FANDOM: Birds of Prey TV
DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short time.
MUSIC DISCLAIMER:Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER: Adult language and sexual situations.
SEQUENCE/INSTALLMENT NOTE: So, this is another follow-up in the seemingly endless "Elemental" series fics (Landslide, Watershed, Windshear, Sunspots, Veneer, Stainless, Obsidian, and Nuclear). If you aren't familiar, you can -- and probably should -- catch up at http://www.ralst.com.
SUMMARY: The Birds work to rediscover all that holds them together after the redefinitions of Nuclear.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here ya' go, Night. Sorry it took so long.
COMMENTS: Please. Constructive comments and suggestions welcome.
Something was wrong.
Blearily clawing her way into consciousness, Barbara Gordon fought an instinctive urge to jerk herself upright in the big bed, to fling back the covers and assume a defensive posture. Instead, years of training kicked in and she schooled herself to stillness, keeping her breathing slow and steady in the darkness of her bedroom, acutely aware that panic would buy her nothing as she worked to determine just what was...
Perhaps, she realized as her waking brain began to kick into gear, "wrong" was too strong a word.
After all, none of the alarms in the Tower had been tripped. There was no fussing or crying coming from Katie's crib, just across the room. There wasn't even the trill of a phone, potentially alerting her to some issue outside the haven of her home.
Nevertheless, something had brought her forcefully to wakefulness in the middle of the night, and the pounding in her chest and the tingling in her fingertips couldn't be denied.
Something was... off.
With panic now ceding precedence to curiosity, Barbara blinked several times, hoping to accelerate the process of adjusting her vision to the darkness, and took in the bedroom. She easily made out Katie's new crib in its place against the opposite wall, and a sense that she was beginning to accept as "Mother's intuition" confirmed that the small bundle within the crib was her sleeping daughter, swaddled in the pastel yellow receiving blanket that Alfred had given them.
Since Katharine was clearly not in any sort of distress, Barbara released the lingering concerns on that front and turned her gaze to the side of the bed. The steady red glow of the bedside clock needlessly confirmed that not too many hours had passed since she'd marked her place in Malcolm Gladwell's analysis of tipping points, turned off the bedside lamp, and settled into bed.
Despite the fact that it was summer and she was not teaching, years of dutiful habit still had her starting awake in the morning. Nevertheless, the redhead admitted that it was much too early for that sort of autonomic reflex to be kicking her awake so forcefully.
Pursing her lips, Barbara exhaled slowly through her nose, debating whether she should prod Helena awake.
Heaven knew, her partner's keen senses would undoubtedly pick up on anything out of the ordinary, and Helena would certainly want to be made aware if something were amiss.
Having marginally salved her conscience, Barbara turned her head to the other side of the bed. Her mental promise to take Helena out for brunch later -- much later -- in the morning remained unfinished when she realized that it wouldn't be needed.
Helena's side of the bed was quite empty.
Apparently, not only would "apology waffles" not be needed, they probably wouldn't be wanted. No doubt, her partner had slipped out for a snack and some late night television, and it was her absence that had drawn Barbara from sleep.
Undecided about whether she was amused or horrified by her need for the younger woman to be beside her for a restful night's sleep, the redhead opted to table the debate for daylight hours. There was, after all, a good chance of dropping back into the arms of Morpheus if she kept her mind from slipping into overdrive.
It was a possibility that grew dimmer by the moment.
Barbara had just closed her eyes when she detected the hint of a rustle from the bottom of the bed.
Specifically, she thought, it came from under the covers at the foot of the bed.
This time, it only took a heartbeat for her vision to acclimate to the darkness of the bedroom, and a moment later, one russet brow arched upward when Barbara made out the small, Helena-sized lump shifting under the light blanket that covered the bed during the early summer nights.
Clearly, she'd jumped to conclusions in terms of Helena's whereabouts.
Since there was no question of guessing what her bedmate was doing buried under the covers at the foot of their bed in the wee, wee hours of the morning, Barbara opted for a direct approach and lifted the covers that were neatly folded across her chest. When she peered beneath, she found her lover seemingly entwined around her lower legs.
Barbara coughed softly, partly to clear her throat and partially to get Helena's attention, and was promptly fixed by bright yellow eyes.
The "what the hell" remained unspoken, but clear. The younger woman's response, something mumbled about "icky" and "bees", did little to clarify Barbara's confusion.
"Excuse me, Hel?"
Although the question -- heck, both questions -- had been pretty... low-key, Helena recognized the tone and shifted upward onto her elbows, bringing her mouth away from Barbara's legs. For a second, she thought about pulling out the hangdog look but figured that was serious overkill.
Heck, it wasn't like Red had told her that she *shouldn't* slip under the covers in the middle of the night, shimmy down to the foot of the bed, and...
"I'm licking the back of your knees."
Pursing her lips for the second time in the last three minutes, Barbara squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them. Deliberately, she worked the tip of her second finger against the corner of her eye, rubbing lightly to remove any vestiges of sleep.
"Is there something back there that needed attending"?
The response was a purring drawl.
Barbara simply raised her eyebrows, quite confident that Helena would make out the implicit question. The assumption was a good one, judging from the younger woman's soft sigh.
"I started out sucking your toes, then I remembered that I hadn't tasted back there for a while."
Immediately, Barbara checked her answer and shook her head.
"Actually, I don't, Helena."
The smile that greeted her admission was radiant in the darkness under the blanket.
"I just figured I'd... work... my way... up."
Keeping it simple, Helena punctuated the last few words of her explanation by pressing tender kisses to the impossibly soft skin of her lover's inner thigh. She didn't even try to go into how much... how much *more* it all was now. All she knew was that she'd awakened earlier, her head pillowed in her usual spot on Babs' shoulder, Barbara's sweet scent surrounding her in a way she hadn't experienced in weeks.
Lying there in the darkness, she'd noticed that, for the first time in way too long, her cheek wasn't stubbled and catching on the butter-soft cotton of Babs' sleep tee. God, she'd wanted to rub her face all over her partner's body.
That thought had made her toes curl which had led her to other obvious thoughts.
Red was fastidious about them. Helena thought that maybe it was because Barbara thought -- *believed* somewhere so deep inside that it wouldn't make itself known even to her big brain -- that she'd be walking on them again some day.
Helena had worked her way under the covers, brushing her cheek softly against her lover's foot. The soles of her feet were so soft... softer than Barbara's hands, almost as unblemished as Katie's feet.
Helena knew that from all the times she'd put their daughter's foot in her mouth.
Just to see if it would fit.
She hadn't thought that Babs' foot would fit. Still, her partner, her mentor, had taught her the value of empirical research. And after that, well, there was a whole lot of skin to explore.
"Was I supposed to be awake for this little exploration of yours, Hel?"
She allowed both eyebrows to arch as she wrestled with the fact that she'd been completely unaware of her lover's attentions. The dark head that was resting on her lower thigh dipped contritely.
"Well, I kinda hoped it would end up that way."
With that, Barbara let it go, chuckling softly as she tugged at Helena's tee to pull her upward. By the time her lithe partner was blanketing her from above, her nose burrowed against her neck, Barbara couldn't remember why she might have been perturbed. She simply wrapped her arms around slender shoulders, allowing her fingernails to scritch gently through the fine hair at the base of Helena's neck.
The redhead felt the minute trembling in taut muscles but held her silence, measuring Helena's shallow breaths against her skin until a shaky murmur caressed her ear.
"B- Barbara, I..."
For a beat, Barbara felt herself freeze, caught in her lover's eyes like a fly in amber. Then, she dropped her hands to the younger woman's shoulders.
"Say it again, Hel."
It was a command barely masquerading as a request, and Helena felt her eyes snap back to blue as she fought her confusion, as Barbara's fingers dug into her upper arms.
The older woman's grip was no less punishing, however when she spoke the note of command was gone.
"My name, Hel."
It was so softly whispered.
"Say my name."
Instantly, Helena ducked her head, bringing her mouth within millimeters of her lover's ear.
Small puffs of air touched the redhead's ear for both hard consonants. The tiny trill on the second "r" -- a convention that was Helena's alone -- brought an eruption of gooseflesh.
It was Helena's voice.
It was not the masculine version that her partner had carried with such poise for the last weeks. It was not the dulcet tenor that she -- then "he" -- had professed herself willing to keep for Barbara's sake.
It was Helena's voice.
In the hustle of the last few days, as Barbara had busied herself with soothing Dinah, with tracking the NGPD's minimal handling of Mike Mandrill, with moving the Mentachem wand into locked storage, with monitoring Helena for signs of damage...
Peeved with her excuses, Barbara blinked once and cut to the chase.
Somehow it had gotten past her that...
"Sweetheart, you're back."
Her partner's answer was no more than a sigh.
The silence of the night-shrouded room embraced them, and Helena held herself still in her lover's loose embrace. She slowed her breathing, matching the cadence to Barbara's, barely swallowing her murmur of pleasure as Barbara's chest moved against her... again... and again. She had no trouble hearing their hearts beat -- hers, a tripping tom-tom; Barbara's, slower, deeper, resonant.
Unable to deny the need, Helena shifted enough to slip one hand between them, under the ratty PALs tee that her partner slept in. Carefully, she brought her hand to her lover's chest, resting the tips of her fingers where the beat of Barbara's heart was strongest.
Helena heard herself murmur something as she slipped to one side, taking her weight from Barbara and curling against the older woman's side. Slowly, she traced her index finger down her lover's chest, her touch light, almost random. She followed a run of muscle across Barbara's sternum, marveling anew at the redhead's strength, then touched the soft swell of a breast that was beginning to engorge for Katharine's morning feeding.
God, she hadn't remembered this.
Gently, Helena circled flesh that pebbled under her fingertip, then allowed herself to cradle the full weight in her palm.
"So fuckin' soft..."
Releasing the breath that she hadn't realized she was holding, Barbara ducked her head to the side and tried to catch her lover's eyes.
"Hel, it hasn't been that long since you--"
Her tender chiding died in her mouth when she heard Helena's response.
"Not with *these* hands."
Green eyes blinked, then focused on violet. There was no mistaking the wonder in those amazingly expressive features.
Blindly, Barbara reached under her tee and captured the hand that was so carefully -- almost reverently -- mapping her. Once their hands were free, she positioned them together above her belly, pressing palm to palm, fingers against fingers, almost as if they were joined in prayer.
Or possibly, she recognized distantly as she contrasted the size and texture against the shape that Helena had been forced to wear for the last weeks, as if they were giving thanks together.
The endearment was too much.
Already ready to burst with the emotions roiling through her -- hell, she'd been about ready to explode when she'd started sucking on Barbara's toes an hour ago -- Helena stretched forward, capturing soft lips with her own. When she opened her mouth, hungering for more, something -- some word or plea -- whimpered past her lips, but with strong fingers threading through her hair and Barbara opening to her, she couldn't be bothered to care.
God, how could she have forgotten that it was like this?
Somehow, she steadied herself, stilling the rocking of her hips against her lover's leg. Somehow, Helena pulled away from that welcoming mouth and leaned up, resting her forehead lightly against Barbara's. With no effort at all, she lost herself in verdant green eyes.
Not a whit concerned that she might be just a tad cross-eyed at the close range, Barbara shared a smile with her partner. Still focused on the tingling of her lips and the liquid heat that had begun to suffuse her upper body, she barely registered that Helena was guiding their twined hands to the side.
The younger woman's low moan, coming only milliseconds after Barbara found her hand cupping Helena's breast, managed to get her attention.
As did the sensation of nipples growing hard against her palm and of Helena's fingers covering the back of her hand, increasing the contact.
With difficulty, the redhead swallowed. With even greater difficulty, she worked to extricate her hand and display some good sense.
"Sweetie, you're still healing."
Heavens knew, even if this transformation hadn't been as laced with pain and violence as the initial one, the physical transformation from male back to female was bound to be traumatic.
"You need to take some time and--"
A velvet mouth moving against hers cut short Barbara's attempt at sanity.
"I don't care. I need--"
One look at the stark hunger, almost a visible ache, in gamine features told Barbara just what Helena needed. Bewitched, Barbara cupped her lover's jaw, smearing her thumb over those lush lips. Instantly, Helena turned into the caress, and Barbara shivered at the sensation of the stud in Helena's tongue flickering into her palm.
The motion telegraphed more than words, but Barbara still needed to hear it.
To hear Helena.
"What do you want, Helena?"
The whispered response was stark and needy, Barbara's answering question instant.
This time, the answer was raw silk against her skin, electric current against her nerves.
There was no way that Barbara could consider denying the plea that breathed softly against her skin as Helena's beautiful mouth brushed her jaw over and over.
"Touch me, Barbara."
It was, Helena thought, really a helluva thing to wake up to.
Not to say that she minded.
Per se and all.
Heck, she figured that it pretty much tended to give her a fresh perspective on the day, even if it was different.
Always before -- well, since she'd been old enough to be on her own -- Helena had kept it in the living room, but since moving back in with Barbara, she hadn't even considered anywhere *but* the bedroom for it.
Still half-asleep -- and probably pretty easily tipped in that direction again if Barbara kept running her fingers through her hair like that -- Helena stifled a yawn and peered through her lashes at the Gauguin print that was hanging over the head of the bed.
As far back as she remembered, she'd loved "Day Of God". No surprise there: her mom had appreciated it, too, enough not to acquire it when she'd had the chance.
When her own personal Day of God -- or Night of the Devil -- had come around, Helena had pushed crap like that aside. Art and beauty... and hope had all been pretty much been left in the pools of blood that had gouted from her mother, that has pooled under Barbara.
Fuck, she'd been too busy being flipping back and forth between rage and terror a lot of the time.
Sixteen years old, and her whole world had bled away in one night. And, even wrapped up in her own grief and loss, she hadn't missed that the firmament remaining -- Barbara -- was pretty shaky. Her new guardian was still coming to terms herself, with losing her legs and her life as a hero on the streets. In Helena's eyes, what Barbara had gotten in exchange -- namely, her -- wasn't much of a trade.
Oh, and the wheelchair.
More than one day, Helena had crept in from school to find door jambs gouged and scuffs on the hardwood and her guardian's face too freshly scrubbed, her voice a little too bright and brittle.
So, Helena had tried to tiptoe around, to play the game that Everything Was Going to Work Out. She'd tried to be good, and she couldn't. There was just too much that had needed to get out, to scream and rage.
But, no matter how bad she'd assed up, how much she'd pushed back, how hard she'd lashed out, Barbara had never given up on her, had never once hinted that dealing with Helena was too much.
Helena owed her for that.
And then her birthday, the first one after her world had tilted on its axis, had rolled around. And it wasn't going to be any big fucking deal, because, hell, Barbara had probably just been tolerating her anyway.
The way she'd felt when Barbara had given her the print still burned bright within her.
Probably always would.
Helena still didn't know how Babs had known. Somehow, Barbara always just knew.
Giving up on trying to understand why -- or even to analyze the painting upside down, the brunette contentedly burrowed her nose deeper under Barbara's arm. The movement was instinctual, just as it had been hours before when she'd awakened, curled tightly against her partner.
In the darkness, Babs had been just a little restless beside her, like maybe she hadn't gotten back into the groove of sleeping with her in this form.
In her *right* form.
"Mmm, I'm glad."
Barbara's murmur against her scalp roused Helena from a particularly vivid memory from a few hours before. Without opening her eyes, she smiled against the soft cotton of her lover's tee.
Hell, she was damned near ecstatic but there was no need to go... crowing about it.
"...your hair, too?"
Pretty clearly, she'd missed a step or two in the non-conversation.
"Uh," Helena pushed up on one elbow and peered at her partner. "What?"
Barbara laughed softly, careful not to wake Katharine, and pressed her cheek close to Helena's. Infallible memory notwithstanding, Barbara surprised herself -- as she had a few evenings ago when Helena and Dinah had returned,, nominally triumphant in their quest to force Mike Mandrill to return Helena to her feminine form -- with the realization that she was not feeling the burn of stubble against her skin.
Granted, Helena had only been in a male body for a few weeks, however, the change was... different.
The hint of a smile on full, soft lips suggested that Helena had caught her wool-gathering, and the redhead hurriedly backtracked their minimal exchange of words.
"I'm glad you never got around to cutting your hair, Hel," she finally supplied.
Helena considered the admission, mulling over the buzz cut that she'd been waffling about during her time as a man.
"What?" She ran her right hand over the top of her head, pulling the sleep-mussed locks back tightly. "You don't think the Demi Moore look would work for me?"
Her partner's answering purr shot straight to Helena's center.
"I'm sure it would, Sweetie."
Given the light that had sparked in Helena's eyes, Barbara thought she had a reasonable intimation of just where her partner's thoughts had gone. However, when there was nothing further from the younger woman, she gave in to curiosity.
The response was served up with a lazy grin.
"Just thinking that *I'm* glad -- "
And the waggle of dark brows.
"-- really glad that you didn't have to be up early this morning for school."
"Is that so?"
She managed a smirk of her own, not oblivious to the faint twinge of guilt plucking at her chest.
It was, Barbara supposed, that damnable work ethic that had taken root in her, goading her about the fact that for the first summer since she'd started teaching she wouldn't be covering at least one session.
She firmly pushed those thoughts aside -- this first summer of Katie's was simply too precious -- and waited for what she assumed would be an innuendo-laden response. Instead, the redhead saw something serious in her lover's expressive features.
Reaching over, she lightly traced Helena's jaw, struck anew by how openly the other woman accepted the caress.
The heavy blackout curtains shielded the bedroom from most morning light, and so it was difficult to detect any change of color in Helena's dark features; however, Barbara was comfortably certain that she felt the warmth of a blush under her fingertips.
"All those times, when I was younger and just getting a handle--"
Helena cut herself off, realizing that it was bigger than that.
Feeling a little shy all of a sudden by all of these fits of wandering down memory lane, she turned her head and pressed a kiss to Barbara's palm.
Which was, she realized instantly, maybe not her brightest move, seeing how the scent of her was all over Red's hand and there was no way that she wasn't going to think about a few hours before, how gentle Babs had been in giving her touch: Just the brush of her fingers across Helena's center had been enough, and she'd come with a stutter of her hips and a sharp hiss.
"Well," she worked a minute shrug, "I just never knew it would be so..."
For a second, Helena worked her jaw, searching for the right way to say it. Since Red was all about precision, she quickly threw out "awesome" and "incredible". She almost went with "mindblowing" before deciding that, if accuracy counted, there was only one word.
Her partner's response was a little bemused.
Helena's answer was instant.
God, when would Barbara get how abso-frikin-lutely amazing she was?
"Coming with you."
Unable to deny that, Barbara smiled softly, considering the terrifying beauty of Helena's face during climax.
"*For* you -- "
Clearly not satisfied, the brunette shook her head once, roughly, and Barbara lowered her hand to the covers. When blue eyes, soft and open, sought hers, she held her breath.
"Because it's you, Barbara."
Her perplexity must have shown because Helena's indulgent look made an appearance.
"Look, Babs, you know I'm no blushing virgin, right?"
Instantly determining that it was in nobody's interest to dwell on that, Barbara nodded, arching her brows in invitation for Helena to continue.
"None of those times -- "
Helena gave in to her need, scooting a little closer, allowing her to butt her forehead gently against Barbara's, then rub their noses together. She didn't have to look to know that Babs was smiling.
"--and I mean none of 'em -- could hold a candle to you."
Like last night, when Red had caught her under the covers, and Helena had picked up on something in her voice, but it hadn't mattered. With the scent of Barbara against her, the taste of her skin so pure in her mouth, her need had flared to life. When she'd moved Barbara's hand to her breast and Babs had started touching her, and it had been so good... so fuckin' good.
"Earth to Helena?"
Amusement threaded the murmured words.
"Just thinking about last night."
Pulling away, she ducked her head and settled in beside her partner again.
It sounded like some sort of encouragement to go on, but with Red's fingers back to combing lightly through her hair, it was hard to think about anything.
Pressing a tender kiss to dark hair, Barbara worked her upper body a bit and snuggled in to Helena's side. They lay in silence for a few beats while the redhead fought her own curiosity.
Inevitably, she threw in the towel.
"How was the... sensitivity, Hel?"
She felt the younger woman's forehead scrunch up the tiniest bit against her shoulder.
Clearly, Helena was thinking hard about the question.
Barbara felt her own brow follow suit.
"More sensitive- or less sensitive-different?"
Helena nibbled at her lower lip, considering how sensitive *that* had been during her weeks as a man, how explosive her orgasms had been. She contrasted it with being touched by Barbara a few hours earlier, how she'd guided Red's hand to her breast, then -- unable to stop -- had scooted up in the bed, whispering her need.
When Barbara had tugged at her hips, her throaty whisper had been a touch unto itself.
"I want to taste you, Hel."
She'd obligingly pushed thoughts of fingers and hands away, working her way up her lover's body, pausing only to plunder Red's mouth.
"God, Barbara -- "
There had been no way. There *was* just no way that Helena wasn't going to respond to the steel in her partner's voice.
Like always, Barbara had just known.
By the time Red's lips had touched her inner thigh, the results had been a foregone conclusion.
The lull in the hushed conversation had been just long enough that Barbara had almost lost track of her question. Instinctively, she started to turn her head to the right, then caught a clue.
Absorbing the abashed sincerity in her lover's voice, she gently touched her fingers to Helena's cheek.
"Then, I guess we made the right choice about Mandrill, Sweetheart."
Finished with her shift at the Dark Horse, Helena threw Leroy a wink as she headed to her locker and tried not to crack up at the sour disbelief in his face.
Man, sometimes, her really reminded her of Squidward.
Her cheerful mood sort of flittered away by the time she fished her duster out of her locker, and for a while, Helena let herself just stand there. It was only when she realized that her hand was still on the cheapo Master Lock and she'd been lost in one of her favorite fantasies -- or, at least, her favorite since she'd turned back into her real body -- that she gave herself a mental smack upside the head and admitted that she was doing some serious avoidance stuff.
Still, with that particular fantasy, who could blame her? It was the one where she was on Babs' lap, facing her, her knees buried deep in the padding of the chair on each side of Red's thighs. Barbara was wearing that faded denim shirt that Helena had hated on principle for the longest time because she was pretty sure it had been a steal from some old boyfriend, but somewhere along the line, she'd realized how soft it was and how sexy Red looked when she wore it with the sleeves pushed up above her elbows and, like this time, had the buttons partially opened down the front.
Which, in all honesty, was the biggest piece of this particular fantasy that always reminded the brunette that it *was* a fantasy because her buttoned-up lover just didn't *do* the cleavage thing.
But, here she was. And, Barbara's glasses had slipped down her nose, probably while she'd been watching Helena's fingers work some of the other buttons on the shirt, and Helena's mouth was watering with the need to kiss her stupid and her fingers were itching to get under the soft denim and hear Barbara hiss when she scraped her nails across her nipples.
Only, the hiss was coming out of her mouth and a whole stream of words, most of which meant "Don't stop", because somehow Barbara had worked her hands into Helena's pants. Then, Barbara was twisting her fingers, and Helena was riding her and could practically taste the bead of sweat she saw meandering down Red's neck, and she was trapped by the intensity of eyes that were almost black, banded by green. The words, her words, transitioned to begging for more, and Barbara's fingers were inside her and she was fucking her and fucking her, and it felt so freakin' amazing that...
Not entirely sure she hadn't just teetered on the brink of some kind of mental orgasm or something, Helena shook her head and pushed her fists into the sleeves of her coat, not bothering to hide her smirk.
No secret that she wanted to head back to the Tower. Who knew? Tonight could be the one where that fantasy -- or *some* variation of it -- came true.
With summer in full swing, Babs was being true to her word and cutting back on work, even on their nocturnal avocation. That meant more time for movies and shopping and picnics and family naps... well, probably all of the stuff that families who didn't go out in search of crime to thwart did. And, eventually, Helena figured, it could mean getting around to fantasy time.
So, yeah, getting off of her regular job and getting home was a priority. It was just...
With a shrug, Helena dug into the front pocket of her jeans and fished out her cell. One speed-dial later, and her heart picked up a few beats.
<<"Hello, Hel. Are you off work?">>
No surprise that Babs knew it was her.
Probably no surprise that Babs waited out the silence either.
"But I've got a stop to make before I head home."
With some irritation, she tried to squash a flare of guilt. The dulcet tone of her lover's voice helped in soothing the lingering scratch of her conscience.
<<"Are you seeing her again, Hel?">>
"Yeah, hope so."
Moments later, standing outside the door of her old apartment, Helena decided that it was about time. The place had been sublet for just over two weeks now, and it was probably time to cover her land-lordy duties.
She remembered herself just before she slid her key in the lock. Stuffing the ring back in her pocket, she plastered a smile on her face and knocked, roughly keeping time with the thump of the bass from the jukebox downstairs.
The door swung open a few inches, the security chain halting its progress. She caught a glimpse of brown curls before the door clicked shut, the chain rattled, and the door opened fully.
Considering that Gabby stood blocking the doorway and didn't look much like she was moving, Helena thought the open door wasn't an invitation. Heck, from the expression on Gabs' face, you'd think she was there to collect rent or something.
It wasn't like she was there to see Gabby anyway.
"Hey, Gabs," she sing-songed, pulling out her best I'm-not-here-to-check-up-on-you smile.
No soap. Helena didn't even get a forced smile.
Seeing as how she was letting Dinah and Gabby use her old apartment for the summer, she thought that a little more hospitality might be in order. It wasn't even like she'd been coming by to make sure they weren't trashing the place or anything.
Feinting a hip-check that had the brown-haired young woman moving instinctively to one side, Helena slipped past her and breezed into the apartment. Without really meaning to, she gave the living area a quick once over, a little appalled when it hit her that she was, it seemed, checking up on the place.
Still, the look-around was useful: In the kitchen area, she could see the remnants of dinner on the table -- some sort of tofu and green bean thing. The scraps on the plates were congealing enough to relieve her of any concerns -- if she'd chosen to have them -- that she'd actually interrupted dinner. One plate was nearly empty; the other -- Dinah's, judging by the can of Jolt sitting next to it -- was barely touched.
Helena jerked a thumb at the Melissa Etheridge Breast Cancer Awareness piece that had taken a prominent position over the sofa, covering most of the spot where her Gauguin had hung. For a second, she thought she might get the same stony silence, but finally Gabby gave up a shrug.
Sheesh, what with the fact that she hadn't come by once in the last two weeks, had made a frikkin' point of not interrupting their private time, Helena thought that Gabby's greeting was downright unfriendly. Helena was all over the benefits of privacy and quality time, and 'til this evening, she'd kept her get-togethers with Dinah ... well ... casual. But, it had been too long since she -- or Babs or Alfred -- had heard from the Kid since she'd met her for coffee near campus 5 days ago.
Ergo, social time.
Deciding to decide that Gabby's shrug meant things were warming up, Helena cut to the chase.
Feeling her hackles rise, Helena deliberately pulled in a slow breath before meeting the younger woman's eyes.
"What gives, Gabby?"
The look she got was pure righteousness made flesh.
"Goddammit, Helena, don't act innocent! What did you do to her?"
Helena worked her jaw, but Gabby didn't give her time.
"Everything's different now."
The anger just seemed to leak from her words, and Helena fought another stab of guilt as Gabby sank down to sit on the edge of the coffee table.
"It's like she doesn't really even want us to be together now, Hel. Or -- "
The next words were a whisper, addressed to the floor. Helena was pretty sure that she wasn't meant to hear them, but she couldn't help her physiology.
"-- like she doesn't want to touch me."
Something low in her gut seemed to squeeze: a visceral pang of understanding... and guilt.
Helena got that.
Swallowing, she sank down next to Gabby on the edge of the coffee table, offering them both the privacy of not having to look at each other. She considered the myriad ways that she could go with Gabby's questions, her accusations.
Helena decided on the truth.
Or part of it, at least.
"She was there, Gabby, when that -- "
Helena clenched her teeth, worked her palms up and down her jeans-clad thighs for a second, before she found the right word.
"-- jerk changed me back. It... it was hard on her."
Blowing a long stream of air through her nose, Helena admitted that the explanation didn't begin to touch on everything D had gone through with her.
Fuck, *for* her.
Helena owed her for that.
Any idea of trying to total things up, again, got lost when her companion pushed to her feet and turned to face her. Helena was pretty sure that Gabby was trying for angry or, maybe, for defiant.
She thought it mostly came out a little scared.
"Can't you just leave her alone?"
Slowly, Helena raised her hands, scrubbing them over her face. She kept them raised, covering her eyes, for a little longer, wishing like hell that she *could* just leave things as they should be: Two co-eds, in love, hanging out in their first dump of an apartment and summer-jobbing.
But, shit, things had changed since Gabby had been in New Gotham for study week only a few weeks ago. She had changed. Dinah had changed.
Things were different, and she couldn't go back and unwind time and fix thing back to the way that, well, maybe they were supposed to be.
Clenching her jaw, Helena lowered her hands and stood up. She half-turned, taking a long look at Melissa and fighting too many emotions to untangle. Eventually, she worked a half-smile and met green eyes again.
"Sorry, Gabby," she shook her head once, slowly. "I can't do that."
Helena saw the defeat in the gesture when Gabby waved, wordless, toward the window with the fire escape. Figuring that her departure would be the best gift of all, she didn't bother to thank the younger woman as she slipped out the window on her way to the roof.
Helena heard music before she reached the top rung of the fire escape that led to the roof of the Dark Horse.
Pink Floyd. Dark Side of the Moon.
Slipping over the low retaining wall, she silently settled herself on the tar and gravel surface. On the opposite side of the building, sitting on the parapet and resting her back against the neon sign, was Dinah. Since the blonde was looking skyward and was plugged into her iPod, Helena deliberately scuffed her boots as she crossed the roof.
No need to send the Kid flailing over the edge, even if she'd probably catch herself with her TK before going splat.
"Careful, D," she'd seen the younger woman start to turn so figured that it was safe to speak. "It looks like you're picking up all of my bad habits."
The words drew a smile from of Dinah, which made it worth it. For her part, Helena didn't want to think about the many lonely nights she'd spent up here, pacing the small area while the wind cut through her and the moon beckoned and she... yearned.
Dinah was up, and then in her arms, before Helena would have thought it possible. Surprising herself, the brunette found herself returning the hug, swallowing the teasing she'd planned about having a hot girlfriend waiting downstairs while Dinah was up here.
Somehow, maybe it was the darkness of the night, she didn't think that it was the right time for teasing.
Helena didn't know how long they held the embrace, only that both of them were holding on, long and hard.
Like they both seemed to need it.
Maybe Dinah picked up on that thought -- or, more likely, she picked up on Helena's feeling a little scared by the realization -- because it was right after the thought took form that the blonde pulled away.
"So, uh," pale fingers tucked a lock of hair, almost silver in the moonlight, behind her ear. "Hi."
Surrendering the hug, Helena took two steps back and pulled a big smile.
"Hi yourself, D."
Hell, she could do chipper as well as the next person.
"So, uhm, what's up, Hel? Is there something going on that--"
The brunette shook her head and broke in.
"Nothing like that, Dinah."
No way to miss the way the tension in the younger woman's shoulders eased.
"I just got off work," Helena gestured loosely toward the roof of the building below them and immediately fought the need to roll her eyes at the dumbness of the motion.
Shit, it wasn't like Dinah didn't know where she worked.
" -- and I thought I'd say hi."
Even with the garish neon of the Coors sign behind her, Dinah's narrowed eyes couldn't be missed. Without a shot being fired, Helena caved.
"Yeah, Barbara missed you at brunch yesterday, too."
Dinah's laughter was brief, and apologetic, but the tension seemed to ease.
"I'm sorry about that, Hel."
The blonde nibbled on her lower lip then shrugged minutely.
"Gabby was starting her new job yesterday and I--"
Despite the manners that had been drilled into her over the years by her mother, by Barbara, -- hell, by Alfred -- Helena had no problem interrupting her companion.
It wasn't like she needed to hear whatever excuse D came up with.
"Hey, did she get the spot at the photo studio downtown?"
Her enthusiasm -- heck, she could do avoidance as well as the next person -- might have been catching, because Dinah's smile finally became full.
"Uh huh. And, well, I guess that after church is a really hot time for spontaneous family portraits and stuff because Mr. Gribbly -- "
The blonde head ducked as Dinah interrupted herself.
"He's Gabby's new boss."
Biting the inside of her cheek against the urge to smile at the image the name brought to mind -- namely, some sweaty middle-aged guy with a pot belly and a bad comb-over -- Helena nodded her encouragement for the younger woman to keep barreling along.
"So, Mr. Gribbly just gave Gabby the word on Saturday but he told her that she needed to start right away since Sunday is one of his busiest times and all, but it's not like she minded since she will be getting some portrait experience and that's gotta be good for her portfolio."
Somehow, Helena bit back a comment about Gabby having to suffer for her art and smiled again.
"That's great, D."
And maybe it explained a little bit -- even a teensy bit -- of Gabby's grumpiness earlier. Helping pose babies and family pets against pull-down screen backgrounds all day couldn't be a genuine laugh riot.
"So," she half-turned on the roof to take in the view of the Clock Tower. "How's it going for you in the lab?"
Sure, since D had just finished her freshman year, she hadn't landed a plumb spot working directly for her idolized Biology professor. Rather, she was working for one of Dr. Connors' GRAs, enthusiastic about the possibility of working directly under Connors in another semester or two.
The question alone seemed like it was enough to jolt Dinah out of any lingering suspicion... and reticence, and Helena smirked when she saw the younger woman's face light up.
"Oh, wow, Hel, you wouldn't believe some of the cool stuff that I'm getting to do! I mean, just today, Toni had me helping with some rat experiments and I actually got to draw blood and -- "
Helena's attempts to smile gamely as Dinah started to describe stuff that featured words like bile and glands were mercifully cut short by the chirp of her cell phone. With a small shrug of apology, she retrieved her phone and checked the caller ID. When she saw who it was, she gave up all pretense of apology.
"Do you mind, D?" She gestured with the tiny handset, nodding her thanks when the blonde shook her head.
"Ice Cream-A-Go-Go," she answered brightly, taking a few steps toward the opposite side of the roof. "You name the flavor, and we'll deliver it, paint it on you, and then lick it off."
It didn't even earn her a chuckle.
Sourly, Helena glanced over at Dinah, then toward the fire escape that she'd ascended minutes before after facing down The Irate Girlfriend.
Seemed like she was dealing with a hard audience all around this evening.
For her part, Barbara was working to catalog -- and comprehend -- the riot of gooseflesh that had erupted across her upper body during her partner's greeting. Ultimately, unable to spare the phenomenon more than a millisecond, she opted to chalk it up to her overactive imagination responding to the phantom sensation of frozen dairy on her skin.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Hel," she spoke briskly, hoping that her momentary mental segue hadn't been apparent, "but it's--"
Given her promise to cut back on regular sweeps, not to mention the fact that she was undoubtedly interrupting, Barbara couldn't fault the marked lack of enthusiasm in Helena's response. In her own defense, the redhead honestly hadn't intended to become involved in New Gotham's nightlife: the fact that she was having to contact Helena by phone rather than over her comm set was evidence enough of that.
Nevertheless, as she'd been puttering with the Delphi, banging her head on the installation of the new, experimental petaflop drive -- teraflops were, after all, too Twentieth Century -- to kill time, she'd had the police scanner on in the background.
Possibly, the redhead freely admitted, it was the Barbara Gordon equivalent of white noise. Not to mention the fact that it did seem to lull Katie to sleep in her snugli against Barbara's chest.
Having picked up the call, there was no way that she could ignore it.
"It's an L.O.D., Hel."
She didn't bother to apologize further. After their years together, Barbara knew that Helena would understand that a Life-Or-Death situation spoke for itself. The soft sigh that transmitted through the receiver suggested that her assumption was on target.
"There's a situation in the subway tunnel near--"
Helena's immediate response to this bit of information suggested that, perhaps, Barbara had been over-optimistic in her assessment.
<<"Awww, not the subway, Red. Can't New Gotham's finest handle it?">>
Hands moving rapidly across the keyboard as she triangulated the closest access point to the GPS coordinates she'd picked up from the scanner, Barbara absently pressed a gentle kiss to the mop of red curls that was burrowed against her chest.
"Would you like some cheese with that whine, Hel?"
The silence that answered that was overwhelming.
"NGPD is dragging its feet putting together a tactical squad, Hel, and there's simply no time to wait."
With a huff, Helena rolled her shoulders, fighting the tension that had been creeping through her for the last hour.
"I'm a cat, Red."
Or, at least a bird, she amended mentally in deference to her partner's chosen tag for the team.
"You know. Rooftops? Wind?"
The wind whistling across the roof of the Dark Horse seemed to amplify the silence from the tiny handset.
"Fresh air?" she tried one more time.
More silence greeted that.
Helena raked a hand through her hair and gave a mental shrug.
"At least tell me that it's near the park."
She knew Babs would understand the hope in her voice: the sections of New Gotham's underground mass transit that ran by Central Park were the best maintained. And the cleanest.
Barbara's silence was pretty much answer enough. Helena knew better than most people what it meant when her partner went silent: Bad news.
And, double crap. She'd just had her nails done. All that time when she'd been a guy and thinking about the femme stuff she'd do when she got her body back, and her nails had finally gotten long enough. She'd flirted with the idea of having different colors on each nail, plus maybe some decorations, but she'd decided on a simple French manicure.
The pedicure had been another story.
"Sorry, Hel, it's downtown off the Commerce Street entrance."
That was definitely *not* a well-maintained section of the subway.
The brunette groaned softly as she spun around on the roof, then brightened.
"No sweat, Red. I'll take Dinah with me."
Closing the phone, Helena dug into her coat pocket for her comm set, all the while working really hard not to think just how steamed Gabby was gonna be about having her girlfriend spirited off at midnight.
The vision of a blonde head shaking slowly from side to side erased her concerns about Gabby.
She moved into her companion's personal space, her hands working on their own to fasten the necklace in place.
"I'm sorry, Hel."
Affixing the earpiece, the brunette decided that she was getting tired of hearing those words.
And of feeling them.
"It's just that I'm not sure I want to--- "
Again, a lock of pale hair got pushed behind Dinah's ear, and Helena raised an eyebrow. The rest of the younger woman's admission came is a rush.
"I'm not sure that I *can* do this any more."
Helena -- and Barbara -- had kind of been getting that vibe, but hearing it soft and clear like that still hit like a fist to the gut.
"I get it, D."
Carefully, she draped an arm around slender shoulders and started walking back to the fire escape.
"But, well, while you're making up your mind, why don't you come along?"
She caught silvery-blue eyes with hers and nodded seriously.
"You can hold my coat."
Dinah's cautious nod was enough. Fighting the urge to whoop, Helena flung herself over the edge of the roof, confident that her younger partner was behind her.
Heck, after they wrapped this up, she might even treat them both to ice cream on the way home.
Sucking too hard on your lollipop,
Oh love's gonna get you down,
Sucking too hard on your lollipop,
Oh love's gonna get you down.
One-masked crusader. Two-masked crusader. Three-masked cru...
Two and a half seconds for each rotation of the blades that were lazily slicing through the air.
With timing completed, Barbara felt as confident as possible about when to make her move. Holding her breath, she steadied her muscles, pulled back slowly, and waited...
... three-masked cru--
Dammit. No go.
Her companion seemed to have no such issues, taking a more casual -- perhaps intuitive -- approach and almost effortlessly threading through the spinning blades.
"There we go," was the surprisingly low-key murmur of success, and Barbara smiled gamely. "I told you that you wouldn't be any handicap at all, Katie Fe."
Mama told me what I should know,
Too much candy's gonna rot your soul,
If she loves you, let her go,
Cuz love only gets you down.
Say love, say love,
Oh love's gonna get you down.
Say love, say love,
Oh love's gonna get you down.
Doing her best to ignore the bubblegum pop rock that was tweeting from the speakers above them, Barbara held her position while her father, with Katie firmly strapped to his chest in her snugli, stepped around the miniature windmill and lined up his shot. Despite his protests to the contrary, she simply couldn't see how attempting to sink the putt could not be hampered by the merrily gurgling five-month old.
A wriggling five-month old wearing an absurdly huge sunbonnet, no less.
Of course, when she casually glanced down and totaled their scores so far for the miniature golf course, Barbara had to admit that she could use any advantage that she could get.
"And, there it is."
"Chortling" seemed the most apt description for Jim's glee in coming in two under par on the notoriously tricky windmill green. Barbara dutifully recorded the birdie or eagle or whatever it was and moved on to the tiny green to take another swing at threading her ball through the spinning blades. She tapped it through on her third try and circled behind the particle-board eyesore, disappointed -- but hardly surprised -- to discover that her ball hadn't rolled obligingly into the cup.
"This must be a little dull for you, Dad," she managed over a smile while she lined up the shot.
The sputtering cough that erupted somehow didn't cause her to flinch, and Barbara watched with satisfaction as the neon pink ball dropped into the hole.
"After last week, Barbie, I can use a bit of dullness in my game."
The redhead straightened from retrieving her ball and shook her head.
She still wasn't certain that she believed her father's tale of high speed antics during a golf date with his former chief of staff; however, it did make for an entertaining story.
"And, driving his golf cart into the country club lake hasn't, er," she joined her father for the short walk to the fourteenth green, batting her eyes innocently. "dampened Charlie's enthusiasm for the game?"
Gun-metal blue eyes twinkled before the elder Gordon chuckled.
"Not at all. But -- "
He gracefully bent, one hand cradling the back of Katharine's head, and seated his ball in the putting divot.
"-- it has given him a dandy excuse to shop for a newer model."
Barbara swallowed a comment about boys and their toys -- she was hardly one to point fingers when it came to collecting gear -- and waited while her father tapped his ball down the astroturf. Naturally, he banked it perfectly off the side, and it rolled smoothly across the tiny bridge leading to the cup.
"Would you have invited Helena to join you?"
She was pleased that the question remained low key. Looking around one side of the ruffled sunbonnet as he addressed his ball, her father's response was distracted.
"What do you mean?"
"Golfing with the boys at some point?" she prompted, coincidentally just as he missed what should have been an easy shot.
With her father's ball only inches from the cup, Barbara didn't object when he negligently scraped it in.
"Barbara -- about that."
Perhaps her father should have worn a hat: his face seemed to be picking up a bit of sun.
"I -- "
She looked over the tiny cardboard score card and raised her eyebrows.
"I'm overdue to apologize about that, Barbara."
He was beside her then, kneeling to bring them to eye level. Since they were the only ones at the New Gotham Wee Putt Golf Course on this fine Wednesday morning in June, Barbara didn't worry about holding up the game of anyone behind them.
"I don't want an apology, Dad."
She tucked the cardboard next to her leg and tapped the golf pencil against her knee. Completely unsatisfied by the lack of tactile feedback, she clenched it in her fist and met her father's eyes.
"Just an explanation about why it was suddenly appropriate to sponsor Helena on the force when she was a man."
For a moment, her father worked his jaw, and Barbara focused on not concentrating on the walrus images that Helena had painted for her in the past.
"I thought I told Helena at the time that it wasn't her gender, Barbara. It was simply -- "
Voice flat, the redhead quietly interrupted her father.
Pushing to his feet, her father nodded, not unkindly.
"You know that the height requirement exists for a reason, and I support those reasons."
After all of the years, the words were still difficult to swallow. After all of the arguments that she'd had with her father years ago when she'd been determined to join the force, after all of the indulgent smiles and excuses about her height, Barbara still didn't want to hear it.
She tapped a neatly trimmed nail against the rim of one wheel, fighting her temper.
It was either that or cry, she supposed.
All that she'd wanted, all that she'd dreamed about as a young woman, had centered around fighting for justice. Ideally on her father's wing on the police force.
Too short, indeed.
Of course, the local branch of the FBI had agreed as well when she'd turned to them as a last resort. It was a fact that still rankled.
Clearly Jodie Foster's diminutive stature hadn't been an issue when she'd been cast in "Silence of the Lambs", and Barbara still didn't see why her own vertical shortcomings should have mattered as well.
The redhead was quite familiar with the aphorism about the kingdom being lost for want of a horseshoe nail. She simply wouldn't -- couldn't -- allow herself to revisit dark thoughts about for want of two and a half inches in height, her legs had been lost. Yet, if she had been able to join the force, perhaps she would never have put on the latex and neoprene, would never have danced over the rooftops, would never have joined forces with Bruce and... brought herself to the Joker's attention.
Barbara shook her head once, roughly, from side to side and determinedly pushed aside thoughts of the miracles that might have been in the guise of a Mentachem wand and the bleak realities of possible last chances.
"No, Dad," she looked up and caught his hand in hers. "I'm sorry that I'm still being snarky about this."
It wasn't his fault that she hadn't inherited the height from his side of the family, nor could she blame him for seizing on the opportunity to have someone in the family follow in his footsteps.
The two shared a look, mercifully brief when Katie broke the moment by stretching a chubby fist up to grab her Grandfather's mustache. Barbara released her father's hand with a squeeze and a wink and settled her ball on the rubber tee-pad.
"It is a bit of a miracle that that wand fellow was persuaded to turn Helena back."
Focusing on her shot, Barbara waited to respond until her ball wobbled past the tiny bridge and plopped into the algae-laden moat that cut across the tiny green.
"Oh, porpoise poop."
Her father gallantly plucked her ball out of the water and settled it on the other side of the bridge. He did not, Barbara noted wryly, step away, clearly waiting for a response of some sort.
Since Helena had been returned to her female form a few weeks before, Jim Gordon hadn't missed an opportunity to fish for details on the miraculous change. Barbara decided to cave.
"Dinah played a big role, Dad."
Judging from the speed that a bushy unibrow shot upward, this was not the explanation the former police commissioner had been expecting. Angled slightly over the low arm of her sports chair, Barbara focused on positioning her putter next to her ball.
"She has certain... persuasive powers," she elaborated, dropping her ball into the cup.
Clearly digesting that nugget of information, her father bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, eliciting a small riot of giggles from Katie. Since she was in no hurry to provide further information, Barbara silently added two more ticks to her score and moved on to the next green.
"Dinah, too, eh?"
Barbara managed to hold her smile under his steady gaze until her father bent to place his ball on the tee. At that point, his voice dropped, possibly meant for Katie alone.
"Well, good for her."
Since Barbara had some questions on that front, she opted to hold her peace, instead following the progress of her father's ball as it wound through the mini-maze that made up the green. Her companion also remained silent, nursing his ball down the green until it dropped into the cup -- a bogey -- with a small thunk.
"Well," his voice was a bit too robust, and Barbara readied herself for anything. "Did you hear about that poor woman on the subway last night?"
Ah, a change of subject.
The redhead pretended to think about the question for a beat, wondering just how much pretense mattered at this point.
Although Helena hadn't made it home afterward for a full briefing, Barbara had, indeed, heard about the incident, in some detail, when her partners had entered the subway twelve hours earlier.
<<"Oh, fuck, B-Oracle...">>
Helena hadn't slipped with their code names for so long that Barbara had forgotten that it was a possibility. The sound of Dinah's gasping had only heightened her alarm.
She'd checked the GPS locator, confirming that Helena and Dinah were still over a thousand feet from the reported emergency site. Helena's brief response had been... illuminating.
<<"Dead rats, Oracle. Lots of dead rats.">>
That had elicited a sympathetic wince. The section of subway that Helena and Dinah had been jogging through had long been one of the city's most vermin-ridden. Apparently, the city council's plans to fumigate had been approved in time for the heat of summer to kick in.
"That bad, Huntress?"
The response had been immediate... and heartening.
<<"Jesus, Oracle, the smell could knock a buzzard off a dump truck full of baby diapers.">>
If her partner in the field could make jokes -- not to mention the fact that Dinah's affronted gasps had no longer been audible over the comms -- she'd felt certain that the situation couldn't be *that* bad. Nevertheless, acutely aware that Helena had still been breathing shallowly, and noisily, through her mouth, she'd chosen not to verbalize her observation.
The next word's she'd heard, with the GPS showing the two young women five hundred feet further down the tunnel, had been Helena's. The low purr, dark with suspicion, had informed the redhead that she hadn't been alone in making the observation about Dinah's relative lack of discomfort in the tunnel.
<<"Okay, Canary, what gives?">>
Since Dinah hadn't had a comm set with her, the response had sounded a bit muted.
Or, Barbara had realized a split-second before Helena's indignant yelp had ricocheted through her earpiece, like the worlds were coming from inside a...
<<"You did a TK air bubble and didn't include me?!">>
Dinah's silence had been telling; Barbara had easily visualized the fair young woman's blush. However, when Dinah had spoken, her voice had been calm and the acoustics over the comms had suggested that Helena was no longer separated from her by a cocoon of air.
<<<"No sweat, Huntress, c'mon in.">>>
Helena's laughter had been welcome; her response, telling.
<<"My knight in shining armor, huh?">>
The word had come unbidden and had continued to haunt Barbara as Helena and Dinah had enacted a rescue. A day later, she still wasn't certain what it foretold.
"Have you -- "
Suspecting that she was taking too long with her response, Barbara flicked her putter, neatly chipping her ball over the maze that wound across the tiny green. Amazingly, it appeared that the ball dropped within inches of the cup.
"-- heard how she's doing, Dad?"
Heaven only knew why someone had decided to abduct Pigeon Polly, the city's most-beloved bag lady and friend of certain birds in the park, and then to tie her to the subway tracks.
"Like something out of a silent movie," had been Helena's description when they'd reached the scene.
"A bad silent movie," had been Dinah's contribution.
Whether by design or ineptitude, the assailants had tied the unfortunate woman to the tracks for the commuter express line. Since that route ran only twice an hour, tragedy had been averted.
"My information sources told me that the hospital released her this morning, Barbara."
It was subtle, but the redhead was fairly confident that she'd picked up just a hint of emphasis on the word "my". Nevertheless, she had no plans for this meeting with her father to segue into the discussion they'd been dancing around for years, and so she simply smiled and led the way to the next green.
"However -- "
The elder Gordon interrupted his practice swing to resettle Katie's bonnet and then turned, tapping his ball almost negligently. Barbara's forced smile grew genuine when the ball rolled smoothly into the cup.
"Hole in one, Katie Fe," his pleased chuckle brought grins to both of the Gordon women. "Stick with me, little lady, and I'll show you how to play the game in a few years."
Suspecting that the expression on her face bordered on something that could be described as "doting", Barbara moved to the tee and positioned her ball as her father stepped to one side.
"But, as I was saying, Barbara, they didn't know how Polly was rescued."
"Good Samaritan?" she suggested softly, her attention focused on her swing.
His expression, when she looked up, indicated that he considered that possibility to be a remote one; however, eventually he nodded.
"I suppose so, Barbie."
The redhead's temporary measure of calm evaporated with a noisy pop when she comprehended her father's next words.
"Perhaps a Samaritan much like Dinah was for Helena with the wand situation, eh?"
Somehow having lost her enthusiasm for the game, Barbara was unsurprised when her father soundly swept the last few greens.
When Helena stepped from the elevator that evening, she was surprised, really surprised, not to find Barbara waiting for her in the living area. Or, maybe more likely after the night before's unplanned rescue, perched at her station in front of the Delphi.
Just... somewhere close.
Helena hadn't made it home the night before: after the rescue of the bird lady, her offer of ice cream with Dinah had turned into a long midnight snack at an all-night diner. Then, walking D back to her apartment had turned into something more and by the time she'd made it back to the Tower, Red and Katie were already gone. Before they'd returned from visiting with Barbara's dad, Helena had been back at work, pulling the low-tipping late-afternoon shift in exchange for the chance to spend an evening at home.
Considering that this was supposed to be a laid-back summer vacation, it suddenly wasn't feeling like she was getting to spend much time with Barbara being... laid back. Helena had kind of been hoping that her partner felt the same way.
Still, as the elevator doors slid shut behind her, the brunette had to admit that it didn't take a rocket scientist... or a cyber-genius... or even someone with meta-human senses to figure out just where Barbara was: Helena just followed the awful din that was coming from the kitchen.
Sure enough, Red was in there.
Oddly enough, she was in her electric chair. Less odd, she was completely occupied with beating on the kitchen ceiling with the handle of a broom.
A quick sniff and a brief look around told Helena everything she needed to know. She didn't even try for a greeting, choosing action instead. An easy leap took her to the top of the kitchen counter and within range of the smoke alarm -- what Barbara had been aiming for with the broom. Opting for the direct approach, she silenced it by popping the plastic cover and yanking the batteries out.
With the bedlam quotient reduced, Helena hopped down, stepped across the room, and turned the stove burner -- the one still lit beneath the charred saucepan -- to the off position. The pan itself was empty, save for the blistered nonstick coating; next to the stove, an empty measuring cup with a few drops of water still in it provided a clue about what Babs had been heating up.
"You really can't boil water, can you?" she inquired cheerfully as she turned to her partner with a smile.
Eight years and counting, and Helena still couldn't figure out how someone as whip-smart as Barbara could become so utterly *inept* the second she crossed the threshold of a kitchen. Maybe some of her disbelief was registering in her face, because when Babs answered, she sounded just a teensy bit defensive.
"I certainly can with the microwave."
Well, sure, the high-tech approach was simple for the redhead.
"Uh -- " Helena wrinkled her nose against the acrid stench of melted teflon. "Then why weren't you microwaving?"
Barbara suspected that there was no way that Helena would mistake the heat she could feel touching her cheeks for the aftereffects of her exertion with the broom. Sucking it up, she inclined her head toward the familiar blue and white box that sat on the counter next to the stove.
"The instructions said that the stovetop method was preferred."
She easily read the puzzlement in her partner's eyes.
"You wanted some mac-n-cheese?"
Pursing her lips, Barbara straightened her shoulders.
"I thought that you might be hungry when you got in, Helena."
The words, Barbara knew, had been a little stiff; however, the entire day had thrown her equilibrium off-kilter. In honesty, it probably hadn't been her brightest idea to stretch her boundaries -- culinary or otherwise.
"You were cooking for... me?"
Helena's blue eyes were wide, almost comically so. Her question rose a half-octave on the final word.
"Obviously, I forgot my limi--"
Barbara stumbled over the word. Aware of how stilted her response had been she looked down, lightly touching the control for the electric chair.
"Well, let's just say that this is a valuable reminder that all of the cooking I need to know is on the speed dial."
She managed a smile by the time she finished, but there was no way that Helena couldn't clue in to the embarrassment in her partner's words.
"It's just, I had my fill of Kraft dinner when I was first starting out in my apartment."
The glint in green eyes told her that Barbara wasn't buying it, so Helena smiled broadly and moved away from the stove.
"But, you were right about me being hungry, Red."
That got a soft smile.
"Not a huge stretch, Hel."
"Still -- " she stepped around the bulky electric chair and grabbed the handles of the plastic bags she'd dropped on the kitchen table on her way to play fire fighter.
"-- I come bearing food."
Blue eyes twinkled under dark lashes, and Barbara prepared herself.
"What else, Red? Deli."
The reminder of something they'd both eaten too much of back in the early days released Barbara's lingering tension. Laughing, she kicked her chair into gear -- naturally, it worked flawlessly *this* time -- and plucked the plastic bags from Helena's fingers on the way out of the kitchen.
"Balcony?" she suggested, already on her way.
It would, after all, give the smoke time to dissipate.
By the time Helena retrieved Katharine from the bedroom and set her up in her bouncer chair on the balcony, Barbara had arranged their impromptu picnic. Since summer had officially started, there was still a bit of orange from the setting sun in the evening sky, negating the need for further light.
Altogether, Barbara had to admit as she tucked into her turkey and sprouts on whole wheat, the interlude was just what the doctor ordered.
The question was muffled by a huge bite of corned beef on rye, however Barbara got the gist of it, nodding as she dabbed a bit of mustard from her lip with a paper napkin.
"This is perfect, Hel."
She punctuated the pronouncement by taking another bite, then cocked her head quizzically.
"Yeah," Helena's grin was conspiratorial. "I had 'em put extra bacon on it."
Yet, Helena's thoughtfulness was hardly surprising: if there was one thing that Barbara had recognized during the odd weeks when her partner had been... changed it was that Helena was not just capable of taking things into her own hands but she was, apparently, also comfortable doing so.
"My arteries may be complaining, but *I* appreciate the indulgence, Hel."
Seeing the gusto that Red was putting into her sandwich, Helena couldn't doubt it. Popping open her soda, the brunette took a long swallow and debated pushing her luck.
What the hell.
"Uh, speaking of indulgences -- "
D'oh. Man, had she really said that?
"-- what's up with the high-tech wheels tonight?"
The answer was light.
"I didn't want to forget how to use it."
Helena worked on another bite of her sandwich and nodded, deciding not to think about how much Barbara had always hated the motorized chair. Judging from the mess in the kitchen, Red *was* out of practice.
"I'm sorry I didn't make it in last night."
She sucked a dollop of mustard from her thumb and corrected herself.
"Or this morning."
Barbara studied her companion in the twilight. She detected nothing but sincerity in Helena's voice, however, there was something in her eyes that she couldn't read.
"Did... Were you with Dinah?"
After her younger partners had rescued Pigeon Polly and gotten her to the hospital, Helena had informed her that they were going for ice cream. A half-hour later, she'd gotten a call from her lover who had decamped to an all-night diner, suggesting that she not wait up.
Barbara's interest in her small container of potato salad waned when she saw Helena drop the remaining half of her sandwich into one of the plastic bags.
"We, uh, talked."
Deep blue eyes searched the skyline for a heartbeat.
"Not about anything in particular or anything."
Reaching for the lid for the styrofoam container, Barbara offered a minute nod and a smile of encouragement.
"And after we left the diner, we walked."
Quite cognizant of the power of silence, Barbara remained still, watching as Helena cracked the knuckles of her right hand. Finally, blue eyes met hers again.
"We walked a lot, Barbara. It was like, every time we got near the Dark Horse, she'd duck back somewhere else."
Crimson brows knit as Barbara considered that. She definitely had a sense that there was something more to the story.
"I dunno. I mean -- "
Deliberately, Barbara attempted not to be conscious of the fact that Helena's phrasing was very much mirroring Dinah's.
"-- I guess she didn't want to see Gabby after we gave her the slip."
Slender shoulder's shrugged in the growing darkness.
"But, still, I get the feeling there's something more, Barbara."
Barbara watched her companion chew at her lower lip, detecting a flicker of something in her eyes that could have been worry... or guilt. Her decision was made.
"I believe that it's time we both spent some time with her, Hel."
It had been ten days since she had last seen Dinah, almost a week since a brief phone call from her ward.
"How will you get her to--"
The redhead kept her response light.
And very certain.
"We'll make her an offer she can't refuse, Hel."
It took her a beat to comprehend the gesture when Helena raised her can of soda between them. When she did, Barbara touched her bottle of water to the can, returning the toast, and shared a smile as she brought the bottle to her mouth. Before she'd finished swallowing, Helena was on her lap, her warm breath tickling her ear.
"So, Don Gordleone, you want I should--?"
Wincing over her laughter, Barbara cut short the dreadful impression from The Godfather movies.
"Please, don't Brando me."
Feeling her lover relax from the wary tension that had be evident since they'd started talking about Dinah, Helena joined in the laughter.
Then, she turned her head and kissed her.
It was a long, slow, thorough kiss. It spoke of more than Helena could ever find the words for. Maybe something beyond words, at once filled with promise and heavy with need.
Unable, unwilling, to stop herself, Helena settled her knees into the unpadded seat on each side of her partner's thighs. Gently, she lowered her body... just enough to bring her center into contact. For long moments, she forced herself to be still, inhaling the sweet scent of Barbara's shampoo, feeling the ache spreading through her sinews and muscles.
Through her heart.
God, it was so much.
Concentrating on the sensation of Helena's soft lips brushing lightly against her neck, Barbara almost missed it when slender finger slipped into the placket of her shirt to sketch a teasing pattern over the fabric of her bra. She was long since past the time in her relationship -- her physical relationship -- with Helena when the sly sweep of her fingers on her chest irritated her. Rather, Barbara admitted as she felt her flesh respond, it appeared that she truly did appreciate such attention.
The redhead captured the roving hand and tugged it upward to press a gentle kiss to her lover's fingertips.
"Why don't we turn in early, Hel?"
Of course, it wasn't that simple. Between clearing the detritus of their picnic from the balcony and giving Katie a late evening snack and simply maneuvering the damned electric chair down the hall, over an hour simply flitted by before Barbara finally relaxed into the softness of the big bed.
Immediately, her partner -- who had made it under the covers only minutes before -- pressed against her side, her nose burrowing under Barbara's arm. A fond smile snuck past her defenses, an expression that morphed to something a bit more puzzled as the minutes slipped by.
The brunette wasn't asleep, of that Barbara was quite sure.
A non-commital murmur was the only response.
"Are you... trying to sleep?"
Frankly, after the interest that Helena had displayed earlier, not to mention her own willingness to rise to the occasion, Barbara was puzzled by the possibility.
"Listening to your heart."
Feeling her eyebrows knit, Barbara examined that from a variety of angles. Eventually, she decided to go with the most obvious.
"Is it that loud?"
Gently, she combed her fingers through dark silk, feeling the slight hitch in her bedmate's breathing.
"It is for me."
The words were a bit muted by her own tee-shirt clad torso, and so it was perhaps inevitable that Barbara first misunderstood. In fact, her mouth was open to say something about Helena's meta-enhanced senses when the meaning behind the words struck.
The dark head finally shifted, and golden eyes met hers.
Lost in verdant green, Helena didn't even try to add the rest: The beat of Barbara's heart set the tempo for her own. Instead, she chose the language of the nonverbal, melding her mouth to satin lips and working one hand under Barbara's tee.
Sure, Babs hadn't much been into the physical stuff recently; she was still treating Helena a little like glass and, heck, she was distracted by Dinah. But still, during all those weeks that Helena had been doing the three-legged thing, Red had pretty much shown that she was okay with Helena taking the lead.
And, god, Helena was sure feeling something, a wild kind of itch that she'd damned near forgotten about in the last two months.
The sound of Barbara's breathing hitching and the sensation of a nipple coming to attention against her palm was all that she needed. Fighting the need to beg, the brunette pushed up and forced herself to speak softly.
"May I touch you?"
Although she had been concentrating on sensation and focusing on letting go to Helena's pace, Barbara didn't have to think about her answer.
Mutely, she nodded. Breathless, she waited out Helena's scrutiny, then arched a brow when the brunette leaned away from her. Clarity dawned when she realized that her lover was stretching for the drawer in the nightstand, the drawer that held their... toys. She wasn't surprised when she saw what Helena had retrieved: the item that they'd simply dubbed "the purple thing."
Barbara swallowed thickly and searched violet eyes. Making her decision, she reached for the hem of her tee and efficiently stripped it over her head. Her voice was husky when she spoke.
"Yes, Hel. Touch me."
"You have *got* to get your hands on this."
Pale blue eyes that were as excited as Barbara had witnessed in far too long peeked over the top of the pages that Barbara had printed from a recent issue of "Applied Physics Letters."
"I can't believe they're getting transmission rates that fast."
Sharing her youngest protege's enthusiasm, Barbara grinned and leaned backward a few degrees, resting her palms on the concrete that surrounded the turquoise waters of the swimming pool. She had to agree that 90% of the speed of light did defy belief.
"I'd like to test it myself, Dinah," she allowed, suspecting that there was no great surprise in the admission. The possibilities for the nano-scale coax were simply too exciting to ignore. "The latency factor alone--"
"You two are pulling my leg, right?"
The question was accompanied by the appearance of one long, tanned leg -- and then the rest of Helena Kyle's sleek form as she vaulted out of the pool to stand beside them. Unperturbed by the interruption, Barbara looked up with a smile that she immediately feared would become a permanent fixture on her face.
Helena's natural tan was highlighted by the cobalt blue of her surprisingly modest racing suit. Water sheeted through the dark hair that was plastered to her. Every muscle was highlighted by water droplets and the afternoon sun.
She was, quite simply, fantasy brought to life.
Perhaps mercifully, the fantasy disappeared when Helena shook herself, spraying Barbara with a light misting of water. Automatically, the redhead looked over to Dinah, who was holding Katie on a lounge chair, to see if she'd been caught in the shower. With the blonde shadowed by a huge sun umbrella it was difficult to be certain, however Barbara thought that Dinah's expression was oddly intent as she focused on Helena.
"We're at New Gotham's swankiest country club," Helena continued as she stepped past Barbara to grab a towel, "with this gorgeous empty pool, and the two of you have your heads buried in a stack of printouts?"
Sure, she had to give Barbara her due: she'd been right, as usual, that cajoling Dinah with the promise of Kat's first swimming less had been an offer that D couldn't refuse. Scoring admission to the almost unused Country Club pool, courtesy of Charlie O'Hara, hadn't hurt either. But, still, it didn't seem like Red had to keep sweetening the pot with the techie crap.
With an disbelieving shake of her head, Helena fastened the towel sarong-style around her waist, then snagged the sun block from the table beside Dinah.
"Lemme get your back again, Barbara."
It was probably too late to do anything for Dinah: The Kid had insisted that she didn't need any help with her back and had come out of the pool a few minutes before with a clear case of lobsteritis. Barbara had immediately spritzed her up with after-sun and tucked her under the umbrella with Katie, but D was still going to be feeling that burn for a while.
Barbara, on the other hand...
For several delicious minutes, Helena worked, oblivious to Barbara and Dinah's chatter about nano-somthings. Concentrating utterly on the sensation of slick lotion and soft skin, she fought the stirring in her belly, the beginning of a growing ache that the night before hadn't begun to touch.
She had to figure it was good that she wasn't still a guy: when Barbara had done that thing with yanking off her own tee shirt, she would have lost it right there. As it was, somehow, she'd managed to keep it slow, working Barbara up, warming them up while Babs slowed down and let Helena do her thing.
Luxuriating in images of Barbara, her head thrown back in passion, her neck arched in offering, Helena focused on nothing more than the slow sweep of her palms over sun-warmed skin. The slickness of the lotion did nothing to hide the knotted muscle near her partner's shoulder, and she worked it gently with the pad of her thumb.
No surprise that Red was tense: Being Barbara, there was no way she was going to let it go until she found out what was going on with the Kid.
An almost sub-vocal purr, a sound of pleasure so minute that Helena thought Barbara might not have been aware of making it, almost undid the brunette. As casually as possible, she stood; she made herself stop touching.
"Here, D -- "
Wiping her hands on the towel wrapped low around her hips, Helena stepped over to the lounger.
"I'll take the Peapod, and you and Red can hit the water again."
Pointedly, Barbara decided not to be surprised by the seeming suddenness of Helena's suggestion. She had, after all, been occupied with her conversation with Dinah, part of her enjoying the feel of Helena's hands on her back, another part guardedly observing the manner in which Dinah's eyes had seemed to track from her to the skilled hands lingering on her back.
It wouldn't be the first time that she'd missed some sort of nonverbal clue on the part of her partner.
"Thank you, Hel," she managed, captivated by the sight of the brunette slipping carefully into the pool with Katie grasped securely in her arms. Just as she had done earlier that afternoon, Helena took her time introducing their daughter to the warm water -- first toes, then legs, until a bit of vigorous kicking and happy gurgling reassured them all that the youngest member of the family was enjoying herself.
"Dinah, are you sure you should get more --?"
Barbara's inquiry about her companion's sunburn stalled when Dinah rose from the chair, shaking her head.
"No. It's a lot better."
When the blonde stepped from the shade of the umbrella, Barbara had to grant that the wicked burn had... disappeared. Nevertheless, she beckoned with a finger and reached for the spray as Dinah obligingly dropped down to sit camp-style in front of her.
"She'll be swimming before she walks, won't she?"
Satisfied with the application of the protective spray, Barbara followed Dinah's gaze to the pool. Helena was in the shallower end, floating on her back and blowing water out of her mouth with Katharine on her lap. Their daughter's delighted giggles were a far cry from the affronted hisses Katie had come out with when they'd first introduced her to the pool a few hours before.
"A duck to water," she murmured, fighting a pang of something she was afraid to label envy.
There was, after all, no sense in dwelling on the fact that she couldn't frolic in water of any depth with her daughter. There was no reason to fixate on that or myriad other things -- such as teaching Katie to ride a bike or leading her on scouting hikes -- that she wouldn't be doing. For now, she would be grateful to splash in the shallow end and share long bubble baths in the big tub.
Smiling, Barbara slipped into the water and focused on Dinah's question.
"I've heard that swimming before walking is possible, Dinah."
When the younger woman joined her in the water, Barbara broke into a lazy sidestroke, pleased when Dinah mirrored her. Opting to separate herself from a conversation that was hitting a bit too close, the redhead gave voice to her curiosity.
"When you touch Katharine, Dinah, can you--"
Barbara glanced over her swimming partner's shoulder, focusing briefly on Helena and Katie.
"-- read anything from her?"
She could detect nothing but sincerity in Dinah's grin.
"Not-- Well, just a happy feeling. I mean, I guess it just makes me happy holding her."
Laughing, Barbara came to a stop at the far end of the pool and held herself with one hand on the edge.
"I think it makes her happy being held by you, Dinah."
Since she'd never been one to let an opportunity go to waste, she pressed the advantage.
"She's missed you recently." After a moment's consideration, she added the remainder of the truth. "*We* have missed you."
She waited, more or less patiently, while the blonde leaned back to wet her hair and then pushed it from her forehead.
"Well, I know that you guys are doing the family thing for summer, and I didn't want to--"
Barbara was having none of that.
"Dinah, you're part of this family."
For a split second, Barbara almost believed Dinah's answering laugh to be genuine.
"Yeah, but, well, Gabby's back, too."
Something squeezed sharp and hot in Barbara's chest, and she narrowed her eyes slightly behind her Ray-Bans, wondering just when her ingenuous ward had learned to lie so well.
"Dinah," she chided softly.
Barbara felt reasonably certain that no telepathic abilities were required for her former ward to understand the message. When Dinah lifted herself from the pool to sit on the side, Barbara waited her out. The silence lengthened as the blonde kicked her legs slowly in the water, her attention focused intently on her knees.
"Are you pissed that we took on Mr. Mandrill without you?"
The redhead couldn't help but note her companion's uncharacteristic choice of language. And, she realized as she swept her free hand lightly through the water, the way that Dinah had referred to the source of their collective... upset.
However, even if it weren't the phrasing -- or the inquir -- that she'd anticipated, she still had a question to address.
The reassurance that Barbara found ready to spill over her lips was pure instinct. Frankly surprised that she'd caught herself, she swallowed the words and gave Dinah's question its due.
She owed her youngest partner that much.
"Yes, I suppose I am, Dinah," she finally allowed.
Pinned by wounded eyes -- Helena's hangdog look appeared to be facing serious competition -- Barbara released her hold on the side of the pool and rested her palm gently on the Dinah's knee. She looked over the top of her sunglasses, seeking sky-blue eyes that were veiled by cornsilk lashes.
"Probably not as much as you're thinking."
Watching Dinah struggle to mask her disbelief, she idly determined that Helena probably would have scoffed outright. Nevertheless, having surprised herself with her admission, Barbara hardly thought it fair to fault Dinah's skepticism.
Nodding, Barbara removed her hand to the side of the pool again and continued slowly, working to find her way. Somehow, she didn't believe that this issue was at the root of things; however, if it opened the door, she wouldn't refuse to roll through.
"It left you both out there without backup, which was simply irresponsi--"
"We didn't want you -- "
Dinah was speaking before she finished and, almost as quickly, blushing over her interruption. Barbara quirked one corner of her mouth and spoke quietly.
"Didn't want me?"
Out of the water, Dinah's golden hair was already beginning to dry, and before answering, the young woman pushed a stray lock behind her ear.
"We didn't want you to see."
Barbara felt her eyebrows tic upward, but she remained silent.
"To hear when I made him change Helena back."
There could be no doubt that Dinah was getting better at hiding her emotions. The shuttered blankness that Barbara saw saddened her no end, even as she recognized the necessity of learning to compartmentalize some things.
"I suspect that it would have been... difficult, Dinah."
To say the least.
Dinah seemed to be finding something of great interest in the middle of the pool. Barbara chose to keep her focus on Dinah.
"It was hard."
Her response required no consideration.
"Nevertheless, Dinah, I want to be there for you."
A beat later, remembering who else had had a very difficult time of it, she sighed quietly and added, "For both of you."
The answering nod was brief, almost a formality, then Dinah placed her hands on the edge of the pool and scooted forward. Before she slipped back into the water, she stopped, rocking back and forth a bit.
"I don't know if I could make Mandrill do another transform, Barbara."
While Barbara readily admitted that she wasn't the brightest emotional bulb in the marquee, she wasn't oblivious; however, somehow she'd assumed that the weight of guilt on this particular front was resting largely on Helena's slender shoulders.
The shadowed guilt in her protege's eyes quickly disabused her of that notion. Of course Dinah, too, would bear a burden for not being able to offer her a miracle.
A sudden screech of infant delight from the other side of the pool momentarily set the redhead's heart to racing. Somehow, she collected her wits enough to look over with a smile and waggle her fingers at Katie who was busy using Helena's stomach as a human trampoline.
The interruption also gave Barbara just enough time to ravel together the threads of her thoughts and the shards of her emotions. Calmly, she rested one hand on Dinah's, certain that any thoughts that Dinah might pick up would pass muster.
"It's fine, Dinah."
There was, simply put, no way that she would ask her partner to go through that sort of ordeal again.
Casually, she lowered her hand and backstroked from the edge before adding the rest.
Throughout her life, Barbara Gordon had never much availed herself of the sybaritic possibilities inherent in Saturday mornings. As a young child, she'd been too conscious of being careful not to wake parents who had perhaps stayed up too late the night before. In her teen years, there had been books to read and experiments to pursue. Since then, she was usually the one recovering from late nights of battling Friday night lawlessness.
This Saturday was going to be an exception.
Barbara had awakened just after 8am to discover herself quite alone: apparently, her notoriously late-sleeping partner had been up early and taken Katie out for some Mama-Daughter time. Barbara had promptly decided to accept the quiet time as the gift that it was.
Turning to the next page of the paper, the redhead made a neat crease in the newsprint and, without looking up, poured herself another cup of thick black coffee from the percolator on the table. In the spirit of the morning, she was using the delicate bone china cup with hand-painted periwinkles around the rim that May Parker had given her when she'd graduated from high school.
All things considered, it was something of a miracle that the lovely piece hadn't been broken -- or lost -- during the years since.
The unmistakable awareness of Helena's return drew her from thoughts of the various moves she'd made to different living quarters since high school. Hearing the younger woman heading down the hall toward their bedroom, she called a response to Helena's greeting, smiling at Helena's next words.
"Be right back, Red. Katie's ready for a nap."
She'd been doing it for so long that Helena didn't even have to think as she changed Kat's diaper and settled her into her crib. She'd given her a bottle of breast milk before tucking her into the snugli and heading out for a run a few hours earlier. By the time Helena had hit her third mile, her precious cargo had been making her sleepy noises; unfortunately, those miles -- and the five more she'd piled on after that -- hadn't had the same kind of effect on her.
Helena had energy to burn.
Snuggling with Barbara on the couch after her shift the night before had been nice, but damned if she didn't want... well... something.
There's a line that I can't cross over
It's no good for me and it's no good for you
And that feeling deep down inside me
I can't explain it and you're wondering why
You say we been like strangers
But I'm not the others you can hang by your fingers
The soft sound of the kitchen radio caught the brunette's attention, and she paused just outside the doorway to the breakfast nook, trying to place the song. It was something ancient, something by Sid and Marty Krofft -- or somebody and Croft -- that went waaay beyond Red's usual taste for 80's retro.
Darling if you want me to see, see only you
Then see only me
There was a time I would come running
Drop everything for the touch of your hand in mine
Gallantly, Helena decided not to comment on Red's off-key humming. The way that her tonally challenged partner was absorbed in the paper, she probably wasn't aware that she'd been keeping time with the radio.
Besides, focusing on Barbara in that blue silk robe -- and nothing else if she weren't mistaken -- definitely had her mind on other things.
And I can't go on living
Wondering if you'll be here tomorrow
People change and you're changing
And I've given you my all
That no one can borrow
Barbara peered over the top of her glasses, taking in her partner's rumpled heather-gray sweats and the faint sheen of perspiration on her forehead.
"Did you and Katharine having a good outing?"
Maybe it was the coffee. Maybe it was that Babs probably hadn't spoken yet that morning. Whatever it was, her voice slid over Helena's skin like whiskey on her palate: smooth and smoky, then just sharp enough to set her nerves to tingling.
"Little run," she granted, turning to yank open the refrigerator door.
Something cool, maybe.
Cocking one eyebrow slightly at the laconic response, Barbara gave a mental shrug and tapped one nail against the headline on the second page.
"Did you know that someone broke into the City Hall Clock Building last night and filled it with --"
Here, she paused, rapidly rescanning the late-breaking article from the morning paper.
When Helena emerged from digging in the refrigerator, the carton of milk in hand, her amusement was apparent.
"Bats in the belfry?"
The brunette had to admit that it was pretty funny, as was the quirk-lines she saw flash between crimson brows and the exasperation she could see waxing in those amazing green eyes.
Maybe they should hang some paper bats up in the living room or something.
Somehow, Helena managed not to choke on her mouthful of milk -- straight from the carton, of course -- when she saw Barbara pursing her lips.
"As amusing as the concept is, Hel, I do have to wonder -- "
The redhead paused, tapping the folded newspaper absently against her chest. The motion fluffed the silk collar of the robe, revealing tantalizing glimpses of light and shadow.
No longer thirsty for milk, Helena licked her lips and fumbled the carton back into the fridge, bumping the door shut with her hip.
She stepped closer, her thighs almost bumping one armrest on the chair. She could smell the intoxicating fragrance of Barbara's sandalwood shower gel and figured that her partner had indulged in a long shower while she'd been out with the Peapod.
"If someone is sending us a message, He--"
Helena took a quick step to the side and dropped to her knees in front of her partner.
She didn't know about some phantom "someone", but she sure as hell was sending a message.
"Us?" she managed, her eyes tracking the lighter blue piping on the hem of the robe, where the fabric caressed Barbara's knees.
The question, not to mention Helena's sudden action, enticed a smile from the redhead, and she considered the options.
"It is a long shot," she granted, quite aware that in their line of work coincidences seldom were coincidences.
Helena seemed, frankly, indifferent to the admission. Indeed, the younger woman appeared to be more concerned with tracing the hem of her robe with one slender index finger.
"I suppose," Barbara chewed at her lower lip, considering other options, "it could be something for Bruce, even if he hasn't--"
Helena jerked her gaze upward, not really surprised to find Barbara pretty much oblivious, clearly in her Deep Think mode.
Still, this was seriously not the direction that Red should be going.
"Can we not -- "
Eyes still focused on her partner's face, Helena lowered her head, bringing her mouth into contact with the soft skin on the inside of Barbara's left knee.
"--talk about this now?"
She so didn't want to hear about her dad. Or Barbara's dad. Or Alfred. Or, well, anybody but the two of them.
With the blood rising in her, filling her belly and senses, Helena couldn't believe that she'd forgotten this during the weeks she'd been a man. She washed the skin of Barbara's lower thigh with her mouth, struggling to become reacquainted with the insistent hunger that, until not too long ago, she'd tried to assuage with dark assignations in darker bars and alleys.
"What would you like to tal--"
It dawned on Barbara that her companion's attention was not on the conversation, that her attentions were, in fact, more than the affectionate playfulness Barbara had assumed when Helena had dropped to her knees.
Slowly, almost languorously, the dark head rose, and Barbara felt her heart give a staccato tap against her chest. Helena's eyes were gold, a fact which was, in all honesty, hardly a surprise. The sheer rapt fixity of Helena's gaze as she looked down to follow the progress of her hands as they stroked ever-further under the hem of the robe was, however, unsettling.
Helena's response sounded very little like an acknowledgement of the semi-question. Rather, Barbara realized as her partner removed one hand from under the robe and brought her fingers to dance along the neckline of the garment, it seemed to be an affirmation.
A decision, perhaps.
At a loss, the redhead remained still, her eyes ticking between the graceful fingers that were causing gooseflesh to erupt on her chest and Helena's face, almost austere in determination.
Her insight fled the foreground when she witnessed both of Helena's hands moving to her thighs again, pushing the robe aside.
Then, coaxing her legs apart.
"Sweetheart, is there something on your mind?"
Purposely, she'd tried to keep the question light. Helena's response -- to bare her teeth, then move her lips up the inside of her leg -- was anything but.
"I want you."
Although she couldn't feel it, Barbara still gasped softly when she saw her lover's lips mate to her, her mouth fully on her. The vision of Helena Kyle lost in the act of... pleasing her was unequivocally one of the most erotic sights that Barbara could name.
"Helena, I'm not su--"
How could she explain that it just couldn't be that simple for her?
"You can read the paper if you want."
Kind of distantly, Helena thought that her answer might have been a little blunt, but there was nothing for it. She was here, burying her tongue inside Barbara, relishing tastes and textures. Her entire body was electric, humming with the desire to forget propriety and just take her.
Still, she couldn't just ignore the tension -- a different sort of tension -- that she felt snapping through Barbara's upper body. She also couldn't ignore the sensation of Barbara's hand in her hair, tugging lightly.
Or the whisper that shredded at her.
"Helena, I can't."
So she didn't.
No way she was gonna do something that Red wasn't into, but damned if she wouldn't try a little persuasion.
In a heartbeat, she was on Barbara's lap, her body undulating gently against Barbara's chest, her mouth on the side of her neck, devouring. Working for some measure of sanity, Helena managed to pull herself back, yet, almost of their own volition, her hands crept out to feather over her lover's throat and chest. Distantly, she heard a sound, soft and helpless.
She wondered if it had been her voice.
God, how she wanted this. Needed this. Needed this woman.
Barbara saw something in Helena's eyes, something wild, just before the brunette leaned in to her again. Then, instead of the washing heat of Helena's mouth and tongue, she felt the sensation of sharp teeth digging into her neck where it met her shoulder.
Squirming against a pressure that was just the wrong side of pleasure, Barbara threaded her fingers into dark hair and attempted to coax her partner back.
To no avail.
Barbara clenched her jaw as those wicked teeth dug harder, deeper. She felt Helena's hips rolling in her lap. The brunette's growl raised the fine hair at the back of her neck even as her pulse fluttered against the delicious suction on her skin.
For just a moment, Helena thought that Barbara was fighting her, that the hands in her hair were trying to push her away. Then she heard it: Barbara's heart rate picked up, the sound deepening unmistakably. She smelled it, too, the musky tang of her lover's skin ripening.
Helena closed her teeth, moaning at the rush of wetness across her tongue, and suddenly Barbara's motions reversed themselves. Red was clinging to her, holding her tightly to her even as she arched her neck in offering.
When Helena finally pulled away, her mouth was rimmed with crimson. Breathing hard, her entire upper body on fire, Barbara searched her eyes, her gaze darting from Helena's eyes to her hands to her mouth.
Unable to bear it, she brushed the pad of her thumb to the younger woman's lips, circling, her own mouth watering. Unable to tear her gaze from eyes that promised nothing but sin, the redhead fumbled for her lover's hand, pulling it upward to press a kiss to the palm.
Helena's whisper was sere.
"God, I need you."
Barbara was placing an arm around strong shoulders and urging Helena to her feet before the words were done.
"Take me to bed, Hel."
A waking dream, perhaps.
Or, more accurately -- and Barbara did profess to pride herself on accuracy -- the events of the last twenty-six hours seemed to be a waking wet dream.
A very, very wet dream, which had ended with a resounding thud not an hour earlier, when she'd figuratively rolled over her own feet with Dinah.
Heaven knew, her former ward certainly had every reason to be unsettled, edgy even. Barbara was equally certain that they'd barely begun to scratch the surface during their conversation at the pool a few days before. Yet, Dinah had kept her promise to come to the Tower today, nominally for some time on the Delphi and a bit of sparring with Helena.
With an uncanny accuracy rivaling Helena's ability to know when an oven timer went off, Dinah had arrived just as Alfred had plated their traditional weekly brunch. Barbara had barely been out of bed and quite certain that she was hiding the fact from no one.
As Dinah had entertained them all with a long tale involving a cage of lab mice, a rusty hinge on the door, and an illuminated globe, Barbara had picked at her bowl of oatmeal. She hadn't missed that Helena continued to dip her index finger into the sugared cream in her bowl, offering the treat to a very happy Katharine.
It had been pleasant, almost normal.
At that, Barbara pursed her lips and blew a silent raspberry at her own expense. Abandoning her mouse for a moment, she retrieved her tumbler of iced tea and swirled the ice cubes that were slowly melting.
It had, truthfully, been going well until she had suggested to Dinah that they invite Gabby for dinner, or dinner out, some night that week. The suggestion had been received with a level of interest on Dinah's part that was no more convincing than Barbara's own attempts to look like she hadn't just rolled out of bed thirty minutes before. Shortly thereafter, the blonde had excused herself to the training room with Helena right behind her.
Clearly, there were some days when it didn't pay to get out of bed.
Or, as Alfred had counseled her, perhaps she couldn't expect to be on her mark all the time.
The tink-tink-tink of the ice touching the sides of the glass seemed to echo the noises that filtered through the door to the training room: The younger women working the free weights, Barbara assumed. Ready to turn back to her scan of the policy activity logs from the last twenty-four hours, she felt heat flame in her cheeks when she recognized what else the noise was reminiscent of: the clink of handcuffs against the headboard.
The morning before, Helena hadn't so much as blinked when Barbara had issued her request to be taken to the bedroom. It had been the last time that Barbara had felt in control of the situation for many, many hours.
Needlessly, the redhead allowed her eyes to tick over to the the tiny calendar program that ran in one corner of her over-sized plasma display. Given the time of the month, not to mention that Helena hadn't dealt with her cycle the month before, she knew that her lover's behavior was hardly surprising.
It had, however, been overwhelming.
By the time Helena had carried her to Dinah's old room -- presumably so as not to disturb Katie -- the brunette seemed to have given over completely to her... needs. Her movements had been stilted, almost uncoordinated. Barbara had felt her lover's attempts to be gentle as trembling fingers has pushed at the robe to reveal her skin.
"Anything you need, Hel," she'd managed.
Resettling her iced tea on it's coaster, Barbara allowed herself a tiny grimace as the small movement drew her aching breasts taut against the soft cotton of her nursing bra.
The day before, she'd melted into her lover's touch, into her mouth. She panted quietly against the sensation of her nipple being worked between Helena's tongue and the ridged roof of her mouth, the suction alone enough to drive her mad. Helena's rumbling growls had radiated ripples of fire over her skin until Barbara hadn't been able to stand it. She'd buried her fingers in dark hair, pressing as she'd hissed her need.
Remembered sensation -- heat and pain and delight -- bloomed in her breast, just to the side of her nipple. Very carefully, Barbara placed her hand on her mouse, hoping to kick-start her brain back into work mode.
It was of no use.
The memory of Helena's bite, her second bite, unravelled her.
When the Helena had reared back, crimson around her mouth, Barbara had reached for her. With the fire burning across her skin and her lover's growl still echoing in her ears, she'd needed the connection. The request had been denied.
"Don't touch me."
Her voice had softened, just enough, as she'd added one more word.
Barbara had only managed to nod, her robe already being stripped from her and her fully-clothed lover grinding against her. At some point, perhaps when Helena had finally ripped her sweatshirt off, Barbara had realized that the younger woman had already climaxed twice.
"Skin is good" were the words she'd managed to decipher before Helena had pinned her wrists to the bed and mated their naked bodies. She had stopped, finally, after four explosive climaxes, slipping out of bed and padding from the room to return with Katie, who had just begun to fuss.
After everything, Barbara was still surprised by how acutely conscious she had been of her nakedness as she'd cradled their daughter to her and Katie had begun to suckle. As ridiculous as it might be, she had been intensely aware of Helena's scrutiny as her partner had reclined on the bed on her side, one fist propping up her head.
Her hand still resting on the mouse, the redhead felt her eyebrows skip upward when realization struck: the day before, during each of Katharine's meals, there had been a distinct leonine grace and protectiveness about Helena: almost as if she had been guarding her pride.
Her attempts to push that thought aside for later consideration were of limited success as Barbara recognized shades and echos of the same behavior that had continued. Helena, still wordless, had departed the bedroom, returning just as Katharine had allowed her nipple to slip from her mouth with a noisy pop. The brunette had been carrying a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of hot tea on a lap tray. Barbara's thanks had died in her mouth when she'd grasped the look in the younger woman's eyes.
Clearly, this particular act of thoughtfulness had been less about Helena's usual care-taking than about keeping up Barbara's strength.
Accordingly, Barbara had managed a smile that had been, she suspected, a bit wan and had taken her time -- quite a bit of time -- chewing every bite thoroughly while Helena had cuddled and tickled Katharine. Throughout, she'd been achingly aware of how Helena had seemed tuned to the disappearance of every crumb of the sandwich, every sip of the warm tea that had soothed her scratchy throat. Her lover hadn't rushed her in the slightest, however, as soon as she had finished and Katie had dropped off, they'd been off again.
Later -- Barbara had lost count of the specific number of... milestone moments that had occurred -- they had made their way to the couch. When Helena had appeared with a bowl of ice cream for her, the redhead knew that she'd nearly flinched. Helena's laughter had been easy and reassuring.
"Relax, Red, it's just ice cream."
Nevertheless, Barbara had been roused to wakefulness three times more during the night.
She was sore in places that she had no active nerve function.
Somehow finally pushing her memories aside for the moment, Barbara returned to her work at the computer. There had been no unusual activity recorded by New Gotham's finest, although a report of birdseed having been found in one police cruiser's gas tank did catch her eye, and she closed down the program.
Very deliberately, the redhead inhaled slowly and held the breath for a count of thirteen. Equally deliberately, she released the breath slowly and, hopefully, some of her tension with it.
Granted, she, rather, they all were attempting to have a low-key summer. Nevertheless, curtailing her crime-fighting activities to occasional monitoring of the police scanner and routine crawls with the Delphi was simply not something in the realm of recent experience. It was true that New Gotham had been obligingly crime-free for the past few weeks, leaving her little to do if she had been on the clock. With the exception of several pranks -- if she could call the potential murder of Pigeon Polly a prank -- there had been little to sustain her interest.
Regardless, a low-crime New Gotham seemed troubling in and of itself, and Barbara couldn't help but wonder whether, in shirking her usual due diligence, she was missing something. Her fair city simply didn't *do* normalcy.
A series of muffled thumps from the training room, noises that usually accompanied hand-to-hand sparring, drew Barbara from her abstraction and her isolation.
Perhaps enough time had passed since brunch that she wouldn't be unwelcome.
Coasting down the ramp from the Delphi, she decided that a bit of a workout might be just the ticket, even if yesterday's activities should have taken care of the need for PT for the next week or three. She paused at the door to the training room, attempting to school her expression and reminding herself that, given the direction of her thoughts, she would need to avoid contact with Dinah.
Of course, avoiding contact with Dinah didn't seem to be the problem since her youngest protege probably wanted very little to do with her.
The fact that Dinah's reticence about contact and closeness did not extend to the other member of their little team was driven home quite clearly when Barbara cleared the entrance to the training room.
Dinah and Helena had, indeed, been engaged in some hand-to-hand, and it appeared that Helena had allowed herself to be pinned, or perhaps Dinah had been using some TK. Regardless, Helena was on her back, her wrists locked against the mat by Dinah's hands. The youngest member of the team was straddling Helena's hips.
It appeared that Helena had given the match to Dinah since she wasn't struggling.
Fleetingly, it occurred to Barbara that the position was eerily reminiscent of the one she'd found herself in the previous morning.
Mustering a smile for her two slightly breathless companions, Barbara moved to the free weights.
She could only hope that whatever latitude Helena was extending to Dinah in the training room would not imperil any of them later.
"Oh, come on, D. It's not like we're even gonna be in costume."
The way her younger companion gave her a long once-over was impossible to miss, so Helena took a break from her cajoling to look down at her attire.
Black leather, black leather, black leather.
Okay, not so much different from her usual sweeps-wear.
"Well, you know what I mean." She gave a half-shrug before adding, "It's not like I have my duster."
Hell, she was pretty amazed that she had her comm set with her.
She'd been on campus to pick up a registration form for fall and just happened to decide to pop into the Biology building. After a bit of hunting, she'd found Dinah in one of the labs, buried up to her elbows in cleaning the animal cages. Parking her butt on one of the lab benches -- after making sure there was nothing grody on it -- she'd drummed her heels against the drawers built into the side of the table and talked course options with Dinah while the blonde finished up her work.
Helena hadn't felt any particular urge to jump in and offer to help: she got quite enough of that at home with Studs, the rat they'd picked up to be a guinea pig with Mandrill's wand.
Come to think about it, she got enough of that with Katie's diapers.
So, they'd been narrowing down Helena's options for fall classes and Dinah had been washing up when Barbara had called. After a little apologetic hemming and hawing -- like Helena didn't know that Babs listened to the police scanners while she was nursing -- Barbara had gotten to the point: during a fifteen minute stretch, every bodega between Commerce and Franklin Street had called in reports of malicious mischief.
No way that her hyper-conscientious partner wouldn't ask her to do at least a walk-by.
Pretty sure that D wasn't sold on keeping her company for said walk-by, the brunette dug her comms necklace out of her front pocket and twirled it around her index finger.
"C'mon, D, it'll be fun."
She picked up on a sound from over by the wash sink that could have been a snort and reconsidered her statement.
"It's not like we're going to be taking on any bad guys," she amended. "Just talking to some store clerks to see what the fuss is."
She paused in the act of fastening the comms unit around her neck and waggled her eyebrows.
"We can get a latte at Java Joe's."
That got her a laugh -- small but it sounded genuine -- and then her companion stepped behind her, neatly taking over fastening the tiny clasp.
"You're buying, Hel."
An hour or so later, Helena decided that she might not have agreed so readily to buy if she'd known what Dinah had in mind to pick up from New Gotham's newest, trendiest coffee shop. The jumbo Cinnamon-Nutmeg Iced Pumpkin Latte that the Kid had chosen was not just... disturbing; it was also the most expensive drink on the menu.
Working on her own iced mocha, with extra mocha and extra cream, Helena gave a mental shrug as they strolled in the general direction of the Tower and the Dark Horse.
"That was pretty weird. Even for New Gotham, I mean."
The last part of Dinah's statement was almost lost as the blonde took a long draw from her straw, but Helena got the gist of it. She had to agree.
They'd chatted up six different storekeepers, and even with Barbara feeding questions to her over the earpiece, Helena still didn't have a clue about why somebody had decided to tear the bottoms off of all the Pop Tart boxes that had been on the shelves of the little stores.
She knew it had to be driving her partner back at the Tower batshit.
"I dunno," she tipped her head back to swallow the last drop of cream from the bottom of her cup before continuing. "Maybe some kids couldn't wait to send off for the bling from the Pirate movie."
The quiet chuckle that filtered through the headset told her what Barbara thought of that idea. Helena didn't think it was that out-there: the projection clock in the shape of a skull was pretty cool, and it did require a *lot* of UPC symbols.
At least Dinah seemed to be taking the idea seriously.
"Maybe, Hel, but none of the clerks saw any kids in their stores around the time it happened."
The brunette arced her empty cup into a trash can and nodded.
"Yeah. Too bad I couldn't get my hands on that guy they told us about."
Clerks at two of the stores had described a similar figure that they'd noticed in their stores around the time of the vandalism; however, since the "short guy in a black trench coat and hat" hadn't come near either's register, there was no video to work with.
The best that Helena had been able to do was to buy one of the mutilated boxes of pastries from each store -- at a discount -- for Barbara to do the forensic thing on.
Dinah's tone was flat. Her words were decisive, reminding Helena that she'd strayed into sensitive territory.
"I didn't mean it like that--"
The quick shake of a blonde head cut her short.
"No. It's okay. I mean -- "
From the corner of her eye, Helena saw Dinah transfer her quart-sized latte cup to her right hand then push a lock of hair behind her left ear.
"-- I know what you meant. It's my problem right now, I guess."
For a few steps, they walked in silence, Helena gnawing at the corner of her bottom lip with an incisor. Finally, she shifted her six individual grocery bags, each holding one ragged box of Pop Tarts, to the other hand and reached over to touch her companion's shoulder.
"It doesn't have to be, D."
Certain she had her attention, Helena stopped and waited for Dinah to face her.
"I get that you're working through some heavy stuff, and if you want to talk or something..."
She let it go at that, biting back her instinct to steer Dinah in Barbara's direction. For some reason, maybe because her younger partner had gone through it all *for her*, Dinah seemed more open with her.
This time, it was the blonde who chewed at her bottom lip. When pale blue eyes searched hers, Helena tried not to blink.
"How did you know that it -- "
A pale hand waved in the general direction of Helena's clothing, then the rooftops. Dinah's voice lowered to a whisper.
"-- you know, that fighting crime was right for you?"
Whoa boy. The big question.
"Well, I do get to beat all hell out of people."
Instantly, she realized that her flip answer -- while not untrue -- wasn't what her partner was looking for.
"But, what if -- "
Again, the unruly lock of blonde hair got pushed back.
"-- well, what if that's not really my thing?"
Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
Sucking it up, the brunette searched for a way to explain without having to resurrect the long and painful process that she'd gone through, the realization that she didn't want other to have to face what she'd seen on that dark, bloody night nine years before.
"I know, Dinah." She quirked the corner of her mouth. "I guess there's also that whole -- "
Raising her free hand, she made air quotes with her first two fingers.
"-- 'helping people' aspect of things."
Dinah's nod was slow.
"Yeah. Sometimes it's hard to remember that when... well, you know."
They started walking again, their steps not erasing the painful silence where Dinah had left off. Still, Helena didn't have any trouble filling in the blanks.
She did know.
It was hard to remember the helping part when you had to hurt -- or violate -- someone to do it.
"So, uh," Dinah's voice was, Helena thought, ultra-casual. "Do you think you might sign up for the Intro Physics course?"
She was also a little too chipper, but the brunette was okay with a return to the conversation they'd started back in the Biology lab.
No surprise that Science-Girl was plugging for that course.
"I dunno, D," she snagged her companion's cup and danced away from her. "The Japanese language class could be neat."
She'd always been good with languages, and, shit, it'd be cool to be able to swear in *another* language.
Laughing at the irritation in pale blue eyes, Helena worked on a long, noisy slurp of the weirdly orange-colored coffee drink.
"You know they don't teach you the dirty words."
Not quite sure how much of a coincidence Dinah's input had been, she managed to swallow her mouthful of syrup and gave the blonde a sidelong glance. She got a sunny smile in return.
"At least," Dinah's voice was innocence itself, "not in the introductory levels."
Hell, maybe she had been reading her mind. Whatever.
Helena kept her own response breezy.
"Well, Barbara speaks Japanese."
Who knew what kind of cool pillow talk they could have?
Helena's thoughts along those lines, as well as her unsuccessful attempt to foist the giant cup back off on Dinah, came to a screeching halt when she made out the younger woman's next words.
"What about you and Barbara?"
Pretty sure that her confusion showed, Helena gave up on the cup and lobbed it into another waste receptacle.
"What about us?"
She didn't have to look to know that The Kid was blushing. Hell, she could almost feel the heat from Dinah's face as they walked side by side.
"I just... Well, how do you know... Or, maybe I mean how did you--"
Helena stopped walking. It took her companion another two steps before she glommed onto the fact that she was stammering into thin air and turned around. Helena closed the distance and narrowed her eyes at the constant self-interruption. She was pretty proud that she didn't actually growl at Dinah to get to the point.
Yep, that was a pretty good blush The Kid had going.
"How do you know that you two are supposed to..."
Finally, Helena thought she got it, and, well, whoa mama: The bigger question.
"Like, maybe we're not supposed to be together, D?" she tried.
The blonde didn't answer her directly.
"Or, how do you know that *she's* the one for you, Hel?"
For some reason, the question took Helena back three days, and instantly she was lost in the the sensations -- and emotions -- that had filled her on Saturday. That day, she hadn't been able to question her need: her hunger to touch and taste every millimeter of her lover's skin; her desire to hear Barbara moaning against her teeth; her absolute need to be *with* her, inside her. There had been no way that she could have let Barbara touch her even as she'd licked and bit and ground against her, climaxing over and over.
But, somewhere not too far along the line, Helena *had* needed to question Barbara.
"Are you okay?"
Her voice had been rough. Getting the words out had been an exercise in relearning the power of speech.
"Is this -- " She'd managed a gesture at the disarray of bedclothes. "-- okay?"
Something brought Helena back to the moment, and she blinked her eyes, hoping that Dinah hadn't picked up on the violet she was sure they'd morphed to. It was then that she realized what had caught her attention: a sound, almost inaudible and almost directly in her ear.
It had been the tinny click of the comm set being deactivated remotely.
She was so used to the damned thing that she'd forgotten it was still on. She could only hope -- for a whole lot of reasons, D's privacy being only one of them -- that Barbara had gotten busy tracking box-top crimes, had forgotten about the unit, too, and had just flipped it off out of habit.
"Because she's Barbara," was her answer.
It felt like a long time had gone by since Dinah had asked her question and Helena had managed her answer. It felt like the blink of an eye before Dinah turned and started walking again, her next question sounding almost like an afterthought.
"Well then, how do you know that you're the one for her?"
Which was, Helena realized as she took a couple of jogging steps to catch up, a whole other question completely.
The position was kind of shaky, but the rewards looked pretty tempting.
At least that was Helena's take on the mixed emotions that were on display in her daughter's cherubic face.
"Check it out, Barbara," she waved toward the infant who was on the floor in front of her. "I bet she'd crawl for M&Ms."
Slowing the rapid strokes of the brush through her hair, the redhead managed to bite back a smirk, quite confident about just where Katie might have inherited that tendency. Grasping the immediacy of her partner's words, she lowered the brush to her lap and took in the scene before her.
Not too many minutes before, not quite one third of the way through the DVD they were watching, Helena had surrendered the bowl of popcorn and decamped to the living room floor with Katharine... and the remainder of the bag of candy-coated chocolates that she'd been sprinkling into her buttered popcorn.
Now, Katharine was up on her hands and knees, a position she'd been practicing in the last few weeks, rocking minutely forward and backward. Her attention was fixed on the neat row of candies that were laid out on the floor; red, orange, yellow, green, and blue -- one of each -- were in a neat line that began only eighteen inches from their daughter's hands.
The determination in Katie's eyes was unmistakable. With equal determination, Barbara by-passed the easy question about the wisdom of offering their five-month old chocolate.
"It's a little early for crawling, isn't it?"
She was certain that she'd read that infants didn't usually start crawling for another six or eight weeks.
The word sounded just a bit... proud.
"My mom said that I was crawling at four months."
Barbara felt one corner of her mouth turn up slightly.
"And swinging from the chandeliers at six months?"
"Uh uh." Helena's response was a bit distracted, her focus clearly on her mission as she pushed the red candy another inch in Katie's direction. "The drapes."
As visions of their daughter scaling the bookcases flashed before her, Barbara saw Katie raise one chubby fist from the rug. The redheaded infant held the position for a moment, possibly uncertain about her next step, before stretching forward and causing her to begin a head-first course toward the rug.
Helena got there first, neatly sliding her hands under Katharine's chest and scooping her up.
"Maybe tomorrow, Kitty."
The promise earned her a soft coo, and Helena snagged the candies from the rug, popping them into her mouth as she rose and returned to the couch. By the time she re-situated herself with Katie cradled on her lap and the popcorn bowl on the cushion beside her, Barbara had started her brushing again.
Probably about halfway through those hundred strokes that she tried for every night.
Carefully, Helena leaned to one side as snagged her Modelo from the end table, wrapping her fingers around the neck of the bottle. The cool glass eased the way her fingers were itching to run through that gorgeous red mane, and she took a long draw, trying not to feel rejected by the way Red had sort of absently rebuffed her earlier offer to help.
Something about staying focused on the movie.
The brunette set her beer back on the table, pressed a kiss to the mop of red curls snuggled under her chin, and took her partner's advice. It didn't seem like she'd missed much; there was no way to misunderstand just why Spencer and Katharine were running around behind Sidney Poitier's back.
"Who do you think Kat's gonna bring home to freak us out?"
She turned her head to take in Barbara, who was in her chair at the end of the couch. The redhead had finished the nightly brushing routine and was reaching for the bottle of moisturized that she'd dragged out -- along with her brush, nail file, hand mirror, and eyebrow tweezers -- when Helena had suggested they watch a movie.
It wasn't that Helena was adverse to watching her partner's nightly beauty rituals; but she'd had to work pretty hard to bite back an offer to go get Babs' razor from the bathroom.
Just to round things out and all.
Pouring a small dollop of moisturizer into her palm, Barbara managed a smile that she suspected might be a bit... thin.
Years before, in the halcyon days of Helena's youth, she'd certainly entertained the gamut in terms of who -- and, in some cases, what -- Helena had dragged through their home. When her instinct for self-preservation and sanity had finally asserted itself, Barbara had simply decided that she would not be surprised by anyone that her wild young ward -- and, later, her young friend -- might choose to keep company with.
Unfortunately, she was beginning to suspect that, as the old truism went, nothing, save death and taxes, was a certainty in life.
"Probably somebody very straight-laced would be the most surprising," she finally allowed, concentrating only on the question at hand.
Dark brows wrinkled briefly before Barbara detected the twinkle in her partner's bright blue eyes.
"Yeah, that'd do it if she brought home some blue-blooded society kid or a Kennedy boy, huh?"
Already focusing on working the lotion into her finger tips, Barbara heard a snicker and looked over again. Helena's expression was gleeful.
"Or a Republican."
Pursing her lips, Barbara kept it brief.
"Perish the thought."
She turned her gaze back to the big screen and reached for the lotion again. A soft interruption distracted her from attempts to calculate the last time she'd moisturized her elbows.
"Speaking of creeps, Barbara..."
She felt her eyebrows tick upward at the segue and paused in the act of working vanilla musk into her elbow.
Barbara didn't know just what she'd expected; however, Helena's response was not at the top of her list of possibilities.
"Did you know that D's been visiting Mandrill in jail?"
Honestly, the redhead wasn't surprised. Not too many days before, she'd run a routine sweep of the facility that was currently hosting the man who had brought such turmoil to their household. It had been something more than routine -- a hunch perhaps -- that had led her to hack into the visitors' log for the county jail.
Barbara's initial relief that there had been no "Dinah Lance" listed had been replaced with a different set of emotions when she'd run across two entries for a "D. Redmond".
"How do you know that, Hel?"
Helena knew how careful Barbara was with her words, and she didn't miss that her partner's response wasn't really an answer.
"She told me about it."
Gently, she shifted Katharine in her lap so that she was resting in the crook of her arm.
"We talked about it this afternoon, on the way home."
The comms had been off by that point.
Keeping her eyes focused on the drowsing infant in her arms, Helena heard the lotion bottle being placed on the coffee table. She thought she heard a soft sigh.
"Dinah experienced something that I can't begin to imagine, Helena."
Finally looking up, she searched green eyes.
"You both did, Helena."
There was something... something that Helena couldn't quite read in Red's words. Without looking away, she fumbled for the remote and paused the movie.
She gave a one-sided shrug, trying not to disturb Katie.
"But mine was just some aches and owies and shit."
Deliberately, Barbara tapped her index finger against her chin.
When would Helena learn to stop discounting her own experiences, her own pain?
"Dinah and you -- "
The redhead ran the tip of her tongue across the edge of her lower lip and hunted for some way to explain.
While Dinah had faced using what might be construed to be extreme force on someone for the first time, Helena had willingly made herself open to the same situation. She'd allowed Dinah to practice on her -- *in* her -- mind.
Helena had let Dinah in.
Barbara straightened her shoulders.
"You both shared the experience, Helena."
She held out a hand, palm up, to forestall the disagreement she saw forming on her partner's face.
"To greater or lesser degrees, you took responsibility for moving forward with the plan, and you and Dinah made it happen."
Sharing the responsibility.
"But I'm not the one visiting that asshole in jail, Barbara."
The younger woman's expression was truculent; her words, deliberately obtuse. The redhead decided to tackle one issue at a time.
"Do you think that it's just -- "
She nearly blanched when the word came out, minimizing as it did the gravity of what Dinah had endured.
"Do you believe that what happened with Mandrill is the primary issue for her, Hel?"
Although she was fairly certain that she knew the answer, Barbara was nevertheless interested in Helena's take on matters. Accordingly, she remained patient while the brunette gave the question some time.
"Yeah, Mikey's bothering her, but -- "
The dark head shook once from side to side.
"-- there's something more than just hurting him going on."
That night, when they'd gotten back from making Mandrill use the wand and she'd been hurting and D had been so freaked out, Barbara and she had thought that Dinah was feeling the pain of what she'd done. But Barbara had talked to the Kid and she'd been right that D understood about using their powers.
There was more.
"I was thinking that maybe it had to do with..."
Helena peered through her bangs, not quite ready to make eye contact when she spelled out it.
"--- well, that she felt bad that we blew your only chance with the wand."
Quite certain that Dinah wasn't the only one of her younger partners who might be carrying some guilt on that front, Barbara hunted for the blue eyes that were hidden beneath dark bangs. Although she'd tackled this particular elephant with Dinah, she had yet to clear the air with Helena, and so she held her silence, waiting.
Eventually, her patience was rewarded when Helena straightened and pained blue eyes met hers.
"Yeah, me, too. A little."
The quiet admission was quite a change from the young woman that Barbara had essentially inherited nine years before. At that time, Helena had worn her pain and rage on her sleeve, her broodiness and bad attitude as a badge of honor.
She still remembered, so acutely, the day that she'd come home from PT. It had been a day like any other in the life that had turned upside down for both of them: Barbara had been exhausted and depressed; Helena, angry and sarcastic before she'd disappeared into her room.
The rhythmic pounding of flesh against plaster had finally drawn Barbara down the hall and into her ward's room. As she'd anticipated, Helena had been slamming her fists into the wall, over and over, painting the crumbling sheetrock pink with the blood that ran from her knuckles.
The framed picture of Selina that Helena had kept on her dresser had been face down on the bed.
She'd waited, silent, in the doorway until Helena's rage had ceded to exhaustion and the girl dropped to the floor. Quite certain that she didn't have the control to get herself back into her chair -- and not giving a damn for the first time since the shooting -- Barbara had awkwardly joined her.
"I miss her."
She'd wrapped the young woman in her arms, amazed by how small she'd seemed.
"I know, Hel."
It had been, honestly, one of the first times that Helena had admitted it.
"Everybody leaves, Barbara."
It had been one of the first times that Helena had been so vulnerable with her.
"I won't, Hel."
Of course, as she regarded her partner, Barbara had to grant that Helena's earlier method of handling her emotions and her current approach were perhaps only flip sides of the same coin.
"Helena, believe me." She leaned in, stretching to rest one hand on the younger woman's knee. "I don't need the wand. It's oka--"
Lacing the fingers of her free hand through those that warmed her thigh, Helena cut her off.
"I know, Barbara."
And she did. Red wasn't going to let losing a long-shot like using the wand to get her legs back get her down.
Or, at least, it wouldn't keep her down.
"And," she wriggled a few inches closer to the end of the couch so that her partner didn't have to stretch to keep their hands joined. "I think D's problem isn't so much about that."
"Has she... talked with you, Hel?"
Gently, she rubbed the pad of her thumb across Barbara's knuckles. She knew that Barbara wasn't asking her to reveal a confidence or anything.
Still, Helena figured that her lover needed to be in on this one.
"She's kind of hung up on--"
Helena couldn't quite say it. She also couldn't miss the question in emerald eyes.
"She's kind of wondering if Gabby's the one."
Carefully, Barbara extricated her hand and straightened again in her chair. She was certain that Helena hadn't shared everything; nevertheless, it was enough.
"I'm glad that she's more at ease opening up with you, Hel."
She reached for her cup of tea, hoping to wash down the metallic taste that was attempting to lodge in the back of her throat.
"I'm glad that you're there for her."
It was enough that at least one of them could provide Dinah with what she needed.
Barbara sipped her tea while her companion regarded her through dark lashes. Helena's expressive face was curiously unreadable.
Barbara's face was open, her smile gentle. Helena thought she got the message.
Heck, she liked Dinah.
She *owed* Dinah.
"I'll be there for her, Red."
The whine of the motorized chair coming down the hall was unmistakable. So was the inevitable pained sigh that Helena also heard.
It was quiet, but there was plenty of feeling behind it. Since it came right behind the sound of the chair scraping the drywall, Helena decided that a little action on her part might be called for. Sliding out of her cozy nest of covers, she padded across the bedroom and stepped into the hallway.
Barbara felt the blood rush to her cheeks; nevertheless, she forced herself to look up from her efforts to steer the balky chair away from the wall.
"I didn't mean to wake you, Hel--"
The wave of a slender hand cut short her apology.
"Nah, I was waiting up for my girls."
The redhead searched her partner's eyes, finding nothing but calm affection. A smile that was almost genuine tugged at the corners of her mouth.
"I'm sorry to be so late, Sweetie."
She gave up on the chair for the moment and lifted the infant that she'd been cradling to her chest with her free hand.
"Would you mind putting her to bed? She's already had her midnight snack."
With two quick steps, Helena accepted the small bundle, pulling her daughter close and burying her face in the soft mop of red curls. The smell of Barbara's milk was strong -- baby's breath, for sure -- and the brunette turned quickly and moved into the bedroom.
It wasn't like it was a big deal that Red had fed Katie out in the living room.
Even if it was usually a bedtime ritual for all of them.
The sleepy purr that Katie made somehow pushed aside the small, tight pain that had been working at her chest, and Helena carefully laid her drowsing daughter on the changing table. She didn't think that the girl was wet, but with the great deal they were getting on diapers from the warehouse club, Helena was all about keeping her comfortable.
Having finally worked her way free of the wall -- the paint wasn't even chipped for a change -- Barbara paused outside the bedroom doorway, drinking in the sight before her. The room was softly illuminated by the bedside lamps, and Helena was clearly taking care to be quiet as she efficiently snugged the disposable diaper closed and swaddled their daughter in a fuzzy blanket. The image of her nominally bad-assed, too-tough-for-her-leather partner tenderly bending to whisper a kiss to a plump tummy was simply too lovely to interrupt.
Her chair, it seemed, felt otherwise.
Something -- perhaps the twitch of her finger or an air current touching the joystick that controlled the wretched thing -- caused her to jerk forward a few inches.
Somehow, Barbara kept her volume low, even as she glared balefully at the small gouge that she'd just put in the trim around the door.
Heavens, but she hated this chair. She loathed what it said about her, despised how it abstracted her yet another layer from controlling her own movements.
Yet, Barbara Gordon refused to back away from reality, and her sporty manual chair simply wasn't realistic for moving around with Katie: it required two hands which was not conducive to dealing with an increasingly active infant.
"You want me to get your manu--?"
"I'm fine, Helena."
The response was sharp, and Helena busied herself with settling Katie into her crib.
"I just need a bit more practice."
Considering how bothered Babs was by Dinah's withdrawal from the family -- or at least from Barbara and Gabby since D didn't seem to have any problem with *her* -- Helena thought that her partner could work on setting a little better example.
She leaned in, murmuring wishes of sweet dreams to her daughter and hearing the chair stop at the foot of the bed.
"Honestly -- "
Barbara's voice was pitched a little high, a little tight.
"-- I don't know why I'm having such trouble with the thing."
Helena was pretty sure she knew. She could feel the frustration rolling off her lover; she knew how Babs looked at the chair.
It didn't take Sigmund Freud -- or, fuck, even Harley Quinn -- to figure out that her usually tech-happy partner might have some latent hostility toward the thing.
Helena also knew why Barbara was working on making herself use it.
"So, uh," she moved silently back to the big bed and dropped onto the mattress, folding one leg beneath her. "Anything on the poptart boxes?"
That *had* been why Barbara had begged off coming to bed when the movie finished earlier.
"Some were ripped, by hand I assume."
Barbara looked up from pulling off her second tennis shoe.
"A few were cut with a straight edge."
Not surprisingly, Helena immediately picked up on the possibilities.
"You think there was more than one person?"
Inching her chair over to the shoe rack that was just visible inside their oversized closet, Barbara allowed a smile to touch her lips.
"Perhaps, Hel." She stretched out enough to stuff her sneakers onto the rack and rotated the chair back toward the bed. "Or, perhaps our vertically challenged prankster got tired of finesse."
Barbara decided that she was grateful that Helena didn't question her description. At this point, it was simply too nerve-wracking to consider the petty crimes to be anything other than a prank.
"What about the prints?"
She shook her head and watched her partner stretch across the bed to fiddle with her alarm clock.
"The only prints that I got a hit on belong to a clerk at one of the bodegas."
"And the MegaLo-Mart got hit, too?"
Barbara was about to respond in the affirmative when her partner accidentally set off the alarm. It only took a few beats before the redhead identified the CD that was playing, and she felt the second blush in only minutes touch her cheeks.
What could she say? She was a slave to her musical roots.
Wisely, Helena bit back any comment on her lover's kinky taste in music: Cheap Trick was too much even for her to have on in the morning. Instead, she focused on getting the alarm pushed back to 7am.
It was a stupid time to be getting up on a summer morning, but she figured she'd better get started again with Dinah.
I'll shine up the old brown shoes,
Put on a brand-new shirt.
I'll get home early from work
If you say that you love me.
Didn't I, didn't I,
Didn't I see you cryin'?
Feelin all alone without a friend
You know you feel like dyin'.
Choosing not to comment on her partner's fixed concentration on the clock, Barbara retrieved her PALS tee shirt and sleep shorts from the end of the bed, another thoughtful touch of Helena's, and aimed for the connected bathroom.
"I'll just be a minute."
Dark brows furrowed. Helena watched her partner disappear into the master bath.
I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I'd love you to love me.
I'm beggin you to beg me.
I want you to want me.
I want you to want me.
I want you to want me.
I want you to want me.
By the time Barbara returned, decked out for bed, Helena had gotten the CD out of the clock and was thumbing through the swimsuit issue of a sports magazine.
You never knew where you could pick up a fashion tip.
A little surprised, she realized that she'd been staring at the same page for a long time: it was a leggy blonde modeling a tankini.
She waited until her partner slipped under the covers, then set the magazine on the table by her side of the bed. In a heartbeat, she was on her knees next to Barbara, one hand resting lightly on a smooth forearm.
"Let me make you feel good, Baby."
For a moment, Barbara froze. Somehow, she pushed aside her concerns about focus and managed a slow smile.
"Do you know what I'd like, Hel?"
The younger woman visibly trembled at the question.
"Anything you want, Barbara."
Her eagerness almost rent the redhead. Suddenly nervous by the sheer dullness of her intended request, she somehow found her voice.
"A backrub would be heavenly."
Before the words were out, Helena was helping her roll over. Then strong hands were working under her tee, gentle fingers stroking her skin, shaping and forming her into something that approximating boneless goo.
Barbara's murmur sent ribbons of fire across Helena's nerves. Unable to resist, she leaned close and brushed a gentle kiss to the redhead's jaw.
"Is it okay if I'm going to have to get myself off after this?"
She tried to keep her question light, gratified by the smile she saw when Barbara looked back over her shoulder.
"Very okay, Hel."
Helena thought she saw Barbara's nostrils quiver -- suppressing a yawn -- and she leaned close to whisper into red silk.
"I'm going to keep this up until you go to sleep."
It didn't take long. Still, by the time she heard her lover's rhythmic breathing, Helena realized that she wasn't ready to sleep.
Or in the mood for anything else.
With a grimace, she tucked herself under the covers and retrieved her magazine.
Maybe there'd be a redheaded model in there.
"I'd say that it's official, Huntress. Somebody is sending us a message."
Barbara truly hadn't wanted to accept the possibility; however, the latest incident was simply too much coincidence.
Her partner's voice was just slightly breathy, evidence of Helena's haste to reach the sight of the reported gunfire.
<<"All thing's considered, Oracle, I'd rather get a--">>
Picking up the distant crack of rifle fire, Barbara surmised that her partner was close.
"A Hallmark?" she prompted quietly as her impeccable memory supplied the tag-line from an old commercial.
She shook her head and checked the police scanners.
"Never mind, Huntress."
Honestly, it didn't matter. Helena's sentiment was absolutely on-target: almost any message would be preferable to the sniper fire that had been reported at the Zoo's aviary.
The agitated skree of the birds and the shrieks of zoo visitors told Barbara where Helena was.
<<"About a dozen people pinned down in the free bird area. The shots seem to be -- Shit!">>
The sound of rifle fire seemed to follow the younger woman's exclamation. Barbara held her breath, rustling and soft footfalls making it easy to visualize Helena's retreat.
<<"Too fuckin' close.">>
The redhead released a long breath.
"Are you all right?"
<<"Yeah. He's firing high, and I was up a tree.">>
Another shot echoed through the headset, and Barbara winced minutely when she heard an avian scream of pain.
<<"Fucker took out a Golden Eagle, but I think I see where he's shooting from.">>
"Are any people hurt, Huntress?"
Barbara ran the options and priorities in the split second that it took her partner to answer.
<<"I don't think so. Just hunkered down and scared.">>
That cinched matters.
"Try to take down the gunman."
A blip on the gps confirmed that Helena was moving away from the aviary toward... A half-dozen keystrokes overlaid the coordinates on a satellite image of the zoo, and Barbara took a guess: The roof of the snack bar provided good line of sight to the aviary.
<<"Any word on backup?">>
Barbara toggled to the police scanner, confirming what she already knew.
"NGPD is still assembling a tactical squad."
She had to agree.
"Canary is en route."
The redhead had barely hesitated before contacting Dinah at the lab. To the young woman's credit, when she'd heard the details, she'd instantly set out to assist Helena.
"E.T.A. two minutes," Barbara added.
This time, Helena sounded more genuine, and Barbara felt a small smile touch her lips.
<<"But, I don't want to wait.">>
The crack of the rifle was too loud.
<<"I'm heading to the roof of the --">>
Gunfire, this time sounding more distant, and Helena's soft cry of pain cut short the dark vigilante's update.
<<"Fuck. I'm hit.">>
Without conscious thought, Barbara's fingers flew across the keyboard, bringing up EMS Dispatch.
"Where are you hit, Huntress?"
Barbara wasn't quite sure how she'd managed to keep her voice level. Apparently, years of practice did pay off.
<<"In the back.">> Helena's words were breathy, winded. <<"Second gunman behind me--">>
Since she'd already determined that a second shooter was probably present, Barbara cut her off.
"How bad it is?"
There was a moment of stillness, the whisper of material shifting -- presumably as Helena tried to determine the extent of her injury -- then... laughter.
Barbara wasn't amused.
"Huntress, I need to know--"
A third voice, Dinah's, suddenly chimed in.
<<"She's okay, Oracle. It was a paint gun.">>
<<"Still stings like a motherfucker">> was Helena's muttered assessment.
Barbara ignored it.
"Glad that you're on site, Canary. Where was Huntress hit?"
<<"In the -- uhm -- flank.">>
<<"Ruined my pants.">>
The responses came as one, and Barbara released her panic with a chuckle.
"Is the first shooter using paint as well?"
<<"Lemme just find out.">>
Eschewing caution, the brunette scaled the side of the snack stand, narrowly dodging another burst of red paint from the rear. When she hit the roof, her plans to kick ass came to a screeching halt.
The roof was empty, save for a nearly empty package of red paintballs and a black porkpie hat.
A blonde head popped over the edge of the roof, and Helena turned in time to see Dinah finish levitating herself onto the small surface.
"He must have turned tail while I was -- " She waved vaguely toward her hip. "-- regrouping."
Come to think of it, the shooting from behind them had stopped, too.
"C'mon, Canary, let's see if we can catc--"
<<"No time for that, Huntress. We have a report of a bomb in the squirrel exhibit.">>
Not twenty minutes later, sailing over the rooftops toward the balcony of the Clock Tower, Helena didn't even try to hold back her shout.
She'd done it.
They'd done it.
She'd hit the squirrel cage running, confident that Dinah had been right behind her. The report that Barbara had picked up from the scanners had been right: a big, gnarly mess of wires, sticks of dynamite, and a freakin' wind-up alarm clock was resting outside the habitat for the flying squirrel.
Who the hell used a wind-up alarm as a timer for a bomb? Who the hell used a wind-up alarm clock for anything?
Or, like Dinah had wondered, who used stick dynamite instead of C4?
Talk about retro-fetishes.
But, like Barbara had pointed out, old-style bombs could still go boom. Or, in this case, it was all about substance over style.
So, even while Dinah had been pushing the security guard off to a safe distance and promising to talk to him later about some "skinny woman in a purple dress" that he's seen set the bomb, Helena had been trying to describe the thing to Barbara and wondering just how strong Dinah's TK bubbles could be.
"No. No red wire, no white wire. All the wires are black, Oracle."
There'd been a lot of grumbling through the comms about that. There'd been even more tsk-ing when Helena had told her that all of the wires from the dynamite had been mungled together into the bell on the clock.
<<"It's going to be a guess, Helena.">>
That hadn't been too reassuring, but with the little red alarm hand on the three and the little black hour hand creeping up on the three, there hadn't been much time for complaining.
<<"Huntress. Canary. Clear out now.">>
Or for leaving a big gnarly bomb to go off in the middle of the zoo.
It was like Dinah and she had been in sync or something. Helena had whipped out her pocket multi-tool; Dinah had stepped right up to the bomb and sort of scrunched up her face.
Suddenly, the tick-tick-tick of the little clock had gotten muted, courtesy of a lovely TK thought bubble.
But, as good as D was using her bubbles to peel eggs and get The Joker's bubble goo off of people, Helena didn't even want to test whether it could contain a blast of dynamite.
"Open it up, Canary."
She'd started to poke her right hand in before good sense -- and the memory of the state she'd been in the night before when she'd been massaging Barbara -- had hit. She'd switched her LeatherWoman to her left hand and moved the tool next to the wires.
The sensation of the Tk force field snugging around her wrist had been... kinda weird.
"Which wire, Oracle? Left, right, or middle?"
<<"The right one, Huntress.">>
She hadn't hesitated.
In that heart-stopping moment between when she'd cut the wire on the right and when the clock had stopped ticking, she *had* wondered if Babs had been talking about position or accuracy. She *had* held her breath and just about wet her pants.
But, they'd done it.
Landing silently on the balcony, the brunette spun in a circle, grinning stupidly at the sky-line.
No bout-a-doubt-it, she was ramped up.
She was alive, dammit.
Somehow, Helena managed to tone down her exuberance when she stepped through the French doors into the living room.
No reason to give Barbara a heart attack.
"Behold -- " she bounded onto the Delphi platform and extended a bundle of wires, dynamite, and a clock. "I come bearing gifts."
Helena hadn't even bothered to ask if her partner wanted the bomb.
So, here she was while Dinah was back at the zoo doing the Casual Observer thing and trying to get details on the guy in the dark coat who'd been shooting at the birds and his slinky girlfriend with the bomb.
"How did you know it was the wire on the right side?"
Carefully -- very carefully -- settling the pile of trouble into a kevlar bag, Barbara didn't bother to point out that "right side" was certainly relative.
"I didn't, Hel."
"Then why'd you choose it?"
She slipped the first bag into a second and, relatively content with the security of the package, looked up into violet eyes.
"Over the years, I've found that it's usually safe to assume that the most damage comes from the right wing."
The younger woman's laughter was bright. Barbara didn't have a chance to join in before she was surprised by her partner sliding into her lap.
Busy working her mouth against the slender column of Barbara's neck -- god, Babs smelled good -- Helena didn't let herself get too distracted.
"What are you--?"
The rocking of slender hips against her stomach honestly left little room for doubt. Nevertheless, Helena seemed to grasp the sense of the question.
"Just celebrating another stunning victory over the forces of evil."
Helena finally looked up and offered a broad smile, ignoring the flicker of consternation in green eyes.
It was true. They'd saved the day yet again -- or at least saved some squirrels from a really loud noise. So, left wire, right wire, whatever: *she* was wired.
"Another feat of do derring and all."
Unable to deny that, Barbara accepted her partner's enthusiastic kiss, pulling away only when she felt her hand being moved to Helena's hip. Very conscious of the still damp paint under her palm, the redhead gingerly removed her hand.
"Daring duo, as well, Sweetie."
For some reason, Helena realized that her enthusiasm was settling a little further in the direction of her boots.
She didn't really know why they were talking anyway; but it sure seemed like Babs wasn't much into celebrating.
"Duo," Barbara clarified. "You and Dinah."
Not bothering to protest that Barbara had played a role, too, Helena rose and took a few steps backward. She eyed the double-bagged bomb on the table, accepting that she probably needed to head back to the zoo and help the Kid with the questions. Somehow, she pulled a grin as she turned toward the balcony.
"Yeah, I guess Dinah and I do make a good team."
"You did really good, Dinah."
Helena didn't have to try to force the words: she meant them. The blush she saw rushing from Dinah's neck to the tips of her ears wasn't surprising.
"You weren't so bad yourself, Helena." The younger woman pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, pale blue eyes peering through blonde bangs. "Doing the whole dismantling thing and all, I mean."
Quirking a grin, Helena shifted a little against the big oak that she was leaning against. Dinah was taking her lunch hour with her, and they'd met for sandwiches by the two hundred year old tree that covered the center of the NGU Commons. There was just no way that they wouldn't start talking about their little adventure from the day before.
It *was* a lot to think about.
Naturally, Barbara was all caught up in whoever was trying to get their attention, and she was totally freaked by the Pop-tart thing.
Hell, Helena herself was a little jittery about it.
It was easy enough to figure how whatever nutcases-du-jour were out there would use the bird and bat stuff to get their attention, but how would anyone know about her fetish for those particular snack foods?
Since Quinn, nobody outside the family had been inside her head enough to know stuff like that.
So, yeah, Helena couldn't fault her partner for running lots of extra checks on the Tower's security and gluing her butt in front of the Delphi, working on the descriptions that she and Dinah had gotten for the perps: a tall, skinny woman with long black hair and a strapless purple dress, and a short guy with dark hair and a pencil mustache wearing a black trench coat. Babs had worked up some composites and had her routines digging through all the major crime databases for a match.
Nose to the grindstone, that was her partner.
Nothing new there about Barbara, even if the sticks of dynamite had turned out to contain only a sprinkling of gunpowder and a whole lot of sulphur di... di-something-or-other. So, if the bomb had gone off, it would have made a little bit of noise and a really big stink but not much else.
In a nutshell, Helena figured they were tracing a couple of whack-jobs with a fondness for formal attire and not-so-funny practical jokes.
But, like Red had pointed out, it wasn't like that took anything away from what Dinah had pulled off the day before.
"Nah, D." She raised her cardboard cup and sipped a little watery soda through the straw. "The way you used your TK on that bomb was awesome."
Settling her drink onto the grass, Helena watched the blush that had been receding come roaring back full force.
"Yeah, I guess."
The blonde's lips twitched a little, and Helena worked an answering smile.
"As long as--"
They spoke as one, and Helena did the gallant thing, waving Dinah to go on.
"I mean, as long as I stay out of people's heads I'm okay, huh?"
Shit. So much for being gallant.
"Listen, D." Helena scootched across the small distance that separated them, working really hard to ignore the lovely chlorophyll stains that were probably getting all over her pants. "Mandrill was -- "
Clenching her jaw, she looked down, watching her fingernails leave faint trails of white as she scratched at the knees of her leather pants. When a slender hand covered hers, Helena stilled her hands.
She still didn't look up.
"I'm sorry I put you through that, Dinah."
For once, her companion didn't seem to have anything to say right away. The distant chatter of other students on the Common and the sigh of the warm breeze through the leaves overhead filled the silence for several minutes.
Dinah's voice was tentative. Owing her, Helena forced herself to look into sky-blue eyes.
"It's okay, or at least I'm working on that."
Helena turned her hand palm up under Dinah's and offered a gentle squeeze. The pressure was returned as the younger woman spoke quietly.
"It's just... earlier, being in your head kind of got me thinking, and sometimes I don't know what I'm feeling about anything."
Somehow, Helena thought that Barbara might have known what to say. Since she didn't she chose to close the small distance between them, bringing them shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh. Extricating her hand, Helena wrapped her arm around shoulders that were too skinny, and she pulled Dinah close.
It felt kind of weird.
Nice weird, though.
Naturally, that's when Barbara called.
Which, because she'd had her phone on vibrate, pretty much explained the tingling that had been going on in her lower body.
Since it was time for Dinah to head back to the lab, Helena volunteered to run the call solo. The thirty block sprint downtown would give her enough time to settle down before she investigated whatever it was Babs had picked up on the Police Band.
"Huntress, I've isolated the disturbance."
The image from the ATM camera that the cyber-vigilante had hacked into was grainy, however she couldn't mistake what she was seeing: two figures, a man in a dark coat and a woman in purple, were rappelling down to the street from the roof of City Hall.
"It appears to be our friends from yesterday."
It was impossible to mistake the relish in her partner's tone, and Barbara allowed herself a smile before returning to business.
"They're descending to the street on the west side of City Hall."
She toggled through a half-dozen other screens, perhaps with a bit more force than was needed, confirming what the two had been up to: the street in front of the city's central building was littered with hundreds, if not thousands, of bananas. Most were split, presumably from the force of their fall from the roof, and at least one city bus and two cabs had already skidded into curbs.
<<"I see 'em, Oracle. I'll go have a chat.">>
The redhead was speaking even as she detected a dark figure sweeping into the frame of one video feed. She watched as their quarry ducked down the alley that skirted the building.
"Careful, Huntress, we don't know if they're dangerous."
One bruised Golden Eagle and one pair of leather pants notwithstanding, the odd pair hadn't actually harmed anyone; however, it didn't pay to take chances.
<<"No sweat, Oracle.">>
The dark shape disappeared into the alley and out of camera range. In lieu of drumming her fingers against her mouse pad, Barbara raised her hand and allowed Katie, who was buckled into her snugli on her lap, to grasp her index finger.
<<"Nice day for a climb, huh?">>
Pursing her lips, Barbara extricated her finger from her daughter's mouth, wiping a healthy coating of baby drool on the hem of her tee shirt.
Katie was definitely starting to teethe, which might make breastfeeding more challenging.
<<<"You arrived more quickly than I anticipated.">>>
Helena narrowed her eyes, trying to place the man's thick accent. A voice in her ear helped out.
Grunting a sub-vocal acknowledgement, she took a step closer and showed some teeth.
"Yeah, that's me: fast on my feet. But -- "
Pointedly she raked her gaze over the pair, taking in the woman's form-fitting purple sheath dress and the man's long overcoat.
"-- you didn't do too bad yourself coming down that wall. Considering."
Shorty hadn't even lost his hat on the trip down.
"We're so glad that you could join us, although--"
Helena narrowed her eyes as the corners of the man's mouth twitched in a smirk.
"-- we had hoped that your do-goodnik partner would come, too."
<<"What in the name of--">>
Ignoring the interruption, Helena shrugged.
"Sorry, even do-gooders don't have to waste all of their time on jerks like you."
The verbal jab got a response: Shorty puffed up a few inches, his face turning red.
"Clearly you do not grasp the import of ---"
"Yeah, right." Helena blew on her fingernails and buffed them against the soft fabric of her tee shirt. "So you got our attention. What's the deal?"
Shorty smiled, reminding her a helluva lot of a used car salesman.
"But of course. Allow me to introduce myself. I--" He doffed the porkpie hat and bowed stiffly at the waist. "-- am Boris Badenov."
Closing her mouth -- there *were* flies back in the alley -- Helena ducked her head a little and stared at the guy.
"You've got to be shitting me. Who's she?"
Seeing as how there was only one other woman in the alley, pointing probably hadn't been necessary, but what the hell.
On the other end of the comms, Barbara held her breath, almost certain of what she'd hear.
The woman's accent was, if possible, even heavier than her companion's.
Great snorkeling guppies, they'd clearly stepped through some sort of time warp. Perhaps Snidely Whiplash would show up next to round things out.
"Huntress, I'm putting in a call to Arkham."
Barbara felt as much as heard her partner's low chuckle tickle through the comms.
<<"Good call, Rocky. Somebody blew out these guys' pilot lights a while ago.">>
Considering that she'd done damned little flying in the last nine years, Barbara gave voice to her curiosity as she finished keying in an alert to the mental ward.
"Why am I the flying squirrel, Huntress?"
Helena thought it was pretty obvious that Rocky had always been the brains of the operation. Which pretty clearly put her in the big dumb moose's slot and Dinah would be...
"Pah! You waste our time when we should be --"
'Pah'? Who the hell said 'pah'?
Helena raised her eyebrows, pushing aside thoughts of Dudley Doright for later.
<<"Keep them talking, Hun--">>
"So, what's up with the Pop-tart boxes?"
They were moving to the back of the alley, so she strolled along with them, jerking to a stop when Boris whirled to face her.
"We do not want the children to get the clocks and -- "
From the corner of her eye, Helena saw Natalie grabbing something out of her partner's pocket.
"-- we do not need to deal with you now!"
The two took off running as something that looked a whole lot like a grenade came sailing her way. Helena didn't even have time to *think* about getting the hell out of dodge before a blast slammed her into the brick wall and the world went dark.
Helena didn't think she'd been out for more than a second or two.
<<"Huntress, please respond!">>
Just, it seemed like, long enough for Barbara to go get a bullhorn to yell at her through the comms.
Carefully, she cracked one eye, then the other. She had to figure that since they were fighting cartoon bad guys, the little cartoon birdies sailing around her head made sense.
<<"Huntress, I don't know if you can hear me but I'm dispatching EM--">>
"M'okay," she managed over a cough.
Bricks were hard on the ribs.
"Some kind of grenade sent me pins over teacups."
And a headache. She had one beaut of a headache.
Bringing her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose, Barbara released a slow breath.
"It must have been a concussion grenade."
Barely registering what she was doing, she canceled the EMS dispatch.
"Are you mobile or do you need a ride?"
Her partner's response was reassuringly steady.
<<"I'm fine, but Dumb and Dumber got away.">>
Barbara smoothed Katharine's curls and pressed a kiss to her temple before turning to the screens of the Delphi.
"Come on in, Huntress. I have a plan."
They were all synonyms on a spectrum, and Barbara Gordon didn't care for any of them.
Intellectually, it was easy enough to understand the personal element involved. She had, after all, been a bit of a geek as a child.
In all honesty, it was a label that she wore with pride at this point.
Nevertheless, being a geek twenty-five years before had carried considerably less cachet than it did today, and she'd been subject to her fair share of teasing, taunting, and bullying. While she'd mercifully left that age behind, there was no way to remain oblivious to some of the behaviors that occurred when some people saw her in her chair.
In a nutshell, she felt that she had a reasonable comprehension of matters, and she did not appreciate it. At this point in time, she was directing a distinct lack of appreciation at the Jay Ward-inspired antics of the two figures that had been teasing and taunting her partners -- her family -- for the last two weeks.
No one had been injured yet; however the concussive grenade could have crippled anyone without Helena's unique genetics.
"Are you certain that you're all right?"
Not giving the brunette time to answer, Barbara reached up, managing to snare her lover's forearms and tug her into her lap. Even as she took in the myriad already-healing scratches and bruises that marred Helena's exposed skin, her hands moved on their own, running down her partner's arms, across her back, through her hair.
"Told you, Red -- "
The remaining measure of the redhead's concern slipped away when her partner interrupted herself to catch her wrist and press a lingering kiss to her palm.
"-- I just got shaken up a little."
Swallowing her instinctive urge to question, Barbara let it go, giving the younger woman her head. She arched into the pressure of a hungry mouth against her neck and wrapped her arms around her lover's slender shoulder.
Helena's response to adrenaline was, after all, hardly a surprise. Since nobody else had to be accounted for, Barbara saw no reason not to hold on for the ride.
A soft hiss, the sensation of air being drawn across the sensitized flesh of her throat, disabused her of the notion.
"You are hurt, Helena."
Cautiously, she probed at the other woman's back, isolating a spot near Helena's shoulder that made her wince.
"No really," was the breathy response. "Just a little bruised, Baby."
Barbara felt the motorized chair move a tiny bit as Helena rocked her hips in her lap. Her irritation with the infernal contraption evaporated under the power of her partner's sultry smile.
"Why don't you kiss it better?"
One look into bright gold eyes convinced Barbara that she didn't have much choice in the matter. Accordingly, she guided Helena's hand, which had somehow come to rest above the swell of her breasts, to her lips.
The hiss that she heard this time clearly was one of pleasure. It lit a flame in Barbara's chest, and she pulled back to catch her partner's eyes.
"Up on the table, Hel."
Mouth already watering, she nodded toward the Delphi table. To her surprise, Helena didn't move.
Rather, Barbara automatically corrected herself when she felt taut muscles humming beneath her fingers, Helena didn't move to stand.
"I don't want--"
Fascinated, Barbara watched golden iris shift to violet and then focused on even white teeth catching a full lower lip.
"Baby, I want--"
Nothing further was forthcoming, and so she took a guess.
She pulled her close, clasping restless hips in both her hands as their tongues met for a long tangle. For an uncalculated amount of time, Barbara surrendered to the mouth that plundered hers and the hands that danced over her face and shoulders.
She could barely make out the younger woman's whine. The sensation of her hand being guided from Helena's hip was impossible to misunderstand.
The elevator was arriving.
Barbara saw the indicator light up and, concentrating, heard the hum. She felt sure that, even in the midst of matters, Helena would have picked up the sound of the motor.
"I can't, Hel."
The words spilled past just as the elevator door opened and Dinah stepped out. Although she suspected that their position left little doubt about what was transpiring, Barbara didn't see the expected blush in her most recent charge's pale features.
She suspected that her own cheeks weren't faring as well under the intent scrutiny of pale blue eyes. Nevertheless, this wasn't about her.
Dinah's expression, she decided as she observed the blonde taking in the tableau, was... pained.
"Hello, Dinah," she managed, acutely conscious of Helena's stiffness as she rose from the chair.
Even more conscious of the way that Dinah seemed to gravitate toward Helena, she turned back to her workspace, ostensibly to retrieve the stack of pages that she'd printed out just before Helena had arrived. While she might not understand everything that was going on with the youngest member of their little group, Barbara was quite cognizant of her own sympathy for the underdog, her desire to help and to make things right.
Sometimes, apparently, doing so required keeping her hands off and deploying other resources.
Helena's voice didn't betray a bit of irritation over the interruption.
"Guess that Barbara called you about the Looney Tune gang, huh?"
Not bothering to correct her partner on the copyright differences between Bugs Bunny and Bullwinkle the Moose, Barbara kept her attention on her printouts.
"And the concussion grenade, Helena. Are you okay?"
Since she had spent the last years working vicariously from a terminal and attempting to determine situational clues through an audio headset, Barbara thought that she had a reasonably good grasp on conversational nuance. She decided that she needed to re-evaluate her assumption when processed Dinah's question.
It had sounded oddly... flat.
By the time Helena had reassured Dinah and regaled her with the story of her encounter with Boris and Natasha, a great deal of the initial awkwardness had bled from the room. Barbara, accordingly, didn't give it a second thought when she put her two younger partners to work in the training room.
Piecing together a forty-by-forty electric net did require a fair amount of space and many hands.
Not to mention, Barbara noted approvingly as she returned from disposing of the pizza box -- completely empty, of course -- that had been delivered not too many minutes before, many hands did make light work.
"It looks like we're almost d--"
Since she'd been concentrating on the yards and yards of elastic cord and metal filament that covered the mats on the training room floor, Barbara wasn't surprised that she'd allowed the side of her chair to bang into the pommel horse.
She wasn't pleased either. The juxtaposition of her graceless bumbling and the easy synergy that her partners seemed to share was particularly jarring.
Two pairs of blue eyes -- one deep blue and tinged with concern, one pale and unreadable -- touched her. Barbara opted to focus on the impish twinkle that crept into Helena's eyes.
Nimble fingers threaded another length of modified electric fencing wire through the edge of the net.
"What if we got some of those long metal things that they put on cars for your chair? You know, curb feelers?"
The redhead was tempted to allow her expression to speak for itself, however, Helena seemed focused on snugging off a knot.
That earned a soft titter from Dinah that was overshadowed by Helena's bark of laughter.
"Like this giant butterfly net is so elegant, Red?"
Barbara had to agree that the net wasn't the soul of subtlety.
"Indeed, Hel. I suppose that, if Boris and company had called us for a nice game of chess, I might be more concerned with finesse. As it is..."
She narrowed her eyes and then dug into the pocket of the chair for another spool of wire.
"... let's add a bit more zap."
The brunette's face creased in an evil grin, and Barbara attempted to prepare herself.
"You heard our fearless leader, D. Let's get to it."
Cocking a brow, Barbara moved to the far side of the net and began rolling up the completed work.
"Tres amusing, Hel. I was under the impression that I was Rocky the Squirrel."
Dinah managed to chime in with their banter about Mr. Big, Fractured Fairy Tales, and Mr. Peabody as they finished wiring the net and gathered it into a semi-portable ball. However, every time Barbara glanced at the young woman, she found Dinah's gaze fixed firmly on... her.
"You sure you don't want to come with us to lay this out?"
Helena punctuated her question by jingling the keys to the Hummer while Dinah gathered a variety of D-rings from the gear closet.
"You and Katie could come. We could make her a little mask."
Opting not to consider that offer too deeply, Barbara laughed and shook her head.
"No, thank you, Hel. My days of climbing fire escapes are behind me."
She thought she detected a lessening in the stiff set of Dinah's shoulders when she made her demurral. However, the tension returned -- with a vengeance -- when Helena leaned close, clearly intent on sharing a farewell kiss.
Masked from Dinah's direct line of sight by Helena's body, Barbara observed the blonde, her breath catching in her throat at the girl's expression: it was, she thought, one of infinite loss.
And, she forced herself to acknowledge, jealousy.
There was simply no way to deny it or avoid it: Something was making their youngest partner acutely uncomfortable with any closeness that she and Helena shared.
"I'll -- " Barbara turned her face, catching Helena's kiss on her cheek and placing a hand lightly on the brunette's shoulder. "--see you later, Sweetheart."
Belatedly, she managed a little smile, even as she raised her brows helplessly and glanced in Dinah's direction. To her relief, Helena's expression of puzzled hurt shifted seamlessly to something less raw.
The brunette straightened and glanced over at Dinah.
"Don't wait up. We might get ice cream."
Barbara wasn't quite certain how she had managed to sound unconcerned when she told the two to take their time. She wasn't quite sure that she had managed to sound casual.
She waited until the elevator descended to the parking garage, then pushed hard on the joystick of her chair. The motor ground out a protest as the chair jerked up the ramp to the Delphi, and Barbara took care not to let one of the tires slip over the lip.
It only took a moment to pull up the schematic for the controls on the chair, and she went over the diagrams carefully. It was, after all, possible that she could do something to improve the sensitivity of the controller.
Perhaps she could even add some sensors to the thing, something a bit more appropriate than curb feelers, to keep the damned thing away from walls, furniture, and people's feet.
In the meantime, while her mind percolated, she could focus on other matters.
With another two-dozen keystrokes, Barbara placed an order for a new heavy bag from her favorite online supplier of sporting goods. That done, she returned to the training room, which somehow seemed almost cavernously empty without her partners there.
Taking a few deep breaths, she selected a heavy staff from the rack on the wall, positioned her chair neatly behind the heavy bag, and began methodically beating the stuffing out of it.
Her legs hurt.
Barbara understood that it wasn't entirely surprising, given that she'd spent the last few hours running beside Katie as the five year old had joyfully mastered the art of riding a bicycle without training wheels. Nevertheless, while her daughter's victory ameliorated a measure of the burn in her thighs, Barbara *was* decidedly looking forward to a long soak in the whirlpool tub.
Rather, she had been anticipating some time in the tub until she emerged from the kitchen, bottle of Pellegrino in hand, and discovered that Helena had returned from the museum at some point while she'd been cooling down. Her lover was on the balcony, her back to the living area and her attention seemingly focused on the reds and oranges and yellows that bled into the sky from the setting sun. The wool slacks that the younger woman had selected for work that morning skimmed the slender lines of her hips; the silk blouse seemed to brush her sides like fingers.
Barbara licked her lips and set her beverage on a side table. When she registered the heat of the blood that was rushing to her center, she felt a smile touch her lips.
The bath could wait.
Her skin suddenly, acutely, sensitized to the faint breeze that was blowing in through the French doors, the redhead peeled off her overshirt, leaving her in the lime green tank top she'd put on before the riding lesson with Katie.
She suspected that Helena wouldn't object to the perspiration that dampened a patch between her breasts.
She was confident that the brunette wouldn't object to her planned stealth approach either. Barbara didn't want to surprise her lover; however, she didn't necessarily want to give her a chance to turn around either: The image that was searing her mind's eye -- slipping up behind Helena and taking her hard and fast -- was simply too much to resist.
Attuned to silence, the redhead started forward.
Rather, in the act of lifting one Keds-clad foot from the Berber, she realized that both of her feet seemed to be locked in place. Biting back her panic and her memories of all of the years when she hadn't been able to move, she dropped a hand to her thigh, reassured when her nerves clearly registered the contact.
It wasn't... it wasn't her spine again.
Panic ceding to anger, she tried to take another step, once again brought up short by the sensation that her feet were clamped to the floor.
"I'm sorry, Barbara."
The words came from her right, from the hallway that led to the bedrooms. As familiar with that voice as she was with her own, Barbara looked over, needlessly confirming just who it was holding her captive.
The young woman's expression was sorrowful. Her words were resolute.
"I can't let you go out there."
Pushing aside her desire to snap at the blonde, Barbara took a deep breath and ran her hand through her hair.
The gesture wasn't quite as satisfying since she'd cut her long mane two years before in favor of a modified pageboy. A bit irritated by a change that she should have been used to, Barbara shook her head roughly --
And shook herself awake.
For several thundering heartbeats, she held herself still in the darkness of the bedroom, working to pull herself together. She hadn't had a walking dream in quite some time, and it was a bit discouraging to grasp that she wasn't leaving the illusion behind.
Quite aware of the fact that she was alone in the big bed, Barbara finally glanced at the bedside clock. Its angry glare informed her that it was nearly dawn.
Well past time for Helena and Dinah to have finished laying their trap, having ice cream, and...
That indefinable frisson of awareness suggested that Helena had made it home, and with a soft sigh, the redhead folded back the covers and sat up.
It was time to see why Helena hadn't made it to bed.
So baby, times get a little crazy
I've been getting a little lazy
Waiting for you to come save me
I can see that you're angry
By the way the you treat me
Even out on the balcony, Helena had no trouble hearing the whisper of rubber tires on the hardwood floor of the hallway. Seemed like Barbara had switched back to her manual chair, maybe so she wouldn't wake up Katie.
If I could escape
And re-create a place as my own world
And I could be your favorite girl
Forever, perfectly together
She really wasn't surprised that Babs was on the prowl and heading right to her. Barbara had always seemed to know how to find her.
If I could be sweet
I know I've been a real bad girl
I didn't mean for you to get hurt
'soever, we can make it better
And tell me boy, now wouldn't that be sweet?
Yanking out her ear buds and cutting off Gwen Stafanie mid-whoo hoo, Helena squared her shoulders and got ready to face the music. She'd known that she couldn't sit on the balcony all night avoiding things.
Things like expectations: Barbara's for her, her's for Barbara, Dinah's for them. Things like desire and passion, whether they were there or forced or missing and needed. Things like how she'd probably gone and fucked everything up.
Barbara managed to compose a smile just before her partner swung her legs back over the parapet and rotated to face her. Helena had been swinging her feet in the empty air twenty stories up, her face upturned to the sky. The reflected light noise of the city illuminated the large cirrus clouds that feathered the pre-dawn, but Barbara was reasonably certain that Helena hadn't been looking at them.
Way back in high school, in the classroom; lost in blood and tears and rage in the hospital after that night; thousands of long dark nights over the comms; and more recently in the bedroom: Barbara's voice had always been Helena's lifeline. The gentle greeting, the soft burr of welcome, did it: Helena crumbled.
"Sweetheart -- "
It seemed as if she'd known in the split second before she saw her companion drop her head into her hands and curl in on herself. Barbara was next to her before she finished speaking.
"-- what happened?"
There was no answer -- no verbal answer -- for a half minute. Barbara held her peace, resting one hand on her lover's back as the younger woman trembled.
"I don't think I'm the one who should -- "
Again, Barbara kept silent, watching as Helena finally straightened. Helena's eyes remained firmly fixed on the sky.
"Who should be talking to Dinah."
It took the redhead a beat to make the connection.
"What makes you say that, Helena?"
She kept her hand on her partner's shoulder. The trembling of tightly coiled muscles seemed to intensify.
"I kissed her --"
For a dizzying moment, Barbara fought an onslaught of deja vu.
Before she could begin to think about formulating some sort of response, Helena shook her head roughly.
"Well, I was going to try to."
The redhead determined that her best -- nay, perhaps her only possible -- response was a slow blink. It seemed to be enough.
"Well, I wanted to try, but -- "
"You wanted t--"
Pained blue eyes finally met hers, and Barbara promptly snapped her mouth shut, wishing that she could reel her words back in.
"Shit, Barbara, I'm really sorry."
The redhead drew a slow breath.
"Slow down a little, Hel."
She rubbed the younger woman's shoulder gently and offered a brief smile.
"Tell me what happened."
Although she suspected that it didn't bode well when Helena moved a few inches to the right -- just out of reach -- Barbara decided not to concentrate on it.
"I saw how she was tonight, Red. I just..." The brunette scrubbed her face with her hands. "I guess I just had to put it out there."
Allowing herself one more slow blink, Barbara allowed her powerful skills with denial to kick in so that she could focus on the issue at hand.
After all, there was no reason to think too hard about just *what* Helena might have put just *where*.
The words were so precise, so fuckin' factual and dispassionate, that Helena couldn't doubt for a second that Barbara understood.
Which was more than she could claim.
All that she knew was that Dinah's... interest in her had seemed to be moving in some sort of weird inverse relationship to, well, to Barbara's. And seeing as how she was the "go out and do it" one on their little team, tonight had seemed like as good a time as any.
"I wanted to," She really, really wanted to be sure that Barbara understood that she'd been on board. "Wanted to try anyway, but I..."
Shit, it was hard to say. It was hard to think, but when she'd finally taken the plunge with Dinah after they'd set up the netting and decamped to the roof of the Dark Horse with their ice cream, there hadn't been any way around it.
"Okay, Kid. Time to spill."
Helena's question had caught Dinah with a heaping spoonful of vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce on the way to her mouth.
She'd given her own sundae -- chocolate ice cream, of course -- a swirl with the long-handled plastic spoon and had shifted just a little from where she was sitting beside Dinah so she could see her eyes.
"What's gnawing at you, D?"
She'd seen the word -- at least the first consonant -- taking shape on the younger woman's lips.
"Mandrill, yeah, but that's not all of it, D."
Dinah had set her cardboard cup of ice cream aside, seeming pretty intent on getting it situated in just the right spot. Helena had chosen to lob hers over the edge of the roof, pretty certain that she'd be able to hit the dumpster in the alley below.
"C'mon, you've been mooning around and fishing for intel about Barbara and me and, well..."
Helena had figured that having Dinah's telepath thing could have helped out a lot. Still, even if it hadn't been the smoothest, it had gotten Dinah talking.
"I can't. It's just too embarrassing."
The blonde had smoothed her hands over her knees a few times and then stood up. Helena had been right behind her, moving around to keep them face to face.
"And confusing. I guess I'm still trying to figure it out, Hel."
Those pale, pale eyes had almost been silver in the moonlight.
"It's okay, D."
She'd sucked up her courage then -- big time -- and stepped into Dinah's personal space.
"Barbara knows, too. She's--"
The words had been really hard to get out.
"She's okay with it." She'd caught herself and tried again. "She understands, Dinah."
She'd kind of wanted to laugh a little at that. It didn't really seem to cover how Red was willing to do whatever was needed for them.
"Are you shit-- kidding me?"
Dinah's eyes had been huge. Dinner plate huge.
"After all of her hang-ups about you and the age difference and the whole..."
When D had stuttered to a stop, sort of flapping her arms, Helena had been surprised that she wasn't laughing.
It hadn't seemed all that funny.
"She gets it." She'd dropped her voice a little, not backing down. "Fuck, *I* get it, D."
Helena was no literary guru or English teacher or anything, but she'd thought that, right about then, Dinah's expression had been pretty much the epitome of "uncomfortable".
"No way, Hel. This makes you and Barbara look like--"
Dinah had shifted from foot to foot, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear.
"Well, no. I'm just not going to talk about this with you."
Figuring that talking was overrated anyway, Helena had closed the distance, resting her forehead against Dinah's and looking her right in the eyes.
"It's okay, D."
She still didn't know if she really had been going to kiss Dinah or if she'd just been thinking about it and that whole telepath thing had kicked in. It didn't matter because she'd been pulling the blonde into a hug when she'd seen the expression in her eyes.
"What the fuck? I was good enough a couple of weeks ago--"
She'd stopped herself, remembering one vital difference about the intimacies she'd exchanged with Dinah while they'd been letting D practice her mind control.
She'd been all set to be mortified but Dinah had already been talking.
"It was different when you were a guy. It was--"
Dinah had shrugged, pulling back a few steps and leaving Helena to consider that a lot of things had been different -- with all of the women in her life -- when she'd been a guy.
"I mean, I was inside your head and feeling your feelings and everything got mixed up."
That's when Helena had started to get clued in that maybe some of that hubris thing had been in play. Or at least some ego and assumptions.
Dinah's next words had put the nail in the lid.
"Just, no way, Hel. This isn't about you and me. At least, well, not directly, I guess."
"What is it, Sweetheart? What happened?"
Barbara's voice was infinitely gentle. Her hand on Helena's arm felt so comforting. Her eyes, bright in the dawning light, were completely accepting.
Even if that acceptance was going to tear her apart, there was no way that Helena could hide the truth.
She took a second, remembering Dinah's eyes when she'd talked about being inside her head and feeling what she'd felt. Then, she replayed the emphasis that Dinah had put on the words "you and me" before she'd closed down on the discussion and headed down the fire escape.
Somehow, she found her voice and met her partner's gaze.
"I don't think it's me that she wants."
Clearly she was missing something.
For a long half-minute after Helena's words, Barbara sat in mute silence, attempting to piece together just what it was that had Helena so upset. For that matter, it didn't seem at all frivolous to spare a few neural CPUs to grasp what in the name of Old Scratch had been possessing her partner to attempt to...
"We aren't talking about -- "
Resisting the urge to fan herself with her hand, Barbara wet her lips with her tongue.
"-- sororal confidences, are we, Hel?" she finally managed.
Oh, good grief, she could admit it: her protests about not emphasizing an age difference aside, Barbara would have been delighted to learn that Dinah was... wanting her as a maternal confidant.
Shutting her eyes, Barbara raised her right hand, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and second finger. Despite any preferences she might have had, her mind insisted on running through the myriad possibilities for complications and hurt that were rife in what Helena had revealed.
It was insanity, pure and simple.
She understood, in a purely theoretical manner of course, that Dinah had been in Helena's head. She grasped that some sort of transference could have occurred; however, the logical object of those sorts of feelings...
Barbara's eyes snapped open and she dropped her hand to grip the arm of her chair.
"Why were you *trying* to kiss Dinah, Hel?"
Helena couldn't miss hearing how much emphasis Barbara had put on the word "trying". It struck her like a lash.
"Hel, can you--"
The brunette couldn't meet her partner's eyes. She thought of all of the excuses she could make, but she knew that it was results, not effort, that ultimately mattered.
"I'm sorry, Barbara."
Barbara had no doubt that her partner's contrition was genuine; however, she still couldn't fathom what the younger woman had been thinking.
"Great galloping gonads, Hel!"
She saw her partner flinch and forced herself to calm down. On a measured exhalation, the redhead leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and peering up into Helena's downcast eyes.
"Sweetie, can't you see that trying -- "
Swallowing, Barbara regrouped a bit.
"Helena, attempting something like that is only going to confuse matters more."
In the rose-gray light of pre-dawn, she clearly saw deep blue eyes darting down.
"Seems like it was already pretty confused."
The muttered words were barely audible, but Barbara had no difficulty in grasping the sense of what Helena had said. A bit stiffly, she straightened from her semi-crouch.
"Excuse me, Helena?"
Helena knew that her partner didn't much go for snotty asides, but sometimes her mouth just ran away with her. Exhaling heavily, she sat up straight and ran her fingers through her hair.
Time to put her cards on the table.
"Listen, Barbara," she scrubbed her palms up and down the soft leather covering her knees. "I know that things have been a little different since I was changed back from a guy. And, I know that, maybe, everybody is..."
Something kind of caught in her throat, and Helena worried at her lower lip with her teeth for a second, giving it a chance to clear.
"Well, maybe the cost was more than you--"
That wasn't quite right.
Helena shook her head roughly and corrected herself.
"--more than any of us wanted."
"Helena, that's not what this is about."
The protest was instant. Instinctual.
"Fuck, Barbara! It's not *not* what it's about either!"
Shocked by the vehemence of Helena's words, Barbara opened her mouth to respond; however, by the time she had unraveled what it was that Helena seemed to be saying, her companion was barreling on.
"But it's okay, Barbara!"
Figuring that volume wasn't going to gain her much, Helena sucked in a quick lung full of oxygen and toned it down.
"And, it's not just because I owe her or even because you think that we owe her."
Doubt was curtaining those gorgeous green eyes, and Helena stretched over to grasp Barbara's hand.
"It's okay," she repeated, not quite sure why she was having to reassure all the women in her life so much in one night. "I'm okay being there or giving -- "
Working the pad of her thumb gently across Barbara's knuckles, Helena hunted for a way to help her partner understand.
"I love her, too, you know, and doing whatever we need to do for Dinah is something I *want* to do."
The letters that Barbara frequently caught her students text-messaging to each other flared behind her eyelids in garish green neon. Buffeted by the overload, she managed to pry her eyes open to search her lover's eyes.
She found sincerity.
"Sweetheart, how could you --"
Helena raised her free hand a few inches, asking for the chance to finish. She took the rise of crimson brows as permission.
"I'm really okay with doing whatever I need to for Dinah. It's just, like I said, Red -- "
Knowing that she was being impossibly selfish, Helena still couldn't keep it back.
"I don't think it's me she wants, Barbara," she tightened her hold on Barbara's hand and allowed her eyes to shut. "and I don't think I can do it."
When Helena opened her eyes again, they appeared wet in the dim light of morning.
"Do what, Hel?"
Barbara returned the pressure of Helena's hand on hers, wishing that her grasp of Helena's meaning were as solid.
"Maybe it's because I'm an only child."
The redhead blinked, several times, fighting not to become dizzy at the seeming shift in topics. Her attempt wasn't helped when Helena abruptly stood and paced to the far end of the balcony.
"Only child?" she managed.
Her companion's shrug was apologetic.
"Yeah. You know that I just can't share stuff, my clothes or jewelry or--"
Despite herself, Barbara found a smile touching her lips at her partner's odd juxtaposition of arrogance and humility.
"That's not true, Sweetheart," she interrupted mildly.
The transformation *had* been slow; however, this Helena was a far cry from the one who had brought Dinah back to her not too many years before.
"You share your apartment, your clothes, your time."
Quite aware of all that remained uncounted, Barbara stopped ticking the points off on her fingers.
The younger woman's smile was meager.
"I love you so much, Barbara, and this is something that D needs."
"She needs us," the redhead agreed.
She thought that Helena's answering nod was, at best, hesitant.
"Yeah, you told me when we talked about it last week."
Barbara felt her brows wrinkle as she recalled the conversation that had evolved during their latest Hepburn movie. It was difficult to believe that Katie had begun to crawl, sans the inducement of M&Ms, in the few days that had elapsed since.
"Fuck, Barbara, I love her, too."
Dark brows rose, leaving the brunette looking lost and helpless, and Barbara's hands dropped to the wheels of the chair, ready to move to her partner. When Helena spun around to face the city, she forced herself to still her motion and waited.
"I love her, too," she reminded her. "And you."
She saw the dark head dip once.
"I know, Red. But I can't be like you."
Something... Something about Helena's words sent a ribbon of cold up her spine. Wishing desperately that she could rewind the last minutes -- or the last week -- or, perhaps, the weeks that had slipped by her since Helena's transformation, Barbara forced herself to move next to her partner.
"I don't understand, Helena."
The sun was coming up in full now, and Helena allowed her eyes to be caught by the light that refracted against the garish green glass of the downtown office buildings.
The shards of daylight burned her eyes.
"I can't do what you can do."
She swallowed around the heaviness in her throat and finished it.
"I can't share you."
Green eyes blinked then went wide as understanding dawned.
"Helena, no, you don't understand."
There was no sound when Helena turned from her regard of the city, only the play of shadows and a shifting current in the air before Barbara found herself fixed by deep blue eyes.
"Please, don't, Barbara. I know... I know it's important, but I can't share you."
All of the air left her body, and Barbara worked her jaw, utterly at a loss.
"Jesus, Barbara, I'll do anything." Helena raked her fingers through her hair, her voice cracking. "I'll crawl through glass for you. You know that."
The rising sun burnished her lover's dusky features mahogany. In the minutes between dark and light, the curtain had lifted, and Barbara understood how terribly wrong matters had gone. What she didn't understand what how she needed to fix matters.
Somehow, she found her voice.
"And you know that's not what I want, Helena."
Unable to stand it, Helena dropped to her knees.
The words flayed her, so great was her need for Barbara to understand that she needed only one person. That she ached for the wanting touch of only one pair of hands, the hungry pressure of only one mouth, the demanding call of one set of lips and teeth.
And she couldn't bear to share.
On her knees, she shuffled forward a few inches and rested her fingertips lightly on the rims of Barbara's chair. Helena couldn't look up to meet her partner's eyes.
Twenty stories below, the city was coming to life. Helena could hear the shops opening, could smell the diesel of commuter buses warming up, could feel the energy of their city awakening.
Up on the balcony, where she'd laid everything out, there was only silence.
It seemed like answer enough.
Barbara simply didn't have the words. Enough words. The right words.
How on earth could she have let Helena think that she valued her so little? That she valued *them* so little?
The stricken look in surpassingly blue eyes disabused her of that notion, and Barbara forced herself to amend her self-castigation: How had she let Helena come to believe that she valued all of them so much that such an action would be... reasonable?
"No," she murmured again, threading her fingers into dark silk.
Bending at the waist, Barbara brought herself level with Helena's eyes. She knew that she needed to say something, to find a way to explain, yet she found herself lost in the emotions swirling in cobalt eyes.
Slowly, the redhead exhaled and straightened a few degrees. Gently, she pushed a lock of hair behind Helena's left ear. Ruthlessly, she shunted aside her own desire to rant and rage and set out in search of a soundproof room in which she could bang her head against a wall.
Time enough for that later. At this point, she needed to set some matters straight.
"I believe there's been some miscommunication, Helena."
Quite aware that the sheer understatement of what she'd just said could probably float a boat to the moon, Barbara didn't... couldn't bear to think about just what had been going on in her partner's mind to lead her to believe... that.
"I didn't mean--"
Barbara shook her head, simultaneously placing her index finger lightly against full, soft lips.
"No, Hel," she managed something that approximated a smile and dropped her hand to her lap. "You didn't do anything wrong."
She, on the other hand, had clearly dropped the ball. She'd been so caught up in assumptions about Dinah's needs that she'd completely missed the fact that Helena was... having some doubts after the return to herself.
"I'm so sorry, Helena."
Later. Later she'd try to delve deeper into what had happened. For the moment, it was most important to address what was right in front of her.
Leaning close, Barbara began.
"I love you, Hel."
"…so much," was all that Helena could understand after that, whispered against her skin. Dropping her head, she rubbed the top of her head lightly under Barbara's chin, nearly shivering her pleasure.
"I thought that was what you wanted for..."
She inhaled deeply and looked into verdant green.
"...for the family."
Somehow, the redhead couldn't gather her wits, couldn't collect the fragmented bits of herself, to find a thoughtful response.
"Sweetheart, no," she held her companion's eyes, tucking one finger under her jaw to keep the brunette from looking away. "Only you."
After all, she was an only child as well.
Helena couldn't doubt what Barbara was saying, but she couldn't figure how she'd been so off-base about the whole thing.
"You haven't --"
It wasn't hard to make out the confusion in Red's eyes, and Helena cast about for a way to explain.
"It's been different since I changed back, like you want me to..."
Dark brows knit just as Barbara's inner voice helpfully supplied a possible ending to the thought: "Be someone else".
"--take the lead."
Another protest ready, Barbara forced herself to consider the truth of her lover's words.
"Perhaps," she leaned in, resting her forehead against the younger woman's. "Sometimes I do, Hel."
Immediately, the redhead found herself rearing back in surprise when Helena surged toward her. Taking in Helena's eyes -- deep violet, soft and open -- she managed to still the reflexive movement and leaned back in to bring their mouths together.
She held herself back for the kiss; it was a bare gossamer brush of her mouth against Helena's velvet lips. As she felt her lover's warm breath panting softly against her, raising the fine hair on her arms, Barbara opened to meet the unspoken request.
Gently, so carefully, she breathed in Helena's air; she offered her own.
Under her hands, the muscles of Helena's shoulders were quivering. The whisper had sounded broken and hungry.
Clearly, Barbara recognized with a rush of heat, she'd been neglecting her partner.
With Helena supping so tenderly, so slowly, at her mouth, Barbara surrendered on a sigh and slipped into her mouth. Refusing to be distracted by a moan that morphed into a growl and echoed against her teeth, she mapped her slowly, deliberately.
Helena realized she'd been holding her breath forever. Now... now there was nothing but Barbara and their breathing and the distant sounds of dawn...
And the frigging beep of the Delphi alarm.
No. No. No.
She saw the apology in Barbara's eyes. Heck, Helena recognized the damned "life or death" signal that Red had programmed into the monitoring routines.
Still, she didn't think they'd finished up.
"Is this gonna be...?"
Helena trailed behind her partner, stopping at the French doors as Barbara gracefully, effortlessly, sailed up the ramp and brought up her monitoring routines.
"Confusing for a while, I'd suspect, Hel."
The smile that Red took time to give her helped a lot, but Helena knew she'd have a lot of catching up to do.
Red hair shook once from side to side.
"It's not your fault, Helena. And, for now -- "
The brunette nodded and snagged her comm set from her pocket.
"-- there's a report of someone struggling to hang from the hour hand of the City Hall clock."
Snapping on the necklace, Helena glanced up at their own personal oversized clock, easily reading it backwards from years of practice.
"And in ten minutes or so when it hits the half-hour, he's gonna be in a world of hurt, huh?"
Barbara was already typing.
With two bounding steps, Helena reached the edge of the balcony, and then she was flying.
Fingers hovering over the keyboard, Barbara indulged herself for just a few seconds, watching the dark figure sail so effortlessly across the roof of the adjoining building.
Perhaps someday soon, she'd ask Helena to take her flying again. For the time being, finding a suitably located security camera needed to be her primary focus.
The cyber-vigilante had just hacked into a traffic camera that, surprisingly, had a reasonable view of City Hall -- although, regrettably, not of the clock face -- when the comms crackled to life.
Managing to reposition the camera angle ever-so-slightly, Barbara could just make out shadows against the face of the clock.
"What's the situation, Huntress?"
<<"Ooof -- ">>
The strain was evident in the soft utterance, and the play of precariously swaying shadows suggested that Helena was attempting a rescue.
<<"Gimme a s--shit.">>
Sitting a bit straighter, Barbara kept her voice calm.
It was possible that what she thought she'd seen -- one of the shadows plummeting to the ground -- had been a trick of early morning light and poor fiber optics.
<<"It was a friggin' dummy, Oracle.">>
Seeing her partner swooping toward the ground, Barbara immediately backed out of the live controls for the traffic cam and worked on accessing the digital image archive from the unit.
<<"Yup. In a Batman suit with a pair of, uhm, antlers on the cowl.">>
Oblivious to the voice-only connection, the redhead nodded.
It fit the M.O.
"Could they be moose antlers, Huntress?"
And, she had it: a clear digital image of a man dragging a cowled dummy toward City Hall half an hour earlier.
<<"Yeah, that looks about right.">>
Barbara enlarged the still, finally getting a clear visual of the man she could only assume to be the self-titled Boris Badenov. Immediately, she fed a close-up to her mug-shot matching routines, not surprised when there was an immediate hit.
She had, of course, run the mug shots with the composite that she'd put together from Helena's description: a short man with dark hear, dark trench coat, and a pencil mustache. With few likely hits in criminal databases, she'd released her 'bots on the web only to discover that her algorithms found Major Hochsetter from the cult television classic "Hogan's Heroes" to be the most likely match.
Then again, finally viewing Boris' picture from earlier that day and the mug shot that had been returned from the Gotham County Jail, Barbara had to acknowledge that her programs hadn't been far off the mark.
Prisoner number GCJ070422NH, Norbert Herman, had been released from the jail, after serving a short sentence for malicious mischief, only a few days after Mike Mandrill had taken up residence there.
A few clicks of the mouse confirmed the rest: Mandrill and Herman had shared a cell.
Wearily, Barbara logged out of the county computers and leaned back in her chair, attempting to control her emotions.
It was just one more thing that they could thank Mike Mandrill for.
In the process of opening her mouth to call Helena back to the Tower, Barbara paused, chasing the last thought around her mind.
Honesty forced her to rescind her assessment.
While it was true that Mandrill's involvement was a nuisance, the redhead knew that, ultimately, responsibility had to rest squarely on her shoulders. She had chosen a life of vigilante crime-fighting that tended to draw out an element of society that needed to test her. She had put Helena on the trail of Mandrill and his flunkies. She had allowed Helena and Dinah to proceed with their plan to return Helena to her true form.
Since then, she had made assumptions about Dinah's motivations and needs while allowing herself to fail Helena.
It was time to take ownership.
"Huntress, can you return to base?"
The hesitation she heard was painful, but Barbara didn't falter.
"I need to you look after the junior member of the team."
That information seemed to improve her lover's mood.
Moving down the ramp, Barbara turned toward the bedroom. She'd just have time to change before Helena arrived to take care of Katie, and she could leave.
It was time to see Dinah.
"Is there something you need to tell me, Dinah?"
Granted, this was one of those conversations that Barbara would have preferred to avoid entirely; however, shirking the difficult moments in life simply wasn't an option. Judging from the way that her companion was chewing at her lower lip and refusing to meet her eyes, Barbara knew that she wasn't alone in her preferred avoidance.
When the silence wore on, she finally made the decision for the blonde.
"Let me put it this way," She ducked her head just a bit, finally catching pale blue eyes with hers. "I believe there are some matters that we need to discuss."
Barbara had to assume that, even without telepathic abilities, Dinah should have been able to guess as much. After all, virtually ambushing Dinah on her way to the lab and insisting that they have coffee was a reasonably big clue.
"Do we have to?"
The redhead's sympathetic smile was entirely genuine: her most recent ward and she were, after all, not entirely dissimilar.
"I'm afraid so, Honey."
She stirred her coffee slowly, waiting for Dinah to make the next move.
"Is this about last night? With Helena?"
"In part," she allowed, watching Dinah pick at the chocolate chips in the oversized muffin that she'd selected to accompany her Americano. "I understand that there might be some problems between you and Gabby."
It wasn't the most direct route; however, according to Helena, the changes seemed to have started there.
"Yeah, I suppose."
The younger woman's expression was heartbreakingly vulnerable. And, Barbara decided, sorrow-filled.
"I was thinking that, uhm, maybe we should take a break or something."
Without conscious volition, Barbara felt herself nod once. Tempering her voice, she held Dinah's gaze.
"Is... Was being inside Helena's head part of the problem, Dinah?"
The nod that she received seemed grudging, confirming what Barbara already knew: she simply couldn't imagine being so intimately close to someone and *not* having some sort of effect. Given Helena's strength of will and her amazing soul, not to mention Dinah's empathy, Dinah couldn't have had a prayer.
"Sort of. I mean -- "
Barbara refused to grant herself the solace of looking away, of attempting to avoid the uncomfortable intimacy between them.
"--Helena loves you so much, Barbara, and -- "
The younger woman's laugh was soft and shy and utterly without humor.
"Well... It's just..."
Dinah's face was beet red; her fingers were busily plucking at the cellophane that her muffin had been wrapped in. Aching for her, Barbara reached out, resting one hand on the anxiously moving fingers.
"Just what, Dinah?"
Wide blue eyes met hers unflinchingly.
"It's just that, after that, I almost thought that *I* could fall for you or something, you know?"
Wetting her lips with the tip of her tongue, Barbara cast about for words.
While it was true that, after Helena's revelations that morning, the admission wasn't unexpected, it was still... surprising to hear.
Dealing with the innocent -- or not so innocent -- crushes of students at school had nothing on this.
An abashed laugh drew the redhead from that bleak line of thought, and she looked up from the steam rising from her cardboard coffee cup to see Dinah shaking her head.
"I mean, Helena would do anything for you."
Blonde brows quirked, and Barbara felt her own eyebrows follow suit.
"She *wants* to. You know?"
Helpless to do otherwise, Barbara nodded.
Even if she sometimes lost sight of it, she did, indeed, know.
"The relationship that Helena and I have is rather unique," she tried. To her temporary relief, Dinah's vigorous nod cut her short.
"I know that! And, I thought that you knew. Or..."
Barbara marshaled her patience as her companion tucked a strand of hair behind one ear and then barreled on.
"I guess I thought you knew because Helena said you did, or that you understood, and when I read Gabby earlier, she knew that you knew, but when Helena tried, uhm..."
If she'd thought the girl had been blushing earlier, Barbara realized that she'd grossly underestimated Dinah's level of embarrassment. Her normally pale features were now brick red.
"... Uhm, last night, I think maybe that--"
"Know what?" Barbara finally interrupted softly, hoping to slow the verbal train.
Her question had the effect she'd hoped for. Dinah's response, unfortunately, served to derail her.
"About Gabby and Helena."
In the manner of most teens, the "of course" -- or, less politely, the "duh" -- was unspoken.
Barbara blinked once. Slowly. Possibly recognizing that a bit more explication might be in order, Dinah was off again.
"I mean, it started when I was inside Helena's head and I felt how much--"
Touching the joystick of the chair, Barbara moved back from the small table with a jerk.
"Do you mind if we take a walk, Dinah?"
She barely waited for her companion to rise before she turned to toss her coffee and untouched cranberry-orange scone into the trash can by the door to the coffee shop. Stuffing the remnants of her muffin into her shoulder bag, Dinah was right behind her.
It wasn't until they reached the relative privacy of the busy street that bisected the NGU campus that Barbara chose to resume their conversation.
"What about Gabby and Helena, Dinah?"
She glanced to the side, confirming that the blonde's attention remained fixed on the sidewalk in front of them.
"Uh, how Gabby feels about-- I mean, I know it's not a big deal maybe or it shouldn't be or..."
Barbara checked behind them, verifying that nobody was directly on their heels, then she stopped. It took the blonde two more steps to notice and turn to face her.
"Why don't you start at the beginning, Dinah?"
Moving forward again, she inclined her head toward the grassy common that ran the length of the university. Dinah obligingly followed her across the street.
"It was after Mandrill, and I was feeling kind of bad, and Gabby noticed so, uhm, well, I told her."
There was simply no way that Barbara could hide her surprise. Dinah's response was immediate.
"No, I mean, I just told her about my TK and stuff. I didn't tell her about, uhm, the muffin top business or anything like that."
Determinedly, the redhead pushed aside her instinctual discomfort about Dinah's revelation to Gabby. Her former ward was an adult and very much her own person; she had the right, and the duty, to make her own decisions.
"I understand, Dinah," she managed with a small smile. It seemed to be enough.
"So, anyway, Gabby... well, she let me inside her head and that's when I saw how when Helena was a guy and Gabby thought that she was hot and--"
For a moment, Barbara allowed Dinah's voice to blur into the background, nodding absently as she recalled all-too-clearly how she'd felt when Gabby had shared that bit of information during a school dance.
"And, well, Helena *was* hot, and I know that it isn't anything real or anything, but I still started thinking that if Gabby liked her then, well, it just seemed like..."
This time, it was Barbara who was a bit slow to realize that her companion had stopped. She turned ninety degrees and raised one brow.
The younger woman's face was an endearing mixture of embarrassment, defiance, and uncertainty.
"When I was inside Gabby, there were these pieces in her head, and I wasn't trying to see anything like that but I *did* see, uhm -- "
Barbara started forward again, moving onto a small path that cut across the grassy common and took them under a large oak.
Judging by the color that was flooding Dinah's face, it wouldn't hurt to get out of the sun.
"What did you see, Dinah?"
"It wasn't-- well, it was just flashes and images of..."
Barbara decided to take a gamble.
Offering Dinah her privacy, she focused on a group of students who were playing frisbee nearby.
Barbara felt her heart staccato-step for two beats as she considered the possibility that all of the last few weeks could have been the result of little more than uncertainty and misunderstanding.
Not to mention a few innocent hormones.
A veritable Midsummer's Night, as it were.
"Everyone fantasizes, Dinah."
Even if she herself were, perhaps, the exception that proved the rule.
She risked a glance over, finding the blonde nodding vigorously, her eyes wide and bright.
"I know, but I guess that's what kind of tipped the scales and all."
Once again feeling lost, Barbara shook her head.
"I don't think I'm following you, Honey."
Gracelessly, the younger woman dropped to the grass, wrapping her arms around her upraised knees. Her gaze seemed focused on venerable Memorial Hall at the end of the grassy sward.
"I was inside Helena, and I *felt* how she feels about you."
As much as she wanted to see Dinah's face, Barbara forced herself to concentrate on the play of the red frisbee.
"Then I was inside Mandrill, and I made him..."
She heard Dinah swallow, and blinked back something that burned her eyes at the thickness in the young woman's voice.
"I made him do things, and it hurt him."
Finally the blonde looked up and over to face her, the tight expression that stretched across her young features clearly a smile for Barbara's benefit.
"I understand that it was something I needed to do but, after I was in Gabby's head and felt what she was feeling--"
A sudden icy chill trickled across Barbara's skin as she began to guess just where this was headed.
"Well, it just got me to wondering if maybe, well," the half-shrug that Dinah offered was utterly unconvincing. "if I'd kind of pushed how she feels about me, and it freaked me out that I could have been influencing how she feels about me."
Oddly, Barbara wanted to cry. Instead, she turned her chair to face her companion and leaned down.
"You have so many exquisite gifts, Dinah," she spoke quietly, needing Dinah to hear her. "And your telepathic and TK abilities are rather amazing as well."
The deliberate addendum earned her a shy smile. Marginally heartened, the redhead fumbled for a way to help her most recent charge understand.
"Tell me, Dinah, would you use your abilities to cheat for your own gain?"
Barbara bit back a small smile of her own when Dinah's forehead wrinkled in confusion.
"What do you mean?"
Dinah's reaction to the question told Barbara all that she needed, but Dinah needed to reach the same conclusion.
"If you were playing poker, would you use some of your gifts to cheat?"
The blonde's smile was just a bit conspiratorial.
"Well, if it was guys that I was playing with I might flirt a little."
Laughing, Barbara released a tiny measure of her tension before sobering.
"And what about your more unique abilities, Dinah? Would you read someone's hand telepathically or give a mental push to have someone play poorly?"
The answer was filled with the righteous indignation of youth, and Barbara could only hope that Dinah would retain her clarity of honor for years to come.
"What if the stakes were higher, Dinah?"
"Like what, money? It still wouldn't--"
Again, Barbara found herself hoping that the young woman could retain her innocence for at least a few more years.
"No, not personal gain, Dinah," she interrupted gently. "What if Helena's life were the stakes?"
Comprehension flashed through bright blue eyes.
"Well, yeah. I mean, of course I'd use them."
Satisfied, Barbara nodded.
Dinah's confusion was easy enough to read, and so Barbara elaborated.
"You only use your abilities for others, Dinah."
Cornsilk lashes blinked a few times, and Barbara waited, following the play of comprehension, then contemplation, and, ultimately, consternation in her companion's features.
"But, what if I'm doing it and don't realize it?"
Barbara pointedly didn't mention the fact that she'd *seen* Dinah play poker. She had, in fact, played poker with Dinah, and it simply wasn't that challenging.
More seriously, that sort of behavior simply wasn't *in* the young woman.
"You know when you use your gifts, Dinah."
She spoke factually, considering that it was very unlike Helena who, Barbara had to admit, used her meta-enhanced abilities unconsciously, as instinctively as breathing.
"I can understand that the way Helena -- "
Fighting not to blush, the redhead cast about for words.
"I realize that the way Helena regards me might differ from what you picked up from Gabby, Dinah. They're different people."
She reached for the younger woman's hand and gave a gentle squeeze.
"Not to mention, I've seen the way Gabby looks at you, Dinah. Why would you doubt her feelings?"
Dinah's shrug was unconvincing, as was the pointed casualness in her reply.
"I... Mandrill. When I visited him, I felt so bad--"
Barbara cut her off and spoke to the heart of the matter.
"You're worthy of being loved, Dinah, even -- "
She forced herself to wait until the young woman met her eyes.
"Even when you make the hard choices."
As was, Barbara recognized with a sudden gasp, the other dynamic young woman in her life.
Squeezing the hand still clasped in hers, Barbara hoped that Dinah was using her abilities to read her.
"Really, really, Dinah."
Even as the clouds of doubt began to clear in pale blue eyes, Barbara knew that it wouldn't be that easy.
"Sometimes Honey," she smiled, "you simply have to trust."
Dinah's smile was tentative but her eyes were bright.
Trust *and* leave nothing to chance.
The old truism whispered through her mind, and Barbara's decision was made. With a wink, she released her companion's hand and spoke briskly.
"Now, Dinah, I have two favors to ask of you."
"So, uhm, technically you really could get yourself pregnant?"
Helena wasn't sure just what the rising pitch of Dinah's question signified, so she decided to focus on the question itself. Considering the possibility, she reached the same conclusion as before.
"Yeah. It's kind of cool, huh?"
Since she'd taken care to put some of her little swimmers on ice before she got changed back to her real body, Helena figured that it could work.
The two took a few more steps through the crowded mall before Dinah stopped cold. Without missing a beat, the brunette turned, snagged Dinah's elbow, and pulled her out of the flow of pedestrians to stand by the display window by The Gap.
"You mean -- " Pale blue eyes went wide. "You mean you've really thought about it?"
Pulling a grin, Helena bobbed her head once. She wasn't quite sure how they'd gotten to talking about her former attributes as a guy -- probably had something to do with their stop at Victoria's Secret -- but she was ready to go with it.
She figured the "duh" was clear enough.
"Barbara and I talked about it."
She shifted her shopping bags from her right hand to her left, deciding that she didn't need to go into Red's reaction -- at least her professed dismay -- to the possibility of having Helena's genes effectively doubled in one individual. The words "holy terror" and the laughter they'd shared were enough for her.
"We talk about everything," she added.
Even if they weren't always, maybe, quite on the same page when they were talking.
The look in Dinah's eyes was a pretty good distraction from the shame that Helena felt when she thought about their recent miscommunication, and she decided to run with it.
"What're you thinking, D?"
As one they started moving, with Helena steering them toward the shoe store that was on the other side of the food court.
"I was just thinking that, well, -- "
The blonde was almost bouncing as she walked.
"-- it is really sort of cool, and it'd be neat if we could try to do something like that at the lab."
The small bag from Bits-n-Pierces that Dinah was holding waved in front of Helena's face, cutting her short.
"No, not cloning, Hel. Something where the actual male gamete created by something was used to fertilize a female gamete from the same animal. I mean, that's not anything like cloning at all and who knows what sort of outcome you'd get?"
Helena was pretty certain that she remembered something from their adventure in the club district the year before about Clown Fish being able to change gender. Still, since she didn't know what D's chances were of finding an obliging fish to experiment with, she just bumped her shoulder lightly against Dinah's.
"Sure thing, Dr. Frankenstein."
The indignant response was immediate.
"Hey, that's Dr. Fraunkensteen to you, Hel."
It was a pretty passable imitation of Gene Wilder, causing Helena to bark out a laugh as she detoured toward Orange Julius.
Didn't know why but she loved those things.
"Good things it's Saturday, Doc, or I probably couldn't have gotten you out of your evil laboratory."
She easily ducked the blonde's play swat.
"Ha! I'm the one who called you, Helena."
Stepping up to the counter, Helena waited for the slowpoke in front of her to gather up his little cardboard tray of cups.
"How'd you know I'd be going shopping today anyway, Kid?"
She cocked her head in question at the menu board, and, getting an enthusiastic nod from her companion, ordered two regulars.
"Hey, when it comes to shopping, I'm your girl."
Helena cocked an eyebrow at Dinah and dug into her jeans for change. She easily detected the hint of pink coloring the younger woman's fair features.
"Well, Barbara said you might want to."
Pocketing her change, she picked up both cups and watched Dinah chew at her lower lip. Like Red always said, the silent treatment was pretty effective.
"You know," Dinah accepted her Julius with a smile. "Just to celebrate catching those nutcases."
The trap had gone off like clockwork. Of course, seeing as how Barbara was the one who had planned it, Helena hadn't had any real doubts.
"Episodes forty-five through fifty-four, Hel," had been Red's answer when Helena had pressed her about how she'd *known* where to put the trap.
The Mona Lisa smile that had come with the explanation had sent the brunette straight to Google, and she had to admit that Barbara had been right: Boris and Natasha had already done variations on the fuel gig and the boxtop caper, not to mention the whole hanging from the big clock shtick. Trying to sabotage this century's equivalent of television antennas *was* a logical next step.
Sure, there hadn't been any six-foot tall mechanical antenna-eating moon mice or anything, but there had been two seriously pissed off nuts tangled up in the net that she and Dinah had positioned above the array of satellite dishes that covered most of the block that housed two of New Gotham's broadcast stations.
"Eet is trap, Boris!"
Helena was still hard-pressed not to snicker when she thought of the two of them flailing against the net and dancing through an occasional shock.
Just for good measure.
Raising her cardboard cup, she waited until Dinah bought a clue and clunked her own beverage against it.
"Here's to the power of good over evil."
Dinah's smile was bright.
"And really big nets."
Somehow, the brunette managed to swallow her mouthful of orange juice, powdered sugar, nonfat dry milk, and ice without choking. Then she strolled over to the rail that looked down to the basement level ice rink.
The ice was pretty full, mostly junior high-aged kids, probably escaping the muggy summer heat.
Keeping her eyes on some gangly kid who was taking a header into the ice, Helena bit the bullet.
"Speaking of tangled messes and all, D--"
A hand came to rest on her forearm, almost causing Helena to let go of her cup and send it cascading down onto the ice.
She tightened her grip on the cup, watching her thumb move as she wiped at the beads of condensation that dotted the exterior.
"I mean, I know what you were doing, and I don't want you to apologize or feel bad or anything like that. Okay?"
Risking a glance to the side, she gauged the blonde's expression and let out a long breath.
She took a long pull through the straw and peered through her bangs at Dinah, deciding to risk it.
"I just wish I'd had your telepath thing *before* I tried to--"
Dinah's indignant squeak turned into a laugh, and Helena didn't even think about not joining in.
"You really thought that I-- "
Pale blue eyes sparkled, and Helena felt a grin quirk the corners of her mouth.
"-- and you were really going to...?"
Tossing her half-empty cup into a trash can, the brunette almost let it slide, then almost tried to joke her way through it.
"Yeah, well," she surprised herself. "I wouldn't kick you out of bed on a cold night or anything."
Shit. Since she'd thought... well, whatever the hell she'd talked herself into thinking about Babs, who was she to say no?
Helena was glad she hadn't added that last part when she saw the color of Dinah's blush.
What the hell.
Helena draped an arm around her companion's shoulders and pulled her in for a quick hug.
A slender arm crept around her waist, returning the pressure of the half-hug.
With a shrug, the brunette resumed their journey to the Shoe Palace. Naturally, Dinah wasn't ready to let the conversation die a well-earned death.
"And, you really thought that Barbara was... uhm, that she would... I mean--"
When Dinah trailed off, Helena glanced over, waggling one dark brow.
"Oh, shit!" The blonde's hand flew up to cover her mouth. "That's just too kinky to think about."
Laughing, Helena entered the store, tossing a response over her shoulder that left Dinah standing stock-still in the doorway.
"D, you don't know the first thing about just how far Barbara's kinkiness can go."
From the corner of her eye, Helena thought that she saw Dinah's hands go up to cover her ears.
"Too much information, Hel!"
Already bee lining to a pair of patent leather ankle boots with stiletto heels, she didn't look back.
She shrugged and waited for the blonde to catch up.
"Just don't be thinking that you made us want to do it with your mental stuff, D."
She waited a beat and tossed out the punch line.
"There's no way you're that creative."
She wasn't going to bother with the rest: She'd do whatever it took.
For Babs *and* for Dinah.
The hug she found herself wrapped in pretty much suggested that Dinah got the picture.
"Can I help you try something on?"
Not sure if she was pissed off or relieved by the interruption, Helena peeled Dinah off and turned, promptly almost tripping backward when she saw how close the sales clerk was standing.
Clearly the bottle-blonde with the piercing in her eyebrow hadn't glommed onto the concept of "personal space."
"Uh, yeah," she took a step backward. "How about those boots?"
The salesgirl took a step forward, closing the tiny gap that Helena had created.
"You're cute. What's your star sign?"
From one row over, where Dinah seemed to be engrossed in looking at Timberlands, there was a sound that just might have been a snicker. Debating, for about a second, Helena gave in to temptation.
Bleach-blonde didn't bat an eye.
"Ooooh, groovy, I'm a Virgo."
The snicker to the side turned into a fit of coughing. Before the helpful sales associate could say anything else, Helena thrust the boot into her hands.
Honest to god, she would have left and shopped somewhere else, but those boots would go perfectly with the outfit she'd picked out. And since she'd chosen the outfit by request, she wasn't going to back down now.
When she'd gotten back to the Tower the night before, after turning Boris and Natasha over to New Gotham's finest, Helena had still been feeling... confused about where thing stood with her and Barbara. Her partner's no-nonsense request as they'd turned in for the night -- "Yes, Hel, dinner tomorrow. Just the two of us." -- had done a lot to help.
The call she'd gotten at work this morning had cinched things.
<"Helena,"> Barbara's voice had been low, almost sultry. <"I've been thinking about attire for our date tonight.">
Helena had tucked the phone between her shoulder and her ear and run the rag over the bar top.
"Yeah? Is there a dress code?"
Barbara had been vague about their plans, but Helena was willing to go with the flow.
<"Consider it a... request.">
The purring tone had caused Helena's belly to clench and had set a tendril of fire licking at her center. She'd tossed the rag into the corner and swallowed.
"Name it, Red."
The answer had been instant.
There had been only a small pause before she'd heard the rest.
<"A short skirt.">
Thinking about the words now still made her wet.
But not as much as the package that had been delivered to the bar just before she'd punched out to go shopping. In a padded mailer envelope, there'd been a tiny, elegantly wrapped gift box.
And a note: "I'd like you to wear this tonight."
When she'd opened the box, Helena's nerves had thrummed. Her skin had instantly been sensitized to the gentle draft of the bar's air conditioning unit. She'd been completely, achingly aroused.
Not giving a damn who'd seen, she'd taken Barbara's gift from the box and turned it over in her hands, considering the implications.
Made of butter-soft white leather, studded with diamonds, the collar was delicate and lovely.
And completely, fully functional.
The mouth on Barbara's breast, the lips working so hungrily at her nipple, the wide blue eyes so filled with need: it was, once again, almost more than she could comprehend. Some days, the fact that she should be so blessed was almost more than she could reconcile; however, on this summer evening, she refused to question any of it.
Save for a few sparse play dates with schoolmates when she'd been young, Barbara had never considered, never imagined, a future for herself with motherhood in it. Three decades later, with her daughter in her arms, blue eyes beginning to blink in sated sleepiness, she couldn't imagine her life any other way.
"I'm a very lucky woman, Katie," she whispered through a gentle smile.
The gurgle that her red-haired daughter gave as she finally released her nipple seemed like acknowledgment enough.
Mindful of the fact that she was almost dressed for the evening and even more conscious of the time, Barbara smoothed a terry towel over her lap and positioned Katharine face down across her legs. She didn't try to hold back her chuckle when an ability she'd not considered months before kicked in, allowing her to rub her daughter's back with one hand while she deftly re-buttoned her blouse with the other.
Clearly, the act of hauling another human being inside one's body for nine months simply... unleashed certain maternal powers.
A surprisingly noisy burp emanating from her lap freed the redhead's hand, and she retrieved a tiny golden broach -- the exquisitely crafted bell that Helena had presented her with almost eighteen months before -- from her dressing table.
"Can't forget to accessorize, Ka--"
A soft ding from the living area signaled that the elevator was on the way up from the parking garage. Somehow, the awareness that the elevator was arriving filled Barbara with a terror the likes of which she hadn't experienced since Quinn had invaded the Tower years before, and she promptly impaled her index finger on the sharp end of the pin that she was attempting to affix above her left breast.
Conscious of little kettles and big ears, she caught herself.
"--iny little green apples!"
She snapped the broach closed and popped her finger into her mouth just as another voice rang out from the spare bedroom.
"Hey, Barbara, I'm still getting dressed. Can you--"
"That's fine, Hel." Barbara felt a smile touch her lips at her lover's insistence that they dress separately for their date. "I've got it."
Moving Katharine into a sitting position and snugging her between her body and the low arm of her manual chair, the redhead turned into the hallway, making a mental note to grab a band-aid for her finger.
Unlike the motorized chair, using the manual increased the possibility of picking up germs as she moved. Nevertheless, using the sport chair was a concession to a request from Helena for the evening, and Barbara was not going to second-guess herself.
Even if it did make the act of getting to the living room with a wriggling baby a bit more challenging.
"Hello, Dinah," she smiled and turned her gaze to the second person stepping off the elevator. "Gabby."
Dinah's answering grin was reasonably bright; Gabby's greeting, a bit more hesitant.
"Thank you again for volunteering to help this evening," Barbara continued blandly, quite aware that the term "volunteering" wasn't quite accurate, "and for coming over here."
True, dropping Katie at the girls' apartment wouldn't have taken any significant time from her plans; however, Barbara needed to open the door to the Tower somehow. The redhead was acutely conscious of the way that Gabby was taking in the Delphi platform and its hardware, and she forced herself not to fidget or rush things.
She had, after all, made the decision not to engage the false bookcases that they used to cover the back part of the room. She was relatively confident that the bookcases would, in fact, be getting a great deal less use in the future.
The near-disclosure, or at the very least the alarming frankness, that she'd engaged in a few weeks ago with her father, in combination with Dinah guardedness in the last weeks, was opening her eyes a bit. Granted, after the many extraordinary events of the last year and a half that Jim Gordon had been witness to, there wasn't much left in the way of plausible deniability. In the same vein, Barbara had decided that she simply couldn't expect Dinah to forge a relationship -- or much of a life -- without allowing the young woman a measure of honesty.
Clearly, something was shifting, and quite despite any conscious decision on her part, it seemed that the masks might be coming down.
"It's really no problem, Barbara."
Dinah's tone was cheerful, and Barbara was happy to note how close the two younger women were standing.
"We thought we could just order a pizza and veg out on the couch with Katie and watch the big sc--"
Before Dinah could finish articulating their plans and before Barbara had the opportunity to disabuse the girls of their idea, Helena breezed in to the living room and conversation ceased.
Frankly, Barbara had to wonder if her partner's arrival from the spare bedroom had also somehow contributed to depleting the majority of the oxygen from the room.
There was simply no other way to explain the difficulty she was having breathing.
Helena's skirt wasn't the micro-mini that the redhead had been anticipating; however, the mid-thigh length skirt did sport a slit that ran up the right side of Helena's thigh, all the way to her hip, providing enticingly ambiguous glimpses of the skin beneath. The skirt was a surprisingly effective shade of purple, and in combination with a baby-blue lace top, Barbara simply couldn't bring herself to fault her partner for by-passing the letter of her earlier telephone request.
Clearly, the brunette had grasped the spirit of things.
Helena finally got a good look at her partner, causing her to damned near stumble all over herself in the new come-fuck-me boots she'd finally chosen after escaping Horoscope Woman at the Shoe Palace that afternoon.
It wasn't anything she hadn't seen before: Barbara's favorite black linen slacks, a white Jefferson collar shirt, a jade green brocade vest. Still, there was no way to deny that, in this case, the woman made the outfit. Especially --
Something fluttered in Helena's belly when she saw the hint of gold peeking at the edge of the vest. Swallowing and checking her footing, she took two steps closer and reached out, gently touching the tiny bell with her index finger.
Without looking up from the delicate ornament, she peered through her bangs. The expression she made out in emerald eyes was enough to make her weak in the knees. When she felt her hand captured in Barbara's, when Red moved their hands up and she felt soft lips on her fingers, she almost collapsed.
A completely *obtrusive* sort of unobtrusive cough snapped her back to reality, and Helena jerked her head to the side, not sure whether she was going to blush or snap Dinah's head off.
She didn't do either.
The first and second fingers of Barbara's free hand came to the edge of her jaw, exerting the barest pressure on her chin. There was no way to deny the nonverbal instruction.
With Helena again focusing on her, Barbara saw understanding begin to dawn. She released the younger woman's hand, allowing her to stand, and pushed aside her own discomfort. It was difficult to overcome an innate self-consciousness over the realization that they were far from alone; however, Barbara forced herself -- and then, allowed herself -- to take the time to admire her lover.
Helena was, truly, worthy of admiration.
"Do you two mind," she finally managed, turning toward their guests and pressing a quick kiss to Katie's head, "keeping Katharine with you at your apartment all night?"
Twin blinks from pale blue and hazel green eyes were the only response from that front. Barbara was reasonably certain that she'd detected a faint growl to her side.
"Helena and I have plans," she added sweetly when she saw Dinah's mouth beginning to register a protest or a question of some sort.
True, Barbara had to wonder if the blonde were rethinking the wisdom of agreeing to a request for two favors without first determining the scope of the requests. The shopping with Helena, Barbara knew, had been more pleasure than business; and she was comfortably certain that sitting with Katie for a few hours was something that Dinah enjoyed. This addendum, offering Helena and her their first night alone since the beginning of February, might have put a new light on matters.
"The Hummer's packed, and there's breast milk in the refrigerator."
True to form, Helena picked up the ball with remarkable alacrity and ran with it, tossing the keys to the SUV to Gabby while hustling Dinah into the kitchen to pack up the bottles. In considerably less time than she'd anticipated, Barbara found herself alone in the Tower with her partner.
Teamwork at its best.
Even if Helena did feel a little funny about just sort of... pushing their daughter off on Dinah and Gabs for the night. Still, seeing the look on Red's face, she figured she wasn't feeling the half of it.
"We don't have to--"
The determined shake of red hair cut her short.
"I'm fine, Helena."
The brunette decided to give her lover a few seconds to finish convincing herself, then went with a little distraction.
"Uh, thanks for the -- "
She raised one hand, gesturing to collar that banded her neck.
"--for sending this to the bar."
Green eyes sparked, and Helena caught her breath at the expression in her partner's eyes.
A slender index finger beckoned her over, and Helena crouched next to the arm of Barbara's chair.
"About that -- "
Keeping her eyes focused carefully on her hands, Barbara swept dark hair back from her partner's neck and began to unbuckle the soft white leather.
"I'm not satisfied."
Despite her attempts not to become distracted, the redhead couldn't help but see a flicker of something that could have been sadness or disappointment in gamine features. She felt something twist within her chest at how quickly her lover masked the expression.
"I thought you might want--"
Barbara silenced the quiet words by placing one finger on full lips.
"Oh, I do."
Then, she carefully refastened the collar, snugging it one notch tighter against the slender column of Helena's soft throat. Repositioning the leather brought one tiny silver clasp into alignment with another small fitting, and Barbara allowed a smile as she dug into the side pocket of her chair to pull out the perfect accent.
It was, Helena realized with a blink, a small silver padlock. Helena could have picked it with a paperclip or, fuck, for that matter she could have snapped it with two fingers; but even if it had been solid steel, there was no way she wasn't going to nod her agreement when Red raised an eyebrow in question.
The snick of the tiny lock closing was almost obscured by the volume of the purring that erupted from Helena's chest. Fascinated, Barbara watched her lover's eyes hood and begin to wax violet.
"Let's skip dinner, Red, and just have dessert."
Tugging Helena to her feet, the redhead poked her tongue in her cheek and narrowed her eyes in thought.
"I might be dieting, Hel."
The manner in which her companion was licking her lips could only be described as lascivious, and Barbara was hard-pressed to control herself.
"You might be, but I'm not."
Helena saw the look on her lover's face and knew it was close. She knew she was close. Barbara's laughter, deep and throaty, almost took her over.
Without hesitation, she started to drop to her knees. Something squeezed at her chest when a raised hand arrested her progress. The emotion was pushed away and immediately forgotten when Helena made out her lover's next words.
"Save that for... later."
The restaurant that Barbara had chosen was relatively informal, just nice enough to have linen napkins at each place setting and no televisions hanging from the ceiling. The low murmur of voices encouraged conversation while the judicious placement of screens and plants offered a measure of privacy at each table.
Best of all, Barbara decided with an approving nod, there were no wait-staff in red and white striped shirts pretending to be happy about singing happy birthday to embarrassed strangers.
"This is nice, Barbara."
The redhead situated her napkin on her lap, sparing her companion a long look as the younger woman settled into the chair to her left and crossed her right leg over her left knee. It was impossible to miss the fact that the position revealed a lovely length of creamy skin along the slit in the side of alluring purple skirt.
The glint of gold in Helena's eyes suggested that *she* hadn't missed where Barbara's gaze had lingered.
Briefly, Barbara considered moving to the opposite side of the table; however, the view that she could enjoy sitting side by side, not to mention the potential for intimate conversation, was simply too much to forego.
"I believe it opened only last month."
With a smile, Barbara pointedly turned her attention to the wine list.
Since she wouldn't be breastfeeding for at least sixteen hours, there was no reason not to indulge a bit.
She looked over the top of list in time to see dark brows furrow minutely.
"I guess I missed seeing an announcement or something."
The return of their server cut Barbara short. However, once she'd ordered a bottle of wine, she returned to their nascent conversation.
"I believe we've all been a bit distracted of late, Sweetie."
Honestly, it seemed that the only relatively peaceful period that any of them had enjoyed in the last few years was the six precious weeks of maternity leave that Barbara had taken early in the year. Perhaps a bit of distraction and miscommunication wasn't so surprising after all.
"So, all that time that we thought D was jealous of one of us -- "
Barbara waited, more or less patiently, while Helena fidgeted with her salad fork and, presumably, hunted for words.
"--she was jealous of *us*?"
"Of what we have?" Barbara clarified.
The younger woman's agreement was more a long exhalation than a word, but the intent was clear.
It sometimes seemed as if Helena's expressive features had always been open to Barbara. This evening was no exception, with the sadness clear in deep blue eyes.
"How can she doubt herself like that? Think that Gabby wouldn't want her for herself or that she doesn't deserve everything?"
Utterly at a loss, the redhead found herself assaulted by a litany of definitions for the word "irony." Ultimately, she arched one brow and searched her partner's eyes.
"How indeed, Hel?"
For a long few moments, only the voices of other diners and the sounds of silverware against plates could be heard. By the time their server had returned to pour their wine and they agreed on the Shabu-shabu, Barbara suspected that the topic might have slipped by.
She'd barely raised her wine glass to her lips when she saw the look in Helena's eyes and realized that her assumption had been quite a bit off-target.
"Well, it probably didn't help that Gabby was having -- or thinking about, uh -- "
The light in the dining area was low and so the redhead couldn't be certain; however, she thought she detected a hint of color in Helena's tan features.
"-- wanderlust while I was a guy."
Since she wasn't quite reconciled to how she felt about that, Barbara chose to take a sip of her wine. Helena's soft laughter foreshortened her enjoyment of the dry white.
Barbara placed her glass back on the table, taking care to fit the round base into the circular indentation that it had made in the tablecloth.
"Just thinking that -- "
The napkin that Helena raised to her lips did nothing to mask the snicker -- more accurately, the *snort* -- that emanated from her.
"-- well, the way you just sort of peed all over me in front of 'em earlier should have fixed that."
Feeling a bit of heat touch her cheeks at the thought that she'd been... marking her territory, Barbara pursed her lips and forced herself to face her companion.
"Was it too much, Hel?"
Helena's response, bless her, was immediate.
"Not for me, Red."
Warmed -- not to mention relieved -- by the words, Barbara rimmed the lip of her glass with her index finger, surprising herself with the realization that there was no lingering tenderness from where she'd impaled herself earlier with the pin.
Granted, she'd had bigger things to worry about than band-aids and a bit of blood; however, she had given it quite a jab.
The sight of Helena straightening in her chair as their hot pot was delivered neatly distracted the redhead from lingering images of having to peel Katharine's chubby little fingers off her hand an hour before and from the low-grade unease that she was fighting about her daughter's first sleep-over.
"Did you know that Gabby's working on getting a pilot's license?"
Not waiting for an answer, the brunette speared a wafer-thin shaving of Kobe beef and dunked it into the simmering broth. In the instant that it took for the meat to cook, she saw an eloquently arched crimson brow.
"Is that so?"
Busying herself immersing a few cubes of pork to cook, Helena didn't look over.
"Yeah. D told me today at the mall."
She'd been surprised to learn that Dinah's girlfriend had started lessons in high school, and she still didn't know if it would really allow Gabby to fly down from State more often; still, it had to be a good thing that the two kids were talking about it.
"Maybe they can see each other more during school --"
Helena popped her beef into her mouth, almost moaning as it practically melted on her tongue.
"-- if we didn't scare her off tonight."
Frankly, Barbara was indifferent to that possibility.
Comfort about future get-togethers with the young woman be damned: it simply *was* time to make a few things explicit. If not to Gabby, then at the very least to Dinah.
"I thought that things went rather well, Helena," she allowed, submerging a slice of mushroom in the broth.
Granted, when she'd seen the curly-haired girl taking in the Delphi, it had been distinctly... uncomfortable. Nevertheless, Barbara thought she'd managed reasonably well in suggesting that Gabby might want to work on digital image manipulation on the machine.
Helena, naturally, had improved on the suggestion.
"Yeah, this is the machine for it, and Dinah can sure show you a thing or two."
There had been no way to miss how Dinah had beamed under the praise, making it much easier for Barbara to decide that the blonde could explain as much or as little as she chose to Gabby about high-performance computing in their home.
Among other things.
"Thanks for setting us up for shopping this afternoon, Barbara."
Somehow, several minutes had slipped by. Barbara looked over to find her partner looking through her bangs.
"It... it was good, Barbara. Really."
Unaccountably touched, Barbara considered a host of responses and, ultimately, determined that it was time to focus on what was at the top of her agenda for the evening. Allowing a smile to play at the corners of her mouth, she dropped several lengths of green onion into the simmering broth and raked her companion with a long look.
"Oh, I believe that it was definitely good for me as well."
She closed her teeth neatly on a bite of tofu, once again marveling at her lover's ability to assemble such a striking outfit in one afternoon. As was so often the case when they were out together, Barbara found herself feeling insufferably dowdy.
"You like the outfit, huh?"
Helena's smile was blinding.
"On you? Absolutely." For a beat, the redhead flirted with temptation. "Are you wearing anything under that?"
Helena swallowed another moan, this one not having anything to do with her dinner. Slowly, she raised the napkin from her lap and touched it to her lips before leaning close to her partner.
"You really want to know?"
Naturally, their waitress chose that moment to stop back by and try to temp them with dessert suggestions. Letting herself go with the flow, Helena put in an order and turned back to the final few slices of beef.
"Do you wa--oooly moley..."
She thought her voice had gone up probably an octave and a half on that last bit, but she couldn't help it: the sensation of lightly calloused fingertips working through the slit in her skirt and brushing up her thigh was too much.
"What the hell?"
Somehow she kept it down, hissing the question to Barbara while she wrestled the urge -- the frikkin' need -- to grab that questing hand and pull Barbara where she needed her.
"Empirical research, Hel."
Butter wouldn't have melted in her mouth, Helena thought.
Not that she minded. She only minded when those slim, cool fingers stopped moving... just... short... of getting the answer to the undergarment question. Red's eyes had gone kind of misty and were tracking off to the left, a sure sign that she was thinking.
Helena was pretty sure that thinking was over-rated.
"Is it terrible that all I can think about -- "
Barbara's voice was low and hoarse, but Helena had no trouble making out every word.
"-- is ripping that damned little outfit off of you?"
Something electric skittered across Helena's skin, raising the fine hair on her forearms and sending the blood rushing through her veins.
She was still looking for a way to get some moisture in her mouth and to come up with every synonym that she'd ever heard for the word when Barbara's hand slipped away and her lover straightened.
It was barely a whimper. Barbara suspected that her voice wasn't altogether unsympathetic when she spoke.
"Dessert is here."
For one of the first times in her life, the brunette couldn't remember why she thought she liked chocolate so damned much, especially when something a helluva lot sweeter was sitting not more than two feet away. Still, she had ordered it, and it wouldn't take more than a minute or two to eat.
Snagging the end of the slender, chocolate-enrobed delight, Helena took a bite. Instantly, she felt her eyes water.
"Holy hell," she croaked, dropping the chocolate-covered red pepper back onto the dessert plate.
"Just like the commercial, Hel?"
The question carried only a slight undercurrent of amusement, but Helena couldn't blame Barbara. It *was* seeing that damned "live in the moment" Mastercharge commercial over and over that had tipped the balance when she'd ordered dessert.
While her companion fanned at her face with her napkin, Barbara schooled her features and silently offered the remaining wine in her glass. She received a watery blink of thanks before Helena guzzled it.
Given the fact that Helena gingerly retrieved the pepper, Barbara could only assume that the wine had tamed the initial inferno. Shifting her chair a tiny bit, she placed her napkin on the table, watching carefully as the younger woman sniffed gingerly at the pepper and took a small nibble.
Apparently moderation was the key, and Barbara was prepared to suggest as much when she registered the expression on her lover's face: it was, well, positively indecent.
It was also directed fully at her.
Barbara felt her brows rise toward her hairline as a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
It was the look that Helena privately thought of as Barbara's "indulgent look". Almost ready to squirm in her seat, the brunette scootched her chair a little closer to her partner and sucked a few cooling breaths through her teeth.
"I was just thinking about if you ate this -- "
She raised the remaining bit of pepper in her left hand. Before Red's eyebrows could finish wrinkling up in question, she leaned close and breathed the rest against the delicate shell of her ear.
"-- and then put your mouth on me."
Those sexy pink lips went round in a little "O" of surprise, and even with the noise of the other diners, Helena heard Barbara pull in a breath. A second later, when Barbara reached for her hand -- the one still holding the pepper -- and guided it over to her mouth, she couldn't hear anything but the pounding of her heart.
Cocking one eyebrow in a dare, Helena turned her hand to offer the delicacy to her partner. She couldn't help but answer Barbara's smile and readied herself for whatever Red's reaction to the heat might be.
Helena wasn't ready for her own reaction when Barbara by-passed the food and she felt soft lips brushing the inside of her wrist. Then, Barbara's tongue trailed over the heel of her hand, washing her palm, and Helena's insides turned into liquid heat. The sensation of sharp teeth delicately raking the tip of her second finger was too much.
Straight-laced, button down Barbara Gordon -- the woman who just didn't do PDAs -- was doing a pretty damned passable imitation of food foreplay in a very public restaurant.
No longer hungry for chocolate, the brunette dropped the pepper onto the dessert plate and let Barbara see her eyes.
"I'm about to go Meg Ryan on you here."
It took the redhead a beat to place the reference. Allowing her laughter to bubble forth, she caught their server's eye.
"Please," they spoke in unison.
As a member of what could be loosely termed "the service industry", Helena had always made it a point to try to tip well. Still, she thought that the amount that Barbara left for their server was too much.
It had taken waaaay too long to get the bill paid and make it out to the van.
Still, they were, finally, in the van, in the distant recesses of a dark parking lot, and that was all that mattered. She didn't even let Barbara get her chair folded away behind the driver's seat before stretching across the console that separated the front seats.
Barbara's cheek was so soft against her mouth. She smelled lightly of the orange body wash that she liked so much and the richer, complex scent of blood and heat and... desire.
Helena turned into the hand that came to her face. She wanted only to taste, but she couldn't stop herself from biting gently.
The soft exhalation brought her back -- enough -- and Helena guided her lover's hand down to her breast. The sharp pressure of covetous fingers was Barbara's alone, forcing Helena to surge into the her lover's hand.
"You'd let me do this right here, wouldn't you, Helena?"
The whispered question was throaty and rough. Helena didn't have to look to know what those emerald eyes held for her.
Hell, she was pretty much counting on it.
"You can take me over the seat... or in the parking lot or..."
Those strong fingers working at her nipple were making it hard to think.
"-- just --"
Hard to *want* to think.
"Just... right here, Hel?"
Red's voice was thick. Smokey. Helena forced herself to look up and find the answering want in her lover's eyes.
"Anywhere, Barbara. Anywhere you want me."
Unable to doubt the younger woman's sincerity, Barbara wrestled with her own conflicting needs. Somehow, she sipped a steadying breath and straightened.
"Do you know what I think I'd like, Helena?"
Golden eyes, the pupils bare vertical slits, fixed her from beneath disheveled bangs.
Nodding to herself, Barbara drew her hand upward and dragged her thumb over her lover's full lower lip.
"I believe I'd like to go dancing."
I don't know what color your eyes are, baby,
But your hair is long and brown.
Your legs are strong, and you're so, so long.
And you don't come from this town.
The multicolor strobe lights illuminating the dance floor cast Helena in a series of stop-motion images: In one moment, she was fixed in place, her arms to her sides, her features veiled by dark hair; in the next, the sharp angles of her face were caught in profile as she seemed to stretch for the rafters of the club; with another flash of the lights, the lithe figure was snapshot with her hands caressing the pale blue lace -- almost glowing silver in the lights -- that covered her torso.
And then, Barbara could only make out her partner's hands, pale fingers splayed in relief against the deep purple of her skirt, seeming to pull against the material covering her upper thighs.
My head is full of magic, baby,
And I can't share this with you.
The feel I'm on a cross again, lately,
But it's nothing to do with you
The music was so loud, the beat from the Love and Rockets classic so strong, that Helena could feel it pulsing against her skin, making her heart keep time.
She danced, sometimes with a partner, sometimes skimming the crowd.
The lights flashed, the glare casting everything in an afterglow of reds and golds.
She spun, her hair whipping her face, the heat building in her stomach and sweat beading between her shoulders.
Through everything, she felt it. She felt the green eyes at the edge of the dance floor, eyes that were focused only on her.
It made her hotter.
This drug makes me crazy,
Makes me see you more clearly.
Oh, baby, now I can see you.
Wish I could stop,
Switch off the clock,
Make it all happen for you.
Barbara was determined to remember that actions always spoke louder than words for her hot-headed partner.
"I might be going, but you're coming with me." Helena's taunt to The Joker, as she faced an agonizing death at his hands, was indelibly etched in Barbara's aural memory.
"Paying my debts." The younger woman's brave promise when she'd lost all to Quinn -- her memories, her life of twenty-five years, all but her very soul -- still shook her.
"Do me." The words that Helena had spoken during their face-down in the parking garage with Quinn, her solid assumption that she would sacrifice herself to save their unborn child, cut through the redhead.
Later, she could begin to work with Helena on the realization that she didn't always have to give herself in an attempt to solve the problems in her world.
But, for this evening...
This night would be about what Helena needed.
My head is full of magic, baby,
And I can't share this with you.
The feel I'm on top again, baby,
That's got everything to do with you.
I'm alive, so alive.
I'm alive, so alive.
Having watched Helena make her way to the bar, Barbara took the risk of losing her table and skirted the edge of the crowd on her way toward the entrance. She found her objective before she was half-way to the door and was back to reclaim their table in minutes.
In the visual cacophony of the lights, it was difficult to be certain, but it appeared that her partner was just about to receive her refill. Barbara checked the contents of her own glass, an Amaretto sour that she'd been nursing since they'd arrived an hour before, and made a choice.
Casually, she raised one hand and touched the tiny bell pin that adorned her vest. Immediately, she saw Helena turn from the noisy bar, her Grey Goose and cranberry juice in one hand. Through the smoke and flashing lights, Barbara easily made out her partner's grin and felt an answering smile turn up the corners of her mouth.
Belatedly, as she observed Helena cutting through the crowd to join her, the redhead realized that the expression seemed to be fixed in place.
Distantly, some part of her brain suggested that the reaction could be a response to the inviting sway of her lover's hips.
"What's your pleasure, Red?"
Barbara wordlessly extended the rose that she'd purchased during her short jaunt. She was completely charmed when she saw her too-tough-for-her-leathers partner blushing to the roots of her hair.
Fumbling her drink onto the tiny table, Helena brought the deep red petals to her mouth, inhaling.
She just didn't get flowers from people.
"Thank you, Barbara."
Whatever Barbara was going to say, whatever Helena had been thinking about doing to thank her some more: it faded away when Helena made out the opening bars of the Bonnie Tyler classic that the DJ had queued up.
Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Judging from the smirk on Barbara's face, Red recognized it, too.
Even if Helena kind of preferred the Jennifer Saunders' version from Shrek II, she couldn't fight the beat... or the message. Giving her partner a wink, the brunette popped the stem of the rose between her teeth and hit a showy flamenco pose.
Barbara's laughter was all the encouragement that Helena needed. The way green eyes seemed to light up when Barbara saw how the position was pulling that slit on her thigh waaaay up was all the inspiration she could want.
Helena spun, purposely giving her lover a clue about the whole "undergarment question" from earlier at the restaurant. She pulled a little fancy footwork, making sure that her hips kept time with the beat. She extended her hand, capturing one of Barbara's and taking them on a spin that left her dizzy.
Damned near giddy, too.
Helena gave in to her partner's laughing plea and brought things back to earth. Despite Red's laughter and her own grinning like an idiot, Helena realized she still had the flower in her teeth, so she tacked on a finale, flipping the rose end over end with her lips and tongue.
Helena just couldn't pass up an opening like that. She snagged the flower and bowed low, extending the rose to her partner.
"At your service, Fiona."
Weighing the words -- Challenge? Offer? -- Barbara allowed one eyebrow to tic upward a few millimeters.
"Is that so, Helena?"
Not waiting for an answer, the redhead retrieved her drink, pulling the cherry from the liquid by its stem.
"And, are there any conditions -- "
Certain that she had the younger woman's attention, Barbara neatly closed her teeth on the stem and pulled it into her mouth.
"-- on what I may --"
Oddly thankful for the few misspent nights of her youth, she worked the stem briefly between her tongue and the roof of her mouth.
"-- want -- "
She retrieved the stem, now neatly tied, with one hand and sucked the cherry from her other into her mouth.
The cloying sweetness of the Maraschino nearly choked her when she found herself with a lap full of hot, writhing brunette.
Apparently, witnessing one of Barbara's few bar tricks had potentially tied Helena in knots.
Pointedly, Barbara reached up dropped the stem back into her glass. Equally deliberately, she carded her fingers through dark silk and pulled her partner close.
Helena's lips were satin, the tiniest bit sticky from the cranberry juice. Her breath was hot and sweet, leaving Barbara hungry.
"Are you enjoying yourself, Helena?"
Under the pounding bass that shook the floor, she heard the growl and allowed her voice to drop to a purr.
"I am very much enjoying -- "
For emphasis, Barbara trailed her hands down the sides of the blue lace top.
"-- watching you dance."
That did it.
Helena thought that even Barbara would have to admit that she was, after all, only meta-human.
Barely, just barely, Helena wrestled down her need and stood up.
"I've -- I've got to go to the -- "
Helplessly, she gestured vaguely toward the back of the club, the area she assumed the restrooms were located in. Barbara didn't say anything, but the look she gave her -- raking her from head to toe -- felt so very much like touching.
Giving a mental shrug, she decided to lay it out there.
"Come with me?"
Helena was surprised as hell when her partner set her glass on the table and set out beside her, but it didn't begin to touch how she felt when Barbara started to breeze into the restroom's handicapped stall and then stopped and looked back at her.
Completely ready to get herself off next to the warm air hand dryer -- or by the cigarette machine in the hallway or in the alley outside the fire door -- Helena didn't wait to be asked twice when she saw one slender finger beckon.
The stall was oversized, but it was still a tight fit for the two of them and Barbara's chair, and Helena almost stumbled as she worked to push the door shut behind her.
Or maybe, Helena decided when she found herself with her back pressed to the graffiti-covered metal door and Barbara's mouth moving restlessly across her stomach, it wasn't the size of the stall at all that was throwing her off kilter. She couldn't stop a sharp gasp when the mouth that had been breathing hot against her skin through the thin material of her skirt surged upward, and Helena leaned into it, aching at the sensation of soft lips and sharp teeth finding the swollen weight of her nipple.
Every nerve was on fire. Her skin was hot; her clothes too tight. Deep within, Helena felt something spasm and her thighs clenched.
The harsh whisper recalled Barbara to herself, reminding her of just what she -- what they -- were about to do. She pulled away and, for a hairsbreadth, matters hung in the balance as she fought her own instincts and weighed her own desires and needs.
Straightening against the low back of her chair, she faced her lover, taking in the bright glitter of golden eyes, the heated flush of red that painted her chest, her shallow breathing. She saw Helena's deceptively delicate hands fisting against her thighs. She heard her soft whimper.
There was, the redhead grasped with a visceral intensity, no choice to make.
"Come here," she breathed.
Helena barely had time to move before she felt her lover's hands on her ass, grabbing her forward.
She didn't give a damn.
Then, Barbara's cheek was against her thigh, her breath hot against her center. A finger slipped under her skirt, a gossamer whisper of skin on skin causing her insides to roil. Before she could explode, nails scraped down the backs of her thighs, the pain instantly bleeding to a pleasure so acute that Helena had to bite her lip to keep from screaming.
Profoundly grateful that her earlier clumsiness with her jewelry had been trivial enough not to require a band-aid, Barbara thrust her hand beneath Helena's skirt. A brief pass of her hand resolved the undergarment question while confirming that there was no need to wait.
It didn't take long: a few hard thrusts, two or three stuttering heartbeats. Barbara felt the muscles of Helena's back torque under her palm and other muscles seized around her fingers.
"Oh Baby... yes--"
Looking upward at the tendons pulling tight as the younger woman arched her neck, Barbara cursed her lack of access; however, she kept her focus.
The word was a hoarse whisper, lashing Helena's skin, filling her.
It was all that she needed.
There was no building pressure, no tender blossoming. It was a massive blast of C-4, overwhelming her and carrying her into oblivion with the pressure and the noise and the heat.
It was Barbara.
Barbara almost missed her partner's whimper. The rush of liquid that covered her hand was unmistakable.
She caught her breath, one arm still wrapped around Helena's body, until she felt the younger woman's trembling ease. Finally straightening, she extracted her hand, raising her fingers to her mouth.
Looking up to find the brunette licking a drop of blood from her lip, Barbara jerked her fingers from her mouth, covering her mouth with her hand.
The gratitude in her lover's violet eyes was too much to bear.
Dumbly, she could only nod when Helena finally spoke.
"Let's go home, Red."
"Keep your clothes on. I'll be in in a moment."
Helena didn't know what it was about Barbara sending her in to the bedroom first, but she wasn't going to mess with a winning formula.
Kneeling on the big bed, her hands resting loosely in her lap, Helena had one eye on the alarm clock. The rest of her senses were stretching out into the Tower, trying to pick up some sort of sound or a shift in the air that might tell her where her partner was and what she was doing.
Maybe it was the fact that her own breathing was kind of loud, keeping her from hearing the soft whisper of rubber tires on hardwood. Maybe it was the scent of her own pheromones that was masking any city smells that might drift in from the balcony. Maybe it was the itching, tingling fire that was running across her skin that was ruining her chances to sense a shift in the air when Red started down the hall.
Whatever it was, Helena was about to explode. But, like she'd promised, Barbara didn't keep her waiting.
The minutes displayed on the bedside clock had ticked over only twice before the bedroom door swung open. Somehow, Helena remained fixed in place.
"I missed you."
Wheeling to the foot of the bed, Barbara didn't even try to mask her answering smile. Although they'd only been separated for a few minutes since their hurried return from the club, she understood her lover's sentiment.
"Why don't you stretch out a bit, Hel?"
She was pleased to see that the younger woman was still wearing the tight skirt and lacy top. Her heels, however, were neatly tucked under the dressing table. Giving a mental nod to the wisdom of that, Barbara shucked her own shoes before moving to the side of the bed.
Helena was now reclining like some sort of ethereal offering, her tan skin highlighted against the light bedspread that covered the bed in summer. Several pillows supported her back, and as Barbara took in the slender lines of her lover, the brunette stretched her hands upward to clasp the grab bars at the head of the bed.
Tenderly, Barbara trailed her fingertips over Helena's instep. At this hour, the city was quiet; the Tower was quiet. It was easy to hear Helena's rumbling growl.
"God, Barbara, I am so ready for you."
Deliberately, the redhead lifted her hand and straightened against the low back of her chair. Briefly, she ran her hands through her hair and then shrugged out of her vest, catching it with two fingers and tossing it negligently onto a chair.
Acutely aware of the feral gaze following her every move, she worked the buttons of her shirt front, allowing the material to hang free, loosely covering her torso. Satisfied that she was ready, she reached out again and ran her nails up the inside of the brunette's calf.
"Show me, Helena."
Helena didn't have time to question her lover's intent. The soft words were accompanied by a gentle tug that worked to spread her legs a few inches. Feeling her upper lip curl, she sat up and reached for the hem of her top.
Barbara's voice stilled her hands. Dropping her chin, Helena felt the soft leather around her neck dig into her throat. She swallowed the noise that wanted to make its way past her lips and peered through her bangs.
"I'd like it if you'd leave it on for now."
This time, it sounded like a request. There was something fever-bright in Barbara's eyes, something that sparked an answering flame in Helena's chest.
Nodding, she dragged her hands up her stomach, allowing herself to feel -- to really feel -- the scratch of the lace against her fingers. The sharp hiss from the side of the bed emboldened her: fixing green eyes with her own, she worked her fingers across her breasts, measuring the weight in her palms before giving in to her need.
It wasn't Barbara's hands, but she needed... She needed the pressure of fingers on her, pinching and twisting, bringing the red bloom of heat to her nipples.
"Show me, Sweetie."
Distantly, Barbara had to question her own sanity. There was simply no other reason that she could arrive at for cutting short what she'd been witness to.
A beat later, when Helena yanked her skirt up to her hips and shimmied the thong down, she had to reconsider. There was, after all, so much to see.
"Yes," she heard her own whisper as Helena settled herself against the pillows.
As if waiting for nothing more than that, slender fingers parted dark curls. A low moan filtered through the room.
Barbara thought it might have been hers.
"So wet... for you."
Dumbstruck, Barbara followed the progress of her lover's hands. Possibly reading the nod that Barbara was barely aware that she'd given, Helena delved deeply into ripe flesh and then brought her fingers to her ow mouth.
The tiny part of Barbara's brain that remained coherent primly reminded her that it was going to be difficult to take matters slowly. The rest of her, the part that was occupied with joining her lover on the bed, was decidedly unconcerned.
A sharp inhalation, the sensation of strong fingers guiding her jaw: they provided the only warning that Helena got. Then... then Barbara's mouth was on hers, her tongue plundering her mouth and licking her essence from her lips, and Helena thought that she was about to levitate off the bed.
God, Barbara knew how to kiss.
Somehow, when Helena felt Barbara's forehead come to rest against hers, she managed to pry open her eyes.
"You've missed this as much as I have."
She didn't think she'd meant to say that out loud. She felt a slow breath of air on her skin and then saw green eyes spark.
"What do you want, Sweetheart?"
Helena's heart stutter-stepped, and she wrapped her arms around her partner's strong shoulders.
Her brain caught up with her mouth, and Helena tacked on the rest.
Barbara's laughter turned into another kiss, and Helena threw back her head, swallowing their joy.
This time, the kiss lasted a long time. It felt like more than a kiss: it was an assertion of belonging and owning and joining. Breathless, Helena opened herself to the depth of her lover's desire, letting Barbara have whatever she demanded, willingly giving anything that she needed, exulting in the surrender that was salvation.
It was all that she wanted. It was everything that she needed.
"Get your clothes off, Hel."
The words ghosted the brunette's skin, causing her to shiver. With effort, she pried open her eyes and drank in the smile that painted Barbara's kiss-bruised lips.
"Are-- " She worked to find her voice and tried again. "Are you going to--"
Green eyes went dark.
"I'm going to take everything you can possibly give me, Helena."
Pretty close to climaxing from Barbara's voice, her words, alone, Helena managed to get her clothes off without ripping them. She rolled onto her back, easily accepting the redhead's weight as she propped herself on her elbows above her.
Determined to take her time, needing to show Helena, Barbara gently touched soft skin with her hands and her lips. Sipping at her lover's body, she reveled in the taste of her skin, in the soft gasps that escaped her throat, and in the pressure of Helena's nails across her shoulders.
Soon, too soon, the younger woman began to writhe beneath her, one word dancing raggedly from her lips: Barbara. Slipping by the pressure of the hands that were locked in a rictus in her hair, Barbara looked up to see Helena's chin pointing skyward, her neck arched against the pillow.
Dear heavens, she was beautiful.
Helena couldn't stop herself. When Barbara lifted her head and Helena remembered that she had hands, she had to touch her.
Her attempt was cut short.
Red's voice was breathy, then it gentled.
"Let me have this."
Helena got it.
Fuck, she thought she got it better than Barbara did.
For Helena the turn on was, always had been, well, anything to do with Barbara. Nights alone in her room when she was a teenager, it was the image of Barbara, the fantasy of her lips twisting in that knowing smile, the phantom sensation of long red hair curtaining their joined bodies. Nights with anonymous strangers all those years, it was the pretense that someone's eyes were the right shade of green, the lie that some rough hand might be the calloused palm she ached for, the wish that the soft skin of somebody's inner thigh was the milky flesh she hungered for. And, now that it was real, being here was all that there was.
Still, Helena knew that Barbara needed more, that it was all about control. For a while she'd really thought it was about controlling *her* but now she knew better.
Helena knew Barbara, and she knew that, for Barbara, being able to control *herself* was the biggest head rush in the world. Red was a passionate woman and being able to hold her own insistent drives in check, forcing herself to temper her pace, taking herself to the point where she had to tip over or back off -- well, that was the turn on for her.
That Barbara would share that with her, that she was along for the ride... Well, Selina Kyle didn't raise a fool. Helena knew that she was a lucky, lucky woman.
"Go for it."
And when Barbara took her at her word, it didn't take much before Helena's back arched from the mattress, every muscle bowstring tight, every nerve incandescent. When she heard -- felt -- the murmur from between her thighs, the world wanted to go white and gold on her.
She couldn't take it.
Slim fingers wound through her hair, forcing Barbara to abandon her feast.
"Baby, stop. Please -- "
The redhead worked her way up her partner's body as a dark head thrashed from side to side.
"Please, I need... want..."
She easily read the message in Helena's eyes, but she needed to hear it. Cupping the sharp angle of her jaw, Barbara leaned close.
Slitted eyes transformed from gold to violet in a miasma of emotion, leaving Barbara almost dizzied.
"Fuck me, Barbara."
Helena saw it. Jesus, she felt the moment that Babs let go, when she stopped being the person who set the scene and just *was* there.
Helena didn't have a chance.
Later, sweat-drenched and sticky and utterly, utterly replete, Helena collapsed on the bed, her body seeming almost boneless.
Possibly, Barbara had to grant, even unconscious.
However, when the younger woman managed to wriggle around to blanket her, she was forced to re-evaluate that idea. Smiling, she carded her fingers tenderly through dark hair, awed by the transformation from raging inferno to sleepy kitten.
There was no artifice, no planning or show, in the way that Helena responded to her. Even now, the younger woman was molding as close to her as humanly -- or meta-humanly -- possible. Helena was curling into her, *on to* her, working her hands under her back to snuggle and, seemingly, to try to push through Barbara to the mattress on the other side.
Or, it struck Barbara with the force of an unexpected kiss, Helena was working into her, planning to stop once she was inside, to fill her and be one with her in an intimacy Barbara would never have dreamed possible.
Images from the previous minutes danced across her vision. The memories were visual and tactile and aural, all of them displaying for her, once again, the knowledge of Helena opening to her will, arching and thrusting and offering her all.
Pressing her mouth against the crown of her lover's head, Barbara fought it. She worked against the need to say something or do something or...
It was too much.
Barbara felt the trembling start. She felt it in areas of her body that she simply *could not* feel. Before she had time to collect herself, she jerked one hand to her mouth, holding in the cry as the orgasm washed over her.
Should I fall out of love, my fire in the night
To chase a feather in the wind
Within the glow that weaves a cloak of delight
There moves a thread that has no end.
For many hours and days that pass ever soon
The tides have caused the flame to dim
At last the arm is straight, the hand to the loom
Is this to end or just begin?
The fact that it was one of Barbara's favorite Zeppelin songs notwithstanding, it still took the redhead some time to drag herself into wakefulness when she realized that the alarm clock had triggered.
Apparently, given the duration of their activities the night before -- and well into this morning -- programming the alarm had been wise. It was entirely possible that she would need a bit of time to pull herself together before Dinah brought Katie home.
A softly panted exhalation drew Barbara from considerations of long showers and dark coffee, reminding her that she was far from alone. The steady flex of firm gluts against her belly vanished visions of any morning activities that might take place outside the bedroom.
"Sweet dreams, Hel?"
Snugly spooned against her partner's chest and thighs, Helena rolled her eyes at the empty stretch of bed that she faced. She didn't -- couldn't -- stop the restless rocking of her hips.
Honest to god, when the alarm had clicked on to that Oldie Goldie crap and she'd heard Barbara snorting awake, Helena had thought that some sort of reprieve was in order. Damned if Red still didn't seem oblivious.
It wasn't that she was complaining, per se and all. When she'd awakened a few hours earlier, with Barbara's arms holding her tight and a clever hand working her breast, complaining had been the last thing on her mind. Still, as the minutes had ticked by and the ached had continued to build and Barbara just kept on snoozing...
Well, it just seemed like some sort of Freudian dream analysis wasn't on the list of priorities.
"Fuck dreams," she ground out. "You've been feeling me up for the last two hours."
Suddenly, blindingly, aware of where her hand rested, Barbara yanked away from silken heaviness and turgid flesh, feeling as if she'd been burned. Raising the offending hand, she inspected it with what she was certain was an unbecoming furrow between her brows.
How on earth had she...
"I'm sorry, Hel--"
"The hell with that." The words came on a growl. Without looking, Helena reached behind her and snagged Barbara's hand, clapping it firmly on her hip. "Finish me before I explode."
The older woman's reaction was, really, commendably swift: Strong fingers kneaded Helena's belly while a throaty chuckle breezed across the bare skin of her shoulder.
"Finish you, Hel?"
The words were throaty and rich, like a twenty year old single malt, neat, in cut glass, consumed in wood paneled rooms long burnished with smoke and time. The sound reduced Helena to nothing more than heat and light and want.
"Oh, Helena, I'm just getting started with you."
Or maybe, the brunette realized with delirious joy, it wasn't the sound; it was the words themselves.
Whatever it was, she didn't have time to think about it because Barbara was turning her over and a warm mouth was covering one nipple and long fingers were working between her legs and the ache was erupting into an inferno and then Helena was laughing.
Barbara's head rose from her chest. That sexy red hair was mussed, probably more from her hands in it during the night than from sleep. The faint crease on her cheek was all from the pillow.
"Care to share with the class, Hel?"
There was just hint of consternation in emerald eyes, but Helena heard the amusement in Barbara's voice. Her grin never faltered as she reached up to cup her lover's cheek, smoothing at the sleep crease with her thumb.
"Just thinking that I didn't know how much I'd been missing date night, Red."
Instantly, Barbara experienced the singular sensation of bemusement blending with contrition. Both emotions bled way to something more, something of a revelation.
She leaned into the delicate hand on her face and turned to press a gentle kiss to Helena's palm.
"I have as well, Hel."
Something flickered through deep blue eyes, and Barbara arched one eyebrow.
"As much as you've missed working the Delphi this summer?"
The question carried no reproach, however Barbara was still hard-pressed not to flinch.
"You could tell?"
Honestly, she thought that she'd been on-board with their summer vacation plans. She certainly thought that she'd managed to stifle any... restlessness she might have felt on the odd evening when habit had her itching to ascend the platform.
The quirk of a dark brow was the only response, Helena's indulgent smile answer enough. Barbara gave a minute shrug.
"It's who..." she caught herself. "It's what I do, I suppose, Sweetheart."
The sweet smile that she received was too much. Barbara rewound the conversation, opting to table this particular track for the time being.
"However," she pushed up on her elbow, resting her free hand lightly on her partner's chest. "you are right about date night. I shouldn't have let it escape--"
Helena wasn't going to have it. She silenced her companion with a finger to her lips.
"Hey. Don't try to carry the whole load. We've been busy with Katie and ..."
The other matter that had been consuming them -- her -- was still a little too raw. Dinah had said she understood. Barbara had let her off the hook. Hell, even Gabby was stepping up.
Still, that didn't mean she wanted to talk about it.
"Well, with lots of stuff."
The nod had been brief, kind of pro forma. Barbara's eyes were still distant, so Helena decided to prod a little.
When those green eyes came to focus on her face, Helena couldn't doubt that she had every bit of Barbara's attention.
"But nothing, Helena."
Even without the summer morning light that was brightening the room, Helena could have made out the blush creeping into Barbara's face.
"Specifically, nothing is more important than... this. Or... "
The fingers that had been idly tracing patterns over her heart fluttered vaguely at the edge of Helena's vision.
"-- than us, Hel."
Red's words were just a little garbled. It was such a change from her usually fluent, put-together partner's communication.
"You -- you mean that, don't you?"
She captured Barbara's hand and got an answering squeeze.
"Very much, Sweetheart."
The look of pure intent in Barbara's eyes sent a shiver up Helena's spine.
Fuck, the brunette recognized giddily as her thumb was sucked deep into a warm mouth, the look was more one of impure intent.
Freeing Helena's hand, Barbara shut her eyes, absorbing the sound of her lover's shallow breathing. Inhaling the complex scent that enrobed them, she bent to the sweet skin of Helena's throat. Her plans to follow the faint trail down Helena's body that she'd created with her teeth a few hours before were forestalled when she heard her companion murmur something.
Specifically, Barbara belatedly grasped, Helena seemed to be asking something about her father.
Once again surrendering the succulent skin that she'd been sampling, Barbara rolled onto her side and roughly pushed her hair back from her face.
"Do you really want to be discussing my father?"
She blew out a breath.
"Now?" she added pointedly.
The brunette at least had the grace to look embarrassed.
"No. Well, I was wondering if he'd mind baby-sitting some nights, especially with Alfred on vacation and all."
Despite herself, Barbara felt her curiosity getting the best of her.
"I suspect that he could be persuaded to deal the the hardship of a little extra time with Katharine."
She felt one eyebrow inch upward.
"Why do you ask?"
Barbara remained still as her bedmate wriggled onto her side, and blue eyes met hers.
"Would you mind if we invite Dinah and Gabby to join us on date nights? Sometimes?"
Stretching out, she tucked a lock of dark hair behind her lover's ear.
"Show them how it's done, Hel?"
Helena's nod felt tentative.
"Something like that."
Barbara didn't try to rein in her smile.
"Absolutely, Hel. What's first, bowling?"
The younger woman's grin was blinding, her voice decisive.
"Nah. Laser tag."
Laughing, Barbara pushed up on her elbow.
"Sounds like fun, Sweetie; however," she leaned in, rubbing her nose lightly against her lover's. "before Dinah brings our daughter home, I have some targets here that I'd like to aim for."
The rumbling growl that accompanied the pronouncement almost obscured the word. By the time Barbara deciphered the meaning, she found concerned violet eyes meeting hers.
She heard the brunette swallow roughly and shivered when Helena's fingers traced her lower lip.
"This time, let me try to help you feel good, Red."
The offer stole her breath.
"Helena, you have," she whispered, catching her partner's chin in her palm. "More than you can imagine."
Reviewing her words, Barbara found them lacking.
"You *do*, Hel. Always."
Perhaps she didn't show it, perhaps she simply couldn't respond as freely; nevertheless, Barbara knew that she couldn't allow Helena to doubt her.
To doubt them.
Reaching into her flagging stores of courage, Barbara hunted for the words.
"And I will never -- " Barbara unblinkingly met Helena's uncertain gaze. "-- ever willingly share that, share what we have with anyone else."
She saw the answering spark in arresting blue eyes.
Barbara brushed her mouth across satin lips, breathing her answer. Her promise.