his sneaker scraping the rug lightly. He lowered his voice, spoke more softly. “Helen has an effect on people. Makes them want to follow her. It’s a good thing, but this is Gotham and it often doesn’t end very well for them. Even those of us who make it through, it changes things. So whatever happens between the two of you, I just wanted to ... reassure myself, I guess, that you had an idea of what you were getting into.”

“She’s exceptional, and she brings light to places that want to be dark.” Trisha exhaled. “Which is why I’ve fallen for her. And why you’re warning me about this.” She offered him a small smile, then. “Nearly every adult in my life, growing up, told me that my desire to be where change was happening was going to get me in trouble.”

He smiled back, rueful but full of recognition. “Well, I know all about trouble. I’m not idiot enough to try to put you on the train back to Metropolis, but just keep it in mind, okay? And...” The smile went away. “You ought to know. About Vesper.”

There was a pause, there in the bright sunshine of the room, like a breeze in a graveyard. “We couldn’t prove it in court,” he said, “but it was a hit, and Lex Luthor ordered it.”

“Mr. Luthor.” Trisha leaned forward to the bottle of scotch she’d left on the desk and poured herself another glass, then offered it to Mr. Grayson. “Of course he did. He…” She swallowed half her drink and closed her eyes. “I worked for him… of course you know that. I went to work at Lexcorp because of the good work they did. Do. There was always something there making my skin crawl, but… I was part of good things, more often than bad. I had to go because the bad… was bad. Because he’s someone who…” She was shaking now, her scotch sloshing in her glass, and she swallowed more of it to keep it from spilling. “Who would have an innocent woman murdered to hurt someone who he thought was in his way. Then go back home, sign a check to develop a drug or safety system, and think the scales were balanced.”

She was angry . She didn’t like it, and it tasted terrible in her throat and was ruining the experience of very good scotch, but she was.

“Hey.” Grayson touched her shoulder, ever so lightly, and he flashed her a little smile. “Hey. I know a good gym for getting that out of your system. It’s a problem with hanging out with the Wayne’s, getting pissed off.”

“I’m going to have to tell her,” Trisha murmured. “It’s… fair. I know. She should too. And I should take you up on that gym visit.”

He patted her shoulder, mustered a rueful laugh. “You’re a brave woman, Trisha Baum. Welcome to the family.”

 


 

Ms. Wayne.

No. Wrong. Backspace.

Helen.

To Miss Helen Wayne

Dear Helen,

Nothing quite felt right.

Hello, Helen.

Better.

Two days ago, while you were on your yachting excursion, one of your wards visited me. The name has been omitted to protect the guilty. He came to talk to me about our relationship… yours and mine. And, while he was generally polite and no-nonsense, he did effectively strip me of any excuse I had not to write this letter.

I value this job. I love working with you and the others, helping arrange the work the Foundation and Wayne Enterprises do, taking my skills at navigating bureaucracy and scheduling and organizing and turning them to do good for people who need it. I would not give this job up for the world. But to keep doing it with a clear conscience, I need to come clear.

Your unnamed ward pointed out to me that you have feelings for me. I… more than have feelings for you. I’ve known I was struck by you since at least the holidays, and that lovely party, and our time in the library, and… it was planning the police auction when I realized how deep those feelings went. I would move the world to see you smile at me, because your smiles are like nothing else I have ever experienced. My heart moves when you are near. I can’t breathe when you are happy with me… and I feel like there is no air when we are apart too long. I rather fear I am in love with you.

This never has to be spoken of again, if you so choose. Part of me says it would be better if it was not. That part is rational, probably correct, and I want to stuff it in one of those talking dumpsters Metropolis Municipal Waste Removal has installed all over the city. “One man’s trash is no man’s treasure! Don’t litter!” it would say, then congratulate me on my good citizenship. But the fact that I want that voice telling me that any further pursuit of this line of thought is a bad idea to go away does not make it any less right.

If you do want to talk about it… I’ll have my phone on. And I’m taking one of the cars home tonight, in case you want to meet.

And whatever happens, I will remain your entirely professional personal assistant.

And not make the joke that just leapt into my mind.

I’m sending this now before it gets more long-winded.

And she did. Also before she could delete it.

 


 

It was a dark and stormy night.

The wind buffeted the windows of Trisha’s high-rise apartment, and the steady drumbeat of rain filled the apartment loudly enough that she did not bother turning on the television. She’d done the dishes, which her busy work schedule had put her a few days behind on, and run her robot vacuum before storing it away to decide what to do with it (it was, after all, a Lex Home Goods product, and she wasn’t entirely comfortable having it around, but it also had been quite expensive and worked very well), and was trying to read a book.

Trying. Not succeeding. Helen’s face floated through her mind, or a loud peal of thunder shook the house, often enough that there was simply no way to sink into a narrative.

Light strobed through the curtains. Inside, the lights flickered, then came back on. Half a second later, thunder crashed through the room like the roar of something angry and alive. With a sigh, Trisha closed her book and rose to her feet, placing the book back on the shelf. If the apartment was going to keep shaking , even pretending to read was a fool’s errand. In the rolling echo of the thunder, she almost missed the moment or two of soft, rhythmic thumping.

Someone was knocking on her door at - a glance a the clock told her - two minutes to midnight.

It’s Gotham. But she didn’t have a gun, and pepper spray wouldn’t stop Killer Moth or whoever, and she wasn’t someone whose house was worth robbing or who was herself worth kidnapping or killing. Maybe it was a neighbor? She went to the door and looked out the peephole. Then she flung the door open.

Helen Wayne was standing in her hall under the pale blue of the emergency lighting, dripping onto the carpet; her hair was loose to her shoulders, soaked through with rainwater, and her long wool coat (and the suit under it, visible because it was open) were no better off. She should have been shivering in the cool of the hallway, but she wasn’t, and her eyes were....

Lightning flickered through the blinds, in Helen’s eyes.

“Come in.” Something in the bottom of Trisha’s soul shook, and she soothed it for a moment with her need to help. “I… come in. I’ll get you some tea… and some dry clothes. And…” But she was still staring at Helen, and her vision blurred. Water in my eyes.

“Miss Baum,” Helen said, and stepped through her door, brushing it shut one handed. The other caught the curve of Trisha’s face, the wet leather of the glove dampening her skin, and then Helen pulled back to yank both gloves off and throw them to the floor. Her hands were just as cool, but dry when they took possession of Trisha’s face again. Carefully brushed the dampness away. “Trisha.”

Trisha shook. Her eyes closed, and her lips parted, to offer Helen tea again. Warm clothes. A warm shower. Anything. But they just stayed parted, no sound escaping her, as if every part of her being was in her cheek where Helen’s fingers rested.

A cry escaped her throat and she threw herself at Helen, both arms going around the taller woman’s waist, and her face pressing to Helen’s neck. She felt the water from Helen’s coat soaking through her thin shirt and pants, and she squeezed closer, as if she could wring Helen’s clothes out and warm her by raw pressure and need. There was strength under that silk and wool, hard muscle and power, and Helen lifted her up off the floor with what seemed like no effort at all.

It was safe, being carried by Helen. Safe and, despite the cold of the climate-controlled air on her suddenly rainsoaked skin, warm. Her arms went around Helen’s neck until Helen set her down on the sofa, and she remained there, watching, as Helen got a towel and began to dry her as if she were a wayward child, not even seeming to notice the sheen of water on her own skin. Helen was almost finished before Trisha could even manage the breath to say, “You need to dry off too… you’re going to get sick.”

She wasn’t sure how many of those words could actually be understood. Her pounding heart drowned out her own voice. But Helen smiled, faintly, and seemed to take her meaning - she took the towel and wrung her wet hair with it, soaking it and leaving that dark hair in damp half-curls around her face. “Still looking after me, I see,” she said, and her voice seemed to fill up the room in spite of how quiet it was.

“Of course,” Trisha murmured, biting her lip. “Always.” Helen was far more dishevelled than Trisha had ever seen her, her hair in particular a mess, the water soaking through her coat and suit making the cling to her in an asymmetrical way, and she was still the most beautiful woman in the world, and Trisha could not have looked away if the entire Justice League and all like eighteen Green Lanterns beside had started to brawl over the outcome of a soccer game in her kitchen.

“I got your email,” Helen murmured, and the way she watched Trisha was like those eyes were pulling her apart and then ever-so-gently putting her back together again everywhere they looked. “I read your email. I had to go out for a walk to clear my head.” The edge of her mouth ticked up, the smile strange and dark but not unkind. “The city decided to help.”

And here I was assembling my mental portfolio for the Synchronizer project. “I… I’m glad you’re here.” That was not at all cool. Even the snarky response would have been better than that. “It’s very wet out.” Stop talking, Trisha.

“Yes,” Helen agreed softly, brushing another gentle fingertip over Trisha’s face. “I’m sorry to trail it in here like this. I’ll have someone clean your carpets.”

“You’re here. I… the carpet can handle the water. You’re…” Trisha’s eyes closed, and she tilted her head a bit. Pressed her cheek into that touch. “I think we missed a detail on the clinic opening. I can’t remember which one.”

“It can wait,” Helen whispered, and then soft cool lips were brushing the corner of Trisha’s mouth as gentle as a breath. Trisha, for a moment, forgot the storm.

When her eyes came open again, Helen was kneeling front of her and their faces were barely a heartbeat apart, those eyes watching her again for every sliver of reaction. Seeing everything.

It took a long moment before Trisha remembered how to breathe, how to speak, how to do anything except stare at Helen in wonder and a hint of terror that this was, had to, be a dream. There were tears in her eyes, again, and she did not bother trying to wipe them away. “Again?” she asked. Pleaded. Dignity was for later. Every bone hurt for another kiss.

Helen’s eyes read hers. That mouth curved again, just a fraction.

“Not yet,” Helen Wayne said, coming slowly to her feet in a fluidly graceful motion. “I believe I need to get out of these wet clothes.”

“Should I help you?” Trisha’s voice was breathless. Almost begging. She rephrased the question, more honestly. “ May I help you?”

The smile turned approving, and not just for a moment. It melted something in her chest and set it dripping somewhere lower and warmer. “Yes,” Helen agreed, aristocratic but not in the least bit cold. “And I’ll also use your shower. You may help me there, as well.”

Trisha, much to her parents’ frequent consternation, was not a religious woman. It was not because of a lack of belief, or desire for meaning, but because when the Spectre and Highfather and Darkseid were undeniable truths, she did not find much comfort in the idea of faith. Still she thanked God or the Presence or whatever name one might choose to call the Almighty that Helen’s coat was already open.

The idea of touching Helen had her hands shaking enough that she could not in any world have manipulated those buttons.

She moved behind Helen to slide the taller woman’s coat from her shoulders. “Thank you…” The words were breathier than her voice had any business being

Helen didn’t answer with words. The subtle flick of a hand and the glance of those eyes were enough approval and satisfaction to settle her from breathless to something deeper and steadier. Something that made her hands steady even when her belly was tight with desire.

She was going to have to hang up the coat. All of it, actually, if it was going to dry. And Helen showed no sign that she was going to do anything but watch her.

And smile.

Trisha did not speak as she continued her work. She kept her motion economical, with a minimum of flourish, of excess. Her fingers trailed over Helen’s shoulder as she removed her blouse, over her hips as she pulled her pants away, but no more than was needed to undress her. She did not want to be distracted from the task she had been given.

Wanting to touch Helen more burned in her veins.

She brought Helen’s suit to the closet, carefully placing each item onto its own hanger, spacing them out, leaving the closet open to allow air to flow through it and dry them more effectively. It was only when the task was done that she gave in and turned to look at Helen.

The idea of finishing this task after seeing Helen was, after all, utter foolishness.

In the pure pale light of her room, stripped of shadows, she could see every inch of Helen perfectly: the tight, elegant muscle of her body, almost painfully perfectly conditioned; scars - dozens of them - breaking the perfect smoothness of her skin with their own darker patterns; the grace and power of her, unconcealed by tailoring meant to make her more lovely or more suitable for business.

Helen walked to her and cupped her face in those strong hands again, stroking her thumb across the swollen ache of Trisha’s lips, and the darkness of her hair fell around her face to cast a few shadows across her smile. It made that smile even more intoxicatingly beautiful.

And hungry.

“You aren’t going into the shower in your clothes,” Helen said, voice still low and sharper now.

“No, I won’t,” Trisha murmured. Helen’s voice went right to the bottom of her soul. Undressing herself was a more familiar act, and her clothes were simpler, and she wore less of them. It was fast, easy, and the demand to do so distracted her from her need to ask about the scars.

Looking askance at them later, when she could breathe again, and letting Helen explain them on her own seemed like the better choice anyway.

Instead of putting them in the closet, where there was not room while allowing the space for Helen’s clothes to dry, Trisha folded her clothes carefully and put them on the coffee table. Pants, then t-shirt, then panties, then bra, her shoes and socks left tucked under the table. She felt small, but stood straight. Helen wanted to look at her.

She must be beautiful, because Helen wanted to look at her. She made herself breathe as she stood before Helen, and smiled shyly. “Here I am,” she whispered.

Helen took her in with one long look, drinking her like water, and let out a slow breath that was so little and yet its own confession. Trisha moved her. Looking at Trisha moved Helen Wayne . It was like moving the foundations of the city under her feet just by standing there.

“Here you are,” Helen agreed, softly, and her hands lifted - just a fraction - as though to reach for her before Helen straightened herself again. “A hot shower, Trisha.”

She wants to touch me. Trisha’s heart sang , and she knew she was smiling like a fool, and she nodded. “Yes, Helen.” She turned on her heel, toward the bathroom.

She had chosen this apartment, over one a block closer to the Wayne Industries headquarters, for its large, comfortable shower/bath. It was one of those modern ones with a door that allowed someone who wanted to take a shower to simply step in and that sealed water-tight for running a bath, wide enough to require two showerheads, and luxurious enough to have three instead. There were electronic controls that could set a specific temperature. She turned it up three degrees from her usual, and activated it.

The water heated up in moments, and steam began to fill the room. Trisha stepped out of the bathroom, still giddy, still shaking in her core, and called out, “It is ready, Helen.”

“Very good,” Helen said, and came to her. She walked like a hunting cat, all sleek movement, and her arm slid almost effortlessly around Trisha’s waist to pull her through the narrow doorway and into the bathroom. Their skin touched - hip, arms, legs, Helen’s hand on her ribs - and the heat of the water was almost an afterthought as it washed over them. Almost. The way it kissed Helen’s skin made Trisha’s mouth ache with the desire to kiss the droplets from it.

To see her like this and not press against her was torment, and Trisha was fairly certain that, by simply brushing a hand over Helen’s shoulder, and reaching for the spare shower poof (or whatever it was called), and starting to lather it, she was earning herself points for whatever sort of afterlife or reincarnation she was bound for. When she set to work on cleaning Helen - her back first, and her arms and shoulders - she pressed the poof to her skin firmly, knowing it would be a bit uncomfortable, because Helen wanted things done right, and proper exfoliation was uncomfortable.

She only cried once, as she shared the shower with Helen. When she had finished Helen’s torso, her hair, and slid to her knees to wash Helen’s hips and legs. And looked up into her boss’s eyes. But her tears were subtle, washed away by the too-hot-for-Trisha water cascading down over them both, and she continued her work in silence.

When she was finished - and only when she was finished, but before she could stand up again - Helen reached down and gathered her up into an embrace that pressed every wet inch of them together, that buried Trisha’s face in the curve of Helen’s neck. That wrapped her in Helen’s skin and breath. “Trisha,” Helen whispered, and her voice was like hot metal, “you do excellent work. I ought to wash you, too, but I don’t think you could bear it. Can you?”

“I would be a sobbing mess by the time you were done,” Trisha murmured into Helen’s ear, clinging to the taller woman as if to the idea of life. “If a very clean, sobbing PA is what you want tonight, Helen…” She trailed off, throat tight with emotion. With need.

“What I want,” Helen murmured, leaving the words hanging between them unfinished. And then she reached down to cut off the water, keeping her arm tight around Trisha’s waist, and carefully extracted them from the shower. Reached for the towel to dry Trisha off, their eyes still clinging to each other, Helen’s face open but still so hard to read.

What I want ....

Trisha was almost dry when she found the presence of mind to answer, heart pounding. Uncertain, now, for the first real time since she started undressing Helen. Not knowing if what she was going to say was the right thing to say, but knowing she felt it. “You’ll have,” she said, quietly, lifting her head to meet Helen’s eyes.

Helen bent then, and kissed her. A light kiss, tender and brief, but there was nothing chaste about it. Nothing at all.

“Go and lay down in your bed,” Helen murmured, when their lips finally parted. “I’ll join you.”

Trisha nodded, then she was in her bedroom. In the aftermath of the kiss, she did not quite remember the process of getting there. To make room in the limited floor space of the apartment for the bathroom, its designers had skimped a bit on both bedrooms - both the one she slept in and the one she used as a home office. It was not cramped, exactly, but there was not quit as much room between the queen bed that had come with the apartment and her bookshelves as one might have hoped for, and her dresser pressed somewhat awkwardly against the left corner of the headboard. Instead of going straight to lying down, Trisha pulled the heavy comforter from the bed, folded it, and set it atop one of the bookshelves. It was comfortable to sleep under, but too warm for two people, and it tended to bunch up if she tossed and turned at all, and absolutely nothing could be allowed to get in the way of what Helen wanted.

The comforter out of the way, the thick, soft cotton blanket exposed, Trisha laid back on the bed, head resting on the middle pillow, eyes half-closed, legs half-askew. To make a perfect picture of herself, when Helen arrived.

The sharp rush of Helen’s breath as she came through the door was more than enough reward. Helen didn’t turn off the lights, though she dimmed them another notch or two, and the bed groaned softly with her weight when she crawled onto it and braced herself over Trisha, looking down at her. Studying her again. Wanting her.

When Helen’s hands wrapped around her wrists and rolled her over, she didn’t struggle. When Helen crossed them, pinning both wrists with one of her own hands, she shuddered.

Then Helen’s weight - smooth skin, hard muscle, soft breasts - was against her back, and Helen’s mouth against the curve of her throat, and the sound that came out of Helen was almost as low and harsh as the echo of thunder outside.

Trisha’s eyes closed at that sound, and her hips rose, and she pressed back against Helen. Made clear, without words, that she was there. For Helen. She did not try to part her wrists, did not try to escape. She never wanted to escape.

It was gentle, in its way, when Helen touched her. There were no bruises, no marks, almost no pain. But she had never shared a bed with a lover who could have imagined the relentlessness of Helen’s fingers on her skin and then lower, inside her, or the remorseless care with which every pleasure her body could offer was extracted from her in shaking, screaming, bone-melting waves that left nothing inside her untouched. If there was a capacity in her for anything but yielding her pleasure to Helen and eventually - blessedly, mercifully, in ecstatic joy - being allowed to offer her mouth for Helen’s pleasure in turn, Helen had painted the bed with it and left Trisha grinding her ass in the puddle long before morning.

Her bed was a mess of dampness and tangled sheets and tangled bodies as the sun began to rise, the clouds having broken during their night. Her bedroom was a mess, somehow, the comforter knocked from the dresser to the floor, a few books knocked from one of the shelves and the rest askew in the space left open. They were a mess as well, in those early rays of sunlight that almost made the bedroom feel like it belonged in Metropolis rather than Gotham, tied together with limbs and need and soaked in sweat and desire, Helen’s hair wild, Trisha’s plastered to her face and scalp, every muscle in Trisha’s body including a few that she did not know she had aching from exertion (Helen seemed to be doing far better from that perspective, at least), every bone singing in joy and fulfillment. A glint of sunlight drew Trisha’s eyes to the mirror on the dresser, and she could see them, or most of them, in it, mess and all, and it was beautiful. She was beautiful, under Helen like this.

She was in love.

“Helen…” she murmured, lips against the taller woman’s ear.

Helen hummed softly, her eyes still closed, her fingertips slowly trailing the line of Trisha’s spine and stirring the delicate grains of salt-sweat against her skin. “Just stay like this,” she whispered, a hint of a tremble slipping in around the edges of the steel in her voice. “Just like this, a little longer.”

“Forever, if you want,” Trisha whispered, lips touching Helen’s shoulder. “Or a moment. Or anything in between.”

The laugh that spilled out of Helen made Trisha’s arms tighten. There was just something so hurt underneath it, like the lapping of a dark wave on bright sand. “Forever,” she whispered, “is good if you can keep it.”

Trisha wrapped a leg over Helen’s hip, tightening the muscles - which complained deliciously - to draw her closer. “I’m here,” she whispered.

Helen’s arm squeezed across her shoulders, breathing slowing and settling again, and for a little while longer the sun moved ever so slowly across the dresser without them. It was a pause long enough for her fingers to start wandering again of their own accord, to find the raised smoothness and dented roughness of Helen’s scars under her fingertips again.

She’s scared of forever, and she has these strange scars… There was, obviously, no point in asking about the scars - it would almost certainly cause Helen to close up, and Trisha did not know if she could handle that at this particular moment. She herself was so… opened. Her fingertips traced the scars, though, caressing them carefully, loving them and the skin beneath.

Finally, slowly, her silence seemed to relax Helen under her fingers. Her boss shifted, rolling them both over and settling her weight on top of Trisha, and her hand glided up into the mess of Trisha’s air and started to smooth it slowly. Gently. Those dark eyes opened, watching her, and the corner of Helen’s mouth lifted in a smile that had a little laughter in it. “You’re a very patient woman,” Helen murmured. “Not to mention your endurance, which is commendable.”

Trisha blushed. Visibly. “I… am afraid I’m going to have to tell you that I won’t be able to be at work today. I was up all night..” She squirmed - her body could absolutely not handle any more, but by the Presence she wanted to - and squeaked. “On an important project for Ms. Wayne.”

“Oh, I think Ms. Wayne can give you the day off, considering your indispensable performance of your duties.” Now Helen did laugh, bright and vibrantly, and press another kiss into Trisha’s mouth. “But you may need to plan for a more flexible set of working hours in the future. Ms. Wayne normally disapproves of on-call employment, but in your case she may have to make an exception.”

“I’m very flexible,” Trisha said, giggling herself past her moan from the kiss. “And I’m certain Ms. Wayne and I can come to an arrangement…”

“An equitable arrangement?” Helen murmured into her mouth, a hint of real uncertainty slipping through even while her fingers wound themselves into Trisha’s hair.

“Perhaps not,” Trisha gasped, arching her head back. “But one that will be mutually satisfying and meet the needs of all parties.”

Helen laughed again, lower in her throat, and this time the tug in Trisha’s hair was unambiguous. “Speaking of satisfaction, I may need you to do a little work this morning before you take the day off....”

Pleasure her. That, I can do. Presence, if I didn’t like how much I’m aching so much, my shoulders would make me regret it… “Yes, Ma’am.”

 


 

Helen Wayne left her lover sleeping in a pool of late morning sunlight and took an elevator down to join the flow of foot traffic on West Allen, the coat over her arm still slightly damp and the rest of her clothes scraping with that particular sort of stiffness that came from being air-dried. She cut up toward Colgate, walking briskly in the spring air, and let herself enjoy the relative anonymity of being on the streets of her city in the middle of the day for once. It was a surprisingly pleasant experience.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t last long. Her phone rang before she came within sight of the bridges - Newman’s Zorro - and she picked the headset out of her pocket to answer it without looking. “Good morning, Alfred. I assume everything is about where I left it?”

“Including your change of clothes in the car, Mistress Helen. I assume that you’ll be needing more discreet transportation home?”

“I could always walk,” she mused. “But that might take a little while.”

“Mistress Helen, are you feeling entirely well? Too much sunshine for one day?”

“Maybe so, but I think I’m enjoying it.” She thought of Trisha, still bathed in sunlight, and she laughed. “You can send a car to fetch me. I should be home in time for tea. And then I think I had better talk with you about something personal.”

“Will Miss Baum be joining us for this particular tea, Mistress Helen?”

She tipped her head back and stared up at the skyline, lips compressing into a narrow line for a moment before she mastered her displeasure. “Why do I have a feeling that I’m going to be having variations on this conversation all week?”

“I couldn’t say,” Alfred said, dry as dust.

“Tell me that at least Barbara is going to be surprised?”

“I couldn’t say that either, Mistress Helen.”

“You are enjoying this entirely too much, old friend.” Helen pushed out a breath and resisted the urge to push her hands into her pockets, smiling again in spite of herself. “I feel as though I’m somehow living down to my reputation.”

The sudden sternness in his voice failed to quench her good humor. “I wouldn’t describe anything to do with Miss Baum as ‘living down,’ ma’am.”

Helen just laughed. “So you do like her. I thought so. Send the car, Alfred. I’m ready to come home for the moment.”

“As you say, Mistress Helen.”

 


 

There was absolutely no chance they were going to keep their relationship secret. If nothing else, the fact that every time Helen gave Trisha anything resembling a request - or anything resembling praise - Trisha had to fight not to turn the color of Superman’s cape. That exact shade. And stammer like a schoolgirl. And murmur her response in her best bedroom voice.

It was, at least in part, the pressure of hiding it that got her that bad. Thinking about her responses led her to thinking about her responses the night before, which led to trying to replicate her responses the night before.

She wanted to sing. To tell everyone around her that she was in love, that she was in lust, that she was… Helen’s. That she was Helen’s. Of course, they would have to, at some point - the Gotham tabloids lurked like rats in the shadows, and her coworkers were perceptive and intelligent people who were strongly attuned to Helen’s needs - and used, by now, to using Trisha as a barometer for those needs.

It did not help at all that Trisha could tell exactly what Helen’s needs were, whenever they were in a room together. Her boss’s eyes seemed to look through her clothes, maybe through her skin, as if she could - and would, given a moment’s privacy - reach right in and grab the core of her. And her own quickly concealed demure glances in response, she knew, told Helen that she would let Helen do just that.

Keeping the secret long-term? Not an option. They wouldn’t keep it a week, like this.

“You’ve sent Sofia and Imani home?” Helen asked into her thoughts, leaning against the window and watching the sun slide under the horizon through the polarized glass.

She is impossibly beautiful. They were alone in the room, at least for a moment or two, and Trisha let herself stare for a few seconds before responding. “They’re on their way downstairs now, Helen.” 90% professional, 10% molten lust. Apparently, if they were in a room alone, that was the best she was getting.

Waking up without Helen in bed, late the previous afternoon, had been almost desolately lonely, until she had realized she could still feel where Helen had laid next to her. She’d rolled into that spot and fallen back asleep, dreamless, until well after nightfall.

“Thank you.” Helen stayed leaned against the glass for another moment or two, hands in her pockets, and then said - as if it were the most casual thing in the world to ask - “We still have a few things to go over, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t discuss them over dinner. Would a trip out to the Manor be inconvenient, Trisha?”

She said it in the same warm, authoritative but vaguely casual tones she’d been using as Trisha’s boss for months. None of the steel Trisha’d tasted two nights ago. But dinner at the Manor would mean spending the night, and that would mean....

“It wouldn’t be inconvenient at all.” I’m blushing now I’m blushing now nobody walk in. “Should I call us a car now, or do you have more to do here first?”

“I asked Alfred to send one for me earlier. It should be downstairs in a few minutes.” Helen turned away from the window, the light framing her in silhouette, but Trisha thought she could pick out a smile on that perfect face. “We’ll get our coats and go down.”

“Yes, please.” Trisha helped Helen with her coat before pulling her own on. In the elevator, conscious of the security cameras, she stood apart from Helen. Barely. Glaring at the cameras past her eyelashes.

The car was already waiting, driver’s seat empty, and Helen opened the door and handed Trisha inside with casually gallantry that made her cheeks burn fiercely while the older woman walked around to the other side and joined her in the back seat. “Home,” Helen said, and the car obediently slid away from the curb with a soft electric purr.

Trisha slumped in her seat, just a little, and turned her head to look at Helen. Attentively. To spend the drive doing one of the things she’d spent the day urgent to do - just watch Helen breathe.

To imagine what she would look like, asleep.

Part of her was convinced Helen had nightmares. The life she’d lived… but when she was not having a nightmare, how beautiful would she be?

As they moved out over the bridge, Helen finally turned away from the view and looked at her, smiling faintly, hands folded in her lap. “I left my gloves in your front hall, I think.”

It was the first thing she’d said all day that acknowledged that night. That brought the situation between them out in the open, instead of concealing it behind glances and careful pauses.

“Oh!” Trisha reached into her purse and pulled out a small cloth bag, which she then withdrew the gloves from. “I found them… on the coffee table. I didn’t want to return them at work…” She trailed off a moment. “My mind is still a little… scattered. It’s nice, but…” She used the gloves to gesture indeterminately before passing them to Helen.

The feel of the leather against her skin was familiar in a way that drew a small tremble.

“Distracting,” Helen supplied, taking the gloves and tucking them into her coat’s pocket, the edge of her mouth curving in amusement. “I had an interesting day at work today, myself.”

“I don’t know what happened to my efficiency, but… I spent the day trying not to blush and fall all over myself any time you asked me for anything…” She bit her lip. “And urgently trying not to imagine you… well, in bed.”

“You were invaluable as always.” Somehow, Helen defending her efficiency didn’t help her composure in the least. “I don’t think anyone else would have noticed. But I didn’t find the pretense particularly pleasant, to be honest.”

“I didn’t either. At all. I…” Trisha looked down, at her own hands. “Not kissing you hello hurt.”

Helen’s fingertips brushed her chin, tipping her face up, and then her boss was kissing her - slowly, lingeringly, with a languid passion that tasted like fire. Finally, equally slowly, Helen leaned back in her chair and smiled down at Trisha. “Hello.”

“Hello, Helen…” Trisha breathed, eyes wide as she gazed at her boss. “I… feel better now.” Her skin was flushed, burning, and her hands clenched together in her lap, and she was happy.

“Mysteriously, so do I.” Helen’s fingers wandered up along the curve of her face, along her pulse. “I haven’t stopped thinking of you the way I left you. Sleeping in sunlight, and so beautiful.”

“I missed you, when I woke up, but I was too happy to be sad. I fell asleep where you had slept. I thought about you…” Trisha turned her head to kiss Helen’s fingers. “Even if we want to… we’re never going to be able to keep this secret.”

“No. I don’t think we could. And even if we could...” Helen’s fingertips lingered at her lips, her voice dropping to a softer alto - not quite a rumble. “I wouldn’t want to. It wouldn’t be right. But it won’t be easy for you. Easy or even entirely safe.”

“I know,” Trisha murmured. “But… I can’t imagine not. And being you isn’t entirely safe, either. And… people will say really unpleasant things about you.”

“Oh, they’ve been making money printing unpleasant things about me for decades.” Helen laughed softly, waving the thought away with a flick of her hand. “This won’t be the first time, or the last. This isn’t going to make me any less safe or secure in my life. But there are people...” The laughter in her eyes died, fading to something hard and cold. “People might try to hurt you to get at me.”

“Maybe,” Trisha whispered, and she squeezed Helen’s hand tightly. “They might. As far as trying goes… someone will. I know that.”

Helen’s other hand was against her face now, the one held in hers squeezing almost cruelly tightly, the older woman’s voice barely a whisper as those dark eyes searched hers. “But still, you want this? Even knowing how it could end?”

Her hand hurt, and she kissed Helen’s palm. “With every thought in my mind and cell in my body, Helen.”

“I’m hurting you.” Helen’s voice almost broke, and the grip around her want went instantly slack, those smooth fingers lifting her reddened skin to Helen’s mouth for a soothing kiss. “I’m sorry.”

“A little pain. I don’t mind. You weren’t hurting me…” Trisha’s breath caught in her throat as Helen kissed her hand. “Just a little pain.”

“Trisha.” Helen kissed her fingertips, then settled back into her seatbelt. The look in her eyes, full of a pain and a passion that took Trisha’s breath away. “My Trisha.” She said it like a benediction, an unexpected blessing.

Everything stopped, for a moment, and Trisha could not breathe. Those words reverberated through her. Helen’s voice. Helen’s gaze. For a brief, blissful moment, everything in the world made sense.

“Yours, Ms. Wayne,” Trisha breathed in return.

She thought, for a moment, she might have seen a hint of tears in Helen’s eyes. But Helen only kept hold of her hand, saying nothing, watching her while the tree-lined streets of the Palisades flowed by behind her. Holding her in that silence, that stillness. Then the iron gates of the Manor closed behind them, sealing out the rest of the world, and they were alone in the trees and the gathering evening.

Almost alone. Alfred Pennyworth was standing on the steps of the Manor when the car pulled up - to the front entrance, this time - with a cloth over one arm, waiting for them.

Trisha squeezed Helen’s hand, then whispered, “Mr. Pennyworth… he knows, right?”

“He knew before I told him,” Helen sighed, smiling faintly as she gave Trisha’s hand a squeeze in return. Then she kissed her cheek and unfastened her belt, climbing out and walking around the car to open Trisha’s door for her.

Trisha took Helen’s hand as she got out of the car, though she released it as they approached the door. She smiled at Mr. Pennyworth, curtsying as best a woman in slacks could, and spoke. “Mr. Pennyworth… I come here, to you, hat metaphorically in hand, to ask your permission to court the lovely Ms. Wayne.”

“Miss Baum, I’m afraid you have as unfortunately romantic a taste in courtships as you have superior judgement in every other area I’ve observed.” Pennyworth’s smile was rueful but not unkind, and he reached out to take her coat politely as she straightened up. “But Mistress Helen will no doubt do her best not to disappoint you, so I hope you’ll find that sufficient.”

“All I want is to bring her happiness…” Trisha rubbed her eyes, wiping away spare tears, then looked to Helen. “We should get inside.”

Helen, smiling that same rueful smile with her coat draped over one arm and her other hand in her pocket, just nodded and led the way in.

 


 

Dinner had been superb - a full seven courses, masterfully prepared and presented - and they’d passed the evening in quiet conversation; charities and the urban core, mostly, with a few digressions into company business. They could have been in the office, except for the comfortable way Helen sat at the table and the warm way the lighting kissed her skin. Finally, crepes and coffee and brandy disposed of, they’d gotten up from the table and wandered out past the conference room and through the Grand Hall, up the broad promenade stairs to the family floor upstairs.

Each room was a stack of memories deep enough that Trisha could not begin to penetrate it - years upon years, generations upon generations, of Waynes, a house whose walls told the story of Gotham. Trisha took Helen’s hand as they reached the top of the stairs, not asking questions, just drinking the space in.

If things worked out, she would have plenty of time for questions later. She would learn this house completely, learn what it meant to Helen. But tonight was for seeing.

Seeing and Helen, who paused at the top of the stairs and turned as if to go into her private sitting room. Stopped. Tightened her arm around Trisha’s waist. “This is my parent’s home,” she whispered, eyes still searching the hallway. “My family’s house.”

Trisha nodded, and leaned closer, kissing Helen’s cheek. “Where should we go?” She kept her voice quiet.

“I’m not...” Helen trailed off, uncertain, and then a steadiness came into her eyes. “This way.” She kept her arm tight around Trisha, leading her off to the right but past the North Gallery, into a bedroom whose decoration was far more in the line of a very intelligent teenage boy than anything she could imagine Helen choosing. But the furniture was like the rest of the house - old, pristine, beautiful hardwood lavished with care - and the bed took Trisha’s weight without complaint when Helen guided her down onto it.

Helen didn’t undress, or undress her. She laid down on the covers in her clothes, arm wrapped over Trisha, her face tucked into the soft brown waves of Trisha’s hair and her breathing tight but steady.

Trisha did not ask about the room. It belonged to one of Helen’s wards, or had at one point… which, she could not tell. But if Helen was not ready for her own bedroom, Trisha would leave that be for now.

There were plenty of other things to talk about. And plenty of time to talk about them. She clung to Helen tightly, nuzzling her head. “I’m here.”

“I’m sorry,” Helen whispered, holding her a little more tightly. “It’s been... it feels like a long time since I had anyone here. Like this.”

“You’ve had…” the words hard life were wrong. The words taken separately were accurate, but together they carried a connotation that did not work for Helen. “A difficult life. Painful.” Trisha kissed her head. “Take your time.”

“I...” Helen smothered a laugh, raw and dark. “People have hard lives. Ordinary people. I’m not sure that applies to me. But I have my share of bad memories.”

“And you live in a place built as much out of your family’s legacy as out of stone and wood,” Trisha whispered. “We’ll stay here, tonight.” Trisha touched Helen’s cheek. “Look at me…”

She smiled at Helen, like smiling at the sun. Trying to bring the sunlight Helen had seen her sleeping into this room.

Helen looked down at her, those dark eyes full of night and storms, and a strong hand cupped Trisha’s cheek. Drinking her in, one breath at a time. “You’re beautiful.”

“And I’m yours.” Trisha pressed her lips to Helen’s palm. “Should we talk about tomorrow? Or should I distract you from its coming?”

“We’re going to have to tell people. Sooner is probably better,” Helen whispered, pressing her own mouth softly against Trisha’s forehead. “Do you want to handle the staff, or should I do it?”

“I will,” Trisha said. “It’s both kinda my job and the best approach.” She trembled at that kiss. “I’ll handle the senior staff tomorrow, in a small meeting in the morning. The rest can wait for however and whenever we deal with the public.”

The warm gratitude in Helen’s face almost broke her heart. “And how do we want to handle the public, my dear Trisha?”

“Assuming my judgement isn’t compromised… and I am rather drunk with joy right now, so you might want a second opinion. But… either a small press conference or a sit-down interview with a reporter you trust to be fair and the public trusts not to be too gentle. Whichever it is, it should involve both of us. And we should, in case it blows up, have preparations being made for a new PA for you… I want to keep doing that, but girlfriend and PA are jobs that… I want to keep doing that.”

Helen’s lips brushed hers gently. “Whether you stay in the job or not, I want to keep working with you on our projects. I can’t spare your mind. And I think the interview would serve better.”

“I’ll be by your side,” Trisha whispered against Helen’s ear. “And we’ll have to screen my successor for ability to handle the fact that I’ll be constantly stepping into their domain.”

Helen’s laughter spilled down the line of her throat. “You mean you’ll have to screen her. Don’t think I’m going to take care of that job just because you’re sleeping next to me.”

“That sounds perfect,” Trisha murmured, dipping her head down to kiss Helen’s neck.

“Trisha,” Helen whispered, her arms tightening fiercely, “this is crazy. You know that, don’t you?”

“Mad,” Trisha said into Helen’s neck. “Utterly mad. We both have terrible judgement.” Another kiss. “You should fire me.” Another. “Hire a PA with some sense…”

“I wouldn’t want one. Not if I can have you.”

 


 

Trisha had taken one of the small conference rooms on the thirty-second floor for the meeting - a place closer to Sofia’s office than her own. Which would have been a much more helpful gesture if Sofia hadn’t been called to meet Ms. Wayne’s personal lawyer just before the scheduled time of the meeting.

Trisha let the chatter die down before speaking. “I’m going to try not to keep everyone too long, but I’ll also answer questions that are asked, so… not sure how long we’ll be here. Hopefully only a few minutes.” She folded her hands on the table, letting her nerves show a little. Honesty. “The night before last, Ms. Wayne and I started a relationship. It… wasn’t expected. What pursuing happened, I did, and it was because I think she’s an incredible person who does immense good in the world. This will be going public in a few days, but… well, you’re my friends, and you’re the people Helen trusts to keep her affairs in order.” Unfortunate word. “If someone thinks I deserve a verbal drubbing for this… well, I won’t blame them, either.”

A little ripple of uncertainty ran through the room, nobody quite knowing what to say, and then Sofia’s voice spoke up from the back of the room. “So, la jefa, she is finding new ways to keep you working hard?”

There was no point in fighting her blush or responding with words, so Trisha turned red and waved her hand noncommittally.

Laughter broke through the room, relief and amusement pouring loose now that someone had cracked the ice, and a few of the younger secretaries broke out in a chorus of wolf-whistles and cheers. Imani Hunter just shook her head, a bemused smile easing the disapproval in her face, and Armand started a round of applause that caught on. They even gave her three cheers before she finally fled out the door.

Sofia and Imani gave her a few minutes to recover herself before they turned up at her office door, Sofia still grinning and Imani more serious. “Tell me,” Sofia said, coffee in each hand, “that you have some booze to cut this coffee with hidden somewhere.”

“A bottle of the finest thing to come out of Louisville in 1982 work for you?” Trisha produced a large, still-sealed bottle of Eagle Rare from her cabinet, placing it on the desk. “Enjoy.”

“You know this is a terrible idea,” Imani said, ignoring the bottle while Sofia poured herself and Trisha some. “If nothing else, it’s going to ruin your professional reputation thoroughly.”

“It’s a ridiculously bad idea. It’s going to ruin my professional reputation. I’m almost certainly going to have to find my own replacement and leave this job, which sucks because it’s my dream job. Some people are going to think that Helen is taking advantage of her position and of me, or that I’m trying to get at her money.” Trisha swallowed a bit of the spiked coffee, which was too hot, so she took a moment before she said anything else, instead drinking almost a whole glass of water and sputtering a bit. “But I love her,” she planned to say next, but she coughed in the middle of it. “I’ve spent the last months falling in love with her,” she said once the coughing ended.

“What is it the young people say these days - I ship it?” Sofia chuckled and settled down in one of the chairs, looking smug as a cat. “You two have been welded at the hip since you started here, and Ms. Wayne wouldn’t know how to take advantage of anyone if she tried. Besides, maybe you’ll make an honest woman out of her and then you can start giving away her money without having her sign for it first. That’s what her mother did, back in her day.”

“I’m not looking that far in the future yet,” Trisha said, taking a more successful drink of her coffee. “I just know… whatever the risks, and there are a lot… I would regret not pursuing this. Not being with her.”

Imani sighed and glanced at Sofia, her expression resigned. “You were right. She’s hopeless. We’re going to get a new boss who we aren’t going to like nearly so much.”

“Or we can just keep her around, and nevermind she’s sleeping with la jefa. Saves paperwork and training someone new,” Sofia retorted, smirking.

“I’ll just drive whoever we hire crazy doing their job,” Trisha said, finishing her coffee. “Helen’s PA will have the worst job in Gotham.”

“Up there in the list,” Sofia agreed. “Up there in the list. But it’ll work for us, and that’s the Gotham way.”

“True. Now… who wants to help me with interview prep?”

Imani sighed and held up a hand. “I suppose there’s no helping it.”

Chapter Text

The Museum Society fundraiser wasn’t the biggest event that Trisha had helped plan with the Wayne Foundation, or the most important, but it was the first she’d helped run since she and Helen began sleeping together. She’d been looking forward to spending the night with Helen, even if it meant pretending they weren’t together for the evening, but Helen had been called away for an unscheduled meeting with Mr. Fox and she’d left Trisha in charge.

Helen’s absence would probably make not inspiring a thousand tabloid articles easier, but it left a hole. Still, classified government projects and significant fundraisers waited for no woman, so Trisha focused her energy on keeping things running smoothly.

As silk.

The silk she’d been dreaming about Helen… not the moment.

“Just three more minutes,” Trisha murmured to herself, though she was certain Imani and Armand were close enough to hear. “Then we start the train of celebrity guests and people put their nice checks in the nice box and we breathe again.” She looked to Imani. “We made sure that Derek Ironsides and Spoiler’s dressing rooms were far apart, right? I don’t want them running into each other backstage.”

“They’re fine. It’s fine.” Imani touched her hand, smiling reassuringly. “We took care of it. Nothing is going to go wrong tonight.”

Which was, unfortunately, the moment that a massive man waving a sickle and a flock of robot penguins burst in through the windows. Well, there were a few dozen thugs as well, but it was the big man and the penguins that made an impression.

“We are here for your money, capitalist pigs!” The big man shouted, waving the arm holding the sickle (his only arm) in the air. “We are here for your money and we will not leave until we get it!”

“Maybe… tell Spoiler we’re being robbed? I know she’s retired, but…” The panic started, the running and the screaming and the people being herded by thugs and penguin robots, and Trisha grabbed Imani’s arm to pull her to cover. “I can do penguin robots,” she murmured. “They remind me of home.”

“A one-armed man? Really, again? Armed robbery by a one-armed man. I know this joke.” A young woman’s voice, bright and lively and exasperated from the scaffolding over the performing space. “Gotham, my wild and teeming city, you never disappoint me.”

“You!” The man with the sickle waved it again, like it weighed nothing instead of being something a statue ought to carry. “Batgirl! My brother is in prison cell because of you! I will crush you!”

“But don’t crush the cana… he crushed the canapes.” One of the penguin robots saw Trisha and started to waddle toward her. At a frantically moderate pace. Brandishing… was that a knife? Did the robotic penguin have a knife?

It was rather menacingly adorable. Six hundred thousand dollar deposit on the hall. Insurance price I don’t want to think about. She grabbed a chair and threw it at the robot. Gone. All gone.

The penguin took the chair in the face, tipped over, and started trying to flap its way to its little metal feet again. Batgirl was bouncing around the room making mayhem with the thugs and quipping with the giant man. The world was going very expensively insane around her.

Then the lights went out, all at once - even the emergencies - and there was a horrible sound of something hard hitting meat, then weight slamming into the floor, and then metal scraping stone.

The lights came back up, and there was a shape on top of the limp body of the one-armed man - cloaked in shadows, black gauntlets, a mask, and on the chest a symbol.

A bat.

“Guns down,” a voice like the growl of the pit demanded. “Do it now and save yourselves an ambulance ride.”

Half the thugs dropped their weapons. The other half opened fire on the Bat. And the penguins’ eyes switched to a red glow. “Primary target engaged,” they warked.

That doesn’t sound good. Trisha peeked around the table at the fight, staring at the superheroes. Batgirl was charming, quick, seemingly everywhere at once. And the Bat…

The Bat moved less quickly than Batgirl, threw less punches, was nowhere then exactly where they needed to be instead of Batgirl’s being everywhere. But each time one of the Bat’s punches landed, a thug went down or a penguin robot shattered. When the Bat released a flight of batarangs, each found a target, be it a man or a robot or a piece of cover or simply embedding itself in the wall an instant before being used as footing by Batgirl to execute a high flipping maneuver.

To see them was breathtaking in its beauty and heartbreaking in the need that must inspire them to such lengths.

It also didn’t last very long at all. Batgirl vanished almost before the last thug hit the ground, but the Bat stood over a final broken penguin and slowly swept the room with their eyes as if looking for something. For someone. Finally, those pale lenses seemed to settle on Trisha, and the Bat swept across to finish off the squirming penguin robot in front of her. “Miss Baum,” the Bat growled. “You’re unhurt?”

Her heart skipped a beat. “I’m…” She looked down. She’d scratched her arm, probably throwing the chair or diving into cover or grabbing Imani. “I’m fine. Thank you… and thank you for saving everyone. And…” She looked around at the tattered decorations and the overturned tables and the red-eyed Penguin robot still trying to stand and the vanished guests, “for saving the event.”

A gauntleted hand dipped under the enveloping cape, then reemerged holding a sharpened length of metal in a highly distinctive shape. “For your next auction,” the Bat told her. “As compensation.”

She was holding a batarang in her hand. An actual batarang. An actual batarang from the actual...

She stared at it. “Thank you… I’ll make sure the proceeds go… to…” She looked up.

She was talking to herself.

“I…” Trisha started to look around, trying to find Armand and Imani and make sure they, and as many others as she could locate quickly, were safe. Then, she knew, she was going to have to call Helen.

This is a mess and I hate it.

As it turned out, almost no one had been injured and the police were very understanding considering, but she was still talking to the officer in charge when there was a sufficient commotion at the police barricades to get said officer’s attention. “Ms. Baum, you’ve been very helpful, but isn’t that....?”

Helen Wayne, in the flesh, was standing outside the police line and glaring impotently at the officers on the perimeter.

“I’ll… statement… written…” When her heart was swelling, her mastery of sentence structure fled. And she quickly broke away from the officer and slipped through the crowd to the barricade, waving to Helen. “I’m here!” She bit her lip. “Everyone’s safe…”

She wanted to throw herself into Helen’s arms.

“Your arm.” Helen waited until the officer let her by, then took her by a shoulder and ran the other hand very carefully over the bandage one of the paramedics had applied. “You were hurt? How badly?”

“A scratch. Just needed first aid. One of the robots… I knocked it over. I think they’re going to take it as evidence. I’m safe. I’m… the Bat was here. And Batgirl. I haven’t found Spoiler yet…” She trailed off. “I’m safe and sound. I need to make sure everyone else is good and knows who to call.” She lowered her voice. “After… take me home?”

“I’ll be waiting,” Helen whispered. Then, more normally, “I’m going to make a few calls while you work. Don’t take too long - you need to get some rest after all this.”

She nodded, accepting it like the order it was, and turned to go back.

“And Trisha?” Helen called after her, before she could disappear back between the officers. The smile on her boss’s face could have cracked a stone. “Everything was fine.”

I’m not going to cry in front of the Penguin robot. I’m not going to cry in front of the Penguin robot. I’m not going to cry in front of the Penguin robot.

She cried in Spoiler’s dressing room instead.

 


 

They’d spent the night in her bed - mostly asleep, because it turned out life-threatening situations were surprisingly exhausting - and for the first time Helen had been there when she woke up in the morning. Sitting at the little table in her front room, delivery breakfast arranged on the table, sipping a hot tea and with another waiting for Trisha when she wandered out in her robe.

“I couldn’t stay in bed,” Helen said, before she could manage any words of her own, “but I didn’t want you to wake up alone, either.”

“I like waking up to you,” Trisha murmured, taking her tea and sipping it. “I like you near.” She met Helen’s eyes - Helen’s perfect, perfect eyes. “You make things make more sense.”

“When I...” Helen hesitated. “Last night. I was worried about you, being in the middle of a situation like that. I practically bolted what I was doing to get back to you.”

“It must have made the news fast,” Trisha said. “Or time was going faster than I thought. It felt like you were there right after it ended.” She bit her lip. “I’ve never been happier to see someone, though.”

“Security paged Lucius. It felt like I flew the whole way there.” Helen reached out for her, pulled her close enough to hold, her dark hair soft against Trisha’s chest. “I don’t know what I would have done if you’d been really hurt.”

Trisha closed her eyes, stroking Helen’s hair. Black strands fell between her fingers. “I wasn’t. And I’ll come home to you.”

The soft, tight shudder of Helen’s breath clenched something in her chest. The thick silence of the moment, Helen’s hands fisted in her robe, didn’t help.

Trisha fell silent, leaning down to kiss Helen’s hair. Holding her for a long moment. Thomas Wayne. Martha Wayne. Jason Todd. Vesper Fairchild. So much loss. I won’t be on that list for her. “I’m here.”

“I don’t want to let go of you,” Helen whispered. “I know I have to, but I don’t want to.”

“You don’t have to yet,” Trisha whispered. “I’ll tell you when.”

 


 

This is a WGCK News special report. We now bring you to Wayne Manor, where WGCK reporter Vicki Vale has an exclusive interview with Helen Wayne and her personal assistant, Trisha Baum.

Vicki Vale: Good evening, Gotham. We’re here in stately Wayne Manor with Gotham’s leading philanthropist and industrialist, who needs no introduction, and the personal assistant who’s been spearheading her Gotham revival initiative. Miss Baum, you’re a new arrival on the Gotham scene - a Metropolis transplant, I understand - so how are you finding life in our city?

Trisha Baum: Exciting. It’s a huge change from living in Metropolis. Gotham is beautiful, though… the architecture downtown, the coming and going of ships at the harbor, the museums. I’ve only been here half a year, and I feel like I’m still getting my feet wet, but… I think I like it.

Helen Wayne: Certainly she’s been indispensable at the Wayne Foundation.

VV: Oh, I’m sure the indispensable Miss Baum will be happy to talk about that later. But right now, I’m more interested in her story. You took a double BA in Business Admin and Computers at Metropolis U, were hired directly by Star Labs and then headhunted by Lexcorp after that. Now you’re the personal assistant to the most powerful woman in Gotham. Not bad for a woman who hasn’t had her thirtieth birthday yet.

TB: Or my twenty-eighth. I have a lot of things I’m proud of working on… I helped get approval at Star for the Mark VI Guardian shield, spent months of work to take years off the process of moving a non-chemotherapy drug to force advanced blood cancers into remission to market at LexCorp. But the Gotham revival initiative has been the most exciting project I’ve worked on yet. Just the school technology project alone has me giddy.

VV: Would you say most of Gotham are going to be comfortable putting their children in schools with fully networked computers when we live in a city with people like Jervis Tech?

HW: Obviously cybersecurity is a major consideration for the Foundation, and we’ve gone out of our way not to develop one big system....

VV: Because it would just be painting a target on it?

HW: Something like that, Miss Vale.

TB: Access to the Internet is freedom to learn. We live in a world where ninety-nine percent of what humanity knows is available at the touch of a key and a click of a mouse. It’s our responsibility to develop the security to make its use safe from those who would try to cause harm, but it’s also our responsibility to make certain that children - all children - have access to that knowledge. That none have to go without it.

VV: That’s a very passionate position, Miss Baum. Some might call it idealistic, even naive.

TB: I’m not so young, Ms. Vale, as to not remember when we thought it was idealistic that a man could fly or a woman could be President. But here we are.

VV: That may be, but this is Gotham....

HW: All of us know that Gotham City is hard on ideals and the people who have them, but the people who stay here - who have the guts and the grit to stay here in this place and put their hands and their backs into it - they want to make their mark on the world just as much as anyone does. They want the same things for their children that anyone does. We can - I do - believe that Gotham can be better, can reach for something more than what we have and hold on to that for our children. All we have to do is fight for it, and nobody knows how to do that better than the people of Gotham.

TB: Nationwide, the current generation of people between 14 and 22 years of age do 19% more volunteer work than their parents did at their age. In Gotham? That number is 23%. If we give them the chance, the kids will make the world better.

VV: Well, as you can all see at home, they make quite a team. But it isn’t just in the boardroom or at charity functions that you two have been finding this remarkable chemistry, is it?

TB: This is still… new. So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little… saccharine. But… no, not just in the boardroom. We’ve been dating for a few weeks now…

HW: I certainly wasn’t looking for something like this - someone like Trisha - to come into my life this way, but I like to think I’ve grown up enough not to miss a good thing when it’s in front of me.

VV: Still, Ms. Wayne, isn’t it a bit cliche? A woman in your position...

HW: (Laughs) Well, Vicki, 40% of the population have dated someone from work at some point in their lives. I suppose we all have to be ordinary once in a while, don’t we?

TB: You? Never. Not once, that I’ve seen.

HW: Not in front of the press, darling.

VV: Well, I’m sure all of Gotham high society will be holding its breath for a happy announcement, but before that there are going to be some questions that need answering at Wayne Tower. Will you be staying on in the job going forward, Miss Baum? And how does that square with the Human Resources policies at Wayne Enterprises?

TB: I’m not actually employed by Wayne Enterprises. Technically speaking, I work for a limited liability corporation owned by the Wayne family… the same one that manages the overall estate and family accounts. I’m aware, though, that this might be seen as setting a bad precedent in other Wayne-controlled businesses. For the moment, I’m staying in the job, but we’ve been assembling the resources needed to hire a replacement for me if this relationship becomes a detriment to my ability to do the job or to work with people at Wayne Industries, the Wayne Foundation, or any other group Ms. Wayne’s business and charity work touches.

I… have a lot of sympathy for whoever we hire, though, if that happens. A lot of the work we’ve been doing is very important to me, as is Helen’s well-being. I’m afraid my potential successor might have a terrifying micro-manager to deal with.

VV: A cloud on the horizon, Ms. Wayne?

HW: Oh, I think I’ve been very satisfied with Trisha’s management style so far. I don’t think I’m going to change my mind on the subject any time soon.

VV: Miss Baum, I’m sure everyone is going to have their theories about you and your relationship with Ms. Wayne. Is there anything you’d like to tell the people of Gotham City now that you’ve snagged our most eminent bachelorette?

TB: I… don’t think anyone could ‘snag’ Helen Wayne, and if so, I wouldn’t want to be the one to do it. Helen’s an incredible person… intelligent, kind, selfless. Captivating. Fascinating. Free. She loves this city deeply and completely enough that even if I didn’t like the architecture and the museums and the history and the way it breathes, I’d love it because how could you not love something that is loved as much as Helen loves Gotham? I’m second in her heart, to this place, and watching her is the most amazing thing… the moon comes in through the window of her office and frames her looking down at Gotham and it’s watching a beautiful woman who has been married for years or decades gazing at her spouse and remembering the bad times and the good ones and knowing she’s home. I don’t know how anyone sees Helen and doesn’t love her… I’m sorry, Ms. Vale. I’m meandering.

VV: That’s quite all right, Miss Baum. I think we can all appreciate your passion for the subject, can’t we? For WGCK and Gotham City, this has been Vicki Vale from Wayne Manor.

 


 

“Not a bad interview for your first time.” Vicki Vale had offered Trisha the use of her make-up crew for the interview, before and after, and they’d had a surprisingly pleasant chat beforehand about the best evening spots in Gotham and what not to wear to a Knights game. There was something about the way she was look at Trisha now that the make-up was off, though, that gave Trisha a strange little twisty feeling in her guts.

“I had just started at LexCorp when you had your sit-down interview with Mr. Luthor. Believe me, Ms. Vale, I am very aware that I survived that unscathed entirely on your good graces.” Trisha offered Ms. Vale a smile, trying to keep that sudden wariness out of it.

Vale just laughed quietly and shook her head. “Not entirely true. It helps you’ve kept your nose clean. No skeletons to be found in your closet. Honestly, it’d be enough to make a Gotham girl nervous if you didn’t come from Metropolis. They mint girls like you by the dozen over there, shiny as new nickels. No offense meant.”

I’m going to have to take her at her word on that, because I can’t see a way that isn’t offensive. “None taken.”

“Thank you.” The humor dropped out of Vicki’s face for a minute, something cynical and a little brittle taking its place, and she reached down to pluck two water bottles out of the mini-fridge under the counter and offer one to Trisha. “Trisha - can I call you Trisha? - it’s probably none of my business, but can I offer you a little hard-earned advice?”

“Go ahead, Vicki.” Trisha took her bottle and opened it. She’s going to say something that I would naturally get angry about. I should not do that.

Vale took a long swallow of the water, looking up at the ceiling for maybe a minute, then looked Trisha very steadily in the eyes. “I wouldn’t bet too much on Helen Wayne. It’s not that she’s not the woman you say she is - she’s brilliant, charming as hell, charisma and legs for miles. Good heart, if a little flighty sometimes. But you can’t rely on her. There’s something broken in there, something that she’ll never let you touch or explain, and someday you’ll need her and she’ll just up and vanish like mist. Show back up later with that smile and some flowers, like she didn’t leave you swinging. Eventually the apologies just wear themselves out.”

“I do a lot of prep when I send in a resume, and even more when I’m brought in for an interview. Especially when that interview will, if I get a job offer, result in moving out of the city I’d lived in and loved my whole life. Especially when, when I mentioned to my best friend where I was interviewing, she bought me a Taser. Especially when I left my last job in protest when I was asked to assist in activities that were definitely immoral and unethical and, if they were not illegal, were only legal because LexCorp’s lobbying arm made them so.” She looked up from her water. “I’ve read enough of your writing that I can quote it in my sleep and at least get the cadence right. I made sure that, for every three months since your first story about Helen, I read at least one of your articles. Yours, in particular, because yours were insightful and real and told me what it was like to be around her. I know she vanishes. I know that, when she comes back, the reasons she was gone in the first place often… usually… don’t make any sense past first glance. And I know that she does it in a way that cuts deep. And that she’ll probably do it to me.” She looked back at her water. “But I’m happy. I see her and I’m happy. I hear her voice and I’m happy. And the things I do for her… even if they weren’t for her, they’d be worthwhile enough to keep me going. And they’re for her.”

“Well,” Vicki Vale said, reaching down to squeeze her shoulder gently, “it’s a hell of a ride, I’ll say that for her. Just think about when you want to cash out once in a while, all right? You’re a nice girl, and I’d hate to see you get your heart more busted up than it has to be.”

“Thank you, Vicki,” Trisha said, taking a swallow of her water. “I should go see to Helen.”

“Better you than me,” Vicki said, like she wanted very much for one of them to believe it.

 


 

A rare afternoon off work did not lead to much relaxation for Trisha, because Helen was coming over after dinner.

She’d straightened the apartment, of course, though Helen’s visits every few days had led to her doing a better job of constant maintenance on it. Then she’d stared into her makeup drawer for fifteen minutes, picking the exact right shades, the way to say, “I knew you were coming and put my whole heart into looking right for you, but when you look at my face you’ll immediately see your lover.” Subtlety and contouring turned out to be the order of the day. Picking out clothes was easier… the black lingerie with the front clasp on the bra, the short black dress, the cute heels. Champagne in the ice bucket she’d bought, in case they decided they wanted it. Feeding herself, and making some snacks that could be eaten conveniently and were easy on the digestive system.

If an evening in could be guaranteed no difficulties, Trisha was going to make certain she did just that. Helen was coming over after dinner, and she was breathless with the idea.

Breathless enough that, right after Helen’s text that she was on her way, Trisha realized she’d made her elaborate plans for her hair then forgotten to act on them. So she carefully put it in a simple braid in the brief time she had left, then sat in the chair closest to the door to wait.

You are totally gone on her, she thought, amused at herself.

There was something slightly perverse about the fact that Helen Wayne - her Helen - should knock on her door like any other caller might. It seemed unnatural that doors in Gotham City didn’t just unlock and open themselves in Helen’s presence, pull their deadbolts in and drop their chains to clatter along their... The door is not in love with your boss. You are in love with your boss. Not your apartment door.

The building door, on the other hand…

She pulled the apartment door open, breath caught in her throat. The door had to open ninety degrees, give or take, to be fully open, and she felt the time every one of those degrees took. But I want to see her now

Helen, it seemed, felt much the same way - she stepped through the door the moment it was fully opened, brushing Trisha’s hand away from the knob in the process, and knocked it closed behind her with one booted heel while her arms went around Trisha, her fingers into Trisha’s hair and against her jaw, forcing her head up so their lips could meet.

Sometimes Helen made her wait all night for a kiss. Not tonight. Trisha’s heart stopped and she wrapped her arms around Helen’s neck and gave herself to the kiss, breathlessly, everything else forgotten. Helen’s arms shifted, setting off a momentary flutter of dismay in her belly, and then a gloved hand hooked her leg and lifted her off her feet to leave her heels dangling in the air while Helen carried her to the couch and settled her across her boss’s lap in a fashion that was neither dignified nor decent.

Dignity was overrated and decency utterly worthless. Trisha lowered her lips to Helen’s neck, kissing gently, pressing as close as she could get. “Missed you,” she tried to say, but kissing Helen’s skin was far more important. Helen seemed to gather the general meaning, though, since she peeled the gloves from her hands - throwing them to the floor, from which Trisha returning them the next day was becoming something of a tradition - and then ran one set of blunted nails and cool fingers up under Trisha’s skirt to cup her where she was hot and aching without so much as a glance for assent.

That drew words from her. “Oh god Helen…” she gasped, pressing in tighter, a hand trailing over Helen’s breast. The world was fire - delicious, sweet fire.

Helen said nothing, but the fierce way she kissed Trisha was answer enough to the whimper in Trisha’s throat. The thin material of Trisha’s panties did little enough to impede Helen’s touch as it was, but the need to have them pushed aside and Helen’s fingers buried inside her was a physical ache that made her hands shake; Helen knew it, must feel it, but she kept the stroke of her fingers and the slow grind of her palm outside that thin, patterned fabric while she pressed it exquisitely against the swollen heat of Trisha’s lips.

There was no need to beg. Helen knew what she needed, what she craved. There was no need, but Trisha did so anyway. “Please…” she whimpered, lips settling at the base of Helen’s neck. “Helen… please…”

Low, husky laughter spilled out of Helen’s chest, washed over Trisha like a Gotham midnight, and Helen’s fingers tightened against her. Another kiss, this one light and almost delicate, and then a rough hand on her thigh and the grip in her hair flipped her onto her belly across Helen’s lap with no sign of effort. It was an exquisitely exposed position, her cheek and breasts against the softness of her couch and her hips thrust up provocatively, her heels up over the arm of the couch and crossed by the wide part of her knees.

Trapped, so perfectly, shown off for her lover. Her boss. She’d bought this sofa because it was more comfortable than leather but still classy, functional, something someone who worked for the Waynes would own. A thing of dignity and grace, like much of the rest of the new furniture she’d acquired when moving to Gotham. And now, her face pressed into its fabric, she made a sound of helpless need as Helen Wayne peeled her panties down.

At least, it seemed, Helen liked the sofa.

Helen’s fingertips wandered over the damp skin of her thighs. Played with the fine curls of her hair. Danced lightly over the wet part of her lips without pushing inside. Trailed up and raked the finest, slenderest red lines over the trembling skin of her raised ass. It feigned idleness, almost disinterest, but it was too mercilessly calculated for that. Too calibrated to Trisha’s own arousal, which Helen was stoking as exactly as any scientist might tune their instrumentation.

Trisha melted under that onslaught of sensation, letting her head turn to press her face more completely against the cushion beneath, feeling her hair come loose and her dress become dishevelled and her makeup smear. Feeling Helen, methodically, bit by bit, undo all the careful preparation she had made for this night. And she loved it. Her work was being dismantled mercilessly and she loved it.

“Trisha,” Helen murmured, her voice low and almost musing. “Do you know what I’ve been thinking about all day? Particularly while you were managing Mister Lao’s ‘concerns’ about our Chinese expansion so very elegantly.”

“I… wouldn’t hazard to guess, Ms. Wayne.” She breathed the name. She wasn’t sure how many of the words were comprehensible, but she knew the name was. She pressed back against Helen’s hand, again, burning up for more of her touch.

One precise nail dipped between the curves of her ass, teasing delicately. “It involved your slacks on the floor, you across my desk, and...” Helen trailed off, but her fingertip stroked suggestively.

A tremble went up her spine at that touch, and she gasped out, “Oh my.” Her hips rolled upward, and Helen’s finger - slick and cool with a lubricant she’d been too aroused to sort out from her own wetness - curled into her and opened the tight muscle of her, the friction instantly fiercer and sharper than she’d been ready for, the muscles of her sex clenching almost painfully in envy.

She’d never done this before. She’d only thought about this before in passing. And yet here she was, draped over her boss’s thighs, still wearing her nice party dress, Helen’s fingers there. Her mind whited out, for a brief moment, and she choked out, “Ms. Wayne…”

It was not a protest. Surprise constricted her throat, but she pressed back on that finger, willing it into her. She was almost painfully tight, but Helen was patient and relentless and eventually her muscles relaxed. Gave in. Surrendered. Submitted. That was the word that rolled around inside her like a bell toll, and was… right. Her muscles submitted. She submitted, and the word was perfect, and everything made sense, and she felt the cry escape her throat.

Another of Helen’s fingers joined the first inside her, sinking in one knuckle and then two, and she stretched, more easily this time, her body trusting Helen, her mind largely irrelevant to the question. Her thoughts swam, hazed over with ecstasy - her need still overwhelming and powerful, but a languid still contentment settled over it like dew on a lawn. Helen’s other hand tightened in her hair, holding her still - holding her down - and the hard frame of the couch groaned against the flex of her legs as her pussy spasmed around nothing and her clit throbbed like an echo of her heartbeat between her thighs. She needed Helen’s touch on her sex, like she needed air, but everything would be all right.

When she came - and she did, impossibly she would have thought mere minutes before - it happened in her whole body at once, and her cries filled the apartment completely. Helen dragged her bodily upright and kissed the last sobs of it from her mouth, stretching the whole line of her back and hips almost painfully, and when they finally broke the kiss Helen’s hand was at her throat and those shadow-kissed eyes were burning into hers.

“My Trisha,” Helen husked, the edge of her thumb gliding against the fine bone of Trisha’s jaw.

A dozen words tried to tumble out of Trisha’s mouth at once to name Helen. None of them fit. None of them said what she wanted to say. She could not look away from those eyes, or lose the trembling aftermath of the kiss, or fail to answer. Finally, in a voice that was more moan than word, she says, “Yours.”

Helen’s smile almost burned everything out of her head again all by itself. She didn’t even hear the words that came with it - or at least, she didn’t remember hearing them a moment afterward - but her body must have, because she crawled out of Helen’s lap (Helen’s fingers plucking her panties from around her ankles in the process) and started peeling her rumpled party dress away from her body with unexpectedly steady hands. The way Helen’s eyes clung to her, drank in every inch of skin she uncovered, was like a drug, steadying her and filling her mind with images all at once. Those eyes, staring at her as she surrendered. Submitted. In everything from allowing Helen to do as she pleased with her nude body to arranging Helen’s day just so.

There was no point in folding or hanging the dress. Short of a trip to the dry cleaner’s, it was beyond salvaging. So she left it on the floor, beside Helen’s gloves. She would not deny Helen her presence to put the dress elsewhere.

She slid to her knees at the edge of the sofa, unfastening the clasp of that carefully-chosen bra. Helen reached out and slid a hand under each side, cupping Trisha’s breasts before she could take the bra off fully, and those deft fingers - damp, smelling ever so faintly of raw alcohol now - took hold of her nipples and started to play. It hurt beautifully… pleasure radiated like sparks through her nerves as Helen pinched and stroked, and her head rolled back and her back arched to offer her chest to her lover. Her boss. She folded her hands behind her back, clenching them together tightly so she would not touch herself, would not reach out to touch Helen, even as that incessant, careful, soul-sparking stimulation continued.

Her lips parted again, but again, the right word would not come to her. So she moaned her pleasure instead, and Helen’s purr of satisfaction clenched her belly with fresh heat. “Do you want to touch yourself, Trisha?” Helen teased her, voice raw and breathy with her own desire. She knew the answer - it must be obvious, especially to Helen - but the way she asked it was as much a part of the exquisite torture as the flick and squeeze of her fingers.

“Yes… yes.. I…” Trisha arched her head back, a cry of pleasure escaping her. “I want to touch myself. Need to… burning to…” But she knew she would not. Not without Helen saying so.

“No,” Helen whispered, and her pussy spasmed as if Helen had slapped it gently. “No.”

“Yes…” Her voice caught in her throat, again on not having the right name, but she had to use something here. “Yes, Ms. Wayne…” She wiggled her hips - her hips wiggled; her own will had little to do with that - and she pressed her breasts into Helen’s hands.

Her nipples throbbed .

“Good girl, Trisha.” A sharper squeeze pulled a cry out of her, and Helen smothered it with an open-mouthed kiss that left her mouth as wet and messy as she was between her thighs. The edge of one of Helen’s boots dug into her thigh, and Helen’s eyes burned into hers as her boss leaned back on the couch. “Boots first. Your bra last. Leave the heels on.”

“Yes, Ms. Wayne,” Trisha breathed. Helen filled her vision. Filled her thoughts. There were sounds outside - the light thrum of a gentle rain, cars on the road. The neighbor playing his polka a little too loud for the walls to muffle it. None mattered. Helen’s words and sounds were the only sounds that mattered. Trisha unzipped the boots carefully, keeping her nails angled to eliminate any chance of scratching the perfect coat of polish Mr. Pennyworth had applied to Helen’s boots, then, one by one, slipped them off. Her socks went next, and, as she removed each, Trisha leaned in to kiss Helen’s ankle. The skin was soft there, almost delicate, and Helen hissed softly between her teeth when Trisha’s lips lingered. When Helen stood, shrugging off her jacket in the process, Trisha stayed on her knees as long as she could - the slacks could be managed that way, and Helen’s panties, though being eye-level when she slid them down and could see - smell, dream of tasting - Helen’s sex glistening in front of her threatened to drown not just thought but even submission with the hot flood of her need. Somehow, she persevered, and put Helen’s panties aside with barely more than a lick of her lips and a quiet gasp of need before rising to her feet to unbutton Helen’s shirt. Carefully. Not touching her breasts more than necessary, to avoid the temptation to forget what she was doing. Helen’s hum of approval helped soothe her back into the moment, into what she was doing and why, but she was infinitely aware of Helen’s eyes following her across the room to hang her boss’s clothes before their progress to the bedroom.

More infinitely than usual, because every step and involuntary twitch of her hips reminded her with exquisite rawness that her boss had been fucking her ass only a few minutes ago. She tightened the muscles there, gasping at the surge of sensation that still brought.

As was their habit, Trisha lay on the bed first, on her back, gazing up at Helen. Ready. Available. And, today, urgent beyond words. Helen’s eyes glittered with desire, sweeping her from head to toe, and if her hands were steady then the subtle flexing of those beautifully sculpted abdominals gave away exactly how fiercely her boss’s own desire was burning after her display out on the couch. A brush of Helen’s fingertips over her cheek - delicate, almost apologetic - dipped down to the swollen fullness of Trisha’s lips and stroked there, two fingers slipping inside to play lightly with her tongue, and without being told Trisha knew in her heart - and lower, in the clenching heat of her pussy - that Helen was going to break her usual habit and make use of Trisha’s mouth first tonight.

Trisha moaned around Helen’s fingers, eyes half-lidded, and sucked with gentle hunger. Her hands reached up and gripped the headboard, her breath slow and even and hungry, and she swirled her tongue around Helen’s fingertips.

Without a word, Helen’s fingers slipped from Trisha’s mouth, and Trisha’s lips parted in a moan as she watched. Helen moved over Trisha, and Trisha let her eyes fall closed at the first close scent of her boss’s arousal. She could taste it before the first real touch, and her hands tightened their grip on the headboard, knuckles turning white, the small muscles of her fingers aching. Helen was hovering, just out of reach… would approach in seconds… but Trisha needed this, with the fire of the Sun, and her head lifted and she pulled herself up and she buried her face between Helen’s legs, her tongue sliding between Helen’s folds, and her whole world was Helen’s taste and scent and the sounds Helen made above her and the weight of Helen’s body pressing her back into the bed. Her boss pinned her there, not with her hands but with weight and will, and Trisha drank from her. Deeply. Her tongue thrust into Helen, her nose and lips against her lover’s clit, and she gave herself to the moment.

To Helen’s pleasure, which came slowly and in slow shudders until it was like a storm waiting to break, the kind that could wash a city away in its fury. To raising the pitch and volume of Helen’s cries until they were screams of orgasm.

She was Helen’s, and if she did not have the exact words to express that, she would make certain Helen knew in her bones. When Helen slid off of her and pulled her close, covered her cheeks and throat with kisses, wrapped hands around her wrists and took hold of her, she knew Helen understood.

By the time Helen finished with her in the small hours of the morning, Trisha was lucky if she could hold her own name in her head, but she felt the watchfulness in Helen while her lover held her. Waiting for sleep to slid over her, probably. Helen would probably be gone by morning, too, leaving her smell and her heat in the bed for Trisha to wake to and perhaps breakfast in the refrigerator. But for now, for this moment, Helen stayed and waited for sleep to come for Trisha.

“I love you,” Trisha murmured, or thought she murmured, though sleep was too near to be sure and her muscles ached too much to worry about it. Helen, she thought, must know already.

 


 

As far as secret meeting places went, a body could do worse than the Bartlow district of Metropolis. It was about as out of the way as things came in the City of Tomorrow, old brownstone buildings mostly bought up by new immigrants and classic cinemas that never quite seemed to either upgrade or fall down; little Asian diners operating out of old Italian and Irish storefronts. It was as close to Gotham as a city like this got, which was to say not at all, but Helen liked it in spite of herself.

“Helen Wayne, out with a man in one of Metropolis’s arts districts. You should keep an eye out for reporters.” Clark Kent had managed to approach within a few meters before Helen heard him.

Kryptonian hearing offered Kryptonian stealth.

“I have lawyers for that,” Helen said, tipping her sunglasses to look at Clark with dry amusement. “They keep me out of contact with all such detestable creatures. Hello, Clark.”

“It’s good to see you, Helen,” Clark said, adjusting his glasses. “Teriyaki, or pho?”

“Pho. The place up the street still makes the best noodles in the state.” She’d dressed down to a leather jacket and jeans for the day, and Clark was wearing a short-sleeved button-up without a tie - neither of them would be drawing much attention today. “Are you sure you ought to be see showing off those guns in public?”

“Are you saying that a legend of print and web ought not visit a gym on occasion?” Clark perked up at the idea of pho.

“A legend? Really? Do they call missing the Pulitzer by a few votes every year that in the media business?” Helen’s smile was all teeth. “Maybe I should join.”

“Not every year. Only four of the Pulitzers on the mantle are Lois’s.”

“So Perry lets you borrow his, then?”

“You are a cruel woman. I’m going to call in that favor the guy at the pho place owes me so you can’t have beef.”

“You wouldn’t, because your mother wouldn’t approve. Especially if I call and tell her.” Helen let her shoulder bump against his companionably, relaxing a fraction at the familiarity. Clark had a great many irritating qualities, but he was a good watchdog. “How is work?”

“It’s good. Perry’s on a new anxiety medication, so yelling will be down until he remembers that he loves his anxiety and stops taking it. James is in Croatia and hasn’t pushed the button yet, so things are obviously working out there. And I’ve had a good story to work on every day for two weeks and none of them have involved Lex or Lobo. And yours?”

“Progressing. Making connections and making contact.” Helen’s hands flexed in her pockets, then relaxed. “I’m seeing someone new. But you knew that already.”

“I saw the interview. I think she likes you.”

“I got that impression.” A sigh escaped her, hunching her shoulders again, and she waited until a few more pedestrians passed them by before she finally voiced the thought. “She’s very young.”

“Not that much younger than you are. A lot younger than you feel,” Clark said, opening the door for her and walking her to the table.

“It was a mistake to let things start with her. To let myself...” Helen sighed. “There’s no helping it now, but it was still an error.”

“You spend enough time saving the world, Helen. You get to live in it too.”

Her jaw clenched, and the hot spur of anger tried to loosen her tongue. She forced herself to take refuge in discipline and think the words through. “Not all of us can start a family safely.”

“That’s true,” Clark said. “I don’t, for example, spend any time at all worrying about precisely how Darkseid’s first attempt to kidnap John and turn him to the service of evil will play out.” He paused. Exhaled. Smiled. “You are a difficult woman to reassure.”

“The situation is not precisely reassuring. But I value your attempts.” And I have a plan for that which would not reassure you, but I do have one. “For the moment, we haven’t started cohabitation. I’m not sure how long that will last.”

“You’re already making plans for moving in… you really do like her.” Clark reached across the table to touch her hand. “Does she know? I assume not.”

“She doesn’t. It would be better to keep it from her, but the practical difficulties are... considerable,” Helen sighed, squeezing his hand lightly before letting go. “And even if I can shield her, it’s an incomplete protection at best.”

“Telling her will make the relationship easier. I never know if telling or not telling is best for keeping someone safe. Not telling her will help keep the secret… if she doesn’t find out. Which she likely will.”

“I ought to walk away, Clark,” she whispered, unwilling to look at him for the moment. “It would be the right thing to do for her.”

“It’s a bit late for that to be the best plan, if it ever was.” Clark rapped his finger against the table thoughtfully. “She’s happy with you. She keeps saying that. And that’s worth something… maybe more than whatever safety she’d get somewhere else.”

He was so sincere and thoughtful and earnest that it was impossible not to smile, however slightly. Is it an explanation I would accept if I could make myself send her away? “I would ask how you manage everything so well, but I think it’s fairly clear that Lois is fully and completely responsible for that happy coincidence.”

“One thing I learned within a month of leaving Smallville… Metropolis girls will make things work if they have to grab those things by the neck and tie them to the subway tracks. Come to think of it… that was an hour after I got to Metropolis, when I was having coffee with Cat Grant.”

The smile broadened without entirely asking her permission first. “Trisha has a knack for removing obstacles from her path with a delightful expediency. It’s beginning to spoil me.”

Clark raised his glass bottle of Smallville Springs Root Beer. “The World’s Finest. No chance at all when the Metropolis girls come to town.”

“We should put them in charge of solving the world’s problem and vacation,” Helen deadpanned. “We might even last a week.”

 


 

“You know, you’d think I’d be out of the habit of answer your parents’ door for them, but some stuff just doesn’t go out of style.” Kyrie Cynclair didn’t quite have Helen Wayne’s centimeters, and she was as much a creature of the prosperous African-American section of Metropolis’s Highside District as Helen was of Wayne Manor, but they both radiated safety the same way. Which might have been one of the reasons Kyrie’s self-defense courses at the local youth center were the most popular in the neighborhood, but Trisha wouldn’t have bet against how she looked in workout gear as a leading reason either.

“They always liked you better anyway. ‘Trisha,’ my mom would say, ‘We love you, you know that. But we’d trade you in for Kyrie in an instant.’”

“Bullshit. Flattering bullshit, but bullshit,” Kyrie grinned, waving her in. The front room hadn’t changed much since they used to hold sleepovers in it, either. “So how come I have to find out you’re banging Helen Wayne from the tabloids, huh? They don’t have working phones in Gotham?”

“It’s been a whirlwind. And a mess. A joy… she’s amazing… but it’s been a whirlwind and a mess. I didn’t figure out how to tell Mom and Dad until the day of the interview, and you’re a much tougher crowd than they are.”

Kyrie rolled her eyes and cut into the kitchen, getting cups of water for both of them - Kyrie was always nagging her to keep hydrated. “It’s because I busted Cal’s mouth for getting handsy with you at Homecoming, isn’t it?”

Trisha took her glass and swallowed half of it. “For some reason, the air conditioning in the Wayne cars saps all the water out of the atmosphere.” She smiled. “Yeah. I’d hate to be Helen’s bodyguards if you decided you didn’t like her.”

“Well, jury’s still out. I mean, on the one hand, hot and rich ain’t bad. But creeping on the office staff is a strike. You seem to like her, so that’s a mark in favor. Lots of exes, though, so...” Kyrie grinned and mimed a scale with her hand.

“To be fair, I was much more the one creeping on her. I… fell hard, with absolutely no expectation that she felt the same way.” Trisha blushed. “She did. After I emailed her… which was probably a breach of so many rules of how one is supposed to conduct oneself…”

“Hey, now, don’t we say that rules are for other people?” Kyrie winked and kissed her cheek, shaking her head. “Hot damn, you were always ambitious but this is something else. And to think I was going to call you up and brag about how I finally got Lily Ives’s digits.”

“Hey, that’s an accomplishment! Weren’t we both crushing on her since… I don’t know… seventh grade?” Trisha hugged her friend. “I kinda wish Helen wasn’t… rich. Famous. All that. It makes things complicated. But I wouldn’t have met her otherwise, and… she does good things. All the time, good things.”

“Yeah, but can she bench a buck fifty?” Kyrie winked, squeezing her back. “Priorities, sister.”

“Never change, hon.” Trisha giggled.

“Not in your lifetime.” Kyrie grinned and waggled her eyebrows. “So, I want details! You emailed her confessing your undying crush and she swept you off your feet, and next thing you know you’re on television? The rich really are different.”

“I emailed her saying I had feelings and was a mess inside and she didn’t have to say anything at all and that maybe us acting on any feelings I or both of us might have would be a terrible plan. And it rains that night. Sky opens up, like the Presence is trying to top the Noah job on a tight timetable. Pouring down, pounding on my window - you’ve got to see my new apartment, by the way - and there’s a knock on my door. And she’s there, soaked to the bone, most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. I… don’t know what she’d come to tell me, but… well, one thing, another.”

Whistling and fanning herself, Kyrie looked genuinely impressed. “That is some high voltage shit, honey. Nobody’s tried to give themselves pneumonia banging down my door this year. And trust me, if she walked to your door in that hellstorm she definitely was not coming over to talk annual reports. So how bad do you want to have her APar babies at this point? Scale of one to ten.”

“I’ve never known if I wanted kids or not. But I am certain that if I ever do…” Trisha inhaled. “It would be with her. God, Mr. Grayson is basically my age…”

“She adopted him, though, so that’s only a little weird.” Kyrie cracked a grin. “Well, okay, more than a little weird. How is being foster mom to two adults and a teenager looking, by the way?”

“Thankfully hands-off. I’d have no idea what to do.” Trisha laughed quietly. “I’ve done a little work with Mr. Drake-Wayne, and met Ms. Kelley, but… I mostly just see Helen and Mr. Pennyworth.”

Kyrie sobered up and leaned on the counter, fixing Trisha with a long look without much give in it. “You’re really happy, Trish? This is what you want? She’s a long way away from the old neighborhood in more ways than one.”

Trisha smiled. Probably a much bigger smile than she planned. “I’m happy. I’m over the moon, Kyrie. I’m doing important work and… and I love her. I’m happy.”

“Good on you. Fair warning, your mom pretty much lost her shit when she heard. I think she’s convinced Wayne wants to sell your organs or do the full Bathory on you. Bluebeard? Whatever. Your dad’s pretty okay, but the restored furniture in the garage is piling up faster than usual.”

“I’ll see if there’s anything that’ll work in the Manor. Helen…” Trisha trailed off.

Kyrie tipped her head, not saying anything, waiting her out with that patience she could apply to anything from a recalcitrant patient or student to a hard set at the gym. All their teachers had taken to Trisha’s organization and easy intelligence, but the way Kyrie’s kept her steady and on track had usually gone unnoticed and invisible. Not to Trisha, though. And, to be fair, Kyrie’d slogged over plenty of her notes before graduation (both of them). They’d just done more together than apart.

“She… doesn’t redecorate. The spare bedrooms, the ones Mr. Grayson and Mr. Drake sleep in, have been completely renovated. She’s added portraits of those who’ve joined the family since her parents’ deaths. Things get repaired or replaced if it’s absolutely needed. But… it’s her parent’s house. Still. It feels like…” She gestured around. “Here. Not like my apartment.”

“Shit.” Kyrie rested her hand on the counter, face thoughtful. “Place that size, that’s gotta feel more like a museum than a home. Lonely little rich girl is one thing at twenty, but at her age that’s a little....”

“They died when she was eight. And… I don’t think she’s processed it.” Trisha sighed. “There’s just an enormous amount of hurt in her. Sometimes, I think the only times she’s really happy are when she’s helping her wards or with me.”

“Shit, hon. That’s a lot to put on yourself. You know that, right? People’s mental health has to be their own business first and foremost.”

“I’m not trying to fix her or anything. I know that’d be a fool’s errand… and she wouldn’t welcome it. I just… she hurts. And it shows.”

Kyrie sighed and shook her head, folding both arms and smiling crookedly. “I should have known you were going to get into trouble the minute you snuck that kitten into my room when we were seven.”

“She was hungry! And cute! And… yeah, you’re right.” Trisha sighed. “I’ll look at what Dad’s been working on.”

“Not a bad thought. Neither is therapy, for the record - even the great Helen Wayne could benefit from it. But come on, we’ll have a look and see if there’s anything you want to try to sneak into that dusty old house. You can call it a late birthday present, or maybe starting Christmas really early....”

 


 

It was always odd to be a member of the only couple in a group of friends doing an activity. It turned out that it was more strange when those “friends” were your girlfriend’s foster children. And even moreso than that when being near your girlfriend filled you with a need to climb into her lap and kiss her neck until she forgot her worries. Trisha contented herself with maintaining constant contact with Helen’s hand or arm, which the ‘kids’ mostly let pass without more than an occasional roll of the eyes from Carrie or a sideways look from Tim. Richard, for his part, generally looked smug about it.

And, by the way, it was even more strange than that when every single movie at the last three of these had been about a man (or men) who was wronged in some terrible way and swore some combination of revenge and/or justice against the people/system that caused the hurt.

She was certain that the swashbuckling that the Grey Ghost was engaging in was quite impressive, but it was difficult to truly appreciate when half of her wanted to drag Helen off to bed - which would involve driving across town to her apartment in spite of Helen’s bed being right there a few doors over - and the other half wanted to do literally anything that wasn’t a remake of Seven Samurai or The Mark of Zorro .

Helen and the kids, on the other hand, seemed thoroughly engrossed by every frame. If this kept up, one of them might even suggest another movie after this one - that had happened once before, and it had been cute the first time, but that had been six movie nights and quite a bit of Trisha’s patience ago.

If that happened, she would have to follow up The Grey Ghost Rides Again with The Grey Ghost Rides Once More , and that would be intolerable.

She had to stop the next movie from coming. But how?

Pennyworth appeared in the corner of the room, checking paternally over the proceedings, and slipped up behind the loveseat Helen and Trisha were sharing to speak in a voice low enough not to disturb the film. “Another Smallville root beer, Miss Baum?”

“God yes,” Trisha murmured. “Thank you, Mr. Pennyworth.” At least the root beer was good. Really, really good. Pennyworth, for his part, hadn’t vanished with his usual efficiency but was regarding Trisha with a deferentially evaluating neutrality.

“I think that perhaps the bean dip would benefit from refreshment as well. Might I borrow her hands, Mistress Helen, if you are not too busy monopolizing them?”

“Alfred,” Helen said, eyes still fastened to the screen, “you don’t want her to miss this next bit - it’s a classic.”

“Just a moment I’m sure, ma’am.”

If Trisha had any delusion that whatever moment she tried to leave would not be “a classic,” she would have stayed to watch it, but she leaned in and kissed Helen’s cheek. “I’m sure that Mr. Pennyworth wouldn’t ask for me if it wasn’t important. Enjoy your movie, beloved.” Then she rose, careful not to disturb Mr. Drake-Wayne’s rapt attention to the screen and made her escape.

Mister Pennyworth waited until they’d retreated through the den and into the hallway to the kitchen before he offered her a sympathetic smile. “I’m afraid they can be a little single-minded about movie night, Miss Baum.”

“Thank the Presence that I’m not the only one who sees that… I was starting to question my own perception of reality.” Trisha exhaled. “And thank you for getting me out of there. I love her, but…” She made a gesture that was a mix of swashbuckling and pure exasperation.

“Quite.” Pennyworth’s smile turned rueful. “She was always fond of this sort of thing, no matter how much her mother tried to wean her off it. I’m afraid Master Wayne was quite hopeless when it came to spoiling her about ‘that swashbuckling nonsense.’”

“Oh.” Trisha fell silent. This was the first she’d heard of anything but virtues of Helen’s parents, and… she felt it. “I… think I won’t tease her about it, then, if I was ever going to.”

“With all due respect to their memory, Mistress Helen could bear a little teasing now and then.” Pennyworth patted her shoulder, and if there was wistful sadness in his face it was somehow free of shadows. “I was honored to serve Master and Mistress Wayne, just as my father was, but Mistress Helen sometimes allows her reverence for them to overcome her better judgement.”

“She does,” Trisha murmured. “She… hurts about them. Always. Still. It’s… worrying.”

Pennyworth sighed quietly as he opened the door to the small kitchen, shaking his head and smiling with a rueful fondness that was clearly well-worn. “Not entirely healthy, I’m afraid. Mistress Helen is a remarkable woman in many ways, but the ability to move on with living has never been one of her virtues.”

“I…” For a moment, Trisha trailed off. “She is remarkable. Her hurting so much… hurts. And I think if I told her that, she’d just try to hide it more.”

“That is, unfortunately, most likely the case. She can be unreasonable about protecting those she cares for deeply.” Pennyworth reappeared at her elbow, handing her the bottle of Smallville Springs, then set about extracting another bowl of bean dip from the refrigerator without any apparent sign of hurry.

She took a swallow of her root beer and smiled at it. “My mother has her sister send this to the house. Constantly. It was the taste of my childhood.” She leaned back against the wall, watching Mr. Pennyworth work. “Drawing a smile from her is pretty much my biggest joy.”

“She smiles considerably more often since you came into her life, Miss Baum. For that alone, you have my gratitude.”

Trisha blushed. “I’m glad I can make her smile.”

“Mistress Helen can be a very difficult partner, at times. But I must admit that your presence and your patience give me hope that I may not always be her sole company in this old house.” Pennyworth sighed, then straightened and turned with just a hint of alarm in his propriety. “Forgive me, Miss Baum, I don’t mean to speak out of turn.”

“I don’t mind.” Trisha looked around the small kitchen, smiling. “I… rather hope that, too. When she’s ready.”

Pennyworth had finished loading his own tray and a second, much smaller one, which he offered to Trisha before collecting the larger one himself. “If you don’t mind my saying so, Miss Baum, I think she would be a very great fool to wait any longer than she had to. Unfortunately, that is not entirely outside her character either.”

“You’re saying that to someone who went and decided to fall in love with her still-grieving employer who also happens to be a constant nexus of media attention, simply because she’s amazing and lovely. I think we all pick our moments to be great fools.”

Pennyworth’s smile was radiant. “Very good, Miss Baum. Very good indeed. You would have been a marvel on the stage.”

 


 

The height of the Gotham social season (at least according to the papers) was the Mayor’s Ball, traditionally organized and funded by the Kane family. That made it the rare society event to which Helen was invited without the Wayne name being involved in the organizational side, and as a result Trisha had given it almost no thought until Helen turned to her over a late working lunch in late May and asked her - quite casually, which was most unfair - if she’d thought about what she might like to wear.

She’d panicked for a moment, trying to figure out if she’d missed an important job, before it registered that she would not be there as Ms. Wayne’s PA; she’d be there as Helen’s girlfriend. Then she’d thrown her arms around Helen’s neck and, for the first time at work, kissed her full on the lips.

It was a moment.

A black dress, of course, was the answer. With sequins. And a lovely necklace that Mr. Pennyworth dug up for her that had not been a favored possession of anyone who had died horribly that he knew of. And, because she knew Helen would recognize them, Those Heels. The heels that had dangled over the edge of her sofa, That Night. And glasses, instead of her contacts.

Yes, she decided. That would go quite well.

Helen turned up to pick her up in another her gorgeous evening gowns - this one in pure ivory white, wrapped around the bodice and flowing from the waist down, with a beautifully ivory shawl, white gloves and even a top hat to match. Even the diamonds and pale gold at her throat matched the set, leaving the stark ebony black of her lashes and hair and the few hints of color in her makeup as the only relief of color.

Silence, for a few moments, at the door, as Trisha stared. I haven’t seen this outfit. And… I’m not going to be talking much tonight. Can we call and cancel? “Helen,” she finally managed.

“You look lovely,” Helen murmured, taking both her hands and kissing her cheeks with delicate care for their make-up. “I brought you a little surprise. May I?”

“Of course.” Breathless. Breathless already. This boded well. “You look amazing.”

“Thank you.” Helen unsnapped her purse and took out two black velvet boxes, offering them to Trisha in those white-gloved hands with just a hint of a smile tugging at the edges of her mouth. “Surprise.”

Inside the smaller box were a gorgeous pair of diamond earrings to match the necklace Alfred had found for her. Inside the larger, a gorgeously elaborate woven-gold bracelet fitted for her wrist. They’re beautiful… Trisha smiled at the jewelry, then at Helen, then back at the jewelry. And must have cost more than my parents make in a year. She felt her cheeks heat while she swapped out her simple diamond studs for the new earrings and clasped the bracelet around her wrist, shivering a little at the weight of the gold against her pulse.

“There’s something else, but it might be a little...” Helen trailed off, the smile growing more obvious as she extracted a third box. “Presumptuous, I suppose. You should feel free to wear those, even if you don’t want to wear this.”

It was a brooch, backed in dark gold and finely enameled, bearing a beautiful reproduction of a coat of arms.

This belongs to a Wayne. I don’t know if it’s new or inherited or… but it belongs to the Waynes, and obviously. That’s her family’s symbol. “Could you… help me with it?” Trisha couldn’t have signed her name, at this particular moment, and tears suddenly formed in her eyes.

Fuck me, how can she undo me like this?

“Of course.” Helen extracted the brooch carefully, tipping the box back into her purse for the moment, and took Trisha by the hip to guide her a step closer before addressing herself to the delicate business of pinning the brooch in place without disrupting the fall of Trisha’s dress. It was done so tenderly, with such infinite care, and Helen’s eyes kept flicking the smallest glances up at Trisha’s face as if trying to read her thoughts there. “Is that all right, then?”

“Perfect,” Trisha breathed, then lifted herself up to press her lips against Helen’s. “It’s perfect. It’s perfect.”

“Good.” She could feel the subtle relaxation of relief in Helen’s shoulders, the soft breath of satisfaction against her lips as her lover drew back and smiled at her with a hint of playfulness in those dark eyes. “This way, if anyone finds you wandering off, they’ll know where to return you afterwards.”

Property of Helen Wayne. If found, please… ” She couldn’t finish, between her blush and her laughter. It’s true, though. “We should go.” Before I try to drag you to bed. And nobody sees me in this broach.

“It wouldn’t do to be more than fashionably late,” Helen agreed, though Trisha might have fancied there was a hint of reluctance to it. It seemed exceptionally strange to take her building’s elevator down wearing this amount of finery, but Helen imparted such a complete confidence to the moment that they walked across the lobby and out to the car as if it were the most natural thing in the world that they should be there.

Pennyworth was waiting in the driver’s seat of the car, this time, and he tipped his hat to Trisha slightly as she climbed in. “Most charming tonight, Miss Baum. A classic look.”

“Thank you, Mr. Pennyworth.” Trisha slipped into the back seat beside Helen, and immediately pressed in close and slipped her arms around her. “I feel good.” She blushed. “I feel beautiful…”

“Radiant, Miss Baum.” Pennyworth slipped the car into gear and pulled out into traffic, handling the wheel with relaxed expertise. “And I suppose Mistress Helen has cleaned up very nicely as well, if a bit dramatically for the occasion.”

“Weren’t you telling me that I ought to try something other than black occasionally, Alfred?” Helen sniped back comfortably, her fingertips stroking the curve of Trisha’s shoulder gently as if the skin there were too tempting to ignore.

“You seem to have taken my advice a bit literally, ma’am.”

“And whose fault is that, precisely?”

“If it was your advice, Mr. Pennyworth, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.” There were stars in Trisha’s eyes as she looked up at Helen’s face.

“Well,” Pennyworth sighed, “if it’s getting rave reviews then I suppose there’s no help for it. Miss Kane texted while you were inside to warn you that the press are out in more than their usual force tonight - the news of Miss Baum’s debut may have leaked ahead of time.”

“For once, we’ve got nothing to hide from the press. Let them have their fun for the night,” Helen said, her smile vaguely reminiscent of a well-fed predator.

“I can take WGCK. I can take CNN. I can take NBC. I’ll take them all, tonight.” Trisha giggled against Helen’s shoulder. “And CBS too.”

Helen’s laughter hummed under her cheek. “Well, aren’t you full of fire and vinegar. Planning to give the press a quote to go with their photographs, my darling Miss Baum?”

“What’s there to say? I look good, you look incredible, and I’m in love. I’ll beat them without a word.”

Helen only smiled and kissed her, careful of her lipstick, her dark eyes full of feeling. It hardly seemed to be a fair moment or two before they were pulling up in front of the Infantino Hotel, flashbulbs already popping away outside, and Helen squeezed her hand reassuringly before Pennyworth handed first Helen and then Trisha out of the car and onto the red carpet. It wasn’t precisely the first time they’d done this, but before Trisha had been in a trailing crowd of assistants, peripheral and forgettable. This time the cameras were watching Helen slip an arm through hers and the two of them take the long walk together, side by side. This time, more than a few of the shouted questions were for her.

Trisha blushed at the first pops of flashbulbs, leaning closer to Helen, half-hiding behind her for a few moments… then the first question came. She ignored its content, and even the voice and network of the man answering. Instead of speaking, or even acknowledging that he had spoken, she offered the crowd as a whole a wide, joyous smile - easy to do, today - and waved with her free hand, letting Helen guide her for a moment as she lifted up to kiss Helen’s cheek.

That was definitely going to be on the front of someone’s webpage tonight. Well, she could live with that. They swept in through the front doors and joined the line of Gotham’s grandest making their entrances through the lobby and into the ballroom, stopping for a polite word here and a warm smile there, and they were well into the crowd before Catherine Hamilton Kane descended on them and made it her personal project to show them around like the prize social trophies they probably were. Helen took it in stride, affecting an amused sort of apathy to the whole proceeding, but she didn’t have more than a sip or two of champagne and her arm stayed firmly linked with Trisha’s the whole way.  Trisha, for her part, engaged with Mrs. Kane, chatting with her about the various guests right up until the moment she had a chance to rope someone else into the conversation and allow an escape.

“I did not know that someone so knowledgeable and obviously intelligent could be… dull,” she whispered in Helen’s ear.

“Cathy is a highly adapted predator in her natural environment,” Helen murmured back. “Unfortunately, her natural environment is exactly this sort of thing. The Hamilton family raised her to inherit their fortune, and she did exactly what they had in mind by marrying Jacob Kane. Fortunately, he seems to find her more entertaining than we do.”

“He’s your… uncle, right? The Army colonel?” Trisha kissed Helen’s cheek again. She’s too lovely to be fair tonight. “I’d like to meet him, assuming that he’s as interesting as the dossier made him sound.”

“Jacob only shows up to the ball about half the time - which is probably one of the reasons he married Cathy, come to think of it, because she excels at this kind of thing - but I’ve got someone just as interesting for you who I know for a fact is here tonight.” Helen bent down and kissed the edge of her hair, feather-light, and there was a hint of laughter at the edge of her voice. “And I’m sure she’s going to be relieved to talk to you, under the circumstances... There we are.” She didn’t exactly raise her voice, but she did seem to manage to throw it fairly effectively. “Kate! Come down here and meet the talk of the town for the next week or two.”

Her first glance at Kate Kane and Commissioner Maggie Sawyer brought only one thought. If they weren’t engaged to each other I’d be trying to set the both of them up on dates with Kyrie. Commissioner Sawyer, in particular, was right up Kyrie’s alley; Ms. Kane was a kind of gorgeous that would catch anyone’s eye but far more Kyrie’s type than her own.

“I’m Trisha Baum,” Trisha said, offering her free hand to them. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Always nice to meet a fellow Metropolis refugee,” Maggie Sawyer said, taking the offered hand and shaking it firmly. She was wearing a modest tux (at least by the standards of this crowd) that she made look good, her neat blonde hair in its asymmetrical cut just a little bit untidy, and her eyes mixed a lot of hard-earned experience with a twinkle that the city hadn’t quite snuffed out. “Gotten out of the habit of looking up yet?”

“Hey, The Bat and Nightwing swing between villains in the dark. Still have to look up occasionally.” Trisha leaned closer to Helen.

Kate - with a far fancier tuxedo than her fiancee and a tall top hat - looked to Helen with a look that said, apart from the woman next to her, that she would rather be anywhere than where she was on this night. “Helen… it’s good to see someone else worth a few moments.”

“Well, you had to go and get respectable or I could say something about picking out a night’s entertainment,” Helen shot back, smiling fondly and squeezing Trisha tightly. “Of course, I’m in fair danger of something like that happening to me one of these days, so perhaps I shouldn’t tempt fate by teasing you.”

Trisha blushed as she was squeezed. “You? Respectable?”

“Somehow, I don’t think that going about looking for ‘entertainment’ with my cousin would have been my idea of a good time even in my wildest days,” Kate said.

Helen’s expression suggested a hint of personal chagrin. “I’m not sure if I’ve just been called old, too scandalous for Kate Kane or too boring to window-shop with. Commissioner, I may need to report a shooting.”

“I didn’t see anything, hear anything or notice anything, officer,” Sawyer said, feigning an innocent expression. “You see? I’ve got the Gotham routine down by now.”

“No, no,” Trisha said. “You have to be more dour when you say it. And perhaps glare at a random passerby like you think they have your dog in their purse.”

“Any dog you’d think of owning would bite the hand off a would-be dognapper in this town, but otherwise that’s a fair point.” Sawyer had a wonderful smile, too. Kyrie was missing out. “I think I’m going to like this one, Miss Wayne.”

“They’re mocking our town,” Kate said to Helen. “That’s what we get, I guess. My stepmother warned me against dating out-of-towners.”

“Still,” Helen mused, “the Commissioner has a point about the dog. You’d need a heavy garbage can or a cage - a purse definitely wouldn’t do the trick.”

“I’d skip the dog entirely,” Kate said. “I’d instead get a tiger and call it Spot.”

“And next thing you know you’d be a costumed crazy trying to pick a fight with the vigilante underworld. No, that’s a terrible idea...”

Kate kicked Helen in the shin, and Sawyer burst out laughing.

Chapter Text

Bane attacks Gotham Museum, seventeen injured. Foiled by Nightwing, Batgirl, and Batwoman. Lady Shiva battles the Bat atop Gotham Heights Tower. Batwing, Robin seen in pursuit of … “A dragon. Batwing and Robin were chasing a dragon.” Mr. Szasz apprehended by GCPD at the Taco Hut. “Busy night, car. Busy night.” Somehow, none of this had happened in sight of her apartment. When Metropolis was invaded, and the pile of headlines certainly felt like an invasion, she could always see it from her window.

At least it was easier to sleep through Gotham’s occasional supervillain invasions. Brainiac made a lot more noise.

The car was starting up the long drive from the Palisades to Wayne Manor’s grounds. She still wasn’t entirely sure where the Wayne lands ended… she knew they went past the gates a fair distance, but the ownership of the land around the Manor was buried in generations of paperwork she hadn’t had time to parse yet.

“The army’s missing, though,” she mused aloud. “For there to be an invasion, there’d have to be an army… was there no army, or was the army too quiet for the papers?”

She read a bit more, moving to the financial pages - apparently, Central City had been attacked by Gorilla Grodd again last night as well, so insurance stocks were down and tin foil stocks were up, which boded well for her portfolio - and did not surface until she was on the comics page and the car was pulling up in front of the Manor.

Where she got out and rang the bell. That was a new experience - usually Pennyworth was on hand when she arrived, probably cued in by the car’s automated system. She amused herself by imagining him perched on an enormous ladder in the ballroom polishing a chandelier when the notification of her arrival on the grounds went off in his pocket.

Richard Grayson, who looked like someone had dragged him behind a horse down East Street for a few hundred yards and then slapped bandaged on the worst of it before getting him a change of expensive clothes, opened the door. “Pizza? Thank you, God... Oh. Hey, Trisha. Everything okay?”

Did he fall out the window? Did he fall out five windows? Isn’t he supposed to be a trained acrobat? Do acrobats fall out of windows? “I… could go get pizza. I’m okay… is Helen home? I was supposed to meet her here tonight.”

“You were... Oh. Um. Yeah, she’s home. Can I put you up in study for a few minutes while I track her down? I think she and Alfred were working on something.” Richard shook his head, covering for something with one of his charming smiles and waving her inside. The gesture made him wince a bit. “How was the drive out?”

“Automatic.” She looked at him curiously. Was he trying to hide why he got hurt out of embarrassment, or something else? Or was that not what he was trying to hide? “Did the stairs bite?”

His expression was a perfect blank for about three seconds before he started to laugh. “The... oh! No, but the family polo game got a little out of hand. Never let Carrie near a horse if you can help it. Hazard to life and limb.”

“How many times did you get thrown ? And how did you manage to land on your face? Or did you take a polo… ball?... there?” Trisha winced.

“Mallet,” Richard sighed, studying the ceiling while he walked her through the Grand Hall. “Hence the unhorsing. Well, that unhorsing.”

“I think it’s less horses and more mallets you shouldn’t be letting Ms. Kelley near,” Trisha said quietly. “How bad is Helen?”

“Better than me. I swear she could... well, she takes a fall really well,” Grayson corrected himself, pushing the door open to let her into the study. “Bruises and strains, mostly, though Alfred thinks she tweaked something in her shoulder. I got the worst of it, which is just my luck.”

The study door opened, and Trisha stepped through, offering a nod to Mr. Drake and all of Mr. Drakes various injuries - bruising on the face, on the arms, and a wince when he looked up indicating something to the neck or back. Then she looked at the slender black-haired girl sitting on the arm of the couch neck to him and inspecting him with a critical eye.

Who she’d never seen before.

And wasn’t in her dossiers.

Everything was in her dossiers.

“Hi?”

“Hello,” the girl said, her accent strange and careful. English was clearly not her first language, but she dressed like a native Gothamite - warm, tough clothing in layers. She put a light, protective hand on Tim’s shoulder and peered at Trisha with what seemed equal dubiousness. “Why are you here?”

“Ah,” Richard said, rushing into the breach. “Cassie, this is Patricia Baum - she prefers Trisha - who works with Wayne Enterprises and the Foundation. She’s been dating Helen lately. Trisha, Cassandra Cain. She’s a friend.”

Lately? Trisha opened her mouth to respond, but Mr. Drake spoke up first. “Trisha’s all right, Cass. She’s got bad taste in movies, but she’s all right.”

Hey!

Cain nodded her head and relaxed, the closed sternness of her face opening in a smile that was starting in its bright warmth. “Hello, Trisha. My friends call me Cassie. You should call me Cassie. I apologize for the state of Timothy. He can be very clumsy.”

I kind of feel like, when this girls says I should call her something, I should call her that. “It’s good to meet you, Cassie.” I can’t imagine Mr. Drake being clumsy. She looked to Mr. Drake. “I see Ms. Kelley got to you, too.”

“She does that to everyone,” Richard jumped in. “Tim, can I leave her with you two a minute? Have to go track down Helen and Alfred.”

“Of course. Always a pleasure.” Mr. Drake waved Trisha over to a seat.

“I think that maybe family polo day might be a tradition that requires revisiting,” Trisha murmured as she sat.

“Horses are trouble,” Cassie affirmed, finally letting go of Tim and wandering over to fold herself into a different chair.

Just friends? She seems nice, but I can’t get a read on her. “My grandparents… both pair, actually… run farms. I really can’t disagree with that assessment.”

“I was on a farm once. There was a stampede, and no tall buildings. I don’t think I enjoyed it.” It was actively impossible to tell if Cassie was joking or not.

I can’t read her, but I like her . If not just friends… good job, Mr. Drake! “You’ve been in one less farm and one more stampede than I have.”

“I like cities. They are more...” Cassie folded her hands, expression searching. “More everything. Especially Gotham. Though I also like Hong Kong very much.”

“I prefer cities, too, though I’ve never been to Hong Kong. I was born in Metropolis… which is far, far better than a farm.”

Cassie had a bright, wonderful, unpracticed laugh. It was a little victory to have gotten it out of her.

Mr. Drake kept glancing at the door. “So we’re all agreed… city people, through and through.”

“Farms have their points.” Helen’s voice came through the door a few seconds before she did; she was wearing slacks and a slightly rumpled blouse, a vivid bruise on one cheek and a care in her step that wasn’t usually there. “A lot of interesting people come from farms. Though I suppose not many of them stay there.”

“Helen…” Trisha pushed herself to her feet, but arrested the urge to throw herself at the taller woman at the last possible moment. “You look awful.” Still unthinkably beautiful. But awful.

“Well, I have felt better,” Helen admitted, her eyes taking Trisha in like she wanted to see nothing in the world as much while she took a couple of careful steps to tuck one arm low around Trisha’s waist, “but seeing you certainly brightens my afternoon. You look as lovely as always.”

Trisha leaned in close - carefully - and rose up to kiss Helen’s lips. “Is everyone all right? I mean… beyond the obvious.”

“Between polo and Alfred’s hovering, I’m afraid you coming slipped my mind at the last minute. I hope you don’t mind a sedate evening?” Helen kissed her back, tenderly but not entirely chastely. “We have pizza coming.”

“I do like pizza,” Trisha murmured, resting her head against Helen’s chest a moment before remembering they had onlookers. “As long as you don’t mind me fretting over you?”

“I don’t imagine I could stop you.” There was something fond in Helen’s whisper, the edge of her fingertip brushing Trisha’s jaw. Her eyes were darker than usual, tracing Trisha’s face like it was something she’d half-forgotten as well, and her hand at Trisha’s waist kept her from pulling back too far.

It was almost hard to bear, but impossible to look away or retreat from, to be looked at like this by Helen. Trisha drew a breath, held Helen’s gaze, let herself tremble under it, and reached up to touch Helen’s cheek, careful of her bruises. “If you don’t mind me doing so… I’d like to stay the night, tonight.”

“They are very intimate,” Cassie said into the moment, a hint of wonder in her voice. “And...”

“You’re entirely right, Cass,” Mr. Drake said.

Trisha blushed. Helen’s expression was impossible to read, but she gave Cassie a very long look before shifting her grip on Trisha’s back to pull her a little bit tighter. “Alfred is going to insist you two stay for dinner,” she said, instead of any direct comment. “I believe he’s already making up your rooms as well.”

Somehow, Trisha’s blush deepened, and she pressed her face against Helen’s shoulder. “Do we need to order more pizza?”

Richard must have come up behind Helen, because he broke into the conversation on the edge of a laugh. “Are you kidding? We used to practically keep the Palisades branch of Aparo’s in business all by ourselves.”

“There should be enough,” Helen said more quietly, tucking her unbruised cheek against Trisha’s hair. “Would you like to sit in the library?”

“I’d like that,” Trisha whispered into Helen’s shoulder. “At least until dinner.” Away from very perceptive prying eyes.

“Yes,” Helen agreed, turning to the door and tugging Trisha along with her. Richard was in the way, his mouth already open - probably to say something witty at their expense - but Helen leveled him with a look and he shut it hastily. If Cassie or Tim had anything to say, they likewise kept it to themselves, and they went around the corner - out into the Great Hall, a few steps along and through the first door they came to - and into the library without heckling. Helen shut the door behind them, the dying daylight washing her pale skin in golds and reds and deep violet where it was bruised, turning her hair the color of ink.

Once they settled on one of the large chairs - Helen in the chair, Trisha sitting across her lap - Trisha spoke, lips almost touching Helen’s ear. “I… hope polo was fun,” she whispered. She is beautiful. God, how can she be so beautiful even like this?

“It was lively, anyway,” Helen whispered, her fingertips trailing the line of Trisha’s back through the thin summer material of her blouse. “Carrie distinguished herself, if a little impulsively. Richard was braver than he was wise.”

“That… sounds like them,” Trisha murmured, arching just a little into Helen’s touch. Fire along my spine. I think I might be angry with her for getting hurt, but her touch still ignites fire along my spine. “And you?”

“No more than usual. Timothy was the hero of the game, but I set him up well.” Helen kissed Trisha’s mouth gently, almost gingerly. “Alfred may someday forgive me for the mess.”

“I’d ask you to play a little more carefully, at least, but… I don’t think it would do me any good,” Trisha pressed her lips to Helen’s again. “So I’ll just have to help Mr. Pennyworth patch you up.”

Helen let the kiss linger a long while before she drew back, brushing Trisha’s hair away from her face and studying her with those dark eyes that seemed to see so much. “I suppose you will. I... feel I ought to apologize, that what I need to do is so often a cause of worry for the people close to me. That I know it must worry you.”

“It does,” Trisha murmured, turning her head to kiss Helen’s hand. “I might even be angry that you got hurt. But… you’re you. I knew that getting into this. Whatever you do, you throw yourself into. That’s going to hurt sometimes.”

“Sometimes,” Helen agreed softly, her fingers curling around Trisha’s jaw. “If I’d remembered, I might have asked you not to come. I’m glad...” her breath caught, and she bent in to kiss Trisha again and smother the last words in her mouth. “I’m glad I didn’t.”

Trisha’s arms slipped around Helen’s neck, and she lost herself in the kiss. “I’m glad, too. Even if I am angry with you.. I’d much rather see you than not.”

 


 

It had been a surprisingly wonderful weekend, healing bruises and foster children in the house and all, even if they had wound up sleeping in one of the guest bedrooms (again) and having the most excruciatingly polite sort of sex in the small hours of the morning.

It was pleasant. It was fun. It had scratched precisely zero of the itches that a weekend with Helen inspired. At least they’d actually done it in the house. That was a step. Right? And the fact that her joy at the weekend was precisely balanced with her irritability at least meant she had a lot of joy.

Of course, that balance would have tipped a great deal further in the direction of joy if she hadn’t started her morning by waking up alone in bed (they’d woken up together in bed two days in a row, and how had that possibly become the sort of thing she was inclined to celebrate with chimes and singing?) and finding out over breakfast from Mr. Pennyworth that Helen had ridden into the city early with Mr. Drake-Wayne to help him sort out some international contracting mess for WayneTech involving metallurgical components that had apparently been so urgent Helen hadn’t even come up to kiss her good morning before leaving.

“I’m going to sleep on top of her next time,” Trisha muttered, then covered her mouth as she realized she’d actually said it. Then uncovered her mouth because she was alone in the car, and no matter how thick the traffic was outside the soundproofing was good enough to be sure they weren’t going to hear her. No matter how long they were stuck next to her.

And she didn’t have a newspaper.

She’d probably learn there were more Banes and dragons if she did.

Before she could bring up the newsfeeds on her phone to test that theory, it started ringing in her hand. Sofia’s extension. At this hour of the morning, that wasn’t likely to be good news.

She activated the phone. “Sofia… what’s up?”

“Ah, Trisha, mi zorra, we have problems. The DataEagle launch today, yes? We have celebrity endorsements and two of them are having a breakup by text on their planes coming here, the Chronicle and Gazette want to move up their interview times, the Free Press are covering a protest out front about sustainability, the board are antsy about the last-minute changes to the subscription structure, and you are late to the office because... well.” Sofia mixed a sigh with a chuckle. “At least you and la jefa are in the car on the way here, yes? Tell me so so that I can tell the board and my life will be easier.”

“I’m late because traffic on the bridges hasn’t been moving. Or in town, for that matter. The radio said something about Mr. Freeze and Route 2? And…” Trisha exhaled. “Helen’s not in the car with me. She apparently had to go help Mr. Drake with something involving the Strait of Taiwan and advanced chromium alloys. Given the traffic… even if I call her in from that, and manage to get her, everything will have already exploded before she arrives.”

“Trisha...” Sofia made an outraged sound somewhere between a cough and a rattle. “You sleep next to her, chica! You cannot put a leash on that woman of yours?”

If I woke up next to her, maybe. “Apparently not.” Sofia is not who I’m upset with. Okay, I am upset with Sofia. And Helen. And Mr. Drake. And Mr. Pennyworth, though that’s not fair. “She goes where she goes, Sofia. I can barely keep up.”

She wasn’t entirely certain Sofia wasn’t covering the phone to swear. It certainly sounded like she was saying something, muffled as it was, and her voice came back over clearly a moment or two later. “I will stall, and you will get in here as quickly as possible, because if la jefa is not here then someone is going to sit for those interviews and demo the glasses and I think you will be nominated. Will it be faster if I send the helicopter to drop you a ladder?”

Yelling at Sofia will not deescalate the situation or help the work get done. Yelling at Sofia will not deescalate the situation or help the work get done. Yelling at Sofia will not deescalate the situation or help the work get done. “If I didn’t fall off the ladder to my doom, probably. But given the way our luck’s going today…” After the product reveal. If I still want to yell at her, I can do it after. But… “Check yourself, Sofia, please. My morning’s not sunshine and rainbows either.”

She could hear Sofia take a deep breath and probably do her own internal deescalation routine, too. “Lo siento, Trisha. The sun, moon and stars have fallen on my desk this morning, and I was day-dreaming of handcuffing la jefa to her desk just before I called you. I know her problems, they are not your problems.”

“They kinda are, but... “ If I finish that sentence, I’ll be bringing home into work in a way I really, really don’t want to. “I’ll be there soon, and I’ll do the demo.”

“I will get one of the pretty starlets to do it with you. That way there will be fewer questions for you. Also, I will call Mister Fox and tell him to cancel his morning and cover for us with the board. We should spread the pain around, yes?”

“That sounds good.” I’m totally unqualified to do more than a holding pattern with the board, anyway. “Get the most distracting one? I’d rather like to look like I know more in comparison.”

“Oh, yes. And maybe we will encourage la jefa to hurry back a little faster that way too,” Sofia said, and then hung up before Trisha could organize a reply.

Helen… Trisha leaned against the door, gazing out of the window and trying to judge at which point it would be faster to get out of the car and walk the rest of the way. Where are you? And why do you leave?

She cut that thought off. Crying would make this far worse.

 


 

Five hours working on the launch of a product that she didn’t really understand and that made her just a tiny bit nauseous to use. The product safety studies said that problem would only happen with extended use and would go away once a person got used to it within one to two weeks of daily use, but… nausea. Today. And no Helen, the entire day. No word from Helen, the entire day. No chance to text or call Helen, the entire day.

Yes. Angry. Angry was the right word for it.

And she wasn’t going back to the Manor, tonight. And, since she hadn’t seen Helen at work, they’d made no plans to get together at her apartment either. Or go on a date.

She opened the door to her office a little more forcefully than she had to, and just about rattled one of the bright bouquets of flowers off her desk in the process. There was a large bag of what smelled like her favorite Chinese takeout in the middle of the arrangement, with a note pinned to it and what looked like a bottle of wine chilling next to it, and the whole thing was so absurd and elaborate that she knew it had to be from Helen before she even picked up the note.

Got back during your last session with the press. In the office trying to clear work off the desk. If you want to see me or just throw a stapler at me, I’ll be there. - H

Trisha smiled. Then frowned. Then tried to do both at once. Then she reached into her desk, pulled out her stapler, opened the door joining her office to Helen’s a crack, and tossed it through.

Then she started opening her chopsticks. The door opened fully and Helen was standing there in her shirtsleeves, half a smile on her face and the stapler in her hand.

“You missed.”

“Next time I won’t.” Trisha couldn’t help but smile at seeing her, so she looked down at her food.

Helen crossed to her desk and set the stapler down, then settled into one of the chairs in front of it and smiled a little plaintively. “I don’t doubt it. At least you got to sit with Chase Chatam for an interview?”

“Are you trying to offer me the silver lining?” Trisha finally looked up, raising an eyebrow at Helen.

“Yes?” Helen’s expression was rueful, a touch uncertain. “I think so. Is it working?”

Trisha shook her head. “You’ve entered negotiations from the wrong angle.”

“I’ve never actually been very good at negotiating in the first place,” Helen sighed, leaning forward and dangling her joined hands between her knees while she studied Trisha’s face. “I’m sorry about today. I thought it was going to be a lot quicker than it was, but Tim and I got dragged in a lot further than I expected before we could tie things up. Lucius says you saved the day with the DataEagle launch and that I should be offering you a title bump of some kind. At least.”

Trisha’s look softened. “Next time, stop at ‘I’m sorry’ until I respond.” She took a bite of her food. “I missed you, today. This morning. Outside everything else… I don’t usually expect to find you there when I wake up, but today I did and you weren’t.”

“I’m sorry,” Helen whispered. This time, she left it at that, though her eyes were full.

“Come here,” Trisha murmured, rising to her feet. Wordlessly, Helen straightened as she stood and came to her carefully, steps measured, hands reaching out to take her by the waist and then hesitating in the final centimeters, watching her with a complete attention that felt wary and wanting all at once.

Trisha stepped in close, arms going around Helen’s neck, lips pressing to the taller woman’s. “Being angry doesn’t mean I don’t love you or want your arms around me.”

The way Helen’s arms tightened around her, all at once and with a strength that was almost painful, was more eloquent than words could have been in telling her how Helen had wanted to. Helen kissed her like Trisha was the only solid thing in the world, like she might starve without it, and she was only moderately cognizant of being lifted against the back wall of her office and held there with Helen’s arms and weight while they kissed.

Actually experiencing anger could wait. She let herself melt into the kiss, one leg wrapping around Helen’s waist, eyes closing fully as she murmured something resembling Helen’s name. Helen answered her with a low, taut growling sound that might have had words in it somewhere, one hand sliding down to cup Trisha’s ass and lift her up onto her toes while the other squeezed the back of her neck, thumb stroking the bone beneath the delicate muscle. She could feel Helen’s shoulders trembling - not with exertion, but with the every tight rasp of Helen’s breathing.

Trisha’s lips broke from Helen’s, found her jaw just under her ear. “I’m yours,” she murmured there, tightening her leg, pulling herself tighter against Helen’s body. “Now and always…”

“I’m sorry,” Helen whispered, voice cracking and slivering like ice under pressure while her hands squeezed Trisha’s vulnerable skin. “I’m sorry.”

Trisha moved her head again to kiss Helen, letting it burn against the ice of her lover’s voice. Her hands slid along Helen’s back, gripping her with a tightness that must be painful, but Helen didn’t flinch or draw back - she kissed Trisha more fiercely instead, clinging to her like a lifeline, sharing her air until they both had to pull back gasping. Helen’s dark eyes were wild and her fingers were trembling, but the steady weight of her against Trisha kept them exactly where they were - the walls of the office, the tower itself holding them up.

Trisha held that gaze, shaking herself, mind reeling. Knowing what was coming, not quite sure how to either believe or resist it. She wanted this. Wanted Helen, here. Wanted Helen to want her badly enough to have her here. Her trembling hands undid the first button of Helen’s shirt.

“I love you,” Helen whispered, as if the words broke something inside her to say, and the hand at Trisha’s neck shifted to her jaw to force her up into another fervent kiss. “I love you, Trisha.”

Trisha’s first answer was swallowed in the kiss, and her second lost to her breathless swallow. Finally, she managed, through tears, “I love you. I love you, Helen.” Another kiss. “I love you.”

Helen kissed her until they were sore, until Trisha’s jaw and lips were aching with it, and when she drew back there was something raw and calculating in her eyes. Hard and brittle and somehow vulnerable at once, in a way that did things in Trisha’s chest she somehow still wasn’t ready for. “My office,” Helen breathed, the edge of her thumb brushing Trisha’s mouth. “Bring the take-out with you.”

“Yes, Ms. Wayne…” Trisha’s first steps were stumbling, but she managed to get to her desk, and her footing was more sure on the way to the office. She put the container of Chinese on the desk, then turned to face the windows. To face Helen, leaning over her workstation, her whole body like a knife against the afternoon light of the city.

The doors - to her office, to Sofia’s, to the executive hallway - hissed and clicked as they went into lockdown, metal cores sliding through the thick finished wood. They would stand up to anything short of a battering ram, and Security must be wondering what the hell was going on in spite of whatever note Helen must have sent them to explain. The shutters that would normally have come down over the windows didn’t engage, either, but the ventilation quieted to a smothered hiss as the office isolated itself from the building airflow. When Helen straightened up and looked at her, Trisha could feel in her gut and the weight of that gaze that they were as alone in this room as it was possible to be in an office tower of thousands of people.

There was nothing to do but sit on the desk, lean back a bit, and fold her legs. And gaze at the woman who had locked her in this room with every bit of desire she was able to muster.

“Yes.”

Helen bared her teeth in a smile and stalked to the desk, stripping out of her blouse in the process, and in the warm afternoon light Trisha could see the still-healing bruises and the pink skin where scabs had fallen away from shallow splits, the scars, the hard lines of Helen’s body. The bra went next, baring Helen’s breasts to the cool air, and then Helen’s hand was in her hair and the other was peeling open the buttons of Trisha’s own blouse, not bothering with pulling the jacket off yet, the position and Helen’s hips between her knees forcing her skirt up into a tight sheath around her upper thighs.

Trisha, for her part, rode out the intensity of Helen’s desire by slipping her arms once more around her lover’s neck, pressing up and kissing her, skin to skin now, lips hot with hunger, kissing hard enough to bruise her own mouth. She could hear her own jacket and shirt hit the desk, her shoulders bare in the cool air, and then her bra slap against the windows as Helen threw it away. Their breasts crushed together, almost hard enough to hurt, and Helen rucked her skirt up far enough to get it over her ass instead of bothering with getting it off. Her panties weren’t even given the chance of surviving - she could hear them snap and feel the sudden release of tension as Helen tore them at the seams, dropping the pieces on the floor and leaving her bare ass pressed to the smooth cold varnish of Helen’s desk and her knees hiked up against Helen’s bare ribs.

I’m going to have to leave here today without my panties. The thought floated through Trisha’s mind, but could not find anything to catch against, so she lifted her hips in a gesture of need. Her arms released Helens’ neck so her hands could explore her lover’s sides, and she wrapped both legs around Helen’s waist as she reached for Helen’s pants.

Helen let her undo the belt and fasteners - as much a tease for her trembling hands as an opportunity for Helen to play mercilessly with her breasts and nipples while she worked - and then peeled her way out of the slacks deftly, taking the panties along with them. There was something in Helen’s arrogant, confident nudity compared to her own half-dressed messiness that left Trisha’s chest and pussy tight, that made her even more exposed and needy in front of Helen, and she could see in those dark eyes that Helen saw it as clearly as she felt it. Wanted it. Hungered for it.

Then Helen reached down and plucked her own belt off the floor, running it through her hands. “Hands behind your back.”

“Yes, Ms. Wayne.” Trisha barely recognized her own voice. Her hands slid behind her back, and she sat up a little to make access to her easier. Folding her hands together, she waited impatiently, her hips wiggling back and forth against the desk. Helen’s arms slid around her, and then she felt the bite of leather looping around her wrists, binding them together, immobilizing her arms and trapping her shoulders back, the dip of Helen’s fingertips against her pulse points a reassurance and an inflammatory tease all at once.

Then Helen stepped back, looking at her with approving hunger, and opened one of the drawers in her desk. Let her fingers move down there, invisible to Trisha, while she held Trisha’s eyes in a kind of possessive challenge.

Trisha met Helen’s eyes, but said nothing. Let herself tremble, bound on the desk. Her only sound was a quiet, pleading squeal.

She had never, in her life, squealed before.

When Helen’s hand came out of the drawer holding a long, heavy black strap-on like the one she’d used the night of their debut, she gave a stronger tremble, leaning back as she lost her balance partially. Helen’s hand on her shoulder was there to catch her, hold her up. “Fuck… Ms. Wayne…”

“The general idea, Miss Baum,” Helen growled in her throat, eyes hungry as she straightened Trisha back up so she could watch Helen strap the toy into place - the little shimmy of Helen’s hips when she put the part that went inside her in, the dip of her lashes when it brushed up against her clit, the firmness of her hands as she tightened up the straps. The toy itself, heavy and long, jutting out from Helen’s hips and swaying slightly with every little motion.

Trisha could hardly breathe as she watched her lover approach, the toy jutting out from her. But she could not close her eyes, could not look away… her hands tightened together behind her back, and she simply stared. “Please…”

Helen’s smile made her belly clench. A hand on each of her thighs, stroking slightly, arched her back in involuntary desire. Then Helen pulled back a step, dragging a whine of need out of her, and those strong hands flipped her face down across the desk with her belly and breasts flush against the cold black varnish, her bare legs and heels dangling off against the drawers while the weight of the toy rubbed against the molten heat of her cunt without pushing inside.

She turned her head to press her cheek against the surface of the desk, her breathing labored, her eyes falling closed. “Please… Ms. Wayne… please...” Everything but need was forgotten, and she wiggled back on the desk, offering herself.

The slick head of the toy traced her lips, teasing her, and then Helen’s hand at the small of her back pushed her hips down just a fraction - forcing a little breath out of her - and she felt the pressure there instead, the tight ring of muscle already trembling and fluttering as Helen pushed inside in spite of the reflexive, pointless resistance to penetration.

“God…. Helen… Helen…” Her eyes opened, though she could not really understand any of what she saw… she knew the cold wood of the desk, the hot fullness in her ass, and Helen’s eyes on her body. Nothing else had to make sense. “Ms. Wayne…” And that she was Helen’s. That was the most important thing she knew.

Helen’s hands found the back of her neck and the curve of her hip, and Helen’s hips started to thrust - grinding the whole smooth hot ache of Trisha’s body across the desk that some part of her was vaguely aware she conducted professional duties on, even if she couldn’t have named a single one of them at the moment - and she discovered there were more sounds she hadn’t known she could make.

It hurt, to have Helen so deep in her so soon. To have Helen taking her like this. She would feel it for days… she knew that, too, that she would carry in her nerves the mark of what Helen was doing to her. Of what she let Helen do to her. “Please harder,” she managed. She needed that sensation in her, when Helen was absent, to be able to clench her ass and feel the echo of Helen driving into her and possessing her. The desperate, incoherent image of standing in front of this desk in her professional clothes and her professional manner, clenching her aching ass until her cunt soaked her panties and her eyes rolled back, burst in her head like a firework and she bucked against the desk and grunted like a wild thing while Helen gave her more, and harder, until she could feel Helen’s hips slapping against her cheeks every time Helen pushed.

She did not speak again. She just trembled, and shuddered, and screamed, and rode out the pleasure and the surrender of being fucked like this. Of being Helen’s… plaything? Pet? Slut? Of being Helen’s. Of being what Helen wanted her to be. The fleeting question of the smell of sex in the room when it was cleaned floated through her mind, and she came. Again. The desk was damp against her belly and she could feel herself grinding into it. Helen’s groans built, wild and heated, and the pounding grew faster and more intense. Helen was going to come against her, buried in her. Helen was going to come. The idea pulsed like a drumbeat inside her, drowning her, bucking her hips wantonly and grinding her ass along the toy. Helen was going to come.

She let her body tighten, let it make Helen press herself more firmly to the toy, let herself offer just a little resistance in service of Helen’s pleasure. Cried out, pleading, encouraging Helen to use that resistance. Whether it was that extra tightness or her pleading, she couldn’t have said, but Helen tightened her grip and half-gasped, half-shouted her satisfaction as her hips jerked in a sharp, rhythmic pattern against Trisha’s that left them both shaking.

Helen’s fingertips stroked the back of her neck as the pressure eased - inside her, first, then around her arms. Her lover’s breath was rough and heaving, and the slow glide of the toy slipping out of her was an exquisite sort of delight - or torture, or both - that left her groaning with fresh desire. Helen laughed, low and sweet and hungry, and nipped the soft place behind her ear that made her whole limp body shudder. “My Trisha,” she whispered, the edge of awe mixed with the smug possession in her voice. “You’re breathtaking.”

“I’m yours…” Trisha’s body was splayed over the desk, her eyes closed once more. While she was on the desk, she really should look at Helen’s schedule for tomorrow. Move her five o’clock to six-thirty to make space for sex…

Helen’s fingertips trailed up her back, making her arch and squirm, and Helen sighed almost lazily with her own desire.

“Coffee, Trisha,” Helen ordered with a light flick of her fingertips against Trisha’s throbbing cheeks. “I’m going to need coffee before we get on with things.”

“Yes, Ms. Wayne…” Trisha slipped from the desk - on the shiny lacquer, there was a haze in the shape of her splayed, pleasure-wracked body - and made her way to the coffee pot. Each step sent a tremble through her nearly-nude body. “The Columbian?”

A proper PA would make her lover the best coffee.

“Yes, that sounds perfect. You know how I like it.” She could hear Helen behind her, doing something at the desk, and feel Helen’s eyes stroking up and down the length of her hungrily every step she took. “Make sure to have some water yourself. You’re going to need it.”

She wants me again. “Yes, Miss Wayne.” Trisha started the coffee, and poured herself some water from the cooler to drink while she waited for the machine to do its work. She’d just finished her second glass when the coffeemaker finished, and she set her glass aside, filled Helen’s mug and placed it on a saucer, and made her way back to Helen. Blushing, she knelt to present it.

It put her at eye level to see that Helen had exchanged the first toy in the strap-on mount for a second, bigger and ridged and with a flared head, and Helen let her stare while she took the cup and saucer from Trisha’s hand and sipped her coffee slowly, deliberately enjoying it. “Excellent as always, Trisha,” she said, as if the coffee were actually a topic of conversation.

“Th… thank you, Ms. Wayne.” Trisha stared at the toy, biting her lip, and folded her hands behind her once more. She tried to watch Helen’s face for signs of reaction, but her eyes kept falling back to the toy.

If Helen weren’t Helen, she would be protesting the idea of the thing.

“Go and stand with your back against the window,” Helen ordered her, as calmly now as if they were discussing paperwork or scheduling. “Hands above your head, eyes front.”

“Yes, Ms. Wayne.” A proper PA was always eager and quick to obey, so she was on her feet in an instant, making her way to the window. The glass was tempered, multi-pane, and still cold against her skin, against her tender, aching ass, against her wrists, raw from the belt that had been wrapped around them. Helen watched her, still sipping her coffee until it was finished, and then stalked her with the elegant grace of a hunting animal while she stood so still, everything inside her trembling, watching every step sway that toy between Helen’s legs and send trembles of something that wasn’t quite fear or abject need pulsing through her cunt. When Helen reached her, stood over her, the tip of the toy pressed against her belly and the feeling nearly made her knees buckle; Helen was ready, one arm around her waist and the other under her ass, lifting her up until her legs were braced around Helen’s hips and the long underside of the toy was rubbing up against her swollen lips and clit.

“Ms. Wayne… my Lady…” The words poured out of her. “I’m here for your pleasure. Always…” She was trembling, grinding herself against that strange and impossible toy.

Helen’s grip on her was tight, trapping her, making her helpless and molten, and when her head rolled back Helen was looking into her eyes and she actually felt her jaw go slack around the moan that shuddered through her as if she had nothing to do with it except to feel it. Helen’s hand on her ass lifted her, squeezing her cheeks in a way that made her freshly-fucked ring throb and shudder, and her head was almost level with Helen’s when she felt the tip of the toy slide against her lips and open them, easing her channel open one breathless millimeter at a time until the head finally, finally slid in and her cunt spasmed around the shaft under it, sinking down it as much by gravity as Helen’s thrust.

The head stretched her uncomfortably, in a way that made her all the more aware of the lingering sensation in her ass. Uncomfortably and perfectly, running deep into her. She clenched her hands together over her head to keep from trying to embrace Helen as Helen fucked her, fucked her so deeply. Better make that seven…

Helen’s mouth found her throat, licking and nuzzling there as their hips finally settled together, and the smooth short thrusts that had work the toy up into her gave way to harder, more powerful flexes of Helen’s hips that slapped her ass against the windows again and again and again. The windows were polarized, dark from the outside, but if they weren’t.... Presence, if they weren’t half the city could be watching her getting fucked deeper and harder than she’d ever been fucked, ever imagined being fucked.

That no one could see in did not change the fact that she could feel the lights of the city on her ass, and light meant vision. She tightened her hands, letting her head fall to Helen’s shoulder, and gasped out, “Yours… yours… yours…” each time the toy bottomed out in her. Helen’s answering sound, bone-deep and almost a growl, made her cunt spasm in helplessly urgent welcome to the animal claim it seared into her. Helen wanted the city to see, the city to know , whose Trisha was. What Trisha was to her, would do for her, would take for her.

Her cunt spasmed again, a liquid rush that was as dizzying as it was ecstatic and seemed to pulse all the way up into her head, eager to take anything Helen wanted to push into it any time her boss would allow it.

She never should have her five o’clock because I’m hers forever and every moment should be for her to have me… Her nails were digging into her hands, hard enough to leave divets, and she pressed a hard kiss to Helen’s shoulder. Maybe have her five o’clock if I’m naked like this and bringing her coffee… she should have coffee…

Helen groaned into her ear, both hands tight on her ass now to hold her into every driving thrust, and she felt her boss start to shake with another orgasm; just the first tremble of it left Trisha wild for it, half blind with wanting it, keening and whining and squeezing herself around the toy in her eagerness to feel Helen come inside her again. Fuck compensation, benefits, vacation - her boss shooting off inside her was the bonus a good PA really wanted. It was a mad, unprofessional, dirty thought and it made her feel like she was going to cum her brains right out her pussy when it hit her.

Then Helen was grunting, moaning, coming, and Trisha was screaming, tears in her eyes from the power of the moment. Cumming with Helen, with her boss, her lover, her Lady. Her hands fell to rest on Helen’s shoulders - not an embrace but simply her body giving up on holding them up - and her head pressed to Helen’s neck, muffling the scream against Helen’s skin. Every moment, at work or in bed or about the Manor, was service to Helen, but this moment was special, even among a life built on serving this woman. Perfect.

Her orgasm seemed to last for hours.

When she could see, think or breathe again, Helen had thrown a blanket down on the couch in the meeting space and laid them down on it, the toy discarded in the process, Trisha tucked between the strength of Helen’s body and the cushion of the couch’s back so that she felt as small and sheltered as she ever had. Helen’s breath was in her hair, one hand wandering through the strands at the back of her neck, the other stroking her thigh where her leg was hitched over Helen’s hip, Helen’s breasts pillowing her cheek and chin.

She breathed a few more moments, there in the safest place in the world, then tried to say Helen’s name. “Beloved” came out instead.

She trembled.

“My Trisha,” Helen whispered, kissing the crown of her head. Then, even more softly, “I love you so much I can barely stand the weight of it sometimes.”

Her heart fluttered. She fluttered. She tilted her head back to kiss Helen softly. “I’m utterly in love with you, Helen. I… every bit of me.”

“I shouldn’t love you so much, but I can’t help it. No matter what I do, I can’t help it,” Helen breathed into her mouth, and even though those dark eyes were dry there was something like a sob in Helen’s throat.

Trisha put her arms around Helen’s neck and kissed her again, lips moving against Helen’s even if no words came out. I can’t bear to imagine a world where you don’t love me.

“It’s not fair to you,” Helen whispered, covering her face with quick breathless kisses. “It’s not fair to you. This city. I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it.”

“I’m yours,” Trisha whispered in return. “I should be yours.”

Helen only trembled and held her tighter, but she didn’t try to argue. Trisha could feel the hard, steady beat of her heart, and that was its own kind of answer. Mine , it whispered to her, over and over. Mine. Mine. Mine.

 


 

It turned out that, even if you did all the same things you’d done before, doing work in the office where you’d had your girlfriend fuck you up the ass before pinning you to the window, then finally say she loved you, and expressed your own undying and eternal devotion to her every whim, was very different from working in that same office before any of those things happened. That, the day after, Trisha had come to work to find that her own office was still filled with the apology flowers (and the note that started it all) made her own office more than a little fraught as well.

She was still good at her job, still efficient and punctual and organized and formidable. She could still stare down Board members and police chiefs and politicians and governors and whatever Oswald Cobblepot was when they tried to get time from Helen that Helen did not have, and she could still make sure that even those among that group (including Oswald Cobblepot) who came in holding the belief that she only held her job because she was good in bed left understanding that she was the gatekeeper, the Law, the keeper of the keys to Helen’s office and time, and that she would do with that power as she thought best, no matter how many sword blades or machine guns or whatever were in that umbrella as it was waved in a vaguely threatening way.

That had been one of the board members. For all that he was a loathsome creature, Cobblepot knew to keep his umbrella down.

She could have sworn for a week that she could still smell the sex in the air, still see the silhouettes of her body on the desk and window, still feel Helen’s toys in her various orifices and hear her voice saying, for the first time, that she loved Trisha every time she walked into the office. If such apparitions were real, no one else paid them an mind, and Trisha learned to at least feign not noticing them herself.

Other than the moments that she was framed in the window and Helen looked at her and it did not matter for an instant who else was in the room or how many clothes she had on; for a brief moment she was naked against the glass and her Lady was having her way with her.

Which raised the question of why tonight . Why, after a month of everything being perfect at home and deliciously if worryingly fraught at work, Helen had texted her fifteen minutes before the Fourth of July Independence from Euthanasia Gotham Humane Society Charity Ball. The name was terrible but apparently it had “been called this since the days of Elias Kane,” one of the organizers told her when she mentioned that perhaps they’d raise more money if they didn’t mention their habit of occasionally ending the life of a cat or dog.

Texted her that she would not be coming.

Which meant that Trisha Baum, the simple staffer who snagged the heart of Gotham’s most eligible bachelorette, was standing and sipping wine alone at a party being hosted in part by said eligible bachelorette, while said eligible bachelorette was nowhere to be seen. The number of tut-tut looks she’d gotten from relatives of the Kanes alone, the number of sad headshakes and implications that she was tough for not showing that she and Helen were already on the outs, was not calibrated to make her happy.

The last person she wanted to see was Vicki Vale, so of course Vicki Vale approached her - wearing an obnoxiously modern and fashionable gown, no less - after dinner had broken up into freestanding drinks again and offered her a fresh glass of wine with the air of a companion at a late-night bar pulling up a stool. “Your glass was looking a little low,” she said, with forced casualness, “and I thought I ought to thank you for the spread tonight. It was not only extravagant but actually fresh for once.”

“Thank you. Though I barely touched the menu… Mr. Pennyworth and Mrs. Kane did the heavy lifting on that.” She did not want to drink with Vicki Vale, but she took a swallow of her wine anyway. “My job was mostly making certain that the place met code and that no one was seated next to a sworn enemy or secret lover.”

Vicki just smiled, which did nothing to dampen her irritation. “You did a good job. I don’t think anyone’s had to break up a pending murder all night - for Gotham City, that’s great party planning. The Society’s going to do very well this year thanks to you.”

“The name of the event cost them at least two hundred thousand. But I don’t think we’re going to do too badly, even so.” Trisha sighed. “We’re not on the record, are we? Because if we are, I’ve got pressing business anywhere else.”

“Off the record. Girl Scout’s honor, not that I ever was one. And the name is terrible, but it can’t be helped, which is pretty much a Gotham truism if ever there was one. I couldn’t help but notice that you haven’t been out on the dance floor yet?” Vale tipped her head slightly, a hint of a smile on the edge of her mouth, and with a sinking sensation Trisha had a sudden intuition about where this conversation was heading and how incompatible with her duties as a hostess escaping from it was going to be.

“I can’t coordinate a party and my own feet at the same time, and there are enough Kanes from enough branches with enough grudges that I’m afraid I’d barely be through my first minute before I had to abandon dancing to end a fight already starting.” There is only one person in the world I’d like to dance with. And she’s got an emergency meeting. She started to look around, seeking Carrie Kelley and whatever trouble she was causing that might be an excuse to break out of this conversation. Or Bette Kane. Or Oswald Cobblepot. She’d have taken Mr. Freeze, at that moment. Or Mr. Myxys… Mixyek… the Great Gazoo.

Vick shrugged and smiled. “Suit yourself. I just thought I’d offer myself as a stand-in, since she’s not here and you shouldn’t go without dancing the entire night. I have an idea how uncomfortable that can be.”

Of course you do. “I’ll be fine, Vicki. Go have fun. I understand the Mayor has had at least three tumblers of that bourbon that four people have warned me off of and is in the general vicinity of Lois Lane.”

“You invited Lois Lane to this party?” Vicki’s eyes narrowed unhappily. “Dirty pool, Miss Baum. Dirty pool.”

“Perry White asked for an invitation for a member of his staff. He passed it on to Ms. Lane. I’d have preferred James Olsen… easier on the eyes.”

Vale snorted softly. “Easier on the ears, anyway. Good night, Trisha.” Then she turned on her perfect heels and struck off across the ballroom for the mayor, leaving an unjustly lovely view in her wake.

Literally everyone Helen has ever dated is hotter than me… okay, Baum, now you’re diving into self-pity. And wine while standing up. You need decent company that’s never dated your girlfriend, and you need it yesterday.

What the hell meeting could be so important that she had to be left alone here?

 


 

The Fatal Five. I spent the Fourth of July fighting the Fatal Five from the future on the dark side of the moon. Grabbing a towel form the wall of the locker room, the Bat made a quick and messy job of drying her hair and winced when she felt the bruised skin between her knuckles moving against the deeper scar tissue there. On the other hand, I took down someone calling herself the Emerald Empress with a capsule of high explosives and a sonic projector, so I have that to say for myself. She contemplated the rack of clothes behind the lockers, compromised with a black blouse and slacks over a pair of running shoes, then crossed the gantry to the Batcomputer and scanned over the activity reports for the night. Quiet for the Fourth - Richard was back in Bludhaven and Cassie on the trail of the League, but Tim and Stephanie had logged patrol time with nothing bigger than a jewel heist and a Two-Face copycat’s attempt on the mint to show for it. She didn’t trust the quiet, but her city’s moments of stillness were few and far between enough to enjoy while they lasted.

She locked the computer again with a brush of her hand, then considered the elevator. Thought of Trisha, probably home and asleep by now but stuck at that horribly-named fundraiser all night, and decided to take the stairs up to the library instead. The walk up in the near dark and the hint of sun through the windows would give her some chance of finding settling down toward sleep; the North Gallery would just tempt her to call Trisha and wake her with an apology she didn’t know how to make. It had been easier when she could blame the Foundation for cancellations with the board and business for charity cancellations, or even claim a personal joyride for both. If it exasperated her secretaries or executives, that was implicit in their job descriptions, but Trisha....

She brushed her fingers along the cool stone of the wall and sighed. Focus. Meditate. Sleep. The answer isn’t going to come to you now.

A glance at the security monitor assured her the library was empty, and she let herself out from behind the clock. Crossed to the windows, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the stark pre-dawn light creeping over the trees and rested her fingers on the panes where the window had broken that night. How little she would have imagined standing here, now, with the auto-cleaners scraping moondust out of her exosuit down in the cave.

Mother, Father, would you be proud? I saved lives. I stopped evil. Was it a good day today?

She let her hand fall away and drifted toward the door to the study. Energy bars were sufficient to the need, but she has a craving for actual food and if she was quiet she might be able to cook without Alfred catching her at it and scolding her.

In the study, there was someone in the big chair. Not Alfred - too short. Sitting. In the dark. Hastily putting… something… away. Before Helen had a chance to react, the figure in the chair spoke.

“Helen.”

Trisha. The Bat hesitated in the doorway, uncertain, mind racing. Alfred should have told me she was here. We’ll have to discuss that in private. Later.

“You’re up late. Early,” Helen said, taking a step or two into the study. “Can I turn on a light?”

“I couldn’t sleep. And… I like it dark.” Trisha’s shadow shifted… was she rubbing her eyes? “I… wanted to welcome you home.”

“Thank you,” Helen murmured, crossing the distance slowly and crouching down in front of Trisha’s chair to capture one hand with hers, the edge of her thumb checking for the moisture of tears. Found them. Fought down a silent boil of anger - with herself, with the Fatal Five, with the world from horizon to horizon. “I just got in a few minutes ago. How was the party?”

“Raised lots of money. Helped lots of animals.” Trisha turned her hand to capture Helen’s. “I… missed you.”

“I know,” Helen whispered, watch the lines of Trisha’s face in the dark. “I’m sorry.”

“There were people there… a lot of them… who spent the whole event taking ‘pity’ on me. For our current or impending breakup. I couldn’t turn around without getting one of those looks.” She looked to Helen, eyes wide behind the glasses she’d apparently changed into. “How are there so many Kanes, and how can so many of them be like that?”

“I don’t know. My mother’s cousins and their children are...” Helen waved the thought away with the hand Trisha didn’t hold. “I might deserve that kind of treatment from them, but you don’t. I’m sorry. If I thought taking out an ad in the Gazette about us would help, I would.”

Trisha squeezed Helen’s hands. “I’m… I’m not okay. But I’m very tired, and I love you far more than I’m upset. So… I’m just going to ask you one favor, tonight.”

“I’ll try,” Helen whispered, shifting up into a kneel to press a kiss against Trisha’s cheek. If I can, I will. I swear it.

“Let me wake up next to you, in the morning.” The sentence started as a demand and ended as a plea.

“All right.” Something in her chest strained and clawed under the words, but she forced herself to think of Batwoman and Tim, of Carrie and Stephanie. A few hours. If it isn’t him, I can take a few hours. “We could...” Something else, older and deeper, hitched in her throat and tried to choke the words, but she forced them out anyway. “We could sleep in the master bedroom this morning.”

“I would like that,” Trisha said. “But I know you have your reasons why we don’t. We don’t have to…” She exhaled. “But… I would like that.” A little smile showed on her lips, and she lowered her gaze.

“I think it would be all right,” Helen whispered, “if we just sleep. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Trisha slowly, shakily, rose to her feet, squeezing Helen’s hand as she did. “Take me to bed, beloved?”

Helen stood up, fingers sliding through Trisha’s, and started to pick her way out of the study. She didn’t reach for the light. Some things were better in the dark. “Yes, love. Yes.”

 


 

The master bedroom of Wayne Manor had been a strange, almost eerie place to sleep with the faintest hints of light leaking through blackout curtains, illuminating the edges of furniture unchanged for decades, dancing in the mirror of the old-style vanity off to the left and the man’s cufflinks on the dresser to the right. The big bed in the center was low and heavy-built, strong oak and iron, and she’d laid down on the thick old-fashioned mattress with Helen and wrapped carefully mended and cared-for blankets over them to sleep. Part of her had ached for more, for Helen’s lips on hers and strong hands on her skin, but the feeling of being invited into someplace almost holy had helped quiet that need and lull her into sleep.

Helen had been there when she woke, watching her sleep, ready to ring Pennyworth up with the chime of a bell. They’d eaten breakfast in bed off silver service, Pennyworth fetching them tea and juice from downstairs as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and when they’d finished Helen had bent and kissed Trisha’s forehead, then said “You have the day off after the big event last night. I’m going to go into work to clean up the week’s mess and make my round of apology calls. Imani and Armand will cover me. If you need anything - anything - Alfred will get it for you. I’ll take the helicopter home and be back in time for dinner. You don’t have to stay, but...” A small smile, and another kiss for her cheek. “Rest, Trisha.”

“Yes, Helen.” Trisha reached up for Helen’s hand and squeezed it tightly before watching her go. Attentively. She’s beautiful , she thought, and by the time Helen was out of the room, Trisha was breathless from the sight.

She rolled onto her back, gazing at the ceiling and enjoying the raw size of the bed. Then, suddenly, she had to move. She wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was the agoraphobic scale of the space, or the fact that the bed she’d just shared with her lover almost certainly had a history going back generations. Maybe it was the array of books, all older than her, on the shelves, lining the walls. Or the desk perched in front of the window looking out on the feral back lawn of the Manor.

Or the photographs of Helen’s dead parents staring at her from the bookcase, placed to be easily visible from the bed.

Yes, it was definitely that last.

She’d left her pajamas in the spare room she usually used, and her dress from last night was sweaty and tear-stained, so she went to the closet and, after a long moment, took one of Helen’s robes, pulling it on. It was too long - a robe that would fall to Helen’s knees reached almost to her ankles, and her hands kept vanishing into the sleeves - but it was comfortable, fluffy and warm. She tied it into place, gave Thomas and Martha another look. “I’m sorry, but if she invites me to live here, you two are going to have to move. Maybe only a couple of degrees, but…” She sighed. “I hope you’ll understand. You shouldn’t be watching her sleep any more, either, but she still needs you. I… I’m not sure I like this house, but she loves it, and if she loves it I belong here. But that means I have to help it be our house. Mine and hers. Not… not yours. Not the way it is now.”

She wiped a tear away as she turned toward the door. Mister Pennyworth was standing there in the doorway, a newspaper and a teapot on his tray, and if he had any opinions about her soliloquy to the Waynes he didn’t seem inclined to share them beyond a friendly smile. “I thought you might be ready for some reading material, miss.”

“Thank you, Mr. Pennyworth.” Trisha took the paper, looked around the room, and sighed. “I really can’t run from this room, can I? I could today, but… it’s here. It’s where she lives.”

“I’m afraid so. May I say, without speaking out of turn, that I find her willingness to invite you here very encouraging?” He gestured to the room and then the door with the tray, politely at attention. “And where would you like to take your tea? Mistress Wayne always preferred hers at her correspondence desk by the window. Master Wayne would take his downstairs in the study - always determined to make a start on the day. Mistress Helen takes hers in the Gallery next door.”

“If there was anywhere else in this room besides that desk to sit at while I drank my tea, I’d take it here. I think I’ll follow Helen’s example, things being as they are.” She fidgeted a little. Being waited on was something else to get used to. “And… thank you, Mr. Pennyworth.”

“There’s no need. If anything, I ought to thank you.” He led the way out of the room and into Helen’s living space in the Gallery, setting the tea down at the table in front of the couch and then going to open the windows so the sunlight could pour in. If it was an opportunity for her to pour for herself that he was offering, she was happy to take it, and when he came back over to check on her she had finished her tea and moved to the piano, sitting on the bench and carefully tapping out keys, utterly inexpertly and very gently, listening to the notes they played and trying to create pleasing series of sounds. When she heard Alfred approaching, she blushed and quickly pulled her hands away from the keyboard. “Sorry…”

He set a second cup of tea on the corner of the piano and smiled. “Not at all. Mistress Helen played very well for her age when she was young, but I haven’t heard her play a song in many years.”

“My mother had me take lessons for years as a child, but I never had any real talent for it. I can play two songs… well, could… but they’re both sort of iconically simplistic and bad, and the one I was better at has been further ruined by a pop song recently.” Trisha sighed, looking at the keys. “I’ve… always thought piano keys were beautiful. Not just the music they make… the actual keys. I got angry when I watched Tom and Jerry cartoons and Tom would fall into the piano and break the keys.”

“My father was always very fond of this piano. He would write to me about Mistress Wayne’s lovely singing voice, and how well she played.” Pennyworth turned away for a moment, clearing his throat while he looked out the window. “Forgive me. I should let it lie.”

“They’re Helen’s life,” Trisha said quietly. About as much as she is mine. Presence, I’m a mess of ill-advised emotions. “And you knew them. And you know her. Probably better than anyone. I’d like to hear.”

“Mistress Helen was a rambunctious child. She would rather have run around the grounds than sit and practice music. But when her mother would sit with her, she would practice and smile. When I first came into this house, she was five years old and such a bright, lively child. I’d been an actor in England, came here because my father had died and asked me to take his place in the post, and I was rather unhappy at first. After a few months, I’d even thought of resigning and going back to the stage...”

“I can’t imagine this house without you, Mr. Pennyworth. What convinced you to stay?” She covered her mouth immediately after asking the question. I know the answer, don’t I?

He smiled, then, and it was so gentle that it almost broke her heart. “That wouldn’t be for some years, Miss Baum. In fact, it was the strangest thing - there was a little boy in Helen’s first grade class who was causing trouble for some of the other students, and she was outraged by it - she started a physical altercation with him and got in quite a bit of trouble in the process. Her parents were still out when they sent her home, so I took it on myself to see what the matter was. I’d had the wrong idea entirely to start, and by the time she was done explaining I was quite taken with her spirit. So I explained to her how to approach the problem strategically, psychologically if you like. I put away the thought of leaving for a few days, to see how it would go, and then a few weeks. When the matter was concluded, I thought of leaving again, but Mistress Helen...” he paused, composing himself. “She asked that I stay on.”

Trisha smiled a little, sipping her tea. “She loves you. And she trusts you. And…” She paused, taking another swallow before laughing at herself. “I’m still angry with her. And you… you’re a naturally relaxing person, Mr. Pennyworth. I would go so far as to say soothing. But I also very much want to impress you. It is an odd dichotomy.”

He moved to the chair next to the piano and sat down then, which surprised her, and while he didn’t say anything aloud there was a solicitous way that he arranged himself toward her that invited a more direct conversation, if that was what she happened to want.

“She’s a very private person, Mr. Pennyworth. And… she gets to have secrets. She hurts a lot and she doesn’t trust easily and she has good reason for that.” Trisha sighed. “I have a dozen conversations I want to have with you, no idea which I should or how to start any of them.”

Pennyworth sat for a moment or two, looking at her, and then started to speak quietly. “When Mistress Helen was in school - some years after her parents died - one of her teachers posed a problem to her. A trick question about wind resistance and projectiles. Understandably, she was reluctant to engage, but apparently he pressed her on the subject quite aggressively. Later that night, she snuck out of the house and burned the answer into his law with gasoline and matches. She told me this so that, if the police discovered she had done it and came to the house, I wouldn’t worry something had happened to her.”

“That teacher… didn’t know her very well, did he? Tormenting Helen with a trick question sounds like a very unhealthy thing to do, even without knowing how she actually responded.” Trisha sighed. “And cruel. To a girl the world had already been cruel to. Did the police come?”

“No, as it turned out. Either she covered her tracks too well, her teacher failed to identify her to the police, or both. But it wasn’t the first or last time that Mistress Helen has done something imprudent, I’m afraid.”

“I’d imagine not.” Trisha glanced at the window, at the wild lawn. “But I also expect that what people think of when they hear ‘Helen Wayne is being imprudent’ is very different from the reality. The Helen I know… she’s not the person from the tabloids. Maybe, to keep people from probing at how she hurts and who she is, she played that role. But I can’t imagine that she ever was. If I were to put ‘skydiving with supermodels’ on her schedule, even without the fact that we’re dating, I expect she’d give me an exasperated sigh, the way Imani might sigh if told she was going to have to sit in on a negotiation between the Society for 24/7 Mime Performance and the High Order of Communicating Entirely through Moose Calls.”

“There were times that it was... useful to her, to live in that way,” Pennyworth said slowly, “but it never made her happy except occasionally by accident. Though she certainly is not adverse to skydiving on occasion.”

“Oh, skydiving, certainly. The supermodels would be the problem. Intimate skydiving with a few loved ones in some ridiculous backwater in south Asia seems far more her speed.” Trisha made a face. “Though I don’t think I’m terribly interested in skydiving, even with her.”

“Nor I, Miss Baum. I find your preference for keeping your feet firmly on the ground a very relatable quality.”

Trisha laughed. “I don’t mind the idea of flying. On a plane. A big, stable plane. To go somewhere lovely and sunny or perhaps just the right amount of snowy to do fun winter things. Exiting the plane anywhere between its departure and its arrival, though, is where I draw the line.” She sobered. “Mr. Grayson would jump out a plane with her, or Mr. Drake, or Ms.Kelley. Or, I think, Cassie.”

“They make quite a collection of adventurous spirits she’s brought into this house over the years,” Pennyworth agreed, perhaps a little carefully. “I try to look after them as best I can.”

“Mr. Grayson is my age, and Mr. Drake and even Ms. Kelley very close to it. I… don’t think I’d ever really be able to think of them as my children, foster or otherwise, and I rather expect that they would find any efforts I might make in that direction…” She paused. “Creepy. Creepy is the word. Ill-advised. But Helen loves them, and they are good people. I want to help make their lives as…” She considered her next word. “Comfortable and fulfilling as I can.”

“I would appreciate that very much, Miss Baum. And,” he paused, a smile returning to warm his narrow face, “may I say that they all seem to approve heartily of your relationship with Mistress Helen? Except perhaps Ms. Kelley, but her disapproval of things can be generally presumed.”

Trisha blushed deeply. “I’m glad they approve.” She looked up, suddenly. “Something that stuck in my mind… I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to bring up, and if it isn’t, please cut me off. When I was assembling my dossier on Helen before interviewing with her, I was able to find mountains of information on Mr. Drake and Mr. Grayson. Particularly Mr. Grayson...he has lived a very public life. But Ms. Kelley… there was perhaps a page, and not everything on that page was consistent. I don’t need to know the why for that, but… there is a why, isn’t there?”

“The circumstances in which Ms. Kelley was living before she came into Mistress Helen’s care are... not easy to explain. Particularly in a public forum. It was a very unsafe life. I, for one, am glad that she resides here now.” Pennyworth hesitated, his hands squeezing lightly against each other.”I am not always sure that she feels the same way, but there is nothing to be done about that now.”

“She takes in strays, and has good judgement on which to take in,” Trisha says. “Or perhaps is a very good influence. Or you are. Or, most likely, all three. They’re exceptional people…”

“Most exceptional, Miss Baum. Though I’m afraid Mistress Helen has a way of passing on her bad habits as well as her good ones,” Pennyworth sighed.

“Like skydiving, with or without supermodels?” Trisha paused, looked down, worked her jaw a moment. Struggled with herself on whether or not to go on. “Or… not being there.”

“Quite so, I’m afraid.” He reached out, not quite touching her shoulder, and there was a deep sympathy in his eyes. “I hope you can believe that if she could be reliable, she would be.”

“I do,” Trisha murmured, and offered him a sad smile. “I don’t understand at all why she can’t, but… I saw her face last night. I saw it when she missed the product launch, too. It wasn’t the face of someone who flaked out on something. It was… she had to do something else. And it was more important to her.”

“Not only to her, Miss Baum. To Gotham as well.” His smile was very gentle. “I can’t say more, but I hope you can believe that.”

“I do. I believe in her.” Trisha said quietly, folding her hands in her lap. “Should I be ashamed that believing it hurts?”

“No, Miss Baum. There’s no shame in that. It’s only human.” Pennyworth shook his head, then rose to his feet and touched her shoulder again. “It isn’t easy to share Mistress Helen with this city. Not easy at all. May I pour you more tea?”

“Yes, please,” Trisha said. “The tea is lovely.” She laughed a little, through the few tears that had formed in her eyes. “I’m glad I have my glasses today… crying upsets my eyes if I’m wearing my contacts.”

When Pennyworth came back to her, he brought not only her tea but a handkerchief for her eyes. “You mustn’t fret over those. Here, now. It’s only nature.”

She dabbed her eyes with the handkerchief. “You’re very kind, Mr. Pennyworth, and far better at your job than I am at mine. And I’m good at my job.”

“Well, I have had somewhat more practice.” He smiled and patted her hand again reassuringly. “Now, later this afternoon I prescribe a long walk in the gardens or a swim in the poolhouse, followed by a movie quite devoid of swashbuckling and your own supply of cheese buns. I’ve always taken the liberty of setting aside a few things in your size, if you want a change of clothes?”

“I would like a change of clothes, yes. And… you suggested that swim and suddenly I was very happy with the idea. There does not happen to be a swimsuit in the offing, does there?” Trisha perked up.

“I may have obtained such a thing,” Pennyworth smiled. “I’m afraid I did not quite have the confidence for a bikini, but it is quite sporting if I do say so myself.”

“That sounds perfect. Anything two-piece, I would much prefer to pick out myself.” Trisha paused, blinking. I’m not going to mention to him that I’m now picturing the woman he raised from eight years old in various forms of swimwear.

 


 

“I’ve kept our evenings clear,” Trisha said, leaning forward to talk to Helen. They were on the Wayne family jet, and the clouds of the eastern seaboard kept the land and sea hidden. Which was a small relief - Trisha would not say that she feared flying, exactly, so much as that being able to see how far away the ground was gave her a unique perspective to the vastness of the Earth and her own fragile insignificance.On the other hand, the clouds meant that she did not have emotionally-loaded philosophical and gravitational thoughts to distract herself from the fact that she was on a plane, alone, with Helen, and every part of her ached to climb into her boss’s lap and start to kiss her.

She was not going to do that. There was work to get done. She had to finish briefing Helen on the schedule, then make calls to the Wayne Foundation headquarters and four donors before making certain that the work she’d set into motion on the first major patch to DataEagle was proceeding properly in her absence.

“Other than Tuesday, of course, when we have the White House reception.” Which Trisha would be attending as Helen’s plus-one. The White House, as a dignitary’s date. That… best not to think about that. “And, as you requested, Wednesday afternoon for your lunch with the Senator. Apart from that, I’m afraid it’s entirely a working trip.”

I shouldn’t have freed up all the evenings. That was a personal thing . She couldn’t quite bring herself to be guilty about that - Helen rested far too little, and making sure she had leisure time was important - but her motives for how she arranged it and how much she arranged were far from pure.

“Good. You haven’t had the full tour of DC, have you?” Helen’s fingertips brushed her wrist, feather-lightly, and her boss’s smile was ever so slightly smug. “I had Alfred make a couple of calls. How does a full front-and-back tour of the Smithsonian sound to you?”

“Like an absolute dream come true,” Trisha murmured. And, again, resisted the urge to throw herself at her boss. “Like a perfect day.”

“Or two,” Helen joked, smiling, and leaned in to kiss Trisha’s forehead lightly before she settled back into professional straightness. “Now, let’s talk about the StarBurn acquisition....”

By the time they landed in DC, they had conducted a very productive hour of work and failed to join the Mile High club. She was rather proud of herself for that, though… perhaps there would be time on the way home. Perhaps.

She would have to consider whether she would consider that appropriate when she wasn’t in Helen’s presence.

The ground staff at Reagan National were nothing but helpful, ushering them into the VIP lounge with a minimum of hitches, and Senator Gordon of New Jersey (though ‘of Gotham’ was less technically and more popularly applied) was in the midst of standing to greet them when they came through the door.

“Jim!” Helen crossed the distance between them in a half-dozen long strides, clasping the older man’s hand with a fierce welcome that she carefully masked to something appropriate in her face. “I see Barbara’s finally convinced you to shop at a finer grade of tailor. How’s the Senate compare to your old beat?”

“It wasn’t Barbara. It seems the Senate has a dress code.” Senator Gordon squeezed Helen’s hand firmly. There was a fondness between them that Trisha wasn’t quite ready for. “As for the beat… after Cobblepot and the Gotham Police Union, the Senate is remarkably easy to herd.”

“At least they’re less likely to shoot at you, which I know is a relief to all of us,” Helen leaned in and kissed Gordon’s cheek, her smile widening, and then stepped past him to clasp both hands with Barbara Gordon. “And you’re looking radiant, Barbara. DC is agreeing with you, or do I have to break bad news to Richard?”

“You and Dad both need to learn to lay off that bone, Helen. Don’t you know that nobody in DC has time for a dating life?” Miss Gordon’s smile was warmer than Trish had expected from her media profile, which usually focused on how intense Barbara Gordon could be. She and Helen held on to each other longer than was strictly necessary, each looking the other over with the care of family, and when they let go there was matching satisfaction in their faces. “But between Dad and I, we’re cleaning house pretty well. You didn’t have to fly all the way out to DC to ask me that, though.”

“No, that’s for asking for favors, but can’t I check up on you while I’m at it?” Helen laughed and spread her hands, then reached out to catch Trisha’s wrist. “Besides, I have to show off. Trisha, Jim and Barbara Gordon. Jim, Barbara, this is Patricia Baum. I imagine you get the news from back home up here, too.”

“Barbara had to show me how to get past the paywall for the Gazette, but I might have read something to that extent.” Senator Gordon offered Trisha his hand, and his grip was firm. “It’s good to meet the woman who’s made an honest lady of Helen.”

“It’s an honor to meet you, Senator,” Trisha said. “I spent my late teens listening to my mother say that all Metropolis’s problems would be gone if we could get a man like Gordon.”

“As Commissioner or more personally?” Helen quipped. “Because either seems plausible.”

“We will never speak of that thought again,” Trisha said, glaring at Helen.

Barbara visibly smothered a laugh. “You know, I have been trying to get Dad back on the dating market again. I don’t suppose...?”

“My mother is a happily married woman,” Trisha said, throwing her hands in the air. “I’m feeling put-upon.”

“That makes two of us,” the Senator said.

“We’ll talk more about this later,” Helen concluded, winking at Barbara, who plastered a neutral expression on her face when the Senator turned a look her way. Still smiling, Helen started for the exit and trailed the rest of them along with her. “Speaking of matchmaking, I imagine you’ve had the time to look over the documents we sent over - or that Barbara has and summarized, anyway - so what do you think our chances are?”

“It depends on if we can move at least two members of one of two different coalitions. Right now, we’ve got an alliance of rural-state Senators demanding dollar-for-dollar matches between new urban and rural spending, and a group of moderate budget hawks that might go for the Gotham project by itself but will balk at the rural match. We’re two votes short with nobody from either of those groups, and we’re going to squeak by in the House. As it stands, we’re close, but close in a way that’ll have us struggling to get out of committee.”

“I brought a checkbook and a social schedule- show me where to point it. Or reasonable argument, if you think that’ll help.”

“We’ve got a few ideas,” Barbara said, holding the door for Helen and the Senator first and then flashing Trisha a megawatt smile of her own before climbing in ahead of her. “It’s not exactly going to be a walk up Main Street, but it could be worse. If we can pry a couple extra days out of your schedule, I’d like our chances better. Miss Baum?”

Trisha stood a moment, stunned by that smile. Question I hadn’t thought to ask answered. I am, in fact, still able to be immediately disarmed and attracted to people other than Helen. Nice to know, I suppose. Analyzing it helped her break out of the immediate effect. “It’ll throw weeks of careful planning into disarray, but this seems worth that. I’ll call Mr. Fox tonight and let him know I’ll need him to play the public face of the company a bit longer than we’d planned.”

“If you’ve survived Helen this long, I imagine you’re used to having weeks of planning thrown into disarray at a moment’s notice.” Barbara hooked one leg over the other, a smirk at the edge of her mouth as she threw a sideways glance at Ms. Wayne. “She has a gift for that sort of thing.”

“That’s true.” This is a friendly moment. Trisha rested a hand on Helen’s thigh. “I mourn for my schedules the moment I finish them.”

“It saves time later,” Helen agreed amiably, resting her hand on Trisha’s and squeezing gently. “But we seem to manage.”

Barbara contented herself with amused huff, but her eyes had that same keen, piercing, evaluating quality that Helen’s did when she was pulling someone apart under inspection while they flicked back and forth between Trisha and Helen. There’s two of them. Trisha tightened her jaw a bit to keep from dipping her head into her blouse turtle-like. “We manage,” she said, kissing Helen’s cheek.

 


 

“Coffee?” Barbara Gordon settled back onto the well-worn wood bench by the committee room door and offered Trisha one each of the two cups and bags she’d brought back from the sandwich cart. “If you don’t, I will. And you like pastrami on rye with pickles but no onions, I think.”

“That’s right.” Trisha took one of the cups and one of the sandwiches. “Anywhere I can’t get the Krypto Special. Which, the last year, has been everywhere.” It really is getting close to a year since I met her. And not that far from a year since we started dating. “Thank you, Ms. Gordon.”

“Fuel is important, especially when we have to run after them all day.” Barbara unwrapped her own sandwich and bit into it without further ceremony, bracing a shoulder against the wall comfortably, and gave Trisha another of those penetrating looks. In fact, it honestly seemed that when they weren’t actively working on something important in the last few days, Barbara was usually engaged in a new hobby of scrutinizing Trisha’s every movement and expression.

It was uncomfortable. Especially given how taken with Barbara that she was. Especially given that it meant Barbara knew how taken with her Trisha was. Especially given that she hadn’t quite managed to divine the nature of Barbara’s closeness with Helen.

On that note, she was not going to talk about chasing Helen around at night with the Senator’s daughter.

“Someone has to,” she said. “They’re exceptional enough that, without someone to remind them to do otherwise, they’d just give all of themselves to the world.”

“Isn’t that the truth.” Barbara sipped her coffee and smiled faintly. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t understand that about someone like them.” There was just a fraction of hesitation there, barely a blip, but enough. Not ‘them.’ ‘Helen.’

Helen. Trisha chewed her lip. “And those same people are the ones always demanding more of their time.”

“Maddening, isn’t it? Sometimes you just want to take a bat to someone.” Barbara shook her head and shrugged, the gesture gracefully effortless in her neat suit. It was jarring, sometimes, how much she and Helen moved alike. “If I haven’t mentioned it already, that’s a lovely broach.”

Trisha touched the broach. The Wayne family crest, which she’d been wearing any time she was out of the house since the Humane Society Ball. I’m hers. “It was a gift from Helen,” she murmured. “I know the meaning of it, but not the history of this particular one.”

“Early nineteen-teens. Probably part of the sets Laura Wayne had struck for the family’s staff to celebrate the first neighborhood liquor laws in Gotham City. The scrollwork on the backing is distinctive but not quite determinative.” Barbara’s eyes flicked up to Trisha’s, and her sudden smile was almost apologetic. “Trick memory. Hazards of spending my teenage years cataloging the Gotham Library System.”

Being a librarian doesn’t give a person an eidetic memory or encyclopedic knowledge of the aesthetics of the family history of a family friend who is obsessed with her own family history. Trisha looked down at her broach again. I’m hers . Then at Barbara. Are they… were they… if they were, does the Senator know? The Senator doesn’t know. They were. That makes sense. They were and nobody knows. “Thank you, Ms. Gordon.”

“That’s rare. Not a lot of people respond to my little trivia-grams positively.” Barbara returned her attention to her sandwich and coffee for a moment or two, and when she spoke up again it was without fixing Trisha with any of that evaluation. “I think you can call me Barbara, considering the work we’ve put in the last few days. Did you and Helen enjoy doing the museum circuit together last night?”

“It was… perfect,” Trisha murmured. “The Smithsonian is everything I dreamed it might be. And I got to go to the back areas and see them work and see the archives. I…” Trisha blushed. “I loved it.” She stopped. Why did she… she knows I know. Or think. Know is too strong. It’s the only thing that makes sense, but deduction only works if you know all the possibilities before you start eliminating them. But she knows I know.

How can a conversation this pleasant suddenly be this uncomfortable?

“She seems very happy with things. With you. I haven’t seen her this happy since...” Barbara trailed off uncomfortably, then cleared her throat. “Have things been all right for you?”

Since Barbara left? Since… what? There’s no indication that Helen was particularly happy before Barbara left… “I won’t say it’s been perfect,” Trisha said. “But I’m very much in love with her, and she makes me happier than I’d have imagined being.”

“That’s good. She hasn’t always been the best at making the people who love her happy, even when things were going well.” Barbara paused again, covering it by finishing her sandwich, and finally fixed Trisha with her eyes against. “You’re being careful with your personal safety?”

Safety … Trisha paused a moment, looking back at the last few things that were said. Helen’s last serious public relationship. Vesper . “As much so as I can. I basically do all my travel in Wayne cars now, and I’m either at home or with Helen most of the time. I don’t have a personal security detail, but that’s basically the only thing I could do to significantly increase my safety, and it would get in the way of doing my job.”

“And you’d have to vet those people, anyway, which adds a lot more organizational difficulty to the problem.” Barbara’s smile warmed up again with relief, and she reached over to pat Trisha’s hand lightly. “It sounds like you’re doing everything right. Congratulations.”

“I wouldn’t want…” Trisha trailed off for a moment, looking down. “I’m concerned for my own safety. Of course I am. But… if I get hurt as a result of being with her, if something worse happens… her parents. Ms. Fairchild. Mr. Todd. If I can avoid it, I will not be on that list of pain.”

Barbara’s hand lingered against hers, gentle, and there was approval in her voice now. “Not that I don’t want you to take care of yourself for your own sake, too, but I appreciate that. More than I can tell you. I haven’t always had a high opinion of Helen’s taste in partners, but I like what I see so far in your case.”

She is doing nothing to disabuse me of my conclusions. “I’m glad you like me, Ms. Gordon. Helen thinks very highly of you… I’d rather like to be on your good side.”

“I think everyone ought to want to be on my good side, but that’s a personal opinion that may be ever so slightly biased.”

 


 

It was well after sundown when Helen finished the last business call of the day on Thursday, a long conversation with Barbara over the fine points of the new transit corridors in and out of the city, and she spent about a third of it laughing or smirking while she leaned against the balcony of the penthouse suite she and Trisha had been sharing since they arrived. They were flying back to Gotham late on Friday, though Barbara had suggested over lunch yesterday that they could consider leaving in the morning if nothing happened overnight in the Senate to interfere with the amendments to the omnibus spending bill they’d spent the week forcing in. The office and Mr. Fox would certainly rather they hurry back, but Ms. Wayne wasn’t showing any signs of urgency about the idea and the possibility of a day in DC that wasn’t shared with power meetings and politics was tempting. Particularly if it didn’t involve spending most of the day with Senator Gordon and his impossibly perfect daughter.

It was a petty thought, and Trisha wasn’t exactly proud of it, but she felt it could be excused under the circumstances. How was it possible to find someone’s presence such a mix of frustrating and pleasant?

“If we’re going to stay through tomorrow,” she said to Helen as she undressed, “we should try that Italian place the Senator recommended.” Whatever has happened between Ms. Gordon and Helen, I’m the one in this room with her now.

“Mmm. If you want to, we can have lunch there.” Helen’s eyes lingered over her while her boss stripped off her own slacks and blouse, discarding them casually before she slid onto the bed and rested her chin against the heel of one hand, one perfect lip caught between the edges of Ms. Wayne’s ivory teeth. “Alone, I think?”

“You read me far too well,” Trisha said, blushing a little. She dropped her bra into the basket she was using for dirty laundry. Nightgown or nude? She gazed at the closet for a moment. “Can I… ask you something, Helen?”

“You can always ask, Trisha,” Helen said, her voice reassuring but still ever so watchful. “What’s troubling you?”

“You and Ms. Gordon,” Trisha said quietly. “I… can’t figure the two of you out. Or if I can, it doesn’t square with the rest of what I know about you. Were you…” She bit her lip. She didn’t know if she wanted this answer, but it was important. “Did you two date?” Were you lovers? was too on the nose.

“No. Well, a couple of times to charity events, but nothing serious.” Helen studied her carefully, reading her face, and her voice softened. Steadied. “I admire Jim, but her step-mother - Sarah - and I were good friends. She and Richard went to prom together. More than that, she has a remarkable mind and I did what I could to see it didn’t go to waste once we got to know each other. I’m very proud of Barbara. Of what she’s accomplished.”

“Oh.” Trisha nodded, then gave up on the idea of choosing between nightgown and nudity, which was a choice in itself. She moved to the bed, sitting on the edge, and turned her head to look at Helen. “I… feel like I should apologize, then, for the idea. For it sticking in my head. For… I’m not sure.”

Helen slipped her fingers through Trisha’s, smile still hovering at the edge of her mouth while her eyes wandered slowly over Trisha’s bare skin. “It’s no trouble to answer. Did Barbara give you a hard time?”

“No. No, she was nothing but kind…” Trisha tilted her head, pressing her lips to Helen’s hand.

Without speaking, Helen reached out and pulled Trisha gently into her arms, pressing a kiss to her forehead and settling a comforting weight on top of her. “For our first trip out of the city together, we haven’t had much time alone, have we?”

“Mostly just sleep.” And waking with you still in the room. “And the Smithsonian, if date activities with other people present but not part of our activities count.”

“Next time...” Helen’s fingertips wandered through her hair, tugging and stroking gently as she worked little loose tangles away, “Next time we ought to go somewhere interesting by ourselves. For a few days.”

“That sounds perfect,” Trisha breathed, eyes falling closed as she slowly leaned back to settle against Helen. “Where should we go?”

“Where have you always wanted to go?” A light kiss on the curve of her jaw, and Helen’s leg hooked over hers possessively to hold her just a little closer.

I’m hers. “Cassie said Hong Kong is nice… I want to see Paris… the Riviera… San Francisco… New Orleans…” She tilted her head back to gaze up at Helen, who smiled down at her and kissed her with a lingering gentleness that went strangely - but reassuringly, in its way - with the squeeze of Helen’s fingers against her jaw and pulse.

“Anywhere you like,” her boss breathed. “And I’ll even promise we’ll leave the hotel.”

“I want to go somewhere with water,” Trisha murmured, lips finding Helen’s neck. “And sun…”

Helen rolled her onto her back, pinning her arms over her head, and smiled down at her with lazy hunger. “Only if I get to take you shopping for swimwear first.”

Trisha gazed up at Helen, back arched, moaning as she was pinned to the bed. “Of course, Helen…”

“Good. In that case, there’s a private island I have to introduce you to and a little lobster shack that will make you think you’ve never eaten real food before...”







Chapter Text

I feel incredible. Her skin still tingled from two weeks of tropical sun, but the burns of the first day had long since faded into a bronze tan. Her hair was lighter than when she’d left Gotham, and after waking up and exercising with Helen each morning for about a third of the time Helen spent exercising, and spending a lot of the rest of the day swimming and engaged in lateral (and sometimes vertical) bedroom gymnastics, she felt like she could run - actually run - at least a mile, which she’d never quite been able to do. Not that there was time to test that, or a place other than the Wayne Tower gym to test it in, and she actually hated treadmill running anyway. The reflective back wall of the express elevator to the executive floors showed that she looked as good as she felt. Even wearing her glasses - she’d misplaced a contact in the hotel room and hadn’t gotten them replaced yet - she felt hotter than she’d ever felt before.

And she was smiling. Probably too much. She had no idea what her coworkers had been dealing with the last few weeks. Plans to go through her email after arriving home had ended when the moment she’d sat down on the sofa she’d fallen asleep and barely woken up in time to get to work. So she should probably drop a bit of her smile.

She managed to get her expression from giddy to merely delighted before the chime rang and the elevator doors opened.

“Miss Baum!” One of the new junior secretaries - they’d just hired her before she left, and Trisha couldn’t recall the girl’s name now - was waiting by the elevator with a stack of file folders and an encrypted tablet in both arms. She swung in on Trisha’s right, smiling nervously, and paced her pretty effectively. “Miss Guerra and Ms. Hunter are in Ms. Wayne’s annex office - I mean, Miss Guerra’s office - but I know they wanted to talk to you as soon as you go in. Do you want to see them there or should I tell them to come to your office?”

“I’ll go to them.” Trisha offered the girl a smile. “Let them know I’ll be there in a minute? I want to give them a moment to compose themselves and myself a moment to get a glass of water.” She started toward the water cooler, hustling and hoping that the girl saw her gait and matched it. She did not want to surprise Sofia and Imani just now.

Apparently the new girl had a decent sense of these things, because she managed to have cups  of coffee for all three of them on the reception table that Imani and Sofia were sitting at by the time Trisha came through the door. They were obviously expecting her, but apparently avoiding surprise was too much to hope for - Imani’s eyebrows nearly rose into her bangs, and Sofia very nearly spilled her coffee with her double-take. “The vacation seems to have agreed with you,” Imani hedged while Sofia tried to cover. “It was very beautiful there?”

“It was gorgeous, and I had a lot of fun,” Trisha said as she took her seat. It was perfect. “I’d ask how things have been while I was gone, but someone met me at the elevator and told me you needed to talk to me immediately, and nobody jumped out from behind the furniture and yelled ‘Surprise!’ when I walked in. So… I assume bad news?”

Loco ,” Sofia managed, carefully setting her cup down on the table. “It’s like everyone was waiting for Ms. Wayne to leave town to make trouble. Which, now that I say it like that....”

“Is probably true,” Imani finished, arching an eyebrow at Sofia. “Are you sure you’re getting enough bloodflow to your brain? I thought you were supposed to be straight as a board, Sofie.”

“Shut up. Yes, it has been hell, but we have heroically endured without you to run cover for us and neatly organized the many, many problems which you and la jefa will now have to clean up for us,” Sofia charged on. “Mr. Fox says we are fending off many and various lobos in suits who wish to buy little pieces of the company away from us - a little here, a little there - and the board, they are antsy because the money is very good. If it were me, I would think of selling at such prices, but we all know how Ms. Wayne feels about selling anything once she buys it.”

“And how aware she is that she doesn’t need more money,” Trisha said. “But the board might disagree. Do we have any idea what started this?”

“Mister Fox, he thinks that maybe when you unplugged the Senate someone started thinking there might be money in construction in Gotham. Government contracts, you don’t have Ms. Wayne standing over your shoulder to make sure everything is above code...” Sofia swayed a hand. “There could be money in that, you know? Me, I think I smell garbage behind the suits, so I whistle up Imani to see if the Foundation can spare her to make sure we keep writing her checks, yes?”

“I’m following so far,” Trisha said, taking a sip of her water, then one of her coffee, then making a face because the quick temperature change made that a bad idea.

“Well, in two weeks I have no found the garbage, but I have found the shells. Most of these wolves, the lawyers are working for someone who is working for someone who is working for someone, yes? All very new. Very tidy paper. Still shiny.” Sofia shook her head, expression suspicious. “I don’t like this. So I have Imani speak to a friend of hers in the courthouse, very quiet, and we find that some of these companies were registered before they even had a building to their name.”

“Not illegal,” Imani sighed, “but certainly very suspicious. The D.A.’s office would like to be interested, but there’s no votes in it.”

“You’re working around a name, I think,” Trisha said. “Which means a name I’m not going to be happy to hear.”

“Not a name. Not exactly. But some of these want-to-be construction firms, they are buying equipment at very reasonable rates from suppliers who also supplied the companies that started the big housing projects after the government reopened the city. Before Wayne Enterprises became involved. Suppliers with a long history of relationship with...”

“LexCorp.” Trisha sighed. There goes the buzz. Well, most of it. Helen. That swimsuit. Yeah, just most of it. “Right. We’ll need to calm down the Board a bit to keep them from doing anything rash. Keep an eye out for Mr. Luthor to make any more overt moves… he’s not a subtle man, at least for long. And…” She sighed. “I’ll tell Helen. Get me your files on this?”

“They are in your inbox.”

Sofia folded her hands around her mug and looked vaguely mutinous. “That hijo de puta had better not show his face in Gotham again. For him, I would talk to my cousins for the first time in many years.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We can stop him, if we know it’s him.” Trisha leaned forward. “Gotham’s our town. Helen’s town. I know Lex Luthor, and I know Gotham. He’s not ready.”

That seemed to settle Sofia down for the moment, and she collected herself to go back to her desk. Imani lingered a moment, bag over one shoulder but not leaving, looking at Trisha with the expression of a woman with words she didn’t want to say on her mind.

“Tell me,” Trisha said, turning to face her. “Whatever it is… I need to know.”

“Sofia and I work well together, but this isn’t my job. It’s not illegal, but ethically I work for a non-profit that’s only funded by Wayne Enterprises. Usually, Ms. Wayne only leaves Gotham for a day or two. When it’s longer, it’s a secret. When you were hired, her trips were less of a problem for everyone - you were here to be her deputy.” Imani’s voice was very careful, very polite. “This last two weeks were not so easy.”

“I understand.” Trisha inhaled. “I… I’m not sure, yet, what I can do to make it easier, but it is a problem. One I’ll work on. Thank you for telling me.” I wish she hadn’t told me. She was right to, but… “I’ve got to get these files read so I can brief Ms. Wayne.”

“Of course. Good luck, Trisha.” Relaxing again, Imani squeezed Trisha’s shoulder on the way by and went out, leaving Trisha the choice of retreating to her own office or Helen’s to work. Her own would certainly make working easier, if not more pleasant....

She had to focus, and she was preparing something for briefing Helen, which would not work with Helen present. Her own office it was.

 


 

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Three times. Then a notification appeared on the lower right corner of her computer’s monitor, distracting her from her work in assembling precisely which probes at the Wayne conglomerate were Luthor’s work and which were indirect results of Luthor’s work. Three new emails, my personal account.

She clicked. The first was short. No subject line.

Gotham Spotlight today’s issue.

The next one had a subject line.

Subj: Have you read it?

It’s the cover story don’t you ever walk past a newsstand?

Gotham, of course, lacked outdoor newsstands. And she hadn’t walked anywhere in the city in months.

The third.

Subj: Thomas got the scanner working.

This one had an attachment - a PDF, with two pages. The first page was the above-the-fold section of one of Gotham’s far too many tabloids. On it was a photo of her at the Humane Society dinner, because that was a memory she wanted dredged up again, with the headline “Wedding Bells in Wayne Tower? The Indescribable Trisha Baum. Page 4.” The second was Page 4 itself.

The article started out… almost pleasant, if drippingly saccharine, in its description of her relationship to Helen, focusing on the idea that Helen was likely to propose any day. But within a few sentences, Trisha felt something coming. She’s trying to disarm the reader. Let them relax in reading a happy article with a happy story in it before she drops the hammer.

She skimmed downward, skipping over wasted superlatives about Helen’s wealth, her own poverty ( My mother’s a lawyer and my father sells antiques. We were always solidly middle class! ), and their adorability as a couple, and a dozen red herrings about what the twist might be. It was nearly two-thirds of the way through the article - the end of the second column of a three-column piece - when the writer did drop the hammer.

“If there is one real worry in their relationship, it is the extraordinary - some might even say calculated - way that Ms. Baum has taken on the roles in Ms. Wayne’s life that would normally be played by her mother. Setting schedules, arranging meetings, calling her in sick from work, Ms. Baum is only spared the act of cooking for Helen Wayne by the presence of Ms. Wayne’s disturbingly paternal butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who one might be tempted to believe was the inspiration for Ms. Baum taking this role in Helen’s life. Still, one wonders if, in the dark of Wayne Manor, Patricia Baum is not cutting up Helen’s food before passing her the plate. Certainly, her glamorous, modern dresses manage to look the part…”

Trisha’s mouse was broken against the window. She was not quite sure how that had happened. She skipped the rest of the text - it would tell her nothing she needed to know - and used her keyboard to scroll the rest of the way down the page.

Photographs. Herself, adjacent to Martha Wayne, each in dresses that were not identical, that did not even say the same things (Mrs. Wayne’s personal aesthetic was Society Matron whose Husband Still Stares; her own was Professional Woman Here with her Date). But each pair shared specific visual cues - the design of a shoulder strap here, the trim along the sleeves there. But there was one photo, the last one, that nearly put her keyboard next to her mouse - with whatever effects flinging a USB keyboard across the room would have on the computer as a whole.

Herself, in the dark blue cocktail dress from one of Katherine Kane’s many, many get-togethers, the one that was a little more daring than her usual, the one Helen had spent the whole night distracted by looking at her in. Mrs. Wayne in a cream number, conservative, with a fashionable hat. Both photos cropped to draw the focus to the shoulder.

Where they each wore the broach.

Her broach.

She pressed her intercom button, more forcefully than was necessary. “Katie,” she said, voice choked. “Please inform IT that I need a new mouse. I think mine has a driver issue.”

“Of course, ma’am,” her secretary chirped. “Would you like some tea with honey? You’re sounding a little bit hoarse. Are you sure you didn’t catch something while you were away?”

The last thing in the world anyone needs is me with a heavy ceramic mug full of hot liquid. Except perhaps me with a flamethrower and a keycard to the Gotham Spotlight offices. “No thank you. I just swallowed my water wrong. Have them get me the mouse quick, though.” She was already working again, on her phone now, opening the website of the Gotham Spotlight.

She would have preferred to use her computer, but the mouse was broken.

It was on the third article she went to before scrolling madly through it - an article on Lana Luthor’s new book - that she found the note.

Publisher’s note: The Gotham Spotlight is published by Martin Media LLC, which is a subsidiary of TheRealStory.com, which is a subsidiary of Metalith Publishing, which is a subsidiary of Luthor Print, which is a subsidiary of LexCorp.

“Katie!” she managed to keep just below a yell into the intercom. “Get someone to tell me precisely when LexCorp became the owners of the Goth… of Martin Media.”

“Um, yes Miss Baum. I have the mouse from IT - do you want me to bring it in now, or would you like a few minutes first?” Katie sounded a little disturbed, which was understandable. Romans probably sounded disturbed by the prospect of entering offices with lions, too.

“You can leave it just inside my door,” Trisha said. “I’m not upset with you.” But I am probably someone to stay out of mouse-throwing range of, regardless. “Ping Ms. Wayne and let her know that I’ll need to see her as close to fifteen minutes from now as she can arrange. I’d really rather her not get the tone of voice you just got. I’d rather you hadn’t either.”

“That’s all right, ma’am, that’s part of my job, like keeping away the people who want signed Oz copies from you. I’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you, Katie.” Trisha turned off the intercom. Then she turned off the computer. Then she silenced her phone and set an alarm for fifteen minutes.

Helen exercised to clear her mind. While they were on vacation, and Trisha was accompanying Helen in her exercises, she found that it worked, at least until her muscles started screaming at her that it was time to stop right now . So she rose to her feet, closed her eyes, and started one of Helen’s simpler yoga routines.

She fell on her ass when her alarm went off, but it hadn’t felt like fifteen minutes had passed, and she thought she could speak without yelling. So she checked her phone, then went to Helen’s office. Her boss was sitting on the edge of the desk, signing off on something on her tablet, and when Trisha opened the door Helen’s head popped up and a small smile crept onto her face. “Back to tell me that you and Sofia have already vanquished LexCorp’s hardhatted minions and I don’t need to trouble myself with that board meeting in the morning?”

“You might want to skip the board meeting,” Trisha said. “But that’s because Luthor has decided to get into the publishing business. In Gotham. More than he already was.” She crossed the room quickly, knelt next to Helen’ chair, and reached for her hand. “This… is going to make you angry. What was published in his name. And it’s going to hurt.” It hurt me enough.

Helen’s jaw set and her eyes narrowed. “I’ve had a fair number of things written about me in the press over the years, some of them no doubt funded by Luthor.” But she caught Trisha’s hand and walked around her to slid into her office chair, heels resting flat on the floor, knees brushing against Trisha’s chest lightly while her other hand settled over Trisha’s. “You think it’s serious?”

“I don’t know how it’s going to play in public. I don’t know how anyone outside this room is going to react to it. I’d like to think that people are decent enough to laugh it off…” Trisha exhaled. “The article says outright, in particularly vicious and condescending terms, that I am deliberately taking on the role of your mother in order to seduce you. It uses the things I do for my job as evidence. It uses…” She paused, her own eyes tearing up, and forced her voice to steady. “It uses silly details of my dresses, and it uses my broach . To get to me. And it uses me and your mother to get to you.”

She might have expected any number of things from her boss in that moment - tears, disbelief, denial, explosive anger - but what her lover answered her with was not at all something she could have prepared herself for. Helen was very still for one, two, three seconds, and then she smiled - a cold, hard baring of her teeth - and she laughed.

It was a frightening, a sound like hell boiling over in winter, and it went down to Trisha’s bones. She pressed her face against Helen’s lap, heedless of the fact that they were at work, during work hours, that she was supposed to be in her personal assistant hat. She buried her face against Helen’s lap, and she took the comfort Helen’s presence offered until the laugh finally cut off.

“Luthor is going to wish he’d stayed out of my home,” she growled, still smiling. “Out of my city.”

I’m going to have to talk her down from something. The thought was distant. She clung tighter to Helen’s hands, which slowly unwound from hers and folded into her hair, and after another breath or two Helen’s voice was vaguely normal again. “I’m sorry you had to read that, Trisha,” Helen murmured. “It was horrible and unjust, and he’s going to be punished for it. I hope you know that I would never give you anything that belonged to my mother without telling you so.”

“I know,” Trisha whispered, drawing Helen’s hand to her lips. “Just… I know. Don’t do anything rash, please, my love… you know this already, but… he provokes to draw people out, into action.”

“I know what he does, and how impossible it is to hurt someone with no perceptible heart and sufficient madness,” Helen breathed, cupping her face and stroking the line of her shoulders. “But he will be punished.”

Her touch makes everything feel better. Or… more soothed. “Thank you, beloved…” Trisha’s eyes fell closed, and she sighed. “Is there any way I can help you now?”

“Clear my schedule for four days. Not today or tomorrow - the board needs handling. In a week or two will be sufficient. I need to take a trip, alone.” Helen’s fingertips dug very gently into the skin at the back of her neck, bracing her necklace between them “You can visit your parents, stay at your apartment or at the mansion - whatever pleases you.”

“I’ll be here,” Trisha whispered. “Doing my job. But I think I will sleep at the Manor…” She paused. “May I use the bed?”

She was not sure which answer she wanted to hear.

“Yes,” Helen said, and if there was a hitch of reluctance there she couldn’t detect it. “And I think it’s time you had some closet space in the Manor, as well. I’ll have Alfred arrange it.”

She pressed her face into Helen’s lap again, and this time, finally, she cried.

 


 

The Waynes stared at her from the bookshelf, and the wild gazed through the window. She woke alone in the bed, too large to sleep in alone, far too large to imagine Helen having slept in alone for all these long years. She threw off the comforters, or tried to, but they were too heavy to throw off, and landed pooled on her belly and spread down still to the foot of the bed. Sighing, she pulled herself out from under them, offering them the glare a very slightly sore loser gave their victorious opponent, and moved to the closet to dress.

Even if all her clothes were moved over from the apartment, even if the dresses Mr. Pennyworth and Helen had bought her for events joined them from whatever part of the Manor they vanished to when Mr. Pennyworth did not anticipate the need for them, she would not fill a quarter of the half of the closet that Helen had set aside for her. Maybe a sixth, maybe. But her clothes were serviceable enough, and she dressed for a day in the house.

They were expecting guests tonight, and things at the office were, if not under control, out of her hands, so she would stay at the Manor today. Correspond electronically. Wait for Helen to get back from wherever she was off to this morning, and for her friends to come for dinner.

The office was fast becoming… difficult. If it was not minor employees suddenly feeling that they either could afford to put her off or that her existence itself was to blame for whatever tribulations they faced, if it was not another fucking article building on what the Spotlight had originally published in another of Gotham’s tabloids, if it was not a “respectable” paper reporting on “The Waynes in crisis” or whatever, it was another salvo from the LexCorp-associated suppliers and builders. Two of them were now underbidding on minor segments of the Gotham Restoration Initiative, low enough that there could not possibly be any profit in it for them, so Imani and some engineers borrowed from WayneTech were going over their blueprints with a fine-toothed comb. Which in turn was earning backlash from both donors to the Foundation and stakeholders in Wayne Enterprises.

And, to make matters worse, the response from the people to a connection being publicly revealed between one of the contractors an LexCorp was not universal disgust, but quiet discontent that seemed a pittance to set against the anonymous distribution of anti-alien literature.

Anti-alien literature. In Gotham City.

She had barely started reading her email when she sat down for breakfast, and she was already exhausted. Pennyworth served her tea without papers - as if that would help - and then surprised her by joining her at the family table to pour himself a cup of tea as well. “I hope you’ll forgive my manners, Miss Baum, but I’m afraid the fall weather ... well, my knee is playing up a bit.”

“I welcome the company, Mr. Pennyworth.” Trisha said. “And the lack of a newspaper. Is there any chance we can turn off the Internet? Not the house’s routers… the whole thing.”

Pennyworth’s gentle, rueful smile was more than understanding. “I don’t believe so, Miss Baum, but I could talk to Master Timothy about it. I imagine he could make quite a dent in it if he set his mind to it. Master Richard sends his regards and also wanted you to know that he’s taken himself off to Istanbul so he isn’t compelled to defend your honor by levelling some reporter in the street.”

“I appreciate both his desire to protect my honor and his decision to remove the opportunity,” Trisha said, managing a small smile. “I… hate this, Mr. Pennyworth. I really do. And I hate knowing that he’s using me against Helen even more.”

“It’s a great deal to endure, Miss Baum. I know that it was a great deal for...” Pennyworth hesitated, then went on more slowly. “It may be impolitic of me to say, but my father’s letters said that it was a great burden on Mistress Wane the few times that the press caused trouble for Master Wayne on her account. She was a very compassionate woman, you see, and therefore political in a way that was not always appreciated.”

“My grandmother once warned me not to be too kind if I wasn’t ready for some cruelty. ‘If you lift people up, Pattie, there’ll always be somebody already up high who thinks you’re trying to cast them down.’ Of course, old Socialist bat she was, her next advice was to cast them down first.”

“It sounds as though she and Mistress Wayne would have gotten on very well, Miss Baum.” Pennyworth reached over and patted her hand, smiling. “Mistress Helen was a little too young, I think, to appreciate how much trouble her mother could raise in that soft voice of hers.”

“I think she and Mrs. Wayne would have gotten along swimmingly,” Trisha said with a small smile. “Though I have to admit a bit of relief at her being gone now. The smugness in her ‘I told you so’ would have been able to power Gotham for weeks.”

“I know it’s a great deal to endure. But I am very grateful to you for enduring it on Mistress Helen’s behalf, Miss Baum. Very grateful.”

“I couldn’t not, Mr. Pennyworth.” Trisha sighed. “I love her.” He smiled, patted her hand warmly, then returned to his tea. She took a bite of her bacon. “This is very good.”

“Learned from a colleague of mine in the service. Has to do with the way you grease the pan. Terribly unhealthy, of course, but there’s no point trying to add extra nutritional value to bacon in the preparation. Spoils the experience entirely.” He smiled fondly, shaking his head. “Of course it wasn’t until Master Richard came to live with us that I could interest Mistress Helen in it again. After her time abroad, she came back obsessed with drinking nothing but vile milkshake-like concoctions that she insisted provided for all her nutritional needs with a minimum of ‘inconvenience,’ by which I can only assume she meant any enjoyment whatsoever.”

Trisha made a face. “Food is for enjoying . Precisely how many things did you have to teach Helen to enjoy again, when she came back?” Where did she go that they teach you not to enjoy food?

“I am afraid teaching Mistress Helen to enjoy things is something of a lifelong work, Miss Baum, and one at which I can only claim limited success.” Alfred shook his head and sighed ruefully, then patted her arm again. “Frankly, your campaign has been much more successful than mine.”

Trisha opened her mouth to thank Mr. Pennyworth, then stammered a little, blushed, and took far too big a swallow of her tea.  He seemed to realize the implications of his remark a moment or two later, cleared his throat politely, and then stood up. “If you’ll forgive me, I ought to see about my duties. Guests tonight in the formal dining room. Don’t worry, I shan’t insist on proper seating arrangements.” A hint of a smile snuck through his dignity again. “Don’t hesitate to call on me should you need anything else, Miss Baum.”

“One thing, Mr. Pennyworth… well, two…” Trisha drew a deep breath. “Do you know when Helen will be home, and do you have any suggestions on what I should wear for this dinner?”

“I’m afraid that I do not in fact know when Mistress Helen will be home, except before dinner. As for what to wear, if you wish to endear yourself to our guests forever, may I suggest slacks and an evening jacket? They have a taste for modern practicality which Mistress Helen will likely insist on thwarting with a gown.”

Me in slacks and Helen in a gown… that will be strange. “Thank you, Mr. Pennyworth.”

The next few hours were spent checking and responding to emails and on the phone with Sofia, and writing the first draft of a letter to the editor of the Gotham Times decrying Mr. Luthor’s flyers without naming Mr. Luthor’s name. She would likely never send it - she was the exact wrong person to have that fight - but writing it helped soothe her nerves. Thankfully, for the rest of the day, nothing new exploded.

She changed into the outfit Mr. Pennyworth recommended at five, fixed her makeup, checked her hair. Sat on the bed, again reading her email and fending off concerned questions from college friends until she heard the door open and found Helen there, hair damp and blouse clinging gently, with the faintest smile on her lovely face. When she started to stand, Helen waved her back down and slipped over to kiss her forehead once - almost chastely - before vanishing into the closet herself. There was something lovely and slightly tortuous about watching Helen dress herself formally, handle her hair and makeup, select her jewelry and footwear, and generally prepare herself for an evening of entertaining - watching her lover’s hard muscles and scarred curves vanish under the veneer of elegance. Trisha watched, transfixed, breath shallow… every thought she’d had before Helen started to dress fading into a haze of desire and affection.

“Shall we go down?” Helen finally asked, offering her a gloved hand and a graceful smile. “Our guests should be arriving momentarily.”

Go down? Don’t mind if I… “Of course, Helen.” Trisha rose to her feet, taking Helen’s hand and smiling. And staring.

The dress wasn’t fair, and the steady sway of Helen’s hips in her heels wasn’t any better. That she made it down the stairs to the grand hall without breaking her neck staring at Helen was a minor miracle, and left precious little concentration for the minor question of who, exactly, they were going to be having for dinner in the first place. On the other hand, the limited available capacity in her brain prevented her from doing anything more embarrassing than staring dumbly when she discovered Lois Lane and a tall fellow in a slightly old-fashioned suit who context finally identified for her as Clark Kent of The Daily Planet .

Vicki Vale would hate this. Somehow, that perked Trisha up, and she shook their guests’ hands firmly. “It’s lovely to meet you, Ms. Lane. Your story about the Guardian’s work with the children’s hospital was an amazing bit of work.”

“Thank you, Miss Baum, but you should call me Lois. My friends do,” Lois Lane said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world that they were going to have dinner tonight at Helen Wayne’s house. She flicked a look at Helen, then back to Trisha, and she smiled vividly. “Besides, since you decided not to make us look criminally underdressed, I appreciate your hometown solidarity.”

“You can completely thank Mr. Pennyworth for that, Lois.” I’m on a first name basis with Lois Lane. Maybe there are advantages to dating the rich and famous after all. “I believe I saw him putting a roast in earlier, too…”

“You can always count on Alfred to stock a table,” Lois sighed with a certain relish.

Mr. Kent sighed. “Alfred’s roast is good, but one day, Ms. Baum, I’m going to have to invite you down to my parents’ farm. Ma makes a roast…”

“Don’t mind him,” Lois cut in, sighing fondly and elbowing her husband. “You can’t take Clark anywhere without him trying to sell someone the virtue of a haul out to Smallville to have his mother’s cooking.”

“Wait…” Trisha said. “You’re Jonathan and Martha Kent’s son? The big spread out past River? My grandparents… my father’s parents… are… oh, maybe ten or fifteen miles out from there. They’ve leased the farm to a younger couple with kids to work it, but they’re still living in the house.”

“Baum Apples? Ma used to buy from your folks for her pies for years.” Kent’s shy smile of delight was every inch hometown pleasure.

“Grandma sent us one of those pies every summer. Even after shipping, it was still one of the best treats of the year.”

Lois blinked, looking between them before turning her eyes on Helen. “Yours too?”

“This is not my fault,” Helen said, before Lois could finish the thought. “She said her grandparents lived in the country. There’s a lot of country.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Ms. Wayne. Keep telling yourself that,” Lois chuckled. “I see Christmas in the country in your future.”

“The farthest future I’m prepared to entertain is my dinner table, Lois.” Helen shook it off with a wave of her hand toward the dining room. “Shall we go in?”

“This talk of pie and roast has me ready, if I wasn’t before,” Clark said.

“Says the man I have literally seen put away an entire buffet before lunchtime,” Helen muttered almost under her breath. Pennyworth had set up two place-settings on either side of the middle of the table, and Helen allowed Trisha to pull her chair out for her while Clark did the same for Lois (who accepted with a certain impatience). They’d hardly finished settling down before Pennyworth arrived with the appetizers, shrimp skewers in a heavy cream sauce, and offered everyone their choice of wine. Helen took ginger ale, which for some reason seemed to amuse Clark more than he could quite smother.

Trisha took a sip of her wine (was Helen planning on driving somewhere?) and took Helen’s hand under the table. “I didn’t know you two were friends of Helen’s…”

“Clark and Helen go back a long way,” Lois said, waving her hand. “Something about an interview and a yacht. They can never get their story straight.”

The pleasant way Helen smiled was not without edges, but they were fond ones at least. “Not that you’d believe either of us without a sworn witness statement and video tape anyway, Lois.”

“Oh, that’s not true. I’d believe Clark in a heartbeat. He’s a terrible liar.”

Is she saying that Helen is a good liar? Trisha frowned a moment, squeezed Helen’s hand, then pushed the thought aside for the moment. “A Wayne yacht, or a third party?”

“A friend of mine’s, though it was supposed to be my party. It got a little out of hand,” Helen said, sharing a look with Kent. “But we came through all right. The yacht was never quite the same again, though.”

What would Helen and Mr. Kent do to a yacht? “Poor yacht.”

“Mmm. Still, it was less exciting than how Clark and Lois met. I believe there were two gangs, a hostage situation and interview rights involved?”

“That’s a small exaggeration,” Kent said, looking uncomfortable.

Lois snorted. “Not really.”

What do these people do? I mean… reporters. But… what do they do?

Trisha kissed Helen’s cheek after finishing the last of her shrimp. “Is that what a day at the office looks like?”

“Yes,” said Lois at the same moment Clark said “Not most days.” They glanced at each other, then laughed like people who’d been married twenty years.

Helen smiled and kissed Trisa back lightly, though not as chastely as company might have suggested she ought to. “Let’s just say that these two have caused Lex Luthor more combined heartburn than anyone whose name doesn’t begin with Super-.”

Superman. Trisha blinked, looking between Clark and Lois for a moment. Okay. She has a type. “He deserves every bit of it.” Wow. Anger much, Trish?

“Spitfire,” Lois said, toasting Trisha approvingly. “You’re damn right he does. Worse than kudzu - you think you’ve got rid of your infestation of Luthor, and then you look away for a minute and he’s crawling up your buildings again.”

“I worked for him,” Trisha said. “And… well, I’m sure you know what’s going on now. Everyone does.” Helen’s hand tightened against her silverware and then loosened again when Trisha’s fingers touched the back of her wrist. Her lover was still holding the anger in check, but only to a point.

“He is a cruel and vicious man,” Clark said quietly. “And he spends what could be greatness on pettiness instead.”

Helen smiled, and the expression was hard. “While we write that obituary for him, I thought we might do a little business. Trisha and some of my staff have been digging into Luthor’s business dealings around the Gotham Restoration projects, and they’ve turned up some interesting material. Nothing legally actionable, but....”

“But the sort of thing you think we could sharpen up for you and stick in the lion’s paw,” Lois said, almost amiably, though there was something just as flinty about her eyes.”On the record?”

“More like an anonymous donation of public and private records. But I’d be happy to provide a quote or two when you asked me for my reaction.”

“I… Helen, could we have your lawyers look over my contract from when I worked for LexCorp? I had a friend who practiced law look them over before I signed on, but before I say anything, before I’m in a position to say anything, I’d like to check and make sure there’s no language in there that could come back to bite you. And I do want to say something. About him. I’m not sure what, but he’s said enough about me, and about us…”

“I can have them look.” Helen squeezed Trisha’s hands, her dark eyes intent. “The fact is, you shouldn’t say anything public. Right now you’re still being treated as something other than a celebrity by most of the major papers. If you make a public statement, that stops.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to be moved out of the ‘civilian’ category by the papers. My editor will have me banging down your door for an interview in a week,” Lois said. Pennyworth chose that particular moment to enter with the soup, and that required a brief pause in the conversation because the soup was too good to let go cold and too rich to interrupt. This is what it means to be in the ‘civilian’ category? I certainly feel like a combatant… just one that arrived on the battlefield unarmed and not expecting a battle to be there. Which… I suppose that’s what it is to be a civilian in a war zone. I’m offended by my own metaphor.

The fish course - a roasted trout with pine nuts - replaced the soup, and Clark was the first one to resume the conversation. “I know how I’d feel if someone went after Ma in the papers, but do you really want to get into a slugging match with Luthor when it’s sure to be a trap? If you go after him in the press we’ll sell a lot of papers, but this is going to escalate.”

“It’s Lex Luthor, Clark. Action or inaction are both traps, but I won’t permit this go unanswered.” A flash of that cold fury from her office flared in her eyes. “I won’t allow it.”

How is her anger so attractive? Trisha squeezed Helen’s hand, speaking softly. “That being said… what is the best action to take? What is the best response?”

“How much do you like your staff?” Lois asked, leaning forward.

Helen said nothing, and Trisha spoke softly. “What are you thinking?”

Lois sighed and took a bite of her fish. “We can do this anonymous publishing thing, but there are only a few options for how we got the information - particularly if we use all of it, which is the best for your positions. All of them require you or your staff to either be deliberately leaking or bad at their jobs. So someone at Wayne Enterprises is going to look willing to break professional ethics or incompetent before that finishes shaking out. But I expect you’ve already calculated for that?”

Still, Helen said nothing.

“And it can’t be me,” Trisha said. “Because I have personal reasons for a grudge against LexCorp, and because it would put me into the line of fire more. The best we can do is make sure that people won’t be able to put the blame definitively on any one member of staff.” I hate the idea of doing this. I hate it. But I might hate not doing it more. I might hate whatever Helen does if she feels like her hands are tied even more than that.

She squeezed Helen’s hand again.

“Gotham needs the transit system to be built well and solidly, not by dirty contractors with tainted backing,” Helen finally said, her voice flat and stripped of emotion. “It needs Lex Luthor out of this city. Print it.”

“Your call.” Lois shrugged, smiling faintly, then turned and gave Trisha a long look. “I’m sorry, by the way.”

Trisha blinked, looking away from Helen and toward Lois. “For what?”

“Me.” Helen’s voice animated again, something approaching more natural tones. “I’m fairly certain she’s expressing her sympathy for being forced to deal with me.”

Shaking her head, Lois only smiled. Clark looked at Helen, his eyes much more serious than Trisha had gotten used to seeing them. “Are you sure about this? He doesn’t take humiliation well.”

“I still remember Vesper,” Helen bit out, “but I won’t allow that man to spread his poison in my city. Not while I can stop it.”

“The usual channels,” Lois said.

Trisha trembled a bit, but held Helen’s hand tighter. She must be very frightened. After a moment or two, Helen’s fingers relaxed. “We’ll be careful,” she promised the two reporters. “Now, why don’t we try to enjoy the rest of our dinner without concerning ourselves with filth like Lex Luthor?”

 


 

Clark and Lois had been gone more than an hour when Trisha and Helen went to bed. The bed was still, perhaps, a little too large for them, too small for the room, too soft and too old for real comfort but too nice to complain about.

Trisha spent that hour quiet, considering what was coming. What they had decided to do. What it would mean when it hit the papers, the trouble coming to her coworkers, that they would be angry with her over it, perhaps hate her. That it would damage, perhaps irreparably, her ability to do her job.

When Helen slipped into bed beside her, she rolled onto her side. Looked at Helen. Beautiful, perfect, soft curves over impossibly hard muscle, skin smooth except the scars. Brilliant. Good. Dedicated. And frightened.

She did not show it. But after her parents, after Jason Todd, after Vesper Fairchild, how could she not be?

Trisha slid closer, against Helen’s back, brushed her hair out of the way, and kissed the back of her neck. “I love you,” she breathed. Helen barely stirred, but one hand wrapped around Trisha’s and brought Trisha’s fingers up against the tips of her ribs, where she could feel Helen’s heart beating under her touch.

“I love you,” Trisha whispered again, lips slowly moving along Helen’s skin, from her neck to her jaw. She gives so much, for me.

Helen’s breath came in raw and taut, scraping against her teeth, and her lover finally rolled over and took her face in both hands. Stared into her face with those dark, haunted eyes full of moonlight. “You could leave here tonight. You could go anywhere, do anything you wanted. You wouldn’t have to worry about money, about anything, I could take care of it with a few words if you’ll just go.”

“You’re here,” Trisha said quietly, turning her head to kiss each of Helen’s hands. “I want to be where you are.” I couldn’t go anywhere.

“It’s not safe,” Helen whispered, breathless and tight, and pressed a searing kiss against Trisha’s lips. “I’m not safe, Trisha.”

Trisha’s breath failed her for a moment as they kissed, and she pressed herself against Helen, urgency and adoration in every movement. “I know that. I love you.”

Helen buried a sound like the first thread of a scream in her mouth and wrapped herself around Trisha in a fluid, violent movement, pinning Trisha to the bed under her and shaking while her fingers wove themselves into Trisha’s hair. She could feel the coiled violence in Helen’s muscles, taste something huge and dark like a stormcloud in the kiss, and it frightened her. But it made her need Helen more than it frightened her. She lifted her head, hands urgently pulling at Helen’s pajamas as she returned the kiss much more roughly than was her habit. Helen hissed, teeth scraping against Trisha’s mouth, and one hand raked down Trisha’s back to slide up under the hem of Trisha’s nightgown and grip the back of one thigh. They were locked together, Helen’s strength held in the hollow of Trisha’s hips, and every sharp breath Helen took slid her body against Trisha’s. Trisha managed to get the buttons of Helen’s pajamas undone - her hands were far more steady than they usually were when she was this urgent - and she pushed them open, one hand coming to rest on Helen’s breast, the other on her cheek, as she wrapped a leg around Helen’s waist.

“Trisha,” Helen whispered into her mouth, something between a prayer and a sob, and her hand slid around to the inside of Trisha’s thigh and squeezed there almost painfully tightly. “Patricia.” This time her name - her birth name - came hard and sharp, like a statement or a half a vow. Like something carved into the bones of the earth.

It was the first time since she was six that hearing her birth name made her happy. Her body shook, and she shoved Helen’s top off her shoulders, dipping her head down to kiss her lover’s breasts. “Helen…”

The hard muscle of Helen’s belly shuddered under her fingertips, her lover’s voice raw and husky and almost pleading as Helen’s nipples went rigidly hard against her lips. “You’re sure?” Helen whispered, the grip on her thigh easing and those strong fingertips almost fluttering against the delicate skin barely a breath from her sex.

“I’m sure,” Trisha whispered, before sucking at Helen’s nipple for another moment. “I’m yours. I’m yours.”

She felt the hot rush of Helen’s breath in her hair, the dull throb of Helen’s nipple against her tongue. Helen’s hand shifted against her thigh, suddenly certain, and parted her legs firmly. Dipped between them, cupping the heat heat of her, and then two of Helen’s fingers were curling between her lips and opening her - shallowly, first, but then to the full length of Helen’s graceful fingers.

She cried out, her hips rising to invite Helen’s fingers, her head falling back against the bed helplessly for a moment before rising again to kiss Helen hard, deep, almost bruising, her eyes falling closed as she let fire fill her. A hand fell down Helen’s body, sliding into the loosened but not removed pajama pants, coming to rest against her mound. Helen’s breath hissed against her mouth, the sharp twitch of Helen’s hips more than an answer to her touch, and when she pushed inside Helen was hot and graspingly tight around her. She could feel the band of Helen’s pajamas against her wrist, Helen’s thighs against her hand, the fabric against her knuckles as she flexed her way deeper into Helen and felt Helen’s fingers push more urgently into her in answer. The kisses were wet, messy and open-mouth and uncontrolled, and Helen’s other hand tightened and tugged in her hair with every jerk and shudder of their hips.

She let Helen guide her head in the kiss, let her tug at her hair, her own free hand on Helen’s chest, on her breast, squeezing and touching as she lifted herself into Helen’s touch, pushed her hips and Helen’s hand against her own hand inside Helen, and she cried out her pleasure shamelessly. Helen smothered her cries in the kiss, every inch of her lover’s strength surging and shuddering against her body, and she felt the moment when Helen spilled over the edge around her fingers in a wave of clenching, slick contractions that seemed to go on forever. She followed, seconds later, face pressed between Helen’s breasts as she shuddered in pleasure that devoured thought entirely, her cry of her lover’s name muffled against her lover’s skin.

When they settled onto the bed, sweat already cooling in the fall air, there was hot dampness against her cheek and Helen’s breathing rasped in her ear, but the way Helen held her was as tight and as full of fervent love as it had ever been.  She tangled her fingers in her lover’s hair, kissing Helen’s jaw, and made sounds of reassurance against her ear, wordless noises of devotion.

The bed was too large for them, too small for the room, but she felt all of Helen in that bed with her, and she wrapped tighter around her beloved. And as they settled in, tangled together, it was just soft enough.

 


 

“Yes, Mr. Powers… yes, I know… no, Mr. Pow… no, sir, I’m not telling you that we can’t do it, just that the cost would be… no, sir, we can’t get the… yes, sir, very good, sir.” Finally, the conversation ended. I hate him. I hate him more than I would hate anyone if Lex Luthor hadn’t inspired me to hate him so much. His goal with that conversation was much less to discuss the idea of accelerating the second generation DataEagle glasses and much more to drive home to her that she and Helen were both on the outs with the board and that he, in his position, could require Helen Wayne’s girlfriend to call him ‘sir.’

She glared at the phone. Derek Powers was the worst of them, but in the last four days she’d fielded similar calls from half the board, while absorbing glares and short words from the staff on the executive level.

Everything was awful.

Everything but going home to Helen. Which, for the past three days, she had not actually been able to do - whatever it was that Helen had wanted her schedule cleared for had involved an unexplained out of town trip, and so she was left coming home to Wayne Manor and Alfred Pennyworth and occasionally Timothy Drake-Wayne, who were not adequate substitutes at all.

The door to her office clicked open, and Sofia Guerra leaned through the doorway with a bag in one hand and a drink carrier in the other. “I come in peace, mi amiga,” she called softly, “and I have brought you the burritos from Hermano’s to prove it.”

“You are a saint, a veritable goddess among women,” Trisha said, waving Sofia in. “Thank you.”

“Oh, no, no thanks.” Sofia’s grin was quick, lively and rueful as she settled the food on top of Trisha’s desk and folded herself into the chair opposite. “Don’t you know that I am gunning for your job, and this is why I am so nice to you lately? This is what the office staff tells me, anyway, at some length and in very creative language.”

“Ouch,” Trisha said, taking the container with her burrito in it. “So you’re getting a bit of it too… this stinks. That stinks. They stink.”

“Ah, mi zorra, it’s the way of things. Besides, nobody likes the person whose office catches fire even if it isn’t her fault, and even I am not happy you did not chain la jefa to the desk in her office this week instead of letting her fly to Bermuda. But what can you do?” Sofia shrugged philosophically and started dressing her own burrito, balancing the container on her knee. “Mi corazon, he tried to tell me I ought to find new work instead of continuing to be so close to trouble. I told him not to bother his pretty head and worry about his own problems.”

“He might be smart.” Helen’s told me the same thing a few times. Not since the night Clark and Lois visited, though. “Oh the other hand… do you? Want my job, I mean… I expect basically everyone sees that writing on the wall.” She hated bringing it up, hated talking about it, but… it was there.

Sofia frowed and sipping her coffee without speaking for a minute or two, buying time with her burrito. When she spoke up again, her syntax was pure educated business school again the way it had been their first day. “I’m holding my options open, Trisha. It would be a big promotion for me, not even thinking about the money, and before you came here I would have said yes to the job in a heartbeat. Now... to do it with you standing over my shoulder, and on the heels of all this? I don’t know. But mi corazon thinks I type all day and make calls. Ach, but I don’t date him for his brains.”

“I can’t blame you. If I step down… I’m still not sure I am. I mean…” She sighed. “I have to. I love this job, Sofia. I love keeping things running, I love working with the Foundation and liasing between it and the Board, I love it. But I’m going to have to. If there was any chance of my avoiding that longer than I have, Lex Luthor and his tabloid have dashed that chance entirely. I’m just not ready to give into inevitability yet.”

“And you hope Imani will start speaking to you again before you quit, too,” Sofia said, not quite joking but smiling when she said it.

“I’d like that, definitely,” Trisha said. “And… Presence, I can’t imagine doing this job with the boss’s girlfriend standing there knowing just how she did it and meddling in things constantly. It’s not going to be possible to stay sane in this office with me around.”

“Ah, Trisha, you give yourself too much of the credit. Me? If I take this job, I will just tell you to kiss my perfect ass when you give me too much trouble.” Sofia’s eyes twinkled, merrily undaunted. “You think you are such a treat to work for anyway, mi amiga?”

“I think I was a year ago,” Trisha said with a laugh.

“Well, we all have our little delusions to keep us going....”

“I take it back. You are a villain.”

 


 

The DataEagle 1.2 had a hardware correction for the nausea problem, which avoided the slight but noticeable tax on performance that the 1.0 suffered with its software solution. Since Trisha was one of the few who the software solution actually made matters worse for, she was immensely relieved to be demonstrating the 1.2, which… worked. For her.

She, always the face of the project (at least since its public unveiling), could finally actually use it.

“So you see… to correct the issue required replacing the nano-LED array, and the new generation has 10% higher pixel density. Your glasses are special-built with both arrays present. Give me one moment… you’ll see the image shift slightly to the left. This is the video with the old array… and this with the new.”

The video was a segment of one of the recent Star Wars films - the one where everyone died - and the difference in crispness, she’d been told, was dramatic. This was confirmed by the oohs and the ahs of the gathered press.

Then the room went black as the glasses switched fully into theater mode. Trisha blinked. “One moment… small bug, apparently…” She hit the Exit button on the side of her glasses, to no avail. Pulling her glasses up, she saw that the glasses of the reporters had gone opaque as well.

Then she heard the moaning. And the word.

“Vicki…”

Is that… Helen’s voice? The members of the press were reacting with horror and interest, and gasps of surprise filled the room. She was certain that they were all seeing whatever that moaning belonged to.

She let her glasses lower.

The video was dimly-lit, and the DataEagle Record Mode date and time stamp were in the lower right corner of the screen. The night of the Humane Society ball. Two and a half hours after it started… two hours before it ended.

There was a bed, and a table, and a low dresser, and cheap slat-blind windows. A hotel room. Two figures, nude, on the bed, writhing.

One appeared to be Vicki Vale.

When Trisha saw Helen’s face, lips parted in ecstasy as Vicki pushed a hand firmly between her legs, her breath caught in her throat. But habit as much as anything sent her gaze over the rest of her lover’s body.

Her shoulders were the right size, the right shape, hard muscle to them. But they were unmarked, flawless. They were not Helen’s shoulders.

What is this?

She pulled the glasses off and rose to her feet, walking to the router plugged in on the wall. These demo models had no mobile Internet access; they relied entirely on wifi. She pulled the plug out of the router.

The glasses of the members of the press turned clear again, and she spoke, her voice firm, and she let just enough of the rage she was feeling into her voice. “The demonstration is over. I will make someone available for comment as soon as we know what happened.” Then she stalked out the door, pulling out her phone, and let the door shut on the sudden roar of questions. “Katherine, I need Sofia in my office, and I need to know if what just happened in my conference happened to the main DataEagle network.”

“Yes, Miss Baum. I’m paging Miss Guerra for you now. And ... I don’t know what happened in your conference, ma’am, but I’m getting clean reports from the DataEagle handlers so far. No abnormal activity except that the router in your conference is offline. Do you want me to send someone from IT down to look at it?”

“I want you, actually, to come down and get it, and bring it to my office. You can have IT install a new one, but you get a toolkit and come retrieve it. I know that’s outside your job description, but I need someone I trust.”

Katie’s voice was level and professional. That was reassuring. “It’s fine, ma’am. I used to work informal IT back in college. I know how to do the job. Should I be looking for anything else in particular - line splices, anything like that?”

“I don’t actually know how a router works, but if there’s a way to put data into a feed that you could see with your eyes, then look for it.” She stepped into the elevator. “And tell Ms. Wayne that something went wrong and I’m looking into it, and I’m safe.”

“On it, boss. Hanging up now,” Katie said, and then - after a pause for correction - suited action to word.

Sofia was waiting in her office when she arrived, took one look at her face and went from relaxed interest to rigidly alert in about half a heartbeat. “Madre Dios, Trisha, you look ready to kill someone. Who burned your breakfast?”

“Oh, good, you weren’t watching the conference.” Trisha pulled out her phone. “I probably should show you instead of telling you, but I’ll start with this: It’s not Helen in the video, and that’s not a statement of faith on my part.”

Then she played the original, streamed feed of the conference, the one that showed the video that was on the glasses in the corner. Sofia just stood there, staring at the phone with her jaw slightly agape, occasionally cringing here and there until the video finally cut off. “My priest, he is going to have feelings about this...” she muttered under her breath, then shook her head and looked Trisha in the eye. “If you are very sure that is not la jefa, we have several problems, yes?”

“I…” Trisha blushed a little. “I know what Helen looks like naked. That’s not her. And yes, we have problems. Someone faked that video, which shouldn’t be possible. Someone put that video up on actual DataEagle glasses, which shouldn’t be possible. Someone managed a fake Helen, and I assume a fake Vicki Vale, that would convince anybody who isn’t me, and that shouldn’t be possible. I have Katherine… Helen’s current receptionist… getting the actual router to bring it up here.”

“Mi zorra, faking them for a sex video? That is not impossible. That is just expensive. But putting a digital fake on the glasses, that is hard to believe. The DataEagle, it should not do that. All our press says it will not do that. And the audio, that would also be difficult - speakers do not sound like voices, no?”

“An impersonator, maybe? Or something…” Trisha sighed. “I don’t know the tech. I know how to use tech I use, but I don’t know how it works. Helen might be able to… I need to tell her, before someone asks her about the affair she’s having with Vicki Vale.” Her hand shook again. “And I think I need either coffee or heavy sedatives.”

“Coffee, I can get you. And if the movie magicians can make Elijah Wood three feet tall, mi amiga, they can do anything.” Sofia patted her arm reassuringly. “I think I will get that coffee and then go and fend off the wolves and make some calls to our tech people, yes? And you will handle la jefa and calm down.”

“I don’t want anyone else handling the router except me, you, and Katherine until Helen’s had a look at it,” Trisha said. “But… yes, getting answers on everything else is a good plan. Is Helen in her office?”

“No, with Mister Fox. You want me to page her to come down?”

“I’ll go to her. The labs or the garage?”

“The labs. I will have one of the girls bring you your coffee, then.” Sofia patted her arm gently, then started for the door. “You keep your head, mi zorra. You should not lose your temper today.”

“Little bit too late for that.” Trisha shook her head, heading back out to the elevator.

It was a longer ride from the executive levels to the labs, but when she went in it was easy to find Helen and Mr. Fox. They were standing in one of the testing bays playing around with some sort of black rifle-like device that Helen was pointing at a bank of lights and machinery, which periodically started and stopped working as she manipulated the controls of the device. Mister Fox looked rather pleased with himself, so presumably whatever it was, it was working nicely.

“Helen? Mr. Fox?” There were defense and intelligence contracts worked on down in the labs, and while her keycard wouldn’t get her into any rooms she didn’t have clearance to see the contents of, it didn’t hurt to announce herself. “I hate to interrupt, but I need a word with Helen.”

“Miss Baum.” Mister Fox gave her a benevolent smile and waved. “That’s all right, we were just playing with the toys. Can I do anything for you while you’re down here? Exotic requests, strange problems to solve?”

Helen trusts Lucius Fox. I should too. “I’ve got a router and some pairs of DataEagle demo glasses someone who I can trust and who knows a lot more about… everything… than I do to look at.” Then she looked to Helen. “What I need to talk to you about is… one of those things that’s business and personal.”

Helen’s lips compressed for a moment, and then she nodded. “Lucius?”

“It’s been a while since I got my hands into a router, but I think I remember how. Where should I look for it?”

“It should be up in my office,” Trisha said. “Thank you, Mr. Fox.”

“I’ll get it,” Mr. Fox said.

When he was gone, Trisha turned to Helen. “During the presentation for the DataEagle, someone broke into the feed. They…” She sighed, breathing out. “A faked sex video of you and Ms. Vale, hard-dated for the night of the Humane Society Ball. They… missed your scars.”

“Not many people know about those,” Helen murmured, reaching out and sliding both hands around Trisha’s hips to pull her into the testing gallery. “But we can’t exactly declare that on television. And even if we could, we’d have to admit someone’s spoofed or cracked the hard-storage system. Not a pretty picture.”

“Yes… I’d really rather not say anything until we know what happened. At the same time…” She leaned against Helen a little, half-closing her eyes. “I want to say on national television that you’re innocent, the video is faked, I know it’s faked and the world can take my word for it, and I’ll find whoever did this and toss them out a window for it.”

Helen smothered a soft, warm laugh in her hair and squeezed her tightly. “I think that would probably not convince anyone of anything except that you love me, but I’m going to treasure that image a long time.”

“‘I’ve seen her naked, that’s not her, and no I’m not going to list the details’ isn’t an acceptable answer, is it?” Trisha whispered against Helen’s jaw.

“Maybe a little too much like ‘trust me,’” Helen agreed, stroking the back of her neck gently. “But it’s good to know you can recognize me from behind without the suit, isn’t it?”

“Always,” Trisha murmured, nuzzling her lover’s neck. “Every time.” She sighed. “We should both get back to work… but I feel better, having seen you.”

“Hearing the news from you certainly made it easier to take. Not that that will make the storm we’re about to have break on us any more enjoyable to ride out - the board and the press are both going to give us a very long week.” Helen squeezed again, then kissed her lightly before letting her go. Almost. “I suppose I had better have someone work up a rote, pointless denial and then be ready to field calls.”

“And hear what Mr. Fox has to say about the router. You’ll understand it better than I will.” Trisha kissed Helen once more before stepping back. “Are you coming home tonight?”

Helen’s lips compressed for a moment, her eyes unreadable, but her hand stayed warm and tight in Trisha’s. “I don’t know yet. I may not know until late. If I am, I won’t sleep in another room this time.” That particular piece of attempted concern for Trisha’s well-being had earned Helen some rare sharpness from Trisha, and apparently the lesson had taken.

“All right. I’ll hope to see you there.” She stepped forward for another kiss. “I’ll go get back to work.”

“Have dinner with me, at least. We can order in. Take-out,” Helen whispered, cupping her jaw and leaning close, “and maybe even some privacy.”

Something shook at the bottom of her stomach, and it was far stronger than any desire she might have to point out how unprofessional such a thing would be. “Yes, Helen,” she murmured.

Her boss let her go with one more brush of lips and a firm, thoroughly unprofessional squeeze of her hips. It took most of the elevator ride back up from the labs for her blush to die down.

 


 

“You know, Trisha,” Helen murmured, her voice a shimmer of heat in the early evening sunlight, “when I read your letters of recommendation, one of your professors said she felt you’d absolutely be ready for the big chair one day from the moment she saw you. I don’t imagine this was what she had in mind, do you?”

If Professor Corvus had ever imagined Patricia Baum stripped from the waist down, her blouse and bra open and breasts wrapped in rope, lashed hand and foot to her boss’s chair so that her heels didn’t touch the ground and all her frantic thrashing could only rock the chair in place, with vibrating toys shoved deliciously up her cunt and ass and her jaw so slack that she could feel wetness on her chin every time she breathed, there’d never been any sign of it. If there had been, that could have been fun....

Everything is fire and Helen… She could see the room, her eyes wide and almost unblinking, but nothing in it seemed real. The desk was ephemeral, the walls illusion, the city spread out below them mere meaningless fantasy, even the chair she was tied to barely more substantial than mist. The only real thing there was Helen… or, at least, the only thing that mattered.

“N… no…” Helen asked a question, and they were at work, so she answered. “Not at all…” Forming words was by far the most difficult thing she had done today.

Helen only smirked, reaching out and giving the chair a very deliberate kick that rocked her hips down against the toys inside her, and the world revolved slowly to leave her staring out the wide windows until Helen came back into view. The buzzing toys sent another shock through her, and her body jolted hard enough to shift the chair, and she offered Helen her scream.

Dinner at her boss’s desk would have been perfectly normal any other day, but the video from the media conference had gone viral before mid-afternoon and the secretarial staff were trying heroically not to go awkwardly quiet around her every time she showed her face. Mister Fox and Katie had turned up evidence of physical tampering with the router, which at least meant that they didn’t have to pull down the whole DataEagle network for security reasons, but otherwise the day had been a concentrated dose of infuriating misery. And, without the promise that Helen would be home that night, Trisha was left with that dinner as the only thing to look forward to with any certainty at all.

She had decided before going in that, if Helen did not bring it up, the words “DataEagle” or “router” would not be spoken.

At least she could rely on Helen for an excellent meal. She’d arrived to find a full plate of wraps from Mawadda and iced tea on the meeting table, with a bowl of Greek salad and a side plate of petit fours keeping them company, and Helen had greeted her with a kiss and a reassuring squeeze before they got down to eating. What work they’d talked about had been constructive - the redevelopment projects in Midtown, a blue-sky digital library idea from R&D, improved drug treatments from Wayne Medical. Good news. Badly needed good news.

By the time that Trisha set aside her plate, she was smiling. She was smiling the smile of someone who had just had a very good hour and was about to step out into resuming a very bad day, but she was smiling, and she pressed a kiss to Helen’s lips, whispering, “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome,” Helen told her, and then slid both hands around Trisha’s hips and smiled down at her with just a hint of smugness, “but I’m not sure you should thank me yet.”

“Oh…” I should protest. Remind her I have work to do. But we both know I’m not going to do that. Trisha gave a sharp moan as Helen pulled her in closer, eyes widening. I will never actually do that.

Apparently Helen wasn’t looking for a coherent response, because she leaned down and kissed Trisha fiercely. “I have work for you here,” Helen husked, while the grip of her hands on Trisha’s ass neatly removed any question about what exactly the sort of work she was being held over for. Trisha’s knees wobbled, and she slid her arms around Helen’s neck as she returned the kiss, holding herself up and against Helen’s lips. This is entirely unprofessional.

Helen didn’t so much break the kiss as dissolve it into a dozen smaller ones, laced together with brushes of lips and soft breaths while she carried Trisha across the room to her desk and set her on top of it. Her hands ran the full length of Trisha’s legs while they kissed - hips to ankles and back, skimming her stockings the whole way - and hitched her skirt up all the way to her belly before unzipping it and peeling it and Trisha’s panties all the way back down.

Eat your heart out, Probably Fake Vicki Vale… Trisha moved her hands to Helen’s buttons before a glance told her that no, this was not what she was going to be doing just now, and she put her arms around Helen’s neck once more. “Yes,” she murmured into Helen’s ear, jolts of need going through her at that silken touch through her stockings.

“Good,” Helen told her, brushing the silk over her inner thighs and flicking ever so tantalizing fingers against the swollen heat of her sex, then started on the buttons of her blouse - one, two, three, quick and methodical, opening it down to the last two and then unclasping the front of her bra to let her breasts bare to the cool air. She was exposed, in a way that framed her, in a way that said more about who she was… whose she was… than nudity would. And she arched her back to offer her breasts to Helen’s eyes and, if Helen wanted, touch.

Helen’s teeth scraped her throat, thrilling her with the fear (hope) that there would be a mark, and then her boss stepped back and opened the drawer of the big black desk without breaking eye contact. “I have some special equipment for today,” she said, slowly and deliberately dragging black silk rope out of the drawer and looping it around her hands. Dropping it, coiled, onto the desktop next to Trisha’s bare ass. “You’re going to have to work hard.”

“I am always your dedicated employee,” Trisha husked. Did I actually just say that? “And will give my all.”

Yes, she’d said that. And it made her spine shiver. Helen’s teeth showed in her smile of approval. Then her boss reached down into the drawer and took out a towel - also black - and held it up, eyes on Trisha’s, before she laid it neatly across the seat of the big executive chair which was far too professional to call a throne and a little too elaborate and plush to call anything else. “Have a seat,” Helen told her, eyes burning into hers. “Keep the heels.”

She really likes to fuck me in my heels. Other girls have fuck-me boots. I have fuck-me business heels. Trisha did not giggle, though if her blood were not boiling with need she would have. She slipped into the chair - the most important chair in Gotham City - and stared at Helen. The look she got in answer was pure, molten hunger, and Helen waited a long moment or two in appreciation before she reached into the desk and came out with toys. Two of them - a longer, slimmer ivory tool and a thicker, black, ridged vibrator with a prominent clit stimulator jutting out of the extended grip, both big enough to pop her eyes just seeing them.

Fuck. Trisha stared at the tools, then at her boss, then back at the tools again. “Yes, Helen,” she murmured, drawing a deep breath that she knew did pleasing things with her chest. So she drew another. “Yes.”

Helen smirked and lubed the ivory one first, taking her time with the job, and then walked over to Trisha and wrapped one hand in her hair to pull her up off the seat. Trisha’s hands wrapped around the arms of the chair and lifted to keep the pressure manageable, a dull ache in her scalp that made her head throb dizzyingly, and Helen’s other hand slid behind her. She felt wet smoothness against her back, the curve of her ass, and then the head against the tight muscle of her ring while Helen’s lips stroked her throat and her arms strained to keep her balanced on the tip.

When Helen let go of her hair and pushed down on her shoulder, her hips dropped onto the penetration of her ass so helplessly that her whole body went liquid. Her lips parted to scream, but no sound came out because the breath was driven from her in the moment of penetration, and the world turned to white fire for an instant. Hers!

“Good girl, Trisha,” Helen breathed in her ear, settling her against the chair and grinding her spasming ring further onto the toy in the process. “Very good. Your dedication is commendable.”

“I… live to… serve…” Everything was stars, and her arms were limp, and her legs spasmed each time Helen moved her. And she gazed into Helen’s eyes. They were dark, and deep enough to drown in, and she felt as if she might.

By the time the greedy, aching throb in her pussy dragged her back to the surface again, the toy was thrumming - vibrating - full-depth in her ass and silk bound her blouse to her skin and her breasts into trapped, upright display. More silk slid against her thighs, between the curves of her ass, and every time she shuddered she could feel the base of the tool inside her slide and press against the ropes holding it in; her hands were bound, too, trapping her against the chair that was such a symbol of authority when Helen sat in it. Her boss leaned over her, lips feathering the hollow of her throat, and she knew Helen must be smelling the dampness she was leaking on to the towel in her need.

She knew she would make me this wet. She knows how much I want her. How much I burn for her. She was trapped, in Helen’s chair. Bound, exposed. Staring. Helpless.

Even moreso than usual.

She’s good with ropes. The thought floated through her mind, and she let her lips part. Helen kissed her open mouth, wet and messily, and then stepped back and picked up the heavy black tool from the desk with a gleam of hunger in those dark eyes. This one, she didn’t lube up. She hooked her hand behind Trisha’s hip, lifted her hips and shoved them forward - tightening Trisha’s ass around the tool claiming it in the process, which sent sparks up her spine and into her brain and drew a wordless cry - and then started to work the big head of the ridged phallus up into the spasming heat of Trisha’s cunt one rolling push at a time. Her arms tightened, her body thrashed, and she gave Helen her cries.

When Helen bottomed out in her, grinding against her cervix, her legs kicked almost rigidly out in front of her and she felt the whole weight of her hips press down into both the tools filling her up. Helen laughed in her ear, a sound edged with the sharp breath of a smothered moan, and took one ankle in her hands. Pulled it down, forcing Trisha to grind out another spasming cry against her penetrators, and then started to tie it down as well. I’m going to die. It feels too good and I’m going to die. “Please…”

When Helen was done, Trisha’s knees were wide and her heels almost touching, and the long grip of the toy in her cunt was pressed against the towel in a way that made every little movement bump the clit stimulator against her swollen, hyper-sensitive nub. Then Helen reached down, eyes on hers, and turned the vibrators in the black tool on. The stars that already filled her exploded, and Trisha did not hear the scream she must have released as her body went rigid, pulling at her bindings, not to escape them but because her muscles were spasming, and she came.

She thought Helen might have kissed her. She wasn’t sure. But she knew Helen watched her.

When the orgasm finally dissolved into flutters, taking most of her along with it, her eyes came into focus again and she could see Helen sitting up on the desk, belt undone, one hand almost delicately dipped into her open slacks while she watched Trisha buck under the throbbing stimulation inside her. Only the top button of Helen’s blouse was open, her jacket still on, and she might have been doing business in a casual moment if not for the flush of her cheeks and the quick, intermittent jerks of her hips when her own deft fingers caught her just so.

It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Helen, looking at her, like that. Doing that. And another cry escaped her. She might have cried out, “My Lady!” or it might have been wordless, but the meaning was clear. A tightening of her body moved the toys in her and she felt her head slump forward, hips jerking in the small motions that were the only way Helen had left her to move.

She was Helen’s, and everything was as it should be.

“You know, Trisha,” Helen said, “when I read your letters of recommendation, on of your professors said she felt you’d absolutely be ready for the big chair one day from the moment she saw you. I don’t imagine this was what she had in mind, do you?”

 


 

An attempt to sit at her desk and work was aborted by the fact that she couldn’t use her chair without the way her ass flexed in it reminding her of what, a mere half-hour before, she had been doing. So she stood up, paced her office while reading her email, but her thighs burned from the time she’d spent tied to the chair. And, no matter what she did, Helen’s face kept invading her thoughts - pleasure, demand, eyes.

I’d say I should tell her we have to wait for my work to be done next time, but I won’t. I never, never will. She trembled again at that realization, somehow more visceral than it had been in the heat of the moment, and she gave in, pocketing her phone. She would do a walk-through of the floor, she decided, then go home.

Where at least she’d be alone with her rampaging hormones and adoring thoughts.

When did home become the Manor? I’m still renting the apartment. But the apartment did not sound like home. It did not even sound like hers. No, after her walk-through, she would go home.

When she opened the door to her office to go into the hallway, her arm burned - bruises, the ones nearest her wrists not even hidden by her blouse, from Helen’s ropes. Light, barely visible, but she could feel them under her skin. Particularly when Katie stood up from her desk, bright and cheerful, and greeted her with that terribly innocent smile. “Walking the deck to see we’re all hard at work, ma’am?”

No one here works as hard as I… bad thought! Yes, she was blushing. No one here gets worked as hard as… no! Not now. “Just doing a quick check-in before I check out for the night. Has Ms. Wayne left?”

She kept the husk in her voice to a minimum when she said Helen’s name.

“Just went out the door, ma’am. I think she left...” Katie turned back and bent over the desk - She looks good like that… no, Trisha, the fact that you get bent over your desk by your boss does not give you permission to go imagining others getting bent over their desks. Especially when you are their boss! - running her fingertips over it, and came up with a note. “For you, ma’am.”

Will be home late. Don’t wait up. I’ll wake you. Good work today, Trisha. - H

“Thank you, Katie.” Trisha pocketed the note. “If she calls, let her know I’m on my way home.”

“I will. Have a nice night, ma’am,” Katie said, and there might have been a look in her eye when she said it. Or it might just have been the throbbing in Trisha’s cunt that made it feel that way.

Just because you were just getting fucked in your boss’s chair by your boss in a particularly creative way does not mean everyone has the hots for you. Next thing you know, you’ll be imagining that Imani is into you. She was going to make her walkthrough brief. Very brief.

She did not, thankfully, have to talk to anyone else before she finished and boarded the elevator, sending it down to the executive parking before hitting the button on her keyring that called the car to pick her up at the elevator.

It was ten feet from the elevator to the car’s passenger door - the longest walk she ever took in a part of the city that was at all exposed, any more. The car pulled up smoothly, almost silent on its electric motor, and the locks audibly clicked as she stepped up to it. It made her feel very much as if the car knew it was her and was eager to get her inside and away from potentially prying eyes who might notice the fact that, even if she’d been fucked less than an hour ago, she was already soaking through her panties from the feeling of standing straight in the elevator and feeling her well-used muscles spasm with sense memory.

She settled into her seat. “Home,” she murmured, then spoke more loudly. “Wayne Manor.” The car had, apparently, understood her the first time, as it was already in motion.

Shaking under her. Shaking her. The warmed leather of the seats didn’t help in the slightest.

Oh god…

She closed her eyes and swallowed a moan, but that was a mistake, because closing her eyes brought Helen into view behind her eyelids. That Helen, the Helen who had perched on her desk to watch Trisha thrash in her bindings, to touch herself as Trisha…

Her hand was inside her panties before she knew what she was doing. She shook. I just have to get the edge of this off… god, I’m raw… exhausted… but I need this. “Helen…” she gasped, before remembering that there was no one in the car. She started rubbing her clit quickly, fingers stroking it as fast as she could. Yes… good… “Helen!” she screamed, throwing her head back.

The car’s speakers clicked on, and then Helen’s voice was coming over them - cool, professional, faintly amused. “You’ve reached my private voicemail and I’m busy, so if you have this number you know what to do. I’ll get to you as soon as I can.”

Fuck… “Fuck! Helen!” She was at the edge, over the edge, could not have stopped if she’d been restrained, being restrained was good and Helen was going to hear her orgasm and… “Yours!” she screamed again before her body finally slumped forward.

“Oh… my…” She did not know how long she sat there, limp, hand loose in her panties, but the voicemail had stopped recording. She should probably text Helen… but she couldn’t really move. The car purred along through Gotham traffic, and something in her belly trembled at the thought that without the tinting on the windows anyone could have looked in and seen her there with her heal lolling against the leather seats and her skirt hitched up, knees high and hand dangling between her legs. It was an indecent and utterly unprofessional image, and it did perverse things in her head - conjured up the thought of getting down on her belly against the seat and sliding her wet fingers into her ass, calling Helen again and describing every quiver and stroke of what she was doing while she pressed her cheek against the warm leather of the seat and thrust her ass in the air like Helen’s personal fuckbunny.

Where had that word even come from?

There was time to get herself off once more before the car got her home. For all that doing so was a stupid, absurd thing to do, Trisha decided to take that time.

 


 

Midnight. She stared at the clock on the terrible desk, eyes blinking. Almost exactly. I’ve been out… maybe four hours. She patted the bed next to her, hand brushing the small depression in that mattress (how many decades had this mattress seen? Had Helen’s parents slept on it? That thought would linger) where Helen usually slept, and found it empty. She wasn’t kidding about being late…

She blinked again. No Helen. No chance of sleeping any more just now. Just her and the ghosts of this bedroom.

The ghosts had to get used to it. This was her room. Hers and Helen’s. But she wasn’t going to lay in bed and stare at the ceiling to argue that point with them. She slipped from the bed, stepped into her slippers, and pulled on one of Helen’s robes before peeking out into the hallway.

Mr. Pennyworth wasn’t there. Neither was Mr. Drake, who she’d thought was staying at the Manor tonight. Both, she was fairly certain, were asleep. She started through the hallways.

The tick-tock of the big grandfather clock in the upstairs hallway filled the air.

She slipped downstairs, first, to get some water in the kitchen, to take a slice of bread from the pantry to eat as she walked. But, apart from their private dining room, the downstairs did not feel like Helen, really. Too many ghosts, too little time of Helen staring at them.

The clock on the microwave glowed an eerie green in the darkness of the kitchen.

Trisha climbed the stairs again, visiting Helen’s private sanctum next. The room was quiet, with no Helen reading and no Mr. Pennyworth fussing over Helen and no fire crackling in the fireplace. The only sound was the steady tick-tick-tick of the desk clock.

That sound got into her bones, and she… did not flee. This was her home; she was not going to run from a clock. But she did leave the room.

The library. She could light the little lamp, sit under its light, and read until she became sleepy again.

The library was quiet, and a sense of foreboding filled her as she closed the door with a click. Then the room was silent, and she started to browse the shelves.

Her fingers crossed a small book, one of those half-height half-depth books children’s publishers would put out old short stories in with too many line-art illustrations. The Curse of Capistrano , the spine read in faded gold leaf.

She pulled the book from the shelf. A little light reading. She opened it as she approached the chair and the lamp, glanced down at the illustration, then dropped the book with a yelp as if it were hot to the touch.

It fell to the floor, landing open to one of its larger, more intricate illustrations. A man, on a black horse, in a black cape and black hat and black mask, the horse reared up on its high legs as the man swung his whip.

Zorro.

The black-and-white swashbuckling films where the hero always triumphed and the criminal was always punished. Helen’s anger at Luthor, not just for threatening her company and her girlfriend or for framing her for murder.

One night at the theater, to see Ty Power play the very man in that picture. A shortcut through a place that would come to be known as Crime Alley.

The room was silent. The tall grandfather clock stood, stopped as always at midnight.

The time on her phone was 12:26, now, but when she reached the clock, she did not turn it to that time. Because, for Helen, there was only one time.

10:48 PM. The moment Joe Chill pulled the trigger the first time.

The moment Helen’s childhood ended, or she became trapped there ever since.

She did not expect anything to happen. It was a fit of something like madness, of a need to call Helen to her with something like an incantation. Surely a still clock was just a still clock, a book was just a book, the night was just the hours strung between sunset and sunrise - not something living, breathing down her neck, clinging to her skin.

With a quiet whine one would have to be inside the room to hear, the wall behind the clock slid open, taking the clock with it, opening a hole into darkness broken only by the first stone steps of a staircase.

Chapter Text

The curving stairs went down and down and down into the dark, so far that the light from the library was swallowed up behind Trisha and all the illumination in the world flared from the cellphone in her hand. Her slippers made almost no sound on the stone steps, and the blackness was so complete that there was a feeling of being almost underwater - every little motion of her hand made the shadows ripple and jerk at the edge of her light. But still she went down, searching and seeking for something she couldn’t name, until a pale blue glow caught the dull stone ahead of her just beyond the next curve. Electric light. LED. She slowed for a moment, nervous, before the overwhelming need to know drove her to run those last few steps and out onto a broad ledge - stone, and then metal - from which she could look down onto...

It staggered her, and she had to crouch down and rest on her knees for a minute to be sure vertigo wouldn’t stumble her forward toward the edge. She’d been in a cave once on a college trip, beautiful pale stalactites and stalagmites jutting from watery pools, and it had weakened her knees - this was something so much more , some primeval void in the heart of the earth with walls ringed in metal platforms that seemed to go down and up forever. There was a plane hanging above her, black metal and built for speed and stealth, suspended by cables that seemed to vanish up into the dark; there was a giant penny against one wall, the date 1939 raised on it in text as long as she was tall. There was a giant green-brown Tyrannosaur staring at her with its enormous jaws open, only its impossibly dynamic frozen pose (and lack of feathers) giving away its nature. There was water down below her, running underground, and she could see armored black speedboats and... was that a submarine ?

What is this? She stepped fully out, into the huge space, staring at each wonder in turn. A huge playing card, its harlequin face staring madly across the chamber. A row of motorcycles, all black and heavy with huge engines. Then she saw it…

Long and heavy with armor, low to the ground and sleek for speed, the front jaggedly opened by air intakes - like for a jet - and fins extended intimidatingly from both sides of the fender.  The Batmobile.

Well, one of the Batmobiles. She could see at three more on the raised dais leading to a ramp that must lead out of the cave. And further in, she could see helicopters and stranger things tucked away in their own spaces or hanging in the air suspended like waiting monsters...

This is the Bat’s base of operations. But that only makes sense if… Finally, she called out. “Helen? Mr. Pennyworth? Mr. Drake?”

No one answered her but the echo of her own voice and the distant rumble of the water.

She worked her way around the dais to the next ramp away, following it down toward the feet of the dinosaur. Her phone fell from her hand, clattering to the floor unnoticed as she approached the glass tubes arranged as a memorial, or storage, or perhaps both - she counted three Robins in different styles (one bearing a gold-plate inscription that read “A Good Soldier”), a gold-gloved and booted uniform that seemed far too feminine for the Bat side by side with a bleeding edge armor half-wrapped in a broad cape, an all-black bodysuit, cape and cowl that seemed barely armored and bore a hollow bat’s symbol over its heart. Across from them, another row of cases more motley and strange - a green suit covered in question marks and a bowler hat to match, a shabby purple suit in tatters, a red mask, a sword suspended above a neat stack of guns of every description, a long case of umbrellas, a single coin. Those went on into the shadows on each side, scattering over the floors and against walls, in little clusters or alone.

I know these things. From stories or rumors… I expect a Gotham native could talk about them at length… She gazed at the purple suit again, a shiver going down her spine. Or find a corner to gibber in. She looked around, a mad thought going through her - one of dozens since she found Zorro in the book. I wonder if that’s why this place has so many circles and so few corners.

She’d seen a glow of lights on one of the platforms from the ledge above. She headed that way now, as much to get away from those cases and the looming array of hanging aerial predators as anything else. This time she went under the cards, ducking instinctively even in the tall passageway under all that metal, and came out up the narrow steps onto a double-circle dominated by a towering array of screens above a keyboard and - off to the side - a gold-rimmed Bat-symbol with two poles rising up into the dark. Were they fireman’s poles, right there next to what had to be one of the most impressive computers she’d ever seen?

Yes. Yes, they were.

This is insane. All of this is insane. I’m asleep. I’ve been asleep this whole time. Or I woke up at midnight, reached for my phone, and dropped it on my own head, bludgeoning myself into unconsciousness. That would make more sense than this, and it would make no sense. She stared at the poles. Somehow, they were the detail she was stuck on.

Bat-poles. There are bat-poles .

“You shouldn’t be down here, but I figure this was never going to happen, right? I stick the boss, this one.” The voice that broke into her thoughts was young, female, bright and lively, vaguely exasperated. “You to stay where you are until I get instructions on what to do with you, or I gotta tie you up?”

“There are Bat-poles.” Trisha stared at them a moment longer before turning to face the voice. That’s Miss Kelley . Then she worked her jaw, because she couldn’t even comment on the idea of Bat-poles as she stared at the garish clash of green and yellow and red that was this new Robin’s costume.

Cat Grant would drag her into a boutique and never let her go.

“Aces. Yeah, I figure those are real practical, but the boss likes ‘em. I say put in a nice tactical elevator, save the wear on the arms, but she says poles don’t need no power. Real likely we’ll lose power here, I figure. River stop running, sun stop shining.” Bouncing off the top of the Batmobile dais, Kelly - Robin - spun a gorgeously acrobatic twist and landed almost soundlessly on the metal in front of Trisha, between her and the computer. “Bat allowed a little billy, though.”

I know those words were words, but they don’t sound like words right now. “I want to see Helen. I won’t go anywhere. But I want to see Helen.” Her voice sounded strange.. Distant. Not quite like her voice.

You billy, but I don’t shiv.” Robin put one arm under hers, maybe to steady her. “Got a nice spot for a lie down right over here, how about.”

“I’d rather not be shivved,” Trisha murmured as she let herself be led. “But if I have to be shivved to see Helen…”

“Billy,” Robin muttered under her breath. “Balls billy. No wonder the Bat likes you.” There was a sort of locker room off to the side of the cave, apparently, with a few cots near the lockers; Robin eased Trisha down into one, strong enough to take most of her weight. “You stay here? Deep breaths, nice and easy. Bat gets back, you see her right off.”

“All right, I think.” Very little of what Robin said made sense, but breathing deep did, so she did that, eyes closed. It helped, a little. Not seeing helped more.

She might have dozed a little. Maybe not. She wasn’t sure. But she could smell tea and sandwiches, and her head felt less like she was falling out of it. She rolled over onto her side, shock giving way to a headache, and bumped an oxygen mask against her cheek. Pushed that away and rubbed her temples.

Alfred Pennyworth was standing just down the locker room from her, neatly dressed in his usual formalwear, plying Robin and Batgirl with sandwiches and tea from an enormous platter he’d set down on a storage rack for bizarre equipment - crossbow-like things without the armatures, bat-themed projectiles of all sorts, cases labelled Smoke Pellets, black, x10000 and Smoke Pellets, white, x10000.

Mr. Pennyworth is in a cave. She held onto her headache - the pain kept her grounded - and, with a quiet sound of discomfort, sat up. “I don’t suppose there’s an extra cup of tea?” If Helen was here, she would be… here. And if they haven’t called her yet, they’re not going to.

“Not an extra one, no, Miss Baum. I brought one for you specifically,” Pennyworth said, pouring a cup and bringing it over to Trisha along with a plated sandwich. “I understand you’ve had a bit of a shock. Can I offer you anything else?”

“I don’t think I’m ready for food,” she said quietly. “And I think I’m going to nurse this headache. Do you know when Helen will be back?”

“She is enroute at present. Her exact time of arrival will depend on a number of factors, but it shouldn’t be a great deal longer. I feel I must apologize for choosing an inopportune time to leave you on your own for the night.”

“I… an apology is either unnecessary or does not begin to cover it; I’m not quite sure which yet. But if she’s on her way, I think I will take an Asprin. Or something stronger. Ibuprofen or something.” She shook her head. “I should probably talk to her with as clear a head as I can.”

“I’ll get you something, then.” He patted her shoulder reassuringly and straightened up, moving off to what looked like a well-stocked pharmacy and medical center, and the sense of unreality threatened to wash over her again. She was looking at a surgery in a cave under her lover’s mansion while Batgirl and Robin were eating sandwiches and drinking tea like it was a tea party.

She sipped her own tea, watching them both quietly. None of this made sense… but it was starting to. Of course the Bat and her… friends? Sidekicks? Employees? Would need a place to store supplies, vehicles, and to get patched up. When Alfred returned with her pills, she offered him a smile. “Thank you, Mr. Pennyworth. I’ve always appreciated your kindness.”

“It is always a pleasure, Miss Baum, even under these trying circumstances.” Whatever else Pennyworth might have been tempted to say was drowned out by a distant rumble - almost subsonic - and the splash of water on metal. A muted, throaty roar built up, echoing off the cave walls, and finally cut off with a whisper of fans spinning down. Pennyworth patted her arm again, doubled back to collect a thermos from his tray, then vanished out into the main cave. Robin, when Trisha looked up, had already done the same. Batgirl was leaning against the lockers next to her, though, and smiling under her mask.

“Hi,” she said, holding out a gloved hand. “I’m Batgirl. We’ve sort of met, right?”

“At the party, yes. You pretty much saved me, there,” Trisha said. “I don’t remember if I got a chance to thank you.”

“Hey, seeing you take a chair to that robo-penguin was plenty reward for me. I’ve got that on semi-permanent replay on my home computer, I’m just saying.” She had a nice, lively grin up close. Excited about living. “Sorry about the big Batwing. It makes a bit of a racket coming in. Your ears okay?”

Trisha shook her head. “No clue. The headache hasn’t gone away, and I don’t think the shock has totally worn off either. So I’m having a little trouble differentiating. Either I can hear or I’ve gone delusional, though, so that’s something.”

“Are you talking to a lady dressed as a giant purple bat? Because if you are, you’re sane,” Batgirl quipped, then shot a look over her shoulder. “Oops, gotta run, have a Batcycle to catch. Nice meeting you properly!”

She smiled a little as Batgirl left, too charmed to be… well, anything else with her, really.

At the end of the row of lockers, cool blue lamplight playing through her tightly bound hair, Helen Wayne was standing there. Looking at her. Helen’s face, anyway, if it had been carved out of marble on the way to being made flesh and the eyes set like stones with burning blue light in their hearts. The rest was...

Armor. Shadows. The Bat.

She wanted to run to her. She wanted to run from her. She couldn’t move.

She sat, and she stared. Tried to glare.

“Helen.”

The cave was completely real, now, and the Bat crossed the distance between them and knelt down in all that armor, taking Trisha’s hands in both gauntlets and holding them with infinite care, looking up at her steadily and with perhaps the faintest hint of a smile.

“Hello, Trisha,” Helen whispered quietly. “I see you’ve found the Batcave.”

Trisha had a dozen answers. Anger, fear, sobbing sadness and hurt, yelling, adoration, flinging herself into Helen’s arms. But what came out was, “You actually call it that?”

“I didn’t start out calling it anything. But Robin - the first Robin - called it that. And the Batmobile - that was Toronado before he got to it. I held out as long as I could.” That smile grew just a little bit wider.

Trisha squeezed Helen’s hands tightly. “I… I…” She paused. “Zorro’s horse.”

“Yes. Alfred did a great deal of the work on the first one, but I have to take responsibility for the name. Dupin, however - it’s the Batcomputer now - was Alfred’s bit of whimsy.”

Trisha worked her mouth for a moment, then she let herself fall from the cot, into Helen’s arms, laughter erupting from her throat.That rush of emotion let the tears start, and she pressed her face to her lover’s armored neck, nose crinkling against the hard material, and let herself cry. She was aware, distantly, that Helen had lifted her - was holding her, the way she had that first night in her apartment - but what she felt against her shoulders and her hips was hard ceramic and metal.

Her laughter slowly faded to sobs as Helen settled down with her again, Helen’s armored legs under her hips and her own legs tucked mostly under her. They were mostly in the dark, though there was just enough light to pick out Helen’s eyes watching her, and after Helen squeezed her more tightly for a moment she felt silk and the smoothness of Helen’s fingertips against her cheek. There was water lapping somewhere nearby, and it was very quiet.

“I’m sorry,” Helen whispered, still dabbing her cheek with what must be a handkerchief. “I’m so sorry, Trisha.”

It took Trisha a moment to answer, and the first time she tried it was muffled against Helen’s neck. She tilted her head a little, to get the choked words out. “What are you sorry for?”

Helen hesitated for what seemed like a long time, her palm cupping the curve of Trisha’s jaw, her eyes searching Trisha’s face as though she were looking for something in it. Finally, softly, “That I never have learned to move on, and never will.”

Trisha nodded, blinking tears out of her eyes, and turned her head to kiss Helen’s palm. “I… yes. That…” She looked down, just a little. “I’m… sad hurt scared angry… but all those things just make me want to find you. I don’t know what to do.”

“I think Alfred would probably suggest that I get out of this suit, take you upstairs and wrap you in a blanket,” Helen murmured, tucking the handkerchief around her fingers and stroking her thumb against the softness under Trisha’s eye. “Or we could sit in the dark a while longer.”

“Blanket,” Trisha whispered. “And… no suit. It’s uncomfy.” She poked Helen in the chest. “I might still be a little in shock. Or be a little in shock again.”

“Understandably. It’s going to take a few moments for me to get out of this. Can I have Alfred take you upstairs to the library without making things worse?” Helen kissed her forehead, terribly gently, and slowly eased up onto her feet without setting Trisha down. It was still a very, very strange feeling.

“Yes,” Trisha whispered. “If it’s Mr. Pennyworth.”

“All right.”

They came out of the dark and into the locker area again, Helen ever so gently setting her on her feet, and there was a brief conversation in glances between Mister Pennyworth and Helen that barely needed a sound before Helen set Trisha carefully on her feet and vanished back into the darker caves. Probably to get her glove, which Trisha imagined Mr. Pennyworth would be very annoyed for her to leave lying around. For some reason, the idea of Mr. Pennyworth scolding Helen for leaving pieces of her Bat costume around made Trisha giggle helplessly, and that was how they started up the stone steps back to the library - Mister Pennyworth carrying his half-empty tray with one hand and guiding Trisha with the other, Trisha giggling intermittently, the faint glow of concealed lights illuminating their way up this time.

“It’s the Batcave. She called the car Zorro’s horse and the computer… I’m not sure who Dupin is.”

“One of Mister Poe’s detectives, Miss Baum. Of ‘The Muders in the Rue Morgue’ and ‘The Purloined Letter. The first of his sort.”

“I’m…” She fell into giggles again as they reached the Manor.

He settled her into one of the two big chairs by the fireplace in the library, tucking a warm blanket over her and pouring her the last of the current pot of tea before he turned up the lamps and set about lighting a fire in the grate. In the lamplight and the flash of matches, he suddenly seemed a very old man indeed, but he was no less straight and elegant for it.

“Mr. Pennyworth…” she said, her laughter fading. “Thank you for taking care of her, too.”

“I swore an oath that I would, Miss Baum. To her parents,” he told her quietly, straightening up and looking down at her with great dignity. “But it has also been my very great honor to do so.”

“There are enough oaths going about this house,” Trisha whispered, “That I begin to feel like we need a peach garden.”

“Very droll, Miss Baum,” Pennyworth said, though she thought he might have been making a great effort to restrain himself from smiling. “Shall I bring you some sweets to restore your wit before Mistress Helen joins you?”

“Chocolate. Sweet chocolate. I know I usually prefer dark, but sweet is right today.” She pulled her blanket in tighter, shivering a little.

“Whatever you require,” he said, like a promise, and then went out into the hall and left her alone in the library with the fire and the slow-dying night outside the windows. She doesn’t come back until dawn. When she left my apartment at night, was she leaving to do this? Is this why I so rarely wake up to her?

There was a sound outside, a faint whirring like a gas motor, and when she stood out to stare out into the faint pre-dawn glow she saw a sky full of motion, of delicate furry bodies and outstretched wings, an enormous swarm of bats wheeling over the Manor.

So many. She reached out and touched the window, watching the bats swirl over the wild of the back lawn, and let her breath out slowly. They’re beautiful.

“They nest in the cave,” Helen said softly, unexpectedly behind her. “The first time I found it, I think I scared them as much as they scared me. At least, my father said so.”

Trisha leaned back into Helen’s arms - she could do nothing else - and closed her eyes. “They frighten you?”

“Very much,” Helen whispered back, hugging her tightly. “But they belong with me, too. Or I belong with them. Or something in between. They were still there, waiting, when I came back to the cave. I was twenty-five. They’d waited nineteen years for me.”

Trisha closed her eyes, settling into Helen’s arms. “I… like bats. I’ve never really seen them much, other than through the window here, but I like them. They can startle me a bit, but… they are cute. And I think they eat bugs.”

“Bugs. Fish. Small mammals, birds, lizards and frogs if the bats get big enough.” Helen kissed the back of her neck carefully, holding her tightly - she’d dressed quickly, in sweats and a black tank-top, but she didn’t seem to be cold. “You couldn’t sleep?”

“I fell asleep too early,” Trisha whispered. “So I woke up in the middle of the night. And you weren’t there. So I just… wandered. I found the clock.” She breathed out. “Every other clock in the house works. They tick and tock and glow and things. But this one doesn’t, and… there were other steps. But I knew where to set the time.”

“I fell down an old well,” Helen said, very softly. “I was playing with one of my father’s toys - a sort of camera - and I fell. I was down there what seemed like a long time. Most of a day.”

Trisha leaned in closer. “That sounds terrifying. Did your father find you?”

“Came down the well to get me.” Helen held her very tightly, face pressed softly into Trisha’s hair, and she could feel her lover’s shoulders tremble. “I remember him holding me all the way up, still, and mother waiting for us in the sunlight.”

“Oh.” That helps explain a lot. Trisha tilted her head back to kiss Helen’s jaw. “I… this frightens me. It scares me that… that I’ll lose you. To it. Either because you die or get badly hurt or because you… fall into it. I’m not sure how to explain…”

“I know,” Helen whispered, turning Trisha enough to kiss her lips. To linger there, whispering into them. “I know. I can’t lie anymore, now. I don’t know how to reassure you.”

Trisha let her lips linger near Helen’s. “I don’t think you can,” she said softly. “Not tonight, anyway.”

Helen bent her head - an acknowledgement, the hint of tears in her own eyes - but held Trisha just as tightly. “You’ll have questions. Do you want to sleep first?”

“I should,” Trisha whispered, pressing her lips to Helen’s. “Can you sleep as well, or do you have to… clean up? Do some sort of work?”

“I can sleep. And I think I’ll call in to work today,” Helen said, a hint of a smile at the edge of her mouth. “I imagine Lucius can keep the lights on without me.”

“I am sorry, Ms. Wayne, but your PA will also need the day off. I’m afraid she is having a family emergency,” Trisha whispered.

“Under the circumstances, Miss Baum, I think you can take as much time as you need.”

“Lay down with me?”

Helen nodded, keeping an arm close around her, and started for the door. They were out in the grand hall when Mister Pennyworth caught them; with no more than a paternal smile, he tucked Trisha’s plate of chocolates into her hand and brushed them off toward the stairs. She forgot the chocolates by the time they were in bed, where she wrapped around Helen, closed her eyes, and slept.

She woke up twice, both times to Helen’s weight pressed against her, and both times drifted back almost immediately to sleep.

 


 

They were in the small dining room, alone, a pot of coffee on the table, a mug in front of each of them. Trisha was wearing one of the very few t-shirts that had survived a few turnovers in her wardrobe since her undergrad that each seemed to push it more toward being 100% business and wandered its way to the Manor from her apartment and a pair of slacks - the same ones she’d worn when she interviewed with Helen. Helen was wearing a black turtleneck over gray slacks, positively casual for her, and she’d left her hair loosely clipped up after her morning shower.

“You dress as a bat and stalk the night as a shadow, hunting down crime and protecting the innocent,” Trisha said after Mr. Pennyworth left the room. “You are also the until-recently most eligible bachelorette on the East Coast, the wealthiest woman in North America and usually the world, and the simultaneous subject of basically every feminist studies major I knew in college’s unending ire, constant worship, and barely-concealed erotic daydream. You do know that with only that, if I were to write a book about your life, it would be dismissed as unbelievable and someone would suggest that I next say that Clark Kent is Shazam! and that Mr. Pennyworth is the Green Arrow.”

“You forgot to mention that I regularly fight invading space empires and interdimensional tyrants with a few expensive tricks, years of martial arts training and a little strategic thinking,” Helen said blandly, sipping her coffee and affecting mild amusement. “Or, admittedly, throwing Superman and Wonder Woman at them.”

“Oh, no, Helen Wayne: Space Tyrant Deposer at Large is absolutely believable,” Trisha said, sipping her coffee. “Should I… see what I can piece together?”

“If you like. I don’t want to impose, but it would... interest me,” Helen admitted.

“I’ve known for a long time… most of our relationship, if not before… that your parents’ death was… crucial. To your view of the world, to how you saw yourself, to what makes you up emotionally. You watched Zorro and Robin Hood and the Scarlet Pimpernel and The Magnificent Seven with your father, who saved you when you fell into the well and into the cave full of terrifying bats. Your mother… was a woman of sufficient character that Gotham as a whole still mourns her. Meanwhile, you’re a child in this huge dark manor that must have been a place full of so much love but even before their deaths was full of the ghosts of your ancestors. Then you’re leaving a movie, Zorro , and you’re going through that alley and Joe Chill, all five-foot-seven of nobody, wouldn’t intimidate even me if I saw him on the street, but you’re a kid and he’s way bigger than you and he’s got a gun, and the mugging’s going swimmingly until he panics. And… and he kills them.” Trisha looked down a little, exhaling. “And he runs. And Helen Wayne is taken to the police station, cold and alone, until Mr. Pennyworth picks you up. But you also stay there, in that alley. You go through school, but you’re quiet now, barely present, coasting through on the fact that you’re a genius and don’t really have to work to achieve. Lots of worried notes home, people clucking over you and saying that a grieving girl shouldn’t be living in this big old house with just a butler for care and company, but you don’t let them move you.

“At fourteen, you vanish… I’m not sure where you go, but I assume that’s when you learned to sneak and fight and drive and maybe to build things the way you do. Tibetan temple? I don’t think they teach driving or supercomputer construction at a Tibetan temple. You come back to Gotham. There’s a couple of years there… you’re playing the playgirl, consolidating control of Wayne Enterprises back to yourself after the Board spent the time you were gone running all directions with it.” She bit her lip. “The Bat doesn’t show up for a couple of years after you get back. I don’t know exactly when the Bat showed up, but I know it wasn’t the same time. I… either you thought you could keep it under control, your need to bring the criminal to justice and protect children and do whatever you could to keep another little girl from seeing what you saw, or you didn’t know how to do it in spite of all that training. I do know you picked a bat because you fell in that well and they scared you, and you scare the criminals. Public record… you took in a series of wards over time. Mr. Grayson, Mr. Todd, Mr. Drake-Wayne, Ms. Kelley. Ms. Kelley is Robin now… she didn’t even try to disguise the dialect last night. The others were too, weren’t they? At least… no, it would have to be all of…” She paused, almost dropping her coffee mug. “Absolutely none of the stories I read from old papers while I was putting together my dossier about Mr. Todd were accurate, were they?” She kept talking to keep Helen from having to answer. “I don’t know about Batgirl… there was a redhead Batgirl once, too, wasn’t there? Or am I mixing her up with Batwoman and the other Batgirl just wore cowl that hid her hair? Anyway, I don’t know about Batwoman either. Assuming she’s not the redheaded Batgirl. Assuming there was a redheaded Batgirl. As the Bat, you meet the Joker and the Riddler and eventually everyone knows you exist and people can be hopeful and feel safer because you’re out there, as well as being scared if they’re criminals. Is that… how wrong am I?”

“Closer than a great many people who’ve spent a great part of their lives trying to figure it out,” Helen said, her thumb rubbing the edge of her mug very slowly. “Jason was a good soldier. A good boy. I tried to protect him.” Her voice cracked, but she went on grimly. “The Joker dropped a building on him, and he still got up. He was trying to get people out of the building. I was so proud of him, Trisha.” Her eyes were flat, tearless, but the mug trembled in her hands. “I should have saved him, but I was so proud of him.”

Trisha set her mug down before reaching across the table for Helen’s hands, cupping them in her own gently and squeezing. “I’m here,” she murmured.

“After he died, I told myself no more. No more partners, no more backup. No more lives in danger. But I was wrong.” Helen closed her eyes, as if trying to breath around a deep stab wound, then opened them again. “Timothy came to me. ‘The Bat needs a Robin,’ he said, and he was right. So we go on. All of us. I didn’t exactly disappear for all of those ten years, but what you would find in the records - a school semester here, a photograph at a party there - it happened, but they were stops on a path I’d mapped out before I left. Everything I would need to do, to be, in order to do this. To be ready. But at first it wasn’t enough, you’re right. I had the training and the tools, but not the method. And then...” A smile - small, real, tangible. “Bats. The Bat.”

Trisha smiled a little at that, herself. “So that bit of inspiration was the last step…” She rose to her feet, moving around the table to sit beside Helen. “I… feel awkward about what I’m feeling right now.”

The tilt of Helen’s head, graceful and careful, and the stillness of her could have meant anything. It was a practiced sort of stillness. But the eyes...

The eyes were Helen’s, and they were for her.

“I… I’m not going to ask you to stop. It wouldn’t do me any good, and even if you did, you’d sit there and stare into the night and count the crimes you weren’t stopping. But that I was even tempted… I’m from Metropolis. I’m not from Gotham. And the idea of someone coming from somewhere else, who hasn’t been here her whole life hoping things would get better wanting, even for a moment, to take away something that’s become a symbol of hope…” She sighed. “I’d have hated that person, if they were trying to take Superman from me, and Metropolis has the sun.”

“I think you’d have to be more than human not to want ... not to hope that someone you care for would choose a different sort of life.” Helen reached out to wrap a hand around hers, squeezing tightly, and leaned across the corner of the table to brush soft lips against her cheek. “I know that there are days when Alfred still hopes for that.”

Trisha turned to face Helen and put her arms around her neck. “I… want us. And I’ve known from the start that I’d be second in your heart to this city.”

“That’s not much of an offer for me to make,” Helen whispered in her ear, kicking her chair back and pulling Trisha almost into her lap. “Are you sure you still want to accept?”

“I’m sure. I think I’ve been sure all along,” Trisha said. “When I ran into Robin in the Bat… in the cave… I asked for you.” She pressed close, closing her eyes. “I want us.”

“In that case, I’m grateful. More than I can say.” Helen kissed her hair and breathed out slowly, as if setting a down an enormous weight. They sat there for a little while, coffee going colder, fall sunlight streaming in around them while they listened to each other’s heartbeats.

Finally, almost reluctantly, Helen whispered “I could never bring myself to tell Vesper. I told myself it was to keep her safe, but it didn’t save her either.”

“I don’t think I’d have really understood if you’d told me. I think I had to see,” Trisha said quietly. “To put things together.” She kissed Helen’s cheek softly. “I don’t think telling or not telling changes much in terms of safety, as long as the person you’re telling isn’t going to tell others or insist on putting on a costume and running around out there with you. Which… well, I won’t.”

“I think I would have to tie you down if you tried,” Helen said, and then smothered a laugh in the curve of Trisha’s neck. “Of course, I might do that anyway.”

“You do do that anyway,” Trisha whispered, kissing Helen’s jaw.

“So I suppose I don’t have much to threaten you with after all, do I?”

“Nothing at all, that I can think of.”

Helen only smiled. “I suppose I’ll just have to depend on your kindness and good graces, Miss Baum, while I go about protecting our city.”

Trisha giggled quietly, pressing a kiss to Helen’s lips. “Should we tell Mr. Pennyworth that we finished our fight?”

“I imagine he’ll get the idea when we don’t get back out of bed for a few hours, since the world is getting on so well without us.” Helen scooped her up off the chair, smirking softly, and started for the door with Trisha tucked firmly against her.

Trisha squeaked, then decided that this plan was the best one of all and pressed a kiss to Helen’s neck. “Did you mean it about tying me up?”

“Every word, my darling,” Helen smiled down at her. “Every word.”

 


 

She’s beautiful. Trisha stared across the back seat of the car at Helen, hands folded in her lap. We’re still less than forty-eight hours out from the thing with the video, and I learned that Helen was the Bat yesterday morning, and all I can think is that she’s beautiful. There’s something very wrong with me. She sighed, but smiled at her lover a little when Helen’s eyes turned on her. Everyone will be waiting to offer condolences on my break-up with my cheating bitch of a girlfriend or to smugly offer sarcastic condolences on my split with the woman who was either out of my league or an obviously unrepentant lech. Or both. Either way, they’ll be amazed when we’re still together. Or they’ll take it as confirmation of their idea that I’m a gold-digging slut.

Mister Pennyworth had served breakfast for them - Helen, Timothy and Trisha - and it had been bizarrely normal. Helen had even slept in her bed the night before, undisturbed by the call of the Bat, and she could probably have been forgiven for thinking the past forty-eight hours had been some sort of terrifically creative dream. Except that, in the midst of serving her coffee and danishes to go with her bacon and eggs,  Mister Pennyworth had said “Will there be anything else, Mistress Trisha?”

“No, Mr. Pennyworth,” Trisha said. It was only after he’d moved on that she realized what he’d called her. And turned a deep shade of red and focused her attention on her food with a little more gusto.

And now Helen was sitting next to her, one hand wrapped in hers, smiling faintly. “So here we are again. Lucius isn’t happy with us for missing work yesterday. Apparently damage control could be going better.”

“Yes,” Trisha said. “I’m sure I could have done so much to help. The Human Media Circus, that would be my name. And I would get asked questions fast enough that I would never get to answer.”

“I don’t know, I think you could make it work. Maybe we can have Vicki come in and give you an interview.”

“Well… it would say loudly that I don’t believe the video. Assuming she’d be willing.”

Helen’s face went still and thoughtful, her thumb rubbing across the back of Trisha’s hand. “You know, I was joking, but now it doesn’t sound so crazy. I could call Vicki up and ask her. If nothing else, I bet she’s itching to punch back on some of what’s in the papers.”

And what had been in the papers was hard to credit even for someone with Trisha’s experience with media relations. The feeding frenzy had involved pieces in every major tabloid and newspaper ranging from outright prurient to coolly unimpressed moral patronizing, television commentary, radio comment even on the music stations, blog posts fit to fill even a WayneTech hard drive. The stories sneering at Helen for ‘stepping out on her new squeeze’ were bad enough, with their endless recitation of playgirl antics past, but even worse were the thread of stories that seemed determined to make Helen Wayne out to be a damaged, helpless soul caught between her calculating, gold-digging assistant and the reporter who’d always been happy to lay down for a story in the past. Perhaps, Trisha thought, Ms. Vale would be amenable to an interview. A chance to push back. They managed to paint everyone involved - Trisha, Ms. Vale, and Helen - in the way most perfect for getting under Trisha’s skin.

“Yes. Call her,” Trisha said. “I think that honestly sounds like fun.”

It turned out to be around lunchtime in the east conference room; Helen had somehow managed to smuggle Ms. Vale into the building without any of the rabid press finding out, so Trisha found herself sitting down across from Vicki Vale for the second time just a few minutes after the first wave of pictures of Helen and Trisha walking into the office together holding hands were settling into the wave of reaction pieces and analysis about what this ‘bold step’ meant for the future of Gotham’s social ecosystem. Vicki looked tired in spite of her perfect makeup and hair, and she’d only brought a professional digital camera and hand-recorder with her this time.

“I’m honestly glad to see you, Ms. Vale,” Trisha said after she sat. “Thank you for coming.” This has been hard on her, too… has she even been able to work?

“You know, I honestly wasn’t sure I wasn’t going to punch you in your perfect teeth when I saw you. Since you came into my life - well, Helen’s - I’ve had less sleep and more stress than I can remember since the last time Helen and I dated. Not to mention a chronic inability to show up for anything interesting without getting mobbed by my colleagues.” Vicki smiled ruefully and held up her camera. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” Trisha said. “I’m honestly glad to have this just be us in the room.”

“It does keep things simpler, doesn’t it? And breathing... relax... good. Think about breakfast this morning... must have been a good one, that’s a nice smile... There. Did Alfred make his famous spinach omelette for you yet? Best in the city.” The camera went back onto the table, and Vicki sighed while she took out an old-fashioned paper notebook.

“I haven’t had the spinach omelet yet. Today’s breakfast was simple… bacon, eggs, toast. But all very good.” She exhaled. “I didn’t know bacon and eggs could be so good .”

Vicki shook her head and laughed - short, sharp but warm. “Enjoy the food service. It’s the second best part of the gig.”

Trisha blushed at that, folding her hands on the table. “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

“So, with your permission, I’m going to turn the recorder on?” Vicki waited on her nod, smiled, clicked the slider into position. “I’m Vicki Vale of WGCK News and the Gotham Gazette, here today with Miss Trisha Baum - last month the hottest toast of the social season, and this week the hottest roast of the city’s tabloids. She’s here to set the record straight on love, life in Wayne Manor and her rise from corporate assistant to stardom. Miss Baum, last time we talked you hadn’t turned twenty-eight, and you still haven’t. It seems like everything’s been moving pretty fast for you, these days - on and off the clock.”

“Getting close, though,” Trisha said. “And… well, yes, things have been moving fast.” She smiled. “Had a lovely vacation, and now I’m here and ready to work.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot to talk about with your work, including the attempted sabotage of the DataEagle system, but I imagine we’re going to have to take a moment to acknowledge the elephant in the room.” Vicki flashed a brilliant smile, and it showed in her voice. “Since that broadcast involved a truly impressive mockup of your current girlfriend having what looked like a very good time with someone who looked very like me - an occasion that I almost wish I had been present for, given the languishing state of my romantic prospects at the moment - I suppose a lot of people in my audience are going to be wondering why you decided to speak with me today, of everyone you could be talking to.”

“Because there are three people in the world who know that video isn’t real,” Trisha said. “And only one of them is a reporter. It is an impressive mockup, but all it is is a mockup.” She blushed a little. “I do hope that your romantic prospects look up soon, though… you’re smart and you’re gorgeous and you’re a way better dresser than I am. Gotham ought to be lined up outside your door.”

“Maybe I just need to follow Helen’s example and try my luck with the younger set,” Vicki mused, playing to the recorder with a near-audible smirk before she settled back in her chair. “So tell me about the DataEagle. Has the uncrackable WayneTech system been broken, or just gamed around the edges?”

You really can’t help a cradle-robbing crack, can you? “We don’t know yet,” Trisha said. “We’ve got a lot of our best engineers working a lot of overtime on this, and neither we nor any of the independent experts we’ve sent copies of the glasses to have been able to find a way to break through the security. We do know how the video was fed to the glasses in the room, though… and, while it has implications for our internal building security, it isn’t a flaw that affects the production model. The demo models weren’t connected to the Wayne satellite network; they were on a subnet built specifically for that demonstration with off-the-shelf components. Those components were what was broken into.”

“Corporate espionage at its embarassing finest. So what’s next on your social calendar, Miss Baum? When and where can we expect to see you starting your winter season?”

“As you can imagine, I’ve been a bit busy of late,” Trisha said. “So whatever the first event I manage to make is, it will almost certainly be in Gotham. I think I might be able to talk Helen into the premier of something absurd where at least half the cast has some sort of laser.”

“As long as someone’s swinging from a rope, you’ve got half a chance,” Vicki agreed cheerfully. “A lot of people in Gotham have been watching you these past months, wondering what it means for them that you’ve come to such prominence in the city. In the wake of recent controversies, what do you want to say to them?”

“I still love this city, even if a lot of people believe some rather unflattering things about Helen and I. Mostly… I want to keep doing the sort of work I do now, arranging things to help Helen and the city, and to keep learning what being this entirely in love means for me. And… it took some time, but I think I’m becoming convinced that the hot links at Knights Park are better than the patty melts at Future Garden. Maybe. It’s close.”

“A controversial opinion! I’ll be waiting for the hot takes on that subject from the Daily Planet . Before we wrap up, I’d like to get your comment on a quote that came across my desk today from none other than Zatanna Zatara - famous stage magician and sometime assistant to the Justice League - about our little controversy. ‘Whoever that was in the video, I can assure you it’s not the Helen Wayne we know and love. I can speak from first-hand experience.’ A statement she followed by what can only be described as a particularly salacious wink. Your response?”

Trisha sat on that question for a moment before speaking. “I have two responses. The simpler: ‘Ohmigod Zatanna Zatara knows who I am I’ve been a fan for years .’ The second… I’m aware of Helen’s history. I know I’m not the first person she’s dated, or the first person she’s slept with, or the first she’s loved. I do appreciate Ms. Zatara’s statement…” She gave a conspiratorial look, dipped her head down, and spoke in a stage whisper. “Especially since part, though far from all, of the reason I knew the video was fake was… similar to Ms. Zatara’s inside information .

“Well! I think that’s something we can all agree on - being fans of Ms. Zatara’s stage work, that is. Thank you, Gotham, and good night.” Vicki clicked the recorder off and smiled ruefully. “I feel like I ought to apologize for the ambush, but I am a reporter.”

“It would be like asking lightning not to strike or Superman not to… super,” Trisha said. “Besides… I actually am that giddy about Zatanna.” And saying flat-out, “That’s not what Helen looks like naked” wouldn’t work, but that created an opportunity to just confirm someone else’s statement.

“I think pretty much anybody with eyes feels the same way,” Vicki sighed, shaking her head. “She came to Gotham for a show once while Helen and I were seeing each other, and all I could think was ‘Dear God, how am I supposed to compete with that ?’”

Trisha giggled quietly. “I knew I was bi before she became really prominent. But after her first TV special… well, if I’d had any idea of denial at all, it would have been utterly flattened. And her show . She’s incredible… the showmanship of Barnum, the stage presence of the Rock.”

Vicki shook her head, chuckling, but some of the humor slowly drained out of her face as she dropped the recorder back into her bag. “I wish I didn’t like you so much, Trisha Baum.”

“I could do something mean as you leave. I’m not sure what yet, but I’m creative.” Trisha rose to her feet. “Want me to arrange for a car to take you from the basement garage? That’ll get you past the gaggle outside.”

“I’d appreciate it. And...” Hesitating, her camera case up one shoulder, Vale stood look at her for what felt like a long while before she offered her hand. “Good luck. With Helen. I don’t know that anybody can make that work, but I hope you prove me wrong.”

Trisha took Vicki’s hand, squeezed it tightly, then smiled. “Thank you, Ms. Vale.” She lifted her phone - a crack across the screen from dropping it in the Cave - and called for a car. “And thank you for coming on such short notice.”

“Anywhere there’s a story. Reporter’s creed. Might want to get that phone replaced, by the way - I hear WayneTech makes a good model.” Then Vicki Vale swept out of the office, head high and confidence intact, like the whole city was just there to make her look good. Damn.

I’m really, really glad I’m sleeping with Helen regularly. Otherwise, I’d be really the fuck tempted right now and Presence-damn that’s an even worse idea than the Bat.

 


 

“You actually know Zatanna Zatara,” Trisha said as she stepped through the door into Helen’s office, giving just enough time to make sure the room was clear. “You actually slept with Zatanna Zatara. I thought that was just tabloid guesswork, but you actually slept with Zatanna Zatara.”

Helen looked up from her tablet as though caught browsing something she shouldn’t have been, expression almost blank for a moment, and then it filled in with absent-minded thoughtfulness threaded with laughter. “Zatanna.... Zatanna... why does that name sound familiar....”

“Only the coolest person on the planet ,” Trisha said as she slipped into her usual seat. “Only the best performer I’ve ever seen. Only Zatanna Zatara.”

“Oh!” Helen snapped her fingers. “ That Zatanna. I think I remember something about that now. So you’re a fan, I take it?”

Trisha held up one hand, two fingers a half-inch apart. “Little bit.”

Chuckling quietly, Helen sat back in her chair and shook her head; there was something wistful about it. “We were younger then - not much more than gangly teenagers. Well, the first time. I asked her father to return a favor my parents had done him and teach me.”

“You learned from Zatara?” Trisha asked, blinking in surprise, then thought a moment. “Theatrics?”

“A bit of that, too, but I went to him to learn escape artistry and legerdemain. You never know when you’re going to have to get out of a tight spot. Of course, I didn’t know when I asked that he could do practical magic as well...” Rueful amusement sparkled in Helen’s eyes. “Truth be told, I learned a lot of things I wasn’t planning to in that apprenticeship.”

“Practical…” Trisha blinked again. “Zatara is a sorcerer? Or wizard? Or… what even is the right term?” She got up from her chair to move around the desk and press her hand to Helen’s.

“He was a sorcerer, yes. I suppose he still is, wherever he is. He disappeared a few years ago and Zatanna’s been looking for him ever since. I’m still working on that case...” Helen stood up and leaned against the desk to kiss Trisha gently. “So should I be getting us front table tickets to Zatanna’s next show in town, or does our little thing turn you off the idea?”

“Oh, no, definitely tickets,” Trisha said, rising to kiss Helen again. “Definitely tickets.”

“Good.” Helen stroked her cheek, fingertips tracing back to find the soft skin behind her ear, and then stepped back - holding a gold dollar coin between her fingertips and smirking. “For the pretty lady on my desk.”

Trisha giggled, taking the coin with a blush. “Damn, I love you.”

“A good thing you do, too.” Helen sighed and stayed leaning against the desk next to Trisha, brushing a hand against her tablet. “Lucius emailed me - I think trying to avoid having an argument on the phone. The board have decided to be more difficult than usual and he’d like me to do something about it.”

“How bad is it?” Trisha asked, fingers tracing Helen’s arm. Unprofessional. We’re talking business…

Apparently she wasn’t the only one - Helen reached up and wrapped a hand in hers. “Well, they haven’t exactly made it an ultimatum, but they want you out. Some of them enough to threaten to start leaking to the press if I don’t drop you.” A half-beat, and then Helen flushed. “As my PA. The day they start telling me who I can care about, I’ll find a way to buy them all out and dump them in the street.”

I don’t want this. I don’t want this. Trisha looked toward the window. “I’m… guessing that the thing with the video is just the last straw, isn’t it?”

“I think the last-last straw was probably our unannounced getaway yesterday, but the video is a weight. When it comes down to it, their argument is that assistants are supposed to be invisible parts of the corporate architecture and not leading stories in the nightly news.” Helen squeezed her hand tightly. “We could still fight it.”

Trisha looked down. “They’re… not wrong,” she murmured quietly. “I’m… not doing my job as well as before. Even as a couple of months ago. And that’s not counting the media madness. I don’t want to admit it, but they’re not wrong.”

“I don’t want to replace you,” Helen whispered, kissing her hair. “But I suppose it might be good to stop using the office as a ... recreational space.”

Oh god we’d have to do that, wouldn’t we? “One step at a time…” Trisha laid her head on Helen’s shoulder.

“Well, I suppose there’s no need to do anything rash,” Helen agreed softly. “It’s not as though you couldn’t visit me in the office. We could even get you one down the hall, and I could visit you...”

“Mm. I’ll still be doing my work with the Foundation, after all. The Board really can’t have anything to say about that, and my… notoriety… could help draw donations.” Trisha kissed Helen’s shoulder.

“Let me talk with Lucius and see what we can arrange.” Neither of them said, exactly, that it was a decision, a choice to make a tactical retreat. Neither of them had to. But Helen’s hands tightened against her hip and up under her jaw, pulling her up into another kiss, and her boss - at least for today - leaned her back over the desk.

“For old time’s sake?” Helen breathed, not quite teasing.

“Yes,” Trisha whispered. “One more.” She felt her heart in her throat. “Once more…”

They were pretty thorough about it, and it made a complete mess of the afternoon schedule (not to mention the office) in the process. If there’d been any doubt about the board having a point, it was difficult to say that they hadn’t removed it by the time they finished restoring Helen’s office to some semblance of order and tucking the equipment away again. But Trisha was good at her job, in spite of the giddy haze clinging like gold leaf to the edges of her world, and by seven that night everything that had been put out of place was filed, signed or handled.

She’d put the decorations on the bookshelf in the wrong places, though - places they hadn’t been before. The office would remember.

“Mi zorra,” Sofia said from the doorway of her office, “some of us don’t have to work at home, so we’d like to go.” The other woman was smiling when she said it, though, and she’d never had any tendency to hide her irritation. Whatever chaos she’d dropped on Sofia’s desk with her own desktop escapades - and against-the-wall escapades and pressed-to-the-window escapades and pinned-to-the-bookshelf escapades - Sofia seemed inclined to forgive her for. “You want more coffee or you almost finished?”

“I’m finished,” Trisha said, sitting at her desk, making sure everything that needed her signature was signed. “Could you do me a favor in the next couple of days and get me an updated copy of your resume? I’m not entirely certain the Board trusts my judgement any more, and I’d like to make sure all the ts are crossed and is are dotted.”

Sofia let loose with an impressively long string of profanity in Spanish under her breath while she crossed the room so she could sit on the edge of Trisha’s desk. “I will stomp every one of the weasels under my heels. They are really putting you out?”

So this is what this looks like. “I… think I’ve known for a while it was coming. I just hoped it would last longer and I’d be able to go out more on my own terms. But, yeah, they’re putting me out.”

“The bastards.” Sofia reached over and patted her shoulder. “I will get you all my paperwork in a neat little row, and I’ll make sure your fern is just fine. And Katie - you should take Katie with you, no? You will be a very important woman now and you cannot be fielding all your own calls.”

“I… suppose I will need my own staff,” Trisha said. “I’ll have to see if there’s a budget for matching or increasing Katie’s current pay… I can’t ask her to take a cut to come with me, but I’d love to keep her. Thank you, Sofia… for everything. Since the start.”

“You are with Helen Wayne, mi zorra - she will find you the budget.” Sofia smiled fondly. “I was hoping to keep you around longer, but leave it to me to hire la jefa a marriage prospect. Such is my lot in life. A lot of girls marry out of this business, but you! Well.”

Trisha blushed. No, this is nothing at all like what Helen sees when I’m sitting where Sofia is. “For that, too,” she said. Marriage. The word sank in, and Trisha fell silent, breath catching in her throat.

“It will be fine, mi zorra,” Sofia reassured her, squeezing her shoulder again as she stood up. “You just have to look at la jefa to know how gone she is on you, and I know you will not be a stranger around the office. Though perhaps I will wish you would be, yes?”

“I’m likely to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong,” Trisha said. “But part of why I want you taking my place is I know you won’t put up with that.”

“Oh, no. I will just tell la jefa that you have been a bad girl and she ought to take you home and punish you. That should solve that problem just fine.” Sofia put a hand to her hip and winked. “You leave my desk nice and tidy, mi amiga, and I will text you her schedule in the morning.”

Trisha blushed and did not try to answer in words, waving for Sofia to go home.

 


 

I never wanted to leave this job. It had taken a week and a half from her and Helen deciding she was stepping down to get the work of her stepping down done - hiring Sofia into her job was remarkably painless, with Sofia a known quantity and the Board eager to see Trisha go. And Sofia knew most of what was going on from the corporate side, so she really just needed to be briefed on the Foundation and personal sides. Knowing that she was leaving a fairly significant bit out of the personal side of the briefing packets was both a small source of guilt and a tiny thrill, but it helped to remember that leaving that bit out was necessary. Her personal belongings, apart from the fern, had been moved from her office to storage - while she, Helen, and Mr. Fox had conversations about her new role, there hadn’t yet been time to formally create it or get her office space, and the Board wanted her to take at least a week off before moving anyway. Katie and Sofia were going to spend that week finding Helen a new personal secretary, someone who could work with Sofia as seamlessly as Katie and Trisha worked together, then Katie would join her at her new position.

So she found herself standing in the office - still technically hers, until midnight, but packed away and not looking at all like hers. Helen was out, visiting a WayneTech production facility with Mr. Fox, and the door connecting their offices was locked. Trisha had a key, and could have gone in, but… she wasn’t saying goodbye to that one. As Helen’s girlfriend, her visiting would of course be perfectly normal. As long as it wasn’t constant. The Board wouldn’t accept constant.

Her nameplate still sat on her desk. “Trisha Baum, Assistant to Ms. Wayne,” etched in a brass plate on a heavy hardwood wedge. Without the stacks of paperwork that accumulated over the course of each day, and without her plastic inbox/outbox that the paperwork found its way to by close of business, it looked… lonely.

A few tears formed in her eyes as she went to the desk, picked up the nameplate, and slipped it into her purse.

Now she was moved out. She went to one of the few boxes that was coming into the office among those that were leaving, opened it, and, after a moment, found what she was looking for.

The plate on this one was white gold, the backing wood black ash. She’d picked this out specifically, a gift to her successor, and she placed it on the desk, facing outward.

Sofia Guerra
Executive Secretary
Assistant to Ms. Wayne

She smiled a little, used her sleeve to wipe a smudge her thumb had left on the white gold away, then turned on her heel. “Katie,” she called as she left. “I’m not taking calls or messages. If Ms. Wayne needs me, I’ll be at home.”

“Yes, Miss Baum! Have a good vacation!” Katie had a way of making even a moment like this sound like the start of something good. Like something worth congratulating. It was one of the things she liked most about Katie. Her fingers went into the purse and found the nameplate, stroking the engraved lettering, and bumped up against something else new - small, smooth except for a few ridges to give it a distinctive grip, easy to flip open.

An emergency call and tracking device. She refused to call it a Bat-tracker. She’d had a panic button since the day after she’d been mugged the first time, but this was different. A flick of her thumbnail and a press of a finger and there would be, as Ms. Kelly had memorably put it, “Bats crawling out the ass” of anyone causing her trouble.

Oddly, I don’t find the idea that Richard Grayson will have constant access to my location comforting. But Helen and Mr. Drake… yeah, that’s okay. She pulled her hand away from the emergency call. At least the needs of anonymity meant that it wasn’t shaped like a bat.

A car was waiting for her when she got downstairs, but when she opened the door she was surprised to find it wasn’t empty. Mister Drake was sitting in the other seat, working on a laptop, and when the door opened he looked up and smiled. “Can I offer you a lift, Trish?”

“Thank you, Mr. Drake.” Trisha smiled widely to him, slipping into her seat and buckling in. “As long as you’re heading to the Manor.” He must have been waiting for me.

“Well, I thought I might offer to take you out to dinner first, but then Alfred let me know he’s serving cucumber sandwiches as soon as we get home and I couldn’t pass that up. Car, Wayne Manor.” They slid into motion smoothly, and he folded the laptop closed. “I hope the day wasn’t too hard?”

“I’m going to miss that job,” Trisha said. “It was basically perfect for me. But… I get Helen. That pretty much makes it all right. No… not all right; it hurts. But the good eclipses the bad.”

Mr. Drake’s smile was sad and too knowing; there was something uncomfortable about it, but he handed over a box of chocolates a few seconds later that took a lot of the edge off. “Just so you know, this is not the moment when the lawyer from the family tries to buy you off. Though to be fair to any suspicions you have in that direction, it’d probably be me if we tried. Water or juice?”

“If there’s orange, juice; otherwise water,” Trisha said. “So… I’m not being bought out. What is happening?”

“Helen doesn’t quite think straight around you. That’s a compliment, by the way - not many people jam her brain, no matter how she feels about them.” Tim poured her an orange juice from the mini-bar, and himself some horrible-looking juice concoction that looked vaguely like a cocktail without the booze. “So in this case, you could say I’m doing your job - cleaning up the details. Before we get into that, we haven’t really properly been introduced. I mean, you know I’m Timothy Drake-Wayne and that I’m Executive Vice President for Operations at WayneTech, but you may or may not know that I was the third Robin and work under the name Red Robin now. I’ve been in the other family business since I was thirteen.”

“I’d pretty much figured that out,” Trisha said. “But thanks for telling me formally.” She took a swallow of her juice, half-closing her eyes. “Once you’re at the starting point, the fact that every one of her wards has been Robin becomes… not exactly obvious, but easy to reach.”

He grimaced and nodded. “Unfortunately. I’ve been trying to think of a way out of that box for years. But anyway, you’re now part of a very exclusive club, and there are some things you need to know and some other resources you should know are available to you. So you can consider me your orientation guide.”

“All right,” Trisha said. “I’m going to want to ask Mr. Pennyworth for something stiffer than a cucumber sandwich after this conversation, aren’t I?”

“Depends on your tolerance for the weird. Want to start with the mundane or the really mind-blowing?”

“A week ago, I found out that my teenage celebrity crush’s father - which probably means my teenage celebrity crush; I didn’t ask - is a sorcerer. I’ll go in the deep end.”

When Mister Drake laughed, it wasn’t very reassuring. “There are about a hundred and change different universes - that we know of - with their own Earths, histories, superheroes. Most of them are close enough to ours that you could recognize them if you squint. A few of them have decided to knock on our collective door and bother us. So if Helen, or I, or anyone else you know from our little family start acting exceptionally strange, the sign is ‘Simon’ and the counter-sign is ‘Trent.’ Which I can’t guarantee will absolutely work, but it should filter out most doppelgangers. Particularly the nastier ones.”

“That’s… I’ll add it to the list, alongside the Mad Hatter and Gorilla Grodd. That’s where that weird U-Superman came from, isn’t it? The one who talked like a gangster and… didn’t the Planet say he ate Kryptonite?”

“That’s the one. The Crime Syndicate of Earth-3, where everyone’s personal morality is flipped. And yes, before you ask, that means the Joker was... well, not a hero exactly, but in the fight against tyranny at least. Don’t try to fit that into your head, it’s pretty uncomfortable.”

“Mind blown,” Trisha whispered. “Do we call ours Earth-1 or Earth-0?”

“Earth Prime, usually. But yes, Earth-0 would be most accurate. You have to start from somewhere, you know?” Tim shrugged, as if this were just a normal sort of conversation to be having on a weekday afternoon. “Also, if you have any weird flashes of unexplained memory or deja vu, could you let me know? Superman thinks someone might have stolen a decade of the world’s history, but I haven’t been able to prove it one way or the other yet.”

“I’ll… try to remember all the times it’s happened and give you a report,” Trisha whispered. “More orange juice?”

“Sure. Crackers? They help me with my existential shock.” Tim poured and offered her a box of saltines.

“Yes please,” Trisha said, taking the box and chewing one of the crackers thoughtfully. “Does Superman know when this decade would have been? Wait, no, if I stick at this detail we’ll be sitting in the car next week. What else?”

“New phone.” Tim extracted a flat black case and offered it to her. “Helen wanted to give it to you as a gift, I think, but she’s had a busy week so I preempted her. Pretty sure she’s still going to give you a new case for it, though. Anyway, it’s got the full load of private security and features we only put on the family’s devices and a couple of extras. One of them’s an app for the League’s Family Support Network - it’s anonymous on your current settings and from your end, but it’ll identify you by your association with the Bat and let you talk to other people in similar situations about your experiences. It also has a directory of League-friendly medical providers and security services, plus a short list of on and off the books Wayne resources in case you need to call on them.”

Trisha took the phone, holding it in her hand. “I’ll definitely need a case for this,” she said. “But I’m honestly glad to be getting it this way instead of as a gift. ‘Here you go, love… it’s a direct line to the Watchtower and a chat system for talking to Green Lantern’s fiancee about the stress my constant life of danger will put you in’ isn’t exactly romantic.” She might find a way. But that would probably weird me out in retrospect. “Thank you.”

“That’s what I thought, too. Besides, technically it’s just a shell - your profile can be hopped to another device any time you need one - so there’s no point being too sentimental about it.” Sipping his own juice and studying her, Tim cleared his throat carefully after a minute. “If it’s not too intrusive, how are you doing with all that anyway?”

“I’m honestly not sure,” Trisha said. “It’s been… crazy… since I found out. Since before I found out. The video thing, chasing the security problem in DataEagle, finding out, interviewing with Ms. Vale, resigning, transition... “ She sighed. “I’ll put it this way… I’m not looking forward to a week off work. I’ve scheduled two days, at least, for a bout of retroactive panic.”

“Fair. Maybe plan for more like three.” Tim smiled, then lifted his glass as if to toast her. “Want to hear something really crazy? I not only volunteered, I actually hounded her into letting me do this.”

“I actually believe that,” Trisha said, offering him a small smile. “You would. What drove you to?”

“What you’d expect - do the right thing, solve the puzzle, help people. But more than that... Jason died, and the Bat was losing it. Not all at once, but a little at a time. And I just knew the Bat needed a Robin. I’d figured out Dick Grayson was Robin because I was an insane fan, and that meant Helen had to be the Bat, so...” Tim shrugged helplessly, shaking his head. “I was really, really young - even for my age - but I wasn’t wrong. So I got the gig.”

“I’m… glad you were there,” Trisha said, swallowing the rest of her second glass of juice. “It’s hard for me to imagine Helen after losing Mr. Todd… not difficult, but painful. It’s good she had someone… and, I think, good that someone was you.”

“Well, I like to think so...” Tim trailed off for a moment or two, then smiled faintly. “Before I lose my nerve, on the subject of Robin - Carrie. She isn’t from around here.”

“She’s from… Central? No…” Trisha looked up at the ceiling. “We’re back on that, aren’t we? Please tell me she’s not from Earth-3.”

“Earth-31, actually. Well, a time-displaced version of....” Tim trailed off again. “Let’s go with no.”

“All right. What should I know about Earth-No?”

“Moderately dystopian hellscape - not a literal hellscape, just a really nasty version of Gotham - where Carrie volunteered herself to be Robin to a much older version of Helen. Who, if she’s not bullshitting us, literally beat Superman half to death when he tried to arrest her on behalf of their shitty excuse for a government. She’s tough as hell and she thinks we’re too nice to the criminals, but other than that she’s all right.”

“So if someone else talks with Ms. Kelley’s particular slang, they’re likely from the dystopian hellscape of Earth-No. And I should probably not suggest we go see that new Shadowrun movie as a family.” Trisha sighed. “The universe has siblings.”

“It does, in fact. Welcome to the world of the weird, Trisha.”

 


 

The gardens of Wayne Manor - the ones nearest the house and the greenhouse, that hadn’t been allowed to go wild like the hedge maze - were beautiful in the evening light, the trees lining their edges a breathtaking riot of fall colors. Old-fashioned English hedges keeping company with modern flower beds - roses of a dozen colors and a stunning variety of smells, violets and peonies and at least two dozen more Trisha couldn’t name - and little running fountains and pools scattered about. It was eclectic without being disorderly, charming without being cloying, and here and there one had the sense of the generations of thought that must have gone into it, no one hand sweeping aside and ignoring all the others. The wind off the river was cold and sharp, tugging at Trisha’s coat and scarf, but it didn’t seem to touch Helen - she walked straight and tall, hands tucked in the pockets of her coat, every stride easy and familiar as if she carried every little stone in her memory.

She was, as always, beautiful.

Trisha stopped occasionally to remark on a flower, or to ask what a bush was, or just to look at Helen framed against the sky. Before too long, the cold drove her to put her arms around Helen’s arm and walk close, hiding from the wind against her lover, and Helen gently tucked her in a little tighter and walked her to a small gazebo near the edge of the garden that looked out on what had probably been a beautiful pitch of green once before it became something wilder and fiercer, lapping around the edges of a wrought-iron fence filled with little monuments and...

Tombstones.

Trisha paused as they approached what must be the Wayne family graveyard. Of course they keep their dead on-site. They’re the Waynes. This is what they do. She pressed a little closer to Helen, a tremble going up her spine. But Helen walked her into the gazebo instead, sheltering her from the wind, and handed her down gently onto one of the benches. Took one of Trisha’s hands in both of her own and smiled faintly.

“You’re cold,” she said softly. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re warm,” Trisha said, lifting herself up for a kiss. “And you’re here.”

And I’ve missed you since I got home.

“I have to go out later tonight. But it’ll wait until you go to sleep.” Helen whispered the words into her mouth, hugged her close, pressed gloved fingers into her hair like she wanted to shelter her from more than the wind. “I wanted a little while alone.”

“I understand,” Trisha whispered, kissing Helen’s jaw. “I wouldn’t want to keep you.” That is a lie. I don’t want to want to keep her. I want to keep her. She was sure that the way she was looking at Helen would give it away.

But Helen only smiled, kissed her again and finally let her go enough to reach inside her coat. “I brought you... call it a graduation present.” The box she took out was a bit too large for a phone case - maybe a particularly thick envelope - and covered in black velvet with a pale gold ribbon. Trisha took it, kissed Helen once more, then turned her attention to opening it.

She wasn’t quite sure why, but she half-expected some sort of puzzle. Instead, the lid simply clicked open. The first thing she removed from the box was a key fob with the Wayne Autos logo on it in gold, then a cardkey with an attached note with a security code. She smiled at those, setting them aside - either the rest of the box or Helen would explain them. She then pulled the largest object, from the middle. It was a plastic bag holding a phone case. Gold, with small rubber bumpers, and engraving on the back. Patricia Baum, World’s Finest Assistant. With my love, Helen Wayne.

It was an effort not to drop the box, the fob, the card key, and the envelope that was under all of them to the floor of the gazebo as she threw herself into embracing Helen, who caught her like she was the most precious thing in the world.

“I won’t forget this last year, Trisha,” Helen whispered in her ear. “Not a day in my life.”

“Neither will I,” Trisha whispered in her lover’s ear. Her lover, not her boss… then she kissed that ear gently. “I love you, Helen.”

Helen just held her tighter, but she felt the words in that grip like they were printed into her skin. I love you. I love you. I love you. Never leave me.

“You missed the envelope in the bottom,” Helen finally whispered back.

“I saw it. I just had to hug you, because the inscription on the case…” She blushed. “Meant I had to hug you.”

“Fair,” Helen murmured, and kissed her gently - each cheek first, then her lips. “My Trisha.”

Trisha blushed deeper at those kisses, gazing into Helen’s eyes another moment before turning her attention back to the box. The envelope tore as she was trying to carefully open it, and she pulled the papers from within.

A lease, paid in full for twelve months, to “01 Wayne Place, Suite 1.” Utilities were included, along with Internet. It was definitely residential space. The whole place was… her mind absolutely refused to accept the square footage.

“What is this, love?” She was breathless.

Helen looked down at her, maybe a fraction hesitant but still determined. One of her hands brushed the back of Trisha’s, lingered against her wrist. “There was a penthouse in the old Wayne Foundation building. I lived there for a while with Alfred after Richard moved out - the Manor just seemed too big and lonely for two people. When we rebuilt the building, I had them build a new penthouse - bigger and better, just like the building was. Richard used it for a little while, and a few others in the family. You’ll be working in the Wayne Foundation building now - that’s where your office space is - and the hours will get long sometimes. I know you haven’t been using your apartment. When you don’t want to come home to the Manor, I want you to have a place of your own in the city - it’ll be just upstairs, convenient. I couldn’t manage a longer lease to start, but when you renew we’ll make it five years at least.”

“My love,” Trisha said, pushing tears out of her eyes because she didn’t want them freezing. They wouldn’t, but… she was cold. “My beautiful Helen.” She turned, pressed her lips to Helen’s, let them linger. “I’ve never in my life had more than one month of rent paid at a time. A year makes this box feel like Aladdin’s lamp.” I could have paid my rent at the apartment out further. I just… never thought to. I’m barely spending any money. “Thank you.” She offered a small smile to the box. “I do wonder if it’ll be an easier place to hold some fundraisers at than the Manor, as well.”

“It has the space. And I imagine you can get a more exciting crowd in there, too.” Helen kissed her temple, squeezed her close, and she could feel her lover’s smile against her hair. “There’s dedicated parking under the building for your new car, of course. Tim did beautiful work on it - one of the convertible Futuras, in Superman blue.”

Trisha laughed softly, pressing in closer to Helen, lips caressing her throat gently. “That’s perfect, my love… absolutely perfect.” She was blushing, eyes closed. “I adore the Futuras.”

“What’s the point in all the money if you can’t buy your girl a car?” Helen chuckled, lips brushing her lashes. “I’m glad you like it. All of it. If you ever need anything....”

Trisha pressed her lips to Helen’s jaw. “I’ll let Alfred know,” she said with a giggle.

 


 

She woke in the big bed by the accursed desk, Helen’s arms tucked around her and warm breath at the back of her neck, and her heart sped up. She’s here . She squirmed back against Helen, eyes closing again, and sighed.

The sound that had stirred her awake came again - someone knocking on the door. Helen shifted, lips moving away from the back of her neck, and she sighed a little sound of protest that Helen smothered with a squeeze of her arms.

“You can come in, Alfred,” Helen said, just loud enough to carry.

The door opened, and in came Alfred, a covered silver tray held in both hands. He placed it on a stand beside the bed. “Breakfast, Mistress Helen. Mistress Trisha. I had a call from Miss Guerra a moment ago. I believe her exact words were, ‘Tell la jefe that it’s past time to start the day.’”

Trisha stifled a simultaneous groan and giggle. “I’m not ready for days.”

“You didn’t tell me my new assistant is a slave-driver,” Helen said, sitting up and taking her smaller breakfast tray from Alfred once he uncovered it - heavy on protein, neat rack of toast to the side, one of her vile blended concoctions in a thermos to the side. Trisha’s fare was lighter but still substantial, with a spinach omelette as the centerpiece and danishes on the side, and Alfred poured her tea just the way she liked it.

“I thought you’d enjoy a surprise, beloved,” Trisha whispered, lifting her head to kiss Helen’s cheek before serving herself. Her new assistant. “After all, you gave me such lovely gifts.” I’m hers.

She thought the words again. I’m hers.

“Somehow, I don’t think the surprise is quite the same,” Helen sighed, but she smiled when she said it. She knocked back the shake and then started on the meat and eggs, ignoring her phone on the bedside table and glancing through the papers instead. “You’ll be pleased to know you’ve finally left the front page, even of the society sections.”

“Oh? Tell me Ms. Vale hasn’t landed herself there in my place,” Trisha said, biting into her toast. This is nice. If I was still… If I was Sofia, I’d be annoyed to know she hasn’t even glanced at her phone. But I don’t have to be annoyed. “She deserves a break.”

“No, nothing about Vicki either. Apparently it’s the Halloween party circuit that everyone’s got on their minds today - three articles about that, two about who the most eligible society matches are, and one about the latest fashion trends for the fall.” As she finished each section of the paper, Helen folded them neatly and set them in easy reach for Trisha - the most interesting, in her opinion, sorted precisely at the top. “There’s a showing at the Modern Art museum that could be trouble - they’ve always been sloppy about security.” That page went back onto the sidetable, the offending story at the top, and the rest joined Trisha’s stack. “Alfred hasn’t lost his touch with that omelette?”

“It is just perfect, beloved.” She’s talking Bat-business in front of me. Oh god I’m using “Bat” as an adjective. “I’ll have to let him know when I head downstairs. Tell me the MAM is showing golden birds or something?” I’d rather it be Oswald Cobblepot than any of the others.

“Up and coming young artists and a jewelry collection from the Romanovs that they claim inspired them. Could be anyone, but probably the Catwoman will make the first try. She’s always had a weakness for jewels with history, and she loves snubbing aristocrats.” Helen turned another page and then glanced up at Trisha’s face. “Should I stick to speculating on the national news? Armed robberies don’t agree with everyone.”

“They’re… kind of part of the family business. I’d better get used to the idea,” Trisha said. The family business. “Will you have to break in to keep her from getting in, or would you do so from the roof or something?”

“Depends on her planning. Best to start with surveillance inside and outside - we can plant that without technically breaking and entering - and a good shake of the criminal fraternity for information. Criminals love to talk. It’s one of their weaknesses.”

I like criminals having weaknesses. Those can keep Helen safer. “What are the others?” I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.

“Cowardice. Superstition. Greed. Pride. A need to move in groups, or an inability to function in them. An attraction to power, even to their detriment.” Helen set her fork down and smiled, and it was a vaguely terrifying expression. “For the most part, criminals are predictable.”

Trisha nodded, trembling a little at Helen’s expression, but leaned in to kiss her lips. “So you usually know what they’re going to do, and they’re easy to scare. That explains a lot of how you work.”

“A student of mine once said we’re very much like streetlights. When it comes to the common criminals of Gotham, it was an apt metaphor.” Helen kissed her lingeringly, fingertips brushing her cheek, then slowly drew back. “I should get dressed before Alfred comes back to scold me. Unless something unanticipated happens in the city, I’ll be home for dinner and the night.”

“Let me know if you won’t?” Trisha turned her head to kiss Helen’s palm. “And when you’re on your way home, so I can be sure I’m here to meet you.”

“I will.” Helen stroked her kiss, lingering another moment longer, and then swept her tray up and set it back on the platter before vanishing in the closet. Like everything else, once she was resolved to do it she was efficient - it hardly seemed to take any time at all before she was back from the master closet, turned out in her suit and neatly polished boots for work, and she left Trisha on the bed with one more swift kiss before she was out the door and headed down the stairs. She must have passed Alfred on the way, because he reappeared in the door not a moment or two later with a small tray of sweets and refreshed Trisha’s cup of tea without a word.

“I… kind of wanted to see her off,” Trisha said, looking down at her tray. There will be a lot of time to do that. All this week, at least. “Mr. Pennyworth… is there anything that needs my attention today?”

He shook his head politely, expression mild. “Nothing for the moment, ma’am. I understand that Miss Eastman is holding all your correspondence for the week. I suppose I could pull up the drafts the gardening services are suggesting for the spring, if you like, but I don’t think that would be to your taste.”

“It would certainly not be to my talents,” Trisha said with a sigh. “Thank you… I think… maybe I’ll go read.” She covered what was left over on her tray.

“Shall I take care of that, ma’am?” He arched an eyebrow, smiling in what might have been very dignified amusement. “And if I may be so bold as to inquire what you would like for lunch?”

“I…” She considered that idea for a long moment. “I haven’t had a burger since I started living here full-time,” she whispered. “Do you… could I have a burger?”

“I imagine it could be arranged. I used to cook them for the young masters regularly, in spite of Mistress Helen’s disapproval.” Alfred collected her tray, replaced it on the serving dish along with the teapot and covered the whole assembly. “Will you be wanting fries and perhaps a milkshake as well?”

“Oh, Alfred, you are a saint,” Trisha said, falling to lay back across the bed. “That sounds absolutely divine.”

“I believe we can still manage strawberry, chocolate or vanilla.”

“Chocolate, please.” She sat up again, pushing herself to her feet. “Thank you.” Helen always says something like, ‘I’ll have my supper in the library.’ But, honestly, I think I’ll have my lunch wherever Mr. Pennyworth puts it.

“Happy to be of service, Mistress Trisha.” For most people they were just words, but when Alfred said it he always managed to make it seem as though he meant every one. It was reassuring.

What was not reassuring, she rapidly discovered, was showering and dressing alone in the master bedroom of Wayne Manor with nothing on her schedule to hurry her along. The shower, it turned out, never ran out of hot water , so even the usual limiter on how long she could remain in it failed her, and she was in there for an hour.

It wasn’t as nice minute-by-minute as the one at her apartment, but the idea of an hourlong shower, unthinkable before, turned out to be a mix of paradise and horror. Her fingers and toes were pruned, and walking was uncomfortable as she crossed the bedroom to dress.

“I should learn something about gardening,” she said to herself, or perhaps to the Waynes. “I wonder if Helen would let me have the back lawn restored, or converted into something else, even wild space, in a more deliberate way. We could plant the beginnings of a forest…” She paused, then she was definitely talking to the Waynes. “Something new, for any children we might have.”

Being dead and buried near the garden, they did not answer. Typical.

She dressed casually, a t-shirt and jeans, and went to the library to read. Twenty minutes of reading was enough, in turned out, so she went to the theater to watch a movie. It turned out that what they had available were Helen’s swashbuckling films and Alfred’s spy movies. Some digging revealed a small stack of reels of old cartoons, probably Mr. Drake’s, and she put one on.

Fifteen minutes of Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain was far more than enough.

She tried walking in the garden, but she kept having to cut it short because she wasn’t ready to visit the graveyard by herself, then she went back to the library and considered visiting the Cave. Apparently, there were more entrances, but she couldn’t remember the notes to open the one in the gallery. But she really had no desire to visit the Cave, and even if she did… was she going to sweep?

Lunch, thankfully, was early, and she roped Alfred into eating with her. He seemed content with a salad and sandwich, though he did have a small cup of milkshake along with it, and for a little while it seemed as though they were going to pass the meal in silence. It was a disheartening thought, and perhaps he could tell that was how she felt because he set his fork down and smiled at her. “My last vacation to London was some years ago. I find I have lost the habit of being away from this house and my charges for very long.”

“I… don’t know what to do with myself,” Trisha said quietly. “I should be at work… except I don’t work this week, and when I do again it will be doing something different. That’s easier when Helen is around, because… she’s Helen. I can work on… on being me, with her. But with her at work and me not, I’m at odds.” She sighed. “Is the fact that I’m going a little mad that obvious?”

“Not obvious, no. But I suppose I feel a certain kinship with your dissatisfaction.” He reached out and patted her hand gently. “This is not a house that welcomes idlers of any description, I find.”

“That… definitely seems true,” Trisha said as she finished her last fry. “The fries are delightful, by the way… thank you... “ She paused. “I… don’t think any of the other people Helen has dated have moved in, have they? I was going to ask a question but I don’t think there is an answer.”

He folded his hands and arched one eyebrow carefully. “Miss Fairchild and Miss St. Cloud spent some time in the Manor at various times, but no. None of Mistress Helen’s partners have lived with her for any extended period. There were the needs of her second career, of course, but also some degree of her own preferences in the matter. I’ll endeavor to answer any question you may have to the best of my ability, Mistress Trisha.”

Mistress Trisha. It still feels odd, how… natural… he makes it feel. How long have I been calling him Alfred? She blushed a little, looking down at her half-finished burger. “She let me move in before I knew,” she said quietly. “She encouraged it.” Which she’s never done before. “I don’t want to leave, Alfred. Ever.”

“If I may say so, Mistress Trisha, I believe that would be a tragedy for Mistress Helen and this house.” He said it so somberly and sincerely that she felt it settle like a comforting weight against her shoulders. “I would regret it very deeply personally.”

She smiled at that, looking up at him. “This house is too big and it’s full of ghosts,” she whispered. “But it has Helen, and it has you, and it has the others when they visit, and it has that weird intensity they all get when they watch The Grey Ghost Rides Again , and… I’m never going to like The Grey Ghost Rides Again , but I want to be part of that. Always.”

“Very good, ma’am.” He reached out and patted her hand again, and a smile stole back onto his face. “And may I suggest that if the new lady of the house wishes to stock a few films more to her liking in the media center, that can most assuredly be arranged?”

“60% science fiction, 10% fantasy, 30% rom-coms,” Trisha said with a giggle. His smile made it impossible to stay… whatever it was she was feeling. “And I think I know what I need to do today, Alfred. After we eat, I’m going to go for a drive.” I get to drive my car! “I… the new lady of the house. Thank you, Alfred.”

“Of course, Mistress Trisha. I’ve taken the liberty of putting a map of the county roads and the state park in your glovebox, in case you wish to take a more hands-on approach to your driving.”

“Assuming I can remember how,” Trisha said with a laugh. “I’ll be going into the city, though, today. I’ll explore the state park later this week. Thank you, Alfred.” I’m going to be saying those last three words a lot.

“My sincere pleasure, ma’am.”

 


 

After a near-miss with one of Helen’s Rollses on the way out of the Manor garage, a too-sudden stop as she approached the gate, and a burst of acceleration at just the wrong moment, Trisha was convinced that she had, in fact, forgotten to drive - or that a car as perfectly tuned as the Futura required its own sort of learning. She could devote time to that later, though.

The Wayne Auto Futura was the concept version of the new Wayne Auto Discovery Family Sedan. The Discovery was intended to bring modern fuel economy and safety features - long-range full-electric engine, metamaterial-based crumple zones, state of the art harness and airbag designs, self-driving technology - to middle-class families, with the hope that the car would circulate into the used market within a few years. It was stylish enough, the Discovery, with slender tail fins and a rather wicked curve to the hood, but it would not stand out more than what was needed to attract a curious eye or two parked at a softball game.

The Futura, on the other hand, had to stand out at car shows. So it had two motors under the hood, each one matching the power output of the Discovery. This required a longer hood, which combined with the car’s sporty low profile to give it a sleek, almost dartlike shape. Each motor was fed by its own battery, allowing the Futura to not just match but exceed the range of the Discovery. Its tailfins rose at a low angle along the car’s rear, and in place of the Discovery’s standard interior was a two-person bubble cockpit with 360-degree visibility, and running lights ran along the undercarriage. There were five in the world - three with the standard design that would be shared with 80% of the Discovery model year, two hardtop convertibles. Trisha’s was a hardtop, and was painted Superman blue.

She spoke. “Car, please take me to my apartment.”

The car gave an answering beep - one far less smugly self-satisfied than the one it had made when she hit the brakes too hard - and began to drive itself. Trisha sighed. “One day, car. One day.” Then she leaned her seat back, reaching for her phone to check messages.

There were none. That was the strangest thing. None, besides the engraving her fingertips traced as she browsed the Internet. With my love, Helen Wayne. Her heart soared.

The car arrived at the apartment building. The one that had been hers, before she moved into the Manor. Her first stop was at the leasing office.

The manager seemed, if anything, relieved to hear her give her notice that she was terminating the lease. When she paid the rent for the last two months - which covered the fee for early termination - she did so with a personal check, which she was given no trouble for.

This would leave her thirty days to move out. She would hire movers to do most of that, but she wanted to visit the apartment and start to pack. To make sure that things she wanted to go to the Manor went there. And to see the place once more.

When she walked into the living room, it felt… odd. Surreal. This place had been home for months - had been her dream home, spacious by her standards and modern and with that view and alive . But now, it was a box full of her stuff.

Then she turned to hang her coat, and saw the door from the inside, and everything in her body shook.

Helen, soaking wet. Helen outside the door. Stepping through...I offer to take her coat… we kiss… we kiss a lot… fall onto the sofa… did we make it to bed that night? We did, and it was perfect. It’s a blur, now, apart from Helen soaking wet outside my door, the feel of the water soaking through my clothes as we embraced. Shower. We showered.

She was in the bathroom, now, gazing at that shower. She’d picked this apartment in large part because of it. Seeing her for the first time. Really seeing her. Knowing she had me, that she wanted me, that she would keep me. Letting my need for her burn me up.

She’d taken this apartment to have parties in, get-togethers, to invite people over, but she’d gotten buried enough in work and, when they got together, in Helen, that she had never really invited anyone else over. Helen was her only regular guest.

She found one of Helen’s gloves tucked halfway under the rug in the hallway. The other was under her nightstand.

Having my boss over to my apartment was… naughty. In a way that appealed to me. Like giving myself to her on her desk at work. She laughed a little, through sudden tears, and fell backward on the bed. “All our first nights together…” she murmured, rolling over and drawing a pillow into her arms as if she could squeeze more of the feeling of Helen’s presence from it. Oddly, it worked a little.

She finally - after crying herself out, after sobbing at the things she’d lost and with joy at the things she would gain - she rolled out of the bed, put on her best brave face, and started to pack. She filled two small boxes with knick-knacks before putting them near the bedroom door, moving to the apartment’s entrance, and turning around to look at it again.

I live in Wayne Manor now, she thought. But thank you for helping me find her. I hope your next tenants treat you well. Then she pocketed Helen’s gloves and stepped out the door.

She didn’t try to drive home - just gave the car the command and reclined the seat fully to sleep.

 


 

They didn’t talk about work over dinner. In fact, Helen studiously ignored her phone and talked about anything else - winter preparations for the house, whether they wanted to attend any of the Fashion Week events during Trisha’s vacation, the fact that Richard would be in town for a few days in the next week, whether Trisha’s parents might want to visit at some future point. Trisha threw herself into the planning for the house, and decided that, while fashion week didn’t sound terribly inherently interesting, this was a chance to see it in case she enjoyed it, and she’d probably learn something. For some reason, the idea of Richard being in town made her a bit nervous. And she decided to call her parents soon, to feel out the idea of a visit.

Soon was a word with broad definition.

They lingered over their dessert and tea, conversation mostly exhausted, neither quite willing to stand up yet. Night had gathered over the manor during the meal, soaking in through the windows until Alfred had closed the shutters, and they were alone in the ‘modest’ space of the family dining room under the light of the old-fashioned lamps fitted with LEDs to emulate gaslight. There was a quiet in the air that pressed at the edges of everything, made it just a fraction harder to breathe, and Trisha wondered if Helen felt it too.

“Shall we go up?” Helen finally said.

Trisha did not speak. The air was too heavy. Instead, she rose to her feet and took Helen’s hand, a pleading look in her eyes. Please.

Helen smiled then, suddenly at ease, and she took Trisha’s hand and tucked it around her arm as if they were about to walk into a high society event. Bent down, kissing her feather-lightly, and started the walk to the stairs and to the master bedrooom upstairs.

Once they were up the stairs, Trisha tucked in closer to Helen, letting the world shrink away from the huge uncertain thing she had spent the day trying not to acknowledge it being, to Helen and her touch and the arm she held. Breathing became easier, and she managed a smile up at her lover.

“I missed you today,” Helen murmured, almost too softly to hear, as she opened the door to the bedroom and handed Trisha inside. “Sofia’s always been good at her work, but it isn’t the same. She doesn’t add color to the lines of my thoughts the way you do.”

“We’ve fit together the whole time I’ve known you,” Trisha whispered. “Even before… this. Us. I missed you, too… and working, and my chair at the office. Ideas flowing. You. I’m bad at this.”

“But good at this,” Helen said, pushing her gently back toward the bed one step at a time until they were against it and there was nowhere to step back to and Helen’s mouth was finally against hers in a searing claim.

I am good at this… Trisha’s hands came up to Helen, to her cheek and to her hip, and she lifted herself into the kiss, letting it burn inside her. Letting the heat of Helen’s lips brand her. I’m hers.

The kiss broke on a gasp, Helen’s hips trembling under her touch, and she felt the strength in Helen’s arms when her lover tossed her down on the bed. But there was no rush of uncontrolled passion or tentative, genteel caressing this time - Helen stood over her and looked down at her with a blaze in her eyes that was as controlled as it was powerful, and she remembered the feel of rope against her skin and toys moving inside her. It had never been like that, here in this room - sometimes Helen was all desperate near-violence, sometimes the most solicitous lover, but always it was… straightforward.

This was new, and it reminded Trisha irrationally that what lay under the stately arches of Wayne Manor was the Cave.

“Yes,” Trisha whispered, hands curling into fists in the sheets, her body shuddering just at that look from Helen. “Please, Helen. Please.”

“My Trisha,” Helen husked, her voice almost musing as she slowly, deliberately began to peel out of her clothes. When Trisha’s hands automatically started to follow suit, the tone went suddenly and fiercely sharp in a way that seized every muscle inside her. Not just sharp. Lower. A growl.  “No. Hands above your head.”

“Yes, Helen.” The words rushed from her without thought, and her hands clenched together over her head, her toes curling in her heels. I always wear heels, now, unless I haven’t gotten dressed. “Yes.”

“Good.” The approval slid through her like a stroke where she was wet, and it made her eyelids flutter. By the time she could clear her vision enough to see anything but light and dark, Helen was out of her clothes and just seeing her lover nude in the thin moonlight and shadow from the window - sleek and powerful, beautiful beyond belief - undid her into trembling need. Helen mounted the bed like a hunting cat, hunching over her and watching her with those midnight blue eyes, and then reached down for Trisha’s buttons.

Began to strip her slowly. Methodically. Mercilessly.

It almost hurt to watch her, the heat was so intense, but to look away or close her eyes was unthinkable. Trisha lifted herself just enough to allow Helen to strip her, each breath a sound of ragged need.

Helen had been like this at her apartment, but her apartment was gone. She had been like this at the office, but Trisha didn’t work at the office any more.

She released a sharp cry at a rough touch from Helen and the fleeting thought. She needs this as much as I do.

Helen made a sound in her throat, raw and dark and alive with desire, and then her hands covered Trisha’s wrist and the strong muscle of her thigh forced its way between Trisha’s legs. Pressed against her where she was wet. Started to grind, slowly but not at all gently, pinning her hips down into the bed and forcing her to tilt her legs up higher.

“Helen!” Trisha’s body could not rise, because Helen had her trapped. She could barely wriggle. She had to lie there and let Helen have her way. Her rough, slow way, almost as much ache as pleasure, sharp cries escaping Trisha each time Helen’s body moved. She struggled, a moment, trying to kiss her lover, but in seconds was still on the bed but for the twitching of her need-wracked body. Helen saw it, though. Helen saw everything.

And when Helen finally eased back on that relentless grind and lowered her body against Trisha’s, she kissed her like she was going to eat Trisha alive through her mouth. Kissed her long enough and hard enough that she barely noticed the grip on her wrists shifting from one hand to two until Helen’s fingers drove their way up into her and twisted.

Three of them, all at once.

Her world exploded in stars and fire, her hands pulling hard against Helen’s impossible grip as she thrashed, or tried to thrash, under her lover. Screamed into her lover’s mouth. Her blood was gone, replaced with molten ecstasy, the idea of thought a distant memory. All that mattered in the world was that she was Helen’s and Helen’s hand was in her.

She screamed again, and Helen’s teeth found her throat, and her hips heaved against Helen’s weight like she was going to break herself apart. Like Helen was going to break her apart around the deep, curved stroke of those fingers.

Helen was in her and on her and taking her and marking her. Helen’s fingers on her wrists bruised, Helen’s teeth on her neck left unmistakable signs, Helen’s fingers in her made her ache. This was what she was for. In this moment, she understood, deeper than thought, deeper than the worries and fears and pain of the day, that this was what she was for. She was not Helen’s assistant any more, but she was no less Helen’s.

Her muscles and pussy and bones knew it, once her mind got out of the way. Once Helen shoved her mind out of the way.

After her third… fourth?... orgasm, even the instinctive thrashing of pleasure was drained out of her, and she gazed at Helen dreamily as Helen drove her toward a fourth or fifth. This time she came with whimpers and long, liquid shudders that ran the whole length of her, and Helen’s fingers finally slid out of the messy wetness of her with an audible pop that made her blush.

But Helen only smiled, and squeezed her wrists, and then let go to take hold of the back of the bed and pull herself up....

Helen’s thighs settled on either side of Trisha’s head, ankles hooked against her shoulders, and she barely had the coherence to moan in anticipation before Helen settled molten slickness over her mouth and smothered her sounds in the heat of her lover’s sex.

Her eyes closed as she lost herself in the taste and scent and weight of Helen, of her lover, of her Lady, and she gave herself to Helen’s pleasure completely. She pushed herself up just a little, enough that her tongue could be buried deep in her lover, enough that her lip and nose could stroke her lover’s clit, enough to pleasure Helen as best she could. To worship her Lady. To offer tribute.

To service the woman her life had come to revolve around.

When she felt Helen’s thighs tighten and heard the rough saw of Helen’s breath as her Lady’s orgasm built, she moved to take her lover’s clit between her lips. The sound Helen made - all keening, raw, powerful desire - shook her inside like someone was fucking her somewhere deeper than her pussy. Then one of Helen’s hands left the headboard, slid down, tapped her forehead just so. It was an order without words, and her muscles spasmed as her head dipped and her tongue laved and pushed at Helen’s opening with the urgency of a woman dying of thirst. She was still there, a heartbeat later, when Helen tightened around her and she felt the wet heat of her Lady’s release spilling into her mouth and soaking her face. She’d smell like Helen’s pleasure, something deeper than her mind shuddered for joy in knowing it.

She was soaked, messy, entirely unpresentable, her world filled with Helen’s taste and Helen’s smell and Helen’s pleasure, and she groaned with ravenous need. Hers. Her tongue slipped out of Helen to lash at her clit, hips rising up with need as she gave every effort to Helen’s pleasure, to keeping her high on it.

To the act of being ridden by Helen, claimed by Helen, there, in that room, in that bed. In full view of those photographs.

She gave Helen’s clit a hard suck - drawing a sharp, urgent moan from her lover - as what she was doing, beyond serving Helen, clicked into place.

This bed is ours.

Helen had let go of her wrists, and when she shifted them a fraction Helen gave no sign of protest. And the angle of Helen’s hips was slightly less than optimal. So it was not purely a matter of self-satisfaction when she lifted her hands from the bed and cupped Helen’s hips with them to better address herself to tonguing Helen’s sex. But the smooth softness of Helen’s ass and the hard muscle underneath did feel good enough in her hands that she nearly soaked the bed coming on the spot. For Helen’s part, her lover only groaned with a more heated excitement and arched her hips against Trisha’s hands, presenting her clit for more attention.

Trisha tightened her hands against Helen’s ass, fingers digging into the flesh. Maybe, this time, she would leave a mark on Helen, too, a sign of her urgent surrender and a sign of her claim as her Lady’s girl. A tiny cry, to Thomas and Martha Wayne, to the Bat, to Gotham, that if she had to share this woman with them, they had to share her with her as well.

At that half-thought, her nails pressed in hard, and she gave a firm suck that brought Helen Wayne shuddering and grunting to another spasming orgam over her. For her. For her .

She was still dizzy with the secret joy of it when Helen finally settled onto the bed next to her and wrapped her in both arms, covering Trisha as if she was the most precious prize in the wide world. She settled her still-burning body into those arms, lips against Helen’s neck, kissing her skin over and over. “I love you,” she gasped between kisses. “I love you.”

“My Trisha,” Helen whispered, trembling against her. “My beautiful Trisha.” Her fingers slid up and down Trisha’s spine, over the line of her shoulders and ribs, across the damp smoothness of her hips. Everywhere they touched, Trisha shook. The fire inside her seemed huge, unquenchable and unbearable, like it was going to eat her up from the heart out; Helen seemed to feel it, to sense it, because one hand tightened in Trisha’s hair and the other on her hip, rolling and lifting her until she astride Helen with her legs wide, the hard muscle of Helen’s belly against the soft hair of her pussy, and Helen’s eyes were on hers. Reading her. Knowing her. Claiming her.

“I love you,” Helen whispered, like a vow, and the tips of Helen’s fingers parted her and found the tightness of her ring. Stroked once, lightly, and then pressed.

“Helen… Goddess…” Trisha’s eyes closed and her head arched back and bliss and fulfillment and soft glowing rightness filled her, and she started to ride those fingers. “Yes, Helen. Yes, Helen.” Hers. Hers. A shudder went through her. Just hers.

“My Trisha,” Helen answered her, soft and breathless, voice full of something that was very like awe. “My beautiful, incomparable, indispensable Trisha. This is what you need, isn’t it? This. Just like this.”

Her throbbing pussy and her swollen clit brushed against Helen every time she moved. Helen’s fingers slid in her ass, deep and claiming, holding open her spasming muscles that clenched every time she breathed. Helen was watching her. Saw her.

She could not look away from those eyes. Ice-blue, alive with desire and love and… something beautiful and selfish and demanding. Obviously unused to feeling so much, so openly, but unable to stop showing it. Moved by Trisha’s surrender.

Which moved Trisha to surrender further.

She fell forward a little, hands coming to rest on Helen’s shoulders, and the shift in pressure ground her fully against Helen’s belly. Smeared her pleasure and desire helplessly against the hardness of Helen’s body. “Goddess…”

Something primal and dark opened at the back of Helen’s eyes, as if her pupils might open and swallow all the blue of them, and her lover’s voice darkened and deepened into something she felt herself ready to drown in. “Not quite.”

“My Lady…” Trisha murmured, breathless, between hard moans. Her hips moved faster. Those eyes… through lenses at the party… she pushed down on Helen’s fingers again. “My Lady.”

“Patricia.” Her birth name in that growl was like a brand somewhere inside her. If it was a brand, it would be shaped like a ....

Her hips jerked down, impaling her as deeply on Helen’s fingers as they would reach, and the white-hot burst of the orgasm felt as if it emptied out every part of her except the surrender in one messy, liquid spasm of her cunt after another.

By the time she was aware again, she was against Helen, half-curled, clinging tightly, one leg wrapped over Helen’s hip, gazing at her lover’s face. Still speechless. Every inch of her skin still tingling. Aching in places she was certain Helen had not touched.

Except that, tonight, Helen had touched everything of her.

A quiet sound of joy came from her when she tried to say Helen’s name, and Helen answered her with a kiss.

Chapter Text

At least she’d managed to drive the car, this time.

Sure, every muscle in her body ached (deliciously) and she’d managed to get completely lost in spite of having visited the Wayne Foundation building nearly a dozen times in the past (she’d never driven there, she realized), so she’d had to have the car drive the last few blocks. And she’d spent that time reminiscing about the night before (Helen’s touch, Helen’s gaze, Helen’s hunger, her own melted surrender to Helen’s demands. And that way Helen had looked at her toward the end… a shock of fear went through her even as she squirmed in her seat), which did little for her dignity when the car pulled into its dedicated parking space in the underground lot, the glow of the Inductive Charging Indicator light coming on when it settled into place. Time to full charge: 30 minutes.

That was the drawback of the double-motor design of the Futura. It had longer range than the Discovery, but the cost was that the two batteries took far longer to charge if you turned on that second motor. And you could bet that Trisha had turned on that second motor the moment she was sure she’d gotten a handle on the car’s size. Its long profile meant it handled more like a crossover or small SUV than a sedan, though that wasn’t quite right either because of its low center of gravity and four-wheel full-range steering.

She sat in the car a moment, trying to get herself to something resembling presentable, but closing her eyes and thinking of England just led to a mental image of the Tower of London and herself strapped to some archaic implement of torture and Helen with a long thick toy and that look in her eyes and…

I am seriously fucked up.

Sacrificing that idea, Trisha followed the directions the car’s computer pulled up to her private elevator, used her keycard, and headed up.

I have a private elevator. A private elevator which would deposit her neatly on the executive floor where her new office was being prepared, but at the moment was taking her just a bit higher to the penthouse. Her penthouse.

She owned - well, had leased in her name for the next year with an option to renew - a penthouse.

This is so weird.

She stepped out of the elevator into a perfectly reasonable foyer. Well, reasonable apart from the front door being an elevator and the windows looking out over the top of every building in Gotham City except Wayne Tower, which she could see and was basically eye-to-eye with the executive level of. Reasonable apart from that. And the fact that her watch - she owned a smartwatch now; she’d almost forgotten how strange that was - immediately pulled up a map of the apartment.

The scale of the foyer on the schematic indicated that the penthouse as a whole was not reasonable.

Most of the first floor was “The Event Space,” but to reach that one had to pass through either the main kitchen or the office. She was going to be meeting whoever she was meeting about this in the office, so she went to that door and opened it.

There was a keycard slot, but she did not need to use it. Her keycard connected to the doors by Bluetooth or something.

“Ms. Baum!” The lovely brown-haired woman a few shades darker than Trisha who was waiting in one of the chairs in front of the - her - desk came to her feet gracefully and offered her hand, smiling an exceedingly well-put together smile. “It’s so good to finally meet you in person. Anjali D’cruze. My assistant Malini spoke with Miss Eastman on the phone. I understand you wanted to do the whole walkthrough today?”

Katie, you’re a genius. “Yes, please, Ms. D’cruze. If we could.” She looked around the office. This is not even my main office - it’s my “home” office - and it’s almost as big as Helen’s at Wayne Tower. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” A little Smallville somehow snuck into her voice there, and she blushed.

I’m from Metropolis, and I feel too small-town for this place.

“Oh, the pleasure is absolutely all mine. The opportunity to do a space like this is a very rare thing, and for such a prominent person!” Ms. D’cruze seemed absolutely delighted. “I usually prefer to work from the inside out - that is, the most personal spaces first - but Miss Eastman suggested you might prefer starting from the outside in instead. Your background in event planning, she said. So shall we start in the ballroom?”

I’m “such a prominent person?” I’m Helen’s girlfriend and… well, her girlfriend. Helen’s the prominent person… “That sounds good. I… understand we’ll be talking decor, too?”

“Decor, colors, furniture, art. Don’t think of them as separate elements - think of them as the palette for your personal style. We want everyone who sets food in this place to have their answer to who you are from the moment they come in to the moment they leave.” Using a staff keycard, Ms. D’cruze ushered her out of the office and down a slight ramp into a room that would probably have comfortably fit her old apartment all by itself. “As you can see, the last remodel applied these lovely hickory floors and the stage area with a full multimedia and lighting system. The windows are very nice, but I’m afraid the cedar paneling in the walls gives the whole place a rather dour sensibility that I’m not sure would be you at all. I was thinking a nice gilt marble might be more to your taste, but of course it’s up to you...”

Gilt marble… “The cedar panelling is beautiful. Really, really beautiful. I’d love to find something to do with the material… it’s lovely and I’d hate to see it go to waste. But it makes the room feel much more arranged for a funeral than for a party.” Which probably means it was installed for Helen. “Gilt marble sounds lovely, and… aesthetically very me, but I wasn’t exactly born to money. Do you think it would look… presumptuous… here?”

Ms. D’cruze tapped her lips with her stylus thoughtfully, surveying the room again. “Oh, I don’t think so. Aspirational, perhaps. But if you wanted something less ostentatious and were willing to bear a few slings and arrows about Metropolis style, perhaps something in dark steel and gold instead? We could further expand the windows and give it a very neo-futuristic look, and improve your view in the bargain. As for the cedar panelling, I’m sure we can find a good use for it upstairs or in the dining room.”

Expand the windows. Isn’t that a construction project? “I… like that,” Trisha said. “But I’m also coming around a bit on the marble. Maybe when we see the rest of the first floor that will help me decide?”

“Very wise. A holistic approach is very important for this sort of work,” D’cruze agreed, making a few notes on her tablet. “Before we leave, do you have any strong preferences on lighting, the chandelier, fittings?”

Trisha looked up at the chandelier. It’s certainly… big. “Is there a story behind this one?”

“Well, it has a long and not very interesting history before the Foundation acquired it as a donation from an antiques dealer in the city under some rather odd circumstances. But very little in this penthouse has any real personality - now, the old penthouse, that was a true masterpiece. Eccentric touches everywhere! Such a loss.” The older woman sighed wistfully, then seemed to tuck the idea away like an inconvenient document. “If you like it, we can certainly keep it, but I imagine you might prefer something a bit less baroque.”

“Or brighter. Something that reminds people that the sun comes up in Gotham, too…” Trisha said. “Same with the fixtures, really… I love the shape of them, but something I can’t place about them makes them seem a bit… downer?”

“Gothic,” Ms. D’cruze suggested. “But yes, I think something more optimistic would definitely be suitable. I’ll have my people do a few drafts for your review and we can make a final decision by the end of the week. Now, when people leave this space, they can either go back into your office - we’ll revisit that in a few minutes - or come through this way into the formal dining room. These doors are fully securable, of course, so you can consider the formal dining room something of a liminal space, part of the public and private house at once.”

Aren’t doorways themselves liminal spaces by nature? Trisha thought as they moved from one reality to another.

Her first impression: The formal dining room was bigger than the one at the Manor.

Her second impression: The formal dining room’s decor had far less of Helen in it than the ballroom. It was… quiet, modern, functional, with a long, heavy oak table and matching chairs, and bronze light fixtures that looked like candelabras but held LEDs that shifted color to mimic the soothing light of candles along the wall. But the main lights in the ceiling drowned those out in this case, as did the sunlight through the windows, strong enough to come filtered through the blinds. The room had no identity besides ‘a large group of people could eat here in moderate comfort, and might have a conversation.’

She was pretty sure she hated it.

“I like the light fixtures. But everything else…”

“Dreadful, isn’t it? Turn of the millennium corporate chic.” D’cruze shuddered delicately and flicked a baleful glance around the room. “The blinds are the first to go, I think - polarized windows instead. We could repanel the walls entirely with that lovely cedar from the ballroom and have a fair amount left over - it’d go nicely with the bronze fixtures, give the room a lovely club feel. That chrome and granite bar has to go as well - terrible - but we could install something old-fashioned but with modern convenience to match the new tenor of the room. Some art for the interior walls, definitely a replacement for the table and chairs...” She paused, tilting her hand inquiringly at Trisha and smiling. “What do you think?”

“I think you’re speaking my language,” Trisha said. I think I’m starting to understand this. “If we’re going to give it a potential club feel, at least when the main lights are low… what’s the sound system like? Is there one? And could we get a table that’s sufficiently sectional as to be storable?”

“There can be a very lovely sound system if you want one. And yes, there’s storage on this floor and in the ‘basement’ - the space between this floor and the tower proper - sufficient for any needs you might have in that regard. What are you thinking?” Now she seemed to have Ms. D’cruze intrigued as well as professionally attentive.

Trisha put her foot on the floor, firmly, and stepped forward, letting her body spin. “Even with this monster of a table in here, the room’s spacious, and there’s already the shelving for a bar. We’re making the ballroom a place of light where even if the sun’s down it’s still shining, but there are still times it’s more fun if it’s night. You’d have to do a smaller event to use this room as the primary venue, but there’s plenty of space to dance, and we could even set up the ballroom for cooling off and refreshments and conversation. Make it almost a ‘patio’ to the ‘club’ in here. And with a table we can remove and the right choice of decor, it can look like it’s a formal dining room and only a formal dining room under normal circumstances.”

D’cruze’s stylus was flicking and dancing on her tablet now, her eyes sweeping the room, and a real smile was starting to crack through her professional facade. “Ms. Baum, I think I am going to enjoy working for you. Yes, I think we can absolutely do that. It wouldn’t even be particularly difficult. I’ll put together three or four different furniture arrangements for your consideration and we can stock your storage room to make this over in all sorts of ways.”

“Brilliant, Ms. D’cruze. Absolutely brilliant.” Trisha grinned. “The next room’s the main kitchen, right? I… barely cook and wouldn’t know how to use anything in there that’s not a stove burner or a microwave, so we should probably leave whatever that needs to the event staff.”

“I’ll do a simple industrial gloss with a few nice touches,” D’cruze agreed. “But function first. Nobody needs frills in an event-driven kitchen. Shall we go back around to your office?”

“I think so. I think I’m getting the hang of this, Ms. D’cruze.” Trisha gave a wide smile.

“Oh, I believe so. That door over there leads to the stairs up to the second floor, and it’s secured to the family keycode by default. Now, this way...”

They doubled back through the ballroom and up into her office, which was simple enough - Trisha had worked in enough offices over the years to know what she liked and what she didn’t, even if this one was a ‘private’ office instead of a business one. The desk needed to be a little smaller, to seat her closer to people she was conversing with, and turned so that entering from the residence door wouldn’t have people coming in behind her when she sat at it. Art on the walls… nothing expensive, all eclectic, probably requiring her and Ms. D’cruze to spend some time looking at pieces going up for sale over the next few weeks and months. A sofa, comfortable but not too comfortable. “And the filing cabinet should mean business. When I open it, it should click in a way that satisfies me and terrifies the person whose records I’m removing from it; when it closes it should close with the finality of Pharaoh’s edict,” she finished.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Ms. D’cruze murmured, making another note on her tablet. “That will be a first for me. Now, the foyer - obviously it’ll be mostly for your private use, but it’s also the main point of entry for your personal guests to the living areas above, especially if you’re entering directly from the garage. Have you perchance been in the West Grand Theater in Metropolis - the classic movie establishment? They have a gallery upstairs leading to the powder rooms that I thought had the right style.”

“I’ve been to the West Grand, but never the powder room…” Trisha fished out her phone to look up the room.

“Here,” D’cruze suggested, holding out her tablet. It was a lovely old-fashioned space, every inch Metropolis of the forties - brass fittings, dark wood pillars, red and gold fabric, classic movie posters, a long central rug over tan stone flooring. “Then I thought perhaps the stairs in the same style as the rug, or perhaps a dark wood, and the railings in a black marble with gold streaks...”

“Oh god that’s perfect,” Trisha whispered, staring at the image. “That’s… yes, exactly that.” It’s what a fairy tale castle would look like now. “Could we do silver, on the railings? I’d like the space to remind me of Metropolis but be Gotham, and… well, black and silver are basically the Gotham colors.”

“I think we can arrange that. Perhaps silver fittings and darker stone in the lobby as well...” D’cruze made a few more notes, smiling, then gestured to the foyer door. “You’ll have to lead the way this time, I’m afraid. Family access only.”

Trisha opened the door - the magic wireless keycard working its spell once more - and started up the stairs. What she found upstairs was more familiar. Vastly over-scaled, for anything that wasn’t Wayne Manor, but familiar. The stairs let out into a living room, which she and Ms. D’cruze decided needed to be completely refit from baseboards to ceilings, though their discussion made space for the sofa from her old apartment (memories that she was absolutely not going to show her physical response to rushed back at that bit of conversation) as a loveseat (appropriate… stop it Trisha). There was a perfectly normal if very long hallway beyond the living room, with a far smaller kitchen and dining room to one side (she actually liked the table that was in the dining room a lot, but it failed to match anything else there, so they planned to redecorate the room around the table); on the other, there were two guest bedrooms. The larger of the two, she asked Ms. D’cruze to talk with Katie about - with the late nights she would likely be dragging her assistant through, she wanted Katie to know there was a place to go if she didn’t feel safe to drive and Gotham didn’t feel safe to walk. The smaller, which was nearly as large (and both were larger than her parents’ bedroom in Metropolis), she decided to go with simplicity for, but to put in a much larger bed. At the end of the hallway, it branched again, each side leading to a curved stairway to the uppermost floor; there were two doors in the new wall created by the branch. The first was a media room. “That. No.” Trisha pointed to the movie poster of The Grey Ghost vs. The Green Hornet. “Movie posters: Good. The Grey Ghost posters: Much less so.” She paused. “But have it gift-wrapped. Helen will love it.” Or maybe she’d give it to Mr. Grayson or Mr. Drake-Wayne. “And I don’t ever expect to seat thirty people in this room… could we perhaps replace these seats with more comfortable ones and keep the occupancy at… fifteen?”

“Easily done. We’ll add in more drink and snack space to the chairs as well, and perhaps a small bar and ice cream servery at the back. Nothing goes with old movies like floats, no?” Ms. D’cruze’s smile was vaguely maternal, but in a mostly pleasant way. “Over in the next room you have some sort of fitness space - very high tech, of no stylistic interest whatsoever. I was firmly warned off adding anything to it.”

“I’ll check it out,” Trisha said. It sounds very Helen. She left the media room and went to the next door, opening it and stepping through. It was, to all appearances, a blank white room whose door - beyond a careful blue border - might as well have vanished behind her when she shut it.

Then the walls and floor lit with a soft grid of blue light, and a woman - tall, fit and gorgeous - appeared leaning against the far wall. “Hello,” she said cheerfully. “I’m Hemithea, Miss Baum, and I’ll be your personal trainer. How are you doing today?”

Hemithea. This is definitely Helen’s. “Hello, Hemithea.” Hologram? Must be a hologram. “I’m doing well. Just on a walkthrough of the apartment today, so I won’t be working out.”

She wasn’t sure why she felt a need to let the hologram know, but she did.

“That’s fine. Remember to get all the protein you need today, to walk at least twenty minutes, and to hydrate properly.” Hemithea gave her a vaugely blush-inducing looking over. “We want to keep you good and healthy, right? And when you are ready to work out, I’ve got a full suite of tools and environments ready for your needs.”

Tools and environments? “What do you mean? The room is… empty.” And I don’t actually know why she has that name. It seems rude to ask that, though.

“Only apparently.” Hemithea waved a hand, and part of the floor unfolded itself into a weight-stand while a set of barbels - smooth and ceramic, but with ridges for a good grip - were deployed from one of the walls. Then the whole room flickered like a strobe, and she was standing in an impressive recreation of one of the gardens at Wayne Manor. “I can handle almost anything except a swimming pool - a hot tub, if you want, but the pool was too big a plumbing challenge.”

Trisha stared at the room, eyes wide, mouth half-open. It builds a gym. It builds a gym. Helen has morphic rooms and she uses them to build a gym. Presence, I love her. “That’s… amazing. I’ll probably take you up on that hot tub soon,” Trisha murmured.

“Any time you like, sweetheart.” Hemithea winked at her. Winked at her. “You run along and I’ll be seeing you regularly.”

Does the hologram have a crush on me? Trisha thought as she left the workout room. Do I have a crush on the hologram? She waved to Ms. D’cruze. “Master bedroom next, yes?”

Best to move on from that thought.

“Just up this way,” D’cruze agreed, clicking up the stairs in her heels and showing Trisha into a lovely sitting room that was - comparatively - modestly sized. “Your suite’s parlor. I thought blues and creams would be attractive, with perhaps some silver accenting and some art for the walls?”

“That sounds nice,” Trisha said, looking around the room. “Maybe some shelving along that wall, too… though I’m not sure what to put there. It just feels like a good place to put something.”

D’cruze made a quick note, smiling, then ushered her around into a small hallway. “Off on this side we have your personal library and the master bath, and on this side the master bedroom. And yes, before you ask, there’s another door leading from the master bedroom to the bath.” She opened the door to the master bedroom and showed Trisha in, lips slightly compressed. “I’m afraid it’s a bit upscale hotel at the moment, but if you can give me some idea of what you might like...”

The decor, admittedly, might not have been particularly amazing. But the view.... That was something else again.

Trisha stared out from the bedroom. This was the opposite side of the penthouse from the entrance and the private elevator - instead of looking straight at Wayne Tower, she was looking out over the three islands of Gotham, the rivers between them, and, in the distance, the Palisades. Though Wayne Manor itself was too far to clearly see, Gotham Hill which it rested on the peak of was plainly visible.

The city sparkled in the sunlight in a way entirely different from the view of Metropolis from the observation deck of the Daily Planet building.

“I can see everything,” Trisha whispered. “The whole world.”

“It is a beautiful view. I understand Ms. Wayne had it particularly commissioned,” D’cruze noted. “A bit unconventional to curve the outer wall of the bedroom quite like that, but she wanted the view to be optimal.”

“The architect managed exactly that,” Trisha breathed. “I should be getting to business… nothing to obscure the view, and… what is that bed?”

Horrible was what it was. D’cruze’s sigh indicated she knew it. “Someone’s idea of inoffensive, I’m sure. What would you like me to replace that banal monstrosity with?”

“Literally anything. A live and very angry wolverine would be an acceptable substitute.” Trisha sighed. “I’m not really sure. Our bed at the Manor… it’s big. It would scale right to this room. But if I’m here, I’m often going to be sleeping alone, and… it’s too big for alone.”

“If we placed an old-fashioned vanity on this side of the room, we could accommodate a smaller bed and balance it nicely,” Ms. D’cruze suggested. “Something in the queen range?”

“A queen would be perfect.” Only a little too big for alone, and big enough for Helen and I. “Thank you. I… think I actually may have seen something in my parents’ storage that would work for that. My father ran an antique shop, and now restores furniture as a hobby.”

“Just let us know when you’d like it shipped in and we’ll take care of it,” Ms. D’cruze assured her. “Walk-in closet is through there and now... well, I think you’ll like this one. I took the liberty of having it redone ahead of time.” She opened the door to what must be the master bathroom and gestured Trisha inside.

It was marvelous - a beautiful marble tub big enough for three, with shower fittings and a sealed enclosure, plus double sinks in a lovely old-fashioned style and an quaint white and silver vanity tucked into the back of the room with natural lights suitable for checking makeup precisely. It was… everything she had ever wanted in a bathroom. Everything the bathroom at her apartment wanted to be but lacked the space to carry off; everything the master bath at home could have been if it hadn’t last been renovated in the 1970s. She stared at it, a wide smile forming on her face. “I could hug you. I really could.”

“No need. But I do wish I could post that smile on an advertisement somewhere,” D’cruze sighed, smiling herself. “I think I have everything I need - I’ll have sketches in to your assistant in the next couple of days, and if there are no unforeseen problems we should have the upper two floors ready for you by the end of the week. The ballroom and formal dining room will take a little longer, but certainly before the end of the month.”

“That’s perfect, Ms. D’cruze,” Trisha said, giving the bathroom one last long look. “Thank you for your time and your expertise.”

“My pleasure, Miss Baum. I believe you’re going to be a smashing success.”

 


 

It hadn’t been easy to extract herself from Miss Guerra’s tender care in time for an early afternoon flight to the manor, but Helen had made the effort. She knew Trisha had been to the penthouse today, and the delicate tickling of her curiosity dearly wished to know what her lover thought of it. It was an indulgence, but a small one, and she was prepared to allow it for the moment. Nothing at Wayne Enterprises or the Foundation actually required her attention, and the city was quiet. As quiet as it ever was, at least....

She distracted herself from the very different itch that started in her hands by retreating to the study and applying her attention to the latest updates to the Gotham subway system. There had been modifications in the last few days that might be significant, opening old lines not touched for some years, and some of her own backchannels might need to be rerouted accordingly. Not to mention what Oswald might be up to down there.

A knock came at the study door before it opened, and Richard poked his head in. “Helen, have a moment?” Then he saw what she was working on. “I think the new Gold Line is going to come a bit close to the stash under Charles Street.” Without actually waiting for her answer to either the question or the observation, he sat opposite her, looking at the maps with far too much interest not to have something on his mind.

“We’ll have to relocate it. Linden Avenue, perhaps.” Helen ran her fingertips over the map slowly, studying Richard’s face. “But you didn’t come to talk to me about the subway.”

“No. I’d rather talk about the subway, though…” His eyes stayed on the maps for a long moment, until her silence prompted him to speak. “Look, I like Trisha. I like how happy she makes you. I like how happy she makes Alfie…”

She folded her hands and waited him out. Richard had a great many virtues, but patient silence was not among them.

“She knows who we are.” Richard finally said. “She knows you, and me, and Tim, and Carrie. And that leads her to Barbara with a little thought, to Steph and Cassie, to Kori, to Clark with only a bit more digging than that. And from there to Bart and Connor and Kara.” He sighed. “She’s got the keys to our whole family, the League, the Titans, Helen.”

“Yes,” Helen said, the words smooth and without inflection. “That seems quite likely.”

Richard folded his hands together. “It scares me, Helen. I’m not sure if it scares Tim or Barbara, and I’m still not sure anything our Earth can make scares Carrie, but it scares me. And, if they knew, it would scare a lot of other people. And it should. Lois had years to prove we could trust her before she was brought in, and Clark doesn’t have nearly as many traceable connections as you do.”

“And what is it, precisely, that you would like me to do about that? Be specific, Richard.” Helen caught her eyes narrowing a fraction and smoothed her expression again, making her voice level and calm. “You’ve presented a problem. Do you have a solution?”

“Of course I don’t.” His voice was exasperated, now, and his arms strained against themselves - perhaps to keep himself from knocking the maps off the table to the floor, perhaps to keep himself from throwing something, perhaps to keep himself from flipping over the table and out the door to get out of a conversation he obviously wanted no part in. “That’s part of why Barbara wore that cowl while you were gone. You and Barbara and Tim are the big picture thinkers. But none of you seem to have a plan. I suppose we could start by warning some of those who we know the names of but who don’t know our names, step up security, get Zatanna or that shabby British guy to work some anti-telepathy magic on her, and check to be sure Barry knows where Grodd is, but that’s hardly a plan at all.”

“I’ve been planning to talk to Zatanna about that, but making sure the Flashes have an eye on Grodd is a step I hadn’t considered.” She caught the flash of surprise on his face and allowed herself a faint smile. “You aren’t as bad at strategic thinking as you imagine yourself to be, Richard.” The levity was fleeting, and she let it die. “Clark likes to call me the world’s greatest escape artist, which is flattering but untrue. Still, when he says that I always leave myself a way out he’s usually correct.” Richard’s eyes dilated - relief, perhaps - but she went on just as methodically. “I haven’t left myself any in this case, Richard. I think, perhaps, that I didn’t intend to from the beginning.”

He didn’t stop being angry - in fact, he might have been angrier - but a hint of his boyish grin appeared. “She’s really under your skin, isn’t she?”

Now she had to look away, as she’d not had to look away from anything in years. Not since the photographs of Vesper’s body in the GCPD interrogation room. “Bone deep,” she said softly. “It defies rational analysis.”

“I know Alfie’s looking forward to a new Mrs. Wayne in the house,” Richard said. “Just don’t let Carrie near… anything. Any part of the planning at all. Or the execution.”

Mrs. Wayne? The words caught in the gears of Helen’s mind and ground, scraping painfully. “Hrm,” she growled, which was as good a placeholder for missing thought as she’d yet discovered.

He seemed to understand, and, apart from a barely-concealed smug look, dropped the subject. “Next time, tell us the plan… or at least tell Barbara and I. Or at least tell us there is a plan.” He sighed. “I… kind of get it, now. With Bart and Gar and Raven and the rest. The need to look after something.”

“Plan is generous. There are preparations.” She looked up at him fully again, reached out and touched his hand lightly. “You’re less selfish than I was. I had to see my horror in your eyes.”

“But not in Barbara’s or Tim’s,” he said. “It took me a long time to realize that you grew, too. On that note, there’s something else you need to be careful of… Tim and Carrie now know that you’re capable of smiling at things other than perfect report cards and a properly giftwrapped Penguin. I hear that once they know that, it’s all over.”

“Parenting is a difficult business,” she retorted cooly. “If you could ever stay put more than a few weeks in any one bed, you might find that out yourself.”

“Please. Kori and I have been together for…” He counted on his fingers. “Three months straight, this time. Besides, I’ve got the Titans, and I’ve got a gaggle of siblings.”

“I imagine that Gar is not what Alfred had in mind as a grandchild.” But the smile was back, just at the edge of her mouth, and she allowed it. I’m proud of you, Richard.

“I’ll tell you what,” Richard said. “Let’s put the maps away, get an episode of the Zorro TV show in before Trisha gets home, and I’ll stay for dinner. I’m thinking the one where Diego gets called away to Spain while the corrupt governor is planning to take the gold shipment.”

“Excellent.” Helen reached for the maps as she stood up, and permitted herself just a little more of a smile. “And Richard? I’m going to tell Trisha that it was your idea that Zatanna cast a spell on her. I think you can expect a very heartfelt Christmas gift for that.”

Richard grinned. “So that wasn’t just her putting Vicki on?” He got the door for Helen. “You know Trisha doesn’t like Zorro , right? I’d have thought that was a deal-breaker.”

Helen shrugged on her way out. “Nobody’s perfect, Richard.”

 


 

This might have been a mistake. Trisha stood in her private elevator - I have a private elevator - and tried as hard as she could not to scratch her head or fidgit with her jewelry or touch her face or, really, to touch anything at all. Or look down.

She had spent three hours getting ready. Hair - swept up and to the side, with heat-induced curls running off her left shoulder and down her back, leaving the right side of her neck entirely uncovered, the whole mad style held in place with gold pins. Not pins that were gold in color; pins made of gold, or at least plated in it. Her dress was cream with gold straps and highlights, a Lucius Lyn personal design. Mr. Lyn had been nearly silent as he took measurements and drew sketches, which Trisha would have been more comfortable with than a talkative designer if not for the intensity of his entirely professional interest in her body. She felt like it took five years off her appearance - something the exquisitely precise job the makeup artists had done with her face enhanced - and its strappy top revealed far more of her bosom and cleavage than she had ever voluntarily shown in public before and looked entirely structurally incapable of supporting her as firmly as it did. The straps did not allow for pinning her broach to the dress; its absence (she had left it at home before coming to the penthouse, so that when she and Helen got home it would be available) left her feeling even more undressed than the revealing dress did, and the choker around her neck, the Wayne crest resting on the right side where her hairstyle would leave it constantly visible, only mitigated that a little.

She’d managed to avoid having at least half her fingers adorned with rings that would each cost more than a month’s salary when she worked at LexCorp by choosing a pair of elbow-length silk cream gloves, but she hadn’t been able to talk them out of adorning her arms in gold-and-platinum brassards, or her ears in dangly earrings with white gold settings holding opal globes. Not even her feet had escaped the attention of these mad stylists - Mr. Lyn had, after trying two dozen pairs of shoes and sandals and slippers and boots, called in a “dear acquaintance,” Ms. Susan Yates, who came in and immediately started comparing her figure favorably to Cat Grant’s and her legs less favorably to Lois Lane’s, to figure out the “dire footware situation.”

Ms. Yates had looked at Mr. Lyn’s two dozen pairs of shoes, been informed by Katie that the windows of the penthouse did not open and thus that she could not defenestrate the “horrible ivory number,” left in a huff, and come back with what she called “Krypton boots.” The ones she brought back to show them were black leather; the ones she had made were white with gold trim, and they were thigh-high but exposed her knees and took her an hour to learn to walk a straight line in. She’d scuffed the first pair nearly falling over; Ms. Yates had immediately produced a second, which had survived the experience.

The elevator dinged, and Trisha stepped out into the underground parking lot, clutching the purse - it was not her purse, a trustworthy thing of midnight leather that had survived an encounter with one of Mr Luthor’s dimensional destabilization devices mostly intact - that Mr. Lyn had given her. It was white. It had jewels . It was tiny and held only her ID, her phone, her panic button, and a single tube of lipstick. It horrified and offended her.

Helen had been minutes away when she entered the elevator, and Trisha waved as she saw the Lamborghini approach; Helen glided it neatly to a stop just behind her Fortuna, not bothering to park, and opened the door to climb out. It was probably a good thing that Helen had decided to get out and greet her now, Trisha decided with the part of her brain that was still functioning, because if they’d done this for the first time on the red carpet at the Kuwata Center Trisha was reasonably certain she would have embarrassed herself by drooling on the red carpet.

She’d seen a brief sketch of Mr. Lyn’s design for Helen’s outfit, but that hadn’t really prepared her for the reality of her lover’s body sheathed in a black cheongsam whose layers of embroidery - black on black on black - seemed to catch and echo the lines of almost every major piece of architecture in Gotham, like Helen was wearing a ink-print of the city itself wrapped around her body, and the gray wool coat she was wearing over her shoulders just drew more attention to that dizzying complexity with its stark - almost militant - simplicity.

This was the best idea ever. She let herself stare for a long moment, eyes wandering over Helen, before stepping forward. Feeling Helen’s eyes on her, clinging to every motion of her body with a fierce avarice that made her feel twice as naked as she already did. And she was wearing the shawl that covered most of her shoulders and back at the moment. The idea of how Helen might look at her without it was...

She had a sudden, shivery moment of liquid embarrassment at the memory of the delicate fashion panties she’d allowed herself to be talked into wearing tonight. If she was going to be looked at like this all night, they were not going to be adequate.

“You look amazing, beloved,” she managed, though the way her throat swelled at the sight of Helen - at the scalding sensation of Helen looking at her - she was amazed she could speak at all.

The sound Helen made in reply - not words, just a sound - was not the sort of thing that was going to keep Trisha’s knees from buckling. Fortunately, Helen crossed the distance between them in a few graceful steps and braced Trisha’s hips with her silk gloved hands, which was much more helpful.

They’d woven the most beautiful silver ribbons into the inky black of Helen’s elaborate French braid. Long ones, too - long enough to wrap around Trisha’s wrists....

Trisha rested a hand on each of Helen’s hips, gazing up at her. She was not going to imagine their bed, Helen effortlessly pulling one of those ribbons from her hair to wrap around Trisha’s wrists, to… she was not going to imagine that. She lifted herself up to kiss Helen’s lips softly, careful of their lipstick.

It would probably be insufficiently careful of their clothes to beg Helen to rip them off right here…

“You’re radiant,” Helen whispered, easing them apart with an effort that Trisha could feel in her own bones. “I think I may have to be jealous - everyone in Gotham is going to be in love with you by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Wouldn’t that be a reason for them to be jealous?” Trisha whispered in return, hand brushing Helen’s. “You’re taking me home, tonight.”

“Yes,” Helen agreed, and then laughed very softly. “And that trip is going to take far, far too long for my tastes.”

Trisha blushed. “We should get in the car. I think there’s a schedule for the red carpet.” She paused. “I don’t know if there’s a schedule. Did Sofia give you a schedule?”

“On my phone somewhere. I think she and Miss Eastman wanted to ride in with us, but I insisted on having at least a moment or two alone with you first.” Helen squeezed their gloved fingers together a moment longer before she finally let go. “I don’t imagine they’ll roll up the carpet without us.”

Having them in the car would probably help rescue my lipstick. “I love you. Shall we?”

“Yes.” Helen walked her around and helped her into the passenger seat, then climbed into the driver’s seat herself - which gave Trisha her first look at the delicate, strappy black heels Helen was wearing that did absolutely unjust things to the shape of her feet and legs. If she hadn’t been strapped into the passenger seat of a moving vehicle, she would have found it impossible to keep her hands to herself.

As it was, embarrassingly enough, it was sufficiently difficult to be going on with to keep her hands at her sides instead of between her legs.

Gotham was ignored as Trisha watched Helen drive. The smooth, exact way she handled the wheel and the precise flex of her ankle as she manipulated the gas and brakes...

It was a good thing that Helen decided to come around the car and open her door for her, because she needed the extra processing time to get her brain working on any subject about how much she wanted Helen to handle her .

She pulled her wrap more fully into place as she let Helen help her from the car, handle her from the… no not now.

Only to be left blinking stars out of her eyes as flashbulbs ignited in a supernova across her entire field of vision.

“... The always impeccable Helen Wayne, in a smart Penelope Sanders-Lucius Lyn Chinese-style dress,” a woman standing at a set of TV cameras was saying, though other WGCK cameras had moved to get as close to Trisha and Helen as they could without impeding their progress. “With shoes from Gotham-based Italian designer Lamberto Canti. Stunning . And on her arm, the First Family of Gotham’s pretty young lady of the hour, Trisha Baum, in a cream-and-gold Lucius Lyn exclusive and Susan Yates’s trademark Krypton boots. Sister Cities autumn style for a gorgeous March-July couple.”

Katie fell into step next to Trisha just as they approached the rope line away from the main sidewalk. “There’s a backdrop twenty paces ahead. You’ll stop there for press photos. Face the cameras, smile but not that way you smile when you think about Helen, let her put her arm around you, maybe wave. Don’t be self-conscious.”

“Miss Guerra is inside making arrangements?” Helen murmured without breaking step or losing her practiced smile. “You two are working well together.”

“Thank you, Ms. Wayne. Ma’am, just a few more paces... and here we go.” Katie patted Trisha’s shoulder discreetly, cueing her so the stop next to Helen seemed effortlessly, then melted back out of the line of sight for the cameras before they started popping off in Trisha’s face. Several hundred thousand people were probably watching her on television right at this moment, and when you included rebroadcasts and newspaper appearances it would quickly escalate into the millions.

A couple of million people are looking at my tits. That did not help matters. She shoved the thought aside. They’re going to be uploaded on news sites, for more millions who don’t feel like watching the video. Again, no help. She gave another wave. I hate television.

Then they were being discreetly moved along again, into the demesne of the mainstream and entertainment press now that the fashion press had had their way. Fortunately or unfortunately, Gotham Fashion Week had an excellent record for screening out all but the tamest reporters, so the questions they were peppered with on the rest of their walk were of the innocuous or easily brushed-aside variety. Statuesque attendants were waiting at the doors to take their outerwear, and Trisha caught just a moment when Helen’s eyes flared wide and hungrily dark as they swept down the back of her dress. But Helen’s control was excellent, and she didn’t miss a step.

My dress only has a vestigial back. Trisha turned red at that look, and stepped closer to Helen as they walked. “How do you think they find them so tall?”

“Global talent search,” Helen murmured back, her fingertips resting lightly against the small of Trisha’s back through the thin silk of the dress. “I’m sure they spare no expense. Mister Lyn has thoroughly outdone himself, I must say.”

Trisha blushed again. “You look amazing,” she managed. “And… I wasn’t sure about Mr. Lyn’s work until you looked at me. I think it’s perfect, now.”

“I think it may be a little too perfect for the length of the night, but that’s neither here nor there...” Helen’s eyes swept the room, and then a slow edge of a smile crept onto her mouth. “I have a surprise for you. Your three.”

“Three?” Trisha blinked, leaning against Helen and looking up at her. “Oh!” She looked to her right and found Zatanna Zatara talking with a couple of men who... well, she honestly couldn’t be bothered to remember the names of, because Zatanna Zatara was standing there in a clingy wrap dress like a midnight sky that hugged every curve of her, smiling like she might pluck a bird out of someone’s pocket at any moment, and wearing boots that made her legs go on for days. She stared, leaning back against Helen, and actually let out a quiet sigh. “Beloved, can I say that she’s gorgeous?”

“If you tried to say anything else I wouldn’t believe you for a moment.” Helen’s fingers stroked the hollow of her back lightly, and she could feel more than hear her lover’s chuckle. “Shall we go over and say hello now, or wait for our table?”

Trisha trembled. Let herself stare a moment longer. “Will she turn me into a toad if I…” Then she paused, turning to look at Helen. “She’s at our table. We have a table with Zatanna Zatara.”

“We do indeed. My press people nearly had convulsions, but I told them it was non-negotiable.” Helen’s smile was dazzling. “Just the three of us, actually.”

“I’m going to be nonfunctional. I’m not going to be able to speak,” Trisha whispered. “I’m going to embarrass myself horribly and I’m going to treasure this the rest of my life anyway.” Sitting with Helen and Zatanna Zatara. At once.

Helen just chuckled and stroked her again. “So, I don’t think you’ve actually answered my ... question.”

Trisha blushed at Helen’s words, at the way her voice caught during the sentence, and again pressed a kiss to Helen’s lips. “Are you all right, beloved?”

Instead of answering, Helen kissed her back carefully and squeezed her hip. “Passing thought. Now or later?”

“I… suppose now,” Trisha said. “That way, I might be able to hold up a conversation with either of you by the end of the night.”

It was a long walk over, in spite of the short distance - when you were at one of these things as a participant instead of staff, apparently everyone felt entitled to talk to you for at least a few minutes just because you were moving past them - which was somewhat helpful for untangling her tongue and not at all helpful for keeping her eyes at a respectable level. Zatanna must have known they were coming somehow, because with perfect timing she shed her conversational companions and stepped up to them with a small flourish, smiling so slyly that she must have stolen the expression from a fox. “Trisha Baum, I presume?”

She felt every bit of preparation she’d done on the way drain out, but she said , “Yes… hello. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Zatara.”

It was only a little throaty. Helen’s presence could explain it. She managed to keep her eyes at eye level for the moment.

“Zatanna, please. Just a moment.” Zatanna looked right at her, then just to her right, then just to her left as if examining her for a stray thought. “There’s just something... oh! There it is.” One of her black-gloved hands reached up and brushed the tip of Trisha’s left ear, and suddenly Zatanna was holding a white rose tucked into...

In a copy of the live program for the first Mistress of Magic TV special.

“I…” Trisha broke down in giggles as she took the program and the rose, giddy with joy, and leaned more against Helen. “Thank you,” she managed between breaths.

“Hel tells me that you’re a fan, so I couldn’t let you down.” That stage-lighting smile was even more radiant in person. “A performer can’t forget the people who helped her get where she is.”

“Or pass up a chance to make a pretty girl blush,” Helen chuckled, squeezing Trisha’s hip while she reached out to shake Zatanna’s hand herself. “You never change, Zee.”

“Where would the fun in that be?”

Trisha looked between Zatanna and Helen, her blush not quite giving up its hold on her face. “You two are unfair. Amazing, but unfair. I feel ganged up on. And oddly okay with that.”

Both of them laughed. That was unfair, too. Zatanna tapped her fingers under Trisha’s chin, winking, and then leaned in close enough for a private murmur. “I hope I didn’t upset you when I jumped in to Helen’s defense a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes I open my mouth before I really think it through. But for what it’s worth, I think you two are a lovely couple.”

And the blush was deeper. Between Zatanna’s nearness and the compliment, she found herself entirely breathless. Finally, she managed, “I… thank you. It actually made it easier.”

“Good.” Zatanna settled back on her heels, grinning indecently cheerfully, and winked up at Helen. “I have to go make the rounds a little more, but you’d better make sure you stay long enough for the runway so I can get to know Trisha better. No running off to avoid the party!”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Helen said, and Trisha could feel the warmth of her lover’s smile like the sun against her hair. “Go charm the house, Zee.”

“Thank you again, Zatanna,” Trisha said, a hand going behind her to touch Helen’s hip. The performer only chuckled and blew them both a kiss, then swept off - leaving most of the room staring in her wake.

As suddenly as it had come out, the sun of Helen’s smile vanished again and her arm tightened fractionally against Trisha’s before lightly nudging her out of contact. It might have felt more like being brushed away if she hadn’t felt the sharp edge of tension move through Helen’s body a moment before they slid apart - as it was, it raised the fine hairs at the back of Trisha’s neck.

She turned to face the same direction Helen was facing, to follow Helen’s eyes to see what Helen was seeing. There was a woman approaching, a wide smile on her face, with short black hair swept back and a slinky, nearly floor-length black dress. The jewelled bracelets along her wrists jingled as she walked, and around her neck were necklaces of various lengths, all set with precious stones, with the longest dangling a teardrop diamond nearly two inches tall directly between her breasts. The woman’s black satin gloves caught the lights in the room in a way Trisha would have found fascinating if Helen’s tension did not have her extra-aware.

The woman looked famous, like a celebrity or actress or model. She moved like an aristocrat, like one of Gotham’s elite. But Trisha had no idea who she was.

“Helen Wayne, at Fashion Week,” the woman purred. “How delightfully unexpected.”

“Selina Kyle. Casing the place?” Helen said in her most bored and gracefully apathetic tone, though her whole body was a straight line of leashed tension. “Or are you back to being a legitimate businesswoman these days? I can never keep track.”

“Oh, no, I’m just here for a good time,” the woman - Selina Kyle? - said. “Besides, you know these fashion shows… the guests all leave the good stuff at home. If I wanted to have a work night, I’d be in Mr. Reeves’s place.” She glanced - or maybe leered - at an older gentleman in a particularly well-made suit. “He’s got a new toy, so he’ll be keeping the best gems to come into the house in that little lock box he thinks his wife doesn’t know about and that no number of times it empties will convince him is not safe. But no… tonight is for seeing the sights. Speaking of…” She turned her attention to Trisha. “She’s a little old for one of your strays, Helen. Did your firstborn find her?”

Trisha actually felt the fine hairs on her back rise.

“You know, I think you’re the first to tell me that Trisha is a little old for anything,” Helen mused, still feigning indifference. “That’s novel. And no, I’m not quite old enough yet that I need Richard to make introductions for me. Why, are you having trouble yourself? The famous Kyle charms not stretching as far as they used to?”

“Oh, one for Helen,” Selina said, giving a dramatic wince. “I’d say that still leaves me ahead, but we never agree on the score.” She smirked to Trisha. “Congratulations, Ms. Baum. You make her feisty. That’s when she’s at her most fun.” Then to Helen. “But, if you’ll excuse me… I think I need to have a talk with Mr. Reeves’s toy, and I think I see her coming.”

“We’ll talk later,” Helen said, and the way she shaped the word talk had fangs and the rustle of wings under it in spite of the outward veil of civility. “Good night, Selina.”

“Good night, Helen. And to you, Ms. Baum.” Selina turned on her heel and moved away in what could only be described as a mix of all the most unpleasant parts of a stalk and a flounce.

“Who was that?” Trisha asked once she was sure Selina was out of earshot.

Helen sighed and slowly, carefully settled her hand back on Trisha’s hip while she watched the other woman go. “She used to be a friend,” she said, very softly, then shook her head. “I’ll tell you another time. Let’s find our seats.”

Given Helen’s response, I imagine a ‘friend’ from the night shift. And a nighttime ‘friend.’ I’m not sure what I think of her having had ‘friends’ from the night shift. “I like that idea.”

Their seats were (of course) right down in front - the best in the house - and Helen handed her down into hers as if she were a princess at a royal court. Which based on how everyone around her was staring at them didn’t actually feel that far off. Helen squeezed her hand before she let it go, and the waitstaff were already on hand to pour their champagne and serve the strawberries with molten chocolate and the other appetizers and sweets. Trisha had a glass of champagne to nurse, and ate sparingly from the dessert trays, and held Helen’s hand as she looked around. I recognize him… not by name, but I recognize him. He’s in movies. A lot of movies. Doesn’t he live in Hollywood? “Everyone seems to be here…” she murmured.

“It’s Fashion Week in Gotham. Last week everyone was in Metropolis. Then it’ll be Chicago.” Helen stroked her fingers over Trisha’s knuckles, their gloves kissing with a soft hiss. “Most of these people travel the world chasing events like these.”

“When do they find time to… be home? Be them?” Trisha looked down at her dress. I ought to thank Mr. Lyn. I look amazing. “I… think I like looking like this. Even in front of people. But I couldn’t do it always.”

“People get into this sort of thing as a habit and it becomes who they are. They stop being able to recognize themselves outside it.” There was something very cold and removed about the way Helen said the words, as if she were talking about some particularly interesting form of insect or small mammal. “A lot of my schoolmates practically started out that way.”

Trisha nodded, drawing Helen’s gloved hand to her lips for a light kiss to her fingertips. “It seems an exhausting lifestyle.” Doing a thing as a habit and it becoming who you are.

“Yes,” Helen agreed, her voice very soft. Then she straightened, energy flooding back into her, and she ran her thumb across Trisha’s knuckles again. “Was everything satisfactory with the penthouse? I meant to ask you before, but our time at home has been... otherwise occupied.”

Trisha blushed, touching Helen’s thumb with her own. I hit a nerve. If I apologize now, it will mean a conversation she would not want in public. I’m sorry, Helen. “It’s perfect,” she said. “We’re working on redecorating… we’ve made plans to make it so we can convert the formal dining room into a club-like space, for events with younger donors. The gym is fascinating.” She paused. “But home is where you are.”

“I thought...” A small moment’s hesitation, and then another smile. More gentle, this time. “I have an office in the Foundation building. It hasn’t seen much use because Lucius wanted me closer to the board, but I thought I might use it more often. Conveniently, it shares reception space with yours. If that isn’t an imposition?”

Beloved. Her heart skipped a beat, and she squirmed a little. “I would love that,” she said against Helen’s ear. “But wouldn’t it be likely to upset both the Trustees of the Foundation and the Board? If…” She left the idea hanging.

“I don’t imagine Sofia will let me be a stranger to Wayne Enterprises. And of course the offices don’t adjoin directly, so it’s merely a matter of economizing on reception space. But I did think that perhaps, on nights when it would be inconvenient to leave the city, I might come spend some time working with Imani. And the penthouse would be... convenient, at such a time. Besides, it was important to ensure that clearing space for your office was as small an inconvenience as possible.”

“I love you,” Trisha replied, pressing a kiss to Helen’s cheek. Us only having sex in the penthouse will last a week, maybe. But if she were to stay primarily working at Wayne Tower, that would only extend that to perhaps a month. “That sounds lovely.”

The edge of Helen’s mouth twitched up a fraction, and her eyes were dark with recognition. “I can’t exactly avoid the appearance of favoritism, but I will try to avoid practicing it.”

“I trust you,” Trisha murmured against Helen’s cheek.

“I see I’ve missed the start of the appetizers!” Zatanna swept in behind Trisha, nearly startling her out of her skin, and took the seat next to hers and opposite Helen’s with a dazzling smile. “Agents and agencies will be the death of me yet. What’s good, Hel?”

“The strawberries are fresh,” Helen said, that unfamiliar and easy amusement rising in her eyes, “and I know how you feel about those.”

“Ooo!” Zatanna squealed softly in delight and devoured three before she bothered with a glass of champagne, visibly thrilled. “That is wonderful. And the view is going to be fantastic, too.”

“But we’re insi… you mean the models,” Trisha said. Right. The presence of Helen and Zatanna at once means my IQ is gone. And I think Helen was flirting with Zatanna by way of inside joke. “The strawberries really are delectable, aren’t they?” I’m really going to have to watch how much I drink.

“Marvelous,” Zatanna agreed, then dropped her voice to a playful whisper. “Not just the models, either.” Then she winked .

Is Zatanna flirting with me ? Trisha almost bit her finger while trying to bite into her current strawberry, and looked to Helen in hopes of guidance.

“Zee,” Helen sighed, folding her hands on the table. “Are you going to do that all night?”

“I haven’t made up my mind yet. But at the moment, it’s looking promising,” Zatanna retorted, undeterred and sounding on the edge of laughter.

“It’s… kind of nice,” Trisha murmured, then spoke. “I mean, if neither of you minds me stammering a lot and occasionally being really interested in the exact shape of my plate.” She squeezed Helen’s hand gently. “I’m a bit worried I won’t be great company, in that case.”

“Fantastic company,” Zatanna assured her, and Helen sighed again - but she smiled, even so, and squeezed Trisha’s hand in return. “Would you like to see a magic trick, Trisha?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever say no to that,” Trisha said. “I’d love to see a magic trick.” She set aside the cracker topped with some sort of tasty, pungent cheese she’d been nibbling at.

Zatanna produced a pack of cards from her handbag with a smile, then spread them out on the table in front of her. “Pick three.”

Trisha nodded, reaching for the cards. “Should I look at them?” she asked as she chose three from near the middle of the deck.

“By all means.” Zatanna rested a hand against her cheek and smiled beguilingly.

Trisha blinked at the three cards when she turned them over in her hand. The Queens of Spades, Hearts, and Diamonds. The odds against that are… I have no idea. High. She then set them facedown on the table, her cheek burning where Zatanna touched it. “All right.”

“Now, if you’ll put them back into the deck and shuffle them, then give it back to me?” Zatanna’s eyes were sparkling merrily now, and she sat back and lounged gracefully in her chair.

Trisha leaned forward. She’s definitely flirting with me. Zatanna is flirting with me! And I can’t tell anyone, because… because the world is the world and Helen is Helen. But Zatanna is flirting with me and Helen knows and Helen is the world. She tucked the cards into the deck in separate places before bridging it three times and passing it to Helen to cut. Once it was cut, she shuffled once more and handed the deck to Zatanna, who took it and shuffled it smoothly between her fingers three times before setting it on the table. “Now,” she said, eyes twinkling, “if you’ll each put your purses on the table and reach inside, I’ll do the same. Then we’ll open them on three, yes?”

“All right,” Trisha said, pulling that too-fancy, too-small purse out and putting it on the table. At least I won’t have to dig for whatever Zatanna is doing…

She smiled at Zatanna. The showmanship was intoxicating.

“One, two... three.” Zatanna snapped open her purse at the same moment that Helen did, and Trisha caught a snatch of rueful amusement on Helen’s face before she followed suit and found the Queen of Hearts sitting neatly between her phone and her lipstick. Is this flirting, too, or just how the trick works? Zatanna, Mistress of Magic, Queen of the Stage, Adept at Quantum Flirting. She was blushing again.

When she looked up, Helen was dutifully holding the Queen of Spades between her own fingers and Zatanna was turning the Queen of Diamonds across black-gloved knuckles.

Trisha showed them both the card before passing it back to Zatanna to applaud the trick. “That was amazing!”

“Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all night,” Zatanna quipped, packing the cards back into the deck and slipping it back into her own purse. “But if you want to see some really beautiful magic, ask Helen to do the quarter trick sometime. Even my father thought she was marvelous at it.”

Trisha turned her eyes on Helen, murmuring, “I’ll have to do that later.” Then she looked to Zatanna again. “Helen mentioned she learned from your father. I assume that’s how you two met?”

“Hah. I met Hel by putting her in handcuffs, actually - my father wanted to watch her while I did it, to see what she was doing.” Zatanna shook her head, eyes laughing. “It took her thirty, maybe forty seconds to get out of them. I thought she was slow, but my father said it wasn’t bad.”

“I was slow,” Helen chuckled softly, keeping her voice quiet enough to be drowned in the crowd, “but I got better at it. Not least because Zee was always coming up with new ideas for practice.”

There’s a euphemism if I’ve ever heard one. Also a true statement. But also a euphemism. And now she was imagining a younger Helen cuffed to a bed by a younger Zatanna… she swallowed a mouthful of champagne. “How does she walk in those? It took me forever to figure these boots out, and those restrict the leg more and have like twice as much heel,” Trisha said, turning her attention to the catwalk.

“Practice,” her companions both said at the same time, and then dissolved in a ripple of suppressed laughter. Helen recovered first. “Zee used to do a trick with her father where she’d walk across a line suspended over a pit full of spikes wearing thigh-high boots with six inch heels Now that was impressive.”

That sounds impressive. And hot… Trisha caught her hand fanning her with a menu and hastily put it down. “You must have been terrors…”

They traded a look, then, and the smiles on their faces were full of memory - laughing and rueful both. “We had our moments,” Helen said.

Zatanna just grinned. “Hel is being modest. I could tell you the story of the rope-snake and the dog that wouldn’t be put out, but not in public. I could lose my performing licence.”

Trisha looked at Helen, leaning in for a stage-whisper. “We have to have her over soon.” I’ll prove I can keep up. Maybe. A little.

They traded a long look, then, and Helen brushed her fingertips against Trisha’s wrist. “Zee could come by and do a house show for us, if she can spare the time?”

“For you, Hel? I’ll make the time. And of course for Trisha, since she’s such a fan.”

“I’ve… never actually gotten to see one of your shows in person,” Trisha admitted. “I’d chase whoever was watching the TV at my parents’ away to watch them on television, even in reruns, though. Seeing one anywhere would be something to check off my bucket list.” Of course, meeting you was beyond impossible.

“It’d be my pleasure,” Zatanna told her, as if it were perfectly normal for her to say such a thing. “As a matter of fact, I seem to recall that I’m still in hock a show at Wayne Manor.”

A shadow moved over Helen’s face, and her voice turned stiff for a moment. “That was settled a long time ago, Zee.”

Zatanna’s expression flickered with sudden hurt and empathy, and she folded her hands - to keep from reaching for Helen’s maybe? - as she lowered her voice. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean... I’m sorry, Hel, truly.”

Trisha’s hands folded around Helen’s hand, and she listened silently. What happened, that I missed? That I never would have known about? But Helen’s hand closed around hers, squeezing tightly, and it seemed to ease something inside her lover.

“It’s all right.” Helen took a breath and then smiled faintly and said in a more normal tone “It was a long time ago. I know how it is with fathers and daughters.”

“Fathers and daughters,” Zatanna echoed softly, not quite an agreement, and there was a sadness about it. But she brushed it away and brightened up again, turning to point at the runway. “Think you could pull that one off, Trisha?”

Trisha turned her eyes on the model. “I’d say the red-and-blue is a little stereotypical, given where I’m from, but…” She drew Helen’s hand to her lips to kiss it. “I think I could. It shows a little less than what I’m wearing now, but I think it would be flattering.”

“Flattering, but not desirable. I can’t see why anyone would think dressing like a fellow who flies about in a cape and fights crime would be sexy,” Helen sighed, and then went rather still when the next model came out in a stylized black mask and wing-like cape.

“I don’t know,” Zatanna mused, clapping vigorously. “I think I can see the appeal.”

Trisha blushed, giggled, and offered Zatanna a wide grin as she turned in her chair just enough to allow her to lean back against Helen. “I’m definitely appealed to. Pretty much all the time.” She shot Zatanna a wink, this time, before letting her body relax to enjoy the show.

 


 

Trisha’s blood hurt. Everything in her body pulsed with need, and the sight of Helen driving the Lamborghini - always welcome, always hot - was scalding inside her. After their night, after the gorgeousness of the girls on stage and Zatanna spending hours flirting with her and Helen near her and that dress that she’d wanted to get off of Helen since she saw it (how ironic that the clothes that looked best on a lover were the ones you'd be in the biggest hurry to get off of that lover) and those ribbons, and… fuck.

Fuck.

The choker around her neck squeezed, the Wayne crest her hair’s surprisingly resilient style showed the world heavy, a reminder all night, even when she was idly fantasizing about what Zatanna’s touch might feel like without those gloves on, of who she belonged to. Whose she was.

I’m hers.

So she didn’t take her gaze from Helen. The entire way from downtown to the ferry to the Palisades to home, she didn’t take her gaze from Helen, right up until the moment Helen slid the Lamborgini to a stop in front of the Manor and climbed out to start her walk around the car to Trisha.

For once, that night, she couldn’t make herself wait. She opened the door herself, started to scramble out, and Helen was there and both arms went around her and practically lifted her off her feet as Helen swept down to kiss her right there in the drive - passionate and open-mouthed.

Every bone in Trisha’s body sang at that kiss, and her lips parted with Helen’s, offering her mouth to her lover, her arms going around Helen’s neck desperately. She was already, shamelessly, grinding herself against Helen’s thigh, through both her dress and her lover’s, through those woefully insufficient but exceptionally sexy panties she’d been talked into; Helen’s hand slid down and cupped her ass, squeezing, sending another hot jolt through her. Then Helen drew back a step and kicked off her heels, scooping them up and handing them smoothly to Trisha with a growled “Hold these.”

Then she swept Trisha up in her arms and carried her up the steps into the manor, like a bride or a prize of war.

Helen’s gorgeous heels dangled from Trisha’s fingers but did not fall - she would not let them fall - as she wiggled in Helen’s arms, pressing kiss after kiss to Helen’s neck as hot sounds of need escaped her. She was aware - breathlessly, searingly aware - of how she must look like this, her dark lady carrying her in her glittering finery up the steps of the Manor. It fit… she was conquered, long since. And she was devoted. And this was home, their home, where they belonged. Trisha nipped Helen’s neck as they approached the door. I’m hers.

Through the entry and the foyer and the grand hall they went, up the broad steps to the second floor, but not to the master bedroom - around through the new studio and into the East Wing instead, the guest rooms furthest from the lived-in parts of the house, the ones usually shut up and empty. Helen smothered her little sound of question with a single searing glance, their breathing loud in the quiet of the house, and then Helen pushed open one of the guest room doors and carried Trisha into a tidily kept room that had obviously been refreshed for the occasion. There were even flowers on the little table off to the side. But they were not, admittedly, the thing that dragged at her attention. That was the narrow, heavy box on the bed - metal, modern, brutally efficient. The right size for concealing in, say, the bottom of a big desk drawer.

She might have been bothered by them not going to their bedroom, except that she needed Helen’s touch too much and she trusted Helen and she smiled at the flowers and the box was… confusing, and on the bed, and Helen should be putting her on the bed unless she wanted her against the window or over the desk, and she tilted her head to suck Helen’s earlobe between her lips and moan her need into Helen’s ear. Helen hissed in answer, setting her on her feet and shoving her against the dresser roughly, and those gloved hands glided over her face and down across her throat and the choker and the soft skin bared by the straps that Helen’s eyes had been drifting to all evening, her wrap spilling the floor barely noticed. “Stand there,” Helen growled, her eyes dark as a storm. “Stand there and let me look at you.”

“Yes, my Lady.” It was a breath, a murmur. A husk. A quiet, needy flow of words. And, though every nerve screamed to reach for Helen, to throw herself into Helen’s arms, to tear at Helen’s dress and cast it out of her way, she stood, trembling at those gloved touches to her face and throat and chest. as still as she could. The choker was tight around her neck, her skin hot enough there that it felt like she could heat the choker enough that it would brand her in return with the Wayne crest, indelibly marking her skin as belonging to Helen.

If it didn’t, surely Helen’s eyes would. They smouldered everywhere they touched her. But Helen moved to the bed, graceful and without even needing to look. Reached down for the latch of the box and flipped it open. Reached inside.

Took out one of her tools from the office, the leather straps glistening in the light from the lamps, and set it on the bed where Trisha could see it.

Trisha’s body shook again, everything inside her quivering at the memory of what that particular tool felt like in her, and of cold wood and colder glass and helpless surrender. But she did not move, even while Helen lifted her own skirts and peeled down the delicate black lace of her panties. Replaced them with the smooth leather of the harness and the hard black jut of the phallus. Bit out a sound, low and sharp, that made Trisha’s blood boil all over again to hear when the other end shifted inside her.

“Turn around and lift your skirt,” Helen growled, and the sound was like the grinding of bedrock in the earth. “Hands on your hips.”

Those panties. She had them on all night. Somehow, though Trisha had never actually seen Helen wear them, knowing they’d been there the whole night maid her blood boil hotter. She turned around, bending forward, eyes closing as her hands went to her hips, the expensive silk of her gown sliding against her fingers. “This, my Lady?”

“Yes.” She heard something hit the floor - soft but heavy, Helen’s gloves - and then Helen’s strong fingers against the pale delicate fabric of her panties. Then she heard - felt - them snapped apart as Helen tore them off her, a stab of pain and something rawer and deeper all at once.

Her eyes opened as she felt her panties tear away, felt slender bruises left along both sides of her thighs, felt that lovely underwear destroyed in Helen’s urgency to have her, and she keened in joyous want. “Yes, Helen!”

There was no gentleness this time, no patience, no consideration. Her Lady fisted one hand in her immaculately styled hair and wrapped the other around her belly, then shoved the strap-on home in the trembling wetness of her cunt as roughly and urgently as any lover ever had. Full. So full. Fuck me, Helen… The words would not form, and Trisha shoved herself back on Helen’s tool as hard as Helen took her with it. Her head tossed, giving Helen a better grip on her hair then tugging against that grip. Zatanna worked her up, as much as she worked me up. She’s fucking us both…

The idea settled in the base of her spine as she gave a sharp cry, and Helen answered it by driving her hips forward in a brutal, relentless pace that slapped Trisha’s ass against her abs every time she bottomed out. She could hear Helen’s breath coming short and sharp, the little subvocal growls of desire, and the tightness of the dress against her chest made it feel as if her tits were straining it every time she gasped for air. From the corner of her eye she could see that Helen’s eyes were closed, her face taut with desire and effort; the thought, the idea that Helen might be imagining Zatanna’s wrap dress hoisted up and Zatanna bent forward over this dresser, being used this way...

At the same time, the sight of Helen like that, eyes closed, in that sheer and perfect dress, her hair starting to come undone with sweat and effort and movement, her body taut and strong and exquisite, at, even after all this, the beginnings of coming undone from being perfectly done up - I’m a mess and she wants me a mess - and fucking her , that image, that sight, usurped the place of the photographs she’d seen of Jupiter and Saturn and the Grand Canyon and the Watchtower and the Taj Mahal, all of them together, as the most beautiful sight possible. She screamed for Helen.

Whether Helens mind was on her or Zatanna, she would give her lover the best fuck she could.

She had to do Zatanna justice, after all.

Helen came fast and hard, grunting and gasping with it, her whole body heaving into Trisha’s with the effort, and the rush of watching her lover spend her pleasure so recklessly was almost better than the release Trisha herself might have had. Then she felt Helen’s hand shift to grip her wrist as the toy slid free of her, Helen’s eyes only half-lidded as they burned across her skin, and she knew from the way Helen moved her hips what was about to happen - here, now, in this impossibly beautiful and expensive dress and jewelry fit for a princess - she knew, and felt herself slicking her own thighs in anticipation.

She reached forward to grip the dresser. Helen would understand. Helen would not want her to fall over when she entered her.

The head of the toy, lubed with her pleasure and maybe a bit of lube, pressed to that tight ring of muscle, and Trisha’s eyes rolled back. Helen fucking my ass… Then it was in her, stretching her around it. Helen fucking my ass while Zatanna watches… The toy went deeper, pushing any control over her thoughts further away, and she shook, unsteady, giggling with joy even as she wantonly rode the artificial cock. Helen fucking my ass and shoving my head down between Zatanna’s legs…

She knew deeper than words, deeper than thought, that Zatanna Zatara wouldn’t take a hard toy up her ass like this, even from Helen. That Trisha would have to take it if that was what Helen wanted, take it for her. The toy stretched her ass down to the hilt, driving a grunting moan out of her, spinning her further out of control. Zatanna on the bed, legs wrapped around Helen’s hips, being pounded until Helen wanted this and shoved Trisha’s face into the bed next to Zatanna's shoulder and pushed in....

Out of control. Her own control; Helen’s grip in her hair and cock up her ass were controlling her just fine.

That was all she needed. Helen would control her; she would go as Helen directed. She did not mind that Helen wanted Zatanna; it was beautiful and it was hot and she shuddered for it as Helen bottomed the toy out in her. She did not mind that Helen wanted Vicki, or Barbara, or Clark (where had that come from? It went back there), so long as the person who was Helen’s was Trisha herself. So long as the one who gave Helen this - total surrender, perfect melting obedience - was Trisha. This belonged to her.

And she belonged to Helen.

She released a pleading cry into the air, and Helen’s growl answered it Yes . Mine.

Her cunt spasmed the joy of her release through her, so wet it felt she’d melt right into her stylish Krypton boots, and Helen groaned with excitement and ground into the clenching muscle of her ass. It was so good to get what she’d needed so badly all night - the thought of feeling her ass squeezing with anticipation when Helen’s hand touched her knee for a moment at the table dripped out of her in another liquid shudder - and her clit throbbed with how much it never, never wanted it to stop.

“Yours, Helen,” she breathed. “Yours.” Her head arched back and she looked at Helen’s face, at her eyes. Helen was mostly dishevelled by now, her dress crinkled and no longer sitting right against her body, her hair coming loose of its braid. And she was still more beautiful. Trisha bit down on her lip. “All of me…”

“My Trisha,” Helen rasped, her hips bucking and shuddering as her control slipped again. She was going to come soon, buried in Trisha’s ass, and Trisha’s body tightened in preparation, her hips moving faster to push that toy against her Lady more firmly. This is what I’m for.

Her grip in Trisha’s hair slackened, but only so her fingers could slide down and stroke the jeweled crest on the choker where Trisha’s pulse hammered against it. Trisha arched her neck to offer it to her touch. “Y… yes,” she gasped, a sound of promise.

Helen jerked and groaned, coming in shudders of her own that Trisha could feel with every twitch of the toy inside her, and the sound her Lady made was ecstatic with conquest. Trisha’s head fell to the desk, her body loosening, softening, at that sound, though she rocked back against the toy with the same ferocity through her lover’s orgasm. She was conquered. Just a glance from Helen and she was conquered; with her lover’s orgasm like this, she felt herself wash away in surrender.

Conquest, of course, was a prelude to occupation; Helen took the opportunity, once they both peeled out of the remains of their dresses, to make thorough use of Trisha soft compliance on the floor. And the bed. Several times on the bed, as a matter of fact, so that when they were done Trisha was as deliciously sore as she’d ever been in her life and even Helen seemed winded. Her Lady lay in the bed with her and toyed gently with the slick strands of her hair, gliding fingertips of the remaining curls, occasionally leaning down enough to kiss the choker against her pulse, and Helen was so content that it almost brought Trisha to tears.

Even if Helen demanded more, Trisha’s body could not have given it. What strength remained to her went to clinging to Helen, tilting her head to offer her neck to those kisses, and keeping her eyes open to gaze at Helen’s face, the clips holding the braid in place long since lost, the ribbons that had caught her eye so at the start of the night falling loose about her hair. Helen was always the most beautiful of the world’s sights; she had never been more beautiful, and Trisha would regret forever missing one moment of it.

“I love you,” she murmured.

Helen bent and kissed her mouth gently, lingeringly, her voice a murmur that Trisha felt more than heard. “My Trisha. I love every inch of you.”

Trisha’s lips met Helen’s, and she moaned a little - how had she strained her neck? - as she did. The pain was glorious. “I am yours.”

“Mmm.” Helen settled down over her, the sweet shadow of her weight pressing Trisha into the softness of the bed, and her fingertips played slowly over Trisha’s flanks - traced the thin bruises along her thighs where the panties had ripped, lingered on the small of her back where her hand had rested walking out of the show. When she leaned down into the kiss again, her dark hair spilled like a silver-wound midnight around Trisha’s face and curtained away the world.

One of Trisha’s hands rose to caress Helen’s side slowly, and she exhaled into Helen’s ear, “I’m home…” She could see nothing but Helen, and everything was right.

Sleep rolled over them like dark water, Helen’s breath warm against her skin, and her dreams were hot and long and vague and flowed into one another like rivers joining on the way to the sea. But just before she woke, in her dream, she was nude on a stage while Helen and Zatanna discussed, with great flourish, the idea of pulling her orgasms out of a hat.

When her eyes opened, Helen’s eyes were still closed, but the smile on her lips was exactly as smug as the one dream-Helen had given just moments before when she reached into the hat and the nude, bound dream-Trisha had screamed for the audience.

So she blushed and gasped out the name. “Helen…”

Her lover’s dark eyes snapped open, as instantly alert as a roused tiger, and then Helen settled against her and smiled lazily, one hand slowly sliding up to stroke the heat in Trisha’s cheek. “I forgot to turn out the lights,” she murmured, “but somehow I don’t regret it.”

“I get to see your face,” Trisha whispered against Helen’s throat. “We should forget the lights more often.”

Helen smothered a lazy laugh in Trisha’s hair and squeezed her in a little closer. “I’m afraid the dresses are a loss,” she murmured. “Though I suppose their value at charitable auction might actually be increased.”

“We can hand them off to… whoever handles things like that. See if they can save them,” Trisha said. “If not, they died to a worthy cause.”

“Mmm.” Helen purred her agreement into Trisha’s ear. “I love you.”

“I love you.” Trisha kissed Helen’s jaw. “I want to spend the day in bed. Just against you. Looking at you.”

“And miss Zatanna’s show?” Chuckling, Helen seemed content to let her hand slowly explore the fine bones of Trisha’s spine. “I’m flattered.”

Trisha blushed, arching her back into that touch. “Is that tonight, my love? I don’t think that was ever made clear to me.”

“It is.” Helen hesitated just a fraction of a breath, then went on more quietly as she slid stray curls out of Trisha’s face. “I’d already arranged for Zee to come out today before she offered to do the show, so it’s tonight.”

Trisha blinked at that, her fingers running along Helen’s jaw. “It’s… not for a social visit, is it?” Though she was blushing again. That dream. And… it’s Zatanna.

“Not entirely,” Helen admitted, though a small smile played at the edge of her mouth. “I admit that getting to indulge your ... interest in her was a very welcome side benefit. But no, I would have asked her to come for other reasons regardless.”

Trisha’s lips touched Helen’s lightly. “Why did you invite her?”

“Because you know things now that are...” Helen paused, kissing her for a careful moment, then went on in a whisper. “You know things that would make a great many people unsafe. And there are ways of plucking these things out of someone’s head, or compelling them to share them. Zatanna has the skills to help make sure that can’t happen to you.”

Ways to pluck these things out of someone’s head, or compel them to share them. “She’s going to do magic. Like… sorcery. Not like what she does on stage. On me. To keep everyone safe…” Trisha pressed her lips to Helen’s again. “How does it work?”

“I have an extremely rudimentary grasp of the principles, but essentially she’ll surround your mind in a kind of armor - a framework to prevent outside intrusion, and to contain and suppress your memories if something powerful enough to overcome her magic does manage to...” Helen forced a breath. “To get hold of you. Which I will not allow to happen.”

“I… think I’d be happy to have that even without this particular secret,” Trisha said. “The world’s always had people and monsters that can do that. I know about Gorilla Grodd and the Mad Hatter and I’m sure there’s more. Being safe from that…” She shuddered, kissing Helen’s jaw. “I’m yours . No one gets to touch me like that.”

Helen’s growl of agreement made her think of wings in the dark, being carried against armor under the earth, and she trembled; Helen pulled her closer and covered her face with slow, careful kisses, as if she wanted nothing in the world so much as to chase the idea way from Trisha’s skin.

When they both settled, Trisha ran a hand along Helen’s side. “Last night was amazing. You were amazing all night.”

“I was a little surprised you didn’t mind more,” Helen admitted, her eyes tracing the line of Trisha’s jaw instead of meeting Trisha’s directly. “Zee and I.”

“I knew the two of you had been… intimate,” Trisha said. “And I was about a half-step away from undressing her with my eyes myself. And…” She blushed vividly, working her mouth, looking for words.

The edges of Helen’s mouth twitched as she lifted her eyes back to Trisha’s and cocked one amused eyebrow. “I’m not an innocent, Trisha. I have heard of a threesome before.”

Trisha broke out in a laugh. “That’s not what I meant! Though…” Her thoughts trailed off, and she kissed Helen’s shoulder to hide her face. “Anyway!”

“So I think we can agree that whatever potentially indiscreet feelings either of us may have about Zee, we can readily forgive each other for and discuss any potential scenarios they may create without acrimony,” Helen teased her, probably resorting to corporate language specifically because she knew it heightened Trisha’s embarrassment.

“Hel- en! ” Trisha poked her lover in the chest before drawing a deep breath. “The idea of… being with Zatanna… is hot, and is one that’s been with me for a long time. The idea of us being with Zatanna is hot. The idea of you being with Zatanna is hot, with or without my involvement. The idea of… facilitating… the act of you being with Zatanna is hot.”

“I’ll take that under advisement,” Helen murmured, stroking Trisha’s cheek gently, then bent down and kissed her lightly. “I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”

“You trouble my thoughts when I’m working and my dreams when I’m asleep,” Trisha said against Helen’s lips. “But the trouble is always welcome.”

“Almost always,” Helen murmured, though she didn’t try to conceal her pleasure at the idea. “I have a feeling that Selina Kyle is trouble you could have done without in your life.”

“I rather think I despise her,” Trisha murmured. “But if for some ineffable reason you wanted to have her visit, I would count my civility an act of service to you.”

“It may some day come to that, but I don’t think ‘want’ is a word I would use.” Helen lowered her face to rest against Trisha’s shoulder, tucking her longer body around Trisha’s tightly, and her breath came warm and shallow against Trisha’s collarbone. “I’m not sure how to begin.”

“Wherever you like,” Trisha whispered into Helen’s ear, letting a hand to fall on the curve of Helen’s ass. This is home.

“We met... well, we had a few first meetings. But when I came back to Gotham, when I had to blend in with the party scene, we became friends. She wasn’t like everyone else - like anyone else. So damned sharp and amused by everything and so sure of herself. And...” Helen let out another slow breath. “And it wasn’t as easy, then, with women.”

“It wasn’t,” Trisha said softly, her fingers dancing along Helen’s side. “I was… young, then, but I remember. It’s part of why it took me as long as it did to… to realize.”

“I always knew. But I always knew almost everything before other people seemed to...” Another sigh, and Helen’s hand tightened on her hip. Her voice was more raw, now, with something that might have been longing or shame. “I knew she was from a difficult background, that she traded on information and charm to survive, but we were close anyway. I was... lonely. It’s not excuse. But I wanted to believe we were the same, at least in some ways, and it didn’t hurt as much when I was with her. We were... I wanted...” Helen stopped again, words failing her, but Trisha nodded. It wasn’t an affair or a fling. She brought her hand to Helen’s face, stroking it gently. She was in love. Possibly they were in love.

“She must have seemed like something impossible, then.”

“She made the impossible possible,” Helen whispered, and then dragged in another breath. “There was a thief at the time. A particularly daring and famous thief, who seemed able to break into anywhere and take anything. The press called her the Catwoman. I imagine you’ve heard of her in your reading.”

Wait. Selina Kyle is Catwoman? Trisha blinked. Wait. I didn’t figure out that Selina Kyle is Catwoman? The woman’s slender frame, her demeanor, the fact that everything she’d said to Helen and about Trisha herself had been either catty or murmured in a purr… It’s really, really obvious. “You didn’t know they were the same person?”

The quiet, exasperated little groan Helen buried in her shoulder was more eloquent than words. Of course, not wanting to know something can make it a lot harder to figure out. Trisha pressed a kiss to Helen’s jaw.

“Eventually,” Helen whispered, “eventually I tripped into knowing like the idiot I was, and Selina laughed. She laughed, at the idea that knowing could... could change anything. But it did. For me, it did.

“I brought her in.”

Trisha blinked at that, as well, fingers tangling in Helen’s hair to draw her head down to Trisha’s chest. “That has to have been a hard day.”

“Necessary,” Helen said, with an iron steadiness that threatened to break Trisha’s heart. Then another breath, and the hard line of Helen’s shoulders relaxed a little. “She did some things for the government. They erased her record, kept it out of the public eye. She thought that could make it all right for us.”

“But you’re… you,” Trisha whispered. “You can’t abide crime.”

“Selina has some difficulty with that idea. And around her,” Helen allowed, very quietly, “sometimes I have a little trouble with it, too. But never for long. Eventually, she expanded from high end theft into.... Well. She and Cobblepot carve up the least ruined parts of Gotham between them.”

“I… also didn’t know Cawoman was a crime lord,” Trisha whispered into Helen’s hair. “I can see how you would be drawn to her.”

Helen’s hand squeezed painfully against her hip, the shudder in Helen’s spine telling her that even if her lover could see the logic in it, it wasn’t something Helen could accept about herself. “Eventually I’m going to bring her in again. For all of it,” Helen rasped, like a woman with a knife twisting inside her.

Trisha nodded, lips against Helen’s hair. “I’ll be here, that day, you know. Right here.”

Helen’s shoulder’s trembled again, her voice crushed down to a tiny sliver, but Trisha could just pick out the words that slipped out of her. “My parents would be ashamed.”

Trisha tightened her arms around Helen, murmuring, “Maybe. But…” She exhaled softly. “Not of you as a whole. You’ve carried on their work, touched lives, rebuilt a lot of Gotham, healed…” She touched Helen’s shoulder. “Found them wonderful grandchildren. Kept their house and their company and their charities safe, and built on all of them. Healed the broken.” She brushed her lips softly against Helen’s shoulder. “When the Grey Ghost arranged his wedding to the Silver Phantom, he didn’t stop being a hero your father loved to watch with you.”

A soft, startled laugh spilled out of Helen, heavy with pain and self-recrimination but still a laugh, and her lover lifted up enough to look into her eyes directly and study Trisha’s every fractional expression. “I didn’t think you were paying attention to that episode.”

“It’s actually my favorite Grey Ghost episode,” Trisha said, a tiny hint of a smile on her face. “I’ve watched enough of him with you and Timothy that I know the characters, and… I actually like that one story. A few of the others, too… but that one the most.”

Helen went very quiet for a while, her fingers stroking slowly against Trisha’s hip, and finally she said - almost conversationally - “I never asked Selina to marry me. I always felt she’d think the idea was silly. But if I’d thought it might have convinced her to give it up... I might have. Even if it meant....” Letting crimes go unpunished, she didn’t say. “But you’re right. Father thought it was kind - foolish, but kind.”

“Selina Kyle does not strike me as the marrying type,” Trisha whispered, brushing away a few strands of Helen’s hair. “And if you had… I’d be fairly lonely.”

The way Helen went still for a moment or two startled her, but then a smile started to crack through onto her lover’s lips and Trisha’s whole body relaxed again. “Do you know, Trisha,” Helen mused softly, “I don’t think I would let that happen for anything in this life.”

“I’m glad,” Trisha whispered, kissing Helen’s hair. “I’m glad.”

Helen didn’t say anything else, before they fell back into sleep, but she could feel her lover thinking like the slow turn of the stars over the Manor and the deep slide of the earth against itself, and she thought that Helen seemed a little more peaceful than she had before.

That was enough.

Chapter Text

She woke up early, the day she would start her new job. They’d decided the title the night before - Vice President for Operations, Wayne Foundation - though her job description was still a little in flux. There was a little complaint among the Trustees about adding an extra six-figure paycheck to the Foundation’s payroll, but Trisha and Helen had quieted that by pointing out that it meant having someone present at the Foundation regardless of what was happening at Wayne Enterprises with the authority to give the go-ahead to major projects, and that Helen collected no paycheck from the Foundation and had not in years and had increased her annual contribution, each year for the last six, by an amount nearly double Trisha’s salary. It would have a small impact on the Foundation’s rating on various watchdog sites but no measurable impact on the operating budget.

But she’d woken up very early, and Helen was gone when she woke (Alfred said that there was “some trouble with one of your Metropolis chaps, fancies himself a toymaker”), so Trisha was stuck with little to do.

She fidgeted with her phone for a half-hour, looking up articles about peanut oil, then saw the icon near the bottom of the homescreen. JLFamily. The support group.

Helen was gone to fight the Toyman, who occasionally in spite of his absurdity gave Superman pause. She activated the icon.

It asked her for a display name. She stared at it a moment before typing, “BatAtHome.” Then she entered the chat.

The design was clean, elegant and sparse: a pale gray background with a clean blue and white border, the text chat’s welcome message in a clean and basic black font that was easy to read. A quick tap of the options icon indicated all of the color and font choices were easy to reconfigure, but it was working for her at the moment and she could always change them later. She went back to the welcome message, staring at it, and tried to resist that little edge of surreal dizziness that still caught up to her occasionally.

Welcome to the JLFamily app! We know that it’s because of you and people like you that our heroes can be out there doing what they need to do, and sometimes you need a little backup at moments like this. Enter ‘1’ for general chat, ‘2’ for the partners’ room, ‘3’ for a teen-friendly experience and ‘4’ for our younger crowd. If you need help, enter ‘help@tech’ at any time and support will be with you shortly. If you need professional support, enter ‘help@expert’ and state the nature of you need - we will connect you shortly. Thank you for logging in, and know that we’re here for you.

 

She stared at the message. I guess it covers the kids of superheroes, too… and wow, it really, really wants to help. Do I sound like that sometimes? She stared at it a moment longer before typing “2.”

 

Welcome to the Partner’s Room! At least this header was brief and informative...

 

[GL] StarGazer: But it really freaks me out, you know? She could be out there right now moving planets around or something and I never even get to hear about it unless I ask, and then it’s like ‘hey, honey, how was your business trip to outer space?’ ‘Fine.’ ‘Um... okay. Wanna do a movie?’

[FF] FlowerCompass: It gets like that when they join the League. Suddenly it goes from “Gotta go punch WeaWiz see you for dinner” to “Blue says trouble in Andromeda warping out now bye.” It’s good they’ve got backup, but… space. Fuck space.

[GL] StarGazer: It makes her anxiety attacks worse, too, which really sucks. Like, I get you one night a week and we have to sit outside the theater for an hour while you rest your head between your knees? I want to be supportive because I’m crazy about her, but that never happens when she’s staying at home most nights.

[FF] FlowerCompass : Ugh, that sucks. :( Mine is usually okay with space, but I get nervous when he talks about maybe being able to outrun the vacuum. He freaks out about time travel, though. Then again, me too.

[CY] IterativeHeart: We have a new person! Hello BatAtHome. Welcome to our chat. How are you today?

[BF] BatAtHome: I’m… all right. Up way early. Hi. :) I don’t think I’m ready for space…

[GL] StarGazer: Does the Bat even go to space? How does that even work?

[CY] IterativeHeart: The Bat has a rocket. The Bat-rocket. But usually the Bat is teleported to the Watchtower and proceeds by League transportation. It is more efficient that way and less environmentally harmful.

[FF] FlowerCompass : Mine isn’t allowed to have a rocket. I told him that. He wanted to build a Flash-rocket. That isn’t allowed.

[BF] BatAtHome : If she has a rocket, she had one when we met. I… get the Batwing, but wouldn’t Bat-styling make a rocket… not work?

[CY] IterativeHeart: The styling is applied as a visual coating. [Screenshot]

[GL] StarGazer: Trippy.

[BF] BatAtHome : We’re going to have to have a talk about her rocket design.

[GL] StarGazer: Look, not to be rude and you totally don’t have to answer, but does she, you know, style everything like that? Bat-forks? Bat-lingerie? Bat.... you know?

[BF] BatAtHome : No! No. No no no. That… nope. Just not. Eeep.

[BF] BatAtHome : Being able to make what’s needed with a thought sounds… useful…

*[GL] StarGazer: So, you seem cool and queer so I’m just gonna risk grossing you out and say I totally have a whole tentacle thing and the emerald green is not a turnoff. The glowing is a little weird, but I can deal.

[BF] BatAtHome : How do I send private messages or IMs or whatever?

[FF] FlowerCompass : Double-click their name in chat or “/p theirname”

*to StarGazer : You’re pretty cool too. :) And I’m glad that itch gets scratched.

[BF] BatAtHome : Thanks!

*[GL] StarGazer: So one of the Gotham crew, huh? What is that even like? Do you have fun with Bat-cuffs on the off hours?

*to StarGazer : I’m pretty sure I have an unwritten “nothing Bat-themed in bed” rule. But I’m not entirely sure that’s a hard limit. It’s… very good. Things are going really well. :)

*[GL] StarGazer: Good for you. It’s still pretty new for us - about six months - but she’s pretty public and she gets really nervous about leaving me home alone, so I guess I got on here earlier than most people. I’m really crazy about her but it’s so all the worst parts of dating a cop and a rock star rolled into one.

*to StarGazer : Yeah… lots of worry when she’s not home when I wake up. Which is most of the time. And… well, loneliness, too, because waking up to her is the very best thing. I think I was gone on her from the word go.

* [GL] StarGazer: We met at the movies. She used to like going hiking and camping - you know, outdoors - but now it sets off her anxiety. We haven’t talked about why yet. Anyway, so she goes to movies a lot as a way to cope.

*to StarGazer : That sounds… worrying. Is she in therapy? Is there therapy available? Why haven’t I gone out of my way to learn that yet?

* [GL] StarGazer: They have really good therapists available, but it’s... you know, slow? Especially when your trauma triggers involve sudden violence and you, well, confront space criminals and supervillains. A lot. Have I mentioned I’m not a huge fan of her job?

*to StarGazer : You haven’t, but it comes through. I… I’m not sure how I feel about hers. It’s important, and I think the person she became to do it is essential to why I fell in love with her. But if she’s out… I want her home. And not just because I miss her.

* [GL] StarGazer: What do you do for self-care while she’s out? I’m a big nature documentary girl, or I play with the dog.

* to StarGazer : I’ve always been someone who worked through my stress. And I’m reading more, too… nature documentaries are a good idea.

 

They’d be a good counterpoint to Zorro.

 

* [GL] StarGazer: She has a dog. Which somehow is living in my yard after six months because... reasons. It mean, it’s a cute dog, but I didn’t ever really imagine owning a dog. But her therapist thought it would be good for her anxiety and her apartment is kinda small so... now I have a dog. [Screeshot]. Her name is Ellie.

*to StarGazer : She’s cute! And looks like she could eat us out of house and home. Not size. Expression. That is a dog that is contemplating the fridge right now.

* [GL] StarGazer: Always contemplating the fridge. And don’t let the camera angle fool you - she is a big dog. Gets lots of exercise, but when she decides to sit on my lap I definitely feel it. Ooph. Apparently big dogs are reassuring. :( At least she likes me.

* to StarGazer : I think I like her. :) But that does sound stressful.

* [GL] StarGazer: This life is pretty stressful. I mean, not theirs-stressful, but stressful! I think about bailing out sometimes - well, a lot - but I just... can’t. She needs me, you know?

*to StarGazer : Yeah, I know. I… don’t think I could even without that. It’s scary, but… I’m…

 

She couldn’t finish typing the sentence, so she just hit enter.

 

* [GL] StarGazer: I hear you. Wanna keep in touch? We lovestruck idiots gotta stick together.

*to StarGazer : I think I’d like that. Is there a contact list option or something on here?

* [GL] StarGazer: Subordinate DM app. Third menu, fourth option.

* [GL] StarGazer: I program computers for a living. I’m guessing they aren’t your thing?

*to StarGazer : I type 110wpm and know my way around the Microsoft, Apple, Wayne Computers, and LuthorSoft office suites. I can make Excel sing and PowerPoint… slightly less annoying to watch presentations from. But if you ask me what’s happening inside that mysterious box that creates my WayneDoc, I’ll give you a blank look and mumble. “Sorcery?”

* [GL] StarGazer: Hah. Whereas my mom’s like ‘honey, how do I make my document do the thingy where the words slant’ and I want to shout ‘I didn’t code the app what are you asking me for!’ And then I solve her problem because ugh, filial piety.

* to StarGazer : So if you write the software and I use the software we will be unstoppable and bring down the Justice League and our girlfriends will be home for dinner more than once a month?

* [GL] StarGazer: I don’t think that’s how that works but I like where your head is at.

*to StarGazer : As long as we’re agreed. We could probably bring the League down but shouldn’t. Or maybe should but can’t. One of those.

 

“Mistress Trisha, I believe your car is scheduled to leave shortly,” Alfred interrupted from the door, her breakfast tray in hand and a small smile on his face. “It is pleasant to see you smiling on such a gray morning, however.”

“I think I made a friend, Alfred,” Trisha said, reaching for her breakfast. “Do I smell bacon? And a hint of that vanilla you use in your French toast?”

“You do indeed, ma’am. And some of that coffee you like which is sufficiently strong to remove the roof of your mouth.” Alfred handed her the tray and her coffee with a smile, then set about straightening the room and politely ignoring her growling stomach. “Will we be having your friend over to the manor soon?”

“Doubtful. I don’t know where she lives. But she’s got some similar things going on in her life to me.” Trisha set the tray on the side table and lifted the cover, inhaling the scent of the food before starting to eat. “You treat me too well, Alfred.”

“Nonsense, Mistress Trisha. It’s my pleasure to look after you, not to mention my duty. Shall I lay some clothes out as well, or do you intend to continue preparing your own wardrobe in the mornings?”

“I… have no idea what I’m going to wear today. It’s my first day… could you set aside a few recommendations? I think I’m supposed to look like an executive instead of someone who’s at least trying to disappear into the background.”

“I have been dressing Mistress Helen for some years now. I imagine that I can manage something appropriate,” Alfred said with a subtle, arch amusement that made Trisha feel strangely looked after, then vanished into the closet with a quick tug on his gloves.

Trisha smiled after Alfred then returned her eyes to the phone. I have a butler who wants to dress me. Which means Alfred was responsible for That Suit that Helen was wearing when she hired me. Which… I really shouldn’t thank him for. I don’t think he’d be comfortable with the implications. She paused. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the implications.

* [GL] StarGazer:   Definitely agreed on whichever. Ugh. I should go to bed - it’s early. I guess you’re probably starting your day at some obscenely productive hour like a good corporate drone (queen?)

[GL] StarGazer: Sorry, FC, got distracted talking new girlfriend shop with Bat@home. Thanks for the sympathy. I should be thinking about laying down soon.

[FF] FlowerCompass: I envy you. I think I’m going to concede to my insomnia and try to get some work done.

[GL] StarGazer: Ouch. Painful. Hope you get some sleep.

* [GL] StarGazer: I know the digital sound of someone looking up, seeing their alarm clock and leaping out of bed anywhere. I’ll catch up with you later, B@H. Nini for now.

* to StarGazer : Sleep well. :) You deserve it.

 

Apparently StarGazer was already taking her advice, because her message returned unreceived. Trisha smiled at that and returned to the main chat.

[BF] BatAtHome : I’ve gotta get going too. Work waits for no woman.

Actually… work probably would wait for me. But people would judge me forever for making it.

Alfred reappeared with a very flattering gray suit and crisply pressed blouse, laying them out on the other side of the bed neatly, then glanced up at her for her approval. She smiled at them, then looked to Alfred. “When did I get these? They’re perfect.”

“Mistress Helen may have made some discreet purchases over the last week,” Alfred confessed, returning to his straightening. “She felt that you might need a ‘wardrobe upgrade’ for your new position.”

“She was right,” Trisha whispered. “I’ll go change. Thank you, Alfred.” She took the clothes and rose to her feet, but he flicked a gently disapproving glance at her and swept out the door, closing it behind him so she could have the room to herself to get ready. And worry. She still had no formal job description, no list of responsibilities, and she hadn’t heard from Helen all morning. She dressed quickly and swept downstairs, taking her gloves from Alfred (new, leather, touchscreen-compatible) before letting him help her get her coat on. She put on her hat (the coat and hat were also new) and stepped over to the car, remotely opening the door before turning and calling out to Alfred.

“I’m going to do this!” she said. Then she turned on navigation, off auto-drive, and pulled away.

She decided to stay in the car on the ferry - it was almost as comfortable as the lounge upstairs, frankly, and she was enjoying the music on her radio - so the car threw Helen’s text message up onto the windshield HUD instead of onto her phone. Predawn delivery to the Metropolis Police Department, expedited shipping. Should tell Lucius we should seek more out of city law enforcement supply contracts - MPD gear out of date. How is the river this morning?

She caught Toyman. And she’s safe. “Helen,” she whispered before flipping the center console to its touchscreen display and typing. Quiet. I’m in the car because they’re playing really good music today. Miss you. Excited for work. Miss you.

You’re going to be flawless. Do you like the new clothes?

They’re perfect, beloved. I feel… executive. And hot. Trisha sent that, then got her phone out and angled it as well as the car allowed to snap a selfie, and sent that as well.

You are hot. Do you think Sophia would let me get away with a long lunch meeting at the Foundation? Probably not. Also a bad look for your first day. But I’m thinking about it.

Be home for supper tonight. I won’t change ‘till after. Trisha grinned at the HUD.

She could just about imagine Helen grinning back. Promising. Must fly or be late for work.

Probably literally fly. Imagining her lover flying the Batwing and sending her flirty texts was an extremely odd experience.

I made the Bat smile. The horn indicating that they were approaching the pier went off, and Trisha turned the car all the way on again. The drive to the Foundation building was a little exciting - Gotham traffic, even in the morning, could be pretty hectic - but the Futura handled like a dream and she didn’t have to worry about parking.

Personal parking space with its own sign. “Reserved for Trisha Baum.” Right next to the elevator - and not an elevator that’s going to stop every few floors to let people on and off. A private elevator only Helen, Katie, Alfred, and I have access to right now. I have no excuse to ever be late.

Katie was waiting inside the secured foyer to her private elevator, still wearing her own coat and working on her tablet while she waited, and she looked up to greet Trisha with a smile the moment Trisha carded and coded her way in. “Ms. Baum. Good morning! The commute in went smoothly?”

“Like silk, Katie,” Trisha said. “Which is good… if I was going to be late my first day, I don’t think I’d ever actually be able to show my face.” She looks good, too. We both look good. “What’s on the docket for the morning?”

“Quiet start - I scheduled you for paperwork and contract signings first thing, to let you get settled - and then we have an executive meeting at ten which combines your introduction with ideas about the spring fundraising season. Lunch buffet with the Trustees - you know most of them already, but it’ll be a different context, so we want to make a good impression.” Katie got to her feet and followed Trisha into the elevator, leaning against the wall and running through the schedule without needing to check her notes. “A review of all the winter projects with the lead staff currently working them takes up most of your afternoon - I thought phone calls would be fine, we don’t need to make a show of pulling everyone in just to talk to them, and it’s not like you don’t know most of this already - and then an end-of-day presser that they want you to make a short statement at. It’s a little public, so I’m not sure I approve, but PR is really eager to get you out in front of the cameras.”

“Apparently I’m photogenic. Go figure.” Trisha leaned against the opposite wall. “I kind of promised Helen I’d be home for supper, but supper won’t be before seven, so all of that should fit easily enough. And what’s the thing most likely to blow up in my face today?”

Katie gathered her thoughts for a moment, then answered without her usual chipper silver-lining tone. “Press conference. The PR people don’t think we’re going to get hit with a protest about your new gig, but the WeAreGotham group has been getting spammed with critical posts about you all weekend and I don’t think all of it is Luthor sockpuppets. Second tier, the executive meeting. Most of them like you already, but none of them know you as a fellow executive, so...”

“So somebody’s going to try to remind me of my place and two other people are going to forget who I am,” Trisha said. “I can handle the protesters, but make sure I’ve got a cup of coffee the size of the Planet globe in me before the executive meeting.”

“Coffee, I can do. And if you need me to step on anyone’s toes in the meeting, I’m wearing great heels, so just give me the signal.” Katie had a very cheerful smile - Trisha’d liked that about her from moment one - but apparently it could be a little fierce if she wanted it to be.

“I’ll keep that in mind. Keep those heels on-hand. Or… on-foot? No, that was awful. I’m not doing any more terrible puns today.”

“Duly noted, Ms. Baum. I’ll enter that resolution in your daily to-do.”

 


 

“More coffee, Ms. Baum?”

Katie appeared in front of Trisha’s desk with the aforementioned cup of coffee in hand, her other hand blessedly free of more files for review, and Trisha shook her head. “I’m pretty sure that caffeine shock or toxicity or something is a thing that exists, and I think that if my coffee betrays me, I just won’t have the will to go on.” She put a hand to her forehead dramatically. “Helen has one of those mechanical pens that makes signing things easier. Do I need one of those mechanical pens that makes signing things easier?”

“I wouldn’t say it would be a bad idea,” Katie said judiciously, sitting down on the edge of Trisha’s desk to look over the files in front of her, “but I think what you really need is a mechanical ear that will listen to people’s reports for you without you having to talk to them during it. I’m sorry about the review calls - I told everyone strictly that they weren’t to lobby you about changes, just review current plans, but apparently they don’t fear me enough yet.”

“I have faith in you,” Trisha said. “At least they recognize us as people they should be coming to when they want things. Now we just need them to know that you’re the gatekeeper, which you’ll get them whipped into shape on in a week.” I should ask her not to sit on my desk, but then she’d ask why.

“Thanks, ma’am. I...” Katie sipped from the cup of coffee, studying it for a second or two, then took a deep breath. “This is a big step for me. A big promotion, I mean. I was the new girl in the office, and doubling up on being your receptionist and personal secretary was exciting enough. Jumping straight up to PA like this is... well, I’m just really glad you have so much faith in me.”

“We work well together,” Trisha said. “And I know you, and you’re frankly quite likely smarter than I am.” Trisha smiled. “And you saw how I did my job and worked that into your own rhythm, which meant you were learning how to do the job. Besides, I like you.”

Katie blushed lightly at that, which did not help with the whole sitting on the desk thing. “For what it’s worth, I thought you handled the executive meeting really well. I kept expecting Ms. Fevre to choke on her tea when you’d roll right by her little snubs. I think you're bad for her blood pressure.”

“She can talk to her doctor about that… perhaps a good strong dose of not-being-at-my-meetings is in order.” Trisha offered a sweet smile. I left a third of them infuriated, a third amused, and a third confused with my not-noticing-the-insults routine. Give them today to get it out of their systems; tomorrow if it goes on I show my teeth. The day had, at least, gone by quickly - constant work and conversations, ushered quickly from one space to the next, and Katie’s attractive efficiency keeping the whole day running. And not enough time to notice she was exhausted before Katie put another giant mug of coffee in her hand.

“Do we have word on how many protesters are out there? And please, please tell me I don’t need to call on Vicki Vale for anything. Or, hopefully, see her at the presser at all?”

“You will be pleased - or possibly disappointed - to know that Ms. Vale didn’t consider our little coming out party to be news,” Katie said, smiling ruefully. “We have a couple of rings of protestors around the building, pretty orderly - building security is handling it, and I told them not to call the police if they don’t have to. It was supposed to a closed presser, but they sent a note threatening to try to break in, so I said they could pick a party to stand in as long as they don’t disrupt the event. Even odds say they’ll disrupt it anyway, but at least we won’t have to have a fight on our front steps on the 6 pm news and we’ll have them screened for weapons and such before they come in. It’s not great, but it was the best I could come up with without taking you away from your report calls.”

“No, that’s good,” Trisha said. “That actually works for me. The elephant is in the room; locking away the people who want to be upset about it won’t help get it to stop trumpeting.” She rolled her shoulders, trying to loosen them after a day of phones to her ear. “Anything else I need to know before we go down there?”

“You’re pleased, you’re proud, you have the spring schedule in your pocket and you’re happy to talk about it with them, you anticipate doing great things for Gotham. And you should take these,” Katie added, offering Trisha a pair of red tablets. “Mild painkiller with caffeine.”

“Are you made of magic?” Trisha asked, taking the tablets and reaching for her water. “Because I think you are.”

Katie blushed again fetchingly while she handed Trisha her notes and seating chart. “Lucky for you, I’m here all week. Now go knock ‘em dead, boss.”

“Aye aye.”

Trisha rode down to the second floor with Katie in the private elevator, and stepped from it into the hallway which had been cleared by security. They crossed the hallway into the back door to the press room, where Trisha handed her locked phone to an intern and stepped onto stage after a brief and forgettably glowing introduction from one of the PR people whose name she still didn’t know. Katie probably did.

After the din of talking and the blinding visual cacophony of flashbulbs ceased, she gave her boilerplate opening statement - a bright future for the Foundation and for Gotham, a management more separate from the Wayne Enterprises Board of Directors, maintaining a connection to the Wayne family and history, and her own biography in fifty-eight seconds. Starting with reporter questions, she addressed the school computer program and the questions about the security of the Wayne network that always came with that (The Wayne network has never been compromised. The hacking of the demonstration DataEagle glasses worked because that particular, never-released model used off-the-shelf parts and connected to an off-the-shelf router, and we take the information security of our students just as seriously as we do the idea of free access by all young people to the Internet), the mass transit restoration project. The protesters tried to shout her down once, twice, and each time she gestured for the volume on her mic to be raised for a moment so she could continue to speak. Finally, as they started to make noise again, Trisha found who she was looking for.

A young woman - maybe as young as seventeen, no older than twenty - with hair the same color as Trisha’s, eyes perhaps a half-shade darker, and skin that reminded her immediately of her grandmother. That smile, too, was her grandmother’s, when she remembered her youth in Gotham. She finished answering her current question then said, “Excuse me… back row, third from the left, with the Knights cap. I don’t have your name on my list… could you tell me?”

“Anjelica Deciere,” the girl called back, startled but on the ball enough to answer. “For the Gotham Resistance. Don't you feel that accepting this job is bullshit, because your girlfriend is basically buying it for you, and against the spirit of the #MeToo movement?”

“I’ll need to get a subscription,” Trisha said. “Would you mind coming up here, Ms. Deciere, and asking me more directly? Someone seems to have decided to put you in the back of the room, and I can’t really hear… and I don’t think that’s where you ought to be.”

A ripple of surprise went through the whole room - in distinctly different tones where it lapped from the protesters to the press and back again - but Anjelica gamely walked past the security and was escorted up onto the stage. Katie, bless her efficient heart, had not only managed to produce a second microphone by that point but two chairs for them to sit in so they’d be closer to an equal position. It was the kind of anticipation that Trisha would have called a good day’s work if she’d done it for Helen. Anjelica hesitated for a fraction of a second, taking the microphone with her left hand, and then stuck her right hand out to take Trisha’s in an awkward but firm handshake.

Trisha returned the handshake before taking her seat. “Thank you, Ms. Deciere.”

“Thank you, Ms. Baum,” Anjelica said automatically, and there was a flicker of irritation in those dark eyes a second later at being caught out by the reflex. She sat a little straighter in her chair than Trisha did, controlling her voice so she could get a handle on the microphone, and charged into the breach. “The Gotham Resistance is an underground paper with Gotham University, and the people would like to know the following: Don’t you feel that accepting an executive-level position with the Wayne Foundation, a charitable organization to which your romantic partner Helen Wayne is the largest contributor, as a golden parachute from your job as her personal assistant has an air of corporate corruption? Particularly because it could be very easily seen as a payoff for you not taking action against her for abusing her position in pursuing a romance with you?”

“If I heard your original phrasing right, I think I liked it better,” Trisha said, leaning forward in her seat. That got a little ripple of laughter out of the protesters in the back and a few reporters in the front, too.  “I’ll address the last part first. I fell in love with Helen Wayne. I contacted her via e-mail to express that, and, had I been thinking more clearly at that moment, I likely would have offered my resignation in that same e-mail in spite of the work I was doing with Helen being my dream job. Once she and I started dating, we informed the staff who we worked directly with within days, and informed the public as quickly as an organized way to do so could be assembled. I still loved my work, and wanted to continue to do it, so I stayed in my position until it became clear that our relationship was - due to both the intensity of our emotions and outside factors - becoming a detriment to the operation of Helen’s interests. During the time I was working as Helen’s PA, I proved my ability beyond dispute, and I gained a strong working knowledge of the major projects of both Wayne Enterprises and the Foundation, and I personally guided the development of the Wayne network and the school computer program. To give up that institutional understanding and hands-on experience with these projects would have been a waste of rather a lot of the donors’ money. So… Helen did not abuse her position. Is there a possibility of a perception of corruption? Probably. But having me here will make the Foundation more nimble and create an institutional separation from the leadership of Wayne Enterprises, which it has not had since the days of Thomas and Martha Wayne.” She smiled to Anjelica. “Is there anything else you’d like to ask, for your readers?”

“Don’t you think comparing yourself to Martha Wayne is a little vain?” Anjelica waved the hand not holding the microphone, flushing. “Not my question. You’ve made clear that regardless of the symbolism - which is terrible - counts for you less than the ‘substance’ of your abilities. So how are you going to use this institutional familiarity to address the real problems of Gotham City - income inequality, concentration of wealth and security in a few ‘safe’ neighborhoods and the limited economic opportunities for citizens outside the Wayne oligopoly?”

“I’d actually like to thank you for that first question,” Trisha said. “I’ve felt it on the tip of the tongues of at least three reporters and a lot of the others I’ve spoken with, and I’ve been waiting for someone to ask it so that we can all stop avoiding it. But do you mind if I look at the camera while I answer?” She turned herself a bit, allowing her to face the crowd and the camera more comfortably. “I’m not Martha Wayne, and I never will be. Martha Wayne was a great woman, a soul of charity and decency. There’s more of Martha Wayne in her daughter than even Helen sees… the intense kindness and the smile. Martha Wayne was a member of one of the great old families of Gotham, married into another, and chose to spend her waking hours working tirelessly to help the people of this city as best she could, and to raise a daughter who has become the light of my life. I’m the daughter of a lawyer and an antique dealer, the granddaughter of farmers from Ohio and Kansas. I watched my mother building her practice, my father go through years he was convinced his shop would fail, both of them give everything for two people - me and my brother - so that we could have it a little easier, a little smoother. I’m not Martha Wayne, and I never will be, but I thank her from the bottom of my heart, and I hope to carry on her work and her legacy.” She turned her attention back to Anjelica. “I can’t answer that - your real question - fully. There’s the stuff that any politician worth their salt and with their eyes anywhere close to the real problems will tell you - access to education, improvements in transportation to allow people to live where they love while getting to the work they want, improvements to the city’s health care infrastructure and free clinics so that one nagging cough doesn’t mean fears of losing everything. I’m going to work on those things. I’m going to read the intelligent well-read people writing about the next steps, and I’m going to read the people in the middle of the problems writing about what they wish someone would do. But that’s not an answer to your question either. There are the things I can’t do because they’re the work of the politicians - changing the perverse incentives that currently dominate the stock market and financial industries and encourage short-term profit-taking over long-term growth and investment in labor, which a lot of people a lot smarter than me say is the main engine increasing inequality, but I’ll certainly poke any politician who comes within earshot of me about it.” She sighed. “Gotham is a beautiful city, Anjelica, and I’ve fallen in love with it just as much as I’ve fallen in love with the woman people call its Princess, but it’s very sick. Helen’s father saw that and became a doctor. Helen is a doctor, too, of her own sort. I’m going to take the projects we’re working on now, with the free clinics and the schools and the trains, and I’m going to, to the best of my ability, make certain they actually address the problems they’re intended to address. And once they’re done, I’ll do the next thing, and the thing after that.”

“That’s pretty optimistic, but I guess we ought to expect that from a Metropolis girl.” If there was a layer of suspicion in Anjelica’s face, there was some grudging respect too. “If we have to put up with tools of the oligarchy, I guess you seem like a pretty well-intentioned one. I don’t think any of us can believe you would have gotten the job without Ms. Wayne’s recommendation, but at least you seem to want to do your best with it. Can we count on you to stay accountable about how this ambitious program of yours is going?”

“I think so. Helen and I did, after all, come clean as quickly as we could figure out how once we knew what was happening between us.” Trisha folded her hands in her lap. “Besides… if there’s going to be so much suspicion of me by nature, I’ll pretty much have to keep my hands clean. Somebody’s going to be watching.”

“We certainly will be,” Anjelica agreed, but if it was stiff then at least there was some warmth to it. She turned her own head to the crowd and swept it with her eyes. “I guess we ought to let these people get back to their stupid questions?”

There was a little grumbling from the protestors, but a few cheers and some applause too. The reporters, for their part, mostly looked either shell-shocked or like they were tearing at the leash to start getting quotes from the protestors on the way out. They had a few desultory last questions after Ms. Deciere dismounted the stage, but for the most part the conference was over.

Trisha answered a few more questions from the reporters, but called it officially before too much longer. That could have gone a lot worse. I think it was a winning gamble, but I’ll really only find out over the next few days.

Katie appeared at her elbow, offering her a bottle of water and carrying Trisha’s abandoned file of notes. “They’ll be talking about that one for a while, ma’am,” she murmured.

“I’d hope so,” Trisha said, taking the bottle. “I’m hoping that let the elephants get it out of their system. If Ms. Deciere applies for a job here, I’d rather like to hire her.” She took a swallow. “How do you think it went?”

“You flanked them thoroughly, ma’am. I don’t think anybody knew what to think. But you and Ms. Deciere put on a pretty good show, and you were magnificent. I think if there’s any justice in the world it’ll be a great story for you.”

Trisha blushed a bit at that. “I’m hoping the press and Gotham agree with you. What’s next?”

“I’ve squared most everything else away. We can go over any last business if you like, and I imagine you’ll want to square your desk away, but otherwise you’re done.” Katie smiled, leaning in close enough so that their shoulders touched. “You can be paroled any time you want, as long as you make a proper start tomorrow.”

“Alfred will be glad to hear that,” Trisha said quietly, still blushing a bit as Katie leaned in. “I’ll get my desk organized and head home. Count yourself free for the day.”

“I leave when you leave, ma’am,” Katie protested loyally. “But I’ll pack up too, won’t I?”

“Sounds good,” Trisha said. “I should probably offer drinks before the end of today, but… well, I want to go home. Tomorrow?”

“I’ll put it in the book, ma’am,” Katie agreed, smiling. “You go on, now.”

“Thank you.” She went into the office. Straightening her desk took a surprisingly brief time - Katie already had nearly everything exactly where she wanted it.

Then she went home. On time.

 


 

It wasn’t Alfred who opened the door when her car pulled up in front of the Manor that night; it was Helen, still wearing her fall outerwear  - black hat, gloves, scarf, long sweeping coat - and there was something stiff and a little severe in her posture that even the way she wrapped her arms around Trisha in greeting couldn’t hide. What happened? Did I do something wrong? Did I say something wrong? Trisha leaned against Helen and into the embrace regardless.

“Alfred will wait dinner for us,” Helen whispered, their cheeks not quite touching and the cool fall air sliding over them in the lamp-lit darkness. “Come walk with me.”

“All right, Helen,” Trisha said quietly, letting herself disentangle from her lover. They walked in silence and the cold for a little while, Helen letting her trail a step or two behind, but then Helen turned back to her and reached out a hand.

“It’s cold,” she said, voice strange but still gentle. “Walk a little closer to me, Trisha.”

Trisha nodded and stepped closer, taking Helen’s hand. “Thank you,” she whispered. They went around the house to the gardens, and by the time they passed the first roses Trisha holding Helen’s hand had become Trisha leaning against Helen. When I am worried, I want to be closer to her. Helen didn’t push her away - if anything, she tucked her arm through Trisha’s and drew her closer. The warmth of Helen’s presence, even drawn in and taut as she was, seemed enough to hold the night away.

It was only when they passed down toward the very edges of the garden and the gazebo that Trisha realized where they were - where they must be - going. The graveyard. She slid both arms around Helen as they approached. Remember all your nerves about meeting the parents of whoever you fell in love with, Trish? You didn’t put enough foreboding in that.

“I love you,” she mouthed against Helen’s shoulder.

“And I you,” Helen answered her, barely a whisper, but still so formal. She eased away and opened the gate of the graveyard as if it were the door of a ballroom, guided Trisha in, then took her arm and walked her down the line of tombstones and little monuments until they came to a hard black stone marker etched in white - spare, harsh letters above a sharp etched cross, and a sorrowing angel with wide-swept wings to top it. Thomas and Martha Wayne. Beloved husband and father. Beloved wife and mother.

Trisha stood with Helen, against Helen, and watched the graves. Her parents. Who are still her world.

Helen’s arm squeezed against Trisha’s, and she felt her lover force a slow, deep breath. How straight and hard she stood here, in a moment like this, as if she were carrying all of Gotham on those shoulders. She feels like she is. She always has.

“Father, Mother,” Helen said into the dark, “I want to introduce you to Patricia Baum. She likes to be called Trish or Trisha, and she’s been helping me at work. Particularly with the Foundation. She’s a good woman, and I think.. I think you’ll like her.”

“I hope you do,” Trisha murmured, trying to squeeze in closer to Helen. “I… don’t plan on going anywhere.” That was the wrong thing to say. But what do you say when it is obviously both a religious moment and a meeting with the parents? “I love her. Helen. Your daughter.”

“They told her she was carrying herself a bit too much like you today, Mother,” Helen said, after a moment’s silence. “I thought how you would have laughed and laughed to hear it, because the way she bloodied their noses for it - oh, you would have loved it. Beautiful. She was beautiful today, Mother, and I wish you could have read about it in your papers so I could have told you that that was my Trisha who’d done it, my Trisha who you could ask to tell you all about it at dinner. I hope you’re laughing now. I wish I could hear you laughing.”

Trisha turned in Helen’s arms, disentangled herself, took both of her lover’s hands. “I’m sure Helen would tell it better. I was a bit busy holding the bull’s horns to really gather the story.” Then she lifted herself onto her toes to kiss Helen’s lips, her own cold already from the autumn chill, and Helen held her closely and kissed her in return. It was a soft kiss, almost chaste - the sort of kiss she might have exchanged in front of her own parents - but there was no hesitation in it.

“Father,” Helen murmured when the kiss broke, taking Trisha’s hat away with one hand so she could rest her cool cheek against Trisha’s hair. “Father, I hope you can be happy for me. She’s been such a help to me, such a comfort. I wish I could ask you how you knew it was right with Mother. I wish I could ask you how to do any of this. But I want to make her happy in this house, and I hope you’re smiling.”

Trisha smiled up at Helen, a few tears in her eyes. “Beloved…” She brushed the tears away. “I… may I…” She paused. Breathed in. Just ask. “May I have a moment, with them?”

A flood of emotions, almost too fast to follow - surprise was there, and a trace of hurt, and something else she couldn’t recognize - but then Helen smiled faintly and lifted both Trisha’s hands to hers. Kissed them. “It’s only proper,” her lover murmured, “considering the circumstances. I’ll wait over there, and you can call for me.”

Then she was alone, or nearly so, with the graves and the damp chill grass and the cold autumn night.

Trisha paced for just a moment, two or three steps in each direction, before measuring out with her eyes as close to seven feet from the tombstones and standing there. “I…” You don’t stand for these moments. Not after the introductions. You go inside and someone gets tea or lemonade or Sprite and you sit. But there was no inside, no tea or Sprite, and there were no chairs.

Slowly, carefully, in her very expensive new coat and gloves, Trisha settled onto the grass, sitting, legs folded. “I love her. If you’ve been watching…” She blushed. “Please, tell me you’re not always…” she murmured, then inhaled. “If you’ve been watching, you know that. You know I’d do anything for her, give anything for her. She’s my world…” She reached up again to wipe tears away. You’re going to do this, Trisha, and you’re going to do it with the dignity and grace people are going to expect from you if you’re wearing these people’s crest and their name. “Today, I promised Gotham I’d do what I could to save it, to help it with the illness you saw in it. I will. I’ll carry on your work, to the best of my ability, with everything I bring to it. But there’s another promise I’ve made, to Alfred and myself, and I’ll make it here too. I’m going to make her happy. Thomas, Martha, I’m going to make Helen happy. And that promise takes precedence over the other, over every other, far and away, and I don’t expect it to matter that I consider it more important than my promise to help Gotham because Helen loves this city enough that its pain is her pain. But if it did, if there was conflict…” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I will make Helen happy. I will do what is best for her. And I will give her my whole heart, every minute, every second. I love her.” She brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m going to marry her,” Trisha said, almost silently, mostly to herself.

The graves and the dead did not answer. They never did, for her. She pushed herself to her feet, rubbing her eyes again before waving to Helen. Her lover walked back to her, through the dark and the cold, and kissed her. Smiled, very faintly, and stroked her cheek to chase a stray icy drop of moisture away. “I love you,” she whispered. “Will you wait for me by the gate for a moment or two, Trisha?”

Trisha pressed a kiss to Helen’s cheek. “Of course, beloved.” She glanced at the gravestones once more before tucking her hands in her pockets and starting toward the gate. She could feel the cold where the dew on the ground was starting to soak through her clothes, and when she looked back she could see Helen kneeling where she’d sat and speaking too softly to hear to her parents, her eyes intent as if listening for an answer.

The dead never speak for me, like God and Superman. I wonder if she hears them, somewhere inside her. I wonder what they say about me. About us.

Helen came down the path to her, her shoulders still straight and too rigid, but there was a lightness in her step that hadn’t been there before and the faint smile came more readily to her lips as she slipped her arm through Trisha’s and gently returned the hat to Trisha’s head. “Alfred will be waiting dinner,” she murmured, “and likely he’ll scold me for putting you out in all this cold and wet. Thank you.”

“Of course, beloved,” Trisha whispered, again stretching up for a kiss. “Of course.”

 


 

Her second day at work was far busier than the first, as she got into the weeds of things, and she was very glad that she’d promised Katie drinks instead of telling Helen and Alfred she’d be home at a reasonable hour, because there was nothing reasonable at all about the hour already and she still needed to talk to Katie about some information she’d pulled up over drinks. She couldn’t complain that the day hadn’t been productive - she’d removed a major barrier to the school computer project in the morning, and finally gotten a briefing she’d been requesting for weeks as Helen’s PA on issues with the metal for the high-speed trains. And the issues sounded solvable. No, it was a good day… just a long one, with her moving directly from one meeting to the next and being late for all of them after the first all day.

As Katie came in with her tablet, Trisha offered her a wave and gestured to the bottle on her desk. “Helen had an excellent Kentucky bourbon sent over, to congratulate you on your new job. And to remind me that there’s a liquor cabinet in this office and I really ought not leave it empty, I think.”

“Ms. Wayne is nothing if not thoughtful. Shall I see about having it stocked?” Katie inquired, a hint of laughter in her sunny smile as she moved over to sit on the edge of Trisha’s desk and checked the bottle one-handed. “That is a nice bourbon. You’ll be glad to know that the PTA Council is going to get off our backs about the computers, too, and that you’re not even going to have to make a phone call about it. Should I pour, or do you want to?”

“I asked you over. I’ll pour. You’re off for the night, except that I’ve got work to discuss over the drinks,” Trisha said, pouring two glasses and passing one to Katie. “Thank you for dealing with the PTA Council. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than not talk to dozens of mothers concerned their kids will learn porn and gay people exist on the Internet.”

Katie set her tablet down and shrugged out of her suit jacket, hanging it over the back of the chair in front of the desk before she took her drink, her eyes dancing. “Especially when a lot of their daughters are going to be Googling you, ma’am?”

“I’m going to assume that you mean they’re looking for information about the iconic queer women of Gotham,” Trisha said with a grin, sipping her bourbon. “Speaking of… how many times have I been accused of using the computers for the gay agenda?”

“I wouldn’t dream of keeping count, ma’am. But more than one, certainly.” Katie, undaunted, grinned right back and toasted Trisha before she sipped the bourbon. “Mmm, that is really good. You could get yourself in trouble with bourbon this good.”

“Because I’m not in enough of that already,” Trisha said, swallowing more of the bourbon. “My car’s driving me home tonight. You have a cab you’d like to use, or should I call one of the Wayne cars?” Offering her the bedroom she knows she has here would be beyond my ability to do without going past the comfortable subtle flirting thing we’ve had going on.

“I can take a cab. Or...” Katie smiled crookedly. “Look, is it weird if I ask if they’ve got the guest bedrooms fitted in upstairs? Because I could save myself the ride if you’re going home anyway.”

“They’re ready to go,” Trisha said. “They’re still working on the formal dining room, but the rest of the penthouse is ready.” She’s good at that.

“Then if you don’t mind...?” Katie lifted her eyebrows, still smiling, seemingly totally unbothered by any wayward implications.

“Room’s yours,” Trisha said. “The first one on the second floor, after the stairs. I’d pretty much set that one aside for you to use, since I figure I’ll be keeping you late regularly.”

“You seemed to be hinting that way, but I didn’t want to presume.” There was something very amiable and almost amused about the way Katie told her so, like she thought Trisha’s nerves were sweet. “So before we relax, what’s the business you wanted to talk about that we didn’t get to in the day’s rampage?”

“I want to put more people on the masquerade fundraiser,” Trisha said. “It’s early in the year, the holidays are going to eat into our staff’s time, and last year it overperformed a little and I think if we step up our game we can get it to overperform a lot.”

Katie sat back down on the end of the desk and shook her head. “Oh, that’s not going to be a problem. Everyone loves the masquerade. I’ll have a line of volunteers around the office. But they are going to have to come from somewhere long-term; everyone’s pretty booked right now up and down the line.”

She does this on purpose. The sitting on the desk and having legs thing. “We’re close enough on the Thanksgiving event that it’ll either work or not; they can spare some people. We can ask the Correspondents’ Association to take over more of the planning for the media luncheon if we pick up more of the tab. And cancel the Vernal Formal; it’s worth the money or the time we spend on it but not both. Move everyone with applicable skills from that to the masquerade.”

“Done, done and done, boss.” Katie took a long swallow of bourbon and grinned. “I do love to watch you shake up this town.”

Trisha blushed. She does that on purpose too. “Then you should get ready for a ride. I’m planning to do a lot of that.” Why did I phrase it like that?

“I will,” Katie said, taking another sip from the glass and smiling over the edge of it. “To the end of the line, ma’am.”

Trisha raised her glass and swallowed most of what was left. “And that’s the end of work. At least, it had better be.”

“Well, then, I think we’re both going to need fresh glasses to celebrate that. Two days of work in the bag.” Reaching for the bottle, Katie opened it and smiled down at Trisha. “My turn to pour.”

She refilled Trisha’s glass first, then her own, and she didn’t stop smiling the whole while.

“Mm. Bourbon.” Trisha winked and swallowed a quarter of her glass. “Presence’s gift to the working girl.”

“Amen to that. Thank the Presence for call waiting, good heels, good bourbon and understanding bosses.” Katie tapped her glass against Trisha’s before taking her own drink, laughing softly.

And now she’s drawn my attention to the heels. That’s on purpose too. “Cheers. And to the best assistant I can imagine having.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Katie giggled, and did. “You know how great it is to work for somebody I don’t have to explain the facts of life to, boss?”

“I am the sweetest gig,” Trisha said with a laugh. “We did good today.”

“We’ll do better tomorrow,” Katie promised her, and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial murmur. “And you really are.”

And she was blushing again. “We’re a good team.”

“The best,” Katie agreed, sipping her bourbon, and she shifted herself fully up onto the desk so she could cross her legs and relax her shoulders. “You ever think you’d be here? Big office, top floor, running the world?”

“Not in a million years,” Trisha said. “I wanted… well, the job you’re doing. The job Sofia’s doing. I’d still trade this in for that in a heartbeat, except… well, Helen. That wouldn’t work.”

“We could switch,” Katie teased her, leaning forward over her knee to wink at Trisha. “I could be your boss, you could be my assistant, and we’d go right on shaking the city down to do the right thing.”

Trisha considered that. “Except… I also don’t think I could work for anyone else now. Anyone other than Helen…” Yes, she was looking down her assistant’s top. Treating the question seriously seemed the best way not to draw attention to that.

“Mmm. So I guess I’ll just have to keep working for you, then.” Katie took another sip of her bourbon and smiled brilliantly, making no noticeable attempt to straighten up. “Good thing I like following you.”

Trisha leaned back in her seat. “Do you, now?”

“Very much. You’re brilliant, charismatic, principled - wonderful. Working for you makes the list of the top two or three things that have ever happened to me, boss.”

“Well… that pretty much makes my day.” It’s time to abort, Trish, before you suggest something you’ll wish you hadn’t. “I think I’d better end the day on that note, before it has a chance to blow up in my face.”

“Aww.” Katie had, she discovered at that moment, an almost painfully adorable pout. “I guess you had to have a flaw in there somewhere, but I wouldn’t have guessed you were a lightweight.”

“Only when the drink’s worth drinking too much of.” Trisha finished her drink off. “I’m heading home. Your keycard will get you into every room in the penthouse except the master suite… you should check out the gym.”

Knocking the rest of her own drink back, Katie got up from the desk and stretched gracefully before heading around the desk for her coat. “Sounds exciting. I’ll have to do that. Maybe I’ll put in a few laps in the morning before work - you can’t be in too good a condition for this sort of work, right?”

Which, of course, as a course of action, could not have been calculated to show Katie off any better from all angles. “There’s a hot tub,” Trisha murmured, then stood to retrieve her own coat. “I’ll see you in the morning.” She found her usual tone.

“I’ll be waiting.” Katie tucked her jacket over one arm, smiled one more radiant smile, then went out without looking back.

Impossible. Trisha gave a moment before heading to her elevator. “Entirely impossible.” When her elevator deposited her at her car, she slipped into the passenger seat. “Navigation on. Autopilot on. Car, take me home. Fastest route.”

 


 

It’d been a restless night. Helen had left a note on the pillow apologizing for what was probably going to be a busy evening of hunting madmen through her city, Alfred had consoled Trisha with a considerably-sized ice cream sundae (hot fudge with nuts!), and Trisha had crawled into bed still mildly buzzed and sugar-high. She’d woken up alone, too, though Alfred presented her with fresh flowers to go with breakfast and Helen had texted both reassurances of her safety and the intention to come by the Foundation before lunch to see the new office and ‘pay her respects.’

Helen’s coming. She asked Alfred to pick out something nice, and wound up with a white clingy blouse and jacket. The slacks that went with the jacket fit her perfectly - all of her new clothes fit her perfectly - and managed utter professionalism and drawing the eye at once.

She let the car drive her to work so she could answer e-mails on the way, and rode the elevator up to her office in silence. Katie came in a moment or two after she sat down, setting coffee in front of her along with a couple of neatly curated files, and waited until Trisha had a sip or two of the coffee before she smiled. “You were right about the gym - that thing is amazing. I used the hot-tub last night and the ellipticals this morning, and I feel like a new woman.”

“I haven’t actually gotten a chance to use it yet,” Trisha said. “I might tonight, though, depending on Helen’s plans. Speaking of which… she’s coming by some time this morning, so could you call Sofia and see if she’s got a guess on when so we can make necessary adjustments?”

“How long an adjustment do you need?” Katie asked, and there was a twinkle in her eyes.

“A half hour,” Trisha said after a moment. “I… want time with her, but… well, if we’re going to get up to anything in my office, it shouldn’t be yet.”

“You’re the boss. But personally, I don’t see whose business it is what perks of the job you two take advantage of,” Katie smiled, throwing in a wink this time. “I’ll get together with Sofia and work it out.”

I wish that was the case. But after the issues with the Board, I really don’t need the Trustees having even more reason to disapprove. “Thank you, Katie. What’s first?”

It was too busy a morning to fly by, but Katie kept all the business on her desk moving briskly and she felt accomplished enough by the time Sophia texted to let her know Helen was in the building that she didn’t even feel guilty about the half-hour hole in her schedule. Katie had everything very well in hand, right down to the bottle of water and snack bar she’d dropped onto Trisha’s desk before she clicked back out on her heels.

Those heels, on those feet, at the end of those legs.

Katie showed Helen in as if she were any other Wayne executive being admitted to Patricia Baum’s office, and there was a moment of pure disorientation at Helen standing at her door, in her office, with her big desk between them. But she was vaulting over the desk in a moment, with agility she could not have had if her heart weren’t swelling the way it was, and threw her arms around Helen’s neck. “Welcome to the Wayne Foundation,” she murmured into Helen’s jaw.

“It’s good to see it’s in good hands,” Helen whispered back, hugging her so fiercely that her shoulders ached with the pressure. “You look perfect here, Trisha. Like you belong right here.”

Trisha tightened her arms around Helen’s neck. “I feel a little out of my depth whenever I’m not busy,” she said quietly. “But when I am the work just… flows. It all works.”

“Perfect,” Helen said again, a breath against Trisha’s ear, and lifted Trisha easily in her arms to carry her to the couch by the window and settle there, Trisha tucked across her lap tightly while Helen nuzzled at her hair and breathed her in.

I should have asked for an hour. Trisha tilted her head back to kiss Helen’s cheek. “I do miss seeing you every day at work,” she whispered.

“I miss you. Sophia is a slave-driver, and the office is drab without you.” Helen kissed her lips, careful of her lipstick, and smiled against her mouth. “Is everything just how you want it? Nothing I can handle for you?”

“Everything is going well,” Trisha said. “And the office is perfect, and the penthouse is lovely… you should visit soon.” She paused, kissing Helen’s shoulder. Katie. I should talk to her about Katie.

“Tell me when you plan to stay there, and I’ll come to you,” Helen murmured, kissing Trisha’s hair, her thumb stroking the edge of Trisha’s jaw. “Last night was a mess, but it ended well.”

“Your evening business wrapped up, then?” Trisha kissed Helen’s thumb gently. I definitely should have asked for ninety minutes.

Her fingers stroking over Trisha’s back, Helen smiled down at her intimately. “For the moment. It’s always possible something new will come crawling out of the city just when you think you have everything under control. It’s good to see you in the daylight, though.”

“It’s lovely to see you,” Trisha said quietly, kissing Helen’s fingers agan. “So lovely…”

It was easy to lose herself in Helen’s presence.

“Katie tells me that I have I have another twenty-three minutes or so. Since I imagine you don’t want to offend the Trustees today...” The edges of Helen’s mouth turned up in a hungry smile. “I thought we might stand and watch the city go by.”

Trisha blushed, kissing Helen’s lips softly. “Can I… talk… while we do?”

“Of course. I always like the listen to you talk,” Helen told her, gently easing Trisha down onto the couch and then standing up with her to walk to the corner window where they could look out on the city in both directions.

Trisha blushed, moving over to the window with her lover and leaning back against her. “Katie’s… I think been flirting with me. More than a little.”

Other than tucking an arm around Trisha’s waist, Helen said nothing, but there was just a hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth. No sign of surprise.

“And I think I like it,” Trisha murmured, tilting her head back to kiss Helen’s neck. She needed that touch…

Helen’s arm tightened around her, pulling her closer, and Helen half-turned from the view to study Trisha’s face. To run gentle knuckles along her lover’s jaw. “What would you like to do about that, my Trisha?”

Trisha shuddered against that touch. “Run my hands along her legs. Kiss her… pin her to my desk. But not at the cost of the Foundation’s reputation, or your pain or disapproval.” The words flowed out unbidden, Helen’s hand on her jaw drawing them.

“I don’t disapprove,” Helen murmured, bending to kiss her carefully. “We both know that my history with lovers is something that will come to our door more than we would like. That I have loved...” her voice cracked a little, but she went on in spite of it, “that I still love, maybe unwisely. If you trust her to keep your confidence with all of this, I can trust your judgement about whatever else is between you.

“Besides,” she said, straightening and smiling faintly as she looked back out the window, “I remember a certain interview where you talked about how ready you were to share me with - you called her my wife then, didn’t you? My wife of long years. If I’m going to spend more nights than not tending to her illnesses, it would be both stupid and cruel to demand you always spend those same nights alone.”

“I’m yours,” Trisha whispered. “First and always, I am yours.” She pressed another kiss to Helen’s jaw, and Helen wrapped both arms around her waist to pull their bodies fully together. Helen’s lips touched her throat, where the Wayne arms rested when she wore her choker, and she felt the strength of Helen’s shoulders under her hands. So much strength and endurance in her. Trisha closed her eyes, melting into Helen’s hands, soft in the firm strength of her lover’s grip. “Helen.”

“Trisha,” Helen whispered, as if she were soaking Trisha’s presence into her bones like the warmth of the sun through the window. “My Trisha.”

“Beloved…” Trisha pressed a kiss to Helen’s lips, whispering against them, “I feel you in my bones.”

Helen’s raw, shivering breath was warm against her mouth. “I don’t want to go back to the office. I know I have to, but I don’t want to.”

“I want you here,” Trisha murmured. I should have asked for two hours. “I want you. Here.” Another kiss. “Tonight. Come tonight. Helen, come tonight… if you can.”

“If I can,” Helen whispered back with a fierceness as deep as Trisha’s need. “If I can, Trisha, nothing will keep me away from you.”

The words settled in Trisha’s belly, in her soul, and she kissed Helen again, bruising her own lips against her lover’s. “Yes, Helen,” she managed after a moment.

“Yes,” Helen answered her, crushing her close as she leaned Trisha back against the window. “You’ll sleep here? I can come to you in secret. No eyes, no interruptions. Alone.”

“I’ll tell Katie that I need the penthouse,” Trisha husked, the cold glass of the window scalding her back with lust. “And we’ll have all night.”

“Together,” Helen agreed, her dark eyes burning like living shadow even in the brilliant sunlight. “I’m going to leave you now before I do something imprudent here and now against these nicely cleaned windows. You should try to compose yourself before you go back to business.”

Trisha pressed another kiss to Helen’s lips. “I’ll be thinking of you. The rest of the day.”

“You’re always thinking of me,” Helen husked, slowly stepping back. “But I’ll be thinking of you more than usual.”

She turned and walked back to the door, her spine ramrod straight, but she turned with her hand on the door and glanced over her shoulder and smiled narrowly. “These meetings need to be shorter,” she said, “or much, much longer.”

“I’ll remember that, Helen,” Trisha murmured, staring at her, leaning back against the window. Lost in the sight of her lover. “And make sure it happens.”

Then Helen went out, leaving her alone in her office for - she glanced at her watch - eighteen minutes. She gave herself a minute to make sure she remembered how to walk, then went to the door and locked it. Then she settled back in her chair, behind her desk, closed her eyes, and slid a hand into her panties.

It took her six minutes to finish herself, after the state Helen left her in, but she needed the last few to remember how to breathe.

“Katie,” she finally said, after opening the door. “What’s next?”

“Ms. Baum!” A spare, middle-aged woman with the classic Kane cheekbones was standing in front of Mrs. Atitarn’s desk, apparently engaged in an animated argument with both the receptionist and Katie, but at a glimpse of Trisha’s face she practically tried to charge through them before Katie’s deft sidestep prevented her from doing so without actually endangering either her balance or her dignity. “It’s so fortunate to see you! I was hoping I might engage you for lunch, but your staff appears to be very... protective.”

“My staff is aware I was in a very important meeting,” Trisha said coolly, then looked to Katie again. “I’m assuming this is not my 12:30?” Katie is the gatekeeper. Even if not letting this woman in without her say-so costs me something, it’ll get Katie some part of the respect she needs, and that is a win for me in the long run.

“No, ma’am. This is Mirial Kane, of the Peregrine Point Kanes, and she wanted to have a few minutes of your time to discuss ‘important social matters.’” Katie’s expression was perfectly dispassionate, and her voice as pleasant as ever, but she didn’t quite get out of the woman’s way. “I know you prefer to have a later lunch alone, ma’am, and I didn’t want to let your afternoon off to a bad start by rushing through things with Mrs. Kane in the time you have; Miss Rienza isn’t here for the 12:30 yet, but she will be shortly. Should I schedule Mrs. Kane in later, or do you want to handle this now?”

Trisha considered that a moment. Visibly. “Mrs. Kane, I’m sorry to tell you that I’m not actually hungry yet, and I really can’t put off my meeting with Miss Rienza. But if you don’t mind talking for a few minutes, you can come in.” She looked to Katie. “Page me when Miss Rienza arrives.” The instant Miss Rienza arrives.

The very moment, Katie’s eyes told her as she stepped out of the way. Mrs. Kane, visibly disconcerted, gathered herself and came forward to offer Trisha her hand, trying on a charming smile that couldn’t avoid looking practiced. “I don’t think we’ve properly met. We had a few minutes at the Commissioner's Charity Ball, but you were very busy that night.”

“I usually am, and if I’m not busy at an event, I’m there with Helen,” Trisha said, shaking Mrs. Kane’s hand. “Please, come in.” She escorted the woman into her office. Where she would often have joined a visitor at the sofas near the bookshelves, this time she retook her seat behind her desk and gestured to the chairs in front of it. “What can I do for you, Mrs. Kane?”

“Well, it’s a little bit delicate, but there are a few people - prominent people but the sort who’d rather not make any sort of fuss - who are rather put out by the Wayne Foundation’s withdrawal from the Vernal Formal. It’s such a highlight of the March calendar, and the young ladies do so look forward to it as part of their lead-up to the summer season. It’s been a wonderful event for the charities of Gotham for decades. I thought that obviously there’d been some mistake or misunderstanding, and I knew that a sensible young woman like you would be able to put things straight.”

The Vernal Formal? What’s the… that? She’s here for that? Trisha managed to keep her confusion and her surprise both off of her face. “Give me one moment?” She turned to her computer to pull up the information on the Vernal Formal. “Here it is... “ She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Kane, but I won’t be able to help you. I understand that the event is beloved, but… last year, it drew 750 thousand dollars in donations, plus or minus a bit. The cost to the Foundation, including staff salaries and overtime in the planning and execution, was 720 thousand. Meanwhile, dozens of our staff were tied up with the event for months. Mrs. Kane, I feel for the young ladies of Gotham and would be willing to work with you to find an alternative way to organize the event, but… the young ladies of Gotham who can afford a seven-thousand-dollar-a-head dance are not those who the Foundation is here for. It’s the young ladies who are in homes without Internet access, or stuck between abusive parents and homelessness, and we can do more for them with our work.”

Mrs. Kane stared at her blankly for most of a minute, the older woman’s expression so completely taken aback that it was almost comical. “Ms. Baum,” she spluttered, “the Vernal Formal goes back almost a hundred and fifty years. One doesn’t simply cancel such a thing because of a few spreadsheets - it’s unheard of, unthinkable. This is one of the jewels of the Gotham social calendar, not ... not some barn-raising in Iowa.”

“Mrs. Kane,” Trisha said quietly, folding her hands on the desk. “I think you might want to find a way to rephrase that last bit.”

“I mean,” Mrs. Kane tried to recover, “that a great deal of time and tradition and effort has already been put into the event over its long history - it isn’t a simple sort of one-off thing - and that it would be tragic to let all that weight of importance be abandoned because....”

“I understand,” Trisha said. “But I still have to focus on the mission of the Foundation. If you can find a way to have the Vernal Formal be worthwhile as a fundraiser, I’ll see what I can do as far as staffing it. Otherwise, if you can find another organization to operate it, I’ll turn over the work that has been done so far to that organization, and I’ll attend myself and applaud the young ladies of Gotham. I agree that to allow the Formal to end would be unfortunate, but the Foundation has to be focused on its primary mission.” Tragic is an overstatement. And I’m not running a social club.

Mrs. Kane’s lips compressed in a tight line, and Trisha could practically see her deciding to take the problem up to the Trustees - or maybe to Helen - with the idea that someone with ‘Gotham roots’ would surely understand. Should I just let her go on that note? I don’t think she can get the Trustees to overrule me, with Helen’s pull with them and the fact that I’m obviously right. But she could be trouble. “I’m glad you came to meet with me, Mrs. Kane, about this important issue. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the shelter proposal that the downstairs planning committee’s been working on.”

“Oh! I haven’t heard much about it, but I’m sure that there’s always a need for partnerships with these sorts of things - no shelter is really a shelter without blankets, clothes, that sort of thing. Something for young people, isn’t it?” A little of the tension in Mrs. Kane’s face relaxed, automatic graciousness and a little flattery at being consulted loosening her attitude. “What you really need is some consultations with the existing shelters and to get in touch with some of their supporting committees. The Clarion shelter, in particular, has always been very good at that sort of thing.”

That’s useful. “Thank you, Mrs. Kane,” Trisha said. “I’ll have Katie call the Clarion shelter…”

Katie’s buzzer on her phone spared her from having to ply the woman’s ego any further, blessedly, and Trisha managed to get Mrs. Kane out the door with another handshake and a few more meaningless pleasantries; Katie must have slipped in through the door adjoining their offices, because when Trisha turned around her assistant was setting a cup of tea and some chocolate cookies on the table by the windows with a stealth that Helen might have approved of.

“Again, Katie, you are a saint,” Trisha said as she approached and took her tea. “We’ll need to keep an eye on her… I’m pretty sure that even after I calmed her down she’s going to try to end-run around me to the Trustees about the Vernal Formal. Which is, apparently, a staple of culture that all of Gotham loves.” She sighed, falling into her seat. “Could you put the planners for our shelter project in touch with the Clarion shelter? And…” She bit her lip. “Before my meeting with Mrs. Kane, I’d planned to tell you I’m going to be putting a sock on the door of the penthouse tonight. Helen’s coming by.”

“Well then! I’ll definitely knock off on time and go home to my glass of wine,” Katie winked. “I imagine you’re going to want to christen the place properly, boss.”

Trisha blushed. “Yes. That… I believe is the plan.” Likely, with the way she was looking at me, every surface in the place.

“Good for you. As for Mrs. Kane, I wouldn’t worry too much about her. Things like the Formal always land on their feet eventually, and Ms. Wayne will just play a few rounds of golf with the Trustees until they see reason. People will grouse, but they’ll shut up when they see the quarterly numbers.” Katie kept her voice perfectly professional, but that grin suggested she had a pretty fair idea what Trisha was thinking behind that blush.

Unfair. For revenge, I’m now going to imagine you pressed against the wall… that was a mistake… “Are we ready to send Miss Rienza in?”

“We are. I’ll just go fetch her - why don’t you enjoy your tea? And I’ll take care of the Clarion calls before you’re done with the meeting.” Katie brushed past Trisha on her way to the door, barely close enough for their suits to touch, then winked over her shoulder. “Take a deep breath, boss, and think happy thoughts.”

Too many happy thoughts for proper professionalism already. “Thank you, Katie.”

 


 

When Trisha got off work, she guessed - correctly - that it would be a couple of hours before Helen came by, so she started the evening with a long, hot shower in the penthouse’s wonderful, wonderful master bathroom, then dried herself with one of those fluffy towels that seemed to whisk away water wherever they touched without abrading or irritating her skin at all. She smelled of lavender and blackberries, and sat in the bedroom reading for a few minutes before dressing.

She considered being nude when Helen arrived. Considered it for a long few minutes, actually. But she decided that the robe was the best thing to wear - silk, deep green, the cloth clinging enticingly to her as she tied the belt into place. She smiled into the mirror and spun around - I am a gift for her to open - before returning to the bed and taking her book again. Lying atop the covers, she read idly and waited for her lover.

It was deep into true dark outside and she was still reading - her eyes drifting occasionally to the bedroom door - when she looked up and discovered Helen standing in the shadow of her walk-in closet, watching her, the light gathering in her dark eyes and playing on the paleness of her skin. Her lover was wearing a bodysuit in a heavy black fabric, tight enough to cling to every inch of her skin, and the effect was… dramatic. Trisha’s breath caught in her throat as she gazed at her lover.

Shadow seemed like an almost physical presence around Helen as she crossed toward Trisha’s little pool of light, silent on the hard floor and the rug both; she reached up and unbound her hair as she moved, spilling it freely across her back, and Trisha rolled onto her belly, the better to watch Helen move and ignoring the fact that she probably ought to breathe at some point.

Helen mounted the bed in a fluid movement, erasing the distance between them in the space of a breath, and then her lover was astride her hips and Trisha’s head lowered to the mattress as Helen moved her hair out of the way before kissing the back of her neck.

“Beloved,” Trisha breathed, her eyes closing at the weight of Helen atop her, at the heat of Helen’s lips on her skin. She ran nails over the fine thread of the comforter, disturbing its exquisite weaving. “Helen…”

“My Trisha,” Helen growled in her ear, the sound vibrating in her bones, and her lover’s nails left faint pulsing marks in her skin as they slid in under the robe. “You look beautiful tonight.”

“I wanted to,” Trisha breathed. “For you.” She lifted her back into Helen’s touch, tensing the muscles there. She came in through my closet , she thought fleetingly. That doesn’t make sense… the cave is at the home… “I’m for you.”

The sound that came out of Helen then was so low and primal that Trisha had no word for it - like thunder under a dark sea - and Helen peeled the robe away from her with savage impatience, flipping her onto her back in the process. Looking up into Helen’s face like this, all wild hair and blazing eyes, Trisha was… whatever fear became when there was no fear in it. She knew what Helen could do, and that fire behind her eyes went to the depths of Trisha’s soul like the growl of a predator would the soul of a grazing beast, but she arched her back and willed herself to be devoured. Helen dragged her hands above her head and bound them there with a few swift twists of silky chord, holding her legs apart and her body down with the weight of Helen’s body between them, and she was slickly aware of the difference in friction between her bare skin and the smooth toughness of Helen’s bodysuit. It made her feel more stripped than she ever had, and more helpless, and more Helen’s. She lifted her hips, to press herself to Helen’s thigh, urgent jerks of her body pleading for more of her lover’s touch, and she wrung her hands together as she pulled at the cord. Is this what she uses on her night job? “Helen!”

Her lover bent and kissed her, devoured her mouth with sharp teeth and an urgent tongue, and those strong hands touched her with possessive roughness everywhere the softness of the comforter or the smoothness of the suit didn’t. She could feel it and the hard muscle of Helen’s thighs under it against her pussy, grinding slickly as she dripped against it, and it didn’t seem to soak any of her up - she was making a wet mess of herself against Helen’s leg, and knew it, and she couldn’t stop herself from grinding into it all the harder for that.

She was shameless in her need, her hands tugging at the cable that bound them hard enough to bruise her wrists, her mouth open wide to suck at Helen’s tongue. She cried out Helen’s name into Helen’s mouth. It’s part of her costume. I don’t know what part, but it is… and I’m soaking myself all over it. All over the champion of Gotham… She cried out, and her hips moved faster, grinding more urgently, until Helen shifted above her and her hips came off the bed entirely so that she was trapped and opened further; forced into the smallest, most desperate sort of grinding to keep the friction to go along with the pressure, forced to push her shoulders back against the bed and strain against the cable, forced to whimper as the extra compression pushed air from her lungs. Helen was looking down at her now, watching her - burning her with those dark, fierce, hungry eyes that saw everything - and she knew Helen liked it. Wanted it. Wanted her, like this - a captive to desire and the dark, the helpless princess to a shadowclad knight.

She screamed. Loud and long and hard, a scream that, in any apartment she’d ever lived in before meeting Helen would have woken neighbors and set dogs barking and perhaps even car alarms outside ringing. A scream that filled the cavernous master bedroom and made it suddenly feel nowhere near too large. A scream that made her throat raw, her lungs ache, and, when she ran out of air, she drew another hard breath and did it again, shuddering against Helen, painting her bodysuit liberally with her orgasm. Helen rode her through it ruthlessly, forcing every spasm of pleasure and gasp out of her that she could bear, and only when she was nearly limp against Helen’s strength did her lover ease her back down onto the bed and slowly, delicately trail hot kisses against Trisha’s throat and collarbones.

“Helen… Helen…” The word was a breath, a prayer, and she rocked up into each kiss, her arms limp above her. Sparks shot through her nerves each time Helen’s lips touched her, burning into her brain. “I’m yours. I’m yours.”

The slow slide of Helen’s nails over her skin raised dark trails everywhere they touched while Helen looked at her, teeth bared in a hungry smile, and then her lover reached up and started peeling herself out of that slicked black suit - baring the beautiful, hard-muscled body underneath, eyes not leaving Trisha for a moment.

She’s going to ride me. She’s going to mount me… Trisha’s heart skipped a beat, her toes curling a bit as she watched her lover undress. I love her. And I am for her pleasure. “Please, Helen,” she said, voice barely more than a whisper. “Please…”

Helen gave her what she was pleading for without a word, and when Helen’s thighs settled in around her head, she let her eyes close. She knew what this looked like, pinned down between Helen’s legs, head lifted in Helen’s grip as Helen rode her mouth. The taste and scent and sounds of her lover became her world, her only purpose Helen’s pleasure, and she drank deep of that purpose. High squeaking noises came from her throat each time Helen moved against her mouth, and her neck ached from holding her head up, but everything was perfect. Everything was Helen, and when Helen spasmed above her in release - soaking Trisha’s lips and tongue with her pleasure - that orgasm jerked Trisha’s hips in an echoing bliss of her own and emptied her of purpose. She lolled against the bed, liquid and quivering, and when Helen slide down to embrace her she moaned with the slide of every inch of their skin.

“My Trisha,” Helen breathed in her ear, and tightened against her fiercely. “Such an efficient girl.”

“Always your assistant,” Trisha murmured into Helen’s skin, into Helen’s neck. “Always yours.” I do my work well.

They lay that way for a while, breathing each other’s air and rubbing gently against each other, until Helen reached up and flicked off the light to leave only the glow of the city and the stars through the skylight to illuminate their faces. Trisha rolled onto her back, settling against Helen’s arm and shoulder, kissing her jaw as she let herself fall back into her own body. “I love you,” she whispered, finally.

“Mmmm.” Helen brushed warm lips against Trisha’s temple. “I think I approve of this place.”

“I do too,” Trisha whispered. “I don’t think I could have slept properly here, before this.” She pressed closer. “Thank you, beloved.”

“So what you’re telling me,” Helen breathed into her ear, “is that you can’t sleep comfortably anywhere until I bed you there? I’ll have to take that under advisement.”

“That does seem to be the case,” Trisha breathed into Helen’s ear. “If I travel alone, we might have to try phonesex, but I’m not sure that will be effective.”

The tips of Helen’s fingers wandered slowly down over Trisha’s side, tracing her ribs languidly. “We’ll have to consider it as a last resort. But avoid you travelling without me as often as we can.”

“I prefer that anyway.” Trisha looked around the room with a happy sigh, though her eyes paused at the closet. “Helen…” She kissed her lover’s jaw. “Is there a secret door in my closet? And does Richard call it the Bat-door?”

“The Bat-bunker, actually.” The low ripple of Helen’s laughter spilled against Trisha’s ear. “But yes, there’s a lift from the bunker up to the penthouse, and the remodel put it in the closet.”

“Bat-bunker.” Trisha sighed against Helen’s jaw. “Tell Richard I disapprove. Should I know anywhere else that might open up and spill me into a chiroptera -themed stronghold?”

“Nowhere you’ll find your way into accidentally. We have a few special rooms in Wayne Tower, but everything else is more... out of the way.” Helen stroked her hair, fingertips slowly playing with the strands of it. “Does it bother you?”

“No, not really,” Trisha said, rolling onto her side to face Helen. “That you have to do this frightens me. I… want a long life with you. But since it will happen, I’d prefer you have safe places, and I’d prefer those safe places bring you to me.”

Helen’s smile caught faint edges in the starlight. “It’s not much of a life to offer you, sometimes, is it?”

“It has you,” Trisha whispered. “And it has Alfred. And it has… purpose. You’ve offered me so much.” Her fingers came up to caress Helen’s jaw.

“I’m sorry, I suppose. And you’re welcome.” Helen squeezed her tightly, leaning her forehead against Trisha’s gently. “I never quite imagined this.”

“Falling in love? Loving someone who could love you, knowing… well, everything?” Trisha kissed Helen’s fingertips. “Me?”

“Any of that,” Helen murmured, and then tipped her face up and kissed her.

She was breathless for a moment after, clinging to Helen fiercely, and when she found her voice she whispered, “You make me better, Helen. You make me think harder and be more daring. I… I’ve spent days doing work I’ve previously only ever facilitated, and I think I’m doing it well, and I never would have tried anything like it if… if you didn’t think I could.”

“You’re doing wonderful work,” Helen husked, squeezing her fiercely. “I couldn’t be more satisfied, Trisha.”

Trisha giggled, pressing her lips to Helen’s neck. “Do I satisfy you, beloved?”

“You know you do.” Laughing roughly, Helen tugged Trisha’s hair in her loose-gripped fingers, her eyes dancing.

Trisha gasped at the tug to her hair, lifting her head to gaze into Helen’s eyes. “I live to satisfy you,” she murmured, tongue flicking her lips, still tasting Helen there.

“Do you, now?” Helen husked, her lips slowly gliding over Trisha’s cheeks.

“My every breath,” Trisha moaned against Helen’s ear, “is drawn in hopes of bringing you pleasure.” Everything is electricity. How does she do this to me?

And her lover laughed, down in the base in her throat, and Trisha knew her work for the night was nowhere near finished.

 

Chapter Text

The attack had come after lunch. She’d met with two donors - an older gentleman from the Palisades who had seemed far more interested in talking to her chest than in vetting whether the projects she intended to use the large check he’d written at the end of the meal for were any good, and a young Kane girl who asked enough incisive questions for the both of them. She’d seen them off, then returned to her table to finish her meal before going back out to the car.

As she crossed the parking lot, in broad daylight, she was approached by three men who absolutely did not meet the restaurant’s quite restrictive dress code ( I wouldn’t have met it myself, a year ago, and I wouldn’t have let these guys into a restaurant with a dress code I’d have met then ). She’d realized they were a danger and activated her Bat-beacon, but they’d knocked it out of her hand before ushering her at gunpoint to a black sedan parked at the curb. So her beacon was laying in the parking lot, almost certainly a few miles away by now, and she was in the back seat of this car next to the man with the revolver and behind the driver and the biggest guy.

“This isn’t going to work, you know,” Trisha said quietly. “I know this was targeted - you wouldn’t have come at me during the day if you didn’t know who I was - and it’s not going to work. You’re all going to come to a bad ending.”

“Quiet,” the man with the gun said, jabbing it at her ribs. Jabbing it, but not making contact - the only time they’d actually touched her was when they’d knocked the beacon away. “Or we’ll shut you up.”

“You won’t,” she said. “You’re good at this, obviously, so you’re not going to panic. But you’re also not going to kill me, or hurt me any more than a few bruises, because you know who I am. But you’ve already made your biggest mistake. You can fix it by taking me to a very public lot and letting me out. At that point, I’ll only report you to the police… and I’ll let Helen know I’m safe.”

“Why would we let you out when you’re gonna report us?” The big man in front asked. “Seems like a bad bet.”

“Do you know how much money Helen really has? I’m pretty sure you don’t. I’m pretty sure you took me looking for a ransom, because you think you know how much money Helen has, but you don’t really understand it. Because the kind of money she has isn’t ‘pay the ransom and get my girlfriend back’ money. It’s ‘hire someone to hunt down the people who dared harm one hair on my girlfriend’s arm to the end of the Earth and make their lives the very idea of terror for the brief, brief time before they end’ money. Believe me when I tell you… you want to let me go, and have me talk her down from that.” If they let me go and I call my car, I can tell her I’m safe and not have her terrified for me. Not have her have to tear the city down for me. Not have her feel guilty for putting me in danger. It was worth a lie, so she told the lie confidently. “We’re not talking Eddie Nygma here, guys. We’re talking the Terminator. Trust me, you want to stop the car.” If they’re after money, that should do it.

“Deathstroke? Helen Wayne’ll hire Deathstroke?” The big guy sounded worried. Good. “Maybe we should…”

“Maybe,” the man with the gun said, “You should shut your mouth before I tell Two-Face you thought about double-crossing him. You know the rules. You work for Two-Face, you do the job, because nothing’s as bad as what happens if Two-Face thinks you slacked.”

Two-Face? Harvey… fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. “Ah. Well… do go on, then,” Trisha said. She knew her face had gone a new shade of pale. This isn’t ransom. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not ransom.

There was a thud from above them - something landing on the roof - and the man with the gun flicked off the safety, pointed it upward and fired. The sound made Trisha’s ears ring.

Helen. Did they hit her? Trisha shuddered at the thought.

Then the car flipped up end over end like someone’d set off a air-piston under it, and she almost hit the roof with her back when a black blur of motion smashed in one window and wrapped around her before it crashed out the other. There was the crack of a whip mingled with the crunch of broken plastic and shrieking metal, the whistle of wind through her hair, and then a thump of spent momentum as she thudded to a stop against something smooth padding, tough leather and a woman’s body.

“Drive,” purred a woman’s voice above her, and she felt the prickle of sharp points against the back of her neck. A big engine rumbled and door slid shut, leaving them in the cool red of LED lighting.

Truck. Semi? Big. Trisha tried to make sense of where she was. She was laying on a set of pads, claws… claws? Definitely claws. Against her neck. It was, apparently, a trailer, the rumble of the engine indicating the truck to which it was attached ran on gasoline or diesel. There were others… mostly larger than her. Men, she thought, though the darkness made seeing them difficult. The smallest of those along the walls of the trailer was a little smaller than Mr. Luthor’s frightening bodyguard.

Then there was the woman who had grabbed her, who was even now pressing those claws to her skin. Slender muscle and black leather.

Catwoman.

“Take me home,” Trisha said. “Or drop me off somewhere safe.”

There would be no bluffing, here. But she hoped there would be no need for it. Selina knew who she was.

“Happy to, darling,” The Catwoman purred, easing off her and gliding around to offer Trisha a clawed hand. “Still scratch free, I hope?”

“For the most part.” She was definitely a bit more bruised up than she’d been when she got into the car, and her neck felt strange from… probably when the car had flipped. She’d need a doctor to look at it, later. “They were working for Two-Face. For Dent.” Trisha scratched the back of her neck and winced… definitely a bruise, there, and a bad one.

“Oh, I heard. Apparently he’s got quite a little hate on for you, chickadee.” The front of the truck had a weirdly comfortable-looking set of chairs, and the Cat sat down in one and studied her own claws with unvoiced laughter dancing around the edge of her mouth. “Something about you moving in on his girl. You want a seat, a cold pack for that neck?”

“A seat would be good… thank you.” She would have expected thanking Selina Kyle to annoy her more, but… honestly, any day when you expected an unwilling appointment with Two-Face and things fell through was a day that was rapidly improving. Trisha tried moving her arms… her left shoulder complained, but her right was painless. “Ow. A few more bruises than I thought…”

“Sorry about that. Inconvenient thing, rescues.” Somehow, Selina didn’t seem to sound all that disappointed about the idea, but she did wave for one of her guards to help Trisha into the comfortably stuffed chair across from her.

Trisha fell into the chair and grunted as her right elbow hit the armrest. “Somehow, I expect I’m in better shape than I’d be if we’d reached our destination. Should… I contact Helen and let her know I’m safe?” She wasn’t going to reach into her purse without permission, right now. Among Selina’s people. “I hit my panic button before they grabbed me, but it fell.”

Selina hitched a leg over the arm of her chair and smirked. “Ought to take better care of that. Sloppy of you. You really can’t afford to be sloppy, Miss Baum. A lot of people are going to want to kill you if you keep this up. Or not kill you. You can never tell with Harvey.”

“I’m keeping this up,” Trisha said quietly, then brought her voice back to a normal volume. “Should I call Helen?”

“And ruin her fun?” The Cat tsked and shook her head, reaching up to lift her goggles up onto her forehead; her eyes were piercingly green and full of amusement. “I imagine she’s making a beautiful mess of the old town right now. You should really see the Bat when she’s on a roll - it’s better than perfect poetry. Better at night, of course, but you can’t have everything.”

So she’s going to hold this over us. “I’d really rather she know I was safe…” Trisha met the Catwoman’s eyes. “I think I might have left my sense of humor in Harvey’s car.”

“Pity. And here I was hoping we could have a little girl talk.” Selina bared her teeth in a very feline smile. “How’s the executive suite treating you? Enjoying living the high life?”

I guess we’re having a little girl talk. If I don’t humor her, this is going to get worse. Trisha tried not to look at Selina’s claws. Probably not that much worse. But worse enough to make this a worse day for Helen. “I’m a nonprofit executive.” If I could use my phone, I could set my car to coming to me. Can Helen track my phone without me activating it? Has my phone survived all this? She inhaled. With my love. Helen Wayne. “Which still, by profession, leaves me high life-adjacent.”

“Tsk, tsk. You think they give penthouses at the top of skyscrapers to worker bees?” Selina clicked her tongue against her teeth disapprovingly. “Let’s try to be honest with each other.”

“Helen gives a penthouse at the top of a skyscraper to her girlfriend,” Trisha said. “I couldn’t actually afford the rent on my salary. And I like it - love it - because it’s touched by her.” She managed a small smile. “And, I suppose, because the shower is amazing.”

This time, at least, Selina laughed. But something ugly flashed in those green eyes, too. “The perks have certainly improved since back in my day. I think the best I did out of that was ‘friendly’ seasonal opera tickets and a few knick-knacks.”

Careful, Trisha. But not so careful it looks like you’re being careful. “I think Helen was a very different person, then.”

“Not that different,” Selina snapped, a hint of real anger spilling into her voice. “Isn’t she ripping up the town? My girl doesn’t change that much, not underneath.”

Right. The night shift. I’m not sure if she wants Helen for Selina or the Bat for the Cat… or maybe the Bat for Selina and Helen for the Cat. “I’m not really sure how all of that works,” Trisha said. “She goes out when I’m asleep. She’s not home when I wake up. She needs to,” Trisha sighed. “And I love her enough I can’t hate it.”

“You...”

Whatever the Cat might have been about to say - and it was probably better she wasn’t going to find out, really - was drowned out by the sound of the brakes and the slide of the door as two of the guards opened up the side of the truck again. Selina glided up to her feet, padded over and wrapped one hand around Trisha’s wist, winking somewhat less than playfully and mouthing ‘time to get out’, then started tugging her toward the open door.

Trisha managed to grab her purse with her free hand as Selina dragged her toward the door - gate? What did you call the big entrance of a semi trailer? She only stumbled a little as they went, just as they were coming to the edge, and the Cat deftly swung down over the edge and mock-gallantly swept Trisha down to the street. Held onto her a moment or two longer than strictly necessary, too. “Right this way!” she shouted over the sound of the truck pulling out again, tugging Trisha toward a corner that seemed to open onto an empty lot full of abandoned construction gear. “You ever come down to the East End before, sweetie?”

“Through,” Trisha said. “And an opening ceremony for a shelter and food bank… I think a few blocks north? Somewhere a little more sunlight got through to.” How did Gotham manage to block out most of the sun in a vacant lot? “But I’ve never stopped and spent time.”

“It’s not really your kind of place.” There was a sneer in that voice, harsh and a little cruel, but her hand stayed almost gentle on Trisha’s wrist as she dragged her past the broken fencing and into the open lot. “It’s ours. Hers and mine.” Selina stopped near a tarp that looked newer than the others and pulled it loose, exposing black metal and glass and thick cables that ran down an open slit in the earth. She turned and fixed Trisha with a nasty smile, letting her go, and waved down at the ... spotlight?

“Light it up, sweetheart,” she said, hand at her hip.

Right. She’s a psychopath. I might have been safer with the lawyer. Trisha looked for the controls, then found a large unplugged plug next to a matching extension cord. Really? She dropped to one knee to put the plug in. “I am Trisha Baum,” she said as she plugged the cord in. “And where she is, I belong.”

The light flared up between them and into the sky, eclipsing the snarl on Selina’s lips, and without looking up Trisha knew what she’d see - the Bat’s symbol, etched across the sky, calling Gotham’s champion to them. The Catwoman’s way of inviting her lover (ex-lover) down to play. She’s utterly insane. I actually still want her safe enough to really hope she let Helen know she took me from Dent, but… she’s insane and I hate her and she’d probably kill me herself given long enough with me in her presence to think about it.

The roar of the Batwing’s engines cracked across the rooftops like thunder, growling down into a throaty whisper as it shifted into a vertical hover over the open lot, and then a shadow tore through the vertical shaft of light and slammed down into the hard gravel of the lot. Knelt there a moment in a pool of heavy fabric, framed between Trisha and the Catwoman, before she slowly rose to her feet.

The Bat. Helen. She did not speak, or cry out, or fling herself into her lover’s arms. It would not be welcome. And Selina was dangerous. She knows Selina.. Saved me? I’ll go with that.

“I presume,” the Bat’s voice rasped like something out of the pit, “that you’re expecting some sort of thank you, Cat.”

“Weeeell,” Selina purred, “I have been a very good kitty, haven’t I?”

The Bat snarled, a dissonant hiss of distortion and fury. “You’ve served your own ends. You always do.”

“Now that’s not fair. I help your new little kitty out of trouble with the Face, I even wrap her up and bring her out for you, and you’re going to be mad at me?” The Cat’s little mew of pouting displeasure was like knives up Trisha’s spine. “I didn’t have to be so nice, you know.”

This time, the Bat didn’t speak - only stared into gray shadows beyond the light - and that was a kind of admission. Selina laughed, and Trisha could see one gauntleted hand clench with controlled rage.

“Now, now. Let’s not get friendly in front your stray. We wouldn’t want her getting the wrong idea, would we? We’ll just say you owe me one,” the Cat gloated. “It won’t be sooo bad, I promise.”

I really hate her. And she… really doesn’t know Helen.

“Go.” The Bat’s voice scraped like metal on stone, the Cat just purred. Then the light popped in a blinding flash, shredding Trisha’s vision, and when she could see anything at all again she was alone with...

With the Bat.

“I’m going to take you up, Miss Baum,” that voice growled softly, a gauntleted hand carefully checking her elbow as the cape lapped around her knees. “Can you manage?”

I don’t like her calling me that. Trisha nodded, reaching to grip the Bat’s arm. I’m safe now, Helen. “I’m ready.”

The Bat wrapped a belt around her waist, tying them together, and then lifted some sort of compressed air gun into the air and fired it. The line arched like a fish-cast, starting to slacken just at the upper edge, and then jerked upward and went taut. A thumb shifted against the grip, the Bat’s arm tightening around her, and then they were hurtling upward through the air like skydiving in reverse, the air whipping through Trisha’s hair and chilling her face as the shape of the Batwing rushed out of the gray afternoon sky at them and swallowed them whole.

They dangled a moment, the floor closing up under them, and then they dropped a easy few feet to a gantry - her feet never even touched the metal grating - and the Bat’s embrace swallowed her entirely for a breathless moment or two, the cloth and smooth hardness of armor pressed against her hair and chest plating against her cheek as she was held fast.

“If you’re hurt,” the Bat growled in her ear, and she could feel the promise of rage in every word.

She pressed her face into that armor, her body into Helen’s embrace, and she breathed. Forced herself to breathe. “Two-Face’s men bruised my hand when they knocked my beacon away. When Selina pulled me out of their car, I caught my neck and shoulder. But I’m not hurt.” She brought a hand up to touch Helen’s helmet… the Bat’s face - and looked up at her. “I’m safe, Helen.”

There might have been a little shudder under that armor, behind those flat white eyes, but if there was she couldn’t feel it. She did feel the growl under her ear, against her skin. “Most of his men are in prison tonight. I’ll find him. He’ll be back inside. I won’t allow anything else. I won’t allow any of them to touch you.”

She talks about the Bat and Helen like different people. She wants them to be different people. But here is the Bat, in all that armor and that gravelly voice, swearing revenge for a few bruises on Helen’s girlfriend’s arm. What do I do to her? “I’ll be home and safe, tonight. He can’t touch me.”

“My Trisha,” the Bat snarled, and it was love and protection and something else that made Trisha’s knees weak even if she didn’t have a word for it. Something that she thought, fleetingly, Selina might have been able to name better than she could.

But it was hers anyway.

“Take me home, please, beloved,” Trisha murmured against the hard carbon of her lover’s helmet. “Take me home.”

She was swept off her feet, deposited with infinite care into the copilot’s seat - it looked like the copilot’s seat - of the Batwing, and Helen directed her on the proper operation of the complex quick-release harness. Then they were off, the plane screaming through the sky over Gotham, Trisha’s hand tensing on the armrest of her seat before relaxing again. Helen is flying. She did tense again, though, when the plane dipped down for a sudden dive toward a cliff face, a waterfall barely wider than the vehicle’s wingspan shimmering blindingly in the afternoon sun. She raised a hand to shield her eyes - then the Batwing was through the waterfall, and landing vertically on its pad.

She barely had time to activate the release for her harness before Helen swept her up again and carried her in both arms down the aft ramp of the plane. The way a husband carries his bride, though I suppose my slacks are less likely to trip her up than a wedding dress. When her lover set her gently on the floor of the Cave, Alfred was there, waiting for her, a mug of cocoa on a tray, and she smiled to him.

“She brought me home, Alfred.”

“She did indeed, Mistress Trisha.” Alfred secured her hands around the mug and then set out inspecting her injuries with the briskly competent care of an ER doctor, gauging her bruises and the turn of her neck carefully. “You seem to have had a very exciting night.”

Trisha looked at Helen again, wincing a little as Alfred prodded her bruises before taking a sip of her chocolate. “One out of five would not do it again.” But she blushed as she held her gaze on Helen’s mask, and knew her lover was watching her in return.

“So I see. I think you had better call her into work, ma’am, and expect her to spend the day here. With your company, preferably.”

“Harvey...” the Bat growled.

“I believe young Master Timothy and his companions can handle that, Mistress Helen. Whereas they are quite incapable of doing what you are required for here,” Alfred retorted, primly but with an edge to it, and Trisha had the impression that Helen might actually have been hunching under the Bat’s armor.

“I… work.” Trisha suddenly turned white. “Katie! I should tell her I’m all right.” She reached for her purse, blinked, then darted forward to kiss the cheek of Helen’s helmet, which turned out to be a terrible idea because teeth were not as hard as carbon plating. “Upstairs. I should go upstairs to do that. No bars down here.”

“Alfred,” Helen said, and Alfred was at Trisha’s side and taking her arm a breath later. “This way, Mistress Trisha,” he said in his kindness, most reassuring voice. “We’ll take you up to Mistress Helen’s gallery and you can call anyone you need to. Perhaps also drink some water and sit quietly for a little while, hmmm?”

“Yes. Yes, I should do that.” Trisha stumbled a bit as they went. “Walking works this way, right?”

 


 

Helen’s exes need more Zatanna Zataras and less Harvey Dents. Trisha rolled over in Helen’s arms, squirming in closer. Her skin was itchy - sweat, tears, and topical pain medications all mixed together over the past few hours in a cocktail of post-calamity coping that left her back and shoulder numb to everything but itching and the rest of her hyper-aware.

Harvey Dent. Once she’d finished her call with Katie, cried for an hour, remembered how to talk again, held Helen through her own moment of incoherence she’d had to coach her lover into before helping her back out of, cried again herself, kissed Helen into a nap, and gone for a snack and a conversation with Alfred and Timothy, she’d gotten most of the story. A good man, a noble man, a man who had Helen’s affection and admiration. A man who could play by day the role the Bat played by night, who could make sure that the Bat’s judgement became true justice. The White Knight of Gotham, complete with everything but the horse.

But it’d been Timothy - careful, meticulous Tim, who was always so exact about everything and almost dispassionately welcoming - who’d broken down and told her the hardest thing, not quite looking at her, his finger steepled under his chin. “I think - I can’t prove it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not pretty sure - that she was in love with him. It’s obvious they were close, but... You get into the files about Two-Face’s crimes and the patterns get a little too obvious to pretend that Harvey didn’t feel that way about her. But then you look at the way she handles it every time he shows up and....”

A pause. A faint, rueful smile.

She was in love with Harvey Dent. District Attorney Harvey Dent. Harvey Dent, the husband of Gilda Dent, who would have to have been a friend because family is everything in Gotham. “That… Selina said he hates me. And she was burning up when she found me. That’s why, isn’t it?” She’s Helen Wayne. She puts everything in. If she doesn’t still love him, she’s still connected to him as deeply. “She…” She trailed off. Whether there had been an affair did not, honestly, matter - not with Harvey who he was now.

“Probably? Why Selina Kyle says anything is mostly beyond me,” Tim had admitted. “But yes. Helen was... furious, when she realized you’d been taken by Two-Face’s people. Not very interested in what was practical or wasn’t. We don’t usually have the Batwing roaming around in the middle of the day if we can help it.”

“That must have gotten a little on the news,” Trisha murmured, and rubbed a few escaping tears from her eye. Then she paused. “He doesn’t… know, does he? About Helen.”

“Absolutely not,” Alfred said. Tim, for his part, hadn’t said a word.

So she’d finished her snack and returned to bed, and napped a little against Helen, and woken when Helen woke. Then she’d rolled over in Helen’s arms to gaze at her, in that brief moment between awakening and opening her eyes.

“Helen.”

Maybe it was the contact, or her voice, but Helen’s eyes stayed closed and only her lover’s hands tightening against Trisha’s skin gave away her awareness - her sudden, protective need to reassure herself that Trisha was there, present, with her. Safe. Trisha pressed in closer as Helen tightened her grip, pressing her lips to Helen’s jaw. “I’m here, Helen.”

“Trisha.” Helen’s voice was low, raspy as if with disuse, but she shifted her arms around Trisha to hold her tighter without hesitation. “You slept?”

“I slept,” she whispered. “And had a little tea with Alfred and Timothy. You’re beautiful asleep, you know.”

“Dreams?” The edge of Helen’s thumb traced her cheek, as if looking for the trace of tears.

Trisha turned her head to kiss Helen’s hand, whispering, “No dreams. None I could remember, anyway.” She touched Helen’s face gently.

“Good.” A little of the tension eased out of Helen’s shoulders, and her voice relaxed a few degrees. “Any new aches and pains? Did Alfred take a second look at you?”

“And a third,” Trisha said. “But nothing new. The cream is helping.” She moved closer to brush her lips against Helen’s, and for a little while they didn’t speak - her lover held her like she was the only solid thing in the word, and kissed her like she might break at the slightest touch.

“I…” Trisha took Helen’s hand and kissed it softly. How does one ask this woman to talk about this thing? How do I offer to listen to her about Harvey Dent? “What about you, beloved? Dreams?”

A small, painful curve of a smile. “Always. Not good ones. But you’re here. That’s one less nightmare.”

Trisha slipped in closer. I want to take those dreams away. Not always. They’re part of her. But I want her to remember what peaceful sleep is. “Selina… Catwoman… she said that Harvey Dent has a particular dislike for me. And… during snacks, I kind of interrogated Timothy.” She pressed a kiss to Helen’s wrist. “You two were close. I didn’t know how close.”

The way Helen’s face went blank and hard for a long moment, stripped of emotion, made Trisha’s chest ache to see. But she didn’t pull away, either, and after a little silence she took a breath and looked away. “I didn’t know that Timothy knew that,” she whispered. “I suppose I should have guessed Selina would.”

“Timothy’s maybe the smartest person I’ve ever met,” Trisha whispered against Helen’s jaw. “And he learned to watch people from you. I’ve just taken to assuming he knows everything.” Don’t run, love.

“Not everything.”

They waited out another few breaths of silence, the pain in Helen’s chest like a pressure in the air. Finally, reluctantly, “His wife was a friend. The day that he... that he went into the hospital, I went with him. I was coming out when she was going in. She thanked me for... for being there.”

Trisha rolled onto her side, her hand on Helen’s heart. Looked into her lover’s eyes. She’s so guilty about this. Why? She said nothing.

“We never... said anything. Out loud. But we... I...” The blue in Helen’s eyes was like dark, fractured ice leaking something deeper than blood. “If he’d said the word, or I had...”

Trisha’s fingers brushed Helen’s cheek, her thumb beside Helen’s eye. You hurt so much for this. “I understand.” Because no one in this bed knows just how drawn to someone you shouldn’t be love can make you. “But then…”

“I went to see the argument because I wanted to see him. I couldn’t... I didn’t protect him. And just because we never... because it never happened, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a betrayal,” Helen whispered.

You loved him… love him, or his memory… and you didn’t pursue it. My love, I wish I knew how to give you permission to forgive yourself. “I love you,” Trisha whispered. “And you are the best woman I have ever known.”

“You should get out more,” Helen whispered, but kissed her - lingeringly, this time, and not so gentle. “Thank you.”

Trisha pressed into that kiss eagerly, then tilted her head back to meet Helen’s eyes once more. “I’m happiest here.”

“Careful saying that,” Helen murmured, trailing fingertips along her jaw. “I might not let you leave.”

“Who wants to leave?”

 


 

Of course, there wasn’t an evening or a night idyllic enough to keep the EVP of Operations for the Wayne Foundation out of the city the day after an event as public as her own kidnapping. This was Gotham - if you couldn’t bounce back from a little thing like that, nobody took you seriously. Helen, perversely, had been the hardest hurdle to get over - Trisha suspected that if it’d been up to her lover, she might actually never have left Wayne Manor again - but she had a job to do and she meant to do it even if her hands insisted on shaking a little.

That was what her car had a self-driving mode for, among other things.

The office staff applauded her on her way through the office, which was… bizarre, and Trisha wasn’t sure what to do with it. Should she wave back? Thank them? Give a speech? None of those things felt… like anything other than a red carpet walk, so she just smiled her most sincere smile and said hello as if she wasn’t receiving a standing ovation before retreating into her office.

Katie was waiting by her desk, meticulously rearranging her inbox, and when the door opened her assistant turned around and leaned against the edge of the desk looking at her - wide-eyed and not quite vibrating - until the door shut. Then Katie closed the distance between them and practically threw her arms around Trisha, hugging her tightly, and whispered roughly in her ear “Glad to see I don’t have to start checking the bottom of the river for you, boss.”

“I’m safe, Katie,” Trisha said quietly into her assistant’s ear, arms going around Katie to hug her quite tightly. The younger woman - one of very few women in her life that was descriptive of - trembled a little, and Trisha tightened her grip. “I’m okay.”

“You goddamn better be,” Katie whispered, squeezing her tight enough to rumple both their jackets. “I had to talk to the cops about you. I don’t want that to happen again.”

“I’ll do my best.” Which might not be enough, and I’m sorry Katie. She kissed Katie’s forehead. “I’m here now.”

“Good,” Katie whispered, and then leaned up the fraction of an inch she needed to press her lips lightly against Trisha’s for one, two, three seconds before she drew back and gave Trisha a gentle shake.

She was… not really ready for that. She’d known it was going to happen, at some point, for weeks, but… she was not ready for it. But Trisha didn’t break the kiss and didn’t pull back and her hand was resting on the back of Katie’s neck before it was done, and she spoke quietly. “Katie.” It was an expression of empathy, a reassurance, a statement of affection, and not at all an admonishment.

“We have work to do,” Katie told her, smiling faintly, “if you’ll give me a moment to fix my lipstick?”

“Of course.” Trisha blinked, then grinned. Then she kissed Katie once more, briefly, before stepping back. Maybe I’m getting a little more devil-may-care. Or maybe more aware of my mortality. Or maybe it’s just because she kissed me. “What’s first on the agenda?” She paused. “I have to be home, tonight. After yesterday… we can talk about the rest soon?”

“Of course, ma’am. We’ll have you out the door early,” Katie promised, squeezing Trisha’s hand and flashing a delighted little smile. “Now, your first appointment is with Gotham Works....”

 


 

Some crime rates dropped during the day - murders, some robberies, mugging in some neighborhoods but not others - but others didn’t. There were days (today, for instance) when Helen Wayne felt the steady tick-tock of those crimes in her city under her skin like a barbed clockwork that ground in tension and bled her of patience. If Cassie hadn’t taken an hour in the morning in the dojo with her for centering and training, it would have been worse - as it was, it was tolerable. Mostly.

He’s still out there . The bruises in her hands ached when she clenched them. Harvey is still out there, and I have to sit behind a desk and sign papers.

The door opened, and her new secretary - young, blonde, smart, good at her job, not really someone Helen knew yet because Sophia was very good at her job - poked her head in. “Ms. Wayne…” she said, her voice a mix of awe and terror. Not the kind of awe and terror Helen, even in an obvious mood, generated. “You… you have a visitor, Ms. Wayne. I think you’ll want me to cancel your four o’clock for this.”

Then the door opened wider, and the girl’s eyes widened as she looked at the woman who had pulled it open. Six feet of perfect proportions and toned muscle, blue eyes sharp enough to cut glass, but radiating warmth. She was in a suit, today, dark blue blazer and slacks over a white blouse and heeled boots that added yet another two inches to her height. Her black hair was perfect, the way it was every moment from getting out of bed to going to sleep to standing over the fallen hordes of Apokalips, laid low at her feet.

Diana of Themyscira smiled. “She’ll see me,” she said, stepping through the door and closing it behind her.

“Step into my office,” Helen said with just a hint of irony. “I don’t think I have suitable refreshments, but I could try to make do with a little ouzo.”

“Something that I love about you, Helen,” Diana said as she moved to one of the chairs across the desk. “You know what ouzo is. Officially, I’m here to discuss the use of DataEagle at a reception for the Kasnian and Turkish heads of state at the Themysciran embassy. You agreed and we settled on a marketing arrangement.”

“I imagine I can invent something appropriate without bothering you about the details.” Helen walked over to the desk and leaned against it - there was no point trying to loom over a woman like Diana, but she didn’t feel inclined to sit down either. “You didn’t come her to talk to me about a reception, or to have a social drink.”

“No, though seeing you off-duty is always a delight.” Diana said that as if she meant it - a sentiment few in the League shared. “Clark told me about what happened yesterday. I’m here to check on you.”

“You mean that Clark is worried I’m going to go off crazier than usual because a couple of low-lives tried to take a shot at Trisha Baum?” Helen asked, the edge of her mouth turning up in one of her less pleasant smiles as she handed Diana her drink.

“Clark is worried that you’re going to do something unhealthy to yourself because one of your more dangerous villains abducted Trisha Baum, and another, who also happens to be an ex, abducted her from the first kidnapper,” Diana said. “You have been known to channel your more intense emotions into either self-flagellation or the jaws of street toughs.”

She left off that one time with Kalibek, but they both knew she’d left it off.

Helen breathed out a slow, careful sigh and folded her arms. “Clark is a worrier by nature, which is not one of his more attractive qualities. And while we’re talking about my tendency to channel my more intense emotions into people’s jaws, are you worried I’m going to do something ill-advised as well?”

“No. I might have been before I came in, but I’m not now,” Diana said, leaning back before sipping her drink. “I’ll need to return this with a bottle from home,” she murmured before continuing. “I expect you’re going to hold it in and not talk to anyone except perhaps Ms. Baum - who, by the by, has done wonders for your complexion. Have you been outside during the day more? - about it. I expect that you, like anyone, will need a friend in a hard time, but, like most leaders and especially most good leaders, will try not to act on that need.” She laughed a little to herself. “I just realized the real reason things between us would never have worked out. I’m amazed it’s taken me this long. Anyway… I’m here either to be that friend, or to suggest you find someone.”

“You mean, besides the fact that you’d never fit in here in Gotham and I wouldn’t be at home in a Paradise?” Helen deflected, letting the real question sit in her chest for a minute or two while she thought it over. Talking was more or less the last thing in the world she wanted to do right now, much less to someone, but she could do worse than Diana. And had.

“Because you’re too like my mother, and that would have found its way to the edge of my mind at the least opportune moments,” Diana said, passing Helen her glass. “Top me off?”

In spite of herself, Helen found herself chuckling quietly while she obliged and brought the glass back. “Having met your mother, I think I’ll choose to take that as a compliment. This time. I always thought it would be a bad idea for any of us. Too much at stake to compromise it with clouded judgement.”

“That’s always the way, with soldiers at war, but sometimes you have to find the peace where you can.” Diana set her glass on the desk. “I’m not sure whether Mother will be disappointed or relieved to hear that you are taken. You’ve become a bit of a legend, back home.”

“Do you remember when they threw Clark out but practically gave me an engraved invitation?” Helen permitted herself another chuckle. “That was a good memory.”

Diana grinned. “The look on his face. Between that press pass and that cape, he can go wherever he wants. He is not used to being denied entry. All men should be, though, sometimes. My favorite moment, though, was Circe. ‘What’s a Green Lantern?’”

“Hal was insufferable for a week, but it was worth every moment.” Resting her fingertips on the desk where she’d laid Trisha more than once - to ground herself, and perhaps something more - Helen finally allowed herself to meet Diana’s eyes steadily. “Have you ever thought about getting married, Diana?”

“Constantly,” Diana said. “For both reasons of state and personal reasons. I don’t expect you have made a habit of it, though.”

“Twice before. It ended badly both times.” Before. Now that she’d said the word, it sat there heavy in her mouth. Not that she hadn’t known it was coming, but it was a different thing to say it. “Why haven’t you?”

Diana offered her a small smile. She’d heard the word, but did not comment on it. Not yet, anyway. “I’ve met four people who I thought might be… suitable. Who moved my thoughts on marriage from idle fantasy and known future to something concrete and real. There have been reasons, each time, why it did not or could not work.” She sipped her drink. “Still, I keep that idle dream.”

“How do you keep what happened before from crushing it out of you?” Her breath rasped a little in her chest, but she kept her back straight and her body still, her eyes on Diana’s.

“I love,” Diana said quietly. “And I let myself love. All the different ways I have people to love. My mother, our people, the world, you and Clark. Hal and his smugness and Shyara and the fact that she’s hiding something from us. Steve, wherever he is. Minerva and the hope she might come back. Barry, and the dozen other Barrys I see when he runs. I love,” she said again. “And that helps me remember that I can love, and it can be worth the hurt.”

“I don’t know to do this. I know how to be afraid, how to work my way out of any deathtrap there is, but this... this I don’t know how to do.” The words came reluctantly, but she said them. That was something.

Diana leaned forward, and rested her hands on the edge of the desk. Trisha’s hands had held there, often, when Helen pressed her forward against the desk to have her. “I watched your interview, you know. The one with the reporter who isn’t Lois. I saw how you looked at her, and heard how you spoke of her. I think it might be more accurate to say that you don’t know how not to not do it.”

“Either. Both.” Helen smothered a wild half-laugh in her chest and looked Diana in the eyes, closer than she usually allowed herself to be. “I don’t know how to do it, and I don’t know how not to. It’s maddening.”

“It sounds maddening,” Diana said. “Perhaps Clark should have come to me sooner. Are you ready for the advice part?”

“No. But you’d better give it to me anyway. I do know how you hate to wait,” Helen said, a little dryness finally slipping back over her and spilling into her voice.

Diana grinned that innocently charming grin. “You know me too well, Helen,” she said, before letting seriousness come back. “You’re a person of organization and structure, but also of intense sentiment and attachment to people and places and times. That is both where you are comfortable and who she fell in love with. Use those things. Focus on the traditions and on the things you and she are already connected to.”

“Do they give you classes in how to sound like that on Themyscira? ‘Delphi 101?’” But it was a point, even so... “Thank you, Diana. For coming, and your concern. You can expect an invitation to both weddings, if it turns out that way.”

“I do love a wedding,” Diana said, with almost childlike delight. “Let me know how it goes.” She started to her feet. “Shall I tell Clark that you are as far from the deep end as you ever get?”

“You’ll tell him the truth, as you always do.” Helen shifted onto her own feet and leaned up enough to kiss Diana’s cheek. “But I imagine he’ll feel a little better after you do.”

“If not, I’ll talk to Lois, and that will settle that.” She kissed Helen’s cheek in return. “Take care, Helen.”

“And you, princess.”

 


 

This, Trisha thought for the fourth time since she’d set the time on the clock and started down the stairs, is insane. The third time since telling Alfred that she would be greeting Helen when she got back. The second time since finishing making the coffee, sinceshe couldn’t possibly match the tea Helen would expect on her arrival.

The first since the Computer gave the chime that indicated that the Batwing was minutes away.

Yet there she was, in the Cave. Two mugs of coffee in her hands, the smaller one of the house’s generic guest mugs, the larger Helen’s favorite - a gift from Richard, long ago. Waiting for a jet, an actual jet, with hover technology of some sort, to arrive, and deposit her lover in full-body armor capable of withstanding heavy antipersonnel fire for minutes in front of her.

To surprise her with coffee, when she would expect tea.

But to surprise her with herself.

She glanced back at the Computer. She could swear that she felt the rumble of Helen’s approach in the cave floor. Thirty-two seconds, the Computer said.

This was insane.

The Batwing knifed into the cave, the subsonic echo of its thrusters vibrating the coffee in Trisha’s mugs, and then settled into its cradle; she couldn’t see it properly from her seat, but she knew that was what it was just from the feeling. She thought about walking up the stone-cut stairs to it, decided not to, stayed where she was. There was a whisper in the air, wind over cloth, and then the Bat’s voice behind her. “Unexpected. The sweater and wool skirt were a practical but flattering choice.”

She’s behind me. How did she do that? She thinks I look pretty… Trisha was blushing too much to jump out of her skin, and turned to face the voice and offer one of the mugs. “Welcome home.” It’s a completely different voice. I’m never going to get used to that...

The Bat reached up and dragged the cloth of her cowl back, then rested both hands against the helmet underneath - it hissed and shifted, segmenting, and she lifted it free. Tucked it under one arm and took the coffee with her other hand. Took a sip.

“Thank you. Your coffee is excellent.” Even without the digital voice filters, the armored face and the flat white eyes, there was something different in the Bat’s voice - a rumble that belonged down here in the dark, in the heart of the earth, in the roots of the city. The eyes were different, too - flatter, harder, full of shadows deep enough to drown in. It was hard to look at her, in some ways - frightening, almost - but impossible to look away.

“Alfred has started supper,” Trisha said quietly. “But he says it will be a while.” She stood still a moment before rising to her toes to kiss the Bat’s cheek.”If there’s anything I can do…”

“I have some data I need to analyze. It isn’t going to be pretty.” The helmet ended up tucked in the curve of Trisha’s arm somehow, while she took its place in the Bat’s. “Four victim homicide.”

There was a momentary temptation to try the helmet on, but something in Trisha’s guts reacted so negatively to that idea that it was immediately shoved aside without time to analyze it. She tucked into the Bat’s arm. “If I’m going to be visiting down here, I can’t exactly expect you to put on a Girlfriend Screen when I come in.”

“No. That’s true. This place isn’t conducive to keeping many of the desirable illusions in life,” the Bat retorted, leaning down and brushing cool coffee-flavored lips against Trisha’s lightly before she let the smaller woman go. “Leave that by the computer for now.”

Trisha set the helmet down on the… table? Desk? Whatever it was, the Computer was integrated into it, and it wasn’t entirely clear to her where the surface ended and the device began. As she did, the Bat made her way to a large, flat table which made a low humming sound as it heated up. While the Bat crossed the space quickly, Trisha had to go around the racks of archaic armor to reach it. She knows this place enough to move through it so easily. Maybe better than she knows the Manor. She stepped in beside the Bat at the table.

Apparently, what had been warming up was a holographic projector. It was showing an office with an entry hall, now, not too dissimilar to Trisha’s own office at the Foundation building if Trisha’s office at the Foundation building had been far, far smaller. Two men in security uniforms - Trisha had to double-take; they resembled the uniforms of the GCPD’s foot patrols - were dead against the walls of the room, one with a bullet hole in the chest, the other with a mangled leg, blood leaking from the belly, and a chunk of drywall blasted out of the wall beside him. Inside the main office, another man was dead. He was dressed exactly as well as the man who worked in that office would be - off-the-shelf but well-made and well-altered suit in an attractive black - and slumped in the chair behind the desk. He’d been shot in the head - while Trisha did not know much about guns, she did not imagine that the weapon that had blasted the drywall and bodies of the security guards would have been able to produce such a small, fine hole.

Murder. The idea hung there, over Trisha. She touched the Bat’s shoulder, and, for once, the armor was a comfort.

“Two shooters?” She guessed.

“Likely.” The Bat rotated the image of the room, and she could see the fourth body - a neatly pressed suit ragged with fine punctures and a head which was mostly missing, the body sprawled as if he’d been trying to crawl out from under the desk when he’d been shot. “Close range, shotgun.” The observation was cool and clinical, but with a harsh winter anger buried under it. “The shooter let him scramble free before they shot him. Note the way the chair is off-center from the splatter pattern on the walls. Three weapons in total. No shell casings.”

Presence. Trisha covered her mouth to hide a gasp. “Wouldn’t they have to clean those up? The casings, I mean…” It was easier to focus on that detail.

“Not if they used a break-action shotgun and revolvers. Old-fashioned weapons, but they don’t eject casings.” The room rotated again, concealing the second dead man again, and the segment of blasted drywall reassembled and then disassembled itself. “The shotgun would have had to be reloaded. The second guard was shot by both shooters. Unprofessional. They trusted each other enough to kill together but not each other’s skills.”

“Maybe one was a protege to the other?” Trisha suggested. Murder Robin. That’s an idea that’s going to stick. “But probably not… if you’re teaching someone, you wait to see if they did it right before you do it for them. Bad mentor? No… that’s silly.” She watched the shards of drywall flying free. I wonder if she takes readings of where all the particles end up in the room to assemble the vectors of them, or the computer considers that less important than the fact that the drywall gets hit and from where.

“Not silly. There are more than a few. But no. This is adrenaline. They knew there would be security and they were afraid, so they emptied the first revolver and the shotgun into the guards. The second handgun - smaller caliber, probably a backup - was used by the first shooter so there wouldn’t be a need to reload before Gabretti stood up. The one with the shotgun took their time.” The Bat turned the holo again, back to the front door, and inside the room the bodies wound their way back into standing and sitting positions, bullet holes vanishing, the blurry shapes of two figures outside the door. “The door had a security system and excellent locks. It wasn’t damaged. Conclusion: at least one of the shooters was known to the guards or otherwise expected and was not considered a threat. Tarlow - the man under the desk - would not have had time to crawl under there before Gabretti could stand up. Conclusion: he was under the desk when the door was opened.”

Gabretti. I know that name, but in Gotham a lot of last names are everywhere. Isn’t there a Wolfgang Gabretti married to a ex-Arkham? “So he knew they were coming? Maybe he opened the door for them, or arranged to have the door opened.” She looked to the Bat. Surely, she’d considered all this. Which party was Wolfgang Gabretti at?

“More likely, given the wear patterns on his trousers, he was making a habit of it.” The Bat’s mouth twitched with a grim hint of humor. “Which might suggest motive, but Gabretti’s wife would have been known to the guards. They’d be unlikely to let her in without warning him first.”

Making a… oh. “Gabretti’s fly was down, wasn’t it?” Trisha returned her eyes to the holo. “It’s not fair leaving that out.”

“His fly was up, but that was probably a matter of timing.” The Bat turned the holo one more time, then flicked a hand. “Computer, access traffic cameras for the block. Search for all delivery and service vehicles, two occupants, between 1800 and 2100 yesterday.”

Searching... Appeared in mid-air. The Bat sipped her coffee, then reached out to rest gauntleted fingertips against Trisha’s back. “Strong stomach and good nerves.”

Trisha trembled a little at her lover’s touch. “Summers at farms,” she said quietly. “They wanted us to work. By the time I was a teenager, I’d helped birth a few calves and done first aid on a horse who’d done some serious damage to her leg. This is different, it’s people, and it’s death, but… it already happened, and you’re helping, and visually there’s not much really new. I’m not sure I wouldn’t freeze if I saw it happen.”

“You took a chair to a penguin, as I remember. You aren’t the freezing kind.” A half-dozen small screens full of moving vehicles appeared in the air in lieu of the text, and those dark blue eyes narrowed. “Enlarge three and seven. Run at ten times speed.” Movement in blue light, but Trisha’s eyes were for the hard planes of her lover’s face. “Stop. Enlarge three. Reset to 1915 and run at half speed. Good. Now... stop. Enhance on the reflection on the butcher’s shop.”

A Combright service van pulled up in front of the building, and a woman in service coveralls climbed out of the driver’s side. But on the other side, between the vehicle and the butcher shop, caught in the streetlight’s reflection on the butcher shop window...

A woman in a broad hat that hid her face from the traffic camera, carrying a big duffel over one shoulder.

“Who is that?” Trisha leaned forward, touching her fingers to the table. “Is the hat on purpose?”

She’s beautiful when she’s doing this. How is that possible?

“Almost certainly. A bit dramatic - almost femme fatale. Computer, trace vehicle through the traffic net back to point of departure. Attempt facial reconstruction of driver and passenger.”

Processing....

“I was going to ask if a mask would be a better idea, but then to someone on the ground she’d be a woman in a mask.” She paused. “Was it Wolfgang Gabretti, or one of his relatives?”

“His oldest nephew. Wolfgang’s son went to summer camps with the boy, I believe. And as a rule, masks are a poor way to avoid attention.”

Thus speaketh the authority on the matter. “I don’t think I’ve met any of the other Gabrettis,” Trisha said. “Wolfgang’s wife was at… I think one of the spring events. An auction? She brought him as her plus-one, and he didn’t seem entirely comfortable being a plus-one.”

“A family trait, apparently. Franco Gabretti’s wife is a model, and rather more successful than her husband’s business. Which reduces the potential for financial motivations.”

Facial reconstruction failed. Point of departure located. An image of the van pulling out of a storage rental lot on a street in what was apparently the Central Heights appeared. The Bat’s lips compressed slightly. “Cross reference new units rented in the last month, preference cash payments.”

Digital records not found.

“Access all records of credit payments.”

Records not found.

“That… doesn’t make sense,” Trisha said. “There’s… they’d be out of business. They’d have been out of business months ago. Except this is Gotham and somebody always has something they don’t want to keep in their houses and the banks run background checks for safe deposit boxes because too many of them have exploded. The records were edited. I mean… it can’t even be a fake business because they’d have to turn away so many customers they’d be suspicious.”

“Very likely. Even more likely, the credit line is dialing out to a third party shell when they get a particularly insistent customer. But now we know the business isn’t legitimate. Computer, access property records and cross-reference owners with known aliases for shadow business networks in Gotham, then cross-reference results and known associates of results with women of the size and build of the driver.”

Trisha leaned against her lover again, tucking into her arm. “You said this looked amateurish. That probably means someone new, doesn’t it? The goal has to have been murder, from the way Gabretti was shot.”

“The shot to Gabretti’s forehead was very exact. And unprofessional is not quite the same thing as inexperienced.” The Bat tipped her head considering, and then her lips twitched in another narrow half-smile as the computer began spitting out results ranked by probability. “Slaine Riley. Daughter of Tobias Riley, underboss of the Riley Family. Good physical match, knows her guns but not a professional hitter, and has a weakness for a pretty woman with a sad story. Computer, compile results and forward anonymously to MCU. Suggest they check Mrs. Gabretti’s movements against the file and show Slaine’s mugshot to some of Mrs. Gabretti’s friends.”

So this is a hired hit. That’s what it looked like before, but… yeah. “Who would the other shooter have been, beloved? Mrs. Gabretti?”

“Likely. The shotgun was used very inexpertly, and with a certain sadism. If Slaine Riley was involved, it would be without her father’s permission - he’s grooming her for bigger things than street violence. Of course, there are other reasons than money to do violence. Who benefits when the husband of a woman and the husband’s lover against whom that woman has a grudge are murdered in her presence?”

“The woman. Any lover or potential lover she might have. That assumes suspicion doesn’t fall on her, of course… heirs, if it does.” Trisha tilted her head. “I’m missing something.” I’m probably missing a lot.

The Bat’s eyes looked down into hers, blue iron and midnight. “The wrong sort of friend. But yes, that’s an accurate assessment. Someone went to a great deal of trouble to allow Mrs. Gabretti - if that is her wearing the hat - to murder her husband’s lover and not get caught doing so. And it is very interesting in that context that the husband happened to catch the bullet so neatly between the eyes before any second thoughts might creep in.”

“Mrs. Gabretti wanted the lover out of the way, for revenge and anger and… maybe her marriage, in a ridiculously twisted way? But Slaine Riley wanted the husband out of the way. Wanted to be sure the husband was out of the way, and wasn’t sure Mrs. Gabretti would go through with pulling the trigger. There’s really only one thing Mr. Gabretti could have been in the way of, for her.” Trisha blinked. “Or am I wrong and there is a heterosexual explanation for this?”

“Not a very plausible one.” The Bat shut the holo down with a touch. “If the police haven’t made progress by tomorrow night, I’ll follow up. You’ve assisted your first murder investigation.”

“You’d have gotten it quicker without my help,” Trisha said, then lifted up to kiss her lover’s lips. “But it was… oddly satisfying. Also horrifying. But oddly satisfying.”

“Careful. You might get a taste for it,” her lover retorted, kissing her rather more intently than she’d expected. “This equipment is surplus to requirements. Go up and tell Alfred that dinner will have to wait. Something else needs attending to.”

Another crime? “What would that be?”

The Bat’s eyes bored into her down to her bones. “You.”

Oh. Trisha’s hand went up to the Bat’s cheek, caressing there briefly. “Shall I meet you here, or in the bedroom?” And which answer would I prefer?

A flicker of surprise - just a flash, but there - and she felt a sudden hot clench in her belly as she realized that her lover hadn’t thought of having her here. Not before now.

That she might begin thinking of it, from now on.

“Upstairs.” Ivory teeth flashed in a smile that wouldn’t have belonged anywhere near Wayne Enterprises. “The gallery. Lock the door.”

“Yes, beloved.” Trisha turned away, hustling toward the stairs. “I’ll be there, waiting.” Eagerly.

“So I see,” Alfred said when Trisha told him to hold dinner, and he did so with an expression that held so little innuendo that the lack of innuendo itself became innuendo. Then she’d rushed up the stairs - if she’d left any doubt in the butler’s mind why dinner was being held, that doubt had to have been dispelled by her speed - and darted into the gallery before turning to lock the door.

She tugged her sweater off, next, and laid it over the chair at the desk, then unfastened the top two buttons of her blouse before settling into a recline on the sofa, taking a deep breath and composing her face so as to appear to have been there all along. She had just long enough to start to feel like a pin-up model when the curio case behind the piano slid open and exposed an open elevator; her lover stepped out into the gallery breathtakingly nude, carrying a satchel and a loop of line in one hand, sweeping the room with one flick of her eyes before settling on Trisha and ... stalking her was really the only word for the way her lover crossed the room to her.

She was frozen, transfixed by the sight, her eyes moving over her lover’s body slowly. She could barely breathe. Finally, as her lover approached almost within reach, she simply extended both hands, palms up. Offering her wrists. Offering herself.

“My Trisha.” That growl left her shuddering again. Swift hands bound her wrists, fixed her to the couch, and then her lover was on top of her and kissing her with a fierce possessive fury that bruised her lips and crushed most of the breath from her.

She pulled at her bonds, her legs wrapping around her lover’s body, her lips parting easily for the kiss, her eyes closing. Yes, beloved. She tightened her legs to lift herself into the kiss, and her lover’s strength lifted and held her for a little shuddering eternity before the heat of her lover’s lips trailed down over her jaw and throat, lingered in a bite against her pulse while deft fingers flicked open one button of her blouse after another. Opened her bra. Teased the suddenly sensitive skin of her breasts with the same certain mastery they seemed to bring to everything.

Her back arched as much as it could, thrusting her breasts out, offering them to her lover. The cry of her lover’s name became a pleasure-choked gasp.

The weight on top of her shifted enough for her lover to look into her eyes, one hand dipping off the side of the couch, and the edge of that smile left her gasping. “I’ve been working on some things for you.”

“Yes, beloved…” Trisha’s hands were wrapped around the cord that bound them, and she tried to follow her lover’s hand with her eyes. Anything. Anything my love offers me.

Those dark eyes flashed with approval, and her lover lifted a cupped hand between them, flicking the fingers to expose a smooth black material that looked almost slick in its smoothness. Then she reached down and cupped Trisha’s left breast, pressing a smooth curve of something flexible against the swollen ache of Trisha’s nipple where it tightened until Trisha gasped; did the same to the other breast. Lifted her hand to Trisha’s jaw and tipped Trisha’s head down deliberately.

They were black, the things her lover had attached to her nipples, with a veneer of either carbon or metamaterial - that slick black that the Bat’s gear was. Simple in shape, small, barely pinching at all in spite of holding in place, applying pressure evenly in all directions. They looked like any one of the devices in the Cave might, if one were to remove the bat motif…

Thought was interrupted as the devices activated. Squeezing more firmly, tightening around her nipples, heating up to just above the temperature of her skin, making the already-sensitive tips even moreso. Then they started to vibrate.

“Oh god lover lover yes…” Trisha’s head would have thrashed if not for Helen’s hand on her chin. Her legs did kick out, her back arching, and she cried out. Her world went to white light, the only distinct thing in her view Helen’s eyes, before she acclimated just enough to the sensation to stop painfully tugging at her bonds. “Lover!”

“Not quite optimal,” her lover growled in her ear, shifting their hips so she could get at Trisha’s panties. Snap them loose in a quick, savage movement and shift the smooth muscle of her thigh between Trisha’s legs to grind on the throbbing heat of her pussy. The fingers on her chin shifted to her jaw, tipped her head back, held her helpless. “But acceptable.”

What would optimal be like? I’m coming apart… Trisha gave a high cry into the air above them, hips rising to grind herself against her lover’s thigh. She felt every inch of her lover against her, heat and hard muscle and soft curves and need, so much need, need she could not help but answer with a desperate hunger of her own.

“You’re mine,” her lover hissed against her ear, hands not-quite-bruising against Trisha’s hips and ass as they urged her into grinding herself more frantically into the pleasure that was devouring her. “I won’t let anyone hurt you. Nothing is going to take you from me. Nothing.

“Nothing ever,” Trisha gasped into her lover’s neck. “Nothing can take me. I’m yours. I’m yours, beloved.” Her hips ached from the uncomfortable position and the heat of her grinding and it was delicious. It was perfect. “Belong to you…”

The sound her lover made was deeper than a growl, something that vibrated in Trisha’s bones, and another kiss seared her mouth before her lover forced herself back enough to slide a rough hand between Trisha’s legs and drive two graceful fingers full-depth into the shuddering core of Trisha’s heat.

“I love you!” Trisha’s body arched again, her sex tightening hard around her lover’s hand. This was the mask, the helmet, the lensed eyes, and that was the part of Helen that was in her. That was taking her. She could wear that mask while nude.

Trisha screamed her love for Helen, her love for the Bat, her love for the woman who was both, all three at once, and she dug her heels into her lover’s back.

Everything was dark fire.

 


 

Thank the Presence for Saturdays. Trisha was still at home, in bed. Stretching made her nipples ache, moving reminded her of the bruises on her thighs and wrists, standing of the fact that she’d strained her hip and calf. Helen had work to do at the office, but Trisha’s work could be done on the phone and in email.

Which was good, because she was in no condition whatever for a personal appearance at the office.

And, besides, she really needed some advice. From… someone. Or maybe just a listening ear.

[BF] BatAtHome : Hi to the late morning crowd.
[BF] Stadiumgirl: Quiet today. The Star-girl from the Lantern crowd said there was someone else from our ‘family’ on here. Damn, that’s a weird name for it.

[BF] BatAtHome : She’s pretty all right. And… yeah, I’m new. Ish. I guess new. Mind a private?
[BF] Stadiumgirl: I don’t mind. I’m not on here much - work keeps me busy - but everyone needs a quiet Saturday morning once in a while.

* to Stadiumgirl : Hey. :) So… you’re from the family? Like… the people who wear bats? I don’t think we’ve met.
* [BF] Stadiumgirl: It seems to have more in common with Cosa Nostra that any kind of family I know, to be honest, but my girl wears a bat when she’s out doing the work I can’t approve of and can’t do without. Based on what SG said, you’re in the same boat?

*to Stadiumgirl : Something like that. Can I… ask you something?

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: Free country, last I checked.

*to Stadiumgirl : Does yours… seem like a different person when they’re in costume? Put on a different personality? Things like that?

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: She’s all business, sure. Like a soldier putting on a uniform. And sometimes she seems stronger when she’s wearing it. LIke she can do more - take more. And... well... I haven’t seen it, but the stories people tell about here seem macabre sometimes. Like hearing about a vampiress or something.

*to Stadiumgirl : So… little bit embarrassing, since we just met, but… small club, you know? Have you ever… been with her… and felt like it was that her you were with?

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: She proposed geared up. Does that count? Weird day.

*to Stadiumgirl : Congratulations. :) That sounds like a weird day. I… kinda feel like I’m dating, and sleeping with, both the woman without the mask and the woman with. And I think I’m okay with that. Just wish she was safer more often.
* [BF] Stadiumgirl: Safe doesn’t come with the territory for their line of work, even if I wish they could accept help more often. So what’s bothering you about the double dating life? Clearly not the sex.

*to Stadiumgirl : It’s not the sex, though… maybe it’s a bit the sex. How much I like it. How different it is. And… *blush* I brought her coffee. In her hideout. I love her. I love both of her. And the one with the mask is not my type.

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: Uh-huh.

*to Stadiumgirl : Totally not my type! … I’d really like to tell myself.

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: It isn’t very convincing even in print. But I imagine that you’re not so wild about what liking the ‘different’ so much is telling you about yourself or your life?

*to Stadiumgirl : Yeah… I think that’s so. I… apparently am into dangerous darkness in a bat-themed mask. I stood around a computer with her and worked through a case and was more exhilarated than horrified. What does that say?
* [BF] Stadiumgirl: Ever considered a career in law enforcement? -.-

*to Stadiumgirl : I’m pretty sure I’d be bad at that. I’m good at what I do. Maybe PI is an alternate career I can pursue if what I’m doing now falls through, though…

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: I wade through a lot of horror in my day job, same as she does in her night shift. Getting the best ten minutes of the day with her, every day, that’s worth it for me. I bet it’s worth it for you, too. Even when she brings the scary stuff to bed.
*to Stadiumgirl : It’s all worth it. Every bit. I… have you gotten married?

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: Best decision of my life, even with the personal mess it caused. You two aren’t there yet?

*to Stadiumgirl : We’re not. I’m… pretty sure it’s going to. Though now that you’ve told me about your engagement, I’m less sure who’s going to be proposing.

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: I’m feeling that you’ve got a preference about that. Hopefully she has the same one.

*to Stadiumgirl : I’ll say yes regardless.

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: If they do receptions for this sort of crowd, I’ll be glad to hoist a glass at yours. But you’re going to have to find a way to get comfortable with sharing your life with that damn symbol, which I can’t say I’ve done happily.

*to Stadiumgirl : I’m getting there. I love her. I know I won’t be her first love, but I know she loves me. Enough it scares her.

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: Funny how that scares them but not the jumping out of flying blimps or off towering buildings.

*to Stadiumgirl : I think that making a habit of punching gods or whatever they do when they’re with their club does things to a person’s risk maintenance.

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: Tell me about it. I wound up running from a gorgon the other day. An actual gorgon. Craziness.

To Stadiumgirl : I’ve seen some shit, but not that level of some shit.

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: When the Greek mythology figures start turning up, it’s a Bad Thing. Take my word for it and stay indoors when it happens. Though you might get to meet Wonder Woman, and that’s certainly a memorable experience.

*to Stadiumgirl : I’ve already met someone who I’d been dreaming about meeting since I was a teenager. That was… a very unique day.

* [BF] Stadiumgirl: In a good way?

*to Stadiumgirl : I couldn’t possibly comment.

 


 

By the time Monday arrived, Trisha was, thankfully, mostly bruise-free. She tried to be thankful for that, at least, though she missed those aches. Those reminders of her lover’s handiwork on her skin, on her soul. But it did make work easier.

First thing, she’d asked Katie to stick around after work. Then they’d started… meetings with various VIPs, a conversation with the quarterback of the Gotham Knights and his agent (they were on their first winning season in nearly a decade, which made the players suddenly valuable guests at events), then a lunch with members of the Trustees to bring them back aboard on cancelling the Vernal Formal, which Mrs. Kane had decided was a personal affront to her entire family. The afternoon was consumed with a conference call with Commissioner Sawyer, the head of the Gotham Youth Orchestra, and four different religious organizations to raise money for the Police Widows’ Fund.

“It’s a little late for happy hour, boss, but I think we can still make do,” Katie said from the drink cupboard, pouring a neat glass for each of them before she walked over to sit on the desk and set Trisha’s drink in front of her. “Everybody’s glad to see you back in fighting trim after the weekend away.”

“That sounds good,” Trisha said, reaching for her glass. “Would you like to talk upstairs? This isn’t exactly work-related.”

“Upstairs?” Katie laughed softly and got up from the desk, taking a sip of her drink and grinning saucily. “People might talk, boss.”

Trisha grinned. “They’re going to eventually, regardless. You already sleep in my apartment occasionally.” She rose to her feet, sipping her own drink. “We’ll talk in my home office.”

“Well, if that’s all...” Katie smiled and finished her glass, leaving it on the sideboard, then led the way out of the office to Trisha’s private elevator. It wasn’t a long walk, but her assistant seemed to make a point of making the view last as long as possible.

Trisha enjoyed the view as they walked, taking her drink with her. The trip up was brief, but by the time it was done she was resting her hand against Katie’s. They walked to the home office, and she took her place behind that desk. “There. This is much better.”

“As long as you’re comfortable,” Katie said, settling herself on Trisha’s desk as if they hadn’t moved. “Feeling more at home?”

“I am,” Trisha said. “This feels homey, and having you here makes it… warmer.” She smiled a little. “But I do feel like there’s something we need to talk about.”

Katie crossed her legs and leaned back on her hands, smiling. “If you need it warmer, boss, I can always be sure to adjust the heat for you. What’s on your mind?”

Trisha blushed. “You already do that very well, as well,” she murmured. Her hand moved to the desk, to rest atop Katie’s. “I’m really bad at innuendo. I know when it’s happening but I’m not really good at using it to communicate what I want to say. I got together with Helen by sending her an email out-and-out declaring my love. So… we kissed. More than once. You and I.”

“Indisputably true.” Katie shifted her weight off her hands so she could turn her palm and rest it against Trisha’s. “Is this the ‘so you should look at a transfer’ conversation, the ‘so let’s get down to it’ conversation, the ‘let’s never speak of it again’ conversation or the ‘I liked it, but I’m not ready to admit to that so let’s give my scruples some times to settle’ conversation? Just so I know where we’re going, you understand.”

“It’s… a bit number two and a bit number four but not really either of them?” Trisha’s fingers rested atop Katie’s. “It’s the ‘I’ve pretty thoroughly admitted it and I’m sure as Hell not giving you up because I would literally go crazy doing this without you, and I’ve also apparently extra admitted it because I’ve talked to Helen about it but I’m not quite emotionally ready for much more than a bit of kissing’ talk. Which… to be honest, from your perspective, I’d find more than a little infuriating.”

“This should bother me because?” Katie asked, arching one eyebrow with a hint of amusement.

“Because it must sound absurdly wishy-washy?” Trisha laughed a little. “I like you, Katie. A lot. We work well together and we’ve got a million sorts of chemistry, and given that Helen’s entirely all right with me pursuing that chemistry, I really ought to be ready to do so. But I’m not, yet.”

“Ms. Baum... you want me to call you Trisha, or Ms. Baum all right with you?” Katie smiled down at her and stroked her fingers against Trisha’s lightly.

“I think we can be on a first-name basis,” Trisha said, grinning up at Katie.

“Sure, if you want. Personally, I think Ms. Baum just rolls of the tongue,” Katie winked. “Look, Trisha, you’re my boss. You want me to wait on you to get ready to do the other kind of business, I’ll wait. That’s the gig, right? Just as long as we’re clear on three points.”

“Go ahead,” Trisha said, her thumb tracing the edge of Katie’s finger. It’s… actually nice that things are simple.

“One, I plan to stick with this job until I land a better one. I don’t plan to trade on what we do after hours for that, but if things get tricky, I expect a glowing recommendation for my next gig. Clear?”

“You’ve earned that already,” Trisha said. “You’re good at what you do and I wouldn’t ever tell anyone different.”

“No, you’re honest and a real sweetheart,” Katie agreed, reaching down and stroking Trisha’s cheek fondly with her free hand. “Two, I’m not in this for a ring, no matter how things go with you and Ms. Wayne. I am strictly your side racket. Also clear?”

“Clear and entirely agreed.” Trisha brought her own hand up to caress Katie’s wrist. That’s basically perfect.

Katie’s smile was comfortably pleased. “Last and not least, if we’re not going to be going on dates - and trust me, I know we can’t go anywhere without a camera - I do expect that you’re going to do your share of after-hours ‘work.’ Not to mention remembering me around my birthday and the holidays.”

Trisha blinked. That’s as brazen as it’s possible to be while still being both charming and a little romantic. “I would never forget your birthday, Katie. And trust me…” She rose to her feet, her hand coming up to Katie’s jaw. “I fully expect this to be mutually satisfying.”

“Glad to hear it. But of course, you’ve got a reputation for being a kind and generous soul. That’s why you have me to chase people off your schedule.” Katie turned her head and kissed Trisha’s palm gently, then tipped her chin up to invite a kiss. “I love working for you, boss.”

Trisha smiled at the feeling of Katie’s lips on her hand. That’s… nice. Really nice. She brushed her lips against her assistant’s gently, hand slipping down to her neck. “I’m glad we had this talk.”

“Makes two of us,” Katie purred into her mouth, draping her arms loosely around Trisha’s waist. “Now, how about you forget about your worries and enjoy some well-deserved unwinding?”

With more than a little help from her assistant, Trisha managed to lift Katie off the desk and against the wall behind it before she pressed another kiss to her mouth. This one was not brief - Katie opened up for her deliciously, winding herself around Trisha while they kissed, and Trisha’s hand moved to rest on her breast. It was… intoxicating, to have this girl, like this. Intoxicating and entirely new, and she took what Katie offered. By the time the kiss broke, she was dizzy and laughing quietly. Yum.

“Mmm,” Katie husked, trailing a languid series of kisses down over Trisha’s jaw and squeezing gently. “Ms. Wayne is a lucky woman, boss.”

Trisha’s fingers traced over Katie’s breast, and her head arched back. “I’m feeling like the lucky one right now.”

The warmth of Katie’s laughter spilled over her throat. “You sure you want to stick to over-the-clothes action tonight, boss? Because your hands are getting pretty friendly - not that I mind, as long as you don’t mind me needing the guest room a little early....”

“I’m sure I’m going to stick to over-the-clothes action,” Trisha murmured, lips brushing Katie’s earlobe. “I’m also sure I don’t want to. And I’ll be thinking about you in the guest room the whole way home.”

“Just so you know,” Katie husked back, arching herself attractively against the wall, “I can get pretty loud when I’m by myself.”

Trisha grinned, tangling her fingers in Katie’s hair to pull her into another kiss. “I might want to see that, one day. Maybe a video call.”

“Mmmm. Maybe, if you’re having a particularly lonely night. But I’d expect flowers in the morning,” Katie husked against her lips.

“You’d get them,” Trisha growled, then shoved Katie back against the wall to press teeth lightly to her neck. “You’d get them.”

Chapter Text

Two months of work, straight through, had proven to be enough to keep Trisha and Katie from any more than a few stolen kisses between the lulling of tasks and the outbreak of exhaustion, and any longer times than that which Trisha managed to get free were spent at home or mentally preparing herself for the next day’s madness. The Gotham social season, the build to the major Christmas cash outflows (thankfully, she’d managed not to be asked by a reporter if she would be serving at a soup kitchen - the actual answers for that were ‘I’m going to be at home with Helen and nothing in the world would keep me away from that’ and ‘Besides, it would be a security nightmare and my presence would make the work get done less efficiently and less well and there would be less soup served to less people,’ but those answers were unacceptable and the pat ‘Some people are called to serve soup; I’m called to make sure that there’s soup to serve’ would sound immensely egocentric), and the need to close the office down for the Christmas break all stacked together and barely left time to breathe. If one threw in the fact that Mr. Freeze went on a Thanksgiving-themed ramage of late autumn destruction, the fact that neither Trisha nor Helen nor Katie had any gas left in the tank was entirely predictable.

At least, Richard had told her, Jervis Tetch didn’t get into the Pilgrim hats again.

She realized as she was packing things away in the office that she didn’t actually remember which event she’d been to the weekend before Thanksgiving. Maybe it had involved the baseball player? No, Kate Kane had been at the one with the baseball player, and she was out of town the weekend before Thanksgiving.

She’d never misplaced a social gathering before.

“Katie,” Trisha called out. “I’d like to make sure that the records on the Ice Paradise Ball are at the front of the cabinet when we get back. Could you get those, or are you already in Sicily?”

She’d made absolutely certain that Katie would get to take this trip, one she and her parents had wanted to take since she was a child. Maneuvering things with Epsilon Flights to get them the first-class non-stop the Saturday before Christmas had turned out to be surprisingly easy when she mentioned her own name.

It made a good Christmas present.

Katie whirled in with a smile and a laugh, already dressed in her flattering winter coat; she snuck in a quick kiss on Trisha’s cheek on her way to check the cabinet. “I’ll take care of it in the next ten minutes - which is as long as you have me - as long as you don’t have something higher priority on your plate you’d rather I be doing.”

In that coat, I have something. “No, that’ll be all,” Trisha said, then, after glancing to make sure there was no one near the door, she pressed a kiss to Katie’s cheek. “And enjoy Italy. Send me pics.”

“Pics or pics , boss?” Katie murmured, winking, before she slipped out of arm’s reach and started for her own office again.

“Both!” Trisha called after her, then settled in behind her own desk. It took a half-hour after Katie left for her to have everything arranged just so , her work desktop cleared of sensitive data and shut off, that data moved to her laptop, and to be out the door.

The office lights shut off behind her on their own, and she pulled out her phone to text Alfred and Helen.

Coming home.

“Going my way, stranger?” Helen said from the shadows of one of the banks of windows near the elevator, a little smile on her lips when she saw Trisha jump. “I’m sorry. Temptation got the better of me.”

“I’m really glad I love you,” Trisha said as she rushed over. “Otherwise I might be peeved with you for startling me.” She rose to her toes for a kiss.

“Mysteriously, I’ve gotten the sense you don’t mind me startling you,” Helen murmured, tucking her arms as tightly around Trisha as their winter coats allowed and kissing her more frankly than was their usual habit lately. They lingered that way a little while, pressed close against the cold radiating from the window, until Helen drew back and cupped Trisha’s face to study her as if seeing her again for the first time in too long.

“Do you know,” she murmured, “I think this non-profit executive look is really starting to agree with you.”

I get to spend two weeks off work. We get to spend two weeks off work. Apart from the night shift, I get to spend two weeks with her. Trisha drew in a breath full of Helen’s perfume. “Thank you. That means I won’t have to try that new Sackcloth Chic look next year.”

Helen buried a chuckle against her hair before she eased her grip and settled for stroking Trisha’s back. “You’d make even that look good, but I think it’s worth giving a pass. Did I tell you that Alfred has been collecting your fashion reviews all season? I think he may be making a scrapbook.”

Trisha blushed. “I didn’t know he was doing that.” Part of the family… “I’ve barely managed to read any of them myself. Maybe I’ll borrow his stash.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about you roaming freely through his scrapbooks. I’m fairly certain he’s stashed away material Richard and I would mount a breaking-and-entering to get hold of.” Helen kissed her again, light as a breath, then smiled down at her with just a hint of impish delight in her eyes. “I was wondering how you might feel about skipping the commute home.”

A night of just us, at the penthouse. “I think I’d like that a lot, Helen,” Trisha murmured. “Shall I call us the elevator?”

“After you, Ms. Baum. It is your apartment, after all,” Helen teased gently, turning her loose.

Trisha grinned at Helen before releasing her as well and heading to the elevator. It was, of course, waiting for them - after a few minutes’ inactivity, the private elevator returned to whatever floor she was on - so they were in the apartment a minute later.

In the apartment, with Trisha stepping out of her shoes on the way upstairs. “I’ve missed you, Helen. I’ve seen you nearly every day and I’ve still missed you.”

“To be fair,” Helen said, dipping down to collect Trisha’s shoes as she followed, “what of me you’ve seen has been of the dressed-to-the-nines and shaking hands for society variety. The last winter I was this busy, Gotham wasn’t legally part of the United States.”

“Let’s not do another earthquake,” Trisha said, opening the door into the second floor. “Or another winter social season this busy.” Once they were through the door, she threw herself into Helen’s arms again. “I missed you.”

Helen just laughed and swept her off her feet, carrying her barefoot and in her coat as if she’d found her out in the snow somehow. From her reserved lover, it was a strangely carefree and comfortable sound. “I suppose it doesn’t help my case if I point out that our social calendar is firmly your department?”

“Mm,” Trisha murmured into Helen’s neck. “But I always want to do my best to make sure the things important to you happen.” Because I’m yours.

“You’re here, now,” Helen whispered softly, shouldering open Trisha’s bedroom door and carrying her over the threshold. “So I think you rate a pass for the year on that.”

Trisha moaned into Helen’s ear, hand coming up to touch her cheek. “You’re here. God, Helen, you’re here.”

The kiss was sharp and fierce, lingering on Trisha’s mouth for a little eternity, and when Helen handled her down onto the bed it was almost like falling out of the sky - a helpless rush of trembling adrenaline. Helen smiled down at her, eyes hungry, and deliberately peeled the gloves from her own hands without breaking eye contact. Dropped them to the floor carelessly. Do you remember? her eyes said.

Her gloves on the floor. Finding them, and telling her, so she’d visit again to get them. Trisha trembled, unbuttoning her blouse as she watched Helen shed coat and jacket just as recklessly.

“I came up ahead of time. A little surprise.” Helen clapped her hands, and the bedframe lit suddenly with small twinkling Christmas lights. “Seasonal.”

“It’s gorgeous!” Trisha giggled, shrugging her blouse off before rolling onto her belly to watch Helen. “And adorable. What would your friends upstairs say if they knew you could be adorably in love?”

“They would probably be extremely confused,” Helen murmured, eyes sweeping Trisha’s body hungrily as she dropped her blouse and started on the belt of her slacks. “Maybe I should gag you to keep you from singing on me.”

“I wouldn’t argue,” Trisha said. “... That didn’t come out right.” She could not look away as Helen undressed. “You’re so fucking beautiful,” she murmured.

Helen’s smile turned tender, and she slid up onto the bed in her panties and nothing else but that smooth, scarred skin. She didn’t speak, but the slow stroke of her fingertips over Trisha’s jaw, throat and collarbone were eloquent enough. The compliment pleased her because Trisha said it. Because of how Trisha said it, all breath-caught awe.

Trisha’s hands moved to Helen’s shoulders, to her sides, tracing those scars, wondering again at the history of each but too breathless with Helen’s nearness to ask. She lifted herself against Helen, offering her skin to Helen’s kisses, to Helen’s touches. “Helen,” she gasped.

“Trisha,” Helen whispered, her lips tracing the hollow of Trisha’s throat and her weight settling on top of Trisha to pin her to the bed. “Are you happy?”

“You are here,” Trisha whispered, arching her head back and offering her throat. “Everything is joy…”

“Happy,” Helen husked, fingers sliding slowly down Trisha’s belly to stroke her where she was already wet and throbbing with anticipation, “and not just ecstatic?”

“Happy,” Trisha groaned, her hips rising. “Happy in my work… happy at home…” She started to grind against that hand. “Happy to be yours…” Helen’s fingers slid deep into her, opening her and filling her, and the smooth heel of Helen’s hand settled just so against her clit where her hips shoved up. It hadn’t taken Helen long to learn every secret of her pussy, to memorize every spot that made her whimper and every stroke that made her beg, and after months of practice and experimentation it hardly took any time at all for Helen’s hand against her cunt to turn her need up enough that she could think of nothing else, until she pleaded to be allowed to please Helen. To make her Helen’s cute young slut.

She shamelessly rolled her hips against Helen’s hand, making begging noises, until Helen’s other hand tightened against her jaw and Helen’s tongue played with the stud in her ear. The contact shifted, teasing and stroking inside her, working up her up higher - making her spasm, making her wet enough to feel it on her thighs, making her clit throb like a second heartbeat with her need. She cried out, high, barely able to breathe, eyes locked on Helen’s, lost in Helen’s.

“More?” The low, wicked whisper of Helen’s voice was as much of a tease as that touch, making her quiver with heat. “Not enough for you, pretty girl?”

“More… Helen… please more…” she begged, her body shaking. “Do me… do your pretty girl… fuck your pretty young thing…”

“You want it hard?” Her lips were open, parted, and Helen kissed her - licked into her mouth - while she slid her fingers free and stroked Trisha’s thighs teasingly. “You want me to shove my strap-on up inside you and fuck you, Trisha?”

“I need it hard,” Trisha moaned around Helen’s tongue. “I need you in me, Helen… I need to feel you all the way in me… please fuck your girl, Helen…” Her nails dug into Helen’s ass as she urgently pressed herself to her lover’s hand, trying to get those fingers back.

Helen growled against her mouth, shoving her flat against the bed and pressing their bodies together roughly for a long, breathless shudder. “Legs wide and hips up, pretty girl.” Then she slid off Trisha and the bed, punctuating the separation with a light slap between Trisha’s thighs. “Show me how bad you want it.”

She could still feel that kiss, that contact, burned into her skin as Helen got ready, and she parted her legs wide, feet planting to the mattress to lift her hips high, letting them roll as if humping the air. “Need it, Helen… my Lady… I need it so badly. I need you in me, Helen, all the way in me, all the way to the bottom of me…”

“Oh yes, my darling,” Helen purred, prowling back onto the bed, and Trisha could feel the smooth hardness of her lady’s cock sliding against her slick thigh as Helen knelt between her open legs and took it in hand to slap it against the throbbing, open slickness of her cunt. “You’re going to take all of it for me, just like you should. You look so good like this. So ready for me.”

“I’m ready for you, my Lady. I’m ready,” Trisha gasped into the air, and, when Helen slapped her with the toy again, she bucked upward. “Always ready, but especially now.”

Helen wrapped both strong hands around her hips and pushed it into her - she was so slick, so eager already that Helen’s cock went halfway into her before she tightened up around it in instinctive reaction. But Helen didn’t let that little resistance stop her - she shifted her hands and ground deliberately deeper, no hesitation or withdrawl, forcing Trisha’s pussy to remember how to open and submit to that deep penetration again. It stretched her, nearly as much as it did those first few times, and it hurt so very exquisitely. She gripped Helen’s shoulders to pull her lover down against her. “My Lady…”

When the tip of Helen’s cock ground against her cervix and their hips bumped together, she threw her head back, screamed wordlessly. Helen was in her, Helen who she loved and worshipped and obeyed was in her to the hilt, in her as deep as Helen could go, as deep as she could take her, and the world was alight with joy that shone brighter and in more colors than all the Christmas lights in Gotham. She parted her legs further, lifted against the toy. “Thank you… thank you… please fuck me…”

Helen settled over her, hands on either side of her shoulders, and those dark blue eyes burned into hers as Helen slid back and then drove home in her again. Out, then in. Slow, deliberate, ruthlessly hard - the air went out of her every time, her shoulders shoving down against the bed and her hips up in reaction, and she felt it like something searing into her soul. Every time Helen’s cock shoved into her Helen’s pupils opened and contracted again - pleasure. Her Lady’s pleasure. And rewarding her for giving it, the hot crushing excitement of having her cunt filled to the hilt and her throbbing clit ground against the ridge of Helen’s harness.

It was bliss. It was pure surrender and bliss.

So each time Helen went into her, she lifted, angling herself to give Helen’s cock deeper purchase, to let her thrusts go longer and stronger, and she rolled back as Helen pulled out. Matched her Lady’s rhythm. Did not let her eyes leave Helen’s, devoured her Lady’s pleasure with her own gaze.

The world was this woman, and Trisha was pleasing her. Was, in fact, taking her fucking so very well. She could tell by the little hitches in Helen’s breathing, the way Helen’s hands tightened up against her ass and encouraged her to keep up their synchronized pounding, the shallow grunt of effort when Helen drove into her. She was a good fuck for Helen, and that was just delightful. She wanted to be a good fuck for Helen, for Helen to think about her pretty young thing, for Helen to look forward at either of her jobs to getting home and finding her girl in her bed and pinning her down and fucking her. As Helen drove into her again, pleasure spiked through her body, pleasure given to her by Helen, which was the very best pleasure. Everything of her was focused down in her cunt, the place Helen was fucking, the place that pleased Helen so much.

When she came, she babbled endearments and dirty pleas incoherently, but her hips did not slow. Helen’s pretty young thing was for Helen to fuck, to please herself with, and she was good at it. Helen’s flat, raw groans of excitement and rougher, quicker strokes told her so.

It was easier to open herself and just meet Helen’s thrusts once she’d slicked herself with an orgasm. Her cunt took Helen’s cock more smoothly, let it bottom out more deeply. She became more perfect for her lover, for her Lady, and she giggled with sex-high delight at that idea even as she rose up into another thrust that drove the air - and the giggle - out of her.

Helen tensed over her, the flex of Helen’s hips faster and more urgent, and she could see Helen was going to come - knew it before Helen did, before the moment of hesitation that might prolong the wait, and let her lids flutter with the liquid rush of her own excitement. The little break in eye contact, the suggestion that she couldn’t control herself - it set Helen off every time, got her to bottom out and grind and come buried deep in Trisha.

The moment of Helen’s orgasm was better than her own, far, far better than any orgasm she herself had ever had, and she lifted herself into it, nails digging into Helen’s shoulders, body and soul on fire as she watched her Lady shake, felt her Lady’s hips make those jerking thrusts, let herself be crushed under the weight of Helen’s climax and body. And she gasped out her need into Helen’s ear, pleading for all of it, for Helen to spend herself into Trisha’s sex-bruised body.

Helen hissed slowly as she settled, hips resting a moment against Trisha’s, but the little shudders of Trisha around her were already exciting her again - Trisha could feel it in the way Helen’s hands tightened. They rolled like one body, Helen’s grip on her guiding her hips, until Trisha was on top of her Lady and she could feel Helen’s cock bottom out in her again as she settled against it. And then she was riding her lover’s cock, in slow, deep thrusts that shook her to her core, arching her back to show herself off for the woman she straddled.

Briefly, the image of doing this with Katie flickered through her mind, the hungry look in her eyes as her nails caressed Katie’s cheek, setting a hard pace as she rode a toy strapped to her assistant, but this was not that. What Helen did to her… she was astride Helen because Helen wanted her there and she was powerless to do anything else. She rode at this pace because it was the pace Helen set. Wherever she was, wherever Helen was, she belonged to Helen.

And everything was service, and service made her shake to her core.

“Yours,” she gasped as she rode a little faster, to press the toy into Helen at a better angle.

“Good girl,” Helen husked, hands stroking Trisha with the languid roughness that told her her pleasure was no longer a consideration. When Helen cupped her breasts and teased her nipples, it was to watch Trisha’s back arch a little higher; when those strong hands squeezed her ass until she felt it in her ring, it was to watch Trisha’s eyes roll in her head. This position, this rhythm, the show she was making of herself as Helen’s pretty slut impaling herself on Helen’s thick cock - all of it was to please Helen better, to make the grind of the toy inside Helen more exciting.

My Lady… my Helen… Trisha felt that hand on her, flexing her just so, and she let that sensation do to her what it always did, bring that lovely haze of surrender over her thoughts. She leaned forward, hands on Helen’s shoulders now, gazing down into her lover’s eyes. If she were not obviously Helen’s creature, if Helen weren’t so strong, it might look to an outside observer as if she was pinning her lover to the bed, but she was pinned by Helen’s need. She drove her hips down onto Helen’s cock. “Yours, Helen, yours, Helen…”

“Mine.” Helen’s groan was low in her throat, the sound of slow-building heat, and she could feel her Lady’s hips flexing under hers as they ground together just so. Just how Helen liked it, how Helen wanted it. Helen’s hands squeezed against her ass again, stretching her just so , and the world blazed white. She felt her eyes dilate, her body go loose, her lips part in a needy whimper as Helen played with her ass. All she could see were ice-blue eyes full of pleasure and desire and love and the blinding white of submission, she knew Helen wanted that, wanted her mind melted down above her, and she gave Helen what Helen wanted.

Perfect surrender brought orgasm.

 


 

The next morning was a flurry of dressing and getting ready, with casual clothes that were still nicer than anything that had been in Trisha’s closet a year before. Finally, after Helen checked her makeup, she was ready, and on her way to call the elevator before Helen stopped her.

And took her down, into the Bunker. The Bunker was, in many ways, the Cave in miniature - a supercomputer and a forensics lab dominated it, and two Batmobiles and a bike sat in the garage. But they bypassed the Batmobiles as well, and went down a side passage where they found… another Batmobile.

Except not a Batmobile at all.

It had the basic lines - the bubble cockpit, the tailfins, the Bat-emblem. But it was on subway tracks instead of pavement, its wheels train wheels. The strangest thing about it, though, was the engine.

Instead of anything at all recognizable as something that belonged on Earth, this not-Batmobile had a huge rocket engine built into its back.

“That makes no sense,” Trisha murmured as Helen put her in the passenger seat, but a moment later, possible or not, they were off, rocketing through Gotham’s subway tunnels at a frankly absurd speed. The Bat-rocket? Bat-subway? sent signals to switch points before they arrived to make the turns it needed, and it took less than ten minutes for them to reach the Cave.

All in all, Trisha preferred the Batwing.

Then they headed upstairs, into the library, which they found adorned in restrained Christmas decor and with a tidy Christmas tree decked to the nines with ornaments and angels in one corner, and tins of Christmas cookies and treats on seemingly every available surface. It seemed impossible that it had appeared in just a few days, but it took the dreary room and gave it an unmistakable joy, and Trisha smiled at the sight.

“Alfred has been busy this year,” Helen said, seemingly unphased. “He must have drafted Tim and Cassie to help him.”

“I adore him,” Trisha said, half-skipping over to look at the tree. “I love the tiny glass icicles… or are those crystal?”

“Crystal. Superman gave them to us five years ago - he had them grown,” Helen said, as if it were a perfectly ordinary thing to say.

My girlfriend gets gifts from Superman. How strange is my world? She pressed a kiss to Helen’s cheek. “What did you get him?”

“Unbreakable baby rattle. Well, as close to unbreakable as I could manage. It mostly survived teething, at least.”

Trisha blinked. Baby rattle? What would Superman need a…

She froze. For a brief moment, nothing seemed real.

Then she lifted herself up to kiss Helen, and found reason in her lover’s touch.

“Superman has a kid,” she said.

“A son,” Helen murmured, stroking her hands gently over Trisha’s spine. “He’s a beautiful boy, I have to say, and extremely precocious.”

“If he needs unbreakable rattles, I’d think so,” Trisha murmured, leaning back against Helen’s hand. Does Helen want children? I want children with her. I should talk to her about that. Not today.

Helen smothered a low laugh in her hair and hugged her close, fingertips sliding around to rest against Trisha’s belly lightly. “They named him Jon, after Kal El’s father. It’s a good name, though I’m not entirely sure the world is ready for a six year old who can lift tractors.”

“I know I’m not ready for a six-year-old who can lift tractors…” Trisha trailed off for a moment. “I’m almost sure I know the answer to this already, beloved, but… do you have powers?”

“I have an excellent memory,  intelligence at the upper end of the human range, and have been training for this since I was a child. But no, not in the sense that Superman or Diana do,” Helen said, very calm and very comfortably.

Trisha nodded. She really is just my girlfriend in a costume… except that’s not what she is at all. But she’s human. Why is that a relief, when she goes out and punches people with rocket launchers and Venom more nights than not? Trisha rested her head on Helen’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

“For being quite arguably a madwoman?” Helen kissed her temple lightly, smiling against the skin. “That seems odd.”

But it’s still a relief. “I’ll explain later,” Trisha whispered. “I’ve been having thoughts. Shall we go see who’s home and awake?”

The rueful lilt of Helen’s laughter suggested her lover would rather have done quite a number of other things instead, but Helen tucked an arm around Trisha’s waist anyway and started out into the great hall. The enormous room was festooned with lights, red ribbon and evergreen, as if someone had tried to beat every inch of the old house with holiday cheer and then sprinkled in family relics of years gone by in an effort at tasteful afterthought, and it really ought to have been impossible for it to be tasteful, and impossible to have been so bright , yet it was both. It was as if the spirits of every Christmas story from the Nativity to Dickens to The Grey Ghost Rides This Christmas to a current holiday special had made war with the fair folk who lived invisibly on the back lot, then an armistice had been reached and each had contributed their very best talent to the rebuilding. There was a magic to it, one that turned the old dark-stained wood and stone of the Manor to a backdrop against which light and joy could play, and Trisha could not help but giggle and cling closer to Helen.

For once nearly all the doors were open - the formal dining hall had been converted into a sort of semi-permanent buffet, joining with the parlor, den and media room into an informal party venue for which the study and library were clearly the quiet sitting areas, but even the austere west gallery had been transformed into a space for entertaining. One more large tree, festooned with lights in an elegantly presentable way, was visible from the great hall, and comfortable chairs in bright Christmas colors had been brought into the room in a number that Trisha assumed meant they must be stored either off-site or in the Cave, for there was no storage space in the Manor that would hold them all.

“It’s beautiful, Helen,” she whispered, pressing a kiss to her lover’s jaw.

Helen stopped to look around her, as if it hadn’t occurred to her to look before, and a smile played at the corners of her mouth. “I suppose it is, isn’t it? Alfred always manages to outdo himself with bringing the house to life for Christmas.”

“Well, some of us try to help,” Timothy Drake-Wayne chimed in from the door of the parlor, a mug of something hot and steaming in both hands and his usual suits traded in for a Christmas sweater and comfortable slacks. “You’ve got good timing, Trish - we’re all just licking our wounds from Carrie drubbing us all painfully at Scrabble.”

Happy looks good on him. “I try not to play Scrabble. I’m better at it when I’m sleepy, but then I get unpleasantly etymological,” she said. “I do think I prefer scrabble-wounds, though.”

“Funny thing - me, too.” Tim grinned crookedly. “Can I get you something? Alfred has Christmas punch, hot cider and eggnog in the dining room, plus the usuals in the fridge.”

“I’m curious about the punch,” Trisha said. “But I think I would like some cider.” She tucked closer to Helen. “Thank you.”

“One punch each, plus a cider and a ginger ale.” Tim tipped an imaginary hat and sauntered off toward the dining room, still smiling. Helen watched him go, and something bittersweet flickered over her face; her arm tightened around Trisha’s waist, and they finally passed under over the threshold into the parlor.

The decor was a little more homey in here, if no less overwhelming, and the tree in the corner looked to have been decorated by hand instead of by professionals. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace, seven stockings arranged over it in a slightly lopsided row, and lights were strung about the room in a way that was both less dense and more haphazard. Trisha’s eyes moved to the stockings, and she bit her lip. Helen. Alfred. Richard. The open hook. Timothy, Cassie, Carrie. Me. She kissed Helen’s cheek before returning her eyes to them for another moment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a row of socks with more to unpack, and they haven’t even been stuffed yet.

“Shall we sit by the fire?”

A slight nod of assent, and Helen even handed her gently down onto the couch as if they were at a formal event with heels and skirts to manage. It was warm and Helen sat close enough for Trisha to rest against her without having to be obvious about it, so that it was almost a surprise when Tim turned back up with their drinks and settled them on the coffee table with a sly wink. “I picked up a few snacks, too, just in case.”

If Timothy had brought a few snacks, Trisha was terrified of what a meal might look like, much less a feast. I’m going to be eating a feast with them this holiday. I might die. The array of sweets and pastries and savory poofs of various sorts that he put on the low table was enough to take Trisha’s mind, however briefly, off both Helen’s arms around her ( Warm, safe ) and unpacking the stockings ( They’ve left an open space where Jason Todd’s would belong. They all have their places ), and she was soon sucking a very minty candy cane. “Snacks were definitely the right idea, Timothy.”

“Alfred would never let me live it down if I let you starve. He’s practically...” Tim’s eyes bounced to Helen’s face, and he cleared his throat instead of finishing the thought. “I wanted to call Steph and see if she was going to come out to the manor tonight or not, and I’d better go make sure Carrie’s not bolting the place to go find someone to beat down.”

A hint of amusement snuck into Helen’s dryness while she set her ginger ale down. “I thought you two had sworn that off again.”

“It’s a strictly friends thing! Steph, not Carrie,” Tim added with an exaggerated shudder for Trisha’s benefit. “No offense to C.K., but I’d rather do a date with Killer Croc.”

“You have way better judgement than I did when I was your age,” Trisha said. Who’s Steph? I guess one of Timothy’s exes… which means there’s someone I haven’t met. Apart from Richard’s girlfriend. I’m going to be meeting the extended Waynes forever...   “... Did I just use the phrase ‘When I was your age?’ I’m not allowed to talk any more.”

“I’ll remind you that you said that later,” Tim chuckled, then ducked out into the other room. Helen, for her part, just squeezed Trisha’s hand and kissed her hair sweetly.

Presence, I love her. Trisha pressed closer in Helen’s arms, her eyes closing a moment before they moved back to the stockings. Are they in… order of seniority? Too much to unpack.

“In the order people came to our house,” Helen murmured into Trisha’s hair, as if picking the thought out of her head - probably tracking her eyes and expression. “Alfred suggested it would be more appropriate to put yours next to mine at the front, but it would be a break with tradition.”

And tradition is everything. Still… I would like mine to be next to hers. Maybe I’ll ask about that next year… “They’re lovely,” she whispered.

“I think he was getting ahead of himself,” Helen whispered back, “but only a little bit.”

Trisha opened her mouth to reply, then looked at the stockings again. Only a little bit… She carefully rolled over in Helen’s arms to press a kiss to her lips.

A long kiss.

 


 

So that’s Steph. Trisha was in the family dining room, having fled the parlor when Timothy brought out the chessboard - she’d only watched one game between Helen and Timothy, but it was a sufficiently intense experience that she’d been quite hard pressed to neither flee the room in terror nor overturn the board and climb into Helen’s lap right there. No, it really was best that she leave those two to their game.

But before the chess started, Timothy had come in with a blonde who was pretty in a way that was far, far more approachable than the ways the various Waynes were pretty. Quick to laugh and quicker to smile, Stephanie Brown was the first person she had met in her life who had a trait that she thought, before that meeting, was impossible.

She had Timothy Drake’s number . In spite of Timothy being the smartest person in the room by at least an order of magnitude, Stephanie kept up with him, darting about the conversation and finding the exact right thing to say to get a rise out of Helen’s son. It was five minutes after meeting her that Trisha had realized exactly where she’d seen that before.

It wasn’t conversation, though, the other time. It was combat.

“You’re Batgirl!” she’d burst out, and drawn a long stare from everyone before Stephanie started to laugh, and quickly drawn Timothy and Helen to join her. From there it was a whirlwind of stories - Stephanie was, apparently, lacking people to have be impressed with her, and saw Trisha as a prime opportunity. She heard about the Scarecrow and Roxy Rocket and the time Stephanie and Kara - who’s Kara? - fought the Joker and Stephanie got a banana peel and a net trap in place behind him and Kara flicked his forehead and he slipped right into the net and was still laughing when the police took him away.

Then the chess game started and Stephanie decided she was going to go down to the Cave and do some studying and Trisha went to the dining room.

Timothy has good taste. Stephanie and maybe Cassie and not Carrie. Definitely good taste. She still thought Cassie would be a better match for him, and was still thinking that when she nearly walked into Cassie lurking - there wasn’t another word for it - near the punchbowl.

She squeaked, but managed not to drop her cocoa. “Cassie!” It took her a moment to catch her breath.

“Apologies.” Cassie put her hands together and bowed slightly, making the gesture a little too stiff and formal, but the smile that flicked over her face a moment later was too charming to let the moment linger. “I needed quiet. I was not expecting to see Stephanie today.”

“Neither was I… then again, I didn’t know anything about her before.” She offered Cassie a smile. “I can leave you be, if you still want quiet. Or be someone to talk to who is much more impressed with you than with Stephanie.”

“Shouldn’t be. Stephanie is...” Cassie shifted on her feet, frowning for a moment, then gestured expansively with both hands as if to try to push a whole concept out into the air. “Brave. Bold. Beautiful.”

Trisha reached past Cassie to get a cup of punch while she contemplated her answer. “You’re brilliant, and wonderfully charming, and cute.” She glanced at the door, then lowered her voice to a conspiratorial stage-whisper. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I think you’re my favorite person here besides Helen.”

Cassie flushed lightly and smiled enormously. “I like you,” she whispered back. “I am glad you’re going to be my secret legal stepmother.”

Secret legal… “You know, I think I’m okay with that title,” Trisha said with a laugh. “Let’s sit down… I think I want to eat too many of the nuts in the bowl on the table.”

“Nuts are healthy but overly tempting,” Cassie agreed, gliding over to one of the doors and peeking out into the great hall. “Sitting is good. Where?”

Trisha grabbed the bowl - Alfred would be annoyed, but she was honestly itching to break some tradition somewhere - and looked over Cassie’s shoulder. “The chairs in the west gallery? Those look fluffy.”

“I like fluffy chairs,” Cassie said, which was agreement but also felt like something else. Maybe an existential statement. They slipped across the great hall like they were sneaking out after dark and settled down in the west gallery, which was presently lit only by the hundreds and hundreds of tiny white lights - it gave the strange feeling of somehow being draped in heavy dustings of light as if it were the snow layered outside.

Trisha put the nuts on the table between their chairs, curling up in her own to face both the bowl and Cassie. “I think this is much better than standing in front of the punch,” she said. “If we did that too long, I’d start to think about how odd it was that there were orange slices floating in it that you aren’t expected to eat.”

“Decorative food is strange,” Cassie agreed, tucking into her own chair as if trying to fold herself into as small a space as possible.

That looks comfortable. Also, utterly impossible for me. How flexible is she? “I’ve never understood it. I spend hours arranging it for work, or used to before I became someone who hires the decorative food arrangers, and I still don’t understand it.”

Those thoughtful dark eyes studied her, glittering over that almost innocent smile. “Money is also strange. What people do with money.”

“I… usually don’t think about that. But you’re right.” Trisha smiled back, sipping her punch. “Do you want to talk about what you were thinking about? Because it’s okay if not, but I want you to know if you do… well, I’m here.”

“Don’t know how.” Cassie sighed, the smile disappearing again. Visibly concentrated. “Helen and Barbara taught me how to speak formally, even conduct rhetorical discussions or casual conversation, but it’s difficult. Unnatural. Apparently feelings like that are normal in second-language acquisition. But when I want to say what I really want to say, not just what’s correct, I often feel like I can’t find the words.”

Barbara… Gordon? That’s the only Barbara I know Helen knows. She… does she have a first language? Such an odd thought, but Trisha couldn’t quite shake it off. “Big complicated feelings are hard,” she said. “Even when you think you should have the words for them.”

“I work, usually,” Cassie said, and the inflection of work was exactly how Helen said it when she meant the night shift. “But not always.”

“I might need to learn to punch people,” Trisha murmured. “I usually organize an event or read a book.” Or invite Helen to bed. Not the suggestion to make.

“Tim always looks at Steph and Steph looks a lot at Tim. Even when she looks at me, it’s different,” Cassie said, a little in a rush so the syllables tumbled against each other.

Tim looks at Steph and Steph looks at Tim and… oh. Oh, dear. “Both of them, then?” Trisha winced a little. “That’s rough.”

Cassie sighed. “Yes. I work a lot.”

Poor whoever she works with. On? Poor customers. “I’d imagine. Do they know? At all?”

“Tim usually knows everything. Probably knows this. Stephanie...” Cassie made a sound like an irritable tea kettle. “Confuses me.”

Timothy’s knowing everything would make him the most annoying person in the world to have feelings for. I think I can put up with Helen specifically because she missed it until I told her. “I’ve been there.”

“Not for very long,” Cassie said, and smiled again. “I like how she looks at you. It’s... I don’t know the word.” She made a gesture with her hands, pressing one against the other, and for some reason it made Trisha’s cheeks heat up.

“It’s exactly like that,” Trisha murmured, then she returned to a normal speaking voice. “I’ve never been… like I am with Helen… with anyone else, but I’ve had feelings for people before. I didn’t really get a confusion phase with Helen, but I’ve had them.”

“How did you...?” Another eloquent gesture. Endure it? Get past it?

“Depends on… a lot of other factors. I’d either try to distract myself or just kind of hold out, or wait until someone else caught my attention, or… well, talk to her.” It was almost always hers, who inspired the confusion phase. “Or decide I needed not just an A but the best mark in my class for a few months and study constantly.

Cassie grinned in a way that showed her teeth. “Like you,” she said, a little more fiercely.

Trisha grinned. “I’m glad.” She sipped her punch. “I just realized… I don’t really know what you like to do when you’re not at work.”

“Work with children.” Cassie’s smile brightened, lighting up her whole face again. “Teach them how to be safe. How to feel safe. Also school - college. Part time.”

“I bet you’re really good at that,” Trisha said. I kind of feel like I could go just about anywhere with Cassie and be safe. “You’ve got an aura about you.”

“Like her,” Cassie said, a tender fierceness in it, and there was so much love in her face that it was a little painful to look at.

I know that way of saying “her.” I say it in my own mind a lot. “Helen inspires… a lot. And that aura you have is a lot like hers.” But what did Helen do to inspire this much love from Cassie?

Cassie didn’t speak, but the way she brought her hand to her heart and the light in her eyes were eloquent enough for how much those words meant to her. Then, finally, she did manage a few words. “You. Her. Good. A blessing.”

Trisha blushed, but nodded. “I certainly feel that way,” she whispered, then offered Cassie one of the walnuts. The girl cracked and ate it bare-handed, as if that were perfectly normal, then cracked two more and handed them back to Trisha with a bright smile.

“How do you even do that?” Trisha took her nuts and ate them. “I think I’d hurt my hand.”

“Easier than bricks,” Cassie said, as if that was actually an explanation.

“I suppose it would be.” Trisha passed Cassie two more nuts.

 


 

“She is in the study… I believe on a call,” was what Alfred told her when she asked where to find Helen, so to the study she went. The study was only a little decorated - a few strands of lights, a small glass tree on the desk - so it felt more like the Manor normally did than anywhere else Trisha had been today save the master bedroom. She arrived in time to catch the end of Helen’s conversation, so she stood in the doorway until Helen was entirely finished before entering.

This is likely to be an uncomfortable conversation. I’ll need to work up to it. “Hello, Helen,” she said as she approached, and the edge of Helen’s mouth said she’d given away more of her discomfort than she meant to. Being in love with someone like Tim or Helen really was a fount of little annoyances...

Then Helen came around the desk and reached out a hand to her, and the emotion washed out of her just as easily as that. She slipped past the hand and into her lover’s arms. “Hello, Helen,” she murmured against Helen’s shoulder.

“Hello,” Helen murmured back, tucking Trisha comfortably close with the familiarity that was slowly becoming reflexive. “I hope Timothy and I’s matches didn’t leave you too much at loose ends?”

“I spent some time talking with Cassie,” Trisha said, pressing a kiss to that same shoulder. “It was nice… I like her. We stole the nut bowl.”

“Cassandra’s grasp on personal property can sometimes be a little fluid,” Helen sighed, but she was smiling into Trisha’s hair when she said it.

“Oh, no, it wasn’t Cassandra’s idea.” Trisha giggled. “We wanted to sit in another room, but we also wanted nuts.”

Helen laughed low in her throat and hoisted Trisha up onto the desk without letting go of her, stroking her hand gently along Trisha’s jaw. “Little thief,” she whispered without heat. “I’ll have to keep a closer eye on you.”

“I like your eyes on me…” What was I going to ask her about? Her lips brushed Helen’s palm. “I might have to steal small household objects more often.”

“Mmm.” Helen just shook her head and kissed Trisha’s cheek, obviously insufficiently impressed with Trisha’s threat. “I’m glad the two of you are... that it’s good between the two of you. You and Cassandra.”

Trisha blushed. “I like her. I mean, I like them all, but… she and I get along.” She hooked a leg around the back of Helen’s leg.

“She hasn’t had the best luck with mother figures,” Helen said, the emphasis of the words ever so slightly off as if the flush of Trisha’s cheeks was interfering with her train of thought.

Mother figures? I’m too young for anything more than legal step… wait, I should be asking about that too! “I’d just be happy being someone she can trust.”

“I’ve always found you trustworthy,” Helen murmured.

Trisha blushed, again, more deeply, and arched her head back. Questions later...

“Oh! Dick, is it kissing time? Are there more of those delightful mistletoe plants around here that nobody has pointed out to me?” The voice was a stranger, bright and lilting and melodic, and Trisha jumped on the desk, looking up in surprise.

Richard Grayson was looking toward her over a woman’s shoulder with an apologetic look on his face. That was the easy part to comprehend.

The woman was not.

She was as tall as Richard, her skin an attractively inhuman orange, her hair a brilliant red, her figure… generous. Generous was a good word for it. Hidden, clothed, and “at all left to the imagination,” on the other hand, were bad words for it. Trisha did not have to guess whether that orange went all the way down.

The woman’s clothing was scant, blue, leaving her midriff and her legs and her thighs and her arms and her neck and frankly most of her cleavage uncovered, with just enough there to offer a bit of support.

It was rude to stare. Trisha was not, by nature, a rude person.

It turned out there was, in fact, a limit to how polite she could be, though she did at least manage to stammer an apology.

“It’s fine,” Richard said with a long-suffering sigh. “Kori, this is Trisha. Trisha, Kori. Princess of Tamaran, Titan, sometimes Justice Leaguer. She does this to almost everybody.”

Kori pouted and gave Richard a little shove, then glided over to the desk and kissed Helen and then Trisha on the cheek - her mouth was warm enough that it felt as if she might have a fever. “Hello! You are Dick’s new bond-mother! Are you enjoying the native festivities? Are we interrupting intimate bonding time?”

Intimate bonding time, intimate question time, or possibly intimate argument time. Intimate something time. You certainly are delighted to be interrupting. “No… I don’t think so.” Trisha did, however, finish disentangling herself from Helen - a shame, every time it happened - to offer her hand to Kori. Who promptly applied a full-body enthusiastic hug instead.

I’ve seen her. Princess of Tamaran… eep! Breast hug! She was not going to squirm, no matter how much she’d already been buzzed from Helen putting her on the desk or how close this particular hug was. “I’m Trisha… it’s… good to meet you.” Star… something? There’s so many heroes…

“It’s good to meet you, too! I like meeting new people. Earth meeting customs are strange, but so interesting.” Kori stepped back and grinned again, visibly bubbling with happiness. “Though you’re much cooler than Dick made you sound - normal human temperature. Apparently there are false rumors about your body temperature!”

Why would she… I mean, literal… why… what… Her eyes narrowed, and she looked past Kori at Richard. He told his alien girlfriend that I’m hot, didn’t he? If he wasn’t my girlfriend’s son, I’d probably swoon over that, but… no, Richard. No.

“I was trying to explain the newspapers,” Richard jumped in, expression chagrined. “And I think we need to work on your metaphors some more, Kori.”

“Oooh. Can I practice tripling your entendre, too?”

Helen’s expression of long-suffering amusement suggested that she wasn’t entirely sure Kori wasn’t having them all on in a long con joke of some kind, which… she was going to have to decide was true. She wanted to live in a world where someone could have the Waynes on in such a way without some sort of crime wave happening.

“You should go for the pentuple,” Trisha suggested.

“But then you’d have to help! Dick has very strict rules about ratios and...” Kori caught the expression on Richard’s face and suddenly radiated chipper concern. “Too much sharing?”

“Yes, Kori,” Richard groaned quietly, leaning his face against his hand. “A little bit. Can we go change? Please?”

Yes. Please. Trisha reached for Helen’s hand. “It was very good to meet you, Kori.” Then, to Richard. “Are you staying for dinner?”

“Overnight. Probably. Maybe two days. Kori gets restless, and there’s Titans business on deck.” Back on firmer ground, Richard got control of his expression. “I’ll be back for Christmas day, definitely, but I think Kori might...”

“I’m spending Christmas on Themyscira with Donna!” Kori piped up. “Their annual feast to Aphrodite is coming up, and I hate missing that. They’re so creative.

Feast to Aphro… no, no thinking about that. No thinking about Wonder Woman involved in that. In fact, just to be safe, let’s not think right now. “Sounds fun.” That was a mistake. I should think. When I think I don’t do things like that.

“You should come!”

“No, Kori, Trisha’s staying here with Helen,” Richard said, putting a hand on her arm and tugging to no apparently effect. “Let’s go? Please?”

“All right,” Kori sighed, not quite stamping her foot as she let Richard guide her out of the room, “but I still say Christmas isn’t nearly as exciting. They don’t even have fireworks or dancing competitions at Christmas...”

“We could have fireworks,” Trisha murmured, leaning against Helen as the couple left. “Not that I want them. But if you wanted to keep Kori around, you’re allowed to fire them off over the water, and we have boats.” We? Since when did boats become we?

“We do. But the longer Koriand’r stays, the more char marks Alfred will have to worry about in the guest rooms,” Helen murmured back, wrapping Trisha back up into a tight hug and resting her head on top of Trisha’s. “So on the whole a brief visit is for the best.”

Char… oh! “Starfire,” Trisha said, shaking her head. “I’m not going to ask about the char marks. I’m not going to ask about anything to do with them. Ever. Forever.”

“That’s best. Kori is one of Richard’s more... interesting romantic partners.”

I’m not going to ask about that, either. Trisha pressed a kiss to Helen’s jaw. “Thank you for the advice, beloved.”

“You’re welcome.” Helen sighed and bent down enough to kiss Trisha’s lips gently, lowering her voice a bare murmur. “I was always happiest when Richard and Barbara were together, but I suppose that’s selfish of me.”

Trisha smiled, pressing her lips to Helen’s again. “I do think Ms. Gordon would make the most suitable daughter-in-law for you,” she whispered. Daughter… oh!

“Jim and I try not to pester them about it.” Helen smiled ruefully into the kiss. “They’ve never taken that well, whether we tried to encourage or discourage them.”

“People are going to end up with who they end up with,” Trisha whispered. “I don’t think anyone would have expected us…” She trailed off, before speaking again, quietly. “Helen, did you adopt Cassie?” There wasn’t any accusation in her voice - she didn’t feel a need to accuse. But she worried a little that her attempt to be sure there was no accusation might come off as accusation.

Nonverbal communication.

Helen eased back enough to look at her, the carefully unreadable mask she’d been slowly shedding in private over the last months back in place, but she didn’t let go of Trisha or close her body against Trisha’s presence. They stayed there a little while, looking at each other, before Helen spoke again in a careful, neutral way that gave away little but at least wasn’t cold. “Did she tell you that?”

Helen… Trisha could not help but touch her lover’s face, and she tried to keep the trembling out of her fingertips. “She did… off-hand.”

To see her lover closed off again, even this much… She focused on the meaning, rather than what it did inside her. Whatever space they’d entered was private and painful.

Whatever she’d just said meant, it seemed to be the right thing, because Helen visibly relaxed a few notches and carefully kissed Trisha’s fingers before she answered. “I adopted Cassandra because she deserved a home. A real family. In secret, because her birth parents are not the sort of people it’s a good idea to make mortal enemies of. Especially her mother.”

What sort of people would Helen… the Bat… avoid making enemies of? I don’t think Cassandra is one of Darkseid’s children, like… Kalibak? Kalaborn? Caliburn? “I’m glad you did…” Trisha tilted her head back to kiss Helen’s jaw. “I imagine the others know.”

“My children do. Alfred. Everyone else knows Cassandra is... mine.” Helen hugged her a little tighter, as if letting the words out was a kind of relief. “Though Barbara and Richard have done as much for her as I have, in their own ways.”

Trisha nodded, then pressed her lips to Helen’s neck. “This will probably seem odd, but… she’s the one of your wards and children I feel most comfortable talking to. She’s very straightforward, and eloquent in ways I’ve never seen from anyone else.”

“Eloquent.” Helen smothered a small laugh in Trisha’s hair. “I think you and I are probably the only people who’ve ever called her that, but...” A moment’s hesitation, and Helen’s hand tight against her waist as if for reassurance. “I don’t call her my daughter often. The word is difficult for her. But I... care for her very deeply.”

Trisha smiled softly, blushed, and pulled herself closer to Helen. I can ask about what Cassie might think of a sister later… there are other conversations to have first. She pressed her lips to Helen’s. “She’s easy to care about.”

“I’m glad she likes you. They all do,” Helen whispered between kisses. “Even Richard is warming up to you.”

“I’d hope so. This is at least partly his fault,” Trisha murmured, pressing a longer kiss to Helen’s lips.

“You do realize,” Helen breathed, hands shifting a little lower on Trisha’s hips, “that he was trying to warn you off me when he talked to you about it.”

“The author is dead,” Trisha whispered, head dipping down to Helen’s throat. “We should close the door…”

“What we ought to do is go upstairs,” Helen husked, scooping Trisha up into her arms, “and I think we will. Remember to set an alarm for dinner.”

“Yes, Ms. Wayne.” Trisha fished for her phone as Helen carried her off.

 


 

The next few days were a whirl of activity. Trisha had never spent so long at a stretch at home, and had never spent so long at a stretch surrounded by people. They sang carols after supper, spent long nights playing games, and, once, when Trisha and Cassie needed quiet, the only place they’d been able to find where Kori or Timothy wouldn’t find them and start a conversation was the Cave, where Cassie showed her a bit of how to operate the computer and the comms.

She did have to beg off the primer in forensic chemistry.

So they came to Christmas Eve, after supper was eaten and dessert (pecan pie with ice cream) had left them all absolutely stuffed, then they had talked until they had at least a little appetite back. A Wayne conversation was, after all, going to burn a few more calories than a Baum conversation that wasn’t had on horseback. Then Helen led them all to the parlor, and as they went Cassie excitedly told her that the very best part was coming, where there were presents in socks .

Trisha settled into a seat with Helen, curled against her, and was quiet for the moment after they arrived. Wayne Christmas traditions, she had decided days ago, really needed a manual.

“Still think it’s freak that I gotta go first,” Carrie groused as she wandered over to her stocking and pulled it down, glaring at everyone in the room. “Like I’m better off doing this than kicking in some low-life’s teeth, I figure. I figure fresh oranges is what I always wanted.”

“You get to eat your orange when it’s freshest, ” Cassie pointed out. “A little, but it counts. You can be eating an orange when no one else is eating anything.”

“You fresh, Cassie,” Carrie retorted, maybe with just the hint of a smile. “But you don’t shiv.” She shook the stocking out briskly onto her lap - chocolates, three oranges, a spicy jerky snack bag and a little wrapped box that turned out to be a new wearable music player once she peeled it open. “Not shit,” she decided, which was apparently praise enough to get a few laughs from the room. Cassie, for her part, was already on the move for her stocking and made it back to her seat on the end of the couch near Helen before Trisha’d quite managed to realize she was making for it. The smile on Cassie’s face, shaking out the fresh fruit and sweets inside, was a sort of delighted anticipation that Trisha had never before seen on the face of someone older than eight but that was right at home on Cassie’s.

“Here. You’ll like this,” Tim said as he pointed to a small box in among the candies and fruit, which Cassie immediately leaned forward to open. “It’s a spinner, but it can sense how it’s moving, and it’ll connect to your phone for some games.”

Cassie took the spinner and gazed at it before setting it on her fingertip and sending it spinning. “I’ll need help getting the games installed,” she said, just a little carefully. “I’m not very good at that.”

But she can use the cave-dwelling supercomputer for forensic biology and quantum GPS tracking. Trisha grinned.

Tim was next, with tickets to an impossibly sold-out concert and the keys to a new motorcycle in his stocking, and then Richard started to get up and stopped. Grinned slowly. Sat back down.

“Youngest first, right?” he said, raising an eyebrow at Helen, who tried to smother it with a severe look that somehow left him undented. “It’s tradition, and it’s not me.”

Oh, you absolute bastard. Trisha narrowed her eyes at him, drew a breath, then spoke. “If that’s the tradition…” She arched her head back to press her lips against Helen’s before starting to disentangle herself. We are putting my stocking next to hers and going right to left next year if I have to bludgeon Mr. Freeze with a parking meter to make that happen.

She made her way to the stockings and took hers down, before returning to her seat. There really wasn’t a way to empty the stocking while in Helen’s arms, though, so she sat on the floor at Helen’s feet to do so.

An orange - slightly less fresh, she supposed, than Carrie’s or Cassie’s or Timothy’s - rolled out, coming to a stop against a pile of chocolates and mints. She had to shake the stocking a moment to get the thick wool scarf out, which she immediately wrapped around her neck before looking up at Helen, who flicked a subtle glance at Alfred. Not that he was giving away much, but she thought she might have caught a glow of pride there; she gave him a smile as warm as the scarf before she looked back down.

Behind the scarf was a bit more candy - one a tiny box of the gourmet marshmallows she’d fallen in love with at Thanksgiving - and a pocket flashlight, which Cassie was looking at with a grin that Trisha didn’t have time to figure out the meaning of, because what the flashlight rested against caught her eyes.

It was small, no more than two inches on any side, a cube with tapered edges. Wrapped in that simple, fine blue-and-gold wrapping paper that Alfred used for so many of the gifts under the family tree.

It’s a jewelry box , she thought, and she stared at it for a long moment before lifting it from the floor. She looked up at Helen, who reached down and took her right hand gently. “We’re supposed to do this the other way around,” Helen murmured, “but I think this will have to do. Open it.”

She’d never been one to open gifts carefully - her grandparents had stacks of saved wrapping paper that never got used; she saw little point in it - but this… this was not something to tear open with the enthusiasm of a rabid squirrel. She carefully removed the tape before opening the paper, finding a simple black velvet-lined box. She opened it, starting from the wrong end before turning it the right way.

Oh, Presence. Oh, Helen. She drew the box against her chest after her first glance at what was inside, her eyes closing, and she sat completely still for a long moment before being sure she could look at it without her heart stopping. She then tilted it back, looking at it again.

The ring inside was a braid of two strands of gold with one of platinum, its central diamond brilliant in cut and quality and at least a full carat. Tiny amethysts circled the diamond - a dozen in all. It was… beautiful. Beautiful, and no more ostentatious than would be necessary to avoid comment when worn by Helen Wayne’s fiancee. And beautiful. She could not look away from it, and, finally, she turned to face Helen, offering the box to her with her right hand while extending her left with her fingers spread.

“I don’t want to drop it,” she whispered.

“You won’t,” Helen said, smiling down at her as if she were the only person in the room while she carefully took the ring out of the box - setting the box to the side - and slid a hand under Trisha’s trembling fingers. “Is that a yes?”

“It’s a yes, Helen. Yes. Of course yes.” Even as she was speaking, Helen was slipping the ring onto her finger, though she could barely see Helen past the sudden welling of tears, and her jaw ached with her smile. “Yes,” she said again. If she said it again, she could possibly be described as babbling, so of course she did. “Yes.”

Helen reached down, wrapping her hand around Trisha’s wrist and pulling Trisha up into her arms, hugging her so fiercely that it seemed she might actually have been afraid of another answer. Trisha kissed Helen’s face at least a dozen times, hugging her just as tightly, though her next words were not to Helen at all.

“I love the flashlight, Cassie,” she said.

“You can look at ring with tonight,” Cassie said, giggling under the words.

“I’ll do that… it’ll show off the diamond…” She really had to stop kissing Helen so others could open their stockings and so she wouldn’t start doing more than kissing. I’m engaged. I’m engaged to Helen. She wants to marry me.

“Well, I’m not gonna top that ,” Richard said, getting up and wandering over to his stocking. “Well played, ‘new mom.’ Well played.”

Finally, Trisha rolled over in Helen’s arms to watch. “That was all Helen,” she whispered, brushing her fingertips against the ring, then touching Helen’s jaw with the finger wearing the ring. And Helen - her Helen, her beautiful Helen - threw her head back and laughed like a woman at home in the world, even if just for the length of a moment.

“Unless Trisha’s packed something particularly interesting in Helen’s stocking,” Timothy said, “We’re getting the main event in the middle of the show. No point in keeping us in suspense, Dick.”

“Yeah, point.” Richard grabbed the stocking, felt around inside, then pulled out a long tube at stared at it for a minute before his face lit up in a grin and he practically launched himself across the room to hug Alfred. “You actually found a Hailey’s poster from that far back? Forget the engagement - I’m having the best Christmas yet!”

“You have to unroll it. We can’t see!” Cassie called out, which kept Trisha from having to point out the same thing.

“I’ll get Helen’s stocking for her while you do,” Timothy said. “I don’t think her new fiancee’s going to let her get up.”

“Zero chance,” Trisha murmured, and Helen laughed again - softer, this time, and against Trisha’s hair.

The poster was the old-fashioned sort - suitable for a town post office or a theater siding - showing the attractions for Hailey’s Circus in Haughton, Nebraska; sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, elephants, and neatly occupying an upper quarter of the picture, an acrobatics show headlined by John Grayson and Mary Lloyd.

Richard’s parents. “It’s beautiful,” Trisha said, pressing back to try to get more into Helen’s embrace.

“I didn’t think there were any around. You can get them from when they were the Flying Graysons, but before that...” Richard rolled it back into the case with infinite care, smiling at Alfred with tears in his eyes. “Thanks.”

“It was my pleasure, Master Richard,” Alfred said, smiling back just as fondly. “But I see Master Timothy is ready to get on with things?”

Helen reached out and took her stocking from Tim with a rueful smile, glancing down at her lap - still full of Trisha - before her eyes sparked with amusement. “I’m afraid it’s going to have to in your lap, my darling.”

“I’m okay with that.” Trisha kissed Helen again, breaking into little giggles when Helen literally upended to stocking into her lap and lightly buried her in the contents.

Dipping past the debris of fruit and old-fashioned candies - it looked like mostly homemade toffee and fudge - Helen extracted Trisha’s small wrapped box and carefully slit it open with her nails, relying on Trisha to steady it. That took me a week to find, at a shop in the tourist district. And then days to assemble… I’m not going to tell Helen I bought three to get the pieces needed to make one without any of them being creased or broken. “You asked me for the Batmobile, Helen. When you interviewed me.”

Richard whooped with delight, Cassie broke into giggles, and even Tim started snickering. “I’m not sure where I’m going to put it,” Helen said, balancing the neat little glass case on her fingertips contemplatively.

“I rather think on your desk, Mistress Helen,” Alfred said primly. “As everyone knows, you are an aficionado.”

“That’s what I’d heard, too,” Trisha said with a grin.

“I’m going to look like a tourist in my own city,” Helen sighed, and then bent down to kiss Trisha’s cheek tenderly. “It’s perfect.”

 


 

Trisha was laying in bed while Helen got changed to go downstairs and continue her spirited debate with Timothy and Richard about the nature of the New Gods (Trisha had tried to step in arguing the negative, but there really wasn’t a negative position to argue so she’d settled on a distraction), a notebook in her hand. “Helen… what do you think of ‘Engagement announcement: Ms. Helen Wayne and Ms. Trisha Baum, December 24?’ I think someone will want more than that, but it can wait until I actually do an interview about something unrelated and get ‘ambushed’ with a question.”

“It sounds lovely. Though if you want to be really cheeky, you could say ‘Ms. Helen Wayne of the Gotham Waynes,’ as if they don’t already know who I am.” Helen came back in from the closet wearing slacks and a comfortable blouse, her hair still a little damp and disarranged from their celebratory antics. “You’re even more beautiful tonight, you know.”

Trisha sat up to offer Helen a kiss “It’s probably the jewelry. Or the smile.” In the bedroom with my fiancee. I’m getting married! “I think I’m going to do that. I’d go with, ‘Of the Smallville Baums,’ but someone’s always waiting in the wings to complain about my ego. They have no idea that, once we’re married, I intend to crush them all.”

“You know, given my luck, you probably are secretly a supervillain,” Helen sighed into the kiss, squeezing Trisha’s waist gently. “At least give me until the wedding before you execute your horrible plans?”

“Oh, first anniversary,” Trisha whispered. “I love you, Helen. Enough I don’t know how I breathe around it, sometimes.”

“I love you,” Helen murmured back, kissing her more lingeringly, then gave her a gentle shove back onto the bed. “But I did promise my sons I’d come back and finish our discussion, and if I don’t go now then Alfred will probably have to come drag me out for Christmas morning. You might want to tell your parents while I’m downstairs - I imagine they might be interested?”

“I was planning on calling them. Katie, too, though I might text her instead… don’t want to interrupt whatever she and her parents are doing on their vacation. Should one of us plan to tell Zatanna?” And can I see the expression on Selina Kyle’s face via a satellite feed from thousands of miles away when she finds out?

“I’ll put it out to the League. She’ll feel better if she doesn’t think I’m trying to apologize. Which,” Helen said, smiling down at Trisha with something almost like reverence, “I would definitely not be.”

Trisha blushed vividly, reaching up to touch Helen’s face. “Go. If you keep looking at me like that, you’re not going.”

Helen laughed, kissed her fingers, then vanished out the door.

I’m engaged to Helen Wayne. Trisha lifted her hand to gaze at the ring. I was already hers, but… I’m engaged to her, now. Everyone will know. Not just that we’re dating or that we’re in love but that I’m part of her family. That I’m in a family with Helen and Alfred and Richard and Timothy and Carrie…

She paused, frowning a little. But the fact that Cassie is part of the family isn’t public. No one will know about that. I… that’s not right. It’s necessary, but not right. She brushed her fingertips against the ring. Who could her birth mother be, that Helen has to keep this secret? Someone who works in a space Helen can’t protect Cassie from, like magic or space or… some kind of shadow political group? Or just someone so personally dangerous that even the Bat isn’t certain she can be handled? She trembled a little at that thought, finger resting against the table of the ring’s central diamond. “I guess nobody will know everyone I’m engaged to, either,” she murmured.

Finally, she lowered her hand, reaching for her phone on the nightstand. She’d never really called her parents from the master bedroom before - it had always felt like an odd thing to do. Oddly dissonant. Her parents were her childhood and adolescence; this place was her now, and while she loved them the two did not mix together well.

I’m going to have a wedding. Those naturally mix those elements. She sighed. I need to get used to that.

I’m marrying Helen. That perked her up a bit, and she dialed her father’s number from memory before moving the call to her headset.

“Hello, honey,” her mother’s voice came over the line. “Your father’s in the workshop right now - do you need me to get him for you?”

“No. I mean… you might want to. I have news. You’ll both want to hear it. But I was just calling his phone because that was the first number I remembered.” Trisha sat up in the bed, suddenly aware she was wearing panties and only panties. She pulled her blanket up over her chest. Damn it Trish they can’t see you.

“Well, I’ll go get him in a minute then - I’m your mother, I can hear news first once in a while!” A little spike of annoyance, and then concern right after it. “It’s not bad news, is it? Is everything okay, honey?”

“It’s good news!” Trisha said. “It’s really good news.” I’m not sure how happy it’ll make you, but it’s good news. “Go get him. This is the kind of thing it’s best you hear together.” Either they’ll drown each other out a little or I’ll get it all over with faster.

“Fine, fine, fine.” The phone clicked against the table on speaker, but she could hear her mother shouting as she moved away from it. “Wallace! Your little girl is making me wait on hearing news until you come in here, so whatever it is, can you put it down?”

That , Trisha had to giggle at, as with the muffled sound of her father’s “I’m coming, dear!” She turned on her phone’s camera, pointed it at her hand, and had it automatically snap a half-dozen pictures, choosing the best while they waited for her father to arrive.

“I’m here. What’s the commotion?”

Trisha smiled. “Well…” She finished picking the right photo and sent it. “Check your phone. Helen proposed… we’re getting married. She proposed tonight and did it the sweetest way… I’m engaged.”

“That is... quite a ring,” her mother said. “I hope it’s insured?”

Way to muster up enthusiasm, mom. “I assume so. That seems like something Helen would have thought of. But I didn’t ask because I was too busy getting engaged.”

“Well, of course not. It’s just a bit of a surprise, dear, that’s all. I’m sure you’re very happy. Have you thought about when the wedding might be?”

“Not yet,” Trisha said. “I’m hoping to make it soon, but… she’s Helen Wayne. I expect there’s going to need to be a lot of preparation.” She’s the Bat. Are we going to have to have a secret Justice League wedding where I’m inducted into the Hall of Bat-Wives or something? “I’ll let you know when we have a date.”

“Congratulations, Trish,” her father said, with enough enthusiasm to have it come through in spite of the fact that he was obviously standing a few feet away from both his wife and the phone.

That’s how you do it. That. That, right there. “Thank you, dad. I’m really happy.”

“I’m very happy for you,” her mother piled on, in a tone that - if not very happy - seemed at least willing to go along with the sentiment with some interest. “Do you want us to let the family know they should expect invitations soon?”

“Could you do that on the twenty-sixth?” Trisha asked. “We’re going to submit an announcement to the Gotham papers tomorrow, for publication then… no real details, but it’ll keep anyone from scooping us… and we all know how Aunt Margret can be when she has something juicy.”

Crap. I’m really going to have to invite everyone. Anyone I snub is going to call the Enquirer or the Gotham Spotlight first thing after they don’t get an invitation.

“That’s...” Her mother paused, then sighed. “Entirely fair, actually. We’ll enjoy a quiet Christmas before the madhouse, then. At least I don’t feel as put out that you didn’t make it home this year!”

Yes, because there was any chance at all I was either going to leave Helen’s side or subject her to the Parade of Baums and Baum-Adjacent People. “Thank you, mom. And thanks, dad.” She smiled widely. “I love you both.”

“We love you, honey,” her mother said, over her father’s “Love you.”

She smiled, hanging up the phone, then looked at it a long moment.

I should call Kyrie and Katie. Well… not call Katie. Text Katie. She wrote a quick text - Guess what! - then attached the photo of her hand to it and sent it to Katie. Call Kyrie. She’s not on an exotic vacation that I know of, and she’d want to hear this from me. Plus, she’s going to be happy. She had to look up Kyrie’s number, which hadn’t been in her memory since she was five.

“Merry Christmas!” Kyrie practically shouted in her ear, laughing and obviously a little tipsy. “I am having eggnog with rum and how are you, Trish Baum?”

“Engaged. I’m engaged. Kyrie, I’m engaged because Helen proposed tonight and it was perfect and I said yes and I’m engaged!”

“Oh my GOD YOU’RE ENGAGED?!” Kyrie’s whoop of delight was loud enough to hurt a little bit. “She actually proposed oh my GOD that’s amazing, I bet the rock is huge .”

“It’s not that big,” Trisha said. “I mean… it’s big, but it’s practical big. And it’s gorgeous. And the photo doesn’t really do it justice but here!” She sent the picture.

“Oh wow that’s amazing and so thoughtful! You can wear it to work and not worry about killing yourself with it if you trip!”

“I know! I’m never taking it off. Except to shower. And swim. But apart from that never. I’m so happy , Kyrie… I mean… I’ve been pretty sure this was going to happen for months now, but… it’s happening and I’m so very in love.”

“You’ve been gone on her since minute two, girl, but damn! I’m so happy she’s smart enough to make an honest woman out of you, even if she still hasn’t been to that therapy she oughta. You gonna go the full Princess Wedding deal? Ride in on a pony?”

“I have no idea. No matter what I do the tabloids will hate it, so I can pretty much do what I want. We’ll figure something out. There’s probably Wayne family traditions to uphold… god, I even love those, as insane as they get… so I really can’t start working on it until I ask Alfred and Timothy about those.”

“Oh, right! Kids! How are you doing with the step-kids, anyway? Not too creepy?”

“Richard insisted on pointing out that he’s got a few months on me, but that bit him in the ass,” Trisha said with a grin. “We’re getting along.” I really can’t mention Cassie. Or Kori, though Kyrie would get such a kick out of that. “I’m never quite sure how much Richard likes me, but the others are great, and since Richard’s the one who told me Helen had feelings for me…”

“On his head be it?” Kyrie giggled, then sighed. “Damn, you have all the best Christmas news. If I weren’t already drinking, I’d crack one open for you right now.”

“You can crack one open for me tomorrow. We’re putting it in the paper… it’ll probably go out day after tomorrow. What kind of news do you have?”

“Not as good as yours.” Kyrie flopped down on something and groaned. “Lily wants to see other people.”

Trisha winced. “Ouch. She’s a fool to give you up.”

“Hey, I’m still on the hook for a little while longer. I mean, it’s not a break-up yet. But it sucks, you know? I really thought we were getting good with each other. But hey, I’m coming to Gotham for your wedding - I bet you know all the hot girls I can get snaps with to make her lose her marbles, right?”

“I might know a few.” How exactly will Lily respond to a picture of her semi-ex with Zatanna Zatara? I think I can do my friend a solid.

“That’s my girl. Knew I could count on you. So when do I have to start shopping for my maid of honor suit?”

“I honestly have no idea how long this is going to take. All the events I’ve done in my career… would you believe I’ve never planned a wedding? I mean… I suppose given that my previous employers were Lex Luthor and my current fiancee, that’s not terribly surprising, but… somehow I’m surprised. And this is probably going to be huge, too.” She paused. “But of course you’ll need one.”

“Thank God! How else am I going to get those pics without it being horribly obvious?” Kyrie’s laughter spilled down the phone, brightening her voice. “If you need to get out of town for a few days and just chill in the old neighborhood, we’ll make a date, and I’ll start thinking bachelorette plans right away.”

“Sounds good,” Trisha said. “Thank you. I’m definitely going to need a break from the circus this is going to create.” She sighed. “I’d better go. I need to get some rest, or make sure Helen and Timothy haven’t broken out the whiteboard for their little discussion downstairs.”

“My girl, you have got to find a more exciting bunch of people,” Kyrie said, and blessedly hung up before Trisha could lose her composure entirely in a fit of laughter.

Trisha rolled onto her back. “I have to plan a wedding. To Helen Wayne. I have to plan Helen Wayne’s wedding, and my own wedding…” She sighed quietly, then let the blankets fall a bit. “Well… I’m not out of the game.”

 


 

I’m so glad I talked them all out of Scrabble. And Monopoly. And Risk. And Settlers. Trisha leaned forward over the board before making her next move. “I think three white and two red will buy me that one,” she said, taking one of the cards after depositing the tokens in the box. “Which moves me back to second.”

“You’re still losing to Tim,” Richard pointed out.

“Yes, but we all knew that the moment we decided to play an economics game. We’re playing for second.”

Alfred appeared at her elbow, refreshing her hot chocolate and touching her arm discreetly. “Mistress Trisha,” he murmured, “when your present company allows, Mistress Helen requests that you come to bed for the night so you can be fresh for the morning.”

“Could you tell her I’ll be up in about five minutes? Tim’s two moves from winning.” She smiled to Alfred, though a tremble went up her back. She wants me in bed.

It turned out she was wrong - Timothy won the game on his next turn. So she said her good-nights and headed upstairs quickly, found Helen sitting up in bed with an old book in her lap, and there was a dizzying rush of something she couldn’t articulate as she leaned in the door and looked at her there.

She’s in our bed, reading a book. Just… our bed. The bed we share. Trisha had to stop at the door, and look around the room, and breathe, the weight of her ring on her finger again pressing against her consciousness. We’re alone, right now. As alone as I’ve ever felt with her in this house. The ghosts leaving this room to us.

Helen looked up from her book and smiled, fingertips resting lightly on the page. “Hello,” she murmured, her eyes drinking Trisha in like she was moonrise.

“Hello,” Trisha said, making her way to the bed and leaning over it to kiss her fiancee. “Alfred said it’s bed time, but Timothy would have been disappointed if I hadn’t let him finish me off.”

“That’s all right. I just didn’t want you to be exhausted in the morning.” Helen closed the book and set it aside, then tugged Trisha down beside her and kissed her lingeringly. “It’s a quiet night. Apparently even the scum of Gotham want to spend the night with their nearest and dearest or a good bottle. I think I may be the luckiest woman in the country tonight.”

“There’s one who is counting herself luckier than you,” Trisha murmured, draping a leg over Helen’s. “I love you.”

Helen reached out and cupped her face, eyes full, and bent down to kiss her tenderly. “I love you. You’re beautiful tonight.”

Trisha blushed, but only a little, and pressed into Helen’s kiss. “It must be all the joy. I feel like I might burst with it.”

“You’d better not. Can’t make Alfred clean that up,” Helen husked, leaning in closer, and her arms slid tight around Trisha as she settled down to lay against her. “No second thoughts, then?”

“Never,” Trisha whispered into Helen’s ear, fervently. “I’ve been yours from the start, and I’ve been floating since this evening. Not even talking to my parents could knock me off of it.”

“Should I...” Helen hesitated, but her arms tightened reassuringly. “How do I do this? I’ve never had to court anyone’s parents before.”

“You don’t have to court my parents,” Trisha said. “But you should meet them. I’m not sure how… I love the Manor, but I don’t think they’d be comfortable here, and they’d feel a need to… I don’t know what, but my mother would feel a need to something if we were to go to their apartment.” She kissed Helen’s cheek. “We don’t have to figure it out right now, but having a plan before New Years would be good.”

“Maybe I’ll ask...” Helen trailed off again, then laughed quietly. “Friends from work. Sometimes they have strangely good advice about mundane problems.”

“Doesn’t Shazam have the wisdom of Solomon? And didn’t Solomon write a whole book of advice on day-to-day life that people still use? You should ask Shazam.” Trisha kissed Helen’s jaw again.

“Mmm,” Helen chuckled, then kissed her more lingeringly. “Merry Christmas, love.”

Trisha’s fingers traced Helen’s side, and she half-closed her eyes. “Merry Christmas, Helen.”